Notes to growing Christians – from David Jackman


The growing business
Several years ago, I spotted a garden centre delivery van, which ran the strap-line, ‘Our business is growing’. It seemed a slogan that could readily be adopted by any individual Christian, or church, or ministry.

The double meaning is both clever and important. We want to see the gospel growing, in our land and locality, as well as around the world, as God adds new members to his church. But we also have a responsibility to be growing ourselves, as followers of Jesus, in many dimensions and all sorts of areas of our lives and personalities. That’s our business as believers.

Contemporary issues
So, the aim of this column will be to explore contemporary issues of discipleship, in a culture that has lost its moorings along with its Christian heritage. It’s a culture where apathy is still the predominant response to evangelism, but where hostility is coming up not far behind. Yet we live still in a context of massive opportunity and we still enjoy great freedoms to be the salt of the earth, the light of Christ in the darkness, a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden (Matthew 5.13-14).
Disciples?
Let’s start, then, with a look at the heart of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. The Bible word, used in the New Testament, signifies a ‘learner’, or perhaps we would use the term ‘apprentice’. That carries the idea of two connected types of learning. The first is a body of knowledge or skill, derived from an experienced teacher, but this is also in the context of a personal relationship with the instructor, learning to become like that ‘master’ and so to graduate to becoming an expert oneself.
This is probably why Paul defines the change which the Ephesian Christians had experienced through believing in the gospel, in the unusual phrase of Ephesians 4.20 as ‘learning Christ’, almost as a casual acquaintance, but being personally committed to him as one’s life-teacher and his words as the foundation of truth, on which the whole of one’s life is to be built. As the next verse indicates, ‘learning Christ’ means hearing his words and receiving his teaching, because he is the truth in himself. Becoming a Christian is being indentured to a new master, living under a new ruler.

Such concepts tend to make us anxious about the potential loss of our freedom. After all, that was what attracted many of us to Jesus, in the first place. We know that we needed to be rescued and set free from our sin and guilt in not letting God be God in our lives, refusing to allow him his rights over us, although he is the one who gives us every breath we take. But is this not merely to exchange one slavery for another? How can he be both liberator and lord? Isn’t there an irreconcilable tension between the two?

Freedom, true and false
We do not need to fear. It is a feature of God’s creation that there are no absolute freedoms in this world of time and space. We might like to dispense with the law of gravity and be free to fly, like a bird, but don’t ask me to join you in the experiment of launching off from the church tower! You can liberate your pet goldfish from its restrictive bowl onto the vast expanse of the living room carpet, but you are condemning it to die. It can only live in water. And human beings, made in God’s image, can only live spiritually in Christ. That is the necessary condition for eternal life. For the miracle of the new birth is the implantation of the very life of God, eternal life, into our individual human consciousness.
The great gospel freedoms — from sin and guilt, judgment and hell — are also accompanied, here in this world, by the possibility of increasing victory over temptation and the down-drag of our fallen humanity, but they all depend on our ‘learning Christ’, submitting to his authority and obeying his instruction, as rescuer and ruler.

When Paul writes, ‘it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved’ (Romans 10.10), he has already defined the content of that faith in the previous verse, in the affirmation ‘Jesus is Lord’. That is the unique Christian confession, enabled only by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 15.3), which opens the door to discipleship. And it is by its practical application to our lives, day by day, that we devote ourselves to what is his business and ours — growing in Christ.

David Jackman writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for EN.
Other articles in this series include:
True contentment

What should a ministers library look like? … and a few other ideas!


Enjoy the following links!

9 Marks – What should a ministers library look like?

Gospel Coalition – Prayer as pastoral work

Good Book Company – Are we bigoted?

Desiring God – A cure for lame table prayers

Tim Challies – Four questions to help answer “Am I called to preach?”

Bob Kauflin – Can singing about the Gospel become rote?

Top tips from Tim Thornborough: Making the most of media interviews


I sat under the blazing lights of the TV studio, the presenter looking at me suspiciously.

I was the nasty, Bible-bashing evangelical, out of tune with the culture, the times and reality as he knew it. He really only had one aim. To show the world how irrelevant and bigoted I really was. I gulped nervously and tried to put on a brave smile as the red light went on and he turned to me, eyes boring into me like gimlets…

Religion is news. Big news in fact. And not just news on the national scale but on the local scene as well. Barely a day goes by without some major story in the national newspapers about church policy or a topical issue on which the Christian viewpoint is being applauded or attacked. And so it should be.

If the gospel is about the important issues of life, then Christians and churches will have views on most, if not all, of the moral and political issues that our country faces. It is a pity, therefore, that the church spokesmen who our journalists often talk with are so patchy in presenting a clear, consistent and interesting response to these questions — and, under the unflattering glare of the TV lights, are often made to look and sound like representatives of a bygone age.

Massive opportunities

Pastors and ministers of local churches may not have much opportunity to represent the biblical faith at the highest levels, but at the local level there are massive opportunities for awareness raising, outreach, evangelism and opinion formation through the local media. Local newspapers and radio are machines that gobble up information, turn it into news and spit it out again to be read and heard by thousands of people. Although our first instinct might be to fear how it could all go wrong, I want to encourage you to make the effort to get in touch with your local media for the sake of the gospel.

I worked as a journalist in various capacities for 20 years and, in this article, I want to help you understand how journalists think, and how to use the opportunities of the media to bring glory to Jesus through the printed word and over the airwaves.

What journalists really want

The story that started this piece was me on national television. It was not a pleasant experience at all, and it may be that you are reading this thinking that journalists are all like this, and that the press are to be avoided at all costs. Not so. Journalists are hard working people, who have to operate to strict deadlines. They are employed to write words to fill their columns or bulletins. Journalists are basically looking for four things.

1. A story

They are looking to report a story — an event of significance that people will find shocking, funny, interesting or important.

There will be newsworthy things happening in your church every month. It’s just a question of being able to spot what things might appeal to your local media. Your church may have a speaker visiting with an interesting history. There may be a ‘human interest story’ with a couple getting married or having a baby. There may be some church initiative or outreach event that gives the opportunity to get some positive exposure. The key is to develop the eye to spot a story that they might be interested in.

The place to start is to scan the local newspaper to see what headlines there are — not just on the front page, but buried deep inside — and then to think about how you can present that opportunity to your local journalist.

Having a story gives you the opportunity to share something of the gospel to people. Not necessarily the whole deal, but one aspect of the good news: forgiveness, a life changed through Christ, a community committed to loving action or the strength that faith in Jesus brings to life’s tough situations can all be brought out from a simple story — whether it is the opening of a church building extension or an obituary of a loved Christian.

2. Something simple

For the most part, reporters will not be Christians, and will often have no real grasp of what Christianity really is. Like most other people really. In certain hot topics like the ordination of women or the homosexual debate, Christians are often used to dealing in long complex arguments from Scripture, and reviewing long complex histories. This is not what journalists are after. They want a soundbite.

A soundbite is a short pithy quote that sums up an idea or an argument, and your greatest opportunity for getting your message across is to prepare a maximum of three key messages that you want to get across related to the news story. For the interview I was involved in on TV, I sat and wrote half a sheet of quotes, statistics and comments the night before and had them next to me on the sofa.

During the course of a short two-minute interview, I was able to use virtually everything on the sheet, whereas the other guy being interviewed came across much less strongly. Preparation pays off.

3. A source

Even if you do not have a story to share with the world, it is worth cultivating a good relationship with local journalists. They will be working on stories every day that there may be an opportunity to contribute to. Journalists are always looking for prominent local community leaders who can give them a reaction to a story.

If you are able to build a good friendship with a local journalist, they will be more likely to give you a call to comment on the closure of a local hospital, a crime or some new local event. A few tips here.

* Don’t be unremittingly negative! Christians can seem to be the ‘fun-suckers’ against change. Try to see the positive side of things and applaud them.
* If you are called by a journalist for a quote, clarify what the story is, and then offer to ring them back in ten minutes, or email your quote. This will give you the time to work at refining a clear, positive, gospel-centred message in a few words.
* Check the reporter’s deadline so that you know when you have to respond.
* Never say: ‘No comment’ — it looks like you have something to hide.
* Nothing you say to a journalist is ‘off the record’. They can legally quote anything you say to them. So don’t relax and say unguarded things after or before a formal interview.

4. Substance

Journalists are ordinary people. And like ordinary people they have assumptions about life, the church, the Christian faith, which are for the most part wrong.

Journalists will often revert to trying to fit anything you say into some typical ‘story types’ that they will be familiar with:

* The church is a dying institution (Church closes)
* Religious people are hypocrites (Vicar runs off with organist)
* Faith is irrelevant (Church debates arcane theology, but remains silent on major issues)

It’s important to remember this when talking to the media. They will make whatever you say into one of these three stories unless you take steps to prevent it. It’s not a conspiracy — it’s just human nature.

The key here is to research facts and statistics. The discussion I was involved with on Breakfast TV was about cohabitation — couples living together without being married. It’s seems to be a classic case of the church simply not recognising the modern reality that this is how people live. It makes church look irrelevant, and appears to be an open and shut case.

If it were just a sharing of opinions, nothing would have changed. One simple fact dropped into the conversation changed that. ‘Did you know that cohabiting women are four times more likely to suffer domestic violence than those who are married?’
By quoting a fact, I was able to throw doubt on their assumption, and make them, and the viewers, think there may be more to this issue than they first thought. Suddenly the Christian position didn’t seem quite so irrelevant.

Journalists are looking for substance — facts and ideas — not just opinions. Do the research to make sure you give it to them. There are great opportunities to promote and defend the faith. Use them to the glory of God.

There are lots of practical things you will need to understand about interview technique if you get the opportunity to speak on radio or appear on TV. You can google these quite easily.

Tim Thornborough – The Good Book Company

Faith matters in healthcare


AT A GIVEN MOMENT
Faith matters in healthcare
By Graham McAll
Christian Medical Fellowship. 192 pages. £8.00
ISBN 978 0 906 747 414

The issue of whether Christian healthcare professionals should share their faith with patients and colleagues has been highlighted by the case of a GP who has been reprimanded by the General Medical Council (GMC) for discussing his Christian beliefs with a patient. In this context a book that explores these issues is timely.

The book seeks to explore the importance of faith and worldview; to unpack how such issues can be raised with patients; how the clinicians’ own faith can be shared with patients and colleagues, and how such interventions can be used to the good of patients in a variety of situations. This is done in 21 short chapters using a collection of anecdotes from healthcare professionals as well as the author’s comments and reflections from the perspective of an experienced GP.

The chapters on the importance of exploring a patient’s faith and worldview are very helpful and illuminating. The author outlines how spiritual perspectives can affect health beliefs and outcomes — in both physical and mental health. He also looks at ways in which a ‘spiritual history’ can be taken and when this is likely to be welcomed by patients.

The author quotes from the GMC guidelines and echoes the Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) advice that faith issues should be raised sensitively, with permission and respect. There are many references to how the author has been able to achieve this professionally. It is apparent that the author has extensive experience of raising spiritual matters with patients and it would have been helpful to be able to have had his wisdom and advice drawn together in one section of the book.

Sometimes the use of anecdotes without comment was less helpful, as it wasn’t always clear whether the author considered them examples to be followed or avoided. The author himself suggests these anecdotes might be a basis for discussion. Day conferences such as the CMF’s ‘Saline Solution’ days provide a setting where clinicians can discuss living out and sharing their faith in the workplace and can further sharpen their abilities to witness to Christ.

Dr. Harriet Strain, 
GP, St. Albans


Editors commentary: Making economics


How can we make our economy work? That is the question facing not only the UK but the Eurozone too.

Bringing the economies of the 27 disparate member states of the EU under one umbrella so as to be good for all was always going to be a long shot. The initial response to the debt crisis in Europe has been to try to enforce austerity measures. With the accompanying hardship and loss of jobs, this has led to continuing riots and political turmoil in Greece, and a new President in France. Spain also teeters on the brink of needing a colossal financial bailout.

Money, money, money…
Having undermined the traditional family, the natural ‘social services’ (1 Timothy 5.8), the British government faces, among other things, a spiralling bill for the care of the elderly. But the headline of the Queen’s Speech in May was not a package for real economic growth but simply legislation to allow mothers to return to work quicker.

Hard-pressed families no doubt need money. According to Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, speaking recently: ‘We are still, by some margin, the most indebted nation on earth in terms of household debt’. He was trying to make the point that the banks only lent so much and got the country into so much trouble because people were willing to borrow way beyond their means. But what do you expect from people trained up in the secular / materialistic worldview which sees having money as everything? And if you can manage to die still in debt you will never have to pay.

What we are being taught by all this is that democratic capitalism in a society with no moral anchor faces an intractable problem. You have a government which controls neither the people’s choices nor the banks and therefore is not really in control of the economy. Furthermore, the government cannot assume that the banks will act in a way which will prosper the country rather than simply their business, shareholders and executives. But the way out is not to move towards state control of everything, which, as Communism proved, leads not only to oppression but to a moribund economy through lack of competition. The answer lies in favouring both entrepreneurs and ordinary people who have an ethical outlook which will lead them to act for the good of society. But where is our society going to get such an ethic except from the Christianity which is now so despised and rejected in our land? It is righteousness which exalts a nation (Proverbs 14.34) and makes economies.

Revival anniversary
Can our country be turned around? In 1949, two elderly women in the Hebrides, 84 and 82 years old, one blind, the other riddled with arthritis, became burdened for the spiritual state of their parish in Barvas. Not a single young man or young woman went to the church. But Peggy and Christine Smith were gripped by God’s promise in Isaiah 44.3: ‘I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground’, and they set themselves to pray twice a week, sometimes from 10.00 at night until 3.00 or 4.00 in the morning. One night, one of the sisters had a vision. She saw the church crowded with young people and a strange minister standing in the pulpit. It was out of the prayer of those two sisters that the revival on Lewis, under Duncan Campbell, began, which changed so many lives. This year is the 60th anniversary of the end of that revival. Let us ask God to send another.
John Benton


Draw your sword with Psalm 47


Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy.

For the Lord Most High is awesome,
the great King over all the earth.
He subdued nations under us,
peoples under our feet.
He chose our inheritance for us,
the pride of Jacob, whom he loved.

God has ascended amid shouts of joy,
the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the King of all the earth;
sing to him a psalm of praise.

God reigns over the nations;
God is seated on his holy throne.
The nobles of the nations assemble
as the people of the God of Abraham,
for the kings of the earth belong to God;
he is greatly exalted.

Psalm 47 (NIV)

“Support the man with the ball”


Not a phrase you’ll find in Scripture, but one I use often in training courses.

I’ve recently attended an excellent Bible by the Beach in Eastbourne and heard Bishop Wallace Benn quote from Acts. ‘Then Peter stood with the 11, raised his voice and addressed the crowd’ (Acts 2.14). It seems that Peter did not stand alone, but the rest of the disciples stood with him lending support and encouragement. They were ‘supporting the man with the ball’. Football may not appeal to everyone, but the simple principle is that, if you have the ball, you need to know that you have passing options to other team members — you are not isolated.

Isolated youth teams

Increasingly, in training and mentoring situations, I am finding that youth teams feel isolated and unsupported. They are appointed and maybe even publically acknowledged, but very soon the assumption is made that these people will turn up each week, do the job, and keep the children out of the way of ‘real’ church. It is rarely deliberately neglectful. If you have a full-time youth minister you seriously need to look at the way the church handles their support. At the very least they need a group with whom they can pray. Sometimes youth ministers have networks where they meet staff from other churches doing the same job, but they are not that common.

Mentors

Ideally everyone doing youth ministry should have a mentor — someone who can ask the awkward accountability questions. Ideally this mentor should not be a member of their own church. In more and more of my recent conversations I have listened to youth ministers who feel excluded from church planning, strategy and events. Church ministers have their own networks (Deanery Chapters, ministers’ fraternals, etc.) but seem to forget that youth ministers need training, influence and direction. It is not uncommon to find youth ministers with very little clue about the future of their church.

Visit the youth group

But what about those faithful people who turn up every week to teach and care for the young people. Many of them feel isolated from ‘big church’ life. They look after the young people and, in doing so, isolate themselves from church life. I would love to see every one of this noble band paired up with an adult member of the congregation. An occasional meal or even prayer for that volunteer and his family would be an enormous encouragement. How many times do ministers, churchwardens visit the youth group to see what goes on? It doesn’t need to be every week, but once a term should not be impossible.

These precious people should regularly be mentioned on church weekly bulletins given out to all church attendees. Even an occasional list of team in the bulletin would encourage adult church to pray regularly for those who minister to children. Some churches have found an action group dedicated to one area of ministry (e.g. youth and children) to be very useful to discover dreams and visions. An occasional lunch with the parents of a children’s leader and an assurance that he be prayed for will help keep them going.

Dave Fenton – Training Director of Root 66 which runs training courses for youth ministers across the UK

It’s all about serving your wife… and a few other things!


Enjoy the following links!

9 Marks – Serving your wife before serving as pastor

Gospel Coalition – Fearfully and wonderfully made

Good Book Company – What is a good one-sentence way of saying what the preacher is about to do?

Pure Church – Winning souls with Charles Spurgeon

Desiring God – What sanctification feels like