Showing posts with label community. Show all posts
Showing posts with label community. Show all posts

02 February 2015

Loving more fully and widely (Repost)

Here's another reposted article, this time from 26th October 2012. It was originally part of a chain blog. I've removed the material related to that, but you can read the original if you want to see it.

British currency
One another - Today we're going to see how much we can draw from a single occurrence of the phrase 'one another'. Romans 13:8 is the particular example we'll consider.

Here it is in context, verse eight is in italics...

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.' Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.

Wider context - There's a wider context too, that we need to bear in mind. Paul first writes about civil government, making it clear that goverments are there because the One who is Authority puts them there. They have a function and a purpose, we must submit to them.

Then come the verses above.

And finally Paul writes that time is short, we need to act now while we still can. Jesus is returning - soon! We need to be found ready and obedient and already covered by him. Romans 13 is relevant in its entirety. We should read this chapter often and let it sink deep into our hearts and minds!

Three statements - But in verse eight, Paul makes three statements.

  • Don't let any debt remain.
  • Continue to love one another
  • This fulfils the Law

What does he mean? He is not simply saying that I should pay off any debts I owe. He is saying that I should allow no debt to stand. He is saying I should pay my own debts but I should also, if necessary, pay yours. The important thing about debt is that it is paid, the effect is the same no matter who pays.

Jesus paid my debt so if I want to be like him I will pay yours. And Paul is not writing merely about money, he has just explicitly used the words respect and honour as well. These things apply to one another as much as (or more than) they do to governments.

There are to be no debts amongst us, not only because we pay them off but because we forgive them. When I lack the means to pay I become dependent on your willingness to forgive. Jesus is our example in this. He is the ultimate debt payer and forgiver. We are called to be like him in our dealings with one another.

Will I pay my monetary debt to you? Will I forgive your debt of money to me? But also (and often harder) will I pay the respect and honour I owe to you? And will I forgive you if you disrespect and dishonour me? This is the nitty-gritty of not allowing any debt to remain.

If I continue to love you I will indeed pay and forgive in all situations where debt might remain. Love will cause me, compel me to cover every kind of debt. If not, do I have love at all?

The debt that remains - And it goes further yet! Paul writes that there is one debt that should stand, the 'continuing debt to love one another'.  Love is not just for today but also for tomorrow and for tomorrow's tomorrow. I owe you love and that is a debt I cannot pay off. Love goes forward without ceasing. 'Faith, hope and love remain', writes Paul, 'And the greatest of these is love'. Love remains, even in the kingdom of heaven, especially in the kingdom of heaven.

So, just as love is the fulfilment of Torah, so love is the fulfilment of civil law and indeed every kind of law. If I truly love I will not be able to commit any sin at all. The fact that sin remains is just a clear sign that love is not yet complete in me.

Let's go forward in our lives understanding that love remains and is greater than anything else. And let's remember who 'one another' means. It's not limited to the church.

Jesus made it pretty inclusive. What begins with brothers and sisters becomes all encompassing. Love the Father, love one another, love your neighbour, love your enemy. My love is to extend out and become fully inclusive, not in any way for club members only. 'One another' is just a starting point, the nursery slopes of loving.

    30 December 2013

    Food banks in the UK

    Food banks are now common in the UK; many people are in difficulties because of the heavy cost of housing, ever increasing fuel bills and low income. These costs are unlikely to fall, and continuing pressure on earnings leaves many families unable to cope.

    Part of the Food Bank warehouse
    Part of the Food Bank warehouse
    Food banks are operating in every part of the world, not just in the UK. Wherever the need exists volunteers are doing their best to help, but it's not always easy.

    In Britain the Trussell Trust and FareShare UK make it relatively straightforward to start a local food charity.

    Local action - The St Neots Food Bank in my own town was started by a group of churches in the summer of 2013 and began distributing food packages in October; they used the Trussell Trust model and have found the guidance, materials and expertise provided by them very helpful. The photo shows stored food being catalogued before being used to make up food packages for distribution.

    The process - This is straightforward in principle, but needs dedicated time and effort by teams of volunteers.

    • The food is non-perishable (canned and dry products) and is donated by churches, schools, and individual shoppers via collection days at supermarkets.
    • Donated food is taken to the warehouse, weighed, labelled, sorted and stored in crates. Packages for distribution are made up in a range of sizes intended to last for three days.
    • Packages are taken to two distribution centres in the town.
    • Local organisations are given Food Bank Vouchers to give out when they become aware of a need. Voucher holders include schools, the Citizens Advice Bureau, doctor's surgeries and so forth.
    • People who have received a voucher take it to a distribution centre and exchange it for a food package.
    This approach enables the Food Bank to focus on collecting, managing and providing food supplies without being involved in deciding who is in need. The voucher-holding agencies have the responsibility and necessary knowledge to do this.

    Why are food banks needed? - It is, of course, right and good that churches and other groups are willing and able to provide this service to the community. And it's wonderful that the public and local businesses are willing to donate food and help in so many other ways. In St Neots a local furniture shop provides much of the warehouse and office space and additional storage has been given by another business.

    But why is it necessary? Why, in twenty-first century Britain, is there a need (and, it has to be said, a steadily growing need) for food banks? [Tweet it!] There are a number of reasons and they have to do with the economy but also with government action (or lack of it, or too much of it). There has been some debate, but not enough appropriate action.

    I'm not going to elaborate here, instead I'll point you to this recent article in The Guardian.


    Questions:

    • Does it surprise you that food banks are becoming much more common in the UK?
    • How do you think government policy might be changed to reduce the need for them?
    • Do you think things will be better or worse in two years time?
    • Is there anything you can do to help address local needs?

    See also:

    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:

    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 >

    12 November 2012

    Am I a member of the church?

    Most people understand the word 'church' to mean a building, an identifiable subset of the believers in a town or district, or an activity that happens at a particular time or place. None of these definitions matches anything we find in the Bible.

    Is this church?
    In conversation with a friend yesterday, I heard once again that I am not a member of 'a church'. I didn't record the exact words but the sense was that I'm unusual in not belonging to 'a church', that it's a bit quirky and perhaps not a good thing.

    And the day before yesterday I was listening to another conversation about 'a church' buying a building.

    Of course, it's certainly not the first time I've heard these things, and I'm sure it will not be the last! But it's worth thinking this through again. What is 'church'? What is 'a church'? And what does it mean to 'belong' to church?

    Organisations - The idea goes that there may be several churches in a small town. St Neots has about 30 000 inhabitants and in the UK some 1.5 % of people are involved in church activity. That suggests about 450 church members in St Neots.

    There's an assumption here, so widespread and commonly held that we barely notice it. The assumption is that church is an organisation and that the people belonging to it are going to meet in a particular place once or twice a week. Clearly there may be several such organisations in a town and each may meet in a separate place.

    Only one church - But Jesus was clear that there is only one church. He said, 'I will build my church'. That is singular - one church. A common way around this is to think in terms of 'the church universal'. True - there is one worldwide church and it necessarily meets in many places. But a problem with that idea is that the New Testament authors wrote of the church in a town, Ephesus or Rome for example. Yet we do not anywhere read about a church in Ephesus or in any other place, it's always the church. It seems clear that Paul thought in terms of one church that met in various homes, towns and provinces.

    He does not think in terms of two or three different organisations in Ephesus called church (though the people probably met in several homes). Nor does he anywhere distinguish different 'churches' on grounds of doctrine, teaching, founder or understanding. On the one occasion he does mention this he regards it as a very bad practice that needs to be nipped in the bud.

    'I hear', he writes to the church in Corinth, 'that you are saying that you follow Apollos or Paul or Jesus'. He sees this as a terrible precedent, a horrid disfigurement of Christ's body, he insists the practice must end immediately (1 Corinthians 1:9-17).

    Church in the biblical sense is clearly a community, not a building or an institution. The Greek is ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) which means, literally, the 'called-out' ones. We are called out from the world into the community of the King. As we live (and meet) together we are part of this one community.

    Being a member - So, in what sense am I not in a church, not a member of a church? And in what sense does a church need a building of its own?

    If we think in terms of the Baptist Church, The Methodist Church, the Anglican Church, River Church, Open Door Church and the range of other 'churches' in St Neots then I am not a member of any of those. And Paul, I suggest, would have vehemently argued that we should all come to our senses and recognise that Christ is not divided.

    Instead, I am a member of the church in St Neots, a statement Paul would have understood and surely applauded. It would be a mistake to suggest that because I'm not a member of this part or that part I am therefore somehow not a part of the whole. On the contrary, by being a member of a selected part I would be separating myself from every other part.

    I have good, useful contact every week with a variety of people from several of the 'churches' and from none. We talk together, pray together, read together, sometimes we sing together, and we are being built together day by day into one body here in St Neots. I need and want nothing more. Jesus calls me to nothing less. I am a member of the church here in St Neots, the town where I live.

    Questions:

    • In light of 1 Corinthians 1:9-17, how do you justify denominations?
    • If you disagree with my views in this article, where do you think I have gone wrong?
    • How do you explain Ephesians 4:1-6 and Ephesians 4:11-16?
    • What did Jesus mean by 'unity'? (See John 17:20-23)

    See also:


    * Note: I think the conclusions are somewhat rigid but the arguments are worth considering.

    17 September 2012

    Organic leadership?

    I thought it would be good to repost this from April 2010 as we've been thinking about leadership recently. This old article is a good reminder that it doesn't really depend on us, it depends on Yahshua. He is the one who builds the church!

    Oak leaves and acorns
    Brian Hofmeister has tried organic church and found it difficult. He writes about his experiences in a report in Christianity Today - Leadership. Brian's conclusion is that leading organic church was just too onerous, and was not achievable without some degree of professional input.

    However, this has not been my experience, nor that of many others. And I don't believe it was the experience of the early church either. There's little evidence of paid leadership in the New Testament.

    So what went wrong for Brian and the people he met with? To answer that we need to go right back to define what is and is not organic church. The word 'organic' implies an organism, whereas much of our experience of church comes from organisations. An organisation usually has a top-down management structure and a hierarchical authority structure. Something which is organic begins from a seed and grows until it reaches maturity and produces more seeds which grow in their turn.

    In this way, one tiny seed may produce not just a tree, but an entire forest. It takes a certain amount of time, but it speeds up dramatically with each generation and will eventually fill the space available. Trees and forests can be managed, but they don't have to be. There were very successful forests in many parts of the world before human explorers arrrived to manage them!

    I think that Brian simply tried too hard to manage and guide and educate and persuade. But that's not organic. The seed that germinates and grows amongst a small group of people is the expectation that Yahshua himself will do the managing, guiding, educating, and persuading. He said, 'I will build my church.' And he really meant it! He is the only one who truly knows how to do it.

    Church is a community of people who love one another because Christ has first loved them. When we come together to meet it's just the tip of a giant, hidden core of fellowship and community. When we meet, Yahshua is there at the centre. He is with us because we are his and he loves to bless us and guide us. But he's also with us day by day as we live our lives, he is with us in defeat and in victory, in sorrow and in joy.

    A group of new believers, if they focus on Jesus, will help one another along the road to maturity. The wiser and more mature will look out for the others. There will be problems, but rather than training programmes and theological studies the believers need to discover how to be disciples. They need to be walking with the Lord, listening to what he says and watching what he does. Reading the Bible together will provide a lot of useful guidance. Eating together when possible, helping one another with practical things, and having good, family fun together will help too. Encouraging one another, praying for one another, all these things help to build community.

    But the key is listening to the Lord and doing what he says. Out of this will come mission, church growth, and all the rest.

    Brian tried an alternative model of church and found it wanting. But it wasn't really organic church. My advice to him would be try again but to do a whole lot less while expecting Yahshua to do a whole lot more!

    For some related ideas, click the 'Links' button at the top of the page, some of the links will lead to other useful material - books, mp3s, DVDs, videos and more. But above all pray and ask Jesus himself to guide you, he won't let you down.

    20 August 2012

    The Tall Skinny Kiwi in Asia

    People following Jesus in Asian countries don't necessarily become part of churches in our Western sense. Sometimes they simply follow Yahshua in community as part of their everyday lives. The difference between the two approaches is a challenge to us.

    A map of Asia
    Andrew Jones is a church planter and a blogger - his blog is called 'Tall Skinny Kiwi'.

    In 2011 he wrote an article for Lausanne Global Conversation following his visit to some Asian churches.

    It's well worth reading again even if you've already seen it. Andrew's article simply lists eleven practices that he considered to be at the root of  the Asian believers' success.

    The article is in two pages, make sure you don't miss the second page.

    Here's his introduction.

    I visited a number of Asian countries in 2011 and was amazed at the dynamism and commitment of the young Jesus followers.

    One network, in a country that I will not mention, stuck out to me as an outstanding example. They have started almost a thousand new communities, many of them multiplying into the second and third generation. And like many new movements in the non-Western world, a Sunday worship service as an evangelistic entry point for potential members has not been part of their ministry portfolio.

    So if they didn’t start worship services, how did they start a replicating movement of Christian communities and how do they maintain such a high level of spiritual growth?

    Of course it’s hard and a little presumptuous to claim which elements of their ministry are the most important but . . . here are 11 practices that I think have contributed to their success:

    Andrew then writes a little under each of the following headings - Bible study, open houses, fringe focus, simple habits, good business products, system for rehabilitation, native flavour, daily rhythms, not outreach to but outreach with others, something for the whole family, prayer.

    Here's another taster, Andrew's sections on open houses and fringe focus.

    The people were hospitable to visitors who seemed to come at any time of the day or night. Their houses were full of young people living there while their lives were being transformed. I did not see any buildings used for worship or church functions. Bible studies and events took place in the houses, with young people sitting on carpets and mattresses, but I would not classify it as a house church movement, since there was no regular worship service to invite neighbours into.

    The primary influx was young people from the margins, the underbelly of society and those discarded by it, drug addicts, and postmodern sub-cultures rather than mainstream folk. I have seen this trend all over Asia including Japan. Most of the leaders I met had come from these backgrounds also.

    There's a desperate need for change like this in other parts of the world. But perhaps there's just as much need for it here in Britain. Some people in the West are doing similar things, here in the UK and elsewhere, but so far perhaps especially in the USA.

    Can we learn from this Asian approach? Is everything they do appropriate in the UK, just some of it, or none of it? Are there particular features Andrew describes that you might try in your own life with Jesus? Are you already doing some of these things? If not, why not? Could you engage in similar approaches with your friends? Could you reach your neighbours?

    Leave a comment. Let's have a conversation.

    25 April 2012

    What is the greatest priority?

    We consider interviews with three church personalities and ask, 'What is the most important objective for the church? What will most please the Lord?'

    Fractured glassWe are being tugged in many directions in our lives as believers, we have become a polychotomy. There are voices telling us to believe the right things, say the right things, do the right things. Let's take a look at some of them and ask ourselves the question, 'What is the greatest priority?'

    An article by Sam Hailes in Christian.co.uk started me thinking about this. Sam interviewed Peter Farmer from Nottingham, Tony Goddard from Peterborough, and Beresford Job from Chigwell. These three men have different ideas on the main priority - mission and multiplication (Peter), making an impact and caring (Tony), following Biblical principles (Beresford). If we cast the net wider we will find many more groups with other insights and emphases. Every denomination and group has its own ideas about what is most important.

    So who is right?

    To answer this question we need to turn to the Bible. But where should we look?

    I suggest that the most important and fundamental guidance will come from carefully hearing what Jesus said. In particular, his prayer just before his arrest must be the best of all sources for what is essential.

    Think about it for a moment. Yahshua knows that his whole life has brought him to this place of sacrifice. The burden upon him is enormous, his heart is heavy and he cries out to the Father. Surely what he asks at this moment will be the most important thing of all. What does he say?

    In John 17, Yahshua prays for his disciples, and there is much here that we can benefit from. But then he prays explicitly for you and me. And this is what he asks.

    My prayer is not for [my disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

    I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

    Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. ‘Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them. (John 17:20-26)

    He wants us to be one, united, not split apart. The Messiah himself prays to the Father that we may be one 'just as you are in me and I am in you'. He wants us all to be 'in us' (the Father and the Son) so that the world may believe the Father has sent the Son.

    More than that, Jesus has given us (you and me) the glory that the Father gave him. What?! Read that again. He's given you and me his glory! Why? So that we may be one. Then the world will know.

    And he prays that we may be where he is and see his glory.

    There's just no escaping this fundamental truth, that when the chips are down Jesus prays his heart out to his Father and asks that we may be one so that the world may believe.

    What is the most striking thing about the church in our day? It is divided into myriad groups and denominations, all pointing to different things as being the most important. We are a broken, shattered people and the heart of Christ is broken when he sees us in this state. His heart is for us to be one just as he and the Father are one. And he wants to include us in their oneness and community.

    Peter Farmer is not wrong about mutiplication and mission. Tony Goddard is not wrong about making an impact and caring for people. And Beresford Job is not wrong about following Biblical principles.

    But above all, we now need to learn to be one. We need to celebrate our differences and learn from one another. There is no single right belief, right speech, or right action. His children all shine with the light of his presence. If we are to be part of the answer to his prayer we need to learn from one another and grow together in love, building one another up, encouraging one another, helping one another to focus on every good thing. We need to grow up into Christ. Paul understood this well, see what he wrote to the Ephesian church.

    As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

    There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

    Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

    Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:1-6 and 11:16)

    I am not suggesting that anyone is wrong, or that some are more right than others. I am simply observing that we remain shattered and that we are not yet perfectly formed into the one bride for whom Christ died and will return. Let us all strive to forge fresh bonds of peace. Paul called the Ephesians to keep the unity of the Spirit. Today we need to do more than that, we need to regain the unity of the Spirit.

    21 February 2012

    Greening the city

    This article considers ways of improving the city or town environment. There are some big projects here, growing trees and plants in the heart of our urban world. But there are also ways forward for smaller groups to run projects for themselves, right where they live.

    Built to support a vertical forestCities already have parks, private gardens, urban farms, landscaped roadside verges and large buildings with atria containing tropical plants, but what else can we do to bring greenery into the city? There are some surprisingly innovative ideas out there.

    Milan's 'Bosco verticale' project is currently under construction and will consist of two residential towers supporting ornamental woodland and shrubbery.

    New York's Highline converted railway line has become a much-loved green space for walking and relaxing right in the heart of the city. It was inspired by an earlier project in Paris, the 'Promenade Plantée'.

    In London, an old building has found a new use as a vertical garden.

    Verge gardens get a write up in Australia, these use small urban spaces and are managed by the local people.

    There's lots of scope for individual and group action. Contact your local town council. Form a local community project. There are some good ideas in Groundwork's toolbox document. On the whole group action may be best, you can plan together, work on the planting and maintenance together, enjoy the space together, eat together, become a real community in the process of creating a cared-for green space in your environment. What could be better?

    21 January 2012

    Circles of friends

    Help doesn't always come from the places we expect. Community may not be the shape we design it to be. Church structure is better recognised than defined. Practice and experience are very likely to differ from theory.

    Mallow on the beach, messy but vibrantAll of us need a little help from time to time, or someone to listen or encourage. And if we're involved in local church life we expect to find that support from church friends as well as from family members and others. In particular, if we are in a cell or home group we expect the members to provide the help we need. It's often claimed to be one of several reasons for meeting in smaller, more intimate groups.

    But what happens in practice?

    When a friend recently told me that he was not getting the help he needed from his home group, I was able to identify a number of people who were providing help. It was coming from a rich combination of close friends, some involved in other home groups, some in entirely different churches. Most of these people had not been 'designated' as his close church family, yet they were there when he needed them.

    And this made me wonder whether we have things 'back to front' in some sense.

    Rather than organise people into groups, why not recognise that most people already have circles of friends around them? Does it matter if these circles overlap with one another and don't fit into a tidy pattern?

    As usual, organic life is messy but vibrant and abundant. Let it be what it is. If I can see vibrant and abundant I'm willing to overlook messy, or even rejoice over messy! Far better messy, abundant life than organised sterility. Yahshua said, 'I came so they may have life, and have it more abundantly.' (John 10:10)

    So may I suggest that the people Father has placed around us are more likely to be there when we need them than the people that even the best organised church has defined as 'our' group? (The two are not mutually exclusive, or course.)

    The corollary of this is that 'church'  is a shifting network of unique yet overlapping circles around all the individuals. True community comes, not from human-defined groups, but from the Father himself guiding his people in loving one another. And if we saw church in this way we would lose our need to identify ourselves as members of this fellowship or that denomination. We would let all the buildings and programs go (we wouldn't need them any more) and we could focus on life as the church that meets at Jane and John's house or the church in St Neots. Wouldn't that be grand!

    08 January 2012

    Christmas lunch at Cornerstone

    On 25th December Jim and some of his friends laid on a Christmas lunch for people who otherwise might have eaten alone, perhaps even spent the entire day alone.

    Christmas lunch at CornerstoneCornerstone Coffee and Books provided the space, River Church funded the supplies for the meal, Jim and his family prepared and served the food, and the rest of us helped with setting up, waiting at table, chatting with the guests, and clearing up afterwards.

    Quite unprompted, Waitrose provided some festive groceries for the guests to take home. Every guest also received an M&S voucher.

    Paul and I arrived at 10:30. We spent some time sweeping the floor and setting out the tables (four tables with space for ten people on each). Then, as the guests started arriving we were on hand to welcome them, offer teas or coffees, and chat.

    During the meal it was great to sit with the guests, pull crackers, and have some unhurried conversation.

    At the end of the meal I had to hurry home as Donna's parents and brother were staying with us, but I think there were plenty of helpers on hand to assist with the washing up and tidying away.

    22 October 2011

    THOUGHT - His presence

    When we think about the Almighty's presence among his people, clearly there's a difference between his presence personally and his presence corporately. Yet the two are inextricably linked.

    A glorious solar haloAs far as his personal presence is concerned, we know that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, lives within us. Jesus expressly tells the disciples to expect him. He turns up at Pentecost and rests on each one - like a flame. He also dramatically energises and activates the church and they go out boldly sharing the good news. (Up to that time they had been prayerful, yet grieving, fearful and probably very confused.)

    But notice that they were together in one place when the Spirit came upon them. The personal presence came in the context of corporate activity. There is something special about unity itself. The Father, Son and Spirit are one - a community - the pattern for all community. So we are intended to be one, a community as close as theirs. And even more amazing, we are supposed to enter into their community; the Son wants to bring his bride into the family home.

    I cannot be the bride of Christ any more than I could marry a toenail. If we are to be the bride isn't it obvious that we must first become one? My wife, for example, is an entire person, not merely a collection of disconnected body parts. (Does this remind anyone of Ezekiel 37 and the valley of dry bones?)

    How badly do we want his presence, will we do what he says? Jesus' prayer was that we should be one as he and the Father are one and that we should be one with them. Read it for yourself in John 17:20-26. And immediately after that, Jesus goes to the olive field to be arrested and killed. We are so important to him that we're in his prayers at that terrible and particularly distracting moment.

    Notice what he says about glory. He wants us to see and receive his glory (verse 22) - had you noticed that? The glory is surely the Father's presence within us individually and corporately. Just as his glory appeared as the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud and led the gathered people of Israel through the desert, so when we are in the dark he gives us light and when we are in the light he gives us direction.

    As locally gathered expressions of his body, let's turn away from what we want and begin to focus on what he wants. Will we choose to be one and receive his glory? And will we choose, not for our own sakes, but for his sake?

    Whenever we are one for his sake he will illuminate us and give us direction and pour out his glory. The enemy knows this and will do anything to prevent it. But resist him and he runs away because he can't stand in Jesus' presence.

    Here's a suggestion to try next time you meet. Drop any plans for structure, don't prepare anything, don't have anyone 'in charge'. Just agree to be quiet in his presence and individually focus on Jesus. When he puts a thought in your mind, or a picture, or a few words, or a Bible verse - share it and then wait for someone else to receive. Don't be anxious about 'awkward' silences, just focus back on Jesus and get ready to share whatever he gives you.

    See what happens. And why not report back by posting a comment below?

    06 January 2011

    RESPONSE - Community and mission?

    Felicity Dale has just written a great post about community and mission. Do we need to become a community before we launch out in mission? What does it mean to be a 'missional community'? Is that the same thing as a communal mission?

    Felicity Dale's BlogFelicity has set me thinking and I need to respond at greater length than a blog comment will allow. If you want the context you can read her article now, or you can read my reply and then return to Felicity's article. But whatever you do make sure you read her wise contribution at some point!

    She was asked the question, 'What do you do about mission if there is very little sense of community in your group?' Her post was in response to that.

    The essential thing here is to let go of any preconceptions we may have, I can guarantee that some of them will be misconceptions. Better to clear a space in which the Holy Spirit can direct us and guide us. His job is to lead us, show us the way, encourage us, comfort us, and act as an advocate. Our job is to go and do the things he tells us. He is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Sonship, the Spirit of a sound mind.

    Can I build Yahshua's church? No! He said he would build it himself. The best I can hope to do is play with the bricks so that he has to sort out my mess before he can begin building. Better to let him do it right from the start.

    Mission - How did Jesus go about mission? He sent out his disciples in pairs and told them to go to the towns and villages. He told them to knock on the doors and, when they were made welcome, to go in, speak peace into the home, and eat with the people living there.

    Community - A pair of disciples is the smallest unit that can be regarded as church. Greater numbers are not necessarily better. You, me and Jesus - that's enough! Church is not defined by size, structure, management methods, buildings, programmes, or mission statements. It is defined as two or more people on a journey together in community with Jesus.

    The journey may be 'missional' at times - literally travelling from place to place to tell people the good news about Jesus. But much of the time it's more likely to be a journey of deepening understanding and growing depth of relationship with one another and with the Lord. If Jesus is leading us, reaching out will happen as part of that community life.

    The source - What we most urgently need to know is that mission and community both have their roots in love. In his recent book Follow, Floyd McClung writes...

    All followers and seekers of Jesus must wrestle with three simple yet profound truths. Worship. Mission. Community. They are simple, but they will affect every area of your life if you allow them to.

    He lists and defines them again several times.

    • Worship: to love and obey Jesus as a lifestyle - with passion and purpose.
    • Mission: to love those who don't follow Jesus - with courage and decency.
    • Community: to love other followers of Jesus - with intentionality and transparency.

    And later he writes...

    'Worship - Love Jesus. Mission - Love the world. Community - Love one another.

    Very simple. But building one's life on these three simple yet profound truths goes deeper than a first glance reveals. They might be simple, but they are not easy. They are approachable and touchable, but once you get close to them, they demand your whole life.

    Love is the source of mission and of community as well as being the source of worship. If there is no love there can be no meaningful mission and no meaningful community.

    But whose love? Mine? Well, yes and no. First and foremost it's the love of the Father poured out in and through the Son. And it's the love of the Son, Yahshua (Jesus) poured out sacrificially to redeem us and change us. And it's the love of the Spirit of Christ within us individually, and Christ in us communally - the hope of glory.

    We love because we were first loved. The result of love in our hearts is threefold - worship, mission, and community.

    It's not a question of mission and then community, or community and then mission. As we begin to love (and therefore worship) the One who first loved us, we will find ourselves in mission and in community too. Without love we will never get started with either of them.

    Receive his love and you will inevitably begin to love him, then you will worship and everything else will follow as we are swept along with Jesus on his journey towards deeper community and mission.

    There's a great example of this in practice on the Jesus Virus blog.

    03 October 2010

    THOUGHT - Planting the seed

    < Prepare the ground | Index | No later items >

    As we have already seen in previous posts on church planting, a seed has been found and the ground is prepared and ready. But how do we go about sowing the seed?

    A young seedling in the soilWe should remember that the plant that will grow is not an individual, but a church. It will be composed of individuals and it may be quite small, even as small as two or three people. The maximum is probably about twenty, but such a large number is less likely.

    Father has remarkable ways of arranging things. Jesus said quite clearly, 'I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.' It might well be that he is already building this particular manifestation of his church. Planting a church may already have been done, in secret, by the Lord himself.

    Remember that the person (seed) that we are working with is a hospitable, open, caring sort of person. They will already have a community around them, perhaps family, friends, work colleagues, neighbours or a mixture of all four. This community or part of it may itself become church. So the work you will be doing might be planting a church or it might just be recognising the baby church that is already there.

    Now do you see the importance of not attempting to draw the person into your existing church? That would just add one person to a group. Instead there is a golden opportunity to add an entire new group. If this is what Yahshua is telling you to do - don't miss it!

    It would be foolish to prescribe a church planting method or a series of steps to perform, but there are one or two guidelines. Planting a church is just as much a miracle as is the establishment of a plant in a field. We know that it grows, but we have no idea how. What we can do is encourage the growth as much as possible.

    So encourage the person you are working with to share their story with their natural community. They'll listen to someone they know far more attentively than to a stranger. Meet with them and be prepared to answer questions, but don't bring a list of topics to be covered. Be available, but be careful not to meet with them every time, especially so as the new church begins to be established and finds its feet. Give them space to discover for themselves. Their roots are in what Jesus will reveal to them, not in anything you might say.

    Encourage them to listen to Jesus, they can do this by reading the gospels together and sharing their thoughts on what he said and did. They need to be willing to put what they learn into practice, they can pray for one another and help one another with practical aspects of their lives. They can begin to eat meals together, do things together, and read Acts and the New Testament letters to find out how church worked in the early years. Again they should begin to put these things into practice. The emphasis will naturally be on loving the Father, loving Jesus, loving one another, and loving those around them.

    < Prepare the ground | Index | No later items >

    11 March 2004

    Eaton Ford - Trees and leaves

    < 6th August 2003 | Index | 31st March 2004 >

    Trees seemed to be an important theme in this evening's meeting. We were given a picture of trees planted in a field and Father said that when they were mature, their branches would touch and intermingle.

    Perhaps young, immature trees should not be too surprised if they sometimes seem to grow in isolation! True community can only come when the trees are fully grown, first they must all attain their full height and spread.

    We looked at Ezek 47:1-7 and 12 where we read of the river flowing from the temple and the fruitful trees growing on its banks. These trees are watered by the river and never wither because they don't suffer drought. When we receive the living water, we too will be fruitful regularly and continually.

    We had another word that trees may be shaken by the wind, but if they are firmly rooted they won't be swayed. How important it is to be 'rooted and grounded' in the things of the Master!

    Matt 24:32 explains that when the fig tree buds and shoots, we know summer is coming. And Luke 13:1-9 points out that it's urgent to repent and to seize the opportunity of life right now. But then a certain amount of patience is required for growth and fruitfulness.

    Other thoughts this evening were that we tend to bring the world's way of doing things into the church. But it should surely be the other way round; we should instead be taking the church's way out into the world!

    And we need to be in the same place doing something differently, not in a different place still doing the same old things.

    < 6th August 2003 | Index | 31st March 2004 >

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