The Ongoing Crucifixion of Rob Bell










I read once that when it comes to issues of faith some folks are ‘pioneers’ and others are ‘settlers’. Some will venture out into new territory theologically and practically, while others are better equipped to protect what is established and to work within what is known.

Rob Bell seems to be a pioneer and one who finds life in places where others where find fear. So for this he gets crucified.

He wrote a book about Hell. He questioned traditional teachings and while he didn’t appear to come down on any one view conclusively he allowed for the possibility of something other than eternal conscious damnation and perhaps what was more disturbing he encouraged people to think about the issue.


He stopped leading his megachurch without a concrete plan of ‘what next’ and he now doesn’t ‘attend’ church in the regular manner. Plenty of us have been there and know that this does not mean we have ‘ditched church’. We have just changed expressions.

But because he was such a high profile figure his choice to move away from the conventional has repercussions and he should be punished.

Then he came out in favour of same sex marriage and gay relationships… But we all knew he was going to do that because he had jumped onto the slippery slope and this was where it leads.

It was strike three for Bell, and rather than respect his theological judgement on this, while choosing to hold different views, this became a point of agreement for those hoping for his downfall. (And it seems plenty were hoping for it.) There was now definitely a common enemy to rally against.

And now we hear he is doing business with Ophrah…

He has his own show – on TV – talking about God. Oh dear. Its come to this. If he hadn’t lost his way before, then now he has completely sold out. He’s hopped in bed with the goddess of relativity and has lost his bearings completely.

Or… maybe as a pioneer he is strong enough to enter territory where the settlers feel at sea? Maybe he is able to move into uncharted territory without a map but with a north point to hold him? We value missionaries who go to unreached people groups, so why not a  culturally capable and theologically astute missionary who has gone into territory very few Christians would ever get invited into.

From discussions with missionaries to unreached people groups in other cultures I know they use methods to communicate the gospel that they do not disclose when they come home because your average evangelical wouldn’t understand and it wouldn’t be worth the hassle because then we would marginalise them as well. So maybe Rob Bell is just bold enough to do his thing in full view. Maybe he has nothing to hide?… Maybe we can’t understand what we see, so its easier to kick him out of the tribe than to trust that God might work in a different way thru this gifted individual.

Perhaps its just plain jealousy?

As I listen to Bell speak I don’t hear him ditching Jesus, but nor do I hear him towing the party line. He often speaks in metaphors and images so he doesn’t please the gatekeepers who would prefer he use more familiar and definable language. In his language there is room for people to imagine and to think, and possibly think wrong things. But given that many do not want to think on these issues or listen to the voices of most preachers perhaps he is tilling the ground to speak of Jesus in a compelling way – as he can do – at a later point.

Then again maybe he is just a heretic and we should stone him to death for daring to be famous, successful, engaging and then to change tack – to walk away from the tangible expressions of a faith that is clearly working and to undermine the credibility of his own creation. Because that is hard to explain…

I understand that some people who were fans of Bell in his original more familiar incarnation may feel a little ripped off now. He was once the person who could say so well what many of us struggled to communicate. He had a way with words and media and theology that was uncanny… and now he is no longer saying the things we would like him to.

Maybe we can get off this guy’s back and trust that God can work in him and through him in ways that many of us would not be capable of.

Perhaps… just perhaps Bell has lost his way and drifted unconsciously into territory that is clearly incorrect and blatantly in opposition to the call of Christ. But perhaps rather than a good ole evangelical lynching, maybe this is the time to get alongside him and help him find his way back.

We do love a lynching though don’t we?…

From the Darkness – a Gem









On Saturday night I watched Calvary, a movie I’d been waiting to see for some time. I’d heard good reviews both of content and of the cinematography of Western Ireland. Its not a great idea to watch a movie when you’re weary because you miss so much – and I sensed that was happening as I faded in and out and struggled to stay with the story.

The narrative is pretty dark. Set in a small Sligo town where the people live unusually immoral and depraved lives, Father James Lavelle is their parish priest and while dealing with his own messy life (deceased wife, suicidal daughter, struggle with alcohol), he tries to remain true to his calling of helping them do the right thing. Its a tough gig and he doesn’t get much encouragement from those he is called to serve in fact they taunt him and sometimes despise him – or at least the institution he stands for.

Perhaps its a reflection of the place of institutionalised ‘Christianity‘ in this secular world?

The movie opens with a confessional scene where the man doing the confessing tells of being repeatedly raped as a boy by his priest. The priest is now dead, but the man has decided that someone must pay for the crimes and for that reason he is going to kill a good priest. He lets Lavelle know he has 7 days to live and then he will meet him on a beach and shoot him.

So the film has a ‘passion’ type flavour as we count down the days, but is laden with despair as we see Lavelle do the rounds of his parish, both struggling with how to escape his fate, yet also trying to help his people.

There is a lot of murky grey in this film – Lavelle is both a Christ figure but also a visibly broken and flawed man – and while its cast as a black comedy it is definitely more dark than comedic.

One of the shining moments is when he is called to give the last rites to a man who has been seriously hurt in a car accident. The French tourist is in hospital on life support with his wife by his side as a result of a head on collision with 4 local young people all intoxicated.

Its a tragedy and Lavelle enters to console the wife and farewell the husband. He administers the last rites and then speaks with the wife acknowledging that its usually older people he does this sacrament with and in the case of younger people it is seen as very unfair.

Speaking of people who encounter tragic loss Lavelle says: ‘They curse God. They curse their fellow man. They lose their faith in some cases’.

The wife looks at him quizzically: ‘They lose their faith? It must not have been much of a faith to begin with if it is so easy for them to lose it’

Lavelle replies: ‘What is faith for most people? Its the fear of death. Nothing more than that. If that’s all it is its very easy to lose.’

The conversation continues…

Lavelle: “He was a good man, your husband?”

Teresa: “Yes. He was a good man. We had a very good life together. We loved each other very much. And now… he has gone. And that is not unfair. That is just what happened. But many people don’t live good lives. They don’t feel love. That is why it’s unfair. I feel sorry for them.”

So there’s a perspective changer. In the midst of a dark, cynical story that focuses primarily on the failure of faith, there is someone who is able to see things differently. There is a person of faith who can see differently and remain true when others have given up or when the opportunity is there to walk away.

Teresa questions the integrity of a self serving faith and the way we so easily ascribe the evil in our world to God. She strongly and gently offers a different perspective and in that moment there is a light in the darkness.




When You Suck at Being a Christian


In church we have been working our way thru the book of Nehemiah and chances are if I asked you what its about you’d say what everyone says; ‘a bunch of people building a wall.’

If like me you have always read it to ch 6 or 7 and then shut the book because the lists of names that follow bore you to tears, then chances are you missed out on the utterly disturbing contents of ch 13.

You see Nehemiah and crew build the wall, get it all done despite serious opposition and then when its finished the people gather to hear Ezra read the law and teach. They weep and mourn for the way their lives have been so far from the mark. There is genuine sorrow.

In ch 9 there is a long prayer that begins with worship, confession and repentance and then moves into recounting God’s faithfulness over many years as they have cycled through periods of rebellion, disobedience and punishment, before being rescued by God and then choosing to live in alignment with him again.

In their prayer they describe this cycle several times over before saying ‘NO MORE!  NEVER AGAIN!’

And they then recommit themselves:

  • not to marry foreign women
  • to keep the Sabbath
  • to honour the jubilee year every seven years
  • to keep the temple holy
  • pay first fruits offerings and a bunch of other laws.

Essentially they say we want to do life right again. We want to realign with what you have called us to.

So I’m guessing they get rolling with the new plan, but in Ch 13 we read of Nehemiah going back to his job with the king for a couple of years before returning to Jerusalem to check in on how things are going.

And they are ugly… butt ugly!

In ‘The Message’ Petersen describes the situation well and captures Nehemiah’s rage as essentially the people have lost their way (yet again) and completely gone against everything they said they would do.

How does that happen?…

This is not an encouraging chapter for those of us who lead Christian communities… seriously… As I read this i begin to lose hope. It seems to be saying that despite what we may think of our ability to be faithful, communities cycle through periods of commitment, blessing, rebellion, before finally reaching such a low ebb that return again to God. I’m not sure how this works in an individualistic culture – and I’m not sure it does at all. But for these folks they seem to be caught in a cycle and despite their best intentions they can’t get out.

What I observe is that sometimes people get to the ‘rebellion/disobedience’ stage and this is where they can lose their way. After a few cycles of this you begin to think ‘hey I suck at ‘Christianity.’ I should just give it away and do something I am better at…’ I wonder how many people eventually give up because they just can’t ‘cut it’.

So there are a few ways we can go at this point – either we give up because we can’t do it, or maybe we try harder… or… maybe this is where we get the point.

Maybe this is where we encounter God’s love, grace and forgiveness and get energised in a different way to keep going. If its just down to me steeling myself and white knuckling my way back into it then the game is over. Because sooner or later I fail yet again.

But if we can encounter God at this point and experience grace and forgiveness then maybe we get re-wired away from our best efforts and back into responding to him from love.

Every time we fail we move in a direction according to how we respond. Some – driven by the desire to ‘get it right’ move further out of the orbit of grace, while those who accept their brokenness and God’s healing move further into experiencing the life he has for them.

That’s not to say getting our lives on track isn’t important, but it is to say that if we think its down to our grit and grind then we are probably going to kiss the faith game goodbye because we will certainly suck at it…

Sam The Legend…

Power of Words

Last week Sam received a letter from the nice people in a school writing competition ‘Write4fun’, advising him has been selected for publication in their upcoming book! He was so excited he could hardly speak. This book is available to friends and family at a cost of JUST $68.00!! That’s right just $68.00!! Apparently a saving of over $40.00!! I couldn’t resist the opportunity to write back to them… Seriously – what a dodgy lame money making scam…

Dear Julia

I am writing in regards to the very generous offer you have made to my son regarding the publishing of his work in your book The Text Generation.

As Sam is 11 years old I will be acting as his agent/manager with regards to any matters concerning his writing.

Sam is happy for you to publish his work but he will charge $3999 + GST for this first piece of work. If you would like to use more than one piece of work by Sam or if subsequent stories/poems are suitable for publication then these will be chargeable at the rate of $2999.00 + GST. Sam is excited that you have found his work of publishable quality and we do not want to undervalue his achievement here. (Please note this is a saving of over $1000.00 on what Sam would normally charge to be published in a lesser known work.)

With regard to The Text Generation and any subsequent publications, could you please advise as to how you structure future royalties and the manner in which these will be paid (amount and frequency) We happy to negotiate an appropriate rate commensurate with market standards. Given the cost of the book we expect there will be some great benefits here.

Sam may be available for book signings and personal appearances in book stores depending on his school commitments and the size of the surf / direction of prevailing winds. While Sam is willing to sign books at no cost his appearance fee would be $7000.00 + GST for each in store visit. I’m sure you will see this as value for money in the promotion of your work.

I note you have given the option of a photo/dedication to be located alongside the story, but at an additional cost of $27.00. It is our policy not to release photos of Sam for less than $2000.00+ GST per image. If you would like yourself to be included in the photo then we can do this also at an additional cost ($1350.00 + GST/additional person)

Please let us know how you wish to proceed and I will then forward our bank details so you can make payment for the options that best suit.

Yours in anticipation

Andrew Hamilton

(Surfer Sam Publications)

When Youth Pastors Lead Churches







Is youth ministry a good preparation for leading a church?


There are certainly some transferable skills and there is a level of preparation that is inevitable, but lately I’ve been wondering if some of what happens in youth ministry actually works against preparing someone for work with older folks.
Adults are a whole different beast to young people and if you try and lead then the same way you can expect to experience more than a little frustration.
I remember making the transition from youth pastor to pastoral team leader while in the same church and bringing my youth kitbag to the game only to discover so much of it was no longer of any use. After finishing in the team leader role after two years to go plant a church one bloke had the insight and courage to advise me that my way of leading by ‘driving’ people needed a bit of work if I was to go the distance with adults. He was kind and helpful but I heard his point… ‘just because you call it, shout loud and challenge us to do something doesn’t mean we are going to do it…  in fact chances are you will lose us altogether.’


A different form of leadership is required and many youth pastors who have been cut from the ‘charismatic cool’ mould will need to re-skill and patiently learn a new culture. A few differences I have been pondering :

Young people say yes easily. Whatever the idea…  it’s not that young people don’t think.  They just don’t have the same cynicism and innovation-weariness adults bring. They like new ideas and generally will say yes to a charismatic leader because they want to be ‘on board ‘. Adults…  Hmmm… they make you work just to get your idea heard because they’ve heard so many many before.

Young people have time to burn (often) and they get energy from participating in what you come up with. Adults might buy passionately into your ideas, they may more likely support your ideas dutifully, but only for so long. I keep hearing people say they want ‘young families ‘ in their church, and I ‘get’ that they give the church a good look,  but they are the most time poor, overcommitted group you will come across. If you enjoyed having volunteers coming out of your ears as a youth pastor then get used to working with people who struggle to find time for you. Note: They aren’t bad people. They are just at a different stage of life where expectations need to be adjusted. If you can’t handle that then don’t make the shift.

Young people still believe they can change the world while adults smile, yawn and wait for you to settle down. They have heard the whole ‘sold out for Jesus’ spiel so many times now that it just brushes  past them with little effect. They tried changing the world and it didn’t work. Now they just come to church. Yeah – there are some exceptions, but for many just ‘turning up’ is their radical demonstration of faith.

In youth ministry you didn’t worry about finance because the adult crew bankrolled it.  No one expects kids to be self sufficient, but that game is over now.  If the $$ don’t come in you can’t look away and hope the lead pastor is able to convince people to give.  You are that person now… Suddenly money becomes an important part of the equation and you need to be able to somehow navigate the path between calling people to be generous because that’s good and realising that part of their generosity pays your wages. While I have no problem with calling people to give, the abysmally low percentage of those who actually do has often made me want to give it all away. The 80/20 rule is alive and well in church finances.

In youth ministry innovation and change is normal. It’s expected and young people roll with it. There are very few ‘leading change’s seminars for youth pastors because if you want to change something you simply announce it and do it.  Maybe it’s a little more complicated than I just made it sound but the level of autonomy and freedom a youth pastor has is significant.

Youth ministry is often fun...  no really…  you get paid to have a ball.  I know it’s not always like that but I remember my youth minister days as a hoot.  There can be some awesome times in working with adults but it’s often a bit more serious. Time is precious, the issues are generally a bit more significant and no one really wants to cram another marshmallow in and say ‘chubby bunnies’.

So if you are making the shift then at least go in aware of the issues. When I reflect on my first days in leading adults I sometimes want to sheepishly say ‘sorry…’ because I had little appreciation for the lives people were leading or the struggles they were facing. I just needed them to behave like an older version of our youth crew and when they didn’t I pushed harder thinking that was the answer.

I’m 50 now…

Atheism’s Best Advocate?





Who is the best advocate for atheism in Australia?

No I don’t think its Hitchens or Dawkins…

This week while driving I was doing a bit of listening to Tim Minchin and I would suggest he is possibly one of the most alluring voices for contemporary atheism. His songs are very funny, his lyrics insightful and acidic, even if they are often completely and blatantly offensive. I found myself singing ‘White Wine in The Sun’ this week as I was working, a song that begins ‘I really like Christmas…’ and then goes on to mock the idea of faith and a belief in the divine.

‘Storm’ again delves into the existential/metaphysical but this time from a different perspective as he tells the story of being at a dinner party with an opinionated and naive woman who has some belief in a spiritual (not Christian) realm. The song slowly increases in vehemence and ridicule, but at the same time is wonderfully and wickedly funny.

The good book is a rockabilly style tune that ridicules the possibility of the Bible having anything useful to say to a 21st C world. And so it goes on…

If Minchin wrote of Islam I think he’d likely be dead by now, but seeing as its Christianity (and we can apparently laugh at ourselves) he continues to trot out lyrics that demean and despise.

I’d suggest Minchin is a compelling voice for atheism not necessarily because his arguments are compelling, but moreso because his method of communication is one that sneaks past your defenses and stays with you. Perhaps he won’t unseat many Christians with his virulent tirades, but if you are a ‘default’ secularist / atheist (because you haven’t really delved into questions of faith) in any depth then his songs will affirm what you claim to believe.

Humour and music are a much more potent medium than text and debate and while Minchin does get tiring with his objections, I’d say he has more than likely given plenty of people reason to sign up for a secularist worldview

If I were an atheist I’d pick Minchin as my ‘voice’ rather than the intellectuals as he can be hilarious, disarming and incredibly violent at the same time.













Yesterday in church I felt it important to pick up on the current ‘terror alert’ story that is slowly escalating and generating all sorts of disturbing behaviour around the place.

From a muslim woman thrown off a moving train in Melbourne, to a young girl named Isis who now is in a quandry as to ‘who she is’, to a business named ISIS who now advising staff not to come to work with their uniforms on and are considering re-branding. All of these are outcomes of a media voice that is telling us we need to be afraid and that our freedom and way of life is in danger.

The conclusion we get to led to as a result of the fighting in Iraq is that ISIS are Muslims, therefore Muslims are the enemy. For people who don’t think its a simple equation and the problem is that many don’t think…

So despite the messages from our politicians that tell us to remain calm and treat muslims fairly and kindly there is an equally virulent message that calls us to be careful, to be cautious and to look out.

Leunig summed it up well in this cartoon.



All the ingredients are there to create the kind of chaos we now see around us. So how does a church respond? How do we as the people of God respond every day in the regular rhythms of life.

If offered 4 thoughts yesterday:

1. Pray – I get the sense that ‘our battle is not against flesh and blood’ and it won’t be won by killing more people. I’m pragmatic enough to believe we need to take action to stop ISIS forward movement, but minimum force would be the answer rather than blowing them (and innocent bystanders) off the planet. Prayer also focuses our energies on the things God seeks – his kingdom – his righteousness – peace, rather than on the festering fears that perhaps our muslim neighbours might be terrorists undercover. Now is the time to pray for the muslims in our community that they will be safe and not become innocent victims of a fight that is not theirs, and to pray for the folks stranded in Iraq who have nowhere to run to (especially not Australia…)


2. Love – Dave Andrews wrote a piece about this and I think he’s on the money. Now is not the time to be neutral – to stand back – but it is the time to show love and concern and to offer our help to those who must now live in fear of being victimised. For those who are cautious I don’t believe this equates to agreement with the tenets of Islam, nor is it bowing to ISIS. It is believing that we do not overcome evil with evil, but rather we overcome with good. Try it. Speak to a muslim person and show concern. Smile at them… There… not that hard…

3. Think – I suggested yesterday that we treat the news as reality TV – a story being developed with some element of truth, but only enough to keep people watching. Let’s not believe everything we hear. Let’s be sure to check our sources and think before we forward that email speaking of the ‘slaughter of Christians by Muslims’… Consider what message this sends – even inadvertently, especially when it gets sent on another 5000 times. Check snopes before believing any emails and think twice before accepting anything you hear on the news. Just the other day I stumbled on a documentary about SOFEX – the special operation forces expo held in Jordan where the latest and greatest in military hardware is on display to those who will buy it and use it. And with the USA the biggest producer of this stuff it makes you question how viable this massive multi billion dollar industry is if there are now wars in which to use it. It makes you think doesn’t it?…

4. Radicalise – I read an article in the paper on the weekend about the process of radicalisation and how it happens among muslim youth. And as I was reading I began reflecting on that old oxymoron ‘radical Christianity’ (because it implies that there is such a thing as moderate or recreational Christianity). If we can choose to live our own lives surrendered to Jesus and the things that shape the kingdom then we must surely stand apart from our society in the way we love and seek the wellbeing of others. We will be a radicalised, prophetic (and annoying) voice to both the church and the society. Inevitably we will evoke anger, but a genuine expression of faith lived out in society will result in a concern for the other whether they are Muslim, Hindu, Bahai or Presbyterian… I believe one of our key roles as Christian leaders is to keep disturbing our people with the message of the kingdom and to keep questioning our own lives as do that. Authentic Christianity is radical by definition, but we continually need to radicalise ourselves and our churches where we so easily settle for middle class values with a sprinkling of Jesus.

At the end of the day there are significant theological differences between Muslims and Christians and we don’t need to downplay this. We aren’t varieties of the same plant. We are different, and the core difference is in who we believe Jesus to be. But that doesn’t mean they are the enemy… It doesn’t mean we need to be afraid. I liked John Dickson’s recent ‘letter to his church‘ as a way of seeing the issue.

And just while we’re at it, now is not the time to be figuring out the burka issue or to be banging on about Halal. I believe these are valid debates to have and the degree to which Islamic culture is able to permeate our society is a question we need to resolve. If we are genuinely a secular democratic society and Muslims have come to be part of that because their own system sucked, then they are welcome to have a voice and to participate in the process like everyone else. But for now we don’t need to take action that is unnecessarily hostile and provocative.

Fear, Terror and a Bloke With a Pie


Its in the air… everywhere…

And its destructive. Evil even. Seriously…

Last night on our local community Facebook site a woman posted a disturbing message about how the previous evening she had felt like someone was watching her in her home and how she didn’t sleep well. The next day at Woolies a man walked close to her and appeared to be watching her and her children as well. He followed her out to the bakery and stood behind her… At that moment she had an apparition of a dead relative walk down the mall towards her and she took this as a warning that she was in danger from this man…The man bought a pie sat down and ate it, but she ‘knew’ he was watching her…

You don’t come across too many posts quite so paranoid, neurotic and nonsensical as that one, but what was even more disturbing were the responses that followed.

‘We’re not safe anywhere these days…’

‘Oh dear Hun so glad you’re safe…’

‘Take care – our little community isn’t what it used it to be’

‘Report it to the police’

My favourite was from the bloke who commented: ‘Maybe the bloke was doing his grocery shopping, was hungry and felt like a pie.’

Because that is in all likelihood the reality of the situation. A bloke walked around the supermarket on the same day as you, happened to leave at the same time and stood in line at the bakery. That you see his behaviour as suspicious likely communicates much more about you than about him. That you ‘felt’ someone watching you the previous evening and were ‘warned’ by a dead relative doesn’t add to the credibility of your story.

So now its not just the guy giving your kids a push on the swings that we need to be concerned about, but its anyone who happens to be near you on a day when your paranoia is in overdrive?

But this is what we can expect while our media continues to narrate world events in the way it does. Fear and depravity is more likely to draw more viewers than good news and the ‘national security’ story is yet to reach a climax.  Its a great story for drawing a crowd, but the escalation in the current ‘terror alert’ is inevitably going to spin off in all sorts of fear around the place.

When we tell a story of fear we will create a sense of fear. When we tell many stories of fear we can expect to create a culture of fear. So last night’s Facebook post is an expected outcome in this world we now live.

As I listen to the news and the stories that get told I find myself concerned at two levels. The first is for what is happening in the world as Muslim extremists terrorise innocent people. This is a real concern and I fully understand the anger this generates. It is barbaric and nonsensical and needs opposing.

The second is for the authenticity and tone of what is reported. Propaganda is endemic when nations are at war because we need to demonise the enemy (otherwise its harder to kill them). But the narrative around terror seems to be escalating in tone and the language is becoming less peace-focused and much more of the view that we have no alternative, but to fight.

The ‘war on terror’ motif is loud and clear and the need to ‘be vigilant’ is equally loud and clear. But what’s ironic is that if anything were going to spawn even more terrorists then its the kind of rhetoric being generated.

Its also the way to spread fear and legitimise our own innate prejudices.

So don’t be surprised if someone in the shops happens to grab their children, turn and run from you next time you stop and thoughtfully ponder which brand of toothpaste to buy. That moment of contemplation could be the difference between life and death for those standing nearby.



People spend money on what they value and time on what they value.

That’s not rocket science, but its something for those of us who lead churches to consider. When offerings are down or attendances are down people are making a statement as to what they value.

When offerings are down people are saying ‘I see it as better value to put my money into XYZ’, whether that’s a holiday, a new car, some renovations, private school fees or even other mission organisations…  Where we apportion our money is always a value judgement.

Then when numbers are down on Sundays this communicates that people are saying there is more value in me doing XYZ than going to church. So it may be that people feel their valuable time is better spent at the beach, lazing in bed, hanging out with a partner because the rest of the week is so busy, or perhaps taking off for the weekend. But as with money, how we use our time is always a statement of value.

As church leaders we would like people to place high value on contributing to the needs of the community financially, and being part of the community on a Sunday, but what do we do when this is not happening, when funds are low and attendances are down?

I don’t think we berate people. I don’t think we stick it up people and tell them to pull their finger out. That won’t work.

Because it doesn’t change their perception of value.

It just pisses them off and puts them in an awkward place, where they now feel bad, obliged and either forced to conform or in a place where they now worry that they are being frowned upon. Its not a good place to work from.

If telling people to shape up to expectations isn’t the solution then what is?…

Somehow we need to shift their perception of value. It may be that they have got lost in the haze of selfism, narcissism and consumerism that is our society today and they can only see value in what makes them feel better immediately. Following Jesus will be seen as poor ‘value’ for money and time spent. It may be that they need some more intentional discipleship (read ‘teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded’). Possibly in the process of that we will discover that the life Jesus calls us to is inspiring enough to open my wallet for, or that being part of the Christian community is so important and valuable that we will sacrifice other things for that.

The dominant narrative of our culture is a self centred one and it grates against the ‘self denying’ message of discipleship. Our role as leaders is to call people to the compelling and inspiring message of Jesus, to challenge cultural norms and to tell a different story that is more attractive than the one we hear around us.

Is that possible?

If the gospel is really true, if the kingdom of God is our hope and our dream and if we can grasp that reality then I believe we have a story that trumps any overseas holiday, any new car or purely self indulgent fantasy. Reality is its hard to keep the gospel of the kingdom front and central in our imaginations and read junk mail or watch TV… The truth of the biblical message is constantly supplanted with other more immediate sources of hope.

But if its just about coming to church, singing songs, hearing sermons and giving money then I understand why we are pushing uphill. The role of the leader is to help people see the ‘value’ in the kingdom of God – to communicate the message of the gospel and the hope of the kingdom in such a way that to trade it for a thermomix or a sleep in on a Sunday would be the dumbest thing ever.

I just made that sound easy…

Calling, Stability, Selfishness, Family


Its been almost 5 years since we started at QBC and we are now in the process of discerning whether God wants us to stay around for another period of time and continue to lead this community, or whether its time for change – for us and them. I think these reflection times are healthy as its easy for all of us to settle into a rut and get comfortable with each other. Sometimes its good to step back and ask honestly, ‘should we still be doing this together?’

But discerning God’s call is a curious process. It is not as simple as saying ‘God told me to stay/go so that’s that…’

I wish it was.

The previous times we have been thru a ‘re-call’ process it has been with a very different emphasis. In those times ‘pastoring’ was something of a career and my thought processes were shaped by that paradigm. There was also a sense of ourselves and our ministry being assessed and weighed up to see if we still cut the mustard. As it was my ‘career’ I was keen to keep it moving and the discernment process felt a bit like a one way street – we were evaluated – albeit kindly and positively. It didn’t dawn on me that we ought to review the church community as much as they ought to review us. We should have asked them about their intentions and the commitments they were making to us as we stayed. We should have given them feedback on some areas of growth if we were to stay.

These days I am not a ‘career pastor’ and I see the role very differently so I don’t feel like a ‘performance review’ is what we are doing. Rather as a community we are listening to God and asking the question ‘what now?’

As Danelle said recently, ‘If we weren’t doing the review then there wouldn’t be any question about what we are doing. We’d just roll on.’ Perhaps so. But I am in favour of times of reflection and review as they stop us getting too entrenched in our patterns of operation and challenge us to consider the future afresh.

One of the challenges I have faced personally in the last 10 years has been one of moving from a place of sharp vocational clarity to one that is more ambiguous and undefined. By that I mean that I no longer live with the laser sharp sense of purpose and personal vision i once did. Now I have a broad concept that shapes my identity, but the specifics of how it works out are much more fluid. I’m ok with that now, although it took some adjusting to.

Occasionally I wonder if my time as a ‘pastor’ is up. I am curious about what it would be like to not lead a church as we have done it in one shape or form for the last 23 years. I wonder what it would feel like to voluntarily return to the pews (like anyone has pews any more…) and be a member of a congregation. I wonder if I could do it even…

I’d go as far as to say that I’d like to experience it for a time. I’d like to see what its like to be out of the loop of leadership conversations and some of the bigger picture church discussions. I’d like to be a ‘fly on the wall’. But reality is that after 23 years of being a pastor you can’t just plonk back into a congregation somewhere and be anonymous. At least not in Perth. Its too small a city.

One of the complications of taking time out, or possibly a change of direction, is that we love the people we currently lead and they have become our family very tangibly. To stop leading would inevitably mean moving to a new church community to allow a new leader room to move. I don’t think its wise to hang around and believe my presence wouldn’t be a hindrance.

But we wouldn’t want to leave… We like these people, this church culture we have been part of creating and I really don’t like the thought of entering a new church culture which wouldn’t resonate with us and having to start all over again with relationships and fitting in. That wouldn’t be fun at all.

I sense the depth of connection and commitment to the community is a very strong and anchoring factor in discerning God’s call. The impact a move would have on our family is also now a significant guiding factor, one that wasn’t so strong during previous transitions or decisions. Now my kids have friends in the church and they would be upset if we moved, left or dislocated them. And fair enough. Its God calling ‘us’, not just ‘dad & mum’.

So – even if I feel like flitting off to some new project I have to consider that part of the call process is listening to what is happening in my family.

Then this morning I had a conversation with one of our church members about vision. The flow of conversation was urging me to fire up a new vision so that people would be inspired and the church would re-ignite and grow. it has definitely levelled out in terms of numbers and for this person that was a major concern.

I explained that we did have a vision. I explained that our vision has been to lead people to live more Christlike lives, to see their communities and workplaces as mission fields and to intentionally live counter cultural lives that challenge the dominant western values of affluence, busyness, superficiality and self centredness.

It isn’t sexy. It doesn’t put more bums on seats, and often it takes people away, but if you want to know what I am committed to there it is.

I knew this wasn’t going to be considered a ‘vision’, but for now that’s what I have… and I don’t see it changing. In fact I own that more deeply than any building project, attendance goal or new program idea.

In that conversation I knew that the hope was that I would have some more tangible ideas for people to rally around and see as a shared project – to galvanise the community into some corporate action. I am open to those ideas, but I don’t think they are our ‘vision’. They are just things we do to serve God and our community and they can sometimes contribute to our vision and sometimes detract.

Seeing people become like Jesus is slow work, three steps forward and two steps back often. It lacks the visible and tangible expression of a new drum kit. And I know that if we just ‘played the game’ a bit more then maybe more people would come thru our doors… More people would speak of QBC as a cool church and the numbers might jump again. But my heart isn’t in that. I don’t think it ever will be again.

The word selfishness is in the title of this post because some of my reflections on this subject are shaped by just that. Some times I want to slip out of Christian leadership because I am tired of it all. I could do it under the guise of God ‘leading us into a different season…’ (love Christianese…) but truth would be that we were just weary of carrying the responsibilities of leadership. To constantly be the voice that calls people to surrender, follow, give, serve, step up etc is tiring, particularly when it often feels like you are repeating yourself.

And then sometimes I would just like the option of staying in bed on a Sunday, or taking a few weekends away camping, or generally seeing the church as there for my convenience. Pure unadulterated consumeristic selfishness… Its in me as much as everyone else. I wonder if I would still be a committed part of the church if I wasn’t leading it. I’d like to think so… But we do fool ourselves so easily don’t we?…

So as a review approaches and we consider this question we do so without any blinding lights. Without any booming voices or even deep convictions that this is the only place we should be. I think that if its just down to us we will keep going at QBC for a number of reasons:

– we have done it for 5 years and now have relationships and credibility. It’d be a shame to start over when the foundations are there.

– we belong there as a family. It would be hard to see ourselves anywhere else. The culture of the church is as relaxed and easy going as I have found anywhere.

– we love the people there and we’d miss them. I wouldn’t like that at all.

– there are no other attractive options popping up.

– we don’t want to move from Yanchep.

And I think at core there is still a very strong sense that God has gifted Danelle and I to lead communities towards the vision I articulated earlier. We both believe deeply in the importance of forming people into Christ, of equipping people for mission in everyday life and of challenging people to lead a counter cultural life. If you want KPIs and strategic capacity development then maybe we won’t be your people. We’ve been there done that (today I opened a file from youth ministry days with 78 goals in it for 1999…) but if its the simple stuff of discipleship and mission then I think we’re up for it for another period of time.