Sunday, 27 November 2011

Crisis? Which crisis? Choose yours...

When Alan Roxburgh recommends ‘a good read’ I’d be foolish to ignore it. On this occasion, however, I baulked at the $29.95 price tag. It’s called The Leap – how to survive and thrive in the sustainable economy’ by Chris Turner a Canadian. My book allowance wont sustain it before the end of the year!
Sustainability – that’s a key word for us right now. It’s a massive and still growing issue here in the UK economically and environmentally. Whilst too many Christians remain aloof to the issues in these arenas, the sustainability question has parked itself right in the middle of us.
Whilst I was away recently, the Baptist Union Council agreed a budget deficit of just in excess of £1 million. OK, I’ve looked at the figures and it looks like £650k, but this includes an aspirational increase in HM giving for next year (when this years figures give no basis to suggest this), so in all probability, we’re looking at £1 million. In one sense the figure is immaterial, because it’s the unsustainable model, which is the real issue.
We do have a crisis. However, it’s not the financial crisis, which worries me. A lack of finances is little threat to real churches. Unlike some Christian streams and denominations we are not looking at switching off the lights in the last church building. Baptist Christians in the UK may not be growing numerically, but we are not anxious about being around ‘in’ the next generation. Whether we will be here ‘for’ the next generation, however, remains a challenge and a question. In many ways, our lack of dramatic decline numerically has led us to the complacency we find ourselves in. We’re not growing, but we’re not declining massively – a bit like a sailing boat becalmed for lack of wind speed. However, the age profile of many congregations may result in a significant decrease over the next ten years and this appears to be something those who are relying upon a ‘simply give more’ strategy appear to have overlooked.

No, our crisis is a systemic crisis and if the finances bring the spotlight upon the crisis of our ‘system’, it’s one I welcome. Let me clarify that, I ‘cautiously’ welcome – I’m not that brave! Why also I've chosen this, for me, wonderful image of sunrise in the Himalayas - it could be a new day!
Why? Am I simply odd? (no need to comment on this one!) The reasons I welcome a crisis threatening our system is because it offers hope we might be able to shift towards a more appropriate way of being for the present and foreseeable future. We shall need many things, but perhaps most significantly, a willingness to walk where God is leading us.
Back to ‘sustainable’. We have to explore sustainability. New churches built on a model framework, which assumes full-time paid ministry is not sustainable. Grants to churches, which do not intentionally facilitate outward movement, rather than inward care, are not sustainable. Regional bodies, like the one I am part of, which duplicate the local domination of pastor/teachers as the sole pattern for ministry are not sustainable. A Union, which is more concerned with who comes in than who’s sent out, is not sustainable.
One comment on ‘The leap’ is ‘it filled me with excitement and hope for the future’ = maybe I will read it after all!
NB – sustainability in the kingdom of God has within it the built in assumption that growth exceeds faith – aka the mustard seed conspiracy. This is not akin to budgets simply based on past ways & giving.
I’m remembering last Sunday – preaching in a congregation of about fifty people, but one, which has given birth to 6000 plus others. They didn't have enough money to do that!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


Here's the view of the Annapurna's from Sarangkot at sunrise. It was such a blessing as the weather meant it had been cloudy for weeks before and again the day after. For me, this is the kind of view, which does put life in perspective. 

Well done Delia Smith:
“As I’ve got older I have become more aware of the simplicity of our faith,” she said. “If Jesus has said, ‘there’s only one thing needed’, we cannot grow as Christians without incorporating that ‘one thing’ into our daily lives and take his words utterly seriously.”

We had a good time with Roy Searle, speaking at our Leaders Day today on Missional Living. From my perspective this is the key issue facing us and the discipleship factor seems to be key in whatever culture, or context, in today's world. Over the last two weeks I've heard:

In Nepal: without discipleship we shall be too shallow, if persecution returns.
In Bangladesh: without discipleship Christians will be indistinguishable from everyone else.
In India: the discipleship of the planters is what this movement depends upon.

Whilst I've been away, BU Council has met and I've noted a couple of things: 
i.  The Baptist Times will cease publication at the end of this year due to falling circulation numbers. This saddens me, to say 'I told you so', but I just hope it will serve as a reminder to us all we cannot bury our heads in the sand and simply hope things will turn around in other aspects of Baptist life. The reality is, we should have realised we needed a different expression of 'Baptist times' years ago and radically changed what the paper was for. The sooner we stop playing at trying to be a proper denomination and start cultivating an environment in which missional discipleship flourishes the better. 
ii. The fact of our £1 million budget deficit is now on public display. This represents a huge challenge to our way of being, but I'm one of those who sees it as an opportunity to get real about what Delia is talking about: simplicity and simply following Jesus. Of course, we could bury our heads in the sand again.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011


One of the things I love about photography is the fact you capture, in a split second, an image which can then be kept. So, with great anticipation I today, at last, am able to upload my photos from my most recent trip. Back home, I'm just beginning to enjoy looking at what will now be reminders of some amazing stories. So what, shall I post first was my question?
Well, here are two images of the same woman. In the first, she is walking down the river bank, through an amazing amount of mud.

The reason? Here she would be baptised, as you can see in the second image, along with 16 other people.
I've been thinking, talking, praying a lot recently about how we can re-kindle a sense of movement here in the UK. However, these photos, capture in a split second, a fast growing movement of the mission of God in India taking place across this vast country. What a thrill to meet people, who have only recently begun to follow Jesus, from Hindu, Muslim, and various other backgrounds.

Sunday, 20 November 2011


No time for much yet. We've been away in the Sunderbans and had an amazing time. Had withdrawal symptoms from not having an internet connection, but when you return and find yourself stepping around people sleeping, because they live, on the street, it kind of brings perspective.
Hopefully, I'll have time to unpack some of the vast amount of experiences and some focus will come concerning what I need to learn and do, as well as, how I need to change.
The big issue in my mind right now is the extent to which we need to re-calibrate, in the UK church, far more than we realise, by Jesus.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


Well behind as barely a signal to pick up in Bangladesh, so here's a few journal notes ......

Arriving in Delhi, I’m not sure what I expected for my first time in India.

-       Cleaner, less noisy, more ordered traffic, generally feeling less ‘busy’ than Kathmandu. I didn't think the contrast would be so striking.
-       The obvious presence of street beggars was probably less than I’d been warned about.
-       The void between rich and poor was grater than anticipated, considering we’re staying near the centre of the capitol city.
-       The general apparent level of affluence was probably higher than I anticipated.
-       My first curry, in India, was much better than I’d hoped.
-       The hotel was excellent & great value for money – thanks to Gareth on this one.

Wow, here in Bangladesh. Bigger contrast with Delhi than I’d prepared myself for. Great rickshaws, but I’m glad it wasn’t raining. The potholes here are something else, but I’m told, when it rains and you can't see where they are, they call the front seat the ‘meet Jesus’ seat! Bad enough in a car, but in a rickshaw – lethal!

An amazing visit to a church school. Now this is real commitment from three women in particular. Around thirty young girls, taken in from extreme poverty (handed over by families who ‘cannot afford to keep them at home’. They’re looked after and provided with an education. So, boarding school with many extras thrown in. The context is harrowing, it raises all manner of questions I didn't find answers to, but it does build credibility for the Church in a hugely challenging environment.

God is clearly up to something here in Bangladesh. A whole number of Isai fellowships and churches have sprung up in recent years. Simply ‘followers of Jesus’ made up of Muslim background believers. One person has told me today there are, a conservative estimate of 50,000 people in such groups and churches, compared to around 20,000 ten years ago.

Great to hear some stories from Muslim background believers today. Great to meet mainly young people (20's) from Muslim, Hindu and Christian backgrounds in the discipleship school. Wonderful reception, but we have so much more to learn than we can ever teach. I'm asking everyone to pray for us.

Kolkota tonight. Vehicle fumes terrible - far worse than Kathmandu which I didn't expect. Staying at BMS guest house - very good. First rickshaw in India tonight - to the Chinese restaurant with Benjamin Francis. So good to hear something of his story and a little of the 6000 churches planted over the last six years, or so. Truly inspiring and I'm looking forward to our two days out with him ..... more 'down the river' than 'on the road'.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Nepali time ....

I've been before, but not enough to really get used to 'Nepali time' .... 
'About ten minutes' - nothing ever happens in ten minutes.
'Just around the corner' - hopefully you have your walking boots on.
'We start/finish at 10 o'clock - whatever the time mentioned, add on a very minimum of half an hour, but be prepared for much longer!

We've, so far, missed meals, bible study, church services, meetings and we've only been here just under a week - just think of all the good things we could pack in missing, if it were longer!
I had to laugh, however, when our taxi guy moaned he'd had to wait for us to get down the mountain - considering we set off in the dark in the wrong direction we did quite well to be only half an hour late- but that made us on time after translation!

What I have to say, however, is I have met some wonderful people. Some planned, but more often not.

Learning from Nepali Baptists

What are we learning from NBCC?

Since our engagement with PMC (Partnership for Missional Church), ‘what are we learning’ has become a favourite question for some of us in WEBA? What, especially, has staggered me is how little we asked the question before as it is so simple, but helpful, in nurturing the habit of reflection and embodying the results (or at least offering the potential).

So, what are we learning from the Nepal Baptist Church Council (NBCC)?

1.    We’re too quick sometimes to insert the disclaimer: ‘this is such a different culture, we’re in such a different place’. All true mission is cross cultural, unless we live somewhere other than where the UK was (in people’s minds, more than reality), if you believe post Constantine Christianity is something to return to, it is, therefore, essential we do the work necessary to ask the question both ways. We don't assume what we have learned in our context is relevant to others & neither do we assume what seems to be a great idea here, is something we must take on board back home. However, I’ve heard far more reasons why what God is doing elsewhere is not relevant for us than seeing practice influenced and enriched.

2.    Discussion about doctrine and theology is an essential contributor to building foundations. One of our group commented ‘we don't do this anymore’. So, at a time, when a growing number of people (not just Neil Brighton and me, I’m heartened to say!) are questioning what are we doing and why, we must ensure the conversation is rooted. The Nepali’s are allowing the Bible to question them and their practice in a way the western church (not merely a UK, or Baptist, issue) seldom does. We question God, not the other way round.

3.    Intentionality, rooted in purpose, is a more likely way of hitting the target than doing nothing. I didn't catch the figures, but the gist of it is, next year, the Nepal Baptist Church Council are looking to God:

-         To increase the number of baptisms significantly (from already significant number) to 500.
-         To see 1000 people come to Christ.
-         Start 4 new Churches, but declare 20 new ‘preaching points’ (house church?).
-    To build more church buildings.
-    To plant more churches (20 people as ‘members’ before they can be considered).
-    To establish more groups in fellowship.

Currently, they have 124 Churches, 16000 members (WEBA has similar number of churches, but only 6600 members!) , 32 supported Ministers (we have three times that number).

Back home, whenever I talk about looking to intentionally reach people and help them find Jesus, I’m met with, what feels like, a barrage of excuses and reasons why it just doesn’t happen like that. I fully appreciate we are in a very different place culturally, but when in local ministry, we simply planned a baptismal service once a quarter, at least, and it happened. It’s not the whole story, but next week I hope to visit William Carey’s grave: ‘expect great things from God, attempt great things for God’.

4.      When you love Jesus you don’t waste time arguing over the social/evangelistic divide we specialise in. Our BMS missionaries are still not allowed to come here on a visa other than for something, which makes a valuable contribution to the society of one of the poorest nations on earth. When persecuted and oppressed, as well as now in freer times, social projects and numerical growth have gone hand in hand. We visited Greenpastures Hospital, met Leprosy patients, heard about their award winning spinal injury treatment work and also heard how ‘every month several people turn to God’. We’ve also been swapping stories of our churches where people are finding faith – the commonality is significant community engagement. The thing is, here they had learned how to love people in Jesus’ name without talking, because it was not allowed. It’s a better training ground than a theological College.

5.    ‘Jesus is Lord’ is still the primary reason we are Baptist Christians. There was no denomination here in Nepal until very recently – this is only the seventh congress. Prior to this Christians, supported by various mission agencies from around the world just got on with telling people about Jesus, gathering them together to worship and shape discipleship and not worrying about structures. As in China, one of the ‘benefits’ of an oppressive regime is you don't concentrate upon structures. Of the present 150, or so, member Churches of the NBCC, only about half identified themselves as ‘Baptists’ beforehand. They’ve recognised the benefit of associating with like-minded others, but few of them, even among the other 50%, were planted intentionally to become ‘Baptist’ Churches. One cannot but help see the contrast with our way of being in the UK. It seems our structures are set up to vet people, before we allow them in, rather than facilitate the centripetal movement of the mission of God. When we talk in WEBA about how we can orientate towards a focus upon counting those who go out of the doors as disciples, more than the ‘footfall’ (interestingly a retail term) of those who come through the building, people break out in a hot sweat. Nepal has a long way to go, but we have that much in common.

I’m sure there’s more, but I hope the plane’s arriving soon!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Wonderful, wonderful Pokhara

Pokhara has to be one of the most wonderful places on earth - certainly it is on my experience.
Once again, I'm humbled by the faithfulness of God's people. Here, when they pray, they expect God to work. I've been at the Nepal Baptist Council meetings, yesterday and today. Very interesting - this is a young church here in Nepal & this is only the 7th annual gathering of Baptists. They're still forming the basis of who they are and what they stand for - as I write they're debating how they express their essential faith in trinitarian terms. In a land where Hinduisms many god's are very evident, this is appropriately taking time. Still, better debate this than a budget deficit!
I can't help compare this with our own institutionally boing Council meetings, which will take place next week, whilst I'm still away. Here there's no point talking about money, they need not bother because they have none. To a western mind this appears catastrophic - how can you do anything without it?! How different would we look if we asked 'what can we not afford to forget'? whereas we tend to ask 'what can we afford'? Too frequently this becomes 'we can't afford it, so we can't do it'. Nothing would have happened here on that basis!

Don't fret, it's not all meetings. This morning we had the most wonderful experience. Up at 4.30 am, we went to Sandarkat to watch the sunrise and put the spotlight on the Annapurna range - it was so clear; a fantastic experience. Bizarrely, I met Andy & Judy Caldwell from Bristol at the top - how weird is that! They're leading a vision trip for INF here at the moment, but to meet someone you know at sunrise, half-way round the world.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

When I visited Nepal two years ago, I never imagined I'd have the privilege of returning. 'Privilege' has to be the word. I'm here under the umbrella of BMS with Grenville & Gareth. Gareth's trying to do a good job of looking after us, but it's a hopeless task in all honesty. I admit when BMS raised the question, it was difficult to pray about. 'Would you like to visit Nepal, Bangladesh & India for two weeks in November'? I managed to reply, I'd wait until Maggie was back from a school trip before I answer, but my mind was pretty much made up there and then. Having been to Nepal before and wanted to travel in India for some while, who wouldn't?

We arrived in Katmandu on monday met by Cynthia at the airport. Cynthia is a friend, in any case - she and here husband, Ian, are members of the same church and I used to be their Pastor, as well as friend. As soon as you leave the airport, you know you're in Asia. A blend of sight, sound and smell hits you full on. However, there is a dominant theme as you travel across Kathmandu in each of the sensory departments - colour, car horns and diesel fumes.

Why are we here? It's the question everyone asked me before I came.
On the face of it we're here to visit and encourage a number of missionaries in each country. However, there are other themes, which have the opportunity to emerge more clearly and I want to be open to any and more.
A closer sense of partnership between what we describe as international and national mission, home and overseas, is one concern I bring.
A desire to serve the Church here in Nepal is a lingering legacy from my previous visit.
A willingness to ask what it is we need to learn from brothers and sisters in Christ elsewhere in the world.
Who knows where it will all lead? Well, God knows and I'm thankful to leave the next two weeks to him.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Preaching today .... literally!

Oh dear .... am I preparing to preach this morning, or am I merely feeding my own soul? It's a dilemma, which sometimes appears to cripple some people. Hopefully, I've never been one of those, of whom there seem to be many to my ears, who suggest:
preparing what to share as a result of dwelling in God's word (sermon preparation) does not somehow count if you find yourself refreshed, challenged, fed, whatever, in the process.

Of course, if the only time you ever hear God is as a result of reading and reflecting on the Bible, as a result of being there for the sake of others, it's an indication of a problem. However, don't knock it too much. I've worked for over ten years now primarily in the arena of other Christian leaders and I've learnt a couple of things:

1.  The weekly discipline, which I no longer have, of needing to prepare to speak is both a huge privilege and benefit to the nurturing of the mind of Christ in me. Sermon preparation has to be a habit in local Ministry, but it's not a bad habit. Speaking out what you've had to dig into and reflect upon, is a privilege most people don't have. Not simply privilege, however, but luxury. We're in a place currently where people, like me, are emphasising the need to transition into a missional way of being. I know people easily hear this message as implying 'mission' (doing stuff) is paramount and 'worship' (being stuff) is secondary, or even optional. Listen again please. What God has joined together ....... Preparation can nudge us another notch around the reflection-action cycle, we can escape, if like me, you don't have to do this. It's no guarantee your pastor this morning is standing up embodying all he/she preaches, but it increases the likelihood because God speaks to whoever listens, even of they happen to be a hard-pressed Pastor, frantically getting ready for Sunday!

2.  If weekly serious, lengthy, reflection on the word of God takes place in the life of an average disciple of Christ in the UK Church today, who is not there for the sake of others, it's more unusual than normal. I'm now like everyone else out there sitting before you in the chairs, which seemed a great idea to buy cheap at the time. I read my bible, but I know what a challenge it is when you have to do it to prepare. I read my bible, but I know what it's like to do it to tick the box for the day in hand. I read my bible, because I want to be able to answer the next person, or my mentor, 'what are you reading, or hearing from God'? I read my bible, but most times, serious reflection happens in the car, apart from the 'moment' and can feel it doesn't count. Remember, for most people the privilege of having somebody open up God's word, to take them on a journey to the centre of their being before God, to draw questions up from the recesses of their heart where they might find God in the answering in their own lives, all these things are the privilege of listeners to someone who's done business before God in the previous week. Please, please, if you're responsible for this privilege in any way, don't short-change them by coming up with a downloaded from someone else, Americanised, sermon, which has by-passed your brain (but more especially your heart). Please, please, don't put them into groups to ask an irrelevant, useless question and think you're helping people learn and reflect deeply on their place before God. I've suffered some of these: they make people groan, they turn people off, they leave seekers for truth unsatisfied, but I would say that, I believe in preaching.

Now, off to Corsham .... am I prepared?

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

UWE now coffee ....

I'm consulting....
I've just been to a meeting at UWE (University of the West of England). Basically, I'm a Trustee of The Octagon, which is the chaplaincy building int he heart of a once avowedly secular University, or Polytechnic as it was then.
UWE are part way into a grand £250m master plan, having purchased another 70+ acres from HP, which will ultimately bring much of their operation on one campus, hopefully including Bristol Rovers and Rugby stadium. So, a reasonably large and exciting project.
The Octagon building could be a fly in the ointment - it really needs to be pulled down to make way for one of any number of new buildings. 30,000 students and a projected 3000+ living on campus, a chunk of which will be international students living there throughout the year and not simply during term time, so a 24/7 'village' is being created.
So, how do we engage as Christians in this multi-faith-cultural-environment?
Do we aim for a similar amount of dedicated 'space' int he new build? How do we try to ensure a Christian engagement for future generations of students? (You'll realise this is a tricky question in the present environment). How do we relate to the other faith communities? etc.
Answers, or offers of help, on a postcard please!
Seriously, feel free to contact via if you'd rather not leave public comments.
The good news is the next meeting is in Porto Lounge, one of my favourite coffee haunts, now a growing chain, which began here in Bristol.