By any means possible…

September 28, 2017

Facebook page

In the past the church has been quick to embrace new technology. This year we are celebrating 500 years of the Reformation, a major religious movement that gave rise to the Protestant (that is, the non Roman-Catholic) church. That this movement spread so quickly and captured so many hearts and minds is largely due to the fact that the Reformers used the recent invention of the printing press to spread their ideas.

When the BBC began broadcasting, one of the first programmes to be aired was the Daily Service. It started on 2 January 1928 and it is still running today. Christian radio is used as means of spreading the gospel across the world, and is particularly effective in countries which are otherwise closed to the good news of Jesus Christ.

New technology is important to reach the next generations for Christ and it seems to me we should use any means possible to communicate the gospel. That is why for a number of years we have been running this website, and most enquiries about St Michael’s and St Barnabas come through this site, or the Church of England platform, A Church Near You

For a long time we have also been asking for folk to help join in with this ministry of maintaining and developing our online presence. The days when the church could rely only on printed leaflets and adverts have long gone. There is a perception that running a website requires a high level of technical knowledge. But with a simple platform like WordPress, which Lynda and myself use, really all you have to do is type and post. Is this a ministry that you could help undertake?

Alongside the website we have also been running a Facebook page for several years. This page is proving invaluable in raising the profile of the church, and when people tell us they are going to an event or are sharing what it is going on, that is immensely encouraging. At the moment we are experimenting with “boosting” Facebook posts to ensure even more people know what is going on here. After the Herald posted an article last week about the “lost” church of St Michael’s that stood on the site for 162 years, we really want folk to know we are very much still in business! (I am, by the way, still waiting for a reply from the Herald).

What is the next step? Maintaining and developing an online presence effectively requires a team, and there’s probably only so much more that we can do. But we continue to try out new ideas. On Monday evening my daughter joined in with our young people’s group, even though she has now gone back to university. She was a virtual presence through Skype and although it was odd at first having a laptop as part of the group, overall our experiment worked. Maybe in the future we could have podcasts of sermons, or a Youtube channel.. who knows?

But in all these things the aim is not novelty for novelty’s sake. It’s about making sure that we are able to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ in ways that connect. And sometimes the old-fashioned method of simply picking up the telephone or writing a letter still works! But will you pray that we have the wisdom to know by what means to reach those who most need to hear the good news; and if you have any further suggestions as to how to extend our media ministry, we would love to hear from you.





My accidental Lent

March 5, 2017

Taking things slowly…

Like quite a few people, I didn’t get round to thinking about Lent until it had already started this year. I could claim I had only just got back from Australia and I was mentally unprepared, but I certainly couldn’t pretend I didn’t know it was coming!

So gradually over the past few days I have decided to mark the season by making two small and not particularly profound changes in my daily routine.

The first is to make sure each day that I actually make myself stop and take a proper break. There is always more I could be doing, but I would be more productive if I actually let myself have some time out. So on Thursday I combined a meeting in Exeter with a walk along the River Exe in bright sunshine. On Friday I had a nap. Yesterday I finally cleared the debris of an old chicken house from the garden.

The second and related change is to use my time in front of the computer more wisely. I work best in the mornings. But the danger of being permanently connected to the Internet is that I can spend, say, half an hour before I achieve anything browsing or catching up on Facebook. I need the discipline of going into the study and focusing on the task in hand.

If there is a theological reflection to be made on these changes, it is this. We claim we will live by grace, yet I suspect that as believers we all too often define ourselves by our busyness. We live in a world which expects us to be busy, and to do more and more. Living by grace, however, means accepting I am not defined how much I do or how much I achieve. God does not love me more if I am busy, and indeed I suspect He would rather I slowed down so I allow myself the space to communicate with Him.

Yet grace does not mean that I can simply fritter away the time as I see fit. I am a steward of the time and gifts I have been given, and when I am busy, I need the discipline to make the main thing the main thing. Cute animal stories and tales of sporting success can wait, they really can. (Although I wonder how England are getting on against the West Indies at the moment … no, my first priority really is to finish this post.)

And as I said last Wednesday, the point of Lent is not to have a season of discipline only to cast it aside when we reach Easter. It’s to take up new habits which will hopefully enable us to spread the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection more effectively. I can’t say my new disciplines will be easy, because they never are. I am already finding I need the strength and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and that can only be a good thing.

Why safeguarding matters

April 22, 2015

Last night a group of us spent the evening going through the draft safeguarding policy which will be presented for approval to the church councils in May. It was not the most exciting of evenings, and some material seemed difficult to tailor appropriately to a small church, and I guess it was easy to wonder we had to invest so much time and effort into putting the policy together in the first place (a huge thank you to Lynda who did the bulk of the work drafting and re-drafting the document).

But the reality is, safeguarding needs to be at the heart of our mission statement. It has to be, if you like, one of the invisible strands running through every part of our church life. Why? Because sadly, the history of the church when it comes to safeguarding has been lamentable and as an institution the church has actually hindered people coming to Christ.

First of all, and most shamefully, there have been wicked people in the church who have either perpetrated or colluded in abuse. I cannot imagine how those who have been abused in the way must view the body of Christ, but Jesus must weep for them.

Secondly, the church has not always listened to or believed victims of abuse. Often it takes years for survivors’ stories to come forward, because those in authority have not spent time hearing the stories of the weak and the vulnerable. The damage such a delay brings only adds to the scars that the original abuse inflicted, and we need to repent of our failure to respond.

Thirdly, even when the church has listened, it has not always acted effectively or professionally to concerns raised. But in today’s culture the days when the church could simply behave as well-meaning amateurs are well and truly over. Particularly with our past, we need to be seen to be acting in line with best practice. Nothing less than the reputation of the gospel is at stake.

Perhaps one way to remember the importance of safeguarding is to think of the word SAFETY. This involves:

Security. This includes making the physical environment of the church safe for all who use it, but also creating a culture of love and listening, where people feel secure enough to share their lives, and to seek the grace of God.

Acceptance. This is not the same as tolerance. Acceptance means welcoming all who come through our doors, no matter what they have done, or what has been done to them. But it does not mean we will tolerate every kind of behaviour or condone those who refuse to accept the need to change.

Freedom. We believe that Jesus Christ still heals today, and comes to give life abundantly. So we should strive for a church where people can be set free from the past and are able to face the future with the strength that comes from the power of Holy Spirit at work within them.

Everyone. It’s very easy to think that safeguarding is the responsible of other people, or those with the right training. If we are the body of Christ, then we should all bear one another’s burdens, pray for and love one another, so that all are valued for who they are.

Transparency. We need a culture of open, honest communication where there are no secrets, and everyone knows what is happening. It is in this culture, ironically, that confidences are better understood and respected as there is no fuel for rumours or gossip, and people understand better the boundaries between what is public and what is private.

Young people. Young people need to be accepted for who they are, and the potential they can achieve. In today’s world young people grow up in a state of confusion and uncertainty, often not really knowing who they are or who genuinely cares for them. We want the church to be a safe place where they discover they are of infinite worth in God’s eyes and recognise the gifts and abilities He has given them in Christ.

You will be hearing more about safeguarding over the next few months. Do take the time to listen, and let’s all of us work out what it means to make St Barnabas and St Michael safe churches which glorify God and draw others to a saving knowledge of Christ.

The danger of drift

April 7, 2015

A few days Kevin de Young posted this excellent article on his blog:

It was an article that very much chimes with much of my recent thinking – that drift is one of the greatest issues the church in the West faces today. And yet the strange thing is, you won’t actually find that much said or written about drift. Like a slow-growing fungus, it spreads almost silently and imperceptibly until one day you wake up and discover the very health of the church is at stake. So in this post I want to expose drift for what it is, why it arises and why it poses such a threat.

So what is drift? It is quite simply the gradual distancing of a believer first of all from a church, and then, if unchecked, eventually even from the very moorings of the Christian faith. It is not something that happens intentionally. It is just a subtle and at first unrecognised loosening of ties, so that the faithful once a weeker becomes a twice a monther, a twice a monther become an every other monther, and the every other monther becomes a blue mooner.

And why does it happen? Let me suggest there are at least three reasons.

First, when someone becomes a Christian or returns joyfully to the faith, other parts of their lives at least temporarily are put on hold. They recognise there is nothing more important than loving and serving Jesus, so everything else becomes relatively less important. But eventually the demands of the job or the family or the sheer business of each week presses in again, and the real sacrifices made to attend church or small group become just too much. Something has to give, and regular attendance becomes the first casualty.

Secondly, despite the fact that those who come to faith are warmly welcomed by the rest of the church, in many cases they remain outsiders, at least at the very deepest level of fellowship. Existing church members may have formed deep relationships over the years, and being busy people themselves, may find it hard to fully include newcomers as much as they would want to. So when the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the cares of this world come in (Mark 4:19), they do not necessarily have the support structures in place to help them cope. We are simply not that good as churches in investing time and energy with newcomers as we ought to be.

Thirdly, as Kevin De Young points out, after a while we become used to the message of the Christian faith. It is not only that we are familiar with the message of Jesus dying and rising again for us. It’s also that in many cases we are not that good at helping folk see the links between the glorious truths of our faith and the issues that affect us every day. It’s one reason why in my preaching I often find myself challenged to apply my sermon to the lives people will face as they wake up on a Monday morning. I am not saying for a moment that our preaching should be governed by relevance, but unless we give people the tools to make connections with their everyday reality, the danger is, Jesus ends up in a box reserved for Sundays and special occasions called the church.

And why is drift such a threat?

At the most obvious level it weakens the faith of the individual Christian or makes it ineffective. I have already quoted from the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20), and although we have often turned this into a pretty little story for children, it really does present a most perceptive analysis of the ways in which our faith fails to reach maturity. I would contend that we must find time in our busy lives to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest Jesus’ teaching, so we recognise exactly how we can produce the kind of fruit Jesus wants us to yield.

But drift also weakens the life of the whole church. The vitality of any congregation comes from a stream of people coming to, and growing in their faith. It’s how new gifts and ministries are discovered, it’s how the faith is passed down from one generation to the next. But if we allow new believers simply to disappear off the scene, then the church will slowly begin to die. The existing believers who are serving so faithfully cannot go on forever, and there are times and seasons when they themselves need to receive more than to give. So the whole church needs to develop effective means of discipleship, of growing small groups, of developing support networks. If this means that some existing ministries need to go by the board, so be it. Investing in new believers has to be the top priority for everyone .

And also drift very subtly undermines the mission and outreach of the church. To put it this way: if someone who is thinking of  getting closer to the church and the Christian faith keeps meeting people who are drifting in the opposite direction, then they may well end up having second thoughts. When you see people becoming less regular and less committed in their worship, it is surely natural to ask whether all these claims made about following Jesus are that real, after all.

So to sum up: drift is the great unspoken and yet deadly threat to our churches today. It is all the harder to eradicate because it is never intentional. What is to be done? Well, I think that half the battle is to name it for what it is. The other half is to look at our church and see what we can do to stop the disease from taking hold. I recognise, of course, that in a sense, it is a symptom of a wider malaise in our society where so many factors militate against commitment.

Our challenge, then, is to see how we can become an authentic counter-culture which is so attractive that people not only want to join, but also to stay. How we do this I am not completely certain. But I do know that it requires a deep dependence on the Lord, and a willingness to take up our cross and follow Him – wherever that may lead.



Whatever has the diocese done for us?

February 26, 2015

When it comes to discussing our finances, there’s a lot of talk about our payments to the “diocese”. And sometimes I realise it can quite hard to understand exactly what the diocese does, or what benefit we gain from belonging to its structures. So here are some examples where recently I have been in touch with the “diocese”:

  • The safeguarding unit have provided invaluable advice about how to put together a parish safeguarding policy, and to ensure safer recruitment of volunteers.
  • The legal advisors have provided us with the information we needed about a deed drawn up during the redevelopment of St Barnabas.
  • The finance department have furnished us with details about some investments the diocese manage on behalf of St Michael’s.
  • The property department has put in motion a small repair to the vicarage that needs performing fairly quickly.

These are just some small examples of the many different ways the central services of the diocese support the ministry of both churches, often behind the scenes. If we had to pay for the equivalent services as a charity, then the cost to us would be considerably greater. It may at times be hard to pay our parish share, but we do get a lot for our money, and it is worth praying for all that these people do.


Google and going to church

May 21, 2014

I have been slowly starting to use a Google calendar over the past few months (although I still prefer a paper diary). As a result, I regularly receive reminders in my inbox, telling me it’s time to set off for the next event, usually long after I have already gone. So, for example, I get a reminder every Sunday morning, telling me that at 10.57 it’s time to head off to St Michael’s (why it doesn’t tell me to get to St Barnabas, I haven’t worked out yet). The problems with this e-mail are that  (a) assumes I am driving there (b) I can park outside and (c) I actually would want to turn up exactly at 11.00am.

In fact there is every reason to turn up a lot earlier than the given start time of any service. To begin with, it means you don’t arrive in a rush and perhaps disturb other people. It also encourages the person at the front that there will be a congregation today! A full church ten minutes beforehand does wonders for the preacher’s confidence.

But even more importantly than that, time before the service gives you time to focus on why you are there, to spend time in prayer. Maybe prayer on your own, maybe prayer with someone else. Prayer gives us a sense of perspective and enables us to receive better  from the worship that day.

And the chances are, that when you arrive early, you may well meet someone who has come that day with a particular need. If that’s the case, spend some time in prayer with them before the service, and/or arrange to meet with them during the week. Or else, it might be there is a churchwarden looking for someone to fill in for a particular task that needs doing. Many a ministry has started from someone volunteering in a time of need!

To put it simply, our fellowship does not start at the beginning of the service. It begins the moment we walk through the door, and an extra ten minutes can make all the difference.

So if you are getting reminders from Google, please take them with a proverbial pinch of salt. If you’re still at home by the time you receive them, then you are setting off too late.

Looking forward to seeing you before 11.00am on Sunday!






A time of serving

June 1, 2013

So Pentecost is over, and Trinity Sunday too. No major festivals now until Harvest. Every Sunday between now and November will simply be known as “the xth Sunday after Trinity”. All sounds a bit boring, doesn’t it?

But maybe we should welcome this change in the church calendar. After all, it would be nice to gather and celebrate a major festival most weeks, but to put it very simply life isn’t like that. Most of our life consists of keeping on keeping on, continuing in the same routine and rhythm. And so the challenge for us after Pentecost is quite simply to put Jesus at the centre of the every day and carry on living in the power of the Holy Spirit.

That’s certainly been a challenge for me this week. For various reasons a lot of the past seven days has involved sorting out financial records, attending meetings and setting up events – the  frustrating, behind the scenes work that often goes unnoticed. I find on such occasions it’s good at times to stop and ask one simple question: “In whose strength am I doing this?” It can be so easy to talk about the grace of God and then live as if everything depends on you! And the danger is, we can end up missing where God actually is at work.

I also know I am particularly looking forward to Sunday tomorrow. Even though I will as usual be up front, more and more I find fellowship with other Christians an important part in keeping my faith fresh. It may have taken me years to fully appreciate this fact, but you can’t live in the power of the Holy Spirit and be a solitary Christian. That’s why I for one have found the recent sermon series on being the body of Christ so powerful. It’s reminded me not only that to survive and thrive after Pentecost do I need the support and prayers of other Christians. It’s also reminded me again of the need to serve others so they too are able to survive and thrive in their faith. Even and especially when the task at hand is boring, routine or mundane.

Because it’s when we are living out our faith at the coal face that people begin to sit up and take notice. I have heard so many testimonies over the years that has begun with someone noticing something different about their work colleague or carer or neighbour. That’s as much the work of the Holy Spirit as the big, dramatic conversion. So if you are struggling with the routine of the every day at the moment, be encouraged. God can and will use you even where you are! Keep on keeping on through all the weeks after Trinity and you may just be surprised by the results…