When You Suck at Being a Christian


In church we have been working our way thru the book of Nehemiah and chances are if I asked you what its about you’d say what everyone says; ‘a bunch of people building a wall.’

If like me you have always read it to ch 6 or 7 and then shut the book because the lists of names that follow bore you to tears, then chances are you missed out on the utterly disturbing contents of ch 13.

You see Nehemiah and crew build the wall, get it all done despite serious opposition and then when its finished the people gather to hear Ezra read the law and teach. They weep and mourn for the way their lives have been so far from the mark. There is genuine sorrow.

In ch 9 there is a long prayer that begins with worship, confession and repentance and then moves into recounting God’s faithfulness over many years as they have cycled through periods of rebellion, disobedience and punishment, before being rescued by God and then choosing to live in alignment with him again.

In their prayer they describe this cycle several times over before saying ‘NO MORE!  NEVER AGAIN!’

And they then recommit themselves:

  • not to marry foreign women
  • to keep the Sabbath
  • to honour the jubilee year every seven years
  • to keep the temple holy
  • pay first fruits offerings and a bunch of other laws.

Essentially they say we want to do life right again. We want to realign with what you have called us to.

So I’m guessing they get rolling with the new plan, but in Ch 13 we read of Nehemiah going back to his job with the king for a couple of years before returning to Jerusalem to check in on how things are going.

And they are ugly… butt ugly!

In ‘The Message’ Petersen describes the situation well and captures Nehemiah’s rage as essentially the people have lost their way (yet again) and completely gone against everything they said they would do.

How does that happen?…

This is not an encouraging chapter for those of us who lead Christian communities… seriously… As I read this i begin to lose hope. It seems to be saying that despite what we may think of our ability to be faithful, communities cycle through periods of commitment, blessing, rebellion, before finally reaching such a low ebb that return again to God. I’m not sure how this works in an individualistic culture – and I’m not sure it does at all. But for these folks they seem to be caught in a cycle and despite their best intentions they can’t get out.

What I observe is that sometimes people get to the ‘rebellion/disobedience’ stage and this is where they can lose their way. After a few cycles of this you begin to think ‘hey I suck at ‘Christianity.’ I should just give it away and do something I am better at…’ I wonder how many people eventually give up because they just can’t ‘cut it’.

So there are a few ways we can go at this point – either we give up because we can’t do it, or maybe we try harder… or… maybe this is where we get the point.

Maybe this is where we encounter God’s love, grace and forgiveness and get energised in a different way to keep going. If its just down to me steeling myself and white knuckling my way back into it then the game is over. Because sooner or later I fail yet again.

But if we can encounter God at this point and experience grace and forgiveness then maybe we get re-wired away from our best efforts and back into responding to him from love.

Every time we fail we move in a direction according to how we respond. Some – driven by the desire to ‘get it right’ move further out of the orbit of grace, while those who accept their brokenness and God’s healing move further into experiencing the life he has for them.

That’s not to say getting our lives on track isn’t important, but it is to say that if we think its down to our grit and grind then we are probably going to kiss the faith game goodbye because we will certainly suck at it…

Sam The Legend…

Power of Words

Last week Sam received a letter from the nice people in a school writing competition ‘Write4fun’, advising him has been selected for publication in their upcoming book! He was so excited he could hardly speak. This book is available to friends and family at a cost of JUST $68.00!! That’s right just $68.00!! Apparently a saving of over $40.00!! I couldn’t resist the opportunity to write back to them… Seriously – what a dodgy lame money making scam…

Dear Julia

I am writing in regards to the very generous offer you have made to my son regarding the publishing of his work in your book The Text Generation.

As Sam is 11 years old I will be acting as his agent/manager with regards to any matters concerning his writing.

Sam is happy for you to publish his work but he will charge $3999 + GST for this first piece of work. If you would like to use more than one piece of work by Sam or if subsequent stories/poems are suitable for publication then these will be chargeable at the rate of $2999.00 + GST. Sam is excited that you have found his work of publishable quality and we do not want to undervalue his achievement here. (Please note this is a saving of over $1000.00 on what Sam would normally charge to be published in a lesser known work.)

With regard to The Text Generation and any subsequent publications, could you please advise as to how you structure future royalties and the manner in which these will be paid (amount and frequency) We happy to negotiate an appropriate rate commensurate with market standards. Given the cost of the book we expect there will be some great benefits here.

Sam may be available for book signings and personal appearances in book stores depending on his school commitments and the size of the surf / direction of prevailing winds. While Sam is willing to sign books at no cost his appearance fee would be $7000.00 + GST for each in store visit. I’m sure you will see this as value for money in the promotion of your work.

I note you have given the option of a photo/dedication to be located alongside the story, but at an additional cost of $27.00. It is our policy not to release photos of Sam for less than $2000.00+ GST per image. If you would like yourself to be included in the photo then we can do this also at an additional cost ($1350.00 + GST/additional person)

Please let us know how you wish to proceed and I will then forward our bank details so you can make payment for the options that best suit.

Yours in anticipation

Andrew Hamilton

(Surfer Sam Publications)

When Youth Pastors Lead Churches







Is youth ministry a good preparation for leading a church?


There are certainly some transferable skills and there is a level of preparation that is inevitable, but lately I’ve been wondering if some of what happens in youth ministry actually works against preparing someone for work with older folks.
Adults are a whole different beast to young people and if you try and lead then the same way you can expect to experience more than a little frustration.
I remember making the transition from youth pastor to pastoral team leader while in the same church and bringing my youth kitbag to the game only to discover so much of it was no longer of any use. After finishing in the team leader role after two years to go plant a church one bloke had the insight and courage to advise me that my way of leading by ‘driving’ people needed a bit of work if I was to go the distance with adults. He was kind and helpful but I heard his point… ‘just because you call it, shout loud and challenge us to do something doesn’t mean we are going to do it…  in fact chances are you will lose us altogether.’


A different form of leadership is required and many youth pastors who have been cut from the ‘charismatic cool’ mould will need to re-skill and patiently learn a new culture. A few differences I have been pondering :

Young people say yes easily. Whatever the idea…  it’s not that young people don’t think.  They just don’t have the same cynicism and innovation-weariness adults bring. They like new ideas and generally will say yes to a charismatic leader because they want to be ‘on board ‘. Adults…  Hmmm… they make you work just to get your idea heard because they’ve heard so many many before.

Young people have time to burn (often) and they get energy from participating in what you come up with. Adults might buy passionately into your ideas, they may more likely support your ideas dutifully, but only for so long. I keep hearing people say they want ‘young families ‘ in their church, and I ‘get’ that they give the church a good look,  but they are the most time poor, overcommitted group you will come across. If you enjoyed having volunteers coming out of your ears as a youth pastor then get used to working with people who struggle to find time for you. Note: They aren’t bad people. They are just at a different stage of life where expectations need to be adjusted. If you can’t handle that then don’t make the shift.

Young people still believe they can change the world while adults smile, yawn and wait for you to settle down. They have heard the whole ‘sold out for Jesus’ spiel so many times now that it just brushes  past them with little effect. They tried changing the world and it didn’t work. Now they just come to church. Yeah – there are some exceptions, but for many just ‘turning up’ is their radical demonstration of faith.

In youth ministry you didn’t worry about finance because the adult crew bankrolled it.  No one expects kids to be self sufficient, but that game is over now.  If the $$ don’t come in you can’t look away and hope the lead pastor is able to convince people to give.  You are that person now… Suddenly money becomes an important part of the equation and you need to be able to somehow navigate the path between calling people to be generous because that’s good and realising that part of their generosity pays your wages. While I have no problem with calling people to give, the abysmally low percentage of those who actually do has often made me want to give it all away. The 80/20 rule is alive and well in church finances.

In youth ministry innovation and change is normal. It’s expected and young people roll with it. There are very few ‘leading change’s seminars for youth pastors because if you want to change something you simply announce it and do it.  Maybe it’s a little more complicated than I just made it sound but the level of autonomy and freedom a youth pastor has is significant.

Youth ministry is often fun...  no really…  you get paid to have a ball.  I know it’s not always like that but I remember my youth minister days as a hoot.  There can be some awesome times in working with adults but it’s often a bit more serious. Time is precious, the issues are generally a bit more significant and no one really wants to cram another marshmallow in and say ‘chubby bunnies’.

So if you are making the shift then at least go in aware of the issues. When I reflect on my first days in leading adults I sometimes want to sheepishly say ‘sorry…’ because I had little appreciation for the lives people were leading or the struggles they were facing. I just needed them to behave like an older version of our youth crew and when they didn’t I pushed harder thinking that was the answer.

I’m 50 now…

Atheism’s Best Advocate?





Who is the best advocate for atheism in Australia?

No I don’t think its Hitchens or Dawkins…

This week while driving I was doing a bit of listening to Tim Minchin and I would suggest he is possibly one of the most alluring voices for contemporary atheism. His songs are very funny, his lyrics insightful and acidic, even if they are often completely and blatantly offensive. I found myself singing ‘White Wine in The Sun’ this week as I was working, a song that begins ‘I really like Christmas…’ and then goes on to mock the idea of faith and a belief in the divine.

‘Storm’ again delves into the existential/metaphysical but this time from a different perspective as he tells the story of being at a dinner party with an opinionated and naive woman who has some belief in a spiritual (not Christian) realm. The song slowly increases in vehemence and ridicule, but at the same time is wonderfully and wickedly funny.

The good book is a rockabilly style tune that ridicules the possibility of the Bible having anything useful to say to a 21st C world. And so it goes on…

If Minchin wrote of Islam I think he’d likely be dead by now, but seeing as its Christianity (and we can apparently laugh at ourselves) he continues to trot out lyrics that demean and despise.

I’d suggest Minchin is a compelling voice for atheism not necessarily because his arguments are compelling, but moreso because his method of communication is one that sneaks past your defenses and stays with you. Perhaps he won’t unseat many Christians with his virulent tirades, but if you are a ‘default’ secularist / atheist (because you haven’t really delved into questions of faith) in any depth then his songs will affirm what you claim to believe.

Humour and music are a much more potent medium than text and debate and while Minchin does get tiring with his objections, I’d say he has more than likely given plenty of people reason to sign up for a secularist worldview

If I were an atheist I’d pick Minchin as my ‘voice’ rather than the intellectuals as he can be hilarious, disarming and incredibly violent at the same time.













Yesterday in church I felt it important to pick up on the current ‘terror alert’ story that is slowly escalating and generating all sorts of disturbing behaviour around the place.

From a muslim woman thrown off a moving train in Melbourne, to a young girl named Isis who now is in a quandry as to ‘who she is’, to a business named ISIS who now advising staff not to come to work with their uniforms on and are considering re-branding. All of these are outcomes of a media voice that is telling us we need to be afraid and that our freedom and way of life is in danger.

The conclusion we get to led to as a result of the fighting in Iraq is that ISIS are Muslims, therefore Muslims are the enemy. For people who don’t think its a simple equation and the problem is that many don’t think…

So despite the messages from our politicians that tell us to remain calm and treat muslims fairly and kindly there is an equally virulent message that calls us to be careful, to be cautious and to look out.

Leunig summed it up well in this cartoon.



All the ingredients are there to create the kind of chaos we now see around us. So how does a church respond? How do we as the people of God respond every day in the regular rhythms of life.

If offered 4 thoughts yesterday:

1. Pray – I get the sense that ‘our battle is not against flesh and blood’ and it won’t be won by killing more people. I’m pragmatic enough to believe we need to take action to stop ISIS forward movement, but minimum force would be the answer rather than blowing them (and innocent bystanders) off the planet. Prayer also focuses our energies on the things God seeks – his kingdom – his righteousness – peace, rather than on the festering fears that perhaps our muslim neighbours might be terrorists undercover. Now is the time to pray for the muslims in our community that they will be safe and not become innocent victims of a fight that is not theirs, and to pray for the folks stranded in Iraq who have nowhere to run to (especially not Australia…)


2. Love – Dave Andrews wrote a piece about this and I think he’s on the money. Now is not the time to be neutral – to stand back – but it is the time to show love and concern and to offer our help to those who must now live in fear of being victimised. For those who are cautious I don’t believe this equates to agreement with the tenets of Islam, nor is it bowing to ISIS. It is believing that we do not overcome evil with evil, but rather we overcome with good. Try it. Speak to a muslim person and show concern. Smile at them… There… not that hard…

3. Think – I suggested yesterday that we treat the news as reality TV – a story being developed with some element of truth, but only enough to keep people watching. Let’s not believe everything we hear. Let’s be sure to check our sources and think before we forward that email speaking of the ‘slaughter of Christians by Muslims’… Consider what message this sends – even inadvertently, especially when it gets sent on another 5000 times. Check snopes before believing any emails and think twice before accepting anything you hear on the news. Just the other day I stumbled on a documentary about SOFEX – the special operation forces expo held in Jordan where the latest and greatest in military hardware is on display to those who will buy it and use it. And with the USA the biggest producer of this stuff it makes you question how viable this massive multi billion dollar industry is if there are now wars in which to use it. It makes you think doesn’t it?…

4. Radicalise – I read an article in the paper on the weekend about the process of radicalisation and how it happens among muslim youth. And as I was reading I began reflecting on that old oxymoron ‘radical Christianity’ (because it implies that there is such a thing as moderate or recreational Christianity). If we can choose to live our own lives surrendered to Jesus and the things that shape the kingdom then we must surely stand apart from our society in the way we love and seek the wellbeing of others. We will be a radicalised, prophetic (and annoying) voice to both the church and the society. Inevitably we will evoke anger, but a genuine expression of faith lived out in society will result in a concern for the other whether they are Muslim, Hindu, Bahai or Presbyterian… I believe one of our key roles as Christian leaders is to keep disturbing our people with the message of the kingdom and to keep questioning our own lives as do that. Authentic Christianity is radical by definition, but we continually need to radicalise ourselves and our churches where we so easily settle for middle class values with a sprinkling of Jesus.

At the end of the day there are significant theological differences between Muslims and Christians and we don’t need to downplay this. We aren’t varieties of the same plant. We are different, and the core difference is in who we believe Jesus to be. But that doesn’t mean they are the enemy… It doesn’t mean we need to be afraid. I liked John Dickson’s recent ‘letter to his church‘ as a way of seeing the issue.

And just while we’re at it, now is not the time to be figuring out the burka issue or to be banging on about Halal. I believe these are valid debates to have and the degree to which Islamic culture is able to permeate our society is a question we need to resolve. If we are genuinely a secular democratic society and Muslims have come to be part of that because their own system sucked, then they are welcome to have a voice and to participate in the process like everyone else. But for now we don’t need to take action that is unnecessarily hostile and provocative.