Screen Shot 2017-01-21 at 13.12.39From time to time I have published interviews with the various men leading the new apostolic spheres following the transition of the Newfrontiers family of churches in 2011 from one to multiple spheres. Here I talk with Mike Betts who leads the sphere ‘Relational Mission’. We were able to have a discussion about what his vision is and how the sphere has developed since the transition.

Relational Mission – meaning and outworking
Having given insight to the name ‘Relational Mission’ Mike shares some of the ways in which his vision and values are being outworked: a Leadership Conference, Clustering churches for local fellowship, Church Planting, Leadership Training and ‘extraordinary’ Prayer.

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Many of the values and practices of Newfrontiers have been updated and redefined in the book ‘Relational Mission – A Way of Life’ which Mike has written to be a manifesto for the next decades.

The last five years
Since the transition took place in 2011 each of the spheres has worked hard to define the way forward. As Mike looks both back and forward he recognises the challenges that this transition has represented but values the lessons learned as those leading these apostolic spheres have grappled with their new responsibilities in advancing the Kingdom. There is a very healthy friendship that has been maintained between them and they are seeking to have regular fellowship and accountability to one another.

Newfrontiers redefined
Reflecting this change Newfrontiers has now been redefined as

A group of apostolic leaders partnering together on global mission, joined
by common values and beliefs, shared mission and genuine relationships.

The recently launched new website gives a very helpful feel of what this means.

Pathways from Poverty
Both Mike and I have hearts for the poor. In the concluding part of the interview Mike shares his vision to see churches in his care each pursuing initiatives to help those who are poor or in need, particularly through empowerment projects aimed at self-sufficiency under the umbrella of ‘Pathways from Poverty’. One specific application is seen in the partnership with Edward Buria in Kenya who has a significant sphere of churches, Edfri, both in that nation and in other parts of Africa.

The future is bright
I found Mike very positive as he leads his sphere into the future. There is great vision and health which will, I believe, contribute to significant advance of the Kingdom in this generation.

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Finally, Mike refers to two books in this interview which you may like to obtain:

‘Relational Mission – A Way of Life’ by himself

‘A call to United Extraordinary Prayer….’ By Jonathan Edwards.

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Nigel Ring on February 1st, 2017

IMG_6559I have not met many alpacas – in fact I had not met any before I met Boris. But he was a good representative of his species and quickly made me feel at home.

Baby GeoffreyI was visiting Pathways Care Farm in Lowestoft, UK, founded by Geoff Stevens. I came to know Geoff when he was exploring an initiative within the Relational Mission sphere of Newfrontiers, Pathways from Poverty, now led by Julia Miller.

Geoff knew nothing about farming when the opportunity arose to start a care farm but he and his team have achieved an astonishing amount in just two years. Walking around the farm with him I found he is bubbling with ideas – ‘we’re going to put a bird watching hide here’, ‘we will create an arts and crafts room there’ – so I look forward with anticipation to a return visit in due course .

What is a care farm?
Alpaca-walk-LRIt has been found that many people who find it difficult to integrate into society for whatever reason are able to relax and find a reason for hope in the open air. Whether walking an alpaca through the fields and woods (which is when I first met Boris), planting vegetables, grooming goats or laying a path to a polytunnel, opportunities abound for acceptance and fulfilment. An alpaca is very non-demanding – just stroke his neck and he is like a kitten!

Pathways Care Farm is at the end of a cul-de-sac through a housing development in Lowestoft. I really thought I must have taken the wrong turning – I had expected to drive across miles of open countryside – when it suddenly appeared in front of me. As such it is well embedded in the local community.

SweepingLocated on county council owned land part of the farm had previously been sold for development – a major road and many houses. The remaining 13 acres (approximately 5 ha)  and buildings had been allowed to lie derelict for many years when Geoff was offered the opportunity to develop it as a care farm. Now, over 15,000 volunteer-hours later, tumbledown buildings are beginning to provide accommodation for a café, an arts and crafts area, a relaxed place for volunteers and service-users to have their lunch, chicken houses and much much more. Some of the building restoration was carried out by a man on probation, a qualified brick-layer, who used to visit as part of his community payback.

Animals
Pigs-Sept-16 copyAnimals abound; many are rare breeds. I met some well-cared for pigs and goats, each with golden brown coats that shone in the sunlight, and chickens that had been reared from eggs. Plans are afoot for a petting farm which will allow more animals to provide the comfort of contact with those who are trying to find their way in life, some with mental health problems, others with dementia or learning difficulties.

Thursday lunch polytunnelPolytunnels
Then there are the two polytunnels ably overseen by head gardener Rob who is highly knowledgeable and does not allow his cerebral palsy to hinder his involvement in the horticulture. It was an inspiration to talk to him.

A sensory garden
As you enter through the farm gate you pass a sensory garden; not yet completed but sufficient to see how valuable it will be with its willow branch ‘cave’ and beds of various tactile and fragrant plants.

Volunteers
Despite its short life the Farm is already attracting much favourable attention in the locality, with over one hundred volunteers from local churches and the general population. The local MP and senior local government officials have given their endorsement and ‘seal of approval’ – the High Sheriff very tangibly by donating two pigs!

Self sustainability
Veg-Aug-16-LRThe farm will never be self-sustaining from the farming produce alone (I am told the vegetables are superb). But the vision is to make it self-sustainable in other ways: through fees which are charged to statutory providers for their ‘clients’; the café which will be open to the public; the charity shop which receives donations from the local population; the sale of produce, and so on.

The future is bright! This surely is a model others could emulate. Well done Geoff, all the volunteers who make the farm run day by day, and the trustees who ensure the charity is compliant with its duty of care and legal requirements. Thank you for your welcome. A truly edifying visit.

 

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Nigel Ring on January 25th, 2017

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-10-57-12In this concluding interview with Andy Cottingham we talk about money.

  • What are the possible sources of funds including the pros and cons of gift days in the church and charitable grants?
  • How to make a ministry sustainable.
  • What about overseas giving? What are the pitfalls and the damage that can be done by unwise giving?
  • What is success?

In these discussions two books are mentioned which I recommend: When Helping Hurts and Toxic Charity. Both address the issue of damage that can be done if giving is not wise.

 

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In concluding this series I want to encourage church leadership teams to watch these interviews again together and apply them to your own situation. Andy raises many questions that you may not have thought of. They should stimulate good discussion and help raise the standard of ministry with the Poor in your church.

 

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screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-10-57-12We have now looked at two topics: how to make church life more accessible to those who are poor or in need so that they can ‘hear’ the gospel, and how to identify what particular ministry we should be carrying out in our church. In this interview Andy Cottingham considers some matters related to running the ministry.

Form a Charity?
The church is an integral part of the community. A charity has a separate life. So it is with great caution that a church should consider forming a separate charity and there must be safeguards in the governance to prevent any such charity becoming independent of the church. Andy addresses this in the talk below but I have also written about it in a previous series.

Relationship with other agencies
Typically there are several agencies who are working with different aspects of poverty and deprivation, both statutory and voluntary. It would be foolish to ignore these and work in isolation as a church. Credibility with them will be achieved by being reliable and bringing a degree of excellence to what we do.

Social Enterprise
For someone to achieve independence he or she needs to generate an income. Social enterprise can assist this to happen. But ‘business’ is often seen as a dirty word in church circles. Yet churches rely on business people to generate their own income in order to give to the church.

Relating to Entrepreneurs
Andy discusses how Church elders and Entrepreneurs can helpfully work together to sharpen each others area of expertise and interest, particularly considering the different attitudes to risk and the decision-making processes.

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screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-10-57-12Last time we looked at some adjustments that may be indicated to help a church become more accessible to those who are not familiar with church and who may even be social outcasts. Now we shall consider how a church decides what ministry to carry out to help those who are poor or in need. How should it be identified – by need?

In part 2 of these four interviews Andy Cottingham gives some guidance on how to define a ministry, how to base the leadership of that ministry on the passion of individuals and how to mobilise church members to serve.

Andy also talks about what the ‘good news’ is for an individual who faces great deprivation or need, before speaking about how the elders might bring oversight to such ministries, stressing the importance of close contact between the eldership team and the activists.

 

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screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-10-57-12Happy New Year!

As we begin a new year I want to share with you over the next few weeks videos I made during a discussion with Andy Cottingham. Andy has been in church leadership both in the UK and South Africa for many years. Churches in which he has been based have always had significant ministries to reach out to those who are poor or in need. In these discussions I asked him to share wisdom from his experience which may help other church leaders, though his responses will be of interest to anyone involved in ministering with the poor since they address underlying values.

In this first interview (there will be three more) he addresses some matters to help make the practices of the church more accessible to ‘outsiders’.

Change
If we believe that the gospel is for all people we must recognise the importance of making our church services and practice accessible to all, not just those who are on the ‘inside’ who know the culture and jargon. What does this imply?

Change may be needed if we are to welcome those who are unchurched, particularly those who are poor and may have little education. Worship needs explanation. Preaching needs to use terminology that is meaningful for the hearers. Perhaps the sermon needs to be shorter or broken into shorter units – sitting listening to someone speak for 45 minutes may be totally foreign to today’s culture of ‘instant’. Listen to what Andy has to say on this subject.

 

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simon-preachingIn his interview Andy refers to a talk by Simon Pettit given at the Newfrontiers Leadership Conference at the Brighton Conference Centre in 1998. This may be viewed here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nigel Ring on December 14th, 2016

ear-clipart-243In the last two postings I have highlighted the place for the ears and the eyes as means of listening. Now I will come to the third, the mouth.

Your mouth is also an important part of communication of course, but how can it help you to listen? There are a number of ways your mouth can help you listen but the most important is to know when to keep it shut!

Shut up
What do you feel about silence? Does it embarrass you? Somehow it makes you feel vulnerable as you either don’t know what to say or because you feel awkward for the other person as they gather their thoughts. The temptation is to fill it with your own talk. This is particularly true of the extrovert who does much of his thinking through conversation. The introvert, in contrast, likes time to think things out before speaking.

If you are in a serious conversation there are times when a slightly embarrassing silence is necessary; to intrude may stop the other person making any response. Maybe you have asked an important question. If you do not allow sufficient silence to force the person to give an answer you will never get to the truth.

Many years ago I was interviewing some candidates for a job. There were two of us carrying out the interviews and my colleague could not bear silence. The result was that whenever I asked a question if the answer was not immediately forthcoming from the candidate my colleague would suggest an answer, which of course the candidate agreed with. By the end of the interviews I knew more about my colleague than any of the applicants!

Empathise?
I am sure you have all been in situations where someone is sharing their heart with you, or bringing some unpleasant news of, perhaps, illness. This is not easy for them or for you, and it needs physical and auditory ‘space’ not to be interrupted.

Since my son had a serious motor-cycle accident many years ago I feel I have more understanding of how someone feels when they experience trauma. I will often go out of my way to speak to someone whom others avoid out of embarrassment of not knowing what to say. But I will make it clear that I am prepared just to listen – I will probably not have any ‘good advice’ to offer.

Beware your own story!
But it is possible in such circumstance to ‘blow it’. Because of your slight embarrassment and not knowing quite what to say you may be tempted to find something in your own experience that has similarities to the situation you are learning about and to share this in detail. That way you try to empathise. But no two situations are ever exactly the same and sharing your experience may be very unhelpful; you may be blocking someone from digging deep in order to share their problem. Better just to keep silent, or use you mouth to say ‘No hurry, take your time’. Rather than taking the risk of shutting down the conversation you thus open up space for the speaker to speak when he or she feels able to do so.

Affirmation
I may appear to be saying ‘keep quiet and let the other person do all the talking’. Clearly context and topic of conversation affect whether this is the right approach, but I tend to veer towards saying less rather than more. But there are times when ‘hearing with your mouth’ does require you to use your voice, even in difficult or critical situations. An affirming nod or ‘grunt’, or a confirming statement ‘so what you are saying is…’ can go a long way to assuring the speaker that you are engaged with him and are hearing what he is really saying.

Conclusion
Much has been written elsewhere about Listening Skills and this brief series clearly cannot cover all situations and circumstances. In contexts such as counselling these skills are particularly important and there are others far better qualified than me to teach on this. But I hope that I have been able to give a few keys I personally have found helpful in my own experience and that as you apply them you will become a better listener. I find few things more encouraging than when someone says to me ‘you are a good listener’. May you know that encouragement too.

Maybe you would like to reflect on this cartoon (source unknown).

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This is the final posting in this series. It seems an appropriate place to end my blog-year as we are about to celebrate the incarnation, the Word made flesh. May this be a great season of joy and celebration for you, and my prayer is that as you go into the New Year you will be a better listener – to both God and man. Happy Christmas!

 

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Nigel Ring on December 7th, 2016

ear-clipart-243Eye contact
Last time I referred to kneeling down to get onto eye level with someone who was sitting on the pavement outside a supermarket. Clearly that is an extreme example but the principle of making good eye contact is vital. It has been said that ‘the eye is the window if the soul’ (often, probably wrongly, attributed to Shakespeare) and in that quotation lies a depth of insight. By watching someone’s eyes it is possible to ‘hear’ much of what is going on in his soul. Reporting on some of the countries I have visited I have, on occasion, said that people’s eyes lacked hope, they were ‘dead’. I don’t know physiologically what I was seeing but I knew it was in contrast to someone’s eyes that sparkle!

So to get in a position where you can look people in the eye while speaking with them will help you to understand what they are really saying. This is all a part of body language – are their eyes constantly wandering, avoiding your gaze, looking downwards? You can ‘hear’ a lot by observing this behaviour. Let’s look a bit further at ‘body language’.

Body Language
Listening is not only about sound waves. It is about receiving communication from another person. One vital ingredient in this is observing body language. Without it a true understanding of what the person is trying to communicate is hard to achieve. That is why Skype can be so much more effective than a normal audio phone call – you can see the person and get their bodily reactions to what is being said, though even this is vastly inferior to being in someone’s presence.

screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-14-18-00Body language can communicate more than words. I used to be a trustee of Community Money Advice, an excellent Christian debt advice network working through local Debt Advice Centres, often churches. Their training literature on listening skills includes a chart which shows that facial expression and body language convey more than half of what we are trying to communicate; 55% compared with 38% for words. I do not know how this was measured but it demonstrates the significant contribution that body language makes to our understanding.

But there is more than just reading body language that the eyes convey. Your eyes tell the speaker you are giving your attention to them. The warmth of your eyes convey empathy. Did you realise that you can even ‘smile with your eyes’? This is such a helpful way of helping someone to speak openly as they realise they are touching your emotions, not just communicating facts.

Embarrassed?
Some people say they are embarrassed to keep looking into someone’s eyes (romance apart!). Which eye do you look at? I was given a helpful tip on this by a friend, the triangle of observation. Look alternately at each of the speaker’s eyes for long enough to register their colour (this will also help you to remember faces!) and then at the mouth. Change the point of view about every 5-10 seconds so that you avoid apparently staring at them. You can repeat this throughout the conversation

Summary
So, when you next talk to someone be conscious about what you are ‘hearing’ with your eyes. You may be surprised how much deeper the conversation will go.

Next time I will help you to listen with your mouth!

 

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Nigel Ring on November 24th, 2016

ear-clipart-243Context
Before continuing this series let me say a word about context. Clearly not all social interaction is the same – sometimes we are just ‘passing the time of day’ together, at others we are in deep discussion looking for a consensus view. Also, there are counselling and negotiating contexts. Each requires different skills which are too specific to open up here. I am merely trying to give some general guidelines that apply in many contexts.

So far we have seen that a good listener honours the speaker. We have also touched on some of the hindrances to good listening. Let’s now look at some of the ways in which we can listen.

Ears
‘Listen with your ears’? What a stupid statement! How else am I supposed to listen? That’s what ears are for! In due course I will try to help you to learn how to listen with your eyes and with your mouth, but for now we will concentrate on what we hear.

What are you really saying?
I am sure we have all been in conversations when we are not convinced that the words being said are revealing the true essence of what is on the speaker’s heart. Sometimes we have to ‘read between the lines’ of what is being said and guess at what lies underneath. A classic example of this is in the greeting ‘How are you?’ ‘I’m fine!’ Yet, looking at the person you can see that he or she is anything but ‘fine’. So, do you leave it with that answer or risk saying ‘No, how are you really?’, knowing that that may open up a tale of woes?

But if you really care and honour the speaker that is exactly what you should be doing. He may be longing for someone to listen to him.

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-11-42-11Recently, as I was going into a local supermarket I spotted someone sitting on the pavement (sidewalk) with his dog – clearly someone who was homeless. In the supermarket I bought a hot drink and some food, and returned to him. When I asked him how he was doing he did not, at first, want to self-disclose; but he was genuinely grateful for the sustenance I brought to him. As I knelt on the pavement beside him (it is important to be at eye level with someone or you can appear to be ‘lording it over them’) and asked a few more questions his story came tumbling out – redundancy, broken marriage, sleeping in a tent to avoid being in a hostel with alcoholics etc. By taking time I was able to get ‘under the surface’ of his initial response.

Time
Often time is what people want from you, not good counsel or trite quotes from the Bible. Someone who is a good listener makes it clear that they are there for you, available for as long as it takes to really hear what you are saying. They are not constantly looking at their watch trying to find a way to end the conversation. Clearly there are practicalities of life that can intrude on this availability – but you get the message!

In the instance above I referred to kneeling down to be able to look someone in the eye without giving the impression of being superior. Next time I will share the importance of listening with our eyes.

 

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Nigel Ring on November 16th, 2016

ear-clipart-243Simon Pettit was a good friend because he cared about those he was with; he was not always trying to impose his own agenda. Let’s consider this a bit further.

Self absorbed?
Have you noticed how, when meeting someone for the first time, they often spend the whole meeting telling you about themselves? They may never ask you one question to learn something about you. They can appear totally self-absorbed and self-centred. They seem to count themselves more significant than others.

Or, again, if you are speaking to someone do you ever feel their attention is not really with you? Their eyes may be wandering, looking over your shoulder to see what is going on behind you. Or that fixed, glazed, slightly staring look which tells you their mind is somewhere else.

Writing to the Philippians Paul exhorts his readers (and us) to humbly count others as more significant than ourselves. We are to ‘look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others’ (Phil 2:4). To respond positively to this exhortation we must set the example to others and be prepared to listen with focussed attention on the speaker. This may take conscious effort at first but it is a skill well worth developing.

Who would you prefer to have as a friend? Someone who is very self-centred, or someone like Simon?

Why?
Why are people so self centred? Those who talk a lot may do so for a variety of reasons: Self-centredness? Arrogance? These may sometimes be true but I believe that for many there is a deeper reason – insecurity. To listen to someone else’s views requires a vulnerability that your views may be challenged. So, if I talk about myself or my views I am keeping a protective zone around me, stopping someone else getting too close.

This series is about listening so I won’t dwell on this, but if you are someone who feels insecure let me point you to an acronym that Rick Warren uses – SPEAK. He suggests it is a good way to open up a conversation.

  • Story. Ask people to tell you their story
  • Passion. “What is it that really interests you, that you feel passionate about?”
  • Encouragement. Encourage them in something to do with their passion
  • Assist. “What can I do to help you?”
  • Know. “What do I know/you know that we can share and help each other?”

This should not be seen as a rigid formula but as an internal checklist when you are with someone.

Caution
Personally I am always fascinated about other people’s stories and so ask many questions. People are so interesting! But beware: in this approach there can be a pitfall. I remember talking to someone who was homeless and asked him several questions about himself. After a short time he challenged me: ‘Are you from the police or something?’ I was dismayed. My attempt at being friendly had been interpreted in exactly the reverse way. So be cautious about how you ask questions!

Next time we shall begin to look at some of the ways in which we can listen – with our ears, with our eyes and with our mouths.

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