Runs on the Board

athersWriting in Thursday’s Times (19th January 2017), Mike Atherton (above), their cricket correspondent and ex-England Captain wrote a piece about leadership. It’s worth a read if you can get behind their pay wall. Apparently the English Cricket Board (ECB) has enlisted the help of an ex-Army Officer now Management Consultant, Gemma Morgan to help them develop new leaders.

In doing so, they assess potential leadership candidates in four areas;

  1. their impact within a group,
  2. their ability to make things happen,
  3. their interpersonal skills and
  4. their thinking skills.

That’s not surprising. It’s what you might expect. But what’s striking in the article is her insistence on character being key. The overriding message at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst is that leadership is service. Their motto ‘serve to lead’ is everywhere. Now that’s remarkable. It’s almost the polar opposite of how things ordinarily work in the world of sport. Normally captaincy is about having ‘runs on the board’. As  Morgan, an ex-international lacrosse player, observes,

‘Coming from the sports field initially this turned leadership on its head for me, because until then I understood leadership as hero-based: am I the best player, the leading goal scorer, the go-to player that kind of thing’.

Many of us in church planting and  pastoring resonate with that kind of thinking. But our competencies have to do with preaching, evangelistic effectiveness, theological knowledge and strategic thinking and so on. But, she goes on,

‘At Sandhurst I came to understand that it was not about me but about duty and service to others. It opened my eyes. Before they teach you any technical stuff, they underpin everything with values that are uncompromising. Integrity, for example, if you breach integrity you’re gone and you won’t be invited back. Once you’ve got these anchors in place, they add on the technical bits. In sport and business it is the other way around. In the army, they will not take a risk on character’.

In recent months, the England One Day Captain Eoin Morgan decided not to tour Bangladesh citing security risks as his issue. He copped a fair amount of flak for that. This was interpreted as a leader choosing to abandon his men when faced with hardship. It looked self-interested. It may not have been if he was making that decision in such a way that it gave implicit permission for others to follow suit. Interestingly Alex Hales decided not to tour as well. When pushed for her verdict on this decision Gemma Morgan would not be drawn because she simply didn’t know the rationale and motive behind Eoin Morgan’s decision. But she did say this, ‘You have to lead by example and my experience is that people will follow if you think you have their best interests at heart’.

It turns out that leadership is not so much about having ‘runs on the board’. And England’s own history bears that out because one of the most respected and most successful Captains was a man who arguably wasn’t good enough to get in the 2nd XI. He was the man who got the best out of Bob Willis and Ian Botham in the 1981 Ashes series. His name is Mike Brierley and he’s written a book called ‘The Art of Captaincy’. It’s on my Amazon wish list!

For those of us who suffer under the delusion that we might still be the hero every church needs, Morgan did close with this encouragement,

‘There is a time for autocratic and direct leadership but to get people to follow unquestioningly you have to have invested a lot of time in the relationships. If you’re selfish you will get found out. If you get a combination of a brilliant player, a charismatic leader, and someone with the interests of others at heart? Then, great. But they don’t come along very often’.

The odds are that most ofus are not in that category. And neither are our leaders. And so character really matters. And self sacrificial service is paramount. Who’d have thought it?!

In Mark’s Gospel Chapter 10 verse 45, we read this, ‘the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many’. That’s leadership. And it’s runs on the board. Just in a different kind of a way.

There’s Nothing Average About These Prices


Colliers Wood has never looked so attractive.

Words I never thought that I’d ever utter. But with the average house price in Balham costing £740,000, Colliers Wood (more former than the latter) is the only place any of our young workers will be able to afford to buy. It’s nuts. It really is. We’re now more expensive than Wimbledon. Friends of our recently moved from Balham to Walthamstow. And with the house prices being what they are and the Victoria Line links into Central London you can appreciate why they’ve done it.

I love a good map. And especially one with a bit of analysis thrown in. Graham Miller from LCM is my usual source . But Facebook beat him to it this time. And this one from eMoov is revealing.

There may be an upside. It might just stop this nonsense of the ‘forever’ house that Christians of a certain age begin to spout. We need to remind one another that we only have one forever house and it’s in the New Creation. If we think we start to treasure one here we might just never get to see the one in glory (Matthew 6:21). Just get a house that you can afford and that works, having already worked out which church family you’re going to be a part of. But we don’t want to get into the mindset that begins to think that we’re building heaven on earth.

With my Christ Church Balham hat on this analysis is a little discouraging. But it confirms what we’ve thought for a while; that most of our young workers won’t be living here for ever. And so our principle ministry priority has to be to train them for service elsewhere.

With my Antioch Plan hat on  it’s going to make planning Cohort 2 an interesting time. There’s something to be said for planting churches in places where people can afford to stay! Trying to grow a church with ‘churnover’ is a like trying to fill a leaking bucket.


My Sunday Highlight – Commissioning the Antioch Planters

antioch commissioningAs recently as February (on our annual Senior Staff Focus) I reckon that if you’d pushed the Co-Mission church pastors, almost all would have expressed their doubt that we’d have a full cohort of planters for the proposed launch of the Antioch Plan this September. I was one of them. I shared their doubt. And that’s a tad embarrassing since I was being teed up as the Director/Mentor. We had not, at that point, been inundated with applications. But on Sunday morning we introduced, prayed for and commissioned our first cohort of Antioch church planters. Starting this autumn, fourteen men will spend the next three years trying to launch and grow churches in various locations across London. Praise God.

On Sunday morning at Revive (the Co-Mission Bible Festival Weekend), the Director of Co-Mission, Richard Coekin commented that three things stood out amongst the cohort that the Lord has raised up.

1. The variety of the planters. In the best possible sense, they really are a mixed bag! We didn’t think it would be like this. We thought we’d try to recruit young university educated men with lots of ability but a godly impatience and an entrepreneurial zeal to take risks for the gospel. I guess we were after the type of guys that Collin Hansen describes as ‘young, restless and reformed’. There may be more of them in the States than over here. Perhaps it’s true that Brits tend to prefer joining institutions than being individualistic. Perhaps that’s why so many of us travel down the more conventional ministry routes. And that’s OK. But what it’s meant is that the guys the Lord has given us are much more varied than we were anticipating.  There’s a wide range of ministry experience, of age and of background. We have a man in his sixtieth year and one just out of university. Some of the guys are married, some have families and some are still single. We have one who’s had thirteen years of experience as a missionary in Vietnam. One has been an incumbent at an Anglican Church on the south coast for eight years. One has never had a proper job! One grew up on an estate. I’m not talking council, I’m talking family! It’s not a cohort marked by similarity other than their apparent desire and appetite to serve the gospel, love people and exalt Christ. And that’s the best type of similarity.

2. The diversity of the contexts. The churches that these men are looking to grow are trying to reach into the rich diversity of London’s communities. For example, they’re attempting to plant churches amongst Bangladeshis in East London, the South American immigrant community who meet in Central London, the Korean community in West London as well as the young professionals who will gather up in town and the families who opt for the space on offer in the suburbs of Greater London in places like Teddington or Kew. In God’s wisdom, He’s raised up a group of people who will plant churches that will begin to reach the diverse population in this great city. And that’s good. As a network of churches, we used to be accused of only planting white middle class churches. I’m not sure that was ever really fair because we’d always said that we wanted to plant lots of churches to reach across the socio-economic as well as ethnic spectrum in London. God willing, this is just the beginning for Co-Mission. But perhaps we’re beginning to make progress. After all, one of the noticeable things about Revive this year was the variety of skin colours on show. And I’m not just referring to the sunburn of the white boys who forgot to put on their suncream!

3. The quality of the cohort. The Lord has given us some very gifted and capable ministers. Not all of them have had theological education. Many have, but by no means all. And some of them may never undergo formal theological education. But their ministry skills, their theological knowledge and their management acumen are not in doubt. Most of them could have opted for a different type of job; perhaps joining sizeable staff teams in larger churches, or applying to be the Senior Minister at establishment churches or going off to Theological College and being employed by one the great churches in the FIEC. But they’re made of different stuff. There’s something about them and their convictions that means they want to take risks for the gospel. And perhaps with Co-Mission they can. Maybe we can provide them with ‘the blue sky above and the safety net below’. They’re pioneers and they want the freedom to do their thing without restrictions and limitations. But they also want the support, encouragement and friends that this kind of ministry needs.

So, in answer to our prayers, from this September I’ll have fourteen men gathering on a Wednesday afternoon for Church Planter Training. Fourteen restless, pioneering entrepreneurial chiefs in one room. It’s going to be mayhem. Trying to organise this lot will be like herding cats. But it’s going to be exciting. And we’re very grateful to God for making it happen.

Church Planting Conference

415734Just spoken to a mate who’s involved in church planting in Oxford. I invited him to ‘Planting for Christ’. Despite being an old Co-Mission boy, he didn’t know anything about it. To be fair, he’s been in the States for the last few years. And so I thought it’s probably worth a quick post so that people are aware it’s happening.

In my view this is a conference worth attending. Not all of them are. Don’t make me name names. As conferences go for usefulness, it’s up there with the administrators’ conference. It’s church planting specific. And its distinctive is the desire to be practical. That’ll probably be no more in evidence than in Richard Coekin’s seminar, which is an unplugged Q&A clinic. It’s entitled ‘Get going … in planning your plan’. Basically Richard will respond to  questions posed by delegates on church planting specifics. I can’t imagine that it’ll be recorded. It probably shouldn’t be because it won’t be characterised by nuanc; few things he says will die the death of a thousand qualifications. He won’t always be right. Irritatingly for those of us who work closely with him, he often is. But even when he’s not, he’s hugely stimulating and encouraging. That hour-long session is probably worth the admittance price alone.

Then there are two plenary sessions. I’m speaking on ‘What constitutes ‘success’ in planting?’ Because I’m so familiar with it, obviously! And Andy Patterson, the FIEC Yoda of Church Planting, will be looking at the issue of sustainable sacrifice in ministry. That’s a burning question amongst planters who feel like we’re involved in the spiritual equivalent of starting up our own business. You’re not. And you tell yourself you’re not. But you still think it.

The seminars before lunch are entitled ‘Get Going’. They’re to do with starting up plants. Reuben Hunter will reflect on his experience in planting Trinity West in Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush, in the seminar ‘Get going … in a big city’. Pete Woodcock, from Cornerstone Kingston together with Simon Martin from King’s Church Walton on Thames will talk about church planting in the suburbs. And Jason Roach of the Bridge Battersea and Graham Miller the Director of London City Mission will talk about getting going in a UPA.

After lunch the seminars are entitled ‘Keep Going’ and they’re to do with maintaining spiritual health. Andrew Nicholls, now on the staff at Dundonald as the Biblical Counselling guru, will deal with our marriages and the stresses placed on them by the demands of church planting. Jeremy Hobson, who’s led the St Helen’s Church Plant, Trinity Islington for the past few years, will talk about maintaining our own spiritual disciplines and devotion for the Lord Jesus Christ. Neil Powell will talk about keeping going despite the financial pressures. Neil is involved with Birmingham 2020, a church planting initiative in the country’s second city. He’s also the senior pastor of City Church. Andy Mason, who runs a ministry on a large UPA estate off the King’s Church, St John’s Chelsea will talk about perservering through the inevitable disappointments of gospel ministry.

I’m a big fan of this conference. I don’t think you need to be involved in church planting to find it useful. But the particular demands of church planting bring the issues that all of us in full-time gospel ministry face into sharp focus, perhaps with an increased intensity. You can find details of the conference here. It’s held at the Factory in Raynes Park (a suburb of  Wimbledon). And at £15 it’s a bargain.


A Capital Idea – Antioch

Antioch PlanNice piece in this month’s Evangelicals Now. Good to get some coverage. And what with Noah’s release it was hardly a slow news month. Front page was a bonus. I was expecting the piece to be tucked away on the inside pages sandwiched between an advert for the Protestant Truth Society and a book review for the latest book bewailing the theological liberalism of those that don’t hold to a six day literal interpretation of Genesis 1.

It’s a well crafted piece of journalism, in my honest opinion. OK, so I wrote it. What’s especially brilliant is the bit where I quote myself! In my defence, I’d been asked to write up something for EN. I spoke with the administrator who just happens to be an old school friend and he gave me some hints and told me to send something in from which they could work. I hadn’t realised it was actually going to be attributed to me! If I’d known I wouldn’t have quoted myself!

Here’s the piece in full.

The Antioch Plan is a new church planting initiative for London.

It’s been launched by Co-Mission, the cross-denominational church planting network run by Richard Coekin. This exciting development is an attempt to gather and plant ‘house church’-sized congregations across the wide variety of Greater London’s geography. Their objective is to recruit, train and deploy a cohort of ten to 15 pioneer church planters and fund them over a three-year period. And they’ve been given £1 million to finance it.

Anglican and Free Church

Recruitment has begun already. A wide variety of men from both Anglican and Free Church backgrounds have responded to promotional materials in the Christian press. The first in a series of selection interviews with the Antioch Board has already taken place. Four men have been approved for the scheme and they’ll commence in September 2014. The second round of selection interviews is due to take place later this month.

The diversity of candidates represents Co-Mission’s determination to plant in the different communities across London. Two of the recently appointed planters are Tom Sweatman and Mike Reith. Tom is 25 years old and he has recently completed a ministry apprenticeship at Cornerstone Church in Kingston. He is planning a house church plant on the other side of the Thames in the suburb of Hampton.

Mike is approaching his retirement. He has spent the last 20 years as the senior minister at Dagenham Parish Church. Concerned by the lack of gospel-preaching churches near his home, he wants to do something bold for the thousands who have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ. His plan is to plant in an ethnically mixed and deprived area of East London. These two planters and these two locations demonstrate the Co-Mission’s intention to resource a diverse range of new church plants.

Oak Hill and LTS

September’s cohort of pioneer church planters will have access to a training programme running alongside the already wellestablished Co-Mission apprenticeship training scheme. Lectures in theology will be provided at a Wednesday workshop by staff from Oak Hill and London Theological Seminary. Ministry training and Bible handling will be taught by senior Co-Mission ministers. The specific church planting training will be given by a variety of experienced church planters, many coming from the country’s gospel partnerships. In addition to a formal training programme, each planter will be encouraged to partner with an existing Co-Mission church, perhaps even recruiting a launch team from that church family. They will be encouraged to join a local cluster of Co-Mission churches to benefit from the wisdom and resources of existing churches. An Antioch church planting mentor will provide advice and support throughout the three-year launch period.

Over the past few years, Co-Mission has gained experience of planting both with individuals and small teams looking to grow house church plants. Two plants in particular have trialled the ideas that underpin the approach of Antioch.

From Putney to Brixton

The Boathouse Putney is a church plant into familiar territory for Co-Mission. But the way they did it was anything but familiar. Pete Snow and his wife moved into the area in 2010. Over an 18-month period they gathered a Bible study group and ranChristianity Explored courses for unbelievers. They launched a Sunday meeting in November 2012 with 25 people. They’ve recently appointed their first experienced pastor so that Pete can move to theological college to study.

Jay Marriner has spent the last two years training as a church planting apprentice at Christ Church Balham. During that time he has been trying to establish a reformed evangelical gospel work amongst the black community in the heart of Brixton. He has seen the Lord gather two Bible study groups, had contact with a large number of local residents and launched a mentoring scheme amongst teenagers at a local secondary school. He is currently studying at the Cornhill training course while he gears up for the imminent launch of a regular Sunday meeting.

Significant moment

Speaking to EN, the recently appointed director of Antioch and senior minister at Christ Church Balham, Richard Perkins, said: ‘It was a hugely significant moment in God’s plan of salvation when the first Christian believers at Antioch intentionally reached into a very different social context from their own. Antioch subsequently became the base for cross-cultural mission to the world. We’ve boldly called our church planting strategy after the church in Acts 11. Wouldn’t it be great if, as a result of these new fledgling church plants, a great number of people believe and turn to the Lord?’.

Still spaces

At the time of going to press, the Antioch Plan still had vacancies for its first cohort of pioneering planters.

If you wanted more details on Antioch, you can find them here.

My Sunday Highlight – Announcing the Identity of the Streatham Church Planter

Kevin Ahronson Photography -209We’ve got our man. Streatham has its’ leader. God has wonderfully provided us with a man to lead the proposed plant. And so, my highlight this Sunday was being able to announce to both congregations the identity of our man.

As elders we were clear that  we wanted someone who fulfils the New Testament requirements for eldership. They had to have a godly character, the ability to teach and sound household management skills. So we were looking for someone with mature personal godliness, a developing teaching ministry in both public and private contexts and a growing leadership style modelled on eth servant leadership of the Lord Jesus. But we were also mindful that we weren’t simply asking someone to join an existing staff team as an assistant. Church planters usually need one or two other character traits. Perhaps more so when the launch team is small. We wanted someone with resilience, perseverance and tenacity. Someone who’s good at establishing and maintaining deep personal relationships. We thought they ought to have the ability to cope with complexity; dealing with things on a number of fronts simultaneously. And we wanted them to have a general skill set rather than be a specialist in one or two areas. We haven’t had to compromise too badly!

We were able to interview a candidate last Wednesday. He was a man well known to us. I’m not sure whether that worked in his favour, or not! But we knew what we’d be getting. And so did he! And so the interview was also an opportunity to hear how the Lord had been at work in his thinking, bringing him to a point where he was clear that this is what he wanted to be involved in.

On Sunday I was able to recommend, without reservation, our current assistant minister Alex Lyell. At which point the congregation cheered. And then looked around to see where he and Lucy were sat. But they weren’t there. And that gave me an opportunity to  be effusive in my praise and commendation of him as our choice.

I’m personally thrilled to have Alex on the team. He’s an oustanding young man, a treasured colleague and an exceptionally gifted minister of the gospel. But I’m under no illusions. He’s not the Messiah! He’s not sinless. And he hasn’t got everything the church plant needs to succeed. No one has. We still need the Lord to grow Streatham. But he’s a great fit for what we’re trying to do there. He’s not signed on the dotted line just yet. But that’s simply because we haven’t put a contract in front of him. Metaphorically speaking, he’s onboard! It’s taken a while, but Alex has finally conceded that not only does God love him but that I have a wonderful plan for his life.

We’re delighted that he, Lucy, Finn and Henry are going to be part of our lives for that little bit longer. It is very good news. And we’re very grateful to God.