Fruitful Frontlines

ff1ff2

Here’s a nice resource from Mark Greene and the LICC folks entitled Fruitfulness of the Frontline. There’s a book and an 8 session DVD course for use in small groups. Mark’s aim is to persuade us that wherever we find ourselves day to day we can make a difference for Christ. The book (and the DVD) offer a six part framework for fruitfulness as follows:

  1. Model godly character
  2. Make good work
  3. Minister grace and love
  4. Mould culture
  5. Be a mouthpiece for truth and justice
  6. Be a messenger for the gospel

The material is full of great stories, humour, and practical ideas. I’ve already decided that we’ll roll this stuff out with our small groups some time next year. Check it out.

10 Reasons to Exercise Hospitality

BBQ-with-friendsLast Sunday we had a ‘families afternoon’with some seminars running on how to bring up kids in the training and instruction of the Lord. One of our wiser saints was running a seminar on foundational practises. One of the things she commended was having an open home. Hospitality takes a number of different forms but let’s just think about one of the easiest – having people round for lunch on a Sunday. In practise we try and do this three out of four Sundays, keeping the fourth for a bit of quality family time. The difficult bit isn’t having people round – it’s organising your diary. Here’s ten reasons why it’s worth a little effort:

  1. The Bible tell us to (Rom 12:13; 1 Pet 4:9; Heb 13:2). It’s part of what it means to demonstrate the love of God for others. Hospitality is a good way of modelling all sorts of good things to those who come into your home.
  2. It’s an opportunity to grow in the grace of Christ like service to others. In particular it’s a great service to people on their own, for whom Sunday can feel like a long day.
  3. It’s an opportunity to welcome new people into the church family. Our church size makes it difficult for us to invite everyone round with any sort of regularity but we always try to keep an eye out for new people. We want to give them a warm welcome early on.
  4. It’s an opportunity to deliberately meet/serve people not like you. It’s easy to gravitate toward people we get on with more easily. Hospitality provides a way to intentionally befriend those you don’t speak to so often.
  5. You’ll make deeper friendships and relationships with existing friends. Ten minutes over coffee is one thing; a few hours over lunch is another.
  6. You’ll make some new friends if you invite new people. There will likely come a time when being friendly to others will come back to you. Hospitality now prevents loneliness later.
  7. It’s good for your kids (1) – they’ll make a network of friendships across the church cross-generationally, not just with their peer group. They’ll begin to feel like its their church, and not just yours, which means they’re less likely to want to walk away in the tricky teenage years.
  8. It’s good for your kids (2) – you’re training them to be good at social interaction. You’ll find they talk naturally with a cross-section of different people.
  9. It’s good for your kids (3) – you’re modelling obedience to Scripture, kindness, and service – you’re showing them how to be the adults you hope they’ll turn out to be.
  10. You’ll enjoy it! All in all we’ve thoroughly enjoyed having all sorts of different people in our home to share food, fellowship, and good times. And our kids love it too. They always ask who’s coming for lunch, and if, for some reason, there isn’t anyone they always groan!

So get people in your home regularly. It’s good for them, good for us, good for our kids, and good for the gospel.

What Happens Off Set of Porn Movies?

capturedI’m currently re-reading Tim Chester’s excellent book, Captured By A Better Vision: Living Porn-Free. It’s a truly brilliant book tackling a difficult issue in a winsome, persuasive, and pastoral way. I was struck again reading the opening chapter of the stats surrounding porn usage – somewhere between 30-60% men and around 20-30% women regularly visiting pornographic websites. Christians and church leaders fare no better. But even more striking is Tim’s section on pp. 26-28 where he talks about what happens off-set and between shoots. Here’s one quote:

“The reality is that participants in porn movies are frequently on drugs to dull the pain. It is common for women to vomit between shoots. Alcohol, cocaine, heroin, crack and crystal meth blaze through porn workers’ bodies, burning through nearly every dollar they make . . . The purpose of high-powered drugs for most porn performers is to numb themselves, enabling them to blurrily fast-forward through the punishment they’re putting their bodies through so that their minds can’t catch up with the consequences until much later, assuming they live that long.

Tim goes on to cite many examples of performers who have committed suicide, died from drug overdose, or even been murdered in extreme scenes. Tim notes that we live in a culture with more women’s rights, and yet, paradoxically, many of these liberties become slavery to the foul wants of depraved men. Tim cites Martin Saunders who notes the irony of a Christian signing a ‘Stop the Traffik’ petition, but then returning to their PC to fuel more abuse.

It’s pretty nauseating stuff, and so it should be. Next time you feel tempted to look at this stuff just look beyond the frame of the picture. See the drugs, the violence, and the vomit. And then think about ways in which we can work to stop the abuse of those made in the image of God.

7 habits of highly ineffective leaders

Leader-Who-LastAt college one of my tutors recommended a book by Dave Kraft called Leaders Who LastA few friends also highly recommended it. I’ve finally got round to reading it! And they were right – it is excellent. It’s biblical, wise, practical, and strategic. The book covers areas such as calling, gifts, character, priorities, pacing, and legacy. Each section of the book has a ‘think it through’ section which is good for team discussion, and the book is accessible and easy to read. To whet your appetite here’s Kraft’s 7 habits of highly ineffective leaders:

  1. They spend too much time managing and not enough time leading
  2. They spend too much time counselling the hurting people and not enough time developing the people with potential [note he’s not saying you shouldn’t counsel people; he is saying think about time allocation]
  3. They spend too much time putting out fires and not enough time lighting fires
  4. They spend too much time doing and not enough time planning
  5. They spend too much time teaching the crowd and not enough time training the core
  6. They spend too much time doing it themselves and not enough time doing it through others
  7. They make too many decisions based on organizational politics and too few decisions based on biblical principles

Of course the question is how much time is too much time – I guess he’s deliberately not being prescriptive – it’s a matter or priority and emphasis that may need to be considered in each case. Anyway, if like me you’re late to this book’s party, sneak in quietly at the back and enjoy – you’ll be glad you did.

When we idolise we demonise

I was listening to a sermon the other day by a well known American preacher who made the point that when we idolise things we often, inadvertently demonise the opposite. I hadn’t thought of it before, but the more I think about it the more I’m persuaded he’s right. And the flipside of idolatry is just as bad. So here’s a few examples to think about:

  • If you idolise youth, you may demonise old age
  • If you idolise liberty/autonomy, you may demonise rules/restrictions
  • If you idolise relationship, you may demonise singleness
  • If you idolise children, you may demonise childlessness
  • If you idolise money, you may demonise poverty
  • If you idolise material possessions, you may demonise simplicity
  • If you idolise fame, you may demonise obscurity
  • If you idolise success, you may demonise humility

It’s worth noting that these can also work in reverse. It’s also worth noting the use of the word ‘may’ – it doesn’t necessarily follow you’ll demonise the opposite of that which you serve (your functional god) but it’s worth being aware of. What is interesting is that the polarisation reveals the futility of idolising any of these things. None of them are supposed to be worshipped. When we stop idolising them we can see that there are blessings and trials bound up with all of the above. So beware of false demons, as well as false gods.

Why Tithing is Good For You

moneyHere’s N.T.Wright on why tithing is actually good for us:

The regular habit of giving money is a further practice which forms the hearts and lives of God’s people. Once more, this can become a hollow ritual or can, even worse, transform itself into the settled habit of people’s minds which thinks, “The church is always asking us for money” or “God owes me a favour because I’ve written him a check.” Don’t let the parodies put you off. The habit of giving, of giving generously, is not an extra option for keen Christians. It is absolutely obligatory on all – because our whole calling is to reflect God the creator, and the main thing we know about this true God is that his very nature is self-giving, generous love. The reason why “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9.7) is that that’s what God himself is like. Someone like that is a person after God’s own heart. Making a regular formal, and public practice of giving of money is designed to generate the habit of heart which forms a key part of what meant by agape love.

 

NTW, Virtue Reborn, p. 243.

So if you want to grow in Christ-like self-giving service, the wallet is a good place to practise.

Becoming a Contagious Church (2)

Here’s Jon Putt’s second instalment reviewing Mark Mittelberg’s Becoming a Contagious Church. In the first post Jon outlined stages 1-3 in Mittelberg’s approach.

————————————————————————–

becoming-contagious-church-increasing-your-churchs-evangelistic-temperature-mark-mittelberg-book-cover-artStage four involves training the church in evangelism skills. This is something into which I think some churches in the UK have put more time and effort. And it’s vital because one of the main reasons given for not evangelising is that people feel ill-equipped and fearful in sharing the gospel with friends. One of the key moves in training people is to help them realise that evangelism doesn’t mean the same style for everyone all the time. This liberates ‘ordinary’ Christians to speak as they are able with the friends they have. Mittelberg recommends that any evangelism training involved praying for God’s involvement, helping Christians find their natural evangelism styles, encouraging them to build and deepen relationships with non-Christians (and showing them how it might be done), prompting them to begin spiritual conversations (at Grace we sometimes talk of speaking about spiritual things naturally, and natural things spiritually), help them tell their own stories, ensure they have a simple method to explain the gospel message and that they know how to lead someone to saving faith.
Mittelberg has a vision of a team of evangelists spread throughout the teams and ministries of the church. In his fifth stage, he calls for an identification of all the natural evangelists within church life and gathering them into a team. They can then meet periodically with the evangelism leader who can encourage and equip them further before they go back into serving in their teams. The goal is that in every ministry and team in church there are a few who are particularly gifted and equipped to evangelise those coming in, and the other Christians in those teams can be inspired and influenced by them. Thus evangelism and evangelistic values are passed as a contagion throughout the life of the church, as vessels and arteries carry blood around the body. Gathering such people together from time to time, ensures the evangelistic vision stays fresh and maximised their ability to heat that value in each other.
Finally, stage 6 involves putting on an array of outreach ministries and events. Again, I suspect this is something at which churches in the UK are more practised. They key is to have a varied programme. Events and ministries that maybe reach people who are very far away from the church, and those for those who have serious and deep questions, and events for those in-between. Again, at Grace, we’ve been thinking recently in terms of a funnel. At the top are ‘first-contact’ ministries and events (e.g. an organised walk in Derbyshire or Foodbank), then there are events in the middle (e.g. a meal with a message) and then there are course like Explore or Identity. Not everyone progresses along, but ideally, there is always something a bit more in depth for people to move onto, wherever they are on their journey to faith. Mittelberg offers ten principles for high-impact outreach ministries and events:
1 – Define your purpose and goals.
2 – know who you’re trying to reach.
3 – communicate your purpose and your intended audience.
4 – innovate fresh approaches.
5 – design the event to fulfil the purpose and hit the target.
6 – do only what you can do well.
7 – integrate your efforts with other events and opportunities.
8 – promote your events with precision and power.
9 – measure and evaluate results (improve next time).
10 – permeate the whole process with prayer.
Mittelberg closes his book with encouraging us to preach the timeless gospel, without compromise, in timely ways, making sure the truths of the biblical message connect with a contemporary audience, and with a reminder to invest disproportionately in this area, given that it is the area most likely to slide under Satan’s attack and our own spiritual entropy.

Becoming A Contagious Church (1)

Here’s the first of a two-part guest post by Jon Putt reviewing Mark Mittelberg’s Becoming a Contagious Church:

becoming-contagious-church-increasing-your-churchs-evangelistic-temperature-mark-mittelberg-book-cover-artMittelberg outlines his vision in chapter one for contagious churches and it’s built on a few key convictions. In addition to the value he places on the great commission it is his experience that: “People come to Christ one life at a time – and usually though the influence of one or two authentic Christians who have built genuine relationships with them.” (p17) He goes on to argue that whatever flavour of church we have, whatever strengths and local emphases, every church should have evangelistic effort at the core of their mission. This is because it is the natural tendency of any church, and one of Satan’s favourite temptations, to focus inwardly, rather than outwardly. “Satan’s more subtle tack is to keep us engrossed in things that aren’t bad, but are of lesser importance. Trivial matters. The tyranny of the urgent. The squeaky wheels. Maintenance. The good over the best. The temporal over the eternal. Anything – except reaching lost men, and women, and children for Christ.” (p22)
In his pursuit of a contagious church, Mittelberg has six stages (who doesn’t?). They are: live an evangelistic life, install evangelistic values, empower an evangelism leader, train the church in evangelism skills (the 100%), mobilise the church’s evangelism specialists (the 10%), and unleash an array of outreach ministries and events.
Throughout, Mittelberg is careful to balance the organic and the structural, the internal affections of the individual, and the organisation of the whole church. It’s not either or, we need both and. Thus he begins in stage one (live an evangelistic life) with addressing the heart of Christians referencing Matt 12:34 – out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Without a heart for Jesus and for the lost, opportunities will sail by without so much as a shot being fired. Furthermore, if the leaders of the  church don’t have this value, there is little hope for the rest of the congregation (cf 1 Cor 11:1). Helpfully, Mittelberg argues that in order to warm the heart many of us will have to admit first that this value has slipped for us and come to God in repentance. Out of all the other recommendations he has, his recommendation that Christians make sure they get in the game stands out. “[To] keep our evangelistic embed burning brightly… we need to simply get out of the lab and spend time with real non-Christians.” (p41). In my experience, both on an individual level, and as I think about the churches of which I have been a member, this is particularly poignant advice. I find it all too easy to become engrossed with church activities and people to the neglect of those outside the church.
But it’s not enough for the leaders to live an evangelistic lifestyle. That’s why stage 2 is to instil evangelistic values in those around you. In one survey of nearly 1000 churches, only 11% of church members asked thought the purpose of the church is to win the world for Christ. 89% believed the church exists to care for the needs of me and my family. Obviously, caring for members if one of the things every church must do, but unless the leader instills evangelistic values in those around him, it will not be the dominant thing the church attempts, until there are few members left. Mittelberg explores a number of ways of doing this, including praying for it, leading it, teaching it, funding it, and celebrating it. A couple of these particularly stood out. One was telling the truth about it: without a sense of urgency people will rarely change their behaviour or take on board new values. So if there has only been one adult conversion in the past 12 months, be honest about it. If only 1% of people in the area attend any church regularly, be honest about it. Then pray and strive for more. This resonates with something I heard at an FIEC conference last year when Andrew Heard challenged us with the thought that we were too easily satisfied with underperformance. The other thing that stood out is the importance of scheduling – of having evangelistic events in the calendar with all the necessary logistics, or visits to conferences/courses on evangelism. Anything to institutionalise the values not just in the leadership, but in others too. Mittelberg is honest – whilst many will embrace the vision, some will not. But new people that are attracted to the church will carry the evangelistic values from the start.
Stage three in Mittelberg’s plan, requires a church to empower an evangelism leader. His argument is that if everyone is expected to spearhead evangelism in their own discrete area (be it youth and children’s work, community work or whatever), no-one does. Over-stated? Perhaps. His reasoning is that from the pastor onwards, across every area of church life, everyone finds their time squeezed by the immediacy of their other commitments, leaving little time to really put the heat on evangelism. If evangelism really is a strategic ministry it requires strategic leadership. This is best achieved by empowering a specific evangelism leader, whose sole concern is to keep the evangelistic fires burning brightly. Mittelberg has a prospective profile for such a leader but what is interesting in his description of the potential evangelism leader is that the person is not necessarily ‘an evangelist’ in the traditional sense of the word. Rather, this person needs a heart for the lost, an affinity with people ‘on both sides of the spiritual fence’ who is able to lead others. More an encourager of everyone to be evangelistic, than an ‘evangelist’.
Come back Friday for JP’s outline of stages 4-6.