LBC 1969

Depending on the church culture you grew up in you may have experienced that great evangelical motivator, ‘guilt’, (often accompanied by its friend ‘duty’.)

In the world I grew up in these two factors seemed to play a large part in why people went to church, why they got involved in church service and would explain some of why weekly church attendance was normal and predictable.

If you weren’t there ‘the pastor’ would call during the week and your absence would be enquired about. The elders would note your absence and the ‘roll’ would show an ‘x’ next to your name (yes – there was a roll…)  If the reasons for skipping church were inadequate, then there would be at very least a silent ‘tutt tutt’ of disapproval from the pastor. No one liked those kinds of pastoral visits or those phone calls that said ‘we haven’t seen you in a couple of weeks…’

But guilt is a powerful motivator and it did have its desired effect of keeping attendances (and offerings…) up.

However guilt is also a hollow motivator – as soon as someone calls it out, names it and shames it. No one wants to be driven by guilt. No one wants to own that as their raison d’etre.

Even now I encounter the legacy of those times when I call to check in on someone who hasn’t been around and they immediately feel the need to justify their non-attendance and let me know that they will be back at church again soon.

That wasn’t why I was calling…

Or was it?

It makes me question my own motives sometimes. Am I ok with people skipping church?… Am I latently trying to guilt them back in?…

I have a hunch that what’s happened in the last 20 years is a pendulum swing away from compulsory weekly attendance based on guilt.  We have been so keen to make sure people are not motivated by guilt that we have given them permission to choose – to choose to attend – to choose to stay home – sleep in – go away – whatever they ‘need’ to be doing that day is fine. We wouldn’t want you to feel guilty about not attending Sunday worship…

And while I see value in the shift, I also see a developing Christian culture that is not able to sustain a community. The average Aussie Sunday church attendance is now probably about 1 in 3. There are some who will be there every week and others who will be there once a term, but on average it seems ‘regulars’ get there one week in three. It used to be 1 in 2 but I sense it has shifted even in the last few years.

What’s that mean for us as the church?

Do we just accept this as ‘how it is’?

Do we challenge it?

Does it even matter?

I have to put my hand up as one who said ‘church attendance is not the big deal – being part of a church community IS.’ And I still believe that is completely true, but the reality is that most people who don’t attend church weekly are not part of any other expression of church community. Its those who are regular on Sundays who are also regular at bloke’s groups and women’s groups etc.

Which ultimately means that those who aren’t consistently gathering on a Sunday most likely aren’t gathering anywhere and aren’t earthing themselves in Christian community, and that has to be a concern. The gospel is inherently communal. There is nothing solitary about following Jesus, but a busy, consumeristic world and a self centred culture have led us to accept that maybe this is as good as it gets. If this is discipleship then we are screwed.

At QBC we have joked about who is on the ‘attendance roster’ this week. We have talked about rolling with it and accepting that this is the world we live in.  But lately there is a part of me that has just got gnarly about it. There is a part of me that wants to say ‘ok guilt sucks – and that was bad – but this lame excuse for being the church is hardly a better solution.’ I think its more than a personal indignation or offense. I feel it is a God stirred thing because it won’t go away and I feel it rising in me as something I can’t ignore.

The mere term ‘church attendance’ still gives me a shiver down the spine because it so badly misses the point of what it means to be a church. However we may need to start again with exactly this.

Maybe the first thing to challenge people with is their commitment to the community that gathers on a Sunday?

My observation is that the erratic (or maybe predictable but disappointing) attendance patterns affect others who are there. When there are 120 in your church and 50 on any given Sunday then it is hard to form a healthy community. The necessary connections that lead to mutual spiritual formation just don’t happen because there isn’t a foundation for them. So instead we press on and hope that an inspirational sermon might find its mark somewhere and might stir someone into action for another week.

It might… but a sermon every three weeks is not what discipleship looks like and that we have come to accept this is disturbing me.

In moments like these I want to quit Christian leadership because it seems like a dead end task. It seems almost impossible to work within this culture to create something that looks like the church.

Or maybe we need to go back and challenge people about this issue? Maybe we need to take the risk of ‘guilt’ raising its head and just call out laziness, selfishness and misplaced priorities? Maybe this is one of the prophetic roles of Christian leaders in this time – to say ‘Christian community is not a convenience – it is a commitment – and it will cost. Deal with it.’

Yeah… I’m chewing on it. I’m wondering how you say these things in a spirit of grace and with a depth of conviction that doesn’t simply take people back to their ‘guilt scars’ and evoke a ‘you can’t tell me what to do’ kind of reaction. I’m wondering how we inspire people to a better vision, because it will be a costly vision.

But I do know that if this is as good as it gets then I probably need to do something else because it isn’t a model I want to invest my life in

(By the way – the image is of Lesmurdie Baptist Church in 1969 as it was beginning)



Three Words

Simplicity – autonomy – flexibility

About 8 months ago I was weary and seriously looking at selling my reticulation business. I didn’t have another plan. I was just over it and decided that if I could sell it for the cost of our mortgage then I’d ‘jump’ and see where I landed.

As it turned out there were no takers and I got over the summer blues and started to enjoy it again. Summer is always busy, the phone rings non stop and it’s hard to keep up. Last summer I actually forgot a few appointments because I just couldn’t manage it all. I got gnarly and grumpy and was hanging for holidays. But I made it thru and managed to re-invigorate yet again.

So I had just planned to fire up again this spring but try to temper the pace a bit – easier said than done. But then along came ‘B’ and said ‘Are you interested in selling half of the business – the Joondalup and south section?’ That sounded like a great idea. I’d love to not have to travel that far even! So we began talking and pondering.

I set a price for half the business and we began to discuss how it could work. I was excited.

Early in the conversation I listed 3 critical factors for me that had to be in place for me to get involved. Those things were simplicity, autonomy and flexibility. They rolled off the keyboard quickly and without much deep thought but as I saw the words I realised that they were what I now value in my work life…

Simplicity – I run my own show and do some very specific things. No staff means no responsibilty for other people’s lives, no payroll, no complications.

Autonomy – means I answer to myself on a daily basis and I get to choose the jobs I do, the hours I work and the pace I work at.

Flexibility – means I take holidays often, knock off when I’ve had enough and can work an extra day here and there too if I want to.

We began talking about some form of partnership but the more we spoke the more we both felt like these core values would be casualties of a joint venture. I would be responsible to some degree for his family’s livelihood. We would be answerable to each other and we would need to work together in many ways. There would be shared bills, shared responsibility and shared liability. 

As we spoke I realised this was not what I wanted. The big cash hit would have been nice and would have knocked the mortgage into next week, but in the end we decided that what we wanted wasn’t worth that amount of money. We would give up simplicity, autonomy and flexibility and take on some new and unknown dynamics and challenges.

There may be a time when this is a right thing to do, but it isn’t now – for either of us. We met today and agreed that they value those things highly also and wouldn’t want to be tied to us.

So instead I am working with B and helping him get up to speed to run his own business. Yes – he will be my direct competition, but that’s not a concern – it’s a big city. He’s also a brother and a mate who is part of our church and is a refugee from corporate world, trying to re-order his life so that he gets to see his family and gets to actually ‘live’ rather than just working.

Another complicating / ethical issue is that I am a pastor in his church and should things not work out well that would have issues both for our relationship and the wider community. It’s not that such a partnership couldn’t work or shouldn’t be attempted but rather that it comes with some extended risks and implications.

The part of this venture that really inspires me is that we get to help someone find the life they are seeking and escape from the rat race they have felt trapped in. We get to walk with another Jesus follower who is keen to challenge the status quo and help his family find a different way to live in Aussie suburbia.

So this summer I am a retic guy again… Not so reluctant, but maybe a little smarter and less likely to feel totally jaded by December. My goal is to knock off around 2 pm and be home in time to hit the beach and have some fun before dark. The phone will not get answered on Sundays and ‘B ‘ will get a stack of work south of Joondalup as he does some sub-contract for me. It’s a win/win and not much to dislike, so hopefully by December I won’t be posting my annual ‘resignation’ but will be enjoying the different approach to life.

But just writing those 3 words helped me see that ‘partnership’ was not what I was seeking . 

What 3 words would you choose to describe the way you like to work and operate?

Time of Our Lives

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This Sunday will be a bit sad in our household as there are no more episodes of Time of Our Lives, an Aussie drama that has been running for the last 13 weeks on the ABC and has become a weekly event for Danelle and I.

I watched the first episode and was underwhelmed – or maybe there was just too much going on for me to digest. But from week two we started to get to know the characters and their stories.

Time of Our Lives is essentially a drama based around the lives of predominantly middle aged suburbanites as they try to make sense of their relationships, vocations and families. What ends up happening for the most part is that they make a mess of their relationships and families and have some success in their vocations.

At times the story is a little clichéd, but for the most part it picks up on many of the issues we face in contemporary Oz society and tells the story around them.

One of the intriguing aspects of the show is that after 3 episodes there appear to be ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’. Some characters – Matt, Caroline and even their spoilt little boy Carmody, seem to be easily dislikable, while others – Luce and Bernadette, never seem to miss a beat and are people I’d love to have round for dinner. However after 13 episodes I found myself liking all of them in different ways. Caroline is a broken woman – not a bad woman. Matt has failed in his marriage and is obsessed with work, but he wants to make things work. He isn’t the complete jerk he appeared to be early in the story.

It’s a reminder that most people are likable in some way if you get to know them and understand why they do what they do.

Justine Clark as Bernadette was my favourite – a beautiful, compassionate, but honest woman – reminded me a lot of my wife! Luce (Shane Jacobsen) was also totally likable – a down to earth, good bloke – and the episode that saw him reject the possibility of an affair with a younger woman was a good one. Steven Curry as Herb was a great character, an Aussie larrikin who finally gets the woman he wants, after having plenty of others throughout the show…

I’m hoping there will be a second series that will pick up on the next stage of each of the character’s lives and will give us more laughs and moments of going ‘hmmm…’