Monthly Letter – May 2018

Dear Friends

Training figures largely in what we’re about.

It’s one of the four main strands of what might loosely be called our DNA: it is, if nothing else, an integral part of what we understand to be our raison d’etre – something we use the suggestive acronym ACTS to give expression to.

Attracting people to Jesus.

Consolidating their new-found faith.

Training each one for ministry.

Sending them out in Christ’s name.

We want the story of the early church (recorded in the book of Acts) to be our story, too. Jesus hasn’t changed: and neither has the plot-line of His purpose. He’s building His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against Him. The darkness is being driven back: His kingdom is surely coming.

But although the progress of the gospel is sure, and the advancement of His kingdom is certain, there’s nothing either magical or simply automatic about the thing. There’s work to be done; and these are the four points of the compass that we use – A.C.T.S. Attracting, consolidating, training, sending – so that others in turn are attracted to Jesus, and thereby the cycle begins all over again: the ‘revolving door’ of our calling in Christ.

The tag-lines maybe sound good, of course, but ‘til they’re all fleshed out and given solid substance they’re simply empty phrases.

We’ve been working at this: and not least in regard to training.

“Praise be to the LORD my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle” writes the psalmist (Psalm 144.1), who understood what we too must always understand, that following Jesus thrusts us into a battle. There’s a war going on, there are battles to be fought, and a part of the call which is placed on His church is to get us equipped for the fight.

For the past good long while we’ve been giving attention to this.

We’ve been airing the theme, first of all, when leaders from churches throughout both the city and shire have been gathered together to meet and to talk and to pray: asking the questions – like, Isn’t there scope for providing a programme of training up here in these north eastern parts? Isn’t there clearly a need for such ‘on-the-spot’ training provision which doesn’t require a commute of some hundreds of miles? Don’t we have the resources up here to develop, define and deliver a programme like this which will train and equip future leaders for all that the Lord calls them to?

We’ve been pushing this up the agenda as well when leaders from like-minded churches have ‘breakfasted’ sometimes together through the course of the past many months. This has been a substantially smaller forum in terms of the numbers of those involved; but the ground on which we have all been agreed is, of course, correspondingly also larger. And in this smaller gathering of like-minded pastors and leaders, albeit in varying degrees, there has been a consistent consensus that training is clearly important.

And emerging from that, in a grouping yet markedly smaller, we’ve been working along with the Deeside Christian Fellowship and with Hebron Evangelical Church to develop a rolling, two-year foundational course of training which we hope to get up and running as of August of this year.

Where this may lead and just how this may later expand remains to be seen; but it does at last provide up here, at least in even an embryonic form, a basic course of training to equip believers better for the rigours of the ministries to which they are being called.

Ministry of any sort locates us on a battle-field. We need the Lord to train us for such warfare, as the psalmist (in a very different context) clearly understood. And so this foundational programme of training will be very firmly rooted in the teaching of the Word of God – He’s the One who trains us, after all, and so we seek to have His Holy Spirit teach His people through His Word.

With six foundational modules spread across the two years of the programme, there’s scope for those who take this on to get to grips with Scripture and to have their understanding firmly shaped and wholly fashioned by the Word of God.

But it’s intended as well to be very much a ‘hands-on’ type of training which we give. The Lord, as the psalmist expressed it, “trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.”

It’s hands-on stuff he’s on about. There’s a real-life war to be waged, not just some classroom test which must be passed. Getting our heads around God’s truth counts for little if we can’t get our hands round the weapons He gives us to use. Theory must always be matched by the hours out there on the practice ground. Both are important.

Musicians know this. Golfers know this. We all know this. You need the theory and you need the practice: you have to put in the hard yards. There simply aren’t the short-cuts we might like.

Our hope is that this whole very ‘practical’ dimension will indeed be part of the basic foundational training which we’re putting in place.

Why are we putting our energies into a programme like this?

There are ever so many good reasons!

  • Because that’s what the call of the Lord will always entail. Training. Our task is to go and make disciples. Not converts – because that’s His business: we can’t raise the dead, we can’t open eyes, we can’t touch a heart of stone and make a heart of flesh. But we can go make disciples; and that involves our ‘teaching them to observe all that He has commanded us’. As parents are called to train up a child in the way that we all are to go, so too within the family of God we’re to train up the children of God to equip them in turn then to go.
  • Because the landscape of our nation has been hugely re-configured in these days. It’s like we’ve had to emigrate, and we find ourselves in spiritual terrain which all seems terribly strange. Generations have long since grown up with either little or often now no real exposure at all to the truths of the gospel we preach. God’s Word is dismissed, God’s Son is ignored; and God’s people who stand on the truth of His Word and who seek in their living to honour the Lordship of Christ, well, they’re more and more branded as odd-balls, perceived and reviled as a menace and threat to the comfortable culture of self. It’s a brave new wave of Christians we’re intent on training up to live the life of Jesus in this so-called ‘Brave New World’.
  • Because the contours of the church of Jesus here in Scotland now have also hugely changed. It once was that denominations ‘ruled the roost’, that that was where the loyalties of Christian folk would mostly lie. But in recent years something like ‘deregulation’ has kicked in, and now there is a far more fluid nature to the way that church life works. And training’s been affected in the whole, extensive shake-up that there’s been. There isn’t now the uniform approach which once there was: and while that makes for greater flexibility, it also means the whole approach to training can be far more flawed as well, with cracks down which who knows just how much vital training content may well slip.
  • Because we have to be what I’ll call ‘next generation’ thinkers. Time after time after time the Scriptures insist that this is to be our perspective. The next generation. Living our life today down the line. It’s a crucial perspective which goes against the grain of every instinct in ourselves. What’s good for us today is all we really want: there’s too much of the Hezekiah mindset in us all. Remember him? “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?” (2 Kings 20.19), he said. He wasn’t all that troubled by whatever might then happen after that. It’s a recipe for ruin which we consciously reject. We’re intent on now putting in place that which will serve that coming generation well.
  • Because up here in this north-eastern corner there is simply a dearth of such training, compared to the rest of the country. There are options galore for the borders and the central belt: there are options as well for the north and the west. But up here in this north-eastern corner there’s the scope for, the need for, and also the evident lack of a basic foundational programme of biblical training to serve the church well in advancing the cause of the gospel.

We don’t want to stick with simply ‘tag-lines’, however good they sound. We mean business! There’s work to be done in these days. And we’re eager to be out there at the ‘coalface’, involved to the hilt in the on-going work of our wonderful, warrior God.

Yours in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Jeremy Middleton