Sunday, 30 November 2008

Diversity 1 - Background

When I moved to lead Kings 15 years ago I thought that the church was already diverse. 10 to 15% of those attending came from the black community, but everything else about the church was white – the way we did everything and all the leadership. We had around 40 extended leaders which included just 2 or 3 black people, predominantly Caribbean, first and second generation.

While we were aware of the issue, in the first few years we had enough to keep our attention elsewhere – including a major building project. It wasn’t until we moved back into our new building that the first black African couple arrived, causing great excitement! Today, there appears no outright majority in our church.

We are on a massive journey. I may view things differently in three months time - we think we see things clearly and then as time goes on and situations open up even more, we have to change. We are learning all the time – I’m aware that most of our Newfrontiers churches are white but seeing increased diversity in those attending, so churches want to learn about this vital issue. If all we do is get excited about diversity, we miss the point. There are radical implications for how we lead our churches.

Let’s talk about something really basic first. Food! In the early days Deb and I invited an African couple for a meal. We asked if there was anything they didn’t eat - they said they ate anything but when we served strawberries, it was clear that the husband had never tasted one before. We all laugh now, but were all embarrassed at the time. We didn’t see - Food is an issue. When we began Alpha at church and were providing food there, we served white western (bland) food! We were trying to reach out to local people with the gospel and were giving them a hurdle to overcome by providing food they found difficult. I used to sit at an Alpha table in a diverse group and I would be the only one eating the food. ‘It’s alright – we ate before we came…’ they would say – it took me about three Alphas to work that one out!

Then, we got to know a family through the school our boys attend, and the Mum came along to one of our prayer meetings. I was very aware that she came from a different church background – a black majority church. We were doing our usual prayer meeting (which we thought was liberated!) and when I asked her how she was finding the evening, she said, ‘I’ve never attended a white majority church before’. I was stunned. I thought we were diverse! I wanted to say to her, ‘Look! There’s a black person, and there’s an Asian - and they aren’t sitting at the back!’ (I’d been to other churches and observed where people sat…) And then the penny dropped. I was looking from a white western perspective.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Lead Elders and Wives' Conference

There’s always a good buzz when the lead elders and their wives from our UK Newfrontiers churches get together at this biannual conference - about 370 of us met together at Milton Keynes last weekend. Apart from the opportunity to renew old friendships and catch up with news from here and there, there is so much going on in the churches – God continues to bless our movement, for which we are very thankful! This particular event provides a venue for our church leaders to focus again on God and His call on their lives as well as receiving fresh vision for future developments. All this springs from our devotion to Christ – at one of the sessions, Stef Liston spoke from Joshua 1 and exhorted us all not to neglect this vital relationship.

Vision is a crucial component in the armoury of a church leader – first it motivates us as leaders, then it is part of our task to cast a vision for those we lead. On Saturday afternoon Dave Stroud shared his vision for 400 Newfrontiers churches in the UK! This is a challenge that spoke to many of us - a focus for the future that is worth spending time, money and energy to achieve, while relying on God who provides all the resources necessary to do His work, His way! Go and look at the new church planting website ( and be encouraged and inspired!

My contribution to the weekend was a session on ‘Rest’, which from feedback given was well received. With so much going on in church life and so much being demanded from our leaders, this conference was a good opportunity to remind everyone that we can be too busy. If we rest appropriately then we will serve God, our families and the church more effectively – to neglect our rest is short-sighted at best and can prove catastrophic. We need balance in this - the old Mars bar advert that talks about ‘work, rest and play’ comes to mind! And rest is more than a good idea – it’s a God-ordained part of normal life.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Marriage, Sex and Ministry 4

A strong marriage is so important in ministry. There is so much at stake - if you fall morally, you can lose your wife, children, job and calling. Behind each story of a failed marriage there will be huge pain caused to families, churches and most importantly, to God. Why not make a commitment now to take some action to ensure you and your wife build a strong and healthy marriage? Here are a few suggestions:

1.Take responsibility for your sexuality and your marriage. Make time to talk about how you are doing. Ask your wife if you are meeting her emotional needs? Be honest with your wife if she is not meeting your sexual needs!

2.Take responsibility for your love life. Deb and I have agreed that we will read a book a year on marriage. We would recommend for starters ‘The 5 Sex needs of Men and Women’ by Gary and Barbara Rosberg.

3.Invest time in your marriage. Do not allow ministry opportunities to take vital time away from your wife and family. Prioritise them when planning your diary.

4.Remember the biblical principle of example. Whether we like it or not, we provide a role model for those we serve. I call this the ‘goldfish bowl’ of ministry; people are always going to be looking at you! Although this can be hard at times, we must not dodge the biblical exhortation for leaders to be an example to others. What you model in your marriage will be seen by those in your church; the strength of your marriage will have a direct impact on the strength of the marriages in your church. Challenging, but true!

5.Teach regularly on the subject of marriage.

In conclusion, do I agree with Driscoll on this one? (That pastors and their wives should have sex daily.) In all honesty, I am always wary of being too prescriptive on these matters. I would prefer to talk principle and promote an attitude of generosity towards each other. If we apply the teaching of 1 Corinthians 7 - ‘Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time’ – then we will not go far wrong. Simply put, discover each other needs and, with sacrificial love, meet them. If all married couples did this, they would probably make love more often.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Marriage, Sex and Ministry 3

It is my belief that the strength of our marriage will have a direct impact on the effectiveness and potential of our ministry. For this reason, if no other, we should make a commitment to invest in our marriages.

It takes time to build a great marriage, and far too often other ministry priorities take precedence. However, I believe that one of the greatest limiting factors in ministry progress is that the marriage and home environment are not strong enough to carry the pressures that come as ministry grows. In our experience so far, every time we have seen ministry breakthrough, our marriage has had to strengthen correspondingly. This has involved a commitment to talking openly about the challenges involved and being clear about what it means to continue to show love to each other.

Christian psychologist Kevin Leman has this advice for couples wishing to improve the quality of their marriages:

‘ I spend a lot of time trying to help women get more active in the bedroom and trying to help men get active everywhere else’

I don’t believe we will go far wrong if we apply this principle to our marriages.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Marriage, Sex and Ministry 2

As we all know, sex is just one aspect of marriage. But an observation we have made during our years in pastoral ministry is that the quality of a couples’ sex life is a good ‘barometer’ for the health of the marriage overall; if a couple are not communicating or are having problems in one part of their relationship, you can almost guarantee that that will quickly be reflected in the bedroom.

As part of the ‘Sex, Romance and God’ seminar, Deb and I spent some time looking at the different needs of men and women when it comes to maintaining intimacy in marriage. Gary Rosberg, in his book ‘The 5 Sex Needs of Men and Women’, sums it up well in the following quote:

He (God) calls on men to connect emotionally with their wives in order to have their physical needs met; he calls on women to connect physically with their husbands in order to have their emotional needs met.

As a broad generalisation (and there will always be exceptions), women need to feel emotionally connected in order to be physically intimate, whereas a man finds emotional connection through sex. Interestingly, men are wired in such a way that they are often more emotionally open after sex. Gary Rosberg says, ‘Sometimes the best way to unlock a husband’s emotions is through satisfying his physical need for sex.’ H. Norman spells out these differences in this way:

For women sex is only one means of intimacy out of many and not always the best one. For many men, sex is the only expression of intimacy. Men tend to compress the meaning of intimacy into the sex act, and when they don’t have that outlet, they can become frustrated and upset. Why? Because they’re cut off from the only source of closeness they know. Men are interested in closeness and intimacy, but they have different ways of defining and expressing it. (This) is an area where men and women need to talk, listen and understand the other person’s language.” (H. Norman, quoted in ‘A Woman’s Guide to Sexuality’)

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Marriage, Sex and Ministry 1

When I returned from my summer break this year I was met with the tragic news from Florida about Todd Bentley separating from his wife and also news of another pastor in a local church failing morally. That was 2 in just 6 weeks, one who is known to Christians around the world and another much closer to home. In my view that’s two too many – and that’s just the ones I’ve heard about.

King David seemed to have everything going for him. If you read the chapters leading up to when he committed adultery with Bathsheba, the scriptures record success after success – the conquering of Jerusalem, the defeat of the Philistines, God’s promise to David. Victories and mighty men, it goes on and on. So how could a man, whose heart was committed to God, who had many wives to fulfil his sex drive, fall to temptation? What could lead a man such as David, at the peak of his ministry, to sleep with another man’s wife, leading to further deception and the murder of Uriah?

Why do so many pastors and their wives fail morally? Why do we seem to be so vulnerable to sexual temptation? We cannot be complacent. If it can happen to King David and a seemingly endless number of others, it could happen to any of us.

At the Brighton Conference this year Mark Driscoll got many of us talking when he threw out the line that pastors should be having sex with their wives every day! You may also have heard of the ‘30 Day Sex Challenge’ from the Relevant Church in Florida, aimed at challenging couples to increase the intimacy in their marriages. Apparently their congregation has increased by 15%!

The subject of sex in marriage is so important. Deb and I recently ran a Saturday morning seminar at Kings for married couples, entitled ‘Sex, Romance and God’. It was part of a broader teaching series we had been running on Sundays, called ‘Sex in the City’, based on 1 Corinthians. The seminar was for married couples only and gave us the opportunity to address the subject of sex and romance in marriage far more openly than would be appropriate on a Sunday morning. The seminar was both challenging and fun and we were asked questions we have never been asked before! We had planned to hold the seminar on just one Saturday, but had to repeat it the following weekend to meet demand. How wonderful to have so many couples seeking to improve the sex and intimacy in their marriages.

Friday, 7 November 2008

The Training of Newfrontiers' Leaders

When I left school at 16, I embarked on a 4 year apprenticeship in printing. The course involved some theory which was taught at Watford College and then practical experience on the shop floor. I learnt the important leadership lesson of serving as the first year involved getting tea and running errands for the journeymen, then working alongside these craftsmen and learning a skill by watching experienced printers! All good training involves teaching and modelling.

Newfrontiers’ training courses follow the same principle, a good theological grounding is vital, as is ‘on the ground’ training alongside an experienced leader – a brilliant way to learn. You could call it discipleship.

Today, I have enjoyed a planning day with all those involved in our training courses with Newfrontiers - that’s FP Impact and Leadership Training, both Foundations and Advanced.

Amongst many things, today we discussed the development of our full time pastoral training course, adding into the already strong course new leadership, preaching and marriage modules. All very exciting!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Multiple meetings 4

To conclude this overview of our experience in establishing multiple meetings at King’s, here are a few implementation points

One of the questions we are regularly asked is ‘How do you know which meeting people are going to?’ – we found a simple questionnaire to be a reliable indicator of which meeting people will attend.

One of the greatest challenges you will face in going to a second or third meeting is the volunteer challenge – you need to release a lot more ministry to run the Sunday meetings. So, for us to launch an evening meeting requires us to recruit, train and release 100 more volunteers a month (25 per week). Obviously, where there is children’s ministry at both morning meetings, the volunteer challenge is higher. We have found running a ministry fair on a Sunday as part of our launch strategy to be an effective way of connecting people to ministry opportunities created by the extra meeting.

When we moved to two meetings we had to pastor the sense of loss that some of our congregation felt. We did this publicly on Sundays, identifying with people’s sense of loss (‘I don’t see my friends anymore’), and providing an exhortation to see the costs of the move as worthwhile as we reach many more people with the gospel.

We have found that as we have provided more options and more space, God has given us more people.