Saturday, December 20, 2008

Saturday Football

Out of the house at 8.30 this morning to take Zak to Twyford for a football match. One of the (many) mistakes I've made this year has been to miss too many things our kids have done. I can't change that now, but one of my decisions for the New Year will be to say no to some things in order to do better at this next year.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Last Weekend

I can't believe we're over half way through our Christmas Programme. We've tried this year to run events which will appeal to lots of different people, from the more traditional Sunday mornings through the Xmas Factor all the way to the Battle of the Bands. There has been good feedback from all of them, which has been very encouraging.

Thought you might like to see these photos John Mitchell took of the events over the weekend.

Don't forget to be thinking about who to invite on Sunday morning, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (and Sunday evening if you're fortunate enough to be young enough to be in the youth!).


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Serenje Update

Most of the church seems to be have gone down with colds, sore throats and runny noses in the last couple of weeks (me included). Well I thought that in the middle of all that (and in order to gain some perspective) you might like an update from Serenje in Zambia, where the HIV/AIDS project we are sponsoring is really starting to gain some momentum.

The photos are of a series of meetings which have been taking place to let the local community know about what is going on.

In the New Year I'm hoping to set up a Serenje blog, where every couple of weeks we'll add a report on some aspect of what is going on, as well as photo updates. Until then I'll use my blog to try and keep everyone updated.

As well as the photos I thought you might be interested in this email from Leah who works for the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) who are the partners we are working with, through Tearfund, in Serenje.

There ar trips being planned to Serenje for April and August next year. More details once we've got the exact dates confirmed.

Hope you're having a great (cold free) week.


From: Leah
Sent: 12 December 2008 09:06
To: Simon
Subject: Serenje Project Update

Dear Pastors Catrina and Simon,

Greetings from Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia.

I remember your faces often – on a weekly basis as we discuss the Serenje Project. You are very special because God has chosen your church to demonstrate the Kingdom and to be part of those that would carry Gods Agenda for the end time. I am so excited!

The mystery of God – It was in His HEART to establish His Name in Serenje communities – and so He sought for a people in the name of Kerith Church.

So what is happening in communities of Kankoso, Chilisha, Kashitu and Mwansankano? A LOT…
The implementation of the project has started and below are some highlights:
  • We have had discussions in each of the communities including a meeting with the chief!
  • Project plans have been discussed and communities have shared their challenges and action is taking place
  • Small scale farmers (vulnerable families) have been identified and are already planting beans and groundnuts, to be followed by planting cassava cuttings and sweat potato roots in early January.
  • Orphans and Vulnerable Children are being identified right now in target villages and communities.
  • Serenje Pastors Fellowship Project Committee are visiting schools to assess capacity of schools – and availability of school places.
  • The District Commissioner in Serenje was very happy to have EFZ go and share development plans for Serenje and is ready to offer all the help we need – he is a God fearing man.
  • The Field Officer and four teams are going round the villages and communities right now to ascertain implementation plans are going on schedule.

A detailed report will follow and PLENTY of pictures.
Greetings from Serenje to Pastor Ben and the team that visited!

In His Service,

Leah Mutala

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lead Elders Coaching

I'm off this morning to a Newfrontiers "Lead Elders Coaching" session in Catford. This is two days where the leaders of some of the larger churches in Newfrontiers are gathered by Steve Tibbert (who leads the church in Catford, where Mick Taylor who many of you will remember is now on staff) to look at how we can grow much bigger churches. We look at a whole load of different things including understanding our own personalities and leadership styles, the things that change as churches get bigger and the things that can stop or stunt growth. This will be the fourth one of these that I've been to (the coaching runs over two years and there are six sessions in all).

I have to admit that I really love it (even if I do miss being away from home). Many of you will know that one of my dreams is for us to be a church of thousands, so that bit of it all really excites me, but it has also been a great chance for me to get to know other leaders who are facing many of the same issues as we are and begin to build relationships with them.

This time round we've got a day with John and Debby Wright who lead the Trent Vineyard church in Nottingham. They're a church of thousands and although I've never been there I've heard great things about it from people like Colin Boyle and Ken Bothamley who have visited it. So I'm really looking forward to extracting all the information I can from them, especially as we move to our three meetings from January as they do a similar thing with the preach from the morning repeated in the evening.

I'll also be staying overnight with my sister Lucy who lives in Forest Hill. I don't get to see her often so I'm looking forward to spending at least a bit of time with her and her husband Simon.

Just pray that the 2CV lasts all the way round the M25!


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hampers in Kids2

You may remember last week me suggesting that as a 'random act of kindness' people might want to bring in items for the Christmas hampers we are giving away this Christmas. Well lots of people responded to that, and the children had a great time packing them all in Kids2 on Sunday morning. I thought you might like to see these photos of them all hard at work. We've also done a press release for the Bracknell News about what the children got up to, so you may get to see all the photos again there. Just remember that you saw them here first!


Sunday Photos

Thought you might like to see some photos from Sunday. Unfortunately I can't put up any with the school children in, but hope you like the rest.
Please be thinking about who to invite this Sunday morning as we look at "God's Dream Revealed Through the Silence", and in the evening for our final "Xmas Factor" event.
Also please plan to be at the prayer meetings this Wednesday and Thursday. We've got so much to thank God for, and so much to be talking to Him about and asking Him to do. We'll also be sharing communion together for the first time in a while. Lincoln is leading Wednesday night (I'm at a Newfrontiers caoching session for leaders of the larger churches on Wednesday and Thursday) and I'll be back in time to lead Thursday evening (2CV permitting!).
Hope you're having a good week,

Friday, December 5, 2008

Update on Lee

I've had so many people ask me about how Lee Layton-Matthews (our Youth Pastor) got on with his operation today that I thought I'd post an update here for all to see.

Lee went into hospital today for an operation to sort out some problems with his pace maker. I got a text at 6:30pm from Lydia (my wonderful PA), who had gone to the hospital to keep Lee's wife Linda company, to say that Lee had come round after the operation, was still quite groggy and in quite a bit of pain, but was cracking jokes which must be a good sign. We need to be praying for Lee, particularly that there won't be any infection as a result of the surgery which has been done. Lydia also said that Lee may be able to come home tomorrow, so knowing Lee that means he'll probably be in church on Sunday morning! In reality it's going to take Lee at least a week to recover from what has been fairly major surgery, so if by any chance you do see him in church on Sunday send him straight home :-)

So lots to be thanking God for there. That's a good point to remind everyone that it's prayer meetings next Wednesday and Thursday, where we're also going to be sharing communion together. I know we're in an incredibly busy time of year but please can I encourage everyone to make one of those two evenings a priority, as we seek to regain a little focus in the middle of the Christmas madness!

Hope you have a great weekend.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Random Acts of Kindness

I wrote earlier this week about us being the aroma of Christ, and one way to do that simply being kind to other people.

One idea for an act of kindness is to get involved buying items for the hampers we're going to be giving out this Christmas. There's a list of things we'd like to put in the hampers in last weeks bulletin - you can see the bulletin on our website if you haven't got a copy.

Catrina is going Christmas shopping on Saturday so Alice and I will be off to Tescos to buy hamper stuff, and then off to the garden centre to get a tree. The children are packing the hampers on Sunday morning so if you can get stuff to reception before 10 that would be great.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Smell of Christ this Christmas

Sunday morning I preached on 2 Cor 2:14-16 - "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?".

So what are you going to smell of this Christmas? I'm not talking BO or aftershave but your spiritual aroma. Is it going to be the aroma of Christ, the aroma of self or even the aroma of the devil. You see I believe every time we have contact with another human being we leave a little bit of our scent on them, and that scent will have an impact on them. And we need to make sure that aroma is the right aroma, even if at times that will provoke a negative reaction (the smell of death).

So how do we make sure we smell of Christ?

First the aroma we want is "the fragrance of the knowledge of him". So having the right fragrance starts with knowing him - knowing Christ. That shouldn't be such a shock to us, as all that we have comes from having a relationship with Christ. Not being religious or following a set of rules but having a relationship with him through his death on the cross.

So two ways to know him better. Read the Bible and pray. I'm reading a book at the moment about William Tyndale who first translated the Bible into modern English (John Wycliffe translated it into middle English) and the incredible battle which the Catholic church and the English establishment engaged in to try and make sure people didn't get access to it, which ended up with Tyndale being martyred. People could lose their lives for just owning a copy of Tyndale's translation, and yet there was enormous demand for it. It's challenging me about how I can have a "take it or leave it" approach to reading the Bible, when really having copies available is such an amazing privilege. So read the gospels as a great place to start knowing him. Then pray, taking moments through every day just to have a conversation with him, talking to him about what is going on and involving him in all of it.

And then how to spread that aroma to others. Well there are lots of ways, but it starts by being in contact with other people. Whether that's in the queue at Tesco's at work, at the office Christmas party or talking to the neighbours. And then when you're with those people taking them up in your lift. That can start as simply as being kind to them. Rom 2:4 talks about "God's kindness leads you toward repentance?". If God's kindness can lead to repentance then so can ours. So just start by being kind to people!

That's enough for one blog entry. I might expand on this later this week, but hopefully that's given you some thoughts on how to smell good this Christmas!


Monday, December 1, 2008

Xmas Factor Live - Part 1

Well I'm still buzzing from last nights Xmas Factor event. An amazing effort by all involved, from the car parkers who so magnificently made positive first impressions with all our guests, to the welcomers, the performers, the technical crew, the drinks servers, and those of our people who were just there being friendly to all the guests, it was an incredible evening. We had over 800 people in the building, and the feedback I got at the end, and in a number of emails today, has been so positive. From a school head telling me this is the best event they get involved in all year and could we do it more often, to guests saying they'd be back for the "elephant in the church" series in the new year, to our people saying now they know how good it is they'll be back next Sunday night with guests. We've also sold nearly 150 copies of the Simply Christmas CD which is great.

Oh yes, and thank you to everyone who complimented me on my singing in the "No Difference" audition video!

So please be thinking about who to invite next Sunday morning, when Sola is going to be speaking on God's dream revealed through the Old Testament predictions of Jesus coming, and to next Sunday nights Xmas Factor event.

If you have any comments on Sunday night feel free to leave them here as I'm sure others would love to see them.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Simply Christmas CD

Tonight Catrina and I are at the Xmas Factor rehearsal with a load of other people getting ready for Sunday night. The media team have produced some amazing videos which have taken our whole media production to another level - very impressive.

The Christmas CD has also come in. It really is superb, contemporary arrangements of classic Christmas carols with wailing lead guitars (or at least a couple of electric guitar solos!). I might even grow to like carols! Dave Cottee has done an incredible job of pulling it all together. You can buy it priced £5 from this Sunday - makes a great present and all the profits are going to our HIV/AIDS in Serenje.

Hope you have a great weekend and catch you Sunday.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Kerith Decorating

In the middle of a fun evening helping decorate The Kerith Centre and K2 ready for Christmas. Both buildings are looking great, as is the stage which Steve Hart and his team did such a fantastic job of designing and putting up (just so you know we've used some of last years celebration offering to buy some of the staging so we get to keep it after Christmas which will be a step forward for us).

I just can't wait for Sunday night when the building will be full for the first Xmas Factor Live event. Hope to see you there.


Balkans Conference

Ken and Ann Bothamley have been over in Albania for the last couple of weeks visiting the churches they are helping over there. I just got an update from Ken which I though you might be interested to read:

"We are on our way this morning to Ohrid, Macedonia by minibus. Snow on the mountains here. We will climb 700 metres to Macedonia border, walk through the land border and then by taxi to Millenium Palace Hotel Ohrid for the Newfrontiers Balkans Conference. We are well and travel with 8 others from Elbasan. We return here on Friday afternoon, meal out with landlord and family then onto Tirana on Saturday and then home Sunday. It will be nice to be where there is electricity all the time and things work! Pray for us at the conference as this is a key time for many small churches spread out across Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. I ask for prophetic words and words to strengthen people. We will see Edi and Artina again and many others we know."

Edi and Artina are the couple who came over for the Willow GLS earlier this year - they are a fantastic couple and I think we're going to be seeing quite a bit more of them.

Let's be praying for the churches in Albania, and thanking God for us having at least a small part in all He is doing there.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pride of Bracknell Winners

You may remember that Hope08 was nominated for a Pride of Bracknell award. Well I've just hear that we won in the 'special contribution to pride in Bracknell' category. There is going to be a write up about it in the Bracknell News on Thursday, but thought before that comes out you might like this photo of Andy Bagwell picking up the award on behalf of the churches involved.

Sandy Lane Primary School also won an "Eco Hero" award - well done to them.

As an ongoing Hope08 event on Saturday 13th December we're going to be joining again as churches in Bracknell town centre, singing carols and giving out leaflets inviting people to the various Christmas events at our churches. Minced pies and mulled wine will also be on offer. That runs from 11am til 2pm. Whilst that's going on we'll also be meeting on The Kerith Centre lounge to pray for the outreach. It would be great to have lots of us there both to be part of the crowd and to pray.

Please be thinking about who to invite to our first Xmas Factor Live event on Sunday night. It's worth coming just to see how bad I am in my audition video! Be sure to get there on time, as the opening sequence is going to be spectacular, and remember to park in Avis!

Hope you're having a great week.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Newfrontiers Leaders Weekend

I'm on a bit of a run of NewFrontiers leaders events.

Last week I was at what was called a Wider Leaders gathering. I'm not sure I like being described as a wider leader. Perhaps they're just trying to wake me up to the realities of middle age! It was up in Warwick and was for leaders who oversee other churches and leaders of the larger NewFrontiers churches.

Then right now Catrina and I are battling our way up the motorway to Milton Keynes for a weekend with the couples leading the 220 NewFrontiers churches in the UK.

Finally in a couple of weeks I'm off for two days of coaching looking at building larger churches.

It's very inspiring spending time with all these leaders, many of whom are facing some of the same issues we are. However, there's a large part of me which would rather be at home this weekend with the children and listening to BenD on Sunday morning! However, I'm sure we'll have a great weekend - hope you do too.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bert Leonard's Funeral

I wanted to let you know that Bert's funeral is going to be on Friday 5th December. We'll be having a service at The Kerith Centre starting at 12.45 to remember Bert's life, then going on to Easthampstead Park Crematorium, then back to The Kerith Centre for food and drinks.

Given the large number of people who I know will want to come and say goodbye to Bert and celebrate his life, the parking at The Kerith Centre is inevitably going to be stretched so please look to share cars wherever possible.

I've been overwhelmed by the number of people who have been stopping me, or sending me emails, to tell me their own particular "Bert story". So many different little acts of kindness which Bert (and his wife Olive) did for so many different people over the years. If you have a "Bert story" then I'd love it if you could add it as a comment to my previous blog entry. There are already a number of stories there, but it would be great to have a whole load of them as a tribute to his life. We might even get to read some of them out on the 5th.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Bert Leonard

Many of you will have heard by now that Bert Leonard sadly passed away at 7.25am on Sunday 16th November. He had been ill with cancer for some months and spent his final few days in the Sue Ryder home in Nettlebed, where he apparently really perked up and loved the surroundings he was in.
Whilst feeling sad over Bert no longer being with us, it's impossible to think about him for long without smiling at the memories of the fun and mischief he brought into every situation. I think someone got it spot on when they said on Sunday morning he was the Arthur Askey of our church. Somebody else who knew Bert well wrote to me in an email this morning "He certainly was a great bloke. I don't believe that I ever heard him speak a negative word about anyone. He was always such a positive guy, always up, and we can learn a lot from his life". Bert will remain an inspiration to many of us, especially in the challenge to finish well in our Christian life - it was only earlier this year, at the age of 88, that Bert stopped greeting people at the door on Sunday mornings - what an example.
Let's be praying for Bert's family, and for those in our community who I know will be feeling the sadness of him no longer being with us. And let's be thanking God for a life well lived.
We'll let you know as soon as we have details of the funeral, which I know many of you will be very keen to attend.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Jill Steyl Memorial - Update

Because of problems with relatives getting visas to come over from Zimbabwe the Memorial Service for Jill Steyl has been put back to Saturday 22nd at 2pm. Let's be praying that the visas get sorted quickly so that all the relatives who so want to be there can make it for the 22nd.

Hope you have a great weekend and that I'll get to catch many of you on Sunday.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pray as if it all Depended on God

A reminder that we've got prayer meetings this Wednesday and Thursday. We've got loads to thank God for, and a bunch of stuff to ask him for, so please make it if you can.

Ben Davies is going to be leading Wednesday night as I'm at a Newfrontiers leaders event in Warwick on Wednesday and Thursday. Ben then flies off Thursday morning with Ben Oliver to Poland for some time with Darek and the rest of the church there.

I'm then hoping to be back in time to lead Thursday night.

Hope you manage to make one evening or the other.


Memorial Service for Jill Steyl

For those of you who knew Jill the memorial service to celebrate her life will be on Saturday 15th November at 2pm at the Whiteley Village Sanctuary in Walton on Thames.

Lydia (my wonderful PA) contacted the Sanctuary today and was given the following directions, which I hope will be helpful.

The Sanctuary is the Free Church in Whiteley Village, and sits at the opposite side of "The Octagon" from St Marks, the C of E Church.

At weekends there is only one point of access into Whiteley Village, this being through our North Gate. The post code for this gate is KT12 4EN. On entering the gate, follow North Ave as far as you can go (over junctions & memorials, past building sites). When you can go no further, the Sanctuary is just to your left.

If you are planning to attend please could you contact The Kerith Centre reception by Friday as we have promised to let Jill's family know how many people are coming so that they can cater accordingly.


The Pride of Bracknell

Thought you might like to know that Hope Bracknell, our summer week of social action projects followed by our big Hope in the Park party on the Saturday, has been nominated for a Pride of Bracknell award. This is a competition run every year by the Bracknell News to celebrate some of the great things going on in the area. It's a real recognition of the quality and impact of what we did over the summer that we've been put forward for this.

I did a video interview for the Bracknell News last Friday, which is going to be shown at the awards ceremony on Friday 21st November. I'm not going to be there on the Friday as Catrina and I are going to be away that weekend at a NewFrontiers elders and wives event, but I'll let you know as soon as I hear any results.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Celebrate Good Times - Serenje & Baptisms

In the words of Kool and the Gang - Celebrate good times,come on!
Lots to celebrate from the weekend just gone.
First of all the Serenje offering which is now even higher than I announced on Sunday! Gifts and pledges now total £83,088, which with Gift Aid should come to at least £103,000. I'm just so excited about this, first to be part of such an incredibly generous community, but secondly for the incredible difference this is going to make in the lives of people living in conditions of unbelievable hardship. Thank you so much to everyone who gave, and if you haven't yet given but would still like to then please still give. We're going to be looking to raise another £100,000 this time next year so the more of that we can get now the better. If you made a pledge then please make sure to fulfill it as I certainly don't want to have to announce that the total has gone down :-)
Secondly to celebrate the 11 people we baptised on Sunday. For me there's nothing more exciting than hearing stories of changed lives. It always brings me back to realising that this is why we do what we do. That we get the privilege to partner with God in seeing the lives of ordinary people like you and me transformed by an encounter with an extraordinary God. Just fantastic.
We have so much to be thankful for, and to celebrate. As I said on Sunday morning let's never forget what God has done for us, but like the 12 stones they took out of the Jordan as they crossed into the promised land and built into a memorial, every time we see what God is doing in the lives of others be reminded of all that he has done for us through his death and resurrection.
Hope you have a great week,

Friday, November 7, 2008

Jill Steyl

Many of you will remember Jill Steyl, a lady from Zimbabwe, who was part of our community for a number of years. I will always remember Jill for the encouraging things she used to shout out from her seat up in the balcony whilst I was preaching, as well as the lively feedback she'd give me on my sermon at the end of the meeting. She was certainly a character, as well as a passionate follower of Jesus!

Well sadly Jill died of cancer on the 24th October. I spoke today to her daughter Lorraine, who managed to get over from Zimbabwe to be with Jill for her last few days, and had a good chat with her as we shared some 'Jill' stories. There is going to be a memorial service for Jill in Walton on Thames and then a funeral in Wales. Details have yet to be finalised, so please contact our receptionists if you want to be told when either of these events are taking place.

Let's be praying for Jill's family as they come to terms with their loss.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Bill Hybels Day

Just to let you know the five of us who went up to HTB yesterday to hear Bill Hybels speak had a magnificent time with him. I wish you could all have been there as everyone would so benefit from hearing him pour out his wisdom gained in 33 years of leading Willow. However, lots of what we learn on days like that will hopefully come out in what gets preached and the directions we take as a church over the next year, so hopefully you will benefit from it at least indirectly.

In the middle of the day Bill actually left us for about 3 hours to go and record an interview with Bono, who happened to be in London, for next years Leadership Summit. How cool must that be! Sadly none of us were asked to accompany him, although after Bill's wife Lynne spoke here at the launch of our HIV/AIDS project in October she did contact me to let me know she'd emailed Bono to tell him about what we were doing, and how it had been inspired by the talk he did at the Leadership Summit 2 years ago. Not quite as cool as getting to meet Bono, but still pretty good.

Talking of the project in Serenje I got the latest gift day total today. I'm going to announce it on Sunday, but suffice to say for now that it's very, very exciting. Don't forget we've also got baptisms Sunday morning and evening which are also going to be unmissable.

Hope you're having a great week,


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

He Blogs, She Blogs

Just to let you know that my beautiful wife, Catrina, has now set up her own blog. The primary audience is the Kerith women and helping them connect better with one another, with God and with His plans for their lives. Or it may just be a chance for you all to find out even more about the inner workings of the Benham family!

As long as she doesn't end up with more page hits per day than me I'm happy :-)


Monday, November 3, 2008

The Dependency Matrix

As a leader one of the things I love to do it study other leaders and try to work out what made them good leaders, great leaders or bad leaders, and then see what I can apply from that in my own life. This Wednesday I'm going up to HTB with about 100 other leaders to spend a day with Bill Hybels, and I'll be doing a lot of studying there to learn everything I can from one of the greatest leaders I've ever met. I've still got the flip chart notes he wrote when he came and did an equivalent day in Bracknell last year - I get them out every now and again to touch them hoping that some of the anointing will rub off (only joking)!

For me The Old Testament is always a particularly rich place to do leadership studies. For instance studying the contrasts between the lives of Saul and David, and getting to the bottom of what made David a great leader and Saul and such a lousy leader. So as I've been studying the early chapters of Nehemiah I've been looking hard at what made Nehemiah such a great leader. There are lots of things to learn there, his ability to cast a compelling vision and to recast it when the vision begins to fade, his organisational ability and his ability to ignore the critics. But the thing that has struck me time and again about Nehemiah is his ability to live with the tension of how much did he rely on God and how much does he take responsibility on himself to make things happen.

I've termed that tension, for want of a better phrase, the dependency matrix and it looks a bit like the diagram in the flip chart picture above which hopefully you can read (I noticed no one was taking my flip chart pages home to keep as a memento!). To give it some reality I'll explain how it works in terms of someone who is unemployed and needs a job.

Some people place no dependency on either themselves or on God. People in that situation are either lazy (don't need or can't be bothered to get a job) or in a state of despair (they've given up all hope of ever getting a job).

Some people place all the dependency on themselves and have no expectancy of God intervening or being part of the process. I call these people practical atheists. They might call themselves followers of Christ but in reality they are living their lives like God doesn't exist. So in the job example this would be someone who's applying for jobs left, right and centre, has got their CV looking perfect and prepares diligently for every interview, but isn't praying about what is going on and has no real sense of even needing God to move for the situation to resolve itself.

Other people are expecting God to do everything. So in the job example they are sat at home waiting for the phone to ring, or for that chance encounter with someone who is just going to offer them a job. They aren't applying for jobs or taking any practical steps to get one. These people are super spiritual. As Ben Davies often says "they're more spiritual than God".

Then there are people like Nehemiah, who lived his life as though it all depended on God but at the same time as though it all depended on him. On Sunday morning I spoke from Neh 4:9 where they are facing attack, and Nehemiah's response is ".. we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat". That's a pattern repeated again and again in the life of Nehemiah. Dependence on God but also a deep dependence on practical action too. I'd encourage you to read Nehemiah and look for them yourself, but to get you started take a look at Neh 1:11, Neh 2:4-5 and Neh 2:20.

As Morton Morton C Blakewell (whoever he was) said so eloquently "Pray as if it all depended on God; work as if it all depended on you”.

So where are you on the dependency matrix, and do you need to switch which quadrant of the matrix you are operating in.

If this has provoked any thoughts in you then I'd love you to leave a comment to say what you think.

Hope you have a great week,


Friday, October 31, 2008

The Hoosiers

In the middle of three days off (including Saturday) and having a great time. Went to see The Hoosiers on Wednesday night at Rivermead in Reading with Catrina and the boys. The Hoosiers lead singer, Irwin Sparkes, was in the Kerith youth group many years ago when Catrina and I were helping to lead it. I love seeing live music and they were a great example of live music at its best! The went off to Chessington World of Adventures yesterday, going swimming with the family a bit later today, then off with the boys to see the new James Bond film tonight. It's been so relaxing I even found time to chop some logs yesterday (my wood splitting axe is the best tool in the world) and light the fire in our living room for the first time in ages.

Hope to catch you all Sunday morning for the next bit of on rebuilding the walls. Listen to it on the podcast if you miss it.
Simon (the relaxed!).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sunday's Wall

For those not in the adult meeting last Sunday morning I talked about Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in 52 days. The challenge for the community then was for everyone, whether they were a goldsmith, a perfume maker or a bunch of daughters to spend 52 days doing wall building. My application was that we're going to spend 52 Sundays next year rebuilding a wall as we go to three main meetings on a Sunday, in order for us to have space to grow. For that to happen we're going to need a whole host of new volunteers (somewhere around 150) to commit to doing whatever it takes to build the wall.

I'm not actually asking anyone to do all 52 Sundays - that would be madness! Just so you know I'm committing to being in all three meetings for 40 Sundays next year, but I'm not expecting anyone not on the paid staff (and so not able to take time to recover during the week) to do more than 26 Sundays. So if you're not currently serving at all maybe you could consider serving for 13 Sundays next year. Or perhaps if you currently serve 13 times a year you could give another 13 slots (but don't stop doing what you're currently doing, or I'll have lots of very irate ministry heads contacting me!). At the end of 2009 I promise we'll give everyone who's signed up for this the option to stop, with no guilt attached.
So on Sunday I asked anyone who would commit to doing 13 or 26 Sundays next year to symbolically write their names on the wall we had on the platform, and also to write on the wall the name of somebody who they'd like to become part of our community during 2009 as a result of the space we are creating for people to come. It was very moving to see so many names being written, and there was a real sense that as a community we can do this thing. We also had volunteer forms for people to fill in to say where they'd like to serve. I spoke yesterday to Sue Ranger who is now processing all those forms, and she was so encouraged that lots of people, rather than giving a specific ministry area just said they were willing to serve anywhere in any of the meetings. That's so much the spirit that Nehemiah and the people had as they rebuilt the wall - just whatever it takes.

I'm going to be preaching some more on the wall on Sunday morning, and there will be more opportunities to sign up and fill in a volunteer form, as we still need lots more people. I've included some photos so those of you not there can get a feel for what went on.

Hope you're enjoying the snow (how unexpected was that) and that those of you with children on half term are managing to retain some level of sanity :-)


Monday, October 27, 2008

Another Brick in the Wall

Whenever I blog on a Monday I always feel like there's so much stuff that has happened over the weekend that I'm never sure what to talk about and what to leave out. It's a real dilemma as I don't want to bore you all with a long list of things you might not be interested in, but at the same time I realise I get to hear about loads of exciting things that you might never get to hear about. So for this week at least I'm going to mention briefly everything I'm aware of that went on this weekend.

Respite Club - Two Saturdays every month we run a respite club in K2 where families who have children with special needs can have them looked after in a fun, loving, caring environment while they get a break. This is just part of our special needs ministry which is ever growing and of which I'm incredibly proud.

Ethos on Tour - Our Youth band 'Ethos' were down in Hereford this weekend playing at a Hope08 Youth Event on Saturday night and a churches together joint service on Sunday morning. Lee (our Youth Pastor) went with them and spoke at both events, seeing 8 first time commitments over the weekend. We're believing for Ethos to have a growing ministry serving the wider church and they're already playing at the NewFrontiers Butlins event in January and have an invite to go to Lithuania and play at a youth event there too. As an indication of their commitment Lee and Ethos were back to run our youth meeting on Sunday night.

Ben Davies on Tour - Ben and Mo were in Cyprus last weekend doing a series of meetings for a church over there. Ben is having increasing impact nationally and internationally and is also going to Poland And Lithuania before the end of the year. Just so you know Ken Bothamley also going to Lithuania with Ben, and will be visiting the Balkans again before 2008 is out.

Alpha Day Away - This was held on Saturday at Tony and Liz Pudner's House. I spoke at the first session where there was just such a great buzz amongst the guests. I had to leave after that but Ken and Karen Jones who were leading the day said the buzz just grew and God was powerfully at work in the lives of the guests - more to come of this I'm sure.

Skydiving - On Saturday morning Ruth Jackson, Lisa Rutland and Iris Joyce went skydiving to raise money for CAP. Mad or what! I'm sure it's not too late to sponsor them if you want to - just get in contact with them.

Wedding - On Saturday afternoon I did the wedding at The Kerith Centre of a girl who isn't a christian, but who works as a helper in our respite club, and her partner. It's really interesting that she considers herself to be part of our community and so wanted us to marry them, and it was a real privilege for us to be able to serve them in this way. Very few of the guests had ever been in The Kerith Centre before so it was fascinating to chat to them and hear their comments on what went on - very peachy!

Sunday Meetings - I'll write a separate blog about "The Wall" on Sunday morning, but suffice to say for now I was thrilled by peoples response to stepping up as a community to making our three main meetings in January happen. I haven't heard what the total offering for Serenje was yet, but I do know that the 5-11's raised £150 in their bring and buy sale for Serenje which was brilliant. Hearing Catherine Rohr again on Sunday evening was great too.

I'm sure there's stuff I've missed, so add comments to fill us in on anything else you are aware of. We're hosting a South of England CAP Pastors Conference tomorrow (Tuesday) which I'll be attending, then I'm taking Thursday and Friday off to spend some time with the family.

Hope you have a great week,


Friday, October 24, 2008

Gabriel from Nigeria

Those who made it to the Willow GLS (Global Leadership Summit) will remember a guy called Gabriel from Nigeria. I got him on the platform when we talked about the offering to allow GLS's to run in countries, like Nigeria, which wouldn't be able to afford to fund them simply from the registration fees as we do in the UK. Gabriel's GLS was being funded by a church in Cincinnati in the US, and Kent, one of the pastors from the church in Cincinnati, had come over with Gabriel to see how we ran it all.

Well we just got an email from Gabriel to let us know how it all went, which I've included below.

Talking of the Summit this Sunday night we're showing the talk a lady called Catherine Rohr did at there this year. I've now seen it once live and four times on DVD and can't wait to see it again - it's that powerful. Get there to see it if you possibly can! Also don't forget the second week of the Serenje offering this weekend.

As Catherine Rohr prays "Bring it on God.....".


From: gabriel makan
Sent: 24 October 2008 09:16
To: Sue Ranger
Subject: Re: GLS this Weekend

Dear Sue,

The GLS in Jos was, to the glory of God, successful! By 3 days to the Summit, our Registration was about 900. This scared us not to go on Radio and TV, so we do not have Seating crisis. Yet we realised that doing so would have served as Reminder to many delegates who were selected/nominated by Heads of their Church Denominations. Attendance first day was around 550 and second day around 650. The Speakers were well received and we have continued to receive positive feedback of how a blessing it was to those who attended.

My time with you at Bracknell was so valuable as it gave me a good picture of how the GLS runs. Willow sent a volunteer Technical person with a good Projector. He arrived in Jos, along with 2 officials from Kent's Church, on the 14th October. We had time to go over issues peculiar to our Location and God helped us such that at the end we made just a few learning mistakes.

Thanks for your support and prayers. Our God will continue to be glorified in our labor of love for His Kingdom sake. Please extend my personal appreciation to Pastor Simon.

Yours sincerely,

Gabriel Makan

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bring Your Pastor to Work - Day 2

Blog veterans may remember me spending a day at work with Sam Fairs-Billam and seeing his work with the homeless. Well today I've come to Bracknell Leisure Centre with Ed Campbell who works there for "The Well-Being & Leisure Team". This team helps people with learning disabilities to make use of all the mainstream leisure facilities in Bracknell. They get to do everything from swimming and badminton to snooker and golf. I got to take part in a fitness session to music on exercise bikes (I kid you not) and a dancing keep fit class! My cycling was considerably better than my dancing.
It was so cool to see the great stuff Ed is doing, and the passion he does it with. A number of the people in the two classes I went to also go to Hilltop, our church group for adults with learning disabilities, and it was really good to see them too. Their dancing was much better than mine!
If anyone else fancies having me visit their work just let me know!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Video Didn't Kill This Radio Star

Andy Jackson has done it again - this time appearing on the Radio 4 programme "You and Yours" to talk about the impact of the credit crunch. Apparently over 1 million people listen to it daily - even more people than have tuned in to listen to me on Radio Berkshire :-) Not that I'm competitive or anything!

Andy did a great job - you can listen to an archive recording here.

Radio 1 and the Chris Moyles show must be next on Andy's list!


Serenje Offering Week One

Last Sunday was the first Sunday of our Serenje offering. So far we've had:

Total money given: £19,629
Total money pledged for the next 12 months: £17,180

That gives us a grand total of £36,809, which is fantastic. Gift Aid needs to be added to that which should take it over £40,000, but we still need in the order of £60,000 this weekend to meet our target of £100,000.

So for those of us still to give let's be praying and asking God what we should give this weekend. I have a deep confidence in us as a community, that even in the current economic turmoil we will give beyond ourselves and reach our target. It's just so exciting to be on this journey together. That because of what we're doing children who would have been deprived an education will instead get through secondary school and then go on to train as doctors, nurses, school teachers, politicians, business leaders and church leaders. That parents who would have died young because they weren't able to take their ARVs and didn't have enough food will live into old age and get to see their children grow up, get married and have children themselves. And that a whole community will be given hope and a future because we chose to give.

Bring it on....


A Beautiful Morning

Just walking to The Kerith Centre after dropping off Alice at school and it's such a beautiful, crisp sunny morning. Why not just take a few moments today to stop, go outside and contemplate this amazing world we've been given to live in.
Hope you have a great day.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Great Weekend

Catrina and I always knew that this was going to be a crazy year, so at the start of it we sat down and planned to have a couple of weekends away with just the two of us. This weekend we had the second of those weekends, and just had a fantastic time together. I love my wife! We're now planning our diary for 2009 - romantic weekends away will be high on the list of first things to go in there!

From what I've heard it sounds like a good time was had in Bracknell too. I'm in the middle of listening to Lee's preach from Sunday morning, it sounds like both Lee and Zoe did a great job speaking on Sunday. I also hear there were over 180 people from more than 60 churches at the CAP Money training course we hosted on Saturday - it's great to be in partnership with the CAP guys - their success is our success.

Let's just hope Newcastle can beat Man City tonight, and then my weekend will be complete!


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tebogo in the UK

Ben and I met today with Tebogo Mulaudzi from Soweto, who many of you will remember from previous times he's been over here and preached with us. Tebogo is in the UK for some rest and relaxation - perhaps I need to go and spend some time in Soweto!
It was great to catch up with Tebogo - his church is doing really well but he's feeling the pressure of leading it all - I told him I had no idea what he was on about :-)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What If His People Prayed

A reminder that we're meeting as a church to pray tonight and tomorrow night. As a community we're doing loads of stuff to create space for God to move, but we know that at the end of the day it's only God who can change lives - "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow".

Just heard that three ladies made first time commitments this week at Sparklers (our Mums and Toddlers group). Well done to Dany and the team for their planting and watering, and thanks to God for breaking in and causing the growth.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Who's That Good Looking Chap

A great photo of John Kirkby speaking on Sunday morning. I was so gutted to miss it, but have heard from everyone how well he spoke. People also said how well it fitted into the Money series we're in and as preparation for the next two weekends Serenje offering. Please be thinking about what you're going to give towards our target of raising £100,000 to cover the costs of the first year of this project.

I also heard the drama on Sunday morning was very good. I thought you might like this photo of some of our great drama team in action.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Ready, Fire, Aim

The title comes from last nights Vision Night where I talked about us being one church with three Sunday meetings from 11th January 2009. Highlights of what we're going to be doing are:
  • The meetings will start at 9am, 11am and 7pm
  • Each meeting will be an hour and twenty minutes long
  • There will be childrens work for the two morning meetings
  • Children can be dropped off up to 10 minutes before the start of each of the morning meetings
  • We'll serve tea and coffee and run connect between the two morning meetings and after the second morning meeting
  • We will look at having the children come in for the adult worship at some times during the year
  • There will also be youth work as part of our morning gatherings
  • Initially only the 11am meeting will have signing for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • For most of the year we'll have the same preach at all three meetings, although there will be some Sundays where the morning and the evening will have a different preach
  • Lee Layton-Matthews will be gathering a team to oversee the evening meeting, possibly looking at running a coffee bar both before and after the meeting
  • We'll open the balcony from day one of the evening meeting starting in anticipation of growing a big Sunday evening meeting
  • We're still hoping to have Hilltop (our group for adults with learning disabilities) join with us once a month on a Sunday evening

I'm so excited by the opportunity these three meetings are going to give us to grow. I realise that there is still lots of detail to be worked out, but we've got a great team working on how having done the fire bit we now do the aim! I'm going to speak on the morning of 26th October on Nehemiah rebuilding the walls and what we can learn from that about the journey we're on. Why not start reading it in advance of the 26th.

Hope you have a great week,


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Day 2 Away

It's been such a privilege to have 2 days away with some of the staff. We did quite a bit of planning for our 3 meetings in January, looked at the talk Craig Groeschel did on IT at the Summit and just enjoyed being together.
We also watched the film crew I mentioned yesterday at work which was fascinating. Their attention to detail is quite incredible and a real challenge to me as we look to do more media stuff. There must have been 100 people there when I went for a run at 7.30 this morning and they were telling us this is a low budget movie! The film is going to be released next June, is about Charles Darwin, stars Paul Bethany and will be released next June. They wouldn't let us be extras though!
Tonight I've been karting in Milton Keynes with some guys from the company I work for. Great fun but my arms really hurt now!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Watching Darwin

I've come away with some of the staff team for two days at Waverley Abbey, creating a bit of headroom for us all to take stock of Willow and think about what we do with it all.
The photo probably isn't very clear but there is a film crew here making a film about the life of Charles Darwin. They're filming a scene where Charles Darwin and a load of children run towards a lake. Not exactly Indiana Jones but watching it has kept all of us amused - it doesn't take much!
Talking of Charles Darwin we'll be looking at evolution versus creation next year. Perhaps we'll show some of this film!

Monday, October 6, 2008

So Grateful

I turned up at The Kerith Centre at 7.30 am on Friday and Saturday and 8.30 on Sunday, each time to be greeted by hordes of people who were already there to make the conference and our Sunday gatherings happen. And the vast majority of those people were volunteers. They hadn't got out of bed that early because someone had paid them to do it, but simply because God has given them a heart to serve. I can't tell you what it means to me to be part of a community like that. To see young and old, black and white, rich and poor serving alongside one another is what church is all about. If you were one of those people then thank you so much. Please know that what you do is so appreciated.

There was another team that turned up at 8pm Sunday night to take down the stage set, pretty much the same team which had been in the building until midnight on Wednesday and Thursday night putting it up. It looked magnificent and so added to the conference experience. The good news is that at Christmas we're looking to buy in a permanent set which will be similar to the one we had for Willow, but with more space for dance, drama and more singers, as well as being much better for filming and with an improved PA. That will make putting on events like the GLS so much simpler, as well as enhancing our Sunday experience. Until then here are a couple of pictures of the stage as was - sorry for having to have me in the photo but that was the only photo John Mitchell took of the whole stage, so blame him :-)

Keep connecting with God in prayer throughout the day as Ben reminded us on Sunday night.
Hope you have a great week,

Saturday, October 4, 2008

An Incredible Day One

Well it's 7.45 on day the morning of day 2 of the Willow Leadership Summit - the photo is of the band doing the sound check for today. I love being part of this conference for so many reasons. The quality of the speakers. The incredible serving heart of our people - I'm so proud of everyone involved! God speaking so clearly. Our fantastic singers, musicians and tech team.
I went for a meal with the Lithuanians and Albanians and they were just overwhelmed by it all.
Can't wait for today!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Lithuanians are here

Our 26 Lithuanian guests all turned up last night and at this moment are visiting the Queen in Windsor! They represent 6 different churches from 3 different cities, although most of them are from the church we first had contact with when some of their ladies came over for the Unique conference.

This morning I met with Saul who leads that church along with 3 other key leaders, Ben Davies and Ken Bothamley to talk about next steps in our relationship. It looks like Ben is going to go over and do a leaders weekend for them in early December which will be exciting.

The Kerith Centre is buzzing this morning with people setting up for the conference. I've come home to watch some of the DVDs as I'm hosting it all.

Hope to see you there!


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Creating Headroom - Going Deeper

The concept of having 'headroom' in our lives seems to have provoked quite a bit of discussion, and in particular caused people to ask how we create headroom, not only in our finances but in other areas of our lives such as in our busy, busy schedules. Catrina has even taking to send me texts with the single word "Headroom" in them, encouraging me to stop what I'm doing and relax! We're going to spend the next Church Vision Night (12th October - 6pm for coffee and cakes) looking at "Creating Headroom" in church life in 2009, as well as talking about our Christmas plans - don't miss it!

Anyway, Alan Lander (one of our elders) sent me a link to some great guides on creating financial headroom in our lives from a Christian organization called Credit Action. The man behind Credit Action is Keith Tondeur who is highly respected in money circles and his views are often sought by Government. I've used some of his books in preparing some of the current money series - they're very good and are available at our bookshop. Anyway, on the Credit Action website there are some very readable and practical money help guides in their 'Better Money Management' series including specific guides for single parents, students and a helpful one on pocket money.

I'd also highly recommend the CAP money course which is transforming how Catrina and I are making headroom in our finances. We've never been great at budgeting - if you're the same then book yourself in for the next course which starts on Tuesday 14th October.

Off in a bit to see the Lithuanians who are apparently now in the UK and on their way to sunny Bracknell!


Canon Andrew White on Video

I thought you might enjoy this video on the New York Times website of our good friend Andrew White doing his stuff in Iraq - very moving.

We must always be a people who think globally but act locally. To that extent it's so exciting to be associated with people like Andrew, and that this afternoon the 26 Lithuanian Pastors who are coming over for the Willow conference are turning up. If you see any of them at the conference or on Sunday (they'll probably be hard to miss!), or the Poles, Albanians, Nigerians or Americans who are coming too then be sure to let them know how pleased we are to have them with us.

Hope to catch you at the conference on Friday or Saturday.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

CAP on the Radio

Just heard that Andy Jackson and Tara, one of our star CAP clients, are being interviewed tomorrow morning (25th September) between and 7am and 8am on Radio Berkshire talking about the work of CAP. Radio Berkshire do have an archive feature on their website so you may be able to catch it later if you miss it live.

Ties in well with Sunday morning when we're going to be looking at the issue of debt and hearing a story from a couple who worked with CAP and are now debt free - how cool is that!

I'm speaking at Alpha tonight. We had 17 guests last week (plus 6 on the daytime course) so hopefully they'll all be back with some additions.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Stronger Highlights

Here is a flavour of what we were at last week. Hope you enjoy it and might consider coming next year :-)


Making Headroom

On Sunday morning I talked about a key spiritual principle of us doing life well is to create 'headroom' in our lives so that we have spare capacity when God calls us to do something extra.

I was primarily talking in the context of our finances. That if our income all gets spent on us and living for today then there is no space in our finances to do anything else and it's quite likely that money is our master. Having headroom in our finances allows us to tithe (more on that in two weeks time when we look at what the New Testament really says about tithing). Having headroom allows us to help people in need. Having headroom stops us getting into debt when unexpected expenses come along. Having headroom allows us to give beyond our tithe. Often we think our income isn't big enough to give us any headroom, but it's rarely the income that's the problem. More often our out of control expenditure. That "where did it all go" question when there's too much month left at the end of the money. We'll talk more next week about creating headroom, but one key is the biblical principle of 'first fruits'. Of deciding first what we want our headroom to be and then shaping our lifestyle and expenditure around whatever is left.

But headroom also applies in other areas. It has huge implications for us with our time. I'd suggest that the vast majority of us are just too busy, and the lack of headroom in our time prevents us doing the things God really wants us to be about. It's Rick Warren who says that we can learn as much from studying the stops of Jesus as the steps of Jesus. Jesus always seemed to have time for the interruptions that came into his life. Whether it was Nicodemus in the middle of the night, the woman at the well or the woman with the issue of blood. I wonder whether in the parable of the good Samaritan the issue with the Pharisee and the Levite was not that they didn't care but that they were just in too much of a hurry (Malcolm Gladwell has some interesting insights on that - look up "Good Samaritan" in his book "The Tipping Point", or listen to what I said on Sunday if you want to look into that further).

So I challenge you to look at making some headroom in your life this week. Take a look at how much you've got to spend this week and decide to spend £5 less. Then think about who you could give that £5 to, or what you could buy with it just to surprise someone in your world. And decide that when you get interrupted this week, or when you feel the Spirit prompting you to make that phone call or ask that person out for a coffee, that you won't just ignore it on the grounds that you're too busy, but that you'll create some headroom to be able to respond.

More on creating headroom next Sunday, but let me know if you find creating headroom making any difference this week. I might even get you up to share on Sunday if you do :-)

Have a great week,


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ben Being Stronger

Just to prove Ben Pocock really has come to Bradford here he is. Unfortunately the photo isn't good enough to see the tears in Ben's eyes at the thought of us leaving him, although he's back in Bracknell next week for Steve and Eileen's wedding.
We're on our way home now. It's been a superb conference, very inspiring and thought provoking. Next years conference is the 24th to 26th September if you fancy putting it in your diary and coming with us, as we'll definitely be back. I do wish all of us could come as in many ways Abundant Life is where I think we'll be in 3 or 4 years time.
Willow next, which will be great as a whole load more of us will get to experience it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Stronger not Larger!

I hear Ken opened the prayer meeting by saying we were all at the Larger conference! That conjures up all sorts of images but rest assured we've actually come to get stronger not larger. Apparently there are highlights on YouTube so you might be able to see some of what we've been doing there - I've only got my BlackBerry here so perhaps if someone finds the link they could post it as a comment.
More today at the conference on us being culturally relevant, on being clear in our communication and on prayer. Lots of food for thought.
We also took everyone on a tour of the CAP offices. It was great to hook up with John Kirkby again - he's preaching with us on the 12th October which isn't to be missed.
We're coming back home tomorrow afternoon - can't wait to see all the family again the really looking forward to church Sunday morning with part two of the money series.
Hope you have a great weekend.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Even Stronger

A great day so far, and we've still got the evening celebration to come! Lots of very good speakers but for me the highlight so far has been Paul Scanlon speaking on legacy, and how every generation needs to recognise that it builds on the legacy of the previous generation whilst still building for the future. Great to be sitting next to Ben as we reflected on how we're trying to model succession.
This morning was seminars. Colin went to a media seminar and came out very encouraged with how far we've come and excited about some of the future developments we're planning such as video notices. Lee was doing some post RockNations networking and there are some exciting tie ups there in the offing for Ethos, our youth and our wider church. Others went to seminars on kids work, working with the poor and a bunch of other issues. All very exciting.
It's also great to hook up again with Ben Pocock who's just started at the leadership academy here - we just want him back when he's finished!
More tomorrow.