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A new season for The Light Church

Matt Barlow - 05 November 2019

Just over 11 years ago, Josie and I, along with our great friends John and Lizzie, sat round a table and made a pact with God that if he brought us 12 people with capacity, we would start a church. In many ways it was crazy, we all had jobs that required a lot of us, all had growing families, and yet…..when God speaks, you’d be foolish not to obey.

And so, here I am, having helped lead the Light in my spare time for 9 of those 11 years, responding once again to God’s call to obedience by stepping into the role of senior leader at the Light Church - wow! A call that takes me from leading a charity with hundreds of staff, a missionary movement of 1000 frontline workers and a budget of £13m to leading the Light church - a wonderful mid size church in the middle of a brilliant city. The difference between the two is big, but I am so excited because all that matters is obedience to the call of God.

I realise that for many of you this will take some time to get your head around and adjust to, you may have lots of questions, and questions are good. Jesus asked loads of them! It took me quite some time to adjust to! To consider leaving CAP, was a bolt out of the blue. I thought I had another 5-10 years in me, if not my whole ministry life. CAP feels very much like my baby, even though obviously John birthed it, 13 years as CEO does that to you. How could I possibly consider leaving this, how could I consider being in full time church leadership? Yet the closer I have got to it (and it’s been a 5 month journey) the more excited I get.

What can you expect?

So, what should you expect? Well, firstly I want to set out my stall for what I believe God is calling me to be and to do.
I’ll be really honest, I naturally find it easier to be a ‘get things done’ kind of guy, then I am pastoral and people focussed. Which I think is why God’s first call to me is to love the church, genuinely love and care for the people in the church. This will require a different Matt to the one you’ve maybe met before. The Matt you’ve known up until now is the one who has been carrying the huge weight and pressure of leading a large charity, squeezing in bits of church work here and there. Who, on a Sunday morning, has maybe had limited capacity to engage, especially when having just preached and squeezed out the last bit of energy I had left that week. Some of you will likely think ‘Matt never had time for me before.’ That’s because Matt didn’t have enough capacity, praise God that will change.

Vision and Direction

So, where is the Light church going. To which I answer ‘God knows.’ And if God knows I want to spend some time getting to know what God knows. The big picture vision has been set by the leadership team, to love God deeply, love each other genuinely and love our community compassionately. But I know some of you will be asking, ‘yes but what are we going to do? What do we want to see happen?” Whilst I could turn around a decent sense of vision and direction pretty quickly in my own strength, I’m not interested in doing this in my own strength. I want to be led by revelation, to listen to what the spirit is saying to the church. I also want to listen to you the church, to see what you believe God may be saying to us as a church or you as an Individual. With this in mind, I will take my time, and will of course be working it through and praying it through with the leadership team. I do think however that clarity of vision and purpose is important, and look forward to God revealing it.

  1. God has not called me to be the CEO of the Light Church. That may sound obvious, but having been a CEO for the last 13 years or so, I want to be clear that I’m leaving that behind and am embracing a new calling. This is a calling to lead and to pastor. I’m not going to be an ‘executive’ anything, I’m going to be a servant of God whose primary roles are to pastor the family of the Light church, and to lead us into what God has for us, along with the leadership team.
  2. My first priority is to love the church. In Ephesians Paul calls us husbands to love our wives as Christ loves the church. Well my first calling in this new role is to love the church as I love my wife, and I have to tell you, I’m crazy about my wife. (Who will always come first by the way!)

Priorities

In terms of priorities in the short term moving forward, I think there are two areas I would love us to focus on as we press on, and they both sit under the banner of ‘Strengthen the body.’ I believe we need to do more work to create a stronger sense of family and community together as the Light Church. It happens well in some places, Light Groups and Young adults especially stand out. But a greater sense of togetherness would be God’s best for us. The second area, which I believe will be a challenge over the next decade and beyond, is working out how we do discipleship better, especially, but not exclusively, with new Christians, most of whom we are reaching through our outreach ministries. I know this is the cry of many of those involved in leading those ministries, and we all acknowledge there are too many slipping through the net, instead of growing into the fullness that God has for them. Whilst this will always be a challenge (it was for Jesus), it needs to be a priority.

Leadership Team

A quick word on the Leadership team - I have always been a team player and have always led with team. I’m therefore keenly looking forward to working, playing and praying with the team God has in place. I honour them all as faithful servant hearted men and women of God, who are sacrificially giving their own time to help co-lead the Light church. We should honour them, appreciate them and be acutely aware of the challenging task they have had of leading in their spare time. I’m grateful for their faith filled decision to invest in full time leadership.

At this time of change, there will likely be some changes afoot in that team, these will only happen through team consensus, I’m not like a new PM who does an instant cabinet reshuffle. Ephesians 5 says ‘Submit yourselves to one another’ and this is how it will work. Whilst I’ll lead the church and the team, I will still be submitting myself to those around me. It may be, that some may choose this moment to step down, some may step back and take a rest, whilst others I’m sure will remain fully committed. One of those to take a rest is Josie. Whilst I’m stepping up into this role as Senior Leader, Josie is going to be stepping back for a period of time. This will give me some space to get to know the team well on my own and build those relationships. My hope is that this won’t be long, as I believe Josie is a key leader for us a church, and having done 21 years of working together since we were 22 years old, I’m so excited to be back in that place again.

Well, I could go on and on and on, but should bring this to a close. I’m just a bit excited. God is good isn’t he?

Timescale

So, finally, just something around timescale. I am still going to be working at CAP until the end of March 2020, albeit it on a slightly part time basis from January. Given the time this will give me, I intend to take up the role of Senior Leader of the Light church from the beginning of January, though I will only be able to pick up light duties to begin with, likely having a day a week, two at most, to be able to dedicate to the church. My request of you, my church family, will be to have pretty low expectations of what I can do in those first few months.

If I’m able, and God enables it financially, I may well take April off, as a gap month, to prepare for this next season of ministry, stepping then full time into my paid role from May onwards.

What do I want mostly from you? Be kind, be gracious and lift me and my family up in prayer. I believe that Josie and I have experienced a level of spiritual attack, quite unlike anything we’ve ever known in the process of this change. Someone wants to put us off and deflect us from the call of God, someone wants to rob us of the joy of stepping into this new season. But with the shield of faith, the belt of truth and the helmet of salvation firmly in place, (and the rest of the armour obvs) we have stood our ground. But as Paul goes on to say, we then need to stand and to pray in the spirit. Please do that with us and for us, more than anything else.

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