Friday, January 06, 2017

Help! You need it.

Like many others the start of another January means the start of another read through of Genesis (six days in and so far so good. Honestly? I got to May last year before getting into major arrears).

Help needed
Once again though, in those opening chapters of the Bible we see the foundations of humanity being laid out – its origin, its purpose, its potential, and its limitations. Man (i.e. Adam) stands upon the earth but he is alone – a situation that is first identified by God Himself as not being good (Gen 2:18). The solution we are told is that he needs ‘a helper suitable for him’.

The animals are paraded by but despite all their variety none of them can be what Adam needs – ‘no suitable helper was found’ (v19). So God provides Eve – someone of whom Adam can say, ‘This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’ (v23). Eve is the ‘helper’ suitable for Adam.

Second fiddle?
But what exactly do we mean by ‘helper’ – after all such a title could be interpreted as being a little condescending – a bit ‘second fiddle’, a support act to the main event – the man! For me such thoughts arise thinking back to ‘helping’ my Dad do DIY – that is, me standing holding a packet of screws while my Dad did the important and interesting stuff like using the power drill. So is Eve (womankind) an afterthought of God’s – hastily put in place to provide an extra pair of hands. Well of course, if it was just about some extra manpower then some extra men would have sufficed.

Actually the title ‘helper’ tells us more about Adam than it does about Eve. So throughout the Bible ‘helper’ is a title given to God Himself, ‘The Lord is my helper’ (Heb 13:6); ‘The Lord is with me; he is my helper.’ (Ps 118:7); ‘My father’s God was my helper’ (Ex 18:4). And let’s be clear that God is no-one’s sidekick or go-for.

Adams' lack
You see in saying Adam needed a ‘helper’ – God is not so much commenting on Eve but making the point that Adam is not sufficient for the task He has been given. The issue being highlighted is Adam’s lack and incompleteness not Eve’s. Adam’s problem was that without Eve (and vice-versa) he could never have fulfilled humanity's calling and purpose.

Crucially, Eve is like Adam but different from him – equal but not the same. As John Piper put it you could write a list of all human attributes and two have columns against them, one for Adam and one for Eve, and put in the scores for both against those attributes. They might score differently on each individual attribute but the totals at the bottom of each column would be the same(i). Thus it’s only in male and female together that humanity is complete. Distinct but complementary.

The helper we all need
In the same way, to say God is your ‘helper’ – is not to claim superiority but to admit that you need help! It is to declare that I cannot be and do what I need to be and do solo – I’m just not up to that job alone. It means that if God isn’t your helper you’re doomed to fail and come up short in fulfilling the point of your existence.

Tragically just as pride and self-sufficiency created disharmony between the sexes it isolated men and women from God. So lives are lived dependent on ‘me’, my abilities, my good fortune, my self-belief – all of which is a very fragile basis for life and which leaves us hanging by nothing more than a thread of our own making. 

So in 2017 you need a Helper – you need God. You need what only Jesus Christ can provide – a Saviour and Friend to enable God’s purpose and calling in your life to be fulfilled.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)


A Vision for Independent Churches in 2017

First published on CHRISTIAN TODAY

Andy Hunter introduces us to the ministry of FIEC (The Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches) – a grouping of more than 550 churches across Great Britain.

It’s essential to have a vision for the gospel.

That is, a godly ambition to see the gospel of Jesus Christ flourish in our day and setting. That desire for better things and better times helps drive us on in making Jesus known and serving the church with the best of our energies.

It stops us from settling for second best and becoming complacent or even negligent in our Great Commission calling.

So we serve, we plan, we expend our energies, we invest our money, we go out, we speak up, we keep pressing forward. Why? Because we want to see people reached with gospel, become disciples and live for the glory of Christ.

Everyone agrees on that kind of vision and the need to be active if it’s to be realised. But equally we also know that to be achievable it needs to be broken down into bite sized parts.

Three Questions for Independent Churches

1.      Does your vision include seeing the next generation of gospel workers being raised up and equipped for service in churches like yours? Would you want your next pastor to be well trained and have a genuine and tested call for such service?

2.      Does your Vision include seeing gospel workers in churches like yours being well supported, cared for and in good fellowship with others in similar positions? Would you want pastors and leaders to have some of the pastoral back-up enjoyed by those in formal denominations?

3.      Does your Vision include seeing unreached communities of Great Britain being evangelised and having their own gospel-centred churches? Would you want churches (like yours) to be encouraged in that task, and in the mission of church planting?

If the answer to those questions is ‘Yes’: what are you doing to make that Vision a reality rather than just a godly sentiment?

Is it even possible for an Independent Church to have such a vision? After all, how can a local church in the north of Scotland help a struggling pastor in Devon, or contribute to training an evangelist in Liverpool, or be assisting a church plant in Glasgow – and vice versa? It’s not feasible, is it? Isn’t Independency the poor relation of large centralised denomination when it comes to thinking big?

Well actually many Independent churches who have a big vision are actively making it happen. They’re involved in supporting hundreds of pastors across Britain, helping to raise up and train scores of men and women for gospel service, and enabling dozens of new church plants to become established. They do so by being part of FIEC – a family of more than 550 churches, who work in partnership to make possible what they simply couldn’t do alone.  

It means that an Independent church of whatever size or locality can say, ‘We’re contributing to the care of gospel workers; supporting church revitalisation and church planting; providing guidance and training across the nation’.

Because of their FIEC affiliation a potential women’s worker is receiving financial support to go to Bible college, a sick pastor is getting care and practical help, a church plant is getting legal advice on its new Constitution, and a trainee pastor is learning how Independent churches govern themselves. These are just some of the ministries that simply wouldn’t exist were it not for the commitment of FIEC churches to turn a big vision into concrete reality.

Of course there are other ways to express such vision but for many Independent churches it is belonging to FIEC that enables them to realise a big vision for the nation.

What about your church?

Andy Hunter is the Scotland Director for the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC) and you can find out more about their work and ministry at

Pastoral Refreshment in Scotland

Written by Alan Guy for FIEC.

It’s often hard for pastors and pastoral workers to genuinely take time out of ministry to pray, reflect and study. That’s why the Scottish FIEC Pastor’s retreat takes place each summer. For Alan Guy, this year’s retreat promised much but delivered even more.
Pastoral Refreshment in Scotland primary image
One of the advantages of a 24 hour retreat is that nobody expects you to do anything, and being held out of town at a neutral venue means no one from church can ask you to do anything either! You even get your own room with a key so that your time is genuinely your time.
With the hubbub of ministry bubbling away in the background, the retreat provided me with time out for personal reflection as well as enjoying good food and great fellowship.
We arrived around lunchtime on the Monday and straight away we were fed in every sense of the word. We enjoyed a great meal together and pastors from afar chewed the fat over ministry highs and lows which was to be an essential component of our time together as we learned from each other and encouraged one another to press on towards the goal.

Learning from Habbakuk

After this we sat down to be fed spiritually as Andy Hunter lead us through some first-class devotions on the book of Habbakuk which continued the following day. The call of chapter 2:20 (“the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth fall silent before him”) was apt for our purpose and especially for someone like me whose mind is like a bag of popcorn approaching three minutes on the timer!
Scottish retreat
Four hours of free time ensued (yes, this is a ministry gathering where you get four hours of free time!) and like Paul of Thebes I slipped out hermit-fashion and retreated to my room to read theology (yes, a ministry gathering where you can actually read some theology!). A time of prayer and personal reflection helped me to focus on the Lord and after this I did what any good pastor would do… I slept.

Learning from Experience

Later, after a brief walk, we had our evening meal together and if you thought things couldn’t get any better you would be wrong. We spent the next two and a half hours in a Q&A with experienced pastor Derek Prime (yes, a ministry gathering where you can actually speak to a top Christian leader without elbowing your way past the groupies!).
Derek gave us the benefit of his great wisdom on subjects such as organising your ministry week, dealing with difficult people, ministry dangers, seeking the Lord’s guidance when considering ministry options, and keeping going over the long haul.
Scottish retreat
The following morning we finished our time together with a closing devotion from Habbakuk and were sent back into the real world and told to get on with it.
I would recommend the pastors retreat to any full time Christian minister who is looking for some simple time of refreshment. It can often sound like a good idea but is difficult to get round to. The mixture of time out and fellowship is a powerful combination that helps to reboot and recharge the batteries.
It is hoped that we will organise similar Retreats in the future so look out for further details in 2017.
Alan Guy photo
Alan Guy
Alan is a former Police Officer who took up full-time theological studies at the International Christian College in Glasgow in 2008. He graduated in 2012 having completed a BA Theology degree and an MTh in Biblical Interpretation and has been the full time Christian Worker at South Glasgow Church since January 2014. He has is married to Ashley and they have two children.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Independent Church Ministry Course, 2016-17 Programme

2016-17 Programme 
Edinburgh Theological Seminary 

Tue 2pm   Topic  Lecturer  
Sept  6   No Class     
Sept  13 Models of Ind. Church Govt (Pastors, Elders, Congregations) A Broughton
Sept  20 Independent Church Networks  Stephen McQuoid 
Sept  27 Theology of Independency  Ian Shaw
Oct 4 Baptism & Communion in Ind. Churches D Childs
Oct 11 Growing an Independent Church  Paul Rees
Oct 18   No Class    
Oct 25   No Class    
Nov 1   No Class    
Nov 8 Early History of Independency Ian Shaw
Nov 15 Women's Ministry in Ind. Churches Andy Hunter
Nov 22 Care of Workers in Ind. Churches Richard Underwood
Nov  29 Later History of Independency Ian Shaw

Feb  7 Independency & Training Gospel Workers Trevor Archer
Feb  14 Inter-church Discipline & Accountability among Ind. Churches Andy Hunter 
Feb  21 Independency & Mission  Andy Paterson
Mar 7   No Class    
Mar 14 Appointment & Ordination Processes in Ind. Churches A Hunter / I Shaw
Mar  21 The Future of Independency  John Stevens 

To register / more info:

Saturday, June 25, 2016

An ABC of Referendum Recovery

Like many people in the UK the 24th of June 2016 was a day strange emotions, not least genuine surprise as I, with most others it seems, had accepted the received wisdom that Remain would win. The intensity of the campaign, the high stakes, and the relative narrowness of the win inevitably means the Referendum result is loaded with strong emotions on both sides. Like the aftermath of the Scottish Referendum in 2014 the airwaves and social media seem to be full of recrimination (e.g. ‘selfish pensioners’ versus ‘on the pay roll snobs’) – then it was the failure to overturn the status quo, now it’s the opposite.  

The challenge for everyone (not least Christians) is not allowing those feelings to become a running sore. Something that is true in dealing with any decision that we have a strong sense of investment in – whether that be national politics, business restructuring or church reorganisation and change.

Now the challenge here will always be greater for the losing side (or those who feel they’ll be adversely affected by it). If you got your way or feel you're a beneficiary then it’s no great achievement to be magnanimous and ready to ‘move on’. Your challenge is not to be smug or aggressively defensive.

So in order to guard against the temptation to point score, impute selfish motives and generally just be snarky in such situations it might be helpful to consider this ABC, of not just Referendum Recovery, but of how we can healthily and constructively try to approach all such matters.

1.    Accept it, it’s done, it’s a fact – no amount of trying to rerun the debate on social media will alter it. We all knew the rules when we entered (50%+ wins), and we always accept them when it’s our side that gets over the line. There are two sides in any argument and neither is likely to have a total monopoly on wisdom, morality or pure motives. Not everyone agrees with you (and that doesn’t mean they’re stupid or morally inferior), they simply don’t see it the way you do and that’s probably just as well.

2.    Breathe – relax, it really isn’t the end of the world. You’re still here, the world is still turning and life goes. Crises, recessions, upheavals and booms come and go and will all come round again. The media exist to turn every story into the stuff of nightmares – whether terrorism, disease or the economy. At some point in the future it will all be old newspapers (it just will be).

3.    Consider – that there might be some upside to the other point of view (whatever side you’re on), it probably has some plus points and validity. It’s not what you wanted, and maybe you’ll never regard it as a great option, but it can probably work to some degree without being a disaster. 

In all this be humble, after all while the post-modernism idea that we can all be right is nonsense – it is possible that we could all be wrong! Perfect wisdom (and government) belongs only to God. 

Please, please don’t start commenting on this re: your Referendum views (do that elsewhere). The point of this is about individuals moving on in a non-divisive way. Apologies if you think that is in itself condescending or partial - that is in no way my intention. Thanks.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Down and not Out

Some thoughts on the EU Referendum. 

I expect Remain will win – and it won’t be a disaster, just more of the same. But that is precisely the reason why I’ll probably feel a little disappointed on Friday. At one level a Remain vote will suit me – after all I’m relatively comfortable and the current arrangements, if not exactly working in my favour, don’t materially disadvantage me. I’m one of the many, perhaps the majority, who do ok being part of the EU – but without being sanctimonious about it I increasingly worry I’m living in a country where it’s not working for many others, and where we risk trading principles for pragmatism. 

Winners & Losers
It’s no surprise to me that ‘the Establishment’ (i.e. the main power holding groups) such as the big political parties, the Bank of England, the IMF, Corporations etc are strongly campaigning for the status quo – after all the status quo serves them pretty well. They are by and large the well-educated, the well-connected and the well-off. Many of them draw their incomes and pensions from the very institutions and structures that a Brexit directly threatens. 

If you have professional ability or specialised skills then the demand (and accompanying wages) for your services will generally be high. However, if you are unskilled or semi-skilled in the UK – and thus are completely interchangeable with any number of other people who are happy to work for less money than you (but for whom those lower wages nonetheless represent a considerable uplift from their previous incomes), then uncontrolled immigration is likely to impoverish you. Of course that suits the already well-off – their ironing bill gets cheaper, and shareholders can extract greater profits by cutting staff costs.

I do worry that those who take the high moral ground in this particular area tend to do so from a position of privilege and are often among the least affected. Indeed there is often an inverse racism that means when one of the most deprived, left behind and under-achieving ethnic groups in the country (i.e. the white working class) raise these issues, they are dismissed as chavs and bigots. Here again the powerful insist on structures that uphold their interests at the expense of the weak - e.g. Germany over Greece (and the Greeks can vote away in Athens 'until the cows come home' but can't actually change anything). 

This of course is not a uniquely EU problem, it is the problem of unrestrained neo-capitalism in which more and more wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. A system that is horribly inefficient as wealth is hoarded (no matter how rich you are you can only drive one car at a time or eat one meal at a time) rather than shared, leading ultimately to dwindling economic growth and a growing sense of inequality and social resentment. It is nevertheless a problem compounded when governments become less and less accountable and thus those structures become less and less challengeable.

At all events just as my main concern in the 2014 Scottish Referendum wasn’t the prediction that I’d be better-off in oil rich Scotland (ahem), my main concern in the EU Referendum is not the prediction that by 2030 I will be £4300pa worse off than I could have been (note, Osbourne’s figure is not £4.3k worse off than I am now but than my potential earnings 15 years hence). Rather there are bigger issues of principle at stake.

The worst form of Government
It seems to me that the EU is a structure so large and complex – that it is almost impossible for it to be meaningfully held to account by its citizens. Country can be played off against country and groups of powerful countries can over-rule the weaker ones – so the individual voter becomes less and less relevant. [It’s incidentally why I personally like the ‘First Past the Post’ electoral system in the UK, in most forms of PR you only get to shuffle the cards – in FPtP you get the chance to ditch a dud hand and deal yourself a completely fresh one every so often.]

Christians have often pointed out in recent years that many of our society’s most cherished values (e.g. human rights) actually have their basis in Christian theology. One such value is of course Democracy – which as Churchill put it is the worst form of human government apart from all the others that have been tried from time to time. Democracy recognises that in a Fallen World concentrations of power in one person or oligarchies are likely to be a recipe for abuse. It really is no surprise that the Western demand for accountability in government arose as a fruit of the Reformation – with its rejection of unaccountable hierarchies in the church (along with its recognition of the ‘priesthood of all believers’). The EU, it seems to me, is a project (whatever its good intentions) that is stealthily reversing that process across Europe.

Pax Europa
Some of the strongest arguments for Remain put forwards by Christians are around the freedom of movement the EU allows. The case here is that EU allows Christians to freely move and work throughout Europe and it is thus a great facilitator of mission, church planting etc. Indeed parallels have been made with the Roman Empire and the spread of the Gospel in the first century. These observations are undoubtedly true – I can travel to Bratislava or Madrid and set up a church there without any extraneous paperwork or permissions. So at this point in time the EU provides a bureaucratically friendly environment for such activity and that can only be a great blessing and help. But of course, the imposition of paperwork to travel and work while cumbersome is not the same as stopping those activities, after all plenty of US citizens are involved in Mission activities in Europe.

However, staying in the EU for those reasons relies on the continuation of its benign attitude to such activities and religion in general. It is not certain that this will be the case – the fears about militant Islam (heightened by large scale immigration) are already creating demands for the imposition of restrictions on the activities of religious groups. Evangelical Christians are likely to be a particular target (having a range of non-PC views) and, in order to avoid accusations of Islamophobia, could readily be ‘stamped on’ as a way of showing the impartiality of such policies. Now that might happen at national level anyway but the issue comes back to there being some direct democratic accountability in that process. An accountability that the UK with its strong representative Parliamentary democracy and relatively stronger church is more likely to benefit from if not subject to EU over-rule.

In other words there is a danger of voting Remain for short-term administrative convenience but inadvertently locking ourselves into a structure that if the wind changes will present a much greater obstacle and challenge to those same religious freedoms.

Fate & Future
I wrote in a blog before the Scottish Referendum that whatever the result it would ultimately be no more than a footnote in the history of a dying world. Well a Brexit might merit a paragraph but even that will just be a bit of context for the big story – the story of God’s work in the world throughout the centuries and millennia. The story that transcends all empires (Babylon, Rome, Holy Roman, Ottoman, British, Soviet), even the EU. So Remain or Leave on Friday the church’s fate and future will be where it has always been – in the hands of God and in the eternal Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

This is very much a personal blog post rather than even a 'ministry one'. You can read some excellent blogs giving counter-points to all this from my colleague John Stevens