New Year, New Challenge

BaptismThis feels like a monumental occasion, writing my final blog of the year.  Next week, although I am around, I won’t be coming in to the church office and won’t be writing my blog.   So this is it, the last one of the year.

The plan for my first term at RBC was simply to try and get to know people better, remember names, but most importantly to listen to people. I think I’ve done pretty well… although I still get names wrong – sometimes with hilarious consequences, unfortunately I can’t repeat the stories here, but trust me, I’ve been red faced on a number of occasions. We’ve explored the simplicity theme together and to be honest I think we are not even scratching the surface of things we could simplify within RBC.

I do have some real hopes and ambitions for 2018 which I believe come from prayer, reflection and listening.

I’d like to see the baptistery used more regularly, I’m baffled as to why committed Christians in our church haven’t followed Jesus’ clear instruction, ‘believe and be baptised’. But I also am confident that in 2018 we will be blessed with the baptism of people new to salvation.

I pray that our church will continue to grow, not so much with people moving from different churches but with new people coming to Jesus afresh.

I think we are being called to pray together more determinedly. As I talk to pastors who have experienced growth and renewal, the back bone is always committed prayer times. So in 2018 we are going to designate a prayer area in the building and have a  lot more 24/7 prayer type events.

Planting, yes church planting -I want to start talking about how RBC can either plant new churches or plant into existing churches. There’s many areas, some quite close to us, that would be made better by a new form of church being started and shaped there.

In January we are going to start talking, thinking and praying about our Sunday mornings and whether or not it’s still right to continue with two morning services, or are we being called to something new. This means going into the new year holding everything lightly, whilst responding strongly to the voice and direction of God.

Wherever you are over this Christmas period I pray that you truly know God’s hope, peace, joy, light and love.

May the joy of the angels, the wonder of the shepherds, and the peace of the Christ Child, fill your hearts this Christmas time; and the blessing of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit be with you all now and always

Graham

 

Light

20171214_191519.jpgIt was freezing, walking around the Cromwell road estate on Monday evening, the houses looked warm and cosy inside, we were outside, in the cold on the slippery icy pavements. I was wrapped quite warmly in my large padded winter jacket, hat, scarf gloves and extra thick socks put the cold still seeped in. I felt for our poor organist who was sitting down to play the keyboard without even gloves on.  Yet he never complained about the cold which brought me up short as I repeatedly commented on the arctic like temperatures.

It was the first of our neighbourly carol singing evenings, and we joined with people from St Matthew’s church to sing and bless the people living in that area.  Some of us were wrapped in fairy lights as a way of symbolising bringing light into dark places. Not that the Cromwell estate is necessarily a dark place per se, but we wanted to bring the light and joy and love of Christmas to our neighbours and in that sense bring light into darkness.

I loved joining in with some of our younger people calling on doors and giving out free chocolates and invites to our Christmas services. It was interesting to note how many people thought we were collecting money and tried to give us something in return for our singing and gifts. The concept of a free gift was an anathema to many  people we called on.  My young chocolate giving partner commented how good it made him feel to refuse payment and simply give the sweets away.  As the evening moved on we gained confidence and were even more generous, ‘take a handful- treat yourself, its Christmas’ I reminded him of the truth of those great Bible words, ‘It’s more blessed to give than to receive’.

One thing that niggled me though was the ‘hit and run’ nature of the evening. We were walking around singing and blessing people, the residents appreciated it and were grateful and I think all of us felt a sense of being in the right place….. for an hour… then we left. But the estate and the residents and the homes and the people are all still there.

Then someone pointed out to me the old empty school that stands vacant in the middle of the estate. I felt a stirring, a prompting, a quickening if you like. .. what if we brought light into that dark empty old building?

What difference would it make to that estate if the old school was alive again with community blessing activities, projects and initiatives?

What if that school was the base for a group of Christians who were committed and dedicated to being people of light for that community?

What if that school became ……….. a church?!

Maybe this is another of my crazy ideas…

There’s thousands of reasons why this couldn’t work.

But….. light in the darkness… what if?

 

If you are in Redhill this Sunday, please come along to our Carol service Sunday 17 December at 5.30pm. It will be an evening of singing, drama, choir, fun and thoughtfulness. Bring your families and bring your friends.

See you Sunday

Graham

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Invite

20171203_200454.jpg

wow!

Last Sunday evening, what a service……..

Our building was full, which is always a joy for me, the music was excellent, the worship heartfelt and sincere, and then there was Sam’s baptism…… so powerful, so genuine, so authentic, so inspiring.  Sam spoke powerfully and with real authority as he carefully weaved his testimony with solid teaching from scripture.  He spoke candidly about the struggles and doubts that he has experienced in life and balanced it with a genuine heart and head knowledge of the depth of God’s love, the cost of Jesus’ sacrifice, the reality of hope and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

I learned a lot from Sam last Sunday, but he also challenged me in a very troubling and practical way: The building was full last week because Sam invited his friends to come. In fact he actually invited his friends, class mates, teachers etc.  The point is he took a risk and invited lots of people to come to a church service. He told them it was important to him, it would mean a lot to him and they came; not everyone, but they came and our building was full. With a building full of people he unashamedly told his testimony and spoke of the gospel.

He Invited!

The older I get, the more I realise that I am always surrounded by people I can learn from and I have no problem in learning from someone 30 years younger than me……  Among many other good things last week I was reminded of the power of invitation.

He Invited!

I suppose, some people said no. Sam may have felt awkward or perhaps a little foolish.  He risked rejection, which no one likes but he invited people ……. And they came.But most powerfully, he used something that could have been just for him ( baptism) and made it open, and made it about other people…..

 

He Invited!

20171208_085644.jpgThis weekend we launch our Christmas series ‘Christmas Up close’.  Every event and service planned is an opportunity to invite our friends, colleagues, family, neighbours along to. It’s an opportunity to say, ‘This is important to me….. come along’. We risk rejection, feeling a bit foolish, let down even, but quite frankly, so what?

All our Christmas events are planned not to suit or serve us but to suit and serve people outside church. This is the beautiful thing about church, it’s not for us, it’s for those that haven’t come in yet, as soon as we start doing things just to suit us, the gospel gets watered down and the church slowly begins to die.

 

He Invited!

Starting tomorrow in the afternoon (2.pm) we have a Romanian Carol service – a great opportunity to invite your Romanian friends along to . On Monday & Thursday we are Carol Singing20171208_085653.jpg Then next weekend we have a puppet service and the ‘Epic’ Carol service in the evening.

And none of these are just for us, they are for the people that rarely yet …… come.We have produced invitations to make it easier. Come to the church office and help yourself to a handful.

Let’s take some risks. Let’s be bold. Let’s do it.

Let’s Invite!

See you Sunday

Graham

 

It’s not mine!

Last week I was away at a conference for most of the week and then was able to fit in a lightning visit to Devon to see our eldest daughter at the weekend so unfortunately missed my blog deadline in case you were wondering why there was no Red Letter day last week.

I’m not really a ‘conference’ person, this is probably a result of the excruciating training conferences I used to attend many moons ago when I was a junior printing assistant at a franchised high.street printers (All your printing needs are just one Kwik Call away – yes that is how we spelt it) I still have shivers when I recall the break out groups to discuss how we can improve customer service after watching Peter Purvis on video act out how bad service is as an expensive farce!

This is clearly my own issue that I need to deal with, as I must say the Baptist Union’s Larger Churches Network Conference was excellent and certainly one I will return to next year.  RBC are counted as one of  Britain’s largest Baptist Churches in terms of membership and staff size and it was hugely beneficial being able to spend time with fellow church leaders and swap learning points and experiences of how our churches function and flourish. You may be interested to read the linked article Larger Churches Network

The mistake many of us make is implicit in that last sentence, it’s not ‘our’ church, actually it’s ‘His’ Church.  Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples and Jesus assured us ‘I will build My Church’

We are to make disciples and through disciple making – He will build a church so strong and powerful that all the powers of evil and darkness will not be able to stand against it.  Our job is to make disciples and from good discipleship the church grows. But if our practice is to build church without discipleship then however good, strong and well organised our organisation may be, it may not be church as Jesus intended it.

Rather than get hung up on a definition of church we are encouraged to focus on developing our intentions of discipleship, so since last week in between my visits and meetings I have been thinking through what that could be like at RBC. Here’s where I am getting to…

Many similar sized churches to RBC use clusters or huddles to encourage discipleship (The name is not so important, and as Mairi pointed out we don’t want to be holy huddles!) This is roughly how they work:

I have a group of 4 people that I meet, talk, pray, learn and am accountable with.

As this group becomes established each member of the group is encouraged to form their own ‘cluster’  that follows the same pattern. And so the clusters grow. One church leader told me that this led to much improved communication, better pastoral care and quicker inclusion of new people!

Maybe you’ve been in similar types of groups before or are in one now. Maybe there’s a more Redhillian way to look at this. But I hope you agree that a greater emphasis on discipleship would be hugely beneficial for you, for us and for His church.

As usual I welcome your ideas and comments so please keep them coming in.

The speaker of the conference, Karl Martin, has written an excellent book which I highly recommend to you. Its called ‘Lead’ and it’s one of the most refreshing books on Christian living I have come across for a long time. Why don’t you treat someone to an early Christmas present?

See you on Sunday

Graham

The Hardest Person……….

Artboard_15-512Since September the staff team have been working through a course called ‘Leading from Here to There’. Once a month we have an extended staff meeting where we eat together, watch the DVD session and discuss the learning points that follow. We then have a set of practical ‘take aways’ to be working through before our next session.

At our last meeting we were thinking and talking about self leadership: the hardest person to lead is yourself.  How true this is for me.

I encourage people to ensure they take their days off, but often work into mine. I encourage people to prioritise times of prayer and devotion but admit that sometimes my own devotional spaces are interrupted – by my own lack of discipline.  ‘Do as I say’ rather than ‘follow my example’ is never a good model to follow.

One of  my two ‘take aways’ which I’ve been working through is to aim to energise and encourage the people I meet with, so that their encounter with me is positive and lifts their spirits. This could be as simple as being courteous and friendly to the man I buy my Surrey Mirror from, or my barber, to making sure even difficult pastoral meetings finish with the person glad they have spent time with me. The second ‘take away’ is to spend time with people who lead different types of organisations (although I prefer to think of church as an organism- full of life and vitality) to learn from them. So I have already benefited from one meeting along these lines and have set up another very soon.

For me the result is already evident. This week I have taken more control of my diary and organising clear, undisturbed preparation times has actually allowed more time for pastoral visits and time off with the family. So whilst I felt like I was more office/desk bound this week, looking back on my schedule shows that the reality is actually the opposite. Setting clear boundaries and saying no to some things has freed me up to do the things I believe I’m called to: love God’s people, preach God’s word and lead God’s church.

See you on Sunday

Graham

Restoration, Unity and Healing

So we prayed and fasted for 24 hours last weekend to seek God’s guidance on purchasing a new church manse. I was hoping that on Saturday morning as we broke our fast and ate together, the ‘right’ property would suddenly come on the market or we’d have a clear word about a particular road or area to concentrate on. Interestingly enough many people fed back to me a sense that God wants us to be thinking in  different way about the manse process. Comments such as:

  • ‘This is a heart issue rather than a house issue’
  • We need to get our hearts right with God first
  • We need patience and trust.

I don’t know how you hear God speaking, but for me it’s rarely audible, but more through a recurring thought or verse or phrase. I test it by asking; is it in keeping with scripture and God’s character and through the confirmation of other people.

The sentences I’ve cited resonated with me, as whilst praying for the manse I kept being drawn to the words ‘restoration’, ‘unity’ and ‘healing’; so strongly I wrote them in my journal again and again through my times of prayer and fast.

I was reminded of Jesus restoring Peter on the lakeside after he cooked them a breakfast. Peter approaches Jesus, mistrusted, condemned, with the weight of failure on his shoulders.  Three times Jesus questions him and three times Jesus restores and commissions him: feed my sheep, love my people, follow me. Peter leaves the breakfast healed and restored; and the disciples unified through his restoration.

I believe God will provide the church with a manse, but we have to be patient.  The elders are bringing a new proposal to the church meeting next Thursday about this.  I also believe that God is actually far more interested in our relationships than our bricks and mortar; and we need to concentrate on healing broken relationships in our church community. What a beautiful vision Peter provides of a broken man healed and restored; who went on to serve Jesus and change the world.

We all have a part to play. Is there a friendship you need to restore, a friend you need to forgive a wrong you need to own up to?  Healing, unity and restoration starts with us.

Speaking of unity, we have one Remembrance day service at 10.30am this Sunday 12th November, I look forward to seeing you there.

Graham

Fast Food

I’d love you to join with the Pastors and Elders for 24 hours of fasting and praying (8:00 am Friday 03 Nov – 8:00 am Sat 04 Nov) for a very delicate and tricky situation at RBC. We are praying for a breakthrough in the purchase of a new manse for the church. I use the word ‘breakthrough’ because this process has been rumbling on for the last 16 months and yet whenever we are progressing with a possible purchase we hit a wall; the vendor withdraws or an untenable problem with the property is revealed.

The last occasion this happened was just over a week before we moved to Redhill at the end of August, when thanks to some super speedy work and negotiations by the manse team, our temporary home in Reigate Road was found and we were able to move in on September 1st. If you haven’t visited us at our Reigate Road address yet, then we look forward to seeing you at one of our Sunday afternoon sessions in the next few months.

This is just a temporary situation; renting this house is expensive and it is not an ideal ministry base because access is limited due to the steep stairs from the road.

As I say, this is tricky for me because I’m thinking of the manse as a home that will serve the ministry of the church for now and in the future.  The manse needs to be a good future investment for the church and an example of good stewardship of the church’s resource that other ministers and ministries in the future will benefit from. The manse will also be our family home and needs to be a place that we can live in.

While we pray and fast together over Friday and into Saturday it will be good to reflect on what God is saying to us:

  • Are we looking in the wrong or right area- some people think the manse should be in walking distance of the church- others don’t!
  • Do we need to review the budget- is it realistic or overly optimistic?
  • Does someone already have the house God wants for the church?
  • Is there a different approach we could take – do we need to change our strategy?

Our 24 hours of prayer and fasting concludes on Saturday morning at 8:00 am at the church building when we will break our fast together with food (provided by the church), celebration and reflection on what God has been saying to us. Whether you have been praying and fasting for 24 hours or just 24 minutes, come and join us as we eat, sing, pray, laugh, reflect and respond together.

See you Saturday at 8:00

Supermarkets & Scary dreams

Last Wednesday was a big day for Redhillians as the brand new sparkling shiny Sainsbury’s opened in the town centre. While the crowds were arriving to see all the new store has to offer, I was attending a very different meeting with Miranda our Family Outreach Co-Ordinator.

We had been invited to attend the Redhill West Partnership Network meeting which brought together representatives from many of the different services that serve the community.  While the retail giant across the road was flexing its muscles and displaying its wealth and prosperity, inviting people to spend more money; we sat in a room above the job centre where people were waiting outside to find out if they would find work that week. Quite a contrast.

It was a real eyeopener to hear from so many organisations that are committed to helping and serving the socially and economically vulnerable people.  Our town has a new supermarket, but it also has food banks at the risk of closing due to dwindling donations. We have a new Travelodge but we also have the winter homeless shelter run by Renewed Hope Trust. We have community hubs closing due to cuts; and concern expressed from all the agencies around the table about the challenges of the new Universal Credit benefit payments about to be introduced.

It was encouraging to see how involved churches are: St Matthew’s Church, The Salvation Army and of course our own Miranda were recognised and respected as active people of influence in these areas. It reminded me of the challenge from our local MP back in Devon, ‘If the church won’t help, who will’?

There is already a recognised  need for competent people to come alongside and help people understand Universal Credit and how to access the help they need. There is a recognised need for hubs of safety to be provided for people who need a place to stop and chat and be welcomed and use computers to access local services. I could sum this all up in a few words – people need community centres!

Over the last few weeks I have a growing sense that God is encouraging us to be more outward looking; affirming and growing the amazing ministries we have that serve our town. We are blessed with a wonderfully diverse mix of people with a breadth of experience, skills and abilities. Couldn’t we be a place where people come and access all the help they need.. and hear about a God who loves them as well?  This is exciting but challenging too. What are your thoughts?

I won’t be writing my blog next week as I have some family time coming up, but I’ll be back on line in two weeks time.

Until then

See you on Sunday

Graham

Week 5: Open Homes and Open Minds

Two small ambitions were realised this week. The first was on Sunday when we hosted our first open house at the temporary manse. As you get to know us you’ll discover that we like a party or a bit of a gathering; I love having our house full of people and hearing the noise of laughter and conversation fill the rooms.

My ill thought through plan was just to have an open house one afternoon and invite everyone from the church community over. Mairi approaches life with a bit more thought than me and helped me understand why 200 or more people coming to tea at the same time might not be such a good idea. So, with the help of the excellent office admin team, we are inviting people over in batches of 20 – 30 people on a Sunday afternoon. Last Sunday 27 people came round.

It was such good fun; Theo took all the ‘youth’ up to his room in the attic and they all seemed to have a good time. Gemma and her friend Hannah welcomed and hosted everyone leaving Mairi and I free to mingle and chat. My six ‘Here to There‘ questions were good conversation starters and we even remembered everyone’s name. I’m loving getting your feedback and responses to these questions so please keep them coming in.

The second ambition was taking the RBC Staff Team away to the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) in Bracknell. GLS is run by Willow Creek Community Church and is hosted in over 128 different countries, with the vision of helping leaders in all fields of work and service to be the best they can be, as they say ‘Everyone benefits when a leader gets better’.

One highlight of the conference was the incredibly moving story of Immaculee Llibagiza, a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide who  has committed herself to a life of peace, hope and forgiveness through her work with the United Nations.

Many of the talks resonated with our ‘Simplicity’ preaching series and the vision formation work we are engaging with in our team meetings. We were reminded to be civil with each other, to remember greetings and politeness, to listen and encourage, rather than to criticise. For me one of the most powerful sessions centered on saying ‘Wow‘ when someone has an idea or vision rather than killing it with a ‘How?’

We have a lot of follow-up work to do now which will be good for the team, church and our community. I’d love to tell you more about the GLS, so please come along to our open house afternoons and we’ll have a chat then.

See you on Sunday

Graham

Week 3 Coffee

I used to live in Albania and one of the many lessons I learned was the importance of drinking a coffee with someone. My friend Qerim used to shake his head in despair when I would tell him I was too busy to stop for a coffee with him. ‘How can you be too busy for a coffee?’ He would ask.

Of course it wasn’t really about the coffee, but more about the importance of passing time with someone, listening and being listened to, sharing life with them.

It’s been a good lesson to learn and in the frenetic moments of life, Qerim’s bemused smile comes to mind as he reminds me that one of the greatest courtesies you can give someone is your time.

So this week I have been drinking coffees with people, hearing their stories, sharing life with them. One story I keep hearing is that of people who have been hurt and wounded by careless comments and poor communications. The common factor is that the injury was never intended, but a by-product of how something was or wasn’t said well.

It’s hard to get communication right, especially in a church as wonderfully diverse as ours, but that’s no reason not to strive to do it better at all times. That’s why I write this blog, to let everyone know what I’ve been up to and where I think God is leading us.

That’s why I’ve been thinking about our three main church communication channels: the bulletin, the website and the notices in our services.  We are starting to make tweaks and changes to all of these to improve not just what we say, but how we say it.  This may say a lot about me, but I am really excited about the new format bulletin that will be in circulation next week. (The new deadline for bulletin news is Wednesday by the way).

When I met with the IT team this week we talked about relaunching our website to make it fresh and contemporary- and it’s going to happen very soon.

Over the next few months we are inviting groups of people round to the (temporary) manse for a cuppa and a chat. Check your spam mail, in case your invite accidentally arrived there. If not, keep an eye out, it’s on its way.

But I also want to communicate the amazing stories of people in our church family who are doing great things for God, including:

  • Following a call to serve God abroad in overseas mission
  • Championing environmental, social justice and poverty
  • Helping families become debt free
  • Exploring brilliant new opportunities to help house the homeless and feed the hungry
  • The amazing answers to prayer that people are experiencing.

I will try harder with our communications to get it right more often than we get it wrong.  But for me the best place to start is over a coffee. So, if you want to spend some time, share life and be listened to; give me a call, or a text or an email and I’ll happily meet with you.

See you Sunday

Graham