Christmas is coming… and Christ is Here

Christmas is coming… and Christ is Here

In many of our homes, and all around us, preparations are well underway for Christmas.

This year some have followed the idea this year of putting up Christmas trees and decorations just a bit earlier than usual. There are different competitions going on in many neighbourhoods- best outside light displays, best decorated windows, best decorated trees etc..  The shops are full of presents and tempting goodies, the tv is rolling out the Christmas movies and the internet is awash with recipes, fancy wrapping and gift ideas. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Whether it’s a scaled down get together or scaled back spending because of pandemic repercussions, we remain resolute on celebrating as best we can. We are all looking to find a bit more joy and kindness, familiarity and comfort as we embrace the season. And no wonder after such a tumultuous year.

Christmas may be becoming more secularised, but the core remains the same. The wonder of God’s Son being born. The greatest gift to our world. The hope of a Saviour and Redeemer, the blessing of knowing Jesus in our hearts and lives.

Before the pressures and preparations of bringing Christmas to everyone else, there is an ever-open invitation for each of us to embrace. A quiet time, with the Light of the World and King of Kings for ourselves. Just to be, to adore, to connect, to receive.

We know too well how operating in ministerial auto pilot can rob us of personal time with God. It’s beautifully restorative to just sit with a coffee and read the scriptures. Reflecting and listening for the voice of God. I remember a seasoned preacher once said that if you need encouragement and to hear God’s voice- then start reading through the book of psalms until your heart connects. That’s good advice! Or why not mull over the Christmas story in a different translation to your normal. Find a moment in a comfy chair, mute the phone, and play your favourite worship music or Christmas carols. It really is that simple. I know because I’ve done it, even when at times I had to literally drag myself to this sacred space. We never lose out when we do. God is always there. Watching, waiting, longing, loving, protecting, cheering us on. As we court His presence He can never resist. There is no sustenance like it, as we posture our hearts in awe of His Majesty.

Christmas is coming….and our beautiful Jesus is already here.

Donna MacNeil

 

Tending Our Mental And Spiritual Health

Tending Our Mental And Spiritual Health

Who would have imagined back in March that we would still be living with varying degrees of lockdown and restrictions on our daily living due to Covid-19? I think most of us have just about managed to trundle along from month to month as we faced uncertainty around the pandemic, people’s health, employment, education, family, personal and church life. Some have even had to deal with worst of Covid-19 with the loss of loved ones, or people in their congregation and community. It’s fair to say that these last few months have been an emotional roller coaster for us all.

As those who work from day to day with a focus on other people’s wellbeing, it is essential we keep finding time for ourselves to deal with our own thoughts and emotions. Our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health are so very important. Taking time to look after ourselves is actually practicing wisdom. From a place of personal wellness, we are in a better position to then look after others.

‘RESET’ was the title of our Annual ESPS Conference that we held recently. (seminars coming online soon)

Coincidentally ‘RESET’ was the title of an interview Andrea Wigglesworth took part in back in April for a church in Ireland. This is a wonderfully helpful message that is still very timely and applicable for us in these days. (follow the link below)

Andrea shares how to deal healthily with our thoughts, emotions and anxieties. She gently encourages us to ponder the question - is it possible we could actually emerge from this season stronger in God after a personal re-set? Will we flounder or will we flourish?

God bless and encourage us all to be positioned to flourish in these days and in the days to come.

Please follow the link below;-

 

 

Donna MacNeil

Kindness

Kindness

I was young and about to graduate from Bible College and marry a minister all in the same week. In his study one of my lecturers asked me how I felt about becoming a ‘minister’s wife.’

“Just be kind to people and they will love you,” he said. He was a wise and Godly man. Naively, I believed him.

It was always my aim to love and I think I have kept that but the way was not strewn with rose petals. Why? Because people can be so unkind and uniquely so to those of us married to pastors!

Many years ago, unknown to our  congregation, a large tumour was discovered inside my neck. For three months I did not know if I would live or die. It proved benign. But in the midst of that time a senior elder came to my husband to complain that some of the congregation felt I did not smile enough!

In the course of being a pastor’s wife I have been subject to people’s bad behaviour at times; anything from gossip to threats of violence! Who knew being a minister’s wife could be so eventful? One man spat at my husband in the street. It landed inside his mouth. AIDS was very much in the news. Lies were written about Kenny: he was a heretical lunatic, a paedophile even. I was amazed when one day he asked me:  “Am I what they say?” Repeated unkindness can do that to a person.

In church there will always be some people who have not yet found the pattern for their own life and as they thrash about in the dark waters of sin they may at times try to push our head under with them. It is therefore vital we find our own identity in the kindness of God. When people are unkind we need to take time to notice the bigger picture. In the goodness of God there are always some people of genuine integrity.

Though retired, we have temporarily relocated to help out in a church. Recently I was particularly blessed by two of its members. The first time I was sitting on my own waiting for a meeting to begin. Nearby people were chatting and laughing. Old feelings were beginning to prick my heart. Just then a lady spoke: “I was just thinking it must feel lonely when your husband is ministering and is not able to sit with you.” She continued to chat in a friendly way without patronising me. I felt I had waited forty years for someone simply to understand.

The other time I was blessed was when it was night time and I was in the street  on my way home. A man rushed up behind me shouting, “It’s the butcher!”  Not the most reassuring introduction to hear in pitch darkness! He IS  a butcher but also a church elder. “Is there anything you need?” he said. I smiled and said, “No, we are fine thanks.” But long after, I pondered the way he had looked into my eyes with such sincerity and I thought how much it would have meant if someone had asked that when we were a young and struggling manse family. But I do remember when the children were tiny an old lady giving us a £10 note, “Because medicines are expensive.” Seems like perhaps my old lecturer was not quite correct. I don’t need to be kind to be loved.

Being in my 60’s I now see that if you live long enough some of your enemies may become your friends - long after you have stopped needing their approval. The grace to forgive that God can gift to us is extraordinary.  So when some of them come to you, be kind.  Rejoice because they are finally finding their way.  Christ is being formed in them as He is in you.  It is like a sneak peak of Heaven.  And why would God let that happen?  Because He is kind.

Ephesians 4v32:“And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

Ecclesiastes Chapter 11v1 and v6:

“Cast your bread upon the waters …”

“Sow your seed in the morning

and  at evening, let not your hand be idle,

for you do not know which will succeed,

whether  this or that …”

Morag Borthwick

 

5 Traits Of Churches That Will Build Again

5 Traits Of Churches That Will Build Again

For more than eight months now, most churches have been doing everything possible to navigate what may be remembered as the most difficult season in ministry. If not the most difficult, likely the most complicated.

We often talk of the new normal, and that’s a great conversation; we need it, but we can’t wait for it to arrive. We need to lead forward now.

We need to build again.

Most churches are either open, trying to open, or preparing to open their physical buildings. That’s a good start. Their teams are simultaneously working hard to deliver high-quality worship services in-person and online, plus all their other ministries as well.

Both online and in-person can feel like double the work, and leaders across the country tell me they are exhausted.

But here’s the insight.

Leaders are not exhausted from all the work; they are exhausted from all the work with half the results. It’s emotionally draining not to see tangible outcomes anywhere near the corresponding effort.

Resilience is needed now more than ever.

Building again does not refer to physical buildings, but building the body of Christ stronger and larger, one person at a time.

One pastor said to me, “We built our congregation once, and we will put our heads down and build it again!” It was an inspiring moment!

It had nothing to do with self-sufficiency; it was all about God’s purpose with God’s power.

Rather than lamenting the losses, leaders who will build again are thanking God for what they have and stewarding their gifts and resources wisely.The churches who will build again are building now. It may not be flashy, fast, or the biggest in town, but they are building!

5 traits of churches who will build again:

1) They don’t measure future results based on past performance.

Comparing what you have now to what you “used to have” can be a discouraging trap of the Enemy. Of course, there is some benchmarking value to assess important ratios like financial or staffing ratios, but the point is to begin again with what you have, don’t lament over what was.

That is wasted energy.

Reference to past numbers is useful as a gauge of progress into the new reality, not proof of failure. Further, we need not limit what God can do in the future or presuppose timelines that He will do it in.

Let’s just say it like it is, the Church has taken a hit, but it will come back, and there is great potential that it can come back stronger than ever. The church’s future depends on the combination of the power and favour of God and your leadership. That’s an incredible partnership.

2) They are learning how to make decisions without the ability to see around the corner.

One of the most common questions I hear is, “How can I make good decisions when I can’t anticipate what’s ahead?” One pastor said to me, “I feel like I’m flying blind.” I understand what he means for sure.

Here’s a helpful approach.

Design your strategic plan for shorter segments of time.
Normally I would not suggest something like a three to six-month plan, but now it’s necessary because you can’t see far enough out to plan farther.

Always design your planning in alignment with your longer-term vision. That protects you from inadvertently veering off course. Your vision serves as your compass for true north.

Make your operational decisions as short term as reasonable.
If you make your strategic plans short term, for now, you can minimize the potential consequences if you make a mistake. You can adjust and adapt quicker, make your course correction, and keep going with minimal losses.

When it comes to progress, the important thing is that after you think and pray, make a decision.
Don’t get stuck waiting for a perfect and certain decision; there isn’t one.

3) They possess an optimistic and faith-filled spirit that overcomes doubt and discouragement. Each of us are responsible for leading people forward with a confident message of hope in the future.

However, it’s not easy to authentically and consistently lead with an optimistic spirit in a pandemic. Right?!

Let’s just own it – If you can’t lead yourself forward with an optimistic spirit and hope in the future, you can’t lead others there either.

There’s a lot to this idea, but let me offer two helpful thoughts.

1) An optimistic message of hope can only come from an optimistic life and a positive, faith-filled spirit. It starts within you. Your overall outlook on life is shaped and defined by how you think, how you see life, and your walk with God. The good news is that optimism is essentially a choice, and God himself is our hope in the future.

2) Vision brings hope. You’ve got to stay focused on something bigger than you. Each of us are too finite to create and cultivate such hope in the future based on our own life and goals. It takes a purpose larger than we are ourselves. The purpose of your church is a great example of a vision bigger than you possess on your own. That purpose brings hope. It brings the potential of momentum and forward movement.

4) They cultivate a healthy and productive team culture that solves problems. Healthy teams take on challenging problems with great resilience and productivity because they stick together, believe the best, and where one person is weak, another is strong.

As I talk with church leaders in this season, they list so many problems to solve. Three of the most common are:

Loss of momentum – the closing of physical buildings last March took the wind out of our sails.

Loss of volunteers – some of the best volunteers in churches are not ready to come back.

Loss of predictability – we’ve never been able to predict the future, but some somethings were predictable. That is no longer true.

It’s OK to admit that these are tough problems. It’s OK to acknowledge that the solutions don’t always come fast or easy.But once that is owned, great teams move quickly to solutions, and they don’t let anything deter them from a commitment to solving the problems.

It will take trial and error, it may take some time, but they press forward.

 

5) They embrace and implement change with agility and enthusiasm.

The potential for your church to thrive in the future depends in great part on your willingness and ability to change. The changes may be large or small, but the important thing is to make the right changes.

Most people resist change, at least to some degree; that’s human nature.

The interesting thing is that it’s not always the actual change that people resist; it’s the transition from the old to the new. It’s the effort and energy it takes when there is no margin and when so much is unknown.

Make the reason for the change clear, be honest about any losses from the old to the new, and make the plan clear about how to get there.

When you make changes, make sure that it’s not change just for the sake of change.

Here’s what I mean.

Be careful that you don’t celebrate change when the outcome is different than what you had, but not better. Improvement is essential. Always make sure the end result is better, not merely different.

And remember, if you change something and no one gets mad, you just changed something that doesn’t matter.

Dan Reiland

This article originally appeared here - https://danreiland.com/5-traits-of-churches-that-will-build-again/

 

Personal Prayer Support

Personal Prayer Support

Our recent Annual Conference was a very blessed day indeed. It was wonderful to connect with those of you who joined us. All the seminars were so rich and inspiring, encouraging and comforting.

We also had our experienced prayer team with us all day, manning phones throughout the building as they adhered to social distancing. Our prayer team have always been a rich asset at our events as we offer a guaranteed confidential service. Throughout the conference the phones kept ringing, which was wonderful for our team and a rich oasis for our callers.

I feel prompted to remind you that this service is available throughout the year, and not just at our events. As those who are very much on the front line, we know that many leaders and spouses struggle to find a trusted place to go for personal prayer support. Today is a reminder to you that we as ESPS Ministries are here, and we are here for you.

Prayer changes things, and actually being personally prayed for can feel like a strengthening to our whole being. You can request prayer by emailing us through our website, through the prayer request box under prayer, and also through the contact form.

Whenever you feel that no one is there for you to turn to, please do get in touch. As well as prayer support, we will also look to signpost you to other organisations that may be of benefit in other ways.

We do pray for you collectively today, thanking God for your life and witness and pray His abundant blessings over and into your life.