Sunday, November 23, 2014

Down and Out in Bethlehem's Hills?

Luke 1 - Christmas is coming! 
After 400 years of silence and apparent inactivity God is about to break in afresh to human affairs. 

This new chapter in God's Great Story will begin in the lives of Zechariah and Elizabeth, followed by Mary. An unlikely trio to kick-off the greatest event in human history.

Zechariah & Elizabeth – yesterday’s people! A couple ‘well on in years’ (v7) – the prime of life behind them, thoughts more on retirement than revolution. Perhaps they had once imagined that they would do great things for God – the young couple with a great ‘evangelical pedigree’. Elizabeth a descendant of Aaron himself. Zechariah with his calling to Temple ministry. But the years had passed and many dreams had no doubt been left unfulfilled.

Mary - not on the radar! A peasant girl from ‘no hope’ Nazareth (John 1:46). Someone not even with the basic status, in first century eyes, of being a married woman. A woman neither of wealth or fame – making up the numbers in the hinterland of God’s people.

Yet these are the very people God uses, and loves to use - confounding the wisdom of the world, confounding even our own expectations. As someone once said, ‘God doesn’t have a shelf’ – no-one is ‘over the hill’ in God’s plans, no-one is too ordinary to be used by God. 

So for those who think they’re past it and their usefulness to God has long gone – remember Zechariah & Elizabeth. For those who think they're just ‘nobodies’ destined to be insignificant – remember Mary.

Finally, I couldn’t help smiling at Zechariah’s reaction to his angelic visitation. Here is a man confronted by the visit of an angel – leaving him understandably terrified (v12). The angel announces that Elizabeth will have a child – and Zechariah’s reaction is, ‘How can I be sure of this?’ (v18). ‘Well Zechariah, how about the fact that that AN ANGEL has just miraculously appeared before your eyes!’ It seems ridiculous that Zechariah can see an angel but think his wife getting pregnant is just too much to believe. Yet, of course it’s so authentically human…

Christians are generally quite happy to believe that Jesus could die for the sins of the world, walk on water, feed 5000, be raised from the dead, will come back in the future and bring history to an end…etc. While simultaneously doubting that God’s can really enable them to overcome a sinful habit, or restore a marriage, or provide for their needs if they were to step out in faith to serve Him full-time...etc

Poor Zechariah, all those years of waiting and he almost blows it! But God is so gracious and will keep him right. We are such slow learners at times but fortunately God is an exceptionally patient teacher.

Praise God who delights to use has-beens, the obscure, and even the ‘slow to believe’. There's no such thing as 'down and out' in the life of faith.  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Pathways Conference

Post by Andy Hunter.

30th Jan - 1st Feb 2015
Erskine Bridge Hotel, Glasgow 

Friday, November 14, 2014

5 Myths about joining FIEC

Reflecting on my first year as FIEC’s Scotland Director these are some of the most common misconceptions about FIEC that I’ve encountered.

1. FIEC imposes its beliefs on your church.
This is sometimes expressed in the comment, ‘So if we joined FIEC we’d have to accept its views on A, B & C’. Well no, you’d only join FIEC if ‘A, B & C’ were your views. After all why would a church that didn’t share the theological convictions and ministry vision of FIEC want to join? FIEC would be the last group to expect a church to act contrary to its beliefs. Indeed, should an existing FIEC church decide it no longer shares the Fellowship’s views then, as an Independent church, it has absolute freedom to leave. There are no impositions or ‘handcuffs’.

On the other hand, for churches that share FIEC’s core theological convictions and ministry vision, it is a wonderful family to be part of. No stressing about what potential partners might really believe or deny, no tensions in key areas of ministry practise, no anxiety about organising a joint event with partners which could cause embarrassment. Instead, the confidence of knowing your gospel partners are on the ‘same page’ as you are in all the key gospel beliefs, while having the freedom to be different in every other way.

FIEC doesn’t impose its beliefs on anyone – it’s a fellowship of churches with shared core beliefs.

2. FIEC is preoccupied with orthodoxy and tradition.
As with any church group that is nearly 100 years old and covers the length and breadth of the country, FIEC has no doubt had its failings in these areas – along with its share of unfair stereotyping. However, such a perception of FIEC is increasingly out of date. FIEC today contains a broad spectrum of churches in regard to their origins, culture, formats and activities. Indeed some of its churches are at the leading edge of cultural engagement and contemporary mission in the UK today. Take a look at FIEC’s Together magazine for examples.

FIEC is not, and never has been, a grouping concerned to preserve or promote particular musical genres, fashions, Bible versions, or other stylistic features of church life. The heart of FIEC is simply to be a family of independent gospel churches, working together to go and make disciples for Jesus in every community. Thus it’s a fellowship comfortable in engaging with and learning from other gospel movements such as Newfrontiers or 9Marks. It’s why, across the country, FIEC church leaders are active - and often leading participants - in Gospel Partnerships, A Passion for Life, Word Alive and a host of other cross-church ministries. It’s the reason why over 60 churches, old and new, large and small, have joined FIEC in the past 3 years alone.

Correct doctrine is, of course, at the heart of genuine gospel unity. So FIEC is unashamed to be concerned about it – but it’s a concern tempered with humility and generosity as befits a family of over 500 unique churches. 

3. FIEC is expensive to join.
Firstly, FIEC has no joining or membership fees for churches – it is possible to be part of FIEC and not contribute anything financially. For some churches that’s the financial reality. Obviously, to be able to serve its churches and run its ministries FIEC needs an income and to that end churches are asked (not required!) to make an annual donation. Guidelines are given for this based on the size of a church’s membership and thus its likely resources and ability to contribute. Some churches give more than the suggested donation, some less, some nothing at all.

‘Ok’, you may say, ‘but isn’t the suggested donation quite significant assuming churches would want to pay ‘their way’?’ Well for a church of 50 people the recommended donation equates to just under 40p per member per week. As with the TV Licence fee you can either baulk at it or marvel at what good value it provides! Like the TV Licence fee you might only use some of the services it provides, but it’s good that the rest exists for the benefit of those using other bits. It’s also noteworthy that the FIEC office and staff run on a budget that is less than some of its largest churches.

Importantly, suggested donation levels to FIEC are not gratuitous but fund strategic gospel workers and projects around the UK. Just as a church’s overseas missionary giving goes to support gospel workers (in a whole range of ways from salaries to administration) and gospel projects (from church planting to training), so it is the case with FIEC donations. It’s why FIEC encourages churches to allocate their giving to FIEC under their budget for mission rather than under administration.

Supporting FIEC financially is, along with all other giving, a choice for churches to make. The money given, however, is a modest component of most churches’ income, and it goes a long way in supporting a national gospel vision.

4. You can’t be truly Brethren / Baptist / Congregationalist etc … if you join FIEC.
A simple look at the list of FIEC affiliated churches should be enough to dispel this myth. From its earliest days FIEC has contained churches from Brethren, Baptist, Congregationalist, Mission Hall and other Independent church backgrounds – none of which ceased to lose their identities by joining. Brethren continue to worship in open communion services; Baptists continue to be overseen by a pastor and deacons; Congregationalists still baptise their children and so on. FIEC is what ‘it says on the tin’ - a Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches’.

Indeed FIEC churches continue to participate in many other networks and affiliations such as Evangelical Alliance, Gospel Partnerships, Affinity, EFCC, Grace Baptist Associations, Acts 29 and so on.  FIEC’s ‘uniformity’ is simply that its churches are free from ties that would undermine the core beliefs of FIEC churches (such as an affiliation to a grouping that accepts serious error).

FIEC does not detract from a church’s identity and distinctives – it simply connects Independent gospel churches with shared gospel convictions while respecting and honouring the diversity found in the body of Christ.

5. You can do everything FIEC does without joining.
Certainly FIEC is not the only place to fund and help organise gospel training; it is not the only body concerned with supporting pastors and their wives; it is not the only network that provides resources and tools for church planters. Other groups are also promoting and supporting women’s workers and Christian legal services are available elsewhere - the list goes on. In many ways, churches live in a crowded market place today with plenty of options and offers when it comes to ministry support and vision.  That in itself is something to celebrate – no one organisation, FIEC or otherwise, is the ‘be all and end all’ of gospel ministry in the UK. No-one is suggesting for a moment that FIEC has all the answers, is the complete package or makes redundant other providers of gospel support. Churches will flourish aplenty outside FIEC and praise God for that.

But FIEC has a unique dynamic which for many churches will be a key part of their gospel vision and strategy. For Independent churches in the UK today FIEC provides the ‘Judea & Samaria’ part of their mission strategy – along with ‘Jerusalem’ (their local outreach) and ‘the ends of the earth’ (overseas mission). Today the UK is one of the neediest and yet most gospel-resistant places in the world. How can local churches be part of reaching its most unreached communities? How can local churches support other local churches in often isolated and difficult places? By being part of a family of churches that connects them.

Very practically FIEC brings together a wide range of ministry services, resources and gospel initiatives – all linked to a vision that sees the local church itself being the instrument at the centre of gospel renewal in the UK.  For Independent churches of all backgrounds, small or large - FIEC is a hub to connect their different ‘spokes’ of energy, gifts, ideas, potential, resources, personalities, wisdom, and shared desire to see the nation impacted again for Christ. So that the plenty of one can help supply the need of another.

Churches could do all the things that FIEC seeks to do – but FIEC helps to join those dots into a strategic national vision - and in doing so connects churches to each other so that they can be that bit more than the sum of their parts in standing for Christ.

If you are an Independent church with a desire to be part of a national gospel movement with a vision to see the UK impacted again for Christ – why not get in touch and join the 60 churches who have become part of FIEC in the past 3 years.

You can check out our website or contact us for more information or to arrange a meeting.

Ask for a copy of FIEC’s Strategic Plan or why not get a copy of our new book ‘Independent Church – Biblically based and Gospeldriven’.