Tag Archives: Unity

What I learned in week six

12 Feb

Well that was interesting. If you’ve been following the God52 journey this week, you’ll have read some fantastic, stretching, honest guest blog posts, and if you’ve been taking the challenge yourself, I’d wager you’ve enjoyed a surprising, if not revelatory experience.

The challenge was -as ever – simple: identify a voice (most people interpreted this as a Christian teacher) which you had previously written off, engage with it, and ask God to speak to you through it. The slight downside with this was it gave everyone permission to publicly air their pet peeves; the stronger upside was that many of us enjoyed a week of being a little more open minded. So on this blog you’ll have read about Calum, who caught something beautiful from prosperity teacher Joel Osteen; Mark, who was forced to wrestle a bit with his preconceptions as a Conservative Evangelical, and Helen and Zoe, both of whom found wisdom or grace they didn’t expect among complementarians. Elsewhere on other blogs, we noticed a number of other people on similar journeys.

For each of these people, the lesson was slightly different, but in every case there seemed to be a lesson. It’s perhaps too easy to refer to Paul’s analogy of one body with many parts, but it would seem that God chooses to work through every flavour, every stream of the Christian church, and he doesn’t seem to be put off by how we feel about them, or how theologically errant we might think they are. Which leads me on to my own experience this week. I decided to confront the thing about which I am perhaps most cynical in the church. I don’t usually talk about this, and I realise that in committing these words to the Internet I am forever writing myself out of a lucrative speaking gig but… I really struggle with Hillsong. I have great difficulties with this church movement, which grew out of what is now a Sydney megachurch, with plants in major cities across the world and a whole industry of music, teaching and conferences now bearing the famous logo.

My issue in a nutshell – that in my opinion, they (and I’m really talking about their leaders here) tend towards a warped understanding of discipleship, which focuses on earthly purpose and success of the individual, rather than the cost of following Jesus.

Since I’ve read it a lot in Hillsong circles, it’s fair to say they’re fond of Jesus’ words in Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” They seem to talk less about Paul’s words in Philippians 1:21 – “for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”, or Jesus’ own in Mark 8: 34 – “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The path of discipleship has a cost – for some of our brothers and sisters in the persecuted church, it still has the ultimate cost attached. So I’ve always found the Hillsong approach slightly grating.

But perhaps that says more about me than it does about them. Perhaps it’s my Englishness, my left-of-centredness or my increasing Anglican-ness that finds the idea of God pouring grace abundantly into my lap difficult. Is it for me to decide whom God should bless, and to what degree? That’s a misunderstanding of grace on my part.

So, with that in mind, I downloaded some podcasts, subscribed to a few unlikely twitter feeds, and waited for God to show me how wrong I’d been about Hillsong. And do you know what? He didn’t. I don’t need to go into great detail here, but pretty much everything I read and heard only served to confirm my prejudice. Not what I expected to be writing. Ouch.

Instead I read about pastors Brian and Bobbi Houston and their $600 three day leaders retreat in Hawaii. I listened to Brian preach, linger on Proverbs 11 v 4: ‘Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death’, and completely ignore the first half of the verse. I even met a graduate from Hillsong’s leadership training who only seemed to reconfirm my worst feelings again. I found myself asking God if my heart was so hard that I’d become cynical beyond repair.

Feeling particularly downbeat about my apparent failure, I went for a walk. I found myself praying, and as I did so, my words somehow meandered to a statement along these lines: “God, I don’t really feel like I deserve it, but if you want to pour out your abundant blessings on my life, then please do. If you want to ‘pour a good measure, pressed down and running over into my lap’, then don’t let me stop you. ” I was almost joking.

That was noon. By four o’clock, so many unusual and even extraordinary things had happened to me – all of them fitting into the ‘abundant blessing’ category – that I was being forced to rethink some things. And I’ll be honest – I still can’t get my head around it. I don’t understand why God would want to help my finances, when so many people have nothing. I don’t get why my career should be advanced, or opportunities should be given to me, when I know how fallen and sinful I am.

Do I still think there’s stuff wrong with Hillsong’s theology? Yes. Do I believe that God moves even through that teaching? Absolutely. I am left simply to reflect on this: God is bigger even that I imagined; bigger than my preconceptions; bigger than imperfect teaching. This week I’ve not learned that God speaks through every part of the body, but rather that God is sovereign. He is King. He is greater; his grace and love more perfect than I could possibly imagine.

Not a bad learning point. And all because I listened to a voice with which I still don’t agree. Pick the bones out of that.


Engaging with the ‘Prosperity Gospel’

11 Feb

Our final guest blogger for this week is Calum Burke. Inspired by the week 6 challenge, Calum has spent the last week engaging with the ‘Prosperity Gospel’, and left the week more challenged than annoyed. Which is a good thing.

IMG_1809I have always struggled with ‘Prosperity Gospel’ as a theology. It is theology that teaches that God wants to prosper us financially on the earth and often leaders within the prosperity wings of the Church encourage their followers to give large amounts of money in order that ‘God may bless them’. I struggle with that idea because it seeks to manipulate people and treats God like some kind of formulaic slot machine who panders to our agenda.

Despite my annoyance with this teaching and those who teach it, this week my challenge has been to find God and listen to him through the teachings of prosperity churches. My first point of call was to listen to talks by Pastor Joel Osteen who leads a Church of forty three thousand people based in Texas and has an online reach of millions. He is regarded by many as one of the most influential men in America.

Surprisingly, I found that some of what Osteen had to say I agreed with and actually found helpful! I was challenged by a little piece of liturgy that he and his Church use before he speaks This is my Bible. I am what it says I am. I have what it says I have. I can do what it says I can do. Today I will be taught the word of God. I boldly confess my mind is alert, my heart is receptive; I’ll never be the same. In Jesus name, God bless you.”

God really challenged me through this statement; he challenged me about my faith and about my expectation of what he can do. Christians that follow this teaching really believe in the power of God today and that he is still in the business of changing lives. I struggle with the kind of change they expect, but they don’t wake up thinking “God what are you not going to do today?”. If I’m honest there are times when I wake up ready to be disappointed by God and this has to change.

Through doing this challenge I believe that God has left me with another, which make take the rest of my life to complete. How can I have the faith of prosperity Christians and still live a life of costly discipleship modeled by Jesus? What would a costly prosperity look like?

Calum Burke is the Youth Director for a group of five Anglican Churches in Southall, West London. Southall is one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the country and home to many Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus.  He is married to Carolyn and together they eat far too much curry. This year he is taking a photo everyday of the year at http://calumburke.tumblr.com and tweets @calumburke.

Harmony, by Zoe Pimentel

10 Feb

Another guest blogger responds to this week’s challenge – this time trainee vicar Zoe recalls how her preconceptions were seriously challenged – and how God spoke to her powerfully – through an unlikely group of people…

zoepimAs a young female trainee vicar, in her third year of college, the issue of ‘women in leadership’ has been the big thing for me recently, particularly during and since the women bishops vote. Believe me, if you looked in the right places, there were endless blogs, e-petitions, and facebook groups about it – for and against.

I confess to getting quite upset by, and reacting to, things I saw on the internet, and it ate away at me. However, one Sunday over Christmas, I found myself in a South London church who prohibit female leaders in any form except leading other women, and who had wholeheartedly petitioned the Church of England to vote against the women bishops measure (in case you weren’t sure, I was for it). I was visiting an African friend of mine who is working there for a year, and he invited me to visit.

There were so many things that I found myself rolling my eyes at, cynically mocking in my head, as I sat silently in the pews and observed (well, judged…) all these people that I’d never met before in my life. Shameful, I know. But afterwards, I was invited to do some carol singing with them in the local high street. Being a deep lover of singing and harmonies, I leapt at the chance.

Then, I had to seriously check my heart and attitude. These people were going onto the high street because they had a gospel that they loved and deeply believed in, just like me. As we sang, I could hear strong vocals behind me making beautiful harmonies with the well known carols, singing as loudly and proudly as I was. They love singing, just like me. The beautiful irony of joining myself in a physical, audible, act of unity with this group of Christians that I otherwise probably wouldn’t choose to spend time with began to dawn on me. And I realised, they were people, who loved singing, and loved God. Just like me. We had so much more in common than I had originally thought, including, God. I couldn’t believe I’d overlooked the most important foundation of all.

Ever since (so, only in the past month, not very long!!), I’ve been attempting to seek out different voices that I could physically meet and befriend, not just different voices on the internet (although I admit that it is easier to take the relational route while at a theological college than in normal life). I believe the incarnation of Jesus shows us a God who made the effort to come and meet us, face to face; despite all our apprehensions, misconceptions, and judgements about him. The least we can do for our brothers and sisters, with whom we may differ, should be the same.

Zoe Pimentel is a trainee vicar with a background in youth work. She is also a tea drinker, nature lover, roller blader, and an occasional tweeter.

Mark Walley on being a listening Conservative Evangelical

9 Feb

This week’s challenge has been all about comfort zones, preconceptions and theological prejudices. Today Mark Walley blogs his reflections on the task – and what he’s come up with is the kind of raw honesty which we don’t often get a chance to benefit from reading.

MarkWalleyIt’s the week we all listen to people outside our comfort zone! I’m a Conservative Evangelical, so that’s a lot of people. Here’s my list of people I’ve listened to so far:

– an African-American Pentecostal bishop

– a female leader of the Roman Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement (which I didn’t know existed till this week)

– a Conservative Evangelical who I thought would be tediously boring (alright, not outside my comfort zone this one, but I’ve struggled over the last few years with how dull some of us Conservative Evangelical’s can be and got quite bitter about it. So, good chance to hear some of them a bit more.)

I would love to say that they all taught me profound truths that have affected my life. They haven’t. In fact, I’m not sure if I’m not further put off some of those people than before I first listened to them. I’m left with questions afterwards, like “where was the Bible?”, “where was the joy in God?”, “where was the good news of Jesus Christ?” and “isn’t that heresy?”.

But here’s the thing I have noticed so far about my self at least (and it’s only Friday, so who knows what else might happen?). I’ve approached listening to all these people with my unsound teaching early warning system on maximum setting. I won’t let the teaching of these men and women through my barriers without first being rigorously stopped and searched for all sorts of things that I might deem unsafe. Now, I was kinda aware I did that anyway, but what’s struck me as I’ve tried to be more open to listening to other views is that I’ve managed to make being gracious and loving and open to hearing God’s voice the enemy of being discerning.

I’d decided that either I could listen to these people with discernment or I could listen to them hopeful that I could learn.

But I definitely couldn’t do both. These two things were mutually exclusive. I was genuinely worried that if I listened expectantly and prayerfully to a Christian brother or sister teaching they might secretly sucker me in to believing heresy. That’s stupid. But it’s not stupid because people aren’t teaching heresy (turns out people still are) or because people aren’t mangling the bible (turns out people still are).

No, it’s stupid because it expects approaching something hyper-judgementally to be better for my soul than approaching it prayerfully and expectantly. And isn’t it far wiser to trust that if I approach something with prayerful expectation, God will draw my attention to false teaching? Please don’t hear me say that we shouldn’t be on our guard against false teachers, both Peter (2 Peter 2:1-3) and Paul (Acts 20:29-31, 1 Timothy 1:3-4) warn us to watch out for them, and Jesus reserves his harshest words for those who teach falsely (Matthew 23:13-15). But how exactly do we guard against them? Well, on reflection, it’s probably not by being hyper-judgemental to everyone who comes along. Let’s face it, that’s only going to leave you approving people who say things you like.

Instead we could try and be more like the Bereans. “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:10). So next time I feel my defences fire up to block out unsound teaching, I’ll try to remember how good God is, and how unlikely his instruments are, and listen eagerly, examining the scriptures to see if it was true.

Mark Walley is a youth worker at All Souls Clubhouse in central London. He blogs at http://thegroveisonfire.com/ and tweets @sparticus

Don’t you dare teach me anything… by Amy Crick

8 Feb

Another guest post on this week’s challenge – one which seems to have captured a lot of imaginations and challenged a lot of hearts. And at last, the name of Pastor Mark Driscoll is invoked, by schools worker Amy Crick…

amycrickA while ago I attended a friends wedding at a church that I had many differing opinions with. The pastor was someone I had disagreed with often, and having heard him speak before, I went in ready to disagree strongly with him once again. However, as I sat and listened to his talk, I was challenged by a number of his points and had a very positive and helpful conversation with my husband on the drive home as result of it.

I realised that this pastor was one of a number of people I had on a list in my head – a list of people from whom I had determined to never learn anything. Included on this list were a number of high profile church leaders and speakers as well as some local ones.

What I realised was that this viewpoint was one of incredible arrogance and pride – I saw it that these people could never have anything of relevance to say to me!?!? I had placed a barrier in my mind that would discount anything they had to say, and I was quick to criticise and highlight anything I saw as justification for this.

This weeks challenge made me aware once again of this unwritten list – it still exists, and has been added to. That is why I am so thankful for this weeks challenge, because it takes me back to that wonderful moment after my friends wedding when I realised what I may have missed out on had I not been willing to listen. It is an opportunity to knock down the walls I have built, and open myself up once again to God’s teaching through whomever He chooses to use.

This week, me and my husband have decided to listen to Mark Driscoll’s series on marriage together. This is a challenge for both of us, but especially me as Mark is a regular on my unwritten list! However, having listened to the first episode, I found some of what he had to say incredibly helpful. Sure, there were a few things I disagreed with, but that’s ok. Even those things have helped me think and reflect on my own views.

Who are the people on your list? Who have you blocked out?

Amy Crick is a Schools worker for CYO in Colchester, working as a school chaplain and leading a self esteem course for teenage girls called Beloved. She is married to Ben and loves baking, The West Wing and Pokemon. Amy blogs at www.amycrick.com and occasionally tweets as @oneandonlyamy

Steven Mitchell on labels

7 Feb

Today’s God52 guest post comes from youth worker Steven Mitchell who, in response to this week’s challenge, encourages us to look beyond the label…

StevenMitchellWe love labels don’t we? We love to package everything into nice neat little boxes: conservative, liberal, progressive, heretic, unorthodox, to name but a few.

The problem with labels is that they are predominantly used to reduce and flatten people to a series of dogmatic statements. I would never define my theology as ‘liberal’ because of that. I say it only so you can get a sense of where I am coming from. When I studied at bible college, the New Testament lecturer labelled me a heretic. It was good to see that in bible college there was an openness to dialogue and debate…

I’ll be honest and say that my last position, as youth worker for a conservative baptist church, was a difficult one. Many judgements were made about who I was because of what I believed.

I have since changed jobs, and my family and I have started attending a small Anglican community church. One night, I went out to the pub with a few of the other folks from the church and through the various discussions, it became clear that the leadership of the church would be, what I term, conservative. By that I mean their bookshelves are full of writings by John Piper, Mark Driscoll and John MacArthur.

This sent my mind racing. Can we be part of this church? What happens when I express my supposedly unorthodox views of sexuality, Adam and Eve, Hell, atonement, swearing, horror movies etc? Will we be thrown out? Should we even bother building relationships with people who have such opposing views to ourselves?

Three months later, we are still at the church.

After several discussions with my wife, it became clear that I was making the same errors in judgement that I felt some of the congregation of the Baptist Church had been guilty of. I was labelling people. And more than that, I was dismissing people because of it. I had flattened these people into a label. I had dehumanized them.

I do not want to be that kind of person. I don’t want to be the kind of person who only hangs around with those who share a similar view point; who make judgements on someone because of the views they hold.

So I’m taking a step of faith. My family and I are taking a step of faith. We are going to invest in this church. We are going to seek truth together. We are going to fellowship with one another.

And I hope I can become more like Jesus in the process.

Steven Mitchell is the Youth Minister for Hutton Church of England Grammar School. You can find more of his musings at smoorns.wordpress.com or follow him on twitter @smoorns.

God 52 – Week Six (5/2/13)

5 Feb

mark-driscollGod52 is now into its second month (come on, be honest, who thought it wouldn’t get that far?) – and to date we’ve practiced fasting, generosity, kindness, persistence and missional prayer. If you’ve been in from the start, I hope that you – like me – feel that this is making a little difference to the way you live your life and engage and think about God. If you’re only just joining us, welcome aboard!

This week’s challenge is a little different, and requires a bit of effort on your part. For what it’s worth, it’s my considered opinion that a lack of unity in the church is the biggest obstacle to seeing the Kingdom of God extend. Part of our disunity is because of considered theological difference, and I’m certainly not going to propose a quick fix for that. Yet I believe much of our lack of cohesion is simply due to ignorance and hard-heartedness. We quickly form opinions about those in different parts of the church to our own; we find it hard to truly listen with an open mind (this concern is one of the reasons we founded the Youthwork Summit, which brings together voices from across the church).

So this week, the challenge is to take a deliberate step to engage those parts of the body that we might have written off (subconsciously or otherwise) as not like us; not helpful to us.

6: Read or listen to a perspective that you instinctively struggle with, and ask God to speak through it

I decided to spend a month last year listening to the podcast from Mark Driscoll’s (pictured above) Mars Hill church. I did this because, while I tend to find some of his statements  on masculinity in particular pretty troubling, I hadn’t actually given the man a fair hearing  beyond a few re-tweeted soundbites attributed to him. While at the end of the month I didn’t decide to become a regular listener, I did learn that 90% of what Driscoll teaches is insightful and at times, brilliant. He manages to apply the Bible simply, clearly and relevantly. He loves and understands scripture, and finds many interesting nuggets of gold within it. Ok, 10% of what he says is nonsense, but that’s a far better hit-rate than I expect when I preach.

So this week, seek out a voice – maybe THE voice – that you tend not to engage with. If you’re a cessationist that might be John Wimber; if you’re a feminist it might be Mr Driscoll; if you’re a universalist, try Francis Chan. You’ll know the person that you should be giving that fair crack of the whip to. Two rules though – 1) you have to give them a fair hearing. Subscribing to a twitter feed for a week, or reading one blog post, doesn’t cut it. 2) Ask God to speak to you through them. Not to confirm your prejudices (that doesn’t sound like something he would do), but to reveal more of himself through this potentially unlikely source.

This week could be the most fun yet. And the most challenging. Bring it on.

If you’d like to write a guest blog on this week’s subject – engaging with ‘other’ voices – please read the guidelines here, then drop me an email. We’d particularly love to read stories of how you’ve learned and grown through that process (rather than just got angry!).