Upside-down?

Part 2 of a series – What are we doing?

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I’ve just re-watched a video posted on You Tube in 2015; I’d like to share it with you. It’s called Upside-Down Leadership and was made by an organisation called House2House. I personally know several of the people speaking in this video, and they are kind, thoughtful, earnest men and women – all of them have walked closely with Jesus for many years. I hope you will recognise Christ in them as you watch and listen to what they have to say.

The video describes leadership and authority that is different from the usual kind of leadership most of us recognise. I can guarantee that in practically any church gathering of any kind, there will be people like these present. They may or may not be recognised by the institutional forms of church we are mostly familiar with; but if you want to grow as a follower of Jesus, these are the people you need to spend time with. They tend to be gentle, wise, kind, thoughtful, humble, loving and often overlooked, sometimes even rejected.

Watch the video and then think about the people in your church, denomination, or small group. Who might benefit from servant leaders like these? Can you identify any upside-down leaders? (They are always there, and just as likely to be found in the congregation as on the platform.) They may be male or female, young or old, uneducated or professorial, wealthy or poor.

How might we find more such upside-down leaders? And how will we thrive without them? Let me know what you think, leave a comment.

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Church as we know it

The whole point of church is that we are a community of people who follow Jesus

Part 1 of a series – What are we doing?

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The time has come to ask some questions about church as we know it in 2020. What cause lies behind the shrinking attendance at mainstream denominations? Why do we do the things we do? Do our traditions and assumptions match up with church as Jesus wants it to be? If we need to change, how do we go about that? Should we even be asking questions like these?

I believe we should. Not that things are worse than they were ten years ago, or a hundred years ago. But certainly things are not at all as they were at the beginning. Does that matter? If so, why? If not why not? How can we even begin to wrestle with these questions?

I believe we can – and must. But first we need to calibrate our knowledge and understanding and find a measuring system so that we can establish some basic parameters.

The fundamental measure

A steel ruler for measuring length

Let’s take length as an example of a physical quantity. To measure the length of something we need a calibrated tool – a ruler, tape measure, laser rangefinder – whatever form it might take. But the measuring device must be calibrated. A ruler with mm and cm markings on it would be useless if it didn’t agree with other rulers. The basic need here is for a length that never changes that we can use as a standard. Until 1960 the standard was a metal bar in France, and this standard meter was used for calibration; if your ruler didn’t agree with the standard meter in France, it was a bad and misleading ruler. The modern standard is based on the wavelength of a particular kind of light and is far more precise and reliable than the metal bar.

In church life we need a similarly precise and reliable standard concerning our organisation and behaviour. Since the whole point of church is that we are a community of people who follow Jesus, it should be obvious that he is the standard we must use for calibration. If our organisation and behaviour don’t agree with his, we are out of true and some adjustments will be essential to bring us back into line. The life and words of Jesus are the primary source for us. And all the church leaders who have ever arisen since Jesus’ day should agree with his standard. If they do not, they are bad and misleading leaders.

So how does Jesus measure up as a fundamental standard for his followers? Does he ever change? No, he is the same yesterday, today and forever. Can we use him as a standard? Yes, he is knowable in several ways, his words and actions are described in the Bible, he has filled his people with his Spirit as a guide and comforter. Is there anyone else with an equal or better claim to be our fundamental standard? Peter? James? John? Paul? A pope? An archbishop? Your pastor? Arguably, some or all of these might be more or less useful substitutes if the primary standard was unavailable. But Jesus is always available! So no, there is no man or woman who can claim to be a better standard than Jesus himself.

He’s consistent and he’s knowable – and that’s all we need.

Where do we go from here?

In future parts of this series we’ll begin to query what we’ve been doing, individually and corporately. We’ll check the standard of Jesus to see if we need to recalibrate. I’m not here to tell you what to do, but along the way I’ll try to encourage you to look for yourself, to examine Jesus and ask yourself some questions, and to act on what you discover. I’ll revisit this topic from time to time. In the meantime, may your journey be an illuminating one, may you grapple with the challenges, find your own answers, and always keep your eyes on Jesus.

What if you are not following Jesus?

Please note: If your faith is Judaism, or Islam, or Buddhism, or Hinduism or any other religion, or if you have no faith at all, then the paragraphs above are not aimed at you. They are aimed squarely at anyone who claims to follow Jesus.

But I do encourage you to take a look at the claims Jesus makes about himself, and I encourage you to read about him in the Bible, especially in the New Testament. A good place to begin might be one of the gospels. I suggest reading Luke (and then Acts for the early history of the church). And if you find Jesus is calling you to follow him, then the main part of this article does start to apply to you, as it does to all his people.

If you click those links to Luke and Acts you’ll be able to choose from many Bible translations in a number of modern languages.

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Spiritual melody

Everyone present should be free to begin a song

Part 6 of a series – Spiritual melody

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When we think about church music, we usually think in terms of something that’s organised in advance and is played by a band of some kind. Often there’s a worship leader. Over the centuries church music has developed in parallel with the changes in secular music, some examples include Gregorian Plainsong, the chanting of psalms, hymns from hymnbooks accompanied by an organ, informal choruses in house meetings, and more recently bands playing in styles drawn from modern secular music and sometimes of excellent professional standard.

How does that compare with music in the early church? We do have some clues; for example, Paul writes about it briefly in Ephesians 5. In verse 18 he tells us

[Be] filled with the Spirit as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.

So it seems likely that singing involves inspiration, literally singing as and when and how the Holy Spirit leads. And that would be the very opposite of what we find in many church meetings where the music is led by a person and/or a band at the front and the congregation joins in. It is sometimes the case that people may, in the process, be caught up emotionally and, perhaps, spiritually. But this is never guaranteed and there’s limited freedom to initiate a new song, sing in the Spirit, or be fully free in praise and worship.

Informal and spiritual worship

So what is Victor Choudhrie suggesting? (See the quote below.) Quite simply he is saying that when we meet, at home, in small groups, after sharing a meal, we should forget organised, planned in advance music with a band. Instead, as we pray and worship and teach one another, everyone present should be free to begin a song if they feel led by the Holy Spirit to do so. Not only that, they should feel free to sing in a tongue, or use their voice with no words at all, sing alone or together, pouring out their hearts to the Lord and to one another. As with everything else – complete freedom in music!

Who is it for? Why are we singing? I’m sure you already know the answer! It’s for the Father, Papa, Abba, Daddy, Yahweh, the Mighty One, Elohim – sing to him in praise and worship. And it’s for the Son, Jesus, Yeshua, Yahshua, the Messiah, Christ, our King, our Redeemer and our Rescuer – sing to him in praise and worship. And it’s for his Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, our Guide, our Cousellor and Advocate, the One who prompts us to sing – sing to him in praise and worship. Sing to the Three in One, the Everlasting Mystery! He is with us, and in us, and amongst us. How could we not sing?

Here’s what Victor Choudhrie has to say about it:

Replace professional music with believers speaking to each other in psalms and spiritual songs, making melody in their hearts to the Lord. OT worship required the sacrifice of four-footed beasts; the NT celebrates by offering two-legged Gentiles as a living sacrifice. The meta-church is a discipling hub and not a singing club. Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; Rom. 15:16

Questions:

  • How can we best give the Holy Spirit freedom in our singing?
  • Is it helpful or unhelpful to restrict singing to a particular slot in a meeting?
  • If our hearts are full of praise, are we more or less likely to sing?
  • If we sing, are our hearts more or less likely to become full of praise?

See also:

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Hand, foot and eye

At a time when the disciples are well aware of Jesus’ glory, power, transcendence, and authority, they ask, ‘Who’s the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’

I was reading Matthew 18 this morning, and thought that there are depths in this chapter that can only be grasped when we see things from a kingdom perspective.

In chapter 17, Yahshua reveals his glory to Peter, James and John; deals with the disciples’ lack of faith; speaks of his death and resurrection; and explains that he and his followers are not subject to the demands of religion because they are already part of his holy kingdom. The scene is set, Jesus has demonstrated that he has all the glory, all the power, transcends death, and is subject to no human authority. These factors are all relevant to our understanding of chapter 18, which begins with the words ‘At that time’.

A three-year-old child (Wikipedia)

So, at a time when the disciples are well aware of Jesus’ glory, power, transcendence, and authority, they ask, ‘Who’s the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ As he often does, Jesus answers indirectly. He calls over a small child to place amongst them, and tells them clearly that they need to be childlike or they won’t make it into the kingdom of heaven at all. Only the humblest adult can be great in the kingdom, and welcoming such a person is, in reality, welcoming Christ himself.

Furthermore, even being drowned is better for me than putting obstacles in the way of a humble believer; Yahshua isn’t saying I must be put to death, he’s saying I’m already worse than dead! If I cause such stumbling I’m not really one of his followers at all. In verses 8 and 9 Yahshua describes how my hand, my foot, or my eye might cause me to stumble. So it’s what I choose to do, where I decide to go, and what I pay attention to that puts me at risk. There’s a challenge here for all of us: don’t do, go to or look at anything that might cause us to fall. Avoid actions, circumstances and sights that are unhelpful. Stay humble, remain in his presence, and we will share in his glory, power, life and authority. Now that’s good news!

Life together

A fluid environment, the individuals free to move in every dimension, yet always aware of one another and responding to one another.

This morning, swilling out the cafetiere, watching the dark coffee grounds fan out and spiral down the drain, a word popped into my mind – ‘murmuration’. This word is used for a flock of birds flying together, swirling hither and thither, flying together as one yet moving independently and in smaller groups within that one flock. Starlings are particularly known for this behaviour as they go to roost in the evening light, and the dark specks of coffee reminded me of a murmuration of these birds.

Take a look at this video of a starling murmuration. It’s stunning!

Murmuration

But looking at those coffee grounds made it very clear to me that only living things can form a murmuration. Not only that, the individuals must all be alive with the same kind of life, don’t expect to see seagulls and starlings together in the same formation. The living entities must also be in a fluid environment (air or water, large shoals of fish can exhibit the same phenomenon). And they must be aware of one another and able to respond rapidly to one another’s movements.

So it should be with the church. A formation of individuals all alive with the same life, the life of Christ, all filled with his Spirit. Church should be a fluid environment, the individuals free to move in every dimension, yet always aware of one another and responding to one another.

When the church flows like a murmuration, individually alive with Christ, individually free to move yet mutually aware, responding to one another’s presence and movement, unconstrained except in obedience to Christ, then, my friends, we will see her transcendent glory revealed and the whole world will gasp. People will say, ‘Oh wow, how can this collection of individuals flow together with such transcendent beauty and grace?’

If not, we are little better than coffee grounds swirling into the drain. Not alive at all, merely acted on by random currents as gravity draws us ever downwards. Paul expressed this when he wrote to the church in Ephesus,

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Gentleness takes courage and strength

You are precious to me, every single one of you. So live as if you believe that you are precious! Stand tall in the world. The things I want to see grow in you are not hard or complicated.

RiverOuse
River Ouse, St Neots

Last Sunday morning I was sitting in a lobby area in the community centre in Eaton Ford, part of the market town of St Neots between Bedford and Cambridge. River Church meets here and I was visiting, staying with a friend who plays in the church’s worship band. The band was setting up and getting themselves ready for the meeting, so I had half an hour to spare before people would be arriving. I sat, stilled my mind, and spent some time listening to what the Holy Spirit might say to me.

And this is what I received:

Speak out, but look up. Look out and speak up. See with your eyes, hear with your ears, speak with your mouth, but always let the Spirit live in your heart.

Welcome my Spirit and bear fruit in your lives; are you not my people? Let my love, joy and peace rise up. Don’t follow one another, but follow me. Don’t follow convention, but follow Truth. Don’t follow directions but follow the Way. You are precious to me, every single one of you. So live as if you believe that you are precious! Stand tall in the world. The things I want to see grow in you are not hard or complicated, they are the simplest of things – gentleness towards the people in your lives – peace in your hearts – gracious and loving attitudes – a deep hope rooted in my presence, not in your circumstances – a humbleness that shuns position and fame – joyful hearts dancing freely in my presence – relentless patience – kindness that looks for no reward – innocent hearts.

Become empty of what you are and do and I will inhabit you. Haven’t you heard me knocking? I don’t want your abilities – I want you!

Thinking about this afterwards, I was intrigued that what had started out feeling like a word to me alone had, very quickly, become something spoken to others too. I wondered if these were words I should share during the meeting. I have many friends at River Church and some of them might need to hear this message. And as people began to arrive for the meeting and greet one another and find their seats I carried that idea with me as I joined them. But though I was ready and willing to share, and there were opportunities, it didn’t seem the right time.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that these words are for all my friends, near and far. That I should share them here and those that need to see them will  be guided to read them. So that’s what I’m doing.

If these words bless you in some way that would be great. But I think there is also a challenge in the words. I believe Papa is calling me to move ever more gently through this world; and perhaps he’s calling you to do that too. Don’t be misled into thinking that gentle is the same as weak: it is not! Sometimes it takes enormous courage and strength to be gentle. Sometimes the only way to reach a person is through gentleness, humility, and patience.

But if you have read as far as this, please ask yourself how you should respond. Is the Spirit speaking to you also through the words he gave me?

Watch the video below to see how Jorge Pina ‘operates from a place of rest’ in meeting people. There’s real wisdom here.

The work of the Spirit

the Holy Spirit … runs deep in [the] forgotten ways. He is … the Spirit of Christ and he was sent specifically to enable us to continue the work of Jesus.

What follows is an extract from JDMC, the first section on the Holy Spirit (page 37).

Cover-tinyThe work of the Holy Spirit is mentioned briefly in the previous part of JDMC, ‘Six – More than community’ (p 33). It is not explicitly presented in The Forgotten Ways, but it is certainly implied on every page. In the first edition of JDMC I closely followed the structure of Alan Hirsch’s work, but in this revision I have decided to add extra sections including this one about the Spirit.

I want to guard against any suggestion that JDMC is merely presenting an organisational mechanism for rapid missional spread. It’s much more than a worldly method or a management technique. Instead it is the pattern set by Christ himself, and therefore the Spirit of Christ is present throughout and waiting for us to hear his guidance and encouragement as we do the work the Master has entrusted to us. To depend on human technique alone won’t cut the mustard – far from it! One of the forgotten ways is keeping Jesus central, following only him, adding nothing in addition. This utter dependence on Christ surely implies and demands a dependence on his Spirit – how could it possibly be otherwise?

We need to recognise that this new life we live is not just about what we do, nor is it entirely about receiving from the Spirit. Jesus wants our co-operation. If there was no need for the work of the Spirit, why would Paul warn us not to quench him? (1 Thessalonians 5:19) And if there was no need for human effort and will, why would he tell us to strive? (1 Thessalonians 5:15, 1 Timothy 4:10)

So in this additional part of JDMC I want to highlight some of the ways we can recognise and value the Holy Spirit’s activity as we attempt to remember and activate the six forgotten ways. I also offer some advice on spiritual listening at the end.

To be clear, this section should not be seen as an additional ‘forgotten way’. It isn’t that at all. But the work of the Holy Spirit surely runs deep in each of those six forgotten ways. He is, as already mentioned, the Spirit of Christ and he was sent specifically to enable us to continue the work of Jesus. If we are the body and Jesus is our head, then the Spirit is like a nervous system – fundamentally centred in the head but with sensory and motor connections to every part of the body. When we resist him and are disobedient, part of the body is effectively paralysed. And if the body acts without the Holy Spirit it is sleepwalking and ineffective.

If all of this sounds hard – it is. We have to learn to die so that we can begin to live in Christ. It’s not that we have to work hard to be more like Jesus; rather we have to let go of all our own goals and desires and effort and planning and let Jesus live his life in us. He will tell us and show us what to do, when to do it, and how. The Holy Spirit is no less than the Spirit of Christ, he is our guide and walks with us in every situation. He is the heart and mind of the Messiah expressing himself through his people.

Talk together about the ways the Holy Spirit has interacted with you in your lives as you follow Jesus. Are there some encouraging stories you can share?

– o0o –

In 2015 I released the second version of JDMC, a discussion guide for Alan Hirsch’s ‘The Forgotten Ways’ in which he analyses the basis of movements throughout church history and identifies the essential ingredients for such movements to start and to be sustained.

(You can download JDMC in full, there’s no charge.)