An Important Weekend

Last weekend was a significant one for our family.

Firstly, I attended the presbytery meeting of the EPCEW in Solihull on Saturday. There, I was formally invited by the presbytery to join the work at the Solihull church plant for the next 12 months. During that period I and my family will join one of the EPCEW churches (probably Solihull, when it opens a membership roll). I will then be taken ‘under care’ with a view to completing the exams for licensure. Successful completion of this process will then mean I can receive a call to a pastorate at a later date. The only scary moment of the day was being called to the front to introduce myself. I did not expect this so I was quite unprepared to face such an august body!

Of great interest at that meeting was to observe two other events. One man was also proceeding to licensure and had to preach the opening sermon. Afterwards, the presbytery was invited to ask the man questions about the sermon. They could be on any pastoral, doctrinal or exegetical matter arising from it. Some of the questions were really quite difficult and technical – not the kind your average church member would ask! He handled it really well and came through with flying colours in my view. A second man was transferring in from another presbyterian denomination having been a pastor for many years, but as well as having completed the presbytery exams he had to undergo open questioning from the presbytery. Nothing was taken for granted. All good.

These two events were quite sobering for me. At some point I will have to undergo the same ‘grilling’. It reminded me of the clarity one must have on doctrinal and biblical matters when shepherding the flock, and the process of presbytery helps sort that out. In many ways the experience of watching these two men being grilled has clarified what I must do for personal study in the coming year.

The second significant part of the weekend was that yesterday was my last Sunday at DFC. I led both services. In the morning I preached on Psalm 2, on the King the LORD has appointed. In the evening, we finished our series of studies in Philippians. It was a day of mixed feelings. I have known for a number of months now that I would be moving on. In some respects I have been eager to make the change, so there was a degree of relief at the end of the evening service – a kind of “Made it!” feeling. However, there is a great note of sadness too. I have become very attached to the people. A couple of times in the last year I preached at other churches, and each time I felt a desire to be back with the congregation I had come to know. DFC has been very supportive of me in my ministry which has been a great encouragement to me. So to leave is a wrench.

For DFC as a small independent church, the future is bleak. This is a country where few evangelical men are being raised up as pastors, and very few amongst reformed churches. Even more difficult is to find someone who is willing to think as a missionary and commit to living in a tough neighbourhood where unemployment is high and social problems abound. Pastorally, nothing is tidy and neat. Who would bring their wife and kids into that environment? It’s a big ask. Please pray for the members of DFC as they consider their future as a church.

This week I effectively have a week off, though Susan has a list of household jobs for me to do which she has accumulated over the last few months(!) So I suppose I’d better get cracking…

An Important Weekend

‘Attractional’ or ‘Missional’?

These have become jargon words, I suppose. However, they encapsulate two emphases in ministry today. The church with an ‘attractional’ emphasis seeks to put on programmes to meet felt needs (childrens work, seminars of various kinds, evangelistic programmes etc.), while a church with a ‘missional’ emphasis dispenses with programmes in favour of community and relationship. The danger with the former is to encourage a consumer mentality, with all its associated idols, and with the latter, the avoidance, even denial, of difficult doctrines with the disastrous consequences of its idols.

Driscoll believes ministry should have elements of both. He draws attention to John 6 and how Jesus attracted a crowd who wanted to hear him preach and see miracles. But then he observes how,

… Jesus then preached that he was the bread of life, which drove many people away from him in confusion and disagreement. We see that Jesus not only gathered a crowd but also intentionally drove many people away because they were not among the elect chosen for salvation (John 6:37). Some disciples, however, remained with Jesus and continued to be trained as missionaries by Jesus. They were later sent out to follow his pattern of incarnating in a culture, attracting crowds, preaching hard words that harden some hearts and soften others, and then training those who believe to be missionaries who follow Jesus’ principles of attractional and missional ministry.
(Confesssions, p.27)

Apart from the strange participle ‘incarnating’, which sounds a bit Star Trek for me, this is good. What do you think?

(One reason I dislike words like ‘incarnating’ or ‘incarnational’ is because of a discussion I had with a C of E vicar at St. John’s College, Nottingham while on a visit to the library. He was doing some kind of post-grad thesis on something. We got talking about church planting and he started speaking what seemed like a completely different language, involving phrases like ‘blah-di-blah living incarnationally blah-di-blah post-modern blah-di-blah urban blah-di-blah-di-blah’. I eventually asked him, perhaps naively, about ‘preaching the gospel‘ to people, at which point he spotted someone else he just had to speak to, and walked off.)

‘Attractional’ or ‘Missional’?

Confessions of a Reformission Rev.: Part II

Mark Driscoll, in his opening chapter, asks ten questions of his own church and ministry and invites readers to do the same. It is clear that the basic assumption of Driscoll’s approach is that the church continually be “on mission”. (It reminds me of the early days of the New Labour government where those who spoke for it had to be “on message”!). I think this is a useful corrective to the stuffy deadening introvertedness that churches can have. Nevertheless, I would be concerned that if a reader were to walk away from a book like this with a single-minded view that the church’s only priority should be to be “on mission” then this too would be unhealthy. I think it healthiest to get the right relationships between worship, discipleship and mission. I think this is expressed in the Great Commission, where the context is worship (Mt 28:17), the command is to be on mission (“Go, therefore…”, 28:19) and the task is to make disciples (28:19), and that means more than simply converts – they are to be taught to obey. If Driscoll’s book is read with this in mind then I think a lot can be gained from it.

I won’t go through all the questions, but I think some of them are interesting and worth a comment. For example, Driscoll asks what kind of church your church will be as far as mission is concerned. There are three in his mind:

  • traditional, which basically believes that it is ministering in a christianised culture, and that traditional forms in themselves are adequate to attract non-believers
  • contemporary evangelical, which has recognised that culture has changed and that the church must adopt some kind of “seeker sensitive” attractional approach to outreach, with the risks compromising on some elements of truth in order to meet felt needs
  • emerging/missional, which rejects the consumer driven approach of contemporary evangelical, and rejects traditionalism and instead focusses on community, cultural engagement in its outreach, and where every Christian is a missionary. There is a wide range of theology held in this category.

Driscoll sees himself in the last, broad category. What he seems to see is that the attitudes of churches to mission in some way or other are defined by the culture they believe themselves to be in.

I don’t know. I find it difficult to get any kind of traction on this idea. It seems like someone’s opinion, and if you like the guy you will believe it. Maybe, maybe not. My problem I think is based on my belief that fundamentally there are two kingdoms: the kingdom of God/heaven/light/the Son he loves and the kingdom of darkness/the air. When a person is moved from darkness and begins to live in the kingdom of light it seems to me that there is a certain irreducible minimum of “kingdom culture” that must be adopted and will always make unbelievers feel uncomfortable and separate. Therefore it is inevitable that there is a (strong, I believe) element of tradition which must exist in any church governed by minds transformed by the gospel. Yet at the same time I recognise that there is much that is attractive in the “missional” view adopted by Driscoll for the simple reason that the church must find ways of fulfilling the great commission. Inevitably this implies an accommodation to culture at some level.

Perhaps you can see the tension that I feel in reading this book! I want any church that I am involved in to be “missional” (this word is far too trendy for me to treat as a real word without quotes!) and outward facing, both corporately and individually. But at the same time there is much that has been learned from careful study of scripture in ages past which we must be careful not to throw away too easily.

This post is long enough and a bit of stream-of-consciousness thinking, and I have only mentioned one subsection of one chapter! How long is this going to take, you ask? How long is piece of string-of-consciousness…

Confessions of a Reformission Rev.: Part II

Da Vinci: A Broken Code

Al Lutz, Brian Edwards,
David Cross, some other guy.

Last night I drove down to the Solihull Arts Complex for a lecture by Brian H. Edwards, organised by Solihull Presbyterian on the issues raised by Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Brian is a Christian writer and apologist and has produced many books amongst which is a little 32-page book on the phenomenon.

I have never really been one to get hyped up about these kinds of cultural phenomena. Rather cynically, I always think, “someone is making money out of this and it isn’t me”! So I had not read the book, though my wife Susan has, nor seen the film. Nevertheless, I am aware that these kinds of things can affect the consciousness of the culture for a time at least which creates an opportunity for discussion with non-Christians. There are some who would argue that this is just fiction: why all the fuss? But there are some who are influenced nonetheless. I remember watching someone on TV a few weeks ago, a lapsed Catholic, who read the book and then claimed that she was convinced by every word. Clearly, the fact that it was fiction had not deterred her from believing it! There will be many others.

The Da Vinci Code Meeting, Solihull,  15 June 2006

Julie and Al Lutz

I guess there were about 30 in attendance. Brian presented the main issues for Christians, making use of a PowerPoint presentation. It was clear and well delivered without being confrontational. He laid out the facts compared with the propositions made by the characters in the book. It was followed by questions afterwards.

Most interesting for me was a discussion after the meeting with the young guy who was the council’s caretaker looking after the venue for us. He is not a Christian, but described the presentation as ‘fascinating’ and we talked about some of the issues. He was delightful.

Overall, It was good to meet some of the Solihull people again and to make some new contacts.

Da Vinci: A Broken Code

Confessions of a Reformission Rev.: Part I

As I mentioned before, I was given a copy of Mark Driscoll’s book Confessions of a Reformission Rev. last month. I read it pretty quickly and really enjoyed it. Yes, as others have made a point of, there was an uncomfortable account of a pastoral situation where the language was choice (see for example Tim Challies’ comments in his review). That aside it was a great read and very motivating. But details to come later. I am in the process of rereading it since I think there is much that I need to take note of. I plan to comment on individual chapters and wrap it up at the end with a review. This may be boring to some, but I want to use this space for some mental processing.

The book is an account of the growth of Mars Hill Church in Seattle from a handful of people 10 years ago to over 4000 today, and planning for 10000. This is astounding enough. However, what makes this interesting is that Driscoll began in the emergent stream, which has since developed theologically liberal positions, but has parted company with these views, adopting calvinist soteriology (the Five Points), while at the same time engaging with culture.

Conservatives like me might be tempted to think that this engagement with culture has been a route to compromise. How else can we explain the massive growth of the church? (Underlying assumption: a calvinistic church must be a small church.) But Driscoll strongly believes that the key element of his ministry has been the fact that he has made the preaching of Jesus and his work the centre of his preaching and he has simply opened his Bible and “yelled at people”. To me, that’s what makes this book interesting. Is this really compromise? Or is it valid missionary engagement, becoming all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some (1 Co. 9:22, NIV)? I will think about this as we go along.

So, feel free to comment in the coming days, whether you have read the book or not. I look forward discussion!

Confessions of a Reformission Rev.: Part I

Changes Ahead

Finally, it is over. I feel I have been slogging over books and a keyboard for nearly two months solid. My sermon prep has been squeezed and my family has borne the brunt of a fair degree of unreasonableness on my part. I am extremely grateful for their patience. Yesterday, at last, I had my last exam, in Hebrew. It went better than I expected so I was quite pleased. Now, I can relax.

Well, except for one thing. I had hoped that that would be that and I could graduate this Summer. However, I had completely forgotten about an outstanding assignment from my church planting placement two years ago. I have to complete it. I only remembered it when there was no chance of getting it done on time for the final college exam board at the end of this month. This means that I will have to do it over the summer and graduate in December instead. It’s not a problem, but it is annoying. I would have liked to get my degree out of the way once and for all.

It will be a time of change in the near future. I finish my attachment to Derwent Free Church at the end of the month. I can’t believe I have been there almost two years! I have learned a great deal, both good and bad, about myself, preaching, pastoring, leadership. There have been some blessings and encouragements. However, I cannot but be disappointed that the church has not developed and grown to the degree I would have liked. But this itself is a lesson: it is Christ’s church, and he is answerable to no-one. He has his own purposes and plans which he graciously calls us into. We answer to him and we must learn to be faithful and humble.

In July I will start working with Al Lutz at Solihull Presbyterian Church. God willing, I will be taken under care by the EPCEW presbytery in the near future and we will work towards licensure, ordination etc. etc. over the next year. Initially, I will travel to Solihull from Derby, a 50-minute drive, a few times a week and our family will attend worship there on Sundays.

I have some concerns about ministry at a distance. One thing my attachment at DFC has taught me is that to live with the people is essential to effectively being missionaries to them, but it does not seem sensible to do it any other way at the moment. However, with Al and his wife Julie ‘on the ground’ and me parachuting in for a while, I hope we can see some progress with God’s help.

Your prayers much coveted for me, my family, the work of mission.

Changes Ahead