Our Culture 02: Full of the Spirit

We live in a strange church age.  We live in an age where the Pentecostals and charismatics shy away from the Holy Spirit.  They deny tongues, they relegate healing to a secret back room in the service.  Or in other churches, the gifts are limited (restricted?) to the full time super-anointed clergy where the laity are supposed to hear God via the priests.

Neither is a Biblical model, and neither is – or ever will be – the culture of Tree of Life Church.

Last Sunday – which was Easter Sunday – we turned up to our church to find out projector was not working properly.  We had no words, no videos, no high fluting multi-media.  I told the worship band we are going to have to do this without words.  I got up and told the church we are going to have to worship without the screen today.

We started singing in the Spirit, singing in tongues, singing songs from the Spirit of God.  Someone got up and sung a song in the Spirit, someone got up and sung the interpretation.  The presence of God was so strong that I could barely stand.  The atmosphere was thick with the glory of God.

It will always be our culture in Tree of Life that we flow in the Spirit, that we flow in the gifts of the Spirit, that everyone will be encouraged to be filled with the Spirit and flow in His gifts and goodness and grace.  The gifts are not for the clergy, they are for the body.

Obviously when you have 150 people meeting in a room, it’s hard to let everyone have a chance to move in the gifts.  Even harder when we start hitting the numbers we are dreaming off in Dagenham and other places.  That’s why we are so committed to our small groups in the church.  So we can get to know each other, worship together, study together but also so we can minister supernaturally to one another.

So how do you build a culture that is full of the Spirit?  That’s a big question, and one of the hardest we have to answer for a number of reasons – one, a lot of people are nervous about the Holy Spirit because of bad experiences; two, not all that glitters is gold – not everything that says it is the Spirit of God is!  We have had more than our fair share of false prophetic words, condemning messages and people trying to resurrect Old Testament ideas and drag them into the better New Covenant; and thirdly, because some people just don’t want to be in a church environment where the Spirit flows.  They like being in control themselves.  I don’t get that third one personally – when the singing began last Sunday, I knew I wasn’t in control anymore, God was, and I loved it.  He is the best leader, the best Shepherd, the best King!

So we have to ensure that we are policing the spiritual without being so heavy handed that no one is prepared to step out and give it a go!  We have to focus on small groups, we have to teach the Word and teach about the gifts and the love, and the goodness of God.

We line all our utterances, supernatural and natural, against three lynch pins:

  1.  Does it sound like Jesus.  If you have seen Jesus you have seen the Father.  If a word comes forth that we cannot imagine Jesus saying, then we are concerned.
  2. Does it sound like the crucifixion and resurrection has happened.  A lot of prophetic seems to forget about the cross.  We want the cross and resurrection to be the heart of our supernatural ministry.  It is complete, it is finished, it is done!
  3. Does it sound like the Bible.  The Bible is the Word of God, and we want to keep to the Bible. We want to ensure that we rightly divide the Word though, and don’t bring obsolete covenant ideas into the better covenant.  We might not all agree on how it should be divided, but I think we should be all aware that it needs to be divided, and it is still the sole written basis for our faith.

We also need to distinguish between weakness and wickedness.  A new person, who genuinely loves the Lord, gives their first prophecy, and it starts off powerful and in the Spirit but they don’t know when to end, and it ends flat in the flesh.  That’s just weakness of the human, I wouldn’t even correct that publicly, I would simply love that person and maybe in private say “Learn to end well”.

But a lady who has come from another church (this situation happened to us recently), but still goes to your house group, gets up and prophesies death on our church, prophesies that we are all ignoring the Lord and that the Lord will judge us severely unless we follow her.  That is wicked.  It is manipulation, it is intimidation.  It is control, it is witchcraft.  It is taking the Lord’s name in vain.  It needed to be publicly and clearly stopped and exposed.  And it was.  And the lady left our fellowship.

But even with situations like these to deal with, having the gifts is ALWAYS better than not having them.  Learn to create a culture where there is a fullness of the Spirit, not an emptiness.

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Our Culture 01: Full of the Word

One of the things I heard again at the leadership conference I went to in Hull was to remember the importance and power of culture.  Dreams and visions are great – we need to set a destination, but we also have to let people know how to do what they should to to be part of who we are.  We cannot afford to lose our corporate identity.

If the senior leaders of a church, a movement, a group do not set the culture – others will.  And the people who will are the offended, the brash, the ungodly, the pain-filled and the divisive.  It’s hard work to keep setting culture but it has to be done.  You have to continually tell people what is expected and how you behave.  You have to celebrate the heroes of your culture – people who embody what you are and your corporate culture.

I want to try and do two things at once in this series on culture.  One I want to write about why culture is important and teach about how to build a culture, and secondly I want to let people know about our culture at Tree of Life and why it is important to us.  At the Tree we have 7 cultural maxims that underpin who we are.  It means that in a fit of carnality we still have something that is Spirit-inspired to confine and help us!

Our first cultural maxim is “Full of the Word, Full of the Spirit, Full of the Nations, Filled with Love”.  That is the four pillars of our church.  They are there to define us.  So when it comes to inviting guest speakers we ask if they line up with our maxim.  There are certain speakers I will never invite to the Tree – they are not bad, they are good speakers, but they don’t help us build our culture.

Culture is what protects a church from splits, culture is what makes church a happy place to be, culture is what stops us being offended.  It is such a powerful force.  And the first statement about our church is FULL OF THE WORD.

So we are deliberately building a church that is full of the Word of God.  So our preaching is central on a Sunday, the Word is central in our Living Churches, we have two conferences a year for hearing the Word, we support and give to Bible Colleges, and have our own internal Bible School.  The Word is so important – it is vital to us living by faith and knowing God.

Now there are voices in the church that don’t want to be a church full of the Word.  They might not express that like that, but their actions and values bely that.  They want the preaching to be shorter.  They won’t attend the conferences.  They never open their Bibles on their own time.  They do not want to be full of the Word.  They won’t ever believe the Word over their experience – if they feel sick, they live sick; if they feel offended, they live offended.  It’s just their feelings and experiences, and never faith.

Now what do you do when people come and their culture is not your culture.  This is the key point of today’s post.

Firstly, of course it will be the case.  Why?  Because they are new.  You cannot expect someone to develop instantly what you have spent years learning.  Bible College students sometimes struggle with this – they spend three years studying the Word and getting revelation, then they get frustrated that people don’t get it after they have preached one sermon!  So be patient.  Work with people where they are.

Secondly, on the other hand, we cannot mollycoddle people.  Our job is to equip the saints, and feed the sheep – not herd the goats!  Our ministry is to make disciples.  We have to inspire and challenge people.  We have to be non-negotiable.

So imagine after church someone comes to you (that’s a good thing, it’s when they go to everyone else that you have problems – but that’s a lesson for another post) and says “I think you preach a bit long on Sundays”.  They may coach it in different ways “A few people said that you preach a bit long on Sundays”, “You would keep attention more with a shorter message” or whatever.

So what do you do?  You have to empathise with them, you have to understand they are still finding out that the best way to live is FULL OF THE WORD.  Show grace and be kind.

But secondly, you don’t change.  You keep preaching the Word.  You keep standing up for the Word. You put a stake in the ground and you make a disciple.  You explain why the Word is so important and you stick to your guns.  You are the leader.  You cannot allow other people to sew their cotton patches on your silk vision. You cannot come down to their level, you can only reach down and pull them up to yours.

If you don’t know what culture you are building, stop what you are doing and start to dream about what kind of people who want to lead and want to pastor.  You then have to articulate what kind of culture you want.  Then you have to pray and look at how to implement and develop and protect that culture.

It’s the same process Jesus did with the disciples.  They wanted to call down fire from heaven, and Jesus says “You don’t know what spirit you are of”.  They had a great idea, but it wasn’t a God-idea, it wasn’t going to build the kind of church Jesus wanted to build.  There are times as a pastor, you have to say “You don’t know what spirit you are of”.  And lovingly and firmly show them the way forward.

More as we move forward!

In His love,
Ben

5 Leadership Lessons from Ken Gott

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Just had the awesome privilege from being at a senior pastor’s conference hosted by Jarrod Cooper.

There was a lot of information and inspiration at the conference, and all the speakers brought good messages.

But the most powerful message for me was brought by Ken Gott, who I haven’t heard preach for nearly twenty years.

Here are 5 awesome lessons I picked up this week.

5.  Always do everything on the basis of prayer, not admin.  The hub of many churches is admin, when it needs to be prayer

4.  If you don’t climb the mountain and spend time with God, you will end up giving the people a false god.  Moses climbed the mountain to hear from God, Aaron stayed with the people, was swayed by the people and ended up offering the people a false god.

3. We must stop learning to live with broken walls and rebuild them.  No one living in Jerusalem rebuilt the walls as they were used to it, the had learned to live with the brokenness.  God doesn’t want us to live with a broken life, in a broken church in a broken nation.  He wants to rebuild.

2.  We have to stop living in the realm of compromise.  God created black and white, man made all the greys.  We have to learn to be hot not lukewarm.

1.  It’s alright to wear the robes of royalty, we are kings.  But like David we take the kingly robes off and worship in just the ephod, as a priest and child.  When we worship, take all the leadership skills, all the wisdom, all the achievements off, and just worship.  It’s OK to be more undignified than this!

5 Leadership Lessons from Juan Caron

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I am currently in Rome at a conference for pastors and leaders across Europe.  One of the speakers is Juan Caron, pastor of Passion for Christ Church in Madrid.

This church has over 2000 members and last year baptized over 600 new converts.  I have had the honour of hearing the man minister and meet with him this week, and he is the real deal.

Here are 5 lessons he has taught me this week:

5. Never go to war alongside people who are not from your house.  Abraham went to fight with his own servants, not anyone else’s.  We have to raise up our warriors and leaders from within.  Pastor Juan only promotes his leaders from within and that has clearly saved him a lot of issues and problems.  I am taking this on board, I can see the wisdom in this.

4. God will always bring you the people you need, but not ready… you have to get them ready.  When David needed an army, God brought him people who were depressed and in debt.  But because of David’s leadership they got happy and out of debt, they became mighty men.  Ask the Lord to bring you mighty men but don’t be surprised if you need faith to recognize them.

3.  Be what you are.  Don’t try and be someone else.  Pastor Juan has really blessed me with his confidence in who God has made him and how God has prepared him.  He isn’t trying to be anyone else or copy them, but knows who he is in Christ.

2.  The need to fight.  Their church has faced non stop opposition,  persecution and hatred but he relishes the challenge.  That Spirit of faith is essential to achieve anything in the kingdom.

1. The importance of prayer.  Pastor Juan does not let a day go by with out spending at least two hours in prayer.  We cannot afford in these times to neglect our communication with heaven.

Spiritual Fathers 06 -Where Are the Sons?

We have been speaking about spiritual fathers in the church for the last few weeks, and it has been beneficial teaching.  One thing I find is that many people in the church are wondering why there are so few fathers in the body of Christ.  Many people have the heart’s cry “where are the fathers?”

That’s not my experience.  When I have needed a spiritual father, they have *always* manifest.  Always.  Without a fail.  I have some of the greatest men of God in the world take time out of their busy schedules to ask me how I am doing and speak life and wisdom into my life.  Now I don’t have many fathers, just a few – like Paul promised – but they are there, and they do love me like a father and I have always been fathered since my early days as a Christian.

So – what is going on here?  I spent a lot of time a few years ago asking God about it.  A lot of people seem very envious of me and the favour I have experienced, and I am not upset about that, I just want everyone to have the great experience of having great spiritual fathers that I have had.

And after praying and fasting and seeking the wisdom of the Lord, it became so obvious and clear to me that the problem isn’t that there is a lack of fathers.  The problem is a lack of sons!

Let me say this in a different way to help you grasp what I am saying:

Most Christians behave like they are vice-presidents in a cut throat business, rather than sons in the house of God.

Most Christians don’t act like sons.  So they cannot attract a spiritual father.  It’s not that there is a lack of fathers, there is a lack of sons!

If you need a spiritual father to speak into your life, to help you develop, to help you move forward, then you need to learn how to behave like a son.

We will talk about this in the next few weeks, but today you need to consider yourself and your ways.  If you do not have people in your life fathering you and nurturing you, you have failed to act in a way to draw them and recognize them and honour them.  Only what you honour can bring life to you.

Here is a quick check list for you to think about:

  1.  How long do I hang around?  It takes time to build a father-son relationship, and church hoppers don’t have that time.  They get upset at every little thing, storm off and find a new place.  They never behave like sons, and never draw a father to them.  Stability is your first key.  Go where the Lord says and don’t let people talk you out of it.
  2. Do you keep your mouth shut?  If you want to be in someone’s family, you don’t talk about them outside of the family.  A lot of people have no access to my life any more because they do not honour my privacy.
  3. Do you match heart and mouth?  Jesus told the Pharisees that their hearts and mouths were mismatched.  I’ve seen many people like that today.  Their mouths speak a good game, but they don’t live it.
  4. Can you even handle someone speaking into your life?  A lot of people won’t take good advice.  I remember one guy who wanted me to help him in ministry but would not listen to a word I said.  I can’t help someone like that!  Then he accused me of being unable to communicate.  One day I pray he will find out how to listen to someone and get helped into a great ministry.

Like I said, we will continue this discussion in the coming weeks, but right now realize its not a father issue – the issue is are you a son?  Are you behaving like a son?

Grace and peace,

Ben