Category Archives: General

General posts on my blog

What makes Christianity unique?

Why should we believe in Christianity when there are so many other competing religions around? Isn’t it just an ethical code like many other faiths? At a question and answer session for the Veritas Forum John Lennox explains why Christianity does not compete with other faiths, because it offers believers something totally different.


Renegotiating the relationship between Priest & People

Following my last post about the book ‘Managing Clergy Lives – Obedience, Sacrifice, Intimacy’ I’ve had some conversations that have further challenged my own thinking and understanding of Priesthood. Whilst I don’t recognise in myself the understanding of Priesthood that seems to saturate the book, I do recognise this understanding in the wider Church of England and in other denominations as well.

A reminder of the understanding of priesthood expressed in the book:

“Clergy in the sample expressed an ontological understanding of the ‘indelible character change’ brought about sacramentally in ordination.”

I’ve also started to see that the understanding of priesthood encountered in the book doesn’t only affect those who are priests, it affects our congregations as well. It is this realisation that has struck me in the past weeks. If those who are ordained as priests believe that they are ontologically different because of their ordination then this is reflected and reinforced by the members of our congregations believing this as well. The Church of England, along with many other denominations, has taught this understanding in theology, liturgy and tradition over generations. It is embeded in our buildings, church culture, our clothing, our sacraments and the structures of our church life. The result is that we are a long way from the biblical understanding of priesthood, discipleship and the church.

Many say they believe in the priesthood of all believers, but in practice believe that the priesthood of those ordained as priests is different to the priesthood of the people. In the Anglican Church this is reflected in our buildings where the Chancel and Sanctuary have traditionally been the domain of the priests and in many cases these areas were, or still are, separated from the rest of the church by grills, screens or iron railings. It is reflected in our attire where those who are ordained are expected to dress differently to everyone else. It is reflected (dare I say it) in the administration of the sacraments where it is only a Priest who can ‘consecrate’ the bread and wine. It is embeded in our culture where if the vicar hasn’t visited then the church doesn’t care, despite numerous other members of the church visiting and caring in practical ways.

Ephesians 4: 11-12 says: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service …” Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus doesn’t say that the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors & teachers are to do the works of service. No, he says they are to equip everyone else to do the works of service. Church leadership should be about equipping, empowering and releasing everyone in the church to be disciples who make disciples. The difficulty is that we have a culture in our churches that is the very opposite of what the bible says.

If we are to reach our community with the Good News of the love of Christ we have to find a way of living like we believe in the priesthood of all believers and not just saying we believe it.

The relationship between priest and people has been one where the priest has been the benefactor, providing what people need spiritually, and pastorally. And people have willingly received what was provided. This model fits well within our consumer orientated society and has become deeply embeded in the consciousness of both priests and people. The problem is that this is not what the bible teaches.

I personally struggle because this model is embeded in me as well, despite my belief in the priesthood of all believers, and my belief that church leaders are called by God to equip every member to live as disciples who make disciples. I also struggle because we have very few models of church that aren’t based on the benefactor/consumer relationship.

I believe we need to renegotiate the relationship between priest and people, the trouble is I’m not sure what the new relationship should look like!


What does it mean to be a Priest in the Church of England?

I’ve just finished reading a recent book called: Managing Clergy Lives – Obedience, Sacrifice, Intimacy. There is much in the book that strikes a chord with my experience of life as a full time minister in the Church of England. There is a reminder of the issues caused by the blurred boundaries between the public and the private that all ministers struggle with. The book raises issues that come from living in a vicarage which very few who haven’t lived in tied accommodation have any real understanding of. It also looks at the financial sacrifice that is willingly and knowingly made by church ministers, but particularly by Church of England ministers who have no option about living in the vicarage that is provided for them and therefore many struggle with accommodation for retirement.

There is however one area that I find myself at odds with in this book, and possibly with some of my colleagues. This is summed up in the introduction to chapter 3:

“The ordination of a priest disciplines and governs body and soul during every waking hour from the moment of ordination, until death. Throughout this life, clergy believe that their physical, intellectual and emotional selves are permanently claimed for the service of God. Ordination is thus life-changing for all priests because it entails an enduring commitment to promises made to God. These promises require life-long and whole-hearted personal and embodied obedience to God’s service, as well as an adherence to the doctrine and governance of the Church. Put simply, in the words of parish priest Linda, ordination offers no ‘opt out clause’.”

And at the end of the following chapter:
“Clergy in the sample expressed and ontological understanding of the ‘indelible character change’ brought about sacramentally in ordination.”

I remember that at my ordination someone from the church we were part of, unhelpfully(!), said to Bella that I was now married to the church. The notion of being married to the church, or to God, in ordination is reported in this book alongside the notion that, like marriage, ordination is a life-long and life-changing sacrament that can only be broken by death.

Looking back before my ordination I can clearly remember being asked at my selection conference what difference I thought being ordained would make to me in my workplace and day to day life? (I was applying for Non-Stipendiary ministry or what is now called Self-Supporting ministry). My response was that I hoped it would not make any difference whatsoever! I should already be living my life as a Christian to the fullest extent possible in my workplace and it was my commitment to Jesus, not my ordination, that should determine how I lived.

This may sound shocking to some – but I don’t feel called by God to Anglican Priesthood! I believe God has called and gifted me as a leader within his church and in the Anglican church the way that is outworked is through being ordained as a priest.I believe strongly and wholeheartedly in the priesthood of all believers both in practice as well as in theology. I struggle with the very thing that some of my colleagues feel called to and fulfilled by – being an ordained priest.

I am ontologically (definition: of or relating to essence or the nature of being) no different to any other christian. We are all created by God, saved by God and called by God, as his children, to be a Royal Priesthood. All of us, not a few, not those selected for ordination, but every single christian believer, are called as Priests to serve God, each other and God’s world.

That is why I struggle with wearing robes in services. I’d be happy to wear robes if everyone else did (or as someone said to me recently is everyone came in suit and tie as happened 30-50 years ago!). Wearing robes, for me, sets me apart as being different, and as I understand the Bible that’s not true. If you attend services that I lead it is also why I often pronounce the absolution and the blessing using ‘us’ not ‘you’ because I don’t Biblically believe I have any more right to forgive sins or bless others than any other christian.

For me my commitment to serve God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength comes from my baptism. It is a commitment that will last until the day I die and beyond that into eternity. Like all of us I have my struggles, but I am utterly committed to living as a Christian until the day I die. That commitment affects every part of my life, the work I do, where I live, how I use my time, money and the possessions that God so generously gives. It affects my ethics, my morality and every other part of my life.

For me that is the commitment of every christian. You can’t take some of the bits of the christian faith and not others, it’s all or nothing. It’s far, far more than living a moral life (which is what so many in our society see as the definition of Christianity).

Most importantly however it’s a commitment that has it’s foundation and strength in my love for Jesus and my day by day relationship with God as his beloved and precious son. Out of our identity as children of God we are called to obedience and we do that willingly because we know Almighty God as our loving father.


The Human Jesus

I have recently finished reading two books by Anne Rice one the early life of Jesus. The recommendation to read them came out of a conversation I had about how I had encountered the humanity of Jesus in a new way when I was in Israel. There I felt closer than ever before to the human Jesus, being in the places where he lived, walking the streets he walked on and experiencing the sites and sounds of the environment where he grew up, lived and ministered.

The books are fiction, but well researched fiction. They paint a good picture of life in First Century Israel and the joys, stresses and struggles of that society. They also struggle to find answers to questions we may not have considered before. What was it like for Jesus growing up as a sinless child, never losing his temper or doing something wrong? How did others view him, what nicknames did they have for him, how did he interact with his peers at the age of 7, 12 or his teenage years?

The author also asks questions of how Jesus dealt with his sexuality as a man. Did he ever ‘fall in love’ and how did he cope? We know he never married and never sinned, but how did he deal with and respond to the God given and naturally human attraction towards the opposite sex?

However the most difficult and maybe controversial question is when and how did Jesus become aware of his divinity and relationship with his Father? Luke 2:52 is an intreaging verse “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” At what age did Jesus become aware that he was different to everyone else and how did he know? Jesus was at all times fully human and fully divine, man and God, in one person. He didn’t become God, he was God, but at the same time he didn’t stop being human, he was a man. From the very instant of his conception Jesus was fully and totally God and fully and totally human. He was aware of his humanity from the moment of his birth, but how did he become aware of his divinity?

Along with this question Anne Rice interweaves questions I had never thought of. When and how, for instance, did his mother tell him of the events surrounding his conception and birth? More poignantly when did his family tell him of the events in Bethlehem after they fled for Egypt, and how did Jesu react knowing that other children were slaughtered and he was saved?

All of these are questions of Jesus’ humanity and I found the books really helpful in relating to the man Christ Jesus. The historical and cultural background in the book is excellent and well researched. However these are still fiction novels and there are events depicted that i wouldn’t agree with. Read them for yourself and let me know what you think.

Anne Rice:
Christ The Lord – Out of Egypt
Christ The Lord – the abroad to Cana

A warning to leaders: Turbulence is not the danger

Best fasten that safety belt. Turbulence is the new normal and our response? We need to honour the past but we need to know how to learn from the future. Too many leaders are focusing only on the turbulence, not realising that they’re trying to face the future using yesterday’s logic. That might explain a lot!

That is the conclusion from an article by Graeme Codrington. You may remember that I blogged about Graeme's work during my sabbatical when I read his book and thesis on generational theory. I learnt a great amount from him that is still moulding my thinking and my approach to leadership within the church.

This article by Graeme is written with business leaders in mind rather than churches. However the wisdom he offers is very applicable to church leadership. We live today in a time of turbulence in almost every area of life. There is turbulence in our economies, turbulence in the moral framework of our society, turbulence within the family structures of our communities and turbulence within how our churches relate to and engage with the communities we are called by Jesus to reach with his love. According to statistics I heard recently over 50% of churches have no teenagers in their church communities. A missionary organisation I have connections with is committed to planting Missional households alongside the top 100 universities in Europe and the top 100 universities in America – why? The drop out rate of Christian young people going to University for is massive. In Cambridge there are 33,000 students at the university, but only 1,000 connected with any local church, we are in danger of loosing a whole generation.

It has been said that when faced with difficulties we can't expect to do the same things as before and get a different result, yet so often we seem to be doing exactly that within the life of God's church.

Graeme's article is well worth reading and can be found in full here:




Startling academic research shows widespread Church growth in Britain

Startling academic research shows widespread Church growth in BritainAfter many years of depressing headlines this article from the Church of England Newspaper is Good News…

By David Goodhew  Cranmer Hall, Durham June 7

Sit down, breathe deeply – I have some shocking news to give you. The church in Britain is growing. Yes, I know this sounds mad. The TV and the newspapers routinely depict churches as half-empty and populated by geriatrics. Not a few church leaders and congregation members walk around like Fraser from Dad’s Army, declaring ‘You’re all Doomed !!’ But there is something else going on.

An international team of leading researchers, based at Cranmer Hall, Durham, have just published a study entitled Church Growth in Britain from 1980 to the Present. Here are just a few of the extraordinary statistics that have been unearthed:

  • There are 500,000 Christians in black majority churches in Britain. Sixty years ago there were hardly any
  • At least 5,000 new churches have been started in Britain since 1980 – and this is an undercount. The true figure is probably higher
  • There are one million Christians in Britain from black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities
  • The adult membership of the Anglican Diocese of London has risen by over 70 per cent since 1990.

Research Endorsed by Bishops and Leading Academics

This research has been endorsed by a range of senior academics and church leaders – from Justin Welby, the new Bishop of Durham, to Archbishop Vincent Nicholls, head of the Roman Catholic Church. Professor David Bebbington, the leading historian of evangelicalism comments: “This is excellent research. It is commonly supposed that the Christian church in Britain is moribund, but the essays in this volume all demonstrate, from different angles, that in the recent past there are signs of vitality and growth.

“Nor is the vigour confined to new churches, for mainstream bodies have also participated in the upward trend here depicted with scholarly care.”

Durham Bishop Justin Welby responded to the research in this way: “Church decline is neither inevitable in prospect nor accurate in retrospect. This book reviews the reality of what is happening in Christian religious practice in the UK. As such it comes at a crucial time, when the Church of England appears to be gathering the will to change, and when an accurate and reasoned understanding of what is really happening, and has done so since 1980, is essential.

How can these things be ?

‘How can these things be ?’ you may be saying. ‘Isn’t there lots of church decline going on?’ The media tell me of thousands of churches closing. Many church leaders bemoan shrinking congregations.

The reason for the tension between this research and the picture often painted is twofold. Firstly, media, academia and many church leaders routinely ignore church growth. The growth of new churches and ethnic minority churchgoing has been happening for years – but it flies beneath the radar of most academics, most of the media and not a few in the Anglican Church.

Secondly, evidence of church growth and decline needs to be looked at together. The contemporary British church is both declining and growing. Where you look affects what you find. The real picture for the last 30 years looks something like this:

  • Roughly the same number of churches have closed as have opened
  • Some denominations have seen serious decline – notably the ‘mainline’ denominations – Anglican, Methodist, URC, Catholic
  • Some churches have seen major growth; especially churches rooted in ethnic minority communities and newer denominations
  • Some parts of the mainline churches are seeing growth – Anglican growth centres on the Diocese of London (the one Anglican diocese which has consistently grown over the last 20 years) and new Anglican churches/fresh expressions.

Six Lessons for the Church of England

  • Firstly, there is hope. We are bombarded by media (and not a few church leaders and members) who assume that society is inexorably getting more secular, that there is nothing much we can do. A glance at nations such as China, where there has been massive church growth despite very difficult conditions, ought to inoculate us from such fatalism. And the evidence from Britain shows there is large-scale, long-lasting church growth happening in Britain. Despair is both wrong theologically and flies in the face of the evidence.
  • Secondly, church growth often involves people from ethnic minorities. And it is striking that the churches that most effectively harness such people come from outside the mainstream churches. The Church of England may have a black archbishop, but black Christians are much more frequently found outside, rather than inside the Church of England. How can the CofE change to release the gifts of non-white Anglicans ? Perhaps we need to import some leaders and humbly learn from those parts of the wider Anglican Communion that have seen serious church growth ?
  • Thirdly, church planting is the most effective single strategy for growing the church. Every diocese needs a church planting strategy.
  • Fourth, church growth happens most often along the ‘trade routes’ of Britain – places where there is population growth, immigration and economic dynamism. Thus, towns along the East Coast mainline – like London, York and Edinburgh – are more likely to see growth than elsewhere. This doesn’t mean church growth only happens along trade routes, only that it is more likely there. It is easier to grow churches in Kensington than Cumbria. We need growing churches everywhere. But leaders in areas suffering population loss and economic decline shouldn’t beat themselves up when they find the ground resistant to growth. Conversely, we need to identify the ‘trade-routes’ as seedbeds for church growth, just as St Paul worked along the trade-routes of the Mediterranean to reach the ancient world.
  • Fifthly, the Diocese of London is the centre of Anglican church growth. This is not comfortable news for other dioceses – and no cause for pride in London. Nonetheless, the wider Anglican family needs to ask why London has bucked the trend and others have not. In particular, it is striking that it was under Archbishop David Hope that London changed from decline to growth – what is it about what he did that we all can learn from ?
  • Sixth, we need a theology of church growth. We need to articulate plainly why growing the church is what God wants – and let go of the fatalism that wider Western culture has insinuated into the hearts of both individual Christians, congregations and church structures.

Hope for the Church

Church Growth in Britain offers hope to local churches. It echoes and reinforces the work pioneered by Bob Jackson a decade ago. The ‘secularisation thesis’, which assumes western countries are inexorably getting more secular, is simply not true. Moreover, church leaders and members need rescuing from the despair that this thesis encourages. We have developed in many parts of the Anglican Church a kind of ‘eschatology of despair’ that feeds into an ecclesiology of decline. When we think English churches are doomed to shrink, we behave accordingly – and then they do shrink. But the evidence shows that substantial church growth can and is happening in contemporary Britain.

This is a bracing, but hugely exciting challenge for the Church of England. We can stop moping round like Private Fraser. Instead of an eschatology of despair, we should grasp an eschatology of hope, which leads into a theology of church growth. Jesus remains such as magnetic as he was 2,000 years ago. The Holy Spirit is just as widely at work – if we have eyes to see him. Research into church growth in contemporary Britain shows that when people step out in faith God uses that faith to grow churches and bless communities.

To find out more:

Church Growth in Britain from 1980 to the Present, has just been published by Ashgate and is available from bookshops and online booksellers. It will be formally launched at Church House, Westminster on Tuesday 19 June, 5-6.30 pm. This is followed by a conference at Cranmer Hall, Durham, ‘Church Growth in the North’, on 2 July. For more information, contact Esther Kisby, via

The Cost Of Intentional Sin

In my daily readings from the Moravian Daily Texts I came across a passage in Numbers that I have never noticed before and that struck me deeply. It is in Numbers 15 and is about offerings and sacrifices for Unintentional and Intentional sins.Speaking to Moses God firstly deals with Unintentional sins for either the whole Israelite community or for individuals. If this happens then the sacrifice of a young bull will make atonement for the community or the sacrifice of a year-old female goat will make atonement for an individual.

So far so good.

But it is Numbers 15: 30-31 that caught my attention. “”‘But suppose someone sins on purpose. It does not matter whether he is an Israelite or an outsider. He speaks evil things against the LORD. He must be cut off from his people. He has made fun of what the LORD has said. He has broken the LORD’s commands. He must certainly be cut off. He is still guilty.'”

Under the Old Covenant if you sinned Intentionally there was no remedy, no atonement and no forgiveness. Not only that but there is lasting punishment for the remainder of your life here on earth, you are to be excluded from your family, your friends, your community and your nation: you are to be ‘cut off.’

Wow – that’s harsh! Under the Old Covenant the willfull disobedience that we have all seen in children, when seen in our response to God, results in permanent guilt and exclusion.

What struck me deeply was this question: How often do I sin unintentionally? – not very often. How often to I sin intentionally? – probably most of the times when I sin.

I am so glad that I live under grace and not under the Law, under the New Covenant and not under the Old Covenant. In the New Covenant there is no separation between Intentional and Unintentional sin, both are sin, both took Jesus to the cross, both are forgiven in the amazing love sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. But this passage opened my eyes a little bit more on how God sees sin, and it’s not comfortable.

Blogs Links & Quotable Quotes

Here is my weekly roundup of things I’ve been reading and quotes that I thought I’d pass on.

The first blog post is a MUST READ:

  • The Pastors Wife is Simply a Wife – This is a really helpful article explaining something that very few people understand. Why then, when I posted this on Facebook, was it only liked by my wife and another minister’s wife!

Here are other things I’ve been reading/watching that I found interesting:

 And here are some quotable quotes:

  • ‘The only thing that Christianity cannot be is moderately important.’ C.S. Lewis
  • ‘Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.’
  • Are you an Anglican or an Anglican’t?
  • “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.” Mother Teresa
  • The average man or woman laughs 6 times a day. The average child laughs 150 times a day. Jesus encourages us to be more like children.
  • Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished. If you’re alive, it isn’t.
  • Jesus promised his disciples 3 things: to be ‘absurdly happy, completely fearless, and in constant trouble.’

Bethel Music UK Tour: Southampton

During my sabbatical I spent a month in Redding California visiting Bethel Church. For me the best part of my time there was the worship. Whether it was at the conference I attended, the services, the Healing Rooms, the Diamond Fellowship or the housegroup I visited, there was an deep awareness of God’s presence as his people worshiped.

Bethel’s worship team is coming to the UK for a tour next month and will be coming to Southampton. If your interested in going details can be found here:

Blogs Links & Quotable Quotes

Again, some things that I have been reading on the blogsphere, along with some quotable quotes I’ve collected. Hope they’re helpful:

Quotable Quotes:
  • What if the CofE became a planet of the APEs? A landscape full of apostles, prophets and evangelists? Instead of a haven for pastor/teachers!
  • ‘Do not be afraid’ appears in the bible 366 times – once for every day of 2012.
  • You are not controlled by your circumstances. You are controlled by the experience of God you’re having within them.
  • Prayer is not a “spare wheel” that you pull out when in trouble, but it is a “steering wheel” that directs the right path throughout.
  • A Car’s WINDSHIELD is so large & the Rear view Mirror is so small? Because our PAST is not as important as our FUTURE. So, Look Ahead and Move on.
  • Friendship is like a BOOK. It takes few seconds to burn, but it takes years to write.
  • All things in life are temporary. If going well, enjoy it, they will not last forever. If going wrong, don’t worry, they can’t last long either.
  • Old Friends are Gold! New Friends are Diamond! If you get a Diamond, don’t forget the Gold! Because to hold a Diamond, you always need a Base of Gold!
  • Often when we lose hope and think this is the end, GOD smiles from above and says, “Relax, sweetheart, it’s just a bend, not the end!
  • When GOD solves your problems, you have faith in HIS abilities; when GOD doesn’t solve your problems HE has faith in your abilities.
  • A blind person asked St. Anthony: “Can there be anything worse than losing eye sight?” He replied: “Yes, losing your vision!”
  • When you pray for others, God listens to you and blesses them, and sometimes, when you are safe and happy, remember that someone has prayed for you.
  • WORRYING does not take away tomorrow’s TROUBLES, it takes away today’s PEACE.