Many churches are in touch with people who are ‘broken’ through addictions and life-controlling issues. I am impressed by Jim Harper’s vision to help them and the fruit of the last ten years. Maybe you know someone who could benefit? Here is some more about the Camp.
Some years ago, God spoke to Jim Harper (an elder of Hope Church, Worcester, UK) about gathering people together for supernatural breakthroughs. “In the Spirit I saw addicts getting healed and set free, broken people being made whole…” says Jim. It is out of this that Encounter began. Encounter is a five-day camp held in the heart of the Worcestershire countryside and has been running since 2006. People from all over the country attend; it is for adults who are connected to a Church or Christian project.
The aim of Encounter is to provide an environment for broken people to encounter God and be set free. During the five days Encounter delegates enjoy evening worship, teaching and ministry, and daily activities such as team games, drama and art workshops as shown on this video.
They have seen God’s power breakthrough in many people’s lives. This is just one of those stories:
“I was brought up in foster care from the age of 4 and got introduced to the occult when I was 14. That quickly became part of my everyday life. When I turned 21 social services dropped off and very shortly afterwards I was faced with the very real prospect of homelessness which is why I started using the soup run, staffed by a bunch of “goodie two-shoe Christians” (as I viewed it at that time).
On the Wednesday afternoon I pulled a leader aside and told him I wanted to become a Christian. I repented of my sins and gave my life to Christ. At that moment I got nothing. People said they had a sense of peace and felt a love they had never felt before. All I felt was disappointment.
In the evening, after worship & preach, anyone wanting baptism in Holy Spirit or a gift from God went to the back of the barn. I went and was baptised in the Holy Spirit.
The rest of the week was brilliant. I saw things in a totally different way. The Bible started to make sense. I began to pray. From that day I totally changed, and this change has continued ever since”
“Encounter Camp has become an essential part of the year’s plans. By being together, having fun and meeting with God, lives are changed. I know that when people go to Encounter a few months work can be done in a few days.” .
A developing vision
Over the years they have seen many great things, but there is so much more yet to see according to Jim’s vision. So they are looking to God for more of His presence, more breakthrough and more lives transformed. As well as this they aim to support and plant projects and Churches that are reaching some of society’s most broken and disadvantaged people. The camp is becoming the annual gathering of these groups.
Come and join us
This year’s camp is on 11th – 15th July. Why not take some people?
For more information about Encounter visit the website
Jubilee International School
JIS in Conakry, Guinea (West Africa) has well over 300 students ranging in age 3-26, the older ones being anxious to catch up with schooling lost when schools have been closed through war, ebola and civil unrest. To view a short video click on the picture.
Your help is needed
In recent months we have collected resources for the school and church. A container of equipment for the church and school, from furniture to curricular, toys to microscopes, bicycles to wedding dresses, has been filling. We are now nearly there. But musical instruments, PA and other equipment are still needed. Specifically:
- Acoustic Guitars
- Bass guitars
- Electrical guitars
- Nine- or seven-piece drum set
- PA system – Amplifier, Microphones etc
- Projector screen
- Projectors light (light for filming)
Are you able to help us? This is urgent as we need to be shipping within a few weeks. Please contact me if you feel you can offer any items.
So far we have considered strategies for handling distractions related to technology and environment. Now I want to help you anticipate your reactions to distractions.
Recently I was reminded of a song we used to sing in the 80s ‘I want to serve the purpose of God in my generation’ written by Mark Altrogge (©1982 People of Destiny). Some of the stanzas are:
‘I want to give my life for something that will last for ever…’
‘I want to build with silver and gold…’
‘I want to see the Kingdom of God in my generation…’
This is an expression of our heart’s desire to make life count in answer to the question that Mark reiterates in the refrain:
‘What is on Your heart? Show me what to do.’
My own desire is that the priorities in my life contribute to the advance of the Kingdom of God on earth. To achieve this and line up with his will I need to be intentional about prioritising my time or else I will find it filled with ‘distractions’, things that come at me from outside and determine how I spend my days. How do I do this?
I believe that planning is a godly pursuit, provided we are in control and it does not take control of us. To be effective we need to do this attentive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. As we use our God-given creativity to make plans while keeping an ear open to the Holy Spirit I believe we shall be following his will (Prov 16:3).
I have written extensively about diary planning, so will only skim the surface of this important activity here. The principle is that we should seek to ‘write our history in advance’. At the start of each day we have 16 or so hours ahead of us. How we use them will be a measure of our effectiveness in advancing the Father’s will. Some time may be spent with people, other on specific tasks. It is important that we also have times of relaxation, not being driven by the need to always be ‘doing’. (My booklet on Making the Best use of Time may help you – see side panel).
Rarely does a day actually work out precisely as planned – there is always the unknown that needs attention. But by prioritising the things that we feel are important (which is not necessarily the same as ‘urgent’) we have the opportunity to use our time in a productive and fruitful way.
If we take this approach we are well set to deflect distractions, in effect telling the distraction that it is not as important as the thing you have pre-determined to focus on.
So – do it!
Next time we will conclude this short series by considering how to ‘take every thought captive’.
Last time we looked at strategies for taking control of your technology. Now we will consider the environment.
Your normal environment, whether home of office, is full of things that are calling for your attention. Whether it is a photo of the family, a book you are reading, some unfinished piece of work or just the need to ‘tidy that shelf – it won’t take long’, you are surrounded by an environment that carries emotional and functional ties that shout for attention. As such, for focussed activity you are fighting a battle before you start. I urge you to find a different/neutral environment where this is possible and appropriate.
For years I have followed a practice that I have found particularly useful. When I have wanted some peace and quiet for a more prolonged period of prayer, or have had a piece of work, such as writing, that has demanded sustained concentration, I have gone to a neutral environment for a day. Usually this has been a friend’s house that has been vacant while they were out at work. Here I can just have the relevant ‘tools’ – books, laptop etc – to get the job done, although even having the laptop produces the temptation to look at emails etc. That can only be handled by self-discipline, which I consider below.
But going away for a day is appropriate only for a substantial piece of work. What about the day-to-day activities that can so easily get interrupted? Planning can achieve that. For instance I happen to be writing this part of the blog in a waiting room as I have arrived very early for an appointment. I knew I would have this time (several hours as it happens) so planned to use it productively. There is nothing in my view that I ‘own’ so I can just focus on this writing.
Removing yourself as far as possible from a distracting environment is something to be considered.
Is Tokyo the solution?
In the article on the website I referenced last time the writer tells of a man who went to extremes to put this principle into practice. He was writing a book and approaching a deadline. He could not see how to carve out sufficient undistracted time in his normal environment so purchased a ticket to fly from the USA to Tokyo and back in order to get substantial chunks of uninterrupted time. On arrival in Tokyo he went straight to the departure gate for his return flight! This seems a little extreme but demonstrates the value of making yourself inaccessible to interruptions.
Recently I watched a TED Talk on procrastination, the practice of putting off doing things. Distractions drove the speaker’s life. While amusingly presenting the topic Tim Urban showed how he personally lacked discipline and was trying to address it.
Self-discipline, which starts with self-awareness, is often the ‘bottom line’ to handling distractions. When you feel yourself reaching for something (smartphone?) while trying to attend to another matter discipline yourself to put it down and return to the matter in hand. Listen to that ‘inner prompting’ and pay attention to it. This takes time to learn and become a habit, and determination to implement, but it will repay you many-fold if you can stick at it.
There are yet more strategies we can adopt and we will consider these next time
So far we have considered what constitutes a distraction and have looked at some of the things that cause distractions. We could extend that list but there is little benefit. The important part of this series is to suggest solutions and strategies for handling distractions.
I am going to suggest several possible solutions for you to consider and apply in your own life; there is no ‘one size fits all’ but there are some principles that can be widely applied. You may also like to look at a website I recommend which has a fuller article on this subject, including drawing from various research papers which provide deeper understanding of why we behave how we do and how we can beneficially modify our behaviour.
We live in an age of bombardment, visual and auditory attention seekers attacking us from all directions. The result is that we lose focus.
Focus, like our physical bodies, needs intentional development if it is not to get lazy. To be honest I don’t find huge pleasure in attending a gym but I know that I feel better if I am disciplined and consistent at going through the routine my instructor has given me. That repetitiveness builds up muscle and stamina, and equips me better to meet the demands of everyday life.
Focus is similar; it requires self-discipline. What are some of the keys that can help us focus which, as we use them regularly, become a habit – the equivalent of a muscle made fit through regular usage.
One of my greatest battle-grounds comes at the start of the day when I set aside undisturbed time to read my Bible and to pray. Instantly my mind starts to wander. Then I think of something I should be doing that day and can’t get it off my mind. In order to remain focussed I have to be intentional, keeping a notepad beside me to jot down things that are distracting me so that I can return to them later.
The fact that I use a Bible reading scheme that is on my smart-phone is both helpful and unhelpful. Helpful as my ‘notepad’ is immediately to hand; unhelpful in that I can easily get distracted by other apps etc on my phone while turning to the notepad, which can take my mind in other directions. Once again, self discipline is called for!
2. Turn off the phone
It is important to differentiate between the vehicle and the content of communication. The vehicle, in this case the phone, can become all intrusive. How often have you been in conversation with someone and their mobile phone has rung? Without thinking they pick it up and answer it. If they had been away from their phone that person would surely have left a message or phoned back. Or they hear a text message arrive and reach for the phone? Meanwhile they have been distracted from the conversation they were having with you and typically restart it with ‘Now, where was I?’
Apart from being discourteous this is also inefficient. The train of thought of both of you has been interrupted by the distraction and intrusiveness of technology which seems to demand attention. Turn the phone off or put it on airplane mode! There are few things more irritating than talking with someone while being aware that they are not giving you their full attention. (We may consider listening skills on another occasion.)
Next time we shall continue to look at some other strategies to help you retain focus and handle distractions.
Last time we saw that we have the option of taking control when distractions might throw us off course. Now let’s look at what some of those distractions are.
1. Communication devices
There are many sources of potential distraction, but the main one nowadays seems to be so-called communication devices (which so often hinder quality face to face communication!). These are the biggest culprits ie the phone, for actual calls, and the tablet/smart phone, with all its alluring apps, text alerts etc. These in turn carry further distractions such as Facebook, Instagram etc – good ‘servants’ but over-bearing ‘masters’ if you allow them to dominate your life.
Then there are interruptions from outside which have the potential of becoming distractions – people who walk into your office unannounced, phone calls you had not expected to receive that appear to demand immediate response (but rarely do), and so on.
The result of all these distractions and interruptions can be huge frustration, a lack of achieving what is needed, resulting in the inclination to over-work to make up for lost time. This then invades family life and can tempt you to sleep fewer hours, which leads to diminished performance resulting in a spiral of tiredness > under-achievement > yet longer working hours > yet greater tiredness….
3. Social media
Many preachers reckon it takes one hour of preparation for every five minutes of a sermon. I was alarmed to be speaking to a preacher a few years ago who told me that he just did not have time for such preparation due to the demands of email, Facebook etc. Demands? To me this exemplified a lack of self-control. Where are his priorities?
This is another distracting principle that is often held up as a virtue. People like being thought of as ‘high capacity’ who get a lot done. And there is of course some truth in this. However, multi-tasking can also cause diminished performance on any particular task as your mind is not sufficiently focussed on the job in hand; one task distracts your thoughts from another.
These are just the tip of the iceberg. I am sure you have many more things that are personal to you which you could add to the list. Remember, in this context they are enemies to fulfilled and effective living!
I encourage you to be on the alert. Those things that interrupt or deflect your thinking– the thought that ‘comes to mind’ etc. – can so easily appear to demand immediate attention. Don’t be tempted! Be self-disciplined and ‘park it’ for future attention. You may even find it has gone away when you return to consider it!
Next time we will turn our attention to the core solution – ‘focus’.
As I sat down to write this blog the mail arrived. I recognised one letter and knew I was interested in the contents. Should I open it or set it aside? I set it aside. Had I opened it I knew I would be tempted to respond – but I had determined to write this blog! Writing was the most important priority at that moment. I did not want to get distracted.
When the disciples returned from their first ministry trip they were excited about what had happened. Jesus started to debrief them and, because of the crowds, they boarded a boat to cross the lake to a quiet cove. But the crowds saw them going and got there first on foot. Should Jesus stop and speak to them? Or was it a distraction? Potentially it was; he needed to make a decision. He took control of his options; he was not driven by the pressure of circumstances or popular opinion. Because he knew his calling to the lost (Is 61:1-3) he decided to teach all day. He also fed the crowd. Then he returned to his planned meeting with the disciples – not recorded, but how else could he have known the numbers of people and the baskets of left-overs? (Mk 6:43, 44) – before going away to pray.
We live in an environment of external ‘forces’ constantly clamouring for our attention. These are distractions; they invade our private space and knock us off course from the priorities we have set for ourselves. But, unlike many interruptions, which are imposed from ‘outside’, we have control over what we do with distractions. How do we avoid or handle them? Live on a desert island?! Clearly that is impractical (although an attractive idea for a season). So we need to know how to stay in control.
To help us get a grasp of the problem next time I will give some definition and examples of typical distractions that will help us to recognise them.
So far we have seen how to consider different issues related to the ministry and have captured ideas for improvement. We now need to take these forward to a finalised Action Plan.
4. Identifying and agreeing improvements to be made
By the end of Day 1 many sheets of notes have been blue-tacked to the walls of the room. On Day 2 we take each of the issues discussed on Day 1 and dig deeper until we have specific actions that all can agree need to be taken. By this stage there is an ever-growing participation and enthusiasm from the team members. Often they have had great thoughts overnight and have further contributions to bring following reflection about the process.
We start by prioritising the list of topics that we wish to discuss so that we can be sure that the most important are dealt with first. These are then captured on further sheets of paper to form the basis of an Action Plan. At this point, too, we ensure that each action point has been allocated to one of the team members and clarity is confirmed that they know exactly what is required.
It is easy to write a list of things to do and assume that they will all get done. How many of us make ‘do it’ lists and think that by so doing we have accomplished a task! But until the action is on a timeline, which is agreed by the whole team, I do not consider the Action Plan has been completed. We do this is the third step in the process. It is also important to ensure that there is a clearly recognised context for accountability, so meetings are built in to the timeline at which feedback will be given on the relevant action points.
6. Action Plan
Clearly it is unwieldy to work from many sheets of flip chart paper – I in fact prefer to use lining wall-paper as this can then be cut to a length to suit the need – so one member of the team is charged with the responsibility of writing the Action Plan into a document. A team member doing this helps ensure ownership of the plan.
Evaluating a ministry in this way results in an effective and well thought-through activity. Each member of the team has ownership of the ministry and, most important, the people being helped (I dislike the word ‘client’) receive the greatest benefit from the ministry being offered.
The process is enjoyable and people leave it with added enthusiasm and ‘buzz’. Team building is strengthened through the process and often previously hidden issues have been addressed in an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual respect.
The Poor Deserve the Best
A fuller treatment of the Ministry Health Check is included in The Poor Deserve the Best, see side panel.
A similar process has been developed for planning a ministry from scratch. Here we take the various Key Indicators and consider how they apply to the ministry being planned. The result of the process is a document which provides the basis for setting up and launching a ministry.
Having outlined the philosophy of ‘pursuing excellence’ we shall now look at the process of carrying out a Ministry Health Check with a ministry team.
1. How long does it take?
Two days, or the equivalent, are needed for the process to be carried out. This may seem a lot of time but to lessen it loses much of the benefit.
2. Initial discussion and information gathering
On day 1 I work with the ministry team and facilitate discussions based on statements that are graded individually by each participant according to the extent to which they feel that statement applies to the ministry from their perspective. These statements relate to vision, team support, handling of finances, relationship with the church, and so on. There is always a range of responses. This helps lead to a constructive and sometimes amusing discussion as to why there are the different assessments.
I seek to get all members of the team to ‘open up’ in a non-threatening and affirming way to consider each of the issues raised from his or her perspective. This often raises unexpected issues that need addressing. I do not myself give direct input (occasional exceptions to this rule!) but help the team members to identify the key issues for discussion and action. This helps ownership and follow through of the Action Plan that is written on Day 2.
Throughout the discussion I make notes, which are agreed with the team, on large sheets of paper, particularly highlighting suggestions made by the team of changes they would like to make.
3. Who takes part?
All active members of the ministry team should be involved. Often the ‘junior’ ones contribute aspects that the leadership may not be aware of, so all have a contribution to make. It is important that the leader of the ministry does not dominate the discussion and I set rules at the start, such as everyone being equal in this context and whatever is contributed is accepted, not judged.
8-10 people is a good size. If there are more than 12 the process can become too drawn out and some will find it hard to participate.
I do not encourage church elders to take part in the whole Health Check unless they are personally involved in the ministry; they can inhibit others from speaking even if not intended. However, it is helpful for an elder to attend for the beginning of the first session to get a feel of the process, and then to be present for the whole of the Action Planning to ensure that what is planned is practical within the overall context of the church’s ministry.
Next time we shall look at how to handle the suggestions that have been made to improve the ministry and how to develop an Action Plan.
Last time I proposed that a church’s ministry with the poor should be excellent. Let me now share some ministries in which I have helped develop Action Plans for further improvement of what were already good ministries.
In Guinea, in West Africa, I helped evaluate a church-based school with which I have worked for many years. Originating out of the Sierra Leonean civil war of the ‘90s and into the new millennium, when many fled over the border to neighbouring Guinea. The school was started out of the church which was planted in the capital, Conakry, to serve the refugees. There are now well over 300 children attending ranging in age form 3-26. Many of the older ones have missed so much school due to civil and political unrest that they stay on until they pass their exams. Click on photo to see a video.
Gathering the staff I helped them look at key issues and produce an Action Plan for improvement, a process that is on-going, often hindered by circumstances, most recently by the effects of ebola which closed the school for many months.
The Sex Industry
The process is not only applicable to nations outside the UK. There is plenty of need in my own country. A few months ago I worked with a team who have had remarkable favour in having access to the massage parlours in one of the big cities. Two days with the team allowed us to examine what they were doing and to project ways of improvement. Many of their suggestions have already been implemented, but the process is on-going.
A Soup Kitchen, and a Mother and Toddlers Ministry
More recently I have worked with another two churches. One has been reaching out to street people with love and practical provision of food, clothing and a listening ear. The other is on an estate with many dysfunctional families and situations, and runs a Mothers and Toddlers group with food, games and an ability to listen and signpost people to ways that bring hope.
In each of these ministries we have been able to write an Action Plan for improvement, some parts of which are quite radical involving scaling up, changes of staff, new premises and so on.
As we move forward I believe that each of these ministries will become models of good practice to which people from other churches and the ‘world’ will come to seek advice and be trained to reproduce the benefits which will become evident.
Over the next few weeks I will share some of the principles and processes that I use.