Recent Feedback – Introduction to the Gospel with SWYM’s “Be Transformed” Students

On 29th-30th October 2019, I led 8 hours worth of training sessions introducing the Gospel and how to use it with children and young people. This was a part of South West Youth Ministries’ foundation year training scheme called, “Be Transformed”. Over those eight hours, here are some of the things we looked at:

  • An assessment of our understanding of the Gospel, an introduction to the Gospel and an introduction to Kingdom theology.
  • We looked at the big picture of the Biblical narrative and the Gospel’s climactic place within that.
  • A session on the story of Jesus, and particularly what it was meant by him being “The Messiah”.
  • We took an in-depth look at the story of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, how Jesus used those stories to share his good news, and how we can too.
  • A session on what it means to contextualise something, and how we can do that with the Gospel by understanding people’s hopes, fears, and beliefs.
  • We looked at the impact the Gospel has on us and how we can use it as a tool for discipleship with our children and young people over two sessions.

Around 12 people attended the event held at SWYM’s training base at Brunel Manor in Torquay, Devon. I asked for those there to fill out a feedback form on the training I provided, and all 12 did so. In four different areas they ranked me from 1 (awful) to 6 (excellent). Here are the average scores from their reviews:

  • Session Content – 5.92
  • Session Delivery – 5.83
  • Interaction Level – 5.17
  • Use of Media – 5.75

Here are a few quotes from some of the participants:

“All content was explained super clearly and any questions were welcomed and answered clearly.”

“Matt is very open to questions and helps the tone be relaxed enough to feel comfortable and enabled to leave feeling empowered!”

“You’ll never look at the Gospel the same way!”

“This has blown my mind in the best possible way! I can already feel what we have spoken about and what I have learnt having an impact on relationship with God.”

“The teaching was excellent as it was both deep and relaxed simultaneously.”

“I really enjoyed unpacking the Bible stories and looking at the meaning behind them and their message.”

Recent Feedback – Introduction to Children & Young People’s Mental Health at Preston Plucknett Parish, Yeovil

On Saturday, 19th October 2019, I led a two hour training session introducing the topic of mental health with children and young people. This was one of four sessions organised to look at different topics on mental health by a team based at St James Church, Yeovil. My session included:

  • A 30 minute session looking at brain development in children and sharing some of the approaches used by Dr. Siegel and Dr. Bryson in “Whole Brain Child” to help children develop more integrated brains.
  • A similar 30 minute session looking at the changes, particular in terms of brain development, that occur in adolescence and approaches to help adolescents develop more integrated brains found in Dr. Siegel’s “Brainstorm”.
  • A 30 minute session on trauma, how it impacts our brain’s development and functionality, and how to support children and young people who are carrying these burdens.
  • A 30 minute session taking a brief tour through the major mental illnesses and exploring how we can best support children and young people that are struggling in these ways.

Around 20 people attended the event in Yeovil, Somerset. I asked for those there to fill out a feedback form on the training I provided, and 14 did so. In four different areas they ranked me from 1 (awful) to 6 (excellent). Here are the average scores from their reviews:

  • Session Content – 6.00
  • Session Delivery – 5.86
  • Interaction Level – 4.75
  • Use of Media – 5.79

Here are a few quotes from some of the participants:

“Fantastic session Matt, I could listen to you all day.”

“As a grandparent of granddaughters in a situation of a mentally controlling father to the mother, I can see the well-being health of the girls and watch out for the danger indicators.”

“You are clearly knowledgeable and passionate about this topic. You speak clearly and concisely. Incredibly interesting. Easy to understand and keep up. Thank you. I will be reading the books you recommended.”

“Would be excellent guidance for any parental/guardians evening in schools, churches, etc.”

“This training gives clear information about why and how people develop and suffer from different conditions and helpful suggestions about how we can accompany people in a helping way.”

“Incredibly informative and for one an enlightened event. I will take what I learnt and share with others. Amazing!”

I am a church leader, and I am drowning.

The following was originally published by Church Growth Trust in the autumn 2019 edition of their magazine, “Foundations”. As today is World Mental Health Day, I thought I would post it here as an encouragement to church leaders that feel overwhelmed.

“I like dark mornings. For me, there is something about the quiet solitude of rising before the sun that feels sacred. However, there are seasons where getting up early for that space of devotion, prayer, and mindful worship is difficult. My young family don’t always make that easy, with middle of the night cries for help. Then there are the times when life feels so overwhelming and exhausting, ministry seems fruitless and without much hope, the problems look like giants in the valley, and pushing yourself to get out of bed before you have to requires just that bit more than you have left.

In Luke 5:16 we read, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

All throughout the Gospels we find Jesus retreating off to quiet, lonely places of solitude and prayer. Usually we read this and reflect on Jesus’ solid devotional life and on how we could all be better at retreating off to these places too. But I think there is more going on in these moments than that.

Jesus lived with a culture that valued community over individualism. In his culture, people didn’t spend time alone, unless they were carrying something so overwhelming they believed it was in the community’s best interest to be apart. Jesus withdrew to these lonely places because of how overwhelmed he felt by the needs around him and the road in front of him.

Just pause for a moment and let that sink in. Jesus, God incarnate, had times where he felt overwhelmed.

And sometimes so do we.

Tom Wright speaks about the impact Paul’s time in Ephesus had on him in his book, “Paul: A Biography”:

“Paul was used by now to bodily suffering, but in Ephesus he had experienced torture at a deeper level. His emotions, his imagination, his innermost heart had been unbearably crushed.”

Take a moment to flick through 2 Corinthians in comparison with 1 Corinthians, the scars of ministry are weighing heavily on Paul after the riot and imprisonment in Ephesus. He is weary. He is disheartened. He is overwhelmed.

And sometimes so are we.

Another family decides to leave. No one is turning up to the prayer meetings. The emails full of petty complaints seem endless. The baptistry is so dry it is being used as a storage cupboard. Every week brings with it something else that has broken in your building. Despite increasing the amount your family is giving financially to the church, there still isn’t enough money in the budget. One of your leadership finds out they have cancer. A member of your church dies by suicide. Your spouse is fed up with you giving all your best time to the church, leaving leftovers for your family.

Being a church leader can be very overwhelming.

Stress is a good thing, it is our God-designed way of dealing with inevitable changes in our lives, and it can make us more productive. It enables our bodies to fight, run away, or freeze to cope with danger. When stress is moderate, predictable, and controlled it can help us build resilience to the tough aspects of life. However, when it is unpredictable, prolonged, and severe it creates a hypersensitivity to stress in our brains. This hypersensitivity can be utterly debilitating, causing over-reactions to the smallest of problems and leaving us feeling exhausted from being on high alert all the time. If this goes on long enough, it can lead to significant struggles with depression and anxiety.

So what do we do when we are overwhelmed?

Remember that God dwells in the darkness.

In Exodus 20 as the people send Moses to speak with God on their behalf it says in verse 21, “The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.” And then there are the words at the start of John’s Gospel, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

Read those passages again, God is in the darkness. So take a moment to pause, reflect, and notice the living God dwelling in this darkness with you. You can trust him here too.

Remember the sabbath day, by keeping it holy.

When things are overwhelming, one thing is crystal clear, something needs to change. Reduce your workload. Go on a retreat day. Build a walk into your daily rhythm. Get to bed earlier. Have two days off in a row. God can hold everything else while you do, that is why the sabbath was made for us.

It is also worth building a practice of journalling about your day before bed, it enables your brain to focus on repairing your body and boosting your immune system while you sleep.

Remember your friends.

In addition to sleep, one of the few things in life that replenishes our emotional energy is laughter. In “The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog”, Bruce D. Perry talks about how being a part of a healthy community and having healthy relationships is vital to both mitigate the impact of trauma and recover from it. More than that, when we are engaging in healthy relationships our brain produces the optimum amount of telomerase needed to repair the telomeres that keep the cells damaged by stress and ageing healthy.

So, send a text, make a call, knock on a door and connect to some people that you find life giving.

Remember your calling.

Take notice of the last thing God spoke over you. Are you still living that out? If so, you can have confidence that God will give you what you need to see this season through. If not, do what you need to do to get back to it.

Remember that suffering is holy ground.

No one is as committed, faithful, and loyal as our God is. When you remain faithful despite the lack of fruit, when you persevere through the difficulties, you create a space where people can taste this holy attribute of God. In my experience, being open about how hard life is, and that God is still good, is a powerful testimony that often bears fruit in those we’ve begun to believe may never turn to Jesus and his offer of salvation.

May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ be yours.”

Recent Feedback – Mental Health Training Day for Lee Abbey Staff

On Thursday, 5th September 2019, I led a training day for the staff at Lee Abbey as an introduction to mental health and supporting those that struggle with it. This included:

  • A 90 minute session on stress, the impact it can have, and how to manage it. We also looked at the arousal response system and the dissociative response system, recognising hyper and hypo-arousal, how to support people back to a window of tolerance, and the impact of chronic stress/trauma creating a hypersensitivity to either of these responses.
  • A 60 minute session on trauma, particularly the developmental impact of trauma in childhood and how that impacts our adult lives, and strategies for supporting individuals with that background; including how to create safe spaces for them.
  • A 90 minute session introducing the major mental illnesses, strategies to support individuals struggling in those ways, and a positive approach to mental health called “Mindfulness-Based Character Strengths”.

Around 13 people attended the event in Lynton, Devon. I asked for those there to fill out a feedback form on the training I provided, and they all did so. In four different areas they ranked me from 1 (awful) to 6 (excellent). Here are the average scores from their reviews:

  • Session Content – 5.69
  • Session Delivery – 5.38
  • Interaction Level – 5.08
  • Use of Media – 5.31

Here are a few quotes from some of the participants:

“A good grounding for understanding such a complex issue.”

“It was so helpful to engage with someone who is coming from a faith perspective and from practical experience of working with folk with mental health issues.”

“The training was comprehensive with a good balance of scientific background and practical strategies for promoting mental well-being. It was also God-centred. Thank you!”

“A wide range of useful insight in both recognising mental health issues and supporting people both re-actively and pro-actively.”

“Informative, realistic, good timings and use of open questions with one another after each section. Appreciated direction with regard to books, further resourcing – thanks.”

“Mental health is something I have had not much understanding of. Matt made so much sense and it was very helpful to hear stories and his rooting the knowledge in a “God” framework.”

A Holy God with Holy People Creating Holy Spaces

I recently had the privilege of speaking at the weekend away for the parish of Preston Plucknett in Yeovil. This was a series of talks that I was really looking forward to giving, and was excited to see what God was going to do with them.

They are all based on the story of Moses and the burning bush in Exodus 3:1-6.

In the first session I spoke about God’s uniqueness and how it transformed the ground into somewhere “holy”.

During the second session I spoke about how holiness isn’t just something we experience, it is also what we are; and the dry and desolate seasons of life that often draw that holiness out.

Finally, in the last session I spoke about how our churches can create “burning bushes” that draw people into encountering God’s uniqueness in super practical and down to earth ways.

In between the last two sessions I also held a short seminar / Q&A time. We had a great conversation in this time about journeying alongside people in dark seasons of life, discipleship and church models, creating accountability in our small groups, and changing the ways we do life together to spur more growth.

If you are interested in spending some time listening to any of those things (It will be worth it!) you can listen here.

Crafting Communities that Deal with Shame

I spoke a little while ago at Martock Christian Fellowship in Somerset on the story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well in John chapter 4.

Shame is something we all have to deal with at some point, and is something often so prevalent in our church communities. Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well has a lot to teach us about supporting people with shame and creating communities where they can be supported.

If that interests you, have a listen to my sermon here. Note: the website lists the sermon as on John chapter 1, but it is mistaken.

The God We Encounter in Darkness

On 2 June 2019 I was given the opportunity to preach and share with Barton Baptist Church in Torquay. Although I am familiar with Torbay, I had never been to Barton before. They were really welcoming and I loved being with them!

Take a few minutes to listen to what I had to share with them.

Listen here.

In the week leading up to this God had laid the story of Moses walking up into the thick darkness to meet with God in Exodus 20 on my heart for the church. Using Moses’ reflections on this event in Deuteronomy 4, I talked about God’s formlessness in the dark seasons of life, his availability to be wrestled with and encountered, and how we must be careful with our reactions to these experiences.

As you listen to this and reflect on the times you have encountered our God in formless ways and dark times, may hope rise in you for your current season of darkness and the presence of God with you.