6 Years On And…

Today I am off to speak to the Seventh Day Adventist Church Planters School – sharing the story of what we are doing here in Brighton.

Having heard a number of people share stories of their adventures with churches both established and newly planted, I have been really disturbed by how easy it is to ‘not let the truth get in the way of a good story’. A good communicator can spin a yarn that makes himself sound like the Apostle Paul re-incarnated. And yet reality is often quite different from the public story.

The tension occurs because nothing is ever ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’.

People ask me ‘How are things in Brighton?’ And now I just draw an imaginary normal curve.

‘Some is great, some is good, some is ok and some is difficult. It just depends which day you get me on as to what I am focussing on!’

In preparing for today I reflected on my own journey over the last 6 years or so as I moved from a team leader role in a church of 400 or so, to starting over as a missionary in a new place. I prepared a summary description of what had happened in each year and what the accompanying feeling was.

Here is 6 years of summary:

(As you read be aware that this is the ‘public information’ version and does not tell the whole story either. Thats because this is not my story only. This is just the bit I think it is fair to put in the public domain and that we would all agree on)

Pre- 2001: Team Leader at Lemurdie Baptist Church

Feeling = Dissatisfaction – why are we so poorly connected with our community? Why don’t I have time for people outside the church? Why am I embarrassed about what church looks like?

Key Learning:

* God was at work preparing people for this

2002: January-Feb specific sense of calling to move on – bought land in Brighton and finished year at LBC as team leader

Feeling = Anticipation – This is the start of a wild new adventure. Yeeeha!

Key Learnings:

* Churches don’t always mean what they say!

* Drive slowly thru the fog

* Clarify expectations

2003: In transition – 6 months of long service leave – moved into Brighton in Sep

Feeling = Enthusiasm – Energy high and ready to roll

Key Learnings

* Initiative initiative initiative

* Prayer prayer prayer

* 18 months lead is both too long and just right

2004: First year of having a whole team in Brighton – developing team and living in community

Feeling = Frustration – The team was not gelling well at all.

Key Learnings:

* Lead strong – fight for the DNA now

* We may be on the same page but not the same line on that page!

* Some won’t get into it and will leave – that’s ok

2005: Sorting out issues and bringing clarity of shared expectations

Feeling = Determination – ok so its harder than I thought to lead a missionary team – lets dig in

Key Learnings:

* You can (and must) confront and resolve issues

* Importance of balancing mission and meeting

* Foundations are not impressive, but they are essential

2006: Common dreams, increased buy in and relational development in team

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Feeling = Hope – we might just make it after all…

Key Learnings:

* It just takes time”

* We are programmed to program

* Seamless living – if you leave me can I come too

Now the Virtual Parallel Universe

TSK pointed out that there is now blogging software exlusively for Christians…

Like we needed to create another parallel universe to dive into! Christians separating themselves from society and huddling together is hardly what Jesus had in mind.

If nothing else it raises those great ‘who’s in and who’s out?’ questions. How do you decide if I am really a Christian? A confession of faith? A lifestyle check? Does my churchgoing ir/regularity affect my membership?

You can only join up by invite, so I may never get in…

Pity about that…

On a different note you could consider attending the church that bought the local pub and have now turned it into a worship centre… What did the locals reckon about that I wonder?…

They state their vision as that of being “a respected and high profile Christian communityon Auckland’s North Shore renowned for (yada yada yada usual vision stuff)


Home Again (again)

I got in last night from the SU national conference on the Sunshine Coast.

6 days sure feels like a long time to be away. And when wife and family all get sick I imagine it feels even longer to them!

The time was nice, enjoyable and relaxing. It was great to get to know our WA crew a bit better, nice to have an afternoon nap each day and good to catch up with Darryl Gardner from NZ (one of the conference speakers), Steve Turner of Forge Qld and my old school-mate Shaun Kelly, now living in Brisbane and figuring our pastoral ministry in the burbs.

The conference was ok. Neither earth shattering nor a waste of time. Somewhere in between. Such is the nature of events that try to span a huge range of attendees. If you look at the pic below you can see our WA staff team deep in reflection!

When at the YS conference in San Diego a few years back I remember Mike Yaconelli’s opening address that went something like this: “You don’t have to attend every session we put on!!! Feel free to come and go and make the conference valuable for you”. I took Yaconelli’s words to heart and have approached conferences like that ever since. As a result I think I only saw the inside of the building for just over half of this one. Its always a tension knowing how to balance the Yaconelli conference approach with the need to ‘do the right thing’ because if we all came and went as we pleased it’d be a messy situation.

There was some huge swell on the local beaches after cyclone Larry and it was good to spend the final day up at Noosa getting walloped by the beach break as we attempted some body surfing. The point break looked sensational, but with 50 guys on every peak it was a ‘drop in’ night mare!

The pic above of is of Mooloolaba – a pretty hairy sucky peak giving a few blokes a bit of a hiding.

As for the dormitory accommodation… well… I was in with 4 other blokes and there was plenty of snoring. I only hope I gave as good as I got!

Next week we are off to Melbourne for our 15th wedding anniversary. Its a fun trip, but we’ll be dropping in at the Forge Postcards night on Wednesday and then I’ll be doing a session onThursday morning at Mitcham Baptist to raise a bit of viagra money.

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Discipleship Dilemma in Youth Ministry

Update: Part II is now online here

I have come back from the week in Queensland with a question that is disturbing me more and more, so I’ll try and describe it here and see where it goes.

Here are some stats I am sure you have heard:

1. 80% of young people make a ‘decision for Christ’ before the age of 18… therefore this is where we ought to invest a huge amount of our resources. I completely agree that this is a time when people are usually most open and receptive to new ideas.

2. Of those young people who make ‘decisions for Christ’ around 80% will dump their faith altogether when they get a car, go to Uni and are exposed to ‘the world’ outside of the Christian youth scene.

Hmmm… what is going on here?

While I don’t have the sources for these (the first is quoted ad nauseum in youth ministry texts and the second is based on a reliable New Zealand study which eludes me at the moment) they are somewhat true even anecdotally.

There is no question that if you want to get your ‘conversion rate’ up at church, you need a decent youth ministry where you can pull young people in and get them to respond to the ‘gospel’ in some way. Usually these will be high schoolers, but this openness can extend to early University age.

But then what?…

What on earth happens that somewhere along the line the vast majority will bail on faith and ‘go try something else’?

I don’t believe I am overstating the case. As I meet with youth pastors from all around the city and as I reflect on my own time in the youth ministry at Lesmurdie Baptist this appears to be normal. Even amongst bigger churches, while the ‘front door’ might be big, the ‘back door’ is swinging wide open also. It just isn’t quite as evident while the flurry of activity continues to mask the problem.

Noticeably the ones who stay around longer are typically either those from church families, or those who have been drawn into significant leadership roles. But for those without the ‘fences’ around them of family or structure they are very prone to wander and it seems there is little we can do to stop it.

During my 5 years as a youth pastor at Lesmurdie we saw the number of people in the youth scene grow from 30ish to around 250ish in a period of 2-3 years. It was a freaky period where we seemed to be flavour of the month for church hoppers, but there were also people saying they wanted to be Christians. There were young people regularly responding to evangelistic appeals as well as people coming to faith in one to one situations. I personally baptised a heap of new Christians and I know our youth leaders also baptised a lot. In that 3 year window I’d say that of all the new faces at church on a Sunday night around 60-70 were new Christians.

But within one year we had seen the number present on a Sunday night decline to around 120 before I finished in the role. Some simply moved on to funkier churches but most of the new Christians evporated into the ether and just gave it all away. A few hardy ones survived and are still going today, but of those from unchurched families who seemed to choose to follow Jesus very few remain.

This dilemma has disturbed me for years now and I honestly don’t know if there is a solution. But I am tired of seeing this cycle repeating over and over and feel maybe its time to say ‘enough!’ Surely we must be able to do better when it comes to discipleship of young people – because this would appear to be the core issue.

Of course…

Maybe this is what we ought to expect in the teenage years?…

Maybe its not as I describe?… Maybe we are actually reaching young people and discipling them to maturity. What do you think?

Maybe we are actually doing something wrong and need some radical shifts in our paradigm of youth ministry?…

Some thoughts to percolate discussion:

* Are teens really responding to the gospel? If so what

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gospel would that be?

* Do we set ourselves up for this kind of situation by having youth services that can only ‘keep them’ until they are in their early 20’s at best before they feel ‘too old for the youth service,’ but also feel ‘way too young for the adult service?’ They are left in a consumer’s vacuum.

* Do we set the bar high enough for them? Do we ask enough of them? Someone has said ‘Christianity in the west won’t die because we ask too much of people, but rather because we ask too little’. On a similar note Tony Campolo once said ‘Youth is made for heroism not for pleasure’, yet much of youth ministry seems to focus on bringing young people fun rather than calling them to a life of self denial and counter-cultural living.

* Are we as their leaders too much a part of the problem to be able to offer solutions with integrity? Have we bought the whole Jesus as ‘accessory’ mindset – (Jesus as an addition to my otherwise happy middle class life) so that now we are not able to challenge young people to a life of authentic discipleship?

* Are youth pastors concerned that if they went harder on the discipleship angle that it could mean their jobs? I have seen otherwise mild mannered parents go like pit bulls after youth pastors who don’t do the expected meat and 3 veg youth group / Sunday night church gig. Do you dare to break with protocol and risk incurring the wrath of the tithing parents? Lets face it this is a real issue. Working with a handful of truly devoted followers won’t pay any bills, but I seem to remember someone speaking about the way being narrow and few finding it… Maybe we need to say ‘Screw the paycheck. We are going to have a crack at this from a different angle’.

Just for the record, I have seen so called ‘fun based’ youth ministry models produce disciples and I have also seen apparently ‘discipleship based’ models lose young people. So I am not convinced the model is the problem.

I want to chew on this question for a while and I’d be interested to hear what others think. Is it actually all rolling along nicely for us and I am missing it, or do we need to do some serious thinking about this question?

Update: Part II is now online here

Thank God for Ted

What sits on the floor in your toilet?

Mine has a stack of old surfing magazines I picked up for 20 cents each at the Busso Jetty fundraising op shop. They are great toilet fodder. This morning I was reading about the late Viscount Ted Deerhurst, the UK’s first pro – surfer who hit the pro tour back in 1978.

I was a grom when Ted started on the world circuit and it always amazed me that a Pom could surf – let alone make it on the world tour! I used to get a great laugh out of this bloke because Ted didn’t ‘make it’ on the world tour – ever. He was absolutely hopeless compared to all the other guys. But because he was from aristocratic background and had more money than he knew what to do with he didn’t need sponsors and was happy to pay his own way around the world tour. He rarely if ever made it thru the first heat of an event and certainly never won anything, but he loved surfing and wanted to spend his life surfing.

So he did.

He could have toffed around back in the old country with all the other elite aristocrats, but he chose to do what he loved, something that definitely didn’t fit the paradigm of the world he was living in. He died unexpectedly in 1998 at the age of 40.

Ted is a legend of the likes of Eddie the Eagle, Eric Mussambani and Steve Bradbury.

I have immense respect for people who spend their life doing what they love and who choose to forego whatever respect they may have received from others in the process.

In my coaching role I often say to dissatisfied people the ‘sixty million dollar question’ is ‘what would you do with your life if money was no object?

Sadly most people I talk to actually don’t have many dreams, or if they do they are rarely dreams that are actually hampered by money. They are way more hampered by a mindless buying into a worldview that says ‘play it safe’, ‘toe the line’, ‘don’t risk failure’.

I like Ted’s story because despite his lack of surfing prowess he actually did it. He chose to do what he loved rather than what society told him he should do.

One of my fears in life is one day finding myself in work or in a situation where I have chosen not to live like that – where I have chosen to let myself slip into the routine of life and follow the safe path. I don’t think the life of discipleship allows for that possibility. If we follow Jesus then surely life ought to be a constant stretch as we live by faith and do what he asks.

Anyway – thank God for Ted and all the other Teds in this world!dumb and dumberer when harry met lloyd online

The Adventures of the Birthday Turd

Ok… some deep thoughts to leave you with…

Danelle is one of those women who loves to make birthdays special for the kids.

She is amazingly gifted at coming up with creative ideas and making each birthday really unique. This year for Ellie’s 5th birthday she worked with an ocean theme because ‘Ariel’ (The Little Mermaid) is Ellie’s all time favourite character.

Ellie loved it and the hours of work paid off.

As part of the day Danelle made a cake of epic proportions that you can see below. Where it starts get a little interesting is when you look at the bottom right of the picture and see the ‘rocks’ the mermaid is sitting on. Yes… they do look a little turd-like!

Of course it was only as others mentioned it that I actually realised it. (I probably wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. ) However as people drew my attention to this rather unique pile of rocky road I couldn’t help wondering how much fun you could have with a pile like that…

At the end of the day no one had eaten the now infamous birthday turd so we put it in the fridge and agreed to save it to ‘share’ with some friends.

And tonight we were off to church so what better place?!

Maybe we could dump it on the welcome mat?

Maybe we could strategically place it in the lounge room?…

Ok. We’ll settle for the front lawn…

So we get there in time for dinner, dump it on the lawn close to the house and then make a good fuss of the ‘big dog who created that pile!’ Sharron doesn’t buy it, but Graeme gets a look at it and is not impressed. He stomps out to have a look at it… muttering angry noises… Hehehe!! It was fun!

Now the birthday turd is strategically placed just across the road in the middle of Mick’s lawn. He is an avid gardener so I wish I could be there tomorrow morning to see his face when gets a look at it!

Anyway – that’s it for me as I need to get up at 4.00am to get the plane to the Sunshine Coast…

No turd on the lawn when I come home please!

Coming and going

This week I am off again, this time to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland for 6 days at the SU national conference.

In trying to be away as little time as possible I will be flying out on Tuesday at 5.50am (which means leaving home at 4.15am!) and then getting in on Sunday night at 10.50pm – effectively 1.50 EST. By the time I get home it will be more like 3.00am. Ech…

What is the conference about?

I’m not sure actually! I have been invited to go – well more ‘required’ as a staff member, but I’m not sure of the bigger purpose. I’m guessing its stuff to do with mission in Australia.

We get to stay at a campsite and sleep in 6 person dorms. Ok… this story isn’t getting better is it?…

I’m sure it’ll be time well spent. I’m just feeling a little toey about time away at the moment.download ratatouille free

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I have the opportunity to have a stand at the upcoming Sexpo

I like the thought of a space for a Christian presence that affirms the beauty and joy of sex and helps people see the very healthy perspective God has on sex (being the inventor and all that).

I’m still debating

a) whether I have the time and energy to pull it off.

b) whether I am likely to be able to find anyone to come with me.

c) what we would do if we were to take the space.

d) how to choose suitable people – so that we don’t lead people into a minefield. I am aware that exposure to this some of the stuff that will be there can mess some people up.

e) whether its wise to expose myself to stuff that tempts and can destroy. I am as vulnerable as anyone else!

I wonder what Jesus would do? I’m sure he’d have no qualms about being there, but how would he engage with people in ways that express both grace and truth?

If you have some thoughts or ideas then let me have them. I imagine we will need to make a decision soon as it is in May 4-7.

Update: Unfortunately (as the comments reveal) one of the ‘anti-emerging church blogs’ has linked here, written a post about me that suggests I am wide of the mark in my thinking.

Ironically I have been banned from that blog so I can’t offer my side of the issue… I’m not sure why, because all I have done is disagree with them. Perhaps if I had been blatantly rude, offensive or profane I could understand it. Sadly I have just disagreed and disagreeing is considered BAD! The person asks my opinion on this issue but I do not have the right of reply…

And no, I will not link to them!