Saturday, 11 November 2017

Slitting Up?

Sorry if I alarmed you!
The splitting only refers to the content of this issue.  However, if it grabbed your attention, perhaps that was no bad thing.  There are four matters to which I wish to draw your attention.

Making Time to Chat
Some of these men were strangers when they sat down. But clearly, they were all enjoying a
good chat.  If you walk around Market Harborough most days, you will find a scene like this.  Some people choose to sit down on a bench simply because they long for company to cure their loneliness or to break the boredom

Last Sunday I made an excuse to eat a satsuma while leading the morning service.  As I peeled it I reminded people of a regular article that used to appear in Readers Digest about unforgettable people.  I asked them to think of one person who has been significant in their life (from school, work, neighbours, etc).  By the time I has finished speaking, I had one of the pieces of the satsuma in my mouth, and told them it was too delicious to keep to myself.

Soon people were enjoying sharing the fruit, but many others had missed out.  Fortunately, I had
another 14 satsumas tucked under the lectern.  So, I passed them out encouraging people to peel and share them.  When the bag was empty I encouraged people to cluster in two or threes and for one in the cluster to talk about the person they had thought of.  The conversations buzzed for two minutes.

No one found what had happened embarrassing and all who had shred a satsuma or spoken about someone they knew, said they enjoyed doing so. Knowing Jesus is a wonderful thing and,

while we might not feel we could answer every question someone might ask, we could chat about Jesus.  It might not be as scary as we fear.  We concluded the service with a prayer that God would give each member of the congregation an opportunity to say something to someone the following week.

Why not pray that too? In fact, you could pray for at least one short chat a day.  But please don't preach or start quoting the Bible.  Just tell someone what Jesus means to you in your everyday life.

Growing a YouTube Audience
This is topic number two.  During the past week, my friend and colleague, Capt Gordon Banks, and I repeated the webinar on Mission Ideas and Resources for Christmas and the Winter Months.  It is full of super manageable ideas, plus plenty of links to free or low-cost resources that could add much to your Christmas and winter programme.  Of course, it can be seen on our website.

We have also been quietly building a YouTube Channel, where you will find other helpful
videos. In addition to the Webinar videos, we plan to add a series of short videos to help rural Christians and churches to share in God's mission in rural UK.  Increasingly, when people wish to learn something, they look online.

If you click the picture on the left, it will take you to the
YouTube channel. Once you get to the YouTube channel, please click 'subscribe.'  There is nothing to pay, but in this way you will receive notification each time we add another video.  If you watch a video and find it helpful, remember to 'Like' it.

Topic number three
is a hymn that I suddenly found myself singing while walking down a road this week.  It is many years since I last sang this, and I have been pondering the words carefully.  The theme is thankfulness. both in times of blessing and suffering.  The author, Adelaide Anne Procter was a friend of Charles Dicken, Arthur Sullivan, and many other notable people.  She was Queen Victoria's favourite poet.  As a committed Christian, much of her life was spent helping many of the most vulnerable in society.  She died aged 38.  Dickens was convinced it was her selfless and tireless Christian work that broke her health.  At one time she suffered deep emotional pain.

The hymn is, "My God, I thank Thee".  There is insufficient room here to include all the verses,
but I
will put them on my Facebook Page.  One verse goes, "I thank Thee more, that all my joy, is touched with pain; that shadows fall on brightest hours, that thorns remain; so that earth's bliss may be my guide, and not my chain.". The last verse reads, "I thank Thee Lord, that here our souls, though amply blest, can never find, although they seek, a perfect rest.  Nor ever shall, until they lean, on Jesus' breast".  The hymn goes beautifully to the tune, Wentworth.

I feared that this profound hymn might have been lost when more contemporary hymnbooks were published.  But I am delighted to see that it is 471 in Mission Praise!  It should be sung slowly and thoughtfully.  I hope it blesses you.

10th October 2017

Sunday 12th - HMP Gartree, leading the Remembrance Service
Monday 13th - School Assembly, Lubenham, Leics.
Tuesday 14th - HMP Gartree, preparing for Christmas
Wednesday to Sunday 19th - in Kent and Sussex for a short break

Saturday, 4 November 2017

What's the point of Forgiving?

In the immediate previous posting I shared something of my experience of abuse in a Christian context.  I am grateful for the messages of appreciation and encouragement.  It is indeed never easy to write or talk about such things, but we make our churches safer and better by facing the dangers and minimising the risks.

When someone finds the courage to speak out about an experience of sexual abuse (and there are significant numbers who have suffered), if they do this in a Christian context, the most common response from the person hearing what is, for them, a difficult story, is to ask if the abused person has forgiven their abuser.  This contrasts with the response in a secular context, which usually focuses more on holding the abuser to account.    But asking if the abused has forgiven the abuser is just about the worst thing anyone could do.

Of course, forgiving is an important aspect of Christianity, but far too often the topic is broached with significant misunderstanding of what it is and how it works.  It has become perceived as a good thing to do, or the right thing to do, but without theological and biblical reflection.  The consequence of this where they have not completely forgiven, is to have an additional and false sense of guilt laid upon themselves.  What they need is to be listened to, understood, loved and supported.

It is common for sexual abusers (and other kinds of abusers) to apportion responsibility or blame on the person who has been abused.  “It was your fault for wearing that skirt or that top” etc.  Indeed, people who have been abused typically carry some uncertainty as to whether, at least to some extent, they carry some responsibility.  In some situations of abuse, the victim might experience an orgasm, leaving the victim confused.  It is vital to be clear that in any such situation, where fear, force, favours, or false information is used, it is not consensual.  Of course, there are other factors that determine sexual abuse, such as the age or competence of the victim.  In my experience in talking with people who have been abused I have always found the abusers to be manipulative.  They must accept total responsibility.

The Bible teaches us that while God loves unconditionally, he does not forgive unconditionally.  Nor does he expect other people to do so.  In responding to Peter’s question about how many times he was expected to forgive a person who sinned against him, Jesus firstly makes clear that a willingness to forgive should always be there, BUT he then tells an interesting parable.  In this story, a man owes an enormous debt.  He asks for time to pay the debt, but the creditor generously cancels the debt entirely.  Sadly, that man then goes to someone who owes him a relatively small amount. This man also asks for time to pay.  But the man who has just been forgiven an enormous debt attacks him physically and has him thrown into a debtors’ jail.

This is one of the most disturbing parables Jesus told.  It continues that the man who was owed the original extremely large amount hears about what has happened and reinstates the debt.  Then Jesus adds, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’  While I don’t think that this is commentary on salvation, it does teach an important lesson about forgiveness that resonates with other passages of scripture including what we call the Lord’s Prayer.  Our indebtedness needs to be humbly acknowledged, and grace should be embraced with deep gratitude, demonstrated through a changed life.  If we know ourselves to have been forgiven, the grace that brought forgiveness to us should overflow towards others.

One of the things I draw from that parable is the two-fold aspect for the transaction of forgiveness.  It is impossible for anyone to be truly forgiven if they have not accepted responsibility for the sin, and then humbly accepted the offer of forgiveness made.  In saying that we forgive someone who has not accepted culpability, we may make ourselves feel better by letting go of any bitterness and resentment.  But we have only offered forgiveness.  The guilty party has not been forgiven because there has been no acknowledgement of need.

1John 1:9 tells us that it is when we confess our sin [to God] that he is faithful and just to forgive our sin.

Jesus also taught about the need for accountability and repentance (i.e. a complete change of attitude).  Verses 15 -17 of the same chapter as the parable, addresses the issue of accountability for sin and the need for judgement by the church.  Holding people to account and issues of justice are just as important as mercy. 

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
(Micah 6:8)

Twice I told my abuser that I had forgiven him, but that if I ever found out he had done the same things to another I would blow the whistle.  I only saw what happened to me as “inappropriate”, and it was many years later that I discovered it was a criminal offence.  But this was only after I had learned that he had abused another person.  Did my failure to hold him to account contribute to subsequent abuse?  I did what I could back then.  Now wiser and better informed, I would have gone straight to the police.

When forgiveness is offered by nice people to bad people there are risks.  Firstly, not holding the person to account leaves him (or her) feeling they have got away with it.  Secondly, it leaves other people at risk from repeated wrong actions.  Thirdly, it delays closure for the victim.  Even though they may have found some blessing in offering forgiveness, the transaction and healing is not complete.  The victim needs to hear the words, “I am to blame, and I am sorry.”  If this said with sincerity, the forgiveness loop is closed.

So, what is the point of forgiveness?   It is not to make the forgiver feel better.  It is to release someone from the debt that is owed.  To give away forgiveness like sweeties without holding the guilty party to full account, fails to achieve the purpose of forgiveness.  It might make it possible.  But the offender remains accountable before God, and possibly society.  The purpose of forgiveness is to release someone from their debt.  Psalm 51 reveals David’s remorse for his actions.  In this psalm he acknowledges his sinful nature, his waywardness, and his deliberate transgression.  He casts himself upon the character of a holy God who has standards.  He acknowledges his dependence on God’s covenant love and mercy.  He also acknowledges that mercy cannot be bought with vast offerings, but that God looks for total contrition.  The psalm reveals true repentance as he seeks forgiveness and restoration.  I am sure that he found God’s forgiveness, but things were never the same for David after that.

Similarly, those who commit sexual abuse and seek forgiveness, should find that things are never the same. We best help repentant abusers when we create a healthy circle of accountability and set up a manageable contract of behaviour.  A truly repentant offender will have no problems accepting that.

For my part, I have no anger or bitterness for what happened to me.  I have been able to use what happened to help others and to help create safer churches.  My part of the forgiveness contract is on the table, and I long for the evidence that the offender is ready to receive it.

Barry Osborne
3rd November 2017

Saturday, 28 October 2017

It Could Never Happen Here

Most weeks when I come to write the Praise & Prayer News I know what the topic should be several days before.  It is therefore very encouraging to receive, so often, feedback telling me how apposite the contents proved.  On this occasion I have been staring at a blank sheet for several days.  Inspiration seemed to be absent.  But more recently, I have begun to feel that the topic had been given me and that I was too reluctant to recognise it.

I am indeed reluctant to write on this occasion, but since slowly waking up to the idea, I have had a growing urge to put fingers to keyboard.  So, here goes.

It is probable that you already know that several times a year I teach on a Safeguarding Course run by the Salvation Army.  The Army has an excellent programme that covers all their officers, cadets in training, and employees.  It’s a privilege to contribute to it.  I have also provided content for the Baptist Union and the Congregational Federation  My title for the Salvation Army sessions (taught through one day,) is how abuse can happen in a Christian context.

Sexual abuse has cast a direct shadow over my life on three occasion.  The first occasion was when I was about ten and was accosted  by a paedophile in a park.  That led to a very embarrassing interview with a mice female police officer.  The last experience was as a foster father of a teenage by with special needs.  Back then, we were less conversant with the right way to handle these situations.  I thought that confronting him and warning him would be adequate.  It wasn’t, and one day Doreen and I had a phone call from an officer from the Metropolitan Police, informing us he and colleagues were on their way to interview our foster son.  The man was part of a large paedophile ring and he had targeted a number of vulnerable children at a school for children with special needs.

In between these two occasions, I was a victim of sexual abuse within a Christian context, and my work with the Salvation Army, and others, is based on learning from that experience.  Over recent years the topic of sexual abuse has hardly been out of the news as stories have emerged about pop stars, comedians,  sports personalities, and more recently a film producer.  Along the way there have been far too many church-related stories and some denominations have found themselves under the glare of the media.

Despite all of these stories, I find far too often, churches and Christian organisations that take a “It could never happen here” attitude.  That is why I am glad, no matter how painful, to share my experience as a teaching tool.  It can, and does happen where it should never happen.  That includes churches and Christian organisations.  I first began to understand the nature of abuse, how to provide appropriate pastoral support for past victims, and how to manage allegedly repentant abusers, when I was invited to research and help write a book.  Time for Action remains probably the most helpful book on the topic.  After that I was part of a team writing a report for the Anglican House of Bishops.  Responding Well  is now a useful tool in the Church of England’s campaign to make their churches safer places.

What happened to me took place over time during the late sixties and early seventies.  For a long time I saw it as merely inappropriate behavior.  After I blew the whistle and was interviewed by the police I was shocked to learn that it was criminal.  The only reason I blew the whistle was that I had discovered that several others in the organisation also had ‘inappropriate’ experiences from the man who was the head of the evangelistic organisation I had joined as a teenager.  In the research for Time for Action I had learned that committing sexual abuse is very often habitual, possibly addictive in nature.  I wanted to protect others, and was not seeking any punishment for the offender when I reported it.

The fact that the abuser had managed to abuse several within the organisation was largely down to misunderstanding about forgiveness.  Each abused person had declared that they forgave the man, who was never held to account.  We gave out forgiveness cheaply and unbiblically.  As a result the man continued to give in to his propensity unrestrained.

In teaching about this, I explain that there are three factors that can contribute to risk of sexual abuse.  These are the nature of the abuser, the nature of the abused, and the weaknesses of the organisational context where abuse has or could take place.  For any church or Christian organisation to be safe, all three need to be managed appropriately.

The man who abused me is a man who is obsessed with power.  He presented himself within the organisation and beyond to be a man with a special anointing from God, and endowed with considerable ministry gifts.  He certainly had a significant personality and was indeed a very gifted preacher and gospel singer.  He preached holiness, and ran the organization to exacting standards based on passages of scripture.  But behind the scenes, something dark was happening away from public gaze.  He was a co-founder of the organisation, but presented himself as the founder/director.  While the organisation initially had a managing committee and later a board of trustees, these were personally appointed by himself so he remained completely unaccountable.

After I had been in the organisation for perhaps a year, I and some of my peers (all in our teens) had discovered that in 1959 he had been disciplined within an Assemblies of God church for sexual misconduct.  When we confronted him about his, he admitted that he had a homosexual nature and asserted that God had made him that way, but he had never committed a homosexual act.  But he had his own definition of homosexual acts, that would not match the legal definition.  At the time when we spoke with him, and what he later did to me and others, homosexuality was not only frowned upon within Christian circles, it was a criminal offence.

He claimed that because he was sexually frustrated, and was in a constant battle to stay holy, this was what gave him his bad temper and other negative behavioural traits.  Further he claimed that God’s blessing on his ministry demonstrated that he was in a right relationship with God.  He claimed the offence for which he had been disciplined had been put right before God and no one had a right to bring it up.  We ended up feeling sorry for him.  Now, it seemed that the many flaws we saw in his character and behaviour were excusable.  With hindsight, he would be deemed to be an inappropriate person to lead an organisation and have charge of vulnerable people.

He was certainly a very gifted person.  He ran the organisation in a dictatorial style.  I was frequently called upon to sort out the crises he left in his wake.  But I felt that working in this organisation was where God wanted me to be.  Various prophetic utterances had confirmed this, and had warned that it was a difficult calling in which I would have to carry a back-bending burden.  My vulnerability related to my young age, my sexual ignorance and naivety, that I was too easily impressed, and that my spiritual guiding themes were love and forgiveness.  So I kept on loving what was often unlovely and forgiving what was wrong.

The primary organisational weakness was the lack of accountability for its leader.  This was ironic as the leader held everyone else accountable 24x7, controlling all we did with our time and demanding absolute commitment and obedience.  Much later, when maturity enabled me to have confidence to challenge what was unreasonable in his actions, this led to serious arguments, in which I was usually portrayed as the villain.

From the start, the nature of the organisation not only required of me total commitment and obedience, he also ensured that my church membership link was severed, and that my parents influence was reduced to almost nil.  There was no other person providing teaching and counselling in my life.  Worse still, I was treated as a man called by God to be his aid, somewhat like Timothy.  I drove him everywhere he went, provided secretarial and financial administration, calmed him down after bouts of temper, and, until I married, hardly left his side.  He told me that he was utterly dependent upon me.  What he might have said about me to others may well have been different.

Sexual abusers groom their victims.  They also groom other around and the situation to enable the abuse.  His role provided opportunity, but also gave him cover to get away unchallenged.  I do not see that you need to know details of the grooming process or the nature of the abuse committed.  But it is important to add something about forgiving.

When I teach about how abuse can happen in a church, I explain how I found myself caught up in something I hated and wanted desperately to be free from.  It was like a spiders web.  If I failed to allow his conduct to continue, he threatened to abandon Christian values and go headlong into a public ungodly behaviour.  When I eventually managed to break free, I confronted the founder and told him that I forgave him.  He made no response .  I also told him that I would blow the whistle if he ever did to another person what he had done to me.  Seventeen years later I received a formal report of similar behaviour and took action.

By then I had left the organisation but had continued to share in ministry in a local church.  Neither the trustees of the organisation nor the elders of the church were willing to take action to investigate what was then being denied by both the abuser and the abused. Consequently, nothing was done at that time, and it was several years later when I reported everything to the police.  Meanwhile I had collected several other testimonies relating to sexual misconduct.  On each occasion he had ‘been forgiven’.

He was arrested, charged, tried and sentenced to two years in prison.  The irony was that on the charges relating to what he did to me he was found not guilty, but on similar charges relating to the more recent incidents he was found guilty.  Throughout that process I received hate mail, and was accused of destroying God’s work.

Sexual abusers, not only fulfil their fantasies, they often exploit the normal sexuality of their victims.  They are usually manipulative and will create a sense of dependency if they can.  They leave people with scars that might never heal.  I still offer forgiveness to him conditional upon true repentance, but have yet to hear my abuser admit his guilt or apologise to me or the several others he abused.

I have learned that anyone could become an abuser and that anyone could become a victim.  It could happen in your church or a Christian organisation.  The abuser might give every sign of being a good Christian but watch out for unusual close relationships with anyone with a weaker personality.  Abusers like to have control.  Ensure that everyone is kept as safe as possible.  Watch out for those who might be particularly vulnerable.  That’s not just the young or elderly.  We all become vulnerable from time to time.  Make sure that leaders are held to account and that good practise guidelines are being followed.  All who are likely to exercise influence over others need a DBS check (used to be a CRB certificate).

So, I have struggled through sharing how abuse happened within a Christian organisation where the gospel was preached and holiness taught , and where there was much fruitfulness.  It has been painful.  I am left wondering whether anyone will say that this is apposite for them.  Telling and hearing stories of sexual abuse is not easy.  If I have offended anyone, I am sorry.  I am surprised how often, in all kinds of situations, people who hear something of my story, afterwards share their own sad experiences.  I hear these far too often and also often from surprising people.

If you have a story to share but do not feel you have anyone you can talk with, please feel that you can trust me, but tell me you have had an abusive experience before you share any details.  I will listen carefully, but if you report what is essentially criminal - or even possibly criminal - the law may require me to report it.  But what is done in darkness needs to come into the light.  Ignoring what has been done does not bring healing.  Giving forgiveness where there has been no admission of responsibility on the part of the abuser just makes others vulnerable.  When abused people are able to find the courage to talk about what has happened it is making the world a safer place.

If the leaders/clergy of your church have never read Time for Action, it is published by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, endorsed by all the main denominations in the UK, and I am one of the distributors.  Drop me a line.

I started this missive by stating that this was not going to be an easy thing to write.  It hasn’t been.  But I have a deep conviction that this is both right and the right time.  May I ask that you pray for those who read this and who have suffered their own hurt.

Thank you.

Barry Osborne
28th October 2017.

From the Diary
Monday 30th - School Assembly, Lubenham
Tuesday 31st - Safeguarding Teaching, Salvation Army College, London
Sunday 5th November - Market Harborough Congregational Church
Throughout this time I will be busy with administration and writing.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Good News is for Sharing

For the last few weeks I have felt that I should write some basic things about faith sharing in one of the Praise & Prayer Newsletters.  One of the greatest thrills a Christian can experience is leading another person into a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Many years ago I interviewed the UK’s premier evangelist at that time, a man called Eric Hutchings.  Eric played a significant part in brining Billy Graham to the UK.  He was the first evangelist broadcasting regularly on radio and led and preached in major missions across the country.

Eric was also a large man.  I have an enduring memory of having to help him out of the passenger seat of a mini!  As the interview progressed I asked him if he could remember the first time he led someone to the Lord.  His face lit up as he recalled the occasion, I think in Manchester, when the occasion had taken place late into the evening and he had missed the last bus home.  “Do you know,” he said laughing, “I was so elated that all the way home I skipped on and off the pavement like a little child,” 

Why is it so hard to get Christians to share their faith frequently?  Many have never done it.  Yet this is the one specific thing Jesus urges his disciples to do before he ascended back into heaven.  Imagine if Jesus turned up in your church next Sunday to ask how you were all getting on with the job!  I have heard many plausible excuses but I believe there is only one reason: we lack gospel passion.  If we truly loved our neighbours; if we had real compassion; and perhaps even if the gospel message had truly gripped our hearts, I don’t think we could stop ourselves from sharing the good news.  In my early days as an evangelist, I would never speak in a meeting without first reading Luke’s account of the crucifixion and the events leading up to it.

This Sunday morning, I felt urged to speak on this topic at Fleckney Baptist Church, Leicestershire.  This was how the service went.

After a simple introduction of my missional activities, especially working with small rural churches, and an opening prayer we sang “We want to see Jesus lifted up” (SoF957) . It had been chosen by one of the musicians in the church but was excellent in setting the foundation for the rest of the service.  I had set out two large sweet oranges and three small easy peelers on the table at the front of the church.  I picked on up and asked if the congregation would excuse me as I peeled it. As I did so I explained, quite honestly, that I had been suffering from a condition that sometimes made speaking difficult.  I told them that sometimes church can be like an orange or tangerine.  I asked the congregation what was great about tangerines.  All the usual answers came: they are easy to get into, usually sweeter than oranges, and less messy.

By now I slipped one piece into my mouth.  I told them it was so good I couldn’t keep it to myself, so I proceeded to offer it around.  Initial reluctance as more and more expressed how tasty it was.  Since only a few had the opportunity to enjoy the sweet seedless orange I was passing around, I gave another one to a woman and asked her to peel and share it.  By now, some were feeling they might miss out, so I asked who might like to try a small easy peeler, and passed out all three into eager hands.

I then gave the congregation two minutes to pair up and each talk about someone they knew who had impressed them in some way.  Soon there was a lot of eager chatter and even a lot of laughter as people shared their stories.  After this I asked if anyone had found it embarrassing or difficult. None had. They had enjoyed the pleasure of sharing in two ways.

This was followed by the telling dramatically how a young girl saved the life of a five-star general.  You know that Bible story, I’m sure.  The general was called Naaman and you can read the account in 2 Kings chapter 5. When I asked them afterwards who was the most important person in the story, two people thought it was Elisha, but the rest knew it was the little girl who shared her story.

We sang “Colours of Day” (SoF1038), after which the young people would normally have left.  But they chose to stay.

I reflected that most of us find it hardest to share the good news with our neighbour, and recited a challenging poem on that topic.  I told the congregation that I wanted to suggest four simple steps.  Of course, the Bible is not a handbook, so there is no one pattern for evangelism.  However, it does seem to me that these four steps are essential and biblical.  I suggested that these needed to be premised on the existence of some passion for the gospel and a longing that others might come to faith, quoting from Romans 10:1, and Paul before King Agrippa.

Step One is finding the opportunities.  I suggested that since God longs that all would come to the knowledge of the truth, the Holy Spirit is at work and we need to be sensitive to these ‘appointed’ opportunities.  This was illustrated with a Bible reading from John chapter 4 verses 1 to 15.  Here a weary and thirsty Jew asks a Samaritan woman for a drink.  This was culturally and religiously contrary to custom.  The man was Jesus.  The woman of somewhat doubtful character.  Jesus presented himself with humility and needy. No aggressive or assertive approach here.  The conversation, which led to a whole community acknowledging his as the Messiah, started naturally, on a topic with which she was familiar.

Step Two is sharing the story. This was illustrated by a reading from John chapter 9 verses 13 to 25.  Here we find a man, whose life has been so changed that his neighbours find it difficult to believe he is the same man they knew previously.  Questioned about what had happened to him, he is unable to respond helpfully to a theological question, and can only witness to what he had experienced.  So, no need to do a theology course before we begin to share our faith.  The gospel is about what God has done for us.  Sometimes cluttering it up with Bible quotes gets in the way of what people need to hear.

Step Three is encouraging a response.  I once led a mission in a church where the vicar had preached the gospel for 36 years but had never given an invitation for people to respond to the message.  After much encouragement, he gave an invitation for those who wished to respond and welcome Jesus into their lives, to come forward during the singing of a hymn.  As the hymn began, he moved to the alter rail and knelt in prayer.  When the hymn ended he was amazed to see the width of the chancel filled with people who had responded.

On the Day of Pentecost, Peter concluded his message by urging his listeners to act upon his message.  Three thousand people did.  Paul, writing to the Christians at Corinth, writes about being Christ’s ambassadors, pleading for people to be reconciled to God.  It is not our role to persuade people into faith, but we should never fail to provide encouragement to respond. [Rural Mission Solutions can help you with that].

Step Four is follow through.  Illustrated this with Paul’s three years ministry at Ephesus where he had discipled the believers, teaching them each day.

We followed the talk by singing “One shall tell another” (SoF541), and the invitation in the refrain to “Come on in and taste the new wine of the kingdom of God” led us around the communion table and an opportunity for fresh surrender to God’s purposes in and through our lives.

The service ended with,” Go forth and tell”(SoF 178).

I share the story here in the hope that you will find it helpful to reflect that sharing something delicious is a joy, as is talking about someone who has made a difference in our lives.  It really isn’t that hard.  Over 300 people will read this in its email form and many more on the blog.  If we all try to put it into practise, who knows how many new Christians there might be by next week.  You might even find yourself skipping on and off the pavement like a little child!


From the Diary
There have been lots of blessings in the past 8 days.  Please pray for all who have responded to God’s word in any way.

Monday 16th October – School Assembly, Lubenham, Leics.

Tuesday 17th/Wednesday 18th – Germinate Listening Event, preparing for a major conference in 2018, Warwicks.

Thursday 19th Churches Group for Evangelization (London)

Saturday 21st with Capt Gordon Banks, presenting the 45-minute webinar on Mission Ideas and Resources for Christmas and the Winter Months.  Please do your best to attend from your home.  It runs from 9.00 to 9.45am.  You need to register in order to get a special link for your computer.  No travel needed; you can even attend in your pyjamas with a cup of coffee to hand!  No church is too small to benefit from this presentation.  To find out more go to

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Surprised by Visitors

During the past week, I suddenly found two applications on my computer I was not expecting.  It is possible that these had been bundled with a programme I did want to download, but I can’t be sure.  However, while neither was malicious, they were a nuisance and had to go.  A few clicks later and a bit of patience and they had gone.  The experience made me remember something I had written for a couple of magazines about how we respond to visitors at church.

Often churches have the words “All Welcome” on their outside noticeboards, but it is rare to find a church that has a good strategy in place for welcoming visitors.  Indeed, out of the many hundreds of churches I have visited over the years, only two seemed to have such a strategy.  In both situations, I felt more like a guest than a visitor, and that is the first point I would like to make.

Occasionally, visitors turn up on my doorstep, a little like the programmes I suddenly found running on my computer this morning.  They are unexpected and I probably have little or no interest in the purpose of their visit.  On other occasions, I find a friend who I am pleased to welcome.  I invite them in and do my best to make them feel welcome.  If they are wearing a top coat I usually offer to take that and hang it up for them.  I ask whether they might like some refreshment.  If they have travelled some distance I will ensure they know where the bathroom is and put them at ease if they need it.

If we had been watching TV or listening to some music, we turn it off so that they can become the focus of our attention.  We offer them a comfortable seat in an appropriate position.  By now they know that I am pleased to see them.  After their visit has ended I usually tell them what a delight it has been and welcome a further visit in the future.

How do you welcome visitors to your home, and how does that compare with welcoming visitors to your church?  My best welcome was received in a well-attended Baptist Church in rural Herefordshire.  I was greeted at the door by a man and woman who clearly had skills in hospitality.  They recognised me as a ‘stranger’ and politely enquired whether I was on holiday in the area.  The enquiry was gentle so I did not feel I was being interrogated.  Once I had explained the reason for my visit (it was research and I already had permission to take photos during the service), I was encouraged to sign their visitors book.  One of the two then took me to the inner door, pointing out the facilities along the way and informing me about the nature of the service, and coffee afterwards.

A man was stationed at the inner door, giving out hymn books.  As we approached I saw him reach for an information leaflet.  I was introduced by name to this man, who was also informed of the reason for my visit.  He asked whether I preferred to sit upstairs or downstairs.  I opted for upstairs for the better view of a baptism that would take place.  As he left his position to lead me upstairs, I noticed another person quietly take his place.

Upstairs I was introduced, again by name, to a family who welcomed me to sit with them.  All the way through the process there were warm handshakes and lots of smiles.  It made me feel appreciated and included.  It was clear to me that I had experienced the consequence of a good strategy.  The hospitality continued through the refreshments afterwards.

What a contrast to a typical welcome to church that visitors receive.  An unfriendly handshake (perhaps) with a few books thrust into the hand, and left to wander to find an appropriate place to sit!

The subject of welcome is included in one of the seminars we run through Rural Mission Solutions.  There is a recording of the webinar on the website and a free download document about a better welcome.  You will find various other suggestions in it.  The video is far from the best we produce.  I plan to replace this with an improved version and to create a video talk specifically about welcome.  Meanwhile, if you would like to look at the video or to download the resources CLICK HERE.

I encourage people to think ‘guest’ rather than ‘visitor’, and ‘hospitality’ rather than ‘welcome’.  If you can create a strategy, please think about using people who are naturally hospitable and good at looking after guests.  Why not include this as a topic for your Church Meeting or PCC, or encourage a small team to draft suggestions?

But there is always the risk of an unwelcome visitor arriving at church.  Paedophiles see churches as providing opportunity for their activities.  Please do not be paranoid about this.  If you have a well-trained safeguarding person in your church then include them in the discussion and planning about how you respond to visitors.  If you have a safeguarding certificate or poster, it is good practice to have this prominently on display.  That usually will warn off that kind of unwanted visitor.  Keeping an eye on behaviour is important.  A good guest respects their hosts.  Just as you would be shocked to find a visitor rummaging through cupboards or entering rooms without permission, often an inappropriate visitor will give themselves away by their behaviour.

Your welcome strategy needs appropriate management elements.

As a final word on the topic, I point you to the verse in the Bible that God used to draw me to himself.  It is in John 6:37 where Jesus says that whoever comes to him he would never turn away.  I came to him more as a visitor, but he welcomed me as a guest, and we became good friends.

From the Diary
I am taking advantage of a relatively quieter time in the diary, to catch up on some administration and do some writing.

Please pray as I explore ways for promoting the work of Rural Mission Solutions and building up the team and support base.  One of the areas of concern is our work to help rural churches develop effective and appropriate programmes to help children come to faith, grow in faith and find their place within God’s mission.

Sunday 24th September Sunday Service at HMP Gartree, Leics.
Monday 25th School Assembly, Lubenham, Leics.
Tuesday 26th Regular work at HMP Gartree
Thursday 28th Country Way Editorial Board Meeting
Sunday 30th Joining others to plan an outreach project for a church in Northants.
Sunday 1st October – Congregational Federation East Midlands Area Autumn Assembly

Thank you for your prayers, support and encouragement.

Barry – 23rd September 2017

Sunday, 20 August 2017

"Who's afraid of the..."

He was young and inexperienced.  Those who knew him best had no confidence in him, and mocked him.  To everyone else it looked an impossibility.  What he was up against was an enormous challenge.  It was a threatening situation, and no one else was willing to face it.  But the main thing he had going for him was that he trusted in God.

Many of those who regularly read what I write come from small churches facing difficulties and challenges.  There is little to encourage us humanly.  It is easy to be gripped by a fear of failing, so often we have low expectations and endeavour far too little.  We dream of what it might be like if only our congregation was twice the size it is and the average age two decades younger.  We are all too aware of what we lack when we consider the challenges that face us and the task before us.

You may have heard it said that if you think that you or your church are too small to be significant, then you probably have never spent a night in a room with a mosquito!

Did you realise who I was writing about in the opening paragraph? It was David, while still a young man.  Day after day, Goliath had shouted out his challenge, taunting the army of Israel.  Day after day, the strongest and best in Israel’s army shrank back from the challenge.  Perhaps this was personal fear of coming against such a huge man with such an arsenal of weapons.  Perhaps it was fear of failure.  Perhaps it was the awfulness of the consequences of failure.  Whatever it was it immobilised them.

Actually, apart from his confidence in God’s enabling him, David had several things going for him.  For a start, he was young and agile.  As long as he kept out of range he could probably avoid being hit by a spear.  He certainly was never going to put himself in range of Goliath’s sword.  Beside his spear, Goliath only had a short-range weapon, while David had a deadly medium range weapon which he could use with precision.  If it was an uneven contest, it was tilted in David’s favour.  Shepherds had plenty of time to hone their skill with a sling.  A typical stone might be the size and weight of a cricket ball, and would leave the sling at around 100 miles per hour.

David also had experience of past victories.  David testifies to past victories that encourage him to take on this latest challenge.  He had proved God to be faithful in past difficult times.

David was concerned for the honour of God’s name, and it was this that motivated him to volunteer.  David also had confidence in the power of God’s name, and it was in that name that he approached Goliath.  Frankly, Goliath never stood a chance!

Some years ago, I had the privilege of being one of two people representing churches in Europe in a conference on evangelism run by the World Council on Mission mainly for churches in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. During the week, each representative informed the others of their activities and outcomes.  We heard amazing things where Christians and churches experienced political opposition and oppression or where they were a minority faith surrounding by majority faith which sometimes were aggressive.  Despite all that opposed them they were bold in their witness of Jesus and were seeing conversions regularly.  My colleague from Holland and I were ashamed to share our story, where the only significant problem was to a post-Christian culture, but where apathy meant that so little was done by the churches to engage in evangelism.

Are we like the army of Israel; frozen in fear?  In these days when our faith is often ridiculed and few take us seriously, are we concerned for the honour of God’s name and therefore motivated to engage in Christian witness and missional activity.  Is it embarrassment or fear of failure that cause us to do so little?  Or could it possibly be that we have no confidence in God?

There is not one church that does not have the opportunity to do more for God.  In my experience, God piles these up faster than we could grasp them.  But surely, we could grasp at least one a week!  A man called David Wiiley wrote, “Too often, we miss out on opportunities in this life because we were too busy waiting for them to fall into our lap that we missed them tapping on our shoulder.”

Why not take some time each day this week to read afresh 1Samuel 17: 1-51, then, with the story fresh in your mind say, “And David’s God is my God”, then set yourself a missional task.

From the Diary
Last Sunday (13th), Doreen and I went to Newark in Nottinghamshire where I took the morning meeting for London Road Congregational Church.  Several testified to God’s blessing that morning.

Monday to Friday (14th – 18th), I helped to lead “Holiday at Home” for the churches in Market Harborough.  This involved four half days of activities and more for older people in the community, many of whom would not normally have a decent holiday.  Those who came were effusive in their expressions of appreciation.  It is not an overtly evangelistic programme but another member of the team and I led a God spot each day and made clear why the programme had been arranged, and we shared the gospel on each occasion.

Saturday 19th, I shared in a team meeting offering mission support for 32 churches in the East Midlands.  It was good to be able to share encouraging news and build plans for the future.

Sunday 20th, Welby Lane Evangelical Church, Melton Mowbray.

Monday 21st, I will share in a meeting in Market Harborough exploring how to make church more inviting.  Afterwards I plan to go to Leicester for a workshop on crowd-funding.

Tuesday 22nd, HMP Gartree.  Please pray for the men I will meet with, and that my security clearance will be updated soon.

Thursday 24th, I will be chairing a meeting for a small rural church with a historic building with a thatched roof in urgent need of repair.

25th to 27th – A free weekend!

Please keep praying.  Each day I am likely to be involved in writing or responding to phone calls to support rural evangelism.  Please pray for our financial needs in Rural Mission Solutions as recent changes to our bank have disrupted our already limited income.  Rural Mission is certainly a forgotten mission field, and we urgently need to grow our prayer base and supporter network.

Finally, if you find these Prayer & Praise News helpful in any way, please drop me a line at or post to The Centre for Rural Mission, 4 Clarence Street, Market Harborough, LE16 7NE.  Recently, some postings have led to people asking if they can use what I write in the context of their own ministry.  The answer is, “Of course”, but it is encouraging to know that it is valued by the readers.

Thanks for reading this.  Remember, David’s God is your God too.

19th August 2017