Friday, July 25, 2014

Fail by J R Briggs

'[As pastors] we are unnecessary to what congregations insist that we must do and be: as experts who help  them stay ahead of the competition. Congregations want pastors who will lead them in the world of religious competition and provide a safe alternative to the world's ways......They want a pastor they can follow so they won't have to bother following Jesus anymore.....[Don't forget] everything depends on God, so we are unnecessary. God never-theless uses us, so let us each and together rediscover our call'

Eugene Peterson and Marva Dawn
The Unnecessary Pastor

'Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don't really matter'

Francis Chan, Crazy Love

Fail is not a word most of us want to hear. We live in a success culture almost from the age we can speak living lives of quiet and subtle comparison. Sadly, this is not just about kids exams results, size of houses, cars, careers and who we know. When I gave up my business career, I thought that driven-ness, comparing, sparing and the pursuit of things that don't ultimately matter were all behind me.  Unfortunately, there were a whole new set of markers and measures that, if I was not careful, I could live under and gradually sprinkle my insignificance with. Live under this new stuff though and it's absolutely deadly.

I came across J R Briggs through his blog. After discovering it, I spent the next couple of months dipping into all his back posts and links which so encouraged and resourced me and were incredibly timely as I planned our plant. It's funny how you can have such empathy with someone you don't know. If we were ever to hook up for a coffee I'm sure we would have plenty to share and laugh about. I like him for many reasons, not least because he loves Eugene Peterson. He also started something called 'The Epic Fail Pastors Conference'.

'Fail' is the sort of book that people in my tribe would tend to avoid. There is an attitude in 'Driven-Vicar world', which I have to admit is slightly in my DNA, that doesn't do words like failure, smaller, lesser, down, struggle or, heaven forbid, a phrase like 'giving-up'. 

Let's be honest, no one, unless they are weird, sets out to fail. However, the truth is that I have probably learnt most over my 25 years of following Jesus from being in and involved with 'unsuccessful' and non-glitzy or 'failing' churches and endeavours. One was a traditional Anglican church in Moscow, the other was a tiny church plant on an estate that never grew to more than 20 people (at least in the time I was with it) and my final learning leap happened in a small and, at the time, struggling church in Canada lead by a dear mentor and friend.

We started this church plant here with 20 people. No children's groups, no shiny worship band,  no jazzy website and a borrowed PA. I am so grateful to the folk who joined us and risked leaving the safety of their bigger churches and all they provided for them and their families. We are still small, and for all I know, we might remain so and I may yet 'fail' -though I hope and pray not. The trick I am working out is not to put ourselves under pressure to be like or bigger or better than anyone else. We are who God makes us to be, and I am who I am and we're a local church seeking to love God and to love each other (the funny mixed band of people that we are). It's all very releasing and long may it remain so.

These stats are quoted at the beginning of the book and tell a rather depressing story about Pastors. These are American stats but they are not terribly different here in the UK, so my pal tells me. They are well worth mulling on. This book is for you if:

  • You have ducked out of some form of church leadership hurt or disappointed
  • You have been let down by others
  • You're in danger of burning out
  • You feel you've failed God in some way
  • You don't take a sabbath
  • You seek to be recognised by particular people or institutions
  • You've set your heart on 'promotion' (a drop of purple or an archdeaconry perhaps or being the Vicar of one of those 'big' or 'important' churches?)
  • You don't have a mentor
  • You lead something and you are ignoring your personal relationship and time with Jesus
  • You are not caring for your body or soul
  • You're addicted to work, porn, drink or growing your church
  • You don't meet with other pastors to support you
  • You don't go on retreat
  • You don't have a small prayer group
  • You think this book is the sort of book you will never need to read or doesn't apply to you. You need to read it the most urgently of anyone. 
If you read one chapter make it 'Rhythms' which is the 'how to avoid burnout' checklist and I found it encouraging. Apparently, I am already doing quite a few of the things J R recommends. He has a great 'Recommended Reading' appendix too and all in all this book is a treasure trove of wisdom and blessing. The wonderful irony about the book and the career of JR is that it will now be an absolutely roaring success. Perhaps that's what God had in mind all along?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

For the pod: 10 prayers that mattered

I haven't listened to James MacDonald preach for a while and had forgotten quite what a thump in the sola-plexus it is (I think in a good way but feel free to disagree).

This talk is about prayer and I found it just got me thinking about my own prayer life, my churches prayer life, prayers that have changed me/others and prayer in general. As he says, why is it that in the life of the local church and in our lives prayer so easily 'slides off the table'?Listening to this will I hope put prayer back front and centre.

Saturday blog-sweep

Ministerial burnout and contemplative prayer

The most important hour of your life

Christian voices in disagreement over assisted-dying

So your child is dating a non-Christian

Women Bishops the morning after

4 reasons why some preachers get better and others don't

A simple timeline for Acts

10 things pastors hate to admit publicly

No 1 reason church attendance is down

Faith and Mental Illness Part 1 and Part 2

Why you really need to be done with living safe

Friday, July 18, 2014

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Thursday thoughts

I have been reading Falling upward and reflecting on the second half of my life. Sometimes when you read a book it can be just one sentence at a time that grabs you:

‘If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely from how we handle imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own. What a clever place for God to hide holiness, so that only the humble and earnest will find it’ (xx11)

I listened to this sermon called 'Rejecting the Real Jesus' this morning and the last four minutes of it gave me a fresh revelation of the cross that made me feel like I had just become a Christian.

The other day, I was thinking about taking exams and that moment you turn over the question. If I was setting an exam question right this moment one of the questions would be this:

'Success is not a kingdom value?' Discuss

As it happens, I have just ordered a book called 'Fail: Finding hope and grace in the midst of ministry failure'. Is there a church planter out there who didn't think it was going to be so much easier to make disciples than it actually turns out to be?

Do you think anyone will attend our church on Sunday because Synod passed the women's bishop's measure? I will tell you on Monday...... 

It's interesting to note that the new Education Secretary is a Christian. Do pray for her. 

Pray too about the assisted dying debate.

Someone on my team has never had a fig roll. Honestly- never ever.

Signing up for the email sends me a nugget or two of wisdom every now and then.

Mrs C has been reading me sentences from The Cross and the Switchblade. This was one:

'Jesus did not have a television or the printed word to help Him. His was a face to face ministry. Always the warmth of personality was involved' (p129)

I can't seem to stop listening to this song.

I have interpreted the Great Commission in lots of ways. One is by going into all the world and giving people books to read. It so encourages me when someone actually ends up reading one I have given them. Someone has recently started reading 'The Big Story' which has been a recent giveaway favourite. A great discipleship read.

We are showing 'Warhorse' at 'The Big Screen' tomorrow. 7pm @ HT Barnes

Our Bish is coming to visit us which will be fun :)

I reread this today by David Fitch about plagiarism and celebrity

Finally, this Gordon MacDonald quote and idea has lingered with me from 'The road we must travel'

‘Deep people are those people whose lives are organized around Jesus, his character, his calling to a serving life, and his death on the cross for their sins. The ability [or giftedness] of deep people may be quite diverse, but each has the power to influence others to follow Jesus, grow in Christ-likeness, and live a life of faithful service. They love the world, mix well with people, but are wary of spiritual entrapments. They are known for their wisdom, their compassion for others, and their perseverance in hard times’ (p156)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Who should be the first women bishops?

Last night, I went to listen to these two remarkable women and the authors of this book. I will 'For the pod' it when it is uploaded.

-They both had amazing conversions
-They both studied theology in Turkey
-They both love their nation and returned to it to win it for Christ at great personal risk.
-They single-handedly distributed 20K NT's around Tehran door to door at night.
-They planted a network of house churches- including one among prostitutes.
-They were arrested and imprisoned.
-They led most of their fellow-prisoners to Jesus.
-They were miraculously freed.
-They now have a globally influential ministry on behalf of the persecuted church.

If the C of E is looking for a couple of women bishop's, as they will be after today, then these two are top of my list. As it is, they will probably pick a frightfully nice and competent liberally-disposed ex-dean of a cathedral in her mid-50's with a Phd from a redbrick university somewhere in the West-Midland's. Such is life.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The right perspective

From BiOY today:

'In his book, The Vision and The Vow, Pete Greig tells of how a distinguished art critic was studying an exquisite painting by the Italian Renaissance master Filippino Lippi. He stood in London’s National Gallery gazing at the fifteenth-century depiction of Mary holding the infant Jesus on her lap, with saints Dominic and Jerome kneeling nearby. But the painting troubled him. There could be no doubting Lippi’s skill, his use of colour or composition. But the proportions of the picture were slightly wrong. The hills in the background seemed exaggerated, as if they might topple out of the frame at any minute onto the gallery’s polished floor. The two kneeling saints looked awkward and uncomfortable.

Art critic Robert Cumming was not the first to criticise Lippi’s work for its poor perspective, but he may well be the last to do so, because at that moment he had a revelation. It suddenly occurred to him that the problem might be his. The painting he was analyzing with clinical objectivity was not just another piece of religious art hanging in a gallery alongside other comparative works. It had never been intended to come anywhere near a gallery. Lippi’s painting had been commissioned to hang in a place of prayer.

Self-consciously, the dignified critic dropped to his knees in the public gallery before the painting. He suddenly saw what generations of art critics had missed. From his new vantage point, Robert Cumming found himself gazing up at a perfectly proportioned piece. The foreground had moved naturally to the background, while the saints seemed settled – their awkwardness, like the painting itself, having turned to grace. Mary now looked intently and kindly directly at him as he knelt at her feet between saints Dominic and Jerome.

It was not the perspective of the painting that had been wrong all these years – it was the perspective of the people looking at it. Robert Cumming, on bended knee, in a position of worship, had found a beauty that Robert Cumming the proud art critic could not. The painting only came alive to those on their knees in prayer.'

Friday, July 11, 2014

Love knows no end

I am trying to write a talk and currently, if I'm honest, it's really not very good at all. My wife responded by telling me that even if it's the worst talk ever given and it get's worse not better as I write it, this doesn't change God's love for me or who I am in Him (Nicky Lee's coin illustration comes to mind as I think of this). That was a helpful and timely gospel corrective. She then sat me down, prayed for me and made me listen to this. It was just what was needed.

Maybe you too are anxious, struggling, have things out of perspective or are just trying to get something done or finished? I can't solve whatever it is for you but I can recommend simply closing your eyes and taking a few moments to listen to this. Then turn it into prayer.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Monday Musing

 The digital deadly sins are brilliant.

This sentence from 'The Cross and the Switchblade' has lingered with me:

'As quietly as that, a new ministry was born. Like most things born of the Spirit, it came simply, humbly without fanfare' (P. 80)

My mother-in-law can't put 'If God is for us' down.

If you are a mum and you are looking for a way to a slower, simpler life this might be a good read.

10 Bible promises for parents.

Sometimes, all you need is the music which is perhaps why I am starting to love 'Without words'

A Vicar Factory pal and encourager Sean Doherty was instrumental in establishing 'Living out' (you can watch him, and his wife Gaby, speak about his being someone who is same-sex attracted whilst also being married with children).

He recently spoke on the subject of 'Sexual Integrity'.

I spoke on abortion a couple of weeks ago- a subject that is not spoken of here anywhere near as much as it is in the States.

Nicky Gumbel quoted this from a former Bishop of Kensington in the BiOY the other day:

'These are not the problems associated with the ministry, they are the ministry'

Until Saturday, I had never heard of Cursillo.

I pray that I might one day have that 'Indefinable, Indescribable, Something.'

Today, if you are interested, I am pondering 'The Seven Characteristics of Evangelistic Christians'. Oh, and I am also meeting with my Archdeacon.

Maybe creation was just an accident but looking at these I'm not so sure.

If you read one Psalm this week why not make it 27. Here's a tip. Read it slowly two or three verses at a time- pausing for a good bit of silence and responsive prayer between chunks. Then, as the say on the shampoo bottle- 'Rinse and repeat'

Have a fruitful week :)

Friday, July 04, 2014


Please put the word out about REBOOT 2014

I recently quoted a statistic that on any given Sunday 50% of churches have no teenagers attending worship. We've tracked down the data and supporting article (thanks Pete!) for any who are interested and it is well worth reading and reflecting on.

The raft but not the shore

In years gone by I have always watched the World Cup. This time around I have not watched a single  game which is largely a function of being newly married and trying to get a church plant established. However, what little I do know about football is that it's not much use being ahead at half time because the game is won or lost only when the final whistle blows. We all know this, but so many of us don't lead out lives like that.

At the beginning of 'Falling upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life' Richard Rohr writes:

 'I find that many, if not most, people and institutions remain stymied in the preoccupations of the first half of life. By that I mean that most people's concerns remain those of establishing their personal (or superior) identity, creating various boundary markers for themselves, seeking security, and perhaps linking to what seem like significant people or projects......But in my opinion, this first half of life task is no more than finding the starting gate. It is merely the warm-up act, not the full journey. It is the raft but not the shore. If you realise that there is a further story, you might do the warm-up act quite differently, which would better prepare you for what follows. People at any age must know the whole ark of their life and where it is tending and leading'

An experienced Vicar pal of mine told me that he has noticed recently a few younger Vicars and planters he meets are starting to need help and encouragement as their first flurry of energy and enthusiasm dissipates. As I reflect on this for myself, I do see much more tendency to go for the 'lead at half time' goals rather than the far better one of 'still standing at the end'. This is not true of pastors alone. It's true of a culture that seeks to accumulate, consume and retire early but with no real idea or purpose behind what might be done with the precious and most important second half of the game that remains.

I also confess I am being humbled and shocked anew but the utter chaos that ensues when Solomon dies and finishes so badly. We are in 2 Kings in my BiOY and the mess, sin, rivalry and factionalism is truly devastating for the people of God. We far to easily mirror similar things- though hopefully not the sticky end Jezebel met in this mornings reading!

This post called 'Autoposy on a burned our pastor: 13 lessons' is worthy of some consideration if you want to avoid burnout and ask a few good questions of yourself:

  • Are you taking a sabbath?
  • Are you reading the Bible for yourself?
  • Are you doing any exercise?
  • Are you giving time to your marriage and children?
  • Are you investing in developing your leadership skills?
  • Are you taking a decent holiday?
  • Are you committed to being a life-long learner?
  • Are you learning to face and deal with conflict well?
I am by no means an expert on all this but I have been following Jesus for 23 years and many of the early years where mistake-ridden and painful for me. Let me recommend to you ten bits of reading that I have found helpful and resourcing for my soul down the years and you might want to put one of them on your summer reading list: 

1. Finishing strong: I don't know of a better book for a man to read who wants to do the second half well
2. Leading from the inside out: This is a book about cultivating your inner life
3. A Resilient Life: Gordon MacDonald fell of his bicycle half way through but got back on it humbly and with courage.
4. A long obedience in the same direction: I recently gave this to someone and they keep quoting it back to me and to others which is always a good sign. 
5. Leading on empty: I read this when I was feeling a bit burnt out on holiday in Switzerland. This contains some really helpful stuff on coping with choppy waters. 
6. A Million miles in a thousand years: Helped me view my life as a story and an adventure.
7. Leading with a limp: Just the title should make you want to check this out. 
8. The Letters of John Newton: There is that great scene in 'Amazing Grace' where Wilberforce goes to see his mentor Newton who is mopping the floor in his church. Reading these helped me realise that dead guys make great mentors if you seek them out.
9. The Circle Maker: This is a hopeful book and the chapter on 'Life Goals' will help you mark out what the second half ought to look like. 
10. The Road we must travel: My most recent read of a book that might help me not burn out and one that gets a highly commended. 

I also listen to this talk at least once a year.

For the pod: Our relationships matter

I heard Nicky Lee preach this sermon on Colossians 3 last Sunday. You could use its contents for a one-session marriage preparation or simply sit your husband or wife down and give yourselves a marriage audit. If you are single, it's also just good general help from God's word on how to manage and built good relationships.

A friend told me recently that six marriages of parents who have children in her very small primary school have ended in the last two years. The stories she told me of all the pain, adultery and heartbreak are quite devastating. Nicky and his wife Pippa are the authors of The Marriage Book and Course, The Parenting Book and Course and Parenting Teenagers ands Children designed to help and support those who are married or parenting. A few of my pals are now reaching the teenage years and they might do well to reach for the Lee's book on just that subject.

You can explore all these resources here. We have just got hold of the marriage preparation material and DVD and are planning to start using it. Also, if you haven't discovered the Appendix in 'The Marriage book' its full or wisdom, questions, common sense and resources. You might even feel prompted to start running one of these in your church.

I hope this 'For the pod' is a blessing and encouragement.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

You do it

We are in our last week of 'The Prayer Course'Pete Greig quotes this in the notes for his last talk on 'Spiritual warfare':

"You will never pray a higher or more effective prayer than when guided by the Holy Spirit, you go to the Word, find the promise that relates to you and your situation and say "Lord, you've said it; you do it"

Derek Prince

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Bloggers in one sentence

I caught a 4.5lb brown trout on the Test yesterday with my last cast of the day. Sheer joy.

I know you're captivated by what I am going to write next.

Andrew Wilson (whose excellent book I've just started) has written the best post I've read in ages with a great comment stream too (for those of us that read theology blogs which, granted, is a fairly niche market)


I have also been pondering 'Six subtle ways you know your church is dying'.

Saturday blog-sweep

 Some interesting books for pastors The State we're in Attack at dawn Joseph Scriven Joy comes with the morning When small is beautiful