Truth in a post-truth world

A lie always harms another; if not some other particular man, it still harms mankind generally.

Immanuel Kant1 18th Century Philosopher
[3700 words, 12 minute read]

We enter 2021 in the middle of a battle for truth. Our globalised world has always held a massive range of ideas, worldviews and ways of judging reality. Yet there is a growing phenomenon for Western nations to grapple with, as the very nature of truth is questioned and challenged, and technology spreads a spectrum of opinions, in a matter of seconds, across the planet.

Increasingly we hear accusations that facts have been misrepresented or, worse, manipulated. Others are only too ready to make us aware of our own echo-chambers reinforcing our views as ‘true’. It really feels like a battle, and in the middle are Christians who want to hold to the highest truth.

How best can Christians respond to the challenge of a society struggling with post-truth, fake news and ‘alternative facts’? 
Can we navigate a route through competing viewpoints, often viciously aligned against one another?

In 2020 we published a book about discipleship which included a chapter all about this, with positive suggestions for Christians to put in place, both for our everyday lives, and as we seek to lead or mentor others towards Jesus. It is reproduced below.

We hope it’s helpful in drawing us back to Jesus who, rather famously and helpfully, cornered the market of truth when He said “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

[Excerpt from The XYZ of Discipleship by Nick & Marjorie Allan, 2020]

A Gathering Storm

There is a gathering storm, a growing trend within Western mindsets – a slide towards a post-truth world. In the postmodern world of academia and popular culture there is no longer one fixed source or interpretation of truth, and every opinion is relative and open to ‘editing’ or reinterpretation, like a Wikipedia article.

There are strong forces within culture which now propose that truth should be seen as relative, and traditional sources of orthodoxy or authority in truth and life are now often viewed with suspicion and resisted. More sinister still is the rise of ‘alternative facts’ and post-truth as a valid way of thinking, speaking, leading others and justifying actions. Add to this the rise of deliberate malicious lie-telling, misinformation and ‘fake news’ which is difficult to discern, and its pernicious impact impossible to measure.

We have witnessed the erosion of public trust in establishment figures as a series of scandals and exposes have revealed deeply cynical cover-ups, particularly in past ten years, with high-profile instances such as the Jimmy Savile scandal and BBC cover-up, the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook information scandal, or admissions of paedophilia within the established Church.

That is not to say that truth is dead. Far from it. It remains that most people in Western society hold that some things are ‘true’ and truth does still prevail as a concept. It is fiercely defended by many including the influential news media whose function has traditionally been to expose and report truth and facts.

Together we face a philosophical and cultural atmosphere that is increasingly incoherent and breeds mistrust and confusion among those authentically seeking the truth. ‘What is truth?’ asks Pontius Pilate (John 18:38) on behalf of a whole generation.

Alternative facts and post-truth

Into this mixed-up way of interpreting reality is growing a new trend which is extremely dangerous for society and Christian discipleship. In 2017 a White House spokesperson, Kellyanne Conway, rebuffed an NBC journalist’s suggestion that her boss, the Press Secretary Sean Spicer, had lied about the numbers of people who attended President Trump’s inauguration when calling it ‘the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe’.2

Conway’s rebuff has gone down in history. She didn’t view Spicer’s comment as a lie. She wouldn’t admit his numbers were false but simply ‘alternative facts’. If everything is relative including the source of truth, then Sean Spicer’s interpretation of reality suddenly and shockingly earned itself legitimacy. It was not deemed as wrong, but simply as alternative. This is a frightening extrapolation of our prevalent relativist philosophy.

Successful communication is now coming to rely less on the currency of facts or verifiable truth than on its ability to persuade and to win an emotional battle, to win people over. Another word for this is propaganda. The media, or any person, may now redefine reality by your ‘facts’ against my ‘alternative facts’.

Most people still want truth and believe in facts. Today’s danger is that we may be approaching what Orwell highlighted satirically as one of the worst crimes of totalitarian regimes: ‘Doublethink’. ‘Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.’3 The problem is that when you choose your own reality without reference or convention, you also select your own falsehood.

Fake news

Another trend is further destabilising people’s trust in truth. ‘Fake news’ is not a new phenomenon, but today the deliberate spreading of falsehood and disinformation seems to be seeping into our mainstream social media. The devil is the father of fake news. Jesus said the devil ‘is a liar and the father of lies’ (John 8:44), whose tactic is not so much to spread outright falsehood but rather to sow doubt.

Regarding the fake news phenomenon, journalist Matthew d’Ancona says ‘the trick is to provide disruptive entertainment as a distraction’,4 so that the conversation and disagreements simply roll on, rather than finding a conclusion in truth or fact.

Let me entertain you

What has risen in the place of an insistence on evidence-based approaches to determining the truth? What now seeks to fill the gap where rationality has retreated? Story. More than ever in perhaps the past 1,000 years, the power of story prevails. The place of ‘meta-narratives’ has gone – any single grand explanation for all of life’s meaning is rejected, so that ‘religion’ is now treated much like the epic stories of Greek and Roman epic myths: deep and meaningful but not actually true. But the power of simple, engaging stories is on the rise.

Two recent USA presidential campaigns have been won on the power of a story. It was Obama’s audacity of hope which harnessed the grass-roots votes of the women, minorities and the young by his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. In Trump’s 2016 victory, the story of his campaign mattered arguably more than the facts. What captured the popular attention was a fanciful promise to ‘Make America Great Again!’ against the danger of ‘crooked Hilary’ and her Washington cronies. ‘The effect was narcotic rather than rational’, says one commentator.5

The key to influencing public opinion today lies in harnessing an emotional connection. It has always been part of decision making, but today it has become so elevated that if ‘it feels right’ then it basically is counted as right. This is emotional evaluation. We are in danger of making decisions based upon popularity not substance, traction before truth. Not exclusively, of course, but the fact of the matter is seriously in danger of being overtaken by the feeling of the matter. ‘Post-Trust is, first and foremost, an emotional phenomenon. It concerns our attitude to truth, rather than truth itself.’6

Platform power

What makes this possible is the rise of platform power. In a world of relativity, anybody with an opinion and a platform to share it instantly becomes elevated to the status of an expert.

The dangers are clear: we now decide by picking sides rather than evaluating evidence. Whoever tells the best story, whoever shouts the loudest, or sings the sweetest now earns my vote, or attention, or even my devotion and destiny. The internet does not help; it allows equal access to the full range of opinions and is indifferent to truth and lies. Its algorisms tend to ignore complexity and subtlety. They encourage the confirmation bias of our personal echo chambers instead.

What is our response?

In today’s prevailing culture we are heading towards a situation where as long as the stories feel true, then they resonate, and you may consider them to be true. If you hear the same thing repeated enough it becomes like ‘truth’ to you. Jesus spoke powerfully against this kind of deception:

Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is! No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other.

Matthew. 6:22-24

Confidence in the power of our story

How can Christians of every age group help our society at large to combat the worst dangers of this growing post-truth era? Christians have an amazing story to tell! It is the antidote to today’s hopeless narratives built upon disillusionment or confusion. We can be confident. We live a gospel that is incredibly powerful and empowering. With equal measures of humility and confidence, we have the opportunity to be culturally proactive, not always just culturally reactive – to disciple our prevailing culture with compassion and empathy. Where we have public platforms, we may set the tone and expectation, help people to interpret the times and evaluate reality.

We can speak out against false news and post-truth, but in a way that can be heard and received. Not just the dry facts – we must play the same communication game. Truth needs to be stated and repeated, but with an emotional delivery. Let us tell our story! It is powerful, emotive, but rooted in historical and eternal truth. We have to speak to head and heart at the same time. Jesus knew this when He said, ‘Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves’ (Matt. 10:16).

The Church is commissioned to be a redemptive community. We believe that the Church can have a perfectly robust response to tensions within culture, for example by maintaining its integrity and orthodoxy in issues, but without holding a judgemental response, or an apparently uncomprehending or unsympathetic response. Nobody, especially the followers of our vastly creative, inventive, multifaceted God, needs to enforce absolute uniformity of views or faith. Nobody should claim to have the monopoly on the experience or interpretation of God. Sometimes the Church gets uppity and stuck on secondary rather than primary issues.

We are a missionary people, embodying Jesus’ passion ‘to seek and save those who are lost’ (Luke 19:10). Many young adults just want to be listened to and heard properly a long time before we dare to point them towards an alternative lifestyle or world view such as Christianity represents. We ought to respond to society’s confusions not with condemnation but with compassion. Compassion is better than sympathy or even empathy, because compassion seeks to intervene to bring about redemption. That will entail demonstrating great pastoral sensitivity and patience as we point people towards the love and truth of Jesus.

How do we disciple people in this context?

Here are six ways to help people to navigate through the growing storm:

1. Tell a better story

Christians are ideally placed to tell a better, more compelling story than that of prevailing culture. Do not underestimate the power of the story you carry within your heart and life, the gospel that drips with goodness. It is the greatest story ever told and we know it ends well. Our young people experience such anxiety and disquiet, but the gospel speaks of hope and purpose. Let us call them towards a life of greatness, of empowered humility.

We have to operate within the current parameters of society. Facts are no longer enough. The ground has shifted, so our message and methods must adapt too. Emotional evaluation has risen to the top of the pile. Our approach must be emotionally intelligent, weaving facts alongside a compelling storyline. Isn’t that what preachers have always done? Let us appeal to head and heart alike. Let us speak to the roots and the heart of the issue as we address real-life concerns. People applaud and give platform to those they grow to trust and those who are true to themselves in integrity and authenticity. It is all about relationship-building, just as discipleship has always been.

As we learn to tell the story of what Jesus has done for us, we help others to locate their own way-markers in their journey towards Jesus. What God can do for one person He can do for another.

2. Jesus is the only way – the Bible is the true foundation

Times change, but Jesus remains ‘the way, the truth, and the life’. In our discipleship, it is vital that we do not compromise on Jesus being truth, and the only way to the Father. Jesus is utterly unique. He says, ‘I am the way’ (John 14:6). This actually closes every other way to salvation. There is a tremendous invitation because Jesus is the answer to all of life’s questions, and we can encourage and teach people in how to know and hear God for themselves by the Holy Spirit who will ‘lead [them] into all . . . truth’ (John 16:13 GNT). At the same time, we must resist the urge to control the outcomes!

Telling a better story does not mean we switch from a higher call for commitment and self-sacrifice to a pitch that promises immediate obvious benefits without mentioning perseverance and character change. Like Jesus, we are aiming to build resilient disciples. Discipleship is about going deep, not shallow. We may come with honesty and expectation of glorious transformation. We must help young adults in learning to read the Bible and learning to trust in it as the greatest source of truth about God and humanity. Get it into their hands (not just their phones) and grapple together with how to best to interpret and apply it for today.

Many people doubt the truth or reliability of the Bible, partly because they do not understand how it was compiled, or they get stuck on its apparent contradictions or ‘old-fashioned’ attitudes. Do not assume that even those who grew up within church/Sunday school actually feel confident in handling the texts. Instead, find engaging ways to inform and equip them to read and interpret it themselves, and alongside their peers.

3. Personal experience translated within community

Many young adults rank their personal experience as the highest indicator of truth, or what to trust as accurate, authentic, authoritative. This can work to our advantage in discipleship by encouraging people to find their own relationship with God, at a deep personal level. Encourage personal encounter through the power of the Spirit, who is the greatest discipler and can be trusted to ‘guide you into all truth’ (John 16:13).

But the best kind of theology develops in community. When Jesus discipled His followers, He very rarely did it alone, He did it among a trusted, like-minded small community. We have found that being a committed member of a trusted small group-sized community provides young adults with the safest foundation to process life and questions of discipleship.

Photo by Kimson Doan on Unsplash

A peer group of Christians will hopefully even out the effect of pick ’n’ mix theology, by challenging and debating the more extreme ends of people’s opinions. Those who seek to disciple emerging adults must walk alongside them, through their highs and lows, helping them to navigate by identifying the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and prompting them to come to conclusions fully informed by faith.

The danger is that we embrace isolation and we do our own personalised theology aside from community and accountability. We’re heard it described this as ‘Google theology’ which provides easy access to those people who will confirm your prejudices or existing errors. But Christian theology is best established in accountable Christian community.

4. Ask the deep questions

Helping people to seek truth and be true to Jesus’ ways is vital. It is not enough to know about the truth. People need to be helped to assess their own lives, mindsets, decisions, choices against the benchmark of Jesus as revealed principally through the Bible. How is biblical truth and God’s character and expectations fitting into and moulding my everyday behaviour and character? ‘Blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice’ (Luke 11:28).

Jesus’ model is mindset change. ‘Repent . . . and believe the Good News’ (Mark 1:15) may be interpreted as ‘change your mind’ (metanoia) and ‘step out in faith’ (pistis) in your new revelation.

Once a person has encountered God, we should help them to assess which of their prevailing mindsets or truths Jesus is challenging to change in the light of His new revelation to them. Then we accompany them in dismantling the old way of thinking, or the captivity to the old nature/self and aligning their thinking and action to the truth in Jesus.

Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.

Romans 6:17-18

Deep discipleship means encouraging reflective practice in people. Helping them to think carefully, from a godly perspective, on all issues of life and then to act in a way that is true to their convictions and the revelation God will give. In a culture which prizes asking the big questions, many young people we know are hungry for deep answers. This should be encouraged and helped. We are often struck by the inquisitive minds in our midst who hunger for answers of substance to their perfectly normal questions about Church history, theology, the Scriptures and the nature of the Church herself. There has never been an easier era in which people may locate further resources to dig deeper.

5. Learn to discern

We are aiming to help people to be very discerning in where they find their source of authority, their models for life and thought. Today’s trendy internet vloggers are better placed to disciple my children in everyday opinions than I may be. They have access direct to my own teenage children’s devices, and a platform to influence the whole world. The problem is, they are often peddling a brand of pick ’n’ mix pop-psychology and morality that is miles away from Jesus’ way.

It is absolutely vital that we equip people in discernment. What are the values or motivations that are bombarding them from the web, their peers, their education or entertainment? Where is the truth, where is the lie or the ungodly morality which presents itself so appealingly? What ideas are being shared and reposted without due diligence?

Our family plays a game during long car journeys called Spot the Lie. We ask the children to dissect the subtle messages portrayed on advertising billboards. What lies or manipulations are masquerading in seductive images or words?

It is often not as simple as discerning between obvious right and wrong. The power of story or the shiny packaging of social media can sugar-wrap a detrimental untruth. And people tend to trust what they like, what makes them feel good. As George Orwell observed in his book Nineteen Eighty-Four: ‘The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.’7

Discernment requires some hard thinking and slowing down. Discernment means looking beyond our personalised house of mirrors and echo chamber or our natural individualism. Training in discernment means we do not accept the premise of every proposition, however much we might be attracted to it.

6. The power of waiting and limitations

Life for a young adult can fly at 100 miles an hour. This is the instant generation, who demand an instant fix and immediate results, having little patience for ‘process’ or gradual development (except, we’ve noticed, for home brew). We see this in pastoral care, and lately a Christian GP told me she has experienced just the same attitude in her consulting rooms among these generations. Experiencing limits and limitations, having to wait for something, coming up against a boundary marker: none are popular with young adults – yet they may be just the medicine they require.

Help a person to avoid the crippling paralysis of multichoice by actively choosing to slow down and smell the coffee. To embrace the need to stop. Simply to breathe a little and take stock of events. To wait a while. As Jesus recommends, to ‘deny’ yourself for a while (Matt. 16:24, NIV).

Wisdom shows that it is through being denied or failing that a person can truly grow the most in their character and spirituality, if only they would embrace the process and not buck at it. Nobody can teach this; a person has to experience it for themselves – but a wise mentor can at least make people aware of these truths and prepare them through occasional practice.

There is a lot to be said for the ancient holy habits, or spiritual discipline practices.8

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

We’ve noticed that young adults may love the disciplines of engagement, such as worship, celebration and meeting together. In a fast-paced world which often lacks a depth of discernment, it is the disciplines of abstinence which may hold the key to finding truth.

‘Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me”’ (Matt. 16:24).

Young adults are prone to significant digital distractions and experience almost continuous intrusions into their thoughtspace. They have learned multitasking as a result, but the flip side is a chronic lack of solitude and of genuine inner-work. Of course, this has been typical of young adults for centuries; it is not a specifically new issue, but it is a particularly pressing and pernicious one for the twenty-first century.

This extract is taken from ‘The XYZ of Discipleship: Understanding and Reaching Generations Y & Z’ by Nick & Marjorie Allan, published 2020 by Malcolm Down Ltd. Find out more here: www.xyzdiscipleship.com

Sources:

  1. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason and Other Writings in Moral Philosophy, ed. and trans. Lewis White Beck (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1949), pp. 346-350.
  2. Elle Hunt, ‘Trump’s Inauguration Crowd: Sean Spicer’s Claims versus the Evidence’, The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 22 January 2017, http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/22/trump-inauguration-crowd-sean-spicers-claims-versusthe-evidence (accessed 6.12.19).
  3. George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (London: Penguin Classics, New Ed., 2004).
  4. Matthew d’Ancona, Post Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back (London: Ebury Press, 2017), p. 34.
  5. Ibid. p.15
  6. Ibid. p.26
  7. George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (London: Penguin Classics, New Ed., 2004).
  8. For three great resources, see Dallas Willard’s classic book, The Spirit of the Disciplines (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991).
    Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2008).
    John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry (Hodder & Stoughton, 2019).

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New Book! The XYZ of Discipleship by Nick & Marjorie Allan

The XYZ of Discipleship: Understanding and Reaching Generations Y & Z

Due for release April 2020. For full information and to purchase now visit xyzdiscipleship.com (UK) or all major online retailers (outside UK).

Today’s key challenge for the church in the West is to reach and raise the next generations – often missing or misunderstood – yet vital to the future of contemporary society and to Christianity.

Drawing on 20 years of fruitful experience, and carefully analysing Britain’s present cultural context this book explores how to disciple today’s Millennial (Gen Y) generation and their teenage/early adult successors Gen Z. With plenty of positive insights into the opportunities these generations possess, it speaks into how to help build solid foundations of identity and purpose for young adults and assesses some of the biggest challenges to Christian discipleship in today’s culture.

It will equip individuals who seek to mentor, parent or lead young adults into discipleship in the everyday and within church, as well as those of Y & Z age who are passionate to understand and disciple your own generation.

It concludes with practical guidance and a passionate challenge to established churches who wish to reach these generations.

Final Design

Due for release April 2020.

For full information and to purchase now visit xyzdiscipleship.com (UK) or all major online retailers (outside UK).

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What matters most?

Memoirs to myself and thoughts at the turn of the year for
friends who are followers of Jesus

This year the BBC ran a series “The Truth about….”
The Truth about Fat, The Truth about Fitness etc. One of the episodes “The Truth about looking good” caught my attention. It ran surveys and scientific research regarding facial anti-wrinkle creams. Only one particular ingredient was actually scientifically proven on the programme to reduce wrinkles and it seemed to be found in one of the cheapest creams available on the market. Yet nearly all the women surveyed were unaware of this fact and were consistently drawn to the creams that looked convincing and clinical!

I recently changed my facial cream! And it made me again wonder….how often do we invest in the wrong thing? How very often are we deceived by the world around us or indeed our own learnt thoughts and behavior? How often are we shaped by the current culture in which we live, so that even as Christians our lives end up looking just like everybody else’s.

So I have taken a little time at the turn of the year to look, listen and reflect on some things that have recently come to my attention.

The things we do not see

On Boxing Day a good friend in our church contacted me to share the wonderful news that he had just heard that his father had recently turned to God after being most of his adult life away from faith. He’d had a personal encounter with God and was now starting to attend a local church.

I regularly hear stories like this, but this one caught my attention. Two months previously my friend introduced me to his father, and aware of his distance from God, I offered to pray for him to encounter the living God there and then. I remember him looking both confused and bemused but he politely agreed. He kept his eyes wide open, I guess to see what might happen, as three of us stretched out our hands towards him and prayed for God’s Spirit to touch Him. My friend who was present too, probably looked the most surprised of all of us! It was awkward but felt to me like the right thing to do. I was unaware at the time of any change at that moment or to come.

If you are a follower of God, in His goodness He will allow you to see glimpses of His glory, all of the time. But there is much we do not see at the time, as the scriptures say, “we only see in part” (1 Corinthians 13:10).

eye

And that is why faith and obedience are worked out in the unseen, not the visible, and the Kingdom of God grows extraordinarily like little seeds in the soil, not big fruit, through ordinary individuals in often awkward moments.

Meaningful connections

I worked out again this Christmas that my life is most meaningful when I am drawing myself and others closer to God. It’s actually quite simple. Next Christmas I will be reviewing how well or not I have done this in 2019.

To have meaningful connections with strangers or those close to me, I must make time and initiate some form of contact.

My marriage really matters. I’m aware how people around me long for this privilege and others live in broken ones. It matters to meaningfully invest in my marriage. My children are my first disciples, this unashamedly takes much of my time.

Like the story above, when I step out to make connections with strangers my palms sweat and my throat goes dry but as the speaker Joyce Mayer once wonderfully said “Lick your palms and get on with it” – a walk across the room can change the life of someone for eternity.

The dream of God over my life

journal2

I noticed today whilst visiting my favourite café that a number of individuals sat writing New Year resolutions – visions for 2019.

I also observed some buying notebooks in the book store entitled “Dream” and “Imagine”.

Yes, it’s that time of year.

Surrounded by middle class mania, I am reminded to watch for self-centered goals.

I am not sure God is very bothered if I can run a little faster or consume slightly fewer calories. I’m not sure anyone will actually notice a few less wrinkles. While some of these goals may be personally helpful, God’s kingdom runs to a different beat and I am most self-fulfilled when I join in on His terms. Failure to realise this will leave me feeling dissatisfied and questioning the wrong metrix – I watch many contemporaries heading down this path.

I am reminded that God has a dream over my life. His dream was not that I would become a minister and help out the local church. Nor indeed was his dream that I would fulfill many personal goals.

As a friend Alan Scott writes so well in his recent book Scattered Servants, “The dream of God over your life is that you come alive in His presence and bring life to every environment around you spilling out contagious hope into a hurting humanity”.

It’s not about me

cake

My parents-in-law celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a ceremony last week. My husband wrote an address to honour God, their lives and marriage. Derek and Sally had led interesting lives; being missionaries in the Congo in Africa, leading a church in inner city London during the depression and rioting years; planting churches in the North East; leading a large church in New Zealand. But whether they had operated in large or hidden context their purpose remained always the same.

They had opened up their lives and home time and time again to others and in so doing had created an ecosystem through which others could thrive. Very broken people had lived with them; young people had lived with them; leaders had lived with them. Many had been fed around their table and been nourished because of their sacrifices and investment.

As we review our lives, it is both challenging and permission-giving to realise that my fruitfulness is not necessarily measured in my life. It might be better measured in the lives of others.

Waiting

Most of us hate waiting.

Many of us will be longing for and waiting for God to fulfill unanswered prayers and that can feel very raw at this time of year.

Many of us have learnt the wisdom of waiting on God.

But He may not be waiting. He may be doing something very wonderful. Hope is all around us. It has been all along and it manifests as we show up and engage with what God is doing, rather than what appears to be lacking.

As Christians we have to be careful we are not waiting for God to do something wonderful with the church and actually miss what He is doing in the world.

Life is for living, even in the midst of tragedy

At a Christmas drinks party last week I quizzed a friend and member of our congregation who had journeyed through some very traumatic circumstances over recent years about rebuilding life following trauma and death.

She had such purpose, life and joy about her and yet I know firsthand how very tough these years have been for her. I wondered what wisdom I could glean to help me pastor others in similar circumstances.

“Life is for living, Marjorie”, she said. “And so I set about rebuilding life and choosing to engage with life, every single day” She continued. “And at every moment you choose whether life or death is your focus”.

And right there I was reminded in no circumstance or point in time is it ever the Father’s heart for his children to merely survive.

Misplaced Faith

Tragically a distant friend and fellow minister lost her young husband recently. He died of cancer shortly before Christmas. His death, though tragic, has already led many people closer to Jesus.

I will always remember the words of his wife shared publicly in the early stages of his diagnosis:

“I do not know whether He will live or not. We are praying for a miracle. We know that Jesus can and may do this. But whether my husband lives or dies, Jesus remains king”.

You don’t often hear such a statement.

Her faith was not in the miracle.

The disciples caught in the storm cried out to God to intervene as they faced death. Afterwards they remarked to each other “Who is this man that even the wind and waves obey Him?”

They asked the right question. Our Faith is in the person of Jesus, not in life’s circumstances.

Life may leave us with many questions, but faith is to be a constant.

 What’s wrong?

Obituaries in the papers written to honour the life of our deceased friend left me with questions about my own life this Christmas.

While he no longer walks this earth, he leaves behind two established charities in inner city Dublin working to better the lives of young people in deprived areas.

That’s a legacy.

It seemed to me that in one point in his life, on one ordinary day, my friend had paused and said to himself “this is wrong”. He had simply bumped into an injustice and realized that injustice really matters to our heavenly Father and that He chooses to partner with us to change communities. And then he must have had enough self-belief to bother to do something about it.

I know that involved him first rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands dirty. There’s no glory story without that part.

What’s wrong in the world around me?

What’s wrong with me that I wouldn’t bother to do anything about it?

What’s ok for me and what’s not ok

QM

At the turn of the year I am dissatisfied. I want to be part of more stories like the one I began with. I want to see more people come to faith. I want to see more churches planted, I long to see a greater level of transformation around me. I want to experience more of His presence myself.

There is an opportunity for my frustration and His invitation to collide.

It’s ok for me to want more.

It’s not ok for me to settle for less.

Every man and woman in history who were used powerfully by God lived with a deep dissatisfaction and pursued Him relentlessly.

I can identify with John Govan when he wrote in his autobiography ‘Spirit of Revival’:

“I had some power in speaking but clearly not what the disciples had, I determined to pray until I had breakthrough. I am not at all satisfied yet with what I know about this gift of the holy ghost, I want a far deeper experience and to see signs following.”

The responsibility for this lies with me by the Spirit’s empowerment. In the everyday and in whatever circumstances and contexts open up for me this year.

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Hunger not Slumber

The call to Prayer.

There are things that won’t happen until we pray; and there are other things that don’t happen because we pray.

Just before Christmas 2017 in Sheffield, the Police and intelligence services averted terrorist activity that might have resulted in huge loss of life. On hearing the news I was immediately reminded that at the recent prayer day at our church some weeks before, a number of people had felt to pray for a protection over our city and for revelation and understanding for the intelligence services; that any plan set against the city would come to light.

As the people of God we have a responsibility in our city. We may not all get up in the morning and wear smart suits and operate from human positions of power; but in reality in the spiritual realm we all have the ability to walk in significant levels of power and authority.

engine

Prayer is an engine room, not an add-on

This last weekend a friend of ours Aaron visited and spoke to our church. Formerly a drug dealer and part of a criminal gang, Aaron has had a dramatic conversion and is since leading many men with a similar background to faith in Jesus Christ. Being around Aaron is fun. The church he now leads is in revival. It’s simple – there is a level of kingdom power and authority in Aaron’s life.

Interestingly, Aaron and the men around him pray. They seem to pray all the time. Aaron really challenged our Deeper ministry school “You have to get it guys: Prayer is the engine room of your mission, don’t engage in a whole load of activity for God if it is not from the place of prayer.”

It was interesting chatting with Aaron because in his former life he had learnt to fight to get anywhere, and to defend himself using fists and weapons. He had a battle mentality and a gang member commitment. Today his battles are fought in the spiritual realm and Christ’s body the church is the gang he’d give his life for.

The battle you and I find ourselves in the middle of is very real; but commitment to the cause may be being challenged.

Hunger not Slumber 

“I am awakening a Praying People” – Holy Spirit spoke to me in the middle of the night this week and as I look around me I see this call to prayer in others’ lives becoming real and tangible. This is very exciting.

We are all a “hungry” people – appetite is in our DNA since birth. The question is: what feeds us?

It is not a question of who is spiritually hungry and who is not. Spiritual hunger is a choice; it doesn’t just “happen” – sometimes it grows like a gift but if it is to be sustained over time it must be cultivated. We are all a “hungry” people – appetite is in our DNA since birth. The question is: what feeds us? Through the age-old holy habits such as solitude, scripture, fasting – our spiritual hunger grows. We learn to wake up and channel our hunger for God.

This is huge for us because most disciples don’t want to be spiritually “asleep”. But many have become dulled by the huge amount of distraction in our lives. Busyness is the greatest enemy to your spiritual life.

The good news is that hunger can be infectious – in fact it often is! Hang out with those on-fire for God and you will find it difficult to remain unchanged.

Waking up and getting specific

“What would you like me to do for you?” Jesus asked blind Bartimaus; the man answered and God responded. (Mark 10:46-52)

He would say the same to you today. There is something about getting specific and articulating our prayers out loud. How can you pray for your spouse, your child, your colleague, your neighbour, your city today?

How can you pray for the church? Heaven has a beautiful plan for our church – it is unfolding all the time. It far exceeds our expectations. No-one could have strategised for some of the things we have witnessed. But prayer and seeing God’s ways become reality is a partnership, and there is a call to faithfulness – will you play your part?

Do we pray to God?

You would presume so, but maybe not. The scripture tells us that Jesus Christ ever lives to make intercession for us. It also tells us Holy Spirit groans in prayer for us.

WOW! That revelation should WAKE US UP!

Two members of the Godhead pray for YOU all the time. So maybe we need to put down the idea of coming before God with a list of what we think or would like Him to do for us, and instead join in with our part in the prayers prayed through the Trinity.

Learning to pray with God rather than to God changes everything.

We are learning to pray from Him, in Him, through Him, to Him.

Worship really helps us to pray like this.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:6 we read: “So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clear headed.”

“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” v16-18

So basically a prayer life is a worship sandwich. We praise, we pray, we give thanks.

And through this we learn to listen and to partner in prayer.
This is a time for hunger, not slumber.

Posted in Attitude, Power & Presence, Prayer | 1 Comment

Are you a Happy Soul?

“The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day is to have my soul happy in the Lord” George Müller 

One of the things I love to do in holiday seasons is to visit the stories of familiar and unfamiliar heroes of the faith to be inspired by their lives and stories and learn from the habits which led them to leading such lives of significance. This summer I read a biography of George Müller, a hugely significant pastor in the 1800’s in Bristol. In addition to seeing many people come to faith in Jesus Christ, Müller established several schools and ran orphanages for several thousand children never asking for donations, yet they received today’s equivalent of millions of pounds. He always insisted on the fact that he didn’t have a particular gift of faith but rather he learnt to experience the grace of God.

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Muller also had a beard any hipster would be proud of

Before reading this biography I had heard someone tell the story of the day that Müller was told that the bread and milk in all the orphanages had completely run out and that they were in trouble. His first response was to say to his team “Let’s see what miracle will happen now, this is a great opportunity to see our Father at work”.  By something like 9.30am, half an hour later, the local milkman had felt the need to drop by and offer the orphanage container loads of milk and 10 minutes later there was a knock at the door and it was the local baker. It is an astounding story of provision but what caught my attention was Müller’s immediate faith response.

I think if we’re honest our first response to a crisis isn’t like this. After some anxious thoughts and words and a bit of worry and strategising, we then realise there might be no other way but God’s way.

Cultivating a thankful life –
Is your glass half-full, or half-empty?

It was interesting to me to then read this man’s biography and to discover what lay behind such a faith mindset – the discipline of thankfulness. Every day as Müller got up he looked in the mirror and began thanking God for all His blessings. He deliberately called to mind and listed out loud different things that he was thankful for each day. It would appear he became not only thankful but joyful and full of faith.

He writes:

 “According to my judgement the most important point to be attended to is this: above all things see to it that your souls are happy in the Lord. Other things may press upon you, the Lord’s work may even have urgent claims upon your attention, but I deliberately repeat, it is of supreme and paramount importance that you should seek above all things to have your souls truly happy in God Himself! Day by day seek to make this the most important business of your life. This has been my firm and settled condition for the last five and thirty years.
For the first four years after my conversion I knew not its vast importance, but now after much experience I specially commend this point to the notice of my younger brethren and sisters in Christ: the secret of all true effectual service is joy in God, having experimental acquaintance and fellowship with God Himself.”

Two years ago I personally experienced some difficult unforeseen circumstances when I lost my job and my sense of purpose overnight. I remember the first morning I got up and looked in the mirror after hearing the news (with some sad thoughts in my head). I felt compelled to start giving thanks out loud for everything good in my life. It was food to my soul and soon my glass seemed half-full rather than half-empty. Some months later I had experienced more joy than ever before in my life.

The Hebrew people of the Old Testament believed in a God who was consistent, good, merciful and for that they gave thanks. By contrast, the other gods of the day were temperamental, vengeful, inconsistent and unforgiving. The children of Israel were different as a people, they had a relationship with their God. The New Testament church had such a revelation of God’s grace and the joy of Jesus they overflowed in thankfulness:

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus”. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

14-like-symbol-on-facebook-free-cliparts-that-you-can-download-to-you-0wvbv9-clipartAs Christians we are heirs with Christ which means we get to share in both the glory and the grit and the suffering (Romans 8). We are called to surrender our lives, listen and obey, go to the cross, take up our cross but very importantly to Enjoy God and be Full of Joy! Interestingly, I have heard that the church in China today, which is so fruitful and expansive, talks about joy and thankfulness being the energy of the Holy Spirit!

In my family we are learning about laughing together and enjoying life as we spend time together (amidst a good few arguments too!). As a church we are learning about having a lot of fun, so it’s not all too serious or we take ourselves too seriously. Over Christmas I noticed that for both the church and the family this is very important. But the gateway to this (so it’s not false or just frivolous) is always thankfulness. A life that begins the day with a thankful heart.

thanksgiving

As a mum, a wife and a leader I took time this last week to review the year gone by through the lens of thankfulness, speaking it out loud! I’m currently reviewing the present and the future and choosing to do the same. May I encourage you to begin this year seeing your glass as half-full, at the very least!

glass

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Every person, every day, everywhere

Jesus taught his disciples that the presence of the Spirit of God was critical to all they were to accomplish.

Of course God is omnipresent – He exists everywhere – but I have also learnt that He loves to turn up somewhere. And we would love that to be in our homes and in our local church and through our daily lives.

Jesus modeled how to spend time with His Father God, how to pursue intimacy –get up early in the morning, withdraw from the crowd, go into the wilderness, look to heaven when in need of a miracle. He taught them how to recognise God’s presence by His Spirit. And he taught them that there was no power outside of this relationship: “..the Son of man can do nothing by himself” (John 5:19).

Nick and I have always loved the story found in the bible in John chapter 4 where Jesus meets a woman at a well whose life (below the surface) is in a bit of a mess. He has supernatural insight into the details of her life and points her towards a Father in Heaven who loves her. That encounter leads this same woman to go out and bring transformation “to her whole village”.  “Come and meet the man who told me everything I ever did”.

When God shows up everything changes.

People encounter God easily where there is a tangible sense that God is simply there. I have witnessed this time and time again. And an encounter with God in someone’s life brings a revelation of who God is and when they see God in His supreme goodness they are drawn to turn to him.

When God shows up, everything changes.

When you engage with God’s living presence, people will be drawn to you and you will be drawn to people.

Our God is missional. He does the reaching, the pursuing, the sending, the encountering through us. I often hear Christians pray something that sounds like “Father we want to touch your heart”, “Show us your glory…” And He probably replies “People are my heart. You will find me amongst the people.”

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If we really engage with God’s presence – the upward and inward journey – it will inevitably turn us outward. It’s impossible for it not to, because God is missional.

It’s not an “inner” world journey,
it’s a  “wide world” one.

God does not want us to produce introspective disciples.

He isn’t just reordering our private world, or indeed only giving us an ‘encounter’ with his Spirit. He is interested in shaping us to transform societies, change cities, create shifts in culture. It’s not an “inner” world journey, it’s a  “wide world” one.  His heart is never for us to be mystics divorced from reality.

Engage with Him and others will find Him through you. It’s inevitable.

It’s impossible to have intimacy with God without impact. Intimacy with God will lead you to be involved with other people.

Every person, every day, everywhere.

And do you know what? It’s not very difficult! Sometimes we’ll get that nudge, and He will make clear to us that we’re to be intentional with the impact we’re to have. At other times we will be beautifully unaware of the impact we are having simply by being “someone who has been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Followers of Jesus who spend time with Him carry a presence and power that has the potential to change atmospheres and lives.

This year I’ve kept a diary, recording how people we have been drawn to God and His presence. Here’s a snapshot:

March 2016 “I turned around and a Sikh man in a turban was worshiping behind me in The Well service tonight. It took me a moment to clock that this was unusual. At the end of the service he came and found us, took our hands and exclaimed “I have been to heaven”, he repeated this several times. And then he told us his story.

He lived outside of the city in Doncaster and he began noticing that his Turkish next door neighbour (formerly a muslim) was really changing and becoming very happy. When he asked her why, she told him that you could come to this place in Sheffield called The Well and meet God! So he determined to come and find the place. But as he set off down the motorway he realised he had left his sat-nav behind and had no way of finding the place, so he decided to drive into the city centre and just ask someone. Here’s the best bit of the story – he spotted a young man, drove up beside him (this was on Abbeydale Road, quite some distance from us) and asked him if he had ever heard of a church called ‘The Well’? The young German guy he asked was actually on his way there for the Sunday night service! He’s been attending for the last few months. So he hopped into the car and directed our Sikh friend. We told this man how this sense of heaven was actually a person and his name was Jesus. He was grateful to receive prayer to encounter Jesus and a Bible to get to know Jesus better.

The next week I turned around and was surprised to see our new friend alongside a whole row of Sikhs in the service! And so I went to meet our new friend’s family but this is what they said: “We don’t know each other, we have just met, we just happen to be Sikh as well!”. I hoped I hadn’t been rude but inside my head I was thinking “God you are having a laugh!”
The newest couple told me their story: “We were on the way to the Sikh temple and the road was blocked off because of a half-marathon, so we decided let’s just go to this temple instead. It’s clear that God is here. Then we heard the people telling these stories about Jesus, we have never heard anything like this before.” So we gave them all bibles and I did laugh to myself  – a row of ‘seeking Sikhs’ – all supernaturally drawn to the presence of Jesus!”


February 2016: Revival in the local Gym!

“It’s Friday and we’re back in the gym again. It’s really exciting what’s happening with our friend Nick who we first got to know in the gym. He was one of those characters everyone is drawn to and everyone loves. One day as we drove out of the car park we said to each other “Wouldn’t it be super to have him planting the church, he would be a ‘gatekeeper’ to open the door so many others.” At that time we didn’t know that he had once been part of church life years ago, and now he’s become one of the many de-churched people we have seen turn back to God this year. He was in church the next week (to our surprise invited by his partner) and began helping us with the music and sound systems. But as time went on Nick began to really encounter God, sometimes crying, and he began to really change. Looking back now, he now says he had never really personally encountered God before.

When I walked into the gym café today a circle of men were sitting around Nick, he was chatting to them and there was a Bible on the table. Nick introduced me to some of the men, and one of them told me how he has been coming to our services and sitting in our café listening. He says it brings him peace. The rest of the men haven’t been yet but something was happening right there in the gym. I’m struck by how complex some of their life stories are and I’m reminded how simple God and His love is. I’m then suddenly reminded that I had a dream about being in a conversation with one of these individuals one night – how strange. God must be after him.

A team of us are planning a trip to the Calais jungle and the other men are interested in this, so we have lots to chat about (Some are really against the idea!).

Our friends from the Vineyard church in Ireland told us in the first year of church planting you will spend a lot of time with unchurched people and a lot of time drinking coffee – it was good advice.

I went upstairs to my gym class and I see Helen my friend and one of our team standing praying for a woman in the middle of the aerobics class! I think I was a bit shocked but the woman seems very grateful. The instructor she prayed for last week then tells us her leg is better and she has been healed! We invite her to church.”

 

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The presence and power of God in the local church

The New Testament church was devoted to prayer. They learnt to welcome, recognise and wait on the tangible presence of God. Page after page tells the story of signs, wonders and miracles. The New Testament church seemed to preach a simple gospel with a clear demonstration of power. Simple church.

The challenge for the western church is that with so many different movements and ideologies and emphasis there is often a complicated gospel with little power.

As we considered birthing a new church last year we sat and thought about how we would love it to be incredibly loving and for that to happen our people would need to know that they are loved. Loved people love people. And we dreamed about how we might love to engage with the existing communities of our city and for our approach as a church to be servant-hearted.
But deep down we knew the only thing that would really mark us as different to any other community, from a pub to a club, would be the presence of God. And so we were clear we wanted the local church and the lives of our people to be known for the presence and power of God. The presence of God would define us.

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The early church flourished against all odds because they simply followed the instructions Jesus had given them: Preach the gospel, heal the sick, drive out demons, Love God, love one another etc. They had a huge impact on the world around them and we would be foolish to try to impact the world around us by other means.

A powerless gospel isn’t good news to anyone.

What does it look like to actively pursue the presence of God? I learnt a lesson about this 10 years previously, when leading another church. At that time the church was really growing and lots of good stuff was happening but deep down we began to long for something more for the people being drawn to the church. It was the tangible power of the gospel that we were seeking.
In other words, are people’s lives really changing and are they experiencing freedom and breakthrough?

A powerless gospel isn’t good news to anyone. So if the local church is not a power agent for the community around it –people are being short changed.

Nick and I are the kind of people who’ll always run off at 100 miles an hour, doing lots of stuff. But in that season God invited us to clear our diaries once a week (really clear them) and lie on the floor learning to wait on God. It was basically learning to enjoy God with no agenda, worship, rest in God, receive His love. It was a bit of shock to begin with, and our minds would wander all over the place!

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We set up weekly corporate gatherings where there was no plan, no ‘running order’, no worship set. The only plan was to turn up and wait on God and see what happened. Often most people would end up lying on the floor, half as an act of surrender, half as in a posture to receive God’s affirmation and smile.

It was a pleasant surprise at the time – I guess I’ve learnt the connection now – that this waiting season was followed by a kingdom outbreak season, of seeing many people physically healed and a whole load of people saved and journey on to be disciples. The presence of God was falling and moving us. It was so strong that on a number of occasions people passed by the outside of our church building and suddenly felt compelled to come in, resulting in them becoming Christians.

Many people are spiritually hungry all around us and more spiritually aware than we actually realise.

We saw the power of God at work as we prayed for people out on the streets. And our next door neighbour turned up at our front door one night out of the blue and asked to experience or have “the spiritual sense that is coming from your house”! Much to our surprise this unchurched lady turned up at our church the next week and surrendered her life to Jesus, kneeling at the foot of the cross, and was baptised the following Sunday. It was beautiful.

Many people are spiritually hungry all around us and more spiritually aware than we actually realise. You will be meeting people all the time who are eager to experience a power beyond themselves. They need to be introduced to the person of Jesus. We need to expect that to be a real, radical, powerful encounter.

This year I’ve kept a diary, recording how people we have been drawn to God and His presence. Here’s a snapshot:

Saturday November 21st 2015 “This thing about just being drawn in seems to be increasing, it’s really odd. A middle aged nice couple came in today to the cafe and asked for a drink of water and the husband grabbed hold of my arm and said “What is going on?” I said “Excuse me..” and he interrupted and said “this place is a magnet”. “My wife and I were out shopping, we are from Birmingham and we came to visit our student daughter and we kept passing by and feeling drawn to the place. He kept shaking his head in disbelief continuing ”We passed to the left of the building and to the right. And we said to ourselves this is very strange, we have to go in. But we had no reason to come in and so we walked back up the hill to our car as the parking ticket was running out. But when we got to the car my wife said “buy another ticket, we have to go back!” – “What is going on?” the man continued, the place is a magnet, can you explain?”.

I can’t remember what I said about the presence of God but I asked the couple if we could bless them (we have now learnt to pray a simple prayer of blessing over lots of people who don’t know why they are there –it’s quite helpful because we are often in shock too!) and within 5 minutes the couple were standing up at the altar (they said they wanted to go there!) with some of our team prophesying over them – they seemed genuinely very blessed!. They asked if they could stay with us a while longer. When they were leaving they told me that they used to go to church but that they hadn’t been for over 20 years but that they would now go and look for a church community in Birmingham. Bless them!”

Here’s one more:

Sunday September 26th 2015 “I met another very well dressed young man at the café hatch, he also thought it was a bar and was trying to get a drink (in the end he got a different kind!). He had already been having a drink in the pub next door and come outside and met some of our street team.  From day one we have always tried to have people out on the streets in branded t-shirts and often more exciting stories are happening outside the church than inside (I have to try and not get distracted watching it all through the glass as I preach!). He said he thought it was a club because of the house music (fair enough!), but he too also began asking questions about what was in the air.

We asked him if he would like to join us for the worship service and he agreed. The funny thing was he sat up beside Nick in the front row and joined in everything passionately (I guess he had no framework for church!) Some of the team thought he was a visiting church leader but our new friend had never been to church before! I think these people may knock the churchyness out of us!”

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#OpentheWell

“They had been out shopping on Ecclesall Road and felt drawn into the building “as if a magnet was drawing them” they reported.”

“A local student prayed to become a Christian last Saturday, her housemate was in church on Sunday.”

Many of you have asked us to share some of the stories of what is happening at The Well, so here goes…Firstly, thank you to all of you who made a way to #OpenTheWell – those who have journeyed with us as the starting team, those who have jumped in since and are part of the family, those who have prayed for us across the world – others of you who have supported us and cheered us on – you are all part of the adventure and we are very humbled to see God at work.

Well, what a start we’ve had since we opened our doors with a community party and hog roast on 20th September!  While we are known to be people of faith, the journey has far exceeded our expectations in many different ways. 11 weeks on, we’ve more than doubled in size from our launch team numbers and we’re in the process of allowing God to mould us into a new community of faith with a base on Ecclesall Road, but a heart and vision for Sheffield and beyond. We feel very dependent upon God.

party

One of the words we’ve heard most often in the past few months is “excited”. Often people are honest enough to say it also feels like ‘stepping out of the boat’ with Jesus. It’s a privilege for us all to be part of a new thing that God has birthed. This is a season to be full of vision, dreaming and expectation, and to take deliberate steps towards the kind of community we can become. Our vision is the kingdom and the lost, and our values are important at this early stage (read them here). Already as we’ve prioritised His presence by our worship, God has been powerfully and beautifully present in our morning and evening gatherings. It’s also such good fun to share lots of food and hang-out time with many, and to have served 100s of cups of good coffee in the cafe (we have definitely both eaten too much cake recently!)

cafe

Changed lives

We are so proud of how the launch team, and many who’ve joined The Well since September, have given so much of their energies, time, finances, commitment to welcoming so many new faces in the past 2 months. It really feels like a new extended-family is growing among us.
At every Sunday gathering, every week and indeed throughout the week, we welcome folk of all ages who have never been to church, and many returning ‘prodigals’ (both young and old) who’ve been put-off/away from church for many years. All are having fresh encounters with God. We have also been greatly blessed by the number of gifted leaders who have joined us from all across the city, because right now, it’s a case of all hands on deck.

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There are wonderful and varied stories as to how the Lord is drawing people to Him and to us at this time. One couple came through the doors of the church last month, not having been inside a church for over 15 years. They had been out Saturday-shopping and said they felt drawn into the building “as if a magnet was drawing them.” They passed to the left and right of the building several times before they could no longer deny the sense of urgency to come in! What a privilege to pray for them to then encounter God right at the front of the church. We have had many similar stories over recent weeks and are amazed at how God’s Spirit is moving.

What’s going on?

Many people have asked us to comment on how and why this is happening. It’s clear that the building is a place of God’s presence (and we very much honour the Methodist heritage in this), and that the worship of our people at this point in time has activated something and increased that sense of God. Please pray for us that we can continue to worship, to steward and to lead well.

“What’s different about this place?”

Young adults frequently end up in our midst drawn by the contemporary feel and signage – on one night a young man had been drinking in the pub next door with his friends, came in for coffee and cake and ended up on the front row of church for the entire service! Some have come through social media, several of whom did not realise we are a church (they entered thinking it was a bar/club but stayed because of the welcome and the sense of the presence of God). Others are drawn initially by the supernatural sense of God but continue to return because of the sense of family.
On our launch night one man came through the door at the end of the night (not aware that it was a church service) and asked “what’s different about this place?” He’s returned every week and is currently on the Alpha course.  We praise God for the level of transformation we see in his life already.

YADS_Well

Others are being drawn through networks of friends – one of our friends from our gym started coming in September and has radically encountered God – his friend from the gym then joined us this Sunday – having seen such a transformation in his friend’s life. We are praying that more of our personal friends will turn to God at this time.

A student who lives opposite the church prayed to become a Christian on Saturday – on Sunday her housemate was in church beside her. We love the fact that the local students recently commented on Twitter how the church over the road has a party every Sunday night – such is the sense of life and fun! It would be good for that to continue.twitter students

We also love the fact that even at our vision and values night last week there were one or two young people who have not yet become Christians, but they want to be in the middle of what God is doing – that was a first for us!

In essence, having led churches for many years we would simply say that this is a very particular time for us, a harvest time, and it feels like things are in acceleration and we are chasing after God. We are amazed at Who He is and all that He does!

So what’s next and what can you pray for?

  • Christmas outreach, the weekend of 12/13th December, many of us will be taking to Ecclesall Road with the good news of Christmas. We are partnering with the local Sharrowvale Christmas market so look out for us there if you are around Sheffield
  • Our discipleship courses for new Christians beginning in January
  • In the new year we will be birthing communities across the city, please pray for this process and for our leadership training
  • Finally for our plans brewing to open a supernatural café, where people can come to encounter God, receive healing, hope, direction etc and to develop our work with the poor and vulnerable of this city and overseas

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Our update – all is well

By way of update on our news, this post is a copy of an interview we’ve just done:


Yorkshire Baptist Association

In June 2015 Revd. Nick and Marjorie Allan sat down with Revd. Graham Ensor, Regional Minister of the Yorkshire Baptist Association (YBA), to talk about the church they are planting in central Sheffield.  Here’s what they said:


Graham E: “So tell us, what is The Well?

The Well, SheffieldNick: The Well is a new plant into the student/young adult heartland of the city of Sheffield, on one of our busiest streets. The core team began as a spiritual extended-family with a clear mission to the city, a mix of several families with young kids and some young adults/professionals. We’ve journeyed closely together over the past few years through life’s ups and downs, and we felt that journey was to continue. Since then, a few others have sensed God’s call to join in, so now we’re a mixed bunch of all-ages and backgrounds, ready for whatever is next.
We’re at www.wellsheffield.com

Marjorie: “What we all probably have in common is a passion for Jesus, His presence and purposes and a passion for our city. Yes, I think it is fair to say that we all dream for Sheffield, and our prayer is that through the Lord our dreams would shape a city. People are probably aware that in April 2015 we stepped out of leading St Thomas’ Philadelphia, after almost a decade on senior team of its umbrella Network Church Sheffield. Yet, throughout this whole process we’ve both carried a strong sense that our time in this city is not up yet, the next chapter is yet to develop…

Nick: So for Marjorie and me our mindset is not so much that we are ministers planting a church but rather we are missionaries loving a people and a place, and leading others to do the same. In fact, our vision is not just to plant a local church but to plant a church that would train others to plant more churches in due course.

GE: So The Well is a Baptist plant?

Nick: Yes!  I don’t think Marjorie and I would have been ready to embark on this journey before now, though some of our younger friends have planted over the years. I think only now have we reached a point in our lives and leadership, that we have developed our own values and sense of direction and a desire to live out particular passions. I think this might be best summed up as a journey exploring “what does it look like to build communities where the missional life and the supernatural life really come together?” The power and presence of God channelled out to neighbours and our world around us.

As a Baptist minister it’s been really important to me to go on this journey in mutual accountability of weighing a call from our own Christian friends and others to plant a new community – and I’m so grateful for the grace and welcoming support the YBA and yourselves [Graham and Mary] as Baptist Regional Ministers have extended to us.

GE:  “Tell us about the provision of the incredible building on Ecclesall Road?”

Marjorie: Yes, Ecclesall Road is such a focal point in Sheffield that when a respected Methodist church sadly closed its congregation after 111 years, we felt it was a God-given opportunity to keep His life and good news alive in the premises and area. So after a mutual discernment process which included the YBA, the Methodists and ourselves, we were invited to plant a new church into the Horizon church building. We were super excited when we got that telephone call – and we’re very aware of the wonderful missionary heritage of this place.Horizon building, Ecclesall Rd

We find it interesting that the congregation that had been here for 111 years, serving faithfully, came to an end in April of this year, the month that we stepped out of our context and became available to begin something new.

But while we’re very aware of the significance and opportunities that come with this site, our heart remains for the city as a whole. 10 years ago we moved into our home in Nether Edge and named it “Hope House.” Over this decade, community has formed around this home, there have been many parties celebrated in the garden, meals around the table, powerful times of prayer in the front room, tragedies comforted, sick bodies made well. We would love to see many communities and similar ‘Houses of Hope’ around this city. Homes where disciples are made.

GE: So why have you named the church The Well?

Marjorie: Because over the past few months we’ve heard the Lord say in various ways, and through various people, that in this new season we are to “dig new wells” – welcoming the Holy Spirit to move in the city – and “open up old wells of the past”. It is fascinating that a local river actually runs through the church garden – right in the centre of the city.

When I walk into the main boOldWelldy of this church I often cry these days – there is already such a sense of the presence of God here. As we have done our homework we’ve discovered that this building was once a place of significant physical healing. I love the story in John 4 where the woman at the well encounters Jesus, His incredible love and prophetic power, it transforms her life and she in turn transforms a whole community.

GE: This sounds very exciting – When and how will you begin, what will it look like?

Nick: Well, our journey has already begun with core team in worship, prayer and painting! Without a doubt worship, prayer and engaging with the presence of God is the starting point. We open our doors on September 20th and will probably begin with an open-party celebrating with the neighbourhood.

We’re clear that this is a missionary journey reaching the unchurched. The young adults of this city and students (around 60,000) are a huge unreached people group for the gospel, so we’re passionate to have a part to play alongside the other churches in reaching them. As it happens, the first friends we have made here are actually two men with alcohol addiction who bring their friends and sit on the steps – there’s a lot of hidden poverty and loneliness to city life.

If we’re to be true to ourselves we will have a particular focus on the young and the poor and bringing the two together. But Ecclesall Road is not just student town, it is also the natural place of belonging for the business folk of the city and it is probably not by chance that I embark on this journey with some of my close friends who are themselves city people, who long to see a city transformed.  As we listen to the Lord, no doubt he will guide our steps in where/who to engage with.

Marjorie: I think we will be begin with dreaming! Wide awake dreaming, empowering people to dream again for their lives and for this city. Whenever you begin something new it can seem messy, and I’ve no doubt we will surely make mistakes, but it’s an adventure and, yes, we are excited!

GE: You mention the young adults of this city – how do you intend to go about reaching them?

Nick: Well, Jesus came to “seek and save that which was lost” and we are aware that whenever Jesus spoke to people, He used the language and culture they understood. Our experience has been that today’s generation longs for genuine relationship. They are drawn to family and equally to a tangible experience of the power and presence of God. They’re also the best ones to reach their friends, one by one. So, real relationships with God and others would be a good starting point. The next challenge is to see a generation learn to shape their lives by scripture and we are equally passionate about this.

Marjorie: I imagine the church will have a contemporary feel going forward, that’s important. Much of our set-up costs are being invested in sofas, good PA equipment and coffee machines! But for me, being culturally relevant isn’t so much just becoming like the culture around us, but modelling what the culture longs to become.

GE: So what is your relationship with Network Church Sheffield (NCS) and St Thomas’?

Nick: We would like it to be a good one going forwards. We’re currently birthing something new, since we are no longer part of NCS – because of being made redundant along with some other staff team due to financial restrictions in February 2015. Yet we very much bless NCS and are very grateful for all that we have learnt over the last 10 years as senior staff.

While we were sad to leave that church, we leave behind many friends and great leaders who we believe will continue to fulfill the call of that church in the city, and we bless Peter and Anne Findley in their leadership.

In essence, we would love to partner with anyone for the kingdom of God in this city. These past few weeks we’ve actively spent time meeting some of the great local church leaders in the area, building relationships and communication – and that’s been really good. There is only one King and His name is Jesus!

GE: Can people give financial gifts of support in the start-up phase?

Yes, a few people have asked about how they might give financial gifts to The Well as it opens. We would be very grateful for any support as we’re starting from scratch as a group of friends.

Please contact finance@wellsheffield.com for more info.

GE: So who is welcome at The Well?

Nick (laughing): Someone willing to get stuck in – it will be all hands on deck!

Anyone is welcome. Jesus has already told us that we are to treat people according to their destiny, not their history. But this is not a church for those unhappy with other churches. We are not encouraging anyone to leave an existing church. While there are many churches in this city, there remains much kingdom work to be done. We are primarily a church for those who do not yet know God in Sheffield and we trust that the Father will send us the right people to join that missionary journey.

Marjorie: For us, the life of a disciple is about learning to listen to Jesus and doing exactly what we believe He says… sometimes that may be more than you have dared to dream, ask or imagine; sometimes it may involve laying down other dreams and navigating disappointment, becoming dependent on Him through weakness. But we serve an incredible God of love who longs for us to serve His cities and towns.



Graham closes:

“It’s been a real privilege to journey with Nick and Marjorie and the core team at The Well, seeing God open one door after another and pave the way for a new church plant on the Ecclesall Road in Sheffield. On occasions the journey has been challenging – but God’s grace has always proved more than sufficient for the challenges.

If truth be known they are only at the beginning of a journey not the end of it – so they need our prayer now more than ever, for as we all know, ‘unless the Lord builds a house, the builders labour in vain….’ So, let’s be excited by all that has happened to date, but let’s trust and pray for much more that is to come.

Please continue to pray for Nick and Marjorie and the core team; and if you feel inspired and feel God is calling you to church plant why not get in touch with the YBA team so we can tell you of the support and opportunities we provide for local churches.”

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Copyright Alex Baker Photography-www.alexbakerphotography.com

Graham Ensor – Regional Minister, Yorkshire Baptist Association

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