Mainly about New Celts and Youth Culture
Roger Ellis is a founder member and leader of Revelation Church, based in Sussex. Over 70% of the congregation is under 30.
Roger is also a member of Pioneer Team and founder member of both Remix and FUSION.
He recently co-authored New Celts
In this interview he talks to Noel Stanton, former senior pastor of the Jesus Fellowship.
Noel: You brought up loads of issues in your New Celts book. How are they all going to be worked out?
Roger: There's no one way to work out these principles. For instance, lifestyle issues can be approached in a number of ways. You've operated community of goods for ages. We've said, some may choose that option, others may operate an "extended family", with shared finances. There are all sorts of models. The important thing is that we are attempting to work out this vision in every aspect of our church life.
Noel: You're very much an action man!
Roger: Yes, but I hope I have a theological framework for what I'm doing! I appreciate people like Roger Forster who are a synthesis between theologian and practitioner.
Noel: Do you ever feel fed up?
Roger: Sometimes! You have to be able to absorb disappointment if you're a pioneer. but I do get fed up with institutionalism. And I get fed up with people who were at the cutting edge of things who opted out for a quiet life.
Noel: Do you feel supported?
Roger: Oh yes. The good thing about being in a relational dynamic is that I'm in a team. If you're on your own then you can be in real problems. Goodness knows what I'd feel like if I was an isolated church Minister!
Noel: How do you respond to pressure?
Roger: You always have the tension between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. I'd rather have pressure serving God than just the ordinary pressure that being a human being involves.
We have to be ready for pressure and that's where the Celtic rhythm of life concept helps again. I recharge really quickly so if I have a night's fishing, I'm recharged. After a weeks fishing in Canada I'm really up for it!
Noel: I thought the Celts loved the fish!
Roger: They used to eat them, too. For me, that's how I relax. Some people go down the gym. We encourage our people to find a healthy rhythm of leisure and enjoyment.
Noel: The Celtic rhythm of life was a bit more spiritual than that.
Roger: It involves a holistic dynamic. The Celtic Christians knew how to enjoy life but they also knew what it was to be radically sacrificial. Sometimes those of us who are activists can be locked into a work ethic. A lot of people I know who work in the ministry are go, go, go, go and they haven't got relationships. They've no contact with non-Christians, whereas I've got loads of fishing mates! And I like to go down the pub and watch the football on Sky television.
Noel: But all the time, you would be saying , by the grace of God I am an apostle or whatever?
Roger: Absolutely. Because if you lose that, you've lost the whole point of being.
Noel: Do you see yourself as apostolic?
Roger: I am reluctant to... but if you ask me what defines what I'm trying to do, I would say I believe God's called me to apostle. So, I'm looking to build, to release, to lay foundations. I'm looking to be strategic.
Noel: And it's your apostolic dynamic that's responsible for what's come out of your church.
Roger: Yes. I think that's definitely a major factor.
Noel: People do need to accept what they are in God.
Roger: Yes. It's phenomenal how God's using one or two of our people, but one of the things I want to say to them is to start thinking of themselves as apostolic. Doing that could affect the whole course of their life and ministry. As it is, they could preach to huge crowds, or write widely-read books, but that could be a distraction from an apostolic role .
Noel: You have some good guys around you.
Roger: If you have an apostolic dynamic it draws others in as well as sends them out. If people feel that they are going to be trained and equipped and sent out, that helps to draw them in.
Noel: Do you feel you're finding the leaders of the next generation?
Roger: I am encouraged. Some really good young people are coming through.
Noel: What age are you talking about?
Roger: Twenties and younger. Some are real visionaries, who are getting discipled, released and are moving on.
Noel: Is that happening more widely?
Roger: I am concerned about some of the smaller charismatic churches. Either leaders of churches have to step out of the way and let younger people take it over or they need to diversify their ministry to create room for this lot to come on. If they can't do that, they disempower them and they become frustrated and lose the pioneering edge. We have to take the ceiling off the next generation of leaders and release them.
Noel: How do you see the new generation building churches?
Roger: One of the things with the new generation is that they are happier to cross streams than the former generation. The older lot saying, "We're going our particular way"; the younger lot saying "We just want to get on with it." The emerging generation are different, which I think is quite exciting.
Noel: How do your training initiatives fit in?
Roger: DNA is Pioneer's action-based year-long training and mentoring. Next September we're launching our School of Applied Theology which will look at broader issues and is more for graduate types.
Noel: How many folk do you get?
Roger: Nationally speaking, recruitment is down. Part of that is financial. DNA has a healthy number on the teams; we have half a dozen of those here with us.
Noel: What will your School of Applied Theology cover?
Roger: Basically a year out looking at issues of developing a theology to engage with the arts, politics, the workplace and putting that into a church context. We'll have speakers from all over the country, some quite theological types who will be inputting at quite a high level. Two days a week will be that, plus a day on practical issues of fleshing out the vision, and the rest of the time will be practical. It's aiming at a higher level with an older age group than some of the other training initiatives.
We're saying, "Come and be Revelation Church and imbibe our values and ethos, with a view to reproducing these values in your work place, in your business or in church planting."
Noel: Revelation Church seems quite distinctive - not just Pioneer.
Roger: In Pioneer, we continually asking ourselves who are we! One of the phrases we use to is "a movement of movements". We have a corporate Pioneer identity but we also have different apostolic thrusts within the network.
Noel: And you have just opened the Warehouse?
Roger: Yes, we were hiring halls before. But once you start getting into video, technology, creativity, you need a whole day setting up. You can't do that week in and week out; it's a killer. So we felt that to have a venue resource where we can pursue radical expressions of worship, creativity, art, media, video technology, lights, was a key and so we raised the money.
Noel: How much?
Roger: £260,000 - not much really. It's only a ten year lease. The building itself is a throwback to the 70s -- warehouse and offices mixed together.
We had a Cultural Shift Conference there, which is about church in youth culture. We had 600 people come for the whole weekend and about 870 crammed in at night. It was an absolute riot.
Noel: How's the music going these days?
Roger: At Cultural Shift it was very exciting. Lots of new songs. Plenty of DJs. We've just got a new CD out.
Noel: Do we have to have this whole rigmarole of profit making music?
Roger: At one level you just wish you could give it all away, but on another level, someone's going to make money out of what we do so we might as well make sure that we can get some of that back in our ministry. And if Christians buy our resources it's one way they can support what we're doing.
But the minute you get into being a profit-driven industry you've had it, because you cease to be genuinely apostolic. We need a partnership between business and apostolic teams. Saint Patrick's team included his lawyers, his brewer and his body guard!
Noel: How are your finances?
Roger: We have always taught giving. We have said to people that 10 per cent is a helpful minimum guideline but don't feel restricted. We see financial giving is part of the commitment of membership.
What we've been able to achieve is through lots of people giving sacrificially.
I was talking with a businessman the other day who said that rather than ask God what he should give, he asks God what he should keep. So, the majority of what he earns goes into a Trust and is given away. That is a good model. If we can bring that sort of thing in, then you're talking about radical things.
Noel: You've got little time for the prosperity doctrine?
Roger: I see such a crass attitude to materialism, no understanding of world poverty. We need to gain a concept of radical discipleship and radical sacrifice if we are to enter and to resource the Kingdom. But some of these people do have faith!
Noel: Your people seem very committed and loyal.
Roger: We've got a very strong core of people.
Noel: But you do have backsliders?
Roger: One thing I've learned over recent years is to be careful how we add people to the church. We've had people come who we've really liked and they've liked us but they've had a different view of church. We should have said, "You'll be much happier somewhere else with more traditional expectations. Because of the speed at which our church changes, you're not going to last long here!" And we do have people who for one reason or another just slip onto the edges which is sad.
Noel: How are your cell churches doing?
Roger: We're about 18 months into our cell roll-out. About 70% of the cells are going well, and we're working on the others. The emphasis on cells nationally in the last 3 or 4 years has been extremely constructive.
Noel: Do your cells have a pastoral emphasis or an evangelistic one?
Roger: We want cells to be opportunities for discipleship, pastoral care, mentoring, but also we want to give them an outward focus. So we overlap the two.
Noel: You see yourself as one church wherever you may be located?
Roger: Yes. One "nation" with different "tribes" in Portsmouth, Bognor, Chichester and in youth culture.
Noel: How do the kids get on?
Roger: We have kids cell groups which are going brilliantly. A fire is being lit in our kids which is really exciting.
Noel: You're still into spiritual gifts and Holy Spirit baptism?
Roger: Definitely. One of our converts the other day went to a Christian Union and was praying in tongues and someone said to her, I don't think you should be doing that, because not every Christian prays in tongues. She said, "Well every Christian I've ever met does!" Which I thought was very refreshing!
Noel: And planting churches?
Roger: In the light of our change into cells, we've been asking what it means to plant churches.
We're doing a two-pronged experiment this year -- within our West Sussex area using clusters of cells, and also in key centres in terms of youth culture. We have also just sent a team to Brooklyn, New York, who are planting there.
Noel: And you balance planting churches with your parachurch activities like FUSION?
Roger: Within the old Celtic communities, there was a tremendous diversity of activity. Were they a mission base, or an education base; were they feeding the poor, or mentoring and discipling apostles? We need to see churches take that variety on. Revelation is a church, but we're also a movement involved in lots of other things.
Roger: CRED is an educational initiative, looking at global issues, of poverty and injustice; seeing 18,000 to 20,000 kids in schools; preparing education packs. It's getting Fair Trade goods over and selling them and channelling the money back into the 2/3 World.
Peace Works is looking at local, national and international conflict resolution.
Then of course there's FUSION, which we have facilitated admin wise. We realise that if we're going to influence the nation we have to become equal partners with other organisations like YWAM, Saltmine, Salt & Light. So people are now seeing FUSION as an entity which is catalysing and resourcing primarily local churches and helping them develop a student ministry.
Noel: You have a lot of irons in the fire!
Roger: 30% of my time is FUSION and then there's travelling, there's books, there's stuff with Pioneer as well as my role in Revelation.
Noel: Do you manage to get together with your leadership team?
Roger: I believe in giving people room! If you want to see strong ministries come up, you have to empower them. Our Oversight Team, which is apostolic/visionary, only meets about 3 or 4 times a year. Once a month, our Oversight Working Group meets to look at the ongoing development of the vision. And I meet with our Area Leaders (who meet weekly to oversee the work of Revelation at grass roots) about once a month.
Noel: Is FUSION doing well?
Roger: We know of about 60 cells on 25 campuses, but there are at least another 15 or so cities which have FUSION cells where the students haven't got round to telling us yet!
Noel: How do you see FUSION linking with churches?
Roger: We're looking to be a catalyst and to provide resources and to partner with people. We want FUSION to be a vehicle rather like Alpha has become a vehicle. Some networks say FUSION provides them with resources and skills, and so take FUSION as their model.
Noel: How do universities view FUSION?
Roger: Some of the university authorities want to stop evangelism, because they want to stop the cults getting in. In order to do anything, we have to empower the students on campus and make it a student led thing, because the campus has to be open to student groups. And hopefully that approach will be less intimidating to the authorities.
Noel: Do you see a shift in the UK towards spirituality?
Roger: I think there is a culture shift in society, and I think the Holy Spirit is moving in the church; but if there isn't more shifting in the attitudes in the church, we could end up losing a lot of the fruit.
Noel: Which part of the church do you mean?
Roger: The decline of the institutional church is so well documented that I don't have to comment on that, but I think there is a challenge to the newer churches.
The last generation of leaders came up with new models of church. I feel we can be in danger if they just hand on a blueprint to the next generation. The new generation of the apostolic will inherit our values because we've expounded them and nurtured them. But I hope they're going to apply them in a way that is timely for their generation. We have to be prepared to allow that to happen. For the newer churches the challenge is one of handing on the baton.
Noel: But you see many unchurched believers?
Roger: Yes, we could end up with many people coming to Christ from all sorts of different angles. But we've got to find a way of sweeping them into the Christian community so that we can disciple them and nurture them and send them out.
Noel: Do you feel that you're doing that at Revelation?
Roger: To some extent, but on nothing like the scale that we should be seeing.
Noel: What about gay friendships?
Roger: If we're going to approach it from a Bible-believing framework, we have to say that marriage and therefore the fullness of sexual expression is between a man and a woman. But we're not anti-gay any more than we're anti people who are adulterous or anti people who sleep around. We love them and want to see them fulfil their potential in God. The difficulty with gay culture is that it defines your humanity on the basis of your sexual orientation, whereas the most important thing about you in God's eyes is not whether you're gay or straight, but that you're a human being created in the image of God, whom God loves and wants to have an ongoing relationship with.
Noel: Are you doing anything special in 2000?
Roger: We'll be part of March for Jesus and other national things but we haven't had much chance to think about things, because we've so much going on. We may do a European Church and Youth Culture Conference that year.
Noel: So let's be proactive about the vision of the new Celts! Let's do something about it!
Roger: If we're just being outwardly more radical and more trendy, let's forget about it, because it's a waste of time. We have to get out there and get involved. A lot of people have come here because they've seen that we have deployed people and empowered them to get on with it. We have tried to resource them and disciple them and mentor them in what they're doing. We are a catalyst; we are here to help them get on and do the job.
Noel: So, Roger, you're pressing on?
Roger: Certainly! We have to create new church "wineskins", we have to disciple people, we have to raise up this next generation!