Thursday, 31 July 2008

It's all about Jesus

This week I have been working through the Vineyard manual on 'Coaching Church Planters'. It is hugely helpful and practical and obviously the source of much I have been taught about church planting. I found my excitement rising as I considered again planting into Amsterdam!

However, it wasn't until I got half way through the manual that I realised that Jesus hadn't been mentioned at all. At first I thought it was a stylistic thing but even in the second half of the manual there is only scant reference to God or the Lord.

This in no way reflects my respect and gratitude to the authors but it does highlight an issue.
Church planting must first & foremost be Christ focused. Vineyard clearly understand this but somehow it hasn't translated into this enormously helpful 'how to' manual.

The lesson for us? You can't talk about Jesus enough. A timely reminder for all of us, no matter what you are doing today.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Two book reviews

I occasionally like to read business management books to glean fresh insights for church leadership:

Good to great - why some companies make the leap ... and other don't. Jim Collins spent 5 years researching the question 'Can a good company became a great company and if so how?' His insights are very illuminating if not both surprising and encouraging.

I read the book asking the question 'Can RFC (a good church) become a great church and if so how?'. We seem to have many of the elements already in place but would need to make some adjustments in others areas. I will encourage the eldership team to read it but give it a read and let me know what you think!

The Starfish and the Spider - the unstoppable power of leaderless organisations. Apart from the title tag line (that made me want to burn the book) it is a very provocative and easy read. In essence it look at the power of decentralisation in the right environments. Cut off a spiders head and it dies, cut off a starfish leg and it grows into another starfish.

I read the book asking the question 'What areas of church life should be held in a open hand (that members can shape & innovate & pioneer) and what should be in a closed hand (where elders define & govern & lead)'
. It gave me a whole new framework for discussion and reflection on these issues as RFC enters a new season.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Six held over honeymoon killing

Six people are being questioned by police over the murder of a British doctor shot dead on the last day of her honeymoon in Antigua. Her husband Benjamin, also 31, is in a critical condition in hospital after he was also shot. (see article here)

My readings this morning took me to Job 24: "Why does the Almighty not set times for judgement? Why must those who know him look in vain for such days?"

Job voices one of the great questions in life. How does a loving, righteous, all powerful God, tolerate injustice and sin?

The answer must lie in the wisdom of the cross. The glory of God and the wonder of the age that is to come, must somehow eclipse the horrors of mankind's depravity in this age. Only God's big story can offer a path of real hope when a woman is murdered on her honeymoon.

But this , I agree, is of small comfort to those who don't yet know Christ.

So we have some work to do. We must prayer for Benjamin's recovery and for their family and friends as they take stock & grieve. I think we should pray for justice to be served. And we must continue to call upon our God to change the hearts of men & women across the nations, that they turn 'to Him who will one day judge them'.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Keep receiving Him well

Luke 20 records how men tried to trap Jesus and hand him over the the rule and authority of the governor. On face value this seems crazy and foolish and arrogant. Their hearts were hard and they thought the best response to Jesus was to try to get him out of the picture.

The thing is, on reflection, I wonder how many times I do the same thing. There is something in all of us that wants to run our own lives. We are more sophisticated in our methods (as good Christians we don't try to trap him with questions) we simply avoid including him in certain areas of our lives... like what really defines who we are, who is really in control, etc etc.

The remedy must surely be to know Jesus better. Surgeon encouraged me this morning to 'Throw open the portals of my soul to Jesus'. And as I get to know Jesus better, I know I will find more 'portals in my soul' to throw open.

I really do want to keep receiving Jesus well, into all the areas of my life (and I do find that a little scary). I don't want to keep Him at a distance or out of my picture. And God's grace is sufficient for me to press through on this and to keep on receiving his love and joy and peace.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Kerith Community Church

This morning I travelled to Bracknell to spend time with Simon Benham and some of his team. Although the church has a new name (formerly Bracknell Family Church) and a new senior pastor, it stills beats for mission.

Simon has been leading now for about a year and is building them to be a church of 2000 (they currently gather around 650 over a Sunday). It was good to hear of their new initiatives and ministries and to see where they are investing their time and energies.

Growing a church to 2000 brings unique challenges: growing a staff team to around 100, multiple services, back-office infrastructure, car parking and meeting rooms to name but a few. We also chatted around their 5 year planned partnership with Tearfund to help combat the effect of HIV AIDS in Zambia.

Simon thinks out of the box and swims in a wide pool - what I mean to say is he going to put all his efforts into what God has called him to. And I for one will keep cheering him on and reading his blog.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Fishing, Fossils & Footpaths

A big part of our sabbatical is the re-charging of our emotional batteries and for me that is being in favourite places with favourite people. I have just spent two nights camping on the Dorset coast with Joshua. We camped near Swanage which is the start of the Jurassic coastline and it didn't rain at all ... unheard of for the Groovy Greens!

We hunted for Fossils at Kimmeridge Bay (and found some corkers), fished at Dancing Ledge (and caught nothing) and marvelled at the chalk cliffs at Old Harry Rocks (and pretended not not be scared). I am not sure who was more exhausted when we returned today, but I suspect it was me.

I could almost hear the 'dripping' as my emotional tanks slowly recharge. It was so good to be in God's creation, to be able to share it with my son and talk about how great God is. We are deeply grateful to all at RFC allowing us this sabbatical period.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

So much more ...

As ever my bible in a year programme has served me well. I read this morning Job 9 where Job is answering his friends and voicing his desire to argue his case before God. However, he is keenly aware that God it too holy for him so he says "If only there was someone to arbitrate between us ... someone to remove God's rod from me ... then I would speak up without fear of him.' v32-35

Job is looking for someone to testify to his innocnce before a Holy God.

Job had a man in mind. The bible has a God-man in mind, Jesus. And how much more is Jesus than Job's hoped for mediator. Jesus is not just a qualified mediator but he is our redeemer and has become our righteousness. He is not just a man of wise words to represent us but a God-man whose blood has bought us life.

Spurgeon put it like this: "Jesus received sinners so that He might pardon their sins, justify their persons, cleanse theirs hearts by His purifying Word, preserve their souls by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and enable them to serve Him, to show forth his praise and to have communion with Him".

So much more than Job could have dreamed of!

Monday, 21 July 2008

Christchurch, London

Yesterday we travelled into London to visit Christchurch which Dave Stroud has planted. They met in a theatre just by the Embankment tube station, a short walk from Covent Garden and the Houses of Parliament.

It started at 4pm and, given the complexity of their set-up, that must have followed a huge amount of hard work! The band was very competent and our children really liked the smoke machine throughout the sung worship! A couple did a teaching slot on lifestyle evangelism and how that can fit into a busy London schedule.

There are many many things they did well: They seem very intentional on creating opportunities to meet people; The kids work was small but effective - Lucy remembered her memory verse this morning; They also clearly had a passion for the people of London and effecting change in their city.

But the biggest thing for me was the evidence of an underlying strategy that was shaping all that they were doing, for the glory of God. They have a team who have 'set there faces' to work this out and by God's grace they are going to do it.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Eton Olympic Distance Triathlon - Race Report

As Craig, Kirk and I arrived at Dorney lake yesterday, the most striking feature of the venue was the strong gusting wind. The gazebos of the various exhibitors were being held down by all manner of additional means!

The 1500m swim was interesting. The two 750m laps of the lake were linked by an 'exit - 100m sprint - re-entry' between them. It was really choppy but much easier than trying to navigating in the river Thames. The 41km bike was 8 laps and pan flat, it should have been really fast but the wind sucked all the life out of your legs! The 10km run was over 4 laps and Joshua ran alongside me for the final kilometer!

I was hoping for a faster time than at Windsor (which I did) but only managed 2:38:29 - I was shooting for sub 2:35. Craig and Kirk also suffered in the wind (it was the talk of all the competitors) and we were all relieved to finish.

I don't have anymore races booked - I want a summer with no pressure to train! And yes it really did hurt!

Friday, 18 July 2008

European Church Planting Network - Day 3

Today was the final day and each church/stream fed back on their action plan to accelerate church planting. Each invited comment on their plan (in areas where they felt they most needed fresh ideas) and the resulting feedback was very interesting.

On reflection, it has been a stimulating few days. I now realise that my church planting experience is stale and good practice has moved on. Forming 'missional focused mid sized groups' within the plant seems to be gaining fresh interest. Coaching by primarily asking questions rather than 'telling them how' also seem to be the new way forward.

But probably the biggest take away for me was the width of activity represented in the room. It was very heartening to see so much intentional activity to plant churches that are already pregnant to plant again.

Food for thought for me wrt Amsterdam and the team here in Reading. I do feel called to lead a big church (whatever big means it is certainly more than 200!) but holding on to people in order to do that isn't the way - we reap what we sow ( ... remind me I wrote this when a key leader in Amsterdam wants to go plant!).

Thursday, 17 July 2008

European Church Planting Network - Day 2

Day 2 started in South Kensington with one-on-one coaching session / breakfast with Dave Stroud - worth leaving my house at 6:20am for!

The first ECPN session of the day looked at how each stream / network selected and trained church planters. Vineyard seem to be the most established, thought through and structured (Their church planting manual is excellent) and they are currently planting 10 a year in the UK.

The team from HTB talked about their new theological college which now allows their students to study for two days then work 3 days in a church plant situation. Their guiding principle seems to be to ensure that theology is done in the context of a local church otherwise, as their Dean said "strange things can happen when you take theology out of a church context". I agree!

Newfrontiers in the UK plants approx 15 a year and relies on an organic, relational, almost haphazard approach. What was exciting was considering the possibility of how many more churches could be planted if we were more intentional in the selection, training and coaching of future planters. But I suspect the biggest challenge will not be these systems but the tension of 'relationship v mission'.

Many newfrontiers churches have highly relational leadership teams and the thought of actively sending away close friends who hold key positions, is / should be very painful. This is a hurdle that must be overcome if we are to accelerate church planting.

I have really enjoyed spending extended time Tope, Pete and Dave. I have learnt so much from their insights and enjoyed the banter - I am even starting to take myself less seriously!

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

European Church Planting Network - day 1

Today I joined Dave Stroud, Pete Cornford & Tope Koleso and 30 others attending the ECPN conference at HTB in London. Representatives from various church planting networks were there, most notably Vineyard and the Anglican London initiatives.

Nicky Gumbel gave a stirring overview of their vision for church planting and their church planting models - as did the other streams represented. In the afternoon we looked at various church planting models employed across Europe. We also joined discussion groups reviewing books which were core reading for the conference (mine was 'The Starfish and the Spider - the unstoppable power of leaderless organisations' - an intriguing read!).

The day ended with a meal at Nicky's house, the vicarage at HTB. The figurehead of Alpha worldwide opened up his home to strangers because of his passion for church planting.

It is very helpful to get outside of Newfrontiers and hear how seriously others are taking church planting. The delegates are a diverse bunch but we all love Jesus and are passionate about planting churches for His glory.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Spurgeon on Luke 5:5

C.H. Spurgeon:
"A little stay on earth will make heaven more heavenly. Nothing makes rest so sweet as toil. Our battled armour and scarred countenances will render even more illustrious our victory above, when we are welcomed to the seats of those who have overcome the world ... Fellowship with Christ is so honourable that the sorest sorrow is a light price by which to procure it.

The Lord, when he has given great faith, has been known to try it by long delayings".

Monday, 14 July 2008

Koffie or PG-tips?

Last week Guerke & Maxine gave us a 'Dutch starter kit' containing all manner of typical food stuff enjoyed by our European friends.

The 'honingstroopwafels met roomboterstroop' were great - a waffle biscuit that had to be warmed over a cup of tea or coffee.

The sweets 'Oldtimers - De Echte mildzoute Hinelooper Ruitjesdrop' remains unopened as does the 'melk Hagel slag' (which seems to be chocolate hundred and thousands but as a sandwich filling).

But the real dilemma came with the 'Perla koffie aroma snelfiltermaling'. I had 1/2 a cup of it this morning and my head is still buzzing from the caffeine rush. But here is the bigger question: in order to embrace my new life style should I start drinking koffie, strong Dutch koffie?

As an Englishman with a teapot for one, clearly the answer is 'No'. After all everything should stop for a cup of PG-tips tea at 10:30am and 2:30pm. But as a Christian who is an Englishmen ... I am just not so sure!

The cost of cross cultural church planting is just starting to bite!

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Jubilee Church, Enfield

This morning we went to church in London, enjoying an empty A406 north circular to get to Jubilee Church which is led by Tope Koleso (he preached at RFC last year). The church is wonderfully multicultural (one of the reasons for going). Tope is Nigerian and the other two elders are English. The congregation seems equally split between black and white although the very smiley welcome team were all black!

They meet in a cinema complex and have all the benefits and challenges of that: a visible & neutral venue, fabulous parking and all the chairs are already set out! Their challenges centre around the additional lighting, kids work in a cinema screen and the meeting finishing 15minutes before the first film of the day!

Mark Driscoll was the speaker and the church rose to the challenge of accommodating all the day trippers like us. All in all well worth the 115 mile round trip to go to church.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Amsterdam update

At the newfrontiers leadership conference I hosted a meeting for anyone interested in finding out more about the church plant. Approx 80 people attended (although 20 were wellwishers from RFC!) and there was also good number from the Dutch churches.

16 people expressed an interest in joining us: one person has just got a job there whilst a few others were excited but still needed to hear from God. Numerous people have offered help - from finding schools to hosting us when we visit Amsterdam next.

Please do continue to prayer for an international team to plant the church - so far two families have signed up - us and the Geurts' - that's 11 people and 2 guinea pigs! So that's the English & Dutch represented, but we need a few more nations!

Monday, 7 July 2008

A Paradox to stamp out

Paradox: a statement that seems absurd but in reality expresses a truth.

Asaph, when reflecting on Israel's history of rebellion wrote "in spite of God's wonders, they did not believe" and then he adds "Whenever God slew them they would seek him; they eagerly turned to him again." (Psalm 78v32 & 34). This is still true today.

It is a paradox of human nature. God's love and mighty deeds should capture our attention and affections. However, it is more often God's judgement that arrests our attention and then we eagerly turn back to Him. I can see this paradox at work in my life - judgement being a greater agent for change than God's wonders.

Once again the remedy is to fix our eyes on Jesus, the authour and perfecter of our faith. God's grace, personified in Jesus, should be winning the day in our lives. 19 years in and it is the wonder of Jesus that compels me to eagerly turn to the Father again and again and again.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Camping in the New Forest

Spending time with Craig & Karena and their children.
Mudiford beach on Saturday.
Witnessing a hilarious mishap at the beach - ask me about it!
Listening to the howling wind and driving rain in the night.
Reminding Liz that today is our 12th wedding anniversary.
Catching up with friends from Pakistan this afternoon.

Not spending as much time with Craig & Karena because of the rain.
Paying £9:60 for a 3 minute ferry ride to Mudiford beach.
Feeling guilty about laughing so heartily at another's misfortune - but it was very funny.
Packing up a tent in howling wind and driving rain.
Realizing neither Liz or I had cards or presents to exchange.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Amsterdam Church Plant Video

We have pulled together a short video for youtube to get the news out! Well done Dave Burt who has put endless hours in ...

They couldn't afford a lamb

I read this morning Luke 2, which amongst other things recounts how Mary & Joseph took newborn Jesus to the temple in accordance with the Law of Moses. They offered two small birds in order for Mary to be cermonially clean in accordance with Leviticus 12.

However, Mary & Joseph were operating under a clause for the poor. The norm was for the mother to bring a year old lamb without defect and a young pigion or dove (Lev12v6). If they could not afford a lamb she was to bring two doves or two young pigeons (v8). Which is what Mary did.

At this point I started to well up and reflect on my own journey.

When I grew up we were generally flat broke until my mum remarried. Thankfully we kids had our school dinners & uniform paid by state benefits and we lived in our council house for free. I can only guess as what my mum went through to make ends meet.

I realize those early years have shaped me and not all for the good. But lack of money doesn't have to define who you are or how God will use you. Jesus does that - and Jesus knew what it was for mum and dad to only be able to afford a pair of doves.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Pre sabbatical thoughts

Liz & I have a few goals for our sabbatical (which starts this weekend) one of which is to laugh a lot and not take ourselves too seriously.

I am prone to think too much rests on me. In one sense this is good, Bill Hybels has helped many to see the contribution good leadership can make to a local church. Romans 12:8 states that those whose gift is leadership should govern diligently.

But I also need to take a chill pill occasionally. Jesus was good fun to be around which is presumably why he got invited to parties! If I want to be more like him (and get invited to parties) I need to laugh a whole lot more, drink a little wine and rest in the faithfulness & willingness of God to fullfil his plans.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Being a better dad

Last night I picked up again 'the Sixty Minute Father' by Rob Parsons. The book aims to be read in approx an hour and get you back on track trying to be the best dad you can.

Life is not like the Simpsons - Homer has some real lows as a dad which are funny because it is not real and Bart, Lisa & Maggie don't ever age. You sense Homer always has another tomorrow or another episode to finally make amends and become a better dad.

But that is not real life. My kids are growing up FAST. In the book, Rob Parsons counts the days down until children get to 18 and leave home. For Joshua that's only 2920 days, Lucy 3650 and Zoe 5110 days in which I can daily influence them for good.

C.J. Mahaney recently did a series on leadership and family holidays - it is a must read for all men in our church. He says "The difference between forgettable and unforgettable vacations is not location or attractions but the fathers attitude and leadership. That's whats makes the difference" - read more here.