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Three Keys To Mission Part 3: Discipleship

In the March/April edition of Theology Journal I wrote about the Three Keys to Mission used in the planting and establishment of Glo Church. Here is the third and final part of the article; the whole text is available at bit.ly/3keystomission.

Three keys to mission: Kingdom, incarnation and discipleship

Discipleship

Jesus commanded his disciples to go and make disciples.(30) The faith we have received is the faith we are to pass on: through the church which is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. ‘The church must make clear that anyone may come and find acceptance, no matter their lifestyle. But coming to Christ and becoming his disciple requires a life change,’ writes Stetzer,(31) while Cray suggests that ‘the ultimate test of any expression of church…is what quality of disciples are made there?’(32) He continues, ‘character formation is the object of disciple making. It is achieved through habit, through godly repetition.’(33) This concept has formed Glo Church in two ways: one incarnational and the other institutional.

Incarnationally, we have five practices that define our life together using the acronym BEATS. Inspired by Michael Frost, we considered the practices that might help us live the kind of life-long learning to which Jesus called us,(34) not through intellectual consent but through actions.

The ‘B’ is ‘Bless’. Inspired in part by Godwin, who notes that ‘most people find [speaking out blessings] quite difficult to learn’,(35) – we try to bless one person inside the faith community and one person outside the faith community each week.

‘E’ is for Eat; Jesus had many meaningful interactions over mealtimes, and our determination is to spend time over food and/or drink with, again, one person from inside the faith community and one person outside each week.

‘A’ is Ask, our discipline of prayer. Following the monastic tradition of praying regularly in community, we pray at 7.00 a.m., 12.00 p.m. and 7.00 p.m. These are rarely gathered times of prayer – we ask everyone to pray for someone inside the faith community, someone outside the faith community, and say the Lord’s prayer. A team member may also send a prayer by text message. In this way prayer fits with the vocations to which God has called us, wherever we find ourselves. Those who can also gather to pray at 9.00a.m. each morning at Glo Central, our drop-in, before the work of the day begins.

Discipleship is in the T: ‘Train’. Paul mentions the ‘strict training’ needed by athletes.(36) We are aiming to fulfill the potential that God has put inside us. As Jesus has called us to both be and to make disciples, we talk about ‘giving and receiving support and challenge’: pastoral support alongside accountable relationships, where we encourage one another to grow in Christ.

Finally, the ‘S’ stands for ‘Sent’, and invokes St Ignatius of Loyola’s Prayer of Examen; at the end of each day asking, ‘Where did I work with Jesus? Where did I resist him?’

These five practices shape our individual and communal lives, and give new believers an idea of what life is like as a follower of Jesus, learning to develop our relationships with Christ, the church and the lost.

Institutionally, discipleship happens through structuring the church with small groups, called huddles. Each huddle has a specific mission focus and is the context for support and challenge. In this way we are seeking to learn together, before God, how to hold together the previous two frameworks of kingdom and incarnation, as ‘missionary encounter requires that we hold together basileia (the reign of God), as the content and goal, and incarnation, as the essential strategy’.(37) Becoming more fully obedient to Christ is the way we live in the kingdom and how we incarnate the gospel, following Guder who writes, ‘Jesus Christ forms his church for its incarna- tional witness by making disciples who become apostles.’(38) In these ways we seek to embody the mission of God, which is, according to Bosch, ‘the good news of God’s love, incarnated in the witness of a community, for the sake of the world’.(39)

Strengths, weaknesses and future challenges

As with any church there are weaknesses and challenges. The strength of the drop-in centre is that we are able to give people volunteer opportunities in a place where local residents can socialize and access the local foodbank, other projects and council agencies.(40) However, Glo Central is dependent on grants and funding; some also argue that foodbanks are a symptom of rather than a cure to poverty.(41) The question is whether the strengths outweigh the weaknesses, and in this instance our answer is that Glo Central is useful; Stockport Council’s Offerton Neighbourhood Management Board said that it was ‘essential’.

We want Glo Church to be long term, self-sustaining and indigenous; on an estate with considerable challenges, this proves quite a task. We are working to establish some Social Enterprise businesses: the challenge will be to maintain the faith element, so that we do not become simply a business consultancy, but a church that helps others in Jesus’ name. We are starting a new missional community in the other residential area covered by the BMO – this will take some of the team away from Offerton Estate. Other ‘distractions’ include the Bishop of Stockport asking us to share some of our learning, supporting the establishment of The Bridge School of Mission and Church Planting, funded by the Church Commissioners.(42) In encouraging others to invest in mission, our focus could easily sway from reaching out to Offerton residents. Another challenge is to consider the future of Glo Church and its relationship with Church of England structures. The BMO was established for five years, meaning we only have two years left. What happens then? These questions demand answers across the whole institution as Fresh Expressions continue to grow and develop.(43)

A possible future is considered by Nick Spencer in his Parochial Vision, looking back, again, to our monastic forebears. He develops the concept of the ‘Minster Church’, one church overseeing the spiritual life of settlements with an average distance to the Minster of six miles – the distance modern Britons travel on an average journey.(44) Might deaneries become more fruitful areas to consider, with a mixed economy of missional communities and churches serving ‘micro-parishes’ – residential areas and neighbourhoods within the deanery? Then laity and clergy alike could serve around the deanery, supporting and encouraging the different communities of faith, using church buildings as sites for training, support and even business activities generating income.

Conclusion

Glo Church was established through taking Osmer’s four tasks seriously. Three key theological motifs define our life together: kingdom, incarnation and discipleship. These are outworked through individuals and the institution, underpinned by Jesus’ fulfilment of Isaiah 61. It is the role of our church to raise up others who might realize their God-given potential; and it is my role as the leader to help keep the church focused on these three frameworks, that we might be ‘built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’.(45)

 

Note: scriptural translations taken from the NIV.

30. Matt. 28.19.

31. Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches: Planting a Church That’s Biblically Sound and Reaching People in Culture (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006), p. 264.

32. Graham Cray, ‘Why Is New Monasticism Important to Fresh Expressions?’, in Cray, Mobsby and Kennedy (eds), New Monasticism as Fresh Expression of Church, pp. 1–11 (3).

33. ibid., pp. 5 and 6.

34. The Greek word for disciple, mathetes, means ‘learner’.

35. Roy Godwin and Dave Roberts, The Grace Outpouring: Becoming a People of Blessing, 
2nd edn (Colorado Springs: Zondervan, 2012), p. 31.

36. 1 Cor. 9.25.

37. Hunsberger and Van Gelder (eds), The Church between Gospel and Culture, p. 75.

38. Darrell Guder, The Incarnation and the Church’s Witness (Eugene, Oreg.: Wipf and 
Stock, 2004), p. 21.

39. Bosch, Transforming Mission, 519

40. For example <http://www.stockportflag.org.uk/>, accessed 27 January 2014.

41. <http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/aug/24/food-banks-symptom-failure>, 
accessed 27 January 2014.

42. <http://www.thebridgechurchplanting.co.uk>; 
<http://www.churchgrowthrd.org.uk/UserFiles/File/Development_Funding/ 
Development_Funding_Project_List.pdf>, accessed 27 January 2014.

43. <http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/news/anglicanresearch>, accessed 27 January 
2014.

44. Nick Spencer, Parochial Vision: The Future of the English Parish (Carlisle: Authentic 
Media, 2004), p. 87.

45. 1 Peter 2.5.

 

Image from http://armstrongbiblechapel.com/2014/02/21/community-connections-follow-me/

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Three Keys to Mission Part 2: Incarnation

In the March/April edition of Theology Journal I wrote about the Three Keys to Mission used in the planting and establishment of Glo Church. Here is the second part of the article; the whole text is available at bit.ly/3keystomission.

Three keys to mission: Kingdom, incarnation and discipleship

Incarnation

Graham Tomlin writes in The Provocative Church, ‘the kingdom of God…was a truth embodied in [Jesus’] person and life and it was to be embodied in the life of the communities of the kingdom that followed’.(19) Claiborne writes, ‘the incarnation . . . of Jesus [means] he reveals to us what God is like with flesh on’.(20) This is the challenge of incarnation: to demonstrate the love of God, embodied as a community, while recognizing that Jesus was the Incarnation, while we carry our own weakness and brokenness.

Jesus preached the kingdom of God in word and deed, but incarnated in a specific time and place: first-century Judea: ‘God takes seriously not only culture In general but also each particular culture.’(21) It follows that incarnation demands contextualization, or inculturation, a topic linked to the discussion above about worship, and considered in the Mission-shaped Church report.(22) This is why the team was asked to relocate to Offerton; for ‘it is important for the church in each time and place to embody and communicate the life of Christ exactly where it is’. (23)

We learned much from The Message Trust’s ‘Eden’ projects, ‘a movement known for its emphasis on being incarnational’.(24) Quoting Eugene Peterson, Wilson notes that ‘‘‘our Scriptures that bring us the story of salvation ground us unrelentingly in place’’’.(25) As it is the church community which is the embodiment of Christ, however, alongside incarnation comes institution. Within Glo we have come to consider two different forms of mission: incarnational and institutional, following Murray, ‘the church is both a community and a missionary organisation, an institution and a movement’.(26) By relocating, team members have built relationships with local residents and share the gospel of Jesus through interacting with them: ‘incarnational’ mission, the loving offer of help, the touch of a praying hand, the compassionate listening ear. Through these we seek to introduce our neighbours to a God who loves them far more than we ever could.

This goes hand in hand with institutional mission, represented by the formal structure of Glo Church – its name, its reputation, its activity. Bonhoeffer says, ‘[T]he empirical church is the organized ‘‘institution’’ of salvation’,(27) and a community can achieve things impossible for an individual alone. We connect with a number of young people incarnationally – simply by living in the neighbourhood – but running our youth cafe ́, for example, is achieved by the institution of Glo Church mobilizing individuals to have an impact in the community together. Institutional mission offers the establishment of relationships so that the gospel is communicated incarnationally.

In this way, both as a community and as individuals, Glo Church is engaged in mission and evangelism. As Newbigin writes, however, our primary mission begins with our own relationship with God: ‘where the Church is faithful to its Lord, there the powers of the kingdom are present and people begin to ask the question to which the gospel is the answer’.(28) Barth notes that church is ‘communio sanctorum, the communion of the saints, because it is congregatio fidelium, the gathering of the faithful. As such, it is the coniuratio testium, the confederation of the witnesses who may and must speak because they believe’.(29) This witness and faithfulness is developed on our journey of discipleship, the final framework to which we now turn.

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Three Keys to Mission Part 1: Kingdom

In the March/April edition of Theology Journal I wrote about the Three Keys to Mission used in the planting and establishment of Glo Church. Here is the first part of the article; the whole text is available at bit.ly/3keystomission

Three keys to mission: Kingdom, incarnation and discipleship

Abstract

Through reflective practice, Glo Church has identified and used three keys to mission: declaring God’s kingdom as part of the missio Dei; incarnating the gospel individually and corporately; and offering support and challenge as the basis for discipleship.

Keywords

church planting, discipleship, ecclesiology, incarnation, kingdom, mission, worship

Introduction

Glo stands for ‘God Loves Offerton’. Glo Church was established in March 2011 by the Bishop of Stockport as a Bishop’s Mission Order (BMO). The BMO was his response to a decline in church attendance in Offerton parish, a town on the east side of Stockport in Greater Manchester. The published statistics for the parish cover up the wide variance in levels of poverty: Offerton Estate, where Glo Church began, is primarily social housing, with high poverty indices.(1)

The adventure began through discovering more about the area into which we were planting, the first of Osmer’s four tasks of practical theology:

  1. the descriptive-empirical task
  2. the interpretive task
  3. the normative task
  4. the pragmatic task.(2)

For church plants, the descriptive-empirical task begins with what Osmer calls ‘contexts’ – the bigger picture.(3) When Isaiah 61 was read during our commissioning service, those of us named on the BMO were thinking of Offerton Estate: the poor, the brokenhearted, those captive to substance or physical abuse… they would be oaks of righteousness; they will renew the ruined city.

The first task informed us of a number of challenges, not least, unemployment and a lack of a positive community space. The normative task demanded, what does the Lord think about this? What can we learn from theology and Church history? Isaiah 61 suggests that God wants people to work usefully together, for the benefit of themselves and Offerton. Through study we found that the monasteries, centuries before us, had ‘lifted the hearts of the poor and neglected peasants and inspired them’.(4) The pragmatic task then became identifying actions that could lead to this form of revolution, for God’s sake. Our solution was twofold. One was to seek to establish a faith community which, like the monasteries, had high commitment at its core, with regular prayer and a pattern of life defining it. Second was to establish various projects, including a drop-in centre, offering volunteer opportunities and a social space for local residents.

The faith community has developed using reflective practice. We began with five people who moved into Offerton, demanding a high level of commitment: to each other, to God’s mission and to the vision outlined above, as these ‘ingredients . . . can provide a potent mix for effective discipleship and mission’.(5) Three key theological frameworks have been used in the normative task of developing the church: kingdom, incarnation and discipleship.

Kingdom

In Jesus, Isaiah 61 is fulfilled.(6) This became the good news that Glo was to bring to Offerton. This was our mission: to see these promises outworked, and to pray along with Jesus, ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven’.(7) Jesus is the essence of this mission, as Philippians 2 sets out – leaving heaven, becoming a servant, humbling himself. His mission was to establish his kingdom here on earth; not to dominate or control but to love. Inspired by this and 1 Corinthians 13, we developed the tagline ‘Faith, Hope and Love in Offerton’. We wanted to encourage those who already had some measure of faith and to encourage the churches around us. If people had some measure of faith but were not worshiping anywhere regularly, we would encourage them back into a community of faith. But if people had no faith, we wanted to point to Jesus as the hope of the world, the one who will bring the peace and justice for which we all long. And for those with no hope, we would offer them love: accepted just as they are, in the same way that God himself loved us.

We sought to be the outworking of Bosch’s principle: ‘it is not the church which ‘‘undertakes’’ mission; it is the missio Dei which constitutes the church’.(8) Frost and Hirsch agree, ‘our Christology informs our missiology, which in turn determines our ecclesiology’.(9) If Jesus is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s’ prophecy and the defining factor in this mission, then our work must be loving and humble, while seeking to establish his rule and reign. It is while we are seeking ‘first his kingdom and his righteousness’(10) that we build the relationships and the structures which form the church community: ‘the church connects with Jesus through mission, not through getting church meetings right!’(11)

We want to declare God’s kingdom in word and deed. But what are the implications for our worship? Frost and Hirsch argue that ‘Jesus’ faith community was clearly a centred set, with him at the centre’.(12) However, Jesus’ disciples – the very core of his community – was a bounded set, ‘a group of objects defined by a boundary separating those in the set from those outside the set’.(13) One couldn’t simply choose to become one of Jesus’ disciples; Dulles mentions the Gerasene Demoniac who asked to become a disciple but was told instead ‘to go home’ and proclaim what God had done.(14) It means that the faith community has a bounded set at its core, surrounded by a centred set. At Glo, our team has been a bounded set – bound by three commitments: to Christ demonstrated in a public way (i.e., baptism); to the community of Offerton, demonstrated by our geographical relocation; and to the mission of Glo Church. Those who join with us but who have not made one of these commitments are still welcome, but are part of the wider community, the centred set.

Our worship began in a home: only believers were present, those who were part of the team. Once we outgrew the home and began meeting in a public space, however, the worship changed: more un-churched people joined us – the centred-set principle was working alongside the bounded set already established. So what implications would this have for our worship? Bosch writes: ‘neither a secularized church . . . nor a separatist church . . . can faithfully articulate the missio Dei’.(15) We sought to develop worship that would become a ‘third culture’ – neither syncretistic nor sectarian but ‘symbiotic’: listening to the surrounding culture, while maintaining our worship as Christian within the Anglican tradition – perhaps a church planting example of the via media.(16) In this way, the church becomes a living outworking of the kingdom of God, learning to live ‘as a contrast society and as a catalyst of social transformation’.(17) Thus Glo Church seeks to put into practice the notion that ‘worship is . . . where we learn to be guests and hosts in the kingdom of God’.(18) To be both guest and host is a challenge, but both invoke the next principle of incarnation.

 

Note: scriptural translations taken from the NIV.

 

  1. Stockport Schools Census, 2007; <http://www.caci.co.uk/integrated-marketing/data-products/paycheck>, accessed 20 January 2014; <http://www.theguardian.com/society/2010/feb/10/police-communities-loan-sharks-antisocial>, accessed 20 January 2014.
  2. Richard Osmer, Practical Theology: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 
p. 4.
  3. ibid., p. 12.
  4. David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission 
(Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991), p. 232.
  5. Diane Kershaw, ‘The Order of Mission: Being a Sent People’, in Graham Cray, Ian 
Mobsby and Aaron Kennedy (eds), New Monasticism as Fresh Expression of Church 
(London: Canterbury Press, 2010), pp. 80–91 (87).
  6. Luke 4.21.
  7. Matt. 6.10.
  8. Bosch, Transforming Mission, p. 519.
  9. Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission 
for the 21st-Century Church (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2003), p. 209.
  10. Matt. 6.33.
  11. Frost and Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come, p. 209.
  12. ibid., p. 47.
  13. ibid., p. 47.
  14. Avery Dulles, Models of the Church (New York: Doubleday, 2002), p. 199.
  15. Bosch, Transforming Mission, p. 1.
  16. This is a brief summary of my MA thesis: Gareth Robinson, ‘What Is the Role of Worship in Church Plants?’, King’s College London, MA in Theology and Ministry; Dissertation 2013.
  17. Osmer, Practical Theology, p. 191.
  18. Elizabeth Newman, Untamed Hospitality: Welcoming God and Other Strangers (Grand 
Rapids: Brazos Press, 2007), p. 17.

Image from http://www.apuregeneration.com/blog/wearing-the-crown/4150

 

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What has Disney’s Frozen got to do with Easter?

I don’t know what comes to your mind when you first think about Easter, but this year I couldn’t get the song ‘Let It Go’ out of my mind as I was preparing to speak to all those who would gather for our Easter Day baptism service.

In the story, adapted from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale ‘The Snow Queen’, Elsa has a gift of creating things out of snow and ice – but she ends up harming those she loves, and decides that the only way she can protect herself and others from this ‘gift’ is to leave town, and live out the rest of her days in isolation.

Christians often talk about how Jesus’ death on the cross defeats our sin and shame. But what does that mean?

Dr Brene Brown says in her TED talk that shame is an epidemic. (You can watch it all here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psN1DORYYV0)

Guilt is when we feel bad for something we have done. Shame is feeling bad about who we are. The result of both is fear. And fear leads to isolation, which means we get trapped by not wanting others to see who we really are, or what we are really like.

But perfect love casts out all fear. Just like in Frozen, only an act of selfless love can set us free.

Whilst the cross and Good Friday might remind us of the brokenness we all carry, and how we find it easier to judge others and go along with crowd, Easter Day and the empty tomb show us God’s response: destroying our enemies. Death is defeated.

God came to find us in the midst of our brokenness. Knowing we carried guilt. Seeing the shame that so easily defines us. And the way these make us hide from him, from others, and even from ourselves.

‘Let It Go’ is a song about getting free from the past, of living without constraint. But it’s a life of isolation defined by fear, guilt and shame.

The song of Easter Day is about trusting that God can cope with the very worst bits of us, and defeat our enemies, even death itself.

Love triumphs over fear.

Forgiveness triumphs over guilt.

Peace triumphs over shame.

Hear more at http://bit.ly/1f2cEJC

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Packing for heaven

I’ve been thinking and teaching over the last few weeks about the two kingdoms Jesus taught about; darkness and light, heaven and the world, however you’d like to phrase them. Jesus said he had come to bring life in all its fullness, and that means living like him, fully in the kingdom of God.

So what does that actually mean for today?

Here’s an analogy that’s worth considering – and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it too.

When you travel by aeroplane, there are restrictions on things you can pack in your luggage; you can’t pack knives or flammable liquids in your hand luggage because you won’t be allowed on the plane. At the security gate they will scan your luggage and remove anything you can’t take on board (whilst maybe questioning why you wanted to take it anyway!)

Our life here seems, according to Jesus, to be an opportunity for us to pack things that are consistent with God’s kingdom. There are some things you can take along, and some things that will not make it through security. The challenge is to live our lives here as consistently as possible with the values which determine the kingdom of heaven: that’s what it means to live out the prayer ‘Your kingdom come’.

Anyone thinking I’m suggesting that we don’t access God’s kingdom by faith but by what we do and how we live here is missing the point – we get through the gates by faith. But as we turn to New Year resolutions and reflecting on the year we have lived, how about instead of making our resolutions on the past, we make them based on our future – the kingdom of God. This is how we pack our bags for heaven – living in the here-and-now by the vision and values of the kingdom of God.

So, what do we pack? Faith, hope, and love… ‘Clean hands and a pure heart’… What else comes to mind?

What are you taking out of your baggage as the year turns? And what are you replacing it with?

Have a very happy new year!

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Thankful

This is Ahishakiye, our sponsored child through Compassion. Lizzy and I had the huge privilege of meeting him, his mother and one of his brothers last Saturday. Some while ago his father could no longer afford the rent on their apartment in town, so he built the family a shelter with a grass roof. Then, one day he was rushed into hospital having fallen ill, and died soon after, leaving his wife and his four children with nothing but a thatched shelter.

Ahishakiye’s mum does her best to look after the family, working in the fields as a farm labourer when she can get the work, which earns her 4,000 shillings per day. That may sound a lot, but it’s about £1, or $1.50. And right now is the growing season, so there is no work, which means she earns nothing. I asked her what she does for food? ‘People help us,’ she answered.

And that sums up the story of this family: the community around them, when Compassion had some new spaces for sponsored children, were asked who the neediest of the needy were: Ahishakiye’s family. That’s when he became a sponsored child. And the community around them helped to build a new home with a metal roof, donated by the local Compassion project. This means they can harvest rainwater so during the wet season they don’t have to travel to collect it anymore. But as the roof is second-hand it has holes in it, which means some of the rainfall comes into the home. Ahishakiye showed us his tiny bed ‘room'; there were holes in the roof above his mattress so it was damp. He shares this mattress with a brother as there are only three beds for the five of them.

Compassion have also given them a goat, which gives them a supply of milk and may, if they can get another, produce offspring which can provide an income.

It was such a joy to meet Ahishakiye, to show him photos of our family, to give him gifts of toys, clothes and a bible (and a Manchester United shirt!), to hear about their life and to pray with them. And it made me so thankful that we were investing into this beautiful family a small amount of what God has given to us, so that their future may look completely different to their past.

That’s what compassion does: it infuses life with hope. And Compassion are infusing hope into the neediest of the needy. Ahishakiye wants to become a pilot. I’m thankful to be a part of the process which allows that to have become a possibility for him.

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Faith and Works

‘What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.’ (James 2:14, 16, 17 NIV)

I’ve been in Africa for three days now with Compassion visiting some of their projects and learning about their work. It’s my first visit and in many ways it is blowing me away. But I’m struck each time when the people in the projects say ‘Thank you for loving us’.

For one, it makes me feel a little bit guilty, as I have not sponsored any children from any project that we have visited so far (that happens in a few days’ time). But the people we have met have wanted to thank us as representatives of those who do sponsor the children. However, their thanks isn’t for the money, but for love.

The story of the lady in this picture begins in a way that some might find familiar with: she fell in love and had children with her partner, but then he had to leave because he had no way of repaying some debt and his life was in danger. That was three years ago. He left this lady with nothing but seven children to look after. Family stepped in; her brother offered her some land so she moved and began a new life, and through Compassion’s work two of the children are part of the sponsorship programme, and they were able to build a house comprising two small rooms. They own two stools and eight sleeping mats, one for each person. They had one LED bulb powered by battery. They had a few bowls in the kitchen area (which you can see in the photo behind the house).

Through Compassion their life is beginning to look a little more hopeful. And the mum was full of smiles and gratitude, not for money or for the house, but for love.

Which made me think of James’ challenge. The way we show love is through what we do; works. Without action love is just a nice feeling. But consistent generosity and giving of money through Compassion is a way of loving the neediest of the needy. The project we visited today had twelve children needing sponsorship. Help them by visiting Compassion – and tomorrow I’ll be happy to receive their thanks for love on your behalf.

Autumn Leaf

‘They’ will be called

Jesus chose Isaiah 61 as his own manifesto. I love it, and it was read at the commissioning service when Glo Church was launched back in 2011. It became our manifesto too; but one little word has changed my perspective on the whole passage.

Back in the day I used to read through the chapter (read it here) and my heart would leap at all the things God has won for me through Jesus: freedom, release, favour, comfort, provision; a crown instead of ashes, joy rather than mourning, praise not despair. And my heart would soar at becoming an oak of righteousness, displaying God’s splendour. Yes, Lord, do it in me!

But then, reading through it again recently, I hit that little word ‘they’.

If I’m honest this passage used to be about me, me, me. And of course in one sense that is true; Jesus really has won those things for me and he really does want me to display his glory.

But when you read the passage through the lens of mission, once we have received the good news, we then become bearers of the good news. And part of the process of our own healing and restoration, of living this anointed life, is to start taking on the manifesto of the one we say we follow.

Which means that whilst it is about me, it’s also about ‘them’. Those who are poor, brokenhearted, captive, in darkness; the mourning, the grieving, the despairing.

They will be called oaks of righteousness, they will rebuild the ruins…

Discipleship demands that we pass on what God has given to us, and we equip, empower and release those who God has called us to, so that many more will hear the good news.

So the question is, who is your ‘them’? They’re not hard to find; just look for the poor, brokenhearted, the captive – but look on them with the eyes of faith, just as God the Father first looked on you.

And work hard so that they can become all that God has called them to be.

 

Young Couple with Two Children (8-12) Walking on the Beach

Family as God’s Mechanism

Jesus came bringing ‘grace and truth’ (John 1). Last month at Glo Church we were learning that family is the mechanism God uses to develop all he has invested in us, by offering a context where both support (grace) and challenge (truth) can be offered.

We all have potential, and sometimes that potential needs to be supported, encouraged, nurtured, embraced. Father God does this through accepting us just as we are; we see through Jesus on the cross that even to a humanity which rejects him, he offers forgiveness; grace. When we are broken, sad, when we don’t feel we can do what we know we should, there is our supportive loving God.

But he also loves us enough to challenge us to fulfil the potential that is there, to tell us the truth about ourselves. He called humanity to steward what we have been given – both around us and in us. And sometimes we need to be stirred into action; we are all guilty of retreating back to the lowest common denominator, doing what is easy rather than what is best.

Family is the mechanism that Father God designed for this to happen as we grow into adults: supported and challenged to grow into becoming all that our potential allows.

But sometimes the support goes too far: being wrapped in cotton wool, or being taught that something is never your fault, never encourages a healthy sense of responsibility. Support can become over-protection. Conversely, truth can be used to damage rather than as a catalyst for change – the most extreme versions of this being abusive relationships: using manipulation and control. This is not OK, and families and people can become damaged by it. But these extremes are not good examples of a mechanism functioning well, and we need to be there to love and support those going through such a time; this kind of family is not a picture of how God treats us.

The Holy Spirit never manipulates us, controls us, or wraps us in cotton wool. He speaks grace and truth to us within the context of the family of God, the church; us.

This is family: to learn to give and receive support and challenge, to live in the light of both grace and truth – not alone, but with each other. And family is the mechanism which God has given us to do this. Whatever your biological family looks like, and whatever your family of faith looks like, thank God for it, and ask him to use you to give and receive grace and truth through it.

Church and Shopping

A woman hand carrying a bunch of colorful shopping bags

Last night I watched the final episode of ‘Robert Peston Goes Shopping'; through the three part series he has tracked how shopping has developed in the UK over the last 150 years, ending up looking at how the Internet has impacted our local shops and our shopping habits.

His conclusions were that we are heading into a time when we will have national or multi-national chain stores that make full use of the internet (think Tesco/Amazon/H&M) – but alongside those will be small ’boutique’ shops on the high streets that will offer something to people that is unique and impossible to find online or in a chain store.

This got me thinking about church. As someone who has been leading missional communities for over ten years in different countries and different contexts, and now planting church in two housing estates in Stockport, I thought the distinctions made in the programme were insightful for church.

Over the last few years we have seen some churches grow quite large, becoming media savvy, connecting with people through social media, developing multi-site worship – and the list goes on. I would compare these churches to the larger businesses Peston described, and the thing I like about the comparison is that these churches can be seen as a huge benefit, actively sharing the good news of God in Jesus to the world through a variety of ways; ways which usually demand significant investment and staffing.

Fresh Expressions, meanwhile, has focused on the more ’boutique’ style, and offering something that the larger churches cannot. Aimed at a particular group, or taste, or local community, and developing a particular style that cannot be found in a larger setting, these churches are an essential part of the so-called ‘mixed economy’ of church.

Perhaps the key is to stop seeing either as a threat; both are an opportunity. Some boutiques will really strike a chord, and grow, setting up new outlets elsewhere; let’s not forget that this is how Tesco, Sainsbury’s and most other chain stores began. Others will remain boutiques. The key is making the most of the opportunities God has given in our contexts, and celebrating other developments: if people are responding to the good news of Jesus, that’s a great thing to celebrate, whether it benefits my church or not.

Right here in Stockport we planted Glo Church, which in this scenario would be comparable to a boutique shop. Our intention is to begin a new missional community in the next-door housing estate which is quite different to the one where we work right now – which means the boutique will look and feel different. But the principles will remain the same.

It’s these principles we are trying to share in our day conferences and learning intensives through The Bridge School of Mission and Planting Church; you can find more on www.glochurch.org.

And whether the boutique grows into a chain or remains local and focused is not the question; the big issue is how can we best offer Jesus to people? That will take a variety of strategies, large and small, and we have the opportunity to celebrate them all.