Happy New Year

Happy New Year!  I pray that everyone reading this will have a 2017 that is indeed happy, and peaceful, and filled with the presence of God.   

I’m not sure I’ve ever known so many people expressing a hope that this year will be better than last.  For some that is a result of personal and family situations which have made 2016 a difficult year.  For others it is a result of the number of household names who seem to have died (David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan, the list goes on…), which perhaps reminds them of their own mortality.  For still others the various political developments in this country and around the world have made them feel unsafe and uncertain of the future. 

None of us know what 2017 will bring, whether it will be better or worse, but it is inevitable that it will hold times of sadness and distress.  So how do we motivate ourselves to carry on? 

As I reflected on the last year God gave me the chorus of a gospel song, “Because he lives I can face tomorrow, because he lives all fear is gone.”  When Jesus was on earth he experienced the joys of being human, but also the sorrows, grief, terrible suffering, torture, and death.  But he walked through this and out the other side into fullness of life.  And now he walks with us through everything we experience in life, its joy and its sorrows. 

So I hope 2017 will be a good year for you, but when the difficult times come we face them with Jesus who “endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God,” where he is still seated today (Hebrews 12:2).  His death and resurrection don’t make any promises that we won’t hit difficulties this year, but they do assure us that he is in control, and give us hope for a future that is full of joy and peace in his presence.

Christian celebrity

Recently I have read a couple of things which have made me ponder once again celebrity Christian leaders.  The first was the Facebook post by Bill Johnson, Senior Leader at Bethel Church, Redding, California, defending his decision to vote for Donald Trump.  He tried to do so from the Bible, and in my opinion failed miserably.  Yet such is his celebrity status in certain sections of the church, his decision to back Trump will have influenced the voting choice of a large number of people across the US.

The second thing I read was by a leader from the other end of American Evangelical Christianity, John Piper.  In responding to an email regarding a pastoral situation Piper also, in my opinion, was extremely poor in his use of the Bible.  Even more concerning in this case was that Piper gave an abstract theological answer to a very real pastoral situation, about which he knew very little, and the potential for damage to that individual from his choice of language was huge.

This adds to the stories you read of the demands placed by some big name speakers on conferences and events who ask them to speak, and the large fees commanded for their appearance, to reinforce my feeling that the Western church has a big celebrity problem.

I am not a celebrity Pastor, and please God I never will be, but my reflections on this issue over the years, and particularly the past few days, lead me to the following practical steps to avoid such a temptation.

  1.  Avoid the myth that size equals success.  Reconfigure your church building so it will seat no more than 200.  If it starts getting full, plant another church.
  2. Avoid the myth that popularity equals success.  Don’t pick your speaking engagements on the size of the attendance or the fee offered.  If you really are a gifted speaker the village church of 40 people may benefit far more from your presence than the conference of 10,000.
  3. Don’t try to provide pastoral advice unless you have taken the time to get to know the people and the situation.  If issues of geography make that difficult, refer them to someone closer to home.
  4. Be accountable.  Seek out those who will disagree with you and dialogue with them regularly, genuinely listening to what they say.  Make sure this includes people who will challenge your character and attitude as well as your theology.

This is my list at this time, others may draw up a different list, or disagree with my premise entirely.  But I feel it is important to have thought now about how to avoid the traps of celebrity, however massively unlikely it is to ever arise, because it seems all too easy to get carried along on the tide of “success”, only to be spat up on the shore and left high and dry.

Reflections 3 years in

Yesterday was 1st September, and marked 3 years since I commenced paid Christian ministry.  I took some time to reflect on my experiences, for most of that time in St Albans, and for the past 3 months in Beverley.  There have been some real encouragements along the way, times of knowing God’s presence in a really meaningful way, the sense of having truly helped people in their Christian walk, the brothers and sisters who have encouraged, supported, and prayed for me in my ministry.

There have also been challenges.  Church people who have been challenging to work with and have, deliberately or otherwise, undermined and discouraged.  Difficult personal situations we have faced as a family, and times when we have felt under very real spiritual attack.  It has not been an easy road to walk.

But God has been faithful, through the good times and the bad.  At times it has felt like he wasn’t there, I have questioned why things have to be the way they are, and a couple of times got really close to giving up.  But looking back now I can see what he was teaching me, and how I have grown over the past 3 years.  My relationship with God is deeper and richer, my personal relationships have been enhanced, and I have a clearer sense of God’s calling and purpose than ever.

So I give thanks for all God has done in and through me so far, and trust in his continued presence and enabling in whatever the next 3 years will bring (even as I confess I still pray for it to be easier than the last 3).