Leadership is hard. It takes time and thought. It both acts and speaks. It sacrifices and pours itself out for others and yet also at times forges ahead, leading others where they are reluctant to go for their good. But leadership can never be done from behind the frontlines, it must be embodied, fleshed out, seen, on the front line.
To that end we need to call out people when they try to lead from behind the frontline. When they try to send others where they won’t go. I’ve had a few conversations with people about working in or going to church in hard places. Invariably they have seen it as their role to play the role of the influencer, to go to, or stay in, the comfortable places rather than the hard place. To stay and influence rather than uproot and risk and go. They reason that from there they can have a greater influence, sending people, encouraging people to join churches in hard places, on estates, in the north and so on. But it doesn’t work, because our actions belie out words. We’re asking them to do something we won’t.
When we read the Bible God sends. Just think of Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Jesus, Paul and so on. They were not called to send others to do what they would not do, they were called to go. And that going took them way outside of their comfort zone. They influenced others not from the comfort of home base but by leading and walking with them, modelling Godliness on the frontline, in the struggle.
As the church in the UK we need people to go, to get onto the frontline. To influence others yes, but to influence them to join them in the places of most need because the north, our estates, and huge swathes of the UK face a lost eternity whilst we’re sat pretending we can influence others from our comfortable places.
Leaders lead. Influencers influence by going not talking. And God calls us to go.
I write this on a Sunday afternoon, unusually, I just needed to stop and reflect, to remind myself why we are committed to preaching through books of the bible chapter by chapter. I am mentally and spiritually spent because of preaching this morning, and I’m pretty sure I’ll spend hours this evening questioning whether I was sensitive enough on this point, or should have phrased that better, or brought more comfort to this group of people.
As a church we are committed to preaching through books of the bible and this morning was one of those passages where I kind of wish we weren’t. Genesis 19 is brutal not just distasteful, sickeningly sinful not just mildly disturbing. It is a passage that if it wasn’t for our commitment to preach through the Bible book by book, chapter by chapter I would love to have avoided. But I believe all of the Bible is God’s word and it is all profitable.
It was also a chapter that reflects the brokenness and sickness of our world, our humanity and our community. It is a chapter rife with abuse, godlessness, and failure to love your neighbour or love God. With half-heartedness and compromise and its consequences displayed in all their gory detail.
As such it has been a hard week in preparation. It has been a hard morning in preaching. Aware even as I did so of the painful wounds this passage opens up for so many people. But also acutely aware of the amazing nature of the message of grace and God’s saving the undeserving and our need, my need, to hear this message again in the midst of all my, all the churches, and all our societies brokenness.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” And that applies to Genesis 19 as much as to John 3.
I’m going to be honest upfront. I’m a little disillusioned with social media. I’ve more or less given up on facebook, and am increasingly frustrated by twitter, so much so I’m taking a break from it for Lent. What has the potential to be a media which creates thoughts, shares ideas and provides discouragement seems too often to bring out our baser instincts. Grace filled, loving debate seems to have gone the way of the dodo.
Some of it has nothing to do with social media. It is just plain old sin. Out of the mouth come the words of our hearts, or maybe in our social media savvy world out of our fingers flow the sins of the heart.
But I do think there is a fundamental problem with social media. It is too easy to misconstrue what someone is saying, it is too easy to read into something intonations which were never there, and unlike in a normal conversation you can’t easily ask for clarification about what someone means.
I wonder too often if we vomit our latest thoughts onto our screens in a way in which we never would in face to face conversation, certainly I’ve done that numerous times, often they remained in my drafts until in a saner moment I’ve deleted them, but not always. I’ve found myself often recently composing and deleting tweets in response to others not wanting to get embroiled in another twitter feeding frenzy. I’ve found myself depressed by what the watching world sees of our faith in keyboard form. So it’s time for a detox.
Partly for that reason I’ve been noticeably less active on Twitter, though having an office with no WiFi has also played a part. But the media isn’t the problem the heart is.
As a small church we have always depended on others for our financial survival. We are immensely grateful for the gracious generosity of our partner churches and individuals who partner with us in accepting that where we are we’re unlikely to be become financially self-sufficient. These partners are prepared to commit themselves and their money to give long-term to enable a gospel presence and witness where we are. We exist in part because the gospel has influenced these people’s wallets.
It’s a picture we see again and again in Acts. Be it Barnabas with his generous giving or Paul’s collection for the churches in need.
If we want to reach the unreached parts of Britain with the gospel we need more people, and more churches, to grasp this kind of big-hearted generosity and commit long-term to supporting churches in tough areas. Too often church planting is targeted at areas of affluence, areas where churches that stick can become self-sustaining financially, ideally within 3-5 years. But that severely limits where we plant and who we reach with the gospel. As well as establishing unhealthy correlations between numbers, finance and gospel success(?!?).
The other problem I sometimes see is a poisonous patronage. An expectation that because I or we give we expect some measure of control, some influence, some say. It goes back to feudal lord mentality. The haves hold the purse strings so they give but those strings stay attached to their money.
I am so grateful that those who support our ministry are humble enough and trusting tough to give, pray and encourage rather than dictate because they feel their giving has secured some patronage. The question the church in the UK needs to ask how do we facilitate more of this type of giving to support more of these types of plants in these needy areas of not just gospel deprivation.
If we are going to train up leaders for these gospel deprived areas we need leaders trained in them and yet it is these very churches that so often do not have the finance to do so. Most assistant pastor positions are in middle class churches that have the resources to train the next generation. But with the best will in the world they can only prepare someone so far for ministry in a deprived area and context. The best place to train more pastors and planters for these areas is in these areas. What will it look like for the church to grasp this challenge?
I’m going to be honest up front, I’m conflicted about the churches practice of giving pastors Sabbaticals for a number of reasons. I’m ready to be convinced, but as yet I’m not convinced that sabbaticals are biblical for pastors. As far as I can see it’s the land that has a Sabbath year in all the Old Testament passages that are used to justify this practice. It is not the priests or the prophets or the king or the people but the land.
And why do we apply it to full-time paid ministers of the gospel but not to others who minister so hard alongside other work? Shouldn’t the Sunday School teacher, the elder, the deacon, the toddler group leader, enjoy a similar rest?
And practically how does a Sabbatical work in a small church with one pastor and no other full-time workers? And what does it say to our church family if pastors, as many I know of do, go to church elsewhere during a sabbatical? And why would we want to?
And finally what will the guys I know who work on the railways, or in a warehouse, make of a pastor who has 3 months off? (I know it isn’t off, it can be used productively for study or writing, but that’s how they see it). How weird is that, I think it will just be another barrier to the gospel, some weird middle class church practice, a million miles away from working class realities proving yet again church isn’t for them..
These are just a few of my issues with Sabbaticals; theological, ecclesiological, practical and evangelistic. But I wonder if my biggest issue with it is that as pastors and churches we are buying into the worldly way of binge resting. Work, work, work at a burn out pace and then collapse into a period of rest. Is it a sign that we are not enabling pastors to rest well so that their work is sustainably paced to endure and thrive and produce fruit over the long-term? Is it that as pastors we have an overactive Messiah complex so we work ourselves into the ground until we need a break? Is it that our diaries are so full that there is no time to read, take time out for long term planning, visit other places etc… In which case we need to look at our diaries.
I’d love anyones thoughts on Sabbaticals.
I’ve never been a fan of all age services. Too often it has felt as if I have to make too many compromises in preaching, listening, and so on. However, due in part to losing 2/3rds of our Sunday School teachers because of relocation in the summer we have started a monthly all-age service. It’s not perfect, I’m not sure it’s easy for parents of pre-school children, but we do have somewhere they can take them to play if it all gets too much or too long. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but here are a few things I’ve learned.
Children need to see adults engage with the Bible taught
One of the big pluses of having the children in is that they get to see what the church normally does when they are out being taught by their Sunday School teachers. They sit with their parents and other adults and teens and see what they normally do. Both the good and the bad. I think children seeing adults wrestling with the word of God is good.
It is good as a church to serve the Sunday School teachers by flexing in this way
How do we love and honour those who teach the Bible most weeks to our young people? One of the ways we show love to them is by finding ways to enable them to hear the word of God taught. If a way to do that is by having an all age service with the occasional noise from one of the children that is a small part to play.
Churches underestimate the ability of children to engage with the Bible
Whilst I’m a little more careful what passages the children are in for I preach a normal sermon. I don’t compromise, increasingly because the children can engage with it. Go and sit in a lesson with a class of 7 year olds and see them spotting trigraphs and digraphs, and talking about verbs, adverbs and adjectives in a text. Our children are capable of looking at the word of God, examining it, searching it, hearing it taught. We mustn’t baby our children when it comes to the Bible or they will never engage with it seriously. We have worksheets to help them focus, but they are used to doing and listening and then engaging.
It’s left me wondering if we had a sudden influx of Sunday school teachers would we scrap our all age service? I’m not sure.
As a church we’re doing 2 things for Lent. One is the each one reach one challenge; of doing something every day that shows or speaks grace to those around us. Intentionally looking to provoke questions which enable us to share the gospel by loving people. But we’re also using Lent as 40 days of prayer and here’s what we’re praying for:
40 days of prayer
Will you pray with us every day for Grace church? Here are 4 things to pray:
- that we would be a body growing in maturity (Eph 4v11-16)
- that we would love and serve one another (1 Cor 13v4-7)
- for the unreached to be reached with the gospel through us (Matt 9v35-38)
- that God would grow or send us elders, deacons and Sunday School teachers