Training in the Local Church

My former pastor, Dr Stanley Jebb has written an article on training men for ministry in the local church which is now available on the Evangelicals Now website.

He has long been a proponent of training in the context of a local church rather than sending people off to Bible college, and ran a “ministry training institute” along these lines for many years at West Street Baptist church in Dunstable. During that time many pastors and missionaries were trained at our church. I have always felt slightly disappointed that this work came to an end before I had the opportunity to benefit from it, and I have been surprised that I have not come across similar schemes anywhere else.

I am inclined to agree that the local church is the best place for training people for ministry. As he says in the article, it is a better context for getting people involved in practical service and also ensuring that the character and devotional aspects of training are prioritised. I am still in contact with many of the people trained by Dr Jebb and can vouch for the high standard of excellence that the training produced.

Perhaps the article will inspire some churches to begin to run similar programmes. I think it would be of great benefit to the body of Christ if they did.

Four more articles

I’ve added four more articles to my theology page. The first, “What’s the point?”, is a look at Psalm 73, from a talk I gave at a youth group in Liverpool back in April. The second, “Letter to a friend”, is based on 3 John 1-4, which is something I wrote as part of some studies I did in the epistles of John during the summer. Third is an old article, “New Opportunities” that should have been put up ages ago, on Acts 11:19-26. Finally, I have turned my Full Faith talk from last night into an article – “Prayer and Courageous Action”, based on the life of King Asa from 2 Chron 14-16.

Sadly, I didn’t manage my New Year’s resolution for 2005 to write one article per month for my website, only managing 9 this year. Maybe in 2006.

Interestingly, my friend J-D also gave a talk on Psalm 73 this year, that you can listen to at the All Saints Peckham website (preached on the 4th September 2005).

Full Faith 2005

Full Faith meetings are sadly rare occurrences these days, but last night, we enjoyed only the second full faith since moving to Southampton, and the first visiting speaker from KCC – Mark Mould. I spoke first on the life of King Asa from 2 Chronicles 14-16 (hopefully will turn it into an article for my theology page shortly). Mark then used his sermon to defend an allegorical interpretation of the Song of Songs, drawing on quotations from the Puritans. See below for a photo of Mark preaching from our beautifully constructed pulpit:

As usual, there was much hilarity at the start of the meeting, including the traditional notices, and for the first time at Full Faith, a puppet show. We also saw yet another interview with ‘Dave’ (not his real name), a missionary to the rich and famous in Holywood, raising money so he could contextualise himself by living an opulent and lavish lifestyle.

Another first, was an appearance by new youth pastor “Thomas Simon”, shown below performing a magic trick involving handkerchiefs and underpants to demonstrate the real meaning of Christmas:

Selected highlights from the full faith notice sheet follow:

We are pleased to welcome amongst us today guest preacher His Holiness Cardinal Mark Mould VIII, founder of the “Keep Comedy out of the Pulpit” campaign against jokes in sermons.

Manifestation Rationing
To maintain order in our meetings, we are introducing a new scheme where you are only allowed to five manifestations (falling, roaring, convulsing etc) per month. The elder leading the meeting will collect ration tickets after the meeting if you used one. They cannot be traded or carried over to the following month.

New At The Bookstall
Now available in the bookshop – “Scraping the Barrel Vol 7″ CD – the songs that didn’t quite make it into Songs of Fellowship. £1 off for the first 2 customers – only £13.99.

Courses for Horses
The Alpha course is now available for horses. Reach out to the otherwise unreached horse lovers, by offering spirituality for their horse. Includes a special “horse-whispering Scripture” day away.

Big Screen
After last Sunday’s viewing of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, we have decided that preachers will now be rationed to a maximum of 60 minutes of video on the big screen. Apologies to those whose dinner burnt.

Children’s Corner: Finish the Bible verses
What would Jesus …?
Waste not, want … ?

Awesome God – CD Review

My free “Awesome God” children’s CD arrived today, courtesy of Bob Kauflin at Sovereign Grace. As promised, here is the review (and no, thankfully it wasn’t like I had imagined).

First impressions – the case has been very professionally put together, including a choice of four cover images as well as 12 page booklet of lyrics and credits. The quality of musicianship and production is outstanding, and its a nice touch to have children singing on many of the tracks.

I’ll comment first on each track, before making some summary conclusions:

Almighty Creator is a hard hitting melodic rock track with a great melody in the chorus. The verses speak of God’s creative power, while the chorus speaks of the reason we were created – to love, worship and delight in God! It even includes a 70s harmonized guitar solo!

Forever God is a blues rock track with a fairly low key verse, that builds into a catchy chorus about God who goes “on and on and on …” Chuck Berry guitar solo on this one! I must confess that I can imagine myself singing the “you go on and on” chorus to people other than God.

You Are Always With Me is another rock track building from a low-key verse to a powerful chorus. The song is about God’s omniscience and omnipresence. Features some comedy synth lead lines.

Who is Like You is a mellow acoustic ballad, meditating of the greatness of God and the wonder that we can know him. Its a lovely song, although it doesn’t really have the feel of a children’s song. Like a number of tracks on the CD, it wouldn’t be out of place on an adult worship CD. The kids do join in singing towards the end of the track though, which is helpful for getting a feel of how it would sound in a children’s meeting.

Sovereign One follows on with another chilled out groove. I love the lyrics to this song, dealing with trust in God’s sovereignty through disappointments and difficulties. The message of this song is truly profound, and it brilliantly makes the subject accessible to children. “When things in my life don’t make sense I will trust in You”

Mighty Mighty Savior is an upbeat country song (I thought CJ hated country music?) dealing with the doctrine of total depravity. It tackles a difficult subject for a song in an admirable way, and though Christian parents (calvinists at least) will be happy with their children learning this doctrine through song, I can anticipate potential concern when a non-Christian hears their child returning from Kidz Klub singing about their evil heart. Also features a harmonica solo.

Jesus Came to Earth is a return to the style of earlier tracks, an upbeat rock song, with a fairly nondescript tune in the verse that builds to climactic chorus. Second time through the children echo each line of the verse, which works nicely. The verse quickly runs through the story of the incarnation through to the ascension, and the chrorus responds in praise.

Your Love is a high octane Avril Lavigne-esque rock track with an anthemic chorus celebrating the awesome love of God, with a focus on how it brings us back when we go astray, and directs us. Featuring shouting children over the top of the chorus.

Three In One is a slow blues rock groove with a great melodic tune that considers each of the three persons of the Trinity in a verse each, while the chorus offers praise to the Triune God.

For You are Holy is a very mellow and meditative ballad considering the uniqueness of God in the verses with a gentle chorus praising him for holiness. I wonder whether the line “only you can never die” might provoke questions from children about Jesus’ death. Overall though, the song does a good job of unpacking the phrase “there is none like you”, (which has become a cliché of Christian songs) into a form that children can appreciate.

The Gospel Song is another simple and gentle track. Containing only four lines, it encourages meditation on the incarnation and cross of Christ bringing us life. Its a beautiful and reflective track and once again, does not really come across as being exclusively for children.

Have You Heard is a song that expounds the gospel, explaining who Jesus is, the purpose of his death, and the second verse explains how to accept salvation. I read the lyrics of this track before hearing it, and thought they were excellent. I was hoping that the music would be more upbeat than the actual tune turned out to be, which is again quite gentle, although it steps up a gear for the chorus.

Conclusion

I was pleasantly surprised to find that none of the tracks on this album had me reaching for the skip button. Normally I would expect a few intolerably twee tracks on a Christian children’s CD. Less surprising, but equally pleasing, was the total absence of words such as “mega”, “cool”, “brill”.

Musically speaking the tunes are good, with some great catchy choruses. The songs cover a great range of subjects, and generally speaking they avoid both the meaningless clichés and doctrinal jargon that blight so many of our worship songs.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this CD, and may well make use of some of the songs for my own personal times of worship. My own children, aged 3 and 4 are a bit young to appreciate it, although they did have a dance to some of the tracks. The style of songs is quite different to the songs sung by the 5-10 year olds at my own church’s Kidz Klub, but I think they would benefit greatly from making use of some of these songs, or others with a similar commitment to sound doctrine in the lyrics.

I hope that this CD will be used by many churches in supplying songs for their children’s ministries, and also that it will inspire others to write similar children’s songs. Best of all, I can see great potential for children to be able to take these songs and offer them as genuine worship to their Lord. Well done and thank you to the folks at SGM who produced this CD.

Two new blogs

I’ve added two new entries to my list of must read blogs, by my friends Jonathan and David Skipper. Jonathan was best man at my wedding, and has named his blog after Samuel Hartlib, following his Geography Masters thesis on the relation between escatology and agricultural methods in the 17th Century (wow!). “Musings on Music” is David’s site, mainly providing reviews on music. David is an outstanding rock guitarist with a taste for the unconventional.

Both Jonathan and David are deep thinkers (with slightly eccentric tendencies!), and though their blogs are still in their infancy, are bound to be thought-provoking to follow. I’ve picked a favourite post from each to give an idea of what can be expected. Dave asks what types of music a Christian should listen to – Listening to Reggae – A Bad Idea? – and proposes some Biblical guidelines. Jonathan will be putting ontology before epistemology in his blog, and goes on to make some helpful comments on using books as your “mentors”.

Anyway these guys deserve a little bit of your love, so why not add them to your RSS reader. If you read blogs and don’t know what an RSS reader is yet, it’s time you found out. I now mainly use the web based Google reader, but for a local application, Sharp Reader is very good.

Book Review – The Message of 1 Peter (Edmund Clowney)

This volume in the Bible Speaks Today series presents the main themes of 1 Peter as the suffering that Christians must face as “resident aliens” in a world of rebels against God. The introduction is brief, and the style of commentary is expository – almost a series of sermons. At over 230 pages, the material is covered quite slowly, allowing Clowney to take time to discuss other related passages, and use examples from church history. There are places where it approaches being an academic commentary, for example a number of pages are devoted to the problematic section in 3:18-22, establishing his interpretation very methodically, and utilising a number of quotes from apocryphal writings to bolster his case.

The theme of suffering runs through the whole book, and it is presented as unavoidable for Christians, but beneficial in developing character, an opportunity to meet evil with good, and an occasion for witness. Most importantly it is the route to glory, as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus from suffering to glory.

Along the way, there is consideration of the mutual submission that should exist between Christians, and Clowney downplays differences in the instructions to husbands and wives in chapter 3. He argues that submission is to people (as made in the image of God), not structures, and warns against the dangers of “political” and “liberation” theologies.

The book closes with three appendices, the first two essentially being extended footnotes, and the third develops the background of eldership in the Old Testament, to augment the exposition of 1 Peter 5. As with others in the series it includes a study guide for small groups to use.

Although I feel that the book was slightly too long for the series it is part of, taking time to explore the subject of suffering will be beneficial to any Christian who reads it. Its thoroughness will be appreciated by those looking for inspiration on sermons and Bible studies who have the time to read it.

Happy Christmas

Today represents a great moment in the history of my blog. I have been ‘tagged’ with a Merry Christmas ‘meme’, thanks to Sven, who brought tears to my eyes (well almost) with his kind words about my blog.

So now I am supposed to wish Merry Christmas to two people whose blogs I regularly read, and suggest a Christmas present for them.

So first up is Merry Christmas to Dan at Life on Wings. Dan would of course appreciate books to read. The trouble is, he has so many books that it would be hard to get him one he hasn’t already got. But he is also a Christian conference junkie. Book him a day visit to a conference at any of the following churches: Hillsong London, Church of Christ the King Brighton, Kensington temple, Westminster Chapel, and he will be forever grateful to you.

Secondly, Merry Christmas to Jeremy Pierce at Parableman. He’s another book lover, and I’m not sure I would know what book he wants. But after his comments on my recent posts on the charismatic gifts, perhaps he could be given The gift of tongues (“for serving”).

Finally, I want to say Merry Christmas to Jonathan Skipper. He was my best man at my wedding, and in his Christmas card his wife Claire said that he had started a blog. Trouble is, I don’t have the link to it. How about posting a link in the comments Jon?

Sovereign Grace Childrens Songs

About a week ago, Bob Kauflin generously offered a free copy of Sovereign Grace’s latest CD of children’s songs to the first 50 people who responded with a promise to review the CD on their blog. I was one of the fortunate 50 who have been promised a CD although mine hasn’t arrived yet.

I’m looking forward to hearing it, particularly as my only other SGM CD, “No greater love” is one of my favourites, and follows in their tradition of songs that are gospel saturated, and Christ exalting in focus.

The other morning though, I woke up wondering what songs would be on a SGM children’s CD. A moment of inspiration later and I had written my very own song which SGM are free to use on a future children’s CD. Here’s the lyrics (and here’s hoping that Bob has a sense of humour):

I choose the ESV
That’s the Bible version for me
It’s been translated literally
When it means ‘he’ it doesn’t say ‘she’

I choose the ESV
Above gender neutrality
Ain’t got a dumbed down vocabulary
Reading it will improve my literacy

I have begun a second song called “I kissed dating goodbye”, and begins “I’m looking for a Proverbs 31 wife, a Titus 2 woman”. I’ll post the full lyrics if I ever get it finished.

And while I was at it, I wrote a Dispensational kids song (I think SGM are classic pre-mill, so this one won’t be featuring on their next CD):

I’m rapture-ready
I know the signs of the times
It’s the great escape
I’m not gonna get left behind

[Chorus]:
In a moment, in an instant,
In the twinkling of an eye
We’ll be snatched away
As planes fall out of the sky

Get rapture-ready
Read what the Bible has to say
If you don’t understand it
Then read Jenkins and LaHaye

Book Review – Invading Secular Space (Martin Robinson & Dwight Smith)

This fascinating book addresses the question of how the decline of the church in the West might be turned around. The authors contend that the solution is not found in persuading secular people to enter our sacred spaces, but to invade secular space ourselves, as God did in Christ. They survey the lamentable condition of many traditional churches, which survive financially on a church tax, or by selling buildings, and are filled with clergy for whom leading is a profession rather than a passion. Even growing churches in the West have often simply learned “how to attract Christians from other churches more effectively than other congregations can”.

There is a desire for a “quick-fix” solution, perhaps taking the conventional wisdom of marketing strategies, but the authors claim that what is really needed is to “ignite a movement”, turning people into activists rather than merely participants. The world is yearning for an experience of community that the church would like to offer but has forgotten how to model.

In chapter 2 there is a helpful survey of church history and how the state and church have interacted for good and for ill over the years. In later chapters they move on to describe how they see the problem being solved. They question the idea that we simply need to pray for revival, arguing that we have romanticised many revivals of the past, and actually the church has grown more through gaining the favour of those around than simply through revival. People such as Wilberforce with his work to abolish slavery are seen as key to changing the nation’s opinion of the church.

Church planting is strongly emphasised throughout the book as a vital strategy in turning around the decline. They see this not just as an exercise for new churches, but as a process for renewal of traditional churches, planting fresh congregations in place of existing dwindling ones. They see a recovery of the Eph 4 ministries (not necessarily “offices), as crucial to this process.

Church leaders whose vision is merely for a bigger church come in for some censure – mission should be the end, the church is just the means. All churches (megachurches included) need to plan to plant other churches, and use small group discipleship as a means for training new leaders, spreading the vision, and helping people to “live the story”. There is also strong criticism for the “lone leader” approach, where a church is run by a senior pastor. They claim that the Biblical model is “team leadership”, drawing on 1 Cor 12. I think they overstate the case though when they say “there is no passage in the New Testament where leadership, in any dimension, is ever dealt with in singularity”.

Churches are described as “organic”, meaning that they will have a natural cycle from birth to maturity to decline and death. This model is used throughout the book, and some attention is given to how churches in the “decline” phase can be revitalised. Churches that want to help ignite a movement that will last beyond a single generation are encouraged to start praying seriously, using small groups for discipleship, take a pragmatic approach to evangelistic strategies, and ensuring that church planting is in the “DNA” of the church.

Overall I would say that anyone interested in church growth should read this book, to be challenged and stimulated to new ways of thinking. Even my own church grouping, New Frontiers, which has embraced many of the principles in this book, would do well to consider whether mega-churches are being sought as an alternative to church planting, rather than as a means for more aggressive church planting. Whether by restoration or renewal, the church in the West needs to regain a passion for what it is called to be and to do in this world.

What’s the Point of Observing the Sabbath?

There has been a bit of debate recently amongst Christian bloggers recently about whether churches that decided not to open on Christmas Day (which falls on a Sunday) have made a correct decision or not. Ben Witherington says “shame on you”, while Scot McKnight says “chill out, its not a big deal”.

Of course it was not long before we had some more general debate on the Sabbath and Sunday, with Jollyblogger arguing for an ongoing requirement to observe a Sabbath, while Jeremy Pierce disagrees.

Although I appreciate the desire of “Sabbatarians” (if that is what they are supposed to be called) to underscore the ongoing validity of all the ten commandments, I fall on Jeremy’s side of the argument. However, I believe that (perhaps in a similar way to tithing), Sabbath observence has a divine wisdom to it, and brings tremendous blessing on those who are willing to live this way.

Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man, which suggests to me that God intended to bless us with it, so, in no particular order, here are some of the benefits I can think of that it brings:

Honours God as Creator
Many of the Biblical texts about the Sabbath, link its observance strongly to the story of creation. Why do we have one day of rest in seven? Why not one in six, or two in nine? Simply by observing a rhythm of six days of work and one of rest we symbolically declare our faith in the God of Creation.

Rejects Materialism
The Sabbath was not just a day that you didn’t earn money on, but you didn’t spend it either. The only thing you might do with your money on the Sabbath was to give it away. In other words, observing a Sabbath powerfully symbolises a rejection of a culture of materialism.

Makes Space for Community Worship
Having a shared day of rest with the rest of society opens the door for worshipping together, and spending time with family. This is a great blessing for churches, as it allows for the entire church family to meet together on a Sunday. (Of course, there will always be those whose jobs require them to work on a Sunday, and churches need to be creative in working out how to include this growing number within their membership)

Guards Against Exploitation of Workers
Everyone needs rest, but in ancient cultures, a slave owner could be tempted not to ever give a day off to his workers (or working animals). The Sabbath command was universal. No one, man or animal, should be required to work more than six days in a row. Quite apart from the obvious fact that having some rest once in a while is physically good for you, the Sabbath command still serves as a reminder to employers that it is immoral to coerce your employees to work unreasonably long hours and to deny them at least one day off in a week. We should also here remember wives who look after the children seven days a week – lets make sure they get some rest too.

Encourages Diligence
The command assigns six days for work, so it would be hypocritical to enjoy a lazy Sunday ignoring important jobs left unfinished if you had been lazy during the week before. If however you have shown appropriate diligence in fulfilling your work during the six days, then you need feel no guilt as you deliberately choose to enjoy a day of rest.

Makes Extra Time for Personal Devotion
Does your life seem too full to be able to spend an hour simply in private prayer and worship, or meditating on the Scriptures? Observing a Sabbath is one way of finding extra time for reflection in a fast-paced life with an overfilled schedule.

Its good for your body
It probably is. I’m not a doctor though, so don’t take my word for it!