sitting on a sofa in the middle of the street

The churches in Colchester and the surrounding area are in the middle of a fortnight of focused mission activity.

For us it began with a community barbecue on our forecourt on Saturday – 500+ burgers given away, live music, face painting for children, a couple of talks, me doing some magic tricks (why did it only rain when I came out to do my illusions? And why did so many of them go wrong, I felt like Tommy Cooper!), lots of conversation, a good day. Thank you again to everyone who took part.

Couch 1

We have also got a couple of sofas which we are putting outside the church on the streetfront each lunchtime, with a sign: “We’re listening.” That sign might seem creepy outside GCHQ but outside our church it has led some people to come and share what is burdening them.


There are other activities throughout the week – some involving our own groups and some jointly arranged with other churches. There is a team of people working with the churches in the area to help us in the different activities and they have been a joy to work alongside.

This increased activity is alongside the ‘normal’ activity of being a church. That’s one reason why bloggages might be a bit more intermittent this week. It’s not that I have stopped reflecting, I am just struggling to find the time to share those reflections with you.

My reflection so far is that when we offer things that are rich in God’s grace and gently offer to be there for them people respond warmly and positively. They ask us ‘why’ we are doing things and we can engage in a conversation. By contrast there are other approaches that make people feel guilty and inadequate and they walk away – we probably all have enough guilt of our own, after all. I have seen some people walk past ‘street preachers’ and physically cower away from them as they are told that they are ‘sinners in need of salvation’.

Which would you choose? Which is more like Jesus?

Be blessed, be a blessing

be bald, be strong, for the Lord your God is with you…

Nick was wondering whether God had misheard his prayers for boldness

Yesterday I posted this picture on Facebook with the caption ‘Nick was wondering whether God had misheard his prayers for boldness’. The pun was intentional.

It was inspired (?) by the preparation I had been doing for Sunday evening, looking at Acts 4 and noticing that the Christians prayed for boldness. It was in the face of the first serious opposition the church had faced since Jesus had ascended into heaven.

Rather than praying that God would smite their opponents, or at least stop them from being so mean, or praying that God would help them to survive, they prayed for boldness to proclaim the message of Jesus. I love that!

So often when I have problems I pray that God will solve them for me. On the occasions when I have been criticised I have prayed for truth and grace. On the few occasions when people have opposed what I have been doing I have prayed for perseverance and that God would vindicate me (not so gracious, I know). But I rarely pray simply for boldness to proclaim the message of Jesus.

If I am called to be a free sample of Jesus, then my first prayer should always be about being able to do that as well as God’s Spirit enables me to. The rest of my life is secondary. This morning I was with a colleague taking an assembly at a school whose motto is ‘God first, other second, self last.’


Be blessed, be a (bold) blessing.



Tonight is the inaugural meeting of Colchester Magic Club. it is a gathering that I have endeavoured to call together of people who are interested in learning and performing magic tricks. I was surprised and delighted when, following a request for a re-tweet from a well-known magician, I was contacted by several people who are interested and are planning to be there.

I did think about placing an advert in the local newspaper but was put off when I discovered how expensive it would be and I wondered how effective a small ad would be in reaching people. The amazing thing about using social networking is that it is enabled me to be put in touch with people who share a common interest and have common friends but with whom I have had no previous contact.

I’m not going to get all nostalgic and reminiscentful here: wistfully hankering for those days when important messages were delivered by pigeons (providing the recipient not only with a message but also the potential for lunch) or even bemoaning the reduction of the English language to txtspk. what impresses me is how interconnected we are. It is suggested that there are only 6° of separation between any two individuals on this planet. In other words you should be able to find a chain of six people who know the other people either side of them in the chain to link you to a complete stranger. I’m sceptical about that – at least I would be if I was not aware of how many friends I have on Facebook who know each other and had not witnessed the interconnectedness of Twitter to provide some people to attend Colchester Magic Club.

A church meeting last year I  mentioned the graphic that the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity used to illustrate the importance of equipping Christian people for work. I have attempted to reproduce them here.


The first one represents the percentage of people who attend church regularly in this country – 6 to 7%. We gather together on Sundays to do our thing. The second one represents those 6 to 7% of people during the week scattered among the rest of the population. They have far more contact with those who are not in church when they are not in church.

Stretching the analogy slightly, if each dot represents a Christian (i.e. us) we could make contact with eight people who don’t go to church but are around us during the week. If we did, bearing in mind that our church is over 230 members, our church could contact almost 2000* people a week with the good news of Jesus. Adding to that equation the interconnectedness that we have in today’s culture and the possibilities are mind blowing aren’t they?

While you contemplate that I’m off to play with magic tricks the Magic Club…

*I appreciate that I have played fast and loose with both the illustration and statistics but I think I’ve made the point!

how not to engage with the public?

A tired pastor was at home resting, and through the window he saw a woman approaching his door. She was one of those too-talkative people, and he was not anxious to talk with her. He said to his wife, “I’ll just duck upstairs and wait until she goes away.”

An hour passed, then he tiptoed to the landing and listened … not a sound. He was very pleased, so he started down calling loudly to his wife, “Well, My Dear, did you get rid of that old bore at last?”

The next moment he heard the voice of the same woman caller, and she couldn’t possibly have missed hearing him. Two steps down, he saw them both staring up at him. It seemed truly a crisis moment.

The quick-thinking pastor’s wife answered, “Yes, Dear, she went away over an hour ago. But Mrs. Jones has come to call in the meantime, and I’m sure you’ll be glad to greet her.”

targeted adverts

Advertisers pay money to put their adverts in the places where they thing the right people will see them. Daytime TV is full of ads from injury lawyers because they reckon that those who have had an accident at work will be lying on the sofa recuperating.

The internet is getting smarter too. Ads on Facebook are apparently tailored to my profile, which may explain why I have been regularly getting ads for cheap clerical shirts. But the internet is not smart enough yet. They have not worked out that I don’t wear clerical shirts, nor that I am based in England and am very unlikely to be importing clerical shirts that I don’t wear from the good old US of A.

Clearly it is in the interests of companies to try to find potential clients and the software that they use to try to identify such people is getting more sophisticated. I am not going to get into the privacy questions here, which are immense and difficult to work out, nor am I going to have a rant against rampant commercialism. You’ll have to look at other bloggerel I have written for that.

What intrigues me is the idea of targetting those who are most interested. What if churches could somehow discern who was more interested than most in finding out about the Christian faith? We could focus our efforts on them.

In a sense that’s what Back to Church Sunday is about, inviting people who used to go to church to come back, because at least they may be lukewarm and may have some residual happy memories of being in church that we can tap into and use to encourage a return.

In a sense it’s what Alpha courses do, extending an invitation to those who are interested in finding out about the Christian faith to come into a warm, welcoming environment in which to learn and discuss. Those who come are those who are interested.

In a sense it’s what happens on Sundays. Those who come over the threshold of the church are, on the whole, people who want to be there. The majority may already have a vibrant faith but some come to find out more.

There is always room for improvement though. Perhaps we could find out from local census data how many people describe themselves as Christian in our town and compare that with the church attendance figures. That way we could perhaps offer some targeted advertising at the wards in which the disparity is the greatest. Perhaps we could carry out our own local surveys and discover those who say they are Christians but don’t go to church. If we got their contact details we could make sure we contact them and extend invitations to appropriate events or courses.

Or perhaps we could do what Jesus told us to do: “Go and make disciples, teaching and baptising them.” As a strategy goes it’s not very specific. It’s rather lacking in detail. It’s actually pretty vague. He did not say that we should limit ourselves only to those who are interested. He did not say that we should focus on those who are closer to the Kingdom of God. In fact he went out of his way to announce that the Kingdom of God was within the grasp of everyone – whether or not they were ‘warm contacts’.

Who are you sat next to as you read this? Who will you meet later today? Are they ‘warm’ or ‘cold’. It doesn’t matter. God is empowering you by his Spirit to be a free sample of Jesus to them. Making disciples is a gentle process in which God uses us to explain, encourage, discuss, invite, share, bless, serve, support, pray, give and serve (yes I know I said that twice) those around us and give them a taste of Jesus.

Ask for his help and you will be amazed at how much he has already been at work in the lives of those who don’t think they are interested in, or even are hostile to, Jesus.

chaplains are not charlies

Jonathan meets Jonathan (BUGB General Secretary meets Chaplain General)

I have just read a great article in The Times (on Saturday 1 October) about army chaplains. (I’d like to be able to point you to it online, but The Times is subscription only.) It is based around an interview with the Chaplain General (top chaplain), Rev Jonathan Woodhouse, who happens to be the first Baptist Chaplain General. He was asked what the role of army chaplains is today:

To continue to be trusted in bringing the hope of God… My job as a padre is not to oil the wheels of war, but to help the humanity caught up in it.

That’s profound! We may have questions about the right or wrong of a particular circumstance, but our task as free samples of Jesus is always to help the humanity that is caught up in those circumstances and be trusted in bringing the hope of God. A while ago I had a conversation with someone who is exploring the possibility of chaplaincy to the local ‘Gentleman’s Club’. I had no reservations about supporting her in this, but did not have the words to articulate why until I read Jonathan Woodhouse’s words.

There is a fine line to tread in this. By being involved we can be seen to be affirming things that we would not endorse. But this is exactly the sort of thing Jesus was doing. He spent time with people who were regarded as ‘unclean’ and told his critics that it is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick. But can polite (predominantly middle-class) churches cope with that attitude today? If (as I reckon he might) Jesus said he wanted to be a chaplain to a Gentleman’s Club wouldn’t we try to dissuade him. Wouldn’t we warn him of the risk to his reputation? Wouldn’t we ask him about the reputation of the church? Wouldn’t we ask about whether he was compromising himself?

And wouldn’t he smile gently and say, “But I love them.” And then he might go back to drawing in the sand while looking pointedly at the stones we are carrying.

You may not formally be a chaplain, but you can be the same to those around you. Not judging, not condemning, not condoning, but loving and being the presence of Jesus where our paths cross with theirs.

Be blessed. Be a blessing.

On Mothering Sunday last year I held a ‘dandling’ competition in our church. We asked some parents to dandle their children on their knees. It was linked to God’s description of how he will comfort his people in Isaiah 66:12 of dandling them. Dandling, for the unititiated, is bouncing up and down on your knees (when our children were little it was usually linked to saying a rhyme about horses). At this time there was a big poster on the route away from our church advertising the Gentleman’s Club mentioned above, explaining that lap-dancing was available there. A young child from our church read this on their way home and asked his dad what lap-dancing was. In a moment of swift-thinking and (imho) genius his dad replied, “It’s dandling for grown-ups!”


We had to sleep with the windows open a couple of nights ago. It was too hot. The open windows let in the cooler air. Job done. Unfortunately they also let in the sound of the dawn chorus.

In the garden, just below our bedroom window, is a large bush / small tree that houses about a million sparrows. Every morning as it gets light the sparrows start tweeting. No, not sending messages of 140 characters to each other on their phones or laptops. They just start going tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet. It is as if they have never experienced the dawn before. Or perhaps they have very short memories and each morning’s sunrise is a surprise. But why do they need to be so noisy about it? Why do they need to tweet their little heads off to let each other know that the day is starting again? And why do they have to do it so blooming early?

I don’t tweet

A bird in the hand may be worth two in the bush but that’s because it is likely to be quieter!

The sparrows in the bush are not the only birds causing us problems. One (or more) have managed to find a way into our loft. I would not mind too much except that they have decided to use our loft as a toilet. That’s not very pleasant, nor is it good manners. They would not like it if I visited their nest and… (let’s not go there). We will have to take measures to close off their point of entry and hope they do not have a set of tools up there that will enable them to break in again.

And then there are the pigeons. There are a few pigeons that frequent our neighbourhood. But there seem to be two in particular who spend their time courting and, erm, well, doing what comes naturally. On the top of our fence. On the roof opposite our kitchen window. On another roof overlooking our garden while we are sitting in the garden (and perilously close to a skylight in that roof). I want to shout at them, “Get a nest!” Why do they insist on procreating around our garden all the time? Are they being filmed for an X-rated film for birds?

So, other than giving me an opportunity to whinge, what is the point of this bloggerel? Well… bear with me… it’s not to do with the pigeon porn, nor is it to do with the unwelcome gifts from the bird in the loft. It’s about the early birds. Each morning they get excited because the sun is coming up. It’s a new day.

Your royal grumpiness struggles in the morning. But I have the same opportunity as the sparrows. God has given me a new day with new opportunities. Opportunities to encounter him in the people I meet as well as in the pages of the Bible. Opportunities to serve as well as to be served. Opportunities to rejoice, be glad, celebrate and give thanks to God for the new day. Tweet, tweet tweet!

By the way, this Easter the joy, surprise and reality of Jesus’ resurrection has come home to me even more strongly than usual. TWEETY TWEET TWEET TWEET!!!

Remember though – the early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

Be blessed, be a blessing!