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Priceless

An extraordinary real account of life and love. Thank you, Alison, for expressing this piece with just the right words.

Downright Joy

Four and a half years ago my doctor came to visit me after Hazel was born. We had not long come home from hospital, after nearly two months in NICU.

I was struggling to cope outside the safe, comforting environment that such places offer – particularly if you are there for any length of time as we were.

I loved her beyond words and yet I struggled to accept her condition. I had taken to my bed, exhausted; emotionally and physically. I was unable to cope with all that had happened. Unable to accept my baby girl had Down’s syndrome.

I did not want to join the club.

The Down’s family. That family with a kid with Down’s. The Down’s girl. Disabled. Special Needs. I imagined the conversations people would have about us.

Labelled. Given a badge. Lifetime membership. I didn’t ask to join. I certainly didn’t want to join.

“But,”

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Where Most Needed.

The phrase in the title is one which in recent times has become common in the world of charitable giving. Take a glance at any charity website, there you will find a recommendation from the organisation asking individuals to donate to the ‘Where Most Needed’ fund, giving the charity the freedom to move your much appreciated donations to situations that are an immediate priority. In the past, charities have needed to make specific appeals for individual needs, which in principle might seem reasonable. However, the funds frequently far exceeded the specific need. The charity is left with a headache as to what to do with the excess funds, which have been donated for just the one particular need.
All charitable trusts face the issue of how to ‘unfence’ that which has been ring-fenced. Clearly the charity is not ungrateful to those who have donated their hard earned offering. Legally the charity is bound by the requirements of how and why the fund was set-up. To break free from the fetters of the ring-fenced funds requires much legal hoop jumping, which is a costly process both financially and in time.
Charities have sought the legal processes to assist them in resolving their headache issue – how to prevent donated monies from being tied in to one specific project or fund. In its simplicity, the resolution to place funds donated to a place Where Most Needed has enabled charities to accumulate and direct the monies directly to the source of the most urgent needs.
There is a good biblical principle recorded in one of Jesus’s parables, which has similar connotations to Where Most Needed. The Good Samaritan parable recalls that two ring-fenced men were duty bound to be used for their specific requirements. Nothing wrong in principle with the roles in which they were engaged. But in the moments where they could easily have been used for great benefit, they were tied up for other purposes, thus leaving the beaten and robbed man without the help he could have had. The parable  continues. A Samaritan man, with his donkey, money in hand, was able to put himself to use, Where Most Needed. The result. The afflicted man gets more than he could have bargained for. His wounds patched up. A night or more in a local guest house. The bill for all expenses incurred paid for by The Samaritan.
Ever wondered how we too could be The Good Samaritan? Where are the most urgent needs in our communities? What use could we be put to Where Most Needed? Your skills, your gifting, your personality, your experience, your life long learning could all be used Where Most Needed. I am being personally challenged to consider very carefully where I can be put to good use Where Most Needed.

As a Christian, is your home open?

Having spent some time studying the early church and in particular, those great chapters in The Acts of the Apostles, there is something that really excites me about how the development of the early church was borne out of ordinary people’s homes. Yes, there was still worship in the temples of those times. Yes, there was still enormous reverence to be paid to great gatherings in the temple courts and sanctuary. But if we look at those infant times of the Church, we’ll see that intimate growth, facing the challenges of the times, sharing one’s life as a Christian, all took place in their homes.
I’m writing about these things, in a very excited manner, because on two evenings this month, the church we as a family attend, are going to make a complete review of their Home Groups. Part of me is nervously excited about the outcome of those two occasions. Part of me is apprehensive, with many questions as to what, if any, will the changes look like.
Let me paint the scene, as a family, we have reunited with the church which I was a member at for 17 years, and the same church which my wife and I were married in 10 years ago. During the 17 years I was privileged to be a member, I also had opportunity to lead two separate Home Groups. The church at that time had six Home Groups which met once a month, in place of a corporate prayer meeting, which took place on a weekly basis. The number of Home Groups has stayed consistently at that number, almost since their inception. What has changed is the frequency of Home Group meetings. They now happen twice each month. In terms of numbers attending the Home Groups, it amounts to approximately eighty people across the six Home Groups. The corporate prayer meeting attracts about sixty to seventy people. The church has a membership of a little under two hundred people. The church is situated in the very heart of a busy town centre, where parking is at a premium, and if one is not able to get one of the few free parking spaces, those attending the meetings, will need to pay for two to three hours for parking fees.
In setting that scene, it appears to be quite logical to argue that Home Groups for those who are members or who regularly attend the church, would be a much more viable option to attending a mid-week meeting. However, when less that half of the members actually attend the Home Groups, one is left to ask the question, what will attract more people to the Home Groups? Could it be to do with the format of the Home Group meeting? Could it be to do with the limited number of groups? Could it even be to do with those who lead the groups? I’m merely posing the questions, not necessarily having any or all the answers to such questions.
What drives me to ask the questions is directly linked to strongly desiring growth in the church, both numerically and in spiritual depth. I have written in a previous blog about the lack of growth in the Churches across the UK, over the past twenty-five years, plus. With those same thoughts in mind, i.e. how does the church attract the un-churched? In my personal experience, it is far easier to invite and attract a non-believer to a person’s home, than trying to encourage them through the doors of a church. We all have neighbours who are not Christians. We’ve possibly had those same neighbours either on our doorstep or better still actually in our homes. So, the next step is to have a regular event in our homes that attracts the neighbours, that has an evangelistic tone and that encourages the neighbours to know that as Christians, we are really concerned for them as individuals, and particularly their spiritual welfare. This does not have to be seen as something that threatens the neighbour, threatens the church leadership, could be seen as a breakaway church meeting in someone’s home, or becomes so cultish that it seems to the neighbourhood like there are some really crazy people living close by.
My heart cry, is that we will be so concerned for our neighbours, that the most natural thing to do, will be to invite the neighbours around for a coffee and discuss some of life’s most important questions. I’m reminded of Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life” series, where in the introduction, Rick lays out the requirements for being able to run a Home Group (He calls them Small Groups). Rick asks the question, “Can you make a pot of coffee? If you answered ‘Yes’ then you can host a Home Group.” I, too, see it as simply as that. You don’t have to be some gourmet chef to host a Home Group. A few cups, a kettle and a jar of coffee, will suffice. If you have concerns about leading a Home Group, here again, you don’t have to be a deep theologian to lead. The key to leading is simply in being prepared. So that might mean reading a little bit more ahead of the time when you lead the Home Group. Anticipation is something that is worthwhile having in your key skills for leading. If you are just a little bit ready for leading and anticipating possible questions, then that will go along way to being confident as a leader. But don’t fall into the trap of trying to answer every question, just because you ‘have’ to give an answer. Far rather be honest enough to say you don’t have an answer, that you will look into finding answers, and then agree to come back with what you might have found in terms of answers.

So to draw this to a conclusion, I’m anticipating some exciting times ahead in the life of the church we’re involved with, and we’re praying and hoping that through Home Groups, we can become closer to the mission of the church. I would love to see growth in the church through a strong development in the Home Groups, as I firmly believe that as with the Early Church, when major growth took place, there is great opportunity to be seized as the church looks to change and grow.

If you want opportunity to discuss this further, please get in contact with me. I would love to talk through the ideas and thoughts with those who have similar concerns and excitement for Home Group development.

Church Growth – How important is it to The Church?

I know in writing on this subject it may ruffle a few feathers or even create a sense of rage amongst the readers, but I truly believe in my heart that as a bible-believing Christian, that hard questions should not be avoided, but specifically tackled by those who are able to do something about it i.e. all bible-believing Christians.
In recent days, I have done a little digging around to try to find quality statistics on Church growth. Whilst it has been almost impossible to find statistics that are “fresher” than the past six years, upon making the comparisons over a period of around twenty-five years, the results give a ‘good’ indication on how the growth of the church really looks. For the moment, as it is currently my home country, my research has been only on the UK. But in the Western world, I’m confident that the statistics would not be too far wrong in other major nations.
Let me at this point enter into the discussion my actual purpose of looking at this subject. If one looks at Church History over an expanded period, even dating back as far as the newly established Church in post New Testament times, there have been times of considerable growth, and then there have been periods of considerable decline. I don’t think it can be lost on too many Christians in the era in which we live, that the means by which we have to put over the good news of Jesus Christ, is vastly different to any other era prior to this. What is most important, in my view, is that the preaching of the gospel and biblical truth is as of great importance today as it was at the establishment of the Early Church. So given all the means at our disposal to put over The Truth of the Gospel, the question needs to be put over, why is there not considerably greater growth, even exponential growth, within the UK Church? There are those who would respond to say that church growth isn’t everything, what is important is for those currently in regular attendance getting a solid grounding in The Word. My response to such an argument is that The Church has been telling that same argument for the past twenty-five years (or more), and there is little to show that actual growth is no more significant over that same period. There are others who argue that we need more outstanding individuals to stimulate Church Growth i.e. a few more Billy Graham’s or Luis Palau’s. Here again, the statistics don’t show too much to be positive about when it comes to long-term growth, even coming out of “big campaigns”. I would just add another thought in connection with this type of argument – in the establishment of the Early Church, there were no “big names or campaigns” – it was ordinary everyday individuals full of the Holy Spirit that went out to put their lives literally on the line to win over those in their communities.
So let’s bring the title question back on track a little. At this point let me throw in a few stark statistics that highlight my purpose for writing; Between the years 2000 and 2006, the Church across all denominations within the England, had just 6.3% of the population attending on a regular basis. That’s right, less than 10% of England’s entire population attend church on a regular basis. What the stats don’t tell us is what is considered to be “regular basis”. Presumably attendance is considered to be “most Sundays and to at least one service per Sunday”. However it is actually broken down, it still doesn’t make for particularly encouraging reading. Another stat to throw into the mix; The Statistics report that in 2006 there were a total of 37500 churches in existence, with average size of congregation being 84 people attending these churches. Also stated is that in terms of the population of England, there is one church for every 1340 people. Now, the maths is not that difficult to work out: near to every church in England, there are 1256 people who never or very rarely attend church.

Now even allowing for considerable growth in the period between 2006 and 2011, for which, as stated, the statistics are currently unavailable, and also given the trend over a twenty-five year period, the figures don’t make for seriously positive reading. Don’t get me wrong here, I am sure there are numbers being added to the churches on a regular basis, but unless there those amongst the readership who have wildly different statistics, the numbers being added to the churches are not in such significant proportion to sway the balance in favour of those regularly attending church.

So one might be forgiven for asking of our churches, what are they (am I) doing about the majority who don’t attend? There might be some who say, well it doesn’t really matter, as there is still time to get the majority into church. There might be others who say, it’s actually not my mission/purpose/calling in life to bring others into the church. There could still be others who are simply frustrated by the lack of purpose/vision amongst church leaders to create programmes/activities to encourage people to be drawn to the church. Actually, if we’re really blunt with ourselves and know exactly what every Christian is purposed for, it is to glorify God in all respects of our lives, including drawing others to Jesus Christ. Now that can take on many different forms, but ultimately it is brought down to one central form, none other than our lives demonstrating the Love of Jesus Christ to draw all people to Jesus Christ.

For me, it is this last statement that often leaves me helpless and wondering how  can I/should have more influence to draw people to Jesus Christ through my life and example. Surely this is one distinct way in which people will be drawn to Jesus Christ and into the Church. When the riots took place in various cities across England, it was fantastic to see a positive movement by people in their communities cleaning up the streets. What I was saddened to read alongside so many positive things happening, were many examples of people writing critically of the Church and its lack of support to the ‘ordinary’ people who got out their brooms and bags to clean-up the streets. Now I’m certain that there were many church groups and individual Christians who were directly involved in the clean-up. The question I was left to ask in relation specifically to the riots and its aftermath is, if the Church had a stronger relationship with the community it exists in, a) would the riots have even happened, b) what role was the Church playing to try to calm the rioters in the streets? There has been much tv and printed press coverage of other faith groups seeking to play their part in protecting business property and the public at large in their streets and homes. It’s great to see, but what influence or part did the Church play to do similar things across the UK’s cities? Of course the Christian Church plays its part in praying for the people in its communities, and I’m not doubting even for a split second the power of a praying church/community. But there must be a point in which prayer turns into direct action, isn’t there?

This leads me into mentioning other parts of the world, where the Church is opposed, oppressed, persecuted and evenly directly attacked, YET, that same Church is growing exponentially. The Church in Communist lands, the Church in Islamic governed countries are places where Christian growth and the expansion of the Church, is at such unprecedented levels never seen before in those same countries. One could argue that the UK Church doesn’t face such vehement opposition and therefore there appears not to be the urgency by the UK Church to see lost souls won for Jesus Christ. My prayer for Christians throughout the UK is that they would never lose sight of their mission in life, to draw others into Christ’s Kingdom.

Let me conclude this now long blog. I was recently ‘challenged’ by friends regarding a post I redistributed stating the position of a Lost Generation. Whilst I accept the counter arguments presented regarding how much great work was happening in many communities and how young people are at the heart of so much positive action taking place in those communities, and I would never seek to be a discouragement to what these young people are doing, it equally must be pointed out, especially related to what has been presented in the main content of this piece, that the vast majority of churches are simply not having the kind of impact in their communities to be credible in their primary task for existing. I don’t take any pride whatsoever from writing such things. In fact, truth be known, it grieves me enormously that the UK Church is really not having the kind of impact seen in past generations. When I hear in other parts of the world that even President’s are coming to faith in Jesus Christ and the influence that such a President can have on his country as a professing Christian, imagine what could be in the UK if such similar things happened. Sadly to say, Christians spend a lot of time being critical of the UK Prime Minister and our politicians. How about we spend a great deal more time praying and being a credible witness as Christians to our Prime Minister and our politicians, in order that God’s saving grace might become a reality for so many of those who lead our country.

I would welcome feedback of whatever nature to this piece. Suffice to say, I don’t have all the answers to so many of the UK’s problems, but I do know, that in petitioning Jesus Christ with the issues and concerns, there will be great results that come about.

Thanks for reading.

Nearly Had Service (NHS)

So there I was in a certain city hospital for a routine check-up on a long term condition, which has to be managed both personally and through these aforementioned health checks. Actually let me take you back to February 2011, when I had my first visit to the same establishment. The letter I received for my appointment stated that it would be with a specific named specialist doctor. Let me say at this junction, I won’t be going into personal details of the consultation, to save any all round embarassment for you the reader, and me the writer! Back to that February appointment. I was given the clear understanding that this specific consultant would be the person with whom I would consistently review my health care for the foreseeable future. So when in April my consultation was with a young male doctor, for whom it was required to go through my whole case history, once again, I began to think there must be some better method for dealing with this whole patient/consultant process than needing to repeat the whole history over again. So now today, August 17th 2011, my third visit to the same establishment, I was greeted by, yes, my third ‘new’ consultant, who advised me he had taken over from the previous consultant, and would, yes, review my health record. The first fifteen minutes of the time spent were to go over when diagnosis took place, where it took place and why the specific courses of treatment had previously been prescribed. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m comfortable repeating the same exercise if it really is worthwhile. But what I cannot get my head around, is given the patient record systems in place (yes, I know there have been many implemented and subsequently scrapped over the course of NHS history), why is the information not properly recorded, in order that given the right levels of access and information transferability, can the ‘new’ consultants look up that information even just a few minutes prior to the latest consultation. Instead, my time, the consultant’s time, the nursing assistant’s time, the department receptionist’s time are all taken up by this lack of transferable information. What happened today makes me realise that with such basic inefficiencies, is it any wonder that the NHS is leaking enormous, valuable sums of money simply because basic information management is not properly implemented.
OK, so let me just swiftly go onto say, that for those friends who work in the NHS, this is not a slight aimed at you. My intention, as hopefully become clear, is to point a finger or two at those who are directly responsible for the management of the UK’s Healthcare Systems, or the lack thereof.
I have no experience of how the private care health organisations operate in the UK. What I do have is nearly eight years of private health care management experience from another continent. In all honesty the comparisons are so “chalk and cheese” that it leaves me speechless that the UK Health Services have not looked at other models across the globe to gain experience of best practice, or is that maybe just a little too obvious. It still leaves me with the huge question, if a certain country on a different continent can get it right, why does the UK get left behind in the management of primary health care?
I’m not sure that I have direct and specific answers to the concern, except that it does strike me, albeit somewhat sarcastically, that successive governments have been comfortable to allow these enormous financial leaks to continue, knowing the British taxpayer will continue to provide its hard-earned money into the coffers regardless.
Am I the only one to see this at the front end in such a simple way? Or are the masses who daily/weekly/monthly/annually who consult with the health professionals quite happy to turn a blind eye to the wastage, so long as they get their “free” health care?
Oh yes, and the title, well just briefly. In my visit today, I had the experience of needing to go for blood tests, x-rays and then onto the hospital pharmacy. In each situtation, there was no indication from the health professionals as to how long one would be required to wait for “service” for each of the requirements to manage my health condition. Surely another example of how inefficiences can and do lead to patient frustration, when all they/we actually are looking for is simple, basic service that will enthuse us for future visits.
Maybe things will have improved for my next visit in three months time, or am I being the eternal optimist?!
Watch this space for the next experience.

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