what am I doing?

In a couple of weeks’ time I have been asked to facilitate a weekend for a church Leadership Team to look at God’s vision for the church. In preparation I have done a lot of reading around the subject and there seem to be a lot of different nuances and terminology used but the same basic themes emerge. I was talking with a couple of the leaders about this as we planned the weekend when this analogy came to mind to help me understand the terms I was using:

golferWhen I stand on a golf tee my purpose is to get the ball in the hole – it’s the overarching theme of what I am doing. If I don’t know what my purpose is, I will be aimless.

My vision is to get the ball in the hole with as few shots as possible – it’s what my purpose looks like in practical terms. If I don’t know what my vision is how will I know when I achieve it?

My strategy is to use the right clubs and hit the right shots in order to achieve my vision of getting the ball in the hole with as few shots as possible – it’s the steps I will take to achieve the vision. I need to work out the steps needed to achieve my vision, starting from where I am now and leading to where I want to be.

Along the way I may make tactical choices such as avoiding hazards and whether to go for the green or ‘lay up’ – they are second-level strategic decisions that help me fulfil my strategy.

You may disagree with the terminology I have used – others may use words like ‘mission’, ‘aim’, ‘goals’ and so on – but to me that analogy helped me make sense of the whole thing. I don’t claim to understand it all. I certainly don’t claim to have a sense of what the purpose, vision and strategy should be for that church (my role is to facilitate them discerning those things not to tell them what I think). But at least I have a sense of the direction in which we will be going.

I believe that these concepts apply equally well to our personal life, to work, and to lots of other areas in life. How might they relate to yours? Here’s my current sense of what they might be for my faith:

Purpose: to be a follower of Jesus and make him known to other people

Vision: to be more like the person I have been created to be and to help others achieve the same vision for their life

Strategy: to walk closely with Jesus, be open to his Spirit, and be ready and willing to help others

Tactics: to walk closely with Jesus by prayerful reflection, reading the Bible, listening to God, seeking God, being willing to change, receiving advice from others

be open to his Spirit through a consciousness of his presence, listening to his prompting, recognising my own weaknesses, willing to take risks, having an attitude of gratitude, seeing life as an act of worship

ready and willing to help others by looking to see needs I can meet, asking ‘what would you like me to do for you?’, being ready to listen before sharing, loving as God loves, trying to be a good free sample of Jesus

Be blessed, be a blessing

new old vision

Since September last year our church has affirmed a 2020 vision. I have mentioned it on this blog before. On Sunday morning we will start a new series looking at the 2020 vision and to help us I have written a guide to the 2020 vision that is intended to be a foundational document – a summary – for what we believe we are called to be and to do as a church.

Paper copies are available at the church, but if you are interested you can download a copy from our website here or the church office will gladly email you one.

In many ways it is nothing new. It is not a new earth-shattering strategy that is going to be responsible for spiritual revival in Colchester (no strategy could do that anyway – it’s God’s work). It is not a new vision that has come to us on a gold scroll delivered by angels.

It’s simply a new old vision.

It is a fresh way of looking at ancient truth. It is a reminder of what God wants us to be and do. The guide and the series are intended to help us to do that.

footballIn a football match (soccer if you are on the other side of the Atlantic from me) the aim of the game has always been to score more goals than the other team. There are different approaches that teams will take in order to achieve that. Some play attractive short-passing, quick moving football to wrong-foot opponents. Others hoof the ball down the pitch and hope that it lands near one of their players in a goal-scoring position. Some focus on defensively stifling the opposition and hitting them on the break. Others seek to overwhelm the other side with attacking flair.

Matches take place in all sorts of different contexts – from a massive purpose-built stadium, through to local pitches in parks, to small boys with jumpers for goalposts in any convenient space on the planet…

But ultimately in all of them one team is simply trying to score more goals than the other team to win the game.

The 2020 vision is a bit like that. The aim has not changed. Churches exist to help Christians follow Jesus and to help other people find faith in him. That’s still the purpose of our church, at least. But sometimes it is helpful to remind ourselves about how that can happen.

I hope and pray that you might find it helpful. I hope and pray that if you are in the area and are not currently part of a church you might like to join us on this journey – you would be very welcome.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

2020 vision

This bloggage is based on a leaflet that will be shared with our church this weekend.

2020 VISION LOGOOn 1st September I shared a 2020 vision in my sermon in the morning service. We are seeking to see clearly what God’s vision is for us as a church, and looking at 2020 as a point in the future towards which we can aim.

The key thought behind this 2020 vision is that God intends churches to grow. That is what we see in the New Testament, and it is inherent in many of Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of God. God has not changed his mind about this and that he still intends churches to grow – including ours.

The growth that God intends has two dimensions. One is growing deeper in our relationshipinoutarrow with him. The second is growing in numbers because people are becoming followers of Jesus through us. Those dimensions are reflected in these arrows. There are two sets of arrows: each dependent on the other to exist. The white arrows pointing inwards (deeper) are defined by the red arrows pointing outwards (new Christians) and vice versa. If we are to grow as a church we need to think about both dimensions. It is important for us to remember that this is not something we can manufacture, and it is not a programme to be followed. It is our response to God’s initiative, empowered and encouraged by his Spirit: it is his work in which he invites us to participate, not our work that we ask him to bless.

In my sermon I mentioned the Engel Scale, which shows stages in a person’s journey of faith. (See earlier bloggage here). The Engel Scale helps us to consider how we are growing deeper in our own relationship with Jesus and also how we can help others to grow closer to him.

Growing Deeper

We need to consider the depth of our relationship with God. Our Membership Covenant encourages us to engage in personal prayer and Bible study, and also to support and encourage one another in this. Part of the 2020 vision will be a response to God’s love and seeking his Spirit’s help to walk closer to Jesus. God wants us to continue to grow deeper in our relationship with Jesus throughout our life.

If we are a fervently prayerful people we believe we will not only grow closer to Jesus, but we will also see spiritual fruit in the lives of others.

Growing Outwards

The challenge of a vision for growth through new Christians is that we may need to do things differently from the ways we have done them before. A number of big questions emerge:

We have a prime location in the middle of Colchester, a gift from God through our predecessors. How can we make better use of this location to share the Good News about Jesus with those who use these premises weekly, who live and work around us, and with those who pass by the premises?

What does the 2020 vision mean for the different activities we run at the church?

How can we use the opportunities that God gives us through those activities in order to help people in their journey of faith?

How can we make the most of opportunities that he gives us when we are not at church?

We need to be ready to respond to what God says to us, however challenging it may be.

We’d value your prayers!

Be blessed, be a blessing

nosing around

glassesI have recently experienced another sign that I am getting older. My eyes are getting worse. Just before Christmas I had them checked (fed up with plain blue/grey). The optician confirmed what I thought – my eyes (or more accurately one of my eyes) had deteriorated.

When I put on the medieval torture device that opticians use to change the lenses in front of your eyes (so you can read the letters on the far wall) and the optician put the correct prescription in them I started singing: “I can see clearly now the blur has gone”. Well, actually I didn’t, but I felt like  I should – the letters on the far wall were crisp and clear and I could read right down to the bottom line again.

However, there is a complication. When correcting my long sight I then lose definition in the medium and short distances needed for looking at computer screens and books. When wearing my new prescription contact lenses I can put on some reading glasses to correct the correction and read correctly, but that does not solve the medium distance issue.

The optician suggested I try varifocal glasses. I have considered this in the past but have always thought that I would struggle with them. The top part of the lens is for long distance, the middle part is for medium distance and the lower part is for reading. But there is a gradual transition between the different strengths. I could not believe that my eyes and brain could work together in harmony to get used to this. The optician had a clever set of glasses that they could use to show me how the varifocals would work and also promised that if I could not get on with them after a month I could bring them back and swap the lenses for ‘normal’ lenses.

With that promise I decided to go for it. A few days later the glasses arrived and I had them fitted. The main two pieces of advice I was given were to persevere and to point my nose in the direction I wanted to look (the edges of the glasses are not good to look through as the prescriptions are rather muddled). I took them home and started trying them out.

It has taken me a while, but I think I am now used to them. And I find them really useful. I can do all things while wearing them. For example, while driving I can look out of the windscreen and see sharp images, look over at my satnav and see it clearly, and look down at my instrument panel and see that clearly. I think the glasses may even have had a positive effect on my golf, as I have to keep my nose pointed where I want to look, which helps me keep my head still as I swing.

I am now a varifocal fan. Occasionally I find myself looking through the wrong part of the lens, but a quick head adjustment means I can see clearly again. I have a feeling I may be relying on them more and more and wearing my contact lenses less and less (although there are apparently varifocal-esque options for them too).

Today I realised how much more helpful they are than keeping on putting reading glasses on and off. I was wearing my contact lenses and meeting someone where I had to do a lot of writing. Every time I looked at the person I was meeting I had to take my reading glasses off, but every time I wanted to write something I had to put them back on. It was tiresome and inconvenient. I wished I had thought ahead and worn my varifocal glasses.

The advice to point my nose in the direction in which I want to look reminded me (somehow) of Jesus when we are told he ‘set his face to go to Jerusalem’ or ‘resolutely set out for Jerusalem’. Perhaps a modern version ought to be that he ‘pointed his nose toward Jerusalem’. Jesus knew that he had a mission to fulfil and that it would come to an earth-shattering conclusion (and new beginning) at Jerusalem. He knew that Jerusalem was his opponents’ stronghold. He knew that Jerusalem meant his death. But he pointed his nose in the direction in which he wanted to go. He was determined.

When we know what God wants us to do, we need to ask his Spirit to give us that same steely determination and resolution to carry it out. It may not be easy. It may not be enjoyable. But if it’s what God wants us to do it’s worth doing.

Where are you pointing your nose today?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Judy rushed in to see her doctor, looking very worried and all strung out. She rattled off, “Doctor, take a look at me. When I woke up this morning, I looked at myself in the mirror and saw my hair all wiry and frazzled up, my skin was all wrinkled and pasty, my eyes were bloodshot and bugging out, and I had this corpse-like look on my face! What’s wrong with me, Doctor?”

The doctor looked her over for a couple of moments, then calmly said, “Well, I can tell you that there’s nothing wrong with your eyesight.”

the story so far

At the conference for Ministers of larger churches I am checking in on whatCheck list I wrote yesterday during some free time.

  1. yes
  2. yes
  3. yes
  4. can’t answer this until I get home.

That’s still a pretty good ratio of success on my hopes, dreams and ambitions for the conference and we are only half way through! I am hoping and praying for more of 1-3 and a definite yes on 4 when I make it home.

How are you doing on your week’s ambitions / plans?

One of the things we have been considering is how there are different dynamics at work in larger churches and how we can work with those in o order to provide servant leadership while at the same time not undermining the belief that God speaks to us through anyone and everyone. No clear answers yet but some interesting contributions that I am seeking to filter and discern.

Also a very telling phrase has been quoted several times when it comes to churches (and other organisations): “Culture eats vision for breakfast!” In other words, if the prevailing culture of an organisation does not change it is almost impossible to change anything significant in a lasting way. The example was given of a (fictional) company that was seeking to adapt to the new economic conditions and offered employees a set of changes to working practices that would guarantee the future of the company and its employees and might even give them increased wages. But because the proposals would mean changes to the normal routines of the employees they reject them. Their culture is still focused on what they like to do now, not on the possibilities of the future.

It has made me consider what my personal prevailing culture is and whether that gets in the way of God implementing his vision for me, my family and the church. BIG questions! What’s your culture like?

A big-time negotiator was out fishing one day when he caught a strange looking fish. He reeled the fish in, unhooked it, and threw it on the ground next to him. The fish started writhing in agony and, to the negotiator’s surprise, said, “Please throw me back into the lake and I’ll grant you three wishes.”

“Any three wishes, huh?” the negotiator mused as visions of expensive fast cars and beautiful women paraded through his head. “Fish,” he finally exclaimed, “Give me five wishes and I’ll throw you back.”

“Sorry,” the fish answered while struggling for breath, “only three wishes.”

The negotiator’s pride was at stake and after giving the matter some thought he announced, “What do you take me for? A sucker? I’ll settle for four wishes.”

“Only three,” the fish murmured weakly.

Fuming, the man debated the pros and cons of accepting the three wishes or continuing to bargain for that one extra wish. Finally, the negotiator decided it wasn’t worth looking a gift fish in the mouth and said “All right fish, you win, three wishes.”

Unfortunately, by then the fish was dead.

21 today!

Why are people reticent to reveal their age? After we reach 29 it seems that we would rather not tell people how old we are. We may say we are ‘twentyteen’ or cough violently as we are revealing our age. Or there’s the good old fail-safe ’21 again’.

happy birthday
I am 21 today.


Okay, it’s my 21st Wedding Anniversary, not my birthday, but at the age of 43 that seems to be more a more significant and important celebration to me than my age. 21 years of being married to the wonderful Sally! 21 years of seeing her gorgeous smile. 21 years of … you get the idea. This would be a long, self-indulgent and perhaps nauseatingly sentimental blog entry if I kept going! It struck me this morning that I have been married to Sally for almost half of my life!

Running on EmptyThe Bible encourages us honour and venerate those whose personal odometer is clocking up impressive numbers.We are to recognise and draw on their wisdom and experience. We are to take care of them. We are to consider them blessed by God.

There’s a verse in the Old Testament (and quoted by Peter in his first sermon) that both amuses and puzzles me:

“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.

(Joel 2:28)

Dreams seem to be aspirational and ephemeral. Visions seem to be dynamic and, well, visionary. I like the idea that dreams are our minds way of organising and filing the thoughts and activities that we have – helping us process them and make sense of them. Visions seem to be more about looking to the future than reflecting on the past.

Is this how we work out whether we are young or old? Do you dream dreams or do you see visions? If you have both, perhaps that’s middle age!
The significant aspects of that passage are not musings on the differences but recognition that God pours out his Spirit on ALL people. How he speaks to us and through us is not as important as what we do with what he says. To pre-empt any Harry Hill-esque evaluations of dreams and visions (which is better?) it seems to me that in God’s wisdom he is telling us that we need young and old – those who can look to the future and those who can reflect on the past.
It’s my wedding Anniversary today (did I mention that?). Sally told me this morning that last night she had a dream that I gave her an expensive necklace to celebrate our anniversary.
“What do you think it means?” she asked.

This evening she will find out.

I’m going to get her a book on interpreting dreams!