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Why #blacklivesmatter matters

Matt Barlow - 03 June 2020

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.

I didn’t.

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.

  • If you think that racism no longer exists in the UK, I respectfully would point out that you simply haven’t listened to the right voices.
  • If you think people should just ‘get over’ the past, then you don’t understand how the past impacts the present in a very real way and has yet to be truly learnt from and put right.
  • If you think that you don’t ‘see colour,’ as seemingly magnanimous as that may seem to you, you don’t understand how a simple statement dismisses cultural background and identity, plus it’s simply not true, you see gender, you see age, you see colour.
  • If you think that ‘Black Lives Matter’ should be replaced with ‘All Lives Matter’ you’ve not understood the degree to which Black Lives stand out as ‘Not mattering’ such that they need their own hashtag and own campaign.
  • If you think that we’re nowhere near as bad as America - you’re right, but since when did we step into righteousness by comparing ourselves to a tax collector? (Luke 18:9)

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.

Light groups become Home Churches

Matt Barlow - 01 June 2020

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.

Biblical mandate

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.

Name change

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.

A prayer:

‘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.

To finish

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.

Matt

P.S. My thanks to the Home Church leaders for their feedback and input into this decision.

See I am doing a new thing!

Matt Barlow - 15 May 2020

Matt shares some of what he senses God is speaking to him about as we journey towards a fresh vision for the Light Church

Time to pause and reflect

Matt Barlow - 27 April 2020

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.

Matt

P.S. Do be in prayer for me as well as I process all that God is saying through my reading, conversations and prayer.

Update re all things Light Church & Covid19

Matt Barlow - 20 March 2020

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?

Church gatherings

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:

  • This Sunday 22nd March - 7pm - Light a candle in your window and join an online prayer meeting as we join with our nation . I’d encourage Light groups to meet in smaller groups online to pray for our church, our city and our nation. Everyone else will be able to access an online prayer meeting led by me. Links etc to come nearer the time.
  • From Monday 23rd March - 1pm, as you sit down for lunch, every weekday, join me and others on line to pray - feel free to drop in and out. Again links etc to come.
  • From Sunday 29th March - 10:30am - we will have a Facebook live gathering, some worship, a short message, some prayer, to keep us uniting as a church.

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:

  1. You are self employed or on zero hour contracts and your business is going to be badly affected. We have means to help you, so please tell us.
  2. Your work is looking very shaky and you fear for your job.
  3. You are already in self isolation and would like some support
  4. You are already feeling the anxiety and would like someone to chat to.

Foodbank

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.

TLG School

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.

Inn Churches

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.

Matt

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.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/14/opinion/coronavirus-church-close.html?fbclid=IwAR0i1_wgZBC1bRWsNCUhCrcDeMnc7v3VipE_HV_dfSNZp5G41PhqvhfGcC8

Corona Virus - how should we respond

Matt Barlow - 11 March 2020

Dear church,

Well, no one is talking about Brexit anymore are they? As the Coronavirus dominates the headlines, we have seen stock markets crash, and a whole country of 60m people quarantined and not allowed to meet in public. (Quite a remarkable decision, given that it is in response to 10,000 people having the virus, roughly 0.017% of the population.) I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in government and have to make those sorts of decisions, with all the possible consequences that go along with it.

In the UK there are currently 382 known cases, that’s about 1 in 157,000 people. So, clearly there is no need to be too worried now, but it makes sense to take precautions, and it seems pretty clear that the number of cases will rise dramatically over the coming weeks. Let’s be in prayer that the rise is not as dramatic as it has been elsewhere. Let’s also pray for those countries less equipped to deal with the virus.

As a church we want to be both full of faith whilst being sensible and respecting all of the advice coming from the government. It is also an amazing opportunity to be selfless and show compassion to those who need it.

For now, nothing much will change as we meet on Sundays. It has been so encouraging seeing the church still packed full on a Sunday, especially having spoken to a pastor friend who told me that his church was half full on Sunday! We will however do a few practical things to reduce risk such as:

  • No hugs or handshakes on the door! I know, some of you will miss it, some of you won’t, but it’s a simple thing. It will just be smiles and the odd elbow bump. One thing to say on this, is please respect this. I was in a cafe this morning, and happened to know the owner, he offered me his hand, I politely suggested an elbow bump, to which he responded ‘Don’t be silly’ and went on to shake my hand. Thankfully I’m not that bothered, but some people are, so please, even if you think it’s over the top, do respect other people’s right to protect themselves.
  • You will likely see some difference in how we serve tea and coffee, so as to reduce the number of mutual contact points, e.g. we normally all use the same teaspoons, milk jugs etc.
  • Hosting teams and refreshment teams will be taking extra care to wash hands over and above normal.

I guess, all we’d ask you to do, is follow all of the normal advice coming from the government. Wash your hands well. If you’re feeling unwell, stay at home. Don’t cough over people etc.

If, over time, it does get worse, then we will of course re-visit whether large Sunday gatherings are appropriate, and if not, well we’ll just have to take it as a sign from God that home church is the way forward ???? And, if you feel you don’t want to risk it and come to Sunday church meetings, then do go onto facebook live and continue to journey with our ‘Love one another’ series.

As well as seeing this as a national challenge we all need to respond to, let’s also see it as a brilliant chance to demonstrate our faith. The early Christians were famous for being the only ones who would help the sick in early plagues that were 100 times worse than this. So, why not ask God if there is a neighbour who needs your help, someone elderly or infirm, who could do with some shopping getting in? And if you are fearful, Psalm 91 is always a cracker to meditate on.

Stay safe out there Light Church!!

Matt

So, how’s it going so far??

Matt Barlow - 05 March 2020

Well, that’s the first month done! Apart from a few CAP left over things back in early Feb, I’ve been full on for the Light church, and so I thought I’d reflect a bit here for you all. I thought I’d do my very own Q&A to make it easier to read!

Q: So, how’s it going?

A: The question people keep asking me (which I’m grateful for) and yet so impossible to answer quickly beyond just saying ‘fine!’ Well, firstly it’s weird. Of course it’s weird to leave behind a big CEO job with hundreds of staff and millions of pounds of budget to both raise and spend well, and go and serve in a very different environment. It is definitely going to take some time to really adjust, I feel like I’m only just beginning to get my head into what exactly are my most pressing priorities, and how I’m going to manage my time.

Q: So, what’s on your mind?

A: Wow, where do I start? Firstly there is so much stuff, and so many competing priorities with all the very many and varied areas of church life. One minute I can be focussed on what I’m preaching, the next discussing safeguarding, the next doing some pastoral support, then reviewing and updating Fire policies - aahh! So many plates to spin. So, what I’m trying really hard to focus on is our big, main focus for the year, which is “building a strong family, who disciple each other.” We’ve been doing the first bit of that through our teaching series, but I’m trying to ensure I put energy into it in other ways, as well as doing a lot of hosting myself, launching the hosting meal rota and setting up a walking group.

Q: What about the big stuff? Vision, direction etc.

Well, I promised myself I’d let myself settle in first. See what God is up to, make some space to hear from him, and the first part of that is getting the lay of the land. What I’ve seen is that there is a lot of what I would consider foundational work to be done. One of those foundations is the leadership structure, and we’ve been having lots of discussions within the Leadership team around what the structure will look like going forward, and also who will be on it. This is your heads up that there will be a number of significant changes coming, so watch this space!

The building is also on my mind, especially as I have seen just how cramped we are in the Light Centre. As you are all aware, we paused our own building process around the middle of last year as a new opportunity came up. That new opportunity has stalled a bit, but is still a very real opportunity, however we are dependent on third parties whom we have no control over. I’m seeking God for what he is saying in all of this, and am keen to create space to hear from you, my church family. I’m very aware that there is a keenness for us to move forward, I am with you in that!

The other big thing, which I regard as foundational, is how I can be best supported in my role on a day to day basis? I’m grateful for everyone on staff team, but I’m very keen to have a right hand person, someone who can help run the mechanics of the church, whilst also helping to lead in various areas. I believe this could be transformational for the church. Also, I’m used to working with team, I’m not used to being a solo player, and so am asking God that somehow he will make a way. I’m currently very aware however that we don’t really have the finances required for such a role, so I continue to pray that more people who call the Light church their home will start to tithe, which would make this possible.

Q: What’s been the best thing so far?

A: Genuinely it has been getting to exercise the pastoral gift. I know I’ve said in the past I’m not that pastoral, and the truth is it’s not one of my strongest gifts, but it is there. I’ve sensed God’s spirit in that more than anything else, coming alongside people and helping them and supporting them in the challenges they face. I’m priviliged that peopel will open up, share some deep stuff, and amazed that God meets needs through a listening ear and a faith filled prayer. It also makes me hugely grateful for the valuable role played by Tarzan, Helen and the pastoral team.

Q: How can people pray for you?

A: I think the biggest thing is that with the many plates that need to be spun, that I wouldn’t let all the stuff crowd out the voice of God and the sense of his presence. I’m used to working hard and fast, and I’m very aware that doing so makes it harder to both hear God and sense God. If all I do in this role is do my job in my own strength, then I will have failed. So prayers that I get a good rhythm, learn to lean into the Father more and more, and act from a place of presence and spirit led guidance rather than just my best ideas.

Thanks for reading!

Staff team changes

Matt Barlow - 21 January 2020

This Sunday gone, I shared with the church about changes in our staff team. I’m very aware that we’ve had quite a few changes over recent years, some of which have not gone well. Whilst this is a big change, we’re believing God is all over it, and it can end really well, thanks to his grace at work.

So the big news is that Lindon will be moving on from the staff team into other work, he is currently exploring exactly what that will be. But, really importantly, and in so many ways thanks to Lindon’s grace and humility, he and Sam will be remaining here at the Light, will continue preaching and continue as part of our current leadership team.

Here is a little of what Lindon communicated on Sunday…..

From Lindon:

I want to share a little bit of my journey and thinking with you since so many of you have been really invested in supporting me as Operations Manager here at the Light Church

I’ve been in post for nearly two years now - About 9 months ago I began discussion with the rest of the leadership about the nature of the Operations Manager role, how I was experiencing it and some of the difficulties of that, (which are also tied in to the journey the leadership have been on over that period.)

Since then I began to pray to God about what he would have me do, since I felt quite strongly that I was in an unsustainable position for me, but I wanted to know what his leading was.

I felt quite clear that God wanted me to stay in the position for now and not to move before his timing.

It’s been a very difficult period in the life of the church, not just for me but for the leadership of the church as they’ve considered the way forward through many complex and trying circumstances, and in some ways I feel like I’ve been at the eye of the storm for a lot of the tension of that period – in short it’s been a real strain – so I continually prayed to God, and still felt like the timing wasn’t right for me to leave the post.

As it became clear that it would be Matt who would lead the church I began to consider with God whether this would be the right time to move on, or whether there was a way forward for me with the new changes. Matt and I have had the chance to get to know each other a bit through this time and had a few discussions about how this might look.

In the end we both feel like it’s a good time for me to relinquish the operations manager role. I feel like I’ve been faithful to God and his calling, supporting the church through some seismic shifts in the way it works – right up until Matt is able to take up the role. I’m proud of that before God.

The church really needs some additional support in the office, but its not the kind of support that I’m inclined towards and its good to make some space for that.

Leadership have been very supportive throughout this time, I’ve been privileged to get to know them in a way that not everyone does and their heart and sacrifice towards me and this church rarely gets the recognition it deserves.

I will greatly miss working with all of the staff team, in particularly Beth and Sarah who I worked most closely with. I’ve really appreciated having Edd as my line manager but I particularly want to say thanks to Gareth Jones who has poured in countless hours of support over my time on the staff team.

Matt:

Can I just reiterate my huge thanks for Lindon’s heart for the church, and his grace and humility as we have been journeying this together.

You need to know that this process has been genuinely walked through from a place of love. For me, as I have been praying about what is right for this situation, it has been from a place of wanting the very best for both Lindon and the church. I’m so grateful that as we’ve walked this together, we’ve come to a mutual place of agreement of what is God’s best for the church and for Lindon.

Being a loving family and being a strong family, doesn’t always mean that people should continue in an employed role. In fact if that role is not the right fit, it’s a long way from being loving. What matters is how loving we are as we go through that process and how we support people, if it’s right that God is moving them on. Something we acknowledge we haven’t always got right, but we’re seeking to learn.

As I said to Lindon, if we had budget for a role that fitted his people focussed gifting, then this would be very different. But the current reality is not that. This church needs an operational lead, something Lindon himself has identified is not a good fit for him.

Lindon has been incredibly faithful these last two years. He has been through many serious ups and downs, but his heart for God, for the church and the staff team has been exemplary - this is a man who has devoted himself and demonstrated Jesus in all his ways. We look forward to all that he will bring as part of the family as we move forward.

Please be praying for Lindon, especially that God would open up the right door for his next steps in terms of work.

Jesus didn’t teach people to tithe

Matt Barlow - 14 January 2020

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 it’s 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 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, 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 read 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, why is it that so many committed Christians give a whole tithe, the whole ten percent, into the local church? Well, it can be for a whole host of reasons - some theological and some practical. These can include:

• Because you’ve been taught that Malachi 3:10 ‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple’ means you should give your tithe into the church. Whilst interpreting the ‘storehouse’ as the local church wouldn’t be a bad interpretation of scripture, it’s also not the strongest argument.

• Because you’ve been taught that people of Israel gave their tithes into the temple – hmmm, yes they did, as God wanted to use this to take care of the priests and the poor in the community, but it’s a bit more complex than that, at times they were told to enjoy the tithes themselves as a feast!

• Because the early church seemed to do their outrageous ‘beyond tithing’ giving through the local church. Now we’re getting on some firmer ground – Acts 4:35 said that giving was brought to the feet of the apostles, who then decided how best to use it. So this is a very real example we should consider following.

• I hope as well you perhaps do it because you love what is happening in your church, that you think ‘whether or not the bible tells me to do this, I want to do it, because we’re building kingdom, reaching our city with the good news of Jesus’ I love giving and I want to give to support everything that is happening – not to mention the fact that I benefit from being part of this church as do my family (if you have family.)

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.

As I mentioned on Sunday, 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.

‘Lead Pastor’

Matt Barlow - 03 January 2020

Hey church, I thought I’d just pen a few words to let you know that on reflection, the leadership team and trustees have agreed that the title I’m going to run with as I move forward is that of ‘Lead Pastor’ rather than ‘Senior Leader.’ I thought I’d take a few moments to explain why, and what this will mean moving forward.

Firstly, what’s in a title and why does it matter? Well in many ways, what matters much more is what I do, rather than what I’m called. I’m also acutely aware that Jesus warned the people to shy away from using titles in Matthew 23:8-12 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” The heart of what Jesus is saying here is: 1. Don’t look to one person as overly special compared to others, and idolise them or overly revere them - look to God; 2. Leadership is there to serve, not to Lord it over people.

So, with that in mind, why the change? Well, ultimately language is there to help communicate what’s going on, and the word pastor (which comes from the root Greek word poimen) literally meant shepherd. This has now come to be understood in a church context as someone who cares for the flock, specifically the spiritual needs of the flock - in our case our church family. Interestingly in modern day language, it has often come to mean the main person leading a church. Which is totally fine, yet at the same time it should be noted that there is no clear biblical mandate for a church to be led by one person, though this doesn’t necessarily mean God cannot and doesn’t bless it. This is why we will be continuing with a plurality of leadership, but you will of course notice my leadership more, as I will be giving my whole life and time to it. In Ephesians 4, it talks about a bunch of different gifts that are needed to equip the church for works of service - prophet, evangelist, apostle, teacher, pastor. Within that pastor is just one of them.

However, without a doubt, there is a sense that as the Light church we have been a people without a shepherd for some time, and that’s the role I am aiming to fill. So what does this mean you can expect? Well a shepherd does many varied roles and at different levels. In a sense I believe I’m here to pastor the whole church as a family. i.e. it is my job primarily to lead the flock to a place where good pasture is found - it is primarily to get a sense of where God wants to lead us to, how he wants to feed us, and to do my part in making that happen, that the flock will be healthy and well looked after. This is, in part, why the term of Lead pastor has been chosen - it’s a reminder that this is a clear leadership role, leading the whole church to where God wants us to be, but with a pastoral heart.

There is another aspect to pastoring, which is what we often call pastoral care - this is ensuring individual members of the family are supported, discipled and especially cared for in times of distinct need. Whilst I will of course be doing some of that, and I recognise this will be an area of growth for me, that won’t be my primary role - this sits with the pastoral care team under Tarzan’s leadership for more the involved situations and Light group leaders for the more day to day support and encouragement. I’m so grateful that we can be a church that cares for each other, and also know we can do more.

So, well done for reading this far. Referring back to the words of Jesus, I don’t want people using a title over me. I don’t want to be Pastor Matt, I just want to be Matt, but I will be Matt who performs the role of Lead pastor. I will lead, and I will pastor, both big picture and individually loving and caring the flock that God has placed under my care, along with the rest of the leadership. Do pray for me that I might make my Father smile with how I lead, pastor and love our church moving forward.