Category: Articles

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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What song do you sing?

This post by Rob May was originally published at Seventy Two

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’ John 12:20-33

Earlier this year we heard about a rare bird that had lost its song. There are only 300 Regent Honeyeaters left! Too few to teach the young ones to sing like a Honeyeater. Instead they’ve started singing all kinds of weird stuff.

This is why church and passages like John 12:20-33 matter. Around you in the church is a choir to teach you to sing properly. Because if we are not careful, we find ourselves no longer sounding quite as Christian as we should.

‘Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains a single grain. But if it falls and dies it produces many seeds.’

The Greeks had come looking for Jesus but it’s not clear what they expected to hear.

For John, they are representatives of the nations coming to see Jesus. Scripture being fulfilled and people still coming looking for Jesus.

Some come for nostalgia’s sake, the warm feeling of a distant memory that comes back. Others hope Jesus will help them to live successful and trouble-free lives. Just enough religion to keep a guilty conscience at bay. A little spiritual disruption but not so much that they can’t go skiing every year. Just enough passion and commitment to feel like maybe you might change the world but not so much that you might end up risking everything. To join a church doing ‘whatever it takes’ to grow rather than a church teetering on the edge of death. Rock star worship, gifted designer-clothed speakers, some money for the poor, a stint at the foodbank and a flat overlooking the river at Battersea.

Maybe this is where the Greeks hoped they would one day live.

Our Easter song says that Jesus had to fall and he had to die. He cannot cling on and still live. But in this dying there will be much fruit.

Perhaps we wished he’d stopped talking there. Left us out of it. We want to be one of those many seeds that come from his resurrected life. But can we just go straight there? Skip Lent and Good Friday? Straight to Easter Sunday and the joy of resurrection!

Anyone who loves their life will lose it; while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves must follow me; and where I am my servant will be also.

There’s hyperbole here of course. Like tattooed knuckles: Love-Hate. Love life and lose it. Hate life and keep it.

Jesus didn’t hate life. He was not a hair-shirt Christian incapable of appreciating and celebrating beautiful art or music or the kindness of a stranger. Like a Puritan lying awake at night tortured and bitter worried that someone, somewhere is enjoying themselves. Eating and drinking, laughing and sharing stories with Jesus.

I read somewhere recently  that a common factor in healthy growing churches is laughter. Healthy churches laugh easily and often. Like Jesus.

To spend time with Jesus was not to be with someone who wished he was somewhere else. We know people like this. They never quite have enough time for you. There’s always something or someone more important or better for them to be seen with. Leaders who prefer to invest in their legacy rather than in the church’s losers. They’re not listening to you because you matter. They are just waiting before they can tell you little more about themselves

Jesus was at his most lively and life-giving in the presence of sin and brokenness. Desolate lives abused and over-looked. Jesus was to be found in some God-forsaken home surrounded by tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes. Not your average middle-class dinner party but very much a Christian one.

Something lit up in his face when they cried out for mercy. He came and touched them. Healed them and they lived. He spoke hope and love, compassion and forgiveness. He came not for the righteous but for sinners. Not for the healthy but the sick. There is a way of life loved by Jesus but it is a way of life not of this world’s making. And it is a life that reaches into our world from the throne room of heaven.

There is also a way of life that Jesus hates.

It’s the life of those who strut in the presence of power and position. They abuse and violate the very life-giving laws they signed up to protect. Concerned only for themselves, their station and position, asserting their self-importance to anyone who might listen.

That’s when his anger simmered. That’s when his calling and vocation came into sharper focus.

With steady gaze Jesus stood before those who wanted to destroy him. And, in glorious obedience, he let go of this grain of wheat only to watch it fall and die.

Was this what the Greeks wanted to hear? Is this why they wanted ‘to see’ Jesus? Is this the song the Greeks wanted to learn? Is this what they wanted to be heard singing to the end of their days?

We’ve seen something of both lives in the last 12 months. We’ve seen signs of the life we see in Jesus and we’ve seen signs of a life we should despise. We’ve lived a year ‘stripped back’. We’ve been given choices we don’t normally get offered.

Families with more time together than they could have previously imagined. Friends more isolated than they’ve ever been. Neighbourhoods unknowingly becoming signs of the kingdom. The poor cared for. Neighbours shopped for. Weekly foodbank collections. Jesus has come amongst us.

We have been given a gift although sometimes it didn’t feel like it. What really matters most in life? What song do you want to sing?

But then we look again and see the other world.

No more money for tired nurses but some for a shiny new room with microphones, two flags and a podium. Less aid for world’s poor but more nuclear bombs. There’s more than enough to feed the poor, but first we must satisfy the rich.

Goldman Sacks workers asking for their hours to be capped to an inhuman 80 hours a week. Goldman Sach’s 2020 net revenue? £32.1 billion. Apparently, still not enough. And we’re back in Egypt with the slave masters. Thank God Jesus hears the songs of the slaves.

Alex McCammond steps down as editor of Teen Vogue because someone unpleasant dug up rash and offensive tweets she posted as a teenager. Thank God we didn’t have Twitter when we were growing up. A world with no forgiveness for our sins even with a confession.

The brutality of social media. The absence of grace and generosity. The absence of life. Just dying and death but no redemption.

If you want to talk about sin how about sin number 10? ‘Thou shalt not covet!’

Not all the Greeks moved to Battersea, of course.

Rather than clinging on tightly to their grains of wheat, some let them fall and found that they lived. They went back to their friends and neighbours and they sang the songs of Jesus. They moved in amongst the poor and they sang the songs of Jesus. They sat down with the abused and they sang their songs. They sang forgiveness to those who confessed and repented. They opened their homes singing  the songs of Jesus. They faced up to the powerful, stood in the gap, spoke up for the voiceless and they sang their songs. Some even went to the ends of the earth still singing the songs of Jesus.

They gave up craving the things of this world and gained the life of eternity. And they sang their songs. The world was judged and the ruler of this world was driven out!

We would recognise them. They sound like us. They sing like us. I think we would recognise the melody. Unless of course, you have forgotten the song. Or worse still, prefer not to be reminded.

But I don’t think that’s true, is it…?

 

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Leadership in the Wilderness: Am I willing to live in pursuit of the promised and preferred future of God?

This post by Nigel Coles was originally published at Seventy Two

Moses said to the Lord, ‘You have been telling me, “Lead these people,” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, “I know you by name and you have found favour with me.” Exodus 33:12

Then Moses said to him, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. Exodus 33:15

Then the Lord said to him, ‘This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, “I will give it to your descendants.” I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.’ And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. Deuteronomy 34:4-5

‘God’s preferred and promised future’ is language many people find difficult. I know because I use that phrase a fair bit and even on Zoom I notice the raised eyebrows and quizzical looks. We use it a lot through the Re:Imagine process. My observation is most local church leadership teams have given zero time to discussing their future in these terms before we raise the question. Once raised, there are a few hurdles for some to overcome before they can start the conversation:

  • ‘How do God’s promises impact how we lead?’
  • ‘Do you really mean God’s preferred future?’

The wilderness through which the people of God wandered is a perfect example of liminal space; ‘the space in-between’ two recognisable territories; Egypt and the Promised Land.

The space in-between denotes transition, in their case from one geography to another, but more significantly from slavery to freedom. Liminal events and periods typically produce recognisable and significant transitions, such as significant loss or a global pandemic (at least we now have an example we can all relate to). Moses had to contend with people who would struggle. They tried to step back from the tipping point of no return whenever they could (you/me/leadership team?). Fearing the realistic plausibility of death, the Israelites saw slavery as a superior alternative to dwelling in the wilderness, even with the divine promise of their own land. Throughout the wilderness story runs the constant thread of Moses’ relationship with the Lord. Moses is given a mission. It is by anyone’s assessment, extraordinarily difficult. On top of this, he was not allowed to reap the rewards of his and his people’s suffering: entry into and dwelling in the Promised Land.

I can’t remember my initial reaction on my first hearing this story. It must have been when I was eighteen and working for Barclays Bank, my eyes fixed on becoming the youngest ever. To my mind then (young, ambitious) God disallowing Moses entry into the Promised Land seemed unnecessarily harsh and an unreasonable punishment. Today I don’t see it like that at all. Today, I am also more aware of the cost and realities of chasing God-given dreams. Today I am aware, it’s the easiest thing in the world to shift blame for procrastination to the church, other leaders, other church leaders, the Trustees, or the Union (in my case ‘baptist’, not ‘trade’).

What is it, which distinguishes leadership, that takes people somewhere, from stagnation? If I had to choose one word, it would be ‘responsibility’. The Lord called Moses because in spite of everything (you know all those things you see clearly in Moses and identify with and think they get you off the hook?) he saw someone who would accept responsibility. Moses stepped up to the plate, which is why he frequently turns round to the Lord, recognising ‘I can’t, so you must’, because he felt responsible. In practice for me, it means I must hang onto the word, the question, the challenge, whatever it is, which in a moment I recognise is from God with my name on it. If you’ve read all six questions, which arose for me reading Exodus at the beginning of this year, then welcome to my personal spiritual therapy sessions!

It’s the nature of the kingdom of God. Now, but not yet fully. Yet in this in-between space, Jesus is my Lord, the kingdom has a King.

#I am content to live with the tension in the space in-between

What on earth’s going on? I frequently ask this question within my world, but the pandemic has caused us all to ask it on the global canvas. Never before throughout human history have so many of the earth’s population been so aware of so much so quickly of anything of such far-reaching global impact.

What on earth can I do? I frequently ask this question too. I don’t know about you, but it’s been a challenge I regularly raise in my preaching over the years for anyone else too. The pandemic has provided plenty of human examples of individuals doing something to make a difference in the charity sector: Captain Tom, Rob Burrow, Spiderman (well the dressed-up version, Jason Baird, from Stockport). If I can be honest about a deep concern I have across the UK church, it’s the scarcity of stories we’re telling about individuals in our own congregations who are enabling people to encounter Jesus, whether that be for the first time, or tasting and seeing how good the Lord is.

It’s not difficult to recognise we’re living in a world of desperate need, too great for any of us to meet. On a macro-level the biggest crisis we face globally remains the climate emergency. Add in a global pandemic, serious shortages of natural resources, plus an ever-increasing poverty gap, and we have more than enough to exhaust us.

On a personal level, I’ve lived with the never-ending challenge of Christian ministry and mission for thirty-five years now. Never-ending, isn’t it? The more fruitful you are, the longer the queue of those who want a slice of your time. This week marked five years, since we moved into our present home. I’ve been taking pictures of the garden to mark the change in the garden; it’s so good to look back and actually see what’s changed. I was speaking to a colleague last week, also a keen gardener, who told me he often takes a picture at the beginning and the end of a day spent in the garden. You can do that with people, before and after counselling, a pastoral visit, baptism, but playing ‘spot the difference’ is hard to say the least.

Then there’s the nature of the kingdom of God. The ‘now and not-yet kingdom’. Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of heaven on earth and whilst I’m grateful for every glimpse of the kingdom I’ve ever had, I know it’s simply the first fruits of what’s to come. If I then take a church-wide view, it’s the same reality. There’s my personal embodiment of the great commandment and the great commission. If I could take a photo, not of my garden, but my heart as Jesus speaks about it, I know it looks more like his than when I first encountered him, but I’ve a long way to go yet.

The view of the church is complicated at best, so I’ll stick to my own, the English Baptists. We are in the midst of our own crises the virus has simply highlighted. We began over 400 years ago, the result of straight-forward obedience to a Christo-centric reading of Scripture. Today we risk subverting Jesus as Lord, in favour of an ecclesiological construct, which is more focused on the perceived needs of the church, than the mission of God. Today we face crises of leadership, discipleship and fruitful mission, but it’s easier to ignore the specific commands of Jesus and join the rest of the world in pursuit of a world of our own making, one which has no room for God. (That’s my very superficial summary of a book, which deserves more reading and re-reading by me: Leadership, God’s Agency, & Disruptions. Confronting Modernity’s Wager’. By Mark Lau Branson & Alan Roxburgh.)

The church is living in post-Christendom, but that’s been true for centuries. We are living through post-modernity, but surely that’s the space in-between modernity and what, we do not know. Either mean turbulent times, but together they are luring Christian leaders towards post-Christianity.

You have said, “I know you by name and you have found favour with me.” Exodus 33:12 Wow! When I hear Jesus say to me: I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15) – I know I am more blessed and privileged even than Moses and so are you. That’s why I can keep on keeping on.

#My future constant: determined to be seeking the presence of the Lord

Then Moses said to him, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. Exodus 33:15 

It never ceases to amaze me how often I make the same mistake! ‘Seek first the kingdom of God’, ‘fix your eyes on Jesus’, ‘be still and know that I am God’. All easy to understand, all I believe in, so why do I allow so many things to blur my vision or simply get in the way? I’m not suggesting it’s an answer which translates into practice every day of my life, but I’m learning to focus more on today than tomorrow. I’m slow on the uptake, clearly, because this is an element of what Jesus is telling us on the sermon on the mount, which provides the context for his call to ‘seek first his kingdom’ (Mt.7:33): ‘do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself’ (Mt.7:34). It’s finally dawned on me; the sermon on the mount, is not for me to primarily preach to others, to study to understand, but to embody to live life in its fulness.

#I want to be a carrier of God’s future, today and tomorrow

I’ve become a little obsessed with this motif. ‘Carriers of God’s future’ is how Walter Breuggemann describes the people of God in the days when Jeremiah was almost a solitary mouthpiece for the word of God. However, unlike Breuggemann, I happen to believe ‘exodus’ is a more helpful metaphor for leadership in the UK church today, than ‘exile’. I’m not saying Breuggemann is suggesting this, but there is a real danger that pushing the ‘exile’ metaphor too much can suggest our aim is a return to Christendom, which makes the Church of God the focus, rather than the mission of God.

Re:Imagine is the name of the missional learning communities we began in the West of England Baptist Network and are attempting now to share across our Baptist Union churches. We talk a lot about transition and the subsequent, necessary changes, but at its heart the strapline ‘from doing mission to being missional’, has to become more of a reality. At the heart of what being a carrier of God’s future is about is intentionality. That’s at the heart of Jesus, who was both ‘full of grace and truth’. It’s both being and doing, it’s being a kind of friend of Jesus, he describes he lays his life down for, who also ‘do what I command’ (John 15;14).

#I shall listen for God’s voice above the busyness of the traffic

I’ve started a campaign: ‘Beyond Listening’ How many people get beyond listening, following a typical Sunday gathering? My best estimate is 10%. How many people get beyond listening following a typical small group, Bible study? My best estimate is again, around 10%. That’s my best estimate, so I’ve a long way to go. Of course, I have no means of really knowing, but I know my own heart. I know how I can deceive myself into believing because I’ve listened and heard to the point of comprehension, a particular word from the Lord, I’ve somehow obeyed. Because I read and understand intellectually and conceptually the subject of a book I’ve read, somehow, I can deceive myself I ‘know’ something. The word of God however, talks about ‘knowing’ and ’listening’ differently. Look at the parable of the sower. ‘Be walking Bibles’, as Spurgeon said.

#I shall pursue wherever the word of God takes me

Jesus only spoke what he wanted to see replicated in someone else’s life. He only acted in ways he wanted to see multiplied through the lives of all of us who are blessed to be called his disciples. I know this. I don’t simply believe it. I can see, looking back, my story since becoming a Christian has been far more about God’s faithfulness to me, than the other way round.

I’ve sometimes wondered why the Lord called me out of local Ministry. One thing’s for sure, I’d never have chosen what we now call ‘regional ministry’ myself, back in the day we didn’t apply for the job, rather responded to an invitation to interview, ‘we think you might be the person we’re looking for’, as David Coffey put it in the phone call. At the time, I was planning the celebration for welcoming our 300th church member, which probably expressed the reason, in my mind, I was called to Counterslip in Bristol. I was looking forward, anticipating another ten years of what God might have in store for us. I have wondered, both ‘why me’ and ‘why then’? Did the Lord remove me because the temptation to look at something as my achievement, might have been too great? It’s the closest I can get to identifying with how Moses might have felt when he heard the direction of God’s call, pursued for forty years towards the Promised Land, was not going to become his reality.

‘Strengthening the soul of leadership is an invitation that begins, continues and ends with seeking God in the crucible of ministry’. ‘It is a place where the quickest way is not always the best way, because the transformation that is happening in us is more important than getting where we think we need to go’. [1]

[1] Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. Ruth Haley Barton. Page 210.

 

This is part 6 in the 6 part series Leadership in the Wilderness. You can find the first 5 blogs here.

 

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Old Wine

This post by Michael Shaw was originally published at Seventy Two

I am writing this from a new café. Someone described it recently as the new “destination” café. To be honest, it is so new, they only have filter coffee, as the new coffee machine is not working, but everything else is all carefully designed to be a destination.

I usually write from a café down the road, but wanted to try out the new place, because I am stupid enough to fall for the flashy newness! The café down the road is great and serves great food and good coffee. The café down the road is where the locals go. If I go, there I will end up in conversation with someone.

I have been here 20 mins, and nobody has spoken to me yet, apart from to offer me a drink. People here are working on the laptops or talking on their phones. Too busy to talk to people.

I am the kind of person who falls for flashy and new. As a Marketeer in the past, I know that “new” is a word that people are excited by. Jesus said a few things about the old and new wine, but what often strikes me is that he said the old wine is good! And in fact, people will pay a fortune for a vintage, aged wine, so experts know that old wine is better!

So, although I know the cafe down the road serves, currently, better coffee, has a more community atmosphere, and is cheaper, here I am sat in a new café.

We have the same attitude with church. A few years ago, a new church plant opened in the city centre, it was a from a big national church movement, cool, and with all the “features” people wanted. I met at an ex church leader and asked where he was now, he said, “it’s a cliché, but I go to…” and named the church.  He added that he and his wife could sit with each other while the kids got looked after, but it was said with such a sense of reservation.

What is interesting is that we have just received into membership two people who have left that church. They started following us online, during Lockdown, and while we do not have the flashy newness, what we did have was integrity. After we started meeting in-person again, the wife said she had learnt more in three weeks than she had done in three years at the other church.

You see the old wine is good! Not that we are that old either (we were only planted 22 years ago, but always as a community church in an area of high deprivation and incredibly low church attendance).

I wonder what Jesus thinks of our churches today. I wonder, when he took 12 individuals and assorted hangers-on and started a movement that would become “the church”, or when Peter and the other disciples were overwhelmed by the Spirit at Pentecost, I wonder whether they realised that 2,000 years later we would end up here? A time when people see church as something to consume, to experience rather than to live? When people will drive past dozens of churches to attend the new “destination” church?

So while I love the flashy newness of the new café and if I need a place where I can work in where nobody will disturb me, I will be back  but  next week I will be in my usual café where the coffee is better and cheaper!

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Wow, God can do big things! 

This post by Rachael Warnock was originally published at Seventy Two

This title is a friend’s response to being told that I am to be ordained soon.

God can do big things indeed!

I am small, but God is mighty. He has consistently moved in, through and for me in ways that I could not expect. On this journey and adventure with him God has closed and opened doors. He has provided the resources he knew I needed and has faithfully sustained me. God has made a way, sometimes in the wilderness. He has been the one in whom I can trust. 

God can do big things with even our small offerings. When we give ourselves to God and his work, including our imperfections, then we can expect God to move! 

I find myself at this point on my journey with God because he moved through a small local church. They offered their resources- time, support and equipping. They allowed me to explore and serve. I experienced an authentic community through hospitality, generosity, joy and struggle.  God’s presence and leading was gifted  through this family and the local small community too. 

I encourage you to find out about your smaller local churches. What’s going on? What are they doing amidst the local community? How could you pray for them or join in? What are your gifts and what could you offer? Could you gift them simply with your attentive presence? 

Do not underestimate what God can do in the smallness and with you too! God wants to be closer to you, to build you up in humility and through those around you. 

God’s doing big things with the small things. He’s raising up those who don’t look like worldly leaders, he’s renewing the wastelands and the desert spaces too. 

I will make a pathway through the wilderness.

    I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. Isaiah 43:18-20

God’s restoring, mighty, impacting presence is all around, we just need to look in all the right places! 

How is God moving in you currently? How is God prompting you? How can you be more open to him? God is speaking to us, nudging us and cheering us on in our everyday ordinary lives and communities, if only we humbly pay attention. 

 

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Leadership in the Wilderness: Am I willing to ‘not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’?

This post by Nigel Coles was originally published at Seventy Two

Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. Exodus 16:21

Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out.’ Exodus 16:29

Moses’ father-in-law replied, ‘What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Exodus 18:17-18

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’ Exodus 34:6-7

Earlier this year I sensed six questions, the Lord was prompting me to ask myself as a result of reading through Exodus again. Five months on, the largest element by far which has stayed with me is the powerful connection with Jesus’ experience in the wilderness: the context of his battle with the devil. Moses’ journey with God through forty years of wandering in the wilderness was, make no mistake, hugely significant in the history of the people of God. However, I can’t help sensing the greatest significance for Moses was not in any sense the achievement of having been ‘the greatest legislator and commander-in-chief of the first liberation army’ (Elie Wiesel), but his relationship with Yahweh, the One, True, Living, God. As Ruth Haley Barton puts it so powerfully: ‘for Moses the presence of God was the Promised Land’. Wow – you mean I should stop striving to get somewhere I’m not and stop and acknowledge the Lord is with me, right here, right now? Pretty much.

I shall be defined more by my relationship with my heavenly Father, than my context

We talk and hear others talk a lot of about context today. I remember Tom Smail coming to speak when I was at Spurgeon’s back in the 1980’s. He was the first person I heard talk about ‘contextual theology’. We’ve come a long way since then, (almost forty years in fact!) but have we? I like to think I’ve learnt some important lessons about how to engage and operate as a missional disciple in varying contexts, but I’ve also heard a lot of nonsense. Jesus knew how to sift through words, words of God. Me? I’ve not always been so good, but I’m learning. Remember Jesus’ response to what is recorded as the first of a series of temptations:

Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4 although it’s a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3.

Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. Deuteronomy 8:1-5

Here’s the thing. Neither Moses, Jesus, nor Bear Grylls allowed themselves to be shaped by their context. Bear Grylls? Me? You? I like Bear Grylls. Christian, adventurer, at last I can admit to being a Scout in public without people sniggering! This week he spoke again about the dangers of protecting young people too much:

“The ninjas of the future,” says Bear Grylls, “are going to be those who can learn how to navigate the fear. It’s like a firefight. You can’t move backwards. You’ve got to move towards it, you know?” (Interview with the Irish Times May 13 2021)

Today’s wisdom provides us with a choice invariably between play safe and avoid the danger or immerse yourself in the culture you want to identify with. Jesus offers a third way. The Jesus way is incarnation, full identification, yet without being changed by the culture, rather being transformed by the word of God.

I remember when I moved to North Cheam being told ‘it’s really hard ground for the gospel in suburbia’; when I moved to Bristol, ‘South Bristol is really hard ground’, when I became a Area Superintendent ‘you won’t be able to do it with a young family’. Basically, everywhere I go there’s someone ready to inform me, it can’t be done. I’ve developed a two-word answer: ‘but God’. Our context is important, absolutely, but it doesn’t change the good news of Jesus Christ. We need to be self-aware and not blind to our own limitations, but they don’t determine the call of God.

Here’s Ruth Haley Barton again: ‘Every time I read about Moses’ relationship with God I am filled with longing and it is not the longing to get somewhere – although there are always new places to get to. It is the longing to be a certain kind of person. A person who knows God. A person who is faithful against all odds and does not shrink back. A person through whom God can perform whatever deeds need to be done – mighty or otherwise – but also a person who can just be as content settling down beside a well or sitting on the side of a mountain in God’s presence. Someone whose face shines because he has been talking to God. Someone whose every move is a result of an attempt to listen to God and then do what he says’. (Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership. P219)

That’s me. I want to be more like Jesus. I talk a lot about Jesus’ DNA, but talk alone doesn’t cut it, I want people to get Jesus’ DNA themselves and that’s exactly what the Holy Spirit delivers in us all. Given space and permissive freedom, the Holy Spirit multiplies Jesus’ DNA in whoever allows him.

I shall trust whichever words from God, He speaks into my life, more than any others 

It’s an exciting week. We’ve been nudging towards launching an App based on The Discipleship Cycle. You can get an insight via the Seventy-two website:

In a nutshell, The Discipleship Cycle encourages everyone to go beyond listening to God, to looking to live out in practice, whatever God speaks into our lives. Listening is where we start, but not where we need to finish (how many of your Sunday gathering do you reckon get beyond listening any given week?).

My daily time in the presence of the Lord (anyone else remember that Eric Clapton song of the same name or am I alone in being that old!?) has become the most dynamic space of my life in recent years. I’m not proud of that fact as I’ve been a Baptist Minister for thirty-five years and I’m sure plenty of people might have assumed I should have said that a long time ago! However, I’ve come to the place where I intentionally seek to co-operate with what I now recognise as the process for transformation the Holy Spirit utilises in our lives. It strikes me it also happens to be the same process Clive Woodward employed, which enabled England to win the Rugby World Cup and Dave Brailsford used, which transformed British Cycling from the Olympic also-rans of 2002 to the dominant force of 2008 at Beijing. I’m not claiming any great Christian leadership insights for either guy, simply they implemented a process, which embraced how change actually takes place 99.9% of the time: incremental, daily, 1% at a time. Today I no longer stress about whether I’ll remember the content or background of the Bible passage I’ve just read, as long as I sense I’ve moved a phase around the Discipleship Cycle of listening, looking, living and learning. I don’t worry if I’ve not understood the impact of every facet of the culture clash between post-modernity and the kingdom of God, as long as I’m staying attentive to what the Lord is highlighting to me and acting on that. I’m not focusing on keeping the weeds down but nurturing every seed of the word of God he wants sown into my heart.

Every word because every day can be a step forwards on my journey towards the likeness of Jesus. ‘Every word that comes from the mouth of God’ is, for me, a seed which needs to be planted, nurtured and grown to fruition. ‘Every word’ can become a 1% incremental change, towards the likeness of Jesus in my shoes. Every word because they’re all fully aligned with who he is. They’re not just words from a God who says what he means and means what he says, they are who he is, they’re intrinsic to his very essence. His character and practice are one.

I had to laugh, or else I’d have cried. May 17th arrived. The most significant lifting of restrictions as a result of the pandemic, for what felt like ages. Also, the day on Sabbath rest we’d set up, as one of four for Webnet leaders, under this years’ leaders conference focus ‘rhythms of grace’. It was the worst attended of anything we’ve so far provided, since last March and lockdown 1. One by one, people cancelled, ‘I’m too busy’, ‘I’ve too much on this week’ were apparently the main reasons. How many decisions, conversations, plans have I made, which dissipate at the first opportunity?

I shall trust God is with me and for me, whatever the wilderness

The wilderness is good for me. Have you read ‘God Has a Name’, by John Mark Comer yet? You need to. I hadn’t until someone gave me a copy, but I am now hugely grateful for that lovely gift. It’s no new or novel theology and one might question the wisdom of anyone setting out to write a book, which is essentially an exposition of Exodus 34:4-7, for today’s generation. It is both fresh as well as refreshing. I love it. John Mark Comer has given me a renewed confidence to speak to young adults. He doesn’t get side-tracked by popular culture; he addresses it straight. ‘There are no short-cuts to life. You can’t microwave character. It’s more like a tree that you grow slowly, one season after another.’ (p213) I read it, slowly, alongside my Bible and it’s helped strengthen my roots. There’s a good reason: the whole book brings into focus my relationship with God as it revolves around the nature of God and his dealings with human beings and I’m one! I underlined plenty, but my summary was:

  • I can trust God more than I do, because God is who he says he is
  • I need to take sin more seriously wherever it appears, because God does

The thing that’s really grabbed me reading through Exodus is the relationship between Moses and the Lord. God calls Moses, he has a role, he has responsibilities, but where can you distinguish between his relationship with the Lord and his role, responsibilities, etc? You can’t. You can try, but you won’t find there’s any compartmentalising. Sure, there’s stuff here we might call our ‘day-off’ (Ex.16:29) or ‘self-care’ (Ex.18:17-18, but there’s no hint this thing called life in all its fulness is anything but a whole. Manna in Exodus and grace in the New Testament are sufficient, because God is. Every word because the grace of God is always sufficient for today.

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. Dt.8:2

What is in my heart? Surely God knew what was in Moses’ heart, but he ‘led’ him ‘all the way in the wilderness these forty years’. Remember Jesus too was ‘led by the Spirit into the wilderness’ Mt.4:1. It was Moses, I think, not Tolkien who first came up with the idea ‘not all who wander are lost’. God led him daily for forty years. That’s not how it looks from the outside and maybe that’s not how my life looks from the outside. However, I’m looking to keep in step with the Spirit, day by day.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Great is Thy Faithfulness. Thomas Chisholm (1866-1957)

 

This is part 5 in the 6 part series Leadership in the Wilderness. You can find the rest of the series here.

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The Fuelcast: Ruin

This post by Alex Drew was originally published at Seventy Two

The pandemic has left many feeling overwhelmed or in great hardship. None of us know what the future holds, but Alex Drew of @WeAreSeventyTwo brings us words of reassurance – God promises to be with us every step of the way.

 

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