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Just a glimpse of an Emerging Leaders Training Programme I’ve been part of. It’s been a privilege investing in a generation of now and future leaders.

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Ministry of the Pew, not the Few

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This is something I wrote recently for a couple of PCI publications. You can follow the original trail here, but this is the key part of the content.
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Many churches have signs outside the premises of where they gather displaying key information about who they are. Often it might declare the name of the church, display a logo, share contact information and, in most cases, communicate the name of the Senior Leader or Minister of the church. However, I once heard of a sign outside a church that read:

“Minister – All Members.”

I love that! The sign declares that the job of ministry isn’t just for those who stand at the front, get paid or take the lead, but that the responsibility of ministry goes much deeper and far wider than any one leader. Of course some people in the church are called to lead, but all people  in the Church are called to minister.

This was what Paul was communicating to the early church when he said that the job of the Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers was to “equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” [Eph 4:12]

Paul is saying that whatever part they play, whatever function they have, whatever role they do, the purpose of Christian leadership is to equip God’s people for work of service. That was why Christ gave them to the church!

There is so much good news here. Firstly, if you are one of God’s people then you have works of service to do. No individual is exempt. No one’s ministry is extinct. We all have works of service.

Secondly, the job of the leaders in the church isn’t to do all the ministry, and I’m fairly sure that most church leaders will nod their head at that! Leadership used to be about one person doing the ministry and everyone else supporting, but in the church it should be about everyone ministering and the leaders supporting. Jesus himself gave these functions to the church to equip the people that He loves so much. The job of the leaders in the church is to equip everyone for ministry. This is a powerful and profound shift!

Thirdly, we each need equipped for the works of service that we have. And that equipping comes best from the body of Christ. We don’t operate as lone rangers in our ministry, but we are equipped for it by the leaders in the church. We need the encouragement, challenge, support, correction, provision and prayer of those in authority over us.

Lastly, the purpose of our “works of service” is always to build up the body of Christ. It’s not about bettering our name but benefitting the body. We need the ministry of the body of Christ and the body of Christ needs our ministry!

One doctrine that was at the heart of the Reformation was the ‘priesthood of all believers.’ Simply put, this is a belief that every individual has direct access to God and every follower of Jesus shares the responsibility of ministering to the other members of the community of believers. However, while the priesthood of all believers is widely accepted and part of the heritage of many churches, it isn’t always modelled well or practiced fully.

If applied properly the priesthood of all believers would see the mobilisation of the entire body of Christ for the full mission of God. Of course, this won’t mean everyone in the church standing at the front to preach – for many that would be their worst nightmare! But rather than everyone ministering through preaching, each of us can minister through the pew. So what might effective ministry of the pew look like?

I think at times it means walking across the church to say hello to someone we don’t know very well or stopping with someone after the service to ask how you could pray for them this week. At other times it will be singing out loudly to encourage the doubting believer beside you or using your gifts to serve in an area of need. Ministry in the pew could mean bringing your neighbour to church, encouraging your leaders, upping your giving or simply smiling more!

A church might be blessed by brilliant preaching or inspiring worship, but the real work of the church isn’t what happens on the platform. Instead, the real work of the church is done by those who silently and selflessly serve one another, pointing the others to Christ by how they speak, how they give and how they live.

The real work of the church is the honest conversation, the serving of a missional community, the welcoming of a child to the kids ministry, the laser sharp prayer through a prayer ministry time, the bible being opened with teenagers, the word of prophecy shared with a doubting believer, the meal being offered to a family in need, or the question of ‘how can I pray for right now’ to someone sitting nearby.

Welcoming a newcomer isn’t just the job of the welcome team. Praying for others isn’t just for the prayer ministry teams. Caring for one another isn’t just down to the elders. Evangelism isn’t just for the confident ones. Inviting others shouldn’t rely on the weekly bulletin.

And our works of service should also transcend the church gathering to radically impact our individual scattering where we show love to a colleague, work well for an employer, live well in the neighbourhood and share faith with a friend.

For me this is a full picture of discipleship and mission. Leaders equipping, everyone ministering and the church benefitting. What would it look like if our churches could have this emphasis at the very centre of all we did? Fully equipping disciples. Better resourcing everyday believers to share Jesus in any way they can. Encouraging, inspiring and challenging all of God’s people for their works of service.

This is about releasing the grip of ministry as leaders and allowing others to be participants rather than passengers. This is about helping everyone contribute, rather than allowing them to be consumers. This goes beyond just who is standing at the front to imagine what we all can do, so let’s be together in purpose and scattered in witness – ministers of the pew who both benefit the church and impact society.

Discipleship that Fits

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An excerpt from a book I’m currently reading called “Discipleship that Fits” by Bobby Harrington & Alex Absalom. Really thought provoking and I found myself nodding along to this:

“We need to work out how to be missionaries in our culture who make disciples. For too long we as the church have focused almost solely on reaching those who will come to us, at a time and place of our choosing. This places the burden of change, of needing to shifts cultures to fit into the little world we have created, entirely on those we are seeking to reach! No wonder the Western church is struggling!

Even a passing glimpse at the New Testament reveals that the current strategy for discipleship is not the primary commission Jesus has give us. He is clear: we are to go out into the world, meeting people on their turf, representing Jesus in that environment, working out what good news would look like in that place, and forming expressions of church that are fully faithful to the gospel yet also fully incarnated into that particular neighbourhood or network of relationships.”

Do we need another church?

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I thought I’d just share a short response to a question I’ve been asked a few times over the past couple of months. Does Belfast really need another church? It’s a fair question and there are lots of ways to respond but here are 3 quick thoughts:

1/ I firmly believe that to reach more people we need to plant more churches. Different expressions of community, worship, teaching and mission will reach different people in different ways in different places. As some churches die, other churches need to be birthed. We are going to need a bunch of renovation in the church in our nation, but we are also going to need a bit of innovation too. They go hand in hand. We need the established and we need the new. We need the traditional and we need the fresh models. And we need to realise we’re all in the same team!

2/ This is not about starting a church out of a place of complaint or in a spirit of disunity. The picture of churches in the New Testament wasn’t about churches growing bigger, but about planting communities of people that spread and multiplied. For whatever reason, we as a church have been growing significantly over the last few years. We have lots of new people coming to join us, some who haven’t been part of church before, others wanting to pitch in with what we’re doing. Somewhere along the line, there has been a realisation that it’s not just about building the church in Carnmoney, but there is an opportunity to be a resource and blessing to a wider mission. Through our growth, we want to give life away. This is about a sense of call from God to the city.

3/ As we look towards wider society I think most people could agree that there is a desperate need for hope. People need hope. It just happens that I’m part of a group of people who believe that true hope isn’t found in a policy or a politician, but a person called Jesus. That’s why we’re joining in with what God is already doing in the city. To join others in declaring a message of hope.

If you would love more info about Carnmoney Central, you can click here.

Pressures and gifts

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Christmas Presents

We’ve all felt that unspoken pressure when handing over a gift. Will they already have it? Will they use it? Will it be enough? Will it fit?! Perhaps this Christmas you’re feeling that pressure!

“Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” James 1:17

God is a giver and the gifts that He gives are good. If he created the dazzling lights in the skies around us, then we can trust that gifts he places in our lives and in our hands will be good. We can be sure that the gifts he gives us will be of use to us. His gifts will be enough. His gifts will fit us!

God is the giver of good gifts. He is reliable, trustworthy and unchanging. Unlike some of the other things we’ll give and receive tomorrow! And don’t we see that and celebrate that in the ultimate gift that God gave?

Jesus.

The gift of Jesus didn’t come perfectly wrapped with a ribbon and a bow, but arrived on earth messy and helpless.

The gift of Jesus didn’t arrive with much of an advertising campaign, but was revealed to a few on the fringes of society.

The gift of Jesus didn’t come with a return policy or a gift receipt, he was sent by God as the only option for a broken world.

And did the world have this gift? Would they use it? Would it be enough? Would it fit?

Well, this gift of a Saviour wasn’t something the world already had. The gift of a sin forgiver was useful and necessary to a depraved humanity. The gift of God in human form was more than enough for us. This gift of Jesus perfectly fitted the gap between God and man.

We didn’t have it and we need to use it. It is more than enough and it fits. God’s good gift is Jesus and there’s no need for a return policy this Christmas. Let’s celebrate and walk in that today!

SIMPLICITY AND VULNERABILITY

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Over the years I’ve often been told to rely on your strengths. Play to your strengths is the age-old advice. Find out what you’re good at and focus on your sweet spot.

And while at times in life there’s definitely some wisdom in that, recently I’ve been discovering more about how often the most significant times of leadership and learning are in weakness, simplicity and vulnerability.

Recently, alongside some friends and with the blessing of our church family, a small team of us from Carnmoney Church have been establishing a fresh church community in the Cathedral Quarter area of Belfast. It’s a thriving and growing area of the city centre with not a huge amount of church buildings or gatherings of Christians. After a few years of sensing a need, asking some questions, and running Alpha Courses in the area, we took the step last month of beginning some Wednesday night gathering in a local theatre.

It’s been a fun journey already, with some hints that we are in the midst of something significant, but what has struck me in these early weeks has been the sense of operating from a place of weakness and vulnerability, rather than out of strength and power.

In many of the projects, initiatives, events or gatherings I’ve been part of in the past there has been a clear blueprint. We have arrived with our plans, launched our resources, pitched, used our strengths, but this has been different. As Carnmoney Central has been established, and as we have dreamed, chatted, prayed and begun a rhythm of weekly gatherings, it has felt entirely different.

Luke 10 documents a time when Jesus sent his followers out into the world. But instead of placing a host of plans, ideas and resources into their hands, he tells them to take little with them and carry nothing in their hands. They are to empty handed and open hearted, rather than rely on all their strengths. Instead of protecting and pastoring them, Jesus tells them that they are being sent out as lambs among wolves. Not the best launch pad for mission into the hostile world around them. And yet they go.

I’ve sensed a similar spirit as we have begun Central.

As a team we certainly know we don’t have all the answers about what it takes to plant, grow or lead a church.

Every time we gather we could almost be embarrassed by the simplicity of saying hello, singing a few songs using a single instrument, a half hour sermon and inviting people to respond.

In some meetings we have felt blind as we step into the future, a fair bit uncertain about the future direction of a brand new church.

We feel vulnerable as we step into The Mac week by week, unsure of how our songs, our words and our lives will connect with those who gather with us.

Some nights we’ve felt insecure wondering if anyone is actually going to show up to join us, as if the metrics of success actually depend on a number or a graph.

The model is simple and we are stripped bare. Yet amidst all the unknowns, the blindness, the vulnerability and the insecurity, we have been so encouraged by God’s strength in our weakness, His speaking into our doubt, and His movement into our blank spaces. We are more aware of His presence in our vulnerability, His touching lives in our smallness, and the stirrings of His heart in the silence of our strategies.

And so we stand, a few weeks into gathering as a brand new community of God’s people. Already we feel like family and yet we haven’t even scratched the surface. Already we’ve sensed His moving yet we know there is so much more. And while we want more of His leading and less of our blindness, we don’t want ever want to lose this sense of God moving even among our simplicity and vulnerability.

Plan A: The Local Church

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Recently I’ve been doing some speaking around the topic of The Church. As I spent time thinking, preparing, writing and sharing this material, I was both challenged and inspired. Since some of it seemed to resonate with people over this summer I thought I’d share some of what I’ve been saying. The intention of it is to encourage you wherever you are. So here goes. Happy to hear your input.
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“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.” Ephesians 4:2-4

Let me suggest 2 ways that I think this looks like for the church today.

1/ CELEBRATION OVER COMPLAINT
I recently read the front page of a newspaper that led with 2 main feature stories. The first celebrated a British female tennis star who the newspaper claimed was “ours”, despite conceding the fact that she had been born in a different country. The second story focused on the migrant crisis, with the headline writer making it clear that these people weren’t “wanted here”. The irony was strikingly obvious and yet that didn’t seem to bother the publishers. They were complaining about the same thing they were celebrating.

Too often we do this with the church.

We realise its importance & recognise its value but often we end up complaining about what it isn’t or grumbling about what it is. Too often we open our mouths to sing with our church community, and yet mutter our frustrations about that same community. Too often our first mindset is to complain about what the church isn’t rather than to celebrate what it is. Instead can we recognise the brilliance and the beauty of the church?

I love this quote that I read on the Catalyst blog: “We have great worship on YouTube and inspiring sermon podcasts to listen to. Yet nothing compares to meeting with God’s people for worship, mutual encouragement, friendship, prayer and teaching. When you read the New Testament, belonging to Christ and belonging to his church always go together. Jesus is coming back for his church. It is not an optional extra-it is the community of God’s people in every place, showing God’s love and demonstrating his kingdom. Love the church, because in spite of all her flaws, Jesus loves her.” Craig Cooney

When my hairdressers asks me where I work I always seem to downplay what I do. But I work for a large multi-national company that’s been in existence for hundreds of years that runs hospitals all over the world, helps people out of poverty, feeds hungry mouths, empowers thousands of leaders, serves those in need and stands with those who are broken. What if I adopted this posture towards the church?!

As a youth worker I often heard complaints from teenagers about the church. Yet I often wondered whether these complaints were formed in their own minds or by the opinions of their parents at the Sunday dinner table. I certainly wasn’t going to add to their complaints. The very mouths that celebrated Jesus on Palm Sunday were the same mouths that turned on him later that same week. And so I want to ensure that I don’t celebrate Jesus on Sunday and yet grumble about his bride on Monday.

Does the church still need to think about how we do things? Absolutely.
Does the church need to be better at welcoming the outsider? Yes.
Does the church need to change its posture at times? I think so!

But it’s my family. And I love it.

People in our culture will never value the church if we spend our lives grumbling about it. We won’t teach the next generation to value something that we can’t speak well of. Martin Luther King had a complaint, but his speech didn’t start that way! His first words declared that he had a dream. Complaints don’t lead people. Vision does.

So what’s your posture? We can either adopt a position of complaint or a place of celebration. I’d never trash talk my best friend’s wife and so if Jesus is a friend who sticks closer than a brother, what does this mean for how we should speak of the church?

I recognise the heart and I want to see the good. I embrace those who may think differently but still sit around the same table. And as I look around and see what is going on in the big picture of our church, I am amazed at all that is going on and I want to see more. I am blown away by the people I have met people with incredible hearts & significant stories. I have listened to the desires of leaders seeking to make a difference in their context. I have seen the work among foreign migrants in the city suburbs. I have seen the next generation being raised and discipled through the church family. I have watched first hand alcoholics being welcomed, addicts become clean and the poor lifted out of poverty. I have heard the accounts of people finding faith in Jesus and then bring their whole family to church.

So let’s learn to speak well of one another. Let’s continue to love one another. Let’s search for the brilliance, and also call each other to more. Let’s develop a greater heart for our family and our tribe. Because there is so much good and because there is so much still to come.

I want to be part of a generation that values the church in our land as the incredible gift and resource that it is. A generation that rolls up its sleeves and embraces the cringe-iness, the ugliness and the mess, and begins to appreciate the challenge that she brings, the community that she offers, and the beauty she provides.

TRANSFORMATION OVER INFORMATION
Secondly, if we want to see our churches flourish, it won’t happen with smart, strategic moves, but by fresh spiritual movements. The church doesn’t just need strategic innovation, it needs spiritual renovation. We need to recapture a focus on Jesus and a love for our husband as the bride. We don’t require any more head information, we need heart transformation!

In his letter to the church in Ephesus in Revelation, Jesus is clear what the issue was with this church. They had forgotten their first love. It wasn’t that they weren’t relationally relevant or culturally aware. Not that they weren’t strategically focused or missional sharp. They had fallen out of love with Jesus.

As church we have a purpose. A purpose that is bigger than merely filling a pew, that is wider than just volunteering in programmes and deeper than just gaining more knowledge about God. It’s a purpose to know Jesus and share him with the world, yet too often I get so wrapped up on things IN the church that I miss opportunities to BE the church in our culture.

Paul’s words remind us that there is One Body and as I read the New Testament, it occurs to me that God doesn’t seem to have Plan B or a better idea. As Alan Hirsch writes, “the church doesn’t have AN agenda. It is THE agenda. The church doesn’t HAVE a missional strategy. It IS the missional strategy.” In other words, the church is the primary way God chooses to work in the world.

There is nothing like the local church and I’m with Bill Hybels – it really is the hope of the world!

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