Who we are, not what we do

The course on which I am currently studying is excellent.  But there is one module with which I, and many others, are struggling: Missional Leadership.  The focus of the syllabus is around how we can lead our churches to grow numerically and spiritually.  So far so good.  But the content is based round a number of models, mainly taken from secular management and fitted into a church context.  The problem is, they don’t fit.

People today are in many ways more individualistic than previous generations.  But they are also seeking relationship, and that relationship has to be genuine.  The Millennials and younger will see immediately if they are being put through a “sausage factory”.  When it comes to evangelism, discipleship, and church growth, one size doesn’t fit all any more, if it ever did.

To be fair to the college, none of the models are being held up as the solution to everything – they are being suggested as tools from which we can pick those that will help in our context.  The problem is, I’m not sure any of them do.  Because no model, tool, or strategy, however good, can replace genuine, loving relationship.  People are individuals, with their own needs, hopes, questions, and aspirations.  Jesus knew that, and he approached each person he encountered in a unique way which would deal directly with what they needed in their situation.  We don’t have his insight, so for us that will take costly time and effort to get to know people, but it is time and effort we must be prepared to commit.

Ultimately, what will attract people to Jesus Christ, will encourage them into relationship with him, and will enable them to grow and deepen that relationship, is not a model or strategy, however well thought out.  It is as they see him shining through us, see his love at work in our lives, and see that Christians have something they are lacking.  If we genuinely understood how much God loves us, began to grasp the depths of the grace he has poured out upon us, our lives would be transformed in such a way that we couldn’t help speaking of him, and our actions would naturally back that up in a way that could not be ignored.  In other words, people will be won to Christ not by what we do, but by who we are.

So my strategy for Missional Leadership?  Well actually it’s God’s strategy, that he’s been speaking to us as a church in many ways over the past few weeks.  Pray, pray, pray some more.  Pray that we will be filled with the Holy Spirit, transformed into the likeness of Christ, and so become people who constantly attract others to the Jesus who lives in and through us.

How important is the Bible, really?

God has been challenging me about the place of the Bible in my life, and particularly in the worshipping life of the church community.  Though we don’t use the label, Beverley Baptist Church comes from the tradition known as Evangelical.  The word means different things to different people, but common to all definitions would be a high place for the Bible as the Word of God.

And yet, look at our average Sunday service, and the Biblical content is often just a few short verses.  Contrast this with the “Catholic” tradition – in which I include Roman Catholic, Anglo-Catholic, and Orthodox in all its forms.  In all of these the Bible would be held alongside church traditions which are in some way or other also seen as authoritative.  So on paper the Bible is less important than in the Evangelical church, yet in a Catholic service of worship there will be four readings – Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament and Gospel.  And alongside this a written liturgy that is packed with Biblical quotes, imagery and allusions.  Which tradition seems to place more importance on the Bible?

To which the Evangelical might respond that we spend a substantial amount of time each week unpacking, interpreting, and seeking to apply the few verses that we have read.  This is broadly true, and shows perhaps a differing understanding of the purpose of reading the scriptures – the Evangelical church reads a passage from the Bible in order to preach from it, and to hear God speaking through the preacher; the Catholic church reads the Bible because it is valuable to hear in its own right as “The Word of the Lord”.  That is perhaps an oversimplification, but one I think with some truth in it.

But I have a niggling feeling that the above is a convenient excuse to cover up the decreasing importance placed on the Bible in Evangelical churches.  Is it really our “supreme authority on matters of faith and doctrine”, to use an oft quoted phrase.  This was really brought home to me recently during my studies.  One of our modules is “Missional Leadership” and as part of this we have occasional guest lecturers.  Most of these come from Evangelicalism, broadly defined, and they have brought us ideas from various books, personal experience, secular management practice, etc.  Last week our guest lecturer was the Venerable John Day, an Anglo-Catholic.  And he turned us to the Bible, to the story of the Emmaus Road, and over the course of an hour ably expounded leadership based on what Jesus did in that story.

So, how important is the Bible to us, really?

First year over

Today I received the marks for my last essay of the academic year, and so I have now officially finished the first year of my degree.

And what a year it has been.  I’ve been taught Old Testament by a vicar whose pioneering work with those on the margins gives real insight to issues of suffering and lament; New Testament by a man who manages to be super intelligent and teach us so much yet at the same time be genuinely excited by new insights from us students; Mission and Evangelism by another vicar whose years of experience gave perspective on how to (and how not to) put theory into practice.  I’ve grasped a (very) little New Testament Greek, and I’ve studied Church History at the rate of 200 years an hour!

In the course of the 33 Mondays at college I’ve also drunk well over 100 cups of coffee, and consumed similar number of slices of cake.  I’ve encountered God in times of joyful worship, and deep questioning.  I’ve had many conversations with people who will be friends and colleagues for life, and learnt much from their wisdom and experience.

Most of all I’ve had fun, and I’m looking forward to another 3 years!




Who is supporting who?

Reading Stuart Murray’s Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a strange new world, for my next assignment, and came across an interesting idea I hadn’t explicitly thought about before, though in practice I think I probably instinctively follow it.

He suggests that one issue with the church is that, even if we’ve rejected the idea of “clergy” and “laity” we’ve too often slipped into a model where the majority of the people are there to support the minority – the leaders – in doing Christian work.

He suggests that the Biblical model is the precise opposite, citing Ephesians 4:11-12, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service…”

So it is “the people” who are to live and work for Christ’s praise and glory, and those in positions of leadership and responsibility in the church are there simply to equip them to do so.  What a difference it could make to our witness if we could really understand this!

Anyone thinking of training for ministry?

St Barnabas, where I am currently studying, has our first Open Day of the year on 16 November.  If you are in the North of England and feeling called to train for Anglican or Baptist Ministry, or to serve as a leader in your church in any capacity, I would recommend taking a look.  Further details from www.stbarnabastraining.org

College update

One of the things I hope to use this blog for is to keep people updated with what I am doing in my college course.  Now 5 weeks in they are working us hard!

We’ve already finished the first module, “Preparing to learn” which is a half module looking at study skills such as essay writing, but also how we use sources, and particularly the nature of the Bible as a source for theology.  My first assignment for that module is due in next Monday – of which perhaps more later.

Yesterday we started a brief overview of Church History.  Brief being the key word, it’s another half module so we will be covering 2000 years in 4 weeks.  Not as crazy as it sounds, the module really is designed just to give a framework into which we can fit other things we learn.  The course approaches Theology from within a historical framework, seeing how the church’s teaching and practice has developed over time and the implications for us as we seek to go out and write the next chapter of the history of the church.

So, for example, in Mission and Evangelism we spent some time looking at Celtic Christianity.  Over 1400 years ago they were the last Christians in the UK to be working in a situation where the state was not tied in with the church, people weren’t assumed to be Christian, and laws were not based on Christian teaching.  As we have now come back into such a time again we can learn from how they approached their situation, to see how we can be fulfil God’s mission in our present day.

One of the fascinating things I learnt about those Celtic Christians was how they reacted to the invading Anglo Saxons.  Yes, they fought back, yes they ran away.  But alongside that they commissioned missionaries to go and take the gospel to the enemy soldiers, risking their lives.  I compare that to our response to those who we perceive to be attacking the church today – we’re good at running away, we can be pretty good at fighting for our rights, but perhaps sometimes we could do more in our response to ensure our words and actions present the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

First Day

Yesterday was my first day at college.  Steph from our Leadership Team having decided to join me on the course we set off together at silly o’clock (otherwise known as before 7am) to get to Sheffield for breakfast at 8:30.  And then suitably fortified by lots of coffee we embarked on the first day of training.

First impressions are very positive.  Opening worship was really powerful, with such a sense of the presence of God among us as we sang his praises.  And it never fails to amaze me what old hymns are being rediscovered in the context of contemporary worship – I wouldn’t have expected to ever sing again in corporate worship, “There is power, power, wonder-working power, in the precious blood of the lamb,” and in multi-part harmony too!

Being the first day there was lots of practical information about who everyone was, how to use the online learning environment, practical procedures for submitting assignments etc.  But we also found time in the morning to reflect together on the nature of ministerial formation.  This is not education, that is the receiving and understanding of knowledge, or training, that is the learning of practical skills.  It encompasses both of these but also the formation of the whole person and character into what God desires it to be.

And in the afternoon community session, Daniel McGinnis, Head of Faculty, unpacked for us more of the vision of St Barnabas to train missional leaders with a vision to grow the church in the North of England – inspiring stuff!

So, one Monday down, 98 to go – looking forward to all that God is going to teach me over the next 3 years.