Archive for December, 2013

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