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Archive for November, 2010

Christian Bookshops – Use them or (probably) lose them

November 22, 2010 5 comments

It’s not only pubs that are going out of business in the UK – recent figures show that the quintessential English Public House is closing down at the rate of 30 per week (source: BBPA/MT).  Retailing is now hard graft for many professions. Shopping habits are changing fast and there is much less time available for those trips to the High Street. When time is found, then competition for both time and money is increasingly fierce.

Christian bookshops are not immune – and many are having a difficult time. There have been some major shake-ups in the past couple of years, with a lot of shops going and, thankfully, a few coming. Accurate figures are hard to come by but there have been many closures in recent months. I doubt that there are more than 250 shops across the whole of the UK now capable of a viable future?

The IBS-STL debacle at the end of 2009 and the SPCK meltdown in 2008 badly destabilised Christian retail in this country. Any recovery – if it even proves possible – remains uncertain. There are shops that some would say deserve to go under (those that are poorly run, badly stocked and outdated) but there are many fine shops that would be a massive loss to their communities if they were to disappear. Good examples are GLO Motherwell;Scotland’s Leading Independent Christian Resource Centre’ and Faith Mission Portadown, which jointly won the Industry award this year for ‘Large Christian Retailer 2010’.

This Christmas is the time, for those of us who care about the future, mission and ministry of Christian retailers, to ensure that we go out of our way to support these shops. The final quarter of the year is THE time when retailers look to achieve a financial surplus to help them make it through the following year.

It seems to me that we have a choice – to help keep these shops on the High Street or by our often passive inaction push more of them out of business year-by-year. For me it’s more than just a trade; it’s about maintaining a Christian presence on our High Streets. Time is running out – fewer and fewer specialist Christian shops remain as each year goes by.

Demographics also conspire against these specialist shops. Church attendance in the traditional denominations is largely declining and newer Churches with their younger audiences, such as Hillsong and 3C, tend to be pretty self-contained in terms of their resource requirements.

As I listen to people, I am increasingly of the opinion that many simply do not understand that if these shops go, then they will almost certainly not re-appear. The economics of Christian bookselling do not stack up without a high degree of subsidy or self-sacrifice. These shops are in danger of becoming a cultural and religious anachronism. Their future lies in the hands of us, the customer; but we are increasingly voting with our feet and our keyboards.

I fully recognise that not everyone has a Christian retailer close by. In these cases, the immediate temptation is to shop for Christian resources on Amazon, the all-conquering online retailer. I am uneasy with its growing power and supremacy in so many areas of retailing life. Personally, for Christian material, I would suggest using www.eden.co.uk/, the excellent Chester-based online specialist ‘etailer’ with its high standards of customer service and a wide ranging stock selection.

I contend that anyone interested in the survival of the Christian literature ministry should, this Christmas, and whenever possible, buy something at their local Christian bookshop. Where this proves impractical, then by all means use Eden, where some money from each order goes to support children in Malawi via the auspices of the Christian charity, World Vision.  

Don’t know what to buy this Christmas? You could do worse than start with Operation World and give someone a really challenging and inspiring present. Read my review here.

One last thought. Maybe, during 2011, this trade should work together on a wide-ranging PR and marketing initiative; ‘Christian bookshops; use them, don’t not lose them’.

You can locate your local Christian retailer here.

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Opinion – Interviewing and appointing staff; the Jesus approach

November 14, 2010 4 comments

Hiring people is fraught with difficulty. I have always thought that interviews are something of a lottery. People who do well in interviews don’t always perform well in their jobs – and vice versa. Despite all the available interview tools and techniques, I‘ve learnt that the most realistic way is to trust one’s own instincts. When all’s said and done, it’s actually a judgement call. 

I mused on the dilemma of recruiting people recently whilst reading through Mark’s gospel. There have been a number of books and studies published over the years about Jesus’ technique in choosing his disciples; the how’s, the why’s and the outcome. Like most things, its best not to push these conclusions too far but it is interesting to see how Christ went about the task of bringing his Apostles on board. There is little doubt that they were a pretty eclectic and disparate group – it must have been very hard work keeping them together. 

Reading through the first chapter of Mark, I was forcibly struck by the impact on the family of Jesus’ call? I wonder what their father and the other men thought about James and John dropping everything and disappearing in this way? ‘Without delay, they left their father and followed Jesus’ (v20). We tend to concentrate on the brothers who followed (and applaud them for it) but what about those who were left, seemingly in the lurch, to carry on the family business? There are always two sides to every story and sometimes we gloss over one in favour of the other. To me, this appears to be a piece of very rushed recruitment! Preachers praise the response of these brothers but I’m unsure whether that’s the whole story here? 

Mark 3 (NIV); 13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Reading chapter 3, it immediately shouts out that, of these 12 fellows, some went on to be high profile individuals, some failed entirely and others ended up as virtual nobodies. Yet all had been called and all had taken up Jesus’ challenge. I guess this probably mirrors real life. No doubt we’ve all worked with folk at both ends of the spectrum. Not everyone can be famous and some people will not always be capable of reaching the potential that others saw in them at the outset. Mixing high and low profile individuals in the same team is not easy and requires wise and resourceful management. All teams experience such highs and lows – the disciples were no different.

Jesus knew exactly ‘who he wanted’. No lists of recommendations, no psychometric testing, no profiling, no recruitment agencies – just a personal and clear choice of the people ‘he wanted’ – sounds easy doesn’t it? But, I wonder, did Jesus get some of it wrong? Should his choices have been better? Was he right to impact other people so negatively by his clear ‘choices’? Could these appointments be described as essentially indulgent?

It leaves me feeling that the manner of the appointment of the disciples leaves many unanswered questions, no matter what we may have been taught over the years. If you read on in Chapter 3, verse 21; even his family went to find him ‘to take charge of him for they said he is out of his mind’. Who said that reading and living the Gospels was easy?

Makes you think doesn’t it?

Review – Operation World; 7th Edition (2010)

November 7, 2010 3 comments

This is a BIG book in more ways than one; big in size and huge in vision. For many Christians, myself included, this latest and seventh revision of Operation World – THE definitive Christian prayer and reference guide – represents a major publishing event; one which should be applauded by all those committed to Christian mission and the advancement of the Gospel.

Such a project is either extremely foolhardy or a publishing triumph depending on your point of view, given the demise of reference material across world publishing at present! The Publisher’s blurb describes this book as a ‘must for every Christian’s library’. I think they are right in this assessment as its stated purpose is ‘to inform for prayer and to mobilise for ministry’. 

The genesis of this book lies firmly within the Protestant missionary movement. Work commenced in 1974 through the auspices of the Dorothea Mission, then from 1976 its cause was championed (and still is) by George Verwer of Operation Mobilisation; and throughout it has had strong WEC International involvement. Patrick Johnstone will be forever linked with the project and without him I doubt it would have come to fruition.

I too can personally look back with a sense of privilege in my own small involvement with the distribution of the 1993 and 2001 editions whilst working with Send the Light Ltd. No-one who has been involved with Operation World can fail to have been impressed by the sheer magnitude of the task of producing this book. However, as with all reference works, it is inevitably out-of-date as soon as it is printed!

The endorsements at the front of the completely revised 7th edition read like a veritable ‘who’s who’ of the global Evangelical community.

George Verwer says OW is ‘one of the most important missionary tools in the entire history of missions’. Quite a claim but I guess he should know!

Operation World was born out of the Evangelical view of the strategic importance of prayer in the conversion of nations in order to ‘Hasten the coming of the Day of the Lord’ – a missiological urgency which may not be quite so prevalent in the UK today. This view is described on the very last page of the book, where this important theological perspective – the return of Christ – is noted.

For me, what the book does is to throw into sharp focus the mystery of all such intercessory prayer. If God is all-knowing, why on earth (literally) do we need to rehearse to Him in our prayers all the points from this book concerning the 190+ countries which make up His world? One answer from the book is that every prayer we pray is described as ‘a tiny piece of a great cosmic puzzle’. We are not merely to pray ‘about’ such facts but to pray ‘towards’ something; ‘the ultimate fulfilment of the Father’s purpose’.

I suggest that you keep Operation World next to your Bible. Along with daily devotional materials, these are the primary aids for building our spiritual lives. I’m fully committed to all types of Christian literature but I regard the Bible, Operation World and a Daily Bible Reading Guide as being the irreducible minimum for our spiritual formation.

The design of the overall package is very attractive; the statistics, charts, maps and data-points are all clear and compelling. Young people will also find it practical (if you can prise them away from checking with Google!) and it presents far more realistic information for holiday and business travel than the average travel guide can provide. The sections on ‘Global Hot-spots’ and ‘Global Trends’ are extremely up-to-the-minute and read as well as anything out of The Economist.

This is truly an astonishing book and it deserves to succeed. Buy the hardback (preferably) for yourself – and as a gift for others this Christmas – from your local Christian bookshop. If that’s not possible go online to order it – but try not to use Amazon if you can possibly help it! Why? Because a project of this size, which comes around only periodically, means a great deal in terms of income generation for the struggling Christian retail trade.

‘Maranatha;, even so come Lord Jesus’

For more details, click here for the Operation World website.

Biblica Publishing : 2010 : 978pp

Hardback ISBN 978-1-85078-861-4

Paperback ISBN 978-1-85078-862-1

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