India 2016

India is a vast country with a population of 1.2 billion people – a fifth of the world’s total population! It is a land of great extremes. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty. Extreme heat and dryness and extreme monsoons rains. Extreme religious fervour and extreme western materialism. Cutting edge technology (especially IT) and primitive medieval utensils. When you visit India your various senses are assaulted. Your ears are battered by a cacophony of sound – especially vehicle horns! Everywhere you look you see a kaleidoscope of sights that mesmerise. And then there are the smells, ranging from beautiful exotic spices to less pleasant aromas. Someone has observed that whatever you care to say about India it will be true somewhere.

Three main religious faiths are found in India. The majority of the population would be considered Hindu. This is a faith system that is hard to define as it is characterised by the worship of as many as 330 million gods. As a result each community, even each family will focus on a limited number of gods that are important to them and there is wide diversity in how religious devotion is practiced. The main unifying factor is whether or not the Hindu texts or Vedas are considered sacred. Many Hindus are quite happy to accept Jesus Christ as another god among many.

Christianity varies in significance according to regions. The stronger Christian presence is historically found in the west and south and there are reasonable levels of religious freedom in those places. In other parts of India there can be great hostility towards Christians. Officially there is complete freedom of religion however Hindu government officials will often turn a blind eye to attacks on Christian businesses and homes meaning that persecution is a real threat in many places, especially those that are more remote or rural.

Islam also has a significant presence in India and in places there can be great tension between Muslims and others. Part of the independence package imposed on India by Britain led to the creation of Pakistan and Bangladesh through a process known as partition. This was an attempt to try and resolve some of these tensions.

Indian is the world’s largest democracy and the current ruling party are Hindu. They are implementing some welcome reforms such as ensuring that everyone has access to decent sanitation. They are committed to generating economic growth and trade but at the same time seeking to break free from historic western influence. So for example many cities have reverted to Indian names (Bombay becomes Mumbai, Bangalore becomes Bengaluru).

The two national languages are English and Hindi, and educated people will speak both quite fluently. Each of the many states also has its own regional language which will be spoken by many people. There are thousands of other languages spoken across the country. Some poorer and less educated people may speak little English or Hindi and so have limited opportunities to better themselves.

Our connection with India arises out of the longer term relationship between Commission and Newfrontiers India. A relationship that dates back to the era when there was just one apostolic sphere of Newfrontiers churches in the UK. We have a particular relationship with a church in Mumbai and a church in Goa. If you visit www.commission-together.org you can find a map that indicates where the churches that Commission relates to are distributed.

During November a team of people from Life Church will be heading to India to spend some time fellowshipping and encouraging our Christian brothers and sisters there. The team members are David Grant, Jo Grant, Angie Colebrooke and Dave Whiteman. Please pray that they will be kept safe while travelling and be free from illness. Please also pray that they will be a blessing to the people they meet. If you would like to have details of their itinerary please ask David Grant.

This blog post featured in the November 2016 edition of Lifelines

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20:20 Vision

What does it mean to be a Commission Church?

Commission is an international family of churches working together to make disciples, reach the nations and transform communities. Led by Guy Miller and his team, Commission has churches in the UK, India, Spain, Portugal and other nations.

Our churches actively work together and support each other in seeing the Kingdom advance through:

  • Going to the nations and reaching the unreached
  • Starting new churches and caring for existing churches
  • Raising and training leaders
  • Social action and community development

At the recent Commission Prayer gathering in Bournemouth, Guy shared with us his 20:20 vision for our family of churches. This vision is expressed by the following statement:

To see thousands of lives transformed, through hundreds of churches, in tens of nations.

Many people find it helpful to understand what this means by setting targets. The overall target for Commission is to double by the year 2020. To double 50 UK churches to 100, to double 50 Indian churches to 100, to double the number of countries that Commission is working into. To see 1,000 people baptised across the UK churches.

What does this mean for us?

  • It means prayerfully being ambitious to play our part.
  • It means connecting with other Commission churches and partnering with them in reaching these goals. One current example is the way the ylife team have connected with Harvest Church Alton to go to Newday together. Of course Westpoint is the flagship event for Commission churches to gather together. It is not simply about getting away for a long weekend of fun, worship and teaching, but it is a tangible way of expressing our connectedness to the bigger picture. It is not too late for you to book in and attend this event – all the details are on our church website.
  • It means praying for and expecting growth in our own church. What would it take for us to double in size over the next four and a half years? Do you dare dream that this will happen? Perhaps you find that hard to imagine but remember our God is the one ‘who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us’.

This blog post featured in the July/August 2016 edition of Lifelines

Why go to Westpoint?

Every year thousands from churches like ours head to Exeter for a long weekend in August. For 5 days we enjoy a packed programme, with activities for all ages. Why go to Westpoint? My top 10 reasons:

  • People who attend Westpoint join with thousands of others to worship God in joyful and exuberant praise – a foretaste of heaven!
  • Children and young people attend groups tailored to their ages, experience lively worship and great bible teaching. Each year dozens of them become followers of Christ and experience the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
  • It is an opportunity to hear great teaching from excellent bible teachers who bring expertise not available in the local church. As well as the main meetings and daily bible readings, there is also a seminar programme that addresses relevant issues that impact daily living as a believer.
  • It is the best opportunity for us as a church family to connect with other churches in our movement and get caught up in the bigger, worldwide vision of Commission.
  • It provides time for us to spend a few days away together building friendship and deepening relationships.
  • The festival zone includes a bookshop, craft stalls and exhibitors from various Christian organisations.
  • Want to learn a new skill or chill out? There are workshops, cinema showings, live music, quiz and comedy nights; whichever takes your fancy.
  • The weather is always fantastic! Well that may not be strictly true, but over the years it has mostly stayed dry and gathering together in our marquee during the showers helps us bond.
  • You can choose accommodation to suit your budget and style. Camping is cheapest, which most people opt for; caravanning is another way to stay on site, whether you bring your own or hire one. There are also plenty of guest houses and B&Bs nearby.
  • As a Commission church, going to Westpoint is what we do.

I am looking forward to our largest group yet attending in 2016. Please plan your year around Westpoint 2106 and put the dates in your diary now (25th – 29th August). Book now to get the early bird prices and spread your payments out over the year if you wish.

This blog post featured in the October 2015 edition of Lifelines

What breaks your heart?

Do you ever watch DIY SOS? The show always starts with a heart wrenching account of someone’s unfinished project to improve their home that has been delayed due a tragedy in their life. The team come in, and aided by volunteers, transform the home into a haven for the family. Invariably when the improvements are revealed to the owners, tears stream down their faces as joy and relief are mingled together. It gets me every time and I confess I find tears welling up in my own eyes. As we read the gospels we find that Jesus too was a man in touch with his emotions, a man who wept and felt compassion for his fellow man.

When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!” Matthew 9:36-38 (MSG)

Do you notice the strength of Jesus’ reaction when he sees lost people? His heart broke! That was Jesus’ motivation for instigating mission. He was not concerned about image or numbers, rather he felt such compassion deep in his spirit for the lost that it stirred his emotions and drove him to action.

First he highlighted the need to his closest disciples, inviting them to share in the pain and sorrow. Second he asked them to pray for workers to go out into the harvest field to rescue the lost people of Israel. If you carry on reading into chapter 10 you find that Jesus’ third action was to commission the disciples to become the answer to their own prayers. The trigger for proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom was hearts broken for the lost.

Does your heart break over lost people living down your street, in your work place, school or college? Do you feel compassion for your town or village? Does this drive you to pray for workers to go out into the harvest field? Does it propel you to become the answer to your own prayers? I suspect that until our hearts break like Jesus’, mission will always seem a heavy chore. Would you dare to join me in praying that God will break your heart for the lost people of Hook, Fleet, Basingstoke or wherever you happen to live?

This blog post featured in the June 2013 edition of Lifelines

Who is the message of the kingdom for?

That might seem a daft question, after all the answer is obvious – everyone! However, do we really believe that? Or do we have categories of people who we feel are beyond the gospel, people who are too hardened to respond to the grace of Christ? People we have given up on? What about people we might feel uncomfortable being with?

In Luke 14:12-24 Jesus told a parable to encourage us to believe that the gospel is for everyone who will hear it. He describes a great banquet, which a man throws for his invited guests. At the last minute the guests start making excuses and fail to turn up. The master is angry to be rejected in this way and sends his servants out into the streets to literally bring everyone they can find, the poor and crippled and blind and lame in to enjoy the feast which has been prepared. If his respectable friends won’t come, then he will fill the banquet with the outcasts of society.

I don’t think Jesus is saying we should give up on friends and family who have responded negatively to our efforts to share the good news of Jesus with them. Rather I think he is encouraging us to widen our circle and reach out to people who we might not naturally reach out to. The gospel is not only for people like us, or for people who like us, or even (dare I say it?) only people we like. The gospel really is for everyone! Will you rise to the challenge and pray for opportunities to share God’s love with anyone who will receive it? Are you willing to step out of your comfort zone for the love of Jesus?

This blog post featured in the November 2012 edition of Lifelines

Call the Midwife!

It is good to be back in the office after the summer. As I sit here reflecting it seems incredible that it is now 2 years since I left teaching to work for the church fulltime. Then I was sat in the cold, damp, wooden hut that had been home to the church for several decades. This time last year I was in the new premises but it was still a building site with all the commotion and stress that entailed. The experience today is much different as we have settled into the new building and enjoy the warm modern facilities that it offers. These last two years have probably the happiest and most fulfilling of my life so far. I am constantly overwhelmed by your seemingly endless energy and enthusiasm to support the various activities of Life Church—there are far too many things to run through here but I am sure you have your own list in mind.

Most recently many of us have shared together in the highly fruitful Newday and Westpoint events. These are always excellent times of teaching and worship and you can read more later in Lifelines. For me the highlight of the summer has been being midwife at the birth of 4 new believers! There is no greater joy than seeing someone come into the kingdom of God and becoming a ‘follower of Jesus’. Combine that privilege with some excellent teaching from PJ Smyth which I heard twice at Newday and Westpoint and it has rekindled a desire and expectation to see people becoming followers of Christ. PJ’s observation that churches have a tendency to drift from mission to maintenance is sad but true. Bottom line however is that Jesus has commissioned us to make followers of him. I am thrilled that over the summer 8 people connected to Life Church have crossed the line and made a decision for Christ. Christ is not looking for people simply make a decision and get the label ‘Christian’ but that we all genuinely become followers—a lifetime journey for each of us!

Any midwife will tell you that childbirth doesn’t run to tidy schedule and timelines, the call can come at anytime day or night. The challenge for us is not to develop new programmes so much as to ensure that everything we already do is shaped by the expectation and desire that it will result in helping people follow Jesus. Whatever your role in Life Church, whatever your daily routine, please join me in praying that we will all be called upon to be midwives and parents to birth and raise followers of Jesus.
This blog post featured in the September 2012 edition of Lifelines