A Blast from the NLC Past – 1

 

This is the first ‘substantive’ post in my new mini-series, explained here. This talk was the closing evening session of NLC 2012 – and you can listen to it on the VCUKI website.

At the time Debby, with her husband John, were Senior Pastors of Trent Vineyard in Nottingham. They’ve since been commissioned as the new National Directors of the Vineyard in the UK. Debby’s talk was called ‘six stones in the altar of worship’, and picks out several themes that she felt were important. Reflecting on this talk and my notes, four years on, it is interesting to see developments and reflections in both my own life and across the wider church, echoing by accident or intent some of these ‘stones’.

After sharing some stories, Debby read Hebrews 10:24 – ‘let us consider how we may spur one another on to love and good deeds‘ as her jumping off point. She quoted outgoing Vineyard USA director Bert Waggoner;

“It was the Holy Spirit who moulded us into a people. We were hungry for God… We love the King, and we love his Kingdom”

The challenge to be hungry for God, seeking his presence, and working out what I’ve called ‘Charismatic Clarity’ is something I’m grateful for learning, and something that I’ve sought to work and walk out in the intervening years.

Debby’s choice of ‘stones’ is fascinating and challenging – even four years on!

First Stone – Unity.

We were reminded of Psalm 133:1-3;

How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life evermore

We were exhorted to ‘pursue heartfelt reconciliation’, because at the end of the day ‘unity is an action’, it is ‘not something that you can passively assume’. This challenge is vital in discussions of Church unity. We are exhorted as the Church (and, of course, the Church worldwide is much bigger than merely the Vineyard, for one!) by Paul in Ephesians 4:3 to ‘make every effort’. Yet what Debby emphasised in this talk four years ago has some helpful and powerful lessons for those of us seeking unity in the church today:

– We don’t need to become what we are not
– We need to be hot on not adopting things that undermine truth
– We can take without becoming

I think these three are important lessons – within the global, historical, precious and beautiful bride of Christ, there are distinct ‘bits’. Unity in the body is about recognising what God is already doing, rather than naming and claiming something that isn’t happening, or adopting practices or ideas from other places without thinking. Debby referenced Tim Keller’s ‘Blueprint for Revival’ sermons (particularly this one), which provide some more helpful thinking on this question.

Second Stone – Loving Relationships

It might seem like an obvious part of building the church up, but it is something that I am particularly prone to ignoring or underplaying. The church is called to ‘create loving family’, to be a place with contexts where everyone is welcome and no-one is left out. The suggestion that ‘small groups are key’ is something that I think all churches need to remember.

My wife has recently been reading ‘Relationships: A Mess Worth Making’, by Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp. I think she’s right to recommend it, and its on my list to read! My sense is that the word ‘church’ needs to be better associated with ‘relationships’, and that such a church would look messy, but would be worth it. Every church is built of people in relationship with each other and with God – church is a mess worth making.

Third stone – heartfelt worship

A third stone in the altar of worship is something for which the Vineyard movement is well known, historically, but something that all Christians can celebrate and model in their various traditions. Heartfelt worship is ‘obviously more than songs’, it is rather ‘a life of heartfelt worship and service’. This is something I’ve reflected on in different ways at different times. Whether it was when I first experienced HTB’s Focus festival, enjoying a blend of a worship leader with a theologian, or when pondered how to worship while depressed, learning how to worship, when to worship and how to think about worship is something that I’ve found increasingly important.

Debby also challenged us regarding how we see worship leaders, or, more importantly, ‘the way in which leaders worship models worship to the church‘. Worship leaders are not just those who are preaching or leading music at the front – but instead all of those who have been around for a while, whether or not they hold a formal leadership ‘role’, are worship leaders. I’ve written before (even longer ago!) on the dangers of a Christian cult of worship leaders – which I’d echo again now. But the basic challenge to have worship that is more than songs, and for all our worship to be heartfelt is one that needs to be heard, sung and prayed afresh by Christians everywhere.

Fourth stone – a passion for the lost

The fourth stone, the fourth thing that we heard might just be important, is that of having a passion for the lost. As Debby reminded us, ‘having a passion for God is directly having a passion for the people God loves‘. This has a number of things to reflect on. When running anything in church, whether it be a Sunday service or an Alpha course, ‘consider the guest‘. This is a challenge – not to be so focused on the outside that you forget the inside, but rather to remember that for everyone who does not yet know Jesus, life with him is both intriguing and terrifying. I appreciated – and still appreciate – the charge to not ‘be so seeker sensitive that you stop doing the stuff’. This looks different in different contexts – but actually there is one simple way that we can invite people to things and be confident that they won’t get freaked out. Explain. Theologian Don Williams once said “the church shows the watching world what the kingdom is like“, and the Church should be the greatest apologetic for the Gospel.

It has been well said that what we win people with we (at least in part) win them to. So, maybe, don’t be wierd, but explain things. There is nothing you can do to make someone feel at home more than explaining and signposting about what is going on. Ministry time doesn’t have to be terrifying in a charismatic church – we can explain that God who loves us is moving amongst his children. A long sermon doesn’t need to be terrifying – we can explain what we are about to do, and give a sense of its shape. The Church can often be a mystifying culture to freak people out – the challenge is that our passion for the lost leads us to explain the Gospel to people, and that language of explanation is vital to an expression of Church in our contemporary culture of religious illiteracy.

Fifth stone – a love for the Word of God

The fifth point, and one that I loved when I heard it and probably find the easiest to resonate with even now is the challenge to love the word of God: the Bible. It is important to remember that loving the scriptures means obeying the scriptures – even when that is difficult or counter-cultural. The way that Debby’s argument built was powerful: ‘obeying the Word leads us to the heart of the Gospel message. We don’t want to leave people without a solution to sin. God is holy and his law is just and we are sinful. God is so loving that through Jesus all can be forgiven and accepted‘. If a church ignores the preaching of the Bible, we end up in dangerous territory. We cannot dilute theseĀ things.

In a beautiful blend of evangelical and Charismatic theology, Debby observed that ‘churches that stop preaching freedom through the cross lose gods presence‘. I believe that it is true that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom, and that this freedom is found through the Cross of Christ. Often we can be tempted to neglect this in our personal Christian lives- I’d imagine the temptation also exists for Church leaders! I strongly remember the challenge that leaders must continually confess and repent, never graduating from the Gospel. Tim Keller put it well when he said:

You are more evil than you could imagine and more loved than you could believe

Sixth stone – compassion and social justice

The final stone was something which I have increasingly come to appreciate in the intervening years. Compassion and social justice are at the heart of God’s mission that the Church is called to take part in. All too often, though, it is easy to forget it. I like to think that my 2014 paper, presented at the ‘Missio Dei: evangelicalism and the New Politics’ conference at the University of Chester, is a pretty full theological reflection on this idea.

As a teaser:

the renewed emphasis on social action, rather than being a simplistic and cynical attempt at ‘soul grab’, is instead a principled and passionate outworking of centrally held beliefs about the kind of God and the kind of Kingdom that Charismatic Evangelicals in particular believe in

You can read the full thing here.

If you’d rather read something shorter – a brief reflection on Justice and Worship.

Unity. Relationships.Worship. Evangelism. Bible. Justice.

These are six things that Debby presented to ‘spur on’ those listening. I hope these reflections are helpful, and that you might be prompted in whatever part of the Church you serve in to think on these things. Let me know in the comments what you thought. Next time I’ll be reflecting on a talk from 1 Timothy 6, given by John and Eleanor Mumford.

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