Ben Jack, leader of the Advance network, shares his reflections after two years of Advance…
Two Years On…
In January we arrive at the two year anniversary of the first Advance group becoming a reality.
In 2015 Andy Hawthorne gathered twelve younger preaching evangelists around himself for monthly mentoring, sharpening and accountability, all with the aim of keeping the preaching of the gospel a priority through investment into the lives and ministry of the gathered evangelists.
This focused time spent growing together, listening to God through bible study and teaching, and holding each other to account has been an amazing journey. For my part, confidence in sharing the gospel in all situations, commitment to holy living, and the desire to encourage others have all grown significantly in my life during this time. The testimonials on the homepage of this website from others in the original group speak to the same truth.
Now, two years on we have 23 groups across two nations, with more than 150 people in the movement. Reflect upon that for a moment. In just two years we have seen rapid and sizeable growth in these groups which are solely focussed on keeping the preaching of the gospel central to the lives of those who are part of them. The stories of fruitfulness that I have the privilege to hear from evangelists throughout the movement are stunning, and a constant testimony to the goodness and faithfulness of our God who invites us to be part of what he is doing in the world.
As we turn the page on another year and hit this two year anniversary, I wanted to take a moment to fill you in on where Advance is heading in 2017, and briefly explore three areas of focus that the Lord has laid on my heart for the movement in the coming year.
In January many of you in the movement will begin starting your own groups. This is so exciting as we will see many new people connected into the movement with the goal of sharpening their witness and developing their personal faith for the task.
By the time of our summer gathering on June 16/17th, Advance will likely have grown to more than 240 people connected in, with 40 groups up and running in the UK alone.
Beyond the UK Advance will have launched in three other nations, with our first groups in South Africa and Japan going live in January, and Advance Canada continuing to develop having launched the first group in October.
By years end 2017 we will have 50+ groups up and running worldwide with more than 300 people connected in. How exciting, as every new member of the Advance movement is someone who has pro-actively decided that the preaching of the gospel must be central to their life, and that through Advance they can become more effective in this task.
As Advance grows in number and at significant pace, we must ensure that the DNA of the movement is maintained, and that every group is operating at a level that will ensure the gathered evangelists grow in their ministry. Throughout 2017 we will be releasing resources, offering training and keeping in contact with your group to support you as much as possible. This is not about increasing control over your group, but about increasing investment into your group.
Oh, and returning to those stories of fruitfulness I mentioned earlier, they will begin appearing here on the website for us all to be encouraged and inspired by, as well as a selection being sent out in a monthly email to everyone in the movement, starting late January.
Alongside those plans for growth and some of the practical considerations for the year ahead, I also wanted to share three areas of focus which will become key for Advance as we move into 2017 and beyond.
Having reread Luke’s gospel recently, I was struck by the simple intent Luke articulates in his brief introduction. In short, Luke informs Theophilus that through the simple (albeit thoroughly researched!) telling of the Jesus story he will become certain that Jesus is the saviour of the world (Lk 1:1-4).
I believe we must pursue a simple expression of the gospel. However, to be able to do this effectively we must understand the gospel deeply. This begs the question, do we have a sufficiently complex understanding of the gospel so as to be able to articulate and re-articulate in any situation we may find ourselves in?
Contextualisation can be helpful in connecting the gospel message to any given audience, but we must be wary of falling into the trap of adding or taking away from the true gospel when we attempt to do so. In many ways I think the healthiest approach to contextualisation of the gospel is to think more about the context into which we take the gospel, rather than the repackaging of the message itself. A big focus of Advance moving forward will be exploring a deeper understanding of the gospel that leads to simpler explanation, and exploring a healthy approach to contextualisation.
Preaching the gospel (and ministry in general) can be a lonely business at times. Even when surrounded by people we can still become isolated and feel detached. This is never a good thing, as we were created out of community (the triune Godhead) for community (with God; with each other).
Isolation can be destructive to ministry, relationships and faith. I’m convinced that we must ensure Advance helps evangelists stay connected into good community, keeps accountability central to the group dynamic, and offers whatever support possible to prevent against isolation. As the wise author of Ecclesiastes notes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.” (Ecc 4:9-12).
How often do you pray for the lost? I don’t mean praying before stepping out to preach the gospel, which is of course essential; but how frequently do you pray for those in your life who do not know Christ as Lord and Saviour to come to faith by the power of his spirit?
I was challenged recently by a Christian leader who was lamenting the fact that we do not make enough space in our church gatherings to pray for the lost. There are many individuals and congregations who are really good at this, but for many this is not a constant focus. Moving forward, Advance will be committed to prioritising prayer throughout the movement, praying for each other as we preach the gospel, but also being a catalyst for congregations around the world to keep the lost an absolute focus of regular prayer.
In the coming weeks I will be posting blogs focused on each one of these topics, unpacking them in more detail. I hope they will be helpful to you for your own personal thought and reflection, but also to potentially use for discussion in your groups too.
I’m truly amazed at what God is up to around the world. In the midst of many trials and much darkness, he continually reveals himself to be faithful and people are coming to faith in him in unprecedented numbers all over the globe. The light of Jesus shines in the darkness, and his call upon his people to go and make disciples of the nations is as potent today as it was upon that mountaintop two thousand years ago (Matt 28:16-20).
If you are already in the movement I hope that you are excited about the coming year and all the opportunities ahead to share the gospel and to support and sharpen each other. If you are not yet involved but would like to be, please fill out the contact form and we will get you joined up with an appropriate group as soon as possible, it will be great to have you connected into Advance!
I will leave you with this thought from Jurgen Moltmann that moved me deeply recently,
“But the ultimate reason for our hope is not to be found at all in what we want, wish for and wait for; the ultimate reason is that we are wanted and wished for and waited for…Whenever we base our hope on trust in the divine mystery, we feel deep down in our hearts: there is someone who is waiting for you, who is hoping for you, who believes in you. We are waited for as the prodigal son in the parable is waited for by his father. We are accepted and received, as a mother takes her children into her arms and comforts them. God is our last hope because we are God’s first love.”
There is hope because he first loved us, so let us take that hope to all who would have ears to hear it, praying that God would soften their hearts to receive it.
 Indeed one of Luke’s biggest influences was surely Paul, who himself stated that he desired to know nothing except “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” in 1 Cor 2:1-5. Paul is clear that the simplicity of the gospel message in the power of the spirit is his goal.
 This is certainly on Paul’s heart as expressed in 1 Timothy 2:1-6
 Just look at Syria, in the midst of the horrors of civil war, more are coming to faith in Christ than ever before: see, http://www.christiantoday.com/article/syrian.pastor.god.is.waking.up.a.sleeping.church.more.people.becoming.christians.than.ever.before/81695.htm
 Jürgen Moltmann, The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of Life (London: SCM Press, 2009)]