Household of Faith – why you should join us

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I have been involved in children’s and youth ministry for 28 years.  During that time i have seen (and been involved in) some crazy, inspired, silly and ordinary stuff!  Thinking back, THREE moments stand out and hugely resonate in my Spirit as “God moments” and what Church both IS and should and could be.

#1.  It is 1994.  I am part of a team called “Captain’s Crew” working with 1000 children at the New Wine family conference in Shepton Mallet.  Our team leaders had an idea – we had been doing a lot of prayer ministry teaching and equipping with the children so, it was decided we would visit the main adult gathering one evening.  All of us that were working with the 7-10 year olds and the children themselves.  So, about 850 of us!  We marched out of our venue singing songs and praising God, we marched into the main adult gathering and walked through the aisles until we all got to the front.  We then turned and faced the adults – 750 kids, about 100 leaders.  Facing off with what must have been about 7000 adults.  We held out breath!  Then, we and the children put our hands out and started to pray God’s blessing on the adults.  Dead quiet!  We hard a ripple of what sounded like laughter (in my human weakness my first thought was, “oh no, they are laughing at us!”), but – as the laughter grew stronger we also started to hear crying too.  As we looked at the faces of the adults we realised that God was meeting with them.  God was pouring out His Spirit as the children prayed His blessing over the adults . . . I will never forget that time.

#2.  1991 – 1999.  We are still with “Captains Crew”, but – this is a repeating moment if you like.  Every year!  I worked with the “Crew” across those 9 years and saw this every year.  In the afternoons, as part of our regular programme of activity we would,  for an hour, offer “family prayer time”.  Kids could turn up with any of their family that they wanted to and go and sit with a few “Crew” leaders and pray together.  Children would come with their mum, dad, brothers, sisters, extended family with grandparents or whoever . . sometimes they would share a fear they wanted prayer for, sometimes they wanted prayer for healing, for a friend . . sometimes it was the parents coming to ask for prayer with their children.  Asking for prayer as a family together.  Then, as we prayed – it was WONDROUS to  watch children praying for and with their parents and vice versa . . .

#3.  2004.  We are in London and it is “Soul in the City” a massive mission to London.  I had the privilege of helping in West London.  We knew that 1000 young people were going to arrive on our doorstep to get involved in mission . . . what were we going to do?  In our bit of London we organised more than 40 social action projects and events to take place over the 10 days of the mission.  What still STANDS out to me is one relatively small church in Northolt.  They were a church of about 60 people.  During the 10 days of the mission, 60 people from that church got involved in the mission.  That’s right. Everyone.  Every age got stuck in – the actual whole church became alive to mission – everyone in their way getting involved, making it happen, playing a part . . . it was beautiful.

Why have i highlighted these things in a blog post that is about trying to get you to come to a conference?  Yes, let me be up front – if you read this blog post i want YOU to attend “Household of Faith” from 17th – 19th July at Sussex University . . . (check it out here :: Household of Faith )

I have highlighted these three “God moments” as i have called them because they ARE for me what the “Household of Faith” is all about.  They are what the Church should be about.  Every generation together, every generation receiving from and giving to each other.  Expectation that, regardless of age, God is at work in and through his glorious body . . . which is ALL OF US!

I had the idea for the “Household of Faith” conference because I am CONVINCED that we – as the people of God in our homes, our families (in all their messy complexity) and the church community – should be doing and being more together than we do apart.  That, in the church our diet of worship should be broad and deep gathering us all in together – not enduring our time together until we can have “our bit” of the service (whether that is the way we want the talk or the way we want the coffee or the way we want the sung worship) but absolutely REVELING in being and learning together – the HOUSEHOLD of FAITH!  That, as families – we create such EXCITEMENT about our faith that parents and grandparents have confidence and boldness in sharing that faith with their children and grandchildren – that opening the Bible, talking about Jesus, praying together, grappling with life together in and through FAITH as it expressed in the HOUSEHOLD is the norm.

Why?

Because the 3 “God moments” are when i have witnessed the Household of Faith clicking into place.  Maybe only for those short moments, but . . . IF these times can be (and ARE!) so special . . . and, as i have witnessed TRANS-FORMATIVE for adult and child alike – why do we all get together so seldom?  Why in the Church do we prefer our own thing?  We should know – and this is my belief after doing 28 years of children’s and youth ministry – that children are with their children’s group leaders and youth group leaders so much LESS than they are with their families.

That being part of worship where they SEE the adults engage in meeting with God through songs, through ritual, through scripture – SEE their own parents expressing their faith in that context is SO important . . .

That if their parents had the confidence to LIVE out their faith in front of their children in the HOME it would make such a difference.

Here is the thing though – this is not ONE WAY traffic (what we pass on to the children, bless them!) No – we only have to look at the Bible to see how God, time and time again, draws adults back to Himself through the faith, the trust, the sheer audacity of children who hear what God is saying and then do it!

I so don’t want us to miss it.  Faith formation does not happen in vacuum packed age groups.  We should not be creating some kind of “disciple factory” where each age group gets shunted through to the next thing . . . something WHOLE, something CREATIVE, something of GOD becomes possible when we are all together – the Household of Faith.

So, please – check out the programme for the conference on the website link.  Do try and be with us.

A couple of final things::

Our Keynote speaker is Dr John Westerhoff.  Theologian, author, professor, and priest.  After teaching at Harvard University he joined the faculty of Duke University, where for 20 years he was professor of theology and Christian nurture.  He is the author or co-author of 35 books.  His classic work, “Will Our Children Have Faith?” was reissued in recent years in an updated and expanded edition.

And finally, this bit of blurb sums up what we are trying to do :

Household of Faith is a Conference focused on issues of nurturing faith within the home and church community as we bring together some key voices to discuss the theology, practice and the resourcing we need to effectively pass on faith to the next generation.

 

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!

Beyond Belief

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One of the readings this morning at Church was from John’s gospel – It was the account of Jesus appearing to the disciples after his resurrection. Thomas does not believe them – he wanted to see for himself or he would not believe – in fact more than that, he wanted to thrust his hand into Jesus’ side!

Jesus appears to the disciples again, this time Thomas is present – Jesus makes him the offer, ‘put your hand here – see Thomas – it’s me!’ Then Jesus says,

stop doubting and believe

The word used here is ‘pistos’ there are variations on believe and believing, but this exact word, ‘pistos’ is used 33 times. In every other occurrence the word is translated, ‘faithful’. This is the only time it is translated, ‘believe’. I think right here is where we have a problem in grasping what is being said by Jesus. There is much more to this than simply, ‘here I am Thomas, you can believe I have been raised from the dead – I am right here!’ ‘Believe it’.

Believing it is only part of it . . . And translating this word here as ‘believe’ I think misses something . . . Something is required of Thomas. We have come to understand ‘believing’ something in quite a cerebral, intellectual way – we even list a load of those ‘beliefs’ when we say the creed.

There is more to being a follower of Christ than believing He was raised from the dead. Paul articulates it clearly in Romans Chapter 10 verse 9,

if you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

The ‘believe’ bit is there, Thomas now can be in no doubt that Jesus has risen from the dead – but he also, makes a declaration, like the one in this passage, Thomas says, ‘My Lord and My God’ – He acknowledges who Jesus is to him. Jesus is Thomas’ Lord, Jesus is Thomas’ God.

This is so important – it is this willingness to claim, to own, to witness who Jesus is to US that makes the difference. Believing in him requires action, requires commitment, this is about putting ones trust or faith in Jesus – this is what true believing is.

The thing is, if we actually TRUST Jesus with our lives – then everything changes. Acknowledging the truth of the creeds and the statements about Jesus . . . Believing them, is the beginning of our journey with Jesus. We must then let those things which are true and which we believe SHAPE our lives.

Jesus isn’t simply saying to Thomas, ‘will you believe I am raised’, he is asking him, ‘will you trust me Thomas? Will you be faithful to me? Will you let me be a Lord of your life and take it and mold it and shape it, will you be mine Thomas?’

Jesus asks the same of each if us today.

The Pyramid of Purpose – 3 Keys to remaining focused

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# Attitude. The ‘smile’ represents an attitude that is within it does not mean you must walk around and grin and bear it. Jesus Christ had a purpose. His eyes were fixed firmly on the cross from about half way in each of the synoptic gospel accounts of his life (Matthew / Mark / Luke). Nothing was easy about his goal, his purpose – what enabled Jesus to see it through was the attitude that Paul comments on in Philippians Chapter 2. Jesus is not striving or stretching or overreaching, he has laid everything down. Becoming ‘nothing’ – as the passage says,

rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! [Philippians 2:7, 8 NIV]

Other versions of scripture refer to this ‘attitude’ as mindset. Think for a minute about how you think. Your mindset will often determine your ‘purposefulness’ – foe example, if you stub your toe when you get out of bed in the morning – is your day a total write off? Jesus held onto NOTHING, he claimed for himself NOTHING, did not allow ANY sense of entitlement to mess with his focus and purpose on earth. He wore His ‘Being God’ lightly . . . . I don’t know about you, but sometimes in life and ministry my attitude can stink. I can be thrown off course by thoughts of ‘ this isn’t fair’ or ‘why isn’t this happening?’ ‘How come stuff at the church up the road is working out – but not for me?’ Attitude! Linked with attitude and flowing from it is our heart motivation, our very values and the things we say are precious to us – like actually BEING a servant (as Jesus came to be) can grate or be hard to actually LIVE OUT if our attitude is wrong. So, first thing, check your attitude! The first and most important part of the ‘pyramid of purpose’.

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# Creative Thinking. We were MADE to be creative! I have met a bunch of youth workers over the years who have told me they are ‘not creative’, but – they can write a cracking drama, they can inspire their youth group with an illustration, they are a technical wizard, they can think of the perfect video clip to go with a talk . . . Creativity is simply about having time to THINK. Our attitude (which is why it is #1 will obviously affect our ability to think. I love what we are encouraged to think about in scripture,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. [Philippians 4:8 NIV

Try this test. When you get to the end of a youth work session or a piece of work, and you are FED up – maybe your whole team or those you work with have HAD it. Instead of picking over the disaster like vultures, why not read that passage – we find it MUCH easier to think negatively, this stifles and can kill our creative, hopeful self. Regardless of what has happened – there is something worth celebrating in there somewhere!

I love NCIS (an American criminal investigative drama), the main character, Gibbs, has a bunch of rules he tries to live by. Rule number 5 is ‘you don’t waste good’. How many times do we waste good, because we don’t think differently about what is going on? An evening session might have been a disaster in some respects – but – that young person who was always dipping in and out has been regularly for the last three weeks. I have even simply settled for, ‘I know this whole thing is a disaster (a youth group I am running for example!), but if we know that – and the young people know that – God MUST be doing something, because they keep showing up!’ That might not feel like much sometimes, but let’s not make the BEST or the IDEAL the enemy of the simple straightforward ‘good’ that is staring us in the face. Get creative with your thinking . . .

Our attitude (giving us the right mindset) and our thinking (giving us space to be creative and ‘see’ in new ways) should then lead to the ‘out working’ bit of this pyramid of purpose – which is:

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# Service. The hand, open and out stretched for me represents me asking the question of myself, ‘how can I support, encourage, enable, serve, equip, bless, nurture others?’ IF our purpose is self promotion or some kind of self actualisation, I don’t believe we will ever be satisfied – purpose is about pursuit – but not for ourselves, for the sake of others. A calling is a HIGHER thing than that! Maintaining our purpose, and fulfilling our purpose is tied up in our willingness to serve. IF we get to a place where we don’t want to serve others or can’t be bothered – alarm bells should be ringing!! Maybe we need time out, we might need to examine our attitude and how we are thinking about who we are and what we are doing.

Serving takes us out of ourselves. True serving is also about the other (not the benefits we get from serving), we CAN do stuff for others . . . We can even tell ourselves we are being generous and sacrificial, unless they don’t notice or don’t thank us and take it for granted – THEN, well, THEN we take our ball in and don’t play! We need to find contentment in the act of service. Back in that Philippians passage, Jesus took the nature of a servant. When Jesus washed his disciples feet, at least initially, the LAST thing they were thinking of was thanking him. Peter especially was horrified.

Maybe, we need to horrify people with our service! We aren’t doing it for ourselves, and – in some ways – we aren’t doing it just for them either. It is what Jesus calls us to if we are in ministry!

None of these three things are reliant upon what you (or I) are actually doing for a job. We don’t need to have the job of our dreams or the perfect boss or the ideal working situation to work with this pyramid of purpose.

We need to cultivate the attitude of Christ in our heart and mind (get HIS mindset); we need to think – in such a way that all the creativity that begun the universe – is at our fingertips, because we are made in Gods image, creativity and imagination and ideas are in our ‘born again’ DNA . . . and we need to get on with serving others – right where we are, right now. This IS purpose!

Real Christianity :: A Christian Country? Ask Wilberforce!

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I can’t quite get my head round the current debate – unwittingly (or was it?) kicked off by David Cameron – about whether or not Britain is a Christian Country. Letters from secularists to newspapers, twitter is all a flap – many comments appear to be either ‘of course it is’ or ‘of course it isn’t’ and then there are comments writers who are proclaiming that Britain both ‘definitely is’ and also proclaiming that it most definitely ‘is not’ in the same articles!

Thankfully, as with so much debate that appears to be very much of its day – we have been here before. I say that, with a few caveats – which I will get to . . .

But, before that, my own context and understanding as a children’s and youth worker for both local church, regional and national Christian organisations over the last 28 years tells me that:

:: Firstly, We are engaged in children’s and youth work in a world that is no longer ‘Christendom’ – books have been written about this in recent years, my three personal favourites would be ‘Postmodern Youth Ministry‘ by Tony Jones; ‘Ambiguous Evangelism‘ by Bob Mayo and ‘Youthwork After Christendom‘ by Jo and Nigel Pimlott. If you are after a ‘primer’ on the challenges of Christian children’s and youth ministry today – start with these. Follow these up with ‘Almost Christian‘ by Kenda Creasy-Dean. This book, although American – gives a pretty accurate picture of the state of the church in the ‘western World’ in particular, The States, Canada, Australia and the UK . . .

:: Secondly, I am also taking the view (because it is mine!) that ‘Christian’ means being a Christ follower, a disciple of Jesus. Someone who has acknowledged their need of a Saviour, given their life to Christ and is seeking to live for Him daily. This is not someone who knows some stuff ABOUT Christianity, or ABOUT Jesus. I am talking about a Christian as someone who KNOWS Jesus and desires to put Jesus at the centre of their whole life.

So, with those two caveats – I don’t know what to say about the current debate. It seems to me (frustratingly) to be about Religion, about ‘values’ and where we have got our ‘morals’ from and being proud of our history – and, obviously, a focus (by some) of all the rubbish done in the name of Christianity or Religion or BIG institutional stuff . . . . Jesus did not break the power of sin and death to lay the ground work for religious institutions – but to reconcile all things to Himself!

Anyway . . . . I don’t want to get lost in having a debate with a few people about my tiny perspective (my view point) on this huge subject – but, would like to refer ALL those interested in this debate (the exasperated too, like myself) to Wilberforce!

He wrote a cracking book, 200 years ago – uncannily he could have written it in response to SOME of the articles and thought and comment going on right now about whether we are a Christian Country – it has commonly been known as ‘Real Christianity’ but has the longer title of, ‘A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classed of this Country contrasted with Real Christianity’ (a bit of a mouthful, so you can see why it was shortened!) . . .

Essentially, Wilberforce was encouraging his readers to throw off a kind of ‘cultural Christianity’ and pursue what he saw as ‘authentic Christianity’ which was a life of faith, lived after Jesus Christ. Not something that a person is simply born into, neither was it something to benignly be a ‘part of’ without fully grasping what a person believed and why they believed it. He sparked a debate, a fair bit of repentance and laid some of the ground work for seeing the slavery of the time banned!

This isn’t the debate that seems to be happening. We seem to be sat in that cultural malaise and discussing the cultural ‘merits’ of Christianity – which seems to be totally missing the point of being ‘Christian’!

Lord God, how I pray for men and women of God like Wilberforce to be raised up in this generation and have the kind of influence he had on this nation – would that such a book could be written today (and find a publisher!)

Beyond the Veil

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When Moses came down the mountain from his meeting with a God carrying the two stone tablets of the covenant law – his face shone beams of light, his face was SO radiant that he had to wear a veil. The face of one who had met face to face with God, was too much for those who had not (and could not). From then on, Moses unveiled his face when he went in to the tabernacle and met with God, replacing the veil when he was with the people to hide the radiance. Temple worship proceeded from then . . . We fast forward to those from the temple in Jesus day, who had become corrupt and crooked – the temple where the tables were overturned, the home of those who plotted Jesus’ downfall, the place of the pious, the set apart, the elite – the people who sent the temple guards (not roman soldiers) to arrest Jesus. Those FROM the temple, wanting to get rid of and destroy the very one who should have been the focus of their worship!

On the cross, as Jesus is breathing his last, the temple veil is torn in two. This veil separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple – only the High Priest could go in. The equivalent of Moses meeting with God up the mountain or in the tabernacle. With Jesus death two things are being emphasised when the curtain is torn in two:

:: Everyone now has access to the holy of holies, to this most intimate place of worship. Anyone and everyone can come, Jesus makes this possible by dealing once and for all with sin and death.
:: Temple worship is finished.

As we arrive at Easter Sunday morning I am just pondering if we really live beyond the veil? Is everyone welcome – are all able to come? Do we still have ‘worship’ pecking orders in the church? Do we live unveiled lives? Surely, my face should be more radiant than it is – I have Christ IN me by the power of the Holy Spirit! I am also asking whether sometimes in the church we have returned to a kind of temple worship. We measure commitment, still (though we might say we don’t) according to attendance at worship services in buildings. We measure our effectiveness at being ‘church’ on how many we can gather in one place on a Sunday – rather than whether those from our worshipping communities are seeking to live out their unveiled – Jesus is alive – all are welcome – all can come in – lives in a world in such desperate need.

The temple was done with. Even after the great commission from Jesus, to GO – it was some years later, and with a challenge from Paul to the Jerusalem based apostles – they needed to get OUT and move on! Things would no longer be centred around the temple, around Jerusalem – the veil has been torn, the temple is DONE and – Beyond it is a world waiting to be born.

Book Reviews || Flood Fiction || #1. The Flood, David Maine

imageThere has been MASSIVE interest in the new Noah film – and rightly so, what a stonking story! I hope to see the film at some point . . . but, I ALSO have a couple of great books on my shelf which use the biblical story of Noah as a backdrop for some great fiction. So, in the next couple of days – 3 brief reviews – first up:

1. ‘The Flood’ by David Maine
This is a staggering book – drawing you right in to the time, the place, the whole feel of . . . Well, humanity on the edge of a precipice! Earthy, honest language from a whole host of characters (we get Noe’s perspective – Noah; and a bunch of his family comment – from totally devoted ‘my father can do no wrong’ to, ‘dads a crackpot’. All this commentary on the crazy notion of an ark in the middle of nowhere and beautiful writing,

The sun beats him like a rod. Around him the land quivers and ripples as if still just an idea in God’s mind . . . . He wonders if he has made a mistake, then exiles that thought. If he has made a mistake, it means God has too.

The pages where Noe speaks himself are wondrous in their simplicity – this simple, straightforward man thrust into a bizarre and epic struggle to save his family and a bunch of animals . . . but, the voice I enjoyed the most was when his wife narrates, she refers to Noah as, ‘Himself’,

Himself thrives on sacrifice. It’s bread and meat to him, it’s air, it’s the blood in his marrow. If God ever stops asking for sacrifice, Himself won’t know what to do with himself.

We come through the maelstrom and out the other side, Noe hears God speak and be holds the sign of God’s promise,

Across the sky streaks a rainbow of such intensity it leaves Noe gasping. Spanning from horizon to horizon, it sprays down colour like an enormous prism, painting green fields with red, riverbanks with yellow, fruit trees with dazzling indigo. Even Noe’s own shadow glows with a crisp blue sheen. He tries to speak but the words cower in his larynx. Then The Lord is gone out of his head anyway, and Noe is alone again.

It is not the Bible. It is a work of fiction, but a fabulous rendering of the story. It is not a child’s book. This is a grown up rebelling, nature red in tooth and claw – as is humanity, which is why God cleansed the world. It is powerful, sobering stuff – and will leave you wondering at what took place and what it meant for Noah and his family to get ready for it (for years) then live through hell on earth and come out the other side . . . It will also have you scurrying back to the scriptures to read the original.

Tomorrow, ‘Not The End of the World’ by Geraldine McCaughrean . . .

 

children's, youth and family ministry / discipleship / mission / leadership