Books I have read: A Resilient Life

Gordon MacDonaldGordon MacDonald is a long-term pastor who writes with fantastic wisdom. Alongside Eugene Peterson and Henri Nouwen he is someone who I try to read anything that he publishes. Reading this book I was not disappointed.

 

I bought A Resilient Life a few years ago when I was beginning to explore my own emotional and mental health. On the back cover it talks about how life is like running a race – “isn’t this the perfect metaphor of what your heart is longing for – running life’s race with intentionality and grace? With strength and focus? Well, you can.”

 

A Resilient Life

The book intermingles MacDonald’s story of being a runner at high school, and being coached by the legendary Marvin Goldberg, with the wider stories from life. A Resilient Life looks at five major themes:

  • Resilient people are committed to finishing strong
  • Resilient people run inspired by a big-picture of life
  • Resilient people run free of the weight of the past
  • Resilient people train to go the distance
  • Resilient people run in the company of a “Happy Few”

 

Over the years I’ve seen too many leaders burned and destroyed in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Only this last weekend here in the UK we’ve had the headlines surrounding Lord ?????. Gordon MacDonald speaks out against this challenging people to put their life on a Christian foundation that prevents this.

 

For me having gone through something of a crisis moment in my mid to late twenties it’s been interesting to reflect on how I deal with the past and look forward to the future. My copy of this book has lots of scribbles and underlining – bits I plan to come back to time and time again over the coming months.

The Cost – Brother Andrew

Sixty years ago a man called Andrew took the risk of saying ‘Yes’ to God. It led him to venture behind the Iron Curtain where he discovered persecuted Christians, people who were truly counting the cost of following Christ. ‘Brother Andrew’ went on to found Open Doors, an organisation that supports persecuted Christians in over 50 countries today – including thousands of Christians in Syria.

As this short film weaves between the story of Brother Andrew’s early adventures of faith and the story of the church in Syria today, we are presented with the same choice: are we ready to say ‘Yes’ to God, whatever the cost?

A great film celebrating sixty years since Brother Andrew said ‘Yes’ to smuggling the Bible into countries where it was banned. What a legend!

Children’s Society research paper

Too old too young

The Children’s Society have recently published a very helpful paper on Too old, too young?: Theology on the ambiguity of adolescence and the impact of neglect’.

As the foreword by Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester says:

In order to deal with the practical issues around how to protect and nurture children and young people as they grow, we need a better understanding and a fuller vision of what it means to be a teenager. Furthermore, it is vital for the church to wrestle theologically with the issues of what it means to be a young person in relation to family life, community membership and participation in wider society. Thus, this collection of essays is both timely and important.

The first section takes a fresh look at what the issues are including new analysis of how young people are neglected within the home. The second looks at these issues through a theological lens with a reflection on what Scripture might tell us, and the final section takes on the urgent task of how we might constructively act within families, communities and at the legislative level. These essays aim to provoke both hearts and minds and is a prophetic call to respond.

Greatest Church welcome

This has to be one of the best ever church welcome signs:

Photo credit: jbbarnes88

Photo credit: jbbarnes88

Photograph location: St Clements Church, Leigh-on-sea, Essex, England

Transcribed for anyone who has trouble reading it from the picture.

“We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, widowed, gay, confused, filthy rich, comfortable, or dirt poor. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rake or could afford to lose a few pounds. You’re welcome if you are Old Leigh, New Leigh, Not Leigh, or just passing by.

We welcome you if you can sing like Pavarotti or can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re ‘just browsing,’ just woke up or just got out of prison. We don’t care if you’re more Christian than the Archbishop of Canterbury, or haven’t been in church since little Jack’s christening.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome keep-fit mums, football dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like ‘organised religion.’ We’ve been there too!

If you blew all your money on the horses, you’re welcome here. We offer a welcome to those who think the earth is flat, ‘work too hard,’ don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost on the London Road and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts… and you!”

Sticky Faith training

Sticky Faith

Tonight it was great to host 45 leaders coming together to hear from Brian Spurling of Urban Saints and Sarah Smart from Scripture Union on Sticky Faith:

Consists of four major studies over 2004-2010. Based on American family and church life and culture. We’ve never undertaken this research in the UK, although there are some similar studies from Australia.

Key facts

  • 40-50% of older teens who went into further/higher education failed to stick at their faith.
  • Only 20% of those who leave their faith actually planned to do so. The other 80% intended to stick with their faith but didn’t. Interesting how many were staying in church just to please parents or enjoy the free chocolate and doughnuts.
  • For the 50-60% who do stick with their faith, their life-styles often become very similar to those of their non-Christian contemporaries.
  • Between 30-60% of teenagers who abandon their faith and their church do return to both in their late twenties. However, the damage has been done in terms of the consequences of ‘bad’ lifestyle choices.
  • The research shows little difference in the above between the genders.

What does it look like in the UK?

  • In 1980 almost 12% went to church at least once a month, in 2005 it was down to 7%. Recent research suggests this might level off, mainly due to immigration from countries with a strong catholic and church tradition.
  • Average age in 1980 was about 37 years old, now in 2015 it is aged 56 years old. We have an issue with an ageing population, but the church has an even bigger issue.
  • % of church goers who were aged 15yrs old and under in 1980 33% of the church was 15 years old and younger, in 2020 Peter Brierley expects it to be 5%.
  • The difference to the American church is that in the UK we struggled to keep children, whereas in the USA they kept them through to teenage years.
  • We were seeing 1,000 children aged 15 and under leaving the church every week in the 1990s – half-a-million a year.

There are two fundamental things that had been miscommunicated to teenagers by adults in their churches:

  1. Many young people have picked up a mistaken understanding of what it means to be a Christian. 66% thought it was just about living a life of good works that loves others and that please God and then he would be interested in you. 33% didn’t mention God and 33% didn’t mention Jesus. If you work with young people you might like to ask them this question. The key is relationship with a living God, who made us. Young people in the UK equate God as creator more than anything else.
  2. Many young people have picked up a mistaken understanding of what the gospel is too.
    1. The ‘gospel of sin management’: faith is reduced to a list of do’s and don’ts and focuses on the unpleasant consequences of ignoring the don’ts.
    2. The ‘Red Bull gospel’: a performance-led view of faith that believes staying on a treadmill of good works’ is what really counts. It is almost impossible to keep it up.
    3. The ‘Pharisee’ gospel: a view of faith that believes inner righteousness is achieved by being seen to do the right things on the outside. No need for personal holiness.

History has brought us to the point where the Christian message is thought to be essentially concerned with only how to deal with sin: with wrongdoing or wrong-being, and its effects. Life, our actual existence, is not included in what is presented at the heart of the Christian message, or it is included only marginally … The current gospel then becomes a ‘gospel of sin management.’

Dallas Willard The Divine Conspiracy

The core of Sticky Faith is developing a clear and honest understanding of both the gospel and biblical faith.

At the heart of Sticky Faith is a faith that trusts in God and understands that obedience is a response to that trust, in everything.

Dr. Kara E. Powell & Dr. Chap Clark

Sticky Faith is

  1. Both internal and external: part of the inner thought and emotions together with lifestyle choices and actions that reflect the inner faith commitment.
  2. Both person and communal: celebrating God’s love for the individual, but always locating faith in the wider community.
  3. Both mature and maturing: showing some evidence of maturity but recognising we are all on a journey.

Developing Sticky Faith

Consumer Gospel: Mike Yaconelli’s, Contemplative Youth Ministry, is a critical book to read. Outside In by Mike Green as you are turning young people into religious consumers through the youth ministry programmes. Mark Yaconelli said we have done it, we’ve

  Consumer approach Content (Sunday School) approach Contemplative approach
Rooted in Anxiety & fear We’ve always done it this way Love for the individual
Theology Faith is fun Faith is conformity Faith is an on-going relationship of trust
Leader Programme director Teacher Spiritual director pointing to God
Volunteers Chaperones Classroom assistants Seekers and mentors
Teaching Life skills/issues Religious information Way of Jesus/Christian living
Practice Passive entertainment Memorisation & reiteration Action rooted in prayer and reflection
Young people Religious consumers Potential church members Spiritual seekers

Key thoughts:

  • Expose young people to real-life examples of others learning to trust God.
  • Contrast ‘good things we should do’ with ‘trusting in a good God.’
  • Focus on trusting God before obeying God.
  • Teach about recovery and repentance.
  • Don’t dodge difficult questions about trust, but do avoid ‘pat’ answers.

How do we view young people:

  • Empty containers ready to be filled with knowledge.
  • Sinners in need of repentance.
  • Prisoners waiting to be freed.
  • Growing plants needing to b carefully tended.
  • Pieces of clay ready to be moulded.
  • Spiritual beings made in God’s image.

The last is the most challenging and yet rewarding.

What is the top issue that tweenagers need to sort out in their lives?

  • Who am I?
  • Where am I?
  • Why is there so much brokenness in the world?
  • How can I find a pathway to wholeness?
  • What does the future hold?

The Bible answers the questions in order beautifully from Genesis to Revelation. Things need to be grounded in the meta-narrative of God’s story.

Sticky Identity

From a survey of 7,000 11-16s from a wide variety of backgrounds, carried out between 2011 and 2014 by the New Philanthropy Capital.

  • Emotional wellbeing for boys is static aged 11-18 and above girls; whereas the girls drops down significantly and is always below boys.
  • Self-esteem matches this.
  • Overall life satisfaction the boys dips as well, but again the boys drops less than the girls.
  • Satisfaction in your community produces the steepest drop for both of them.

Key thoughts:

  • Develop rituals and rites of passage, and celebrate milestones reached or passed. (It works in family life too.)
  • Help your young people identify their passions and gifts. Affirm character growth more than academic achievement.
  • Help your young people to reflect more on their experiences, and grow through hardship.
  • Pay attention to ‘trigger moments’ that promote identity growth.
  • Aim for a diverse youth and children’s leadership team
  • Support your teens for at least an extra year when they leave home.

Sticky Church

Know your young people and involve them fully, not treating them as separate entities:

  • Involvement in all-age worship for teenagers is more consistently linked with mature faith than any other church-based activity.
  • The more teenagers serve and build relationships with younger children, the more likely it is that their faith will stick.
  • Teens in the survey said that the best way they felt welcomed was when the congregation showed an interest in them.
  • Sticky faith encourages churches to develop ‘Sticky Webs’ where at least 5 adults (of all ages) speak into the lives of every young person. Teenagers said they wanted MORE interaction with adults, not less!
  • Mentoring is a brilliant, biblical model for growth!

Quiz

  1. Why do young people go to youth group?  Because they want to be with their youth leaders.
  2. What % of teens said they felt their youth leader really knew them?  20%
  3. What did they want their youth leaders to help them with the most? Applying the Bible teaching to everyday life, especially suffering, why is the church so full of hypocrisy, and what does the bible say about sexuality, creation & evolution.
  4. What was the number one thing the teens said they wanted more of in their youth groups? More time for deep conversations, whereas more time for fun stuff was bottom of the list.
  5. Who had the stickiest faith in the end? Those that often talked about having doubts – especially does God exist, does God love me, is Christianity the only way to God.

Books I have read: Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples

Multiply Francis Chan

I’ve always enjoyed reading Francis Chan’s writings, a few years ago I was inspired by his book Crazy Love, so I was looking forward to reading Multiply: Disciples making disciples.  As a youth minister I’m incredibly passionate to resource young people to share their faith with their friends – they do such a better job than I every could do.  Not because I can’t share faith, or because I can’t answer the tough questions, but because I don’t have the shared context that they have.

The book can be used for personal devotions, but works well for a group to look through together.  It is split into five sections:

  1. Living as a Disciple Maker
  2. Living as the Church
  3. How to Study the Bible
  4. Understanding the Old Testament
  5. Understanding the New Testament

This book would work well as a post Alpha or other evangelistic course for those who wanted to develop a stronger foundation to their new-found faith.

We used the first section themed around what is a disciple and what does it mean to share our faith with our group of 11-14 year olds who really enjoyed looking at the material.

I thoroughly recommend taking the time to read this book and the additional resources developed for it.

Philip Yancey – Small is Large

mega church

Philip Yancey has written a fantastic blog on Small is Large reflecting on mega church v small church and the community they produce, well worth a read:

The majority of Americans, like me, still attend churches with less than 200 members.  We show up on Sundays to hear less entertaining sermons and less professional music—though we have no trouble finding a parking place.  Why?  Smaller towns don’t have the option of megachurches, of course, and big crowds make some people nervous.  I found one more reason when I came across this paradoxical observation in G. K. Chesterton’s book Heretics:

The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world…. The reason is obvious.  In a large community we can choose our companions.  In a small community our companions are chosen for us.

Precisely!  Given a choice, I tend to hang out with folks like me: people who have college degrees, drink dark roast coffee, listen to classical music, and buy their cars based on EPA gas mileage ratings.  Yet after a while I get bored with people like me.  Smaller groups (and smaller churches) force me to rub shoulders with everybody else.

Henri Nouwen defines “community” as the place where the person you least want to live with always lives.  Often we surround ourselves with the people we most want to live with, which forms a club or a clique, not a community.  Anyone can form a club; it takes grace, shared vision, and hard work to form a community.

Fusion are recruiting!

Fusion Camper Van

Fusion are recruiting for 9 roles to continue developing student ministry.  Are you be called to one of these roles?

Student Mission:

Approaching the end of our two year road trip to every university city in the UK, there’s a strong demand for Student Mission equipping from the local church. In the new academic year we will build on this momentum. Could you grow Student Mission & call up evangelists?

Student Mission Developer (Part time & full time applicants welcome).
Student Mission Internships (Part time & full time applicants welcome).

Student Work Training:

We’re intentionally training & growing Student Workers across the UK. London has a population of 400,000 students. We’re recruiting someone who can network, train and champion our partner churches & student workers in London. Are you passionate about Student Work Training?

Student Work Developer (Full time, London)

Student Linkup:

We’re growing our Student Linkup app internationally – that wherever a student goes to study in the world there’s a local church ready to welcome them. We currently partner with 85 international churches. We’re looking for two entrepreneurial networkers to grow our international network of churches. Integrated into this in this role; you’ll also be a part of a local church’s day/week discipleship year.

Global Student Linkup Internships (Loughborough)

Fusion Ireland:

We’re intentionally serving Churches, training & growing Student Workers across the UK. Last year we launched Fusion Wales & Scotland which has resulted in great growth in both of these nations. This summer we launch Fusion Ireland – are you able to spear head this initiative?

Fusion Ireland Developer. (Part time role)

Fusion Church Connection:

With 1269 churches in our network, it’s crucial that we grow relationship and serve them well. We’re looking for someone to build relationship with our Fusion Connection Churches both on the phones and in person. Could this be you?

Church Relations Developer (York, Full Time).