Merry busy Christmas!

Matt Barlow - 02 December 2019
So here it is Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun! Well hopefully that will be the reality for you and your loved ones. We’re now in a time called advent, which is all about preparation, and whilst I love Christmas, you can’t deny advent is synonymous with busyness, how are we supposed to fit Christ into Christmas?! Presents, parties, hosting, work dos, relatives to visit or visiting you. School Christmas plays, church Christmas services, hampers for people in need, food shopping - all on top of normal life! Oh the horrific irony, that the celebration of the birth of the unhurried messiah, the one who had so much time on his hands for praying and for people, should have come to this. One of the biggest times of busyness for all of us is apparently celebrating the good shepherd who makes his people lay down, whose yoke is easy and burden is light. Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m no Christmas scrooge, and like my messiah, I love to party, to eat and celebrate with friends. But just as when we see that word ‘Xmas’ on a card or on some marketing, our knee jerk reaction is to want to put the Christ back into Christmas, maybe we need to work a bit harder at putting him back into our own Christmas. As we enter a time of advent, which simply means a time of preparation, my challenge to us as a church is to have our own time of preparation. As the carol says - to let every heart prepare him room. How might God want you to do that? To make room for Jesus in the busyness of advent and Christmas? I dare you to spend a few minutes asking him, how you might do that. Here were a few thoughts that came to me when I stopped and listened… Whatever it is you do, allow God to invade your busyness with his presence. Be mindful of Christ this Christmas in all that you do. That you might worship him in all of your gift giving, your food prepping, your hosting, your partying, your quiet moments. He is Emmanuel, God with us, let him be with you this advent period, I pray.
  • Maybe you can increase your commitment to spend time with him? Why not buy an advent candle, and use that to be quiet once a day before your King? Or as you eat that advent calendar chocolate, close your eyes and acknowledge God - the maker of chocolate!!
  • Sign up to an Advent Bible reading plan. There are lots of great advent devotions on the Bible app.
  • Maybe, as it is so busy, commit to more prayer as you go - praying before key Christmas preparations. How might you shop if you commit the shopping in prayer to him? ‘God, guide me to spend money well. Help me to ensure I’m being led by your spirit and not by the expectations of a world gone mad with consumerism.’
  • Give extra thanks over the food, as you will be eating a lot of it! As you stir the Christmas cake, pray not just thanks but blessing on all that will eat it. Thank God for the turkey that has given its life, and not just for the fact it’s defrosted in time.
  • Host Christmas drinks for neighbours, bringing your street and community together. Yes it makes you busier, but you will know God’s kingdom coming as you do this. This will truly give you a God smile Christmas glow.
  • Reach out to someone who is lonely, maybe even have a surprise guest at your table come Christmas Day. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesus would have done the same.
  • Choose to do something nice just for you or you and your family. Go to the cinema, go for a walk, but recognise God is the giver of all good things, and taking time to stop and be refreshed would be totally his heart for you.

Two weeks on…

Matt Barlow - 21 November 2019
Well, it’s been just over two weeks since we announced the news that I will soon be stepping down from my CEO role at CAP and stepping up into a new role as Senior Leader of the Light church. I’m already so excited to see how God is changing my heart, I’m praying for the church, hearing more from him, just having more headspace to be pastorally present - the sense of change and God being the one behind it is wonderful. Thank you so much to those of you who have reached out with an encouraging conversation, email or even a hug, and I know that already many of you are praying for Josie, the kids and I. Thank you! I thought I’d just pen to paper (fingers to computer), to let everyone know exactly what is happening and when, and what to expect from both me and the rest of the leadership team through this time of transition. So, in answer to the question, ‘Have you started yet?’ the best answer is ‘No, not really, but kind of, yes, no not really, maybe!’ Ha ha. In other words - all of it! The truth is that once it’s announced some things just naturally end up at my door, and I will do my best to serve the church as well as I can in this interim period. However, officially, I am planning to take on the ‘position’ of ‘Senior Leader’ from the beginning of January 2020, but only in a minimal interim capacity. I will likely have around 1-2 days per week to spend on it, so will only be able to do so much. My priorities during this time will be:
  • Connecting with and supporting the staff team
  • Setting some vision and direction for the year, and launching the new year well
  • Getting to know the church better, especially those in leadership and pastoral work
  • Working with the leadership team to create new structure moving forward
Things that are on my heart to do, but that I am unlikely to be able to do during this time, and will have to wait until I start fully April/May time, will be:
  • Giving much time to really getting to know the church well, praying, pastoring, visiting etc.
  • Starting to look at our discipleship programmes and how we can strengthen them
  • Connecting with the wider body of the church in Bradford
  • Connecting with those who may provide and become our external accountability and support structure
  • Devoting more time to preaching and teaching
  • Engaging deeply with longer term vision, building needs etc.
  • Developing next generation leaders
You can see that there is a lot to do, but I’m genuinely excited about pressing into all of the above, and seeing what God has for us. I believe that his vision for us is to become a really healthy, strong church. Spiritually healthy, emotionally healthy, exhibiting life in all of its fullness (John 10:10). Strengthened in our faith, strengthening those around us, and all those God brings to us. If we can do that, I believe we should expect his church to grow, but as I’ve been learning in many ways recently - health and strength needs to come first, growth can flow out of that. In terms of being around, whilst of course I will be very committed to being around at our Sunday gatherings and hope to connect with many of you there. If I happen to not be there, it maybe I’m on holiday, or, on the the odd Sunday, I’ll be fulfilling my dad role of taking Jed to play football and cheering from the sidelines. As for the next two Sundays - I’ll be in New Zealand and Australia with my CAP work, all prayers gratefully appreciated! I’ll do my best to let the church family know when I’m not around and why. Leadership team - as was expressed in the Sunday evening meeting, as a leadership team we will now be seeking God for how we best lead, oversee, govern and manage the church. As Gareth explained, the church is a complex combination of both very spiritual and also highly practical. We need to be moving in the gifts of the spirit, whilst also doing health and safety really well. Need to be pastorally caring for people well, whilst also running buildings and budgets. With some external support, we are prayerfully considering what the future structures need to look like, and you can expect some change to be happening, hopefully by Easter. In terms of staffing, from January Lindon will be reducing to 3 days per week, as was agreed in the whole organisational review last June/July. The recruitment of a higher level Operations/Administration manager than we have had previously is currently on hold, the consensus is that it is better for me to get in post and assess the needs, once I am in the mix. We are grateful to Lindon, Alan and Tarzan, all of whom have been covering various duties. Anyway, I’ve gone on enough now, but hopefully you can see from this that one of my commitments is to give you, the church family, as much insight as I can into what is going on. This way we can all feel more engaged in the wider work of the church and have greater confidence in the leadership, the direction of the church and the decisions being made. God bless you all as you continue to live out the calling Christ has given you right where you are!

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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