Grafted in… for the Long Haul

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By Caroline Friend. Caroline is a church leader with a passion to share life and explore faith with those outside the walls of traditional church, mum of two, wife of a community worker and keen allotmenteer. 

I remember it like it was yesterday. My lungs burned, heart pounded, the mud squelched through my green flash trainers and as the rain trickled down the back of my neck, I thought ‘long distance just isn’t my thing’. Like many others I hated cross-country running at school – I always saw myself as a sprinter.

So it was many years later that I was struck when the prophetic word was spoken into my life, “Caroline, I feel God is saying I am looking for leaders who are in it for the long haul”. The word was one of invitation, looking for ‘never quit, digging deep, through thick and thin’ commitment to Jesus-shaped leadership.

Hebrews 12:1 states “let us run with endurance the race God has set before us”.

In his book Courageous Leadership, Bill Hybels talks about ‘developing an enduring spirit’ which he believes begins with making your calling sure; knowing deep within what God is asking you to dedicate your life to. Remaining focused on fulfilling our calling means we avoid ‘vision drift’, spreading ourselves too thinly and then burnout. Hybels also challenges leaders to develop the courage to change; leaving behind unhelpful and destructive thought patterns and behaviours. In the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-38) we see Jesus surrounded by safe people. Hybels encourages leaders to seek out safe people to share their hearts and lives with because leadership can be a lonely calling. Ultimately it is about viewing all we are and do through an eternal perspective. Hybels concludes “Heroic Christian leaders throughout redemptive history have always looked at the difficulty of their short term struggle against the backdrop of eternity”.

In my local context—a rural market town where generations still live in neighbouring streets—family ties are strong and the community looks after its own. As an ‘incomer’ I recognise the importance of being ‘grafted into’ this local community. This has been a long process of developing trust and relationship. Over the past 14 years I have been rooting myself in the local community and I still just about get away with it because of the fact I married a local! I am struck by the need of rural communities in particular, to see that we are indeed in it for the long haul, rooted and grafted not transient and temporary. In John 1:14 (The Message) we read “the Word become flesh and moved into the neighbourhood”. Jesus didn’t take a holiday home or a camper van. He moved in with intention, compassion and patience and was fundamentally relational in His approach. For around 30 years He blazed a trail and left a template for us to follow.

It strikes me that, in our post-Christendom culture, God continues to call leaders who are in it for the long haul – those who are fully invested, fully present and fully committed to the communities they serve. If we do that, then we will see His kingdom grow one person at a time.

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Thoughts on a Panel Discussion about Leadership and “Success”

Image from the book by Dr. Henry Cloud (HarperCollins, 2011)

By Charles Walters. Charles is a part time postgraduate student at Cranmer Hall, St John’s College, Durham, whilst serving as the lead pastor of Christ the Light Church, York. He is husband to Catherine and dad to Rachel and Karen.

Back in December, the Missional Leadership Seminar enjoyed listening to the combined wisdom of Dr Ruth Perrin, Dr Calvin Samuel, Gavin Calver, and Sir Peter Vardy. The topic was directed by the overarching theme, ‘Practical Leadership – Leading change, managing transition’. The literature that had been prescribed reading for the seminar that day was Henry Cloud’s, Necessary Endings[1]. The crucial thesis of the book is that in order to succeed, ‘we must prune’[2]. This raised the question in my mind, ‘What is success?’

The panel was diverse in life experience, and in public profile, and so I asked the question, ‘How would you define success, and what things need to die to realise it?’

Dr Perrin’s reply was that success is about obedience, not glory, and that she does not trust her own ego. She added that there is a lot of stuff that she has to let go. Dr Calvin Samuel referenced the academic paradigm for successful outcomes and stated that he wanted to see students leave Cranmer Hall more in love with Jesus than when they started. He also emphasized the desire to increase capacity amongst students to take risks with the gospel, and to contribute to the health and vitality of the mission of the local church (measured in a generation’s time). Sir Peter Vardy described the journey that God had taken him on whilst he was making under- performing car dealerships profitable, how God had enabled him to decide to sell his business group at just the right time, and how God had then led him to engage with the work going on at Barnard Castle Young Offenders. It was clear that from Sir Vardy’s perspective, the issue of success had something to do with following the will of God through the claims of a very prosperous business and into humble service. Gavin Calver answered that success is being who God made us to be, and that meant learning to be happy in who we are. He also stressed the importance of being aware of legitimate distractions (not necessarily the illegitimate ones).

Cloud’s book is informed by a corporate hierarchical success paradigm. I was therefore keen to hear whether or not ‘success’ for the panelists had necessitated pruning other people who were ‘getting in the way’ of ‘success’ or not. The only panelist who referenced ‘pruning others’ during the seminar was Sir Peter Vardy, who described the process he had followed when he realized that his envisioning of a dealer principal was not working. For the other panelists, the issue of ‘success’ had more to do with an internal discipline and strength of understanding of identity before God.

It could be argued that the Bible presents a qualification of Cloud’s premise, while affirming the response that the panelists gave. In the Gospel of John, Jesus quite clearly links fruitfulness (‘success’) with ‘remaining in him’ (John 15.5). Moreover, we are to receive the pruning of God the Father so that we would be more fruitful (John 15.2). John the Baptist saw the issue very clearly when the disciples he had been forming detected Jesus’ ascendancy in ministry. John’s exhortation in relation to the life and ministry of Jesus was, ‘He must become greater; I must become less.’ (John 3.30). Success is therefore not reliant on pruning to prosper my own aspirations, but rather co-operating with the pruning of God as he works to glorify his Son in my life. The panelists’ responses were a helpful affirmation of this transformative disposition.

[1] Dr Henry Cloud, Necessary Endings (New York: HarperCollins, 2011)

[2] p 19

Ants… and our Limited Imaginations

By Alan Rose. Alan has been breathing oxygen for almost 40yrs, has been married to Susanna for almost 14yrs and is daddy to Zachary who is almost 4yrs! Pastor of York City Church and blogger at www.alanalogy.com.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom” (Viktor Frankl)

My son and I like watching a kids’ show called 64 Zoo Lane. Our favourite episode is a story about Herbert the Musical Warthog and how the strange phenomenon of music disrupted the otherwise boring life of the African Savanna the day that Herbert formed a band with Alan the Aardvark (brilliant) and Zed the Zebra. What always tickles me is Alan the Aardvark’s response when Herbert first attempts to recruit him: Alan is busy hoovering up ants and, when it is suggested that he should forget about the ants, he replies, “Forget about the ants? What else is there?”

Alan the Aardvark and his rather myopic vision of life offers a fascinating reflection on how I often live: Alan is a beast of little imagination living in a world that has just thrown up the possibility of something as beautiful, enriching and collaborative as music, but his horizons are utterly dominated by tiny insects (when you first meet Alan he is shuffling around snorting, “Oh look! An ant! Oh, look at that, another one!”) It makes me wonder if I often miss God’s presence because my social imagination is so dominated by tiny, yet weirdly absorbing stimuli (Twitter, email, phone, FaceBook etc) that demand immediate response.

Viktor Frankl describes the space that exists between stimulus and response as the space where my freedom to choose lies and the place where my freedom and growth exists, but I wonder if I have a tendency to shrink the space between stimulus and response, because to entertain a different way is profoundly threatening to my perception of reality. I hear in Frankl a tantalising alternative: an invitation to make the most of the space by whatever means are available to me. I discern the possibility of wedging that space open for as long as possible in order for choice, freedom and growth to flourish and, as a follower of Jesus, I reflect on the potential that the gifts of spiritual disciplines in the Christian tradition have for functioning as those wedges.

There is no pause button in life, is there? But what if I could “hold the doors” long enough to let another voice in? What if I was able to delay my response and allow another voice into that space? What I am suggesting is that spiritual disciplines such as silence, scripture reading and prayer- admittedly just three among dozens of spiritual disciplines- might function for me as a wedge in the stimulus-response process that allows the space to remain open long enough to discern myself afresh before God, hear the transformative voice of God addressing me and then, transformed by this encounter, to offer words of thanks and worship back to Him, and words of hope and new life to the world.

The truth is that I need to wedge the doors open frequently in order to discern God in my life, because in a world that numbs my imagination and does violence to time, the space to be attentive to another, alternative and life-giving voice, is less of a commodity and more of an urgent necessity for any who long to be a faithful witness to the kingdom of God.

Glimpses into International Ministry in the North East

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By Tom Bryant.

At the moment I have the privilege to be involved with a group of people who run international cafes with universities in Britain for overseas students. It is remarkable! In a world where there is more and more disputes and wars between countries, we have the honour of gathering students of all ages, from all backgrounds and nearly every continent to have a meal together and share each others’ cultures, stories and to celebrate them. Its very rare you will find a Geordie, Iranian, Saudi and a Mackem bonding over a game of UNO.

I’m pretty sure this is a small glimpse of heaven.

This happens in churches across the North East, but more importantly across all of Britain. There are at least five cafes that I am aware of in Newcastle for overseas students ran by different groups of churches and I help lead one in Quayside, the beauty of these cafes is that it is going against the stereotypes that are put on different people groups that come to Britain and by doing this destroys the roots of racism which are creeping back into 21st century Britain. We are all aware of certain newspapers and websites which use terms like cockroaches and vermin to describe refugees.

Being all-welcoming is probably always underestimated. It’s obviously very hard to judge the true impact of relationships you have with others in your life, say apart from those closest to you. But what we can say is that the biggest impact on the human history has been through the later part of the life of one man, Jesus. From a worldwide movement that went faster and further than the Roman Empire, to inspiring the first hospitals (Holy Jesus Hospital in Newcastle City centre is over 700 years old) and the first education centres and universities.

Jesus’ impact and influence is, of course, immeasurable.

Back to cafes (sort of)… Jesus was all-welcoming. Those he chose to help were meant to be untouchable lepers, who he healed with touch. Spending time with a promiscuous woman and treating her with dignity whilst putting his reputation on the line. But apart from these bible verses the most challenging thing is that Jesus was always All-Welcoming: Those he chose for his team and closest friends were disgusting fisherman and corrupt tax collectors who would betray and deny Him in His hour of biggest need. Not just those He saw and helped for his ministry but some of His best friends were some of the least in the eyes of the religious and governing groups of the time.

I know you are probably thinking that this blog post is about two very separate things, one being about work in Newcastle with internationals and the other a rather preach-like encouragement of being all-welcoming which didn’t really land anywhere?!

But the two should be almost inseparable.

What are you involved in? What’s it against? Inclusion or Exclusion?

Does it come from the movement and impact of Jesus?

Disclaimer: people that would consider me a friend, I have not sought you out because you are disgusting or corrupt, though some of you might be.

Loving the North East… in Jesus’ Name

 

 

 

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By Rachel Peters, an undergraduate student doing a BA in Theology, Mission, and Ministry at Cranmer Hall on the Free Church Missional Leadership Track.

“There are large and desolate places, certainly up in the North-East, where there is plenty of room for fracking…” – Lord Howell.

This area of our country can often be overlooked and spoken badly about so let us take a brief look at the rich history of the North East, its beauty, challenges and hope.

The North East is rooted in a culture that speaks of community founded in the mining villages and families of steel workers, which has created a unique sense of pride, identity and community for the people of this region. This area of the world is steeped with beautiful countryside, as observed in the Yorkshire Dales, and the majesty of the Lake District, places that attract people from all over the world to enjoy. The North East has also been a large contributor to global history, for example, we have made our mark with the Sydney harbour bridge, the invention of the match, the first railway line from Darlington to Stockton and many other significant influencers in history.

As well as the North East being home to some significant inventions, it also has a rich history of faith. The spread of Christianity throughout Britain was significantly contributed to by Holy Island being central to this. St Aidan, the first bishop of Lindisfarne, along with other Celtic monks went out and shared the Gospel throughout the North. Although the North East has changed significantly since this time, this period in Church history was undeniably influential for the development of Christianity across the country.

What does this mean for our region in the 21st Century? Our history has shaped us into being a robust, passionate, hardworking, community-centred area, rooted in the values of Christianity. This is reflected in the work of a number of charities based here in the North East, for example, ‘Away out’ providing services for vulnerable women, ‘Safe families for children’ providing support for children and families and ‘Cornerstone’ a local Christian adoption agency. There are many more community building charities that could mentioned in that list also. Although this is the case, the identity of parts of the North East has been challenged in different ways, funding has been cut all across the country but most recently has had a detrimental effect on SSI steelworks in Redcar, and in turn has stripped people of their jobs, a great source of pride especially in this industry as it has been a significant part of our identity. This is among other factors that have shaken the roots and challenged the faith of this area.

However, I don’t not believe that God has forgotten the North East. There is life springing up here. It is claimed that the Church is declining in our region however this is not the case. I see churches that are booming, with inter-generational congregations, history makers in our towns and cities – people who are seeing injustices and are responding to them with passion and creativity. This has proved to be evident in the research accumulated by David Goodhew, who drew together a document called, ‘New Churches in the North East’, including promising statistics. It is stated, “125 new churches have been founded in the North East of England between 1980 and 2015.” He goes on to say, “of the 12000 people who usually attend a Sunday worship at ‘new churches’ in the North East, around 2500 are under the age of 16.” This shows how the Church in this region is sprouting up with new hope, along with a new generation.

Yes, we have our problems and we come with challenges but we were born into a region with a deep well of Christianity, God is moving, he has not forgotten us.

I started with a statement of hostility about the North East, but now I want to end with a proclamation over the North East.

They will be called the Holy people, the redeemed of the Lord; and you will be called sought after, the city no longer deserted.” – Isaiah 62:12.

The Art of “Missional Listening”

By Caroline Friend. Caroline is a church leader with a passion to share life and explore faith with those outside the walls of traditional church, mum of two, wife of a community worker and keen allotmenteer. 

As I came out of the academic fog and walked briskly through the crisp Durham air, I reflected on the afternoon seminar. I came back to God’s word that we used during an earlier time of Spiritual Formation.

As Jesus walked on earth there was so much need, pressing in all around Him (Lk 8.43). How did He choose what to do, where to go, who to speak to, who to challenge, who to encourage, who to heal? Jesus withdrew to a solitary place and asked his Father. Jesus saw what the Father was doing and joined in.

So in seeking to follow Jesus’ example, I would withdraw to a solitary place and ask God a series of questions such as:

What are you doing here in my town?

Where is the specific need in our local community?

Who are the people of peace in the town?

What would good news look like on the local council estate?

What resources have you given us?

How can we join in with your Holy Spirit?

I guess I come from a school of thought that says that it’s not my mission but God’s and by His grace he chooses to use me as part of the mission team. Therefore it only makes sense that I fall into step with God rather than asking Him to fall into step with me.

Over the past two years this is the exact process we have been going through in our local church. Roughly 3 years ago my husband and I sensed a specific call from God to devote ourselves to something new, to not just reach out to the thousands of people in our town who don’t know Jesus but to go out and make disciples planting an alternative type of Christian community.

We called the process Missional Listening. The Missional Listening Team recognised, as Jesus did, that the need is massive. In recent research the Barna Group reported “92% of people in the North East are not practicing Christians and 40% of people do not realise Jesus was a real person who actually lived” (Talking Jesus Perceptions of Jesus, Christians and Evangelism in England, 2015). Our intention was to listen to God, allowing him to break our hearts with the things and people that breaks His. This would be the focus of our prayer and missional effort. So often the automatic instinct in church life is to come up with a plan and do it; but the Missional Listening Team – operating with a pioneering heart – is counterintuitive, perhaps, with the call to listen, listen and listen some more… then have a go!

In our case, the process with the Missional Listening Team has been lengthy, sometimes misunderstood and occasionally frustrating. But more importantly it has been energising, revolutionary and a great opportunity to share lives and explore faith. For instance, that ‘shared lives’ approach has meant that the expectation amongst some of running a course such as Christianity Explored in a café church environment is not necessarily the priority. Is it better to get to know someone first and begin whole life discipleship through relationship rather than programmes? Our experience thus far would suggest ‘yes’. That’s not to say that Christianity Explored does not have its place – it does – but for many it’s not the natural starting point in a journey of faith.

I’m gradually coming to the conclusion that Spiritual Formation has at its core the art of listening. It is this discipline that leads to a revelatory God; a God who delights so much in our being available for His mission and that makes a lot of sense.

Life Outside the Wire: The Church and the Armed Forces

 

By Ross Pembroke.

Every time we turn on the news we are greeted with another report about the latest conflict being fought. Tragically day by day we see a growing list of soldiers who have given their lives and will never be coming home.

We take great pride in remembering those who gave their lives but we often forget about the men and women that do come home. This is set to change as the Church and the Army join forces in a new venture to engage and care for all serving and ex-serving personnel and their families.

In February this year the Church of England singed the Armed Forces Covenant which promises that the Church of England will do all it can to support the needs of all military personnel. This helped to further strengthen the bond between military and Church.

The relationship between the church and the armed forces goes back a long way. We can see Bishops in the Bayeux Tapestry rallying troops on the battlefield as early as 1066. Chaplains continued to thrive in the forces and in 1796 the Army Chaplains Department was formed which today still contains 145 British Army Chaplains.

We held a meeting recently between a group of armed forces chaplains and members of the wider church including two bishops, several church leaders and chaplains from other fields such as the prison and healthcare systems. The meeting looked at ways in which we could work together to meet the needs of all soldiers past and present. Here are the three main questions we considered—

Question 1: How do we minister to soldiers who live “outside the wire”(not on a base)?

  • As a chaplain on a base it is easy enough to engage with the soldiers on the base but how do you minister to the men and women who live further afield?
  • We realised that this is an opportunity for the local church to step in and help to integrate the families into their community.
  • We also looked at developing a communication network between the base and the surrounding parishes.

 

Question 2: How can we help veterans and soldiers preparing to leave the forces?

  • Communication was again an important issue as we talked about how to link soldiers with the charities and local support networks available.
  • We looked at several ways in which we could engage veterans including running activity days and drop in cafes.
  • We also talked about the support non-military chaplains could offer to the veterans and found that several services could be offered including mental health care and rehabilitation.
  • The churches support in helping soldiers transition back into civilian life has also proved key, particularly the offer of guaranteed interviews for disadvantaged service personnel.

 

Question 3: What are the next steps?

  • We looked at what systems were already in place across West Yorkshire and Humberside Diocese.
  • We then examined how these systems could be implemented throughout the north east.
  • We found that through proper communication and through utilizing existing services we can lay a strong foundation which both the Forces and local churches could build upon.

 

It’s clear that there are some challenges to this project but by recognizing and addressing some of the sticking points now we will be able to seize the massive range of opportunities that we have.

Not only does this project bear the potential to enrich the work of many churches and communities but also the lives of millions of service families and veterans who have given so much already and who deserve something back.