For the last 6 months Jed Cowley, Emma Cowley, Callum Cookman and Adam Simpson have been attending the New Ground Leadership academy hosted at Everyday Church Wimbledon with 120 or so others from the New Ground family. The Academy takes place on the first Friday and Saturday of each month and is intended to deliver a program of teaching over 2 years that trains students to become fully equipped leaders within the church. Phil Moore from Everyday Church leads the academy and delivers a large chunk of the teaching, and guest speakers from other New Ground churches lead the rest. This month we were joined by Graham Marsh and Andrew Wilson from Kings Church Eastbourne.

After morning worship together, Andrew led the first day of teaching entitled The Word of God on Fire: Contextualising the Gospel. In it he showed through 4 different individuals how the profound truth of the Gospel can be made accessible to anyone, anytime, anywhere. First we looked at Paul the Apostle – the power, sensitivity, and simplicity with which he presented the Gospel to the most culturally and intellectually sophisticated, people of the day – and saw why he is probably the best contextualiser of the Gospel who ever lived. After a break for group discussion the second session was devoted to an examination of Tim Keller’s contribution on the topic: what contextualisation is, why we all do it whether we know it or not, and seven practices to help us all do it better. Third was Blaise Pascal, the 17th century mathematician and philosopher who argued that contextualisation has to do with communicating the reasonableness and desirability of the Gospel. We saw that many individuals have excelled in one of these areas or the other, and a few like C S Lewis and Tom Wright have mastered both. Session 4 looked at Charles Taylor, a Canadian philosopher who traces the process of secularisation and its influential factors. He showed us that the story of secularisation is not the one we commonly assume it to be, and that even now, our culture is haunted by a desire for transcendence that only Jesus can truly meet.

Every Friday evening after the day of teaching we all eat and take communion together, and then spend the evening in prayer and worship or listening to Q&A with guests speakers or academy participants. Apart from being great fun and a chance to meet and become friends with people from other New Ground churches, the academy has had amazing and intimate times of corporate worship and experience in God’s presence. This month we had the privilege of an evening with Mike Pilavachi, which was both hilarious and profound, and an amazing way relax at the end of the day.

Graham led the teaching on the second day entitled Raising up Leaders Rapidly: How to Turn Christians into Mature Leaders. Over the four sessions we learned about creating a culture of leadership development that encourages everyone to discover and mature in their calling, and Graham spoke from extensive experience about the importance of leading with vision and clarity and by example to those you want to see develop. We looked at ways of building up confidence in developing leaders and providing the right resources and opportunities to improve their competence, and were shown the importance of encouraging individuals’ connections with others, communicating an expectation of full commitment, and prioritising strength of character over other qualities as absolutely essential for effective leadership development.

All four of us have learned a tremendous amount in the few months we have been attending the academy so far, and would recommend it to anyone who wants to develop in some area of church leadership. We’ve realised that each of us has something completely different to offer, and that the academy is serving us in ways we never expected. We look forward to updating you on our progress later in the year!