Rooted (Original Song)

I wrote this song while on holiday with my family in the Lake District, inspired by the title of Simone Weil’s book. It’s mainly Psalm 1, with the chorus from Ephesians 3:17 and John 15:2,7, and the bridge from Psalm 23:2.

Intro
(D/F# Asus G G)
Night and day, day and night,
Let my joy, my delight,
Be in your word, in your promise to me

Let me be like the tree,
rooted by the riverside
That I may be (constantly) bearing fruit for you!

Chorus
Root me, ground me
In your love!
In your love!
Prune me, tenderly,
I want to abide in your love.

Bridge
(D/F# Em G G)
The waters of this world are so polluted
And my branches are broken, I’ve been uprooted
But you will plant me in green pastures, beside still waters
You will take good care of me

Outro
And when the winter comes, I won’t be afraid
For I am rooted in you, deeply rooted in you

And when the winds blow, and the chaff blows away
Still I am rooted in you, firmly rooted in you

Excellence, Brokenness, & Simple Obedience

I’ve meant to put some of these thoughts into writing for some time now–and thought I should finally put out at least a sketch of my thinking, even if I’m not able to write an eloquent essay. In fact, that this subject should be addressed in this manner is very apposite, as you shall see.

The Call To Excellence

Our topic is ‘The Call to Excellence’, a subject which some may think so blindingly obvious that to waste one’s time discussing it is needless, though I have encountered others who seem of the opinion that this is one of the more important messages that needs to be declared to today’s church. My own take on the matter is that this is an important issue to think through, not because I want to straightforwardly affirm the usual encouragement to strive to be the best you can be for the sake of the glory of God, but precisely because I want to dismantle the simplistic power of such rhetoric.

As Christians we are called to excellence—but in a way that is counterintuitive and quite contrary to the world’s pursuit of it.

We begin by acknowledging the biblical basis of this idea. There’s Paul’s call (1 Timothy 4:12) to Timothy to be exemplary in all of his conduct – and we rightly apply that same exhortation to all Christians. And Paul again tells all believers that whatever they do, they should “do it as unto the Lord” – therefore with all the excellence they can muster.

And then there’s the various biblical heroes of the faith whose lives we are called to imitate, like Daniel who distinguished himself because he had “an excellent spirit” (Dan. 6:3).

Certainly in the environment in which I grew up (specifically, Christian boarding schools), the idea that Christians are called to excellence was a very familiar one. I have been privileged to have been given an education in which I was consistently encouraged to grow in knowledge, skills and understanding, and given opportunities to develop in academic study, sport, and drama. “Study to present yourself approved unto God”, Paul tells Timothy (2 Timothy 2:15), and the same exhortation was applied to us – though whether Paul meant quite the same thing by ‘study’ as did my teachers, I’m not entirely sure.

And I excelled: nine A*s at GCSE, four As at A Level, I was captain of our school football team and we won the interschool tournament twice, I broke most of the athletic records for the track events that I ran, I was named Sportsman of the Year, Scholar of the Year, and Best Actor for my part as Hook in Peter Pan. I applied to Cambridge University, ranked the best university in the world, and I was accepted.

True Excellence is found in Christ Alone

Unfortunately the sorts of achievements that the world might consider ‘brilliant’ and ‘excellent’ are nothing but what the Bible calls ‘confidence in the flesh’. In Philippians 3:5-6, we find Paul’s list of reasons that he might be ‘confident in the flesh’, but he concludes it thus:
“Yet indeed I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish.”

As Christians we affirm the ‘call to excellence’ – if and only if the definition of ‘excellence’ has been narrowed to include only “one thing… the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).

Now, this doesn’t mean we have nothing to learn from those who aren’t Christians. From the very beginning of the Bible (Genesis 4:20-22), credit is given to those outside of the family of faith for the cultural and technological advances they achieved.

But what it does is radically shift one’s perspective on the significance of such achievements. What’s the point of being a pioneer in the field of music or metallurgy, if ultimately you will be destroyed by the wrath of God?

Brokenness, Not Brilliance

And particularly in Christian ministry, the implications of this need to be integrated into our practice. Paul says to the Corinthians, “when I came to you, I [deliberately!] did not come with excellence” (2:1), “lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect”.

Paul is speaking of the eloquence of his words, but surely the same applies to the proficiency of a worship band, the impressiveness of church architecture, to so many things that we think are necessary to impress the watching multitudes!

I don’t know quite how hard to press this theme—because, as I began by acknowledging, there is biblical truth in the idea that we are called to excellence. And even as I write about worship bands, I know that someone will point out Psalm 33:3 instruction to “play skilfully”; even as I talk about architecture, I’m sure someone will remind me of the “beauty and glory” of the Tabernacle of Moses.

Nevertheless, I am convinced that our primary task is to let our flaws and our brokenness be visible and unhidden – “that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:7).

Simple Obedience Changes History

This becomes particularly relevant because God is not a distant, silent deity who has merely revealed principles that we must work out how to put into practice, but rather a living, active communicator, who answers us when we call to him, and speaks to us when we listen.

And as we surrender our lives – not just our religious identity, not just a tenth of our income, not just a few hours on a Sunday morning, not just our intellectual assent to some doctrinal propositions – as we surrender our lives to Jesus, He will begin to lead us by His Spirit. And the situations that the Spirit leads us into, may be precisely those situations that our strengths and skills seem least suited to.

Certainly this is not always the case. God has plans to prosper us, not to harm us. And as we delight ourselves in Him, He will give us the desires of our hearts. But the reality is that our ultimate satisfaction is found not in superficial success, but in a growing and deepening revelation of the reality of Jesus Christ.

And this is good news. Because if we are supposed to ‘achieve excellence’, then we all too easily find ourselves locked into the rat-race to be better than everyone else – which is clearly a game that not everyone can win! But when we realise that all the excellence belongs to God, then we are set free to obey whatever he calls us to do, confident in the knowledge that through the power of His excellency, our simple obedience will change the course of history.

The YWAM Cambridge story thus far

In 2006, the founder of the largest missionary fellowship in the world was invited to come to England and speak. His reply was simple: ‘I will only come if God gives me a word for England’. Loren Cunningham prayed — and God gave him that word. It was a word about a coming wave of mission that would go forth from the British Isles to the ends of the earth. Loren came and proclaimed the word in five different cities on five consecutive nights: “I believe Britain is ready for a new surge in missions”. Loren reminded those listening of Britain’s missionary heritage and declared that this coming wave of mission would be even bigger than anything that had been seen in the past. YWAM England called it the Global Passion Tour.

It was more than just an inspirational message–it was a prophecy, from a man whose adventure in hearing God’s voice has led to millions of young people being trained as missionaries through the YWAM Discipleship Training School, and who prophesied that the Berlin Wall would come down years before it actually did. As a sign and seal of this ‘Next Wave’, God gave YWAM England a million-pound sailing yacht, which was purchased with the largest one-off gift ever received in the history of YWAM England.

Assisting with the organisation of Loren’s Tour was a reserved Englishman by the name of Andrew Taylor. He had done his DTS almost three decades previously, after the Church of England had responded to his sense of a call to the ministry with the advice that he ‘go and get some life experience’. He had stayed in YWAM, led the Operation Year (an attempt to restructure the classic five-month DTS into a full gap-year that would fuel YWAM’s pioneering efforts in English cities), married Connie–a fiery ginger-haired evangelist from California, pioneered (with his wife) the first ever YWAM school in Estonia, and had spent years contending in intercession for revival to break out in Scotland. But he was finding that his administrative abilities — of which YWAM has a continual shortage! — were causing him to be locked into a more limited set of roles than he might have liked, and was wondering whether he might finally have enough life experience (!) to be accepted into Anglican ministry.

Andrew was marked with a conviction that Loren’s word was true, and the promised next wave of mission would come — but that they couldn’t stand passively back waiting for something to happen, but must take this promise and pray it into fulfilment. The Taylor family was coming to the end of a chapter, having spent the previous couple of years in Kent seeing to the affairs of Andrew’s deceased parents. Where should they go? How could they best respond to this incredible word from the Lord? What place was there that had seen this sort of missionary movement in the past, that they could go and pray for that ‘well’ to be unblocked? How about Cambridge — birthplace of England’s Reformation, and the launchpad of the missionary Cambridge Seven –; might God open up the door for them to move to Cambridge?

….

Meanwhile in the summer of 2006, a missionary kid by the name of Peter Prescott had just discovered that he had been accepted into the Mathematics course at Cambridge University — despite failing to quite achieve the results for his Conditional Offer. (This kid would be me!) My parents had been Cambridge students twenty years before, and had met and married and moved to the Philippines to plant churches and reach Asia’s billions with the simple gospel of the love of Jesus. Now, having encountered the fiery power of the Holy Spirit in my final year of school, I was heading to university with a sense of being sent back from Asia as a missionary to England.

But upon reaching Cambridge, I soon found myself struggling: struggling with the workload, struggling to make the most of those fleeting student years which too many describe as ‘the best years of life’, struggling with personal discipline, struggling with pornography, struggling with the question of what all this study was for, struggling to achieve any sort of missionary impact. By the time that I hit second year it was clear that I had neither the motivation nor the mathematical brilliance necessary to thrive in my chosen degree.

In my second year, I was involved in a week of 24/7 Prayer in which I encountered the presence of God in a way that marked me with a burden to continue to pray for night-and-day prayer and worship to rise up in Cambridge, and to do whatever I could to convey the love of Jesus to those around me. Not long afterwards, Andrew and Connie Taylor arrived in Cambridge. I remember being introduced to them by a mutual friend in the very house that hosted that life-changing (at least for me!) week of prayer. We didn’t spend too long on formalities—within minutes we were crying out together in passionate prayer for the power of God to break through and bring a revival that would propel students out in mission to the nations.

….

Around that time, a number of people were beginning to talk about the possibility of a permanent ‘house of prayer’ being established in Cambridge. It was even suggested that a certain old Anglican church, inhabited by a very small congregation, might be converted and made available for such a vision. Andrew wrote an email to a couple of the key people involved, suggesting that there be a meeting to pray and discuss the possibilities that lay ahead. That email was forwarded on to a few others interested in the vision, who forwarded it on to a few others—and about a dozen people (rather than just the three or four initially invited) appeared at the appointed time and place (Inge and John Ruddock’s flat), eyes bright with hope for what might happen. As we started to pray, the Spirit fell – and by the time the meeting had to be brought to a finish, we all knew that God had just started something that must continue. Neil Prem (himself a former YWAMer who had just moved to Cambridge) summed it up in sharing a prophetic picture about the first of a series of flaming beacons being set alight, and we decided to continue meeting on subsequent Friday lunchtimes.

Over the next year or so, those Friday lunchtime prayer meetings continued (and in fact still continue at the time of writing) – occasionally, the strong sense of the Spirit’s anointing would dwindle somewhat, and someone would suggest whether perhaps we should cease to meet in this particular way. After all, we were all busy people and this particular meeting didn’t fit neatly under the remit of any one of the various ministries that we were involved with. But whenever this thought would surface, the next time of prayer would invariably witness a renewed outpouring of spiritual zeal—clearly God was committed to this thing that he was bringing to birth!

So two distinct yet interconnected ventures were beginning to take shape: YWAM Cambridge, and the Cambridge House of Prayer. Andrew had been accepted by the Church of England to begin training at Ridley Hall in Cambridge – the first step in his being ordained as a pioneer minister, and then appointed to lead the Cambridge House of Prayer. Connie was thus the de facto leader of YWAM Cambridge, whose ranks were joined by Andy and Collette Henman and their two daughters—almost a year after deciding that God was calling them to Cambridge, they had finally managed to sell their house in Derby and move. Neil and Esther Prem however had decided that they were not called to be involved full-time with YWAM Cambridge.

….

I graduated, was commissioned as an evangelist by a church in Cambridge, and given a small living allowance to release me to share the gospel and mobilise prayer and evangelism. Except that between graduating and starting work as an evangelist, I had married a beautiful Indian girl called Taryn – and her visa to join me in England was denied. We were forced to spent three of the first months of our married life estranged on opposite sides of the globe, in heartbroken bewilderment as the principalities and powers of international immigration bureaucracy prevented us from seeing each other. The situation could have left us broken and disillusioned. Instead, we pressed into the heart of God, and found that our experience was an echo of a spiritual reality. Just as I longed for my bride to come and join me in England, so Jesus longs for His Bride to come and abide with Him in the place of prayer. Taryn took the psalms of lament and poured out her heart before God (we would later record and release as ‘Songs of the Bride’). I took God’s word to Pharaoh and paraphrased it to synchronise my prayers for my personal situation and for revival in the nation: ‘Thus says the Lord, Let my Bride come to me!’

We appealed the decision and eventually it was overturned: Taryn arrived in England the night before Christmas. Then came the challenging task of learning how to serve together in the work God had called us to. This was my fifth year in Cambridge–this was Taryn’s first time in England. I was rushing around the city, doing whatever I could to connect with kingdom-minded Christians to pray and reach out. Taryn was rushing around behind me, doing whatever she could to work out to work out what was actually happening.

One morning Andy Henman drew us both to one side, and told us he’d been praying for us. ‘And I feel that God’s saying you need to step back for a season, to lay a foundation for your marriage and ministry’. He suggested that doing a YWAM Discipleship Training School could be an appropriate way of doing this. That evening as we talked and prayed about Andy’s advice, we agreed that he was right about us needing to step back for a season. After investigating several possibilities, we finally heard about a one-off ‘Wilberforce DTS’ that was starting that September at YWAM’s forty-acre Harpenden base. Wilberforce had been a Cambridge man, and his heritage of ambitious faith bringing reformation to every sphere of society (as well as battling the slave trade he had also founded dozens of other societies for social reform) had been something we had already spent a large amount of time praying into, and when we went to visit the YWAM Harpenden base everything seemed to fit into place.

We signed up for the DTS, and were then invited to stay on as staff, before returning to Cambridge to help start the first YWAM Cambridge DTS.

….

The first thing we were involved with as YWAM Harpenden staff was the School of the Circuit Rider. Inspired by the early Methodist revivalists, this was a two-week crash course in simple evangelism and fiery faith. On the YWAM Cambridge side of things, Connie had been leading ‘Call of the Wild’ summer mission trips from Cambridge to China each summer for the previous few years, but was persuaded to put those on hold and instead mobilise people to be part of this Circuit Rider school.

As well as staffing the school, myself and Taryn, were appointed leaders of the outreach team sent immediately afterward to London. We were hosted by the London Burn 24-7 team, who were doing non-stop worship during the Olympics in a north London church that had also made their vicarage available to host visiting teams. We began each day with a couple of hours of prayer and worship, and then from that place would scatter in pairs out to the streets of North London, ready to share the love of Jesus with whoever we encountered. And whenever we regrouped, there would be incredible testimonies of what God had done—souls saved, bodies healed, the kingdom advancing!

I woke up early on the final day of the two-week outreach, with a burning sense that this was the day I would see revival come. That evening we took our team to join a youth group in Brixton. The numbers were disappointing, the kids unruly, the meeting the antithesis of what I expected ‘revival’ to look like. But after it had finished, myself and another girl on our team had the chance to pray with two of the boys, that they would encounter Jesus. And – at first I thought they were making fun of us – as we prayed they began to describe what both of them were seeing: ‘I see a man in a white suit’ – ‘Yeah, and he’s got a gold scarf’ – ‘That’s right, and gold shoes!’ – ‘His hair is white’. They were describing Jesus, as he appears in the first chapter of the book of Revelation, but as only two kids who had never read that chapter of the Bible could.

It was our first experience of missionary leadership, and it felt like we had tasted something of the authentic glory of the presence of God. The outreach came to an end, and we returned to Harpenden longing to experience that again: ‘What if in Cambridge we had a house where we could live in worshipping community, and see revival break out from that place of intimacy with Jesus?’ But of course, even just a four bedroom house in Cambridge would cost perhaps half a million pounds—far more than we could even dream of being able to afford.

….

The next morning as I was reading my Bible, the seemingly impossible thought of such a house refused to go away. I was reading Romans, and tried to focus on the text. It was about Abraham, a man who received an apparently impossible promise from God, and who “did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God…being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Rom. 4:20-21). What particularly caught my attention was that God sealed that promise to Abraham with a specific sign – circumcision. ‘What,’ I wondered, ‘might be the sign of God’s sealing this promise to me of a big community house in Cambridge?’ Immediately into my mind came ‘£100 – today’. And immediately unbelief rose in my heart – because it’s easy to belief vaguely that someday somehow it might be possible to have a big house. But it’s difficult to believe that by the end of today someone would give me £100.

Sometime that afternoon, no-one having yet given me any money (!), I decided to check my online bank account, just in case. And as I opened it I was astonished to see that the most recent gift was a gift for £100. I looked again – it was not £100 but £1000! I called up the generous giver to express my gratitude. They told me that they had given in response to a dream from the Lord: “God told me I should give it to you ‘for the baby’” – and they explained – “it’s not necessarily a physical ‘baby’, but some project that you’re beginning”.

A few months later, I was investigating possibilities for rented accommodation in Cambridge, when I came across a large guesthouse (with fifteen ensuite bedrooms) for sale for just under a million pounds. And as soon as I saw it, I felt God give me faith that to purchase it is possible. He gave me the verse from Revelation 5:11-12 (which immediately came to mind), “I looked and I heard… thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb…’” So I felt that we should be asking (in prayer and to whoever might want to partner with us) for a ‘thousand thousands’ – ie. one thousand donations of £1000 (which would make £1 million). And God had already given Taryn and me the first thousand pounds as a seal of a promise for a big community house in Cambridge.

As I started to share this story, several people immediately began to respond with their own thousand pound gifts. I was given an envelope stuffed with fifty twenty-pound notes; I received a cheque for a thousand pounds; I discovered another thousand-pound gift quietly transferred into my bank account. Within a few weeks there was about seventeen-thousand pounds sitting in YWAM Cambridge’s ‘House Fund’. It was an impressive release of supernatural finance – but it was nowhere near enough to purchase a property, and in spite of our attempts to tell the owner our story and invite him to become a part of our faith venture, we were unable to buy that particular property. In the meantime we continue to remind ourselves of God’s promise, and to steward the gifts that have been given towards the eventual purchase of a permanent property.

….

It was now five years since the Taylor family had moved to Cambridge, and YWAM Cambridge still had only two full-time staff: Connie Taylor, and Andy Henman. Growth was coming—but before God multiplied the numbers, He would first bring the breakthrough that would be imparted to those that would later come.

Global Outreach Day 2013 was the moment that breakthrough occurred. The vision for Global Outreach Day is that, on the Sunday after Pentecost, Christians all around the world should take the opportunity to share the gospel with those around them. Connie Taylor had invited whoever she could to join the Cambridge team in marking the Day with evangelistic outreach in Cambridge: Taryn and I were there coordinating the outreach for a team from Kona, Hawaii; there was a Wildfire team of Christian families from around the country; and several others—perhaps forty in total. In order to help this disparate collective connect with people and share the simple gospel, Connie had got hold of some elastic and six different colours of beads, and prepared an arsenal of Good News Bracelets.

We were still in a church hall for our initial time of worship and training, when there came the first testimony of someone giving their life to Jesus. Mario was a Portuguese man looking for a job, and had for some reason wandered in to the church building—when one of our team had used the opportunity to tell him about Jesus and invite him to put his trust in Him! And by the end of that day we had seen about forty people on the streets respond to the gospel by praying a simple salvation prayer.

….

We had decided that YWAM Cambridge’s first Discipleship Training School would begin in September 2013 – even if there were just three people signed up, better to get the ball rolling and see what might happen after that. We wanted to put a particular emphasis on prayer and worship, and to impart that breakthrough we had experienced in simple street evangelism. We didn’t want YWAM Cambridge to become just another training base, but we wanted to gather a team of faith-filled disciples of Jesus who could impact the city in the power of the Spirit to the glory of God! God had given us the words ‘Revival & Reformation’ with which to title our particular DTS – a tribute to Cambridge’s Christian heritage, and a declaration of faith that God would ‘do it again!’ – and we had agreed that if we were to have time to engage with life in Cambridge during the lecture phase, the DTS would need to be nine months long, rather than the typical five.

Taryn and I were still living in Harpenden, so Connie and Andy would drive over so that we could pray together about the DTS. Mike & Jane Askew had also been persuaded to help with this pioneering DTS: their three sons had all done the DTS and Mike’s retirement had given them the chance to theirs in Kona, where they had also subsequently staffed another school.

Also joining our DTS staff team was Bethany Breed. She had been to the city previously on a DTS outreach team that Taryn and I led from Harpenden to India, with a couple of week in Cambridge at the end. Our time in Cambridge was something of a challenge—it was the middle of the English winter, making any sort of outdoor ministry less appealing; and our accommodation had no shower, meaning we had to trudge across town in order to have a wash. But the outreach had the incredibly significant outcome of bringing Bethany onto the YWAM Cambridge team. She was an eighteen-year old American doing her DTS, and the day that we arrived in Cambridge, as we joined the Friday lunchtime prayer group (that I’ve already mentioned), she heard the voice of God telling her that this was where He was calling her.

….

As it turned out, the Revival & Reformation DTS didn’t turn out to be YWAM Cambridge’s first school. Cliff & Amaris Davis, from YWAM LA, were invited to consider coming to Cambridge by Vishal Mangalwadi, an Indian apologist who was connected with Christian Heritage. As it happened, Vishal ended up not continuing in Cambridge, but Cliff & Amaris were persuaded by Connie to come and run their Chronological Bible Core Course (three months of intensive inductive bible study). So YWAM Cambridge was having twins!

The CBCC began in mid-September with five students and another staff member, Heather, who Cliff had recruited for the school from YWAM LA. The school was hosted by John and Inge Ruddock, in their newly renovated Oak Villa, thirty minutes to the west of Cambridge in the village of Madingley. Meanwhile, we were still searching for somewhere to host the DTS – which had six trainees arriving in a couple of weeks! Our dream of buying a property had been put on hold, and our attempts to rent a house kept meeting with landlords suspicious of the sort of group (A family? No; Professionals? No; Students? Not exactly…) we were. Finally we found someone willing to let their house to us. The contract was ready to be signed—but it needed to be ratified by the YWAM England board, who happened to be on retreat in the Lake District and seemed impossible to contact. It wasn’t until three days before the school was to begin that we had actually agreed terms and been given the keys—and the house was still unfurnished! But through some miracle of divine provision, various local Christians donated the necessary beds and tables, and the house was furnished literally as the students arrived. When our first student arrived, she was shown to a room with one bunk-bed and told that she would be sharing it with three others—the second bunk duly arrived a couple of hours later, just before her next roommate.

The DTS continued to experience the manifest power of God as we stepped out in faith beyond the boundaries of our own human strength. The impartation of evangelistic effectiveness we were hoping would take place happened within the very first week, and each week there were testimonies of people responding to the simple gospel. We felt the tangible glory of God within touching-distance as we worshipped for two hours each afternoon. We went to Hull for a weekend to do outreach with Wildfire; we went to Norway for a week to join the Circuit Riders. We absorbed into our number a seventh student: the son of a local pastor who had tragically died of a recent heart-attack, and he was filled to overflowing with the irrepressible joy of the Holy Spirit. But it wasn’t all miracles and glory-stories—in spite of our prayers, our friend Inge died of cancer, after a long and painful battle against it.

….

In January 2014, YWAM Cambridge was joined by Gary and Caroline Morgan, the leaders of the Year For God, who moved from Holmsted Manor to Cambridge. The Year For God places young people from the Western world in DTSes in developing nations – Uganda, Bolivia, India – where they then continue on staff for the rest of the year after the initial five- or six-months of DTS is completed, thus making for a fully cross-cultural missionary gap-year. It is bracketed by a week of cultural orientation at the start and a week of debrief at the end—the only parts that actually take place in Cambridge. There are two points of entry each year: in August, and in February.

….

We sent our first DTS Outreach team out from Cambridge on March 3?th 2014, to Kenya—to work with the YWAM Atthiriver base, and to serve among the tribal Pokot people.

Taryn and I were unable to go with the team, as she was pregnant – and had been for the precise duration of the DTS! She gave birth to Isaac on May 28th – and we remembered the word we’d been given: “It’s not necessarily a physical ‘baby’, but some project that you’re beginning”. Our first year with YWAM Cambridge had brought forth both.

Our second R&R DTS began in September 2014, this time with nine students (though one left prematurely a couple of months in). As well as all the staff from the first DTS, we had two of our students from the previous year, Hannah, and Lukas, and also Simon, who had done a nine-month DTS with YWAM Coventry. YWAM Cambridge was now renting two houses on the same road, and Taryn and I had rented another for ourselves just around the corner.

We had planned to run a second CBCC—but Amaris had also given birth to a baby, and so that had to be postponed till April. And then she found she was pregnant again, so that too was cancelled! Instead we are planning on starting a full nine-month Chronological School of Biblical Studies, which will begin in September 2016.

Rather than the CBCC, we therefore made plans to start a classic five-month DTS in April 2014. Two more of the students from our previous R&R DTS—Akira and Haley were recruited to join the staff team, as well as Teresa from Germany, and Brandon from the USA.

But all that YWAM Cambridge had begun to do could so easily have been brought to a standstill.

In September 2015, the UK Visa Authority came to inspect YWAM England and found that our record-keeping was not quite up to the new standards. This meant there were three possible consequences: at worst, we could completely lose our visa sponsorship licence (meaning everyone on YWAM visas would have to leave the country, and no more could be granted—and thus putting in jeopardy much of YWAM Cambridge’s work); or, we could be down-graded and have our licence suspended (meaning those already in the country could remain, but no new visas could be granted for six months); or at best (but this seemed almost too much to hope for!), we might be forgiven and our Grade-A status maintained.

Just days before Christmas, we were told that it was going to be the worst-case scenario. After an appeal and much united prayer, that decision was completely reversed – and we were given the best possible result! This meant we could go ahead with the April DTS. Within days of the nine-month R&R DTS heading out on outreach – this time to Albania – this other DTS was beginning, with six students from England, France, the USA, Zimbabwe, India, and Israel.

Before we joined YWAM Cambridge two years ago, there were just two full-time staff: Connie Taylor, and Andy Henman. This September, it looks like will have about twenty, not counting families.

Looking forward, Taryn and I are committing to be in Cambridge with YWAM Cambridge for at least the next five years. Last summer, I mentioned that I was considering Anglican ordination — I have decided that God’s call to us to see YWAM Cambridge established means that I am not to pursue this any time in the next few years. I have however been selected by the Lausanne Movement as one of their ‘Next Generation Young Leaders’, which means that for the next ten years I will be mentored and equipped for the task of mobilising and releasing ‘the whole church to preach the whole gospel to the whole world’.

Two years ago, I tried to put into writing the vision God was giving us for YWAM Cambridge. I wrote that
By 2020 I hope to see, by the grace of God,

– non-stop 24/7 prayer and worship taking place across the city, involving a growing team of more than forty intercessors and musicians;

– daily evangelism taking place within the city;

– at least one hundred Revival & Reformation DTS graduates committed to serve at least two years in cross-cultural mission;

– at least twenty churches planted;

– summer outreaches taking at least forty students in international short-term mission each year;

– at least seven University of the Nations-accredited courses happening in Cambridge each year;

– seven other Revival & Reformation DTSs pioneered in other cities;

— and whatever else God might want to do.

We are making progress on some of these–on others there is still much work to be done.

Nevertheless, the vision remains the same. The vision is Jesus. The vision is an army of young people. The vision is night and day worship overflowing in mission to the ends of the earth. The vision is revival and reformation impacting every sphere of society and igniting Cambridge with whole-hearted love for God. The vision is an exponentially multiplying movement of discipleship that would fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. When I close my eyes, I can see it! And yet when I open my eyes, it still sometimes seems a long way off.

We cannot do this alone. We need your help. Will you join us in making this vision a reality?

You can contribute financially;
You can commit to pray for us;
You can come and join us.

Your partner in the gospel,
Peter

Ancient Wells: The Spiritual Heritage of Cambridge

Cambridge-Heroes-of-the-Faith-captionsIn our prayers for revival & reformation to be released from heaven into the streets and gutters of Cambridge, one image that has profoundly inspired us has been that of the ‘ancient wells’ being unblocked.

The image is from Genesis 26, after Abraham has died. Again there is a famine in the land, and Isaac is tempted to follow the example of his father and give up, at least temporarily, on God’s word that this promised land will be his inheritance and a place of blessing to all the nations. But then the Lord appears to him, repeating the promise and commanding Isaac to abide in the land. “And,” we’re told, “Isaac sowed in the land, in the year of famine, and reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him”. How did God make it possible for Isaac to reap a hundredfold harvest in the midst of famine? According to the text, it was not simply through some supernatural miracle, but through Isaac “redigging the wells of water that had been dug in the days of Abraham his father”.

For us in contemporary Cambridge, the famine that we face is spiritual, as is the hundredfold harvest that we long for. And so the question is, what are the ‘spiritual wells’ that we need to unblock if we are to see spiritual water again begin to flow, and spiritual seeds begin to grow? The answer is the testimony of our forefathers in the faith, which is of course what ‘Abraham’ represents paradigmatically. As Hebrews 13:7 exhorts us, “Remember those who have gone before you, who spoke the word of God; considering their way of life, imitate their faith!”

And as we have begun to realize, Cambridge’s heritage is full of faithful witnesses who testify to the power and truth of God. Here are seven of those heroes, and the spiritual ‘well’ that they represent:

C Simeon
Charles Simeon: Prayer

Saved while a student at King’s College, Cambridge, Charles Simeon then became the vicar of Holy Trinity Church. His evangelical preaching was initially met with fervent opposition: his services were frequently interrupted, he was insulted in the streets, his parishioners would even lock up their (privately-owned) pews to prevent the possibility of other people hearing him preach.

But by steady, faithful discipline in prayer, Simeon overcame public prejudice and eventually gained a remarkable and lasting influence particularly among the university’s undergraduates. And it is said that when he died, half the city attended his funeral to pay their respects.

The story goes that to help him stay disciplined in spending the early morning in private prayer and quiet time with the Lord, he resolved that if he did not rise he would give a half-crown to the servant who cleaned his room. But one cold morning as he struggled to get out of bed, he found himself rationalising that the woman was poor and could doubtless use his charity–and thereafter he decided instead to throw a guinea into the river!

Apparently he only did this once, since “he could not afford to pave the river bed with gold” — but nevertheless, our vision for Cambridge is that students would again be converted to a Christianity committed to costly prayer, and that this would empower them to endure opposition and win people over with the gospel.

W Tyndale
William Tyndale: Bible

Tyndale did his undergraduate study at Oxford, but complained that although he was supposed to be receiving training for Christian ministry, the course included no systematic study of the Bible. In fact, at the time it was a crime punishable by death to be in possession of an English translation of any portion of Scripture! He then spent a few years in Cambridge, where a few years earlier Erasmus — who put together the first scholarly Greek New Testament — had been teaching.

His conviction that the Bible needed to be made available to everyone was incredibly controversial. He famously got into an argument with a certain Catholic clergyman (this was before the Church of England had broken away from the Roman Catholic church), who told Tyndale that, “We had better be without God’s laws than the Pope’s.” Tyndale responded: “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou!”

Tyndale’s life was not spared quite long enough to translate the entirety of the Bible into English — he was betrayed and arrested for his ‘heresy’, and then strangled and burned at the stake. But his dying prayer that God would “Open the King of England’s eyes!” was answered, and within two years an English Bible had been authorized that was mostly Tyndale’s own work.

Our vision for Cambridge is that God would again raise up people with a fervent zeal to do whatever it costs to make the Bible available and understood, in England and all the nations.

JC Maxwell
James Clerk Maxwell: Wisdom

Cambridge is famous throughout the world for its scientific research: this was where Isaac Newton wrote his ground-breaking Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, almost single-handedly establishing a new standard for ‘natural philosophy’ (what we now call ‘science’) in which experimental evidence would be explained by mathematical models. In more recent times, Cambridge has been the home of several scientists that have given some the impression that scientific study and religious conviction are incompatible: Charles Darwin, whose evolutionary theory seems to so many to be a considerable hurdle to biblical belief, was a Cambridge scientist; so was Francis Crick, discoverer of DNA, and an adamant atheist.

But of all these great scientists, it was a man called James Clerk Maxwell whose discoveries were said by Einstein to have “changed the world forever”. Maxwell formulated the theory of electromagnetism, unifying the understanding of electricy, magnetism and light. He was one of the founders of the University of Cambridge’s physics lab, the Cavendish Laboratory, and he was also a convinced Christian. To this day a visitor to Cambridge can see, inscribed over the door of the Cavendish Laboratory, the words of Psalm 111:2 which Cavendish chose as the science lab’s motto: “The works of the Lord are great; sought out of all them that have pleasure therein”.

Our vision is that God would again raise up Christians who would be able to demonstrate that there is no contradiction between trusting in God and studying the world He has made, and whose wisdom would impact not just academic study, but every sphere of ordinary life. And our conviction is that God is able to bring that wisdom not just through the educated elite, but through the simplest student of His word and His ways.

CS Lewis
C.S. Lewis: Creativity

C.S. Lewis is probably the best-known Christian author of the twentieth-century, having written both the children’s fantasy The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as numerous works of popular apologetics, such as Mere Christianity, The Great Divorce, and The Problem of Pain. But perhaps it is less well-known that all of this writing was really just a particularly fruitful hobby! — for his full-time employment was as an academic lecturer in the field of English Literature.

His academic career began at Oxford, where he studied as an undergraduate and later became a Christian through the witness of friends such as J.R.R. Tolkien. But he had to move to Cambridge to be given the senior position of ‘Professor’ — apparently his colleagues disliked his open and confident Christian faith.

Our vision is that God would again release Christ-centred creativity from Cambridge that would demonstrate the beauty and truth of Christianity. Like CS Lewis, we pray that this would happen both directly — in formulating persuasive arguments for gospel truth–, and more indirectly — in telling stories, singing songs, creating art that would captivate imaginations with the glory of God.

W Wilberforce
William Wilberforce: Justice

The name of William Wilberforce is now almost synonymous with the fight against institutionalized evil — his battle against slavery is one of the greatest stories of persistent moral of the last few centuries. But Wilberforce was not always on the side of justice and right. As a student he spent his time drinking and playing cards, and he initially bribed his way into politics.

But he then agreed to go on holiday with a Christian friend from University, and as they spent time reading the New Testament together, Wilberforce was convicted of his need to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. This prompted a crisis of calling–could he stay in the political world that he had so selfishly become involved with? Through the advice of his godly mentor John Newton, Wilberforce was persuaded that he could in fact use his influence for God’s glory, and spent the rest of his life pursuing what he described as his “two great ambitions: the abolition of slavery and the reformation of ‘manners’ [ie. society’s standards of living]”.

The battle against the slave trade took his whole life–Wilberforce died just days after hearing that the government had made concessions that guaranteed that the Bill for the Abolition of Slavery would at last be passed. But Wilberforce was also involved with numerous other societies focused on social reformation, involving everything from education to animal cruelty. The fuel that powered all this commitment to social justice, was the revelation that the justice of God is a free gift that can be ours through faith in Jesus–this was the subject of his best-selling book contrasting authentic biblical Christianity with the nominal religion of his time.

Our vision is for another generation to experience the revival of heart that comes from understanding the gospel, and for this to release a reformation of every sphere of society.

H Roseveare
Helen Roseveare: Mercy

Helen Roseveare was an atheist when she came to Cambridge to study medicine, but became a Christian through the witness of the University’s Christian Union. She then went to Central Africa, where she was involved in what we in YWAM today describe as ‘mercy ministry’–she set up several hospitals.

But the mercy that she ministered went far deeper than merely alleviating the physical suffering that she saw around her. This is demonstrated overwhelmingly by her response to what some would see as an unforgiveable sin–being brutally raped by a soldier during the Congolese civil war. She later returned to Congo and had the opportunity to meet the man — now in prison — who had humiliated her, and she took that opportunity to tell him face-to-face that he was forgiven.

Our vision is that God would release this sort of supernatural mercy again from Cambridge, that would indeed alleviate physical suffering, but also even more profoundly release spiritual mercy and forgiveness.

CT Studd
C.T. Studd: Mission

Perhaps the one hero of the faith from Cambridge’s past that has most inspired YWAM Cambridge’s vision for Cambridge is the converted student and cricketer C.T. Studd, who went as a missionary to China as one of the Cambridge Seven, then to India (where he pastored the church in South India where I was baptized!), and in later life — in spite of being rejected by the existing mission societies as medically unfit — to Africa.

As well as giving up his career as the most celebrated sportsman in England, he also gave up a massive fortune of £29,000 ( equivalent today to about £2.3 million), and left everything to obey God’s call on him to become a missionary.

CT Studd summed up his life vision in this little rhyming couplet:
Some wish to live within the sound of Church or chapel bell,
I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.

Our vision is that young people in Cambridge would again say Yes to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ–wherever God calls them to go, whatever God calls them to do, however much the cost might be!

Every Simple Salvation Prayer Counts!

Download this essay as a PDF

This post is intended as a brief defense of the practice of street evangelism, and in particular, my habit of counting responses.

Since taking part in the School of the Circuit Rider, I have been persuaded of the power of keeping count of the number of people who respond to the gospel when we are involved in evangelism. It’s particularly helpful when on a regular basis you are going out onto the streets trying to share the simple gospel, and having to wage a constant battle against disillusionment and discouragement as you find more people closed to the message than are ready to hear it, let alone respond. Because the fact is that even though most people might be disinterested, there are *always* at least some who are open. Matthew 9:37 *promises* that “the harvest is plentiful”, and I am convinced that this is a truth that applies in every place and at every time — not just to first-century Galilee. The gospel is always the power of salvation, and as we lift up Jesus, people will be drawn to Him.

If it seems like this isn’t working, then the problem isn’t the gospel, nor even the hardness of the hearts of those that we’re trying to reach. It’s that we’re called (Matthew 9:37-38 tells us) to pray for more labourers. We’re not just called to win the lost to Christ, we’re called to mobilise the saved, and we’re called to pray. I’ve said it before, and I’ve said it again: one anointed evangelist that led a thousand people to faith every night couldn’t reach the whole world even in a thousand years — but if two people would both win one person to Christ and each train that person to win another person, and train them to do the same, and so on, and so on, then every year their number would double, and in less than forty years their numbers would have equalled that of the world’s population.

Now, one might conclude from this that we hardly need to worry about evangelism at all–surely those figures show that it’s discipleship rather than evangelism that should be our priority! But the truth is that in the kingdom very rarely does the same person share the gospel with someone, lead them to the Lord, disciple them, and continue to train them as they develop as a leader. Rather, Jesus tells his disciples, “I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor” (John 4:38). If we want to see a movement take place in which new converts find themselves easily leading others to the Lord, we need to be prepared to put in our share of hard work, in prayer and apparently-fruitless sowing of the word of God.

And — to come back to our original point — it is a vital encouragement when you have embraced the call to live a lifestyle of evangelistic seed-sowing to remember that there are people responding to what you are doing. And as you repeatedly go out and share the gospel message, and a few of those with whom you share consistently respond in faith or at least interest or openness, then the number of those who have responded will grow! I at least find this very encouraging.

However, it is true (I have found!) that some dislike this practice of counting the number of responses. There are a number of objections that I have encountered, and I will now try to respond to them.

Objection #1. Didn’t Jesus explicitly say not to rejoice in outreach testimonies, but in personal salvation?

The reference here is to Luke 10:20, after the seventy short-term missionaries that Jesus has sent out come back rejoicing that even the demons submit to the power of the name of Jesus, and Jesus tells them “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven”.

But I would argue that Jesus’ comment is about maintaining perspective, not about an absolute prohibition on sharing outreach testimonies. Indeed, their testimonies have the immediate effect that Jesus is filled with joy through the Holy Spirit. One could also point out that this passage in fact affirms that salvation is the thing we should prioritise in our rejoicing!

Objection #2. Counting the number of ‘salvation prayers’ devalues the other parts of the process.

I have to admit that this has sometimes been an unintended side-effect of my energetic persistence in rejoicing in the number of responses where people respond to the gospel and pray a simple prayer receiving the gift of salvation through Jesus.

Our friend Abigail has written eloquently on her blog to this effect–about how a simplistic celebration of someone turning to Christ “misses out all the doubt, waiting, patience, confusion, praying, and more doubt”, and can cause a Christian to start “comparing myself to other Christians, and feeling truly rubbish”. (And let me take this opportunity to say briefly how amazing Abigail is: she was one of the first people we met when we moved into Arbury (that’s North Cambridge, for those of you reading who aren’t from ‘ere!), and has been part of our discipleship-group/house-church since the beginning; she’s now just finished her first year of university, and spent the summer in mission in Ukraine).

Certainly there are many things that I still need to learn about how to encourage people to engage in evangelism. Maybe in our numerical record-keeping, we should record and rejoice in every single gospel conversation (or even just conversation with a stranger–particularly for those of us who struggle to start talking to new people), not just the ones that end positively. But hopefully at least as people get to know me they will see that my heart is not to convey any sort of competitive condemnation.

Objection #3. It’s about individuals — not numbers!

I absolutely agree that God loves each individual person specifically, uniquely, and infinitely. As Jesus encouraged his disciples: “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father knowing it. But in fact, your Father knows the very number of hairs on your head. So do not fear–you are more valuable than many sparrows!”

But I disagree that counting the number of responses diminishes the significance of the individuals concerned. If we look at the book of Acts it is clear that Luke is thrilled — almost obsessed! — with the numerical growth of the church: from the original count of “one hundred and twenty” (Acts 1:15), then on Pentecost “there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41), then later “the number of the men came to be about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). One could also look at Acts 6:1, 6:7, 11:21, 14:21, 16:5, 19:26 — all these verses emphasise the growing number of responses to the gospel.

Objection #4. It’s meaningless without follow-up.

Sometimes this objection appears on its own, sometimes it is given in reaction to my response to the previous objection–‘Ah, but the numbers in Acts are referring to newly baptized church members, not just apparent responses to some simple gospel presentation’. Even when people aren’t objecting per se to the keeping track of numbers of responses to evangelism, the frequent question that appears in answer to an attempt to enthusiastically share this evidence of gospel breakthrough is something like ‘Hmm, really?–and what about the follow-up?’

And I readily concede that it is good and important to do whatever we can to help those who respond to the gospel to transition into some Christian community where they will be able to be taught and discipled and encouraged and held accountable to continue growing as a Christian. I believe just as passionately in discipleship as I do in evangelism.

But on the other hand, I am convinced that even if there is no way for us to ever connect with someone again, we have still been commissioned to share the gospel with them. And even if the fault for failing to follow-up does lie fairly on us, then we can still trust that God is able to use whatever seed of gospel truth we succeeded in sowing when we had opportunity to do whatever he wants in that person’s life. “God’s word will not return void!”

In fact in the Book of Acts (specifically ch. 8:26-40) we see that God engineered a situation such that an evangelist was unable to arrange any follow-up: when Philip shared the gospel with the Ethiopian, the man responded instantly and was baptized in some water that happened to be at hand, and immediately “the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away”.

Aside: A Parable
Still considering the question of the effectiveness of evangelism without adequate follow-up, consider this hypothetical situation:
Imagine a person who knew nothing of God, who was struggling with all sorts of serious sins, who one day encountered one of our simple evangelists as he was walking through town. ‘Hi, do you have a minute?, can we share the message of Jesus with you?’ The person is too shocked by the offer to immediately refuse to listen, and our evangelist takes advantage of the pause to begin sharing.

She explains how everything starts with the God who created everything, whose love is infinite and irresistible–but does he know that love? No? Well, that’s because all of humanity has been cut off from God ever since the first human beings turned away from God in mistrust and unbelief. But God so loved the world that he sent Jesus to die for us, to demonstrate his love for us–and there’s no greater way to show love than to lay down your life for someone! And because of his death, the penalty for our sin has been paid! We can be forgiven, we can have assurance of eternal life, we can receive the indwelling personal love of the Holy Spirit!

Our evangelist asks, ‘Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to receive this gift of salvation?’

Suddenly the Holy Spirit pierces through a lifetime’s apathy to spiritual things, and ignites a tiny spark of faith in the heart of our hypothetical person, and to his surprise he finds himself saying ‘Er okay, do I have to do anything?’

‘Well, like any gift, you have to unwrap it and receive it! May I lead you in a simple prayer right now?’ And before he knows it, he’s repeating a simple salvation prayer: ‘Father God, I’m sorry for the wrong I’ve done; Thankyou that Jesus came and died to set me free; I believe–I want to receive the gift of salvation; In Jesus’ name, Amen.’ To his astonishment, his eyes are beginning to fill with tears — before the evangelist can tell quite what’s happened, he’s made a quick exit.

Now suppose that person fails to connect with any Christians who are able to encourage him to grow in his faith. He doesn’t have a Bible. He continues to be trapped in various ungodly addictions. A neutral human assessment would see no convincing evidence of clear sanctification in his life. Suppose that he dies, just a year later, in a tragic car accident.

His body is buried; his spirit ascends before the judgement seat of God. The devil appears, cackling diabolically: ‘I think this one’s for me!’

But suddenly Jesus speaks: ‘Just hold on a minute, let’s do this properly!’ An angel is dispatched and returns within an instant with a large book — the devil grabs it out of his hand, and opens it. He starts flicking through the pages, which reveal a series of incriminating photographs. ‘See what he’s like! Pornography, theft, cheating, stealing, bullying, lying, swearing, fornication, sexual abuse, rape, abortion, murder! He’s mine, I tell you!’

‘Hold on’, Jesus repeats, and he turns to a page where there’s a single photo of the man standing talking to our evangelist. Beside the photo is written a transcript of the conversation that took place. Jesus lays a finger of his nail-pierced hand next to a particular phrase, and reads it slowly. ‘What? What are you saying?’ the devil rants, increasingly agitated. Jesus repeats it louder, and then louder: ‘Jesus came and died to set me free’. And then, so soft it’s barely a whisper, in a still small voice: ‘He’s definitely mine’.

A mighty angel appears with another book, from which is read out: “FOR WITH THE HEART ONE BELIEVES AND IS JUSTIFIED, AND WITH THE MOUTH ONE CONFESSES AND IS SAVED”. ‘What about all this?’ screams the enraged devil, reaching for the first book, and trying to find again the condemning evidence. But now there’s nothing but blank pages. ‘Argh, where did they go?’ screams Satan. The mighty angel speaks again: “HE CANCELLED THE RECORD OF THE CHARGES AGAINST US AND TOOK IT AWAY BY NAILING IT TO THE CROSS”. The devil disappears in a cloud of fury. Jesus beckons the man towards a banqueting table where a lavish feast has been set out. Too stunned to immediately respond to the invitation, the man mutters to one of the angels, ‘Whew, that was close!’ The angel’s booming voice thunders forth again: “WHO COULD BRING A CHARGE AGAINST GOD’S CHOSEN ONES? IT IS GOD WHO JUSTIFIES. WHO IS HE WHO CONDEMNS? IT IS CHRIST WHO DIED, YES RATHER, WHO WAS RAISED FROM THE DEAD, WHO IS AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, WHO ALSO MAKES INTERCESSION FOR US.”

Objection #5. How can you reliably judge whether people are sincere in their response?

I admit that this is difficult. Some would say it’s always impossible to say with certainty whether someone — certainly a new convert! — has saving faith.

But Paul writes to the Thessalonians saying, “we know, brethren loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction”. And if we believe the Book of Acts, Paul was only in Thessalonica for “three Sabbath days”, so not long enough to see the long-term fruit and sanctifying evidence of the faith of the Thessalonian believers.

Strictly speaking, we try to make clear that the numbers we share are numbers of salvation-prayers prayed, rather than of guaranteed salvations. And certainly in many situations there is not the visible evidence that Paul speaks of. But on the other hand, sometimes there is! Sometimes you see the tears running down people’s cheeks, or the joy in their faces, or just the light coming on in their eyes. And I don’t want to undermine the authentic reality of assured salvation which simple faith guarantees, just for the sake of erring on the safe side in my reporting of numbers.

I speak sincerely, in the fear of the Lord, when I say that I don’t want to be guilty of exaggerating our evangelistic success. But I confess that my greater concern is that I would never fail to respond with exuberant joy whenever it seems that one who is lost has been found, one who was dead is now alive. It so strikes me that in the parable of the Prodigal Son, the Father doesn’t even wait for the son to finish saying his ‘sinner’s prayer’ before leaping on him in inappropriately extravagant celebration. And I don’t want to be like the older brother, critical and self-righteous, refusing to join in the rejoicing. I want to be like the Father.

“What Church do you go to?”

“What church do you go to?” This is a common question when two Christians meeting for the first time discover that they live in the same city and worship the same God. But it’s actually a slightly complex query for me to straightforwardly answer–because there’s multiple Christian communities of which I’m part which I could happily call ‘my church’.

Church of the Good Shepherd.
The only one that actually has the word ‘Church’ in its name is the Church of the Good Shepherd, our local Anglican parish church (if you have the time you can peruse my account of my Anglican convictions here). We’ve been going here since just before Christmas 2013 — Taryn’s first service was the all-age Christingle service, which she did not know what to make of (for those of you who haven’t experienced it, it attempts to use an orange spiked with cocktail sticks to convey the Christmas story).

We generally go to the 8.30am half-hour communion service (where our family is always the youngest present), but on those days where we fail to arise in time we go to the 10am family service.

The Good Shepherd is a combination of all the threads that make up the tapestry of the Anglican church: liturgical, sacramental, evangelical, and charismatic.

The church that meets in our house.
One of the reasons we go to the brief early service at CoGS is so that we have time to get ready for the Sunday lunch followed by House Church that we host each week in our own little home.

Ever since my Dad gave me a copy of T4T to read I have been gripped by the fact that to see a multitude of people be swept into the kingdom of God we need a movement of simple, reproducible churches. And so we have been trying ever since returning to Cambridge to gather whoever we can for simple, reproducible discipleship (church!). We used a simple discipleship course that I’d put together to get started, and then have been inductively studying the Gospel of Mark together.

We have yet to see the little group that gathers in our living room multiply into a movement that will fill the city with the glory of God — but that is what we are praying for!

YWAM Cambridge.
Then of course there’s YWAM Cambridge, our missionary family. YWAM is not a church denomination — but nor does YWAM consider itself to be a parachurch organization. Ah– no sooner have I begun writing than I’ve fallen into the trap of saying ‘YWAM considers itself’, as though the mission has some self-consciousness of its own, rather than simply being a family of people with a variety of different understandings of how what the mission is relates to what the church is.

But there’s a helpful line from the YWAM.org Values page: We are called to commit to the Church in both its local nurturing expression and its mobile multiplying expression.

Which is to say that we in YWAM are called to love your ‘normal’ (? !) ‘local churches’, while standing confident in our identity as an equally important expression of the Church.

[Ten days after I published this post, YWAM England founder Lynn Green posted his own thoughts on the relationship between YWAM and local churches, which are interesting to read in the context of this discussion.]

Cambridge House of Prayer.
And I need to mention CamHoP as well, because as we have spent some time discussing as a leadership team, if the Cambridge House of Prayer is called to be a ‘fresh expression of church’ (my view is that we should think of Houses of Prayer as ‘fresh expressions of cathedral!’) then it is essential that we do not shy back from calling it a church.

It may be a ‘different’ sort of church, it may not be competing with other churches for exclusive members, but it is not anything less than ‘a church’: two or three gathered in the name of Jesus, committed to trusting, praying, and obeying the word of God corporately and individually.

And…
So those are the ‘churches’ in Cambridge that I regularly attend. And I haven’t mentioned ‘my’ church in Luton — New Covenant Fellowship, where I still sometimes get the opportunity to preach. Or Taryn’s church in Delhi, DBF Central, which prayed us out from India as we departed to England as missionaries. Not to mention that although we’re no longer members, I am still very fond of my old Cambridge church, CPC.

But what I really want to say is that all of us as Christians are called not just to attend some church or other, but also to multiply the kingdom of God by discipling whoever you can to grow into a greater measure of faith and obedience, while standing in humble solidarity with all the other expressions of the church in your city and across the world.

It might be that the church you go to has a fantastic multiplying small group strategy, in which you should get involved and seek to be trained to lead a small-group whose members would themselves become small-group leaders who would multiply other leaders–and on ad infinitum. But if your church doesn’t have such a strategy, that doesn’t mean you need to leave your church–but it does mean that you will have to take more initiative to start some group in which you can gather people to come and be discipled.

Leading out in discipleship in non-negotiable
I am convinced that this is a non-negotiable aspect of the Christian life. How exactly you do it is up to you, though there are a few constants that you’ll need to think about. First, there’s the question of who you can disciple. In theory, this is easy: EVERYBODY! If they don’t know Jesus, then you can be the first person to really explain the simple gospel message to them; if they do know Jesus, then you can try to mobilise them with a vision for multipying discipleship.

Second, there’s the question of where to meet. Anywhere will do — you don’t need a religious building to talk about spiritual things. Though some places are obviously better than others for a group of people to have discussion and fellowship.

Third, you need to find (or more likely, create!) a time in your weekly schedule that you can commit to being free, and that will also work for the others who you want to come and join you.

Fourth, you need to work out what discipleship material you are going to use. There are a thousand different possibilities, but my conviction is that in the long-term, the only material you need, and actually the most powerful, is the Bible itself. And in the short-term you want a fairly brief course that will help take people from where they are to a healthy engagement with the Scriptures. If it’s helpful then you are more than welcome to try and use my Simple Christianity course — and feel free to adapt it however you see fit. Or there’s the Alpha Course, which is probably the world’s best-known introductory discipleship course for not-yet Christians. Or it might be that what works best in your situation is just to invite whoever you can to the church service that you regularly attend, and then afterwards invite them home to a meal and ask them what they made of what they heard–but it’s essential, that you don’t neglect this latter part, because if you’ve been a Christian for a while, and you’re inviting someone who is a young or not-yet Christian, then there will certainly have been a long list of things that were interesting to you but unintelligible to them.

Conclusion: ‘Be the Church you want to see in the world.’
So anyway, that’s my answer to the ‘where do you go to church?’ question. Which is probably just a long way of me saying that I believe that the church is first and foremost not a place we go to, but a people of which I am part. And those who are part of the church have been commissioned not just to go to a religious service once or twice a week, but to GO and find whoever they can, and invite them to COME and encounter the transforming love of God.

Sightseeing in Hyderabad

Since we were in Hyderabad for Taryn’s Thatha’s ninetieth birthday celebration, and we had a free morning, I thought we should go see some of Hyderabad’s sites! Hyderabad is the sixth most populous urban agglomeration in India, (isn’t ‘agglomeration’ a good word?), and with almost eight million people, it is about the size of London.

in-an-auto
We were staying on the OM site, on the opposite side of the city (technically in Secunderabad, not Hyderabad), so to get to the old city we had to take an auto for about an hour. Which brought back all the old memories of having to guess at what a fair price might be to go to a place you’ve never been before, and trying in vain to persaude the auto-wallah to just put on the meter and let you pay the standardised rate.

chaarminar
The Chaarminar (the name just means four (‘chaar’) minarets) is a beautiful building, but somehow in flicking through the tourist info I had been expecting something similar to Delhi’s enormous mosque the Jama Masjid. Which it is nothing at all like, nor was it ever intended to be. It’s pretty–but unfortunately my main impression was just how small it was, compared to the misinformed expectation that had formed in my mind.

We climbed half-way up one of the towers to the viewing platform, from which you could see the nearby Golkonda Fort. ‘Could we please go all the way to the top of one of the towers?’ I tried asking the guard. He shook his head, and pointed to the rusty padlock which ensured that inquisitive tourists would ascend no higher. Why not? ‘Suicide’. Well, in that case, fair enough, I suppose.

golkonda
We returned to the bustling street and finally found an auto that was willing to take us to Golkonda for a price we were willing to pay. As we traveled, we realized that if we were to make it back home in time for lunch (and we couldn’t be very late because we were getting the train back to Bangalore that afternoon), we could spend about two and a half minutes at the fort.

We decided to call it twenty, and make a swift tour of a place that was the polar opposite of Charminar’s petite perfectly preserved prettiness. Golkonda is a huge, sprawling ruin–and if we had had time to climb its ruggedly chiselled steps, then we would have been gifted a glorious view of Hyderabad’s old city. Unfortunately, no time for that! We didn’t waste too much time haggling with the auto driver home and arrived just in time to join everyone for lunch!

pio
Probably the thing that I enjoyed the most was that my Person of Indian Origin ID card (which I have by virtue of being married to Taryn) entitled me to pay the nominal five-rupee entrance fee for Indians, rather than the inflated foreign price. It slightly baffled the guys at the ticket booth–but it’s nice to feel like I’m a part of this country :)

Hyd01

Thatha’s Ninetieth Birthday Celebration

We are in Hyderabad, India, celebrating the ninetieth birthday of Taryn’s Thatha (the Tamil word for ‘Grandfather’). The whole family is gathered: all five of Thatha’s children, Jasmine, Justin, Jeenie, Nancy and Jeeva; all but one of Thatha’s grandchildren, Divya (and her husband Jeff–they have travelled from Malaysia), Ragini, Sheetal, Aveenash, Taryn (and me!–we have come from England), Micah, Abishek — and unfortunately Arpana wasn’t able to make it, for although she lives with her parents in Hyderabad, she has just started college in Manipal; and the three great-grandchildren, Thalia, Luke, and Isaac.

Hyd18

Hyd26

thangaiah-line

Hyd119

(Photographs from Taryn’s uncle, Justin Rabindra–now a professional photographer in Delhi.)