Tag Archives: Church

Finding Gratitude in Christmas

Feet toasting by a warm fire, dog outstretched, worshipping its inviting warmth. Kids are asleep in bed, yourself and your partner are reading quietly in tall backed armchairs. You notice the person across from you smile at some line that has amused them in the novel they are reading and all is well with the world.

Christmas Day the kids rush downstairs to get their presents and rush to embrace you and tell you excitedly what Santa has brought. As they open their gifts they instinctively fling their arms around you, expressing their love with every ounce of pressure they can muster.

Mid-morning excited children and their families attend church, the young ones can hardly contain their joyful anticipation at the opportunity to show the congregation what Santa brought them.

Relaxed and well-slept adults would chat drinking a warm beverage and munching mince pies before the service and later listen whilst listen to a witty and informative sermon.

Christmas television illustrates Christmas perfection and our memories can collude with the narrative we tell ourselves of Christmas’s past.
When everything was cheaper and people were somehow happier. Times when Carol singers would sing at your doorstep and everything would be wonderful. Snow would have fallen but not so much to hinder our plans, but enough so we could build a snowman.

It’s nearly time for Christmas dinner and all the trimmings, perhaps your dinner is on a plate made of china, metal, polystyrene, or eaten from a disused carton you found in a bin.

Wherever your feet find rest, or however you eat that day. At the end of the day, may you find peace, whether you are hopeful or hurting, full or famished.

Is Your Church Changing To Much?

Working with a range of ages, from the very young to the very old, it is interesting how attitudes to  new things change.

For children change is part of their existence and indeed survival, as they are propelled towards adulthood. They are constantly growing, developing physiologically, emotionally, and spiritually. Whether that’s losing teeth, growing out of shoes, taking on new responsibilities such as making themselves a cup of tea or walking to school.  Change for children can be nerve-wracking but also confidence building, as they are enabled to take increasing control of their lives so that they’re ready for adulthood!

Yet as adults some of us have slipped towards resisting change more than others whereas some of us are always excited by change, for others it breeds uncertainty and anxiety.

So we cling on to what we know, what we understand about God and church. Finding it difficult to be open to the possibility of thinking or doing differently. We may quote scripture that says God does not change. Certainly his love never changes for us, but God does not build a wall around his kingdom. It is an open gate, a low fence easily stepped over, there is welcome and fellowship for all who come, whoever you are and regardless of where you been.

God doesn’t change in all of the right ways, but steps into our journey, allowing us to change to become more like him, to see things differently to what they are.

Let’s not build walls around our hearts and churches, walls that keep everything just as it is on the other side. That protect those inside, from the ticking clock of time, so that everything remains just as they remembered it or just as it was when they first encountered Jesus.

Instead let us walk alongside the other, the outcast, those that don’t yet come.  Allow ourselves to be changed by that relationship in a way that allows us to speak the things of God into their reality. So we can build the kingdom, at their feet, rather than those of our own. In that way faith in the God who is and was and will always be can find new fertile soil in which to grow and flourish and become what the church needs to become and begin to look like.

I do not know what the church will look like in 20 years, but it needs to look different than it does now, for now we don’t see full churches, for now conversations about faith are rare. That needs to change. Perhaps today allow yourself to remove the walls around your heart and your church and allow the light to enter in, that we might have new vision and a new awareness of where God is leading us.

The Church Isn’t In Decline

The church is not in decline if you are talking about evangelical, modern churches such as the vineyard network and some fresh expressions of church, though some would say they are just benefiting from the shift away from traditional church structures.

Facing the truthfulness of church decline is tough, and not at all pleasant. It causes us to wonder about Gods faithfulness, and even our own sense of call is brought into question. Articles around church decline can make for pretty depressing reading.

I tell a story sometimes in church about a boy, a sand pit and a rock. In the boy’s sand pit there is a big rock, which the little boy doesn’t want. So the boy tries to get rid of the rock, he shoves it in every way imaginable, but it doesn’t move. Finally after some time, he sits defeated, the rock is still there. The boys chin wobbles a little and then big tears begin rolling down his cheeks.

His Dad had been watching to this point and runs over picks up his son and hugs him close. The little boy tries to explain through tearful gasps what he was trying to do, and his dad replies:

“You didn’t use all your strength.”

his son responds, telling his dad how hard he tried. His dad gently replies, “you didn’t use me.”

The Church is in decline, and we can’t find the solutions alone, like the kid in the sandpit, who had to face the reality he needed help. The sooner we face our reality, the sooner we can do something about it. The church in the uk numerically is in a free fall at the moment and has been for years, the  collective numbers of decline hides where growth is happening, and it is in scattered places. Mid weeks, messy churches and such are proving that there is still an appetite for spiritual engagement in our country.

“Cancer patient who chose road trip over chemotherapy dies aged 91” 39164c3800000578-0-image-a-87_1475583459836

Like Norma Bauerschmidt we need to be brave, we need to at some level accept the reality of our situation and then be willing to do something about it. She made the best of her situation by going out into the world. We must do the same, rather than retreating into our enclaves, huddled together waiting for the inevitable, now is the time to listen to God anew, learn from others and grow.

If we know of churches who are experiencing growth numerically and spiritually. Why not put our pride to one side and take the time to learn from them. We must see such places not as threats against our survival, but rather, as places of teaching and learning. That we might draw into our own context, wisdom and fresh focus. Such places become like teaching hospitals, helping us serve the living God and the needs of others.

There is of course the chance it is time for some congregations to reform as something new. I have been involved in leading two such communities. The building might have gone, but the worshipers didn’t. The structures of that church life, might have passed into history, but God leading his people hasn’t. There has been and will be still more to experience and do in the will of God, wherever the Lord has moved you too.

Be brave, as God calls us to new places or new ways of being church together. Be brave, acknowledging or own desire to hold on tightly to the comfort blanket of the past, instead rejoicing in what was, we step into what is new. Holding the hand of our heavenly parent who was, who is and who will always be.

The Church maybe in decline, may our efforts cause it to slow and turn around. Not because we love church but because we are listening and loving God, who doesn’t leave, or disappoint.

Lets get to it.

Keeping Faith: With the World

How we act as people is influenced to a greater or lesser extend by the expectations, of society, family or even our employer.

So understanding what the world outside our church doors, and stain-glass windows should be of importance. Keeping faith with the world means understanding its expectations. Means that we should resists isolationism and seeks better engagement and understanding.

Called To be Hermits?

It maybe that the lord has called you to the life of a hermit or to closed religious orders. If God has, you have my admiration.  Yet for many more that is not what the Lord is calling us too. Instead God is calling us to create a church that is  a place for rest, reflection and healing. A stopping place on your journey, or somewhere you regularly visit, like a bench with a particular view that lifts your spirit, and offers light into your life.

How we Engage

The bible calls us ambassadors for christ, and that is what individually and collectively we are.

ambassador noun: ambassador; plural noun: ambassadors

1 an accredited diplomat sent by a state as its permanent representative in a foreign country.”the French ambassador to Portugal” 2 synonyms: 3 envoy, diplomat, ambassador extraordinary, ambassador plenipotentiary, plenipotentiary, consul, attaché, chargé d’affaires, emissary, legate, (papal) nuncio, representative, deputy;

Building on this definition, whilst we have the agenda of the kingdom, and are emissaries of Christ, we are in a foreign land and therefore treat that land with honour and respect, engaging with it carefully, prayerfully and lovingly.

How to be an ambassador

An ex British diplomat wrote in his blog that, “One of the arts of diplomacy is to find solutions to problems that depend not on trust but on (mutual) interest” this is quite a provocative statement about working in a foreign land from a blog about ambassador training.

What we might take from it for our missional context, is the importance of engagement, even if we are not sure or who we are working with. Instead we come together for a common good and purpose to build something bigger than ourselves.

The stories or parables Jesus tells are ways people can connect with what the kingdom of God is about. Jesus is the embodiment of the living God, the fullness of the coming Kingdom.

In our engagement let’s remember we are in a foreign land, not in some super spiritual, theologically narrow way, but one that reminds us to take care. Like we do if we are on holiday somewhere  abroad, we carefully listen and try to communicate, we may even try to learn some of their language, but we are careful in how we handle ourselves not wanting to inadvertently offend or be misunderstood.

Yet be confident in who you are and what the Lord is calling you to be. Be assured of in whose name you stand, in whose ways you are living out your life. Just as the ambassador to the UK has the backing of the Queen, you and I have the backing and support of the King of the universe.

A parting thought

As we keep faith with the world, in all of its diversity let’s be relevant up-to-date, kind, loving and embody all that it means to be a citizen of heaven. In what we do, let’s offer hope, not ridicule, challenge corruption, and the demeaning of the other. Live full and brilliant lives in the light and love of the one who puts air in our lungs and knows the number of beats our hearts will make today.

Keeping Faith: With The Church

The Bible tell is that the Church is to be the bride of Christ, spotless perfect, transcendent. If we are asked to describe the church we may use words like; nation, building, group of people, disciple. The nature of this church in its activities are sometimes inward looking,  as well as sometimes outward looking. Although more commonly churches are a bit of both.communion table

Throughout its history church has been involved in liberating people, and tying people up in bondage, it is a vehicle for change and also keeping everything the same. It is a place where all types of people can be found… moderates, left wing, right wing, racists, paedophiles, saints, young and old all attend church. Should it be a surprise to us if sometimes we don’t get on!

The church is an awful, incredible, inspiring and crippling place. It is not the image we see in the book of Revelation, not yet anyway! So why attend, why put yourself through an hour of church when its not great? Because when it’s good and we get it right, it is amazing and life changing. There is nothing on earth like it. It’s the one place on the Earth when done well, you don’t need a drink or drugs to lift your mood, you find do you need less therapy not more, that healing is multi dimensional and Jesus is still doing that ministry, today, now.

At some point or another we might want to leave church, for many different reasons. Certainly shouldn’t stay in an abusive situation, or a place where you are not growing in God. However let’s not make the mistake and think that the church is universally the same;  or even believes exactly the same thing about God, society or the universe all of the time.

The church is a living organism, it ebbs and flows and makes mistakes, sometimes horrific ones. It seeks forgiveness and offers redemption. It can be dry and vibrant, both narrow and wide in its thinking of how it should view society and what God wants us to do about it.

tree in bloomThe church is alive and she is a living entity many of us are part of. Our being part of it reflects and shapes how she is viewed by others in and outside the church. We are ambassadors of Christ, we are God’s people. How we live out the life of the church matters to the liberation of others, socially, emotionally and spiritually.

So perhaps next time we get angry in a meeting or want to judge someone without removing the plank from your our eye, remember who you and I represent, who you and I are speaking on behalf of. The person you want to put down for some indiscretion or mistake, is at some level your brother or sister in christ, no matter what they wear, say, or how they live their lives. love them, show them mercy. After all in Matthews gospel we read, if you do to to the least of these you do it for me.

A Church of Rainbows

Who we are as a church is full of contrasting ideas traditional, experimental, colourful and bland. The church can both engage with society and be isolationist.

It may be your opinion that it would be so much better if the global  church or denomination looked more like the one you attend. But we are not consistent, there is not one image of church or one way of being.

Even in our own denominations, whilst there is a level of conformity; there is still a difference. To me at least this should be celebrated, not belittled.

Globally the church appeals to people from all walks of life, all languages, all temperaments. Yet in our own denominational back yard, in our corner of the world, do we keep in mind that broad ecclesiological  reality. Or slip instead into the churchmanship that believes ours is the right way and yours is not?

Historically we find the church can be intolerant of difference, instead we are all to quick to press the conformity button. In some places that it is
changing now, praise the Lord.


Together with all our misshapen ideas of how the church should be and the correct way that faith should be lived out. Sometimes we forget that the bible doesn’t teach us that Jesus conformed to society, instead he always conformed to the will of his father.

Looking at church today I wonder if sometimes the yeast of the Pharisee is still as prevalent today as it was in Jesus time (not a good thing). We may know stories of that person who didn’t quite fit and what happened to him or her.

Anne didn’t fit in church because she had to have a special chair and rather than a welcome at the door, she received glances of disdain.unknown

Andy was asked to leave a small group because he was a church lay leader and it wasn’t appropriate for him to be there.

Martin watched his fellow students with academic credentials sail through college whilst his creativity and out of the box thinking was looked on with suspicion. 

Recently I have been reading the prodigal God, which is based on the story of the prodigal son. It argues that both sons felt they were entitled. But that the point was that they were loved regardless of their actions or attitudes.

No matter how they publicly disgraced their family name and their father. He still showed generosity, letting one son find himself and the other he begged to join in the party.

Do we love like that as a church or as disciples?  A love that is eternal, pure and harder than nails, that challenges us to change, and to rub off our ecclesiastical and personal rough edges.

That we might become the full vibrant, lively and broad church we think we want to become. Where all genuinely find a home, where all come before Christ as a disciple and find renewal of life, renewed purpose, and personal healing.

Final prayer

I don’t want to be part of a church that is the same, but instead one that helps all people find a home in God. I want to be part of the solution that brings a change that opens our doors not closes them. I want to put down my own baggage of how things should be, and pick up my cross with Jesus, that through all I do in his name I might die that others may have life in Him.


What Should The Church Look Like?

What is your image of church? Would you claim that you know what God wants the church to look like? However, it can be hard to separate what we want church to be, from what God wants the church to be.

Our preferences on worship, preaching, architecture, decor, including the colour of the carpet, curtains or even the softness of the sTemple of herodeating; can all cause heated debates, divisions in the church and even cause people to leave fellowships for other places more in keeping with “what (they feel) God wants.”

Discovering What God Wants

How does the bible help us answer what God wants for his church building? In simplistic terms the Old Testament, presents an answer in terms of the building of the Ark of the Covenant, and subsequently Solomon’s and then Herod’s designs of the Temple of the Lord.

What were their answers to the question of what God wants? All very beautiful and ornate, these are buildings that communicate to a people who were generally illiterate, something of the majesty and greatness of God.

“Come, all of you who are gifted craftsmen. Construct everything that the Lord has commanded: the Tabernacle and its sacred tent, its covering, clasps, frames, crossbars, posts, and bases;the Ark and its carrying poles; the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement; the inner curtain to shield the Ark;the table, its carrying poles, and all its utensils; the Bread of the Presence; for light, the lampstand, its accessories, the lamp cups, and the olive oil for lighting;…” Exodus 35:10-14

Today we find that cathedrals and basilicas in similar ways communicate that same greatness and majesty of God and are vast landmarks on our landscape both physically and spiritually in what they communicate about the Lord.

What Should We Build?

However is a building the whole picture?  Of course it isn’t, and we see that refocusing in the New Testament story, the need of a different kind of building, indeed Jesus speaks of tearing down the physical temple. Jesus instead focuses on us building of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that is both seen in the world and also not yet, in terms of the eternity to come.

If we sit within the stories of the kingdom of God, such as the wedding feast, the lost son, lost sheep, hidden treasure, good samaritan, we might answer what God wants differently.

I believe that ultimately the church in its structures, whether architecturally, devotionally or evangelistically, should be a gateway to God’s kingdom, a kingdom that is welcoming, challenging, spiritually nurturing and in practical ways lives out its faith in Jesus wherever it finds itself.

We live in a world of complexity and church is complex with its traditions and expectations. The colour and decor matter yes, but not nearly as much as being the reflection of Christ to all, the worship style matters in the way it draws people into God, but not more than walking alongside people and inviting them to begin a journey with you in faith. Pretty posters matter but not more than loving people where they are, and however they are.

What does your church look like to you, are you caught up with what matters, or do you need to lay some things at the feet of Jesus. Recognising that sometimes what God wants is sometimes different to our perceptions.

Let us each this week consider what God might want, recognising our own desires and wants and putting them to one side, and being gracious with one another because, myself included, we all fall short on this one.

Church: Before It Went Viral.

To reimagine Church for today it is sometimes helpful for us to look back and learn from past mistakes or be inspired and challenged by what the Church used to look like.


In The beginning
The Church began officially on the day of Pentecost over 2000 years ago. However, like most things it began unofficially before then from the roots of Judaism.

The Church was formed around the words of Jesus. Words that were both challenging, as well as liberating. There were words and actions that brought healing and hope, as well as a response from some of anger and indignation.

At the heart of Jesus’ narrative was an acknowledgement that the Kingdom of God was at hand; was near, tangible, visceral and could be experienced. The Kingdom of God we find is like a banquet where all are welcome, a wedding feast where some are prepared and some are not, a narrow gate, a city, a light, a mustard seed, the attitude of children, a place where you can experience forgiveness, grace, healing and acceptance.

Where is the Kingdom of God? Well, it is here in the Church and the life of the Christian. Not fully, but as much as God can be known this side of glory! Yet this is the beginning of the Church, the hallmarks of those early devotees to Jesus and ‘The Way’ (as Christians were formerly known).

Pre-Pentecost the Church was much more a gathered community of Jews and others, some of whom still attended the temple. Yet, because of their acknowledgment of the resurrection and the new life it offered them, a new community had begun. Over time came the slow dawning reality for these early Christians that Judaism didn’t fit anymore.

Post Pentecost

The Church’s function and form was to gather, to worship God and to remember the things Jesus said. Pockets of these communities sprung up all over the place and Apostles like Paul, Peter, Barnabas, Priscilla and Aquila, would visit these communities, offering new insight or oversight, and certainly for the church in Corinth, words of challenge about how they were treating each other.

Post Pentecost, there was a number of persecutions, resulting in the people of God dispersing from Jerusalem, setting up home in other places, and subsequently, the Church was established in those places as well.

Below is a letter showing what the early Christians and the gathered community were like.

“Christians are indistinguishable from others either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men… they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign. And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labour under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country.”

From a letter to Diognetus (Nn. 5-6; Funk, 397-401)

This glimpse into the early Church helps us see that, in its earliest form in New Testament times, it was a servant Church. The letter goes on to say how Christians are persecuted and have no possessions or power, yet are wealthy – but in a different way.

In our new beginnings post-Christendom, the period of our history that began with Constantine, let’s draw on those early memories and realities, which remind us of who we are and that we, like so many in our broken world at the moment, are refugees. Engaging with the community, we find ourselves, like salt and light, not having a prescribed notion of what Church should be, other than a gathering place where people can meet, learn and love Jesus.

The Church That Serves

When we think of social services, hospitals and schools we may well think that the government came up with the idea. Yet They weren’t first to the game, not by some way.

By 580 AD the church had a system for circulating consumables to the poor: associated with each parish was a diaconium or office of the deacon. Monasteries also often served as comprehensive social service agencies, acting as hospitals, homes for the aged, orphanages, and travellers’ aid stations.

In fact, all major religions impacted its society in similar ways wherever it found itself on the globe. As societies developed, because of better health care and education provided by faith-filled believers, wider society took up the burden of this work, modernising it and in some way taking it to the next level.

The western world not developing this until the mid 19 century nearly 2000 years after the Christian church at least, had been serving the poor and providing care and help on a wide scale.

Today, the church might lament sometimes a lack of social services for the spiritual needs as well as social, emotional and physical but it doesn’t mean our engagement has lessened our impact. It has re-engaged with workplace chaplains, with churches collecting for charities giving generously of its time and money to ventures such as food banks, clothing banks, credit unions and so on and so forth.

We should learn from our historical mistakes, but feel proud of the legacy we have begun in the country for people. A legacy that means people are healthier and better educated because of people willing to serve and whose driving principles was Jesus teaching about the value of others, and in that people came to know christ.

We continue as the body of the church, to serve the needs as we find them. Let’s never forget our calling in that regard, that at the heart of who and what we are as church, is summed up beautifully in Matthew’s gospel chapter 25: 31-46

‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’….

However lets also not forget the verses after in verse 45 of chapter 25:

‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’

A chilling warning to us ever forgetting the calling Jesus has for us, echoed more softly in the parable of the good samaritan!

As church communities let us be encouraged by what we have achieved, but not complacent to think it’s perfect or that we are done. I fear we think we don’t have a place in these areas anymore that somehow we are not welcome.

Perhaps that is true for some, but for most, I believe and I have witnessed myself that the door is very much open to the great great great great great… great grandparent of social work. We lend a hand and helping once more alongside others, so that together we help those who are, hungry, thirsty, shivering, sick and those in prison and many, many more.

As the church of Christ, our fruitfulness is because the action of the holy Spirit in our lives. Whose intention is always to bless others and through us remind them of a narrative. A narrative that is so vast and yet so personal of a God who knows, loves and longs for us to flourish whether they realise it’s his call or not.

Together as surgeons and doctors and nurses and social workers, teachers… we are the church and have more to say than just about the spiritual things of life. May the church live out its vibrant Godly focus in all its diversity and richness. Not focusing on one aspect of church ministry or life, but truly embodying diversity as we engage our world.

One passing question, what part of society will you or I look back on in the next 50 years or so and say, we enabled that to happen, not for our glory but God’s?

The Media-Savvy Church

Does the media-savvy church have an innate coolness and with it a language that produces sick media presentations, wicked advertising and engagement in articulate and relevant self-promotion.  It’s perhaps a place where rather than sharing the peace with a handshake a fist bump is more appropriate. Is this what we mean by media-savvy?

hands-1167618_960_720Perhaps what we mean is a church that has a number of Facebook pages and twitter accounts, with a church leadership that is proficient in the use of mass media, newspapers, radio and TV and whose congregation articulates clear, concise and meaningful messages to its community?

Could it be a church which is competent to stream its services live for the housebound and sees social media as a way to engage with its community, understanding what its needs might be?  It could be a little of all of the above. However, there are deeper questions we might ask or begin with.

Underlying Motiviations

How as church we are media-savvy is important – or should be. Such considerations underpin the  Media-Lit course run by CODEC at St Johns college Durham, which I attended a few weeks ago. The course was structured to address the ways in which we can engage with media (whether that’s technological, social or mass media) but at its core wanted to ask deeper questions.

Even though all the students and staff had some level of media savviness, nevertheless, it didn’t presume that all media was good, or even useful. Instead, it sought to consider what underlying principles underpin our use of media, methods of communication and online community.

The Bible Is Media.

First stop was the bible; we considered how scripture can be viewed as artistic media.  In a way God has painted a picture for us in scripture of who he is and what he is about.  We considered the many ways God speaks to people… from gardens, towers, burning bushes, donkeys… to all kinds of people and age groups including angels, his son, you and me.

Debate & Trolls

Discussion was also focused upon the nature of the online community, addressing the question of whether or not it is a proper community if we are physically separated by time and space… where we are materialised and rematerialised through computer technology.  Where is God in that – a God whose presence is both personal, embodied and outside the confines of time and space?  Much debate was also centred round whether or not Jesus would be an online troll in terms of modern understanding!

The course was a catalyst for reflection on how we engage with media in all of its locations and how we share the Gospel. There was a fresh understanding that media has always been with us, from cave drawings, to Facebook.

Becoming media-savvy doesn’t mean we become hidden behind screens or live in some tech bubble or social media haze as we react to the most trending hashtag.  Nor does it mean focusing solely on how much our post was shared or liked, at the expense of our broader relationships.  Instead, engagement in media (in particular social media) is a way of deepening relationships between people and God.

The answer to some of the questions proposed on the course and in this post cannot be answered neatly, but what the questions provide is a platform for discussion and rich debate. So we strike a balance, using the metaphor provided by Lord Soper of holding a newspaper in one hand and the bible in the other, not withdrawing into isolationism but engaging the media in a theologically and spiritually intelligent and articulate way.

It’s Not All Bad

As Christians and members of the human race we have learnt throughout our history that ‘different’ or ‘new’ doesn’t automatically mean ‘bad’ or ‘something we shy away from’.  Rather it should cause us to lean on our theological, spiritual and communal resources in order to find a way of effective engagement that honours who we are in God and doesn’t close the door to people as we discover new ways to engage with issues of faith and the nature of a diverse community in the 21st century.

My big takeaway was “How do I engage in creating good content that honours the God I worship?” I wonder what might be provoking you as you have read this post?  It is especially relevant that we engage in today’s media-savvy world, not least to offer hope and solace in the crazy times we live in, confronting negativity and hatred that we see online with words of challenge and of love.

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