Greetings church! I’d love to say it’s great to be back from holiday, but I’ll be honest, holiday was great, a wonderful break - camping in the Lakes and Cornwall - and I’d be more excited to be back if we knew this Covid thing was on its way out and could start planning with some certainty. However, the last 24 hours have proven we can plan nothing with certainty, and I bet we have all experienced some sense of frustration, upset or sadness that some of the small freedoms we had got back have now been taken away again. More grace Lord! More patience needed for all us and more resilience! Praise God that he’s got plenty of all that for us, we just need help receiving it, don’t we?
I’ve nothing to report in terms of changes, but I did think it would be helpful to report back on the survey responses we had a few weeks ago. This Tuesday evening we will be meeting as a leadership team, to prayerfully reflect and consider how we move forward after the summer holidays. Please keep us in your prayers.
Anyway, here is what you told us in the survey:
HEADLINE: Lockdown has not had a negative impact on the faith of most people! (yay!)
Jesus never taught people to tithe - so why is it then that so many committed Christians do tithe, normally tithing into their local church?
When Jesus came He said that He had not come to do away with the law, but to ‘fulfill’ it. (Matt 5:17) i.e. take it to its fullest level. So, it was no longer good enough to not hate your enemies, you had to love them! No longer good enough simply to fulfill a set of religious laws, more than that He wanted us to love God with our whole being.
Interestingly Jesus never taught people to tithe, in a sense that was taken as a given, it was the law and people knew it. You couldn’t be a first century Jew without the words of Malachi ringing in their ears that to not tithe was to “rob God” (Mal 3:8). The one time that Jesus did mention tithing was when he was railing against the religious people who were being so fastidious in their tithing the spices, but ignoring justice! What he did say though was ‘don’t neglect the former (i.e. tithing)’ but do both – so you could argue from that one mention that he did teach tithing! Whilst never really teaching or even mentioning tithing, Jesus did talk about money all the time, in fact he spoke more about money than any other subject. But he didn’t come to do away with the law, no, but to fulfill it, or take it to its fullness. Thus, he called his disciples to go way beyond tithing and have a much more radical approach to finances, that they’d be prepared to give and give and give.
I love this great quote from an article by John Ortberg on tithing, he said “A tithe makes a great floor but a poor ceiling.” I even preached on that very concept back in January 2015. Ortberg also said that the tithe is like stabilisers on a bike that it’s to get you going in your giving, but God always intended for us to move on from it into so much more.
So, what about you? What sits right for you? I’m hoping you’re someone who is convinced that a tithe is worth giving into your local church, and either have been doing for some time, or you’re ready to start – brilliant! Thank you, and thank you God, for it is him moving in our hearts whenever we choose to be generous.
Maybe you’ve decided that the Light church is going to be your church. If that’s the case, then you really should be doing something around giving. If you’re struggling then don’t feel pressure, but I’d still encourage you to try and give something – the blessing of giving should be available to everyone, not just those with loads of cash.
Maybe you’ve been giving, but not giving a tithe. If you have studied the scriptures and reached the conclusion that your tithe can be shared beyond the local church, and that’s what you want to do – follow your conscience. I know that, for me, I would believe God would be fine for me giving some of my tithe outside of the church, as I do with other money. But I love this church, have always loved it, despite its faults, so am keen to see it well resourced so we can achieve all he has for us, so have always brought my whole tithe into the local church.
As we regularly mention, follow the advice of Paul in 2 Corinthians 7, ‘Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.’
Whatever happens, let’s not get legalistic, but let’s remember that Jesus consistently taught that grace went beyond the law it didn’t stop short of it. He called us to radical living, so let’s start with some radical giving.
Nearly five weeks ago, I had to dash home from my work with a temperature. I was convinced it was Covid and despite a negative test, am still convinced. I am only just fully better, but want to praise God for my healing. Yes, even though it took nearly 5 weeks, I still want to praise him, and here is why…. in fact I wrote this whilst in the midst of feeling terrible, nearly five weeks ago.
The challenge of being a rational thinker
Before I get into this, I need to confess at times I can be a very rational thinker and rational communicator.
I simply can’t say ‘wow that’s my absolute favourite’ about something…..unless it truly is. When my kids would tell me ‘you’re the best dad in the world!’ (that was before they were teenagers), my response would be: ‘aww thanks.’ But on the inside I’d have this internal monologue thinking… ‘I’m the only Dad you’ve ever experienced so it’s not much of a competition’ or ‘It’s highly unlikely that I’m actually the best in the world, but thanks, I appreciate the sentiment.’ That’s what goes on in the head of a very rational thinker - can some of you out there relate to it? Whilst the rest of the world feels sorry for us literalists!
So when it comes to healing, I’ll be honest that, at times, when someone has been healed in a seemingly non-supernatural way and someone else says ‘Praise God’ I used to struggle with that. I used to struggle that people would attribute to God and prayer what just happened through science, medicine or natural causes.
But then it was last year, as I was walking along a beach on holiday, I was praying and talking to God and listening to what he had to say to me, when I just got a sense…. ‘It’s all a miracle’ and ‘Praise God’ is exactly the right response for every healing that every happens. Every healing, however it comes about, deserves a ‘Praise God!’ Here’s why I think this.
The miracle of the human immune system
It’s a miracle that the way he has created our bodies is such that our bodies are constantly fighting off infection. I wish I was a scientist and could explain it better, but the way that our bodies fight back against colds, viruses, yes there might be a few days of feeling rubbish, but most things get beaten off simply because we’ve been wired and created to fight back. As I lay in bed with a fever fighting off Covid - I thanked God that this fever was a sign of my body’s immune system fighting back. This is a miracle!!! It’s stunning, absolutely stunning. Praise God for my healing!
The miracle of science
As I continued my walk along the beach, I got to thinking about science and medicine and the role it played. Before I knew it I was bursting out in praise to my God. God created us and gave us brains so amazing and so advanced that, especially in this day and age, we truly understand the workings of the human body. Have you ever stopped to wonder at how amazing that is? That we understand, to the tiniest detail, of how the body works. That when a new virus like Covid comes along, we can seek to understand this tiniest of things and then work a way for some form of medicine to fight back against it, or even protect against it? Praise God for amazing brains that work that out - because he made those brains! Who gave these scientists and medics that ability? Him alone. So the next time someone is fully healed purely as a result of medical intervention, I’m going to say ‘Praise God’, sure I’ll be grateful for the medics and scientists, but praise our amazing God for giving them the ability and knowledge.
The miracle of the mind
I realise this might be a new thought, but have you ever thought about how ‘faith’ in its generic sense heals people? I know Jesus said ‘Your faith has made you well,’ but a year or two back I read a fascinating science book on how people got well if they believed they were being made well. You’ll have heard of it before, it’s called the placebo effect. This is where a new drug is tested and some people are given a fake drug whilst others are given the real thing. If the success of the placebo is less than the real thing, it’s generally considered a success (please, I’m no scientist, but that was my understanding.) Not uncommon at all for a new drug to hit 80% success rate and the placebo 60%. Isn’t that incredible, that 60% of people would ‘heal themselves’ simply because they think they’ve taken something that has healed them?? I think as Christians we’ve maybe reacted against this, but once again why shouldn’t we shout ‘Praise God’ that he has made our minds so incredible that by thinking the right things we can, sometimes, release healing into our bodies, remove pain by the power of the mind etc. Talk about the renewing of the mind, that is truly stunning and when we pray for people there may be times when that is exactly what is happening. It might make it feel less amazing, but maybe that’s because we are not amazed enough at our how amazing God has made us?
I don’t know about you, but having considered all of the above, I almost feel like saying, surely that is all supernatural??? Well yes, in that it’s truly amazing, remarkable and wonderful, but no… dictionary definition of supernatural is this - attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature. Well our scientific understanding is off the charts isn’t it - Praise God for that! Our understanding of the laws of nature is off the charts isn’t it? Praise God for that too!
However, on top of having the most amazing immune systems, the most incredible science and medicine, minds that work to heal us - there are moments when our God, having done all of that, and let’s be real here - that would be enough - steps in and does something totally unexplainable.
Like Kelly who had a hematoma in her womb that was going to kill her unborn baby. Josie prayed for her, the next hospital scan, it had totally disappeared.
Like Anne, a CAP client, who went totally blind, yet got prayed for and her eyesight was perfectly restored.
Like Carrie who couldn’t read because of her dyslexia yet came out of the baptism pool able to read fine.
(All people I’ve met and can verify first hand)
None of that is the immune system, nor science, nor the mind - this is God breaking in in an extra special way.
Now if we’re being honest those don’t happen very often do they? Certainly not in the ‘western’ church? I know it’s not a very faith filled thing to say, remember I’m a rational thinker, I’m just being honest. It tends to be a combination of the more natural healing processes and God working through those at times to speed up our healing. That is why, when I pray, one of the ways I pray for healing is that God’s spirit would accelerate the brilliant healing he has already programmed into the body. Just like adrenalin does the same in a natural way, so God’s spirit can do it in a spiritual way.
But when it does happen - wow - it’s amazing isn’t it? We can really let ourselves go in praise to God. But I guess my point in writing this is to let ourselves go in praise to God when it happens through natural/scientific means too, because he’s responsible for every single one of those as well!
The mystery of faith and healing
Let’s face it the whole area of healing and faith is a real mystery. When I think of those in our church suffering with long term illness, with Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, Josie with her thyroid condition, Eye conditions - people who are waiting for a miracle - each of these beautiful people need us to have both a gift of faith for them, and a sensitivity that we must acknowledge that not everything gets healed in our timing, or even, at times, this side of the grave. There are times when it’s right to declare full healing and be rammed full of expectation and faith and times when its right to simply journey with love and compassion.
For those of you full of faith all, or most, of the time, I hope I’ve not dampened it at all - we all need you! You inspire us and challenge us to believe for more.
For those who struggle at times with being too rational, like me, I hope this helps you to join in with the ‘Praise Gods’ next time someone has successful surgery, gets over a cold, or has a top drawer supernatural miracle that simply can’t be explained, but for the goodness of God.
Introducing the leadership changes in the Light Church - Part 2
Light church family - Who is leading us, and where do I fit?
As already mentioned, we believe that God has not only led us to a new structure, but also to some new people being called into leadership roles within the church.
We have created a pyramid diagram to pictorially demonstrate this - (scroll down to see.) As you will see from the diagram, we have deliberately inverted the structure of leadership within the church. This reflects our belief and desire that as your leaders we are not ‘over’ you, but rather we want to serve you, strengthen you, uphold you and equip you.
So what do all of the terms mean and who are these people? (We recognise there is some repetition here from the document detailing the changes in leadership structure, but have left them in, so it can exist as a stand alone document for future use.)
Lead Pastor - Matt Barlow became Lead Pastor of the church in Feb 2020 after God called him away from his role as CEO of CAP to serve the Light Church. This means he is the person primarily responsible for receiving and imparting a God given vision. He will seek to lead and serve the church so we are all equipped to disciple each other and for works of service to fulfil our vision. This means everything from overseeing the teaching of the church, the spiritual practices, disciple making, pastoral care of the church and all of our many outreach ministries. Matt will do this in conjunction with a leadership team and under the legal authority of the trustees.
Trustees - comprising of David Bullen, Kate Hart, Pete McMahon, Peter Snell.
The first key decision we made was to establish a separate group of trustees who are independent from the spiritual and day to day leadership of the church. Trustees are responsible for the oversight and decision making on all things legal, financial and regulatory involved in running the church as a charity. They are specifically there to ensure that the charity (i.e. the church) fulfills the purposes for which it is set out, and is it doing it in line with both legal expectations and best practice guidelines.
We are so grateful to this group for their willingness to serve in this capacity, and if you don’t know them that well, we will be introducing them to you very soon.
Leadership Team - This second group will be referred to collectively as the Leadership, however different roles will be played within this:
Oversight team - comprising of Matt Barlow, Helen Watts and Steve Restrick.
Firstly there will be a group that will be an Oversight team, whose job it will be to work with me as Lead Pastor to oversee the spiritual life of the church. This will mean playing a vital role in discerning what God is saying to us in terms of vision and direction, ensuring the church is being led according to sound biblical interpretation, carrying a sense of pastoral burden for the church amongst other things. Helen has faithfully served on Light Church
leadership for the last three years and as pastoral team oversight. Steve, was a pastor, church planter and served in pastoral ministry for 20 years and thus brings a wealth of experience in church life. They also both bring a strong emphasis on pastoral leadership, which I am convinced will be a helpful support to me as I continue my personal journey of transformation.
Pastoral and Operations - comprising of Matt Barlow, Josie Barlow and Tarzan Almas. This team is responsible for the ‘running’ of the church. They will work closely with the employed staff team, key ministry leaders and other servants of the church to practically ensure we are fulfilling the vision and strategy of the church.
We recognise the valuable leadership roles both Josie and Tarzan already fulfill in different ways. Josie as one of the founders of the church is a teacher and preacher as well as someone heavily invested into strengthening the sense of family and community, but also on the cutting edge of our outreach. Tarzan has demonstrated an amazing pastoral heart and serves the church tirelessly in both providing support and equipping and supporting others in their pastoral gifting and ministry.
It should be noted that we intend to add to these teams over time, but felt it right for now to start small and build a relationally strong team. We are aware the team is not the youngest group ever, and we intend to invite some younger leaders, initially to apprentice, to ensure we are equipping all generations.
Ministry Leaders - t hese are the point leaders who have overall responsibility for a specific ministry or key function within the church. (We recognise there are many serving as leaders of sub groups or as part of a team under these overall ministry leaders)
Pastoral - Tarzan Almas
Social action and outreach
Worship & Tech - Chris Haldane
Preaching and Teaching - Matt Barlow
Youth - Sarah Bullen
Kids - tbc
Young adults - Kiri Saunders Prayer - tbc
TLG - Maddie Meszaros
Foodbank - Josie Barlow
CAP services - Gaz Thompson
Finance & Facilities - Alan Priestly
Safeguarding - Tarzan Almas
Communications - Matt Barlow
Home Church Leaders - part of the Light church ethos is one of being family and community and this is very hard to happen in a church of nearly 300 adults and children. Here at the Light church, small groups, that we call Home Church, are just as important, if not more important than ‘Big Church.’ We value both highly, but want to be clear that Home church is central to our vision and growth. Thus your Home Church leaders are key in creating a healthy spiritual community that enables people to grow as disciples and find their place to serve in both the church and the wider community.
The church body that we are called to serve
All the roles above have one thing in common - they are all people who are called to serve and equip the church, both you the people and the wider mission of the church. They are servants first and foremost, and secondly they are equippers. Equipping God’s people for works of service (both inside and outside the ‘church.’)
Moving forward, we believe it would be useful to use the following categories to identify who is a part of our church family and how engaged they are. We also think it’s fair to be clear what ‘commitment’ to the church looks like. It is our prayer that in our discipleship journey, we would all show a solid commitment to the church family that we call home.
To do this we look at the three areas of Time, Money and Energy, defined as follows:
Time - giving your time by turning up and engaging in various areas of church life.
Money - giving some of your money to support the work of the church.
Energy - giving of yourself in service to the church, be that within a specific area of gifting/calling or simply serving.
We believe that everyone can give something in all of these three areas, we all have something to bring in each area to make the church effective in its mission. Though we totally acknowledge that some people have more to give than others in all of these three areas, dependent on life stage and life circumstances. There is grace for all of this, we are not looking to introduce some form of legalism.
It is our hope that by setting out what commitment looks like it will both empower you and inspire you to be really committed to the life of the church.
You demonstrate a healthy level of commitment in these three areas:
You’ve called the Light Church home, you have made steps to say ‘I’m in, I’m part of this family’ - awesome - welcome!! However, we recognise that when joining a new church family, it can take time to warm up and to really engage your time, money and energy. We will do everything we can to help you towards that, though of course we recognise this is as much about you choosing to throw yourself in. Picking up a standing order form and filling it in, volunteering to serve in a ministry and turning up to a home church or big church. Take the time you need, though remember that it will more quickly feel more like home the more committed you get.
This group is simply everyone from those who are checking us out to see if this could be home, to those who maybe connect through our various outreach ministries, whom we are inviting to come and be a part of our church family, and, more importantly, the family of God.
We hope and pray that the above explanation and framework will truly serve the whole church as we seek to fulfill the words of Ephesians 4:15-16 that we might be.. ‘...g rowing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.’
We recognise that this is a significant change for us as a church, and don’t want to underestimate how much time it might take for you as church family to adjust to this new approach and also the new faces. As we said, we do believe that God is doing a new thing, we are excited about this new season, the new emphasis that this team will bring and the sense of fresh vision and perspective that will flow from that. We say all of that with total respect for all that has gone before, we trust God’s timing in it all and that what was right in the past is not always what is right for the future moving forward.
Our God is doing a new thing. The Light church has been and is an amazing church, a vibrant expression of God’s heart for this city, and it shall continue to be exactly that. But God has more for us, so much more. More in terms of fruitfulness, more in terms of knowing Him deeply and experiencing his presence. He has more people to bring into His family and He has more and better ways for us to help people grow into their identity as His children and His co-labourers. It will now be our job as the new leadership to establish what that means for us and to lead us forward into all that He has for us.
Please, please, please will you take some time to stop and to pray for everyone mentioned above. Pray prayers of thanks for those stepping down and prayers of equipping for those stepping up. Having announced it, we will now create some space to pray for all of those stepping into new spheres of responsibility and to commit this to God as His church family.
At the beginning of this year we entered a new season with me becoming Lead Pastor. One of the words that God gave to us as a church was ‘See I am doing a new thing!’(Isaiah 43:19) I know this resonated with many of you as I’ve heard it repeated back to me many times, which is so encouraging.
As a leadership team, we get a sense that there are a significant number of new things that God has for us and that the coming year could be a time of significant change. Change that doesn’t lose the essence of who we are as a church but that builds on the amazing (but very imperfect) church that God has made us to be over the last nearly 12 years! This is the first of the changes we are bringing to you our church family.
One of the areas we said we would be looking at, is that of leadership structure. As we began our conversations around the ‘new thing’ God may be doing around leadership structure and team, it has turned out to be a very new thing, as you will see as you read on.
The journey started in discussion with the leadership team, that we needed a new wineskin in terms of structure. It was really clear that the previous structure of one team that carried responsibility for everything - trusteeship, spiritual leadership, practical and operational leadership was too great a burden. A burden that had been felt by the team for some time, and with me now at the helm, so to speak, it was time to create a new structure.
As we created that structure, it was then time for each person on the leadership to consider their part in the new structure going forward. As each person sought God for themselves, it was at this point, that it became clear that God really was doing a very new thing, and that a bit of an overhaul of our leadership was part of his plans. I say ‘His plans’ because I want it to be really clear, this is not of my doing. I know incoming Prime Ministers often have a cabinet clear out, this isn’t what has happened here as each leadership team member will tell you, but I do trust God that his hand is upon it.
People stepping down from leadership
Let me tell you who is moving on and why and then we’ll talk about the new that is coming. So in order of longevity of service John Kirkby, Gareth Jones, Chris Haldane and Lindon Craven are all laying down their leadership responsibilities, but continuing as valuable members of the Light church body.
John has served tirelessly since the church’s inception, and also stepped into the gap even more so in the last two years after I stepped off the leadership and then Tim Morfin stepped down just over a year ago. John will tell you he has been ready to step down for some time, simply due to capacity and busyness, but has faithfully carried it, waiting for God to bring a longer term solution.
Gareth similarly had a sense from God that he was to carry this to the point of a new leader, and believes that this time has come. We’re so grateful to Gareth for ten years in leadership of this church, his wisdom and insight has been a huge blessing.
Lindon’s sense after a challenging couple of years is that his new job as Chaplain at Bradford Forster Academy is where God is calling him to really invest his gifts.
Chris has come to the end of his 3 year tenure, and with a new job and the demands of a young family felt God call him to lay it down, to focus more on the creative side of his gifting.
I’ve not mentioned Edd in this list as he is still taking in effect a paternity rest from leadership and we’ve agreed he will sense whether to continue or not later in the year. Helen and Josie - well you’ll hear about them both shortly.
Before I go any further, I want to say thank you to all of those stepping down. I’m going to do it briefly because there will be a moment to truly celebrate and thank each person properly. I know more than most the challenge of seeking to help lead a church in your spare time and I am so very very grateful for the many hours of time each one has invested in helping to lead the church. I also recognise that it’s not just the time, but also the emotional and spiritual cost that can’t be quantified but are significant. I honour each one of you for all that you have given, though I do want to make special mention of John and Gareth, given the length of time they have served. John if it wasn’t for your amazing faith and pioneering ability, I don’t think The Light Church would be here at all. Whilst Josie and I had talked often about starting a church, it was when you said you felt God saying the same to you and Lizzie that we felt we had a chance. We’re truly grateful and pray you will be blessed as you see all that it becomes in the future. Gareth, you’ve done nearly ten years on leadership and we are so grateful for your thoughtful, reflective leadership. For the way you’ve helped shape the church theologically, for your pastoral heart for people, and I know I speak for the whole church in saying that once you’ve had a bit of a preaching break, we can’t wait to have you back.
So, this is part one complete, part two will now let you know what is happening as we move forward, the leadership structure and the people who will be fulfilling the roles of leadership.
Having been mentored for the last two years by one of the most prominent Black Christian leaders in the UK church, the amazing Rev Kate Coleman, I thought I understood.
In fact I’m only just beginning to wake up, beginning to understand. I’ll never truly understand, but I understand more today than I did a few weeks ago. Which was more than a year before that, which is much more than a decade ago. Racism is still alive and well in today’s society and my brothers, sisters and fellow members of society who happen to have different colour skin feel it acutely to this very day. And when I say feel it, I mean really feel it. This means that where George Floyd was just a sad news story to someone like me, it was a moment of genuine trauma and grief to most black people, including some in our church.
It’s easy to think that because the days of bananas being thrown on football pitches are (mostly) behind us, the ’N’ word and the ‘P’ words are now off limits, we have BAME* Cabinet members that all is now well. But we should all be aware that there is only one group of people who think that racism no longer exists in Britain, and they are called white people.
(* BAME stands for Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic)
You might think that by writing this I’m simply jumping on a bandwagon, trying to be woke (look it up), to fly the flag for political correctness. Or you might be more accurate to think that actually this is a kingdom issue, something that God cares deeply and passionately about, an issue of truly valuing human dignity and recognising that if we don’t seek justice and speak out about injustice we miserably fail in our divine mandate to represent Him to this world. It wasn’t political correctness that drove Christians to lead the fight to abolish slavery, that inspired Christians to lead the civil rights movement and the abolition of apartheid in South Africa. So in the same way we as God’s people need to be at the forefront of fighting for true racial equality in our land. And I believe that what is happening around the world in response to what has been disgraceful injustice after disgraceful injustice in America, is actually a move of God’s spirit that we simply must be in on.
This weekend, we plan to turn to James chapter 2, verses 1-12. These verses talk about the sin of partiality - judging people according to the outside and treating them differently. It couldn’t be more relevant. Sure James talks specifically about the poor and the rich and of course there are poor white men and wealthy black men in Britain, but the rich black men, they’re the exception. (Of the wealthiest 1000 people in the UK in 2020, 81 are non white and just 4 are black.) But whilst James talks to his people about how we treat and welcome people in to our churches, without showing favouritism, without partiality, we have to recognise that our BAME brothers and sisters face this sin of partiality in society in general, as well as in churches, and it should break our hearts.
I’m not claiming I know everything that we must do, but one thing we must do is educate ourselves. We all need educating, every single one of us.
I recognise it can feel like a bit of a minefield, I know we can be fearful in knowing the right things to say, the right terms to use, but if we humble ourselves, get our hearts right and are prepared to be corrected by those of a different colour skin, we can move forward together.
This is not political correctness, this is injustice correcting.
For further reading, please check out this blog by my friend Kate, who suggests many different links and books to help educate yourself.
Levelling up Big Church and Home Church
As we continue to journey towards a sense of new vision for us as a church, I am convinced that a thriving network of groups meeting in homes is going to be even more important to us as a church than ever before. Already in the Light church, many people would say that their Light group is the most important aspect of church life for them. It is my observation that too many churches hold the Sunday meeting up as ‘non negotiable’ whilst making small group meeting very much optional. I believe that to be able to both grow as a church and also to improve how we disciple one another, that we need to elevate the role of the small group up alongside the place of the Sunday gathering.
Someone said to me recently, ‘I’m not part of the Light church any more, but am still committed to my Light group.’ This struck me as an interesting insight into what it means to be a part of a church. I reflected that I don’t think anyone would ever say, ‘I’m not really part of the light church anymore, but still regularly go to church meetings on a Sunday.’ Personally I believe this is a wrong understanding of what church is. Meeting in ‘big church’ of 200 people or meeting in ‘small church’ of 12 - it’s all part of being the ekklesia - the congregation of God’s people.
I also have a strong belief that this is a biblical mandate. As I taught in my final ‘live’ sermon before lockdown, the new testament clearly shows us that churches tended to have their identity by the homes that met in. The church regularly met in homes, and it would appear this is where the church truly came together to grow in their love for God. One of the biggest advantages of meeting in small gatherings is more people get to use their gifts. All those instructions on using the gifts of the spirit weren’t aimed at large gatherings, they were at churches that met in homes - they actually make much more sense when you understand this (e.g. 1Cor14:26 When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation - this simply can’t be the case in a group of 200!) If we are going to make disciples, we’ll do it much better in smaller groups than sitting watching other people use their gifts as often happens on a Sunday morning.
I first came across the phrase ‘Home Church’ when preaching in a church in Manchester maybe ten years ago, and it instantly inspired me. I believe it sends a message that church is simply wherever God’s people gather together for worship and building each other up in the faith. When I came across it again recently, I felt convinced that this was the way we should go.
So, from now as a church we’re going to refer to Light groups as Home churches. Say a prayer for our Light group leaders - one minute they were a Light group leader, now they’re a Home church leader - Q: ‘what? I’m a church leader??’ A: ‘Yes, but you were one already, you just had the wrong name!’ I know name changes take a while to bed in, I know not everyone will like it, but hopefully you’ll all join in.
I’m very aware that just changing a name never changed anything (apart from the name!) But as God reveals his vision for us, I believe this will be the first step in stepping into all he has for us as a church and that Home churches are going to play a big part in that. And don’t worry - Sunday gatherings aren’t going away, and if you don’t have any space at all in your life to be part of a home church, you can still play a valuable role as a member of the Light Church.
‘Father, would you take something as simple as a name change and use it to strengthen our church in every way.
Would you help all of us to understand the value of meeting in a smaller group and that this isn’t some second rate cousin to the Sunday morning gathering.
In this busy world would you help us find time to meet in this way.
In this world of curating the right image for everyone to see, may they be places of genuine openness and honesty.
In this commitment phobic age, help us commit to one another as brothers and sisters.
At a time where the powers of this world seek to disciple us in their image, would you help us to disciple each other in your image.
Lord bless home churches.
Bless those who lead them.
Bless all who meet in them.
Use this powerfully for your kingdom advancement in this city and for leading all of us into life in all of its fullness.
Thanks for reading this far - just for clarity, you’ll likely hear me refer to the two different expressions of church as ‘Big Church’ and ‘Home Church’ - that keeps things simple in my simple head.
P.S. My thanks to the Home Church leaders for their feedback and input into this decision.
Matt shares some of what he senses God is speaking to him about as we journey towards a fresh vision for the Light Church
For all of the horrible things this Covid19 pandemic has brought us, including premature death, fear, economic impact including losing jobs and businesses, most people have been able to identify something positive in the midst of this lockdown. Whilst I understand that many people will face plenty of challenges, one of the gifts that many people are aware of is the gift of time this has given. Time and space to stop and reflect. (Caveat of course for those working in health, care and other vital services in the battle against the virus, and especially those parents with younger children - we salute all of you and recognise you don’t have much time to stop and reflect!)
However, whether you feel hard pressed on every side, or you have more space than ever before, I hope you are making space to try and stop and reflect. Especially for those with more time than normal, I hope and pray you aren’t just filling your time up with more Netflix, cooking, social media to drown out the sound of silence, but that in the silence you are pausing, resting, thinking, contemplating, and through all of this hearing the voice of God. (Btw nothing wrong with a bit of diversion therapy obviously!) If so, I’d be very keen to know what it is he is saying to you.
For me, I’m thoroughly embracing this time, especially in seeking God for what he has for us as a church. When I stepped into this role, one of the things I felt God speak to me about was not rushing, but taking time to hear his voice for the future of the church. I’m not brilliant at patience, nor am I brilliant at hearing God’s voice in a crystal clear manner. I tend to be a ‘have an idea and get on with it’ kind of guy. But this, well this has forced me to do exactly what God has asked me to do, and I, for one, am glad of the help.
I wonder if you might join me in asking him what he has in store for us as a church? What are your hopes and dreams for the Light church? What are your hopes and dreams for the church across Bradford? I don’t believe I’ve been called to this role simply to maintain the status quo. I don’t want to big myself up, but I’ve never been a status quo kind of guy (though you have to admit ‘Rockin all over the world’ is a classic.) I believe God has so much more he wants to do in this city. I believe there are disciples to be made, churches to planted, lives to be turned around and transformed. I also know there will be no magic bullet, and no overnight success.
So, for my part, I’m spending time connecting with other church leaders that I know to try and learn from some of the best I know and discover what has worked for them, and also what else have they seen working elsewhere, here in the UK or beyond. I’m spending time listening to an awful lot (If you’d like to join me, then I’d highly recommend a podcast called ‘This Cultural Moment.’) I’m reading lots too, but most importantly I’m also pausing. Being still and making space to see what the spirit might be saying to us as a church. Thinking, praying, journalling.
I don’t think it was chance that I started off this year by calling us to focus on growing a strong family. I never imagined it would take not meeting together to, in many ways, bring us closer, but I sense it has. Weird. I don’t think it was an accident that one of my final preaches before all of this was the value of meeting in homes versus large gatherings - as I expect we’ll have quite a lot of months of that coming up. I also said, we’d take time this year to focus on discipleship, and really when I ask - ‘what do you want the church to become’ the question I’m really asking is ‘what kind of disciples should we as a church become?’
So, in the same way that you are hopefully stopping, praying and considering what life might look for you post Covid - please do the same for our church. Then either drop me an email, or wait for some upcoming chances to to talk about it online and process it together.
P.S. Do be in prayer for me as well as I process all that God is saying through my reading, conversations and prayer.
Well, life as we know it is being put on pause, as we respond, as a nation, to ensure those most at risk are protected from Covid-19 and the Health Service has the best chance of handling all that lies ahead.
Be a people of irrepressible hope and unexplainable peace
Let’s be brutally honest about it, this is a crisis that is going to cause huge uncertainty for so many, a big rise in anxiety, be that around health, finances or just sheer social isolation. I do believe there is much that God can and will teach us through this time, I believe there are opportunities for his spirit to move, but let’s not be blasé about it. It will be tough, it will be a trial, but let’s rise up, let’s be the church and be a people of irrepressible hope and unexplainable peace.
Justin Welby wrote the following in a statement today - “Our life is going to be less characterised by attendance at church on Sunday, and more characterised by the prayer and service we offer each day.” Yes! Come on! About time! Maybe this is exactly what we need?
However, I am truly impacted by the thought of so much isolation. Maybe because I’m such an extrovert, but I am not looking forward to this one bit. I can’t imagine what it must be like for those who are already alone, or for whom going to work, or to a coffee morning, or church on a Sunday is the main time they get human contact. For those of you familiar with CS Lewis’s book ‘The Great Divorce’ he paints hell as a place where people become more and more isolated from each other, because of their sin and selfishness. Isolation is a scheme of the evil one, and we already live in a world more isolated than ever before. More people live alone, more people only engage on line rather than face to face, and it’s about to get worse. My fear is that this isolation we are all about to experience becomes the norm for the future. My irrepressible hope and my faith filled prayer, however, is that we all realise more than ever just how much we need each other, and this isolation makes us work harder than ever in the future to build community and pull down the chains of isolation.
So, what lies in store for us as the Light church?
Well, it is very clear that the most loving thing to do is to stop meeting together and government guidance is beyond clear. All of the government stats show that isolating ourselves will potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives. This has to be worth it. So, in line with pretty much the whole of the UK church, we have postponed all church meetings until further notice, which includes all of our small groups, kids, youth etc in line with the government’s mandate on ‘non-essential’ contact.
What we will be doing:
Pastoral care of the church
Please email me your prayer needs and practical needs that have come about as a result of Covid-19. Tarzan and I will be working closely to coordinate the pastoral response and care of our church family. We will do all we can to see that needs are met from within the family of the church.
I especially want to hear from you if:
Foodbank is offering a reduced service of just food parcels with no wrap around care of signposting, hot meal etc. We have made a decision as a church to not only do our best to keep Foodbank open, but truly step up our capacity to deliver, to meet what is going to be an ever increasing need. We’ll be sending more information out on this very soon.
Debt Centre and Job Club
Our Debt Centre has rightly been advised by CAP to make no home visits for the forseeable future, and our Job Club has also been advised to close until further notice. Gaz, Eilidh and team will be doing what they can to support existing clients and members from afar - please do pray for the team and those they are helping.
Along with all schools they will be closing from this Friday. The team will be remaining in contact with the young people and supporting them to learn from home. Please pray for the team and the students.
The Inn Churches team will end the winter night shelter this weekend, which means our week will no longer be needed. Juli gave me an encouraging update that they’ve managed to house most people already, with just a few more to go. Praise God!
I am absolutely convinced that with the right heart and attitude, this overwhelming challenge can be turned into an opportunity. We pray ‘your kingdom come’ and all over the place we see good deeds and selfless acts springing up everywhere. Sure, the darkness of panic buying and selfish acts make the headlines too, but personally I think the that goodness and kindness (fruits of the spirit) are what is truly hitting home. Let’s thank God for that and do all we can, where possible, to contribute the one thing that we have more than anyone - irrepressible hope and unexplainable peace.
P.S. Here’s that video link for you again…. https://vimeo.com/398805170
P.P.S. I thought this article was really thought provoking.