Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Christmas 2008

I have come across the following and found them thought provoking as I prepared for Christmas - the poem is used at the beginning of the Thomas Merton piece (the whole of Merton's 'The Time of No Room' is well worth a read but be prepared to be challenged).

Happy Christmas to you!

"He who has come to men dwells where we cannot tell
nor sight reveal him,
until the hour has struck
when the small heart does break
with hunger for him;
those who do merit least,
those whom no tongue does praise
the first to know him,
and on the face of the earth
the poorest village street
blossoming for him."
Jane Tyson Clement

"The Time of No Room," Thomas Merton.
"Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world."

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Ambitious for what?

I have had 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 on my mind recently:
"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. "
It is an intriguing thing to be instructed to be ambitious for a quiet life as opposed to the amplified lives of visible activity, that announce busyness to a world that is obsessed by outward manifestations of work. Another bible translation talks about living a calm life, indeed, a calm life is exactly what is necessary in this disturbed and shaken world. What an uncertain and troubled
world needs are communities of disciples living unflappable, calm and quiet lives of faith and love. We need to ask ourselves whether we are contributing to the disturbance by trying to work our way out of difficult circumstances by frantic activity and our own endeavour or are we living the calm life of faith.
Minding your own business is also a big challenge to us! Too often we look over our shoulders at others like Peter did at John (John 21) and we need to hear Jesus saying to us, as he did to Peter "You must follow me." Minding your own business is about simply following - not sitting in judgement on others and making their business yours. Of course we should be allowing the principles of Matthew 18:15-17 to guide us so that we live accountable lives as Christ-like community but there is a difference between that and being busy-bodies!
The thing is that we all have work to do. There is a purpose to our lives - we are to get on with pursuing that which God has called us to do - getting on with it not for our own benefit but because what we do has an effect on those looking on. This is one of the things that we value as a church - everyone getting on with the work the Lord has given them rather than just the chosen few. You no doubt will have noticed that the church doesn't get very much respect. I think this may be because we haven't earned it by getting on with following Jesus in our daily lives, we have put too much focus on the church and not enough on Jesus.
We are called to be 'plantings of the Lord for the display of his splendour' (Isaiah 61:3) - sometimes I think we take our eyes off this truth and forget that the work of God in our lives will always be about enabling us to become something that shows his glory. I hope and pray that this Christmas and into the New Year we will be able to focus on becoming plantings of the Lord for his splendour.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Where we are up to....

A little while ago I wrote this for our first e-bulletin and thought I ought to include it on this blog....

Dear Friends,
I thought it was about time I shared some of my reflections regarding where we are up to at SMC especially in the light of our entry into a new pattern of gathering (consistent with) the direction we feel called to go as a church. The 9am Parish Communion service continues to develop on 3 Sunday’s per month – a traditional service with a warm and welcoming atmosphere. At 10.30am twice a month our central gatherings occur drawing together a larger group of people of all ages worshipping, encountering Jesus and responding to his word. Rachel Turner is beginning to get the measure of her task as Pioneer Children’s Leader and her creativity, openness to the Spirit and teaching gift is sure to be of great benefit to us. We have created exploration space for the development of a more significant change in the way we do church in MSC Sundays. These Sundays are the opportunity to search out the ways in which we can gather in groupings that are shaped by mission. Steadily things are taking shape for us; I expect we are going to learn an enormous amount over the months ahead.
Well done to all of you who are contributing to the process of MSC development already, to those who have ‘stepped up’ at central gatherings and have ‘stayed with’ SMC in the process of the closure of All Saints.
As we develop a new leadership structure for our new season, the leadership team has ceased to meet in favour of the creation of new structures. All those who have been involved in the leadership team will continue to serve as key leaders in this church. We all owe this group of people a big thank you for the way in which they have served and continue to serve.
One of the images I have worked with in thinking about SMC has been of this church as a tent community. Our recent and significant history as a church has been of the removal of ‘sacred’ buildings from our possession and the entry into a new way of being church that has a temporary, flexible and simple approach; a tent mentality. The way in which God’s people were organized and released to travel from Egypt to the Promised Land is of particular inspiration as well as the way in which the early church worked. Recently I have been struck by the need to make sure we have a ‘base camp’ that fulfills the purpose of supporting the missionary vision of the church. I believe that some of you will feel a call to the base to resource, pray for and support the work of those who are called to establish missional communities. Base camp, of course, is vital for the success of any expedition.
I think this is a really amazing place to live and serve and I am grateful for being with people who genuinely want to see God’s kingdom come in Harrogate. God has called us to something distinctive and special and I am looking forward to seeing what he will do in the coming months and years.
Thanks for your support and prayers,
Mark Carey

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Fishing on the right side - creating new families

At the end of John's gospel we find the account of Jesus directing the disciples who had been fishing all night without success to put their nets over the other side and they will make a catch. They haul in 153 fish.
This passage has occured a number of times recently as groups of us have prayed.
For me it brings to mind that as a church we have been called by God to cast our net over the other side of the boat - the 'right side' for us. The process of moving into missionary communities will at times be uncomfortable if only because we have been so used to a certain style and way of doing and being church. For many of us church in a certain way is ingrained - the neuroscientists talk of the brain circuits we develop - often considered to be very hard, if not impossible, to change. Penny and I went on a day conference recently on adoption and the attachment issues raised for children who have truamatic start to life. One of the speakers gave the following quote;

"What is helpful about recent neuroscientific evidence is that change is certainly possible throughout the life span. We might never erase the old experiences and their related brain circuit but we can build new experiences and their related brain circuits, new expectations, new circuits in the brain" Miriam Steele. Creating New Families.
Our journey is one of building new experiences, new expectations and new circuits - it is about creating new 'families' - communities of disciples in mission. That is our kind of fishing.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Breakout - Revealing mysteries

A few of us went down to St Andrew's Chorleywood for a day conference called 'Breakout.'

We heard from them about how they have seen MSC's enabling them to breakout from the confines of a church building and consumerist attitude. They have seen many more people becoming Christians and many more Christians becoming disciples. I say that deliberately as it seems that most church growth produces Christians but being Christian isn't just about believing in Father, Son and Holy Spirit it is about following the Lord and having this Lord in our lives means our lives are to revolve around him not vice versa.

I want to the Chorleywood day knowing that to seek to release groups/communities of people in mission is the right direction to go in but reflecting on an ongoing struggle with the 'how to'. What is the process that releases people as the missionaries they truly are? I came back sure about the direction, helped and encouraged yet still challenged by the mysteries of it all.

I was reading the book of Daniel this morning and came to the part where Daniel has prayed and heard from the Lord what Nebuchadnezzer has dreamed and what his dream means. He is able to save the lives of many because he is able to here and receive from God. He stands in front of the most powerful king of those times and is able to say
"but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries."
I believe that we will see people's lives saved as we learn to trust in the God who reveals mysteries and I believe that the Lord is confirming that he will reveal the mystery of this current time.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Responding to Halloween

I was amazed last year at the number of people engaging in Halloween related activities here in Harrogate. Evangelical Christians tend to be suspicious about Halloween and over the years have tried to offer children alternatives on the night itself. I am, and have been for some time now, a bit disturbed regarding the lack of reflection and prayer that goes on amongst Christians to do with this. We need to know why we say no to Halloween and make our response a positive one.
Why don't we support Halloween?

The menace effect
There is a degree of menace at times to do with Halloween that goes beyond 'mischief'. Even though most trick & treater's will not respond by doing something nasty - there is a threat in the air, some fear sown into people's lives. To some people (not all) there is a fear of harm at Halloween.

The overemphasis on darkness & the celebration of the representation of evil
We are familiar with the contrast in the Bible of light and darkness. We are not supposed to have anything to do with things that are dark - we are children of the light. We don't need to be afraid of the dark because light overcomes darkness (John 1) but we can't be found to be relating to or colluding with things that represent darkness (that which is not God). Halloween continually overemphasises things that can only be associated with darkness.
Lets take the previous thought one step further... the 'fruitless deeds of darkness' - things that are evil are not to be celebrated. We need to focus on good things, on the giver of all good gifts.

What to do?

Look for the opportunities of Halloween as well as the threats
We need to recognise that there have to be times and places of connection with good and evil - people are continuously telling us, and indicating that they are spiritual... but they have less time for religion. If we have a religious response to Halloween it will come over as negative and unhelpful but if we can engage with the issues of good and evil, have a good theology and practice of the kingdom coming and invading people's lives and a dark world and some creativity then lots could happen.

Earn the right to speak into people's lives
Back to the danger of being 'religious'. People do not want us to be telling them that they are wrong, bad or sinful. They see these things in our lives anyway - they know that we are not perfect and believe that in many ways we are hypocrites. Through relationship and consistency of contact and authentic effective Christian living we will earn the right to speak into people's lives.

Hold a gentle but firm, principled line
We always need to be prepared to give an answer on where we stand and why we stand there regarding Halloween - work out what you are going to say. Don't condemn someone elses thoughts or responses. I think people respect principled stands they don't respect hypocrisy or flakiness.

Develop a ministry and not a hit and run event

An event without connection to good ongoing kids and youth work is not useful. What happened to engaging with whole families? All our events at Halloween seem to be primarily children based? Things to do with good and evil, the right approach to death and thinking about death, light and darkness are all things that we need to equip young and old to deal with throughout their lives not occasionally at Halloween.

Final thought
Over the last couple of years we have bought a pumpkin and carved it with the children and put candles in it. Shock horror! We have always carved christian symbols as well as faces in the pumpkin and it has always proved to be a good way of discussing Halloween with the children.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

A quote I am thinking about

"...there exists in every church something that sooner or later works against
the very purpose for which it came into existence. So we must strive very hard,
by the grace of God to keep the church focussed on the mission that Christ
originally gave to it". C.S. Lewis

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Cheer up!

I love the way in which people spoke to Bartimaeus the blind man when Jesus told them to call him. They said "Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you".

What a great combination of attitude and action. We can cheer others up from the basis of our faith and trust in the one who has called us and will call them. We can enable them to get on their feet so they can move towards Jesus - you can picture people hauling the beggar up and ushering him towards Jesus.
It strikes me that this is all we are asked to do - Jesus does the rest. With Bartimaeus he interviewed him about his need and then met it and he will do the same with those that we cheer up and help towards him.
So if you are feeling a bit gloomy or despondent today... cheer up! He's calling you! Get on your feet and draw near to him.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Giving is...

I'd better explain - we are in the midst of our regular vision and commitment process.
We cast the vision for the coming year with vision targets and seek to prayerfully respond. We believe that where God calls he equips, but also understand that often we are the answers to our own prayers. So we have to ask questions, with the Lord, about what and when and how we give. We certainly need to revisit the key principles of biblical giving. I work on the basis of 'tithe & offering' as I am a simple soul that needs a framework and I find this in the Bible. I seek to give a minimum of 10% (tithe) to the part of the body of Christ that I belong with and I seek to give 'offerings' over and above what I am already giving.

Our vision targets for this year are:
BASE - to build up our 'base camp' - the church centre with appropriate admin and communications to be able to support the mission of the whole church. Building development, staff costs, practical things like the website.
COMMUNITIES - to build up and invest in the development of MSC's, releasing at least two MSC's in 2009
PIONEER - to fund the employment of Rachel as a pioneer to build up and develop work amongst children and families

While thinking about giving the following thoughts occurred to me.

Giving is....
... devotion. Our hearts, our worship, our love for him not of money
Jesus said something about treasure and hearts. When I give I demonstrate devotion - where my heart is.

Giving is....
... discipline. Martin Luther talked about people needing two conversions, one of the heart and the second of the pocketbook(wallet). Finances that aren't submitted to God get in the way of my relationship with him. Jesus said 'when you give' - in other words it is part of life - a discipline. It is something we have to learn and develop in our lives. It is good training to give.

Giving is....
...development. Our relationship with the Lord will develop and grow at times through the exercise of trust and faith to do with finances. Sometimes I will be stretched in my finances in order to help me grow in faith – he may ask me to give, to sacrifice as a loving act that releases more blessing and more trust in him. Furthermore God doesn't need us to give - he doesn't need money - but he does want us to exercise the kingdom principle of 'freely you have received, freely give'. In the exercise of giving, of sometimes being broken in this area we find that other breakthroughs come.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Bread upon waters

Yesterday in our second MSC Exploration gathering someone was reminded of Ecclesiastes 11:1 & 6.

Cast your bread upon the waters,
for after many days you will find it again...
...Sow your seed in the morning,
and at the evening let not your hands be idle,
for you do not know which will succeed,
whether this or that,
or whether both will do equally well

Well, I know that God gives daily bread because Jesus tells us to ask for it, and I think that was yesterdays daily bread for us as we met together to explore MSC's. We would all love to have the detail, know whath we are doing, not to have to engage in this way - but we are casting our bread upon the waters and we are sowing our seed. We have to trust that the Lord will lead us as he has promised and not be put off or demoralised by the messy and challenging nature of this time.

We are beginning to create multiple places for people to belong:

  • the 9am Holy Communion

  • men getting together for encouragement and accountabilty in 2's & 3's

  • small groups (housegroups)

  • central gatherings

  • prayer meetings

  • MSC exploration

these and other areas are good enough for people to have belonging and encounter the Lord. We just need to come as open people expectant that daily bread will be given to us.

Saturday, 27 September 2008


If I was going to start something new I would

  • Pray

  • Find out who else wanted to do it with me

  • Spend time with them praying (and eating)

  • Work with the idea of UP-IN-OUT always in mind

  • Check my plan with the church leader for accountability

  • Get on with it

  • Be prepared for it to feel like it is impossible at times

  • Trust that when God calls he equips

Friday, 22 August 2008

Relationship First

Sometime last week Mark 6:6b-13 came to mind. It is when Jesus sends out the 12 Disciples and gives instructions to them. He tells them to take the bare minimum, to go in pairs and to only stay where there is a welcome and a listening ear. What he doesn't need to tell them to do is call people to turn to God, drive out evil from peoples lives and do healing. Why? Because anyone who spends time with Jesus will do these kind of things - it goes with the territory - they do what they saw Jesus doing. That's a challenge for us!

I like the thought that there is another implication in what Jesus tells them not to take... it is that going out in pairs with just a staff (well everyone needs something to lean on) and the clothes they stand in is enough. It is enough to have someone to walk with, someone to travel with - that is enough to do what Jesus did.

There has been a recognition amongst quite a number of us who lead churches in Harrogate that we need to walk together. That walking together is good. It isn't about spending all the time with each other or being exactly like each other it is simply about seeking to do what we can together... walk. The Outpouring gatherings have been a case in point, the regular monthly prayer meetings and we hope also the gathering of the church leaders at Wydale in September will be a manifestation of this.

A friend of mine, in commenting about the current outpouring (visitation) of the Spirit that we are seeing, said "don't live the experience... live relationship... where power is increased and outpoured seek to build community". Wise words. In the kingdom it is always relationship first.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

What a great week!

We had a fantastic time at New Wine North and East.

The weather was good - which helped a great deal - but there was also a tangible sense of the presence of God. One night 20 people (at a holiday week for Christians) invited Jesus into their lives and throughout the week people were getting healed and set free and generally having a great time!

We have returned tired but encouraged.

For Penny and I and the kids it was special to be with so many members of our new family here in Harrogate - you are a lovely bunch of people who can do serious damage for the kingdom!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

SMC at New Wine North and East

Well a whole load of us from SMC are going to New Wine - joining the Harrogate encampment on Red 8 at Newark. Delegate numbers are heading towards 5500 and team members bring us up to over 6000 for this 4th northern conference/holiday. Penny and I are involved in helping to lead and have worked out that this is probably the 17th New Wine Summer conference we have been to. Wow! We love New Wine and how through it we have met with God, others and been able to be equipped to beter serve God in our daily lives. We have seen his kingdom come in our lives through new Wine and want that for our children and for SMC.

I was reading Mark 6 and 8 this morning and thinking about the miracles of 5000 and 4000 being fed by Jesus. I noticed 5 common areas in Jesus feeding thousands (there may of course be more).

1) Thousands had gathered - yes obvious I know - but in a culture that constantly emphasises the selfish individual need and undermines corporate community life it is important to remember that Jesus related a great deal to crowds and not just me! One of the reasons why New Wine is great is that it gives us the chance to get involved in something that is bigger where normally we are in our own little worlds doing our own little thing.

2) Jesus had compassion. In the feeding of the 5000 his compassionate response was to lead them as they were like sheep without a shepherd. There is a desperate need for leadership in our day which is why it is one of our priorities as a church - to lead like Jesus. This is a compassionate response to the need around us.
Secondly in the feeding of the 4000 his compassionate response was to feed them - there is of course a desperate need in our times for people to meet with Jesus who is the bread that satisfies.
If people are led without feeding they will collapse and if fed without leading they will become fat - neither of which are things that we want to encourage. Jesus knows we need leading and feeding and in his compassion he does this and calls us to partner with him in it.

3) Jesus did a lot with a little. We are, at present, a small church with correspondingly few resources to work with. The tendency for us is to think we can't therefore do much because we have so little. This is not kingdom thinking - Jesus did a lot with a little and will do a lot with the little we have. Where he calls... he equips.

4) There was food left over. I believe that the true merit of things like New Wine is that they give us food to be distributed after the conference is over. Because we come hungry we are filled, and the overflow is of blessing to others. We can, though, leave the baskets of left-overs sitting unused and we have to resolve to say that we will not let that which God has provided go stale.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Summer 2008 Text of a letter given out Sunday 20th July

SMC: A Community of Communities
Simply loving, living and leading like Jesus

Dear friends,

We are moving into a time of transition for the church that will be gathering pace from September onwards. In order to make the transition our focus has been very much on readying the church centre for reoccupation and doing the initial thinking regarding developing mid-sized mission shaped communities (MSC’s).
We will move from being based around a Sunday service at the Grammar school to meeting in a larger gathering twice a month (1st & 3rd Sunday). During the autumn term on the 2nd and 4th Sundays we will still be meeting together in the church centre to explore the dispersal into the MSC’s further. In January we will take the next step ‘out of the boat’.

Do look at my blog via the SMC website or this link and you will find some of my reflections on MSC’s amongst other things.
I expect that we could explore starting up some MSC’s with a specific mission focus such as:
1) Family MSC
Vision: Encouraging and Supporting Families
2) Footprints MSC
Vision: Connecting with the wider community
3) Life beyond loss MSC
Vision: Caring for those who have experienced loss in one way or another
4) (Younger Adults MSC?) (Cold Bath Community MSC?)
Vision: Building community of faith amongst those who are spiritual but not religious(?)
These are just thoughts at the moment but I wonder whether as you reflect on these kinds of things over the summer that you may feel you would want to be part of one of those areas. You may even have a vision for leadership in one of them. Over the summer I am most available during the last two weeks of August if you want to get together and talk this through. Simply phone me on 07841595203 or email me

We want to get the SMCentre redecorated over the Summer – please don’t leave it to the usual suspects – spare a morning or an evening to help out. Andrew Clarke can advise you.

Pioneer Children’s Leader.
Do pray that we are able to get the Cold Bath Road flat sorted out quickly for Rachel and Mark Turner to move into at the end of September. Some of us will be meeting Rachel at New Wine.
Until Rachel arrives we will be carrying on working together to support the children’s groups. Again, ‘transition’ is the word… Rachel will need help and support as she takes things on.

Parish Communion.
Our 9am Holy Communion service is taking shape. This service has a traditional feel with liturgy and hymns and is open to all (not just those who have been involved with All Saints). If you feel that the MSC’s may be a little hard for you to feel at home in why not see if the 9am parish communion is a better place to belong. The meeting room, to the surprise of some, makes a very worshipful chapel-like venue and I envisage services being held in there indefinitely.
Please pray for those who are making the transition from All Saints to this service and those who are making a transition to other churches after much prayer and reflection.

The Anglican Communion.
Do pray for the gathering of Bishop’s called the Lambeth Conference that is happening at the moment. The political game playing, bad press and absence of up to a third of the conservative Bishop’s will keep this in the public gaze. I’m not sure how much of it will be good news and I feel sad that things have come to this. As I write I am reminded of Hosea 6 and especially the first few verses – why don’t you look these up and use them as a basis for praying for the worldwide church and especially the Anglican Communion.

Here comes the summer! Keep an eye on the FYI and website for details of services.
A good number of us are going to New Wine and onto other holidays – have a great time wherever you are going.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Baptisms at SMC

Today we are celebrating! Matt (12) and Timmy (11) are being baptised and we are gathering with them to eat together and make a public spectacle of this important decision.
I will be speaking from Acts 8 - the bit where Philip meets the Ethiopian Eunuch (an important official of the Egyptian court). The encounter ends with the Ethiopian saying "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptised?" He has heard, received and accepted the good news of Jesus - he believes and therefore the next obviously step is to fully identify himself, immerse himself in the way of the gospel. I will be speaking about the three commitments we see in Philip 1. to Christ 2. to the body of Christ 3. to the work of Christ in the world.

But it strikes me that there are other things to learn from Philip...

1) He followed instruction
An 'angel' tells him the barest detail - where to go and Philip goes. We tend to press for more detail and over complicate things... Philip trusts and goes. we have to prepared to go following Christ with less detail trusting that the detail will come. In the current outpouring of the Spirit this is one of the things that I see happening - a preparedness to follow instruction and be obedient.
2) Philip responded to opportunity
He knew he was in the right place but still had to wait for the opportunity - at one point Philip was instructed again to go to a certain chariot and 'stay near it'. We are not told how long he 'stayed near it' but being near it brought about the opportunity - he saw the man reading something he knew something about. Sometimes we are called to run alongside and observe, waiting for more instruction - don't be hasty... the opportunity will come.
3) He told the good news
With an invitation from the Ethiopian Philip launched into explaining the gospel starting from where the man was. Our starting point can be different - we have a tendency to start from where we are which is different from where a newcomer to the good news is. Sometimes where we start sounds anything but good news to someone else. For instance, we start with 'church' whereas truly the best place to start is Jesus. How are we at thinking and explaining the good news? is it good news to us? Have we got a reason for the hope we have?
4) He stayed until it was right to go
Philip baptised the Ethiopian and then, it seems, his job was done and the Lord took him to pastures new. Too often we over-stay, or go before it is completed often depending on our personalities and the things that drive us. But if our commitment is first to Christ and open to his guuidance by the power of the Spirit we will know the answer to the question should I stay or should I go?
I hope these thoughts will be helpful to you.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Don't look at the fog!

Last Sunday I told the story that the Evangelist Charles Inglis told of George Mueller - one of the great men of God in the 1800's.

Inglis said that on his first journey across the Atlantic to America he got to know the Captain of the Steamer he was travelling on. He was impressed by the Captains devotion to God and found that the state of the Captains faith was largely due to an encounter with George Mueller just five weeks previously.

He said that he had been on the bridge of the ship and received a visit from Mueller "Captain," said Mueller, "I have come to tell you that I must be in Quebec on Saturday afternoon." This was Wednesday. "It is impossible," said the Captain, to which Mueller replied, "very well, if your ship can't take me God will find some other means of locomotion to take me. I have never broken an arrangement in fifty-seven years."

The Captain expressed his helplessness and Mueller proposed that they go down to the chart room and pray.

The Captain said to Inglis that at this point his thoughts were along the lines of what lunatic asylum this man came from. He said "Mr Mueller, do you know how dense this fog is?"

Mueller replied "No, my eye is not on the density of the fog, but on the living God, who controls every circumstance of my life."

Mueller went down on his knees, and he prayed a most simple prayer something like this:

"O Lord, if it is consistent with thy will, please remove this fog in five minutes, You know the engageement you made for me in Quebec for Saturday. I believe it is your will." The Captain said that he was about to pray also when Mueller told him not to and said,

"First you do not believe God will do it; and, second, I believe He has done it and there is no need whatever for you to pray about it." The Captain said "I looked at him, and George Mueller said this: 'Captain, I have known my Lord for fifty-seven years and there has never been a single day that I have failed to gain an audience with the King. Get up, Captain and you will find the fog has gone.' I got up, and the fog was gone. On Saturday afternoon George Mueller was in Quebec."

Defining MSC at SMC

Medium-sized - 15-35 people but can start smaller

Mission-shaped - defined by a common vision

Community - building a shared life

"big enough to compete and small enough to care"

"small enough to have a common vision and big enough to do something about it"

Friday, 6 June 2008

SMC Changing... some FAQ's (frequently asked questions)

What is the plan?

  • During the Summer of 2008 reoccupy and resettle the SMC Centre/Hall.
  • During the Autumn 2008 begin to focus on two main organised worship gatherings with children's work, worship, teaching and ministry per month.
  • The intervening times we will begin to explore, envision and develop MSC's (medium-sized/mission-shaped communities).
  • We will seek to appoint a Pioneer Leader to work especially amongst children and tweenagers from September 2008.
Here are some of the things I would say in answer to questions that people may find they don’t always get time to ask/reflect on regarding what we are doing/developing at SMC...
Why don’t we just continue to do what we are already doing?

  • there is a town to call back to God and generations of people (especially younger people/children) who are open to God
  • what we do at present is good but not missionary - we are able to do UP and IN to some extent but we are less effective at doing OUT.
  • our focus is primarily Sunday based and service orientated – designed to attract people but in a limited way
  • we are finding it hard to resource a Sunday by Sunday service pattern and don't want maintaining a Sunday event to be the be-all and end-all of SMC
  • we don’t want to grow on the back of transferring Christians from one church to another
  • 24/7 discipleship is not being promoted and encouraged adequately
  • it seems that the loss of identifiable church buildings has positioned us to do a new thing and take advantage of a new and unusual opportunity
Why MSC’s?

  • because this medium-sized grouping enables us to be large enough to compete but small enough to care
  • because MSC’s can be mission focused in a way that larger gatherings often can’t
  • because MSC’s offer a primarily social feel thus enabling a higher degree of participation and ability for people to belong on this level that they can’t on other levels
  • because MSC’s can be flexible and gather in all sorts of different types of places and ways
  • because MSC’s embrace what is best described as ‘biblical congregation’ – the kind of grouping that St Paul was setting up, teaching and serving e.g. Corinth
  • because the thing I have most often heard from the Lord as I have prayed regarding direction has been regarding being a tent community with a tent mentality - and MSC's have the potential to be such things

Wednesday, 28 May 2008


Amongst a certain section of the church - especially those who are within streams associated with the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements there is considerable interest in what is happening at Lakeland, Florida. Todd Bentley - quite a character and not remotely 'english' in his approach - is seeing extraordinary healing miracles happening at meetings at Lakeland.

A church in Dudley in the West Midlands is also experiencing this outpouring as the Pastor returned from Lakeland. Various people I know are heading out to Lakeland and I await with interest their report on what they have seen and experienced.

The Toronto Blessing saw a significant outpouring of the Spirit in the mid to late '90's and many of us have been waiting to see what the Lord will do next as the times between 'outpourings' or 'awakenings' seem to get shorter and shorter. These things do cause controversy. As we saw with the Toronto Blessing people took up very strong positions yet many of us will vouch for a life-changing experience of the refreshing and reviving power of the Spirit.

Don't Take Offense and Don't Judge

It is so easy for us to say we will be open to God. However our attitude so often is really that our openness to God is subject to certain rules we put into place. When we experience the power of the Spirit, when we see the kingdom coming and people getting healed etc we want it to be in acceptable ways. We would rather we didn't have to get out of our comfort zones, we would rather it wasn't someone like Todd Bentley who doesn't fit our image of a leader in these kind of things. Sometimes our minds are offended so our hearts can be revealed.

I don't know yet whether this is going to be as significant as Toronto - but I do know that I don't want to miss out on anything God may be doing. I have seen people missing out totally on something God is doing - sometimes even choosing not to go that way - I see the danger of being like the people of Nazareth who didn't recognise and welcome Jesus when he came to them. He was only able to do a small number of healings rather than many that other areas saw because of their lack of faith.

I made a decision in the late '90's to seek to be open to whatever God may do - however strange the manifestations and however it came culturally. If God is on the bandwagon then I also want to be.

I don't understand fully what all this is about. Fortunately I understand this as a main factor of being a disciple - there are things I don't understand. My expectation for many years now has been that the next wave of the Spirit would be missionary in character, not just for refreshing within the church but for new life outside the boundaries of church-life. If the recent impact of Bill Johnson's teaching on the UK charismatic and pentecostal churches has any lesson to teach us it is that the Spirit is not given for cosy church life. It is on the streets, in the ordinary things of life that the kingdom comes. If we are finding that this is a time when the dunamis/dynamite of the Spirit is seen as a catalyst for us getting out more then I will have a bit of that thank you very much.

Any way, what have I got to lose? As far as I can see on the UK church scene the only way is up. We need an outpouring of the Spirit and we need it now.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Values 1 At the Lord's Command

We are using the meeting room at our church centre more and more as a meeting with God room. A kind of 'chapel' is developing and we are now praying in there 5 mornings a week.

One of our readings the other day was from Numbers - Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy in the Old testament show the movement of God's people from fleeing slavery to fighting and winning through to the promised land. Numbers 9:15-end is an absolutely crucial passage to remember and seek to live by. The verse that summarises what the whole passage is about is verse 23:

"At the Lord's command they encamped, and at the Lord's command they set out."

So above the Communion table we have imported into the meeting room we now have these words reminding us that this is one of the key values for SMC. We seek to function at the Lord's command and to do so we need a constant state of readiness. Are we able to simply go when the Lord call us to go? Are we living simple enough lives, are our lives gummed up with things that may be good but aren't God?

In January 2007 Penny and I felt the Lord was calling for us to de-clutter. We cleared out loads of our stuff, the kid's stuff, the things in the loft and the things under the stairs - we tried to follow the Lord's command. Little did we know that during the Summer we would be moving and that this action of de-cluttering would help us make what turned out to be a swift move much more easily.

As I prepared to begin my time leading here I felt the Lord reminding time after time of the need for simplicity and a tent-mentality - being able to move and ready to move. Leading a simple and de-cluttered movement of God's people.

At times this seems a distant hope... but still we say that we will live at the Lord's command.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

What is in your heart?

Jesus said "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10)

What was in Jesus' heart was a desire to promote life - not just survival life - but true life... a full life. He was contrasting his own mission and desire, his heart, with that of the enemy whose focus is on destruction.

It struck me as I looked at this that I needed to check what is in my heart - is it life? Am I motivated by a desire to promote life? Is what I am doing life-giving? This is a key question to be regularly asked of ourselves. So often we can be caught up in that which is ultimately not life-giving. I can be involved in things that are good but not God. But we are called to tread the path of life, to promote life in all we do
so... what is in your heart?

Monday, 3 March 2008

A place of Spaces: The Four Spaces of Belonging

So I've been reading this book'The Search to Belong' by Joseph Myers. Myers reckons that people connect in four different spaces

1) Public Space

2) Social Space

3) Personal Space

4) Intimate Space

each space has degrees of intimacy and we have important connections at all levels.

I took my eldest boy to see Arsenal play Aston Villa three weeks ago. We were with 60,000 other people and yet experienced great connection and a real sense of fulfillment (especially when we scored the equaliser with about 30 seconds to spare!). Recently I met up with someone who I share a significant degree of intimacy with - I felt better for spending an hour with him. We had another family round for a meal and spent a lovely afternoon just being together - social space. I met up with my leadership team last Tuesday and that felt like significant personal space.

Are any of these spaces more important than others? No. Belonging at SMC is going to have to avoid law-based approaches that say 'if you jump through these hoops then you are in' and we are going to need to seek to allow people to belong at different levels. But whilst we miss out or don't prioritise one of these spaces adequately we are going to disallow people from being part of the body of Christ.

I'd like to see SMC becoming 'a place of spaces' - we are pursuing a vision of being a community of communities - so our whole community gatherings are the public 'services', our gatherings as mid-sized mission communities are the social spaces, small groups are personal spaces and things like accountability groups, partnerships and prayer triplets are the places of intimacy.
But to be a place of spaces we need loads of flexibility and grace. Jesus didn't force people into relationship with him - but he did call them and so can we.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

What about the Gatekeepers?

Jackie asked about the gatekeepers... I reckon that every community has gatekeepers or watchmen - if we are to build community, take a lead in communities we will find it really difficult without the openness of these people. Often they may be opinion formers, people whose judgement is trusted by others. Sometimes they may be people who have occupied a position of power in a group enough to mean that they have the key to that group and if they don't turn the key then no one will. Sometimes a leader has to seek the removal of a watch-person who is too controlling or choose another bunch of sheep to lead!

Leadership certainly is messier than 5 points in John 10!

Further thoughts: It seems to me that every flock has a sheep pen, a pasture to go to, a shepherd to lead it and gatekeepers who watch over it.

It is interesting that Jesus goes on to say that he is the gate for the sheep - maybe that's what we need to watch out for - watchmen/gatekeepers who have a humility about them so much so that they know that it is Jesus himself who is the gate - that it isn't about them but rather Jesus because "whoever enters through me will be saved".

Monday, 11 February 2008

Leading at SMC - Faith-based and Apostolic

It occurs to me that I ought to say something further about leading at SMC and especially where I am coming from... my leadership emphasis.

I prioritise faith-based leadership - confident that I/we can hear and see the Lord and therefore will be led out by him. Jesus said 'as the Father has sent me so I send you' - we are an apostolic people and supposed to lead apostolically as those who are sent.

I seek to use Lifeshapes (see & especially the Circle and the Square to help me to lead. The Circle helps me to live a life of constant learning - repent and believe. The Square helps me to see different leadership styles that I need to function in a different times. I make many mistakes and have my share of failures yet tools like 'Lifeshapes' are crucial to keeping me in an apostolic frame of mind.

Mike Breen talks about the need to be 'a shepherd from in front and a sheep from behind' - in other words I need at the same time a leader and led, a shepherd and a sheep.

Sunday, 10 February 2008


I will return to the subject of belonging and community soon however I have been thinking a little bit about leadership today so thought I would blog on this.

We can't escape from the biblical image of shepherding. Jesus says

"the gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice." (John 10:3,4)

This morning as we were worshipping in this glorious hubbub of community at HGS I was reminded of this passage (esp.v3) and here's a number of things that I am thinking about in response:

1) Leadership has to be legitimised - we earn the right to lead. You don't get to lead the sheep unless you are in some way or other authorised/allowed to lead. Too often this has been construed as a way of keeping leadership to a few 'special ones' - we are mad to go down this route - I prefer to say that all can lead but our leadership has to be legitimised. I think we often earn the right to lead through loving service of others, through exercising initiative and taking responsibility. As we do these things the gatekeepers allow us in... then we can lead further.

2) Leaders are listened to - the sheep listen to the shepherds voice - she/he is legitimate, trusted and they are open to guidance and help. So a leader needs to ask whether they are being listened to - if they aren't it could be because their leadership isn't legitimised (hasn't been earned) or conversely because the sheep have decided not to be sheep (not open to guidance and help). I'm only to aware of how stubborn and proud we/I can be - unteachable - and how it seems to me that sheep are uniquely designed to need guidance and help and not to is to reject all that is good for them (I think Neil Coles in his book 'Organic Church' says something along these lines).

3) Leaders call - a leader identifies those who are their sheep (remember Jesus talked about being called to the lost sheep of Israel - he was quite specific about who he aimed at and who he called - 12 disciples). I believe that a leader calls people to the vision that the Lord has given them. Am I/are you calling people to my/your vision?

4) Leaders lead out - leading has to have a direction to it and I am sure that it has to be an outward movement - the sheep aren't meant for the sheep pen they are designed for the pasture. In my last church someone gave me a prophecy that I was to be a shepherd who led the sheep from a pasture that was finished with (pastures can be overgrazed and therefore unable to provided nourishment) to a new pasture but that we would have to go through a valley to get there... how true! I was able to leave my previous church with a new pasture to graze in (though there were still sheep who hankered after the old pasture!)

5) Leaders go on ahead - here is what we need to do once we have led our sheep to new pastures... we continue to go on ahead. We don't get waylaid by the demands now of maintaining the flock... we need to go on ahead as by now the sheep are willing to follow us to new pastures because they know us and trust us.

Of course all this needs to be reflected on in the light of Jesus being our true leader. He is the model which is why this passage of his teaching in John 10 is so important for us. True leadership is learnt from the true leader ... the good shepherd.

Friday, 1 February 2008

True Community

I have been waiting with anticipation for a book by Joseph R. Myers to arrive. Called 'The Search to Belong' and subtitled 'rethinking intimacy, community and small groups' I reckon it might be just the right thing to be reading as I lead SMC through a vision casting and implementation process that is focussed on becoming a community of communities. At time of updating this blog I am still only in the first chapter and already feeling disturbed and challenged in how glibly I use and have used the words 'belonging' and 'community'.
Myer's quotes from someone called Larry Crabb;
"The future of the church depends on whether it develops true community. We can get by for a while on size, skilled communication, and programs to meet every need, but unless we sense we belong to each other; with masks off, the vibrant church of today will become the powerless church of tomorrow. Stale, irrelevant, a place of pretense where sufferers suffer alone, where pressure generates conformity rather than the Spirit creating life - that's where the church is headed unless it focusses on community."
Hmmmm .... makes you think doesn't it?
I really want to see true community developing associated with SMC but I realise that we are going to have to process the question of belonging in relation to community because as Myers puts it "Most of us have always believed that a person could 'belong' as long as their definition of belonging agreed with ours."
More on this at some point soon.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Falling to the ground and dieing

I have been looking at Jesus' words in John 12 recently about being like a grain or kernel of wheat falling to the ground and dieing:
Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
"Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!"
Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

Challenging words to start the new year with... in all sorts of different situations I have found myself being drawn back to this passage - perhaps it is a reminder from God that I am committed to being simply like Jesus and that my life like his is all about giving the Father glory - not having it for myself and that my life is about being 'set aside and laid down' for him (as the Methodist Covenant prayer puts it).