Saturday, 26 July 2014

How Church Ministries Destroy Families 5: The Dire Shortage of Christian Families

I'll stay with the Asian theme. My home town – population of about 60,000 – contained a number of churches, all of them relatively small. In a place like this, you get to know the Christian community quite well. Youngish Christians are not common.
I do not say this in a spirit of criticism. But most of the evangelical and charismatic believers fall into the following categories:
  • Elderly or middle aged men, women and couples whose children have flown the nest – both physically and spiritually. There are several aging churches which have some ministries to children and youth, yet they have largely failed to pass on their faith to the next generation.
  • Wives of unbelieving husbands. And husbands of unbelieving wives.
  • Single mothers. Some who have never married, some who have divorced.
  • Christian Families! By this, I mean a dad, a mum and one or more children of school age, all of which are, to some degree, Christians.

Believe me, the latter category is in the minority. I remember one day trying to think how many actual Christian families there were in the North East town I then lived in. I could count the number on one hand.
I asked a Muslim neighbour how many reasonably committed Muslim families there were in our part of town. She said about fifty that she knew of. And there were more elsewhere.
I had to ask myself a serious question. Who has the brighter future in my town? About 30 churches and three Mosques. No worries....? Think again. Lots of broken Christian families. Lots of complete Muslim families. Fifty young Muslim families my friend knew of. Less than five young Christian families I knew of. Now who has the brighter future?
In my part of the world, strong Christian families are a rarity. We need strong marriages, responsible fathers, Christ centred homes.
Wake up, church!

Friday, 25 July 2014

How Church Ministries Destroy Families 4: Titus

I had some opportunities a few years ago to do quite a bit of teaching from the Bible.
Perhaps I learned more than the congregation.
Teaching through that wonderful little letter to Titus was, for me, breath-taking, jaw dropping, paradigm shifting. How can Paul say so much in so few words? I will not reproduce my notes from that time, but I will go through what Paul doesn't say to Titus. This is what taught me so much!
What the letter to Titus does not say:
- Pick the most charismatic (in any sense of the word) or the most skilled or the most talented and clever or most pushy men, or some yes-men to be elders
- Forget the old folks. Concentrate on the Youth. They're the future of the church!
- Emphasise bringing your unsaved friends to church
- Spend lots of time trying to debate, satisfy or win over difficult people who don't like the way you do things.
- At all costs avoid conflict. Go for the quiet life. Just let trouble-makers have their say. Maybe they'll calm down if you're nice.
- The world is watching your church closely to see if it is relevant, entertaining, trendy and comfortable. They're not that bothered about your morality or integrity.
- You need to set up lots of ministries to the community. Get your people into social action!
- Entertain that congregation, preacher! Keep clear of difficult issues and don't challenge or correct people too much. You might put them off!
- Escape those oppressive shackles of home life girls! Get out of that home and get a job!
Anyway, I'm sure you get my drift. Looking at Titus made me think we do too many complicated things, but overlook the important things, like choosing Elders of good character, making sure the older folks are setting a good example to the youngsters and keeping our homes in good order.
I would encourage any church to put a month aside and go through Titus, an overlooked jewel.  And put its lessons into practice.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

How Church Ministries Destroy Families 3: Asians

A few years ago I organised an outreach to Asian people. It was fun and interesting. Maybe it was effective, I'm not sure. I learned a few things though. Every month we ran a meeting for Asian Christians and those who may be interested. We enjoyed a curry and a chat, then held a multi lingual meeting, singing and preaching in English and any combination of Urdu, Thai or Farsi depending on who was there.
I have long held the view that Western culture is deeply corrupted and has serious, structural things wrong with it so I am always interested when non-westerners do things differently. One thing that intrigued me about the Asians is this. Whole families came along. A father would bring his wife and children. No leaving the kids at home with a babysitter.
Lesson 3 is simple.
Perhaps families should do things together...?

How Church Ministries Destroy Families 2: Big Church, 130 Ministries

A large church which I won't name held a conference for other churches, large and small.
They had some kind of a parade during this conference in which all the groups in the church which ran a ministry or programme walked across the stage, sometimes in fancy dress and someone said what they did, or a video clip was shown explaining what their ministry was. The church had about 130 'ministries' to groups within their church or city.
It was very impressive. I noticed however that there was nothing specifically aimed at the elderly (surely one of the most marginalised and despised groups in our society) or at Muslims (which made up about 1/3rd of this city's population), which I thought was a glaring omission.
The parade ended with a firework display outside, on the 'campus' of their big church.
I felt uneasy and I couldn't think why. Was I jealous? Joyless? Why wasn't I shouting Hallelujah?
Well, one thing was this. In Matthew 6:3 it says:
When you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
So what is lesson 2? Nothing clear, apart from the fact that churches can be very proud of their good works and flagship 'ministries' and we need to be careful.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

How Church Ministries Destroy Families 1: The Drop in Centre

It's the mid 1980s. I'm a new Christian.
A lovely Christian lady, Sally* is a pillar of our church, St James*, which is on a busy shopping street. She runs a drop in centre through the week and some evenings. She spends lots of time counseling those who pop in for a coffee. Her son is in my class at school. The drop in centre was a great outreach and lots of prayer requests filtered down from Sally.
I was mentored at the time by a marvellous old lady called Harriet. Ex-missionary, intercessor, warrior for Christ... and the church warden at St James. Also, she didn't suffer fools gladly. She was the one that told me. Sally's husband Ted, who had been faithfully by her side at church for many years had decided he'd met the woman off his dreams. He was having an extra marital affair. Their marriage was over.
I will never forget Harriet's comments. She was highly critical of the church leadership for allowing this situation to develop. Ted would regularly come home to a son but no wife – she was too busy working at the drop in centre. She should have been there for him! But the church wanted her for their valued ministry.
I'm sure there was more to it than that. But I'd learned an important lesson. Churches should not be 'flogging their members to death', bleeding them dry when they have families to support, husbands, wives, children etc. Something is seriously wrong when church ministry causes marriages to break up.

*All names have been changed.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

A New Way of Doing Church. Or should I say.... The Original Way of Doing Church

I want to explain to you how I think we should be doing church. And it's quite radical. It's going to take me a while to do this. I have been on a journey which has lasted many years. And I have come to a set of conclusions. What I am going to post over the next few days and weeks is a series of lessons I have learned.

Hold on tight!

Men for God: Our Responsibilities in the World

Another thing, fellas.
We need to take responsibility for our churches.
This is not a discussion over what offices men and women should have – interesting though that is. Don't leave it all to your pastor or elders. You'll make their job so much easier if you find some brothers and start fellowshipping with them. Tell them your news, how the week has gone, what the family is up to. Find out how they are. How are they doing at discipling their family? And ask pointed questions about their walk with the Lord. Offer to pray with them. Discuss what scriptures you are reading and what the Lord is saying to you through them.
We need to take responsibility for the world around us
We can do that by learning a skill. Find something to do, preferably with your hands, that will be of practical benefit to society. Do you notice how so many of the heroes of scripture were called when they were doing a job of work? They were shepherds, fishermen, government officials, students, tent makers, fig tree growers. Jesus, of course, spent most of his adult life as a carpenter (although the Greek 'Tekton' may actually mean stone mason or builder). If it was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for us! Your day job is your sacred calling. Pastors and missionaries are not on some higher spiritual plain. God would rather have a good, faithful, diligent cleaner, accountant, farmer, mechanic or nurse than a bad minister, vicar or missionary.
Greed is wrong, but it isn't wrong to earn a good living so that you can support the Lord's work, or support a wife and some children. Try and earn enough so that your family can be well cared for and educated, so that your wife can focus on bringing up the children without too much stress and distraction.
But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
1Thessalonians 4:10b-12
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labour, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
Ephesians 4:28
Do you see a man skilful in his work?
He will stand before kings;
he will not stand before obscure men.
Proverbs 22:29
Be a man. Take responsibility.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Men for God: To be a Man is to Take Responsibility

These are the eight words I want to tell to all the men in Tyne and Wear – and everywhere else. And if you take them to heart, your life will be changed.
If a few men will take this to heart, we will turn the North East the right way up (Acts 17:6).
Men. You have no right to tell your wife what to do. You have no right to run your churches or to influence society at large through your skills.
But you do have a responsibility. In the kingdom of God, we have no rights. Only mercies. So let's leave any talk about rights to one side.
Be a man. Take responsibility. If you are shirking responsibility, you are not being a man. It's that simple. So where do your responsibilities lie?
1. You are responsible for yourself.
Take responsibility for your sins and decisively turn from them. It's called repentance. Stop blaming other people, your parents, your upbringing, your school, the media, the pastor, the government, your boss at work. Instead of saying, 'I drifted into gambling or getting drunk', say 'I chose to gamble.' I chose to get drunk.' And you didn't 'get into' bad company. You chose bad company. And other people are not annoying. It's you that's irritable!
Once you have done that, take responsibility for your walk with God. Do you eat every day? Do you sleep every night? Read the Bible every day. Read it to yourself and the people you are responsible for in your family if there are any. Cultivate a thankful heart. Praise and thank God. Pray every day. Pray daily for everyone you are responsible for in your home, your work, your church. And pray for those who are responsible for you.
Got any vices? Smoking? Pornography? Computer games? Anger? Work on them with someone else. Don't fight alone. Get counselling if necessary. Don't give up. Aim to walk in victory over sin. Keep close to Jesus.
Get to know the scriptures so that you can teach your family, help them when they are in trouble, ask their tough questions. Work at being ahead of the rest of your family (present or future) in your knowledge of God.
2. You are responsible for your family
Are you married? If not, that's fine – throw yourself into Christian service without distractions. And whether you like it or not, you will make yourself eligible by being a man!
If you are married, how many children are in your family? Are you one of them? The Bible never says that you should be the head of your wife. You are the head, like it or not. And she's looking for someone she can respect.
The bible says that the woman – or the wife – is the glory of the man. She's your glory(1Corinthians 11:7). Is she radiant for the Lord? She's your glory remember! What are you doing to cultivate that glory?
Here are some things they probably won't tell you at church. And yet, if you take them to heart, our families, our churches – and the world – will be utterly transformed.
1. It is not your pastor's job to teach your wife about spiritual things. It's yours! Pray with her. Read scriptures and discuss them together.
2. It is not your youth leader's job to lead, teach and evangelise your teenage children.It's yoursYou are the youth leader.
3. It is not your Sunday School teacher's job to teach your young children. It's yours. Teach them the Bible yourself.
4. It is not the local school's job to educate your children. It's yours. You can do it at home. Your wife can do it. You can delegate it to a local school, but ultimately, the buck stops with you. Do you know what your children are being taught and who they are spending time with? It's your business to know.
Be a man. Take responsibility.

Men for God: What not to do

Have you ever heard of men's crėches?
They have sprung up in some of our shopping centres. There was one in Cramlington, Northumberland, maybe it's still there. Ikea have a few as well, so I understand. They are 'play areas' for blokes, with Sky Sports TV, video games, snacks and 'lad mags'. The idea behind them is to let the wives and girlfriends get on with doing the shopping while the blokes can amuse themselves without getting into arguments. The term 'men's crėche' is exactly the right one. After a generation or three of fatherlessness, many of the men in our country are nothing more than big babies. It's just that their toys are a bit more sophisticated. It's not surprising we still treat them as such.
It's easy to look with amusement or bemusement at what the world is doing. The trouble is, we are doing it in our churches as well! I'll come back to this point in a moment.
There are now organisations out there such as Christian Vision for Men, books aimed at men, such as Wild at Heart by John Eldredge and Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow. There are also men's breakfasts and conferences springing up. I have been to my share of these, and read a book or two. I'm glad that people are recognising that there is a need here that needs to be addressed.
Here's an interesting set of facts from CVM:

Thought provoking? How is it that our Lord and King, Jesus Christ, was able to build his church on the foundation of young skilled manual labourers and we can't seem to touch them? Where are we going wrong? The only thing here that I take slight issue with on here is the bit about being comfortable in church. I don't believe church should necessarily be a comfortable place for unbelievers. See below, for example.
The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.
Acts 5:12-14

But many of the things these people say are right. Church has become quite effeminate in many respects, such as the music (too slushy) and the decor (too flowery). But I am dubious about much of the material that is out there too which is designed to attract men. The marketing people, spin doctors and branding consultants have been out in force to see how they can make the Gospel attractive to men.
So to begin with, here's a list of what we don't need:
- beautiful, polished motorbikes put on display in the entrance of the church
- sexist jokes
- invitations to do extreme sports
- tribal shouts or chants
- more electronic gadgets and noisier music in church
- rodeo bulls
- Mexican waves and Harlem shakes
I have first-hand experience of most of these things, including the first on the list! I feel patronised by them. The trouble is, church people are being little different from the shopping centres and Ikea, with their men's creches.
So what are we to do?
Well, for a start, we need brave men who will live sacrificially, stand up for truth and righteousness, suffer for the truth of the gospel and lay down their lives for their brethren. Why don't we just obey what Jesus said instead of worrying too much about how 'attractional*' we are?
*This strange word only ever seems to be used in the context of making church attractive to outsiders.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Men for God: How did we get here?

In my early years as a Christian, in the 1980s, 'Christian feminism' was fashionable. I was an avid reader of Christian books, and I read a number of books stating that the church had been too male dominated and we need to invite the ladies into our leadership teams. For sometime now, sex discrimination had been outlawed and there was a push for women to have equal rights in all parts of society, including the churches. But was the church following the spirit of the age or the Spirit of the Lord?
Of course, the Brethren and the more Reformed churches stood against this along with the odd Pentecostal church and House Church stream, but from mainstream Evangelicalism, leader after leader fell into line with the feminist viewpoint and the vast majority of churches proudly got to work appointing female Elders, Priests, Ministers and Pastors. One of the few nationally known leaders who swam against this tide was David Pawson, who wrote a small book, 'Leadership is Male' in contrast to the flood of literature on the opposite side, thus making himself quite unpopular for a while. At about the same time, a much heavier volume came out across the Atlantic entitled 'Restoring Biblical Manhood and Womanhood' by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. I read both of these books and found their arguments far more convincing. But going with my convictions on this one left me in a lonely minority in the churches I was part of.
Meanwhile, in the rest of Christendom, not only were the ladies being ordained, not only were they revamping the Anglican Service Book with 'inclusive language' but they were retranslating the Bible itself to change male pronouns with neutral language. So, for example, the NIV no longer read:
A wise son heeds his father’s instruction (Proverbs 13:1), but
A wise child heeds a parent’s instruction.
My old NIV says in Matthew 4:19:
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I make you fishers of men.”
It now says:
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”
I find this very concerning. Systematic mistranslating of the Bible to suppress a teaching is a grave error.
Have another look at the two scriptures above. Both of them, if taken at face value, would have serious implications about how we live our Christian lives. Fish for people. To keep to the fishing metaphor, we are letting the men off the hook. So in our evangelism, we no longer go hard after the men, seeking specifically to win them. Parents? So as a father, it is no longer primarily my responsibility to instruct my children. I can let the wife do it all. These mistranslations fit in well with our modern women and children centred churches. Jesus made it his top priority to reach and disciple men. Our churches no longer do. Our Bibles no longer tell us to.
This issue has revealed how deeply the church has lost its way to:
1. The fear of men...or cowardice ('What do people think?' rather than 'What does God think?')
2. Pragmatism ('Is it blessed?' rather than 'Is it right?')
3. Subjectivity ('What are my feelings about this?' rather than 'What does God say about this?')
4. Rebellion ('What do I want to do?' rather than 'What has God commanded us to do?')
5. Marketing ('What is our outward image?' rather than 'What is our inward reality?')
We have reaped our harvest. In our churches, women normally outnumber men. In some cases it's by a factor of 2:1 or even 3:1. And the men we are left with are frequently weak and passive. What is to be done?
Watch this space.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Men for God. Where are you?

Northern men are known for being straight talking. This works well sometimes in sales and advertising. The most successful UK football managers usually come from northern England or Scotland, for example Brian Clough, Alex Ferguson, Bill Shankley, Bob Paisley, Laurie McMenemy, Jack Charlton. Rightly or wrongly, up here, a Southern accent is greeted with mild suspicion whereas people tend to warm to a Yorkshire or Scottish twang. Northern stands for honesty, friendliness and trustworthiness, Southern the opposite. Some Essex children who lived near us were mercilessly picked on at school for their accents, while my Yorkshire daughters did just fine.
I could spend a long time discussing why, but I'll get instead to my point, which is this. I rarely hear the gospel effectively preached by someone with a Northern Accent. When I do, it does something for me. An example would be Leonard Ravenhill, who originates from Leeds which is the nearest big city to where I am from. Ravenhill talks properly! His blunt, Yorkshire delivery adds authority to his message and I almost tremble with fear when I hear him. To you American friends, I'm attaching a clip of him, so you know what a Leeds accent sounds like. Oddly enough, the same principle applies with North American accents in the UK. Southern American accents are greeted with more caution than a Midwest, Canadian or New York accent.*
A similar situation seemed to occur when Jesus walked in the flesh.  The northern Galileans were away from the more spiritual south ('Can anything good come out of Nazareth?').

When I wander around Tyne and Wear and interact with the men, I see fellas who like their beer and their football, but who are lost, weary and hopeless. They have many doubts and fears, many vices. Many of them can't hold a long term friendship together, let alone a marriage. And that's just the blokes in the church! Northern men who are the spiritual leaders of their families, who know their scriptures, who can pray fervently and preach the gospel with authority are virtually non-existent. It is as if a spiritual plague of locusts has swept across the land leaving only desolation in its wake.
A high proportion of men up here enlist for the armed services. But they won't come to church. Why not? Are we fighting for the gospel or not?
I could weep. Lord, please raise up - and bring in - men who fear nobody but You.