Thursday, 27 September 2012

A Word for Pastors

Here is a recording of a 15 minute talk I gave at a regional pastors gathering talking about some of the highs and lows of what we do, and how we should respond. If you are a stressed pastor you may find it helpful!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Book Review: The Church

The Church: The gospel made visible by Mark Dever

Mark Dever is Baptist, not Anglican, but this is a curates egg of a book.

I am a Dever fan and over the past few years have found him and his 9 Marks organisation tremendously helpful. He has helped me to sharpen up my ecclesiology and to think more carefully through such subjects as church membership and discipline. The church I pastor is historically Baptist, so I also have that direct connection with Dever.

In The Church Dever seeks to set out a clear doctrine of the church, and as such this is a very useful book. I shall certainly be recommending it when I teach ecclesiology in our leadership training program. In three sections Dever explores what the Bible says about the church; what the church has believed about the church; and how this should all fit together in the local congregation. It is all good stuff, and zips along nicely, giving plenty of material while not getting too bogged down in detail.

Dever has a real passion for the church, as all Christians should. He has devoted his life to serving a local congregation and his love for the body of Christ shines through. I am with him all the way on this. As the first sentence of the first chapter puts it, “The church is the body of people called by God’s grace through faith in Christ to glorify him together by serving him in his world.” Amen!

So, so far so good.

Where I found The Church less satisfying is that it reads very much like a detailed membership course for people looking to join Dever’s church. It could do with being more engaging and lyric, while no less factual. Also, almost inevitably, Dever comes to the conclusion that the ideal expression of the local church is the type of church that he leads! I think we all do this – if we didn’t, presumably we would join a church with a different ecclesiology – so I don’t blame Dever for it; but it becomes irritating at those points where his arguments are not so strong as he tries to contend. This is especially the case with his defense of Congregationalism. 

Dever argues for ‘elder led’ rather that ‘elder ruled’ congregations (despite the fact that I should think his word is pretty much law at Capitol Hill Baptist) but highlights the flaw in his model when he writes, “On matters that are important and clear, the elders and congregation should normally agree; and when they do not, the authority of the congregation is final.” The problem with this, of course, is who gets to define ‘important and clear’? I think it is very hard to argue from the New Testament that local congregations were the ones who determined doctrine. Instead, local elders, under apostolic authority, have responsibility to guard the truth and guard the flock.

In the churches I am most familiar with I think the congregational aspect of ecclesiology has often been underplayed – largely as a swing against the terrible abuses of Congregationalism that many of an earlier generation experienced in Baptist churches. At the church I lead we have been working to rectify this, placing increased emphasis upon membership and members meetings; in the role of the whole congregation in exercising church discipline and recognizing new members; and so on. However, rather than Dever’s pure congregationalism I would argue for a blend of Congregationalism and Presbyterianism – a congregation which exercises its proper responsibilities, led by a team of elders who have recognized spiritual authority, who in turn choose to submit to an external presbytery (or, in our case, ‘apostolic’ ministry).

But of course, I would say that, wouldn’t I.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

10 Questions Revisited: PJ Smyth

Of all the leaders who featured in "10 Questions" PJ stands out for the dramatic experiences he has gone through since. On a church level, the growth of Godfirst has been incredible, going from a few hundred to a few thousand in attendance. On a personal level, PJ was laid low with cancer for a year - and that his church continued to flourish during this time is testament to PJ's skill in identifying and empowering other leaders.

Since we spoke in 2008
Are you still leading in the same place?

What have been the main things you have learnt?
Learnt so much through cancer in 2010. Main learnings there were satisfaction in Jesus, longing for heaven, perseverance, and the importance of good theology on sovereignty, suffering, sickness, healing and faith.

What things have caused you the most frustration and the most joy?
Joy: my family and preaching. Frustration: having not lead a congregation for a couple of years, I have been frustrated not raising up leaders and innovating at a grass roots level.

What things have caught you by surprise?
How much I missed leading a congregation

How is your church doing?
Well, but learning how to do multisite continuously!

10 Questions Revisited: Matt Hatch

Our next revisited leader is Matt Hatch...

Since we spoke in 2008

Are you still leading in the same place?
Yes, still at Mosaic Church, Leeds

What have been the main things you have learnt?
The lessons that I am learning that come to mind are:
  • The importance of my marriage coming before ministry.
  • The necessity of prayer.
  • The essential nature of faith in leadership. I’m trusting God to see hundreds saved in Leeds and churches planted especially among the unreached people groups of the world.
  • The beauty of great team and the sense of loss as team members leave to church plant.
  • The need to work from a place of rest.

What things have caused you the most frustration and the most joy?
I’ve been most frustrated about how tired I was last year and the need for a break.  However my sabbatical (3 long months last summer) has given me a chance to enjoy my family, make some treasured memories, read, sleep and chop wood.

What things have caught you by surprise?
The implications of the move to multi site have caught me by surprise. You are not just adding a service but changing the fundamental nature of how the church functions locally and centrally.  And to make those changes biblically has been more complicated and more expensive than I first thought.  No one told me this.  They just told me great stories of growth and salvations!

How is your church doing?
The words that come to mind when I think of Mosaic are healthy, stretched, expectant, risk taking, and missional.
This coming Autumn term is a little crazy. We’ll plant a church in Dublin and move from one to three sites at the end of the year.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

10 Questions Revisited: Joel Virgo

Next on our our list of revisited leaders is Joel Virgo, leader of Church of Christ the King, Brighton. CCK recently featured live on the BBC, for their Pentecost service. If you missed it, here it is.

Since we spoke in 2008
Are are you still leading in the same place?

What have been the main things you have learnt?
That’s a very difficult question. Here I’ll just say that I have learnt to persevere and value the power of answered prayer above all other forms of ‘success’. That’s how Jesus defined success (‘fruitfulness’ in John 15) and it is far more valuable than any other kinds of ‘fruit’, which tend to be transient at best.

There’s nothing like pressing into God in ministry and know that he has heard your prayer. The promise of fruitfulness and definite answer to prayer is worth a lot more than encouraging trends.

By the way, I have not learnt this yet, but it’s still the main thing.

What things have caused you the most frustration and the most joy?
  • My own lack of observable growth in fruits of the Spirit.
  •  Slow progress in seeing pagan men truly discipled in my city.
  • Common misinterpretation by other believers when it comes to our attempts to build missionally.

  • I love the fact that God has made us promises. Changes the whole game and makes the burden lighter (though it makes us work harder than ever!)
  • I have genuinely begun to love partnering with my wife in prayer – and some of the work (though I try to guard her from stuff since she already has a church of 4 kids on her hands).
  • Seeing a new team of young and trustworthy and gifted leaders taking responsibility alongside some giants from the previous generation. Maybe for me the whole ‘band of brothers’ thing is what makes this job great. I love the men I work with. They are the best men I know.
  • Big risks, big new step – that pay off! Wow! Intoxicating!

What things have caught you by surprise?
When Kate and I moved down here in 2006 there was an existing eldership of 7 guys. They had basically been the CCK team for 20 years or so. We now have 11 elders and currently 7 others sitting with us. Only 3 of the original team are still in.

You wouldn’t expect that kind of transition to pass without epic fallouts and strife. But it did. Why? Lots of reasons, but the main one is that John Hosier, Dave Fellingham, Peter Lyndon, Terry Virgo (my Dad), Steve Horne, Alan Preston and Steve Walford each responded to the potentially threatening changes with grace, faith, wisdom and humility.

Great churches rest on elders who care more about Jesus than their careers.

How is your church doing?
In many ways we are encouraged. Never gathered more people (about 1,300+), never seen more gospel progress, never given more money. Multisite has been a blast. Love the way it’s stretching us and getting us moving.

More importantly we sense we’ve got bigger years ahead of us.

But compared to the church I read about in Acts 19, we’re a Micky Mouse church.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

10 Questions Revisited: Bryan Mowrey

Next on our list of revisited leaders is Bryan Mowrey, from St Louis, USA. You can see his original answers here.

Since we spoke in 2009…
Are are you still leading in the same place?
Yes, but it's expanded some. Locally, our church has gone from two locations to three and my main responsibility is to oversee those. Trans-locally, I now serve our churches in the midwest region of the United States. 

What have been the main things you have learnt?
1) There is a strong connection between the growth of the leader and the growth of the church and 2) there's a strong connection between a leader's growth and their willingness to change and continue to learn.

What things have caused you the most frustration and the most joy?
My biggest frustration is when I make a mistake that effects others. My greatest joy in the church is seeing people baptized. The stories they tell and the expression on their faces when they come out of the water is priceless. 

What things have caught you by surprise?
I am most surprised by God's faithfulness to love people and draw them to Himself. I know that shouldn't surprise me; however, it's one thing to know that intellectually, but it's another to see it play out over and over again. I am amazed by God's faithfulness. 

How is your church doing?
Jubilee Church overall is doing well. We continue to grow and see people baptized. Our influence in the community is growing as well. 

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

10 Questions Revisited: Pete Cornford

Next up on the 10 Questions Revisited feature is my old friend Pete Cornford. Pete’s story is a great example of the way in which things do not always work out for us in ways that we either plan or anticipate. Sometimes ministry is brutal and bloody. Yet God is still good, sovereign, and working out his plan in us.

Since we spoke in 2008…
Are are you still leading in the same place?
I passed The Crown Church onto one of the other elders - James Hunting and 2 years later he is doing a great job! I went to lead a group in Perth Western Australia but that did not work out so I moved back to London. I spent 7 months unemployed in 2011 and am now starting a new church in West London called Redeemer!

What have been the main things you have learnt?
Where shall I start?
  • You cannot change the past
  • Forgive quickly
  • Family matter more than you think
  • God is full of grace and second chances
  • His ways are not ours! 

What things have caused you the most frustration and the most joy?
I profoundly disagree with voting in church. I think it robs a sense of vision, leadership, faith and adventure. It slows everything down and I cannot find it in the Bible!
I have been inspired watching my kids handle adversity and seeing how they have grown. My 12 year old son had a tough year but grew much closer to God in the whole experience - including reading his Bible from cover to cover.

What things have caught you by surprise?
It is one thing to know that the 'emotional tank' takes a lot longer to fill - it is still surprising how long that takes in reality!
I have been surprised by some people that have been exceptionally kind, supportive and gracious. I have received unconditional love from Simon Benham and the Bracknell Church and hope this lesson will impact me for the rest of my life.

How is your church doing?
We do not have a church.
As a family of 5 we decided to start a small group in our home from January. We are now also meeting with some folk for food every other Sunday and hope to start gathering on Sundays later this year.