For Such A Time As This…

In my last blog post, I reflected on The Annunciation and what we could learn from the example of Mary in how we deal with the unexpected changes in our lives at the moment.

As I pondered on this, I was struck by the examples of a number of other Bible characters and how we could take inspiration from each of them as we navigate these uncertain times and find a new “normal” in the way we live, work, relate and worship. This then gave me the idea for a series of blogs over the coming weeks…

Last week, whilst reading the story of Esther, I was again struck by the wisdom in the words of her relative Mordecai, spoken to her as they faced the real possibility of the Jewish people being wiped out by the King and his scheming advisor, Haman. The Jews have been in exile in this foreign land for generations and, on finding herself in the King’s palace, chosen as his favourite and made Queen, Esther has hidden her Jewish heritage for her own protection.

Mordecai asks Esther to use her position of influence to appeal to the King and save the Jews, revealing herself as one in the process. When she hesitates – not unreasonably under the circumstances – Mordecai makes a bold statement: “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

The people of God are being called to stand up and be beacons of hope... for such a time as this

We are in a unique position, both now and when the restrictions on socialising are eased. Advancements in technology are allowing us new ways of interacting with people, sharing ideas and resources, encouraging one another and setting up support groups to care for those who need us.

Churches are embracing opportunities to hold meetings by Zoom, to stream prayers and thoughts for the day from the Vicar’s living room, to offer Bible reading plans and daily devotionals. Entire church services are being offered live online and some churches are finding that their virtual congregations are significantly bigger than those on a typical Sunday morning when we meet in the flesh. The people of God are being called to stand up and be beacons of hope… for such a time as this

This is clearly a desperate situation for our world. Loneliness and isolation were recognised as a problem within our communities long before the terms “social distancing” and “self-isolation” came into common usage. Foodbanks were already in high demand and support agencies like CAP were already at capacity for the number of people in financial difficulty that they could reasonably help. And yet here we are, with all of these things becoming ever more important as people are unable to work, families are having to find extra meals for children that would usually be cared for at school, the sick and elderly are being told to become even more isolated, looking at the prospect of 12 weeks without significant contact…

We have a unique opportunity to bring light into darkness, hope into despair, love into isolation.

And this is where we come in. The Church. The Body of Christ. We have a unique opportunity to bring light into darkness, hope into despair, love into isolation. Telephone those people who are lonely and isolated. Help someone who is afraid of technology to get online and video-call a loved one. Donate money to foodbanks if you can’t physically contribute food items at this moment. Put a candle, rainbow or other sign of hope in your window. Wave at your neighbours each day, offering a smile and a word of kindness from the window/doorway/garden. As social media platforms are so keen to tell us nowadays… #BeKind.

The world will be a different place when we come out of this time of fear and disorientation, and people are going to need each other. How the Church, both as a worldwide institution and as individual followers of Jesus, reacts to this challenge will be vital. We are being called into action to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

And who knows, but that we have come to our royal positions for such a time as this?

I am the Lord’s servant

Today in our liturgical calendar, on the 25th March, we find ourselves celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation – a day where Mary, the future mother of Jesus, had her world turned upside down and her future radically re-shaped.  Still a young girl, living in a conservative and religious society, there’s no doubt that news of an unplanned pregnancy, before her marriage to Joseph is solemnised is going to create some upheaval.

Mary listens as the Angel Gabriel tells her that she has been chosen to be the mother of God’s Son – God incarnate on earth – “and he shall be called Emmanuel”.  God with us.

What courage it takes for her to bow her head and accept such an enormous life change with the simple words “I am the Lord’s servant.  Let it be as God has said”.

Could we have found the courage to say the same?

I wonder how we are adapting to the current and very sudden change in our own lifestyles.  Whilst not facing scandal or the wagging tongues of our communities, we are each called upon now to metaphorically bow our heads and accept an instruction that leads to isolation, social distancing and suspicion… perhaps not so different to Mary after all.


Could we have found the courage to say the same?

On hearing this news, we are told Mary then retreats – she goes to stay with her relative Elizabeth and to share in her confinement after her own unexpected arrival – the birth of John the Baptist.  Mary is aware that life is shifting and changing before her and that things will be forever different, so she goes and takes stock.  She praises God in the midst of her turmoil and then waits for God’s plans to unfold.


We are each in an enforced time of retreat – a time where we need to take stock of the society we live in, the priorities we held (versus the things we find we are now worried about) and what God is asking us to do as a result of this upheaval.  The lessons we learn in this time will shape our churches, our communities and our world as a whole.  It is an uncomfortable and unsettling experience but we are asked to rise to the challenge.  To seek God through the pain and trust that he can bring good from the most desperate of situations.

  • What does God ask of you in this time?
  • What do you need to ask of God?

Like Mary, this isn’t quite what we imagined life to look like, but God is good and if we trust in him, he will work out his purposes through his people.

Whole Life Worship

‘So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering.’ – Romans 12:1 (The Message)

It’s Sunday morning.  Maybe we’ve struggled to drag ourselves out of bed after a late shift, arrived at church in a hurry and the minister is saying the words of welcome as we wonder whether we remembered to shut the bathroom window.  Maybe we’ve been up since 5am, entertaining a child that has developed an aversion to sleeping and we’ve just been waiting for the moment we can hand them to a friendly face at church and have Just.  One.  Moment.  Of.  Peace.  Or maybe we’re simply sat there, half distracted by the busyness of the rest of our lives, already thinking about the meeting we have tomorrow, the fact that we still need to get the dog booked into kennels next weekend and we can’t work out how to respond to that colleague who sent a snippy email last Wednesday and whom we’ve successfully avoided since then.

How do we worship from these places?  How do we bring our busy, messy, awkward lives as an offering to God that is authentic, heart-felt and invites him to meet us as we are?

The nature and purpose of worship is to bring “worth” to God.  To respond to his goodness and mercy from a place of gratitude, adoration and honesty.  It is a sacrificial offering of our time, talents, priorities and focus, in honour of the God who loves us.  Why do we worship?  Because the Bible tells us to.  Because we were created to.  Because if we don’t, then the rocks and mountains will cry out on our behalf.  Because God deserves it.

But God also knows us.  He knows when we’re coming to church slightly late and frustrated with the parking.  He knows when we’re praying with our eyes open to stop us nodding off in intercession (I speak from personal experience here…), he knows when we’re sat there in the church building but when our mind is in the office, the school, the Doctor’s surgery, the supermarket or the football stadium…  And God is available for worship in all of those places too.

The concept of “whole-life worship” is that we need to stop compartmentalising our lives into “holy” and “un-holy”, “sacred” and “profane”, “church” and “normal” life.  We need to learn to recognise all aspects of our lives as being part of God’s interaction with us and learn to worship him in the “gathered” fellowship of Sunday services and the “scattered” elements of our Monday – Saturday life.  He cares about those too.

By bringing in recognition of the dual nature of our lives as Christians to our Sunday services, we empower, equip, commission and disciple one another to be 24/7 followers of God.

How do we do it?

  • Maybe our words of welcome could reflect the events of the previous week in the church, community or country as a whole, drawing people from work and leisure in the outside world and into God’s presence.
  • Maybe our closing prayer or words of dismissal could more clearly commission people to live out lives of service and worship in the other 6 days of the week – making specific reference to the lives and experiences of our congregations.
  • Maybe the songs we sing could have a specific relevance to a current situation we are facing as a church, the images on the projected slides could be of our local community or the hymn introduced by a member of the congregation for whom it has a wider “whole life” significance.
  • Maybe we could invite a different person each week to share what they will be doing “This Time Tomorrow” and commit to praying for them (and others in similar situations) supporting them and celebrating the fact that God will be with them in that meeting/exam/hospital appointment/playgroup/interview/conversation.
  • Maybe we could have people offering thanksgiving for something specific that God has done that week (I have used Psalm 136: 1-4 as the starting point for this and had some wonderful spontaneous examples of God’s love at work in ordinary life, with the whole congregation responding “his love endures forever” after each one).
  • Maybe we could adapt our language so, instead of saying “we will now have a time of worship…”, as if what we were doing before was irrelevant, we recognise the “gathered” nature, with words like “as we meet together in God’s presence to bring our worship into his church today…” or “let’s continue our living worship of God by…(singing, reading, listening, receiving etc.…”)
  • Maybe we could acknowledge the fact that everyone is coming from different places, recognising the light and shade in our congregation’s livesFather God, as we gather today from our scattered lives, we bring joys and frustrations, hopes and disappointments, celebration and sadness and lay them all before you…”

We don’t need to make radical changes or upset the stalwarts on whom the church has been faithfully built.  We simply need to recognise that our Sunday worship should be a rekindling of our spirits and a re-commissioning to do what we should be doing in every aspect of our lives – living, loving, working and serving in Jesus’ name.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” – Colossians 3:17

If you would like to know more about this area of Whole Life Worship, why not book for the Whole Life Worship Training Day being held in Banbury on 5th October 2019 (I attended earlier this year and found it hugely inspiring!).

Details can be found at

Alternatively, you can search the resources and ideas at LICC for ideas:

Making Space To Be With God in Advent

As Advent approaches, it can be easy to get swept up in the frantic search for presents, the battle to get the food shopping done, the endless list of chores before the family visits…


Yet at the same time, it’s a season when we’re looking to increase our time with God.  We want to study the Bible, spend time in prayer, meditate on those well-know prophesies of old and just be still in the midst of the crowds and contemplate the meaning of the season.

Advent is a time of waiting, of anticipation.  This season, just as Lent, is a time when we prepare ourselves to embrace the full meaning of Word becoming flesh, arriving as a tiny baby, dying as a Saviour.  Advent draws our eye back to the promises of God and gives us time and space to consider the riches of God’s plans for his people.

Maybe, then, we need to give ourselves a break and seek God in the simplicity of everyday life.  Maybe it’s quality, not quantity, God wants…

Grab the moments of stillness or quiet

Each day, there will be certain moments where you find yourself with a few minutes in which there’s nothing to do.  It could be whilst you’re waiting for the kettle to boil.  It could be putting the TV on mute during the adverts in a TV show.  Perhaps it’s at that moment where the kids/dog/spouse have gone to sleep and you can just pause momentarily.  At this time of year, standing in the queue at the shops, or waiting under a shelter while the rain stops can all be very practical (and regular) opportunities to take a breath and remember the presence of God among his people.

You could:

  • Have one short verse each day.  You can quickly re-read it through the day in the quiet minutes.
  • Have an email/app on your phone with an Advent reading or prayer timed to your lunch or coffee break
  • Use study notes that give you a brief 5-10 min reflection that can be squeezed in before bed/over breakfast/while dinner cooks
  • Choose a certain place in your house/office and start a habit of pausing there each time you pass and recalling something to thank God for this Advent
  • Recite a simple breath prayer at those quiet moments

Find chances to multi-task

“Liturgy of the Ordinary” by Tish Harrison Warren, suggests lots of everyday activities you could use to reflect on God’s presence:

  • Brushing your teeth
  • Making beds
  • Drinking tea
  • Eating a meal

It’s both practical and thought-provoking!

Another simple thing that can be done is to take an ordinary daily task and practice doing it with God.  A classic example is a commute – perhaps listen to worship music, an audio Bible or podcast.  The “Christmas in Ordinary Time” series here is a lovely one.

Walking the dog, going for a run, cleaning or doing the gardening are other things that can be done in God’s company.

Diary some extra time in

Think about taking opportunities to spend longer with God, even if it can only be occasional.  Look at your diary for the next few months for a day where there’s less happening –a group you belong to isn’t meeting, your partner/child/ housemate is going to be away, you’ve got an afternoon off work etc.  Book in an appointment with God at that time (give him a code name if needed – he won’t mind!).  Looking for these times can be a great way of setting aside time to go deeper. 

Why not take some time out:

  • Take yourself to a coffee shop and have a festive treat whilst reading a book/Advent study (Paula Gooder’s “The Meaning is in the Waiting” and “Walking Backwards to Christmas” by Stephen Cottrell are both fantastic!)
  • Go for a walk in the park and chat to God about what’s on your mind as you do
  • Book into a retreat centre for an Advent quiet day or prayer meeting
  • Visit a church service or event that you wouldn’t normally attend

Find the thing that makes you tick

  • Gary Thomas has written a great book – Sacred Pathways – which is widely available
  • NCD has produced a survey which can be accessed online:
  • David Csinos has researched this area – The Church of Scotland has a really helpful summary of his ideas.  It’s applied to children but makes an awful lot of sense for adults too

Work out when and where you feel most alive with God – your preferred spiritual style.  For some it might be formal worship in church, for others it may be getting outdoors in God’s creation, for others creative arts, quiet contemplation, acts of service, times of prayer/fasting.  This Advent, make an effort to find the things that get your heart racing or touch your spirit, and make time to do it.  If it’s something you enjoy, it won’t feel like a chore and will help you reflect with passion on this season of promise and anticipation.

More Words…

So, in my last post, I was exploring some of the challenges I have faced when helping people to understand the importance of “Spirituality” in their everyday walk with God (and, on occasion, in my job title!).  However, over the last few months, I have also discovered that the word “passionate” can also present some issues for a few people.

“Isn’t it all a bit exuberant and demonstrative if one is described as passionate?  We don’t do that – we’re British!”

“can’t it actually mean that you’re a bit excessive or radical?  Will it not potentially put people off?”

(This is a conversation I have had numerous times, so I paraphrase multiple people, rather than quoting individuals!)

“Passion” doesn’t mean that you have to be a raving fanatic, an overly-expressive bouncy person who waves their arms and spontaneously worships in the street or that you have to be all mushy and sentimental about God like you’re writing him a Valentine’s card (in fact, don’t get me started on that last point…!).   It doesn’t even mean that you always have to be happy – frustration, doubt and sorrow can all have a place in our walk of faith (just read the Psalms!). 

What it does mean though, is that there is a deep-seated sense of identity and conviction in your relationship with Jesus.

Passion means you’re authentic and real and that something holds a deeply-rooted significance to you.  It means that you’ve found something that’s really worth your time and energy.  It means someone or something has become a defining part of your identity and will shape your decisions and lifestyle.  That’s how we need to approach our faith.  As disciples of Jesus, we need to be real, to be seeking to become more like him and allowing his teachings and the knowledge of his sacrificial love to define our identity as a child of God.  How we do that can vary greatly: from denomination to denomination; from generation to generation and – in my experience as an individual – from day to day!

Passionate Spirituality isn’t about what you do, or where you do it.  It’s about the why.  It flows out of a heart that recognises the importance of having God at the centre of all you do and all you are.  Why do we worship?  Why do we pray?  Why do we read the Bible?  The answer to all of these questions should start with a desire to draw closer into God’s presence and establish his rule in our life.  What we do will be a more personal reflection of what helps us to fulfil this purpose.

If spending time practising the ancient disciplines of the saints of history is a way you can still yourself and feel close to God, then that’s wonderful.  Contemplative traditions are rich and beautiful and if this is something you have never explored, then I encourage you to have a taster. 

If sitting with a coffee, a note pad and your Bible for a good long session of exploring God’s word is something that makes you tick, then make sure you do that regularly – and if it’s not something you do, have a go!  The Word of God is an incredible gift and gives us a clear glimpse into his design for humanity, his saving grace through Jesus and the revelation of what true discipleship is about.

However, if cranking up the worship music in the car and belting your heart out is your “soul time”, or popping on boots and a waterproof and stomping around God’s beautiful creation gets your heart beating faster (not just because of the exercise), or if going out into the town or city where you live and ministering to those who need to experience some love and compassion in their lives makes you feel like you’re in God’s presence then, oh please, yes!, go and do it!

Live enthusiastically, love deeply, serve faithfully and be a whole-hearted, whole-of-life disciple…

Or have passionate spirituality…

Or refer to it as “soul-growing”…

God really won’t mind what you call it, as long as you’re finding your way to do it.  He just wants you to come to him.


If this idea of discipleship and spirituality is something you feel you would like to explore further, then I would be delighted to meet and have a chat – please do get in touch –

It’s Only Words…

“What is in a name?  That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”

– William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet

One of the most common questions I’ve had since taking up this post has gone along the lines of “Passionate Spirituality?  Isn’t that all about mindfulness and meditation?”  Someone else asked me whether it was “contemplative stuff with candles”.  The most entertaining was a comment I read online, along the lines of “I tried it once.  It wasn’t for me”.


The idea that spirituality is something we do as a one-off made me smile (like dyeing our hair purple or running a marathon – bucket list checked!).  However, at the same time the fact that it is clearly so misunderstood that it can be reduced to a “thing you tried once” made me really sad.  Passionate Spirituality should be an integral way of life for the effective, spirit-filled Christian

I think the issue is often with the word “spirituality”.  For some people, it conjures up ideas of Eastern philosophy, zen-like attitudes and yoga.  For others, it directs their thoughts to the resurgence of interest in New Age spiritualities – crystals, Gaia philosophy and inner-goddesses.  Others do see it as a Christian concept, but as a discrete branch within Christianity that takes a narrow view of contemplative prayer or ancient monastic traditions only followed by the holiest of people.

From the start, I want to make it clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with contemplative prayer, meditation on scripture, lighting candles or any other form of expression that a person’s faith is drawn to.  There is a rich and symbolic history behind all of these things and the opportunities they present to “be still and know” God’s presence are incredibly valuable… 

…but these are still only a tiny selection of the ways in which we can have a passionate spirituality at work in our lives.  So, let’s strip it right back and work out what it’s all about.

Let’s start by using different terminology.  If “spirituality” has connotations for you that are negative, confusing or just plain vague, let’s talk about “discipleship” instead.  The origins for the word are well-known to be focussed on learning from or being a student of someone, but the Latin word for disciple also had close ties to the word “Capulus”, meaning “to grasp” or “take hold of” (commonly used to refer to the handle of a sword).  So discipleship could be seen as grasping learning and understanding about God.  Passionate Discipleship, then, is about being eager and enthusiastic in doing so.

Passionate Discipleship actively seeks opportunities to draw close to God.  Passionate Discipleship seizes time, space and activity in which to grow in knowledge and understanding of the nature of God and the person of his Son, Jesus.  Those first disciples lived their lives in the presence of Jesus.  They travelled with him, ate with him, talked and laughed with him and then grieved with him.  Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we get to do the same – looking for God’s hand in every aspect of our lives and taking every day (not just Sundays!) as an opportunity to grow in our faith and live it out practically through prayer, worship and our relationship with others.


“Spirituality” and “discipleship” merely describe the journey each of us are embarking on to follow the path Jesus has set and become transformed into his likeness through the time we spend learning from him.  Moses was physically transformed by the time he spent in God’s presence.  Paul had his whole outlook on life turned upside down.  Encountering God fully, whatever label we put on it, should be our greatest goal.

So, that’s all clear then…?  Well, not quite…


In the second instalment of this blog, we will be exploring the concept of “passion” in relation to our Christian faith and considering how a combination of commitment to following Jesus and conviction to do it whole-heartedly can lead us on our way to being the followers he has called us to be.


Until next time…

Refreshing Waters

“Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river.  Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.” 

– Ezekiel 47:12


What a welcome blessing the rain on Saturday 28th July turned out to be.  Farmers and gardeners rejoiced at the refreshing downpour, the reservoirs were topped up after weeks of hot dry weather and the ducks on the canal in Sydenham relocated to the puddles in the carparks!

Meanwhile, over in Budbrooke, the Serving Christ Team were holding a retreat day for lay leaders from across the Diocese, designed to offer time and space for refreshing and replenishing aside from busy lives and ministries within churches.  The idea had first come about after Jen and I had both been meeting with churches who were blessed with enthusiastic leaders who were giving their time and energy to faithfully serve the churches but who were reaching exhaustion and in need of time and space to just “be” with God themselves.


Further conversation led us both to reflect on Ezekiel 47 as a relevant passage, with imagery of a river from the temple and fruit trees growing on the banks to convey the depth and expanse of God’s blessing for us.  Very quickly it was felt that God was calling us to step out and hold an event where people in ministry could be ministered to.  The vision was for a day where they could be supported, invested in and blessed with time to be with God away from their busy lives.

We welcomed 28 people from 21 churches to St Michael’s Centre in Budbrooke, supported by our colleague Gareth and Lay Reader Gemma Took, and were hugely encouraged by the day.  As people arrived, there was a buzz of conversation and it was incredibly special to see people greeting old friends from across the churches and taking the opportunity to begin conversations with new people.  We then began the first session of the day with a time of prayer and sung worship, which led into some teaching on the passage, along with a time for reflection and discussion, before breaking for lunch.  The key themes we wanted to bring out from Ezekiel were focused on the refreshing power of the river in his vision, the depths of God’s blessing and power, if we allow ourselves to go deeper, and the rich fruits that He can grow in a leader who is nourished, filled with the Spirit and empowered to pause, rest and invest in their own discipleship.

 Over the lunch break, we had the opportunity to chat with a number of people from across these churches and hear their stories.  Stories of blessing and new opportunities in churches, stories of personal encounters with God, and stories from countless years of faithful and sacrificial service to their churches and communities.  What a wonderful, spirit-filled group of people we met that day – and how they deserved to rest and enjoy being with God!



The afternoon session was given over to personal time with God, using a selection of creative prayer stations, quiet spaces for individual prayer or just the beautiful natural surroundings that Budbrooke provides.  The idea was for people to be as active or as still as they liked, and to just allow them to find space with God.  The feedback we have received, both on the day and since then, has drawn out how significant this time was.  

It is such a rare treat for most of us to get off the treadmill of daily life and just be with God – and how special and powerful those times are.  Building in regular time with God is a lifeline to those in ministry and that afternoon became an oasis for those present.  Finishing with another time of worship and a short Eucharist, led by Rev David Brown, we drew the day to a close with words of refreshing, blessing and commission.


So, having spent the day thinking about how vital God’s living water is, flowing from his throne out into the temple and then out again into the lives of his people, we prayed that those who joined us would feel refreshed and well-watered… and as we walked out of the church at 3.30pm the heavens, quite literally, opened.


If you would be interested in coming on future retreats, or would like support to host one of your own, please get in touch with Lisa ( or Jen ( at the Serving Christ Team to discuss – they would be delighted to help you.

“Let the children come to me…”

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there”  Matthew 19: 13 – 15


In recent weeks I have been feeling challenged by the provision churches make for children in worship.  I have met with a number of churches and individuals who are exploring new ways to bring different congregations together, create a new approach to all-age worship, start children’s groups or reach out to children and young people in the community.  But I have also had conversations with people who don’t fall into the category of child, youth or young parent, who have been led to question their place within these services.  As a church, we have a real desire to see the next generation coming to know Jesus and begin a relationship with him…  What we aren’t necessarily sure of is how to do that!

At a recent Praxis event in Birmingham Cathedral, this question was being addressed directly.  One lady I spoke to had lots of children in a lively charismatic church and wanted to find ways of making sure that worship was more than just singing and dancing.  Another gentleman I spoke to came from a traditional church where the desire was for younger people to join the congregation without losing the distinctive nature and tradition of how they did worship.

There seems to be a growing challenge in a consumerist culture where we look at what we get out of church – but we need to readdress our attitudes.  Worship isn’t for us, but for God.  We’re there to bring an offering of praise and celebration (and some days, lament) in response to life’s journey and God’s presence with us.  As such, church isn’t there to “entertain” or “put on a show” for the congregation, but to draw them into God’s presence.

How then do we bring children into an environment that is authentic worship, teaches theological truths and yet is accessible for them to feel that they have something of value to offer alongside the adults in the congregation?  Based on the conversations and conferences I have recently been involved with, there seem to be a few key things to bear in mind.

Children are smart.  There can sometimes be a feeling that we have to “dumb down” worship or teaching to make it “easy” for children.  However, are we actually giving them an introduction to the faith?  Are we helping them understand the nature of God’s love and the saving grace of Jesus?  If all we do is put on a circus, with a vaguely moral message, they may as well be watching Cbeebies, and we’re actually cheating them out of something far more meaningful.  Creativity or metaphor isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but they must be properly explained and put in context.  We shouldn’t sell them short – the children I have come across have a hunger to really understand these wonderfully rich Bible stories and often ask the pertinent questions that we adults feel afraid to.

Secondly, we can’t presume that all children enjoy worshipping in the same way (or in the way we plan for them!).  Adults and children alike are all different from one another in the way they approach God in worship.  For some, it’s a gentle spirituality that seeks time and space to be still as an offering of worship to God.  For others, a lively and charismatic setting, with music and dance is more their scene.  Some like the depth of tradition found in the beautiful old hymns, others like the relevance and accessibility of modern worship songs with a more contemporary feel.  When we welcome anyone into our churches, we need to offer them the opportunity to just be themselves.

Creating variety, space and opportunity for children and young people to offer their own ideas and suggestions will probably be very enlightening.  If you’re doing a lively action song, make sure that you also have times of stillness and quiet.  If you’re having an interactive “everyone shouting out the answers” type sermon, make sure there’s a space and activity for those who don’t feel able to join in to be nurtured and learn God’s word (particularly if you have children or adults in the congregation who perhaps struggle with over-stimulation or lack of clear routine).  We need to be aware that catering for certain demographics should not mean alienating others and any changes we make to the services we hold still need to reflect the ethos and identity that first drew people to the congregation.

Finally, children love to feel like they can offer something to the wider life of the church.  Get them on the prayer or reading rota.  Let them take up the collection.  Get them to write a bit of liturgy or have an interactive preface where the whole congregation can offer the things they’re thankful for.  Interview all ages about their life events or achievements as a “testimony” slot in the service then pray for these things.  You’ll be surprised how little services actually need to change in order to cater for children.  The fact they feel involved and valued is far more significant than whether we do action songs (which I know for a fact some children find excruciatingly awkward!).  The bonus is that, by involving all ages in all elements of the service, you overcome the idea of a “family” service or “children’s service” and develop an environment where all generations, in whatever stage of life they may be feel like they can belong.  Church is the family of God, and a family is a spectrum of ages.  We need to ensure that each member has their place, and can be drawn into God’s presence through authentic and inspiring times of worship.

Risky Business

I recently headed off to Colchester, to take part in a discipleship conference organised by New Wine.  “Walking on Water” was a full day event, led by Paul and Becky Harcourt and hosted by St John’s, Colchester, looking at the challenges of being a risk-taking disciple.

Paul and Becky both shared their personal experiences of coming to faith in Jesus and learning to step out of their comfort zone (one entrenched in logic and reason, the other working through the hurts of a broken heart and spirit).  Both acknowledged the impact that head or heart can have on us when we’re exploring our relationship with Jesus and looking to put our trust in him, and explored ways to embrace our natural inclinations in a way that allow us to step out confidently in our faith.

Much of the challenge for us, as for the Disciples who witnessed that dramatic event with Jesus walking across the lake to greet them, is balancing what we are told God can do with what we expect God to do.  The Disciples knew Jesus could perform miracles – just that day they had witnessed him feeding 5000 people from one boy’s packed lunch – yet somehow they still saw them as remote.  Something that Jesus did for other people.

How often do we find ourselves viewing the world through these same discipleship eyes?  We’re witnesses to amazing things that other, holier people do, yet somehow don’t see ourselves having a part to play in them ourselves.  It’s exciting to hear the stories, see the transformations, share in the celebrations but, ultimately, God uses others to do these things.  He doesn’t use us…

Years ago, John Ortberg published a book which, by its title alone, jumped off the shelf and shouted at me: “If you want to walk on water, then you have to get out of the boat”.  It spoke volumes to me.  I struggled at that time in my life to think of dramatic things God had done through me… but then I’d never tried to do anything dramatic for him!  The Minister at my church is fond of telling us that “there’s nothing that will make you feel more miserable than being a half-hearted Christian”, and I can understand what he’s saying.  God has given us gifts, skills, opportunities and circumstances, all of which can be used to reflect something of him in our everyday lives.  If we don’t take these chances, how much are we missing out on?

That night in the boat, 12 grown men were afraid.  They didn’t understand what they were seeing and couldn’t make any rational sense out of it.  Perhaps it’s surprising that these men who had shared in every amazing moment of Jesus’ ministry so far, saw a figure walking on water and, rather than thinking look – it’s Jesus, thought Help!  It’s a ghost!  They were underestimating his power, and possibly his desire to be with them (physically and metaphorically!).

Peter’s challenge to Jesus – “Lord, if it is really you… tell me to come to you on the water” (Matt 14:28) could be seen as the height of arrogance.  Jesus is the Messiah, God incarnate on earth and Peter is asking to perform the same miraculous wonders as him.  Jesus could have pointed out this fact to him, reminding Peter of his complete humanity (and the laws of gravity!).  However, Jesus rewards Peter’s enthusiasm by calling him out onto the water… and Peter walks!  It’s easy to look at that story and focus on the fact that he also sinks, but before that PETER WALKS ON WATER.  Not very far, or for very long, but he walks.  He has the courage to take the risk and he glimpses the enormity of God’s power.  What must that do for his faith?

Fast forward to a point after Jesus death and resurrection and we see Peter, along with John, being stopped by a lame beggar.  When asked for some spare change, Peter instead offers a prayer of healing and the man gets up and walks.  I wonder how formative that moment out on the lake was in this?  Despite the moment of doubt and failure out on the water, Peter takes a step closer to the courage that believes God can and will use him, if he has faith and keeps his focus on Jesus.  He learns that failure is not the final outcome – only a starting point for the next risk.

Now, I’m not advocating you all go out and try walking on your local pond – unless the mission context somehow requires it!  Perhaps we can all start by taking some smaller risks though.  Asking God to give us a word or picture for someone.  Perhaps walking through town on our lunch break and asking God to show you something new that you can do to serve him.  Striking up a conversation with a stranger because that feeling in the pit of your stomach says the Holy Spirit is nudging at you.  Asking the person who’s having a bad day if you can pray with them.  It’s scary, it’s unpredictable and you might end up feeling a bit out of your comfort zone, but God might just choose to use you there…  After all – it’s no harder than walking on water!

What risk will you take today?

All You Need Is Love

On Saturday 19th May, the world stood still as two people entered into a life-long commitment of marriage in the family chapel in Windsor.  It was conducted in front of family, friends, celebrity guests and hundreds of millions of TV viewers, all wanting to catch a glimpse of Meghan and Harry’s big moment.

The news that evening was, as expected, awash with footage of the ceremony, pictures of the best (and worst) outfits, commentary on the celebrities who were in attendance and, of course, the dress.  But what nobody had expected was the huge reaction to the sermon…

The evening news, the papers, Facebook, Twitter, (and a variety of other platforms which I am too uncool to know or use) had all gone crazy for Bishop Michael Curry’s message of love and hope.  I was watching with family back up north and sat, alternatively open mouthed and cheering, as the Gospel message was preached.  Unashamedly.  Vibrantly.  Emphatically.  With love at the centre.

So what had grabbed our imagination so much that a 13 minute talk about Jesus was getting as much media coverage as the royal couple themselves?

Firstly, enthusiasm.  There was a sense that Bishop Michael knew he had something worth listening to.  The style of delivery was engaging and passionate, and he made it clear that what he was saying was important to him.  He believed in the message he was preaching and the value it held for the people listening.  We were caught by that enthusiasm.

Secondly, relevance.  He made his message fit the context and the audience listening.  He referenced the importance of love, both within a marriage and within the structures that govern our daily lives.  Education, politics, conflict resolution, justice…  Nothing was beyond his vision for a world ruled by love.  He painted a future of hope and suggested that it could happen, inspiring the people listening to perhaps look at their own sphere of influence.  We could see the relevance of what he shared and we wanted to act on it.

Thirdly, risk.  The common observation being shared in news reports and online commentary was along the lines of “The Royal Family have never encountered this before!”  I suspect that this is probably not true, but it may be true to say that, for a formal occasion such as this, that level of passion, vibrancy, humour and all-out “ooph” may have taken a few people by surprise.  There was a conscious decision that Bishop Michael was going to take this opportunity and run with it.  We can often feel that people won’t want to hear about Jesus, or that we will be met with hostility, but that is very rarely the case.  People are usually receptive and polite, even if they don’t choose to pursue it themselves, and sometimes we will be rewarded with a good conversation that helps a person move forward in their journey of faith.  He was being given a platform to share the Gospel with a potential audience of billions.  And oh, was he going to take that opportunity.

Finally, and most importantly, God was at the heart of it.  The references to creation, the references to fire, the focus on the revolutionary power of love, were all under-pinned by one simple message: that love can change things for the better, God is love and love comes from God, so therefore the love of God can change everything.

One of the fundamental aspects of a healthy growing church is an inspiring worship service.  Something that people look forward to.  Something that will get them enthusiastic about their faith and help them learn to worship God and articulate this love for Him through a variety of mediums.  It might not be the thing that first brings them in, but it’s what keeps them there.  Perhaps unexpectedly, this is what we saw being modelled at the royal wedding ceremony, through a passionate sermon, rousing hymns and an uplifting gospel choir.  We may have all tuned in to see the dress, but we got so much more.

When we look at our church services, whether sung worship, the sermon, times of prayer or the other times of ministry that flow through it, are we enthusiastic?  Do we want to be there and feel like there’s a real value in it?  Is it relevant?  Is it helping us to draw closer to God in the everyday situations we find ourselves in?  Is it risk-taking and spirit-led, being open to new ideas, new ways of doing things or the unexpected nudges that the Holy Spirit gives to go in a new direction?  Finally, whether formal or informal, sung or spoken, charismatic or contemplative, is the underlying foundation of that gathering one of expressing love?  Our love for each other and our love for God is the very essence of what Christ taught us to build the Church on.  Inspiring worship services are an essential expression of this.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions.  Each church is the unique expression of its members, but if you would like to explore these questions further and discuss how to develop your own worship, then please get in touch.