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.

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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.

Three Paradigms For Worship

Here’s a nice seven minute video that a friend sent me which I think nicely encapsulates some popular views of congregational sung worship. The three are:

  • Worship as encounter. Good – affirms the sense in which God promises to be with his people as they gather, and the emotional encounter with truth and grace. These things should move us. Bad – has the potential to encourage a consumer mindset – ‘the worship didn’t really do anything for me so I’ll try that other place down the road.’ Also has the potential to be individualistic at the expense of the corporate sense of ‘singing to one another’ (see Colossians 3:16)
  • Worship as formation. Good – recognises the way in which the performance of praise as a habit shapes our hearts and desires. Bad – can easily drift into language and practise which is insensitive and insensible to the outsider (see 1 Corinthians 14:23-25)
  • Worship as mission. Good – keeps the church focused on her calling to reach others (see the 1 Cor 14 ref above). Keeps services accessible to anyone. Believes that outsiders might be impacted or attracted by our worship. Bad – has to potential to make the worship seeker driven, rather than seeker aware.

Glenn’s answer on the video is that we need to hold all three elements in appropriate tension, in line with the various instructions given in the Scriptures. What that looks like in practice requires a fair bit more thought, but they’re hopefully useful words to hang on to in our reflections about how we ‘do’ our sung worship – encounter, formation, mission.

 

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.

prayer

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.