Heardy Highlights

Dyckhof,_Meerbusch-Büderich,_Wetterfahne_nahI had the privilege of being at a conference last week with an Aussie church leader called Andrew Heard. He leads a large (really large) church and has spent a lot of time thinking about why and how we do what we do. I came away with so many good things but here’s a few highlights:

 

  • We need some clear convictions that drive what we do
    • eg. the reality of eternity, the brevity of life, the cross as the only way, the church as the means by which the message gets out
  • We need to be output driven, not input driven. Maturity is an output; Bible-study is an input – important to get them the right way round as inputs influence outputs.
  • We need to take responsibility and not hide behind ‘faithfulness’ language.
  • We need to be brave enough to say ‘no’ to good things if they distract from the best things.
    • ‘change happens when the pain of ‘not change’ is greater than the pain of change’
  • As the church grows we need to move from ‘doing ministry’ to ‘being responsible for it being done.’
  • Senior leaders need to do three main things:
    • secure the health of your team – invest in their all round well being
    • multiply your team – more workers means more ministry
    • mobilize resources – they will always be limited so you have to make some tough choices about where those scarce resources are deployed
  • Pastoral care isn’t antithetical to organization – actually you need to organize to ensure more people get cared for. If you try to do it all yourself there will be lots of people not getting cared for.
  • Take time to reflect – an hour a week; a day a term; a weekend a year – just to keep reflecting on some of this structural/strategy stuff
  • Make sure it’s your convictions, vision and values that drive – our strategy isn’t infallible and so we don’t want people to be committed to that – we do want folk to share convictions

There was a ton more great stuff – I’d encourage you to check out some of his material online at EV church or Geneva Push.

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In the month of Nisan . . .

20150319_090900On Tuesday morning our minister led the staff devotion on just five little words. Those five little words are of great significance. Those five little words teach us something about patience and perseverance. Those five little words tell us something about prayer and fasting. Those five little words are ‘in the month of Nisan’ and they come from Nehemiah 2:1. Why are they significant? Because of Nehemiah 1:1 – ‘in the month of Kislev.’ Nehemiah received some distressing news about his fellow countryman in Jerusalem – they were in ‘trouble and disgrace’ (Neh 1:3). As a result Nehemiah wept, mourned, fasted and prayed before God (v. 4). Nehemiah prays that God would be favourable toward Israel (1:5-10). Nehemiah approaches his boss, King Artaxerxes, asking permission to leave for Jerusalem that he might help rebuild it (2:3-5). The King says yes and resources him for the work (2:4-9). Nehemiah’s prayer is answered because the hand of the Lord was upon him (2:8). But the striking thing for the attentive reader is that the answer to Nehemiah’s prayer came ‘in the month of Nisan’ (2:1). Nehemiah had been weeping, mourning, fasting and praying for four months. Over that time, in spite of the fasting, he’d managed not to look to bad at work (2:1). Nehemiah had persevered not just for an hour of prayer, or a few successive days, or a couple of good prayer meetings. Nehemiah had been praying fervently and passionately for months. How quickly do we get discouraged when we pray a little bit harder than normal and God doesn’t seem to do anything? Of course God isn’t a slot maching – it’s not the case that if we pray long enough and hard enough he’s bound to answer our prayers. But Nehemiah teaches us something about passion, fervency, and persistence in prayer – qualities that I suspect, for most of us, are all to often lacking.

Making Small Groups Work: Review

small groupsA while ago someone put me on to this book and it’s taken me a little while to get through – not because it’s hard reading, but because, well, I didn’t really like it. There. I said it.

It’s written by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. I’ve enjoyed Cloud’s other stuff and so had high hopes. Unfortunately the whole thing ends up feeling like it’s pushing a therapeutic model for small groups (perhaps no surprise since Cloud is a psychiatrist).

Much of the book I could agree with – groups enable people to grow, and good groups provide connection, support, structure, prayer, accountability, mentoring, modelling etc. All true. And good group leaders facilitate discussion, listen, and set appropriate limits. Again, all true. Yet there’s plenty of good literature out there that addresses all this stuff already (and in some cases better). Here’s a few sample chapter titles from the section ‘Responsibilities of Group Facilitators.’ This might give you a flavour of that which makes me squirm:

  • Facilitate Process
  • Provide Safety
  • Clarify and Ask Questions
  • Confront
  • Set Limits
  • Allow Silent Moments
  • Interpret Themes, Symbols, Meanings

Aaahh. Noooo. Let me off the couch. I’m white, English, and middle-class – get me out of here! Ok, so I have a cultural problem with groups as therapy – they’re American and easy with it; I’m English and I’m not. More important though are two burning questions I have. First, is this what a church small group should be – an opportunity for counselling. Maybe, to some degree. And they do have a little material on the more ‘traditional’ elements, but the weight of the book makes the whole thing feel like small groups are therapy groups. Second, where am I going to find people to lead these sorts of groups. The book makes it feel like you need a whole bunch of Henry Clouds. The rest of us have not a clue what we’re doing and may do more damage than good.

I hate writing negative book reviews, but perhaps this one is simply to say, if you’re looking for something to read on church small groups your time and money would be better invested elsewhere (eg. Steve Gladen, Larry Osborne, Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson).

How to Get Small Groups Praying

I guess many of us will have experienced being in a small group where prayer feels hard. The leader may say something to the effect of ‘I’ll open and close and you fill the middle.’ After the leaders opening prayer there is dead silence for what feels like forever. The longer it goes the more awkward it gets. And if the pattern repeats over a number of weeks the culture of the group can become very negative where prayer is concerned.

With that in mind I invited our small group leaders to a number of smaller gatherings – just 5-6 leaders together – to get them to share their ideas and resources. They have a lot of experience, and the creative ideas to help in this area kept coming. So here they are:

  • One group regularly starts with a ‘one thing to give thanks for’ slot with people then thanking God for that which the person on their left/right shared.
  • Some groups have had ‘break out’ times where they’ll turn in twos and threes to pray for a few minutes. Perhaps helps the quieter ones.
  • Some leaders ‘pick’ on people – depends largely on group and knowing the individuals, but can be a good way to get reluctant but able people to pray.
  • Some have found written prayers useful; others have used psalms or hymns/songs and read them as prayers. You can break them up into smaller chunks so that people read just one or two lines thoughtfully and prayerfully. Helps people who feel like they may ‘freeze up.’ Helpful resources include:
    • The Valley of Vision
    • Everyday Prayers (Smith)
    • Message translation of Psalms
    • Lord’s prayer
  • Model brevity and encourage others in this also. Some people feel too intimidated to pray because other Christians babble on.
  • Use something like A.C.T.S (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) to structure a time (or times) of prayer.
  • Some groups find praying through the meeting guide/notice sheet helpful. One leader makes sure to pick up half a dozen meeting guides at the end of Sunday so that everyone can see one at your meeting (they’ll only end up in the bin otherwise!). Linked to the written prayers idea above some groups have used a Sunday song from the meeting guide to start their time with some adoration prayers based on the song.
  • A couple have also fruitfully used ‘prayer bookmarks’. People write something to pray for at the top of the bookmark – pass it left, then a couple of weeks you can revisit, write something on the next line, and pass it left, and so on.
  • Some people have enjoyed doing the occasional prayer walk – pick significant places in the community (perhaps just three or four) and walk and pray, stopping at those places to pray particularly for those places. You can end at a home for cake or at the pub for a pint.
  • Again, occasionally, having a day of fasting and prayer is good – meet to pray and then break the fast together with pizza.
  • Some people intersperse prayer through their discussion sometimes. For example if a particular pastoral need comes up you can say ‘let’s just a couple of us pray for that now.’
  • Some groups have a regular ‘people we’re praying for’ slot. They share 3 people they’d love to come to Christ and then the group prays for them and revisit perhaps once every six weeks or so. A good way to keep people on mission and outward focussed.
  • One group sometimes uses the ‘world’ page in Evangelicals Now, cuts it up, distributes it, and then prays for the various places in the world. Another way to keep people’s horizons broad.

So there you have it – just a few ideas to help get small groups praying. Please feel free to add you own ideas in the comments section, and do pass on to others if this is helpful.

 

Chrysostom’s threefold aim in preaching

chrysostomPeter Moore has an essay in Sanctification (ed. Kapic) entitled “Sanctification Through Preaching: How John Chrysostom Preached For Personal Transformation.” He outlines Chrysostom’s threefold approach to preaching as follows. Chrysostom desires first to teach (docere), second to delight (delectare), and finally to move (mouere). These are the three levels of persuasion in ancient rhetoric according to Moore. The first level hits the intellect, the second and third hit the emotions. The aim though is never mere stimulation or entertainment. Chrysostom’s aim is always life transformation. He seeks to set forth the plain meaning of Scripture to plain people. Moore cites Chrysostom’s ninth homily on Hebrews as an example:

I am afraid that this may properly be said to you also, that “when for the time you ought to be teachers,” (Hebrews 5:12) you do not maintain even the rank of learners, but ever hearing the same things, and on the same subjects, you are in the same condition as if you heard no one. And if any one should question you, no one will be able to give a satisfactory answer, except a very few who may soon be counted . . . For if our preaching were a matter of display and ambition, it would have been right to jump from one subject to another and change about continually, taking no thought for you, but only for your applauses. But since we have not devoted our zeal to this, but our labours are all for your profit, we shall not cease discoursing to you on the same subjects, till you succeed in learning them. . . . We shall not cease to say the same things, whether you be persuaded or not.

No wonder people consider Chrysostom to be one of Christendom’s greatest orators – preaching that feeds the mind, thrills the heart, stirs the will, and changes lives. There’s a model worth emulating.

10 Tips To Help You Read More and Read Faster

800px-SteacieLibraryWith books being published at an unprecedented rate keeping on top of the latest and greatest can leave most of us feeling like failures where our reading is concerned. And while I’m supportive of the ‘read a few good books well’ theory I also happen to think you can glean lots of good things from many other places with relative speed and ease. Here’s how:

  1. Stop feeling guilty about ‘gutting’ books. It’s not wrong to thumb a book, get a few ideas, and then put it down. You have no moral obligation to the author to read every word they wrote. Take a book off your shelf, put it on the floor and stand on it. Now say ‘you don’t own me; I own you; you serve me not vice versa buddy.’ Liberating, no?
  2. Read book reviews and decide whether or not you want to actually read that book.
  3. Read the back cover and skim the contents page. Decide whether you want to read any more.
  4. Read the intro and conclusion to the book. Decide if you want to read any more. [you can do steps 2-3 (and even part of 4) on-line]
  5. Read the intro and conclusion to each chapter. Decide if you want to read any more.
  6. Skim through chapters looking for headings, sub-heading, pictures/diagrams, indented quotes etc. etc. Decide if you want to read any more.
  7. Read the book more carefully and thoroughly. Decide if you want to repeat (ever).
  8. If it’s worth it create an Evernote file for said book and note down the good and the useful – make your library work for you.
  9. Decide if its a book worth buying and passing on to others and act accordingly.
  10. Put the book (if you’re keeping it) in the appropriate section of your library so you can find it again should you want to.

There it is. Steps 1-6 can probably be done in less than 1 hour in total, and it’s probably fair to say you can glean 80% of the goodness in 20% of the time it might take to read it exhaustively. Some books won’t get past step 1; some books will be worthy of careful reading, reflection and re-reading – you’ll get a sense of that as you spend a little time with it. If you follow these steps you will read more, you will read faster, and you will read more profitably. Give it a go. Take a book sat on your shelves now and just spend 20 mins doing the first few steps. I’ll bet you have a pretty good idea after just 20 mins of how much time you want to invest. Try it and let me know what you think.

Some Thoughts on Christians and Political Engagement

Number10_Downing_Street_MOD_45157215We had a group come to speak to our local churches recently who work in the political arena and help equip Christians to engage in that sphere. They had lots of helpful resources and info and gave a good presentation which many, myself included, found extremely helpful.

BUT . . . I was left feeling uneasy. And I think it was because their approach, helpful though it was (and this is only my perception – it may be wrong), was basically defensive. Most of the presentation concerned issues or areas we should be protecting (and we should) and what we can do about it (and we should). But it felt like the Christian’s primary approach to the political world was negative, shaped by what we’re against. And our action it seemed was to protest, lobby, and write to our MPs about all our concerns.

Now, don’t mishear me. I’m not saying they’re wrong or that we shouldn’t do any of that stuff. I think we should do all of that stuff. But I would have loved to hear them encouraging us as Christians to be positively and constructively involved in the world around us (and perhaps its unfair to expect one organisation to cover all the bases). I’m not talking about Christians going into politics necessarily (though of course they may if they feel so called). I’m really more concerned about the way in which we can most fruitfully work in the public square with the authorities God has set in place for the flourishing of our local communities.

Our leaders (local and national) hopefully are doing the jobs they’re doing because they want to see local communities thrive. So do we. And presumably our local leaders want to encourage and support those groups which work fruitfully toward that end (that’s hopefully us right?). So our political leaders might be more favourably disposed toward us (and therefore to listening to our concerns) if they know we’re concerned, like them, to help people where we are, and to know that we’re behind them, supporting them, in all the ways they are seeking to do the same. We surely want to spend more time working with, rather than working against, local civic leaders wherever possible (and I know that’s easier in some places than others).

So, to give a few examples, things like foodbanks, CAP centres, night shelters, street pastors, support groups, conservation projects, and aid/relief efforts all serve to improve lives. Where these are done well local leaders will (hopefully) take notice, and they should be pleased with the groups that serve the well-being of the community. If positive relationships can then also be established with local leaders (inviting them to various events/services/lunches etc etc.) then they’re far more likely to listen to us when we voice a concern; it demonstrates a desire to bless and love our communities, not just protect our own turf.

Think of it this way. If you in any sort of position of leadership, and you have someone working for you who only collars you to complain, there comes a point when you (rightly or wrongly) begin to ignore and dismiss that person – ‘that’s just them; they’re always moaning.’ If, however, you have a co-worker who you know has your back, is on your side, and works for the team – if that person comes with a concern you’ll be far more likely to take it seriously and act upon it. The same will likely be true for our local leaders. If our political engagement amounts to little more than protest and angry complaint our voice will become quickly dismissed and ignored. But if our public engagement is first and foremost positive, both in terms of our public support for our leaders, and our positive work for our communities as we offer public support to our leaders and work hard to help our communities thrive, then our local governors are far more likely to be favourably disposed towards our work and our concerns.