Monday 28 January 2013

Leading when you feel sad.

While I've titled this post "Leading when you feel sad", I'm really getting at something deeper.
How about this instead,

"Leading when you're stressed"
"Leading when you are depressed"
"Leading when you have doubts"
"Leading when you have no sense of hope."

It's a common notion that has been handed down through generations of pastors and preachers and vicars and bishops and people with little white plastic slip-in collars.

When leading worship - smile.

Let the congregation know you are enjoying it.

Let the congregation see that everything is rosy with you.

Let the people see how well you bask in the halonic light of the messiah as you draw people forward in their profound journeys with God.

Don't let the congregation know if you're not happy.

This little list of aphorisms were in one wording or another given to me as a helpful inheritance by a former supervisor.

The purpose of these little flatulent sayings are on the face of it quite reasonable.

If I went to a concert and the lead guitarist was looking a little jaded I might question their commitment to the cause, or they're belief in the band's lyrics.

But even then I'm not sure I'd prefer them to smile flatly and falsely.

But within churches - when push comes to shove, this is an unwritten rule - look happy when leading.

I get the feeling R.S. Thomas would have had an answer to any who dared suggest such a thing to him.

But genuinely, how do we respond to such ideas?

How should we act if quite frankly we feel terrible, or actually can think of no worse place, than stood at the front of church?

Maybe one answer might be given, "yeah but it's your job/hobby/idea of a cracking Sunday morning, so just get on with it yeah?"

To which I would respond, but who can honestly say they've felt their best everyday they've been to work, or have some salesmen and women actually been fed up of trying to sell used cars and looked tired? Or maybe they're not sleeping, or are ill?

But someone at the church, speaking, well lets wheel out 1 Peter 3:15b,

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you.

Take that - depressive types!

It's because it's all about hope isn't it?

Yes.... and no....

Because a life in leadership is just that, a life. And a life is full of ups and downs. Clergy types who spend years baptising, marrying and burying should know this.

"But just keep smiling."

The horrific catchphrase of some ridiculous parody of a church at worship.

Cutting to the chase I have two things I really want to say at this point (and I may blog more at another time).

THE FIRST: In the late 90's and throughout the 00's I think much of youth work and evangelistic ministry within the church was about big event, showy event. It's all about the zapp and the boom and the pow. We're going to impress these people into the kingdom with mediocre Christian rap, bleached hair and an OTT event.

And these things were (and still are) great at many things.

But something has happened in the last ten years.

Teenagers discovered the internet.

And then they grew up to be mid-twenties, and are now going on 30.

If they want a zapp, a boom, or a pow, the internet can provide a bigger and better one than the Church can.

Rather than mourning over this, I rejoice. Because a thread that has emerged in youth work, and mission theory is that, wait for it, .............. what really matters is relationships.

You can have all the special effects you want but if you don't know the person whose sharing this story with you it's all worthless.

Relationships, friendships, mentoring, these ways of communicating and sharing life are essential.

It's through these ways of communicating (whether in physical personal contact, or via an interface like the internet) that people really share their lives and stories.

And here's a newsflash. When you share people's lives - you realise that sometimes things aren't all rosy.

There might be something wrong.
OR difficult.
OR challenging.
OR stressful.
OR depressing.
OR sleep depriving.

THE SECOND: In Chester diocese we're really getting into supporting the campaigns that say 1 in 4 people suffer from some form of mental health concern in their life-time. I have a mate who works in front-line Mental Health nursing who tells me that the statistics they base their work on say 1 in 3.

Depression: stress: medically recognised conditions.

Medical conditions.

It needs to be understood that telling a depressed leader to "smile when leading services" is an affront to a person's dignity and an unfair challenge.

Could you imagine the backlash if a service leader with a broken leg was told, "try not to hobble so much".

Or if a person in a wheelchair was told to stand up when reading the gospel.

It just wouldn't happen.

So I'm therefore left with a picture of clergy, and the like, who because they've never experienced profound sadness, can't accept it when someone has - and shock horror, is experiencing it.

Either that or they're disregarding someones health and limitations that result from it...... again, I don't think that would go down too well.

All in all, I want to encourage those of you who currently feel a bit fed up, and those of you who feel significantly more than a bit fed-up.

I want to encourage you to not smile (if you don't want to) when leading worship.

I want you to know that Christ has called you, as you are. To grow into his likeness, yes.

But to encounter healing and wholeness.

He's called the WHOLE of you.

I try to take as my role model from the New Testament, the Apostle Thomas.

A figure whose great faith and incredible insight has been white-washed with the word "doubting".

This man who says, "come on you lot, let's go to Jerusalem so we might die with him".

This man who says, "how will we know the way?" Which gifts Jesus the opportunity to say, "I am the way, the truth and the life."

So, let us walk to Jerusalem with Jesus and Thomas. Even if we feel like lagging behind. Even if our eyes are fixed into the middle-distance. Even if we can't quite dare to meet the eye of Jesus on that walk.

Let us take the walk with him, and in our own time, in God's own time, perhaps then, we might well encounter something we feel we can smile about.

Thursday 17 January 2013

The Christ Will Not Let Us Fall - a litany

The Christ will not let us fall


When the darkness comes

And all is cast in shadow

The Christ will not let us fall


As the evening sky turns black

And the streets turn cold with menace

The Christ will not let us fall


When fear strikes

And hearts grow cold in terror

The Christ will not let us fall


At times when worries overburden

And stress freezes the inner warmth

The Christ will not let us fall


When the weight of dread fills and blinds the eyes

And wonder has been banished

The Christ will not let us fall


While the world turns ever onward

And no stillness can be found

The Christ will not let us fall


In places where death lingers in the air

And all hope is lost

The Christ will not let us fall


Where the callous laughing of enemies rings in the ears

And every moment is too fragile

The Christ will not let us fall


When the night comes

And washes away all sense of colour

The Christ will not let us fall


For the Christ knows the dark,

But the dark cannot smother the light.


Sunday 13 January 2013


Encounter begins this evening. Something I've been praying through for over a year. Something that as a leadership team, we've taken ownership of. My simple prayer is that tonight, in the birthing of this new community, something will catch.

Something will hold.

Something will grab at the imagination and the heart.

That God might go beyond our meagre means and gifts and talents, and create something beautiful. A poured out offering of nard for Christ. That's my prayer.

Thursday 3 January 2013

have you got a word?

New Year springs out from beneath the cellophane of the 2013 calendar. It is right here and will be here for whole year!

And with the arrival of a new year comes the arrival of that annual tradition...

The New Year's Resolution.

Except that this year people (lots of whom like Jesus) are subverting this cultural behemoth.

I keep hearing of different approaches people take. In 2012 a number of folk know had a hashtag #yearofthankfulness

And this was great.
People uploading photos everyday, of something they were thankful for.

Really loved that.

But then read I @sarahbessey 's blog. I'm not even sure how I came to know aout her.

But her blog had a great suggestion. One which there is a whole online movement about.

There's a website dedicated to this idea.

Rather than choosing a resolution. The principle is to choose a word.

It could be a word you know you struggle with. Or something you lack.

But you choose the word and go with it.

Bessey chose "fearless" and for a year whenever she encountered her fears, she faced up to them.

I like the sound of this way of doing things.

So I have chosen my word.

And when you hear my word you may think it is a cop-out.

But it isn't.

My word is "prayer".

Because realise that I have in the last 18 months lost my hunger for prayer.

I have lost the emphasis of prayer in my life.

For too many reasons I have let my relationship with God fizzle out.

But this word "prayer" is my way of claiming it back.

I will seek to pray everyday. And I mean really pray.

Talk and listen.

I will write "prayer" on my heart and on my hands.

I will turn to prayer before I turn to moaning and before I head towards

Anger and
Frustration and

Instead will pray.

Do you have a word?

What might your word be?