Three Benefits of our Co-Mission Network

ccmI was at Christ Church Mayfair on Sunday morning for Co-Mission Sunday (that’s not yet a regular feature in the Church of England’s liturgical calendar, but give it time). Before he got me up to preach, Matt Fuller got me up to be interviewed. I hate thinking on my feet almost as much as I hate realising afterwards what I should have said. And so Matt warned me what he was going to ask, which gave me a few moments to formulate a useful answer. He asked me what the benefits of belonging to a network of churches were.

That’s a bit like asking what are the benefits of belonging to a family. It all depends on your experience of family. And for the record (in case my Mother ever reads this) my experience of my actual family has been uniformly wonderful. And in case the Director of Co-Mission ever reads this, my experience of my metaphorical family has been similarly positive.

But I think the family metaphor works. I like it that we’re (CCB) a part of a family of churches; a network of like-minded congregations trying to help one another do the same thing. For my money there are three obvious benefits that we’ve experienced in the last 14 years.

1. Co-Mission has provided us with a network of relationships. In my wider family I have aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces and so on. It’s good for me to have so many different people in my life like that. It’s relationally rich.  But there are a lot of lonely Ministers out there and a lot of isolated churches. But that’s never been true of me or CCB. We’ve always belonged, partly because we were the first plant from Dundonald in 2002 and they looked after us. But that’s what happens in families. Those of us on the staff and the ministry trainees experience the relational aspect perhaps more than most because we’re involved in training together with others in Co-Mission. Those relationships are so helpful in terms of personal support, ministry encouragement and godly challenge. And the elders of our churches are part of the Co-Mission Partnership and we meet together several times throughout the year as we reflect on and prepare for our joint ministry activity. And wonderfully because of things like Revive, or the forthcoming Co-Mission Women’s Day or Children’s Ministry training there are ample opportunities for congregational members to support one another in other churches. It’s been our great privilege to receive people over the years from other Co-Mission congregations who know what they’re going to get with us and want to remain part of the Co-Mission family. And we’ve been able to send people off to other Co-Mission churches to serve there. And the odds are that they already know people when they get there. It’s so encouraging to be part of a family of churches.

2. Co-Mission has provided us with a wealth of resources. When we were planted we were like the typical teenage kid going off to university or married couple starting out together. We were sent with our hands full of everything that we might need for those early days. We had people, we had finance and we had training and support. There’s no way that we could have got going on our own. It just wouldn’t have happened because we didn’t have what we needed on our own. But wonderfully we didn’t need to have it all because others in the wider Co-Mission family (not that it was called that then because it didn’t formally come into existence till 2005) wanted to be generous and share their resources to help get us off the ground. We continue to share the resources God has entrusted to us. New church plants benefit from people sent from other churches. Money moves from one church account into another in order to finance a worker or two in an economically deprived area. And we share training because there’s diversity of gospel ministers in Co-Mission; men and women with different expertise and experience. And at things like the Ministry Training Workshop everyone benefits. We’ve tried to be intentional about resource rich congregations supporting resource poor congregations, especially in the early days of planting and especially if (humanly speaking) there’s likelihood of some of those ministries ever being self-sufficient. That tends to happen through local geographical clusters. And it’s a good thing to be generous and sacrificial as we steward the resources that God has entrusted to us.

3. Co-Mission has provided us with a reminder of our responsibilities. The issues of training people for ministry, reaching the lost with the gospel and planting churches are rarely off the agenda in this family of churches. It’s really helpful to be reminded of our responsibilities as churches. When teenagers grow up they have to accept that with great privilege comes great responsibility. I’m not sure we would have planted Streatham Central, contemplated training up Jay as a church planter and encouraged BLoC to hibernate with us without being part of a family that regularly reminded one another that we’re trying to reach London for Christ through pioneering church planting. There’s a great danger in our personal lives to strive for, succeed and then settle for comfort. And that’s no different in our churches. But being part of a church family where we’re often talking about planting, about places without a gospel witness and about areas of London that aren’t being reached means that there’s a godly dissatisfaction that drives us on. We’re not happy to settle for comfort because even if we’re going well in our patch, 90% of London doesn’t believe the gospel. That’s a lot of people. And so, even if any of us runs a numerically successful ministry, we’re barely scratching the surface in this great city. Theer’s work to be done. And we have responsibilities. I love being part of a network that keeps reminding us of that.

Co-Mission isn’t the best family. I’m not saying that. But it’s ours. And I’m really grateful for it. It’s helped us be church. And it’s helped me serve church. There are real benefits to our network. And I praise God for it.

Two Sporting Contributions to Church Growth

Dave BrailsfordTwo of my great passions are rugby union and cycling.

There are others; cricket, reading, my family and the gospel (though not necessarily in that order). But the reason I say this is that two ideas have emerged from the realms of ‘worldly wisdom’ that can bear fruit in our leadership of our church plants. I was reminded of both of them by Ray Evans’ book ‘Ready, Steady, Grow‘ (really nasty title, really helpful book).

For this to remain a brief blog post then this is not the place for a theological defence of wisdom. But I’m comfortable with learning from the best of secular management and leadership as long as it’s not ungodly and doesn’t compromise biblical models. After all, in Proverbs 6:6 the sluggard is told to go to the ant and consider her ways. So God clearly believes that there are things that can be learnt from the ways in which non-Christians go about things.

Two recent examples of common grace wisdom can be found in the world of sport. The first is critical non-essentials and the second is marginal incremental gains.

1. Critical Non-Essentials

In 2004 Rugby World Cup winning Coach Sir Clive Woodward published his autobiography, ‘Winning’. It’s a good read. In it he speaks about creating a culture in which critical mon-essentials were addressed. He recognised that there were countless non-essential things that nevertheless contributed to an environment that became conducive to England winning. He makes the point that what happened on the pitch wasn’t the only thing that mattered. The food that was served, the discipline in team meetings, contact with home and so on all had an effect on the players who were required to perform.

And so, it’s worth asking whether there are a heap of critical non-essentials that can help us to fulfil our goal of church growth better than we’re doing at the moment? In our Sunday gatherings, for example, there are a whole heap of critical non-essentials.

Is the temperature right? Is the seating comfortable? Are we welcoming visitors? Are the refreshments worth hanging around for? Is the projector screen visible to those at the back?

None of those things is essential to salvation. Which is often why I choose to ignore them. Nor are they essential to the church fulfilling its goals. But they are contributory factors that can put people off. So why allow barriers or obstacles to persist? Get rid of them. The aesthetic and environmental aspects can either help you in your ministry goals or hinder them. Have a good look around and ask some tough questions. And don’t too easily grow accustomed to your environment. Some things you’ll have to live with. But others you could change.

2. Marginal Incremental Gains

Sir David Brailsford is the architect of recent British Cycling success; not only on the track but also on the road. He was the first to talk about marginal incremental gains. None of these gains by themselves make a whole heap of difference. But if you can get ten things to improve by 1% then you’ve got 10% improvement!

So if transporting a cyclist’s own mattress around a three week tour means that they sleep better, then that’s going to affect performance on the road. Apparently he painted the floor of the maintenance truck white so as to more readily identify the dust that was hampering maintenance (it may not have been him that did the actual painting). He made anti-bacterial gel compulsory so as to cut down on infections. Each of them almost laughable on its own. But all these marginal gains add up. And we’re doing pretty well in the sport of cycling post-Brailsford.

And so, it’s got to be worth asking whether there are things that we’re doing at church that could be improved by 1%.

Could we challenge our church to 1% more praying for church on a Saturday night? 1 % more time at church on a Sunday morning? 1% more smiles at church? 1% more food eaten together? 1% more financial contribution?

Neither of these two insights is our core business. And if we’ve got limited capacity then we need to concentrate on praying, preaching and personal work. But there’s wisdom in not neglecting them. And perhaps delegating someone with a creative eye to assess and address what they find.

My Sunday Highlight – the Kids’ Slot

2015-01-12 10.17.11There can’t be many churches that choose Athanasius’ theological conflict with Arius as the subject of their kids’ slot. More fool them.

Of course, it depends on how you do it. But if you do it like Hannah did it on Sunday, you’ll be fine. She was clear. She was simple. She was faithful. And she brought the fun. All of which you need for a successful kids’ slot at CCB.

The opportunity to present our forthcoming series as theological battles sent her running to Sports Direct for a large pair of boxing gloves. She tells me she’s got the rest of the series planned out. And I believe her. Who’d have though that the idea for our series ‘Truth Worth Fighting For’ would emerge from the Christmas holiday reading habits of our children’s’ worker.

2015-01-12 10.16.55The substance of Hannah’s slot was that Jesus was fully God and fully man. Not everyone at the time believed that. But he did. Because he read his Bible. Unlike Arius. Who didn’t. As a result of his biblical faith he was kicked out of his home five times. But because he knew it mattered he kept on believing and teaching the same thing. My favourite line went something like ‘you may be the only person in your school playground who believes that Jesus is fully God and fully man’. That got number two son’s attention. He visibly sat up and listened more intently than usual. He’s convinced that no one else at school shares his view of Jesus. It’s a big school. And the Lord has others there. But he’s not met them yet. Discovering that there are truths worth fighting for is just what he needs to be convinced of. And he was. He was persuaded that Jesus’ divinity means that we can know what God is like and that Jesus’ humanity means that we can actually know God Himself. Hannah didn’t put it quite like that. But that was what she meant. It was terrific. I was as proud as punch that we’re willing to be bold in what we teach our kids.

We’ve got Dr Garry Williams from the John Owen Centre at the London Theological Seminary at the Co-Mission Workshop this Wednesday. He’s lecturing on Christology. I imagine he’ll go a bit deeper than ‘fully God and fully man’. But he won’t go further than that. And neither now will CCB’s kids!

Convenience Church

richmond parkI went for a ride a few Sunday mornings ago. That’s unusual. Not the ride; ever since I was forced to stop playing rugby, cycling has become my exercise of choice. But riding on Sunday was out of the ordinary because I’m normally in church. Fair enough, it’s my job and it’s unavoidable. But I’d still be there even if I wasn’t the Senior Minister because I’m a Christian and gathering with your church family comes with the territory. But this just means that I’m not usually out and about on a Sunday morning. But that Sunday was different. We’d postponed our usual 10.30am meeting until 4pm so that we could enjoy our family carols in the dark. The candles work better when the light has something to disperse.

And so I went out riding. I headed off to Richmond Park and span round like a deranged hamster on speed. But on the way there, on the way round and on the way back I was overwhelmed at the numbers of people going about a very different Sunday morning to my usual fayre. I’m willing to admit that their usual morning church may also been postponed to take advantage of the ambience of a candlelit nativity. But I don’t buy that. I’m simply going to assume that for the vast majority of people who I saw, church simply isn’t on their radar. At Christmas. Or at any other time of the year. And I don’t blame them. Not entirely. Don’t get me wrong, I think they ought to be in church. But I understand that they’ve made the decision not to be. I think they’re wrong. But I get that they don’t want to be there. Presumably they’re non-Christians and so it goes with the territory! And so on this particular Sunday morning I passed families on bikes, kids playing rugby or football for their team and the park was heaving with people going for a walk.

So here’s the question that nagged me all the way home: How do we reach them if we’re asking them to give all that up and join us on a Sunday morning?

We could say (and people have said this to me) that non-Christians need to realise what’s really important and then they’ll come to church. And I agree. But it’s not as simple as that. It’s true that what we do expresses what we value. So if I take my kids to rugby on a Sunday morning instead of taking them to church it’s because I think that their skills with the oval ball is more important than knowing the God who made them for Himself. When it’s an ‘either-or’ decision, that’s called idolatry. [For the record, I think it’s a ‘both-and’ decision. In other words, I think you can be a Christian rugby player! But the Christian bit of that description means that when you have to choose, rugby loses out.] Therefore not being in church is what you’d expect from non-Christians, isn’t it?

And so, if we’re asking non-Christian people to join us at church (when they have lots of other exciting things that they could be doing) that’s going to be difficult. It’s virtually impossible. Without a change of heart. And that’s called conversion. That occurs through the work of the Spirit through the proclamation of the gospel. The same wonderful gospel they may not hear and understand if they don’t go to church! That’s the conundrum in a nutshell. It prompts the question, is our current evangelistic strategy flawed? Aren’t we asking non-Christians to make a choice that even Christians find difficult. We’re asking them to give up the things they value on a Sunday morning without having had the opportunity to be persuaded that there’s nothing that we could ever give up that would make gaining Christ look like a bad deal. Aren’t we simply saying that church is for Christians? It is. But not exclusively so. After all, the Apostle Paul expected the presence of unbelievers in the church gathering 1 Corinthians 14. So why do we do church on a Sunday morning? Is it sensible? I’m not the first to ask this. And I won’t be the last. And it’s not a straightforward question. But it’s got to be worth visiting, hasn’t it?

We thought long and hard about it as a church family a few years’ back. It wasn’t an easy time. In the end, we decided not to move our family congregation to 4pm. We did so not because of the strength of the arguments against it. But because of the strength of feeling against it. Weak leadership? Perhaps. But It didn’t seem wise at the time to oppose the consensus on what’s a matter of judgment. And I still think that was the right call. But what was so disheartening about that discussion was just how few of some very fine Christian people were able to see how church can be an integrated part of our evangelistic strategy. For sure, bringing people to church isn’t our only evangelistic strategy. It doesn’t and shouldn’t replace inviting people into our homes and our lives so that we can talk about the gospel. But that missional strategy, though much to be encouraged, is not the only string to our bow.

It may seem harsh but the responses we received to our proposal could have been interpreted to mean that people were more concerned about the inconvenience of the change of time than they were about the conversion of unbelievers. If church has any part in our evangelistic passion to reach the unbelievers among whom we live then when we do church has to be a matter for debate. And, in fact, it already has been. Most urban evangelical churches do evening church for their 20s. Why is that? Because we’ve worked out that this is the best time to get the 20s along. We’ve conceded that getting them out of bed before midday on a Sunday is ambitious! I’m not being critical. I’m simply pointing out that we’re already willing to make concessions in order to reach people. So why not do the same for families? It may be that there simply isn’t a time that works for everyone, not even every family. And it may be that 10am not 4pm is the best time. But it’s worth pondering, isn’t it?

Do I think therefore that we all ought to close our morning meetings and instead find a more convenient time to reach unbelievers? No. I’m not really sure what to propose, which is frustrating. But the memory of the vast numbers of people out and about on that Sunday morning will stay with me for a long time. And the numbers of kids at rugby was simply astonishing.

Rugby church, anyone?

My Sunday Highlight – Summer Preaching Programme

It’s the summer. And I’ve just got back from camp. It’s now August. And so I can legitimately and officially ‘down tools’. I’ve got a month off from preaching. And, might I suggest, a well-earned rest!

But that means that someone else needs to fill the schedule. We don’t have a pulpit to fill. We use a music stand. But since the staff is mainly off, swanning around on the continent, we need someone to step into the breach and continue to serve our congregations with faithful Bible teaching.

This week it was one of our much cherished elders. And he did a good job. He stitched me up somewhat by showing that it is in fact actually possible to preach a sermon in fifteen minutes. That wasn’t helpful. But it many other respects, it was. I was prompted to think about Jesus’ comment that he’s the gate for the sheep to a full life of protection and provision. That fed my soul. And it led to some great conversations with our kids over lunch.

There’s something wonderful about having your elders preach. You can’t do it too often. They’re busy men. And after a while people will start to wonder why we employ a Minister. But it’s good for the congregation to see their elders teaching the truth and refuting error at the front of church. After all, everyone knows that they get the ‘party line’ from me. I’m paid to be a reformed evangelical Christian preacher. For the record, I don’t just do it for the money. But there’s nothing hugely surprising about me saying the things that I do from the passages that we cover. But it’s different when someone who’s not in the paid service of the church family gets up and gives you the very same gospel with the very same passion and conviction, when they preach Christ and then call people to repentance and faith. These senior mature Christian men don’t get paid to say this stuff publicly. But when they do it comes with years of accumulated integrity. It’s just a shame we tend to get them up when not everyone’s around to hear them.

The Lord’s Supper

Valley-of-VisionLast night at our monthly prayer meeting we shared the Lord’s Supper. That’s usual. We normally do that. But what we don’t normally do is share it as though we were seventeenth century believers. We like to think of ourselves as contemporary rather than traditional or conservative Christians! Hey, our evening meeting gathers in a pub. How cutting edge is that! But, I’d been struck by a prayer in the Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions produced by the  Banner of Truth and felt that we’d benefit from the godly reflection of our forebears in the faith.

I think it worked. It would probably have been better if I’d thought about including it before we’d printed the sheets. That way people could have read it as well as heard it. And we could then have meditated on it fruitfully as we prepared our hearts to share the Lord’s Supper.

So here it is in full.

Prayer for the Lord’s Supper

God of all good,
I bless thee for the means of grace;
teach me to see in them thy loving purposes
and the joy and strength of my soul.

Thou hast prepared for me a feast;
and though I am unworthy to sit down as guest,
I wholly rest on the merits of Jesus,
and hide myself beneath his righteousness;
When I hear his tender invitation
and see his wondrous grace,
I cannot hesitate, but must come to thee in love.

By thy spirit enliven my faith rightly to discern
and spiritually to apprehend the Saviour.
While I gaze upon the emblems of my Saviour’s death,
may I ponder why he died, and hear him say,
‘I gave my life to purchase yours,
presented myself an offering to expiate your sin,
shed my blood to blot out your guilt,
opened my side to make you clean,
endured your curses to set you free,
bore your condemnation to satisfy divine justice.’

Oh may I rightly grasp the breadth and length of this design,
draw near, obey, extend the hand,
take the bread, receive the cup,
eat and drink, testify before all men
that I do for myself, gladly, in faith,
reverence and love, receive my Lord,
to be my life, strength, nourishment, joy, delight.

In the supper I remember his eternal love,
boundless grace, infinite compassion,
agony, cross, redemption,
and receive assurance of pardon, adoption, life, glory.
As the outward elements nourish my body,
so may thy indwelling Spirit invigorate my soul,
until that day when I hunger and thirst no more,
and sit with Jesus at his heavenly feast.

My Sunday Highlight – the Brixton Launch

We may need to get them a 'lectern'!
We may need to get them a ‘lectern’…

I’ve held one back – in reserve for the Bank Holiday weekend. There was more than one great thing that happened last week. But it didn’t happen in Balham. It happened in Brixton. I wasn’t there. I only got to hear about it.

There was a reason we were a little ‘lighter’ than usual in the morning. And it wasn’t just the regulars skipping church. Sunday afternoon saw the launch of the monthly meeting of the new Co-Mission church plant in Brixton. They met in the afternoon, upstairs in the Ritzy on Windrush Square. There were 38 of them, 25 of whom were adults. And none of the CCB crowd were sent to strengthen the numbers. In the text I received from Jay, the lead planter he said they’d had 25 adults, 12 kids and 3 teenagers so (and I quote) ’48 in total’. I’m not sure whether his finger touched the wrong bit of the screen before he pressed send or whether (like all good church planters) he’s already exaggerating the numbers! We’d all prefer there to have been 48 people but nevertheless, that’s a terrific start. It’s more than we started Balham with. And it’s more than we currently have on the books for the Streatham plant. It’s not a bad foundation to build on. And that’s the challenge now facing the Brixton Plant.

For the past two years the lead church planter, Jay Marriner has been ‘hunting and gathering’. He came onto the apprenticeship scheme with Co-Mission back in 2011 and we’ve given him little more than enough to get by on, some ministry training and lots of encouragement. But under God he’s been able to use his relational and evagelistic gifts to gather a small crowd. Using nothing much more than a cheeky smile, a courageous boldness for the gospel and a big heart for the lost, Jay hit the streets in Brixton to meet people and get into conversations. And in God’s kindness, it’s worked. Those initial contacts have morphed into an evangelistic Bible study meeting in someone’s house on a Monday evening. And a handful have become treasured members at Christ Church Balham on a Sunday. When they eventually go, we’re really going to miss them. But, for now, we’ll only miss them for the monthly Sunday afternoon gathering as they transition to a weekly meeting over the next year.

One of the remarkable things about the fledgling plant in Brixton is that Jay has done it whilst commuting from Mottingham, ten miles away. His wife, Julie and the kids have been hugely supportive and incredibly patient. But it looks as though we’ve got the finance together to settle them in the heart of Brixton – the capital of Black Britain as Jay calls it. This will surely help to strengthen the work and increase their public profile. God willing what began last Sunday will in a few years’ time have grown in size, reach and maturity.

These are exciting times for us at CCB. Reading Philippians 1 this morning reminded me that there’s nothing quite like gospel partnership. And partnering with the guys in Brixton continues to be a real tonic for my soul.