the baby and the bathwater


Acts 2 Church
October 15, 2009, 8:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Acts 2 church

It’s one of those buzz-phrases isn’t it?

An Acts 2 church.

We hear it all the time.

It’s the basis for home groups, small groups, meeting-in-homes-church, doing-church-the-down-to-earth-and-real-way-type-of-church.

Loads of churches around the world call themselves it.

An Acts 2 church.

“The big gathering is dead. Old. Pre-modern in a post-modern world” we hear the emerging church voices cry.

“Mega church models are dead”, say the prophets of big-church-doom in loud-voiced-boom.

‘Small’ is the new ‘big’ they say.

Acts 2 church is where it’s at.

But hang on a minute.

Yes, the people of God had central worship times, in the big gathering, in the temple, in the synagogue before Acts 2. But the new Christians continue to meet in the Temple after Act 2, and only stopped when the persecution starts (understandably). Then in Paul’s travels he goes to the Synagogs, the meeting places, to preach and teach and share the Gospel. Then in his teaching in his letters to the churches that were the truly emerging churches, he speaks about worship primarily in terms of bigger church gatherings.

And when we get to Revelation we find our eternal destiny is in the company of people from all tribes and all nations.

Angels.

Loads of them.

Nations.

Every one.

Tribes.

None missing.

So really, shouldn’t the new ‘big’ really be ‘bigger’?

In fact isn’t there more evidence Biblically for the big church gathering than the small group gathering?

Of course I totally believe in the concept of relationship, and smaller groups of people who support and care for each other, and who cook meals for each other, and who are accountable to each other.

Totally understand all of that.

It’s crucial to life.

But my question is this: do we really want church to stay in Acts 2 when it’s Revelation 21 that we’re heading for?

Shouldn’t we pause before we belittle big.

Because if John’s dream is anything to go by, it seems that big is beautiful and big is here to stay.



Stewardship (2)
October 10, 2009, 6:28 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The last post on stewardship obviously resonated with many people – both on-line and off-line. Thanks to those who pointed out my error in that stewardship does exists in the King James Version in Luke 16. I stand corrected (and corrected my original post as such). However, this does refer to purposeful theft.

I want to follow up that post with some more thoughts.

First – on Language
Language is so very important, and language changes over time. For example, not so many years ago, the word gay meant ‘bright and happy’, whereas now it almost always refers to sexual orientation. The word stewardship, whilst may have one day meant a lot more, has become pretty much synonymous with finances in recent years – so we have ‘stewardship Sunday’ which tends to be about giving money, or saving money, or cost control, and so on.

This means that when I challenge the use of the word stewardship, it is not me just trying to be clever. It is recognising that, in order to re-establish the core values behind a subject, we either need to reclaim the language that has been lost, or try and use other language. So when I want to stop using the word stewardship and instead talk about my desire to treasure the things that God gives us, I am merely trying to use different language that doesn’t bring with it a whole lot of unhelpful baggage.

Second – on Perspective
The Bible talks a lot about money, and of course it talks a lot about the love of money, and the dangers that brings. It talks about being honest in financial dealings. It talks about the need for contentment in what we have or don’t have, and it talks about the need to trust God for what we need. I am sure you know such passages off by heart.

The Bible also talks about investment in the things of the Kingdom (Matthew 25). Many quote this passage when they talk finances, but for me the issues here are far, far more profound and deep than purely finances. They involve everything that we give ourselves to in the Kingdom.

The Bible talks about us looking after the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4). Again people quote this on finances, but this seems to be about the things of the Kingdom that we have been entrusted with and not being arrogant or boastful because of it.

The Bible also talks about the dangers of being accurate with giving, whilst missing the bigger issues of justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23). WOW. I haven’t really thought about this before. It says that we could be getting money ‘right’ and still be missing out on the real issues!

I don’t know if you know that illustration about the ‘big stones’ and the ‘little stones’. You know, the one where you have this empty jar, and put the little stones in first, and then find that you can’t get the big stones in – whereas if you put the big stones in first, the little stones tend to fit all around them and everything fits in the jar together.

Well I think of it like this: the things of the Kingdom – The Honour of God, the People of God, the Reputation of the Church, The Vision/Mission of God, the Earth we live in. These are the big stones.

Finance is a little stone.  We need to keep our perspective.

Thirdly – on Values
Our family is currently trying to move. And as we consider where we will move to  (incidentally we are staying on the same estate…no big news here!) we are considering what will best make this our home above what will get us a better asset. Of course we need to be fully aware of the financial implications of what we are doing as much as we can. But we value home above asset.

And do you remember the story of David bringing the ark to Jerusalem. He valued the honour of God and obedience to God above financial prudence and personal reputation.

Comments always appreciated.  But please don’t show me any more pictures of iPhones. It will only rub in my current sence of inferiority.



Get a Grip
October 8, 2009, 9:24 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Apparently soon there will be a dumbing down of comedy on our TV’s. In an attempt to eradicate  genuinely distasteful episodes like the Ross/Brand phone calls, it seems that political correctness has kicked in again at the BBC. New rules would mean that comedy scenes like ‘The Germans’ from Fawlty Towers would not be allowed any more, and shows like Have I got News for You would all have their wings clipped to such an extent that they would not be worth making. Characters like Basil Fawlty would cease to exist and people like Ian Hislop would be banished from providing all of us who are bored and frustrated with the political correctness of our nation with a well needed bout of laughter at the weekend. Stephen Fry wouldn’t even get a look in.

In another report today, a teacher with 38 years experience took a child by the scruff of the neck and put him in a cupboard for apparently telling a racist joke repeatedly in class. Good on him (the teacher) I say. However, the teacher has now been convicted of assault. When I was young, bad behaviour was treated with a ruler rapped across the knuckles, or a slipper whacked across the backside. I wonder what treatment that would have got in the courts these days.

It’s crazy.

In fact, maybe it’s the BBC that should be in the dock, not the teacher.

Rather than curtail all our fun and stop great comedians providing colour and richness and laughter to our world, maybe the best thing would be that if they do occasionally cross the line, we should just take them by the scruff of the neck and chuck them in a cupboard for a few hours. The thought of Basil Fawlty and Stephen Fry having ‘cupboard time’ is quite amusing in itself. Maybe they would come up with a few more jokes whilst they were in there.

Come on the UK. Get a grip.



Dreamer
October 4, 2009, 8:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

My name is Neil Bennetts and I am a dreamer.

It feel like something I am confessing something in front of a group of other such dreamers, as though it is something that I need to overcome, deal with, get over, and if I confess it long and hard enough and process it fully and openly with others then eventually I will become a fully paid up non-dreamer, more at ease with myself, more capable of facing the world and all that it has for me.

Funny, but I am also an INTJ. And for the uninitiated in personality type tests, the T means that I think through everything in a logical and timely fashion, and the J means that I have a strong sense of internal values by which I make decisions.

Hardly the qualifications of a dreamer.

But a dreamer I am, and happy to declare it. And happy to remain as one.

I am not one of those I-have-ten-dreams-every-minute type of people. You know, the type who seem to have a dream for every life situation, a dream for every day, a dream for every person. I don’t have loads of prophetic words and pictures every time I pray. In fact I probably only have one significant prophetic word every year.  I am also not one of those amazing-angelic-off-your-face-always-something-with-rivers-or-streams sort of dreamers like John with that Patmos thing.

I am more of your Joseph type dreamer. You know, having a-major-dream-for-your-life-and-mission-which-you-keep-coming-back-to-over-many-years type of dreamer.

I remember having a conversation some 25 years ago with a friend Dave Elkington who was the chaplain at the university I was at in Norwich. I told him that I felt God was calling me into full time ministry – which of course in those days meant ordained vicar-hood. He spoke a dream into my life by suggesting it would be full time worship ministry. Of course 25 years ago, that was almost entirely unheard of, so it felt a bit far fetched. Sort of prophetic really. That dream stayed with me for many, many years. Some 10 years later I moved to Cheltenham and became a worship leader. Another 6 years later and I was in full time ministry. Over the years, that dream has been refined, surrendered and re-surrendered, shining brightly at time, and shining dim at other times. But the dream has stayed with me.

And I am living it still.

When we arrived in Cheltenham 15 years ago, the dream grew within many of us, of a large, vibrant, growing church which would significantly impact the town, region, country and beyond with the Kingdom of God. Over the years that dream has sometimes been faint, sometimes been strong. At various times we have had to surrender big parts of it, and it has been moulded and re-shaped by God time and time again. Three years ago we had to surrender the part of the dream that had us in a big warehouse type building, and we are now re-furbishing our original church building. But the dream still survives, probably stronger, with different flavours and different colours than it originally had.

But we are still living it.

I have given my life to this dream. My family has given up many things, many riches along the way. But the dream still burns strong within this dreamer, and I just can’t stop living it.

The language of dreams and dreamers is a big part of the language of the Bible (unlike the language of stewardship…). Along my journey, many times my dreams have felt like they are being suffocated, and at times I have felt like I am holding onto them by a thread. But hang on to the them I will. Invest in them I will. Put my energy into them I will.

Because for me, the dream is for living.

And live it, I intend to do.

Because my name is Neil Bennetts, and I am a dreamer.



Stewardship
September 30, 2009, 3:31 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Stewardship: it’s the word that stops churches buying MACs, stop us providing nice coffee; stops us buying comfy chairs; and definitely, definitely stops us worship leaders buying nice stuff to listen to great music on.

Stewardship: it’s about saving money, it’s about cutting cost, it’s about stream-lining workflow, it’s about finding cleverer ways to work; it’s about controlling cash flow and minimising waste.

Depressed?

I certainly am.

Of course all those things are good and noble and not without merit.

But it is still all very depressing isn’t it?

Stewardship.

Whenever I hear it my heart sinks, my enthusiasm dies, my energy levels fall, and I feel like I’m losing sight of what I love about the Kingdom of God.

Stewardship.

Makes me think of grey people in grey suits with small circular glasses looking stern.

Rather like accountants but with less sparkle.

Or like the miserable people who used to stand up in our church meetings to moan about the quality of the toilet paper.

Stewardship.

It just knocks the life out of you, doesn’t it.

Maybe that’s why the word is never* used in the Bible.

It is a deeply depressing word that we seem to have created in Christian circles mainly to stop people spending money. It’s in that same category of other Christian words that we really should stop using. Like ‘balance’ and ‘tension’. Words that we use mainly because we don’t understand the issues, or don’t have the answers, but still want to sound wise and spiritual.

As I say, the Bible doesn’t use the word stewardship.

I did find the word ‘steward’ in my bible, but then I think it was used about someone serving drinks. Other than that, it’s nowhere to be found.

Instead the Bible uses words like generosity, values, care, honour, wisdom, giving, treasure.

Treasure.

Now there’s a good word to use.

Maybe it would be better if we thought of ourselves as treasuring what God entrusts to us.

Makes more sense, doesn’t it?

Even sounds quite exciting.

Maybe we should think of ourselves as treasuring the things of the Kingdom:

We treasure the honour of God. Upholding His name, His fame, His glory. King David had a dream in his youth to be involved in re-establishing the honour of the Lord’s presence in his lifetime. When he became King of Israel one of the first things he did was ensure this dream was realised as he brought the Ark to Jerusalem. He treasured the presence of God, the honour of God, the glory of God.

We treasure the reputation of The Church. The church is God’s chosen vehicle, God’s means of reaching the world with the hope and good news of Jesus. It is ‘the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth’ (1 Timothy 3;15). Let’s treasure it.

We treasure the people entrusted to us. As pastors we are called to care for and nurture those in our congregations. We train them, and teach them, and invest in them. We fan into flame the dreams within them and point them towards the Great Dreamer.

We treasure the vision that God has laid on our hearts. In my mind, people buy into vision and leadership far more than they do to anything else. If we stop chasing the dream, we start to die. And people walk away from us. Or as Proverbs 29,18  puts it: ‘If people can’t see what God is doing they stumble over themselves’.

We treasure the Earth in which we dwell. We look after the fruits of God’s creative energy and treasure them until the day that the Heaven Space and the Earth Space become one.

God entrusts to us these treasures of His Kingdom.

Stewardship is about ownership and control. Treasure is about value and worth.

I vote for treasure.

[written on a MAC in a comfy chair with a three shot latte in my hand, listening to music on my new iPhone 3Gs]

(*actually it is used once in Luke 19, but that is in relation to intentional theft, and then only in the King James version)



Apple Mac Wins
September 29, 2009, 7:31 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

There is this Kingdom of God perspective of the ‘now and the not yet’. The victory is assured, but we still need to see the battles out. As someone put it recently, it is like Liverpool being 20 nil up against Man Utd with 2 minutes to spare. Victory is assured, but still some action left.

This Kingdom perspective also applied to Apple Macs. The victory over PC’s is assured, but there is still some action to watch. And watching it is fun.

Here is an article from Charlie Brooker in the Guardian a couple of days ago.

Enjoy!

I admit it: I’m a bigot. A hopeless bigot at that: I know my particular prejudice is absurd, but I just can’t control it. It’s Apple I don’t like Apple products. And the better-designed and more ubiquitous they become, the more I dislike them. I blame the customers. Awful people. Awful. Stop showing me your iPhone. Stop stroking your Macbook. Stop telling me to get one.

Seriously, stop it. I don’t care if Mac stuff is better. I don’t care if Mac stuff is cool. I don’t care if every Mac product comes equipped a magic button on the side that causes it to piddle gold coins and resurrect the dead and make holographic unicorns dance inside your head. I’m not buying one, so shut up and go home. Go back to your house. I know, you’ve got an iHouse. The walls are brushed aluminum. There’s a glowing Apple logo on the roof. And you love it there. You absolute MONSTER.

Of course, it’s safe to assume Mac products are indeed as brilliant as their owners make out. Why else would they spend so much time trying to convert non-believers? They’re not getting paid. They simply want to spread their happiness, like religious crusaders.

Consequently, nothing pleases them more than watching a PC owner struggle with a slab of non-Mac machinery. It validates their spiritual choice. Recently I sat in a room trying to write something on a Sony Vaio PC laptop which seemed to be running a special slow-motion edition of Windows Vista specifically designed to infuriate human beings as much as possible. Trying to get it to do anything was like issuing instructions to a depressed employee over a sluggish satellite feed. When I clicked on an application it spent a small eternity contemplating the philosophical implications of opening it, begrudgingly complying with my request several months later. It drove me up the wall. I called it a bastard and worse. At one point I punched a table.

This drew the attention of two nearby Mac owners. They hovered over and stood beside me, like placid monks.

“Ah: the delights of Vista,” said one.

“It really is time you got a Mac,” said the other.

“They’re just better,” sang monk number one.

“You won’t regret it,” whispered the second.

I scowled and returned to my infernal machine, like a dishevelled park-bench boozer shrugging away two pious AA recruiters by pulling a grubby, dented hip flask from his pocket and pointedly taking an extra deep swig. Leave me alone, I thought. I don’t care if you’re right. I just want you to die.

I know Windows is awful. Everyone knows Windows is awful. Windows is like the faint smell of piss in a subway: it’s there, and there’s nothing you can do about it. OK, OK: I know other operating systems are available. But their advocates seem even creepier, snootier and more insistent than Mac owners. The harder they try to convince me, the more I’m repelled. To them, I’m a sheep. And they’re right. I’m a helpless, stupid, lazy sheep. I’m also a masochist. And that’s why I continue to use Windows – horrible Windows – even though I hate every second of it. It’s grim, it’s slow, everything’s badly designed and nothing really works properly: using Windows is like living in a communist bloc nation circa 1981. And I wouldn’t change it for the world, because I’m an abject bloody idiot and I hate myself, and this is what I deserve: to be sentenced to Windows for life.

That’s why Windows works for me. But I’d never recommend it to anybody else, ever. This puts me in line with roughly everybody else in the world. No one has ever earnestly turned to a fellow human being and said, “Hey, have you considered Windows?” Not in the real world at any rate.

Until now. Microsoft, hellbent on tackling the conspicuous lack of word-of-mouth recommendation, is encouraging people – real people – to host “Windows 7 launch parties” to celebrate the 22 October release of, er, Windows 7. The idea is that you invite a group of friends – your real friends – to your home – your real home – and entertain them with a series of Windows 7 tutorials. So you show them how to burn a CD, how to make a little video, how to change the wallpaper, and how to, oh no, hang on it’s not supposed to do that, oh, I think it’s frozen, um, er, let me just, um, no that’s not it, um, er, um, er, so how’s it going with you and Kathy anyway, um, er, OK well see you around I guess.

To assist the party-hosting massive, they’ve also uploaded a series of spectacularly cringeworthy videos to YouTube, in which the four most desperate actors in the world stand around in a kitchen sharing tips on how best to indoctrinate guests in the wonder of Windows. If they were staring straight down the lens reading hints off a card it might be acceptable; instead they have been instructed to pretend to be friends. The result is the most nauseating display of artificial camaraderie since the horrific Doritos “Friendchips” TV campaign (which caused 50,000 people to kill themselves in 2003, or should have done).

It’s so terrible, it induces an entirely new emotion: a blend of vertigo, disgust, anger and embarrassment which I like to call “shitasmia”. It not only creates this emotion: it defines it. It’s the most shitasmic cultural artefact in history.

Still, bad though it is, I vaguely prefer the clumping, clueless, uncool, crappiness of Microsoft’s bland Stepford gang to the creepy assurance of the average Mac evangelist. At least the grinning dildos in the Windows video are fictional, whereas eerie replicant Mac monks really are everywhere, standing over your shoulder in their charcoal pullovers, smirking with amusement at your hopelessly inferior OS, knowing they’re better than you because they use Mac OS X v10.6 Snow Leopard.

Snow Leopard. SNOW LEOPARD.

I don’t care if you’re right. I just want you to die.



Uncomfortable?
September 28, 2009, 7:24 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The primary purpose of the church is to worship God. Not to make disciples. Not to run community projects. Not to run Alpha courses. Not to serve the poor. Not to heal the sick. Not to run conferences. Not to create leadership networks. Not to establish small groups. Not to engage with world mission. Not to evangelise the nations. It’s primary purpose is to worship.

Writing those words makes me feel uncomfortable.

You may even more so feel uncomfortable reading them.

But I recon they are true.

I feel uncomfortable with such words because they may make me look as though I am not missional, not servant hearted, not compassionate. And of course I want to be all those things. And, truth be known, I possibly even want to be recognised for being all those things. But I have to face up to it. My primary purpose as a follower of the King is to worship the King. Sing to Him. Adore Him. Lift my hands to Him.

You see, it is so easy to move very quickly on from saying

‘our primary purpose is to worship God’

to

‘and this also means serving the poor, healing the sick, evangelising the nations…’.

In fact it almost needs to happen in the same sentence to avert accusations of poor theology. In fact almost all standard worship teaching will do that. Otherwise it wouldn’t be sound would it?

But maybe we should all pause a little longer in that place – that place of adoration of God without any expressed intention to move on and out. That place where we stand before God and sing, and have no other purpose in that moment other than blessing His heart with the sound of our songs. Maybe we need to pause in that uncomfortable place, leaving ourselves open to accusations of extravagance, lavishness, inactivity, just a little bit longer than we are doing at the moment.

Because if the church looses sight of it’s primary function – to worship God – then it will start to die from the inside out. The disciples will start to disperse. The community projects will start to wind down. The Alpha course will close. The poor will increase. The sick will perish. The conference will fall into financial ruin. The leadership network will implode. The small group will cease to meet. And world mission will stop dead in it’s tracks.

Now that would be uncomfortable.