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

Off to a good start – the outreach opportunities at the start of a ministry

What is the best way to begin a new ministry? With 24 years of experience as I began my fourth pastorate I resolved that this time things would be different. For the first time we took full advantage of the unique opportunities for outreach which the commencement of a ministry offers.

In most traditions a pastorate begins with some form of Induction, Installation or Commissioning service, followed by a delicious Tea. These are marvellous occasions for fellowship between the new church and the previous or sending church, and also for affirming the minister as representatives tell each other how wonderful the minister is. Links are also strengthened with the wider denominational family and local ecumenical contacts. Such events are very important, but a decade of responsibility in Churches Together attending two or three each year has convinced me that the services themselves are designed exclusively for believers. It appears to be rare for Inductions or Installations even to attract the majority of the new church congregation. So few of them are planned with young people or children in mind and even fewer are the kind of events to which one ought to invite not yet Christians.
It may be that the outreach angle simply slips through the cracks. The church is waiting for the new minister to be in post before they reach out, and the Induction is the only thing on the minister’s mind apart from moving house and getting to know a huge number of people in a very short time. Whatever the reason, many churches miss out on the outreach opportunities inherent in the start of a pastorate. All the attention is on the Induction service and few churches capitalise on the Minister’s first Sundays.

The commencement of a ministry offers opportunities which will only occur once in five or ten years. There are enormous benefits in arranging and publicising events to celebrate the arrival of the new minister for folk beyond the core of the church, and who are not yet believers. At very least, there are the people on the fringe of the church, who may themselves attend or send their children to midweek activities but are rarely present on Sundays. Surely we can offer them something more exciting than a traditional Induction Service. There are the folk who may have belonged to the church in the past but are no longer worshipping anywhere. Then the arrival of a new minister is the perfect opportunity to remind the wider community that the church exists and tell them about everything that we have to offer them.
Traditionally on the first Sunday (often deliberately arranged to be a communion service) the minister will preach a “manifesto” sermon launching into a series “laying out his or her stall” of a vision for the church for the months ahead. But this can wait. Surely it would be better to use that first Sunday for a “come and meet our new minister” outreach service. That is something you could invite the whole community to come to – followed by generous refreshments. As well as word of mouth invitations and widespread leafleting you might have specific leaflets for fringe folk and even individual letters from the minister to lapsed members, at the same time offering them a home visit. The arrival of a new minister is also one of the very few events in the life of a church which local press and radio might see as sufficiently newsworthy to report. If all that publicity has been effective, you might hope to see new faces in the following few weeks too. So those services will not be the start of a series aimed at church members but again services oriented at outreach for folk new to, or coming back to, church. Churches could create other opportunities to welcome the new minister: a special Youth or Family Service; special occasions with the Women’s Meeting or the Toddler Club introducing them to their new minister. Events with food are surprisingly popular. It is easy to make a video of the “First Sunday” service and you could show that video (not the video of the Induction) to these other groups, and make it available on DVD for anybody who wants to watch it at home. A simple direct to camera message, “Hello, I am your new minister and I am looking forward to getting to know you,” will also fit very nicely as an introduction on such a DVD.

To mark the beginning of the new ministry the church will want to revamp its website and its Facebook page. (Of course every church needs a website – how else can we expect people under 40 to know we exist!) So the publicity which goes out to the community for the minister’s first Sunday will also encourage folk to visit the church website or Facebook page. It will list the other activities the church offers and invite people to make contact by email, phone or text. (Since so many people, again under 40, prefer sending texts to actually speaking to a person the church will need a mobile phone capable of receiving texts and voicemail messages. Coincidentally pay-as-you-go mobiles are inexpensive and some providers make no charge for listening to voicemails.) To encourage new folk to stay in touch, we decided to give them each a pen carrying the web address and mobile number, which worked out not that much more expensive than a posh business card: other gimmicks are available, and memorable.

A church and minister who want to take every opportunity to generate and follow up new contacts in this way will need to do so within the window for events to welcome the new minister which only lasts a few weeks. In that period a minister is traditionally kept busy making home visits to his key leaders and church workers. But church members will keep on coming whether they are visited this week or next month. Whether a new contact or a lapsed member will ever be seen again could well depend on the minister offering and accepting the opportunity of a visit in those precious weeks. In this and many other ways, the church members need to be encouraged to put the needs of the stranger above themselves.
They say “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” I am grateful that my new church enthusiastically caught the vision of using the commencement the pastorate to reach out. In the first few months alone, families who had drifted away from the church returned to regular worship. Several new Christian families and other singles have came along to the church and decided to make their home with us, bringing toddlers into our worship for the first time for years. Attendance at both services increased and several years on we still see new faces in our services almost every week. Our Toddler Group doubled in size and there have been many other signs that from that beginning the church is now “on the radar” for many more people in the community. Long-standing members of the church have been very encouraged. Looking back, we were definitely off to a good start.

From Contacts to Inquirers – The Next Ten Words

I am a fan of the American political drama The West Wing. One of my favourite scenes comes in season four when President Jed Bartlet is running for re-election. For weeks his staff have been trying to encourage the highly intellectual President to sum up the answer to any question in just ten words. In a televised debate, his opponent answers a question on taxation with a perfect ten word response. This is how President Bartlet responds.

“There it is. That’s the ten word answer my staff’s been looking for for two weeks. There it is. Ten-word answers can kill you in political campaigns. They’re the tip of the sword. Here’s my question: What are the next ten words of your answer? Your taxes are too high? So are mine. Give me the next ten words. How are we going to do it? Give me ten after that, I’ll drop out of the race right now. (The West Wing series 4 episode 6 “Game On” 2002)

We live in a world of ten word answers. Increasingly in the Christian world everything gets summed up in a sentence which has to be able to fit on a poster or a T-shirt. The most profound mysteries of faith, the great problems of suffering or good and evil, the width and length and height and depth of God’s love, all reduced to the first ten words. What I want to explore is, “What are the next ten words?” This is a vast field, but in particular I want to look at the area of outreach and evangelism.

These activities involve both building relationships and sharing the Good News of Jesus in some way. Most churches have activities designed to serve and build bridges into the community and build relationships. Those activities give many opportunities for the first ten words of faith-sharing. We can tell folk that God loves them. We can offer to pray with them in times of trouble. But what next? What are the next ten words?” How do we extend expressions of faith and opportunities into meaningful conversations? How do we help contacts to become seekers?

Many churches run inquirers’ courses like Alpha and Christianity Explored. But over the years these have plucked most of the low-hanging fruit. Most contacts on the fringes of churches are far from ready for a full seekers’ course. We share our first ten words of witness. But what next? What are the next ten words?

So, to be clear, I would like to discover what Christians and churches are doing about sharing their faith in that area between, on the one hand, sharing “the first ten words” of testimony in the context of relationship-building activities, and on the other hand enquirer’s courses. What can we do to share Jesus within, alongside and beyond our successful Toddler Groups, Cafés, Food Banks, children’s clubs, knitting circles and Table Top sales? What is working in the area of “the next ten words”?

I propose to devote the major part of my Sabbatical Leave this summer to exploring this question. Any helpful suggestions welcomed at peter@pbthomas.com

Building a marriage – a short course

This leaflet sums up a short course for established couples wishing to deepen their relationship. It can be used in a group setting or by each couple at home.

Building Your Marriage
Spending time together
Most couples marry because they want to spend their lives together. But as pressures of jobs and family increase they can find that the time they do have together is spent in routine chores instead of the exciting ‘‘dates’’ they enjoyed to begin with. So it is good to write into your diaries time to be together, evenings, whole days and vitally important holidays. This must be ‘‘quality time’’, not just those moments when you are too tired to care. Remember what it was you really loved about each other in the beginning, and make time to enjoy those things again.
It helps to plan to do some of the fun things you used to do (and
always wanted to do) when you were courting; moonlight walks, candlelit dinners, sports and games, theatre trips, whatever you enjoy together. And don’t be afraid of spending some money to treat yourselves sometimes: your marriage is worth it!
TO DO
 Book some dates in your diaries NOW. An evening together each week for the next month when you will go out somewhere and do something together. A weekend together when you will go away, or just stay indoors and enjoy being married.
 Talk about some of the dates you enjoyed before you were married. Dig out the photographs and relive the past a bit.
Enjoying common interests
As well as making sure your marriage has plenty of exciting activities, it is important to develop some common interests you can talk and learn from each other about and enjoy together from day to day. It is too easy to end up only talking about your job(s) or the house and family matters. It is important that each of you has your own friends and hobbies, but these should not exclude the other. You can enjoy sharing your wider experiences and conversations with each other.
TO DO
 Think of some things you would both like to do which you haven’t ever tried before and book a date now!
 Try to put together an A to Z of activities you could do together from time to time.

Communicating
So many couples are so tired that they spend whole days glued to the TV (sometimes even to different sets in different rooms). Lazy evenings with a favourite programme are very valuable but TV, computer games or the internet must not be allowed to stop a couple from talking to each other. What you talk about can be less important than the fact that you care enough just to say something. Many couples can enjoy each other’s presence without needing to say anything, but long cold stony silences can damage a marriage as much as too many rows.
It is important to learn how to disagree agreeably. For some couples an occasional ‘‘frank and productive exchange of views’’ can be a valuable release of tension, as long as you make up properly afterwards. But too much shouting can be destructive, especially if children are around. It is important to be able to tell each other how you are feeling, and to express irritation or anger in a way which does not harm each other or your marriage. It can be good to make a specific time to talk through big issues and solve them, rather than have a running battle of short exchanges over many days or weeks.
Communication between husband and wife should be based on complete honesty, openness and trust. Marriage should be the one place where we can be completely ourselves without fear of rejection. It is a bad sign if folk want to talk more openly with anybody else (except their doctor, counsellor or minister) than they do with their partner. The strength of any marriage lies in being able to resolve differences positively, by learning to communicate (especially in times of stress), thinking of your partner before yourself, and adapting to their needs, moods and attitudes.
TO DO
 Set aside an evening just to talk together. Talk about anything you like, but if you’re stuck try some of the questions on the back page to get you started.
Sharing burdens
A vital part of marriage is supporting each other through life, not just in the crises but starting in the everyday pressures of job and family. This can begin by talking through things, but must also be expressed in practical help where necessary. One partner cannot sit back and watch the other being weighed down. You share all the loads as a family.
TO DO
 Try to arrange to spend part of a day with your partner at work.
 Tackle one of those household jobs your partner has always done.
 Think and talk about ways in which you can support each other and share the load in your job(s) and in your home life together.
Building each other up
In marriage a couple should be stronger together than they would be apart. Husband and wife should encourage each other and make each other feel good about themselves, rather than put each other down all the time. Compliments are more appropriate than criticism (however justified). A couple should stand together against the world, not take sides with outsiders (even in-laws and old friends) against their partner.
TO DO
 Write a love letter to your partner listing ‘‘The top 10 things I love about you’’.
 Make time to talk openly about ‘‘times I feel you have let me down’’.
Enjoying each other
A good sex life is an important (but not the most important) ingredient of a happy marriage. Not only the physical pleasure, but also the closeness and vulnerability are vital to a deepening marriage. Part of the marriage commitment is that husband and wife are to be for each other the most exciting fulfilling sex partner the other could wish for. So you must set aside times to enjoy each other when you are relaxed and not exhausted. Variety helps excitement, predictability kills it.
TO DO
 Book a date for a romantic dinner together when you know you won’t have to get up early the next day and see what happens.
 Plan a day when you will be able to stay in bed all day.
 Talk about how you feel about your sex life. Share your fantasies.
 Make some plans to explore new possibilities. Good books can help.
‘‘I love you’’ or ‘‘you please me’’?
“I like you, you please me” love, comes from our response to our partner, what they look like, the things they do, the kind of person they are. That kind of starry-eyed romantic love is mostly passive. It depends on our partner. “I love you” ought to convey a much more active kind of love, which gives rather than takes, seeking the best for the one I love and not just what’s best for me. That is not an emotional response but an act of mind and will. Marriage involves both these kinds of love. We need to make time for each other, so we stay in “you please me love. But we also need to work hard at the active giving “I love you” love, to make each other as happy as we can be.
TO DO
Buy each other a surprise present, the simpler and more unusual the better.
Think of ways you could give to your partner as well as receiving.
Think of ways you take each other for granted.
Think of ways your partner is boring. They can’t always have been like that! Now think of what you are going to do to liven them up again!
_________________________
Questions to talk about
One way of approaching these questions is to take them one by one. Start by thinking what you think your partner’s answer would be. Then find out their real answer, but be prepared for a few surprises!

1. Where would you most like to go for a holiday, and why?
2. What is your favourite television programme, film, song, piece of music?
3. What is your favourite food and drink?
4. What is your clearest memory from childhood?
5. If you unexpectedly inherit £10,000, what would you do with the money? (e.g.new car, long holiday abroad, etc. – ignore boring answers like paying the bills.)
6. What animal would you most like to keep as a pet, and why? (Ignore practicalities – if he wants an elephant and she wants an aardvark, that’s fine!)
7. What would you like to change in your partner, if you could?
8. What are the three most important things you wish your partner understood about you?
9. When was the most exciting, earth-moving time you have made love?
10. What does your partner do which makes you angry or upset, but you’ve been too scared or hurt to tell them?

If you want to chat: peter@pbthomas.com

The theological basis for the College of Baptist Ministers

CBM is not merely a response to changing employment law. We believe there are good theological reasons why every minister should strive for excellence in ministry and work out that ministry not in isolation but in cooperative relationships with other ministers. The first post offers some reflections on this theme. All comments and other ideas will be most welcome, with the expectation that in due course CBM will publish an agreed statement.

TEN GREAT REASONS FOR MINISTERS TO MEET TOGETHER AND SUPPORT ONE ANOTHER

1. God calls us to excellence in ministry
God calls us to be the best ministers we can be. Colossians 3:22-24 gives guidelines for slaves which extend to every Christian doing any form of work. Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Surely these commands should apply supremely to Christian ministry: working with all our hearts; as working for the Lord; serving Christ; with sincerity of heart and not only when others are watching. As we grow in knowledge and seek to develop our skills, as we move on in discipleship and in our walk with God, as we exercise spiritual gifts and seek God’s anointing, we should always be doing our best for God.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
Fan into flame the gift of God (2 Timothy 1:6)
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. (Romans 12:11 NIV)
Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. (Romans 12:11 The Message)
It is either naïve or arrogant to believe that ministers can possibly fulfil their noble calling as well as they might while ignoring others following the same calling. Individualism is not a mark of spiritual maturity. Great leaders like Moses and Elijah needed others to support them. In Gethsemane Jesus called on the support of Peter, James and John. Paul wasn’t embarrassed to ask for help. He was also prepared to rebuke even Peter when it was required. Ministers need to learn from each other, to encourage each other, to support each other, to spur one another one and if necessary even to challenge each other. To be the best Ministers we can be, we need each other!

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 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 and internalise the things we may be learning in other ways. 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. Too often Ministers feel they have no one to turn to when the going gets tough. The wonderful thing about meeting regularly with another minister or small group of ministers 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. 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 (especially Ministers) 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. Many Ministers need to learn to open up to others, and many find it easiest to open up to a fellow Minister. 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. 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 we make 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.

7. Being accountable is a good thing
Most Christians are educated beyond their obedience. We know much more truth than we put into practice: many Ministers more so than anybody else. We would benefit greatly from other people calling us to account for our discipleship and our spirituality. 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?”
Ministers have a particular right and the obligation to “watch over each other” and support each other in their Christian life and ministry. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. (Acts 20:28) If we see a brother falling into sin, all Christians, and especially those in leadership are obliged to try to rescue them ( James 5:19-20; 1 John 5:16). And every Christian, even a Minister (or especially a Minister) is obliged to allow others to help us on the road to holiness.

8. 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.”

9. 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. Ministers are often at the “giving” end of relationships but it so valuable to cultivate sustaining friendships in which we also receive inspiration and encouragement.

10. “The perishable art of Christian Ministry”
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 minister just by reading books or following courses. We need to pass on the “perishable art” of Christian ministry by meeting with other ministers and supporting one another in ministry!

Church – singular or plural?

I want to propose a subtle revolution – make church plural not singular.
What kind of language do you use when you talk about the church? In the singular or in the plural? North Springfield Baptist Church IS or North Springfield Baptist Church ARE? Do you say “ NSBC HOLDS ITS morning service at 10.30? Or would you say, “ NSBC HOLD THEIR service”, or even better “hold OUR service at 10.30?” Forget grammar for a moment. Do you think of the church as “it” or as “they” – or even better as “us”? For some people, church is IT – just an organisation with a programme. But the heart of church is really “US.” The people!
So I propose the subtle revolution that whenever we speak about a church we always use the plural, signalling that “the church” is always shorthand for “the people who make up the church”. Never “the church does”, always “the church do”. Even recording minutes of the church as an organisation never “the church has decided” but always “the church have decided”, because it is the members of the church who have joined in reaching that decision.

New content on this blog – Articles from Church Magazines

As this blog is now being integrated into my main website I am adding to it lots of material from other places. I have just added the articles from the magazine of North Springfield Baptist Church over the last three years.

As well as all the sermons and Bible Studies at www.pbthomas.com/blog Other pieces I have written can be found online in various places.
Items about mission, outreach and evangelism are on the EBA Talking About Mission forum.
Various pieces on Christian Ministry can be found on the website of the newly formed College of Baptist Ministers.
Evangelistic and apologetic articles can be found on www.peoplemeetinggod.org
In due course I will add some of these materials to this blog.
Discussions are always welcome: email me peter@pbthomas.com