Interview with Jeff Vanderstelt and me on the gospel and church planting

Here’s an interview that Jeff Vanderstelt of Soma Communities and myself gave while in Perth, Australia on the gospel and church planting.

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Audio from 121 Degrees ‘Core’ Conference

Here’s the audio of Jeff Vanderstelt and myself speaking at the 121 Degrees ‘Core’ Church Planting Conference in Perth Australia in August.

1. The Mission of God – Tim Chester


2. A Disciple Making Culture – Jeff Vanderstelt


3. The Heart of a Disciple – Tim Chester


4. Equipping For Mission – Jeff Vanderstelt


5. Missional Communities at Soma – Jeff Vanderstelt


6. What Drives Me – Tim Chester


The local church in a post-Christian context

Here’s the audio of the lecture I gave in August at Trinity Theological College in Perth, Australia.

Download it here.

It covers some of the themes that will be in a book that Steve Timmis and I are currently writing. The book has the provisional title Church at the Margins and is due to be published by IVP in May 2011.

Redeem Cities conference

Redeem:Cities 2010A conference about how the church can transform culture, cities and nations.

Date – November 16th – 17th 2010

Time 9:30am – 6:00pm

Venue – St Anns Cathedral, Belfast

Guest Speakers – Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill Church, Seattle), David Stroud (Newfrontiers UK) and Tim Chester (The Crowded House and author of Total Church)

Online booking is available here.

Follow the conference on Twitter or their Facebook group.

GCM Collective Conference October 2010

The GCM Collective (of which I’m a member) will be hosting their first GCM Conference in Austin, TX this October, bringing together church planters, pastors, and leaders to collaborate on the practice of missional communities. This three-day conference will feature main and breakout sessions under the theme of GOSPEL, COMMUNITY and MISSION.

You will get to hear from, meet and interact with leaders who are daily practitioners, living in gospel communities on mission in their cities. This is a unique experience that will present the why, what and how-to of starting, leading and multiplying missional communities. Interactive plenary sessions, breakouts and unique training experiences will fill our days both on-site and off.

Big church, small church, multi-site or neighborhood this event is for every church that seeks to effectively expand the gospel in their context.

Who: GCM Collective

What: GCM Conference

Where: Austin, TX, United States

When: Thursday, October 28, 2010, 8:00 AM – Saturday, October 30, 2010, 5:00 PM

Speakers: Ed Stetzer, Steve Timmis, Jeff Vanderstelt, Caesar Kalinowski, David Fairchild, Drew Goodmanson and Jonathan Dodson.

COLLECTIVE EXPERIENCE: Become part of a GCM Collective. Our team will group you together with a small group of other missional leaders to exchange learning, share experiences and operate as advisors to one-anothers’ gospel communities on mission. In this process you will complete a Missional Readiness Indicator (MRI) test, answer demographic information and a few interview questions to help pair you with the right group. Contact GCM Collective to learn more.


3:30 – 5:00PM Pre-Conference: Forming a Collective Drew Goodmanson
7:00 – 9:00PM Main Session ONE: GCM Collective Vision Panel Discussion
9:00PM – Meet-Up at Gingerman Pub

9:30 – 10:30AM Main Session TWO: What is the Gospel? David Fairchild
10:45 – 12PM Breakout Session [ 1 ]
12 – 1:30PM Lunch Break
1:30 – 2:45PM Main Session THREE: A Post-Christendom America Ed Stetzer
3:00 – 5:00PM Breakout Session [ 2 ]
5:00 – 7:00PM Dinner Break
7:00 – 9:00PM Main Session FOUR: Gospel Rhythms Caesar Kalinowski
9:00PM – Downtown Experience

9:00 – 10:30AM Main Session FIVE: Making Disciples on Mission Jeff Vanderstelt
10:45 – 11:45AM Breakout Session [ 3 ]
12 – 1:30PM Main Session SIX: Stealth Church Steve Timmis

Click here to register.

No Standstill When God Shows You Reality

These notes are from a talk on Zechariah by Simon Smallwood at the recent Reaching the Unreached [] conference in Barnsley. They are my notes from a talk so they may not accurately represent what Simon intended.

This is a ‘day of small things’ (Zechariah 4:10). At this point in history there was not much of God’s kingdom. Jerusalem was in ruins. The temple was destroyed so it seemed as of God was absent. Over a million people came out of Egypt under Moses, but now there are only 50,000. They were not free, but subject to their Persian overloads. And their neighbours were hostile. They had returned to Jerusalem with high expectations fuelled by the post-exilic prophets. But their dreams had not been realised. It had taken them 18 years to get where they were and they were nowhere.  Work on the temple had come to standstill.

God’s purpose required that he would come to his temple (Malachi 3:1-3) so God raised up two prophets to inspire work on the temple – Haggai and Zechariah. Zechariah’s ministry was one of revealing ‘reality’. Zechariah pulls back the curtain so that God’s people could see with his word what they could not see with their eyes. As a result of Zechariah’s ministry the work of the temple was completed in four years. Something the size of an English cathedral was completed in just a few years.

For most of us it is also a day of small things. We are constrained by a secular government and face hostile neighbours. The place where we live looks like a bomb site. We have unrealised dreams. Many are tempted to leave. ‘In the past year I have met more people leaving ministry on estates than moving on to estates’ (Duncan Forbes)

But the message of Zechariah for us is this: there can be no standstill when God shows you reality.

The past need not hold you back (1:1-6)
The people of Israel had returned physically to Jerusalem, but their hearts were still far from God. They had come back home, but they had not come back to him. The evidence of this was that the work of God’s house had come to a standstill. What we work on reveals what really matters to us.

Verse 4 contains an element of warning. But the emphasis is verse 3: an incentive to get going. ‘Therefore tell the people: This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Return to me,” declares the LORD Almighty, “and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty’ (Zechariah 1:3) Build my house and I will come to fill Jerusalem with my glory.

This is a small warning to us and a great encouragement. The danger we face is to be there in a deprived area and getting on with all sorts of good things, but not truly to give ourselves to being there and building God’s temple (which in the new covenant is his church).

It does not matter what we have inherited from the past (whether from our predecessors or our own mistakes). God promises to build if we return to him.

With the Lord your future is secure (1:7-17)
In Dagenham it is CCTV that keeps an eye on us. In Zechariah’s day mounted Persian patrols kept an eye of the Israelites. It seemed that Darius, the King of Persia, was in control. But Zechariah sees the Lord’s horses going out on patrol throughout the whole earth. The nations are like a drop in a bucket compared to the Lord’s empire (Isaiah 40:12-15). The destiny of all people is in God’s hands.

Israel felt small and fragile. They situation felt insecure. But God could comfort them with kind words because they were the object of his passionate, protective love. ‘I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion’ (14). When I saw my son being bullied in the playground my passion was ignited. This is the passion God feels for his people. With the Lord their future was secure. ‘Proclaim further: This is what the LORD Almighty says: “My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.”’ (Zechariah 1:17)

Insecurity and fear paralyses us. Losing sight of the Lord, Israel hardly dared press on with rebuilding Jerusalem for fear of reprisals. But this reassurance frees them to get on with God’s work. Since our well-being is guaranteed by God, we are free to work for him even in hostile contexts.

It is so disheartening when the world looks on with derision. The nations in all their complacency and security were facing God’s judgment. ‘The angel who was speaking to me said, “Proclaim this word: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion but I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they added to the calamity.”’ (Zechariah 1:14-15) This should stop us envying the world. It may look secure, but it is actually on the edge of the abyss. We keep going because our future is secure, and we keep preaching the gospel because their future is insecure. So we keep going when God shows us reality.

No kingdom work can ever be insignificant (1:81-21)
God does not build his kingdom with (worldly) power and might. ‘This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the LORD Almighty.’ (Zechariah 4:6) The horns in 1:18 represent the power of empire. God does not confront the power of empire with power and might, but with craftsmen. What confounds the empires of this world is the building of God’s temple.

Every part of the temple under construction speaks of God. It prepares for the coming of the Lord to his temple. It would be reason enough to continue if all you see in a lifetime of ministry is one living stone because that living stone is a witness to the reality of God in the world and to the reality of his coming. This ought to be enough to get us temple-builders up in the morning.

Kingdom building knows no bounds (2:1-13)
When a labourer dug the first sod for the new Olympic stadium he could not imagine how it would unfold. It must have felt like a vast and thankless task. But back in the office the architect had the plans and artist’s impressions. These show what it will become. These offer inspiration. Zechariah 2:1-13 offer this vision, a vision of God’s plans.

In Zechariah’s vision a town planner is trying to work out where the walls should be. God’s response is that it will be a city without limits and which does not need walled protection for God himself will protect it.

In 400 years the Lord would come to this city and from there the gospel would go out to all nations over many generations and many, many people would come in to God’s kingdom. ‘Run, tell that young man, “Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of men and livestock in it.”’ (4) ‘Many nations will be joined with the LORD in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you.’ (11) This is the reality of which we are part.

Our view of God’s kingdom can become blinkered by what is going on in our patch. We can imagine that the church is in decline. We talk of living in a post-Christian era. This is de-motivating. We take on a bunker mentality.

We need to get excited about being part of God’s huge, worldwide project. Even if our part is slow-going, it is a privilege to be part of what God is doing.

There can be no standstill when God shows you reality. But we must let God’s word show us reality.
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Thursday Review: Neil Cole on Church 3.0

A review of Neil Cole, Church 3.0: Upgrades for the Future of the Church, Jossey-Bass, 2010.

Available here from and

This review is by Dan, a church planter with The Crowded House in Sheffield, UK.

Neil Cole’s Church 3.0 is step on from his Organic Church.  He has set out his vision for organic church and now he describes how churches can become healthy enough to reproduce.  Church 3.0 is helpfully written in the form of answers to questions people often ask about organic church.  Every chapter is entitled, ‘What about…?’  For instance, ‘What about baptism and communion?’ and ‘What about heresy?’

I was inspired by Cole’s heart in this book.  His passion is to see all believers released to be powerful, useful, fully-involved members of the body – fully  involved in the church family, in interacting with God’s word, in evangelism and in church reproduction.

I am part of an organic-type church—The Crowded House—and so although not much of this book was radically new, I found sections helpful.  I valued hearing what Cole had to say on baptism and communion (191-198), how to include children (220), the power of small groups (139-143), and how to guard against the danger of heresy (222-240).

Regarding baptism, I was moved by a story Cole tells (189-190).  One night a lady called Alice decided to follow Jesus while at a coffee house in Long Beach – a place where people from Cole’s church often hang out.  They decided that the best thing to do was baptise her straight away and so told all her friends what was happening and drove to the beach. Alice told everyone why she had chosen to follow Christ, and then followed her ‘disciple maker’ into the ocean to be baptised to hoots and cheers from those on the beach.  They came out of the water, held hands and prayed, and again presented the message of Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection to those around.  Two more people decided to follow Jesus and were baptised.

In the past I’ve thought baptism had to be done after a process of ‘checking’ someone’s faith, and only then by church leadership.  Cole reminds us that 1) baptism is a sign of faith, not a result of works and baptism classes and 2) anyone can do it.  That’s liberating and exciting!

Regarding including children, Cole argues that ‘integration is better than separation’.  His point is that 1) adults can learn from children and vice-versa and 2) combining the presence of both does not need to result in disruption like many assume it does.  One of the things adults can learn from having children around is how to parent effectively.  We learn through watching others interact with their children.  We can also learn from the simple, uncomplicated belief of many children.  He encourages us to plan ahead to include the children, e.g. asking them to draw a picture of something they think is important for the church to understand and encouraging them to share it (220).

Regarding heresy, Cole responds to those who question how organic churches without seminary-trained leaders can ensure good teaching takes place.  Cole goes as far as to say that organic churches can be much better prepared to counter heresy.  His main points are:

1. Empowering individual believers to know their bible well through good training is more powerful than sending the top leaders to seminary,

2. The real threat in most churches is not cognitive, but moral and spiritual – one of obedience rather than heresy. ‘We are all educated beyond our obedience’ (232)

3. People we think of as heretics at the time can turn out to be heroes (e.g. Luther, Wesley, Fox, Hus, Wycliffe, Galileo, Paul, Jesus).

Despite these many positives, there are a few things I question.  The premise of the book is that the organic church movement—‘Church 3.0’—is the biggest ecclesial change since Constantine.  (‘Church 1.0’ being the New Testament church and ‘Church 2.0’ the institutional church from Constantine to now.)  I love the organic church movement but am wary of authors who claim to be involved in the next big thing, especially the biggest thing since AD 313. (1-12)

Also, Cole can come across as believing he has the answer to all the church’s growth problems: simply implement the principles in Church 3.0! ‘If you were to use our principles and processes from the start you would end up with a rapidly multiplying network of simple churches.’ (11)  Cole has good principles and gives good advice, but surely, above all principles, God ultimately chooses where and how He works. And as Eckhard Schnabel notes in Paul the Missionary (available here from and, it’s not models that work; it’s the gospel that works.

In conclusion, although I query Cole’s emphasis, there are good things to take away from his experience in organic-type churches.  I especially learned from part 3, ‘Pragmatic Concerns’.

Two Conversations: the Unthinkable Reach of the Gospel Part Two

These notes are from a talk by Steve Casey at the recent Reaching the Unreached [] conference in Barnsley. They are my notes from a talk so they may not accurately represent what Steve intended. Part one is here.

2. Peter Converted: Who the Gospel Is For

Why did God go to all the trouble of getting Peter to come to Cornelius when he had an angel on site?

See verses 9-16. The privileges of the Jews – that they did not earn – had become a source of pride and prejudice (14, 28). It is not just food that is unclean, but people have become unclean in the eyes of the Jews

But what did Peter expect? Peter knew the gospel would go to the nations (Luke 24:45-47), but it seems Peter expected the Gentiles would have to become like Jews.

‘The gospel is for people like us. You have to come on our terms.’ It is all too easy to assume that people have to flex to my cultural preferences and take up my cultural baggage.

Peter’s heart was: ‘People need to come to us and be like us.’ The heart of God was: ‘Go to them.’

Although Cornelius is part of the majority culture in his context, he remained excluded from access to the gospel. God has to arrange the meeting because Peter would not have crossed the cultural barriers.

Implication: the Missionary Heart of God’s People

1. You cannot divide people up
You cannot divide people into respectable and unrespectable, good people and selfish people, self-made people and lay-abouts. Before you get the gospel you instinctively divide people up in these kinds of terms. But when you get the gospel you realise you are more wicked then you ever realised and more loved than you ever dreamed.

The only difference between you and a corrupt businessman or a drug dealer or a spiteful policeman is that the seeds of sin in your heart have not been watered. You can never say, ‘Well, I might do this, but I’d never do that.’

Peter’s prejudices were laid out on the sheet that was lowered from heaven. What is on your sheet?

2. You need to beware against the slip to worldly evaluations of people
The Romans despised the early Christians because of their social background. But the early Christian apologist, Marcus Minucius Felix, said: ‘That many of us are called poor is not our disgrace, but our glory.’

We need to be careful not to move towards the Establishment and to seek respectability. We have a tendency to want to make the gospel look strong. But the gospel is at its strongest when it is weak.

Us Converted? How We Live out the Gospel

Who was the most difficult to convert? Who said three times, ‘Not me’? Was it the outsider or was it the majority Christian culture?
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Reaching the Unreached II

On Saturday I attended the second Reaching the Unreached conference in Barnsley with a focus on developing mission on council estates [the UK equivalent of social housing] and in deprived areas in the UK. It was a great day and very encouraging. I was particularly struck by the thought that here were many godly people faithfully proclaiming the good news in difficult areas. These were people who had chosen fidelity over fame. Inspiring. I’m going to post my notes from the day over the next few weeks.

Two Conversations: the Unthinkable Reach of the Gospel Part One

These notes are from a talk by Steve Casey. They are my notes from a talk so they may not accurately represent what Steve intended. Steve pastors a church in Speke, Liverpool.

I once had the experience of going to an AA meeting with a friend. I felt tearful because as people spoke I wanted to hug them and tell that Jesus loved them. But my overwhelming experience was not knowing what to say and being unable to identify with their experience. What does the gospel mean for people who are different from me?

I wish I had the confidence in the gospel that I have now.

Acts 10 is about how the gospel speaks to people who are different to us.

1. Cornelius Converted: What the Gospel Is

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ (Acts 1:8) Jesus says his unstoppable gospel will go to the ends of the world (which is Speke!). But in Acts 10 they have hit a brick wall. They had got to Samaria, a Jewish influenced area. But the next move was going to the Gentiles and this was a massive barrier. If you were a Jew and you met a Gentile then they would want to jump in the shower! Jesus called a Gentile woman a ‘dog’ – a typical Jewish term for Gentiles. So, although Cornelius was a good man, he was still an outsider. He would have been tackled by well-meaning deacons in suits if he came to church. But the angelic representative of God addresses him by name.

The angel says his good works do not cut it. He needs a message from outside. His good works are insufficient. But God has heard his prayers and God will provide an answer: a preacher. Being a nice bloke is not enough; you need to be a new bloke. You need God to do a work for you that you cannot do on your own Continue reading