Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United is the most successful manager in the history of English football. He’s seen his fair share of battles on the football pitch. When he first took over at United some 25 years ago he said:

‘A man is very fortunate if he gets the chance to manage Manchester United in his lifetime and I can assure you that I have no intention of wasting my opportunity.’

Similarly I feel it’s a great privilege to be asked to lead a church like St Michael le Belfrey in York. We’re a church community with a rich heritage, from Bishop Paulinus in the 7th Century to William Richardson in the 18th/19th Centuries, and then renewed under the leadership of David Watson in the 1960’s/70s. I also believe we have a really exciting future ahead as we aim to be serving God’s transformation of the North in these coming days.

If we’re going to press on into that vision in 2012 then I believe God wants us, much more intentionally, to be growing. Growing in numbers, influence and maturity. To facilitate that growth we’re especially highlighting 8 emphases in 2012, and I’m looking forward to unpacking these to our congregations this Sunday. They are:

• praying persistently

• welcoming the Spirit

• reading the bible

• creating leading opportunities

• evangelising in 4 mission seasons

• planning future church planting

• completing plans for reordering St Michael le Belfrey Church

• beginning plans for reordering St Cuthberts Church

All these things are important and will involve hard work, focus, dedication and much prayer. But we must be wise to the fact that we have an enemy who won’t want these plans to succeed. Indeed it’s not over-dramatic to say that the church’s vision statement (‘serving God’s transformation of the North’) should be taken as a declaration of war on the kingdom of darkness in the North.

You see, the bible is very clear that we have an enemy – the devil (Eph 6:11) – who will try to bring disunity and disillusionment. God however wants the opposite. He wants to help us and (as Psalm 144:1 says) train our hands for war – for spiritual warfare (Eph 6:12ff).

Most people alive in the UK today have grown up knowing nothing of war. That includes me and probably most people who read this blog. I’m grateful for that and I hope you are too. But it means that we probably find it hard to grasp what the bible really means when we’re told that we are in a battle (eg. 2 Cor 10:4; 1 Tim 1:18). In wartime the whole nation is geared up so that everything goes to help the war effort. So the person making those nuts and bolt in the factory knows they’re helping in the war. The person working in fields knows they’re growing food to feed the nation and its soldiers. In wartime people work together. There’s an urgency. Because they have a common enemy and a common cause.

My wife’s grandma once told me that the years of the Second World War were the best days of her life. There was a great unity in the nation. There was a war to win. She was given a particular job to do that she felt was important. And people lived on the edge, not knowing how long they had, so they worked hard and they played hard. It was serious, but great fun!

Similarly every follower of Jesus is called to play their part in God’s great cause. That’s why John Wimber said:

the Christian life is warfare. The Church is called to be a family, a hospital, a school and an army.  The Church had better be an army because, whether we realize it or not, were in the middle of a war. A war between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan.

If you are part of the Belfrey, you need to know that we have declared war on the enemy. We want to see the kingdom of darkness pushed back and defeated in the North. That means we are called to fight. To be warriors for Jesus Christ. Not against people, but against things like unbelief, falsehood, fear, injustice and oppression. We long to see people bow the knee to Jesus Christ and allow him to transform their lives, homes and communities. To do that effectively you need to know whose side you are on: God’s side. You need to know the regiment you’re in: the Church of England. You need to know the company you are in: St Michael le Belfrey. And each one of us needs to play our part.

For soldiers to be effective in battle, they need training. Initial training and ongoing training. Are you allowing God to train you for war? God did that for all the mighty warriors of valour we read of in the bible and he still does it today.

Some of us with limited experience need God to train us for war. If that’s you, it’s likely he will take you through all sorts of life experiences to train you. He will want you to develop various disciplines in life to train you. This is what he did in days of old, which is why we read in Judges 3:2 that ‘God did this to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience.’

Will you let God train you as one of his soldiers this year, so together we can play our part in serving God’s transformation of the North? If so, I invite you to pray this prayer with me:

Almighty God – I commit myself to be a soldier in your army. Please equip me and train me this year. I know that will not always be easy, but I ask you to strengthen and equip me so that I can play my part in serving your purposes for my city, my region and my nation. For Jesus sake. Amen.