Decisions and Discerning


Lately I’ve been considering how we make decisions as churches. We would all agree that Jesus is the head of the church, but how this works out in practice can vary and sometimes the idea is little more than just that – an idea…

For some churches the orders get handed down from a person in a position of authority and no correspondence can be entered into. In my own suburb the Anglican church ‘discovered’ they were moving premises… 10 minutes further south to the location of a new denominational school, but this decision was not one that the people were able to participate in so its resulted in some ill feeling.

Some churches are known for being ‘leadership driven’ as if this were a commendable characteristic. The leaders make the key decisions and let the people know what’s happening. Sometimes this happens in our community, but its generally related to small administrative decisions which people wouldn’t want to waste time discussing anyway. In other churches staff may be appointed, or other major decisions made without the ok from the community. Then its either ‘get on board’, ‘suck it up’ or go somewhere else. I don’t like that model much as it puts a lot of power in the hands of a few. While the ‘few’ rule wisely it can be pretty innocuous, but when the few manage their power badly, or foolishly it can be devastating. It also means that the largest share of people are being told that their participation is neither required or desired.

The other end of the spectrum where everyone participates does have some appeal, but the practicalities of life and limited time available to be involved means this can be a burdensome and unrealistic solution for a larger group. I think a smaller home based fellowship can operate in this way, but once a church moves into a more traditional mode it becomes difficult.

The ‘Baptist’ way is that of ‘congregational government’, a term that I think is often misunderstood and seen as a synonym for democracy. That’s not what is intended at all and when congregational government (CG) morphs into democracy we lose all of its power and beauty. At its best – and how it was originally intended – CG is the body listening to God together and making decisions based on what is discerned through prayer and conversation. Its not unlike the smaller group option, but it comes with the complications of the larger forum.

Given no system is perfect this would the one I would choose every time. It allows leaders to exercise a gift of leadership, to recommend ideas or initiatives, but also allows people to use discernment in the process. Its a delicate balance for leaders to propose initiatives and to then allow conversation, questioning and disagreement.

One significant challenge of this mode is that a congregation can often abdicate their responsibility to participate (i.e. by prayer, gathering and conversation) so it can end up being an exercise in futility, or a default reversion to old modes where a ‘vote’ is the deciding factor. When the process of genuine discernment isn’t entered into then people run with their opinions, lobby groups form and those with the numbers get the result while the rest are considered to have ‘lost’. Jesus must watch and shake his head in dismay.

The role of leadership in this community is to help and encourage people to look to God for his leading – to guide people into discernment rather than seeking their approval for what has already been decided.

Having said that, in congregational government every person is allowed a voice, but part of making good decisions is recognising that not all voices are equal. Some folks bring wisdom, experience and perhaps even a gift of discernment to a decision and ought to be listened to carefully. Others bring fear or foolishness to their decisions. Some operate from selfishness and their contributions need to be heard in this light.

At QBC we have been trying to move away from the ‘democracy’ concept and towards the ‘discernment’ process, allowing space for God to speak and space for us to listen. But old habits die hard and busy lives are often consumed with other immediate pressing decisions, so what the community needs can easily be relegated to the ‘meeting’.

I don’t have any easy answers, but I have enjoyed the principles and ideas Ruth Haley Barton shares in her book Pursuing God’s Will Together, where she articulates a process for making decisions and actually seeking to hear God rather than the loudest voice or the strongest lobby group.

We’re in the process of some discernment at the moment so you may hear some more reflections on the topic as we go.


Ritual & Rhythm


To keep a healthy rhythm of life I find it helpful to have a few defining rituals that mark out the borders of my activity.

One of my favourites is unloading all of reticulation gear from my car every Thursday afternoon. I don’t need to unload necessarily as I don’t need the boot space over the weekend, but the act of unhitching the trailer and taking all of my equipment out says simply ‘this part of the week is over’. When a call comes on Friday morning there isn’t a temptation to squeeze it in because I have everything with me. It simply has to wait until Tuesday when I begin work again. All my gear is stored in boxes so its a 3 minute exercise to unload, but it marks a shift in my psyche. I am now unavailable to do those jobs.

I also put the phone on silent/vibrate for most of Friday to Monday, so instead of that loud ‘old phone’ ring tone (which I need when working outside) but seems to blare ‘ANSWER ME NOW!’ there is a quiet buzz and which actually means I respond differently. I look at the number and decide if I want to answer it, or if it can wait. And when I answer it I can do so calmly. I don’t miss many calls because I am still aware of the buzzing, but it is less intrusive into my world.

Also on either Thursday or Friday afternoon I usually wash and vacuum the car. Again, not a monumental event by any stretch, but I like a clean car – it feels much better to drive – and having it freshly cleaned is another marker of a week of physical work coming to an end. I wash off the sprinkler stains and enjoy seeing the shine of the paintwork. While I’m washing the car I set the coffee roaster going and knock up a fresh batch of beans for the week ahead. I enjoy the smell of the beans and the opportunity to sniff around the shed while I wait from them to finish.

Another ritual I’ve had for as long as I can remember is to make Saturday AM a time to sleep late and then read the paper. Sleeping late these days generally means staying in bed until 7.30… but its still nice to recognise Saturday as the one day of the week when I don’t have to be up and at em. (Try and get me to do anything early on a Saturday and you will be battling…) Reading Saturday’s paper has always been a relaxing thing to do, although this is one ritual I find less rewarding, possibly because so much news reading and general reading is now done online and via a tablet.

In reality I never stop being a Christian leader from Tuesday to Thursday and I am still a retic bloke on the other days of the week, but the rituals help me adjust the dials in regards to focus.

I have other rituals which would probably take the form of spiritual disciplines, (morning prayer / evening examen etc) but they are probably more predictable and expected. What I’ve discovered in the practice of these small things is that give better shape to my identity and they allow me to regulate life more intentionally.

Got any rituals?

What’s your favourite?…


obstinateThere’s a word you don’t use often…

I was working today and had one job left before heading home, for a local woman with a sticky solenoid. In irrigation if a solenoid sticks then one station stays on while the others are running.

I came to look at the problem and she showed me the one solenoid she knew of. I explained that it wasn’t the problem – mainly because it had been disconnected and blocked off.

She insisted it was the problem.

I indicated that it would be one of the other solenoids. I said, ‘Given there are three stations of irrigation there will be 3 solenoids – I will need to find the problem one.’

‘No – this is the only one. I have dug up every bit of this yard over the years and never seen any others. This is it.’ She was probably 80 years old and wasn’t going to take any nonsense from me. She knew her own garden…

So I began to explain to her why this couldn’t possibly be the problem, however she didn’t want to know. She wanted the problem fixed – but wouldn’t listen to me.

So, once I’d realised I was not being listened to I excused myself and left. ‘I can’t fix the problem if you don’t believe it exists… So I’ll leave you with it.’

She was puzzled, but shrugged her shoulders and wandered off.

A bizarre encounter.

So her problem stays. It doesn’t get fixed. And someone else will called out only to not do the job. Maybe sooner or later she may realise the problem is not with the retic bloke but with her own perception of reality.

Then again obstinacy is powerful and can prevent you from seeing any other point of view. As it is in retic so it is in life.

Obstinacy is never a virtue.



Not Me…










Over the Easter weekend I took the family down to the Baptist Easter camp in Busselton, a camp for 18-25 year olds and an event I hadn’t been to for a long long time. I was the camp speaker, another role I hadn’t been in for quite some time either. I think my last gig was 15 years ago…

The theme I chose for the weekend was the ‘Road Less Travelled’, focusing in on the call to discipleship and to following Jesus. My point was to say there are a couple of roads we can travel – one involves not following Jesus, another involves ‘recreational’ Christianity, while the one I was calling people towards was the one of discipleship – of seeing Jesus as the centre of life rather than a useful add on.

It was challenging to get back on the same frequency as the crew who were there and while it went pretty well, it was hard work. I realised half way thru my prep that in not knowing the people who would be there I was pretty much flying blind. So I prepped two messages to get things started then made the rest up while down there.

One of the messages I felt I needed to share from deep in my gut spoke to longevity of faith. You could call it a ‘prophetic urge’, but I felt the need to tell the group that if stats are reliable and history is a guide, then of the 30-40 of them sitting there, only 60-70% of them would still be following Jesus in 20 years. Around 10 of them would lose their way, give up on faith, wander off or reject faith and there are many many reasons that happens.

But I offered 7 things to do to minimise the chances of being a casualty:

Pursue simplicity – avoid being trapped in the career advancement, upwardly mobile, aspirational life cycle. Allow Jesus to define life and priorities and this will give you a fighting chance of not being seduced by the marketers. For most of the crew this one was bordering on irrelevant as they haven’t yet been trapped. I hope it served as a ‘heads up’, but I think this one just slowly entangles us and it isn’t until we are knee deep in consumer slime that we realise we’ve been dudded. I could hear them grappling with it theoretically but kinda blind to its devastating pull.

Choose fellowship – whatever shape it takes, be committed to living out the Christian life with others. The gospel is not an individualised salvation package designed around accommodating our western lifestyle and your own philosophies of life. Its not about life enhancement, and when we reduce the gospel to ‘my personal relationship with God’ we leech it of its powerful communal aspect. If a person wants to keep going for the next 20 years then it won’t happen by dropping in on church occasionally. Discipleship occurs in robust authentic community not in isolation.

Develop Healthy Spiritual Rhythms – in the absence of spiritual disciplines and practices that sustain us we end up easily gravitating towards activities that require least effort. We take the path of least resistance and that can easily lead to us losing our sense of focus. I’ll watch TV before meditating on the scriptures, so unless I develop healthy spiritual practices it will only be a matter of time before I am flabby and out of shape. And we all know what its like trying to get back in shape after letting ourselves go…

Deal With Your Demons – we all face various challenges that limit our progress towards Christlikeness. We can choose to face them and confront them or we can accept that they are just part of who we are. I have a sense that those who take on their dark sides will get much further in the journey than those who deny its there, or simply accept it. Living with debilitating sin is a recipe for discouragement and weariness.

Expect Disappointment – if you are expecting an easy pain free ride then you will be disappointed. Jesus didn’t come to guarantee personal happiness. So hard times will hit – friends will die, divorce will happen, illness will strike and tragedy will come our way at some point. If you see God as the ‘happiness fairy’ then you’re screwed. Just know in advance that Christians don’t get an exemption from pain and you have a chance.

Choose to Marry a Christian – this one seems kinda obvious to me and many of us who have been on the road for a while, but its a challenge for younger people. Perhaps its enough just to have someone who isn’t antagonistic towards my faith? Maybe that will allow you to limp along, but if you want to pursue discipleship and the life Jesus calls us to then experience tells me this is actually one of the most critical of all.

Find Someone to Confess Sin to and Be Specific – Its probably a bit like dealing with your demons, but its essentially making sure we live authentic lives and we grapple with our humanity rather than hiding behind a veneer of apparent holiness. Not being true who you really are is a sure way to getting 20 years down the track and feeling like a fraud.

That’s no comprehensive list, but its a bit of compilation of my own thoughts after watching what happens in young people’s lives. What was interesting was that around 30-40% felt that maybe they could duck a few of these and still make it 40 with no worries… Yeah – that same percentage that stats show will drop out was about the same as the percentage of people who felt they could ignore the info and still make it.

Like I said – that’s no failsafe, ‘fifth gospel’ approach to the issue. Its just my observations after being around the church scene for a long time.

I was encouraged by the crew of people I got to spend the weekend with and the genuine passion for following Jesus that many of them possessed. I would have loved to have had longer to hear more of the challenges they face as young adults in the world today and to consider how the gospel speaks to them. At QBC we don’t have a heap in the age range so my insights into the issues they face is limited.

That said I imagine that at baseline level they face all of the same issues we have faced since time began… selfishness, pride, indifference… and so on. Its the human condition just expressed in different ways at different times.