Category: Articles

The Ark in a Field Sept 2021

Here’s the September Ark children’s service -from a farm field!

Thank you to everyone who came and everyone who helped -what a fantastic morning it was!! 🎉🚜🤩Thank you to our great big God!

See you on October 30th for the next one – back in Corsham Baptist church⛪️ (God willing).

Credits:

  • ‘There’s a Rainbow in the Sky’ from ‘Noah: A Musical adventure’ by Doug Horley. Duggie Dug Dug
  • My Lighthouse’ by Rend collective 2013 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
  • ‘Great Big God’: Nigel and Jo Hemmings by ©2001 Vineyard Songs (UK/Eire).
  • ‘The Ark’ by Nick and Becky Drake. Worship For Everyone

We are holders of CCLI streaming licence no: 48626

Is God really a DJ? Encountering Jesus in the Night Life

This post by Luke Rollins was originally published at Seventy Two

“I believe God invented music” she said to me over the music, and shrugged almost apologetically. “I’m here to dance and enjoy it.” Her previous words floated like soap bubbles in the atmosphere around us, delicate and strange against the backdrop of rising techno. I tried to grasp at them, stammering as I realised I was repeating myself. “You’re a Christian?” She nodded patiently again and casually surveyed the dance floor, smiling slightly as the beat dropped and the floor jumped beneath ecstatic feet. I scrambled amongst the alcohol fumes for an insightful, clever reply and found nothing. Instead, I looked bewilderingly around the nightclub, a space I knew well; dark and fractious, a stained and crumbling palace layered in sweat and pheromones, sticky with eau de parfum and caked rum. Shattered lives bounced to transient euphoria and everyone looked vacant and alone; anxiously searching for the next good time amidst the sonic tumult. My new friend took a sip from her water as I turned to speak to her again. “But what….” I stumbled, suddenly wanting to tell her everything and simultaneously fighting the urge to disappear out the fire escape. “But what is a Christian like you….” I drew back and with a desperate flourish, pointed at the writhing dance floor, “…doing here?”

It’s a question that I’ve heard frequently in the years since this encounter; wrapped in the same disbelief and doubt accompanied by quizzical and curious eyes trying to understand. It’s a question I’ve heard from other Christians too, reframed and echoing in church halls immeasurably removed from the club contexts in question. Why would you want to go to these places? It’s a legitimate query. Is God really interested in nightclub culture? Is He actually going to bother with a community consumed with hedonism, sensuality, hubris and vice; openly indifferent to the seemingly archaic values of the Christian church and avid purveyors of an aggressively progressive, liberal New Age approach to spirituality? Many assume not. I’m not so sure.

My role as a DJ Ministry Coordinator at Third Space Ministries is grounded in defence of this scepticism and fuelled by my own incontrovertible experience to the contrary. My lone conversation on the dance-floor of a club resulted in an admittedly slow, yet deeply transformational and painful journey back to faith. Unbeknownst to the stranger on the dance-floor that night, she was talking to a very lost and hurting prodigal son, ashamed and disgusted with himself; someone who knew the truth of Jesus and had chosen the path of least resistance only to discover that all the fun and pleasure that the World had promised came laden with vast and merciless reams of savage small print and a crippling APR scheme.

Corridors of drugs and alcohol were beginning to narrow and darken around me; guilt and disappointment were scratching on the doors of my nightmares, waking me up in cold sweats of panic and oppression. And it was in the midst of this broken rebellion that Jesus showed up, alive and peaceful in the life of the girl in front of me. She didn’t realise it, but in that moment I understood: no matter how far I ran, how bad it became and how much I tried to forget about God, He hadn’t forgotten me. He was still there, in the most unlikely of places. So potent was this moment of grace that sobriety uncomfortably descended and I realised, just for a fleeting second of emotion, how much I desperately wanted what she had. As the party raged around me, I heard His heart, camouflaged in a language I didn’t yet fully understand; a small and irresistible call in the turmoil of my absconsion. Time to come home, He said.

I’m always fascinated to read about Jesus choosing to associate amongst the apparently humbler contexts of the societal strata. His own band of disciples were rough talking fishermen, tax collectors and zealots. He pronounced forgiveness upon sex workers (Luke 7.50), invited himself to dine with the crooked and devious (Luke 19.5), had compassion for the aimless crowds (Matthew 9.36)  and confronted the possessed and broken (Luke 8.29). He didn’t avoid the dirt and the grime, the uncomfortable and the crowded, the noisy and the clamorous. He controversially and beautifully declared that “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners…” (Mark 2.17) Would Jesus have gone to a nightclub? Would He, to the great offence of those around Him, have nevertheless positioned Himself amongst the hurting, the searching, the needy; unfazed by the smoke and mirrors of offensively loud music and bright lights literally hiding a multitude of sins? I completely believe He would be there. In fact, I think He would probably have been the last to leave.

And despite all my convictions, I’m still amazed that when we do dare to go, God does indeed emerge from the sidelines, as He did for me all those years ago. Only recently I watched with astonishment at an outdoor event at which I was DJ’ing as God opened conversation after conversation, specifically on this occasion with men ravaged by the fallout of lockdown. Divorce, trauma, abuse, substance misuse, gambling, it spilled out in flurries of pain and covert tears through trembling cigarettes and eyes avoiding direct contact. I was suddenly required to listen, provide hope, offer gentle encouragement as God colours began to bloom between the disco beats and empty wasp filled pint glasses.  I prayed for a man in the car park as he wept and hugged me, his atheism temporarily parked at the tiniest promise of breakthrough. A strange favour shaped the atmosphere; the music I played and the manner in which I performed seemed to touch people and sparked questions and discussion. Everyone somehow seemed to know I was a Christian and worked as a chaplain before I’d said a word to them. The fact that I was a DJ too didn’t seem in the least bit incongruous to anyone. At one point, I practically had a queue of people wanting to talk. None of it had anything to do with me at all. All I really did was pray and go.

Of course, it is not for everyone. No one is pretending the darkness isn’t real in these spaces. As a chaplain, I walk alongside DJ’s and creatives who are often at the sharp end of this scene, facing the temptations and the ramifications of a culture founded on financial strongholds and occult persuasions. This is not an arena for lone rangers and missional mavericks. Rather it is best approached prayerfully and respectfully with the support of a committed, accountable community.

And yet, as challenging as the environment threatens to be, my own testimony reminds me that it is a demographic that the church cannot ignore. Whether we choose to confront it or not, the fact remains that a huge percentage of young adults have found their church amongst the lasers and smoke. It is where they find community, it is where they go to worship, it is where they find joy, it is where they experience transcendental moments. All of it may be counterfeit, chemically enhanced and corrupt but that does not negate its spiritual legitimacy in the hearts of those who go.

Simultaneously, it is an experience that naturally comes with a high price tag and little reward. It does not satisfy but merely offers momentary gratification before evaporating in an oily memory, leaving a snail trail of shame and disappointment in its wake. Mental health statistics are staggeringly poor amongst the DJ’s whose careers are built in the club culture. We have a generation of young clubbers at breaking point with body image insecurities and social media fuelled lifestyle pressures. It is in this vacuum of disillusionment that the Kingdom of God appears as a desperately beautiful alternative. New Age doctrine, as twisted as it may be, nevertheless means more and more individuals are quite prepared to consider and discuss the spiritual realms. Crucially, they have also discovered the painful limitations of these pseudo faith deviations. Make no mistake, people are hungry. They just don’t know what to eat.

So as debate continues to rage about the future of post-covid nightlife and the community tentatively dances on a knife edge of uncertainty, I believe we have an opportunity to present the glorious alternative of God’s great dance floor to a group of people who are constantly searching. Maybe, like me, one simple conversation, barely audible over the madness of an all out rave, could change a life, end an exile, offer a moment of grace to step back into the arms of our Father, already running to meet us in the darkness of the nightclub, clutching a VIP pass for unashamed access to the greatest, purest party in existence. I know He did it for me. And He’ll do it again.

The post Is God really a DJ? Encountering Jesus in the Night Life appeared first on Seventy Two.

Twelve Steps Towards Freedom: Towards Glasgow 2021

This post by Dave Gregory was originally published at Seventy Two

The climate is changing.

Not the political climate.  Nor the economic one.

Nor the cultural or social climate of our nation.

Well, truth be told, these are always on the move.

But no.  I mean the Earth’s climate is changing.

Unless you have failed to watch the news, you can hardly not notice.  Stories of heat waves across the world, forest fires across North America, the Mediterranean and Russia.  Intense rainstorms and floods in Turkey and Japan.  And these are just some of the headline events from the BBC News App.

Scattered stories that are brought together in the latest, robust science report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published in mid-August.  Commentators describe its message as urgent.  Scientists say the warming of the Earth due to human activity is unequivocal.  This is the sixth report released by the IPCC, the first being in the 1990s.  Having read these reports over the past 30 years, starting when I was working on developing Climate Models in the Hadley Centre, a sense of frustration arises within me.  As one speaker at the press conference to mark the report’s release said “You scientists have been speaking for 30 years, but we have not been listening.  Now climate change is with us”.  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Feel affirmed, be in despair or scream!

Of course, some have been listening.  Campaigning groups, development, and mission agencies of which BMS World Mission is one, have been speaking for many years.  There have been marches and action on the streets of cities across the world.  The growth of the Baptist Union Environment Network (BUEN) across most of our the Baptist Together regions shows a rising engagement with environmental issues among us, a move from the margins towards the core of our missional discipleship.  Many churches are holding a Climate Sunday, not only engaging with the issue in worship, but committing to longer term action through schemes such as A Rocha’s Eco-church.  Speaking out too, calling for action by signing up to The Climate Coalition’s The Time is Now declaration.

The fact that the UK is hosting the next UN Climate Conference – the 26th one, hence COP26 – in Glasgow in the first two weeks of November is galvanising action.  A previous meeting, COP21 in Paris in 2015, led to The Paris Agreement, where 196 countries across the world agreed to take action to limit global warming by the end of the 21st century to 2 degrees Centigrade, and if possible 1.5 degrees centigrade.  Yet turning words into action, as you may know from personal experience, is hard and progress has been slow as nations argue who is most responsible for the crisis, who should pay most and who should take the first step.

Thankfully there has been movement, with large emitters of warming greenhouse gases making cuts and promising to cut further.  This is important if we are to reach net-zero carbon by 2050, where human activities release no more greenhouse gases that nature can absorb.   But these cuts so far mean the world will warm by 2.5 to 3 degrees by the end of the century.  Bigger cuts are needed through this coming decade if we are to keep alive the hope of 1.5 degrees of warming that will avert catastrophic climate and weather change.  If not, then future generations will have to live with the consequences, as will wider creation.  That is why it is vital – I say again vital – that at COP26 the nations make commitments to deeper cuts in green gas emissions than they have done so far.

Baptist Christians and churches are activists by nature.  A friend from another stream of the church once told me “I could never be a Baptist – it’s just too exhausting!”  And all the calls to action, to engage with the climate crisis that flow into our TV, phones, and computers daily can feel exhausting.  As can the huge nature of it all.  And after the past 18 month living with Covid, many people feel exhausted already.  Exhausted and anxious.  As things began to open in the early summer, I visited a secondary school to speak about climate change to a group of year 10 students, part of the Gen Z generation.  I asked them if they were anxious about their future because of climate change.  Responses varied from group to group.  Many stood; others did not.  I asked why they had responded as they did, and the voice of one sticks in my mind; “I’ve got so many things to be anxious about, I can’t cope with anything else.”

Jesus knew about immobilising effects of exhaustion and anxiety.  After the twelve disciples had an intense time of “campaigning” for the Kingdom of God, he invited them to “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”  (Mark 6v31).  So as we move towards Glasgow 2021 and the COP26 climate jamboree, take some time to get some rest.

That may seem counterintuitive especially if this is such a vital moment for the future generations and life on the planet.  Surely, resting can wait until this campaigning season is over!  If we are going to tackle climate change, we are going to change some other climates too – political, economic, cultural, social – and action and campaigning plays a part in that.  But we need to change the spiritual climate as well.  As Jesus said later in Mark’s gospel, “from within, out of people’s hearts. Come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.”  (Mark 7v22)   Many of these inner attitudes has given rise to actions and structures in our world that are tied to the causes of climate change. Actions, structures, behaviour in which we are all deeply embedded.  And if they are to change deeply, they need a change within.

So, in the weeks ahead, take some time to listen to your own heart’s response to the issue of climate change.  Take some time to walk around in nature or spend time in the garden.  Take sabbath moments, an act of resistance to those things of our lives that drive exhaustion and anxiety, which contribute to the causes of climate change.  Listen to what God is saying through creation.  I had experience of this over the summer when I was staying as the foot of Ben Nevis near Fort William.  As I looked through the window of the cottage kitchen, across a dry-stone wall into a small planation of trees, a deer with her fawn appeared.  So well camouflaged, almost invisible.  An invitation from our creator to encounter God afresh in creation for our God “is like a gazelle or a young stag.  Look!  There he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows … (saying) … ‘arise … come with me’”.  (Song of Solomon 2v9)  Drawing me towards a deeper appreciation of nature, which God values, and greater a desire to seek its fulness.

And as we take time seeking God for ourselves, as our heart changes, let that flow into prayer, for prayer changes climates too.  Campaigning voices are rising as we get closer and closer to COP26.  We too should be a part of that.  But we as people of faith and followers of Jesus have another voice to raise, the voice of prayer.  Paul encouraged Timothy as he led the church in Ephesus “that requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.”  (1 Timothy 2v1-4).

So, as we take time out with God, let’s pray for change:

A changed political climate – that world leaders will recognise the need for and have the courage together to commit to cuts in greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decade so we might have the hope of curtailing dangerous climate change;

A changed economic climate – less about a few consuming more and more at the expense of others who seem to have less and less, but seeks to give life to all and make amends to those who have contributed least to the issue of climate change but feel its impacts most dramatically;

A changed cultural climate – less about instant gratification, being driven and throwing away, and more about valuing experiences, people and things we need for the long term;

A changed social climate – building harmonious relationships between peoples near and far, across generations and with creation, appreciating how our actions today shape others lives now and into the future.

As well as a changed spiritual climate.  Yes, let’s hold our Climate Sundays to bring this issue from the margins towards the centre of our understanding of mission in this day.  Let’s raise our voices along with our prayers for ourselves and others.  Let’s begin to be the answer to our prayers, beginning the journey to walk more softly upon the earth as churches and individuals.  And let’s ask God too to turn around our hearts, attitudes and actions, hearing his call through creation to “Arise, come, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.”  (Song of Songs 2v13).

Come and join with God’s mission within all creation.

 

The post Twelve Steps Towards Freedom: Towards Glasgow 2021 appeared first on Seventy Two.

Finding Jesus in the most ‘unlikely of places’

This post by Ellie Barrett was originally published at Seventy Two

As we look at the life of Jesus on earth, we see that He consistently makes a point of spending time with people who others would not. His time with the woman at the well (John 4:1-26) is one of these times and is part of a great demonstration that there is no one in society Jesus wouldn’t want to pursue. This woman was at the edge of society, coming to the well for water at noon in the heat of the afternoon to make sure she wouldn’t be seen by others who may judge or avoid her. As it says in the scripture, it was not the done thing for Jesus a Jew to associate with a Samaritan woman (John 4:9). But she needed something that only Jesus could give and so He stepped over a cultural boundary to bring her love, conviction and the offer of eternal life.

“…Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14

Jesus was often intentionally in the most unusual of places. Those places which had been rejected by the current religious culture. One of these places today is the Strip Club industry. For Christians, these are places to be avoided at all costs. While it is true that it would be unwise as Christians to casually step into a Strip Club or a context that would be a compromise of our values, Jesus shows us that there also must be a context where we can love, impact and bring Jesus to people groups like this one. Just as with the Samaritan woman, every person on this earth has needs only Jesus can fulfil. We are called to partner with Him in reaching those in need (Matthew 28:18-20). The questions are who, how, and what does this look like?

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Matthew 28:19

For us at Third Space Ministries, this looks like building relationships with Strip Clubs and sending in small groups of women who are trained and accountable once a week. They offer sweet treats, conversation, prayer and support to the women they encounter. This leads to opportunities for deeper conversations about faith, long term discipleship outside of the clubs and practical support depending on the needs of the individual. Through this we are able to introduce women to Jesus who may not usually feel comfortable or allowed to be themselves around Christians, visit a Church or explore faith.

Three years on from the start of ministry we have the access and strategy that allows us to reach women who work in Strip Clubs. To begin with however, all we had was a heart for an industry and time to pray for God to show us the way where it felt like there was no way. We didn’t know where to start but we knew Jesus would know the way and would already be moving in these places. After 18 months of prayer walking we felt God reveal our next step and over the next few months we aimed to build a relationship with the club God had highlighted but with no particular plan. We watched amazed, as God opened doors and connected us with all the right people to launch our ministry.

Because of the people Jesus chose to associate with, we know that even if it wouldn’t be the first place we would go as Christians, there is no person or culture that Jesus isn’t looking to impact today. For any person, place or culture we turn our eyes to, we will see that God is present, moving and ready for you and I to capture His heart for them. If we as Christians have a heart for a mission field, we can guarantee Jesus is already there, going before us and showing us the way. We can be confident in the assurance that we don’t need to go in blind trying to find a way to bring Jesus somewhere in our own strength. All we need to do is spend time asking Jesus where He is in that place, honour Him and welcome His already existing pursuit of those He created.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take”  Proverbs 3:5-6

Strip Clubs is one of the places that we as Third Space Ministries felt God was leading us. Maybe for you God is highlighting another place or group of people? What do you see around you as you walk around your neighbourhood, your workplace, or the places you like to visit to unwind? Maybe in these places there are cultures or people groups you would love to impact but you wouldn’t know where to start? Maybe there are people you wouldn’t usually notice or come across. Maybe like the woman at the well they wouldn’t expect you to want to associate with them because of the culture you are both surrounded by. Only you will know who God is leading you to. I can tell you though, that He will be leading you to someone, and if He is He will show you the way.

 

The post Finding Jesus in the most ‘unlikely of places’ appeared first on Seventy Two.

Discernment: Interruptions on the road to Troas

This post by Trevor Hutton was originally published at Seventy Two

One of my favourite stories in the development of the embryonic missional church planting movement recorded in the New Testament is Paul’s trip to Troas with a few of his companions. Paul, a seasoned campaigner of previous pioneering missional excursions, heads out again, probably to Ephesus, with his tried and tested strategy.

First, get a small team, second, head to the urban population centres, third pack enough chocolate for the journey (ok, thats me!), and pray, travel, rest, discern and prepare. These methods (minus the Dairy Milk) have worked well to date (see previous chapters in Acts) with the gospel shared, converts won, and churches formed. However, in Acts 16 v 6-10 we have a rather strange and unsettling story that has made it into the Luke-Acts narrative and therefore into Bibles and churches across the globe for many centuries. I wonder if Paul tried to edit it, or offer a different cover story for this tabloid headliner? But Luke uses it as one of his key stories to show that the mission of God is rooted in the work of the missionary Spirit and that God Himself is the innovator and architect of all missionary enterprise. The story itself has much to teach us about discernment in mission, which as Cornelius J. P. Niemandt rightly says, “is the very first act of mission.” (Trends in Missional Ecclesiology, 6.) Similarly, Van Gelder writes, “The church is a creation of the Spirit that participates in God’s mission. It can only do so if the church is led by the Spirit − therefore the first act in mission is to discern the Spirit so as to understand how God is at work in the church and how God is leading the church in mission and ministry towards his preferred future.” (Ministry of the Missional Church, 107). Kim and Anderson are surely right to note that, “Discerning foundations for mission requires listening to the voice of God amidst the clamour for life and justice.”(Edinburgh 2010, 126). This crazy pioneering church planting story is short but offers helpful principles for discerning the mission of God both then and now.

Paul’s Vision of the Man of Macedonia (Acts 16 v 6-10)

6 Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

I would love to have been on that journey eavesdropping on the conversation between Paul and his companions as they travelled together. As they head to Ephesus along the trade route near the region of Phrygia and Galatia, at some point they get an unexpected blockage on the way that prevents them from preaching the gospel in the province of Asia. This is made all the more surprising by Luke’s insertion that the “No” to preaching the gospel in one of the most populous cities in the Roman world came through the voice of the Spirit! I mean, since when did the Holy Spirit prevent the preaching of the gospel? Isn’t it the role of the Spirit to prepare the way for the coming of the gospel? I wonder if Paul and the others held all night prayer meetings rebuking the evil one for putting a stumbling block in the way, or praying against the powers and principalities that were opposing the gospel? At what point, and how did they come to realise this was in fact the voice of the Spirit? It is embarrassing isn’t it when we pray against the evil one for blocking the way only to find it it was the Holy One!

Undaunted, with Christine Caine’s great book in their backpack, they dust themselves down and decide to continue along the trade route to the next region having been surprised by this first interruption to their plans and tested strategy. They come to the border of Mysia, and try to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. This second interruption is similar to the first and raises similar questions and issues. What must they have been thinking? What must they have said to one another? As the seasoned campaigner and pioneer team leader, Paul must have surely been scratching his head from time to time wondering what on earth, or in heaven, is going on! They have travelled many miles, perhaps for months, and there is only one more place to head to, a place many of us like to head to after a long and weary season of life…the seaside. Licking their wounds, they decide to cash in their time share, head to Troas (the Bondai Beach of the Near East) and arrive to play frisbee, build sandcastles, buy candyfloss and take a well earned rest. Ok, I confess I have embellished Luke’s narrative with a little Irish stroy telling license, but they have literally reached the end of the road. There is no real way back and really no way forward, for the Aegean Sea lies before them. They seem stuck!

However, during that very night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” I don’t know about you but Paul seemed to be fairly clear on two previous attempts where they should be headed, and if it was me as one of his companions I think I would need a fair bit of convincing that we weren’t headed for another misadventure! But Luke records, “after the vision we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” I wonder how they discerned the ‘Yes’ this time but off they head across the Aegean on another lengthy journey. And because they went the Christian Gospel arrived on the shores of Europe for the first time and mission heads westwards to Rome, and the rest as they say is history! I have pondered on this story many times as a pioneer and planter, and often feel I’ve travelled seemingly down the missional cul de sac, confused, weary and dispirited more times than I care to recount. But thankfully this tale has taught me some helpful principles about discernment that have helped me along the way.

First, discernment is more of an art than a science.

Second, having and using a tried and tested strategy is not unspiritual, and better than having none!

Third, there is no guarantee that copying or following a previously successful strategy will work as well in a new or different context or situation.

Fourth, we don’t always know the route to take at the beginning of a journey, but discernment often comes as we set out on the way.

Fifth, the missionary Spirit often interrupts our plans and takes us on crazy journeys to bring us to the place He wants us to be and at the right time.

Sixth, God opens and closes doors. His “no” and “yes” are often discerned by reflecting upon circumstances facing us on the ground.

Seventh, discernment is resourced and supported by the gifts of the Spirit, particularly the prophetic.

Eighth, discernment works best when it is undertaken by a group and especially among travelling companions.

Ninth, discernment is often worked out in community through a process of listening, reasoning, discussing and experimenting.

Tenth, discernment must be accompanied by obedience and faith in moving ahead despite setbacks and disappointments. Be encouraged, Land Ahoy is always across the horizon of the sea.

Anyone for frisbee?

 
This blog and image were first published at Musings Over A Mug and are reproduced here with permission from Trevor Hutton. To subscribe and receive Trevor’s blogs automatically, head over to https://www.musingsoveramug.org/

The post Discernment: Interruptions on the road to Troas appeared first on Seventy Two.

Leadership in the Wilderness: Are you now ready to stand up and be counted?

This post by Nigel Coles was originally published at Seventy Two

There has not been a moment in history, when the mission of God has not been at the centre of God’s purposes. Yinka Oyekan shared something along these lines with me recently and it’s stuck with me. It’s something I already wholeheartedly agreed with, as I imagine practically everyone reading this will also. For me however, the challenge of these words is not to my belief system or my convictions, but their outworking in practice, in real life.

The pandemic has done us (the church, across the UK) a favour in one sense, which is that we can no longer avoid facing the reality: the main thing is no longer the main thing. The main thing, whilst expressed variously, has ‘making disciples’ as the core activity of the church. I acknowledge there are many faithful individual followers of Jesus, there are faithful and authentic churches to be found in every context imaginable, but overall, in general, we are in desperate need. When either I or a local leadership team themselves, evaluate the extent to which everything they practice and do together or for others, results in people growing deeper in discipleship, there are always some surprises which shatter their assumptions. Just because we call something ‘worship’ …

Individually, do you feel you’re simply a national health number waiting for your vaccine to become available, a national insurance number waiting to discover whether you’ll be a net giver or net receiver to the economic system, or a very small chip in a very big system, who has no bearing on the outcome?

OR:

Do you believe ‘God has a name’? As God said to Moses: ‘I Am Who I Am’. (Exodus 3:14).

As a part of a church community, are you collectively more than the sum of your parts? Are you making an impact for the kingdom of God? Are more people discovering more of the life of Jesus because of, or in spite of, you being God’s people together?

Seventy-two has never set out to be an organisation and I still resist that. I believe we have more than enough para-church organisations and the means too easily become the ends with the need to fund, govern, keep the wheels of the organisation moving, but primarily, I believe Jesus when he says the kingdom of God is like a man who sowed good seed in his field (Mt 13:24), like a mustard seed (Mt 13:31 & Mark 4), like yeast (Mt 13:33), like treasure hidden in a field (Mt 13:44), like a merchant looking for fine pearls (Mt 13:45), like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish (Mt 13:47), like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants (Mt 18:23).

I also believe it’s people like you, who Jesus calls. It’s people who lead organisations for better or for worse. It’s us who grow, dismantle, plant and uproot, organisations, and whatever else the church is an organisation. I’m sure like so many, I’ve been tempted at various times to walk away every time I begin to nurture such thoughts, the Lord reminds me he will take care of his responsibilities, but I am called to attend to those he has given me.

Back to Yinka Oyekan’s word. In my case I have some degree of responsibility to do whatever I can to ensure the organisations I lead do more than craft a nicely worded, doctrinally-sound purpose statement. We need to look like what we say. A church, a network of churches, a denomination. Whichever it is, the challenge to follow Jesus remains.

What I observe is a church where the main thing is no longer the main thing. The time for passing the blame, although culturally on message, has passed. Now is the time to take responsibility.

Do our stated beliefs and purposes align with our budget spending and actual outcomes? Over the last twenty years I’ve been attempting to transition an organisation through what feels like 180 degrees: from a place of being purely administrative to a missional network.

I don’t think we’re there yet, although we’ve come a fair way round. I operate within Baptist systems who frequently appear to believe ‘wherever you have two, or three Baptists, you have five or six opinions and every one of them is equally valid’, this has not been an easy landscape in which to operate. It’s taken me a long time to recognise our real culture is very different to our assumed culture.

The recent announcement by The Methodist Church to approve same-sex marriage, as well as affirming cohabitation, should be proof enough we can no longer assume anything, simply because we use Christian language. The question arises: how much of the Bible can we not believe in before we cross the line into simply fooling ourselves? 1 John 1, for example, offers a critique and highlights the fallacy of pursuing the direction of popular, post-modern culture, which to coin a popular phrase, ‘doesn’t do God’.

“One generation believes something, the next assumes it, the third will forget and deny it” (D.A. Carson). We’ve had to revisit our core convictions. No longer can we assume conviction about the authority of scripture, about the need for personal repentance, or conversion. As a Baptist Regional Minister, no longer can I assume everyone who wants to be a pioneer has a deep concern to see people come to faith in Jesus Christ and follow him.

Sadly, the reality is that whilst these things are now my reality, they are also the reality for every local church. We’ve always said we believe the church is one generation away from extinction, but our practices and our budgets suggest otherwise. Having a ‘Baptist Minister’ may or may not provide a ‘missional leader’ (my observation is if they want to debate with you either/or the word ‘leader’, or ‘missional’ they’re probably neither). Calling yourselves a ‘church’ may or may not reveal a community of God’s people whose culture grows faith in Jesus.

If you’ve gone when Jesus says ‘go’ (Luke 10:1) you’ve become a leader by influence. Whether you have any formal leadership role or not, if you see yourself appointed by Jesus, as the seventy-two in Luke 10, you have accepted responsibility. The pandemic has revealed our reality. Now I believe, the Lord is looking for those ready and willing to stand up and be counted.

This is part 7 in the 7 part series Leadership in the Wilderness. You can find the first 6 blogs here.

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The Fuelcast: Go!

This post by Alex Drew was originally published at Seventy Two

God asks us to ‘go’, but how do you set about sharing your faith? Seventy-two’s Alex Drew and The Fuelcast have made this video in which she shares some of her experiences:

 

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Equipping Missional Disciples at Bristol Baptist College

This post by Lindsay Caplen was originally published at Seventy Two

Calling all lay leaders, preachers or indeed anyone wanting to be a more fruitful disciple of Christ in today’s rapidly changing world.

Leadership, especially church leadership, can sometimes feel like a ministry of ‘spinning plates.’ We dare not stop to reflect on what we are doing because we can’t afford for any plates to smash. This course offers the opportunity to breathe, to think about what we are doing, why we are doing it and whether there might be a better way.

It also gives the opportunity to gain Biblical, theological and practical knowledge, to grow in our fruitfulness as disciples of Christ and to be part of a supportive learning community.

Over the three years, you will gain a solid grasp of the Old and New Testaments, whilst learning more about faithfully and effectively communicating their meaning in ways that help those you serve grow as every-day disciples. You will learn about God at work both outside and inside the church and reflect on how that might shape how God’s people live.  Together, we will think about why it’s important to exegete both culture and Scripture and we’ll find out what on earth that means! We will explore why leadership character and spirituality are at least as important as leadership skills and we will consider how God’s people can effectively pastorally support, care, equip and disciple one another (and those in their communities) in sickness and in health.

Having completed the course, we anticipate that you will have grown in your discipleship, developed a deeper knowledge of God and the Scriptures and learned a range of skills affording you the ability to serve more effectively and with greater confidence as you step out and serve God in your church, community and your everyday life.

How does the course work?

The course is held in Bristol Baptist College on eight Saturdays a year over 3 years. It’s a rolling programme so you are able to join at any point and to do as few or as many modules as you like. We’d love you to be with us for all of them!

The course is taught at ‘Access’ level, so please don’t worry if you don’t have previous qualifications. Short, manageable assignments are set to help you think through and ‘ground’ what you are learning, though, should you prefer, you will be welcome to attend without doing any assignments. Successful completion of all 12 modules including assignments will result in a Bristol Baptist College Certificate being awarded along with the opportunity to receive it at our annual Valedictory service.

We have sought to keep costs as low as we can and believe that £60/module represents excellent value.  We suggest that prospective students approach their church for support with funding and regular encouragement wherever possible.

To find out more, why not click here https://www.bristol-baptist.ac.uk/community-learning/emd/

And/or contact our EMD administrator at community.learning@bristol-baptist.ac.uk

 

 

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Moving Beyond Tribal Boundaries: Part 2

This post by Ross Maynard was originally published at Seventy Two

I start this blog at the place I finished part one, ‘The Failings of Tribes’:

Here’s where I’m at…

I am done with tribal boundaries and the exclusion they foster.

I am done with tribal boundaries and the small god they defend.

I worship an immeasurable, untethered, wild God. A God of love, inclusion and God who blows our tribal boundaries to smithereens.

In this blog I hope to build on this conclusion. I hope to offer a practical way forward based on my own reflection and experience. This practical way forward is not new and many of you may already be doing it without even realising it. I am simply trying to articulate where my theological meandering has led me.


What I’ve been calling tribal boundaries, Paul Hiebert, a Missiologist and Anthropologist, would call a ‘bounded-set’. In his article ‘Conversion, Culture and Cognitive Categories,’ he speaks particularly about what makes a Christian, a Christian and argues that for many this category is defined by a boundary in which you’re in or out. Hiebert says:

‘For example, some define a Christian as a person who believes (gives verbal acknowledgement to) a specific set of doctrines such as the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, and so on. Some make such lists quite long and add on specific doctrines of eschatology or soteriology. Others, convinced that true “belief” is more than a mental argument with a set of statements, look for the evidence of belief in changed lives and behaviour. A Christian, then, is one who does not smoke or drink alcohol, and so on. We would make a clear distinction between a “Christian” and a “non-Christian.” There is no place in between. Moreover, maintaining this boundary is critical to the maintenance of the category.’[1]

I find Hiebert’s description of a ‘bounded-set’ helpful in explaining how we traditionally categorise who is a Christian and who isn’t. His categorisation is painting with broad brush strokes and was written long enough ago that many may take a more nuanced approach today. However, I still think there is a lot of truth in what he says.

For those, like myself who are more visual learners, this image may help. The ‘bounded-set’ says that a Christian is one who fits within the circle. You are a Christian if you believe the right things and behave in the right way.

 

Hiebert’s refection is borne out of his mission work in India and his encountering of a worldview that is completely different to his own as a white, American man. His exploration leads him to be very critical of the ‘bounded-set’ type of categorising. Namely, because his Indian friend’s worldview is so different, they would never fit within these neat demarcations

Hiebert would argue that we need to look beyond the ‘bounded – set’ and move towards a ‘centred–set’, in which the focus is not being ‘in or out’, but on the direction of travel. A ‘centred set’ is dynamic and diverse. There is no uniform way to think or behave. The focus is upon whether you’re heading to the centre or not. We are drawn together in purpose and focus. For example, we are all heading towards Jesus. He is our centre. He is the purpose we journey towards, despite theological differences and differences in the way we behave.

Let me earth what I’m saying with a practical example. My friend, Steve Jones and I, started a community called OPEN last year during the pandemic. I only realised recently that we are organised in a way that would be similar to the language of a ‘Centred Set’, something to which I am very grateful to Steve for pointing out. We are travelling together in the same direction. We have the same purpose and focus.

Our direction of travel is defined by our values. Those values are:

  • Open minds – We wish to create a space where people can think and ask questions of all things pertaining to faith in God, without being given prescribed answers.
  • Open hearts – We wish to create a space where people can experience the indescribable love of Jesus.
  • Open to all – We wish to create a space that is truly inclusive and open to all. We have a particular heart for those from the LGBT community who have often not found many places in which this is the case.
  • Open to change – We wish to create a space that is dynamic and one we can explore together whether online or with one another in the flesh. It’s also important that OPEN can end if the time comes. We may just be gathering for a season and that’s OK.

What I have discovered as we’ve journeyed together is that we are not only held together by our direction of travel, our willingness to hold to the four values, but by our relationships also. We trust one another and put these relationships first. Too often have I seen ‘doctrine’ and a desire for some false integrity held over and above genuine relationships.

There are two very clear advantages to this way of gathering and being. 1) Firstly, difference of opinion isn’t feared and discouraged but welcomed and encouraged. We love questions and believe God is made bigger as we learn from one another, being challenged to think beyond our own presuppositions. 2) Secondly, people aren’t excluded for thinking differently. Many of us that gather are, but by no means exclusively, more ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ (both terms that are hugely inadequate, but will have to do for now) in our thinking, but this doesn’t mean you can’t journey with us if you’re not these things. Like I said before, the focus is relationship and direction of travel. If you’re willing to go on an adventure with us, respecting and treating equally the people you disagree with and the beliefs they hold, then we’d love you to come along for the ride.

Our OPEN community has changed me, as I now have a space to think, question and disagree, without fear of exclusion. I have found friends, companions to journey with, towards the centre, towards Jesus.


Let me summarise what I’ve tried to articulate over the two parts of this blog:

I’m done with tribal boundaries.

I’m done with the exclusion they create.

I’m done with a small god owned by particular tribes.

I want to journey to the centre, to Jesus, with others.

I want to journey with a diverse bunch of people who will challenge me with their questions and beliefs.

I want to worship an immeasurable, untethered, wild God who blows our tribal boundaries to smithereens.

 

[1] See Paul Hiebert’s article: Hiebert, Paul G. 1978. ‘Conversion, Culture and Cognitive Categories’. Gospel in Context 1 (4):24-29.

 

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The Bridge

This post by Richard Rycroft was originally published at Seventy Two

Rich Rycroft from Hillfields Baptist Church in Bristol recently received a vision for the church he leads.

A compelling parable for us all. Feel free to share this video:

 

 

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