New Vision for the Light Church

Matt Barlow - 10 November 2020

Light Church - New Vision

When I started as pastor in January 2020, I strongly felt God say ‘See, I am doing a new thing.’ In September I shared with you the fresh vision that we as a leadership believed God is giving to us as a church. Although ‘new’ it is built on the foundations we see in the early church, on what God is doing throughout the world and it is built on all the Light church has been for the last 12 years.

In many respects the timing was all wrong, sharing a new vision over youtube and when we aren’t able to just ‘get on with it’. But I’m trusting God that the timing is perfect. Just as the plants retreat during winter, receiving all of the nutrients they need to burst back into life, God is feeding us so that when the pandemic ends, we will be ready to burst back into life!

Though we also need to acknowledge there is still plenty that God is up to - people coming to Jesus, love being shown in practical ways, and some real deepening of spiritual roots into him! The church is not shut!

In everything we express, we continue to write it in wet ink, knowing that God will continue to mould us and shape us and give us the right wording to express what is on His heart for us as a church. So, here is what I shared….

Light Church Vision

Our aim and vision is:

‘Loving Bradford Back to Life’

Through a strategy of:

‘One Church, many homes’

Who are:

‘A family of disciples making disciples’

You’ve already heard me preach all of this, but let me unpack this a bit more…..

Kingdom first

Before I write anything else I want to be really clear that all of this is written with a very real understanding that we are simply part of the wider church in Bradford. The Light Church is not the answer, but the Bradford Church is! We link arms with every other church who seeks

to bring the kingdom of God to our city, proclaiming Jesus as Lord. When one church flourishes, we all flourish, when one suffers, we all suffer. There is no competition, we are all on the same side, and we prize and cherish unity with others.

Loving Bradford Back to Life

We want to bring in His Kingdom, seeking to bring his rule of justice and righteousness to every sphere where he places us, his church. We will be the yeast in the dough, the salt in society and the light to this world. This means:

  • Bringing the kingdom wherever he places us and in whatever calling we have on our lives

  • Seeing the poor helped, injustice overthrown and broken lives transformed by his power

  • Proclaiming the good news that true peace (shalom) and eternal life is only found in Jesus and his triumph over death and sin, and leading people into that life

  • Seeking the prosperity of the city through prayer, creativity and loving our neighbourhoods and the land where God has placed us.
  • By doing this we believe the church will become more beautiful, better reflecting Jesus.

One Church Many Homes

  • We will seek to invert the normal expectation of the western church where Sunday attendance is expected, and smaller communities are optional. We acknowledge that a Sunday-centric model can (though not always) create a consumer mentality where only some can grow in their gifts. Our expectation will be Home Church as top priority and bigger Sunday church as second priority.

  • We believe that this model is flexible and expandable - a new wineskin for new wine. This takes off the limits of how large the church can grow, by removing the reliance on a building large enough to hold everyone, every Sunday.

  • We recognise that this approach can see more people using their gifts, and should be more effective at creating active disciples

  • We recognise the desire in society for connection and being known and how that can be lost in bigger church. This allows us to become a bigger church that is still a family.

  • Yet we also totally know that our Sunday meetings are incredibly valuable too:

    • Larger worship and teaching experiences are a valuable part of our spiritual diet

    • It keeps us united as ‘One Church’

    • Sundays and social action are such a great shop window for the curious to connect and the connected to commit - an easy place of entry for those considering faith or us considering joining us as a church.

  • We hope that flexible and expandable could mean future planting of congregations around the city, or joining together of Home Churches to meet together, do outreach together and have a strong presence in a given community within wider Bradford.

A family of disciples making disciples

  • We want to first and foremost be a family - a place where people belong and also learn to get along with those who are different to them

  • We want to be disciples - people who are continually learning what it means to be an apprentice of Jesus. Learning to live in obedience to the way of Christ.

  • We believe a great but simple discipleship framework is brilliantly summed up in this phrase stolen from John Mark Comer ‘Be with Jesus, Become like Jesus, Do what Jesus would do’

  • Disciples that make disciples - just as Jesus sent his disciples to teach others to obey all that he has commanded, we want to do the same. To be discipled and disciple others, whether we’ve been close to him for years, or are just discovering who he is.

  • We recognise the importance of close relationships to make this happen. Support, encouragement, mentoring and challenge will be a part of our culture as we go forward. All helping us to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.

  • We believe that as we do that, God will make the Light Church bigger, stronger and more beautiful.

Black History Month Matters

Matt Barlow - 30 October 2020

I have a racist bone in my body

There were two moments that I can clearly remember when I realised that I did have a racist bone in my body. The first was reading the book ’Noughts and Crosses’ by Malorie Blackman. A book set in Britain based on the premise that those who were wealthy, ruling in government etc were black and those doing the lower paid jobs with lesser opportunities were white. My inherent prejudice and bias showed through because even by the end of the book, I was still mentally picturing the wealthy and the powerful as white and those at the bottom of society as black.

The second time was through a connection I made at work. I was getting to know this person quite well, they were educated and articulate, but when they told me of the height their qualifications had reached, I was surprised. There was no reason for me to be surprised, other than, perhaps, because they were black. The reality is that I’ve been brought up in a country where most government leaders have been white, most CEOs have been white, head teachers, lawyers, etc etc, my brain has been unconsciously wired to see colour in a way that my heart doesn’t want to. (This applies to gender as well by the way.)

So, I do have a racist bone in my body. When I read that book and spoke to that new friend I was shocked, it wasn’t a nice realisation being confronted by your own sin. We like to think we see and treat everyone equally but is unconscious bias something we all suffer from? Aren’t we all on a sliding scale of prejudice when it comes to race, gender, background etc?

So, why am I writing this blog? Well in part because we are reaching the end of ‘Black history month’ and I felt God impress on my heart that I needed to ensure it didn’t pass without speaking up on the issue. I was doubly blessed that our young adults just spent a Saturday evening looking at the area of race. But I’m also writing it because I know there are different views in our church and I wanted to acknowledge that and speak into it.

Polarised society, polarised church?

I think we can all agree that society seems to be getting more and more polarised. I think we’re way off America, which seems incredibly polarised, but we now live in a society that far too easily writes someone off if they disagree with them. Whereas I believe society and the church is strengthened by seeking first to understand.

My own heart responses, and more importantly, the experience of my black friends tells me that racism is an issue, and still very much exists today - I listen to them and I take that seriously. I also listen to other voices - I’ve been impacted by black people sharing their personal experiences. Of black barristers always being assumed that they are the criminal and being treated like one. Of black dads who see white people cross the road when they approach them, unless they have their son and dog with them - because apparently that makes them acceptable and unthreatening. Of mums and dads sharing how they have to have ‘the talk’ with their kids of how to act around policemen - admittedly more so in the US. I personally believe we must listen to these voices.

But I have also listened to people who don’t support the increasing view that racism is a problem in our society that we need to solve. I’ve yet to talk to anyone who claims there is no racism in society, but they don’t believe it’s as big an issue as is being stated. There are good people in our church who claim that protests etc are making the situation worse not better, they quote stats that seem to disprove systemic injustice claims (as can my friends on the other side of the debate.) One thing I have noticed is that often one of the key things they push back against is what they see as a strong left wing influence within the anti racism agenda. They don’t trust the left on other issues, so why trust them on this? This is where an increasing polarisation is really unhelpful in my view.

Who do you listen to?

So, I do my best to hear different viewpoints and to understand why people think certain things. I try not to write people off as racist, but seek to understand. So when you have different voices saying different things, who do you listen to? Well, the bible tells me in a number of places that God listens to the cry of the oppressed, and so if the majority of a minority population say racism is a problem, I think that God is listening to them. That doesn’t mean that God will condone every policy, every political tactic, every protest, but it does mean he’s surely listening and calling his church to do something about it.

A recent survey of American Christians showed that just over 30% of white Christians believe America has a race problem. This is compared with 80% of black Christians. So who do you listen to in that situation? I’m sure if you’d asked the Egyptians if there was a race problem in the time of Moses, you’d have got a different response than you’d have got from the Israelites. Similarly if you’d asked the Romans and the Jews in the time of Jesus, I doubt many Romans would have seen the oppression that the Jews felt. When those being oppressed are united in calling out injustice, whilst those who aren’t affected are united in saying there isn’t a problem, surely there is only one group of people to stand with?

Will we be part of the solution?

Let’s not fool ourselves here, the church has turned a blind eye on many injustices over the years, to its shame. Even if we don’t agree on how big the issue is or how it should be dealt with. Let’s all acknowledge that as long as those oppressed by it say it’s an issue, then we must take it seriously and do whatever we can within our power to get to a place of genuine equality. A day when people of colour say that they don’t notice the colour of their skin having a negative impact on their everyday life. My hope is that when we get there they will say the church of Jesus were on their side.

Thanks for making it this far. If you’d like to read some more written by someone much more knowledgeable than me, then I think you’d enjoy this article -

No such thing as love at first sight??

Matt Barlow - 06 October 2020

Do you believe in love at first sight? I mean you should because Hollywood have been peddling it as a concept for quite a few decades now. Personally I think it’s a load of rubbish. Attraction at first sight? Yep, totally believe in that. But love, proper love - that takes time. I can still remember walking a clifftop path with Josie back in 1992 and telling her I love her, to which she responded ‘Don’t be silly, you’ve only known me two months!’ That was me told.

As we are in a season of having a number of Home Churches starting, and a number of people joining a Home Church* - I thought it might be helpful to have a few pointers on falling in love with your Home Church. (*Back in April we had 118 in Home Churches, by the end of October this should be 162!)

No such thing as love at first sight

When you join a new group, or when you form a new group, you have to expect it to take time to really gel. At least six months and probably a year to be honest, especially during Covid where interaction is reduced. Relationship is built by spending time together, getting to know each other’s stories, sharing memories, laughing together, crying together, praying together, eating together and sharing jokes together.

This is very true on a one to one level, and it takes that little bit longer in a group setting. If you expect a home church to feel really natural straight away, you will be disappointed. And whilst our culture tells us to expect everything to be instant and overnight, relationships never ever will be. So give it time.

Distant relationships are tough

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried a distant relationship - they can work, but it’s rare that they work without a good chunk of non-distant friendship first. If you don’t actually turn up (either on line or in person) then it will be harder to get to that place of really knowing someone. So, quite simply, don’t keep your distant. Get close, get involved, and the rewards will come quicker

It’s ok to have favourites

No one likes favouritism, but having people you prefer hanging out with is just natural and human. So, it’s ok to have one or a few people in your group that you really get on with, and others that you love ‘in the Lord’ but aren’t likely to choose for some chill out down time. Jesus knew this was how we are wired, but also challenged us with these words from Matthew 5:46-47 ‘If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends,[s] how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.’

A home church is almost always going to be a place where you have those you are closer to, and those you aren’t. That’s fine, just make sure you are working on loving everyone!

If the shoe doesn’t fit

I know, it’s awkward, you go to a group for a few sessions and it’s just not working and just not clicking. You’re in the WhatsApp group, you are now stuck, and so you just start ghosting everyone, and feel awkward turning up to church at all (imagine we can go ’to church.’)

We simply have to have a culture that says, ‘if the shoe doesn’t fit, it doesn’t mean the shoe is wrong!’ Can you imagine shoes getting upset every time someone tried to stick their size 9 into a size 6. In dating parlance, it’s the classic ‘It’s not you, it’s me.’ But we all know it’s kind of both. But we have to be ok for people to try a home church and then go try another one on for size if that isn’t working, without anyone feeling bad or insecure. I speak on behalf of all of our Home Church Leaders and say ‘we are fine with that!’

So what to do?

Thanks for reading this far. So, how do we make it work?
We are one church, many homes, and I’m so excited to see so many people grabbing hold of this element of our vision going forward. It will never be perfect, but God’s hand is all over it, so let’s get in on his action.

  1. Don’t just rely on the meetings, whether on zoom or in person. Try and build relationships in other ways. Go for a walk, do something fun together (when allowed), meet up as one to one, or two to one or two to two. Men meet up together and women meet up together. Mix it all up. This needs to be an organic relationship building thing that is not wholly reliant on meeting as a whole group.
  2. Give it time and don’t expect too much (you get the message)
  3. Remember this is just a part of your spiritual diet and walk with Jesus, don’t rely on it for everything
  4. Join a Home Church even if you can’t attend every time. Being part of a community is the only way you will flourish in this journey of faith.
  5. If it’s not working - don’t disappear, find a new one! (Speak to a leader if you need help doing that)

We are one church, many homes, and I’m so excited to see so many people grabbing hold of this element of our vision going forward. It will never be perfect, but God’s hand is all over it, so let’s get in on his action.

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