Monthly Archives: November 2011

"So What?" Practical Bible Reading Tips

I read this today and thought others might find it helpful. Its from Alex Absolom and focusses on helpful tips to read the Bible to hear God speaking to you. I hope you find it helpful as well.

If you are stuck, or always finding Bible reading dry, or you’ve just not read Bible for ages, here are some practical ideas to restart regular Bible reading.

They fall within the big point of Bible reading, which is answering the “SO WHAT?” question.

If discipleship is hearing Jesus and obeying Him, and if the primary way Jesus is revealed is through the Bible, then we need to learn to hear and obey His voice in Scripture.  Thus, when I read something, the key question is, “So what am I going to do in response?”.  My goal is not to gather more knowledge (although that is helpful) – my goal is to become more like Jesus, which means I respond to His word to me that I am reading or hearing.

As I read the Bible, I try to be always attentive to the “SO WHAT?” question, so that I can be shaped by Jesus.  These ideas are trying to help people find practical ways to refresh that process when it has grown a little stale (which, of course, is a universal experience!).

1. Stop and listen – Take time to listen (that is what it means to come as a lover of God).  The point is to stop, even if time is short and it is simply reading a verse from the Psalms and bowing your head in genuine stillness for 1 minute.
2. Have a realistic plan – eg it is better to do a few minutes every day than to do 1 ½ hrs on day 1 and then give up!
3. Come in worship – I love playing loud live worship music, such as Jesus Culture/ Bethel Church, Hillsongs United, Matt Redman and then reading the Bible.  Work out what works for you.
4. Use a Bible reading plan (try something on
5. Use a devotional book or Bible reading notes.
6. Different lengths – Some days take one verse and meditate on it, while on other days read a long chunk of the Bible.  Have variety!
7. Use a different translation – That will cause you to see familiar passages differently.
8. Read with kids – They see things so well, that we tend to hide from.  Use both ‘full’ Bibles and children’s Bibles eg The Jesus Storybook Bible
9. Picture it – Visualize the scene in your mind and see what Jesus says to you.
10. Eat your PEAS! – Is there a… Promise to claim?  Example to follow?  Attitude to change?  Sin to confess?
11. a verse/ write it on a card/ put it on your phone, and then look at it throughout day.  Allow it to shape your day.
12. Listen to the Bible in an audio version – Find times when that will work for you, such as in your car, when you are cooking or when you are exercising.  There are free versions available at, or you can buy it on CDs/MP3s.
13. Read it out loud – You will experience the Bible differently.
14. Read at unexpected times – eg Put a Bible in your bathroom, in car for when you are waiting for the kids, download a Bible app for your phone, etc
15. Physical location – Create a regular place at home where you go to worship, read the Bible and pray.
16. Read a parallel book/novel based upon the Bible – This should make you want to go back and check out the original version of the story.

Finally, if you are in a dry place with Bible reading, it is worth simply asking God why.  What’s going on?  Sometimes He withdraws to invite us to pursue Him.  Other times there is sin in our life that is causing the blockage.  It might be that we are simply lacking in self-discipline and need to work around that.  Don’t be afraid to do this, because Jesus will challenge us deeply while also showing us the way forward.


Change – But How? Part 2

To follow on from my last post the first thing I need to say is that I have lots of questions, but I don’t have many answers! I believe the church in this country is moving unto uncharted waters, the maps we have used in the past may still be of some use but that use is limited. Someone recently described the job of church leadership today as being akin to trying to fly a plane whilst building it when the pilot has never had flight lessons! I know how the writer feels!

At the end of my last post I mentioned the new group that has formed around our connections with young families. The roots of this go back a number of years with our St Paul’s Lambs parent & toddler group. In September last year Clare took on the leadership of this group. She led it in a different and initially surprising way, in that she didn’t continue with the more overtly Christian elements of Christian nursery songs and bible stories! Instead the focus was on the opportunity to build friendships and relationships within a relaxed and welcoming setting. The group grew quickly to around 20 families on a regular basis.

Last Autumn, as an experiment, Clare and others organised a Carols and Cupcakes gathering on a Sunday afternoon and despite the snow five families came. This developed into approximately bi-monthly Under 5s Tea Services on Sunday afternoons which now welcom about 15 families each time.

Alongside this in January we ran our annual Alpha Course which was attended by a number of guests. Out of this course a new small group started. One of the things I noticed was that a number of the people in the new group were also supporting the Under 5s group and the Sunday Tea Services. It made sense to make this link clearer and now the mission focus of the small group is our work with young families, and in particular the Sunday afternoon Tea Services.

The lesson I am learning from this is that the heart of the small group, the heart of the Under 5s and Under 2s groups and the heart of the Sunday afternoon Tea Services is relationship. Loving and committed relationships that are expressed in multiple ways. The relationships go beyond services and small groups. What is being formed is not a service or congregation, it is not a small group or fellowship group. It is a Missional Community, a community of disciples who are involved in mission together and are together learning and growing as friends of Jesus.

For the young families that we are reaching their expression of the Christian faith may look very different to the expressions we have grown up with. These families may never attend a ‘service’ as we know it, and the children may never attend Sunday school as we know it. What we need to find is an expression of faith, worship and community that is right for these families and not try to force them into what we know and prefer. I don’t know what that will look like, but I’m looking forward to finding out in the coming months and years.

Next time I’ll look at Alpha and how my thoughts on how we use it may need to change…

Change – But How? Part 1

So I’ve written about the need to change, and some of the areas where we need to change. So far so good, I assume everyone agrees as I’ve received no comments!

Now for the difficult question – how do we make the changes? It’s one thing recognising the need, it’s another thing altogether to actually change ourselves.

Here are my thoughts.

One of the things I have recognised over the past few years is that it is exceptionally difficult to take an existing structure and change it to something that looks quite different. In my Vicar’s report at the end of 2008 I wrote: “September 2008 was also the time when the nature of our Small Groups changed. Over the years these groups have been known as Prayer Groups, Fellowship Groups and Bible Study Groups. This year we have drawn together all the meanings behind these names and added the dimension of mission and outreach… Our groups have been encouraged to meet with a roughly monthly pattern based around our Church Vision. One week each month they focus on relationship with God, another week they focus on love, support and care for each other, another week they focus on mission, outreach and service and the fourth week they focus on being Christian Community together… This is not an easy change to make and will take a period of months if not years to become truly part of who we are as a church community.”

September 2008 was three years ago. Reflecting back on this change I think we have to be honest in saying that it hasn’t led to a big increase in our community expressions of mission! There has been some, and that is to be welcomed, but some groups have hardly embraced this change at all.

One group has served the community in Sarisbury Bungalows in Coldeast, and it’s wonderful to see the relationships that have grown between the members of that group and the residents and staff and this may be one of the reasons we have seen people from Sarisbury Bungalows more regularly on a Sunday morning. Another group has arranged a monthly coffee morning in our church building that is open to everyone. The first year saw very few visitors, some came in the second year and two are now regular members of our church community, but numbers have again dropped in the past year.

So has the change been worthwhile? Absolutely yes. It may not have seen the fruit that some of us long for yet, but it is absolutely vital that we keep mission on the agenda for every group within the life of our church community until we do change.

In Matt 6 Jesus tells us: “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [food, drink, clothes, our necessities] will be given to you as well.” My reflection here picks up on a comment I made in my last post, the church is as effected by the consumer mentality as the society in which we live. We are good at seeking our own comfort and our own preferences and not good at seeking God’s kingdom. The reality for many of us is that we’ve got used to things they way they are and we quite like them that way. Change is uncomfortable and risky and for change to happen we either need exceptionally good reasons and motivation to agree to the change or the change is forced on us and we then have to learn to adapt to new circumstances.

In the changes we are making we are trying to insert the vision, values and practices of mission into structures where they don’t easily fit. For mission to happen it cannot be an add on, it has to be at the heart and foundation of our lives and structures and this may simply be a step too far for some existing structures.

So how do we change. Firstly we don’t abandon the existing structures but continue to exert loving and gentle influence to seek to mould them to become more kingdom shaped. This takes time, a long time!

But secondly we must ensure the existing structures don’t absorb more of our time, energy and resources than are absolutely necessary. We do this to create the time and space for new things to emerge, new groups, structures and communities that have the missional vision at their heart and foundation.

Two such missional groups have emerged within St Paul’s over the past months. The first has its roots in work with young families and a group that came from our Alpha course back in January. The second is a more recent Alpha group that is very different to any Alpha I have been involved with before and is leading me to re-examine how Alpha happens. More of these in my next post …

What needs to change in today's church?

Last week I suggested that the church as it is today needs to change. We need to change for the sake of the 96% who have no meaningful connection with Jesus or his followers. If we need to change the next question is what needs to change? Here are my thoughts.

We need to quit coming to church and become the church. We’ve talked abut this, especially in our series earlier this year on “What is church?” But the idea of church as a service on a Sunday morning in a Victorian building is so ingrained in us that it is incredibly difficult to change. The church is not a service or a building and does not have to involve singing, organs, choirs or sermons. Whenever and wherever Christians get together the church is present. That means that there are members of St Paul’s who NEVER attend a Sunday service but who are just as much part of our church community as those who do attend Sunday services.

Our focus must change from getting to giving. Sadly much of the church today reflects the consumer priorities of the society in which we live. Archbishop William Temple famously once wrote, “The church is the only organization that exists for the benefit of its non-members.” We are so used to consuming that we bring that attitude to church and changing our attitudes is not easy. (See my blog post about restaurant or bring & share).

We need to change from being a church that does mission things/events to become a community of missionaries. Mission events are good but they can also have other effects. So often only a few people are actually involved and the rest of the church community let them get on with it and feel good because ‘the church’ is doing something. I also think that sometimes mission events don’t actually provide the environment for building long term relationships which are the foundation for people to come to faith. Missionaries have the long term commitment to build relationships with a purpose. They are willing to learn about the culture in which they live and share the Gospel in ways people in that culture can hear. Missionaries are willing to forgo their own preferences for the sake of others, they are also willing to step outside their own comfort zones in order to introduce others to Jesus. For a missionary the Christian faith is not just about an hour on a Sunday, it is about how they live and share their faith every day in every place and situation.

The famous preacher Charles Spurgeon said “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter!” Being a missionary is not just for some, for the elite, keen and dedicated. We are all called to be missionaries.

Finally I believe we need a new focus on discipleship. I think we have often seen this as knowledge and understanding, but true discipleship is about imitation of the person we are following not merely information about that person. Discipleship only truly happens when we are willing to make ourselves accountable to others for the character of our Christian lives. Discipleship does not happen in a service, it happens out of regular conversations with other Christians we love and trust and from whom we are willing to receive both support and challenge.

Have I hit the nail, or am I wide of the make, what do you think?

Why we must continue to change

There are two types of people in this world: those who like change, and those who don’t. Those who prefer the status quo are in the majority (about 75% of the population) and so change happens slowly most of the time. I admit to being in the minority, I like change and I get bored easily if everything stays the same for too long.

For centuries the life and ministry of the church has changed very little. In fact from 1662 up to 1980 the Church of England used and maintained the same authorised liturgy for all it’s services, thats 318 years with no change! But in the last 30 years lots has changed, and I believe that the pace of change in the life and ministry of the church must increase and not slow down, as uncomfortable as that is for many!


Well I did some statistics for a recent service at St Paul’s:
Our Parish has a population of approximately 9,000, our average Sunday Attendance is 70 = 0.8% of the population
Being generous on average approximately 140 people attend services each month = 1.6% of the population
But I hear you say, we’re not the only church in the area! The population of the Western Wards is approximately 35,000. I have guestimated average attendance at church services on a Sunday at 1,100 = 3% of the population
Say each month double that attend at some point = 6% of the population
That means that 94% of the population of the Western Wards have no meaningful connection with the Church

Now I know that every Church has a fringe of people that know us and may be exploring the Christian faith at any time. BUT that still means that the vast majority of people in our community today have no meaningful connection with the church or with a Christian who is introducing them to Jesus.

We need to realise that the vast majority of the people who today are outside of the Christian faith in our community will never connect with the Christian faith in the ways that it has traditionally been expressed. Apart from baptisms (and there aren’t really many of these), weddings (these have reduced greatly) and funerals (even these are less common today), people in our community see little point in attending a service in a Victorian (or even a modern) church building, especially on a Sunday morning, there are far more attractive things happening most Sunday mornings!

If our friends, neighbours, work colleagues, those we meet in the Co-Op or in the bus queue are to have the opportunity to meet Jesus in a way that is meaningful to them it is us who must change not them! But how?