Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The Fast Track To Learning

Have you worked it out yet?
There is no fast track!

The closest thing to a fast track is not being afraid of failure. To learn is to try something out. To try is to invite failure but not give into its threat of potential shame, and instead see that it's a gift of learning and growth.

When you learn to walk, you don’t sit there for days working out how other people do it, watching other toddlers fall over, and thinking “I am not falling down! When I get up there on 2 feet I’m not falling down, I’m staying upright – like those tall people do!” It doesn’t work like that does it? The toddler takes several attempts to get up, then immediately falls back down on their bum. Again, again and again they try until they take their first few steps and the parents go wild with excitement and pride. They still fall down though!

Oh that we would apply those principles to adult life and discipleship. When I started playing rugby I played fly-half, no.10, which required you to kick the rugby ball. My first efforts weren’t great but I got the hang of it, with many many mistakes along the way, as my team mates could tell you! Only by trying to kick the rugby ball do you fully appreciate its weird shape and the pitfalls of your foot slightly sliding off one way (a hook) or the other (a slice).

I am really not interested in anyone who can talk a good game of discipleship. I really don’t care if anyone can tell me the Greek root of a word in the New Testament, if it doesn’t make a direct difference in their life and the people around them. Anyone can get great teaching or quote great teaching, but if they’re not living it then it’s just theory. Teaching needs to become learning and that requires activity. Anyone, especially in the internet age, can get information about anything, but I’m interested in people who are willing to walk the walk, and perhaps more importantly TRYING to walk the walk, with a few mistakes along the way.

So wear those mistakes like badges of honour, chalk them up to experience and realise how much learning you’ve got. And all of that takes time. It’s not a fast track – but it’s THE track to learning.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Breaking the T-Shirt Habit

Hi All
Can't believe September is nearly over - still hoping to be wearing shorts on Oct 1st! It's a kind of 'victory over the elements' thing for me!

Anyway today's topic is not about stopping wearing t-shirts - i deliberately dress down when i lead or preach at church services to put people at ease and demonstrate God accepts us as we are - no the t-shirt in the title refers to the phrase "Been there, done that, got the T-shirt"! Love the phrase. But I realise we have that attitude to spiritual life and learning too - it appears to be hardwired into our culture and it takes a concerted effort - and some friends helping along the way too - to break that pattern of thinking.

Let me illustrate: recently an experienced rugby coach form the R.F.U. (the headquarters of English
Rugby) came to teach some youngsters about scrummaging. After introducing himself and why he
was there, one of the kids replied, "Oh we've done that already". To which the coach, I think a little wryly, said "Do you not think I could teach you anything about it?" Clearly this boy, and some others, wanted to look cool and knowledgeable, not in need of some help. It's funny isn't it? But also sad to see the chasm between the coach's experience and desire to impart a practical knowledge, and the pupil's readiness to learn. I guess that's why the best teachers are those who make you want to learn.

It's that mentality that stops us from learning, and it lingers all through life if we let it. Elite or professional sports people are constantly learning from every game/competition, and using every experience to get better. Wouldn't it be great if we had that same search for learning and improvement in our spiritual lives? I think that's why Jesus called people to follow him and learn from him. Instead of thinking, evangelism? done that course. Or reading the Bible, i know how to do that! Prayer? read so many books i could probably write one! He wants us to be hungry to learn from his eternal wisdom. Some people have this relentless pursuit of improvement and learning in their professional life but see no link to their spiritual life.

So are you satisfied with your life and spiritual life? What do you want to grow in? What do you think you need to grow in at the moment? What is Jesus offering to help you in? How can you go about that? Who can help you?

Next Week: The Fast-Track Secret to Learning ...

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Failure Notification!

Just got back from a week teaching and serving at New Wine Ground Breakers team, and then a couple of weeks leave, last of which on the Isle of Wight with my in-laws.

Going through my emails yesterday one was titled: "failure notification". Obviously something had gone wrong somewhere and an automated reply popped up. A thought struck me as I read that: our churches need that on the front door: a failure notification. In the sense that we're all failures and will fail at some time. In the sense that we're all broken people, and no church community can ever be perfect. In fact, in the sense that every Christian community is a broken one, with broken people who will fail and let each other down at some point along the way. It's time to get real isn't it and face up to our unrealistic expectations.

I've loved the series we've been doing since Easter on Ordinary People: Extraordinary God. I've loved looking at the so many examples of failures in the Bible, and how that didn't stop people being part of God's amazing plan. I'm broken. I've failed at many many things. No doubt you are and no doubt you have too.

Whilst pastoring the brilliant and super-hard working team at New Wine Ground Breakers a few weeks ago I got to hear the morning series taught by Jordan Seng - what a blessing and what a message. It was called "The Life of Try". In short, he said faith is spelled, T-R-Y. Try! And building a culture of faith involves learning to live with and celebrate failure. Isn't the Bible and the gospel of Jesus all about God working with and accepting broken, imperfect people and taking them on a journey of transformation? Maybe more people will listen to our message when they realise they don't have to be perfect before they belong?

We may fail, over and over again - but we will keep on trying - with God's grace and power.

Put it on a T-shirt, a cap, a bracelet, wherever you like, and keep encouraging everyone around you to TRY.

[PS - and when things don't work out, congratulate them/yourself for trying.]

Thursday, 19 May 2016

A Path Less Trodden?

I was at an event recently where some organ music was played very briefly, and one guy shouted out, humorously, “Agh Church!”. We all knew what he meant.  The church has made lots of mistakes over the years and there are many things Christians disagree about how to do church. But all of it misses the point. Quite spectacularly. Jesus never said we were to build the church, that was his job. The job he gave us was to make disciples. Not converts, not members; disciples. Conversion and membership are of course important, but technically it’s not what Jesus told us to do. If we make disciples, we get the church. But if we build the church we don’t necessarily get disciples.

The fact that we know so little about being and making disciples, shows us how far we’ve drifted from the single most vital task for us. A disciple is someone who is learning to be like Jesus, who follows his ways, who is his apprentice.

Dave Alred is an international elite sports coach. Strangely he is not confined to a specific sport. He is famous for his work as kicking coach to Jonny Wilkinson, the England world cup winning rugby player; and assisting Luke Donald become world no. 1 golfer; he has coached at the top in many fields, including surgeons, pilots, dolphin trainers and business leaders. In a radio interview recently he said many coaches go on to the sports field with their teams but very little learning takes place. There may be lots of teaching, but not much learning. A true coach enables the student to learn. Think back to your best teachers at school, or anyone else, and you see people who asked questions of you, stretched you, invested in you. Here you have an understanding of discipleship. For centuries we have done church a certain way, and somewhere lost sight of learning to follow Jesus. Somewhere it became all about Sunday, instead of Mon-Saturday as well. About knowledge instead of practice. About teaching instead of learning. And somewhere those Sunday practices became stuck in traditions of a bye-gone era, struggling to make it relevant for today’s emerging culture.

Don’t get me wrong. Discipleship involves knowledge, Sundays and teaching, but they’re just part of the equation. We, here at MBC, are dedicated to finding that narrow path again. But as Jesus said, “small is the gate, and narrow the road that leads to life and few find it”. It’s harder, its messier, but it’s worth it because it gets us doing what Jesus wants: doing what he did, and helping others do the same. I’ll sign up for that. Will you?

Oh, one last thing. He said he’ll be with us – all the way!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Wish you could disarm Doubt?

Doubt. Funny thing isn't it? Seems to trip us up a lot doesn't it? Often we feel a second class Christian or worse if we have doubts. But I want to be brief and dispel those fears.

Yes, Jesus clearly teaches us to have faith and not doubt. Faith is where we're aiming. Doubt can disrupt a lot. As we have delved into faith this past month and seen that it is believing in what you cannot see, we also discovered that for faith to be faith, there has to be a bit of doubt around. Once
you know something to be true, it is no longer faith. So could it be that doubt is the soil in which genuine faith grows? I think so. Rather than treating it as our enemy, and hence be paralysed or shamed by its presence, perhaps we could get used to it always lurking in the background, and so focus on developing our faith. I'm not saying feed your doubt, not at all. Just don't be hamstrung by it. God's grace is much bigger than your doubt.

After all, the father of the boy with an evil spirit cried out "I believe, help my unbelief" (Mk 9:24).
Don't be paralysed by doubt. Instead, use it to grow true faith, by reminding yourself of the God who has acted for you in the past. Ask God to move again, speak again. Take that step of faith and act on it. From the soil of doubt will grow a strong shot of faith.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

How to deal with Failure? 4 Responses.

According to Alice Thomson in the Times, we have a problem with failure in British culture. I've been convinced she's right for a few years now.  No failure please, we're British

"So how many times have you failed?" she was asked by a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. "Which was your best one?" Their approach to failure was as a badge of honour, a rite of passage. If you've spent time in other cultures, especially across the pond, you get to see our own culture more clearly. Thomson is right: us Brits are scared silly of failure. The stupid thing is, everything around us was invented and built by people who made loads of failures but kept trying anyway. Everything!

This defeat led to a changed culture for New Zealand
It seems that everywhere I look I find more examples, and every week too. As the Rugby World Cup starts on Friday I was reading about the great supremacy of the current All Blacks side (New Zealand to the uninitiated). It explained that the roots of this team's culture of success came from, wait for it, not a high, but a low: a crushing defeat by South Africa in 2004 which they followed up with an horrendous binge drinking session. From there they bounced to world domination. The road to greatness passed through the valley of despair.

We're no strangers to the fear of failure in church too. If we're to respond significantly to the huge challenge that 92% of our country don't go to church, we're going to have to try a few new ways of doing things, and no doubt get it wrong quite a lot. But the fear of failure holds us back.

So, trying to keep these blogs short, here are 4 things to change your approach to failure:

1. Admit we're totally afraid of failure, but push through anyway.
2. Realise everyone who achieves great things only does so after failing many times.
3. Tell yourself not to be afraid of it but to embrace it.
4. Believe it's the route to getting better.

What do you think? Does this resonate with you? Can you talk about your failures?

Thursday, 10 September 2015

The Heart of Worship?

So what is worship? How would you define it? Or explain it to someone who's not familiar with the concept as simply as possible? (And understanding too that our while lives can be worship)

Without going into the Hebrew and Greek words, could it be simply, 'showing devotion to someone greater'? There are lots of good definitions out there, but that's mine. For now.

I had a moment in the summer, an a-ha moment, when I suddenly saw things clearer. I was at New Wine in Somerset where I was pastoring a group of children's leaders for a week, as well as solo parenting my kids whilst camping - boy was I stretched. Single parents you have my utmost respect. I did it for a week and was wasted! I'd had a particularly
difficult couple of days and was just hanging on to God to get me through. He did with spades! In the evening I had a 30 minutes gap, and a list of about 10 things that needed doing: showering, shaving, washing up, clearing the tent, and preparing my next talk. All I wanted to do was sleep. But my overwhelming drive was to thank God and that simply saying "thank you" was not enough. I knew I needed to worship him. Give my all. So I wandered down to the big arena, squeezed into the back and poured out my thankyous in worship. It may not sound a big deal but it was to me. I had to DO something that showed my love, my appreciation, my gratitude. I instinctively knew it needed to be costly and deep. I was shattered, and had a long list of jobs but all that had to be put aside to worship the One who deserved my everything.

That was worship. You see worship has to cost us something because in worship we give to the one who deserves our everything. Today in western churches worship is a hot potato that divides opinion: we argue over types of song, music, instrument, volume, how much open prayer, scripted or unscripted; even how long a worship session should be. I'm not saying these things aren't relevant to discuss. I just think we need to change the conversation: what am I bringing to God today? He is the central character of worship not us. It's for him, it's all about him, not us. Mike Pilavachi wrote a book called 'For the audience of One' - can we get back to that mind-set? When we make God the centre we will find all other issues fade away.