Fear, Terror and a Bloke With a Pie


Its in the air… everywhere…

And its destructive. Evil even. Seriously…

Last night on our local community Facebook site a woman posted a disturbing message about how the previous evening she had felt like someone was watching her in her home and how she didn’t sleep well. The next day at Woolies a man walked close to her and appeared to be watching her and her children as well. He followed her out to the bakery and stood behind her… At that moment she had an apparition of a dead relative walk down the mall towards her and she took this as a warning that she was in danger from this man…The man bought a pie sat down and ate it, but she ‘knew’ he was watching her…

You don’t come across too many posts quite so paranoid, neurotic and nonsensical as that one, but what was even more disturbing were the responses that followed.

‘We’re not safe anywhere these days…’

‘Oh dear Hun so glad you’re safe…’

‘Take care – our little community isn’t what it used it to be’

‘Report it to the police’

My favourite was from the bloke who commented: ‘Maybe the bloke was doing his grocery shopping, was hungry and felt like a pie.’

Because that is in all likelihood the reality of the situation. A bloke walked around the supermarket on the same day as you, happened to leave at the same time and stood in line at the bakery. That you see his behaviour as suspicious likely communicates much more about you than about him. That you ‘felt’ someone watching you the previous evening and were ‘warned’ by a dead relative doesn’t add to the credibility of your story.

So now its not just the guy giving your kids a push on the swings that we need to be concerned about, but its anyone who happens to be near you on a day when your paranoia is in overdrive?

But this is what we can expect while our media continues to narrate world events in the way it does. Fear and depravity is more likely to draw more viewers than good news and the ‘national security’ story is yet to reach a climax.  Its a great story for drawing a crowd, but the escalation in the current ‘terror alert’ is inevitably going to spin off in all sorts of fear around the place.

When we tell a story of fear we will create a sense of fear. When we tell many stories of fear we can expect to create a culture of fear. So last night’s Facebook post is an expected outcome in this world we now live.

As I listen to the news and the stories that get told I find myself concerned at two levels. The first is for what is happening in the world as Muslim extremists terrorise innocent people. This is a real concern and I fully understand the anger this generates. It is barbaric and nonsensical and needs opposing.

The second is for the authenticity and tone of what is reported. Propaganda is endemic when nations are at war because we need to demonise the enemy (otherwise its harder to kill them). But the narrative around terror seems to be escalating in tone and the language is becoming less peace-focused and much more of the view that we have no alternative, but to fight.

The ‘war on terror’ motif is loud and clear and the need to ‘be vigilant’ is equally loud and clear. But what’s ironic is that if anything were going to spawn even more terrorists then its the kind of rhetoric being generated.

Its also the way to spread fear and legitimise our own innate prejudices.

So don’t be surprised if someone in the shops happens to grab their children, turn and run from you next time you stop and thoughtfully ponder which brand of toothpaste to buy. That moment of contemplation could be the difference between life and death for those standing nearby.



People spend money on what they value and time on what they value.

That’s not rocket science, but its something for those of us who lead churches to consider. When offerings are down or attendances are down people are making a statement as to what they value.

When offerings are down people are saying ‘I see it as better value to put my money into XYZ’, whether that’s a holiday, a new car, some renovations, private school fees or even other mission organisations…  Where we apportion our money is always a value judgement.

Then when numbers are down on Sundays this communicates that people are saying there is more value in me doing XYZ than going to church. So it may be that people feel their valuable time is better spent at the beach, lazing in bed, hanging out with a partner because the rest of the week is so busy, or perhaps taking off for the weekend. But as with money, how we use our time is always a statement of value.

As church leaders we would like people to place high value on contributing to the needs of the community financially, and being part of the community on a Sunday, but what do we do when this is not happening, when funds are low and attendances are down?

I don’t think we berate people. I don’t think we stick it up people and tell them to pull their finger out. That won’t work.

Because it doesn’t change their perception of value.

It just pisses them off and puts them in an awkward place, where they now feel bad, obliged and either forced to conform or in a place where they now worry that they are being frowned upon. Its not a good place to work from.

If telling people to shape up to expectations isn’t the solution then what is?…

Somehow we need to shift their perception of value. It may be that they have got lost in the haze of selfism, narcissism and consumerism that is our society today and they can only see value in what makes them feel better immediately. Following Jesus will be seen as poor ‘value’ for money and time spent. It may be that they need some more intentional discipleship (read ‘teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded’). Possibly in the process of that we will discover that the life Jesus calls us to is inspiring enough to open my wallet for, or that being part of the Christian community is so important and valuable that we will sacrifice other things for that.

The dominant narrative of our culture is a self centred one and it grates against the ‘self denying’ message of discipleship. Our role as leaders is to call people to the compelling and inspiring message of Jesus, to challenge cultural norms and to tell a different story that is more attractive than the one we hear around us.

Is that possible?

If the gospel is really true, if the kingdom of God is our hope and our dream and if we can grasp that reality then I believe we have a story that trumps any overseas holiday, any new car or purely self indulgent fantasy. Reality is its hard to keep the gospel of the kingdom front and central in our imaginations and read junk mail or watch TV… The truth of the biblical message is constantly supplanted with other more immediate sources of hope.

But if its just about coming to church, singing songs, hearing sermons and giving money then I understand why we are pushing uphill. The role of the leader is to help people see the ‘value’ in the kingdom of God – to communicate the message of the gospel and the hope of the kingdom in such a way that to trade it for a thermomix or a sleep in on a Sunday would be the dumbest thing ever.

I just made that sound easy…

Calling, Stability, Selfishness, Family


Its been almost 5 years since we started at QBC and we are now in the process of discerning whether God wants us to stay around for another period of time and continue to lead this community, or whether its time for change – for us and them. I think these reflection times are healthy as its easy for all of us to settle into a rut and get comfortable with each other. Sometimes its good to step back and ask honestly, ‘should we still be doing this together?’

But discerning God’s call is a curious process. It is not as simple as saying ‘God told me to stay/go so that’s that…’

I wish it was.

The previous times we have been thru a ‘re-call’ process it has been with a very different emphasis. In those times ‘pastoring’ was something of a career and my thought processes were shaped by that paradigm. There was also a sense of ourselves and our ministry being assessed and weighed up to see if we still cut the mustard. As it was my ‘career’ I was keen to keep it moving and the discernment process felt a bit like a one way street – we were evaluated – albeit kindly and positively. It didn’t dawn on me that we ought to review the church community as much as they ought to review us. We should have asked them about their intentions and the commitments they were making to us as we stayed. We should have given them feedback on some areas of growth if we were to stay.

These days I am not a ‘career pastor’ and I see the role very differently so I don’t feel like a ‘performance review’ is what we are doing. Rather as a community we are listening to God and asking the question ‘what now?’

As Danelle said recently, ‘If we weren’t doing the review then there wouldn’t be any question about what we are doing. We’d just roll on.’ Perhaps so. But I am in favour of times of reflection and review as they stop us getting too entrenched in our patterns of operation and challenge us to consider the future afresh.

One of the challenges I have faced personally in the last 10 years has been one of moving from a place of sharp vocational clarity to one that is more ambiguous and undefined. By that I mean that I no longer live with the laser sharp sense of purpose and personal vision i once did. Now I have a broad concept that shapes my identity, but the specifics of how it works out are much more fluid. I’m ok with that now, although it took some adjusting to.

Occasionally I wonder if my time as a ‘pastor’ is up. I am curious about what it would be like to not lead a church as we have done it in one shape or form for the last 23 years. I wonder what it would feel like to voluntarily return to the pews (like anyone has pews any more…) and be a member of a congregation. I wonder if I could do it even…

I’d go as far as to say that I’d like to experience it for a time. I’d like to see what its like to be out of the loop of leadership conversations and some of the bigger picture church discussions. I’d like to be a ‘fly on the wall’. But reality is that after 23 years of being a pastor you can’t just plonk back into a congregation somewhere and be anonymous. At least not in Perth. Its too small a city.

One of the complications of taking time out, or possibly a change of direction, is that we love the people we currently lead and they have become our family very tangibly. To stop leading would inevitably mean moving to a new church community to allow a new leader room to move. I don’t think its wise to hang around and believe my presence wouldn’t be a hindrance.

But we wouldn’t want to leave… We like these people, this church culture we have been part of creating and I really don’t like the thought of entering a new church culture which wouldn’t resonate with us and having to start all over again with relationships and fitting in. That wouldn’t be fun at all.

I sense the depth of connection and commitment to the community is a very strong and anchoring factor in discerning God’s call. The impact a move would have on our family is also now a significant guiding factor, one that wasn’t so strong during previous transitions or decisions. Now my kids have friends in the church and they would be upset if we moved, left or dislocated them. And fair enough. Its God calling ‘us’, not just ‘dad & mum’.

So – even if I feel like flitting off to some new project I have to consider that part of the call process is listening to what is happening in my family.

Then this morning I had a conversation with one of our church members about vision. The flow of conversation was urging me to fire up a new vision so that people would be inspired and the church would re-ignite and grow. it has definitely levelled out in terms of numbers and for this person that was a major concern.

I explained that we did have a vision. I explained that our vision has been to lead people to live more Christlike lives, to see their communities and workplaces as mission fields and to intentionally live counter cultural lives that challenge the dominant western values of affluence, busyness, superficiality and self centredness.

It isn’t sexy. It doesn’t put more bums on seats, and often it takes people away, but if you want to know what I am committed to there it is.

I knew this wasn’t going to be considered a ‘vision’, but for now that’s what I have… and I don’t see it changing. In fact I own that more deeply than any building project, attendance goal or new program idea.

In that conversation I knew that the hope was that I would have some more tangible ideas for people to rally around and see as a shared project – to galvanise the community into some corporate action. I am open to those ideas, but I don’t think they are our ‘vision’. They are just things we do to serve God and our community and they can sometimes contribute to our vision and sometimes detract.

Seeing people become like Jesus is slow work, three steps forward and two steps back often. It lacks the visible and tangible expression of a new drum kit. And I know that if we just ‘played the game’ a bit more then maybe more people would come thru our doors… More people would speak of QBC as a cool church and the numbers might jump again. But my heart isn’t in that. I don’t think it ever will be again.

The word selfishness is in the title of this post because some of my reflections on this subject are shaped by just that. Some times I want to slip out of Christian leadership because I am tired of it all. I could do it under the guise of God ‘leading us into a different season…’ (love Christianese…) but truth would be that we were just weary of carrying the responsibilities of leadership. To constantly be the voice that calls people to surrender, follow, give, serve, step up etc is tiring, particularly when it often feels like you are repeating yourself.

And then sometimes I would just like the option of staying in bed on a Sunday, or taking a few weekends away camping, or generally seeing the church as there for my convenience. Pure unadulterated consumeristic selfishness… Its in me as much as everyone else. I wonder if I would still be a committed part of the church if I wasn’t leading it. I’d like to think so… But we do fool ourselves so easily don’t we?…

So as a review approaches and we consider this question we do so without any blinding lights. Without any booming voices or even deep convictions that this is the only place we should be. I think that if its just down to us we will keep going at QBC for a number of reasons:

– we have done it for 5 years and now have relationships and credibility. It’d be a shame to start over when the foundations are there.

– we belong there as a family. It would be hard to see ourselves anywhere else. The culture of the church is as relaxed and easy going as I have found anywhere.

– we love the people there and we’d miss them. I wouldn’t like that at all.

– there are no other attractive options popping up.

– we don’t want to move from Yanchep.

And I think at core there is still a very strong sense that God has gifted Danelle and I to lead communities towards the vision I articulated earlier. We both believe deeply in the importance of forming people into Christ, of equipping people for mission in everyday life and of challenging people to lead a counter cultural life. If you want KPIs and strategic capacity development then maybe we won’t be your people. We’ve been there done that (today I opened a file from youth ministry days with 78 goals in it for 1999…) but if its the simple stuff of discipleship and mission then I think we’re up for it for another period of time.