Called to friendship

When we make friends, we are likely to gravitate towards people who are similar to us. We share the same hobbies, are in similar life stages, we share the similar backgrounds, values and beliefs. On the whole they are easy, you gain as much as your give, and what you give does not seem like a sacrifice. These relationships are important because they allow us to relax, share and have fun but they are not the only people that Jesus calls us to love.

“A new command i give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” John 13:34-35 (NIV)

Jesus spent time with sinners, tax collectors, women and Gentiles. People would not have expected the Son of God to hang out with these groups. So much so that the Pharisees complained that “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2). And yet, Jesus connected with each one of them on a personal and deep level. His love for them reached them on a level beyond their background, beliefs and society’s expectations.

So when Jesus tells us to love each other “as I have loved you”, he is not just talking about the people we are naturally drawn to. He calls us to love those we struggle to hold a conversation with, those who irritate us and those who are different from us in any way.

Let’s be clear this love comes naturally to some people, but for others it is something that takes effort and commitment to do. It means actively stepping out of our own circle. It may be that that person has a real need that you can provide but they cannot repay. You might need to work hard to keep a conversation going. You may need to let go of or work through irritations again and again.

Motives are important. Loving others like Jesus can mean providing and sacrificing but it should be a genuine effort to bridge differences and knock down walls to reach a place of community and love. The aim is not to continue awkward conversations indefinitely but to seek to find common ground to share and discuss. The aim is not to hide your irritations but to get to a place where they disappear from your mind or have resolved between you. The aim is to love more like Jesus.

And for a moment, think of all you would gain from someone investing and loving you in this way? When you realise someone values you for you. How you can be challenged in your faith and life by a different perspective. When you are opened to a new group of friends through them. Everyone benefits from this type of love.

Jesus calls us to love as he loved. This may need to start as a conscious effort, it may call for sacrifices, but increasingly it becomes part of who you are as you welcome everyone, love anyone and grow in community together.

Who is God calling you to show love to?

What barriers and walls are in your way?

How can you practically begin to remove those barriers and walls?

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.

The world’s most exciting flowerpots

Why did the churchwarden cross the road?

It seems like a good idea to start this with a joke. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to think of a good punchline for that1, so I’m going say something which often seems to come across as slightly ridiculous, and hope that’ll do.

I’m genuinely excited about effective structures.  Please don’t stop reading.  Let me explain.

Being excited about effective structures does not mean I love formal meetings. I do not wake up with a spring in my step when I have PCC, and Synods do not fill me with joyful anticipation. There is a different reason, and the best way I’ve found so far to explain this is to say that structures are a bit like flowerpots.

No one I know has ever confessed to being a flowerpot enthusiast

No one I know has ever confessed to being a flowerpot enthusiast. Flowerpots, normally, are not bought because people like flowerpots, but because they like plants. The pot gives the plant somewhere to live, but it’s the plant that’s important.

Church structures are like flowerpots because they exist to hold the life of the church, to allow the church to breathe and grow.  Putting a plant in a flowerpot which is too small cramps its growth, and the same is true of structures – if a church has bad structures, its life will be held back.  On the other hand, structures which work well allow a church to flourish. 

We’re called, commanded even, to love God with everything we’ve got and love our neighbours as ourselves.  That’s worth getting excited about!  I care about effective structures because of the potential to free people up from administration and release them to love God, to serve their communities, to do what they’re called to do2

Two days ago I was at Shottery, with the rest of the Serving Christ mentors, to introduce ourselves at an Archdeacon’s Visitation.  I said something about being excited about finding ways to lighten the burden of administration and got a definite response – a wordless rumble of enthusiasm, mixed with a dash of cynicism.  “Crumbs”, I thought, “we really do need to do this”.

The administration churches need to do isn’t going to simply go away.  Data protection, safeguarding, faculties, APCMs, all phrases to send shivers down the spine of many a PCC, will not disappear.  The challenge is doing them as well as they need to be done – often they are important, even vital – without holding back the mission and ministry of clergy and everyone else.

As a certain Archdeacon has said more than once, there are no quick fixes.  But there are ways this can be done.  Some others are emerging.  And I’m sure there are more to discover.

Do your church structures help you grow what you care about?

I’m going to finish with some questions.  Are your church’s structures doing their job well?  Do they help you grow in what you care about? Do they need tweaking?  Or are they a misfit which is holding you back?

Answering those questions is easier if you, and particularly if your PCC, are clear about your church’s purpose, or vision.  What is God calling your church to do or to be?   Jesus commanded us to love God and to love your neighbour – how are you seeking to do that? 

With that in mind, you can think about the flowerpot, without losing sight of the life.

Matt Jermyn

Learning Mentor – Effective Structures

So you know your spiritual gifts – what now?

In the early days of doing this role, I spent some time investigating the different ways available for people to discover their spiritual gifts. What I came across was a wealth of different questionnaires; some free, some expensive; some stand alone, some part of a course; some listing 19 gifts, others 30; but most looking exceedingly similar to each other. I confess to completing quite a few myself, being intrigued to discover whether they came out with the same results…which they generally did.

So many ways exist to explore what your spiritual gifts might be, but once you have filled in a form and identified some gifts, what then?

1 Peter 4:10 says ‘Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.’ 

So we’re called to use our gifts to serve others. But who? And How?

We often lack imagination when we think about how our gifts can be used. We look at the tasks that need doing in church and the gaps on the rota and try to fit ourselves into the spaces that exist. However, we have a God who is much more creative than that! What if He has a plan for you that looks different to what you expected? Let’s be brave and willing to explore with Him.

We often lack imagination when we think about how our gifts can be used

I suggest you start by thinking about the following questions:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What frustrates you?
  • What do you long to see change in your church or community?
  • What brings you joy?

The answers to these questions will begin to uncover some people and causes which God has put on your heart. Spend time reflecting on your answers and allow God to identify an area or group of people to whom he is calling you.

Next, consider what other abilities and life experience you have.

  • Name the things you’re good at.
  • What do you know a lot about?
  • What comes naturally to you?
  • What have you learned from experiences in your past (good or bad) that enables you to help others in a special way?

This will help you explore how you could use your gifts to serve the areas you identified and begin to address some of the changes you want to see.

When you are exploring these questions, it is helpful to involve others in the conversation who know you well and can support you as you move into your ministry. I encourage you to talk with your vicar, small group leader or a friend. Not only will they be able to pray with you and offer insight, they will often be in a position to open doors for you and create opportunities for you to develop.

If you want to find out more about discovering your Spiritual Gifts and exploring how you are called to use them to join in with God’s mission, you can get in touch with me here.

Overdoing the Soup

Our home group decided fellowship would be at the core, so it would always start with a meal. Rotas were made, plans were made and we began. It started well, everyone wanted to and could put time into creating a nice meal. It started simple with pizza and pasta but began to escalate and become more costly in time and money (especially as the group doubled in numbers). Pudding had gone from simple crumbles to stacks of homemade profiteroles.

we were not using our resources responsibly.

Don’t get me wrong, the food was lovely. But an unease grew; a few felt unable to keep up with the standard, people’s lives were becoming busier and the fluctuating group size meant we could be short of food or wasting it. We decided we were not using our resources responsibly.

So, a decision was made. Soup and rolls every week. The rota remained and people could choose to buy or make it. It began perfectly in the midst of winter with a homemade Mulligatawny soup followed by Heinz the next week. Everyone could contribute, people could be creative or run to the shops on the way and there was no waste. We had found the perfect solution.

Fast forward 18 months. It’s a warm summer evening. We are sat eating soup with the windows open. One member announces that she is bored of soup and will be cooking something else next week! A sigh of relief ran around the room. An end to the soup campaign!

We still have soup occasionally, but we’ve also had fajitas, lasagne, jacket potatoes and stews. We have had some lovely homemade puddings, but the bags of bought cookies are appreciated just as much. We like the variety. We appreciate the time and money that has gone into it…whether that was an afternoon cooking or squeezing a shopping trip into your lunch break.

A time of fellowship, sharing and provision.

The meal is no longer a competition, it is a time of fellowship, sharing and provision…exactly what it was always meant to be.

My Small Group has a job to do!

Small Groups in churches include far more than just Bible Study or Prayer groups. The PCC, groups that plan the children’s work together, the toddler group team, a group who meet to do the gardening or the cleaning are all great examples of small groups.

A holistic small group thinks of the whole person and their journey with God. They are interested in the spiritual, emotional and practical lives of each individual. As a group they care for one another, seek to connect with God and to draw others in.

This can seem like a big ask and time commitment to add, especially if your group has a specific task to do. But, there are small simple things we can do to transform these groups to be more holistic without taking more time and energy. It only takes one or two people in the group to be proactive in seeking a more holistic approach.

Every group will have conversations at some level. The question is how can we deepen those into strong relationships? A big part of it is extending the conversation beyond ‘How are you?’ it’s being interested in what people have to say and being willing to share back. It is also about following up on things that have been mentioned in the past mean people know that they are valued and the conversation can be developed and grown as needed over time. It sounds ridiculously simple, but the reality is that as trust is built so is depth.

Adding a faith aspect can seem a little more daunting if there currently isn’t any element of it within the group. It can be as simple as adding a short prayer time, a relevant Bible reading or a short personal reflection. A very gentle approach is to offer to pray when something comes up in conversation, either immediately or a promise to pray during the week.

You can use a gentle approach to deepen relationships and discuss spirituality. Prepare a question to share with the group that opens up our thinking. For example, ‘What are your gifts?’, ‘What are you thankful for?’, ‘Who or what influences your decisions?’. They do not require a faith answer but open opportunities for you to share honestly and for others to explore what is central to their lives.

There are many simple ways to build fellowship and discuss our faith based on the relationships that already exist. These small habits can transform a group to love each other more, to share about their beliefs and result in more passion for the task they do together.

Immeasurably more…dreaming bigger dreams

Do you desire to be a hero, or a hero maker? I recently read ‘Hero Maker’ by Dave Ferguson and Warren Bird. The premise of the book caught my attention; that “behind every hero is a hero maker”. It made me wonder, am I seeking my own development and success, or am I seeking to invest in others who will themselves go on to be fruitful for God’s kingdom?

It wasn’t an entirely comfortable reflection. An inclination to independence can find me saying “I can do it myself” rather too often, but in order to do it myself, do I shrink my goals down to something more manageable? ‘Hero Maker’ encourages us to dream bigger dreams. It explores the idea that we have far more influence as leaders, and can realise much greater dreams, if we use our time to train up leaders who will train up other leaders and so on until our effect is multiplied many times.

Let’s take a simple example; you need to bake cakes for cake sale happening tomorrow. You’ve got 4 hours. The more cakes you can bake, the more money you can raise, so you put on your apron and get baking, one batch at a time, until you run out of energy, eggs, or time. You manage to bake 80 cakes – what a hero! The cake sale is a success and you think you will probably have recovered sufficiently from your efforts to do another one next year.

Do I shrink my goals down to something more manageable?

Now, consider what would happen if you spent your first hour teaching someone else to bake cakes. In the second hour, you can go off and work on something else while your new sous chef bakes and teaches another person. They each teach another so by the fourth hour, there are 4 of them baking and you have had three hours to crack on with the rest of your to-do list. You could potentially bake 160 cakes using this method – that’s nearly double the money raised with only an hour of your input. Your sous chefs will probably get the hero status instead of you, but the overall impact is bigger thanks to your wise investment of time. Plus, next time you want to run a cake sale, you will not need to be in the kitchen at all, as one of your newly empowered sous chefs will be in charge! You have become a hero maker.

by investing in others I have much more impact

So what stops us from doing this? It could be a feeling of not enough time to do the initial investment; let’s face it, teaching someone to make cakes will take longer than making them yourself. Maybe it’s that they might not make them the same way you would – the icing might not look quite as swirly as you hoped. Possibly you enjoy baking and you’d rather do it yourself (especially if the alternative tasks are less appealing!). Perhaps there is no one else to teach. Or maybe you never imagined baking more than 80 cakes.

Ephesians 3:20 reminds us we have a God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, through his power at work in us. How exciting this is! This makes me want to learn to dream bigger, God-sized dreams; to ask for more, to imagine more. I’m taking my own dreams for church, family and work and wondering what they look like supersized. I’m asking God ‘how on earth I can possibly achieve that?’ And he’s showing me, gently inspiring me, that through investing in others, I can have much more influence and impact than if I try to be the hero myself.

What do you dream for?

How might you achieve immeasurably more by investing in others?

What stops you?

The Importance of Story

Being able to tell our story and identify the things God is doing in and through us is one of the most powerful witnesses we have.  One of the areas of passionate spirituality that we seem to struggle most with is articulating to others what God has done in our lives and how we can see his transformative power at work in our everyday.

A few weeks ago, as part of my “fact finding mission” to see what was already happening in the Diocese from the point of view of spirituality and discipleship, I visited Red Hill Christian Centre in rural Warwickshire.  A place of retreat and somewhere to enjoy time-out in the peace and beauty of God’s creation, they themselves have an amazing story of vision and providence, well worth finding out about.  However, on this particular day, the story that impacted me most was a quite unexpected one, shared in the freezing cold and, amazingly, at the foot of a cross on the hillside.

Martha* was staying at the centre, whilst on a visit from overseas, having emigrated a few years earlier.  She had returned to England upon hearing the news that her son, who still lived over here, was missing, after developing an addiction, finding himself homeless and later disappearing from the shelter he had been staying at.

She explained how the police had been notified but, faced with the prospect of finding a young homeless addict in London, they had not been optimistic of success.  “A needle in a haystack” was how they described her situation.  Undeterred, Martha had embarked on a frantic search around the familiar areas of the city, praying as she went.  Some people told her that it was a near impossible task but, supported by relatives, she continued.  Eventually finding a possible sighting in a shop, she left her number with the shopkeeper and asked that he call her if he should see him, then went back to her persistent search for a lost and broken son.

One Friday evening, sitting with her family, the phone call came.  The shopkeeper had just seen her son and he was standing outside the shop.  A 25 minute journey to get there, Martha and her family prayed that God would intervene and keep him there.  Her phone rang again, to say that he had walked off and the shopkeeper didn’t know where to.  Still Martha prayed.  The phone rang again.  He was back outside.  In desperation, Martha and her family prayed – “God, if it’s him, hold him there.  Stick his feet to the floor”.

When the car pulled up, the family spread in different directions, ready to comb the area.  They didn’t need to look hard.  They found him, sat on a bench opposite the shop, “as still as a statue”.  Martha ran to embrace him and found him unresponsive and “lost to the world”.  As she gently took him in her arms and reassured him that it was all okay – that she was there – he broke down.  “He said he was afraid to touch me, in case I turned out to just be a dream”.

Taking him home for a hot bath, clean clothes and a good square meal, the search began for a rehab centre who could care for him.  They prayed it would be somewhere run by Christians who could love him, as well as heal him.  One was found.  They prayed that finances wouldn’t be a barrier, and he was offered a subsidised place, based on someone else’s generosity.

Having settled him in and reassured him, Martha had a few days spare, before flying home.  She felt God nudging her to take some rest after her frantic few weeks and allow him to minister to her pain in return.  This was how we came to be stood on a hillside together, on a freezing day in spring, under the shadow of a cross.

With each reference to an answered prayer, she demonstrated the power we have to encourage one another with our stories.  What have we prayed about recently?  How has God helped us in the situations we have found ourselves in?  Each one of us has opportunity and ability to offer simple words that reflect the presence of God in our lives.  As she shared her story, I was overwhelmed by the parallel between her desperate search for a hurting son, and God’s desire to find each one of us and bring us home to him.  No judgement, no condemnation, just overwhelming love for His children that desires nothing but to see them safe.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,

that saved a wretch like me

I once was lost,

but now I’m found,

was blind but now I see

(J. Newton, 1779)

 

 

*Names changed to protect privacy, story shared with permission.