Mountain tops verses real life

A friend of mine recently wrote about his experience of returning from an excellent week Christian conference, which he described as a mountain top experience. He compared it to the story in Matthew 17, the account of the transfiguration and the healing of the demon-possessed boy. For the disciples to be invited up the mountain by Jesus was wonderful, but they weren’t meant to stay there – the boy needed healing!

“Since coming back down the mountain I have returned to the normal realities of pastoral life: church systems and processes that need adjusting or fixing; trying to be a friend to the guy who seems incapable of kicking his drug problem; spending time with the person suffering significant mental health issues; encouraging the woman with a sick husband. The mountaintop can look far more appealing than the mission, but it is to the mission we are called.

Some of my Christian friends never seem to go up the mountain: it’s almost as if they don’t believe they have the right to, or even the conviction that they are invited. But others I know want to camp out on the mountain permanently, like Peter offering to make booths for Jesus and Moses and Elijah. Both these approaches are mistaken. Jesus does take us up the mountain with him, but for the purpose of sending us back down again.”

What can be true for a Christian conference can also be true for many other things, including holidays. We need to have holidays but we can’t be permanently on holiday! To misquote my friend, Jesus does take us up the mountain of holiday with him, but for the purpose of sending us back down again.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Ignite @ Newday 17

posted in: Events, Prayer 0
We really have had an amazing week. I was blown away by the goodness of God. One of our young people went to the front to make a first time commitment to God, many others had powerful encounters. 2 healings for one young person as well as deep questions asked and discussed, books and worship albums bought, lots of new friendships and fun had. Thank you all so much for those of you who were praying. Please do keep praying for them as we are really excited about how each has moved on their individual journey.
Linda Geevanathan
We hope to hear some more stories from individuals soon!

People Who Leave The Church

We all will know of people who have drifted away from church attendance, as you can imagine I know many. Some I am still in good contact and friendship with. I shared this article with some of them, they confirmed that this is generally true for them. I found it very challenging, but also confirming. We can’t afford to be church-centred and church-focused, as the author of the report says at the end.

In his role as Regional Development Officer for the Church of Scotland and in his studies for a PhD, Steve Aisthorpe was able to talk to and survey a substantial number of those who were no longer attending ‘church’. These are some of his findings (as reported by my friend Geoff Knot):

Firstly some myths busted:

  1. It’s all doom, gloom and decline. Around the world, Christianity is growing and growing in may ways; depth, impact, numbers.
  2. There’s an inevitable slide into secularisation. Growing prosperity, health, education does not lead to secular societies.
  3. The end of Christendom is the end of Christianity. Our Christendom-shaped churches need to realise that substantial numbers of those disengaged from churches want to be part of a vital, revolutionary, compassionate movement of Jesus-followers that existed pre-Christendom.
  4. Decline in church attendance is synonymous with decline in Christianity. 2000+ people leave churches each week in the UK – the majority continue to be committed to their Christian faith.
  5. Christians who do not attend church are all ‘church-leavers’. Many with faith have not attended ‘church’ as they have found the experience does not mirror the course they attended for example. However, they continue to witness, meet others, etc.
  6. If congregations do the right things, leavers will be returners. They are not waiting for the local ‘church’ to change. They are content to live out their faith without reference to religious institutions. Most feel part of the wider Church. A minority would be open to meeting in an informal setting.
  7. Churchless Christians are driven by consumerism. Leaving a church is actually emotionally complex. The evidence points to decisions being rooted in a journey of personal discipleship influenced by deep changes in the individual.

Then some stereotypes, generalisations and assumptions about Christians that are not church-goers. These help deflect from deep examination of causes and therefore the need to change:

  1. The loner. Many meet up with others informally or online.
  2. The backslider. Most people reported their faith journey had been positively impacted – a deepening relationship with God.
  3. The petty-minded. Long-term struggle and deliberation can result in a tipping point over something trivial. This can be misconstrued.
  4. The uncommitted. Many have attended church for decades – the average in the research was 15 years. Considerable committment.
  5. The incomer. New to the area and expecting something different – no – most had lived in the area for many years.
  6. The Christian in name only.

He also looks at how churches can inadvertently create a culture that is helpful and comfortable to some people but challenging and excluding for others e.g. dress code, gender, lack of community, personality types, etc.

A significant recurring theme of those that had left was the frustration with change-resistant culture of congregations rather than alterations they disliked (rarely cited in the research). A transition has been happening for decades and existing structures and practices have for the most part failed to adapt to cultural change. 

The research showed that crises of faith and life take people into seasons of being church-adverse. For a small number this may amount to a sabbatical after which they return. Others have no intention of engaging with the congregations currently available to them but still yearn for a different type of church. They often find other forms of Christian community, whether face-to-face, virtual, structured or informal. They are contentedly non-congregational. Reinforcing this separation is a lack of recognition of vocation e.g. business, irrelevance of sermons to everyday life and the ‘sacred’/’secular’ thinking in church words and actions e.g. praying for missionaries but not those in workplaces. 

The research also showed that while love within the Christian community was often prominent in the reasons for embracing the Christian faith and involvement with a local congregation, it was often a perceived lack of love affecting themselves or others that contributed to or sealed a decision to disengage.

Unexpectedly, the research showed that a sense of commitment to participate in God’s mission was prominent in more than 50% of respondents. It was a concern for the missional challenges in their area that was a decisive motivator for their disengagement from the congregation. They explained that mission opportunities were inadequately met by the local congregation, due to, for example, a focus on internal matters. They have found a release of time to meet and talk to others outside of a faith community.

As Steve says, “The fact that Christianity sometimes becomes church-centred and church-focused rather than Jesus-centred and Kingdom-focused is a tragic reality. Congregations degenerate from being a movement to being a monument, from being dynamic to being static. Eagerness to follow and serve and grow in Christ gives way to routine, monotony and boredom. The main thing is that the main thing remains the main thing.”

Written by Tony Thompson

A Theology of Mental Health

posted in: Bible, Tony Thompson 0

Mental health problems impact more people, including Christians, than we sometimes realise. Many within our own church family struggle in this area. This extract from a talk by Will van der Hart who is on staff at Holy Trinity Brompton is relevant and helpful as we seek to understand and help the subject.

“I realised that Christians suffering from mental health problems were often subject to what I’d call the theology of unbelonging. This wasn’t a Biblical theology, it was built upon superstition and misunderstanding around mental health. The extent the theology of unbelonging continues to be espoused in contemporary Christian texts is alarming. Some suggest still that depression is a decision, anxiety is a sin, psychosis is clearly demonic, positivity is a virtue, and all mental health problems can be resolved through prayer. But a true Biblical theology of mental health is of course far from these things. A true theology of mental health is a theology of poverty. A theology of mental health is one that acknowledges that material poverty, homelessness, exclusion, the plight of the UK’s 87,000 prisoners, are all inextricably linked to mental health conditions. When Jesus said in Matthew 5:3, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ He meant these poor.

“In 1 Kings 19 verse 4 we see the beginnings of an outworking of a theology of mental health. Elijah is suicidal. He’s been chased around the block by Jezebel who’s been saying all sorts of things about him. He is physically exhausted, no doubt, and he’s certainly psychologically disturbed. He cries out to God, ‘I’ve had enough, Lord. Take my life.’ God did not condemn Elijah. God does not exclude Elijah. God didn’t punish Elijah. God didn’t say that Elijah’s theology was out of whack. Instead, God responds in the most Godly biopsychosocial manner you could ever anticipate. ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’, says God. So we see God respond to Elijah with gentility and compassion, celebrating the whole of Elijah, not just his mental faculties, his physical ones too, his sense of exhaustion and desolation. The God of love, present in the desert with the broken.

“Hence, a theology of mental health is an integrated biopsychosocial one. One that integrates mind, body, spirit, community, and family. Jesus himself expressed a full range of emotions -as it says in Isaiah 53:3, he was a man of sorrows, familiar with sufferings. A theology of mental health sees people not as mental health problems to be fixed, but as children of God waiting to be loved.

“Pope John Paul II, in his important 1997 piece of work, The Image Of God In The People With Mental Health, says, ‘Whoever suffers from mental illness always bears God’s image and likeness in himself, as does every human being.’ So a true theology of mental health celebrates the whole person and stands with them in their suffering.

“A theology of mental health is a theology of the victorious Christ who is suffering. The suffering Christ and the victorious Christ are one and the same. Our church will only be a valiant church if it’s a suffering church, a church that does not segregate love and suffering, but loves in suffering.”

You can listen to the full talk using the link below. It is 8 minutes long.

https://youtu.be/E6ZaTJIwHvU

Written by Tony Thompson

Our Role As Peacemakers

God speaks to me in different ways, sometimes it is a thought that comes into my head and I wonder where it came from; at other times, it will be someone or often a number of people saying “I wonder if God is saying……”, sometimes God speaks to me through things I come across that speak powerfully to me.

That has happened in the last few weeks, it started with an interview by the Archbishop of Canterbury on the Today programme following the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. His point is that to combat religious extremism, people must be able to “put themselves in the shoes of religious believers”, which they struggle to do because of a lack of religious literacy.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05502h4

I came across a similar, but developed point in an academic paper from the Jubilee Centre, a Christian thinktank, written by Colin Chapman. He says we need to “Recognise the role that Christians can play as peacemakers.” And develops this to say

“One of the major problems in Western democracies is that since the link between religion and state has either been totally severed or become almost meaningless, Western governments find themselves at a loss in dealing with Muslims and Islam. Secular politicians can take strong measures to safeguard the rights of every community and to protect their countries from terrorism carried out in the name of Islam. But they simply don’t have the worldview or the language to enable them to engage in a meaningful dialogue with Muslims who want to bring God into the public sphere. In this situation, Western Christians may have a significant role as interpreters, because they ought to be able to understand and sympathise with both sides – with God-fearing Muslims on the one hand (with whom they share many moral values) and secular Westerners on the other (because this is the world in which they have been living). If there is genuine trust between Christians and Muslims, Christians may be able to act as peacemakers and bridge-builders.”

I then read a column in the Times by Alice Thomson entitled “Surge in faith can’t be allowed to divide us”. In the article, it was clear she didn’t understand people of faith. She says,

“No one should be allowed to promote sexism, racism, homophobia or violence under the guise of their faith in this country. Women are never inferior, gay relationships are not abhorrent, no religion is superior and practices such as female genital mutilation need to be condemned by everyone as medieval. Tolerance must go both ways; the religious must also respect their secular neighbours.”


Don’t get me wrong, I hope I am not a sexist or a racist etc. However, the point is that people of faith cannot be told what to believe, whatever faith we adhere too, we believe we submit to a higher power. No one can say that no religion is superior, they are either true or false, right or wrong. I respect other people’s faith, even her secular faith, but they can’t all be true! Surely true is superior to false.
She also says, “Proselytising seems wrong” however secularists don’t seem to realise that they follow a religion and have a faith themselves and try very hard to convince others to share that faith. The article itself is a form of proselytising for secular faith and she clearly thinks that her secular faith is superior.

All this has convinced me that as Christians we have a vital part to play within our society. Our calling to be salt and light has never been more relevant. We need to play a crucial role as peacemakers. We need to understand where people are coming from, we then need to build true friendships across faith boundaries, respecting each other, not imposing our beliefs but seeking to convince them of what we perceive to be truth.

Written by Tony Thompson

Autumn preaching, Summer reading.

posted in: Bible, Tony Thompson 0

I have just finished a preaching series helping us understand the Old Testament book of Hosea and helping us apply its truth in today’s world. I have really enjoyed doing this, and I hope it has been of benefit to others. You can listen to the series by following the links on our website.

In September, I intend to look at Matthew’s gospel. Too often we just read stories from the gospels, without looking at the overall message that the gospel writer wants us to hear. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each tell the same story but with different emphasis. We will be looking at the message that Matthew is conveying. In doing so we will get to know Jesus, his message and the good news better.

I am looking forward to it.

In preparation for this series you might want to spend some time over the Summer reading Matthew’s gospel, allowing it to speak to you. One of the books I have used in preparing for this series is Matthew for Everyone by Tom Wright. It has 57 very short, easily readable chapters bringing to life the first half Matthew’s gospel. If you set aside 15 minutes each day over the Summer to read a chapter and allow God to speak to you, I know it will do you good. It will help this be a memorable Summer.

Click here to get kindle version or buy a paperback copy from our bookshelf.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

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