Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

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

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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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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

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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