Ministry FAQ

The life of a minister is filled with all kinds of tasks from the political to the pastoral to the practical, for which no pattern of ministerial formation can prepare us. Three decades of experience as minister, supervisor and mentor have provided me with a number of examples. I also invited the good people of the Facebook Groups of “Baptist Collaboration” and “Baptist Ministers in the UK” to share their own experiences, and I have quoted their words anonymously below.

It is not the things Ministers know we need to know that are important: the known unknowns. Rather it is the things we discover too late that we did not know but we really did need to know: the “unknown unknowns.” Here, then, is a catalogue of just some of the challenging issues faced by most ministers at one time or another, which range from the trivial to the vital and from the intentionally humorous to the tragically serious. This list may be of particular help to Ministers in Training and Newly Accredited Ministers. The categories covered are Finance, Premises, Practical Ministry Skills, Managing Time and Space, Diplomacy and Church Politics, Pastoral Skills, Wisdom, Leadership, Administration and Handling Conflict.

In due course this document will be expanded to incorporate suggestions of resources which help provide answers to these Ministry FAQs.

 

FINANCE

How can I understand church accounts? Which bits matter and which do not?

What is a Reserves Policy and why does every church have to have one?

What is an Independent Examination of church accounts? What should and shouldn’t it cover? And why do all churches have to have them?

What is a Pension Cessation Event and why must we do everything possible to avoid one?

“What to do when a tenant of the buildings (pre-school) goes bankrupt and the bailiffs are called in!”

Ministers taxes: how should I fill in my tax form, what can I claim as expenses from church and from HMRC and how do I claim them?

 

PREMISES

Can somebody point me to an idiot’s guide to Elf and Safety?

What do I need to know about “The importance of listed buildings and maintaining them”?

What do ministers need to know about Planning and Building Regulations?

Where can I gain the practical skills every minister seems to need? E.g. “Plumbing”  “Electrics” How to unblock a drain.”  “How to fix the church boiler they inevitably don’t make parts for anymore”  “laying carpet, putting up shelves, fixing the coffee machine, the weird places cock stops were placed in the 60s, how to break into your own church safe. All alongside where to keep a secret stash of loo paper.” “Rescuing old ladies who have locked themselves in toilets… Negotiating the price of scrap and salvage…” “How to source rare light bulbs that haven’t been produced in the last fifty years.   They are light bulbs that are only meant to need changing every decade, so of course, about once a year.”

“What is the correct course of action when you discover the church boiler has exploded and has begun to flood the church hall and you don’t know where the mains water stopcock is … when alone in the building and you are having an extended debate with yourself about how long you keep your finger in the hole in the pipe limiting but not preventing the flood before you go and find a phone to call for help?”

 

PRACTICAL MINISTRY SKILLS

How do I master the church photocopier, printer, data projector, PA system etc?

How can I learn to produce notice sheets, leaflets, posters, booklets easily and cheaply without breaking every rule of graphic design?

Do I really have to learn how to use PowerPoint?  (Yes, you do!)

Where can I acquire “A complete guide to all known medical complaints.” “And unknown as well….” “and the corresponding catalogue of all medicines, prescribed, over the counter and alternative, and medical procedures, associated with every ailment.”?

Who will teach me how to do baptisms without putting my back out?

Is there a guide to the practicalities of scattering ashes on hilltops on windy days?

What should I do with the paperwork the undertaker gives you?

What is the etiquette of which coffin to process first and which is placed on the plinth in a cremation of husband and wife?

Where do you find out about “Negotiating funeral etiquette for a variety of different cultures.” (The same goes for weddings)?

What are the minister’s legal position, rights and responsibilities, e.g in issues such as confidentiality (since there is no such thing as “the sanctity of the confessional”)?

 

MANAGING TIME AND SPACE

What is “The meaning of Sabbath” for ministers?

How should ministers manage their day and their week?

“Boundaries and time off.” How do you protect your time off?

How do we help the church to recognise the need for priorities?

“How do we reply to emails/text messages, being available while having your own life?”

How do ministers avoid “the tyranny of the urgent” and focus on what is important?

How do ministers learn when to stop and when to rest?

How can I look after my own mental health and not getting too involve in the difficulties of others to the extent that I become ill too?

What are “terms of appointment” and why it is a good idea to press the church to stick to them?
DIPLOMACY and CHURCH POLITICS

“How can I make people agree on the colour of the curtains”/ carpets/ chairs/ walls/ wallpaper?

“How (can I) work the church heating, and stop people turning the thermostat up to 30 when they come in because they feel a bit cold and of course that makes it heat up quicker. Then we are all sweating and passing out before the end of the service because it feels like we are in the Sahara desert!”?

“How to explain to your very sensitive, but ever so slightly eccentric pianist why it would not be alright to put up a large floral patio umbrella over the piano stool and piano for the Church Anniversary service, to keep the sun out of her eyes.”

Why is it so important never, ever, to move, never mind remove objects and artifacts which seem to be of no value but actually have enormous importance in certain people’s eyes?

Why is it absolutely essential never, ever to put up a plaque in memory of anybody, especially not previous ministers, because those plaques and equally objects they may be attached to like pulpits, pianos or flower stands, will then be immovable parts of the fixtures and fittings until the Lord returns?

“What to do with books that churches have hoarded for years without feeling guilty, if even book aid don’t want them. At least we can add them to recycle banks.” “And what about the three icky blonde Jesus pictures from the 1950s.”? One answer: “You put them in the damp room at the far end of the church until they are white with mould and everyone begs you to throw them out. It takes from two to four years depending on the level of dampness in my experience”

What can you do when you have tiny premises and no storage space and the problem is not getting rid of stuff you don’t want but rather try to find a way to prevent the church wombles “tidying away” things you really want to keep?

How do you stop people from donating to church their broken crockery, worn out sofas, tatty old books and anything else they can’t face parting with?

How do we best deal with “the quirks of people and local histories. Relationship issues can be horribly complex and varied. One big surprise was discovering there was still local feeling because two villages had been on opposite sides in the civil war!”

“How can you deal with the ‘Hyacinth Bucket’ characters in the congregation?”

What should you do with all the books on excellence in preaching the congregation keep giving you? (Give them in return copies of “101 Things to do during a dull sermon”)

(There is a whole book to be written on how to negotiate with organists / musicians / singers / worship leaders.)

PASTORAL SKILLS

How do you develop the skills of “Furniture shifting; talking, smiling, eating, drinking simultaneously while being pastoral”?

How do you cope with “Drinking tea which is too strong, or milky or sweet without spitting it out or making faces?”

“How can you lose weight while doing pastoral visits?”

How can I develop the spiritual gift of “Mind reading ….  you know everyone’s problems without being told and react accordingly.”?

Do we ever find ways to deal with difficult pastoral situations without it hurting? e.g. death of a child, self harm, abuse, anorexia, mental health issues?

 

WISDOM

How can ministers achieve “the art of being right all the time” which seems to be what everybody expects of us?

“How to say ‘no’!”?

“How do I please all people, all the time?

How do I learn plate juggling … of the metaphorical kind?

How long does it take to learn that “you cannot lead people where they do not want to go”?

How do I recognise when its time to move on rather than stick it out with the vision you believe God has given you?

“How do you deal with a church leadership that don’t listen to you because you are “young and/or inexperienced.”

How do you choose which battles to fight?

How can we learn to recognise the danger of winning the battle but by doing so losing the war.

How do we know when to walk away?

 

LEADERSHIP

What is the best way to introduce change to the church?

How should we manage staff, and do so in Christ-like rather than secular business ways, yet at the same time introducing appropriate good practice?

What is the difference between managing volunteers and managing staff?

“How do we work out when change would be helpful – or how to figure out when its best to leave people where they are?”

What is the difference between leadership and management?

How do we know when it is right to take a risk on others?

 

ADMINISTRATION

What are policies? What policy should churches have on which policies to have?

Where do I learn how to write policies?

What should I do if the church won’t adhere to their own policies?

What are the difference between Trust Deeds, Constitutions and Church Rules and why do we need to have them?

What are the correct processes for changing Trust Deeds, Constitutions and Church Rules?

How can I change Trust Deeds, Constitutions and Church Rules without splitting the church?

Where can I find the BU Guidelines documents and why should all churches read them and stick to them.

What are the rules and processes for churches which are applying for Home Mission Grants including and how on earth do we fill in the dreaded GD1B form correctly?

Why is it so important to know what our church rules and constitution say and how do I know which bits I can get away with ignoring and which bits I dare not.

How do we answer a county council survey on the use of the church hall when the first question is “Can any group use the hall regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.?” without opening the church to litigation from the Equalities Commission?

What is the difference between Deacons and Charity Trustees and why does it matter so much that Deacons know the difference?

What are Conflict of Interest and Conflict of Loyalty and why do they matter?

How much law do I really need to know to run a charity and a small business?

What do church need to know about Data Protection and in what ways are many churches breaking those laws?

 

HANDLING CONFLICT

Where can I learn about conflict management in theory and in practice?

How should we deal with awkward people / deacons / worship leaders / those who have been in the church forever?

“How do you deal with the ‘power families’ in the church?”

“How do you deal with a leader who shows no fruit of any kind of spiritual life, even in their speaking?”

“Dealing with a Deacon Possessed Church. … How to deal with someone who believes that the Church cannot possibly function without them dictating every move and deciding every standard in every single aspect of church life. … What to do when that person sets about trying to get rid of you when you try to gently point out the flaws in this thinking and start challenging the status quo.”  (And how not to become that person yourself, of course.)?

“How to deal with a very longstanding deacon who has decided to step down but you know will be busting to find out what’s going on and will now be able to ambush us in church meetings ..benign negativity that stops do much?”

What to do when said deacon is no longer able to fulfill the role, and stands down, and everyone is convinced that the church is about to fall apart!

“How to deal with bullying from church members?”

“How not to bully church members?”

How do you recognise bullying deacons and what do you do when you do?

“How can we manage conflict without resorting to external mediators”

“How should we handle conflict when it becomes personal?”

 

AND FINALLY

“What is the Church Anniversary FOR?” (Somebody very helpfully replied, “The flower arrangers. I’m pretty certain it’s for them.”)

“How do you deal with a deacon who comments … so are you growing your hair? I know other ministers who have had comments about the suitability of their clothes. On elderly lady when asked about dress code for a funeral then asked what I was going to wear. Navy was the reply at which point she turned to her daughter and said…she always wears bright colours.” Another commented “I preached at another church and was slipped a note at the end – ‘for a new cardigan’”

“How to do we learn to accept that we won’t be prepared for everything?”

The College of Baptist Ministers has a new website and blog

I have spent a bit of time recently creating a new website and blog for The College of Baptist Ministers.

The site is packed with interesting articles and useful resources for ministers (including some of mine) as well as “official” documents from CBM including our Ethics for Ministry, our Guidelines for a Regular Review of Ministry and our Nine-stranded Approach to Continuing Ministerial Development.

Do visit www.collegeofbaptistministers.com    (note – .org is the old site, .com is the new site)

If you want to know more about CBM, just ask :)

Preparing for Believer’s Baptism

Most churches use some kind of course to prepare candidates for Believer’s Baptism. Here is the course I wrote many years ago and have adapted through the years.

bapprep-nsbc

Annual Review of Ministry

The College of Baptist Ministers, of which I am Treasurer, has been working on a pattern for an annual review of ministry which we wish to advocate to churches and ministers. Here is the current draft – all comments welcome.

INTRODUCTION TO AN ANNUAL REVIEW OF MINISTRY

Many Ministers already benefit from an Annual Review of their Ministry. To avoid overtones of employment, management or performance, we describe the process as Review and not as Appraisal. In response to requests, CBM offers these Guidelines for a suggested process for an Annual Review of Ministry as one aid to becoming the best ministers we can be.

In his book, Living Out The Call (see Book 1 page 42) Paul Beasley-Murray quotes the following theological basis for Ministry Review from the United Methodist Church of America.

“Evaluation is natural to the human experience. Evaluation is one of God’s ways of bringing the history of the past into dialogue with the hope for the future. Without confession of sin there is no reconciliation; without the counting of blessings there is no thanksgiving; without the acknowledgement of accomplishments there is no celebration; without awareness of potential there is no hope; without hope there is no desire for growth; without desire for growth the past will dwarf the future. We are called into new growth and new ministries by taking a realistic and hopeful look at what we have been and what we can still become. Surrounded by God’s grace and the crowd of witnesses in the faith, we can look at our past unafraid and from its insights eagerly face the future with new possibilities.

They suggest that a periodic Review of Ministry will help Ministers in at least the following ways.

  • to affirm their gifts, achievements and personality;
  • to step back and take stock (especially with reference to previous goals and unexpected happenings);
  • to reflect on (a) their personal aspirations and needs; (b) their effectiveness in their daily work;
  • to improve skills, insights and gifts;
  • to identify areas for profession and personal development;
  • to recognise challenges, identify achievable goals and determine appropriate strategies for future action.”

So an Annual Review can affirm the Minister and say “well done”. It can support the Minister in their calling and personal life. It can review previously set objectives and set future goals. It can provide a safe environment for discussing problems and, where necessary, to express dissatisfaction by either minister or church. It can identify training needs and at the same time new opportunities. Yet the purpose of the Review is not only to consider things which the Minister might approach differently but also to explore ways in which the church might do things differently, and not least ways in which Church and Leadership can share the tasks of ministry and affirm and support the Minister more effectively. The Review of Ministry should be a positive process. If there is any element of criticism then it should be constructive criticism with the well-being of the Minister and of the Church in mind.

Ministers rightly consider themselves accountable to God. We are servants of Christ, not servants of the church. A Review of Ministry, roughly every year and timed not to clash with major events in the Christian Year or the Church programme, is an appropriate way to express that accountability, but for that to be most effective CBM strongly recommend that an external Facilitator is invited to bring their experience and wisdom and steer the Review process.

 

 SUGGESTED ROLE OF THE FACILITATOR

The Facilitator will be a person with understanding and direct experience of Christian ministry who would carry the full confidence of both minister and church leadership.

The Facilitator will ensure that both Minister and Leadership have understood each other correctly. He/she will help the Leadership to understand the unique challenges of ministry in order better to support the Minister. At the same time help the Facilitator will help the Minister to appreciate any concerns the Leadership might express. The Facilitator is not there to inspect, appraise or evaluate the ministry in any sense.

The Facilitator will help Minister and Leadership together to discern priorities, explore ways forward and identify appropriate outcomes for any issues.

One understandable anxiety of ministers is that a Review of Ministry could be a tool which the Church or Church Leadership could use to micro-manage the minister. The Facilitator will be responsible for ensuring that the Minister is always seen and treated as an Office Holder and not as an employee. The Facilitator is there to make sure that the Minister will find the Review to be a safe and enriching process.

 

A PROCESS FOR AN ANNUAL REVIEW OF MINISTRY

  1. Appointment of an appropriate external Facilitator acceptable both to the Minister and to the Church Leadership.
  2. The church Leadership (e.g. Elders, Deacons or Trustees) will appoint one or two of their number to attend the Review Meeting with the Minister and the Facilitator.
  3. Review Questionnaire – possible questions/topics we can include are suggested below.
    1. Minister completes a Review Questionnaire which will be confidential to the Facilitator.
    2. The member(s) of the Church Leadership who are appointed to attend the Review Meeting also submit a more brief single response to the Review Questionnaire which will be confidential to the Facilitator. Those who will attend the Review Meeting may informally canvas other members of the Leadership for their comments. However it would not be appropriate for the Leadership to hold a formal “pre-Review” meeting to discuss their response.
  4. The Facilitator seeks clarification on any issues arising from the Review Questionnaires if necessary.
  5. The Facilitator draws up the agenda for the Review Meeting and circulates.
  6. The Facilitator chairs the Review Meeting which will last no more than two hours, involving herself/himself, the Minister and the delegated member(s) of the Leadership Team. At that meeting it will not be appropriate for the Leadership representative(s) to raise any issues for discussion which the Facilitator has not included on the agenda. It would be very unfair for that meeting to contain any surprises. The Facilitator will however be free to raise issues not mentioned by Minister or Leadership if he/she is led to do so.
  7. Facilitator offers a draft summary Review Report from the Review Meeting to the Minister. This will list topics discussed but the focus will be on agreed outcomes and next steps.
  8. After the Minister has responded to the draft, the Facilitator sends the finalised summary Review Report to the Leadership Team. This will be the only feedback from the meeting to the wider Leadership Team – all discussion in the meeting itself will remain confidential to those present. The Review will be confidential to the Minister and Leadership Team – any of its content will only be shared with the wider church with the full agreement of the Minister.
  9. The Facilitator or the Minister will inform their Regional Minister that the Review has taken place, The Minister may choose to send their RM a copy of the Review Report, or may choose not to, and nothing should be inferred from the Minister’s choice in that regard either way.

 

MINISTRY REVIEW QUESTIONNAIRE

A variety of possibilities are available. The Baptist Union is developing a form for Ministry Review and Ministers may choose to use that form. If Ministers wish to consider an alternative, CBM commends the outline below. In addition to the Review Questionnaire, the Minister will provide the Facilitator (and possibly, at the Minister’s choice, the Leadership Representatives) with an up-to-date copy of their Continuing Ministerial Development Portfolio. Whatever form is used, it should be expected that completing the Review Questionnaire should only require a few hours work, although Ministers should feel free to write more if they find it helpful to do so. The Questionnaire’s primary purpose should be to inform the Agenda for the Review Meeting, rather than provide a comprehensive record of the ministry of the previous year.

Suggested Pattern of a Review Questionnaire taken from Paul Beasley-Murray’s book, Living Out The Call

  1. Statement of purpose: “With all the other members of the ministry team, to excite fresh hope and faith in God, encouraging God’s people to embrace others with love of another kind, enabling individuals to change and grow, and empowering the church for witness and service. With all the other members of the ministry team, to implement the mission policy of the church as agreed in the church’s development plan. To……” [The basis of this should be the job specification given to you]
  2. Review of last year’s objectives and general review of last year. This is your opportunity to give an account of yourself. What, with God’s help, did you achieve? What has encouraged you? What has frustrated you?
  3. Review of last year’s training and development: Courses you have attended; books you have read etc. How have you grown as a disciple of Jesus? How have you developed as a leader in God’s church?
  4. Key objectives for the coming year: These objectives will need to be agreed and should link with the church’s priorities.
  5. Standards of performance: What did you feel you did well? What could have been done better?
  6. Development plans: How do you hope to grow and develop as a leader in God’s church over the next 12 months?
  7. Further long-term development: What are your long-term goals?

(Living Out The Call 1, 45)

Ministers may wish to address other questions as well. Issues to consider could include spirituality, relationships with God and with family, physical and emotional well-being, work-life balance, hopes and fears for the future and longer term aims, levels of satisfaction and fulfilment, and indeed anything which the Minister wishes to use the Review process to raise with the church in the presence of the Facilitator.

The College of Baptist Ministers warmly commends this practice of an Annual Review of Ministry to all Ministers.

CBM Board: Paul Beasley-Murray, Paul Goodliff, Stephen Asibuo, Peter Thomas   October 2016

 

 

Prepared To Give An Answer

Just to say that my new book “Prepared To Give An Answer” has now been published.

Christians want to share their faith with their friends but many are scared that they won’t know what to say. By preparing ourselves to give an answer, every Christian can be more confident, wise, bold and effective in talking about Jesus.

PART 1 – QUESTIONS PEOPLE ASK

What is salvation?

What is the point of life?

How can we have a relationship with God?

How should we respond to the Good News?

Didn’t he used to be dead?

What makes you believe that God exists?

Just how did God make the world?

Can we trust the New Testament?

Is Jesus the only way to God?

How can we believe in God in a world so full of suffering?

What happens when we die?

PART 2 – TALKING ABOUT JESUS

Be prepared to give an answer

Why we don’t and why we should talk about Jesus

Preaching the gospel necessarily includes using words

Praying about talking about Jesus

Sharing my story

Ambassadors for Christ

Afterword – Taking every opportunity

Paperback 140 pages ISBN: 9781784563790

Order your copy from http://www.fast-print.net/bookshop/1942/prepared-to-give-an-answer

Twelve Great Reasons for Meeting Together One-to-One

Below is a chapter from my book Making Disciples One To One which is available from the publisher at http://www.fast-print.net/bookshop/247/making-disciples-one-to-one

Disciples are learners. Through the ages disciples of Jesus Christ have learned through the teaching of the church, especially through sermons. And they have learned individually by studying the Bible and the teachings of the church, and by praying. At times disciples have also emphasised the importance of meeting in small groups, from the Benedictine and Franciscan monks and the Methodist Class Meetings, to today‘s Home Groups or Cell Groups for Bible study, fellowship, encouragement and prayer. But one way in which disciples through the ages have always learned has been neglected in these self-centred days – the immense value of believers meeting together One-to-One.
Who were the people who have made the most impact on your Christian life? Who brought you to faith in the first place? Who has helped you most to grow along the way? It might have been a speaker at a big event, or a memorable sermon in your local church, or the books or music of somebody you have never met. But many people would agree that for them a Minister, a Youth Leader, a Home Group Leader or close Christian friends were much more significant. And the times which have shaped our faith were not so much occasions in crowds or even in small groups, but the times which we spent with those precious individuals One-to-One.
When two or three people who regularly meet to talk about God and pray together are at roughly the same stage in their Christian experience, expressions like ―Spiritual Friendships‖, ―Soul Friends‖, ―Sustaining Friends‖ ―Prayer Buddies‖ or ―Peer Mentoring‖ are appropriate. When a more mature Christian helps a younger Christian find their way, a better description might ―Spiritual Direction‖, ―Christian Formation‖, ―Coaching‖ or ―Mentoring‖. All of these are immensely helpful in the process of knowing God better and becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. Sadly in this age of individualism very many Christians have yet to discover the blessings of meeting with others One-to-One.
There are at least twelve excellent reasons why it is good for believers to get together One-to-One. Some of them relate more to the context of Spiritual Direction, a more mature Christian sharing the spiritual journey of a younger Christian. Others are more significant in Spiritual Friendships as two Christians at roughly the same stage share their journeys with each other. Any one of these great blessings would be reason enough for believers to begin to meet together and share their spiritual lives One-to-One.

1. Anybody can do it!
We can‘t all give lots of time to lots of other people – but everybody can give time to just one or two! Even Home Groups or Cell Groups can‘t be just right for everybody all the time. But meeting One-to-One will always be at just the right level for both. A meeting of just two is totally flexible – you can always get together when you want to. Meeting with the intention and the expectation of talking about Christian things gives freedom to actually talk about Christ without awkwardness or embarrassment; because that is the very reason you are meeting. And there are things you would be prepared to share One-to-One which you would never share even in a small group. You can feel amazingly safe. Going on a journey into unknown territory it always feels better to share that adventure with somebody else than going there by yourself, especially if the other person has been there before.

2. Dialogue teaches the parts monologue can’t teach
We learn all kinds of things much better by talking about them and by doing them with other people than just by reading or by listening to a professor or a preacher talking about them. Talking things through with another person brings so many blessings – blessings for you and blessings for person you are meeting with so double the blessings! Talking helps us understand the things we have heard in sermons or read in books. It helps us think through decisions we are making and find ways through problems we face. It brings encouragement in difficult times and helps us keep going when we feel like giving up. So often Christians only talk to another person about their faith when problems arise. The wonderful thing about meeting regularly making disciples One-toOne is that in times of trial the relationship of ―sustaining friends‖ already exists.

3. Jesus tells us to pray together.
―Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.‖ (Matthew 18:19-20) Here Jesus very clearly makes two promises which are tragically overlooked in our individualistic world. The second promise (in order of the saying) is that Jesus the Risen Christ is present when believers meet together in some special way in which He is not present with them when they are apart and alone. And this is linked in some way to the first promise which is that God the Father will answer the prayers of believers who come together in agreement about what they are praying for, more than if they had prayed alone and separately. If it was not already abundantly clear from other parts of Scripture, Jesus here is specifically promising to bless Christians who meet together and pray together. And that doesn’t have to be at a church service or a prayer meeting or a Home Group. The minimum number meeting together to claim these promises is precisely two. Making disciples One-to-One. Praying together is always good. Intercessions carry more power because they are united. Praying for each other is good. Praying through each other’s decisions and problems is good. And having somebody else committed to praying for your personal spiritual growth is guaranteed to be good – because God answers prayer.

4. Opening up to each other is opening up to God
If we really mean business with God we need to open up every part of our lives to Him. And an important way of doing this is to open up our lives to other people. Many Christians are afraid of doing this. I am afraid of letting other people see ―the real me‖ because then they would realise (in the words of Michael Caine’s character in the film Educating Rita) ―there is less to me than meets the eye‖. I really do need to let somebody else in on ―the real me‖ because only then, when I am truly being myself, only then can God really begin to change me. Christians need to learn to open up to each other, Sharing emotions, sadness, anger, disappointment or discouragement with each other is the same as sharing these feelings with God. Because when we have poured out our heart to our friend, and we know our friend understands, then we can be assured that God also has heard and understood us. British Christians especially are so practised at bottling up our emotions. It is very healthy to have a spiritual context where we can uncork the bottle!

5. Confession and absolution helps us deal with sin
In the battle against the world, the flesh and the devil, having a Christian friend standing with you can make all the difference. Through history the church has known the value of confession and absolution. Jesus has given to all Christians the authority to declare sins forgiven. So James 5:16 makes this invitation. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.In the process of Christian holiness, turning away from sin and being transformed into the image of Christ, every Christian would benefit from having a friend to whom he could confess his or her sins. That friend could offer the blessing of declaring those sins forgiven. More than that, the friend would be there to pray alongside against those temptations in the future. Too many Christians walk the road to holiness alone. We do not need to be alone!
6. Discipleship, like salvation, is intended to be shared
In twenty-first century Western Christianity the focus in our understanding of salvation is almost entirely individual. We are concerned about our personal relationship with God. Biblical salvation is very different. It is corporate. We are saved into the Body of Christ of which each of us is only one single part. We are part of the family of God, being built into the Temple of the Holy Spirit. We are saved together and being disciples is something we are supposed to do together. In his excellent book Invitation to a Journey M.R.Mulholland writes, ―Spiritual formation should never be merely individual but social and corporate.‖ Christians can be so individualistic. ―It’s my faith and my life, and I can live it as I want to.‖ That is NOT true. That is the attitude of the footballer who hogs the ball instead of passing it around the team. It‘s the attitude of the trombone player who plays in any key he chooses, any notes he wants, ignoring the conductor and the rest of the orchestra and thinks it doesn‘t matter. Richard Foster has written, ―None of us is supposed to live the Christian life alone. We gain help and strength from others.‖

7. It is good to be in covenant relationships with others
There is a place in the Christian life for discipline. For making promises to God and to each other, and for allowing others to call us to account for those promises. In essence most spiritual promises of value are wrapped up in the promise made in many traditions at baptism, ―to follow Jesus Christ all the days of my life in the fellowship of His church.‖ It is valuable to allow other Christians to encourage us in keeping our promises. We know we should be more motivated and committed than we are. It‘s good to pray when we feel like it – it is even better to pray when we don‘t feel like it, and even in times when we feel we cannot pray at all, because we have made the commitment to God and to the other person that we will meet.

8. Being accountable is a good thing
Being accountable helps us keep learning and praying and it helps us stand firm against temptation. Accountability means we can‘t cheat ourselves, or God. Richard Foster commends this idea of ―loving accountability‖. He writes, ―I need others to ask hard questions about my prayer experiences, temptations and struggles, and plans for spiritual growth.‖ Any Christian who is serious about being a disciple of Jesus should not be afraid of searching questions. ―How is it with your soul?‖ ―How are you experiencing God this week?‖ Christians have the right and the obligation to ―watch over each other‖ and support each other in Christian life. If we see a brother falling into sin, all Christians, and especially those in leadership are obliged to try to rescue them (Acts 20:28; James 5:19-20; 1 John 5:16). And every Christian is obliged to allow others to help us on the road to holiness.
9. Seeing Christ in each other
Imprisoned for his faith and tortured for Christ, Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand saw the suffering of his fellow prisoners and asked, ―If that were Christ, would you give Him your blanket?‖ The parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46 reminds us that when we love and serve our neighbour we are loving and serving Christ Himself. Somebody once asked Mother Teresa of Calcutta how she could work with the untouchables and the sick and the dying? Her answer was that she sees Jesus in each one of the people she helps. So as she serves and cares for those who are dying she is serving and caring for Christ Himself. The best way to learn to see Christ in others is to develop a close relationship with a fellow Christian. Meeting with Christ in another person is a wonderful way of experiencing the presence of Christ in ordinary everyday life. Thomas Merton the Twentieth Century mystic puts it this way. ―When I meet with you, the Christ in you is able to meet the Christ in me in a way that would not have been possible had we not met.‖ In the context of Spiritual Direction, John Chryssavgis writes, ―In opening up to a spiritual elder, one allows the divine Other into the whole of one‘s life‖

10. Things “better caught than taught”
There are many things in life which we learn by watching others. The piano teacher, the driving instructor, the personal trainer and the life coach all show us HOW TO do what we want to do. The best way to learn to speak French is to spend time with a Frenchman. So also in the Christian life there are individuals who inspire and encourage us by their passion in prayer, their boldness in evangelism, their commitment to holiness and their complete devotion to God. From their examples we learn skills, attitudes and character. We learn hospitality, patterns of prayer and devotional reading. We learn how to cope with life. We seek to imitate their work/life/church balance. We are fired by their wisdom, zeal and love. They are our role models. We catch their faith. As other people share their lives with us, we learn from them how to share our own life with other people. And the best place for this kind of Christian learning and growing is One-to-One.
11. Exercising Spiritual Gifts
The safety of a One-to-One relationship is the perfect context for learning to recognise God‘s voice and deliver God’s messages. The Bible teaches the prophet-hood of all believers. Every Christian has received that Holy Spirit who inspired the prophets so potentially all may exercise prophetic gifts (Acts 2:1718; 38-39). Where better than meeting One-to-One to begin to explore and develop spiritual gifts, especially prophecy?

12. God gives us other Christians so we can practise His kind of love.
A very good way to learn to love your enemies is to practise by loving your friends! God gives us other Christians so we can learn to love and accept and forgive. The challenge of just making space for somebody else in our busy lives is good. Learning to really listen to them so that we will better at listening to others. Practising helping others – learning to be Jesus to other people. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20) Then many of us find it incredibly difficult to talk to other people about Jesus. Sharing our story One-to-One is good practice for sharing with Home Group, then with other friends, then with strangers.

With so many great reasons for meeting together One-to-One, it is hard to think of any excuses. Every Christian should be meeting regularly with a Spiritual Friend.  After a distinguished career as a performer, one famous virtuoso violinist became a professor of music. Somebody asked him what had prompted his change of career. The violinist replied: ―Violin playing is a perishable art. It must be passed on as a personal skill; otherwise it is lost.‖ We can‘t learn to live the Christian life just by reading books or even by following courses. We need instruction in the “perishable art” of Christian living. We all need to be making disciples One-to-One.

Leave or Remain? The Referendum on the EU

After considerable thought I offer my reflections on this very important issue. This is not a comprehensive discussion, but highlights what for me are the key issues.

FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE

Baptist Christians above others have always championed freedom of conscience, the ability of each individual to discern right from wrong and the obligation to choose to do right. This idea is one of the foundations of modern democracy and at the same time of the first clause of the Baptist Union of Great Britain Declaration of Principle, “that each Church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and administer His laws”

In the world today a “nation is recognised as ‘the’ political community that ensures the legitimacy of the state over its territory, and transforms the state into the state of all its citizens.” (UNESCO)  A nation is held together by elements such as shared history and heritage, culture, currency, language(s), recognized borders and common government. As such the United Kingdom functions as a nation-state. The UK is insistent that the European Union should never become a “super-state” but will only be at best a group of states working in cooperation in a number of areas. Some other nations are committed to much fuller integration, with many believing that the European Union can only thrive if that goal is pursued, especially through a shared monetary policy and common currency.

Freedom of conscience gives each citizen a share in the responsibility of choosing for ourselves what is best for our country, rather than to allow people and institutions who we have not directly appointed to make those decisions for us. It seems both irrational, and contrary to the experience of recent history and current events, to trust that unelected bodies of people tasked with creating solutions for the benefit of 28 very diverse nations will make better decisions for Britain than the admittedly flawed bodies directly elected only by the British people. If those EU decisions are so wise, why have successive British governments insisted on so many exemptions and special deals for Britain?

Baptist Principles lead us to believe that each church is capable of making decisions for itself. The analogy of this in international affairs is to believe that an autonomous state is capable of making decisions for itself. Just as we resist hierarchical church government with Union or Associations imposing decisions on churches, so logically we should resist an unelected bureaucracy imposing decisions on member states of the EU. Other lines of argument over what is in the best interests of the UK and of our citizens are not relevant. The issue of sovereignty over-rides any sacrifices which we may (or may well turn out not) need to make in order to establish our democratic freedom once again.

RESTORING SOVEREIGNTY

The European Project has expanded beyond recognition from the Common Market Britain joined in 1973: in particular, its approach to freedom of movement and legislation in areas far removed from trade agreements. In many areas of life our democracy has been replaced by an imposed bureaucracy. Specifically, within the EU Britain does not have control of our borders.  A criminal record is not sufficient grounds for excluding a citizen of the EU – they have to be a demonstrable threat to our nation. With regard to migration EU citizens, even those from countries which have only just joined, have an automatic right to settle in England which citizens of non-EU countries do not have, even those from Commonwealth and other countries with much stronger historical links to Britain. Elements now in English law have been imposed by bureaucrats from Brussels rather than by decision of the UK Parliament or case law precedent. Many believe this process is eroding basic principles of English law such as the presumption of innocence. Freedom of speech and religious freedoms are being overridden by nebulous principles of “equality”.

Many years ago the veteran MP Tony Benn posed “five powerful questions” with regard to any government.

  • What power have you got?
  • Where did you get it from?
  • In whose interests do you use it?
  • To whom are you accountable?
  • How do we get rid of you?

Many would argue that the unelected and faceless bureaucrats of the European Union continue to step beyond their mandate. Since there is no evidence that EU is open to reform in this regard the only way in which the UK can regain our sovereignty and democratic control is to leave the EU.

NO PROSPECTS OF A “REFORMED EUROPE”

Those who advocate remaining in the EU hold out the hope of “reforming the European Union”. Prime Minister David Cameron negotiated for reforms in February 2016 and in the end achieved far less than the very weak set of reforms he had aimed for. In reality these were only a few special exceptions for UK within Europe, most of which are time limited or will in time be eroded. Those failed negotiations serve to demonstrate how reluctant the EU is to change and how long and hard such a process will be, if it is even possible. There is increasing evidence that the EU may well itself fragment irreparably rather than reform.

If it was the case that the EU was such a “good thing” to belong to, the consistent position would surely be to belong fully, demanding no independent border controls, accepting all EU legislation and in particular adopting the Euro as currency. In the Baptist times of 9/3/2016, Baptist Minister Ian Tutton put it this way. “Is it really right, morally, to opt in to that which benefits us whilst opting out of that which doesn’t; isn’t the only morally right position ‘everything’ or ‘nothing’? ‘Everything’ isn’t on the table…’Nothing’ is…” See http://www.baptist.org.uk/Articles/462960/Why_Brexit_is.aspx.

“BENEFITS VS COSTS” AND “PROJECT FEAR”

Arguments from the Remain camp have focused on supposed economic advantages of remaining part of the EU. While neither side can reliably predict the economic situation of Britain if we choose to leave the EU, it is mere scaremongering to represent that possibility as “a leap in the dark”. Moreover Britain’s “best interests” are much broader than finance. Some argue that Europe gives better protection for the poor and the marginalized, for workers’ rights and for refugees than these groups would receive if Britain were completely independent. This is surely a more worthy consideration than shameless self-interest, but implies that those making decisions in the EU are more moral than our own government and we need “them” to make sure we do the right thing. It does not make sense to suggest that the governing body concerning itself with 28 states will do a better job of protecting the vulnerable people in the UK better than the UK government could, if it so chose.

The Remain campaign has not offered particularly cogent arguments in favour of belonging to the EU. Their case has chiefly been based on the uncertainties of what might happen if UK chooses to Leave. We should not be swayed by this “Project Fear”. It seems to me that many who are advocating Remain are behaving as if they were trapped by a variation of the Stockholm Syndrome. ”Stockholm Syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon described in 1973 in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness. …  The syndrome can also be found in other non-hostage situations.” (Wikipedia)

I suggest that in decades to come an analogous effect will come to be known as Brussels Syndrome. Many people will vote to Remain in Europe only because they are uncertain of what life might be like if we Leave. Statistics are suggesting that older people are more likely to vote to Leave. This may well be because we remember a time when UK was not part of the EU and are not afraid of returning to that situation. We remember what EU was intended to be and the ways it was mis-sold to the UK last time the people had a say. And we have seen that the reality today is so far from the dream. We now have a once in a lifetime opportunity to put things right. To conclude with the words of Ian Tutton. “For me BREXIT is the solution, not that the problems will go away but at least we will be able to address them for ourselves.”

Seventeen Simple Things

Seventeen Simple Things

Here are 17 suggestions for simple straightforward inexpensive obvious things which any church could do to help its mission, outreach, evangelism and community involvement.

  1. Pray!

Days of prayer and nights of prayer and weeks of prayer and prayer walking. “Asking is the rule of the kingdom.” (Spurgeon)

  1. Offer prayer

“What can I pray for you?” Offer prayer to contacts and the community. (Thanks to Rich Blake-Lobb for this idea.)

  1. A Church Mobile Phone

A simple Pay As You Go mobile phone for incoming voicemails and texts giving a long-term number which does not change with personnel and you are happy to publicise very widely. Budget £10 to buy (or a free SIM card with somebody’s old phone) plus £10 per year.

  1. A Church Website

A simple attractive web site with a memorable web address publicizing the church’s street address and postcode (for SatNav) mobile phone number, days and times of main activities, details of special events and seeker-friendly information about the Christian faith. Budget £50 per year.

  1. A Church Facebook Group

Better than a Facebook Page to communicate information and build community. Budget: free.
Use targeted Facebook adverts to publicise the Group and the website address at the same time as an invitation to a specific special event. Budget £10 per campaign.

  1. A Welcome Leaflet

A simple attractive leaflet about the church to give to everybody who visits services or regular activities. Featuring the web address, Facebook Group, mobile number, details of activities which are unlikely to change, introduction to the minister and to the Christian faith.  Budget £50 for 500.

  1. A Special “Guest Service and a Special Midweek Event

At least one of each every year –  occasions where visitors and guests and expected and warmly invited. Each gives Christians an opportunity to talk to their friends, neighbours and colleagues about Jesus and to invite them to a Christian occasion.

  1. A Seasonal Giveaway

A faith-sharing gift to give to anybody who comes to special services or events e.g. a New Testament (£1), an evangelistic DVD (50p) or your own book “The Difference Jesus Makes.” Budget £50.

  1. “The Difference Jesus Makes”

A simple booklet specific to your own church combining testimonies of members’ own experiences with explanations of the Christian faith. Give away at special events and for members to give to their friends, neighbours and colleagues especially if it contains their own testimony. Easily photocopied or professionally printed relatively cheaply in quantities. Budget £50 for 100.

  1. A Christmas Card to Deliver

A Card from the church with a Christian image on the front containing a Christmas message, details of regular services and activities, website address and mobile number and offer of your “seasonal giveaway”. Delivered to all the homes in your target community. Budget £55 for 1000.

  1. Invitation Cards/Flyers

A5 Flyers or A6 Cards for special events (see 4) to give to all church contacts (for members to give to their friends, neighbours and colleagues and to give to all attendees of regular activities). Budget £10 for 200.

  1. Posters

Seasonal or Invitation A3 Posters (linked to items 6 and 9 and to 10) for local community noticeboards and shop windows and for windows of members’ homes. Budget £10 for 20.

  1. Use Local Media

Make full use of local press, community directories and websites, “what’s on” pages etc. All free. (Thanks to Rich Blake-Lobb for this idea.)

  1. Refreshments on every occasion

At least at every main service and whenever guests and visitors are invited, generous hospitality (better than they were expecting) gives opportunity for conversations and building relationships.

  1. Interior Displays

Purposeful noticeboards with clear headings, bright, attractive and informative and refreshed regularly. Some Christian images and texts to provoke thought and stimulate conversations. Budget £20. (Thanks to Steff Rooney for this idea.)

  1. An Attractive Modern Exterior Sign

Showing the church name, web address, mobile phone number and time of main meeting(s) in a modern font easily readable by passers-by. Budget: this one might cost some money but it will be worth it because it shows that the church is actually still open.

  1. Try Something New

In addition to all the above, every year attempt at least one new thing the church has never done before in mission, outreach, evangelism or community involvement!

 

Baptist Collaboration in Action

Some of these 17 simple things may nevertheless be hard to do for some churches because they do not have people with the necessary skills (running a website or Facebook Group, or desktop publishing for leaflets and posters). Others may be hard because the church has very few people (delivering lots of leaflets). Although all these things (apart from one) could be done for £325 in the first year and under £200 in subsequent years, for some churches finance may be the limiting factor.

If a larger church were prepared to provide skills, person-power and finance to help a small church achieve these 17 simple things, both would be greatly enriched!

We need to talk more about Jesus

How can we help contacts on the fringe of the church to become inquirers seeking Jesus?

A summer of sabbatical study has led me to one simple conclusion – we need conversations about Jesus. Churches need to be helping and encouraging Christians to talk about Jesus more boldly and wisely, confidently and effectively.

Research by the Barna Group just published at www.talkingjesus.org reports that “44 per cent of practising Christians credit their friends for introducing them to Jesus”.

However when not-yet-Christians were consulted, more than half of non-Christians who know a Christian said they had not had a conversation with that person about faith in Jesus. Clearly some Christians are missing opportunities to talk about Jesus.

Most published resources training Christians in evangelism are aimed at self-selecting committed groups, but I want to encourage and enable every member of our church and congregation. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

It’s why as part of my sabbatical I have produced a range of resources.

Background – we are all evangelists

The Good News is too good to leave to professionals or enthusiasts. We believe in the priesthood of all believers. We are all called to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

In Acts the gospel was proclaimed not only by the apostles also by countless nameless believers who chattered the Good News and gossiped the gospel (Acts 8:1-4 and Acts 11:19-21).

In the Early Church and still today sharing the gospel is a responsibility shared by every believer. Bishop of Chelmsford evangelist Stephen Cottrell writes, “According to our different personalities, gifts and circumstances each of us has a part to play in God’s work of evangelism.”

And Michael Green rightly says, “It is not until church members have the enthusiasm to speak to their friends and acquaintances about Jesus that anybody will really believe we have got good news to share.”

Dialogue reaches the hearts monologue can’t reach

Evangelism can appear distasteful. We feel pressured by “political correctness”, scared of risking friendships, causing offence or embarrassment, or being laughed at or ignored. Talking to non-Christians, the Barna Group research found that the impact of conversations about Jesus is not always positive.

Stuart Murray-Williams makes an important point about the need for dialogue as opposed to monologue: he says evangelism Post-Christendom should become “Engaging in conversation rather than confrontation – evangelism alongside others, not declaiming from an authoritative height, through dialogue instead of monologue.”

He adds, “Gentle questioning must supersede domineering assertions. Bold humility must replace arrogant insecurity. The images of fellow travellers and conversation partners must usurp memories of inquisitors and crusaders.”

Michael Green puts it like this, “Personal conversation is the best way of evangelism. It is natural, it can be done anywhere, it can be done by anyone.”

The best way to help our friends on their journey to faith is most often through conversations exploring spirituality and sharing what we believe.

Prepared to answer

So we need to talk – but how to do it?

Some Christians are disillusioned because they fear they have failed in the past. We may be scared of being asked questions we can’t answer or saying the wrong thing.

That’s why one of the fruits of my sabbatical study is “Prepared to Answer”, a ten-week programme of sermons and activities leading up to the evangelistic opportunities of Christmas.

Our aim is to address the worries and fears that Christians face and help them to be able to explain the gospel confidently and clearly.

We are considering common objections to faith and also the Six Big Questions spiritually minded non-Christians are asking about destiny, purpose, the origins of the universe, whether God exists, the supernatural and the problem of suffering (from Nick Spencer in Beyond the Fringe, Researching a Spiritual Age).

We are discussing how to express key words and ideas in the Christian faith using language which is accessible to non-Christians. We are helping each other learn how to tell our stories of the difference God makes in our lives, of answers to prayer and our journeys to faith.

We are committing to memory some Bible verses and stories about Jesus because sometimes the best thing we can do in conversations is simply to share Scripture and “unchain the lion” (Spurgeon). We are deliberately practising talking about Jesus with each other after our services.

In all of this we are praying much more about our witness and we are seeking to “fan the flame” of passion for Jesus. When Christians are “prepared to answer” not only do we feel more confident when we speak but we are also more aware of the opportunities for conversations about Jesus as they arise.

In total my sabbatical resulted in four reports. As well as Prepared to Answer there is:

Taking Every Opportunity – Conversations About Jesus: A 12-page article on the theme.

42 Great Outreach Ideas: explaining a number of practical activities.

Preaching the Gospel Necessarily Includes Words: an essay defending this important point.

We need to talk more about Jesus

The Barna report recommends, “We need to talk about (Jesus): to more people, more often, and more relevantly. Let’s encourage our congregations to prioritise talking about Jesus to our friends and family.”

We need to pray for boldness (Acts 4:29-32), and I believe our churches can encourage and equip every Christian to talk about Jesus wherever we may be, helping overcome the different barriers that hinder us from talking about Jesus.

It’s my hope and prayer that my studies can help us do that.

We all need to talk more about Jesus.

Resources

Four reports from my sabbatical studies are online at www.takingeveryopportunity.org

Taking Every Opportunity – Conversations About Jesus: A 12-page article on the theme.

42 Great Outreach Ideas: explaining a number of practical activities.

Preaching the Gospel Necessarily Includes Words: an essay defending this important point.

Prepared to Answer: the programme of sermons and activities helping members of North Springfield Baptist Church to talk about Jesus and discussing the rationale behind it.

THIS ARTICLE was published in the Baptist Times online on 22/10/2015

The Tater Family

Huge thanks to Steff Rooney who took the pictures for this PowerPoint of the Tater Family for Family Services :)

Tater family by SR