Sam & The Sea Monkeys

While we were away this week the kids had a little bit of money to spend and 5 year old Sam decided to buy himself some ‘sea monkeys american swing download free

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‘. I remember sea monkeys from when I was a kid. They used to advertise them in the Archie comics and I was always intriiged as to how they got monkeys into a packet… I had a suspicion that they weren’t really monkeys… but I was a kid…

Anyway Sam’s sea monkeys (read brine shrimp) ‘hatched’ while we were in Busselton and we carefully brought them home taking care not to spill any water. Sam was pretty excited about the little critters, however in his delight he kept carrying them around to show everyone so it was with no great surprise that 10 minutes after getting home he was howling like a wild dog because he had dropped them in his bedroom and now they were dead. He was pretty heart-broken because his ‘pets’ had died.

I thought I was never going to see a ‘sea monkey’, but caring sister Ellie decided that because she had earnt so much money lately she was going to buy Sam some new monkeys. Elilie drops ‘Brighton Reticulation’ flyers in letter boxes with me and I pay her $3.00 for coming with me then a commission for every job I get. $1.00 /quote, $2.00 / small job and $5.00/ big job. She has started paying attention each time the phone rings!

It was a really lovely display of sisterly love, from a little girl who already counts her coins daily. So the new monkeys are waiting to hatch, Sam is happy and Ellie has experienced that joy of ‘giving being greater than receiving’. I imagine all will sleep well tonight…

Re-imagining… a Challenge

In light of the previous couple of posts I pose a serious challenge.

Can anyone provide a compelling biblical argument for the existence of paid pastoral staff within a local congregation?

In the absence of a ‘biblical’ argument I will accept a pragmatic one (as I feel this is where the majority of our arguments may have their teeth.)

I can find several reasonable pragmatic arguments for someone to be paid for their local church ministry role, but I am less able to earth this argument in scripture.

I don’t write this to be a smart arse, but because it is a question I find myself asking daily. What biblical understanding are we operating from that allows us to see local church ministry as a profession?

If I were to offer one of my own compelling reasons for being willing to pastor a church it would be around the sense of calling and vocation I experience. As I know God I feel deeply like he has created me to be someone who gives a significant slab of their life to Christian leadership and some of that will involve leading a community of people. I hear some of you say ‘but you don’t need to be employed to do that’ and this is where I find the tension.

If it requires a significant amount of time out of my working week – time when I would otherwise be gainfully employed supporting my family – ought I be ‘supported’ by the people in my church for doing that work – especially if they are in agreement with the need.

I may yet write a post that is a ‘compelling argument for paid ministry’, but I’d like to see what others have to say before I give it a whirl!

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Mad-Dog George Fox

I am taking a break from Viola and reading a biography of George Fox, the founder of the Quakers.

What a crazy coot!!!

If we thought we had the odd bit of biffo over church and mission then we really need to get some 17th C perspective!

Here’s a man who was so convinced of his divergent opinions that he would go to the ‘steeplehouses’ (churches ) on a Sunday and pick an argument with the preacher, letting him know that church was people not buildings.

From a Puritan background, suffering from some form of depression and with a prophetic instinct, Fox struggled with faith for a long time before he had his ‘inner light experience’ (where he elevated spiritual encounters over scripture) and he then found his way.

The odd bit of critique these days gets met with the same level of response, but Fox was an absolute Nazi when it came to critiqing the establishment of his day.

He was punched out by an angry pastor, stoned by a mad congregation and thrown in prison for his convictions. He sounds very arrogant in much of the book and one of those wacky prophets who gets one thing very VERY right and the rest gets drowned out by the fuss that goes with it.

Looking forward to seeing what develops in the life of this nutter!

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Worst Ever

I had my worst coffee ever today…

I was speaking at Como Baptist and decided to get there early and have a coffee nearby. I won’t name the venue… but its the closest cafe to the church…

There seemed to be a range of gourmet food on offer so I thought a coffee would be a prett safe bet. The packages of Yahava on the wall suggested they took coffee reasonably seriously.

I asked for a mug of flat white.

I got something that looked like an instant with frothy dishwater on top. It tasted worse than it looked and after 1 sip I was done. I pushed it to the edge of the bench hoping a staff member would notice and enquire.

I ended up leaving and watching the waitress pick up the full cup.

I wasn’t sure quite what to do but I figured it wasn’t doing them any favours not to know about it so I wandered back in and let them know I couldn’t drink it because it was so bad.

She promptly asked “Would you like another one?…”

I appreciated the thought, but ‘no thanks’ I said ‘I’ll leave it…’

The guy next to me seemed to be quite happy with what he was drinking. I guess ignorance is bliss…backwoods the dvd download

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A Blissful Week Away

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Ok, so tomorrow morning we are off to Busselton for a week of holidays…

Anyone who lives around here will know that the next 7 days are known as ‘leavers’ or ‘schoolies’ week and we have managed to land our holiday smack bang in the middle of it!

Fortunately our accomodation doesn’t allow for any school leavers to be present, but no doubt the streets will be buzzing with pubescent teenagers…

I don’t begrudge people a good holiday after 12 years of being couped up in school, but I sure hope we can have a decent holiday too!

Maybe I will check the dates a little more carefully next year!shadow puppets dvdrip

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Reflections on Reimagining Church II – Why Clergy Bugger Up The Church

Perhaps one of the most pivotal arguments from Frank Viola is that the introduction of the clergy has resulted in a caste system and has been central to the dysfunction of the church. Chapter 8 entitled ‘Re-imagining Leadership’ is worthy of a post on its own because of its incendiary nature.

Viola argues that we have changed the ‘functional’ imagination of leadership present in the NT into a ‘positional’ idea and that often both ‘clergy’ and laity prefer it this way.

It may be easiest if I just quote from the chapter and offer a few comments as I go along:

The chapter opens with a summary quote from heavyweight Howard Snyder:

“The New Testament doctrine of ministry rests therefore not on the clergy-laity distinction but on the twin and complementary pillars of the priesthood of all believers and the gifts of the spirit. Today, four centuries after the Reformation, the full implications of this Protestant affirmation have yet to be worked out. The clergy-laity dichotomy is a direct carry over from pre-Reformation Roman Catholicism and a throwback to the Old Testament priesthood. It is one of the principal obstacles to the church effectively being God’s agent of the kingdom today because it creates a false idea that only ‘holy men’, namely ordained ministers, are really qualified and responsible for leadership and significant ministry. IN the New Testament there are functional distinctions between various kinds of ministries but no hierarchical division between clergy and laity.”p.153

In describing the distinction between positional v functional leadership Viola says:

“Native to hierarchical/postional oriented churches is a political machine that works behind the scenes. The machine promotes certain people to positions of ecclesiastical power and authority. Native to functionally oriented churches is the mutual responsibility and collegial interplay of its members” p.156

Viola comments on the essence of hierarchical leadership and contrasts it with the leadership Jesus speaks of in Matt 20 (“It should not be so among you”):

“What is the hierarchical form of leadership structure? Its the leadership style that’s built on a chain of command social structure. Its rooted in the idea that power and authority folow from the top down. Hierarchical leadership is rooted in a worldly concept of power.” p.156

He goes on to cite Matt 23:8-12 “Do not be called Rabbi… etc” and argues that both gentile hierarchical forms and Jewish positional leadership models are not to be co-opted to the church because they “place severe limitations on the headship of Christ”.

As he turns his attention to the current church system he is not afraid to launch a few grenades:

I”n this connection (thinking of leadership as function) the modern clergy system is a religious artifact that has no biblical basis. This system has allowed the body of Christ to lapse into an audience due to its heavy reliance on a single leader. It has turned church into a place where Christians watch professionals perform. It has transformed the holy asembly into a centre for professional pulpiteerism supported by lay-spectators.” P. 160

Ok so that ought to get more than a yawn because there is a lot of truth in it…

He goes on in similar vein:

“Perhaps the most damning feature of the clergy system is that it keeps the people it claims to serve in spiritual infancy. Because the clergy system usurps the Christian’s right to minister in a spiritual way during corporate gatherings, it ends up debilitating God’s people. It keeps them weak and insecure.” p.160

The rest of this page is both provocative and insightful as to why the invention of clergy has been the church’s undoing. Viola affirms that those who serve as clergy usually do with the best of motives and to see people mature in faith, but few if any are able to trace the immaturity of their congregations back to their own profession.

He says:

“The clergy profession ends up disempowering and pacifying the believing priesthood. This is the case regardless of how uncontrolling the person who fills the clergy position may be.

Here’s how it works. Since clergy carries the spiritual workload, the majority of the church becomes passive, lazy, self seeking (“feed me”) and arrested in their spiritual development.

Just as serious, the clergy system warps many who occupy clerical positions. The reason? God never called anyone to bear the heavy burden of ministering to the needs of the church by himself… If the truth be told many Christians prefer the convenience paying someone to shoulder the responsibility for ministry and shepherding. In their minds, its better to hire a religious specialist to tend to the needs of God’s people than to bother themselves with the self emptying demands of servanthood and pastoral care.” p.161

Ok – so those are HUGE statements to make but I can certainly see more than a kernel of truth in them. Certainly we speak of team ministry and of people serving on another, but I would agree with Viola’s argument that the presence of a pastor tends to create a reliance on one person that should not exist.

Viola cites Christian Smith:

“The problem is that, regardless of what our theologies tell us about the purpose of the clergy, the actual effect of the clergy is to make the body of Christ lame. This happens not because clergy intend it (they usually intend the opposite) but because the objective nature of the profession inevitably turns the laity into passive receivers”

p. 162

He finishes by saying:

The truth is that many of us – like Israel of old – still clamor for a king to rule over us. p.163

I don’t know about you, but I find this chapter disturbing and challenging. I don’t think we can easily dismiss what Viola has to say because we can see its effects all around us in unhealthy congregations that long for the ‘king’. And many us in Christian leadership quite enjoy being ‘royalty’…

I find it hard because I feel I am a gifted leader and yet the system that exists for me to lead within does tend towards producing this unhealthy spectatorism and dependence. This system is well established and the culture is strong. It is well known and loved by most within it.

Is it possible to shift that culture while being a ‘clergy’ member?… I really don’t believe it is. It may be possible to shift it by being a congregation member who is gifted but refuses to be elevated to a paid position. But you can’t shift a culture while participating in it.

As I look again at receiving an income for using that gift I am aware that no matter how I view it in my head many will see me as the paid professional who knows more, is more godly and ought to carry more weight. And there will be times when I will savour that… its nice to be thought of as some kind of super-saint even if it is a load of bullshit.

I know there are plenty of Christian leaders / paid staff who fully endorse the idea of equipping the saints, of releasing people into giftedness etc, so this is not a dig at anyone. However I wonder if we miss out on seeing the church develop more fully while we continue with paid clergy?…

Do we undermine what we hope to see by being the ones who receive a salary, or do we see the body develop more effectively by having time to help others express their giftedness?…

Be honest.

What do you think?…

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Reflections on Reimagining Church I

A few weeks back I was sent a copy of Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church. baby s day out divx It has sat in the ‘to do’ pile but lately I have picked it up and have been enjoying reading it. It has been written as a complement to Pagan Christianity free cursed movie download – almost as if it were the ‘positive side’ of a pretty strong critique.

I wasn’t overly taken with Pagan Christianity. In many ways it was the tone of it more than the content that left me feeling a bit cautious.

Re-imagining Church has a different flavour. While drawing from the critique of current Christian practices (a critique which is quite valid) it seeks to offer an alternative way of being the church. Viola states he is seeking to re-imagine the present practices of the church rather than the church itself, (believing that many of these practices have their roots in the pagan world). p. 13

In essence he is arguing for an organic expression of church… oh there’s that word ‘organic’ again… what does it mean?… He uses it by contrast with the institutional expression of church and therein states that the two are mutually exclusive.

To give definition to what he means he writes:

“The church you read about in the NT was organic. By that I mean it was born from and sustained by spiritual life instead of constructed by human institutions, controlled by a human hierarchy, shaped by lifeless rituals and held together by religious programs.” p. 33

He goes on to say that the DNA of an organic expression of church will be fourfold:

a) It will always express the headship of Jesus Christ in his church as opposed to the headship of a human being. I’m using the term headship to refer to the idea that Christ is both the authority and the source of the church.

b) It will always allow for and encourage every member functioning of the body

c) It will always map to the theology that’s contained in the New Testament giving its visible expression on the earth. (I don’t know why he didn’t see the OT as important here)

d) It will always be grounded in the fellowship of the triune God.

I’m still chewing on whether the organic and institutional are necessarily mutually exclusive or whether they can overlap. I’m also pondering how a church retains its ‘organicness’ once it gets larger and is part of a society like ours. Viola states that the clearest metaphor for church is ‘family’ and on that I am right with him. It has been my belief for a while that as the church we must return to this as a primary lens thru which we view ourselves.

However we exist as both a family and an organisation. Unless we choose to fly very light and free then it almost inevitable in the structure of our society that we will need to organise ourselves with some level of structure. While it may not be staff, constitutions and the like there will be some level of formal identification as a group that will see us become an organisation.

Viola’s ecclesiology revolves around a trinitarian framework and I found this to be a solid foundation for what he goes on to say. He argues for a complete equality of all members where no one is given any higher status or priority. He argues ardently against any form of church that seeks to use one person as a source of knowledge or leadership. In Viola’s view this is the beginning of the end for the church and evidence that it is not functioning as God intended.

In p.55 he writes ” Perhaps the most starling characteristic of the early church meetings was the absence of any human officiation. Jesus Christ led the meetings by the medium of the Holy Spirit through the believing community.”

I read this book as I look at making a move back into leading a local church community and much of what he says disturbs me.

I find Viola to be a touch idealistic about how church can and ought to function, but I also find him to be a prophetic voice with enough accurate content to rattle the cage of any paid church worker!

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I once had a school student who refused to become a Christian because he believed that if he was ‘predestined then he would be saved anyway’… and he would have no say in the matter.

I have been pondering today that theology is quite a balancing act. To reconcile the sovereignty of God with human free will is quite a feat. Typically we err on one side or the other of any given issue, depending on our church tradition and our own personal preferences.

The caricatured Calvinist / Arminian debates are a classic example of this kind of issue. To assume ‘its all God’ or ‘its all about our choice’ usually leaves us with some warped understanding of how the world works.

I do think there are doctrines where extremity is ok – even necessary – grace is an example. If grace isn’t extreme then it probably isn’t grace!

But where two truths exist in tension to pick a side and push it to an extreme will inevitably result in a theology that is at least a little wacky.

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Life never goes quite where you expect.

As of last night I have a new ‘job’.

Over the last year or two I have preached occasionally at Quinns Baptist Church, a small community of people just down the road from us.

They are a good bunch and I have enjoyed being with them on those occasions. About 6 weeks ago after a sermon I was approached and asked if I’d like to do some work there next year.

‘What kind of work?’ I asked.

‘Whatever you do…’ was the response.

I was liking the sound of that job. “Well I sleep in late, drink lots of coffee, have people wait on me hand and foot… Seriously’ I said ‘If you are interested in who we are then give me a call and we can talk.’ The overall gist of the invitation was to come and give leadership to a group of people who are keen to move but not sure where.

The last 5 years have been very helpful for us in terms of clarifying who we are – what we are about and the things that are not negotiable, so if we were to give leadership it would be a very specific kind and it would head in a very clear direction – that of giving shape to a missionary community.

Take it or leave it.

So over the last 6 weeks we have had a few meetings and conversations and in the absence of a set job description I wrote my own for developing a missionary community and described in 3 pages what such a community would look like. (I can email you a copy if you want to see it – but I won’t be putting it on here)

It was a picture of the kind of the church we would like to be involved with either as leaders or as members and a vision of where we would head if we worked together. It draws on all of the learning we have done here in Brighton as well as considering the issues involved in more regular church life.

So,they called – we talked – we met with their leaders – their church met and voted (they are Baptist…) and now, as of last night, we have a ‘job’. (Job is in inverted commas because church leadership is not a job in any traditional sense.)

It is a ‘2 day a week’ job and in the other time I will be continuing my retic & turf business as I have found that to be a place of great enjoyment.

We are calling it an ‘engagement’ period because we are both aware that a trial period is healthy in any relationship to find out if we are a good fit for one another. Normally these things aren’t very possible as people have to move house and commit to a new church, often after a very short ‘dating’ period. Because we live 2kms away we have the luxury of not having to move house, not having to send kids to a new school – in fact not having to do much different at all.

So we will work together until April when we head off on our trip around Oz and the US (that was a not negotiable part of the arrangement!) and hopefully by then we will know if a ‘marriage’ is a good idea. I should say that we are going into this keen to make it work and keen to explore what we have been learning in a new setting and with a new bunch of people.

We are very much aware of the tensions in this situation and the fact that people say ‘yes’ to ideas much more easily than they say ‘yes’ to reality. I think a test period is really healthy for both of us as we get a genuine ‘no obligation’ opportunity to figure out whether we can work together well. I think we are well beyond being idealists in these situations now and know that whatever we do will be partly rewarding and enjoyable and partly just hard work.

We will keep Upstream

running and in time make a decision about how we work together on that front. We are still very keen to keep deeply involved in our own community and there is no point in making any firm decisions until we are surer of the future.

So we are looking forward to a new challenge.

I have needed one for a while and this could be just the right thing to stir the creative juices and bring some new energy. One of the particularly appealing things about this role is that we don’t have to move. We have spent a long time getting established here and getting to know the local community so it gives a place to develop that further rather than starting over. As much as I love change and moving house, I think this could be a good chance to do something new yet in the same space.

Over the course of the year we have been working with established churches who are seeking to ‘re-imagine’ and I had to admit that I did like the thought of having a crack at it myself. I have been aware of a few different churches seeking leaders but I haven’t applied to any of them. I tend to wait to be ‘invited’ and lately – since we have stepped outside the regular system – we haven’t had too many of them!

There are some wonderful ironies in this situation.

The Quinns church is connected to Quinns Baptist College… and you all know my thoughts on Christian schools!… And then even funnier is the fact that the school is currently in the process of building an enormous great 1200 person auditorium – primarily for school use – but if we want it then we have first refusal. I can see it now…

Anyway – there is lots to chuckle about and no doubt this ‘twist’ will amuse some and concern others. To those who fear we may have given up on our convictions about the missional incarnational church the short response is ‘NOPE’. We are looking forward to a different experience, working those convictions out in an established setting.

I have had some ‘oh shit’ moments over the last few weeks as we have pondered this. In many ways it is like a marriage and I felt strangely similarly after I got engaged to Danelle. Seventeen years on we are doing pretty well!

On that note I will sign off on this post with a great quote from Alan Roxburgh in The Missional Leader:

“In these biblical narratives God is constantly present in places where no one would logically expect God’s future to emerge and yet it does over and over. There is nothing in these stories about getting the wrong people off the bus and the right people on to accomplish great ends and become the best organization in the world. This God who calls us is always calling the wrong people onto a bus that isn’t expected to arrive.”

Missional Leader A. Roxburgh Pg 18

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