Simplicity

The summer holidays are zooming by, and half of the things we had planned to do we haven’t done…oh well. As we’re actually properly away next week on a proper holiday, I’m trying to work through my “to do” before we run out of time…so Sunday planning, new song lists, rotas…all the fun stuff…

My eldest is off at Soul Survivor this week in Somerset along with the youth from EBC and about 9,000 other young people. I am most jealous not to be there, but a real bonus this year has been God TV broadcasting the evening celebrations, so we have been sharing in it (and she’s been texting us “you have to watch this talk, you have to listen to this song!” etc… Soul Survivor also blog their new song lists so we can take what has been sung in the big top and share it in our churches. And I was working through our autumn song lists today, so I thought I’d get ahead of everybody coming back next week “You have to do this, this is the greatest song ever, no really, it goes like this, you have to do it!” (and that’s just from our senior minister….)

Anyhow, I was listening to some of the songs they have been using, and I came across this gem from Rend Collective, Simplicity. And it got me thinking about where we’re at currently; at home, at work, and at church. Let me explain further…

Simplicity

This summer we undertook to redecorate and reflow our lounge. The reasons were twofold, 1. it really was looking a bit tired having survived 13 years and 3 children growing up, throwing up, potty training and the like. And 2. our middle daughter, Noo got diagnosed with being her allergic to dust, so the carpet had to go to alleviate her breathing. It was a major project, as we had to get everything out of the lounge in order to get the floor up, so the 13 years of books, CD’s, ornaments and toys had to be vacated before we could even think about shifting the furniture. Military planning was involved, the kids went off to the grandparents, and fortunately the weather was good enough that the furniture could live on the patio for a few days. And we did it, and it looks great…but we didn’t want to just put everything back in. So books have been passed on, toys have been downsized, all of the CD’s have gone into slipcases, the hifi has stayed but is in a sleek glass rack with new, smaller speakers and the TV is on the wall. We have simplified our cluttered lounge, and it feels a restful place to be again.

I have recently started my own business which in some respects is a big deal, and in others just feels like a natural progression. I work from home the majority of the time, I can set my own hours, I am trying as hard as I can to eliminate paper and to all intents and purposes, as long as I have my laptop and phone, I can work from anywhere, anywhen. No office, no staff, no files…simple.

And finally, church. We seem to struggle in the same way Spinal Tap did in retaining drummers…fortunately none of them have died in strange accidents, but again this term we are drummerless. Now I’ve tried to make sure this doesn’t affect our services, or our repertoire, but again listening to some of the recent Hillsong and Soul Survivor songs, they are very rhythm led, and there is a concern we won’t be able to be as contemporary without a full rhythm section. But you know, taking a step back, rearranging some of the songs and taking a different approach makes me think we can do this, if we approach it in a simple way. A good song is a good song whether it has five guitars and two drummers, or is led by one bloke on an acoustic.

Keep It Simple

We can cram our lives, our work, our services with things, and quite often nice and good things, but stripping out, making space, keeping things simple allows us to focus on what is important, whether its the space around us, the clients we work with or the God we worship. Of course I love having a drummer in the band (I love being the drummer in the band!), and the haze machines, jumping and moving lights are great! But God doesn’t need it, we don’t need to complicate things, and so this term we’re going to concentrate on simple and effective worship with some space to breathe, think and worship. Want to join me in our simplicity?

In Praise Of Slow

I saw this story and thought it was a wonderful illustration: Brian Cox, from New Zealand, spent four years growing a church from trees! Our current building project may take this long…but I don’t think it will look quite as pretty. Although we do have many, many trees in Bracknell…

tree-church-nature-installation-barry-cox-new-zealand-12

Man spends 4 years growing church from trees

In our always on, ever connected, 24 hour cycle we are encouraged, pushed and cajoled into getting everything done yesterday. Microwave meals, digital photos, Skype, touch payments…so much around us is designed for speed and practicality, to fit in with our evermore busy lives. Why queue at the shops when you can get it delivered, or if you do venture into a store, don’t waste time counting cash, signing the receipt or even punching in your pin code when all you have to do is touch your card on the machine! There used to be a day (which I sorely miss) when you would spend a Saturday afternoon browsing a record store or an evening deciding what video to rent in Blockbuster….now I can browse, download and stream what I want when I want through Netflix and Apple Music.

We can be like this in church, with our strategies designed to speed up growth, programmes to move our attenders and congregants from A to B in the quickest and easiest time possible…often so we don’t overburden people with more things in their already busy schedule. Rehearsals are rushed in order to get through the set, planning is curtailed, and we can fall into the trap of examining our performance at regular intervals: have we grown the team, have we achieved our objectives, will it be complete before the year/month/week is out? Not to say strategy, objectives and growth is a bad thing of course. But the path along the way, and the time spent doing it can make a huge difference.

Slow Growth = Strength

I read a story about Alfred Russell Wallace this week, a naturalist who was around at the same time as Charles Darwin. He was observing some moths emerging from their cocoons, and thought he would help one creature who seemed to be particularly struggling to hatch. So he made a small incision in the cocoon to enable the moth to stretch it’s wings and emerge more quickly. He soon realised this was a mistake…sure enough, the moth did hatch quicker, but because of Alfred’s help, its wings hadn’t developed or gained their full strength by the normal process of straining and stretching. So the moth was fully emerged, but it had less colour, strength or vitality compared to the other moths. Over the course of its brief life it flew poorly, fed inefficiently and ultimately died long before it should have.

Moses

Moses was a pivotal character in the bible, but by the time God called Moses to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt he was already an old man. He had been a fugitive guilty of murder, a refugee without a land or a people to call his own and a shepherd in one of the most desolate places on earth. He was not a young leader, he was not working out shortcuts and ways of achieving actions via the quickest possible route. He had lived, learnt, experienced and submitted, ultimately ready to lead God’s people after a long period of developing for this moment.

I’ve written before about the song I am Found In You by Steven Curtis Chapman…which has one of my favourite lines:

I may not see, in front of me

But I can see for miles when I look over my shoulder

I’ve been at EBC for around 14 years now, and I’m always striving to make things better, grow the teams, increase the congregations, be more effective with our messages on a Sunday service and keep abreast of all which is new in culture…and do it all yesterday! But if I stop and look back to where we were a year ago….five years ago….ten years ago…it is incredible how far we’ve come. And of course, because we’ve spent the last 14 years doing this gradually, the foundations we’ve laid, the relationships we’ve built and the experiences we’ve shared have made us incredibly strong and together as a team, a church and a community. My closest relationships have been built over time, my marriage being a particularly strong example. I’ve started a new business this year, but it is based on almost 20 years of experience and relationships which I can now call upon as there is a strength there.

In Praise Of Slow

A moth which hatches too quickly will be weakened. A building with rushed foundations will have no strength. Battery farmed chickens and hydroponically grown tomatoes may be quicker and more efficient, but the speed will directly affect the flavour of slow growth. Relationships, no matter how friendly and approachable you are, can only be grown over time together…there are no shortcuts.

So next time you’re trying to do 15 things at once, your drummer’s dropped out of Sunday and dinner is boiling over….try to take a step back, take stock, look at where you’ve come from and be in praise of slow. Easier said than done, but still possible…

And thanks to Skye Jethani and Simon Guillebaud for the daily inspirations which contributed to today’s blog…I read Choose Life daily and also get Skye’s Daily Devotional to my inbox every day. Both hugely recommended.

So Help Me God

I’m just emerging from a particularly busy and difficult season in my life. Our senior minister has been pretty unwell since last summer, so I was doing a lot of extra work at EBC (which I really enjoyed doing) in addition to my usual responsibilities. But I only “work” at church 1.5 days a week, and the rest of my working week I work for my own company doing royalty accounting and specialist music business advice for musicians, bands and labels. And I am very happily married with three wonderful children…who are all at school, have homework, go to bed late and still get up early…(I thought it would all change once they were out of nappies?) And I do try (sometimes!) to have a social life and date my wife…who is also working full time! So with all of the above, and of course Christmas…I was (we were!) somewhat frazzled by the end of 2014

Now I’m pleased to say I’ve come out the other side, church have been particularly kind and given me a lot of recovery space in January (I felt semi-retired to be honest…but they assured me I am wanted back….) and now we’re at the end of February, I am right back into the thick of it. And we’re again ramping up…we did a great joint service at the beginning of the month with our friends at FBC, we’re planning a big church weekend in May, service prep is well under way. I’m in the middle of setting up a new limited company to take the music business forward, there is just as much homework to do, the house needs redecorating desperately (our middle daughter Naomi has been diagnosed with severe dust allergies, so we need to rip out the carpets and remove the soft furnishings a.s.a.p.) and we’re still attempting to squeeze in a social life and actually date.

When I were a lad…

I remember from when I was but a young boy (not that long ago…) we used to listen to the Kids Praise cassettes in the car, even today I can remember most of the songs which Psalty the Singing Songbook used to sing. Do My Best came from Kid’s Praise 5, Psalty’s Camping Adventure, and the opening line was

“I can do most anything, through Christ who strengthens me. Even climb a mountain when I’m four (even three!)”

I am sure that under many other circumstances we would have just crumbled, and there are still days when it’s the most we can do to crawl out of bed in the morning. But I know I’m not doing any of this alone. We work together as a couple. We do it together as a family. We share it all as a community at our church. And we do it all through God, who strengthens, guides, and carries us when it’s too much.

This is an oldie but goody from dc Talk…so the clothes may not have dated well, but the song and the sentiment are bang up to date:

You’re there when I call
And You’re there when I fall
Even though I don’t deserve it all
You, You light my way
Through the night and the day
And from You I will not stray

So help me God
To put my faith in You
So help me God
Before I come unglued
Call it my addiction
I can’t get enough of You
So help me God
To put my faith in You

I have days, and will continue to have days where I try to do everything under my own steam, and in my own strength. But more and more I’m learning that if I share the load, stop trying to do it on my own, and look to Him who is here for me…I can do a much better job of everything. So Help Me God. 

Just One More Thing

It’s been another busy weekend: my girls needed new glasses, Joel had a party, we had a great Sunday morning service celebrating and reviewing the time our teenagers spent at New Wine, and then the afternoon was taken up with clothes shopping (the girls have grown so much over the summer, nothing fits!) And yet another rehearsal squeezed into the evening!

I don’t know about you, but life is just busy these days…last week I had a leaders meeting, church meeting, staff meeting, worship team rehearsal, jazz band rehearsal. And on top of that there was my role as Dad’s Taxi, so we drove to and from beavers, piano and violin lessons, ballet and swimming with friends. And somewhere in between it all we worked, cooked, cleaned, showered, slept… All of this is important, most of this needs to be done, preferably not all in the same week (fortunately meetings are generally monthly so I do have time to shower at least three times a month….) But there is a stage when we just become busy without being productive, we run around so much and build up so much momentum, it is difficult to actually stop.

I read a great story about a professor who had a large jar which he filled with rocks, and then asked his class “is it full?” And some of them said yes, so he then poured in the gravel, which went in the gaps. And he asked the same question, “is it full?” So more of the class thought it was full….until he got out a bag of sand. Which filled the air gaps that were left, and by then the class were agreed that the jar was full, there was no more space. Then he poured in a glass of water… There is always space for more stuff, but at the expense of what?

Busyness

In our busyness of life, when there is so much going on, so much to do, pressure to be places and to achieve, it is often our praise and worship which are the first to go. I am old enough to remember when the shops were shut on a Sunday, church was the main event on a Sunday and the day was set aside as special…as in creation, the sabbath remained the sabbath. These days most shops are open on a Sunday, and are pushing for normal working hours. Church is no longer a Sunday requisite, and even regular church attenders and members often don’t come weekly…a trend which is replicated across the UK and the USA. Rather than Sunday Services being the thing that starts the week, they are becoming an also ran in competition with giant shopping centres, football matches and car boot sales….whatever becomes more attractive, or in a 24 hour seven day a week society, necessary when it is the only time to do these things.

This week we are continuing with our Story series at EBC, focusing on the book of Ezra. This book of the Old Testament looks at how the Israelites were restored from a long time in exile, as a tribe, as a community, and as God’s people. Chapter three, which is the section we are exploring on Sunday, tells of the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem so the people were able to once again worship and celebrate, something they had neglected to do for a long time. They are so keen to worship, and put God back at the centre, they don’t even wait until the temple is finished.

Just One More Thing

This great song by Sara Groves looks at just that, as the chorus says:

Everything is important
But everything is not
At the end of your life your relationships
Are all you’re got

And love to me is when you put down
That one more thing and say
I’ve got something better to do
And love to me is when you walk out on
That one more thing and say
Nothing will come between me and you
Not even one more thing

Is church your just one more thing? Are your relationships just one more thing? Do you juggle your social calendar or work diary in order to squeeze in that just one more thing? Or is now the time to stop, take a step back, and start with the one thing which everything else revolves around?

I know I don’t do it often enough, how about you?