A few months back I was listening in on a podcast with American Church leader Louie Giglio. He was talking about people moving church post covid lockdowns and said, ‘It’s like God has gathered the cards back into the pack, given them a really good shuffle and then dealt them back out again.’
Now, ok it hasn’t been anything quite so extreme over here, and I’m sure Louie is pressing it to make a point, but almost every church family is dealing with the post covid change. People coming and people going, meaning it can be hard to know really where you are. Those people you used to really enjoy bumping into on a Sunday, you haven’t seen them and you’re wondering, ‘Are they coming back?’ Or you’re looking around at loads of new faces and might be thinking ‘does this feel like my church anymore?’
Let’s face it, so much has changed. Having been through covid and its accompanying lockdowns, it was a moment for us all to wonder what we return to after being forced to stop. As well as thinking about sports clubs, or volunteering or childcare commitments or whatever else, we’ve all thought a bit more about church. Do we return to regular Sunday mornings, do we return to the same church family, or does God have something new or different for me? Well, whilst it has been amazing to most of you return, it’s also been a moment where we’ve said goodbye to some people who we’re really sad to see go and great to welcome so many new people into our church family.
So I wanted to write this blog to acknowledge and say thank you to some of those for whom this covid season has meant a change of season with regards Church involvement and are seeking God for new paths. I think it’s important to thank people when they move on, for it to be public and transparent, rather than unacknowleged , or people jumping to wrong conclusions. I decided to give it a couple of months to settle down, before writing this as well.
Also, as I write this, I want to say that I do believe that it can be really healthy for people to move church, to explore something new of God by being in a different environment, under some different teaching, doing life with some different people. Let’s face it, most of the Light Church was born by people who were looking for something different, that’s not a bad thing is it? The important thing is to leave for good reasons, and of course, to leave well. To honour the church you leave, to communicate well, to show thanks and appreciation, presuming you can do all of the above with honesty and integrity. We also have a part to play as a church to do likewise to all those who move on - this is why we’re hosting a ‘thank you’ lunch on Sunday 14th November.
In saying thanks and expressing public appreciation, there is always the risk of missing someone out. Reality is I don’t always know people have left our church for some time, when suddenly realise you’ve not seen them around, and then eventually get round to giving them a call. However, I specifically want to thank those who have been some of our biggest contributors over the years.
Over the last few months I’ve had conversations, in person or digitally, with all of the following who have said they feel the time is right to move on. I want to say a public thank you!
I want to thank Gareth and Heather Jones, longstanding members of our church family and much loved. I especially have loved Gareth’s preaching and we will be the poorer without it. They are feeling called to explore something smaller and home based with the Cravens.
I want to thank Joanne and Umesh Sah, who have decided a church closer to their home in Wakefield makes more sense, and I agree with them, though will miss them. Faithful servants in kids work and discipleship work with new Christians.
I’m grateful for Michael Crookes who has poured so much into so many young people in our church. I’m grateful for the way he and I were able to respectfully engage on some theology issues, and blessed him as he seeks something more aligned to where he is at.
Big thanks to Alicia Chapman, it was a great privilege to release this young preaching talent here in the Light Church, knowing that God has great plans to use that gift in years to come. Alicia is seeking something closer to her new home in Oakworth.
James Orchard has been another who served really well in youth and young adults, and we’ll all miss his gentle spirit and that lovely accent. James also felt compelled to move around theology, and again I’m grateful that we were able to talk it through and part company well.
Also, we’re grateful to God for the amazing young man Tom Kirkby has turned out to be. Great credit not just to family, but some great youth work over the years. Thanks Tom for serving in worship team so faithfully, and I understand that he and Georgia want to find a new church together, Georgia having moved on with her family early in lockdown.
We’re grateful too for Nick and Sue Clarke, who have been big contributors at different parts of our church journey, and are also exploring what does God have for them in Cullingworth.
Wayne and Rachel Jacobs have been faithful members and contributors for some years and will be missed as they seek a new path.
Thank you too to Sue and Brian King, who said they are returning to their old church refreshed and rejuvenated, grateful for their couple of years at the Light, and keen to take back all they’ve learnt.
I’m sure there will be more, that is church life! In many ways, it is right to be sad every time someone moves on, because it is a loss, and we will miss what they have added to our community. We will miss their friendship, though of course deeper friendships will continue regardless. Personally, I wish every single one of these were staying, but I’m also big enough to know that God’s plan is not that everyone stays in the Light church forever. I think he is a bit more creative than that. As Steve Restrick says, ‘people will leave, the important question is ‘have they changed?’ And I hope that every person who moves on from the Light will move on with an increased passion for Jesus and especially his heart for those on the margins and outside the family of God.
It’s important to celebrate and give thanks for what has been, and it’s also right to look forward, to trust God that he is overall in charge of all the comings and goings and to know that his plans for our church family don’t change. It has been so exciting and encouraging to see God adding some amazing people into our family. To welcome Hannah, Nuby, Jason & Joanne, Ed & Safi, Joachim & Julia, Paul & Liz, Flavia, Neil, Stevey, Paul, Matt, June Wood, Adele, Becky, Sam & Hannah, Emma, Victoria & Dee (and of course more who are still exploring!) Let’s do our best to give them a very warm Light Church welcome. So that as as we say goodbye to some at our thank you lunch this coming Sunday, we also say ‘Welcome to the Family’ to everyone who is new. This city needs a whole lot of Jesus and his Kingdom, that’s our mission, let’s get stuck in!
I’ve heard it said that for every person who gives you feedback, there is another ten people thinking the same thing.
Now mostly that’s really encouraging, as I’ve had plenty of very positive feedback following our recent look at the teaching of Andy Stanley - thank you if you’ve taken time to feedback!
However, when just one person says to me: ‘I’m concerned that we are being taught we shouldn’t read the Old Testament’ my alarm bells go off. So I just wanted to pen a few words to reassure anyone out there who has ‘heard’ that, as that is not the message I am sending out.
Now I do know it’s confusing at times differentiating between the Old and New Covenants and Old and New Testaments. The Old and New Covenants refer to the agreements/promises God makes to different groups of people (i.e. to the Jews, then to the whole world.) The Old and New Testaments are easy ways that we refer to the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) and the records of Jesus’ ministry and the early church (the New Testament.) This isn’t helped by the fact that the word Testament, comes from the latin Testamentum, which means….. Covenant. I know, easy to get confused.
This can mean that when the New testament tells us the Old Covenant is ‘obsolete’ (Heb8:13), or we say that the law is no longer applicable to us, binding on us, or simply not about ‘us’, it can sometimes be misunderstood that we’re dismissing the whole of the Old Testament, or Hebrew Scriptures. This is not what we’re saying, nor is it what Andy is saying in his book (see p69).
What is being said, however, is that when we read the Old Testament, it’s really really important to understand that predominantly, from Exodus to Malachi, it is set in the context of God engaging with his people under the Old Covenant. This has to affect how we read, and really importantly how we apply it to how we live today. We now live under a new covenant, a new agreement, given to us through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. This means we are free from the law , and that salvation comes through faith and grace. This new covenant (new promise with God) demands a new ethic, new standards and a promise that we are helped by the Holy Spirit. All of which is summed up in Romans 7:6: But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
So what is the Old Testament?
I believe the OT is a remarkable recounting of history, along with some wonderful poetry, philosophy and wisdom, of our loving, gracious God breaking into a pretty uncivilised culture and starting to reveal his nature, in a progressive fashion to a people - the Jews. Beginning a process of change and transformation in a people that will eventually prepare the world for the coming of the new and final covenant in Jesus. Andy Stanley referred to the Old Covenant as the cocoon into which Jesus could be introduced into the world. But the cocoon has done his job, and it’s now time for the beautiful butterfly of the New Covenant to be the real thing.
What about ‘God breathed?'
In 2 Timothy3:16 Paul states that ‘all scripture is God breathed,’ when we read that we assume he means the whole bible, but when he wrote it, only some of what we now know as the New Testament had been put into written form. So mostly, he was referring to the Hebrew Scriptures, or what we call the Old Testament. He goes on to say that these God breathed scriptures are useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (i.e. right living.) ‘God breathed’ is poetic language telling us that these writings had the breath of God in them, the touch of God on them, they were a faithful account the history, teaching, prayers, traditions of this special people, passed down often through oral traditions.
If God breathed it out, then we can breathe it in. Another word to breathe in? Inspire. They are here to inspire us. For me this is a huge part of why we should go back to the old and read it. There is something so brilliant, almost cinematic about so many of the stories we read. Moses crossing the Red Sea, Daniel in the Lions Den, David and Goliath - these stories speak to our souls that we serve a God who is mighty to save, who will be with us in difficulties. Stories passed down through the generations, then finally committed to written form, that we might read them, that we might observe the fingerprint of God upon them, and we might live more fully for him because of it.
They are here for us to learn from - wow Genesis and the creation story tells us so much of who we are, what God is like and why we are here.
They are here to teach us - the writings of Solomon in Proverbs are rich in wisdom to guide us and lead us
They can encourage us - the command to Joshua to be strong and courageous, the many writings of the prophets and especially the psalms speak such encouragement to our hearts as God brings it alive to us.
They can correct us, rebuke us and train us - even though we are not under the law, God can still use the laws they had or the principles behind the laws to challenge us on our behaviours towards God and towards others.
For anyone else who might have reached the conclusion that this series was about no longer reading the Old Testament, let me reassure you that that was no-one’s intention. Let me also say that I am so so sorry that anything that has been said has given you that impression. I know that at times I maybe used some language that was a bit clunky and might have given some cause for concern, I’m sorry to have caused you any stress.
I think we can all agree the New has surpassed the Old, but that doesn’t stop the Old being important. It gives us the beautiful big picture of the creation narrative in Genesis, then gradually unveils this God who is love and calls humanity back to himself to live in love and righteousness. We have to read it, we have to study it and allow God to speak to us through it. This series was simply, I believe, about helping us to read it more appropriately, as we read the whole thing through the lens of Jesus and in light of the New Covenant.
If any of this has shaken you or bothered you, we are here for you. The whole leadership team - Josie, Rachel, Steve, Helen, Tarzan and I. Please reach out so we can journey this together in his grace.
Hi Church Family
I really want everyone in our church to read this book! So much so, I’m buying loads of copies to give away - to YOU!
Now, I’m going to take a bit of time to tell you why…..
Over the coming few weeks, I’m wanting to draw on some valuable teaching from a well known preacher called Andy Stanley. This will be in the form of making a copy of his book ‘Irresistible’ available to all of you who will read it, and including some teaching from Andy’s ‘Aftermath’ series in our Sunday services. I believe this teaching can be helpful to all of us as we consider the centrality of Jesus to our faith and understanding just how radically ‘new’ the new covenant was and is. I personally believe that interpreting all scripture (the written word of God) through the lens of Jesus (the living word of God) is the very best way to allow the bible to form our faith.
Irresistible has recently played a valuable part in continuing to shape my faith in Jesus. Whilst challenging some assumptions, he takes deep theological truth and makes them incredibly accessible. In the process, he helps us see Jesus as even more beautiful, and his way and his truth even more freeing and inspiring than I’ve ever known.
I believe this is a book for ‘Now’ for this cultural moment that we find ourselves in. Many people are falling away from faith unnecessarily because of hard and difficult questions they have, and less and less people are even prepared to consider the claims of Jesus. Today we live in a world where our past as a worldwide church is perhaps one of the biggest barriers to people coming to Jesus and almost everything they object to are things that Jesus would object to as well. I believe this book can equip us to support those falling away, answer those questions and help people see past the history of the church to the beauty of Jesus.
I’m very aware that Andy might ruffle a few feathers, he might question some things that you have been taught were non negotiable, so I encourage you to read it with an open mind. As you know, if you’ve been around a while, we are reasonably diverse church when it comes to theology, which is something that I treasure. It’s a rare thing, and it’s very beautiful - thank you for contributing to that culture. For nearly 13 years now, we have lived out Augustine’s famous phrase: ‘In the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials liberty; in all things, charity.’ We have never been a church where we all have to see eye to eye, other than on the essential tenets of the Christian faith. (These tenets have most consistently been framed through church history by either the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed.) So, as you read and listen I want to be really clear that as a leadership we are not saying we agree 100% with everything in the book, and we're not asking you to either. But, we are wanting you to be even better equipped to understand the power of the new covenant, the ‘old’ that Jesus calls us to leave behind, and to love him more as a result.
So, sit back, enjoy the talks from Andy that will be profiled in our online services, and enjoy the book as it provokes the mind, softens the heart and empowers your spirit to love God even more than you ever have.