A little bit potty?

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A little bit potty?

God spoke to me recently through a plant. It wasn’t an audible voice emanating from a flower, or the shaking of leaves to form a recognisable Bible verse; it was in my sharing with my spiritual director about my walk with God, that I became aware of the fact that my heavenly Father had been speaking to me for a few weeks. I simply hadn’t made the time to quieten myself to hear. Without boring you with unnecessary horticultural detail, I made several cuttings from a Hawthorn bush some months back, many of which I had planted out earlier in the year to thicken an existing hedge. I had a cutting left over which I placed in a pot and have been watering and feeding over the past weeks, along with my tomatoes, runner beans and beetroot; I have done this day in and day out without thinking. 

So how did God speak to me through this plant? It was in the realisation of this plant’s utter reliance on me for care, feeding, watering. Just this past week it was infested with caterpillars (Swafly) which I promptly removed. Without my intervention, it would be just a stick by now. I imagine this Hawthorn wants to be a tree, or indeed a larger bush as part of a hedge. It was never designed to be stuck in a pot, however, at the time there wasn’t a visible gap for it, and I didn't want to discard it – it was one of the better specimens, so I kept it in the pot and had been caring for it ever since, looking for the right place and right opportunity to use it. 

Perhaps some of us in ministry have wanted to do great things for God; we have a killer sermon that deserves an audience of hundreds, a new idea for mission which will transform our country or a style of leadership which could remodel church meetings across an entire denomination - but instead of having the opportunity to exercise this gifting we found that we are pot bound. 'Lord, if only you would release me into something bigger - I could grow for you in so many ways, bear fruit, be productive’ we may have pleaded. 

You see a pot has constraints; a pot limits growth and confines the roots in their search for food and water; but a pot also creates a micro environment of conditions most suited to the plant at a particular time. It was whilst reflecting on this that I came to recognise that what was being offered to me by God was so much better than being planted out; I was being offered care, nurture and watering from my heavenly Father. Rather than being reliant of my own abilities, I am wholly dependent on Him for all things. I don't see this as a negative; actually, it gives me the opportunity of encounter and ultimately affirmation by my heavenly Father which I am not so sure I would have benefitted from if I were growing freely in the soil. 

It can be all too easy to view other leaders with envy; many are leading large churches or working in senior positions within some of our denominations. There is a temptation to put oneself forward for similar positions of significance, perhaps believing that a larger platform will afford us the opportunity to influence for the Lord, and that this is our destiny. I am certain that God has a place and purpose for each of us, but at the moment could He be saying that we should be content with living under His care and provision in a pot? He will use us, but at this time we are too precious and vulnerable to go it alone. Now is the time for intentional feeding, care and support. Father God has already a great place in mind for you, but to be ready for this you’ll need to be just a little bit potty. 

Simon Mattholie

Forgiving Others

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Forgiving Others

Some time ago I purchased a new Bible which has brought life and vitality to both the Psalms and Paul’s letters. It was on using my new Bible that a verse in Ephesians jumped off the page and spoke to me. I also sensed that God wanted to speak more widely to those of us in leadership, through this verse.

And to the caretakers of the flock I say, do what is right with your people by forgiving them when they offend you, for you know there is a Master in heaven that shows no favouritism. [Ephesians 6:9]

Let me be honest, in leadership, nothing can hurt more than the comments and criticism of members of your own church, those who you are pouring yourself out to on a weekly basis. I am sure many reading this will no doubt have first-hand experience of such situations. The problem is I am not confident I dealt with this appropriately in my time of pastoral leadership.

I knew I shouldn't get angry with others, even when they made me ‘hopping mad’, so I simply bottled up the critical comments to process at a later date, but in doing so I caused damage to both myself and also to my relationship with God. You see, holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who ends up getting burned. Buried anger can leak out against others who've committed no crime against us, as well as colouring all our experiences, and ruining our ability to feel joy in many aspects of life.

So, following Paul's advice, we need to be the ones who initiate forgiveness and model the process for others. American pastor Rick Warren suggests if more people knew what real forgiveness looked like, they’d be much more willing to forgive instead of holding onto past hurts at an unhealthy level. Let me offer 6 steps which you may find helpful.

1. Recognise that no one is perfect. We will all get cross from time to time with people, and be hurt by others. It is natural, and should not be denied nor should we carry a sense of guilt about getting angry. It is what we do with this emotion that is important.

2. Stop repeatedly focussing on the person. By focusing on that person, you are allowing them to control you and giving them power. When you think about this person or event, you’ll get a lot of adrenaline, and this can become addictive. Instead, refocus on God’s purpose for your life, which is greater than any problem or pain you might be currently facing.

3. Don't expect instant results. Forgiving others will not be an instantaneous act, but rather a process over time that includes letting go of negative emotions, thoughts, and behaviours, and replacing those with positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviours toward the offender.

4. Remember, they too are a child of God. When we hate somebody, we tend to lose our perspective about that person. When we’re filled with resentment and bitterness and hurt, we tend to dehumanise the offender instead of seeing them as someone that God loves deeply, and for whom Christ died.

5. Pray for them. Pray for the one who hurt you; ask God to reveal his love to your offender. Doing so will help you to release any remaining resentment.

6. Forgiveness is good for you! When you forgive others, those nagging, negative thoughts will often go away, and research shows you'll experience less fear, anger, and depression, not to mention improved sleep, less physical pain, better cardiac function, and increased life satisfaction; it’ll change your leadership and change you.

The saying "Don't get mad, get even" is familiar to many of us; however, while we may deserve to retaliate, it will ultimately do us no good. There is a Chinese proverb which says, “If you’re going to pursue revenge, you’d better dig two graves” Jesus came to conquer the grave, so let us together model a different way in leadership, as suggested by Paul. 

Simon Mattholie

Who are you doing this for?

Who are you doing this for?

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Let everyone be devoted to fulfil the work God has given them to do with excellence, and their joy will be in doing what's right and being themselves, and not in being affirmed by others. Every believer is ultimately responsible for his or her own conscience. [Galatians 6:4-5]

I wonder if you are familiar with the quote, "You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you cannot please all of the people all of the time"? There is some confusion as to where this quote originated, but wherever it came from the salient point is that it is quite impossible to please everyone. If we take it as red that we cannot please everyone, we are left with the question who should we be seeking to please? Perhaps another way of asking this is, 'who am I doing this for?' 

I have been reflecting recently on the words of the Apostle Paul in writing to the church at Galatia (which has been brought alive through my purchase of The Passion translation). Ultimately those of us in ministry should be doing what we are doing as a result of a ‘call' on our lives; we are doing this for God. Whilst theologically we would all undoubtedly agree with this I think it wise from time to time to stand back and examine our motives, asking the question ‘is the reason that I am doing this particular ministry because God has called me to do it, or is it because of my own need to be needed?'

I think if we are honest, there is an element in each of us that needs to be needed and I don't think this can be every fully overcome. All of us need a sense that we're OK or more than OK and that we are making a difference; it is hardwired into our humanity and downloaded into our DNA. While we might not be able to change this or re-wire our brains, I do believe that recognising and identifying our driving force is an essential part of spiritual maturity. Admitting that there are times when motives are mixed is not an issue, as I believe God works through our fallenness. It is far more worrying in my personal view, to live in denial and suggest we are only ‘doing it for the Lord' as invariably this leads to either burn out or moral failure. 

I have a spiritual director whom I share with on a regular basis and who I can confess from time to time my need to be affirmed by others. It is in these conversations that we then tend to drill down into the much more in-depth topic of ‘being who God has called me to be', rather than trying to be someone else to gain approval. For me, this is the crucial point that Paul is making to the church in Galatia in this part of his letter. 

God has designed our lives with purpose, preparing in advance work for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). Sometimes this work looks different from what we or others expect, and this can result in us falling into the trap of trying to please others to gain their affirmation. If we fill all our ministry with pleasing others, while we may initially receive their approval, we will drift further and further from our calling and perhaps even from God himself. So, may I encourage you this month to have an open and honest conversation with a trusted ‘other' about your motives for ministry; and to focus on being who God has called you to be. This I am sure we be pleasing to your heavenly Father and far more fulfilling to your ministry. 

Simon Mattholie


 

GDPR is nearly here!

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GDPR is nearly here!

If your response is ‘what is GDPR?’ then you really need to read this!

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is one of the biggest changes to data protection regulations that we have seen in many years and comes into force on the 25th May 2018.

Our detailed understanding of its implications is evolving all the time and this Bulletin builds on, and supports, two previous Rural Ministries Bulletins which you should read first:

This Bulletin gives more information on obtaining ‘consent’ and the exceptions to this requirement.

How do I get consent?
The GDPR requires that you have explicit consent for nearly all the data you hold and you can only contact people for the purposes they have agreed to. Large national charities (eg The National Trust) may want to contact people on their database for a variety of reasons: new products, special offers, events, membership and each of these may require separate consent. Most rural churches do not have that level of communications and so a simpler approach to consent may be appropriate.

Rural Ministries has collected a number of forms that are in use, either by ourselves or by churches we know, and which we turned into example forms. We do not claim they are perfect but and you may wish to adapt these for use by your church.

  • Rural Ministries data review form – this is the form we used in 2017 to contact everyone on our postal mailing list. Download here
  • Rural Ministries ‘Contact us’ card – this could be amended for churches to use. In many cases you will only need name and email address for first contact. Download here
  • Event consent form – people signing in for basic event such as a Light Party don’t want to complete long forms when queuing to get in, so how about this simple way of capturing permission to stay in touch. Again, just a name and an email address is all that you need to collect to invite them to the next event. Download here
  • Possible church data consent form – this allows you to collect and store more details as they develop a closer relationship with you. Download here

With the right forms getting consent for new contacts is relatively straightforward. For existing contacts, you need to go through the process of contacting people. Do not be worried about having to delete a large part of your contact list – the chances are that if they do not reply then they are not interested, or may even have moved away.

Other reasons for holding data
There are some cases where data can be stored and used without obtaining consent. This includes where data processing is necessary:

  • for the performance of a contract to which the individual is party.
  • for compliance with legal obligations – eg Gift Aid or Anti Money Laundering regulations
  • for the purposes of ‘legitimate interests’ – this applies where there is a reasonable expectation that the individual will want you to store their data. Examples could be the local companies that you use for servicing the boiler or fire extinguishers, and your contacts in your local Churches Together group or denominational regional office.

What data should I store?
Firstly, you should only store data you have permission for (see wording on the Church Data Consent form above), but you should also record the basis for holding the data. On a spreadsheet this may be a box where you enter ‘2018 light party sign up’, ‘contact us card’, ‘Gift Aid’, ‘Legitimate Interest’ or other descriptor. You should also store the date entered and/or consent last received. Any forms containing consent should be stored securely.

You should also ensure that the issue of data protection and compliance with GDPR is discussed and minuted at a leaders meeting (ideally before the 25th May), its importance is recognised, and the steps towards compliance are agreed.