Sunday, 21 July 2013

Where next? - Vision Sunday

Vision Sundays are an opportunity to look back and give thanks and look forward together.

This Sunday I preached 'Honouring the Founders and Honouring the Future'.

In this season of transition we are carrying two big questions. 'What next for Frontiers Church Exeter' and also, 'What next for Andy and Jane'. Andy and Jane will be sharing this Wednesday 24th July 7.30pm at South Street Baptist Church.

We read Acts 20v18-38 and I outlined 3 principles that I would like us to take with us into the coming season.

1) Listen to the Spirit

Paul describes himself as "Constrained by the Spirit" (v22) and reminds the leadership that, "The Holy Spirit made you overseers." (v28)

There are many good things we can do but the role of the Christian is to discern and do what God is asking of you. Here are ways we are looking to 'listen to the Spirit'

  • Prayer helped by the Spirit (Rom 8v26)
  • Reading the Bible and drawing principles (2Tim 3v16)
  • Inviting wise council (James 1v5, Proverbs 1v5) 
  • Personally receiving leading (Acts 15v28)

Here are some of the questions we are working through at the moment:

  • What is the priority of the Spirit?
  • What kind of Church does He want us to be in the future?
  • Is our expression of Church credible to those He would seek to meet?
  • How do we help all people understand the Gospel?
  • How does the Spirit want to equip us 24/7 including work and community.

This year we will be calling the Church to 40 days of Prayer and Fasting as we seek greater clarity and unity. This will likely be a period of time in January as we seek to intentionally listen to the Spirit.

2) Find Strength in God

Losing Paul (arguably the greatest leader/theologian ever) is going to leave a big gap in any leadership team. Instead of seeking to replace himself Paul writes, "I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified." v32

Whatever happens in the future we are looking as a Church to be an increasingly 'gospel centered church'. We want our Sundays to communicate the gospel clearly, our worship, our preaching, our communion, our ministries etc etc. The thing that gives us access to God, most confidence and hope for the future is the Gospel of grace. 

We believe this is of first importance and everything else will be built around this wonderful message of the grace of God.

3) 'Go to the Ship'

As Paul left Ephesus 'they accompanied him to the ship'. (v38) Andy and Jane will be sharing their plans on Wednesday and as a Church we want to be ready to respond. We want to 'go to the ship' in heart and prayers and as a priority. Will we keep you posted as to what we are organizing for them. 

We love these guys and are grateful for a decade of ministry in Exeter. We all stand on the foundation laid by Andy and Jane. I asked those this morning whether founder members or whether they have just been with us for a few weeks to 'go to the ship' together and give ourselves to making this a special time for this outstanding couple. 

Honouring the Founders and the Future

I ask you for the impossible. I have not lived my life listening to God. I have not wanted to receive help from him. Human beings give ourselves to anything but him! We jump into work, success, relationships away from God. We are like fish jumping out of the water. We flip around for a while but the future is bleak. As humans we are living in someone else's house (creation) but making up our own rules.

Jesus came and lived the life that we never lived. He listened and he drew strength from the Father and died as a substitute for us. He is ultimate founder of the faith. He made this possible. His people, "he obtained with his own blood." (v28)

He pays for us and invites us freely to be a fish back in water. He offers us a life listening to God and therefore in our natural environment. He doesn't want us to only learn house rules, He want to give us the keys of the house and asks us to help with the extension! What a privilege. What an exciting future for my local Church. Paid for by Jesus, empowered by the Spirit and on an adventure together.  

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Whether I like it or not...


Hand 1I suppose in every workplace or environment there are realities that we have to come to terms with. Here are three things that I have learnt are true of every Church whether I like it or not.

1. A local Church will be more helpful for some people and less helpful for other people

One of the great things about the Christian faith is that Jesus loves everybody and everybody is welcome. Becoming a Christian is free and open to all. My Church however will only every be part of the expression of this. We speak English and we meet in Exeter. We have a certain style of music and a certain style of meeting. Some appreciate traditional Church and want ordained leaders wearing robes while other people want their leaders to be real and wear jeans. As we make changes to be more helpful to some people we will become less helpful to other people. While we can work hard to be inclusive and broad the nature of moving towards one person moves you away from others. Ouch. 

2. A local Church is made up of Systems

Like a body, the local Church is made up of systems. Every Church has a way of planning Sundays, welcoming new people, enabling community life, releasing ministries, handling finances, reviewing and planning direction and sharing the good news. Each of these systems are in Churches, the question is 'are these systems healthy?' I take a morning out to pray every month. I take a week out to prepare preaching series for every term. I visit my people when they are struggling. As a Church leader I have to accept that for my Church to grow well I will have to pay attention to and invest in each of these systems. Ouch. 

3. A local Church has limits

As a leader I am learning that I only have so many hours, so much talent (!) and so many resources. I cannot do everything today and I cannot do everything at once. I am great at writing to do lists but not very good at accepting that there might be things I cannot do at the moment. There are even things that I will never be able to do. The same is true of my Church. We only have so many people, hours and resources. We can only do so many things at once. I had a team meeting the other day where we listed 25 things we wanted to work through and we had to choose 3. We cannot do it all. Ouch. 

I am glad that we are not the only Church in town! Loads of other are doing a much better job in numerous areas and I praise God. We just want to play our part well. I am glad we have people with different gifts and passions to help each part of Church life grow. I am glad that God speaks through his Holy Spirit both giving peace about what we are doing but also about what we are not doing. 

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The problem of Bible reading

"I did what you are doing (reading the Bible) ...and worked out after only a few pages that God was an angry petulant toddler who changed his mind every 12 seconds, couldn't be trusted and had a penchant for infanticide. At that point I decided I didn't want to believe in someone so horrid, and that in all likelihood he was made up by an equally horrid bloke. And if you do manage to stick with it he doesn't get any better either!" - Facebook comment

One of the challenges Christians face is not so much that people are not reading the Bible, but that people are.

Many people who do not like the Christian faith are loaded with verses and can recite parts of the Bible as evidence of reasons to reject, oppose and mock the God of the Bible. 

I have to confess when I read through the Bible I hit some very difficult passages that caused me to stop in my tracks and gasp in disbelief. As a pastor I am looking to do the following...

1. Read the Bible

Christians always look silly when someone rejects their God on parts of His book that they have never even read. I want to read the Bible and know it well for multiple reasons and this is one of them.

2. Face challenges honestly

There are challenges with the Bible. There are parts that I don't understand and I find parts difficult. I think we do well to own up and face the tough questions. We just have to be honest about this. 

3. Encourage good reading

I smiled when a pastor recommended, 'how to read a book' to help with Bible reading. The Bible is a book. It has it's own genres and sections. I hope as a pastor I can encourage people to read it and receive it with integrity. I hope people will at least reject it as it is written and not as it is not written! Poetry, history and instruction all feature in the Bible. We don't want to mix these up...

4. Study history well

I want to study well and be able to offer some historical context of scripture. The Bible was written in certain times and spaces and always addressed specific issues. Without understanding why it was written and what was going on we will never 'get it'. This is true of all books. 

5. Think hard

As I hit different questions and tough comments I want to 'own' the questions and think hard. I do not want to disconnect, I do not want to deny and I do not want to duck. This takes listening, time, effort and hard work. If our faith cannot cope with honest and real questions then it is probably not worth all that much to anyone.

6. Review our ministries

Over time I want my preaching and teaching ministry to be something that is actually helps people and offers something with the questions we all have. It's all very well quoting nice verses about Jesus but we all have deeper, more difficult questions and we owe it to ourselves and the people we serve to take them on from time to time. 

Friday, 28 June 2013

'I have no need of you.'

Blue EyeWe are all different. We all have something to offer. We are all better in a team of complementary players.

The Bible says that local Church is a group of people who all have a part to play. The ear needs the eyes. The eyes need the ears.

I think it is challenging and complex to genuinely achieve diversity of strengths in teams and churches.

I think sometimes we implicitly communicate 'I have no need of you' by the way we approach problems.

'We just need to teach our people better.' If we say this all the time we will be communicating to leaders that they cannot make a difference. Teaching is good but it is not all we need.

'We just need to pray more about this.' If we say this too much we will dis-empower strategic thinkers. Prayer is good but it is not all we need.

'We just need to plan more thoroughly.' If we say this too much we will exclude the need for faith and spontaneous leading. Planning is good but it is not all we need.

'We just need to change the way we lead.' If we say this too much we will communicate that we do not value prayer or demonstrate a need for faith. Leadership is good but it is not all we need.

'We just need to hear from God (through prophesy)' If we say this too much we will communicate that we do not value wisdom and experience and sometimes even common sense. Prophesy is good but it is not all we need.

We could go on...

I guess most of us want to face challenges using our own personal strengths. I suppose this is natural. I suppose this is why leaders attract leaders who are like themselves because those with similar gifts feel valued, accepted and can play their part.

In the rugby culture different strengths were very much respected. The huge strong (slow) prop forwards were appreciative of the fast (light) runners. There was respect and honoring and a covering of each others weaknesses. I would like to play my part well to help cultivate this in my local Church. I want my Church to be a place where strength in different ways is cherished and appreciated. I guess this is more easily said than done...

Thursday, 20 June 2013

A great place to raise kids?

Okay so I live in Exeter, which most people would regard as a nice place to live and a 'great place to raise kids'. Maybe for some of you what you are about to read is therefore quite silly... anyway...

Nearly a year ago we moved house. One of the big questions we thought about was 'do we move in?' or 'do we move out?'

In?

Do we move into the city area? Walking distance to the town centre? Lots more people around? A diversity of people? Less land maybe? Not as 'nice'?  City school? Walk up to city events?

Out?

Do we move out of the city area? Lots more land? Space? Countryside? Peace and quiet? Village school? 'Nice'? I even thought we could have some rugby posts in the garden... I'm told that people who can afford it move out to places like Woodbury.  Swanky.

In the end, we decided to move 'in'.

Soon afterwards, friends of ours were visiting us from London and we were bragging about our new home. We walked out the door and around the corner to enjoy the local quayside. Me, Chloe, kids and our friends were shocked to see two men fighting on the floor. One was bloodied, got thrown into the road and hit a car on the door. I guess this doesn't happen much in Exeter compared to other cities. I guess it happens even less in the country.

Our son is just about to start primary school. It has been an interesting journey for us. Some of the people who we have got to know are now moving out of the area for schools or looking for countryside options for there kids. Hmmmmm. What are we doing?

Chloe and I listened to a talk by Tim Keller called, 'It takes a city to raise a child.' If you are a Christian parent you might find it interesting. The first 30 mins are his talk followed by Q&A. In it he argues it can be much better to be in a city. Clearly he is in New York which is not really comparable to Exeter. However, Chloe and I still felt the in/out question and we found it helpful at this point.

As we are 'in' Exeter', with all its advantages and disadvantages, I was encouraged by his points:

Culture

If you live 'in' there is more going on for you to do with your kids, like live music, festivals, theatre etc - you need to find stuff to do for them.

Teenage Years

If you live in a place which is 'great for kids', by the time they become teenagers they will be bored and looking to get out. They may want to move asap and in the meantime you have to drive a lot!

Role Models

If your Church is a city church with 20s in it, your teenage kids are more likely to find role models who they respect within the faith. I'm glad my Church is like this.

Credibility 

If you live in a city and know more of 'real life', including I guess the fight we saw, your life and faith will have a credibility before your children as they grow up.  A great question our kids will ask is 'can our faith cope with the challenges of everyday life?' Personally, I have found it helpful to walk home past homeless people everyday, to have stinking litter on the streets for days on end, to have loud music opposite us and have our shed broken in to. It's one of the things that helps me as a pastor to stay a little grounded. Maybe? Even in Exeter? Will my kids see me as in touch with reality? I think this is more likely now that we have moved in.

I've never heard someone speak like this before. It made me wonder about myself, Church, faith, preferences, calling, in/out and parenting. I found it very thought provoking...

Sunday, 16 June 2013

'Honouring the founders & the future' - Prayers for Andy & Jane

It seems like yesterday I was sat in Andy and Jane's living room as a new Christian peppering Andy with questions on the membership course. "What about this?" "How does that fit with that?" He was very gracious with me!

Since then it has been a great journey for me under the guidance of Andy. Andy has shown faith in me and given many opportunities to have a go and keep going when i have faced some bumps in the road. This culminated in Andy handing the leadership baton of our church to me in January 2012.

At our elders day apart in January 2013 Andy shared that him and Jane were 'feeling stirred' for a fresh challenge. We felt together, a year on from the leadership handover that Frontiers was in a position of strength and that Andy and Jane were carrying unused kingdom leadership.

We have been prayerfully discussing the following options:

1) Andy and Jane remain in Exeter and cultivate a wider ministry.
2) Andy and Jane plant another Church.
3) Andy and Jane move to lead and strengthen an existing Church.

It was great to catch up with Andy today and touch base. Andy and Jane are currently enjoying a sabbatical where they are considering their options for the future. We will be praying for Andy and Jane each Sunday from this point. At this moment in time no final decision has been made. 

As a leadership team we are committed to 'honouring the founders and honouring the future'. I would therefore ask friends and members of Frontiers Church to be prayerful during this season as we seek God's will together. We will be touching base with Andy and Jane when they return home and we are excited to see what is next for this outstanding couple.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Sunday Meetings - a new order for us?











As a leadership team we have decided to trial a different way of ordering our Sunday meetings.

Our traditional approach has been:

10:00am - 10:30am Coffee
10:30am - 11:10am Singing & Worship and Contributions
11:00am - Kids to Classes
11:10am - 11:20am Family News
11:20am - 12:00pm Preaching

Our observations have been:

1) Too much singing and worship without a fresh and compelling reason to sing and worship leaves guests, visitors and those struggling with faith feeling disconnected and not able to participate.

2) After people have heard teaching about Jesus they often want to pray for friends or respond. Our current meeting does not allow for much response particularly for those who have to go to collect children from classes.

3) Our worship has struggled to embrace all the seasons of life. Some of scripture is celebration while other parts are lamentation. Our current order relies on the worship leader and how they are going and philosophy of worship rather than the scriptures. 

4)  We have not created a regular time to enjoy communion which in my opinion is the high point of Christian Worship. 

From July 7th we are going to trial something like:

10:00am - 10:30am Coffee
10:30am - 10:40am Singing
10:40am - 10:50am Family News (This is what is going on in Church)
10:50am - 10:55am Break and kids to classes
10:55am - 11:30am Preaching (This is who Jesus is)
11:30am - 12:00pm Communion, Singing, Prayers and Contributions. (This is how you might respond.) 

We shared this at a recent prayer meeting and people were very positive. We are hoping that it will help more people feel like they can participate in our meetings more of the time. 

We shall see. 

Friday, 7 June 2013

I'm stuck in the 90's...

I just want to confess that when it comes to musical preference I am still stuck in the 90's.

Whenever I create a play list for the gym, go out to for a dance or reach for a CD in the car I still want to listen to the same old tracks. 

I don't know why this is.

Although I now struggle with much of the lyrical content, this will always be 'real music'. Some of my friends moved on to house music and drum and bass. I never made it. 

As someone who is involved in leading a Church that has singing and music playing every week, I find this an interesting dynamic. I don't really like most Christian music (as you could guess because I still want 90's hip hop or Dizzy Rascal on my playlist) so I am constantly choosing and influencing against my preference. 

I hope that in Church I can play my part in influencing our more creative people to write and play music that is widely enjoyed by the people in my city and the friends of those who are in my Church. I want the music in my Church to be as good and authentic musically as any local gig that our members would go to. Hopefully Church will become more fun for everybody. 

I wonder if in someway we all get stuck. Is that normal? How do we handle this? Worship leaders, do you still use those 80's classics? Do you still use the same old favorites? Maybe you are stuck just like me but in a different time and place... 

I am glad some of the Music and Worship team in my Church have written albums and play in local bands of different genres who are going well. I am hoping we are going to have more creativity, more 'current' music and that I will over time get 'unstuck' into a new day. Pray for me. ;-)  The future is bright. 

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Is it OK that I believe...?

It is my observation that every group of people/community have either written or unwritten beliefs that are acceptable to the group.

I have been part of a group where it was acceptable to be unfaithful to your girlfriend but very much unacceptable to be unfaithful with someone else's girlfriend.

I have been in a group where it was acceptable to use illegal drug X but not to use illegal drug Y.

There are always lines.

I'm not commenting on the value or merit of these lines. I'm just saying that I think they always exist.

If you cross certain lines you will not be able to keep playing.

In the Church there are lines. Historically many lines have been drawn. You can trace these lines through creeds and statements of faith which I guess tell some of the story.

Sometimes lines are repainted, removed or you move.

Recently I was in two forums where senior leaders were talking about issues where the lines were previously drawn but do not appear so clear anymore.

The inward surge of questions I experienced surprised me.

What do others think of me?
Am I outside the line?
Are they outside the line?
Are these lines good?
Are these lines bad?
Are we still playing together?
Can I explain myself?
Do you understand me?


It made me reflect how I lead my Church and the environment we are creating.

What lines do we have?
Are they good?
Do we need more?
Do we need less? 


But more importantly for me at this moment of time...

How do I explain what I believe?
How do I give people who are interested/want to join my church time to think about what I am saying?
How do I take time to listen, learn understand and respect those who have different views to me?


Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Maybe some things to share?

metal type from letterpress 2

It is a new day in my Church.

We are constantly learning and adapting our processes.

I have discovered that one of the things I can do to bless my team is to write summary notes of thoughts and progress on various projects. I am glad to serve in this way.

I also might put some thoughts down here because sometimes you read it.