Sunday, August 12, 2007

It's All Over

Two more sessions this morning.

First of all a pre-recorded interview with ex US President Jimmy Carter which was excellent. The central theme was that peace is something that all Christians should aspire to, and that war should only ever be seen as a last resort. He seems quite an amazing guy in that since finishing being president (and being perceived as having failed in the role of president, particularly after the Iran hostage crisis) he chose not to spend the rest of his life playing golf but trying to make a real difference in the world. He's done that through both the Carter Centre, which attempts to resolve conflict wherever it is happening in the world, and Habitat for Humanity which builds homes for people that can't afford them and so break down barriers between rich and poor. He also continues to teach a Bible study in his church every Sunday.

Finally a session from Bill Hybels on the power of inspiration. Really a call for leaders to take responsibility for inspiring and motivating themselves, with some very practical ideas on how to do that, and then to motivate and inspire the people around them. Hopefully I can do a good job of putting this into practice over the next few months and do as good a job as Ben has done at inspiring and motivating the rest of the church. Look forward to seeing this session if you can make it in September.

One other thing today. Before Bill's talk they showed a video of a boy called Patrick who was born blind and paralysed in his arms and legs. Despite this he was able to play the piano from the age of one, and then later learnt to play the trumpet. Patrick's dad took a job working nights for UPS so that he could look after his son during the day and get fully involved in his life. We saw film of them in a marching band where Patrick was playing the trumpet and his dad was pushing him along in his wheelchair in time with the rest of the band. Well while the lights were off and the video was playing they wheeled a grand piano onto the stage. As the lights came up Patrick was sat behind the piano and he began to sing and play. It was one of those moments when you can do nothing but cry, and at the end of the song (which he performed brilliantly) he got a standing ovation. Bill Hybels then spoke to both Patrick and his dad, who in many ways is just as amazing as his son. I couldn't think of a better inspiration for me to be the best dad I can possibly be to my children, or a better demonstration of the unconditional love God as a father has for us.

So that was it. It's been such a privilege to be here. If you've been inspired by anything I've written then I really want to encourage you to come to the conference at the end of September, either in Bracknell or one of the other worldwide locations - you won't be disappointed.

For those of you in BFC I'm praying for the two meetings tomorrow. Ben and I get back into the UK at 6am on Monday morning (Craig flies back in 4 hours later), then on Thursday I travel up to Newcastle with Zak to walk Hadrian's Wall (and watch Newcastle play Aston Villa - we're top of the league, at least until tomorrow!) and then a week in the Lake District with Catrina and the rest of the children - can't wait. Hope you've enjoyed the blog so far and it will hopefully return in September when I get back.

Simon.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Day Two

Another excellent day at the Leadership Summit.

The day started off with a guy called Michael Porter. He's a Harvard professor who advises big companies and even entire countries on strategies for doing what they do better. He spoke into the whole area of churches wanting to make an impact in society and made the observation that in his opinion churches get involved in all sorts of projects which end up adding little real value to society. We must use the time, relationships and money we have to do the most good and be constantly asking ourselves what are the things we are uniquely placed to do. I actually think in Kerith in the Community we're pretty good at doing this, especially with things like the Respite Club, CAP and Hilltop where we are able to provide services which are very high quality and pretty much unique in the community. It wasn't the most entertaining session, but was full of insights and wisdom. I think we'll need to get the DVD and watch it several times to start to really get what he said into our thinking.

Second up was a pre-recorded interview with Colin Powell. He has the most amazing leadership insights based on all his years in the military and in government. As an example one thing he said that spoke to me was that often as leaders we spend ages talking about and planning something, and then only at the very last minute tell the people who will actually do the work what is happening. He said in the military they work on allowing one third of the available time for leaders to plan, and then two thirds of the time for the followers to do their plans and preparations. If you're a leader look forward to seeing this interview in September as it will undoubtedly speak to you.

After lunch was John Ortberg, who used to be the main teacher at Willow and now leads a church in California. I'd never heard him preach before, but have read several of his books including "If You Want to Walk on Water You've Got to Get Out of the Boat" and "Everybody's Normal Till You Get to Know Them". He has an amazing ability in his books to take Bible stories you've heard a dozen times before and bring them to life and make them relevant to today. He's just as good when he preaches! Today he took the story of Esther and showed how she fulfilled her God given mission to save her people, rather than what he called her "shadow mission" which was to be a trophy wife. We individually and as a church have a choice to either fulfill our God given mission, or our shadow mission which may sound similar but will ultimately be self centred and self serving. You'll know what I mean when you see the DVD!

Finally we had an interview with the English film maker Richard Curtis. He's made some of my favourite films including "Four Weddings and a Funeral", "Notting Hill" and "Love Actually", even if they don't have any car chases in them! He's also a driving force behind "Comic Relief" and "Make Poverty History" and has had huge impact in both raising hundreds of millions of pounds for poverty relief in Africa and the UK and raising the awareness of the issues around poverty and debt relief. Like the Bono DVD last year it raised again the issue the issue of our response to the poor and HIV/AIDS, and that to do nothing is simply not acceptable. I'm not ashamed to say I cried through much of this session - I think God wants our hearts to break with the things that break his heart. I've got so far to go but I know God has me on a journey from being detached and uninvolved to wanting to live a life that makes a difference. You might want to check out his latest film "The Girl in the Cafe" which addresses many of these issues (through a love story of course!).

Two other things you might like to check out from the conference. We heard an amazing guy called Erik Mongrain play guitar today in a way I've never seen before. Hear him out on youtube here - incredible! Secondly we heard from a guy who'd given up his very successful career because he felt God had given him a dream to make a movie. We saw a clip of it and it looks fantastic - although again no car chases! You can see some trailers of that film, Bella, here.

Better go to bed now as Ben and Craig will be waking me up for a run in just over 6 hours time!

Simon.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Day One of the Conference

Just got back from the first day of the conference proper which was excellent. One thing I love about the Willow conferences is that you get such a variety of speakers, from church leaders to business leaders to politicians to rock stars! Well today was no exception with four very different speakers.

First up was Bill Hybels on 'Vision to Die For'. All about the importance of vision, and that the vision must not just live with the leader but must be owned by the people, such that if necessary they would be willing to die for it. He challenged churches to ask themselves "What does God want our church to look like 5 years from now" and to take the church through a process of asking ourselves that question, such that everyone owns the vision. Very relevant for us and an exercise I'd like to kick off once we've all had a chance to see this talk at the DVD summit in Bracknell (if you're not going to be there at the end of the September then why not!).

Second up was an interview with Carly Fiorina. She was the CEO of HP, until she was sacked by the board, and at that time was the first woman CEO of one of the top 20 US companies. She spoke very candidly about her whole life journey, from the impact her parents had on her to how it feels to be publicly branded a failure. Lots of stuff about overcoming our fears in order to get into all that God has for us. One other quote I loved from her reflecting on her experience of being sacked - "There is a gift in everything if you can only see it". Very Romans 8:28. I really hope this is chosen as one of the sessions at the DVD Summit (only 8 of the 10 talks we see here make it to the DVD event) as I think it will speak to all sorts of people. She was also very good on women in leadership.

After lunch we had Rev. Floyd Flake who leads a big church in New York which is heavily into urban regeneration; running schools, building retirement homes, helping people to buy their own homes and getting involved politically. He spoke about identifying the problems in society and then becoming part of the solution, persevering even though people will oppose you along the way. Really made me think about what we are beginning to see with Kerith in the Community, reaching out to unchurched people through the respite clubs that we're running over the summer, through Christian's Against Poverty, through Lee's schools involvement and through Oakwood. There's so much potential there for us to have huge impact. Floyd said that the estate agents in his area now put in the details for houses they are selling how close they are to his church as the impact of the church on its neighbourhood is seen that clearly.

Finally a talk from Marcus Buckingham, an Englishman who used to work for Gallup (the market research organisation), and who invented the StrengthsFinder tests which we first came across when we went to Mosaic (Erwin McManus's church in LA) and quite a number of people in the church have now taken. The basic message is that most of us think that to succeed we need to grow in our areas of weakness, whereas what we really need to do is to grow and concentrate on our strengths. For me the whole StrengthsFinder thing has been so helpful, showing me what I'm good at and helping me to build around my strengths and manage my weaknesses. If you haven't done it before then I'd encourage you to get a copy of the StrengthsFinder book and do the online test. You should then get much more out of this session at the conference in September. If you do the test then I'd love you to email me your results, as we're building up a spreadsheet at church of all the people who have taken the test.

So a great day, no tornadoes and a real expectancy about tomorrow. Hope you found all this helpful (why not leave a comment if you did!), book into the DVD version of the conference if you haven't already and I'll see you again tomorrow for an update on day 2.

Well done for getting all the way to the end!

Simon.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Welcome Meeting and New Community

My first impression of Willow Creek as Ben and I turn up for the welcome meeting, only having been here once before over 10 years ago, is how big everything is. The campus is set on 155 acres of land with dedicated dual carriageway to take you from the public roads to the enormous car parks. Their new auditorium (which wasn't here last time I came) seats over 7,000 people and there are huge reception areas, eating areas and bookshop. It's all very high quality with beautifully maintained grounds, plasma screens displaying information everywhere, leather sofas and a real attention to detail. As we leave there's even a police car stopping the traffic on the main road so that we can get out of the exits as there are so many cars leaving. We may never have 155 acres but let's believe God, first of all for developing the excellent facilities we already have to the utmost, and then for the new facilities we will need as we grow towards being a church of 2,000 and beyond, and God adds new ministries to us. Projects such as air conditioning the auditorium, upgrading our PA and making more space for children and youth on Sundays must be priorities for us.

The second thing I notice is all the volunteers they have. People maintaining the grounds, welcoming you, serving food, serving in the bookshop, waving light sticks showing us the way to go as we drive out of the car park after the meeting - as J John would say "they're everywhere". It's been so exciting for me the last few weeks in Bracknell to have all the new car parkers and welcomers serving. I do believe that God wants The Kerith Centre and K2 on a Sunday to be "the most welcoming place in Bracknell", and that means teams of volunteers updating the website, working on the grounds midweek, getting the building ready for Sunday, car parking, welcoming on the door, meeting visitors in reception and showing them where to register their children and answering their questions, manning sign up desk for Alpha and other courses, running the Connect event for newcomers and fully staffing our youth and childrens work. Loads of hard work but so worth it when we see the lives of people who don't know God being changed.

One bit of excitement today was that as we were about to start our welcome meeting someone came in to say there had been a tornado warning and we all needed to go to the ground floor. We were then taken to a room on the ground floor with no windows to wait for the all clear. I've seen those films before where they go chasing tornadoes in cars but apparently no one thought it would be a good idea for Ben and I to take the rental car out to try and find the tornado - no sense of fun!

The conference proper starts tomorrow. Bill Hybels came and spoke briefly to the overseas delegates today and in about 15 minutes managed to say enough to have made it feel like we'd have come all this way just for that. I'll let you know how it feels after a full session from him tomorrow!

Sorry not to have time to write in detail about the New Community meeting (which Craig who arrived today got here in time for - great to have him with us) but I need to get to sleep now as we're leaving early to get to the conference and I'm not good at mornings!

Simon.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

We've Arrived

Well it's now after 10pm in the evening Chicago time (4am UK time!) and just about time for bed. Our hosts Mark and Nanci are great - they became Christians 17 years ago through a neighbour who went to Willow Creek and have been in the church ever since. They're now planning to move out to Durban, South Africa, to offer hospitality to people there. Mark and Nanci's house is quite spectacular too!

On the way over one of the films on the plane was "Amazing Grace", the story of William Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery. There are so many inspirational lines in the film - if only I could remember any of them through the fog of tiredness :-) Seriously, I do love the way Wilberforce grapples with the dilemma of whether to pursue God, or his desire to be an MP and change society, and God says to him (in various ways) that he can and should do both. It's so easy to try and split our lives into the secular and the sacred when God just wants to be in all of it.

I also watched "War of the Worlds" with Tom Cruise - I got nothing spiritual out of that whatsoever, although it did help make a couple of hours of the flight pass more quickly!

Ben and I are off to a welcome reception at Willow tomorrow afternoon and hopefully Craig will be meeting us there.

Thanks for reading this and hopefully get you another update tomorrow.

Simon.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Off to Willow on Tuesday

Next Tuesday I've got the privilege of going to the Global Leadership Summit at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. I'm going with Ben Davies, our Senior Pastor, and Craig Mills who is the Technical Director for the DVD version of the Leadership Summit which we host in Bracknell at the end of September.

I've only ever been to Willow once before and that was for a Sunday morning meeting on my way back from an electronics show in Las Vegas. I was in turmoil when they opened the meeting and said it was Mother's Day. We'd just had our first child, Zak, and my first reaction was that my wife Catrina wasn't going to be too impressed with me when I got home for having forgotten! It was only about 15 minutes into the meeting that it dawned on me Mother's Day is on different dates in the UK and the US. Boy was I relieved.

Anyway, Bill Hybels and Willow Creek have had a huge impact on us as a church. Their emphasis on God's passion for lost people, their longing to present the gospel in ways that communicate with ordinary men and women without watering down the message, their use of the creative arts, the quality of the preaching and their quest for excellence that honours God and inspires people have all affected us deeply. Last year an interview with Bono on the church's response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic spurred us to take action on that front - more of that in a blog at some point in the future.

I'll try and post updates on the blog during the conference to let you know what is going on. If it inspires you the why not book in to come to the DVD version of the conference in Bracknell in September.

Off to church now for an exciting morning of worship, thanksgivings, baptisms and Ben preaching.

Simon.

Friday, August 3, 2007

My first ever blog

Well hello, and welcome to my first ever blog.

For those who don't know me my name is Simon Benham and from October 14th I'm going to be the Senior Pastor of Bracknell Family Church, following on from Ben Davies who has been senior Pastor for 43 years and has seen the church grow from a handful of people to over 500 on a Sunday morning - a very hard act to follow! I'm married to the beautiful Catrina and have three children, Zak, Jacob and Alice - I love being a husband and a Dad.

One of the big challenges in a church our size is communication. How do we let people know what is going on, how do we keep the vision clear, how do we communicate the reasoning and thinking behind the the decisions we make.

Well one key seems to be communicate as frequently and in as many different ways as you possibly can. To that end I thought I'd start a blog. Mostly a blog about my thoughts as Senior Pastor to be, with perhaps the odd family thing thrown in to keep it all real.

I'm not sure when I'll go public with this, but presumably if you've found this I've now gone public! So let me know what you think. Good idea, bad idea? What would you like to read about here. All comments (at least the one's the take me up in my lift!) gratefully received.