Maintenance or Frontline Prayer?

center church

In our reading group at the moment we’re working through Tim Keller’s Center Church. Last Monday evening we looked at his section on gospel renewal. At the start of chapter 6 (p. 73) he describes signs or precursors to renewal as including ‘extraordinary prayer’. He cites a distinction made by C. John Miller between ‘maintenance prayer’ and ‘frontline prayer’. Here’s a quote . . .

“Maintenance prayer meetings are short, mechanical, and focused on physical needs inside the church. In contrast, the three basic traits of frontline prayer are these:

  1. A request for grace to confess sins and to humble ourselves
  2. A compassion and zeal for the flourishing of the church and the reaching of the lost
  3. A yearning to know God, to see his face, to glimpse his glory.

If you pay attention at a prayer meeting, you can tell quite clearly whether these traits are present.”

I found this quite challenging. I don’t think Keller is saying ‘maintenance prayer’ is wrong, but if there is never anything that resembles what he describes as ‘frontline’ prayer then there’s a problem – if you’re a church that really wants to see genuine gospel renewal in individuals, the church, and reaching out to the community.

I know for myself personally, and I fear for our smaller and larger prayer meetings, we can all too easily and quickly slip into maintenance prayer. The challenge I think for us as individuals, for our small groups, and for our church more generally is to recapture a more real and earnest expression of ‘frontline’ prayer. I suspect I’m not alone. So if you can’t remember the last time your prayer (individually or corporately) resembled the three traits above, then maybe this is something to share with others, reflect on, and think about how we can incorporate more of a ‘frontline’ spirit in our prayers.

I’d love you to comment below if you’ve had positive experiences of ‘frontline’ praying, and how you’ve managed to instill that in corporate or individual prayer.

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Mission and the Sacraments?

four views

I’ve just finished reading Four Views on the Church’s Mission. It’s good, and well worth reading – in particular the chapters and interactions between Jonathan Leeman and Chris Wright. These sections alone cover a lot of the missiological terrain.

The most stimulating chapter for me though was Peter Leithart’s on ‘Sacramental Mission.’ There’s plenty in there to question or disagree with, but I found some of his comments on baptism and the Lord’s supper especially powerful, and so I’ve quoted them below:

On baptism:

“In a world addicted to autonomy, baptism declares that we belong to another . . . In a word that believes in inherent human goodness, baptism declares that we must die and be buried to live just lives. In a world of scape-goating, baptism calls the baptized to a life of continuous confession and repentance. In a world of tribalism and nationalism, baptism joins men and women from all nations into one body.”

On the Lord’s supper:

“In a world of greedy consumerism, the Supper embodies a community of goods shared in joy and thanksgiving. In a world that pursues self fulfilment, God’s table companions are conformed to the self-giving of Jesus. In a world founded on materialism, the bread of the Eucharist confirms that we do not live by bread alone. In a world that separates religion and life, the Supper demonstrates that the mundane world of eating and drinking is caught up in the life of communion with God.”

If you want to know what all that has to do with mission, Leithart contends that the church’s rituals (and worship more broadly) teach us what it means to be God’s people on God’s mission in God’s world. His closing statement is as follows:

“Here is the mission of the church, then: Set up God’s table. Invite folks to dinner. Make sure they wash up. Teach them how to eat together.”

Personally, I think there’s quite a bit more to say, but I have to admit to finding his comments on the relationship between the church’s worship and mission hugely stimulating.

Overall, the book is well worth reading for pastors trying to get their heads round some of the missiological debates, and the practical implications of what it means to be a church on mission. I suspect most readers will be closer to Leeman and Wright, than Franke and Leithart, but there are things to chew over from each contributor. If the fat books by Bosch, Wright, Goheen or Sunquist intimidate you, this would be a very good place to start.

iGen

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A friend passed this book on to me recently. It’s a really helpful analysis of the views and values of those sometimes called Generation Z, Homelanders, Founders, or in the case of this book iGen (those born after 1995).

The book is based on four major data sources covering several decades and 11 million people. All the data is from US studies so that needs to be taken into account. In summary, Twenge outlines a number of observable trends of iGen’ers as follows:

  1. Adolescence is lasting longer; adulthood starting later
  2. Huge increase in time spent online
  3. Virtual relationships as important as in-person relationship
  4. More anxious and insecure than ever before (linked to the downsides of #3)
  5. Increasingly irreligious
  6. Non-committal – less bothered about marriage, family, stable career etc.
  7. Increasingly inclusive of LGBT, gender, and race issues
  8. Politically disinterested

I need more time to process this in terms of things to affirm and challenge etc. Initial thoughts would be . . .

  • Finding avenues of meaningful responsibility for young people is a good thing
  • Vigilantly monitoring and limiting screen time is important
  • Finding opportunities for hospitality so that iGen’ers meet and socialise with lots of different sorts of people is a good thing
  • Finding creative ways to engage young minds with worldview, religion, politics, and ethics is maybe one of the biggest challenges we face – but one to which we must rise

It’s a really stimulating read – well worth getting hold of a copy, passing it round, and discussing. Anyone else read anything good on iGen?

Pray Through the Church Address Book in Your Small Groups Too

A little while ago I shared some ideas to help in your own personal prayer times. One of those was to take a page of the address book and pray through it each day.

A small group leader recently told me that his group had started doing this when they get together also. This idea seemed too good not to share. So here’s how it goes. . .

Each week he messages his group with the page they’re praying through. He then encourages the group to see if they can have a chat with someone on that page on the Sunday (hence encouraging people to keep meeting new people, and speaking to those they may sometime miss). Then, when they meet the following week they can share briefly (and appropriately) any particular needs or requests, and pray for the people on that page (hence encouraging people to pray for other people, outside they’re usual circles). There’s 36 pages in our address book, which means everybody in the church gets prayed for roughly once a year. Imagine if all groups did this (28 in our case) – that would mean everybody getting prayed for by someone else roughly once a fortnight! Imagine how cool that would be – to know that every small group in your church was going to pray for you by name at some point during the year. Imagine how that could transform that sense of ‘one-anothering’ in the church family.

So, if you use an address book, maybe this is something your small group could try for a while, and see how it shapes church life and care for one another.

The Unexpected Challenge of Grief

gdad

My Granddad died just over three weeks ago. It was a privilege to be with him as he passed away. We’ve all laughed and cried with stories and memories. He was a top fella in lots of ways. We’ll miss him and his infectious sense of humour. Last Friday I took his funeral. I’m tired and drained in lots of ways.

Often, when I counsel others in grief I encourage them in the comfort that God offers to us in times of loss. He is the great comforter, counsellor, and shepherd who can bring that peace which passes understanding. And without taking any of that away, I was surprised in my own reflections to find not just comfort, but also a word of challenge, even rebuke.

Through my own thoughts and prayers I found God challenging me robustly about the brevity of life, the reality of eternity, and my own cowardice and unconcern. In the words of a recent Getty hymn God has been rebuking my ‘slothful ease.’ My slothful ease at not speaking of my faith to others very often, and, if I’m being totally honest, not feeling much guilt or concern about that either.

Life is short. Eternity is real. And the distractions of life (maybe one of Satan’s chief tactics) has meant I’ve failed to often to cross the pain line and talk to others about the things I really do believe to be most fundamental to life and life after death. I know this is a very personal thing, and in that sense I’m only sharing it in the hope it may encourage others. Maybe some of us who have been recently bereaved, and maybe some of us who counsel them, could be brave enough to consider the ways in which, in death, God not only comforts, but challenges.

Fascism and the so-called Anti-Fascists

This week an Anti-fascist organisation stormed a Kings College lecture to protest against a speaker called Carl Benjamin. You can read more about the story here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/anti-fascist-protesters-kings-college-london-university-antifa-carl-benjamin-alt-right-talk-a8242181.html

Benjamin’s opponents consider him ‘alt-right’, while he considers himself a classical liberal. What he is or isn’t is less interesting to me, than the reaction of the so-called ‘anti-fascists’. If you want to know what characterises fascism you can check here: http://www.rense.com/general37/char.htm. Characteristics include:

  • Use of violence where necessary to shut down opponents
  • Suppression of deviant views
  • Frenzied scape-goating
  • Chanting, banners, flags etc.
  • Intimidation and threats
  • Censorship, particularly of academics and professors with dissenting voices
  • Free expression is attacked
  • Cronyism, dictators, cover-ups, secrecy etc.

So, let’s just consider what the ‘anti-fascists’ did. They forcibly gained entry to the lecture. There was some mindless chanting, flags, violence, intimidation, threats, an unwillingness to show their faces, and ultimately the shut-down, by violence/force of the lecture. So what exactly makes such groups ‘anti-fascist’ I ask you? Seems to me there were (and are) fascists involved in the whole ‘no platform’ movement, but they aren’t the ones giving the lectures.

Church Twice on a Sunday? Really!

I guess we might be somewhat unusual as a church. We put a fair degree of emphasis on the goodness of meeting twice on a Sunday. We actually run three services a day – two in the morning, 9.15, 11.15 (same service), and then an evening service at 6pm. And we encourage our folk, where possible, to come to a morning service and the evening service. I know lots of churches have dropped the evening service, and I’m also aware that lots of new church plants are going for just one – often a 4pm service. And I’m really really not criticising that at all. But here’s ten reasons why I’ve come to think that having a couple of services a day might be a good thing.

  1. One more opportunity to pray, praise, feast and fellowship. We put a fair emphasis on teaching – this gives us another opportunity to serve up some spiritual food. We often work through a book of the Bible in the morning, and then we may do something more topical or creative in the evening. By having two services we can have the best of both worlds.
  2.  Shift workers – a fair number of our folk work shifts or have other commitments which might mean, if we only had one service, they wouldn’t make church at all on a Sunday. For some their shift patterns may mean they make church only once or twice a month, which would be a shame right?
  3. Parents of young children. Let’s be honest – having a baby or toddler with you at church tends to mean you struggle to engage with every aspect fully. So we suggest to our young parents they take it in turns for the evening. One parent puts kids to bed and the other can come out and have a bit of space/time out/adult conversation etc. Next week they can swap. Obviously once kids get a bit older everyone can come out. But it’d be quite easy to lose a decade of church engagement through temper-tantrums, emergency toilet trips, tummy bugs etc etc.
  4. Singles. This one may sound a bit controversial, but from some of the singles I’ve spoken with Sunday’s can be a long day – especially if they don’t have specific plans or a lunch invite. An evening service means that those who might otherwise feel isolated have somewhere to go, and some people to see. With the above categories (shift worker, parents, singles) it’d be pretty rough if the rest of us sacked off Sunday evening and left them to it. That wouldn’t be all that edifying, encouraging, or loving to them. So its really important that we all make the effort – to serve others by our presence, as well as getting good stuff out ourselves.
  5. Evangelism. Some folk may have other commitments in the day-time – Sunday sports, family gatherings etc. An evening service gives you another opportunity to invite people along to something.
  6. Hospitality. I think there are a couple of quite different opportunities for hospitality on a Sunday. Lunch is one obvious way. But if you don’t have the space or skills for that could you do something post-evening service – get a group of people round for tea and toast, or go for a drink/coffee/McDonalds (depending on how you feel about ‘sabbath observance’ – let’s not get into that here and now!). ‘Hospitality’ can, I think, take many forms. And an evening gives you a different opportunity.
  7. Training. Think of the opportunity to raise the next generation to love church, the Bible, worship, and family. And think of all the good you’ll be doing them by teaching them to spend time with others. I know this isn’t the primary purpose of church, but, anecdotally, the teens I know who have done this for the last decade or so are some of the most rounded and socially able young adults I know. It’s not nothing!
  8. Habits. For those familiar with Jamie Smith’s work I’ll just leave this here.
  9. Theology – the early church started meeting on the first day of the week as it was resurrection day. It is an opportunity to spend a whole day anticipating resurrection/new creation and doing those sorts of things – praising, enjoying, feasting, listening etc. I know the early church couldn’t do this as most of the people were working – but, if you had the opportunity to give a full day to some new-creation anticipation that would seem a good thing, no?
  10. What else would you be doing? Ok, that’s mischievous – I know lots of people have worthwhile and/or necessary things to be doing. But I also suspect a lot of us might answer the question with, ‘I could be watching Top Gear.’ Is that a better use of your time, or could you get it on iPlayer?

So there’s ten reasons that you (or your church) may wish to value a ‘twice on Sunday’ model of meeting. What else might you add? If you’re unpersuaded then comment below – let’s keep the conversation going.