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Stories of a broken trellis – Laura

Retelling others stories so that we can process our own. Believing that the trellis could be as beautiful as its vine.

Glen Scrivener wrote an article in EN depicting the culture of favouritism and elitism within some of the UK churches. His examples are about a historic, specific situation. Yet the comments I’ve read and the experiences I’ve seen show that this is current and endemic.

Many have seen and felt the impact of this culture. Many have struggled to find words to express what’s wrong. Many have only just had the strength to believe that this culture isn’t right.

This is so important that stories need to be told. We need to see others stories so that we can process our own.

We need to see others stories so that we can process our own. We need to face the problems in our culture, pray and repent so that change can happen

Glen I totally agree “we have a wonderful vine and, at points, a wonky trellis. That trellis – our systems and the assumptions behind them – needs urgent scrutiny“. If you haven’t read Glen’s article, please read that first.

I want to share stories that show the impact of the “Blokes Worth Watching”(BWW) system upon individuals, here is the first one. This is Laura’s story not mine, I have changed some details to give her anonymity.

Laura’s story

“The ones to watch, the ones to build up, the ones to give opportunities to always seem to be the young men. At first, I thought it was my own heart playing a comparison game. But when there is a clear pattern of opportunity you can’t help but feel like there’s a special club you are not a part of. Whether it’s giving a young man who can play four chords the chance to lead worship. Or someone studying theology the chance to speak at an event. When there is clear pattern of opportunity you can’t but help but feel like this.

I started working in a new context in youth ministry. I looked around at the groups across our region and realised there hadn’t been a single female speaker all year. Recently in a planning weekend the notion of having a female speaker was mentioned but conversation was shut down immediately. So, I asked the question

are there women that you think could speak?” no answer.

As I reflected on the women I knew, very few of them had been given the opportunity to even try. There were some that were given the chance to speak, but sadly their talks weren’t perfect. After that point they were no longer invited, it was as if they’d been black listed. In contrast those in the BWW crew seemed to be given plentiful opportunities. If they messed up then the response was “no worries we’ll invite them back“. I try and be gracious as I look on and cheer on my brothers in Christ. But I can’t help but wonder if anyone asks where are the women? No wonder we are so afraid to fail.

The biggest impact of this culture on me is the idea that women need to prove themselves. Not just once, but time and time again before they are even let into the room. But the BWW will be let in the room with no question as of course they are the future of the church. As a woman before you are even considered at the same level as these men you must first prove your worth.

As a woman before you are even considered at the same level as these men you must first prove your worth.

Maybe we should encourage men more, after all there are less men in the church than women. Maybe we should encourage them to keep them in the church. But as I look at my sisters in Christ, I see so much talent. Talent and gifting that isn’t being used for the good of the kingdom. Yes, men should be encouraged and built up in church. But we need to think about how we disciple, encourage and raise up both men and women”.

Read more accounts of others impacted by the BWW culture here.

Nay has written a response to Glen Scrivener’s article in August’s edition of Evangelicals Now, read it here.

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Running a Nativity trail

Minister warns new tighter lockdown restrictions in the North could be  there 'until after Christmas' – Proper Manchester

This blog was written a year ago. The trail went really well, many families got involved in the planning and hundreds of kids learnt about the nativity. Read more below and get in touch if you have any questions…

There are so many limitations at the moment, Christmas markets, Ice rinks and Santa Grottos are nowhere to be seen. The typical family Christmas dinner and carol services just won’t be happening. Its possible that you may not even get to see your family for the Christmas break. Right now Christmas cheer feels a bit pointless and for so many it seems like Christmas has been cancelled. However the heart of the Christian message is that into our darkness a great light shines…

“The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.”
Isaiah 9:2

More than ever we’re called as Christians to be a light to our communities, a porch light to our streets and houses of light to our friends. Even in lockdown we can still exercise, we can still decorate our houses. We can still bring teams of people together to work on a project and create a sense of community even in self-isolation.

I’m not a children’s worker, I’m just a mum that loves her kids and their friends. The context for this blog and idea started a month ago. I’ve never celebrated Halloween but this year I ended up running a Halloween trail and Pumpkin carving competition. Read more of the story here. To promote the trail and Pumpkin carving competition we set up a simple Facebook page called Bitterne Park Family fun. Over half term the page had a reach of 9000 people and the competition had over 200 entries (each person submitted a photo onto our page). We wanted to give back to the community so we promoted local businesses as they generously donated prizes for the competition. We had such good feedback that we’ve decided to do something similar for Christmas. Many friends are running trails across the UK, have a look here to find one near you.

So here are our plans…

Nativity trail reveal

We’re planning a 24 day Nativity trail reveal in December. 24 houses telling a part of the Christmas story, 24 hidden letters to find and spell a sentence. Each house has been given a part of the nativity story and asked to creatively decorate their front garden or windows, telling the story through their decorations. We have a handout and map that we’ll give out to each child for them to write down the hidden letters that they find. Every day in December one house will reveal its decorations. At the last house we’ll be giving out little bags with Christmas Chocolate, a Christmas Tattoo and a little invitation story to find out more.

How to run a trail (all links below)

  1. Get people involved set up a google form to collect details and create a flyer inviting friends to get involved or write a letter to invite your neighbours
  2. Create a trail route we’re imagining families might do the trail every few days through December rather than in one go. Once you know how many people want to be involved create a trail route. The trail could also be adapted to 12 houses or one house. Or it could be that you prefer to create a Window of Hope. I’d love to encourage you to put a table or box on your drive and give away gift bags.
  3. Assign houses give each house a day and a bit of the nativity, encourage them to decorate their house or window in a way that tells the story.
  4. Create a trail map see the one below from Halloween (Christmas one is on its way!), or write a simple list of houses or create your own Google map
  5. Create a trail handout see below (designed by Phil Webb)
  6. Promote your trail through social media
  7. Create gift bags to be given out
  8. Invitational Flyers put a flyer in each bag. I’ve written a story called Lucy and the bird. This is very simple with the aim of raising curiosity, you can add a link to your church social media for more information
  9. Example house for day 12 and 24

Nativity trails can be done in any community or across a city. It could be that a church gets behind this and within the church Christians from different communities run it. Or it could be a group of friends decide to run it. So for example in our city, there will be a trail in Bitterne park, Shirley and the Flowers estate. The trail could also be adapted to have just 12 houses see here or one house, or possibly even a window of Hope instead (see below). I’d love to encourage you to put out a table and give out beautiful gift bags or make up ten and give them out to friends. You can buy Lucy and the Bird flyers and the Handout here.

1. Getting others involved

Before any trail, I put up a post on Facebook and ask if anyone wants to get involved. Its a great way to get to know others and build community.

2. Here is how we’ve allocated each house to a day and a part of the nativity story

3. Create a trail map or a list of houses, here are some examples Swaythling map created by Dan Pooley, Halloween map created by Rachael Samuelson

4. Create a trail handout

5. Promote your trail through social media

6. Create gift bags (Invitational postcard/flyer, clear bag, sweets, Christmas tattoo’s)

7. Invitational flyer – I’ve been writing short stories that raise curiosity about the person of Jesus Christ. This is the front, if you’d like to see how the story ends or buy some of these get in touch or look here), we also have the Alfie story that could be used for Christmas

8. Example House day 12

8. Example window day 24

I’ve written these stories to raise curiosity about the person of Jesus, read the second half of the story here. If you’d like to buy some to give out, please get in touch.

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Letting the darkness point us to the light – why I’m running a Halloween trail this year

We live in an area that loves Halloween. Each year hundreds of kids get dressed up and walk around the street trick or treating. Families decorate their gardens and really embrace this event. Until this year we’ve done the complete opposite. We’ve closed our curtains, told our girls we don’t get involved and had an early night.

We live in an area that loves Halloween. Until this year we’ve done the complete opposite. We’ve closed our curtains, told our girls we don’t get involved and had an early night.

A couple of things have changed my mind, firstly my kids are getting older and asking more questions about why we don’t get involved. Secondly I’ve realised afresh that there is no need to be afraid, there is still light and hope. I am trying to, in the words of Charlie Mackesey “imagine how we’d be if we weren’t afraid”.

“imagine how we’d be if we weren’t afraid” Charlie Mackesey

I’d been reading an excellent book earlier in the summer by Rachel Denhollander who comments on the theme of light and darkness. Rachel says “the darkness is there, and we cannot ignore it. But we can let it point us to the light.” COVID19 has brought up more of humanity’s darkness and put it at the forefront of our every day lives. This, of all times, is a time to be like porch lights in our communities, offering welcome, hospitality, light and hope. We can do this because we know there is someone who can make our dark world light and a little less scary.

This, of all times, is a time of be like porch lights in our communities and offer hospitality, light and hope.

I’m a mum of two young kids, we love our school, our friends and our community. I invited all the year 1 parents to help me set up activities for our kids at this time, two responded, so we met for coffee and started planning. One of them said to me, Nay we need strong community leadership at this time, you need to take a lead. So together we set up the Bitterne Park Community facebook page. Fully aware that there is little for families, we decided to run COVID safe trails and activities. I was secretly hoping they would run the Halloween trail, but in the end it came back to me!

Going from never having celebrated Halloween to fully organising a trail has been quite a surprise. We’ve now got a team of 17 parents from the school and together we’ve planned and created the trail. My friend Rachael designed the map and we’ve all decorated our gardens. Each garden has a hidden clue that spells out a secret phrase.

For those that can’t get out we’re running a pumpkin carving and colouring competition with prizes from local businesses. Each person uploads a photo of their artwork and then judging will happen on Sunday by two local artists. Our page so far has 200 people following and a reach of 8000, we’re really excited to see who will submit photos and take part.

So what did we decide to do as a family? Well, inspired by Glen Scriveners excellent video Halloween Trick or Treat? We’ve gone for a house of light and a house of humour. Glen says “While Halloween can often be a time associated with ghosts, devils and darkness, this is a time to share the good news that Jesus is the light of the world!” In the video he continues to say…

“The future is futile for forces of evil, the bible begins with this fore resolved fight, a moment of darkness then let there be light, first grief in the gloom, then joy from the east, first valley of shadow, then mountain top feast, first wait for Messiah, then long promised dawn, first desolate Friday and then Easter morn, the armies of darkness whilst doing their worst can never extinguish this dazzling sun burst. So ridicule rogues if you must play a role, the triumph is not with the forces of night, it dawned with the ones that said I am the Light”

So we’re going for humour because we know the one who beat death, evil and suffering and light because we know the one who says ” I am the Light”. Each day this week we’re creating #funnypumpkins. We managed to find some whopper pumpkins, our first theme is swimming pumpkins. We’ve also covered the front of our house in fairy lights. To go alongside this we wanted to clearly communicate why we were the House of Light on the trail. So I’ve written a very simple, invitational flyer with a story of Alfie the little boy who was scared of everything (see below). We’re giving out bags with a sweet, sticker and light stick and then a link to this page House of Light, on the page families can find out more.

If you read this in time and haven’t already made plans, would you like to join me? You don’t need to run a trail, you could simply cover your house in fairy lights, or give out little bags with this flyer in. If you’d like any of the Alfie flyers or stickers, then please get in touch and I can send you some in the post or email you the pdf.

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Why the Rule of six could help your friendships

Coronavirus: What are the social distancing rules? - BBC News

We’d been round at a friends house for food and a catch up. Most weeks after the school pick up, we get invited and simply turn up. There’s usually between six and eight of us, from two families. There’s always great food and lots of fun, to be honest its just really easy company. This is a regular occurrence in our life and we love it… until recently.

A recent update from the UK Government meant that people can no longer socialise in groups of more than six (the “rule of six“). This announcement has scuppered the previous hope that the rules on social distancing could be lifted by the end of the year. In this blog I’m not taking an opinion or sides on this rule, rather reflecting on it in relation to friendships.


For some, this rule has had a limited impact. One comedian joked that this rule didn’t affect him. He said “I’m not really in that place, my social circle is so small, I couldn’t even get six mates to my funeral if Champions league was on”.


For others it was far more challenging. Large families unable to socialize in coming months. The moral dilemma of snitching on your neighbours. The reality that stopping and chatting with a group of friends (greater than 6) was now seen as a crime. For some friends it rubbed salt into a wound of loneliness that they’d been feeling for months.

For some friends, the #ruleofsix rubbed salt into a wound of loneliness that they’d been feeling for months.


For me, the one word I came up with was “inconvenient”. It wasn’t awful, I was sad my extended family wouldn’t be able to meet together. But I was also hopeful that it wouldn’t be for too long. On the whole, I’m creative and enjoy lateral thinking. This was a fresh challenge for me to grasp. There was no way we were not seeing friends and family again. So I just had to work out how we divide families into two, or focus on seeing friends in smaller groups.


But this attitude of inconvenience bubbling up from within really bothered me. I’m aware that many of us are on the edge, and anything stressful just adds to our already fragile nature. But I stopped and asked myself, are my friendships based on convenience or they are intentional? Are my friendships driven by love, self sacrifice and generosity, able to weather through the storms of life?

Are my friendships based on convenience or they are intentional? Are my friendships driven by love, self sacrifice and generosity, able to weather through the storms of life?


I’d been reading a book this summer called “Made for friendship”. The book starts with a quote from CS Lewis. “To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it”. Over the summer I began to question what friendship really was. But to be honest in the busyness of life I’d not taken these thoughts any further. Ironically, as socialising is being limited, I think I might be beginning to learn afresh about the concept of friendship. In this season there is a unique opportunity to commit to friendships in a fresh way.


As I began to think through some of the implications on my life, I remembered that the number six is pretty good for friendships. I’m sure the number was chosen to slow the spread of COVID (and not based on friendship), but please hear me out on this one. I’d been reading an excellent book in the spring called “The Art of Gathering”. Priya Parker, the author is a “professional gatherer”. She says that when gathering people together there are magic numbers, one of them is six. Groups of six create a high level of sharing and intimacy. Compared to groups of twelve which offer some level of sharing but are far more diverse in opinions. (Groups of thirty begins to feel like a party, its has its own distinctive quality, but a single conversation is difficult within a group this size, and one hundred and fifty is an audience). This struck me that now, in this season, its a time for deep friendship, with high levels of sharing and intimacy.


So rather than fighting against what we don’t have, I want to be able to adapt and flourish with what is possible. This is a season where we can gather in smaller groups. According to Priya that group size is perfect for creating an atmosphere where genuine, real friendship can grow. For me, even in this strange season I’d love to learn to live like the Ancients “where friendships are the happiest and most fully human of all loves”.


If you’d like to read more about how we’re adapting to the Rule of six and seeing it as an opportunity to dive deeply into rich friendships in our church homegroup then click here. IFES student groups are focusing their strategy using small groups read more here

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Refuge for Student Workers

This blog post is written by Helen Taylor. This is part of a series of blogs written for weary gospel workers, see here for previous blogs.

September is a big month for a student worker – filled with trepidation at everything to be done before term starts, and buckets of excitement.  

Showing new students it’s possible to have a conversation that doesn’t start with, “Where are you from and what course do you do?” and maybe even introduce them to Jesus for the first time is a joy.  

Older students returning, bringing fresh energy to church life and opportunities for discipleship is what I live for.  

But if you’re anything like me the last few weeks haven’t been filled with joy and anticipation in the same way. Maybe instead you’re already exhausted, already heart-weary and the prospect of an academic year on zoom – well you’re just not up for it. 

Students can throw anything at you and we’re going to need to be more ready than ever to extend grace, to call people to repentance and to comfort. 

Let’s be real though. That’s only going to happen if we’re willing to ask for help with those same things ourselves.  

I’m yet to meet someone in ministry who’s not tempted to self-sustain, to become the rock to which everyone else clings, to be indestructible. 

But that temptation, well, it’s out to kill us, and out to kill our ministry.  

Zoom-fatigue is real.  

Distance-fatigue is real.  

Change-fatigue is real.  

If we keep pretending we’re the only ones who don’t struggle with these things, we’ll crash.  

If we don’t adjust ministry accounting for these things, so will the people we’re trying to serve.  

Our well-being, our flourishing and the fruitfulness of our ministry this term is dependent on us being… well,  dependent.

Psalm 61 

1 Hear my cry, O God; 
    listen to my prayer. 

2 From the ends of the earth I call to you, 
    I call as my heart grows faint; 
    lead me to the rock that is higher than I. 
3 For you have been my refuge, 
    a strong tower against the foe. 

So, will you go? If you’re lead to the rock that is higher than you, will you follow? Will you go? 

What’s it for you? Netflix? Your spouse? Trashy food? Going on another run? Wherever you escape, there’s always something that will promise to be your refuge.  But there’s only one place that will take your cries, your fears and the weight of your soul.  

So will you go to the rock that is higher than you?  

Will you celebrate and live within your limits? 

Will you be careful to set zoom boundaries? 

Will you have someone ask you about your mental health? 

Will you take time for things that bring you joy?  

Will you be diligent in protecting time in God’s Word and in prayer? And time for rest? 

Will you ask for help? 

Will you let the Lord take your full weight as you walk through this next season of ministry? 

The students you’re walking alongside this term are not the only ones dealing with grief and confusion and anxiety and loneliness and fear, are they? Why bother pretending? 

Helen Taylor

Helen Taylor is married to James and works for UCCF with students in the Midlands. She loves to feed people good food and dance to good music.

Continue learning

Read. If you’d like to think more about student work and mental health then read this months Connect. A regular mailing for student workers created by UCCF.

Listen. Catch up with this recent event run by Passion for Evangelism and Community in a Crisis with Dr Kate Middleton on Anxiety, depression and Jesus.

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Encouraging female evangelists

In the ‘Passion for Evangelism’ (PfE) termly book club, we have been reading and discussing Aimee Byrd’s excellent book Why Can’t We Be Friends? Aimee reminds us that the way to stand against culture’s inadequate and over-sexualised word around men and women is by not allowing it to drive us apart.

“the way to stand against culture’s inadequate and over-sexualised word around men and women is by not allowing it to drive us apart”

Rather, she says, ‘It is by seeking the brother-and-sister closeness we are privileged to have as Christians. True, godly friendship between the sexes that embraces the family we truly are in Christ serves as the exact witness the watching world needs.’ As women and men proclaim the gospel together, we have an opportunity to show the world to show what restored, sibling relationships look like. Men and women working together in evangelism adorns the gospel and points to a better story!

“As women and men proclaim the gospel together, we have an opportunity to show the world to show what restored, sibling relationships look like. Men and women working together in evangelism adorns the gospel and points to a better story!

A word in season

There’s a particular need for this emphasis today. In recent years I’ve met many men and women that view Christianity through the lens of oppression rather than life-giving liberation. Through shows like Spotlight, The Handmaid’s Tale and His Dark Materials, many are hearing that the gospel is restrictive and controlling.

Karen Soole recently put it like this in her excellent blog post Equipping women to reach others for Christ: ‘Secular women, in particular, are suspicious of the Church. They hear church leaders arguing about women’s roles but what they see is an institutional church which has been guilty of abuse. They suspect that the Bible has an oppressive and misogynist view of women and are convinced its message is of no value to them. If the Christian message is presented only by men, then at first glance at least, this suspicion goes unchallenged.’ 

Raising up female evangelists is particularly important in our universities

The majority of students on campus are women. Some female students prefer to hear the gospel spoken by a woman, including many from global cultures. These cultures would probably include those of Muslim-majority countries, where it is difficult for women to attend a meeting which is perceived as being primarily for men. Amongst male students too, there is growing demand to hear female and BAME voices. If we want to reach our universities, workplaces and communities for Christ, we vitally need female evangelists working alongside male evangelists.

If we want to reach our universities, workplaces and communities for Christ, we vitally need female evangelists working alongside male evangelists.

Fears around public evangelism

Though many of us may wholeheartedly agree with these comments, consider: how many evangelistic events you’ve attended in the last year have had women speaking? How many women do you know that are confident and who have opportunities to speak evangelistically? Why are so few women speaking in this context – and what can we do to help women be courageous? 


For many, the idea of public speaking is terrifying. American comedian Jerry Steinfield says: ‘According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy!’


This quote aptly reflects the attitude many of us have around public speaking. And because public evangelism is a daunting task, and because there are so few female public evangelists, we set up the Passion for Evangelism conference and network in April 2019.

Introducing PFE

There are now 450 women in the network. Our aim is to encourage and support one another, to share prayer requests and give feedback on talks. We have a new mentoring scheme called The Greenhouse, through this two month scheme 8 women are equipped to communicate the good news of Jesus. It’s been exciting to see women from all ages and professions giving talks for the first time. At last year’s conference we had sessions on taking risks for the gospel, communicating Jesus to a weary world, an overview of women in the Bible and what they teach us, and how we might engage with feminism. Our hope was that each guest would go home and find opportunities to speak.


 One guest tells this story: ‘Off the back of Passion for Evangelism, I approached my workplace and asked if I could run and speak at three evangelistic talks at work through the workplace CU. I suggested it as a summer series and the rest of the group were keen.


Passion for Evangelism conferences feature main teaching sessions, you can listen to the 2020 conference here. The bulk of the remainder of the conference is spent in small groups, where each delegate will present a ‘Passion Talk’ and receive feedback. Passion Talks are 15-minute evangelistic messages in which we speak about an aspect of the speaker’s own passion: why they do what they do, why they care, and how this flows out of knowing Jesus. Passion Talks allow us to show why and how following Jesus makes a difference in real life. There is an open door in many university, work and community contexts for sharing this kind of attractive and trustworthy gospel hope.

If you are a woman – or there are women in your network who’d benefit from this fellowship, please encourage them to join the Passion for Evangelism Facebook network.

3 tips for investing in female evangelists 

  1. Help emerging women evangelists get some experience
    Could you ask a woman who’s never spoken in public before to share their testimony or be on a Q&A panel? Give them the encouragement they need and be sure to debrief with them afterwards.
  2. Encourage them to read and listen widely
    Rebecca McLaughlin’s Confronting Christianity is a multiple award winner and is a great place for women growing in evangelism and apologetics to point them to first!
  3. Expose them to more experienced female evangelists
    You could share these YouTube videos of Kristi Mair speaking on sufferingAnn Brown on whether the Bible is anti-womenSharon Dirckx on neuroscience and belief in God or Ellie Cook on whether Christianity inhibits freedom (see below). 

This article was originally published in UCCF Connect Newsletter for student workers.

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Community in a Crisis survey

Online Church experience Survey in English.

Community in a Crisis is an initiative that has been set up as a response to the pandemic. We’re passionate about relational church online. We’ve been helping churches get set up online through events, blog posts and training videos. We would like to find out what the experience of online church has been across Europe so are conducting a study starting on May 31st.

Church online experience survey

What has your experience of church in lockdown been? We’d love to hear from you, whether during this time you joined church for the first time, or whether you’re a regular attender or church leader. Our survey will be shared across Europe and our hope is that we can learn lessons from lockdown that will shape the future of the church.

The survey is anonymous and the data will not be shared beyond the Survey team.  Survey results will be published only in aggregated form where individual respondents cannot be identified. The purpose of the survey is to help churches understand how they can best serve their congregations and visitors. It is anticipated that, in some countries, restrictions may persist for some time. These insights will also help church leaders to make decisions about routes out of lockdown which will best serve the needs of their congregations and visitor as restrictions are partially lifted. The survey has been translated into many languages so that we get a whole picture of what is happening across Europe.  

Albanian

Bulgarian

Croatian

Czech

Danish

Dutch

English

French

German

Greek

Hungarian

Italian

Latvian

Norwegian

Polish

Romanian

Russian

Serbian

Swedish

Links to publicity in different languages.

Translations coming soon Maltese, Portuguese and Ukranian.

The survey team are:

Nay Dawson

Nay has been a staff worker, Team leader with UCCF and co-ordinated the Science Leadership Network, she now works for IFES as the Regional Training Co-ordinator setting up a network of Seeker Bible study trainers across Europe. Together with her husband they wrote Uncover Mark and were part of the team that created and launched it. Nay has set up Passion for Evangelism a network of female public evangelists. In lockdown as a response to churches being closed Nay with a team of friends has set up the initiative Community in a Crisis.

Dr Martine Barons

Dr Martine J Barons is the Director of the Applied Statistics & Risk Unit and the University of Warwick, UK and vice chair of the Christian Postgraduate and Staff Network, Warwick. Martine started her career in accountancy and after 20 year full time at home bringing up her family, she took a degree, Masters and PhD in mathematical sciences. Martine’s key research interest is quantitative decision support for decision-making under uncertainty and she has published  research on health, food security, pollination and expert judgement.  Martine has been part of Emmanuel Church, Leamington Spa since 1986.

Supported by

Jo Rogers

Arie De Pater from European Evangelical Alliance

Press release

Protestante Digital

Evangelico Digital

Evangelical Focus

A really big thank you to our translators

Igors Rautmanis

Morten Birkmose

Eirini Panteliou

karolina van Wijk

Li Bell

Cat Senior

Beata Szrejder

Janka Sotáková

Birthe Birkbak Hovaldt

Ela Magda Džafić

Veronika Hylánová

Tim and Nicky Sandell

Rebecca Davies

Redona Pjeçi

Heledd Job

Neeman Melamed

Andrea Storhaug

Gunn Elin Vage

Ela Magda Džafić

Lucy Higson

Rachel Wadhawan

Gergely Pasztor Kicsi

Alan Andrioni Fernandes

Roberta Grixti

Bianca A. Dia

Andru Modol

Raluca Arba

Raquel Medina
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Learning from the experts in the new normal

Can you think of a situation where you’ve tried to learn something new without taking the advice of experts? This is me all over. My lack of patience plays out in many ways. One of these is an unwillingness to read instructions. This has resulted in many failed attempts at new recipes and DIY projects. My latest disaster was a lockdown hair cut for my husband 3 days before he preaches on Zoom. I’d confused number 1 and number 10 on the clippers, leaving an accidental Nike stripe in the back of Jon’s hair. The children were crying and the house was covered in hair. My daughter looked at her father and said Dad are you actually going to leave the house looking like that? At that point we went back to the instructions and started all over again.

We’ve had to think through how we do church and mission in a pandemic for the first time. But now the UK is over its peak. We’re beginning to see other countries coming out of lockdown. Questions are beginning to emerge about church online after lockdown. What has God been saying in this time of intentional interruption? When this is over can we go back to normal? Is there a new normal?

I really want to think about this. Do we even want to return to normal?

We know that the “old normal” is a long way off. Open air cafes might just open in the summer. Schools might open with a staggered approach with the youngest going back in October. Churches in Germany will open soon but they might ban singing. There is a lot of uncertainty. But in this space of uncertainty I’d like to ask a few questions. Do we really want to return to normal? Was normal really that great anyway? Could we even have a new normal that far more reflects the body of Christ than before?

I’ve read many articles about church life after lockdown. In each of them I hear a repeated sentiment that seems to hint that this hasn’t been real, that this hasn’t been church and that this couldn’t be permanent.

Here are some examples of these statements

Billy Kennedy in his excellent post on 3 reasons to stay online says this: “Church is community and community is expressed when people meet together… Sure, we can do some of this online but nothing beats the face to face interaction, the hug, the handshake or the huddle.”

Tim Hughes talks in his interview about The Blessing and online church. He says “If our only interaction is online, that’s not great, because that’s what I’m missing as a pastor. There’s so much nuance you miss. Body language and just being around people. And I miss the joy when you’re in church and hundreds of people are all united singing these songs. That’s powerful and you can’t quite replace that through endless Zooms!”

I agree with so much here. But what about for those for whom this isn’t the new normal, they’ve been doing online church for decades. And for these, after lockdown has finished, they still won’t be able to leave their homes and go to church  because they haven’t yet found a church that is accessible. 20% of the population have disabilities and yet many of our churches are not accessible to this people group. Lausanne tells us the most unreached people group in the world is the disabled community with 94% unreached. 

I think , the established church could learn so much from this community about how to do church online. For this community churchessuch as Disability and Jesus, London Internet Church, Pixel Church and iChurch have been doing this for years.

Here are two questions I’ve been asking as I’ve thought about this:


1. Was normal really that great anyway?

I’ve begun to see that the body we had, just really wasn’t that much of a body after all. I’m not yearning to return to a building, I’m yearning to be together as a body.

I’m not yearning to return to a building, I’m yearning to be together as a body.

One of our church is housebound due to disabilities. This is what her daughter said after our first online church service:

“Bringing the church service to our home has meant that mum has been able to be ‘at church’ for the first time since before Christmas. Wonderful. This is amazing. Thank you. Praise God”.

Initially I thought that was wonderful, a way in which online church was working to improve church. But as I look back I am sad that it took a pandemic to wake me up. When one of our members can’t be part of the body, the church gathered, there is something not right with our body.

Emma Major writes about her own experience with church and how she and others have felt: “Many thousands of disabled persons have been excluded from so many churches for so long. We’ve been church online for years. This is because the established church often isn’t a place where disabled people can meet together in person with other Christians”.

Malcolm Duncan, now pastor of Dundonald Elim Church in Belfast, says in a recording made some years ago for an Enabling Church conference: …“A church that doesn’t have disabled people in, is disabling itself”

2. Could we have a new normal that far more reflects the body of Christ than ever before?

The disabled community are 20% of our population. And yet I wonder if they make up 20% of our churches. I wonder too if our churches and events are accessible, warm and welcoming to all?  Would you join me and listen to Malcolm, Kay, Emma, and others and learn from them at this time about being the body of Christ?

Kay, told me that social media posts about disability are shared 1/3 less than other posts. I asked her what it would look like to listen to the disabled community. She said: “I long for people to have the ears to hear, and by ‘hear’ I don’t mean a nod of agreement. I mean a hearing that leads to action and a church where all can belong.”

Emma Major writes about the irony of lockdown and the churches response. She says “The fact that physical churches are now exploring how to find relationships online without thinking to ask those who’ve done it well for years is intriguing.”

On a similar theme Kay Morgan Gurr says “It’s taken a pandemic for the church world to catch up with this. Yet today I still see ministers and congregants alike saying that online is second best and they look forward to getting back to ‘real’ church.”

The disabled community have been doing this for years and could teach us about church online, if only we would listen.

Right now I want to repent that I was and am so unable to see to an entire people group.

Right now I want to listen. Malcolm Duncan talks about how we’re all broken and marred, that even Jesus himself limited his capacities in becoming human. I want to listen and be taught by those who are the experts in thinking through being the body online.

Right now I want look at accessibility issues in the areas I have responsibility. 

What about you?  What will be your new normal?

Here are a few guides on how to make your church and events more accessible https://www.throughtheroof.org/forchurches/churchresources/

https://www.throughtheroof.org/events-for-all/

Read more here

Emma Major – Church online nothing new

Watch here

Kay Morgan Gurr sharing about offering hope in a Crisis

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Offering hope in a time of crisis

This post was written in April 2020, but it seems as important now as it did then. Enjoy…

For extroverts lockdown is a testing time. I’m a 98% extrovert I love people and I love community. I am really grateful for technology and how it is being used to build genuine community during lockdown. I run daily chats on conference apps for my daughters and their friends. This took a few days to get used to it, but now they love it. The 5 year old generally plays Pictionary, makes silly faces or does an extensive show and tell. My 7 year old and up to 15 friends natter for over an hour every day. Here is what some of the parents have said…

“Daily chats have helped my seven year old stay positive over these last very strange weeks. Thank you for organising daily zoom calls for her and her friends. I can’t thank you enough”

“It’s been so great listening to Aria chatter with her school friends. She has come out of her shell it has been such a help for her, it has given her a freedom of friendship even when stuck at home xx”

So for me being salt and light has taken a massive U Turn during COVID19. I’ve become an online party host on most days. But this seems to be what my friends need right now. The country is in isolation and we’re lacking real community. We’re unsure and afraid about what the future holds for each one of us. Yet as Christians we have something to say and now is the time to say it.

Priya Parker has written an excellent book called “The Art of Gathering. In this she says “I have come to believe that it is the way a group is gathered that determines what happens in it and how successful it is”. In this article I’d love for us to pause and think. I’d like us to think both how we gather and how we communicate our message online.

Eamon Holmes journalist and broadcaster was at the races in Cheltenham in 2009. He was chatting in a box with his friends. In the box were 11 men, 1 woman, all in their 50s. He says this. “They were all very confident and all very well fuelled with alcohol. They were chatting around my wife – who’s not my wife at this point. She’s loving it, and I thought ‘why isn’t she my wife?’ I thought ‘why have I not got that tied up” This annoyed him and inspired him to propose. So how did he propose? A man with money, influence and connections. Wait for it…Eamon wrote his girlfriend a six page text message.

Now stop a moment and ask yourself how would you feel if you received a marriage proposal by text? Or even worse if you sent a marriage proposal by text? What is it that doesn’t sit right with proposing by text?

How we communicate shows something of the message itself. How we communicate during COVID19 says exactly the same.

How we communicate shows something of the message itself. How we communicate during COVID19 says exactly the same. We’re going to explore some ideas here about relational online communication. I’d like to look at offering hope in a time of crisis. I want us to dream big. Remember what life was like before COVID19 and push technology to its limits. Relational online events done really well will push social distancing to its boundaries.

Friends are asking so many questions. What do you believe? Where do you find hope? Do you get angry? Friends genuinely seem to be interested in these questions that are so central to what we know in Jesus. But how do I communicate with them when I am in lockdown? Lets go back to Eamon Holmes’ proposal. For me personally it lacks humanity, it lacks relationship and its deeply unsatisfying. I would have been so disappointed not to have been asked in person.

I wonder if some of the ways we’ve previously thought about communication and online events have lacked a human element to them?

There are some excellent resources out there on reaching out to friends and offering hope in a crisis. Many of these are high quality, one directional live video communication. There are many benefits to this platform, you can have breadth and reach in a way that you might not have otherwise. I’m conscious though, that with online saturation being at an all time high, we need something more than this.

A huge felt need in COVID19 is for relationship and gathering. We’re experiencing isolation, a lack of community and physical contact with people. It would be a shame if in our attempt to offer hope, we miss out on the best that communication technology can give us. Our events, friendships and conversations could be even better. Let me give you some examples of this. Firstly I’m not saying that you need slick, top notch equipment. In many ways my friends think that its a complete joke that I’m responsible for our new church COVID19 tech team. Jamie Haxby captures the same point in his blog post:

“I’ve done devotional thoughts live on Facebook from the treehouse in my garden amongst other weird places; it’s never well-produced: it’s just shot on our phones, but it does engage with people….we are not a big church, we are not well equipped with tech equipment, quite the opposite.  But, we are creating 8000 engagements a week on Facebook alone: this is comments, likes, shares, reaching 50,000 people in the last 28 days. The result has been many new people watching on Sundays and telling us that they have been watching, people getting in touch asking us to phone them up to tell them about Jesus from a variety of backgrounds.  There are some amazing testimonies starting to come to the surface.”

Through Community in a Crisis I’ve heard stories from many churches. God is opening a new door. Churches across Europe have seen an increase in guests at their services, this is surely good news. William Wade from Life Church says this “Online presence for services have trebled/quadrupled. We use pre-recorded videos and put them on our Facebook page at 11am each Sunday (with daily encouragements throughout the week). One of the best outcomes of moving online has been to ask church members to send in a 1 or 2 minute video of encouragement. It has really served to remain in some small way connected. It also serves to give a voice to the many rather than the few”.

There are so many ways that we can creatively and publicly engage with our friends. My favourite to date was a facebook watch party that we held. Two friends came along both of them thanked me for the opportunity to hear more. One messaged afterwards “It reminded me of church as a teenager, I knew something was missing in my life, but I didn’t know what until tonight”. The other friend and I ended up chatting on zoom and doing a Seeker Bible study. These watch parties are so simple and a great way to go from attending an event with anonymity to engaging your friend with the person of Jesus.

We have the most incredible reason to believe in and offer community and relationship at this time. We believe in a God that is relational to the core, from the very beginning of time he was Father, Son and Spirit.

I’m encouraged as I write this that I’m not alone in seeing this open door. There are some really helpful articles in Christianity Today talking about this opportunity and open door at the moment. One that really stood out was one entitled The Pandemic lockdown is a Godsend for the Indian church. Issac Shaw says “I believe the church has been ushered into a new age of growth and engagement with each other and with the world around us. We are witnessing a huge turning after God.”

Wouldn’t it be amazing if church online could provide this in increasing measures. We have an open door to invite friends to our church services during this time.

In the rush and pressure of this new online life, lets not forget something essential to the gospel. The incarnational, human, relational aspect of sharing this good news with our friends. If the way the message is being communicated says something about the message itself. Then, maybe we need to rethink how can we use technology to its best potential? How can we create the most relational, warm, welcoming events and church in this season? How can we be praying daily for our friends? How can we love our friends and care for them at this time? We’ve not (in our life time) had to think about our ecclesiology or missiology during a pandemic. We’ve not had to think about public evangelism in a pandemic. What a great opportunity to learn some lessons and even take them into life after COVID19.

In this time of need this exhortation rings clearly from 1 Thessalonians “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”. Lets be people that love our friends, share our lives with them and speak the good news of Jesus.

Never before have my friends been so open with me, never before I have been so open with them. COVID19 is changing all of us and is changing our relationships too. I have had more opportunities in the last few weeks to show love to my friends, to pray with and for them and to speak of the good news of Jesus. Its been a great time for honest conversations between friends.

Other ideas for online evangelism

Listen: Offering hope in a time of crisis Q&A panel (Please register here) We had a panel of church leaders and evangelists sharing their ideas.

Read: Communicating Hope during #COVDI19 – ideas from across Europe

Watch: Community in a Crisis Youtube channel – Jamie Haxby from Hope Church Lancaster shares about his experience of how they are seeing many more people engaging with their church since being online.

Community in a Crisis

At Community in a Crisis We’re passionate about building #relationalonlinechurch during #COVID19. Visit our facebook page or on Twitter. Register here for our training materials, recordings and events. We have training on; Offering hope in a Crisis – Evangelism in the local church, Multi-Platform worship training for worship leaders and Getting your church online through Zoom.

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Not the end of the story…

Itchen Bridge - Wikipedia

I feel each day like I am living in a dream. I hope that one day soon I will simply wake up and return to my old life (termed by my husband as life BCV).  Each day feels like ground hog day with attempts to bring routine and order in the absolute chaos.

It was a hard day today and tonight I have had enough of humanity. In the space of a few days I found out that some of the nearest and dearest to me have lost their jobs, been thrown out of their flats, had their car stolen and been scammed. At least three families I know have crossed the poverty line. How can all this be possible in the UK in 2020?

The sad reality is that today we are broken. We are isolated. And we are in a complete mess.

My attempts at home schooling failed within a week, our girls are virtually feral and things that don’t normally go wrong are going wrong every day. But tonight I decided to venture out.  I cycled around the ghost town of Southampton, crying, and sobbing at the state of our world. Angry in many ways that we are where we are. It all just feels so surreal, as if I’m on a movie set of a film. It’s simply enough to make you want to give up on humanity. As I cycled I had so many questions; How can we be so cruel? Is there anything beautiful left in this world? How can we stock pile when elderly, vulnerable and key workers don’t have enough? Why do I care just for my small family and forget those friends I once loved? As I cycled over the Woolston bridge, the highest bridge in Southampton, I saw the Samaritans number. It was at that point I came to the conclusion that if man is the measure of all things, then there is not much point in keeping going.

As I raged around Southampton, it was dark and empty, eerily silent, yet strangely beautiful. As I cycled over the crest of the Woolston bridge it suddenly hit me, I heard God say to me. Nay…

this is not the end of the story. Man is not the measure of all things. I am the measure of all things, I love this world and I love you.

I heard him say I faced self- isolation for you. I was rejected for you. I was abandoned by my friends for you. At this point a sense of freedom entered my mind. I recollected what I knew from the eye witness account of Jesus life. Jesus in his life chose self- isolation, rejection and death in exchange that we might enjoy community, acceptance and life. I heard God say Nay you’re not in control. Nay this is not the end of the story.

Jesus in his life chose self- isolation, rejection and death in exchange that we might enjoy community, acceptance and life.

As I cycled home I felt freer, I felt that Its ok to wake up, however dreadful the situation. I remembered that Jesus was the one who existed before anything else and the one who holds all creation together.

I arrived home an hour later, parked my bike, still weeping. But noticed a friend with her teenage daughter carrying a large bag of food, we chatted (2m apart) and shared, with tears still in my eyes. I went into my home and shut the door again.

The coronavirus shows the very best and worst in each one of us. We’re not just broken but if we’re honest we break others too. The following evening on my daily exercise I cycled through the streets at 8pm for the first NHS shout out. As I cycled I joined in wooping and cheering with the hundreds of local families. My daughter couldn’t quite understand what was happening, she asked “Mum how will they know that we’re thanking them? They’re not here, on the streets”. I told her they’d know,. That our good friend the internet would tell them. So I cycled, celebrating friends and family who sacrifice for us and are fighting for us.

I was overwhelmed with the noise of pots and pans and again cried my way through another bike ride. But this time questioned. How can humanity be both so life affirming and so desperately low at the same time?

How can this virus expose more genuine love for friends but also an inner desire to control and hoard?

How do we recover from this even bigger problem? I don’t watch much of the news, as its so overwhelming. But the bit I look to each day is the recovered stats, 135 recovered today, 2,921 have sadly passed away. Imagine the relief of recovering from this virus. Finally this dreaded thing and potential death has now passed.

But there’s another recovery that I think we all need. I wonder if something deeper than this is happening in humanity right now. I wonder how we recover not just from the Virus. But how we recover from a self centredness that hoards and lashes out. An inward focus that retreats from those around us in need. How do we learn to love generously to anyone in need?

We can’t do this on our own, however hard we try. How do we recover from the deeper virus within our hearts? There is one who sustains and upholds the Universe in his hands and he is saying right now, this is not the end of the story. He gives us a clear offer, Jesus gave away all his privileges, he became vulnerable, he even gave his own life. And all of this for us. As we turn to him, confess this problem. We trust him to give us new life. So that we might recover from this deeper problem we all face.

“In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.” Keith Getty

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Building a team for online church – God is at work in new ways

After leading our first ever Zoom church service I went away feeling happy. We’d gathered 80+ from our church together. We’d cared for those who found it a struggle getting online. We’d scrambled together a team and in the midst of crisis we built community.

We love our diverse International church. We have a high percentage of elderly folk from a South Asian background. We knew that if Zoom was going to work, we needed to work hard. Of course there were funny moments, much laughter and many mistakes. But I never expected the email I received a few hours later.

To put this in context. I’m passionate about raising up female leaders and evangelists. I’ve been praying and working hard for two years on a project called Passion for Evangelism. It’s strange to say, but the Lord is answering prayers in a way I never anticipated. The email I’m referring to was from our dear friend, a respected member of our church.

Dear Nay, as I’ve reflected a little bit on this morning. Two things impressed themselves on me quite strongly: 1. It’s wonderful to see a ‘generational shift’ taking place at church. Which is such good news for the future of Kingdom ministry in the church. The leadership, spirituality and confident assurance of the team, all come from a big shift down in the generations from a year or two ago. This is exciting and deeply encouraging. It poses the question for those of us nearer my generation. How we encourage and support you well as you take the reins more and more.

2. Secondly the majority input (at least in numbers) were of women. I’m certain that if we listen to the prompting of the Spirit. and release the God-given potential and gifting of our women, who are passionate in their love for Jesus, the church will flourish in new ways.”

So as you think about growing your new team to run online services. Be encouraged that the Lord is at work in fresh ways. I’ve written here on how to get your church together online. But I wanted to go into the details of building a team and what that might look like.

Like any service you need a team but in this season you need a bigger team

If we work on 50-70% of the population getting COVID-19 at some point then we need to plan this into our services. Potentially at any point 50-70% of the service planning team could be ill or looking after sick family. It maybe that someone’s work changes last minute or they’re struggling with suffering, anxiety or depression due to the current situation. I’ve lost count of the number of people who say they are now busier than ever before. So let us care for our church by preparing well. We’ve moved on from churches being run by a few people, we need to reconsider team leadership and grow our teams.

On Sunday we ran a service with 7 people; Speaker, Host, Musician, 1 Tech Host and 3 tech Co-Hosts. Working on the 70% statistic…

If you have a team of 7 then 5 will get COVID 19 at anytime. This leaves you with 2 to run the service online.

If you have a team of 14 then 10 will get COVID 19 at anytime. Then this will leave you with 4 to run the service.

If you have a team of 24 then 15 will get COVID 19 at anytime. This will leave you with 7 to run the service.

So multiply all your teams by 4 in order to care for your church.

So this week we’re going to be extra prepared and aim to recruit a team of 24. 7 of those will be put on the rota once a month with 17 on standby every week.

The document below shows our new team roles and job descriptions with a sample running order. Have a read of it now, what do you notice that is different?

You’ll see we had a shorter sermon, breakout rooms at two points, short testimonies from a key worker and a mum at home. You’ll need to rethink the structure of the service to adapt to being online. According to recent Zoom training by Intervarsity staff

“Its 10 times easier to tune out during online calls than in person”.

One way to prevent this dynamic is to make the meeting as interactive as possible. Change the learning style/engagement every 15 minutes. Encourage participation through the group chat. Encourage guests to respond visually with the interactive white board. There are some excellent resources here written by Intervarsity staff.


This has implications for the length of sermons, notices and singing. Make use of the breakout room function you’ll need to enable it in your settings. Group conversations work best with 4-5 people, so keep your groups small. There are many interactive functions for group discussion too.

By breaking into small groups, you not only keep attention but you encourage participation. We had a short sermon with small groups afterwards. Most of the groups worked really well. We thought it was important to check how they were going. So one of the co-hosts visited each room for 20 seconds to check everyone was ok.

When you split into small groups you can do this in a few ways. 1. Pre-assigned 2. automatic or 3. manual (all the info is here). For me as a 98% extrovert Its great fun entering a room, you have no idea who is in there! For those who are more introverted I have some more thoughts, but will save these for another post. Please keep the groups small so that everyone can chat. For those who struggle in this setting, you can opt not to join a group.

Zoom has some excellent resources to help you.

1. Online tutorials are here – watch these first

2. FAQ section is here

So do these groups work? Why is actual interaction better than just transmitting a message online? Here is some feedback from friends at church about the breakout rooms.

“Thank you all I really enjoyed that, especially enjoyed the discussion”

Wonderful time and great opportunity to talk to two others I’ve never chatted with before! Thanks guys! Be blessed and positively ‘infectious’ this week”

Great to have an opportunity to reflect on what has been shared in the service. Such a helpful way of engaging with the talk and helps for the message to stick in our heads.”

COVID 19 is changing us as people. Online church is changing our relationships. In this space of change and uncertainty there is an opportunity to build community in the midst of a crisis.

We all now face physical isolation. Yet as believers WE ARE NOT ALONE. We have the Spirit living within us an ever present help in times of trouble. Once again, as at various points in the church’s history, we are a scattered body (1 Peter 1:1). Isolated, yet not alone. Afraid but full of joy. There are so many opportunities we have now to build community and offer hope.

A time of crisis reminds us of our fragility and brings a new awareness of how things can change in a ‘twinkling of an eye’. When it feels like the end of the world we can remember that the church since Pentecost has always lived in the last days. This is the time during which according to the prophet Joel:

“Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).

So let us continue to meet together in such a way that allows the voices of men and women, young and old to be heard – and all the more as we see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:25).




We’d love to hear how you have done online church services. How have you encouraged participation, discussion, interaction in your church? Please send us any comments so we can learn from each other.

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Can men read books by female authors on Christmas day?

Please don’t laugh, I’m being serious.

What I’m asking here is can men read and learn from female authors? Goodreads analysis shows an overwhelming proportion of books read by both sexes, are by authors of the same gender. I know that statistics show that we prefer to read from authors of the same gender, that isn’t my point.

This question isn’t new to me, but it came to the forefront of my mind today. I stumbled across the IVP Christmas gifts list and was taken aback. Their Christmas list has sections in it “For Him” and “For Her”. What’s the problem with having lists for Him and lists for Her? When you look closely you’ll see that they have been almost completely segregated by the gender of the authors.

The books “For Her” are written mostly by women and the books “For him” are written entirely by men. Only one of them is genuinely gender specific; “Ordinary mum, extraordinary mission” but the majority aren’t.

So, the men’s stockings on Christmas day will be full of books written by men. Their stockings will include copies of; Creation Care by John Stott, Reality and other stories by Peter Dray and Matthew Lillicrap and The History of Christianity in Britain and Ireland by Gerald Bray. Whereas the women’s stockings, will be full of books mostly by women with copies of; “Catching contentment” by Liz Carter and “L is for lifestyle” by Ruth Valerio. What about “More Truth” by Kristi Mair, BA, MA, Research Fellow, Lecturer in Philosophy, Ethics and Apologetics at Oak Hill College, who gets to read this on Christmas morning? Well, you guessed it, she’s in the “For Her” section. I do wonder if someone should let the majority male contingent at Oak Hill know?

I’m sure this is a marketing mistake; I know some of the IVP staff and have nothing but respect and gratefulness for the way they want to see more women published. I’m very aware that IVP has an active stance in encouraging women to write.

But the reason I write this is that I want to question this attitude more generally. Is this a marketing mishap or something more? This kind of marketing only adds to the slippery slope of segregation. A segregation that is endemic and destructive to the church and in such contrast to the church of the New Testament.

So, can men learn from women? I’ve thought about this question a lot in recent months. It’s not just about authors, books and Christmas wish lists, the slippery slope of segregation goes much further. I recently attended a conference where I was only allowed to mentor women, where women couldn’t teach, pray or MC from the main stage, women were not and would not be invited even to the steering group. I left disillusioned and disheartened.

Can men learn from women? Whether that’s a book in your stocking, a weekly Bible study in your home, hosting a main meeting, mentoring or in seminars? That’s our choice at the end of the day. But here are three implications when we don’t intentionally choose to learn from women.

1. When we don’t learn from women we miss out on half of the image of God.

I fear an unbiblically based segregation of men and women in certain spheres of the Evangelical church is growing. This means that women and their voices are not heard. That’s over half of those made in the image of God are not heard or listened to. Half of God’s image that we choose not to learn from.

There are plenty of examples of men learning from women. In 2 Timothy 1:5, we see that he was taught by his Mum and Granny, it says….“I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also”.

But we miss out on something of what it means to be made in the image of God, when we don’t listen to women. Take the story of the Bleeding woman in Mark 5:25. How much richer would the explanation be if you hear this passage explained from a female perspective. Or take Mary being invited to join the male disciples and learn together in Luke 10:38, ask a woman in how that feels, and you’ll understand the text in a whole new light.

2. When we don’t learn from women we go against the pattern of scripture

Paul is a great example of learning from women. Have a look at Acts 18:26. Priscilla and Aquilla teach Apollos and instruct him in the faith.

 “26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately”.

Rachel Miller Green helpfully writes this…

“Outside the ordained offices, there should be many places in our churches for women to serve and to use their gifts of discernment, encouragement, and teaching. As we see in the New Testament, both male and female believers have been called to discernment and to teach, encourage, and admonish each other (see Phil. 1:9, Col 3:16, and 1 Thess. 5:11,14)”.

3. When we don’t learn from women, we reduce the role of women in the mission of God.

Have a look at Romans 16 and you’ll see this theological masterpiece full of the language of co-workers, of siblings. Men and women working as one body, but made up of many parts, different, yet working together. Take Phoebe for example, she was entrusted with delivering the theological masterpiece of the letter of Romans.

“16 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me”.

Phoebe not only traveled from Cenchrae, Corinth in Greece to the city of Rome (no small undertaking in the ancient world!), but she also represented Paul and his gospel message to the Roman Christians. Imagine receiving such a letter and hearing it read aloud for the first time. Members of the Roman community were no doubt full of questions after it was read. Phoebe was the person who could answer their questions and explain further what Paul meant, due to her first hand knowledge of Paul’s message and her experience of serving the gospel alongside him as a co-worker. So was Phoebe simply a postwoman or the first interpreter of Paul’s letter to the Romans?

The answer to this is important. It’s important for my female friends but it’s also important for those who need to hear from the Phoebe’s of today. Michael Bird asks a helpful question here… “Now if Paul was so opposed to women teaching men anytime and anywhere,” continues Bird, “why on earth would he send a woman like Phoebe to deliver this vitally important letter and to be his personal representative in Rome?” (21) And if the Romans had any questions about the letter like ‘what is the righteousness of God?’ or ‘who is this wretched man about half-way through?’ who do you think would be the first person that they would ask?

So a marketing mistake or unconscious bias? Can men learn from women? Over to you….

Stories of a broken trellis- Matt

Retelling others stories so that we can process our own. Believing that the trellis could be as beautiful as its vine.

Stories of a broken trellis is a series of anonymous blogs showing the impact of the “Blokes Worth watching” culture. These are written in response to an article written by Glen Scrivener in EN called “The Blokes Worth Watching Conveyer belt”. Glen’s article depicts favouritism and elitism in the church. His examples are historic and specific, yet the comments I’ve read and the experiences I’ve seen show that this is current and endemic. Each account so far is from a different UK church network.

Matt’s story

Nay Dawson has provided a helpful guide as to how to identify “Blokes Worth Watching”.

As she says, women, by definition do not qualify, but it caused me, unquestionably “a bloke”, to question whether I had ever also been one, “worth-watching” or perhaps not. I have a suspicion I’m not the only one who has had such a thought.

From this end of life’s telescope, I loathe the whole idea, but there was a time when that was certainly not the case- the lure of the (male) “inner ring”, even if the young me didn’t fully understand it that way, was very enticing. And if I’m honest, even now, to never have been and now never to be, a BWW gives rise to the same small sense of possible failure, of envy and stimulates my desire to “belong”. At the same time there is a modicum of guilt- was I something I should never have been and did I use such privilege, to the detriment of others? That is why Nay’s analysis made me feel so uncomfortable.

It is right to say too that I am still impacted by intrusive BWW thoughts. What (certain) others might (theoretically) think of me matters much more than it should because I haven’t succeeded in leaving all of BWW behind.

I think a few of my male contempories never had much doubt that they were a BWW – but they would be a minority of a minority. To hold a “full house” from among being: “converted”, boarding school educated, trained at the right camp, articulate, “sharp”, sporty, “sound”, wealthy, from a pukka Evangelical family and recipient of early patronage, is, after all statistically, surpassingly rare. But there are a handful of such golden boys and undergraduates with such a hand in each generation- the types who are known as “captain of everything”.

The justification for this is that if, “…not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth”, that must of necessity mean that some, however small a minority, must, when called, be all those things. And that his how the little, but essential, elite inner ring of BWW’s is formed and supplemented.

The next issue is how proximate might a boy/bloke be to joining these core BWW’s at any given time in his development? Would holding three of a kind or two pairs do it? Can everything be trumped by one really strong card? 

So, not being English might be a ‘no, no’, but holding the card of being an excellent rower could compensate. Cambridge as university is perhaps to hold a King. Attending the “right” theological college is a stronger card than one deemed not sound. Not being at the right camp might be mitigated by being from a very prestigious day school. Being overtly, even aggressively “complementarian” is a strong suit. Not now being in a rich/flagship urban (and therefore “successful”) church could be offset by having the card to play of once been a CU President or marrying the “right” (petite, “submissive”, rich, connected maternal) wife and so on. 

This is the course the not yet BWW has to navigate from, at the latest being an undergraduate, but ideally since early teenagehood. It is a constant calibration and recalibration of schooling/ family/ university/ church/ patronage/ ministry status/ camp/ appearance/ dress/ athleticism/ accent. 

A talent for giving or willingness to accept a clever put down can make-up for one’s parents not owning a gite. Admitting preferring football to “rugger” or badminton to tennis might be fatal to ministry-prospects- so better not to admit it. The language has to be learnt quickly- “camp” does not mean Boys Brigade, or any other camp, but the “right” camp, “reading with someone” is not assisting with adult literacy, knowing who “Revds Rupert”, “Conrad” and “Andrew” in the inner ring are, who is married to who’s sister and all their Evangelical lineage is show’s ones connections and an understanding of proper deference within the hierarchy. 

It might all sound slightly absurd, in fact it is anything but. The stakes are high- succeeding as a BWW opens the way to desirable jobs in nice locations, excellent schools for the children (or well-off parishioners willing to help with school fees), prestigious platforms, high influence, more chance of access to the inner ring for the next generation and the one after, and a world of evangelical wealth where chalets, villas and holiday homes can be borrowed and so on.

Of course, if someone says things like these like this, or raises such questions they have automatically proved that they are “not quite the thing”, “chippy”,” disgruntled” or ”don’t get the culture” etc and therefore must accept responsibility for having disqualified themselves. For it to be said of someone, “I don’t think I know him” is to be damned- of course all the “right chaps” know all “the right chaps”- if you minister in a desperately poor area, can’t afford to go to the “our conferences”, are inarticulate, or simply feel unwanted by them- how can the chaps be expected to know you? My story as I have told it will be met with all sorts of nit-picking about details, “well it wasn’t quite lack that”/”he doesn’t really get it”, simply because that is how the BWW inner ring works- identifying who is in and who is out by tiny details and making sure they know it.

To conclude, like Nay did – why does this matter? It matters because a besetting sin and defining mark of this culture, especially, is to define itself by exclusion. Only 7% of English children ever go to a private school and yet we have kids’ camps that wouldn’t even admit all of that proportion. We have at least one church that runs Bible teaching weeks for those who do sufficiently well remunerated jobs. Organisations describe themselves as “churches” but do not resemble and do not want to resemble what the local New Testament church looked like in all its economic, social and other diversity.

And perhaps consider this- some of the BWW traits can be acquired or cultivated- not the core ones which come by virtue of birth- but the accent, intonation, dress, preaching/praying-style, relationships, all of which are arguably, trivial. But what is worrying is that wives, patronage and roles can be “acquired” too or certain “approved” theology “adopted” in order to have a few more cards from the pack and that has really worrying personal and pastoral implications. This stuff matters.

Nepotism, favouritism, lack of transparency, fear and preference for loyalty over merit distort leadership, deprive the church of the shepherds it needs and gives the church shepherds it doesn’t need and that matters.

It also matters because blokes like me need to undertake a season of painful reflection to see what harm this culture has done to us and how it affects how we do ministry but much so how we have enculturated it to the detriment of others.

If I ever was a BWW the Lord was immensely merciful to me. Put simply: while exclusive elitism prevails, the fullness of the gospel is denied and abuse in all its forms is enabled.

Read more accounts of others impacted by the BWW culture here.

Nay has written a response to Glen Scrivener’s article in August’s edition of Evangelicals Now, read it here.

Stories of a broken trellis- Mike

Retelling others stories so that we can process our own. Believing that the trellis could be as beautiful as its vine.

Stories of a broken trellis is a series of anonymous blogs showing the impact of the “Blokes Worth watching” culture. These are written in response to an article written by Glen Scrivener in EN called “The Blokes Worth Watching Conveyer belt”. Glen’s article depicts favouritism and elitism in the church. His examples are historic and specific, yet the comments I’ve read and the experiences I’ve seen show that this is current and endemic. Each account so far is from a different UK church network.

Mike’s story

Recently, the leaders of my church said they’d like to work on “vision” and “strategy”. Where are we heading and how do we plan to get there? “Can you write something down?” 

This is not the type of thing I am good at so I asked a friend about it. He said; (I summarise) “You have to write this type of stuff down because you have to make transparent decisions about how you are spending money! But you can write anything you like on that bit of paper, God works in his own unexpected way. Look back at anything you think your church has achieved  – it will all have been God surprising you.  You run a mission, but a non-Christian actually becomes  a Christian through dating a Christian (which we don’t approve of!). That young person learns more from a quick chat after church with an older woman than they do from your carefully planned sermon series. Someone dies who seemed so central to how your church would run, you don’t know what you’ll do without them, but the witness of their hope is incredibly powerful. Whatever strategy you have needs to accept God working mysteriously outside our plans and expectations.”

This is just true. It shouldn’t be surprising as it’s the pattern of every person who God actually uses to bring change in the Bible – David, Hannah, Gideon, Ruth. No one would have strategised them into leadership – it’s God surprising everyone. They are jars of clay, their weakness is his strength and other Bible truths we have read. God working through the tragic death of someone who doesn’t deserve it – well that’s not exactly a new idea for anyone who’s met Jesus.  

I am a white conservative evangelical man. While I’m not posh and so felt left out of BWW,  this discussion has made me face up to the fact I have probably benefited from BWW culture without even knowing, whilst others who had more to offer than me were overlooked.  And it seems to me that if there was anything in its favour at least the strategy was honest. Certain people were identified, and it wasn’t hidden that these were the future leaders of the country and world tomorrow, so it’s more important to get them evangelised and trained. Others were deliberately and unapologetically excluded on the basis of background or sex or potential “future impact”. 

The problem with strategies is, as my friend says, is that you easily strategise out of the picture the way God actually works. So if you have a strategy that does not involve you learning from Christians different to you, from the poorest or “weakest” or most untaught Christians speaking prophetically into the lives of others,  or people’s weakness and failure (rather than their strength and social standing) being what God uses, well if your strategy excludes that, you are at risk of obtusely trying to push out the way God says he gets things done.   

Some of the critique of all this has just been basic natural law. It’s unfair. I have been excluded. My gift wasn’t used. That matters but Jesus goes further – he says whatever power anyone has should be used to elevate “outsiders.” It’s not about me and how I may have been hurt – right now how am I using my power (which I undoubtedly have) to find, elevate, invest in the places where God works?

Here’s two things I’m trying. 

First I’m trying to learn from people who are supposedly there to be trained. I went to a session once for church leaders about investing in international students so they can return to their country well taught. Well, yes. But my experience, which I’m trying to treasure and step into, is that people from other countries where the church is actually growing, or where they are already Christian in a highly anti religious environment might have something to teach me. Even the ones who aren’t Christian will observe blind spots in my discipleship. 

A person from a central African country once visited our church and asked why we don’t preach more against pensions! Confused I asked why I would do that and he said “doesn’t the Bible say that serving the poor matters to Jesus? How can you justify saving up money that if you die won’t even be used, when there is so much poverty?” Leaning into insights from “outsiders” will open us to God’s work more than spying out insiders worth watching. 

Second, I am trying to do, and get others I am training to do, things we know we are bad at. Great at studying and preaching? Do that, but also get out and knock some doors and chat to people. Good at working on your own? Be disciplined in getting into a team. Love corporate prayer? Set aside time to pray by yourself. I find this a deeply unsettling experience, putting myself in places that I feel deskilled and awkward and where I do things embarrassingly badly. But do I really believe that strength comes through weakness? Is God’s power made perfect as he stoops in grace to help me? Is this better ministry if I am weak and in prayer at every step? Is it good to be in situations where what I am doing is not worth watching and I get no praise and affirmation? 

That’s the upside down way the kingdom works, and I really don’t want to strategise myself or my church out of living there. 

Read more accounts of others impacted by the BWW culture here.

Nay has written a response to Glen Scrivener’s article in August’s edition of Evangelicals Now, read it here.

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Stories of a broken trellis – Kate

Retelling others stories so that we can process our own. Believing that the trellis could be as beautiful as its vine.

Stories of a broken trellis is a series of anonymous blogs showing the impact of the “Blokes Worth watching” culture. These are written in response to an article written by Glen Scrivener in EN called “The Blokes Worth Watching Conveyer belt”. Glen’s article depicts favouritism and elitism in the church. His examples are historic and specific, yet the comments I’ve read and the experiences I’ve seen show that this is current and endemic. Each account so far is from a different UK church network. Here is Kate’s story.

On worth and watching

I’m not entirely sure how I ended up at theological college. It was somewhat against the odds. I wasn’t a Bloke Worth Watching – and I wouldn’t have been a girl worth watching either. Too much input required.

So in as much as I was useful I was used – when I fractured I was swept out with the trash. That was my experience of church-based ministry.

You see, when I was barely out of adolescence, I learnt the hard way that working within a faith community is precarious. When it goes awry, you may lose everything. By the second time I experienced this, it was hard not to assume I was the problem. Perhaps, reading this, your instinct is to suspect I was.

Despite this, I couldn’t shake the conviction that Jesus was different – kinder and safer than the churches I’d known. I wanted to learn how we might do church better. I needed to know if the Jesus I thought I’d known could be trusted. That was what led me to theological college.

I arrived close to (not quite) wrong everything. Wrong gender, wrong school, wrong church background (mostly), wrong summer camp/events, wrong hometown… I could go on.

It had never occurred to me that you might read Calvin’s books (though I was at least aware he existed). I knew there was another Martin Luther, though I was hazy on the details. As for Augustine, that would be a stretch. I started college already behind.

I also felt chronically uneasy, surrounded by men who could physically dominate me. They did nothing to warrant that, but as a girl who wasn’t worth watching, I felt on constant display.

By my final year, I was sometimes the only woman in a room of twelve or thirteen men. I did not enjoy this dynamic – I was glad whenever a female lecturer came to join us.

But these weren’t the dominant threads. The brighter thread throughout was kindness, shown by staff and students alike. The principal, at that time, had a habit of dignifying each and every student’s questions – however inane, he never made you feel small. He found the value within the question, and taught a bigger lesson about kindness besides. In that small way, he created a context of safety.

I’d spend some hours with him over the years. Some, more anxious than others – but he was perceptive, gentle and unfailingly kind.

For a while, his kindness frightened me. I didn’t know where it was headed. I knew I was not a girl worth watching, but I was aware that he was watching me.

Later he’d apologise for this. Not because his kindness was anything but, but because he realised of his own accord it might have scared me. Now I might call this mentoring – back then I couldn’t see why he’d invest in me.

On days when I wondered if I belonged at college at all, he and I spoke at length about what makes an individual worthy of investment in a Christian framework. For him, it was more about whose I was, than whether I was value added. This alone meant I was worth watching. His kindness to me (and others) was rehumanising in the deepest sense.

“Value added” has been shown to be a terrible model for evaluating teachers – it’s just as bad for evaluating whom we should train for ministry. Productivity is not our ultimate end. Finiteness is inevitable, not inadmissible. A leader unaware of their limits will be a bad one. These principles I learned at college, from him.

Neither he, nor college got everything right. Some mistakes were costlier than others. But they apologised, and it was life-giving.

There are clearly problems with how some in my context have failed to value, train and enable women in ministry, and with what we’ve valued most in leaders across the board. I see glimmers of change, but we’re still a way from where we should be. But these problems are not unique to one particular strand of evangelicalism”

Outside my church network, it’s often assumed my time at college must have been terrible. My experience is mine alone, but for me, this does not ring true. In fact, I was treated far better at college than by churches at both ends of the evangelical spectrum. In those churches, I encountered “kindness” you wouldn’t recognise as such. “Kindness” that broke me into a thousand pieces.

Earlier, in a church that wouldn’t own the term, I’d known another Bloke Worth Watching. Nothing he would do to me mattered more than that. They said, “He was trying to be kind” and then, “but he got in over his head.” I didn’t have words for it then, but I learnt his career mattered more than my wellbeing. He was celebrated whilst his fingerprints still burned on my skin.

The churches I told later were more concerned about my orthodoxy & their productivity, than about his predation. My questions and I were in the way, and I was told not to come back. He was still the Bloke Worth Watching – I was the girl whose shame needed to be kept out of sight.

It was at college I began to relearn what kindness means. I was given space to grow, and ask questions. I was watched and gently pieced back together – though I didn’t think I was worth watching. It was partial, sometimes clumsy, but a start.

If we wish to be a community that values women, we must relearn what makes any one of us worth watching, and let that sink deep under our skin. We must also learn to listen better to different voices, not only those with whom we feel at ease. We must learn that we’re not the arbiters of who is worth watching – the watcher of all has dignified us each, beyond price.

Read more accounts of others impacted by the BWW culture here.

Nay has written a response to Glen Scrivener’s article in August’s edition of Evangelicals Now, read it here.

Stories of a broken trellis – Ruth

Retelling others stories so that we can process our own. Believing that the trellis could be as beautiful as its vine.

Stories of a broken trellis are a series of anonymous accounts showing the impact of the “Blokes Worth watching” culture. These are written in response to an article written by Glen Scrivener in EN called “The Blokes Worth Watching Conveyer belt” depicting favouritism and elitism in the church. His examples are about a historic, specific situation. Yet the comments I’ve read and the experiences I’ve seen show that this is current and endemic across the church. Each account so far is from a different UK church network.

Ruth’s story

I am a 45 year old woman of mixed African descent. Around 2004 my vicar encouraged me to commence theological training as he thought I had Bible-teaching gifts. I did enrol at a theological college on a non-accredited basis for three years, but did not pursue a formal qualification for childcare reasons. I thought I could do this a few years later on. 

But in 2006 we joined a new church, which was, unbeknown to me, strictly male-leadership only. Women are not allowed to lead worship or to teach mixed-gender small groups. Over and over, I noticed that the people who were selected for ministry training were white middle-class men. They were fast- tracked into senior staff positions and given opportunities to lead and preach even prior to any theological training.  Women and black people were largely ignored.  

For example, a few years ago a new family joined. The husband/dad was known to our vicar because of his close association with the camps Glen Scrivener mentions in his article. On the first day the new family attended, the vicar and two associate ministers made a point of welcoming them exceptionally warmly. To my knowledge, no other new joiners had been given such a welcome. Within a few months, the dad was preaching at our church and leading a small group.  A fast-tracking because the dad of that family was in the right ‘club’.  

I have been in the same small group since 2006. I love the Bible and am more than capable of leading a small group study, yet am not allowed to do this because I am female. By contrast, untrained men are routinely invited to lead small groups and to teach in the church. My small group leader has on more than one occasion thanked me for my contribution to the discussion, yet it has never occurred to him that I would be able to lead, and indeed that it might be good for the group to get a different perspective.  

Recently I thought about registering for theological training. This is mainly because, in the past year, I have started writing freelance for Christian publications and teaching the Bible informally to a group of students outside the church. The application to start training requires the consent of my vicar. Sadly, he refused, mainly because he said that he has no knowledge of my Bible-teaching skills. He has asked me to wait a year before he revisits the issue of theological training as he says he wants an opportunity to look at some of the work I’ve been doing. This is fair enough, but my small group leader was also present at the meeting. He has first-hand experience of my biblical knowledge, he knows I have been teaching a group of students outside the church and is also aware that I write theological articles (he’d even read one). Yet it had never crossed his mind that I’d be a good candidate for theological training. He’d just never seen me that way. This is probably because there’s a policy of mentoring men and ignoring women for bible-teaching purposes.   

 
In our church women are routinely invited to serve by making meals or teaching Sunday school. There is a women’s fellowship which meets regularly to learn together. The women learn books of the Bible like Esther or Ruth, while the men’s group learns Romans or themes like God’s sovereignty and human free will.  No prizes for guessing which group I want to join ha ha.

 
This is where the rubber hits the road. The so-called biblical picture of man and womanhood has been distorted to become a means of silencing women and keeping them from learning in ways which Paul never intended. How could Paul have meant that women should not lead at all when it’s clear from Romans 16 that they did? How do we reconcile such seeming conflicts in the Bible unless we are willing to read the text with open minds without preconceptions passed on by respected church leaders?  

I love my church and believe that God has placed me here for a purpose. It saddens me that the leaders do not see me and value my gifts, but I know ultimately that it is God who chooses, and I’m trusting Him to set before me an open door that no-one can shut.  

Read more accounts of others impacted by the BWW culture here.

Nay has written a response to Glen Scrivener’s article in August’s edition of Evangelicals Now, read it here.

Stories of a broken trellis – Sarah

Retelling others stories so that we can process our own. Believing that the trellis could be as beautiful as its vine.

Stories of a broken trellis are a series of anonymous accounts showing the impact of the “Blokes Worth watching” culture. These are written in response to an article written by Glen Scrivener in EN called “The Blokes Worth Watching Conveyer belt” depicting favouritism and elitism in the church. His examples are about a historic, specific situation. Yet the comments I’ve read and the experiences I’ve seen show that this is current and endemic.

Women Barely Worth Mentioning?

In Glen Scrivener’s s article for July EN it was helpful to see the unveiling of the unhealthy phenomena that is Blokes Worth Watching, and the resulting culture. Something undoubtedly started with good 1 Timothy like intentions, morphed into a popularity contest conveyor belt of identikit males, bolstering the “old boys” style network. The jostling line was replete with look, buzzwords, books to have read, and getting noticed. A lot of Trellis and turns out not huge amounts of Vine. And just a few of us noted that alongside this phenomenon of Blokes Worth Watching is the murky painful area of “Women Barely Worth Mentioning”.

Complementarianism has struggled over the past few years as Young Restless and Reformed fervour died down and a closer examination of the culture which was meant to give women dignity and respect in their role, was shown in so many areas to have become a place for chauvinism to flourish, women to be kept down and left languishing with their many gifts, while the men did the “heavy lifting”.

 As a woman, I have witnessed first hand my attempts to speak into church life or have a voice met with patronising smiles, eye rolling or in a particularly “Billy Graham rule” style encounter, no eye contact at all.

On one occasion visiting an old church, interaction was asked for in an evening service. My raised hand to add to discussion was met by the pastor with a smirk of “here we go”, as if I was tolerated, but a troublemaker for daring to have an opinion on the issue. Males wishing to speak did not seem to have this reaction.

It’s a wider issue too. In 2020 there was due to be held in the UK, a conference for songwriters and worship leaders. It was run by an internationally known collaborative music charity and their leader. There was much rejoicing on the internet. I was taken with the idea of a musicians’ conference as this is an area I am gifted in and wanted to join in. I enquired. No women were allowed. I asked why this was. Their theological position did not allow to women to lead worship. But what about the other aspects, the song writing classes, the seminars on theology and music? I was cheerfully offered the video only content to access from my home. I did point out that in conferences, half if not most of the experience is also networking. Meeting other Christian musicians and songwriters, giving opportunity for future collaboration. The leader himself chimed in at this point to say it was more a “retreat” than a conference, and women did play a vital role, but this was for men only as it dealt with leading, pastoring etc. Hmm, I felt unconvinced by the way it was advertised. I noted that one possibly two men stood up for me questioning as to why I could be offered video content but my actual presence was disallowed. I was grateful for the men who graciously spoke up about this lack of consistency. But many more didn’t. Perhaps the algorithm prevented it. Or perhaps as it was “The Leader” speaking, being a certified Bloke Watcher, for Blokes Worth Watching, they didn’t want to ruin their chances of offending an important man, after all, it was only a woman speaking out, not someone who really mattered.

A seminar in a leaders conference a few years ago related to the discipleship of women was billed for men only. I want to charitably assume it was advertised as such because it was a seminar for men seeking to enable women to serve in their churches, not a “women’s seminar.” However, this could have been clarified with a few words or removing the stipulation completely as why would women’s perspective not be wanted in this seminar anyway?

Women’s seminars at so many of these ministry conferences are inevitably “how to support your husband” It’s a tricky one, I get it. There is no official role as “wife of someone in ministry” so it’s not as if there is a manual for this. But it can and does have the effect of making sure women feel that their role is merely cheerleader in chief as the men have the only role that matters. And that’s not even taking into account the single women who occupy the bottom rungs of “people worth noticing”.

I generally avoid these seminars now. I’d rather learn some aspect of theology or spiritual practice that are in the proper, I mean, the men’s seminars.

I’ve been asked to write a few lines of how I’ve seen discipleship done well for women.

I can tell you things from my own church. I’m happy that my personal church includes women in scripture reading, praying, giving testimony, serving communion and directing music. There have been solitary occasions where women are asked into elders’ meetings to give their perspectives. There still are no women deacons as the elders are not in agreement over this which grieves me. Don’t get me wrong, women are still performing these roles, but without the clarification or dignity of the title which men are given.

So, in short, I’m still waiting.

Read more accounts of others impacted by the BWW culture here.

Nay has written a response to Glen Scrivener’s article in August’s edition of Evangelicals Now, read it here.

Stories of a broken trellis – Karen

Retelling others stories so that we can process our own. Believing that the trellis could be as beautiful as its vine.

Stories of a broken trellis are a series of anonymous accounts showing the impact of the “Blokes Worth watching” culture. These are written in response to an article written by Glen Scrivener in EN called “The Blokes Worth Watching Conveyer belt” depicting favoritism and elitism in the church. His examples are about a historic, specific situation. Yet the comments I’ve read and the experiences I’ve seen show that this is current and endemic. This is Karen’s story…

Blokes worth watching and disability

“That was really good for a disabled person!”

That’s a phrase I’ve heard a few times when I’ve spoken or done some training somewhere.

I hear it most in Evangelical Churches.

I’ve also not been allowed into a venue at a conference because “The speaker’s not here yet”….when I was the speaker.

As a woman in ministry, I find being female can be an issue. But, I find my disabilities to be an even greater issue.

I have much experience, a lot of qualifications, and yet I regularly get the totally amazed look that there’s actually a disabled person doing ministry stuff. Firstly because it’s rare in the Evangelical world and secondly because of the way disability is still viewed.

I’ve been brought up in ‘Evangelical Free’ churches. I still attend and am a mission partner in one and I’m grateful for the Biblical grounding those churches have given me, but reading Glen Scrivener’s article that mentions ‘Blokes Worth Watching’ (BWW), I saw that this wasn’t just an issue for women. It affects disabled people, those with additional needs and the vulnerable too.

For example; the style of mentoring these young men are given requires the ability to read. We recommend a book, which more often that not won’t be in an accessible format.

Whether they have a visual impairment, dyslexia, autism or any number of things that makes reading and comprehension hard, there is rarely any other style available for them.

As an aside, I once asked a couple of evangelical book shops if they had some specific theology books in an accessible format. One said “can’t your husband read it to you” and the other said no, “But we do have the wordless book (coloured pages to explain the Gospel) – would that work for you?”

I’ve always had a passion for making church more welcoming to children and young people who have additional needs or are disabled, as a result I trained as a children’s nurse in the area of disability and complex medical needs just so I could learn more.

Starting out in ministry as a children’s evangelist a few years later, I was advised not to go into the additional needs side of my work too much, but build a name for myself in ‘mainstream’ children’s evangelism first – so I could “gain the right to speak into this very specific ministry”. This was because I was a lone voice speaking into this area at the time and not being heard. It was also wise advice.

But.

Being a woman, ‘building a name for myself’ wasn’t possible. This was mostly due to the BWW ethos and occasionally due to others who thought a woman shouldn’t be teaching about “The Cross”. (Somewhat crucial for an evangelist!)

Thankfully, I didn’t want a name for myself, so I wasn’t disappointed!

As a 14 year old on a camp for children with physical disabilities and life limiting illnesses, I could see there was a disparity between the way they were treated in a church compared to how other children and young people were treated.

Even today people in our churches will question me about how some of the children I work alongside can have a real faith. I even have my own faith called into question on occasion!

I often receive emails from families who have children with additional needs and have been asked to leave their church. These emails come from all denominations – but the larger bulk of them are Evangelical churches…. And I’ve never dared to say that publicly before.

The ‘Trellis’ that Glen speaks about isn’t just broken – it’s inaccessible.

It’s rare to find a BWW who has a disability. There maybe some who have hidden disabilities, but as soon as they become apparent – they are often no longer considered worth watching.

At a conference, where there was some discussion on how we mentor young people into leadership, I asked if anyone mentored disabled young people or those with additional needs. The question was greeted with blank looks, some goldfish like mouth movements and more than a few “err’s”.

I know many disabled young people and people with additional needs who have gifting in many areas of ministry and service. Most don’t believe they can serve because they see no one like them – and that is a very sad reflection on the church.

There are 1 in 5 disabled people in this country. It is the largest and most diverse diversity and rarely mentioned or talked about, and even then – not positively.

Even if the term ‘Women Worth Watching’ existed, I know I wouldn’t be on that list. Being disabled would be one issue, and the other one would be (and is) the fact I politely challenge how the church thinks about disability and ministry.

Read more accounts of others impacted by the BWW culture here.

Stories of a broken trellis – Mark

Glen Scrivener wrote an article in EN called the Blokes worth watching conveyer belt. There has been a huge response to his article and it seems to have touched a nerve.

His examples are about a historic, specific situation. Yet the comments I’ve read and the experiences I’ve seen show that this is current and endemic. I want to share stories that show the impact of the “Blokes Worth Watching”(BWW) system. Other people’s stories help us process our own, others stories help us identify problem, others stories show us that change needs to happen.

Glen I totally agree “Parts of the trellis have let us down – at times, dreadfully. Yet Jesus never will. In this moment of crisis it is the perfect opportunity to think on Him, sing to Him, call on Him, abide in Him – to discover, perhaps for the first time, what true theology, worship, prayer and discipleship means“. If you haven’t read Glen’s article, please read that first.

Mark’s story

“I’ve been in a leadership team that obsesses over raising leaders, and by leaders I mean elders, and by elders, I mean men. We spent time discussing a book called ‘The World Needs More Elders’, focusing on the need to raise men to ‘build the church’. Very little time was spent discussing raising women leaders. When it came to a small group to support the eldership in strategy and vision of the church, it was only men who were picked. I can’t recall a discussion around how to choose the ‘right’ man but in practice it was those who gave up a lot of time and were known to the leaders. 

The environment I was in is not unique, it was a model repeated through many churches in the group of churches we belonged to. Now I am outside of it, it is easy to sound critical, but I was in that church because there was much I loved. As Glen states in his article, the vine, Jesus, was clearly visible, until the trellis, the church systems, became so wonky it no longer held much of what was once so beautiful. I was pushed out because I was pointing out how wonky the trellis had become. 

While God has been gracious to many churches that do have a model of BWW, BWW easily creates a culture of idolising the trellis rather than guiding people to the vine. It highlights an unhealthy obsession with leadership and promotes the idea that leaders are “leaders of leaders” and ‘their’ churches are “leader factories” (quotes are used because I’ve heard these phrases used positively by leaders). In my experience this has led to pastors ignoring those who don’t fit an ideal of leader quality and having limited discipleship for the whole church. It also sets an unhealthy hierarchy in eldership teams with the “lead” (the paid one) being in charge instead of the mutual submission that is needed. The pressure builds to ‘raise’ leaders and character easily becomes secondary. Much can be ignored if you focus on all the good a person does for the church.

Scrutinising the trellis and being honest about its wonkiness is a start to being able to repair it but some churches won’t even get that far. Much of what Glen describes seems to highlight an underlying culture, a structure holding up the trellis, of comfort, control, and insecurity. We stick with what worked before and we train people in the same way we were taught without question. We pick leaders that look like what we think the trellis needs – the charismatic preacher, the person that serves on all the rotas, the person that can play the guitar and sing well, and so on. How many do we overlook because they don’t fit the current leadership mould? Perhaps we stick with BWWs because anyone else would be risky, we might offend those who prop the trellis up, financially or otherwise.

How do we fix this? How do we fight against comfort, control, and insecurity? Glen focuses on the centrality of the gospel and states a deep transformation of character is needed. This is something that is worth digging into further but it needs to be discussed alongside discipleship. Both character and discipleship are assumed to be a natural part of the Christian life, especially by those in leadership, but I’ve found they are not often prioritised in preaching or practice.

Character isn’t about being perfect, as we all know, we all fall short of God’s glory. Because of this truth, it is about being humble, to be able to hear where we are falling short without knee-jerking into defensiveness, it is about being able to repent. Hurt caused in churches is often compounded by leaders who defend rather than repent. Character is also about being known, not just to the leadership, but to the congregation. Many leaders aren’t vulnerable, they don’t share their doubts and struggles due to various fears. Some share just enough in a sermon to sound relatable but never enough to highlight their insecurities. 

Acts 6 gives a solution to BWW and a lack of accountability in the church – if anyone was a bloke worth watching it was Stephen, but instead of the leaders picking Stephen, he was chosen by those around him not by those ‘in leadership’. He was known to all, not just fast tracked by current leadership. When it comes to potential leaders, are they accountable to or even appointed by the congregation or are they just picked by the elders/leaders? Are they known for what they do for the trellis or are they known for how they love others and point to the beauty of the vine? 

Discipleship is practised when one is known by other Christians who are devoted to scripture and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer (as per Acts 2:42). Discipleship is for every Christian and is where we challenge one another to be more like Jesus together. I emphasise ‘one another’ because many churches will have discipleship in a manner where one is discipled and the other is a discipler. Leaders lead and everyone must follow, challenges regarding character and theological conclusions only go in one direction and heavy shepherding becomes an issue. A healthy view of discipleship is not hierarchical but a disciple helping another disciple get to know the Rabbi. This form of discipleship seems to be quite rare but through it people become known and trusted as leaders out of relationship not through BWW.

Fixing the trellis requires us to go back to the basics of being a Christian, reprioritising humility that we won’t get everything right, repentance when we don’t, and a heart for people that leads to discipleship. It is by doing these things that we find, in the kingdom, a healthy trellis is supported and built up by the vine and not the other way around”.

Read more accounts of others impacted by the BWW culture here.

Nay has written a response to Glen Scrivener’s article in August’s edition of Evangelicals Now, read it here.

Why read together?

Passion for Evangelism Book Club

10 CITY OF GIRLS Book Club Questions + Your Reading Guide

80% of New Year resolutions will be abandoned by February

Every year more than 50% of people make New Year’s resolutions and that includes to read more books. Yet almost every study tells us that around 80% of these resolutions will be abandoned by February.

Reading is hard

Many of us we will have started a new Bible reading plan or enthusiastically added to our TBR list of books. For others we’ll have downloaded even more titles to listen to on audible whilst enjoying a walk.

We know that reading books helps us grow as disciples. We are convinced that the Word of God is sweet to the taste, sweeter than honey. And yet It is so easy to move from high ambition to failure and relapse within the space of a few weeks. For many of us that honey jar is just too far out of reach.

According to World Book Day statistics, 41% of people in the UK spend less than an hour a week reading. So how do we read more and grow in knowledge and wisdom this year?

41% of people in the UK spend less than an hour a week reading

World Book day statistics 2021

We know that reading books helps us grow as disciples. We are convinced that the Word of God is sweet to the taste, sweeter than honey. And yet It is so easy to move from high ambition to failure and relapse within the space of a few weeks.

How and why, we read matters

Passion for Evangelism is a network of female evangelists who want to grow in communicating the good news of Jesus Christ. In PfE we believe how we read matters. We want to be women that are learning and growing and so we commit to read, discuss and discover together.

We run a regular book club and create a space to meet the author for a time of Q&A. But before we look at how we do this, we need to look at why we read. The character of C.S. Lewis says this line in William Nicholson’s play, Shadowlands

We read to know we are not alone

CS Lewis, Shadowlands

We can see this is true in book sales throughout the pandemic. The year’s bestsellers show book buyers seeking out comfort, laughter, escapism, familiarity, and a sense of community. But what if how we read showed us that we’re not alone?

But what if how we read showed us that we’re not alone?

Communal reading was not only popular in Jesus day it was essential. Brian Wright says this

“Communal reading protects the truth, unites a community, shapes our faith and aids our discipleship and evangelism. Jesus, Paul, and the earliest Christian communities all read together… contemporary Christians might benefit greatly from resuming this practice”

Brian Wright, Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus: A Window into Early Christian Reading Practices

This is exactly what we’re doing in PfE. Over the last two years we’ve read 6 books and met 5 of the authors from How to talk about Jesus by Sam Chan to Why can’t we be friends by Aimee Byrd. Approximately 300 women have taken part in these Book Clubs and have really appreciated reading together.

This term we are reading Forty Women – unseen women of the Bible from Eden to Easter by Ros Clarke, IVP. This book shows us how these women’s stories cast fresh light on the Bible in unexpected ways. Their shared humanity reminds us of the wonderful truths and promises of God’s word to His people.

Read, discuss, discover together

What happens at the Book Club?

Read together

We have an easy to follow reading plan, which starts on February 28th. This will motivate you to keep reading alongside others finishing around Easter time. Once you sign up, you’ll be emailed the reading plan. Sarah, one of our Book Club regulars said this “It motivated me to actually finish a book for the first time in years”

Discuss together

We’re delighted that we can meet the author and have an opportunity to ask Ros questions and discuss together. This will happen online, 7.30pm UK time, 24th March 2022.

Discover together

Our friendly App will enable you to meet others in the Book Club. Each week we’ll think through the themes and ideas in the book. And we’ll discuss questions from the end of each chapter. Tasmin said “There is a sense of gentle accountability. The shared learning experience is really helpful”.

So how about you, will you come and meet the hidden voices in the Bible’s story.? We’ll read about these women of the Bible and how their seemingly ordinary lives connect with an extraordinary God. Sign up to our Book Club here. See the difference it makes to read, discuss, discover together.