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Multisite Essentials: Part 1/3

Mark Kelsey   |   November 4, 2021
1:3
In a 2017 report, ‘Faith and Belief in Australia’, social researcher Mark McCrindle and his team state that in Australia:
  • 45% of Australians identify with Christianity
  • 15% of Australians who identify with Christianity go to church at least monthly
  • 7% of Australians who identify with Christianity are active practisers of Christianity
  • Australia contains a total of 183 people groups

To me, these stats prove one basic thought – there are a lot more people to be reached with the love of Jesus in this nation.  I’m sure these figures are close to the experience in many nations, where the identification with the Christian Faith is not matching the numbers of people finding their way into a meaningful and regular Christian community experience.  In fact, it would seem the number of younger people (Millennials and Gen Zers) who are no longer attending church or in some cases actually ‘deconstructing’ their faith, is growing rapidly.

There are undoubtedly many issues underlying these current stats.  But one of the universal answers must be the access to, the reach from and the effectiveness of the local church.  The multisite model, when understood and implemented well can be part of the solution to the need for a thriving, local and relevant Church community.

The purpose of this 3-part series of articles is to outline the basic ‘ingredients’ of a healthy multisite church.

 

Before we get to those ‘Multisite Essentials’, I thought it would be good to revisit something that I believe is worthy of emphasizing and is an underlying Biblical principle behind multisite.

 

Expansion is the new Increase

Isaiah 54:2-3
Enlarge the place of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
and your offspring will possess the nations
and will people the desolate cities.

As a movement we’ve expanded globally and nationally.  We have almost 600 churches in 59 countries.  We are also expanding into new regions! However, at a local level I think we need to understand the difference between growth and expansion.

Most pastors are attempting to grow their churches. Larger churches equal more people reached, helped, discipled, and impacted for the kingdom of God.  In many cases this growth is happening or focused to happen in one location.  But in reality, not every individual church can keep growing in an unlimited way.  Perhaps the opportunity that is appearing around us is the possibility of ‘growing’ not by looking up (larger individual churches) but by looking ‘out’ and starting new, smaller congregations in a suburb or town close by.  So, as we ‘expand’, the eventual outcome is growth.  To enlarge the ‘Place’ of our tent.

We’ve expanded to the nations but it’s time to reach the neighbourhoods!

 

The Lord gave Joshua a promise…

Joshua 1:3 
Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.

Like Joshua, we too need to get the ‘soles of our feet’, i.e. more locations, into the cities and towns that God has called us to.

For this to be accomplished, I believe we need to be on the front foot of expansion and not on the back foot of passive maintenance.  Part of the future to reaching our city and surrounding towns is firstly by starting new congregations.

 

The early church was forced into expansion through persecution.  That persecution dispersed the believers and eventually led to expansion through the starting of many more new congregations in cities outside of the city of Jerusalem!  Paul the Apostle was called by God to expand even further into the dispersed communities and of course the unreached Gentile cities in the known world at that time.

Apostolic expansion is all about expansion by intention.

This is nothing other than a new type of church planting.  Nothing has changed.  We still need more churches to reach more people…the vision hasn’t changed!

This is just a more effective way of starting and a more effective way of reaching people!

 

So, if you are convinced that this is a model that God has called you to, let’s have a look at some of the basic principles that need to be in place to do it as effectively as possible…

 

… in the next blog post! See you in Part 2/3.

Multisite Essentials: Part 2/3

Mark Kelsey   |   November 4, 2021
2:3

In part 1/2, we looked at the idea behind multisite – that expansion is the new increase. Now, we’re going to look more closely at multisite itself.

Multisite is two key things:
  1. God’s divine pipeline for leadership…in your church
  2. And God’s divine lifeline to the community…from your church

Let’s look at that first one in more detail.

God’s divine pipeline for leadership…in your church

 

What helps our church become an effective producer of leaders for multisite?

The moment you seriously embark on building a healthy multisite church, you are also embarking on a commitment to create an effective and healthy leadership pipeline.

There is no way you can become an effective multisite church without having a healthy leadership pipeline…or some form of pathway that identifies, grows and empowers leaders in your church.

But once you do have this functioning pipeline and begin to implement it in a multisite context, the benefits are many.  Here are just a few positive outcomes of a healthy multisite church functioning with a leadership pipeline:

  • More people tend to be engaged in serving
  • Increase in engagement of disengaged members
  • Greater number of leaders are produced because of increased opportunity
  • Younger leaders are developed faster because of a focused discipleship environment
  • Leadership is not limited to those who are gifted preachers
  • There is access to, and engagement of a wider skill set

By the way, there are far more benefits than those listed here!  But in order to create this type of environment where new locations can be started and more leaders and teams can be grown, we need to understand first the basic principles of creating a healthy leadership growing environment.

 

Here are three key principles to embrace in order for your church to be able to grow and empower leaders in a multisite context:

 

1. Multisite mentality

The first and perhaps most central principle is to make a shift from thinking like mono-site or individual church to true multisite thinking.  And trust me, it is very different indeed!  Here are a few basic headline thoughts to consider when making this shift:

Dismantling mono-site thinking

The embracing of multisite thinking is as much about dismantling previous thinking as it is about embracing new thinking.

Shifting from an ‘us’ to ‘we’ thinking

One of the biggest challenges in this shift is not seeing the other campuses as an appendage or treating them like they are separate to or not part of the ‘one’ thing.

Fight for unity through language

Perhaps of the key aspects of culture that reflects a multisite mentality is the language we use in our team and church.  Creating and reinforcing a language that works for your church and reflects a ‘one church in multiple locations’ approach is essential.

 

2. Matrix leadership

One of the more complex and difficult aspects of multisite churches to implement is this concept of ‘matrix’ leadership.  There is much that needs to be said and explained in this subject, which we won’t be covering here.

My encouragement to you, if you’re a leader who is entering this space of multisite, is to read and absorb all that you can about matrix leadership structures.

 

3. Multiplication Culture

The third aspect of a church pipeline that ensures a healthy multisite church is the development of a multiplication culture.

  • Are your leaders reproducing leaders?
  • Are your departments building ‘multiple’ teams?
  • Are your small groups reproducing other small groups?
  • Is your church able to multiply new services and locations?

 

In the next part of this 3-part series, we’re going to look at God’s divine lifeline to the community…from your church. See you there!

Multisite Essentials: Part 3/3

Mark Kelsey   |   November 4, 2021

3:3

In Part 2/3, we talked about how multisite is partly God’s divine pipeline for leadership in your church.

Today we’re taking a look at how multisite is:

God’s divine lifeline to the community… from your church

 

As well as being a pipeline to develop leadership, multisite is also a ‘lifeline’ to the community. A way of connecting with and reaching people as well as meeting the needs of the community in a more ‘present’ way.

Here are a few of the benefits of this lifeline principle:

  • Multisite is a neighborhood church movement. In fact, the rule of thumb would be to have a location that takes no longer than twenty minutes for someone to get there.  This ensures the church is accessible and local and by default builds connections to and within the community.
  • More people are reached because of a greater geographical reach. Because congregations can be started closer to where people live and therefore multiplied through your city or region, more people can be impacted with the Gospel.
  • Perfect for a mobile society as people move, there are options to stay connected. With more people moving, trying to find housing, we have the opportunity to provide options for them to stay in the church community
  • A great model for building healthy, vision led churches in regional communities. I believe the multisite model provides greater opportunity to build thriving locations based in regional centres and out into the surrounding satellite towns.
  • We can target communities with a specific missional focus. With our cities becoming far more diverse, we have the opportunity to allow more local diversity to be expressed in the communities in which we are planting locations and therefore expressing more closely the cultures and people groups that are represented in those communities.

 

Here are four key principles of the Lifeline

What makes an effective congregation in the community?

 

1. Team

It is impossible to build an effective multi-site church and be a lifeline into the community without building growing, multiplying healthy teams.

  • One of the most effective ways is to create a universal location team structure. In other words, having the same team structure across the whole church that is replicated in each location.
  • The revelation of core team. One of the central revelations of locations that really work is a well-functioning core team that is consistent in each location and works directly with the Location pastor to build effective teams under each ‘core’ area.  For example, this may include the following core areas: Worship, connect, next step, production, kids, youth
  • Pre-trained team: This is vital for the healthy functioning of a location from day one. Teams that are trained before the launch of the first service.
  • Pre-established team culture: Similar to pre-trained teams is developing and training the culture of teams before the launch of a location. When everyone has a clear understanding of core values in advance, it will mean everyone is building in the same direction with the same heart and a spirit of unity.
  • Team functioning and systems ready for church on day one: Clarifying how teams function, what their roles are, putting all the systems in place and having everyone trained in those systems will definitely allow for the effective launch of a location.

 

2. Location

Having venue and location that works for the building of a congregation is important for effective reach into the community.   Here are some important elements of the location.

  • The right location… a combination of the best possible venue (available) in the best possible location.
  • Adequately equipped location…ready to do church. The venue needs to have or be able to accommodate all the relevant worship, production, kids and hospitality equipment needed to function for a weekend service.
  • Tested production systems…all these systems need to be tested and functioning well before the launch.
  • Adequate seating, parking & kid’s facilities. Every one of these is important.  Enough comfortable seating.  Adequate parking that is accessible to the venue.  Clean and well-organized kid’s facilities that are safe, secure and appropriate for children of various ages.

 

3. Location Pastor

Probably the most important decision to be made by leadership is the choice of the Location Pastor

3 key questions when looking for a location pastor:

  • Can they handle the stage?
  • Can they develop leaders?
  • Can they gather people

 

4. Strong Launch

  • Start strong…grow better

There are many benefits to a strong launch.  Not the least being that the stronger the launch, the more likely that growth will occur sooner in the location.

  • The impact of the prelaunch phase

Prior to launching, there is much evidence pointing to the advantages of doing a ‘pre-launch’ phase. In this phase, there are typically interest meetings, pre-launch gatherings in the chosen venue, and the building of small groups prior to the official public launch.  This does several things.  It helps create a sense of real community before the church is public.  It helps build momentum, so that once services are open to the public, there is an invitation culture already established.  Pre-launch also helps develop strength in teams.  Strength of culture, systems and functioning.

  • There are ‘seasons’ for starting

Experience would suggest that there are better times to start than others.  Typically, the best and most practical start time is Spring and Autumn.  These are also the most typical growth seasons for an established church as well.

Summer is usually a time for families and individuals to get away and have a break.  Winter can often be a challenging time to birth something as well.  Getting people motivated to get out and get involved can be a little more challenging.  As it goes in the natural so it can go in this context as well.

  • Birth ‘mature’ congregations

The aim for the launch phase is to start a congregation that, for all intents and purposes, begins as ‘mature’.  The days of starting ‘from scratch’ and with nothing but three faithful people and an overhead projector don’t have to be relived!

One of the great advantages of multisite (that I believe should be taken advantage of) is the utilizing of resources available.  The leadership pipeline is producing team and leaders that are already trained.  The ‘central’ team is helping locate a venue and set it up for a great launch.  The Kids ministry director is working with you and your Kids overseer to build a kid’s ministry team before the location is launched.  The Worship director is working with your Worship overseer to build a worship team and have impacting worship from day one…you get the picture!

When new people arrive day one of the launch, the experience is positive, the worship is engaging, the welcome teams are in place and the location is ready to embrace new people and to grow immediately!

 

I hope that this series has helped you gain a clearer understanding of the basics of healthy multisite churches and how to get a solid location off the ground.

 

Blessings!

Mark Kelsey

 

Blame Shift

Simon McIntyre   |   October 14, 2021

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I can think of no better book to evaluate the effect psychology has had on the western mind than Theodore Dalrymple’s masterful little tome, Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality.  He is a retired physician, psychiatrist, and author of prophetically inclined books on the moral and social trajectories of the West.  Dalrymple plots the course that psychologizing has had on morality, and his conclusions aren’t cause for much joy.

He, through the lens of history, literature, and the social sciences, outlines the inevitability of our admirable evasions

by which we blame everything but ourselves, the prime candidate, for our lamentable behaviours.

Dalrymple reminds us that Shakespeare, in King Lear, comments on the disingenuous inclination of man to blame his actions on anything but himself … “an admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star.”  Some blame the stars, some their heritage, some a habit – whatever. We find some way to shift blame.

 

Where did this come from?

It depends on who you listen to.  Evolutionists will find a way to link it to the survival of the fittest, although nobody has adequately explained how dispositions/morality metamorphosed from physical activity (muscle to morality).  Dalrymple sees it as an outcome of erosion of moral responsibility, with the gratifying assistance of much of what passes for psychology.  It also complicates how justice is meted out, if we are taught that responsibility no longer lies at our feet, clay that they are.

 

Scripture explains it with profundity and economy in Genesis 3.

You are familiar with the story:

Adam, having done something he was warned not to do, and now experiencing guilt, blamed God and Eve.  Eve in turn blamed the serpent.  Adam is guilty and finds others to blame; Eve blames the serpent for deceiving her.  In other words, nobody was prepared to accept blame.  Neither were repentant. They were sorry, but being sorry isn’t repentance. Both pushed blame away from themselves – “It’s your fault”, “She made me do it”, “The snake is to blame”, “The devil made me do it”.

 

Blame shift is the preferred option when caught out or exposed.  We are experts at it; it’s endemic to our humanity. 

Blame is something as old as humanity and as modern as the 21st century.  Some segments of the church trade in guilt, Marxism trades in blame, and the social sciences trade in both.

 

This plays out amongst church leaders who fail – morally, ethically, or financially, or as is often the case, a mixture of all three.  It is a gambling habit, or a sex addiction, or a drinking problem – but seldom is it ever a personal problem, one I’m responsible for, even if fuelled by extenuating circumstances.  When I hear leaders say they have a sex addiction – and well they might, and how does that help their spouse – I hear someone failing at base one of repentance and forgiveness.  It is a classic shift of blame, in that it shifts the focus away from the person’s culpability towards reasons for failure, and it is so often applauded as honesty, as transparency, when in fact it is nothing of the sort. It is nothing less than the ancient sidestep of shifting blame.  The mourning of genuine repentance is still a long way from this person.

It isn’t that they are an addict so much as they are corrupt, sinful. Confessing addiction, or some such ruinous proclivity, as the reason is a failure of repentance.  It will engender sympathy but will not deal with a corrupt nature.  This is close to, if not entirely, disingenuous – and all too common.

A contrite spirit is loved by God, not mere sorrow or regret. 

Sorrow and regret are generated by being caught out (few ever confess) and masquerade as godly sorrow and repentance from sin.  But they seldom lead to change.  On the contrary, they are often predictors of behavioural recidivism.

 

If we can’t call something for what it is, we won’t be free from what it is.

Shift the blame to where it belongs – our behaviour, our choices – us, me, you.  The cross of the saviour does not exonerate admirable evasions.  It demands humble self-awareness and brings profound forgiveness, healing, and restoration.  Blame shift to your own loss.

 

Simon Circle Cropped

Healthy Pastoring In Complex Times

Thierry & Marianne Moehr   |   September 30, 2021

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If we have learned anything in the last 2 years, it is that life is complex and uncertain. People are shaken, disoriented, and confused by the events happening on a global level that have very real and personal consequences. In complex times, people look to their leaders for stability and guidance. And yet, leaders themselves are shaken too, their sense of direction and vision for the future is also challenged. But there is a unique and wonderful opportunity to provide stability and guidance.

We have been called for such a time as this and as people are lost and questioning, we have the possibility to point people towards God, who will be their steady anchor.  Our role as leaders and pastors is crucial.

 

The challenge of pastoring in complex times is that the need is great, and there is a risk that we might focus on the wrong things.

We want to suggest 4 focuses for healthy pastoring.

 

First, we need to be pastorally minded.

Now is the time to be present in people’s lives and focus on their well-being. Focusing only on vision and goals for your church when your people need help to get through the present can be dangerous.

 

Second, we need to be real and authentic.

We can’t ignore the problem and the challenges that people are facing by being overly positive. This requires a healthy vulnerability on our part and a willingness to listen to people. You can tell them that you don’t know, that you’re also struggling… People will feel like they can relate to you.

 

Third, we need to preach the word of God and avoid other debates.

The word of God is the ultimate truth, and we are called to preach a message of hope. Be careful of fighting the wrong fight by focusing on current affairs and political debates. Our role is to point people to God, to the cross and to be Christ-centered in the message we bring. That’s our place of unity: Jesus!

 

Lastly, keep as much stability and regularity as possible.

While we need to remain flexible to respond to changing circumstances, a time of crisis is not the right time to completely restructure the church. This can place an unnecessary burden on your teams and leaders when they themselves are feeling stretched. We also believe that your voice, as the pastor, is the one that will bring a sense of safety, so be there and preach most of the time!

 

As a Christian leader, you are perfectly positioned to offer people a sure hope that extends beyond the complexity of the times we are living in.

“He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure”
Isaiah 33:6

As you fear the Lord and submit your leadership to Him, he will give you the treasure of His salvation, wisdom and knowledge that you can share with others.

 

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Why Small Church Is Important

Simon McIntyre   |   August 24, 2021

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Hindsight is so helpful when it comes to prognostication; we can prophesy with unerring accuracy something that has happened.  Which is all a way of saying that we aren’t very good at prediction, and maybe a little better at interpretation.

 

If there is one thing the current pandemic has shown us, it is that those who have vital connections to God and his church have thus far fared better than attenders, onlookers, casual saints and the lazy. 

It is unlikely that any churches haven’t been affected by lockdowns, stay at home orders, isolation, and quarantines –some adversely, if numbers matter, and I think they do.  Some churches haven’t made it.  I suspect they include churches who didn’t have the know-how to adapt with technology.  I’m no big fan of Zoom and YouTube being our main means of connection, but they have been brilliant tools to help us through, even if engagement after a year started dropping, the more so in larger churches.  A number of larger churches are starting back in person with less than 50% of their numbers prior to Covid.  This may be because people are connecting more locally, but it’s hardly an encouragement to the leaders of these previously booming congregations.  Yet, there is more at work here than the limitations of technology, or the fickleness of crowds.

The very nature of God’s church is premised on community, on proximity, on connectivity. 

Christians aren’t wired, by the Holy Spirit, to live in isolation.  Being in Christ is being in his church, nothing less, and that always finds a local expression, and it may be that the more local the expression the more effective it proves.  The idea of watching church on a screen (excepting for when it is the only alternative) is not being the church, the saving community/body of Jesus.  It is watching – not truly participating or being vitally joined.

 

Small churches may survive better, especially if the pandemic continues by morphing, of which the variants are salient warnings.  We will always need bigger, apostolic churches but history reminds us that most churches have only ever been 80 or less. There is a sociological phenomenon that is consistent with the creational needs of humanity at play here; something that can’t be gotten around with hopes for more larger churches.  And what is required for larger churches is a multifaceted and gifted team and uncommon leadership skill.  The point is it is uncommon; this level of leadership is a gift that can’t be (easily) replicated by technique.

 

Two dynamics are currently feeding into the need for more smaller churches:

One is the fracturing of the family as the basic unit of society.

People are less connected to home and divorce continues to ravage families, especially children (I’m still amused with otherwise intelligent people saying they still love/respect their divorced wife or husband and are making sure the children are getting the best of both worlds, which like proposing that losing a leg will make you a better runner). And we are facing the fact that loneliness is a plague in our cities – the bigger the city the more extreme, where more and more singles live alone.  People are craving connection and the best means of vital and healthy connections are always found in smaller settings – homes, around the table, at meals.

 

Which brings us to the second point.

The main means of community in the early church was table fellowship, even if some of the homes they met in were quite large by first century standards.

Christians would gather, pray, sing songs of praise to Jesus, read, and hear the scriptures, pledge to maintain biblical standards of morality, and eat together, including communion.  That was essentially how they did small church together.  This isn’t replicable in large assemblies.  We simply can’t know one another and effectively participate with each other in large groups, unless we prefer the anonymity of crowds.  But that is a sign of dislocation.

 

In summary:

  • Smaller churches are easier to start and replicate.
  • Smaller churches have an agility that larger ones don’t. In an era that is increasingly anti-Christian, renting (or purchasing) larger spaces is incurring more and more community resistance, if not downright hostility.
  • Smaller churches can comfortably exist (and validly so) with pastoral leadership rather than the significantly rarer apostolic/prophetic leadership.
  • Smaller churches create an interpersonal dynamic that larger churches struggle with, unless their structure is, and genuinely so, small churches within the larger church. This is easier said than done, especially where the Sunday meeting is still the ‘real’ church.
  • Smaller church is the form the church has historically and largely existed in. I don’t see this changing, and at this juncture this may prove to be one of our biggest advantages.

Small church is important.

 

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Doing Church Differently

Mattis Thielmann   |   July 20, 2021

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Creatively Adapting In These Challenging Times

 

‘How did you actually grow your church during Covid-19?’

This is one of the questions many other pastors asked us in the beginning of 2021.

After one year of Covid-19, the number of volunteers and connect groups in our church and giving has doubled.

But how was this possible?

The easy answer would be that we put a lot of effort into making church happen in any way possible. Like most churches, we started online services. We held three drive-in cinema services. We organized a big open-air service in summer and tried to create some really special Easter and Christmas productions.

 

So, is the key to simply do as much as possible? Of course not. 

Adapting to the circumstances of the time in order to grow your church means flexibility. We tried to hold this as one of our greatest values – especially in this Covid season. Flexible leadership means adapting to your circumstances quickly.

 

When the first lockdown in Germany occurred – we had less than 24 hours to set up the first online service our church had ever done. The question was never ‘should we hold a service?’ It was simply, ‘how can we make a service possible?’ So, we spontaneously booked a camera crew, and we recorded our first service and put it online.

Watching it today, it is far away from how we are doing it now, but it was the best we were able to produce at the time. It actually changed the way we thought about church! We tried to stop thinking about how we were used to doing church and focused on new ways of making church possible in this unfamiliar situation.

That is why we then asked a professional filmmaker to help us and give advice for our online services. Under their guidance, we quickly changed the setting from an ‘on stage’ service to a large industrial setting.

 

We tried to be flexible, and we tried to think outside the box. One day we heard that a drive-in cinema was planning to open in one of the cities in which we have a campus. I reached out immediately to see if it was possible to run a service there. It was! We could never have imagined the success of this service. We only planned to hold a one-off drive-in service but afterwards we decided to run some more.

We had hundreds of first-time visitors coming to those services and dozens of salvations every Sunday.

 

As a result of those events and our online service re-design, we had many volunteers starting to serve in our church. Many of them were the very professionals that we had asked for advice in the first place!

It was not actually the sermon or the way we worshipped, but the fact that we had been flexible, creative and forward thinking that made our church so attractive to them. Many had never been in church before and got saved during this season because they saw a group of believers that was so motivated to make church possible and to get the Gospel out there, even in unfamiliar circumstances.

 

Did everything always work out perfectly? Definitely not. Some things we tried out did not work at all, but to be flexible, to be creative, to adapt to the circumstances around you often means to try, fail and then try something else.

The message of hope remained the same, only the way of reaching our communities with the message changed in so many ways and so many times. 

 

There was no ‘How to run church in a Global crisis seminar’ we could attend and there are many other things we as the Church might face in the future. Hopefully not on the scale of a global crisis, but there will be many future circumstances that require creativity, flexibility, and adaptability from us.

 

My biggest lesson as a leader in this season would be the following:

Be bold and try something.

We may be afraid that it might not work out but trust me, often we will be surprised by how God is using our effort to make things possible!

It does not have to be something the world has never seen before. It is mostly about embracing the situation and circumstances around you, being flexible and quick to react.

In German we have a saying: ‘The devil’s favourite furniture is the long bench’, which is a metaphor for procrastination. Often the Church’s biggest hinderance in adapting to circumstances is trying to wait it out. 

So don’t wait – initiate!

 

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False Prophets

Simon McIntyre   |   July 20, 2021

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They were false prophets because their ‘imaginary’ prophecies were not fulfilled.  Unlike most genuine prophets they weren’t unpopular nor were they shunned, as Jeremiah was.  They were included in the company of Priests and Kings.  They regularly prophesied and were celebrated for their ecstatic utterances.   They were part of the fabric of Israel’s national life and culture, confirming God’s continuing protection and goodness to the people – or so they said.

The prophet of the Lord, Jeremiah, gives false prophets a thorough lambasting.  To some, he declares their days will be shortened, to others exile and loss, but to all stern reproof for not speaking in God’s name when claiming they were – “they have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them.”

What then, was the nature of their prophetic ministry?  Why did Jeremiah spend considerable energy repudiating their words of comfort and protection from encroaching enemies?

In short, the false prophets were giving false hope. 

They were saying good times were ahead when, in actual fact, good times was the last thing on the agenda for their foreseeable future.  Exile was decreed to them – back to Egypt (in a sense) – in the form of Babylon.

Jeremiah did speak of restoration and a restoring of God’s goodness to the people and the land – “I will restore the fortunes of my people.”  And it was Jeremiah who spoke of a new covenant, wherein the Law of God would be written on the hearts of his people – not stone tablets.  Jeremiah wasn’t a pessimist, but neither was he an optimist in regards their current fortunes and future.  His sure hope was that God would one day revive and restore his people – but not before sorrow, loss and exile.  “There is hope for your future, declares the Lord.”  But in the meantime, they would face 70 years of exilic judgment.  He was consequently imprisoned because the King and the nation didn’t like what he said – “why do you prophesy and say …

 

False prophets tell people what they want to hear and for so doing are popular, and likely prosperous. 

Because they wanted to satisfy the people, they made up what God didn’t say.  But the King and the people loved it – ‘away with the doomsayer Jeremiah,’ they demanded.

 

It is easy to see false prophets as Rasputin-like, with glowering eyes, questionable intent, and crafty words ensnaring God’s people.  But nothing could be further from the truth – they were popular, celebrated, invited into the halls of influence and power.  What they said made the people happier – although, it should be noted, not for long.  They accused Jeremiah of “not seeking the welfare of the people, but their harm.”  They wanted the people to hear only good news –  laudable in one sense, but deceptive in another.

Has anything changed? 

Paul the apostle prophetically warned Timothy, “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”  We could add prophets to this.

 

A false prophet in the age of the church and the Spirit is unlikely to be saying things that are wildly unorthodox or heretical; they are likely to be like the prophets of Jeremiah’s day who appealed to the needs and desires of the people. 

They aren’t always immoral, unethical, and heterodox – although false prophets can be all these things.  But they only speak the positive, the palatable, the immediately satisfying.  They are unlikely to challenge and convict with God’s word, as this is perceived as being negative and abusive (and when we go down that road, no discipling is possible).

We are so enmeshed in the therapeutic, the emotive, the sought-for expression of our ‘true’ selves, we are seldom any longer capable of being corrected, much less rebuked.

A prophet, worth his salt, won’t always say things we like. 

Agabus didn’t get the memo from the ministry of ‘feel-good.’  He spoke of chain and pain when speaking to Paul.  And Jesus told Paul how much he would suffer for him – hardly very encouraging.

 

Would we allow for a ‘word’ that told us our future had dark days in it, but that God would work it for his glory and our maturation?

The point being: we have to be able to take both. Sometimes things aren’t going to get better, although if we allow the Holy Spirit access to our inconvenience, we will – get better, that is.

For every three encouraging words we need one that stops us in our self-oriented tracks, calls us to account, and reminds us of the lives of Jesus, Paul and the saints (God’s church).   

We are promised God’s goodness and difficult days.  A false prophet only takes account of the former.

 

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The Cross

Simon McIntyre   |   June 28, 2021

Simon The Cross

The Cross of Christ has been made many things, but ultimately it is only one thing.

To most, it is a finely crafted adornment on a chain, to be hung around our necks; it is romanticised.
It has become a symbol of Christianity and its founder – Jesus Christ.
It is found on flags – many European countries have it embedded on their national flags.
And it is now illegal to wear in places of employment in France, due to its aggressively secularized vision of the state.
The Cross is many things.

But what it actually is, is something quite different.

 

The cross was a brutal form of torture and subjugation employed by Rome to let its vassals know who was in charge. 

Thousands of Jews were crucified by zealous Rome policy.  Pax Romana was all very well if you towed the line, otherwise peace was the last thing you could expect.  It was ignominious to be crucified. You were considered criminal, and publicly shamed as naked you hung, probably already viciously beaten, until you drowned in the fluid collecting in your lungs.  Nothing romantic, nothing merciful, nothing but extreme pain and degradation.  This was how Jesus died – just another poor wretch that crossed Rome’s power – so it seemed.

The cross was a great defeat, it appeared. 

The most wonderful person to grace this earth was dispatched by the powers, without much more than a thought.  And yet, what is weakness and shame to man was the display of God’s power and wisdom.  In the cross, in the pain and shame, was the defeat of the dark powers that subjugate humankind – it was the crucifixion of sin and death.  In the cross is a wisdom that beggars the greatest of philosophers.

 

This victory of God is not a once off historical act; it is re-enacted and embodied (incarnated, if you like) every time love is optioned, every time forgiveness is extended, every time God’s people don’t revel in and rely on man’s power to resolve matters. 

Our celebration of military power is siding alongside the same sort of power/s that killed the prince of life.

 

The cross is not just something that happened, in the sense we look back on it – it is the pattern of the way of the Messiah.  Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was largely about their worldly perceptions of wisdom, patronage and privilege. He was at pains to show in his own life the cruciform lifestyle of a genuine apostle.  He preached Christ crucified – he lived Christ crucified.  He took the form of a servant.  The cross was his impetus, his vision, his grid, his burden.

 

The cross subverts everything common to and preferred by humans.  Like the apostle Peter, who died upside down, we are to live upside down – in leadership, in life, in teaching and in example.  What was despised by man is hailed by heaven.

 

The cross is life, power and wisdom to us, death, weakness and folly to others.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

 

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Un-Masked

Simon McIntyre   |   June 28, 2021

Simon Unmasked

People are facing off about masks.  Every man and his dog (I saw a dog sporting a mask recently) has an opinion. To wear or not to wear, that is the question?  Naturally, every opinion is scientifically validated, they all insist on contradiction to one another.

In the community of faith, this divergence of opinion loses no energy – it may actually gain energy because of our beliefs about freedom, and freedom, rightly, means a lot to us.

Anecdotal evidence to hand is that some people won’t go back to physical church gatherings because people aren’t wearing masks, and equally other people refuse to re-engage with their church community because some people are wearing masks.  Churches are splitting over this; it has all the hallmarks of Corinthian divisiveness.

Those that do mask up are likely to be considered the weak, the fearful, maybe the unwitting victims of so-called political oppressiveness.  Those that don’t mask up see themselves as bastions of freedom, refusing to be the pawns of so-called scientific dogma, and Government legislation. They are the unafraid, or maybe the just plain careless.

 

Two thoughts for us to consider:

Firstly, we may find ourselves redefining freedom – which was paradoxically always about freedom from something to be being the slave of another thing, in our case, the servants of Christ.

Freedom isn’t a political agenda in the writings of Paul.  Rather, it is the freedom to love and serve, and not having to exercise your freedoms.  In the inimitable words of Bob Dylan – “you gotta serve someone.”[1]   A truly free person isn’t a captive of their freedom. They are, rather, a captive of love, which makes them a slave.

If freedom is to be defined by not wearing a mask, we have likely, even if inadvertently, judged the person who does wear one.  We see them as weak, fearful, and no way are we going to succumb to that old devil.  No way, we are making a stand!

Secondly, making a stand is about as far away as you can get from the apostle Paul’s teaching and lifestyle.

His glory was never in his freedoms, but in his imitation of the crucified Christ – who is our example (crucifixion) and not just our benefactor (resurrection).  He went to great lengths when writing to the church in Rome to help untangle the issue of the weak and the strong.  The weak were fearful, no question, the weak didn’t see the cosmic implications of Christ’s Lordship, no doubt, but the weak were as loved, accepted and celebrated by God the Father as the strong, and it wasn’t demanded of the weak that they change the condition of their, in most cases, cultural heritage.  The Lord was their defender.  The strong were the ones who had to change. This wasn’t by denying them the truth of their liberty.  Not for a minute, and there were occasions when Paul refused to be hindered by the censorial attitude of others trying to rob him of his freedoms.

But Paul’s goal was to conform to the image of Christ crucified, and in so doing he would become all things to all people – to win as many as possible, Christian, Jew and Gentile.  Paul became as the weak to win the weak.  Gordon Fee has this to say, “The apostle’s actions, which appear (to some) to be inconsistent, have integrity at a much higher level. Whereas he is intransigent on matters that affect the gospel itself, whether theological or behavioural, that same concern for the saving power of the gospel is what causes him to become all things to all people in matters that don’t count.”[2]  Masks don’t count.

Which is all a long way of saying that Paul would wear a mask – and – Paul would not wear a mask.

He would be guided according to the need, the conscience, of the community he was with, not his freedom.   The mask is nothing – people are everything.  If not wearing a mask defines your freedom (your freedom thereby being supposedly supressed) – you guessed it, you are not free.

 

I hate wearing the flipping things.  My glasses constantly fog up.  So what?  My concern for others is more important than the proclamation of my freedom (if you could call this an expression of freedom) and certainly more important than any temporary nuisance.

Love dictates our actions, not the establishments of our rights, be they personal or political – a sadly forgotten kindness/ethic in our rights-obsessed culture.

Mask up, you’ve been unmasked Lone Ranger.

 

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[1] Slow Train Coming:  Bob Dylan. 1979, Colombia Records.

[2] Gordon Fee. NICNT, The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Eerdmans, Rev Ed. 2014.