Books I have read: Puritan Portraits

Puritan Portraits

J. I. Packer, a well known theologian, named by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals alive, and one of the leading authorities on the Puritans has written a new book Puritan Portraits.

The first part of the book discusses the historical context from which the Puritans ministered.  Much of the book was initially published as introductions to the Christian Heritage series of paperbacks published by Christian Focus, looking at John Flavel, Thomas Boston, John Bunyan, Matthew Henry, Henry Scougal, John Owen and Stephen Charnock and two closer portraits of William Perkins and Richard Baxter.

Instead of writing a detailed biography about each man, Packer instead focuses on a specific essay or book that each had written:

  • Henry Scougal: The Life of God in the Soul of Man
  • Stephen Charnock: Christ Crucified
  • John Bunyan: The Heavenly Footman
  • Matthew Henry: The Pleasantness of a Religious Life
  • John Owen: The Mortification of Sin
  • John Flavel: Keeping the Heart
  • Thomas Boston: The Art of Man Fishing
  • Thomas Boston: The crook in the Lot
  • Thomas Boston: Repentance.

At times it felt weird that the book that was so heavily written about wasn’t then included in the book, but equally I found this book great at whetting my appetite to read more of the Puritans.  The book then concludes with a chapter that looks at the ideals of the Puritan theology.

This isn’t a light read or an easy read but it certainly encourages you to dig deeper into their writings, to understand more fully what they were writing about.

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Ministering to Children conference: Q&A with the speakers

Just before the end of the conference there was a Q&A with the speakers

How much do you refer to the parents, in resourcing them to disciple their children?
Colin: Who is Israel in Deut. 6 is it parents, God, the church, the nation, all of the above. It is a partnership from all. Anyone who is involved sees it as a partnership between church and parents.
Andy: a leader who was a mum told another child off, and the parent complained, had to work through it. We have to see all God’s children as our children.
Pete: primary role for looking after children is me, and if you’re being paid then people assume you will do it. The more we can do to help parents the better.
Helen: Parents are desperate to hear feedback at parents evening, what opportunities do we give.
Jane: remember the non Christian families as they don’t have parents to help them. Church can provide a safer community, helping families to connect with 20 mums doing toddler groups, become a Christian through Alpha, and now have tough challenges moving forward.

Do you have a stance on non-Christians helping to lead children’s work?
Andy: a bunch of non Christians who were in worship group but not leading, all of them were involved in a mentoring relationship moving forwards toward faith, so no problem so long as in that relationship and have boundaries.
Helen: need to be very clear in boundaries and relationship, and you would never want into be outnumbering the Christians, and sympathetic to Christian faith. Seen many volunteers come to faith, and equally how we do know that our “sound” Christians aren’t having crises of faith etc.
Colin: is it on God’s heart or yours, is it because you don’t have enough people to fill the roles. Anyone can paint but to what standard?

Love the idea of integrating children more fully into church but what does that actually look like?
Pete: that is the heart of Messy Church, an all-age group that meets midweek or Saturday. Don’t go to Sunday church as am a member of the Messy Church.
Jane: preached in a church, did the singing and liturgy, and the Vicar said we will go to groups, if want arty and crafty go here, if film go here, if discussion go here, and if want to listen to Jane go here. As started preaching someone interrupted with a question and ended as a dialogue sermon.
Teresa: a common theme from all-ages in Godly Play is that they have their own spirituality, it is visual and so they taken in from where they are.
Andy: don’t need to dumb it down, too many parishioners don’t attend as think it will be dumbed down,
Colin: what is church, a relationship with God and each other, a discussion with church leaders sounds important.

Ministering to Children: Spirituality Development

Andy de Feu, from Moorlands College is leading this seminar.

Pets don’t last long and so they give us a chance to talk about death. Child lost her hamster, came with a ppt with all the stages of life, sisters share their experience, dad share his bit. This was a significant moment but we could have missed it as we deemed it not important. As Amy shared it she felt secure in asking, and she was validated in her experience.

Get asked a lot of questions. How do you explain the Trinity to a seven year old:

  • Water, ice and steam but it can’t be all 3 states at the same time
  • Egg – yolk, white, shell all egg but need all 3 to be completely egg – but what does the shell represent
  • 3 piece suit – one item clothing, but three items, also made up of the same material.

Why use abstract models to children who need concrete models?

Bryn Hughes: “believe your children into greatness”, don’t ask how can I teach the bible more effectively etc., but ask what do you want the children to become.

When asked what is the biggest decision teenagers have made a lot in Andy’s group talked not about being Christian but living out a Christian faith in front of their friends.  What would we want to see in a group of children and young people with a mature faith:

  • Caring
  • Confident in themselves, in others, in faith
  • Be secure in self-esteem
  • Identity in Christ
  • Have faith
  • Right choices
  • Positive view of church

Your vision will give you permission to stop doing things you are doing, are the Duggy Dug Dug songs helpful or just entertaining, just because I have fun doesn’t mean it contributes to the faith development of children.

Kanon Tipton, the four year old preaching, gained over 4 million hits on YouTube. He started at 21 months, he is mimicking but there is also a calling according to his dad.

Development theories
What stages of faith do we all go through, Fowler believes not many people get to the universal faith – stage 6 e.g. Mother Theresa and Mahatma Gandhi. Imagine if you exposed Santa to your children’s work! Children get confused as parents had said Father Christmas and Tooth Fairy don’t exist so as they haven’t seen God they think he doesn’t exist either.

Aged 8-11 they see ideas as concrete so tell them that God exists as they trust authority figures. Synthetical Conventional encourage them to lie down and look at the stars, what if there were two of me and the other one is in parallel family looking at us but we can’t see them.

Can children achieve a mature faith?

Westerhoff says look at content development. It implies owned faith can’t happen until later, but equally you can add rings to the tree, you can re examine issues of faith. Asking questions, having crises of faith is fine, everyone has a belief system even if it is an atheistic structure.

Christmas crackers can show difference between faith development and Christian spiritual development. We know what is there a bang, hat, joke, present but we don’t know exactly what they are.

Need to pray and seek what God is doing in this child?

“Children are like sponges. They absorb so much, not just from what you teach, but who you are.” James 3 teachers will be judged more seriously, we can distort and confuse the teaching. Children aren’t a blank piece of paper, but a wrinkled ripped broken piece of paper they have issues, scars, hurt and so on. Spiritual development is messy.

The Greeks did us no favours
Dualism of higher sacred and lower secular has been bought into and we have 1 in 168 hours a week to do spiritual development. Did an analysis of children’s and youth work we spent 5 minutes quality time one-on-one as so much of what we do is in big groups. We hope by osmosis they learn about faith and connect with God. How can you develop the soul in five minutes.

Biblical worldview says that God can input across all areas as can Satan and it is seeing who operates the influence.

Creative Spirituality
The least effective way is to teach through purely verbal speech, was 10% probably less now. Visual symbols and simulated experiences by adding in actions and sounds to the bible story. Direct experience are likely to remember 90% of what they are taught, want them to be generous in Spirit, asked them two guys to help clear rubbish to help stewards, chief steward says thanks, they felt amazing. The next night did it again but no chief steward, challenged them to serve but not to be served, to be praised or not, but God knew, it is for the audience of one. That’s spiritual development.

The concrete principle – don’t get abstract, but do relate, e.g. we don’t keep sheep or camels but we know cars so feel free to reinterpret, the important thing isn’t the metaphor but the message.

The Travel Agent Principle – allow Tweens to influence the topics you study, and become more issue based, find the crises in their life and speak from there

The Rotation Principle: a proportion of every module has to be taught outside as boys learn best outside. Pray on the hill outside the village for it, or create an atmosphere of awe and wonder.

Final question
Simon Peter do you love me, do you love me, do you truly love me, Simon is hurt, and Jesus says to feed the sheep (children). Do I love enough to go beyond our norms, for what we are doing, wrestle with John 21:15.

Above all pray for the children, young people and understanding.

The Main Reason People Leave Your Church

All Saints

Thom Rainer has recently blogged on the main reason people leave your church:

Numbers of gifted persons and organizations have studied the phenomenon of the church “back door,” the metaphorical way we describe people leaving the church. And there will always be the anticipated themes of relocation or personal crises. We should recognize those issues, though we can respond to the latter more than the former.

But all the research studies of which I am aware, including my own, return to one major theme to explain the exodus of church members: a sense of some need not being filled. In other words, these members have ideas of what a local congregation should provide for them, and they leave because those provisions have not been met.

Certainly we recognize there are many legitimate claims by church members of unfulfilled expectations. It can undoubtedly be the fault of the local congregation and its leaders.

But many times, probably more than we would like to believe, a church member leaves a local body because he or she has a sense of entitlement. I would therefore suggest that the main reason people leave a church is because they have an entitlement mentality rather than a servant mentality.

Read the rest here.

Kevin DeYoung on You Won’t Know Until It’s Too Late

Think - Desiring God Annual Conference

Kevin DeYoung has written a good post on preachers preaching passable sermons with no preparation:

Most pastors won’t tell you this, but they can preach a passable sermon with almost no preparation. We know how to string sentences together. We know more about the Bible than almost everyone in the church. We can cheat our prep time and no one will know. Not right away.

But over time, church members will think to themselves, “Something’s missing. There’ some power not here that used to be here. There’s some gospel connecting no longer at play. I can’t put my finger on it, but pastor doesn’t preach like he used to.” It happens slowly but surely. Maybe the emails seem more pressing this week, or maybe it’s a meeting, or this administrative thing. It’s not one massive thing, but a mountain of molehills. And then one day, Acts 6:4 is gone. The elders don’t pray. The pastors don’t study.

We must all fight for the ministry of the word and prayer. Elders and pastors must fight to keep it and congregations must fight to support it, to encourage it, to give time for it. Because most pastors and most parishoners don’t notice Acts 6:4 is missing until it’s too late.

You can read the rest here.

How Do You Measure Discipleship?

Tape measure

Geoff Surratt has written a great blog post on A Tool to Measure Discipleship, which is well worth chewing over:

How do we measure discipleship? It is relatively easy to measure church attendance, giving, or small group participation, but how do we measure church members becoming more like Christ? The Willow Creek Reveal Study pointed out that church activity doesn’t necessarily lead to fully devoted follower of Christ, but are there activities we can measure to help our congregation grow?
I think there are six vital areas that point to a growing disciple:
  • Serving in a local church. Church attendance without service does not grow me as a disciple. To grow I have to serve generously with my time, talent and treasure.
  • Praying consistently. This is so obvious that it seems to get overlooked. A growing disciple follows Jesus’ pattern of consistent, heartfelt prayer.
  • Reading the Bible daily. Separate studies by the Willow Creek Association and Lifeway on discipleship came to the same conclusion; the single biggest factor in growing as a disciple is reading the Bible every day. It’s the magic pill of discipleship.
  • Engaging in biblical community. Discipleship throughout the Bible is always in context of community. Being in a small group does not guarantee discipleship, but not being in biblical community prevents it.
  • Actively involved in missional outreach. Biblical disciples engage in Kingdom transformation in their home, their community and their world.
  • Developing other disciples. Jesus final command was very clear, Go make disciples. Every growing disciple of Christ develops other disciples.
I’d like to suggest the following tool to help determine the temperature of discipleship in your congregation (and in your own life). I have used the acronym SPREAD to make the six areas easier to remember. Your church attenders may need some additional information to understand how you define each area in your context.
Create a simple survey with the following questions. Give the survey and a pen to everyone who attends one weekend, and take time during the service to fill out the survey out together.
As a growing disciple of Jesus I (circle all that apply)
  • Serve my local church generously with my time, talent and resources
  • Pray consistently
  • Read my Bible almost every day
  • Engage regularly in a biblical community (small group)
  • Actively participate in missional outreach
  • Develop other disciples
The first time you take the survey serves as a baseline for discipleship. Use the results to celebrate where the congregation is strong and to focus on helping them grow in areas where they are weak. Choose one area that seems to be weak across the board and focus for the next quarter on growing in that area as a church. Retake the survey every three months for a year to measure progress.
Be sure to let me know if you use this tool and how I can make it more effective.

Books I have read: I am a follower

I am a follower

Too often in the culture of church we focus on leadership and growth models – we have seminars, books, models, techniques, tools, study guides, celebrities and more.  I Am A Follower by Leonard Sweet challenges the church that their priority is on following Jesus.

“I Am A Follower” is a new kind of book about leadership paradigms.  Its goal is not to establish the five most prominent attributes of a leader nor is it a tutorial on how to become a great leader.  Rather, its premise is based on the idea that the best “leaders” point to the true Leader and that we need to recommit ourselves to loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength so that Jesus can live his resurrection way, truth, and life in and through us.

The book is divided into four parts. In the first section, the author states his case for rejecting leadership development and instead focusing on pursuing true discipleship.  The book invites us on a journey as author Leonard Sweet wrestles with John 14:6: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  What does it mean for us that Jesus did not simply show us the way or what truth is or how to live life, but that He Himself is the very Way, the very Truth, and the very Life?  As Sweet says:

Following Jesus’ lead, this book is organized into three parts to reflect Jesus’ three-part story: the way, the truth, and the life. When we focus on the world’s view of leadership, being a Christian becomes more about blazing our own trail than tracking Another’s footsteps, more about being happy than knowing truth, more about creating a guide to living than accepting the gift of life. When we focus on followership, however, a whole new template for the life of faith pops up:

    • To follow Jesus is to be in the right mission—the way: missional living.
    • To follow Jesus is to be in the right relationships—the truth: relational living.
    • To follow Jesus is to be in the right future—the life: incarnational living.

This seems to be a natural progression that Jesus proposed: first belonging (way), then believing (truth), then behaving (life).

This book, as with all Leonard Sweet books, is deeply challenging, and while I struggled with his over use of semantics, for example, replacing the word “leader” for “first follower”, I wholeheartedly agree with Sweet’s assessment of leadership infatuation within the church and culture.

As always, Sweet has a brilliant and artistic way with his words that captivates the reader throughout the pages.  More important than his artistic style, the heart of the book is challenging to the core.  I would absolutely recommend this book to any person: “leader” and “non-leader” alike.  Our primary goal is not to accumulate more followers of our ideas and thoughts (and Sweet certainly does not intend to earn followers of his own); rather, we have been called to follow Christ.  Are you ready to leave the mindset of leadership and enter in the relationship of following?  If so, “I Am A Follower” is a must-read for you.