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The Seasons of Life

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Each year we observe the changing seasons around us, whether it’s new-born lambs or budding flowers in Spring, the warmer days and longer nights of summer, falling leaves and heavier coats in Autumn, or the colder weather and greater darkness of Winter. All of these phases represent signs of seasons changing around us. In our environment, change is inevitable.

Just as the seasons of a year come and go, we are also guaranteed seasons in our life too. Some seasons are expected and welcomed, some may be unexpected or even unwelcome, but our challenge is learning to navigate these seasons and continuing forward no matter what circumstances arise around us.

As a couple declare the vows of marriage on their wedding day, they take into account that there will inevitably be changing circumstances and shifting seasons ahead of them. Whether it will be sickness or health, for better or worse, or in riches or poverty, the marrying couple are promising that no matter what lies ahead for them, they will continue to honour, love and live with one another for the rest of their days.

So to with the people of God. We look ahead into the unknown abyss unsure about the specifics but certain about the reality of suffering and joy, challenges and opportunities, illness and death. In this curious mix of known uncertainty, we face it with the desire to continue to honour, love and live for God for the rest of our days.

Perhaps it isn’t a question of what things will change in our lives, but actually a question of what things will remain in our lives. In the changing seasons of life, what will we prioritise and what will we cling on to. Tim Keller writes that “far more importance than any seasonal adjustments are the things we do in season and out of season: pray, preach, break bread, sing, teach, serve the poor, baptise, love. Although sowing is easier in April than in December, the requirement to do them does not change.”

Solomon recognised the changing circumstances of life as he wrote Ecclesiastes 3. He acknowledged times of mourning and weeping, but also laughter and joy. He referred to destruction and death, mingled with healing and birth. However, in Solomon’s wisdom he also pointed to two great truths in verse 11 that would never change. Firstly, that no one can fathom the ways of God, and secondly, that God would make everything beautiful in its time.

In whatever season you are facing right now, may you cling on to that truth.

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The Bigger Picture

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Culture

This is something I wrote and shared recently at PCI’s Youth Assembly event to kick off a session called “The Bigger Picture.” It seemed to resonate and several people have asked me for a copy of it since so I thought I would share it and make it available to others. The heart behind it is to capture the beauty, breadth and diversity that is found within the wider church I find myself part of. So here it is…

Across this island we’re scattered; North, South, East, West.
Coleraine to Cork, Greyabbey to Galway, each doing their best.

We are part of a church that comes in various shape and size.
Yet in each one, Jesus Christ and His word are emphasised.

Some big, some small, some traditional, some modern,
But whether urban or rural, from each church we can learn.

Because each of them carry a his-tory, a story;
A people to reach and bring God glory.

Some congregations see over 1000 each Sunday gather.
Many are smaller but on mission they scatter.

Some congregations have existed for over 300 years,
While in this last decade, new ones have been pioneered.

Some congregations gather in ancient old buildings with pulpits and balconies.
Others gather in modern auditoriums with platforms and cafes.

Organs and choirs provide the music for some.
While others prefer to use guitars and drums.

In some places, hymns from the hymnbook are heartily sung and played.
For others it’s Hillsongs, Redman and songs on the screen are displayed.

You might have a preference or like things a certain way.
But each expression of worship is designed to give praise.

Both male and female, serving and leading.
There are young and old, singing and reading.

There are many existing programmes, constant activities;
And developing dreams with fresh opportunities.

Of course we see failure and at times have frustrations;
But we should be inspired by hope rather than deep desperation.

So let’s celebrate the good and strive for more.
Asking God to use our efforts and move like before.

You are here to contribute, you are called to care.
Because you are part of this church with a message to share.

EMERGE

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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.

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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central

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!

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