In this excellent article in Christianity Today by veteran missiologist J. Samuel Escobar, he suggests that the massive global migration we see today presents unparalleled opportunities for the church.
Are we making the most of the opportunities, particularly in our cities?
Mark Mumford, the Salt & Light church network's UK Team Leader commented at a regional event in Bangor (Wales) yesterday on the increasing visibility of the church in the UK in recent years, noting that whilst this has many pluses, that as we 'put our heads above the parapet', we are also likely to come under attack from secular and other anti-Christian forces.
In contrast, Mark Mumford also spoke of the very positive coverage on BBC1 that his colleague Ally Kay and the Derby Street Pastors had received recently. Likewise on the Chris Moyles show a few months ago, where Chris Moyles spoke very positively and at great length and used the word 'amazing' over and over about a televised service from Kingsgate Community Church Peterborough the previous Sunday.
How many mind-numbing presentations/talks/sermons have we all sat through, or given, where PowerPoint is being over-used, the speakers turns his/her back to us and reads the bullet points off the screen, etc?! Some good tips and the worse errors to avoid here.
My thanks to fellow-blogger Robin Parry for asking this question, quoting from a recent sermon by my Salt and Light colleague Dr Rick Thomas. Whilst we've rightly by-and-large got away from a view of a stern and killjoy God who's rather keener on condemning us to eternal hellfire than a nicer alternative, some preachers and churches have probably erred too far the other way with a depiction of a God who wants to be our 'best mate' and for whom almost any behaviour or belief is OK...
Maybe we can recover a more Biblical perspective of God, well-exemplified by the account of Jesus Christ in the gospels, who having saved the woman caught in adultery from a horrible death by stoning, told her 'then neither do I condemn you' - but then encouraged her to 'go and sin no more'.
In 1989 Tim Keller moved to New York City with his wife and three young sons to plant a new church there. At the time, evangelical Christians made up only 0.5% of the population of Manhattan. However, the Kellers found an unexpected spiritual hunger among New Yorkers, and contrary to all expectations, the church grew explosively from its very first weeks. From 1989 to 1992 it roughly doubled in size each year. Redeemer then began to plant churches in and around the New York City metropolitan area.
Early in 1998, Redeemer initiated the development of a multi-site model and the Redeemer Church Planting Center. The multi-site model is formed around the idea of setting up worship services in different locations for what will eventually become separate church congregations. Today, 5 Sunday services are held in three different locations in central Manhattan, with over 5,000 attendees. Soon another congregation will be launched south of 59th Street. The goal of this decentralization is to eventually multiply into smaller, more community-based congregations that serve the local neighbourhood.
A provocative article by Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, Seattle, about this modern heresy of the Christian gospel, originating in the USA.
'Pastor' Benny Hinn's organization and another 5 'prosperity gospel' US-based preachers are under investigation by the US Senate for possible non-compliance with IRS rules for non-profits. Kenneth Copeland, another of the 6 ministries being investigated, has grossed over US$1Billion to date, according to this article. (I guess that the private planes and the 21 cars and motorcycles have to be funded somehow?!) In essence, are these in reality large businesses rather than charitable religious organizations?
All feels a long way from what Christianity's founder taught and how he lived.....
'A group of black pastors is looking to spread biblical teaching and quash the prosperity gospel teachings that have been proliferating in their churches. Lance Lewis, pastor of Christ Liberation Fellowship in Philadelphia, says the health and wealth gospel is as much a threat to the historic black church as theological liberalism was to the evangelical church in the early part of the 20th century.' Lewis goes on to say '"The churches in which we grew up or came to faith now spout this destructive form of heresy."
Courtesy of fellow-blogger Anthony Delaney, an advance peek at an article by evangelist J John that will be in the Church Times next week.
The awakening of the religious in politics?
British politicians, Alistair Campbell famously informed us, ‘do not do God’. At this election time a related question ought to be asked: ‘Do the religious do politics?’ The answer, it seems, is that they do and increasingly so – something that ought to give the political parties pause for thought. Particular interest ought to be focused on that substantial sector that I belong to – the Evangelicals. In the UK Evangelicals tend to be the worst publicists for themselves (humility may be a great virtue but it’s a lousy basis for PR) and their growth here has been largely overlooked. Yet according to the Evangelical Alliance there may be around 2 million Evangelicals in the UK and they represent the only segment of the British church that is growing. Indeed, on current trends it will not be long before almost all of British Christianity outside Catholicism (and possibly within it) will have some sort of evangelical hue. And now, despite being traditionally cautious of politics, Evangelicals are taking a serious interest in the polls.
British Evangelicals are widely misunderstood; this is in part due to that disdain for PR and the fact that the media find them generally rather uninteresting. If they are commented on, Evangelicals here are often confused with evangelists or with the very different American version, with all its overtones of right-wing politics and fundamentalism. In all fairness, getting a handle on the British evangelical movement is not easy; it represents a series of interwoven strands rather than a single monolithic body and Evangelicals transcend traditional denominational boundaries. For instance, I am happy to be an Anglican Evangelical but I work with those who are Pentecostals,Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and of no known affiliation. Although there are common key beliefs – most notably the importance of the Bible and the need for conversion – and a universal focus on Jesus Christ and his death on the cross, these are expressed in a range of worship styles, attitudes and church structures. Equally, evangelicalism cuts across ethnic boundaries, including within it substantial elements of the Black, South Asian and Chinese communities and even more than a few, like myself, from a Greek Cypriot background. In the political context, some other key evangelical traits are worth noting: they have youth, energy and confidence. It is typical of Evangelicals that at a time when many churches are closing buildings, they are more concerned with opening new buildings and training new leaders.
Yet as far as politics goes, the importance of Evangelicals does not simply lie in the fact that they are numerous, varied and lively. Evangelicals trace their roots back at least half a millennium to the Reformers and include in their ancestry the Puritans, the Wesleys, Wilberforce, Shaftesbury and many others. This sense of a past history is vital; Evangelicals view themselves as the custodians of historic Christianity. Indeed, they can be seen (and widely see themselves) as the flag-bearers or front-line troops of Christianity in Britain. What Evangelicals hold firmly as a matter of dogma (we take creeds seriously) many other Christians would believe but with less certainty. So Evangelicals are important and when they start to look at politics, it is well worth asking why and listening to what they have to say.
Significantly, despite a long and honourable history of social involvement, Evangelicals have not until recently been much bothered about political matters. This general apathy in this area is partly because Evangelicals tend to be quiet, inward-looking people, more preoccupied with their own relationship with God than with the state of the world. Another significant factor is that, until recently, there was an unthinking assumption among Evangelicals that Britain’s Christian roots were so deep and extensive that whatever party came to power would be at least broadly tolerant of cultural Christianity. Politicians were largely irrelevant.
As someone who travels widely within the UK I sense that this longstanding indifference towards politics is now changing. One reason is the almost perverse fact that as the spiritual void in British society deepens and darkens, the Evangelical community has a growing self-confidence. Despite the protestations of a few animated atheists, it is now acceptable to have a belief or faith; the only real question is what kind of faith to have. The second – and perhaps more important reason – is that there has been a gradual loss of that comforting view that politicians were fundamentally irrelevant. Indeed, there is now a troubled awareness that a new government could, for the first time, make the lives of those who hold to historic Christianity extremely difficult. We have seen rulings –and proposed rulings – on prayer in hospitals and schools, on civil partnership ceremonies in churches, and on faith schools, which, if formalised into law, would make at least some of what all churches do illegal. This unease is heightened by evangelicalism’s links to the past; there is a widespread feeling that much of what is (or was) good in British society (its once much-envied stability, tolerance and decency) came from evangelical Protestantism. Such views should not be lightly dismissed; such fundamental democratic values as the universality of the rule of law, the value of all individuals and the right to free speech were either first promoted or widely supported by those whose faith like ours was Bible-based. Yet as Evangelicals survey the British scene today there is a sense of dismay and foreboding as they see what they consider to be their culture changed, and not for the better.
Evangelicals then are both important and concerned. But what do they want? I would suggest that two things are important. The first quite simply is comprehension. British Evangelicals would feel happier if those who aspire to lead would at least go to the trouble of trying to understand who we are. One example is the way that the media habitually confuses an Evangelical and an evangelist. (For the record, an Evangelical is a Christian whose faith focuses on the Bible and Christ; an evangelist is someone who seeks to proclaim such a faith: I am happy to be both.) Another example is the way in which it is widely assumed that Evangelicals and fundamentalists are the same thing, when there are profound differences both in the nature and practice of their beliefs. So it should not really be necessary for me to write here that while all Christians believe in creation, the vast majority of British Christians (whether Evangelical or not) would see at least some measure of symbolism in the first few chapters of Genesis. Another example is the assumption that we are some sort of imported American novelty. One of evangelicalism’s hero figures, Thomas Cranmer, whose prayer book for the Church of England still exerts a great influence among the faithful, was born three years before Columbus set sail for America. And if we would like comprehension of the facts about us we also want people to understand why we believe what we believe. So, for instance, the evangelical attitude towards homosexuality is not because we are fixated on difficult laws in the Old Testament. Rather it is because in the second chapter of Genesis and in a later reiteration by Jesus in the Gospels we read that God created humanity male and female and instituted marriage between them; we do not see the gender roles as being interchangeable.
But comprehension is not enough, we would like consideration. Here we come across one major difference from our American counterparts; The majority of British Evangelicals have no aspirations for political power. Strange as it may seem, we do not want to be either kings or king-makers. This may be because of the more nuanced form of British Christianity, which recognises that the world is a difficult place and that there are sometimes rather grey issues that are not resolvable in black and white. It may also be a distant memory of the failure of the Puritans and the catastrophe of the English Civil War. But we do want to be recognised for who we are and we wouldn’t mind being listened to. In part, this desire to be consulted is self-interest. But there is something else: we Evangelicals are indissolubly linked to community and we feel a duty to those at the bottom of the social ladder. And we are painfully aware that today those at the bottom are not doing very well at all. Indeed, many Evangelical church leaders, whether they call themselves vicars, pastors or ministers, feel exasperated at what is said by political leaders securely cocooned in council offices or Westminster. We know what’s really happening and we wouldn’t mind if somebody listened.
Here the powerful sense of cultural history that runs through evangelicalism gives its adherents, whatever their ethnic background, a sense of being guardians of what it is to be a decent society. Evangelicals have strong and thought-through views on culture and society. Let me list some grievances. We universally lament the rise in house prices, which, by forcing both partners to work, has put pressure on marriage and families. Even before the present financial crisis we were unhappy about a culture that had come to elevate the movers of paper above those who actually made things. We are angry (and ours is a righteous anger) when we see the poor suffering because they cannot afford proper health care, dentistry or decent schools. We are irritated by a culture that has come to glorify sportsmen and media celebrities rather than those who work tirelessly to benefit the welfare of others. We are baffled and saddened by a national ethos that elevates the banal and the trivial over the worthwhile and the lasting. We are exasperated by a political culture that wants to see the results of faith but doesn’t care for faith; as if fruit can be produced without a fruit tree. We are aggrieved by the way that almost everything is now apparently controlled by shareholders for shareholders. We are sick of spin, of empty words and of manipulated statistics. Perhaps, above all, we find ourselves infuriated at the way in which, with morality sidelined, politics has become dominated by nothing nobler than a seedy, short-term pragmatism.
Yet we want consideration not simply to air grievances. We may be frustrated but we are not ultimately cynics. After all, a central Christian belief is a firm and certain hope that the future belongs to God. While we believe in sin we also believe in grace. We are under no illusion that politics is going to bring about the Kingdom of God. We do not expect the creation of the ‘New Jerusalem’ but we would like the abuses of ‘Babylon’ to be restrained. We have ideas and suggestions to share, based not on political ideology but on working with real people in the real world.
No doubt you will want me to say who Evangelicals will vote for. Here I make no predictions; British evangelicalism’s diversity is so great that there can be no block vote. Yet I do know that even with a low poll, Christians will vote; we treat politics seriously now. The fact is there is much in all three parties to attract us. We admire Labour’s commitment (at least in theory) to social justice, we respect the Conservatives’ appreciation of the rights of individuals and we find the Liberal Democrats’ defence of personal freedom engaging. Yet there is also much that troubles us about all three: Labour’s refusal to apologise over its mishandling of the economy, the Conservatives’ evident social elitism and the worrying illiberality of the Liberal Democrats. In short, I do not know how Evangelicals will affect this election; but I have little doubt they will play a major role. Yet I am confident of this: the time is not far off when their role in politics will be critical.
In a brief but incisive article, Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church New York identifies 5 big issues that we in the western Christian church should consider. Here are the headings, and some of the key questions:
1. The opportunity for extensive culture-making
The challenges faced by Christians going into the arts, business, government, the media, and film....and what will their response be?
2. The rise of Islam
How can Christians be at the very same time a) good neighbors, seeking their good whether they convert or not, and still b) attractively and effectively invite Muslims to consider the gospel?
3. The new non-Western Global Christianity
What should the relationship of the older Western churches be to the new non-Western church, as the demographic center of Christian gravity shifts from the West to Asia, Latin America, and Africa?
4. The growing cultural remoteness of the gospel
How do we make the gospel culturally accessible without compromising it? How can we communicate it and live it in a way that is comprehensible to people who lack the basic 'mental furniture' to even understand the essential truths of the Bible?
5. The end of prosperity?
How will the Western church adjust to the economic meltdown, and perhaps to relatively flat for many years to come?
CAP (national debt counselling charity Christians Against Poverty) took first place in these awards in 2008 and 2009. This year they took second place, but received one of the Special Awards, for Best Leaders.
The Sunday Times has some great coverage for Chief Exec Matt Barlow and his team, including:
''Visionary Leadership at CAP enables the 131 staff to help transform the lives of thousands of people struggling with debt...... The management style combines humility and integrity with open communication."
'On any one Sunday, Holy Trinity
Brompton (HTB) (www.htb.org.uk) in
London, UK, will have about 4,500 people
through its doors, attending one of eight
services held in two locations less than a
mile from each other, and drawn from a
pool of about 10,000 attendees.'
Multi-site churches differ to church plants, in that they normally present themselves as one church in several locations, overseen by a single leadership, albeit with dedicated leaders for each site or campus. These began in the US, and have spread to Australia and more recently the UK and other European countries.
It is commonly thought in our secular culture that the Bible is one of the great hindrances to doing justice. In Generous Justice, Tim Keller illuminates a life of justice empowered by an experience of grace: a generous, gracious justice.
Generous Justice is a book for believers who find the Bible a trustworthy guide, as well as for those who suspect that Christianity is a regressive influence in the world. Keller calls upon life-long Christians to deepen their faith by understanding that justice for the poor and marginalized is central to the Scripture’s message and challenges sceptics to recognize that the Bible is actually the basis for the modern understanding of justice.
A recent poll by Investec Private Bank indicated a drop in donations to UK Charities of more than £500m on previous year, 10% down on 2008.
At Funding for the Future in Westminster earlier this week, a conference attended by 1,200 charity etc leaders and managers, I heard Dr John Low of the Charities Aid Foundation talk of a £1.3 billion decrease in 2009, 11% on 2008.
Although the figures differ, both are flagging a similar percentage reduction. However our experience in LifeChurch Manchester was that in financial 08/09 our income grew by 6%, and in 09/10 we're hopeful of hitting our budget of another 6% increase. So we're very glad to be bucking the national trend.
'Missional' is the latest buzz-word in many of the recent books about newer church models and styles. Isn't that what all churches through all time were supposed to be, one might ask! See here for an extended discussion of how 'missional' is being most commonly understood. Our local missional pastor Nick Matthews explains that it's an emphasis less on our church's seating capacity and rather more on our sending capacity.
There's undoubtedly an increasing emphasis on being missional in many UK churches. For example at LifeChurch Manchester we've started having a 'missional Sunday' 6 times pa. This morning for example we featured City Centre Ministries, which is run by LifeChurch members Steve & Irene Brown, and serves the homeless in Manchester.
I have just finished reading the excellent The Reason for God by Tim Keller, which made no.7 in The New York Times' bestseller list in March 2008.
Tim Keller founded Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, and 20 years on it has a congregation of 5,000. Named one of the Top 25 Most Influential Churches in America, Keller’s ministry is notable not only for winning over New Yorkers who are sceptical to faith, but also for its missional approach, planting more than 100 churches though the Redeemer Church Planting Center*. In an article entitled The Smart Shepherd, Newsweek refers to him a “C.S. Lewis for the 21st century”. It describes the setting in his church thus: There's nothing sexy here. There's no rock band, no drop-down theater-size video screen, no 100-member gospel choir—just a few chamber musicians and a couple of prayer leaders to help the congregation along in its hymns. The crowd at Redeemer Presbyterian is overwhelmingly young, single, professional and—for lack of a better word—sober.
The Newsweek article concludes with the following para: Like so many New Yorkers, Keller is a misfit. He's a megachurch pastor who doesn't like megachurches. He's an orthodox Christian who believes in evolution. He emulates the Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards and loves a good restaurant. He's an evangelist who relishes the power of doubt. New York is the perfect home for such an idiosyncratic Christian....
In The Reason for God Keller makes an intellectually compelling case for God and the Christian faith, drawing on material from literary classics, philosophy, anthropology and a multitude of other disciplines. In the first half of the book he addresses the 7 most common objections to Christianity that he has heard from many Manhattan sceptics:
1. There can’t be just one true religion
2. A good God could not allow suffering
3. Christianity is a straitjacket
4. The church is responsible for so much injustice
5. A loving God would not send people to hell
6. Science has disproved Christianity
7. You can’t take the Bible literally
In the second half he turns to an examination of seven reasons to believe in the claims of the Christian faith:
1. The clues of God
2. The knowledge of God
3. The problem of sin
4. Religion and the gospel
5. The (true) story of the cross
6. The reality of the resurrection
7. The dance of God
I commend the book to believers and sceptics alike. In the words of Tim Challies, author of a more comprehensive review: Believers will rejoice in a book that carefully and patiently answers the objections of their skeptical friends and does so with grace and in a way consistent with the Bible. Skeptics will see that even their skepticism is founded on some kind of faith and will be challenged to discern those underlying beliefs. May this book convince us all that we can believe and can believe reasonably, even in this age of skepticism.
* The Redeemer Church Planting Center site links to an interview with my friend Leonardo De Chirico, who relocated in 2009 from Northern Italy with his wife and family, in order to plant a like-minded church into central Rome. They moved from Ferrara, having planted a new church there - now led by my friend Paul Finch.