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Surviving Your Sabbatical

Spoiler: I survived, and am still here!

The Task

The goal of my sabbatical was to document new forms of discipleship visually. But in short, my plans worked out how God wanted them too rather than how I had hoped they would! See beyond the pew for more.

Ministry as a church leader is unique with its pressures, and joys. But putting down the dumbbells of ministry is hard, accepting you are not in control, and someone else may or may not pick up that dumbbell, is not easy.

But it is necessary if the sabbatical has a chance of resourcing you and your churches. Before the start date of the sabbatical, I remember sitting in five guys Restaurant with a minister friend who offered some sage wisdom, they said:

At some point, (during the sabbatical) you will probably seriously wonder whether you should stay in ministry or not… conversation over a lovely burger at 5guys!

Mental Health

I have already had such thoughts so didn’t think that would happen to me again, but they did. You see not being in the flow of church-based ministry means you have space to think, and questions bubble up, doubts surface and old insecurities attempt to hijack your journey.

Now I was in a rough place emotionally and so for me and my family, the sabbatical came at the right moment. Around mid-way through the sabbatical, I felt able to produce the following video about my struggles with depression and the journey to wellness. 

“Sabbatical helped me slay some demons, and heal as well as face yo to some hard realities.”

Spiritual Health

That’s where the decisions you made about what to do on your sabbatical help, to focus you, steady your path through a sabbatical. Not all my plans worked out as I had hoped, meetings and promises made before sabbatical didn’t flourish.

I never found a church to journey with over the time as I had hoped, I didn’t feel very close to God throughout either. But here is the rub, God was there. Looking back God used what I saw as failures and opportunities dissipating to create space, to force me to be still and know God is God.


I followed the Northumbria community daily office which has steadied this spiritual ship of mine, giving me a rhythm to my day which was so important. I will share some wisdom my sister in law gave me, (she is a nun in the Anglican church) In responding to doing a daily office, she replied:

“Just do what you can” -she said, “don’t worry if you don’t do it all, just do what your schedule allows. “

This was such a relief to me and has probably meant that the pattern I am in now has stuck and been maintained. I also went to the cairngorms to pray and take photos which was such a wonderful time of refreshing and photography.

Physical health:

Be careful, within the first month of sabbatical as I got a chest infection (haven’t had one in years) and the week after coming back from sabbatical I got a nasty cold which stopped me doing regular workouts because I feared I was to get another chest infection! So make sure you look after yourself.

One of my aims was to receive personal training for 10 sessions, which by the end of, I expected I would be ripped and be fit enough to do the SAS selection process. (yes I do have an overactive imagination). Left is real me and right is alternate me (badly) reimagined through the power of photoshop!

  • A classic before and after image, altered with photoshop and not remotely true to life. ūüôā

I did, however, do my ten sessions and apart from surprising the instructor at my lack of weight loss, I got a lot fitter and happier, I now do four workouts a week as a priority and set my apple watch for calories I should burn in a day. All this has brought my cholesterol down to normal, which it has not been for years. Plus I am noticeably quicker on my bike and have more energy for the day so time well spent.

The Greatest Gift

Image by Maciej Szewczyk from Pixabay

Image by Maciej Szewczyk from Pixabay

Chocolate, Jesus, friends and family, having Christmas off, to one side for a moment. A sabbatical is a gift, though it doesn’t always feel like it at the time, looking back it is. It’s an unconditional gift of love. It is in my case the church reminding me that I am, under God cherished and loved. 

It doesn’t matter I didn’t get everything done, but I was able to be unencumbered by the guilt of there is always something more to do, or there is always something that doesn’t get done.

That freedom, that love, has helped me untangle myself, to some degree, from things I had become a slave of the things that kept me awake at night. 

Starting Over With God

Hope your summer is going well, this week we dig up an old post and ponder if there are moments for all of us when  we need to, metaphorically speaking, press our restart button. This might be because of the day we have had, a decision we have made or something that has been done in our name or to us.

When we press restart on our tablet or computer the logo of its maker appears briefly as it boots into its operating system. As a person, I wonder what the logo in your reboot procedure looks like when you press restart.

For me, it is the cross, a reminder of sacrifice and redemption. In amongst the chaos of a day littered around me, and in the business of life I find myself at the foot of the cross in prayer.

To restart for me at least, the cross is where I rebuild from, recognising my need for Christ’s love, hope and above all grace-filled forgiveness.

As you restart, wherever you are and in whatever way is helpful, may my God be with you and made known to you.

Originally Posted on Dchurch

Disappointed in God

Moses was adopted by the Pharaoh having been found in a basket in a stream,¬†in his search for identity and trying to win favour with his birth culture, he killed a guy for being a bully, and then was an outlaw for 40 years. ¬†He sees a burning bush that doesn’t burn up which is kind of weird, and here he meets with God for the first time.

God makes a big deal about how Moses needs to go back to Egypt and get the pharaoh to set the people free. This is just the beginning of Moses’s problems, and disappointments, which led him to break the originally chiselled¬†priceless Ten¬†Commandments, then having calmed down, Moses had¬†to go back and ask God to make some more!

Equally the disciples were pretty disappointed with God. In the Torah (Jewish Scriptures) it is told of the Messiah to come. And there was every real hope that the Messiah would kick out the Romans. Which as it turned out Jesus was not that kind of Messiah!

I also get disappointed with God, I’m disappointed that England didn’t get very far in the Rugby World Cup! I’m disappointed that God doesn’t show up nearly often enough in the lives of broken people, I stare at disbelief at what is going on in the world and feel an affinity with all those around the globe,¬†for whom their¬†disappointment with God, has lead to doubt and ultimately disbelief.

In all our disappointment we lob at God, these worlds are¬†echoed in the words of the Pharisee in the new testament. Who shouts at the cross Jesus is nailed too. ‘Come down, if you are the son of God’! We all know what happened next.

What does God do, well he loves us, us who are wrapped up in life disappointments and pain. He puts people around us, he offers us a community to be part of where we can thrive, and learn more of the God we still perhaps just believe in. Disappointment though is part of what makes our faith real and living, we don’t blindly believe a set of edicts, but are free in our faith to say or leave, to shout at God, or ask him continually to open the eyes of our hearts that we might see as God does.

Disappointment in God is more about us than God, more about humanities decision to be a disciple or not. Ultimately like Jesus’s disciples,¬†Moses saw God do amazing things through him, the parting of the red sea, transform a staff to snake and back again, food in the dessert, and so much more. There is noting like being in the place where the Lord wants you to be. There is a sense of renewed identity and purpose even if the place where the lord has placed you is hard.

May God Bless You

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Last Times Post: Heavens Life lesson

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Letting God Of Church, Holding On To the King

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God They’re Just Not In To You. I tried sorry!

After another service leading people in worship, where I was trying to be relevant, engaging and even inspiring! The thought struck me, thankfully not knocking me off my bicycle as I cycled home.

The thought I pondered, as my wheels turned, was around that old saying concerning discipleship and growing in God, the desire that in the core of our uniqueness there might be “More of God and less of self”.

Sure God uses our abilities, and unique skill sets to serve him. But shouldn’t worship and ministry be less about style and more about experiencing God? Style matters of course and is a gateway, through the door which Jesus stands and knocks at, inviting us to walk deeper with him.

As a preacher and church leader, I am interactive and full of energy, I am the kind of guy that throws himself in, doing whatever it takes to connect with the unchurched generations and encourage the regulars.

I’m not ¬†traditional although my style has become my tradition. I could have easily have just turned out as a more structured formal kind of preacher. I am uncomfortable, with these demarcations¬†as they¬†imply one is better than the other, where in reality I believe God can use both to minister to the faithful and non believer.

The whispered reality in my head for me is that after many years of serving God, being interactive, using video clips in worship, and the like. I find myself wondering what I have added to the kingdom of God in deepened¬†walks and of new disciples. This isn’t a pity party, or self-flagellation, but I’m trying to take an honest look through the lens of time at the impact God has made through me.

My wife and good friends would tell me and rightly remind me, that I cannot possibly know how God has used me. However that reality sometimes is not enough, I look at the fruit of this thing called ministry, specifically¬†in the¬†area of making new disciples, and I find I am lacking. I don’t make the grade, or hit the target, regardless of how many courses I go on, the gold standard of new disciples being made, numbers anymore than a handful in the 13 years of ministry and 24 years as a christian that I know off. Perhaps I am being a little hard on myself! ūüôā

Should I therefore give up in trying to make new disciples, or hope that new people might even come to church. Should I just stop reading the Fresh Expressions manual, probably some people wish I would!

The answer is yes I should give up striving to make new disciples, the kind of striving  that says it all down to me, like some kind of superhero trying to save the world and that assumes that God, and social religious environment has no part to play in the making of new disciples.

Instead perhaps¬†I should be striving to become the man of God he wants me to become, using the unique skill set he has given me. I shouldn’t stop striving to be more effective, as one of¬†Gods¬†agents, of change and transformation, regardless of my style or¬†the way I minister.

I¬†shouldn’t beat myself up over the people¬†brought to faith and who didn’t stick at it, but rejoice in those that have and are. Taking¬†an honest look every now and then, asking the question, how affective am I being in the work of Kingdom building? What do I need to read, learn, be mentored in, so that when I stand before Jesus and look into his eyes. He and I will¬†know in a moments glance, I couldn’t have tried any harder, and that the rest is faithfulness to what God has called me and us too regardless of the perceived and present outcome.

One final thought, would we strive the long hours, with and in God, and be content to see no fruit and instead religious obscurity. Thats not an excuse to do nothing. Instead as a result of faithful living, there were know new Christians, I wonder could we be ok with that, laying all our hopes of new christians and over flowing churches, at the feet of the one who says, follow me and I will be with you to the very end of the age.


Fertility Tips For Churches

Slave (to the schedule)

Retreat Is Not Surrender

Losing My Faith In Stone

If your faith is wrapped and rooted in the reassuring warmth of your denomination, then perhaps you should click away, I wouldn’t want you to get cold or be offended! Although you could just risk it and take a look just a few lines, after all where’s the harm in that! Alternatively if you are a little like me, not always finding the church an easy place to be! Then I warmly invite you to read on.

Dear reader For a moment would you imagine with me what it might be to lose your faith in the church. To shake off the shackles, to break out of the box that has become more like a cage. To live a life free and and unencumbered by a pastors theological and political bias, or a sense of loyalty to a bygone age. Instead my friends let us remember who it is all meant to be for.

Instead, believe beyond what church tells you, or what society considers our God might say on an array of subjects. Too often it is thought that the church just wants money, and on a recent carol singing trip people in the community found it difficult to comprehend, that we were not collecting for anything or anyone!

Churches tell us how to live, the type and style of our worship is predetermined for us. But it isn’t our worship it is Gods. All we do, all we sing, regardless of what song book, whether it’s projected on screen, whether our worship is informal or traditional. It is about connecting to the living God. My question is, does it?

In a recent conversation with a minister friend of mine, he asked whether I was a blue sky thinker! And I said yes and that can be a bit scary for some people! He smiled and nodded his agreement.

We are at a point in the life of the Church National and international if you’re in the northern hemisphere on earth, where churches on the whole are not growing or engaging in the making of disciples.

I would like us to discover for ourselves what it means to believe in God, just you and God, unhindered by religious expectation, unsanitised by liturgical poetry, unstructured by denominational pageantry!

Let us discover for ourselves once again why we follow Jesus, and may that self-discovery, that visceral encounter with the living God, redefine our church. Reshape our communities and renew our spirits.

An elderly man in one of my congregations, turned and told me in broad Scottish tones this week, how he had left the church, because he became aware that the people in power, were Methodists first and Christians second. He grinned at me and I grinned back because we understood each other. Our denomination is just where we hangout, or where God has put us. It shouldn’t be what we have faith in. For as certain as¬† Jesus is coming back, it is him that owns my soul not my denomination!

Finally there is hope within the walls of our structures, within the people that dwell there. People who want to take what is the best of what we have and reshape it, between the religious institution and the rest of society. Thusly building a bridge not where they walk over to us, but a place where we can both meet, and admire the view.

An Angel Pops by New Year Eve 2014!

Before auld lang syne is played tonight, I would like to introduce Jim. A man who was generally happy, sociable and a little over weight, a reality of on the job cake eating and sitting at his desk every day. He was also a door steward at his local methodist church and his whole life fitted into a well worn pattern, like a comfortable pair of shoes.

Each christmas he would enjoy the turkey, the mince pies, carols and festive drinks. On December 31st each year he would write a list. At the top of the list he would write ‘todo list’ and the year in which he would soon find himself, so this year he wrote ‘todo list 2015.’ and so he began.

1. Loose some weight. The remarkable thing was that each year, Jim wrote the same thing and on each New Years Eve previously, he would weigh himself and be exactly the same weight give or take a few pounds.

As our Jim sat their at his desk pen in hand, and deep in thought, little did he expect things were going to take an unusual turn.
‘Ahem.’ Came a small voice,
Again after a pause the voice cleared his throat,
‘Err Ahem.’

Nothing very unusual had ever happened to Jim and you would be surprised and impressed, at how Jim remained composed at what he saw there on his desk, just to the left of his pencil pot.

Jim looked on his desk to where the sound was coming from, and there on it was a tiny creature, it had wings and wore what looked like a white tunic.

“Hi.” said the voice, “I am an angel!” Jim wanted to reply aren’t you a bit small, but thought that might be rude!
“Ok.” He said, Jim was never big on long sentences.

I notice,” said the angel. “That your writing a list and wondered if I might help!”
“Ok, I guess.” Replied a rather bemused Jim.
“I wonder if I might add something to it if that was alright, and it needs to be first?” The angel asked.
“But I have one already and it’s the one I have every year.” Replied Jim a little impatient to get back to what he was doing.

“Trust me Jim, you might enjoy the change.” The angel countered.
“Ok,” replied Jim who wanted an easy life and thought he could always change his mind after if he didn’t like what the angel suggested.
“Great” the angel said and with a wink added “you can always change your mind if you don’t like it! Which sent a shiver down Jim’s back!
Jim crossed out loose some weight and looked at the angel for inspiration.
“I would like you to put two words. And they are Ask God.” the angel replied.
Is that it? Asked Jim
Yes, that’s it, ask God.

But what does that mean? Replied Jim looking towards the angel, except the angel had disappeared!! Jim looked around for the angel for several minutes, but he was no where to be found. Jim returned to his page and the words Ask God which now had three dots after it. He wondered what it might mean, then a startling thought occurred to him, what if it meant ask God about the year ahead!

Jim didn’t rub out the words the angel gave him but kept them, and as was his way stuck the list on his fridge so he would see it each morning, he used a magnet with the words F.R.O.G on it, he liked magnets and thought someday he should find out what the letters meant.

May this year be for each of us about finding out what God has for us, rather then us change our selves instead allowing God to change us reshape us into the men and women of God he is calling us to be, in the likeness of his son. Finally don’t forget to always live as those Forever Reliant On God!

Love and happy new year

…Long Live The church!

IMG_2057A pathogen has been let loose in Europe, leaving devastation in its wake as it slowly dismembers the people of the established church. Creating a pandemic of disillusionment within the church and disinterest outside. I am one of the infected, though the disease hasn’t entirely robbed me of hope, but perhaps it’s just a matter of time.

I do enjoy apocalyptic movies, the likes of World War Z, Independence Day or Deep Impact. Where the world stands on the brink of destruction where all is nearly lost. Yet the human spirit to thrive is not extinguished. These movies are enjoyable as well as being horrific and certainly makes me wonder what would I do if I am faced with the end of the world!!

If church denominations and in particular the UK Methodist Church, were framed in an apocalyptic movie genre, what might its current situation look like on the big screen? We would see a decreasing remnant of the people called methodist under attack from the spread of the global pathogen of disillusionment and lethargy, and if that’s not bad enough, now they witness the sky turning against them as statistical reports crash into their crumbling religious infrastructure like fragments of a meteor.

The survivors would seek answers as to why this is happening, there would be confusion as there seems to be no clear reason to why making disciples has become so hard. Grieving what is lost much like the proverbial young healthy couple discovering the painful reality of not being able to have children biologically and in their grief asking has God forsaken us.

If we dig into scripture we discover that our current situation is not in isolation. The people of God have faced annihilation already in the exile by Babylon, the prophet Elijah felt the cold reality in 1 Kings 19 of impending doom. This is not to mention the news reports of Christians being murdered in global hotspots.

What might be our response to our denominational annihilation? Well taking from the wisdom of Independence Day, where the president of America stands on a truck rallying the troops, I wonder if the president of conference or secretary could stand on the back of a truck and call us to be brave, bold and courageous in our mission. To not keep being beaten down, but stand tall, heads held high and declare that “this day will not be our last…”

As with all disaster movies there is a chance for a restart, a new beginning. A discarding of what was and the embracing of what might be and a resurrection of the best of humanity, faith and a new reformation of the things of God.

As Gods people facing the unknown, let’s take heed of the words of the lead singer of Y Friday,¬† Ken Riley, who standing before the people he is leading in worship with outstretched arms like he is embracing us all and in his distinct Geordie accent calling to us ‘come on people, let’s worship God’.

It could be that in my life time a long with the rest of several generation of christians, I might see not just the methodist church but also the broader church in this country die, and perhaps even faith in God falter and that thought breaks my heart. However, perhaps in forty years from now as an eighty year old, I might be still believing and hoping for renewal. There is the possibility that I might die without seeing it, like so many others of similar age in our churches today hoping for a methodist revival. However just as Moses died before stepping across into the promised land. I then say before my friend and my God, so be it, as Jesus said in the garden of gethsemane, not my will but yours Lord.

Is Everything Awesome?

Lego MovieThe Lego Movie is a brilliant, fun-filled, unplug your brain, and enjoy the ride movie, and it has done very well in the box office both sides of the atlantic. Just in case you haven’t seen the movie or ¬† wish you hadn’t! The basic premise is that, the main character Emmett (a Lego builder man) is living the idyllic life, with all his other legolites, ¬†a chance encounter with a girl and the learning of a prophecy, makes him question his reality. He eventually realises everything isn’t quite as awesome, as he thought or at least not until its fixed! Que lots of Lego battles with an evil Lego overlord.

As with these kinds of movies there is a theme song, that seeps into your brain and gets lodged there. The song for this movie has done just that, I have random moments where I find myself just singing the song for no reason! (please send help lol) Its called Everything Is Awesome, which is up there in likability with Barbie Girl but not quite in the same league as Star Trekking, which is obviously better! As this song has lodged in my cranium it reminded me of, quite strangely, church!


Like in the song from the movie, we might be lead to believe by certain preachers, churches, or christian TV broadcasts that everything in faith can be awesome, after all God is good all the time, right! The flip side we might discover, or experience from these places is that if things are not totally awesome in our lives, or we are not instantly healed, their must be something wrong with us or there must be some sin in our life ¬†that hasn’t yet been confessed.

I attended with my wife all be it briefly, when on holiday, a church like this, it had a big stage with 30 backing singers, ¬†stewards with slightly scary, wide smiling grins. It got even more interesting Later on, as I watched ¬†the preacher try to hype up the crowd, for more ‘conversions’. After the service my wife and I were ushered to the welcome lounge for special newcomers treatment, ¬†we settled down at a table and into a conversation with an assistant pastor who the whole time looked over my shoulder at who else was coming in. Have to say we left that church not feeling very awesome! But then no church is perfect.


Who doesn’t want to live an awesome life, whatever that might look like for us, being super rich or just breaking even, ¬†being famous or making a difference whether you are noticed or not. On the most part people want to have awesome, fulfilled and brilliant lives, free from pettiness, discrimination and selfishness, I know I do! We ¬†strive for this image of ¬†perceived awesomeness in so many varied places chasing the rumour, or scent, of that which seems so illusive for so many of us.

Let me paint you another picture of what lived out awesomeness might look like. The second church my wife and I attended on that holiday was, The Blue Mountains (Katoomba) Uniting Church. We were staying at the truly brilliant local YHA  do check it out if you ever in the blue mountains. It was a sunday evening and we went out to find a church to go to. We had noticed that a service was about to start in the church in the picture above and quickly made our way to the side door. We went in and were genuinely and warmly welcomed, by a small group of people of ages similar to ours, who all sat on plastic chairs in an oval. If I remember, worship was with modern worship songs  aided by an ancient overhead projector and elderly pianist.

During the service it was mentioned that their minister had died the previous week, I would imagine for those there, there would have been a wrestling with God and at the same time, a faithful trying to trust God in the midst of there personal grief. ¬†But this service wasn’t self indulgent in any way, as shown as by what happened in the prayers for others. The preacher simply stopped, smiled at us and asked if there was anything at all they could pray for us about? The congregation looked at us with interest and kindness, we were blown away. After a final song and blessing the service ended, they then explained to us, that now they all go to a local cafe bar and would we like to come? Which we gladly did.

This was the point where that dream of awesomeness and wonder became present, in a unashamed and real acknowledgement of a God who loves us and if we want walks with us, no matter if we are near or far off, grieving our dead pastor or on a spiritual high. In that church on a sunday evening in 2004 we were made to feel as though we were family, their simple practical and spiritual generosity and welcome, made us feel at home, on the flip side of the world, on a wet and cold Auzzie winters day. We have never forgotten it and never will. I do believe its alright to strive for awesomeness or greatness in life, but not at the expense of others, offering a faith to others that is unrealistic and barren of spiritual depth or theological robustness, and doesn’t do the long and sometimes lonely journey of life with us expecting nothing in return.

I will try to not use the word awesome as much in my next post, see you next Thursday.

New Year, New Resolutions

In July last year I started running, I began with buying some running shoes then an outfit. I progressed little by little, which took time and frustration, as well as the odd injury, before I could begin running longer distances and faster speeds. I am now healthier and a little lighter than I was before I started which is brilliant.

I am mentioning this as away of reminding myself and us of the need to take our discipleship seriously.  Lets begin with the goal of just listening to God more and reading our bibles, rather than saving the world or getting our special pass into sainthood!

For some of us we gave up making New Years resolutions years ago. But perhaps this time, set a date, put it in the diary when you will set a plan in motion. A plan that commits you to walk closer with Jesus this coming year, I promise you the results will be unexpected. As you pray more, read scripture more and gather with your brothers and sisters in Christ, for the up in and out of discipleship, our worship, our growth and witness of Jesus Christ will develop far more than we can imagine or hope.

Happy New Year.

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