Appreciate the left hand as well?

Here’s a nagging question I have.

Has the Western Church, the evangelical-reformed bubble of it anyway, made Church leadership a position held only by the educated elite? It’s not just the evangelical-reformed group either, to become a priest in the Church of England requires a degree, and if not in theology will need further training.

I remember hearing Andy Stanley, speaking on the importance of having theologically-trained leaders in Churches: “compare the work of Paul to the work of all the other “untrained” disciples. How much more did Paul achieve?”

But I feel deeply uncomfortable about this, because when I read the Bible. I see over and over again the glory God gets when He uses unqualified men and women, “unschooled” fishermen, shepherd boys. Even Paul himself, argued that he did not use fine sounding arguments and eloquent words.

I wonder what we’ve lost by only allowing the degree educated people to lead our churches, to earn a living from it. I wonder if, we had kept degree educated people in their clever jobs earning money and supporting the Church with their teaching and let the uneducated man with a Pastoral heart and a passion for God’s word, lead. What would happen. Would we have less books? Maybe more Bible-reading? Would we have less clever-programs? Maybe more prayer? Would we have less eloquent preaching? Maybe more worship?

I reckon, if the western church deems the uneducated to be too “weak” for church leadership roles, God will display His glory through the weak, foolish and “things that are not”.

Speaking as someone who has a degree. I think we’ve set the wrong qualifications for church leadership.

Yes, we need to add to our faith, knowledge etc. But surely this is an instruction for every follower of Jesus, not just leaders. Yes, we need sound doctrine, yes, yes, yes. But we also need to appreciate what every member of the Body has to offer, not just an elite few.

Reversing it totally is probably not the solution, we’re not to divide the Body any further. But we probably need to balance it out. Appreciate the left hand as well as the right?

Discipleship – Multiplying life

img_0493There we go, there’s a nice, big, blocky, pixilated photo for you all to fix your eyes upon. I’m sure we’ll all enjoy zooming in and out of that with the tiny smartphone screens. Thanks for stopping by.

I wanted to share the contents of a chapter I read today from Mike Breen’s book: Building a Discipling Culture. Now I have some bones with this book, bones to pick, things I don’t like. And since it’s much easier to criticize and complain, I think I’ll start with that. 1) It’s pricey, pricey for a book. You’ll be dishing out close to £20 for a book < 300 pages. 2) I find the Bible examples very loose supporters for the ideas and concepts this guy/organisation are introducing. 3) The number of shapes used for diagrams, borders on the ridiculous.

So there’s 3 whinges. Here are three positives 1) I’m a sucker for shapes and diagrams, 2) the concepts are pretty good and probably biblical (but even if not,  they feel like reasonable common sense and the writers seem to have a hefty bit of experience and know-how). 3) Who can put a price on knowledge, knowledge is power and all that, so it’s an investment. You can always buy it second hand.

Along the way reading this, I’ve been taking notes and journaling a bit through my thoughts. Another benefit of reading with others, is that it slows you (/me) down and forces you (/me) to actually soak, reflect, think about the content beyond mere word-to-eye consumption.  Yum.

So here, in this picture which I presented you all with, we have an example of a diagram. This one is called: The Square. I think my notes around it make it pretty self explanatory. But here’s some key points/context:

  1. It’s about making disciples.
  2. It looks at 2 journeys, 1) that of the Disciple D1, D2, D3 & D4 and 2) that of the leader L1, L2…
  3. At each stage of the journey the Disciple and the Leader are supposed to take different postures in their relationship with one another. E.g. at the beginning the leader is High Direction and Low Consensus (in other words, leader says jump – disciple jumps), but towards the end the leader delegates work to disciple, trusts they’re competent and invites their advice.

So, now that that’s out the way…the real reason you’ve tuned into this fantastic blog. My opinion. What did I like about this? Why am I sharing it?

  1. I was really struck by how this diagram/concept reveals my failings and inabilities in leadership. One  of my questions to myself at the bottom of the page, reflects this. “Where am  I stuck? What are my next steps to overcome”.
    • Stage 2: Leader to be available for the Disciple in the discouragement. To be in the midst of the struggle and provide Grace (aka – reminding this is God’s work not ours, we are partners God will work through) and Vision (aka – reminding why the cost is so high, holding out the why and the hope.)
      • How do I move forward? – Take time to listen to the discouragement of others/myself and apply Grace and Truth. [Journaling activity]
    • Stage 3: Leader encourages journey towards intimacy not novelty. I get so impressed with novelty in Christianity (although I pretend I’m not). Not the novelty of emotional experiences and conferences – although I did at one point – but of books, techniques/disciplines and sermons. These are all good things, but they don’t compare to knowing Christ.
      • How do I move forward? – Spend more time promoting/modelling my walk with God, instead of the latest book, podcast or talk I’ve listened to. The quiet times, the practicing presence, the friendship with Jesus.
  2. As a disciple, and someone who has been lucky enough to have had several key mentors/(or as Clinton might call them “Divine Contacts”), in my life throughout my teenage years. I was able to go round the square and think through how each mentor/rabbi/teacher, discipled me in various ways. I’ve initialled them on the picture
    • AG – the importance of God’s presence, journaling, heart for worship and leading it,
    • L&S – being invested in, music/worship leading training, training for ministry skills, being known/significant, heart for world mission and supernatural, heart for holiness.
    • SB – techniques/disciplines for spiritual formation (journaling, Bible read through, reading), training leaders (like-attracts-like), importance of weakness for Discipleship.
  3. This book also challenged me to review the legacy of the relationships I had as a disciple of Jesus-loving followers, (as an imitator of Jesus-imitators!)… Where did each one “drop me off” on this square? Which areas do I need to grow in? With those who currently influence my walk with God and journey with Jesus, where are we at?

There we go, for those who enjoy lists and sub-lists, this was the post for you. Hope this is helpful and encourages you in discipleship to Jesus. I also hope this tool sparks again the challenge to walk in obedience of the Great Commission. (However you go about it!)

The White Flag: Called and Equipped to do much.

One of the significant activities God has been leading me into over the last 5 months is the process of ‘stepping out of ministry’. This has been an interesting time and I’ve learnt a lot. I wanted to share a bit of that journey and what it’s all been like.

Since October 2017, I have been doing what I called ‘bi-vocational’ ministry. I was working 9-5 for Cancer Research UK in their clinical trials unit, and at the same time running a student ministry with Navigators UK. It was great fun, it was a great challenge, it had it’s ups and downs like any ministry endeavour – but it was incredibly rewarding.

My average day started around 4.30-5am with all the regular routines and disciplines I needed to sustain me through the day (quiet times, exercise, reading and study), then I’d be out to meet with a small group of students on campus at around 8. We’d often simply read our Bibles and pray together. A fantastic way to start a working day, a fantastic way to approach discipleship, a fantastic way to grow friendships. Meeting daily in the mornings, you really do get to see each other on good and bad days – weaknesses exposed, yet together meeting to encourage each other and bring our days before God.

Then I’d be at work. I might meet someone at lunch (the trials unit was based at the university!). Then, depending on the weekday – I’d either be meeting a student 1-on-1, attending/leading/hosting a Bible study. It was busy. But being in my early twenties I have/had a lot of energy and time to spare for these good endeavours.

After a year at this pace, I added to my life FFM (Foundations For Ministry – a 3 year training course with Navs) and my wife and I took up our Church’s youth group’s mid-week gathering. Wow. Oh, and on top of all that, I was being allowed to preach once a month at Church (something I deeply cherish, and feel so honoured by!)…. Looking back on all this, it sounds like too much. But honestly, God sustained me.

I held firmly onto two verses which inspired and motivated and kept us both going…

“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me!” – Col 1.28-29 (which continues beautifully and relevantly into chapter 2!)

“Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight;” – Ecc 11:2 (I felt God give me this verse one morning in my quiet time, it also came with the word: there is a difference between investing and managing)

With these verses, which I genuinely believe God gave me, I was encouraged to do all the many works I felt He was asking me to do. He put the work before me, and then enabled me to do it. I would say to myself, and to anyone else, that they really shouldn’t do as much as I was doing, unless God has specifically called them to it – and to remember – He probably won’t call you to it permanently.

…And then at Christmas 2018, we felt very clearly God was telling us to start drawing back…

 

Agenda Item #1 See the person

2016-07-Agenda-Papier-2

We all have agendas, some of them are big and important, some a small and silly.

We set ourselves an agenda each week when we go shopping. We look at our watches, outside the doors of aldi, and we see if we can make it round the shop, past the checkouts and back out the door in less than 20mins. Shopping shouldn’t take that long should it? So we set our self the target of getting it done quick.

The thing with agenda’s is that people often get in the way of them. There’s that family with kids running around the aisles blocking your path. There’s the old lady with a walking stick – whose left her basket in between you and your goal (Why is she using a basket if she’s got a walking stick!?) Then there’s that lady at the checkout who is nattering away, like she’s the most sociable woman in the world – totally distracting the customer who is in my way, and also seeming to enjoy a superficial conversation with a stranger!

It’s silly when you put it like this but we all have them – agendas. Whether they’re work related: closing the deal, finishing the project, getting the promotion. Family related? Having dinner together, date nights, movie nights, playing a game of monopoly (and winning it!) Or maybe even “spiritual agendas”: getting to church on time, reading my bible each day or leading the music worship on Sunday…writing a blog etc.

The thing about agenda’s is that they can often make us blind, blind to people.

There is a story in the Bible (Luke 13:10-17) about Jesus teaching on the Sabbath, – anyone who is a teacher or has done teaching will know that you teach with an agenda. They’re called “learning objectives”/L.Os – we had to write them out as school kids, so that we knew what the teacher wanted us to learn. Jesus had an agenda this Sabbath, He wanted people to learn something. But despite His agenda, he saw a woman in the crowd who was suffering. He called her out and healed her. This messed with the agenda of the synagogue leader – who’s agenda it was to make people feel guilty and bad about themselves (joke!) – his agenda was keeping the Sabbath sacred.

Both these agendas are important. Teaching is important (hence the effort that goes into schools in this country: maintaining them, training teachers, inspecting them etc). Keeping the Sabbath is important (it’s the 4th 10 commandment)! But the difference between Jesus and the Synagogue Leader in this story, is that Jesus wasn’t blinded by His agenda. He could see the woman in need.

Who is the person, who are the people – God wants you to see? They may be the very people in the way of your agenda.

 

Wax on, Wax off

Time to address a problem that I’ve come up against a couple of times. Wax on, wax off.cbd9b05a2c753da5e7b0ec8d25beaa58--pale-girls-dress-fashion

Since as long as I can really remember, probably since secondary school, I’ve waxed my hair. Even when I had longish hair – looking like a mullet – I’d always spike up or across my fringe. Either that or just completely mess up my whole hair – for the “harry potter” look.

As I’ve grown, my hair has got more “respectable” and now my waxing looks “good” – at least until I look back at pictures of me now in 15 years’ time!

Nothing wrong with wanting to look good. Nothing wrong with not wanting to look silly. God made us all in His image, and so it’s not wrong to get some confidence from you’re appearance, and for the same reason it’s not wrong to try and look “good”. As ambassadors for Christ, we represent him. In this way my appearance can even be part of my witness. It’s not wrong intrinsically. UNLESS your appearance becomes an idol, or the source of confidence. OR God tells you to lay aside these things for a season (e.g. John the Baptist, Paul cutting off his hair for a vow or Samson not cutting his hair. List is pretty long – where God tells people to change their appearance/clothing/hair-du for reasons not totally clear!)

Anyway, what sparked this trail of thought? Good question. Two things. 1) I forgot my hair wax today. Result. Power-through the day? Shrug off any comments, and brave-face my way through any paranoid thoughts about what others were thinking about me? No. I popped into Tesco – adding another 20 minutes to my morning walk and bought a tub of wax – administering the beauty product in a rest-room on campus. 2) Scott, who met with me through my time at Uni, had a similar struggle with vanity and would occasionally “fast” from wax in hair.

Maybe, this incident, has let me hear God asking me to “fast” in a similar way.

My question to you, ‘what are the areas which you rely on for the source of confidence?’ Is God asking you to fast from it for a week, month, year, permanent. It’s a big deal – and a painful one – dethroning idols…But a necessary one for a disciple of Jesus.

I hope my seemingly-trivial, semi-pathetic battle with sin: 1) encourages you that God uses people like me. 2) challenges you to recognize (and deal with) the subtle idols in your life…

Isaiah (1): Judgement (Causes and God’s heart)

I just wanted to spend a few posts sharing some of my course writings for FFM, they’re from the Old Testament module, and this term we’re looking at the prophets and history books.

What are the causes of God’s judgement in Isaiah and what does this reveal about God’s heart?

I have divided the causes for judgement into four main sections, and will discuss each one briefly and then talk about what these reveal regarding God’s concerns and His heart. I have also tried to end each section with a moment where God speaks or acts redemptively in this area.

Treatment of the weak – the weak included the fatherless (orphan), the widow, the oppressed and the poor. They were the people who couldn’t fend for themselves and were often left to suffer. However the judgement exercised was not just for a complacent attitude towards the poor, but also for mistreating them and not providing them justice in courts and matters of law, simply because they were weak. This area of judgement reveals God’s heart for the weak, throughout Scripture God delights in using the weak and marginalized to accomplish His purposes (See Jesus’ genealogy) and even to demonstrate His Glory through (See 2 Cor 12). The fact that God’s people were not only mistreating the poor by neglecting them, but actually working against them would have roused God’s anger. God refuses to neglect the weak Himself and promises to give strength to the weak and to increase the power of the weak (Isaiah 40.29 and 3.4)

Idolatry – One could argue that idolatry is a route cause of all sins, especially the idolatry of self (AKA: Pride), in the book of Isaiah it is no exception. Some of the expressions of idolatry given in Isaiah are: prostitution, divination, actual material idols (gold, statues), pride and reliance upon human strength (whether that’s Egypt, ‘mere humans’, multitude of chariots or even a horse (31.1)). This tells us about God’s concern for His glory, not only is Idolatry against the 10 commandments, but it also demonstrates a reluctance to trust God. By trusting in human strength, for example – Egypt – to save them from their enemies, God’s people were admitting to other nations that they didn’t believe their God was capable to save them. I was personally struck by the challenge against those who rise early to pursue alcohol (5.11), it made me question what do I rise early to do. This is a helpful way to identify my idols – as a morning person – ‘what do I wake to do?’ The relief to this idolatry is found in the stories about Hezekiah who turns to God in the moments of disaster (37.14-21, 38.2)

Evil deeds – In many ways the last two sections have also been ‘evil deeds’. However Isaiah specifies that there are activities that individuals have been performing which displease God. Interestingly, a lot of the judgement mentioned in Isaiah is directed towards large groups and what they have done. However there is sin which individuals are also found guilty of, for example murder, prostitution (even flirtatious clothing and dancing) and unclean lips (speaking badly or falsely). This tells us of God’s concern that His people are holy as He is holy. They represent Him. This is why God acts to blot out their transgressions – “For my own sake” (43.25), and acts to clean Isaiah’s lips with coal.

Finally Poor Leadership ­– In brief, Isaiah talks specifically about the judgement upon leaders who lead “badly”. By encouraging disobedience, neglecting poor and the important things God cares about. This shows us God is concerned that human leaders represent Him as the Divine Leader.

Fix your eyes on Jesus (2): Perfecter of Faith

Meta-blog intro: I’m beginning to see a real danger in this “series” approach. The danger being that, what you start you need to finish. So if you start a series: “Series (1): X and y, and z”. You at least need to follow up with a “Series (2): X^2 and Y/Z” and to be honest when you’ve originally set out to write a part 3, you’re really stuck – and don’t want to do anything else until you’ve finished the series. Proper. Who know’s why I decided to interrupt my Systematic Theology series with a Fix your eyes on Jesus series. But I have, and that’s that.

Once youve got a task to do, it’s better to do it than live with the fear of it

So, this part was about growing in faith. Moving past the things which entangle it. Because the truth is, our faith gets entangled. It gets entangled by lots of things:

Pride – thinking we can make it on our own, because of our achievements, appearances, reputation etc…Why do I need this faith thing? Entangled faith.

Sin – This causes all kinds of guilt and shame which cause us to doubt God’s love and forgiveness. Entangled faith.

Cynicism – probably an obvious one. Just looking at everything sceptically – this’ll have a result: entangled faith.

Etc etc etc.

So what’s the answer? Fix eyes on Jesus:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2

As we fix our eyes on Jesus, He perfects our faith. Makes us more mature. Grows us. Too often we think other things will perfect our faith better than This. Whether it’s activity (see Mary and Martha), books, qualifications, the “right” job, education, relationship, hardship, experience, knowledge…. No, the number 1 resource for perfecting faith is Jesus.

You want you faith to grow, be matured? Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus.

How?

Stillness – Be still and know.

Yes the Bible helps too – faith comes from hearing and all.

Prayer – when we pray we are talking to God & Jesus!

Church – Paul writes that God’s power was made perfect/complete in his weaknesses. As we gather together, vulnerably and weak, we offer each other the chance to see Jesus through us. We are, communally, His hands and feet after all.

Witnessing – Jesus promised in the great commission to be with us to the very end. This promise of His presence was made in the context of mission. You want to see Jesus more, do mission. Share the good news.

Systematic Theology 2.b Word of God (Application)

81OXLmILZEL._SY355_Just to record some of my thought around the questions given at the end. There’s only two questions, but their like 2 really long questions, made up of lots of questions. For copyright reasons, I’m rephrasing and dividing the 2 big Qs into several smaller ones.

  1. a. Do I think I’d pay more attention to God if He spoke to me through another person, a voice from heaven than I do His written words of Scripture.

I remember in different seasons of life I would have answered this question differently. At the moment I’m usually quite cynical of others who declare that they are speaking God’s word to me without reference to Scripture. And that’s because I’ve had some bad experiences of this. So like a lot of Christians I’ve gone from one unhealthy extreme to another. (Although I like to think I’m not that extreme). At the moment I consider the Bible as my primary means of hearing from God.

  1. b. Would I believe God’s word through a person, voice from heaven more readily than I do scripture?

No. Like I said before Scripture for me is easier to believe – although this hasn’t always been the case. Saying this, there have been certain individuals in my life who I look up to and really respect (in large because of their close walk with God), who if they told me God had given them a Word for me I’d accept quite easily.

  1. c. Do I think my current level of response to the written words of Scripture is appropriate.

I think my engagement with Scripture is, I think I have a tendency to leave the response to the mental/emotional processing of the Word. And somewhere “between the altar and the door” lose the follow-through. I have found friends and other Christians really helpful in accountability and following through with Biblical convictions.

  1. d. What steps could I take to improve my attitude towards the written WoG?

At the moment I try to read through a book of the Bible a week, and I make notes and at the end have 3 things from that book that I really like. Something I don’t always do is come up with an application as a result of my reading. I think one step I could take is turning one of my three things into an application, telling someone, and following through.

2. a. Given the different ways God speaks and the frequency with which He communicates using these means – what conclusions would you draw about God (His nature and the things that bring Him delight).

God is a communicating God. He wants us to know Him, know His will and His ways. What brings Him delight? Good questions, I think listening to His words – like really taking them in must bring Him delight. If we are made in His image, then our communication and how we carry that out would also be important to Him. Given that as we communicate, we can reflect part of His nature.

I-will-effectively-communicate-with-others