Exploring Growth: Prayer in the context of growth – the Lord’s Prayer

We believe that God has been speaking to us about growth, growth in influence and numerical growth. He has also been speaking to us about the need to make changes to accommodate and facilitate growth. However, as we have seen, it is God who causes things to grow. The best we can do is work with God, trying not to get in the way. Prayer becomes even more important than normal. Prayer declares our total reliance on God; prayer is how we come close to God; prayer is how we hear from God.

The best place to start when talking about prayer is the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples. Luke 11v1-4, Matthew 6v9-13. However it is also difficult to say something brief about this prayer. I will try to be succinct!

Firstly Jesus taught the disciples to pray this prayer because they asked him to. See Luke. They had obviously noticed how regularly Jesus would go away to a quiet place by himself and spend time talking to his heavenly Father. This was unusual and distinctive. They wanted to know how to do it themselves. If we are looking for motivation to pray we can’t do better than follow the example of Jesus.

Other things worthy of note are –

  1. Jesus starts by saying that Jesus is “Our Father” not “My Father”. Even though we pray alone there is a corporate element about our relationship with God. He isn’t just my Father, or Jesus’ Father – he is our Father.
  2. We should address the person we are praying to, see him, consider him, picture him as Father as we prayer. Not as our experience of earthly Father, good or bad as that may be, but as the picture of the ideal loving, intimate Father. The Father that human Fathers are meant to emulate.
  3. Our focus on prayer should be on God rather than ourselves and our needs, especially at the start of our prayer. Our desire should be that God’s name will be honoured and glorified, that His will is done. We suspect His will is for us to grow in influence and numerically, lets pray for His will to be done.
  4. We should be looking and asking for our basic needs to be met, our daily bread, without that we will not be able to do God’s will.
  5. Similarly we need to ensure that we ask for and receive forgiveness as this will impact our ability to do God’s will. As will the fact that we haven’t forgiven others.
  6. Temptation is something else we want to avoid as that too gets in the way of doing the Father’s will.

Let us prayer as Jesus did, as regularly as he did, and focusing on the Fathers will rather than ourselves!

 

This links with the sermon preached on Sunday 20th November which can be found by clicking here

Written by Tony Thompson

Tony Thompson

Growth Pains: Acts 6:1-7

We are part of what is called the “restoration movement”, a movement seeking to restore New Testament Christianity to the modern church.

However, New Testament Christianity was not without its problems, we can’t assume that church life will ever be trouble free. The church in Corinth had problems with drunkenness, sexual immorality, divisions, even abuse of the poor.

We can despair of the modern church, despair of the history of the church across the centuries, I have often done both. We must remember the NT church was not perfect, either. We can long for the church in the UK to experience the growth of the early church, as I do. However, if we experienced that growth, it may not feel as we would expect. It may bring its own difficulties. That was the case in the New Testament church as described in Acts 6.

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.

Grumbling and complaining clearly not just a 21st Century phenomenon. Part of everyday church life since the early days! Grumblings and complaints are as old as Moses – what Jews did when in slavery and then when released from slavery.

The context here is that widows needed support, part of the structure of early church life. Hellenistic Jews, those from a Greek background felt they were disadvantaged compared to widows from a Hebrew background.  

Growth put strains on the church, growth pains. The tension was along racial lines, a volatile thing in a multi-cultural church.

We are seeking to build a church that embraces many cultures, like this church in Jerusalem. Which creates greater potential for grumbling, especially during periods of growth!

We should not be surprised by complaints and grumbling. We should expect them – we are growing, change is happening, we have lots of different cultures. I can’t believe there are no issues. Mention them, don’t hide them, don’t sweep them under the carpet.

So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

The leadership didn’t get defensive, they recognised there was a problem and did something about it. Although they only knew about the problem because people told them.

We expect difficulties to be doctrinal, they rarely are, they are usually very mundane and practical. Paul and Barnabus parted company not for doctrinal problems, but over whether to take John Mark with them or not.

People can feel overlooked, undervalued, under represented. This is exaggerated in times of growth, which puts pressure on structures developed when the community is smaller. Unless dealt with growth, momentum will stall.

It is not surprising that the prophetic words we have received about growth also talk about the need for change, restructuring, a change in our expectations of church.

The issue was practical, the response administrative, organisational.

 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

They chose Greek people, as the issue was racial – bringing Greek believers into a multiracial leadership.

Leadership had not been representative, a real vulnerability. Dealing with these practical issues removed barriers to growth.

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

Application.

As we grow we need to change structures, how we do things. It often happens after the event! When done, growth can continue.

We have already identified some changes that need to be made –

an acceptance that no one person can know everyone in our church. We are used to knowing everyone and many have tried to do this even as we have grown. It is nearly impossible at 150, totally impossible at 200.

an acceptance that no one person can support and care for everyone. I cannot know everyone; I can’t care personally for everyone. I find that difficult and have tried and failed to do so even at 150 attending. It is impossible as we grow further. Unless I focus on identifying, releasing and supporting others to care and lead it will result in people feeling let down and me feeling I have let people down.

an acceptance that not everyone can know the church leader and have a close relationship with them.

an acceptance that many people are gifted and able to take increased responsibility. This is evident on a Sunday morning, but also at other times. I need to support and encourage this, rather than taking back things.

an acceptance that we need to do things differently and better. This is already happening in some areas such as welcome and communications. It needs to also happen in other areas.

As in the early church we need people of all cultures stepping up, taking responsibility, coming into leadership. We need to change our structures.

 

This links with the sermon preached on Sunday 13th November which can be found by clicking here

Written by Tony Thompson

Tony Thompson

God is calling us to grow in numbers and influence

In a previous blog (found by clicking here) I shared prophetic words we have received as a church which we are taking very seriously and appear to be suggesting that we should expect God to grow us numerically and in influence.

In this blog, I am trying to weigh these words, which is what we are told to do.

When we look at scripture we discover that healthy bodies, including churches, grow.

e.g. 1 Corinthians 3v5-9.

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labour. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

God gives growth, we work with him. Things are meant to grow.

e.g.  Parables of the Kingdom. Matthew 13v31-33

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

Obviously, these parables are about expecting growth beyond the church growing numerically, they are about influence. We should expect the kingdom, where God reigns, to keep growing. However, we should include growth in Christian community.

Clearly growth is a good thing, a sign of health, hence the consistent use of the metaphors of plants.

Historically the church has grown numerically and in influence.

This was the experience of early church, see Acts 2v46, 47; 6v7; 12v24. It has been true ever since and it is the experience in most parts of the world today.

We need to keep in mind that our experience in the UK and the west generally over the last few decades is unusual and should not be thought of as the norm.

The suggestion that the days of Christianity and religion generally are numbered is not supported by the facts. It comes from a narrow, secular perspective, we should not allow ourselves to be caught up in the lie. Anyway, we believe in a God who raises the dead!

Growth is not painless; it brings growth pains.

This is very clear from Acts 6, but is shown throughout the book of Acts, where growth occurs in the midst of difficulties, especially persecution.

There are barriers to growth that need to be overcome. More on this next week.

Conclusions we can draw.

We should desire growth, numerically and in influence as a church and as individuals within the church. God has been telling us this will happen and it is consistent with the general thrust of scripture.

This should not be in competition or at the expense of other churches, people just moving from other churches.

It should not be numerical growth at the expense of influence (changing society). It is not just about more people coming to church, it is about an increasing number individuals being equipped and sent out from Hope into the world.

However, we cannot be complacent; God gives the growth but we work with him. We need to address the fact that we haven’t consistently grown numerically over the last few years, we need to do this openly and honesty. We also need to do it with faith and trust in our God, being willing to pay any price required.

 

This links with the sermon preached on Sunday 7th November which can be found by clicking here

Written by Tony Thompson

Tony Thompson

Baby Steps – Part 2

So last time I talked about not using ‘baby steps’ as an excuse to delay a change. It seems that God wasn’t done talking to me about ‘baby steps’ and the other morning I found myself waking with further thoughts on this phrase.

When babies learn to walk they are determined. They overcome many obstacles… The biggest being falling down. Walking involves learning to balance, overcoming fear, it engages the whole body, the mind, muscles, eyes, bottom, feet, even mouth (they laugh and squeal with delight at their sense of accomplishment). They discover. Often the desire to discover drives them on, the plate left on the table, the toy just out of reach. Even the severely disabled will keep on trying to move.

We can think of taking baby steps as being simple, relaxed, slow going and using little energy. An easier way. In fact they are so much more.
Real baby steps take us on a journey of change. They are decisive. They set out to achieve. They are an adventure that uses the whole of our being.

I believe that God is asking us to look again at our lives and where we are with Him. He wants us to take real baby steps of determination and faith that involve the whole of our being. He wants us to discover all that He has for us. To stand up and learn to balance and walk with him. To overcome the fear of falling down. To stop thinking of ourselves as helpless children, or babies. For those that have learnt to toddle he says you are not confined to the playpen. The door is open, get out and discover the world He has for you. Learn to walk and run, skip and play.
It is time we ate more solids and stopped regressing or running back to the safe space (with our blanky and bottle) . He will catch us when we fall down. He will light our path. He has good things for us. He gives us purpose. ‘In him I live and move and have my being.’ He bids us go.

 

Written by Jane Reynolds

Jane

Baby Steps

Every so often I find that a word or phrase will jump out at me. It’s often a phrase that I have used. When it starts to resonate and even shout at me from someone else’s lips, a podcast or download then I find it’s best to take notice and find out what God is trying to say. This week it was the phrase “baby steps”.

‘So what is wrong with “baby steps”?’ I asked as the phrase began to hit a sour note. It’s good to make changes slowly and it’s a phrase that denotes growth. It is wise to walk slowly at times and not rush into things. When things are new we don’t want to go too far or commit too much and get hurt, hurting others in the process. There is wisdom in “baby steps”.

BUT, and it is a big but, be careful, I have realised that this phrase can be used as an excuse. If God is asking you to walk away from sin then do not use “baby steps” as an excuse.  ‘leave your life of sin’ Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery (John 8) . Preachers please think before you use “baby steps” to make a hard message more palatable (yes that was the final clashing note that got my attention).

We lie to ourselves and to others if we think “baby steps” will help when a decisive decision and change is required. Perhaps we don’t like what our boss is suggesting; what a health professional is recommending or our Father in heaven is talking to us about. Perhaps it seems radical and hard. Granted there are situations where “small steps would be wise” but we are not babies learning to walk again. When our Lord and Saviour convicts us of sin, recommends a course of action or gives us a direction we need to learn to turn with total conviction and walk away onto the recommended path. Joseph fled from Pharaohs wife, he didn’t walk. This was a new situation for him. He didn’t consider trying to argue with her or hanging around to see what happened. He turned round and removed himself as fast as he could. He followed God’s instructions, trusting in the wisdom of His word. Baby steps would just not have had the same outcome.

What are we really talking about? Submission is the word that comes to mind. When we submit to the will of God, when we acknowledge the wisdom of health professionals or the authority of those we work for,  we are submitting: laying down our ideas and our right to run our lives our way.

Being disciples of Jesus we are uniquely positioned, poised in submission; ready to take on all that Jesus has for us. Let us remain ready to step decisively in a different direction or take on new instructions when correctly asked of us. Let us not hesitate or hold back just because something is new or uncomfortable. Let us be honest with ourselves and others, and may “baby steps” not be an excuse to linger from change.

 

Written by Jane Reynolds

Jane

Prophetic words about increased growth and influence

I mentioned in my letter to the church we have recently received a number of prophetic words about increased growth and influence, which we consider as leaders to be significant. As a church we believe that God speaks today and that when we suspect he is speaking we have to consider carefully what He might be saying. Is it from God? What is He saying? What should we do about out it?

To enable wider weighing I list below some of the relevant words we have received, recently and in the past. In going through them I have been very encouraged, I hope you will be too.

  1. From Adrian Horner in June 2016 via email. Adrian leads a church in Kettering and regularly hears from God.

I was praying for Hope Church and had the following thoughts…


The church was on the right track! God was blessing and growing you, giving fruitfulness in social connections and God was increasingly giving you grace to be social glue. Something that would be part of the healing for the Luton community.


I sensed his delight in you but also a sense of invitation to adventure in God’s heart.


I saw the church on a road with a yellow line down the side, the yellow line that means you can pull in but not park. I felt like God was saying that he had something more for Hope Church to push onto and into. But with this bigger call it was possible that the church would be wondering if they had come far enough and prefer to pull in, to wait a while. I felt God saying that if Hope Church rested here he would still love you and has grace for that. But his invitation was to keep going for the bigger prize! I saw the road ahead was clear and you had all you needed. It wouldn’t be a difficult journey.

A coming of age, no longer a teenager but having greater destiny as an adult, you will be bigger, but there is a cost.

I can also see changes in your team shape. A restructuring for momentum. I felt God was inviting you to open the door for some new look leadership, even though it might be risky it was ultimately a fruitful route

2.  Word given on a Sunday morning in September by Nigel Taylor the leader of Hope Church, South Beds, another person who has a history of hearing from God. Click here to listen.

Basic picture is of Hope Church being a diamond that receives and reflects light.

 

Light drawn to the diamond (church) via Acts 2 v 42-47 actions They devoted themselves to…… These believers doing these activities were sent into different communities. This is the light then being reflected. We are already doing it.

 

People in other (non-church) communities want to do what they see we are doing. As it is all based on Jesus, it creates a hunger for Jesus in these communities.

 

We are a diamond rather than a prism; a prism is man-made.  People may take offence that everything is not perfect as would be the case if it was man-made.

 

Eventually we will impact the nation, with the model of what we are doing.

 

Everything will take off very quickly. We should expect to have a “speed wobble” for going too fast. When it happens our legs have to go loose, become flexible, give slack. Leaders need stronger legs.

New recipe to be given, water boiled ready for the tea.

 

3.  Other words received previously from people with a recognised prophetic gift.

 

2006 – Keith Hazel who had a worldwide ministry

God is trying to build a strong church in your community…. There’s a stirring, there’s a time of increase coming in the church. The church is called forth by God, it will be a place of influence.

2010 – Julian Adams who was based in Bedford with a world-wide prophetic ministry.

The Lord wants to say to you, I am about to move you through the 150, the 200 markers in this season. I am wanting to give you increase both locally and in your own heart……… Your structures even in your church need to get ready to hold that which I am going to give you.

2014 – Phil Wilthew, another prophetic leader from Bedford.

God is coming to the house again, he will reshape the leadership, our roles and responsibilities. There will be shifting responsibilities in our team. God is refitting the boat for the next stage of the journey. We therefore do not need to be afraid of giving away our best. God will add to us 10 fold, 20 fold, 100 fold.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Tony Thompson

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