Category Archives: preaching

Why a Meal? Where’s the Teaching?

NYNO’s theology emphasizes the body of Christ, family, hospitality. It is hard to miss the centrality of all those things in the gospels. Luke notes that Jesus came eating and drinking (Luke 7:34). Part of what drives us is our dissatisfaction with ‘all-age worship’ services which usually cater well to the needs of one group of people. Perhaps the toddlers win, or the teenagers, or primary-school aged children. Alternatively, the service is enjoyable for adults, and children of all ages are overlooked and their needs forgotten about. How do we as NYNO attempt to do something different? Is there another way of doing things where we can all meet together, and no-one is overlooked, and everyone joins their hearts in worship and is uplifted and has a sense of belonging to the body of Christ, joined with him and with one another? Is this pie in the sky?

Each time we have met together on a Sunday, we have emphasized the centrality of the Lord’s supper. Our first innovation in that meeting place was to change the seating so we were all gathered around the table. This eliminated the sense of someone being at the ‘head’ of the meeting. It is a visual spatial sign that we are all equals as we gather before our Lord. We have emphasized in our teaching that communion is central to our faith, and we have made clear that we will persist in gathering around the table even when we are not able to partake.

Another concern which might arise with Sunday worship in this form is teaching. How do we achieve good teaching for all ages in one gathering? How do we make sure that the youngest child to the oldest pillar of the faith, who has known Jesus for eighty years has some sustenance? We believe that the answer for us as NYNO is to make our meal-gatherings the main meeting. We gather around the table; we serve one another; we take communion; we recite liturgy; we worship with our songs; we are all literally singing from the same hymn-sheet. Turning people into strangers is one way to make people distant, less dangerous. There is no way to hide in the back pew if we all sit side by side, united in Christ and to one another, from the youngest to the oldest. In these practices there is lots of ‘teaching’. Each time we meet we are reciting, praying and sacramentally participating in the basis of our faith.

It’s possible that some may look at our gatherings and question whether we have enough ‘proper solid bible teaching.’ Several things can be said to this. Firstly, we are not against teaching. If your gathering has willing able teachers, by all means let them teach. We are anxious however, that those who do not have such gifts from God should not be impeded from developing their own churches. We hope that our corporate acts of worship will be deeply significant and beautiful and rich.

In a situation that is diversely aged and there is a need for age-specific education, for children and adults, it may be most appropriate to provide that somewhere other than in the main meal gathering. Our reasoning for this is that adult oriented sermon can be difficult for children and their parents. Equally, a child oriented presentation can be dissatisfactory for adults. With our approach, separate ‘Sunday school’ classes for particular age groups could meet before the main Sunday meeting, or at another time in the week, to study the word together. Perhaps they will focus on a book of the bible, or a topic, and use different media as appropriate such as storytelling, drama or Godly Play.

All that to say, our meetings around the table are the most important part of our fellowship. They are what define us and make us different. Hopefully, they are the distinctive part of what make us truly inter-generational. Teaching need not be compromised. It will just look different than a forty-five minute sermon for the adults, or a children’s talk, or separate children’s church, or an all-age service which is all about primary-school aged kids and leaves nothing for the grown-ups.

Julie and Matthew

1 Corinthians 10:14-22 – Symbolic Seating (Meeting Posts 3)


The following sermon was given at a Sunday service, at which we had changed our changed our seating arrangements. Before we had a familiar arrangement of speaker and lectern at the front and congregation facing the speaker. Our new format had us gathering in a circle, around a table laid with the communion elements. We wanted to emphasise that in the church there is no position of power; nobody is higher or lower than anyone else. On our little table we laid a loaf of bread, a cup of wine, a cross and the open Bible. All of us sit facing each other across these symbols. The changes in our meeting space were a physical representation of the symbolism which is at our core – that we gather around the communion table, Christ is at the centre, and we are united one with another.

1 Corinthians 10:14-22

We read 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 together in both the ESV and The Message.

Therefore my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

15-18 I assume I’m addressing believers now who are mature. Draw your own conclusions: When we drink the cup of blessing, aren’t we taking into ourselves the blood, the very life, of Christ? And isn’t it the same with the loaf of bread we break and eat? Don’t we take into ourselves the body, the very life, of Christ? Because there is one loaf, our many-ness becomes one-ness—Christ doesn’t become fragmented in us. Rather, we become unified in him. We don’t reduce Christ to what we are; he raises us to what he is. That’s basically what happened even in old Israel—those who ate the sacrifices offered on God’s altar entered into God’s action at the altar.

Why Chairs Matter

Firstly, we feel it was important to mention what the sacraments are for in order to give some context. They are all signs of covenant, that is, of God’s promises and his will for humanity. Augustine called the sacraments ‘visible words’. They are visible and tangible signs which bolster our weak faith. God imparts spiritual things through visible ones. We want to emphasise two things in particular – our participation in Christ when we take communion, and how we are joined with one another as we partake.

The signs – the cup and the bread – are symbolic, but they are also, mysteriously, far more than just symbols. A symbol that is nothing more than a symbol is dead. But when the symbol points us to something larger than ourselves, something eternal, the symbol has life.

We don’t know how, but by the holy spirit, we feed on Christ when we participate in the cup and loaf. Our minds can’t grasp how, but by faith we believe that something profound and beautiful and significant takes place when we take the cup. This seems to me so characteristic of biblical spirituality- the ordinary, the humdrum and the miraculous, supernatural are on a single continuum.

We want to emphasise that it is, of course, possible to participate in Christ without the sacrament, but that it is impoverished. The sacrament is central to all of our gatherings even when we don’t partake because the act makes Christ central. Communion is a moment of personal encounter with Jesus. John 6:56 say this: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in Him.’ Our participation in the cup and loaf, our communion, is an intimate moment when each of us meets with Jesus and is wholly centred on Him. The reference to idolatry in first verse is a warning to keep God at the centre of our worship – at the centre of our individual lives, and common life.

When we participate in the cup, we are not only participating in Christ in the here and now, but we are on the cusp of eternity as ‘we proclaim Christ’s death until he comes’ as it says in 1 Corinthians 11:26. Communion is a taster of the redemption to come. It helps us to see what lies ahead and helps us to already participate in it in a limited way. As it was a Sunday in advent, we began our service by singing O come, O come Emmanuel. We expressed our longing for Jesus to come. We talked about being ‘hallelujah people’, living after Christ’s resurrection, but that we are also ‘advent people’, waiting and longing for Christ’s return in glory and victory. We live in that sure hope.

Having talked about what it means to participate in Christ, we move on to talk about what it means to participate with one another. Again, our new way of sitting together has symbolic significance. We want to emphasise that our participation in Christ is a communal activity. The various meanings of the key word, koinonia, are communion, fellowship, participation, sharing in, contribution/gift, and presence. All these facets of that one word express our joining with one another as we participate in Christ together.

Some traditions end their Eucharist service with these words: ‘Grant that we who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his holy spirit and become one body, one spirit in Christ.’ There we touch the heart of the mystery of community.

In some mysterious way, when we participate in Christ’s cup, and have communion with Him, we are joined together as brothers and sisters. We participate in the feast together. It is joint participation. Thus, as Jean Vanier would say, community and family become closely intertwined, because aiming at a common unity strives to overcome brokenness, divisiveness, and, ultimately gaining wholeness with each of the members, with their environment, and with God.

So, as we are participating in Christ, communally, being somehow joined with one another, we are being built by the Holy Spirit into community, into the body.

Practically Participating (Meeting Posts 2)


Participation is a key idea for NYNO, something that we feel is essential in any church. In using the word ‘participation’ we understand the church to be a spiritual entity, one that finds its meaning and identity in relation to God: a church is not primarily a club or a voluntary organisation; it is God’s community. We take our place in the Church as God’s children alongside Christ, called by our creator and saviour.

All this means that people matter. All of us come into church needing to receive from God. But the gift of God to us is such that as we receive salvation we are brought into a freedom to live differently. This does not mean living perfectly, but rather life in relation to our Father in heaven through Christ and so with one another.

In short, this is not a small thing. The consequence of this is that we matter. We matter as individuals and our participation in the life of the church matters.

From the start of NYNO, Julie and Matthew have felt it essential for new church communities to hear the honest opinions of its members. The heart of the Christian message militates against authoritarian leadership. We can’t simply dictate ‘from the front.’ The Church lives as it loves all of its members.

Historically, the majority of people who turn up to church week after week, decade upon decade, are rarely asked for their opinions, preferences or ideas. Indeed, this is a pretty frightening idea from the perspective of a leadership that is strategically planning a future. Such conversations could be fraught with tension, disagreement and misunderstanding. And yet, however threatening, maybe this is the only way forward if the majority of a congregation are to be actively engaged and involved – participating – in the communal life of a church.

So, one Sunday morning, we invited our gathering to dream about their idea of the ‘perfect church’. What would it look like? We invited people to remember back to a time when they felt happiest in church, and to reflect on why that was the case.

Luke 15

New International Version (NIV)

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

The Perfect Church?

What would your perfect church look like?

Perhaps ‘perfect’ is asking too much. If so, try approaching this from a different angle: what is your fondest memory of being in church? What made that experience so good? Were you at peace in church, conscious of the closeness of God or perhaps inspired to live and serve?

In so many ways in life, we find we can’t go back. Things have changed: we have, others have. And yet why shouldn’t we indulge in a little daydreaming. And who is to say that we won’t find keys in the past that might unlock the future? We don’t need to be worry about the practicalities of how such a church could come into being, just reflect on times when church has surprised and delighted us.

So, would the perfect church meet in a cathedral, an awe-inspiring space, such as St. Paul’s London, or King’s College Chapel, Cambridge?

Would there be music? Quiet chanting, soaring choirs, orchestral accompaniment, electric guitars or bare voices in unison?

A minister who gives compelling sermons? Who seemed to bring the very words of God to your heart?

Is church to be full of energy and activity, or quiet and reflective?

Would it be full of children, or empty of them?

Would it be the church you grew up in, or in which you brought your children up?

Would be full of friendly people, or people who didn’t bother you?

What would be the perfect church? When has church been a joy to you?

Why the Question Matters

I ask this question aware that to my knowledge it’s not something about which most of us have been invited to give of their opinion. And that troubles me, because your opinions, your thoughts and preferences about church, matter.
In our reading we heard Jesus speak of the lost sheep.

The Pharisees had taken offence at Jesus’ habit of surrounding himself with disreputable tax collectors and sinners. A teacher should live in a manner consistent with his or her words. What kind of teacher offers implicit affirmation to such people by sitting with them at table?

In response, Jesus tells the Pharisees a parable.’Suppose one of you,’ he begins, ‘has a hundred sheep and loses one. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open and go after the lost one. And on finding it, would he not celebrate?’

The whole matter resides on a question of identity and belonging. The Pharisees considered these disreputables as traitors, misleading themselves and others, diluting the purity of God’s people, perhaps dissuading God from blessing and liberating his people. They were to be ostracised in punishment and as a warning to others.

But Jesus looks on these people as lost sheep. The shepherd looks on each animal as precious, valuable. Just so, Jesus has not ceased to care for his people. They may have strayed, but that is all the more reason to chase after them and bring them to safety.

This parable speaks to something that should be at the very heart of any ‘perfect’ church. It reminds us that in the Kingdom of God, we gain our citizenship, our membership and significance, our identity, because it is given us from the depths of the love of Jesus Christ. The waters of baptism do not merely wash the skin but declare to us that with Jesus we now have new life, and those waters operate with no record for our abilities, our competencies, our moral performance. All such things are secondary to this wonderful truth: God views us with love. We may have wandered, but we remain his sheep.

And if Christ cares for us, then we must care for one another. As Jesus said elsewhere:

He who has been forgiven little loves little. (Luke 7:47)

These words must of course be reversed: he who has been forgiven much, loves much. Or consider these words of Jesus to the unforgiving servant:

Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? (Matthew 18:33)

Think of it another way. If Christ loves you and I love Christ, how can I treat you with indifference?

The upshot of all of this is that a church, as it knows that love of Christ, must seek to be a place where such love is shown between its members. At the very least, I would suggest, that this means listening to one another. At the very least, I would suggest, that this means paying attention to each other’s hopes, dreams, memories and experience.
In our self-appointed task of being a great church, of raising money, of tidying up, or organising music, it is so easy not to consider the person before you. A wonderful being created by God. Broken, as we all are, and yet loved by Christ and a recipient of the hope of eternal life, now called to serve Christ with all that he has given them. A lost sheep, for whom Christ gave his all, and over whom he now rejoices.

Let me summarise. I am concerned that our church are forever in danger of not respecting their members as those loved by Christ, and rarely really listening to their voices, there thoughts and concerns. If the members are so treated will they not become dull, muted, quiet, finding that church does not engage them as a whole person but merely as a means to an end and will the church itself then fester as a community, ceasing to be a place that nurtures and affirms, unattractive to those outside.

Thought Forms

All of what I’ve said this morning has been said in all seriousness. Julie and I would like to find ways in which your thoughts, reflections, hopes and fears can contribute to our life together. That can take place entirely informally, as we talk to each other. But we also recognise that talking about faith can be difficult for many reasons and such conversations mustn’t be forced. In your notice sheets, you should have what we’ve called a ‘Thought Form’. This is simply a piece of paper which you can use to tell us things, if there isn’t the opportunity to do so directly, or if you’d prefer to do so through writing.

We will include this form with the notice sheets each time we meet.

What could you use this for? You could say, I really liked that hymn or tune. You could say, I enjoyed that sermon, but I didn’t understand xyz. You could say, I’d like us to have a church outing. You could say, I miss my old church, the people and the building. It probably wouldn’t be a good use of the form to write personal attacks.

When you write something on one of these forms, be aware that it’s something that could be shared with for everyone. We are not seeking to be the sole point through which all conversation must take place. Of course, if you’d prefer it not to be shared, you can indicate that. You’ll see that there’s the opportunity to write your name or to leave it anonymous.

As we began, so shall we conclude. Let me ask you again: What makes the perfect church? Or, what are your fondest, or most profound, memories of church? I’d like to invite you to jot a few things down on your thought forms in answer to the question.

We are all lost sheep. But that means we are all important. Your voice matters.


The world is tired with words of the Church.

I think I may be too.

Words without actions are dead, I’m tempted to say. Cruel, possibly, too, if it comes to us arrogantly, without humility, a declaration of truth as a statement of power to which others must submit. This can be the case even when the truth being enunciated is ostensibly one of God’s grace in Christ.

But all we have are words. Is this not the case? The words of the Bible, the message of the Gospel. Is not God’s forgiveness a word.

But equally, I’m frightened of the alternative. If the communication of God’s grace in Christ is dependent on my ability to live a saint’s life, then this is all hopeless.

We can’t rightly talk about evangelism independently of the nature, character, attitude of those who witness to Christ and how this is formed by the Gospel.

Christians, and the Church, do not possess a truth that they are responsible for communicating to the world. (Yes, it can be seen that way, but it may not be helpful in this day.) Instead, we are those who have heard the Word of God and so found themselves to be guilty, proud, arrogant, possessive, fearful. In Christ we find ourselves to be both judged and acquitted at one and the next moment.

All we can do, all we should do, is live in the light of this, in humility and quietness and faithfulness. Our words as the church are empty. We have nothing to say, no position of power from which to argue and convince. On that basis we will realise our position is hopeless and we will be driven to prayer.

Does this mean we will say nothing? No, it just means that we must experience the knowledge of our state before Christ, judged and loved, before we can adequately witness to him before others.

Anything else will just be propaganda.

Starting a New NYNO Congregation

There will be heaps more to it than this, but one of the keys tasks will be forging a group’s own sense of its identity.

To this end, a standard worship service needs to be written. This is not necessarily a set liturgy in which the congregation takes part but rather a description of each part of the meeting in terms of its spiritual significance: what do we hope to happen here or there. This will also include set phrases and prayers that express this theology and that are used week in, week out.

As a whole, the service should encapsulate the theology of the group, which of course should be the Gospel. Every week we repeat the core statements of our understanding of the Gospel and why that makes us who we are.

Next, each week we take a portion of the service – a portion of what we do – and we preach on a Scripture that grounds this act.

Remember, whenever you think you’re repeating yourself you probably need to repeat it another two/three times before anyone will remember it!