The Bunnings Phenomena

Bunnings unveils online shopping — but there's a catch - SmartCompany

One of my hunches over the last 20 years or so has been that the church landscape is shifting in such a way that we are sooner or later going to end up with several very large franchise type churches as well as a large number of smaller ’boutique’ type entities. In my book I describe this as the ‘Bunnings phenomena’, the moment every small to medium sized ‘Home Hardware’ dreads, when Bunnings announces that they are moving into your neighbourhood.

Bunnings are the Aussie Behemoth of hardware and they will not be beaten. In fact as soon as they arrive you can guarantee that your local Hardware store will sooner or later adapt very cleverly or simply need to shut up shop because they are no longer seeing customers come thru the door. In my own community Fred’s Hardware closed down several years back because even the half hour drive required to find a Bunnings was still preferred over local and personal – although admittedly very expensive!

Of course in church land we have similar behemoths who can descend in a suburb with a few moments notice and put on a far better Sunday event than your hack group of locals will ever be able to. And I have heard the conversations that take place when a more attractive entity with greater capacity for service provision lobs in alongside a smaller ‘unbranded’ crew of people.

My theory is that – in ‘churchland’ the big will get bigger (Bunnings will expand relentlessly) while the small will either adapt or die – and quite honestly I pity those leading in the middle sized churches whose strategy is very similar to Bunnings but without the pulling capacity. I have floated this idea for a while now – and seen it happen around me, but recently in one of Scot KcKnight’s newsletters he made some comments on Bob Smietana’s book Reorganised Religion where he makes similar proposals.

Scot writes:

“Consider it the religious version of the Walmart effect that has swept through America – with more and more people deciding to find religion at the spiritual version of big-box stores rather than at small mom-and-pop-style congregations.”

This from Bob Smietana’s Reorganized Religion: The Reshaping of the American Church and Why It Matters, where he devotes a chapter to the current church reality in the USA. The numbers stagger.

First, most congregations are small but most people are in megachurches or bigger churches.

Second, the “median congregation had only 70 regular participants” in 2018-2019, though later I think Bob said 65. Anyway, choose your number. That’s the median.

Third, the average person going to church goes to one with 360 regulars with a budget of 450K.

Fourth, the top 1 percent of churches have close to 20% of the people and resources.

Which means church life in the USA mirrors the social conditions of America.

(I’m not sure how accurately this translates to Oz, but I imagine it must be similar)

Fifth, the megachurches are populated mostly by people who have left smaller churches for the big church.

Sixth, those in the megachurches both give less money and participate as volunteers less. The criticism that megachurches attract those who want the show without commitment hits the nail on the head. I would contend, however, that those who do participate actively in these large churches are every bit as committed and have greater resources for their active work.

Seventh, here’s a big one: the observers of this stuff contend that the shift of church populations to the megachurches is “another possible sign of the decline of organized religion.”

Eighth, the inequality of churches (people and resources) is very similar to the inequalities in the broader culture. “A relative handful of big churches have about half of the money and people,” according to the long-term research of March Chaves of Duke.

Why are people shifting to the megachurches? McKnight gives a few of his guesses:

First, many people have been burned in small churches and are looking for a safe place. (Maybe somewhere to hide is what means here!)

Second, the performance level of both music or worship, as well as the captivating speaking by the preachers attract many.

Third, the resources and the variety of ministries available at megachurches gives people a niche into which they can plug in their own aspirations and desires for participation.

Fourth, the expectations for megachurch attenders are considerably less, if also often nonexistent. Those who participate in mini-churches or small churches are expected to participate, their names and lives are known, and they are under (in some sense) a greater scrutiny about their Christian behaviors.

Its hard to write something like this without putting a value judgement out there – however I realise that is a complex and fraught thing to do. Some small churches are dreadful at making disciples while some very large churches would do exceptionally well on this front.

Perhaps its nothing more than a passing observation – the landscape is shifting… but I don’t think so. Its a wake up call for churches of all shapes and forms to keep our eyes focused on the ball – rather than getting distracted by the competition that is unavoidable when business methodologies are employed to grow brand loyalty within churches.

I have heard ‘Dunbar’s number’ cited a few times recently in discussions around how we organise our church communities. According to his theory, the tightest circle of our lives has just five people – loved ones. That’s followed by successive layers of 15 (good friends), 50 (friends), 150 (meaningful contacts) has been suggested as ideal church size, 500 (acquaintances) and 1500 (people you can recognise) or those you who have requested you on FB 🙂

Perhaps the question we need to consider is at what point does the church function most effectively as the church – and is there a point where we simply have to say ‘no – this isn’t what Jesus had in mind?’

And Suddenly It was February…

January swept by quickly – a mix of lazy days and crazy days as we firstly holidayed, then worked long and hard in some very hot weather. And then it was February… What was it we were going to do this year again?…

I stopped writing ‘goals for the year’ about 20 years ago. It seemed that the goals I set often needed to change mid-course and I achieved just as much ‘winging it’ as I ever did when I was focused and strategic. As a Christian goals always need to be set with a caveat – ‘unless the Spirit sees fit to take me somewhere else’, and usually he does. So now it’s more a case of trying to ‘tune in’ well rather than mapping out a pre-set course.

That said, this year is a time of significant change for both Danelle and I and we have been approaching it a little more intentionally so that we don’t just get swept up in the urgent and the easy.

The big changes?

We are empty nesters – have been for a while – but we are settled into that life now. It’s a big house – with many spare rooms. What do we do with all that space? We are pondering this and the numerous opportunities it presents.

We are no longer paid pastors. Someone asked the other day how it feels to ‘not be a pastor any more’. Honestly… I still feel like ‘a pastor’ ( well – my own iteration of what that looks like!) and I doubt I will ever stop feeling like that. We go to other people’s churches and we notice the visitors sitting awkwardly at the end of the service, so we go and say ‘hi’. We see the needs around us and feel drawn to them. Most of that is good – but I have drawn some hard lines to try and create a new space for us to inhabit. So far so good…

Freedom!… I can’t help but picture Mel Gibson screaming this word in Braveheart 🙂 But we do have great freedom now to put our hand to whatever we choose. Ironically as soon as we choose to invest deeply with anyone or any project, we surrender that ‘freedom’. I know I am struggling to navigate this one as I am enjoying not being tied down – but significant contributions to any task or people requires commitment and the surrendering of personal freedom. If my kids ever read this they will likely comment ‘remember what you used to say Dad?! Life is a series of trade offs…’ It seems to be a theme we wrestle with – you can’t achieve anything significant by avoiding commitment and investment. Hah…

Reaching the End of The ‘retic road’? – It’s been building over the last few years… questions of my own sustainability in an industry that requires a reasonable amount of physical grunt work. My capacity for that kind of work decreases each year – and it seems that the effect of repeatedly working my body hard has taken its toll and is showing up in various aches and pains. But what to do?… We are open to concluding in business, but haven’t seen an exit strategy just yet. And part of me just plain doesn’t want to let age beat me… Actually it’s less of ‘not being able’ and more of wondering about the possible health consequences of another 10 years like this. It used to be that hard work built muscle – but now it seems that hard work strains tendons, ligaments and muscles and I spend more time in pain than I need to. I love the work and the connection with people that it gives me. It could be game over, but we aren’t clear on any kind of exit plan as yet.

Opportunities Everywhere! As I look around I see a heap of potential spaces to invest time and energy – and they all look somewhat attractive at face value. There is so much I’d like to do with the 20-30 good years we have left. But nailing it down with clarity is difficult at this stage.

I just finished reading Tim Costello’s memoirs where he writes of a similar phase in his own life where he finished his pastoral role, but hadn’t found his next assignment. He describes several incidents including a conversation with Jeff Kennett high up in his offices above the city where Kennett offered him a key role in Victorian political life. It was during this period in his life Costello was tempted to pursue a role in Australian politics – but he goes on to say that it may always be his ‘temptation but it is not his vocation’

That was a really helpful insight as I sense there are ‘temptations’ for us in this place in life to pursue agendas that are not vocational and could be a distraction from the main game. We need to make good choices in this season.

That said there are some things I/we want to do this year:

Parents – my mother in law, Val went into hospital a couple of months back and as I write this she is still there. The hospital made the call recently to stop medications (they weren’t working) so Val will go home soon and will be in palliative care.

We aren’t sure how long for, but we want to help Val finish well. She is a great picture of how to die well – no panic – no anxiety – just a quiet confidence as to what the next stage looks like.

I hope I can approach death with the same peaceful disposition. Val is a beautiful woman and has been a fantastic mother in law. We love her and want to honour her with good care in these final days.

Similarly my own mother has fairly advanced dementia and both her and dad are now in a Yanchep nursing home. Mum remembers who we are most days but she is often vague and unengaged. It’s a matter of time for her but again we don’t know how long.

Whatever we do this year must take our elderly parents care into concern as a high priority.

Study – I am going to do some study in the area of professional supervision so that I can be better equipped for some of what I see lies ahead – coming alongside younger leaders and helping them find their own unique way of serving and leading.

Surfing – The year off due to back pain took its toll on my ability to surf. My judgement, my balance and my capacity all took a pounding after 12 months out of the water. I asked myself ‘is this it?… Is this where it ends?…’ Am I just going to be that old guy who hangs put at the beach bit never gets wet?

The answer is a firm ‘no’, When something in your world gives you life then you do everything you can to keep at it. I can’t explain the joy I find in this one activity, so I am giving significant time to go surfing. When the swell, winds and weather line up I will be creating space to drop work and hit the beach. No apologies 🙂

Business Shifts – it’s time to make some shifts. I can’t see how this will play out, but I do know something has to ‘give’ here. The choice is between selling Brighton Retic, restricting my clients to only those I want, or just dropping it altogether. The business has been a blessing to us in so many ways over the years, but I’m pretty sure this season is ending.

Pastoring– Danelle and I are still involved in the same local churches we were leading, but just at a lesser level.

We also want to be available to country churches that could use a hand for short term periods.

Neither of us are chasing a paid gig leading a church again any time soon, but we do want to use the experience we have.

Left Field – recently Danelle and I had a shared experience that felt like a God moment, moving us toward a completely unexpected initiative, but one that would use both of our talents well. Since we had the experience we have been praying and reflecting on how we deal with the prompt. Was it the spirit of God, or was it just a bizarre coincidence?… if you’ve ever had an experience like that then you know the drill.

I guess time will tell as we see how things unfold around us.

So this definitely isn’t the year to be ‘setting goals’. Rather it’s the year to set the sails and tap into the wind of thr Spirit going where he takes us.

You Never Stop Being Who You Are

As we finished in our paid ministry roles back in August this was a phrase I often used when people would ask if we would still be involved in church life in some way.

You never stop being who you are (and if you do then maybe you were only ever paid to be that person…)

We purposefully and intentionally took the last part of 2022 as a break from the things we normally do. It seemed important to do that – to step back from all ministry stuff and make the disconnect real both for ourselves and others. However as the year drew to a close I sensed God speaking to me thru an NBA basketball game – not how it usually happens – but then there isn’t really a ‘usual’.

It was a freaky game, where my team (the Brooklyn Nets) had their top 8 guys unavailable to play – which meant that the bench had to step up and play extra time. As I was watching these ‘bench’ players do their thing and actually overpower Indiana, I was reflecting on how much talent goes wasted every week in that league. Somehow in that moment I just sensed the Spirit saying ‘time to get off the bench.’ 

I can’t tell you exactly what that means (and I don’t think it is anything grandiose or drastic) It was more a reminder that the bench may he comfortable and easy but it is never what anyone aspires to. It’s never where you want to be long term. It is time to ‘get back into the game’ and not waste the gifts we have.

Then last Friday a phone call came out of the blue at around 3pm. Danelle and I were enjoying the Christmas – New Year break from retic work when I answered the phone. It was an aged care facility calling.

‘I’m not sure if I’ve got the right number but we have a resident here who is asking for a pastor to come and bless her,’ the voice said.

‘Oh right…’ I said. And in that moment I thought ‘how are they still getting my number?!‘ I had removed it from the church website, but somehow… She went on, ‘She’s 102 and…’

‘102,’ I heard her say. ‘Is this’E’?’ I interrupted.

‘Yes it is’, she replied. ‘Do you know her?’

‘Yes – she’s been part of our church family for many years.’ I replied. E was there the day we arrived and she was still coming when she could, right up to when we finished. I expected to have done her funeral long before now.

The  nurse made it sound quite urgent – letting us know that we had until 5pm to get someone in there. When a 102 year old is asking for a blessing and it sounds urgent then you just get a wriggle on and make it happen.

‘We will sort something out.’ I said. ‘Leave it with me.’

Then the question – who should go?

This did sound rather ominous, like a person’s final check in, so we realised the significance and gravity of what was being asked. We called some friends in the church who we knew would happily go as they have a long established friendship with her, but they had guests and couldn’t leave.

We felt like (as ‘no longer pastors’) we should offer the request to our current pastors – but again holidays and circumstance meant that they couldn’t drop everything and attend.

‘Looks like it’s us…’ I said to Danelle.’Up for it?’

I think both of us were secretly glad that no one else was able to take it on. Holidays or not, pastors or not, we quickly hustled out the door and down to the aged care centre to see E. As we were driving I was musing on what a beautiful privilege it is to sit with people in these moments – to hear their final thoughts and requests – to help them take their final step peacefully. In my earlier days these moments had me all at sea as I didn’t have the EQ nor pastoral skills to manage the situation well. Not today.

We arrived, did our RAT tests and were walked down to E’s room, where she sat in her wheelchair with crocheted rug across her lap. She looked up as she heard our voice – trying to place who we were.

‘Hi E, It’s me – Danelle!’

E’s face went from curious to a massive smile. ‘And Andrew,’ I said ‘You remember us right?’ She nodded and smiled. We entered the room and sat on her bed close to her wheelchair.

I don’t want to share too much of the conversation as that wouldn’t be appropriate. But simply put this 102 year old lady just wanted to be sure that things were ok with her and God – that everything was forgiven and dealt with – that all ‘the bills’ were paid.

We took the time to assure her that God is waiting to greet her with open arms and that Jesus has made that possible.

Really?..’ She said weakly.’That is really true?’

‘We aren’t allowed to lie E,’ said Danelle.

‘I believe.’ she said strongly. ‘I believe. I believe!’

‘That’s good news hey E?’ I said and as I unconsciously spoke the words it dawned on me that the ‘gospel story’ that so easily runs off our tongue really is pure good news. 

When we walk with Jesus there is nothing to fear about what the afterlife may hold, but only a much repeated promise that all will be well – even if we can’t articulate the exact shape that will take very easily.

E was tired and drifted in and out of sleep a few times while we were there – but we knew what we had come for. And she was clear on why we were there – just to remind her one last time that the Christian story really is good news – that all is good with her and God.

As we prayed for her she gripped our hands tightly and we shed a few tears knowing that this was probably the last time we would she her in this life. 

We drove home in silence for maybe 20 minutes just aware of the beauty of that previous hour, of these moments that are so precious. At 3.30pm we didn’t expect to move so quickly from lazy afternoon to a final farewell, but perhaps this is just one aspect of what it means to ‘never stop being who you are’.

Riding The Clutch – 2022

Riding the Clutch (Is It Really That Bad?)

If last year was just a bit ‘meh’ then this year has been the year of transition and the notion of ‘riding the clutch’ feels like it fits as various ‘gear changes’ are still in progress rather than complete.

Non-pastors – It has been changes aplenty everywhere. Probably the biggest shift was when we finished in our paid roles as pastors at both Quinns Baptist and Yanchep Church in late August. We knew this had been coming and we were well and truly ready for the next phase of life as ‘non-pastors’.

I won’t lie – it has been really enjoyable waking up Sunday morning and knowing that I have ‘options’. We have chosen to stay at both churches, but generally we only go to one per day. When you love the people it’s not hard to do, but equally we now have the opportunity to take a weekend away here and there which is a wonderful feeling – even if we haven’t had enough space in life to take advantage of it!

Final paid gig…

Aussie basketballer, Patty Mills has been a bit of an inspiration to me over the last 12 months in regards to life shifts. Around this time last year he was in the starting five for the Brooklyn Nets and was playing some amazing basketball. Then the season ended, the various player trades took place and he found himself sitting on the bench, playing a few minutes here and there to give rest to the starters. What I love about Mills is that he leads either from the floor or from the bench. He never stops being an encouraging presence and a potent leader. My hunch is that half the reason Ben Simmons has found his way back into the game is having a Mills alongside him cheering him on. I feel a bit like Patty at the moment in relation to Christian leadership and ministry – on the bench, but not zoned out or resentful – just aware that some younger people need to shine and that requires me moving into a different space myself. Just last week Brooklyn had 8 starting player injured or unavailable and Mills stepped up to lead on the floor. He played a cracker of a game, showing that he hasn’t lost the capacity – and given the opportunity he can still do the stuff. I certainly don’t feel our days in Christian leadership are over – we are just in the middle of a gear shift. I really don’t know what form our lives wiil take over the next 10 years, but I am open to all sorts of possibilities

Pain Gone and… back again… I entered last year with really bad sciatic pain from a dodgy piece of spine pressing on a nerve. In February I had an operation to fix that – and it did… Pain gone! Then after 6 weeks new pain emerged. Soooo… disappointing… An MRI shows a different section of the spine that is the issue now. So I have lived with new pain for the last 9 months and am trying various ways to resolve it other than more surgery. The up-side is that I can now surf – it’s just that walking is hard… I’d like to do both…

15 years of retic has taken its toll on the spine

One option I will be exploring is the use of a neuromodulation device that is first tested on you and if successful, implanted in your hip area to negate the various pain signals. I’ve been waiting for the 12 month mark on our health insurance to kick in before I go and get sorted here.

At the end of the day pain is not cancer, MND or anything ugly and terminal and I have been able to work with it quite reasonably so I’m ok – just a bit over it. So I’m hoping 2023 will be the year of no pain…

Business Shifts – After 15 years of Brighton Retic operating as a one man band with casual & subbie help as needed we have moved to hiring our first full time worker. It was a massive shift for us and one that is working out really well. I have lived too long with the fear of ‘what could go wrong’ rather than the expectation of ‘what could go right?‘ As I focus here I see lots of potential so hopefully the years ahead will see retic occupying more of a back seat in daily life, while generating enough income to sustain us.

Up to this point I have still been going hard as it’s busy season and Brett has been learning the ropes, but come the new year we will shift more work his way and less my way.

Brett doing an amazing job!

Back when I started my caravan weighing business I advertised that I also install diesel heaters. (It was a little overstated.) I had installed a heater in my own van a few years ago but I thought it might be a useful sideline activity. Then in April I had my first call and a request to fit a heater. I was a little nervous as I hadn’t been down that path for 2 years – but ‘how hard could it be?’… Right?…

Diesel heaters!…

Turns out its not that hard and when you get the knack it’s a great little winter gig. Usually we escape the cold and travel over winter, but this year we stayed in Perth and I was busy most days with installing a heater for someone. The down side is that I didn’t get to enjoy the ‘quiet season’ and it has meant that this year has been work, work, work… Good work – fun work – but still work. And while I was enjoying seeing the new business spark along, I was also working my body fairly hard rather than giving it a break. I want to keep slowly developing this business, but I don’t want to create a monster workload.

I agree it’s a nicer problem to have – needing to knock work back than chasing it down – but I’m yet to find a pace that I want to maintain.

Publishing 2 Books – I didn’t expect to do this, but somehow its’ what happend.

Finally I got to a point where I was ready to release The Future is Bivocational into the wild. I still remember the day my first box of hard-copies arrived in the mail. It was like having a third child – a flurry of emotion and overwhelm!

Interestingly I haven’t had too many cringe moments – where I wonder ‘what was I thinking when I wrote that?!’ If anything I really feel like I said what I wanted to say and if it has currency, it will get read and accepted. I know I need to send a few to key people with ‘influence’, but I just can’t get on the self promotion trip and tell you how great it is etc.

If you’re interested buy it – download the sample on Amazon – it’s free! So far my Amazon royalties are up to $200 exactly. At this rate the book may pay for itself by the time I die.

While this was the book I had been working towards since March 2020, the other book has been an ongoing labour of love too. For the last few years I have produced photo-books with a range of photos from my yanchepbeaches365 instagram page – and then this year I thought I’d tell some stories as well – short vignettes of where we have observed or experienced the kingdom of God in our local community. It’s titled ‘On Earth as in Heaven’ and only available from me direct or our local cafe (Orion) in Yanchep. I love this book as its’ focus is not thought provoking or cerebral ideas, but very simply beauty, both natural and communal. Someone once said ‘we are the stories we tell ourselves’ so in this book I have sought to tell stories that will give shape to a beautiful, rich community. My hope is that as it circulates our local community and further afield people will be inspired to live more into these ‘stories’.

Travel – After 6 months away in 2021, we were ready for a more home based year. Add to this Danelle had quit work and taken on caring for our parents as needed which meant there was plenty to do. Mum has fairly advanced Alzheimers and while she is a very happy dementia patient occasionally she goes walkabout – so a nursing home is on the near horizon for both of them.

How does this relate to ‘travel’. It’s one of the reasons we have limited our travel. It’s just the stage we are at in life. Even so we did manage a month in Scotland and Italy, travelling to the Outer Hebrides, the Scottish Highlands and then Rome, Florence, Venice and Cinque Terre. Scotland was stunningly beautiful and Italy was interesting to experience, but a little too busy, crowded and dirty for me to enjoy as thoroughly.

Outer Hebrides – beautiful!

But it was a month well spent, frequent flyer points used and an opportunity to see some new places. I hope we get to hop back in the caravan shortly and go do some local travel and on the radar for some time this year is a month in Bali, near a surf break. A year out of surfing due to my back injury meant that as I have hopped back on the board my balance and reflexes seem to have lost their way a bit. My hope is to keep surfing until I am 70 and then take it a day at a time – but I feel like some time spent finding my feet again would be good. So if we can map out a month in Medewi then I imagine it will happen.

Family Life – Our house feels very different now with the kids long gone. We had a nephew stay with us for 9 months, but he has moved back to the north west so its just Danelle and I living in this big ole house…

We have some ideas for the future, but as with many things we are holding them loosely and tentatively. Its not altogether clear what the future holds, but it is nice to have options rather than being stuck.

A Christmas day surf with my kids was a lot of fun – even if there were no waves…

Our kids have both done well with Ellie now working as a nurse in the city and living in her own place down that way. Sam has started studying Physiotherapy and it living south of the river – quite a way from us, but closer to Curtin Uni. I have enjoyed every stage of our kids’ live and this ‘adult’ phase is one I am loving as we chat and engage as adults – even if dad still does foot the bill (very happily) any time we head out to dinner!

New Initiatives – I like to try and invest in at least one new interest each year. This year I have been enjoying watching the NBA and rekindling a bit of my love for basketball. I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy the game like I once did, but watching some phenomenal athletes at work has been very cool. And it’s not uncommon to hear the odd cry of glee and amazement from me as I watch!

The new focus in 2023 is a bit more rigorous however as I will start doing some study in the area of professional supervision. I’m not sure quite what shape this will take in years ahead, but I know this is an area where I can make a valuable contribution so I’m keen to do the work and get equipped in a more comprehensive way.

Depending on how things go with our parents and how much they need our attention we may look at doing some interim ministry roles in country towns. The tension of this is that we have to leave our own community to do this and we always find that difficult, but with a mobile business and a range of ways we can contribute, this is something we see as happening at some stage in the future, if not 2023.

So we keep riding the clutch – trying to remain available and flexible, but also sufficiently focused on our business projects to enable a transition to the next stage of life – whatever shape that takes. as someone who likes to nail things down this fluid stage is an interesting one to navigate – but it simply can’t be anything else at the moment so we will simply live it and enjoy it!

So that’s 2022 for us in a nutshell.

Listen to Gamaliel?

Stock Illustration - Three people in a tug of war with another big group.

Someone once said ‘the one thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history.’ We seem destined – definitely not ‘pre-destined’ – (unless you believe in meticulous sovereignty) to repeat the same errors.

For as long as there has been a church there have been divisions – those of Paul and those of Apollus to complementarians & egalitarians (to name but one issue). Now I will stop using big words and talk about sex.

Today will be an interesting day in NSW as the Baptist tribe over there meet to decide on how they will respond to churches that support same sex marriage. There is a motion on the table to vote them out of the tribe and to only accept as kosher, churches who can subscribe to a conservative and orthodox theology on this issue i.e. marriage = a man and woman. If the affirming churches are given the boot then the pastors of those communities will also lose their accreditation, so it’s a pretty big deal and no doubt it will have ripple effects across the rest of Aussie Baptists.

What makes this a particularly vexed issue is that one of our (apparent) ‘Baptist distinctives’ is liberty of conscience – the right to hold dissenting opinions on non-core issues – but maybe only certain non-core issues. Not this one… This one is a deal breaker… like divorce was 40 or 50 years ago… like inerrancy was in the 80’s… like the place of women is today… Oh yeah… we’ve been here before…

Only this subject is evoking stronger reactions. I remember hearing Rowland Croucher once explain why he believed divorce was now permitted by evangelical Christians – and it was simply because so many of us wanted to do it… So we found a way to validate our own choices. Let’s be honest; if 50% of conservative evangelicals also had a same sex orientation then we would make a similar decision – no matter what scripture appears to teach. But this is a minority group in society and probably a smaller minority again in churches – so the decision is much easier.

I will be intrigued to see how liberty of conscience is dealt with in regards to this issue. We have statements of faith in which matters of sexuality are not referred to so this clearly isn’t a core / salvation issue – but for some it is still worth dividing over. And I realise I am writing on a polarising and touchy subject but I don’t like what I am seeing and it’s possible implications. What’s ironic is that we can lament Andrew Thorburn’s sacking on the basis of his Christian convictions despite living in a society that allows freedom of speech (except for a small minority) and yet offer our own version of this.

Conform or be excluded. Surely we can’t have it both ways?…

I have spent my whole life steeped in evangelical teaching and culture so I have read scripture thru that lens for as long as I can remember. As a result I hold a conservative position on matters of sexuality. I have looked thru many different lenses to try and view the subject differently – to learn from those who disagree with me – but this is just how it is for me. At this point in my life I can’t see it differently. I just can’t fudge my internal convictions. Truth is I could be wrong on this issue, but barring a divine intervention I will probably go to my grave holding these convictions.

So my concern is not from a perspective of preventing dodgy theology taking root. I am concerned because we just seem so prone to wasting our time on these disputes rather than being able to accept that within our communities there will be people who think differently on a whole range of things. So my prayer for the NSW baptists today is not that ‘truth will win’, but that love will win (oh yeah… which ‘heretic’ said that?!) and unity in the midst of diversity will be championed and chosen over one faction getting to expel a minority group from the tribe. Surely that tells the world we are followers of Christ, more than doubling down on theology?

Perhaps it is time to heed the wisdom of Gamaliel in Acts 5 when the apostles are brought before the Sanhedrin. This small group were causing much angst and the simplest option was to rid the world of them. Until Gamaliel chips in:

38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

If same sex marriage isn’t a God thing then expect that group of people to eventually die out, but if it is then we don’t want to be people who are opposing a move of God. And if you sniff a waver in my convictions in that sentence then remember Acts 11 when ‘God changed his mind’ and decided to welcome Gentiles into his family. Of course God didn’t change his mind (we know that…) but he revealed to one group of people that their inherited prejudices were preventing them from seeing the reality of God’s love for the whole world – not just for them.

Yeah… It Is a Big Thing

Next Saturday evening is my book launch, where I get to celebrate the creation of two very different pieces of work. I love them both!

The Future is Bivocational is a proposal for a different approach to ministry in the years that lie ahead. It is based on both personal experience and biblical reflection – written primarily for those who are moving into church leadership roles in the years ahead. That said I hope it inspires others to consider how we may re-invent this thing called ‘pastoral ministry/leadership’. As I look at this book now I feel like I hit the mark with what I wanted to say. You may not agree with it, but I feel like I managed to get on paper the ideas I have been wrestling with over many years.

The second is titled On Earth as in Heaven, but you won’t find it on Amazon or anywhere for that matter. For the last few years I have been producing a photobook of the beaches in our local area. It’s a personal project so it’s all funded by us until the books are sold and then the profits go to a charity in Bali. This year rather than just offer a book of photos I decided to also write some stories of where we have seen signs of the kingdom of God in our neighbourhood – stories of kindness, forgiveness, courage, beauty and other qualities that hint towards the world that Jesus invites us into.

Again I feel like it turned out very much as I had hoped. I have always wanted to have a book I could give to friends that spoke of the things that matter to Jesus but in a way that could be understood by the average Aussie. I have stumbled on a few along the way, but this one feels like what I hoped it would. As I look at the pictures and re-read the stories I feel satisfied that it will do the job I had hoped and along the way it’s profits will feed a bunch of struggling families in Bali.

Both books make me smile inside because they have captured so much of my own heart.

A few days ago I asked Sam if he was coming to the book launch. It’s a very busy time for him at Uni with exams before and after that Saturday evening. I may be there’ he said, ‘Is it, like, a big thing?’

‘Interesting question…’ i said ‘and as a matter of fact, yeah it is!’ I didn’t say that to give him the guilts. I said it because in that moment I literally realised that yeah… it really is a big thing.

And as I said it I realised that for me it is bigger than the two degrees I have completed. I didn’t even attend the graduation for my Phys Ed degree! It was a means to an end and nothing more. And then my theology degree was a decent achievement, but it was me following someone else’s plans for my learning.

Writing a book is so so very different. This is not completing a course and ensuring I have done enough to pass. This is a much more self directed, visceral expression of thought. Books flow from your own heart and head so they are deeply personal.

One book (Future is Bivocational) I would describe as reflective and hopefully provocative – the other is beautiful and inspirational. And they both capture the essence of who I am. In that conversation with Sam I realised ‘yeah… it is a big thing…’

In saying that I am offering no comment on the success of the books. I doubt either will reach a massive audience and if I ever recoup the time and cash I have put into these books then it would be miraculous… But I feel like I want to celebrate a significant achievement. I am prone to under-playing this kind of stuff and to just moving on to the next project, but this time I do want to make something of it that

And Sam… As much as I’d love to have you there, I really won’t be wounded if you do have to study – but thanks for helping me realise that it is kind of a big thing for me 🙂


Earning Respect | Psychology Today Australia

This last two weeks I did something I haven’t done for many years.

I locked in 10 full days of work from 7.30-4.00pm, which amounted to 90 hours actually on the job as well an hour or two each evening invoicing, quoting and ordering. 

If it sounds like a pretty normal week to some of you then that’s right – it’s supposed to. It was 10 days of solid work – same as what most people do every week.

Why do I tell you this?

Because after not having lived like this for so long, I observed some curious questions emerging. I noticed how ‘hemmed in’ I felt – how my week just seemed to be work-sleep-repeat with little time for anything else. I caught up with my brother and his wife one evening and was quite literally falling asleep during the conversation. On Friday night I kicked back on the couch to watch a few episodes of Breaking Bad (I know I am late to that party) and after the first I fell asleep and 2 episodes ran in the background. I felt the strain of a full working week in a way I had never imagined.

We are in the process of training up a friend to work in our business, which means I need to spend a several weeks slowly helping him get up to speed. It won’t be like this for ever – but it gave me an insight into the lives of those for whom this is normal – those whose work is either physically or mentally exhausting. It can be heavy going… and that’s when things are going well!

I clean forgot we had our Yanchep Food Program on the Tuesday night. I was wiped out. I really didn’t want to head anywhere on the other nights and on two of them I was asleep by 8.30pm. And as we worked, I found myself wondering, when will I get to the post office? What if I need to go to the doctor? When will I mow the lawn? When will I get to Supercheap to buy stuff for the car?..

Saturday?… Sunday?…

Suddenly my time and my life felt constricted, tiring and somewhat sapping. Even though I enjoy the work I do I didn’t like being locked into having to do it every day.

I realise this is life for most people – which is what prompted the post. After being a pastor for 31 years I have come to expect a relatively flexible life, trading daytime hours for evening time and so on. I know most people don’t do this, so it gave me a deeper insight into one aspect of other people’s lives.

It was hard – and I enjoy my work… How hard must it be for people in difficult jobs, or where the relational tension is high?

It also made me curious as to how realistic our pastoral expectations have been of people over the years. It made me wonder what ‘commitment to Christ and his church’ looks like. Have we got caught up in a work culture that is unhealthy – even sinful? Are we driven by the need to accrue wealth, acquire more and upsize? If so can that be changed?

And as churches do we expect more than is reasonable from people who work full time, are managing families and young children? When Saturday and Sunday are your only rest options and you also need to wash the car, go shopping, attend aunty Doreen’s 80th etc etc then those two days fly by.

This week I remember getting to the end of Wednesday and the term ‘hump day’ took on new meaning. I have always understood the term, but this week and last week I felt it tangibly. We are over halfway… you will make it…

And as the weekend approached I was waiting like a hungry man for food. I have a list of ‘jobs’ to do, many of them enjoyable, but I had no time – or energy for them during the working week. I also want to rest – to slow down and ‘smell the roses’ – or in my case go to the beach. Last weekend I ended up feeling like two days just isn’t long enough to tick all those boxes, especially the ‘rest’ one.

So to those who work long hours day in day out with no relief in sight you have my genuine, deep respect. To those who also commit to their local church to serve and engage joyfully while working full time you have my immense respect.

And to those bivocational pastors who work full time as well as leading a church – double respect! You guys are amazing

The Lens You Look Through

Earlier this year I remember reading either a blog or a meme that looked at how we approach challenging or risky situations. (I can’t remember the source – so if it’s you then let me know.)

It said simply ‘what if, instead of asking “what could go wrong?”, we led with “what could go right?

As someone living in a period of personal transition I find myself faced with these questions often. And having become a little more risk averse these days my default focus has slowly shifted to ‘what could go wrong?’

What if I leave local church ministry in QBC and Yanchep?
Maybe I will lose a sense of identity? Maybe I will never get another gig somewhere else? Maybe I will miss the role…

Yeah… Maybe…

But then, if it all “goes right “…

Maybe I will have the time I want to be creative…
Maybe new opportunities will emerge that wouldn’t have while settled somewhere.
Maybe I will enjoy not being a pastor more than actually being one.. (ludicrous I know…)

We have just employed a good friend to work in our business and one of my hesitations over the years about a commitment to staffing is that question again – what if it goes wrong?… What if we blow up a relationship? What if it gets icky?…

But then again, what if our two families lives become beautifully entwined and we get to serve one another in ways we never could if we were simply friends thru church? What if we both help one another get closer to the kind of lives we want to live?

There are so many really good ‘what ifs?’ – if we choose to look through that lens.

In this time of transition, any time I feel myself anxious or rueful about decisions I come back to this question – “what if everything went right ?

And not surprisingly it is energising to do this – to look ahead in expectation of ‘success’ and good outcomes rather than disappointment or failure.

So I’m thinking that will need to become my default setting from here on when engaged in change.

What if everything went right?

I have a feeling the way you approach a process has a fair bit to do with the outcome!

So… Italy

A picture is worth a thousand words., but what if some of those words are lies? So we have just spent around 9 days seeing around Italy, starting with 2 nights in Rome, then 2 in Florence, 3 in La Spezia and finishing with tonight in Venice. Along the way we have taken your normal touristy type pics and from a distance it probably looks like a super cool place. It is… But the photos don’t show some of the other aspects of out trip that would actually give it perspective. So if you’ve seen our pics and thought ‘Italy is my next destination ‘, please read on…

Coming to Italy from the Outer Hebrides is like going from a Monastic silent retreat into a snake handling, yodelling pentecostal firestorm! It’s an assault on the senses and there are massive crowds everywhere.

A rare quiet moment!

Perhaps we shouldn’t have started in Rome. It’s a big, busy city with some amazing historic sites but it’s busy busy busy! We got in late, found our hotel and crashed before doing the ‘Rome in a Day’ tour the next morning. We signed up with a tour guide and went to many of the famous places and they were very impressive. But the fighting thru crowds was less inspiring. (I’m not unaware of the irony in that statement.) I loved seeing some of the incredible structures and hearing some of their story, but the time we spent in the Vatican left me very conflicted. You can’t deny the beauty and magnificence of what is there, but I just can’t see Jesus saying ‘ah well done – exactly what I was hoping for!’

Beauty is such an important and overlooked element in life that I just wanted to say ‘wow’, but I must admit I didn’t post any pics of the Vatican area as I just can’t endorse it. If this is the heart of Catholic faith and it is supposed to tell a story then it isn’t a story Jesus would want to be associated with.

In Florence we walked around similarly impressive structures – also beautiful and the same question of ‘did someone miss the memo?’ kept running thru my head.

Nice place somewhere in Rone

How we create worship spaces matters. Hence my use of the word conflicted. There is a sense of awe and gravitas in these places that we will never feel in a school common area. But the wealth of the Vatican itself raises questions in my mind – and seeing the hoardes that swarmed thru on the one day we were there I can only imagine the $$ that are being made! Maybe there is a balance that can be struck?

We walked 15kms on the walking tour and on the way home discovered Steve and Elaine were in town so we headed out for a feed and some great conversation. Those were the ‘Rome highlights’ and personally I don’t think I’d go back unless it was en-route to somewhere else. It’s a big busy city with some cool stuff to see, but other than that I was happy to move on.

From here we caught a very full train up to Florence. This trip is one of our first experiences of navigating a city where the language is foreign and (unlike lots of Asia) no one is hanging around to help you, so that was interesting and a tad stressful at times. As we hopped off in Florence it was into another congested train platform and then up into busy streets. We walked to our accommodation, chilled for a half hour and then went back down to check the lie of the land. A short walk around was helpful as we began to feel some of the smaller city warmth as well as some stunning architecture. That evening Danelle had set up a walking food tour which showed us around a little while we moved from cafe to cafe. It was a good tour – probably would have been better if I was able to consume alcohol and Danelle, gluten but we made it work. (She drank my alcohol and I ate her carbs 🙂

Gelato was cool

I have heard people rave about the food and coffee in Italy. That wasn’t my experience. The food was generally fine, but not ‘wow’, and the service varied from pretty good to meh. At times I wondered if the Italian waitstaff had just had a gutful of tourists. We enjoyed walking around Florence – also very crowded – but we started to roll with it. As for coffee, it was a mixed bag – some good brews and a few pretty ordinary. The Italian way is to simply drink the espresso shots, so the milk based coffee I prefer to drink was a bit average. ( I may have been perceived as a philistine asking for milk.)

We moved from Florence to the small town of La Spezia, with the intention of visiting Cinque qe Terre, a cluster of 5 small towns built on the top of the rocky coast line. This time we finished up in a very nice apartment near the centre of town. The pace of life definitely slowed a little here and the crowds thinned. I imagine it may be a peaceful place to visit mid-winter.

We planned to take the ferry up the coast and hike / train our way back. Unfortunately the ferry was cancelled due to rough seas and we ended up having to catch the train – along with the hoardes of people who also missed out. The trains that day were literally shoulder to shoulder with many people shoving their way into already crowded carriages. I got stuck standing in in a doorway section with no handrail to hang on to – but truth be told I wasn’t gonna fall over – I just couldn’t because people were pressing me on all sides. It was a relief to escape!

We took the train up to Monteresso, the northern most town, a very beautiful little place. We decided to hike back to the next town – only 3 or 4ks but it was a pretty serious climb up and down. Next time I will bring hiking shoes… The views from the walk were awesome and it was well worth the effort to do the hike. As we explored the towns we watched the ocean hammering the coastline and I remembered again where I feel most at peace – by the beach of some kind. We could have spent another day or two in the area, but at the end of the day wandering crazily crowded little towns, standing in long queues for tickets and food just left me a little jaded.

An intimate moment on the train

We were really glad we didn’t come at the height of the Italian summer which sounded very long and very hot this year. All of the walking would have been pure endurance. As it was we enjoyed 20-23 daytime temps with air con available if we ever needed it.

Our final day was in Venice. Our first train ran late and we missed our connection by 1 minute… The doors closed as we hit the platform so that was a quick way to blow $100 for tickets on another train! Venice was… well, what you expect Venice to be, canals and unique architecture as well as more cafes and pubs. It’s not a cheap place to stay – our nice but modest hotel room was $300 for the night.

So for me Italy was a 7/10 on the enjoyment scale. If I were to return I think I would:
a) come in winter when crowds are fewer (I’d hope)
b) hire a car and go off the beaten track. I’m not a good tourist. I prefer back roads to big cities any day.
c) learn a little language. I didnt find the Italian folks falling over themselves to help a foreigner (it isn’t Bali) so I’d try to meet them halfway more often.
d) I definitely wouldn’t put it at the back end of a trip to somewhere beautiful and remote. I’d do Italy first – then relax.

If you followed our pics on FB then this is perhaps a bit of a reality check. There are some cool places to see in Italy but expect to be seeing them with plenty of other people! And if you’re a beach hugging, peace loving introvert then spend the extra and go to the Outer Hebrides 🙂

An easing in the crowd

I Have Not Retired!

This evening when we went out to dinner in La Spezia, Italy, Danelle ordered a drink and was asked if she was over 18!!

Pretty cute – but 18?…

Ha… What a nice problem to have.

Since we finished in ministry as QBC and Yanchep a few people have asked me how retirement is. I have no idea – and I have no intention of finding out either.

I have not retired.

I have finished in my pastoral roles, but I have two businesses that I run and I have a couple of other books I’d like to write – not to mention other ideas that I either don’t have time for or can’t explore at this time.

The next few months will actually be very busy as I train my friend Brett in all things retic. I have been forced to admit that if I keep going at the same pace in this business my body is just gonna get wrecked. So we have hired our first full time worker in Brighton Reticulation and it’s with a view to stepping right back as he gets the hang of it.

My other caravan weighing business has got some traction now so I’m hoping it will double in workload in the next year or so

Ultimately what I’d like to do is create space to write and to be creative. Apart from The Future is Bivocational, I have put together a photo and story book based in our own suburb On Earth as in Heaven, which I am really looking forward to seeing published.

I have a couple of other book ideas that are tumbling around in my mind, but I know they won’t get much traction until the new year.

So there is plenty to do and plenty more I’d like to do if I had time. But one thing is for sure – I have not retired.. Maybe one day I will need to let go of some things, but I’m grateful for a mentoring session I had with John Bond (well over 20 years ago now) where I heard him say ‘retirement is not a biblical concept.’ I had never heard that previously, but once I did I resonated deeply.

That’s not a critique of any who have retired in a more traditional way. I think what John was saying is that there is no retirement in the kingdom of God. We never stop being who we are and using the gifts God has given us.

Certainly it is a critique if you envisage retirement as a time to be self centred and to simply wile away your days in self indulgent decadence. We have both been blessed with parents who ‘retired’ early but who actually then spent their time serving and going where there was a need,so we have seen what a fruitful life looks like when not needing an income.

I was reading 1 Corinthians 12 this morning and reflecting on the gifts God has given Danelle and I. I’m not sure exactly where an apostolic / teaching gift gets used in this next iteration of my life but I imagine that is part of the fun – wondering what comes next!

Anyway on the back of a few incidences of ‘congratulations on my retirement’ I just thought I should clarify where it’s at.