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.

Dangerous Camping

030Could there possibly be anything more dangerous than asking a bunch of Dads to look after their pre-teenage children on a weekend of camping? Dangerous? Reckless, more like.

Dangerous Club is our pre-teenage youth work at Christ Church Balham. It’s full of kids in years 4, 5 and 6. It’s a great age. And this year, for the first time ever, we went camping. It was absolutely terrific. I’m already an enthusiastic camper. And I’m unqualified in my praise of this weekend. It was great. God was very kind with the weather. It didn’t really rain. It spat. For about thirty minutes. At about bed time, which was actually quite helpful! We had no great ambitions for the weekend other than that we’d hang around in the countryside with our kids. The relational impact on the group was evident when we got back to church on Sunday morning and they went into their Sunday School Classes.

058We stayed in the walled garden at Otford Manor, Kent. And we made full use of their facilities. We explored the woods. We swam in the pool (we’d have swum in a river if that was available). We swung on the rope swing. Repeatedly. We played a wide game. We got badly stung by nettles. And learnt what dock leaves are for. We built wooden shelters and tried to destroy the opposing teams. We burnt a shed load of wood. We cooked on an open grill. We shunned salad. And we ate marshmallows for breakfast. But we also washed and did our teeth. So it wasn’t all bad.

099It was an absolute winner. Though we packed away dew sodden tents at 0800 in order to get back for church, they were dry by mid-afternoon after being hung up in the garden. I’d happily do it again. And I’d happily do it with Ignite, our teenage youth work. In fact, I’m really looking forward to it.

Chugging for the Gospel?

ChuggersI imagine that, at some point or other, most of us have been ‘chugged’. To be chugged is the passive verbal form of the noun ‘chugger’. Chugging is what chuggers do to us. And chugging is ‘charity mugging’, perhaps more accurately known as street fundraising. Though I understand why they do it, I really don’t like being chugged. You? It’s usually such an unpleasantly false social situation that often makes me feel very awkward. To be fair, I’ve never been abused for declining their offer to hear more about the cause they’re championing. But I wish they wouldn’t approach me like we’re old friends who just happen to bump into each other on the Balham High Road. We’re not. I’ve lived here for over a decade and they’ve just come here via public transport because the area finally has a fair few people with disposable income. When I’m making my way purposefully from the Church Office to Sainsburys, I’m a man on a mission.  I’m going to buy lunch and I need to get back to my desk. I’ll stop for friends for a chat. And I’ll stop to cross the road for personal safety. But that’s about it. I don’t want to be accosted by some well-intentioned campaigner, no matter how well-meaning.

So how is street evangelism any different? At CCB, we’ve invited street evangelist Geoffrey Hilder to come and train a cohort of street evangelists. He’s a man with lots of experience and no little expertise in engaging strangers in gospel conversation. But aren’t we simply going to populate SW12 with a bunch of irritating chuggers (church muggers?) who waylay people going about their business?

I don’t think so. That’s certainly not our intention. And I don’t think it’s the effect either. Because whilst there are some superficial similarities in what we’re doing, it’s the dissimilarities that make all the difference. Think about it for a moment.

When chuggers chug they’re after my money. That’s not necessarily wrong. But they’re not there to give. They’re there to get. They’re raising money for a charity after all. And so I don’t really gain from the exchange. I’m no better off as a result of our interaction. I suppose I might feel the warm glow produced by an act of selfless philanthropy. But it doesn’t last because I don’t really believe in it in the way that I do the gospel. On the rare occasions I’ve filled in a form it’s because I’ve been put on the spot and felt coerced rather than persuaded.

When chuggers chug they’re trying to manipulate me. Is that too strong? Is it better if I say that I usually feel their approach is a little disingenuous? Invariably I’m approached by the young woman. The blokes don’t even try for eye contact. And I’m under no illusions here. It’s not that I’m irresistible to members of the opposite sex. No really! But presumably someone somewhere has worked out that middle-aged men are statistically more likely to stop and chat to an attractive, smiling young woman. Even if she is carrying a clipboard and wearing a duffel coat. The truth is, if I stop, I’m probably not stopping because the condition of the endanegered lesser spotted newt, for example, is a burning issue for me. And they’re not as interested in me as they appear.

When chuggers chug they’re in it for what they can get out of me. When that persuasive and smiley young woman approaches me, all she wants from me is in my wallet. And that’s fair enough. Presumably she really believes in whatever charity she’s raising money for. And why not? But the whole exchange isn’t really about me and my best interests. It’s about the thing she’s raising money for. And I get that.

So why is street evangelism different? Well, we’re giving people the opportunity to hear something incomparably wonderful. Something that they may not otherwise have access to. The overwhelming majority of people who live in our area do not go to church, they don’t go near a church and they have no intention of ever doing so unless perhaps it’s a friend’s wedding or funeral. Are we really going to leave them in that perilous state? We simply can’t assume that they’ll pick up the gospel from anywhere else. Not even the intelligent media can get it right. The gospel is something that God has entrusted to His church. And it’s for sharing. Of course, we normally try to do that through conversation’s with our friends. But our friends are a very small proportion of the people who live in Balham. And we’re a church that wants other to hear. So what we’re doing is driven by honest motives and characterised by integrity. We don’t stand to gain anything. We’re not in this for what we get out of it. This is love. We’re not trying to recruit members to our religious club. We’re giving people the opportunity to hear what God has done in Christ. We want them to know that they can be forgiven for the way they’ve treated the God for whom they were made. We want them to know that they can have a real relationship with the Lord of heaven and earth, who will love them both in this life and in the life to come. And there won’t be a standing order form in sight. But hopefully there will be many who hear the gospel from a gloriously unexpected conversation.

Three Ways to Grow A Church

growthWhat is it that makes churches grow?

Is it down to their buildings? The music? The location? The leader? The preaching? The style of their meetings? Their website? Which factors combine to create the elusive growth dynamic and ensure that the numbers are on an ever upward curve?

I preached on Acts 11 a few weeks ago. Cracking sermon. Small crowd (just a reminder that growth isn’t necessarily automatic!) But in Acts, the church in Antioch grew. God grew it. And He did it using three factors.

Without these we won’t grow. At least we won’t get biblical growth. With them, we may grow. That’s up to God. But these are three factors that He invariably uses.

1. God grew the church in Antioch through evangelism on the ground (19-21)

In Acts 8  God’s way of getting Christians out of one geographical location so that they could share the gospel in another was persecution. It’s an unusual missional strategy. But an effective one. And as a result, Christians ended up travelling as far as Phoenicia (modern-day Lebanon), Cyprus (modern-day venue for package holidays) and Antioch (modern-day Turkey). As these Christians fanned out across the Eastern Mediterranean, they shared the gospel. But their evangelism had a narrow focus. They went only to Jews. The idea that the gospel was good news for the world was slow to catch on. But some enterprising men from Cyprus and Cyrene understood that Jesus had died for the sins of the world, not simply the Jews. And so they employed a very different strategy. They went to Greeks. This was deliberate cross cultural mission. And it was the first time it had happened in the history of the Christian church. They intentionally reached into a very different culture from their own in order to share the gospel. The Lord clearly thought this missionary endeavour was a good thing because He blessed their efforts (21). And this church grew. And it happened simply through evangelism on the ground. It was carried out by unnamed church members. Luke doesn’t say who they were. They were just the normal men and women of the church family sharing their faith in the Lord Jesus. And so this was a church that grew through the evangelistic efforts of everyday church members on the ground.

2. God grew the church in Antioch through encouragement from the side (22-24)

What happened in Antioch was so remarkable that the church back at Jerusalem HQ decided to send an envoy. They sent Barnabas. And I think they knew exactly what they were doing when they sent a guy whose name meant ‘son of encouragement’. When Barnabas saw the undeniable evidence of the grace of God, he took it upon himself to encourage the church. But his encouragement had a particular shape to it. It wasn’t that he was generally encouraging (though I’m sure he was). His encouragement had a specific purpose. He encouraged them to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He urged and exhorted them to steadfast wholehearted loyalty to the Lord Jesus. What a blessing this man must have been to the church! That’s the kind of encouragement that I need. And I suspect it’s the same for you, isn’t it? I need people in my life who are there for me when I’m tempted to half-hearted discipleship. It can be a very powerful thing when one person takes it upon themselves to encourage another. So ask yourself, is there someone in your small group who could benefit from some encouragement? There will always be people who are les mature in their faith than we are whom we can encourage. This is something that every single one of us can do.  Imagine how much better you’d live the Christian life if everyone around you was roaring on their support! Imagine how much difference we could make if we were as positive and as vocal in our encouragement as we sometimes are with our criticism! Churches can grow through encouragement from the side.

3. God grew the church in Antioch through education from the front  (25-26)

Very quickly Barnabas realised that he needed outside help. And so he went to Tarsus to get Saul. It takes a big man to admit that a church needs more than he can manage. Whether he realised that the workload was beyond him or that he was out of his depth, we’re not sure. But he knew that this church needed a teacher because they needed educating from the front. And so this church grew because they had at least one gifted teacher. The New Testament takes it for granted that churches will appoint senior, godly men to instruct them. Churches need people who can spend time studying the scriptures for themselves so that they can teach those scriptures to others. In Ephesians 4, Paul makes it clear that pastor-teachers equip the rest of the church body for diverse works of service so that the church can reach maturity, unity and stability. And so churches need teachers to explain and apply the truth of the gospel. When that happens, men and women like Barnabas know what to say to encourage others to wholehearted service of Christ. And every church member then knows how to explain the gospel. Churches need gifted teachers with time to teach. And we need to access good teaching.

Every single church member has a crucial part to play in the growth of their church. All of us can contribute. We can all get involved in sharing the gospel on the ground. We can encourage one another from the side to keep serving Christ. We can demand andwelcome teaching from the front. The ‘formula for growth’ is actually very simple. And so we’ll send our forthcoming Streatham plant off with little more than a leader, some people and a Bible. And we’ll send them off with every confidence that God can use that to grow them if He so chooses.

Eight Characteristics of Pioneer Planters

Antioch PlanThe Antioch Plan is recruiting pioneer church planters. And it’s willing to train them, mentor them and resource them. But it’s hard to know what a pioneer church planter is. Would you know what to look for either in others or even in yourself?

The Bible is unmistakably clear that men ought to have three characteristics to be considered for church leadership. Titus 1, 1 Timothy 3 and 1 Peter 5 identify the ability to teach the truth and refute error, godly character and management of their household. And so any man possessing those three characteristics in growing abundance, and who’s up for it, should be considered for church leadership. But not everyone is well suited to every type of ministry. Presumably that’s why not everyone can get to be the Senior Minister at St Helen’s Bishopsgate, even if we wanted to! Some of us are better suited for one type of ministry over another. So who’s well suited to pioneering church planting?

This isn’t an exhaustive list but it’s been shaped by what we’ve observed over a few years of launching and growing church plants with a variety of individuals. These would be the kind of characteristics that we’d be looking for.

1.       Pioneer planters need godly motivation

Fundamentally, we do it for God. We’re not about building our own little kingdoms. We’re not trying to make a name for ourselves. Church planting can be seen as the extreme sport of church ministry. And pioneer church planting sets us apart just that little bit more from the conservative risk averse normal people. But we do it for God and His glory. And so we’ll do it even when there’s little visible fruit. We won’t be deflated that the Lord doesn’t seem to share the same ambitions for our fledgling church plant as he does!

So it’s worth asking, is your motivation for becoming a pioneering church planter that you want to build Christ’s kingdom for his glory? Or is it more about your burgeoning reputation?

2.       Pioneer planters need biblical maturity

God grows His church through the gospel. That’s His powerful way of saving people. And we need to be convinced that’s the case so that gospel ministry is at the heart of what we’re doing. It’s not the whole of what we do. But it is the heart. And we won’t be deflected from it if it seems to be taking time to see the changes we’re praying for and working towards. Relational Bible teaching and personal discipleship is a deep work. It takes time for most people to be changed by the gospel. That’s not to say that God couldn’t do it in a moment. But for most of us, turning our lives around in repentance and faith is like turning a supertanker.

Are you persuaded that the way in which God will grow His church is through the faithful preaching of the gospel?

3.       Pioneer planters need personal work skills

Biblical ministry is fundamentally relational. It’s about forming friendships in which the gospel can be communicated and applied to our lives. And therefore pioneer planters need to be people people. They need to have developed skills in personally discipling individuals with the gospel.

And so ask yourselves or, if you dare take the risk, ask others ‘am I good with people?’

4.       Pioneer planters need robust and persevering personalities

All ministry has the potential to be discouraging. But perhaps the potential is more acute in trying to start a church plant from scratch. And so we need to be able to take some knocks and not be so brittle that we want to throw in the towel at the first signs of discouragement.

And so ask yourself ‘am I someone who perseveres or am I a quitter?’

5.       Pioneer planters need an entrepreneurial mind-set

Many ministry appointments involve being asked to take responsibility for a group of people who are already part of the church. But in pioneering church planting, there is no church. Or at least not much of a one! We have to go out and get one. And so an outlook that enjoys exploring different ways of reaching and gathering people is essential.

So ask yourself, ‘am I the kind of person that thinks of ways to make things happen and then makes them happen?’

6.       Pioneer planters need flexible patterns of Bible teaching

London is full of different types of people. There’s a wonderful diversity to the population of our city. And that’s true even within a separate suburb. And God has given the scriptures for everyone. And so we’ll need to develop different ways of helping different people access the Bible in a way that they can understand.

Are you someone who enjoys the challenge of helping a wide variety of people get to grips with God, Jesus and the Bible or are you mainly interested in pursuing one type of person?

7.       Pioneer planters need generalist skill set

It’ll probably be a long while before the church planter will be able to recruit his own staff. And it may be a while before he’s able to share the ministry responsibilities with others in the church family. And so he’ll need to be generally good at everything rather than exceptionally good at one or two things. He may need to be able to teach the kids’ slot, counsel a couple facing marriage issues, prepare a Bible study, speak at an evangelistic carol service and book the venue and make the arrangements for the church launch dinner.

So ask yourself, ‘does doing a bit of everything excite me or am I desperate to simply concentrate on a narrow area of ministry?’

8.       Pioneer planters need team building capabilities

Having met and gathered a core team, pioneer planters then need to build that team into more than the sum of its parts. They need to understand how teams work and be a team player and not simply enjoy being team captain. In particular they need to be developing others within the team to take responsibility for leadership. And helping everyone to commit to one another and to the task they’ve undertaken.

Are you good at recruiting others and helping them find a place in a team?

Co-Mission is after pioneer church planters. Could that be you? Or someone you know?

We’re not after the finished article. We don’t think it exists. But we are after leaders who have the potential to gather and grow a small group Bible study into a church family who initially might meet in a home or a small building. It’s a bold development in the planting strategy of Co-Mission. And we’re excited by what God might do.

Do you fancy being a part of it?  

One of me is not enough…

2013-08-23 18.05.372013-08-23 18.05.37I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to clone myself. Leaving the ethical issues to one side for a moment (which, for the record, is not something that you should encourage church leaders to do) I’ve realised that the world needs more people like me. And the church even more so. This won’t surprise some of you who‘ve long harboured the suspicion that I think too highly of myself. But this isn’t arrogance. Not this time. It’s compassion. I’m concerned that I can’t provide for all the people in our church family. And that does my head in, because I actually care. It really bothers me that people’s lives are not what they’d want them to be and they’re not what they ought to be. But as I said to our church family recently, ‘there are simply too many of you and there’s only one of me’ (which is not to suggest that I don’t have my own issues!!!)

I’ve had to accept that that it’s a good thing that there’s only one of me. It’s not been easy! Of course, I’m aware that I don’t ‘do it’ for everyone even in our church. And as hard as it is for me to accept, I’m not what everyone needs. But everyone needs someone. And the New Testament is chock-full of references to Christians ministering to one another. Therefore, since cloning didn’t look like a realistic or indeed a helpful solution, we were convinced at CCB that we had to find an alternative way of multiplying the numbers of word ministers so that everyone could be cared for. It was this conviction that fuelled our desire and the decision to make ‘one to one Bible reading’ the subject of our recent Autumn Bible School. We wanted to persuade people that it’s beneficial, possible and wonderful. And anyone who heard one of our young women on the subject wouldn’t have needed much more convincing. Her testimony of the benefits to her own life from being cared for by another Christian woman and the benefits to another younger Christian women with whom she met to study the Bible  was enough to dispel many a doubt about the value of meeting up ‘one to one’.

We need to multiply our ministers at CCB so there’s more ministry going on. And when I say ‘ministry’ I’m not talking  about all the stuff that the staff team do. I’m using it as a summary for the kind of normal activity of one Christian helping another to live their life for Christ in the light of the gospel. I imagine we’re not that different to lots of other urban churches. There’s so much to be done amongst those of us who struggle to live for Christ amidst the temptations of a secular lifestyle. There are people who need support and help because they’re in the midst of personal suffering. There are people who need gentle loving correction from someone they’ve come to trust because they’re struggling with sin. And there are those who need training because with a bit of knowledge and opportunity they have so much to contribute to our church family. And God has given us in the Bible everything we need to equip one another to live for Him (2 Timothy 3:15-17). So what we need is a whole bunch load of people at CCB who get together with someone else at some point in the week to look at something in the Bible. There’s a little bit more to it than that, as we explained over the three weeks of Autumn Bible School, but in essence that’s all it takes. Apart from my understandable joy at seeing my colleagues, the best thing that happened in the church office this morning was hearing about a woman in our congregation taking the initiative to approach someone else and read the Bible together so that she might grow in the faith. I just wasn’t expecting it. And it’s terrific.

I’d love for our sessions on ‘one to one’ Bible reading to be the beginning of a process and not simply an event. If it was something that we ‘did’ and it’s not something that we’re ‘doing’, it failed. Alternatively if it’s something that we’re doing then lots of us are being helped to grow in our knowledge and love for the Lord. And as our children’s worker (the preserver of the youthspeak on the staff team) would say, ‘#winner’.

Four Reasons to go to Dallas!

I’m now mid-flight, rammed in economy between two very delightful people. There are a little under two hours to Detroit, where I change for Dallas. I’ve watched two terrific films; Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Moneyball. I’d never get round to watching either at home; they don’t pass the film night criteria for a QNI (Quiet Night In) with Rosslyn.

In my last post I outline some of the reason not to go to Dallas. It’s only fair that I give the other side of the argument. So how do I defend the decision against the imaginary detractors? Here are the four reasons that swayed the argument in my favour!

1.       It’s a break from the normal

Isn’t a change supposed to be as good as a rest? I can’t afford to take a rest. There’s too much to do at CCB at the moment. And so a change is a welcome intervention! I’m not bored of ministry at CCB. God has been very good to us and there have been lots of encouragements amidst the turbulence of the last six months. Moving into the office and sharing a ministry life with the apprentices has been a real joy. Seeing the numbers of people who’ve professed faith for the first time has been the highlight. But I’ve been doing it non-stop for ten years now. And this definitely changes the routine.  It’s an opportunity to do something different. I preach to our crowd almost every week. And I love it. I’ve especially loved preaching my way through Exodus with the morning crowd. And the week has a typical shape to it. It can feel a little ‘samey’ (if that’s a word). Monday is recovery day. Tuesday is staff meeting and the administration and ministry contact that falls out of that. Wednesday is Apprenticeship Workshop day over in Wimbledon and Co-Mission meetings. Thursday involves reading the Bible with one or two lads and specific church planting training for our Brixton bound apprentice. Hopefully I get to the text in some meaningful way before the close of play. Friday is finish sermon day but is wonderfully interrupted by a trip up to town to read with one of the lads who’s been converted. Saturday is a welcome day off. Sunday starts early and finishes late, which is why Monday is unproductive! This is a break from that well-worn routine. And I’m really looking forward to it! But it also gets me out of my comfort zone. This kind of disruption to the normal forces me to depend on the Lord. It prompts me pray in unexpected places and times. and that’s no bad thing.

2.       It’s a chance to see another ministry

It exposes me to something different. I’ve never been to Dallas before. I haven’t got to know a whole heap of American Christians. They can’t all be like the nut jobs they’re depicted as in mainstream American media. I used to work with one of them and he was brilliant. I’d like to meet a whole load more like him and find out what Christian discipleship looks like in the States. I’m really looking forward to sitting down with the Minister, Bill Lovell and chewing the fat. We may compare notes about the experience of church planting. And it’ll be fascinating to hear his testimony of how God helped him and his family deal with the theological and political wrangling in ECUSA. But mainly I’m looking forward to talking to a guy who’s been in ministry for a whole heap longer than I have but who thought enough of my preaching to fly me half way across the world to talk to his congregation. He’s worked with some really good guys (Tom Oates and David Short) as well as pastoring the main Episcopal Church in Dallas before planting Christ Church Carrollton. I’ll be taken notes in our conversations! One of the great joys of going to Madagascar back in November was the questions I had to ask myself about my own Christian life. I’d operated with a level of sacrificial service that I thought was acceptable and sustainable. Seeing the guys in Madritsara and what they had to cope with forced me to reconsider what cost looked like in our own context of comfortable middle class Balham. I could also do with some new stories. And I’m confident that the clash of cultures is going to give me more than enough stories for the next five years in ministry!

3.       It’s a treat

Let’s call a spade a spade. There is something enjoyably indulgent about this trip. That doesn’t mean it’s bad but it does mean there needs to be good reasons to justify it! I wouldn’t be doing this if I hadn’t been asked to and paid for. It feels like a timely gift from God to get away and I’m very grateful for it. Apart from a couple of trips in the last 20 years to New York, I’ve not been to America. And I’m pretty sure that the rest of the States isn’t like Manhattan. And so I’m really looking forward to what Carrollton and Frisco (where I’m staying with a family) looks like. The kids are looking forward to the presents I’ll bring back. CCB are waiting with baited breath to see whether I can resist the cowboy boots and stetson. Rosslyn just wants me back! I’m looking forward to uninterrupted sun for five days!

4.       It’s an opportunity for ministry

Though Rufus and Flora discovered via Google Earth that the house I’m staying at has a swimming pool, I am going there to work. Honest. I’ve worked hard on 1 Corinthians over the last ten years. I was introduced to it at Theological College with Dr Paul Woodbridge. I’ve preached my way through it twice at CCB. It’s been the book in Knowing God this year. And I’ve given seven talks on the opening chapters in another context. I’m beginning to get to grips with it! And I think it’s got some really important things to say to young church plants who are finding their way in a secular culture. I’ll never write a book out of this because Vaughan Roberts cornered the market with his. But it’s a chance to help a group of Christian brothers and sisters think through the implications of these passages for their own church planting endeavours in another corner of God’s kingdom. And if there’s any way that I can help with that, then that’s terrific.

It’s probably worth saying that Rosslyn and I didn’t linger long over the decision to go. Though she’d prefer to be on the plane, she’s happy that I am. We both felt that the benefits far outweighed the costs. I’ll let you know. But I’m pretty confident I’ll be proved right!