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.

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.

The Silver Bullet of Gospel Growth – Not Having a Building

centrifugal-vs-centripetalI’ve been putting together the preaching programme for next term. And we’re heading back into the book of Acts. We won’t finish it this time round. But it’ll take us into uncharted territory as we progress through chapters 14-20. And some of that will be hugely encouraging as we trace the spread of the gospel through 1st Century Europe.

One of the things that I’ve had my eye on as I’ve read through these chapters is Paul’s missionary strategy for reaching people with the good news of the gospel. It seems as though he had a twofold strategy. He went first to the Jew and then to the Gentile. In other words, for as long as he was able he preached the gospel in the religious institutions of the day. He ran Christianity Explored in the synagogue while he could get away with it. But sooner or later that became unwelcome. And he was kicked out. But it didn’t matter. Paul then concentrated on taking the gospel to the irreligious; the Gentiles. To that end he was forced to use other buildings. If the gospel wasn’t welcomed by the religious establishment he’d have to use secular space. In Corinth he made much use of the house of Titius Justus, a God fearing convert. And in Ephesus he hired the Hall of Tyrannus (a person not a place).

There are clear parallels with our own situation at Christ Church Balham (CCB). We do not have a building. Our gospel ministry is not welcomed by some of the religious establishment. Historically the Diocese of Southwark and some local churches find our biblical  convictions and patterns of ministry offensive and have refused us use of their buildings (even though some of them are dying on their feet).

Our situation here at CCB is not that dissimilar to that faced by Paul. We meet in many locations. We meet in a (currently) ropey but in the fullness of time shiny new school hall in the morning, we meet in a dark and occasionally distracting pub function room in the evening, we meet in homes midweek for Growth Groups, we meet in a drama studio for ‘Knowing God’ and we meet in a curry house for the ‘One Life Suppers’.  That’s terrific. It gets the gospel out of the four walls of a church building and into the local community. And I have to keep telling myself that. Because as a recent post has  revealed, I occasionally hanker after a building, convinced that it’s the silver bullet to church growth. But it didn’t seem to be in Paul’s day. The gospel seemed to get along alright without the church’s need to call a place their own. And I have to keep telling myself that too! It’s no secret that I’d love us to have a permanent base in Balham. There are things that I think we could do that we can’t do at the moment. For example, I imagine ‘Boppers‘ would be easier with our own space in which to store the toys and a kitchen from which to serve an arresting array of homemade baking options! But I strongly suspect that one of the things that we’d continually have to fight against is the building-centric dynamic that would very quickly become the norm. I fear that we’d fall into a pattern of centring everything on getting people to come to our building rather jettisoning people out into the community. Our challenge is to continually remind ourselves that we’re meant to be a centrifugal church rather than a centripetal one (see diagram above for Physics lesson). In other words not merely sucking non-Christians into our building and church life but spitting Christians out from our building and church life. We must never become a holy huddle that retreat to the safety of our bunker to escape from the hostility of ‘the world’. If we ever have a building it’ll be nothing more than a base camp from which we strike out to explore the community around us and hit them with the good news of the gospel of peace.

There are implications to not having a building, of course. We’re unlikely to reach those who are keen for church to take place in church buildings. Obviously. And that’s ok. We can’t do everything. There are churches near us that can provide for people like that. St Nicholas’ Church in Tooting is a Church of England one that I wholeheartedly recommend. And Trinity Road Chapel is an FIEC alternative. But CCB can reach people who wouldn’t normally darken the door of a church building.

And that’s our challenge.

Church with Life seeks Church with Building!

2015-12-24 09.34.08
Yours for £3.5 million!

Andrew Cinnamond’s Facebook post at Christmas pointed me in the direction of this BBC article.

It’s worth a read.

It’s an old chestnut. But this is the time of year for roasting chestnuts. So let me have a go!

For thirteen years Christ Church Balham, the church of which I am the Senior Minister, has operated as a church without owning a building. We rent. From Chestnut Grove School in the morning and from the Bedford Pub in the evening. For midweek venues for Balham Boppers, our Mums and Toddlers group and for Knowing God, our young workers Bible Study groups, for Christianity Explored or for our One Life Suppers (events at which we think about common objections to the Christian faith), we’re always on the look out for suitable venues. There are upsides and there are downsides to not having our own building.

The upside is that I never have to sit on any committee and neither does anyone else at CCB to discuss the maintenance of our buildings. And we’ll have a thermometer outside our church building. As upsides go, it doesn’t get much better than that.

The downsides are that we don’t have a building. And, after a while, that limits what you can do. And it can place a glass ceiling on your growth. It’s probably true to say that the churches that have grown most within Co-Mission are those that have been able to secure buildings. There’ll be other factors, of course. But it’s surely no coincidence. It’s true that churches like Hillsong and others have grown massive without their own building. But they’re trying to do something very different to us. We’re not trying to gather a crowd in quite the same way that they are.

For three glorious years we rented a light industrial unit in central Balham. It was used primarily as office space. But it was large enough to play host to Boppers. And our Friday night Primary School Youth Group ‘Dangerous Club’ could do their thing in it as well. And then the landowners decided to knock it down and build four flats in its place (because what Balham needs more than anything is more one and two bedroom flats at the expense of community space!) Balham is in danger of becoming a post graduate dormitory rather than a functioning place where people interact with one another outside of restaurants, pubs, bars or coffee shops.

The BBC article poses the question ‘should the church be into people or building’? It’s a fair question. And the answer is ‘yes’. We should be into both. But not in the same way and not to the same degree. We’d be naive to say that buildings don’t matter. And ultimately I think we should be into buildings because we’re into people.

There are things that we can’t do as a church because we have no building. ANd that affects people. It’s hard for us to run things midweek. And so it’s harder to have a presence in the community. We’re a congregation with lots of life but no building. Around us lots of churches have buildings but no life. And yet they keep going. They mask their unsustainability by hiring their space midweek to private nurseries. I have no issues with churches using their buildings to hire out to community groups. That can be a terrific thing. It can also be a useful source of revenue. One friend is doing the same with ‘his’ building so that they can fund an extra gospel minister on the team. That’s sensible. But they’re growing and they’re planning for growth. It’s adventurous entrepreneurial thinking. Too many churches round us are in decline. Probably terminal decline. And they’re simply delaying the inevitable. They may be arresting the closure of their church but it’s preventing them from facing facts and asking the hard questions. Their church is not growing, quite the opposite and there are reasons for that. And they may never grow again without fundamental and painful change. But one of the best things that a church like that could do for the gospel is give their building away to a church that’s growing. I can’t imagine it will be easy. But it’s been done before. And the gospel can flourish. Out of death, life. I read something about that somewhere!

I’m into buildings because I’m into people. I think we can better help people through a permanent presence. But I don’t have the foggiest how to get one! And though I keep a look out, although I’ll occasionally have frustrating and fruitless conversations with churches about their premises, although I pray on and encourage others to do the same it’s not going to stop us from our core business of growing disciple making disciples of Jesus Christ in and for 21st Century London. Securing that as a lasting legacy matters so much more than securing a building.

But it would be wonderful to see what God might do through us were He to give us a building. The one at the top is a deconsecrated Church of England building if anyone has a spare £3.5 million to give us! We’ll look after it, I promise!


Balham – Ugly, Abominable & Unpleasant

balham picBalham – ugly, abominable and unpleasant. Once, maybe. But not any more.

Post Sunday morning church relaxation invariably involves a freshly pressed cafetiere, the Sunday Times and the sofa in the sitting room. Imagine my surprise when turning to the ‘Homes and Gardens’ section I found this in an old copy I’d saved.

Apparently Balham was the second best suburb in which to live in the whole of London. It lost out to Ally Pally (who’d have thought).

This is what was said,

Described by Arthur Ransome as “the ugliest and most abominable of London’s unpleasing suburbs”, this is now one of the capital’s most sought-after addresses. A sure sign of its rise: the gourmet-pizza mini chain Franco Manca has added a Balham branch to its outposts in Chiswick, Northcote Road and Broadway Market. The area’s other middle-class landmarks include Waitrose, Oliver Bonas, Trinity Cafe and Deli, a Rick Stein-owned brasserie, Harrisons (now gone and replaced by Foxlow -ed), and the weekly farmers’ market. Tooting Commons have a lido and tennis courts.

Prices range from £625,000 for a two-bedroom maisonette to £3m for a large detached home. Local primaries include Henry Cavendish, Telferscot and the outstanding Chestnut Grove Academy. The transport links are great, too — Balham station is on the Northern line, and has rail links to Victoria in 15 minutes, Gatwick in 40 minutes and Brighton in an hour.

Why we love it It’s no longer the new Clapham: it’s more serene and the high street doesn’t resemble a drunken stag do.

If a two bedroom maisonette is going for £600K, you might understand why our guys are having to buy in Streatham, Mitcham and Norbury!

But we like it. It’s where church is. And we love who lives here. It’s home. Even though we now live in Streatham!

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.


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.