Briefing theological students on college mission before attending a local ministry event

My colleague Andy recently send this message to an SMBC mission team in preparation for their involvement in our Uni Fellowship Engage conference with the CU.

Drawing on his own experience as a theological student, he was careful to brief the team well about the nature of our ministry and the details of the event. But he also gave some pointers to how they could make the most of this participation as a learning experience, and how to avoid making a mess of their attendance through clumsy conversations:

Making the most of your time

  • Observe what goes on, what we do and why. All Uni Groups are different for numerous reasons even if you have been involved in one.
  • Chat to students, get a feel for who they are, how they might be similar or the same to Uni ministries you've experience before
  • Be aware some of the student might not be Christains or totally on board with us even thought it is a training event!
  • Be mindful that the students might not be as switched on or in the theological zone as you. A fair number come from churches that can be fair 'light' and discounted in how they approach the scriptures
  • Encourage them on the important of uni ministry and doing an MTS

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Mirrors 17th March 2017

  1. Lots to like in @nm_campbell 's analysis of the Coopers/Bible Society furore.
  2. Some Don Carson gold on American politics and the Benedict Option.
  3. Intriguing taboo black vs white vs trans vs outrage media vs commercialism in the meta "B. A. N." episode of Donald Glover's 'Atlanta' (language warning)
  4. "Tomorrow Coopers will wake up with no respect for the Bible Society, and the Bible Society will be nursing a huge hangover the Bible Society will be left wondering how one thing led to another & it ended up not getting its calls answered." Cheeky, Stephen McAlpine!

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Is the individual Christian the ‘watchman on the walls’?

Almost every time I talk about personal evangelism, and describe the need to be tactful, respectful and wait for the opportunities that God gives us, rather than just downloading on people uninvited, I'll have a question that goes something like:

But knowing what we know about heaven and hell, isn't it better to tell them the gospel, and risk the possibly of them getting offended, than not at all?  They may not get another chance to hear!

The spirit of this question is very much present in Ezekiel 3 and 33: that the watchman on the walls who fails to warn people of the coming judgment will have blood on their own hands... whereas the watchman who sounds the warning will be innocent of their blood if they fail to listen to the warning. It seems that the apostle Paul is also echoing these words in Acts 20 to describe his own ministry and implicitly passing them on to the Ephesian elders too.

A common example is: 'I picked up a hitchhiker: I may never see them ever again. This is my one chance to preach the gospel to them and possibly their one chance to hear it — what do I have to lose?'

It's right to speak up because of the gospel's urgency and importance 

Most of the time when I get this question I take it as a helpful corrective, and so affirm it. The gospel is the power of salvation, it does need to be told to everyone because Christ could come back any minute. If we believe that, we should want to tell people whenever we can.

Inded urgency and moral seriousness create different social standards. A sympathetic witness will allow someone more leeway in being urgent and confronting, if they appreciate that the person feels moved by conscience. It is true that some people are arrested and challenged by this kind of other-worldly moral and spiritual seriousness. Because the gospel is not just a discussion of preferred shoe brands, it should not be discussed in the same measured and civil tones, necessarily.

I agree, there is something good and right about the conviction and compassion and desire to preach Christ. If there's nothing of that impulse, perhaps we aren't seeing the world as God does? Isn't something better than nothing? Can we stand silently by?

An individual Christian may then push beyond what is comfortable and normal and polite to get a hearing for the gospel.  That's awesome. But that is different to implying or commanding that if we are not pushing the envelope we are not being faithful, not believing the gospel enough, or worse still, have blood on our hands. 

The different between a watchman and a citizen

It is worth remembering that Ezekiel (and the apostle Paul and the Ephesian elders) have a leadereship role in their communities. It is their responsibility before God and function in their community to lead, teach and warn. If they in their role stay silent, they truly are guilty of neglect. They are appointed and stationed as watchmen on the walls.

But the average Jew in Ezekiel's day, or the average Christian today, is not appointed and stationed in quite that same way. Although we belong to the community entrusted with the message of the gospel this doesn't mean we all have the same functional and moral role in its proclamation.

There is a difference of responsibility here, and also a difference of role. A preacher/teacher/leader has a role and function, and a certain cultural 'permission' or expectation to proclaim and warn. We may not like their message, but at least we acknowledge that it is their role to speak directly about it. As a result, a preacher/teacher/leader also has a platform to speak from in their own religious circles, often has the invitation to speak in other cirlces, might reasonably request the permission to speak in other circles or even create entirely new contexts in which to speak.

As I've already said above, an individual Christian may do a little bit of all these things. And depending on their spiritual gifts the urgency and importance of the gospel will motivate a whole bunch of Christians to take on something of a lowercase p 'preacher' or lowercase c 'chaplain' role. That's awesome. Which is why there is something that resonates in the appeal for us all to be like watchmen on the walls. We should see the world from God's point of view, so that this is stirred up in us. 

But that is different to implying or commanding that if we are not pushing the envelope of creating these kinds of 'teaching' platforms, we are not being faithful, not believing the gospel enough, or worse still, have blood on our hands. For it remains the case that your average Christian is not appointed the particular role of watchman in quite the same way.

We all must have a deep and earnest desire and prayer for the lost to be saved. By the power of the Spirit we must not be ashamed of Christ but identify with him (and his preachers) before the world. We must generously and relationally and organisationally support missionary work at home and overseas. We must live in a way that adorns the gospel and takes every oppotunity to give a reason for the hope that we have. Within this context, extending invitations for people to find out more, giving them books to read and so on, are all expressions of a general responsibility that is not quite the same as the 'watchman on the walls'.

So while it might well be good and right to ask for permission to share the gospel with a hitchhiker — 'I know this is a strange thing to bring up, but I'm a Christian, and I wonder if you've ever had someone explain the Christian message to you before?' could be a way to broach the subject — it is not a moral imperative for every Christian.

The ways the gospel is heralded to a population

We often preach evangelistic responsiblity, and conceive of evangelistic responsibility, very individualistically. Each of us individually has to convert people. Each of us individually has to make sure each other person individually has heard the gospel from an individual.

But is that a full account of how the the gospel is spread? Is that even the primary way the gospel is heard? Does the 'blood stay on my hands' until I personally say to you personally that you need to repent and believe? Until someone has had that conversation have they not been 'warned'?

I want to suggest that this an oversimplifcation and really a distortion of how human beings live and how God deals with us. We are aware of things much more widely than one to one converations: through word of mouth, observation and various media. I wonder if that's something of what 1Thessalonians 1 describes about how the 'word of God rang out'? Likewise in Acts we have little narrative comments about how the rumours of the gospel were spreading throughout the Roman world.

There is little explicit instruction or description of systematic, cold, inter-personal evangelism in the Bible. Acts describes the apostles going to (or creating) settings where they might speak, such as synagoges, public meeting halls and the Areopagus. We do hear about Paul going to the marketplace in Athens, but it is anachornistic to imagine this is similar to our standard 21st century city shopping mall. Post-radio societies don't have anything quite parallel to the town square of the 19th century village or the marketplace of the 1st century Roman city. There are plenty of hints and suggestions about all sorts of relational conversations in Acts and the apostolic letters, but nothing like a modern doorknocking campaign. I'm not against doorknocking campaigns, I'm just wanting to untangle them from some kind of scriptural imperative. They are a possible strategy for gospel proclamation, not a necessary one.

In that sense a person can know that there are people who believe in God, that some of them are called Christians, that they believe Jesus saves people and gives them peace with God — all without ever talking to a Christian one to one, or going to a Christian event. In fact they can even have access to the Christian scriptures in any number of ways. This is what the missionary societies mean when they talk about 'unreached people groups'. This doesn't mean we have done everything we could or should do to seek to reach people, but it does in one sense mean that the 'blood is off our hands'. If the watchman on the walls sounds the warning, the blood is off his hands even if he hasn't had a one on one conversation with every citizen!

The power of the gospel and God's providential work

A whole other can of worms is how God's providential work relates to his supernatural saving work. It is true that the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ. But what makes someone listen? What gets them into a setting where they are invited to hear the message spoken? What motivates them to accept that invitation?

The miraculous work of regeneration comes by the Holy Spirit as he works through the word of God. And yet God works providentially behind the scenes in millions of ways to bring people to the point of hearing and receiving the word of God. Although the word of God is needed to bring eternal life, a complex of wordly motivations and circumstances, under God's sovereign hand, will suffice to bring someone into earshot of the gospel to begin with.

Why am I speaking?

And last of all, this brings us into a very important issue that relates not only to gospel preaching but to all sorts of moral conversations: do I speak to make myself feel better, to release myself of a burden or to benefit my hearers?

Especially when we are deeply concerned about a matter we can slip into the pattern of speaking up about it whenever we encounter it. If we have lost a relative to lung cancer caused by smoking, we stop smokers on the street; if we are passionate about vegetarianism we make comments about a colleague's ham sandwich; if we are a Christian we roll out a quick sermon on grandpa's death bed.

But why do we speak in these cases? Is it to persaude the other person? Possibly not. Possibly we don't even really think in those terms. We definitely don't stop to ask whether this circumstance, with this relationship and this manner will be persausive or offputting. Indeed they might have already heard our message from someone else, perhaps even some in a better position to communiate it. But our concern is not with them hearing, let alone accepting the message in that moment. Our concern is really with ourselves: we want to know that we've said something. 

Perhaps we remember the Ezekiel passage spoken above, where the LORD says that 'whether they listen or fail to listen'. So there is a sense in which it is right to speak the truth, to call out evil, to preach the gospel and to warn of the coming wrath no matter what the response. True. But once again we are somewhat begging the question: we are assuming that this passage is speaking to every person about every relationship in every circumstance. Is that an accurate representation of the passage? I think that is not explicitly the case. There is a sliding scale here.

It can be right to speak the truth no matter what the response... but all of us will draw some kind of limit on that, otherwise we would be talking about the gospel to everyone all the time all day long. Since we all eventually draw some limit on this indiscriminate speaking, it is at least legitimate that some might narrow the scope only to what the consider to be meaningful and effective contexts.

There are many people who hate smoking, but who walk past smokers, even their friends who smoke, and say nothing day after day. Why? Because although they have a great conviction and moral urgency, they recognise that there is little effective difference that their lecturing the person will actually make about them quitting smoking. So instead they volunteer for the Quitline, give to the Cancer Council, pray that the person might quit and offer to be a sponsor if someone makes a passing comment that 'these things are getting expensive' or 'I really should quit'.

In the same way, a Christian might well seek to explain the gospel to a hitchhiker. Or they might just be friendly and take the opportunity if it comes up, because they recognise that all things being equal, an awkward exchange in a stranger's car probably won't be the defining moment in someone's conversion. It might be, but then again something else might be too :-)

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Mirrors 13th March 2017

  1. Planning and implementation idea: Break down the year into 4 month “episodes” and focus on implementing existing ideas during that episode
  2. My first sermon in the Uni Fellowship of Christians Semester 1 series on Hebrews.
  3. Want to start a not-for profilt? Upcoming webinar.
  4. If it looks like homeschool and butter churning and quacks like homeschool and butter churning... Stephen McAlpine on the 'Benedictine Option'
  5. Don't think  agree with 90% of this. But a fun read about Christianity and comics.

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O Week Mission 2017 Debrief

We repeated our O Week Mission from last year, trying to capture 'lessons learned' along the way.

Below are a few quick reflections:

1. Different incentive

We didn't want to do keep cups two years in a row, both because they are more expensive, but also because we wanted them to keep their 'wow' factor.

We tried to get free pizza vouchers donated without success, so we ended up going with earbuds:

These were cheap ($2 each) and attractive. But nowhere near as much as the keep cups. So we dropped about 30% our participation rate (from 1100 to 678), and we suspect that partly it was the incentive.

I still think it was right to save money and hold back the keep cups for a year. But there you have it.

2. Electronic data entry and follow up

We spent HEAPS of time setting up and troubleshooting Elvanto to make the most of as many automations as possible.
Last year the amount of effort spent in data entry and follow up emails/texts was horrendous. And the amount of data that got corrupted through illegible handwriting or faulty transmission was pretty high.

So this year we set up:

  • the survey in Elvanto Forms
  • has this automatically add people who wanted to find out more to our database and a People Flow
  • set up automated SMS and email to be sent through Elvanto on the same afternoon that they were processed
  • set up our follow up 3 times inviting peopel to have coffee as four steps in a People Flow with automated SMS and email.

We had purchased 4 iPads with some grant money last year, so we had them at our survey stalls, but this wasn't quite enough for the amount of people queuing up. So we also set up QR codes so students could access the survey themselves.

Interestingly, most students would rather wait 3 minutes for the iPad than figure out how to use a QR code. So we then also added the survey to a link from our website But even THEN they would mostly rather wait fo rthe iPad. Interesting, eh?

Along with the inentive being less attractive, I think the electronic surveys led to a lower participation rate. However, I suspect a decent amount of what we lost in overall numbers, we gained back in time, energy and accuracy. And I think we can do some things to get more participation next year, knowing that students would rather use our technology than their own phones.

I don't think we can justify buying more iPads for only an annual use. So next year we will ask staff and others rostered on to consider brining their tablets and laptops while they are rostered on, to have more machines on the stalls, in addition to our iPads.

3. Better lead up and buy in

We got the grant late last year and so didn't have a good lead up to the O Week Mission 2016. This year, peopel had already experienced it, and seen it 'work', and we had a big lead up in the end of 2016. So it was much easier to get engagement, enthusiasm and ownership. Heaps more volunteered and engaged, both from among our students and local churches.

4. Fliers for pizza parties

We gave out fliers advertising our evening pizza partires to those who completed our surveys this year, rather than just relying on email and SMS. We weren't sure if this would lead to lots of freeloaders who didn't want to know anything about us.

Happily we saw an increase in attendance at these events, without it being a locust swarm of cynical gatecrashing students. We had over 100 attend across the 3 evenings, and except for Wednesday, most were connected with effectively.

5. Pizza parties on campus

We moved one of our parties to the campus due to a double booking at our event venue. And this move still worked fine. The advantage of the church venue is we could say 'This is where our main meeting is: come back on Thursday night!'. The advantage of campus was it was more neutral territory.

The Wednesday afternoon pizza party was at the same time as the TUU Societies Day and this led to the largest attendance of all 3 nights, but also the most transient and 'freeloading'. Our students and staff still worked hard to connect with people as best we can. But now that we know this is waht to expect, we will need to order a lot more pizza, and embrace this event as a hyrbid 'social connection' and 'free giveaway' event. We will definitely also deploy more staff and students to be ready to mingle at this event.

6. Public event in week 2

Our two main meetings are monthly: our monthly Citywide Gathering on Thursday evenings and our monthly Breakfast Sessions sermon on Tuesday mornings.
In previous years, we put both of these on in O Week, to begin with a bang. This year we moved Breakfast Sessions to Week 2, so that there was a public event to invite people to after O Week. The other advantage of this is that Tuesday 7:30am is too early into O Week to be a good invite event.
But Tuesday Week 2 was much better. Our first Breakfast Sessons of the year double from this time last year — so that was a good move!

7. Survey Results
And what were our survey results this year? Similar to last year. Click here to see the photos of the survey result charts on Facebook.

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Young preachers: clear, biblical… not quite human, application not quite landing

A couple of traps for young preachers. Not first-sermon preachers... but first-five-years preachers.

You can do a clear, well-structured, engaging and biblical sermon... that still doesn't work as well as it could.

1. Not human enough

You can slip into a trap of being a bit too 'pastor'. A bit too much 'public figure delivering public oratory'. And so while the sermon is good... it's not really YOU. It's not really relateable. You put on your slightly preacher voice. And you polish it up. And it could be anyone.

Someone has described preaching as 'truth through personality'... and sometimes newish pastors can lack personality in their preaching.

Let some cracks show. Relax. Get a friend or a older pastor or your husband/wife to tease you when you are being too preacher-ly. 


2. Clumsy applications that just don't land

In an effort to apply the text thoroughly and practically, young-ish preachers can over-reach in clumsy ways. Detailed, prescriptive stuff that just sounds jarring.

Speaking from my own experience, when you are still young in life, you often don't have things in proportion... and so your idea of what a good application might be can often sound 'off' or even mildly absurd to your listeners.

So test your applications carefully on others. Or go with what you actually know. Or apply a little less in depth than you'd like to think you can.

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Mirrors 5th March 2017

  1. Embrace our creautreliness, show compassion, stand against bullying.
  2. Mike Bird will be visiting Hobart at the end of April. An event worth checking out.
  3. Slowly plan to gather more data in line with your organisation’s growth 
  4. Looking forward to watching the rest of this video about productivity and leadership
  5. Some great little lines from this episode of the Plato's Cave cinema podcast (possibly language warning, can't remember):
  • "Lion doesn't reduce us to tears, it exalts us to tears"
  • "Full Metal Jacket Sydndrome: where no matter how good the second half of a film is, it is overshadowed by an absolutely brilliant first half"
  • "LaLa Land is a knowing film without ever winking to the audience."

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The 11th hour fuss: delegation master class

Something inexperienced (or overworked or undermotivated) leaders haven't yet mastered is the 11th hour fuss. It's not to be confused with micromanaging... even though on the surface it looks quite similar.

The 11th hour fuss, is when you check in with someone you lead, or have delegated to, and check in on a few things, particularly:

  • things that you suspect they might have forgotten, knowing them, or knowing that certain changes might have been forgotten,
  • things that are safety or mission-critical,
  • things that are important to you (in approach or style or whatever)
  • spiritual, moral and emotional morale boosting.

The inexperienced (or overworked or undermotivated) leader might not do this because:

  • they've heard micromanaging is bad and they want to be empowering, releasing leaders;
  • because they gave the guidelines and did good delegation and the person is capable... they assume that the person is all over it and don't want to patronise them;
  • they have delegated and dumped... and no longer care or own the project in detail.

But experienced leaders know and care about how everything works... and about the people who do the things. And the experienced leader knows that people are people: they forget things, glaze over things, don't care about the things you care about etc. They know individuals, and can sometimes even guess the kinds of details that different people will forget, or particular kinds of encouragement they will need.

So just at the last minute:

  • "Remember the big goal is to get contact details!"
  • "Don't forget to smile and make eye contact"
  • "Remember: we are using the eForm now"
  • "If it gets windy, pack down the standing banner... and don't move the table with the glass jars and iPads still on top"

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Repost: Brief for a wedding sermon (October 2007)

Here are the suprisingly detailed but surprisingly wise instructions given me by a couple I am to marry this year:

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Review: Ideas that Changed the World (video course about the Reformation)

Dominic 'Introducing God' Steele has just produced a new 4-week course about the Protestant Reformation: Ideas that Changed the World. This comes in time for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation: an occasion/excuse to highlight the theological ideas that lie at the heart of it, ideas that not only changed the European world, but also have the power to change the lives of individuals for eternity.

The course involves some written content, video content filmed beautifully on location in the key locations like Wittenberg and Geneva. Each course covers one key Reformation idea, and one key Reformation leader: 

  • Luther and faith alone
  • Calvin and grace alone
  • Tyndale and Bible alone
  • Cramner and Christ alone

Strengths of the course

The production values are high. Going to the various sites gives a sense of depth and reality to the story, and brief interviews with key Reformation historians works well. Even making sure that the people who read quotes from the various figures have the appropriate accent (a German for the Luther quotes, for example).

As an engaging preacher, Dominic is a great host for the video content. He makes the ideas 'sing' to our hearts at various points, rather than just conveying the information.

Each study also includes Bible study questions that help you wrestle with the biblical teaching, rather than simply discussing and interacting with theologicans, which might give the impression. Many of these Bible bits unpack extended passages, and so avoid a string of proof texts, which also enhances the sense of heading the Bible speak for itself.

Each study also has a testimony from someone raised in the Roman Catholic Church how later came to discover the gospel, especially an aspect of these four themes.This underlines two things: that the Catholic distortions are still alive today, and the truths of the gospel are still life-changing today.


Who is it for?

Of the making of training courses there is no end. So I am always concerned to know, how vital will this course be? Will it have a place in the ongoing teaching/training/evangelism ministry of a church year after year? There seems only a little point in purchasing a course that will only be used once, in my opinion.

The course could work very well:

  • As part of an evangelistic and follow up strategy for reaching out to cultural Roman Catholics, whether in historically Catholic areas, or among migrants from Catholic countries. 

  • As a part of a regular training/church conference/growth group program to give 'the basics' of church history to your 'average' churchgoer.

  • In later year primary school and early high school settings at school or church.

The course would not work well in the following contexts:

  • In a university ministry setting: where students might encounter criticisms of these Reformation figures. The more simplified portrayals may seem jarring and unsatisfying.
  • Among more theologically informed and devout Roman Catholics: who would have a nuanced understanding of Catholic doctrine and apologetics. They may even find the testimonies of more 'cultural Catholics' as unfair and unrepresentative: picking a 'straw man'.
  • Among liberal or charismatic Catholics, we don't identity strongly with traditional Catholic doctrine.

The course is available for hard copy order through Matthias Media or digital delivery through their Go There For platform.

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Mirrors 24th February 2017

  1. A great article from Sandy Grant on two perspectives on the venue of the Bible Society 200th celebration.
  2. Church secretary chooses every font know to man on potluck flier
  3. Welcome back Ministry Principles and Prags!
  4. "Late people are more creative and successful": Very sloppy argumentation... but don't care because it tells me what I want to hear
  5. My home church has a new purdy website

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Repost: Some infant baptism thoughts — negative (from September 2007)

1. "Believer-baptists accuse us of baptising unregenerate people, but believer-baptists do it all the time! How can they live with the fact that people fall away?"

This is unfair. What the believer-baptist is saying is that infant-baptists *delieberately* baptise people who are not regenerate.

For an infant baptist, the church kid who chucks in the faith in high school is a true member of the visible church who has betrayed of their ultimate calling. For the believer baptist, the convert who falls away was never a true member of the visible church - their membership was a sham.

2. "Don't call us 'infant baptists", call us 'convenant baptists'".

Seems sneaky to me. Believer-baptists believe in covenants too, and they believe that baptism is a sign of the covenant. They just happen to believe that the covenant is restricted to regenerate believers.

3. "I don't want my kid to go to Hell. Therefore infant baptism is true"

This is emotional, immoral and illogical:

Emotional: Things are not true cause we want them to be true.
Immoral: Why can you sleep better knowing *your* kid won't go to Hell, but don't care two hoots about the child of the non-Christian?
Illogical: It does not necessarily follow that belief in infant baptism means belief in salvation of your kid.

4. "Baptism is God's promise.... we raise our kids in faith not in fear"

Belief in infant baptism does not mean belief that your kid will go to heaven. Clearly many kids from Christian families fall away from the faith and *don't* go to heaven. So there is some fear, isn't there? And if kids from Christian families don't go to heaven, what do we make of God's alleged 'promise'?

We need far more clarity here. I would prefer to remove these vaguely worded promises altogether. But for the sake of clarity let's map out three possible infant-baptist views:

Presumptive regeneration: Baptism is a sign of God's promise of regeneration and eternal salvation. We presume that all children of Christians are regenerate and predestined. We know that in the mystery of God's will some are not, but our default position, and expectation, is that they are. (I don't like this view, but it is the one where is 'faith not fear' sort of logic works best)
Sign of external blessings: Baptism is a sign only of the external blessings of belonging to the visible church and hearing the gospel, nothing more. Baptism, then says nothing about the salvation of the individual.
Sign of internal and external blessings: Baptism is a sign of God's promise of regeneration and eternal salvation. But we do not give it to children of Christians because we presume they have received the reality. Rather, we consider that it is fitting to give them the sign of regeneration, even though they aren't necessarily regenerate.

5. "Household baptisms in Acts."


6. "We believe in the unity of the covenants."

So does a believer baptist. We both believe that there are some points of discontinuity. The believer baptist just draws the line at a slightly different point.

A strength of Reformed theology is that it is integrated and it joins the dots between its various doctrines really well. The problem is that as a result, Reformed theologians can often argue that every peculiar Reformed doctrine is central and fundamental to the gospel itself. I once read an article that said that Amillenialism, paedobaptism, presbyterian government and limited atonement were all totally central to the gospel and to deny any of them was to let the gospel itself crash down in a heap.

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Mirrors 17th February 2017

In case you haven't noticed, I've been cheating with 'Mirrors' and just posting the things I link to on Twitter. Only two this week, which is a bit dismal:

  1. Round 3 of Tasmanian Christian Fund now open. Including new tier of $20 000–$50 000.
  2. My sermon-lecture on Existentialism as a part of the Uni Fellowship's series on Identity.

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Repost: Some infant baptism thoughts — positive (from September 2007)

  1. Believers-baptism is the default position. It does take time and care to argue for infant baptism, just as it takes time to argue for predestination or the Trinity or the two natures of Christ. This doesn't necessarily make it 'too many steps of extrapolation'. Some theological structures just take time to establish. Especially if we are clearing the ground of pre-existing ideas and assumptions.
  2. Baptism is never defined in Scripture as being only for believers. It is often used in metanomic figures of speech (eg Rom 6, Gal 3) to stand for repentance, faith and conversion. But this does not mean that baptism is primarily a sign of faith. The closest we come to this is 1Peter 3:21. But even here, is God saying 'baptism can only be given to someone who is capable of a rational pledge of conscience' or 'baptism is only true, saving baptism when it is accompanied by a rational pledge of conscience'?
  3. Better to see baptism primarily as a sign of God's grace, God's gospel, God's promises. Adult converts receive the gospel, and hence the sign of the promises of the gospel. Children are raised under the preaching of the gospel, raised inside the visible church. On this grounds alone, it is fitting to mark them with the sign of the gospel which has been held out to them from birth. But more, the OT and NT argue that God has a 'general electing love' for the physical offspring of his people (see 8 below). Baptising them is an expression of this love.
  4. I like the section in Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion on infant baptism. A lot of arguments for infant baptism that have become simplistic and sloppy in the hands of later apologists - such as 'Let the little children come to me' - are written with care and subtlety by Calvin.
  5. A believers-only view of the visible church feels very 'modern': a voluntary society of individuals. Do you know what I mean?
  6. From a believers-baptism point of view, it is hard to know how to make sense of children of Christians. Are they the same as any other non-Christian guest? Not really. Surely they are 'members of the church' in some sense.
  7. Baptising a child at birth is said to be artbitrary and without scriptural warrant. At the same time, most believer-baptists hold off on baptism until some arbitrary point. Few believer-baptists baptise confessing two-year-olds. If we are going to baptise kids of Christian parents at some abitrary point, perhaps birth is as representative as any other time.
  8. John 1, Romans 2 and other such passages are not saying that physical descent has no significance whatsoever. They are merely saying that physical descent is not the *necessary* nor *sufficient* ground for eternal salvation. Romans 3, 9, 11 and 15 all teach us that there is significance to physical descent. There is a 'general electing' love of God as well as a 'individual electing' love of God.
  9. Colossians 2 does not say (as some infant-baptists argue) that baptism *is* the New Testament's circumcision. There are four steps (1. In Christ circumcised 2. With circumcision of sinful nature 3. Having been buried with Christ 4. Through baptism) not two steps (1. In Christ circumcised 2. Through baptism). But what it does teach is the the spiritual significance of circumcision and baptism is the same. They may not be identical but they are parallel.
  10. We must pay more careful attention, brothers, to the way we use Covenant of Grace and New Covenant. As a rule, the believer-baptist has a stronger emphasis on the distinctions between Old and New Covenant. They tend to use 'New Covenant' to speak about the things that are particularly unique about the new dispensation. Infant-baptists are a little more vague. 'New Covenant' can mean simply 'the Covenant of Grace as experienced in the new dispensation'. For a believer-baptist, 'member of the New Covenant' means 'regenerate, predestined person who *will* go to heaven'. For an infant-baptist, 'member of the New Covenant' can often just mean, 'member of the Covenant of Grace, even purely because they are members of the visible church'.
  11. Believer-baptists often consider the visible church to be responsible for making sure the church is only made up only of the Elect. It is an "opt-in" ecclesiology: you can only join if you can prove your conversion. You might say the believer baptist *presumes* to purify the visible church. Infant-baptists often consider the visible church to be responsible for accpeting all who confess faith, and disciplining those who betray their confession. It is an "opt-out" ecclesiology: you are only rejected if it your unbelief can be proved. The infant-baptist *assumes* that a person's confession is true unless evidence is given to the contrary.

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The fundamental failure to train in ministry

A great excerpt from The Vine Project:

In our conversations with pastors over the past six years, we have found — almost universally — a quite remarkable lack of equipping, training and mentoring at level 3 [specialised training]. This is especially the case with small group leadership. Very few pastors are satisfied with the nature and quality of the equipping that they provie for their small group leaders (whether in initial training or ongoing support). This seems to us to be (in most cases) a strategic mistake in the allocation of time and resources. Small groups have enormous potential to move people to the right — but their frequent failure to do so is in very large measure due to poor quality leadership. Whatever energy or resources we put into receruiting and equiping small group leaders will pay enormous dividends over time.

Overall, our observation is that most churches don't understand the improtance of level 1 equipping [grasping the vision to serve], and so rarely plan for it. This means that when they do try occasionally to do some level 2 equipping [basic skills] they are frequently disappointed at the response or level of take-up — because there is not the heart or motivation to be involved. This in turn leads to a dearth of candidates for level 3 training [specialised ministry training]. (page 277)

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Mirrors 10th February 2017

  1. Why bother with women's ministry?
  2. One 20something’s experience of dating in the 2010s. Guesswork, feigning casualness & indirect communication.  Blerg  *language warning*
  3. 9 ethical questions all skateboarders should ask themselves
  4. For the 1st time, ACNC has revoked charity status on grounds of political involvement: Catch the Fire 
  5. Yes to these critiques of Desiring the Kingdom
  6. My sermons on Galatians 3-4 from Credo Conference in Perth last May
  7. Pastor, defend Christian liberty
  8. Getting clarity ontology and ethics, normal and normative, law and principle regarding gender roles 

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Mirrors 3rd February 2017

  1. Francis Chan rant: be willing to model gospel mission to your family, not merely bunker down in a gated community. 
  2. Australian Stories: On resting in and wrestling with the paradox of modern Australia on Australia Day as a Christian.
  3. Funny video about how altruism can be a power play. So gross. But so true in work (and ministry) patronage.
  4. Listen to these 3 old John Woodhouse sermons on Ezekiel & have your mind blown (search ‘Ezekiel’ from drop down).
  5. Ooh! The ranty ‘Why Bishops are Deacons’ Phillip Jensen lectures now up on Proc Trust. #mustlisten Scroll down to 1988 EMA.
  6. Stern critique of James KA Smith’s ‘You Are What You Love’ by @PeterWoodcock58  and Tom Sweatman. What do you think? 
  7. Ten simple steps to writing a book.
  8. Helpful NDIS infographic article on difference between reporting on outputs/activities and reporting on outcomes

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Repost: UTAS O Week Mission 2016 — Part 1: Overview of Process (June 2016)

Late last year I posted a bunch of ideas and resources from Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) that we used for inspiration for a bunch of new ideas for O Week that we trialled this year, made possible by a grant from the Tasmanian Christian Fund.

In the next few posts I want to share our experience, results, and lessons learned for next time.

Three preliminary comments

1. Not really that different: just bigger and more focussed

We weren't doing a whole heaps different to what lots of AFES groups and other campus ministries already do. Heavy broadcast promotion, attempts at gathering large numbers of contacts, providing a mix of social and ministry events to connect with, and personal follow up.

For that reason we probably haven't learned much that a larger campus group hasn't already figured out. But perhaps we can provide some pointers to other medium sized groups we want to stretch their reach.

But maybe one or two of our ideas will be fresh, or maybe the overall 'spirit of the project' will be inspiring to other groups.

2. Not directly applicable to church ministry, but plenty of things will be

Campus ministry is unique in its sprint-lull rhythm, its demographic focus and its concentrated seasons where a large proportion of the target group will all be in a few locations with an interest to joining new things. In that sense what we have discovered won't easily translate to church ministry.

However, I think there are lots of things that will translate well, perhaps with thoughtful adjustments. The principles around large scale promotion and connection and personal follow up will definitely have their place in church ministry. And speeding up the pace and drive of a local church could well be a good challenge.

I'm keen to hear from those who are doing some of these things in church ministry, or who have stolen and adjusted some of our ideas.

3. Spending money on mission

A lot of the scale and quality of what we did was made possible by the grant, that we spent a lot of time applying for and keping records to report against. But since we feel the O Week Mission was a success, we are resolved to spend money on this next year.

And I want to say it's worth it. If spending money helps connecting with more people more meaningfully, why be a cheapskate at this point? That's a big mindset shift though. Rather than running a campus group on a shoestring budget, to proactively plan to raise and spend more money to reach more people.

Also we have more staff than the equivalent sized local church (1:25 ratio is pretty common in campus groups in USA; these stats are similar in Australia): so we are 'spending money' at this point too. There's a bunch of reasons for this ratio... but one point is to say: to do mission really effectively and broadly 'costs' in people time too. There will be a limit to what we can attempt in outreach and promotion if it depends on one 'generalist' pastor and a bunch of volunteers.

Purpose of O Week Mission

1. Provide face to face opportunities to discuss the gospel with hundreds of university students

We wanted to stretch and push ourselves to be more present and 'ubiquitous' on the campuses of UTAS, so that there were heaps of opportunities for that connection to take place. The 'gospel opportunities' would be light touch: but a face to face invitation to find out more.

The spirit of the mission was to do more. How could we logistically stretch our group, that normally only had one 'contact table' or point of presence? How could we instead be present on multiple campuses or multiple sites on the campus at the one time?

2. Connect interested non-Christians with multiple formal and informal opportunities to investigate the gospel of Jesus Christ 

3. Connect committed Christians and nominal Christians coming to uni with a vibrant and robust Christian community to help them grasp the spiritual, personal, intellectual and lifestyle implications of the gospel 

4. Train Christian students in public marketplace evangelism, formal event evangelism and informal personal evangelism, for their ministry at university and church, both now and into the future 

5. Test effectiveness of mass promotion

For us, this O Week Mission experiment was an opportuntiy to test a couple of things. First of all, we had noticed over the last 6 years that by far the most effective way for us to connect with new people is:

  • Facebook promotion
  • A really good Pre-O-Week Conference (our Pre-Season Conference)
  • Informal word of mouth advertising

We decreased our amount of fliering and cold contacting, and yet saw an increase in the size of the group. And very very rarely did our mass promotion lead to fruitful gospel opportunities or actively involved Christian students.

And that is true more generally in the Geneva Push network I'm involved with: vibrant, growing church plants rely predominantly on social media and informal invitations, rather than printed, published or cold contact evangelism.

So I wanted to test if there was a place for mass promotion and cold ontact Or is it just a financially expensive or time expensive activity that bears little fruit?

6. Test saturation of the campus

Short of revival, most ministries will reach a point of saturation, where any further growth will be slower. This is because you have engaged most of the Christians who will ever be engaged by your particular ministry and you have connected with the 'low-hanging fruit' in evangelism. All other growth will be the slow but worthwhile trickle of evangelistic growth and maturity-leading-to-more-regular-attendance growth.

I was curious to know what the saturation point for our Hobart campuses of around 14 000 undergraduates. At what point will your group reach a 'cap' on its growth, short of significant spiritual, sociological and ecclesiological changes?

The O Week Mission Strategy

Basically the whole thing was one massive funnel:

1. Broadcast Promotion

We threw money at a whole bunch of things to see what would work:

  • Radio advertisements on the Christian radio station and on the community radio station that broadcasts from the uni,
  • Corflute signage out the front of the building where we hold our main evening 'Citywide Gatherings'
  • Paid Facebook advertising and 'boosts'
  • Fliering at orientation lectures
  • Giveaway BBQs in Week 2 (so not competing with all the other free stuff in Week 1)

2. Brief surveys on all campuses of UTAS with gift incentive

  • We positioned ourselves at contact ables at multiple points at the largest campus of UTAS Hobart, as well as the other satellite campuses and residential colleges
  • Invite any and every passerby to complete a short, 3 question survey and in return we will give them a gift bag with a KeepCup and free coffee voucher from an awesome boutique cafe.
  • The third questions was: "Would you like to find out more about the Uni Fellowship of Christians' events and activities? YES/MAYBE/NO

3. Live data entry and afternoon follow up

  • Previously we had left data entry and follow up calls to the evenings of each day of O Week.
  • But this year, because we were inviting people to things that very day (see 4, below), we sped up this process.
  • We had people rostered on to do data entry at the same time that new contacts were being made.
  • We recorded the raw survey data in Survey Monkey and plugged all the Yes and Maybe data into our Elvanto database.
  • All the Yes and Maybe answers then received a generic 'Welcome from Uni Fellowship' email, as well as a personal call/SMS/email inviting them to the pizza parties:

4. Pizza Parties Monday-Wednesday of O Week

  • We invited new contacts to come to free pizza parties (or dessert on Wednesday) each night of O Week.
  • This was meant to be an opportunity to connect with people personally and socially straight away, rather than just inviting them to a public ministry event (Bible talk, for example).
  • At this event we gave a brief explanation about our group and encouraged people to sign up to evangelistic courses or Fellowship Groups.

5. Personal follow up coffees

  • Staff and student leaders contact each person who said Yes or Maybe, to invite them for coffee (our shout) to find out more about the Uni Fellowship and ask any questions.
  • We extend this invitation 3 times before giving up.

6. Invitiation to Public Meetings Faculty Cluster social events, Fellowship Groups and Chrsitianity 1A

  • Our pattern of regular meetings also became part of our follow up: inviting people to plug into our small groups, evangleistic course and public meetings.
  • We also gave money to our Faculty Cluster groups to organise social events on a faculty basis.

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Tempo, meter and rhythm in preaching

I was discussing this with some of the Uni Fellowship, how a poor preacher will speak with one steady rhythm and speed. It's doesn't grab you and carry you. Such preachers often have to rely on colourful illustrations, gritty application, simplistic (and sometimes gimmicky) structure and brevity to hold the congregation.

I encourage preachers to think carefully about how human communication works, and to master a variety of meters and speeds (and volume and gestures etc), so both engage and persuade people.

And then a few days later, I was watching 'The Hip-Hop Evolution' documentary on Netflix and I heard Rakim talk about how he was influenced by John Coltrane to vary his rapping in a similar way. Here's another video (not from the Netflix doco) where he says similar *language warning*

Prior to Rakim's era, hip-hop often had a very staccato, rhyme at the end of every line regularity. After his era there was much more of the variety that we recognise in hip-hop today.

Listen to some of the preachers you most appreciate, and you'll notice that they vary sentence structure, length and emphatic rhythm. You might even notice that they have a few favourite rhythmic patterns that they use :-)

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Mirrors 27th January 2017

  1. There’s 2 sides to every story. Justin Dean was Mars Hill’s media spokesperson right to the end. Interesting listen.
  2. Being church in post truth Australia. An excellent manifesto from Nathan Campbell!
  3. Tim Challies has done a great series on getting older, including: Ageing with graceWith Greater Age Comes Greater Sorrow and Aging Brings Life-Shaping Decisions
  4. There may be gendered roles taught in Scripture, but that doesn’t mean God only gives certain gifts to one gender
  5. Some thoughts on minimalism by Nathan Campbell. Prepare for a storm of comments, Nathan.
  6. Obvious advice on work-life with pretty diagrams. 
  7. About the Pslams of imprecation 
  8. Seven ways leaders demoralise their teams
  9. Six Reasons to Consider Avoiding Cute Sermon Series Titles
  10. Some true & not so true factors in US election. And largely untrue statements about Aussie Christian onlookers.

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