Archive for the ‘Missional Living’ Category

This is at number 2.

I sometimes meet with and speak to young men who say that they are interested in planting churches in housing schemes. One issue in particular seems to hinder them, especially if they’re from an educated, middle class background. It’s the problem of children. They are either worried about their current child/children or they are worried about what a future might look like raising a child in a housing scheme environment. I have been asked to do posts on this topic a number of times, so here is part 1 of a developing series.

Let me begin by affirming that following Jesus into housing schemes as a church planter truly can, at times, be a brutal business. Following Jesus at the best of times comes with all sorts of pressures and temptations. Surely that’s why Jesus told his disciples to ‘count the cost’ before following Him. If you want to plant in a housing scheme then you better take Him at His word. Consider the words of the Lord Jesus in Luke 9:56b-62:

And they went on to another village. 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” 61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

I’m not going to exegete this text but suffice to say that one clear point of application is this: Jesus is more important than your family. He is certainly more important than your children. Deal with it. Or walk away. There will always be issues and worries and problems and questions concerning the Christian life. When considering moving into a scheme, these are manifold. But the bottom line will always be whether you are prepared to put your allegiance to Christ before all and above all, including those wonderful, fluffy, cute, sweet-smelling bundles of idolatrous joy that we call our offspring. These verses read well until they have to be put into practice. If you truly want to serve Jesus in a housing scheme then it will be hard – that’s not a ‘manly’ catchphrase, it is a heartbreaking reality.

Here’s a newsflash. Wait for it.

Church planting might actually cost us something. That something might even turn out to be everything. It might turn out to be every sacred cow we hold dear in our middle class, educationally driven, child centred, play it safe, let’s cover all the angles before we step out, Christian culture.

Really? You mean those biographies of long since, dead people who buried their children on the missions field after suffering all sorts of wasting diseases, might actually have some relevance for my coddled, sanitised Twenty First Century life? Are you suggesting that I may have to make difficult decisions today that may even be (in human, earthly terms) detrimental for my loved ones? Well, that sounds a bit over the top. That doesn’t even sound biblical, or even closely like my God who wants me and my family to be safe and sound. What would Joyce Meyer or the guy with the nice teeth on the God Channel say about that? God wants me to take decisions that make me and my family happy, doesn’t He?. God wouldn’t really want me to suffer for His namesake, would He? OK, maybe a bit of name calling and some strong debate with my atheist friends. But, to move my family to a tough scheme without thought to my young ones?  C’mon. God wouldn’t want me to do anything that is irresponsible, surely? We should, at least, consider some sort of risk assessment? You seriously mean to say that my children might suffer for the gospel? My wife might suffer for the gospel? I thought I might have to suffer but not like this. Actually, when I come to think about it, I’m not actually sure what I mean when I say that. I didn’t really think that ‘take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to thee‘, was really all that serious. It sounds so much better with a bit of base and a nice drum beat.

When Miriam and I made a decision to move to Brasil in 2003 we had two young children under the age of 2. We knew it was going to be hot but we had no idea just how difficult it was going to be for us emotionally, physically and spiritually. Don’t get me wrong. We were ready for hardship and difficulty. We were ready to suffer for Jesus. We just weren’t ready to watch our children suffer for choices we had made.

Both of my children were ill almost as soon as we arrived. And not just a cold or a runny nose. It was often brutal vomiting and diarrhoea. In fact, on one occasion, my youngest lost half her body weight in the space of two days. I remember turning up to the hospital with her in my arms and they had to stick a drip in her heel because she was so dehydrated. We were shoved in a room with three other children. There was mould on the floor and blood up the walls and the whole place stank of defecation. It was horrific. We hardly spoke the lingo and I had no real clue how to communicate what was wrong. When they began treatment I couldn’t even be sure of what they were giving her. The whole thing was traumatic. I was burning with rage, fear, frustration and anger. Psalm 46:1-3 came to mind:

God is our refugeand strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

He didn’t feel like my help and strength. And I was frightened in that stinking, third-rate hospital watching my little baby suffer unimaginably while a child on the bed next to us was screeching in pain and bleeding all over the floor. Another time, we were at a BBQ with friends and suddenly my eldest daughter began screaming in absolute agony. She had stumbled onto a ‘fire ant’ nest and had begun playing with it because it looked a bit like a sandcastle. They were all over her, biting into almost every part of her body. I had to pick her up and throw her into a neighbours swimming pool. Again, it was horrendous as I watched her writhing in agony, completely helpless to ease her suffering. I remember thinking at the time, “What am I doing to my children? Have I put their lives in jeopardy for some romantic notion of missionary living?” I remember well the many people we knew back in the UK who had gossiped behind our backs about what we were doing to our children bringing them to such a place. What about their health, education? What about taking them away from their family? It was all coming back to haunt me.

I had read the missionary biographies and I felt that I was supposed to be feeling this deep peace about my sense of call. I was supposed to rest in the the fact of His providence. Well, I wasn’t feeling peace and I wasn’t feeling  a deep sense of call. I was just feeling a deep sense of pain and an overwhelming desire to return home with my tail between my legs. I felt like I was abusing my children out of a sense of some personal, spiritual duty. I felt exactly as the Psalmist did in Psalm 10:1: “O Lord, why do you stand so far away? Why do you hide when I need you the most?”

I feel like I want to quote some Bible verse that came to me in those dark days. But none really did. There was just a sense of putting one foot in front of the other and hoping that things would get better as long as I kept trusting the Lord. In our first year in Brasil, Miriam was ill, both my girls were seriously ill and I had a life threatening illness which resulted in my being unconscious for 3 days. We wanted to leave and never go back. We despised the place and its people. But we loved the Lord and we knew that even in the deepest pit of our emotions, He wanted us to be there. It was just a price we had to pay. It was part of the cost. I just didn’t realise that the cost meant everybody in my family and not just me.

We can read verses like Hebrews 4:15 glibly in our culture. We read it from the safety of our modern homes and comfortable lives.

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses . .

In those dark days we remembered, somehow, that we were there because people were suffering just as we were (often worse) without Christ. Imagine that if you can? We were traumatised but we had hope and we had come to live among a people who had none. If our troubles did nothing else they gave us a profound empathy with people. They gave us a faint glimpse behind the curtain of Calvary when Christ cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” Even more profoundly, how deeply the Father must have suffered to watch his Son suffer in the pursuit of his heavenly mission. Hebrews 4:15 came alive then, let me tell you.

Then, in 2006 we moved to a housing scheme in Scotland. That brought with it a whole host of other issues related to our children. What about friends for them in a church with few or no children their own age? Wouldn’t it easier and fairer (on them) to pastor in a church with an established children’s and youth group? How about now that they’re older with no friends their own age in the church? What about schooling in an area of failing educational systems? What about role models for them? How about the fact that we can’t really let them play in the street with so many questionable (sex offenders) people about? We can’t let them go into certain houses we now associated with drugs and crime. Big questions I will address in further posts.

I read this prayer this morning in my devotional.

“Good God thank you that this life is not a random throw of the dice. but is watched over by your favour and fatherly care. That’s easy to confess when the wind is at my back and the sun is on my face; give me the same trust in your will when the circumstances of life turn tragic and are tear-stained. Let me understand that even then I am kept by you.”

Stay tuned.

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When I came to Niddrie over 4 years ago there was a young woman involved in selling Heroin outside our doors in the car park. Most of the members were oblivious but I spotted it after about 2.1 seconds! Her name was Charlene and she had two young children. Before long she had heard the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and was interested in changing her life. At that time she was under huge pressure from her friends and family. Nearly everybody she knew was an addict of one form or another. It was her culture. It was her life. Slowly but surely she began to see the seriousness and hopelessness of her situation and began to understand the reality of the gospel, her sin predicament and the deep, abiding hope that could only be found in Jesus.

One day, after a particularly bad assault on her out side the church, I took her into the prayer room and read her the riot act. She was losing her life to this drug, she had no real friends and she had lost her children to the social services. She was a bum and her life was going down the toilet. Then, with the help of Sharon, our Women’s Worker, she began to get more serious. She attended an evangelistic Bible study and our weekly Recovery Course at the church and the Lord removed the scales from her eyes. She got ‘proper saved’ (as we say in these parts). It’s been a long, hard slog over the last 2 years but, last week, I had the privilege of baptising her. Over 100 people came to the service (some of her old drug acquaintances) and heard her give a clear testimony to the greatness of Jesus. Here is her story. We praise God for his grace and mercy!

NOTE: Charlene recently got married to one of our deacons and is one of the first local converts to be currently receiving training under our “Apprenticeship” scheme in the church.

Please visit our site: http://www.20schemes.com for more details.

Benefit claimants have been in the news again this week and it prompted me to dig out an old post and somewhat adapt it. I definitely want to blog more on this topic and I am hoping to include a chapter in my upcoming book. For now, here is an old article on the BBC website. Please take the time to read before you continue because it will better help you understand the context.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-13152349.

What is interesting about working in Niddrie is that we are dealing with practically every person categorised on their list of Incapacity Benefit (IB) claimants. I am unsure what they mean by the term ‘unknown causes’. It is a little troubling given that 130,000 (ish) are claiming IB on this basis. This post is not intended to get into the rights and wrongs of this issue but to merely comment on our situation here and my experience (as an ex long-term IB claimant) and now as a pastor working in a predominantly ‘benefit culture’. It is hard to make comments that don’t generate deep felt emotions and/or negative reactions but somebody needs to grab the nettle and admit that, in large part, on estates like ours the benefits system is one big blag (con).

I know so many people making claims and making them for every little thing possible. Some people probably know the system better than the civil servants who run the show! There are many people here who have been on benefits almost all their adult lives and, after housing support, council tax support and other add ons, they are sometimes left with more disposable income than my wife and I who both work! This is one of the reasons why I am uncomfortable with the Western derivation of ‘deprived’. According to government statistics we are the number one most deprived estate in Edinburgh and yet there are many in ‘low income households’ who take more holidays abroad than I do!

Now I am not saying that there are no needy people and that it is not a worthwhile system – on the contrary – but I am stating a FACT that I work in an area where this whole thing is being abused by many. It is ironic that some people around here are livid because their benefits are being cut due to their new classification of being ‘fit to work’. People are (incredibly and unashamedly) appealing decisions (and often winning) arguing against their ‘unfit to work’ status whilst enjoying a life of swimming, running and going to the gym! In my experience lots of the people I work with are not incapable, they just don’t want to work (many people here do have jobs and work hard as well!). They are either lazy, greedy or so trapped in the system that they can’t escape. I recently worked out with one young man in receipt of various benefits that he would have to clear in excess of £1000 per month in order to match what he gets from the state now (including his partner who also claims)!

Now, the Bible has a lot to say on this subject, particularly the book of Proverbs. “As a door turns on its hinges so a fool turns in his bed” (Prov. 26:16)! Of course, when it comes to salvation we are glad that it does not turn on human effort or even a lack of it. It is all of grace and we do well to remind ourselves of that often (Ephesians 2:8-9). As Christians we are not saved by works but to works and one of the discipleship issues for us right now is educating new believers and counselling seekers about this whole issue and what the Bible has to say. When people are saved in our community we put them to work almost immediately and ensure that their lives and minds are filled with something useful and productive.  It is very much integral to our discipleship process.

The problem we find is that the Bible is often a big, fat slap in the face for many of our people here in Niddrie. A group of us were considering this verse recently. “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need” (Eph. 4v28). Needless to say it went down like a lead balloon in our culture of ‘the world owes me a living’!

Obviously, our job here is to present the gospel of Jesus Christ in all its fullness. We are not here to moralise to them about their so-called life choices. We hold forth Christ and we work hard as a church to hold out a real life, counter cultural model right bang in the middle of this estate. It is hard and it is slow but it has to be done. I only ask that people are realistic about the nature of a large proportion (Niddrie is changing as young professionals move in – that is a whole other challenge!) of the people we are trying to reach. There is a lot of liberal hand wringing by people who don’t live here, there is a lot of misrepresentation of those who do genuinely qualify for state assistance (and there are many of these also) and there is a lot of silly romanticising in Christian circles about ‘the poor’ like they’re some naive and helpless people group we’ve got to save. We do have to reach out to them but we have to do it with our eyes open, with a good deal of realism and a with great belief in the gospel to transform lives and worldviews. I believe that only genuine spiritual transformation can bring about any real and lasting social change.

If a man will not work, he will not eat (2 Th. 3:10) is a biblical truism no longer functioning in our society. Still, we employ the principle here at NCC. If you want our help you have to be prepared to work for it as well. The only truly ‘free’ thing we have to offer is the gospel. The issue, once converted, for many in our culture is discipleship and Lordship issues. The gospel is all of grace but it also requires a life of discipline and hard work. These things are a shock to the system in a culture where people will gladly take the benefits (if you pardon the pun) of Christ but find the ‘walking in obedience’ part goes against the grain. We often find that people who come sniffing around to see what they can get from us soon get bored and wander off once we set them even the most menial tasks to complete. Others, find salvation, and are slowly but surely beginning to rebuild their lives in a community that loves them, disciples them, cares for them but requires them to play their part and to be givers instead of takers.

This is a short film shown as an appeal in the BBC Children In Need programme recently. I am showing it because the man on the film, Kev Finlay, is a great guy. The church has been working with him over the last year or so in a number of ways, including football, and he is currently helping us establish our new junior football school in the area. He really loves the area and it is a great privilege for us to be able to serve our community with him.

Here’s a bit of the silver (skipping) fox on “The Mission”. Always worth a punt.

The pendulum’s swung, says author, speaker, and activist JR Woodward. Bigger is no longer better in the church world – and Woodward is predicting that the real energy for God’s work in the local church will come from smaller, intentional communities who are immersed in spiritual practices that energize and inspire.

Click here to listen to an interview on this topic (as usual I don’t endorse everything said!).

Here are some resources from the Geneva Push 2011 Conference. As with all things, this is not a wholehearted recommendation for all of the content. But it is worth a perusal. Click here.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

At our “In this City” Conference last night, Tim Chester was looking at the issue of the church planter and purity. Character before gifts is a fundamental premise of all Christian leadership and Crossway have produced a helpful list of e-books on the topic of pursuing holiness. Worth checking out.

http://www.crossway.org/blog/2012/08/5-ebook-on-holiness/

Here is a website that could be useful for those of us trying to plant churches and think through some issues.

www.churchplanting.com

As with all sites I am not claiming to agree with, or endorse, all that is written but it could be a helpful resource for some. I am currently thinking about whether I should be broadening this site for a UK context or developing a new church planting site for those seeking to work, plant and train in housing schemes. I will keep you posted.