Showing posts with label church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label church. Show all posts

10 April 2013

Herod and the astrologers

Leaders in the church, Part 6
< Miriam and Yoseph | Index | To Egypt and back >

Herod is typical of hierarchical leadership, the eastern astrologers are typical of inspirational leadership. In church life we desperately need to avoid the first and encourage the second. Why? We take a careful look at Herod and the astrologers to find out.

Frankincense resinHere in Matthew 2:1-12 we see two very different kinds of leadership at work. It's interesting to see the two described together in these twelve verses.

Herod is described here as a king. Under Roman rule he would not have had complete autonomy, but within his region he would have had freedom to do more or less whatever he wished.

Providing the Romans received their payments of tribute and taxes, and as long as Roman law was respected and the  region remained peaceful, they would leave a client king to manage things any way he liked.

Faced with the birth of another king in his domain, and one foretold by the prophets at that, and the possibility this was even the promised Messiah who would rebel against Rome, Herod felt he needed to act to protect his authority and maintain the status quo. We are told that he was troubled, as was the city of Jerusalem.

He called in the religious authorities and quizzed them. They confirmed his worst fears but also told him that the birth would be in Bethlehem. Then he called the astrologers secretly to learn about the timing of the star and sent them off to find the child.

Herod - Let's take Herod first and see what we can learn about his methods and motives.
  • Herod was clearly anxious to prevent any rival king from arising in Judaea. And it's true that hierarchical leaders often want to protect their position and their power. They will try hard to prevent rivals challenging them. Look no further than the world of politics.
  • Herod used both the religious authorities and the visiting astrologers to provide information. But he had no use for them beyond his own needs.
  • His secrecy is interesting. He was devious and astute. He knew that keeping his intentions hidden would prove to be an advantage.
  • Herod 'sent them to Bethlehem'. He was not king of Media where the astrologers came from, but he ordered them about is if they were his subjects. Leaders of this kind will act as if they have authority even where they have none. Swagger and confidence can be very effective.
In summary, Herod was jealous of rivals, protected his position and power, used people to provide the information he wanted, was secretive, devious and astute, and used arrogant self-confidence when he thought it was to his advantage.

The astrologers - There is much here for us to consider. These men are often called the 'wise' men in English translations, and in many ways they did think and behave very wisely indeed.

  • The astrologers travelled a long way to find the king of the Jews, and they clearly assumed he would be in Jerusalem. As it happens, Bethlehem is quite close to Jerusalem.
  • They had seen his star rise and had come to worship him. They were observant and knowledgeable. They knew this king was very special, even a god, worthy of worship.
  • They appeared before Herod and listened to what he had to say.
  • These astrologers were over the moon when they found out where the Messiah was.
  • When they saw Jesus with his mother they fell down and worshipped him.
  • They offered him precious gifts.
  • They received and respected a dream warning them to go home by a different route.
Again, to summarise, we can pick out the following facts about the astrologers. They were willing to travel a long way to find Jesus, and they came specifically to worship him. They had enquiring minds, following the star, listening to Herod, heeding the dream. They rejoiced enthusiastically when they found Jesus. They worshipped him and gave him precious gifts.

Leadership qualities - Now for a little thought experiment. You have a choice of Herod or one of the eastern astrologers to lead you in following Jesus. It's a bit of a no-brainer, isn't it?

Right here in the second chapter of the New Testament we have some broad hints as to the kind of leaders we need in the church. Herod-like characters are best avoided. Humble, hard working people who want to worship Jesus are far more likely to be suitable. Right here we see the difference between a wolf and a good shepherd. So be very careful which kind of leader you choose to listen to!


Questions:

  • Take the apostle Paul as an example. In what ways was Paul like Herod?
  • In what ways was he like the astrologers?
  • What do you think the primary motive of Herod was? And the astrologers?
  • What is your own primary motive in life? (Be honest with yourself.)

See also:


< Miriam and Yoseph | Index | To Egypt and back >

07 April 2013

Hopeful signs of liminality

Alan Hirsch uses the terms liminality and communitas. I was interested to check how much 'liminality' I could find in church life today, particularly in and around my own local area of west Cambridgeshire. I found more than I had expected which is really rather encouraging.

Big hearted lyfe
Recently, I've been working my way through Alan Hirsch's excellent book, 'The Forgotten Ways'. Amongst much else he explores what he calls 'liminality and 'communitas'.

Liminality is being involved around the edges of what we consider normal in western church life. It's a matter of taking risks, pushing the boundaries in terms of reaching the hungry, the abandoned, the spiritually lost.

For those in places like China or the Muslim world it may mean facing danger or even death. Alan Hirsch uses terms like ordeal, danger, marginality and adventure.

Communitas is the sense of comradeship that comes from sharing liminal experiences with others. It's deeper and more urgent than the typical community life we have in the western church. We cannot achieve communitas just by drinking coffee together or going to meetings.

(Scroll to the bottom of the post for short extracts from the book defining these two terms.)

This sparked my imagination and I wanted to identify examples of liminality in my own life and the lives of those around me. Here's what I came up with (in alphabetical order). Some of these examples are very local, most are from the UK, all but two are things I've been involved in personally.

Be the light - Chris Duffett provides a list of ideas for creative evangelism. Many of these involve some degree of liminality by getting us out of our comfort zones. Take a look through the list, are there some ideas here that you and a small group of friends might try?

Ben and Catherine Taylor - Not content to just sit around and let the world go by, Ben and Catherine in the West of England are involved in church life with a difference, lots of liminality here I think!

Ben and Hannah Dunnett - Hannah is an artist, Ben is a musician. They challenge and encourage us all by making the most of their talents. Take a look at what they have on offer and ask yourself if you might buy some material to use in inventive ways to reach those around you.

Beth Foster - Beth lives in the USA and used to have a great blog. She seems to have removed it (I hope temporarily). In it she described how she had been led to review what she did as a believer and to slim it down to the real essentials. She made some notes on how this was going. Although you can't  now read these for yourself, she also left some great comments on several of my posts. Take a look at this one (you'll need to scroll to the bottom to see Beth's comments).

Big hearted lyfe - Some great material and helpful suggestions for doing Bible study and personal development in a public place. This could be one way to experience a form of liminality! Have a go, see if you can encourage others to join you. This idea comes from the Bible Society.

Donna and the children - Donna lives in Nottingham and amongst many other things has explored church with children. This was not an obvious or easy thing to do, but she saw the need and the opportunity and just went for it. Another good lesson for all of us.

Ffald-y-Brenin - This community is pushing out the boat with houses of prayer. Read part of their story here on Journeys of heart and mind. This is no ordinary retreat centre, liminality is not in short supply!

Food bank in St Neots - There are plans afoot to start a Trussell Trust food bank in the town. Many of the local churches are cooperating. It's a great thing to do and will bring together people from different backgrounds as well as increasing contact with people needing some help. I've begun collecting and have delivered a first donation to a local church that's already passing on help to those in difficulty.

Free hugs - Some friends, Tendai, Mark and others, have been trying out some of those 'Be the Light' ideas at the top of this list. I joined them once for a 'free hugs' session in the Market Square and will be getting involved again.

Krish Kandiah - Active in work with students, as an author, pastor and as a sought-after speaker, Krish Kandiah is different. He is inventive, active, and always willing to push the boundaries and take risks.

Newforms Resources - Pete and Marsha Farmer are involved in a lot of hard work, much of it centred around Newforms Resources. This is an organisation they created as an umbrella for training, meetings and books aimed at encouraging missional expressions of church in the UK and, increasingly, Europe and beyond.

Paul and Jenny Shortman - Jenny is an old friend from years ago. She and her husband Paul have been very helpful in a Free Church not far from here. They encourage, work at all sorts of jobs, and Jenny often writes for their magazine. It's always good, edifying stuff. Maybe this is not so much on the liminal side of life, but it's way beyond the normal range of what we'd call community. Humble work done well and done for love. They are a good example to us all.

Pete Stamford - Pete runs annual camps for ages eight to sixteen. From small beginnings using scout camp grounds he is now running multiple camps and other training events each year from a dedicated site at Moggerhanger in Bedfordshire. Everything depends on CRB-checked volunteers - lots of them. Missional in nature, aiming to reach young people and their parents, Pete has faced and overcome many difficulties along the way.

St Michaels Without - This Anglican church in Bath, Somerset, has changed itself in interesting and delightful ways. Both the physical structure and the lives of the people have been adapted to better serve the local community. Take a look at their website to find out what they're been up to.

TryPraying - This idea began with a group of ordinary people in Edinburgh, Scotland. Now they are publishing booklets encouraging non-believers to experiment with prayer. The whole thing is imaginatively and beautifully executed. Who would not want to be involved?

Conclusions - Few of these ideas are fully 'on the edge', but most of them have elements of liminality significant enough that I can share them in this article. There may be other people in St Neots getting out there and engaging in the great commission. I certainly hope so.

Taken together, these may be early glimmerings of life and growth in the church in the UK. And as people engage in these ways and involve their friends, so communitas may start to develop. I imagine a time, not far off, when church will be completely transformed where I live. Yes, Father, bring it on; we are so ready for this!

Liminality and communitas - Extracts from 'The Forgotten Ways', Alan Hirsch's definitions of liminality and communitas.

Liminality ... applies to that situation where people find themselves in an in-between, marginal state in relation to the surrounding society, a place that could involve significant danger and disorientation, but not necessarily so.

Communitas ... happens in situations where individuals are driven to find each other through a common experience of ordeal, humbling, transition and marginalization. It involves intense feelings of social togetherness and belonging brought about by having to rely on each other in order to survive.


Questions:

  • Are you taking risks in your life as a believer?
  • Do you agree that shared danger can lead to a marvellous sense of togetherness?
  • Can you find needs and opportunities in your village, town or city?
  • What are you doing about those needs and opportunities?

See also:

02 April 2013

Felicity Dale on women and church

Felicity Dale is currently writing extensively about women and their role in church life. It's a topic that needs to be re-examined, and Felicity has taken hold of the task. Or, perhaps more correctly, the Holy Spirit has taken hold of Felicity to approach the task in a new and effective way.

Felicity Dale
Tony and Felicity Dale live in Austin, Texas and have been a huge and beneficial influence in the thoughts and lives of many, especially those engaged in simple and organic forms of church life. They have many gifts, both of them are effective teachers, for example.

Recently, Felicity has been writing a great deal about the place of women in the church. She has many wonderful insights into an area that has often been problematic. I believe she is being used by Papa to open doors that have been closed far too long. I know Tony will have been right there with her, quietly oiling the rusty hinges for all he's worth!

I want to commend Felicity's efforts to all my readers. To the women amongst you because she is speaking release and empowerment. To the men because you can all help by encouraging the women in your lives to receive the truth she is sharing. And to those (men and women) who are unsure about the place and function of women in church life because there is much wisdom and truth in Felicity's writing on this topic.

I believe Felicity's work on women and church is of huge importance. What she is doing is fundamental to the next step in Papa's plan for his people, worldwide but particularly here in Western society where women have long been sidelined, particularly in church circles.

Reading Felicity's articles - Perhaps the earliest of her articles on women is 'A phone call to remember' back in April 2010. The latest (so far) is 'Women in Leadership: God's punishment?' published just yesterday. You can view the entire series  as a growing set of pages, seven of them so far. They may eventually form the basis for a new book.

You will need to follow her blog (Simply Church) because she is turning out more good writing on the topic every week at present. She is on a roll! If you like you can sign up to receive future posts by email (visit Simply Church and look for 'Subscribe' near the top on the right hand side of the page - or just use this link).

Questions:

  • Have you considered the Bible's teaching on women for yourself?
  • It's easy to think that the way things are is the way they must continue. What are the dangers in doing this?

See also:

09 March 2013

Leading, Matthew 1:1-17

Leaders in the church, Part 4
< A joy, not a burden | Index | Miriam and Yoseph >

The basis for all church leadership is not in what we do, but in who we are. Jesus himself is of the royal line of David, he is king because of his family connection and he is King of kings because of his even stronger family connection as one person in the triune nature of the Most High.

A decorated family tree
Matthew 1:1-17 - 'This is the genealogy of Yahshua'...

Right at the beginning of the New Testament is a statement that should make us sit up and think about leadership. It's not about what Jesus would do during his three years of ministry, fundamentally it's all about who he is. And the same is surely true for us.

The foundation for any kind of church leader is who they are, not what they do. Jesus' claim to be the promised, anointed One is based on his inheritance. He is of the line of kingship, descended from David, not depending on conquest or appointment or influence through political manoeuvring. And he is descended from the father of the race, Abraham.

A greater line - As will become clear later during his three years of travelling and sharing the good news of the kingdom, he has a third line of relationship - with the Father and the Spirit. So he is of the kingly line through David,  of the chosen nation through Abraham, and has an inseparable presence as part of the triune nature of the Almighty. He could not come with a greater recommendation or from a higher source.

But take note of some of the other characters in the genealogy. Abraham we've already noted, there is Isaac who prefigures the Son to be offered up by a loving heavenly Father, and he is of the line of Judah from which Judaea takes its name.

There is Rahab, a non-Jewish prostitute and her son Boaz who redeemed Ruth, and Solomon, the one who was wise enough to ask for wisdom. And last of all there is Joseph who was not Yahshua's father but who turned out to be a mere building contractor yet a great stepfather. No man was his ancestor except through a woman, Mary.

Let me repeat that. No man was Jesus' ancestor except through a woman. The entire male genealogy consists of nothing more than step-ancestors!

Not a matter of ancestry - If this tells us nothing else it should tell us that following Yahshua depends not on our inadequate human ancestry but on our relationship with the Almighty. It depends only on a willingness to turn back to the Father and receive the gift of being hidden in Christ. This is not a matter of leadership as the world sees it. Instead it's a matter of humility and acceptance and love. If a man or a woman is to lead it can only be because Jesus himself has chosen and equipped them.

These first seventeen verses of the New Testament therefore set the scene for leaders and leadership. They are foundational. Leaders are to be humble, chosen by the King alone, not necessarily of high birth. There is no inherited leadership. No hierarchical leadership. There are just people willing to play their part whatever the cost. Just like Jesus!

If you want to follow Jesus don't ask, 'What did he do?' Ask, 'Who is he?'  If you want to be a leader don't ask, 'What have I done?' Ask 'Who am I?' If you want to follow a leader don't ask, 'What have they done?' Ask, 'Who are they?'

Jesus said, 'Apart from me you can do nothing'. (John 15:5)

Questions:
  • What have you done and achieved in your life? What does it amount to?
  • Who are you? (Who are you in yourself, in Christ, in your heart?)
  • Are you a good model for those around you? Are you following Jesus?
  • If people follow you will they end up in a good place?

See also:



< A joy, not a burden | Index | Miriam and Yoseph >

28 February 2013

Don't miss the dawn

Words from a few years ago now seem to be relevant. These words may be for you, if they are you will know because they will resonate for you. They are words from the Light about the Light. These are words about a journey, about an announcement, and about the glory of the coming day.

Like a new day dawning
Here's something I was given and wrote down a few years ago, but I sense that now is the right time to share it.

If this is for you I'm sure you'll recognise it.

There is a new light shining in the eyes of everyone who is looking for it. It's a new dawn, a new day, a new light yet it's the oldest light in existence, older even than the universe itself. It's the light of Christ shining into a dark world.

But I tell you, unless your eyes are open you will not see this light clearly. Unless you are looking for it you will see dimly and overlook the truth. Here is what the Lord says.

'A new thing is coming but not all will walk through it with me. The light of revival is already glimmering like a new dawn in the hearts of those who've been praying for it and searching for it and hoping for it.'

'Get up now while it's still dark, prepare yourself for a journey, light a lamp so you can see to make a meal and tidy up your affairs, set out the clothes you will wear on the road, get dressed, wash your face, and put on a warm coat. Then put out your lamp, step outside and close the door and begin walking to the place where the sky is bright and the sun is about to rise. Listen, the birds are already singing for the dawn.'

'Many of your neighbours are asleep in bed, they will awake to the full light of day. But you will have experienced the dawning and will be ready to call out as you journey, "Wake up, rise up, come outside for the Light is shining and the darkness is gone. Come out, come and feel the radiance and the warmth, come outside and see the glory of the day."'

'The day is short and there is far to travel.'


Questions:

  • Does this speak to your heart? If so, what is the Spirit saying to you?
  • Can you share this with others who might need to see it?
  • You may have more to add, if so would you be willing to make a comment?

See also:

21 February 2013

Follow my leader

Leaders in the church, Part 2
< Leadership and the New Testament | Index | A joy, not a burden >

We take apart the first section of Hebrews 13:17 and put it together again, examining each word and the range of possible meanings before writing out the sense in English. There are cultural, historical and political reasons for the standard translations of this verse, but the verse is capable of different treatment.

Change of direction, change of leader
Before beginning a trawl through the New Testament to study church leadership, I'd like to take a look at the verse in Hebrews that Donna and I discussed recently. Also, to set the scene, there's a basic point to make first.

As I mentioned in that previous post, any attempt at translation from one language to another will be informed by the translator's existing understanding of the subject matter.

When the translation is from New Testament Koine Greek to modern English, this understanding must be based on the flavour of the the rest of the New Testament. In particular, translating a verse about leadership will depend in part on how we understand leadership in the life of the church.

My understanding of this is that Jesus is head of the church (Colossians 1:18), that none of us should be called 'Rabbi', 'Master' or 'Teacher' (Matthew 23:8), that few should teach (James 3:1), that we are to edify and encourage one another (2 Corinthians 13:11), and that the church is built by Jesus himself (Matthew 16:18) as every part works together (Ephesians 4:15-16). As I work through the series of articles that will be my default position.

Analysing the verse - So now let's look at Hebrews 13:17. We'll take it word by word and then put the words together. I'm going to use the Biblos parallel versions to see how the verse is usually translated, and the Biblos Greek interlinear as a starting point for understanding the Greek. These are convenient as you can click through to check them yourselves.

(Notice that there is no word for 'authority' in the Greek. This was added to the NIV by the translators. Check other translations, the word is simply not there.)

πείθεσθε - This is the first Greek word in the verse, it's pronounced 'peithesthe' and is usually translated 'obey'. This is the only time the verb is used in this form in the entire New Testament but including other forms the verb occurs 53 times. The Strong's number is 3982.

'Obey' is by no means the necessary sense, the core meaning is 'persuade', 'urge' or 'have confidence in' and the root is from 'pistis' (πίστις) meaning 'faith'.  See, for example, Matthew 27:20 in the sense 'persuaded', Galatians 1:10 in the sense 'seek favour or persuade', Romans 8:38 'persuaded' or 'convinced' and 2 Corinthians 2:3 'having confidence' or 'trusting'.

When Paul wrote 2 Corinthians 2:3 he did not mean 'I obey all of you' but 'I have confidence in all of you'.

τοῖς - A form of the Greek definite article, meaning 'the' and applying to the next word, 'leaders'.

ἡγουμένοις - This is pronounced 'hēgoumenois' and is usually translated 'leaders'. Once again the word is only found once in this particular form but there are 28 uses of the word including other forms. The Strong's number is 2233.

The range of possible meanings include someone who leads, thinks, has an opinion, supposes or considers. And we need to be careful here because the English word 'lead' has at least two senses. It may mean 'to be ahead' (like someone running a race), or it may mean 'to manage' or 'control' (like a company CEO or a Prime Minister).

Other forms of this word are used to mean 'regard', 'think' or 'esteem' (Philippians 2:6, 2 Corinthians 9:5) and 'leader' or 'chief' (Luke 22:26). The verse in Luke is telling, because Jesus is saying that if you are going to be a leader you should behave much more like a servant.

ὑμῶν, καὶ - These words are the pronoun 'your' (modifying the previous word, so 'your leaders') and the connecting word 'and'.

ὑπείκετε - This word is a Greek verb, it's pronounced 'hypeikete' and the common translation is 'submit'. This is the only time it appears in the New Testament, the Strong's number is 5226 and it means 'retire', 'withdraw' or 'submit'.

The sense is not necessarily submit as in submitting to the law or surrendering in battle. It is just as likely that it suggests giving way, holding back or making space.

How can we assemble this? - Although we haven't examined the rest of the verse yet, we have enough to put the first part into everyday English. So here's my first stab at it.

'Trust those who lead the way for you and don't get in their way.'

But any translation must fit its context, so now let's take a look at that. The writer wants to make some final remarks as he reaches the end of his letter. My friend Sean pointed out that the leaders are also mentioned in Hebrews 13:7 . They spoke Christ (the Word of the Most High) and the writer urges his readers to consider the results of the way they live and also to imitate their faith.

This suggests that these leaders are indeed leading by example, not by command. Just like the cloud of witnesses in chapter 11 and the beginning of chapter 12, these are living witnesses to the right way to live and the right way to believe. 'Trust those who lead the way for you and don't get in their way' Don't interrupt them, don't argue with them, hear them out when they speak in a meeting, live the same way they do, believe the same way they do.

Why the normal translation? - All of this leaves a question hanging. Why are these Greek words assigned the meanings 'obey', 'leaders' and 'submit' in most translations? We have seen that they just as naturally suggest 'trust', 'those who lead the way' and 'giving way'.

The answer, I believe, is that we are used to the standard translation. Early English Bibles were intended to support the clergy/laity system and also the rule of the king as head of the Church of England. The Wycliffe translation makes this very clear - 'Obey ye to your sovereigns, and be ye subject to them' - a strongly political statement! Because we are used to the idea of hierarchical church leadership of one form or another we are rarely free to translate this passage differently.

But the Holy Spirit is always leading us on into fresh pastures. Perhaps the old way of viewing this verse is not in line with what he is saying to the church today.

'The Message' puts it much better, 'Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel.'

That's it for now, this blog article is already long. Next time we'll work through the rest of verse 17 and try to put the entire thing together.

Questions:

  • Should we translate the Bible according to tradition or according to Holy Spirit guidance?
  • If we are being shown something new about church life, should we re-examine passages that no longer seem to fit?
  • What are the dangers in making changes to the standard translations?
  • What are the dangers in not making such changes?

See also: (Note I added these links after writing my article. My purpose is to uncover the meaning of the verse for myself and then check it later against what others have written.)


< Leadership and the New Testament | Index | A joy, not a burden >

17 February 2013

Leadership and the New Testament

Leaders in the church, Part 1
< No earlier items | Index | Follow my leader >

How should we manage and govern our meetings? How is church to be led? Everything changed in the 1960s and 70s as the Holy Spirit swept into the denominational church. Existing churches were impacted, the house church movement began, and new streams of church sprang up.

Leading and following
My wife and I have a long-standing difference of opinion about church leadership. Let me explain.

Donna is a member of Open Door Church, part of New Frontiers, one of the new streams of churches that, like others, has its roots in the Charismatic Movement of the 1960s and 70s.

The bursting out of the new wine of the Holy Spirit wasn't easily retained by the old wineskins of denominational church. What was known as the British house church movement began at that time.

New Frontiers and the other streams of the time were based on the view that new organisations were needed. Of course, some Anglican, Catholic and non-conformist churches did embrace the fresh outpouring of spiritual gifts. The pentecostal denominations were already active in that way. But there were many 'refugees' from old fashioned denominationalism and also many new believers who had never tasted a particular form of church. The new streams aimed to cater for both groups.

Staying small and open - But there were many others (of whom I am one) who felt that the new streams of church life took on far too much from the old ways. Having a leadership structure and meeting in a large building were the most obvious of these old ways (though there are many others). Used as we were to meeting at home without leaders, sharing meals together, and giving the Spirit complete freedom to lead us in praise and worship, we were quite unable to feel comfortable with any kind of organisation.

And that's the basis on which Donna and I have different views. She is very much at home in an organisation with a structure, a building, and management. I am at home as part of an organism with very little structure, no building, and managed and directed by the Spirit of Christ alone.

Another kind of small group - We do overlap in one important way. She is one of three leaders of an Open Door Small Group that meets every Tuesday evening, and I am glad to be part of that group. The meetings are in some ways rather like organic church. We meet in homes, we usually start with a shared meal, there is plenty of opportunity to chip in with a thought, a prophecy, a tongue, a vision or a prayer.

On the other hand the meetings are structured around three main elements and are managed hierarchically. Meetings normally begin with a meal, then worship led by a member of the group, next questions and a discussion based on the previous Sunday's 'preach', and finally a time of prayer on topics raised by those present. The Small Group leaders report to neighbourhood leaders who in turn are responsible to the elders of Open Door and in particular to the lead elder.

Donna is comfortable with these arrangements, I am less so. But we both enjoy the meetings and are grateful to be able to share in them regularly together.

The role of the Spirit - But it's not just a matter of how meetings are organised. There is also plenty of evidence that the Holy Spirit fills every available gap that we concede to him. I have a great deal of experience of this going back many years and also in recent times. Meetings that are completely open, not planned or governed by us in any way, are little pockets of time and space that he joyfully, even gleefully inhabits. Many times I have witnessed him working amongst us in amazing and unexpected ways, but always when he is given the freedom to do it.

It takes courage to attempt this. Things can go wrong. People can get in the way. We cannot come to this place without taking risks. But when we are prepared to step aside and let the Spirit of Christ move among us freely, he will fill the place. The more space and time we give him, the more present he becomes.

And I am convinced that out of such a place of blessing we are better equipped to go out and, in our going, to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).

Profitless discussion - A couple of days ago Donna and I had a rather profitless discussion about church leadership. (I take full responsibility for my unhelpful attitude.) I'm going to outline it here because it pinpoints the issues, points to a way forward and may be helpful to others thinking these issues through. Here's how it happened.

We were about to begin reading James together when Donna spotted Hebrews 13:17 on the opposite page. She asked me a direct question, 'How do you explain this verse if you don't think the church should have leaders?'

Indeed the church does have leaders. But they are understated and not people who rule or manage. They are recognised by those around them, not appointed by other leaders or by a committee.

But instead of saying this I responded to Donna's question by digging into the Greek and pointing out that you must translate any passage in sympathy with the general thrust of the entire New Testament. What Jesus did and said and what we read in the other letters must inform and guide us. Translation is not an exact art. The flavour of the English words we select to represent the meaning of the Greek must depend partly on that wider context. So we talked about the text rather than the concept of leadership.

The discussion went pear-shaped and we never did make it as far as reading James that evening. Partly because of this I feel the time has come to study church leadership in more detail and to be clearer in my own mind about the biblical background and the practicalities.

There are other associated issues and I think I need to look at them as a whole, not piecemeal. So I plan to come back to this topic from time to time as I make progress with the study.

Meanwhile, I would be very grateful for any thoughts or feedback you might have on the different approaches to church leadership and church government. Please leave a comment.

Questions:

  • Have you had similar or related experiences? Please consider sharing them in a comment.
  • What are your views on the Holy Spirit's involvement in your meetings? Is he fully present? Is he fully visible and audible?
  • If you could change one thing about your meetings, what would it be?

Challenge:

  • Try this at home. Meet with some close friends with no agenda and no preparation of any kind. Share a meal gratefully remembering Jesus' presence with you. After the meal sit in a comfortable place together and focus on Jesus. Don't mind silences, but share together anything  the Spirit shows you, including pictures, words, prophecy, Bible passages, persistent thoughts and more. What happened? Report back here with a comment.

See also:


< No earlier items | Index | Follow my leader >

06 February 2013

Small and informal

Choudhrie's steps, Part 3 of 21
< Meet in houses | Series index | Share resources >

This is Victor Choudhrie's third step in transforming church life. The idea is that we meet in quite small numbers and don't attempt anything like a traditional church service. Instead we meet very informally, much more like a family than a congregation.

Meet informally, like a familyIn step three, Victor Choudhrie suggests we keep our meetings very small and informal, not replicating the idea of a church service, but letting the Holy Spirit lead moment by unplanned moment.

Phase out programmed Sunday ‘services’ while implementing informal, small gatherings. The Bride of Christ must have intimacy with her Lord every day, not only for a couple of hours a week, lest she become unfaithful. However, discourage cross-gender disciple-making, lest chemistry foul things up. Acts 2:46-47; Hebrews 3:13

In step one we dispensed with the pastor, in step two we lost the building, so on the face of it there seems little option but to meet at home in an informal way. But our habits and traditions might lead us in other directions.

The danger of tradition - For one thing, we might feel a need for direction and look to leaders to provide it. Even if we really, really intend to follow Jesus we may still fear we won't hear him well, or we won't understand what he tells us. We may want an 'expert' to guide us. We might also feel that we are too exposed with only a few people meeting in someone's home, larger numbers are safer and a sign of success - aren't they?

But Jesus says, 'Come to me and I will give you rest', 'I will build my church', 'Where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be right there amongst them.' So how can we doubt? He is our security. He is our guide. We are safe in his hands!

Opening ourselves to the new - I think Choudhrie's main point is that we need to avoid programmed, organised, structured meetings and instead allow The Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Christ) to lead us moment by moment as we meet together. If we organise the meeting we will get a meeting designed and built by humans. If Jesus organises the meeting we will get a meeting designed and built by the One who said, 'I will build my church'. Which do you prefer? Go ahead, choose.

Choudhrie also reminds us that we should be meeting daily, not just once or twice a week. That would not be practical at all if we had to arrange everything ourselves. But if we just turn up ready to accept what Yahshua has prepared we will feast on truth and wisdom and encouragement and healing and power and joy and peace every day of every week. Do you want this? Do you want it enough to do it?

But be careful - Ideas like 'Church of two' (CO2) and 'Life transformation groups' (LTGs) may help with this, but even these should be considered carefully and prayerfully. It may be better to let the Spirit lead us day by day in a completely unstructured format. Don't be afraid to take things that work for you and adapt them or employ them for a season. But whatever you do, don't become married to a method.

I would recommend taking the warning against cross-gender discipling with a pinch of salt too. It's right to be cautious and aware of potential difficulties, and it might be right to avoid such situations most of the time. But there is always a danger of ruling out what the Spirit is showing us to do. Be careful and be wise, but remember it is also unwise to quench the Spirit - even in order to be careful.

Body life! - What are the advantages of meeting informally without making prior arrangements?

Spontaneity is essential if Jesus is to have his way in our meetings. His presence and his guiding hand are huge advantages, advantages we can never exaggerate or over-emphasise.

The Holy Spirit is gentle like a dove. He will fly up and perch in the rafters if we are not patient, quiet and expectant; he will look on from a distance if we insist on doing things our way. But with him in control our times together can take us to places we cannot imagine. Freedom to use gifts like tongues and interpretation, prophecy, healing, knowledge and the rest, freedom to sing as and when each one is led, freedom to share a Bible text, a picture, a prayer, freedom to teach, to share a problem, to encourage, to weigh what is said, to build one another up - these are the freedoms we need. Mostly we need them far more than we think!

If we meet like this we will find ourselves doing what Paul describes, building one another up in love as each plays their part.

This is body life. This is body ministry. This is Christ at work amongst his people. This is a hint of the Bride growing into maturity.

The value of the small - Small groups have the potential to be much more intimate than large gatherings. There is a place for larger groups, but intimacy with one another enables intimacy with the Spirit too. And for most of the time this is what we need, times where we can be close and personal, where we can share our hearts and Jesus' heart. These are the conditions that allow one anothering to flourish and all our needs to be met as the body of Christ.

Probable responses - How will people receive the suggestion to meet simply and in small groups?
  1. It seems safe to be in an audience, but risky to speak out. Fear of the unknown and fear of failure will cause some to reject the idea of unplanned meetings. But Jesus says that love rejects fear. The answer to fear and doubt is to love him and love one another enough to give it a try.
  2. Some people might choose to add in elements of freedom but keep a planned framework for times together. But the more we plan, the less space we leave for the Holy Spirit. It may seem safer, but it restricts and controls, limiting what is possible.
  3. Others will seize hold of unplanned and intimate meetings with joy. They will experience great rewards for their bravery and boldness and willingness to take a risk.

Questions:
  • Have you ever been in a meeting that was unplanned and open? Consider trying it some time with a small group of friends.
  • How much planning goes into conversations with your parents, your children, or your friends?
  • Can we trust the Holy Spirit? Do we know him? Is he welcome among us?

See also:


< Meet in houses | Series index | Share resources >

13 January 2013

Meet in houses

Choudhrie's steps, Part 2 of 21
< Clergy and laity | Series index | Small and informal >

For the second step in transforming church life, Victor Choudhrie urges us to meet in a different place. Instead of 'temples made by human hands' he recommends 'houses of peace'. What does he mean by this? How do we find 'houses of peace'?

Is there a house of peace here?This is Victor Choudhrie's second step for transforming the life of the church.

Move from meeting in temples to gathering in 'houses of peace'. 'God does not dwell in temples made by human hands'; rather He dwells in human hearts. For we are the mobile walking and talking temples of the living God, with a maximum of organism and a minimum of organization. Luke 10:5-9; Matthew 10:11-13; Acts 7:48-49; 2 Corinthians 6:16


As with step 1 there's a lot to digest. Once again, step 2 assumes the reader is part of a typical western church. We are comfortable with the idea of meeting as a large group in a spacious building, But Victor Choudhrie challenges us to read the New Testament with fresh eyes and open minds and calls us to meet somewhere entirely different. Let's unpack this a little.

Temple or house of peace? - Are we 'dwell[ing] in temples made by human hands'? Surely not! The Temple was in Jerusalem, not here in my town. Why does he say we are meeting in 'temples'?

What is the essence of a temple? It's a special place where people come to worship their chosen god. Is that what we do on a Sunday morning? Well, yes, in a way it is exactly what we do. We all know that the place where we meet is not special, yet we treat it reverentially. Or, if we hire a building once a week, although the building is ordinary we regard the gathering itself to be special in some way.

And what is a 'house of peace'? Reading the Luke and Matthew passages it's clear that travelling is involved here. When we arrive in a new place we're to search for a home where we will be made welcome. So rather than meeting in a special place, we might consider meeting in any home that will welcome us. That implies smaller numbers (200 people won't fit in a typical house) and it implies lack of organisation (no worship band, no pulpit, no rows of seats).

There are at least two ways of looking at this.

Mission or community? - The first one involves going out to find people of peace, spending time with them sharing the good news of Jesus, asking them to gather their close friends and family in their home, coaching them to lead the new house church so created and teaching them to repeat the process themselves. That's one view. This is what the disciples and early church did. Meeting as part of a small community in a home means you are part of a network of such meetings and actively planting out new ones.

The second way of looking at it is that the small meeting at home is a family, a stable group of people that love and care for one another, help one another out, build one another up, and encourage one another.

In practice, most home-based churches will have elements of both viral spread and family group. The proportion of the mix depends on environment. Where there is a large harvest in the local area the missional aspect may be the major one, where there are already many believers, the community aspect may the most widely expressed.

This second step requires additional, fundamental change of a most demanding kind. In the first step we lost our leaders, now we are losing our building!

How many conventional churches would be willing to take such a major and seemingly foolhardy step? Perhaps not many. And what sort church would do so? Perhaps the answer to that is one who's members are looking to follow Jesus closely and are paying attention to what he says.

Releasing resources - How much money and time does it take to manage church in 'temple' mode? Add up the cost of a building, either rented weekly or purchased outright, and the expenses involved in staff salaries, office space and equipment, lighting, heating and other running costs and the annual bill for just one church is very large. Now factor in the time people spend supporting all of this church infrastructure. The time and money absorbed by non-essential activities is immense.

Now multiply that by the number of churches (over a dozen in St Neots where I live) and you can begin to comprehend the resources that would be released if we all met in homes. Most of those resources could be used to support mission work, to help one another, and meet everyday needs in the community.

It's not that conventional churches don't spend time and money on the community or on mission, some make considerable efforts in that regard. But how much more could we do?

And here's the main point. How often do we stop and ask the Spirit of Christ to guide us in these things? If we asked him, what would he say to us? Would he command us, 'Go and make bricks and build a physical structure for me'? Probably not, that's what Pharaoh commanded the Israelites.

No, he is much more inclined to tell his people, 'Go in my name and feed the hungry, heal the sick, share the good news, look for the house of peace and the person of peace and allow me to build my church there, a body made of living stones'.

Probable responses - How will traditional churches receive the suggestion to move out of a 'temple' and into 'houses of peace'? As with step one there are three possibilities.
  1. Some may reject the step out of hand because it goes against church tradition and destroys what we have been accustomed to. Many may feel it's an unsafe and unwise move, a step into the unknown.
  2. Others may try to adjust what they already have. For example, they may stress the value of home groups and reduce the importance of the Sunday service in a large, central location. This meeting may become a celebration held once every month or two.
  3. And some might take hold of step two enthusiastically, replacing the main location altogether and focussing all their resources on growing healthy gatherings in homes.

Questions:
  • What arguments do you foresee being used to retain the use of a large meeting place?
  • Small and large meetings both have advantages and disadvantages, how many you can list?
  • What does Choudhrie mean by a 'maximum of organism and minimum of organisation'?

See also:


< Clergy and laity | Series index | Small and informal >

08 January 2013

A light on the path

It's important that we serve the community around us, this is how we show people in the world that they are loved. The basis for that loving service is that Christ first loved me, but beyond that he also goes with me and shows me who to speak to, who to bless, and how and when to do it.

A light on the pathJanuary's Synchroblog invitation reads in part as follows.

New Year’s Resolutions are usually somewhat self-serving. But is there a way you can serve others in 2013? Are there homeless people in your community? Maybe you could bring some food to them on a regular basis this year. Are there single mothers? How about coming alongside them to babysit their kids while they go shopping, or maybe you could change the oil in their car or mow their lawn. Do you know any alcoholics or addicts? What can you do to show them love and care this year? Are there elderly shut-ins in your neighborhood? How about running errands for them or going over to their place to play cards, read to them, or just talk?

Serving others - Works of service are important. We are here to serve one another, to serve those around us and to serve the Messiah first and foremost. The people around me can only know that they are loved if they are loved. So yes, I do want to serve the community where I live during the coming year.

But I believe the basis for service is critically important, so rather than resolve here and now what my service will be I plan to write about the basis for serving and how we can consider that and respond to it.

A New Year's resolution by any other name is still a New Year's resolution. And if I resolve to do something, it had better be the right something! All of the suggestions in the Synchroblog notes are great, but doing good things is not sufficient as an end in itself. So what should be the foundation?

Love - The immediate foundation is, I believe, love. If I don't have love, then my actions will be empty at best, or merely for show at worst. I need to step in to help when I see weakness, helplessness, hunger, thirst, injustice, sickness, imprisonment. My heart needs to go out on a daily, even an hourly, basis so that I will respond out of love as and when I witness the need. Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 again. Whatever I do without love is void.

Obedience - But there is something else, a deeper foundation that underpins even acts of love. And that is obedience. Love and obedience are intertwined. I will meet the needs I see because I love the needy. And I will obey Jesus because I love him. I love him because he first loved me.

So he is the source, and the effect he works is in me and through me. First to love him and obey him, secondly to love those around me and serve them. So we really do need to consider obedience as well as love. If I am to serve those around me most effectively I need to love them but I also need to hear what Jesus is saying to me through his Spirit and act obediently. Not only that, but Jesus prepares the way for us. He leads us to people he has already made ready.

Obedience is a moment by moment affair. The Spirit whispers quietly to me, 'This is the way, walk in it. Go here, do that, speak to that person trusting that I will give you the words as you need them, go to such and such a place where someone needs your help. Sit here, watch, and see what I will show you.'

Now, I'm not saying it always works that way for me - but sometimes it does. When I am listening and trusting it always does.

Know Jesus and listen - So I encourage everyone, get to know Jesus if you don't already. He is Love, Peace, Power, Life, the Way, Light in the darkness. Believing in him is a good start but it's not enough - know him, walk with him, speak to him, listen to him. It's what his first followers did, and you can too.

Learn to focus more on listening than on speaking. We are told we should pray every day and read the Bible every day; and they are great habits to have. But above all, before even prayer and reading, listen. Be attentive. Be still and quiet and hear what the Spirit of Christ is saying to you. And obey him.

And then you will have the best and most helpful opportunities to serve those around you. Guided in the moment in all you do and say by the One who can shine real light on your path.

So if we resolve anything in this new year of 2013, let's resolve to know him, pay attention to him, hear him and obey him in all we do. And to do it more fully than in any previous year. Will you join me in that resolution?

Practical details - But the synchroblog asked for specifics.

For the January 2013 synchroblog, we invite you to share some of the tangible needs in your neighborhood or community you will seek to meet this year. Be concrete. Where, when, how, and to whom will you be the hands and feet of Jesus? As you think and write about this, it will not only encourage you to follow Jesus into the world this year, but will also provide the rest of us with some suggestions for how we can serve others in our own communities.

I don't yet know, in detail. But one thing I feel he is already urging me to do is print off a bunch of my photos in a reasonable size, perhaps A5, and sit in the market square with a spare chair beside me offering them free to anyone who will sit, choose a photo, and tell me what they see in it. I must get those photos organised right away!

People have physical needs, but they also have emotional needs and spiritual needs. Perhaps this will be an opportunity to reach hungry and lost hearts. Chris Duffett does things like this to great effect and you'll find abundant ideas on his website.

My wife is keen to find a community project of some kind to help people in practical ways and I might join her in that. She's a member of Open Door, a local New Frontiers church. It's likely the initiative will come through Open Door.

In the past I've helped a variety of people in little ways but was specifically led into each situation. Kid's camps; a couple, both seriously ill, with children at home and needing help with gardening; a couple suffering serious physical abuse from young people in the area; a friend needing company and occasional practical help; a conversation with a stranger on a train; serving Christmas dinner to lonely people.

I'm expecting more of the same in the year ahead - I just can't tell you what it will be yet!

Questions:

  • What do you find to be the most effective ways of listening, spiritually?
  • Is it better to do nothing, to do something unguided, or to do what you are told?
  • Do you agree with me that action and obedience are both rooted in love?

See also:


Other posts in this synchroblog:

01 January 2013

How, then, should we meet?

Alan Knox has posted a blog article about the way we meet as church. His post is not only informative and useful, it is also gentle and wise. This is very important yet often forgotten. Heated argument is not effective as a means of communication, Evidence and gentle persuasion are far better.

Alan Knox's website
I'm posting a quote from Alan Knox in the USA. I believe his message is important, partly because of what he writes and partly because of the way in which he writes it. But first, read the quote...

If the authors of the New Testament were correct (and I think they were), and if we should consider what they wrote to be important (and I think we should), then we should also recognize the importance and necessity of mutual edification whenever we get together with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

You can read Alan's full article 'Remembering the importance of mutual edification' on his blog 'Assembling of the church'.

What is Alan saying? - He's saying that when we meet together as church, what we do and how we do it are important. We would probably all agree with him on that.

But he is further saying that we don't always get it right and we should go back to the Bible to check our current practice against what we find written there. And he's saying that mutual edification comes into it. But you can read all that for yourself.

How is he saying it? - The other point I want to make is that Alan writes in a most gentle and inoffensive way. And he's right to do that. We can hardly edify one another while beating each other up with the big sticks of disagreement!

We can all learn a lesson here, perhaps me more than most. Gentleness and wisdom often go hand in hand. We are called to have the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, things like peace, patience, kindness, and gentleness. There is, Paul assures us, no law against such things as these. (1 Corinthians 13:1-13). And all of them are underpinned by love, the greatest thing in the world.

Questions:

  • How do you react to gentle persuasion and a reasoned argument?
  • How are you likely to respond to anything that seems like criticism?
  • What do you understand the Bible to say about the way we meet?

See also:

31 December 2012

Clergy and laity

Choudhrie's steps, Part 1 of 21
< No earlier items | Series index | Meet in houses >

In his first step for transforming church life, Victor Choudhrie suggests that we rewrite the job description of the professional clergy. Instead of employing professional clergy we should expect leaders to encourage the sheep to serve one another.

A shepherd and his sheep in RomaniaHere's the first of Victor Choudhrie's steps for transforming the life of the church, in his own words.

Rewrite the job description of the professional clergy from that of a pulpit orator, sacrament dispenser and tithe gatherer, to that of a shepherd who feeds his flock to be healthy and reproducing, by encouraging them to practice the priesthood of all believers with authority to baptize, break bread and equip fishers of men. He must model a flat church structure wherein brothers and sisters submit to one another, pray one for another, serve one another, exhort, forgive and love each other. John 13:34-35; Matthew18:21-22; Ephesians 5:21

There's a lot to digest, right here in step one. It is written on the assumption that the reader is currently involved in a typical western denominational church of a particularly traditional kind.

There are professional clergy, people who are paid to work as pastors or vicars or whatever they may choose to call themselves. These people have three major roles - speaking from the front, presiding over the sharing of bread and wine, and fund raising.

A change of role - Choudhrie is clear that there must be a change of role. Shepherding involves feeding, promoting health and ensuring there is active reproduction. This would be a farmer's desire for any flock of sheep and it should equally be the shepherd's desire for church sheep. So far so good, at this point those in the newer streams of church may be feeling they are doing a reasonable job of meeting that first step. Catholics and Anglicans, however, may already be having a hard time accepting some of the changes being proposed.

But there's more! Choudhrie insists that the sheep themselves must be encouraged to act as priests and to take responsibility for baptising, breaking bread, and equipping others for capturing new followers. And the members are to learn to submit to one another and themselves do the work of church leaders. This may give pause for thought to many more of us.

Probable responses - How will traditional churches receive the suggestions in step one? There are three possibilities.

  1. Some may reject the step out of hand because it goes against church tradition and denominational rules.
  2. Others may try to make adjustments to bring their current model of church more in line with the requirements of step one. They might, for example, encourage selected and trusted members of the congregation to speak from the front from time to time, or take charge of communion, or manage a home group.
  3. And some might accept step one as it stands and make fundamental changes to the way church operates.

Questions:
  • What problems do you see with each of the three responses?
  • If the sheep are to do the work themselves, is a shepherd still necessary?
  • What do you suppose Choudhrie means by a 'flat church structure'?

See also:


< No earlier items | Series index | Meet in houses >

29 December 2012

Choudhrie's steps - INDEX

(See indexes on other topics)

Victor Choudhrie is an Indian evangelist and apostle who has baptised many people in India, planted many house churches, speaks internationally, and writes books, manuals and teaching material. He suggests twenty-one steps for transforming a traditional church.

Victor Choudhrie
Victor Choudhrie is an Indian cancer specialist turned apostle. I don't know if he would describe himself in quite that way, but I do.

He has started a movement of house church planting in India and it is spreading exponentially. He has also been invited to speak about his work in many countries and has written books and papers about it.

Listen to him speaking about how he changed from medicine to preaching Christ (there's a two minute introduction before Choudhrie speaks). The full set of six videos is well worth hearing.

One of his papers is a PDF containing twenty-one steps that he recommends for transforming the life of the church. Some of the steps have been shared on SimpleChurch Journal and briefly discussed on The assembling of the church. Victor Choudhrie describes them as 'twenty-one steps to transit from being a barren church to a millionaire of souls'. They form part of the training material on the Paul-Timothy website.

But I'd like to go further, I think it would be useful to take all twenty-one steps individually and examine them in a bit more detail. They are very striking, and extremely challenging. Are you ready?

The steps are listed below in abbreviated form and will be examined in future posts.

  1. Clergy and laity - rewrite the job description of the professional clergy
  2. Meet in houses - move from meeting in temples to houses of peace
  3. Small and informal - phase out Sunday services, gather informally
  4. Share resources - replace Mosaic tithing with Christian sharing
  5. Eat together - replace wafer-and-sip communion with agape meals
  6. Spiritual melody - replace professional music with heart music
  7. Interact and participate - not spectator-oriented but prophetic
  8. Become a network - not mega-church but meta-church
  9. Multiply - produce baby meta-churches abundantly
  10. Know who you are - be Christ's royal-priests, not laity
  11. Challenge purposeless church - clearly stated vision and a roadmap
  12. Unglue and send out - don't sit, soak and stagnate, but actively go
  13. From death to life - from titles to five-fold ministry that equips
  14. Subgroups are church - every prayer group and Bible study is church
  15. Replace goats with sheep - individuals who care for the weak and lost
  16. Simplify disciple making - gossip the gospel and multiply
  17. Training at home - no seminaries, share the truth house to house
  18. A new personal paradigm - church is where you spend your time
  19. Legacy church is secondary - see it as it is
  20. Preach Christ in new places - be fruitful and multiply
  21. Have a completion mindset - aim to be a millionaire of souls

Questions:
  • How do you react to the list of steps?
  • Does Victor Choudhrie have the right to suggest these steps to change?
  • If so, why? If not, why not?
  • What do you find most interesting or challenging about his life as a believer?

See also:

06 December 2012

Alan Hirsch at Newforms

Some fifty people came to the Newforms National Gathering where Alan Hirsch was speaking on movements. The sessions were good with plenty of time for questions, group discussion and feedback. Alan's long years of study and experience came through clearly as he spoke.


Newforms National Gathering 2012
Last weekend I drove to Nottingham to join about fifty other people for the 2012 Newforms National Gathering.

Alan Hirsch had kindly agreed to come as the main speaker, and the meetings were hosted by Peter and Marsha Farmer assisted by helpers from Nottingham and elsewhere.

People from all over Britain had booked places and travelled to join in. Some had come from Europe and even as far as Australia to be with us. We met at St Saviours and at the Riverway just opposite (both made us very welcome).

Hearing from Alan and Peter - The sessions were pretty intensive, but breaks for tea, coffee and lunch were frequent and long enough that our concentration didn't lapse. Alan Hirsch and Peter Farmer were so interesting and engaging that we might have managed with even fewer pauses. Many people already knew one another from previous meetings, at least slightly. Those who were new were soon joining in the conversations during the breaks and making new friends.

There were sessions on Friday evening, all day on Saturday, and Sunday morning and early afternoon.

Topics covered included apostolic movements, networks, mission, disciple making, viral spread, and reproduction. Alan drew on his years of study and experience on these subjects, covering the central place of Christ himself in detail and then looking at the five gifts in turn.

Alan spoke about discipleship and church planting movements, how they work, why they fail, the factors involved, and the fivefold ministry gifts (Ephesians 4:11) - apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers (APEST). We were encouraged to interrupt the main sessions with questions and Alan was willing to respond before continuing. This made the whole experience more interactive and useful. Peter spoke more briefly on some of the practical aspects and also gave us time for discussions at our tables, with feedback.

Here's the Ephesians passage in its proper context, Ephesians 4:11-16.

Taking it further - Alan Hirsch has published books on each of these aspects, they're listed and introduced on 'The Forgotten Ways' website. Perhaps I need to work my way through all of them.

Alan encouraged us to consider what our own gifts might be and explained that one of the best ways to discover is to pay attention to what others say about us. We are, after all, part of a body and the body as a whole recognises the value and function of each part.

We went home challenged and encouraged. The video on the right includes comment from some of the people present.

The National Gathering is an annual event. Check the Newforms Events and Training pages for details of next year's gathering and other meetings.

Questions:

  • Have you thought about your own gifts in terms of APEST? (You might have more than one.)
  • What do those around you in church life think about your gifts? You may not need to ask - just listen.
  • Do you think you might come to the next National Gathering in November 2013?
  • Have you read any of Alan Hirsch's books?
  • How do you think you can apply these ideas in the place where you live and in the church there?

See also:

25 November 2012

The place of women

Here are some brief comments on ten points from a magazine article. All of these points aim to keep women in a subsidiary role in church life. We look at them to see if they are justifiable and if not, why not.

Adam and Eve
Charisma Magazine has produced a list of  'ten lies the church tells women'.

This sounds very alarming and 'lie' is a strong and emotive word. Are they right, is it true? Let's take a look at the list item by item and consider it.

The ten points are certainly worth pondering. Are they deliberate lies, are they perfectly reasonable ideas, or are they just careless and unthinking remarks?

I'll comment briefly on each item as we go through the list, but I strongly recommend taking a look at the original article where further arguments are provided. Here, then, are the ten points.

God’s ultimate plan for women is that they serve their husbands - I'm not sure how widely this is taught, but it's clearly not correct as it stands. If we are to serve anyone it is first Jesus and secondly one another.

Women can’t be fulfilled or spiritually effective without a husband - I'm inclined to say, 'Let them be the judge of that!' Paul suggests we might prefer to stay single so we can focus more fully on living for Christ (1 Corinthians 7:34), so it's preposterous to suggest that spiritual effectiveness depends on marriage.

Women shouldn’t work outside the home - So... no female nurses, or teachers? Lydia worked as a fabric trader and hosted Paul and his fellow travellers in her home (Acts 16:14-15).

Women must obediently submit to their husbands in all situations - All situations? Really? What if the husband requires her to renounce Christ? We are probably all familiar with Ephesians 5:21-33, but notice that Paul begins by saying we should submit to one another and ends by stressing love and respect. Does 'do what I say' really equate with love, respect and mutual submission?

A man needs to “cover” a woman in her ministry activities - The whole idea of 'ministry activities' is suspect - for both men and women. We live to serve Christ in everything we do and say and think. We dare not think in terms of ministry and non-ministry activities. Anna is a good example of a woman without a man to 'cover' her (Luke 2:36-38).

A woman should view her husband as the 'priest of the home' - Are we not all priests? Peter says that all who believe are a royal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9-10)

Women are not equipped to assume leadership roles - Junia was 'outstanding among the apostles' according to Paul (Romans 16:7). (Despite some attempts to argue the contrary, Junia is a female name.) Phoebe was a deacon (Romans 16:1), Priscilla was a 'fellow worker' (Romans 16:3)

Women must not teach or preach to men in a church setting - Paul writes that women are to remain silent (1 Corinthians 14:34), but he also writes that the brothers and sisters (implied, eg NIV) should each speak or sing (1 Corinthians 14:26). Whatever he means, it's much too simplistic to regard it as a blanket ban on women speaking. It's necessary to dig deeper than that.

Women are more easily deceived than men - There is no biblical basis for this idea. None. Genesis 3 is often offered as proof, where Eve says that the evil one 'deceived me, and I ate' (Genesis 3:13). But this is, frankly, a cop out. Adam also heard the temptation and ate so he was equally deceived.

Women who exhibit strong leadership qualities have a 'spirit of Jezebel' - This one is just made up. There is no suggestion of anything like this in the New Testament, no support for the idea at all. It seems to me to be both hurtful and offensive, a criticism that is sometimes wielded like a weapon.

There is, perhaps, just one more thing to say; and it's a warning. Be very careful about creating obstacles! (Romans 16:17-19) Let us be both wise and innocent.

May the Father and the Son through the power of the Spirit lead us into all truth and build us into the church, his Bride, pure and complete and perfect in every way. May we so love and encourage one another in everything we do that the world will see his nature represented in us. May the body be one just as the Father and the Son and the Spirit are one. In Jesus name, amen.

Questions:

  • What did Paul mean when he wrote 'there is neither male nor female'? (Galatians 3:26-28)
  • If you are a man, should you insist on these ten points? If you are a woman, should you listen?
  • Gentleness, love, peace, kindness and patience are part of the fruit of the Spirit. Are these evident in the ten points? If so, how? (Galatians 5:22-26)
  • Truth, authority, service and submission are not part of the fruit. Why not?

See also:

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