Peter Moves to London!

Posted: September 20, 2018 in Uncategorized

After five years of leading, loving and lecturing students at Mattersey, I am sad to say I am leaving the area on 30th September and relocating to the London School of Theology, full-time, for at least one year. Yes, I am swapping the teacher’s role for that of the student, as a full-time researcher on their PhD programme. My thesis proposal has been graciously accepted by the department at LST, where my principal supervisor will be senior Pentecostal lecturer, Dr William Atkinson. My paper will focus on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the teaching gifts of 1 Corinthians 12-14.

Peter at LST

 

Seeking work

‘At the present time your plenty will supply what they need…’  2 Corinthians 8:14

Here’s a question for everyone who feels called to the ministry: How exciting would it be to be hired by a Christian organisation? Doesn’t that sound just great? Imagine being paid to do just what you love, what you would do for free if you could, and what you feel called to do! Paradise, surely? Well, in many cases, absolutely yes. But there is another side. In fact, experience suggests that this is not always the best thing that could happen, long-term at least, to someone who feels the call of God. Let’s talk.

I have been a Bible College lecturer and Campus Pastor for a number of years. I have loved my students and wanted the very best for them and for the God they seek to serve. However, a significant danger occurs when they begin to get themselves ready to leave the College: the need to be seen to ‘go into the ministry’ in some way. This is not just about pride or position: it can be a quite understandable pressure. The student may have come to Bible School under the shadow of disapproval, perhaps from a parent or peer, and the need to show that all this time, investment, stress and money has actually led to ‘a real job’ can be a issue. Other times, it may be centred around insecurity or a perceived lack of employable skills. After two or three years of theology, a student can feel ill-equipped to do any other kind of work. Then, of course, there is the motivation of ego that besets all of us from time to time: a need to have succeeded and to be seen to have done so. Something to put on Twitter. #livingthedream

There are, potentially, many problematic outcomes here. I want to highlight just one. What happens if the called-by-God-person takes up an employed-by-the-church job that is not really suited for him or her at this particular time? It was just there: an open door of opportunity, which was a well-meaned but delicious enticement rather than a divine entrustment. Don’t be cross with me, but let’s just tell the truth. Christian jobs are invariably poorly paid – minimum wage or not much more. The income of the church or Christian organisation is usually low, so we are not talking about elders being mean or stingy, just what is practical and possible for a project or fellowship with very little resource.

Furthermore, these jobs tend to be called part-time (say 12 hours or so a week, perhaps 18), but the level of commitment anticipated is often full-time, especially where the worker might be reasonably expected to show up at regular church events, as they were before, but now as an unpaid staff member, setting an example of on-going voluntary service. It is not that this is wrong, merely that a part-time wage cannot usually pay anyone’s full way and so the necessity to find another part-time job (with perhaps an equally burdensome flexibility) kicks in. And that other job might well clash with lifegroup, prayer meeting or music practise.  It’s tough, I should know, I have done this twice in my life – with both of my ‘masters’ thinking that I wasn’t giving 100% to them. I pastored a church while working many days and evenings a week cleaning a cinema. The stress levels can rise, as can the debts.

Then, to top it all, the ministry job may not really fit the applicant’s skills or aspirations. Most part -time, churchy jobs almost always involve all the dull admin and odd-jobs that no-one else wants to do. Who can we pay to do this stuff? asks the eldership board. And you pop along! Many churches seek to be ‘Family’ or ‘Community’ centred but are desperately short on volunteers, so there is often some responsibility for youth, children and/or Foodbank, Debt Counselling, included somewhere in the mix. It is not that this cannot be enjoyable or rewarding for some, but God’s eager servant may need to think carefully. How many red-hot evangelists have been killed off, nailed to an office chair, for a few tenners a week, just so they could be called ‘Youth Pastor’ or ‘Community Worker’ on Facebook? How many preachers in the making get burnt-out on perusing health and safety policy documents or arranging insurance for the keyboard and drums? Or how about those who are called to serve the margins on the streets of poverty, finding themselves designing newsletters and crèche rotas, or worse still, preaching on Sundays? A side-effect of being poorly paid, scrimping and saving, and over-worked in two jobs can lead not just to stress and strain. Not just to debt. Worse, it can lead to resentment. A growing unhappiness with the very people or group you have agreed to love and serve.

God is calling many to serve Him; many into ministry. I am deeply passionate about this and I believe the Holy Spirit is too. I give altar-calls in the hope of altering calls. But perhaps being legally contracted is not the best plan, at least, not for everyone. So what is the alternative? There is one which, where possible, and under God’s blessing, can be a better and much more successful route into authentic ministry. That is: don’t seek for those ‘church jobs’ and go get yourself, where possible, a well-paid, secure secular position of employment. Yes, a proper job, in most cases! This may seem counter-intuitive, perhaps even like you are turning your back on God’s service in favour of money, ease or twenty-first century security and comforts, but for many people in varying scenarios this could honestly be the very best way to establish a life-long fruitful ministry. Let me explain.

Imagine being able to serve God in your carefully arranged spare time – to do exactly what you feel equipped and called to do for Him, nothing more or less – and not to be seeking to fill your precious spare time with other frustrating, part-time work. Imagine not being broke! A temptation of the devil? I don’t think so. There are a number of practical reasons why not being short of money is a good and godly idea, if you can do it, and none of them are about loving wealth or wanting to be a millionaire. For example,

  • Home. Those with a reasonable income are usually able to rent or buy a property, useful for meeting people, running lifegroups, being hospitable for pastoral care, or simply and unashamedly having a pleasant place to live and rest away from the demands of church work. I have lived many times in a single, rented room. It’s fine. But you can’t build a marriage or a ministry in it.
  • Transport. A Christian who isn’t broke all the time can get around. He or she can purchase, tax, insure and run a car: a pretty essential asset to twenty-first century living and making one mobile to attend all the meetings and events that make up contemporary ministry.
  • Generosity. You can tithe or give to the local church’s vision, for sure, but you can also be generous beyond Sundays! You’ll be amazed at how many visits to Costa you’ll genuinely need to make in ministry, meeting people and (being British and Christian) you’ll almost always pay. This could be a small fortune just on coffee alone, not to mention when they want tiffin cake too. God is a generous God so it is always helpful if we are able to model this with others.
  • Stress. How about having a quality of life that’s free from constant anxiety, often revolving around money or how the rent or gas and electric bill are going to be paid this month? While some may preach this as a spiritual virtue, causing the penniless church worker to ‘rely on God’, the reality for most is that worry and burden are not assets to abundant life. Most marital disputes are about money, so not having enough of it won’t help relationships either.
  • Mission. Thinking bigger, there could be flights in aeroplanes to book. Many churches are now engaging with Short Term missions, and these trips need quality Christians to make them happen. Of course, it’s not a holiday but even if your accommodation lacks glamour when you land, there are no missionary-rates on flights that I have seen lately. You might even want to go on holiday occasionally too, but don’t tell too many people about this wild extravagance!

Let me be clear. I am not making a case for a middle-class comfortable life as the only way to live and minister today. No-one should be serving God for money (Matthew 6:24). But surely, elements such as stress, anxiety, resentment, a constant struggle for financial resource and a severe lack of time are the kinds of things that could paralyse or terminate anyone’s ministry, especially after the enthusiasm of the honeymoon period is over. So let me encourage you! Where the Spirit of God opens a ‘you-shaped’ door into paid ministry, that is just wonderful. Give 100% and then some more. Of course, you should go through such a door and, if it is not sufficient income, let God help you to some how make things work! He is faithful! I have seen this happen for me. But don’t just take a ‘Christian job’ hoping to climb the ladder of success, cement a social media status, or to placate your family. If you really want a ministry, and for a long time, so that you can impact many people’s lives, maybe the secular job route is much smarter. The Bible says that we give out of abundance, not lack (2 Corinthians 8:14).

 

LS020106In the contemporary British Pentecostal and Charismatic scene, there has been a growing trend over the last decade or so for leaders to adopt the strategic ‘attractional’ model for church worship services. Often, to ensure that the meetings are ‘seeker-friendly’ it can mean that classical Pentecostal spiritual phenomena, such as tongues and prophecy, are actively discouraged in the public setting, based on the assumption that the visitor will find these spiritual gifts too bizarre. Paul’s instruction to the Corinthian charismatics to ‘calm down’ so that the guests at church won’t think that Christianity is utter madness is brought to the fore (1 Corinthians 14:23), although it would seem that the apostle’s desire is for intelligibility rather than any embarrassment over spiritual phenomena, such as might be the case today. For Paul, authentic and accurate prophecy deployed in mission was most definitely ‘seeker’ aware (1 Corinthians 14:24).

Defending their charismatic pedigree, these leaders insist that the prophetic gift has certainly not been axed from the church’s DNA and is actively at work in small groups, prayer meetings and often during ‘altar time’ on Sundays. However, what can be observed is a very distinct and fundamental change in the practical outworking of the prophetic in the contemporary church, and one that does not often allow for significant evaluation of the words being spoken. In the old model, certainly among the British Pentecostals, the prophetic word would be spoken out by a church leader or member for the whole church to hear, either spontaneously or through the church microphone if approved. This ‘corporate moment’, where all were able to hear the word, often meant that the nature of the prophetic message was somewhat broad – it was, after all, intended for the larger congregation to hear. Thankfully, any dubious theology or over-stepping of the mark by the ‘prophet’ (e.g. harsh rebuke, or fortune-telling style guidance) could be instantly corrected by a mature leader, helping to bring the ‘judging’ or ‘evaluating’ element to bear upon the spoken word, in line with Paul’s Corinthian command (1 Corinthians 14:29). It is clear that at Corinth this was the approach and the speaking prophets were limited to three messages, probably due to time constraints.

As we jump forward to the twenty-first century, with its ‘ministry teams’ ready to pray and sometimes prophesy over people during the Sunday morning ‘appeal’, we see a very different model at work. Certainly, there could be more than three prophetic words shared, due to the nature of the event, but much more significantly, the prophetic gift is sometimes being used for personal instruction and direction, and in a very private context. Similarly, in the house, prayer or small-group setting, the presence of a mature leader, able to discern, correct or helpfully evaluate prophecy, is not necessarily guaranteed; even to suppose that prophetic words would be delivered corporately into that smaller setting if it is not being ‘modelled’ by the leaders of the larger church service. In short we have moved prophecy from mostly public to mostly private – from the dynamic declaration to the whispered word.

Now, this is not to suggest that personal prophecy has no New Testament foundation whatsoever, but it should perhaps be considered to be extraordinary rather than the standard practise. It certainly isn’t private. Agabus is our primary example, but he is a designated, Ephesians 4:11, capital ‘P’ Prophet with a track record of predicting future events (Acts 11:28). Even when he does speak specifically over Paul’s life (Acts 21:11) the surrounding context of the passage shows that it was not a private moment, but one in which other Christians were obviously present and listening. Similarly, the prophets at Antioch who provoke the timing of the missionary launch of Barnabas and Paul are clearly operating in a setting that at least includes all of the church leaders (Acts 13:2), if not the broader Antioch Christian community. These leaders rejoice at the word and commit any action to prayer (Acts 13:1, 3). This would appear to be the standard pattern for a New Testament prophetic ministry: prophets, of varying kinds, may speak, but never ‘in a corner’, and firm decisions are made by leaders (aided by prophecy perhaps), but never by the prophets themselves. Notice: Agabus’ incredible prediction of a coming famine leads to a decision made by others, not actually by him (Acts 11:27-30). Isn’t that interesting? He was a guide but no means was he the governor.

So here is my word of caution for leaders who, with all good intention, seek to retain the spiritual gift of prophecy within a seeker or attractional context – let’s be careful that in gagging the un-interpreted tongues-speakers to seemingly obey one part of Paul, we don’t unleash an equally unbiblical charismatic practise. Arguably, prophecy without evaluation is no better than public tongues without interpretation, with the ‘distinguishing of spirits’ the possible support gift to the prophetic in Paul’s mind. No Senior Pastor wants church people subject to untested, secret, personal guidance from a would-be Isaiah this coming Sunday morning or on Tuesday evening at lifegroup. While we as the shepherd lovingly seek the ‘one’ lost sheep in mission, let’s not feed the ‘ninety-nine’ to the prophetic wolves, albeit well-meaning wolves who may not realise the danger of their open mouths or the sharpness of their teeth.

I am certain that the Holy Spirit can help us to do all things well but it may be time for a re-think about how best and biblical to incorporate prophecy in attractional church models that keeps close to all the wisdom and direction that flows from First Corinthians’ wonderful fourteenth chapter.

Peter Cavanna will be teaching at ‘Voice in the City’ – a prophetic conference in Cambridge on Saturday 25th July 2015. For more information, go to http://www.kingscambridge.org

New BeginningsOver the last few months, I have found myself advising some of our amazing Bible school students about leaving college and handling the big question of “What do I do with my life next?” It is no small decision and one that I had to grapple with over twenty years ago. I had no ‘Christian job offer,’ no potential in the pipe, no plan and no last minute prophecy. I packed up my college room and went home, straight back on to the overhead projector from whence I’d come three years earlier! Square one. Here is a brief summary of some of these recent discussions, with particular reference to the calling and ministry of the Apostle Paul.

  1. AT THE END OF THE ROAD… You may well be called to ‘Rome’ (Acts 23:11) but in most cases it will be via ‘Straight Street’ (Acts 9:11) first. Forsake the notion that the next move must be accompanied by ‘you have reached your destination!’ Some of those dreams and visions could be decades away from fulfillment and, relax, that’s perfectly ok with God. It doesn’t mean that you’ll never see your ‘Rome.’
  2. BE A BRICK. Every ‘sent one’ needs an Antioch (Acts 13:1-2) – a fabulous local church. Paul was a hard working local leader and Antioch was not just his base; he was part of the brickwork! It was through serving locally that the Holy Spirit ensured he found both the right task and the right time: both are crucially important in order to be in the centre of God’s will, not our own. Look at the titles of the New Testament books: God is big on speaking to churches, less so to individuals. If you don’t take root you can’t bear fruit.
  3. PAY FOR GUIDANCE. No, I don’t mean rent-a-prophet. Notice the double mention of fasting and prayer as Paul and Barnabas are launched out (Acts 13:2-3). Prayer ensures you find your true calling in Christ, not a temporary career in Christianity. Authentic divine guidance is always expensive and arises from prayer-filled fumes. No smoke, no fire; no fire, no light. Lots of Christians with ministry potential have been guided by bushes that weren’t ablaze and ended up with a powerless staff.
  4. PLAN TO DO ‘THIS AND THAT.’ I have never been a fan of the phrase ‘God’s got a plan for me’ – surely that should read in the plural? ‘I know the plans…’ says Jeremiah 29:11. Acts 1:8 is clear that we have to do this AND do that. Galatia, Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica: Paul had divine work to do in all sorts of places and I can only assume that is true for us today. Arriving in Rome may have been one of Paul’s goals, but there was no ‘big time’ in the kingdom of God. We serve God in the minutes not just the milestones.
  5. KNOW YOUR PLACE. Be real about yourself and about ministry life! You can’t really be team leader until you’ve been on the team for a good season (Acts 12:25). Initially, Barnabas would appear to have been the one in charge and it would be a while before Paul would become team leader, even though he was perceived to be the gifted one on Twitter (Acts 14:12). If called to pastoral or public ministry, sometimes the greatest thing you can be is a terrific Number Two; not temporarily, or strategically, but forever. You’ll only be happy and fulfilled if you’re exactly who God made you to be, and when.
  6. SQUARE ONE CAN BE A WINNER. Here’s a thought that helped me twenty years ago. Don’t be ashamed to simply ‘go home.’ Notice that the apostles’ first port of call was Cyprus (Acts 13:4). Question: Did the Spirit supernaturally lead them there, or was it that Barnabas knew the area well (Acts 4:36)? When you don’t know where to go, go where you know. It worked for me.
  7. BE OBSESSED WITH JESUS. Finally, despite our remarkable God-ordained differences and varying gifts and talents, our callings are ultimately all the same. We are called, in the words of Mark’s Gospel, to be with Him (Mark 3:14). Paul’s clear obsession was the Master not the ministry (Philippians 3:10). If called to Him, He will send us out to preach (Mark 3:14). He can’t send us if He can’t see us, and proximity to God is a human decision. Let history record that we were ‘heaven sent’ rather than we ‘got up and went.’

The Lord be with all our amazing students this summer. Blessed are the feet are those who bring good news!

How Can I Know who to Marry?

Posted: April 7, 2015 in Uncategorized


Who does God want me to marry?
How will I know when ‘the right person’ comes along?
Is it God’s choice or mine? What if God wants me to be single?
What does it mean to be unequally yoked?
Which Scriptures can be used to guide me?

The question of who a devout Christian person should marry is a difficult one, especially in Western contexts, as the Bible world was most often a place of ‘arranged marriages’ making direct advice on dating and marriage choices very rare in the Scripture. But it is not all bad news! There are a number of great wisdom tips in Genesis 24 – the story of Issac and Rebekah – which can guide this important life decision. This message was recorded live in front of the student body at Mattersey Hall, the National Leadership Academy (AOG). While some of the examples are based around college life, the principles will apply to any serious minded Christian seeking both God’s call and God’s partner in his or her life. Enjoy!

Hot on the sandy heels of Hollywood’s ‘Noah’ epic comes ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ – ostensibly about the life of Moses as described in the first dozen chapters of the Bible’s second book. I went to see it this evening and, boy oh boy, it was certainly epic. Epicly disappointing.

Now, I wasn’t naive enough to think it would come, word for word from the original Masoretic text. I understand that Hollywood reserves the right to have artistic license and to add light and shade to a narrative not necessarily designed for a movie audience. But the story in this film deviates so far from the Bible as to make it quite unpalatable at times and the essential ‘tone’ of this movie even borders on the offensive.

Is it based on the Bible account? Well, where do we begin? It’s quite understandable that the producers drop the eighty year old age tag of the protagonist Moses. Christian Bale’s young face will sell the movie. But unfortunately, the script portrays Moses as a violent soldier, devoid of any actual personality or religious conviction/experience. The holy and loving God of the Hebrews is depicted as an impetuous child, appearing like a ghost or demon, guiding (and occasionally rowing with) a secular and sceptical Moses. The burning bush is especially ambiguous, perhaps deliberately so, suggesting that the whole experience is a mild mental breakdown on the part of Moses, due to a timely bump on the head. The plagues of Egypt, most of which are explained scientifically, are complimented by violent acts of terrorism against the Egyptians by the Hebrews, led by a Jihad-driven Moses. God, if he exists outside of Moses’ mind at all, is a mysterious impersonal monster. Any hope that this could be partially redeemed by the dramatic crossing of the Red Sea at the end of the movie is without foundation. The scene hints at supernatural activity for sure but no more than a hint and the kind that one might find in a horror flick. We are left imagining that the Hebrews crossed in shallow waters while the Egyptians are killed by a storm and a rock fall. The earlier scene where the infant ‘God’ shouted in rage for revenge left me wanting to leave the cinema. I probably should have.

Ironically, I’m normally a fan of director Ridley Scott but despite the superb production values, CGI special effects and no doubt a shed load of money and work, the whole thing falls flat at first base with the script. Moses and Ramases shown as ‘brothers’ was the creative non-biblical element that added soap opera to ‘The Prince of Egypt’ and does the same here. Neither of these two lead actors persuaded me they were real people. At times, Bale sounded like the real ‘actor’ wasn’t on set and he was a stand-in reading the lines for a camera rehearsal. But the misrepresentation of God’s character is the unforgivable ingredient which I suspect will have Christians and those of other faiths like Judaism and Islam seeking an early exodus from ‘Exodus.’ Wasn’t the original story exciting and compelling enough for Hollywood this time?

I suspect, however, for those of us who love and cherish the biblical text, there could be some good news. Back in the early eighties, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg turned the Ark of the Covenant into a fantasy film too (‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’) that caused me as a curious teenager to read the Bible for the very first time. Let’s trust this movie does the same and I am optimistic enough to believe it will. Devout ‘Hobbit’ fans are encouraging us that the recent film franchise is nothing ‘compared to the book.’ That seems like excellent advice here too. Thinking of seeing ‘Exodus’? If you like big blockbusters, you might like it, but I’d pass-over this one if I were you. And if you want the original and authentic story found in the Bible, I’d avoid this movie like the plague.

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Sustaining a Spiritual Renewal

Posted: October 31, 2014 in Uncategorized

Many churches and individuals experience a move of the Holy Spirit that sadly doesn’t last – a time of spiritual renewal that comes to an end. This will often happen when we enjoy the Spirit but neglect obedience to the Word. This is demonstrated by the story of the man who died by the Ark. This challenging message, brought to the student body, was recorded at Mattersey Bible College.