Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!



Merry Christmas blog readers!

I'm on holiday till 2 January - hooray! So, so pleased.

Today I led the Christingle service by candlelight in our church and I have to say I sensed something very different this year. It felt like something "opened up". I ran the same order of service (more or less) that I have always done EXCEPT for one thing.

I usually have an adult or a family give a testimony of how this Jesus who we are celebrating has changed their life in some way. I had been praying about who to ask to do this; had a great story from a couple last week at the all age nativity service but I didn't feel I should ask them to repeat that, though I did consider it. I felt it would be right to ask the children who I work with. It was unrehearsed and unscripted except that I talked with them about the purpose behind a "testimony slot" in a public service on Monday at our soft play centre party.

Just to elaborate, I work with and oversee a very large number of primary-aged children but as we get towards the older end of the spectrum (ages 8 to 11), there are children I personally see quite a lot of, as they step up to be junior leaders at our midweek club, or get involved in praying for people, or join the missional discipleship group that I run. They take roles in all age services and prayer events as a natural progression on from the things we do as part of our Sunday service.

Ten of the children had learned and presented a "god rods" drama **ask me about this!! under the tutelage of one of my faithful volunteers and at the end of it I gathered around and asked them what difference knowing Jesus made to their lives.

Well......I've got tears in my eyes as I recall what the children said, one after another...He's changing me inside, he's helping me stand up for him in school; I never used to come to church but since I have in this last year I have found someone who listens when I talk to him; he's beside me when times are tough, he's answered my prayers...(and more)

I truly believe I sensed the presence of God in a powerful way. Something was different this Christingle service. Our church building was packed out with visitors. I could count our regular families on two hands but I counted huge numbers of local school families. At the end, one mum came up to me and said her 4 year old wanted to know why Jesus had to die. She asked me right then and there if I could help with the question.

All of my bible college knowledge came to the front of my brain....all the reasons you read about and write about - ...I could almost SEE the weighty tome of Stott's The Cross of Christ in front of me as I talked to her, as well as Moltmann, Wright, Bruce, Borg, McGrath, Volf, Green, Hart, Chalke, Piper, Grenz, Grudem....and yet I could only say what I believe Karl Barth once said: God allowed Jesus to die because the bible tells us that he loved us. I gave mum a "Why Jesus" booklet to help her in her journey of explaining this to her wee one.

I'll be able to hook up again with this mum and child in the playground and give them a preschooler version of "why Jesus".

But doesn't this just illustrate once again, the WIDE open doorway before us in ministry to children and families? Never, ever give up prioritising this as highly as possible in the life of your church...pour yourselves out for the local community in any way that you can that reaches the young as it ALWAYS, always bears fruit.

I'm praying tonight for the outpouring of the Spirit of God over every and any seed that was planted this Christmas season as we love families and children and long for them to enter into a beautiful collision with the one who loves them so.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Nativity Time


I haven't blogged for ages, mainly because I have been working flat out. And I would have been a boring blogger. Plus we have had huge snow....and the car wasn't even over the door for two weeks. It was quite pleasant for a while but towards the end of the fortnight,if I had to trudge up our long road one more time....(the buses were off for two weeks)..I guess I had forgotten how heavy four pints of milk are!

In the past week or so, I have finished the parenting course with a wee group of parents from the local school and had an alpha reunion from my last daytime course. Both of these things have reminded me how much I love people; even when I am feeling tired, just some time in their presence invigorates me. I love just chatting and being myself and when that is coupled with the opportunity to bring something of the Lord Jesus just by being me, I love it even more. A real highlight this week was the midweek kids club Christmas party - I have just the best team running it, and I had planned to hold one of my most favourite kind of events; a social event for the mums and dads to come along to. Two fantastic folks cooked dinner and we served it to the parents in a separate room while the kids had their party.

One of the dads said: "I didn't expect this evening to have been THIS good!" It was a funny moment as he confided that he had come along filled with trepidation, wondering what the evening would be like. I love talking about how our church loves to welcome children and families - which it does - and you know from the interested faces as you say it that that has not always been people's expectations nor experience of the church.

This Sunday is our Christmas family service which I have put together to try and weave together testimony, story and song. I'm particularly looking forward to the Nativity which I have had very little to do with, and is being run by the kids team, and in particular one of our medic students has worked her socks off - it's got a lot of speaking parts in it this year. Another of my kids leaders has choreographed this year's "god rods", which is a worship with sticks thing I brought over from Toronto.

I want to try and weave in quite a challenge to "investigate" Jesus and his claims in the New Year on one of our two alpha courses (daytime and evening) - I still remember so clearly the first Christmas that I knew of God's love for me in a deep and very personal way - it felt so "alive" - the presents didn't matter so much but everything else around Christmas took on a new sparkle.

I love this time, the story of the Nativity has incredible power - it's from the word of God; it speaks over time and space and into a myriad of peoples' circumstances, fears, disappointments and worries. It brings hope, beauty and light into darkness. If you haven't heard about the BBC Nativity drama showing Monday to Thursday this week at 7pm on BBC1, then please check this out. As well as being on prime time TV, it's been scripted by the writer of Eastenders, Tony Jordan - and how about this for his motivation:

Tony wanted to write a nativity that his mates in the pub would watch, and that addressed some of his big questions about the story..

Wow!

Will post how it goes.....!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Spiritual Hunger


Below are some notes on spiritual hunger that I prepared for staff devotions. We all take turns in leading this time every Monday. Thought they might be helpful to share here.

Psalm 84
How lovely is your dwelling place, LORD Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young— a place near your altar, LORD Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.


I Cor 12:31
Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.


I showed rare video footage about the growth of the church in a different culture over the last 40 years.

It's best summarised by the phrase: “a desperate people plug into a powerful God” (quote from the documentary maker)
The growth of the church in this place was marked by:

•Gathering groups of people together in the community, in public places
•Attracting attention with creative expressions - music, drama, art
•Healing the sick
•Casting out demons
•Taking significant account of children and young people in activity and prayer
*Suffering personal discomfort
•Giving a vast time commitment
*Desperation and hunger for God


Checklist - Do any of the following apply to me?
•a desire to control what’s happening/what we do, even if we don’t want to or mean to?
•A fear of what might happen (a) to the church or (b) to us? Might I do funny things with my arms and legs? Will my mascara run? Will I look mental? I can do anything you say Lord except wail.
•Pride – I’m fine thanks and that’s for someone else, not me.
•Knowledge – well, I know a lot about how these things work. I know what revival looks like
•Insecurity – I can’t receive more from God until I see what’s happening over there with them
•“Cannae be telt” (self-reliance) - Leads to lack of hunger.


How do you get hungry?

- repent of anything blocking the way!
- get into the Word – oh, what marvels are within it!
- Read and study periods of revival and miracles recorded within church history
- Watch what you spend time on – garbage in, garbage out.
- Ask God to awaken hunger within you. Come in humility.
- Visit events and conferences outside of the local church sphere: outside input can be very, very significant and far from threatening local church leaders it can send staff/church members back full of fresh resolve and renewed vision and purpose.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Defender

This song is amazing.

If you have never listened to Chris McClarney, from Grace Center, Nashville - find him on iTunes/Spotify.

There are times in our lives when we need to shout out about the faithfulness of God. That when tears flow there is one who really, really cares. He's the safe place. He's the rebuilder of broken hearts and shattered dreams. There's nothing he can't do!


Defender


Resting in Your promise
I will rest within the knowledge that You care
I put my trust in You
Deep within the darkness
Though my enemies surround I will not fear
I put my trust in You

And when I don't know what to do
I will fix my eyes on You

You’re my defender
I hide my hope in You
You are the loving arms my broken heart can run to
I will remember
That there is nothing You can't do
For You are God, You are good
And I surrender
You're my defender

You are strong when I am weakest
You're the peace that passes everything I see
I put my trust in You
I'm surrendering completely
Laying all my cares here at Your feet
I put my trust in You

A mighty fortress is our God
I will not fear, I will not fear
Safe and secure here in Your love
I will not fear, I will not fear

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Retaining Volunteers part 2

As promised (thanks to those who have nudged for this): part 2 of my thoughts on working with, and retaining, volunteers.


6. Be a team leader with humour and without intensity: Pressure and seriousness doesn't motivate many people whereas lots of laughter endues a sense of team. Pastors need to be able to laugh with their volunteer teams and have social times together.

7. Place a huge value on prayer:
(a)praying together: our teams now meet to pray together every sunday before we open up the Bible with children. We really want to invite God into our thoughts and plans for the morning.
(b) not holding children back in prayer: let them go! I've found that volunteers love this as its unpredictable, exciting and slightly dangerous (the Executive pastor almost lost his head today when some over-enthusiastic children laid hands on him a little too hard as he bent low in a kneeling posture - but hey - its fun! It's not boring!)
(c) praying with volunteers themselves - if prayer is a value of mine then I want to have my vols pray for me and with me and I for them. If we are sharing life together then we want to pray for one another in life's joys and stresses.

As I said earlier, I am not perfect and I feel I could spend a day and evening a week meeting up with each volunteer in turn to do so - but I can't - so I want to build a team who will each in turn do that for one another.


8.vulnerability - a leader who never shows a vulnerable side may not be able to sustain a sense of team. I'm not going to say any more about this as it will become too personal! Suffice to say I believe it strongly to be true. Be real and don't make out you're something you're not.

9. Give time off to your teams. Children's ministry is one of the most thankless tasks in church life. People rarely say thank you and, even within your staff team, people just assume it happens - until the day it doesn't and it all goes wrong. I noted with interest on a staff member's blog at Gateway Community Church (Austin, Texas) that a survey done amongst the staff team revealed that the ministry that would be most missed if it just didn't happen on a given Sunday was kids ministry (prolly 'cos of the noise that would ensue)

So I have a term-time team and a summer/Easter team and we have a lot of fun with some different activities happening in the holidays but we still a full kids programme. It gets to me when people say summer is the quiet time in church life. It's not for me as my regular team are away and our church gets loads of summer visitors, plus I run an outreach club!

I really love my teams. They contain some of the most committed, dedicated people in our church. They know what it is to work behind the scenes with no applause.

If you are willing to serve even two weeks (that's less than three hours in total), you really know how to serve! :-)

10. Next, training. To retain teams, we need to train, we need to envision. It needs to be practical but it also needs to be biblical/theological - not just training on how to handle hyperactivity/nosepicking/challenging behaviour - but how to teach the Trinity, how to bring children on in their faith, how to model ways of praying like Jesus did and for the things that Jesus did (illness. bondage. unity.)that bring children on in their experience of faith.

Train your team in new things and you will excite them. And they will want to stay around. Ignore this, leave them with the same old, same old in terms of teaching material and expectations from you and they will get bored.

11. Share testimony with your team. Tell them stories about how the things you (corporately) are doing which are bringing whole families into the Kingdom of God. Get children to speak out loud how Jesus has helped them/healed them/reached someone in their family. These things bring a sense of excitement into proceedings - "wow! God is moving in this ministry I am part of!"

12. Finally, bring a missional mandate to what you do. Nearly every Christian I know wants others to know Jesus. The pastor/ministry leader to the team of childrens' volunteers, should teach and train on our missional purpose and its proven effects. Read and digest Lausanne Occasional Paper 47 on reaching children in the world today - remind your team we work with THE most unreached people group in the world. They are found EVERYWHERE! What a privilege! I have found this to be absolutely in compelling a team to stay together and work together plus we partner with other arms of our church family to present a "joined up" approach to this.

So, CAP (Christians Against Poverty) notify me of any new families visiting to church. I talk to my age-specific leaders and CAP befrienders' the Centre Manager, myself and my volunteers work very hard at providing the warmest welcome to new families, gifts of Bibles and Bible reading notes to children, support at home etc.

We do this incredibly sensitively according to the advice and request given by the CAP Centre Manager - she is an incredible pastor to her clients and I work closely with her to extend the same warmth and welcome to the whole family. But I share the info that I am permitted to with the children's leaders as I NEVER see them as babysitters but as agents of the love of Jesus to children who in turn show that to their parents.

It's exciting, it IS awesome and it is invigorating to be around.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Volunteers and volunteers and...children

At the start of the month I spent three days with three of my volunteers at a Children's Leaders conference. I have to be really honest and say that, by and large, specialised events are not my thing. I much prefer conferences that are holistic in their approach i.e. deal with issues that affect all leaders. So attending the Holy Spirit in the World today conference (please read here ) was much more my thing because it was the first overtly theological conference I had been at, so it covered a LOT of information, I processed information that I took home with me to pastoral AND teaching settings.

I find that stereotypes can abound at "womens' conferences" or "youthwork conferences" and in some ways the Children's Leaders event was no different
e.g.
"c'mon we can all woop and make some noise and get excited cos we're kids workers"

err. no. I won't. I can't make myself behave like a "typical" person who works with children because I'm not. I'm me, with a unique role and purpose and I suppose I get into bother sometimes because I am not exactly fitting into the expectation that occasionally get thrust upon me!

I didn't exactly choose to do what I do. I got chosen. Some blog readers will know the story; others won't. But I heard God speak to me. He said: "work with younger children" (I taught 11 to 18 year olds as a job). He said it was for what was to come and that I was to release others to do lead children, to disciple children and to show families new to faith how to go on in their faith. So I try to train and release others, take something new out there, then train and release others, whilst listening as closely as I can to God for what the next thing is that I have to do.

I can't get away from my desire to be OUT there with the families and the children who don't have Jesus in their lives, twinned with an appetite to see those who know him as a friend to know him as the source of life and power;as a freedom-giver. We have such an army of children in the UK who are just getting by and no more as Christians, and its time for them to rise up as victors, not victims.

Becky Fischer, in her book "Redefining Children's Ministry in the 21st Century" notes that many people who pastor children in these current days did not intend to go into this area of ministry but found themselves sensitive to God's call to do "for what is to come". HOW EXCITING!!!!!

There was one session at Children's Leaders conference in particular that really stood out for me and I will post on it in due course. If you are a leader in ANY CAPACITY, please come back and read it as I believe it was of national prophetic significance. As I am on holiday without my work notes, I need to write it up when I get back.

I went to this conference principally to hear Mike and Marilyn Seth, who are to be listened to and learnt from because of their great experience and huge humility. But more about that next week. Suffice to say, it is of immense importance to those who want to see the transformation of the nation through the rising generations.

The value of such a specialist conference was that I took some of my volunteers with me - and that kind of experience, being away together, is priceless...we talked, prayed, planned where we were going and I got the chance to see exactly what God was marking out for them to do and the direction I could really easily nudge them into and let them lead.

In September I changed the way we taught children utterly and completely (due to a lack of space; not enough rooms!) and modelled a different way of teaching for 4 weeks, so that others could then take over, with me helping each "Presenter" think about planning and teaching week by week. I have an outstanding team, very loyal to me personally and incredibly open to all that is ahead. The relief team (school holidays) are similarly qualified, as was my summer holiday club team. The volunteers are a real blessing - I have five teams for different areas of ministry/work and I haven't had to advertise for a single person this year, in fact one or two of the smaller teams within the main five teams are in abundance. What an absolute privilege and I *never* take this for granted. Volunteers are another group of people I am called to care for and love and encourage and impart into....more of the Holy Spirit and his gifts so that we never, ever rely on just good work and great skills. I want to teach and model that we need him so!

I have been asked twice this week: how do you keep volunteers? How do you motivate volunteers? Here are my personal tips for retaining people for more than a year.

1. Passion - yours (mine) - what do you REALLY believe in with children and families? Do your team know YOUR vision? Does it rub off on them after they have been with you? I don't mean you wag a finger and impose stuff but....try to allow the Holy Spirit to re-invigorate and refresh you regularly....some Sunday mornings I struggle to get up and out but once I have spent time in the bible and prayed (often puring out my heart!); even for a short time, and then I see some children I know, or some mums who are new to faith, or some faithful serving families.....it all floods back...the love and the care and the desire to serve.

2. Time - for your volunteers - are you there for them and do they know that? I know I can do better on that but I try my best, given the time I have. I constantly wish I could do more - I carry quite a large pastoral/service planning load. I lead evangelistic initiatives, see people for prayer ministry and do some whole family discipleship and support as well. More recently I have been working with some external agencies to provide support to some vulnerable people. This in itself takes up a bit of time but I am seeing the church receive real favour here and it feels as if it is the "shape of things to come" with budget cuts etc.

BUT in my weekly plan I always look to see: who can I take out for coffee this week? Not email. Not text. See in person. I always have a half/whole day that is unbooked to allow me to react to who God brings to mind; which volunteer might need a wee bit of encouragement this week? I try to be a pastor to my volunteers and again, I think they know this as I tell them of my love and appreciation for them as often as I can.In my low moments I feel utterly failing in this as my current church is very large and sometimes it seems that there are so many people I would love to spend time with but I am restrained by normal human limitations - never enough time....

3. Graft - real hard work. I need to be around the things my volunteers are; not at every meeting nor every event. I need to know every child by name and a little bit about their story..how did they come to be at our church? Who do they come with? Are there any pastoral issues that I need to know about? (therefore I get to know families and visit at home; pray with parents, offer support, both spiritual and practical)

4. Advocacy - I am able to represent the lives of young people and their families at the highest level of our church governance; in decisions, in planning - I always think: how will this affect children and my volunteers? Will it encourage and bless them? It means that the volunteers know I am there for their best.

5. Resourcing - I go out of my way to read, research, buy and disseminate music, creative resources, teaching material, collect testimonials and visual clips that advance news about the AMAZING things God is doing all over the world....I give my team access to this (again, I could do better at this, we have v little office space and meet in another building from where the offices are) and by and large, money is not an issue. What I mean by this is that my church blesses me and what I do hugely and I want to pass this on to my volunteers. They know I will budget in for whatever we need and it will be done. If they buy stuff, I arrange for their reimbursement promptly. If they need something, I'll either get it for them or work towards getting it for them when I set my next year's budget. So volunteers have a sense, again, that there is someone who is for them.

I know many reading this have to buy supplied out of their own pocket and couldn't even claim the price of a CD back from their church treasurer and with all my heart I pray for an abundance on what you do. I know having a full time worker is not possible for many churches but I really believe that the tips I h ave given above can be carried out by one person - a volunteer or a minister in sole charge - who gives themselves over to bless children's/youth volunteers.

I know with all my heart that God wants to pour out blessing on children. I can't give out loads of details here, but over the past 8 years I have seen God provide even seemingly impossible things for children and family ministry in the churches I have worked in. I have big faith for this...which is being tested at the moment in the building we meet in which is not big enough!

The one example I can give you is that I really, really wanted preschoolers furniture for 14-20 children. Have you seen the price of wee tables and chairs in educational catalogues? Not IKEA plastic tables and chairs, I wanted solid, good stuff. To cut a long story short, I almost accidentally spotted a commercial auction selling classroom supplies and I got a whole junior classroom, story stools, tables, chairs, wheeled storage...the whole lot for £150. Oh the goodness of God - we discovered that one of the six tray-ed storage units I got would have been £150 on its own!

As I publish my list I have thought of some more tips on how to retain volunteers that I would add; come back tomorrow (or in a day or two) for more......

Thursday, October 07, 2010

All Age Service 10.10.10

Martin Smith "You Have Shown Us" (Micah Challenge) from Small Seed Films on Vimeo.



Please watch the clip above.
Micah 6:8 and the amazing resources from the Micah Challenge website form the basis for our All Age service on Sunday. I have been moved and challenged by the simplicity of this idea; to make promises to do something that makes a difference to the lives of those who have so little and to challenge our politicians to do the same.

We will be making a declaration along with tens of thousands, maybe even millions of Christians all over the world on 10.10.10, using these words (note there is a children's version of this prayer available in the resource pack):

O Lord, our great and awesome God, loyal to your promise of love and faithful to all who honour and obey you, hear our prayer.
We pray for those who live in poverty,
we cry out for those who are denied justice and we weep for all who are suffering.
We confess that we have not always obeyed you.
We have neglected your commands and have ignored your call for justice.
We have been guided by self-interest and lived in spiritual poverty.
Forgive us.
We remember your promises to fill the hungry with good things, to redeem the land by your mighty hand and to restore peace.
Father God, help us always to proclaim your justice and mercy with humility, so that, by the power of your Spirit, we can rid the world of the sin of extreme
poverty.
As part of your global church, we stand with millions who praise and worship you.
May our words and deeds declare your perfect goodness, love and righteousness to both the powerful and the powerless so that your Kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Children and Family in the Book of Acts

Time for some theological posting.

I am aware I haven't blogged for a bit, for a few reasons. Its been a hard month, I've been working away very hard on my own missing my compatriot who worked with me a few days a week (so I had someone to talk work stuff over with and giggle with) - therefore, head down and get on with it. Any spare minute I have had has been with family and not blog :-)

It also gets gets harder to be motivated to blog without comments (which is not a criticism, by the way, it's a reflection of the world-wide state of blogging just now - people are preferring the instant fb/twitter rapid response without waiting for comments to be moderated. I am going to take comment moderation off for this reason, so that if you comment it will be immediately visible)
More about the worldwide lack of comments on blogs here. Interesting read.

Here are some notes from my recent reading from The Child in the Bible edited by Marcia Bunge.

Important themes in the book of Acts:
1.the importance of narrative (story) in developing and forming the human person
2.Luke’s theology of the Holy Spirit
3.Luke’s interest in caring for the needy

Hope the following might be helpful. I'm finding it makes so much sense for my current and previous situation.

1. The Importance of Narrative (Story) in Developing and Forming the Human Person
Underpinning this is the belief that the shaping of our identity and practices are “storied”.
Consider your church community in this section.
•Most of our experience, our knowledge, and our thinking is organised as stories – what demarcates the experiences of the child or teenager in your church?
•These stories shape character e.g. gang violence and abuse affects developing human persons.
•Human beings are always in the process of formation. Particularly formative periods, according to neuroscientists, are the first years of life and late adolescence.

Q: What does the Book of Acts narrate for us, the reader?
A: It prioritizes conversion as the (re)orientation of a person’s life towards God shown in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

This is confirmed in what the NT scholar Joel Green called “community-nested” practices that demonstrate this new allegiance and open the way to transformation for family life, community and society.

These thoughts made me think of some reading I did 2 years ago from a book called Nurture That is Christian, and I wrote a post on it here.


For the Vision and Training Day that I ran on Saturday, I wrote some reflective questions for teams to talk about together:

•What does your church community look like compared to the book of Acts?

•When are children and teenagers present i.e. what shape do their meetings take?

•Are there opportunities for children and young people to participate in story/testimony/prayer and ministry?



2. Luke’s Theology of the Holy Spirit
•There is no escaping the inclusion of children in the “all flesh” of Acts 2:17
•Acts 2:39; promise for you and your children (teknon)
•Acts 2:17; prophecy and visions for sons and daughters
•Acts 21:9; Philip’s four unmarried daughters prophesy (parthenos); a female of marriageable age: reckoned to be a young girl c 12 years old, just before or at puberty.

These texts show that children and young people are participants in God’s kingdom being built here on earth.
Luke 18:16: Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

Here are the reflective questions I wrote for this section:

•Are we Trinitarian in what we teach our children and teenagers? i.e. are children and teenagers taught about the Holy Spirit in your programmes? (in my experience most churches are strong at teaching about God as Father and Jesus as friend)

•Are they given opportunities to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to use gifts?

•How do you work this out in practice?



3. Luke’s interest in family and caring for the needy

•In the Acts church no-one needed anything. From this we can assume very need of every member of the community was important and was met.
•This was so counter culture – see Acts 16:16 – a young slave girl was a commodity.
•The importance of family and home – Acts 10:33; in Cornelius’ home, all have gathered in the presence of God. This is a very significant verse “house” and “presence” always referred to the temple in Jerusalem up till this point.
•Implied all through Acts: the need for family transformation in order to impact the city.
Cicero: “the household is the seedbed for the state”.
•Rejection of a separatist model of children and adults. Joel B Green states that Acts forces us to reflect on the need to practise community as all ages together otherwise we are left with:

“Generations of children who are provided with less and less contact with faithful agents of Christian mission, fewer and fewer models of relationship-building, and so for whom faith becomes so personalized that it need not even find expression within one’s own family.”


As part of a church with Mission Shaped Communities (MSCs)/ Missional Expressions (MEs) - different churches use different terminology but basically these are outward-looking small grops - I found what I read next to be deeply stirring.

“The disciples have it as their mission to reach the city; but if the city is to believe, the home must be converted. But if this is so, then likewise, the unenviable place of children in household and community must undergo metamorphosis. Those transformative values that take root in the household will propagate transformation beyond its boundaries. More simply, to change the household is to change the world.”


If you ever feel that you've to do your thing with kids, teenagers and families away from other areas of church life, never overlapping and not communicating much with other areas of leadership/other ministries - is not just unhelpful (it breeds isolationism) but could possibly be one of the most insipid, evil techniques of the enemy to prevent missional growth and fruitfulness.
It's too big a risk to ignore the theological significance of households in Acts - the evidence of children and young people's life-saving and lifechanging appearances throughout the Book of Acts - and their full participation in Holy Spirit-empowered life - undoubtedly had a mighty part to play in societal transformation.

Reflective questions:
•Your church will have missional and outreach activities and strategies. In these, have you considered the need to see families within your faith community bring their children and teenagers on in their faith?
Or is all of your activity focussed on busy adults doing activity entirely separate from the rest of their household?

•How well do you support parents in the task of seeing their families transformed?

•How busy are church member’s lives? Could you encourage people to make room to be family together and in smaller groups with all ages present?


And yet in many parts of the world similar things are being said/taught and heard.

I've been hugely encouraged in three or four places/events where I have taught this over the last year, but I've been really disappointed with the response to the teaching pack I wrote on this for my own place. I have provided a whole bunch of material to be used, as I did in the last church I worked with and was used by four small intergenerational small groups - perhaps I need to just find a publisher and take it out wider than this side of the country?!

Or am I missing the point? More recently I have been questioning why things that are important to me seem not to be to others - holding all of this in tension is making me feel quite fragile. Got some great words of hope delivered by others at the Vision and Training Day - God always provides an uplook!!

Monday, September 06, 2010

September Update



As ever, so much has happened since I last posted.

Last week my voluntary three days a week worker left to move city and I am really missing her - not for what she did (though that was AMAZING!), but I am missing her person. She's lovely. We got on very well. I had given some thought to a variety of things for her to do that gave her a broad experience of children and family work. Having someone who knows your innermost thoughts and feelings and passions and motivations for the role that you play is priceless; matchless. It really helps me to have someone else to share thoughts and ideas with. I think its a stress reliever in more ways that one; its not just about the actualy physical work and emails. Sadly many people in the paid church roles crash and burn - I hear of this quite regularly - we were warned on this and coached about this at Bible College and from one-to-ones with tutors as the staff there were well aware of "crash and burns" and worse. There were some real tragedies too. But that's not a strand of this post I want to dwell on! Pastoral workers and ministers can be notoriously left on their own to cope with things and those who work with youth and children suffer from this as they are out of the morning service for some or all of the time.

The most secure rock of a person feels it when they hear people talk about how awesome the service worship/teaching/ministry was and you were out in another building/room. Maybe one day children and youth team will regularly and spontaneously be asked the question:"what was God doing amongst the children/youth this week in the morning service?". Hee hee, feeling a bit mischevious..... imagine if the first part of every church meeting was spent discussing the complaints of the under-18s. Just imagine it....

"we insist on fair trade squash....in china mugs!"
"we wonder why the chocolate bourbons have been replaced by Rich Teas. That's an unacceptable budget cut".
"To be honest, the games time went on far too long, visitors would have felt quite uncomfortable"


With my children's worker leaving, but with the possibility of her carrying out a similar role in another place, I am reminded that I am also called to is prepare and train other people to do everything that I can do. I have not forgotten the wise words of one of the first pastors I worked alongside who said to me: "Lynn, your job is to do yourself out of a job". Extreme? Perhaps. But true. Challenging? Definitely.

What kinds of experiences did I give an assistant? This is a question I am asked by other church leaders who are thinking about how to broaden their staff team. She went each week to the parent/toddler group to chat to folks. She assisted me at a daytime Alpha course, caring for the participants and meeting up with some outside of the group. I gave her lots of opportunities to lead during the holiday club. Sunday by Sunday, she planned for and taught groups of children, moving onto have oversight of the week by week teams if I was preaching or away. She stepped into the leadership role of the midweek children's club (my role there has always to be to support and facilitate and not run the show; so I would chat with parents as they came to drop off children). Certain pastoral situations we talked and prayed through together. She saw the real behind the scenes of administration and planning for 170 children. She emailed teams on my behalf - in short - she was an amazing help and I hope I have helped her to have a good experience of children and family work.

So I'm a bit sad not to have her. I saw the goodness of God and his call all over her life and its always lifegiving to be part of that.

On the plus side, I have kicked off a new term with loads of new volunteers that I didn't have to try all that hard to get as I harnessed folks who had a great experience at our summer holiday club (it went sooooo well, all credit to the brilliant team). I've just organised the re-launch of the midweek kids club, written an article for these folk and a four-pager for these folks, had my annual review, accepted a request to write an academic book review and another article for the EA after saying I couldn't do it till October. If only the writing things paid me some money I'd be more inclined to write some more (in home time of course) as it's really hard to get time to do it as well as I would like!

Coming up, I have been asked to help a national organisation with prayer events for children and adults together (oooooh I sense the fulfillment of a prophecy coming on) and I hope to run a new event in my own church for parents of babies; introdcing some principles for refreshing and renewing faith in the hard, first year of being a parent. I'm also re-running the highly successful Triple P course in a local school and October should see the next block of kids discipleship.

Ongoing, is the usual Sunday/Thursday stuff but I have instigated a new method of "presenting" given our increased numbers in a smaller space (hall) so I have to do some modelling and training on that, and encourage all the new teams to regroup and hold individual team meetings. Got a stack of contacts/visits to do - a dozen new children in the last couple of weeks. Woooo-hoooo....bring it on...! ....honestly I have never experienced such rapid increase before in my past place or even till now. I do believe this is to come to churches more and more if they will only open their hearts to children and God's heart towards them. See this post for some key thoughts.

Regarding our pastoral care: we are opening the front door real wide but, as with many growing churches, closing the back door remains a challenge for us.

But before all of the October stuff..........on 25 September, I have my annual training and vision day for pastors and leaders and kids team and youth leaders and parents and....anyone with a heart for children!

This will be my seventh and new this year, is a twin track - with practical topics such as using the Bible creatively with children or dealing with challenging behaviour, along with seminars for pastors/parents on setting a vision for young people in your church, children's faith development. If you live in Scotland/N England and you are interested in coming, maybe bringing a kids ministry team or kidnapping your church leaders/pastors and bringing them, then email me on children.pastor@gmail.com

Lunch and materials are provided and it costs £5. In the last few years I have had 40 to 50 of my own team and the same again from other churches and denominations and I feel this is such a positive step forward; doing things across denominations is so important and a sign, I believe, of a coming move of God. Please, Lord!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The church and support for families


Many readers will have heard about the tragic deaths of eight year old twins Austin and Luke Riggi and their little sister Cecilia (aged 6). They were found stabbed to death in a rented house in Edinburgh after disappearing from their home in Aberdeen with their mother Theresa - who is suspected of their murder and remains sedated in hospital. She was found on the ground below the second floor balcony of the rented house, with severe injuries.

The children's funeral happened on Friday in Aberdeen. More here

So much about this story distresses me. The thought of two of the three children seeing their sibling die in front of their eyes. The mental distress and torment of a soul who took life away so violently. This family - one presumes - were well off materially. Dad is an oil executive. The family worshipped in the cathedral where the funeral took place, together, with the twins making their first Holy Communion there just 3 months ago.

Part of my pastoral ministry role is to support families so I can never blog about details. Suffice to say I am kept busy. But I continue to be moved by the opportunities that the church has to rise up in this area.

I am having lengthy and helpful conversations with social workers. We have respected one another's viewpoints and I have seen an openness I haven't always seen to accept us as upholders of morals and values (whatever you may think of those terms): and as people who genuinely care for and support individuals through thick and thin. I have had opportunities to train many parents outwith the church in positive parenting skills through Triple P and have people clamouring to get on the next course. Thank you lovely Health Board, for spending thousands of pounds on me some years ago for me to be able to show that our church genuinely cares for families and wants to support family life in any way we possible can.

Might it just be possible that we could help avert tragedy? Might it be possible that you and I can be the face of acceptance towards noisy, rumbunctious children, some with behavioural issues that don't fit the "sit quiet" stereotype, some with additional support needs that require money to be spent on the resources in the Sunday School room (there's a joke going on just now about me needing a substantial budget for cushions. It's like the guitar-strings and photocopying budget of the musicians - just plain necessary!!)

Could it just be that Christians living their faith out in family life, demonstrating a difference in the way they spend time together and ENJOY their kids, in thousands of streets all over this country, might just influence people suffering from desperate unhappiness and indeterminable stress in their family life that causes them to do awful things?

I believe that we can effect a change and I'm asking for this all the more when I feel grief over such news stories. Time for those raising children to be prophetically different!

Must read: Foundations of the Christian Family: John and Paula Sandford

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Consumer Church


I know I've posted this cartoon before but I want to post it again. It's by the Naked Pastor, David Hayward. I purchased this so I can post it :-) (legal bit!)

Consumer Church.
I'm fed up with it.

I want encounter with the living God.
I want a community that loves and cherishes me like I do to it.
I want to reach my potential without the fear of unrealistic expectations.
I want to be vulnerable without being judged for it.
I want to love the lost like there was no tomorrow instead of field complaints about structures.
I want to look out and not in.
I want to soak, bask, revel in the deep, deep love of the Father with people who long to do the same.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Spiritual Hunger


Wow, so much has happened since I last blogged.

I have spoken to a couple of hundred people at CLAN in seminars and family ministry sessions and been privileged to watch some very special times of prayer and interaction between mothers and fathers and sons and daughters. So the time was split into teaching sessions and "putting it into practice" sessions - I love this way of doing things!

Over the two days we covered some principles for raising children in the river of God, we looked at some practical ways to bring children into the heart of the church. I taught a little on how children can honour their parents vice versa. We did some prophetic activation amongst family members and in particular looked at the actual (not potential) skill with which children hear things from God. I saw some quite incredible pictures drawn by children in the family soaking time.

One 4 year old drew a tree with an acorn at the bottom. The acorn was clearly recognisable. He said "God showed me this tree when he was talking about me". I asked him if he knew what an acorn tree became. It becomes an oak and I read Isaiah 61. to him. What a special little boy! I love that he, a preschooler, didn't just draw any tree, he drew the one God showed him! His future is in the heart of that passage.

My only irritation post-an event like CLAN was that people said "oh yeah, your seminar was about kids". I feel something rising up in me (NOT anger, probably a little frustration) as the seminars were not just about kids. Its about preparing the church for the harvest to come. If we don't get this right - if we alienate the young and the generation of parents now who don't know how to teach and instill faith in their children - then we lose a generation. More than that, more than this being about numbers, we miss out on what children see with their spiritual eyes, their hunger for experience grounded in total practical reality; the way in which their prayers seem to touch heaven.

I showed a short clip from TACF's Fruits of Revival DVD, which records the ongoing testimonies and ministries arising out of the incredible 1994-to present day outpouring. The clip I showed had Trevor Baker, senior leader at the ARC church in Dudley, describing how he went out to get some prayer during the 1994 outpouring meetings. He describes (very honestly and with real humility) how his heart sank when a small boy came out to pray for him rather than one of the adults. He then describes the powerful encounter he had with God the moment the little boy prayed. Wow, wow, wow, wow.

The speaker on the final night of CLAN spoke about generations coming together and much of what he said, which I am not going to write in detail here (I need to buy the recording and listen to it again) really resonated with me - moreover, I felt affirmed.

CLAN was a really positive experience for us (Mr HIWWC did a little chunk of teaching on the heart of a dad) and I want to honour the leadership team for asking me and trusting me. I felt it was a real privilege to share what I have learned and tried out over the past seven years. We were welcomed warmly and encouraged hugely.

Today I ran team training for our week-long holiday club which starts on Monday. 80 children are coming from all kinds of backgrounds. I'm delighted to have a team of 30this year, with ten of them being really young teenagers. Four of them have just left the kids' programme and want to come back and serve - I'm really pleased about this.

But its a busy week. Pray for us and the other churches near me and you who are running holiday clubs. This is ours here

Last week it was my turn on staff devotions. I spoke about spiritual hunger. I have had a summer of contrasts - I've been in arid places and refreshing places. All part of the journey I think, like the people of Israel! But I know which one of these two places I'd rather be at.

The challenge I am facing - and we all thought about this as a team - is that we can't MAKE people spiritually hungry - its their choice - press in or stay distanced. None the less, I am re-reading the periods of "effusions of the Spirit" throughout church history and I am embedding myself in the stories of societal transformation that I was so into in the mid-90s when the Sentinel Group first released the documentaries: hunger and longing for God to touch the church in Scotland/the UK is growing, we feel it so desperately as a family, to bursting point sometimes. We're sure we're not the only ones.

Please post in the comments if you feel that too!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Breathe, Mighty Breath of God


Mr HIWWC and I are preparing for a number of seminars and teaching times at CLAN Gathering this coming week.

I've been thinking and praying and reading and writing for some time about these seminars as they are difficult ones to hit the mark on (anything to do with children, parents, church and God encounters a myriad of views/opinions/theological beliefs and personal preferences - is any wonder some people stay clear?!)

I feel that in some ways I have so little to offer or give - each year CLAN has great speakers and experts in their areas and I seemed to "fall into" being asked to do these slots, mainly,(I think) after I was invited to give some feedback on children/family/church issues. The CLAN leadership listened amazingly and demonstrate such an open heart as they have asked us to lead what is a first for CLAN as far as I know - worship and prayer times for families altogether. Whilst this is not new to me personally; its something I have tried to create opportunities for in the two churches I have been in - I still feel very nervous - because ...well, because of a number of reasons!

My chain of thoughts just now:
> I am hidden with Christ - I am safe with him
> I can't do these talks and ministry times - what do I have to give? I'm so imperfect and sinful.
> I have nothing in myself, BUT FOR GOD, I have no strength of my own BUT FOR HIM.
(sinking to the floor quite a lot today to prevent those words becoming orphan words*)
>Come Holy Spirit, please take all my thoughts about the delegates who are there, what they need help with most, take all my scribblings, my anxieties about not hitting the mark, my pride about not performing well, take ALL THESE thoughts.
> Breathe mighty breath of God on all the notes in front of me, may we do what we do to an audience of one, to you.
> Breathe, breath of God. Bring life and hope through all I say and do as the words you speak always do.I love you, not because I need you, but because you loved me first and found me.

Come mighty breath of God
Move upon this place
Oh, mighty breath of God
Won't you come in power and grace?
(Chris McClarney)

*orphan thoughts often take the form of "woe is me" type statements i.e. they give vent to beliefs that are at odds to our standing as God's children

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Unhappy Hipsters

Am loving this photograph.

The theme of the blog Unhappy Hipsters is "it's lonely in the modern world".
I'm not doing any theological reflection - just giggling!

I think Bad Vestments still ranks first for sheer hilarity courtesy of the caption writer(s)but this is coming a close second.

HT to Lincoln for this.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Daughters of Zelophehad


I preached this morning on the Daughters of Zelophehad, in Numbers 27, 36 and also in Joshua 17.

What a passage! I love these women, not least of all for the way they conducted themselves in the light of unfairness/inequality. As the law stood, they would receive nothing in the Promised Land - with no brothers or husbands; their deceased father's inheritance would not pass to them. They brought their case to Moses who asked the Lord, who said: "What Zelophehad's daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father's relatives and turn their father's inheritance over to them".

Think of the reactions the Daughters could have displayed. I’ve thought of three:

1. They had challenged injustice - there was something that was so inherently unfair in a time where land and property was everything. Without it, they were persons without status. They could have meekly accepted that this was to be their lot and simply given up.

2. They could have – and here follows a heavy theological term - thrown a huge strop.

3. Or, a third option – they could have been very aggressive about their rights.

The daughters did none of these three things. This is such an important story as it demonstrates what I'm calling “gentle assertiveness”. I think this comes out of knowing the one to whom the appeal will be made.

The daughters understood that God cared about them.
This is the true mark of a son and and not an orphan.

Their timing was spot on – they had asked at the right time (Numbers 27), then waited (into the final part of the Wilderness journey from Moab into Canaan), then assertively issued a “reminder” to Joshua (ch 17:4-5) – and then received that which was promised to them - and this followed obedience – marrying right. (Nu 36).

They came before God with their request. They wanted a favourable outcome, but they didn’t want it against God’s will; against his best. Oh that our churches and communities become full of people with this same heart. We might be saying: I want this, I need this, there's unfairness at play fair (real or imagined; it matters not!) BUT ....your will be done O Lord.

I want to be like the Daughters of Zelophehad!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Father of the fatherless



This morning just after 1am, the man wanted in Britain's biggest ever manhunt shot himself after he was cornered on the riverbank in Rothbury, Northumberland. You can read about it here.

A guest-house owner, who did not want to be named, told the BBC: "He actually said, the one thing that sticks in my mind, 'I haven't got a dad'... and he also said that, 'nobody cares about me'."

My heart is breaking as I read this. I feel incredible grief in my heart like I haven't felt for a long time. Yes, this man committed murder. This man frightened and threatened innocent people. This man was addicted to steroids and probably suffering from withdrawal which may have affected his state of mind, but his final words exposed his heart. It sounds like, all his life, this powerful man with an impressive physique and demonstrative power and control over others - wanted to be loved by Dad.

I also feel angry. Angry at an enemy who seeks to kill, destroy, break up and tear apart family and take away fathers. I'm actually going to use the word "daddy" as it demonstrates the childlikeness and intimacy of that relationship. We have an enemy who wants to take away daddies. Daddies - Papas - provide security. They hold you when you're crying. They provide shelter and safety when you feel threatened. They speak constant approval over you but because they love you so much, they also discipline within appropriate boundaries. They're proud of you and a loving dad actually speaks these words out loud over you and demonstrably shows that with his affection.

But it's not just the enemy that takes away daddies. We have to shoulder some of the blame ourselves. We have a responsibility to resist the spirit of this age, to unclutter our diaries and prioritise being mums and dads to our children. We have to leave the office early with things undone. We resign from that important position. We may not be able to run that event. We who read this may feel that we do not have much control over our work hours but many people who are not Christians have left or changed jobs or career, dropped pay, travelled abroad or VSO'd - because they have felt that urge to change something. (watch Relocation, Relocation, Relocation for proof of this!)

I don't think many Christians intend for work to take up lots of their time but there can be an insipid and unseen force at play to make many Christian dads incredibly busy. Is this the enemy at work? Is it the flesh? Do we need to be needed? I don't know the answer to this but I know that at times within our own family we have felt a rollercoaster of busy-ness to be upon us (probably rarely but at certain times of the year, like June and December)and we have had to say "NO!" No more! Stop! Rest! Thankfully that is where we are just now :-)

There were three things I wanted to have achieved in June - one an event and two certain pastoral things - but as a couple we decided, no, they will have to wait - wrong call?? Maybe. I'm a pastor, after all. Aren't I to be constantly doing and available? But for space for our family to be? For time to draw a breath? Yes, right call. But I don't always make the right call.....

Over the last seven years in many settings (I want to be careful to say this is at national events and at residential activities as well as in local churches) children have come to me crying about not having time with their parents - but especially dad. Stuck in my mind is the child who wrote on a prayer wall: I pray that I would have more time with my dad.

But what do we do about this? Parents feel trapped. They don't need the voice of condemnation for that is the surefire way to feel trapped. They are in a job that requires long hours.

So what about a few wee practical tips from things I have observed in others and do myself:

* prioritise time with your own kids. Depending on how you do social life - consider this: Resist doing lots with other families or adults where our own children are diluted amongst other children. Consider dad/mum dates - taking one child out at a time for one-on-one: the folks I know who do this say it is of immense benefit, particularly where there are several children each requiring time and attention

* switch TVs/Wiis/DVDs off - ration and limit time on these from a young age (its harder to do this when children are older as they then struggle to find alternatives, whereas young children get into the habit of this) - talk together/play games together instead. I believe strongly that the fatherless generation now is not just about broken families where dad lives elsewhere but is about absent fathers - kids in another room, him somewhere else and little chat inbetween. Home, but absent.

*try family soaking times. This refreshes and invigorates parent-child bonds like nothing else I know. It staves off the enemy. He can't stand it. It brings a whole family into God's presence - sometimes we actually feel the room become different; like electrified in its presence, sometimes we don't but we have been quiet and still for 10 minutes and talked to God in prayer and listened to him; all of us together in our living room.

I first saw this in action at the Families on Fire conference in Toronto in 2006 which I attended with my 6 year old and in 2007 I hosted this conference in Scotland. The family soaking sessions got the most postive feedback of anything I have ever arranged or put on for children and families - read about it here.

To do this at home, all you need are 10-20 minutes, a CD player and CD, and paper, pens and Bible. Email me at children.pastor@gmail.com if you want further informaton but believe me it's really easy to do and you will probably be amazed at how your children enter into this.

Two church prayer meetings ago I got the children to minister to adults and vice versa during a brief (20 minute) soaking time and it was incredibly powerful. One of my colleagues had popped out to the supermarket for drinks etc (it was an all night prayer meeting) and when he came back he felt like electricity in the air - and asked straight away what had been happening. Children were praying for their mums or dads and other adults and vice versa, I replied.

During soaking times, the prayers are not wordy and not even spoken, we simply rest in God's presence (some people don't warm to the word soaking so just change the word - there are many references to resting in God's presence, meditating on his greatness - see an excellent list of biblical references which I teach from here. Check out the FAQs on the right hand side of the page, particularly the one on Soaking and the Bible).

But back to Raoul Moat. I speak and write of these things because, as Mark Stibbe has written today on Twitter: "We are on a Wilberforce mission. We are after the abolition of fatherlessness and the reformation of fatherhood in the UK and beyond. This is why Father's House Trust exists. This is why we want to address fatherlessness. This is why we want to get a Father heart course into every UK prison". Please support Mark Stibbe as he has recently had inroads into no10 Downing Street itself to help shape UK policy. I feel an Esther "for such a time as this" is upon the Father's House Trust. Please do check the website out.

Christians hold the key; the truth and the life; the way to the Father is the way to be fathered.

In 2007 I wrote about this.

Godfrey kindly gave me permission to reproduce the words of his song then.

Mr HIWWC still sings it as a lament in worship (at our last night of prayer actually, 2 weeks ago). It feels like a song for our nation just now and so apt as I cry about those words from last night: "I haven't got a dad".....

Lord turn Your footsteps towards these ruins
We need You here...We need You here...
Our homes are broken
Our children are stolen
We need You here...We need You here....

Our God and King...Ancient of days...
Alpha Omega, Jesus, Saviour
Work Your deliverance in this place.
Yours is the night...Yours is the day..
No-one is greater...come Lord save us!
Work Your deliverance in this place...

Lord turn Your footsteps towards these ruins
We need You here...We need You here...
In these streets filled with darkness
Our children fatherless
We need You here...We need You here...

Godfrey Birtill
© Whitefield Music UK

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How would you World Cup your church?


HT to David for this.
It's great! The comments are as funny as the post.

I think he has a prophetic gift - I saw two of our church's under 12s walking up the road on Saturday with vuvuzelas under their arms!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

June....all for Christ

Looking back over the four years of blog entries in June, it's always the case that June is like: "how can I manage to do all the things in this month that need to be done?"

Yet I always manage it. Although I feel like I might not be able to (I sent a crisis text to a praying friend just this week) I try to take one week at a time. I try to "rest" my way through each one of them. Sometimes I manage it, sometimes I don't.

Our church has superb administrative staff, real high quality, servant hearted, organised and caring folks who go out of their way to help me and they have been a lifeline to me as I had to initially undertake a huge tranche of admin work to get systems and paperwork in place for children and volunteers.

In May, I gained a part-time volunteer children's worker who is also very gifted and organised and a real grafter and I am hoping we can retain her.

So this month:
* I held a residential children's weekend away. Our theme can be best summed up by the Drake's song "God is Here" - He was *so* present. The kids had a total and utter breakthrough when we used this song to worship more freely than they have ever done so before which opened the way to more freedom and response to the Word. I was teaching on preventing sin becoming a stronghold and how the application of the Word of God into our minds affected our will and our emotions - our ability to obey, resist and overcome.

All I can say is that God is just so AWESOME and so faithful to reveal what he is like - I love, love, love it when children who have been part of a church community for 2 minutes (3 months) have a supernatural encounter with God's Holy Spirit without anyone telling them anything about it or manipulating anything to happen. This has happened every single year we have gone away. "I feel all wobbly, like I might fall over and I kept seeing Jesus in front of me, holding his arms out", "it feels like God is hugging me"...what were we doing? Worshipping Jesus. Singing, dancing, praying, offering up our lives to him in spontaneous worship - both leaders and children saying: here we are Father God.......
God wants to tell us AND show us that he loves us!

* I've got a Positive Parenting Course running this month, and its full, 80% folks from the community. I was told today that two of the guests were pleasantly surprised with the atmosphere and how the course ran - they had expected to be lectured in a dusty and cold hall. It's a form of guided self-help, to use the parlance, so I facilitate, not teach, the course.

* I'm also running a daytime Alpha course just now, with one of my previous guests who came to faith helping me run the course. We have seven guests and a couple of Christian "bringer-alongers" - if you read regularly you will know how much I love Alpha and next week is our Holy Spirit morning and a bacon roll breakfast! What's really great about this course is that we have two of our guests are parents from the midweek kids club, so we are seeing two or three members of the same family be immersed in the words of Jesus and in loving wee communities (small groups)at the same time! My kids team see them during the week and I see parent during the week!

Coupled with this, God continues to bring families along who are just waking up one morning and coming to church.I shouldn't compare this with my previous church, but I have been blown away by how often this is happening. It seems like a once or twice monthly occurrence. I'm visiting not one but three families this month to talk about how to have friendship with Jesus and become part of our church (and in particular, part of the missional expressions; our smaller gatherings) is why I am reminded again and again of what I believe the Lord has for us in Scotland in the realm of children and families, oh Jesus, I'm longing for the more.

I've said it before, but I sense there will be an ease in evangelism if we welcome the Spirit's leading and not rely solely on our own good effort. I've just to co-operate as he moves freely in response to the prayers over this nation. I have honestly not come up with any strategies personally except I run Alpha when I sense there are a cluster of people ready to do it, for me this usually takes the form of one teatime course and two daytime courses. I try to ask God about what else I should do in my morning a week retreating to lay the diary out. I try to be myself (this can be hard as my background is so different from the community I am now part of). Oh, and it helps that I am part of an obsessively outward-focussed church. I don't like typing that. Shouldn't every church be outward focussed?

* there are two other really big things on this month. Tomorrow I have holiday club team training day and I am really excited about this club. I knew it was a Dave Godfrey as soon as I read the daily themes - if you are a NE England person, check Dave out. He's great. I think I will post on this another time, I want to offer some theological reflection on why I think starting a holiday club with the Ascension story (Day 1) and then Pentecost (Day 2) is great :-) So I see 25 or 30 lovely people tomorrow.

* finally, before I can go on the holiday we haven't really got organised yet, I have to finalise the summer cover arrangements. Dance, drama, games and Persecuted Church Sundays.

* oh and order the loads of Bibles - see other posts. That's a fun June job. Cept the NCV translations are being reprinted and not available anywhere in the UK. Grrrr. Might have to go backwards to the Good News version for one of the age bands.....

* I've got two preaches to do and two all age services to plan but at least some of them are well underway already.

*I forgot I am leading children and family worship evening/praise event on Friday nightt with a mini-teach and ministry between the age ranges present.

*I'm actually trying to meet with some of the kids' teams (managed two so far) regarding some major changes after the summer, as well as see some pretty vulnerable parents, I'm keen to catch folks before school holidays hit us in 3 weeks. Invariably I am not going to manage all of this before July starts.

We managed to have a babysitter to get to a small group meeting together this week and the Spirit fell very powerfully and very gently. Cue: stuck to the floor in rest and having a download of joy and a vision of heaven. Just want you need to get you through the rest of the month! I just couldn't do it without you, Jesus. It's all for you because I love you so and I understand afresh this week that what I manage to accomplish - or don't - doesn't matter a jot.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Mr HIWWC


Not that much is ever said about Mr HIWWC and after blogging for 4 years I felt it might be time to change this. My good friend here writes about Him Indoors quite a bit.

I want to record a little about him because I simply could not do what I do without him. He shares my passion and calling and although I am the "paid church worker/pastor", he is a very gifted man in his own right, particularly in dealing with difficult or contentious situations or individuals (children!). He has a calm, assertive and wise manner. He's also a gifted teacher and worship leader. He's a phenomenal pray-er and bold and brave in ministry situations :-)

He was asked to write a summary of himself for a worship gig-thing he's doing in another church and he emailed it to me to see what I thought - so here it is here, reproduced in all its glory (apart from some details bleeped out)

My favourite bit is the second last line of course :-)

In terms of the brief history.....always a bit tricky to write this kind of thing ......

musical influences - Elvis, the Clash, delirious, Matt Redman, Jesus Culture, Brian Johnson!
Worship influences - in the '80's/90's i was shaped by the Vineyard music of the time, especially worship leaders like Kevin Prosch and Brian Doerkson - loved the emphasis on intimacy and meeting with God. At the same time I was influenced by Graham Kendrick and his commitment to theological depth and integrity in worship songs. Both of these are key values of mine.
Led worship at XXX church for yonks. Now one of the worship leaders at XXXX.

I believe that the worship songs we sing should facilitate a worship encounter between God and us that changes us to be more like him, releases his gifts, empowers us for mission and leads to the transformation of our churches and cities. I aim to reflect this in my own songs.

I believe that worshipping with the songs God gives us is key to awakening a new day in our nation.

I love getting the chance to "go with the flow" and follow God's leading especially when worship and intercession blend together. Kevin Prosch and Godfrey Birtill have been great role models in this.

I think there's something special from God whenever we worship together as God's people of all ages, youngest to oldest and love leading worship in this kind of setting. Vineyard UK, Powerpack ministries and Nick and Becky Drake are fab at producing all-age friendly, spiritually dynamic songs for all ages to sing without feeling too daft - forget daft actions just for the sake of it - kids need the presence and power of God as much as we do and can often hear his voice unhindered by grown-up baggage! Sorry, I'm on my soap box.

The songs I am writing just now are to encourage the church to seek more of God, to know more of his presence and see him work through us to make a real difference to world about us. To quote the chorus of a very recent song:
"Heaven on earth, I'm longing for
I'm seeking your face, I'm knocking your door
I've tasted in part but now I want more
heaven on earth."

I am married to Lynn (an amazing woman) and have 2 children and a hamster. I am a teacher in a secondary school.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Children and the Holy Spirit in the World today

This is a very brief splurge..........

Why is a children and family pastor at a theological conference on the Holy Spirit?
What direct application does this have for my role?
Why was my church so kind to let me go in work time and pay my train fare?
(to shut me up?)
(to get rid of me for a few days?)

No way. Wasn't for those reasons.

I have accumulated some head knowledge about God through studying, but in addition I have spent the last six years teaching and modelling things to children and more so teaching my teams who teach children the things God has taught me. I have, in particular, been watching the signs of how young people are responding - and watching the signs of what God is doing over the nations of this world through the young.

Since 2006, I have been talking with my equivalent staff members in centres of outpouring and powerful renewal moves such as Bethel and TACF. I have visited Toronto twice. I have had the Toronto guys in Scotland to minister to my families. I have studied theology and in particular church history as it pertains to children and young people. I have looked at biblical instructions to families in the OT and NT. I have read how eminent theologians saw children (early church fathers, the Reformers - check out any Marcia Bunge books). I have read scholarly reviews of how faith develops (Westerhoff and Fowler) and combined these with educational theory (Bronfenbrenner) and studies on nurture (Bushnell, Wilhoit/Dettoni)

Then I have looked at the trend of children leaving the church in swathes e.g.in Britain and in the USA (Christian Research findings, Barna Organisation, empirical observation). I have watched how families respond in church (must have toys or edible distractions for all non-puppet moments). I have listened to the thoughts of hundreds of children under my pastoral care (literally) in two churches - how they have expressed their experience of faith; their hopes for the future and their faltering fear of not making it through 12 years of education with their faith still in place.

Readers, its time for the church in Britain to stop giving birth to children whose experience of faith causes them to feel like victims. Where they are picked on and ashamed of having a faith. Where they are marginalised in their classes because they go to church. With all my heart I want to teach and train pastors, leaders, parents and children that children were created to be victors, not victims. This is *not* about triumphalism. This is about children understanding that those who love Jesus are invited into the most loving and accepting community - the Trinity!- that they could ever find. Those who are hidden in Christ become one with Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit! As much as I need the Father and the Son, I need the Holy Spirit to empower me and give me hope just when I feel I'm running low.

Pneumatology has a place in the spiritual formation of the young. We talk lots about Jesus and tell all his stories, but we also need to tell stories about the work of the Holy Spirit! I posted elsewhere on this blog: how can children love someone whose name they haven't even heard? Right now, in this nation, boys and girls are going to churches where they are taught either nothing or half-truths about the Holy Spirit. How can they keep on, keeping on without the precious Holy Spirit? I don't say this flippantly, but if I spent seven years in primary education being told the same stories again and again, engaging the head without the heart being touched by the phileo - demonstrated love of the Father - I'd be off out the door too.

And its through the Holy Spirit that we release our children into the supernatural - there is no junior Holy Spirit! It's exciting to be a Christian! Not meant to be dull and one-dimensional, but to be felt, experienced, laughed, cried, tried and practised. And dare I say - played with? Yes! It's fun listening to God! Praying for others! For more on this, read anything by Heidi Baker and how God uses the young in Mozambique. Or Visions Beyond the Veil
by H A Baker. <--- That one will get you!

I don't say any of this flippantly. I am absolutely serious about the fact that I know the set of circumstances that led me to leave a secure teaching job to do the job I do now, to labour under a second degree, to have the opportunities to influence some kids leaders and pastors in this little nation here, are all because of what is coming. Most people doing the kind of job I am doing did not intend to do it. They were involved in other work, secular or otherwise. This fact is substantiated by Becky Fischer in her book "Redefining Children's Ministry in the 21st Century".

With all my heart I believe that we will once again see children flooding through the doors of the churches who have repented of the wrong attitudes and are ready to receive a little child. I believe the hearts of fathers and mothers will be won through many, many children and we are in a season of "getting ready" - to disciple children who in turn will disciple their parents. I wrote a paper on this for Alpha at one point in the past. I also believe that theological trainers and church leaders need to weigh what I have just said: if it is true, or even possibly true, then every major church growth initiative/minister training school should have some component somewhere that looks at children and family in the Bible, looks at discipleship amongst children and families and most important of all, examines their own heart towards children. I have found these statements here to have been the most requested material I have ever written.

Further info here: Can Children Be Filled With The Holy Spirit?

And so I need good theology. I need to be well taught. I need to read and reflect because I am often so busy "doing".. I need to rest from work so that I can work from rest (HT to mark stibbe for that line!) for I think I am to help other people catch this vision and therefore I am deeply grateful to my church leaders for allowing me to go.

I am really blessed to be in a place where resources are released to me when I need them, where the leaders are permissioning, where the young are considered, even though I am probably a pain, but please do read as a last word the prophecy by Jean Darnell. I don't just believe it's coming but I believe I am witnessing some of it now.

Splurge over. This all kind of flowed out in a oner so I may just delete it in the cold light of day.....

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Holy Spirit in the World Today (Part 2a)


I arrived for early morning prayer to find stacks and stacks of people there - the Scottish squad lost the ability to watch the action straight on from middle aisle seats so we found ourselves in some side seats (not so good)..nevertheless HTB is good on space to move around/flex the joints so we figured we'd survive. Survivor mentality and all that.

Jane Williams opened with a homily on Matthew 12:22-32 and took on the brave topic (briefly) of grieving the Holy Spirit by what she called "deliberate, clear-eyed cold hearted acts" against the Spirit of God. She made it clear that this is not something you do by accident, and that if you mind about even the thought of having done it, then you haven't done it.

She described it as a cruel attempt to trash anything that God is doing or working out in people. "A deliberate rejection of the good". Jane was at pains to say that this was rare, and that it manifested itself as rejecting the flourishing of other people.

She drew our attention to John 16; that the Holy Spirit gives "judging power" to allow us to see (judge) the truth. And so we often say the Holy Spirit helps us to judge people (where they're at) but this can often cross over into criticism. No...really...in the church? Surely not!! Tear the sermon apart? We never do that! Yet...if someone else is "flourishing" through that sermon/ministry - shouldn't we just shut up?

She encouraged us to seek discernment; the judging gift of the Holy Spirit - which is to help us see the Father and transform this broken world. A practical tip was to look for Jesus in everything we see - a good test is: where are people working for human flourishing? This is not exclusive to Christians. I loved this point and it has really made me think over the past few days.

One of my favourite TV programmes is Secret Millionaire. There are some remarkable charities working in multiply-deprived areas doing amazing work to lift people's self-esteem and life chances. I always watch avidly for even a tiny hint that the charity is a Christian one and it doesn't look that many are - and so I will now re-look at this as a sign that Jesus is in the world - there are individuals in that little rented unit working for human flourishing - this is what Jane Williams called "a sign of Jesus" - and she encouraged us to rejoice and give thanks for that.

"Praise is a better way to change the world than condemnation" - such challenging words. I found this homily brave and bold in tackling a sensitive pastoral issue (what does it mean to grieve the Holy Spirit?)

and then Jane got all the women on the platform to say the grace so that she could claim "loads of women spoke from the front at the Holy Spirit in the World Today conference!"

I need to blog about the awesome Prof Ford. Later in the week!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Connect


Please do connect and comment. I loved the collegiate approach taken to discussions during the Holy Spirit in the World today conference.

I often spend time overseeing what goes on in other places other than the main auditorium on Sunday mornings and miss out on end of service chat in my day job so it's been great to have some theology chat here and down in London. I've learnt lots through it!

There have been thousands of visitors to the blog over the last four years but a bit of a hiatus in comments so any encouraging/kind/constructive comments are very welcome and feel free to read back or click on the "children and theology/worship/communion etc" links on the left.

thanks!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Holy Spirit in the World Today - Part 1(b)

After lunch we headed off into our seminars. There was a pretty wide choice and I headed off to Spirit and Mission seminar. I chose this because my church has totally restructured and reoriented in the last 8 months to missional expressions (MEs) clustered around missional foci that the members themselves came up with, inspired by the Spirit and not dictated by the church leadership. That's another post in its own right but its not for now.

Again, let me acknowledge gratefully some of the words below from Jonathan Evens who had clearly had more than three hours sleep... in the afternoon I struggled a little in the heat of the Hot, sorry, I mean, Hut, as I had barely slept on the overnight train . I remember clearly seeing Mike Pilavachi snuggling deep into some beanbags on the other side of the room!

(Bishop?) Graham Cray from Fresh Expressions drew on John V. Taylor's The Go-Between God to identify criteria for discerning the work of the Spirit in leading God's mission and the part that the Church plays within it.

I found the following quote from Clark Pinnock very thought provoking:
"our theology would improve if we thought more of the church being given to the Spirit rather than the Spirit being given to the church".

and I absolutely LOVED this quote from Prof David Ford:
"The Holy Spirit is quintessentially a gift of God and one that is not simply possessed when given, rather the mark of having received is to continually ask..."
This reminds me of the way children respond to God and ask for more of him anytime this is offered or encouraged.

The presence of the Holy Spirit stirs up desire and longing for the coming kingdom (Colin Gunton) - that's exactly how I feel. I feel as if I could burst with longing and desire for more. At the same time as processing all of this information I have been praying for a very sick friend (whilst reading God on Mute - try that for a total snotfest) and I feel a desire for the kingdom to come wake me in the middle of the night, bring hot tears to my eyes, permeate my thoughts regularly throughout the day.

Back to what Graham Cray said: Discernment involves learning of what God is doing and learning to do it with him. This means understanding the shape of the Spirit's ministry. The Spirit is essentially relational and arranges the meaningless pieces of reality until they suddenly fall into shape. (note: I feel this is what I see throughout the Alpha course. The Holy Spirit works in such power every single time so that, by NOT answering people's questions the minute they ask them, pieces which form in the guests' minds fall into shape).

The Spirit anticipates in the present, things which are still to come. The Church is, therefore, to live in each culture as an anticipation of the future. Christ-likeness is the ultimate test of the Spirit's presence and where the Spirit is making Jesus more real neither caution nor convention or reputation ought to make us resist his possession of us.

Cray's specific criteria for discernment were: charism, character, content, characteristics, community, cultivation, and experience. He mentioned that if you get your image of God wrong then you get the rest wrong. And if you have any questions about this session (which I do as I was tired), Graham Cray is about to publish all of this in a Grove booklet. I asked him about the tensions between "programmed" and "spontaneous, Spirit led" missional initiatives and Graham answered really helpfully that the Spirit often gives births to "patterns" which culminate in success and fruitfulness.

Paul Weston from Ridley Hall helpfully summarised Lesslie Newbigin's understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in mission. Now I did not study Newbigin at all in my past so I listened but didn't follow everything that was said - and if I had a criticism of this session it was that it sped by - the two speakers felt like they were "rushing" a bit. For those who are interested in what was said, here are Jonathan's notes: Newbigin blazed a trinitarian trail in thinking about mission as he responded to the changing thinking seen at the major mission conferences of the twentieth century. For Newbigin pneumatology is mission, as the gifts of the Spirit are always for mission. It is the Spirit which takes the initiative bringing the Church after, in contrast to the Church-centric focus of the 1938 mission conference in India. The Spirit brings new forms of Church into being and by doing so works towards unity which is the deepest expression of the Gospel.

Miroslav Volf posed the key question in a globalised world of whether and how religious exclusivists can live comfortably with each other i.e. is monotheism by its very nature exclusivist? He answered this question by arguing that Christian monotheism contains democratising and universalist aspects which justify political pluralism, including the Spirit of justice and of many languages/cultures, so that a consistent religious exclusivist ought to be a political pluralist.

As a Scottish Baptist, I found his view that the state to have its hands off religion convincing. It seemed to me that 90%+ of the conference attenders were Anglican (and mainly clergy) and so I understand that, having had the Archbishop present earlier in the day, the assertion that pluralism was good and indeed desirable may not have been a popular one. Volf pointed out that the state does not favour one religion over another in religious pluralism and seemed to me to be advancing the Baptist distinctives of separation of church and state and freedom of religion for all. I fought as hard against dawn raids happening in the homes of Muslim asylum seekers as Christians, for example. I do believe that if we have private Christian schools then private Muslim schools should also be allowed (I worked beside one some years ago, it was shut down for breaching standards!) We don't have the English situation of RC schools AND C of E schools so there is no direct comparison for us up here.

I liked Volf's assertion that religious pluralism means that people come in freedom to the one true God. He stayed away from going too much into the universalist question, probably due to the audience he was speaking to, but I have found Volf to be quite clear in the past that people can reject the gift offered to them (forgiveness and the forgiver).

In the last daytime session, Prof Tom Greggs reflected on the day so far:-
1. that pneumatology is an engagement with theology from the middle
2. it is the doctrine with which we engage most fully with the church but pneumatology is not to be reduced to ecclesiology. We need the Spirit to have the church but we don't need to have the church to have the Spirit (I love that line!)
3. the contemporaneity and futurity of the Spirit - there are connections between the world in which we live and the Spirit. I love this idea too - the ability to be part of the realisation of God's future promise. Being able to yearn for what we were made for.
4. the holiness of the Spirit - to never reduce him in any way
5. the intensity and extensity of the Spirit - we cannot have a dividing line between the church and the world.

I was delighted to come back for the evening session which was Rev Sandy Millar (I'm sure he's got another title now, probably tending towards the bish end of the spectrum) explaining why academic theologians needed not only to know of the Holy Spirit but to experience his power. I just love this kind of evening, for those who know me know I like nothing better than time to ....be my quiet self before God....ahem.
I sensed his presence very powerfully and it was just great to have some time that wasn't sitting down at all but allowed for kneeling and crying/shouting/singing/offering up heart, mind and body. Just a great end to Day one.