No Offense… But…

This was how a conversation began between Sam and myself this week. He has been working with me for a couple of weeks and sometimes we get into conversations about the bigger things of life. This was one of those days. It began like this:

‘Hey dad – no offense… but your life looks so boring and tedious. I really wouldn’t want to finish up with a life like yours.’

I’ve learnt not to get immediately defensive (even) when someone – your own son – says that the things you are currently giving your life to appear droll and uninteresting.

‘Ok – what do you mean by that?’ I ask. I’m genuinely curious as to what he sees even if I do immediately want to smack him around the head at the same time.

I won’t try to put exact words in his mouth but the essence was that the predictability and routine nature of my simple suburban life was fairly abhorrent to him. He doesn’t ever want to find himself settled in a similar kind of existence where the adventure has been leeched out of life and replaced with a kind of lemming like conformity. (He has written his own take on this conversation on his own blog. He’s a fantastic writer so head over and get disturbed by him – but finish this first.)

‘Ok – so what are you hoping for?’ I asked, looking to dig deeper into what shape he was hoping his life would take.

He began to speak of freedom, adventure, spontaneity and the kind of unrestrained life that can be more easily envisioned when you have no ongoing responsibilities like kids… a job… a mortgage… friends… even a sense of calling

I heard where he was coming from because I remember offering a similar critique of my own father’s life at around the same age. I don’t remember the conversation going all that well. I was convinced he had ‘sold out’ to middle class conformity and if he truly believed the words of Jesus he would sell it all, give it to the poor and live a more Christlike kind of life.

Perhaps I was a tad idealistic. I was 18, I had just read the whole New Testament focussing on the ‘justice’ passages and I was convinced that all wealth was destructive and that we needed to rid ourselves of our allegiance to (and ownership) of wealth if we actually wanted to follow Jesus. I wanted dad to sell everything and give it away. The fact that I had nothing in my own bank account at the time may have helped me be bold.

As we chatted I asked him if he wanted to have kids. ‘Not any more – they tie you down’

‘No kidding…’ I said.

‘A house?’

‘Nope – a caravan would be fine’

‘A wife?’


‘A job?’


One of the statements I have used consistently around my kids is that ‘life is a series of trade offs.‘ If you want ‘x’ you may not be able to have ‘y’, because that’s just how things work. You want complete autonomy and freedom? Then a stable job is tricky. You want a family? Then suddenly you lose the right to make all decisions based on your own desires – you now have at least 2 people in the mix if not more. Life is always going to be a series of trade offs.

It’s not hard to ‘unpick’ some of the things he was speaking of as hopes and ambitions – but I actually didn’t want to do that. In the conversation I found myself torn between wanting to justify my own way of life and wanting to critique his critique. Perhaps better just to reflect again on the life I now find myself living… Is it to any degree inspiring or is it just another typical suburban existence?

More the point am I living the life I am called to and created for?

There was a period in life when I used to have an email footer that was a quote from Helen Keller – ‘Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.’ I don’t think it was an accurate description of my life, but it was a statement I held up as an ideal – to live courageously and adventurously rather than just ‘existing’. It was how I wanted to live and to some degree it was a rudder for inspiring me to make some courageous and unconventional decisions. (That said, I doubt many would rate my life as highly adventurous.)

I remember at 26 my dream was to head off to the Philippines and serve as a sports missionary over there. The fires of adventure were burning so I quit my teaching job after just 4 years of work and then went to Bible college to get ready for this new venture. Along the way I met Danelle, an important and pivotal meeting with the Philippine mission leader fell thru, and then our church needed a youth pastor. Strangely I felt like I should apply for the job. Even more strangely they took me on… And so my life as a pastor began.

I think it was around 10 years of ‘pretending’ to be a pastor when I finally cottoned onto the fact that the ‘missionary’ calling was still deep and strong in my life. I never really gelled with the whole pastoring thing and my attention fell far more outside the church than in. It was during one of our weekly pastor’s meetings at Lesmurdie Baptist that I had a rather weird God encounter that served as a ‘reset’ for my vocation.

One of our pastors had invited a ‘prophetic’ dude (think ‘crazeeee’) to come and join us and to speak a prophetic word over each of us. He did the other two guys first and offered what I thought were fairly ‘horoscope’ like insights. So when he came to me I was just ready to get the whole thing over and done with. I believed in the prophetic, but I was also somewhat skeptical – especially of people who called themselves prophets. Then he prayed for me and as he spoke articulated an image that he had in his mind. ‘You’re standing on a beach and you’re looking out at the ocean where there is a mass of people and your focus is on the ones who are drowning – you don’t see the swimmers – they aren’t in your field of vision – but you do see the ones going under and that is where your heart is. This is who God made you to be.’

Well … he kinda floored me. I hadn’t expected anything helpful, let alone an insight that was both pointed and directive. I had been struggling with the whole ‘pastor’ role and what he had in effect done was reaffirm my sense of calling as a missionary. I resonated deeply with that image. From that day I have never looked back and while I have been leading a local suburban church for the last 11 years I always remind people that I am not primarily a pastor.

I tell that story because it was significant in re-orienting my life and as I prayed and reflected more I sensed that for some reason God was calling me to be a ‘missionary’ in middle class Australia.

‘Middle class Australia? Really?’ I sighed.

Can you think of a ‘people group’ less inspiring and un-sexy than middle class suburbanites? I couldn’t. I still can’t.

When I joined up with Forge back in 2003 it seemed everyone had a sub-culture of some sort they were seeking to connect with – think surfers, goths, gamers, gays etc, but the more I prayed and the longer I spent trying to sense who God was calling me to, the more I felt he was definitely sending us into the burbs to try and be the presence of Jesus there.

So we have been in the midst of suburban mission for the last 17 years, initially in Butler and then since June 2011 in Yanchep.

When we established ‘Upstream’ back in the Butler days it was with a vision of leading a community of people who would live in the culture but who would also live differently – prophetically – as followers of Jesus and representatives of the kingdom of God. We did our best at this, but I’m sure to some our lives simply looked like any other suburban life.

And right now – my life may also look very conformist. Yesterday as I spoke in church about how we manage wealth I said again that our lives ought to be distinctive, inspiring and maybe even confronting to those around us. To quote Mike Frost, we ought to live ‘questionable lives’, where people are puzzled at the way our lives are configured and arranged.

I’m not sure how good a job of that I am doing these days, and I am not about to try and spruik my self justifications on here. But my son’s comments have given me cause to reflect over the last few days – to consider again to what extent I am living in my vocation and calling and to what extent I have ‘gone native’. Am I no longer distinctive and just one of the crowd?

There is of course no easy answer to the question. But the challenge of constant reflection is a good one. It forces you back to asking why do we do what we do. Is it necessary to live n the house we do – to own the cars we do – to have a caravan sitting in our driveway unused for much of the year? How does our life speak of the inspiring and transformative goodness of God rather than the results of living a decent upwardly mobile life?

I’m still pondering the answers to those questions and I’m deeply conscious that my life has all the trimmings of a middle class existence that has gone to plan. I certainly don’t feel guilt for that, but the questions of ‘what next?’ are strong in my mind.

I don’t think I can write about my own life situation on here comfortably so if you want to know what I think then buy me a coffee 🙂

More Signs You Should Be Handing on The Baton

Back when I was a Phys Ed teacher I used to love coaching athletics and helping our runners work on improving their technique to be the best they could be. One area we worked especially hard on was baton changing, knowing that relay events are worth more at carnivals and that the key to winning is not simply in having the fastest runners but in having runners who will get the baton around the track the fastest. This means baton changes were practiced until we were utterly sick of them, because the fastest runners who can’t change batons simply don’t win relays, but good runners who never lose speed can often perform very well.

More recently I have been reflecting on baton changing in our church setting at QBC and YCC – a process we will implement intentionally over this year.

The last time I was involved in one of these I was the ‘young guy’ (37) and was being ‘handed the baton’ by Garth Wootton the senior pastor of Lesmurdie Baptist. It was the ‘pastor as CEO era’ and I was deemed to have more of the visonary/strategic gifts needed to lead a church, while Garth’s strengths were more in pastoral care and spiritual formation. Over a period of months our leadership mulled this shift around, Garth pointed them in the direction, led the process and then we made it happen. I took the ‘team leader’ role while he became the ‘associate’ and we hired a new youth pastor.

I was only in the role for 14 months before the church planting bug bit hard and I resigned to go and be a missionary in Butler – the move that started this blog. It wasn’t a ‘baton change’ without its challenges, but we were managing to work together very well before my sense of calling to Butler. There weren’t too many models to learn from back then, but the idea of having a ‘succession plan’ is a little more common these days, so we are hoping to do this well and get maximum benefit with minimum pain.

Late last year Steve McAlpine wrote this post outlining why he chose to hand on the senior pastor baton at his own church plant in Midland. I enjoyed reading it, but as I read, I realised my own reasons for making the shift are somewhat different – so let me add to the list.

Steve’s reasons are:

  1. You Revisit But Don’t Resolve Bottlenecks
  2. You Elevate Other Interests
  3. Your Leaders Start Discussing It
  4. It Worked!

Ed, (currently our youth pastor) asked me if I resonated with these reasons and I said ‘hmmmm… not so much’. We don’t really have ‘bottlenecks’ because we haven’t set a growth target. (But the absence of firm structures has also been a reason the church has stayed around the 70-80 mark). I haven’t been doing other things in preference and our leaders haven’t been hinting at change or trying to initiate it.

So why would we want to initiate a baton change at Quinns and Yanchep? Currently Danelle and I lead across both churches and we are employed for 3 days (2 days = me and 1 day = her). Here are my reflections:

1. You Are Ready for Change. In this post I was leading an exercise for another group of pastors when I experienced something myself that was prompting me to see new horizons and wide open spaces in which to ‘play’. It hasn’t come out of the blue though. There have been conversations between all of us about future directions, potential and hopes. It has been pointed this direction for a while, but with no one driving it. Lately I have felt it important to put some muscle to the change.

The unresolved question for Danelle and I was ‘who will we be when this happens’? Will we still lead the team but have two ‘campus pastors’, (to use contemporary lingo). Will we work alongside as co-leaders with equal authority and responsibility or will we work ‘under’ the guys as supporters and helpers. I haven’t been clear on this until recently. We are feeling it is time to let the others lead, carry the responsibility that goes with this and to support and empower them as they do this.

Structurally we will be ‘under’ their leadership, meaning they are the team leaders and we will be the co-workers. This feel right and good and I can honestly say I am looking forward to it. It also frees me to ‘look up’ and see what may be next for us.

2.You Should Just Consider Getting out of the Way – I have been conscious both men I work with are keen to lead teams and churches and this is where they are headed vocationally. If I continue in current form then I will stand in the way of them moving ahead – or they will need to leave the churches we are working in to find that opportunity elsewhere.

We have really good team dynamics / relationships and we enjoy working together so it would be a shame to forgo that. We are all committed to a longer term involvement in the local area so if the only glitch to that plan is an older guy who wants to hold onto the ‘top job’ then maybe it’s time to get out of the way.

I am also 55 and this seems like a good time to move rather than in another 5 years at 60. I have watched churches ‘age’ and appear to be unable to replenish with younger blood and I wonder to what extent this is a result of having an aging team of leaders. That’s a question / observation more than a definite conclusion.

3. You Lack Fresh Ideas – I have been feeling this in my leadership at Quinns moreso than Yanchep. We have been thru numerous iterations of this church over the 10 years we have been there. We have seen people come and go and the focus of the community change also. I’m sure I could ‘summon the energy’ to go again, but I feel a bit weary in this leadership and I haven’t felt this before..

Yeah we just signed up for another 5 year term, but it was always with a view to transitioning leadership, so maybe that will be the primary task. I am not dreaming like I once was of what the church could be, so that is a sign of something amiss.

4. You Are Dying Under the Weight – I feel like 70-80% of our leadership focus over the last two years has been over-run with administrative exercises – constitution, incorporation, policy and procedures. Yes – we have to work to change this and streamline the operations – and that is a work in progress, but I feel like it is ripping the heart out of me and many nights I have gone home livid and ready to quit.

I have said for over 25 years that my primary calling has always been ‘to communicate the Christian message to ordinary Australian people in ways they can understand’. An outflow of that has been to create communities of faith that resonate with the hearts of people who are largely from unchurched backgrounds.

This has been my reason for getting out of bed in the morning and my retic business serves that goal in various ways too. Lately I’ve been feeling the need to be across a bunch of stuff I have very little interest in or heart for. I

‘m sure someone who enjoys the higher level administration stuff would find joy in organising and systematising a church community to fit the government regs for an incorporated body. I regularly find myself in moments of frustration and disbelief at the red tape surrounding not for profit organisations and I can see a) we need to do this stuff b) It will stop me doing the stuff I am called to and good at. Again – something has to give.

Mike Frost wrote about this very struggle today also.

Something has to give.

5. The Church Would Benefit From New Leadership – Over the last 10 years I have distilled my job description to leading, teaching and meeting with blokes. The challenge with this is that in 2 days/week the area that suffers most is the ‘leading’. Teaching comes around regularly and can’t be dodged. I have regular commitments to people, so the ‘non urgent / important’ job of thinking ahead, implementing new plans, organising and focusing a team and all that goes with that ends up being done very intuitively rather than in a more focused way. We haven’t seen the church grow beyond the size of its current building and lately it has felt like the energy has been waning. I imagine part of that is because I am fading in my leadership capacity and Quinns needs a dedicated leader.


As well as these factors there is some opportunity to time this well as we have long service leave due and we will take it around April 2021 – 6 months out to travel and refresh. We could take it earlier, but we’d like to stick around while Sam completes year 12 🙂

So the plan is a gradual hand over of responsibilities and tasks over 2020 so that as 2021 begins we are supporters and the other guys are leading. Initially I was hesitant about letting go of my own position, but I’ve been aware lately of some people ‘staying too long’ and missing the cue to step aside. I think my cue is up and my focus is going to shift somewhat, even if we continue to live in the same area.

I’m not sure what the future holds beyond long service leave, but I guess that’s part of the adventure.

Identity > Vocation > Roles > Goals

The first lesson in this post is to never write ‘I will finish this tomorrow…’ I wrote the first post on January 6th and realised I had too many thoughts to condense into one spiel.

But it’s now Jan 20th and clearly not ‘tomorrow’.

I began writing on this subject because I have been frustrated with how we do ‘goal setting’ in our culture. It seems we divide life into key areas (finance / marriage / career / recreation etc) and then set goals for each area. I wonder if we spoke to the Apostle Paul about goal setting if he would sit down with life areas and aspirations and try to think how he could make a happier life for himself?

I’d doubt it.

If we take him as a model we see someone who knows who he is – who he is in relation to his creator and this defines his identity. It sets the course for everything that comes next.

Paul frames this a number of ways, but I sense his most succinct was when he wrote ‘for me to live is Christ – and to die is gain’. His life was centred on Christ and his ambition to become like him.

I’d suggest that’s the first step in goal setting – know your identity.

Secondly your vocation flows out of your identity so they ought to have some synergy. My vocation is that of a missionary – of a person who communicates the Christian message to those outside the church in ways that make sense. I hear the term bivocational -used to refer to people like me who have pastoral employment as well as another job – but I think we are muddling terms when we use that. Reticulation is bi my vocation, but my vocation can be expressed and served by a small business

From knowing our identity and vocation we are then better placed to frame up goals for the year / decade or whatever.

What’s important though (and this shouldn’t be hard) is that my ‘goals’ are never at odds with my identity or vocation, rather they are an expression of those core parts of me.

It’s not that my ‘reading’ goals should be focused on mission work and the like. But rather that my identity and vocation set the tone for how life frames up.

From identity and vocation I sense its then good to think of the roles I fill in my life at present – father / husband / friend / pastor / business person / Yanchep resident / surfer and so on. There are a number of ‘roles’ that are significant in my life at this point so I like to think in terms of ‘who I am becoming’ as I consider goals.

And goals come from my hopes and dreams – so I have spent time journalling around what I hope and dream of for the coming year. Out of that I have identified some things I want to do – I feel are important – and these have become my goals for the year ahead.

One example is simply to get a better handle on how to prepare for my senior years financially. I have a pretty small superannuation fund, but we paid the house off a few years back and now have some money we need to invest wisely. Part of my reading this year is around wise investment and use of that money so we don’t get to ‘retirement’ age and have nothing to work with. I’m hoping that as I read and learn we will be able to prepare for our future well. At the same time as I consider ‘wise investment’ I also ponder the story Jesus told of the man who built bigger barns and I wonder to what extent I am doing that. So wise use of money – for me as Christian is about both preparation and generosity, and both need to be present in life.

Anyway – that’s two weeks later than I thought, but that’s what goal setting looks like for me now. I only have half a dozen goals for this year, but they are all shaped to a large extent by my identity , vocation and the roles I hold in life.

On Goal Setting

It’s 2020 and time for a 2020 vision… right?…

Way too much ‘cheese’ right there I reckon…

But lately I’ve been pondering again, how we live purposefully and richly but without the rigidity of committing ourselves to a binding task list of things we felt were important on January 1st, but now no longer seem so critical. In recent years (the last 10-15) I have veered away from structured goal setting, both in my personal life and in my vocation. You should know that comes off the back of being one of the most anal, focused and driven people you would ever want to meet. I think I even had goals for ‘goal setting’…

What I’ve observed in my ‘unstructured’ years is that I probably get about 80% as much done as I do in my ‘write a goal and a strategy’ years, but that 80% comes with less angst and stress. I am also a nicer person to be around when I am less ‘task focused’ and lived more intuitively.

The question I’m pondering is how much I want to bite into that final 20%, because I know that must come at the cost of a more spacious, relaxed and spontaneous life, but it may also mean a better use of my talents and capacities.

When I first let ‘goal setting’ (as I knew it) slip I was worried as I felt it might end up in laziness and a haze of drifting from one thing to the next but with little purpose. Truth is when you’ve lived in the ‘red-line’ zone of purpose for so long its actually very difficult to amble through life – even without a clear list of things to achieve.

However, I feel like I’m back at a point now where I’d like to inject a little more intentional focus into life. (I’d actually like to have my cake and eat it, as I’d like some clearer focus and accomplishment of some things, but without any imposition on my flexible and relaxed lifestyle.)

I don’t think that’s possible.

What I have observed over the last 10 years which I would describe as ‘living intuitively’ has been that as opportunities have arisen I have taken them, and as ideas have popped into my head I have pursued them, sometimes to the ‘end’ and sometimes until I have found them to be either tedious & tiresome or too difficult. In a previous life there was no such thing as ‘too difficult’ – you just worked harder until stuff got done. I have sacrificed that tenacity for a bit more flexibility and at times that has been good, while at other times I have felt disappointed with myself.

I thought I’d share my reflections on this as I’m guessing I’m not the only one trying to re-imagine purposeful living but without becoming a GTD Nazi.

So where to start as I revisit this stuff?

For me everything starts with vocation or calling – who has God made me to be – what has he planted me on this planet to do. Literally everything else orbits around my answer to this one question. I realise that I am here to ‘love God and love others’ as Jesus spoke of – that’s a given – that I will pursue Christlikeness and the kingdom of God. But within that I have a more specific sense of calling and identity – that of being a missionary in the western world – of communicating the Christian faith to ordinary Australian people in ways they can understand – and leading church communities that resonate with those same people.

I don’t think everyone has that same sense of clarity around vocation and I’m uncertain whether that clarity is possible for all, necessary, or whether I’m just fortunate to have it. Either way I think it helps to give shape to life. It immediately shunts me strongly in one direction while blocking me from other paths that could be distractions. Broadly speaking my life will be taken up with whatever creates space for that vocation to flourish.

Danelle doesn’t have that same sense of clarity around vocation and doesn’t feel she needs it. Although as people spoke of her at her recent 50th birthday the common thread was that she ‘loves broken people back to health again’. I think that’s a perfect description of what flows out of her naturally and she is at her most alive when she is with someone whose life is a mess and she is able to walk with them gently, wisely and courageously through that mess. Lately our church has been besieged with administrative needs and she has found herself bearing the brunt of this red tape assault to a point where it has overtaken the things she is actually created for and called to. The result is stress, anxiety and a lack of joy. So she is on a course correction back to her vocation and away from the other stuff.

So – having written this much already I can see this will be a 2 or 3 post topic… Perhaps this is a good point to stop and leave with the question, ‘Who has God made you to be?

What is your own vocation / calling and what form does that take in your life?

Some questions that may help you grasp this if its feeling elusive

  • What do you find yourself cycling back to continually that may be the Spirit of God leading you?
  • Where do you find the greatest joy and fulfilment?
  • How do you serve the world?

Tomorrow I’ll flesh out a bit of how I have gone about this.