Wednesday, 19 December 2012

I seem to have a weird relationship with blogging

Let me say this up front: I like blogs. I read some blogs faithfully almost every day. I read some others every now and then, when I remember how awesome they are. And I actually like blogging.

As a teenager I used to keep a diary that my best friend used to read; and I'd read hers. I guess that was as close to blogging as we could get in the late 70's and early 80's. But then life happened, and I grew busy, and never went back to writing unless I had to.

The internet kind of re-started this longing to write down things that were important to me - so every now and then I write a new blog post, and then I forget about blogging for a few months, or a year :-(

So if you were wondering if I'm still around, well, I am. And although I haven't written anything new on my blog, things have been very interesting - exciting, maybe - this past year.

First, the teens that were hanging out in front of the church doors last year grew into a nice youth club. They are great kids, it is a joy to see how they are maturing, and building healthy relationships, and developing their spiritual life.

I had the privilege of helping a few homeless people get off the streets. One of them is now a steady part of a faith community, and has been asking me lately about being baptised. Seeing transformed lives like his is what makes being a pastor worthwhile.

Speaking of baptism, two weeks ago we had 5 people baptised in our church. They came to the UK as refugees from Iran; and the Lord turned their personal tragedy into a road to Him. They came to the Lord through the testimony of another Iranian Christian, and are part of another church in town; they were baptised in our church just because their building doesn't have a baptistry. But it was great to be with them on such a special day.

We went through an interesting adventure with our building. Our church was built in stages; the first hall was built in 1864, and it's a typical non-conformist hall, just a rectangular space with nice arched windows but nothing out of the ordinary as far as architecture is concerned. It was designed to seat 150, but that was with people squeezed together on narrow pews. We'd find it hard to fit more than 100 people in there now. Then they built the school house in the 1870's, which includes an assembly hall that now can seat some 50 people. This is where the church used to meet when I joined Ford. And finally, in 1899, they built the 'top hall', which was designed for 400 people. The church had grown to 400 people by that time, and stayed at around those levels up to the 1940's. Then it all went downhill, to being almost closed down a few years ago.

So last year we refurbished the lower hall, and we use it now as a meeting and multipurpose hall. But the top hall has been sitting empty for years, and some years back the church decided to sell it. It's been on the market twice, and both times it failed to sell. Last time was in these last few months. But as we went through the process of selling it - and as we went through the changes that happened in our church over the last few months - it slowly dawned on us that we shouldn't sell it after all. We need this building. Our outreach is slowly bringing more and more people in contact with the church, and by now we need a space set apart for all sorts of community events.
So the vision is to turn the top hall into a community space; it will be open to people, families and community groups in Ford, but it will also be a community cafe run by the church, with a prayer room open to all, a couple of small apartments to be rented out in order to provide funding for the project, and a large multi-purpose space. It will cost between £150,000 and £200,000. Which we don't have. It's been a while since my faith has been exercised like that, but I believe that we are on the right track with this. Different people came up with this same vision, independent of each other. Even the teens in the youth group had an evening discussing the needs in our community and what we can do about it - and they came up with more or less the vision I had. Others in the church went the same way; and when I presented this to the church, it just sort of clicked. So we don't have the money; I've been there before. The Lord, our Daddy, owns the Universe and more. He has the means. We just need to do our part; for the rest, we're praying for a miracle. Or rather, for a whole bunch of miracles.

And finally, this years has brought an amazing movement of God in the church in Plymouth. It started with a Baptist pastor from Reading, coming to Plymouth to say that the Lord spoke to him about a coming renewal in the church - starting here. It may sound like just wishful thinking, except that a lot of other people have been coming to this city and saying the same thing - before and after this man. And then, pastors and leaders from different churches began to meet together to pray. Another group, also people from all over the city, from different traditions and denominations, meet together regularly for prayer. We had the 10 days of prayer in the spring, and 40 days of prayer at the end of the summer. Now, an Anglican vicar, a Baptist pastor and a Charismatic pastor are working together to organise a city-wide 40 days of prayer event. A lot of other people are involved in this. We may not be an army yet, but the bones are moving and there is a rattling sound in the desert.

What will next year bring? I don't know, but these are exciting times.

Monday, 30 January 2012

OK, we are in trouble, now what?

This is a follow up on a follow up on someone else's post. I mentioned in the previous post the article at Persona, quoting Internet Monk's article (which is here)
You probably should read the Monk's blog, but to sum it up, we are in a twist 'cause Evangelicalism is going to collapse. All right, this is an American blogger, it's news for them - on our side of the pond Evangelicalism collapsed a long time ago and we, the survivors, are in a wretched post-collapse-of-the-evangelicalism state. But bear with me, this thing may be rather uncomfortably more relevant than we care for.

So here are his points:

1. "Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This was a mistake that will have brutal consequences." Read, Evangelicals have largely tied their wagon to (temporarily) rich and powerful right-wing politicians - to their peril. In other words, evangelicalism = George W. or worse. For people who claim to follow someone whose focus were the poor, the oppressed and the marginalised, that doesn't sound good.

2. "Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people the evangelical Christian faith in an orthodox form that can take root and survive the secular onslaught." As the Monk says, our young people know all about the single-issue issues, but next to nothing about what really matters.
My view is that we've miss-defined 'what really matters'. Orthodoxy that means seven literal 24-hour days, 6,000 year old Universe, pre-millenialist pre-tribulationist, Calvinist and whatever other narrow view catches your fancy - no wonder so many people believe that to be an Evangelical one had to give one's brain a very long leave of absence.

3. "Evangelical churches have now passed into a three part chapter: 1) mega-churches that are consumer driven, 2) churches that are dying and 3) new churches that whose future is dependent on a large number of factors. I believe most of these new churches will fail, and the ones that do survive will not be able to continue evangelicalism at anything resembling its current influence." Amen, or something. Although I think he misses it a bit here. It's a 4-part thing. The strength of Evangelicalism is in none of the 3 parts mentioned above but, IMHO, in the thousands of small, 100-ish churches who are spiritually healthy and faithful. Not to be confused with the many more thousands of small 100-ish spiritually dead churches that just need a bold enough undertaker.

4. "Despite some very successful developments in the last 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can hold the line in the rising tide of secularism." After my oldest son tried a well known Baptist University in, well, a Southern state, (and left before they had a chance to expel him) my personal belief is that Evangelical education in its American incarnation is an oxymoron. Or very close to it.

5. "The deterioration and collapse of the evangelical core will eventually weaken the missional-compassionate work of the evangelical movement." Unfortunately. 'Cause there is a whole big bunch of good work being done by the above mentioned Evangelicals. Warts and all, we Evangelicals do take our missional work seriously. The world will be a sadder place.

6. "Much of this collapse will come in areas of the country where evangelicals imagine themselves strong. In actual fact, the historic loyalties of the Bible belt will soon be replaced by a de-church culture where religion has meaning as history, not as a vital reality." No comment.

7. "A major aspect of this collapse will happen because money will not be flowing towards evangelicalism in the same way as before." Well said.

OK, so my question is, what do we do about it? What can our American brothers and sisters do to avoid the collapse (if you believe this is possible)? And what can we on the opposite side of the pond do to dust ourselves up and start again, maybe on a better footing?

Well, I could say 'I haven't the foggiest' but, however true, that would make for a rather boring blog.

So here is my feeble attempt. Please feel free to continue the discussion on your respective blogs or somewhere. This is probably too obscure a corner of the Internet for such important stuff.

1. Well, isn't it obvious? Politicians will promise what we think they promise (or what they think we want them to promise) while they are hunting for our votes. Hitching our wagons on any political party - specially one so far from the kind of morals Jesus preached - is not good politics. Or good stewardship of our democratic votes or whatever passes for it. Thing is, there is no good alternative. I heard it often said that 'politics' comes from the Greek word Poly, meaning many, and the English word Ticks, as in blood-sucking critters. And if there are no good alternatives, our responsibility as good little Evangelicals is not to wring our hands in despair, but to BE the alternative. There are enough of us to make our own political party - if we can put forward people who really have a Christ-centred morality, and a love for the kind of people Jesus cared about, and a serving heart - why, there won't be a problem with corrupt politicians, would there?

2. As I mentioned above, the problem is, we need to wake up and realise that what matters in the eyes of our heavenly Father is really not what matters in our own eyes. Seriously, just ask Him. You're supposed to be his son or daughter; it says so in the Book. Just go ask him, 'Daddy, what do you really care about? What do you think I should care about?' You might be blown up by his answer. No, not literally.

3. I really have nothing against mega-churches - I enjoy the professional services, the great music, the electrifying atmosphere - they are great! Just not a good place for discipleship or growth. And I like church plants - tried my hand at it a few times myself; I still have the scars. They are great fun, extreme sports kinda' thing. But the bread and butter of Christianity is the small church. The place where you belong, where it's a family, where you are a disciple and have disciples, where you are accountable and cared for and are not lost in the crowd. We just have to rediscover how to do community. If there is one thing that can turn your church around, community is IT.

4. Give up! Yeah, I mean it, if you are in Christian education, just give it up! By Christian education I mean those little cliques where we educate our kids insulated from the big bad world, pretending we can keep them innocent and ignorant of the darkness around them. Jesus said we are supposed to be salt and yeast - salt, but not in the saltshaker; yeast, but not in the dried yeast jar. Teach your kids to be true followers of Christ, and let them be light in the midst of the dark public schools. And I don't talk out of ignorance, 4 kids had the misfortune of having me as a dad. All but one are grown up now, and I know it's hard, but I also believe it's the only way.

5, 6 and 7 don't really need commenting on, do they?
Whew, what a day!

I started by getting up later than usual - although one may argue that I started by taking a very long time to put an end to the previous day. But that's another story.
Then we had this great service with Jez, the Baptist Bishop :-) OK, please don't quote me on that! :o
It was great to hear him say that he never saw so many people in our church; I actually thought we are a bit low. But beside that, worship was exciting, his sermon was great, we all had a wonderful time.

But what made my day was the lady who just popped in to ask if we will have a service of dedication for her baby. Completely out of the blue, non-churched mum. These are the people we are here to serve - Yes, God, please keep them coming!
All right, some of the people who still had a margin of hope for me might now declare me a blooming heretic for even considering this - but so what, a while ago people said that about some teacher from Galilee too.

Evening service was a bit of a damp squid by comparison - I had a bit of a struggle preaching today's Lectionary passage. Normally I wouldn't have touched the subject with a 10 foot pole, but I promised I'll follow the Lectionary for a whole year, and so far I've been a good boy. Or something.

Then we had a long discussion about the 'problem'. What do we do with all these teens that have been invading our church? Ha, if they keep it up, soon there'll be more youngsters than pensioners in the church, and then what do we do? Or something. (I see a pattern developing here)

And then later we had a group discussing what's the next step in our link with this orphanage/school/church/thing in Malawi. Great stuff. We may be a tiny church but who says we can't have a global impact?

So now I'm up trolling the blogs (great something-to-think-about article regarding The Coming of the Evangelical Collapse at Persona, here, borrowed from somewhere else, see the links at Persona.

Well, it's only 2 am, can't go to bed this early, can I?
OK, maybe I should leave this post and go get myself into some other mischief.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Slow start

Well, we were all excited about the new beginning last year - the celebration in the 'new' old church hall was great. It made a huge difference to be able to move back to the large lower hall - now our door opens to the street, the place looks welcoming and inviting, people walking on the street can look in during our services :-) - a lot of great stuff.
On the other hand, our worship team gave up the ghost after the Easter service. I was hoping we can move more towards a modern / contemporary service, but without the musicians, it hasn't been possible.
So when I was told they'll not play and lead the music in our church any more, I did what I usually do, started praying.
So obviously, the very next Sunday a new guy comes in, he just moved in the neighbourhood, wanted to join a church, and plays the piano.
It's not the old, upbeat group, but we have someone that can strike a bunch of notes on the keyboard. Thank you, Lord!

Been a few months since then. We had a GREAT Christmas season - over 100 people in the Carol service. The teens were amazing, everybody loved them. If you are in a church where 100 is how many people you get on a very bad Sunday, you have no idea what it is for our church. We haven't had 100 people since the 70's.

The youth club we started last year started great, went astray, died an early death, and now we have a new bunch of teens starting it over again. Hopefully we are doing it right this time.

And despite all our failures (mine, mostly...), the Lord is using us to influence lives, to be part of His work. We have such a great God!

Monday, 18 April 2011

A new beginning

Today we celebrated Palm Sunday. I don't always follow the church calendar or a lectionary or anything like that - other than celebrating Christmas and Easter and Mothering Sunday. But we celebrated Lazarus Sunday last week and Palm Sunday this week.

It's an interesting thing about Palm Sunday I never noticed until last week (err.. last night) as I was preparing the sermon for today. The passage in Zechariah prophecying about the coming of the Messiah - it has some awesome promises in it.
You know, it starts with
"Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
but then lower down in the passage, it promises,
"They will drink and roar as with wine;
they will be full like a bowl used for sprinkling the corners of the altar.
The LORD their God will save his people on that day as a shepherd saves his flock.
They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown.
How attractive and beautiful they will be!"
They could have had all this that day, if only they accepted him as their Lord. But instead, they moved, in a few hours, from worship, to being angry with him, to questioning his authority, to wanting to have him arrested, to trying to discredit him, and finally to plotting his murder.

OK, we are the Christian church, we don't plot to have Jesus killed - but maybe that's just because he is safely in heaven. But how often we reject him we reject his claims over us, we accept his gifts but we don't like what he is asking of us, and don't want to follow where he's leading. I get so frustrated when I see this in other Christians - but then I often catch myself doing the same.

He is Lord - if only we would submit to him! He is our guide - if only we would follow him! He is our God - if only we would worship him in reality and truth!

I got to think a lot at these things lately, as we as a church have taken the biggest step of faith since I came here. It eventually became obvious to me as well as to everyone else that we will not be able to move in the main hall any time soon. In the meantime the lower hall was getting unusable as well - we used to use it for sports activities for the brigades and the youth club, and occasionally for the Romanian bunch. But plaster used to fall off the wall every time we played any ball games, and there were a few cracks in the floor. So I got this idea of remodelling the hall and moving the church back there - that is the hall the church started in, and we would be moving back to our roots in a way.
The church caught this vision, and it snowballed from there, to the point that we have placed all our budget into this, in the faith that the Lord will step in and take our church forward.

We had the vision confirmed in many ways, but it's still so scary. We are one week from the big inauguration service one Easter Sunday, and there is more than two weeks' work still to do. Tomorrow we are starting one week of prayer. We are at the point at which either the Lord steps in and does some amazing things in our midst, or we die as a church. It's crunch time, and scary as it is, I feel so excited about it all! I can feel the buzz in the air. As I look into the eyes of my people, I can see the doubts and fear, but also the excitement and faith. I can see people growing through it all.

'The church that would not die' is being reborn this week. Not on Easter Sunday - it is this week of prayer that is the beginning of a new page for us. It's funny that we begin this on my birthday - I haven't even realised this until tonight. I am going into this week with no message, no service, no preparation, no religious stuff - we are going to just wing it. All I want is to come before God and be open to him - and receive whatever he has for us. But as we go into this week, I was caught by this promise, "They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown. How attractive and beautiful they will be!"

Thursday, 22 July 2010


Last week we celebrated one year since I was officially inducted as pastor of Ford. As I promised them, I took the first year to discover the strengths and weaknesses of the church; to see what spiritual gifts are there and what else we need; and to discover where the Lord is leading us, so we can build our vision and strategy based on the Lord's guidance rather than on our own wisdom or lack of.

Strengths are too many to count, but above all I enjoy the love and acceptance that is prevalent in this church. You can feel it the moment you step through the door. No, we're not perfect in this regard, but there is a solid core of love this church is built on.
Weaknesses - well, I better not publish them on a blog :-) I guess in the time I've been at Ford, I discovered more weaknesses in me than in the church.
On the spiritual gifts, I find it interesting that we generally had the gifts necessary for the direction the church is taking; and where we needed the gifts and didn't have them, the Lord sent the right people who fitted right in.

Where the Lord is leading us - that's the central thing, because our vision, mission and strategy depend on that - and the gifts and strengths are there to support them.

I guess the biggest surprise for me was the kids invasion. I have one child who's 14, the others are grown up. One other family in the church has an 18 year old. And these are the only 'kids' that come from the church family. Apart from them, there are 3 other teenagers that have been in the church for a while, even though their parents are not members of this church. So I did not think we have much of a chance to build a solid group of children and teenagers.

But then, our Boys Brigade and Girls Brigade began to grow - we have some 60 kids in them. And we started a youth club with 4 teens, and now we are being swamped with kids from the neighbourhood. So I guess the great thing is that we are becoming a true family-oriented community church. Which is what I have been dreaming of but didn't quite believe we can get. The Lord had this planned all along :-) The big thing now is to follow it up.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Huston, we've got a problem :-)

We are in the midst of the "10 days of prayer for Plymouth" campaign. Basically the church has been opened 24 hours a day for anyone to come in and pray, and we've been praying for a spiritual revival, and for people to come and meet the Lord in the churches anywhere in the city - secretly hoping the Lord will choose our church above all the others.

Well, about 5 minutes before the service started on Sunday morning, it was obvious we've got a problem. We run out of chairs. The room we meet in just couldn't fit any more people. Well, no more came, and happily in the end we did manage to find a seat for everyone. But what do we do now - do we stop praying or do we move back in the 'new' (1899) church hall?

Every now and then I discover new things about the history of our church. I guess we should call it 'the church that would not die'. Apparently, over 20 years ago the BU decided there are too many Baptist churches in Plymouth, and thought some should close and join with some of the bigger churches. Ours was one of the small churches that was supposed to close. It didn't.
Then a new pastor came, and he was pastor of two churches. So he decided that Ford should close and the Ford people should join his other church. Well, he left and the church is still here.

This is a church that shrunk from 400 to under 10 people. We have three different meeting halls - all built in the 19th century. Our mother church was the church where the people the Americans call the Pilgrim Fathers, worshipped in. We stand on the shoulders of giants - but at some point our church lost its way.

As I was standing in the new hall tonight, I was reminded of that verse - "if my people who are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." Who would have thought all it takes is for a small group of people to pray? I mean, isn't the church supposed to come with these great plans, and gimmics, and evangelistic strategies, and, well, that sort of stuff? Pray people into the Kingdom? Expect God to actually answer prayer? Experience the supernatural actions of God? See the Bible promises fulfilled? In a Baptist church?

I guess we have a bit more repenting and humbling and praying to do - the main church hall can seat a lot more people. And there are ever so many lost souls at our doorsteps!