What contribution do gospel movements bring to our cities? Here’s a new video from 2020birmingham explaining how the gospel flourishes through collaboration in church-planting.
What do we need to grasp to be effective ministers of the gospel in a city?
1. Cities are the future
Today for the first time in human history over half of the world’s population live in cities. The UN estimate in World Population Prospects that by 2050 the world will be 68.7 percent urban.
Stephen Um & Justin Buzzard in their book Why Cities Matter write ‘never before have cities been as populated, powerful, and important as they are today. . .cities shape the world because what happens in the cities spreads.’
2. Cities never stay the same
Um & Buzzard point out a second feature of cities – the pace of change. ‘Nothing ever stays the same in cities. There is constant movement.’ A city like Birmingham has changed beyond recognition in the 40 years I have lived here. It looks different, feels different and thinks differently. It takes time, insight and skill to answer the question ‘what do I need to know to most effectively love and communicate Christ to my city both now and for the next 20 years?’
3. Ministry in cities is complex
One final observation worth highlighting from Um & Buzzard, ‘cities are populated with people of various cultures, different worldviews, and different vocations. Cities force individuals to refine their cultural assumptions, religious beliefs, and sense of calling.’
That raises important questions: what is the future of my particular city? What kinds of opportunities does urbanisation present for the gospel? What does it mean for our church to be a church for the city?
Meeting the challenge
If cities are growing in size, power and influence and if cities are always in a flux of change and if cities are ever-more diverse in assumptions and beliefs then the church must come together to face the challenge and to find answers to the issues we face.
2020birmingham will be holding its 2015 annual conference entitled City of the Future on the 10th March here in Birmingham. And the issues in this post form the heart of our conference agenda. Which ever city you represent why not come along and learn together how better to reach and serve our city now and into the future.
Which means that if we are to reach our city with the gospel of Christ we will need to establish churches and ministries that are committed to the city and that can also effectively engage the people of the city. The future of the city is therefore our theme because it has never been more important to discern all that is required to contextualise the never-changing gospel in an ever-changing city.
At this year’s 2020birmingham conference we will ask:
- What are the challenges and opportunities?
- What does the church need to do and be?
- What does it mean to serve the good of the city?
- What might it look like to not just live in the city but to love it now and in the future?
This year’s 2020 conference will equip you and your church to better understand what lies ahead so that, with humble confidence, we can do effective ministry now and in the coming years. We want to cultivate ministries that both honour God and bless the lives of those who live in our great city.
We are delighted that the Rt. Revd. David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham will be one of our speakers.
‘From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.’ Acts 17:26-27
2020birmingham is a catalyst for church-planting in our city seeking to assist in the planting of 20 new churches in our city between 2010 and 2020. For a brief introduction to the story so far visit Momentum. We are also part of City to City Europe.
I was invited by Ralph Cunnington, the editor of Foundations to review and interact with Ray Evans’ book Ready, Steady, Grow for the autumn 2014 edition. Do take a look at the journal which can be downloaded for free here but I’m also setting out the content of my article in 3 posts on the blog.
This first post will offer a summary of the book’s content and then in the next couple of posts I will address a number of issues that impact growth that Evans did not directly address.
Many gospel churches are not growing, yet, they could be, and they should be. That’s the argument of Ray Evans’ book Ready, Steady, Grow, written out of a conviction that ‘too many churches stagnate in their growth, or even derail in their gospel proclamation, because of problems that could be overcome if they just knew how.’ Whilst this is decidedly not a book on church-growth techniques, Evans shares what has worked in his own thirty years of ministry whilst always guided by biblical principles and practice.
The unique selling point of the book is its focus on the challenges involved in understanding the changing dynamics at work in our churches as they grow through different sizes. Quite simply, leaders underestimate and often fail to grasp altogether how the size of a church impacts the very way they must lead in order for the church to fulfil its purpose. Acts 6 is presented as a case study of ‘diversionary confusion’ in which leaders battle the challenges thrown up by church growth. Organizational complexity requires careful consideration if a church is not to be unsettled or even undone by the problems of growth.
Central to the argument of the book is that it is a failure to grasp the dynamics of growth that leads churches and their leaders to get stuck at a certain size of church. It’s not easy for churches to transition from small to medium, and medium to large, and they certainly won’t unless growth is understood and church structures adapted. Of particular help to my own thinking is the description of a stage between medium and large sized church, described as ‘awkward’ size. Whilst not a description unique to Evans, his analysis of the stage of church life where a church is too large to be pastored by a single pastor, or for everyone to be relationally connected, yet not large enough to adopt the structures inherent in a large church, will prove helpful for many. Evans also gives some consideration to responding to a resistance to growth sometimes found in congregations as a result of a church culture that is inherently too cautious and risk-averse, or simply a congregation unwilling to change.
Ray Evans confesses to be an ‘everyday leader’ in an ‘ordinary town’ who has nevertheless overseen a growing church and taken that church from small to large. That experience shows in the wisdom offered to help leaders and churches overcome ‘spiritual and practical blockages’ that arise from ‘confusion, numbers, complexity and complaints.’ The combination of insights from Scripture alongside common-sense wisdom is a winning one.
Having set out his thesis and offered some general reflections on leading through change, Evans goes on in the second half to show how for a church to grow, and grow through barriers, leaders need to be able to ‘work on areas of the Christian life simultaneously.’ He sums up those areas that require our attention under the heading of three ‘M’s’: maturity, ministry and mission.
For churches to grow, all three must be constantly in view, church members must share that commitment to growth in each but ‘it also needs a ‘top-down’ lead and practical organization, which leaders must facilitate.’
In this short review I will highlight just one insight from each area in turn.
Growing to maturity
The impact of organisational complexity in a growing church can be felt in Evans’ observation ‘if you grow large, you have to grow small at the same time’ because ‘if large attracts, small keeps.’ Any large church must, at the same time, be a church of small groups if individuals are to grow. What is lost on a Sunday must be celebrated through the week as small groups become the place where relationships flourish and where individuals are given the time and opportunity to contribute, something not easy to do in the dynamic of large church.
Serve in ministry: getting teams mobilized
When it comes to serving in the local church meeting the challenge of growth requires a recognition that people have to be trained to serve in a new way. A culture-shift needs to take place across a congregation from generalisation to specialisation, from individual relationships to formalised teams and from wisdom caught to teams trained. Again the issue of complexity arises: how do you recruit a team, train a team, motivate a team and keep a team now that relationships are not the glue to service?
Reach out in mission
I’m grateful that Evans donates three whole chapters to growing in mission. These chapters are further enhanced in that the end of each application is directed to the different categories of size of church. So, Evans’ insights of the danger facing growing churches that they will turn in on themselves, once they are financially viable and ministry needs are all being met. He also recognises that growing churches tend to develop new ministries, new ministries call for a greater time commitment from members. So much so that over time a growing church with ‘an overcrowded schedule may be slowly cutting off a key outreach strategy.’
This book is an important addition to a leader’s library. It is a particular encouragement to me that a good resource on growing churches has been written by a British church leader. That has been long overdue. There are few, if any, books written for UK churches by experienced leaders who have grown their congregations through the challenges and transitions.
I was invited to speak at the recent FIEC leaders conference on the topic of Leading a partnering church and outlined the way in which churches are coming together in our city to collaborate in church-planting initiatives – under the 2020birmingham banner.
Here is the video of the presentation
In this fourth of a five part series (part1, part 2, & part 3) on living with the financial pressures church-planting brings we move from considering the impact of financial stress on the planter and his family to its impact on the plant. How do you lead a church through the challenges of seemingly always needing more money to fund the ministries of a small but growing congregation? Essential to getting this right is seeing financial need as gospel opportunity. We grow up the church as we put the gospel to work in this area of church life.
It’s important to recognise that being in a church family with significant financial needs might be a whole new experience for members of a core-group or young plant. In fact some may never have had to live with financial uncertainty in church-life at all. Leading the church well involves recognising that some will be excited by the challenges ahead whilst others remain apprehensive. Over time if a plant remains in financial need, perhaps because growth means continually needing new resources, it could be that without good leadership some will grow weary of always needing to make up the money and others may even begin to resent it breeding disunity in the church.
Here are six principles to guide you in this area of leadership;
1. When will the plant be financially sustainable?
From the beginning be realistic and clear with the church as to when (if ever) financial sustainability is expected from the giving of the church alone. Some church plants get there in 1-2 years, most within 5, but others in more challenging circumstances or reaching more needy communities may always be reliant on outside support. Have a sense of how this might work out for your own plant.
2. Talk to the church about giving and do it regularly
Speaking as a British planter our culture makes us nervous, even apologetic, about talking money. But it is a big mistake to start a church where we do not regularly discuss giving.
It’s also a mistake to think we shouldn’t be talking about money in our public meetings simply because we expect and desire non-Christians to be present. It is not just believers who need to hear from the Scriptures how God, through the gospel, transforms his people into generous, joyful, sacrificial givers. What does need to be clear in our gatherings is that the plant does not ask or expect visitors to give financially to fund ministry.
3. Make vision the focus of giving
Vision is the place to keep your focus when it comes to financial planning. Don’t reduce any appeals to budgets and a list of what it might cost to meet your needs – rather envision people by painting a picture of what you hope to achieve through generous giving.
As a church this year we decided to highlight 12 things we wanted to do that would be possible through our Mission and Ministry Gift Day and we gave people good reasons as to why we needed them to give again on top of their regular giving. Some of the 12 things were new such as starting a youth program but other things were continuing ministries that God has chosen to bless that we wanted to continue. Asking for money for continuing ministries can be an important way of celebrating all that has been achieved through giving of previous years.
4. Turn giving into a sustainable financial plan
Whilst vision is crucial to raising funds it is also vital that you can demonstrate, if called upon, how you have arrived at your figures.
- Know where you stand as a church and what your financial needs are
- Budget well
What helps us in the task of budgeting for the future is that we ask every member as part of our annual Mission and Ministry Gift Day to indicate their level of giving for the year ahead. This is not a request that every member increase their giving in absolute terms, year on year, because we recognise every person’s circumstance will vary (eg some step out of paid employment to start families) but it is a request that we all prayerfully indicate what we expect to be able to give.
It is a much bigger conversation than this blog post permits to answer the question should church leaders know what members of the congregation give? Our practise over the 15 years we have existed as a church is that only one individual, our church treasurer, knows the giving of each member. The advantage of this for me as pastor has been to help me avoid comparing members and preferring members simply on the basis of finances. It also ensures that I don’t avoid hard but necessary conversations with members simply because of its impact on their giving!
Having said that, how do I pastor a church member as to how Jesus is working in their hearts in their use of money and resources if I have no idea whether or what they give? Isn’t their giving a key aspect of their godliness? Should we not know who gives in our congregation? We would see it as our place to speak to a church member who stopped attending, or told us they never read their people or that they had started dating a non-Christian. Why not counsel them over their giving?
There is no easy way to resolve this tension. For now, my approach has been to ask our church treasurer to inform me if a member is not giving at all but otherwise to make my appeal for generous giving through preaching and vision-casting. God has honoured this approach and he has ensured we’ve always had just what we’ve needed.
6. Celebrate generous giving
When God has moved the hearts of your members to give generously, joyfully and sacrificially that is the gospel at work. Make time and take time to celebrate what God has done and use his provision as further ground for teaching and training the church.
In the final post I want to consider how to grow a healthy church by deliberately staying in a place of financial need.
This is the third post on how to understand and respond to the financial pressures church-planting brings (part 1 & part 2 can be found here). In this post I want to briefly consider how planting impacts the home.
What is the impact of living in this way for you as a church-planting family?
- Don’t expect your wife to naturally share, to the same degree, your passion for the sacrificial commitment planting a church will make. Particularly if you have a family, her focus and drive will be with providing for the needs of a family.
- Don’t expect your wife to enjoy the same attitude to risk that you might be willing to bear. In my experience of working alongside planters their wives tend to me more risk-averse. It is certainly not sinful of them to struggle to adopt the same attitude.
- Don’t plan to plant a church on the basis of your wife’s income. Don’t presume that your wife wants to go on working to bank-roll the plant and don’t plan presuming that she will, especially beyond the first 12-18 months.
For a helpful introduction to the pressures of being a planter’s wife this interview with Christine Hoover is worth a look.
Financial stress and your relationship (& witness) to your children
- Do see planting as a family endeavour (on mission together!) and look for gospel-learning opportunities as you pray for God to provide and as you give thanks for meeting your needs. In planting you have an opportunity to experience in a more obvious and direct way how God graciously provides for his children –make good use of it.
- Mothers are inclined to feel guilty that their husband’s calling is damaging to their children. But don’t overestimate that damage. It can be good to have less stuff. Their lives will be enriched in other ways. And God is good. Many pastors’ wives testify to God’s provision through surprising and delightful means. Julia Jones
- Don’t ask your wife (and kids) to bear the sacrifice of living on less without seeking to compensate for it in other ways.
What might it mean for you to compensate for these financial pressures ?
- There is probably not much you can do to change your circumstances. Money pressures are likely to be tight and not just for the short-term (see below). But as we have already noted that brings gospel opportunities to grow in gospel confidence as the Lord provides.
- The one thing that must be avoided at all costs is asking wife and family to take the double-hit for a sustained period of time of being expected to sacrifice both time & money. That is something that breeds resentment. Dad not being around and then finances being tight is a danger to the spiritual well-being of our kids. So make time for family and make it a priority.
Financial stress and keeping going
- Financial stress is not limited to the challenges of raising an initial income. In the medium to longer term some form of financial pressure will stay with you. For example, a planter’s income is not likely to increase significantly over time. Your family may grow in number as your salary does not. Moving to a larger house may not be an option even as family grows. Whilst others in your church family will move on up the career ladder and enjoy a greater disposable income you will not. All that means that a widening gap between a planter’s income and the income of church contemporaries is likely to become more apparent (not less) over time. The family holidays enjoyed by others may simply not be available to you etc.
How to be keep going
- Learn to be content with what you have.
- If you are an elder or core-group member with financial resources to spare look for ways to bless the planter & spouse (even small gifts like vouchers for a meal out) are really appreciated.
- Teach your children what it means to rely on the Lord in all things as they see you relying on the Lord for finances.
- In the busyness of planting don’t neglect the ministry of fund-raising and by doing so bring an unhealthy level of stress into your church and family life.
- Don’t feel guilty in inviting people to partner with you. Remember, raising funds is ministry. The Lord is expanding your ministry to include people who will pray for and support your cause. Raising funds is ministry. William P. Dillon
This is the second of a series for planters and gospel workers on keeping going through the financial stresses that often accompany ministry. If there is one mind-set change that I’m encouraging its this – support raising is not a precursor to gospel ministry but a necessary and valuable expression of gospel ministry. In other words financial stress is an opportunity to learn and live the gospel.
Few planters see support raising as gospel ministry (don’t we all just want to get on with preaching and evangelism?) and because we don’t see the opportunity for growth that comes to us through it we simply wish our financial pressures away. But what if God wants to keep us humbly dependent on him as individuals and churches? What if financial need is one of the ways God wants to grow us up in the gospel? That’s the shift in thinking I want to encourage.
One of the biggest challenges in embracing support-raising is a fear factor that comes from asking for money. Perhaps, like me, you have always found seeking support for ministry a little awkward, embarrassing or inappropriate. What would it take to persuade you that rather than an embarrassing request what you are offering is an open-door to gospel growth in the life of the person you are seeking support from?
Here is where we need to see what it means that the gospel transforms our understanding of what we are inviting people to do when asking them to partner with us financially. Through the lens of the gospel what we begin to see is that our attitude can and should be different because what we are inviting people to do is transformed by the gospel.
To help us understand how this works we will look at Philippians 4v15-20 and Paul’s words of thanks to the church in Philippi in light of the gifts that they have given to him. Here we will learn why we have unique gospel reasons in asking for support and in taking those reasons to heart enables us to ask boldly.
1. Support-raising is an invitation to share in giving and receiving
In v.15 (NIV) Paul writes that ‘not one church shared [ESV partnered] with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only.’ The key idea for us to grasp here is that support raising is an invitation to partner in ministry rather than simply give to ministry. We naturally think asking for money is one-way traffic. That we are asking for something at the expense of someone i.e. our gain is their loss but if they have enough Christian love they might just be prepared to sacrifice what they have for us. But Paul says it is not all one way traffic. The blessing flows both ways. It is a two-way street in which the giver actually receives and the receiver gives.
Now doesn’t that change the very nature of the request? No longer do we need to think that we are merely asking for something from a donor rather in our invitation we are asking for an opportunity to give something the person we are writing too. In essence Paul is saying that giving to gospel ministry is a way of receiving and receiving money for gospel ministry is a way of giving.
How does that work?
2. Support-raising is an invitation to receive eternal reward.
Only a Christian with an eternal perspective can say what Paul says in v.17. He desires not what might be credited to his account (the money he receives from them) but Paul can say to the Philippians ‘what I desire is that more be credited to your account.’In other words when the Philippians gave to him their own eternal bank-account was being credited. Fee writes ‘their gift to him has the effect of accumulating ‘interest’ toward their eschatological reward.’
Now it’s crucial that we grasp this because it means that Christian motives in fund-raising are altogether different from those used by the world. Only the Christian can appeal to eternity as a motive for generous giving. Only Christians can genuinely say that a decision to give is a two-way street because only the Christian can appeal to a motivation of reward in the light of the gospel for those who give generously of the resources God has given them now.
The result is that in support-raising we are offering people an investment opportunity rather than seeking to deprive them of their resourses. We are actually seeking to bless them! Many Christians have received a great deal from God and an invitation to support a gospel-work is an opportunity to put more of their money to eternal use.
Paul is affirming the words of Christ that ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Support raising is an opportunity, through pointing people to the gospel as their reason to give, to turn reluctant, occasional givers into joyful, generous, sacrificial givers who will share in a greater reward.
3. Support-raising is an invitation to experience God’s blessing now
Finally, Paul points out that those who give experience God’s blessing now as well as in the future. Paul writes in v.19-20 that ‘the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.’ When we ask people to support our ministry we are giving people an opportunity to experience God’s blessing in his provision both now and in the future.
So don’t be embarrassed to use gospel-reasons to promote gospel-giving. You wouldn’t be embarrassed to bless people through prayer so why be embarrassed to bless people through an opportunity to give. Givers who give because of the gospel grow through the gospel – let’s make our motives and our method an opportunity for them to do just that.
At the Planting for Christ Conference held in May I lead a workshop entitled ‘Keep going…through the financial stress’.
Over the past 20 years of ministry I’ve gone through different phases of support and fund-raising from raising an entire salary through support for 3 years, to supplementing a church income and then seeking to lead a church for the past 15 years in which we are constantly seeking to raise new funds through the generous giving of members of the congregation.
Starting and growing a church plant without the necessary financial resources is one of the most significant challenges planters face. From the pressure of raising a family to the realities of an under-resourced plant, from feelings of inadequacy in fund-raising to a general uneasiness in asking others for money, the planter faces the daily challenge of leading a church by inviting people to embrace financial uncertainty. As plants become growing churches, or churches seeking to plant again so the need to keep raising funds over many years brings a different set of challenges and opportunities.
If you want to know the secret of keeping going through the financial stress then here it is:
Only a gospel mind-set that embraces financial pressures as a gospel opportunity for spiritual growth will get us going and keep us going.
How can we learn to rejoice rather than resent ministering in a context that requires us to give a disproportionate amount of time and energy to finances? As planters, with so many pressures on our time, we need to recognise the gospel opportunities inherent in leading a church through periods of financial stress.
In future posts I will be addressing issues such as ‘what is the impact of living in this way for you as a church-planting family?’, ‘how do you keep going as a family’, ‘what are the challenges and opportunities for the church plant when it comes to financial stress?’ and ‘how do we keep a church going and growing when we are constantly asking members for money?’
In this post I want to simply ask ourselves as church planters
Is depending on others for an uncertain income a good thing or bad thing?
Which church-planter doesn’t simply want someone to write a big cheque to bank-role the plant? But not only is that unlikely to happen but it might just be not very good for us. Perhaps a new mind-set shaped much more by the gospel than expediency or convenience can not only get us through the challenges but produce in us a much healthlier gospel-driven attitude to financing the church not just in a start up phase but for the long ter,
See support-raising as a ministry. It is often the last thing a planter wants to think about but as William Dillon suggests ‘support raising is a ministry. It is not begging people for money. Rather, it is an opportunity for you to share your vision. Support-raising provides opportunity for blessing to those who give to you. And God gives them credit for your fruit.’
Here are a couple of gospel reasons as to why we shouldn’t resent the pressure of living financially dependent on the Lord
1. It is biblical
- The Lord Jesus chose to depend on the generosity of others for his ministry on earth – Luke 8:1-3. It is truly remarkable that the same man who turned water into wine and multiplied the loaves and fishes deliberately decided to live in dependence not just on his father in heaven but on his father’s provision through the support of others.
- The Lord Jesus sent his disciples out depending on God to provide through others – Luke 9:3-4.
- The apostle Paul urged Christians to demonstrate the reality of their faith through partnership in mission – 2 Corinthians 8-9
- The apostle Paul highlighted the spiritual blessings that flowed to those who give generously to gospel work – Philippians 4:17-19
2. It is spiritually health-giving
DL Moody said ‘I show my faith when I go to men and state to them the needs of the Lord’s work and ask them to give it.’
- Raising financial support stretches your faith as you rely on God
- Raising financial support sharpens your vision for the plant as you set it forth to others
- Raising financial support trains and equips you to go on raising support for the plant
In the next post we will consider how the gospel enables us to ask boldly those we would like to partner with us in gospel ministry through financial support.
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