April 23, 2014

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Should you stop having prayer meetings?

301650391 6af9d6e473 z 198x300 Should you stop having prayer meetings? prayer What does prayer look like in your church? How often do people pray, how well attended are the prayer meetings and do you feel guilty even considering these questions?

Perhaps you identify with John Stevens when he writes:

“It  is one of the weaknesses of my kind of evangelicalism that we can so over-emphasise the importance of preaching and teaching that we unintentionally marginalize the importance of prayer. We ought, I suspect, to have a more even balance between studying and hearing the Word proclaimed and prayer in our quiet times, small groups and services. How often prayer is reduced to a rather perfunctory few minutes of led intercession. Perhaps we need to reconsider how we can structure our meetings to make prayer central, rather than shifting prayer to a separate meeting which few can, or will, attend. We need to teach and model prayer to the whole body, not allow it to become the preserve of the faithful few.”

Acts 2:42 says the disciples were devoted to prayer; would anyone visiting your church, coming to your home groups, being a part of your Sunday gatherings come to the conclusion that you and your church are devoted to prayer?

I have to confess, that in the first church I led and planted, my honest answer would have been ‘no’. Of course there were prayer meetings, seasons of intense prayer and moments when more than the few were caught up in seeking the Lord. But on the whole, no. Lots of reasons and few excuses. Mostly, it reflected my own struggles with prayer.

Here in Stockholm, from the outset, it has been our intention to work prayer in as a central aspect to our life together. We have made Acts 2:42 the guiding principle for what we do. As a small group we focus on four things: the apostles teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer. Although we have much work to do, particularly with breaking of bread.

So when we gather mid-week we have just two main themes. Worship & prayer. Our plans for growth, we hope, will stem from multiplying these groups and so as you become part of the church by belonging there, you will be introduced to a group that prays. In that case we will be less dependent on a ‘prayer meeting’ because we will already be a praying church and when we gather everyone to pray, hopefully many will come because well that’s what we do anyway!

We want, like John, for prayer to be a whole church activity and ‘not the preserve of the faithful few’. We want to be ‘devoted to prayer’ because we are devoted to the one we pray to.

 

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April 22, 2014

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Cell Church

2885811928 92d59f50ca z 300x200 Cell Church missional communities cell church Not so long ago I had the privilege of listening to the pastor of a very large church from south-east Asia. The first session, as he recounted tales of persecution, faith, miracles and enormous courage captivated his audience.

The reaction to the second session was different. It soon became clear that the subject was cell church and you could visibly see pastors from the west switch off. ‘Been there, done that, not trying again’ would have filled the thought bubbles above their heads.

Now there were certain cultural aspects to the presentation and style that made this a greater challenge. Of course, that just means in our increasingly diverse contexts we shouldn’t assume that ‘our way’ of communicating is going to have  much impact with people from other cultures and backgrounds.

More significantly though was a misunderstanding of what this pastor was saying. He wasn’t saying ‘cell church is the way to grow your church.’ If we’re honest this was the main reason many evangelical churches adopted cell church in the UK. We would after all do much pretty much anything if we thought it would grow the church, after years of moribund statistics about church decline, we were desperate to grow.

No, but this pastor didn’t talk about growth, he didn’t really mention numbers (and when he did it was more numerology than growth statistics). He wasn’t talking about growing your church but what it meant to be the church. More ecclesiology than missiology if you will.

For this pastor, to be a part of a church meant being in a place where you could live out the ‘one anothers’. You know the list: love one another, be kind to one another, be at peace with one another, serve one another etc… these can only truly be lived out in the context of knowing and being known. It is also the place where learning happens, prayer happens, use of gifts happen, leadership develops, training takes place, pastoral care is given and received, evangelism and mission happens and so on. Or as we might say, ‘do life together.’

The challenge in contemporary life is to have sufficient proximity to one another to make this possible. This desire for proximity has shaped our missional vision, to be proactive in starting missional groups closer to where people live and then to gather them together. To see the gathered meeting as the place where the life and the mission of the church is equipped and resourced and not as the thing itself.

This line of thinking is very similar to the language of missional communities. The more recent upsurge in interest in missional communities and missional thinking in the West has sought to develop our thinking around what it means to be a part of the church although again gets sidetracked by being presented as the solution to the not growing problem.

There is a sense in which people realise that we fall short of what church is, if we think it is attending a meeting. We have taught our people that the church is not the building, we haven’t done so well teaching them that it’s also not the meeting.

As a result, while I don’t think the cell is the way to growth (that comes through people sharing their faith and life with others), I appreciated what it taught me about what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.

 

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April 21, 2014

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Count Zinzendorf & being bi-vocational

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April 14, 2014

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How many Christians are there in Iznik?

CIMG5914 300x225 How many Christians are there in Iznik? nicaea mission evangelism Iznik is a small town in Turkey with a population of some 20,000 and situated by a lake. It’s a beautiful place. There are countless towns like it all over Turkey. So how many Christians do you think there are in such a place?

As it turns out the answer, to the best of our knowledge, is one. Just one and that believer knows of no other.

We asked some young people if there were any churches in their town. Lots of old ones we were told. ‘Any new ones?’  ‘No, there are no new churches here.’

The sad irony is that Iznik is ancient Nicaea. Two church councils were held here. Pictured you can see the site of the second council, the Hagia Sophia church (now a mosque). This church also has the grave of Arius, whose views were defeated at the more significant first council of Nicaea (that site is underwater).

It was here, in this town, that Athanasius battled for the truth (which the Council eventually affirmed) that Jesus was the true begotten Son of God and gave us one of the first creeds. Now, in this town there is just one person who believes that to be true.

It stirred me for a new missionary movement that would take the Gospel again to places where it has never been heard, even if those places, have the memory of the Gospel etched into its stones. This time however I don’t think it will be fuelled by brothers and sisters from western nations (although there will be some) but one where every nation sends and every nation receives with huge numbers the east and the south bringing with them the good news that Jesus is the begotten Son of God.

 

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April 11, 2014

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The two ends of the bi-vocational spectrum

 73528769 dsc 1110 The two ends of the bi vocational spectrum work bivocational

Last week I was given a vivid insight into the wide spectrum of possibilities when it comes to being bi-vocational. I was at a pastors conference and happened to be sharing a room with Jonathan LeTocq (the smiling man on the right in the picture). Jonathan is lead pastor of Church on the Rock, Guernsey. He also happens to be the island’s chief minister (or prime minister).

I stack shelves at a supermarket.

Jonathan is responsible for the islands politics and roughly £400 million budget, I’m responsible for taking out the trash. And so on and so forth. You get the idea.

What it illustrates is that a career job that carries significant responsibilities does not mean that one cannot also serve your local church at the same time.

What it should also indicate is that you cannot judge (and should not judge) a leader by the job that they do. Jonathan’s work easily displays his leadership ability, not so the work of a supermarket lackey.

I’ve grown up in western knowledge and education based systems and I think that means we value education and career achievement more highly than perhaps the Bible. Paul was a well trained rabbi and educated man (who was prepared to make tents for cash) and Peter was a largely uneducated fisherman. Both were apostles.

It was a real privilege to get to know Jonathan and some insights into both his island and his work, and to see that whatever you can do, you can also serve your church.

 

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April 9, 2014

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7 observations & 3 challenges for Newfrontiers

Nearly three years ago Newfrontiers formally transitioned from a first generation to a second generation movement. Newfrontiers had from its inception been led by Terry Virgo until 2011. Then a process, which had been under way for some time, was publicly acknowledged and around 20 teams all around the world began their own journey (you can read some reports from that night here and here).

Newfrontiers is now defined thus:

“We are a group of apostolic leaders, who, together with our teams and churches, are united on global mission by core values and genuine relationship.”

A year or so later Matthew Hosier, in a post called Creative Destruction, described the process:

“Terry releasing authority to a new team (and teams) and the creative destruction of one, central, organising hub around which the movement turns. This has caused a certain amount of pain and confusion for numbers of churches, as it is not yet clear where and to whom everyone is meant to relate. There is also the danger of some feeling that we have taken something of size and substance and broken it into smaller, weaker, parts.”

Summing it up rather dramatically, he ended with “Newfrontiers must die, in order that Newfrontiers might live.” Quite.

Matthew has recently returned from a gathering of these team leaders (and some of their teams), now nearly three years on, and has again reported on the process. Has Newfrontiers been broken up? Does it even exist? Is Newfrontiers, dead or alive?

The answer is very much alive but it has changed and is still changing.

I was privileged to be included in the gathering, Matthew reports on, so I thought I’d write down some of my reflections.

  1. Newfrontiers has moved on: The room was full of leaders but the founder wasn’t one of them. He could have been and that would have been brilliant. In fact, he shared a message by video which was very warmly received. However, the fact is Newfrontiers has made the leap from 1st to 2nd generation. It’s a transition that is now in the rearview mirror.
  2. Newfrontiers has no centre: It was a clear devolution and decentralizing of authority. Often movements have gathered to a centre, but Newfrontiers has no Rome, no Constantinople, no Canterbury. There is no HQ and no one really knows even how many churches are represented. Multiple teams means multiple hubs and much more movement.
  3. Newfrontiers has the 3rd generation in view: The presence of the next generation of leaders was very encouraging, it gives Newfrontiers every chance of making it to a 100 which in this current age would be something of an achievement. Although I should add, no thinks that’s the point of the thing, but a movement that can keep moving and keep sustaining that movement has a genuine chance of accomplishing something significant if it can keep building on the ground gain by the previous generation.
  4. Newfrontiers is increasingly representing global Christianity: There was a notable shift south and east with significant numbers from Africa and a growing contingent from Asia. For some reason at this gathering we had no one from South America and China is noticeable by its absence but this increasing diversity is hugely encouraging. This also means that Newfrontiers is not a British movement. It started there, it’s still predominantly an English language movement and still leans on the UK – but without a centre and with the increasing diversity it would be wrong to describe or think of Newfrontiers as British. That’s good.
  5. Newfrontiers is still about relationships: Having met lots of leaders who feel isolated and unsupported, the atmosphere at this gathering could not have been more different. Mutual accountability, genuine vulnerability, openness and honesty and a desire to encourage one another. Collaboration, partnership and forging paths together were recurring themes. You join Newfrontiers (or more accurately one of its teams) by forging relationships around common values, vision and mission. It’s about being friends together on a mission.
  6. Newfrontiers is still about the mission: There were lots of stories of people continuing to move cities, nations and continents because God will have a family from every tribe and tongue. The determination to plant churches, reach the unreached, break into new nations and raise new leaders is what I signed up for. It’s great to see that back at the top of the agenda, after the necessary pause of breath in many places over the last few years.
  7. Newfrontiers is committed to learning: This is encouraging and necessary. There is a desire to keep learning about apostolic mission, growing and leading movements, engaging with culture, contextualisation and most importantly knowing Christ.

That’s not all of it, I’m sure, but there are also some challenges ahead. The ones I see include:

  1. Embracing cultural diversity while holding theological unity: It was encouraging to see how global we are becoming but there’s much more to do. Pastors & theologians from other continents need space to be heard, new voices with new perspectives provides its own challenges. You only have to look at Anglicanism to see how hard it is hold separate teams together from America and Africa. Constant work at relationships and renewed agreement about core values is vital work.
  2. Developing genuine partnership which releases not controls: The last few years have seen independent teams emerge, all rapidly developing their own identity, teams, training programmes and so on. If Newfrontiers is to keep advancing the kingdom of God, we will need a spirit of humility and generosity in large measures. It may mean someone decreasing so others increase. We kid ourselves if we think there is no ego in the room (certainly if I happen to be in the room anyway) but ego must be conquered. We can’t be secretly wondering ‘who is the greatest?’ even if we’re too nice to say it in public.
  3. Courage in the face of suffering and cultural shifts: It was humbling to hear stories of genuine challenges from eastern Europe to the far East and plenty of places in between. While one of our enemies best weapons in the west is comfort that is not true for so many. I am convicted to keep growing in prayer for the suffering church. Yet the other side to that coin is that the church in the West is on the frontlines of huge cultural shifts that like an earthquake haven’t fully hit the outlying regions yet but they will. It will take courage to identify where to change and where to challenge and over what to embrace the costs of remaining faithful to what you believe to be true.

Overall I’m surprisingly upbeat about the prospects – and remain glad to be a part of a movement that seeks to glorify God in all the nations, seeks to love Jesus, listen to His Spirit, be faithful to His word and do it all as friends.

 

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March 31, 2014

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Istanbul

1408001 25542964 Istanbul Turkey newfrontiers Istanbul Family I’m with the family for a few days in Turkey. I’m here for a gathering of leaders from across the Newfrontiers family of churches. It will be interesting to hear the stories of how things are developing in this new season of multiplication.

We’ve spent a few days (not enough) in Istanbul which really is the place where East meets West. Fascinating. However, a few short days are not nearly enough. As our two small children are not yet interested in historical sights, we’ve been to the aquarium and the parks instead of the Hagia Sofia or Blue Mosque.

We’re also visiting friends who have moved to Turkey to serve the church here – I’m sitting with the family as they struggle to learn Turkish. It’s a family struggle, it’s not easy, it’s painful and costly. It’s also worth it.

Today we’re visiting Iznik (the old city of Nicea) although the site of the first council is apparently under water and it’s still a little cold to go swimming but hope to leave with a little of the spirit of Athanasius.

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March 19, 2014

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Crimean Crisis: An early response

As I read the news that Russia in all but name has annexed Crimea, I wondered about the lack of comment from Christians, so I’ve decided to air some thoughts.

According to everyone else, Crimea is officially a part of Ukraine but not in Moscow; there it is ‘ours’. For weeks thousands of Russian troops (no need to go along with the ‘local self-defence forces’ rubbish that President Putin has used) are stationed, operating and taken control of the surrounding area. We have a word for that in English; it’s called ‘an invasion’.

So just to be clear, in case you missed it: Russia invaded Ukraine and captured Crimea. The last time there was an invasion in Europe was 1968 when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. That occupation lasted until 1991.

While we’re on the subject of Czechoslovakia, it’s interesting to note that they were also invaded in 1938 and the pretext was, “the alleged privations suffered by the ethnic German population living in those regions.” We’re not there yet and I’m not comparing Putin to Hitler but the pretext is alarmingly similar. A point not lost on current Ukrainian President Olexander Turchynov.

The similarity won’t be any comfort to the Ukrainians, the western powers didn’t care enough about Czechoslovakia to go to war over it and it’s uncertain that anyone cares enough about Ukraine to go to war over them.

The problem is conveniently hidden by the lack of identification on the Russian soldiers who have been camped in Ukraine for the past fortnight. It allows Russia to say that it has no forces in Ukraine (even though it does) and has not invaded Ukraine (even though it has) which means the 1994 Budapest Memorandum was not broken (even though it was) and the US and UK are not obliged to front up to the defence of the Ukraine. The Memorandum will be worth less than the paper it was signed on if no signatory was ever inclined to stand up for it.

This matters because suddenly the world is a much more uncertain place and dangerous. War is, by no means, a certainty (and I think still unlikely) but it’s undeniable that Europe is closer to war than at any point since 1945. Yugoslavia was a civil war and NATO intervention made it very one-sided. Russia is the big league.

Much more likely is a return to a cold war and increasing levels of economic sanctions, which is fun when the world economy is best described as ‘fragile’. Any step-up in economic sanctions is going to bite, deepest in Russia but also in Europe and much less in the USA.

The wider geo-political situation also becomes increasingly precarious. I don’t think anyone suspects Russian intervention in the Baltic states for example, but Russian attitudes matter in Damascus, Tehran & Pyongyang. Chances are they’re about to get very uncooperative. The most interested spectator of all though, I suspect, is China. Strength matters and China will be watching the western nations to see how much objection there really is when a big nation takes a chunk out of a smaller, weaker nation. Taiwan’s leaders may be feeling a tad edgier just now.

You may well have noted that my tone suggests blame should be laid on the doorstep of Vladimir Putin, which is mostly true (for pro-russian view of events, start here). That’s not to say that everyone else is blameless.

So what, what to think of it all as Christians?

  1. I’ve visited eastern Ukraine on several occasions visiting with churches there. Life for many of their people is already very hard, Ukraine is poor. Life for the near future looks like it will just get harder. They are your brothers and sisters, they need your prayers and they will almost certainly need some of your money.
  2. It’s easier for us to look at the big picture but emotions are raw when you just see the borders of your nation unilaterally changed by a more powerful neighbour. What is a godly reaction to that? Do you know? I don’t.
  3. Much has been made of cultural renewal by evangelicals, so it would be odd to invest time and energy in film nights, apologetics and cultural analysis but shut up when it comes to complex situations like this. We need Christians to think hard about foreign policy.
  4. While borders have always been somewhat arbitrary, we now live in an ethnically diverse world that is learning to embrace multiculturalism. This Russian rush to the defence of russian speakers sets neighbour against neighbour. That’s not good.
  5. There is rarely a clear cut good v evil, right v wrong choice in matters of foreign policy. It’s not a marvel comics film. The reality is complex, there are arguments on both sides, wisdom and discernment are needed. Pray for your leaders.
  6. We live in a short-term 24 hour news cycle, Moscow will want a period of boredom so we all lose interest but history tells us that that small crises can build up to really, really big ones. Let’s not kid ourselves that humanity is fundamentally different than it was 60 years ago. Pray for peaceful resolution.
  7. Nations rise and nations fall. The Lord remains sovereign. That doesn’t mean He’s uninterested.

Thoughts?

 

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March 13, 2014

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5 things to do before you give up being bi-vocational

This is the third post in a mini-series about bi-vocational leaders in churches (The bi-vocational leader & 5 reasons why I’m happy to be bi-vcoational).

There are many leaders in many churches who work two jobs and for many there comes a time when they wonder whether life wouldn’t really be better with just one job and go full-time for the church. There have been several times in my life where it’s not just felt like two full time jobs but has actually been two full-time jobs and I can do that for only so long before it breaks me.

  1. Don’t assume that it’s the ‘secular job’ you need to give up. For some your arena of calling, vocation, fruitfulness and gifting is not in the church but in the ‘secular’ (for lack of a better word) job. While it might be the church that is applying the pressure, it shouldn’t be a given that you should jump that way. Others (like me) know, that the job is just a job, a way of paying the bills so they can work for the church. You need to know which one you are, so you know which job you need to invest in and which job to let go.
  2. Ensure you’re working in a team. If you’re not working in a team, then every job whether you’re good at it or not is going to come your way and instead of being focussed on your calling, you’ll spend way too long doing things that you’re really not good at. You will quickly find yourself in the situation of feeling like all your time is full and you’re still not doing the things you feel called to. In other words, a team ensures you can get to the specifics and away from the general.
  3. Ensure you’ve delegated as much as possible. When you’ve delegated out to your team everything (or as near as) that is not your specific gifting and calling and you still need more time to do everything that’s opening up for you, that’s the time to consider making the switch.
  4. Ensure the need is related to the mission. Too often what ‘needs to be done’ and ‘the mission’ get tangled up and while they are sometimes the same, that’s not always the case. Keeping your focus on your mission helps to ensure then when you make the jump from bi-vocational to vocational you’re giving yourself (and your church) the best chance of reaping the fruits from the extra investment.
  5. Ensure you plan the transition to include rest. Usually by the time you make the switch the two jobs have become increasingly tiring and the danger is you move into one full time job (not necessarily less work than before) tired and exhausted. While you gain from increased focus and a simplified life, it helps to plan in some rest in the middle so that you make the switch ready, rested and refreshed. Take as long as you can afford/need.

What advice would you offer? What have I missed?

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March 7, 2014

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Joy and sorrow

Joy isn’t always an easy concept to grasp or differentiate from cousin happiness. A common struggle is the idea of finding joy in the midst of hardship as for many happiness is defined by the absence of hardship.

Contemporary western culture is so soft that even trivial things get elevated to the level of ‘hard’ (just listen this week to the different references to how ‘hard’ something is) and thus robbing the poor darlings of all semblance of joy.

Yet in scripture we see that hardship and suffering, far from being places where joy is killed, are places where joy is discovered. A bit like finding treasure in a field that doesn’t belong to you, in fact.

Here are the voices of David, Habakkuk, James and Paul

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
(James 1:2-4)

Or consider the example of Jesus:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
(Heb 12:1-3)

or Paul

“I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.” (2 Cor 7:4)

“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,” (1Th 1:6)

“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” (2 Cor 8:1-2)

or from the OT

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” (Hab 3:17-18)

or how about Psalm 126

“When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negeb! Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”
(Psa 126:1-6)

You can see the pairings right: Sow in tears, desolation & barrenness, severe affliction (literally being crushed by life), extreme poverty, trials of various kinds, imprisonment and shameful death on a cross.

But in all of them there was the mysterious presence of joy. It’s not joy in suffering or saying that their suffering was somehow good but that in their suffering they knew who God was, His promises, His goodness, His comfort, His ability to produce goodness even from evil. Their eyes weren’t fixed on their suffering (all of which was great) but fixed instead on something incomparably greater which they realised was somehow (by the mystery of faith) theirs and this caused them great joy.

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March 5, 2014

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Picking up sticks

I’ve just listened to an energetic debate between Steve Chalke and Andrew Wilson (you can see it here) on whether the authors of the Bible misheard God. The debate starts around Numbers 15:32-36 with a man being stoned to death for picking up sticks and concludes with a fiery to and fro about Ananias and […]

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February 20, 2014

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Five reasons why I’m happy to be a bi-vocational leader

On Monday I outlined three different ways a leader could be bi-vocational. Today I want to outline five reasons why I’m positive about this and in no great rush to change. Bi-vocational is the norm for leaders. Note I didn’t say pastors or church staff, but the majority of leaders in the majority of churches […]

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