Ministry strands

These are my strands – yours may be fewer or greater and your gifting, and therefore your emphases, will not be the same as mine. This is me setting out my stall, always with an eye to others I can learn from.

Preaching and teaching…

…and evangelism linked with the use of online media

Preaching should not be long, or complicated, but focused. This may take more preparation, not less.

Hearing the word that bring faith may begin with preaching but it shouldn’t end there. There is little time or opportunity in a sermon to process what is heard. Most people retain perhaps a tenth of what they hear in a sermon, even if the structure is good with memorable ‘signposts’. I have found that people get more out of it if they have some familiarity with the topic beforehand, and are able to reflect and discuss with others subsequently.

This is the age of social media and website information. People are used to finding what they want online. Even in a rural and dispersed county with phone signals that come and go, everyone carries a smartphone. There is also a second subliminal signal – that the preacher is part of the discussion, available and not above or remote from questions.

A ‘heads up’ on the main Bible passage and a brief, perhaps tentative, sense of the message primes people to receive.

Far from taking away from the impact of the preached message, I have found that people come with expectation and engage more fully. If the message contains a challenge, it helps if the broad teaching is familiar. It is quite possible to post a blog or two perhaps taking questions that arise from the text and leaving them hanging.

Subsequently, audio on the website helps those who (increasingly) have other Sunday morning commitments to have their own hearing, and a brief summary with discussion starters and further Bible study for reflection, helps people apply the teaching to their lives. If the culture is that most people are part of a small group, the discussion is already happening. My observation is that it is in this environment that the real learning takes place.

Community…

…with a focus ‘outside the walls’

The last church I pastored had become known well outside its area for keeping its doors open on Saturday night and early Sunday morning for the clubbers and others of the night-time economy. This Night Shift is listed as a Fresh Expression of church. So is Reel Church, a regular film and discussion night.

Small groups which ‘own’ a particular area of mission comprise another outside focus. This may be around a particular interest, or a local community affinity.

I have limited experience of Messy Church but done well, so that it is not just messy but Church as well, it is an accessible way into spirituality. I see its rapid growth as a strand of revival across the UK. The informal, participative, welcoming-to-all Café Church format is a little more difficult to plan and run well – it needs to really have the feel of a café and also offer real content in small, high-quality well delivered portions – but I feel it has even greater potential to connect and start making disciples of Jesus.

Small groups…

…(and courses) for disciple formation and mission

Every church I have served has had small groups and these have been varied. Some has been more pastoral, emphasising belonging and being a confidential place to share life issues and pray for one another. For people whose life situations have been challenging, it’s hard to overemphasise the importance of such a caring, safe place.

Bible study groups emphasise studying the word, led by the group leader of some experience and maturity.

Home groups are more about sharing life together with Bible study and discussion and prayer and worship. Typically the home group leader leads but encourages participation.

Then there are variations on the holistic group model which are pastoral, disciple-forming and also missional, often using the format of welcome, worship, word and works (mission) There is an expectation that all participate in some way, and may take a turn in leading a section.

Sometimes these groups can be like mini-churches, complete in themselves as little ‘cells’ of a bigger organism, which is where the somewhat unattractive label cell comes from – but it emphasises being organic and flexible and growing, not a programme or institution. This kind of holistic group is in my view another genuine Fresh Expression of church and will attract people for whom a Sunday morning congregation is unattractive to start with.

Groups like any of the above which have to hand a brief summary of the Sunday teaching and well-written discussion starters allow the preacher to concentrate on teaching the principles from the passage– shorter sermon! – knowing that there is provision for the application and learning to follow.

Relating…

…loving, and encouraging (modelling John 13:34-35).

“If the Son shall set you free…” – helping people find freedom from emotional and spiritual hindrances.

What is this thing we call church? If it isn’t about love, I would say it isn’t about Jesus’ church.

We all need some help to shed the baggage of upbringing and life’s difficulties. The baggage people carry with them into the kingdom is a major source of church conflict. I was one of the pioneers of Freedom in Christ and have subsequently had training in Living Free (sometimes known as Jesus Ministry) which is another gentle, safe, repentance-based approach to personal prayer ministry. This teaching and ministry is very helpful, some would say essential,  to dismantling strongholds we have built up over many years of coping with life, and therefore making more room for the life of God to develop our ministry, whatever form that may be.

Church conflicts start where love and forbearance get pushed out by people’s egos and ambitions and other insecurities. If personal spiritual freedom isn’t the whole answer, it is certainly some of the answer.

Knowing Father, Son and Holy Spirit…

…and the empowering for ministry and mission of the Holy Spirit.

Relating to a loving, caring Father, to the Son Jesus who has shared every experience we encounter and the person of the Holy Spirit who speaks reassuringly to us and guides us. This is about bringing the life of God to every dimension of life and ministry. For me it is allowing space and freedom for the Holy Spirit to minister, while avoiding what appears weird or is offputting to others. Knowing more of the life of God, including the life of the Spirit, comes through removing religious barriers, not creating new ones.

The kingdom of God…

…and the bigger picture of one church and many congregations and expressions.

Different church fellowships and denominational streams give people different places of connection. People find God and experience God in a variety of ways – vibrant and noisy, quiet and reflective, extempore and instant, liturgical and historic. Increasingly we are seeing Christians of different streams low together, renounce competition and work for the one kingdom. I have particular experience in encouraging church leaders across a town or city to gather to pray for one another and for their common mission.

After decades of trying to create uniform people and the ‘right’ kind of gathering, I am fascinated by how evangelical simplicity is impacted by symbolism and ritual, sacramental worship finds a synergy with the impact of the Bible preached with power, and doctrinal integrity is challenged by the fuzzy edges of social engagement; even evangelism, telling people about Jesus, needs the partnership of  Christians living out their own incarnational demonstration of the Way of Jesus being the message and not just telling the message..

Worship and prayer…

…emphasises the majesty of God and our humble reliance on Him. Listed last, but not least – this is the bottom line.

The primary purpose of church gathering is to glorify God in praise and worship. The power for extolling God for who He is, for giving Him praise and thanks in all circumstances, is much under-rated.

Our mission is to reach others for Jesus. When we take time to create the atmosphere of unfettered praise which causes the enemy to back off in fear, when we take time to hear from the throne-room of heaven about where God is already working and who is starting to seek Him, things happen. One of the secrets of the success of Alpha is the discipline of prayer that goes with it, often unseen and much less publicised.

John Wesley memorably said “Proceed with much prayer, and your way will be made plain.” He also said something to the effect that God, who has a purpose,  seems to stay His hand until we have prayerfully and humbly brought a situation before Him.

Too much church life tries to build on an absence of foundation – man’s ideas rather than God’s intentions.. A church I know was questioned about a controversial decision with far reaching effects, and its leaders freely admitted that they had not had a specific word or leading from God on the matter. Without hearing from the Master Builder, how can we be sure what to build, and where?

A key verse for me is the proverb quoted by both James and Peter (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:6-7) “God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.” If Jesus is truly to be Lord of our thoughts and actions, this is fundamental. The world’s strife and confusion, that finds its way into church life because of our human pride and carnality, is rendered powerless as we take in this truth. The priority of worship is in our dethroning of ourselves and finding God afresh – at which point He can use us, and we have a mission.

Top