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.