policecommander

I don’t understand why a person armed with an axe would choose to board a train and attack a group of strangers.

But I do know that love is stronger than hate.

I don’t understand why a person would choose to drive a lorry into an innocent crowd, intending only to kill and destroy.

But I do know that light is stronger than darkness.

I don’t understand why a person would choose to take a gun into a nightclub and open fire.

But I do know that hope is stronger than fear.

I don’t understand why a person would corrupt a religion – any religion – and use it in an attempt to justify unimaginable harm.

But I do know of a person who taught us to love our neighbour.

I know of another who suggested that if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong…

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A challenge by David Robertson to the pragmatic prosperity gospel of ministry only to the prosperous

 

Life is a learning experience – the more I learn the more I realize what I do not know! The Creflo Dollar ‘experience’ has taught me a great deal, not least as I set that in contrast to where I have just been this past couple of days – speaking at the Independent Methodist ministers and church leaders conference in the beautiful Lake District town of Windermere.

In a sense Creflo and the Independent Methodists are at opposite ends of the ‘Christian’ spectrum. Whereas Creflo has a church with tens of thousands, millions of dollars and a massive profile, the Independent Methodists are a small group of 1500 members mainly scattered throughout small churches in the post-industrial and rural areas of Northern England, whom very few have heard of.   Creflo has a ‘world changers’ ministry. The Independent Methodists would struggle to see themselves as changing Chorley, Croxton or Crosby.

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Gallery  —  Posted: May 8, 2016 in Uncategorized

A Copper’s Christmas

Posted: December 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

policecommander

And now for something just a little bit different…

…A retelling of the Christmas story using detail drawn from a little known historical source – the Daily Crime Bulletin of the Bethlehem Police Department (known by all as the ‘BPD’ – and by some as the ‘Thin Beige Line’).

Published daily by the local Constabulary, the Bulletin offers a fascinating insight into the work of a hitherto unheralded group of women and men – whilst shining new light on an old tale.

————————————-

Bethlehem Police Department
Daily Crime Bulletin
(Date obscured)

Late Turn – Briefing for Operation Census

– Substantial number of migrants arriving at border during past week;
– Limited community tension reported – no incidents of note;
– Large crowds expected in Bethlehem this evening;
– No intelligence re: pre-planned disorder;
– Terrorism Threat Level remains at ‘Severe’;
– 12 officers on duty;
– Roads Policing Chariot in for repairs…

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London Gospel Challenge

Posted: October 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

Thanksgiving Service 2014
Recently London City Mission held its annual Thanksgiving Service at All Souls, Langham Place.

It was a wonderful evening. We heard testimonies from missionaries. We heard of lives changed, sins forgiven, hope provided around our great city of London. We sang and gave thanks for God’s gracious provision.
The heart of the evening was Guest speaker Andy Paterson’s sermon from God’s word. Andy is Mission Director with FIEC, and he inspired  staff and supporters alike as he opened up Colossians 1. He challenged us to not to lose our nerve and imagine that somehow we should give up on verbally sharing the gospel just because it is unpopular. He also challenged London City Mission to “help plant and support indigenous churches, go on resourcing gospel-hearted churches with some of the brilliant evangelists that you have and work with those churches so that they might effectively welcome and grow and develop people who are coming to faith in Christ and please use your expertise to grow a generation of working class church leaders.” Thirdly, he impressed upon the Mission the role it has to play in training, facilitating and equipping truly multi-racial, multi-ethnic churches in London.
Our own census shows that 48% of Inner City London’s Christians are “Black Majority Ethnicity”, 38% are White Ethnicity, and 14% are Asian and Other Ethnicities. We are a global church with an opportunity to reach the rich mix of London, but our congregations are less diverse than our workplaces and schools.

The full 30 minute talk is available below.
Andy’s Sermon
 

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Andy Paterson, Mission Director with FIEC, speaking at London City Mission’s Thanksgiving Service

The service was a great time of blessing and fellowship as we thanked God for all he has done in and through the Mission over the past year and lifted up the coming one to him. There is still much to be done in London and much to be prayed for.
Pray for London

Because London Needs Jesus

Posted: October 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

After a year of prayer and reflection, London City Mission looks to the future and refocuses its ministry to make a greater gospel impact.

‘…. and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ (Acts 1:8)

Mission in London

London has many needs. People disagree on what it needs most: more schools and hospitals; less traffic, and improved air quality; more police, and less crime; more affordable housing, and less of a gap between rich and poor. There’s wisdom in all of this, but at London City Mission we believe that, most importantly, London needs Jesus. That’s why we got started in the beginning, and it remains our firm conviction today

London City Mission has an opportunity to serve God by seeking to extend the kingdom into the least reached parts of this city

London City Mission’s first missionaries showed incredible courage in their commitment to those in need, caring for them as they suffered and died of cholera, and sharing an eternal hope in their darkest hour. With courage, compassion and commitment, generations of missionaries have followed in their footsteps, reaching out to the least reached in the name of Jesus in communities across this city.

Over the past decades London has changed dramatically. Many of the districts we work in have changed beyond recognition. But the gospel need remains – and our vision, to take the gospel to London’s least reached and hardest to reach people, remains the same. Because of its diversity, London is a unique mission field, and one of the world’s most strategic cities for world mission. A city of great need, yet a city of enormous gospel opportunity.

The number of homeless people in London is growing

London changes, and it is important that we do not stand still. Over the past year we have been engaged in a review of our mission work and ministries. We have prayed, and talked to church leaders and other wise and godly friends. As we have prayed and talked, we have tackled a number of questions about mission:

  • What is London City Mission’s unique calling, and what can we contribute to mission in London that others can’t?
  • How can London City Mission have the biggest possible impact for the gospel in London?
  • How can London City Mission make the very best use of the resources, skills and experience God has given us for mission in London?

As we have done this, we have been struck by three recurring themes:

  1. London City Mission is primarily a gospel organisation. We have been and always should be focused on sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with people in London.
  2. Our calling has always been to the least reached of London, and we need to make sure that our work is focused on those who are in the hardest to reach communities of this city.
  3. Our ministry must serve God’s church in London, and our activities need to aim for partnership and collaboration in evangelism and discipleship. Our prayer is that we will see an increasing number of Christians in London engaging in gospel work!

The Great Commission and the challenge of Samaria

Our vision,to take the gospel to London’s least reached and hard to reach people, remains the same

Jesus told the disciples they would be his witnesses in ‘Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ To apply this to the church in London today: Jerusalem is where we are based, and implies friendship with and evangelism to people like ourselves; Judea is church planting just down the road to people quite similar to us; and the ends of the earth is world mission. As Christians we are good at reaching those who are like us, at planting churches and at sending people overseas, but what about Samaria? Reaching Samaria is about sharing the gospel with people who are chalk to our cheese, those who may be geographically close but are a million miles away in culture, tradition or lifestyle. I sometimes fear that this part of the Great Commission has fallen on deaf ears.

As we look to the future and think about our ministries, London City Mission will increasingly focus on London’s ‘Samaria’ – those people who are more often than not the least reached of this city. This ministry focus will mean change for us as an organisation, change both to where we do mission andhow we do mission.

Cross-cultural mission

 Who are the least reached?

We are encouraged by the gospel work that is going on in London. Churches are growing, and there is much emphasis on new church plants. But in the midst of this great gospel effort, many are still not coming into contact with the gospel. London City Mission has an opportunity to serve God by seeking to extend the kingdom into the least reached parts of this city. By least reached we mean those who are least likely to be reached by local church evangelism.

Examples of London’s least reached are those living in the neediest districts with little contact with the church, new immigrant communities and isolated elderly people. We are talking about those who are often beyond the reach of the local church. We give thanks that we have always been able to faithfully take the good news of Jesus to London’s least reached in a wide range of places appropriate for the times; in the past those places have included post offices, railways and taxi ranks, and in the future we will continue to reach men and women in communities of need across London, including prisons, schools and old people’s homes.

A strategy to reach London’s least reached and support the church of London in evangelism

Of course, focusing on London’s least reached is not a new idea. Our founders were burdened by the great gospel need of the day; mission to those the established church was not reaching. We are encouraged by the knowledge that our mission for the future is in continuity with the original calling of London City Mission.

Flats on the Isle of Dogs

What does change mean for London City Mission?

In light of the work we have done over the past year, the Board of London City Mission has approved a plan to help us fulfil this vision for mission. In the months and years ahead we will take a number of steps to ensure that everything we do is in line with a strategy to reach London’s least reached and support the church of London in evangelism.

To begin with, this means:

  • Recruiting new staff and providing support and training for existing staff
  • Taking decisions to refocus our resources on London’s least reached
  • Carefully exiting from certain areas of ministry; for example, redeploying some of our workplace chaplains to some of the neediest districts in London
  • Transitioning some of our ministries to other partner agencies
  • Partnering with churches to share resources in mission
  • Developing new ministries to the least reached.

Over 180 years the Mission has experienced many changes, and known God’s grace throughout them all. Change can be difficult, and we pray that God will bless and guide us in the months ahead. In the midst of difficult decisions and changes, we will continue our patient, sensitive and individual evangelism to London’s least reached, we will continue our kingdom-focused work, and we will continue to seek to increase our gospel impact in this city. We pray that because of these changes we will see more people engaged in fruitful gospel ministry.

Some of our ministries may look different in future, but with a renewed focus and vision for mission in London we hope we will be able to:

  • Increase the number of staff engaged in mission to London’s least reached
  • Serve the church in London through training and partnership
  • Grow the number of volunteers and ministry trainees, and mobilise many Christians in London to get involved in evangelism and gospel work.

Please pray

Thank you for your partnership in the gospel. Please pray with us as we implement these changes and adjust to new ways of working. For some, change is like a breath of fresh air; for others it’s difficult and upsetting to step away from one ministry to focus on another. Pray for grace and wisdom as we move ahead, and, above all, that God will use this renewed focus to bring more people into his kingdom.
Graham MillerGraham Miller – Chief Executive of London City Mission

Disciple All Nations

top 20Where is Christianity growing the fastest? The Center for the Study of Global Christianity, based at Gordon Conwell Seminary, published In June 2013 an excellent report regarding Christianity in its Global Context. The full report can be found online at www.globalchristianity.org/globalcontext. From this report I identified the top 20 countries that have the highest percentage Christianity Average Annual Growth Rate (AAGR). They are listed in Table 1.  I have also calculated the number of years for the number of Christians to double, based on the Average Annual Growth Rate.  

Table 1. The Top 20 Countries Where Christianity Has the Highest Percentage Growth Rate

Rank Country Continent Christian  AAGR Years to double Majority Religion Percent Christian 1970 Percent Christian 2020

1

Nepal Asia, South Central

10.93%

6.6

Hindu

0.1%

3.8%

2

China Asia, Eastern

10.86%

6.6

Non-religious

0.1%

10.6%

3

United Arab Emirates Arabian Peninsula

9.34%

7.7

Muslim

5.9%

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That Happy Certainty

How do you feel about reading a book on prayer? Part of me feels that’s the last thing I need: another excuse to get me off doing the one thing I seem to avoid: praying.

But when I dipped into this pocket-size offering by Michael Reeves, formerly of UCCF, now ‘theologian-at-large’ (a pretty cool title) at WEST, I was altogether refreshed and thankful for the privilege I have of speaking to my Father God. In short, I was eager to pray.

Reeves begins by laying his cards on the table early. He believes there is a prayerlessness prevalent in evangelical culture, and he wants that to change, and longs for this book to be something of a “tonic” to kick-start refreshed prayer lives. 

Reeves’ diagnosis of the problem is interesting. He thinks one of the key reasons we go wrong is because we think of prayer as another “thing” to do, which inevitably leads us to go…

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ChangingLondon

Missionary work has never been easy.  Jonah faced drowning and heart break.  Paul defends his mission work by boasting, not of his achievements of church planting, but of his floggings, imprisonment, and beatings. In a world of impostors the Lord authenticates genuine gospel service through the suffering of his servants (2 Tim 1:8). A history of the Church Mission Society’s first overseas work states, “There were few events of a striking or remarkable character. Missionaries and schoolmasters died, and their places were supplied by fresh arrivals from England. Thus the work suffered no interruption”.  A similar account can be given of the early work of London City Mission.  The journals of many brave missionaries came to an abrupt end in the 1850s when missionaries continued providing medical and spiritual help to needy Londoners throughout the cholera epidemics.

Today we have fewer martyrs at London City Mission and even mission agencies have health and safety officers.  There is no avoiding the fact though that working for London City Mission is not an ordinary job.  We expect missionaries to face mockery and rejection.  We make best efforts to ensure those working with the marginalised are kept from harm, but this work is never “safe”.  Missionaries will make sacrifices of life’s comforts. Hours are based around the needs of our community, not our convenience.  It is common for missionaries to labour for years in difficult parts of London seeing only a handful of professions of faith, and there is nothing more heart breaking than seeing a young person you’ve invested years of life into, slipping back into addiction and despair.

How are ordinary men and women able to do this extraordinary work without falling into despair? Paul describes the missionary’s source of strength in 2 Corinthians 4:7-18

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal

The Lord puts his glorious gospel in jars of clay so that it is clear that the good news is the work of the Holy Spirit within.  The same Spirit at work in Paul is now at work in us.  The same Lord who raised Jesus from the dead is now strengthening us.  The same wonderful hope that Paul had of eternal glory, is also our hope, and so we don’t despair. 

Each week we hear wonderful news from around the mission of God’s word proclaimed and lives transformed, but our strength and hope isn’t dependent on that.  The gospel that we preach to London is the gospel that we preach to ourselves.  We marvel at the grace of God to us, and are excited about His name being glorified. It is as we look forward to the hope of eternity that we have the strength to carry on.  The gospel perspective is vital to our ministry. 

If our focus was on human success then we would behave differently.  If our aim was for a comfortable life then we would place our missionaries in areas with the best schools for our kids, not the neediest places.  If our aim was to prove how attractive we are then we would build outreach centres in areas with large numbers of existing Christians and we’d win them over with better music or child care so we could shout of our numerical triumph.  If our aim was for a ministry that won worldly acclaim then we might still work with London’s poorest, but we’d put pictures of them all over our literature and win accolades for our social work, quietly forgetting about Jesus. 

Our desire is to see the Lord’s name glorified in every part of London; in Forest Gate and Kilburn, in Brixton, Dagenham, and Ilford.  We don’t focus on the places with growing house prices, instead we’ve surveyed London to find the places with the lowest density of churches.

Our missionaries do extraordinary work, but we are ordinary Christians.  All Christians are called to the extraordinary ministry of proclaiming Jesus in Samaria and to the ends of the earth.   All of us should have the same gospel motivation.  I pray that more Christians in London would have a missionary perspective on where they choose to live, how they use their time.  The church of London has plenty of resources to reach the neediest parts of our city with the gospel, but we often lack the gospel perspective to fully engage with the mission before us.  I give thanks for the missionaries who have taken up this extraordinary task but I pray for many thousands more ordinary Christians who will reach out with good news, even if they are not on the London City Mission payroll.

Christians have a message of Good News and hope that needs to be heard. It is an amazing message which transforms us and sends us back out into society with distinctive love and generous actions.

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Society, however, can be wary of Christians when we want to both help the needy and bring the Christian message, and it is easy to be intimidated. Our response though should not to keep our heads down and pretend we’re not Christians. We don’t need to hide the message about Jesus to fit in with some people’s views of what is acceptable in a pluralistic society. We care about people’s needs – about their deepest needs, material and spiritual.  London City Mission have been meeting those needs for almost 180 years and we are not about to stop.

In our imagination we may look back to a golden age when the Christian message was popular and acceptable, but that is a fantasy. Reaching out with the Good News of Jesus has always been unpopular. The New Testament describes the gospel about a forgiving, risen Christ as a stumbling block for the religious, and madness for the intellectuals. We shouldn’t expect to be popular, but we press on because we have a message of Good News and hope that needs to be heard.

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 In British society we too often emphasise the individual ahead of the group. We have a society full of lonely individuals, a society where old people go the doctor to find someone to talk to. The answer is not to employ more doctors (although that wouldn’t be a bad thing). Part of the answer is to have people throughout society, radically transformed by the Good News of Jesus’ love, grace and forgiveness – ready to reach out with love to their neighbours, in word and action.

 Churches have a vital role to play in London’s most needy communities. That role is more than just holding the community together though; Church is more than just a place to provide a Foodbank for the poor, or company for the elderly widow. Church is also more than just a place where people hear a stimulating talk followed by a chat with friends over a cup of coffee.

The transforming, life-changing message about Jesus flings Christians out into a world with hearts full of grace, sacrificial love, forgiveness, kindness and joy.

 As we think of the Christians’ place in society, it seems there are two extremes we can tend to. One is to say that the church is primarily a religious organisation for the betterment of its members. In that case we will stay behind our stained glass windows reading the Bible without acting on its teaching about love, mercy, justice. The other extreme is to say that church is a social service whose main purpose is societal justice, in which case we are likely to be co-opted by a needy  government into a professionalised social welfare organisation, filling the gaps in the government’s leaky social safety net.

 We have a much more vital role than that. We show Christian love, we share Christian hope, and we do so without conditions. And we don’t just show it to people exactly like ourselves.

We have a message of Good News and hope that the whole world need to hear. Good News of sins forgiven, of grace to the undeserving, of love for the unlovely, freedom for the prisoner, hope of a new beginning for the addict.

 It is as we live as 100% Christians, proclaiming the Good News of Christ and showing his love to the lost and needy, that we will play our role as salt and light in the dark and tasteless corners of this land.  Salt that has lost its taste is worthless, but distinctive Christian action, centred on a declaration of the good news of Jesus is of very great value indeed.

Based on a speech to Christians on the Left on February 18th2014

the urban pastor

Up until last week, I’d never addressed this issue from the front of church. I’d had a few conversations with individuals over the years. But it’s not been a massive issue. I guess that those who came to CCB who felt that we weren’t exuberant enough in singing didn’t return and found a home in another church. There are more charismatic alternatives not a million miles away from us.

It pains me when people make decisions about churches based on music. But they do. That’s one of the reasons why I want our music to be top drawer; to get people to stay long enough to give people some Bible in their Christian life. But the other, more important reason isn’t pragmatic; it’s theological. We ought to praise God with enthusiasm. Just look at Psalm 150. It’s disobedient not to praise him wholeheartedly. But the issue I’m addressing here isn’t…

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This is why London City Mission loves London
We seek to share the transforming love of God with the people of London. The Bible tells us that loving others is going to be hard and costly. It tells us that our love shouldn’t discriminate on any grounds but be open to everyone, regardless of any distinction.
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This is one of the reasons we run Webber Street, our homeless day centre just a stone’s throw from Waterloo station. Here we give hot meals and new warm clothes to some of London’s most marginalised and unloved individuals, as we practically share God’s unconditional love with them. But we also want to see a change in the choices our guests make. We want to make a practical difference in their lives, but we want to make a personal and eternal difference as we introduce them to Jesus.

London is full of people who’ve come here to forge careers for themselves, people who stream through stations like Liverpool Street. Millions of people use London’s transportation system every day. While many of them don’t live in material need, we know that they have a great spiritual need. Despite outward appearances many here are hurt, broken, isolated and lonely. Jesus came for people like this.

At Departure we want to share the good news with those from other parts of the world who have settled in London. This area is typical of many in London where large ethnic communities have congregated together. They add colour, vibrancy, culture and language to London, making this one of the most diverse places on earth. The world has come to us! What an opportunity we have to share the love of Jesus with people as they settle in London.
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Our commitment to ministry in London is steadfast, just like the love we want to share with Londoners. We do this through committing to specific geographical areas for the long-term.
Sticking with people through thick and thin, whatever life throws at them, regardless of the decisions they make. Through our work right across London we want to create environments
where men and women can enjoy being with one another as they search for Jesus. We love because he first loved us.
Will you join with us as we seek to share the love of Jesus Christ with the people of London?
Whether through our centres, our cafés, or our marginalised, ethnic, compassion or workplace ministries.
Will you partner with us as we love London?

Charles Marnham at London City Mission day of prayer 8th January 2014
Acts 26:12-32
Rev 12:7-12
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We live in a society which is increasingly ignorant of the basic facts of the Bible. The bad news is that Christians will be misunderstood and attacked. The good news is that we have more people asking questions.
Rev 12 pulls back the curtain and gives us an insight into the spiritual battle that is going on. Satan had been defeated but he continues to make war. We must remember that the result of the war is certain. Christ is victorious, despite ongoing skirmishes.

Paul tells his remarkable story 1-18
The orthodox zealot turns from persecuting and killing Christians to leading them and spreading their message.  Even the least likely person can be saved! Paul had been kicking against Jesus for some time. His Damascus moment was the culmination. Paul’s testimony is powerful. He is able to share his own story which shows that he is orthodox and can be taken seriously. The blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony prevailed. Giving our testimony is a powerful way of overcoming Satan’s lies. We share our story, we open the Bible, we point people to Jesus. Our story plus prayer is a powerful witness.
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Paul gives a life changing message
He preached that people need to move from darkness to light, to repent and live for the Lord forever. Death for Christians is very different because we have hope of eternal life. A radical liberation from the power of Satan and a liberation into the kingdom of heaven.  Bonhoeffer complained that repentance was left out of the church in Germany and it became full of “cheap grace”. Cheap grave is grace without Jesus, grace without genuine repentance. We fall into the habit of only needing to repent of the things that the world finds offensive but fail to repent of sin, but Paul preached the true gospel.
Paul takes his opportunity and gives the true gospel message short and succinctly. We also need to be able to share the Good News in a brief, understandable manner.

Paul has an unending passion
Paul faces opposition, but doesn’t give up easily. He says, “do you believe the prophets?” Paul sees what the issue is that his hearer has and he deals with it. Sometimes people have hoax issues as a shield against God but some have genuine issues. We need to be ready with an answer. That may mean we need to read some books, but we must be prepared with an answer. It is the Spirit’s work but we must be bold. LCM recently received a donation from an anonymous donor in memory of one of our missionaries, Charles who worked with bus drivers. He worked for years and was often treated with contempt by the drivers but one man at least was persuaded to listen to him. That man became a Christian and so did his wife and children and his mother. Subsequently so did his grandchildren. One of his children wanted to show gratitude to the missionaries who continue to patiently share the Good News. Paul persevered because of an unending passion for the gospel. So must we.
Changing London

Today in London and in most of the Western world it is easy for Christians to feel they are labouring under a cloud. Church attendance is falling, the media has an anti-Christian bias, our politicians are for the most part self confessed atheists, and our churches are dumbing down the Good News in search of worldly approval. But we need to be careful that we are not falling for lies from the pit of Hell. In the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien describes several great leaders falling for the deception that Sauron is unstoppable and therefore despair is the only reasonable counsel. This Epiphany I believe the Lord wants us to remember that, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light”. We have a King who is enthroned in Zion who laughs when he sees the enemies of his people. His victory is assured.
At the arrival of the Messiah, his people were caught on the hop. Only a couple of aged prophets at the temple were expecting God’s redemption. So God sent outsiders to make it clear that there was good news. At Epiphany we remember that God sent wise men from overseas to announce news of glad tidings to his people. Today it seems we are still in need of good news from overseas. Our churches in England may be struggling but there is revival going on in China and many parts of Asia, Africa, Latin America, even Iran has seen a resurgence.
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The London City Mission church census last year shows that church attendance in London isn’t actually falling. There has been such growth amongst the Nigerian and Ghanaian churches that over all attendance is rising. Praise the Lord!
So it is with great joy that I welcome Jonathan Oloyede to London City Mission today to encourage us from God’s Word. There is a wind blowing through London today and it isn’t only a winter storm. God has not given up on the battle in this land. His King is enthroned in Zion and he will accomplish his desires. He laughs at his enemies. If we are wise then we’ll hear the Good News and respond in humble obedience and declare his glory!

Quotes from Jonathan
“As a Muslim I sought the Lord but Allah did not speak to me. Instead I found Jesus Christ whilst studying at medical school”
“London as a city desperately needs the gospel”
“We need to raise up a cohesive army of men and women who submit to Christ’s Lordship and reach out to the lost with the gospel”
“Nobody is to far from Goods for him to touch”

OK, so I don’t really go in for New Years resolutions. In the past I have found them more helpful for promoting a sense of guilt or false pride, rather than true godliness.
I know that putting my faith in Jesus and making him my Lord is a once off event, but the work of sanctification, overcoming my ingrained sinful habits is a long hard slog not well suited to an annual diet or fad.
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I saw something in the news though that I found helpful, and got me thinking about ways to take advantage of the cycle of days to keep me Godly.
Doctors suggest giving up smoking every Monday

Doctors in USA claim that research points to the benefits of giving up smoking every Monday. By mentally making every week a new start in the struggle against addiction we are more likely to eventually win by getting to the next Monday without falling off the wagon. Now I’ve never needed to give up smoking, but there are lots of bad habits I need to wage war on. Pride, anger, selfishness, all appear in my life in the forms of: using the internet after 10pm, getting irritable with my wife and kids, missing lunch, talking more than I listen, missing my quiet times. There are habits and traits where I need to keep on putting to death the sins of the flesh in a ruthless manner. Piper talks at length about “How to Kill Sin” and it is a daily war, not an annual battle. So here is my advice. If you’ve already failed in your annual efforts to better yourself, don’t give up. Take the doctor’s advice and restart your war on sin each week. Remember God’s goodness to you and take strength from delighting in his Word. We have been saved from the power of sin, and as we meditate on our Father’s grace to us we will be more likely respond in an obedience that flows from love rather than duty.
I’ve found a few apps that have helped me with my personal goals for this year.
Prayermate is a wonderful app that reminds me to pay for family, church, mission etc
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Logos is a comprehensive Bible app that gives me my Bible and theological library in my pocket at all times
Explore provides daily quiet time material, encouraging me to truly engage with the Word of God each morning.
I’m hoping that you already know the power of God in your life, and that he is at work in you already helping you to grow in Godliness so that you will have a more Christ-like witness this year.

Here are a handful of news-bites from around the world included in the January issue of EN. May these encourage us as well as spur us on to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world facing severe persecution.

USA: best seller
The best-selling book The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones, has just sold its one millionth copy, it was reported in early December.
Born in the UK — not related to Martin Lloyd-Jones — and now living in the USA, Sally noted that this book can be given away to anyone from university presidents to car salesmen as anyone can understand it. It focuses on teaching the Bible’s own ongoing narrative, that of every story in the Bible breathing Jesus’ name. Crosswalk

EU: euthanasia coalition
A new coalition was launched in Brussels in mid-November to combat the growing threat of euthanasia across Europe.
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Europe (EPC-Europe) brings together organisations and individuals from across the continent to campaign against the erosion of laws that protect people from euthanasia. It plans to act as a powerful voice against attempts to change laws across Europe that protect people from euthanasia and assisted suicide. Christian Concern

Brunei: sharia law
The sultan of Brunei announced on October 22 that the country will be ruled according to sharia law, which will be introduced in phases from April 2014.
Penalties for hudud crimes will be in line with the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah (the deeds and sayings of Muhammed). Hudud crimes include theft, for which sharia requires the amputation of limbs, adultery, which is punished by stoning, and apostasy, which carries the death penalty. Muslims who insult, mock or deny Islamic teachings may face imprisonment for up to 30 years and 40 strokes of the cane. Barnabas Fund

Rwanda: mission
In a Rwandan mission held in October, 78,500 heard the gospel and around 8,900 made decisions for Christ. Hundreds of church leaders received training and there was a special programme for children.
Under the heading ‘Improved Literacy through Youth Education’, 50 teachers and 50 young people were trained in Musanze town. During the training, many were able to forgive and reconcile with those who had offended them. African Enterprise

For more news and prayer fuel from around the world, subscribe to EN for monthly updates.

Evangelicals Now

Here are a handful of news-bites from around the world included in the January issue of EN. May these encourage us as well as spur us on to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world facing severe persecution.

USA: best seller
The best-selling book The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones, has just sold its one millionth copy, it was reported in early December.
Born in the UK — not related to Martin Lloyd-Jones — and now living in the USA, Sally noted that this book can be given away to anyone from university presidents to car salesmen as anyone can understand it. It focuses on teaching the Bible’s own ongoing narrative, that of every story in the Bible breathing Jesus’ name. Crosswalk

EU: euthanasia coalition
A new coalition was launched in Brussels in mid-November to combat the growing threat of euthanasia across Europe.
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition…

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John D Manwell's Blog

    8 Representatives Together

You Tube video of 8 leaders prayer together 

With all that has separated the Body of Christ over hundreds of years there is a mountain of disunity that we need to deal with. At Saints in the Stadium thousands of Christians from all traditions and backgrounds came together to call on God to seek His help for the United Kingdom. Eight people from different denominations of the Church stood and prayed for Oneness in the Body in the United Kingdom.

There is only one God and Father. Centuries of separateness amongst believers for countless reasons does not change the unity of God. Standing together and singing or praying does not change the separation in our hearts. Issues of truth do not become flexible with us simply holding hands.

We can, however, take heart from the increasing number of leaders and church representatives who want to see a change…

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London City Mission has always had a heart for sharing the love of God, the Good News that Jesus Christ is Lord with all of London. We have a particular emphasis on reaching the harder to access groups; the poor, the elderly, the sick, the immigrants, the prisoners. It’s not that middle class people don’t need to hear the gospel, but we have a calling to help the Church of London reach beyond its fringe to the 92% of people who would never walk into a middle class church. Brixton prison is just the kind of place where we want to reach out to the needy and we’ve been working there for many years. This week I was privileged to attend the HMP Brixton Christmas service and was filled with joy to see what was going on there.

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From the start the chapel was packed out. It has a capacity of 140, but with the men standing at the back I’m sure we had over 150 prisoners in the room (from a population of 700). The singing was terrific. I felt I was in the middle of a Welsh choir as we belted out, “O Come All Ye Faithful”. When a chorister stood up to sing a gospel number the room broke into pandemonium. There were men clapping, raising their hands in the air, even a couple of shouts of hallelujah. And it wasn’t all in jest, it was obvious that among the inmates there are men who have faith in Christ, and others who show a deep interest. How did Christians end up in prison? Chatting to the men there was a pattern to the stories. Often there was a damaging event; a return from fighting overseas, a divorce, childhood abuse, which then led to depression. The depression wasn’t dealt with well and soon became alcohol or substance abuse. The addiction led to other crimes either theft, violence, or trafficking of drugs. Prison hopefully called a halt on the downward spiral of these men’s lives. I am not trying to explain away the crimes. The prisoners have all made bad decisions and are guilty of hurting others through their actions. What did impact me was though how possible it is for all kinds of people, even Christians, to fall off the “straight and narrow” path and end up in a mess. There, but by the grace of God, go I. Just as I have met Christian men in LCM’s homeless centre, I have met Christians in prison who should have been given greater love, help and support by their churches during their spiral down, but we live in a society which is time poor, and where we have little time for the mentally ill, and the needy.
The Bible though challenges our behaviour and if we have ears to hear the challenge will come loud and clear. Hebrews 13 urges us to treat prisoners as our brothers, and Matthew 25 warns us that those who fail to show love to their brothers and sisters in prison will be turned away on the day of judgement. Can this really mean that we need to do acts of charity to prisoners to earn our way to heaven, surely that goes against the gospel of grace? Matthew 25 and James 1 are entirely consistent with the gospel of grace outlined in Galatians and Romans. I think rather that these good deeds, showing care for the prisoner in Matthew 25, or care for the elderly widow in James 1 act as a litmus test for true Christianity. Lives transformed by the gospel of grace will always show the fruit of love. A church which has lost its love for the prisoner and the elderly is almost certainly a church in which the gospel of grace has been left behind.

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Praise the Lord that the gospel message preached by London City Missionary, Rob Hooks, at the service will be going out to every prison in the country on Christmas morning on National Prison Radio. The opportunities to work with prisons are amazing. We have an open door to work with the prisoners preparing them for release and we regularly run courses like Christianity Explored and the Christians Against Poverty budgeting course at Brixton. Right now there are no volunteers to support the Christians Against Poverty work but we are hopefull we’ll get it back up and running soon. If you feel moved to get involved in the outreach to prisoners then there are several ways to help. If you are ready to make a regular commitment of time then there are opportunities to volunteer to assist in prison chaplaincies http://lcm.org.uk/Groups/9917/London_City_Mission/Join_Us/Volunteers/Volunteers.aspx
Another way of getting involved is to support Rob Hooks in his work by donating at JustGiving and mentioning your support for Rob https://www.justgiving.com/londoncitymission
For many the best involvement will be to pray for the work – you can sign up to pray for any of the London City Missionaries. We are desperately in need for more prayer supporters right now http://lcm.org.uk/Groups/9350/London_City_Mission/About_Us/Prayer/Prayer.aspx

That Happy Certainty

I’ve since produced an updated list for Christmas 2014, here, and Christmas 2015, here.

A friend asked me the other day if I knew of any short ‘make you think’ type-of-films related to Advent or Christmas to use at school. I’ve seen a few used over the last couple of years, but after I emailed some friends and asked around on Facebook a whole load more surfaced.

And so it seemed to make sense to compile them here. The caveat is they do vary significantly in spiritual-content, cheese-factor, and apologetic value, but you can decide for yourselves…

(To download full versions or play in church, you may well need to pay for some of these – details should be on the various links below)

1. Someone is Coming (graphical Bible overview giving context of Christmas)

2. The Christmas Chord (great spoken word colloquial piece from Dai Woolridge)

3…

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What tho’ my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho’ the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile,
Our thoughts to them go winging;
When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?

Listening to Irish singer Enya sing this old hymn inspired me to pray again this week for brothers and sisters celebrating Christmas in far off prisons, labour campus, and gulags. They are not far from their Lord and saviour.
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Hebrews 13 says this:
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  So we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

Do we treat our brothers and sisters in prison as if we are in prison with them? Do we pray for them monthly? annually? ever? Do we care for our family who have been mistreated in Syria? Have we been praying for them and sending money for food? The good news is that despite our neglect our brothers and sisters won’t be neglected by the Lord, but let us continue to pray nevertheless for what we do to the least of our brothers reveals our attitude to Jesus our saviour.

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A bulldozed church in China

In addition to the Christians suffering persecution in prison, there are those being attacked in their own homes in the Middle East. Recently the Prince of Wales was joined by Prince Ghazi of Jordan on a visit to the Egyptian Coptic church in Stevenage and the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral in west London, where he heard from a number of Christian families who have had first-hand experience of the rising tide of persecution. “We cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are, increasingly, being deliberately attacked by fundamentalist Islamist militants,” he said. “The Arab spring [is] rapidly turning into a Christian winter” was how the author William Dalrymple put it on the BBC.
Christians have increasingly become the target of violence, with churches assaulted, priests abducted, individuals targeted and homes looted. In Egypt alone, Amnesty International has reported that during this past year 207 churches have been attacked and 43 Orthodox churches totally destroyed. And the situation of Christians in Syria is deteriorating rapidly as the Free Syrian Army has become increasingly influenced by foreign jihadist militants. Many thousands of Syrian Christians are now fleeing over the border to Turkey. One man who made the journey from Syria claimed: “Where we live, 10 churches have been burned down. They started to threaten Christians in the town we live. When the local priest was executed, we decided to leave.”

I’ve added some links to provide some food for thought for Christian prisoners of conscience in the Far East

http://dynamic.csw.org.uk/article.asp?t=report&id=176

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/12/05/satellite-images-reveal-scale-north-korea-prison-camps-group-says/

http://news.sky.com/story/1182848/chinas-illegal-detention-of-christian-pastor

http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/pray_for_the_persecuted_church/2011/08/china-releases-five-church-leaders-two-years-after-linfen-police-riot.html

Christmas is a busy time for London City Mission, it is all too easy to get swept up in a busy round of carol services and mince pies. This week though I attended a Christmas meal that made me pause.
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Our Webber Street day centre provides food, showers, clothes, health services, friendship, and advice to the homeless who sleep close to Waterloo and London’s Southbank. Each day we provide breakfast and this week I had the privilege of attending our Christmas meal and talking about the Good News described in Isaiah 9 for people living in darkness. Whilst we ate our turkey I got talking to the men sitting on my table and heard their stories. P is in his twenties and has a PhD in physics (and discussed quantum gravity with me to prove he wasn’t a story teller). Q is an older  gentleman who graduated from the London School of Economics. R is an Irish man who hasn’t been home to Dublin for 30 years and used to work on building sites before he got too old for it. Each man was full of remarkable stories and could have kept me talking for hours. They discussed Isaiah 9 and young P was explaining to Q that the equations of physics describe a universe so  unnecessarily beautiful that he felt that belief in a God was the most straightforward explanation. R said he felt he’d had religion beaten out of him by the monks at his school. All of the men had sad stories explaining how they’d managed to end up on the streets. None were beyond the redemption or the love of God. It struck me that most people would enjoy sitting and chatting with these fellas so why are there so few volunteers to work with London’s homeless and marginalised?
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I guess fear is one of the main reasons. We imagine “marginalised people” are very different from us and so we have a fear of the unknown. “What could I say?”, “The cultural gap is just too great”.
At Christmas we remember the coming of Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. He crossed an enormous cultural divide to be with us. He went from being in heaven, served by a host of angels, and constantly loved to being a child of peasants, misunderstood, and mistreated. He didn’t just come to have a friendly chat with us, but he gave his life sacrificially so that we can know the forgiveness and love of God. I pray that this year Christians across London will reach across cultural gaps to speak of our hope and good news with the elderly, the homeless, the single mums, the Bangladeshi neighbours, the people who are different to us. As we do that we have a promise from the greatest cross cultural missionary of all time. “All authority in heaven and earth have been given to me, and I will be with you always”.

Knowing Jesus - Life with the Son of God

Check out the latest video from Glen Scrivener (@glenscrivener).

Christmas is a dark time for many people.

But fair days or foul, our plight He embraces.
Real Christmas can shine in the darkest of places.

It used to be summer when Christmas came round,
Neath tall southern skies, over sun-scorched ground,
With the backyard cricket, the barbies, the beach,
And munching on mangoes to watch the Queen’s Speech.
The slatherings of sunscreen, the glorious glare
And toasting the glow in the warm evening air.

It used to be summer… when I was young.
A golden age in a land far flung.
But there came a point, I crossed a divide,
Went up in the world and summer had died.
December is dark now, the nights close in,
So we huddle together as kith and as kin.

It’s winter now when Christmas rolls round,
We celebrate still though with…

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Church Planting

Posted: December 12, 2013 in Church, Culture, Evangelism
Tags: , , ,

Over the last decade it has become increasingly fashionable to plant, graft, or resurrect congregations. Church planting has many benefits. It makes the church more dependent on God and more focused on evangelism. Planting forces comfortable Christians to step out in faith and take the lead in ministry areas that where previously led by professionals. A church plant can provide an area lacking a Bible teaching church with a new congregation. These advantages are just as relevant to economically deprived areas as to the affluent suburbs. Why is it then that church planters have an aversion to council estates?

One obvious reason is that most church plants are based around a group of people currently going to a middle class church who would like to start a church closer to their home. It is unlikely that these people live on a council estate, and so it is unlikely they will want to plant there.
In addition most church plants will want to be economically independent after 3 years. This is hard to achieve with a congregation of low earners, but much easier in an area of young professionals.  London City Mission find that when a missionary arrives in an area much of the first 2 years go into getting to know the local shop keepers, school secretaries, imams, to understand what makes the place tick. If we judge the success or otherwise of a church plant after 2 years we will be unlikely to have any council estate churches.

The result of the church planting wave is that London’s young professional areas are overflowing with congregations. Locals have a choice of Alpha, Christianity Explored, New Frontiers, Vineyard. Council estates on the other hand remain a wasteland for Bible believing churches. 
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At London City Mission we want to challenge the biggest obstacles and arguments that prevent vibrant, gospel believing churches taking root in under privileged areas, so here are a few myths that need to be destroyed
1) “Council estate plants aren’t economically sustainable” .
This just can’t be right. Matthew 28 provides no get out clause for avoiding the “difficult” places. Much of church planting theory has been taken over by business models; franchises, joint ventures, syndicates, relaunches, and other helpful strategems, but these can never replace the need for prayerful, sacrificial, spirit empowered gospel ministry. When Jesus promises (John 14) that whatever we ask in his name will be given to us, he is not saying we will get a new Mercedes so long as we add the words “in Jesus name” to the end of our prayers. He is saying that we can pray BIG prayers in line with his will, about the things he delights in (1 John 5) and we will see answers to those prayers. Jesus delights to see diverse people being brought under his headship for the glory of God and so we need to be praying for Dagenham, Forest Gate, Tottenham Hale, and Kilburn.
If our current models are unsustainable then we will need to change our models. Anyone with teaching gifts inferior to Paul should at least consider tent making. Anyone with teaching gifts inferior to Stephen should consider rolling up their sleeves in community activities. Sister churches need to give until it hurts (2 Cor 9) to support each other.
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2) “The Spirit hasn’t given us a heart for poorer people”.
Again, this just can’t be true. The sword of the Spirit is God’s word, and God’s word is crystal clear that our heavenly Father is looking for people from all backgrounds to praise and worship him. If you haven’t been moved by the Spirit yet then read and meditate on Psalm 96, Matthew 28, Acts 1, Revelations 7 and allow the Spirit to rebuke and encourage you. Many of our planting efforts currently target white middle class university graduates aged 20-45 or Nigerians or Ghanaians. It can’t be right that we are largely ignoring the poor, the elderly, the foreigners in our midst, in fact the Bible is clear that God finds that kind of religion anathema.
3) “We don’t have anyone living in those areas so we can’t plant there”
The early Christians were Jews, separated geographically and culturally from the rest of the world, and centered around Jerusalem. In Acts 1, Jesus told the disciples to send the Word out from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Getting the news out to Judea was like church planting where we already have friends and family. Samaria was geographically close, but culturally very different. The ends of the earth were neither geographically close not culturally similar. Both Peter and Paul needed some strong, life changing intervention to reach out cross culturally.
Today we do an OK job of reaching out to Jerusalem and Judea. The areas culturally similar to the cathedral churches are reasonably well reached. We are also managing to send people with the gospel to the ends of the earth (but not enough). Where the church in UK is failing is in our reach to Samaria. We are leaving our council estates, our elderly, the foreigners in our midst to the flames of Hell, whilst we strive for audio visual perfection in our young professional worship halls. If Paul and Peter are anything to go by Church leaders missing God’s heart for diverse, cross cultural mission can expect some heavy duty intervention from a loving Father.
I’d encourage anyone considering church planting to pray about what it will take to start a community church that genuinely reaches out the the diversity of the locality. In London, LCM are looking to support plants in this kind of work with training and evangelists. In other places people like “20 Schemes” are wanting to help out. Most importantly though, if we set out on this dangerous, life changing work, we should be encouraged that it is close to God’s heart. As we reach out to the Bangladeshi community in the East End, or the council estates of Dagenham we will need patience, love, training, endurance, God’s Word and lots of prayer. More important than the backing of LCM or a cathedral church we will need the backing of God. We can expect to see remarkable things. I am aware of amazing conversions and healings of Imam’s children as the gospel had been proclaimed across cultural boundaries. These tough cross cultural mission fields are some of the most exciting and difficult places to minister in the world. I pray that the Lord of the harvest will raise up more workers with a heart for Samaria. Please join me in that prayer.IMG_20131027_224859

I’ve been scratching my head since getting back from China wondering why English churches feel so strange, and it’s finally come to me. English churches are inside out.


I don’t mean that the carpets and pictures are in the wrong place, I mean the focus of the church is in the wrong place. I’ll try and explain.
Chinese home churches tend to feel small and vulnerable. Members are evangelists, trying to share the good news with as many people as possible. The church minister is often only a little better trained than the congregation and sees their main role to be encourager and cheer leader for the troops.
In the UK on the other hand the church leader tends to be vastly better trained than the congregation. The leader has probably worked as a volunteer for a couple of years, then spent three years learning Hebrew, homiletics, and history. They may have spent a further three years as a curate/assistant so by the time they get to lead the church they are very much a priest.
The priest is not a cheer leader. They are a teacher, a guru showering wisdom upon the drones who work hard all week to pay the priest’s salary. As a congregation, we turn up on Sunday exhausted and slump into seats waiting the reviving words of the teacher. We hope that there will also be a junior priest looking after our kids.
The junior priest (youth worker) may well be given free accommodation and a salary of £20,000 per year to look after 10 teenagers. The cost per teenager might be as high as £3000 per kid per year. The church’s expenditure on the other 30,000 kids who live in the area is negligible.
In this model of church we have priests providing services tailored to a few paying customers, whilst the 92% who never go to church remain largely untouched.
Church has become a service centre for busy Christians. It has become inward looking, centred around a single priest. Instead of employing a youth worker to train the kids to evangelise the district, we have a youth worker filling in the gaps that busy Christian parents have left in parenting our kids.  Instead of reaching out to the local council estate we say that “we don’t feel moved by the Spirit” to reach that group and ignore them with our leafleting for Christmas Carol Services.

I’ve talked to some of these priestly church leaders about trying to remedy the situation, “What about the Polish, the elderly, the council estate kids close to our church?”
The answer is a look of despair. “Brother”, they say, “I’d like to do more, but I am short staffed, I need to prioritise my preaching preparation time, and then I’ve got two couples on the edge of a marriage break up. On top of that my senior elder is annoyed that his son isn’t getting enough attention from our youth worker, and eight of my best, most able members have just left to join a church plant in Suburbiton. How am I meant to start a new ministry to the elderly, or the Polish, or the council estates, when I can’t even look after my own flock? Brother, you are weighing me down with burdens. Surely we pay London City Mission to look after the needy, so you look after that lot, and I’ll struggle on with caring for my congregation.”
It’s hard to argue with the poor Church minister so I’m going to let Paul do it. In his letter to the Ephesians chapte 4, Paul says this,

“11 And he himself gave some as apostles and some as prophets and some as evangelists and some as pastors and teachers 12 for the equipping of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ”

He didn’t say, “and he gave the body of Christ to pay for the important ministry workers”.

He didn’t say “and he gave pastors and teachers for the work of the ministry and to keep an eye on the body of Christ”.

He said that the church leaders are to be equippers, cheer leaders, encouragers to get the Church doing all the ministry.

The “priest” is the worst person to be doing all the ministry.  They haven’t worked in the real world for years.  The people who are out in the real world need to be doing the ministry.

The church is inside out. Rather than having an inward looking church huddled around a priest for survival, we need an outward looking church, reaching out to the lost, and our pastors and teachers need to be our equippers, our mobilisers. Instead of employing young pastors to keep our kids on the straight and narrow, we need to employ evangelists to train the kids to reach out into the community. The best way to deal with young doubters is to turn them into young evangelists.  When one of our church’s young people thinks up the idea of starting a “football ministry” for kids on the council estate the church minister shouldn’t be rolling their eyes to the sky with thoughts of the effort, but encouraging them and getting a couple of Dads engaged in the project.  When the students want to get involved with ministry to the homeless, it should be encouraged, and telephone numbers provided for the Christian shelter where church members regularly volunteer and run Bible studies.  When the mums group wants to start an outreach to the elderly widows in the community it should be helped with offers of the church premises and a rota for providing the less mobile a lift to church on Sunday.  The minister shouldn’t be running any of these ministries, but they should be engaging with their church members, getting them to do what they are good at, and encouraging them from scripture to reach out with both Christian love and the Gospel that Jesus Christ is our risen Lord.

We need to turn our church’s back inside out.  One way is to plant a new church which is tiny and vulnerable like the Chinese church.  Another is to challenge our idols that leave us so terribly “time poor”.  That is the subject of another blog

One of the many “culture shock” moments for me returning from China is the tribal nature of the church in London.  One of the joys of living and working in Beijing is that although there are many limits on Christian meetings, the foreign believers are forced to mingle together at BICF, Beijing International Christian Fellowship.  This means that I have spent the last 9 years not only working with Chinese friends in the house churches and state sponsored churches, I have also had the joy of fellowship with friends from the Assemblies of God, Old German Baptist, Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, Acts 29, Charismatic, Conservative, Korean, African, Pacific Island, Russian, Singaporean, European, American, Latin American church groupings (to name but a few).  Here in London most Christians keep to our own cliques.  This is a pity because it displays  disunity when we should be distinctive to the world because of our love for one another.  We make the problem worse by spending our time criticising every other group and worrying whether anyone outside our grouping is really a Christian.  The entire African church is sometimes written off as “prosperity gospel”, the charismatics are too “feeling orientated”, the conservatives are “quenching the Spirit”, the Koreans are “workaholics”, etc.

In Ephesians 3, Paul explains that he has been given a ministry to Gentiles so that the church will display to the all the “manifold wisdom of God” Eph 3:10.  This word manifold, πολυποίκιλος means multi-faceted, diverse, many sided.  The context , Paul’s discussion of his mission to the Gentiles, suggests a sense that God’s church displays the diverse, muti-coloured nature of his plan for the world. We fail to display this πολυποίκιλος beauty when we remain in our church ghettos. Worse, we fail to show the distinctive Christ-like love for which the church should be famous. Christ’s love is sacrificial, steadfast, culture-crossing. Clique love is self-serving, fickle, and aimed at people similar to ourselves. Even the businessmen at the golf club know how to invite golfing friends over for dinner and drinks. If the extent of our fellowship is inviting people just like ourselves over for dinner and drinks to extend our social network then we are not showing Christ-like love, we are showing world-like love. Finally clique churches will tend to be more faddish, and less creative. Each visit from China to the UK I have spotted new church fads because we are all reading the same recommended books and attending the same annual conferences. Diverse congregations have a much wider group of opinion sources.  They will tend to have more creative conflict and may even break apart under the weight of that conflict, but they will benefit from having less “groupthink” and more innovative solutions to long standing problems.
So how can we learn to be more inclusive without watering down our doctrinal statements or distinctive values?
One way is to reach out into the diversity of the community in which we find ourselves. South Asian origin kids make up something like 15% of London’s schools. London’s Christians need to be making friendships across those cultural boundaries at the school gate.  Polish immigrants arrived in 2004 and Romanians are arriving as I write.  Our churches need to be reaching out to these people groups for our good as well as theirs.
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Fast growing churches tend to be made up of young graduates. Young people in the church need to be encouraged to visit and befriend the elderly in their neighbourhood.
Many Christians (especially those reading this blog) will be getting new ideas and forging connections online. We need to make a conscious effort to listen to voices outside our usual cliques and groupings and make connections with people from different racial, economic, and age backgrounds.

A church which is welcoming to a diverse community will have diversity in its leadership.  People tend to attend a church where the people down the front of the church look a bit like themselves.  Planting a church of 100 young middle class graduates onto a housing estate is a noble thing to do, but it is likely to be more effective to start a church with a dozen local people and only half a dozen of the graduates, and then encourage the local people to take responsibility for the singing, praying, and welcoming.  A big, “white”, Anglican city centre church on the other hand will benefit by adding leaders from Asian or African backgrounds to the leadership teams.
Making friends cross-culturally can be a source of great joy.  One of the wonderful aspects of living in a city like London is that I can have Korean, Indian, Nigerian, young, old, rich, poor friends and we can learn from eachother’s diverse experiences.  We need to be ready to widen the cultural makeup of our network of Christian friends if we want to display the multicoloured beauty of God’s Church.  It is not so hard, but it requires patient, humble, sacrificial love.  It is the Holy Spirit that pours this love into our heart, and that is why Christians love is distinctive.  As we pray for a deeper love for our neighbours of all backgrounds we shouldn’t be surprised when we have opportunities to love the elderly, the foreign, the poor, the marginalised.  They are all around us but we haven’t been looking.

Here is an exercise for you. Have a look at the people you follow on Facebook or Twitter. Count up 100 and see how many of them are from a different economic, racial, age background. If less than 20% are different from you then you need to ask if you are engaging with society or hiding in your clique.
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I recently gave a talk to Bible scholars to encourage involvement in gospel outreach to the poor, elderly, and marginalised with London City Mission. We got onto the topic of “mercy ministries” and it was suggested that the “Good is the enemy of the best”, and perhaps we should be spending more time preparing sermons and less time organising foodbanks. My response was that we need to be “both and” Christians who obey the 2 GCs. We need to obey the Great Commission to preach the good news & make disciples, and we need to obey the Great Commandment to love God & love our neighbour. We then got onto the question of who we should be loving. “Surely the bulk of our love should be reserved for our fellow Christians?” This led to the  question, “So who exactly is my neighbour?”, at which point I told a story.

An African student was walking along Oxford Street, after his fellowship group, on his way to his hall of residence. As he walked he was brutally assaulted. His wallet and phone were stolen, he was knifed and left half dead in a shop doorway.
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Now by coincidence a vicar was walking along the road that night. He saw the body in the doorway and felt troubled but he had a sermon to write. “I need to give priority to the ministry of the word, I mustn’t be distracted by the needs of every tramp on the street”, he thought as he passed by on the other side of the road.
By further coincidence a Bible study leader was also walking down the road. “I need to look after the needs of my study group, I don’t have time to meet the needs of the world”, he thought as he walked past quickly.
A church member was also walking along the road on the way to a late night sale at Selfridge’s. He saw blood tricking from the body and thought, “Oh my goodness those awful black gangs have brought their knife crime to the heart of London” as he jumped in a taxi to to the safety of home.
Finally a Romanian gypsy spotted the body. He quickly applied pressure to the wound and did emergency first aid. He called an ambulance and accompanied the body to the hospital. There was confusion at the hospital about whether the injured man was eligible for free NHS treatment so the Romanian handed over his bank card and said, “please charge all of his treatment to me, I’ll be back tomorrow and I’ll ask my cousin for extra money if it is needed”.

After telling the story I asked the students, “Which one of these acted as a good neighbour to the African student?”.
“The Romanian gypsy”, was the unanimous opinion.
“Well we must go and do likewise”.

When we start debating the, “Who is it that I need to love?” question we are falling into the trap of the Pharisees.  The question should never be, “How few people can I love?”  Jesus made it clear that  narrow categories need to be exploded.  We are to love across cross-cultural boundaries.  We are to love the Samaritan.  We are to love even our enemy.  The Bible shows us that Christians are not only to love fellow Christians (of course we must especially love them), but we are to love the poor, the needy, the elderly, and the foreigner in our midst. (Zech 7).  The New Testament Church also didn’t just leave this love to the goodwill of individual believers.  When brothers and sisters in Jerusalem suffered a famine the entire church network across the Middle East pulled together in a fund raising plan to support fellow believers (2 Cor 9).

This blog is not an exhaustive discussion of the risks and benefits of engaging in mercy ministry.  There are many more issues to discuss; rice bowl Christianity, manipulation of needy people, the unconditionally of love, creation of a dependence culture,… to name but a few.  I want to explode the myth that loving the needy is a competitor of the work of preaching the good news to the lost.  To be unloving is to sub-Christian, and as mature believers we are called to follow the full counsel of God, 100% Christians not sub-Christians.  We are called to love the needy, to bind up the wounds of the broken hearted.  We are called to make disciples of all nations, and we are called to teach the full counsel of God.  In God’s economy this is not an either/or decision.  The good is not the enemy of the best.  Wise expenditure on reaching out with love to the needy does not push out expenditure on gospel ministry.  Our Father ‘has the cattle on a thousand hills’. He has plenty of time and resources to reach out with love to the elderly widow living next door and also preach the Word of God to the ends of the Earth.  As we fall to our knees faced with the needs of a lost world we will be equipped with what we need to both support the needs of our famine stricken brothers and sisters in the church of Antioch and the resources to plant new churches on the council estates of Dagenham.  We have a big God.  He will achieve big plans.
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