On Tuesday 2020birmingham held its annual conference with over 100 people representing 40 different churches and organisations – thinking, praying and planning to reach our cities for Christ. As part of a workshop for city leaders and catalysts I gave the following introduction to what we had discovered over the past 5 years.
Three gospel principles that compel us to partnership
Gospel partnership is borne out of gospel need – the size and scale of the task in reaching a city for Christ compels gospel churches to work together in planting. c.f. Romans 15:23-33
Gospel partnership builds healthier churches – working across denominations, being generous in giving-away resources (finances,people, training-time) to churches that don’t belong to our own organic networks, all demonstrate a kingdom-mindedness that honours Christ. Such sacrificial service of other individuals, plants and churches creates a culture that in turn builds a healthy local church. c.f. 2 Corinthians 8-9.
Gospel partnership blesses gospel churches – Christ honours those who display the unity for which he too prays and each church is encouraged and blessed by the fruit of working together. c.f. Philippians 4:14-19
So here, in bullet-form, are the first seven of at least 14 reasons why city movements are the best way to reach our cities for Christ.
1. Churches planted with local support have a better chance of succeeding
Better ‘real-time’ support, coaching and mentoring through regular meeting, prayer, etc. with fellow planters working alongside. In 2020 a new planter meets every 2 weeks with fellow planters in the city for the first 2 years.
The likelihood of a church survivability increases by 135 percent when the church planter meets at least monthly with a group of church planting peers. Ed Stetzer.
2. Working alongside other planters in a city gives you a real head-start in contextualisation
The challenges and needs of a particular city/community can be discussed, understood and worked through more closely and with greater understanding with the local knowledge that is available in a city network than that offered by national church-planting movements.
3. A church-planting movement in a city is best equipped to reach out into the neighbouring satellite communities.
A village or town of say 10,000-20,000 is unlikely to be the focus of a national network but often that town is relationally networked to a larger city and can be best reached as an extension of that network. It is an easier ask to persuade a planter and team to go into these communities that border a city than for someone to come from outside the area.
4. Working together enables speedy learning and quick responses
Along with meeting regularly with other planters, seeing what they are doing by visiting enables speedy learning.
5. It complements rather than competes with national denominates or networks
A city movement is not an alternative to being part of a national initiative but a natural complement. National initiatives will be best equipped to provide assessment, theological training, financial support, resources and people from outside of the city.
6. A city network facilitates fund-raising especially for plants that would otherwise go overlooked
- Being part of a local network can open up new contacts. One particular trust fund has now given to 4 of the 2020 plants who would never have known it existed. The trust fund, familiar with the aims and objectives of 2020 is keen to receive further applications and there is a mutual understanding that exists because of the previous applications.
- City patrons. Working together we can encourage greater generosity from those who are committed to the city of Birmingham as a whole rather than an individual community or national network/denomination
- Fund-raising together – 2020 Church Planters Fund is a pot of money available to planters from within the city movement itself. Churches in the city have given generously along with donors and we are in the process of fund-raising from other parts of the UK and wider afield.
7. It facilitates further expressions of gospel partnership as it builds relationships of trust between churches in a city
Working together in one area (church-planting) facilitates the relationships that encourage partnership elsewhere. For us that has included a number of plants working to establish a Christians Against Poverty Centre.
Most Christians recognise the importance of sharing our faith with our family and friends and yet little thought goes into how we go about it. Let me suggest this simple model (adapted from some material by Oivind Augland on church planting movements.)
The two steps we need to take are to recognise 3 crucial ingredients to our personal evangelism and then consider the 3 sets of relationships between the ingredients that can help us be most effective.
1. Be spiritually available to God. The heart of personal evangelism is a heart that is ready to serve God. We won’t make ourselves available to others unless we are already ’available’ to God. So make a desire to speak of Christ a measure of your Christian walk, asking that he would use us and speak through us as well as asking that we would be bold and clear, making the most of every opportunity in evangelism (c.f. Col. 4:2-6).
2. Build your number of friendships. Some of us have natural opportunities to build our base of contacts or acquaintances; maybe our work constantly introduces us to new people or we meet other parents through our kids. That said, building a friendship base require us to go beyond occasional casual conversations to the kind of relationship that marks out friendship. That could mean choosing to initiate conversation by a) sharing more personal information, b) asking thoughtful questions, c) remembering important information eg what someone said they were planning to do at the weekend, the names of their family members, interests and hobbies,etc. d) managing your timetable so that you are more likely to cross paths eg arriving at the school gate at the same time each day, looking for the same assistant at the checkout, e) offering support, help, advice (as appropriate).
3. Spend time with friends. There’s not much point having friends if we don’t invest in those friendships. Like much of life its a choice between the best thing to do and a good thing to do. For Christians stuck into church that might mean we’ve made a default choice to spend most of our time with Christian friends (and church meetings!) and neglected our friends and neighbours around us. Unless we make them a priority chances are we’ll continue to give our energies to church-life. If Christ has commanded us to go and make disciples then maybe the balance needs addressing.
3 sets of relationships
Put these things in place and we’re on our way. But there is something to be said for exploring the relationship between the circles (see the diagram below).
1, Prayer is where our being spiritually available to God and building friendship circles overlap. Our commitment to build friendships and be used by God is seen in our daily decision to pray for those we would like to build friendships with. Pray for opportunity and wisdom.
2. Discernment might well describe the relationship between being available and growing relationships. We can’t possibly be spending the kind of time we might like with all of our non-Christian friends and relations. So as we pray we ask God to help us discern who to give our time and energies too and which relationships to pursue.
3. Action is where building the friendship base and nurturing those relationships kick in. That means being intentional and being proactive in these relationships. We need to clear our diaries, change our priorities, be proactive in extending invitations as we seek opportunities to share Christ.
Putting all of that together and we have ‘MI’ or maximum impact.
Adoniram Judson was one of the first American born overseas missionaries and a pioneer missionary to Burma. He knew very well the dangers to his own life and any who would join him when he wrote a letter to a Mr. Hasseltine asking for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world ? whether you can consent to her departure to a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life? whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death? Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left His heavenly home and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with a crown of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Saviour from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?
Her father consented.
At the end of their first six years, only one man had turned to Christ. But for Judson giving up was not an option. When he received a letter from the Mission Board in America asking after his work, he answered, “The prospects are as bright as the promise of God.”
“I will not leave Burma,” he declared, “until the cross is planted here forever!“ It is now estimated that there are 2 million Christians in Burma.
To live is Christ, to die is gain – there is only one life worth living.
10ofthose.com have produced a very useful video deconstructing a religious view of God by taking a closer look at Santa. Could be useful this Christmas.
(HT: Caitriona McCartney)
Find it difficult to get out of the church bubble? Tim Chester suggests 6 simple ways to build relationships in your community from which you can share Christ.
(HT: Jez Dearing)
Ed Drew has some helpful advice on making the most of the opportunity this Halloween
(HT: Richard Perkins)
10 ways to keep talking
What makes witnessing to non-Christian family so difficult? For some of us it’s awkward family dynamics (maybe you live in a home where you just ‘don’t do God’ in conversation) for others it’s that we’ve talked a fair bit but that was in the past, in the early days and now you’ve reached some kind of stalemate.
How do you keep going in witnessing to family?
For some of us we need a two-stage approach to get conversations onto God. The first battle may be to move any conversations from trivial to ‘serious’ ie. a conversation in which ideas, values, are discussed and world-views open up. It is a whole lot more natural to move on to issues of faith and spirituality, even Christ, once a conversation gets more serious.
2. Listening well
If we are to ever gain a hearing for the gospel then we can do no better than demonstrating a genuine interest in the lives of family members. So make sure you listen well. Learn to be interested in them. That might even mean taking an interest in something you have no interest in to build common ground and strengthen a relationship. From a growing trust may well come more opportunity.
3. Asking genuine and open questions
People find it easier to open up about themselves and their own thoughts. As you ask questions you gain new insights and build trust and understanding in a relationship.
4. Easy does it
The wisdom we need in long-term relationships is to know when to speak and when to be silent. Knowing ourselves will help us to think are we being too quick, too direct, too aggressive, too confrontational in our attempts to talk of Jesus. Talk it through and pray it in with other Christians to gain a better perspective on how you’re doing.
5. Working the angles.
The more you’ve talked with family about Jesus, religion, the Bible, etc., the harder it seems to re-visit conversation directly on those issues. When you’ve been a Christian for some time it might be that a new, less direct approach will get you further. So how can we open up spiritual conversations using a less familiar path?
6. Speak personally of God’s grace in your life
Not every time or you’ll soon never be asked but why not try when asked ‘how are you?’ or ‘did you have a good summer’ including God in some way in the conversation. Eg. ‘It’s been a tough year this year. I don’t know how I would have coped without my faith’ or ‘I’m really grateful to God for a great bunch of work colleagues who make life a whole lot easier.’
7. Speak of common grace
Common grace is God’s goodness to all humanity as seen in creation (c.f. Matt. 5:45) e.g. good health, natural gifts or talents, the world God has made, etc. We can talk of our thankfulness to God in so many ways as well as in our witness to Christ’s death on our behalf.
8. Share in struggles
CS Lewis said – The Christian has a great advantage over other men, not by being less fallen than they nor less doomed to live in a fallen world, but by knowing he is a fallen man in a fallen world.
Often the very best thing we can do is acknowledge our weaknesses, inadequacies, fears and anxieties so that our non-Christian family see that we are in so many ways just like them but then talk about how the gospel and our relationship with Christ aids us in our struggles with falleness and brokenness.
9. Understate things.
One author suggests ‘try some shorter, incomplete, statements that point your family toward the gospel.’ Provoke discussion, raise questions, don’t give the ‘full’ answer, learn the art of being ‘interesting’ in comments you make.
10. Connect with gospel truth in our culture e.g. Hillsborough
Over the last couple of days the revelation that police-officers colluded to cover-up failings in the policing at the Hillsborough tragedy have led to repeated claims in our press and tv media for justice to be done. Such a story allows us to (with due sensitivity) raise questions about justice in a god-less world or an expression of confidence on our part that God will one day ‘right every wrong’.
As we look for common ground and shared values we can show that the God of the Bible stands behind such ideas.
Don’t give up on your family. Continue to pray, after all if God brought you to life in Christ why not them! Remain focused and faithful.
For more ideas and a helpful overview of the issues can I suggest Bringing the gospel home by Randy Newman.
After yesterday’s post of 7 tips from friends of mine on their workplace witness for Christ here are a further 8 top tips from the same good people.
8. I think it’s important to socialise but not to compromise. I like to go out with my colleagues and join in the social events, but to be distinctive at them, eg for me that’s not drinking. I’ve had the most interesting conversations on nights out when people are more relaxed.
9. Be patient and in it for the long haul. You don’t have to be talking to people constantly about Jesus to be a good witness. As long as people know you’re a Christian, sometimes you just have to wait for them to come to you…and they will come. It took five years before one colleague/friend talked to me, and another 8 years for another colleague to take a real interest.
10. Don’t expect colleagues to behave as Christians would if they’re not Christians. Eg Some Christians ask others not to swear and blaspheme in front of them at work. In my opinion there are enough barriers to Christianity without putting more up (others may disagree with me though).
11. People will come and go at work. Don’t be disheartened when colleagues you’ve invested time in move on – we’re often just a small part of the bigger picture.
12. Accept that some colleagues will not like the fact you’re a Christian and it’s possible they will treat you unfairly because of it. Real wisdom is required in each situation.
13. Keep a long term perspective – in all likelihood you’re going to give more time to your colleagues than you receive back from them. Our reward is in heaven and it’s good to remember that.
14. I think it’s also worth saying that, whilst we should pray for and make the most of gospel opportunities at work, we should not beat ourselves up if we do not have a gospel conversation every day. Our first duty is to serve our employer well, i.e. to do the job we’re paid to do in the workplace God has chosen to place us. For most of us evangelism doesn’t feature on our job description but it should be a natural by-product of who we are as children of God. Echoing Nick’s point, if we’re genuinely saved and we’re genuine with our colleagues about who we are, then gospel opportunities will inevitably follow.
15. I also wouldn’t start by introducing yourself to anyone by saying ‘Hi I’m Fred Bloggs and I love Jesus’ because you may as well say ‘Hi I’m Fred Bloggs and I’m a nutter, give me a wide berth cos I’m going to Bible bash you at every opportunity’.
Yesterday I posted my own top tips on workplace evangelism. Today 7 very helpful comments on the do’s & don’t's as well as what keeps people going in their workplace witness
1. It’s not difficult being a witness at work – people just think it is. People are more afraid of what colleagues will think if they tell them they’re a Christian when in fact apathy is the biggest enemy. Telling people what you’re doing at the weekend (going to church on Sunday) introduces the idea and conversations will develop from there. I used to get raised eyebrows when I told people I taught Sunday School (we call it something else but everyone thinks they know what Sunday school is) – my response was usually ‘yes, if He’ll let me in, you can definitely get in’ type of thing. People will ask questions in their own time out of interest. I have never ever had anyone mock or criticise me when I have mentioned my faith at work.
2. Talking about anything that isn’t shallow is a challenge isn’t it? Try this test: how does your colleague feel about their relationship with their father? Its is rare to talk about serious things (apart from work) with colleagues. Recognising that is a helpful reality check and antidote to guilt.
3. We need to share our lives with our colleagues which means extending friendship/community to them:
Two ideas to initiate this:
i) deliberately take steps to signal that you trust colleagues by being willing to be vulnerable with them. Could be as simple as being more honest in answering bog standard Monday morning questions. Instead of: “My weekend was fine, thanks” maybe “Actually my weekend was crap to be honest. Something happened that upset me and I’d quite like to talk about it…” Could be a game changing conversation. Could also be asking for advice or help with something personal.
ii) Invite a colleague to your home for meal/social time (maybe with some of your Christian friends) rather than socialise at the usual after work bar. Relate to them as friends like any other rather than a sub-class of person who you can’t really get to know beyond work. The Pharisees thought people who didn’t follow their religion contaminated the holy. This was/is nonsense. Christians still need to be better at being willing to welcome non-Christians into their holy huddles (if the non-Christians are willing!).
It may seem counter intuitive to open up like this to non-Christians but it subverts a culture or a way of relating at arms length which is the enemy of gospel conversations.
4. It’s weird that I always think I should talk about God when my life is great and hide the times when life is bad. However, when I wasn’t a Christian it was those going through really tough times saying things like “He can help me through it” that touched me the most.
5. You’re paid to do a job, so the best witness is to do your best you can at your job and keep your integrity. This is the foundation for everything else.
6. Invest time to build genuine relationships but pick the right times. Be real and genuinely interested in people, but also be wise..you’re paid to work and not chat all day so make the most of lunch times and breaks to grab a coffee with colleagues.
7. Keep your eyes open – words aren’t always required. If you spot someone having a bad day, for example, offer to put the kettle on for them even if you don’t know them that well. This can help start a relationship.
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