The Peace in the midst of.....

The Peace in the midst of.....

Summer can hold a mixture of emotions and experiences for us all but especially for those of us involved in ministry.  There are opportunities for special events, Children’s holiday clubs, Holiday at home for the elderly, church outings or picnics, time for planning ahead for the last quarter of the year, all mixed up with a diminished congregation as people are away for summer breaks and the ability to get away ourselves for rest and recharging our batteries.  Oh did I mention peace?

In Judges 6:12 the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and described him as a mighty warrior, not a title that Gideon would have applied to himself and indeed, one which appeared to make no sense to him at all and led him into an interesting discussion between him and God.

The amazing thing is that Gideon, often referred to as a mighty warrior was uncomfortable with the message and to put it plainly, he was scared at the prospect of what God was asking him to do (Judges 6:27).   God’s answer to Gideon’s reticence was to give him peace (Judges 6:23-24).  

Gideon carried out the will of God even though he was nervous, anxious and unsure, he did not wait for a better time, but encouraged by the peace of God went ahead.  In Verse 23 God said to him Peace! Do not be afraid, then in verse 24 Gideon built an altar and called it ‘the Lord is peace’, the promise of peace became the proclamation of peace from deep in the heart of Gideon.

We often think of battles such as those experienced by Gideon, as relating to difficult spiritual experience or challenges within the church or members life experiences, but the change in church rhythms experienced during July and August can cause those in ministry to experience at least some level of discomfort with opportunities to reach out, look forward and take time out vying for our attention.

This summer, my prayer is that we will each experience that deep inner peace of God deep within our lives during this varied season of ministry, planning and holidays.  So take a few moments to look at July and August and the events that are planned and schedule some opportunities when you take time out to soak in the peace of God, not just when you are away but in the midst of summer busyness.

David Hughes

Changes to Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme

Changes to Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme

The Gift Aid Small Donation Scheme (GASDS) is an important part of churches’ financing and allows Gift Aid to be claimed on many cash donations that would otherwise be ineligible. The rules on what can, and cannot, be claimed changed in April 2017 and although many small churches will be unaffected some may find that they can now claim much more than before. 

Somethings have not changed, in particular:
•    The limit of £20 per donation still applies – so you cannot claim for gifts such as £40 donated in an unmarked envelope or an occasional £50 note in the collection. 
•    GASDS claims must be made within two years – although other timing issues have changed.
•    The Gift Aid multiplier – sometimes called the ‘matching rule’. The limit on GASDS is still 10 times the amount claimed on Gift Aid in the same tax year. 

Things that have changed are as follows:
Earlier first claim: A key change is the removal of the need for HMRC recognition for two complete tax years and have a history of successful Gift Aid claims before the first claim. This is good news for church plants looking to run separately from their mother church.

Claims limits per building: Prior to April 2017 charities could claim on donations up to £8,000 plus and additional £8,000 of small donations for each community building they operate from. From this year, the rules are structured depending on how many buildings they operate from. 

Charities operating from one community building (or no buildings) can claim on donations up to £8,000 which can be collected from anywhere in the UK such as at village fetes or church weekend retreats. 

Where a charity operates from more than one building – such as a school for Sunday meetings and a village hall for midweek activities it can claim either:
•    a maximum of £8,000 on donations collected anywhere in the UK
•    a maximum of £8,000 for each community building on donations collected in the same Local Authority area as that building. 

There are a number of rules for what qualifies as a community building including:
•    It must be on a separate site - a hall on the same or adjoining plot of land as a church does not qualify but a hall several properties away does.
•    It must not be a commercial building – unless there is exclusive use during when donations are made so, for example, a hired room at the back of a pub would not qualify.
•    The charity’s activities must be held there at least six time a year, be open to the public (or a section of it) and have a minimum group size of 10 people. 

Where a charity is claiming for multiple buildings any donations made outside of the buildings (such as at a village fete) can be assigned to any building that is in the same local authority area as the donation is made.

As always there will be winners and losers. For most small charities who do not reach the £8,000 limit the impacts will be negligible but for some churches that exceed £8,000 limit it may be worth considering the options carefully.

HMRC have issued a summary briefing on new rules for GASDS and a full guide is available from the HMRC website.  

Nick Jones

Mastermind Groups

Mastermind Groups

Christian leadership in the rural context is often a lonely and isolating experience. Many rural leaders face issues of burnout, frustration, boredom and becoming ‘stuck’ as to how to overcome certain challenges they face. I was listening to a podcast the other day, where the speaker was telling the story of ‘The inklings’, a group of successful writers and poets who met together regularly for support, encouragement and the exchange of ideas.

The group included C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams amongst the members. The podcast went on to describe the time when Tolkien had encountered what could be best described as writer’s block, and couldn't get past the opening words he had written about the ‘Hobbits’. C. S Lewis, who was one of the Inklings, suggested to Tolkien that Hobbits only got interesting when they were out of The Shire. This sparked the imagination of Tolkien, who then went off and began writing the first of the books which became ‘The Lord of the Rings.’

I cannot help but wonder if we perhaps have something to learn from this story, and indeed the business world where such groups, called ‘Mastermind Groups,’ are becoming increasingly popular. These groups are made up of 4-6 people who meet regularly to get better at their craft through honest feedback, mutual support and accountability. They tackle challenges and problems together, leaning on one another for advice, creative ideas, wise decision making, and accountability regarding goals set. The main principal is through the coordination of two or more people; a third way is found; this is called the ‘master mind.’  

From a Christian perspective, I would liken this third way to discerning together the mind of Christ and I can see how there could be so many benefits of drawing together a small group of Christian leaders from similar and differing contexts, for mutual support, sharing different views and perspectives, and maximising the missional opportunities in ministry. Perhaps the Apostle Paul encountered something similar, leading him to advise the church at Philippi to not “…look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” (Philippians 2:4) 

If this concept sounds interesting, you may want to form your own mastermind group. To do this I would look for between 3 and 5 leaders, who have similar drive and commitment towards making a Gospel impact. I would deliberately identify those who have different gifts and strengths to my own; for example, if you are very analytical and approach things from a scientific point of view, I would be intentionally locating creative types to join the group. I would seek those who are active problem solvers, and willing to learn from others.  I would suggest that the group commits to meeting regularly; for some weekly may be helpful for others a monthly pattern may be more workable. I would personally advise meeting over food, and limiting your time to just a couple of hours. 

When you have identified such a group, then the next task would involve establishing a very basic structure. The following three questions may be useful as you begin:

1.    What are you working on?
2.    What have you learnt?
3.    What do you need help with?

As the group evolves you will no doubt develop other more focussed and context specific questions. Hearing different views of your fellow mastermind participants may enable you to see issues in your ministry, and approach to goals, that you wouldn’t otherwise become aware of.  Whether you agree with their assessment or not, invariably it will give you a better understanding of how you might improve your approach. The words of Proverbs 27 v17 seem apposite: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” 

Simon Mattholie

The unfailing Love of God

The unfailing Love of God

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As I am sitting in my office writing this, the sun is shining, the birds really are singing and the promise that Summer is on the way (well, I am an optimist).  As one of the minions said “I don’t care what people think of me, at least mosquitoes find me attractive”.   Summer is like that, there is always something positive, even if it is “well it has to stop raining sometime!” Then the sun comes out and all is well.

In Psalm 42, we join David at a difficult time and this is a prayer for deliverance.  He is being oppressed by those who oppose him and he is longing for the day when he can worship God back again in the Temple.

This Psalm takes us on a journey through desperation to the hope of a summer experience for his soul – the day when he sees a breakthrough.

He begins with a search for God in a dry and thirsty situation “as the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God” (1-2) and he is facing derision from those who mock him (3). At this point his memory kicks in and looks back at the times when he joined others in the joyous experience of celebrating and worshipping God in the temple (4).

In verse 5 he talks to his very inner being and asks “why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him my Saviour and my God.

He reached a place where he spoke to himself and said “put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him…”  He knew, deep down that summer was a coming. 
The remainder of the Psalm continues his journey as he recognises his feelings of despair but balances that with the love of God in verse 8 then he speaks to God about his situation before repeating the encouragement to His soul in verse 11.

Many of us will have gone through times that resonate with the words of Psalm 42 and we can look back at the unfailing love of God and rejoice in that place where we can now praise him.

However, I wonder if you are reading this during a time of discouragement, things not going as well as you would hope or expect them to be.  If that is you then quote the words of Psalm 42:5 & 11 and remember, summer is on the way to your soul.

David Hughes