Thursday, 12 December 2013

Fully Reliant or Just Playing at Faith?

Just a few quick thoughts this week ...
When do we really rely on the power and strength of God?

Thinking / praying / mulling this week flash bulb moment happened: i/we are totally reliant on the power of God to grow the church. I heard myself say something like "You don't say?" in a very sarcastic tone! But then the thoughts flowed too about how so much in the past i / we have relied on lots of other things to grow the church first: a high street building bringing visitors, great children's and youth work, big worship band, great technology, a reasonable crowd already with a good age spread meaning anyone will see an age group they can identify with. I could go on. And of course (hear me out before you jump to the wrong conclusion) these things are good, not bad, but my mistake has been to trust in them first, and then hope and pray too that some day the kingdom will break out with signs and wonders.

Instead, with a more missional model, and smaller weekly congregation, we simply have to rely on the power of God coming and breaking out. Which raises my faith. I want to see that desperately. Everywhere: clusters, services, small groups, mid-week groups, everywhere. It reminded me of being in Zimbabwe this summer where everyone prays about absolutely everything,; where the first port of call is God, because there is no other place to go or person to go to. Why do African Christians see more healing? Because they don't have an NHS to go to first, they put all their faith into God and prayer. Car breaks down, pray, coz there aint no AA!

How good it is to be in this place. This place of desperation, of growing faith growing hunger, growing peace and growing delight. It's uncomfortable at times - but being totally reliant on God is the best place to be.
Know what I mean?

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Sheep Factor

Most images used for discipleship are of solitary
 plants. This is unhelpful. Discipleship is supposed
to be  done in community
What’s in a word? Discipleship. This is THE  word for the church – the most important thing – yes, I am going to say it and you know how much I love mission – discipleship is more important than mission! I was with 15 other church leaders the other day and all of us were wrestling with the issue of how we make disciples and how we make help disciples make other disciples. Discipleship is the practice of following Jesus – so what we’re saying is how do we make followers of Jesus that make more followers of Jesus? How do we create churches where Christians have it built into them to pass it on?

More and more thinkers and church leaders are waking up to the staggering realisation that most don’t know how to do this. Wow! That’s what has been behind the huge challenges we have faced these past 4 years as we've tried to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus (as opposed to the traditions of the church). We had some great old friends to stay a few weeks ago, Geoff and Caroline Shave. We know them from our church in Newcastle 20 years ago, and now they’re with Agape, doing a student ministry in Namibia. They spoke brilliantly at our church a couple of years ago about the difference between growth by addition and growth by multiplication. We too had the same conversation about making disciples that make disciples, and realised God had been teaching us both about the same thing. We had so much to learn from them and they were really interested in what we were trying to do and very supportive too.

What we’re going through – is the beginning of something wonderful. It has to be  - because we’re rediscovering the essential beauty and simplicity of Jesus’ ways. Whatever we do in 2014, it has to be about discipleship and nothing else: being better disciples and making better disciples. Following Jesus with everything we have and are, and passing that on to others. What has Jesus taught you this year? What are you better at in following Him? Who have you discipled this year? I ask this to myself too, and receive the challenge to myself first. I pledge myself to helping others be better disciples and make better disciples. It may get me into trouble. It may upset the apple cart a bit. It may offend some – if it does then it’s only because the gospel of Jesus tends to do that.

Spotted in TFL Tube window!
Speaking of following, have you seen the sheep around Morden? Messy Church’s brilliant sheep hunt is going on – 40 woolen sheep placed in different shops and businesses around Morden for the children to spot and write down and then post through our sheep letter box. Love it. Well done Messy Church for creating loads of opportunity for discussion. They've even been seen on Twitter!

One last tip. If you’re feeling the pressure of the month and feeling down, try skipping. I found out by accident last week that if you skip along (not with a rope, just the walk/skip thing) it’s very hard to do it and not grin. Have a go. Does it work for you?

Street Cred!

A couple of weeks ago I joined the Street Pastors team in Wimbledon from 10pm to 2am on a Friday night, and had a brilliant time. Yes, it was cold, yes it was late, but yes, people were open and receptive to us, and people needed helping. If you've forgotten what goes on in town centres at night go and sit in a cafe to be reminded of the dynamics: people in search of fun can get into hairy situations and need help – and so the church is there to help. In fact I learned that Wimbledon town centre has a pop up men’s urinal! Yep, just outside of Tesco by the bus stops there is a urinal that disappears into the ground in the day – how bizarre. I did pose for a photo but it has to be said, it was only a pose!

What amazed me (although I am getting used to this phenomena even though I will never tire of it) is the warmth and respect of people towards the church (street pastors in this case), especially the door men and staff at the various pubs and clubs. This is a huge credit to the street pastors who are out week in and week out, befriending and helping, being and sharing God’s love where it’s needed and received. When non-Christians see the church out on the streets serving the community and helping they are very receptive to their message. Obviously when they see preachers proclaiming judgement they are instantly turned off and abrasive. I’m so thankful for movements like Street {Pastors that can turn that image around and build up an excellent reputation that Jesus I know is proud of and pleased with. Well done to our own Ruwani (who led the team that night), Colette, Jim and Sidi who do this regularly. It’s a tough job; we should be proud of them.

My kind of wreath: chocolate!!
... It’s now a week later since I started this blog! Advent is here and I’m excited about encountering Jesus afresh through the Advent process for myself and who might encounter Him of the first time. In the last 6 weeks we've seen a rise in spiritual temperature: a few people choosing to follow Jesus, half a dozen healings at least, and many miraculous answers to prayer in challenging circumstances. What’s God teaching us? Pray more. Seek him out more, and do it more in community. Pray together and for each other – standing together ... 'if 2 of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven', (Matt 18:19). Please email us in your testimonies or leave a comment about them below. Let’s be encouraged by this.
In the busyness that December brings, may you truly meet the Christ of Christmas!

Monday, 11 November 2013

Learning to Learn

When i was 13, i went on a cycling holiday (one of many as a kid) for 4 days in North Wales. Big deal you say. I had a great time, and have some abiding memories of that trip: triple bunk beds in Maeshafn Youth
This is an old photo but it's not me!
Hostel! But if i was to say i went with my mate Jem without an adult you might think differently. This was early 1980s (it wasn't pre-war), but I'm sure many now could not believe what my parents let me do then. I wouldn't let me do what i did then! What were my parents thinking?

Well i know what they were thinking: Gav knows how to handle himself, he's been on dozens of cycling trips, he knows his bike, he can map read, cook and he's sensible (at least that's what they thought! I managed to keep that illusion going for quite a while!) and he has a good friend with him, and he's not far away (we lived on the Wirral, 20 miles north of Chester). In other words i had spent countless hours with my mum and dad, not just watching but helping them do all the things needed to go on a cycling holiday, from cleaning to fixing a bike, to solving a map reading problem, and planning shopping and cooking over a 2 week period. In short, they apprenticed me in the art of a cycling youth hostelling holiday, and they knew i was ready to fly solo. The next year we went to the Lake District and the year after that to Inverness and the Highlands with another lad.

What we're trying to do for our faith is a similar thing. We're trying to shift to a more apprentice based model of learning for both adults and children. This doesn't mean you do away with conventional teaching, learning information, or class-room style learning but that you also create environments and culture whereby people can practice and apply what they're learning. The most challenging area for this is that of children and young people. Our culture (and many parents) expects to see children in a Sunday school setting, and that's not wrong, but why do we only see that as an appropriate way of leaning? Can there be alternatives? Can we learn from Jesus' rabbinical background which a group of people physically followed him around, learning by listening, watching and practicing with him, and ultimately then flying solo?

This month we've seen some amazing scenes. At our monthly celebration on the 3rd Nov., the theme was the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). So when the children and young people went out to their groups, they were trained in how to pray for people. While that was going on I was preaching with the adults, and then began our normal period of 'prayer ministry': inviting people to the front to receive prayer for various things. So our team of volunteers brought the children and young people back, and they formed the prayer ministry team, praying for the adults in 2s and 3s with an adult helping them. Seeing adults humble themselves and receive ministry from children, seeing the children step up, lay hands on and pray for the adults, was truly memorable and moving.
This wasn't our actual scene but it was like it
It was the gloriously messy but humbling and godly situation you often find when the kingdom of God is revealed. More mess please!

Yesterday, the 10th, in our clusters, i know of at least 2 gatherings where the children laid hands on and prayed for anyone who wanted to prayer! Thing is, those gatherings were in a coffee shop and the bar area of a sports clubhouse. I'm proud of MBC, I'm proud of the children who are brave to try, the adults who'll humble themselves to receive from children, and I'm proud of the leaders who enable that to happen. Well done everyone. I'm glad my kids are growing up and experiencing church in this way. I'm glad they're being equipped from a young age to minister in the power of the Spirit, both in church settings but also in public spaces too. I think we're beginning to grasp what apprenticing looks like. It's been a tough journey, and many can't understand it, but we're getting there. Let's keep on keeping on, learning Jesus' way, and bearing the fruit he wants us to.
Keep laughing, keep loving keep learning.

What's in a Name? Understanding Mission.

Thought i posted this 2 weeks ago but it stayed in draft - doh!

Whilst in Zimbabwe in the summer, my fmaily and I had a lot of fun joking about the myriad of wonderful names in Zimbabwean culture. IN fact we collected all teh names which were English language words (there were plenty in Shona too). These are some: Perfect, Pride, Precious, Princess, Blessed, Blessing, Nomore, Norest, Evernice. Some are beautiful, some have tough stories behind them. If we adopted the tradition of naming in England we'd have people called things like "Nosleep", Biglungs, Bruiser, Porker etc. If you have a nice name it brings  a new dimension to introducing yourself; on my first visit to fill up our truck with diesel (in Zim you stay in your car and an attendant does it for you) a young pretty lady strolled up to my window and said "Hi I'm Princess, how can i help you today"? I did not know what to do with myself. I thought she was coming on to me! In my dreams! But imagine introducing yourself as "Blessed" or beautiful, Strong or Handsome? If you have a good name, it's empowering. If not, it's disabling. In cultures like this, when people come to faith in Jesus, they are often given a new name - one which instead of cursing them speaks a blessing into their life.

Names are important. As a faith community we are trying to be 'missional' and describe ourselves as a 'missional church'. What do we mean by that? What does being missional mean? And is it important?

Quite simply it means to go on God's behalf and share his love with others. We are called to join God in the Missio Dei (The mission of God) which is to bring his love to all people. He didn't wait around in heaven for u to come to him, he left heaven and was born a baby so he could communicate with us. So if we become missional we begin a journey of moving towards those who don't know him yet.

It's important to understand these words as they define some key things for us as followers of Jesus. We can be evangelistic, i.e. sharing the love of God, without being truly missional because we haven't GONE anywhere to do that. Its not wrong. When people come to us, because of their hunger and searching, of course we share God's love with them too. Brilliant. But if we want to fully reflect the character of God, we need to also GO to those who will never, off their own back, have the courage to come to us. Being missional and 'going' id commonly associated with going to the other side of the world, but it can just as easily mean crossing to the other side of the room at a party, or walking across the road to a neighbour's house. How far you go is not important - who takes the initiative and the intention behind it is the key.

It's important on so many levels. If we only wait for people to come to us, we tend to only attract people like us, and so large chunks of society are untouched by the gospel, simply because 'they're different' to us. And in the process of going we are changed more deeply into God's character because going means sacrificing, risking, having more faith and more courage to venture into unknown territory. As we go, we listen more to the culture around us, hearing its hurts and cries of pain; we see more, seeing its 'needs' and 'gaps'. And by going we can demonstrate more of the love that we're trying to communicate. It is, after all, all about that; it's all about love; learning to love better.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Laugh Love Learn

So the Zoe challenge taught me a lot about teamwork, perseverance and what is achievable when you might otherwise think you’d never be able to. One more thing on that. A week ago Sally and I were at the Hope for Justice conference in Leicester and Ben [Cooley] was talking about mountains and faith moving the mountain. All true. In the context of the many mountains we cycled over but nearly failed, Ben suggested that sometimes God defines us by our mountains. Yes sometimes the mountain is moved by our faith, but sometimes God calls us to scale it and defeat it. Don’t fear it, overcome it!  Thanks Ben!

So on to the other ‘Z’ of my sabbatical break: Zimbabwe. What a beautiful country, what beautiful people and what a time we had. It took us a long time to prepare to fly our family of 5 out for 5 weeks but every ounce of effort was worth it. God had told me he wanted me to go and serve there, that was all he said. So that’s what we did. As it often is in the kingdom of God, when you serve, you yourself get blessed. From our host, Puff (Charlene), to the team of Zimkids, to every family we met, we were shown such great hospitality, warmth and welcome. We overcame my first blunder though: as we came through the airport, the team had gone to great lengths to welcome us, so I promptly pulled the video camera out to record the moment for posterity. Ooops! Caroline Katiyo who was travelling with us immediately told me to put it away quickly. White man (with white hair!) filming in the airport a week before the elections was too dangerously like a BBC journalist, who are currently banned from Zim. Oh dear. Lesson learned.

Once the elections were over, the power cuts returned and a normal Harare existence followed with regular lack of power and water. You need a different perspective on life when you don’t have these basics on hand. It’s like taking camping to an extreme. We often imagine I the west that we couldn’t live like that – but you just get on with it – it’s amazing how much you don’t miss the trimmings like TV. And so through experiences like that you’re able to simplify life and not get so worked up about what are really not important things.

The philosophy of Zimkids volunteering is to get stuck in and bring what you’ve got. So I taught physics and did some tennis coaching. It’s really quite inspiring and humbling when kids getting up really early and walk for an hour or 2 to get there (hungry to learn – as well as hungry!). They’d be fed breakfast, do a bible study, pray, and then learn GCSE physics from ... me! The basic physics I knew would help them, along with the resources I’d downloaded from a BBC website! Many of the kids had never held a tennis racket and most played in bare feet. I had experience and knowledge, and I could pass that on. But I could also pass on care, passion and a belief that these teenagers in my class could achieve something and could get a decent job to help feed them and their families. We all have more to offer than we realise. We do ourselves down too much, we’re crippled by feelings of inadequacy and are paralysed by poor self esteem and low confidence. And yet we have so much to give and share. This is where faith can transform what we do.Bill Johnson says “if you’re willing to do what you’re not qualified to do, that’s what qualifies you”. Stepping out in faith to serve and make a difference. Anyone can do that.

One more thing that struck me was in the churches of Harare. I went to 4 different ones during my time there, all different ‘flavours’ and racial mixes, but in each one a passion for their country. They loved Zimbabwe and were working and praying passionately for its regeneration, seeing some breakthroughs in the much needed area of agriculture. It made me think what a bunch of whiners we are in the UK (yes I know the irony – even this comment might provoke a complaint as it offends someone!). We have infinitely more materials, food infrastructure, entertainment and money but we are not thankful for it and we don’t love our country a quarter of how much Zimbabweans love Zim, nor are as happy as them. I know waking up to golden sunshine every day would make a difference but ...I want to encourage everyone to celebrate what an amazing place the UK is. I know the UK is not perfect, but let’s be thankful for what we’re  part of, and lets love the country we’re in, enjoying everything it has to offer, and working and praying passionately for it to be regenerated where it needs it.

One great experience was out fishing on Lake Kariba (I caught nothing but my sons did!), and watching a pair of giant fish Eagles. As we sat in our boat waiting, one of them swooped down, skimmed the water about 20m from us, and plucked a big fish from the lake, right in front of our eyes. Instead of flying off immediately, it stayed low, and flew round, circling our boat before going back up to its perch on a nearby tree, as if to gloat over his superior fishing skills. Magical! Thank you God, Thank you Zim!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Learning New Things (reflections on Sabbatical) Part 1

Hi! How you doing?
We’re back after having been on a 3 ½ month sabbatical (break) that has been truly wonderful. More of that later. As our church website is under reconstruction, I thought I would open a new blog using the same app I used for the Zoe Challenge, and wondered what to call it? I wanted to capture the call and challenge we face as modern disciples of Jesus, so tried various things like Gav-follower, but thought that might freak a few people out and at best sound egocentric, or worse like I was leading a cult! I could use Gav-Disciple, but I wanted something that anyone could easily engage with; since ‘disciple’ means ‘learner’ (from the Greek language that the New Testament was written in), I went with that. And ‘Challenge’ because having done a huge Physical (Zoe) challenge in May, I learned how through teamwork and training you can achieve incredible things, and feel that following Jesus is a life challenge in which we never stop learning, and never cease to have adventures, trials and laughs. What do you think? Hope you enjoy ...

So I did my last Sunday on the 12th May, and early on the 13th flew out to Latvia with my now great mates Ben, Tom and Jim to begin the mighty Zoe Challenge: cycling from Riga in Latvia,  ...

via Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Netherlands, and then in the UK from Hull down to Southampton. All to raise money and awareness of the fight to stop human trafficking in the UK; all because a girl called Zoe was conned and trafficked here for the purposes o sexual exploitation. But Hope for Justice rescued her and I want to help rescue more people like her. Thanks to everyone who helped me raise nearly £14000 towards this.

It was an incredible journey, full of pain, laughter, rain, sunshine, hills, emotional moments and huge mental and physical resolve. If you’ve never done an endurance feat, when you’re body runs out of energy, your mind plays tricks on you and you struggle to function normally. It was such a privilege to do this with the whole team, not just the other 3 cyclists, but our back up team of Isaac, Spoony, Ed and Helen and all the UK supporters and staff. When we’d reached our destination for the day around 6 or 7pm, shattered, recovery drinks downed, showered, gone down to dinner and sorted kit out I would crash back in my room around 11, 11.30 and try to pen a blog; I didn’t manage it every day but I loved it when I could. It helped me connect with everyone back home. 

The elation of crossing that line in Southampton as a team was utterly magnificent. I learned that I had something to give, something to bring, something I could do to help a massive goal; something that was an outworking of my faith; something that went towards what Jesus started when he said he had come to set captives free. That’s what motivates me.

You know I never would have managed it without the other guys. None of us would have made it on our own. Each of us had our moments when we’d had enough or hit a wall. Each of us picked the other up, sometimes literally off the floor, with the words “Come on you can do it”.
I made friends alone the way too. I had only met Ben a couple of times before, the others not at all, but by the end of it we were more than mates. We had found a bond that will never be lost. We had set out to accomplish something together and in doing so found that elusive thing that humanity searches for: belonging; being in a pack, a family, a team; and finding our place in it. I never would have found that sitting at home. It happened as I went on a challenge in which I needed help, and was in turn need to help.
I hope as you read this you realise, or perhaps would allow yourself to believe that you have a place in a tribe and can find belonging. That tribe is a bunch of people who are also searching for meaning, purpose and fulfillment as they follow Jesus. Join me as I spend my life on the challenge of following this incredible person, where I have found belonging, acceptance and team. Join me as we learn together how best to do that. Get stuck into the Challenge and you’ll find your tribe.

Leave a comment if you like and we might spark a discussion. No worries if it doesn’t. I’m not precious ...If you have experienced these things, let us know how ...