Its been a while since i have been to Word Alive so it was a pleasure to drive up to North Wales to take part in this year’s event.
1. Opportunity to hang out with three Nigerian Bishops
The highlight of my week at Word Alive was an evening laughing and swapping stories with three Nigerian Bishops. Each one of them doing Stirling work in a country which has some 20 million Anglicans. They shared frustrations with me about the level of wealth in some Nigerian churches and church planting which effectively took Christians from one church to another rather than saw new converts. They lamented the fact that much of this was focussed on the middle class affluent areas rather than pioneer work in the unevangelised parts of the country. I lamented we have a very similar set of problems here. There were many laughs together especially as they laid down the challenge that Nigerian food is spicier than Indian food – I need a way to see if this is possibly true. Any ideas anyone?
2. Meeting up with so many old friends
I worked for five years post graduation with UCCF and IFES and many of my old team mates and colleagues were around at Word Alive so it was great to see them again. We all look quite a bit older and hopefully we are all a bit wiser and humbler than the old days. It is a great thing to see friends going on with God.
3. Commitment to evangelism
Evangelism is a central passion of the Word Alive team. So it was encouraging to hear Ray Evans talk about the need for churches to break down the social barriers that divide the middle classes from the working classes. I bumped into two old friends who were both independently doing graduate level research into the challenge of class for evangelism for conservative evangelicals. ( Jo McKenzie and Peter Dray).
4. Interesting Seminar Programme
Loved that there was a seminar stream on social media, another one on photography and ofcourse Baroness Cox running a series on justice. It was a real treat to see Rebecca Manley Pippert still as enthusiastic and infectiously energetic about evangelism as ever. If you only buy one book on personal evangelism “Out of the Saltshaker” is still the one to get. The variety of the seminars was very impressive.
5. Openness to Home for Good
We were delighted by the opportunity to present about Home for Good briefly on the main stage and to be able to run a seminar. We saw hundreds of people come over the two weeks. It was amazing to meet adoptors and foster carers from across the UK and so many people interested in exploring it further.
I have the privilege of going to help at a lot of the UK’s Christian conferences. Everywhere I go there’s always something new to learn or ideas to enjoy. So I thought I would look for the positives where ever I go. Here are some of the things I really enjoyed about Spring Harvest this year
1. The whole family curriculum
I love the fact that at Spring Harvest everyone is learning about the same things. From the smallest children to the oldest adults we are all on the same page. That means that lunch times and dinner times are a great chance to catch up together about what God has been teaching all of us.
I had a lovely conversation with my 9 year old nephew yesterday about what he had learned about God the Holy Trinity. As someone passionate about all age disciplemaking – this is one of the greatest things about the SH experience for me.
2. The special needs provision
My friend Kay Morgan Gurr is the special needs advisor for Spring Harvest and she told me that there was an unprecedented rise in the number of children that were at Spring Harvest who were newly adopted or fostered. She put this down to the influence of the Home for Good campaign over the last few years. We have been so encouraged by the support our friends at Spring Harvest have shown us and it is really beginning to pay off. Over the years we have brought a lot of children with special needs to Spring Harvest and the volunteers and childrens workers have been outstanding. They set an ‘industry standard’ for caring for vulnerable people. Well done! We talked about things that are modelled at Spring Harvest incepting into the church new models of best practice – long may that tradition continue!
3. The emphasis on theology and mission
I always come away from Spring Harvest excited by the depth of theology we are trying to teach – this year it was the apostles creed, in previous years it has been hermeneutics, eschatology. We encourage guests to really up their game. But this is not all head knowledge, Spring Harvest encourages people to live out their theology with a strong call to action. As ever this was visible through the seminar programme and the way young people engaged in raising money for exciting projects such as peer evangelism in the UK and a church leadership training centre in Cambodia.
4. The Global Dimension
The speaking highlight for me was definitely Barnabas Mamm from Cambodia. He shared passionately about the God who had transformed the killing fields of Cambodia where 2 million people were executed including many Christians during the regime of the Khmer Rouge 1975-1979. It was breathtaking to hear of what God is doing now in a country where the 10 000 christians were reduced to just 200 due to persecution and killing. Barnabas shows a video where over 400 people were baptised in a single day including leading military personnel. Allowing global leaders to speak on a stage like Spring Harvest is absolutely vital if we are going get rid of our colonial superiority complex in the west.
5. Commitment to Evangelism
There was a recurring theme during the week as we sought to help Christians regain confidence in the gospel by reiterating some of the essentials of our faith. The aim being to help to encourage Christians to be bold enough to speak openly about their faith in a world that really needs in the gospel.
As ever we had a lot of fun on site. In our zone we ran a selfie competition and had a terrific response. Check out below some of our favourite responses.
great to work with Cath Lyden on the big top stage
a young couple annocuned their engagement through a selfie at Minehead
possibly the youngest person at Spring Harvest this tiny little baby
I have been asked to respond to the challenge of the male gender deficit in church attendance. I wanted to make sure there really was a problem first. The most extensive research I could find (thanks to the wonderful EA information officer Kim Walker) revealed this table:
Peter Brierley working off of the 2005 census argues for a discrepancy figure of 14% with female churchgoers in England at 57% and male churchgoers 43%. This is a scary imbalance but look what happens when it is broken down according to age range. The following table is from the recent 2013 Capital Growth publication which looks at figures just for London.
20-29 years old
I’m not brilliant with statistics. Perhaps the main problem is that 41% of those that attend church are over 45 years old so is it possible that some of the gender discrepancies could be due to difference in death rates?
The Tearfund survey of 2007 saw a bigger deficit at: Women 65% and men 35%. (They measured regular churchgoers as those who attend monthly at a service on any day of the week whereas the census was looking at weekly Sunday attendance so it is not unusual that the figures don’t match up). This could be because of the difference in work patterns which still sees more men going out to work so more women are likely to visit a church during the week. As I say stats is not my favourite subject – so feel free to correct my reading of the numbers.
So should we be worried? It is true that I can think of more instances in my pastoral experience where women attend church services and their husbands don’t. Most of these situations were not men dropping out of church – but rather men never having connected with church. The wives coming to faith and the husbands not responding yet. But I also know lots of women that find church very difficult because of the gender imbalance in Church leadership. I was only given a few words to respond so here’s what I wrote.
Love to know your feedback friends…
We need better research into the numbers. Figures from the last English Church Census in 2005 seem to indicate there is an in-balance with 57% of churchgoers being in female and 43% male but more recent research published last year looking at churchgoing in London presents a much more even spread. If there is a problem; that isn’t based on birth and death rates or including midweek church attendance, this happened while churches are run predominantly by men. Despite this I have heard arguments for gearing the Church more towards men. Personally I think we need a greater involvement in decision-making for women as I believe the Church should model to our culture both the equality and complementary nature of female and male relationships. I believe that a Church confident in the gospel will call men and women to the kind of discipleship that challenges the consumerist attitudes that make participation in church life dependent on whether services are provided in a way that I want. The answer is not to be more macho.
Just on my way home from a lovely evening with All Souls Church, Langham Place. It was a very moving evening with testimonies from a young man who was adopted aged 8 now working at All Souls Church, an adoption social worker who works for a London borough and a High Court Judge who is often making difficult choices about whether to remove children from at risk families or not. Mark Meynell was in fine form preaching up a storm on God’s heart for the vulnerable and God’s heart for adoption. I had the opportunity to call for a practical response to the pressing need for more adoptors and foster carers.
It was no accident that we were doing this on Mother’s Day as churches across the UK used our Mother’s Day material to help spread a vision for finding homes for the vulnerable children in our towns and cities.
In the time after the service I met two people who had grown up as orphans – one abandoned by his family in a Romanian orphanage another older lady who spent the first part of her life on the streets of Columbia learning how to fight for survival. Both told me about how the church had become a family to them and now both want to help make a difference for vulnerable young people.
view from the pulpit at All Souls
As a student All Souls Langham Place was a place that loomed large in my imagination. The Rev Dr John Stott was the rector there and was churning out a whole of string of books that formed my understanding of what it means to be a Christian. His books Issues facing Christians Today,The Cross of Christ, The Bible Speaks Today on 2 Timothy, Romans and Acts was the incubator for my understanding of biblical theological, biblical exegesis and how to develop a generous confidence in the gospel. So what an honour it was to be speaking at John Stott’s home church. Stott represented to me the centre ground of evanglelicalism. He was confident about the core of the gospel and yet remained gracious and hospitable in the way that he related those he disagreed with. It seemed like a fitting place to be revealing that Home for Good is soon to become it’s own charity. Birthed from the Evangelical Alliance we look to help the church live out the gospel with respect to the vulnerable children in our communities. Home for Good aims to unite evangelicals from across the different streams: we have had the privilege to be given stage time at:
Acts 29 European leaders event,
Pioneer leaders conference,
New Testament Church of God of Prophecy Midlands conference
We are also going to be at both Spring Harvest and Word Alive because we recognise that wherever you are from the evangelical world “caring for widows and orphans” is part of the church’s DNA. We recognise it is going to take the whole church pulling together to meet the need across the UK. That if we the church step up to the challenge to find foster and adoptive homes for everyone that needs it we make a huge difference in the lives of children from difficult backgrounds but we will also give the nation a mini parable of the adopting love of God.
We’d love your prayer and support as we enter this exciting new stage. Please drop me a message below so we can keep you informed on how things are going at this exciting time for the UK church.
Pastor Mark had written a letter to Mars Hill stating:
To reset my life, I will not be on social media for at least the remainder of the year. The distractions it can cause for my family and our church family are not fruitful or helpful at this time. At the end of the year, I will consider if and when to reappear on social media, and I will seek the counsel of my pastors on this matter. In the meantime, Mars Hill and Resurgence will continue to post blogs, sermons, and podcasts on my social media accounts, but otherwise I’m going offline.
I will also be doing much less travel and speaking in the next season. In recent years, I have cut back significantly, but I will now cut back even more. I have cancelled some speaking events, and I am still determining the best course of action for a few that I’ve committed to, as they are evangelistic opportunities to invite people to salvation in Jesus Christ, which is something I care about deeply. I will be doing very few media interviews, if any. Also, I’m communicating with my publisher to determine how to meet my existing obligations and have a much less intense writing schedule.
I wanted to encourage these first steps of apology. But as I reflect on my tweet I am wondering if this really is the beginning of a process for Driscoll or if he feels he has done all that is necessary now to put things straight. The challenges that Driscoll and Mars Hill are facing seem to warrant more than just a fasting from social media and less travel…
1. Create a healthy leadership culture
Here are some clips from sermons where Pastor Mark talks about leadership. I think they date back to 2007. They are controversial in themselves, but some senior members of the Mars Hill team Brent Meyer and Paul Petry were apparently fired and threatened straight after this talk.
Hope this is a joke but it appears to be a real excerpt from the kids programme material of another church lead by Steve Furtick called Elevation. I am not convinced this is helping to raise discerning children.
I have experienced a style of leadership very similar to what we seem to be seeing here in Driscoll. In my situation I saw a cult of personality being built around one gifted individual. There was a sycophantic corporate culture that sought the total affirmation of the leader. There was such a high degree of idolisation that gracious critique was not welcome. It lead to a very toxic situation with lots of casualties . The accountability structures that were in place completely failed.
Lesson 1: we need to ensure we have accountability structures that actually ask the critical questions. Accountability structures that don’t allow a person to become the brand but instead that we follow in the footsteps of John the Baptist who declared of Jesus “He must increase, I must decrease” John 3:30. We need accountability structures that recognise we are all fallible therefore we need good governance. We need accountability structures that recognise we are all equally in the image of God and therefore operate with grace at the centre. We need accountability structures to create and preserve a healthy leadership culture.
2. Learn how to deal with criticism
I am guessing a big challenge to Mars Hill was distinguishing the haters from the genuine victims. There are a whole group of people who feel they have been wounded or damaged by their experiences with Mars Hill. The tone of their writing; in my opinion, does not reflect a group of people who are simply seeking to defame or deride Pastor Mark but instead these men and women who are trying to do the right thing, they speak in a measured and graceful manner and are looking for positive ways forward rather than just trying to sling mud.
There are of course other people out there who are just looking for a way to take down evangelicals or even conservative evangelicals that want to take down ‘successful’ innovative approaches to church life. In defending yourself against the haters one reaction is to ignore all criticism.
Lesson 2: a wise friend of mine used to urge me to listen to the grain of truth in every criticism. This is a difficult lesson to learn as it is far easier to ignore people that disagree with you and to surround yourself with people that will applaud you.
3. Take special note when even your close friends are raising issues
Pastor Mark has, in my estimation, been distancing himself from the so-called “neo-Reformed” movement or the gospel-centered tribe for a few years. Stepping down from the council of The Gospel Coalition and from the presidency of the Acts29 Network and aligning more and more with voices in the “attractional” or “church growth” crowd, he has been communicating his shift away from one tribe and into another (perhaps a new one of his own cultivation) for quite some time. I am not insinuating sin in any of that at all; the attractional guys are our brothers in Christ. We tend to do ministry differently, of course, and I won’t lie in saying I think they largely approach church – or preaching specifically and the worship gathering generally, at least – in a distinctly wrong way, but it is certainly Pastor Mark’s right to partner with whom he wants and find his ministry kinship wherever God leads him.
Lesson 3: the old proverb comes to mind: “An enemy multiplies kisses but the wounds of a friend are trustworthy.” Sycophants don’t help, real friends love you enough to point out your weaknesses and your sins. Strangely we live in such a tribalised world that I know very few Christians who have friends outside of their tribe. It leaves us susceptible to the same blindspots. I am grateful to my friends who have different views to me on everything from gay marriage, to the role of women or to politics. We disagree often but we can do so and maintain genuine friendship. They are a very patient bunch to put up with me.
4. Build discerning congregations
There’s a style of teaching that produces clones. Here’s the truth. It’s my way or the high way. In every sermon I have heard Driscoll give – and there are a lot. I have never heard Driscoll equivocate. He speaks in a direct and often very engaging way. But in all the times I have heard him he leaves no room for dissent. For Driscoll scripture is clear-cut on everything whether it was the role of women, caring for the environment, sexual conduct in marriage, watching Avatar or dealing with negative people in the church. Driscoll was adamant that he had a clear word from God on the subject.
The problem is that sometimes Driscoll is not preaching scripture. As we all do; without recognising it sometimes, he is injecting into the Bible his own worldview and his theological presuppositions. Stylistically the impression is given that if you disagree with Driscoll on a subject then you are on the wrong side of orthodoxy. Sadly this kind of Bible teaching doesn’t actually develop discernment, it just clones the opinions and presuppositions of the preacher onto the congregation.
How do we model to a congregation that scripture alone is infallible not the preacher? It is Catholicism that argues for an infallible Pope. Reformed Christians believe in the concept of being “reformed and always reforming.” If our theology and practice was infallible then nothing would need reforming. We need to demonstrate hermeneutical humility when it is appropriate. There are things that are very clear in scripture and there are things that are harder to understand and Christians can come to different opinions on. Over the years evangelicals have agreed to disagree on a whole range of issues from baptism, age of the earth, styles of worship and leadership and even the leadership roles of women. Rather than anathematising one another we have learned to be humble about these things whilst being crystal clear on the core doctrines of our faith. There is room for humility. There is room for being open that Christians disagree on things and we can help skill up the congregation to understand scripture to come to different conclusions to us on secondary issues. We can help Christians hear both sides of an argument and conclude for themselves.
I am hoping to learn and make changes in my life as I reflect on these issues. I recognise in Mark Driscoll huge gifts and skills and passion and I pray that his plans to reset his life will bear the fruit he hopes for.
Paradoxology aims to help Christians to life-proof their faith by pressing into the deeper and more difficult parts of the Bible. Parts that are usually skirted round or ignored all together – the parts that cause us to face some of the paradoxes in our theology. By deliberately pursuing these difficult parts we can open up the scriptures to people by dealing with some of their biggest fears or challenges.
The book could easily form the basis of a teaching series – perhaps broken into two: chapter 1-8 are Old Testament while 9-13 are New Testament. I have preached all of the chapters over the years – and they do work well as a series. I am a big fan of positive reinforcement of the preaching so having people read through a chapter before meeting for small group will help people grapple more fully with some of the big ideas they are encountering.
I am toying with making some small group questions available. If you are interested let me know.
My latest book Paradoxology is out. I wanted to let you know a little about the reasons I had for writing it. The most important motive behind the book is that I am eager that we help our churches engage with the deep things of God. Too often I have come across believers who have at best a surface understanding of their faith.
Believers who have no depth to their understanding face three problems.
1. Vulnerability in the face of suffering
If our understanding and experience of our faith remains shallow we lack the resources to withstand the storms of life. We need to dig down into the rock by knowing and obeying scripture.
In Paradoxology I am seeking to face head on some of the biggest challenges to faith. We wrestle with suffering, the unpredictability of God, disappointment with God and his church .These challenges come framed in paradoxes as we try to reconcile two apparently competing beliefs.
God is good but bad stuff happens.
God is powerful but often inactive.
God is compassionate but painful things happen all the time
2. Timidity in evangelism
I am so excited that across the UK we are seeing churches doing more to reach out into their communities. But strangely at the same time we are struggling to find the words to articulate the gospel. One reason is that our grasp of the gospel remains too shallow to cope with the complexities of our own lives let alone those of the people we want to share the gospel with.
In Paradoxology we try to dig deeper into the gospel so we don’t settle for pat answers or simplistic formulas. We work hard to face some of the challenges being raised by the new atheists: for example what do we do with genocide in Joshua, child sacrifice in Abraham’s story and freewill and determinism in the Judas Paradox. Again paradox prevails. How do reconcile:
Human free will and a sovereign God.
The grace of God and the judgement of God.
The fact that God loves the whole world but has his own chosen people.
3. Lack of depth necessary to discipling others
You can’t give what you haven’t got.
It’s hard to help others to maturity in the faith if our own understanding and practice is stunted.
Paradoxology forces you to think outside of your comfort zone. It deliberately targets the more difficult passages in the Bible to help you gain confidence in the whole of scripture. It encourages you to up your theological game without getting too technical.
Close yet distant. Kind but fierce. Thunderous in speech yet often silent. While we’re often told the God of the Bible is knowable, He is as equally perplexing. Unlike many who side-step God’s more difficult-to-discuss qualities, Krish Kandiah rushes headlong towards them. What he finds is mystery, yes—but also windows through which to see some of the toughest questions of life and faith in new light.
Writer, speaker, broadcaster, and author of Resurrection Year: Turning Broken Dreams into New Beginnings
I used to fear paradoxes – those difficult parts of our faith that cause us to double take when we read them in the Bible or set off questions in our mind when we reflect on them.
Why does an all-sufficient God ask so much of his followers?
Why does the God of all love apparently command genocide on the Canaanites?
Why does the ever-present God often feel so far away?To name but three.
I used to avoid paradoxes hoping they would go away. But having spent the last 18 months staring paradoxes in the face I have come to the conclusion that the paradoxes of our faith are a gift to us because they surprise us.
Connecting with the surprising God is incredibly good for us. Idols don’t surprise us because they are human made constructs who act like ventriloquist dummies for our own hopes and dreams.
If your god fits neatly into a philosophical or theological system the chances are he is one that you made up. Think about it this way – most people I know don’t like being put into a box – I don’t like it when people look at me with my brown skin and think they know where I am from or what I am like. If finite human beings don’t fit into neat categorical boxes then how much less does the infinite and immortal God? Many of us have tried to put God into a box –the sides of which are made of the boundaries of our understanding. We seem happiest when God fits into our boxes as it means he is predictable and we are safe to navigate around him.
Paradoxes occur at the conceptual limits of our thinking – when we can’t seem to make rational sense of what we understand about God. Paradoxes are suprising and uncomfortable as they occur when God doesn’t fit into the boxes we have made for him.
I would like to suggest that by being willing to look at the boundaries, the cutting edge, the outer limits of our understanding is an excellent place to learn. When we are at the frontiers of our understanding of God we are at one of the most exciting places to be in our thinking about God. Just like a research scientist goes looking for the most difficult problems to solve – so Christians hungry to know the true and living God can find great food for thought in the paradoxes of scripture.
The God that fits neatly into our church services, our songs is not the god we really want or need. He is a god we have attempted to cut down to size. Its time we allowed the reality and complexity of God to challenge and provoke us to love him as he really is rather than the safe projection of a god we often settle for.
I invite you to join me in meeting the surprising God.
Just came across this lovely little conversation between Stephen Fry and Bear Grylls. Its a nice little cameo of an atheist and a Christian conversation. Hats off to both of these men for conducting themselves so well. I wish all Christian / Atheist Conversation could take place with this kind of spirit and tone.
5 Things you can learn from this exchange
1. Tone Matters
Very little constructive conversation ever takes place when we start off with aggression. These men obviously respect eachother and so are able to talk with calmness and respect which makes for a more interesting and productive conversation.
Stephen Fry says “I am ashamed of my fellow atheists who are mocking of people who have faith…” well said Mr Fry mockery is not a helpful place to begin a conversation for Christians or for Atheists.
2. Shoulder to Shoulder
I think a lot of dialogue goes better when we can talk shoulder to shoulder rather than face to face. In this clip both men are looking at nature and trying to explain their reaction to it rather than simply confronting each others beliefs. I have found working with atheists (and people of other faiths) to try and solve problems like poverty and injustice can be a great place for a meaningful conversation. Working shoulder to shoulder is a great posture for an adult conversation.
3. Nature is a great apologetic
As Stephen Fry says when confronted by the beauty of the panoramic view in front of him “a vast landscape like this does make you think all the imponderable questions come tumbling into your mind.” Perhaps if we spent more time in nature with our atheist friends there’s more chance of these transcendent experiences prompting deeper conversation.
Stephen Fry is a very bright man and Bear Grylls is a really tough guy. Bear doesn’t try and use some academic sounding argument to show the flaws of atheism and Fry doesn’t belittle Grylls faith. A man of letters and a man of the wilds talk openly and unashamedly of their beliefs – that means there’s no reason why we can’t all do the same.
To me it doesn’t feel that either person is trying to score points over the other. Its an honest exchange. Of course there are challenges to be made in both mens’ arguments but there’s an important time in any conversation where you express what you believe honestly and listen well to what the other person has to say. Too often Christians and Atheists try to out manoeuvre each other – to trap and trick each other in conversation rather than genuinely engage. Here’s a great conversation in action.
Love to hear your thoughts about how we can encourage a better kind of conversation between Christians and Atheists. Drop me a comment below.
Thanks for visiting the site.
PS Here are some books that I think attempt to do the conversation differently: