Monday, August 22, 2011

a reply

Please note: this is in reply to a comment made after (but not directly related to) the previous post. It wouldn't fit in the comments box, even when eighth-ed in size! - and it feels like an important one to me.
Mercy, grace and peace - L.

Dear anon
thanks for your comment. I hope it's OK that I attempt a reply, based on my experiences over the last few months.

The original post was a forward-looking post about a new and better job for me somewhere in the future. I believe with my whole heart in the promises of Joel 2:25 -God WILL repay the years the locusts have stolen i.e. this is not to be literally applied (I don't feel things were stolen from me!) to my last 2.5 years as I have had a lot of fun, grown a lot, seen amazing and unexpected things happen in children and family ministry in the church. I think this verse means that nothing is ever wasted, God ALWAYS brings good out of difficult circumstances, if we are willing to submit to his greater purposes. I have written before about the things that have hurt me and most days I'm sore. But not as much as before. I have a daily choice to make, and I'm not typing this in a preach-y way, I hope - but from a very real "I'm walking this" perspective: my choice is to forgive and bless. I manage this about 90% of the time but not till I've asked God for help. I'm a rubbish solo artist!

Someone said in a sermon I heard recently - if we saw ourselves as God saw us, if the innermost parts of our hearts were on display, then we would see what we really deserve. We're pretty selfish and rotten inside, every one of us. As I meditated on this quite seriously tonight, I heard again the Father say: the price has been paid for your sin. Freely forgive as you have been forgiven. Let go of your desire for x, y or z (sorry, I'm not going to say what these letters stand for!!)

I did what I had to do by leaving my post - I listened hard for God, I tested it out with my support group (which each member of staff in my organisation is supposed to have); I was honest and I was true to myself. I communicated as clearly as I could, I tried as hard as I could to find another way, but it was clear that for whatever reason, I wasn't being heard; what I had to offer I could not make fit into the structure and therefore just wasn't the right person to continue. I was "let go" as well as I "let go". I believe God said. "come away with me. And trust me for what happens next".

BUT, BUT, BUT....I trust the sovereign purposes of God in all of this. I have been really disappointed, angry and I have been hurt by things said or left unsaid but I have heard this clearly from the Scriptures - we *all* have to account for the way we treat other people; leaders are not immune from this and they (I) have a special responsibility to listen. We leaders are to play our part in practising communal discernment - what is the Spirit saying to the church? How can we listen to each other and the Spirit well? (I love this bit of Baptist ecclesiology!) Are we representing "the mood of the meeting/the mood of the church family"? Therefore what is submitted in writing before the church meeting to the elders/deacons or what is spoken out loud physically *in* the church meeting is very important as leaders can't mind-read! (Sometimes we might think that they can read minds, but it's a hard thing to do and this is where churches benefit from godly, mature, discerning members of the congregation from all kinds of ages and stages of life.)

I hope I will become a better listener myself, God knows I need to, as well. I read this just tonight:
"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." - Winston Churchill

If people are feeling hurt in a church, speak to someone you trust pastorally. If there is a repeating pattern of hurt or misunderstanding or of staff and members leaving, church leaders would be wise to ask God if there are any personal, corporate or historical causes. There may not be. But if there are, leaders might then deal with any resulting spiritual issues, perhaps using Neil Anderson's material on "Setting Your Church Free" or perhaps by inviting someone in from outside to support and guide. Many, many churches have done these kinds of things as part of their journey.

If individuals hide hurt away secretly, it can lead to festering bitterness and anger, maybe even leading to speaking unhealthily to others, and gives the enemy ground. But to speak truth out of *love* for the church and love for the leaders - The enemy cannot stand TRUTH nor can he stand LOVE. And utter HUMILITY confounds him, for it is the way of Jesus, the servant.

Even this last fortnight I have felt disappointed as I waited yet again for something, but you know what, that's what I must do to God, my Father and creator. I disappoint him, probably daily. But he loves me and keeps on loving me when I disappoint. The test is this: can I look at people who may have hurt me and see the gifts in them, the good in them, the things that have been achieved, and more importantly, can I see the marks of God in their lives? I know I'd love them to do the same for me?! Do they love the word of God? Do they pray often? Do they encourage me when I see them? Do they have a concern for the poor? Do they do things that serve others? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Oh Lord, we need your grace to mark your church and change the way we see one another. As I said earlier, I'm probably OK on that 90% of the time. I too have met people who have left or are leaving. It's tempting to feel justified. Literally bumping into someone else in the street who is hurting makes the 10% kicks in - hurt feeds hurt.I need the cleansing, releasing, refreshing grace of God. I CANNOT and MUST NOT remain in the justice place, but be in the grace place, as that's what allows my healing to come and blesses all those involved.

And I want to testify that it works. By and large, the pain is healing and the memories become sweeter. Now in August I am not where I was in May.

I can't comment on the things you say about exclusivity as my experience has been the opposite. I do believe the heart of so many in the church is genuinely, truly for sharing the love of God throughout the city. However, managing growth and change is difficult. We need a Pentecost, where the falling from heaven of the Holy Spirit of God results in the total and utter surrender of our hearts and our pride and our knowledge and our assumptions. That's all God wants. He can do anything with us when we come in weakness and humility! That's where we can know his power "resting on us", as Paul says.

2 Cor 12:9
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

I found myself singing this old hymn today (alone! at home) and I guess, for me, it sums up what the imperfect church of Jesus Christ in our country needs. That......and abounding grace shown to one another.

Thou Christ of burning, cleansing flame,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
Thy blood bought gift today we claim,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
Look down and see this waiting host,
Give us the promised Holy Ghost;
We want another Pentecost,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

God of Elijah, hear our cry:
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
To make us fit to live or die,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
To burn up every trace of sin,
To bring the light and glory in,
The revolution now begin,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

’Tis fire we want, for fire we plead,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
The fire will meet our every need,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
For strength to ever do the right,
For grace to conquer in the fight,
For power to walk the world in white,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

To make our weak hearts strong and brave,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
To live a dying world to save,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
O see us on Thy altar lay
Our lives, our all, this very day;
To crown the offering now we pray,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

William Booth (1829 - 1912)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ideal Job

Wow, 2 posts in 2 days. This pace won't keep up! (and I didn't do any for 2 weeks..)

I received two pieces of wise advice recently, all related to the fact that I'm being stretched and who knows what I'll end up doing? Not exactly the same as I have done before, that's for sure.

They both seem to be diametrically opposed to each other but in way they're not - know what you think you might be good at doing but then drop it, and be open for the new.

So... 1. A vicar Down South encouraged me that it's OK to speak out or write down what I would like to do, in the belief that by walking closely in submission to him, the things bubbling away that I would love to do are actually in line with God's best rather than against it.

This takes me back to what Mike Seth said at this conference, about being in partnership with God: as a father walks and talks with his older children: being in partnership together: "what would you like to do?" rather than shepherding them and telling them what to do as a parent does with a young child.

2...A minister Up North encouraged me to have the actual piece of paper/job description and lay it down, surrendering it totally to God. I had been saying to him that I was struggling with what seemed to be diametrically opposed - to have an ideal of a slightly wider role that would excite me and stretch me BUT to be a servant, to do and be whatever he says, to do the lowliest job. I walked by the local cafe today wondering if I should apply to work there. All I could think of was the opportunity to live my life out as a Christian in that environment. I remember pulling pints in a bar and cleaning ashtrays out when I was 18 and just getting on with it. I hated it but I did it.

This minister didn't know that I have never been able to get out of my mind the revelation at the HTB Leadership conference that the Senior Pastor of Hillsongs London is at the London theatre from 6am every Sunday helping set up the church staging and is often the last to leave at night as they pack down. Not on show, not up front, not talking, just doing. Talk about challenging...

So yesterday I laid all the various options before me down - for there are a few and September is shaping up to be quite busy with speaking engagements - so that I may walk towards the right one for me that brings me into accountable relationships and allows me to oversee the stuff I absolutely thrive on with children and with adults, plus the ability to work on all the missional ideas to reach whle generations that's been bubbling away for a couple of months.

Sovereign Lord, I will go anywhere you lead. You constantly make things better than they were before in our lives. You're into restoration. I'm holding out my hand expectantly.

Related to all that is above, here are the verses that I couldn't take my eyes off in my readings today:-
Romans 4:20-21
Yet he (Abraham) did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Restored - a brief word study

- the cupbearer to his position
- Moses' hand
- various cities and towns
- a king's hand
- Naaman's flesh
- a son restored to life
- the boundaries of Israel
- the altar of the Lord
- Jerusalem
- human beings, if we return to the Lord.
- everything Job lost
- God's kingdom
- Nebuchadnezzar's sanity
- the temple
- the priesthood
- people's sight
- strength restored to those who feel weak
- individuals restored, brought back safely, to the family of believers
- Eden

I love the word restoration. When I looked at google images to help me see some tangible examples of restoration, in nearly every case, restoration resulted in something better than it was before. I'm excited about that.

"sabbaticalling", writing, has given me time away, time out, time with no pressure, time to come under the maker's care and attention. I think this has resulted in a time of refining, loving more, loving better at home (and I hope out of the home!), receiving love and feeling love, time to listen, time to watch carefully, time to reflect and time to redefine what's important.

Time too for us as a family to continue to feel that we will give ourselves utterly to loving the next generation well, to teaching, training and modelling missional living to children - little children, older children, teenagers and, in particular with Mr HIWWC, troubled teenagers. We love the generations, what was invested in us from those older than us in the past will bever be forgotten and we honour those who made themselves vulnerable, let us in, let us learn, let us fail, picked us up...with my whole heart I pray that we will be able to do the same, that those younger than us will go deeper, farther and higher than we ever did or could.

Restored. An amazing word!

Wednesday, August 03, 2011



We try to make our programs fun, fresh and powerful so that a child will not become disruptive. We also use positive reinforcement and team competitions where points are awarded for good behaviour and deducted for innapropriate behaviour. In extreme circumstances a child may be placed back into the adult service with their parent. Parents will be notified of innapropriate behaviour (sic)."

Grrrrrrrrrrr. The above is an excerpt from a very large church website. One of the key members of this church, who founded the children's ministry programme in that place is speaking at an event in the UK. I'm afraid reading words like those above really put me off going. In fact, I don't really want to go (unless you, dear reader, talk me round!) because entirely separate churching of age groups to me isn't just a matter of taste, its about losing something of the discipleship culture we are meant to build and celebrate and show the world.

I'm disappointed and I'm tired of reading words like those above: "a child may be placed back in the ADULT service with their parent. Parents will be notified of inappropriate behaviour" (I've corrected the spelling).

Why am I so disappointed?

1. "adult service" - like the cinema classification system, are we soon to have:
"U cert" - everyone can attend this event, such as a church beach trip
"PG" - you can bring your offspring to this meeting, but if they barf or get freaked out by anything that happens, it's your responsibility.
"12" - your older primary children can probably handle this event, but you'd better be on hand, parents (e.g. Good Friday reflective service)
"15" - only for those in the yoof programme e.g. average length evening service
"18" - you'd better be grown up to have some longevity about you e.g. very long evening service, church business meetings, many church prayer meetings

2. I'm disappointed that the most extreme method of discipline is to put a child BACK in the adult service with the adults. Note the words: BACK IN.

So the message given out by this website is that the adults meeting with God equals a place of punishment for a child who is missing the excitement of the kids programme.

What does this say about the experience of being in the presence of God? I actually feel very strongly about this point in case you hadn't guessed. I have devised in the past a whole load of ways of working with children who are having behaviour issues at church; it nearly always comes out of one of two things: (a) we need to look at what we are teaching, how we are teaching it and who is teaching it and maybe make some changes or (b)things are not great at home in some way; a lack of boundaries, or there are worries, tensions, bullying, threats or abuse. I've been used to sitting with my colleagues and sharing pastorally so that I might be the lead person but we pray and support the family (and me) together, for we cared about each family represented in the church.

3. I'm also (as the regulars amongst you will know) disappointed with the term "adult service". I don't believe there is biblical precedent for it.

I favour the "part and part" approach with occasional but regular all-age incursions that we may all learn from each other and in one or other, or both the churches I have worked in, I have been liberated to do my thing, e.g. to model good pastoral care for families, kids and volunteers, to pioneer prayer meetings for all ages, large celebration meetings with everyone represented and intergenerational cell groups AS AN OPTION for those who wish to use them. Neither church has held adult-only everything (except of course the certificate 18 church business meetings!)

4. And finally, as if there wasn't enough here for you all to leave this blog and never return, I'm disappointed that this website makes no mention of the need to WORK WITH and SUPPORT parents. If a child isn't behaving, something is going on, as I said in point 2 above, I believe pastoral care and support is so important. They may just be tired or family circumstances might be causing a wobble (a parent out of work, for example) but it can be something more serious. Many years ago I worked with a boy who the team had to refer on to me for continual misbehaviour - it transpired that there was major stuff going on. As a church we offered support in a number of ways to the family and it was with great delight some years later I saw him be baptised. On a return visit to the church he hugged me and Mr HIWWC. Imagine if we had just sent him back into the "adult service"....(for his behaviour was extreme).

To be clear, I can and have sent for parents to come out of the service to support the team in serious cases but at the end I talk with the parent(s) and the child, pray with them, visit them at home if necessary and follow up. I always talk about how we have a God of second chances and how my love and care for them does not depend on their behaviour.

Rant over.......anyone with me at all?