Changing the World and Doing the Dishes

The next slab of teaching we’re going to do at QBC revolves around the whole theme of spiritual gifts and people finding their place in the body. I haven’t done this one for a while and want to consider how we approach it – because its always easy to click back to the ‘defaults’.

These days I approach it with two equal, and to some degree opposite, thoughts in mind. Firstly and primarily we want to inspire people to use whatever God given talents they have to make a difference in this world, but I reckon its also important to communicate that we also want people to ‘do their share’ in the family. Its a blend of inspiration and responsibility. I’ve been known to say ‘if you want to be in the family then you need to do the dishes’ – sometimes quite literally. But I seriously hope that when people express who God has made them to be it becomes a whole heap more than that.

Spiritual gifts is another one of those subjects that has been done to death and may lack some punch for those who have been around churches for the last 10 years, so we won’t be taking longer than 5 or 6 weeks on it. But for a community in early stages of formation its helpful groundwork and perhaps more importantly its helpful to frame how we see spiritual gifts operating in our church.

So it will involve some big picture ‘framing’ of the idea of gifting and considering the different ways it is looked at as well as some more informal times of hearing from people who are gifted in different ways and seeing how they express their gift.

As I consider the two statements above though, my sense is that its going to be very difficult to ever change the world if you can’t just do the dishes.

Moving Forwards (Slowly)

A busy week last week meant that didn’t get much more time to wind up my series of posts on how we are working to help our church become an effective missionary community.

So this will be the final post in this series until there is more to write, either positive or negative.

The last month or so has seen us raising the awareness of mission among our people and putting it squarely on the radar as a priority for us at this point. When I first felt disturbed by what I was seeing developing (a safe, happy, comfortable community) my default ‘organise something visible’ response kicked into gear. If we all ‘do something’ very consciously and visibly then that will help… Fortunately I’ve been living with my defaults long enough now to know that they are usually my reactions and while a few others may share them, many won’t.

In fact one of the things I am fairly sure I was feeling was a discontent with my own life and I was then projecting on that onto our church community. I’m a bit frustrated with my own mission efforts and I don’t seem to be making a dent = you aren’t doing much of value either.

Not helpful for those who are, but whose lives I can’t see – and chances are there are plenty. (Makes you wonder how much of our leadership driving actually stems from our own internal frustrations and how much is from a genuine concern for effectiveness?) So what began as a full frontal assault morphed slowly into a more reflective couple of weeks as we encouraged people to consider who God has made them to be, where they are positioned in life and what their natural gifts and abilities are.

I don’t know that it will translate to ‘tangible visible action’, but then I’m confident it will translate to action of some kind – perhaps a truer form of action. If there is a drum we have beaten to death at QBC its the one that says, ‘learning more information about God/Jesus/faith is absolutely useless unless it converts to some form of transformed life.’

I doubt anyone would have escaped that regular tirade. And I make no apology for that. I really believe that many of us are educated beyond our willingness to obey and that further information is pointless. Its like filling a car with petrol and then continuing to fill it even though its spilling out of the tank, but never actually driving the car anywhere… yeah… dumb.

I imagine some would be reading these posts thinking ‘I wonder what the answer is?…’ or ‘I wonder what the key is to getting a church moving?’ Well I’m likely going to disappoint you because I think if we take the evolution road then its a long slow change (and to continue the metaphor) sometimes impossible to observe while you are in it. I’m happy to let you know what we are doing, but I don’t believe there are any specific ‘one size fits all’ answers. There are likely some principles and broad brush ideas that can be transferred but I reckon that’s about it.

Some of what we have done over the last few weeks to stir people’s hearts has been to:

Earth stuff biblically – sadly the whole idea of mission has become trendy and has become a bit of the flavour of the month. So people can see it as the next fad. By taking our cues from Acts I think we get to really engage with the biblical story and see that although we live in a different age, the hope of seeing the gospel spread and the kingdom come is one that is constant. And we can learn from the stories in Acts. For those who think we have ‘gone all emerging’ or are doing something dodgy they need to argue with the scriptures rather than us.

Bring people in to tell stories that will inspire – Andrew & Sharon work among the gay scene and the sex worker communities and Sharon came to share some of that journey. Alisha lives in a slum in Thailand with the UNOH crew and she came and share her story also. I think its good for people’s imaginations to be stirred and to be encouraged to see paths that can be taken outside of running a craft group and a playgroup. To be fair, for some people a playgroup or craft group is a fantastic idea, but I sense our imagination gets stunted after a while and we find it hard to see beyond these regular church gigs.

Reflection on Who We Are As Individuals – last week Billy led us in an excellent process that caused us to reflect on who God is, who we are as individuals, and how we are placed in life. The desired outcome was “to help people use their uniqueness to make a big deal of God every day of their lives.” It was good on several levels. In church that day we spent a lot of time in pairs helping each other reflect, so there was a strong relational dynamic at work, but there was also real value in validating who people are as individuals and helping them to see that there isn’t a ‘type’ they need to conform to in order to be validated as a missionary at QBC. Everyone could go away hopeful.

Reflection on Shapes Mission Can Take – Yesterday I took the final session in our 5 month series to tell stories and get people interacting around some possibilities. We did an interesting exercise that looked at how confident we feel in mission situations and asked people to physically move and stand on a continuum from feeling very confident to totally lacking confidence. Some of the discussion that flowed out of that was really helpful. One reflection I found particularly helpful was when I observed one of our newer South African immigrants standing right at the ‘low confidence’ end when it came to mission. She is a confident woman so I asked her why she found herself there and she said that it was because she didn’t feel confident with sharing the gospel in Australian culture yet – she was still feeling her way. Very cool – because she was doing what missionaries do – learning the context before barging in.

We moved from there to asking people to form groups around various different (and some times overlapping) expressions of mission.

I set 8 different boards up around the room with the following categories:

a) Programs – church organised, specific activities that mix Christians and non-Christians

b) Hospitality – making a welcoming space for others in your life and home

c) Community Activities – joining in existing community based activities and being salt and light in those places

d) The ‘Dark Places’/Needy – going to groups that others see as outcasts and showing God’s love to them

e) Service Projects – using practical skills to serve and bless people

f) The Workplace – seeing your workplace as the primary place where God wants you to demonstrate his love and reach out to others.

g) Organic relational mission – connecting with people in the flow of life

h) Another Idea – Another idea I haven’t thought of

People headed off to sit in different groups and share some learning around the focus they felt was most natural for them. This activity really needed an hour to be of any benefit, but it got truncated to 20 minutes. Hopefully it allowed people to think a little, meet others like them and spark some fresh ideas. Interestingly the only group that had no participants was ‘Community Activities’. It wasn’t a perfect scenario as people obviously move across several groups, but it did cause people to locate themselves and engage.

I am fairly convinced that anything that requires a physical response of us as well as some verbal reflections is likely to evoke more learning than a simple sermon.

So as we get to the end of this we haven’t made any more tangible plans. We don’t have a 5 year strategy for changing the world, but I think we have stirred people and we will continue to appropriately poke and prod, encourage and challenge over the rest of the year.

That’s all for now on this series of reflections, but I will update this ‘category’ as I see it necessary and as things develop.

One Year Today

This time last year was a wild stormy day and about now (7pm) the removalists were just finishing moving our stuff into the new house in Yanchep. The ‘north wind’ was blowing quite literally (as well as figuratively – think Chocolat) and we were ready for a new adventure. The pic above is the next morning as the kids stood on the balcony.

It’s often the case that the dream you have for a place is very different from the reality when you hit the ground. The idea of living somewhere can sometimes be more compelling than the actually living there.

However after a year in Yanchep I can say this is one place where reality has actually exceeded the dream. I must admit I did leave Butler with some reservations. The extra travel time was one issue. I didn’t know how I’d cope. The bigger mortgage was another change I wasn’t looking forward to and then there was the question of whether living at the end of the earth was really such a good idea anyway.

Well, its been nothing short of awesome! By far the best move we have ever made and for once in my life I can’t imagine ever leaving.

The travel time hasn’t been much of a drama. I just allow myself another 15 minutes anywhere I go and I choose to enjoy the final drive home up Marmion avenue. I just figure I now have a very long driveway that starts at the Butler shops and finishes at home. The mortgage is always something I find difficult. But that’s more because of the big loss 3 years back. If not for that we would be living here debt free and that is always hard to accept. But its reality… so I deal with it…

The stuff I have loved about living here include

– the proximity to the ocean and the great surf I have discovered just right where we live. Tonight I was able to surf to sunset with 3 other local blokes and had great waves. I’ve met people in the water and I think I am just about able to call myself ‘a local’.

– the house has been great. The balcony is a beautiful spot to have breakfast, lunch or anything else for that matter. We love the way it is set up, the space, the sheds, the gardens and all of it. We have needed to do some work and at last count we had spent $25K in the last year, but hopefully that will end as we seem to have fixed everything now.

– the sound of the beach at night. We sleep with the window open so we hear it each night and some nights it has been deafening. I love it.

– the remoteness is really nice. I like being that little bit further out.

– morning drives by the ocean. Every time we enter come home or leave we go by the beach and its a reminder of the paradise we live in. Some days it is beautiful and enticing and other days angry and intimidating. But either way its amazing.

I could go on, but you get the idea. When you work in churches you often end up simply living in the suburb where your church is, and this is the first time we have moved somewhere by choice rather than because of work.

I honestly don’t have any real negatives.

Roll on the next 20 years!

Jesus Does his Restricted Electrical License

I arrived home on Friday afternoon on the final day of my Restricted Electrical License course and Sam asked me ‘So what did you learn today Dad?’

‘Kindness’ I said.

It wasn’t in the course outline. I doubt it is likely to be assessed but it was what I learnt. I actually drove home humbled, inspired and disturbed. As I tried to explain my day to Danelle I found myself overcome with emotion. It was a powerful day and one that left a significant impression.

But to make sense of Friday I need to go back to Monday when the course began and 5 of us lobbed into the classroom. It was a pretty quiet room. I managed to get some conversation going with the techy, service guy from Five Senses Coffee, but other than that no one was talking. The guy next to me called Dave didn’t look up and didn’t seem to want to engage with anyone.

Day one rolled by very quietly – almost morgue like in the class – awkwardly so – but on day two I needed to talk with Dave to do a project together. We had become ‘partners’ for the week. I had hoped I’d be able to team up with someone else who seemed a bit more energetic, but I got Dave…

As I spoke with him I discovered he had driven down from Karratha and was sleeping in his car to save money. The lost income, cost of the course and the travel already came to about $5K so he was doing it rough. He was mid 50’s, single, living in a caravan… He had never been married and was I was guessing a little odd…

I had a fleeting thought that I should invite him home and give him our spare room for the week, but I dismissed it fairly quickly, because we have two kids and Dave would be sleeping right next to them. And he could be a paedophile… right?… Best to play it safe. I didn’t know the guy and he could be a danger to Danelle and the kids.

Safety first. That’s wise… right?…

So he slept in his car that night out the back of Wanneroo somewhere and it poured with rain. Apparently it wasn’t a very pleasant night as his tarp leaked and he had to curl up in the passenger seat.

Wednesday was the wettest day of the week and as we talked that day he told me he was seeking a hotel, but they all seemed to be fully booked. I thought again about inviting him home, because the kids were with their grandparents for the evening, but instead told him about the Indian Ocean hotel in Scarborough. They should be easy to get into. He could have come back to our place, but I was tired. I wanted a quiet night and I wasn’t convinced having a stranger in the house would give me that.

It wasn’t convenient for me that evening. So Dave ended up driving across town to Midland where he got a spot in a caravan park, because the Indian Ocean and everything else nearby was fully booked.

I had those disturbing scriptures flash thru my mind… stuff about sheep and goats… hungry, thirsty, homeless… and whatever you did to the least of these you did to me.

It did’t dawn on me then then that Jesus was in my course that week, but I did know I wasn’t sitting well with my decision not to invite Dave home.

I was completely conscious that safety and convenience had guided my choice. I could easily have helped the bloke out, but it wasn’t as easy as I would have liked it to be – and I needed my space too… That’s fair. Right?…

When class started on Thursday it was full tilt into practical projects. Testing, wiring, circuits and motors. I am not a natural with this stuff and I felt very much at sea. As Dave and I paired up to do the tests I found myself relying on him to help me. As a fridge mechanic he knew stuff from 20 years of experience that I didn’t and he was fairly natural at it all.

As the projects became more complex I found myself further and further out of my depth. And each time Dave came to my aid. He was a very quietly spoken bloke, even seemed to lack a bit of confidence, but he was patient and always willing to explain to me what I was doing wrong.

The lecturers pretty much left us to our own devices so it hadn’t been for him I would have learnt very little on the practical front.

On the final day we had two significant tasks to complete. When we had done them we could go home – early. Everyone wanted to go home early. It had been a long long week. Task one was to be done in pairs. Dave finished up with me again… I felt like apologising that he had drawn the short straw… It was a fairly complicated task and a synthesis of all we had done over the week. It was more than my brain could hold together.

This time I was very aware of him teaching me as we were doing it. Previously we had done stuff together and I had served as the gopher, but now he was slowing for me and helping me ‘get it’. He knew I wasn’t in the game.

With that completed we went to lunch and then returned with the task of wiring up 3 motors from a circuit diagram after which we could go home. Embarrassingly I found myself struggling yet again. Faulty test equipment didn’t help, but I was finding it hard to follow the diagram and know what to do. After 20 minutes Dave had finished his first one and I was still at step 1. I was despairing.

Dave saw my frustration, stopped what he was doing and came over to help me. He walked me right through the first motor and answered my questions as we went. I learnt how to do it. I began to feel confident and then managed the second with minimal help and the third on my own.

Dave and I were the last ones to leave the workshop – me because I was slow and him also because I was slow – and because he chose to stay there and help me.

As I was walking back to class to finish up I realised I had been blessed by someone who chose to show kindness and compassion when it probably wasn’t easy or convenient. He had taken his time with me and gone out of his way to make sure I understood.

I realised Dave had shown me what Jesus is like… Dave gave me a lesson in electrics, but more than that he gave me a lesson in living like Christ.

As I drove home to write a sermon on mission and reaching out to others – the last in a 5 month series I clearly sensed God saying to me ‘you met Jesus this week’. The first time you met him, you let him sleep in in the cold when you had a room. The second time you met him he gave you a lesson in how to love and show kindness.

Still so much to learn.

Those Who Can Do?…

Apparently ‘those who can do and those who can’t teach’.

So goes the old saying, however my experience this week would suggest that ‘those who can should‘ and they should leave teaching to teachers.

I’m in the middle of a restricted electrical license, a one week course that certifies me as legally able to change over reticulation control boxes. I’m thinking that if I get this one tucked away then in the next 10-15 years I can really try and get a big market share of control boxes and ease my more physical workload.

Changing a retic box over involves disconnecting and reconnecting 3 wires, but you need to be a licensed sparky to do it, or (like me) you can go and do a course that gives you permission.

I’m just a bit grumpy after the first two days. I managed to get a Building Fund discount which reduced the course from $1100 to $400.00, but then I had to buy a ‘texbook’, actually a ‘standards’ book(let) that has 40 pages and costs $118.00… unreal…

Our teacher is an ex sparky who may have been a good sparky, but he certainly isn’t a teacher. If this were free I’d suck it up as ‘getting what you pay for’, but this is seriously dodgy. I mean who asks ‘are you guys completely bored yet?’ after two hours of class?… (And yes we were).

Who gets half way thru a powerpoint presentation (reading the same text as is on screen) then says ‘this is shit isn’t it?…

Who peppers every class with obscene jokes?.. Not ‘funny / crude’, but nasty?…

Who pauses mid teaching to answer a text?… and then replies?…

We went from being totally bored as we watched video and powerpoints of stuff that was common sense, right thru to being completely bamboozled as he spun off in electrician jargon and told us to complete a practical task none of us had a clue about.

I don’t think the teacher is a bad bloke. I actually think he is quite an insecure man who doesn’t feel confident in his profession and needs to try and win people over by other means. Juvenile jokes might be the fare that work on his apprentices, but I’m thinking adults are sitting there feeling quite embarrassed for him.

I’m just hoping I get thru first time round and don’t have to repeat…

Home Skooling

Mondays is my home school morning. Usually an hour or so of phys ed and then an hour or so of creative writing. Its usually 9.00 when we start and lunchtime when we finish so the ‘hour’ is very flexible and we usually end up having so much fun that it runs longer.

Its one of the favourite times of my week. I have gone off ‘teaching’ in a school but I love teaching my own kids and helping them learn.

As part of the creative writing process I got them to start their own blogs (and yes I did coach them on the dangers of being online…) and they have both been getting into it. Ellie has a bit of a flair for writing – although her spelling is a bit ordinary at this stage, while Sam (the science geek) has actually taken to blogging a little more. He’s a genuinely funny little bloke and his blog reflects a bit of his sense of humour. Fortunately he hasn’t started any of his ‘uranus’ jokes yet…, but his ‘about me’ page is a fair take on who he is.

While all of us are enjoying the the home schooling we’re guessing that sooner or later the time will end and they will re-enter mainstream stuff. The question is ‘where’? Danelle and I are both products of state schools (Port Hedland for Danelle and Scarborough for me) so we’re not at all opposed to state education in fact I’d love my kids to be part of a local school. The question of education quality is the big one and I’m not sure if they would be better off being in a private education.

Everyone I know will argue ‘yes’ on this score but I’m not convinced – and I’m not just being objectionable. I think the bigger issue is one of culture and who are kids become as they hang in different social circles. There’s no question that in their teen years kids are heavily influenced by peers and while I’d like to believe that we have much greater influence I’m not sure what kind of teenagers my kids will be…

I just think private education shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion and it seems that it is by and large these days.

Comfort is Not the Destination

This image kinda says it all doesn’t it?…

As this year started we had gathered a few more families and the church was steady and healthy. On New Years Day we didn’t have a church service but instead gathered at the beach to hang out, swim and have breakfast. We didn’t announce it as an official church function as we would have had to fill in forms in triplicate for Wanneroo Council, pay a fee and write a risk assessment. We took a gamble on just turning up, like people used to… A whole bunch of people turned up and had a good time.

No one died. No one even stubbed a toe.

QBC was feeling safe, comfortable and familiar, as families often do.

The dreaded rosters were ok, there were enough people to do the jobs that existed around the place and my guess is that if we just kept doing the same stuff for the next couple of years we would probably add another 5 or 10 families with very little effort at all.

In many ways the ‘crisis’ was over, the church was off life support and was even feeling a bit healthy. This is the point where people say things like, ‘I like it here. I hope it doesn’t get too big… I hope it doesn’t get too organised… I hope…{insert personal preference here}’

Its that time when you realise that unless we are very intentional in our leadership we will slowly become a religious club. The footings are down… and the building material is onsite… We could easily become a lovely place to come and sing some songs, catch up with like minded people, hear some interesting talks on stuff we all agree on and then roll home again.

Do I sound a little harsh?

Have you ever seen it happen?

Yeah… me too… regularly. We have been quite up front that our focus to this point has been getting the community healthy, getting the church off life support and to a place where it can stand on its own two feet.

We are there.

Its time to turn the focus outwards more intentionally and increase the energy directed towards mission. There is a degree to which this happens naturally – over summer some of crew ran some ‘Summer Movies’ in the school grounds for the local community. That’s great stuff. Simple, no strings attached service to the community and fairly low budget too. It took some effort but I think people appreciated it.

My working definition of mission is ‘showing God’s love to the world’ and that can happen many ways, but it takes time and energy. Our need now is to make this a priority in our time management as a community. Maybe that sounds a bit clinical… whatever… its just saying that our most natural inclinations are selfish. Our natural inclinations cause us to improve our own comfort levels, but the gospel calls us to see the ones beyond our door as our first priority and to focus our best energies there.

I read this quote on Darren Cronshaw’s facebook page today and it struck a chord. Its from Sally Morgenthaler: “God’s work may not be all outside, but if we look at where Jesus spent his time, I think we can say that most of it is.”

So this year we have started the year by focussing on the book of Acts, because it is the story of God’s spirit creating the church out of a bunch of Jesus’ disciples and then propelling those people out into the world to be the visible presence of his kingdom – the sign that things are changing as people call him Lord. An embodiment of the world as God hopes it will be.

And these people lived wild and inspiring lives and they were successful in getting the word out…

We picked this book up because we want to lead this church into a very intentional engagement with the world. As leaders we have no desire to see church become all about a Sunday gathering. We want the church to be the living, active, transforming community of God at work in the world around us.

We will get together on Sundays for sure – but we want to come to grips with how we express church on the other 6 days of the week.

For some this is the most obvious thing in the world but for others a departure from a Sunday-centric paradigm of church may just seem too odd a thing to even consider.

Maybe its best just to curl up on the couch as it isn’t likely to be an easy transition…

Growth by Immigration

Following our church meeting in late January we started to get on withe job of building a community. As leaders we established some priorities for the year to try and help us focus and then began working towards those priorities.

They were pretty simple. We would:

– explore and develop our connection with the school, one of our primary mission fields

– develop and implement a process for spiritual formation. As a church we had no particular approach to discipleship and helping people become like Christ. We decided to give this some focus.

– build community within. We would have parties, camps, bbqs and the like just to help people connect. We would ‘hang out’ a LOT.

– establish a regular Sunday rhythm and have some predictability about how we gathered

– communicate well, often and clearly

A fair slab of this was focused on us becoming a better version of ‘us’, a healthy version and one that would naturally focus outwards. Being connected to a school means we are blessed with free facilities and plenty of them. We also have a community of people right there who we can connect with, if we are able. The challenge is to find people with time, energy and vision to actually do it. Living in a suburb a long way from the city means many people commute and leave early/get home late so time can be hard to find.

Oddly enough around the time we framed these up a number of families joined our church. Healthy people – contributors – people who were willing to accept that we were a work in progress and who actually wanted to be with us. There were 3 or 4 families pretty quickly, then another 2 or 3 families and before long the vibe was quite different. It was beginning to feel alive again. Amazing what a bunch of positive new faces can do. Almost all of them were from overseas, mostly South African, but with a few Brits as well. Aussies were hard to find, but hey we weren’t that fussy… We were just wrapped to see friendly faces who were keen to join the team.

As the year began we had a few initiatives taken to try and make connections with the school. A mentoring program ran, a playgroup and a coffee morning. Each had different degrees of success, but that people were taking initiative and making stuff happen was really encouraging.

We began looking at the book of Exodus in our Sunday morning gatherings – the story of a bunch of people on an adventure together… It was good as it tapped right into our own story. Later in the year we read Ephesians and worked thru it as a way of getting a better picture of who we are as the church in the bigger plans of God. We used this time to call people to actually commit to the church and become ‘members’. Now there’s an odd concept if ever there was one… But it is one of the ways people can put a stake in the ground and say ‘we are with you’. Our membership pretty much doubled overnight.

We re-formed our bloke’s group and invited men to really step up the intensity of their own spiritual formation. It was a hard core call to spiritual discipline. I didn’t expect a crowd, but around 10 blokes responded to the call and met together regularly. This was a huge shift and one I found great hope in. The women also gathered each week for prayer or some form of Bible study and their energy levels rose too.

It was the classic scenario of a group ‘forming’ and getting to know one another. Into the mix of regular church stuff we added lots of parties, impromptu beach trips and 4wding and it wasn’t long before we were forming a strong bond. All of these activities were open to all, so anyone who wanted to be part of them could join in. People were liking each other and enjoying being together. This was good…

So from near despair in January, by the middle of the year we were feeling great hope and energy. Now when people came to visit on a Sunday I was able to say with confidence ‘This is a great group of people. I love being here and if you’d like to join the crew then you’d be welcome.’ What a relief that was…

2011 rolled on and the church slowly grew, not by people coming to faith, but by people leaving their homes in other countries and coming to Australia. I’m not a big number cruncher these days, but in this expression of church there does seem to be a number that is a critical mass. Fifty is around that number, but seventy feels better. There is a buzz when a decent sized group of people are together that isn’t there when there are just 20 or 30 of us.

While I wasn’t excited at all about our ‘growth by immigration’ scenario I was very excited to be with a bunch of great people and to see the changes that were taking place. One of the things that happened over that year was that as people came they brought their children and our kids ministry grew. Now when the kids left the main gathering to do their own thing, about half the congregation left. A nice change. Danelle had been developing the kid’s stuff and had done a fantastic job of slowly growing a great group. Just a couple of months ago she let that role go and we appointed someone to work in the role 2 days a week. Janet was one of the first of those new faces – a slightly crazy Scottish woman who came to Oz looking to be a primary teacher and finished up as a kid’s minister…

Earlier this year we did a ‘wordle’ as a church to see how people felt about who we were and the image above kinda summed up where we had come to in the previous 12 months.

It actually came out exactly as I had imagined it would. This was what we had been working towards for the last year and we had actually formed a ‘family’ and a warm, genuine community. This was a great step forward and something to be happy about.

So why was I feeling an inner sense of concern?…

Loaves, Fish, Theory and Reality

Its not often a pastor would actually tell people not to join their church… but for a time during 2010 when people came to visit and ‘check us out’ I would suggest to them that maybe they would be better off joining a different church. I had a few conversations that ended with me recommending other local churches and suggesting people give us a wide berth until we sort some stuff out. However once we had moved thru the repentance process and were beginning to regroup, I began to believe that we were on a positive trajectory even if the numbers said otherwise and even if I really just wanted out.

So if you’ve found it all a bit depressing up to now, this is the bit where it starts to get better. Let’s be honest it couldn’t get a lot worse could it?…

So as 2011 began we had one muso left and I had no idea how to write up a roster for a church with one muso and a handful of people. (Stupid roster…) As uninspiring as it was we called a meeting to discuss what to do. We already had one Sunday a month scheduled as ‘non-musical’ but now we were headed for three… So we got together in our newly decorated church office / lounge and met to discuss a way forward. I have no particular attachment to music as a form of worship so I was happy to roll any direction. We could have agreed to meet in the park and I would have been completely happy. As it turned out we had some people in the crew who could play instruments of various kinds and who were willing to do so to get us thru.

None of them felt overly confident in their skills but that they were willing to have a go is a huge credit to them. It was 5 loaves and 2 fish stuff. A small group of people said they would give it what they had to help us keep rolling.

Anyone with a missional brain would be reading this series and wondering ‘so what has all this got to do with forming a missional community? When do we actually get to the good bits?…’

Well, one of the things I have been learning is that it all depends on where you start as to how you move forwards. Starting where we did meant that we had some work to do before we could even begin to head out on another tack. I imagine that if I were back teaching ‘Re-Imagine’ stuff again I would have some insights from reality that are quite different from what I thought in theory. Theory is great because it ‘works’, it makes sense and it all adds up. Reality is messy, confusing and never linear. Theory can often set people up for failure as no one ever expounds a theory where things get worse first before they get better, or where things just continue to get worse. Or maybe they do but their books don’t sell…

The lines you read in books that say ‘how many people are you prepared to lose to make change?’ sound great until you realise that you are losing so many people that you are no longer viable as a community and its just damn depressing. So although this just sounds like the process of a community unravelling, I am actually getting to the part where we begin to re-focus on the original plan.

Despite my ache to be freed from this leadership, the one thing I hadn’t lost sight of was who I was and what I felt mattered. The idea of the church being a group of people genuinely on mission in their community and encouraging one another in that was still what I felt called to do. It was just a matter of how to get there from here.

The thing that needed doing right now was plugging the leaks in the sinking ship. It was as simple and as uninspiring as that. We needed to stay afloat if we were going to do anything more. There is a part of me that would be quite content to totally reframe Sunday gatherings, but my past experience at Upstream reminded me that it is difficult to find people willing to join a group and an expression of church that is unfamiliar. While that annoys and frustrates me – that people are so locked in their ways – it is a reality and one you just need to deal with.

So our first goal was to keep the Sunday boat afloat.

My hope however, was that as people came on board we would be able to teach, provoke and inspire them to consider the nature of church and the call God has put on us to be his people in the world. Some would say ‘the medium is the message’ and if we just put our energies on Sunday gatherings then we will send the message that Sunday gatherings are the most important aspect of church.

I believe if we are to help churches change – and become less absorbed with their Sunday expression – then it won’t happen by simply ditching typical Sunday services. There is too much invested in. There is too much heritage and the weight of it all means it is an unwinable battle.

But it cannot be allowed to be the focus of the church’s life and the primary dump point for resources and energy. So the balancing act we needed to work with was that of growing a community primarily via a Sunday gathering point, but in the process helping people understand that the aim of the church is not to have bigger and better Sunday gatherings… I admit it does sound somewhat counter-productive, but we needed to give it a try. I didn’t feel the Upstream approach worked as it called people to a bridge too far. This idea might die in the water because people don’t get stretched and called to think more strenuously about their concept of church and mission. Time will tell…

So… by now we were pretty much at the point where we realised that God wasn’t going to give us permission to leave so we might as well start to do what we could and see what developed. I wasn’t feeling positive yet, but I could at least write some names on that damn roster…

The Difference Between Believing and Believing

January is typically a quiet month for churches as people go on holidays and numbers drop.

Sunday was pretty much all we had running so we just needed to show up and do what we could. We had lost another family by this point who were key musicians so we had actually run out of musos altogether. There was no one on the roster and we weren’t sure quite what to do with that. I was ‘responsible’ for the roster now (one of my pet hates) and didn’t have any answers to musical vacuum.

I couldn’t help but thinking of the challenge God put in front of Gideon as he gradually depleted his army and still called him to fight the battle. The reason for it all was so that Gideon couldn’t claim the victory as his own, but would give honour to God. I didn’t know if that was what was happening, or if we were just a broken community that needed to be put to rest. I believe sometimes churches need to die but I wasn’t sure if it was our time – or if I was just depressed.

But I felt I should speak to the church and challenge us to hear how God can work if we let him.

That Sunday there were 8 of us there at 9.30… and 4 of them were our family… I honestly didn’t have much confidence at all in the message I was about to bring and (ironically) that caused me to lose what little confidence I did. I was also leading the gathering, running the sound equipment and video gear. So once I’d set out the chairs – which was an easy job – I got the sound gear up and running and waited in the hope others might come. 7 others did by the time I had to speak. Probably our smallest ever Sunday gathering.

As I stood to speak I felt it quite deeply that I didn’t really believe this message held any hope for us. That wasn’t true at all of course – but it was how I felt. With just 15 people and a church that was continuing to unravel I felt like a fraud trying to inspire people with this story. It is a great story – an amazing story but I wasn’t owning it.

I believed God did that then, but I didn’t have any confidence that he could do it again now. There is a difference between believing and believing.

I remember punching my way thru what could have been a good sermon, finishing it and just wanting to get out of there. Our youth pastor had been inspired – but then he would be – it was his turn to be energised… He saw the irony and challenge of it all and was sensing God at work. I think my response was in the ballpark of ‘yeah… whatever…’

In all of this I wasn’t actually feeling like a loser or a failure or a bad leader. I just felt trapped. I felt like I had walked into something that was much more complex and unhealthy than I had perceived at the start way back in 2008.

I had been as clear as I could be about who we were and where we were headed and if we were to lead the church we would be headed in that direction. It was a take it or leave it proposition as we didn’t want to simply run back into being chaplains to a Sunday morning crew. And people said ‘yes’, but I realised later that people said ‘yes’ because they liked us – not because they were particularly enamoured with what we were on about. If fact I doubt many of them knew or cared what we had written on paper.

Had we known that then, there is no way we would have signed up.

Had they known the implications of what we were going to do they probably wouldn’t have asked us either. But as a regular guest preacher at the church I probably scrubbed up ok on those occasions. I was able to preach thru Andrew’s greatest hits from the last decade and tone down my more fiesty stuff for a pretty conservative Baptist congregation, but you really don’t get to know someone from hearing them preach.

Its one of the huge flaws in our system as a whole. If a church is going to call a pastor then it is assumed they need to hear him preach – and if he’s good its a big tick, but if he’s bad its usually all over. One thing I can usually do well is preach, and in Baptist circles that is a huge plus. Its a deal-maker.

As I look back on the process of joining the church I am not sure we could have done much more – except perhaps have been less naive. Now when people tell me that their church has given them a green light to pursue a missional path I am likely to respond with an ‘Oh yeah…’ because I don’t think too many churches actually know what that means, let alone can come to grips with its implications. I don’t think there is any malice in a church saying that either. Its just something of an unknown quantity for most churches in the west.

The one good thing to happen in all of this was that in seeing our numbers decrease we now had fewer people to convince of a new direction. When we first arrived there were around 80 people part of the church. That was down to 40 when we came back from our trip and now it was pretty much halved again.

So far so good… this is going well…