One way in which the modern experience of church can be radically different from the New Testament is in the relationship between local churches. We can be passionately engaged with our own local church, its community and mission, but have little idea about how churches are meant to work together in the common mission Christ has given to us.
London is a strange and wonderful beast. It’s a multicultural, diverse melting pot which pulsates with energy and innovation. It’s an incredible privilege to live here. But with the many strengths, there are also significant challenges. Despite living in a city of millions of people, it’s very possible to live a lonely and isolated existence. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of London life and to fall out of healthy patterns of rest. Here are my five top tips for doing church in the city.
You may have heard the old joke about London buses. You wait for ages for one to come along and then two come along at once. Perhaps the same could also be said about leadership announcements at Grace London! Recently we were excited to announce that Luke Boardman will be installed as an elder (i.e. pastor) on the 8th of September. We’re also pleased to announce that we’re appointing deacons for the first time at Grace London this autumn.
Part of my life as a pastor involves engaging in hard conversations. Recent weeks have been filled to an unusual degree with meetings of this kind. Sometimes they’re to do with intractable problems that people can’t quite find a way out of, and in that case some outside perspective, including hard truths held up like a mirror, can be really important.
A couple of weeks ago an article came out in The Atlantic which described the rapid expansion and subsequent decline of the Sunday Assembly. It's effectively a secular church. They describe themselves as "a godless congregation that celebrates life" . At their peak, they had launched nearly 70 chapters (i.e. congregations) in cities across Europe and North America. However, more recently, energy has fizzled out.
I’m very happy to confirm that we (as a church) are moving home at the end of September! Our new venue will be London Nautical School. We have shared little snippets of this with you at Upper Room, but we were not sure if it would all work out. Now, at last, we have signed the contract and set the wheels in motion.
Very often a Christian will approach doubt quite differently from a sceptic. A sceptic – particularly one who is new to the Christian faith – will often engage primarily at the level of the intellect. They will adopt a thinking posture in which they want to look at the arguments, read the Bible for themselves, weigh up the evidence. Of course, they will care about experience also, but experience is usually secondary. A Christian who is struggling in their faith very often struggles in a more intuitive, gut-level way…
The front page of yesterday’s Times declared, “TV’s golden age is closing the chapter on novels”. This year has seen a sharp decline in the sales of physical fiction books, partly attributed to the rise of the global monolith that is Netflix. I won’t deny that I enjoy an episode of Suits as much as the next man. But reading (particularly Christian) books has had a profound influence on my life in a way that Netflix never (ever) could.
Living in London distorts our view of this inter-generational flow. For many of us, we live in a single-generation millennial island, cut off from any meaningful interaction with grey-headed wisdom and the joy of little people. We walk, work, and worship with people who born within a narrow date range.
I’m looking forward to my first Father’s Day card this Sunday (although Caleb may need some help writing the card this year!).
I suspect the day will be greeted with a mixture of emotions. Some of you will have very positive memories of growing up with your father and will welcome the opportunity to express your appreciation. For others, the day will feel difficult. Perhaps because you didn’t know your biological father, or because he was neglectful or abusive. This is the painful reality for many.
In 2013, the Centre for Social Justice produced a report that estimated one million children were growing up without any meaningful relationship with their fathers. Christian Guy, then the director of the CSJ described the crisis, “For children growing up in some of the poorest parts of the country, men are rarely encountered in the home or in the classroom. This is an ignored form of deprivation that can have profoundly damaging consequences on social and mental development.”
As well as being a national tragedy (and part of the pervasive impact of human sin on family life), there is often an added difficulty for Christians, who, as a consequence, can struggle with the idea of God the Father. It leaves them feeling cold or confused. Sometimes Christians project the flaws of their own biological father onto God. God feels absent because their father was absent.
And yet, I think that is precisely the opposite place God wants us to end up. Of course, it’s absolutely right to recognise the limitations of your biological father and to go through the necessary business of forgiving him for the very real sins of failing to care for and love his family. However, this feeling of frustration and sense of lack should also drive us to our knees to approach the only perfect father who ever lived, asking that, by his Spirit, we might grasp the fullness of what it means to be children of the living God and to experience the joy, affirmation and security that comes with that.
No earthly parent will be perfect but we have a perfect father who is redefining for us what good parenting looks like. He has outrageous love and strong discipline. He comes with tenderness but is willing to rebuke us in love. He’s persistently faithful and wonderfully sacrificial (giving up his own son for us). Whatever our experience of biological fathers, we have a heavenly Father who is the answer to the deepest longings of our souls.
I am as prone to it as you are. When people ask me how things are going, I often respond by saying, ‘Busy!’ But I was provoked this week to stop using this word.
I went to a day conference in honour of the late Eugene Peterson. Various pastors were sharing the impact Peterson had had upon them, and a strong theme was Peterson’s opposition to busyness in pastoral ministry.
As we enter into what can euphemistically be described as the British summer, we will soon start to see the city beginning to slow down. Students are already finishing their exams and preparing to return home (we’ll miss you!). For those of us still in the city, life begins to take a slower pace. Work starts to be a bit quieter. Evenings are spent relaxing in the park with friends. And many of us will leave the city at some point for a short break. This is good news for our weary bodies!
There is a real sweetness and relief in being able to acknowledge your weakness before God. But the aim of the Christian life is to develop strength, to muscle up (spiritually speaking), and to grow mighty in God. We are wrong to think that aspiring to spiritual strength is somehow proud or unrealistic and unattainable. God has gifted us his Holy Spirit for the very purpose of strengthening us.
Our university campuses and social media feeds are increasingly full of accusations of injustice. From Germaine Greer to Peter Tatchell, Richard Dawkins to Brian Cox, no one is safe from contemporary society’s obsession with victimhood. So many of us are asking, how can we find peace in a world where everyone feels like a victim?
About three weeks ago, as we were going on holiday, I began to feel a strong sense of my own weakness. I was feeling very tired after a busy term. I was struggling with a cold and bruised ribs and was particularly aware of my battle against specific sins (impatience, selfishness etc.).
As the holiday went on, I began to reflect on this weakness…