3 Brief Reflections on the Case of the Convicted Street Preachers

Yesterday two street preachers were convicted of public order offences. They were preaching in Bristol’s Broadmead Shopping Centre last summer. They appeared to get into some heated debate, the police intervened, and they were charged under Section 31 of the Crime and Disorder Act – “threatening or abusive words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress, thereby, and the offence was religiously aggravated.” Now, I wasn’t in Bristol that day, and I haven’t closely followed their trial, but here are just three very simple observations/reflections:

  1. Let’s neither divinize nor demonize street preaching. Some may wish to uphold these street preachers as persecuted heroes. From the little bits of evidence I’ve seen and heard (see here) they did appear to be conducting themselves in a way that may have been unnecessarily provocative (whether it was threatening or abusive is unclear). The content of our speech is one thing, the tone another. Their conviction seems to be more about how they said, than what they said (but more on that below). But neither let us demonize street preachers. I have a friend who works for the Open Air Mission and having seen him speak in public, he is one of the most gentle and winsome people I know. Most of his work is done in one-to-one conversation. He’s always respectful and polite, and never rude, pushy, or dismissive.  And, as far as I know, he’s never had a problem with public or police. There surely needs to remain a place for civil dialogue in the public square, whatever our beliefs.
  2. Let’s highlight inconsistencies. If appropriate freedoms are to be enjoyed we should try and help the authorities spot the places where they are being inconsistent or contradictory. An interesting example occurred in this case where the prosecutor, Ian Jackson, stated, “To say to someone that Jesus is the only God is not a matter of truth. To the extent that they are saying that the only way to God is through Jesus, that cannot be a truth.” Take note of the inconsistency. The prosecutor makes a claim about truth – that claiming Jesus is the only God is not a matter of truth, or that Jesus is the only way to God cannot be truth. He uses an absolute truth claim to shut down absolute truth claims. Now, I uphold his right to make a claim for truth, but only on the basis that other truth claims are also permitted. To pick and choose which truth claims are permitted is arbitrary and possibly tyrannical. In public dialogue people should be able to make competing claims for truth, and should be free to respectfully discuss and disagree.
  3. Let’s not be afraid to speak up, but do so with gentleness and respect. The Evangelical Alliance and Lawyer’s Christian Fellowship recently put together a little booklet entitled Speak Up: A Brief Guide to the Law and Your Gospel Freedoms. In the booklet they highlight Articles 9 & 10 of the Human Rights Convention – articles which protect freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and expression. And they also give suggestions on how we may appropriately share our beliefs with others. Advice includes: listen well; be gentle; be respectful; be non-judgmental, be sensitive; treat others as you would have them treat you.

Yesterday’s judgement should not make people fearful of sharing their beliefs and values with others (in public or private), but it should encourage us to think carefully about how we do that. We might not always agree with one another in these things, but we should keep fighting for one another’s freedom to talk about them.

Why Gossip Is So Damaging

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Someone passed me a book by Henry Cloud recently entitled The Power of the Other. I can’t say I’ve read it in great detail, but the bits I’ve skimmed I like. In particular Cloud has a powerful chapter on what he terms the Bermuda triangle of relationships – the place where things go bad.

He’s referring to an older model known as the Karpman Drama triangle in which Bill upsets Ben who then goes and tells Bob. In Ben’s mind he is the victim, Bill the persecutor, and Bob the rescuer. Because Ben didn’t talk to Bill about the issue now Ben and Bob both think Bill’s a jerk. Bob only got one side of the story and, because he didn’t want to contradict or upset Ben he simply affirmed his version of events, which means Bill must have really been bad. Bob and Bill haven’t had any issues but now Bob has secret beef with Bill. Bill all this time is completely unaware of what’s going on. When he finds out he’s going to pull the victim card and find another rescuer, Burt, to confide in. Now Bill’s upset with Ben and Bob, as now is Burt. Ben and Bob are upset with Bill, and now Burt as he’s sided with Bill. And pretty quickly more people get dragged in and more people get more upset with more people. And all because Bill never spoke to Ben. Sad, no!?

It’s a powerful miniature portrait of just how destructive and divisive it can be to go sideways with our hurts. So what’s the solution? Here’s a few thoughts which may help:

  • Calm down. Sleep on it and reflect. It might not be all their fault – ‘Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent’ (Psa 4:1)
  • Slow down. Be slow to speak, quick to listen. There’s always another side to every story. ‘ Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry’ (Jam 1:19)
  • Quiet down. Not all things that could be said need to be. ‘Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.’ (Prov 10:19)
  • Speak up. Talk to God first. ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God’ (Phi 4:6)
  • Speak out. Talk first to the person with whom you have the issue. Follow the Matt 18 procedure – ‘if your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you’ (Matt 18:15). Matt 18:16-17 tells you what to do if they won’t listen.
  • Speak gently. Win your friend, not an argument. Don’t be confrontational. ‘slander no one, be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone’ (Tit 3:2)
  • Let it go. Don’t hold grudges. Forgive and don’t keep bringing it up. ‘Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.’ (Prov 26:20)

Few things harm churches as much as ongoing underlying tensions and conflicts. Satan loves it. Bring it into the light, deal with it. Don’t let it gnaw away at you or others. And rejoice in fellowship restored. If you’ve got an issue with someone don’t put it off; deal with it today. You’ll be glad you did.

Recruit the 6Cs

There’s any number of these kinds of lists, but this is one I’m finding helpful to think through at the moment:

  • Character (godliness)
  • Conviction (sound doctrine)
  • Competence (gifting)
  • Capacity (work ethic)
  • Chemistry (ability to get on with others)
  • Culture (understanding of our context and church culture)

And I think they’re all worthy of careful consideration. For example, if you’d asked me ten years ago I’d have said the first three are what I’m really interested in. A few years down the track I’m increasingly convinced that things like chemistry and culture are enormously important. Someone who constantly rubs others up the wrong way, or who dislikes or disagrees with your church culture is going to be a constant headache. While the person lacking in sound doctrine could do greater harm, the person who has a talent for upsetting others will still do significant harm. And if it’s a task vs. people thing I’m increasingly persuaded that erring toward people is preferable. So next time you’re recruiting, do yourself (and your team) a favour by giving consideration to all 6 ‘C’s.

7 Ideas on Ending a Talk Well

Just land the plane! We’ve all sat in talks where it feels like the speaker is coming in to land, only for them to take off and circle round again. Few things are more jarring for the listener expecting resolution. Too many of us give too little attention to the end of our talks assuming it’ll just ‘come out’ in the moment. In reality it doesn’t. I’d encourage all speakers to spend much more time carefully crafting their ending to ensure maximum rhetorical punch. Why spend all that time prepping only for your message to fizzle out in the closing straight. So here’s a few ideas of ways in which you can end a talk well:

  1. Camera pull-back – summarise the big idea in a pithy and compelling way (craft this well; don’t just presume it’ll ‘come out’).
  2. Call to action – give a clear application of what to do with what has been heard.
  3. Quote – a pithy sentence/paragraph, verse of a poem, a hymn that captures something of what you have been trying to say.
  4. Repetition – perhaps close with a repeated ‘phrase that stays’ that you’ve been using throughout the talk.
  5. Story – a good can illustrate the content of the message (could be positive or negative example).
  6. Key text – re-read your key verse as a way to summarise and close.
  7. Narrative symmetry – loop back to the thing/question/story you started with to bring resolution.

The Ideal Team Player

itpHere’s a little plug for an excellent book by Pat Lencioni entitled The Ideal Team Player. Pat explores the characteristics of those who really shine in a team, and what happens when one of more of those characteristics is missing. In essence his three main characteristics are humble, hungry, and smart (by ‘smart’ he’s more interested in social and emotional intelligence rather than intellectual ability). Having outlined these three he then begins to look at what happens if people are lacking in one or more area. For example what happens if someone is humble and hungry, but not people smart; or what if someone is hungry and smart but not that humble. It’s a revealing little tool that helps you understand self and others, and well worth talking through with the teams you lead. He has a really helpful diagram which I’ve butchered below.

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I’d definitely recommend this book as a clear, simple, helpful little tool as you seek to develop the health and functionality of your teams (including yourself!). And here’s a 90 second summary to further whet your appetite.

12 New Year Ideas To Fuel Your Spiritual Growth in 2017

A new year spurs many of us toward resolutions regarding our spiritual growth. So here’s a few ideas to help you strike while the iron is hot.

  1. Consider your attendance. If church or small group has become irregular in recent months the best thing you can do is ink it in your diary and resolve to be there more regularly this year.
  2. Consider your personal Bible reading and prayer. Try a Bible reading plan – there’s loads on line that you can download as an app on your phone or print off paper copies to tuck into the back of your Bible. I like the ‘Bible in One Year’ plan which you can get from your app store for free. Also give PrayerMate a go – another great app which helps you organise your prayers into people/groups/topics.
  3. Consider your outreach. Has this become a bit luke-warm of late. Do you need to invest in some existing friendships. Is there a hobby or group your could start to make some new friendships. Is there someone who you are praying for. Is there a pain-line to cross with someone. Make that invite, have that conversation. Get back in the game.
  4. Consider your character. Is there something in your life which you need to deal with. Perhaps this is the time to talk to someone. Maybe start a little prayer triplet – people with whom you can be accountable in sharing with and praying for one another. Send a text or email to a close friend – do it now!
  5. Consider your wider church family. If your church produces an annual address book and/or weekly notice sheet then why not use those to fuel your prayers.
  6. Consider hospitality – do you regularly extend yourself to others? This is something for all of us, not just some of us (see 1 Pet 4:9). Maybe it’s Sunday lunch, or a coffee, or just a MacD’s after work. How can you bless others. Remember it is more blessed to give than to receive – that implies that you will be blessed, and you will grow as you seek to bless others.
  7. Consider your service – this is a key way for us to grow. Are you a consumer or spectator at your church, or are you serving others sacrificially. Our spiritual growth isn’t just about reading books or having quiet times. We grow as we serve. So perhaps there’s a new opportunity or team you could step into. Pick up a towel, wash some feet, and see how God uses you and develops you.
  8. Consider your worship. Regular attendance at church or small groups is part of that. But also try reading a devotional book – Tim Keller’s Psalms devo book is great. Use some older works as devotionals or prayer prompts – some of my favourites include Valley of Vision, Newton’s Letters, Imitation of Christ (Thomas a Kempis). Or how about some new Christian music – no shortage of options here. For some of us (prob most of us) music lifts our souls in ways that other suggestions here won’t.
  9. Consider your reading. Get to 10ofthose or the GoodBook website and splash some cash. Get some of the old classics on your Kindle (many are free). Maybe you could start a reading group – make a list of 6-8 great books and read together. Maybe meet for Sunday lunch once every other month to talk about what you’ve read.
  10. Consider your digital world. Do a little social media review – how much time are you using it and how are you using it. Anything to action? Try a blog feed – Feedly is my app of choice – enables me to follow a number of helpful resources which feed mind and soul. Subscribe to a podcast – there’s loads of good preaching podcasts which you could use on your commute – again shout out to Keller’s Redeemer podcast.
  11. Consider your giving. Jesus talked about money quite a lot. A new year is a good time to do a financial review and think about whether you’re being sacrificial and generous not just with your time and talent, but with your money.
  12. Make a plan. Take a few of the things above the most strike you and plan to do something. Good intentions won’t be enough. We need to put some things in the diary and put a plan into action. So think about it, pray about it, plan it, and do it. And grow in grace in 2017.

Best Books of 2016

Here’s the obligatory list of good reads from 2016. Enjoy!

  • 5 Voices and 5 Gears (Cockram and Kubicek) – two simply outstanding books on leading and understanding others and ourselves.
  • Understanding Christian Mission (Sunquist); Introducing Christian Mission Today (Goheen) – two excellent, more heavy-weight, missiology texts – must read for anyone doing work and research in the area of missiology.
  • Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully (Piper) – lovely stuff on the power of crafted communication, with excerpts from Lewis, Whitefield, and Herbert – what’s not to love!?
  • Justice (Sandel) – excellent, entertaining, informative look at ethics (non-Christian, but that wouldn’t put you off a good book now would it!?)
  • Bringing It To The Table (Berry) – a stimulating look at our relationship with the land and our food. You don’t need to agree with everything here, but it’ll certainly make you think.
  • Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Mohler, Enns, Bird, Vanhoozer, Franke) – strange, frustrating, shrill in places – but Vanhoozer’s essay alone is worth your time and money (and Mike Bird will having you laughing out loud too!)
  • Isaac Watts (Graham Beynon) – accessible, heart-warming, practical, and applied – more please Graham!

So there you have it. Now it’s your turn! Comment to tell which books I must read in 2017.

Seasonal blessings and cheer on you all!

A couple of models for missional thinking

I came across these in some recent reading as they relate to my PhD. The first is the Engel scale – a sixteen point scale that attempts to plot responses to and journeys toward Christian faith.

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The second is the Gray Matrix. This is a response to and development of Engel’s scale which factors in attitude as well as knowledge.

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Now here’s a few reflections on these models:

  • First, I’ve been unable to find the methodology behind these results. I don’t know if they’re based on research interviews or something else, and I’d be keen to know the basis upon which these models are proposed (any help on sources appreciated).
  • Second, it has been widely recognised that overly neat and linear presentations don’t fully represent the reality of people’s faith journey.
  • Third, these models are only useful if you factor in the sovereign grace of God, at which point the usefulness is hugely relativized.
  • Fourth, these models strike me as a tad cognitive, and perhaps do not give quite enough weight to the emotional or experiential – perhaps?
  • Fifth, there is the danger that we can use these models to plot the idealized pathway to faith which is, given points 2 and 3, not easy or necessarily fruitful.
  • Finally, and with all the necessary caveats in place it may be worth pondering whether our missional strategies hit some of these different points on the pathways. Are we doing all our work at points 8, 9, 10? Are we sufficiently aware of and active in the realms of points 1, 2, 3? And how might you adopt different approaches to the open and to the hostile?

Models like this are funny things. It strikes me they can serve as potentially useful tools, but truly terrible masters. What do you think? Is this stuff helpful? How might you utilise these models?

Let Your Gentleness Be Evident To All

I was reminded the other day of the cartoon in which a man is huddled over his computer in his dressing grown, and calls out to his wife, ‘I can’t come to bed just yet darling; someone on the internet is wrong.’

 

The reason I mention this is because I’ve seen a number of examples in recent weeks of Christian leaders frankly disqualifying themselves in the way they speak to and about others. There seems to be a strange delight in being provocative, curt, uncharitable, and just plain rude. If we spoke to those we lead the way we speak online many of us would lose our jobs. So here’s a few verses that I think apply every bit as much to social media world as the real world:

  • ‘a gentle answer turns away wrath; but a harsh word stirs up anger’ (Prov 15:1)
  • ‘Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own’ (Prov 26:17)
  • ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.’ (Gal 5:22-23)
  • ‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’ (Eph 4:2-3)
  • ‘Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.’ (Phil 4:5)
  • ‘clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.’ (Col 3:12)
  • ‘the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone’ (2 Tim 2:24)
  • ‘slander no one, be peaceable and considerate, and always be gentle towards everyone (Titus 3:2)
  • ‘the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit (Jam 3:17)
  • and don’t forget those elder qualifications – temperate, self-controlled, respectable, gentle, not quarrelsome (1 Tim 3:2-3), upright, holy, and disciplined (Titus 1:8).

Now of course I don’t think that means we aren’t allowed to disagree, debate, and dialogue, but tone and context are everything, and I’m increasingly convinced that Facebook and Twitter aren’t the place. So can I gently encourage us all – leaders and role-models in particular – to let our gentleness be evident to all.

If you want to think more about this, one of our ministers here at Grace, Jon Putt, did an excellent five part series recently on how we use and engage social media – you can find it here:

http://www.graceinthecommunity.com/sermons/

Christmas and the ‘Customer’

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As a church, we’re about to hit our busiest time of the year. Over the next four weeks, here at Grace, we’ll see hundreds of guests walk through the doors. Though it might seem unspiritual to say it, the chance of them returning is connected to their experience.

Marshall Goldsmith in his book, Triggers, describes the power of encounter with a simple diagram as follows:

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Goldsmith uses this diagram to describe his own encounters with flight crew. We might translate this for churches as follows:

  • actively positive – big smile, warm welcome, genuinely pleased to welcome a visitor, will go out of their way to help. These people should be ‘customer facing’ – welcome, stewards, refreshments, platform etc.
  • passively positive – will hand out a service sheet with a smile – pleasant, but not necessarily winning.
  • passively negative – think passive aggressive . . . the person who doesn’t say hello to the visitor who sits next to them, or who tuts at noisy children, or who greets the inquirer with a minimal answer and a forced smile. Not always easy to describe, but we all have a pretty sensitive radar to the passive aggressive.
  • actively negative – the sort of person that identifies a visitor, then scolds them for sitting or standing in the wrong place, for lingering with their coffee, for generally being present, in the way, and an inconvenience. These people should be advised to sit at home and watch Songs of Praise (only joking, sort of)!

The other little nugget of insight from Goldsmith was that his airline crew were all working for the same company, same hours, same pay, same job, same training – yet could be quite different. Goldsmith suggests (off the back of some further research) that the determining factor was not external environment but the internal mood and disposition of the person. In other words we can all take responsibility and actively choose to be warm and welcoming. And if we’re not, we can’t blame someone, or something else for what is ultimately our problem.

So what can you do this Christmas to help visitors feel welcome?

  • A warm welcome at the door – someone to greet, ideally who they will see on the platform (leader or speaker) – big smile, warm handshake, genuine enthusiasm
  • Friendly stewards – sensitive, keen to help – whether in the car-park or in the building
  • clear signs and directions – what will happen, where do we find things – have people around who can help answer questions
  • Speaking in such a way as to acknowledge and welcome visitors (many of us are not as good at this as we think we are – think about pitch, tone, language)
  • Quality refreshments – nothing says ‘we’ll tolerate you, but we don’t like you’ like instant coffee and soggy biscuits
  • A gift pack for visitors with info about the church and a small gift to thank them for coming
  • A ‘connect’ team who are especially tasked with looking out for visitors after the service, and answering any questions

Now of course we want people to encounter Christ in his Word, and of course we want the whole church to be welcoming, but it seems to me, genuinely welcoming churches don’t take this for granted – they are proactive and intentional about offering a superb welcome. A lady visited our church recently. She’d visited another church the week before who had told her that her wheelchair was making the place look untidy. She didn’t go back. I suspect that church didn’t intend to be unfriendly, but this sort of thing is more likely to happen when the expectation of welcome is implied, rather than pursued. So don’t be defensive or overly pious about this. Take responsibility, take action, and go out of your way to be actively positive.