Mirrors 4th December 2015

1. You have probably already read this. But if you haven’t you probably should: What ISIS Really Wants 

2. In this Sydney Morning Herald piece, the non-Christian Richard Glover expresses the bewilderment many Christians are feeling: why are people be so outraged and furious about standard, conservative Christianity? 

3. This article discusses the current anti-discrimination case against the bishops of the Catholic Church of Tasmania. It also unpacks the legal issues involved in this case. 

4. There was lots in here I could relate to - a good encouragement to work at maintaining healthy friendships. 

5. Nathan Campbell does a good job of pondering how we might think biblically about outraged public reactions to things.

6. Some honest and spiritual reflections on coming to terms with a life involving a disabled child.

7. Advice on talking to Roman Catholics about Jesus. It's probably not going to be clear or helpful for them to fixate on using the language 'are you a Christsian?'.



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Mirrors 27th November 2015

1. So apparently it is now 5 years between graduating from uni and landing landing full-time, permanent work. That doesn’t sound so fun. 

2. At least after 5 years uni students are getting work. What about in the future when almost everything will be done by robots? How will we make sure that the rest of us are properly provided for? How accurate is this video do you think?

3. I’m a Christian but I’m not… went viral a few months back. There’s lots of stuff here I’d want to agree with. Until I begin to wonder whether I really do agree at all.  But worst of all is the almost total lack of Jesus in this entire thing. 

4. When did Steve McAlpine’s blog become so wonderful? He is the ‘it’ Aussie blogger at the moment I reckon. This post on helping prepare Christian teenagers to interact in a society that is hostile to Christian sexual ethics is terrific. 

5. A bunch of helpful training videos from the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission 

6. Is it a big deal whether or not Christians choose to sometimes refer to God as ‘she’? 

7. Ten things you should know about the gender pay gap. 



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Passive sabotage: doing a task with alligator arms

We watched this video of Patrick Lencioni summarising the 5 disfunctions of a team in our staff retreat today. It was a fruitful time of training and discussion.

The bit that I really fell in love with was when he was describing the kind of behaviours people engage in when they are not really committed to a team.

Rarely do people actively sabotage a team they are not committed to, Lencioni argues. Rather we passively sabotage. He vividly describes it as ‘doing a task with alligator arms’ (ie small and fiddly and ineffective). See the video below at 23 minutes:



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God didn’t choose a random nation he created one

In question time at this year's Tasmanian MYC, my colleague Sam Green gave a great answer to a question about Israel. 

Often we ask 'Why did God choose one nation among many? Why did he choose only one nation?" and so on.

It is true that God speaks of Israel as 'a chosen nation'. And there are many answers to this question of why he chose this nation and only this nation. The LORD clearly says it's not becasue they were great or wise, but simply because he chose to show his favour to them.

But Sam pointed out that in the first place, God didn't choose a nation at random among many existing nations. Rather, he CREATED a new nation out of his promise to the one man (and him nearly dead): Abraham.

So it's not that God chose a nation, God made a new nation of his very own. He created something new.

And in this way his election of Israel is much closer to the New Testament doctrine of new birth. And in this way, as Romans 4 points out, the creating of Israel actually gives hope to all other nations.



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Chronic illness and serving God - Charlotte Elliot

At church last night, our pastor told the story of Charlotte Elliott, author of 'Just As I Am'. She became sick at the age of 30 and remained ill the rest of her life. And yet from her sick bed she wrote many hymns for the Invalid's Hymnbook (!) including the Billy Graham Crusade classic 'Just As I Am'. She wrote:

My Heavenly Father knows, and He alone, what it is, day after day, and hour after hour, to fight against bodily feelings of almost overpowering weakness and languor and exhaustion, to resolve, as He enables me to do, not to yield to the slothfulness, the depression, the irritability, such as a body causes me to long to indulge, but to rise every morning determined on taking this for my motto, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.

And her brother, a Christian minister wrote of her:

In the course of a long ministry I hope I have been permitted to see some fruit for my labours; but I feel far more has been done by a single hymn of my sister's



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How a former pastor (or ministry team leader) can stay at their church after a transition

It's received wisdom in my ministry circles for the pastor to change churches when they step down. I've heard plenty of sad stories about former pastors sticking around and there being all sorts of difficulties, until the former pastor eventually leaves.

The same is true with other ministry teams for parachurch ministries and ministry organisations - it is very difficult to make this transition.

And yet it's not impossible for the former leader to stick around and everything to go fine. It happens in non-church contexts all the time, it has no doubt happened historically in traditional churches and it seems to happen a bit in Pentecostal churches.

My personal experience

I have had a positive experience of this change this twice:

  1. I helped plant Crossroads Presbyterian Church. Dan Shepheard join our staff in 2008 with a view to taking over leadership. He worked in 2008 under my leadership. In 2009 he took over senior leadership but I remained on the staff team. In 2010 stopped serving as a staff member and as an elder, began working for AFES, but remained a member of the church.
  2. In 2010 I became Campus Director of AFES Hobart. Samuel Green, who was formerly both Campus Director and leader of the Uni Fellowship ('local'/English first language group), handed these roles to me, but remained the Tasmanian Regional Director.

Both transitions were challenging, but but 'worked'. We went into the change with lots of thought, lots of prayer, lots of communication. And by God's kindness they went great.

For the leader stepping down

Nothing is so serious in the future of this ministry that it justified the former pastor interfering. The former pastoring interfering will always be the worst of two evils.

For the person taking over

Honour and respect the previous leader, rather than seek to conform them to the new way of doing things. Be willing to 'grandfather in' all sorts of exceptions to honour the place of the former leader - especially if they stay on the staff team.

Thom Rainer's advice

This post was sparked by reading Thom Rainer's blog post on the subject. I think we pretty much did everything on this list:

  1. Don't expect former pastor to sever all relationships.
  2. If the relationship is healthy the advantages of keeping the former leader are many.
  3. The former pastor should take an extended break from attending the church.
  4. The longer the tenure, the longer the break should be.
  5. The former pastor should not keep trying to be the pastor of members.
  6. The former pastor should not be perceived to be second-guessing the new pastor.
  7. The new pastor should not denigrate the ministry of the former pastor.


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Ideas for making contacts and following up from ‘Cru’ (Campus Crusade for Christ)

I've enjoyed reading and listening to some material on how American uni ministries have made the most of new contacts in the first few weeks of the uni year - it comes from the blog of a guy named Tim Casteel:

Some things that stood out to me because they differend in various ways from how we've done things here:

  1. Involve lots of local church people to volunteer to help increase your O Week workforce
  2. Have LIVE data entry - so that some people are plugging in details at the same moment that others are making contacts.
  3. Chase a new contact SEVEN times, over the course of a week before giving up.
  4. Hold social nights on campus each night you do contacting during the day - so there is something to invite people to straight away - with free pizza, brief explanation about the Christian group, a testimony etc.
  5. Invite people BACK to the place where you held the social night the following week - and run first year small groups in that context for the first few weeks of semester.
  6. Aim to meet with every new contact face to face in the first few weeks of semester.
  7. Have multiple contact tables all over the campus.
  8. Create a really festive 'party' fun vibe for students and staff who are doing the immediate phone/SMS/email follow up of new contacts.
  9. The role of the staff is especially to go between all the teams and boost morale - reminding them why it's worth it.
  10. Use a brief, simple survey of people's 'Spiritual interest' so that you get Christians, non-Christians, interested and non-interested to fill them out.
  11. Ask 'Would you like to join a group?' and give options Yes, No and Maybe so students don't have to commit then and there.
  12. Have little incentives for people to fill out the surveys - something decently attractive and free!
  13. Ask those who fill out each form to write their name on it afterwards, too.
  14. Provide free snacks and drinks for all those doing the work, during the day.


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Mirrors 30th October 2015

1. A visual journey through the book of Romans, from Lionel Windsor.

2. A survey of Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) staff to student ratio across the United States:

  • % of uni students involved in Cru (between 0.10%-0.60%, but mainly ~0.30%)
  • ratio of staff:total student numbers (between 7000-16 000)
  • ratio of staff:students in Cru (between 1:12 and 1:40)
  • numbers of staff raised up and sent out 

3. I've felt weird about using off-shore virtual assistants, so it's nice to see some Christian, Australian-based options. Sam Jensen is now offering this service. Has anyone used this kind of thing before? I've not yet tried it out.

4. 30 questions to ask your kid after school instead of 'How was your day?'.

5. In this podcast, Thom Rainer interiews Lee Strobel and Matt Mittelberg about evangelism and local church leadership. I love the practical, do-able ideas they give on building evangelistic culture in the local church. I love how evident it is that these guys are just sincerely passionate about evangelism. I love that Lee Strobel sounds like Alan Alda from MASH.

6. Six costs of real friendships.

7. Steve McAlpine's critique of The Suburban Captivity of the Church.



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Renewing an Existing Ministry - Down to Earth Tips

Ministry renewal stuff often focus on the transformative stuff — prayer and vision and modeling and qualitative change. These things are absolutely true. And all these things will help when seeking to breathe fresh life into a plateaued ministry or repot a dying church.

In this post, though, I’d like to add some more hard, down-to-earth tips that I observe often happen in these kinds of renwals. They are the fruit of prayer and vision and all that. But I suspect that sometimes the order can be reversed and these things can stimulate things and so stir up that more ‘soft’ stuff.

1. Work Harder

Seasons of renewal bring a resolve to work harder, even among those who are already working hard. Stagnation is often marked by a freezing of possibility. And so our imagination shrinks. It doesn’t mean that these ministries aren’t busy and people aren’t working hard - they are often slowly grinding into dust!

And yet, those who bring renewal often come in and double or triple efforts. They stretch themselves and those around them. And they also speed up or simplify complicated and demanding things that were previously absorbing everyone’s time and energy.

2. Set a High Bar When You’re Struggling to Get Anyone

The viscious cycle of desperation means that we struggle to find anyone to fill our gaps in ministry, and so we lower the bar of spiritual maturity and practical skill. But if we’re not careful this just makes things worse.

Of course our expectations need to match reality. And yet often effective renewal brings a fresh resolve to stand by values and ideals - such as spiritual maturity and ministry quality. Better to work with a smaller team, do less and do it right, than limp along in compromise.

3. Replace Managers with Leaders

Ministries can run very well with a lot of managers who keep their various responsiblities ticking. In fact the elders and ministers can be functionally nothing more than managers overseeing the meager growth, comfortable plateau or slow decline of their church.

Leaders who bring renewal bring a new role description to ministry leaders. Rather than simply managing activities, running meetings, sending communciations and delivering reports - elders, staff and ministry team leaders are expected to actually lead. This means setting vision, evaluating progress against vision, coaching team members, delegating and recruiting new leaders.



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Mirrors 23rd October 2015

1. An example of in-depth contextualisation and how tricky it can be - why a white feminist decided to stop wearing dreadlocks.

2. "A person gets a flier about Easter services in 2013. In 2014 we forgot to flier that street. They get another Easter flier in 2015. Why do we expct many people to come from getting 1 flier every 2 years?" - Bernard Cane has lots of good stuff to say about diligent and integrated outreach and promotions in this seminar.

3. Brian Harris gives his ethical and pstoral reflections on the same sex marriage debate. The section on James Nelson's spectrum of responses to homosexuality in the church is helpful: rejecting punitive, rejecting non punitive, qualified acceptance and full acceptance.

4. Someone recently recommended this tool to me: https://youcanbook.me/. I've so far found it a really helpful to speed up the process of trying to find convenient times to meet people. 

5. For organising group meetings, http://doodle.com is the go-to tool of choice.

6. Why being a pastor-scholar is nearly impossible. Love the dose of realism here!

7. Dominic Steele has posted all the video interviews he did at last year's and this year's Nexus Conference.  



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My review of The Martian

I wrote a review of The Martian for Gospel Coalition Australia.

Most of all, The Martian is a wonderful celebration of humanity — our ingenuity and resilience. I found the film’s climax infectiously joyous rather than cheap or sentimental. On a deeper level, the film was able to celebrate humanity without becoming atheistic. For all the delicious irreverence and resourcefulness of Watney and his colleagues back on Earth, the script does not push them into shaking their fists at God and declaring god-like independence. In fact the film has some charming displays of folk religion along the way. Not only is The Martian a better film than Scott’s 2012 sci-fi horror Prometheus, but its universe is more recognisable than the cruel, atheistic world of that film.

Read the full review here.



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Christian Reflections Blog Tour Survey Results

I've done the Christian Reflections National Pop-Up Blog Tour for 2 years now. I figured it was time for a major assessment of how it's going and how it could be improved/developed.

1. What I Like About the Blog Tour

I've really loved doing these events - it's been a great way to catch up with friends and supporters around the country and make new contacts. It's also been a great way to see different cities and suburbs.

As the results show, people really appreciate the evenings - so I think it gives people something they benefit from.

And also the events have consistently brought around $2 000 back into my ministry at UTAS, which is awesome as well!

I like how the blog tour connects a bunch of thoughtful, ministry-minded Christians, from a range of churches and a range of ages - both paid and unpaid. It gives all these people a fun opportunity to dig deep into practical ministry philosophy in a great environment.

2. What the Survey Revealed

  • It was eye opening to me to realise that 120 people had attended at least one blog tour event over the last two years! So even though the events were generally smallish (around 15 people) - the overall reach of the tour was fairly broad.
  • 33 people replied to the survey - which is well above the standard reponse rate to surveys like this apparently! So that in itself demonstrates buy-in.
  • People from Brisbane, Wollongong and Newcastle were slow to reply to the survey. Too busy chilling out and surfing I guess?
  • Most people heard about the events through myself or the local hosts (45%) or through a friend (30%) and a smaller chunk heard via Facebook (24%) - 2 others heard via a denominational email list.
  • We got a Net Promoter Score of 21- which is pretty good. Anything above zero is considered 'good' and above 50 is 'excellent' so I'll take 21!
  • In terms of things that people were most interested in for future events, the most significant things were 'Fresh Interesting Content' (81%), Nice or Convenient Venue (37%) and Free book or other product (37%).
  • I gave the options of 4 possible formats - 3 sessions plus dinner for $45, 2 sessions and a light snack for $30, 1 session and a coffee for $20 or a webinar for $10. 53% opted for 3 sessions. 50% opted for 2 sessions.
  • When asked if they would be willing to host the event for their ministry leaders as a whole, 47% said Yes and 33% said Maybe.

3. What I'm Thinking for 2016 

  • A big challenge is to reach beyond the people who already like me or love the events, to people who don't. Helping my primary audience (those who already like Christian Reflections) reach a secondary audience is a really big thing.
  • I'm going to approach pastors about possibly hosting the Blog Tour event as an in-house training event - that way they either pay in bulk for people to attend, or strongly encourage all their leaders to attend. This would guarantee a higher base attendance.
  • I'm going to stick largely with the 3 sessions and dinner for $45, although maybe do the 2 sessions and light snack for $30 in one or two places.
  • I'm toying with maybe producing some kind of mini-book that could be available for free to registrants and then maybe sold cheap afterwards?
  • I may still do 1 or 2 webinars and see what happens.
  • I'm toying with visiting Melbourne again, plus Perth and maybe maybe Adelaide or Canberra?
  • I think Mexican food has run its course, so I'll be thinking of a new food angle.

Open to ideas and suggestions from readers about what director the blog tour could take into the future.



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5 great proverbs on preaching preparation

At the recent Challenge RAW Conference in Hobart, Al Bain shared a great quote from Alistair Begg on preaching preparation:

  • Think yourself empty,
  • Read yourself full,
  • Write yourself clear,
  • Pray yourself hot,
  • Be yourself
  • But don't preach yourself

Have you  heard that before? I reckon it's a very helpful outline. Except the 'pray yourself hot' is a bit odd. Listening to God's word to me gets me much hotter than my feeble words back to God. 

I also think his 'be yourself but don't preach yourself' is a much more helpful maxim than the mildly anti-human lyric from 'May The Mind of Christ' song:

And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him.



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A personal history in books 2: L’Etranger

I read this in Grade 12 French. That was actually also the same year that I became a Christian. I don't think we actually read it in class. I think I just found it in a storage cupboard. Pity. Grade 12 French would've been better if we read more literature.

It's a bleak, hollow book. The existentialist man is just kind of permanently stoned, wandering around disengaged, disenchanted and dull. He objectively observes swimming, his dead mother, annoying bright sunlight, killing an Arab. 

Although super-famous,'The Outsider' never really grabbed me. Much later I read La Nausee by Sartre, and that grabbed me much more. I think the conceit of the apathetic modernist man can make for great novels and films. But it can also be implausible and dumb. For me, The Outsider is the latter.

I kept the Elizabeth College copy of the book and several years later, through pangs of earnest young Christian conscience, I resolved to sell most of my books (to free myself up from worldly clutter) and return those books that belonged to others.

So I met with my former French teacher, Maria Giudici, and told her I'd become a Christian and offered the book back. She said I should just keep it. So I did.



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Helping parents of young kids engage with night sessions at church camp


I heard a cool idea that Hunter Bible Church tried at their church camp this year, to help parents engage in night sessions at their church camp:

  • Put a sheet on each accommodation door with names and ages of sleeping kids, plus mobile number of a parent;
  • Have a roster of 2 roving people who walk between rooms and listen out for any crying/waking kids - then text/call parents.

I thought it was a cool system, that lessens the number of people absent from evening sessions of church camps.



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A personal history in books 1: A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man

I found this on my parent's bookshelf when I was 15. It belonged to my Mum. From the first page I realised this was the kind of book I wanted to read. And so began a love of modernist fiction. My Mum died about a year later, and so this copy is a special token for me, who keeps little memorabilia.

I love the vivid soup of stream of conscious writing. I love the way it captures childhood and adolescence. I love traveling to a this smoky world of turn of the century Ireland.

There is a shockingly vivid and awful (in both senses of the word) Roman Catholic sermon on 5 senses' experience in Hell. There is a striking description of sexual awakening. There is a sustained, pretentious philosophical discussion of aesthetics.

It's a winner. And it won me over to James Joyce. I have since read Dubliners, Ulysses and Finegans Wake.



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Mirrors 11th September 2015

1. Why we fail at family devotions. How are you going in this area?

2. 9 things to consider for church staff meetings.

3. Tim Chester's post on 'Why I Don't Do Evangelism' really resonated with me.

4. Don Carson gives some theological insights to Christian ministry and then applies it in a few ways. Good stuff.

5. Some Uni Fellowship students/alumni have started a podcast, and gotten a show on the local Christian radio station. In this episode they have some good stuff to say about church music.

6. Gavin Ortlund goes beyond the standard blog post type advice on preaching. The item on illustrations is especially rich.

7. I like this diagram about what makes someone resilience, by Beyond Blue. This is a Facebook link because I couldn't find it on their website. It doesn't capture the spiritual side of things, but it's good as far as it goes.



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Caring for the chronically and severely ill in the church

I don't have an answer to this one. But I know of wise commenters who know a lot about this from experience: from living through it, from minister to others, from being let down, and from being lifted up.

So please do comment on the blog or on the Facebook Page. I might ask you for permission to post your comments in a follow up post, too - so if you are happy with that, you could maybe put an asterisk in your comment? :-)

A couple of thoughts though:

1. We could do better. Those who don't fit the model of the 'normal', the 'happy', the 'healthy', the 'ministry candidate' often get overlooked, undervalued, disenfranchised. We need to talk about people bearing up under difficult illness, honour them, pray for them, apply the Scriptures to them in our public teaching.

2. We can't fix it. Those experiencing serious illness suffer in a whole range of ways. Their experience is, among other things, one of pain and grief. One day Christ will return, restore their bodies and wipe away every tear. But now things will be hard. The church might not be able to take that pain away. The suffering person might experience all sorts of pain as a part of their Christian life and church life that can't be fully removed.

3. Try to love the chronically ill the way you love the critically ill. What things do we do for short term emergencies and disasters? Which of those can reasonably be done on occasion for those who are chronnically ill? I know of a couple where one had chornic fatigue. They hear of another person who got chronic fatigue and sent them flowers.

4. It is hard to care for people outside of the normal routines of life. We will always find it easier to do things and love people that fit into our normal routines of life. To love people who are out of our way is very dfificult for people with full lives. This has all sorts of implications:

  • The church needs to work hard to build in new routines and structures to make it easier to consistently care for people.
  • Those who are ill would do well to try wherever possible to fit into regular structures and rhythms.
  • Relying on spontaneous love is mostly unrealistic - 

5. Figure out what things should be done by church leaders and what things by church members.

  • It will be hard for church staff and leaders to meet all the needs of the sick in the church.
  • Set up systems of loving care in the church, so that those who are ill are regularly cared for practically and spiritually.
  • Realise that this 'counts' as church love.
  • Realise that at the same time, the symbolic love from the minister or the elders is still important and powerful, even if less regular.

6. Use a range of media - from physical visits, to emails, letters, gifts, practical help. Think about how you can share more of the weekly church gathering than just the sermon podcast.

7. Remember to support family and carers. Even when we do a great job of loving the sick person, we can forget to support the family and carers. Carer for the severely ill can take an enormous toll in terms of depression, loss, loneliness, fatigue, anxiety, financial pressure and a sense of feeling trapped.

8. Consider how the church building serves those who are ill. What is entry access and disability parking like? Are there places where someone can sit in a quiet? Are there places where someone could lie down if they needed to?

9. Work hard to understand. Ask questions. Be slow to judge. Be patient with 'good days' and 'bad days' and last minute cancellations. Check often to see what will actually be helpful.

10. Keep your promises. Don't talk big and then fail to deliver. Better to offer a little bit and actually follow up on it. In the slow pace of serious illness, disappointements can sometimes stand very tall.



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Growing your church up Part 5: From individualised care to general paths of care

Everyone is an individual and should be cared for uniquely, sensitively and genuinely.

But as churches get bigger and older, the ability to consistently care for anyone at all becomes less. And people can just get lost in the larger church organisation, even if they are being loved by a few people.

And so in addition to the ongoing need for a culture of personal care, systems need to be in place to care for everyone as best as we are able to, in general ways.

Of course this will never be perfect, and it will let people down. And of course we must be willing to allow exceptions to the rule, so that we can treat people as they are, rather than forcing them into a sausage machine.

But strangely, sometimes, in some ways, people are also cared for better by knowing the general path for care. Sometimes its easier to know how to get involved in a community when there are some clear courses or information systems. Sometimes you finally get around to serving in a ministry when there is a structure for helping you do so.



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Mirrors 4th September 2015

1. This piece explores how we are in this weird point in history, where the rhetoric about straight marriage is "Get free from the suffocating confines of monogamy" while the rhetoric about gay marriage is "Eagerly desire marriage".

2. Nathan Campbell quotes from a book that argues that a great need our culture has is to find a good place for intimate friendships that are not sexualised.

3. Does "nature" even exist? is it a helpful category for thinking about the environment? From ABC Hobart local radio.

4. Mick Fanning's sponsors failed by being noticed. It's a funny thing, isn't it, making promotions work properly?

5. There was lots of really helpful stuff for me in this podcast about staying fresh and joyful as a leader over the long haul.

6. Key Performance Indicators are really helpful measures to include in business or church, I think. They just help you stretch, assess, and set expectations. But as a tool for deciding on financial rewards, unless we are very careful about it I agree with Ross Gittins, that is dumb.

7. Signs your success has outgrown your character.



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Email Ninja: A great online training course on the basics of email use

These Tassie guys have pulled together a great online training resource for people wanting to equip their staff, volunteers or workplace in the basic best practices of email use: Email Ninja.

The videos are beautiful, short, clear and right.

If you are personally in an email hell, or you work on a team with toxic email habits, this is well worth the money!



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What territorialism and tribalism look like can depend on context

I was talking with a Christian university student originally from the US about territorialism. 

At his university there are many many Christian groups and churches that respect each other and welcome each other's invovlement on campus. To do otherwise would be awfully territorial and tribal. Rather, because Christ is preached, they should rejoice.

But he was commenting on how here in Australia he often hears people be protective about particular mission fields in a territorial or tribal, as if they own this or that mission field. This seems so bad, he thought. Surely the more people preaching the gospel the better?

I agreed with him that a desperate, small-minded territorialism can be a problem in Australia. We guard our universities or our parishes from outside interference. "If anyone is going to fail to reach this area," we say. "It'll be us and us alone!".

And yet I tried to help him see that that's not the full story. In times of leaner harvest, when getting gospel ministry going is slower and harder, we can also rightly see that new minsitries could disrupt the momentum we've just gathered, divide the small teams we'e managed to recruit. Sometimes the desire to build critical mass among one ministry might be the best desire in a context of harder soil.

I suggested that in such situations, the tribal, territorial thing might be the new, 'competing' group remaining insistent on its own brand. Rather than pushing to plant the flag of its own tribe in the new 'territory', it might be better to instead join forces with the existing one.

So those genuinely keen to reach a uni campus may abandon the AFES brand and link arms with Student Life, if they are already doing a good work. The person keen to reach a particular town might abandon the decision to plant a church and first join forces with an existing Baptist Church that is just getting things moving.

There's no simple answers to such questions, is there?



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A couple of tentative thoughts about gender identity and Christianity

A few people have raised issues of gender dysphoria with me in the last few months on a theoretical level: 'What do you think about it?' 'Will we be someohw less-gendered in heaven?' 'Could you please blog about aliens? Or gender dysphoria?'

I THINK I have only known one person with gender dysphoria. We met outside a cafe one day and proceeded to catch up semi-regularly for a few months.

I am not super well-read in this area, and am keen to learn from others out there on their thoughts and experiences. But here are a couple of things I can think of upon reflection on Scripture and the little I have read/heard.

A couple of Bible thoughts:

  1. Humanity is fundamentally gendered in the Bible. We are men and women. Cross-dressing is condemned in the book of Deuteronomy and 1Corinthians. The normal and good nature of human createdness by God's intention, then, is that there is a fixity in our gender that aligns with our biological sex.
  2. Gender is not the only thing that defines us - our nature as God's image bearers and our oneness in Christ are greater realities.
  3. Gender, marriage and procreation all go together. In a sense even a single person is a potentially-married person. Even an infertile couple is a 'could have otherwise been fertile' couple. The teaching of Christ that there will be no marriage in the new creation, presumably means that gender is relatively less significant to human experience and relationships in the new creation.
  4. The Bible acknowledges the category of eunuch (whether for the kingdom, by birth or by the hands of people) - and so there is a category for a human experience that is less-than-fully-gendered. And so the category of androgyny is easier to find in the Bible than transsexualism/genderism.
  5. There is no evidence I can think of in the Scripture that justifies us as thinking that gender should be primarily defined by how we feel, or the state of our hormones or brain chemistry. Of course that is all very anachronistic for me to say, anyway.

A couple of more practical reflections:

  1. The experience of gender dysphoria, not to mention other conditions of the sex organs, is extremely rare. In that sense this is an intense issue for a few, not a major issue for many.
  2. I want to gently suggest that this experience is, from the point of view of God's creative intent, abnormal. As a result the experience of dissonance, confusion and hurt is a sad reality of people who do experience it. There needs to be love, acceptance, comfort and kindness shown to people living with these experiences.
  3. Not all experiences in this life, whether experiences of gender, sexual orientation or other things entirely, can be or need to be comfortably resolved. We need to also have the categories and imagination and tools to live with dissonance and struggle throughout our lives. Seeking to resolve irresolveable things through acceptance may not actually make things better anyway.
  4. As a matter of courtesy, I would address someone according to their chosen pronoun. I would not necessarily extend to them every other preferred treatment according to their chosen gender - with regard to sleeping or bathroom arrangements... that's trickier!
  5. When it comes to giving counsel to someone wrestling with these experiences, I think a stronger case can be made for someone choosing to think and live as a modern-day equivalent of a eunuch, than to change their lived gender from their biological gender.
  6. I do question the assumption that is often made that the gender a person feels that they are should be the most essential and defining thing about how their gender is contructed. It seems that biological sex is often downplayed in favour or hormones, brain chemistry or personal experience and self-identification. I am not sure why this should be so. Is biological sex a minor thing? What good reason do we have to not make it determinative?


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Growing your church up Part 4: From no reports to verbal reports to written reports

Early on in the life of a ministry things can be sort of dreamt and worried into existence. Motivation, necessity and initiative are often in full supply, and administrative structure is minimal - so things just kind of happen.

Slowly the need to keep track of what's going on is felt, and reports get requested. But these are at first very relational. We invite someone to come to the leadership team to report in person, or we meet with the person over a cup of coffee and talk things through. 

This is lovely and personal and relational. There is much to commend it. But there reaches a point where it becomes destructively inefficient. Leaders meetings can drag on too long, because we feel that once we have invited someone to come and share, it would be rude not to devote a good 30 minutes to chat and pray with them. Or leaders get burdened with so many relational check-in cups of coffee.

In other words, this face to face, verbal report may be wonderfully 'pastoral' and loving to the person giving the report. But they can start to kill the leaders receiving the reports.

Another problem with them is that they make it much harder for leaders to ask hard questions and make hard decisions about the content of the reports. The report is a relational check in with the person, not a careful assessment of the progress of the ministry, with wise accountability. 

From verbal to written reports

At some point it becomes healthy to move from verbal reports to written reports. This is a jarring change:

  • People doing ministry suddenly have to 'do paperwork'.
  • Intuitive leaders and informal ministries have to start giving specific details.
  • Team leaders have to get used to communicating with the leaders above them in a more formal manner.

It is also a change for how leadership team meetings are run:

  • From long, chatty meetings full of discussion, to more formal meetings with a distinct purpose: to communicate, make decisions and build relationships among the team members themselves.
  • From reading out every report at length, to only discussing requests or concerns.
  • From just 'hearing from' other people doing ministry, to giving energy to how to better support them and better hold them to account.

It takes a bit of adjusting, but as long as it is done gently, lovingly and sensibly it is a change that is possible. And actually frees up both those doing ministry and those overseeing the whole ministry from time spent in meetings, to actually do real relational stuff!



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Growing your church up Part 3: Separate the MC from the Stage Manager and Program Planner

I've noticed that in small conferences and ministries, the MC is EITHER an after-thought job by someone who doesn't prepare at all OR they are the person responsible for the whole event, and part of that responsibility is MCing.

But planning the program is a very distinct thing from implementing that program. And the public work of leading that program is another thing again.

Doing events really well - even running Sunday church services, means separate out the Stage Manager and Program Planner from the MC:

This helps us focus on the MC making the up-front stuff flow. They, like the preacher or the band leader, are focused on what they will actually do publicly. Their nervous energy and focus can be given over to that. 

This helps us focus on recruiting MCs who will be best for this role. The best MCs might not be the most reliable and organised to run the whole event. They might not be the most theologically sharp to plan the detailed flow of the service. Or they might be busy people who don't want to say Yes to all that stuff.

This also helps us have a single person whose entire focus is the conception and planning of the event. This  Program Planner thinks and writes the program and then invites people to be involved, finalising the details along the way.

And then once the program is written, the Stage Manager takes that plan and implements it - writing detailed run sheets and oversees everybody. The Stage Manager also communicates with the sound, lights, powerpoint, music - as well as with the 'Front of House' people (ushers, greeters, catering etc). 

Because the Stage Manager is not MCing, they can be concentrating on this the entire event, even advising the MC as incidentals change.



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How to help someone build their capacity - ideas from Simone and two Craigs

Sandy Grant asked on Facebook for advice on how to help build people's capacity. Among many suggestions, I liked the ideas from Simone Richardson, Craig Schwarze and Craig Hamilton, which I repost here, with permission:

Simone's advice: resilience and self-talk

In my experience, personal resilience is a big thing with capacity. And understanding that the way that you (think you) feel doesn't need to impact how you act.

.... A few things that I've noticed that are killers to a person's capacity:

1. not being good at putting the past behind you so wallowing in regret over past failures or perceived failures or injustices or perceived injustices (I wrote this partly about this issue),

2. unhelpful negative and absolutising self-talk ("I slept so badly last night, I'm never going to be able to work properly today")

3. Being in the hopelessness rut where you think that nothing you do will have a positive impact on outcomes.

4. Not being okay in yourself about the things that are outside of your capacity. (There are 100+ women in my church. I speak personally into the lives of maybe 5 of them. I minister to the others indirectly through my kids talks, an occasional preaching gig, chats here and there and through the songs I choose for our church to sing. I'm not Jesus. I'm at capacity. I have to be okay with this or I'll fall apart.)

Craig Schwarze's advice: if motivation and competence are fine, then remove distractions

In my experience, if someone has competence and motivation, then it's usually external factors that are restraining capacity. 

In my field of software development, one of the major reasons people don't hit deadlines is due to interruptions. Sadly, these very often come from their managers! 

Are you giving your staff chunky tasks to do, then treating them like PAs by peppering them with minutiae throughout the day? A lot of my work as a leader is in creating "clear space" for someone to achieve in. That is costly and difficult. But I see remarkable results when I clear away the distractions.

Now, if the person is distraction free and is still not performing to your expected level, then there is very likely either a competence problem or a motivation problem. Are they really motivated? Do they really have the skills they need? Time for some soul searching.

Craig Hamilton's advice: various ways to help people think and learn to be more effective

Great question. This is probably one of the main things I spend my time doing. My goal is to raise up volunteers to lead at a staff level (for us that means people who can lead teams of teams). 

Sometimes capacity issues are external (like sickness, new baby, family obligations) and to some degree capacity is seasonal. But I’m assuming you’re thinking people where those constraints are absent.

Here’s some thoughts, in order of simple/ elementary concepts to what I consider higher-order capacity building. That is I’m probably doing all of these at once but in some ways they build on each other:

1. Urgent/ important matrix

Just helping people come to grips with the distinction between urgent and important is profound. When people understand that doing important things now lessens the amount of urgent things later can be a bit of a watershed. Also having the team understand that just because it’s urgent for you doesn’t make it important for me helps people with the ability to say “no”, which seems to be an issue that slows a lot of great people down.

2. Rolling 6 weeks

People aren’t that good at seeing the big picture, they quickly get sucked into the details (at least the people I work with do). So just helping them with rudimentary planning seems effective. I teach them a rolling 6 week calendar. Get a whiteboard, divide it into 6 squares, each square is an upcoming week, put the date each week starts in each box and underline the current week. Write in the big rocks - the events, appointments and due dates for each week. If there are things due in week 6 you might put a start date in an early week. As each week passes rub it out and in it’s place write the upcoming week (which will be 6 weeks away) in the box and fill in the details. Underline the current week.

This helps people see around the corner and pace themselves and get more done because they’re aware.

3. 1-2-3

In all my meetings we’ll always talk through briefly and write down a 1-2-3 for each person. 1 is one high impact task that if that’s all you did in the next period it would have the most impact and get the most done. 2 is two problems or blockages that you’re currently facing (and the implication is ‘that we might be able to help you with’). And the 3 is the three next concrete steps you need to take, write that email, make that call, find that bible passage, have that conversation etc.

Sometimes what someone thinks is the high impact task isn’t, and I’ll redirect them to what is actually what they need to tackle.

Again this helps people change how they think, from busyness and mindless doing to effectiveness and closing that execution gap between what we plan and say and what actually ends up happening. 

4. Peer-group pressure

If there’s a particular area that I want someone to grow in capacity in I’ll try and get them to spend time with someone else who is good at it, or has more capacity than them. Whether it’s someone from another church or context or ministry. In a lot of ways growing in capacity is about spending time with high capacity people. In a lot of ways capacity is about social norms in that if you spend a lot of time around lazy, ineffective people who don’t do much there’s a good chance you’ll become like them.

5. Focussed energy projects

I get people to think: over the next term what are the 6 areas in your responsibility/ life that you can see if you poured a bit of focused energy there it would have greater benefit than usual? Is there a person, a team, a project, that would benefit from some focused energy. Write those down and diary in some time to put some energy there.

6. Task forces

This is my favourite. If I’ve got someone I’m building up to be a high-level leader, to think strategically and more holistically, someone who could lead over a higher area, when I gather an ad-hoc team to tackle a big problem, or plan a bigger event or whatever, I’ll invite the up-and-comer to that team. Having them rub shoulders with people a level or two ahead of them, be involved in those higher-level conversations, even take on some responsibilities at that level that have consequences if they drop the ball, all that is so impactful and in my opinion is the best way to build capacity and bring people to that next level as a leader. They feel that responsibility, the trust you have given them by inviting them and the self-designation that comes along with that is a powerful internal motivator.



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Growing your church up Part 2: Communication is not the job of the secretary

As a group gets bigger and older, it's hard to communicate sufficiently with everyone in informal ways. Communication needs to be more constant, deliberate, thorough and consistent.

Also, as a group gets bigger and older, vision leaks quicker. You can't assume that people just absorb it from the tight-knit group - it needs to be spelled out regularly. And so communication needs to be richer and more full of the reasoning behind things and the goals for things.

And so that means we need to stop thinking of communication as a 'mere admin' job. Disparaging administration is a great unfairnesss to administrators. But the point is, pastors and leaders must stop thinking of communication as a 'routine', 'secetarial', 'unimportant' thing.

Communication is a big deal. Getting communication right is important. And so leaders need to be more involved and engaged with things like bulletins, announcements, websites, Facebook Pages and promotions.



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Collaborative software and cloud sharing is mostly useless for collaboration

Leaders are often inspirers. And so bright shiny toys get leaders excited. The promise of what a new piece of software, a new webtool, a new gadget can do! O, the possibilities!

And so Facebook Groups and Google Drives and Dropboxes and Evernotes and intranets and Task Management software get used in the hope that we will be able to better plan our services, streamline our committees, better manage our conference, better collaborate in REAL TIME. Remember Google Wave?

But collaborative software is mostly useless for collaboration.

Why?

  1. Any effective collaboration still needs a clear leader/facilitator. Collaborative tools often blind us to this need, so we either have aimless projects that run out of steam, or really one person is doing most of the work, it just happens to be online.
  2. There will always be a significant percentage of people who won't log into the tool. They won't read the notifications. They won't comment in the shared google doc. So it hasn't actually made collaboration easy for the whole group. That will required either extra time, enforcing and training. Or multiple methods of communication.
  3. These tools, although seeming intituitive, always have frustrating quirks. I remember years ago deleting the entire DropBox content of Redeemer City To City's incubator, when I was just trying to remove my local copy. User-friendly is never entirely user friendly to every user, even if the software uses colloquial turns of phrase and has lots of white space in its UI.
  4. Although shared drives in theory avoid the duplication of documents, in practice they end up with duplicated because the drive folders still need curating and tidying and merging. Before you know it you'll have 'Timetable Sunday Franks Notes_DRAFT' and 'Sunday Timetable Frank V2' and 'timetable FINAL notes'.
  5. Collaboration can promote pointless iteration - everyone adds, changes, edits, shitfts, suggests, emails, cuts, pastes. Sometimes one 'point man' who requests and collates data is just cleaner and quicker.
  6. Live shared docs still get accessed at certain times and only rarely get used while still live. They tend to get downloaded or printed. This requires clarity on cut off dates for additions and edits.

Look, this stuff has its place. But largely to enhance good disciplines of project management and collaboration. Without those disciplines in place it is all just a fast, high-tech version of sticky notes.



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Growing your church up Part 1: Move from rosters to teams

As churches and ministries grow older in age, and especially when they grow out in size, changes need to be made to the way they do things.

Some of these things are practical necessities, they just get forced upon you and you have to do it.

But some of them are strategic necessities: you can get away without doing them, but if you do, it's possible that this will reduce the depth, and quality and impact of your ministry. And it's also possible that it might therefore stifle your ability to welcome, engage, edify and train more people. 

So I thought I'd do a little series on a few.

Not Teams But Rosters

There's a good place for rosters. They are efficient and simple and obvious. They engage everyone in doing a little bit so that a lot gets done.

But rosters can be lazy: They stop us from building teams, recruiting people to the vision of that team.

And so rosters can be limiting: They mean we never build groups of specialists who really own their area of ministry and develop it.

Rosters can also simply be wasteful: is it the best use of all these people's time and energy to do all these jobs? Are there a smaller group of people who do it better, quicker and more joyfully? Or are there people who could be paid to do it for us, freeing everyone up to do different things?

So part of growing your church up might be developing an aversion to the 'simple' roster-solution. 'Let's just all muck in and do the job', shifts to 'Who's the best person to get this done?'

It might even be helpful to start thinking of rostering as a 'last resort', to force the discipline and creativity to think of other solutions.



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Mirrors 24th July 2015

1. The Atlantic writes on the rise of women in the workforce, the apparent strength of female workers in the new economy, the struggle of blue collar workers to retrain for the 'pink collar' sector, and the reality that there are now several tiers of the female workforce - women doing childcare and housework to free up professional women. 

2. Andrew Heard interviewed on local radio about Same Sex Marriage.

3. A blog that gives everyday examples of how to be more emotionally mature.

4. The economic cost of hipster gentrification.

5. What makes a woman? The intriguing cultural clash between feminists and transgeder activists.

6. An excellent lecture by Sandy Grant on Same Sex Marriage, with Q&A. I have a lot of time for Sandy - he is intelligent, careful, humble and sympathetic.

7. Steve Kryger is convinced that pop-up web advertising works. But he removed it from his site because he became convicted that it was not in line with a gospel ethic. 



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Different legitimate sermons from the same passage

I preached at a church a few weeks ago and a friend, who was also a preacher, happened to be in the congregation. He kindly offered to give me feedback, which I was eager to receive.

All his comments were good, and got me thinking and reflecting on which ones to take on board and how.

One bit of feedback particularly got me thinking - he suggested an inadequacy in my sermon and proceeded to suggest how I could have remedied that inadequacy: 

'The sermon is addressing the problem of fear. WHY are people afraid? How does this passage address that fear?...'

He proceeded to sketch out a very admirable 3 point sermon along these lines. It would have been great to listen to as a full sermon.

Afterwards I reflected on this feedback - would I now preach my sermon differently? Ultimately I concluded, this particular point was really suggesting an entirely different, and equally legitimate sermon. So while I might adjust my existing sermon a little to include a bit more of this angle, to really do it justice would be to write and preach a different sermon. And in so doing, many of the benefits of my existing sermon would be lost!

There are many different sermons that can be preached from one passage. Slightly different angles, emphases, applications:

  • Spiritual psychology - getting under the skin of why we fear, or how we repent, or what worship looks like.
  • Stirring the imagination - rich illustrations, stories and appeals, which awaken our imagination to interact with the teaching of Scripture.
  • Learning and memory - an emphasis on 'big ideas', catchy headings and neat summaries to ensure our listeners can repeat what the 'sermon was about' straight afterwards.
  • Extensive application - lots of time and focus on spelling out application and calling for those actions.
  • Doctrinal depth - dealing with all the doctrinal points the passage touches on, and unpacking them at length.
  • Exegetical commentary - big focus on context, structure, argument flow and points of difficulty related to translation/grammar/logic.

Each of us have preferences for some of these particular angles. 

But we need to realise no one is always superior to the others. And perhaps we need to branch into some of the others to better round out our ministry.



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Uni culture bullet points from our student president Michael Laws

We have a student executive committee meeting for the Uni Fellowship of Christians once a quarter. The student president's report covers topics like 'Summary of Activities', 'Relationship with students, staff, leaders, TUU, UTAS'.

But there is also a section: 'observations about uni culture'. This meeting, our student president gave quite a detailed list, which is both funny, and also really helpful:

Blog News

  • James Wheller started a blog - http://ift.tt/1HPKxWK
  • Alice Wanders recently posted on being human - http://ift.tt/1LBEoCc
  • Mikey recently wrote on the length of blog posts - http://ift.tt/1HPKxWM
  • The Three Views On podcast is still going strong - http://ift.tt/1LBEoCe

UTAS News

  • First indigenous exchange students have arrived from Northern Arizona
  • Seth Sentry – Strange New Past at the Uni Bar on August 8
  • Inter College Cocktail this Saturday – please be praying for safety
  • Scav Hunt happening now and into early august
  • Fossil Free Uni – Divestment Day August 14

Top 5 Songs This Week 

Like I'm Gonna Lose You, Meghan Trainor Feat. John Legend 

Main themes: Love and The concept of limited time

Can't Feel My Face, The Weeknd 

Main themes: Bad addictive relationships?? Very repetitive, dance type track (I wouldn’t recommend)

Are You With Me (Original Mix), Lost Frequencies

Main themes: Not Sure, again very repetitive, but a much nicer sound

Headlights, Robin Schulz Feat. Ilsey

Main themes: Not getting distracted by pretty, but pointless things. Definitely Christian blog potential

Peanut Butter Jelly, Galantis

Main themes: Not sure (Maybe sex), Most repetitive of the bunch, cool “rewind” sounds

In Fashion

70’s style is back, along with a real push for layering over the winter months. So expect flared jeans, 

repurposed civil war jackets, fringing, and mustard and burgundy tones. Also, I appears that double denim is 

now acceptable again. Despite strong efforts on my part, ugg boots as casual outwear hasn’t taken off yet.

Design News

Amy Rolfe recently posted on twitter that Adobe Calson Pro was a nice font. I agree, but think it’s more of a 

printed book font than a poster font. This whole paragraph is in the font for your convenience.



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Long blogs, short blogs and finding fault with blog format

I think Nathan Campbell's blog posts are too long. It annoys me. But I know he doesn't mind. Of course I normally preach sermons that other people think are too long. That annoys them. But I don't mind.

Here he explains WHY he writes long blog posts. (I'm still not convinced he should write such long posts.)

Reason number 1 is a helpful one:

"Editing would significantly, significantly, change and lengthen the time I invest here that I need to invest elsewhere....

"I don’t edit because I don’t have time. I have a wife. I have two young kids, with another one due in the next two weeks. I have a pet dog. I have a church family. I have a job. Writing takes me away from these things some times. To be honest, I spend too much time here for too little tangible return in the relationships that matter most."

I can relate to that. Not on length, but on spelling. I type quickly and recklessly into the Geneva Push Expression Engine admin portal, which doesn't have an auto-spellchecker. And I normally update spelling when someone tweets me to say that I really should get my spelling right if I want people to take me seriously.

So I apologise and fix up the spelling. But I carry on as before. There's probably typos in this post. 

Nathan should write shorter posts. I should get my spelling fixed up before posting. But we've got pet dogs to look after. And we have persevered in writing blogs for about a decade, when many other Australian Reformed evangelical blogs have died by the side of the road. So go easy ;-)



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Twelve sermon-lectures on world religions and philosophies

This Semester we did an epic series: The Universe Next Door that explored in-depth a series of:

  • religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Paganism, Mormonism, Judaism, Islam),
  • philosophy (Atheism) and
  • branches of Christianity (Protestantism, Liberalism, Pentecostalism and Roman Catholicism).


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Legislation and normalisation

‘If it’s not illegal, then mustn’t it be treated as normal?’

Part of the tricky logic around the gay rights movement for the average secular onlooker is - ‘if it’s not illegal, then mustn’t it be treated as normal?’

Now I think that just because something is a sin doesn’t mean it should be illegal. I don’t think we should have laws against coveting, for example.

But once something stops being illegal, it becomes harder for the formal structures of society to not start treating it as normal. Once arguments against unjustifiable criminal punishments are won, the arguments shift to ‘rights’ and ‘fairness’ and even just ‘reasonableness’.

Our society has decided homosexuality is not socially criminal. And doctors have declared it not sick. And so doesn’t that mean it is ‘normal’ or ‘legitimate’? And so should we proactively talk about it as such?

 

What makes something 'normal'?

What other ways do we have as a whole society for allowing something to be legitimate, while not conceding that it is normal? And on what grounds would we be able to establish such a thing?

The main grounds I think are utilitarian - if something can be shown to be socially harmful it may not be illegal, but it should definitley be stigmatised. If something is not socially harmful, then it can be normalised.

But is that the only option? Are there other ways to build a civil ethic that is neither utilitarian nor religious? 



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Helping gay young people and learning to live with tension and dissonance

Some of the public policy talk around homosexuality and even transgeder is about helping people in deep psycological dissonance resolve this dissonance and so, it is hoped, experience less anxiety, turmoil and social rejection.

The sooner we can help someone accept their true desires, come to terms with them, and be affirmed by society, the greater their sense of resolution and harmony.

It’s a compelling picture, isn’t it? And when you hear stories of deperssion, bullying and suicide among young gay people - wouldn’t you want to do somethin to slow this? And if you have no reason within your ethical framework to think oif homosexuality as wrong, doesn’t this make perfect sense? Anything that can lead to less depressed and dead young people is a no brainer, right?

How do we think about this, as the Christian community?

 

There are at least 3 things we need to think through:

1. How do we help the gay Christian who is personal convinced that homosexual practice is wrong and wants live in line with their personal religious convctions?

2. How do we lessen the risk of suicide and depression among the gay person in our churches who is unconvinced and so chooses to adopt the homosexual lifestyle?

3. What is our input into the wider society seeking to care for young gay people?

 

Some things we could start doing or do better:

1. A cultural of gentless, kindness and sensitivity. A muscular, us-vs-them stance is not going to be helpful to the gay Christian seeking to be godly or the gay atheist young person. Thoughtless speech - whether jokes, stereotypes or condemnation - will be part of the problem.

2. Don’t withdraw intimacy and physical affection - including same sex intimacy and affection, from gay people, inside and outside the church.

3. Making sure we run loving care in parallel to church discipline. It’s very hard for the same person to both conduct church discipline and personal loving care. We need ways to make sure our church communities find ways to do both things simlutaenously but somewhat independently. That is, if a gay young person chooses to leave the church, will there still be loving individuals who will care for them as people, even while there is ‘church discipline’ that recognises they are no longer in fellowship with the church? If everyone just acts in ‘church discipline’ mode then the experience of rejection could be devastating.

4. Keep encouraging our society to talk about the spectrum of options available to a possibly-gay young person. It’s not just total affirmation OR traumatic and ineffective gay-therapy-camps

  • some people do slowly change their experienced orientation
  • some people continue to experience a homosexual orietnation while being able to functionally and ‘successfully’/‘happily’ live in a heterosexual marriage.
  • some people choose to remain celibate

5. Keep encouraging to counsellors and youth workers to give people the ‘tools’ to live happily, healthily with dissonance and tension. ‘Resolution’ is not the only way to be psychologically healthy. Identifying, acknowledging, mourning and putting boundaries experiences of dissonance is also legitimate. It is worth asking:

  • Does ‘coming out’ guarantee a more healthy sense of identity and resolution? Is it possible that for some gay people, even those who embrace the lifestyle, that there are still dissonances in thier ongoing felt experience, that are not just about cultural stigma?
  • Can ‘not acting out’ be a healthy state of mind and being. Can people be affirmed in this path without feeling like they are ‘denying a part of their true selves’.

6. Encourage young people in our churches to have good relationships with other power figures in their lives. It’s not the job of youth groups to make Christian young people sexually literate. And definitely not to help them practice homosexuality in the safest manner. So we need to help all young people develop healthy confidential relationships with responsible GPs and other authority figures outside the church and family.



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Mirrors 19th June 2015

1. A couple of articles that are critical of men who presume to ‘take the lead’ in discussions of women’s right. Gender politics, like race politics is such a minefield. Can anyone get it right?! 

2. We increasingly need to have clear ethics and write clear codes of conducts about evangelism. Here is one by Sandy Grant

3. A fascintating, generous, insight into the Presbyterian Church of America, which indirectly describes different stances on ‘cultural engagement.

4. Along similar lines, Steve McAlpine has written a post that went a little bit ‘viral’ [:-P] on how our role in Australian society is shifting, and the ‘missional’ approach isn’t ready for it. The prose is wonderful, some of the insights are spot on, even if their biblical ‘models’ and either/or’s are a bit overdrawn. 



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Gender difference, equality, power, representation and social problem solving

Did you hear about the brouhaha in Tasmania over the short-lived appointment of a man to be women’s officer of the Tasmanian University Union? Here’s one article that argues strongly against the appointment.

 

Gender equality, equivalence, discriminiation and representation

It’s an odd area of political life in Australia. On the one hand there are strong forces to argue for equality and even equivalence. Gender should not influence social relationships, working realtionships, sexual behaviour etc. All these things are constructed and fluid.

But in practice, feminism wants to defend and empower women as women. Women in many contexts suffer and miss out. To redress this, requires women to be defined distinctly and defended uniquely. And this is best done when women represent women. It’s a discrimination for the goal of equality. And so it creates a strange tension.

Of course power and male privilege is deceptive and manipulative and ubiquitous. So we need to counteract that, to ensure genuine female empowerment. But does this doom us to never achieve equality? Will there come a day when it’s not needed? And will the means, of distinct female representation inevitably mean there will be equivalence - not that this is necessarily a bad thing? It’s always the problem of affirmative action, isn’t it?

 

Gender difference and male privilege

I definitely think there is more to be gained for women by seeing women as different than men, and then seeking to support and empower them given those differences. But this is tricky. Because ‘difference’ can so quickly lead to discrimination and disempowerment.

And it’s tricky if MEN talk about the difference. Because how can we be sure that men aren’t using it, whether intentionally or pre-reflectively to reinforce their male privilege

But to be real, genuine gender difference must be objective. And if it is objective, it must, in principle, be acacessible to both men and women. And if we are too suspicious of power, and especially male power, then genuine difference cannot be actually affirmed, because it cannot be talked about by everyone.

 

Gender difference, problem solving and unique experiences of life

I fear that looking for a ‘solution’ to women’s experience in the world, is that we seek to change differences inherent in a woman’s experience in the world and so ‘solve’ the ‘problems’ of women’s experience in the world. 

Is there not a way to ‘understsanding’ and ‘embrace’ women’s experiences in their differentness. Not to restrict women, but to empower them within these experiences. So the fact that children, or the possibliity of children can give women’s lives and careers an episodic quality is not a ‘problem’. Nor is the fact that their relationships with men will always involve the reality and or possilbity of sexual desire is not a ‘problem’. And women being in general less physically strong than men is not a ‘problem’.

These things can cretae massive problems: unimaginitive lack of flexibility and opportunity in the workforce, sexual objectification and harrassmanet, domestic violence, respectively. And we should guard against these. But the experiences in the previous paragraph are not ‘problems’ themselves. But they are also realities that need to be lived through, embraced even, as a uniquely female experience of the world.



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Support my missionary work on campus in Tasmania

In addition to writing Christian Reflections and being involved in church planting work through Vision 100 and Geneva, I also lead a team of evangelists, employed by AFES at the University of Tasmania.

We have two local groups:

  1. FOCUS which works with international students, especially from Korean and China and
  2. University Fellowship of Christians with local students and those with English as first (or fluent) language.

We fund this work mainly through the financial and prayer partnership of UTAS students, faculty, grads and local churches.

But we also need the support of other visionary givers who are keen to invest in kingdom work.

I'd love your support! 

If you enjoy the Christian Reflections blog, and know and like what you know of my ministry, then I'd love to invite you to either become a regular supporter, or make a once off contribution.

Even pledging $5 a week or giving $100 once off would make a big difference. 

Donations can be made online at http://ift.tt/1kdO4GE



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Guest blogger: evangelism to mainland Chinese international students

Thanks to my colleague and friend Luke Hansard for writing some articles for Christian Reflections. Luke will be talking about his ministry at FOCUS UTAS:

Most of our international students are Chinese. When you have a majority of mainland Chinese they slowly but surely drive the other nationalities away. We call ourselves International and we want to be… but in reality… we’re Chinese with a few other countries thrown in…

Over the past seven years I’ve slowly come to realise:

  • They aren’t atheists: Confucius said things like “Respect gods and keep away from them.”and…..”If we cannot understand life and how to live, how can we know what happens after life?” While they wouldn't say they got it from Confucius Ive heard them speak in similar ways.
  • They’re modernists: this is quite fun and makes my ministry much less complicated; things are black and white; how can I believe in God?: can science and God co-exist?; what about other religions? what about my ancestors?
  • They don’t have community events: I’m led to believe they just don’t have them back in China. Well, Ive heard of ball room dancing for the elderly and such, but events for young people are rare if nonexistent.
  • They’re all on a production line: study accounting (thats the best way to get a job, PR and money) get a job, make money, send money back to mum and dad, move back to China, get a job, married, get kids, send kids to Tasmania to study…. This means it can be hard to get them to look up and around themselves. Where does God fit into things? Why should I care? I know what I’m here for and I’ve just got to get it done.

On what I’d love:

  • To speak Mandarin or employ a Mandarin version of myself. 
  • A Chinese church of mainland Chinese to have a close relationship with us without compromising the precious relationship I have with churches around Tasmania and Sydney.

Would you like to work with FOCUS TAS? email luke@focustas.org for more information



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Mirrors 12th June 2015

  1. Five things all pastors should know about their church's finances.
  2. How to love someone with chronic fatigue.
  3. This is a fun article. Things that an American needs to understand about Australian culture.
  4. What do you think of Nathan Campbell's crushing critique of Matthias Media's latest book on homosexuality.
  5. This piece of software is creepy but also pretty ingenious. I feel like I spend a fair bit of time helping helping staff get this right - you write to different people differently.
  6. Tracy writes on how to restart a blog.
  7. How to make meetings effective - minutes and agenda. Yes Yes Yes!


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Historical necessity to modern, Western, pluralistic, secular democracy?

It is so hard to talk about a lot of Christian ethical issues in society and sound reasonable, isn’t it? Many people now seem resigned, and rightly so. It seems unavoidable that society will drift in a way that shrink the place of religion in public life and broadens the diveristy of moral and sexual options. It feels inevitable.

It it/was it some kind of historical necessity? Is it where society was bound to go once the power of the Holy Roman Empire crumbled? Or once the Enlightenment or Reformation took place? Does a pluralistic, secular, modern democratic society necessarily lead here? Is there an irrepressible logic to it? How can you embrace diversity and not loosen laws? How can you allow the whole population to vote and not slowly represent more and more of the population’s diversity? How can you allow religion to be public when it encourages conversion to a singular truth?

I know we can’t really say, since this last 500 years is the only time there ever has been a modern, secular democracy. So it’s hard to know what intrinsic to the model and what’s just part of a set of cultural accidents.

But can you imagine an alternate universe where religion was a more central and envliening force in modern secular pluralistic society? What would it look like? What would Australia look like if the central cultural narrative, values and norms were Christian? How would we have dealt with:

  • increasingly diverse religious minorities among our citizens?
  • increasingly numbers of ‘no religion’ people among our citizens?
  • women’s rights?
  • prisoners rights?
  • loosening unjustifiable blasphemy laws and overly prudish decency laws?
  • the decriminalization of homosexuality, without its normalization?

I feel like without having the cultural imagination to picture this, it’s hard to be compelling in speaking in our world.



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Guest blogger: Preaching to international students

Thanks to my colleague and friend Luke Hansard for writing some articles for Christian Reflections. Luke will be talking about his ministry at FOCUS UTAS:

Preaching to international students:

  • Use different ways to engage them at different parts of the sermon;
  • Use Powerpoint with both text and and lots of pics;
  • Stand in different places;
  • Make them laugh;
  • Act out stuff;
  • Interact withpeople: say their names ask them (simple) questions… if you can pick on people scattered throughout the crowd it makes everyone think ‘no one is safe… i’d better listen!’.

Would you like to work with FOCUS TAS? email luke@focustas.org for more information



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Mirrors 5th June 2015

  1. Things you SHOULDN'T learn from Steve Jobs.
  2. Five reasons your church should be smaller.
  3. I really like Luke Isham's hints on how to approach a ministers fraternal
  4. Female company president: 'I'm sorry to all the mothers I used to work with'
  5. Tim Keller on political theology.
  6. A good assistant pastor is hard to find.
  7. Why your millenial is crying. There are two sides to every story!


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I get the feeling that there’s a little trend back to animated websites…

Over the last 10 years, animated websites have been the epitome of kitsch, bombastic and annoying.

But I'm getting little hints that they are coming back in vogue, at least among some designers.

An intersting thought, eh? Do you have any favourite animated websites?



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Guest blogger: the importance and approach of Friday Night FOCUS

Thanks to my colleague and friend Luke Hansard for writing some articles for Christian Reflections. Luke will be talking about his ministry at FOCUS UTAS:

Don't do cold contact evangelism

When we contact the students on campus we don’t seek to evangelise. Im not convinced it would work with our students. They’re always busy going somewhere (never sitting around). Their English is not strong enough for the conversation.  It would be unhelpfully uncomfortable and confrontational (they’ll feel pressured to listen to you- showing respect- but not to really listen to you).

Friday Night FOCUS

Now because we try to get as many as possible to our meeting this means:

The meeting needs to be excellent; better run than most of the events they’ve been a part of; better advertising; better public speaking; really good music. And so a pleasure to be a part of and well worth returning for. We want the only thing that offends to be our Gospel:

  • We have lots of ‘hooks’ to bring them in and keep them with us, both physically (we have had students leave halfway through our meeting) and mentally (keeping them interested/ engaged, awake).
  • of course this is the fun, food and friendship (and hopefully teach from the Bible too) but also… 
  • We make sure students know whats happening, upon arrival, over the evening and that its exciting and worth staying around for. 
  • We want locals there each week; it looks good, they can practice their English.
  • We want Aunties and Uncles there each week; as above only these people are the same people there each week, with grey hair and making the place look a lot more ‘family’ a family away from family.
  • We do lots of different ‘bits’. the meeting is bitsy; the sermon is quite bitsy;… think sesame street.

Follow Up

At this meeting, we then work hard to their details and email them. We invite them to take the next step; join a small group or one to one.

 

Would you like to work with FOCUS TAS? email luke@focustas.org for more information



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Matthias Media’s awesome new book Wisdom In Leadership

Matthias Media were nice enough to send me an advance copy of Wisdom In Leadership by Craig Hamilton and I'm really happy to say it's a great book. I'm relcutant to give commendations for books unless I actually think they are not only true, but also well written, worthwhile reading and a needed contribution. Craig's book is all three. It's kinda the book on leadership I'd want to write if I were to write one. So he's saved me the trouble.

It's the book we needed.

It's an Australian, Reformed evangelical book on leadership with all the little cultural quirks of tone and emphasis and theological focus and clarity that makes it stand out from similar good and good (with lots of theological qualifications) books on leadership out there.

I think a lot of Reformed evangelical stuff on things like leadership can be so so careful to be theologically precise that we spend the bulk of our books and articles laying the theological foundations and then scribble out a few scatty bric-a-brac hints and tips in the final page. This book actually treats the distinct subject of wisdom in leadership with the attentiveness it deserves in its own right.

It's a really big book - about 500 pages - but it's broken down into about a 100 really really short, punchy chapters. It offers meaty theological underpinnings without being so bogged down in being theologically precise that it doesn't give detail practicals. Craig is clearly a leadership and productivity geek who has read widely, thought deeply and synthesised theologically.

You can track my Twitter (look for @ministrymatrix or 'Wisdom in Leadership' or 'Wisdom for Leadership' - #sorrynohashtag) for other reflections on the content.

You can go here to get Matthias Media to send you 7 chapters for free here.

Or you can come and hear Craig speak at my National Pop-Up Blog Tour events in Brisbane, Melbourne or Launceston - and get a discount code to buy your own copy.



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Mirrors 29th May 2015

  1. Thom Rainer gives 15 ways to take care of guest speakers.
  2. For an odd detour, you might like to read Kevin de Young's review of 'Deviant Calvinism'.
  3. Patterns among fallen pastors: no personal accountability, ceased personal devotions, spending time with another woman (often in counselling situations), thought 'it would never happen to me'.
  4. Is it a bad idea to turn out the lights during communal singing? This article does a good job of listing good and bad things about having the lights off for communal singing. This really is a grey area of theological practicalities, so we must beware of reaching a particualr conclusion about it and then being dogmatic. Personally, I think there is a happy middle ground - lights being significantly dimmed, without being all-black.
  5. Why do women cry more than men? Is it just sociological? Or biological?
  6. John Dickson gives some thoughts on how a Christian should approach voting.
  7. Is it possible to home school if you have a chronic illness? Christina shares her experience in a beautiful post.


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‘Pastoral Care’: How (mis)using biblical words superspiritualises pragmatism

There's been a lot of discussion about how using 'worship' to talk specifically about the church meeting, or singing in church is unbiblical, and potentially unhelpful. It gives the church gathering and the singing more theological weight, and so more emotional weight and rhetorical weight, than they actually have.

Well the same is true of 'pastoral care'. In everyday usage 'pastoring' and 'pastoral care' refers to counselling, caring for people, responding skillfully and tactfully to problems that arise in the lives of people. It is relational practicality. Interpersonal skillfulness.

But when we use the biblical word pastoring/pastoral/pastor... then it sounds more spiritual and valuable, as if it is the higher ground.

So when we say of a minister  'he's not a great preacher but he's a great pastor', or 'he's not good at leadership but he's very pastoral', 'Im not into all this how-to, strategic stuff, I'm more into pastoral care', or 'let's consider this issue pastorally' it sounds pretty deep.

Why not rephrase these and see how they sound:

  • he's not a great preacher but he's great at relational practicalities,
  • he's not good at leadership but he's very skillful relationally,
  • I'm not into all this how-to strategic stuff, I'm more into how-to counselling stuff,
  • Let's consider this issue from the viewpoint of interpersonal issues.

Still all very good things. But no longer the superspiritual higher ground! :-)



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Inner city ministry has its comforts but it’s far from easy

We had Steve Timmis, from Crowded House and Acts 29 at the recent Geneva Multiply conference. One evening Steve spoke on the topic of 'reaching the unreached' and had an extended rant about how far too many church planters are going for trendy, inner-city, latte-sipping hipster church plants. Who is reaching the new immigrants? The rural areas? The housing estates?

There was a good point here. We need to go beyond the familiar and the comfortable and the convenient. We need to be reaching out beyond those who are just like us, to reach those who are different than us, beyond those who are close to those who are far off. I like that very much.

There are some clarifications:

  • The vision to reach the unreached is a burden that lays on us all as a community, not on the shoulders of each individual church planter. Some will go to trendy inner-city areas, some will go to comfortable leafy suburbs, some will go to harder areas. The challenge is on a strategic level and a communal level.
  • Of course if anyone is going to go to harder areas we need to challenge everyone. So we need rants like this one from Steve regularly.
  • The difficulty of caring for some parts of society is a deep and ingrained social issue. It's not just a Christian issue. Or a trendy church planter issue. Or an evangelical issue. Our entire society struggles to know how to reach and care for some groups of society. Of course we should strive to be on the cutting edge of these challenges. But the radicals among us mustn't kid ourselves that we can definitely find a 'solution' to the social 'problem'; and the rest of us need not assume guilt for failing to either.
  • Properly speaking, the suburbs are the comfortable place, not the trendy inner-city. The inner-city culture is often hostile to Christianity and alien to Christian cultural values. Planting a church among pluralistic, libertine, post-Christian young professionals is hardly the comfort zone for conservative evangelicals.
  • Although there may be physical comforts associated with inner-city ministry and less gritty and demanding social problems to navigate, the trendy inner-city ministry often has a greater hardness of heart than some other areas. So the discouragement and spiritual opposition is actually harder.
  • It's just not true that it's easy to plant a church in the trendy inner city. I've seen some trendy inner city churches grow quickly from strength to strength. But I've seen others struggle in the 20s, 30s or 40s average attendance for years. The inner-city brings some big obstacles to establishing a church:
    • very high transience makes it hard to build a critical mass and establish leadership
    • when people get to a more stable phase of life, they often buy and move to the suburbs
    • high costs of living, hiring etc


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