Monday, 28 September 2009

Me at the Whitehouse

Me at the Whitehouse, originally uploaded by davidluketaylor.

I took a little visit to the Whitehouse before catching the plane. There was a fair bit of hustle and bustle going on - it seems someone was making a movie or a TV programme there.
Not sure what it was, although I'd been standing around looking dopey before I realised I was in the back of shot. I then saw a sign saying that by standing there I was giving up my right to not have my image used. It wasn't made awfully clear I thought, but that seemed to be all the notice that they needed to give. Interesting...
Security was a big higher because of all this - those snipers on the roof looked really prominent. It's strange really - standing around taking pictures of yourself suddenly makes you wonder if you are acting suspiciously when you are in the presence of snipers....

Friday, 31 July 2009

Do we get it all a bit backwards?

I think most of us do church in around the same sort of format. Our styles or music and preaching and interaction may all be very different, but generally we use a similar format, with perhaps some variations.

But I’ve been wondering a bit recently, are our meetings… well a bit backwards? Is the order slightly wrong?

Let me elaborate. Out meetings usually follow this order (or something similar) Welcome and prayer, Praise songs, Notices, Worship songs, Breaking of bread, Worship songs, Word, Final prayer and final song. Give or take a bit that’s a pretty fair run down of how most churches have their meetings.

Now for me, there are some things in this that perhaps are not the best that we could do. First of all is the word. Everything flows out of the word of God. It’s the first thing mention in the list in Acts 2 when the fellowship of the believers is “Devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles”. Everything comes out of the teaching of the word – worship after all is a response to His glory and goodness.

The trouble is we structure the meetings with “the word” as the main event. It’s something that the rest of the meeting leads up to. I think worship suffers as a result of this: I‘m sure everyone has experienced one of these; People arriving 20mins later during the worship “but it’s ok as they are here before the message starts”, An amazing time of worship cut short because the preacher needs to get up, aimless worship that really doesn’t connect with the word that’s going to be brought, interruptions from the notices that totally ruin the flow of the worship. I could go on.

Can I suggest that the reason that worship sometimes seemed rushed, or just an opening to the meeting or short changed in some way is that the best place for worship in a meeting is NOT before the word?

Worship after all is a response to Him. How much more meaningful worship is when we’ve got something to respond to. Whatever it is that the word brings, a call to repentance, an encouragement, a challenge – worship feeds of these things and a good worship leader can run off the back of a message and make the worship relevant to its context.

We’ve tried this a few times before, keeping the main body of worship until after the word and it really ignites. Could it be that the reason that we have worship before the word is because we always have done?

I’ve been encouraged a lot recently by this question – if you could do everything again from scratch, would you do it the same? And of course if the answer is no, why not change it NOW?

How about breaking bread? This fits into the time of worship, so in our church it takes place before the word. But surely communion is a time when we examine ourselves. Where we deal with issues. But yet our issues have not really been challenged yet in perhaps the way they will be later in a meeting during a word. Surely communion is something that should be done after the word, after a response and a time of repentance. Again, if the worship took place at this time then the two would still fit together.

No longer would the time of worship feel short changed by the Word, but instead it can thrive off the back of it. You don’t have people checking their watches if the speaker goes a few minutes over he should, because this no longer signifies the end of a meeting – but instead it’s the start of the worship. It’s amazing how little people look at their watches during a great time of worship.

I’m not suggesting for one second that this is the way we have to do it. However I am wondering if perhaps having the main body of worship after the word is beneficial to both elements. Do we only have the structure we have out of habit, or because the people may have to adjust to something different? Just a thought….

Friday, 19 June 2009


Preaching can sometimes seem like a futile exercise. You can pour your heart and soul into a message that you believe is from God, deliver it with all the passion you can matter – people can really enjoy it… but then a week later nothing has changed. It’s either been forgotten or put to one side the second the meeting ended.
Now I’m not saying that it’s always like this, there are results that are seen. But considering most Christians are at church at least once a week – that amount of change that we see in people’s lives from that is proportionately low.
Why is this? People can listen to a message and have every intention of doing something about it, but then go away and perhaps the desire fades a little, other concerns creep in. And perhaps there is difficulty sometimes in actually following through.
The trouble is application. You can hear the greatest sermons ever, but if it’s not applied to your life then it makes no difference. We don’t just listen to messages for the sake of it, we do it so we can grow, so we can become more like Christ. We need to take what we hear and do something with it or it’s worthless to us.
And where it falls down most of the time is in application. We preach, we teach but once people leave the meeting we don’t really have a system of follow through. This to many means the message drifts away or perhaps they have trouble understanding how to apply it… this is especially easy to do when it’s something in your life you are not really keen to change.
What can the church do here? Cleary contact with a message needs to happen more than just the once on a Sunday – there needs to be a follow up. A chance to explore that which was brought, look at ways to apply it to our lives and re-enforce the main points. A chance to interact and find ways to take things further.
Clearly online has to be seen to be a great way to do this, as the online culture is becoming more and more important. Perhaps as a forum or a blog with feedback… there’s certainly potential in this. It allows interaction and a certain degree of anonymity. However this was something that was tried at our church, albeit in a VERY low key way, but I’m not sure one person looked at the “Sermon Blog”. I ended up removing it from the site after a short amount of time. That’s not to say this idea has no potential, I think it would change on a church to church basis, but I need to accept for now that my church has not yet embraced the online world as individuals, so the effectiveness of this is currently limited to me, however that’s not to say it can be a very effective was of allowing application in other, more tech friendly churches.
Another option is through small groups. There is a real potential here, certainly in my church. We run some small groups labelled “action teams”. One of the requirements of their weekly meetings is that it includes a time of teaching. This has been perhaps a little bit of a struggle for some of the leaders to keep up.
Perhaps a solution to this is to use these groups to help with the process of applying what has previously been taught. Now of course people can’t be forced to apply it, but they can certainly be helped as much as possible to apply it. A message with no application in reality has very little long term worth. A sermon that just tickles the ears but illicits no change is, frankly, pointless. I know that sounds a little harsh, but it’s true. The whole point in a sermon is to build people up – bring them closer to becoming Christ-like. Application of principles and ideas is vital to the growth of a Christian.
Now this of course requires addition work on the preacher – a follow up sheet with exploration of how to apply the message would be needed. Perhaps a few helpful hints or discussion topics.
But this has to be worth while, nobody can really be happy with a message that brings no chance – so anything that can help the application of it must be considered profitable.
It would also mean that every message brought on a Sunday has to have some form of practicality about it, but again this is a good thing – we should always be thinking about what change we’d like o see come from a sermon, otherwise why are we even preaching it?

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Church Part 2 - Christendom is Dead

Christendom is dead – long live Christianity.


I’m reading a great book at the moment, called the shaping of things to come – by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. And it proposes this: Christendom, something that began when Constantine made Christianity the main state sponsored religion of Rome, is a mindset that is now dead.

What do they mean by that? When the Church began part of the culture and was government backed then it became less missional in it’s outlook. The church stopped going out to the people because the people came to the church.

The church was part of the state – the western world WAS Christendom. It was not just a religious community, but a part of the very fabric of the world.  The church was not a movement subverting the system, it was the system.

The church was so important to the way people lived – it was central to the community. And for a long time that’s the way it was. But not anymore.

The church is no longer state backed like it was. It is no longer the system. It is no longer the focal point of the community. We are once again on the outside.

This can be a good thing, after all the outsiders of the early church changed the world. However this is not a good thing if we still continue to operate in a Christendom mindset, assuming people still look to the church in the way that they used to, as it won’t work like that.

So – how do we do church in the post modern age?


First we need to stop acting under a false assumption. We are not the centre of the community anymore. We do not have a position of respect in the minds of most people. It’s not the package that’s the problem, it’s the fact that Christianity is not on the radar for most people. We might not want to accept this but it’s the truth.


Too often we operate under the assumption that if we get the package right, the people will flock to us. That all they are waiting for is for us to get the music right, to have dynamic preaching, to have a great looking building that people will come to us, because all they’d been waiting for is for us to get slick.

That may have been the case in the past. But the church no longer holds the same position in people’s minds. The “all we need to do is be attractive and they will come to us” is a false assumption.


Most churches that get this slickness right and have great music and “inspiring teaching” see most of their growth through transfer – other Christians coming in because they are excited by the package. (That’s not to say they never see people come in, a crowd attracts a crowd, and the more people you have the easier it is to mobilise some of them, but generally this is true). Most non Christians don’t’ decide to go to church because they’ve heard that the music is really good, or because they have a video projector, or because the choir all wear matching outfits.


We need to move away from the Christendom mindset that “they will come to us”, because Christendom is dead. Instead we are on the outside again and need to adopt the early church model of “we will go to them”.

Attractional outreach needs to be replaced with Incarnational outreach.

What does this mean practically?


The traditional “gospel” outreach meeting is not the most efficient way to reach people. Clearly, we have so many gospel meetings that have no none Christians in them.

Does this mean we abandon it? No, there are people in our church today who were saved that way. It might not be the most effective way, but it still sees results. We currently have a “guest service” once a month and often people are saved in them. However I wouldn’t say this is the norm and those we do see saved are in the ones and twos, rather than the tens. (You can multiply these numbers to match the size of your congregation – percentage wise it’s normally pretty small.)

I think we need to relook at how we do “outreach”. Holding a meeting and waiting for the people to come to us is not the most effective form of outreach and should not be our MAIN form of reaching out.

I remember doing “outreach” meetings in Wolviston. Renting a community centre and holding pretty much a normal meeting that we’d invited people to with a little singing and drama thrown in. And nobody turns up. Again, we run under the false assumption that it’s just a matter of getting the package right and the people will come to us. This is attractional thinking. We take our Church model and just put it into a different location and people don’t turn up.

We held a number of outreach meetings in Redcar at the Red Barns hotel, often there were no new people in. During one of these meetings I was really hot and thirsty. So when the tea was served afterwards I wanted something different – so I went through to the bar to grab a coke. When I got there, I noticed that in the room next to where we met, were around 20 non Christians, all of whom seemed to know each other and were regulars. The people we were trying to reach were at the other side of a wall and had no interest in what we were doing next door and they had been there every week that we’d held an outreach and I’d never had a conversation with any of them. We expect them to come to us, yet we do not go to them. I left the bar with my coke, really thinking that somehow we’d missed something.

I wonder what difference it would have made if those outreach meetings were instead a time when 20 of us sat in the bar, drank soft drinks and got to know these guys? Listened to them. Talked with them. Were Christ incarnate to them – cared about the things that were going on. I wonder if after a few weeks of that if they’d start to wonder what we have that they do not.


Instead of waiting for the world to come to us, let’s get involved. Let’s take it to them. Our church has a couple called Colin and Maureen who have a ministry that reaches out to the drug addicts, homeless and prostitutes in Middlesbrough. They listen to them. They chat with them. They pray with them. That is outreach. Over the years they have brought more people than anyone else I know to gospel meetings. But you know what, when people they bring make a decision – it’s not just because of the gospel meeting. It’s because of the groundwork that has already been done. In church – the decision is confirmed and followed through for the most part. That is outreach. That is getting involved.


We run a family centre – that is outreach. That is getting involved. What a way to be Christ to people. Put a load of Christian workers in there, every day with the purpose to be Christ incarnate to the families who use the centre. What a difference that would make.

We are currently looking at training some of our members to be CAP workers. I couldn’t be more excited by this. Not only is this a vital chance to be able to help people who are struggling with debt, but it’s a chance to pray with people – to show them the love of God. To get involved in their lives. We will see salvations through this, I have no doubts. CAP is an amazing evangelistic tool.


This is what it’s all about. We need to be looking for more ways to get involved with the people in our community and showing them Christ in us. That’s’ the most effective outreach programme we can have. Instead of waiting and hoping they will come to us, let’s go to them.


Does this mean we don’t have “guest services”? By no means – if all our members are active in missional church – then we have a place to bring people to cement and confirm the decisions that are made in the home. How do we enliven a gospel meeting? By ensuring that we are always making connections, sharing with people and as a natural progression bringing them along with us.


This has to be more effective than spending our time a whole room away from the people we are trying to reach.


We do evangelism training at the moment – which is great. But in addition to this then there needs to be added a mobilisation. Where we are mobilised in groups to reach different areas and different groups of people, in new and creative ways. And that’s a key – to send people out together. You need to have backup in what you do. Jesus sent the disciples out together.

A friend of mine sings worship songs in his local pub to reach the community he lives in. After starting well he began to get discouraged, as he was not seeing the fruit he had hoped for. So he put on a meal and invited his whole church and those he was reaching at the pub.

And what happened. None of his church turned up and he was gutted. We can’t go this alone. We need to do this together. We send people OUT and we send them together.


What does it mean to be an active Christian? Going to church? No, church attendance is not in itself a virtue. Being active is growing and learning, but also in reaching others. So if the main form of outreach happens outside the church walls, what does this mean for the Sunday meetings?

That’s another subject…

Friday, 6 March 2009

Local Church - part 1

I've been thinking a lot recently about local church. I am working on a vision that can help us move our church forward... it's just thoughts at the moment that I will post in several parts.

It seems across the nation, local church is in trouble. They are shrinking in many towns – giving way to larger out of town churches or big city churches. There is a bug move towards the mega church or city church model. Does this mean that local church is a thing of the past? I don’t believe so, but it does need a rethink.


To be clear from the start, I think mega churches are great things. I may not like them all, but we can’t deny that some of them are great. I love the teaching and the ideas of Mars Hill for example, both of them, and they are certainly mega Churches. Also, I am the work of bigger city churches is crucial to the work of Christ. I am not against huge city churches – they do a lot of good.


The work for example of Abundant Life in Bradford is hugely important and I believe River City and Newcastle Church are both on track to become vital to our area. I believe Paul Scanlon is right when he says that Church has to change or die – however I don’t believe that there is only one church model that is needed. Whilst I think that the City Church model and the work they do are great things, I also believe that Local Church is of an equal importance and cannot become the same thing.


For the cities I think that there needs to be a different model then there is for towns and villages. A local church cannot and should not try to emulate what the city church does as its community is different. This is not to say one is better – both are needed and both serve a different purpose.


River City, for example can reach Middlesbrough very effectively, but since it’s not based in Billingham then it cannot be an effective local church to those who live in Billingham, or have an impact on the community in Billingham. Because it’s not local, it’s not part of the town’s community. Bradford’s Abundant life can transform the city, but is not effective in nearby towns, Ilkley for example. Cities need big city churches. Smaller communities need smaller, healthy, local churches and attempting to transfer the city church model to small towns will not work.


To those who do not live in the city, then I think it’s important to be part of a local church. John Bevere struck a chord with me when he said that “you don’t get to choose your church” and I think there is a lot of truth to this. Whilst I don’t necessarily hold with David Pawson’s view that you go to the church closest to you (That would make me a catholic) I do believe that it’s important to be a part of a church community that lives and breathes in the community in which you live. For me to go to a city church, well it’s not local to me and moves me outside of my community.


The Oakwood centre for example, is a very large church and is based in Eaglescliffe – a small community. However most of the people in this church do not live in Eaglescliffe. They live outside and travel in. I’m not sure a small town should sustain a huge church, but instead we should be looking for other ways to grow that will help us serve and reach those around us. I’m not having a go at the Oakwood centre here, it’s a big church – it runs a city church model – but it’s not a local church.


Now clearly, local church across the nation appears to be shrinking and giving way to the larger church. The model in local church does not currently work and as a result it is dying. Does this mean it should either die or adopt the city church model? There needs to be a better answer.


The City church model does work very well in its environment, but I am convinced that there must be another way for local churches to operate. Whilst I enjoy the hyped meeting in city churches, although in some case they do tend to feel a bit like corporate events, I don’t think this should be a model adopted by every church. There must be another way for local churches.

Whilst big youth based churches are a great thing to have, they can leave older people feeling like they are not a part of it. Church is community and it must strive to be as multi generational as possible. Church is family and local church is a family church.


Church is not a meeting, or an organisation, or a business, or a club although at times it does look like all of these things. Church is the physical body of Christ on earth, living through his followers. Church is all about people, if it’s anything. And the main elements of Church are about how it relates to people and how its people relate to God.


A problem we have is that many local churches are small, weak and struggling to stay alive. This does not mean they are not valid. Shildon AOG, for example is a vital church to those who attend it. There are people there who have left larger churches as they wanted more substance to their teaching and they find that in Shildon. However as a town, Shildon will not support a huge church. So what happens?


I think we’ve learned a lot in New Life Billingham through our recent relationship with Redcar and Stockton and in here I see a model for growing local churches.


The problem small churches usually get is a lack of vision and they start to feel isolated and alone. When we started to look after Redcar, one of our main points was that they were to join us on a Sunday morning. I think that proved to be very successful – their vision of church has expanded as meeting with a lot of believers has raised their expectation levels. They have joined us on a morning now for some time and met themselves on a night and we have provided ministry. This to me seems and ideal model.


Soon, Redcar will have their new building and they have a congregation that is growing steadily. I think the time will soon come that they will not join us on a morning, but instead will have both meetings in their own building.


This is a great way to keep church local and growing. We currently are joined by Ragworth on a morning and they too have a separate meeting on a night. In time they too will hopefully be at a point where they can have two meetings in their own building too. This would be a healthy progression.

In looking to reaching out and growing, how big must a church be before it gets too big? I don’t think this is a simple question to answer, Billingham currently can get around 150 people some weeks and there’s certainly room for that to grow. However I don’t think a church of 1000+ in Billingham would be really sustainable or advisable. Wouldn’t it be better to have other churches as part of us that can grow – where it’s not easy to get lost and just become a church attendee?


We use the phrase in our fellowship, “1 church in three locations”. Why not build on this and extend this? This creates healthy sized churches that stay local.

This can be achieved by New Life running two different versions of church meetings, or congregations. Sites and Satellites. These can both have a number of features, every site and every satellite does not have to be the same.

Currently, we run with one main site and two satellites. New Life Billingham is our main site. Redcar and Stockton both operated as satellites. They join us on a Sunday morning, then on a night they meet separately. Stockton in its church building and Redcar currently in a hotel. They operate as Satellites, even though Redcar is a separate charity in it’s own right.


Since this has started Redcar has seen growth. They have become more established and are moving forward. Soon we hope they will have a new building in which to meet. At this point they will become very firmly established in Redcar. They will have a base that is centred in their community from which they can reach out.

I think that it will be at this time they should stop being a satellite and become a site. Not separate from us, but another established site. At this point they stop joining us on a Sunday morning.

It’s also at this point when they become a site that they look to establishing their own satellites. For example, Lotfus or Saltburn – places close to them – where they are joined in the morning then on the night they meet separately.

This seems a way to help struggling churches, for example the church in Loftus, and to establish new ones. I don’t know of a church in Saltburn.


At this point New Life Billingham will also look to establishing a new satellite, be it a plant or a small church. This approach would enable growth, development of the smaller churches and a good support base to plant new churches, or new sites. One church, many sites.

And these Satellites can all be different. Stockton currently meet in a church building. But why not start another somewhere else that meet in a house to begin with? They get the big celebration meeting on the morning them operate from house to house on the night.

Or why not a youth Satellite – Main church on the morning, youth church on the night? With a view to becoming a youth church site. This could lead to generational relevant sites, location relevant sites, cultural relevant sites. Where all these needs are met, but we are still one church.


If every satellite looks towards becoming a site, this is a healthy, manageable form of church growth. Also, the whole church could be brought together a few times a year for big celebrations that would have great outreach potential.

The big problem with doing something big in churches is that it’s hard to get them to work together, but this would in essence be one church, with a senior oversight overlooking the leadership of all the sites. They would therefore be a more powerful force in reaching out.


So what does this look like – how can we build a church model around this? Well that will be the next post...