Notes to growing Christians from David Jackman: Double bubble trouble


Notes to Growing Christians

I was recently privileged to listen to a recording of a famous and much-used preacher, from 50 years ago.

It was at the time of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the sermon I listened to had been preached in England the Sunday after that fateful Friday. It was, as I expected, a faithful and powerful biblical address, with strong reminders of the fragility of human life and the vanity of putting one’s hopes in mere men. This was followed by a stirring call to repent and put one’s trust in the promises of the eternal God, made available to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

From another age

What particularly struck me was that nobody could preach like that today. Of course, the sermon’s script could still be read and understood with great benefit, but the style of communication, its rhetoric and rhythms, belonged to another age – now completely gone. The same was true of the whole service, which was also recorded, led entirely and only by the same minister who preached, prayed and read, with four traditional hymns, to organ accompaniment. It was not so much that the vocabulary was dated, though it inevitably was, but that what I might call the unspoken agreement, or understanding, between the preacher and the obviously large congregation would not have the same currency in today’s context – even among regular church-goers. The way in which the congregation was addressed, the fact that they were prepared to come in their hundreds, weekly, for a 90-minute service, with minimal congregational participation, the sense of social and moral certainty which was threaded through the proceedings, its affirmation of spiritual truth but without much emphasis on analysis or argument – they all took me back to my youth and a renewed awareness of how much things have changed.

Cultural packaging

The temptation of those of us who remember a different style and presentation of even evangelical truth, is to fantasise nostalgically that the ‘pulpit greats’ of the past might be emulated today. But, of course, if they were of today’s generation their approach would be entirely different. Like all good preachers, they were of their time, speaking both from and into their own culture, which was so much more Christian than ours today. I have no doubt that they would be presenting the same biblical message, with its unchanging truth content, but in distinctly contemporary packaging. The challenge for us, however, is how to communicate biblical truth in the changed cultures of the 21st century, without diminution of the biblical context, or accommodation of the message to the prejudices of the listeners. That’s a challenge faced not only by every preacher, but every Sunday school teacher, youth worker, study group leader; indeed every individual believer who is trying to share their faith.

Our culture is inherently suspicious of conviction, or that there could be any sort of certainty, due to its widespread rejection of the concept of absolute truth. It is equally negative about ‘earnestness’, not only because that unsettles the ‘fun ethic’, which dominates popular culture, but also because it so often seems to mask a self-serving motivation. ‘Well, of course, you want me to believe what you believe, because you want to make me a member of your club. Just like every body else, you want a slice of my time and energy and especially my money.’

Our own worlds?

This is the problem the politicians face, having become so disconnected from society as a whole, that they live in a professional bubble-world, with its own values, pecking orders, hierarchy, ambitions, treacheries and deceptions. Planets Westminster and Strasbourg really do seem to be another world to most people.

But are not we in exactly the same dilemma? ‘The church’, or Christianity in general, seems to lack credibility in the modern world, partly at least because we have failed to realise how the world has changed and continues to do so. Too often we still rely on volume and enthusiasm as indicators of sincerity in communicating our faith, but are conspicuously light on evidence, argument and interaction with the questions which the culture is actually asking.

Too often we are so busy telling people what they ought to think and how they ought to respond that we deny others, even our own children, the right and responsibility of learning to think for themselves and so develop their own ultimately water-tight convictions. But is that the way Jesus and the apostles went about it? Or have we been trapped into a Christian bubble, characterised by endless instruction and training sessions, but where we end up talking only to ourselves? Over the next two or three columns, I hope to explore these essential issues in more detail and see what pointers God’s unchanging word can give us for our rapidly changing world.

David Jackman is the past President of the Proclamation Trust and writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for EN.

This article was first published in the February 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Notes to growing Christians from David Jackman: Personal contact


Notes to Growing Christians

With the turn of the year, many churches will be concentrating their focus on a ‘Passion for Life’.

This national initiative of local churches to present the gospel within and to our communities will reach its climax at Easter time. Part of its appeal is that individual congregations, partnering wherever possible with other like-minded churches in their neighbourhood, can join together to proclaim the good news through special events as well as their regular church programmes. We can do more together than we could ever do as single units.

Confidence in the unspectacular

But it is as individuals that we serve the Lord, day by day, often in quite isolated contexts. So, perhaps we need to pray that God will help us to recover our confidence that he can use the unspectacular, but faithful, witness of ‘ordinary’ Christians like us to make those vital first connections which open doors for the good news to be heard. We often, rightly, say that our gospel is truth-centred, not need-centred. There can be no accommodation of its unchanging message to the prevailing norms of our secular culture. But the way by which that message is first heard and considered nearly always involves some form of personal contact and some connection with the needs of the person approached.

Of course, these are not necessarily their felt needs. Sometimes the Lord does bring people into our lives who are in the midst of overwhelming difficulties and only too aware that they need help. One thinks of situations like personal or family illness, bereavement, job loss, marriage break-up and so on. These may be times where there is an unusual openness to hearing God speak, though for many it can equally become a time for hardening the heart: ‘Why should God allow this to happen to me?’. But I am thinking of the more everyday situations, where the underlying needs of each human life are very rarely articulated or explored. It was this which Augustine was reflecting in his famous saying: ‘You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you’.

Life is like a radio

In a recent debate on addiction, one doctor, with many years experience in the field, drew attention to the evidence that addictions of all types are attractive either because they seem to give meaning to a person’s existence or, at least for a time, they appear to cover up the hole that is at the centre of their life. These may be extreme responses to the central dilemma of human existence, what used to be called the ‘human condition’, but the issues themselves of who we are, why we are here and what is our significance will always be there just beneath the surface in every human being, simply because we are made in the image of God. Every human life is like a radio which the Holy Spirit can switch on, at any moment, to receive a message which has always been on transmission but never actually heard until now.

It is striking how Jesus was able to use this initial contact point, as a way to revealing and dealing with the much deeper, eternal issues. Nicodemus comes by night for a private interview, which he probably thought would take the form of a rabbinic theological dialogue, only to be told: ‘You must be born from above’. The Samaritan woman knows that she needs water to quench her thirst, but is soon directed to the living water, which springs up to eternal life. This is a long way from off-loading a routinely-learned evangelistic ‘package’, which will always tend to generate a mechanistic approach. Rather, Jesus demonstrates a deeply personal concern for the individual and builds a relational approach for his hearer to receive what is, after all, a highly relational gospel.

Restoring the relationship

God is about the business of restoring the relationship between himself and his fallen human creation, which is ultimately the restoration of the image of God within each believer, through the indwelling Spirit. That is personal work. It demands a love which listens and understands, empathises and gently challenges, rather than a steamroller delivery of what can often sound like just another sales pitch. I would never choose to sing ‘I vow to thee my country’ because its first verse promotes the idolatry of nationalism. But its second verse has one line of real insight when it speaks of the heavenly country and the eternal kingdom: ‘And soul by soul and silently its shining bounds increase’. That is always how the kingdom of heaven grows. Personal evangelism is relational evangelism. In time it may feed the larger, corporate events, but the essence of our witness is in making these initial points of connection, as we live our lives lovingly and expectantly, making ourselves prayerfully available for God to use each of us, in the everyday.

David Jackman is the past President of the Proclamation Trust and writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for EN.

This article was first published in the January 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

What kind of God? – a look at the work of UCCF earlier this year


What kind of GodOver 800 students each day in February heard compelling presentations of the Christian faith.

Richard Cunningham (Director of UCCF: The Christian Unions) spoke at the university mission in my first year as an undergraduate in Cambridge 17 years ago, and the student evangelism bug that I caught back then hasn’t left me. So it was especially thrilling to see him welcomed back by the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (CICCU) to speak at their ‘What Kind of God?’ mission event from February 4-8, alongside Os Guinness (respected author and social critic).

Preparing the ground

As with many Christian Unions around the country, the university was introduced to the mission speaker, before Christmas, when nearly 2,000 students heard Richard speak across the two CICCU Carol services at Great St. Mary’s Church. A specially commissioned Cambridge edition of John’s Gospel and an invitation to the mission events were produced for every undergraduate in each of the Cambridge colleges. All of this — undergirded by many months of prayer and planning — focussed attention on the launch of the CICCU triennial mission.

The Main Event

Over the course of five days, in St. Andrew the Great Church in the heart of Cambridge, Os Guinness gave apologetics talks (with Q&A) at lunchtimes, and Richard Cunningham gave evangelistic expositions from John’s Gospel in the evenings. Furthermore, each night the events were enriched with live music from a stunning jazz trio lead by Bill Edgar (professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary and world class jazz pianist), with Ruth Naomi Floyd (vocals) and Randy Pendleton (bass). The first evening saw the trio take centre stage with a longer sequence of heart-rending songs interspersed by brief explanations from Bill as to the gospel roots of jazz. The climax was a powerful talk by Richard, continuing the theme of slavery and freedom.

Graham Shearer (UCCF Team Leader for Central region) commented on this more holistic approach to the mission: ‘The Main Event was shaped by a desire to address students as whole, integrated people, just like Jesus does in the Gospels. Os Guinness’s talks dealt with the most profound questions human beings can ask; Richard demonstrated from John’s Gospel that only Jesus meets our deepest longings and most pressing needs. The inclusion of high-quality jazz from Bill Edgar and his musicians came right under the guard and touched students in a deep and profound way’.

What was so distinctive about the lunch-time apologetics talks was the modesty of their aim. Os was committed to slowing the conversation down, working hard to take each student with him, and encouraging his listeners to take the next step in their quest for Truth. The vast majority of today’s students are a country mile away from a Christian worldview, meaning that just getting someone to stop and ask some of life’s big questions is a cause for celebration. And so, like an experienced rugby player, rather than attempting to score an unlikely try whenever he got the ball, Os’s primary concern was simply to advance the game line. Over the course of the week, more and more ground was gained, as students were urged to make ‘Time for Questions’, ‘Time for Answers’, ‘Time for Evidences’ and ‘Time for Choices’. As Socrates famously said: ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’. It was wonderful even to hear that unbelieving students were inviting their own unbelieving friends to join the discussion!

The lunchtime talks were predicated on the conviction that they were just one part of something bigger, under God’s sovereignty. The background was year-round friendship evangelism — witness through life and lip — and in the foreground were Richard Cunningham’s powerful evening talks from John. Combining gripping exposition, vivid illustrations and urgent appeal, this was gospel preaching at its finest. A number of students asked Richard for booklets at the end of his talks and indicated that they wanted to become Christians. Many others stayed around and chatted and signed up for the ‘Just Looking’ follow-up course. Mark Lewis, outgoing president of the CICCU, added: ‘It was great to have a rich and varied programme each evening, with jazz, interviews and dramatic readings, and a clear and passionate presentation of Jesus right at the heart. The gospel was explained straightforwardly in a welcoming and warm environment with hot drinks and cake following each evening event — delicious!’

Students intrigued to find out more

The ‘What Kind of God?’ mission has been a huge encouragement to many members of the CICCU. Students were emboldened throughout the week by the truth, beauty and power of the gospel, and thrilled at seeing so many of their friends engage with Jesus: ‘The lunchtime talks were so easy to invite people to because they were just so accessible. Free food, a really stimulating talk from Os, heaps of time to ask him questions and all over in 50 minutes. People became really keen to find out what all the hype was about!’

‘I really enjoyed the opportunity to stretch out in evangelism and share Jesus with others. The whole week made me more aware of how wonderful it is to know the living God.’

The work continues

Of course, the follow-up to such an event is vital. Charlie Butler (UCCF Staff Worker for Cambridge University) commented: ‘One of the best things about the week was how it prompted many people to begin thinking about Jesus. Christians have been following up on initial conversations with friends in all sorts of different ways — bringing them to the CU’s weekly apologetics talks, reading and discussing passages from John’s Gospel together, and inviting them to ‘Just Looking’, a five-week course to investigate Christianity in a bit more detail. We’ve been encouraged to see around 30 non-Christian guests at the course so far, and it’s growing each week!’

Partnership with churches

Students from at least nine different churches in Cambridge were involved in the mission, with many of these churches participating in the project in all sorts of ways: hosting, planning, sending people to give training seminars at the pre-term CICCU house party, changing their weekly schedule to accommodate the week, running evangelism training days in their churches, sending people to assist as CU guests and organising additional follow-up courses! Russell Winfield (senior student pastor at Holy Trinity Church) observed: ‘This year’s mission was a wonderful event from beginning to end. Many students were able to invite their friends to consider the claims of Christianity, as both Os and Richard expounded the truth in compelling ways, sparking conversations that otherwise may not have happened. Students working together from many different churches is proving to be a fantastic witness to the message of Jesus Christ’. Alasdair Paine (vicar of St. Andrew the Great Church) added: ‘Praise God for the CICCU, with students working so hard for their friends to hear the gospel.’ These are indeed exciting days. Please pray on!

Dave Gobbett is the Associate Pastor at Eden Baptist Church and was CICCU President 1997-98. 
To watch all this year’s CICCU mission talks for free, go to http://www.WhatKindofGod.co.uk

(This article was first published in the April 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)

Marathon Men – the advantages of long-term ministry


Marathon Men

For a few years, I have been working on a book.

Persistently Preaching Christ is about what God has done in and through one particular local church fellowship in Cambridge over half a century1. Reflecting on the ministries of the two men who led the church during that time and considering their priorities has been a fruitful exercise. One thing that has struck me time and again is this: while there are clearly exceptions, long-term ministry in one place has very significant advantages.

Mark Ruston and Mark Ashton served one church family for a total of 54 years between them and, for both men, their ministry at St. Andrew the Great (formerly ‘The Round Church’)2 could be described as their ‘life’s work’. You can no doubt think of many other ministers who’ve done the same sort of thing. Perhaps the Scottish trio — Willie Still (52 years at Gilcomston, Church of Scotland), James Philip (39 years at Holyrood Abbey Church, Edinburgh) and his brother, George Philip (40 years at Sandyford Henderson, Glasgow). How about: Dick Lucas’s 37 years at St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate; EN’s editor, John Benton, who has already clocked up 33 years at Chertsey Street, Guildford; Jonathan Fletcher, who has just retired after 30 years at the helm of Emmanuel, Wimbledon; John Stott, who was anchored at All Souls his entire adult ministry life — five years as curate, 25 years as Rector and 36 years as Rector Emeritus? And there are, of course, many other current ministers who have served for two, maybe three decades and counting.

It strikes me that there are many good things about the ministry of a pastor who aims to be ‘in it for the long haul’ and to give himself to a single ‘life’s work’. I’ve heard some ministers say that they’re not wired up this way. Rather like the ‘golden eagle’ approach from the world of management consultancy, they feel they’re more gifted at swooping in, working out what’s wrong, then prescribing and delivering a solution. Other ministers opt for something in between — a stint of around seven to ten years in one place, perhaps, and then a move to pastures new.

The Bible doesn’t dogmatise about duration of ministry — and we do so at our peril. I don’t think there is anything in Scripture to prescribe how long a minister should stay in one post. Having said that, the words used in the New Testament for church — ‘household’, ‘family’, ‘fellowship’, etc.3 — would seem to imply duration, consistency and long-term commitment. But of course the example the apostle Paul gives us is that of peripatetic ministry — he travelled and moved around and ministered all over the place.

As I worked on Persistently Preaching Christ and read many hundreds of letters and emails from people who had appreciated and benefited from the ministries of Mark Ruston and Mark Ashton, several distinct advantages of long-term ministry struck me. My research and thinking are ongoing and I don’t want to dogmatise, so my list of advantages is in the form of questions.

1. Does long-term ministry provide the best environment for expository preaching?

As I started to compile a list of ‘long-term’ pastors, I was struck by how many of them have a reputation for fine expository preaching. A mere coincidence? Or is there something about remaining in one place, teaching the same group of people year after year, seeking to demonstrate that all Scripture is useful4 which enables the preacher to develop and hone his preaching gifts?

2. Is it best for developing good, solid relationships in the church family?

In Persistently Preaching Christ, Professor Bob White remarks: ‘I well remember Mark Ashton commenting soon after he arrived that it is relatively easy to breeze in and then to leave after a few years. But if you are in it for the long haul, then building and maintaining relationships through all the ups and downs of church family life is what will show the distinctiveness of the Christian way’.5 Staying in one place means that difficult relationships have to be worked at, not run away from. And, of course, there are the ‘ups’ as well as the ‘downs’ — passing the years together means shared joys, common experiences, real friendships. Mark Ashton’s comment from his perspective as a preacher is telling: ‘It is only with time that a minister gets to know and understand his congregation, and to be known and understood by them.’6

3. Does it help guard against reliance on human strategies?

The ‘golden eagle’ consultant can swoop in with lots of exciting new ideas and strategies — but that approach will probably pall somewhat after 20, 30, 40 years. And perhaps that’s a good thing. God’s word is living and active and that’s where ministers will find the wisest ‘strategies’ and ‘ideas’. Another couple of thoughts from Mark Ashton: ‘As time passes in a preacher’s ministry, it gets harder and harder to lead purely by innovation or human energy. … Only by faithfully teaching the word of God will an individual’s leadership stay fresh and revitalising over decades’.7 The minister who is preaching the word of God week in, week out will never run out of ideas and never run out of things to say — because neither the preacher nor the preached-to will ever finish understanding God’s word this side of heaven.

4. Does it help avoid the temptation of careerism?

Mark Ashton’s words again: ‘There may be a few men who are particularly gifted at leading a church through the early stages of growth, and then do best to pass the baton to someone else. But in general the best pastor-teacher will not be the one who is constantly wondering whether he should move on to new pastures or whether there is a better job on offer somewhere else. Patterns of church life which constantly move pastors from one church to another … rarely build a local congregation over the years. It is characteristic of most of the strongest evangelical churches in the UK at the beginning of the 21st century that they have all enjoyed prolonged ministries by their main preachers’.8

Each of us suffers from mixed motives. Might the thought ‘I’ve done all I can do here’ sometimes be a thinly veiled desire to have a more prestigious position?

5. Is it best for growth?

Statisticians tend to consider duration of ministry in terms of numerical growth. There are all sorts of theories about when greatest numerical growth is likely to occur and whether it tails off if a minister stays ‘too long’. But numerical growth is just one factor, surely. How about growth in spiritual maturity, godliness, unity, generosity, evangelistic zeal, perseverance and so on? I’m not sure statistics can measure those things very well, if at all. Under God, what kind of ministry encourages that kind of growth — is longevity better than several short-term stints? Is a strong, united, wholehearted, outward-looking congregation which is devoted to the Lord Jesus likely to emerge, under God, from a string of ministries — or from long-term ministry? Does it also enable a greater ability to look outwards — facilitating church plants and ‘grafts’, encouraging young men and women to train for ministry in this country and overseas, supporting like-minded gospel work in other parts of the country. And is it perhaps even more significant when it comes to building relationships with the wider community?

Of course there will always be times when a move will be the wisest thing. Personal circumstances involving children, spouse, ageing parents, or health perhaps. A pastor may be correct in concluding that he genuinely doesn’t have the necessary gifts or personality to lead the church forward to the next stage. There may be other factors too — perhaps the size of the church or the type of area (inner city, rural?) makes a difference. I’m still asking lots of questions — but my interim conclusion is that there are many significant advantages to long-term ministry.

Mary Davis is part of St. Nicholas Church, Tooting, in south west London, wife of the minister and mum of three children. Occasional editor of Christian books.

Footnotes

1. Persistently Preaching Christ (eds. Christopher Ash, Mary Davis, Bob White, ISBN 978 1 845 509 828) reflects on the importance of the local church, the ministries of Mark Ashton and Mark Ruston over more than 50 years, and includes Mark Ashton’s ‘Eight Convictions about the local church’. It is published by Christian Focus Publications and is available from them direct for £10.99, or from http://www.10ofthose.com for £8.79.
2. The fellowship was initially called ‘The Round Church’ after the building where the church met for many centuries. In 1994, the church family moved to the newly restored building of St. Andrew the Great. Mark Ruston was vicar there for 32 years (from 1955 until his retirement in 1987) and Mark Ashton for 22 years (from 1987 until his death from cancer in April 2010).
3. For example, Galatians 6.10, Ephesians 2.19.
4. 2 Timothy 3.16-17.
5. page 99, Persistently Preaching Christ, as above.
6. page 19, op. cit.
7. page 19, op. cit.
8. page 18Ð19, op. cit.

(This article was first published in the April 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)

Summer in the city – 30 years of the Evangelical Ministry Assembly


EMA summer in the city

It’s now well established as an annual feature in the ministerial calendar. But why do people keep coming? EN asked a few regulars.

Simon is a youth worker at an Anglican church in Kent. He first attended the EMA in 2005.

‘It’s important as youth workers that we don’t only attend conferences that teach us how to do youth work. We need to be fed by faithful, passionate Bible teaching, as do all those who minister God’s word, and EMA provides an excellent forum for this.’

Andy was a church pastor in Bristol, and now serves as a church planting and mission worker. He first attended the EMA in 1999.

‘EMA captures the heart of gospel people, uniting Bible teachers and preachers from both Anglican and Free churches. The stimulus of high quality teaching, along with renewed and broadening friendships, have always refreshed me at the end of a draining year of ministry. Focus is restored and challenges given, ready to be ruminated over during the summer break, preparing one for what the new church / academic year might hold. We need a ‘standard bearing’ event. This is it.’

Mike is an FIEC pastor in Cambridgeshire. He first attended the EMA in 1993.

‘I am immensely grateful to God for the Evangelical Ministry Assembly. Over the years God has used the Assembly to teach, rebuke, correct and train me repeatedly, and, therefore, to equip me for my work. In this way, EMA not only benefits me personally, but also the church I serve. The opportunity to meet with like-minded brothers and sisters is always encouraging. Humanly speaking, I owe the fact that I am still running the race and fighting the fight, with the gospel-centred convictions that I have, in no small part to the EMA.’

Pete is a Grace Baptist pastor in North Essex. He first attended the EMA in 2004.

‘I count it a privilege to sit under the ministry of men who take preaching and teaching the word of God very seriously. Every year I come away sharpened and re-fired to get into the Bible and get the Bible into my people. It’s been great to see an ever widening spectrum of people attending the conference. One of the real blessings of EMA is connecting and sharing with fellow ministers working hard to see Christ’s kingdom established in the hearts and lives of believers and reaching the lost. I’ve never regretted giving up the time to go to EMA. God willing, I’ll be going again this year, at the new venue!’

Matthew is an Anglican minister in deepest Suffolk! He first attended the EMA in 2005.

‘The EMA has always meant great Bible-teaching, excellent coffee and buns, book bargains, singing the Lord’s praises together (and bringing back to church a good new song or two). Coming from Lowestoft up to London, it’s a reminder that the Lord is at work nationally and internationally, across denominations. I catch up with friends in ministry, make new ones, discuss current issues and fresh ideas. It challenges me about my love for the Lord and serving him. I think churches should insist their pastor attends!’

Robin is a Church of Scotland minister in Edinburgh. He first attended the EMA in 2004.

‘One of the real challenges of leadership in the local church is keeping the main thing the main thing. That’s been said a lot, but it’s absolutely true! Evangelism, Bible teaching and prayer are the priorities, but with so many other demands, time given to them can be squeezed. EMA is a timely annual reminder to keep the right focus. As a preacher, the EMA sends me back to the church encouraged to keep preaching central. This encouragement comes from listening to talks about the centrality of preaching and God’s Word, but most of all from listening to good preaching.

‘The mark of a good EMA is returning home wanting to preach what you’ve just heard preached. That’s happened to me a number of times over the years. The timing of EMA is also very important. Coming towards the end of the academic year, it sets me thinking and planning towards the autumn and the next major cycle of church life. And the central London location, makes for easy access.’

Amy is a women’s worker based in central London. She first attended the EMA in 2006.

‘I like coming to the EMA because it’s a great chance to meet up with friends who are in ministry and hear brilliant gospel teaching together; it helps us to encourage one another.’

We asked Adrian Reynolds, Proclamation Trust’s Director of Ministry, what this year’s EMA is about and why it is moving from its regular home at St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate, to the Barbican Conference Centre.

‘The EMA this year is, at one level, what it has always been about. There’s no change. We want it to be a three-day conference which encourages and equips expository Bible preachers and teachers. In other words, we hope and pray that delegates will go away strengthened for ministry.

‘However, each year we have a particular focus and this year that focus comes from 1 Peter as we encourage preachers to stay faithful — living and preaching in an alien world.

‘Our morning expositions (led by Vaughan Roberts) will kick us off each day and then we’ve got a mix of sessions exploring this great theme, encouraging, stretching, stimulating and challenging. Other speakers include Dan Strange, Garry Williams, Rico Tice, Paul Mallard and Mark Dever.

‘As for venue, we’ve simply outgrown St. Helen’s. We’re very grateful to them for their generous hospitality but we can’t fit everyone in. Over the last five years we’ve had about 2,500 people at the EMA, but we can only accommodate around 850 at any one time. Moving to the Barbican gives us a lot more space — and not just space to seat people, but breakout, meeting and networking space too; these are essential elements of the EMA.

‘We’ve been able to think more clearly about who the EMA is for. We want to encourage those with an expository teaching ministry in the local church. Primarily this will be pastor-teachers, but we recognise and hope that the conference will be right on target for youth workers, women’s workers, retired (but active) ministers, missionaries and so on.

‘We’d love churches to get behind sending their guys along. Three days in a busy schedule is quite a commitment, especially if you have to travel as well. Why not think, as a church, how you can encourage your church workers to attend? Perhaps it’s a good time to bring home missions workers for a mid-term break? Perhaps you are linked with another local church where a beleaguered minister needs encouragement and your own minister could take him along? Churches have done all of these things in the past and more, and we’re actively encouraging them to do so again. In fact, I was invited along to my first EMA (1994) by the senior minister of my church who saw some potential in me!

‘This is also the first year we’ve had an apprentice rate for those in training. We want those beginning on the journey into ministry to experience and benefit from this key event. Do pray for us as we make this bold move. There’s risk involved, of course, but we believe, under God, that we’re taking a good and positive step as we continue to make the EMA a servant of the local church.’

The 2013 EMA runs from June 24-26, and booking is now open at http://www.ema2013.com

EN spoke to Simon Heather, Andrew Paterson, Mike Kendall, Matthew Payne, Adrian Reynolds, Pete Shirtcliffe, Robin Sydserff and Amy Wicks.

(This article was first published in the March 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)

Evangelical church snapshot – what did Christian discipleship in Britain look like in 2012?


Living the Christian life

Last year the Langham Partnership conducted a comprehensive survey concerning UK discipleship in evangelical church life.

The results of the research have been published in a booklet entitled Living the Christian Life: Becoming Like Jesus. Three collections of data were made. The first was a survey of entire congregations across all services in seven evangelical churches in England, three Anglican, one Baptist and three Independent. Secondly, questionnaires were filled in by those answering advertisements in Christian newspapers and magazines. Thirdly, a cross-denominational survey of evangelical ministers was undertaken via a postal form. Altogether 1,999 people took part in the survey.

There were 12 major findings from the research which we briefly highlight here. They are as follows.

Teaching

When respondents were asked, ‘Which aspect of church life has been most instrumental in helping you grow in your faith?’ 58% said the teaching in the church services. Teaching proved useful in growing in faith, standing up for the faith, answering questions about Christianity and witnessing to others. 85% of churchgoers said that the teaching was the second most important thing that they appreciated in church life. The first was the fellowship.

Other ways of learning

While teaching was important, respondents explained that it was not the only way they learned. 65% said that house-groups were also important for growing in the faith. 20% said that recommended books, DVDs and CDs were helpful. 18% had been helped by special training sessions. 34% said that they thought that house-groups were the most important way of growing.

Depth

People were asked if they thought their faith had grown in the past year. 84% said it had and 24% said that it had grown a lot. What were the key factors that caused the difference? 53% said that seeing answers to prayer had really helped their faith. 52% cited personal study and prayer. Around 20% highlighted one-to-one mentoring. Seeing answers to prayer was more important for older folk. One-to-one direction was more important for younger people. These did not vary much with denomination or gender.

The Bible

The Bible was found to influence people’s attitudes in areas such as their family, material possessions, the disadvantaged and work. 90% of Christians said they read their Bible to learn more about God and 85% to seek guidance and inspiration. It was also used by 64% to find comfort in times of illness or crisis. However, it was found that the Bible is not influencing younger people in churches as much as it does older people.

Christ-likeness

Christ-likeness proved a difficult term to define for many people. They felt Christ-like people were: a) like Jesus in his relationships to others — selfless and caring, etc. (51%); b) like Jesus in his commitment to God (27%); c) like Jesus as he glowed with the Spirit (22%). 52% said we become more like Jesus by being transformed by the Spirit, 28% by growing in holiness, 10% by becoming a stronger disciple, and 10% by becoming more mature.

When asked who were the most Christ-like people, respondents were aware of the top two being John Stott and Billy Graham.

How long?

Just 2% of the people had been Christians for under three years. 76% had been Christians for over 20 years. This is worrying and tends to reflect a lack of priority or lack of success in evangelism. On average Christians had been attending their churches for 13 years. 39% of current attenders had always attended their present church, which means that 61% had moved churches at some time. This suggests that what often passes as ‘church growth’ is in reality simply Christians on the move.

Priorities

The survey listed six key functions of church life and asked respondents to say which had the highest priority in their opinion and which ought to have the highest priority. The six key functions were worship, prayer, discipleship, evangelism, community and service.

The results showed that worship is currently seen as the top priority in the church’s life, followed by prayer and discipleship. Evangelism is currently seen as fourth in the pecking order. Perhaps this helps to explain why so small a proportion of church congregations consist of recent Christians. Only 65% of Christians agreed with the statement: ‘The church should give highest priority to evangelistic preaching of the gospel’.

Doctrines

The survey set out 12 fairly low key statements about the content of the Christian faith. At least 94% of respondents were in agreement with all of them.

There were, however, two statements which were not agreed so wholeheartedly by respondents. Over 12% of lay people and 3% of clergy thought that all religions lead to the same God eventually. Nearly 15% of lay people and 6% of clergy thought that God is too loving to let anyone go to hell.

Church culture

Survey participants were asked to rate how far their church reflected Christ-likeness. The over-riding culture of evangelical churches was thought to be one of kindness, followed by faith, gentleness and joyfulness. Ministers thought that patience and self-control were least evident in their churches. Lay people agreed, but also added unity and forgiveness as least evident.

Prayer

71% of lay people and 89% of ministers pray every day. 62% of couples pray together and 44% of these do so frequently. In households with children, 42% prayed with them frequently.

Planting

The data for this came only via the ministers’ postal responses. A question was asked about the number of churches per church planted over the last five years. 81% had planted no church in that time. 14% had planted one church. 5% had planted more than two.

Ministers were asked about their experience of planting churches. 41% made positive comments and 17% negative comments.

Behaviour

Christians strongly agreed that becoming more Christ-like will make us more distinct from those around us and that the gospel message is undermined when Christians do not behave like the Jesus they proclaim. They also agreed that if a Christian does not grow in Christ-likeness there is something lacking in his or her walk with God.

It also became clear from the survey that the church has far more married people among its congregations than the general population and far less single people. Churches also have far fewer cohabiting people and single parents than in the general population, where together they account for a fifth of all households. Across the UK only 5% of households have any connection with a church.

This article is a synopsis from Living The Christian Life: Becoming like Jesus, part of the 9-a-day campaign, and is published by the Langham Partnership. The research was carried out by the Brierley Consultancy (http://www.brierleyconsultancy.com).

(This article was first published in the March 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)

Disciple-making leaders


DisciplemakingLeadersJohn Risbridger talks to Marcus Honeysett of Living Leadership

 

JR: You speak around the country about the need to grow and disciple leaders within local churches. Briefly, how do you understand biblical leadership?

MH: Paul speaks in Philippians 1 and 2 Corinthians 1 about working with people for their progress and joy in God, so that they grow firm in their faith and have abundant joy in Christ. That’s a great, simple definition of spiritual leadership. You don’t have to think very hard to see why a church that is standing firm in their faith and full of godly joy is going to be a beacon for the gospel.

JR: That is quite a different understanding to running meetings or managing the organisation of the church.

MH: It’s possible for churches to drift into a wrong understanding of why they exist. What started off as a group that wanted to impact its area with the gospel can, after a period, mutate into one that merely meets for believers to get their own spiritual needs met. The kind of leaders the church looks for depends on their understanding of their DNA. The first will look for leaders who equip and release all the disciples to be a community of witnesses; the second will look for someone who serves the organisation and ministers to the perceived needs of the Christians.

JR: So a major priority for leaders in local churches is to be equippers and facilitators?

MH: I find it hard to read Ephesians 4 any other way. I recently asked a group of leaders to read this chapter of the Bible and complete the following sentence: ‘According to Ephesians 4 the goal of biblical leadership is…’ Someone instantly replied: ‘To equip and release disciples who make disciples’. That’s it in a nutshell. The work of leaders is not to do all the gospel work while everyone else supports and pays for them. It’s to enable the gospel ministry of every Christian and help the church grow a sense of being a team of disciples working together.

JR: That will be a significant mindset shift for some churches. Can you recommend any books to help a church think about it?

MH: There is some really good material being written at the moment to help churches think about this critical shift in their thinking. Neil Hudson from LICC (Imagine Church — Releasing Whole Life Disciples, IVP) has written helpfully on how the contract (actual or implicit) between congregation and leaders needs to shift from one of ‘pastoral care’ to ‘pastoral equipping’. Colin Marshall and Tony Payne address the same idea powerfully in their book, The Trellis and the Vine (The Good Book Company). You could do much worse than take one of these as your church book of the term.

JR: I’ve heard that Fruitful Leaders by Marcus Honeysett isn’t bad either! Why is it important, in your view, for leaders to train disciples to disciple others?

MH: I recently read somewhere that there are three fads that tend to come and go in churches: discipleship, mission and leadership training. I believe that we should combine all three and understand that we need to train leaders to make disciples who are actively participating in mission: disciples who know how to disciple other people. I agree with Steve Timmis when he says that, if we aren’t involved in some way in making disciples, then we aren’t disciples ourselves, because disciples make disciples.

That is the fundamental principle behind 2 Timothy 2.2, in which Paul tells Timothy to take what he has learned from him and pass it on to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. That’s four generations’ worth of believers and a vision for multiplication all in one verse!

JR: Don’t all church leaders train their churches to be involved in disciple-making?

MH: You would hope so. In reality, I think the number of churches which actually train every member to be involved in disciple-making is vanishingly small. The same is true for many leader-development programmes, which train people in theology and ministry skills but often don’t do much on how to make and multiply disciples.

And yet the fundamental call of God on every church is to go into the world and make disciples of Jesus: active followers, actively participating in Jesus’s mission, responding to his call to join his great cause. I’m constantly amazed at the number of people in local churches who haven’t grasped this core principle.

JR: How should the principle of making disciples shape the development of new leaders?

MH: It needs to shape leader-training programmes at all levels in churches and Bible colleges. Every element of training should aim to fulfil this goal. We need to train leaders to handle the Bible well, not just as an end in itself, but to make disciples who take the gospel to their neighbourhood and to the nations. We need to train people to pastor well, not as an end in itself, but so that those we pastor in turn counsel and nurture others. We need to train leaders who are certain that the local church is not just a chaplaincy for meeting the needs of Christians, but a mission team for impacting the world with the gospel. And we need to train leaders of churches, which haven’t got the disciple-making vision yet, to effect the difficult changes in church culture that will be needed and to handle the resistance they will encounter along the way.

JR: One new initiative you are involved in is the School of Missional Disciple-Making. Tell us a bit about it.

MH: The School is a joint initiative between Living Leadership and Above Bar Church in Southampton. Students and trainers come from a wide range of churches across Southampton and teaching input comes from people from several local churches, as well as the Navigators and Damaris. The curriculum is fully centred on the need to grow disciple-making leaders. It combines four tracks: (1) Bible handling, (2) spiritual formation of leaders, (3) principles of mission-focussed church and biblical leadership, and (4) how to disciple others and equip them, in turn, to disciple others. The School is both strongly biblical and deeply practical, encouraging the students to engage with non-Christians, one-to-one discipling and small group huddles with junior leaders, as well as identifying mission-focussed needs and opportunities in the city. It is great to see Above Bar and other churches establishing disciple-making as the core DNA of new leaders.

JR: So who is it for and is it really just a cheaper alternative to Bible College?

MH: No. Our focus is not on training a small number of people to be pastors (although for some we hope this may be a first step in that direction), but on training a large number of people at all levels to be disciple-making disciples!

JR: So how many students are involved and what are your plans for the future?

MH: During this pilot year we have 14 students. We are currently starting to recruit for next year’s intake, which we hope will be larger and draw people from a wider range of churches. Our vision for the coming years is to work with local churches to help develop training initiatives with the same ethos and content in other locations across the country.

John Risbridger is pastor of Above Bar Church, Southampton, and Marcus Honeysettis director of the organisation Living Leadership. If you would like to know more about the School of Missional Disciple-Making or Living Leadership, seehttp://www.missionaldisciplemaking.org.uk and http://www.livingleadership.org

 

(This article was first published in the February 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)