Simon Says image

Simon Says

I've heard three profound things recently from friends of mine named Simon. Though all three men are in church leadership, their churches, gifts, areas of responsibility and philosophies of ministry are different in some significant ways. But they have at least two things in common: they love the Lord, and they have some great insights. Here are three of them.

Simon Elliott leads New Life Church in East Grinstead. He was insisting the other day that leaders, when setting and articulating vision, should make a clear distinction between fruit and goals. Fruit, he said, is all about the things that God does: saving people, stirring the hearts of people to give generously, working signs and wonders, causing people (and churches) to grow in numbers and maturity, and bringing new people and gifts into the church. Goals, on the other hand, are the things we do: invite people round for dinner, speak to people about the gospel, teach the church clearly about giving, communicate vision and values clearly, invite people to Alpha, and so on. And we absolutely must distinguish between the two.
Fruit, he explained, we need to pray for. We should pray for more salvation, more generosity, more people, gifts and maturity. But we don’t set goals for those things, for the simple reason that they are not in our control. We don’t set a church goal of “seeing ten people saved and added this year”, because it is God who saves. On the other hand, we might set a church goal of “inviting eighty people to Alpha this year”, because that’s where our responsibility lies. In fact, that’s not something we particularly should be praying about - we just need to do it! So leaders need to distinguish carefully between fruit and goals. We set goals, and pursue them; we pray for fruit, and trust God for it. Be careful of confusing the two.
Simon Holley leads the Kings Arms church in Bedford, and he has a whole host of profound things up his sleeve, but the one that struck me most recently was this. He was talking about the tendency of evangelicals to marginalise, and hence fail to learn from, people who aren’t on our “team” - so, for example, the people who have most to learn from signs and wonders Pentecostals, or conservative Bible expositors, are also the people least likely to ask them for help! - and he made a throwaway remark. Ever since the Reformation, he said, Protestant Christians have made a habit of uniting around truth, rather than uniting around the Father. So if people disagree with us, we find it hard to express unity with them in Christ, because our views of what constitute truth differ so much; in the New Testament, by contrast, Christians are united through their relationship to the same Father.
Obviously, if people deny the truth of the gospel, then we are not united in the Father at all. But the fissures within evangelicalism occur, as Simon rightly points out, over many issues that do not compromise the truth of the gospel: the age of the earth, gender roles, spiritual gifts, election, continuance in salvation, and dozens of other things that do not ultimately exclude us from relationship to our Father. So for all that we hold to convictions about these things, and we do (and should), we need to be careful about uniting over them. Our unity comes from somewhere higher, and deeper, than that: our Father.
Finally there is Simon Brading, who heads up the team of musicians and worship leaders at Church of Christ the King in Brighton. We were talking about what is sometimes referred to as the charismatic / missional tension: the challenge (if that’s what it is) of pursuing both deep spiritual experience for Christians, and evangelistic engagement for unbelievers, in the same corporate gathering (a subject that Adrian Birks has been commenting on recently). Simon explained that he thought the word “tension” was extremely unhelpful, because we should be pursuing both charismatic and missional meetings, and that the metaphor was rather a pair of jet engines that both need to be on full blast for the plane not to be blown off course, or for that matter fall out of the sky. Which was a helpful picture, but didn’t necessarily help with what exactly you do about it.
And then he said something very provocative. He said that he had often struggled to see how a corporate gathering could be both highly missional and highly charismatic - until he started to live like a missionary himself. When he began engaging seriously and thoughtfully with those who don’t follow Jesus, and when they began appearing at Christian meetings he was leading from time to time, he suddenly got it. Suddenly, being missional while remaining charismatic was not a paradox, but a necessity. Pursuing spiritual gifts in meetings was still important, but it verged on the unthinkable to do it such a way that would alienate his unbelieving friends. Explanation of what was going on in simple language - “God speaks to us” for prophecy, “languages” for tongues, and the rest - became thoroughly natural, because he was continually considering how his friends would process what was taking place; in contrast, he remarked, a few years previously, when he was enjoying charismatic worship but without really knowing any of the unbelievers in the meeting, he tended to make very little effort to contextualise and explain clearly what was happening. Consequently, we reflected, being a charismatic worshipper who lives as a missionary in normal life is probably the best way of preserving the balance.
So, Simon says: distinguish between fruit and goals, unite around the Father, and live like a missionary while pursuing charismatic worship. From now on, and at least until someone persuades me otherwise, I’m going to try and do all of those things. Any thoughts?
Andrew is the author of several books including, most recently, If God, Then What?.

← Prev article
Next article →