18 January 2015

Want to join a permanent revolution?

Perhaps you're already a revolutionary. Or maybe you'd like to be. If you are interested in church life, and want to live the revolution, then The Permanent Revolution Playbook by Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim could be just what you need to help you get started.

The new book
The new book
Alan wrote The Forgotten Ways in which he analyses the ingredients of powerful and disruptive movements. He finds six essential ingredients and explains how they can (and must) work together to provoke rapid church growth. My own guide, Jesus, Disciple, Mission, Church (JDMC) covers the same ground but in an abbreviated and introductory way.

One of the ingredients is what Alan calls the 'apostolic environment'. Like all six ingredients (the six forgotten ways), the apostolic environment is essential but not, on its own, sufficient. But it is critically important and has to do with the gifts of service listed by Paul in Ephesians 4:11-13 - apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers (APEST).

Alan and Tim wrote a book about APEST, examining the five gifts in great detail, the book is excellent and is called The Permanent Revolution. Now they have brought out The Permanent Revolution Playbook to help small teams process the information to identify their individual strengths and weaknesses, to pinpoint where and how they excel, and to better understand how to work together to see the revolution take hold.

The book is available as a paperback and in e-book form. They also provide a sample that you can read online and I highly recommend taking a look at that.

12 January 2015

Ecotricity is growing - fast!

Good news for Ecotricity; bad news for the Big Six. And it's well-deserved news; people are voting with their electricity bills.

An Ecotricty Wind Turbine
An Ecotricty Wind Turbine
Ecotricity is one of the smaller British electricity and gas suppliers. At the beginning of 2014 they had some 85 000 customers, at the beginning of 2015 they have... wait for it... 150 000! Will they make it 300 000 by the end of this year? It's possible.

The Big Six (Britain's six largest suppliers) have lost 2 million customers in the same period. People are moving to Ecotricity and to the other smaller suppliers because they are fed up with poor service, high prices, complex pricing plans, and paying extra for pay-as-you-go schemes. Government regulation has levelled the playing field a bit, but Ecotricity goes well beyond the guidelines and has done better than any other supplier.

This innovative and plucky little company ploughs its profits into building more wind and solar generating capacity. It has kept its prices unchanged for the last two years, and scores record low figures for customer complaints. Add to that the fact that the electricity is completly green and the company is founded and run by a rather cool dude, and it all adds up to the best and greenest way to buy energy in the UK. I've been with them since September 2006 - and I'm still more than happy with the quick and friendly service.

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).

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