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.


Reaching the Unreached

I’ve posted before on the Reaching the Unreached conferences and network. Now we have a new website and blog …

It’s new so there’s not much up at the moment, but expect future contributions on mission in working-class and disadvantaged areas. Here’s what the new site says …

Reaching the Unreached is a network of normal people working to make Jesus famous in the tough areas of the UK. Living on council estates and reaching out to those who live there can be isolated and difficult. Our vision is to provide support and encourage sharing of resources, insights and inspiration between like-minded gospel workers in these places.

(Thanks to Andrew Toovey for setting it up for us.)

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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Rap in Gospel Ministry

These notes are from a talk by Efrem Buckle at the recent Reaching the Unreached [] conference in Barnsley. They are my notes from a talk so they may not accurately represent what Efrem intended. Efrem has a gospel ministry using rap music and is also planting a church in south London.

‘Urban Mission’ have been using rap in gospel ministry for 16 years in schools and prisons. We did this while working other jobs. Then we were invited to come on to the staff of a failing school in Lewisham to use music as a mentoring tool. The children would go from ‘Maths’ to ‘Urban Mission’. We were able to lay down some ground rules. We banned references to drugs or violence. ‘So what we going to do then?’ they asked. This gave us a great opportunity to talk about life skills. We focused on the content (What are you saying?), the creativity (How are you saying this?) and character (Who are you?). This may not sound like gospel ministry, but this opened the door for evangelism in a way we had never experienced. By relating to the children we had opportunities to testify. Ten minutes into lunchtime the children were still wanting to talk about the gospel. As a result many children have come to Christ.


We do not need to make the gospel ‘relevant’. When was life and death irrelevant to people? It is more about being relational than being relevant because gospel is always relevant. The bigger challenge is how they relate to us and us to them. How do we build a relationship so they find the gospel accessible through our lives? Build relationships to create revelational opportunities.

In John 6 Jesus fed people who were only interested in food. But it created an opportunity to share the message – even though only a few accepted it. So the feeding was a relational act that created a revelational opportunity.

Paul also related to people. See 1 Corinthians 9:19-22. Paul made attempts to relate to unbelievers, but without using his identity. Although Paul opposed circumcision of the Gentiles (the letter to the Galatians), he circumcised Timothy to relate to Jews (Acts 16:3; see also Acts 21:24). Paul found opportunities to relate to people and engage in their culture (Acts 17:22, 28).

We need to speak clearly. Rap is an ideal medium for gospel communication because its fundamental element is words. Rap is content-full. Rap is also well known for using metaphors and similes. This allows us to present truth in a sideways manner. We use language to which they can relate before it becomes clear we are presenting the gospel (like the prophet Nathan to David). Jahaziel (a Christian rapper from London): ‘They call me Santa on wax because I bless them with God’s presence when they unravel my raps.’

Short stories are engaging and stories plus music are memorable. ‘From the earliest records of civilisation human beings have used storytelling as a powerful tool to communicate all that is significant concerning human experience.’ (Shai Linne)

Do not rush into something. Rap has some dangers. There is a potential for pride. Rap needs to be seen as a ministry and evaluated as a gospel ministry. For example, we require those who do this ministry to have a suitable gospel character no matter how musically gifted they may be.

It is the message not the method that makes the impact. We did not rely on rap. That is why we have packed it with gospel content. Rap is a relational tool and relational tools will vary in different contexts. The key thing is that we need to relate without compromising gospel content.
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Why We Need to Preach the Sovereignty of God in Deprived Areas Part Two

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

3. God has sovereignly arranged deprived neighbourhoods for our benefit

‘From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.’ (Acts 17:26-27) Everything and everyone has told me I need to escape my council estate. But if I know that God has arranged my council estate and he has arranged for me to live there so that I would search for God then it will change my attitude. It means we cannot complain about our up-bringing. God arranged that I would be a scared kid living high up in a tower block with a sick mother so that I would find him. If I had grown up somewhere else then I might not be a Christian now. God arranged my deprived neighbourhood for my benefit. And not only is the estate given to us by God to save us, but also to make like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29). It is his means of sanctification in my life.

It is important that we proclaim this because many people cannot stand living on their estate. Many of us have seen ministries grow only to see them die back because people have moved on. It is not always wrong to leave an estate, but we must not see it as an enemy to be avoided. It changes everything if we view our council estate as God’s means to save us and make us like Jesus. This will help people stay on the estates and cope with hardships. Continue reading

Why We Need to Preach the Sovereignty of God in Deprived Areas Part One

These notes are from a talk by Duncan Forbes at the recent Reaching the Unreached [] conference in Barnsley. They are my notes from a talk so they may not accurately represent what Duncan intended. Duncan grew up on an estate in south London and is now planting a church there.

Living on a council estate does my head in. It is hard to cope. It is not where I want to live. The most helpful doctrine to me in helping me live on my estate is the sovereignty of God. It is will help people continue living on your estate. It will help people continue in ministry in deprived areas.

Here is a council estate view of God, albeit a generalization:

God does exist, but he is not control of everything. God has a dealt me a set of cards and now it is my job to do the best I can with the set of cards he’s given me. I’m going to take care of number one and my family, because no-one else is going to care for me. Life is a big struggle. We are trying to take care of ourselves. But this is tough. We commit sins along the way. We need to protect ourselves so we have a vicious dog or carry a knife.  We feel like a victim. We spend our life being aggressive towards injustice. ‘Are you going to take that?’ we ask each other. It sometimes leads to vigilante attacks because no-one else is going to establish justice. So we set ourselves up as God. We want to be the person in control. We want to be the provider, the judge, the avenger, the enforcer.

But the Bible teaches that God is in control. He is the Provider, the Judge, the Avenger, the Enforcer.

So we need to correct people’s view of God.

Here are some aspects of the sovereignty of God that are important to proclaim in deprived areas.

1. God is in charge

We know this, but we all act at times as if this is not true.

Consider Psalm 2. Other people think they are in charge (2). But God laughs at them (4). And God declares that he has installed his King (6). God is in charge. Jesus is installed at the right hand of the Father and he is running things.

Some people think the youth on their estate are in charge and they are afraid. Or people think the council or the police are in charge and it can make them feel unsettled. But the truth is that the estate is run by God. This is a great source of comfort for people. Continue reading

Thursday Review: Keller on the Gospel in Life

A review of Timothy Keller, Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything DVD purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US and Workbook purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US, Zondervan, 2010.

In January I claimed that Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God DVD and workbook was my resource of 2009. I’m pretty confident that his new Gospel In Life DVD and workbook will my resource of 2010.

As the title suggests, Gospel in Life looks at how the gospel is to be lived out in our lives, in our church communities and in the world. So it’s a kind of discipleship programme. It would be great to use for training leaders within your church or with your small groups or as part of a vision-setting programme.

The DVD consists of eight ten-minute talks by Keller. It’s just Keller speaking to camera, but the windows behind open out onto different views of the city and key points are animated on cityscape backgrounds so although its very simple the overall effect is engaging and pleasing. The workbook includes and Bible study and discussion questions for each session plus fairly intensive ‘homework’ involving further reading and a small group project. Here’s the outline of sessions:

1. City – The World That Is
2. Heart – Three Ways to Live
3. Idolatry – The Sin Beneath
4. Community – The Context for Change
5. Witness – An Alternate City
6. Work – Cultivating the Garden
7. Justice – A People for Others
8. Eternity – The World That Is To Come

It’s all here – all the important missional insights we have come to expect of Keller: the focus on the city, the centrality of the heart, the need to live by grace, the significance of idolatry, the importance of cultural engagement, the role of work in mission, the integration of social involvement. If I have a criticism is that, given the constraints of eight sessions of 10 minutes, I was often left thinking, ‘I’m glad he made that point, but I fear people might miss it.’ Also the homework is too intensive for some of the people with whom we work. But you can readily adapt the material.

It’s clearly designed with a Western context in mind, but we went through it on a recent visit to a couple sent by a our church to the Middle-East and it was full of resonances for them in their context. Because time was short we combined sessions 2 and 3, 4 and 5, 6 and 7, and sessions 1 and 8 could also be combined.

One final reflection. I was struck working through the sessions how close Keller’s vision of church and mission is that to ours in The Crowded House. What’s striking is that the structure of his church is so different. Steve Timmis and I have begun refuting the idea that there is a ‘TCH model’ of church – not least because there are different church structures within The Crowded House network, but also because we have never wanted to put The Crowded House forward are the right way of doing church! But we are persuaded by the theology of church and mission that shapes what we do. Listening Keller reinforced this conviction: the principles we share in common matter, the structural outworking of those principles can and should vary in each context. So don’t get hung up on how to do this or that – get the theology right.

The workbook is available from, but not the DVD so UK readers will have get this from

Loving your neighbourhood

Tim Keller identifies the following characteristics of a missional church.[1] I’ve found them very helpful in encouraging groups to recognise what it means to engage with their neighbourhoods in a missional way.

A ‘missional’ small group is not necessarily one which is doing some kind of specific ‘evangelism’ programme (though that is to be recommended). Rather:

1.      If its members love and talk positively about the city and neighbourhood.
2.      If they speak in language that is not filled with pious tribal or technical terms and phrases, nor disdainful and embattled language.
3.      If in their Bible study they apply the gospel to the core concerns and stories of the people of the culture.
4.      If they are obviously interested in and engaged with the literature and art and thought of the surrounding culture and can discuss it both appreciatively and yet critically.
5.      If they exhibit deep concern for the poor and generosity with their money and purity and respect with regard to opposite sex, and show humility toward people of other races and cultures.
6.      If they do not bash other Christians and churches.

Then seekers and non-believing people from the city (a) will be invited and (b) will come and will stay as they explore spiritual issues. If these marks are not there it will only be able to include believers or traditional, ‘Christianized’ people.


1. How does your community measure up against these criteria?

2. If we find ourselves changing the language we use when unbelievers are present then we should probably change it all the time. Think about how you might talk about evangelism when unbelievers are present.

3. Tim Keller says the members of a missional community ‘love and talk positively about the city and neighbourhood’. List ten things you love about your neighbourhood.

[1] From Tim Keller, ‘The Missional Church’, June 2001.
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Understanding your neighbourhood #2

As I stated in a previous post, recognising our missional context means we can no longer assume the church understands the culture. Here are set of questions that may help you think through the stories, values, worldview and culture of the people in your neighbourhood.


Where are the missional spaces (places and activities where you meet people)?
Where do they experience community?
Are their existing social networks with which we can engage or do we need to find ways of creating community within a neighbourhood?
Where should you be to have missional opportunities?


When are the missional moments?
What are the rhythms of your neighbourhood?
How do people organise their time?
What cultural experiences and celebration do people value? How might these be used as bridges to the gospel?
When should you be available to have missional opportunities? Continue reading

Understanding your neighbourhood #1

Recognising our missional context means we can no longer assume the church understands the culture. We need to  get to know our neighbourhood, its people, their stories, values, worldview and culture. Sometimes communities are defined by geography, but they may also be defined in other ways (ethnicity, leisure interest, time of life). In an urban context most people are part of several communities.

Here are three sets of questions culled from various sources. In a future post I’ll give my own set of suggested questions.

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things To Come (213)

Observe the organic social rhythms of the host or target community.
Watch for the social patterning.
Ask where the social centres in your community are. Or as Brian Ollman at the Millennia Co-op in Los Angeles says, ‘Where are the ant trails? And where are they leading?’
Ask ‘What is church for this group of people?’ and ‘What will a Jesus-centred faith community look like among this people with their particular culture?’ Do not import an alien or artificial model of church. Try to help develop one that is truly indigenous to that culture or subculture.
Keep asking ‘What is good news for this community?’ Continue reading