Thursday, November 29, 2007

Day four at the Willow PTP leaders gathering

Hi again all. We're sat around waiting for our meal with Bill Hybels so thought I'd do todays update now rather than tomorrow morning.
Most of today was with Greg Hawkins who is executive pastor which means he works alongside Bill Hybels as senior pastor to do the day to day running of the church. He spent most of the day talking about an analysis tool they've developed called Reveal which is a questionnaire a church does to find out where it is at, which of its programmes are working and which don't. One of their most powerful findings has been that the most powerful thing a church can do is equip people to read their Bibles and encounter God for themselves. Food for thought and we'll definitely look at whether we do Reveal in the New Year.
The other but of the day was a tour of Willows incredible facilities. I've attached some photos of the back of their stage and video editing facilities. Hopefuly they'll come out better than the useless picture I posted in my previous entry! Catrina told me The Kerith Centre is starting to look amazing with the decorations and stage going up - huge thanks to everyone giving up time and energy to make all that happen - can't wait to see it on Sunday morning and use it for The Xmas Factor on Sunday night.
Hope you all slept well!
Simon's BlackBerry, BlueArc Engineering

Day thee at the Willow PTP leaders gathering

Hi all. A bit of a slower day yesterday but still very interesting. All about the governing structure of Willow Creek where the elders very much oversee the church, looking at things like the churches doctrinal position on divorce and remarriage and trying to see where the church will be 3 years out and then having another team of people who work out the day to day implementation of that vision. Certainly some food for thought for me and the other elders if we want to be 2,000.
Then in the evening we went to New Community which is their midweek believers meeting. At the end they invited all of us on the course onto the platform - so I can now say I've been on the Willow platform!
This morning we've got Greg Hawkins speaking who is their executive pastor - in charge of the day to day running of the church. A good friend of Matt and Susan Errickson who moved to us from Willow - I'll see if I can persuade anyone else here to come to Bracknell and join them! Not sure about this afternoon but tonight a meal with Bill Hybels - how cool is that.
I've tried to attach a photo of last night but not sure whether that will work with these email blog updates.
Love to you all - keep inviting people for Sunday night!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Day two at the Willow PTP leaders gathering

Another great day.
For most of it we were with Gordon MacDonald who some of you may remember spoke at a Willow event in our building earlier this year. It was quite a different session in that the focus was on our personal lives and doing life well rather than anything to do with building great churches. Lots about making time for yourself and friends and not being consumed by ministry and having people around you who do you good. Ask me when I get back how I'm doing implementing any of it as that's always the challenge. Gordon is coming to do a mens day for us on Saturday 10th May 2008 - put it in your diaries guys as he's a very good speaker. I also chatted with him about whether his wife who is a very accomplished speaker would speak to the women on the Friday night which he was very up for so we'll try and make that happen.
The other speaker was Nancy Beach who has been at Willow since day one and is involved in their creative arts ministry. One of my passions is that we would be a place where the creative arts (music, dance, drama, painting, sculpture, writing, video and all the technical stuff that goes to support these) flourish and are used in our gatherings to create moments of awe where people connect with God. She spoke very practically about some of the issues and problems they've had and how they overcame them. Looking at the programme for Sunday evening which I've been helping plan from a distance we should have some moments of awe there - don't miss it!
Hope you all have a great day - more tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Day one at the Willow PTP leaders gathering

Hi from a very cold Chicago. - although so far no snow. They told us yesterday not to pray for snow as if it does snow there will be complete chaos on the roads - sounds like fun to me!
I'd love to be able to bring all of you to visit Willow. There is something about it that gets in your spirit. There is the bigness with 155 acres of grounds, huge lakes, a 7,000 seat auditorium, 700 paid staff and over 25,000 attending on a weekend. In comparison our ideas of building over the car park to give us more space seem very achievable and leave me thinking let's just do it. But more than the bigness it's the stories of changed lives that really speak to me and leave me with a deep longing as a leader.
In many ways 2 of yesterdays speakers reflected those two things. First their operations manager and top finance guy Brian McAuliffe. The complexity of administrating somewhere like Willow is unbelievable. A 25 million dollar budget, something like 200 paid admin staff, thousands of volunteers and numerous management groups to report to. My worst nightmare!
But then we had a lady called Kyndra Singer speak to us. She is involved in all their support ministries. Divorce recovery, marriage courses, bereavement counselling, overcoming drug and alcohol addictions, depression, sexual abuse, debt counselling, the list just went on and on. They all meet on a Monday night in their various groups. Then we heard from some people who's lives have been changed through going to those groups. And I'm sitting there in pieces thinking this is it. This is why we do what we do. That broken people (which is all of us) can encounter a God who loves them and can put them back together again. That's why we want to grow, because every person added represents a life changed. And as a bigger church we can reach more people in more different ways. And the new building will just be a tool to allow us to reach the community in different ways. Why not pray right now for the people on your invite list and phone one of them today and arrange to meet them.
Today we've got Gordon MacDonald who came the The Kerith Centre earlier this year speaking - should be good.
More tomorrow.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Greetings from Chicago

Hi all. Well it's 5.20 am here in Chicago and due to them being 6 hours behind the UK and 8 behind Zambia I've been wide awake since 4 - the joys of international travel!

I'm here for what they call 'Partnering to Prevail' which is a week long opportunity to see behind the scenes at Willow Creek and meet with their senior leadership team including Bill Hybels. It's all a bit crazy coming straight off the back of Zambia but I just felt coming here was too good an opportunity to miss as we look at what it will take to grow us to 2,000. A huge thankyou to everyone who has been praying for me and our family - I so appreciate it. I came here with a cold and an upset stomach but feel loads better now.

I've heard great reports back on the weekend in Bracknell. Sounds like new day local with the youth on Friday went well and that Sunday was full of life with great worship, preaching and personal stories from Clive and the Zambia team. Perhaps I'll stay away a bit longer!

I'm so looking forward to the start of the Christmas programme this weekend. I've been working on my talk for Sunday night this morning, as well as praying for the people on my invite list and for lives to be changed at every event. Can I encourage you to do the 3 things I spoke about 3 Sundays back.

1. Pray for the people on your invite list.

2. Do something socially with them.

3. Invite them to one of the events.

You just don't know what God will do. Can I also encourage you to come the next three Sunday evenings, even if you don't have guests - it makes such a difference to have a crowd of our people there. Or phone Susannah and offer to serve - we can never have enough smiling faces to welcome people and break all their stereotypes of what church is!

I'll try and post updates on what's going on here every day. Have a great rest of your day and be expecting God to surprise you!


Friday, November 23, 2007

Photos of Zambia

I've uploaded Catrina's photos of the Zambia trip to an online web album. There is a preview in the top right hand corner of the blog, or you can click on the link below and get the pictures with Catrina's subtitles, which might help them make a bit more sense.

Zambia Trip 2007

At Lusaksa aiport

Well we're sat at Luskaka airport waiting for the flight home, all except for Ben who is flying on to Johanesburg and then Soweto. The team will be sharing some of their experiences on Sunday morning and evening so I won't say too much here, other than that you must ask Lee about eating catepillars!

The big take away from the trip for me is that with knowledge comes responsibility. Having seen that family starving to death in their huts I'll always live with the knowledge that although I'm going back to my nice comfortable life there are people waking up with that as their reality every day of their lives. The question now is what am I as an individual and what are we as a church family going to do about it in order to be part of the solution even more than we are at the moment.

Well whilst here we've been talking with TearFund and one of their partners in Zambia about what our involvement might look like. I need to sit down and discuss it with the other elders but it seems very exciting in that it's a model which other UK churches that want to engage could copy. Hopefully I'll be able to say more on the morning of Sunday 9th.

Keep praying for and inviting people to the Christmas events (hard to imagine from the sweltering heat here) and I'll look forward to seeing you all on Sunday 2nd.

You're a masterpiece of God - go out and live like it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Day 5.

I guess in a trip like this there are always going to be a few defining moments. Well it felt like we had one today. Jean who is the 55 year old grandmother whom we're staying with in the village took us to see one of the 50 families she and two other volunteers support as aids volunteer worker. When we got to their home we met a mother, her mother in law and her 5 children. The mother was lying on the floor of the hut motionless. She's getting the ARV drugs which should counteract her HIV but due to malnutrition they're not working. Her husband died of aids a week ago. When that happened his relatives came and took most of their posessions including their food. The eldest son was 20 and wanted to finish school but thought he was going to have to give up. None of the family had eaten that day and none of the neighbours had any spare food to give them. We just sat there in the hut for about 10 minutes not feeling able to say anything. We gave the family what little money and food we had but knew that would only buy one or two meals for them. We just felt hopeless. But then as Catrina and I (we were in the village together with Ben) reflected we felt the positive was at least we were there to see the what was happening rather than just being in Bracknell doing normal life.

Bill Hybels talks about feeding your holy discontent and letting that motivate you - for me that moment in the hut will stay with me forever, and hopefully motivate me to be at least a small part of the solution. We must do something. The plan is that the team will talk a bit about their experience next Sunday am and pm, along with an interview with Clive challis in the evening I'll be really sad to miss - can we film it Colin? Then Sunday 9th am I'll talk about what our proposed response to all we have seen. Simon.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The post entitled Monday 19th November

Hello everyone. Sorry but that message was actually sent on Friday-I fished it out of my junk mail. I think the team are actually separated and visiting families now so Simon may not have juice for his phone-he has now resorted to sending me texts as the Internet connection is so poor. Anyway I will continue to post up anything I get in whatever medium as soon as I get it....perhaps he will try pigeon post next....maybe not. Let's keep praying for them. Jacqui Webber-Gant

Day One (delayed in Jacqui's junk email)

We arrived in Zambia at 6.20 this morning after an overnight flight with little sleep, although I did get to watch Oceans13 (poor) and the new Die Hard (predictable but fun). There are 8 of us here from Kerith - me, Catrina, BenD, Sam Fairs-Billam, Lee Layton-Matthews, Zoe Hayes, Edward Olugbile and Alex Moon. In addition Lindsey Reece-Smith from TearFund is our guide. The aim of the trip is to get first hand experience of the impact of HIV/AIDS and start to work on our response as a church.

Monday 19th November

We did two visits today. The first was to a clinic which serves a community of 84,000 people. Out of that community 9,000 people are being supplied with the Anti Retro Viral drugs which delay their HIV becoming full blown AIDS. They reckon there are far more people in the community with HIV who refuse to be tested. The church has a large part to play here because much of the stigma attached to being HIV positive is the message churches have preached that having HIV means you have sinned. So many people here are HIV positive through no fault of their own, but don't want to be tested for fear of being rejected. It's the same message of acceptance we need for everybody we encounter, regardless of their past history.

In the afternoon we went to a village that was so remote the people here couldn't find it! We met an elderly widowed lady there who lost all 14 of her children to AIDS. She had 5 grandchildren living with her when her mud house fell down and they were left homeless. The local community and churches in Lusaka got together and built her a very solid 3 room house where all 6 of them now live. She was so proud showing us round. I cried!
That's it for now. Have a great day and technology permitting I'll try and get you another update tomorrow. Simon

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Day 4 Sent 18.11.07 by text

Church this morning with pastor Moses. I was asked last night if I wanted to preach, although it didn't feel like I had much option! There were about 200 people there including children. A group from the village we visited yesterday came - a walk of about 1.5 hours - never complain about the walk from Avis! It's amazing how at home you can feel in church in a different culture. Worship is still worship - although styles differ (all the group apart from me and Ben did a performance song - very brave). Notices are still boring! You just see the reality that we truly are all one in Christ. As I write this we're on the minibus on our way to the villages we're staying in tonight. Praying that God will meet with people at the KC today. Simon.

PS Good on Israel beating Russia. Hopefully we can find a TV showing the game on Wednesday. Shame about Scotland - I really hoped they'd qualify.

Day 3

Travelled north from Lusaka today to the copper mining region of Zambia. Once there started by visiting a church with a large number of aids orphans. They've organised them into a singing / drama group who go round performing for other young people teaching them about the realities of HIV/aids. All peer led. Pastor Moses who leads the church has a huge vision for reaching people with both practical demonstrations of God's love and preaching the gospel - sounds familiar! Then went to a village where a local witch doctor got saved and the impact was such the church grew from 2 to 200 in the space of a few weeks. Again many aids orphans. You really notice there are loads of young children and old women but very few others. We go off individually to live in villages after church tomorrow. I hear unique breakfast went well - Catrina is very pleased. Praying for tomorrow. Love, Simon and the team.

Day 2 Sent by text on 17.11.07

Met about 50 pastors today in Lusaka. So encouraging to hear how over the last 4 years they've gone from preaching that HIV is Gods curse on sinners to preaching Gods heart for people with HIV and how that has transformed the attitudes of people to getting tested and taking the ARV drugs which can transform their lives. At lunchtime was very humbled when the ladies who had spent all morning preparing a feast for us told us they had no food at home for their children. Very hard to come to terms with. Have a great weekend - hope you enjoyed the DVD if you were there Sunday morning. Simon.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Report from Zambia

We met some incredible people at the clinic battling against the odds to change peoples lives. In particular a lady called Mavis who is HIV positive and who has one child who is HIV positive and one who isn't. She's an incredible voice of hope, encouraging people to be tested and that even if the results are that they are HIV positive there is still hope.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What's in a Name?

Hi again, and a big thank you to everyone who turned out for the Church Vision Night on Sunday night - there was a real buzz about the place which was fantastic, although still no lattes :-(

One of the things I spoke about Sunday night was us changing the name of the church. Why would we want to do such a thing you might ask? Well for me there are three reasons why changing the name seems like the right thing to do.

Firstly in order to recognise that we are no longer just a Bracknell church. At the vision night I asked all the people who don't live in Bracknell to stand. At a rough estimate between a quarter and a third of the people there stood. For years Ben resisted us being confined to an area of Bracknell and being thought of as say Bullbrook Baptist Church or Priestwood Baptist Church. That was why the town centre location for the buildings was so important, it stopped us being confined to a particular area but allowed us to be a town wide church. Well the reality now is that part of the fruit of that is we've become more than a town wide church and now gather people from as far afield as Camberley, Maidenhead, Reading and Windsor. So on that level losing the Bracknell part of our name just seems like a recognition of that.

Secondly if you talk to people outside the church they almost never refer to us as Bracknell Family Church. We always seem to be referred to as "Kerith" or "The Kerith". It's a bit like Acts 11:26 where it says "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch". That was a name the community chose for them rather than them choosing it for themselves, and Kerith seems to be the name the community has chosen for us so why not use it. We've also recognised that ourselves in the way we've used the name Kerith in, Kerith Kids and Kerith in the Community amongst other examples.

Finally we're in the process of becoming a charity which will probably happen early next year, so now would be the logical time to change the name if we wanted to as doing it later would mean us having to give lots of money to the lawyers!

So what to change the name to? Our first thought was "Kerith Family Church" which has a ring to it until you take a look at the initials:

Finger Lickin Church!
Next we came up with "Kerith Community Church" which seems to be where we've stuck. I think it conveys the idea that we are a community, and that we seek to serve a community which is good. Somehow "Kerith Church" seems to short so we didn't go for that. In reality I think people will still call us "Kerith" or "The Kerith" but at least that really will be in the name of the church rather than just the name of one of our buildings!

So early next year we'll have a competition to design a logo. Personally I think the word "Kerith" needs to be big in the logo and the words "Community Church" small so that Kerith is what people remember, but let's see where we go with that. If you have any ideas for designs before we launch the competion just email them in - you'll still win the prize if your design is chosen!

So there you have it. On of our core values is to be Kaleidoscopic - always willing to change to create things of beauty which glorify God and are relevant in society. Well I think this is just part for outworking of that core value.

As always all comments are very welcome.

I head off with the team to Zambia tomorrow, so the next blog entry may well be from Zambia via the BlackBerry! Have a great day and be praying for the people you want to invite to the Christmas events.