Discovering our role in releasing the Kingdom of God
Chris Cartwright and Dave Newton reflect on the Elim Leaders Summit 2019 and the implications of the message that Phil Hills shared about what are the lessons that God intends for us?
DAVE: It's my pleasure today to welcome our special guest Chris Cartwright, General Superintendent of Elim. Chris, you've been in the hot seat in that role now for about three years. Three different Elim Leaders Summits. What was your perceptions of ELS 2019?
CHRIS: Dave, I thought it was an amazing gathering. I'm humbled by the fact that when we get together in the room with leaders from very different situations and frontline experiences, God is just so gracious to us.
So a perception of amazing opportunities to worship God together. Lots of buzz and a sense of momentum and people being up for something in the coming years. And great ministry.
DAVE: It was great to have the different streams again with the young leaders and the children's tract. How many people came all together?
CHRIS: I think this year we were close to 1,700 people. There's just a little bit of extra spacing in the venue and we're really excited about the possibility of filling that next year.
It was wonderful to see people bringing teams this year. Loads and loads of churches brought people with them. A significant number brought double figures in terms of their wider leadership team and potential leaders, younger leaders, children's track ministry leaders.
DAVE: So on the first morning Phil Hills launched as off. So we're gonna just take a moment to reflect on Phil's talk and kind of maybe just apply what that he brought to us might mean for the movement.
I was struck with Phil's opening line: the conquest of Canaan is an illustration of abject failure in the midst of the most positive of circumstances. What an opener and it certainly got my attention. But then Phil went on in his opening remarks to talk about the leaders capacity to drain rather than increase in the faith of others. Do you want to just reflect on that a little bit and say what you think I'm on that regard?
CHRIS: I had no pre-warning of what Phil was gonna share and, as a dear friend, I'm always eager to hear what he shares. He's got a great passion for the Word and I felt it was a really timely message for Elim. A kind of a sense of in our time from now on. A sobering message on one level that reminded us from the outset that how we live and lead actually impacts not just those immediately around us in the local situation but it impacts one another.
There is this kind of shared responsibility for us to believe God now for real impact and fruitfulness in our lives, and that God might be up to something together with us.
DAVE: That's exciting because there is also that potential that we become stale or stagnant. We might have memories of falling flat on our faces ourselves, therefore, we pass that on to those around us.
I was struck as he, I think was a quote from Leonard Ravenhill when he said those words: 'We're too busy chasing mice while lions are devouring the land'. Where Phil went was that whole concept of are we thinking a bit too small as the church, and let me personalise the question a bit more, are we thinking of it too small as Elim?
Do we need to expand our vision as to what God has called us to do as people at this time?
CHRIS: I appreciated so much at the start of the Summit with a banner headline that we gathered around last year and this: one movement, one mission. The kind of the way that it seemed that God was putting the spotlight on that very issue - that there is this together story.
There is this together challenge and calling that we have to face up to, not to be fearful of that, but it is about as stepping into God's purpose for us as churches and ministries, and leaders together. So that sense of a bigger vision.
One movement, one mission isn't meant to be just a strapline to us. It's something that we are realising afresh. Part of the excitement for me is just seeing that resonate in loads of situations week by week out in local churches.
Also in a time like Summit, to hear how consistently through the various speakers God seem to be speaking to us about taking seriously what we carry and what we're praying for.
Carrying it in terms of prophetic understanding, realising it's down to us on our watch. We've got to do something about this.
DAVE: So what does that look like practically Chris, with Elim's 550 churches around the UK, many more around the world? But very often we look at our patch. We look at our church. We look at our gathered congregation. Our vision is about the next Sunday service. Our outreach programs. Our people.
What does it really mean to be one movement, one mission? Do I start to give attention to those around me? What does that look like in reality or what could it look like in reality if we were all part of one thing together?
CHRIS: I think hearing a message and a series of messages in the room together; particular those that brought their teams with them - it does give us an opportunity to ask that very question, very practically. In our own context, it's not just a one-hit moment. Part of the reason we're doing something like this is to try and unpack these things and say that to one another: 'Hey, let's do something about this. Let's carry this forward.'
If we believe God is speaking, if that's stirring our hearts, even if we've still got some work to do, that we must take that on board. So I think first of all there is this sense of us getting to a point of recognising we are together.
We're together in terms of a family, in terms of story, in terms of some kind of destiny that's brought us to this point. We're serving God in Elim churches of hugely diverse nature and type and style. If God were to begin to speak more clearly to us about the future mission that at the very least there's a sense of recognising that we have to respond now, where we are. Not just do the same old same old.
As much as anything for me, it's about us getting that sense that it is time for us to advance. To do something about the situation that we're in and not just expect it to happen by default.
DAVE: So there's intentionality. There's an awareness of what God might be doing and a recognition that sometimes our dream can be bigger if we doing something together, then if we're doing it in our own little corner or our own individual place.
CHRIS: More and more looking around the room in it an event like Summit, we recognise that this is about loads of individual stories. Individual leaders. Teams of leaders. People beginning to do life and ministry and mission together in exciting fresh ways, as well as familiar ways. That actually, the real stories are out there.
Looking for evidence of that together - it's just such a sense of recognition of our responsibility to really believe that what we hear from God is something that is relevant next Sunday, next Wednesday afternoon. You know, wherever we are.
DAVE: We're sitting here in Malvern, Elim's central base, and one of the points that were made by Phil was the idea that blessing is not a reason to settle. 10 years ago we moved to this fantastic site. Not not only here at the central offices, but around the country, there are signs of God's blessing on us as a Movement.
With missionaries being sent and churches being planted. We know the story well, but there was a challenge that was brought towards that blessing is not a reason to settle. We've got a responsibility to take more territory.
What do you envision, what do you imagine taking more territory looks like? How would you reflect on that statement Chris?
CHRIS: I think that whole issue of taking responsibility, spiritual responsibility for the people that we are entrusted with, for the places, the locations, the context of ministry as it now looks it is huge. But also taking responsibility for what's to come.
I think that at the moment what I recognise is that things are starting to emerge that are exciting.
I have the privilege of being in lots of Elim churches as you do Dave. Week in and week out as well as being here in Malvern, and we're on the ground beginning to see local communities of believers Elim people taking fresh steps into their community.
Seeing people coming to faith quite regularly. Looking at some ways that people are getting fresh vision and faith for their town, their city, their area. It may not yet have translated into a huge plan for national evangelism and outreach, but it's starting to emerge. There are stories everywhere of people making a difference and sensing that there is more to come.
Phil said something which I found profoundly challenging. You need to make more space and take more territory. And I think I conflated those two things, but more space - often churches are doing that very thing. They're often wanting more space in the building, the physical structures. More creative use of space is going on all the time, but it's not just about advancing the space that we meet in, however helpful that can be.
That makes me think of those that are with us, those that are in the things that currently, you know, that we're doing to reach people, to mature them, to help them grow in Christ. And I think that's a really significant emphasis - to make more space but to take more territory, causes us to look beyond. And I think that's something of a stretch.
We've been recently reminded of prophetic words from the prophet Isaiah, about stretching out and enlarging the place of our tent, both through you know some large events and locally, that word has been coming repeatedly.
I think as I've been thinking this through, reflecting on that kind of prophetic sense that that is something God's calling us to do, I think more and more that the stretch is beyond just what we currently managing into a more missional way of living and serving Jesus together.
DAVE: I love the next phrase in that Isaiah prophecy. 'Do not hold back!' You know, there's a direction of travel. There's again this word intentionality and moving into that which God is stretching. It's beyond our current.
So that fits nicely into the last point that Phil reflected on, which was that whole idea of taking stock. Because if we're talking about stretchered beyond where we are, we need to know where we are.
I remember Chris you coming into this new role and one of the first questions you're asking, again and again, is where are we? We need to know where we are and Phil made this point really well.
How do we take an honest assessment of where we are? Not just locally but as a global movement? As a national movement? And what are your reflections on that and how could we get better at some of this stuff?
CHRIS: At the moment Dave, in a lot of my thinking I'm reminding myself and others are reminding me, it's not just about the next few months or just the next year, but that we need to take a longer view. Some of that is about clarifying our values, and establishing and being clear about vision.
Starting to get some targets for what we'd like to see happening in terms of new churches and strengthening existing ones, making disciples and sending people to the nations, and every part of our community. However, almost as a prerequisite to that, we need to not be afraid to look at what is now. What are we? It's not only maintenance that does that, but maintenance is important.
I've been exercised by a phrase that Jesus uses several times of the disciples and he tells them to look at the fields.
And I kind of usually approach that as a harvest message. 'Look at the fields, they're white to harvest. There are people right now that Holy Spirit is preparing, and you know, he's trying to get us to open our eyes. But there's a much more root and branch sense of looking at the fields meaning looking at where we are. Look at where we are right now. What's the field that you are in right now?
If you've been there for a little while you know it. You know it and you know the community perhaps, the culture that you're a part of. And I think that in a simple way that Elim needs to look at its fields. We are finding a new appetite or a fresh appetite in various ways for us to look at where we are as churches, where we not.
Phil gave some practical illustrations of that. Maybe raised some quite provocative questions for us about cities, and about communities and so on.
DAVE: I think one of the stats he gave was there's one Elim church for every 120,000 people in the nation. You know and that's quite a stark reality.
CHRIS: It is indeed. So looking at the fields for me means that there is a requirement that we take a fresh look, even if we think we know, actually communities are changing around us.
I was in Cardiff for many years and in the last 5 years of so, the acceleration of just the numbers of nationalities and languages that were within a mile of our church building was staggering. Something like 65 different languages were spoken within a mile of our church.
We learned that stat and then began to understand a bit more why our church was becoming more international but realised that we were missing groups we hadn't even realised with there.
When I was training in ministry at Kensington Temple (KT) years ago, as a rookie on the team, Wynne Lewis, a legend that he was and still is in Elim mythology, brought someone onto the team as head of management. One of the first things they did back in 1989 was a survey of the church.
And it was a thousand survey forms got collected. There were many more in the church, but we would manage to get a thousand back. And almost immediately we began to use that survey to begin to look at how that was not only reflecting the church we were but might begin to shape the church that we felt we needed to become.
So we began to track that every two years and I've been reminded of that because some of this we know. We know how to look at an area. There are experts out there in Elim world that have done this in local communities. Looked at felt needs. Looked to maybe some of the demographics, as well as the spiritual mapping of what's God saying to us about our area and what prophetic words have we had. I think some of it is not being unwilling to go back to some of these things. Get some help from one another and start to look at the fields.
Now in some cases that will cause us to be more responsible stewards of what we have, but maybe some of that will begin to give us more to go on in terms of where we reach out and what a new community might look like it, planted in another suburb or within arm's reach of where we are or even further afield know.
DAVE: I love the kind of conclusion or the call that Phil mandated us with. That if we are genuinely one movement on one mission, then we have a responsibility to celebrate each other's successes.
I think one of the challenges to the heart of a Christian leader is when success isn't on your doorstep and it's down the road, trying to avoid jealousy and recognising actually that we're all part of this kingdom story and we play our part. How do we adopt that posture as Christian leaders, as Elim leaders?
And what would you say the necessity of that is for the health of our movement?
CHRIS: I think we need great conversations, really honest conversations. We do that because at our best moments we know this is all about the kingdom coming, not Elim coming. And saying that from a denominational responsible role, I'm very conscious that for years I've been saying that it's easy to say Kingdom first, denomination second, brand second.
But in every way, every Elim leader has to engage with that in a way that I would suggest needs to make the most of our shared story and about the possibilities we have to leverage Kingdom change together more effectively than on our own. But we also have to be willing to reflect on what it looks like for the Kingdom to come.
That actually over time we are gonna have to get better at allowing people to be themselves.
Local churches to flourish in local vision, but not at the expense of the partnerships that we are meant to have together in that sense. So I think it's gonna be about learning to lean into equipping people that are with us. I mean I've been in two very large city churches over the years and maybe started out thinking that would be it, that would be enough. It never is!
You're always as insecure in that setting, I think, as you're on any other, about losing people. But the more that we learn to seek I think the Kingdom to come in our church, in our people, in our community, in our town, the more the better. But translating that into some fresh creative partnerships. I'm hearing lots of great stories about people starting that, where churches are helping each other. Churches are partnering together and getting friends in to help them, which I love. So I think it's not being afraid.
People like us Dave, in terms of denominational leadership posts, being able to sometimes give that kind of wriggle room for our leaders on the ground to do what they believe God wants them to do. Not be afraid that it's gonna be causing them to part company with us, but actually to strengthen them and for them to strengthen us.
DAVE: As we entered into 2019, yourself and the National Leadership Team were using that word 'realignment' and it's necessary sometimes just to create wriggle room or adapt our structures in order to achieve this mission that God has called us to.
Chris have you got any just final reflections just as you think particularly about this year ahead or this particular word that was brought to us that you just like to share as we bring this to land.
CHRIS: As I've been reflecting on even this opening message at Summit, it reminded me that a Summit for us is about more than just the denominational tick box exercise of a kind of annual general meeting or even just another conference.
Actually, it has to be about intentionally moving into our future together. And I'm reminded in that, that for many of us one of the highlights is to be in the room worshipping God together.
We are a people of encounter and we must not forget that Elim was birthed as a movement of the Holy Spirit. And yes church planting and evangelism, but I'm increasingly they just kind of regrouping around and gathering around that sense of wanting to be presence led, and wanting to be Spirit-empowered people.
Whether the wording is always the most helpful for us or not, that's actually what increasingly defines us, and that our missional focus in the coming years would be increasingly clear because of those things. Because the Holy Spirit is moving and it's filling us.
Because we are a people that believe in every person being able to step into that and move with the Spirit. Whether it's a baby Christian, or a mature believer, a seasoned veteran that's re-wakened in some way, that we have a future that is all about moving with the Holy Spirit into renewed mission as of people part of a bigger family, but as a people who identify together the leverage we have and the opportunities we have to share in one another's story.
That's my hopes and believe very much that that's where God is calling Elim. And it will mean we'll have to say really seriously over these next year's enlisting the crowd and not just a few. Equipping the crowd and not just a few. And releasing them and not just holding them with better values and better language.
DAVE: Chris, thank you for taking this opportunity to share.
DAVE: Hopefully, this has been insightful. You can listen to listen the full interview in the first episode of the Elim leadership podcast, and as well asthe talks from the Elim Leaders Summit. You can download them from our website. Connect with them and take time to just look over them again. Just visit our podcast page to subscribe and download: elim.org.uk/podcast
This interview is part of a discussion series where we encourage leaders to take the time to reflect, learn and grow in their leadership. You can subscribe to the podcast series and leave a voice message with your comments or questions at anchor.fm/elimleaders.
[Interview source: Elim Leadership Podcast Episode 1 - edited for brevity.]
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