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Want the gospel to go forwards? Lock your church doors.

Here's Vishal Mangalwadi on how the gospel transformed church and culture at the time of the reformation:

Before the Reformation, Roman Catholic Churches were open seven days a week in Holland. The devout went to the church whenever they wanted to meet with God. They would light their candles, kneel, and pray. After the Reformation, the Church leaders decided to lock their churches on Sunday nights. Not because they became less religious, but because they became more religious.

Reformers learned from the Bible that the church was not the only place to meet with God. If God had called you to be a woodcutter, then on Monday morning you ought to meet with God in the forest. If he had called you to be a shoemaker, then on Monday morning he expected you to meet with him on the work bench. If he had called you to be a homemaker, you needed to serve God while taking care of your window plants. (From The Book That Made Your World)

Whenever the gospel is on mute, people will hover around the church, desperate to keep the delicate flame of faith alive. They'll come and "do their bit", light their candle, keep up their devotional practices. The church provides their holiness perch and they're desperate to stay on top of it. Needless to say, the mission of the church is paralysed by such thinking.

But the gospel actually means locking the doors of your church. It tells us: "You are not on a holiness perch, you are in Christ. You are sent. You walk in Him into your true calling. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord." And so the mission of the church is served by shutting its doors.

Of course, five centuries on from the reformation we still find many reasons to keep our doors open. There are protestant "candles" we feel we must light. And the missionary flow we endorse runs dry so quickly.

This goes deeper than a scheduling problem. It's not just solved by resolving to hold fewer midweek meetings. It took a reformation to shift the practice of those Dutch churches and it will take a reformation of our own churches to shift our mindset. It's more than a question of administratively releasing people. Are we spiritually releasing them? Do we preach the kind of gospel that liberates our people? Can we genuinely say to them "Go in peace" because we've given them profound gospel confidence? Can we lock the door after them and say "Enjoy! Create! Serve! Love! Share! Be blessed in Christ! See you next week!"?

Or will we keep our doors open, running a thousand church activities and then wondering why no-one has any deep friendships with non-Christians?

On the basis of Christ's gospel and for the sake of His mission, let's lock our church doors.



I've just been asked my thoughts on evangelistic events. Four things spring to mind:

1. If an event is basically a social mixer so that Christians and non-Christians rub shoulders there is a problem here. And the problem goes deeper than the fact that the gospel may be sidelined on the night of the event. The problem is that Christians often don't socialise with non-Christians unless there's an evangelistic/pre-evangelistic event put on by church. In other words, they don't feel able to get out into the big bad world and enjoy life with non-Christians until or unless their Christian leaders give them explicit permission. That's a big issue in church life. And maybe less events (of all kinds) would actually free people to do more evangelism.

2. I often find that Sunday mornings are the easiest events to invite people to. Other events which we hope might be stepping-stones can be equally, if not more, off-putting to non-Christians. You'd be surprised how many people might be up for giving church a go. Remember Sunday is where the action is!

3. Having said all this, I definitely still believe in events. Because the gospel is an event. And conversion is an event. Sometimes, when people talk about evangelism, they speak in terms of "processes" - they tell you the number of times someone needs to hear the gospel before they'll convert, they'll big up the importance of building trust and doing life and loving on people. The thing is, conversion is crossing from death to life. And an event at which Christ is offered and unbelievers are confronted actually mirrors the nature of the gospel we claim to believe. Such events bring people to the event they must consider. So events can be very good ways of serving what we say we believe.

4. If you are going to put on an event, work backwards from the end result you want. If you want folks trusting in Jesus then you better give good time and space to the gospel message. And that better be undistracted time and space. When you work backwards from there you might find yourself designing quite a different event. If you simply want Christians and non-Christians mixing, having a good time and gently leading people on to 'the next thing', then, fine, put on a pub quiz and have a 5 minute talk before the results are announced. But if you want people to really consider Christ then clear a space for a talk in undistracted space. I prefer interview testimonies followed by a talk or a 'meal with a message', but whatever you do, begin at the end. Imagine the talk you want your friends to hear. Imagine what you want to happen as the speaker draws to a close. Now work backwards.


micLast month I was helping out with a number of student missions. One mainstay of the university mission is a "lunch bar." The Christian Union provides free food, there's a talk (often with a provocative title) and then the speaker fields questions.

I was not the lunchtime speaker at the last mission I helped with so I got to sit in the audience and watch. What I learnt at those lunch bars has stayed with me because it has implications that go far beyond the student world. Here's how it unfolded...

The talk titles for this mission were fairly provocative and the Q&A session was facilitated by a roving mic which the questioners held to command the room. Those two facts led to an interesting and perhaps predictable dynamic. Only certain people have the confidence to take the mic and therefore if it's a particularly hot topic, you are in for a spicy 10-15 minutes at the end.

What happened pretty much every day was that we had a number of Christians from the CU, a number of guests of those Christians, some randoms who came for the food and some randoms who came for the hot topic. We then heard an excellent talk which tried to honour the question but which was basically a presentation of Jesus in 20 heart-warming minutes. Then the questions came. Invariably those who self-identified as unbelieving took the mic first and asked pointed questions. Every now and again a genuine enquirer was brave enough to ask a question on topic, but not often. And by the time our hour was up, we'd gotten well and truly off the beaten track into the realm of "Old Testament genocide" or some other subject equally far from the set topic.

Once the official time was up though the temperature in the room cooled significantly. We would turn to our neighbour and almost invariably their reaction to the event was:

"Really interesting".
"Hadn't thought about any of that before."
"My granddad died last month and it's made me wonder."

After every lunch bar we'd have sensational conversations - about the John's Gospels given out, about the talk, about random "religious questions" they'd always wanted to ask. Very little mention was made about the Q&A and if there was conversation about it, the number one impression they got was how the speaker reacted to the angry questioners. Very few could even remember what was said, even though it was just minutes earlier.

And here's what I've been thinking ever since: Don't be cowed by the angry questioner with the mic. He doesn't speak for the room and "refuting" him isn't the goal. We can try to respond thoughtfully sure. But our deeper goal is to engage graciously and our ultimate priority does not lie with the mockers. They sneered in the Areopagus (Acts 17) and they will sneer today. So what? Paul preached, some sneered, some believed, Paul moved on. Let the sneerers take the hindmost.

How often are we intimidated by those who have the microphone - those who speak loudest in the media - those who set themselves up as spokespeople for the culture? We could spend all our time fretting about the messages that dominate the airwaves. We could waste our days wishing to wrest the mic from others or fantasizing about how we might refute them publicly with devastating smack-downs. Or we could just get on and preach the gospel, ignore the sneers - they will always come - and engage our neighbours who just aren't where the sneerers are at.

Don't be deceived - the guy on the mic does not speak for the room. Those in the media do not speak for your friends. Preach the gospel, turn to your neighbour and let's engage those conversations - the fields are still white for harvest.



Isaiah Future- William_Strutt_Peace_1896MISSION IN ISAIAH (audio)

Mission in the life of the church is often thought of as a balancing act.

On the one hand, church exists to glorify God. On the other hand, we exist to reach out to the world.
On the one hand, we worship God. On the other hand, we evangelise.
On the one hand we seek holiness. On the other hand we sully ourselves by going out into the world to make disciples.

Mission is considered a counter-balance to the other activities which we know to be important. And maybe we think it's a major counter-balance. Maybe we think it's incredibly important and the mission side of things dominates how we shape church life. At that stage the glory / worship / holiness people say "You've forgotten our core business in the church!" And the evangelistic people say "You've forgotten the lost!" And probably both sides will make excellent points as they debate each other. But they're both wrong if they think that theologically there's a trade-off. Theologically there's no trade off.

Here's my central contention for this morning: The glory of God, the worship of God, the holiness of God are thoroughly missional. Such that you cannot have the glory / worship / holiness stuff without the outreaching / evangelistic / missionary stuff. And if you think you can have holiness without outreach, you haven't just lost outreach - you've lost both. Because these things come together. It's a job lot.

This morning we're going to look at Isaiah and see that Glory and Worship and Holiness are thoroughly outgoing things because God is fundamentally an outgoing God. If that's true, what does it mean for our churches?...








In Acts chapter 1, Jesus said “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” What happened in the 2000 years since then?

Notice how a lot of the video centred on Europe. And then from Europe the gospel went, especially from the 19th century onwards - to Africa, Asia, South America. It’s very common for people to think of Christianity as a European religion. And yet for the first thousand years there were more Christians East of Jerusalem than West. And certainly today Europe is decidedly POST-Christian. In our own denomination, the Anglican Communion, the average Anglican is a Nigerian woman who lives on $2 a day. Christianity has never belonged to Europe. And yet, notice how on the map, Europe is marked as Christian.

This is the effect of Christendom. Ever since Constantine supposedly converted in 312AD, the Roman Empire became Christian. Now it’s a very big theological question whether an empire can be Christian. Certainly we want queens and kings, and presidents and prime ministers everywhere to become Christians. Certainly we want whole populations to trust Jesus. Certainly there is no better foundation for any set of laws than the word of God. But still, the question of whether an empire can be Christian is hotly disputed. And so Christendom - having a state religion imposed from above - has been, to put it mildly, a mixed blessing.

...continue reading "How to Win Europe: By the Spirit, Herald to Hearts and Homes"


Three Talks on Down to Earth Mission (for Student Leaders in Wales)

Down to Earth Saviour (including Matthew 3)

Down to Earth People (1 Peter)

Down to Earth Living (Philippians 2:5-18)


Three Talks on Colossians (for Student Leaders in the South West of England)

What do you picture when you picture God? (Colossians 1:15-23)

What do you picture when you picture Jesus? (Colossians 2:6-19)

What does God picture when He pictures you? (Colossians 2:20-3:11)




TEP-PodcastCover-1024x1024In our series on online witness we have interviewed

Graham Miller of London City Mission

Gavin Tyte - Beatboxing Pastor

Matt Rich from the evangelistic site Groundwire

In this episode we talk to Tim Chester from The Crowded House in Sheffield.

Tim is the author of numerous books on subjects ranging from church planting to mission and social action to the Trinity. He recently wrote "Will you be my Facebook Friend?" where he raises vital questions about our online presence.

Are we creating false images of ourselves online? Are we substituting online community for face to face fellowship? Are we spending too long on social media? Is our online engagement properly Christian?

Andy and I chat to Tim about evangelism in general and our online witness in particular.




JesusLast week Emma and I spoke at a mission weekend for Christ Church, Fetcham. Emma's talk on the Saturday night was wonderful, then on Sunday I preached on Who is Jesus (Matthew 3) and How to get free without getting lost (Luke 15). In the morning sermon I asked people to receive Jesus and, if they did, to grab me afterwards so I could give them a book and a word of encouragement.

At the end of the service everyone moved out to coffee and I stayed behind, follow-up books in hand. I guess I looked a bit exposed, just waiting. I certainly felt exposed.

After not too long the pastor of the church came over and stood with me saying "You look a bit lonely there, let me keep you company for a bit." A perfectly natural response. We don't like to see vulnerability and we certainly don't like feeling vulnerability. But actually, there's something inherent in evangelism that means exposure and weakness. When we avoid it we can find ourselves avoiding the very essence of evangelism: offering Christ.

Like seeds - tiny, pathetic looking, seemingly ineffectual - the word goes out and it appears like an exercise in futility. What good could be done by foolish words about a foolish-looking Lord? An arms-wide Saviour is, by definition, vulnerable - and the word of the cross shares in that vulnerability. No wonder Paul was fearful and trembling as he went about his preaching (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). Actually evangelism should be a vulnerable activity.

But it occurs to me that much of evangelism can be an attempt to cover over that exposure. We try to cover it with intellectual credibility (Clever people are Christians, it's the clever option). We try to cover it with cool (Cool people are Christians, it's the cool option). We try to cover it with processes (I won't ask you simply to receive Jesus, I'll ask you into a programme where conversion can be broken down step-by-step).

And I wonder how much of what we do is A) a refusal to share the vulnerability of our arms-wide Saviour and B) unbelief in the power of this weak-looking gospel to save people. Perhaps that's why we hope that The Next Evangelistic Resource will be the break-through the church needs. Or why we mistakenly believe that 'the evangelist' - with all their fool-proof methods and giftings - will solve all our missionary ills. Or why we can preach without invitation or offer. Or why, in everyday life we fail to speak up for Jesus when the opportunities arise. We don't want to appear as foolish as our crucified Lord. And we don't actually believe in the power of this foolish-sounding message.

Or at least I don't. And I need to repent of such thinking constantly.

By the way, after the service I stuck around much longer than I was comfortable with. But someone did come up to say he had trusted Christ. God had been speaking to him powerfully through the weekend. Please pray for him as he takes his first steps.


blues-brothers-mission-godA repost

In preaching through 1 Corinthians recently I listened to a lot of sermons on chapters 9 and 10.   Two themes in particular were hammered home by preachers.

In chapter 9 there's the olympic training regimes (v24-27).  In chapter 10 there's 'glorifying God' in all circumstances (v31).  But so often the context of these verses is ignored.

So in chapter 9 we read this:

24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

That'll preach won't it?  Go into strict training people!  There's a medal held out.  Be an Olympian Christian.

And what did all these sermons mean by being an Olympian Christian?  Personal holiness.  Devotional disciplines.  You know the drill.

But what is the context?  Verses 19-23 - becoming all things to all men so that by all possible means we may save some.  It's a missionary context.  Beating our bodies and going into strict training is a description of how we order our lives with evangelistic priorities.  This Olympian spirituality is an outwardly focussed determination to move out into the world for the salvation of others.  That's quite a different sermon.

In chapter 10 we have that famous verse:

31So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

What does this mean?  How would it look like lived out?  Well if you listen to these sermons it's mainly about personal holiness.  Devotional disciplines.  You know the drill.

But again, what is the context?  It's eating and drinking in the context of food sacrificed to idols.  The context is a world full of unChristian and anti-Christian cultures and practices which, nonetheless, the Christian is compelled to engage.  And so verse 33 says:

I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

It's about adapting all things, even eating and drinking, to the end that Jews, Greeks and the church of God is built up (v32).  Effectively verse 33 explains verse 31.  Doing all for the glory of God means doing all for the good of many, so that they may be saved.  This makes sense of the 'glory of God' which is not a static quality but an outgoing salvific movement.

To have your life ordered by God's glory is not simply to do your daily devotions - it's to live in outgoing invitation for the salvation of others.  Verse 31 is not some abstract call to look pious at all times.  We know what 10:31 looks like - it looks like Paul's ministry.  It looks like 9:19-23.  It looks like the missionary determination to become all things to all men that some may be saved.

So please, keep the context in mind.  And remember, the context is mission.


Outgoing GodWhat's this verse about?

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory...  (2 Cor 3:18)

Is it about enjoying private devotional experiences with Jesus so that we become like Him?   That's a popular interpretation.  And it's half right.  But it's really not the full story.

The NIV footnote says that 'reflect' can be translated 'contemplate'.  But I think 'reflect' is a better translation.  It's a word that means 'showing like a mirror shows'.  The question is this - Is the mirror-like-ness telling us about how the beholder looks at the mirror?  Or is the mirror-like-ness telling us about how the mirror itself reflects outwardly?

My guess is the latter.  Our faces are like mirrors reflecting outwardly to the world the glory of Jesus.

This fits the context.  Paul has been reminding us about Moses's face-to-face encounters with the Lord (2 Cor 3:7,13).  He put a veil on to stop the Israelites seeing this fading glory.  But we (as v18 says) have unveiled faces.  And so what happens?   Others see the glory of Christ as we reflect it out to the world.

So this verse does indeed depend on our having devotional experiences with Jesus - just as Moses did (e.g. Exodus 33:7-11).  But that in itself will not transform us into Christ's likeness.  Reflecting Christ's glory out into the world - that will transform us.

Which is what the next two chapters of 2 Corinthians are all about.

Too often we think of holiness as one thing and mission as another.  Really they are mutually defining and mutually achieved.  Just as God's own being is a being in outreach, so our Christian character is a character in outreach.  To divorce the two is disastrous.

Holiness-in-mission is parallel to God's being-in-becoming. Just as God is who He is in His mission, so are we. Reflecting the Lord's glory is not a private activity - or at least it must not end there.  It's not essentially pietistic but proclamatory.  It's not about locking ourselves in a "prayer closet" - it's outgoing witness (to believers and unbelievers).

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