Archive for the ‘Niddrie Community Church’ Category

51NWFZNKQNL._SL500_AA300_This question seemed to be one of the premises behind a book I read recently, although I am uncertain as to the author’s final answer.

Because I haven’t done a book review for a while I thought I would review this one which has been sat in my drafts box for a few months. In the course of researching housing scheme development and history in the UK somebody recommended this book to me and so I thought that I would give it a bash. The title seemed interesting enough and held out the promise of some practical insights into our (post) modern culture.

To be honest I am not sure what I really think of it. I wanted to be excited and stimulated but in reality it seemed like a pale version of (any) work by Francis Schaeffer. In fact, for anybody who has studied missiology at a basic level this is standard fare. I am still not sure what the author was trying to achieve when he wrote the book. It is a sort of historical (ish), philosophical and prophetic statement on his view (intellectual and middle class) of Christendom in the UK. He made very basic applications in parts such as the need to learn from Carey about his sensitivity to communicate Christ contextually (p13). Sadly, that is about as practical as the book got (in my opinion). However, there is a great chapter about Scotland as a case study for the decline of Christianity in Europe.

Hevdoes ask some interesting questions including:

Can traditional preaching survive in an era of multi-channel TV, the global spread of new information technologies, and a shift in public education from texts to images, from books to screens.

I think the answer is yes. But I don’t think he does. The problem is that I am still unsure how he answered the question or even if he did. He then goes on in the book to make other basic points about preachers having to engage with the peculiar pressures faced by people in our culture, particularly in the workplace. Again, it feels like this book was written by an older person because these seem like simple truisms rather than earth shattering insights in 2012. The book was published in 2000 and already feels dated (which partly proves his point above I suppose).

So, is it helpful? It is if you know nothing about history or the basic philosophy of missiology. It is definitely worth a read. It’s just that the book feels depressing, asks lots of questions, doesn’t provide any concrete answers and/or pointers and is lacking any real biblical punch. For a person arguing that we need to move on from old forms to engage with new he spent an awful lot of time engaging with old forms and even some dead philosophers, without making any real positive connection to the Twenty First Century. But maybe that was his clever postmodern point and I am just too thick to have realised it – which seems pretty plausible!

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Happy New Year to one and all! Can I start off my thanking those of you who take the time to log in and read some of my thoughts from time to time. I am constantly amazed at the numbers who read this blog from around the globe. It is with this in mind, alongside the launch of 20schemes, that this will be my last week blogging as Niddrie Pastor. I will leave this site active as a place to log on and find archives but, as of the 7th January, I will be blogging from my 20schemes site. I will keep you posted over the next week as I make the change. Can I encourage those of you who subscribe to the site to consider following me over to this new site. Thanks so much!

Now, the blogosphere is awash with reading plans for 2013 and, perhaps, the most comprehensive can be found on The Gospel Coalition website. Please click on the link here to find reading plans galore! There is also a great blog post form Matt Smethurst on the dangers of being sucked into Bible reading Plans with the wrong motivations. Worth a read here.

The Ligonier blog always comes up with the goods! Happy hunting for various plans here.

The 19th Century Scottish minister, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, (sometimes spelled McCheyne) who lived from 1813-1843, prepared a plan for Bible reading to take readers through the New Testament and Psalms twice a year, and through the rest of the Bible once each year. His plans can be accessed easily here.

Tim Chester has some great words of advice on his blog and his reading plan(s) can be accessed here. What I like about Tim’s is that it has a communal element to it (although to be honest every plan could be communal if you wanted it to). Worth a quick look though.

For a helpful perspective on the whole reading plan thing, Garrett Kell offers some honest and wise words on his provocatively entitled blog post, “Why I Plan To Read Less Of The Bible This year”. Check it out here.

My own personal plan is snappily called: Professor Grant Horner’s Bible reading System. Google it or you will find it on most of the blog sites above. I have been using the system throughout 2012. Basically, I read 10 chapters a day from various parts of the Bible. I have worked out that I have read the entire Bible at least 3 and a half times this past year. That’s probably more than I did in the whole of the previous 5 years! I admit that the early weeks were a struggle but, with perseverance, I managed to stick to the plan with amazing ease. I have found it particularly helpful to be able to download the plan onto my iPhone. You can download that here. As usual, the great Tim Challies has produced a list of resources to go along with the plan. These can be found here. Finally, for mutual encouragement and accountability you can access the Facebook page here.

No, it hasn’t made me Godlier or holier and no I don’t think Jesus likes me better than  people who’ve struggled through their devotions this year. At times it has been a chore but after the first few weeks I really got into the groove. Now, I didn’t use it devotionally but instead just read the chapters through at normal reading speed. Like a spiritual shower if you will! Besides this reading I followed my own personal, spiritual routine which enabled me to soak a little longer in the bath! I just found the habit of constantly reading scripture daily nice – that’s all. What I found helpful, particularly when I went through a spiritual ‘dry patch’ in terms of my own devotions, was that I was at least reading huge chunks of scripture as a matter of coarse even when I didn’t really feel like it. Make of that what you will but the point is my head was in the Bible rather than in the TV when I was having some tough times. Remember our faith rests in Christ and not on how we do in these things. Let’s all guard our hearts and watch our motivations.

I hope that we will all grow in truth and grace in 2013 as we wait for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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.

This is the third most popular blog posting of 2012.

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.

I cam across this resource some time ago. They are definitely worth checking out but I can’t claim to give 100% backing to them because I haven’t watched them. However, worth checking out as a potential resource.

http://www.bradhambrick.com/griefseminar

This is a fascinating take on the Christmas event.

Here’s a more modern take.

Perhaps the cutest ever video can be found on the following link. You’d have to be hard hearted not to like this one. A must watch.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=TM1XusYVqNY

About 5 years ago, in response to the countless Christmas Family Newsletters we receive each year, we began our own ‘alternative’ version. It was partly due to my irritation at being told how good ‘Rupert’ was at the trombone now or how ‘Felicity’ had been voted the ‘Best Drawer In A Decade’ at the local infant school. That accompanied with said children in various poses around the piano or with a book of sonnets tucked under their arm made me want to vomit (a lot). So, I produced my own version. Oddly, over the years, the amount of Newsletters we receive has dropped off considerably! Also, without fail, every year I will get at least one email from somebody congratulating me on the amazing exploits of my family! So, what’s true and what’s false? You decide. I will give you a clue though. I do not know anybody with children called Rupert or Felicity! Enjoy this year’s offering.

McConnell Christmas Newsletter 2012

Seasons Greetings Campers!

Miriam and I have discussed in-depth this year about how we ought to be wording these yearly updates. It seems that some people are intimidated and have even been offended by the content of previous years. We can only sincerely apologise if that has been the case. So, in order to assuage these individuals, and to show just how considerate we are, we have decided not to include a family photo this year. This is so our friends, particularly those with ugly children, are not embarrassed by the shining beauty of our glorious offspring. That’s the sort of love and Christmas spirit we are bringing to the table this year! And what a year it has been in the McConnell household. Thrills and spills galore. Strap yourselves in and get ready for the ride of your Christmas season.

Yes, it is that time of year when, once again, we McConnell’s bring a little colour into the drab, greyness of your uninteresting, sad, little lives. We hope you enjoy!

What news of the Girls?

Keziah has grown up ever so quickly this year and had the opportunity to enter university early, at the age of 11. We were somewhat miffed at the slowness of her educational development but she has assured us she will apply herself better in the coming year. We are currently investigating courses for her in trumpeting. At the moment we are deciding over Cambridge, Oxford or Harvard. She is being swayed by the latter’s course on Intellectual Renaissance History. We have no idea what it means but a degree with the word intellectual in it sound almost too good to pass up. Obviously, we will keep you all fully informed. Even if your own child is not as gifted as ours, and it is highly unlikely, fear not for you can live vicariously through our own supremely gifted progeny.

Lydia has developed a keen interest in environmental issues this year. She has taken to sleeping on a bed made entirely of hay rather than a bed ‘manufactured in factories that don’t adhere strictly to the Kyoto Treaty guidelines’ (her words, the little poppet). She has also decided to live off food that has only fallen naturally to the ground and been captured on a bed of duck feathers, so as to minimise the suffering of her personal sustenance. Also, this year, we took her for an IQ test this year and, sadly, they were unable to give us a fair indication because she was, quote, ‘off the scale’. Perhaps the favourite answer she gave during her interview came out when asked what, if any, unfulfilled ambition she has. ‘To write a mould breaking, genre-busting and philosophically world shattering series of novels.’ It’s that complete lack of pretension that constantly brings a tear to my eye.

What news of the adults?

Miriam continues to blossom, under the headship of Mez, like a Rose planted in a bucket of the finest manure. This year she entered the UK National Crochet Championships and initially finished second. Thankfully – and to avoid the shame of being tagged a ‘loser’– our complaint about the legitimacy of the other competitor’s ‘Granny Square’ was upheld and she was awarded the first prize. You should have seen the look on the face of the lady who was disqualified – it was priceless – especially when we tipped her out of her wheelchair and did a victory dance in front of her tear stained face. It was certainly a highlight of our year! We also gave each of the other competitors a tract on the meaning of grace. Many of them looked like they could have done with some – talk about sore losers!

Mez was approached this year to play a part in the upcoming Hobbit trilogy. Unfortunately, he failed on his audition as a dwarf (too short, apparently). They informed him, in writing, that they will keep him on file should The Smurfs ever make it to the big screen.

Serious Stuff

It’s been a particularly busy year for the church. We have recently seen 10 baptisms and have more planned for early next year. God has been so good to NCC and we are immensely thankful to Him for all He is doing here. One of these was Keziah who has really been growing in her faith in the last year. Lydia has decided to wait a while to make sure that she is really ready.

We have also launched a new ministry in the church – 20 schemes (www.20schemes.com). We also have a facebook page – please like us on there if you can. This is a ministry dedicated to planting and/or revitalising gospel churches in 20 housing schemes in Scotland over the next 10 years. We are operating in partnership with Bardstown Christian Fellowship in Kentucky, under the leadership of Matthew Spandler-Davison. Please check us out online and pray for us in this new venture. Anybody who would like to support this work financially can contact me at mez@niddrie.org.

We have seen a number of people come to faith throughout the year and, thankfully, all of them seem to be going strong. JRH is full to capacity with 4 men most of whom having been saved out of drug and crime backgrounds. Their testimonies are available to watch at www.niddriepastor.com. Please continue to pray for our work in the community and for our very busy Christmas outreach programmes.

Can I wish you all a great and restful Christmas and a Happy New year!

Mez Miriam Keziah & Lydia.

I haven’t posted to ‘Ordinary Pastor‘ (one of my favourite blogs) for a long while. So, here you go! A mini series on church planting. Enjoy it here.

Note: Re-posting doesn’t always mean 100% agreement. 🙂

As many of you are aware, I have recently returned from the USA launch of 20Schemes. I suggest you click on the link if you do not know what that is. 20schemes is partnering with Bardstown Christian Fellowship in the planting and revitalisation of gospel centred churches in some of Scotland’s poorest housing schemes.

As I was there for 5 days of intense meetings, lectures and preaching I observed several things.

1. The BCF churches – Grace & Redeemer – are relatively small churches compared to the rest of the USA. Grace, the largest, is about the same size as Niddrie Community Church (my home church). Both congregations are not poor but nor are they rich. In other words, small churches coming together on both sides of the Atlantic can actually, with God’s help, make big things happen. The vision for 20 schemes has not grown from a mega church and yet far outstrips many in the scope of what we hope, by God’s grace, to achieve in the next decade. Never fall into the trap of thinking that because your congregation is small they cannot have a  part to play in world mission. The remarkable generosity of brothers and sisters in the USA never ceases to amaze me. They have such an openness to share time and resources. Leaders who have never met me have been so supportive of 20 schemes and have been going out of their way to help us to succeed in what we are trying to do. This flies in the face, often, of many in the UK who are suspicious of ideas like this and are often very negative and critical about whether it will succeed or not. This ‘can do’ attitude of so many stateside is a real breath of fresh air.

2. Partner organisations and individuals have just been unbelievably kind and generous to us. 9Marks have been a first rate example of this. Many of their leaders have given us such invaluable input and advice across a broad range of areas from branding, marketing, theology, finances and overall strategy. They have even offered to help us train our leaders through their own weekenders and printed material. Dr Jeff Walters at Southern Seminary allowed me to go into the classroom and teach a group of MA students for 2 hours on the vision of 20 schemes and the challenge of church planting in housing schemes. Another brother I met for the first time was Brian Croft who blogs at Practical Shepherding. He is not only sitting on our board but also offered us help in terms of fundraising, raising the profile, training young pastors, resources and allowing me to blog on housing scheme issues monthly on his site. I would like to thank all of these people who have been such a good example to me and I hope, one day, when 20 schemes has the means, to be able to offer the same level of help and practical support that has been shown to us.

3. I have admired the attitude of my elders at NCC and the elders of Matthew’s church at BCF. Both sets of men have graciously freed us up to pursue this ministry on behalf of both our congregations and without this kind of forward thinking we would not have gotten this far. This is a vision shared by both our communities and we hope it will grow in the hearts and minds of many over the coming years as we engage in this exciting gospel partnership together.

Finally, can I thank our Advisory Board Members who skyped together across three time zones for the first time this week. We hope in the years to come they will continue to ask us hard questions and offer us helpful counsel as we seek to serve the poor in Scotland for the sake of the glorious gospel of Jesus. I have listed them below.

Dr Jeff Walters (SBTS)

Robert Briggs (Scottish Pastor, Sacramento)

Mark Schenk (Scottish pastor, Edinburgh)

Marc Surtees (NCC elder)

Brian Croft (Pastor, Louisville)

Steve Robinson (Pastor, Liverpool)

All have are current pastors and between them possess broad experience in church planting cross culturally, church revitalisation work and an understanding of the current problems in Scottish housing schemes. Please continue to pray for us as we keep you updated on our progress.