Joint Announcement from the Leadership and Trustees of the Light Church
Yesterday morning we announced to our church family that our Lead Pastor and Co-Founder Matt Barlow will be stepping down at some point this year as Lead Pastor of the Light Church. This has very much been a decision made by Matt as he has reached the conclusion that God is leading him on.
As we announce it, we do so with a mixture of emotions. We are sad to be losing Matt as the leader of our church and yet we are incredibly grateful for the leadership he has brought to the church, especially in the last three years. We also remain excited for all that God has for us. We are a thriving, vibrant family of God, enjoying Hisvery real presence in our midst as lives are changed by His spirit. We believe God only has more of that for us and therefore we are excited for the next season..
When Matt came into his full-time post in January 2020, we were weeks away from a pandemic. We were also renting a building for Sundays that was likely to be sold and on the brink of a cost of living crisis. As we look back it is clear that Matt was called ‘for such a time as this.’
Matt’s energy and creativity in leading us through the pandemic ensured that we emerged from it as a cohesive and well-connected community. His ability to build teams sees us with a very strong group of leaders and trustees. His experience in leading through significant change enabled the purchase and renovation of the Jubilee Centre, securing the church’s home for years to come. His grasp of the business side of running a church, balanced with his faith in God to provide for our needs, has ensured we have been able to not only meet our financial obligations, but also continue to operate with a spirit of generosity. It is clear to us that with Matt’s skills and gifts, God had provided us with exactly what we needed to navigate those challenges and set the church up to thrive in the future.
Having spent a few months in prayerful consideration, we have decided that we are going to seek God for a replacement Lead Pastor. A man or woman with a heart for collaborative, empowering leadership, who believes there is more for us as a church and that God has better for the city of Bradford. In the coming weeks we will be beginning a spirit-led recruitment process and will be praying for God to draw the right person, couple, or family to us.
We are delighted that Matt and Josie’s intention is to remain as part of the Light Church family, presuming whatever comes next makes that possible. Matt does not have a new job to go to yet and will continue working in the church either until a successor is found or a new opportunity opens up for him. We are grateful to him for genuinely seeking the very best for the church in how he is handling stepping down.
Thank you so much for reading this. We ask that you join us in prayer for God’s provision for us. That along with the rest of the church in Bradford, we may be a confident, welcoming community, inviting this city into God’s family. That we all might experience his presence, his guidance and his comfort. We are confident that the loving, faithful God that we worship, who started a good work in this church, will continue bringing it to completion.
The Leaders and Trustees of the Light Church
Over the last couple of years I’ve blogged at different times to acknowledge when people have moved on from the Light Church. It’s always a strange one in many ways, because we talk a lot about being family, but a family is not something you can leave, and yet…..people leave. In some ways it highlights the limits of that particular label, but perhaps it also should point us back to the reality that the whole church is what we would call ‘the family of God’ so just because someone is going somewhere else that doesn’t mean they stop being family.
There were a few things that I observed when we had a bit of a surge of people choosing to leave, mostly over the summer months. This wasn’t too surprising, summer is, after all, a time to stop and reflect, which can often leave to change. I think for some people it was also a year on since we rejoined post Covid, and that was a helpful time to stop and reflect. And before I go any further I want to express my genuine gratitude to God for those who took the time to either have a conversation with us, or at least write something down to express appreciation for all the church had meant to them. One thing I did notice, which definitely sweetened the news, was pretty much everyone was leaving with really positive things to say about the church alongside their reasons for moving on. I praise God when people can leave well, it is a sign of a healthy culture.
So here are some reflections on some of what was said:
Some people said, and have said previously: ‘We’re leaving the Light church, but still going to Home Church.’ Whilst I do really understand why people may think like this, we have been conditioned to see Sunday as ‘real church’ - the reality is that whether you only come on a Sunday or only come to a Home Church - you are part of our Light Church family.
I firmly believe that a blended diet of big church and home church is generally best and would encourage people to do both. However, if you feel led to stop engaging with Sundays but still attend a Home Church led by Light Church Home Church leaders, then you are still part of the Light Church (whether you like it or not - ha ha). Our church reality is this - if you are part of a Home Church and don’t engage with Sundays, you’re part of the Light Church. If you’re not part of a Home Church but engage with us regularly on Sundays - you’re part of the Light Church.
Everyone sees things differently - this really hit home when in the same week we had one family leave because we were focussing too much on Sundays and another family leave because we weren’t focussing enough on Sundays. Both had been wrestling with how we had relaunched post Covid and how it wasn’t working for their families. Both reasons were fully valid for each family in how they felt God leading, but it really reminded me of just how diverse we are and how we all like to express and practice our faith so differently to one another. Let’s all continue to have grace for each other when we see things differently and grace for us your leaders as we try to walk the continual balance of pleasing God first and foremost, but then pleasing you lot as well!
Some goodbye thank yous - We have lost some people who have contributed so much to the church - people like Jenny and John Biglands who ran a Home Church for ten years and contributed some great worship (and yes continue to be some of our very best friends), the Parkinsons have moved down south and we so miss the loving pastoral Home Church leadership that they brought along with so much vigour. Richard and Suzanne Shackleton served so faithfully in everything from kids work to marriage prep and marriage courses - we miss them. Jonny & Gill Viner led a home church for quite some years and Jonny served in worship team too. Alongside them others have moved on who maybe served, maybe gave faithfully, but importantly were also just part of our church family. Being, Serving and Giving are all the things that make this church work and allows us to be the kingdom force that we are in this city. So for every person who has moved on we give thanks - we miss them already, and we commit to going again and welcoming those who are new to our family that they would feel so welcome as they journey with us all in Being With Jesus, Becoming Like Jesus and Doing Like Jesus. Let’s continued to be open handed with all those God calls on and open arms to all this God calls in.
1. You’re not allowed to dance merengue or salsa
2. Women aren’t allowed to wear trousers
3. You can’t go to the cinema
4. You aren’t allowed to drink alcohol....
No, this isn't a new set of Ten Commandments, it's just some of the confusing list of things that greeted Josie and I as to what Christians are and aren’t allowed to do when we arrived in the Dominican Republic back in 1995. We had come to spend two years there and we looked on in slight bemusement as we tried to get our heads around these laws and prohibitions that surrounded how Dominican Christians expressed their faith. Whilst we tried to be respectful, it was quite unlikely that this young, fairly newly converted 22 year old was going to toe the line.
What Christians should and shouldn’t do, in terms of lifestyle, is not a new thing, you only have to read Romans 14 to know these discussions have been going on for centuries. I'm writing this blog now to communicate our view on alcohol; aware we have a few social events coming up and so that all those new to our church (and the UK) continue to feel welcomed and included in all we do, aware that other cultures often take different approaches.
Firstly, surely, we need to ask the question - ‘What does the bible say?’ - about drinking alcohol?The bible includes scripture where the drinking of alcohol is not only permitted, but included as a celebrated part of culture; at other times it gives clear warning against it. This link would take you to a bunch of verses where it appears that alcohol is fine by God and other places where maybe not, and also some verses about how Christians should handle these issues of the conscience.
It seems clear that Jesus had no problem with the concept of drinking some alcohol. His first ever miracle (John 2) was creating wine out of water, and not only did he create loads of it, it would appear he did it ‘after the guests have had too much to drink.(v10)’ At the other end of his ministry, he took the cup of wine and instructed his followers to drink it in remembrance of him. These and other verses suggest Jesus was ok with some form of drinking.
What the bible is VERY clear on, in my opinion, is the inappropriateness and unhealthiness of drunkenness. Paul urges the church in Ephesus to not get drunk (Eph 5:18) and he regularly lists drunkenness along with other really obvious sins such as extreme sexual promiscuity such as orgies, lust and debauchery, which of course drunkenness can lead to. (1Pet4:3; Gal5:21).
As such, in my experience, it seems that UK Christians tend to take a theological approach that drinking alcohol is not wrong, but getting drunk is not something that honours God as it can easily lead to compromised decision making. That would seem to be the majority, though there would still be some Christians who would think it wrong to even drink, and others who think it fine to have a few too many.
As a leadership team we are happy to take this approach, which has been the approach since Light church started. However, we tend to only include alcohol at certain events, such as Christmas parties, World Cup games, weekends away. We choose to allow alcohol alongside the provision of soft drinks, trusting that people will drink wisely and sensibly. We also hope that as new Christians come in they can see a different behaviour modelled - a people who have enough self control to enjoy a drink, without getting drunk and making fools of themselves.
However, without doubt we remain aware that this can present a challenge for all those who have alcohol issues, be they Christians and part of our church or on their way into the family of God. We are aware that the nature of this struggle can often go unseen and we know this could apply to those new to our community that have engaged with us through one of our outreach programmes, and also to those who have been part of our church family for a long time. If this is you we would like to open a conversation with you so we can help you get the support you need; rather than banning alcohol from all our events. Whilst there is an argument that we should all abstain for the sake of the few, our sense has been over the years, and continues to be that we would rather support those individuals to be in an environment with alcohol and to stay strong, so that when they are maybe not around church family, that strength will carry them through. If we are aware it is an issue for someone, we will often talk to them individually prior to an event and discuss how they might navigate the event well, and if they want to check in during the event. This then also gives the majority who don’t have a problem, the chance to enjoy what is a real social norm in our culture but in a healthy, respectful, God honouring way.
I hope this helps give some theological context and also some pastoral insight into the decisions we make and especially those who are maybe coming from another culture where seeing the pastor enjoy a beer was reason to go and find another church. Often moving cultural settings causes us to analyse the ‘why’ we do things a certain way in our culture, and hopefully make thoughtful, prayerful decisions based on the bible and experience of other Christians.
If you think you might have a problem with alcohol, please speak to us, we won't judge and we are here to support you into freedom. Please feel free to ask any questions of any of the leaders if anything I’ve written causes you concern. Now…..anyone for a Christmas party????? See you Friday 2nd December!!!