On the news yesterday I heard that the surprise most popular game for Christmas in a time of Covid is likely to be chess, following the success of the Netflix mini-series The Queen’s Gambit. More and more people are learning and playing, especially girls.
I was never very good at chess growing up because my older brother was really good at it, so in my head it was the game I always lose, so I didn’t learn or practice enough to get better.
Earlier this year in conversation with my friend Alan Hirsch (you can hear more on this in my podcast where I picked him up on it) he said that he’d learned something from the world of chess that might be applicable for the situation the Church has found herself in this year. He said, ‘If you want to get better, remove your Queen.’ I’ve thought about that a lot since.
The idea is you take away your strongest piece, the one you rely on most, and that will help you learn what to do with all the other pieces.
Now my mind flashes back to games with my brother Terry, and if he took the Queen, I just knew ‘I’m toast.’ I thought might as well give up and go and play soldiers in the woods rather than drag out the inevitable indoors, so I’d concede soon after losing the Queen.
The Queen, for church leaders like me, is the building or buildings we own or hire to gather in. It’s how we draw, attract and keep a crowd. For some the building can become the point, the crowning glory of ministry. Except we’re meant to be all about the King.
The King is the most important piece. I can survive without the Queen, if I adapt and bring the other pieces into play and don’t forget it’s all about the King, and we’re not done yet, and there’s another move I can make – if I pause and don’t give in. There’s still everything to play for.
Alan said they used to run a scenario training leaders where he said, “Imagine for example you’re the Church of England, but you can’t meet in your buildings, what would you do?” Necessity is the mother of invention.
Well it happened didn’t it? Whether you’re in a denomination or not, our Queen was taken away this year – and it doesn’t look like we’re getting her back any time soon. That’s a problem for a lot of leaders because the Queen was the biggest hope and their only real plan is that one day soon the opponent gives her back. I hear all the time on leadership calls thoughts about ‘when will we go back?’ and plans for when we do.
But I’ve told our guys, ‘We are not going back’. We are only going to go forward.
Of course that’s not to say we will never hire another building to gather as we need to, or that were won’t meet in ones we own. I believe we could have more than ever. We are not just short term thinkers, Ivy’s getting ready to open up the multipurpose church/community/sports hub on the site of the cricket and lacrosse club site we bought a 125 year lease on. I can’t wait to see what will happen there over the years ahead, God willing.
But I got up early this morning to write this because as I lay in bed I was getting more and more excited as I saw a picture of a chess board in my mind, and as I watched, the game changed.
The church in the west has become accustomed to being roundly defeated because of the way we have got used to playing the game. We have inherited a dualistic picture, the classic way the chess board starts, with a yin and yang balance of equals and opposites. It’s anybody’s game at the start. For me, if my Queen is taken out, I’m at a loss. What do I do?
But now, I see a plucky pawn – and a gap in the defences, and I push on, and say, ‘Crown me!’ The pawn becomes a Queen now (or a bishop or a rook if I want. by why would you stoop to be a mere bishop when you can be royalty?) – dangerously, flexibly, powerfully able to move fast – taking out the enemy left, right and centre. The way we have played is that sometimes a piece or two might get picked to wear that crown. Most get taken out and stay as pawns of course, because (think) they know their place.
As I watched, the game had changed – and now ALL my pieces were Queens. The Bride emerged, all over the board!
Can you imagine, if you were the adversary, the opponent, and you had to play someone (even someone as rubbish at chess as I am, even if you called yourself ‘Grandmaster’) who had one King, and all Queens! How long would you last? There would be nothing you could do now, but lose.
We have played the devil on his own terms too long, that’s why it seems like he’s winning. Some of us who call ourselves leaders have got so used to playing that way, our only moves have been defensive – protecting our own position, thinking faithfulness means dragging out inevitable defeat a little longer rather than packing in and playing outside.
If we will see it, there’s another game in town, and we win.
Everyone gets to play. On our side there are no pawns, no knights or rooks. No bishops. We lost the Queen, but only so that now all God’s people get crowned.
Actually perhaps we see how thoroughly the enemy had done a number on us, because they already were, because God has no pawns, all his children are royalty.
Last night on nearly 50 screens we had people (mostly Ivy, some from a few other places in the UK) join us for the second session of our ‘micro-church’ training. They’re FAT people (read on, it’ll be explained). It’s my hope that by spring next year most of them will have heard something from me and the others bringing a little basic training enough to have confidence to go and have a go somewhere.
I don’t think ‘micro-church’ is a great name for this, it sounds too limited but this is church. Church unlimited. Those who get something started can call them whatever they think will help them reach more people and make more disciples. I’d rather call them ‘fast multiplying church’, because that’s the main advantage of small over big, it’s easier to multiply.
My friend Josh Howard joined us from India last night and told us how his movement has planted 1,300 new churches since lockdown, by identifying, equipping what they call FAT people (Faithful, Available, Teachable) and sending them out to do the business.
Church people still spend a lot of time arguing about who’s greatest. Who gets to lead? Who gets to be ‘ordained?’ What are the qualifications?
At LAUNCH last week one of the questions raised to me about microchurch when I mentioned it was, ‘How do you ensure you get the right people to lead?’ And my immediate thought was, “Well it doesn’t seem Jesus was very good at that.”
He didn’t select those the religious establishment would ever recognise or authorise, they were ‘ordinary and unschooled’ – but people could see they had been with Jesus. That was the qualification.
And by the way do those with the most formal and convoluted structures produce the best leaders? Are those with the most letters after or in front of their names leading anyone to Jesus? If controlled hierarchy, selection and academic training could ensure in some way leaders with characters shaped to be like Christ and leading others to him (and like him) we’d not have to be having this conversation.
In India and the nations around it where Josh is working he told us many of those planting the most and the fastest to multiply them are those who used to be enslaved as prostitutes, or to drugs, but now they have met Jesus and are free to go and free others. They preach boldly, heal the sick and cast out demons and people who see that power want to know the One who sent them. These people got their crown and there’s no stopping them!
Like I said at LAUNCH I briefly touched on micro-churches in the Q and A, and the chat lit up, because I think many in our churches know what those of us who want to keep our position might prefer to pretend not to know – the game has changed. The game is up on what was. The next reformation is here and it’s all about ecclesia now. Those who have been pawns too long have come to the end of that and are shouting out ‘CROWN ME!’
Of course were it not for fear and self protection, the truth we should have been telling them all along is – you’re already crowned. Peter wrote to ‘God’s elect, scattered people,’ so this applies to every believer, from the first day until the last day the Lord says you are
“A chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.”1 Peter 2:9
Is a Royal above a Bishop? A Deacon? An Archdeacon or whatever? I think so.
There are all these man made titles but God already gave us a role higher than them all. EVERY believer.
Who told you that you couldn’t lead? Who told you, you were not a priest? God already told you, you are. Look up, you’re crowned already. Paul wrote to every believer too representatively when he wrote to the Corinthians (does anyone think he added in pencil ‘don’t read this bit out to everyone’) “He has qualified us as able ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Corinthians 3:6
We sent everyone on the training a bulb in the week, (I got a daffodil). I said what you have to do with that is find some good soil, plant it, and see what God does. If you put that in the ground now, a miracle will happen in spring.
If it stays in the bag, rather than being put in the soil, nothing will grow. But if we do our bit, God will do his.
Everyone got a bulb. I said just follow the instructions – and see what happens next year. Simple obedience. I think the kind of FAT people we have on there will go and do it this week.
We have done a weird thing (the church likes to make very simple things very complicated, Jesus always did the opposite). We’ve said the only people who get to put that bulb or seed in the ground, well – before you go and do that, you need to read this book I wrote about gardening. Then you have to do this course for a few years organised by the Royal Horticultural Society. You have to know the Latin name for the genus, and how to test the soil.
We discuss and debate and listen to experts on the ‘culture’ – waiting for conditions to be just right. People like me encourage everyone to bring their bulbs or seeds still in the bag into a greenhouse once a week. The best of us have bigger greenhouses so can we show them what expert gardeners we are, so they’ll pay their subs to the club and come back next week for a slide presentation – by a visiting speaker who once won a prize at Chelsea.
We talk, write blogs or have conferences about ‘planting’ – planting churches, planting micro churches like it’s complicated. But history’s greatest pioneering church planter wrote
“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labour. For we are God’s fellow workers.”1 Corinthians 3:7-8
But in what borders on wilful stupidity we’ve even said rather than all being fellow workers there are special people. You have to go out on special days, at special times, wearing special clothes, and be licensed and authorised by other very more special people, to go and plant something.
In some settings we’ve said after all that it must be a blessed and authorised bulb.
Don’t you dare go and plant something anywhere other than in your own little garden. Don’t put it in the middle of a roundabout in the city or anywhere you didn’t get permission to let something beautiful grow, because that’s somebody else’s patch – even if all they have on there is a few weeds and a shed to maintain but they might get upset – so we’ll have to dig it up. And please don’t call it a flower, people tending weeds get really threatened by that.
Why not just say to people, ‘Don’t just keep bringing that bulb here. We are here to tell you and help you to go out, somewhere near your house, or where you work, or where the kids go to school, and stick it in the ground,’ see what God does. One bulb can produce 20 daffs by the way. That’s how multiplication happens.
In Mark 5 there’s this guy Jesus meets. Or rather in his grace, Jesus finds him. What are his qualifications when Jesus sends him out to go and reach people in ten cities? What are his credentials?
“Oh hi, I used to have thousands of demons. I used to run around naked. You might have heard of me, they used to call me Legion. BUT that’s not the end of my story it’s just the start because I met JESUS – and I wanted to just stay with him and worship him and learn learn learn all about him, and I was hanging onto him saying can I just be with you?”
And Jesus said ‘No! Get off my leg! Get going and tell some people you meet about the great things God has done for you.”
You see in the early church having a past didn’t mean you didn’t have a future once you met Jesus. It’s interesting to hear about the first female apostle Mary Magdelene that she used to have seven demons. Rather than being something to be ashamed of, what if that was her CV?
We have to tell people, you don’t even have to be as well qualified as him or her. You don’t need to have had as many demons as them, but if you realise who Jesus is and you love him you can go and tell your story to some other people about the great things he’s done for you, so some of them get them to know about Jesus and make disciples for him too.
If they ask you what your credentials are, tell them God said you’re already an able minister.
“He has qualified us as able ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”2 Cor 3;6
Someone reading this hears the Spirit say, “I have already crowned you. You can move, you can go in any direction, you can start to plant a church today. Find good soil. Sow a seed or two in faith. You don’t have to wait for permission, for I have given you a Commission.’
I’m more excited than ever now. If we do our bit, he’ll do his. Let’s see what God grows next. The game has changed – and this is how we win.