13 December 2014

Every chapter is necessary

The recently published book, Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity, contains twenty-six chapters. Each one discusses a positive aspect of church, something that is an essential part of the whole. Reading from the book last night I was deeply impacted by Chapter 22 from Kathy Escobar; the chapter is entitled A church that restores dignity where it's been lost.

She writes
Jesus calls [Lazarus] out of the tomb, but then he looks to the people around him - his community, friends, and advocates - and says to them 'unbind him'. Unbind him. Unwrap him. Take off his graveclothes.

I think God calls us to participate in this uncovering-unwrapping-unbinding with each other through healing community.
Kathy Escobar's chapter
Kathy Escobar's chapter
And it struck me that although church is much more than the sum of its parts, all of the parts need to be actively present. There is a synergy, a sparking of abundant life that comes from the interdependence of the parts. Church is a person, the Bride of Christ.

Like all people, you and I are much more than the sum of hands, ears, spleen, heart, lungs and all the rest. But if any of these were missing we would either die or be unable to fully function. And it's just the same with the church.

Just consider some of the other chapter themes. The church cherishes Jesus Christ, exhibits personal holiness, counts every member as key, assembles for mutual edification, and knows eternal life is free. Imagine all of those being true in a church that fails to restore dignity where it's been lost. It would be a church without the active compassion necessary to unbind those who so desperately need it.

Or consider a church that clings to scriptural truth, is most notable for its love and is united in Christ but doesn't follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. This would be a church that failed to hear where to go and what to do and did everything in its own strength.

Or what about a church that was composed of peacemakers, viewed itself as a people, restored dignity but failed to proclaim the gospel clearly?

The chapters of this book all stand alone and can be read alone. But they often overlap so that there are echoes and glimpses of them in one another. Yet taken together, with no part missing or inactive, they describe a holistic church, a wholesome church and a church that is alive and active and effective in the world. There are other aspects that are not explicitly covered in the book, prayer for example. But these are implied throughout in a variety of ways.

Church is as complex as any living organism, and just like a living organism it is not only complex but also multi-faceted, and astonishingly well constructed. The church is also alive with the life of Christ. And every part contributes!

01 December 2014

Simple Church is now available

The twenty-four author, collaborative book Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity is now available to buy online and in bookshops. You can buy it direct from the publisher, Redeeming Press, or you can order it online from Amazon in both the USA and the UK. I was given the opportunity to write the third chapter, A Church That Follows the Lead of the Holy Spirit.


Simple Church, the paperback
Simple Church, the paperback
Here's a review I wrote for Amazon.

What has one purpose, but twenty-four authors?

This book does!

The editor, Eric Carpenter, has put together contributions from around the globe; and every single chapter describes an aspect of church life seen from the perspective of oneness and harmony. The book succeeds in its stated aim of filling a much-needed gap, expressing what the authors believe church can be, and doing so in a wholly positive way.

I am one of the authors, writing chapter three on following the lead of the Holy Spirit. But I have to tell you that I am blown away by the scope, insight and depth of the other twenty-three chapters that I did not write. The book contains sections on glorifying and enjoying the One we worship, living radically, building the body, impacting the world and proclaiming salvation. The focus throughout is on inclusive, positive and straightforward ways of living out what we believe. If you're looking for an uplifting read that will challenge and encourage you, this could be just the book for you.

It's refreshing to read a book so empty of criticism, yet full of insights and passion. Turn these pages and you will find personal stories, good analysis, and original thoughts. Expect to be changed and encouraged as you read, be prepared to laugh in some places, to cry in others, and to come away with fresh understandings and a determination to live more completely in the unity that is already ours in Christ.

Read this book, I don't think you will regret it.

And here's another review, this time from Jeremy Myers.

Lots of Christians talk about church unity, but usually what they mean is, "If you believe like we do and act like we do, then we can be unified."

This book seeks to look at several things that all people of all (almost all, anyway) forms of church can be unified about. Though most of the 24 authors of this book practice various "simple" or "missional" forms of church, this book is not for those sorts of Christians only, but for everybody who hopes and prays along with Jesus "That they may be one..."

The book is divided into 5 areas in which Christians can be unified: (1) Glorying and Enjoying God, (2) Living Radically as followers of Jesus, (3) Building up the Body of Christ, (4) Impacting the World through missions and service, and (5) Proclaiming the freeness of salvation.

The 24 authors of this book come from a variety of backgrounds and church experiences, with many of them coming from or currently serving on the mission field overseas. Several of the authors have published other books, and almost all of them have blogs about church, theology, missions, and following Jesus. By way of full disclosure, I am one of the contributors to this book, but have been challenged and blessed by every chapter in it.

If you buy the book and review it for us on Amazon, you will receive the unified and most heartfelt gratitude of twenty-four authors. With most books you'd do well to get the gratitude of more than one!

06 November 2014

Simple Church (the book)

There's a new book ready for publication, pre-orders are now being accepted by Redeeming Press and Amazon. It's called Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity.

Front cover
Front cover
Why all the excitement? This is a book with a difference, it aims to show how we can be one even though we are many. Unity doesn't mean uniformity, it means togetherness despite the differences. Indeed, the differences between us should be seen as a great strength. There is balance in diversity; it's a wonderful guard against the propagation of errors.

I'm including a preview of the book cover (click the image for a larger view) and an extract from Chapter Four, A Church that follows the lead of The Holy Spirit in all things. I was delighted to have the opportunity to contribute this chapter to the book and grateful to the editor, Eric Carpenter, for entrusting it to me.

You can also read the blurb from the back cover (again, click the image to enlarge it).
Back cover blurb
Back cover blurb
The Holy Spirit teaches us to be more like Christ. His fruit builds in our lives over time. He equips us by pouring out His gifts as and when they are needed. He builds us in relationship. The Holy Spirit sends us out on mission. He want us to live in the world as a blessing and a challenge. He is always doing new things. When we meet, the Spirit meets with us. After all, Jesus lives in each one of us and the Holy Spirit fills us to overflowing. Usually that overflowing serves to inform our meetings, guide our thoughts, lift our hearts into the presence of the Most High and speak to us moment by moment in our lives.

What would church be like without the Spirit? It’s quite hard to imagine. I wonder if it could even be called ‘church’ at all! Church without the Spirit of Christ? I don’t think so!

01 November 2014

The stamping of the seal

This time I'd like to delve a bit deeper into the seal of Paul's apostolic gift. It's more accurate to say that Paul himself was a gift to the churches he worked amongst. Jesus is the gift-giver here, and he gives people with particular abilities to communities of believers as they have need.

We'll come back later to the idea that people are gifts to the church. For now I'll just make the statement without enlarging on it. But what of the 'seal'? We covered this yesterday, but we can draw more from 1 Corinthians 9:2.


A wax seal
A wax seal
When Paul looks at the Corinthian believers he sees an unmistakeable imprint upon them. They are far from perfect, they have been bickering with one another, living in careless ways that may hurt one another. They are still beginning their spiritual journeys; and they have a lot to learn. If these people are the seal of Paul's apostleship (and he says they are) we might think in terms of the material that a seal would be made of.

It would have to be a material that could be moulded so it could be stamped with a signet ring, and it would need to set hard so that the  pattern would not be lost in transit. Many materials have been used for this purpose. Hot wax can be stamped and sets hard when it cools. Clay can be stamped and sets when it dries. Bitumen was used in Roman times and hardens as it cools; good supplies were available from the Red Sea and elsewhere.

In what way were the believers in Corinth stamped with an image? They were stamped with the image of Christ. Jesus is the one who wears the signet ring. He is the one who marks us as authentic followers and as authentic communities, the ekklesia, the church. He stamps us by pouring his Spirit over us and into us and through us, and we become a little more like him.

Paul could see this growing evidence of their Christlikeness, and it was proof that he had laid the right foundation. It was, therefore, a seal of his apostleship. He had, we might say, 'apostled' well in Corinth and he continues this work in his letter.

Whose stamp do we see among those we have taught and counselled? Do we see our own stamp? Or do we see Jesus' stamp? It had better be the King's stamp, the stamp of King Jesus. If not, we have built in vain and our work will be destroyed in the fire (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

31 October 2014

The seal of apostleship

'Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.' - (Paul, writing from Ephesus to the church in Corinth about 20 to 25 years after the death of Jesus, 1 Corinthians 9:2)

What does Paul have in mind here? What does he mean by a 'seal' of his apostleship? First of all, what does he mean by his 'apostleship'?


Apostleship - An apostle is a gift to the body of Christ; people with an apostolic gift lay foundations, start things off, and keep them on track. Paul is one of the best examples we have. He didn't stay more than a few years in each place, often far less and sometimes only a few days. But in that time he worked to establish something that would prosper after he was gone. Christ is the foundation, and it's Christ that Paul always wanted to establish in the hearts and minds of the believers. Often, he came back later to check on what had been constructed on that foundation. And when he couldn't go in person, he sent others or wrote letters.

Seal - A seal is a mark of authenticity. An important document was sealed with wax pressed into a pattern with the sender's signet ring. It could only be opened by breaking the seal which was therefore a guarantee of both authorship and freedom from tampering. If a document was still sealed it could not have been altered or replaced by a third party.

The Corinthian believers - So when Paul writes that the Corinthian believers are the 'seal' of his apostleship, he means that they are the proof that the work he did among them is the genuine deal and has not been interfered with. How so?

Paul tells them plainly that he doesn't want anything from them, he was pleased to do his work free of charge and without support. He has various issues to raise with them, but he begins his letter with encouragement (1 Corinthians 1:4-9). And it's these gifts and qualities amongst the Corinthians that prove that Paul laid the foundations well. The seal of his apostleship is that he can see in them the grace of Christ, that they have been enriched in their words and their knowledge, they have every spiritual gift, that they are eager and are in fellowship with the Son.

Of course, he finds much to criticise too, but the fundamentals are there, the basis is right even if the acting out has been a bit misguided. And that is why he wrote this letter, to get them back on track. That, too, is part of being apostolic.

And today? - We so badly need to see the apostolic gift active in the church in our own day. We need to see foundation-layers active, rescuing people from the clutches of consumerism, addiction, lack of purpose, despair and confusion. We need to see them placing people on the one foundation who is Jesus, and encouraging them and guiding them to live kingdom lives together. We need to see them gathering the new believers into Jesus-following communities, and challenging them to go out and share the good news that Jesus lives!

And we need to see them walk away to repeat the same work in other places, allowing each new church to explore for themselves the richness that is theirs in Christ, in prayer, reaching the lost, encouraging one another in using every available gift, including the apostolic gift so that the process repeats itself and becomes like seed growing and spreading, growing and spreading to the ends of the earth.

And we need to see them checking back in person, by sending messengers, writing letters (or using today's communication systems) to keep the growing nodes on track, healthy and well networked.

And so it will be again as it was in the beginning. This is no pipedream. It is necessary and it depends on Jesus pouring his Holy Spirit into his people, and on us responding to his bidding.

The time is now! So go and make disciples of all nations.

Simplifying the blog

Journeys of heart and mind has grown in complexity over the years. I think it will be better if I simplify it - better for me because it will be easier to maintain and quicker to post articles - better for you because it will be clearer and less cluttered.

So expect to see some changes here. They won't come all at once, it'll be a tweak here and a streamlining there. Look out for shorter posts, fewer columns, and a fresh appearance.


Let me know what you think; your opinions are always welcome.




Chris Jefferies (Editor)

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