All posts by Stuart Alred

Thoughts on Revival

Historic Revival

I spent this term at Trinity College studying Christian revival. Edwards, Finney, Dow, Booth, Roberts, Wigglesworth & Wimber were some of the colourful characters that we looked at.

It was stunning to read of times when literally thousands of people decided to follow Jesus, churches exploded and multiplied and sometimes nations were changed.

Some of the key questions around revivals include: Can humans make revival happen? What do genuine revivals do? How should leaders respond in times of revival? What is left behind after genuine revival in the Church and society?

Here are six observations that I made this term:

Revivals grow out of a mysterious interplay between the initiative of God and the responsiveness of people.

Jesus taught ‘the wind blows where it wishes.’ God’s work cannot be predicted or organised. At the same time, he called his disciples to ‘go and make disciples’ and gave them authority to really do stuff. Revival is a tune, written by God, that sounds both of these notes.

Revivals make much of Jesus.

Jesus said the work of the Spirit is to ‘bear witness to me’. Jesus, not the Holy Spirit is the hero of Christian revival. This is what the Spirit loves to do. Although always messy and therefore not always immediately clear, this is where genuine revivals are always going.

Revivals require more than, but not less than, Bible teaching and prayer.

God loves to use ‘the age old’ means of ministry. He also blesses other activity around organisation, communications and contextualisation. However, the way in which these things are done is very important to be done within ‘the spirit of the gospel’ less the latter can undermine the former.

Revivals change people.

An outpouring of blessing may be witnessed but it is the growth of fruit in the coming seasons that evidences its value. Love for Jesus and love for neighbours is changed in an irreversible way during revival and people begin the long, messy and beautiful journey.

Revivals grow the church rapidly.

Churches have experienced 1,400% in ten years. The Wesleyan revival saw 100,000 people come to faith, the Welsh estimate 162,000 people coming to faith and Finney testifies to seeing 250,000 people coming to faith. Numbers by themselves are meaningless, but large numbers of people do indicate that something special might have happened.

Revivals renew the world.

Anti slavery activity, educational reform, empowerment of women, promotion of peace and trade unionism as well as striking reductions in crime and alcohol consumption are associated with revival. Revivals seek ‘the complete renovation of the world’ and all of society benefits.

On a personal level I have been inspired, challenged, humbled and reminded how big God is and what He is capable of. I have found myself feeling much smaller and yet at the same time more motivated to attempt more. We may only have a few loaves and a couple of fish but He is at work and He is calling us to join in!

Stuart Alred

A New Season

January will mark the sixth year of my leadership at Grace Church. Our evolving, emerging & brilliant team have been on a fantastic journey seeking to lead our community well.

Initially we entered into a pruning season as a community. We felt for faith to be relevant for our generation a number of things had to change. A number of people left and a number of people joined as we focussed on what we see as important for today.

It feels like we have moved from pruning to sowing. New prayers, study, teaching, emphasis and teams have been worked on. Theological foundations have been laid, philosophy of ministry established and ministry shapes shared. ‘Giving ourselves to God’s reconciliation of all things’ is how we have been describing the big vision for all we are doing.

Paul writes, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3v6)

Through personal prayer, team experience and a special sense of God’s presence at our prayer time that the season is changing again. Now is time to water our community through Bible saturated prayer.

A number of people at our overnight prayer independently felt Psalm 1 was particularly important for us now. A tree, planted by the stream, that yields fruit in its season is like those who delight in the Scriptures.

Given this shared sense of leading I can’t wait for our overnight prayer in the new year and our ‘Empowered’ teaching series. Additionally, we’ll be teaching from the Psalms in the summer term seeking to know His presence through prayer. Our series will be called ‘Songs for all Seasons’ and we hope will be one of the ways we receive an invitation to receive nourishment together.

FRESH VISION FOR CHURCH

Annually, between April and July, our leadership teams participate in a season of review, reflection and discussion to work together to agree key areas of focus for the year ahead for our Church Family. We will be sharing the results of this process at our Church Together Prayer Meeting at 7.30pm on Wednesday 1st July at The Maynard School, and in four following blog posts.

As a Church Leader I would see this as one of the most important processes for the health of our Church. Many hours are spent, tough decisions are made, faith is required, resources are aligned and hopefully success will be experienced.

Personally, I prepare for this season through private prayer, silence and solitude. I would normally go to a place of outstanding natural beauty and lay before God all that is on my mind and heart. I tend to wait, listen, sense and write anything that I discern as helpful.

At this time of year I ask our for attendance figures, giving reports, guest card responses, ministry reports and for opinions of a variety of key leaders to help me form a picture of overall Church life.

Our Senior Leadership Team spends a day apart together. On this time four additional people invited. We share, discuss, listen, debate and look for convergence together. Our Wider Leadership Team was invited to bring input and feedback adding multiple perspectives and insights.

I also seek input from those who care for our Church, who are outside our Church. I speak to Matt Partridge on a regular basis and would run most things past Matt inviting comments, feedback and shape to key decision moments.

Our aim is to ‘hit the ground running’ in September with clear areas of focus, teams pulling in the same direction, resources in the right places and a sense of anticipation at what He might be pleased to do at our local Church.

WITH MANY ADVISORS PLANS SUCCEED

Larry Osbourne (church leader) refers to his first three years of ministry as, “the dark years.”

Tim Keller (church leader) recently tweeted the sentiment, ‘if we always look back at ourselves and say: we were ignorant and naive, what does that makes us now?’

After three years of church leadership I am aware of the learning I have experienced, while I also feel aware of the learning and need for support that will be ahead. Wisdom in Proverbs says,

[22] Without counsel plans fail,
but with many advisers they succeed. (Proverbs 15:22 ESV)

It is for this reason I am particularly grateful and pleased with the friendship and support that I, and Grace Church Exeter have been both receiving and exploring outside of our local setting.

Matt Partridge (Emmanuel Church Oxford) has been a superb friend, lightning rod, support, mentor and truth teller for me and my senior leadership team. He has ‘been there’ through thick and thin and I am profoundly grateful for his ongoing input. I am yet to beat him and golf. It will happen.

David Stroud (ChristChurch London) has created and is providing contexts for us to be, and get to know a few people asking similar questions to grow in friendship, share wisdom and to spur each other on. It is amazingly reassuring to feel understood among others, not least by those who have planted churches, and led national movements. David and Philippa have provisionally agreed to speak at our church weekend away in 2016.

Mick and Val Taylor (CityGate Bournemouth) have been a tremendous support and encouragement. I love time with the Taylors, and have particularly appreciated Mick reading endless documents, drafts and proposals to bring theological reflection, correction and nuance when needed. Experienced pastors are such a gift to young guns like me.

Howard Worsley BA, MA, PhD (Tutor of Missiology, Trinity College Bristol) has offered me time and some guided reading around some of the issues we are grappling with. It has been an inspiration and really helped trace deeper historical and theological roots to present day challenges. I am pursuing an MA application with Howard and hope to do much work with him in the years ahead. I feel that I have already received loads from him!

Steve and Helen Pollard (Bespoke Ministry) have supported us and had input both through receiving referrals, bringing some teaching and counselling Chloe and I! With 30 years coaching and counselling experience we have benefitted enormously from our time with Steve and Helen. I love the way Helen particularly is able to integrate her faith and professional expertise.

Andrew and Laura Sampson (Grace Church Truro), Jon and Hannah Fielder (Redeemer Birmingham) and Tim Blaber (Christ Central Portsmouth) have been inspirational and challenging peers to have in my life. Time with these guys has been exceedingly nourishing to Chloe and I over the years and we hope to continue these connections in the future.

‘What you do’ is a big deal.

‘Who you do it with’ has also proved to be very important.

Whilst all relationships change and evolve, I am thankful and humbled by all those who have helped us so far. I look forward to receiving more help where people are willing and hope to be a blessing both to these wonderful people and to others as a result.

(Image: © Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon, Creative Commons Licence)

CLEAR VISION

Stuart Alred writes:

Sometimes feel like I have heard so much about vision, and failed so miserably to motivate people, that I should give it up!

I suppose as a leader of any group, a picture of a preferred future that produce passion is a much coveted asset.

At our senior leadership day apart, one of my team mates said, “None of this motivates me. I never talk about this stuff. I just like talking about Jesus.” 

As a Christian, Jesus is the hero. He is the one who we want to draw attention to. We imagine our futures through the lenses of what He said and did.

An observation that has been made around my leadership over the last couple of years is that we have given too much ‘what and how’ and not enough ‘why’.

Simon Sinek makes this point brilliantly in a TED talk which I have understood but strangely struggled to apply.

As it happens, our little local Church has it’s vision sketched around the contours of the life of Jesus. We believe certain things due to the life of Jesus which is shaping our Church.

As we make an intentional shift towards the ‘why’, we hope both members and guests at Grace Church will both understand our motivation and also be more motivated themselves!  

Heaven help me. 🙂

CHRISTIANITY HAS NO CLOTHES

Stuart writes:

Monks wore robes to identify with people. 

Medieval monastic communities identified with, and worked for the benefit of wider society. Bosch writes, “Even secular historians acknowledge that agricultural restoration of the largest part of Europe has to be attributed to them.” They lived simple lives and worked hard with dedication and perseverance.

Today, the same robes communicate the opposite message. 

Over time, the same robes began to communicate a very different message. To me, robes do not say, ‘I am with you’. In fact, they say the opposite. To me, dress from a monastic community communicates, ‘I am separate from you’. I do not associate monastic dress with practical help but rather asceticism and eccentric behavior. I think this would be broadly true today.

Sometimes to communicate the same message, you must change. 

I’m not saying any of these messages are wrong. I happen to think both of them are needed. However I am observing that it is very different from the original intention. Sometimes due to changes in culture you must change to stay the same. For the monastic community to continue to say, ‘I am with you’, through dress at least, required a change.

Of course clothing is just one way we communicate in culture. Each time we communicate we ‘dress’ our message in various ‘cultural clothes’. Emotional expression, language, dialect, body language, physical contact, music genre, use of technology, lifestyle rhythms, approach to time, plausibility structure, teaching style and heroes are all elements of culture we use in community life.

As I consider my role as a Pastor, I want to live and communicate an unchanging message in a changing world. I am seeing a lot of the ‘cultural clothing’ used by previous generations is now communicating the opposite message to the original intent. I believe one must be willing and ready to change our clothes to both keep the message and connect with people today.

A lot of listening and learning ahead.

FIVE WAYS TO LOVE OUR CITY

I have personally enjoyed considering why and how we can enjoy and love Exeter better. I was thrilled by the Express and Echo article and am very excited to see how our Church can learn to express God’s goodness across our city.

Here are five things I anticipate will happen, and am beginning to see at Grace Church:

1) Grass roots initiatives 

Within our ‘Community Groups’ we are seeing people pray and begin to plan how to make a difference in their part of the city. A ‘Neighbourhood Health Watch’ is being considered in one group and we are broadly considering how we can spark more creativity.

2) Relief work and partnerships 

We currently a partner with Exeter Foodbank and have began working with Christians Against Poverty in a small way. As former Chair of Trustees for Foodbank, I am looking forward to hearing news as we continue to partner through people, prayers and pounds. We are looking to invest in and grow these relationships into the future.

3) Vocational support

Many of our Church make fantastic contributions to our city and surrounding areas through their work. We have many in education, health and social care, law, as well as business leaders and others. Our aim is to motivate, support and celebrate these outstanding contributions being made. We are anticipating termly forums developing to take this further.

4) Nurturing creative expression

One of our Community Groups is based around music in our city. I am looking to meet with some musicians to consider how music and faith fuel each other, and how we might increasingly contribute to the music scene in Exeter. We are also considering how to grow in creativity within our Church meetings.

5) Influence for good 

Within our city the University attracts people who are exceptionally gifted, Many Exeter graduates are in positions of significant responsibility and influence within society. We want to help support and envision those with bright futures to be working with endurance and faith for the benefit of all.

All these five areas are important. It is unlikely that the same person will begin a grass roots initiative and apply for a position of influence. However, both matter and both should be celebrated and supported. At Grace Church I am looking for people to give more space to each other and honor the different callings we each have.

As a Church we are motivated for all these things because we believe that God made and loves His world. We believe He is at work within it today, and one day he will restore it. We want our words and deeds to tell this wonderful story.

We are, and will be, minimizing and restructuring ministries, promoting spirituality, gifts and talents for all of life, redefining maturity in a broader way, creating bespoke support and learning from many others who are on a similar journey.

Through our small lives we hope we’ll all increasingly hear the voice of another say, ‘I love my city’. 

Stuart Alred, leader of Grace Church.