Leadership in the Wilderness: Am I willing to pay attention to what I’ve previously avoided?

This post by Nigel Coles was originally published at Seventy Two

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.  So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” Exodus 3:1-3

These are the verses which stopped me in my tracks. I’ve been dwelling in the Bible passages which relate the story of Moses for a few weeks and I’ve become captivated by the need to pay attention to whatever and wherever it is, where the presence of God is (just as in this episode of Moses’s life) ‘on fire’. That’s what I want to put my best energies into because as Moses recognised, ‘the bush does not burn up’.

When we entered the first lockdown of 2020 my primary question was ‘Lord, what is it I need to see and hear from you?’ Well, the Lord has spoken and revealed himself above and beyond my prayer on the global stage. It’s not been so loud and clear for everyone to hear and see, but as in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation: whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

The virus has revealed the reality. The reality of the nature of my/our relationship with the Lord either as churches, leadership teams or individual leaders. The curtain has been pulled back. From my perspective the church in the UK was deep in crisis before we’d heard of Covid-19, in terms of Christ-like leadership, authentic discipleship as well as fruitful mission. At the beginning of 2020, the beginning of a new decade, I wrote:

My sense, at the beginning of this decade, is we’re headed for some significant challenges. As Baptists our faithfulness to Jesus Christ as Lord will be tested in ways we have not seen for a long time. We face a crisis. This is not a warning we shall, but a recognition we are in crisis.

  • A crisis of leadership: we are not developing sufficient numbers of missional leaders to meet the need
  • A crisis of discipleship: the shallowness of our distinctiveness as followers of Jesus Christ is a deep concern
  • A crisis of mission: our confidence in the gospel is a reflection of our confidence in God and it doesn’t appear to be very high

To be perfectly honest, most people didn’t want to hear. I don’t recall anyone disputing any of my three areas of concern, but that’s not the same as hearing is it? That’s being polite, simply waiting for the next, hopefully more positive conversation. Those who did hear or could see clearly with their own eyes, were mostly similar to me, feeling paralysed, wondering what on earth could I do about it? But what about now? The pandemic has thrust us into a place where I tend to think the reality of all three are in plain sight, or are they?

At the turn of this year, I found myself reading the story of Moses again. Honestly, I felt I’d read/experienced enough about ‘wilderness’ during 2020, so I was either a sucker for punishment or desperate!

I also read alongside my Bible, ‘Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership. Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry’ by Ruth Haley Barton. She uses aspects of the life of Moses to illustrate what she describes as a book ‘about the soul – your soul, my soul and the soul of our leadership’. She quotes Gordon Cosby, who said, ‘when a local church loses its soul it begins to slip into mediocrity and is unable to give life’. [1]

The pandemic has revealed what deep down we already knew – there are too many mediocre churches out there. The deep, nagging concern is whether this is a symptom of too many mediocre Ministers, whether they be, like me ‘regional’, or ‘local’.

Looking closer at Moses has given me a growing list of questions. Top of the list is:  Am I willing to pay attention to what I’ve previously avoided?

I thought I’d already answered this one, but it turned out I’d not looked carefully or sufficiently enough. What was it I particularly needed to pay attention to? The One, True, Living, God grabbed Moses’s attention with a burning bush. With me, it was the state of the church. What is it for you?

Moses didn’t simply glance, he stopped and went over to examine what he had seen. Moses was willing to be changed by God and allow his life to be re-aligned by Him.

The ‘strange sight’, Moses was confronted with was outside his experience: how can a bush on fire not burn up? What’s your experience? My sense is too much of what I’m seeing in the church contains too much of the world. I’m all for being contextually relevant in terms of style and presentation, but the cultures of this world are often in conflict with the culture of the kingdom of God. Mark Sayers puts it like this:

‘Post-Christianity is not pre-Christianity; rather post-Christianity attempts to move beyond Christianity, whilst simultaneously feasting upon its fruit. Post-Christian culture attempts to retain the solace of faith, whilst gutting it of the costs, commitments, and restraints that the gospel places upon the individual will. Post-Christianity intuitively yearns for the justice and shalom of the kingdom, whilst defending the reign of the individual will. Post-Christianity is Christianity emptied of its content’. [2]

I’ve had to come face-to-face with something I’ve always known since I first encountered Jesus Christ, but had shoved closer to theory/theology, pushed away from practice/rootedness: without God, I am nothing. The big priority for my prayers right now is Lord without you, we’re done for. What will still be standing after the shaking? We are being shaken and my sense is the Lord is in the shaking and looking for our response. We have shifted authority to a gospel of self, in which the individual seeks to power their own development and salvation. That fits the government’s agenda, but it’s not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What about you? When God pressed the pause button what did you do?

No time to stop and think? It felt like that was the response I was being given by most leaders I talked with during the first phase, following the pandemic hitting our shores. Many of us felt everyone was looking to us to lead them through the crisis. And what do we do in that situation? We perform. Generally speaking, we’re all able to perform under pressure. I used to smile (only inwardly) when listening to a colleague leading a church who was ‘struggling with a couple whose marriage is in crisis’. What I wanted to say was ‘only one! That sounds more like you’re leading a holiday camp’! What if it is just that, however, a performance without substance?

During our experience of the pandemic here in the UK, I’ve seen many wonderful examples of heroic servanthood and I don’t want to ignore the green shoots of the kingdom I see springing up in the most unlikely of places. Yet I also see a handing over of God’s agenda into the hands of the government, the NHS, or social services.

The big themes of 2020, in the midst of the pandemic have been: the environment (remember March-April when people heard birdsong, which had always been around, again?); mental wellbeing (I’m all for it, yet ‘the peace of Christ, which passes all human understanding’ has the biggest impact on anyone’s life); human relationships (isolation, touch, proximity, support, an endless list of news and TV hours have been devoted to this). These are all vitally important, don’t get me wrong; they are potential signposts towards the kingdom of God, but they are not the kingdom itself. The biggest challenge of the pandemic remains the reality of death. For the first and only time in our lifetimes a subject, which the church of Jesus Christ has the answer to, has been the top item of news for almost a year now. It’s churches who don’t burn up, in-spite of everything, which reveal the presence of God. It’s leaders, like you, who create the culture which makes churches like that.

“Leaders create culture. Culture drives behaviour. Behaviour produces results.” (Edgar Schein). Edgar Schein is an expert in organisational management, but Damien Hughes, the Sports Psychologist who wrote The Barcelona Way about the winning culture of Barcelona Football Club, says the same thing. Damien Hughes talks about a ‘commitment culture’ being the essence of Barca’s success and ‘commitment’ is a word we’re danger of losing from the UK church. Whatever else disciples of Jesus are however, they are committed to pursuing him, whatever.

I see the need for the renewal of the Church, but I need to be willing to offer myself, wholly and sacrificially. Pay attention! Unless I’m aligned with the purposes of God, I cannot continue to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God and anticipate fruitful responses, which look like the life of Jesus. Jesus didn’t do or say anything which he wasn’t wanting to see reproduced in the life of the person in front of him.

 

[1] Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership, Ruth Haley Barton, p13.

[2] Disappearing Church: From Cultural relevance to Gospel Resilience’, Mark Sayers, p15.

 

The post Leadership in the Wilderness: Am I willing to pay attention to what I’ve previously avoided? appeared first on Seventy Two.

Notices for 24 Jan 2021

This week

Just to remind you there are no in-person meetings at the moment.

Church update and Q&A

You’re probably aware that we would typically hold a church meeting in January but that is not possible at the moment. More than ever the Leadership want all of you to feel involved and connected even if it must be at a distance.

So on Monday 25th Jan we’ll be releasing a video update here. Please try to watch at some time during the week and join us at a live follow up on Monday 1st Feb at 8pm.

Be inspired

If you did not have a chance yet to join in with Gathered to praise that Rob once again compiled and in particular to hear Dave share his testimony it remains available here.

Similarly, if you missed the Webnet prayer gathering that is also available and includes a compelling testimony of conversion during lockdown. Watch here.

Activities during lockdown

  • Souper Friday continues to reach out to our community and neighbours ;
  • Community Money Advice is handling work remotely, but do get in touch if you are aware of or are having money difficulties ;
  • We hope to have a presentation on the work of Compassion soon ;
  • Several small groups meet and share online.

SAVE THE DATE!

This post by kathylarkman was originally published at GRACE PLACE

Hi sisters!

Just a gentle reminder that the Genesis: In the Beginning God! monthly zoom bible study is on MONDAY, 25 JANUARY at 7:30. Esther King will be teaching us about Isaac.

Come prepared to be encouraged! Come prepared to have some virtual friendship time!

As ever, we are praying and cheering you on, especially during this Covid lockdown!

Women’s Ministry Team

A Journey in Missional Leadership: What are they hearing?

This post by Joth Hunt was originally published at Seventy Two

As I conclude my reflections over the past 25 years of missional leadership, I want to finally focus on a subject that I have become more and more convinced is essential in our desire to be Church with mission at its heart. It is the subject of communication. When I worked with Viz-A-Viz we held close to our strapline “Relevant communication of the gospel to people today.” Much of our emphasis was on the word ‘relevant’ but most of our energy went into ‘communication’. In a fast-moving world, that has been speeded up by COVID, growing and developing good communication I believe is vital. I was recently in a Zoom conference and one of the speakers, Laura Treneer, the previous Chief Executive Officer of CPO and now Managing Director of Frank Analysis Ltd. said these words, “Marketing is communication and communication is mission.” I think she has a point.

Every church is communicating something. When I arrived at Harlow Baptist Church in 2001 the church had been through a torrid decade. As I began to listen to the community around the church the general impression was that the church had closed. It hadn’t, but the silence and lack of activity from the church was communicating that nothing was happening. A message was still being heard, be it a wrong one!

Communication is happening regardless so we should stop to ask some key questions; What is our message? What is our method? How are we communicating? Is anyone listening and if so, what are they hearing? These, I believe, are all essential questions for the missional leader. I want to look at each of these but at that same time recognising the importance that good communication holds all these aspects together. 

What are we communicating?

In a world of a myriad messages, we cannot overlook the importance of the content that we are seeking to portray. The disciples are clearly called to be Jesus’ witnesses to the world and will be called upon to declare the truths of the Kingdom of God[1]. Content is central to the message.

My son is a fan of a group of YouTubers called ‘The Sidemen’. They have 10.5 million subscribers to their YouTube channel, but they don’t have a message. People watch them for their entertainment value that focuses around trivia. In this multi, self-made, self-promoting, media world, there is a real danger of focusing on style, image and trivia to the point of losing content and ultimately truth. The gospel is true and it’s good news. It is a message that cannot be lost, and I believe we need to continually work hard at presenting it well.

How are we communicating?

If we focus just on the ‘what’ of the message the danger is that our communication becomes outdated, irrelevant and unheard. The ‘how?’ is just as important as the ‘what?’.

The church over many decades has generally lent towards two main forms of communication: the spoken word, (mainly through sermons) and the written word, (through books and articles). Please don’t miss understand me, I believe that both sermons and books still have a key role within our faith, but when it comes to our culture today the methods of communication are now many. If we are going to be serious about mission, we need to radically rethink and engage with the ‘how’ of communication and appreciate that digital communication in its many forms is becoming predominant.

One of the few positives that we can take out of this year of COVID is that it has shaken up the Church’s default for communication. We have had to engage with new technology and rethink how the good old news of the Gospel can be communicated well today. My personal view is that this rethinking is only just beginning. Most of us have had a good attempt at embracing new technology. It hasn’t been easy but it’s a journey I believe we must embrace.

How is the message presented?

I’ve also learnt over the years that the ‘how of communication’ must also engage with the issue of quality. I remember being at a conference many years ago where J.John was the guest speaker. He said a lot about evangelism, but one phrase has always stuck in my mind.  He was instructing people about how to invite people to an evangelistic event. He emphasised that the invitation should be offered not in any old envelope but in a “nice envelope”! His point was, that if we have a quality message, we should work hard on the quality of how it’s presented.

I learnt more about this when I was at Viz-A-Viz. We worked tirelessly with excellent specialists in their field of communication such as design, sound, drama, schools work, video production and music to produce quality material that, in itself, indicated that the message was of precious value. As a pastor, of both a small under-resourced church and then of one with great resources, I strived to encourage each church to offer the very best communication possible. If we care about the good news of Jesus the quality of how the message is communicated must say something of how important that good news is to us.

Who is communicating?

If I’m honest, one of the things that has held back my effectiveness in proclaiming the gospel has been my fear of ‘new’ media. I have been slow to embrace social media, arguably for good reasons, and often slow to leave the comfort zone of the ‘old forms of communication’ that I know so well. I believe I’m on a continued journey of learning but a key part of this has been finding people who have this new skill set and calling from God.

As we journey into this new ‘multi-media’ era I believe God is raising up a new generation of designers, video creators, writers, musicians, artists, YouTubers and social-media experts, to guide the Church in its missional communication. I believe that part of the missional leader’s task is to go and find these people and release them into God’s calling. I am finding that they don’t look like your traditional communicator. They are geeks, IT specialists, video creators, artists, poets and social-media influencers but they are a special and essential gift to the Church.  

What is the big message?

If you went onto the streets of your town and asked people what they thought the message of the Church was I wonder what they would say. My expectation would be that for many there isn’t a message or that the message is one of irrelevance or even decline. I believe that missional leaders need to be considering the big message that people are hearing about the Church and the gospel and work hard at making sure this message is true, alive and transforms the life of the listener.

After several years at Eastleigh and working hard at seeking to support and connect with our local community I was delighted when I heard about a Facebook posting from a non-church attender, commenting that Eastleigh Baptist Church was a church that cared about the local community. It was a moment when I was reminded that people do gradually begin to hear the bigger message.

I am beginning to see missional leaders like painters who are painting a huge picture but often with tiny paint strokes. The big picture can’t be changed overnight but we do need to realise that the small messages within the life of a missional church are essential. A quality leaflet through the door, the conversation on the street with a Street Pastor, the welcome at a Foodbank, the availability of a conversation in a coffee shop are all tiny actions of mission that are gradually adding to and revealing the big picture of God’s truth. We should never devalue the small things of mission because without these acts of grace the larger picture of salvation will never be seen, but at the same time we must keep our eyes on the whole picture and recognise where more paint, texture, tone and colour are needed. 

What is being heard? 

The best communication is two-way. A message is offered, received and then reciprocated with some kind of feedback. Most miscommunication takes place when there is no feedback. The Church is often so busy talking that it doesn’t take time to listen to those it’s seeking to converse with. Did it make sense? What did you hear? How do you respond to the message? What questions do you have? What don’t you agree with? These are all helpful feedback questions, which will inform our communication into the future. Most modern-day medias offer opportunity for comment and feedback. These, I believe, should be embraced. No one wants to hear negative feedback but often this can be the most helpful feedback we will ever receive. It gives us an opportunity to review, learn, grow and re-communicate.

Doug was a ‘breath of fresh air’ when he arrived at Harlow Baptist Church. He was a new Christian, but he would tell me honestly what he had and hadn’t heard, whether he had understood and whether he agreed. At first it was daunting but gradually I came to embrace and value his feedback. It informed me, taught me and honed my communication and I believe I now communicate better because of him. The missional leader will seek, embrace and delight in feedback because two-way conversation is always more effective that one-way presentation.

Is our message authentic?

Finally, but of most importantly, in a world of many many messages, we must ask ourselves ‘what is it about the Christian message that will resonate the longest?’. My answer is its authenticity and truth! I’m not convinced that just being on social media or having a YouTube account is the full answer, although these helpful tools may play their role. What I am convinced of is that if we remain authentic and don’t get caught up in the danger of becoming image focused, the great picture of the gospel can be painted again for this generation.

This means that our lives and words must be aligned to the truth of the gospel. We must appreciate that communication is more than words, spoken and written. It is also about us. Our lives, our love, our compassion, our faith and our willingness to share authentically what we know about Jesus.

 

Thank you, for taking time to read and reflect on these articles. I hope and pray that something of my journey in missional leadership might have helped to inform and encourage you on your own journey.

This is article 8 of 8. You can view the whole series here.

[1] Acts 1v8 & John 15v26-16v15

 

The post A Journey in Missional Leadership: What are they hearing? appeared first on Seventy Two.

Notices for 17 Jan 2021

This week

Just to remind you there are no in-person meetings at the moment.

  • Church on the Screen @10am: If you prefer a more active service rather than simply watching, a warm welcome awaits from Rob and the team. All details at: https://www.churchonthegreen.online/event/10am-sunday-service-online/
  • Priory Street joint service @10am: Worship, intercessions and Eddie will speak on Daniel 10. Watch on YouTube. Subtitles should be provided live and a transcript and audio podcast will be published shortly after.
  • Gathered to praise @6pm: Rob has again compiled an online praise service with sung worship and testimony. Join us @6pm for the ‘premiere’ or catch-up through the week.
  • Youth continues online @7pm.

Activities during lockdown

  • Souper Friday continues to reach out to our community and neighbours ;
  • Community Money Advice is handling work remotely, but do get in touch if you are aware of or are having money difficulties ;
  • Several small groups meet and share online.

Blessed for such a time as this

A wonderful opportunity to give thanks for God’s abundance and together seek His will for communities across West of England Baptist Network (Webnet) and for God’s people here. 

Contact us for details of the Zoom meeting.

Coming up…

4 GENESIS BIBLE STUDY QUESTIONS: ISAAC –TRUST AND OBEY

This post by kathylarkman was originally published at GRACE PLACE

Before you meet with your study buddy …
Read Genesis 18.1–15; 21.1—26.35 for yourself. It’s quite a chunk of Scripture, covering lots of different events and people. You may want to read a chapter a day and write a short summary of what happens in each chapter to help you trace the key points.

As you read and think it over, keep in mind:

  • Who is God and what do we learn about his character/attributes?
  • Who are we and what do we recognise about human nature?
  • How does the gospel message come through, pointing us to Christ?

Praying for you and your study buddy and cheering you on as you take time to do this study together! His Word is living and active!

Women’s Ministry Team

4 GENESIS BIBLE STUDY QUESTIONS: ISAAC –TRUST AND OBEY

This post by kathylarkman was originally published at GRACE PLACE

Before you meet with your study buddy …
Read Genesis 18.1–15; 21.1—26.35 for yourself. It’s quite a chunk of Scripture, covering lots of different events and people. You may want to read a chapter a day and write a short summary of what happens in each chapter to help you trace the key points.

As you read and think it over, keep in mind:

  • Who is God and what do we learn about his character/attributes?
  • Who are we and what do we recognise about human nature?
  • How does the gospel message come through, pointing us to Christ?

Praying for you and your study buddy and cheering you on as you take time to do this study together! His Word is living and active!

Women’s Ministry Team