When I began at University as a young Christian nervous about getting involved in the Christian Union, I was handed a copy of More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell and told that it was ‘our evangelistic book of the term. Read it and pass it on!’. It was indeed excellent and I was happy to pass it in to a fellow Agricultural Economics student.
Fast forward 30 years to 2004 and I discover that the author of this book, Josh McDowell was coming to Premier studios and would be up for an interview for my newly-birthed radio show, The Leadership File. I had since learned that Josh is something of a guru within the field of apologetics. His book More Than a Carpenter was a summary of information about Jesus that was available in a bigger tome, Evidence that Demands a Verdict. He argues that there is a ton of evidence that supports the truth of Scripture and the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.
But I then discover that Josh had changed his ministry. Despite warnings from wise friends that he was bonkers, this established minister to students had abandoned a fruitful writing and speaking ministry on apologetics to work instead with children!
So when I had him in the studio I asked his reason for the switch?
"By the time they get to University it’s too late. Their thought patterns are becoming ingrained. You need to start much younger."
Indeed his lament was that for all the talk of children’s ministry in the church it is generally woefully under-resourced. When I asked him what his advice to church leaders was, his reply was, "take whatever your budget is for children’s work and triple it!".
Fast forward another eight years and I was reminded of this conversation with Josh when chatting with Sam Donoghue on a recent Leadership File (show 322). I am sure he would agree with Josh’s budgetary advice, but his soundbyte for me was the thought that "young people may leave the church at 13, but they leave mentally when they are 9!".
Sam is the Children’s Ministry Advisor for the London Diocese and co-editor of a brand new children’s magazine, Childrenswork. Okay, so he has a vested interest in seeing children’s ministry thrive, but I believe his insight is telling.
Children check out of church younger than we realise. Why do they do this? Maybe it's because we allow the untrained and untried loose on children’s work (the category who are most vulnerable to error), reserving the best trained for the grown ups (who might be discerning of what they are hearing.) Is it any wonder that many children are bored by their children’s groups? Many are educated well, receiving the very best approaches at school. At church they get maybe half an hour a week delivered by people who are willing helpers, but not necessarily gifted for the task. The Bible takes children seriously and the education of children seriously. The law of God was taught, memorised and discussed. They were part of the Covenant People of God. The future of this people depending on wise transmission of the truth.
Should church take its education and nurture of children any less seriously?
Look around your congregation at your children. Imagine them as teenagers telling their parents they no longer want to attend church. How does that make you feel?
Is there anything you can be doing now, to make sure that doesn’t happen? Why not check out my interview with Sam and prayerfully consider what may be possible?
And while you are at it, get a free copy of Childrenswork at www.childrenswork.co.uk.
2nd August 2012
A DYING MINISTRY
Church leadership is full of variety, and for some this is definitely the spice of the ministerial life. You can be in a maternity ward at breakfast, a school assembly mid morning, spending time with an office worker at lunch, leading a funeral in the afternoon, and a church meeting in the evening. Dull moments are rare. But imagine if you had to do just one thing? And imagine that one thing was funerals?
Well that’s the experience of a recent guest, on the Leadership File, Colin Green. He just leads funerals. And before you get the idea that he works in a part of Britain with an uncommonly high death rate, he is actually ordained by the Oxfordshire Community of churches to care for the bereaved.
Here’s the rationale. Some bright souls in Oxfordshire spotted that every day someone somewhere dies! And although it’s too late for them, there’s something valuable about providing Christian care for their friends and family at such time. Many have no connection with a local church and may not want a Christian service as such and so they call on Colin, or, more accurately, the Funeral Directors call on Colin.
Colin is a former school teacher who had been asking God where he could serve. He believes that Jesus has called him to serve the bereaved, regardless of whether they want a Christian funeral or not. Many of the funerals he conducts have little or no Christian contact. Nevertheless, he is God’s man in the situation and invariably has an opportunity to speak of Christ. He might do as many as three a week, and over 400 in the four years since he has been working.
People open up at funerals as the reality of their existence is brought before them, and so, in the family home or the pub after the service, Colin has been able to speak of the one who ruined his own funeral, and can ensure that theirs is a more joyous event. Colin is also able to provide some follow-up to those who engage his services.
This ministry represents one of the many ways in which the Church is able to serve a society that has moved on from its Christian roots. You may be serving as a leader in a traditional role, which is still very much needed. Vestiges of Christendom remain and we are wise not to abandon them. Many still turn to the Church at times of crisis and we know that Jesus would not turn them away. But if this is all we do, we are missing the vast numbers who need a different approach. British fish need a very different ‘bait’ and the Holy Spirit is leading some Christian leaders to think outside the boxes of conformity. Perhaps Colin’s ministry was always likely to succeed? I don’t know. Maybe it’s time to think about the neighbourhood or sphere that your church serves and think not about those who are happy to come, but those who never would and see whether there are options you could introduce. Who could you brainstorm possibilities with? And if you are short of ideas, you could do worse than offer a ministry to the bereaved too.
6th July 2012
IS EVERYONE A LEADER?
Trevor Waldock thinks so. OK so his comment is qualified. He is not saying that your Aunty Betty can take over leadership of a Fortune 500 company. But in his leadership definition, we all lead. Some of us badly, some unconsciously, and some reluctantly. But we all do.
Let’s back up for a minute. Trevor heads us emerging-leaders.net, a charity that seeks to provide leadership to the emerging leaders in some of the most impoverished nations of Africa. He has run projects in six countries, the most recent in Sierra Leone. He gathers young people, aged mid teens up to 25 for three days of leadership training, aimed at shifting mind sets so that they learn to look for ways of changing their lives and communities, typically by creating sustainable business ideas. Many, like UK young people, have not been taught to think creatively about their lives.
Trevor uses the metaphor of creating a new story. You have been made the author of your life, but too many live the scripts created by other people. It is time to pick up your pen and write a new story. In essence, that’s a form of leadership: self-leadership to begin with, of course. And in that sense, we are all leaders, at least potentially. You see, we are all made in the image of God. Theologians have puzzled over what might be meant by that term, but at the very least, we read in Genesis 1 that those so described are to fill the earth and subdue it. God intends for humans to walk powerfully into the world and make a difference. Not all get to repopulate, but all can do some subduing!
Sin exchanges the loving rulership of God who gives us freedom to move, with the chains of sin that prevent us moving. (That was the serpents subtle ploy) Sin makes us self focused, and fearful. We become so besotted with ourselves, we cannot easily make the difference God wants. Or if we do, we become self-glorifying. Too easily we become embroiled in networks that are collectively selfish and serve to move forward at the expense of others, not in the furthering of God’s rule and reign, which was always intended. As G.K.Chesterton famously said in response to a question in The Times, "What’s wrong with the world?. I am."
Trevor believes that changing mindsets of young Africans empowers them to write a new future, so that they become less dependent, and more able to serve the good of the community. And so he has seen lives shift very fast, with some glorious outcomes.
So when I asked him, on The Leadership File, what he believed about leadership – he was able to confidently say that everyone is a leader, because everyone bears the image of their creator and as such has glorious potential to write their future.
Some of course become so competent and inclusive about their future that they carry others with them, and they become leaders of others, in the more traditional sense.
Of course the question comes to us all. What are we writing just now? Is it time to erase one writing style, in favour of another, for our sake and the sake of the family, church, charity, business, community, we serve. Need any ink?
You can listen to my interview with Trevor Waldock on July 8th and On Demand on the website thereafter.
19th June 2012
CHANGING THE CONTRACT
Church leaders need to find a lawyer. At least they need to if they are serious about New Testament Christianity. How come?
Well, according to Neil Hudson, it’s is time for church leaders to change the contract they have with their church. He is the author of Imagine Church, a book that reflects on a series of pilot projects run in churches across Britain that aimed to help churches develop ‘whole life disciples’. The Imagine Project is a product of the LICC’s belief that it is when churches across the UK develop true disciples that we will actually reach the nation with the Gospel. But the big problem in this scenario is that people attending church are frankly not expecting this kind of approach.
Many of them have signed up to church because they were told that if they believed in Jesus they would get to heaven – and that’s it. Or they attend hoping that something good will happen to them in this life – they will get their children into a local school, they will get healed of their problem (physical or emotional) God will bless their attendance with a new job, or financial prosperity. Others attend because it’s a warm a friendly place to be – few places in society are as uniformly welcoming to all comers whatever the race, sex, class or intellectual aptitude.
But few come to church to learn from Jesus how to live like him, with the intention that they will receive the knowledge and experience to become whole-life disciples that will enable them to live for Christ wherever he has placed them 24-7.
The agenda that Neil suggests is not part of the ‘contract’. This new approach would be like you turning up to a theatre for a show and being handed a script and costume. You say, ‘no I bought a ticket to be entertained, not to be involved!’.
So the church leader is seen as a nurse or doctor to heal their wounds, or as a entertainer to make them laugh and forget their problems for a few hours. He or she is not there to help people grow into the likeness of Christ.
So our metaphorical lawyer needs to draw up a new contract – between the church leader and the Christians that attend the church. It must now involve their spending a significant chunk of time helping the Christians learn the Jesus life: getting rid of stuff that Jesus has no time for and embracing the fantastic new life he promised them.
It will mean that some church attenders won’t like it and will go elsewhere. It may mean that some will think they like it, but find it tough. But it will mean that many will find there’s a new kind of techni colour Christianity that was waiting for them.
An unrealistic aim? Neil Hudson reminds us that it’s what Jesus actually tells us to do in Matthew 28:18f. Is there any other kind of Christianity? What’s stopping you from re-thinking how you lead your church?
My interview with Neil Hudson is Show 313 and can be heard on The Leadership File Listen Again page.
30th May 2012
EXIT INTERVIEWS FOR CHURCH?
A good sales person will discover not just why people buy their product, but why they don’t. Is it price, quality, presentation? Is there anything that could have been done to secure a sale? Transferring the analogy to the Christian world may seem crass, but there’s no doubt that many church leaders are failing to secure some vital information, that could be fairly easy to obtain, by asking people the real reason why they left the church.
I say ‘real reason’ because not many have the bottle to front up to what’s really happened. They may cite a host of true reasons, without ever expressing, what for them, is the real reason. I have known people who have found leaving so tough they have moved house to give themselves what they regard as a legitimate excuse.
Of course if they are believers in Jesus they are not leaving ‘the’ church and in many cases the church leader doesn’t need to be too bothered for them. But that doesn’t mean that the move may have given them insight.
Now in case you think I am suggesting church style by opinion poll, let me explain that I am very aware that in many cases, you may not want to pay attention to what the leaving person/couple says. Sometimes the reasons say more about you than about them. But there will be times when a good ‘exit interview’ to use an HR term could illuminate how the local church you lead is perceived. You may have a pastoral care team to rival the nursing staff at the local hospital, but if someone leaves questioning whether the church ‘cares’ you might want to consider raising their profile. You may spend hours each week on preaching but if someone leaves telling you that they don’t feel helped, you may want to consider getting feedback from members you trust to see if your sermons are accomplishing what you intend.
One of my recent guests on The Leadership File, Olaf Fogwill is involved in work that specifically speaks with people who have disconnected from a local church. It's the second recording we did together. I am hoping to invite him back on the show in a year’s time when the results are out. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence on why people leave, and some research (check out Leslie Francis’ books, ‘Gone but not Forgotten’ and 'Gone for good? Church-leaving and returning in the 21st century'), but this promises to be a real insight into leaver’s real reasons.
It is said that the first job of the leader is to define reality. Hopefully you have fellow leaders and wise church members to give you much needed insight to help you know what is real. But it just may be that you will get as much insight from people who are no longer with you, than from those who are.
3rd May 2012