Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Internet, Facebook And The Church

Via Internet Evangelism Day’s Facebook page: Internet World Stats have published details of Facebook usage statistics around the world. Not only that, these same statistics also mention general Internet usage in the nations of the world.

Of particular interest to me are the United Kingdom stats, which can be found on the European Union page. As of June last year, 82.5% of the population had Internet access. As of August last year, 44.6% were Facebook users.

OK, so some will have opened accounts and either not used them or only used them sporadically, but how much more convincing do churches need that an Internet and social media presence and strategy is no longer optional, it is central? It isn’t enough to say that these statistics don’t reflect the much lower usage among members of an elderly congregation, even when that is true, because such thinking openly betrays the lack of missionary thinking. Is the Internet just a glorified internal communication tool for the church, or is it somewhere to interact with the world in the name of Christ and with the love of God?

Both my churches here have Facebook pages that I set up. At present we don’t use them a lot, and I have to remember to put updates on them. Mostly there is the automated feed of my blog posts through them, but we could think of more, I’m sure. Similarly, Knaphill has a website. Addlestone used to, and is in the process of designing a new one.

The church needs to recognise that people are living a large amount of their lives online today. I don’t simply mean the minority who live almost exclusively online to the detriment of face-to-face relationships: I mean that millions live online in extension to the rest of their lives.

So thank God for initiatives like CODEC and others, such as the forthcoming Open Source evening at the Pentecost Festival (which, sadly, I can’t attend). We need to take what comes out of these ventures and translate them into mission in the local church.

All of this may be obvious to readers of this blog. You come here, either because you visit the site, you get the email updates, you follow it in a feed reader or via my Twitter stream or on Facebook through my account, the blog page, or one of the two churches above. But others need convincing, and this is something we need to communicate passionately and eloquently in our churches – not so that our online usage is a mere digital church notice sheet, but so that we genuinely and conversationally interact with a massive section of the population that we say we want to reach.

One or two of my church leaders recently wanted to think about streaming a video feed of church services online. It isn’t going to prove practical since there are too many hurdles, such as child protection, data protection, the number of personnel to do it effectively and possibly the cost, too. However, nothing could delight me more than that they are thinking imaginatively and not letting the old “We haven’t done it before” slogan prevent them coming up with ideas. What a great bunch of people they are to work with, especially in this culture.

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What Would You Say To The Organist?

I’m on leave this week, hence a few more opportunities to blog than usual. So yesterday I visited another church, out of the area. (I’m not giving any clues about its identity.) The welcome was warm, friendly and appropriate. The minister was a thoughtful, clear and challenging preacher. But one thing I witnessed led to extra exercise for one of my eyebrows, and it’s this.

The organist. No, this is nothing to do with the old ministers’ joke, what is the difference between an organist and a terrorist? The answer is, you can negotiate with a terrorist. By no means all church musicians are like that, and at Knaphill I am blessed with a godly organist and worship group leader.

The organist yesterday was competent. The music was played competently at a decent, consistent tempo. What could possibly make me wonder?
It was the choice of music before the service. My eyebrow started to get in training for next year’s Olympics when I realised the organist was playing John Lennon‘s ‘Imagine‘. That’s right, the one with the line, ‘Imagine no religion.’ Now I’ve blocked that from funeral services I take, something I don’t often do, but I even barred it when I once took the funeral of a woman who had danced with the Beatles at the Cavern in her youth. (We had ‘Twist and Shout’ instead as we left the chapel.)
Then having settled down again to talk with the people next to me in the pew, my eyebrow sprang into action again. George Benson, but sadly not from his jazz guitar phase. No: ‘The Greatest Love Of All.’  And that contains the line, ‘Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.’

I find it hard to think that the musician would not have known the lyrics. One time a dodgy choice maybe, but two before the same service? Perhaps the thought was, the music is nice but as I’m just playing this instrumentally and we’re not singing the contentious words, it’s OK. However, this service had a number of visitors present, and it could have been predicted there would have been on this occasion for certain reasons. I wonder how they reacted. With a smirk, maybe?

I wouldn’t want any of this to outweigh all the good things from that service, and there were many. The sermon ended with a moving video, and I happen to know there are many good and kind-hearted people in that congregation. The minister is not just a good preacher, but a good person.

However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the pastor had a quiet word with the organist afterwards. I think I would seek a diplomatic conversation if this happened in a church.

But maybe I don’t know all the facts, and perhaps I would be wrong in talking to the organist. What would you do?

The Bay Revival

Here we go again
? God TV are covering another ‘revival’ from the United States. Three years after the tragic mess around Todd Bentley and the Lakeland Revival, when many sincere Christians’ hopes were raised, only to be dashed, we now have The Bay Revival. I sat and watched some tonight. While I didn’t see any of the things that alarmed me about Bentley, I can’t pretend I don’t have some questions. Here are a few thoughts.

There was plenty of sung worship, but little prayer, no Bible reading whatsoever and no preaching. No confession and no intercession – except the prayer and laying on of hands for those seeking prayer for themselves. Perhaps it was significant that what seemed to be the most popular song was one with a refrain, ‘You are good’, leading to the punchline ‘You are good to me‘. Now I have no complaint at that thought in itself, but I do have a concern when that is the centre and circumference of God’s goodness.
Then there was the prayer ministry. Unlike the teaching we are following in the Letting Jesus Heal course at present, this was not about ‘team’ but about the ‘star’ who was leading the prayer. Mainly young British evangelist Nathan Morris but also John Kilpatrick, former leader of the Pensacola outpouring in the mid-1990s, the leader is at the centre of all the praying. He calls out ‘fire’ or a ‘mighty flow’, lays hands on people and assistants are there to catch them as they fall. If they don’t fall, he keeps praying. As soon as they do, he moves on. I have no problem in principle with people falling under the power of the power of the Holy Spirit, but I would reject any notion of it as the (almost) infallible sign that God is at work.

Ultimately, the sign will be whether the people so prayed for do show evidence of the fire of the Spirit in their lives after the event. We have no way of measuring it. I hope it will be true, but I am loath to jump to conclusions in the ways that the preachers seemed to here.

And likewise the claims for healing. I so want to believe that cancer of the oesophagus is being driven out, as was claimed tonight. However, it needs testing. On the other hand, though, in fairness there are many videos online showing a woman called Delia Knox getting out of a wheelchair and singing at one of the meetings last year. Others show her arriving back at her home.

This careful evaluation tends to think this is a genuine miracle. On balance, I tend to agree. To me, it looks like this has ‘stuck’. It doesn’t seem to be one of those temporary improvements that then regresses away from the original highly charged circumstances. If so, then although I have real reservations about the style adopted, God seems less concerned with that than me, and more concerned to be merciful to a woman in need. There will still need to be issues handled around those who have expectations raised only to be disappointed, but the healing of Delia Knox looks like the real deal to me, and if so, then may God be praised.

Finally, though, I was bothered by what I heard towards the end of the broadcast. People were invited to come to the front to receive prayer – good. But they were asked to bring their offerings with them. I think it wasn’t meant in a sinister way – bring money in order to be healed – because of the commentary Morris gave immediately afterwards. But the juxtaposition was unfortunate. However, while Morris said he didn’t want people to take away from their regular offerings (tithes) to their own churches, he did exhort them to ‘sow into revival’ – a phrase often heard in these contexts. Apparently the Bay Revival needs lots of money for trucks. And I just wonder whether a revival of God needs high budgets – or am I being unfair? Does it need big venues, world tours and international television coverage (although that is how I came to know of this, I admit)? OK, some Christian projects do. But it’s like the original Pentecost could never have happened, being such a low-budget affair.

So – has anyone else followed this? What opinions do you have?

Methodist-Catholic Relations

Richard Hall nails it: in a week when the Roman Catholic cathedral in Liverpool’s hospitality to hold Methodist ordinations has been spiked by a word from the Vatican, Richard writes:

My experience for a long time has been that the Methodist and Catholic communities get along very well together ‘on the ground’. We’ve come a long way from the “catholics are the anti-Christ” attitude that was very present during my upbringing …

Sadly, the powers that be in the Catholic Church just don’t seem to get it. They seem content to turn a blind eye to local co-operation as long as no one makes too much fuss about it, but they remain committed to a worldview which sees their church as the repository of truth with the rest of us being second class Christians at best.

His summary chimes with my experience. My best man (and best friend since the age of seven) is a Catholic. In my ministry, I have almost always got on well with the Catholic priests in the localities. But at ‘top’ level, we’re still in the Dark Ages. In fact, you get the impression they wish the Second Vatican Council had never happened.

Some of it does filter down to ordinary Catholics, sadly. Go to the Catholic Herald report on this story and you will find some utterly spiteful remarks from lay Catholics in the ‘comments’ section. Go to one of the Catholic blogs that first protested the original invitation and you will see commenters saying things like this:

It reminds me of the Imam preaching in Westminster Cathedral, or ++Vincent Nichols laying flowers on a heather altar in Willesden, or the idol on the Catholic altar at Asissi.

And that from a man who describes himself as a ‘Former teacher, banker, teacher, investment consultant, project worker in London homelessness charity’. The clear implication is that this educated man still thinks that all non-Catholics are non-Christians.

I am glad I shared a Good Friday walk of witness this year with very different Catholics. But the bad old days are clearly still alive and kicking like a mule in other places. No wonder Richard says he thinks ‘that the ecumenical movement is well and truly stuck’. I guess we’ll just have to remain subversive at the grass-roots level, and support those of our Catholic sisters and brothers who quietly have to ignore or defy these oppressive policies.

How I contrast this with the meeting I had in Addlestone this last week, where representatives of our small and largely elderly Methodist congregation considered overtures from our local New Frontiers church to use our hall for reaching out to people in debt and for running a post-Alpha Course Bible study. We don’t agree on all matters, but the spirit of the meeting was about co-operation in the Gospel. And the more of that there is, the better.

I’m sorry if some of this sounds angry, but the arch-traditionalist Catholics need to understand what their attitudes are doing to other people who also follow Jesus Christ. And that’s a serious matter.

Spring Harvest Teaching

One thing I’m doing here at Knaphill is getting ready to organise a church party to next year’s Spring Harvest. (Yes, church members, look out for information in the notice sheet and on the video screen: it’s coming.)

As I surfed around various links, it brought back memories. Not only of it being the place where thirty years ago I heard a call to Christian leadership, but also of the last time I went, in 1997.

That year, I was a seminar speaker at Minehead, and to my astonishment the seminars I gave can still be purchased. If you doubt me, look here. And available not only in the original cassettes (the only format available fourteen years ago) but on shiny CDs. Though not those new-fangled MP3s, sadly, for instant download.

I never sold enough for them to consider it worth writing me a royalty cheque, and I have moved three times since then, so they won’t have my address on their records. However, it made me wonder whether I would still say the same things about the topics I was given. I would certainly be more subtle and sophisticated about postmodernism. I would speak differently about singleness. I was single at the time, having been through a broken engagement, but had not yet met Debbie. I don’t think I would alter the basics I taught about culture, although I like to think I would add some richness in terms of the importance of cultural engagement and appropriation. As for hermeneutics, well it’s a matter of interpretation. :)

I’d probably be embarrassed to hear the talks again, but the flip side of that is that it’s surely a good sign to know your thinking and your faith has progressed. Howard Ashby, the minister under whom I was converted, once said that for every Sunday he always revisited old sermons, because there would be something wrong with his faith if he couldn’t improve on what he had said about a passage or a subject years previously. There is wisdom in that approach, even if it’s not what I do regularly. (But I do occasionally.)

And it will be interesting to view Spring Harvest again next year after a fifteen year break. What will I make of it? And although I’ve been as a punter since I began as a minister, it will be the first time I go pastorally with a church group. Previously I simply went with Christian friends.

I wonder what it will all say about the journey of faith.

The Employment Status Of Methodist Ministers

This has been hot on Methodist blogs over the last few days: a legal case about whether Methodist ministers should have the same employment protection in law as employees in ordinary jobs. It stems from a case in Cornwall, where a minister called Haley Moore resigned in 2009, but wishes to sue the church for constructive dismissal. However, that is only possible if legally ministers are regarded as employees. In 1984 the courts confirmed the traditional interpretation that we are not, but in recent years a Pentecostal pastor was deemed to have been an employee. Moore has won a ruling that would enable ministers to be considered as employees, but the Methodist Church announced last week it was to appeal against this.

Why does this interest me, and what is at stake?

It doesn’t just interest me, because I am a Methodist minister. My working background before ministry informs my interest. I worked in the Civil Service, and for three years part of my job involved determining whether people were employed or self-employed for National Insurance purposes. There is a range of factors to be considered, because employment status is not determined in the UK by statute but by case-law. So you look for precedent – does someone have a ‘contract of service’ (in which case s/he is an employee) or do they have a ‘contract for services’ (that would make someone self-employed). To illustrate one difference, in a contract of service, that named individual must turn up to perform the tasks, usually at a certain time. In a contract for services, the worker may provide a substitute.

However, ‘employed’ and ‘self-employed’ are but two of four employment designations available in British law. The other two are ‘director of a limited company’ (clearly irrelevant here) and ‘office holder’. And that is the crucial category, because that is how ministers have been regarded. Not many jobs or professions are classified as office holders. The only other one that springs to mind is Registrars of Births, Marriages and Deaths. We are office holders, because we are deemed to be engaged by God, not the Church. Hence we do not have employment rights when it comes to issues such as unfair dismissal. The Church claims instead to provide appropriate structures for justice to be done.

My other interest in this case is that for part of my time in the Civil Service, I was a representative of my union in my office. I would say that my first experience of pastoral care was in supporting a colleague whose work was suffering, in explaining to management why her personal situation meant her work was not up to standard for a time. I therefore care about employment rights from that perspective.
Hence, I understand why many of my colleagues are calling for us to be regarded as employees, so that we might be protected in law. There is a feeling in some circles that you cannot always trust the promises of the Church to be fair and just. David Hallam refers to the mistreatment of a minister in his post on this subject, and Tony Buglass alludes to it in the re-invitation system, in his comment on David’s post. I could add to their stories what I know about the way ministers can be the subjects of lies and falsehoods when the question of a re-invitation comes up, and all without redress. I can equally point to stories of the loving pastoral care given by senior ministers, such as Superintendents and Chairs of Districts, in these times.

So you know now why I have an interest in this subject, but I have not yet come to the question I posed about what is at stake. It is here that I find the situation more complex than it first appears.

To be sure, becoming employees would afford us protection. It would be a warning against the low-level defamation of character that infects our Church. I don’t suppose the Church would sign up to the European Working Time Directive, though, which would limit our working hours to forty-eight per week!

And in line with this, there are certain practices the Church has adopted, which have been lifted from the world of employment, and which give us more the character of employees. We are subject to an annual appraisal (now called the Annual Development Review). When we accept a new appointment, we have to assent to a Letter of Understanding, which sets out the broad parameters within which the circuit expects us to work.

However, to confirm employee  status would give certain lay leaders more freedom to tell ministers what they should and should not do with their time. I could tell stories from long ago, in a galaxy far, far away of circuit stewards who clearly thought it was their rôle to be the ministers’ managers. We could institutionalise more little Hitlers than we already have.

There is a reason why we are not paid a salary (recompense for our work) but a stipend (a living allowance). The assumption has been that ministers are given enough to live, free from financial worry, so that we can pray and discern what specifically God is calling us to do in the context where we are placed. This is placed within what the Methodist Church calls the ‘covenant’ between the Church and the ministers: that on the one hand ministers will sacrificially and obediently follow Christ in their calling (including where the Church sends us to serve), and that on the other hand the Church will look after us, especially in the light of what we give up in order to do this. Hence the provision of both stipend and manse.

This stipend-covenant relationship would be fatally undermined if we became employees. We would have to be paid a salary, and there would be major questions about the future of the manse system. Whatever the cost of maintaining manses, if they are removed then circuits will have to wait for a minister to buy or rent a property in the area. So much for the continuity of ministry that happens in Methodism, where one minister leaves and another moves in almost immediately. (Some, though, would not see a vacancy as a bad thing: they believe that the current system infantilises congregations by reinforcing dependency.) What both the salary and manse issues boil down to, of course, are money, and that is in short supply at grass-roots level. Hence, this could be a major tension if the courts find in favour of Haley Moore.

Hence I hope you now see why I believe this is not a straightforward issue. There are advantages and disadvantages both to changing to employee status and to retaining office holder status.

Tragically, though, this whole debate and the stories many people could tell that lie behind their comments are a sad commentary on the state of our Church. Behind all of this is a narrative about a lack of trust and a shortage of love. To me, those are the biggest issues here, and the hardest to resolve.

Are We Called?

‘Calling’ is a major theme in much Christian spirituality. Being called to faith, called to serve in a particular way and so on. It’s something that was big in our circuit this afternoon with the ‘ordinand’s testimony service’ for one of my colleagues, a probationer minister who is about to be ordained this summer at the Methodist Conference. We listened to Chrissie telling us the story of her ‘call’. And throughout the process, she will have been asked – as I was – whether she still felt as called to the ministry.
But a recent article in Ministry Today, The Concept of Calling in Christian Discipleship, challenges this popular understanding. David Kerrigan points out that the examples of being called in Scripture are much less common than the more regular pattern of looking for character and qualifications. He argues that the idea God has a meticulous, detailed plan for all of our lives is defective. Although there are exceptions where God does have particular plans for certain individuals, it does not apply to most of us. He argues this on pastoral, intellectual and biblical grounds.

Pastorally, when someone misses what they believe to be the detailed will of God, it can be catastrophic – as it is also when others do not agree with them. Intellectually, he sees providence as more about the overarching big picture than the fine detail. Biblically, there is much on general discipleship to set alongside those examples of specific calling.

In particular, Kerrigan commends a book called Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen (sadly not available through Amazon UK).

Read his article and see what you think.

Sermon For Aldersgate Sunday: ‘I Submitted To Be More Vile’

Luke 10:1-20
On 24th May 1988, two hundred and fifty years after John Wesley’s conversion, I was exploring my call by being a Methodist independent student at an Anglican theological college in Bristol. Some months prior to that big anniversary, I had nabbed the Vice-Principal, who was also the lecturer in Church History, and asked if we could mark the anniversary at college. He readily agreed. We had a display in a corridor, and I led an evening in chapel.

One memory I have of the celebrations is the debates that raged in Methodism over the conversion. Was Wesley’s experience of his ‘heart strangely warmed’ a conversion, or just the assurance of faith? Well, you can make your own mind up on that one. I’m not going to touch on that this morning.
But another debate was whether we should only celebrate 24th May 1738, or whether we should also remember 1st April 1739. Why? Because that was the day John Wesley was finally persuaded by George Whitefield to preach the gospel in the open air to the miners at Kingswood. Up until then, Wesley said he would have regarded preaching outside a church building as a sin, but from that date he noted that he ‘submitted to be more vile’ by taking the Gospel outside the doors of the church.

And I think it must be in that light that Luke 10 is the Lectionary Gospel reading for Aldersgate Sunday. Today, I propose that we learn from Wesley and from Jesus how we might ‘submit to be more vile’. After all, if we have warmed hearts but just stay within the safe walls of the church building, what good is the experience, apart from it being a private religious bless-up?

Firstly, we have here a mixture of prayer and action. Jesus kicks off with prayer: ‘ask the Lord of the harvest’, but the people who are to pray are also the people who are sent out with the message. How wrong we are to divorce prayer from action, support from mission.

Wesley’s own life was marked by an extensive commitment to prayer, but also to mission. If there is one area where we do not reflect our founder in contemporary Methodism, it may be this. When the subject of mission comes up in the local church, often all that means is us raising money for other people to engage in mission. I’m not about to decry the fact that when we raise money, various organisations can achieve certain things on a large scale that are beyond us, but I do question the assumption that all we do locally is act as support services.

But for those of us in the Wesleyan tradition, and who follow Jesus, we cannot stop there. Whatever the benefits of contributing to large scale projects, we have no justification under the Lordship of Jesus for stopping there. We are called to pray and to support – but Jesus also calls us to be part of the answers to our prayers. Those of us who walk in the ways of Jesus are junior partners in his kingdom. Jesus calls us not only to enjoy the benefits of his kingdom, but to let it overflow to others. It isn’t just the leaders, the Twelve – Jesus does that one chapter earlier. He calls ‘seventy others’ – people from his wider circle both to pray and to engage. I think that implies all of us.

Now I am aware that in saying this, I can easily load a burden of guilt on people. If preachers tell congregations they need to share their faith, so let me put it like this. This is not about obligation. It is not a series of ‘oughts’. It is about overflow.
Put it this way. Our son enjoys drinking milk. He particularly likes it gently warmed in the microwave. Forty seconds – or fifty seconds during winter. The other day, he went to collect a full mug of milk from the microwave. But as he came out of the utility room and into the kitchen, he tripped up on a step between the rooms. So what happened? Spilt milk.

Similarly, our faith will spill out into the world when we are full, and someone or something trips us up. If we want to have a missionary effect upon the world, then it starts by becoming filled up with God – which will probably happen in prayer – and then overflowing when we get tripped up. So – prayer and action contribute to an overflow of God’s love to the world.

A second strand of Wesleyan mission in the spirit of Jesus would be simplicity. “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road,” says Jesus (verse 4).

Whenever I read that verse, I always think of a friend of mine who works for an Anglican evangelistic organisation. When they hold missions in an area, they have a rule of simplicity for those on the mission team. It involves taking no accoutrements with them like mobile phones, and only an allowance of £2 per day. They rely on the hospitality of the local church. Usually this works out quite well – despite the restrictions and all the physical effort of the mission, many participants return home, having put on weight!

However, what would it be if there is a general pattern that Jesus sets here of simplicity in our lifestyles? Not that every Christian does without everything pleasant in life, but that we resist the pattern of our culture to acquire more and more ‘things’, to think that buying the latest fashionable object will somehow make our lives complete. As well as making income available for others in need – ‘Live simply that others might simply live’ is the old slogan – there is also the fact that living in a way that says we do not have to lust after all the latest consumer items is itself a testimony to the fulfilment that can only come through Jesus Christ.
Is it surprising, then, that in some quarters of the church, not least among some young adults, there is a movement that has been called ‘new monasticism’? People are seeking to live by a rule of life that involves self-denial, not cloistered away behind abbey walls but in the midst of communities. Others put a big stress on hospitality – not simply in terms of inviting your friends for a meal, but in sharing food and care with strangers.

Now I say all this as someone who tomorrow morning is having the so-called ‘superfast’ fibre broadband installed at the manse! I am far from opposed to us enjoying good things in life. As Paul puts it:

For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4).

But we have a society that is drunk on consumer goods. And Christian testimony needs to stand in contrast to the false values embraced by many. It isn’t enough to preach the Gospel with our words, it must be lived with our actions and our attitudes, too.

A third element of this ‘submitting to be more vile’, this Wesleyan mission in the spirit of Jesus, would be what Wesley called ‘prevenient grace’, or what regular people call God going ahead of us to work before we get there. We see this in the part of the passage where Jesus tells his followers to go into a home saying, “Peace to this house!”, and waiting to see whether ‘anyone who shares in peace’ is there (verses 5-6).

Fruitful mission, in other words, is not where we take the initiative, where we force the pace, but where God has already gone ahead of us and is at work in people’s lives through the Holy Spirit to prepare them for the good news of his love.

It’s exactly how Jesus himself shared in the mission of the Father. In John 5:19 he said, “I only do what I see my Father doing.” Even Jesus didn’t take the first step: the Father did.

It’s a principle that – once you know it, you will notice it here, there and everywhere. Sometimes it comes in a dramatic form: I have heard stories of people taking the Gospel to a community somewhere in the world that has never heard of Jesus Christ. However, when the Christians begin to tell the stories of Jesus, people say something like this: “Oh, so that’s the person who has been popping up in my dreams!”

Or it is as simple as having an ordinary conversation with a friend whom you think has no interest in spiritual matters, only for them suddenly to ask a major spiritual question. You think, “Now where did that come from?” Well, maybe it came from God going ahead of you, working to woo that person with love before you ever arrived on the scene.

When I talk about this, I usually tell people this is good news! You see, it takes the pressure off us! We don’t have to force or manipulate situations – and of course we shouldn’t! But we can pray and see how God leads. A common catchphrase is to say that mission is ‘seeing what God is doing and joining in’. Just as Jesus told the seventy to offer peace and see whether anyone else [already] shared in it, so we go blessing people in his name, looking for where he has already started prompting people and we then share in his mission as junior partners.

And that mention of ‘blessing’ leads to the fourth and final aspect I want to share this morning about mission: blessing people is our priority. It’s not only the offer of peace, it’s not merely the preaching of God’s kingdom, the mission includes ‘curing the sick’ (verse 9) and I take that to include not only physical healing but also a mandate to meet all sorts of needs in Christ’s name.

I believe that provides a corrective to the way we often view the relationship between Christians and the world. Too often what we are known for is the way we declaim against the wickedness of the world. I’m not denying a proper place for prophetically speaking against sin in all its forms. But there is something about the way we do that, which has earned us a reputation as self-righteous people who consider themselves above everybody else. Ask many MPs what their image of Christians is, and they will tell you that these are the constituents who write the nastiest letters. Ask a Christian MP about their witness in Parliament, and they may well tell you this is one of the greatest hurdles to their being received sympathetically.

What if we were known as the people who are a blessing to anyone in distress? How would that portray the love of God? What if we were the people always available to the hurting in the neighbourhood? What if each of us took seriously the different networks we move in, and sought to be blessings there? The workplace; the street where we live; the people we mix with socially when we relax. All these are places where we can be a blessing.

Yes, there will be times when we run into conflict with the world, and when what we do or say is not appreciated. There will be seasons where we experience rejection. Then – and only then – do we wipe the dust off our feet in protest and move on elsewhere (verse 11). But I have to tell you, that if I wracked my brain for examples of this, the main one I would come up with wouldn’t be about a parting of the ways with non-Christians, but with church people!

In conclusion, there is so much more I could say about this passage. It is one that has meant a lot to me over the years – so much so that I had to limit what points I wanted to make today. But if it does one thing for us this Aldersgate Sunday, I pray it gets us out of our churches and into the world with the love of God, rather than forever vainly waiting for people to come to us.

John Wesley ‘submitted to be more vile’. What about us?

The Rapture And The Dangers Of Bad Theology

There’s a lot of talk around about the claims that Christians will be ‘raptured’ this Saturday, and that Judgement Day will begin. See this site if you want to read some of the nonsense first hand, and here for more on the main proponent of this teaching.

But amid some of the hilarity this awful misuse of Scripture has provoked, there are real tragedies. Watch this video (HT: Mike Morrell):

If you ever wanted a reason why we should handle Scripture carefully, this is it.

John Wesley, The Parish And The World

Here is the third and final thought I want to share with you from Julian Reindorp’s talks at the Ministry Today conference.

He said this to us during worship in the chapel at Pleshey Retreat House:

John Wesley said the world was his parish. Forgive us for reversing this, and making the parish our world.”

Have we just become consumed with church matters rather than the kingdom?

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