A Prayer For Reign

I have this little prayer from the good folk at LICC taped to the wall by my desk. I often look at it and find it encouraging to think, meditate, and pray over it. Maybe it could be an encouragement to you, or someone you know today.

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The ‘Why’ Shapes the ‘Way’

start with why

In Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why, he suggests that we give more time to considering why we do, not just what we do. I’m increasingly convinced that this way of looking at things is crucial in our service of others. Consider the following two examples:

At ChristChurch, Somewheresville, the folks on the set-up rota wake early. They’d rather not get up early and go do setup but it’s their turn. They arrive as late as they can get away with, throw up the signs, put a couple of toys out in the creche, and randomly chuck some leaflets on the welcome table (nobody reads that stuff anyway). While the service is in progress they nip out to take in the signs – no point wasting time later. Ten minutes after the service is finished the info table is packed swiftly away, and the banners are taken down – if people get knocked with their coffee it’s their fault – they shouldn’t be in the way. They’re sure to pack down as loudly as possible so that everyone gets the hint. Someone asks about homegroup info. ‘Too late mate, sorry, already packed away – we’ve got homes to go to you know.’ They pack down in record time and pat each other on the back as they’re going to get home earlier than ever – result, job done!

At GraceChuch, Little Wheresit, the team wake early. They arrive on time and start putting everything out. They arrange things to be neat, easy to find, and pleasing to the eye – they want people to find a warm, welcoming, tidy environment as they come. After the service they enjoy some mingle time and then begin to subtly suss out whether anything can begin to go away. They want to make sure people have access to info up to the last minute. Signs come in, chairs begin to be tidied. Once most have left the building and things are winding down, they then begin to finish clear up. They leave a little later than usual, but that’s because someone spent five minutes helping a visitor find some information they were interested in. They leave patting each other on the back as they’ve done a good job helping others – result, job done!

The difference between the two? The ‘why’ has shaped the ‘way.’ In the first example the team take the path of least resistance. The aim is to get the job done as fast as possible. The ‘why’ is answered, ‘because someone’s got to do it, and I got lumped with the rota.’

The second team go out of their way to do a good job. Their aim is to provide an environment that helps and serves others. The ‘why’ is answered, ‘because people matter to God, so they matter to us, and we want to make sure everybody gets what they need, and so may come back.’

The ‘why’ shapes the ‘way’. It’s a simple mantra, but one that I suspect requires regular reminders to put into practise. Why not try it as a training exercise with some of your team members or volunteers. Spend time clarifying the ‘why’ and see how it shapes the ‘way’ things get done.

Mastering Civility

I heard Bill Hybels talk recently about the importance of ‘basic civility’ for leading healthy staff cultures. Many of us are familiar with the adage, ‘people join organisations, they leave managers.’ So this is an area that may require a little more intentional investment. Hybels’ recommended a book by Christine Porath called Mastering Civility. Having bought the book, and read it, I have to say I really liked it. Much of it was common sense, but as the saying goes, ‘common sense isn’t all that common.’

In the book Porath covers the high costs of incivility, how to assess your own culture, how to develop the culture, as well as lots of practical tips on practising basic civility. Here’s just three research-based insights from her book.

  • Of those on the receiving end of incivility 66% felt their performance declined, 78% felt their commitment to the organisation declined, and 25% admitted to taking frustration out on others.
  • People pick up on warmth faster than competence. Judgments as to someone’s warmth toward us are processed in 33 milliseconds.
  • The greatest driver of worker engagement is the extent to which workers felt their managers were genuinely interested in their well-being.

There’s a ton more of this kind of stuff in the book illustrating the effect that civility (or lack of) has on others. If you want to chase a bit more there’s an 8 minute YouTube clip of Christine Porath talking about some of the material in her book here:

Personally, I’d highly recommend any senior leader picks up this book and spends some time working through it with their staff team. You may be thinking, ‘I’m too busy, can I really afford the time and effort to read and talk about this ‘soft’ stuff?’ I think a better question to reflect on would be, ‘can you afford not to?’

Start an even smaller group?

In our mid-week small groups we recently enjoyed working through some material based on Ed Welch’s book Side By Side. It’s a great book, the groups enjoyed the material, and a number have asked how we can put some of the stuff into practise more. Here’s just one idea that one of our small group leaders has used profitably in the past.

Our small groups meet three times per month. The fourth week is an all-together church meeting. So, how about you try meeting with all of your small group twice a month – say the first and third weeks. Then, on the second week, why don’t you split down into prayer triplets. It’ll take a bit of logistical organising to match people up and don’t worry if the numbers don’t work perfectly. The aim is to create even smaller gatherings where people can have more time to share and pray with one another at a deeper level. I guess that a fairly common small group experience is for sharing and prayer to be squeezed into the last ten minutes of a meeting at which point the pressure is on for members of the group to be brief and light. If anyone shares long or gets heavy the leader may break out into a cold sweat. In a prayer triplet you can get together for an hour or so and everyone has time to talk for longer, share more deeply and personally, and then pray for one another.

You may already be doing this outside of your small group in which case, great – carry on. But if you’re not, and if you’d like to develop deeper relationships of ‘side by side’ discipleship, accountability, support and prayer, maybe this is something your group could try. Perhaps initially trial it for three months – if it works you can keep on going; if it doesn’t I’d suggest you haven’t lost much by trying. My guess is (and based on my own experience of such triplets) you’ll get loads out of it. Why not give it a go?

Some ideas to kick-start your prayer life in 2018

If you’re determined to improve your prayer life in 2018 here’s a few ideas that may help:

  • Keep a prayer journal. Write down the main things your praying for each week, and look back over it periodically.
  • Take a note-book to church or homegroup. Write down things you can pray for and then use your notes to help you pray through the week.
  • Get a copy of your church address book and pray through a page of it each day. That way you’ll probably pray for everyone in your church family once every month to six weeks.
  • Don’t bin the notice sheet. If your church produces a notice sheet why not stick it in your Bible and use it to pray for upcoming events and courses.
  • Use some tech – the Prayer Mate app is free and lets you use existing material or customise it for yourself – I’ve personally found this app really helpful in organising my prayers and remembering to pray for certain things.
  • Use some written prayers. You could try something older like Valley of Vision or something more modern like Scotty Smith’s Everyday Prayers.
  • Pray Bible prayers – use the Psalms, the Lord’s prayer, or something like Ephesians 3:14-21.
  • Start small. If you’re not in the habit of praying often try initially sitting down somewhere quiet for just five minutes. You could pray the Lord’s prayer, then add on anything on your heart or mind that day.
  • Don’t give up. If you miss a few days consider yourself human. Get back on the horse and keep going. We’re accepted by grace, not the length or frequency of our prayers.
  • Read a book on prayer – Paul Miller’s, A Praying Life is excellent.
  • Get a prayer partner or prayer triplet – a smaller group of folk whom you can meet with more regularly to share and help each other pray. More on this next week . . .

What else have you found helpful in keeping your own prayer lives fresh?

Some ideas to fuel your Bible reading in 2018

For many of us the new year brings a fresh determination to get back into better habits of personal Bible reading. With this in mind here’s a few ideas that may help you get 2018 off to a good start.

  • Get a Bible reading plan – there’s any number of these free to download and print out online (eg. the Murray-McCheyne one year plan).
  • Use an app – something like The Bible in One Year app is free and comes with some notes. You could also try the Read Scripture app, which also has links to some really good YouTube intros to various Bible books.
  • Value quality over quantity – lots of the Bible in one year resources are great, but don’t fall into the trap of reading lots without really taking any of it in. Better to chew over a few verses than mindlessly skim a ton of material.
  • Don’t despair – if you get behind with your plan the temptation is to give up. It normally happens to me around February! Keep going. It doesn’t matter if you get behind – getting going again is what matters.
  • Try a readers Bible – I’ve recently been using the ESV readers Bible. Essentially it takes out the chapter numbers, verse numbers, and headings. I’ve found it a refreshing way to read.
  • Get hold of a devotional – for example Tim Keller’s daily readings in the Psalms – its the business!
  • Try an audio Bible – for example David Suchet reading the NIV. If you’ve a fair commute in the car this can be a different way to take in some Bible in the mornings (or evenings).
  • Find a podcast you like in which you can listen to sermons on different parts of the Bible.
  • Mix it up – there’s nothing to say that once you’ve settled on something you have to stick only to that plan or method for the entire year. If you’re struggling then freshen it up and try something different.
  • If you want to dig a bit deeper try reading a small commentary alongside a book of the Bible – the Bible Speaks Today series is great.
  • If you really want to push yourself, do an online (or app based) course – Reformed Theological Seminary give access to lots of their courses for free.

Hopefully there’s something there you’re willing to have a go at. What other resources have you found helpful you could recommend to others? Please do comment below.

Maybe The Most Important Three Minutes of Your Church Service

church pew

When was the last time you visited a church for the first time? If you had to identify the most important three minutes of the service what would you say?

I read an interesting article earlier this week in which the author suggested that, for a visitor, maybe the most crucial three minutes of the service were the three minutes immediately after the service has finished.

Now don’t misunderstand me – of course the singing, prayers, reading, and preaching are all arguably much more important. But if you’re a visitor, maybe not a Christian, or been away from church awhile, what (in addition to the quality of the aforementioned) might make the difference between a return visit and trying somewhere else (or nowhere else!).

We tend to think the few minutes before the service, or at the start of the service are key (and they are). But if you’re a visitor you’re most focused on finding somewhere to park, finding the right door to go in, picking up the bits of paper, finding a seat, getting your bearings, perhaps flicking through the notice-sheet or watching the screen, and generally getting yourself ready for the start of the service. But what happens as soon as the closing prayer is done?

I watched it happen recently. I was playing in the music team and I noticed a first-time visitor near the back. The two people next to her both turned away from her to talk to someone else. She sat there. Looked around a little, fidgeted in her seat – 30 seconds. She looked in her bag, fidgeted some more – another 30 seconds. She looked around again, to either side, at the screen, back into the bag – another 30 seconds. Then she picked up her things, put on her coat, slowly stood up, and slid past the people next to her – another 30 seconds. She’s now making her way to the door and cool air of a dark night. Will we ever see her again? Thankfully, at this moment someone moved over toward her and spoke with her just as she was reaching the door. They bought her back in and got her a coffee. She had three or four conversations with different folk. I’m hopeful we may see her again. Can you see how crucial that first couple of minutes are? If she’d left without being acknowledged by anyone around her I suspect she wouldn’t have felt too inclined to return.

It’s happened to me on a couple of different occasions. I’ve visited another church and at the end of the service no-one spoke to me. I smiled politely at a couple of people, said a quiet hello. They smiled politely back and nodded at me, then carried on with their conversation. After sitting for a couple of minutes and feeling like a complete nugget I got up and left. I wouldn’t go back.

We encourage the folk at Grace to ‘take five’ after every service to look out for and speak to someone they haven’t met before. As you can see it doesn’t always work, and we have to keep working on it. But it strikes me as something that’s perhaps more important than we realise, and something that we could improve relatively quickly and easily. I’d encourage you, in your church to be intentional about improving in this area, and to work on something similar. Encourage your folk to ‘take five’ – look for someone new, and just say ‘hi’. It could make all the difference.