A farewell letter to Life Church

Dear Church Family,

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Lamentatins 3:22-23

For those of you who were with us on Sunday morning, you will know that it was our farewell Sunday at Life Church. As a result, I wanted to write one final letter to you, as our friends and our church family. Lorna and I love you all very much!

I so love what God has been doing amongst us over these past eight years. I know it has not always been easy and there have been seasons when we’ve scratched our heads, wondering what God is doing, yet I can confidentially say that the testimony of these last 3,000 days has been: God is faithful in all his ways and, as Lamentations reminds us, we’ve together experienced the “steadfast love of the Lord [that] never ceases”. This truth alone is something worth shouting about and praising God for (and I’m so glad the worship team have turned this into a song that we sing).

However, it has also been wonderful to see the way that God has taken hold of us as a church and grown and expanded us, not only in numbers but also in influence and maturity. Life Church is such a different place now to the church it was eight years ago, and this is God’s wonderful handiwork amongst us. As I just pause for a moment, names, faces and stories come flooding into my mind: people who made massive and radical decisions to commit to x or throw themselves into y, sometimes at great personal cost. Yet the fruit of those risky decisions runs on and on and will have impact in eternity to come. I also think about those who have faced unexpected and painful life-altering challenges, and yet didn’t allow these to steal the joy that is found only in Jesus. I’m stunned and humbled at the way so many people have poured their time, talents and treasures into helping us as a church move into the plans and purposes that God has for us. Seriously, church family: you are amazing! I love the sacrificial serving that I see right across this church community. It really is very special. I also think about the many people who have come to know Jesus over these last few years; stories of God wonderfully saving and redeeming people; stories that will be told through all of eternity as a testimony to the triumph of Jesus at Calvary. I’m reminded of the countless faces of those people we have touched with the love and kindness of Jesus through the many and various social action outreach programmes. There is something utterly beautiful, when God’s people get caught up in grace-motivated action. And I’m reminded of those who have carried over and above what perhaps they should have, because there has been a need and no one else was able to jump in and help. Thank you for giving again and again.

Life Church, what I’ve just described in my previous paragraph is wonderfully rich soil for God to come and plant a new season of extraordinary fruitfulness into. Be assured and encouraged that the best is still to come. God’s garden/family is so much bigger than where we’ve got to. However, for these things to be fulfilled it is going require similar actions of courage, service and throwing yourselves into the purposes of God. I recently posted on Twitter this wonderfully provocative quote from CT Studd, a Cambridge-educated, tipped to become Prime Minister, who chose instead to become a missionary in China. He said:

“Christ wants not nibblers of the possible, but grabbers of the impossible”.

Life Church, may I encourage you over this coming season, in prayer together, to become grabbers of the impossible for the sake of the thousands here in Peterborough who do not know Jesus as their saviour, friend and Lord?

I want to take a moment to thank some very special people. My role as lead elder has been filled up with joy because I have been able to serve alongside such great guys as Phil Angell, Sam Tucker and Wouter Vertegaal. It really has been very special seeing them serve, lead and reach out for the things of God together. Church family, you have a great team of leaders who I know are not hirelings (doing it because they get paid), but shepherds who are being schooled by the Great Shepherd! I’m especially glad that Wouter is taking on leading the team. As I’ve said, we are very different people, yet he loves this church and I know he will bring about a new season of creative advance. Please do pray – along with me – for these wonderful leaders. We know God is going to add others into this mix over the coming season, but right now let’s pray for God’s wonderful protection, energy, wisdom and guidance to be upon them. Anointing is a very special thing. It is not the sum of your natural gifting, but something grace-given by the Father. It enables us to do way beyond what we would naturally be able to do. I’m praying for a fresh anointing to be upon each one of these elders.

I also want to take a moment to thank current and past office team members. Again, it has been a joy to see the team grow and flourish, from when I arrived and Christine, Jacki and I were crammed into what is now Nancy’s office. So, office team present and past: thank you. Thank you for pouring your lives into making much of Jesus and seeing his church grow and flourish. Thank you for living in that place of risky faith. Thank you for giving over and above what you could have. Thank you for working with – and often covering for – my frailty. Thank you for enabling so many other people to find their place in this church community. These last eight years would have been so very different without you.

Finally, let me try to express my love for you. Yes, if you are reading this letter, that means you! One of the joys (and at times heartaches) of leading a church family is getting caught up in Jesus’ love, motivated and saturated in the building of his family. I feel so utterly rich and enriched because of who you are and what God is doing among you, and that you have given me the privilege of leading for these few short years among you. Thank you.

So, as you press on together, never lose sight that you were made to delight in God, you’ve been called to be radical disciples of him in every aspect of your life, you’ve been called to demonstrate the goodness of his kingdom by caring for the poor and praying for the sick, and by declaring the unchanging gospel in an unapologetic way.

Friends, don’t allow the cares of this life to steal the joy of giving much to see much made of Jesus.

With much love

Adam Bradley

Important Update: Leadership Transition at Life Church

As many of you know the family and I will shortly be moving to Kingsgate Community Church (Great Yarmouth). However in order for this to be possible we’ve been praying and talking lots about what’s the right shape for the leadership team here at Life Church. On Wednesday evening we shared some really exciting news with the church family that we are exploring my dear friend and fellow elder, Wouter Vertegaal taking on leading the team.

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Here is a copy of the letter we sent to the church family – transition letter

 

Kingdom Scheduling (p6): Gathering for Worship

One of the most remarkable changes that I’ve seen, over my lifetime (I’m starting to sound a little old, aren’t I?), is the changing expectation people have around Sunday church services. When I was a kid, people were just there on a Sunday. I’m sure for some it was just religious duty, but for most of the people I knew it flowed from knowing the importance of belonging and being part of what God was doing in and amongst the church community. Over the last 10 years or so I’ve noticed a massive shift. We have a general rule of thumb at Life Church that, on any given Sunday, approximately a third of the church family will be away. Why is that? Now for some it’s work commitments and for others it’s illness. But I think there has also been a subtle but dangerous shift in people’s thinking. I think that our Sunday service gets added into the whirl of the weekend’s schedule and, if the meeting doesn’t conflict with anything else that’s happening then, well I guess they go to church. But if, for example, the kids have a sports club or a competition, or perhaps the wider family are visiting? Well, they just don’t go.

I want to suggest to you that this is a less than healthy way of looking at Sundays. Why? Because gathering as the church family is vital! It’s not just vital for you, but for each other too. You see, gathering as a church is much more than coming and consuming your weekly dose of (hopefully) good teaching to top you up for the coming week. When the church gathers so much more happens. As David Mathis writes in this excellent blog:

Worshiping Jesus together may be the single most important thing we do. It plays an indispensable role in rekindling our spiritual fire, and keeping it burning. Corporate worship brings together God’s word, prayer and fellowship, and so makes for the greatest means of God’s ongoing grace in the Christian life.”

Wow! Mathis then goes on to list five benefits of gathering together as a church family for worship:

  1. Awakening “Often we come into corporate worship feeling a sense of spiritual fog”. Sundays are a place to allow the word and the Spirit to blow the fog away, put fresh wind in the sails of our lives and to ensure we’re navigating in the right direction.
  2. Assurance – So much of scripture (take many of the Psalms as an example) are filled with singing to one another. What is that all about? Part of it is about reminding one another of the wonderful truths of who our God is and what he has done in our lives. There is something really powerful (and humbling) about hearing those who you have walked with over the past few years, singing and declaring the truths of who God is to you. A YouTube channel or podcast just can’t do that for you.
  3. Advance – 1 Corinthians 14:3 shows us that corporate worship plays an indispensable part in our growth and development in the faith.
  4. Accepting another’s leading“One important distinction between public worship and private worship is the place of our initiative. Corporate worship reminds us that our faith is fundamentally reception, not our own initiation. In private devotions, we lead ourselves in some sense. In corporate worship, we’re made to receive the leading of others.”  Ouch! Corporate worship fights against the me, myself and I culture that drips from anything and everything around us. It shows us that we’re in an interdependent community of worshippers.
  5. Accentuated joy – Last, but not least, is the heightened experience of worship in the corporate context. Our own awe is accentuated, our own adoration increased, our own joy doubled when we worship Jesus together.

Here’s my final challenge of this series: Why don’t you go through the next six weeks and mark church in your diary on every Sunday morning.

Kingdom Scheduling (part 3)

Last time I left you to ponder the question of how we decide if we have been using our time wisely. Let’s be honest, we all live very different lives. Is there any possibility that a 400 word article could answer such a complex question? I want to suggest to you that Jesus does a pretty good job in just 19 words in Matthew 6. He is talking about the really practical stuff of life – food, clothing, planning for the future, worry – and, in the midst of this earthy reality, he lays down a guiding principle for all of life: yes, for every nook and cranny. Here’s what he says:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matt 6:33)

Notice how every practical aspect of life, including how we use our time, should be aligned with one simple heart motivation: to live wholeheartedly, all-in, for God and his kingdom.

As a pastor, all too frequently I have conversations with people who ask for advice about what they should do in a situation, and when I take them to this passage I see an internal struggle. Why? Because when we’ve truly grasped the reality of this statement most day-to-day decisions will be that much easier to make. Here’s an example: I’ve spoken to a number of parents who have said ‘We can’t be at church every Sunday because my child goes to x group on a Sunday morning.’ For me, this is a really simple issue to resolve. Come every Sunday! Why? Because this is an issue of seeking first the kingdom of God. Does that mean your child won’t be able to participate in the group? Yep, that’s right. But if you go down the other route, you teach your kids that the church and gathering with God’s people is an optional extra; something for when you don’t have anything better to do. Speaking very honestly, as a parent I want my kids to understand both through my words and my actions the centrality of meeting together with God’s people. It’s part of seeking first the kingdom of God – not as consumers, but as people on mission.

So, what does it mean to seek first the kingdom of God in the way you schedule your diary? Have you considered it? Why not look over your diary and prayerfully start asking what changes you need to make to ensure that your diary is all about kingdom-first living?

Kingdom Scheduling (p2)

Last time I kicked off a new series looking at the importance of how we fill our diaries. What we scribble or punch into our diaries reveals what we value most. Not convinced? Let’s read some famous words of Jesus, from Matthew 25:

For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.”
(Matthew 25:14-15)

Notice the words entrusted to them. This parable is intended to show that all of our time (talents and treasure) are gifts from a gracious and loving God who has entrusted them to us. Just think about that for a few minutes; the 86,400 seconds that make up today are allocated gifts from your heavenly Father. They don’t just randomly tick by. They are not just part of some huge cosmic game of Russian roulette. No, they are gracious gifts from a loving God.

Psalm 90:12 says:

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom”.

What does this mean? Part of the picture is recognising that we are limited beings. We cannot do everything. The world is not our oyster. Being people who recognise and understand the shortness of life will help us to focus on stewarding these years, days and minutes wisely.

Jumping back to the parable again, the whole essence of this brilliant story is that whatever we’ve been entrusted with, we’ve been called to steward wisely – but wisely in this biblical language means to squeeze the most out of it. Notice that the guy who gets a wodge of cash and sticks it in his sock drawer is the only guy who gets reprimanded. Why? Because he’s squandered the precious opportunity he had of stewarding the gift he was given.

So what about you? When was the last time you allowed God to teach you the number of your days? Have you been squandering the time that God has given you? On what basis are you going to answer these questions?

Kingdom Scheduling (p1) 

The following is the start of a new series of Life News articles I’m writing over this autumn term for Life Church.

At the start of this new term, I want to focus your attention on something that may seem so utterly unspiritual (whatever that means) and off-topic at first glance that you might start to question whether I’m suffering from summer sunstroke. I’d like to talk about your diary. For some, that’s a dog-eared paper book that gets rammed into your bag every time you leave the house. For others it’s a whizzy electronic app that sits on your smartphone or tablet. For others still, it’s a monster calendar with pictures of cute puppies pinned to the kitchen wall. And for others, it’s the thing they ‘don’t do’.

Now, the purpose of this new series is not to teach you the latest productivity hacks, but rather to try to ask some probing questions about how you use the 1,440 minutes that make up today (and tomorrow, and the the day after that). By the way, at the time of writing I’ve had approximately 20,180,913 minutes of life here on the planet. Tick tock …

Why is this such an important subject for us to look at? Well put very simply, how we choose to use our time (and our talents and treasure) is a good indication of what we value at a heart level. Put another way, how you use the 1,440 minutes that make up today provides a window into the affections of your heart. So often I hear people saying – just as I have, on occasion – Oh, I wish I could do xxxx,  but I’m just too busy at the moment. We live busy lives with 101 things jostling to gobble up some of our daily 1,440 minutes, but just what should we allow to eat into those minutes? Now that’s a good question.

Why don’t you take five minutes (or 300 seconds) to jot down what you think your diary tells you about what your heart treasures?

Post-referendum Special: So what do we do now?

I’m writing this article early on Friday morning, as Britain awakes to a new era. For many this is a morning of sweet joy; for others it’s a bitter aftertaste that just won’t go away. My purpose in writing this article is not to comment on the politics of the remain or leave campaigns; there has been quite enough of that already! Instead I want to try to answer a simple question that I’m guessing many of us are asking: So what do we do now? I believe that, as Christians, regardless of our political persuasion and in the face of some of the most uncertain times of our generation, there is much for us to be doing. Let me list just a few to get us started:

1. Keep the main thing the main thing

‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes …’ (Romans 1:16)

If the experts are to believed, and there is nothing to indicate that they shouldn’t, we’re entering a season of uncharted and potentially difficult economic and political water. That may all sound very abstract but in reality how that plays out is like this morning, when Lorna was saying to me ‘I’m worried about the future’. In these kinds of seasons it is vital that as followers of Jesus we keep the main thing the main thing – and that is the gospel. Remaining in or leaving the European Union is not the main thing! As the Apostle wrote to a community of Christians living in the birthplace of the most powerful political and military empire the world had ever seen: ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes’. Friends, whilst here on planet Earth we’ve been called to be people who take this never-changing gospel and present it to the world. Sometimes this will be in seasons of relative peace and tranquillity. On other occasions it will be in seasons of uncertainty and upheaval. Let’s be people who cling to the gospel, because it is that which is the power of God to bring salvation into the lives of the hundreds of our neighbours living around us.

2. Don’t forget God’s strategy

‘His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.’ (Ephesians 3:10)

This is a breath-taking verse! It shows us that God’s manifold wisdom – or, as The Message (translation) puts it, extraordinary plan –  is being made known to the world and the supernatural realm through you and I, the church. Friends, at Life Church (along with the many thousands of other local churches here in the UK) we are God’s manifold wisdom on display. What does this mean? It means that, in the midst of these uncertain times, if we give ourselves to building a glorious Jesus-centred church we’re about God’s plans and purposes. Friends, we must not underestimate the centrality of the church to the purposes of God. So let’s build well in this season.

3. Don’t shrink back from mission

Just yesterday I was reading a book on church history. My aim was to try to read it all in one sitting so I could  lock in my mind the grand sweep of the last two thousand years. As I read and read, one thing kept coming through again and again – and that was that, in seasons of uncertainty, the church seemed to miss the opportunity to see massive advance for the gospel because of fear, induced by the times in which they were living. Much of what is now the heartland of Islam could easily have been re-evangelised, but the church in Europe became introspective and locked into internal struggles. Friends,we’ve been called to live as missionaries here on planet Earth. For most of us that will be in Peterborough or the surrounding towns and villages. However, for some it will mean uprooting family and life and replanting it into a new country, so that the gospel may be preached and churches may be planted. In this season (and I’m talking the next 10 years) let’s not retreat from courageous mission, both locally and internationally. We have the opportunity to see new churches planted which are the hope of the world, as long as we don’t allow uncertainty to give rise to fear which then chokes the life out of us.

4. Be peacemakers

‘Blessed are the peacemakers …’ (Matthew 5:9)

Sadly, the referendum campaigns have opened up hurtful and divisive rifts in our nation. As we enter a season of change and uncertainty we need to stand up as peacemakers. What does that mean? It means recognising and honouring the dignity of all humanity, resisting fear and prejudice based upon difference. However, more than that we need to model to the our communities the unifying nature of the gospel. In Ephesians 2 we’re told that Christ died so that he might create one unified people from the rubble of humanity. Being peacemakers is showing that in Christ a new community is possible where people of different ages and from different social and ethnic backgrounds can live together in harmony. If ever there was a time when this was needed, it’s now.

5. Be satisfied in God

I’m no politician (that seems pretty obvious!), but I reckon the coming season will involve lots of claims and counter-claims over why x is better for us than y, etc. This is a normal and natural part of the political machine. However, as followers of Christ we must never lose sight of our call to be people who live for a different kingdom, who recognise that heaven is our home and ultimately only Christ will satisfy. What does this mean practically? It means that whether the economy of the UK thrives or tanks, our satisfaction must be in Christ.

Friends, this next season is a great opportunity for us as a church if we will live for Christ, his kingdom and eternal treasure.