making another splash

A long time ago (well, eight years) I put together a book to help prepare young people for believer’s baptism. It was called ‘Making a Splash’ and was published by the Baptist Union of Great Britain. It was written in collaboration with for youth workers (who wrote some of the sections) and proved to be rather popular. In fact we found that churches were using it to prepare people of all ages for believer’s baptism, not just young people.

Earlier this year I was asked if I would rewrite the text for ‘Making a Splash’ as BUGB was looking to reprint it. I was very happy to do so and am really delighted that it has now been published, following some excellent design work that gives it a contemporary new look (Great work, David). This morning a copy arrived in the post and I’ve had a chance to look at it for the first time in its finished form. I am simultaneously…

…grateful, chuffed, proud, and excited.

I’m grateful for the hard work by the designer (David Elcock), the team at Baptist house and those who contributed to the original version.

I’m chuffed because it looks so good and while it has remained true to the original concept now looks even better.

I’m proud because for the first time it has my name on the front cover. Previously, when I imagined/wrote/edited the initial book, I was working for BUGB and it was the practice that employees did not get a named credit on any publications (they didn’t want us to get big headed I guess). I was really pleased that the 4 youth workers (Helen Bellamy, Claire Earl, Gary Bott and Andy Levett) were credited inside and am equally pleased that they have retained that credit in the updated version (thanks again guys!). But, if I’m honest, I was a little bit miffed at the time that my name was not credited or associated with the book. When I was asked to rewrite it I did ask (lacking humility) if it might be possible to have a named credit and there it is: my name is on the front cover!

But mostly I’m excited because this book will be used to help people prepare for one of the most significant, special, profound and memorable days of their life – the day of their baptism. On that occasion they will not only declare their faith publicly and get very wet into the bargain but they will also experience God’s, “Well done!” To have contributed to that in a little way is awesome.

No autographed copies will be made available (I don’t want to devalue the book) but you can buy your copies from the Baptist Union website. And if reading it helps you as you prepare to be baptised, then WOOOOOHOOOO!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

does size matter?

Measuring TapeDearest bloggists

I am sorry that last week’s bloggages tailed off, and that this week’s might be somewhat intermittent.

At the moment I am so busy that bees are asking me to slow down because I am making them look lazy. I don’t mind being that busy, but I find that while I am able to be reflective (like a mirror) I have fewer opportunities to write these reflections down. Perhaps that is an indication that I am too busy.

This week’s busyness is partly because I will be attending the BUGB Larger Ministers’ Conference. Actually it’s not a conference for corpulent clergy, it’s a conference for Ministers of larger churches, but I prefer the more mischievous ‘Larger Ministers’ title. (It also reminds me I could lose a few pounds). I hope that I might have space to send a few bloggages your way from that conference, but let me send you one now in advance of attending the conference.

It may seem elitist or disrespectful of smaller churches to have a conference just for larger ministers (sorry, can’t drop that descriptor). But I don’t believe it is for several reasons:

  • ‘larger church’ is not synonymous with ‘growing church’. There are many smaller churches that are growing faster than larger churches. After all, if three people join a church of 25 people it is 12% growth. If three people join a church of 250 people it’s just over 1% growth.
  • larger churches are not better than smaller churches. They’re just different. Yes there may be more resources (there are definitely more people) and they may look more impressive (when we use the human method of being impressed of counting buttocks on pews and dividing by two rather than God’s which is to look at the hearts of those who are there). But the last church I attended had about 20 members and the commitment to following Jesus, the fellowship, friendship, love and encouragement within that church were no less than what I experience in my somewhat larger church now.
  • I believe that it’s God’s intention that all churches grow (deeper in their relationship with him and as people come to faith) and if we are not growing we need to work out what we are doing that is stifling God’s Spirit. But there are different reasons why growth doesn’t happen in larger churches than in smaller ones. It’s helpful to explore those with people who are experiencing the same issues.
  • there’s less guilt. There, I said it. It’s possible when I am with people from churches that are smaller than ours that I feel guilt because our church doesn’t have some of the problems that they have. And even when we do share some of those problems they are proportionately less disabling because we are larger. For example, when a family leaves our church (we are sad) but that leaves less of a hole than when a family leaves a smaller church. I know my fellow-believers don’t intend (or want) me to feel guilty, but I am often quiet about our church in clergy gatherings where there are smaller churches represented because of that guilt. (Guilt is probably too strong a word but I can’t think of the right one).
  • I can learn. Our church is not perfect. If it was I would have to leave because I would spoil it. So it helps me to be able to learn from ministers of churches that face some of the same size-related issues that we do. Don’t get me wrong: I learn loads through friends from other churches of all sizes. I am really blessed to be part of a group of local Ministers where we can be open and honest in our friendship and support one another prayerfully through that. But much as I love those friends (and I do **gush, gush**) there will be some things that I can only learn from those who are part of churches of a similar size as ours. Again, don’t read ‘better’ where I mean ‘different’.

So if you are a pray-er I would ask you to pray for the larger Ministers this week (Mon-Wed). Pray that we will be blessed, encouraged, inspired and most of all encounter Jesus through the conference. And I will try to share with you things Jesus says to me through the conference. You may like to check out the twitter feed here as it may be that I will be able to condense my thoughts to 140 characters occasionally – see, small is beautiful!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

essentials

So… the Baptist Union of Great Britain has a new logo. That’s bad news for Baptist Churches that have the old one embedded into their architecture! The old logo contained a cross, water and a fish. The new logo is explained in this diagram:

NewLogoElements

(You have to recognise that the fish is swimming downwards).

Oh yes. A cross, water and a fish (plus a ‘b’ for ‘baptists’). In some ways nothing has changed, but in others plenty has changed. On Sunday evening I am preaching on Acts 15, where the early Christians had to work out what was unchangeable about being a Christian, and what God wanted them to hold lightly and be ready to change.

Questions were raised about whether being circumcised was essential for being a Christian – thankfully they discerned that this was not essential.

They discussed what sort of food could be eaten (including that which had been sacrificed to idols and was now being re-sold (probably discounted) – they felt that it was best that they avoided that (along with  a few other items of food and sexual immorality – interesting how it is last in the list!). In essence I think the advice was for them not to get mixed up in the cult worship of the surrounding culture: if it was about worship they should focus only on worshipping God as revealed in Jesus and not be distracted.

It does make me wonder what is still essential to being a Christian and whether there are things God wants to hold more lightly and be ready to change. At the risk of being hauled before a religious court or stoned by a mob I am going to try a few ‘essentials’:

Is it essential to accept that Jesus, God incarnate, died on the cross for you and receive the forgiveness God offers us, following him for the rest of our life?

Yup.

Is anything else essential?

Nope.

[cue sounds of rocks being gathered and ecclesiastical gavels being banged].

Let’s go back to the changing / unchanging logo of the Baptist Union of Great Britain:

The cross is essential and was probably the earliest Christian symbol.

The fish was an early Christian symbol too. In Greek the word for fish is ‘ichthus’ and in Greek this is also an acronym that means ‘Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Saviour’. That is pretty essential.

The water represents believer’s baptism, one of the things that made our foreparents (forefathers and foremothers) distinctive when they started forming Baptist churches just over 400 years ago. Believer’s baptism is an early Christian event too (Jesus told us to get wet) that expresses faith in Jesus and affirms our commitment to him as his followers. (Yes there’s a lot more here, but I will save that for another day).

Did the early Christians get thrown to the lions for believing more than that? Would you be willing to die for anything more than that? Is anything else essential?

Answers on a postcard (preferably not wrapped around a brick) – or you can give some feedback on the blog page by clicking the link at the top of this bloggage.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Here be dragons

It may help you to read yesterday’s bloggage at this point and then come back, in order to set a context.

Done that?

Good.

old mapOn ancient maps, so we are told, where the map maker had run out of knowledge at the edge of the map they would write ‘Here be Dragons’ or similar warnings to keep sailors from sailing into unknown perils.

I have a sense that it would be easier to put a similar warning for churches about our future. Because of changes in legislation in the UK we face some difficult decisions and discussions on the question of same sex marriage.

Some people would rather we did not discuss this, reckoning that we are sailing in dangerous and uncharted waters or preferring not to have to talk about such things in church.

Others (on both ‘sides’) have already made up their mind about the issue and are just waiting for the moment to express their view in a meeting. They welcome the opportunity to persuade others to their point of view but I fear may not be so ready to be persuaded themselves.

Some people are still trying to work out what they think, trying to make sense of what the Bible says and are confused. If they had to make a decision now they would struggle.

Some are worried that this issue could divide the church.

And (we must always remember this) some come to this with personal experience – it’s not a theoretical discussion but affects friends and family.

As a church we are hosting a day with Revd Paul Goodliff, Head of Ministry at the Baptist Union of Great Britain (28th September) where we will explore the social context, what the Bible is saying to us and consider a Christlike response. I have been part of a day like this before and it is incredibly helpful. If you can be there, do.

Following that, in the nearish future, we have some difficult decisions to make and discussions to have. Because of the change in the law it is possible that our church could be approached to see if we would conduct a same sex wedding. What do we say?

As things stand I am sure, from conversations that I have had with people in our church, that if we as a church made a policy decision not to conduct same sex weddings there would be some people who would leave our church as a matter of conscience and principle. I am also sure, from conversations that I have had with people in our church, that if we as a church made a policy decision to conduct same sex weddings there would be some people who would leave our church as a matter of conscience and principle.

At this point I am tempted to stop and simply write ‘Here be dragons’ over the whole issue and not go there. Perhaps it would be easier if we did not conduct any weddings at all (which I think is the equivalent of ‘Here be dragons’). But that is not a helpful response and is not a Christlike response.

Instead I am praying earnestly for God’s grace, guidance and wisdom in this. Because the division and departures are only inevitable if churches are human institutions. If we truly are people and places that are full of the Spirit of Jesus, people of love and grace, then there must be a way ahead that does not lead to argument, hurt and division.

Please join me in praying for that for our churches and for ourselves.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

keystone

Time for me to confess. I have a problem. It is something that clearly does not bother lots of people, but causes me some angst.

Green DoorThe problem is keystone. Not the cops from the black and white movies. But the adjusting of video projectors so that the image on the screen has vertical sides instead of resembling a trapezoid. It’s called keystone because the shape is that of a keystone that you find at the top of an arch (or apparently above a door if you look at this picture). It happens when a projector is projecting at an angle rather than straight ahead.

Most video projectors have an adjustment that enables you to change the image so that what appears on the screen is an image with vertical sides. I find it frustrating when I see one where clearly that has not been done. Recently I have been in several different places where the keystone adjustment has not been done and have had to restrain myself from toddling over to the projector and making the adjustment myself. (I didn’t, but I did consider it – how sad is that?)

Of course adjusting the keystone setting on a projector means that the image that is projected is distorted. The projector is projecting a skewed image that appears rectangular on the screen.

I have been struggling to think of a spiritual application for this confession of mine. I wonder what is at the heart of my problem? I think it might come from my time working with the Baptist Union of Great Britain when we had people who know about these things telling us about good and bad presentation techniques. It has become important to me that what we present looks as good as it can and adjusting something as simple as keystone can help. And therein lies the application. We all want to project and present an image that is as good as possible.

We keystone ourselves. What we present to other people is a distorted image of the real us. We hide some of our pain, problems, concerns and so on behind an image that presents itself as ‘normal’, ‘correct’, ‘true’. We distort reality and project a neat rectangular image to others when they ask us how we are and respond, “Fine, thanks.” Or we adjust the image that we project so that it looks to others that everything is well with us and that we don’t have any problems.

And in doing so we are not fooling ourselves and we are not fooling God. What we are doing is keeping help at arm’s length rather than receiving what’s on offer. God’s Spirit ministers to us in our deepest places, but he also ministers to us through other people. If we project a perfect image they will never know and we may be preventing God from helping us. Showing others the real ‘us’ may make us vulnerable, it’s a risk. But is the keystone-adjusted image we project better than being helped?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

news

I think I may have mentioned before that I used to love the start of the new term at school. It was the newness of everything that I loved, particularly at the start of a new school year but also at the start of the term. I used to love having new pens and other stationery equipment, or perhaps even a new calculator. You might get a new exercise book or start with a fresh ring binder. And occasionally you even got a new teacher thrown in for good measure.

StationeryI think it is for this reason that I enjoy the start of a new preaching series. I don’t generally have new pens, stationary equipment or teachers (although I might treat myself to new commentaries or other books if needed) so the excitement is not really to do with tangible newness. It is the freshness and new possibilities that are contained in a new series that I find invigorating.

Planning a series is a time-consuming task but it is also pregnant with possibilities and therefore is also quite special. As different themes and series are considered and perhaps discarded or put on the backburner the messages from those themes remain with me even if they will not be used currently.

So you can imagine my excitement levels are quite high given that on Sunday we will start two new series! Those who attend our church will be relieved to know that they are not both in the same service. In the mornings we are starting a series entitled “life in all its fullness”, looking at how Jesus wants his followers to live. In the evenings we will begin a series looking at the book of Acts entitled (with a certain homage to Star Wars) “a new Hope”.

I was ordained in 1994 and must have preached 6 or 700 sermons in that time (I have been blessed by being part of team Ministry and working for the Baptist Union of Great Britain in their national office, which is why the number is less than it might have been). Yet there is always something fresh and exciting in the Bible. Even looking at the same passage in the Bible reveals different things each time. This is because it is a living book not a dead text. The same Spirit of God who inspired its writing inspired its reading and its preaching.

Hope you will find something fresh from God in these series if you’re able to join us (or if you listen to them online from our website (now more accessible from tablets and phones)). And if you don’t come to a church and don’t listen to our sermons I pray that you will still find something fresh from God if you open the pages of your Bible.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A man and his ten-year-old son were on a fishing trip miles from home. At the boy’s insistence, they decided to attend the Sunday worship service at a small rural church. The father forgot to bring any cash, so he reached in his pocket and gave his son a ten pence coin to drop in the offering plate as it was passed.

As they walked back to their car after the service, the father complained. “The service was too long,” he lamented. “The sermon was boring, and the singing was off key.”

Finally the boy said, “Dad, I thought it was pretty good for ten pence.”

unmission

The Fourfold Leadership of Jesus: Come, Follow, Wait, GoI have just finished reading another book for my Sabbatical: The Fourfold Leadership of Jesus by Andrew Watson. The book has a chequered history. Not the publication, the actual copy.

It was a gift to me from a group of people I served while working for the Baptist Union of Great Britain, over four years ago. One of the group was tasked with providing it for me and only finally got around to it this year. It has then sat on a bookshelf waiting for my sabbatical leave in order for me to read it.

I am glad I have. It has been helpful in confirming some of my leadership styles, challenging others and inspiring me to think of new ways of doing things. One of the suggestions is that as well as pithy mission statements we should also consider some ‘unmission statements’. These are statements articulating what we are not called to do. The idea is that if we articulate these things we can stop doing them, or can stop ourselves from starting to do them.

I am starting to work on my ‘unmission statement’, and I suspect that it will grow and develop over the rest of my sabbatical leave. For that reason I am not going to reveal any items from it just yet, but here are some generic categories.

Some of the things on the list are obvious because I am not gifted in those areas, have no interest or need to be involved in them and there are gifted and brilliant people who are doing those things already. Some of the things on this part of list are things I think I am good at but other people can do them better. These are the Bezalel items. (Bezalel was delegated to design and create the fancy bits for the Tabernacle, not something Moses needed to do or would have been any good at).

Some of the things on the list are things that I do because they are urgent but not because they are important. These are my Jethro items. (He was Moses’ Father-in-law and advised Moses to delegate some tasks to others).

Some of the things on the list are things that I could do easily, but by me doing them I am preventing other people from using their gifts and talents in those areas. These are my Elisha items. (Elisha was called to take over from Elijah but had a period of apprenticeship).

Some of the things on the list (the most difficult group) are things I enjoy doing but are not a good use of my time and can distract me from the things that are on God’s ‘To Do’ list for me. These are my Galilee items. (Peter and the disciples went fishing in Galilee after Jesus’ death and resurrection).

I need to be careful not to put things on the list that I don’t like doing but which God is asking me to do. I am calling these items my ‘burning bush’ items. (Moses at the burning bush had a whole lot of excuses about why he should not do what God wanted him to, including the brutally honest, “Please send someone else!”).

So what should be on your ‘unmission statement’?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

Some infernal beatitudes:

Blessed are those who are too tired, too busy, too distracted to spend an hour once a week with their fellow Christians in Church.

Blessed are those who wait to be asked and expect to be thanked.

Blessed are those who are touchy. Soon they will stop going to church.

Blessed are those who always want to get their own way.

Blessed are those who have no time to pray.

Blessed are those who gossip.

Blessed are you when you read this and think it has everything to do with other people, and nothing to do with you.