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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.

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Don’t expect toddlers to climb mountains…

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My dream is for every church in Northern Ireland to shape their activities with the next generation in mind.

Families shape their activities around what their youngest member can do. Often when families spend quality time together, the focus will not be on the needs, desires or likes of the parents. Instead the focus will be on the youngest members of the family.

You don’t expect toddlers to climb mountains.

I now realise that when I was a child most of my parents’ decisions were taken around what suited my sister and I.

  • Mum and Dad didn’t choose fine dining restaurants or the most expensive places for us to eat, but most of the time we ended up either in McDonalds, Pizza Hut, or somewhere with a good children’s menu.
  • Our family trips to the cinema incorporated Disney classics and feel good family stories, rather than the latest Horror Blockbuster or the recent crude comedy.
  • The choice of music on long car journeys wasn’t Tschicovshy, Pavarotti, Cliff Richard or Daniel O’Donnell, but instead was a dubious mix of Psalty Kids Praise Songs, Thomas the Tank Engine stories & the commentary of the major sporting event taking place at the time.
  • Our choice of family activities were often more energetic things such as ten pin bowling, crazy golf or ice skating, rather than traipsing around a museum or marvelling at an art gallery.
  • The conversation around the dinner table didn’t revolve around politics and philosophy, but was more likely to include playground incidents and problematic friends.
  • And when we were teenagers our holidays didn’t involve lying at the side of a pool, as much as my mum would have loved that. Instead knowing how much energy I had we ended up at hotels with tennis courts, tickets to some sort of sporting event and parks with large grassy areas where I could play football with a tired dad.

You don’t expect toddlers to climb mountains

So how should it be for the family of God?

This is in no way a call for all age worship all of the time. Of course we need age-appropriate teaching, and specific space for young people to develop in their faith.

But the Jewish people believed strongly in passing on their faith to the next generation. They rightly grasped that unless they as a people effectively passed their heritage, beliefs, cultures and faith on to their children, that within one generation their whole identity as a people group would be gone. Their faith would be dead. And so they shaped everything they did around passing their faith on to their children.

That was their focus. Their priority. Their dream.

The book of Ezra beautifully portrays this dream in reality as the people of every generation come together to listen to the book of the Law being read. They followed the words of their patriarch David when he wrote: “We will tell the next generation the praise-worthy deeds of the Lord, His power and the wonders He has done.” Psalm 78:4

I dream that the church in this nation would be radically re-shaped with the next generation in mind. I believe too many decisions taken in our churches are about passifying the generation above rather than attracting the generation below

One example of this is a common approach to church music:
Sing one old hymn and a more modern number in each service
Or use the organ for half of the songs and the drums for the other half

This approach is based on a flawed principle of tokenism or the false ideal of keeping people happy. It certainly isn’t missional & it simply doesn’t work.

Consensus causes church to wait around for everyone to get on board.
Consensus doesn’t lead people anywhere.
Consensus is over-rated.
Balance is over-rated.

Of course we need to hold on to our heritage.
But we need to make sure we are holding on to the right things.

You don’t expect toddlers to climb mountains

Practically
I am part of a church that has made a conscious decision to shift its vision and it’s practice to reaching the next generation. It has led to discontent, misunderstanding and disagreements, but it has also given us clarity, focus and the tools needed to reach out to those younger than us who remain outside or on the fringes of church.

So let me share 3 key ways we are trying to do this:

1. LEADERSHIP
We need to be prepared to not just share some of our leadership, but also give it up from time to time. We have tried to do this by:

  • Finding ways to allow younger people to lead ministry at every level
  • Letting younger leaders have a go – having them lead things, speak at the front, host gatherings, own projects
  • A focus on developing leaders in their 20s & 30s right across our church createing a pathway for the next generation to see & relate to. It is not the minister that the kids are looking to on Sunday morning – it’s the teenager leading actions or the student playing guitar

We don’t expect toddlers to climb mountains

2. ATMOSPHERE & STYLE
I’m not sure why this is important but it is. Too easily we scream that it’s not about the outside when we know deep down that it does matter. Not to God, as Samuel was told, because He looks on the heart…but God also reminded Samuel that man does look on the outside. And for young people atmosphere is hugely important because it is the world they have grown up in. We have tried to do this by:

  • Transforming the look and feel of our Sunday gatherings
  • Adopting a musical style in our services that unapologetically pushes the boundaries
  • Pushing for quality in our graphics and visual representation
  • Creating spaces & using venues that young adults, students, and those younger are attracted to and are comfortable in

These might seem surface and peripheral but in a world where we now have accepted standards for what is okay, we have got to be consistent. But actually we have found that devoting time in God’s presence brings life and vibrancy to our gatherings meaning that the atmosphere goes so much deeper than it just being about a style. In the end, I think this generation just want to know that it is real. It creates an environment into which younger people want to belong.

We don’t expect toddlers to climb mountains

3. WHOLE CHURCH
It has to be about church and not about young people. The whole direction is to prioritise winning the next generation to faith and discipling them within the context of church. We don’t want to encourage young people into remaining as young people or as an isolated generation. We want them to be alongside the generations. And so church has to be accessible and somewhere they can understand. We have tried to do this by:

  • Emphasising that youth stuff always has a place at the table – we try to make our church a place where kids feel like they belong.
  • Our themes and topics need to be punchy, relevant, well presented and easily understood.
  • Development of a One to One mentoring programme for older Christians to meet up with young people, supported by Exodus.
  • Investing so much time, volunteer capacity and funding towards our youth provision.
  • We choose not to run separate groups for young adults or students. Everything done in church should be accessible and relevant for this age group. Often this age group brings the most life and vitality and so they should be brought into the centre of the church.

Over the last 2 years I have most been encouraged by the increasing presence, and over time, participation of our 15-16 year olds in our evening gatherings. They have to feel it’s their church, not just the organisation attached to their YF. The onus isn’t on the young people – the onus must be on the whole church.

We don’t expect toddlers to climb mountains

Closing
In no way am I wishing to diminish the role or the place of the generations above me. On a regular basis I serve with older leaders, listen to the advice of elders, and laugh with retired friends from my small group. I am humbled by the prayers of the elderly, amazed by the generosity of faithful followers and thankful for the mentoring from those who have seen it all before.

But instead I am calling for us to release this older generation into a new dream, a fresh calling and a different reality. As role models, mentors, dreamers, providers and Patriarchs to the coming generation.

Instead I am urging us not pander to the needs of those who are older at the expense of those who are younger. If we do we may see neither of them around church in 20 years time.

So instead I am stating that my dream is for the whole church to realise their calling to reach the next generation and to shape their approach and activities around this.

Don’t expect toddlers to climb mountains

A modern parable…

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Wrote my first parable this week and shared it with a group of young people on Wednesday. Seemed to resonate with them so thought I’d share it. Hope you catch the meaning and the sentiments behind it…

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I love my wife. I love her so much that every Friday morning I make an appointment to see her for an hour. I never miss it, well…apart from the mornings I forget to set my alarm or wake up too tired. It’s usually an enjoyable time but the best part about it is that there are lots of other people there too. It’s not just about seeing her of course, it’s about all the other people too. The conversation is always good but sometimes she does go a bit. I sometimes glance at my watch but only because I’m worried about the dinner being burnt or the football match that’s about to start. She even suggests seeing her again that night. I don’t get that. I don’t see the need to see her twice that day. I mean I love her and all but to come back to the same place just a few hours later seems pointless.

I love my wife. I love her so much that I even try to see her outside those Friday mornings too. I mean, I don’t manage it every day but now and again I do manage to spend about 10 minutes or so with her just after Neighbours is over and before Scrubs starts. I would chat to her every day but I don’t want it to become a meaningless ritual or routine. Sometimes she tells me she would like to spend more time with me, and that always sounds quite nice but I’ve got a really busy life. Assignments and revision get on top of me a bit, and I’ve got lots of other people to hang out with too. Plus, I don’t think she realises that she can’t always come before the Champions League or the new series of Grey’s Anatomy. I mean it’s series 6.

I love my wife. I love her so much that I talk about her to my friends. Well, when I say talk, I mean I let my actions do the talking. Everyone can see how passionate I am about her because they see how content I am in life or how often I go to see her on Friday mornings. I even invite them along on Friday mornings sometimes to watch how much I care about her, but they say they would find that all a bit weird or something. Oh well, their loss! I probably don’t talk about her as much as I should, but I don’t want to shove it down their throats or make them feel uncomfortable. I mean, all of my mates like different girls and so it doesn’t mean that my love is the only love.

I love my wife. I love our conversations. We talk for ages. I tell her all about my day and ask her to help me with things. Well, when I say talk, I do most of the talking. She’s pretty quiet sometimes so I like to keep things moving along so it doesn’t become too awkward. Come to think of it, I actually haven’t heard her speak for a while…but there’s not much time for that because I’ve so much to ask her to help me with. The other day I asked her to do 4 things for me and she managed them all by the end of the week. It’s amazing how much she does for me. Must tell her sometime…

I love my wife. Well, when I say love…

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Please remember this is a parable – an earthly story with a deeper, heavenly meaning!!

The Importance of Being Foolish

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Been reading a book by Brennan Manning recently. Have always loved his stuff but have found this really refreshing…especially in the midst of a lot of hype and discussion among certain authors right now. Just wanted to share a bit that I read tonight…

“We trot out once more what worked in the past. The breath of God is bottled…the new, the creative, the fresh is looked on with suspicion, not with fascination….

The church of Jesus Christ is a place of promise and possibility, of adventure and discovery, a community of love on the move…But the security seekers are the enemies of openness. Their insistence on preserving the status quo thwarts innoovation and spontaneity and discourages the exploration of new roads…wanting to keep things the way they are automatically introduces a new insecurity with more cautions, threats and nervous tension.”

How true.

How true in our lives.
true in our country.
true in the church.

better together

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had an amazing weekend away with some of our church community. basically it was anyone part of the small groups network and was a very powerful time away together. friendships were strengthened, significant conversations had as we opened the bible, and space provided to chill out and enjoy each other. here are a couple of snaps.

i led the saturday morning session based around the theme of individualism in our world, and how the concept of church is so counter cultural to that. we thought about how we really were ‘better together’

and all this election stuff has got me thinking that perhaps the same applies to our country. i stand to be proved wrong and am no expert on coalitions or majorities, but something about 2 parties working together, putting differences aside and being willing to compromise seems to me a much better form of government. yes, conflict will exist, but isn’t a stronger thing when we can learn how to deal with this conflict and still move forward?

perhaps all governments need that more. nobody monopolising. no agenda forced through. not an either/or but a both/and.

we’ll see…!!

time

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been reflecting recently how there is no substitute for time. in all sorts of areas of our lives really.

obviously with friendships and family. they should flourish and grow and develop if we create time for one another. prioritise time for each other above other commitments. perhaps we have all seen how the opposite can be true as relationships stagnate as little time is invested.

and how these friendships aren’t for a time or for a season. but a lifetime.

we should be in this with each other for life.

and this means being in it for the long haul with each other. no matter what happens. or what changes occur. or what goes wrong. being prepared to do life with those around us. and that means sacrifice from our end of things.

investment. trust. listening.

how much time are you investing in those around you?

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and i’ve seen this in my work life too. i was often scared that the longer i did this, the more i would grow stale, but i’ve discovered the opposite to be true. the more time goes in, the deeper connections go with schools and pupils. the more i do it, the more experience i gain, and hopefully the greater skills i grow.

i often am confused by churches who employ youth workers in their churches for 1 or 2 years. just as young people are beginning to build trust up with an individual and feel at home within a programme or group, the youth worker moves on and the cycle starts again. surely building something significant takes a significant amount of time. and surely the endless cycle of developing, growing, maintaining and then passing on is actually detrimental to the lives of young people?

the youth workers i know who have been it in for the long haul are the ones that inspire me. the ones who have surfed the waves and endured the troughs. those who have seen a 12 year old develop, make mistakes and grow into a leader and a university student. those who have developed initiatives that didn’t exist, and seen it through to the end.

and so am i prepared to be in the things i’ve committed to for the long haul? holding on to the values i own and continuing to grasp on to the passions i have deep within you?

or will we just leave our church when we’re not satisfied? give up our faith when things aren’t so good? and walk away from friendships when they aren’t benefitting us?

there is no substitute for time.

church

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trying to move from a place of criticism to a place of appreciation…

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