Church In The Park 2019

This blog was originally posted at: https://www.lifesouthampton.org/the-intrepid-adventures-of-a-reluctant-evangelist/

One big marquee, one hundred and thirty two volunteers during the week, many more people involved with the set up, fifteen churches from the city represented and much excitement in the lead up …. all working towards Church In The Park 2019.

This is the second time that Church in the Park has popped up in the middle of a Southampton Park. It is organised and run by members of Southampton Christian Network (SCN). This event started out as a Life Church event called Parklife and has gradually grown and included many churches across Southampton, increasing the opportunities to pray for the sick, share about the difference Jesus makes to life, and seeing God at work.

Having been asked to record my experience of the event I was filled with much uncertainty. I am not the most out-going person, even with people I have met many times, let alone complete strangers! I would definitely not call myself an evangelist, in fact I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of people I know that instantly come to mind who I feel were better suited to sharing the good news of Jesus. I work for the church, yes, but always think my skills lie elsewhere. I’m far more confident filing, sending emails, and chasing missed bin collections than I am speaking to someone about my faith. However … we are called to be ambassadors of Christ, as though God were making his appeal through us. In Mark, Jesus instructed the eleven disciples to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” Now I’m not saying that I expected to pick up snakes with my bare hands, nor be exposed to poisons, but to me, the biggest battle was knowing what to say to each person I met. Anticipating having to talk to complete strangers actually made me feel sick!

It was with that knot in my stomach that I arrived at the marquee to set up the tea and coffee supplies ready for the initial prayer meeting. Whilst doing so, probably in the first thirty minutes of being in the marquee in fact, I was told that a lady from one of the other churches involved had started chatting to a guy outside in the park. She stayed with him for some time and it resulted in the man repenting and giving his life to Christ. Boosted by that story, I saw a couple of ladies pop their heads round the entrance to the marquee. They were asking what the event was and if it was something they might want to come along to? I let them know that there were three services a day, one aimed especially at children.

Fast forward to the prayer meeting that evening. All the churches involved were invited, and I could see face after face coming in mainly in ones and twos. Some faces were filled with excitement and anticipation, but most were already looking tired. Yet still here they were, turning up to pray for the week ahead. Learning from Colossians 4 verses 2 – 6 we prayed for doors to be opened in many areas, conversations with people, more people turning up to serve at the event, and people open to invitations. At this point I was excited and tired in equal measures. I had no desire to join the scatter team. I would definitely say I was scared! I got the picture of the ‘Marauders Map’ from Harry Potter which allows you to see individual people moving around so you know exactly where they are at any given moment. God reminded me that this wasn’t so that I could avoid these people, simply more that they were there. He reminded me that we don’t need to know who God will put in our paths, but God knows, and that’s all we need.

That night, the night before it all began, I was exhausted, I got very little sleep and was only focusing on what could go wrong. Listening to ‘Just be held’ by Casting Crowns I realised that I needed to give it all to God and the practical stuff will happen on its own. Walking into town the next morning it started raining, forcing me to zip up my coat. This was hard for me to do as I just wanted everyone who passed me to see the logo, surprisingly even being willing to be stopped by some people to find out what the event was, and where it was happening. Having my coat on meant that no-one did.

Each day at CITP starts with prayer, and on the first day, Chris (Kilby – SCN Steering Team) commented how funny it was that he always knew when a big event was happening, where God would make his presence known, because the night before his phone would ping overnight with messages, pictures and words God had put on people’s hearts. This also continued throughout the event, so I doubt he had much rest that whole week! Throughout the prayer meeting Revelation 1 “Do not be afraid” was repeated so many times, hopefully filling more than just ‘little me’ with confidence until it was overflowing!

Day one (Wednesday) started slowly, the weather probably not helping. We had a higher ratio of volunteers in official CITP t-shirts than we did visitors, but this enabled us time to have meaningful conversations with the guests, and still send a small team out ‘scattering’, inviting people from the city into the marquee to hear from some our speakers. The family friendly session started to build momentum, with many parents coming in for a rest and a hot drink whilst their children took part in fun activities run by SCM and had their faces painted by two incredibly talented artists.

The first day finished with Martha Collison, from Bake Off, speaking about her experience of the competition and how her faith helped her get all the way through to the quarter finals, despite being the youngest contestant on the show, by far!

Day two came and went in a blur, the queue for the face paints was even longer. Rod Williams shared a little of his ‘colourful’ life, getting into drugs at 17 and then spiralling further into a life crime, gangs and even prison! It wasn’t all doom and gloom though … Rod went on to share how, whilst in prison, he had a supernatural encounter with God which turned his life around, and he now spends his time reaching out to others with a message of hope and healing.

Friday was full of messages from three different speakers, all from local churches. It finished with Nick Berryman who used to be an engineer full of scepticism about God. He shared his journey from atheism to truly believing in God.

Saturday came and Adrian Holloway, once a TV and radio presenter, spoke at all the meetings. He now speaks to thousands of people across the country, including at Newday (a large Christian event for young people) where hundreds of teenagers have come to faith and many accounts of healing have been reported. The sun was blazing this day, which brought so many families to the marquee in the afternoon. Around 50 children had their faces painted by five artists (yes, we had to call in reinforcements!), many more joined the sports sessions outside, more refreshment supplies were brought in, and lots of ice lollies were consumed!

You may have noticed that I have stopped writing about each individual conversation I had, and story that I heard. This is simply because they were so many. I didn’t get a chance to catch my breath between meeting each new person, let alone write down any details! With being so busy it wasn’t until Saturday evening when I got home that I realised I hadn’t had to think about what to say to any one of the people I had met throughout the week. Yes, I felt tired. Yes, I don’t remember all their names. But yes, God gave me the words to say. He provided me with the words, that were exactly what he wanted me to say. I didn’t have to do it in my own steam, I didn’t have to pause and think. I just opened my mouth and God did the rest. True to his word, God opened those doors and he provided me with skills I needed to go through them! One thing that stood out to me from the whole week was the number of times that people asked how much each activity was, or how often people offered to pay for drinks or face painting. They simply could not believe that the whole event was free, and that all the servers were there for free, some even taking time off work to serve Southampton.

Across the week we had twelve meetings in the marquee, one hundred and ninety faces were painted, five hundred hot dogs cooked and served from the BBQ, and over a thousand cups of tea and coffee were served. Those things were all great but God was working in even bigger ways during the week … fifty people made a commitment to follow Jesus, there were eight recorded healings (including my husband who had been suffering from a bad back due to having to haul heavy equipment and bend often to plug cables in!). The week culminated in three baptisms on the Sunday afternoon plus two more in other churches in the city. God was doing such work through everyone involved in the week, that three more people wanted to get baptised too.

Having slightly recovered from the event I look back with happiness, reading the stats above, and recalling numerous times where God gave the right person the right words to say and the confidence to say it. I encourage us all to use the momentum that Church In The Park has built to invite the people we meet to church on Sundays, to become part of our life groups, and to give us courage to do ‘life’ the way Jesus instructs us to. I may not be wearing my CITP t-shirt anymore but I still have something important to share, and God will continue to give me the words to say.

Thoughts from Brazil

For the last week, we have been in Brazil. Images of rain forest, waterfalls and wildlife fill our minds and the Valley of Blessing does not disappoint. Situated close to the city of São Paulo it is an oasis of beauty and calm. June is the beginning of Autumn in Brazil and the nights and early mornings very cold which took us by surprise. Later the sun came out and it warmed up sufficiently for Guy to spot many beautiful butterflies in bright blues, oranges and yellows.

The home of Antioch Mission was one of the first evangelical organisations in Brazil to train and send missionaries across the world. We were here to build on an existing relationship with Silas and Marcia Tostes, who oversee the training school but also a 500 strong church. Relationships with New Frontiers go back many years but more recently their eldest son Andre spent a year in Woking before returning to Brazil. It was a joy to meet with him and his pregnant wife Jessica. They spent a year in the much poorer and arid North East of Brazil they are keen to plant a church there. It is a heavily Catholic area with some similarities to Spain and Portugal. We are keen to work together with this young couple and believe God has brought us together again. You may be seeing them more in the future and certainly hearing more about them!

Silas and Marcia extended wonderful Brazilian hospitality during our stay and we were able to minister to many different groups whilst here- the church, the trainee missionaries and the Antioch staff as well as the local mayor. We also had the privilege of visiting all the social action projects where they focus on children and families. We enjoyed an energetic dance from the children at the Art and Life school they run for poorer children in the community. We were also introduced to two families who are settling here after leaving the nearby devastated Venezuela. Many people are pouring into Brazil at this terrible time and are finding welcome and a future here.  A highlight was visiting the foster home where about 20 young people ranging from 9 months to 19 years old live together. We had a hilarious time as they questioned us about life in England. They sung us a Brazilian song and then asked us to sing to them, a first for us! We left moved by their cheerfulness aware that behind the bright smiles were terribly sad stories of abuse and neglect.

It felt quite sad to leave this morning, this family has definitely taken us to heart and the feeling is mutual. We are thrilled that God has brought us together and wait in anticipation to see how God will lead us together, confident that this will be the case. Silas and Marcia will be at Westpoint this year so make sure you look out for them and show them that the English can give as warm a welcome as the Brazilians can!

How to use a car wash to reach a community!

Grace Church, a multi-site church meeting in Chichester, Bognor Regis, Midhurst and Havant, has always sought to find innovative ways to engage with the community. From community fun days to showing free films in the open air, the church has gained a reputation in the local area for such events.  In November 2018 the church took possession of a former ambulance station in Chichester. Now known as the Grace Centre, it will serve as a resource centre for the whole church as well as a Sunday meeting place for the Chichester site.

Saturday May 11th saw the building receive a throughput of vehicles for one last time. However, this time it wasn’t ambulances that were driving through the building but private cars. The church set up a Car Wash for the day, and over four hours washed 80 cars.

 

In July of last year planning permission was granted to convert the building into a meeting venue. Prior to undertaking the first phase of the building programme, we took the opportunity to invite passers-by to have their cars washed for £1. However, once inside the building, not only were cars washed, and coffee and biscuits provided, but rather than paying a pound people were offered a shiny £1 coin as a free gift.

David Thompson, who leads the team at Grace Church, said, “We wanted to express something of God’s generosity to us. So, in addition to washing their cars for free, we also gave them £1 for the privilege and people were totally bowled over by the gesture. We had many fantastic conversations with people about the grace of God, and were able to put the Grace Centre well and truly on the map.”

People also had the opportunity to view the plans for renovation of the building. Although work will be phased over a number of years, we hope to complete basic alterations enabling the use of the building for Sunday meetings by the end of the year.

3 Must read books before Westpoint 2019

Westpoint 2019 features an amazing line up of speakers including Hannah Anderson, Andrew Wilson and Andy McCullough. Not only are they engaging speakers, but they have written excellent books too! We decided to ask some people within Commission to read and review them, and as you’ll see they’re well worth a read. Their books are available on Amazon and will also at our onsite book store at Westpoint.

 

“Hannah Anderson: Humble Roots” A review by Liz Blaber 

After Andrew Wilson described ‘Humble roots’ as one of the best books he’d ever read, I was keen to read it. I love to read something that feels fresh and different, and this book certainly is that. If you’ve ever felt a sense of despondency that the work you do is not quite as groundbreaking or world changing as you may have hoped, then this book is an antidote, and a genuine route to peace and happiness in the wonderful every day… 

Embracing the everyday call on my life has been particularly important for me as I’ve been parenting four young children for the past 7 years, where a feeling of groundhog day can sometimes creep in. By seeing the significance and beauty in the people and places around you, and realising the privilege of investing in even a small God-given task or person, can literally almost make you burst with pride.

I so enjoyed and benefited from Hannah’s wisdom speaking from every page. I was particularly moved and helped by her chapter on death ‘the ultimate humiliation’  – a subject often avoided and not easy to grapple with from an honest and creative perspective. To look death square in the eyes and to talk about what it is and what it isn’t and to reflect on the great, immortal God we love and worship brings hope and perspective. I applaud Hannah for managing this so well. 

This really is a book for everyone, it never sits on my shelf long as I’m always keen to share its goodness with friends and family – my 70 year old mother enjoyed it so much she read it twice back to back! – Can any book receive a higher commendation??!!

 

“Global Humanity: Andy McCullough” A review by Simon Walker

Our world is changing.  Where I grew up everyone looked similar to me, ate similar food, talked in a similar way.  Today my local high street is full of different smells, languages, colours and food.  I love it!   Global Humility helps us to make sense of what culture and worldview are and walks us through a biblical approach to understanding how to engage in serving the world with the gospel. 
 
Andy writes as someone who has lived as a pioneer working across cultures to present the claims of Jesus to people who hold a different worldview to his own.
 
Andy explores how different cultures find their identity, how they think and how they approach life.    He shows us how to listen and understand others before we humbly open our mouths to share the stories of Jesus.  Contrasting East and West cultures covering hot topics such as collectivism, honour and shame, and language, this book will equip you to go to the nations and connect with those that make their home in streets alongside you.  
 
Global Humility is a superb guide that will encourage you to live and serve the gospel at home or travelling to new nations.  It comes out of rich reading, thinking, research and practice and will serve its readers well.  A superb read and an outstanding piece of work that I think will be a key resource in mission for years to come.   Brilliant!
 
 
 “Spirit and Sacrament: Andrew Wilson” a review by Tom Davis
 

In Spirit and Sacrament Andrew Wilson lays down a simple challenge – are we as faithful to the New Testament ideal of church as we think we are? Regardless of our church affiliation or style of worship, it’s very easy for us to call out the biblical references to practices we put into place on a Sunday morning (gifts of the Spirit, weekly Eucharist, communal confession…) and glide over the references to those practices. This short book sets out the biblical reasons why we may want to expand our current practices, wherever we’re starting from, and gives suggestions as to possible places to start.

Wilson has a relaxed and engaging style of writing, equally likely to make you laugh out loud, or wince. And regardless of whether you end up feeling changes should be made to your Sunday morning or not, the early two chapters in this book on Gift and Joy, underpinning the later ideas, are ones to keep coming back to.

 
Thoughts from the Phillipines – Heather Miller

Thoughts from the Phillipines – Heather Miller

When I look back on our time with Open Doors Church, Cavite, Phillippines recently I am reminded of the words in Acts 2: “All the believers were together and had everything in common…they ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of the people.” As with the early church, there was a group of people who lived near to each other and were frequently in out of each other’s houses. They ministered together, attending the prison, school, youth and prayer times, as well as constantly preparing and eating food together. They did it with great cheerfulness and fun too. Vast tables were laden with fish, rice, vegetables, bread and fruit and we seemed to be constantly eating, feasting morning, noon and night!

Despite only being with them for four days we had a wonderful insight into the life of the church and its ministry. Being met at the airport we were greeted by a huge banner with ‘Welcome to Vinu and Julie, Guy and Heather’ printed brightly and hearty hugs and smiles. We quickly realised that we were part of this family too, not bystanders but each one of us joining in and playing our part.

The first morning we were taken to Bulihan jail where all four of us had the opportunity to speak to the 60+ male prisoners crowded into the hot rooms. Despite seeing photos from Andy’s previous trips we were still taken aback by the incredibly cramped conditions behind the steel bars and the quiet anticipation as row after row of men sitting cross-legged and waiting. The church has faithfully visited each week sharing worship songs, testimonies and food, earning the respect of the prisoners and the staff alike who have commented on how their presence brings peace and calm to the inmates, even if for a short time.

On the second day, we were taken to the local Burol Elementary school where each of us was expected to go and teach a class. It’s been a while since I’ve stood in front of a group of school kids but I thoroughly enjoyed my lesson about Samuel hearing the voice of God. I was amazed at the attentiveness of the children and their delight in the simple games and story I brought. The staff too although slightly more distracted, listening to Guy speak to them about leadership and we felt they really welcomed the input of this little church.

In the evening we all took part with our testimonies at the youth event where youngsters from 10-20 years old gathered for worship and teaching. The music seemed loud in the quiet neighbourhood where many of the church members live, but nobody seemed to mind and the youngsters were thrilled to receive prophetic words over their lives. Us older ones took
ourselves off to bed afterward but the young people stayed sitting out in the street, eating, chatting until gone one in the morning! Sunday was spent with the whole church with Guy and Vinu sharing the teaching together and Julie and I got a temporary rest and just listened! They spoke of the vision and values of the Commission family and then welcomed the elders and the church into that family. Guy likened it to a small branch on the bigger branch of Commission and the large tree of Newfrontiers. They were all very excited about this development. We then spent some time praying for the long queue of adults and children who patiently waited. Healing was anticipated as many had serious health challenges. It was a huge blessing to be able to partner with Vinu and Julie into this new nation. We shared stories, doubled up with the preaching and presented a helpful visual aid to the relationship and sense of family that works within our network of churches. Their perspective was very insightful too as the Indian and Phillipino culture has some overlap. I think we also challenged their perspective about hierarchical church leadership as they saw us laughing and teasing each other.

One woman admitted to being overwhelmed at being described as a sister and yet this is what we are, families together across the world, on a mission, each with their own unique call and culture, equal in our standing as brothers and sisters in Christ. We look forward with anticipation to seeing this relationship develop. Our prayer is for leaders to be raised and lives touched by the gospel among this warm and friendly community long into the future.

This is not fake news: journalists want to do good

Your church probably has two responses to the notion of engaging with the media. It’s either extremely nervous, or it simply sees local newspapers and radio as tools for promoting events.

That’s the typical attitude of most UK churches, according to Natalie Williams of Jubilee+ and Kings Church, Hastings. She led a media day for Commission churches in November, inspiring us to see the media, particularly our local newspapers, in a new light.

Natalie knows what she’s talking about. Having trained and worked as a journalist, she spent much of her career building positive relationships with the media and influencers.

One of her first post-journalism roles was getting the media to publish good news about crime, on behalf of a police force. (Just to be clear – she wasn’t trying to sell the virtues of crime, but to share stories that helped reduce fear of crime).

The result is a wealth of experience in working with the media to promote ‘good news’. Positive news has a positive impact on the community.

So, there’s a challenge for us: how can our churches work with the media to make people feel valued, respected and safe in the places where we live?

Journalists are not your enemy

As part of her introduction to the day, Natalie wanted us to understand that most journalists are keen to do good, especially at a local level. Most want to tell stories that inspire and encourage others. Surely our churches can be a rich source of uplifting tales of lives being changed for the better?

Don’t confuse the motives of journalists with those of their editors. Bad news draws a crowd and editors use shocking headlines to create sales, whether it’s in a paper, on radio or online. But this doesn’t mean journalists are always looking for a negative angle on a story.

I’m frustrated that lots of front-page headlines on my local newspaper include words like ‘chaos’, ‘horror’ or ‘crisis’.  But once you’re past that, much of the content is more upbeat. Local media thrives on the highlights of life in our communities: community group activities, school events, achievements by our near neighbours and more.

Natalie’s advice to churches is to start reaching out to local journalists. Find out who’s responsible for reporting church news and invite them for coffee. Open the conversation with the question ‘what can we do for you?’ and see where it goes.

Local media is more than a free publicity machine

The reality is, most people aren’t very interested in what your church has to say.

We can lose sight of this because the internet has made it really easy for us to publish our own announcements and stories, through our own websites and social media networks. But these messages only go to people who already like you and have chosen to listen in.

The challenge for us is to reach out to new audiences, to engage those outside the church’s own communication channels. Getting a message to these people means using the media they choose to consume.

Don’t assume that the so-called ‘traditional’ media is becoming irrelevant. Local newspapers and radio still speak to significant audiences and still command respect. The messages they broadcast have the power to influence many lives.

All of this means we should stop thinking of them simply as a route to free publicity. How about thinking of local media as potential partners in serving our community? While not all journalists will share our faith (don’t forget that some do), most will share some of our vision for shaping a secure, stable environment where people to live.

By coming alongside our journalists and providing them with stories, we can help change the tone of local news. At the same time, we can help people see local church as a force for good, and more importantly, as a source of hope.

You won’t often, if ever, get the chance to preach Jesus through local media. But you can help draw people to a place where they can encounter the power of the gospel.

Top tips for engaging with local media

Here are three takeaways for church leaders from the Commission media day:

  • Consider investing just one hour a month in talking to local journalists.
  • Ask them what they think makes a good story and use that to find stories from your own church.
  • Don’t ask what the journalist can do for you; ask what you can do for them.

This is the first of several articles based on the Commission media day.

It’s by Andrew Knowles of Weymouth Family Church, Dorset. Andrew is leading a team that’s helping Commission churches improve their engagement with the media.