Category Archives: Evangelsim

The Plans for our Future!

Dear Friends,

mega update! I have left the whole of what was posted on 10th May – but, a quick update! We now have the start up costs – all £2000 – this is truly humbling and amazing. Thank you so much for your prayers, encouragement and support – for those of you who have already got in touch saying you would like to go on ‘The Resource’ distribution list to receive updates and news – we plan to put the first of those out in the 2nd week of June. Hopefully, a mix of great resources to recommend – a bit more information about how ‘The Resource’ is going to work AND a couple of dates for the autumn that will be regional ‘resource evenings’ one looking at resources for children’s work and one focusing on youth work – sign up through the email address highlighted below if you haven’t already done so!

Many of you know that there has been a re-structuring process at Church House, Diocese of Chichester and, as a consequence, my post “Adviser for work with children and young people” has been deleted and I will be taking redundancy at the end of July 2014.

As a family, we have been on a difficult journey since we first received notification of the re-strucuturing plans in November, but, first we would like to say a HUGE thank you to all the people who have supported us during this time.  We have been very aware of your prayers!

We have spent a lot of time praying and seeking advice from some wise friends and family.  Through all of this, we have continued to feel that we are where God wants us to be, doing what God wants us to be doing.  We are passionate about seeing children and young people meet with Jesus, know His fullness of life and have their lives transformed by His grace and love – and we remain committed to serving God by encouraging, equipping and supporting the church across Sussex in its work with children and young people.

Therefore, at the beginning of September, we are planning to launch “The Resource”, a ministry which will be available to support and equip anyone involved in work with children and young people through training, consultancy, mentoring and running equipping events.

This is both exciting and daunting!  In many ways we are stepping out in faith and trusting that as we follow what we believe is God’s call on our lives, He will provide for us.  Our desire is to generate sufficient income that every church who wants support from me can receive it, regardless of their budget!

And so we are asking if you would pray for us.  We have an amazing support team made up of local church leaders and youth workers and, as we meet with them, please pray we would clearly see God’s footsteps and follow in them.  That we would have wisdom as we begin this next part of our adventure with God and that God would use this ministry to transform the lives of children, young people and their leaders.

If you would like to be on our regular mailing list to receive future updates from us as well as the resource e-news and details of any training events then please let us know on this new email address Email Me .

And, finally, if you can give financially that would be amazing – please let us know if you would like to do that – we reckon, to kick off in September, we need a start up amount of about £2000 (for the purchase of equipment such as phone and lap-top and to enable travel and meetings in the first few months).  As “The Resource” becomes established, we are hoping for an income of about £1500 a month – whether through gifts that enable the work and / or from paid work.

Thanks again for your support, friendship and encouragement.  Do keep in touch and feel free to pass on this blog post!

Samuel forgot, will you?


This is just a quick thought. Don’t grow up. That’s it! Or, rather – don’t ‘grow up’ to the extent that you forget all that God has spoke to you and encouraged you with . . . ! Samuel was spoken to by God when he was just a boy serving Eli in the temple. Samuel grew up to effectively lead Israel as a prophet and a man who walked closely with The Lord. Samuel went to anoint a new King after Saul stuffed it up. On arriving at Jesse’s house, Samuel gets out his little jar of oil and is already to anoint the eldest son Eli has – ‘this must be the one’ he thinks.

Why does Samuel assume that ‘Gods anointed’ is the kind of guy that everyone would admire? God says this, ‘I look at the heart, not outward things’. How could Samuel forget that HE was also chosen when just a boy.

When he runs out of sons to anoint – he has to ask Jesse if he has anymore. David was not even worth calling to stick in the line up!

Samuel forgot how God works. Are we prone to forgetting as we get older? Do we expect a God to pick our young people for great things? Have we grown old? Don’t forget the young, don’t make assumptions, don’t keep stuff back from a God (which is what Jesse did), throw everything in with Jesus.

We have an ‘old’ church in this country – we are long in the tooth. We are struggling to ‘pass on’ that which we have received. The challenge is not about whether or not we a WANT to pass it on – it is whether we are engaging with those who are not yet part of the church enough that they will receive what we are trying to pass on.

There. It is not a radical thought – we just to remember – if the prophet Samuel could ‘forget’ the fact that he was chosen when a young boy and was going after the safe bet of the ‘eldest’ son – then what might we forget? What might we fail to notice? Who might ‘turn our heads’ instead of cause is to bow our heads – in wonder again at God’s economy, God’s choices – God’s values.

Freedom to F.O.C.U.S.


Do you ever feel you can’t see the wood for the trees? I know that is a cliche – but, in ministry the day can never end (there isn’t a straightforward ‘in’ and ‘out’ tray), you can’t look at people’s lives or mission in a community where so few know Jesus and simply say ‘finished’.

However, we are also not effective with a scatter gun approach – doing so much that each bit of what we do appears to make no difference – instead of taking stock sometimes, we try and start more stuff or just ‘do’ more . . . Doing more is always the enemy of doing the best!

So, rushing back to scripture I read this again,

It was for freedom that Christ has set us free
Galatians 5:1

Freedom! Why then does ministry sometimes not feel like that!! Well, I think our desperate need to be appreciated and our guilt at not being busy enough with ministry work is like taking on a fresh yoke of slavery – we have been delivered, but we have put on ourselves a yoke of expectations, a yoke of fear, a yoke of (put your own particular thing here). Too much really can be too much – and, we are not called to it!

If you listened to the great commission from Jesus it is not a ‘death by PowerPoint’ presentation of loads and loads of tasks – the disciples do have a task ahead of them (it’s big!) but it is also really, really, CLEAR.

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Matthew 28:19-20

Yes, ok, it’s a big mission – but how many things are on the job description? I can only count three:

1. Go and make disciples.
2. Baptise those new believers.
3. Teach them to obey Jesus teaching.

And, the BONUS – which isn’t a task, but what is also included in the mission they have been given:

4. Jesus will be with you.

This is such crystal clear focus from Jesus as he lays out what needs to be done, it is not ambiguous, it is not for a trial period or probation of 6 months and then a confirmed contract, it is incredibly focused!

How focused is our ministry job description? How clear is it? Does what we ‘do’ in ministry terms every REALLY deviate from the great commission – or is it simply we have so added stuff to what ministry is, that it has become obscured, we have lost focus?

F.O.C.U.S – let’s do that then!

F.O. “Full On”. Firstly, we have to acknowledge that ministry is full on, but – as we have identified, even with a MASSIVE job (um, go and REACH the WORLD) there are still only a few things that should be a priority. Three if you look above. And three is a good number. Think about what you do in ministry, think about when you feel most FREE to be who God called you to be – what areas of ministry do you find it easy to be FULL ON in? Which things do you do that you don’t need to work up a passion for – you are in ministry because of these things. Right, now write down just three of them. There things. No more. Three!

C.U. “Called Up”. You can look at this in two ways, we are ‘called up’ in the sense that we have joined something incredible, ‘called up’ could also be invited – we get to participate in all that God is doing (let’s not kid ourselves this being ‘called up’ is about what we can do). Look at who God called up in scripture! Amazing ‘got it all sorted people’? Or, people like you and me. Keep your ‘call’ central in who you are and what you do. It goes with the ‘up’ though, look up . . . A great verse to remember:

I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from?Psalm 121:1

When the psalmist wrote this, imagine the hills covered in idols – ‘over’ the people, dominating the landscape – so when the psalmist looks, he isn’t thinking of the angel armies coming riding over the hills – the help isn’t coming from the hills. Look higher! When we look up, we need to know that the God of heaven and earth – Has us, he who called us in the first place, in ministry terms if you doubt the ‘call up’ read this:

The one who calls you is faithful. He will do it.
1 Thessalonians 5:24

‘He will do it’ the verses before this one unpack it – sanctify us. Perfect us. We cannot – in the pursuit of ministry perfection, look to our ministry achievements as some kind of ‘badge’ the focus in this verse (while it is about us) is about what God will DO – not what we will do – yes we are called, but HE is faithful and HE will do it. This has to underpin our understanding of ministry.


S. “Service”. Giving ourselves to others, how do we go about this in the three priorities we have identified? We serve – preferring others, giving and ministering with a ‘less is more’ approach – less work and tasks and things, so there can be more of a focus and more poured in to a few things that will stand the test of time, be sustained, bear fruit – and, ultimately these ministry areas of work should be sustained with less of us! Service is about building others up – the ‘Ministry of Food’ book from Jamie Oliver did this – get a copy and read his ‘vision’ at the front of the book, now think about ministry – what would the church look like if EVERY person was equipped to do three things really well, and then they equipped three other people to do the same, and so on? How long would it take for the whole Church to be in ministry – serving others, living for others.

Everyone FREE to FOCUS on three things they can do to be salt and light in the world, live out the gospel in the workplace, share Jesus with their neighbours . . . .


1 – get focused on your three things.
2 – do them well in the power of the Spirit, knowing it is God who enables and equips you.
3 – pass it on.

Gospel Imploded – a cautionary tale


Don’t be precious about partnership in the gospel. Seriously. God himself is not – at least, not in the ways we might think. Scripture bears this out.

In the Old Testament there are some bizarre (to us) partnerships or allegiances with some who were not the right sort to have dealings with – and in some cases – with people who did not believe in the God of the Jews. No matter – for what God is doing is higher, broader, wider than the definitions and classifications we can grasp. We have enough to go on – and should trust him with the rest.

In the New Testament we have a struggle for the Jewish Christians to believe that the Gentiles can believe – or have any part of their faith. Even when Christ is being preached, there is disagreement! Apollos and Paul being the obvious example. In 1 Corinthians Paul ‘gets to it’ and lays it out for the Church in Corinth. A place of tribes and preferences and prejudices – some say we follow Apollos some say Paul. Paul says – pathetic!

I love this verse, I just wish it was preached on more. ‘Neither the one who plants, nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow’ 1 Corinthians 3 verse 7.

This should free us from fear! Free us from the fear of failure, the inferiority of comparison – there is no sense that either Paul nor Apollos themselves were jealous of each other . . . At least, on Paul’s part there was a disregard for who thought what about who – which part of the work was more valued – watering? Planting? God gives the increase!

So – let’s not be precious about who we will partner with (how arrogant we can be), our own credentials the gospel tells us are as filthy rags! We have no idea from scripture of Paul and Apollos’ doctrinal agreements or disagreements – are we fighting over who gets to hold the bag of seed or how big the watering can needs to be, or who gets to have a go? We also might be staggered at who is willing to join in with us and create the right environment for that seed to flourish (with the right tendering) – in some cases not even Christians.

I once watched a gospel chance implode over such fighting.

A dilapidated church hall was almost unusable by a church because the floor had buckled – due to some ground problems with water and the way the hall had been built. In doing some detached youth work, I discovered that the local authority wanted to engage in the community around my church – they were looking for a base of operations. Not many places where suitable. Our hall was like a gift . . The local authority were up for rebuilding the hall, sorting out the floor – getting it go functions again – if they could run a few groups out of it. The church would reap the benefit – the Kingdom would in fact, as we would be able to get back in there and do some stuff . . .

Only problem was – the local authority youth work might give out things like condoms to young people! Despite the fact we were going to get a completely new building, that we could actually use – despite the fact that the church wasn’t going to have to pay for it; despite the pact that we could remain in our own hall and – in most nights -do what we liked. The leaders did not go for it because of the dreaded ‘c’ word – what the leaders thought of as compromise.

Oh no. I even took one of the detached youth workers to a leadership meeting to have them reject the plan to this guys face. All because the local authority leaders ‘might’ help young people who weren’t Christians behave responsibly . . . We had it all coming our way – we didn’t need to fix the halls, apart from two nights in the week – we could use it how we wanted to, we would received publicity and have regular contact with a load of people we didn’t know yet, the profile of the church as a place if blessing would have increased – it was all there. On a plate. It was chucked away. ‘No, we must not compromise’. What wasn’t said was, ‘we would rather slide into oblivion than partner with any other than committed Christians from our own denomination who attend our conferences listen to our kind of worship music, read the books we read, listen to the speakers we enjoy and don’t take money from the lottery or work with unbelievers’.


Lost opportunity because we might have ‘compromised the gospel’. The gospel cannot be compromised – that’s just it! As it didn’t fit with solely Paul or Apollos, it didn’t just fit in the confines of my church leadership meeting; nor in the congregation who usually attended Church;

A chance went begging.

Listen! The gospel is not chained, it cannot be shackled by what we believe God’s preferences might be – we have to get rid of that nonsense and trust the Holy Spirit to be at work in all we come into contact with.

A gospel that brings freedoms and peace – don’t implode it with a narrow view of the gospel. Don’t divide the Church over a Paul or an Apollos. Don’t determine that your ‘denomination’, ‘stream’, ‘network’ has cornered the market on gospel ministry!

I walked away from that church, that narrow vision, that dismissive approach to those to yet kingdom focused – I found then – and still do today, how many who are not yet Christians have Kingdom minded actions – whilst some of those who have the ‘kingdom words’ lack the heart and passion to back it up with Kingdom work.

What opportunities do you let go begging for the sake of a ‘pure’ gospel?
How many churches are there in your town or village and do you ever have a conversation?

If the church you know could forget about Paul and Apollos – what might be achieved?

If the church you know could invest in the lives of ALL in your community without favour or prejudice – what might be achieved?

Let’s not limit the power of the gospel to transform lives! Build that relationship, talk to the police, the local youth work team, that church down the road with the funny hymn books – break down some walls and barriers and let’s move from an imploded gospel to an exploding gospel that spreads like wild fire, catching as it goes the hearts of men and women we had never imagined might come to know God!

Filing, Pretence and Ministry – 3 things needed!

I entered the world of work in 1986. I started out as an Admin Officer working in a personnel department at RAF Stanmore Park (which was closed in 1997 and turned into houses for those interested).

I had NO idea what I would be doing – I was 17, just coming up 18 as I began full time. A number of disasters ensued – I was put on ‘flexi-time’, which was great! I came in at 10am had a 2 hour lunch and went home at 4pm – well, I did that for about a month. I was then called into the office and told it might be better if I came off flexi-time for a bit as I ‘owed’ 2 weeks! I then had to do another 3 weeks or so of going in at 7.30am, having a half hour lunch and going home at 6pm to sort it out!

During this fun time of getting used to the working week I was also trying to understand my job. I had an induction when it was explained very clearly to me what my responsibilities would be, what an ‘in’ tray was and an ‘out’ tray – what a file was and what was in it etc. I think I was also told what to actually DO with files when they landed in my in tray. However – I realised, after much nodding and yesing in the direction of my boss, I had no IDEA what I was supposed to do with the files. Being a teenager (and not confident in my ability to string a sentence together when talking to adults twice my age) I decided to blag it. I watched the others in our large open plan office – we all had similar jobs, I just tried to do what they did – whilst having no idea what they were doing, how they were doing it or why. This was not going to end well.

I would receive a file and I would shift in my chair and nonchalantly pick it up (whilst nodding knowingly with a ‘ahh, yes – I was expecting just such a file to be in my in tray, I know what I am doing with this’ look). I would open said file and stare at the contents (gibberish) and then close it again. I would get up and stride purposefully about the office. I would arrive back at my desk and then have another look at the file. The next stage in my pretence of knowing what i was doing was to ‘type’ on what was termed fan fold paper – as I remember there were six sheets of very fine paper, you would insert them into a typewriter – yep, a proper actual honest to goodness make your fingers bleed ink on your trousers – typewriter! I loved it – smacking away on the keys without a care in the world. I sometimes typed nonsense – as I had no idea what was to be typed – I sometimes pretended to type, hitting the keys enough to make a noise, but softly so they didn’t so much as mark the fan fold paper. I would rip out the typed up work and then separate the six different sheets (they all had a special place where they needed to be put) I had no idea where they all went so would open a file and shove them in.

Now, I knew I had an ‘out’ tray – but I did not grasp that this was purely for my own benefit – there was somewhere else for the files to go when I had finished with them. I had two problems with this:

1. Where was this mythical place that files went?
2. Even if I located this place – how could I actually get rid of files that I had not ‘actioned’ in any meaningful way?

Here is what I did. I hid them. Every file that arrived in my in box (who was sending them!!) would find its way in to my out box and then, I would sneak it into my big cupboards behind me. This worked fine, until I ran out of space in the cupboards. Six months passed. Six MONTHS of nobody noticing that I was not actioning any files and nobody had noticed that not a single file every made its way out of my corner of the office once it had arrived there. There were files on my window sill, files next to the cupboard in piles, files in my desk drawers, under my desk, in a neat ‘wall’ next to my desk – I was the King of files!

Then it happened. My boss came in looking for a file, it had gone missing – had I seen it? I have a few files awaiting action I said (ha!) I opened the cupboard and a a stack of files fell out – my boss looked at my cupboard and it was as if her EYES were opened, they then widened as she took in the scene – my desk, my cupboard, the floor, the window sill, under my desk . . .

The rest of the day was spent going through my files – many files thought to be lost forever within the bowels of some long forgotten storage facility surfaced in my corner of the office. This did not make my boss happy! The long and the short of it was this – my probation period of 6 months was up – so they kindly extended my probation and moved me to a department where they thought things might be simpler for me – and I wouldn’t be allowed to touch files for a while.

What does this have to do with ministry? Only everything!

1. We don’t know what we are doing. That is quite a shocking statement, but – there are many thousands of educated, degree enfused, theologically literate, well travelled Christians in ministry in this country. The church though has MASSIVE problems with discipleship – hence the missing generations in many of our churches. The church has MASSIVE problems with evangelism – hence our over dependence on tools like Alpha rather than organic growth through relationship, powerful preaching and signs and wonders following as the Holy Spirt leads us. There remains a challenge as we look at the book of Acts – and look at the Church today.

2. When we don’t know what we are doing – we pretend that we do. We have recently had a whole series of symposiums about the problems above – and, ok, nobody is necessarily saying they have got it ‘sorted’ – however, the people at these meetings tend to be the ‘great and the good’ of Christian ministry – hang on, if they are the same as me (at least a little bit!) is the challenge at these meetings really being faced? The challenge of ourselves? It is easy to say, ‘we have identified the problem’ (the problem has become blindingly obvious to everyone now) AND what follows is, ‘these are the things we need to do’. Always an answer, always a bit of blag! I don’t know ANYONE in Christian ministry who has properly acknowledged the problems in point 1 – that isn’t also doing what they are told we should all be doing if we are to see things change . . . . Invest in the next generation, grow Church where people are, don’t just expect them to come to is, mentor the next generation, raise up leaders etc. People are trying to do that . . . . So what are the reasons we are stuck? These next three things are the tough ones – they demand no blagging, no pretence that we have the solutions, no leaning into big leaders with big churches (they must know what they are doing – look at the size of their churches and their influence in the a Christian marketplace) . . .

Here are the three things then:

1. Prayer. Yeah, I know. Prayer. If you like – this is the equivalent of my ‘file’ problem when I began work. Prayer is about total dependence on Jesus. The ‘I only do what I see the father doing’ kind of prayer; the ‘it isn’t about what I bring to the party’ prayer; the ‘flipping heck this is tough’ prayer; the ‘ok, God – I lay it all on the line’ kind of prayer. We have developed movements of prayer that are praying on our behalf . . . . Or that mean we can do a week of intensive prayer and that will do us for a bit. There are a few places of almost constant prayer in this country – and they are amazing, maybe because of such places we are NOT in a worse state that we are – but hey, it’s pretty bad. I want to make 2014 a year when I pray more, when I admit to God that I don’t know what I am doing – that I am weak and that without him, I am pretty much stuffed. His strength is made perfect in our weakness – when we acknowledge that weakness! I also want to avoid blagging with Jesus . . He knows me. Nothing is hidden. Blagging for Jesus could be an Olympic sport in Christian ministry – but, I would love to live a year free of blagging – are you up for joining me? Are you up for challenging me if you think I am blagging it (whoa, did I mean to write that – I take it back!) – no, go on – please, keep me on my toes.

2. Obedience. This follows on from the prayerful lack of blagging. Jesus said to his disciples, ‘if you love me . . . You will do what I command’. (John 14 verses 15, 21 and 23). Love. It comes first. A sacrificial, self giving love – this isn’t a petulant request – ‘if you love me, you will do what I want’. This is all about Jesus being glorified in his followers. Love comes first, and this means obedience is not a duty or a chore or simply a requirement – but, a delight. For Jesus that was, ‘to do the will of the one who sent me’ (John 4 verse 34), get this though – Jesus says it is his ‘food’. It’s what sustains Him, gives Him strength and energy, it’s what gives Jesus LIFE – to be obedient to the Father. There is no greater love than the love Jesus has for those who he would call ‘friends’ (John 15:15) – wow, you and I – called friends of God. I’ve got to get better at this obeying stuff. Living in the presence of Jesus, with a prayerful open heart – I want to be ready to do and say what Jesus tells me to do and say in 2014. Not ‘expedient’ obedience or ‘what do people think’ obedience. But, you know – to just do what He says – through what has already been said through scripture AND by being obedient to the whisper of the Spirit. I don’t want to do what I did in the office – nod along to Jesus and the do my own thing (no one will notice!) I want 2014 to be a year of paying attention, ears pricked up and doing what God says! Come on me, get with it!!

3. Unity. This is the big one. I was pretty chuffed to see a book a few years ago about unity – until I realised it was about evangelical unity. It’s good, in different streams of the church to seek to be at ‘one’, but that still leaves us with a load of ‘ones’ – in some of our towns and cities there are more than one ‘Churches Together’ kind of groups. How is that possible, oneness over here (with people we agree with) and oneness over there (with people THEY agree with)? There is the church with its denominations, groupings, networks, branded churches (are you a ‘New Wine network open evangelical Baptist’?) which is the church we see – and then, there is the church that Jesus sees. We do not know what we are doing . . . I love what the Archbishop of Canterbury has said when asked about his ‘Churchmanship’ – he has called himself a ‘spiritual magpie’; if something is going to draw Him closer to Jesus the he is in! What a great attitude – I want that kind of attitude! Jesus modelled unity with 12 disciples (12 tribes of Israel) and if you look at them, a bunch that you would not have stuck together – zealots, tax collector, fishermen – a ragtag bunch, no agreements between this lot if left to their own devices! But, in Christ – one. We need to re-discover this kind of unity where only Christ matters; not how I worship or what denomination you come from, not whether you (or I) are cool, or the right age to hang about with – even in the church we can be ageist – about the young, about the old, about the missing generations. Let’s sort this out! I want to not NOTICE what Church you are from, I will only half here you this year if you are a liberal Anglo catholic evangelical with a bit of charismatic thrown in – we are one, we are co-heirs with Christ to an incredible inheritance (Romans 8:17) no mention here in this passage of the churchmanship involved! Together we can be so much more, and here is the clincher – by this shall all men know that you are my disciples – that you love one another. This kind of unity with the bond of peace between all believers, wrought by the Spirit is a witness issue – and this is the point of all of this. If we knew what we were doing, we would be one. One church, one Faith, one baptism, one Lord (Ephesians 4). Yes, of course different flavours – just like ice cream – but still, can’t we focus on the fact that we ARE all ‘ice cream’ rather than ‘I prefer a cone’ and ‘I only eat it from a bowl’, or, it has to be ‘Ben and Jerry’s’ . . .

Last thought, gosh this is long . . .

The grace of probation. I should have got the sack over the filing thing, I didn’t have a clue – I was just messing about and making loads of mistakes. Grace was given, with due regard for keeping me away from files! This grace thing is why there is hope for all of us. Knowing we are in need of daily grace, forgiveness and Gods loving mercy. After 28 years in Christian ministry – I am still on probation, still with the learner plates. Yet, I want to dig deep and ask God that in 2014 He might help me be more prayerful with less pretence and blagging; more obedient with less mindless nodding (and not really paying attention) and increase my desire for unity in the Church – Lord, starting with me.

Participatory ‘Church’ – am I missing something?

A creative and fun Vicar did something creative and fun at a wedding. This has gone viral on youtube and led to said vicar appearing on telly and also led to commentators on such things commentating. Vicky Beeching in particular . . .

The Vicar is Kate Bottley, and as far as I can see is doing a great job. I have not had a chance to watch the video as I am bashing this post out on my mobile and the video is not enabled for mobile devices. I will watch it, I like dancing and I especially like to see a bit of movement in church worship.  I have now watched it – good moves, especially as the vicar boogied up the isle at the end . . . . 😉

In fact, I (and others I know) have frequently led choreographed dance moves from the front of church – (as far as I know it isn’t a ‘flash mob’)- I also became aware that the Harlem Shake was occurring all over the place in churches – yet neither my choreographed dancing, nor these churches having a crack at the Harlem have hit the news like the wedding thing with Kate.

My own moves are part and parcel of what children’s and youth workers do week in week out in churches. Whether it is called leading action songs, choruses or the kids bit – we are up the front, as part of our jobs, creatively trying to engage the congregation (not just the kids!). I don’t think I can remember someone ever saying that what we are doing in leading songs this way is ‘irreverent’ (which apparently, some burks have said to Kate Bottley), what we are doing is worship -but I guess it is only for the kids, so I can loon about at the front of church to my hearts content and to within an inch of a vicars tolerance level because, well – frankly, because I don’t have a collar!

Yes, there, I said it.

Creative and crazy and fun and hilarious stuff is done by children’s workers and youth workers every week as part of their jobs (for some it is a key feature of their personality and they couldn’t do their job without being slightly off the wall), but – as part of her job – a vicar does something a bit creative and different and its headline news.

I walk past people giving their cars a wash, but grab a local vicar in his or her collar and have them wash the car, or abseil down a steeple, or (as a Vicar did in Chichester, put an ice rink in the middle of the church . . . ) and it is NEWS!

I am sorry, but what does this say about Church?  It says to me, if Vicars are doing something it is “happening” and if others do the same, or similar things – well, they are invisible, only lay workers, not ordained people . . . it just strikes me as very weird.  Obviously, doing ministry isn’t about getting in the NEWS, it is about sharing, living, laughing, joyously being a loon for Jesus and bringing good news into peoples lives and into our communities.  Surely though, we are ALL called to do that aren’t we?

Maybe it is just me.

Nobody should be dissing Kate by the way, what she did was great!  It just wasn’t that unusual . . .

The Christian commentators on it, and those looking for “hope” in our churches have jumped on the story though and seem (to me) to have enhanced certain views about what church is that also, I just don’t get!

Maybe it really is me.

Anyway, one of these was about Church being a place where we can participate (Vicky B writing for The Independent) – and I kept seeing the words attendees and congregation and a focus on the building being the church . . . and I felt a bit depressed.  In the CofE we continue to gather what we call “mission statistics” about church attendance on a Sunday – as if this is what determines our effectiveness at making disciples.  I don’t know how many times I have taught and explored faith questions with young people over the last 25 years, but – 1.  The Church is not the building.  2.  Turning up at the building on a Sunday does not make you a disciple of Jesus.  Yet, in our communication with those who are not yet part of a worshiping community our focus continues to be, it seems, “getting them to church” and “how can we increase attendance”.

So, we still have – it seems –

1.  a clerical and hierarchical church (whichever way you cut it, people in collars doing very similar things to people who are not appears to be interesting – not just to other Christians, but also to people looking “in” at the church) . . .

2. a message we reinforce that being “church” means turning up “at”one and being a congregant or an attendee.

Seriously?  IF we keep doing this (and part of it seems to be a response to the interest we receive from those who aren’t Christians – so any positive interest is jumped on) what exactly are we communicating to the next generation?

20 Essential Ministry Books // #6 “Postmodern Youth Ministry” Tony Jones

postmodernI have to confess, my reasons for first buying this book back when it came out in 2001 was twofold, I thought the cover was cool (and I still do) and because Tony Jones was also born in 1968 – there is something about that year!

Glancing now at those who contribute throughout the book, I also notice that Mark Driscoll is among them (a name I did not know back then), Mike Yaconelli, sadly no longer with us and the UK’s very own Pete Ward.  So much has changed since this stuff was written – I am not even sure whether “where we are” can be called “post-modern” anymore, or if we are now in the new era of whatever properly comes after “modern”, or if Gen-Xers were just having a meltdown at not being able to lead churches yet and make the big decisions that we invented this idea of “cultural shift” to feel important and that we were living in a significant time, even if we didn’t feel significant ourselves . . . (whoa!)

Whatever your thoughts on the above, this is a great book!  I still constantly refer to it as I think through discipleship in particular and how what we do must be holistic.  This is probably the book that made me think that what we do needs to be “holistic”, so a big thank you for that.  The books starts with two thoughts that I love :

1.  What we try and do (and have relied on for years) when talking to young people about faith DOES NOT WORK ANYMORE.

2  This book is not going to give you a programme for what to do now that is GUARANTEED TO WORK.

I love that!  This book is not a book of answers for how to do youth ministry now, it is more a conversation and a journey through the landscape, the territory we find ourselves in – it is a map, in that different aspects of culture  are pointed out as we come to them, different challenges sit there in front of us, in black and white, daring us to navigate our way around them or through them or to turn back and not bother – but this is NOT a Sat Nav, which will get us to a pre-determined destination.

A load of ground is covered though, giving food for thought and inspiring us to take seriously the challenges of engaging in youth ministry today, and, whilst not offering programmes this book does offer us “hooks” to engage with those things that resonate with young people.  Some of those things, spiritual practices among them may feel counter-intuitive, but they actually make a lot of sense as we grasp what has changed and the way everything within our lives and our culture that surrounds it is on “fast forward”.  For example, the internet had more users in the first five years than the telephone did in the first thirty.  Back when this was written there were no 3D Televisions or Smart Phones – in fact, the IPod had only just launched – offering the possibility of “1000 songs in your pocket” . . . . we live in a crazy accelerated world!  Yet, one of the dynamics that Jones explores is how young people long to connect in ways that, to be honest, until I had read this book, I had not given much space or time to.  Space and Time.  Those two things . . . I was used to filling the evenings with activities for young people, full of choice, action, non-stop – a bit like their actual lives . . . everything “on”, music blaring, screens with videos, constant banter . . . space and time were a key aspect of the ancient practices, those spiritual habits done by Christians for centuries – what Tony does is articulate why there is a place for them today and why they resonate with young people.  In the UK, if there is one part of the Church of England that seems to be seeing growth regardless of which part of the country it seems to be in Cathedrals.  Many of these places have been places of worship and prayer for 1000 years or more.  This creates a connection with the past, a rooted sense, meaning – that our young people crave.  They do not want a trend, they want what is real.

All through the book there a great big themes being explored with Church history thrown in – this is like no other youth ministry book!  I would argue that it takes the place and importance of youth ministry more seriously than any other book I have read about youth ministry.  The Bible is explored, not with a wishy – washy approach but with a robust recognition of the power of the Word of God, whilst acknowledging our need to “bring it to life”, the narratives within scripture (great swathes of the Old Testament and the Gospels and Acts) are, I would argue, often seen as just that “stories”, whilst many churches that teach from scripture choose to hang out in letters that articulate doctrine.  Yet, without the stories, without the stories that are passed from generation to generation that show the works and the wonders of God, his “deeds”, how are our young people to grasp how gobsmacking the doctrine of say, “grace” actually is?

There is great stuff too on community, (a topic I explored in a previous post) our need to be missional (in fact – lets just nail it, youth ministry IS mission, it IS evangelism), discipleship and bringing it all together what a holistic youth ministry looks like.

I think the reality explored in this book is bang on, I think the focus on values and ethos rather than programmes is also bang on.  Programmes do not lead young people to encounter Christ, people do.  This youth ministry book is about people, the conversation that takes place with the snippets from a whole variety of people is also about another dynamic that is essential to youth ministry . . . lets discuss, lets chat about it.

God himself does this!  Isaiah 1 verse 18, “Come, let us reason together” – I love this and throughout the book, Tony is engaging with different voices who are challenging, inspiring and provoking all of us who read this book to work our what we MUST do if our youth people are going to discover, get excited about, and live out a Christian faith in the 21st Century.

I can’t commend this book to you highly enough.  Get it – wrestle with its content, but above all, search for a way to build authentic community with your young people that does not revolve around programmes but the people you have and the journey of faith you are on together.

20 Essential Ministry Books // #2 “Ambiguous Evangelism” Bob Mayo

ambiguous evangelismIn the area of youth ministry, there are a few books which have become essential reading because of the shifts in cultural identity, worldview and – in essence – the understanding that others have about who God is and what the gospel is.  To be blunt, many of those we want to reach with the good news have no idea what we are talking about.  This book helps us think about the story we are immersed in, and the story we want to share with others.  

An example from my own practice of why this book is essential – I love films, I love watching them for themselves – but, being someone who works with children and young people, I also love looking out for the parallels with the gospel story, the meta-narrative that holds everything together.  I then think to myself, “what a great clip to use!”, now, it might be a great clip – but, I can also make an assumption that the clip will “speak for itself”, that the illustration will be an obvious piece of genius on my part and everyone watching the clip will “get it”.  Less is more (a picture is as a 1000 words, so I don’t need to explain it . . . )  This just is not true anymore, it is the same with us thinking that relational youth work will ultimately lead young people to ask about our “Christian” motivation for doing such youth work . . . and then they will think about the claims of Christ and, having reassessed their previously held perception of Christianity – become Christians (ta da!)  However,

the young person is not going to reconsider a previously help view about Christianity if they didn’t have a previously held view about Christianity in the first place.” (page 51)

The reality is that we are working with the second and third generation of young people who have grown up without a Christian worldview, without in fact, knowing anything about the Christian story.

There are some excellent chapters in this book that helps us consider how on earth we engage with a culture that has no idea what we believe, why we believe and how we practice those beliefs.  Grasping the challenges of our culture and society, the issue of language and how we use it and understand it, the choices that have grown almost exponentially in a pluralist climate is key if we are to navigate ourselves through and be effective in our evangelism, especially with young people.

Bob is a great thinker.  The areas he explores in the book, around the importance of story, the use of play, the need to focus on Jesus the person (rather than Christianity the religion) are all areas that others have written whole books about in the last decade . . . however, I like the brevity with what Bob outlines the various challenges and the research and academic rigour that backs it up – not a word is wasted, this is not a padded book or a book that focuses on an attractive cover or outrageous claims to make you buy it.  It is just a bit of brilliance that should be on every shelf of those serious about evangelism today.

Coming back to the use of film, one of the most powerful ideas in cinema is the way what happens “off camera” is alluded to.  Things are either suggested or hinted at, or it all there for you to witness in all its forensic gory detail.  Bob highlights the “space” in scripture created by some of the things not seen, or not known, or not mentioned that add something if we come at those bits with creative questions and reflection.  It is our ability (or not) to draw some of these invisible dots that can make the difference between young people grasping the significance of a message, or ignoring it.

As in The Little Prince, where what is essential is invisible to the eye, so in the gospel it is the parts that are not ready accessible which can provide a key to unlocking peoples imagination.” (page 88)

In the current debate about women Bishops in the Church, we would all do well to read pages 92 – 93 of Bob’s reflections on compromise.  In summing up his chapter on “The principles” of ambiguous evangelism, he says,

If I present negotiables as non-negotiables then I have set (my own) sanctification ahead of (other people’s) redemption.” (page 93)

Unfortunately in the Church of England at the moment, we seem unable to agree on what is negotiable and what is not.  If, within the body, we are not clear – how on earth can we engage with an already sceptical world that looks on with astonishment – again, because they do not know or understand what it is we fight over.  We are seen as just fools – as appose to the “fools for Christ” that Bob’s next chapter goes on to explore.  This book is peppered with great illustrations and references, and another appears here.  He quotes something David Attenb0rough says on Desert Island Discs back in 1999,

The best way to get someone interested in a subject is to show a great energy combined with a great ignorance.” (page 99)

Bob goes on to illustrate that Jesus’ own method was to encourage people to search and to be inquisitive (with John’s disciples, Jesus does not produce a PowerPoint presentation explaining how he is “the one”, but asks them to look around and draw conclusions from what they see).

Encouraging wonder will achieve more than our laboured attempts to impart truth.

Please, get this book, refer to it often.  There are many helpful pictures and illustrations that – if you want to be a reflective practitioner in youth ministry – will last you for years.  Don’t just get it and read it, continue to be fed by the ideas and the thoughts it provokes.  This is not always comfortable, but our ability to share the timeless story of God’s relationship with humanity, is greatly enhanced by making the effort.