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Archive for August, 2009

UTS mission this week

I’m speaking at a mission for the UTS Christian group Credo this week and next.

4 (apologetic style) talks and a debate this week, 2 (more directly proclamatory) talks next week. The students have been working incredibly hard to make it unmissable on the campus, and I’m really looking forward to engaging with the campus.

If you get a moment, do pray for the mission, for the courage of the Credo students, for the openness of their friends and contacts, and for me as I strive to be faithful to Christ.

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Chris Swann – uber-insightful 4th year MTC student and CCIW catechist (not to say incredibly regular blogger) – made a comment last night that crystalised a thought for me.

Church / congregation planting only succeeds by spoiling the relational intensity of planting, which was the necessary pre-requisite to getting the plant off the ground.

Planting starts with a core group – they work, plan, pray and dream hard. It binds them together. Then the plant is launched, and God willing, new people arrive. The only way for the plant to succeed is for the core group to ‘break up’ – to genuinely let go of that intensity and connection, in order to make room for the newcomers. Otherwise, they will always know that they are the second-tier members.

There are lots of ways for this to happen – if there’s a sudden influx of newcomers, it forces the issue. Or if there is a porous structure, so that newcomers are included in the ministry of the congregation from when they arrive.

But either way, a plant will kill itself if it doesn’t break open the relational intensity of the core group!

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At CCIW, we have a position vacant – for a servant of Christ, minister of the Word and leader of God’s people (Deacon or Presbyter) who is up for a challenge.

The challenge includes leading a small congregation which is committed to growth into being a medium sized and then large congregation, as well as being part of the leadership team of an innovative congregation plant.

The opportunity is unique in that the full backing, infrastructure and collegiality of a large staff team and office supports this challenge.

So, if you’re at the other end of the spectrum from faint-hearted, feel free to email me on: andrew@cciw.org.au

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One of the issues the fellowship group I’m part of regularly wrestles is the difference between the Old and New Covenants – what’s new about the NC?  This is the big question of Biblical Theology. One answer holds that the difference was grace. The New Covenant is a covenant of grace, the Old was a covenant of works. Some said that directly, others said that the Jews between the close of the Old Testament (around 400 BC) and the New Testament corrupted an original Old Covenant of grace. Either way, what’s new is grace.

But I’m not so sure. It seems to me that the Old Covenant was always a covenant of grace, and that’s because it was a covenant by election, and election is always pure sovereign grace. All the major covenantal passages (eg. Gen 12.1-3, Gen 15.1-6, Deut 6-7) hammer these themes – election, therefore grace.

So, if grace is not the difference, what is? And what was wrong with the Old Covenant that meant a new one was needed? A more fruitful train of thought is that the Old Covenant had been abused – almost from the beginning – as a reason for presumption. The elect people of God presumed on their election, and that presumption led to sin. In other words, the problem with the Old Covenant was it did not change the heart (or what Paul calls the flesh), so that when sinful hearts met election, they became presumptuous and sinned in their presumption – and on top of that, were exclusive of gentiles, and not the light of the world that they were called to be. This is the constant complaint of all the prophets (see especially Jer 7.1-15, but they all have basically the same message); this is what Jesus says is wrong with the Pharisees (Matt 23), and this is what Paul says is wrong with the Jews (Rom 2.17-29).

The great new thing of the new covenant, therefore, is the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2, Rom 7-8), and the inclusion of the gentiles because the righteousness of God is now revealed and enacted through Jesus, apart from the Law (Rom 3.21). The thing that the New Covenant has in common with the Old is that salvation is all of grace  – the pure free gift of the gracious Living Lord, now brought to completion in his death and resurrection.

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I’ve heard it said that there are more ordained ministers not working in ministry than there are who do. That’s a high attrition rate!

So, every now and again, I thought I’d offer some survival tips.

One key to surviving in ministry is to make sure you face full on the slowness of progress of the gospel, while at the same time, not losing hopefulness in the power and goodness of God. The only way to do this is to know Jesus – the crucified and risen Lord, the one who was the ultimate failure – there’s not much lower to go than the cross – and at the same time, it was in and through that cross that he triumphed.

Get this one wrong, and you’ll err on either one side or the other; either you will demand, and then manipulate, and then force artificial progress; or you will just turn up and do a job, with no real hope, no holy ambition, no confidence in the power of the Spirit.

Both sides of this cliff are steep and deep, and lead to soul destruction.

It’s Christ crucified and risen – and the sharing in his sufferings and the power of his resurrection – that keeps you sane and steadfast.

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It’s happening!

There’s been lots of talk – and it will be a while before there’s a whole lot of action – but the church planting movement which is capturing the imagination of under the 30’s is here in Sydney, and with bells on!

from flickr by NaPix--Hmong life

from flickr by NaPix--Hmong life

The Rice movement – led by my good friend , the irrepressible Steve Chong – is launching a church planting movement, linked to Acts 29, and offering digital mentoring with big guns Driscoll, Chandler, Dever etc.

Called RICE en:trust, the starting point will be a dinner for 30 potential church planters on Aug 24. Check out the details here. Steve tells me invitations for the event are still open til midnight Sunday, so if you’re up for the hard road that is church planting, put your name in the hat.

RICE en:trust has the same huge advantage as Acts 29 – it is not a denomination, and therefore can work in with any and all denominations without being a threat. And it has the same disadvantage – it is not a denomination, and therefore the startup costs are huge! But talking with Steve, the plan is to find a way to gain the advantages and avoid the downsides.

Bring on energetic, missional church plants right across this city!

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God gives the growth, so the key church growth strategy is – pray, Pray, PRAY!

from flickr by insearchofbalance

from flickr by insearchofbalance

And at the same time –

– maintain the most important balance in church life – between a church that grows its members, and one that reaches out to those outside the church.

It’s hard. Hardly anyone will complain because the church backs off from outreach, but people feel the effect of a focus away from pastoral care. Hence, most churches spend almost their entire budget – their dollars, their staff time, their gifted people – on growth programs for their own members, not outreach programs. How many churches even have an outreach / evangelism budget?

So how do you maintain a balance. There are 2 keys, it seems to me.

The first is to define the How very carefully, and then have no other programs than these! This means that there will be a cap on the growth programs, so that ministry expansion will be in the area of outreach.

And second, define Christian growth as including outreach, so that there is actually no competition between the 2. At CCIW, we do this by saying that one of the means of grace (how a Christian grows) is extending a gracious witness to unbelievers. This incorporates an impetus to outreach in the what it means to be a growing Christian.

But – and I think this is important – it recognises that there is a gap between a person’s individual witness and the church’s outreach programs. They are distinct things, and shouldn’t be confused or conflated, although clearly they will also be related, in that part of how people extend a gracious witness will be to bring mates / colleagues / relatives to outreach events. But they need to be kept distinct.

So, how’s the balance in your part of the world?

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