Spurgeon on prayer

spurgeonHere’s a powerful quote from the prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon, on Ps 66:18.

“If I regard iniquity in my heart. If, having seen it to be there, I continue to gaze upon it without aversion; if I cherish it, have a side glance of love toward it, excuse it, and palliate it; The Lord will not hear me. How can he? Can I desire him to connive at my sin, and accept me while I wilfully cling to any evil way? Nothing hinders prayer like iniquity harboured in the breast; as with Cain, so with us, sin lieth at the door, and blocks the passage. If thou listen to the devil, God will not listen to thee. If you refuse to hear God’s commands, he will surely refuse to hear thy prayers. An imperfect petition God will hear for Christ’s sake, but not one which is wilfully miswritten by a traitor’s hand. For God to accept our devotions, while we are delighting in sin, would be to make himself the God of hypocrites, which is a fitter name for Satan than for the Holy One of Israel.”


How to set SMART goals

smart goal setting conceptAt the end of last week I wrote about the CARE plan which we’ve successfully used with our teams here at Grace. Part of the CARE plan involves agreeing on goals for you team. Setting goals is key to effectively carrying out your CARE plan, but agreeing sensible ones requires a bit of thought. We use the SMART acronym (yes, another acronym) to help us think about whether a particular goal is helpful. It goes as follows:

S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Achievable
R – Relevant
T – Timed

Let me give you one example of goal which is not SMART, and one example of a goal which is SMART. An un-SMART (yet noble) goal would be “encourage people in evangelism.” Work through the acronym . . . It’s not particularly specific – which people? what evangelism? It’s difficult to measure. How would you know when you’ve achieved it? In fairness it is relevant to church leadership, but there’s no time on it. It’s a good intent but so difficult to measure it’s almost a platitude. Here’s a different example which we’re using here at Grace for 2013 – “to see 100 people come through our Explore Christianity course this year.” It’s specific (100 people); it’s measurable; it’s achievable (it’d be twice as many as any previous year so it’s bold but not unrealistic); it’s relevant to our existence as a church, and it has a time set on it – the end of the year. Giving people SMART goals helps to motivate and direct action – give it a try with one of your teams and see what happens.

The CARE plan – a tool for teams

6a00d83548d4df53ef00e54f3760878834-800wiThe CARE plan is something we’ve profitably used with most of our teams at Grace. We love a good acronym and it stands for the following:

  • C – clarify the mission
  • A – agree goals
  • R – review progress
  • E – equip the team

The idea is that each team sits down and clarifies what it exists for – a mission statement. The sound team (as an example) have something like “making the sound audible and clear so that people hear the gospel clearly and in an un-distracted way.” I think they put it better than that! Then they agree some goals to making that happen. So, to pick on our sound team again, goals might include acquire decent kit, gather a team of people who know what they’re doing, set up and test early etc. The teams should then meet roughly quarterly to review progress and make any necessary changes. Finally each team needs to think about ways to further resource and equip themselves – that may be in terms of actual equipment or it may be training sessions.

We’ve found this little tool really helpful to focus minds on what we do and why. Why not give it a try?

Do you want to retain and integrate visitors?

fusionHere is a really helpful little resource from Nelson Searcy called Fusion. It’s a short book – only 160 pages or so, big print, pictures, and all that. It’s essentially addressing the issue of how we turn first-time visitors into regular attenders and members. He has all sorts of helpful advice such as:

– get your welcome right – put the right people on the door, have coffee and doughnuts when they arrive, have someone show them to their seat. You have about 7 minutes to make the first impression. By then they’ll have already decided whether or not they’ll return.
– Use some kind of communication card – not just for visitors but for everybody. Early on ask people to stick a name and contact detail on it. Have multiple options for different people from ‘tell me more about the church’ to ‘xplore course’ to ‘members day’ to ‘I need to talk with someone.’
– Follow up new visitors. Send them an email within 36 hours of their visit.
– Get newish visitors serving early on – a sense of responsibility gives a sense of value and belonging.
– Run new members days reasonably often – if people haven’t integrated within 6 months they’re probably not going to.

You might not agree with everything Searcy suggests but that’s not really the point. His church situation isn’t yours. The point is he gets you asking the right questions, and if you’re serious about doing everything humanly possible to show visitors you care for them, because God cares for them, you can’t afford to miss this book.

The Gentle Art of Persuasion


I’ve recently finished reading Chester Porter’s book entitiled The Gentle Art of Persuasion. Chester Porter is a former QC and writes about the ways and means by which people may (and may not) be persuaded. Here are a few good quotes:

“It is one thing to sound impressive, to devastate the opposition, to make a great impression. It is by no means the same thing to change people’s minds, to convince them by your arguments. Persuasion is achieved, more often than not, by quiet rather than devastating argument.”


“If you want to carry the maximum possible majority, then you will treat your opponents with manners and respect and persuade them with reason . . . [when] points are scored, opposing speakers are humiliated, sarcastic comments bring loud cheers from the audience, but who changes their minds? Who is persuaded?”


“One can probably compare a good speaker with a helmsman of a surf-boat guiding it through the waves, and never taking his eyes off the waves.”


“The basic characteristics of a good persuader are wide reading and eager acquisition of knowledge. Added to those are a knowledge of human nature and a genuine sympathy, even affection, for one’s fellow mortals.”

He writes from a legal background and the majority of his illustrations spring from a courtroom context. His style also comes across as quite old fashioned (you’d have to read it to understand what I mean) but nonetheless he has some helpful points to make. For preachers there’s a number of insightful points which could be of benefit. Please do comment if you have other helpful resources for communicators to read.

Super Teams

super teamsHere’s a good book by Khoi Tu examining what it is that makes some teams great. Here’s a few things noted down from the book:

  • Pixar (Toy Story)
  • Common purpose
  • Sense of urgency
  • Clear goals
  • Focused yet flexible
  • European Ryder Cup Team 2010
    • Leading the team is a full time task
    • Coach and collaborate
    • Create a team of leaders
    • Shape the environment for success
  • Iranian Embassy SAS team
    • Select the best
    • The ‘best twelve’ not ‘twelve best’
    • Excellence is a habit
  • Red Cross in Haiti
    • Keep teams as small as the mission allows
    • Clarify roles
    • Control the controllables
  • Rolling Stones
    • Build cohesion through competence, reliability, care, quality time together
  • Northern Ireland Peace Process
    • Eyes on the prize
    • Don’t sweat the small stuff
    • Seek commitment not consensus
    • Master healthy conflict
  • Ferrari F1 2002
    • Be obsessive about improvement
    • Begin at the beginning
    • Assemble talent
    • Learn new ways to do things
    • Adapt or die

Some of these observations are more persuasive than others but all in all there are some helpful insights and reminders about what makes a good team.

5 Reasons Why You Should Have an Elders Retreat

RetreatOk, so our retreat venue didn’t look quite like the picture, but if any of my fellow leaders is reading this then this is what I’m proposing for next year. Having just returned from our annual elders weekend away I wanted to share some of the reasons why I think these times are so important for a leadership team:

  1. You grow together – as you walk, talk, pray, eat, and share top banter you grow relationally closer.
  2. You get to spend lots of time praying. So often leadership get togethers end up being all business with 10 mins of prayer squeezed in at the end. A retreat allows you to give significant time to pray for all sorts of things.
  3. You have time to think strategically, to work things through, bat them round, and make some real progress as you determine priorities and plans for the upcoming year.
  4. You get to listen to God. I don’t mean in a super-spiritual, lotus position, gaze at your navel til you hallucinate sort of way. I just mean time spent praying, thinking, and talking often does open us up to that corporate leading and guiding of the Spirit – “it seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit…”
  5. It’s good for your soul. Again, slowing down, spending time reflecting on the Bible in discussion and prayer replenishes the soul which can only help your leading of the flock.

Our last two years of these have been brilliant – real high points of our year. And we’ve made some pretty massive decisions off the back of them. If you haven’t already given it a go then try it – you might like it.

God’ll Fix It by Jimmy Savile

jsI heard an interesting interview on the radio this morning with a journalist investigating the Jimmy Savile story. Apparently, in 1978 Jimmy Savile wrote a slim volume entitled God’ll Fix It in which he describes his belief in God and the afterlife. He talks about arriving at the pearly gates and hoping that his charity works will have done enough to compensate for all the other stuff he’d done. He clearly had some sort of conscience about events in his life and his only hope was in his own good works making atonement. It’s a fascinating (and tragic) illustration of how people think salvation is obtained. If only enough good things can be achieved they may outweigh whatever bad we have done. Yet the Bible is clear. Our evil must be punished. The only question is whether we bear the punishment ourselves into eternity or whether we let Christ bear it for us at the cross. Salvation is by grace, not works, and this is not from yourself, that no one may boast before God.

Seven Ancient Marks of the Church

nicene creedA few years ago Mark Dever released a helpful book called Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. I’m not going to attempt to build on those, but instead offer seven marks springing from a couple of significant people or groups over the last 1700 years. Four hundred (ish) years ago Calvin stated that the three marks of the church are:

  1. The preaching of the word
  2. The administration of the sacraments
  3. Church discipline

I’ve often found these helpful in thinking about priorities and distinguishing marks of biblical ministry. There is, however, another list even more ancient of ‘marks’ of the church. The First Council of Constantinople (and the subsequent Nicene Creed) in 381 declared “We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” The Church globally and historically is one body with one Lord and one faith; The Church is holy – set apart for noble use; The Church is catholic (small ‘c’) meaning kata holon (Greek – according to the whole) – it’s a universally joined up whole; the Church is apostolic, founded upon the teaching of apostles.

These two lists taken together are pleasingly complimentary. The first speaks of what the gathered assembly of believers are to do to build one another up. The second speaks of what we are and how we relate to the wider church and wider world. I’ve spent time before thinking about the first three from Calvin, but I need to think more about the meaning and implications of the Nicene four marks. One recent writer pointedly notes Calvin’s set are in danger of making the church into a place where you go to; the Nicene marks speaks of what the church is and what they are to be about. Personally I don’t think they’re in competition, but it’s definitely provided food for thought.

Who’d win a fight between a prophet, priest, and king?

boxing glovesActually I don’t want to know. It shouldn’t happen. They have complimentary not competing roles. I just listened to the ever illuminating Catalyst podcast, which, on this occasion, was in conversation with Mark Driscoll. He was discussing his church’s tri-perspectival approach to leadership – that is leadership is seen as the combined functions of prophet, priest, and king. I’ve heard Keller talk similarly about leadership and I think it reflects well the Bible’s teaching on what leadership looks like. The prophet speaks forth God’s word by way of teaching and preaching; the priest prays, intercedes, and cares for the people; the King rules and governs wisely and justly. All are necessary to good leadership. But here’s the thing. We often lean more to one than the others, and people of particular tribes which lean a certain way like to start fights with the others. So the prophet teacher guys think the kingly guys don’t take the Bible seriously; and the kings think the priests need a bigger vision and some leadership skill,;and the priests think the prophets like the pulpit and their study, but not people; and round and round it goes – none of it true (for the most part) but all ways to justify our own leanings. The truth is we need all three. The prophets bring us God’s word carefully divided and served – they like people and they know organisation matters, but without the word what are the sheep being fed with? And the priests bring prayer, compassion and service – they know the Bible is central, and ministry requires leadership, but they also recognise that ultimately it’s all about people. And the kings bring leadership, vision, and structure – they know people matter, and that God’s word matters to people, which is why they’re serious about being intentional about it. Truth is all three are needed and we shouldn’t go throwing hand-grenades at those who have different leanings and strengths to us. Let’s learn from, not fight with, those who have things to teach us. Very practically, for me, this means I listen to, read, and attend conferences of a range of different stables. For ‘prophet stuff’ Proc Trust are incredibly helpful; for ‘priest stuff’ CCEF; and for king stuff GLS is hard to beat. Yes, they’re all different in style and emphasis but each one enriches and informs the others. Without any one I think I’d struggle not to fall over.