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: andy.hunter@fiec.org.uk

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

Friday, June 17, 2016

10 Minute Testimony

A 10 minute video explaining how I became a Christian and why I'm still convinced over 30 years later. Thanks to Matthew McKinnon for setting this up. 

Independent Church Ministry: Training Course

An article written for the FIEC Website.
There was a new addition to the end of term Awards Evening at Edinburgh Theological Seminary (ETS) this year: the 'Certificate in Independent Church Ministry’. It was given to students who had completed this new FIEC-led course, hosted in partnership with ETS as Andy Hunter explains.

Independent Training primary image

As Independent churches proliferate and become an increasingly growing force for the gospel, there is more than ever a need to see their workers well trained both theologically and in the practicalities of leading a self-governing church. The diversity and experience encompassed by FIEC and its pastors makes it uniquely placed to give guidance and help prepare gospel workers for service in a wide variety of Independent church settings.
Throughout the academic year a number of students – both inside and outside ETS – attended classes on a range of subjects with particular relevance to service in Independent churches.
These classes included the history, the theological basis and the ecclesiology of Independent churches. They also covered a range of practical issues such as Training, Mission, Organisation of Services, Inter-Church Discipline, along with Appointment and Ordination procedures in Independency.
The course concluded with a consideration of The Future of Independency taken by John Stevens (FIEC National Director), a session attended by a number of the college faculty.

A deeper understanding

Students wishing to attain the formal Certificate completed a course assignment – which allowed for reflection on how the various parts of the course had deepened their understanding of Independent churches, and how what they learnt could be of practical use in the future.
One of the essays noted:
‘The independency module, run by the FIEC at Edinburgh Theological Seminary, has introduced me to not only a whole history I did not know about but it has shown me where some of the problems we face in the church today originated from.’
Feedback from the first group of students who attended the course has been very positive – one describing it as ‘practical and inspirational’, another as ‘very good and up-to-date’.
The course leaders, Dr Ian Shaw (an FIEC Pastors’ Network member and Director of Langham Scholars UK) and myself, are looking forward to rerunning the course for a new group of students and others starting in September. In Year 2 the course, held on Tuesday afternoons, will be a slightly shorter 14 weeks (rather than 18). Having the experience of Year 1 has allowed a number of refinements and improvements to be made. It is also hoped that technology will be available to allow remote streaming of the course for those not able to attend in person.

Working in partnership

No one church grouping is going to reach Scotland or Great Britain on its own – the great cause for all Bible-believing evangelicals is the gospel, and this partnership between the Free Church of Scotland and FIEC is a wonderful expression of both group’s primary commitment to that.
As one student expressed it in his course essay:
‘The FIEC course has reminded me that partnership in the gospel with other likeminded Gospel churches is not an optional extra but an essential component for church vitality.’
For those interested in finding out more about the course and how they might participate, information will be available on the ETS website – or you can contact me.


29-30th August 2016
A lightly programmed 24hr retreat for pastors' and church workers. Held at the Faith Mission Bible College in Edinburgh this event is open to both FIEC and non-FIEC pastors. 

Spaces are limited so don't delay in booking you space (and getting more details) HERE.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016