Rob Bell has to be one of the biggest names in the worldwide church at the moment. The guy has captured the imagination of an enormous slice of younger ‘new’ evangelicals who are looking for a more articulate way to describe and define their experience of faith.

Bell manages to make a radical following of Jesus sound appealing and desirable rather than just difficult. He is inspiring and captivating in his speaking as well as on occasions being intentionally provocative. This is part of his appeal. He makes you think. He doesn’t just say what everyone else is saying and in similar ways. He dares to ask dangerous questions and in doing so he makes himself vulnerable – very vulnerable to the theological daleks who simply want to exterminate anyone who asks questions, let alone arrives at different conclusions to them.

I’m interested in his latest book ‘Love Wins’, partly because of the theological content, but also because of the stir it has caused already among other Christian leaders – even though the book hasn’t been released. The various critiques of Bell that I have read are very unlikely to have come from a thorough reading of his book as it isn’t due for release on March 29th… so why such a stir?… and based on what?!

Is it really about ‘guarding the gospel’ or is it a fear based reaction to a powerful and influential leader who dares to ask a difficult question – a question that is obviously ‘live’ amongst theological thinkers today. Given the strength of the knee jerk I tend to think its not all from healthy motives.

That question is essentially ‘what becomes of people who die apart from Christ?’ Is it Hell for all for ever, or is there some possibility that God may offer a second chance?…

Its asking the question of whether there is some credence in the idea of universalism in its various garbs. Bell’s short promo video is beautifully provocative and asks some significant questions. I can only guess that this forms the basis for the critique so many have levelled at him. And yet all he does is pose questions… All he does is raise the same reasonable objections that we could expect from any thinking person…

Are we afraid Bell might arrive at non-orthodox conclusions? Are we afraid that he might even teach us something we didn’t know?…

I am grateful for Rob Bell and other provocateurs of his ilk who refuse to simply keep to safe topics and protect their reputation (and speaking schedule). I am firmly convinced we need to have the difficult theological questions raised among the masses and explored more thoroughly.

I don’t know where Rob Bell ends on this stuff…

Unless you’ve read the book you probably don’t either…

But I am curious at the ferocity of the evangelical fear response that refuses to allow someone to question, let alone offer a different perspective. I’m not so sure the response would be so vehement if the author were someone rather more in the suit and tie evangelical mode. Take John Stott for example who describes his view of hell as that of annihilation rather than eternal conscious torment and ask why he hasn’t been hung out to dry. (see Evangelical Essentials pp.318-320)

Seriously, I wonder how we learn if we don’t question.

I wonder how we mature in our theology if we don’t bump against ideas other than our own and really grapple with them – perhaps even admitting that we were wrong… I remember well growing up in a church where spiritual gifts of the ‘pentecostal’ kind were seen to be as coming from satanic origin. I was taught this by people who believed it with all integrity. But I am absolutely convinced that these good people were wrong on this issue.

I like the way NT Wright frames the intro to some of his talks – “80% of what I say to you today will be true and valuable – 20% will be wrong – I just don’t know which bits are which”.

If Wright reckons he’s just ‘80% right’, then chances are others of us are less correct than that and maybe need to take a deep breath before we condemn a brother or sister as a heretic for asking difficult questions.

Let’s read the book, hear Bell out and then see where it goes…

Maybe he’s right (in whatever he believes) but we won’t be able to see that if we already read him thru the lens of a heretic. Let’s give the bloke a fair go…

Pushing it

I have a general policy of leaving my work car unlocked at all times simply because I don’t like the hassle of having to fix door locks and broken windows when kids break in. I figure they can have the ashtray money so long as I don’t have to chase around finding spares and doing repairs.

Last night was one of those nights. I got up this morning to discover my glovebox emptied and my ashtray taken along with my lunch money. As much as I allow for this you still feel pretty angry that people feel they can get away with this.

Even more annoying was that I could have caught them. It only dawned on me when Danelle told me her car had been done also (but no one wanted her god music!) and then I discovered my garage remote control lying on the road… 

My mind rolled back to exactly 2am when I woke to the sound of a garage door going up. I was sleeping deeply at the time but actually remember thinking it was the neighbours across the road having a late one. The hum of the air con and my own grogginess dulled what was a actually the sound of our own garage door going up – and then down again about 30 seconds later.

If only I had clicked… I’d love to have caught them, but then the question arises ‘what do you do?’

I used to consider keeping a large steel bar under the bed for moment like these, but you only have to wack someone once and chances are you will go to jail… Or maybe start a ‘war’ with local teenagers that you really don’t want to have.

My mate Owen who lived in Butler for a few years tells a great story of catching a local teenage tagger spraying bus stops. He followed him, caught him, took his spray can off him and painted him all over – then sent him home. He was a hero at the local residents meeting! And the coppers even turned a blind eye…

It’s a dodgy world we live in now isn’t it, when the law acts to protect the dipsticks rather than the innocent victims?… 

We haven’t called the cops (just a waste of both our time) the car is still unlocked tonight, and no, I don’t have an iron bar under the bed… (which isn’t to say I wouldn’t like to crack one of them around the head)

Flywheel in Motion

As I gathered in a room last night with 6 other blokes all committed to growing in their practice of spiritual disciplines I felt like we ‘turned the flywheel’ just a bit… With 4 others keen, but unable to be there this week for a variety of reasons we have managed to get a great core of men wanting to shift the balance of their own faith. I will explain the concept of the flywheel later but for now let me mention the source.

One of the best books I have read on helping organisations get their butts into gear and become more than just another blip on the radar is Jim Collins Good to Great. Although written for the business sector, it has been immensely valuable in thinking through how we make progress in what we do as a church.

Collins made a study of a heap of mediocre organisations that made the shift to being ‘great’ and identified a number of key principles. Some of them are a bit counterintuitive and some of them make perfect sense but are hard to do.

In leading an established church I accept albeit reluctantly that we do need to embrace some elements of organisational life and that if we are to be more than a social club for religious people we need some sense of shared purpose and direction. While that doesn’t require great formality I have found the principles Collins mentions helpful in working with a group of people larger than would meet in a home.

Collins diagram is explained fully in his book but for now I’ll make a few comments on the key elements.

Level 5 Leadership – in the ‘great companies’ there was a clear move away from superman, visionary, heroic leaders towards more empowering and humble leaders. These were leaders who didn’t want the future of the organisation to rest on their charisma. I’ve learnt to value this form of leadership much more over the last 10 years, but also observed that people feel safer when the ‘level 4 leader’ is in charge – the one who carries everything on his own back. I functioned that way in my youth ministry days, but I refuse to do that now as I actually feel its counterproductive in the longer term. I discovered Collin’s book after my time in youth min, but it has affirmed some of what I feel is a healthier (and more biblically faithful) way to lead a community.

First Who Then What – Collins says ‘get the right people on the bus’ and then get them ‘sitting in the right seats’. This is always hard because the bus comes pre-loaded and you don’t always know who the right people are until you’ve been around for a while. I don’t like asking people to get off the bus and so far haven’t had to, but the people ‘on the bus’ has changed over the last couple of years. We have some great people on the bus and I reckon there may be one or two more who we can find a seat for.

Confront The Brutal Facts – I am not sure if we have done this well yet. I get the sense that we know the facts are brutal – ie we are pushing uphill with mission/evangelism and therefore church in its current form – but I am not sure we are quite ready to confront them. I feel part of my role over the last 10 years in Forge and now in a local church is to state, re-state and keep stating the brutal facts. The challenge is to do this in a way that challenges and inspires people rather than just makes them want to quit or pisses them off. That’s hard when some days you just want to quit yourself! I don’t like the role of ‘brutal facts presenter’, but I’m absolutely convinced that no one makes change if they are unaware of the facts. Why would you?

The Hedgehog Concept – is to simply hone your focus and energies on to the one thing that you can be the best in the world at and to say ‘no’ to the many other good things that compete for your time and energy. Again I think we are unclear on this one and it is needing some further work. Its easy to scrabble around and pursue all kinds of good ideas in our efforts to do something worthwhile, but unless the energy is focused we can just end up tiring people out. I imagine that with the right people in the right seats and some dedicated attention to the brutal facts and the situation in front of us this will come clearer.

A Culture of Discipline – and Collins adds ‘with an ethic of entrepreneurship’. I like it. A focused disciplined bunch of people who are able to ignite the creative spark and take risks as they need to. A culture of discipline on its own might be diligent, but hardly inspiring. I like the balance he suggests here and it is something I want to work towards also. However perhaps a little reframing so that we create ‘A culture of

discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship in a spirit of grace’. Too much church based discipline can turn to legalism and get very very ugly.

To be honest I didn’t think Collins work on technology accelerators was all that applicable to our church life and as I’m writing all this from memory I can’t even remember what was relevant. I’m sure it was of value to someone!

So these elements actually form something of a process and it has been one that I have been at work on for a while now. But back to the flywheel. Collins likens changing an organisation to spinning a very big flywheel. It takes a slot of effort to get going but once that baby’s moving – ‘look out’. Collins suggests that the movement of the flywheel doesn’t depend on catalytic events, but rather is a summation of all that has gone into making it move.

I’m not so sure I agree there. I reckon a series of catalytic events can actually produce momentum and so long as the energy behind it is sustained, then the flywheel is going to keep gaining steam. Last night felt like one of those significant moments when most of the men in our church community turned up to a group that was explicitly promoted as a place where you would be challenged to grow spiritually by the practice of spiritual disciplines and by training yourself to be godly.

I got the clear sense that our blokes wanted more than just a beer and a chat and that we had hit on a real desire to ‘step up’, hence the feeling that maybe the flywheel is in motion and maybe we are going to see some significant change.

As with any momentum based activity it is as easy to lose momentum as to gain it so we will need to keep encouraging one another and spurring one another on. But I think we may have reached a ‘tipping point’ there (to use another author’s term), but maybe that’s food for a different post…

Its Not Our Policy

But maybe it should be…

When you respond with ‘its not our policy’ you treat everyone the same and that is often not a good policy. But it is convenient and expedient.

I rang the Commonwealth Bank today to ask if we could increase our line of credit from $250K to $300K. We probably won’t ever need it, but it was a ‘just in case’ measure, as we look at selling, buying and doing a few renos on the place in Yanchep.

All was going wonderfully until I was asked for the amount I earnt based on my last income tax assessment. That would be $31K… It doesn’t sound like very much does it, but then we did travel around Australia for that half that year and we did have substantial deductions. We are yet to submit last year’s tax return, but chances are with deductions and all of my church pay as non-reportable fringe benefits it won’t look huge either.

So that conversation went like this:

“Based on that amount we can’t lend you any more money sir.”

“I understand that – and that makes sense if that is all you have to go on – but I haven’t done this year’s tax return yet and that will be significantly different. However if you check my loan repayments you will observe that we have paid back 5 times the amount required each week for the last 18 months. Would you not say that constitutes a pattern worthy of consideration?”

“I understand what you are saying sir but its not the bank’s policy”

“Do you think maybe you could talk to someone and change the policy because I think we have clearly demonstrated that we aren’t going to struggle with the loan”

“I’m sorry sir’ said the commbank robot. “I can’t do anything. That is our policy”

“But do you not see what I am saying? You could lose a customer here because you have an inflexible ‘policy’?… Does that not seem a little dumb?”

“I’m sorry sir, but that is our policy and I cannot take this application any further”

“So you realise I will change banks.”


So the ‘policy’ might be a helpful general approach to situations but it isn’t going to work in every setting. And when you are the one who gets dealt the pointy end of the pineapple you are not impressed. I do understand the need for an organisation to have some parameters in place that enable them to make efficient decisions, but I’d suggest that ‘its not our policy’ is also a convenient ‘out’, when tricky situations approach and people need to think outside the square a little.

In running my own business its a phrase I try not to use – ever – because it reflects blanket thinking rather than individual thinking. Ok, so maybe that’s a bit of a stretch for the Commonwealth, but given the profits they made in the last year perhaps they could consider employing someone as a ‘policy bender’ or a ‘what about this one?’ consultant.

A great way to keep business and to show concern for individuals rather than just profits…

But alas I think that is but another one of my dreams… Then again if someone with some muscle from the banking industry reads this and hears what I’m saying perhaps a change might take place…

What Will it Take?

Some days I ponder the question ‘what will it take to see the church in Australia begin to make a dent in society?’

I mean a serious dent. I know people come to church and faith in ones and twos, but what will it take to get to a place where people see us as having something valuable to say to the issues going on in our country? Where people look at the church and see us as having a life that they desire because it is so incredibly attractive… albeit costly.

It feels like a lament as we are a long way from that dream, but I don’t think the situation is completely hopeless. (I do think its close if all we have to offer is ‘more of the same’ in the way we do business.)

I keep coming back to the thought that the only hope for the western church is for the people within it to experience a renewal in faith that puts them in a place where they live lives so demonstrably different to the world around them that the only explanation is the existence of a good God.

Richard Foster says:

?”The problem today is that evangelism has reached the point of diminishing returns. I talk with people and they say, “What am I to be converted to? I look at Christians and statistically they aren’t any different.” You want to be able to point to people who are really different.”


In arguably his greatest speech ever Jesus said:

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

He was saying those who don’t care for the things of the kingdom place their focus on temporal things and are concerned for sating their more primitive appetites, but for those of us who claim to know Jesus this ought not to be the way.

But it is.

It seems that some of us have inverted Jesus words in the sermon on the mount and now seek first material prosperity, personal happiness and security and then the kingdom of God if its not too inconvenient or costly. Is it any surprise no one wants to listen to anything we have to say when our Christ filled life looks just like a religious version of aspirational middle class suburban living?

Our lack of distinctiveness is surely a cause for great lament.

In my role at Quinns Baptist I am paid to lead the church and I’m employed for 2 days a week to do that. The beauty of only having two days is that you don’t have time to fritter away doing inane things. You only have a small window of time so you need to choose wisely what to invest it in.

Once you carve out a big slab of that time to do the not negotiables – teaching prep, meetings, admin, Sundays there aint a lot left to invest. But in the time I have this year I have chosen to invest it in the blokes of our church in a course based around spiritual disciplines.

I have been looking for a point of leverage – a place where I can make a significant contribution in a small amount of time. So we are starting a fortnightly blokes group that has the specific brief of equipping men to train themselves to be godly, of empassioning blokes for a richer deeper relationship with Christ and with each other and of giving them experience in a wide range of spiritual practices so that they can put themselves in a place where they can encounter God more vividly and regularly.

It will be a challenge. To get people to commit to something for 13 weeks seems like a huge ask in today’s world, but I am convinced it has the potential to be the start of something very very good in our lives as blokes and in the life of the wider church.

I wrote previously along these lines so I thought it was time to take some action and try to do something about what I see. At one level its a personal quest to re-ignite my own relationship with God that has felt dry and weary over the last two years. But I am conscious that I am not the only one who ha been struggling with a sub-par faith experience and I imagine that giving blokes a place to come and spur one another on might just be a catalyst for something greater.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

And It’s Hot…

I haven’t checked back over the specifics, but I don’t think we have had a sub 30 degree day in Perth for over 6 weeks. Its been hot hot hot…

And I’ve noticed it taking its toll the last couple of weeks as I have come home from work really weary and woken up thinking ‘not again…’

I haven’t felt like that before, and I still enjoy what I do, but the heat is taking its toll, which isn’t good because we have to get thru March yet before there will be any relief in sight.

Usually over summer we get a breather every now and then with a few 25 degree days, but it hasn’t been that kinda summer at all.

Its about now perspective matters and you remember how much you have to be grateful for. For some the heat has taken a savage toll with bushfires wiping out a heap of homes in the east of Perth, but for most of us we have just had to drink more water, or run the air con a bit longer.

I love Autumn and spring, I even like winter, but in summer I need to catch my breath occasionally and that just aint happening…

Sunbeam Bloody Sunbeam

Ok, this is purely for the coffee lovers who may hit a similar snag at some point with their EM6910s.

On the weekend I gave my machine its weekly clean out and noticed that some milk had caked around the end of the steam wand. I wipe it down each time I use but obviously had missed the milk around the end and I needed to chip it off with a screwdriver. (Its the ‘hex’ end on the wand) I also gave the innards a clean with the little cleaning device.

And I have no idea what changed in those moments but when I cranked it up to make a brew I couldn’t texture milk to save my life. From smooth silky milk to ‘dishwashing bubbles’ and no apparent reason…

I couldn’t seem to get the steam wand in the ‘sweet spot’. It would simply hiss and howl like a wild thing instead of making the normal surging noise. As a result the milk just got hot and bubbly and the result was another crap coffee.

I tried various options to remedy things – re-cleaning, adjusting the temp of the steam and anything else I could imagine. Eventually after 2 days of boofy bubbles I had to consider that maybe I had stuffed up the nozzle.

So I rang the guys at 5 senses who are local agents for Sunbeam and had another nozzle sent up ($24.00 including postage)

I got home from work today and gave it a try and the result was better. Not brilliant yet – but definitely a big improvement. I’d say it went from a 2/10 to a 7/10, but not a 9 or a 10 yet.

Call me a fussy bugger, but I think there is big difference between a ‘7’ and a ‘9’. So over the next few days I will be trying to get things sorted and get back to business as usual.

So – if like me, you one day clean your machine and suddenly find yourself inexplicably churning out bubbly, rubbish then it may well be the nozzle…

Anyone else had similar problems?

Learn To Cook!

If there’s a phrase or idea that has really set us on our butt as the church it would have to be that of Sunday as ‘feeding time’.

If you’ve been around churches any length of time then I’m sure you will have heard people speak of ‘getting fed’ on Sundays. It’s so accepted now that it rarely gets questioned, but surely we need to keep challenging this idea that actually serves to undermine progress towards spiritual maturity.

Yes you heard me correctly.

If you had an adult child that came back home to ‘get fed’ (once a week) you would surely question what was going on in their minds. First they’d be completely malnourished… but secondly you’d have to look in the mirror and ask ‘what kind of lame job did I do as a parent?!’

Why didn’t I teach my kid to cook?… And why didn’t I teach my kid to take responsibility for their own nutrition?…

I know its not rocket science, but its a deeply ingrained way of thought – that we turn up on Sundays to ‘get fed’ usually by a ‘skilled chef’ who has done some serious preparation and for some (many?) that’s it for the week.

But what if we re-calibrated our understanding of Sunday so that rather than being the one time during the week when we stick our collective snouts in the trough, we saw it simply as the day we ‘eat together as a family’ with the other days being when we eat alone. Then perhaps we would foster better spiritual health in our communities.

Seriously – if the only time you get fed is on a Sunday morning then you’re in bad shape. If you’re a regular reader here (and I know there aren’t many left these days!) then you’d know I have been reflecting recently on the need for a bit more rigour and discipline in our spiritual formation and what’s interesting is that I think many people actually realise they are hungry – and they want it – but they aren’t sure where to start or mabe aren’t equipped to make it happen.

A couple of weeks back I put out the call to our blokes to commit to 6 months of ‘training ourselves to be godly’ i.e. practicing spiritual disciplines and engaging seriously as a community with scripture, prayer and the other more classical disciplines and within a week I had 7 men say ‘count me in’ which I think is absolutely sensational, but also a recognition that we need more than a Sunday roast once a week.

Of course if you know anything about ‘health’ then you’d know that good physical health involves a balance of calorie intake and calorie output. If all we do is get fed then watch out Biggest Loser… So part of the ‘training to be godly’ process is that of practicing service and making it every bit as natural as eating…

So let’s keep disassembling this bizarre nonsensical idea that we turn up on Sundays to get fed and let’s be more focused on teaching one another to cook so that we can actually feed ourselves.

Which idea do you reckon has more biblical currency?…

The Good Bloke Clause

A few weeks back I bought a trench digger.

Since then I’ve become addicted to it. It is better at digging than I am… faster… and it doesn’t get tired…

However in the last two weeks it has crapped itself on 4 occasions. Come to think of it that does sound a bit like me…

The first time it was a bearing that was shot and the Hire Guys at Joondalup (where I bought it) replaced it for free. Then on the next job a dodgy air-filter meant it lost power and couldn’t dig. They fixed that too. Then on the very next job after 10 metres of digging the internal bearings collapsed and we were back to shovels again. I picked it up yesterday virtually a new machine with bearings, plug, air filter, oil etc all changed.

Today we took it out this morning and after 1 whole metre of digging it decided to ‘lock up’ again. I was a little upset… I reluctantly called Steve at the Hire Guys who was only too happy to help and offered me a replacement while they checked it out.

I don’t think the failures were their fault and I don’t think they were even their responsibility to fix. It was a second hand machine and I understand that comes with risks. And while I’m frustrated at the various failures of the machine I am thoroughly impressed by the attitude these guys have had towards the whole deal. Its the ‘good bloke’ clause where you do what you’d hope someone would do for you. I know the original good bloke who came up with the idea and I think he’d be pretty impressed with these guys.

So I picked it up again today…

I tried it out across the road for 10m or so and it went like a charm. Maybe this time it will be all good. I am hoping so. Either way, in spite of the hassle I have to say these guys are worthy of your business!