Just Ask (Nicely!)

Almost every time I have quoted on a job and someone has asked for a discount I have given them one.

Sometimes it’s $50, sometimes $100 and on bigger jobs even more. There have only been one or two occasions (typically jobs I haven’t wanted to get), where I have refused to negotiate on price.

If you want a discount just ask!

I figure if that’s how I operate then chances are most others are similar. The philosophy I work on is that its always better to get the job or get the sale than to lose a customer over a few bucks.

Just this week on a job worth $2200.00 a woman asked if that price ‘was the best I could do?’ It wasn’t. I gave her $100.00 off for asking. She was happy and I will still make a good profit. More than that, I got the job and some goodwill.

Often it’s all in how you frame the request.

By comparison a very wealthy customer rudely questioned my hourly rate and told me it was exorbitant. (It is the ‘going rate’ for retic blokes.) I offered to stop work then and there and let her find someone else. She got the message that it was a fair price, and that if you want a discount you might have to ‘ask nicely’. 

Now obviously some items aren’t negotiable and it would be dumb to ask, or you may just be happy with the quoted price, in which case no negotiation is necessary, but on other occasions there’s no harm in politely asking ‘can you do a better price than that?’ because nine times out of ten the answer is probably ‘yes’.

On This Day in History…

It was 12 months ago to the day that we were wrapping up our round Oz adventure and getting ready to head home.

Funnily enough we were in Busselton then, as we are now. It’s one of our favourite places and has that definite ‘we could live here’ feel to it. Right now that’s not possible, but in a few years time it might be a different proposition.

This has been a short 5 day getaway after a busy few months with church and Retic work. We haven’t ‘done much’, but then that was kinda the plan.

Simple R & R and then head home and get back into it. We didn’t particularly plan to be back here in an exact 12 months, but that’s how it has turned out. 

You gotta be grateful for space in your life to chill, regroup and recharge

When The Learning Curve Tapers

After 46 years of life I have discovered that I enjoy my job most when I am learning while doing it. Once I feel like I have mastered it to a point where it becomes somewhat automatic I inevitably begin to look to something else. I’m not sure if it’s a character flaw or a positive quality, but it’s there. I like new adventures and fresh experiences.

It happened with teaching, youth pastoring, leading Forge and now I can feel it happening with reticulation. I’m not ‘over it’ but I am looking to either expand it, reinvent it or do something completely different. I didn’t know much about Retic when I started but I’m feeling like I’m fairly on top of it now. It isn’t rocket surgery.

Lately I’ve been reading up on mini-bobcats and trucks and considering investing in some gear to add another dimension to my business. Ironically, part of the reason I actually resist buying some machinery is because I don’t know how to use it…

But of course therein lies the opportunity to learn something new and to be in that place I enjoy again.  I guess the extent of damage you can wreak with a bobcat is quite a deal larger than that of a trenching shovel so you don’t just hop in and start digging!

It’s also a fair bit of cash to invest – maybe $70K – and then there’s the question of storage… More than that even there’s the question of finding time to actually do the work when I already have as much work as I can manage. Then there’s the desire to keep life simple. I could employ staff to do Retic & turf while I get earthmoving up and running but it’s starting to feel a bit more all consuming than I like.

Its also partly prompted by the question mark that hangs over my right arm and how long it can remain usable. It may be necessary to have a plan b if it gets too sore. Add to that the dire situation Perth finds itself in this year with water and the possibility of a complete watering ban and it pays to at least have done some homework on a plan B that could get us thru a drought period. 

So we will see what develops…  For now it will be business as usual but I don’t think it will be forever.

Apology to India

Sorry India.

We really gave you guys curry (to coin a phrase) in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games and portrayed you as backward neanderthals who couldn’t pull off a major event to save yourselves. We worried about everything from security to hygiene and we even pulled a few nasty stunts to discredit you and make you look incompetent.

We made a big deal of all of the ‘bad’ and said very little about the good. If self fulfilling prophecies were precisely that, then our propaganda alone would have seen the games a dismal failure.

But from my observations you did a pretty good job of making it all happen. I wasn’t there in person (and I actually think it might be time to lay the games to rest) but your management processes seemed to work and there were enough fireworks and regalia to please even Dame Edna.

So – well done India. In spite of the odds you did a decent job.

And interestingly I spotted another blog post on a similar title here.


We all need a place to call home.

Obviously some folks ‘need’ a more impressive one than others. Sometimes its hard to define ‘excess’ and other times… well

India’s richest man, and Forbes’s fourth richest man, Mukesh Ambani, has built the world’s most expensive house in Mumbai. It is estimated to be worth $1 billion.

The lavish building– named Antilia, after the mythical island– has 27 stories, is 173 meters high and has 37,000 square meters of floor space — more than the Palace of Versailles. It contains a health club with a gym and dance studio, at least one swimming pool, a ballroom, guestrooms, a variety of lounges and a 50-seater cinema. There are three helicopter pads on the roof and a car park for 160 vehicles on the ground floors. It’s obviously quite a job keeping all this running smoothly, so the house, if you can call it that, also boasts a staff of 600. And all this for just Ambani, his wife and their three children to enjoy.

Missional Reflections – Looking Back Looking Forwards

I’m not sure quite what to make of this period of time we are in as the church in Australia.

It seems many years since we used words like ‘seeker sensitive’ or ‘seeker service’. It feels like another lifetime when we were discussing the significance of postmodernity and using words like ‘deconstruction’ in the same breath as youth ministry and before all that there were the ‘worship wars’ (which I understand still rage in parts of middle earth) In more recent times what was labelled ’emerging church’ has gone off the boil and with the closure of Forge in most parts of Australia the conversation has fizzled somewhat, although I think we had all said enough and needed to ‘do’ a bit more.

If we sift thru the debris of the different themes/emphases/foci over the last few decades (and I have been involved with them all) the common element seems to be a desire to see the church somehow gets it’s butt into gear and be more effective at ‘mission’. The word is in inverted commas because I don’t think there is consensus on what this word means. For some it is as simple as getting more people into church while for others it has a very strong social action flavour. Personally I see mission as whatever we do that demonstrates and proclaims the love of God for the whole world. Its a pretty expansive definition, but I think it needs to be to allow for the different nuances and expressions.

My take from where I sit today, is that we can learn from each emphasis and that the combined wisdom will be of more value than the simple adoption of one schema as our only way, although it’s natural that we will have our preferences.

When I look back to the worship wars (and cringe) I can see that much of the debate was in-house. I don’t think anyone in our community was getting concerned that we weren’t singing the right songs… I remember our approach was to try and sing songs that sounded like middle of the road radio 94.5fm style stuff. But giving up hymns was a battle royale and plenty still wear the scars of this time. At best we were trying to make ourselves more ‘relevant’, but if anyone outside the church knew the way we carved each other up in the pursuit of relevance then I don’t think they would give a toss what we were singing – they’d just think we were nuts and avoid us like the plague in case they got caught in the crossfire. On reflection I don’t think there was much of a missional motivation here at all.

Then the discussion turned to how we could get non- Christians to come to church and enjoy it… The first part of that task was a big enough ask, but the second was mammoth. Willow Creek and Saddleback showed us how this could be done and as a result pale imitations of their glory sprang up around the world. The value of this time was definitely the emphasis on evangelism and the focus on those who were ‘not us’. It was a challenge to reinvent ourselves so that church was not all about us, but rather was focused on those we wanted to reach. We embraced these ideas at Lesmurdie and had some real wins with seeing many young people come to both church and faith – and even enjoy it – but it was a system that derived it’s ethos from consumerism so when we stopped being flavour of the month, or werent able to ‘outdo’ ourselves each week those young people moved on. I’d suggest that every church that has tried to build it’s congregation by attracting people to a class act Sunday gig has sooner or later had to deal with the challenge of the ‘bigger and better’ somewhere else in the city, or the burnout of those seeking to stage the weekly event. For those with the desire to compete this approach rolls on and there are still plenty who retain this as their primary approach. If you can do it really really well then chances are you will see some ROI, but if not be prepared to get carved up by those who do.

I also remember the long talks on postmodernity – post-modernism and other permutations of the word. I think it’s great value was to make us engage at a more thoughtful level with popular culture and broader thought patterns. It was important to recognize the framework that was shaping contemporary thought, and as a result we adjusted our church services to try and cater for post moderns who sought truth thru experience rather than thru fact, who valued relationship, process, mystery etc etc … I’m sure you remember the conversations, concerns and debates that this topic created. The ‘fear’ response was quite astounding here as many evangelicals saw truth apparently unravelling before their very eyes. It is tragic that fear is so often the default evangelical response to the unknown. Wonderful opportunities to learn and grow fly out the window when fears presides.

The post-modern emphasis led naturally into the emerging church movement as it was concerned largely with questions of missiology and gospel/culture. At it’s best the emerging church – or emerging missional church as we preferred to label it – broadened peoples view of mission and rattled their assumptions about church. It called the church to be more focused on getting people back into the community rather than getting the community back into church. The voices leading the movement were primarily prophetic and as a result quite prickly at times, but I tend to think they needed to be if they were to be heard. And they were heard. You only have to read some pretty standard denominational fare to see that much of what was said has been taken on board and is now accepted wisdom.

The biggest struggle for the EMC was in finding ‘effective working models’ of missional churches. While the ideas had great theological and practical currency few seemed either willing or able to re-imagine church and mission in a compelling way. With most Christians still motivated by the ‘what’s in it for me?’ question it was hard to draw people into a very activistic community and then to sustain that over the longer term.

I noticed that many showed interest in new expressions, or cheered them on from the sidelines, but very few were actually willing to put their balls on the line and give it a crack. Quality pioneering leaders were hard to find – in fact I think they are always hard to find – and even those who did try found the going very hard. I think what those of us who were out there discovered the harsh reality of a deeply secular community with little sense of need for a Christian expression of spirituality. Part of this is likely due to misconceptions of church and faith, but part of it is also due to the wealth and self sufficiency of this country we find ourselves in. Its hard hard soil here in 21stC Oz and no matter what approach we take to mission the going will be tough.

Part of the struggle in establishing new expressions of church is that for many the powerful shaping of their heritage (and the consumer desire for a happening kids/youth ministry etc) prevented them from actually trying anything new. We often heard ‘I wouldn’t want to put my kids at risk in a church without a dedicated kids min or youth min.’ Churches are by their nature risk averse institutions, a posture that desperately needs addressing.

As one who now leads a pretty normal little Baptist church in the suburbs while running my own business, I find myself a product of all these experiences and learnings and am grateful for how they have contributed to my own journey. If we could combine the ‘willow creek’ passion for evangelism with the emerging missional church missiology, and get rid of stupid arguments over stuff no one cares about then I think we would do well.

But I’m not sure what all that means in this current landscape. I am deeply convinced that the way of the future is not the way of the past and that the only way we will new green ecclesial shoots emerge is by some serious R & D.

But R & D means investment of time and resources – it means experimentation – and inevitably some level of failure as not all experiments will work. Generally speaking we don’t like to risk our resources on new ideas that might not work. We would prefer to invest them in ideas that worked once in the hope that they will work again. Its the fear response kicking in again.

I remember as a basketball coach watching games where one team was slowly losing its grip on the game, but it refused to change tactics. It was comfortable with a zone defense. It had worked for them in the past and they weren’t about to mess around with half court presses or full court man to man. Crikey they were losing. So why would you play risky defense?!… Of course with 3 minutes left in the game and absolutely no chance of winning a team would try anything. So you would observe ragged full court presses being implemented when all hope was long gone. Inevitably the team got caned by even more and drew the conclusion that that stuff doesn’t work… Of course the horse had long bolted and there was no way anyone was ever going to turn that game around.

My own coaching strategy was to vary the defense and offense to suit the team we were playing against – to contextualise you could say – and when we were losing to make changes long before things were unsalvageable. Of course we didn’t win every game, but as we got better at adapting and innovating and working with new offenses and defenses we became a more formidable opponent.

I feel like there are now many churches around who are 40 points down and deep in the last quarter of the game. They too are finally at the point where they are willing to try anything, but the game may no longer be salvageable.

Surely the lesson here is that we need to take risks when we are healthy as a dying entity simply doesn’t have the recovery power if the experiments fail.

Having said that all of that whichever paradigm we work with, the hard cold reality is that we lead as broken selfish people and we also lead others who are just as broken and selfish. It’s a reminder to me that whatever does actually occur is likely to be more a divine act than any genius on my part.

Just Another Shark in a Suit?

I think Jerry Maguire is still my all time favourite movie.

I realise its never destined to be a classic, and some of you will find me unbelievably shallow about now because of this choice! But I find myself identifying strongly with the character of Jerry, who comes to a point in life where he finds himself asking ‘Who had I become?… Just another shark in a suit?…’

This jaded but successful sports agent with more clients than he can manage, suddenly does a stocktake on the shape of his life and in a night of frightening revelation writes what he calls his ‘mission statement’, appropriately entitled ‘The things we think and do not say’.

Impulsively he races down to the local print shop in the early hours of the morning and has them run off enough copies for everyone in his office. As he places a copy of his dream in the mail-boxes of his co-workers hoping to share his vision with them he says ‘I didn’t care. I had lost the ability to bullshit. It was the me I had always wanted to be.’

His ‘mission statement’ becomes the catalyst and the vision for where his life heads from there on.

In his night of realisation he came face to face with the startling fact that he hated who he had become – that he had lost contact with his true identity.

‘With so many clients we had forgotten what was important.’

In his quest to acquire more clients and make more money he had moved away from the core ethic of his business – caring for the athletes. The words of his father and mentor Dicky Fox echoed in his ears ‘The key to this business is personal relationships,’ and somewhere along the line he had forgotten that.

The answer was going to be fewer clients, less money and more personal attention.

It was a beautiful dream – a moment of calling back to what a sports agent really ought to be – one who looks after the best interests of the player, rather than a schmooozer who sees people as just another dollar sign destined for exploitation.

Do I need to point the parallels for those of us who have served in local church ministry?

And its especially true for those of us who have led larger churches, where people become faces in the crowd and we learn how to live with and manage that situation.

It was about 4 years ago that I had my own ”Jerry Maguire moment’, the culmination of several years of living a conflicted existence as a pastor who questioned the shape things were taking in his church and who he was becoming in the midst of it.

There is no question that it wasn’t all bad. In fact much of it was good. We were good people attempting to do good things, but somehow I had lost touch with the core reality of who I was called to be and what we were supposed to do. I had started to become concerned for things that really shouldn’t have mattered as much as they did. I was starting to lose touch with the things that really needed to matter and along the way I was increasingly cognizant of the dissonance of my life.

The journey that hasresulted in us living here in Brighton was sparked because of that need to come back to living with integrity and being who I was called and created to be.

If you remember the Jerry Maguire story you’d know it was almost the complete undoing of Jerry as he sought to stay true to his sense of calling. At times the dream faded to a distant memory and he was simply in survival mode, while he sought to look after his one remaining client and clung by his fingernails to his disintegrating life.

My own experience has been nowhere near the dramatic downward spiral that Jerry experienced, but neither has it been a fairy tale. Dreams are wonderful things and I doubt many of us would even consider getting off our backsides and trying anything at all were it not for the power of the imagination and the hope of a better future. But to leave the comfort and security of what we know to try and live in a counter-cultural way (both in society and in church culture) is both difficult and lonely.

There are many times when I am tempted to give the dream away and go back to the conflicted but secure life that I used to have. It is what I know best and it is what I did well for many years. But I am also aware that in doing so I will not be satisfied. I don’t think I have completely lost the ability to bullshit, (do we ever?) but I am hoping that the longer I try to live out of a sense of congruence with my calling and identity the less I sound like a sales rep for ‘church inc’ and the more I sound like someone who genuinely loves God and loves people.

Jerry’s is a story with a happy ending as ultimately those who laughed at him see the pleasure and the fruit of a life that is lived with integrity and seek to emulate it.

Of course life is not the movies and the chances my story will end like Jerry’s is somewhat unlikely, but I continue to be inspired by someone who didn’t just dream of a better way. He ‘hung his balls out there’ and gave it his best shot.

Then again, shallow as I am, I’d do it all just to get the chance to be that close to Renee Zelwigger!”

Church Leadership in a Consumer Age

Great article here from the New York Times on the challenges church leaders face in an increasingly consumeristic age. Here are a few excerpts:

The pastoral vocation is to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways. But churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them. It’s apparent in the theater-style seating and giant projection screens in churches and in mission trips that involve more sightseeing than listening to the local people.

At their courageous best, clergy lead where people aren’t asking to go, because that’s how the range of issues that concern them expands, and how a holy community gets formed.

Ministry is a profession in which the greatest rewards include meaningfulness and integrity. When those fade under pressure from churchgoers who don’t want to be challenged or edified, pastors become candidates for stress and depression.

I think the big challenge in all of this is that we want to have good relationships with people and we want our church community to be a significant source of friendship, but to poke people out of a ‘what I want’ mentality will undoubtedly jeopardise those friendships.

We also recognise that much of what ‘people desire’ is actually good. Its great to have a competent music team, a well run kids program and a healthy youth scene, but when these then become KPIs for visitors to gauge our attractiveness by we find ourselves back in the consumer trap.

I am not sure if its avoidable and that is something I constantly wrestle with. Doing things badly is nothing to be proud of and yet doing things well can see us then ‘playing the game’.

More Aussie Adventurers

Having enjoyed the big lap last year I am always interested to read of the journey others are taking around this great country, so these two blogs have been of particular interest lately.

Gallagher’s travels by (now very old mate) Steve Gallagher and Aussie Road Trip by the Busso family Robinsons are both well worth a read if you are considering a similar adventure.

Currently the Gallagher’s are making their way down the Qld coast and getting rained on as they go, while the Robinsons are near Sydney and travelling in the opposite direction.

I haven’t bought a caravan mag for a few months now and the roots are starting to feel like they are sinking back into terra Butler, albeit for a few more years until we launch off again! Yes, that’s our hope – to be able to crank it all up again and take off on another adventure.

I must admit that with the Aussie dollar in its current state, its tempting to fly across to the US, buy a caravan over there, tour the US and then ship it home, sell it and pay for the trip. With a comparable US caravan about half the price of an Aussie one its a very doable prospect…

But for now I’ll keep my head down and bum up as we dig in for another few years of suburban life. Sigh…

3 ways we can totally screw up our lives and be completely miserable

Today I was speaking about 3 ways we can totally screw up our lives and be completely miserable. It was the end of our series on vocation where the focus has been on helping people see who God has made them to be and to live more fully from the ‘true self’.

We haven’t dealt a lot of work/career because I think that is a subset of identity and vocation, but rather have focused on who we are and what it means to be fully alive as those people.

So the 3 ways I was reflecting on today were:

1. Spend so much time comparing yourself negatively to others that you can’t see or appreciate who you are anyway.

Gal 5:25-25 in the message reads so well:

Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.

Its way too easy for some of us to see what we lack rather than what we have and to live constantly depressed because of that. How much better to look inside, see who we are and be grateful for that. Then you can really start living.

There is an old Jewish tale told by Rabbi Zusya. It simply says this: “In the coming world they will not me ‘ask why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me ‘why were you not Zusya?’ (From ‘Let Your Life Speak’ – Parker Palmer)

2. Live in fear and never take any risks

Its so easy to get shaped by others expectations and agendas that often our true self can get lost as we try to please other people, or as we get squashed by their demands. Sometimes we need to courageously break free from the ‘box’ we are in and become who we really are.

Some of you would know the story of Rosa Parks. On December 1st 1955 in Montgomery Alabama Rosa Parks did something she was not supposed to do; she sat at the front of a bus in one of the seats reserved for whites – a dangerous, daring and provocative act for a black woman in a racially segregated society.

Legend has it that years later when Rosa parks was asked why she did it, she said ‘I wasn’t trying to set out to start a movement. I wasn’t trying to ignite a revolution. I sat down because I was tired.’

And by ‘tired’ she didn’t mean that she had sore feet. She meant that her soul was weary. He whole being was tired of playing by rules that deemed her to be inferior based on her skin colour and she said ‘enough’.

She decided that she wasn’t going to act on the outside in a way that contradicted who she was on the inside. She said ‘I will not longer act as if I were less than the whole person I know myself to be’.

Good for you Rosa and I reckon many more could learn from you example.

There is that wonderful quote, attributed to Mandela:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

Actually who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. Its not just in some of us, its in everyone, and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others

If we can stop pandering to other people’s insecurities and let go of our desires to keep others happy then maybe we can discover who we really are.

3. Let sin take up residence in your life unchallenged.

One of the phrases I have eradicated from my own vocabulary is the one that says ‘that’s just who I am’ as a way of excusing my bad behaviour. I have heard this so much over the years and usually from people who should know better. The next time I hear that I want to say ‘that’s too bad that’s who you are, but the good news is that in God’s strength you can change… if you want to’.

If I had to describe one of things that absolutely devastates me, its when someone who’s been a Christian for a long time tells me that they are wilfully going to go against what God says. I know we all stuff up and we all struggle with stuff too, but when someone says ‘I don’t care any more. I am addicted to porn/greedy/a gossip’ etc – when we resign our will then we actually sabotage our own lives.

If I had a dollar for every person who has said to me “I know the Bibe says ‘X’, but I’m still going to do ‘Y'” then I’d be a rich man.

We looked at Hebrews 12 where the author says that to run the race we need to get rid of any hindrances / sin etc, but the passage of scripture that really challenged me again today was the Rev 3 bit to the church at Laiodacea where God says ‘I would actually prefer you to be either hot or cold rather than luke warm’.

Its pretty full on when you consider it. God would love us to be ‘hot’ in faith, but if we don’t want that, if we would rather have two bob either way, then he’d prefer for us to give the whole game up.

As I said that this morning I was impacted by the gravity of the words. “Either follow Jesus wholeheartedly, or walk away and give the whole thing up…”

I put that choice to people – God would rather we are ‘hot’, but if we don’t want that then best to be ‘cold’. The other option makes him spew…

Struggling with sin is a whole different issue, but when we choose to allow some sin to simply form our identity and shape our character then we are really going to screw up our lives.

The challenge here is to bring our sin into the light and confess it to one another. Someone once said ‘if the church is really the church then its the one place where its safe to be me’. It will be a place of acceptance and grace. Sadly we all know that if we confess the wrong stuff to the wrong people then church can also be a lynch mob of self righteous cowards.

Anyway – if you haven’t discovered enough ways to screw up your life already then here are some to add to your toolbag…

So… good luck with that