A number of years ago Ian Coffey and Stephen Gaukroger published a collection of essays on different aspects of homegroup life which has recently been reprinted with a nice new cover. Some of the chapters now feel dated, and are really aimed at a particular type of church, but others are still incredibly helpful. For example John Earwicker on “The skills of leadership”; Trevor Gregory on “Praying Together”; and Peter and Rosemary Meadows on “Sharing” are highlights. If you’re involved in leading homegroups it’s definitely worth picking up and perusing. There’s plenty of good ideas to use and pass round.
Here’s a link to a great article by John-Stevens.com. on the importance of a good theological education. It contains a particularly helpful update on the current state of play for those wanting to train for free church ministry in the UK. Exciting times!
As promised here’s another snippet from Rob Parsons’ book on getting your kids through church. His five big threats are:
1. Over-busyness – kids spell love T-I-M-E. Make some!
2. Cynicism – don’t bitch about all the difficult people and situations
3. Hypocrisy – don’t be gregarious and righteous at church and a sulky jack-ass at home.
4. Judgmentalism – don’t slag off everyone else for failing to do what you want them to do.
5. Over-familiarity – Jesus ain’t your boyfriend
In Parsons’ view these are the things that can kill a child’s joy among the church family so pastors and members alike, beware.
I recently read Rob Parsons’ book, Getting Your Kids through Church without them Ending up Hating God. At one point, talking about over-busyness, he gives a poem sent to him anonymously by someone who only identified them-self as a pastor’s wife. It was very striking – here it is:
I want my husband to smile again.
I want to be able to talk to him after dinner.
I want our family to go out on Saturdays for a walk or shopping trip.
I want to be me – not ‘the minister’s wife’.
I want to sit in church, listen to the notices, and decide what I would like to go to.
I want my husband to come home at night and relax instead of just recharging the batteries and disappearing out again.
I want to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries always, not just when there are no church meetings.
I want to be able to tell the self-centred and self-righteous folk that they are.
I want him to come in at night and talk to us instead of slumping silently, reliving the awkward visit or difficult meeting he’s been at.
I want people to stop telling me how wonderful it must be to be the minister’s wife and then complain they’ve not had a visit for months.
I want people who regularly miss meetings because they’ve ‘had a busy day’ to let us miss occasional meetings because we’ve ‘had a busy day’.
I want him to come with me sometimes see our child swim or play football.
I want him to be my husband instead of their minister.
And I want not to be guilty about these things.
Parsons suggests that at the root of many of these issues is over busyness. We need to slow down, spend more time with family, which, in turn, will make us better pastors. The book is a quick and easy read and has much useful practical help. In a future post I’ll list his five dangers which threaten our kids. Buy two – you’ll want to pass them on.
I read Mark Greene’s book The Best Idea in the World yesterday – full of goodness. It’s all about the need for human beings to be in meaningful relationships with other human beings. Here’s just a few of the ideas which I particularly liked:
- 70% of people don’t leave their jobs – they leave their managers
- Politicians and employers need to create conditions in which people can flourish as whole human beings
- Eating meals together as a family is a predictor of educational attainment [and also spiritual I wonder?]
- Leaders choose teams, but eating together builds them
- 5 factors that effect relational proximity
- Directness of contact – in oral communication words make up 7% of the message – the rest is gesture, expression, tone etc. Talk face-face, person-person; eat and drink together. A third of British people eat their meals in front of the TV!
- Continuity of contact – do the school run, use the same local pub, cafe, eatery, paper shop or whatever. Consider the relational cost of moving away from an area.
- Commonality of purpose – foster some ‘in it together’ Dunkirk spirit.
- Multiplexity – spend time in different contexts with people
- Parity – ontological equality and functional difference
And here’s just a few more quotes or paraphrases stitched together:
- Our best friends we see once or twice a year!
- With texts, emails, webcams, social networks, and second lives we are globally wired but relationally disconnected – touched a million times but never embraced. The average US home has more TV’s than people.
- As one writer puts it “One of the oldest human needs is having someone to wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night”.
This is definitely a book worth getting – there’s plenty of material to stimulate thought, and perhaps use for teaching or homegroup series’.
More goodness from the guys at TheRocketCompany here. They claim that 90% of unchurched people choose their church based on the pastor or the preaching – no pressure. Here’s their five ways to foul up your sermon:
- Inadequate preparation
- Going on too long
- Too much content
- Not enough stories
- No action point
I receive an email once a week or so from TheRocketCompany – a group set up to give coaching in preaching, leadership, management and systems. They often have helpful material and their email is worth subscribing to. This week they sent me an email with five systems crucial to church growth. I thought they were helpful so I’ve added a sixth (discipleship) and pass them on for your delectation:
• Volunteer system
• Outreach system
• Discipleship System
• Communication system
• Organization system
• Follow Up system
The message from the guys at TheRocketCompany is: if you have a thought through approach to each of these areas then you’re well structured for growth in depth and breadth.
Just read this, and I like:
[The best culture-changers] bear no banners; they sound no trumpets. Their ends are sweeping, but their means are mundane. They are firm in their commitments, yet flexible in the ways they fulfil them. Their actions may be small but can spread like a virus. They yearn for rapid change but trust in patience. They often work individually but pull people together. Instead of stridently pressing their agenda, they start conversations. Rather than battling powerful foes, they seek powerful friends. And in the face of setbacks they keep going. (Debra Meyerson, “Radical Change, the Quiet Way,” Harvard Business Review, 2002)
I read a great little book today by John Koenig entitled New Testament Hospitality. Its a fairly slim, not particularly well-known, academic study of the hospitality theme within the NT – particularly Acts. I suspect Chester’s book, Meal with Jesus, says similar things but haven’t got round to reading that one yet. The thesis of the book is that hospitality often acts as a catalyst for mission, with Acts being like an anthology of guest-host stories. Hospitality includes the smaller and larger koinonia gatherings, to which people would have naturally bought along ‘outsiders’ to enjoy, observe, and participate with these attractive ‘banquet communities’. Koenig describes the table as the providential place of opportunity – to talk, laugh, share, and help – places where the power of God in creating these new communities can be seen and experienced first hand. So . . . eat food, have fun, invite friends, adorn the gospel. Now there’s an evangelistic strategy we can all drink to.
I just received in the post my latest edition of The Briefing which contains an article by Richard Coekin arguing (as he has done for a long time) that planting is the most effective strategy for making disciples and reaching the lost. I would love to see a bit more of a two way discussion on this. It seems the runaway planting freight train has gathered unstoppable momentum – like Grandma and Apple pie – you just shouldn’t question it. But I’m not so sure. Don’t mishear me – I’m pro-planting if the context and conditions are right. But I’m not sure that planting is the only or even best solution in every case. And I’m not sure that planting is necessarily the most effective way to make disciples and reach the lost. Coekin gives four reasons why planting is better for evangelism and discipleship. Apparently it’s well established, but I’m not sure how you quantify something that is really qualitative at core. These are:
- Planted churches are more urgent about growth. But large churches too can be urgent about growth as the New Frontiers gang have shown. Sure, some are stuck in their ways, and are happy to plateau, but many thriving growing churches are thriving and growing precisely because they’re serious about growth in numbers and depth.
- Planted churches adapt to their culture better. Large churches too work very hard at being relevant, accessible, and attractive. That’s why they’ve grown large – because they are.
- Visitors feel more comfortable in a plant rather than trying to fit in to long established traditions of larger churches. But aren’t we talking about certain types of larger church here (whisper it – “Anglican”). Newer large churches have grown because they work crazy hard at attracting, welcoming, retaining, and integrating new people. New people get a warm welcome and excellent follow up in churches that have managed to grow large. Further, many visitors perceive a safe anonymity in a larger church – slip in at the back and no-one will notice (actually they will notice, but you’re over the threshold then).
- Younger outsiders may be more persuaded to try a new church. Yes, and they might equally be persuaded to try an exciting and vibrant large one.
Of course there’s an excitement and energy about new plants, and they do tend to grow fast but there are a few other factors to be aware of:
- What happens after the first five years? This is when plants grow fastest – everyone’s excited and works hard, but the honeymoon will end – what then? Do you plant again? And then five years later do the two churches plant again into a town, then five years later four, then eight, then sixteen. Is there a saturation point?
- What about the ‘mother-kirks’. How do they feel? What’s it like to have your guts ripped out every five years – when all the best people move half a mile down the road and you’re left to pick up the pieces. Anecdotally I know some get pretty cheesed off with this fairly quickly.
- Should the church be involved in more than evangelism and disciple making. Plants spend all their money supporting a pastor-teacher – they simply never get big enough to support a larger staff team with specialists. That’s firstly a lonely call on the pastors, and secondly means that a church never runs debt counselling centres, or community projects, or crisis teams etc etc. You may not think that’s what the church is for – actually part of the answer to some of this is working out what you think the church ought to be doing in the world.
- What happens to plants that fail? How does it feel to be shut down after a few years? What are the unintended consequences of an aggressive planting strategy?
And finally here’s a few thoughts on things large churches can do that small ones can’t:
- Have a large community influence or footprint. Larger churches, because they can afford specialist staff and programmes, have a significantly larger impact on local communities. One church I know ministers to women who are regularly referred in by health visitors, social workers, etc. Again, you may not think the church ought to be involved in that sort of thing, but that church is improving it’s community, bettering individual lives, providing a plausibility structure for the gospel, and seeing these kinds of folk come to Christ.
- Resource the wider church. Without larger churches some of our favourite conferences and courses would never arise.
- Maintain standards of excellence in various midweek and Sunday programmes – excellence honours God, inspires people, and is attractive to outsiders.
- Provides sustainable means and modes of service. People can serve in one or two areas, be trained and equipped, and not feel like they have to do everything all the time.
At the end of the day these are just thoughts. I have some limited experience in both environments and I’m still learning the ropes, but it would be good to see some of this stuff debated rather than dismissed, for the sake of the mission and glory of God in our nation.