Anticipointment

July 2012 165

I think I invented a new word last night.

We have two months of holiday coming up in July and August and as of now haven’t been able to decide what to do with it. I normally find that half the fun of holidays is the anticipation and excitement that goes with them as you envisage what you will be doing. Last year when we went to Ireland we felt that growing sense of energy as the dates approached.

But this year its been all a bit frustrating. We can’t seem to agree on where to go and what to do. Its partly a product of having older kids who have different concerns and partly a result of having done a fair bit of travel already. For Ellie being away for two months means she doesn’t get to play netball, go to youth, or see her friends. Sam feels similarly. They no longer see us as cool people they love to hang out with either so two months with parents is a little bit of a drag. We have a good relationship, but that’s reality.

Our traditional mid year break has seen us heading north into red dirt and spinifex chasing some warmer weather and the sense of disconnection that comes with remoteness. But as the kids have got older this has become rather passe and a bit tired. If we had other teenagers their age come along then it might be more interesting, but 8 weeks with just mum and dad sounds like hard work.

I get that. I really do. I began reflecting back to my own teen years and realised we stopped having family holidays when I was about 13, probably because I didn’t want to go. I wanted to play sport, hang with friends and do other stuff that was home based. My parents didn’t push the point and so family holidays ended.

I have a bit of a different perspective in that I want us to do what we can to keep family holidays alive. I don’t think its impossible for us all to enjoy a break together, but we may need to adjust our expectations.

In the absence of friends, we realise our kids need some new activities to spark their energy. I can happily read a book by a river, but they don’t find joy in that kind of a holiday. Ireland was good because we were on the move, seeing new things and meeting new people, but those holidays are expensive… You can’t visit a new overseas venue every year…

So the last few months have been spent tossing around ideas and trying to reach a decision that works for all – that brings a sense of anticipation, but also is doable within the budget.

We have 3 weeks before we hit the road. A week in Exmouth is already booked so that’s going to happen.

After that?…

We’ll see…

 

Worth a Fight?

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Recently my old mate Scott posted this image on his Facebook page and took some heat for it. We had coffee that afternoon and he mentioned to me that he hadn’t seen the words at the top of the image, just the sentiment on the bottom. Maybe he did lose some friends over it. Certainly the comments on his post suggested his views weren’t welcome and a pastor he should know better.

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Then just last week another friend posted a link on Facebook to this article with the accompanying disclaimer ‘No I’m not a bigot’. It takes the other point of view and she also copped heat from people who declared her narrow minded.

It seems that whichever side of the debate around gay marriage you sit on, you risk losing friends. You have to face the reality that your point of view on this one issue is going to bring conflict and possibly even the end of a relationship.

What an unbelievably stupid response…

I want to say ‘Really?… Seriously?… You would dismiss me as a friend because on a non essential issue I read the Bible differently to you?’

This is another in a long line of boundary marker issues that seem to be used to decide who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. In times gone by it was inerrancy, as certain people were demonised and harangued for refusing to subscribe to one particular view of scripture, or perhaps you encountered the same shunning over your views on creation, or women…

These are all issues that can still generate a little heat here in Oz, but let me change your perspective for a minute.

My aunt visited from Ireland a couple of years back and I asked her what was the pressing issue for the church in that part of the world. Do you know what she said?

‘Hats.’

Yep – hats… HATS!

People are fighting one another over whether they keep their heads covered in church… I was speechless, but managed to utter some completely insincere words of concern.

People are losing friends over hats… 

You probably find that sad and absurd. Bizarre even, but in another part of the world that is still more ‘christianised’ than Australia, this is a serious issue.

In 20 years time when the heat has gone out of this debate around gay marriage you will probably view it like you do creation, or inerrancy or gender. Its not that its a storm in a teacup. Its a real question that needs a thoughtful response. We do need to grapple with these issues as Christians, but we don’t need to lose friendships over them.

That is DUMB!

I get the clear sense we would be far more comfortable with a friend suggesting a non-divine Jesus, or many ways to God, than we would be with someone having a divergent view on gay marriage. We could more easily tolerate a compromise to our core convictions than we could someone holding the ‘wrong’ view on a hot topic.

Time to grow up a bit folks.

And – no – I haven’t presented my own view on this issue on here, because I’m not writing for that purpose. I’m more than happy to tell you what I think, but only if you promise not to ‘de-friend’ me…

If that’s too hard it might be time to get a grip of what Jesus said was really important

 

 

 

 

 

Living With Vikings

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This week I watched season 1 of Vikings, a pretty brutal TV series that follows the early Norse invaders of Britain and their way of life. I can’t vouch for the historical authenticity of the narrative, but I did see one element of the story that fascinated me and spoke to some of where I sense we are at today as Christians in this world.

In their first venture west the Vikings looted a monastery and killed almost all of the priests, with Ragnar saving one for his ‘slave’. He takes Athelstan back to his home where he lives with the family as a servant, while Ragnar milks him for more information on the lands to the west. This monk is forced to live as an exile among these violent, pagan people and slowly – very slowly his faith erodes as they accept him and he accepts them.

In time he finds himself so immersed in pagan culture that his previous identity suffocates. He eventually attends the once every nine years, temple visit, a pagan religious ceremony and an orgy of every kind culminating with sacrifice of both animals and humans.

Athelstan discovers he has been brought as the sacrifice, but as he is examined by the pagan priest to see if he has truly renounced Christ he stumbles. He is asked 3 times – ‘do you still follow Jesus?’ Each time he answers ‘no’, but on the final denial he is caught slyly rubbing his wrist and when his sleeve is pulled up a cross is revealed. He is not acceptable as a sacrifice.

It felt like a metaphor of the faith so often observed today. There has been a slow but observable seeping of pagan culture into the lives of western Christians. We have bought western paganism with its consumer Gods and hedonistic life, where new purchases and new experiences are the focus of worship. And in so doing we have lost sight of the call to die to self and follow with a cross…

But when push comes to shove, when life turns to custard, when we lose all hope and our new gods can’t bale us out, there is still a memory… maybe a distant memory of another way, a way that was once reassuring, that once rang true… and we may even be found ‘rubbing the cross’, praying or returning to church to try and recover what has been lost.

I’m still pondering the implications of this as they are disturbing…

Meanwhile for some fuller thoughts on a similar theme see Steve’s two most recent posts on the challenge of the world we live in here and here. Some brilliant thinking here and resonates with what I was feeling myself as I began to write this post.

 

Miss-cipleship?

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Its 9.30am and 15 of us stand around looking at each other wondering if maybe there’s been a secret ‘church boycott’ and other than the music team and paid staff everyone else is staying home today.

‘Church’ starts at 9.30, or so it says on our website.

When you lead a smaller church in 21st C Perth where attendances are now more sporadic than ever, you never quite know what to expect at that time of day. Some Sundays there is a ‘quorum’ – a sense of ‘enough people present to kick off’ and then other days, the sparsely filled room leaves you wondering if you actually should be doing something else too.

I was updating our database today and discovered that we have 90 adults who would call QBC home as well as 76 kids. I had no idea we had that many people in the community. ‘Calling a place home’ is my own way of determining who’s ‘in’ and who’s not – its basically self selecting in that it allows people to make their own declarations of allegiance.

But even then, what does it mean to call a place ‘home’?

Does it mean ‘Even though I’m only there every 2 months, its the only church I am part of so in that sense its home?…’ Or, does it mean ‘I belong here and I am committed to being with the family, to becoming like Christ with these people?’ I have used the normal curve to answer this question in the past, because it is about the only way I can come to grips with the anomaly of home being a place some ‘visit’ occasionally while others see it as a central point of life.

Of the 90 adults in our church, 31 would be considered ‘members’, (a Baptist way of defining who is allowed to vote on bigger decisions). Theoretically members are more committed to the community – they agree to give their hearts, time and cash to making the church community healthy, and generally that is the case. But not always… What do you do when ‘members’ don’t do what they have committed to?…

We don’t push membership, but we invite people into it when they show that they are ready and willing. The number ’31’ reflects the higher expectations and the diminishing number willing to take that route. Some would say we don’t ‘push’ membership hard enough, but seriously – if people need pushing to join up then we are getting off on the wrong foot and we should expect that to show up in trouble down the track.

Perhaps what is most perplexing to me in this scheme of things is the question of how we make disciples. Today I ran the numbers – for the first time in 6 years – yes really – I never count how many turn up as I really don’t care about that stat.

But I do care about the type of people we are becoming.  A more significant question would be ‘of the 166 people involved with QBC how many are on an intentional trajectory of faith development?’ How many would be pursuing the leading of God in their lives and seeking to align their lives with his kingdom?

The problem comes in that this is very difficult to measure. I guess its why we revert to bums on seats as our metric. Seth Godin has an excellent post on the topic of measurement here where he says:

Measurement is fabulous. Unless you’re busy measuring what’s easy to measure as opposed to what’s important.

So true.

We can count bums on seats every week and that will tell us one thing precisely. That one thing is exactly how many people were in the building that week. It does not say anything of the state of their lives, their reasons for being there or their reasons for not being there the following week. It is simply a ‘raw’ stat that we interpret through a familiar and common grid and in doing so we draw some conclusions which may or may not be accurate.

It leads me to seriously question the expression of church we run with. Are we hoping that somehow by attending, that those who have a ‘recreational’ faith will move to a stronger more substantial place of discipleship?

I’ve learnt over the years that church is a remarkably inconvenient form of community. Its probably more accurate to simply say that community itself is inconvenient. In the surf club or the sea rescue group, the expectations are also high, but unlike the surf club, footy club or other more rigorous groups, we rarely call our members to account when they fail to perform, because that would be considered ‘ungracious’ or ‘judgemental’. We just ‘understand’ them… life is indeed ‘very busy’… and people do have ‘good hearts’ after all…

I think at this point Jesus might just call ‘bullshit’. He might just point back to some angular and tactless comments about crosses and dying to self. He might ask ‘what was complicated about the sermon on the mount?’ Which part of ‘follow me’ still needs explaining?

So, are we wasting our time running Sunday services?

Maybe we are.

If the Sunday gathering is an end in itself – if it is considered ‘church’ – then its time to slice it up a thousand ways and say ‘NO!’ If Sundays genuinely contribute to our discipleship rather consumer-ship then we are travelling well. But too often I sense the distinction is tenuous and we may even be losing the battle.

The difficulty with writing a post like this is some folks will read it and feel guilty (maybe even appropriately guilty) and will decide to attend church more often… which would of course be missing the point entirely.  Its ironic that people will feel guilt over missing church, but can live in a state of continuous miss-cipleship for years on end with no qualms. What does it say of our spiritual formation processes and our primary message that people will see absence from church as more of a problem than absence of discipleship?

Feels like its time to rock the boat a little.

Shift Happens

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As last year ended and this one began I had been speaking with  Danelle, the kids and our church leadership about the need for a sabbatical – or at least 6 months off to take a breather from Christian leadership and the daily grind of running a business. I was feeling tired and in need of a break. We generally try to take a longer break every 5-7 years anyway, and as 2016 would be the 6th year at QBC that would be good timing.

However as this year kicked off I found myself in a place at church where I needed to exert a bit more leadership and spend time giving shape to our future. And what I noticed was that as I did this I started to gain energy again. The further this year went along the less I wanted to take a significant break in 2016, and I was finding that a bit perplexing.

It wasn’t just the complexity of re-organising schooling, business and pets for the time away. It was actually more that I wanted to stay. I wanted to stay more than I wanted to travel…Yeah I know… Weird. Over the last few months I’ve articulated this in some different spaces with friends and mentors and what I’ve come to realise is that I wasn’t tired – I was bored and the boredom was expressing itself in weariness. I had got to a place in church life and business where I was on auto-pilot and its not a place where I function well.

I’m beyond constantly chasing a new challenge, but for some time now I’ve felt some dis-ease in my life at its relative ease and comfort. Part of me has said ‘just be grateful and enjoy it’, because plenty of people would love to have my life, while another part grates and struggles with the absence of fresh focus and initiative that seems to generate new energy.

I’m much more careful these days about what I sign up for, so I’m not about to embark on an expansion plan for business, or a bold new initiative at church just because I’m bored. These are all double edged swords. Pick the wrong project and you can end up signed up for misery for a long time.

But it has alerted me to the fact that if I am to have some degree of longevity as a Christian leader then it will involve functioning primarily in the areas that I am gifted in – leadership, communication and mentoring. But more than that it will see me breaking new ground in some way and leading people to attempt what may well be unfamiliar. After some nasty conflict experiences, I think I backed off for a while on pursuing change initiatives because I just couldn’t be bothered with the aggro that may accompany it.

The problem that comes however is that when leading a church takes the form of ‘oiling the wheels’ I slowly begin to zone out mentally and more easily see the negatives of church life rather than the potential. I’d like to think I’m still careful to listen to what God is saying rather than just sating my need for a bit of an adrenalin hit, but I can’t live oiling the wheels.

Conversely Danelle is now in need of a break. It wasn’t so long ago she would regularly tell me how much she loved her life, but in the last 12 months its demands have left her exhausted. She hasn’t said those words for quite some time.

Homeschooling two high school kids is a full time job in anyone’s book and she is committed to doing an excellent job of it, so it takes a significant amount of time. Then she co-pastors with me and while she is only employed officially a day/week she does that simply in admin work, before meeting with people. And her gifting sees her most drawn to people who are struggling with life and require a lot of energy. This saps the emotional tank. Add running a home, overseeing a charity, being my bookkeeper and its easy to see why she needs a break.

She has had some stomach issues (irritable bowel) that she has been seeking a medical solution to, but recently the doc suggested the cause may actually be stress. This pushed a button in her as she allowed herself to accept that life was really pretty out of order and she actually wasn’t coping as she would like to.

So the end result of that is that the kids are going back to school next year – the home schooling adventure ends… They are quite looking forward to it, but I am pretty sure Ellie will come home after one week and ask if we can change back… Early starts, bus trips and homework might just take their toll. Danelle is also going to take at least 6 months off church work, thru to January if not not longer to get her bearings again.

And then we will take a longer holiday this year in lieue of not taking a sabbatical next year. Come July 4th we will hit the road north and be gone for two months. We’ll spend some of it in the north west where the batteries seem to get recharged so easily and also some of it overseas and down south. I have won a trip to Koh Samui in August so we will do that for a few days and then hopefully head to the south west before coming back in September in time for the new retic season to kick off.

That’s life for us – funny how shift happens.

 

Because Posture Matters

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About a year ago we bought some new couches – our first new lounges in over 20 years of marriage and we decided to go for electric recliners. They were on special at Freedom who were having a two for one sale, otherwise I doubt we would have ever considered them.

We’ve loved the new couches – nothing quite like putting the feet up at the end of a hard day – but over the last year as we have held our church leadership meetings in our home I’ve found myself feeling uncomfortable about how they have reshaped the tone of our meetings.

Picture a room of people kicked back with their feet up – great if you have got together to watch a movie,  but not so great for focussing on challenging questions or thinking thru difficult issues.
There’s something about posture that really matters and while we are certainly at the very casual end of the church meeting spectrum, I sensed we were moving to a place that was eventually going to be counter-productive.

So we’ve held our last few meetings around the kitchen table, and it has shifted the vibe back in a direction I would see as more healthy. Prior to the ‘recliner meetings’ we already had a very relaxed and relational approach to meetings. With the recliners we actually didn’t seem to ‘lose’ a lot by way of interaction and decision making, but I sensed we were working against ourselves and ultimately would begin to accomplish less. We hadn’t got to that place yet, but something was sitting badly in my gut.

The kitchen table is less comfortable – no question – but it brings us close together – it is ‘intimate’ almost and as a result we function a little differently again – a bit like a family… funny that…

I don’t think a lounge room is a bad environment for a church meeting. I’m certainly not up for a ‘board room’, but the kitchen table kinda gives the best of both worlds – an attentive posture, an intimate tone and a sense of connection that comes when you sit closer and ‘lean in’ rather than ‘lean out’.

I realise none of this is rocket science, but its only when you mess around with the physical dynamics of a meeting space that you actually begin to notice how it impacts on actual performance.

 

Dodgy Saints

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There hasn’t been a lot worth watching on these cold autumn evenings, but last night we took a chance on Saint Vincent, a fresh  iTunes download and it was really quite good for a Friday evening.

I often can’t be bothered mentally engaging with a complex storyline at the end of the week so this movie fitted just fine. In it Bill Murray plays the role of a grumpy old single man who spends his days drinking, smoking, gambling, living off his reverse mortgage, while avoiding those who he owes money to and hanging out with a pregnant Russian prostitute. As the movie begins he’s a completely unlikeable character, but you don’t find yourself asking ‘why’? You just find him cantankerous and fairly obnoxious.

His new neighbour is a single mum with a young boy who starts a new school, gets bullied and ends up in Vincent’s home on his first day where he is ‘cared for’ until his mother gets back from work. Because she’s desperate, Vincent ends up becoming her son, Oliver’s paid day care provider while she works late to make ends meet.

So Vincent’s method of babysitting involves taking Oliver around on his daily activities – the pub, the track and various other haunts that probably wouldn’t warm his mother’s heart. While the story follows the softening of Vincent’s heart towards Oliver and the quirky relationship that forms, the ‘punchline’ is in the assignment Oliver does for his religious education class on a ‘real living saint’.

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While other kids are choosing the Mother Theresa types, Oliver picks Vincent and begins to research his life, discovering that beneath the offensive and unattractive veneer there is a man who does good, who helps others and who may even be considered a ‘saint’. (I’m not talking ‘biblical’ definitions here so don’t get all theological on me) You’ll have to watch the movie to get the whole gist of it, but for this framing of ‘sainthood’ it gets a tick from me.

Vincent makes sainthood attainable and shows that in all of us there is the image of God pushing out somewhere, making none of us either all good or all bad. Vincent presents as a loser – as an unattractive and unpleasant man with no redeeming qualities, but Oliver is able to see the good in him – able to see the light in the darkness that is so much of Vincent’s life. And in seeing the light he speaks to it and calls it out further.

You wouldn’t want to read too much into a Friday night movie, (because it is pretty lite for the most part) but the clear message from this one is that we need to be able to think differently about goodness and the way we type people as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Vincent is like most of us – a mix of admirable qualities and some that are really quite disturbing. I often say ‘we are all broken – some of us are just more visibly broken than others.’ The fact that you can’t see my brokenness as obviously as Vincent’s doesn’t mean its any less there – its just that mine is generally more sociably acceptable.

So if you find syrupy saints a bit too saccharine for your liking, then maybe Vincent will be more to your taste…

Installing Polyair Bags on HJ61 Landcruiser

* Make sure you read the update at the end of this as well as the post…

Towing a fairly heavy trailer every day I have noticed the saggy butt on my old cruiser and decided it was time to do something about it.

I had some poly-airs on my previous GQ Patrol and they did a good job of regulating the levels when loaded up, so at $275 on eBay I figured there wasn’t much to lose.

Installing looked pretty simple and bar a few annoying inconveniences wasn’t too bad. For those who also find the Poly-air ‘instructions’ close to useless here’s what we did with some pics.

I began on my own but a mate offered to help and skin his knuckles on the difficult to access screws so I gladly accepted :)

To be fair the instructions point you in the right direction but just don’t answer the tricky questions.

So to get rolling we jacked it up, (did one side at a time) stuck an axel stand under and got cracking. The instructions suggest you may be able to use a bump stop, but we found it was positioned too far back to allow the bottom bracket to be fitted.

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The first trick is to drill the holes in the chassis rail. Not too hard but tricky access. Make sure you drill 1/4 inch holes for those bigarse self tappers though because I managed to shear one off first time around and no one carries them. I ended up using a smaller gauge self tapper to do the job and hopefully it will be ok.

The screws go in slowly… Before you fix it in place be sure to connect the air hose as it would be hard afterwards.

The bottom bolts were a concern because they splayed somewhat when seated on the leaf spring but we managed to tighten them up and eliminate most of the angle once the bracket was fitted. They supply you with two brackets, but don’t tell you what the other one is for… I threw it out as it didn’t seem to be needed.

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Once the nuts on the bottom are tightened up (be sure to insert the small horizontal bracket before doing so) you are good to run the hose – pretty easy. I ran mine to the back bumper and drilled a couple of holes there for the valves.

We inflated them briefly to make sure they were running the minimum of 5PSI, but didn’t realise how quickly they went up. I checked the pressure and it was 50… oops… The max is 30 so we quickly let some out.

We ground off the ends of the bolts to tidy it up and then did the same on the other side

IMG_6888 (1)I’ve set it around 18PSI and it sits level but I’ll be experimenting for a bit to see what works best. Definitely a firmer ride and should be well worth it.

It only took 2 1/2 hours so isn’t a big job. But as I said, the instructions are pretty dodgy in places so hopefully this will help you if you get stuck.

 

*Update

Ok – so we did this and had a few brackets left over. I had emailed Polyair and the mob I bought these off to clarify instructions as the ones that came with the kit were pretty average.

It turns out there aren’t supposed to be any brackets left over… So began the task of figuring out what I had got wrong. It turns out the other bracket is intended to sit under the poly air spring and on the top of the leaf spring

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Its a bit hard to see it in this post, but essentially it connects to the circular plate under the spring and then is joined to the bottom bracket by the bolts. Its a much better setup now and feels a lot more secure. It also explains why the bolts splayed like they did… They were never supposed to sit like that in the first place. Polyair could do with sending a photo of the finished set up out with their instructions as I’d be guessing I’m not the only one who has found it puzzling. Anyway problem solved.

 

Because Leaders Lead

Over the last few weeks at QBC we have been teaching and leading the crew in a congregational discernment process, seeking to help people listen to God and hear his voice on a particular issue we are processing as a church. The issue is one where its important that we get people’s contribution, but also their considered, prayerful input, rather than their ‘best gut feel’ when they have a spare moment. Its been good to re-visit this subject and attempt to put in place some thoughts for how we can do this as a church in future decisions.

As I began teaching on this stuff I came to the topic with the view that ‘we need to get the people in the game’, more when it comes to discerning. But the more I have delved into this biblically the more I seen and felt the need for leaders to step up to the plate and offer some clear spirit led direction.

Last week as we looked at decisions in the book of Acts we saw that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to this. We go from the replacement of Judas in Acts 1 with what is in effect a ‘coin toss’, through to the more rigorous and nuanced discernment process in Acts 15 where the discussion revolves around whether Gentiles need to be circumcised.

But what is common to virtually every decision made is significant leadership involvement and guidance. In Acts 6 where they choose a 7 men to serve, the apostles tell the people to do it, but they are then brought back to them for commissioning. In Acts 10 when Cornelius comes to faith and the Holy Spirit zaps him Peter makes a ‘captain’s call’ and declares them ‘in the game’ because of what happened. He acts alone, but not without accountability as in Acts 11 he gets grilled by the rest of the crew.

Clearly when we are leading people we need to meet them where they are at and lead from there – which can be tricky because people are in different places. But one of the challenges in involving others is paying too much attention to those who don’t have enough to say – or who don’t have ‘considered input’.

Its difficult not to be somewhat blunt in saying this, but truth is that some people don’t pray much, think much or take the time to really contribute. That’s how it is… Some folks attend church and that’s as much as they do… Others take the communal responsibility seriously and offer some great insights.

But leaders by necessity as well as by desire, will engage in the processes in depth and as a result their thoughts should be highly regarded. In a culture that has become increasingly skeptical of leadership and of agendas that can be difficult. But my read of Acts suggests that leaders have a prime role in discerning God’s direction and hopes for the church.

What does that mean for the people in the church community?

I don’t believe we ever get to a place where leaders just make calls and people go with it or suck it up. But I do get the sense that if people are going to participate in discernment processes then they need to do so with some rigor, otherwise it can actually undermine the work others will have done. We can’t have people turning up to a congregational meeting, opening the ‘church file’ in their brain and saying ‘right… where were we?…Oh yes that’s right…’

In issues requiring discernment I believe we need leaders to lead and also to listen to those who have taken the time to listen to God themselves. But primarily we need leaders to lead.

Decisions and Discerning

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Lately I’ve been considering how we make decisions as churches. We would all agree that Jesus is the head of the church, but how this works out in practice can vary and sometimes the idea is little more than just that – an idea…

For some churches the orders get handed down from a person in a position of authority and no correspondence can be entered into. In my own suburb the Anglican church ‘discovered’ they were moving premises… 10 minutes further south to the location of a new denominational school, but this decision was not one that the people were able to participate in so its resulted in some ill feeling.

Some churches are known for being ‘leadership driven’ as if this were a commendable characteristic. The leaders make the key decisions and let the people know what’s happening. Sometimes this happens in our community, but its generally related to small administrative decisions which people wouldn’t want to waste time discussing anyway. In other churches staff may be appointed, or other major decisions made without the ok from the community. Then its either ‘get on board’, ‘suck it up’ or go somewhere else. I don’t like that model much as it puts a lot of power in the hands of a few. While the ‘few’ rule wisely it can be pretty innocuous, but when the few manage their power badly, or foolishly it can be devastating. It also means that the largest share of people are being told that their participation is neither required or desired.

The other end of the spectrum where everyone participates does have some appeal, but the practicalities of life and limited time available to be involved means this can be a burdensome and unrealistic solution for a larger group. I think a smaller home based fellowship can operate in this way, but once a church moves into a more traditional mode it becomes difficult.

The ‘Baptist’ way is that of ‘congregational government’, a term that I think is often misunderstood and seen as a synonym for democracy. That’s not what is intended at all and when congregational government (CG) morphs into democracy we lose all of its power and beauty. At its best – and how it was originally intended – CG is the body listening to God together and making decisions based on what is discerned through prayer and conversation. Its not unlike the smaller group option, but it comes with the complications of the larger forum.

Given no system is perfect this would the one I would choose every time. It allows leaders to exercise a gift of leadership, to recommend ideas or initiatives, but also allows people to use discernment in the process. Its a delicate balance for leaders to propose initiatives and to then allow conversation, questioning and disagreement.

One significant challenge of this mode is that a congregation can often abdicate their responsibility to participate (i.e. by prayer, gathering and conversation) so it can end up being an exercise in futility, or a default reversion to old modes where a ‘vote’ is the deciding factor. When the process of genuine discernment isn’t entered into then people run with their opinions, lobby groups form and those with the numbers get the result while the rest are considered to have ‘lost’. Jesus must watch and shake his head in dismay.

The role of leadership in this community is to help and encourage people to look to God for his leading – to guide people into discernment rather than seeking their approval for what has already been decided.

Having said that, in congregational government every person is allowed a voice, but part of making good decisions is recognising that not all voices are equal. Some folks bring wisdom, experience and perhaps even a gift of discernment to a decision and ought to be listened to carefully. Others bring fear or foolishness to their decisions. Some operate from selfishness and their contributions need to be heard in this light.

At QBC we have been trying to move away from the ‘democracy’ concept and towards the ‘discernment’ process, allowing space for God to speak and space for us to listen. But old habits die hard and busy lives are often consumed with other immediate pressing decisions, so what the community needs can easily be relegated to the ‘meeting’.

I don’t have any easy answers, but I have enjoyed the principles and ideas Ruth Haley Barton shares in her book Pursuing God’s Will Together, where she articulates a process for making decisions and actually seeking to hear God rather than the loudest voice or the strongest lobby group.

We’re in the process of some discernment at the moment so you may hear some more reflections on the topic as we go.