Prayer, Panic and Procrastination. The truth about the prayer meeting… really ;-)

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They’ve just finished the weekly connect group or maybe the monthly prayer meeting…  the end draws nigh, only one obstacle remains to be faced.

The moment when the leader surveys the room and selects the ‘chosen one’ to pray for us and close the meeting. We’ve all been there…

Your leader peers around the room and sees that almost everyone is already saying a small prayer, “Please God, don’t let him pick me.” You were happy to be there, but somehow you know that your brain and tongue will utterly disconnect the moment your name is spoken. At that moment you must carry the momentum of the meeting, at that moment you must send us all out into the night filled and renewed, at that moment you must carry the final word and all eyes are on you.

Too short and you look desperate to move on to coffee and cake. Too long and everyone else who is desperate for coffee and cake will resent your every word. Should nerves rob you of the ability to end the rambling prayer you begin to preach!  

Obviously, you will encourage everyone by praying out loud, but right at that moment your only concern is your heart beat behind your eyes. Here are few tips that can help you evade those selective, roaming, leaders eyes.

Slowly lower your head. Look lost in wonder with raised arms. He won’t want to disturb you.

Quickly raise your head. Look eager to pray, but make sure you have slightly wild eyes. He dare not ask you. 

Look prayerful, but terrified.  Make a face that let’s him know absolutely nothing is going on in your head except fear. It may help to have already prayed for a sick puppy earlier on when everyone else was deeply interceding. 

Start crying with audible sobs (avoid snot and dribbling or you’ll extend the time into personal ministry). 

Hide your face. Any child will tell you, ‘if you can’t see them they can’t see you. 

Here’s a big one! open your Bible and make sure everyone sees you turn the pages. Then, close your Bible, grimace and shake your head. Clearly, you’ve got nothing, but you are godly. 

In the highly unlikely event that these strategies fail here is some advice on closing prayer technique.

Repeat verbatim a list of the prayer requests and subjects. All you need to do is pause after every second subject and make a deep and slightly extended mmmmmmm sound. Begin the next subject simply by saying ‘Yes Lord’ at the start of your sentence. 

Catch everybody out, turn the tablets and ask each person to name a subject or request then simply say amen at the end. They may resent you when they thought they had avoided the final prayer, but they’ll admire you too (if only they had thought of that). 

Say “God” or ‘Father” before and after every single breath. Sometimes followed by mmmmmmm. This makes absolutely no sense in normal conversation, but randomly works in perfectly in public prayer. (Try this out. begin a conversation with someone today and aim to fit their name into each sentence no less than 3 times. See how long it takes them to recognise you as a charismatic christian). 

Start crying. They’ll ask someone else and make you a coffee. (Its never to late to duck). 

Open with a relaxed tone, “Hey Father.” Everyone will cringe at it, but they’ll all be thinking, “hey. He’s actually speaking to someone he really knows.” (obviously you should know God at this point, but you know what I mean. Somehow being shallow looks deep). 

Recite a worship song slowly with pauses in each sentence and mmmmmm after each sentence.

“All heaven………….. declares……. the GLORY….. of the risen Lord mmmmmmmm” (you get the idea) 

You will notice my abundant use of mmmmmmm. Naturally, or supernaturally I think this is a little like the Spirit interceding for us with deep groans. 

Alternatively, perhaps we could just relax and realise that to talk with our Father God and our Saviour Jesus in the context of the family of Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit,  should be the most natural and connected thing we can do together. Yes, your stumbling nervous prayer may sound funny to you, but to us listening it is an encouragement. Your prayer shared, your conversation with Father, Son and Spirit is always a beautiful thing not to be avoided, but celebrated. 

Hope I’m Competent!

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Some leaders smile at the world and others frown. A discussion on competence and arrogance, service and self; an exploration of character, gift and leadership. All the opinions I express here are an exploration based upon experience and the self-observation of a leader who is hopefully competent and not arrogant…

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Galatians 5:16-17New International Version (NIV)
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.

The verses found in Galatians capture the challenge of godly competence and human arrogance. Being prepared, focused and considered leads to competence in leadership. Having these ‘gifts’ also means that the leader often gets used to being seen as insightful and usually ‘right’. The competent leader is perceived as directive, an inspirer and good problem-solver and becomes highly valued by others for the godly security they bring. Alternatively, the same abilities can allow the leader to be viewed as arrogant.

The perception of competence or arrogance is a fundamental concept that must be addressed by every leader seeking success in their role. This is the fundamental issue of leadership character. Character is the intellectual and interpersonal issue that lies at the heart of the leader’s integrity. Character is the outcome of the balance between head and heart, between service and self-fulfilment. Character is the picture of our core motivation.

To address the balance of character, from this point on, I’m going to speak about service and self to explain the dichotomy of leadership regarding competency and arrogance as they relate to how ‘good’ a leader really is and who they really are.

If you will, I’d like you to cast your mind back to school and ask you to imagine an X/Y chart with a self axis and a service axis.

Low service, low self. Only ‘natural selection’ will work here as these people aren’t likely to rise to the call of leadership unless they’re related to someone. They may be lovely people to spend time with, but they don’t have the inclination or resolve to step up without a hand up. I’m reminded of the story of Simon who although newly saved still craved the quick fix solution.
Acts 8:18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Oddly those of low self-esteem can, in my experience, possess an arrogance to bluff their way through. The motivation for recognition that may raise their self-esteem is not matched by the effort that service requires. These people are the ‘leaders’ who may see the issues, but never the solutions.

High service, low self. These are the people who provide solid problem solving solutions and do so in a way that’s not offensive or abrasive. They will strive with all their energy to find a resolution. I want these people around. However, if the low self is due to insecurity rather than humility, you may need to do a lot of work to encourage them and to keep them motivated and feeling ‘loved’. I’ve often thought this is the heart of Mary who felt the need to serve over the need to listen and relate unlike her sister Martha. These people are likely to hope their service will speak for them and they may have trouble with being overlooked. Their identity is often only found in what they do and what is recognised and that is an insecure and isolating place to live. These leaders, if given the opportunity, can shine without losing the passion to serve others.

Low service, high self. Alarm bells! They’re dangerous! These leaders don’t realize the limits of their ability and don’t have the good sense to ask for an opinion.healthy_self_esteem_slide How do they even become leaders? They become leaders because we live in a fair society. Everybody deserves their turn. The problem with that is that people then believe their skills are being recognised. They have been taught they are ‘special’ even though it should have been obvious that every kid in the team got a go. We have so many people who are out of touch with reality. This is often a result of unconditional praise and reinforcement. This is the X-factor family of leaders. Our loving parents tell us we can sing even though we sound like a strangled cat. Loving parents need to be honest with their kids and take the microphone away!

We are in the business of building real serving leaders not building self-esteem or leaders for titles. We need leaders who can deal with the challenges of church with competence. Yes, self-confidence can build a tower quickly, but it rarely builds foundations.

High service, high self. These leaders are the most interesting group because of the internal competition they wrestle with. These people know how to be successful, but they can also be destructive to morale and relationships as they are unable to recognise the role of others in that success. These leaders seek out affirming ‘co-workers’ and will run a focused and tight ship. Tight ships aren’t always happy ships.great-leaders

The high service, high self leader cannot lead a team. Their team will say all the right words and show appropriate responses, but they secretly learn to resent being undervalued. Their voices, which are suppressed in meetings, will find a corrosive outlet in private. They will watch as the leader fails when they could help. They will find comfort in the leader ‘reaping’ his reward. Their loyalty will be conditional.
When appointing leaders, we must look for high service and competent people, but not arrogant high self types. We must look for humility in the character. Humility and competence are the things that can’t easily be taught or coached. These are matters of character that are above any gift.
Teams aren’t the only ones to become demotivated or annoyed by an arrogant leader. Other leaders and partner churches get tired too. A common trait of the ‘high-self’ arrogant leader is the inability to remain silent and listen. Most leaders know when to listen; especially during important meetings. They know it’s critical to allow everyone time to express ideas, even if they differ from their own. Even Jesus patiently listened to some odd answers when he asked, “Who do people say I am?” The ‘high-self’ leader will continuously interrupt and correct others overriding their feelings and insights. Just-Listen_web
I once experienced being interrupted and corrected by a colleague repeatedly. When I didn’t give in, but tried to express an opinion or ask a question, he slammed down his hand and demanded everyone listen further into why he was right. The result of this type of rude behaviour is a loss of unity and commitment.

A balanced leader.
A balanced leader must acknowledge and accept they can’t have it all at the same time. They are part of a team and their role is draw out the gift of others. They must balance service and self. They must be competent not arrogant.
This definitely relates to having a set of values, but mostly having a vision for the team. As much as we might want to have it all we all have limited amounts of ability, time and energy to give to leadership no matter how committed we are. Having it all is about finding it all in the team. A balanced leader knows what they want and what their call is and works towards it, without sacrificing their character or hurting others. They then discover they are leading a team who are balanced and know where they are going. When service and self are balanced, there will be a positively balanced team because the leader’s character will be good.

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Introvert or Extrovert?

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When I was a kid, one week in the year held both excitement and dread for me: The annual church camp. I loved the idea of being one of the crowd, being in a team, being away from home, being me!  The problem is I’m a chronic introvert and actually very shy. The reality of the camp was a kid who once again felt out of place and longing to be like the ‘in kid’. A week of pure, unadulterated peer pressure ensued, a week of looking forward to being back home hoping maybe next year would be different. Over the years, I’ve overcome my shyness, but I’m still the introvert who inwardly looks on and imagines being ‘in’. Every action by another, may or may not be a subtle criticism of me. Like virtually all life issues, pride is at the root. You must understand, at this point being shy has nothing to do with being an introvert, in the same why that self-confidence is unrelated to being an extravert. 

Colossians 3:1-4 ‘You have been raised to life with Christ. Now set your heart on what is in heaven, where Christ rules at God’s right side. 2 Think about what is up there, not about what is here on earth. 3 You died, which means that your life is hidden with Christ, who sits beside God. 4 Christ gives meaning to your life, and when he appears, you will also appear with him in glory.’

I share these bible verses because they have been central to my thinking for most of my Christian life. I’ve grappled with being who I am and yet becoming more like Jesus. I’ve shared my story about summer camp to demonstrate the grappling of identity that says somehow my quiet and introverted style of being was not necessarily seen to be the right way to go, that in fact, I should be trying to be more of an extrovert. I always knew, deep down, that this was wrong and that this introvert was pretty much OK just as he was. For years, I denied this intuition as everything in life then, and more so now, says I shouldn’t be an introvert. The loud and confident risk takers rule and lead and inspire… apparently. Consequently, I tried to join in to being ‘in’… You can imagine the result as I tried to prove to myself that I could be bold and assertive too. I was always going off to do ‘the thing’ when I really would have preferred to have a quiet life. Naturally, when I try to be an extrovert, I appear to be strident and bossy because it’s just not my natural setting.

This is what many introverts do, and it’s our loss and there are many of us out there, so there are many people making a loss! It is also our churches’ loss and our communities’ loss.  At the risk of sounding arrogant, it is a massive leadership loss too. When it comes to creativity and to leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best. A third to a half of the population are introverts. A third to a half! So that’s one out of every two or three people you know. So even if you’re an extrovert yourself, I’m talking about your friends and your spouses and your children and the person sitting next to you right now, all of them subject to this bias that is pretty deep and real in our society and very much so in our churches. We all internalise it from a very early age without even having a language for what we’re doing. Extrovert good, introvert not bad, but less… In truth we should know that extrovert is good, introvert is good and so is everything in between. 

Now to see the bias I’m eluding to clearly, you need to understand what introversion is. It’s different from being shy. Shyness is about fear of social judgment. Introversion is more about how  you respond to situations, including social situations. Extroverts really crave large amounts of stimulation, whereas introverts feel at their most alive and their most switched-on and their most capable when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments. These things aren’t absolute all the time, but they are a lot of the time. Extroverts don’t always need to be loud or at the centre of the party to dominate. Extrovert and introvert do not equate to volume. Here’s an example of introversion in my life: I’m writing this blog sitting alone in a cafe. In a cafe is where I do all my best work, alone and yet surrounded by people. I love people, but my initial creative rush needs solitude and strangely, a busy cafe offers me the best of both. Then, when I’m ready, that work can be shared with others for their comment and influence. The key then to maximising our talents for God or just in life is for us all, introvert or extrovert, to put ourselves in the zone that is right for us and to understand our zone and value the zone of others.

I run for fun and because I like cake. I haven’t joined a running club because when I run alone, my mind fills and becomes an interesting place I enjoy. I process, pray, pontificate and create. When I run, I enter the world of the happy introvert where what’s in my mind, becomes exciting and may even become a reality. At school they called it day dreaming, but they were so wrong. What they  didn’t know is that my life is so much more interesting in my head. Here’s where the bias comes in, the big issue. Our most important institutions, for people from our schools and our workplaces to our New Church, are designed mostly for extroverts and for extroverts’ who need lots of stimulation, even entertainment. They are designed for focus and measured attainment.  Success is not always a number, it can be a shape or an experience. We have this church belief system right now that we call ‘contemporary church’, which seems to hold that all creativity and all exciting life, comes from a very oddly gregarious place that needs to give and receive constant input. Here’s the rub, so to speak, contemporary and charismatic are not the same thing. Extrovert can so easily replace the role of the Holy Spirit in our church life. We become  personality led not Spirit led. We value talent over character. John C Maxwell says, “Talent is a gift, but character is a choice.”

Okay, some of you are thinking, ‘what is this to do with anything’. Well the answer is about leadership in church  and the ability to step out in faith and be a good steward too. When it comes to leadership, introverts are routinely passed over for leadership positions unless the extrovert (often insecure leader) is looking for rubber stamping ‘yes men’. Obviously, no leader will ever knowingly acknowledge this to be the case in their choice of leaders. This is a loss because introverts tend to be very careful, much less likely to take inappropriate risks but considered risks. We call it faith in church circles. 

I stumbled  upon some interesting research (I love Google) that found that introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes than extroverts do because when they are managing employees or volunteers, they are much more likely to let those people run with their ideas and release a greater degree of creativity and flexibility, whereas an extrovert, can quite innocently get so excited about putting their own stamp on things, that other people’s ideas might not as easily reach the surface. The net result for the extrovert can be the churches’ loss of morale and commitment. For the introvert, the danger is a lack  of focus and clarity in this  diverse and creative environment. The church then, needs a greater balance and respect for the ‘style’ and character of both types of leaders and of course for the myriad of variations in between. At this point, I must say some of my best friends are extroverts. I’m not an extrovertist!  We all do fall at different points along the introvert/extrovert scale and I suspect we can slide along that scale depending upon the context of the situation we find ourselves in. Carl Jung, the psychologist who first popularised these terms, said that there’s no such thing as a pure introvert or a pure extrovert. He said that such a man would be in a lunatic asylum, I know a few who should be… 

Some of the worlds most transformational leaders have been introverts. I’ll give you some examples (once again thank you Google). Roosevelt,  Rosa Parks and Gandhi each described themselves as quiet and soft-spoken and even shy. They all found themselves in the spotlight, even though every bone in their bodies was telling them not to. This turns out to have a special impact for leaders like this. Perhaps people could feel that these leaders were at the front not because they enjoyed power or control over others and certainly not out of the need to be seen, but because they had no choice, because they were simply doing what seemed to be right. I have no idea of all of their positions regarding their faith, but I do know that their motivation for leadership should be at the heart of the motivation of a church leader.

What I’m saying is that culturally, within the Church, we need a much better balance. This is especially important when it comes to creativity and to productivity because when psychologists look at the lives of the most creative people, what they find are people who are very good at sharing ideas and catching ideas, but who also have a serious streak of introversion in them so those great ideas sink. I think this may be a British ‘thing’. We invent everything, but often fail to realise and capitalise upon it because solitude and being self deferential is a crucial ingredient often to creativity. 

When you look at the insights of contemporary psychology, it turns out that we can’t even be in a small group of people without instinctively mirroring and mimicking their opinions. To fail to do so, is to be a rebel. Even in the simplest of concepts and issues you will start ‘aping’ the beliefs of the people around you without even realising that that’s what you’re doing.

Groups / leadership teams follow the opinions of the most dominant or charismatic person in the room, the ‘silver back syndrome’ I like to call it. This is true even though there is no connection between being the best talker and having the best idea. Coincidentally, this isn’t about being the loudest in the room, just being dominant. Take a look at the power of the silent and strong (read moody) types.  Much better for everybody to go off by themselves, generate their own ideas freed from peer pressure and group dynamics, then to hold one on one talks with the ‘boss’ and then come together as a team to talk things through and make the ‘big calls’. 

At the start of the 21st century, we entered a new culture that historians call the culture of personality. Suddenly, instead of working alongside people, now people are having to prove themselves in a crowd. We ‘blue sky’ think in teams which is  a dream for extroverts and a dead loss for introverts. Consequently and understandably, qualities like magnetism and charisma suddenly seem really important. Our role models and leaders are really great salesmen. That’s the world we’re living in today? That’s our cultural inheritance? 

Interestingly, Scripture knows all about this new culture because it really isn’t that new at all. The Bible and so God, have always valued character above all else. The character of the introvert or extrovert are of equal value to God and of far greater value than gift or ability. The character is our core, our foundation that everything else is built upon, our ability to teach and lead according to scripture and so in the heart of God.  2 Timothy2: 2 ‘you then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.’

I guess for now, I’ll continue seeking to hide my life in Christ with the knowledge that he’s OK with me, introvert or not and that when I allow Him to lead, all these pieces are very likely to fit together and the grappling can stop. 



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Rise of Empire…its not a Kingdom thing. 

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Paul Bedford

I have seen the movie! Rise of Empire. In my mind I have stood my ground and fought for all that is right and good in the interest of the people against the tyrant. A small, but united army of brave Greeks overcoming their differences in order to overcome their powerful enemy (I don’t mean now and the EU). The very model of the power to be found in humility and unity. The power of ‘preferring the other’ over self promotion and public recognition. The establishment of kingdom. “THIS IS SPARTA”… actually this Barnsley and right now I’m sat in the Asda cafe writing a blog… I can dream, I can build an empire in my mind! I can order another latte…

The film set my mind to work and being a creative type I began to extrapolate. Over the past few weeks I have been struck by the creeping…

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Rise of Empire…its not a Kingdom thing. 

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I have seen the movie! Rise of Empire. In my mind I have stood my ground and fought for all that is right and good in the interest of the people against the tyrant. A small, but united army of brave Greeks overcoming their differences in order to overcome their powerful enemy (I don’t mean now and the EU). The very model of the power to be found in humility and unity. The power of ‘preferring the other’ over self promotion and public recognition. The establishment of kingdom. “THIS IS SPARTA”… actually this Barnsley and right now I’m sat in the Asda cafe writing a blog… I can dream, I can build an empire in my mind! I can order another latte… 

The film set my mind to work and being a creative type I began to extrapolate. Over the past few weeks I have been struck by the creeping levels of leadership competition to be observed. I have been informed by one leader that he is to change his allegiance to a new network. There are are many good reasons for such a transition, however, I was shocked at the motivation of this leader, “I have a better chance to do things and more voice”. Now that is not the Sparta code! Another announced to me that as he took up the role of Pastor in a new location many of his old congregation would loyally follow him and leave their current church. To me this speaks of the priority of ‘personal’ ministry and identity not the ministry of a believer. Now that sounds very Xerxes. This is empire building not Kingdom advance. 

Empire building cannot exist without parochialism and a sense of deep personal insecurity. The precondition for empire building is fear. Real accountability and open connections that form true relationships are given lip service, but no more. When faced with parochial and territorial attitudes and the barriers they build, ‘leaders’ feel that they have no other choice but to build local empires. Naturally they will never refer to ‘their empire’ preferring to speak of Kingdom, call and ministry identity. Non the less, empire is in the heart if not in the head. Personal identity, security and followers matter above all else. 

What do I mean by empire? Here is my simple definition for the purpose of this blog: “Empire is the method by which attempts to assert control over people, activities and resources in an effort to gain or enhance self-sufficiency and identity takes place.”

The desire to build empires does not necessarily stem from pride and is often not realised by the perpetrators. It stems from the fear that unless a group/church leads or controls others, the church or the group will be deemed to be a failure in some way. Often, Networks and organisations permit or overlook an empire builder’s activity because their activity is seen as a faster way to meet ‘kingdom’ objectives. In other cases, the empire builder is more subtle, taking over inch by inch; by the time anyone notices, the Empire is established.

In order to advance Kingdom rather than build empire try to see the big picture.  When we view things narrowly and from our perspective alone, we have already joined the road to empire building.  Take other views into consideration and maintain a flexible heart and attitude. Admit that everything belongs to God and nothing belongs to you. Understand that the people and resources you have are not yours, or even your church’s.  They belong to God. Let go of your fear of failure and  your pride.  Too often, we make comparisons with others and fear our own failure and so we grasp for power.

We don’t have ‘my turf’ and that includes everything from my seat in church, my cupboard in the office, my shelf in the fridge and my church ministry and call. God is the one who called you to ministry, so let go of your need to impress others and find true joy in serving the Lord. 

1 Corinthians 10:31-33 / 11:1 NIV

[31] … do it all for the glory of God. [32] Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— [33] 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. …Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ



A quick fix lesson from Wolf Hall

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Wolf Hall has been a challenging watch for me on TV. It is a story of national and social upheaval and certainly a period of religious upheaval. A Kingdom divided. Presented on screen are devoutly religious people who appear to have no clear understanding of the call and identity of the Church and apparently people who have very expedient and flexible moral values. What I see are people looking for a quick fix solution for the kingdom of England and its Royal and religious dilemma. I wonder if I could hold to my convictions as a Christian if I had lived then? Certainly my 21 century life would have seen me being offered the opportunity to ‘turn or burn’.

I’m not sure that the church nation has changed all that much in the intervening 400 hundred years. Except, thankfully, we seem more tolerant of various christian perspective and we are less inclined to carry out vial forms of capital punishment in the name of God on those we disagree with. However, the quick fix concept still has appeal. I have observed that many people in churches of various varieties frequently pray for Revival. They frequently carry a naive optimism and seem to say, “When God is at work here; what can go wrong?” I love the idea of revival, but the problem I have is that every time I look to Scripture to find a revival church model all I find is an obedient restored people of God. A people who carry such a presence of the Holy Spirit that they have influence and impact.

That prevailing revival optimism overlooks the reality that our human nature wars with the Spirit even in the good times and that the devil still ‘prowls around as a roaring lion’. The responsibility and place of the church in God’s plan that we see in scripture is overlooked as we passionately pray for revival. In other words, the revival that brings a renewed consciousness of sin and therefore a better grasp of the cross and growth in church along with a transformed society as become some kind of Christian ‘Nirvana’. We the Church will simply bask in the joy and glory of the revival when it comes in God’s time… All we need do is pray for the day and all our current challenges will be fixed. Don’t misunderstand me, we need to pray and we need the Lord to move, but we need Him to move in us so that we can fulfil His call as His chosen people… Yes I did say chosen people and the theologians reading this will grasp the implicit implication.

It would seem that even the concept of there being a “New Testament model” of church life is decidedly out of fashion these days and that all we need is the ‘revival go’ button to be pressed. To me this is a relegation of the high call placed upon God’s chosen ambassadors and people. A New Testament Church model is often viewed as arrogant, and out of touch with the flow of church history. Perhaps too much has been extrapolated from scripture by some leaders in 1970-90s foundation of the Restoration movement and this is why many settle for a charismatic/contemporary experience of church. I am, however, still convinced that in the Scriptures we have the blueprints for something altogether more glorious than many have realised, but it is no quick fix.

The language of the New Testament breathes the theme of Restoration and hope. Jesus came so that people could have new life, be reconciled to God, and become co-workers and heirs in His work.

In the New Testament the coming of the Spirit and the foretaste of the Kingdom of God (both now and yet to come) brings an experience of God’s planned Restoration which is more real, more satisfying, more transforming and more enduring than any momentary revival no matter how thrilling it may be. Perhaps we can make a comparison here between Wesley and Whitfield. Both astonishing men of God, but by Whitfield’s own confession he was a revivalist where Wesley built.

If we read our Bibles through the lens of Restoration – revived individuals, renewed communities, and an empowered Church that awakens the world to God’s love, grace and truth then we cannot miss the theme which threads through every section of Scripture. God creating a people to know His glory and to make it known through the redemptive work of Jesus. This process begins its completion through the restoration of the Church. When we see this then we begin to understand the words of Hebrews where we are exhorted to, persevere, endure, run our race; this is the description of a process not an event. This ‘process’ is called discipleship and is entirely compatible with the notion of a New Testament model of Church empowered by the Holy Spirit, aware of it’s identity and call. This may not make the reading of Church history very comfortable, but perhaps that is because such an history has been written by those who have drifted from such a high call. I’m often made aware that the beliefs I hold regarding the nature of my salvation and baptism and even the ability to read scripture in my own language was deemed to be heresy by the writers of history. Wolf Hall is a portrayal of a fascinating period of history. A period when there were many wolves in sheeps clothing.

Watching and I imagine I’ll soon be re-reading the story reminds me that we must return again and again to the scripture for our foundation as Church or we too will be a Kingdom divided. If history teaches us anything then it teaches us that we all too easily pollute and distort the high call placed upon us. I understand this and acknowledge that I’m guilty of it. I want the quick fix. However, I am a disciple first and so with Paul as he writes in Philippians I say, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”.

The Big F word

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You may have noticed as you look around, but the world is getting bigger!
Now I know this blog my not go down very well with some people, but thats because there is one issue we feel the Church must not mention. First of all please be aware that this blog is written by someone who daily faces a challenge and so is filled with empathy and I hope grace. The unmentionable issue isn’t, sexuality, women bishops, war, politics, money, but obesity… Obesity is a ‘growing’ concern in our nation. And, few in the church have bothered with the issue or even seen it as a problem. We have no problem addressing issues, but seldom do we approach this one. Yet, in my opinion, and experience, how I feel physically almost always impacts my spiritual life and I’m aware that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. At one point my temple had become a Mega Church!

Being the leader of a ‘New Church’ I’m aware that we have tended to see ourselves as influences for the good in our communities. Often we have been counterculture; holding an awareness that we are “in the world, not of it”. We anticipate being different and understand that we are called to lead. Churches are very often at the forefront of change impacting and influencing lives and institutions through our contrasting values to money, family, society and justice. Yet on this matter of health we have been silent.

In the book of Joshua, Caleb was 85 years old and “just as strong” as he was decades earlier. He was still ready to press on. Now that sounds like a better concept than retiring and waiting to fade away! Should I, as church leader/pastor take care of the body God has given me. And, as a leader/pastor, should I encourage and lead my church in a vision for soul, mind and body?

I Have to be honest this is a brand new thought, but when, 3 years ago, I read that 75-80% of all church pastors were obese I decided it was a gang I didn’t want to belong to! Some years after stepping away from an engineering job and becoming a church leader I began to realise the chocolate pleasure had become a chocolate impairment. Approaching 50 years old and a mid life crisis probably contributed to the internal dialogue, but the scales were the loudest voice. they had crept to 15-16-17-18 and almost 19 stones in successive years. I wasn’t obese I was a FAT BLOKE! It didn’t take long to realize that my new physical form was impacting me in every way. I have to say I was feeling rather hypocritical standing in front of a congregation and encouraging them to overcome when I couldn’t overcome a bag of Malteasers! I was beginning to have an addiction that is socially acceptable.

Since that time I have disciplined myself to be healthier. I have experienced remarkable difference. At 50 years of age, I feel better and am more productive now than I was in my mid-thirties. I have never taken part in any form of sport, but now I run, at first only to the next lamp post, but now marathons! Best of all when I run my mind clears, I pray, meditate, strategise and plan in complete freedom even though from time to time in my mind is that bag of Malteasers…

Here are some ways not being overweight and running helps my whole life—not just my physical life but my spiritual life most of all.

My mental capacity increases.
I can focus better when I’m in better physical shape. In fact, if I want to work or pray on an issue I run. I don’t know why, but it works and I understand that scientists can prove it.
I have more energy. I am in ministry, but there is no question that my work can be very demanding and I want to be physically fit enough to keep going and be an example to those who are being lead. Kingdom work is too important not to give it every ounce of energy we can muster. Exercise energizes me to be more productive.

I am more disciplined.
Discipline leads to more discipline. When I am disciplined in my physical life life it is emulated in my spiritual life. I am most disciplined with my personal devotion time, my pastoral studies, and my development as a Christian leader when I am disciplined in my physical training.

Sleep.
Some people don’t need this, but I am wired to need lots. I have a brain that doesn’t like stopping. This is a problem because I own every issue and pressure and concern very personally. In truth I’m an introvert who just wants a quiet life, but thats not the one I have.

I would always be stressing unless I made myself rest. Exercise does certain things for me. It makes me more tired in a physical way that we are designed for and many of us don’t get and this is a good kind of tired far better than just slopping up late and suffering TV tired. I also have a more balanced outlook on life. When I am exercising I can’t be checking emails or using social media as easily. I have to unplug and step back. I feel more peaceful.

Other tasks seem lighter – After I’ve pushed my body to an extreme, the other strenuous parts of my day have less impact. I’m more fit for the journey. I tire less, and I excel more. I’m more prepared for the Kingdom opportunities God brings my way when I’m in the best physical shape I can be.

Whenever I talk about the importance of physical fitness as a pastor, I’m always reminded that there are more important emotional and spiritual issues in people lives. Absolutely with No argument. Paul said it like this, “for the training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way…” (1 Timothy 4:8,). The problem is when we don’t recognize the limited benefit. Fix the small things and the big things often don’t happen. Its a kind of zero tolerance approach.

Let me finish with this thought. Try it out or challenge me. Spend some time addressing the physical needs in your life for a time long enough to make a difference. Try it for say 40 days. Then you decide if its worth making a permanent lifestyle change of your own. I am confident you will find it well worth the time and effort you put into it no matter what you conclude.