The ‘Who Am I Again?’ Question

When your life is in a major transition there is a constant inner temptation to jump at all the opportunities that come along, or even to force things to happen that really are best left alone. Since selling the retic business I have had the quietest summer in 15 years and it has been so good to get up each morning and go to the beach, then come home and see what I may choose to do next. It doesn’t pay very well, but fortunately we squirrelled away a stash during winter in anticipation of this.

There are a number of opportunities for ‘work’ of various sorts on the horizon, but we are treading carefully, very conscious that a ‘yes’ to one project, inevitably means a ‘no’ to something else.

As the year began Danelle took 5 days to engage with a prophetic process that helped people focus on where God wanted to direct their lives in the coming 12 months. I didn’t participate, but I tuned into what she was doing and learning. It was a significant time for her and quite defining as she had to hone the lens of ‘who am I?’ and ‘what am I going to do with that knowledge?‘ She finished up with the sharpened realisation that she loves to take people ‘from pain to peace‘. That’s a great piece of clarity hey? And she does it superbly. Then a recent conversation about hospital chaplaincy piqued her interest and as a result she is exploring some study options in that area with the goal of getting work in that sphere. I feel like she hit the nail on the head with that tight synopsis of who she is and what she is called to do. She strides into painful situations with great love and confidence, helping people to settle, take a breath and refocus.

Someone once said that Jesus came to ‘comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable‘. If she is the comforter of the disturbed, then I find much of my own sense of purpose and joy in pursuing the other half of that description – of poking our churches to give serious thought to the shape mission takes in an Australian context, because I sense too many are simply ‘playing for the draw‘. It’s been a very good 32 years of working together, as we complement each other well. I look forward to seeing the hospital chaplain emerge (and hopefully she can be the primary wage earner for the next 20 years and support me as I go surfing 🙂 )

As we discussed her own experience, she posed a few of those same questions to me that she had been pondering. One of them was ‘which movie would you identify as reflecting your life?’ I went straight to Jerry Maguire (which I feel sounds pretty lowbrow and base), but I loved the storyline and the character that Jerry became. He summed it up with two sentences. ‘I was losing the ability to bullshit. It was the me I’d always wanted to be!’

In case you are under 40 and missed it when it came around, it is the story of a sports agent whose job is seeking to acquire as many clients as possible to make as much money as possible. He is part of the ‘sports agent machine’ and he is good at it – but one night he has a revelation that they are doing it all wrong – that they had missed the point and that they needed to start again with a genuine focus on people and not money. So he writes his ‘mission statement’ titled ‘The Things We Think And Do Not Say‘, (tangent – did you know that there is an actual document that is the ‘mission statement’ and it is quite long and detailed?) He prints off copies for every staff member and then in that classic scene he makes a public exit from the company, much to the mirth of his co-workers who think him crazy. While they are laughing at him he calls ‘who’s comin with me? Who will come with me?’ But his co-workers either think him stupid, or they have too much to lose – they have retirement soon and will lose their bonus – or they won’t get health cover if they go with Jerry…

But Jerry has had such a significant moment that he simply cannot do business as usual. In a very humiliating exit, as his appeal appears to fall on deaf ears, he leaves with just one office worker (ok so it’s Renee Zellwigger – you could have done a lot worse) and he embarks on his project of trying to keep it real – trying to focus on the people and their good rather than his own success and bottom line.

It’s a cataclysmic paradigm shift. Not surprisingly what unfolds is an entire series of struggles as he enters this liminal and terrifying space. It’s great to have a ‘grand reversal’ idea but to actually put it on the ground in some form is much more of a challenge when the whole arc of the world is geared to the existing paradigm.

For those of us who have at one time or another felt like we are part of an ‘ecclesial’ machine the message of this movie can be wonderfully inspiring and highly provocative. To be fair, not everyone in a larger, more complex organisation will inevitably have this experience. Some people are able to enter humbly and live with humility and clarity in the system. Personaly, I needed to abandon ship and start over. I was so success/achievement oriented, that ministry became a competition and people became ‘resources’ to build the organisation. I’m sure a good counsellor would help me understand why I was wired that way – but it’s a super dangerous wiring to have in Christian leadership, because it can lead to all sorts of pragmatic and often unloving decisions. The last few years have seen a series of tragic train-wrecks as we have watched many of those high profile A type leaders self destruct in various ways.

Of course I’m not opposed to seeing churches grow and thrive, but I don’t think I could ever sit easy in a church where the goal is simply ‘bigger and better’ (in Jesus’ name of course) – because it really does sound like ‘bullshit’. It sounds more like middle aged men seeking to make their mark on the world in what happens to be their career of choice.Yeah… I’m sure it’s more complex than that – our motives are always mixed – but the scent of bullshit lingers and I am deeply averse to anything that veers that direction.

So what does that have to with calling and vocation? I feel like it sharpened my own focus. From as early as 1996 I sensed that my own calling was simply to communicate the Christian story to ordinary Australian people in ways they could understand. It was about moving past churchy language and experiences to figuring out how to speak of Jesus with the blokes in the surf, the people in my street and the clients I come across in business. Growing up in the end of Christendom I encountered a lot of ‘communication’ that just didn’t connect at all, because the speakers were focused on those who already believed. Having a regular spot on 98.5FM for the last 10 years has really helped to hone the ability to speak to those outside the community of faith.

And then as the years went on I sensed my calling expanded to include ‘creating communities of faith that were both true to scripture and engaged in the context’. When missionaries enter new environments they practice this thing we call ‘contextualisation’, but over the years as Christendom wove it’s way into culture we stopped doing this – we just assumed that one size fitted all and while churches had minor variations depending on denomination, the overarching message was that ‘you could come to us’ and we would do our thing our way. That stopped working (noticeably) around the time I was a teenager, but i sense it had been brewing since the 60’s.

One model we see being employed is church franchising as if every context were identical. Churches pop up like McDonalds as if it were a one size fits all world. (Want more on this? Read The McDonaldisation of the Church by Scottish theologian John Drane. Each local community has it’s own heartbeat, it’s own unique challenges and needs. The church we planted in Yanchep is similar to the one we had been leading in Quinns – but it is also different because the community is different. That’s important.

So part of my own calling has been to step away from the more generic, ‘church growth’ shaped environments and to ask ‘what does it look like for the kingdom of God to take shape in this neighbourhood and with these people?’ This evening I spent an hour or so at our ‘Food4All’ project which provides food to those in the local area who are doing it tough. Our Yanchep church does this – and it’s a perfect fit for both the needs of the local community and the crew of people who make up the church. I don’t go every week any more since ‘retiring’, but also because there is always an oversupply of people ready to serve and love the local people. It’s a project we engage in that fits the context perfectly. It probably wouldn’t be needed in some of our wealthier western suburbs.

What’s this rambling mean going forward?

I dunno if much will change for me – I have held that sense of calling ‘to disturb the comfortable’, for a long time now. To be fair, it’s an approach that is better suited to the interim or short term visits we have been engaged in over the last year or so as that approach every week would quickly grow old and people would end up bruised and battered rather than inspired and equipped. But I still feel it deeply, that not only do we need to speak the message of faith in words that people can grasp, but we also need to be willing to re-think this thing we call church – and if radical change is needed then we need to be courageous enough to step into that.

I imagine if we landed in a new church community for a period of time, it would mean putting legs on this idea of the kingdom of God locally. It would mean less strong disturbing and more process helping people move in a direction that embraces both their identity and that of their local neighbourhood.

So as the year unfolds if you need someone to patiently love you and nurture you call Danelle… If you need someone to help you lose the ability to bullshit then I’m your man.

Creatively Bivocational – Think Local, Lucrative, Low bar to entry

Just today I found myself googling ‘bike mechanic courses’. 

Why on earth?…

The main reason is to do a bit of self education around bike maintenance now that I own a bike again – and to save a few $$ on bike repairs when things go awry. Maybe I should know all this stuff from childhood, but I was never big into bikes. However in the last two months I have been cycling 4 or 5 times a week and often on tracks that a little rough, meaning the bike can take a bit of a beating. There have been 2 visits to the bike mechanic already, and I sense more to come unless I figure this stuff out myself. 

On Friday I texted a ‘mobile bike mech’ to see if he could attend to an issue with the gear shifting. He could but it would be $230 + parts for the first hour. I quickly lost interest. However; as happened 15 years ago with reticulation, I thought to myself ‘there are people out there paying this amount to have their bikes repaired…’ It sounded like an outrageous amount just to come and adjust some screws, but perhaps that is the going rate?…

Then the thought came ‘I could learn this… bikes can’t be that complicated… and people love their bikes and hate it when they break down…’

I dunno if I will do anything with the thought other than try and do a bit of self education, but for an aspiring entrepreneur with savvy social media marketing skills there is a small business opportunity there for the taking. (See here)

It reminded me of a podcast I was listening to a few months back now from the English Northern Baptist Assoc of churches as they tried to re-imagine themselves as missionaries. One of the pastors is bivo, with his other role being that of bike mechanic. He spoke of the way it engaged him with the people in his community and how people just appreciated his services. Another pastor took a short ‘barber’ course and then began cutting hair, focusing especially on the folks who couldn’t afford a regular haircut. It’s a very personal thing to have someone in your immediate space for 30 minutes and inevitably conversation flows.

For some people the idea of going ‘bivo’ sounds daunting – like ‘where do I start?’

Simple answer – start with what you are good at and what you enjoy. Chances are you will continue to enjoy it and even get paid for it.

In his book ‘Bivo’, Hugh Halter writes about smart jobs and dumb jobs you can get as a bivo pastor. He further divides the idea into four types of jobs. I have slightly modified it by adding the word ‘local’.

High local people contact + high income = smart job

High local  people contact + low income = ok job

Low local people contact + high income = ok job

Low local  people contact + low income = dumb job

You can probably think of jobs that fit each category. My time in retic was a smart job – lots of local people and a steady supply of well paid work. My caravan weighing business and diesel heater business are more in the ‘ok’ sphere though as they pay well, but the people contact is not specifically local. 

You can of course just get a ‘job’ and do the bivo thing that way, but unless you are in a high paying vocation, you will likely just  be earning a reasonable salary – which is fine – but a ‘job’ typically brings a degree of constraint and limitation which a self starter type business doesn’t.

So my advice to people who are serious about being bivo is to ideally start a small venture that can grow, but that is both lucrative and local – like being a bike mechanic… Seriously – as well as lucrative and local, I would suggest that you look for roles where there is a low bar to entry. You can’t just head out and be a plumber tomorrow, unless you complete a 3-4 year apprenticeship, so while plumbing is a good idea – it is not an immediate solution.

What are some examples I am aware of?

Just last week I caught up with a young 21 year old who wants to figure out how to serve God but also keep the $$ flowing. I had never met him before, but I knew his father from a previous pastoral role. He had read my post here and wanted to chat. As we talked he shared that he has found a niche in email marketing, working for several clients and while it’s only bringing in around $1K/week he is well positioned it grow – and he can also get by on that very minimal salary at this point in his life. He works from his laptop, specialises in a particular type of marketing and is figuring out how to do it well. I have no doubt he will succeed and his biggest challenge will come with turning away work and limiting his income as a result.

My friend Stuart runs a consulting business that is now well established and highly regarded. He is also helping a country church thru a period of transition. We sometimes laugh about his corporate rates, but this is simply the $$$ ballpark in which they play. As a result he can offer churches top quality help at a very nominal price by comparison. And it’s stuff he is good at and really enjoys. Interestingly, while he always had these capacities, they were ‘fanned into flame’ around 20 years ago during our ‘Forge’ years when he took on the role of director of coaching – because he seemed like the right guy for it. Now with both substantial training and experience he is in a position to keep doing what he loves for a long time – and he will get well paid for it.

Then there is Andy who used to live in our local area and work as a pastor. He did a stint with a country church, working part time as a pastor and also on the local mine. More recently he has finished in the pastoral role and runs his own SUP (stand up paddle board) school. It is local and while some of his clients are tourists I an sure a good number are also local people.He is a long time surfer so being in the water and with people are two of the things he loves and is good at.

Get the idea?

What are you good at that you may be able to convert to a small business to help fund some ministry ventures?

I have considered doing things in the area of drone photography and coffee roasting as these are both loves of mine. Both my diary and the local market are already full enough, but if I wanted ‘more’ then maybe I could begin here. The fun I have had cycling lately on an electric ‘Fat-bike’ made me wonder whether in a touristy place like Yanchep ‘Fat-bike tours’ could be a fun venture too. Again – there is only so much space in life so some ideas just go straight thru to the keeper.

But the point is to, find a niche – Ideally a niche that you enjoy and that pays well, begin working locally, among your own community and from there build a client base of local people. If you are leadng a church at the same time then you will have the opportunity to model misisonal leadership and Christlike living to the people in your congregation as you inhabit the very same working world as they do.

Want some other ideas?… Because they just keep coming at me and I don’t have time to pursue them all. 

Start a garage door repair business – no training needed (obviously you would need to learn the ropes) then get started and define your catchment area for work. It’s often a one man operation and pays well.

Be a carer for people with disabilities. (Don’t do this if don’t enjoy this kind of work – because it is tiring), but you can set your own hours, choose your clients and receive a very healthy income from NDIS. I know because my 21 year old son is doing very well out of this at the moment and anyone who wanted to pursue a bivo path could do this with minimum training or qualifications.

A couple of years back while we were travelling Oz, one of the ideas we mulled around was buying a local school bus run and driving it ourselves. I thought it looked like a great way to get into the lives of all of the local families on a daily basis. And the gov rates of payment also make it a very lucrative gig. In the end the thought of being bound by school holidays was a key factor in us not pursuing it. It was only a few months back we spoke at a country church and then had lunch with some local people who told us how they loved their kid’s school bus driver because he took an interest in their lives – he made it about much more than bus driving.

I hope you see that the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. So when people complain and say they don’t want to ‘flip burgers’ or stand a Woollies check out in a bivo life I want to suggest there are many more creative and lucrative ways to pursue that kind of calling.

God – Not a Micro-manager

If you’ve been around churches for any length of time then you’d know that we are taught to try and ‘follow Gods plan’ for our lives, a phrase that may be somewhat misleading as it implies that at every moment God has decisions he wants you to make in order to be in ‘his will’. This is accompanied by the idea that the ‘best or safest place to be is in the centre of God’s will’.

If this is your idea of how guidance works the chances are you may feel a little anxious. It’s a big ask to be able to tune into God with this kind of precision – to continually locate yourself at the centre of Gods plan, especially if he isn’t saying much. (And sometimes he does go quiet for long periods – just read the Psalms…)

But it’s ok – I don’t think he is actually asking this. God isn’t a micro-manager.

It’s a good thing to desire to follow Gods plan, but if we try to listen for every breath he breathes then we won’t go anywhere fast. I believe it’s better to think of God’s plan as the redemption and restoration of the world – and it is this plan that I organise my life around. I have a degree of autonomy in giving shape to that life. We are called to be his disciples and to be formed in his image, but that can take shape in many ways.

So how do we deal with the very valid question of what does God want me to do?’

I see what we sometimes call ‘guidance’ operating in two ways. The first and the most dominant is by seeking wisdom. When faced with decisions that are complex or life altering the first base is to do as James writes of in Ch 1 ‘If any of you lacks wisdom then he should ask of God who gives generously to all without finding fault – but when he asks he must believe and not doubt…’ James goes on to speak of the difference between earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom – one is self seeking and inward focused, while the other is peaceful, humble, considerate and submissive. (3:13-18)

The Bible speaks of using wise counsellors as guides – of making significant decisions in consultation with others and of being patient. It’s harder to make a really bad decision if you  have shared it with a number of others and sought counsel. (It’s one reason we need the church.)

Of course, some decisions don’t require any wisdom. Museli or toast for breakfast?… I don’t think God cares… Wanna go to the movies or dinner? Same – a non issue unless you are hungry…

Wisdom is however needed for vocational / life commitment decisions, think marriage, career, financial management and the like. So don’t wait for a burning bush to chart a course for you. Get on and live wisely. And if you don’t know how to do this then talk to someone who can walk with you and help you.

Make good decisions by following a good process.

I tend to feel most decisions are made thru wisdom.  In fact I would suggest we always ‘lead with wisdom’ and trust that as we use our God given brain to think thru an issue that he is ‘shining wisdom on us’. Wisdom means praying, listening, but then doing some work yourself to find the answer.

Then occasionally in life you will have a burning bush moment, a road to Damascus experience – (or as I like to call them – a Jerry Maguire moment) an encounter with God that cuts you open and calls you to an action that may not have been in your field of vision. These moments are insane and incredible!

I would guess that in all of the decisions I have made over  60 years I have had only a handful of moments where I could say with conviction ‘God spoke to me’, or ‘God  is calling me’. But by and large this is not my experience. I don’t hear God speaking every day. In fact more often than not it’s pretty quiet on the God front.

So good ‘godly’ decision making most often comes down to wisdom and then possibly courage because God may well call us down a path that is unfamiliar or maybe even disturbing.

So if you are sitting around waiting for the leading of the Holy Spirit – a dream about a man from Macedonia – or the like – then I suggest getting on with what you can do and drawing on what wisdom is available to you. If you do that then you’re probably 90% of the way there. You may have a God experience as you follow your chosen path. You may even interpret something as God that is pure coincidence…. I think we do that sometimes (and it’s ok – God smiles on it). I also think that sometimes God does form a path for us… Which one is it? That’s where some practiced discernment is invaluable – but that takes years to feel confident in. If you want to see an example of that kind of discernment at work then read this post about the day I didn’t sell my crazy dog after finally convincing the rest of the family that it was a good idea.

One piece of ‘dad wisdom’ I will shoot your way for free is simply that ‘life is always a series of trade-offs’. Want to own a home, settle down with a wife, 2 kids and a dog? Then chances are your other dream of travelling the world in a yacht will not come off… It’s the way life is and you can’t beat it, so the key is to learn what you value and live from that, content in knowing that you are choosing path ‘X’ and as a result path ‘Y’ you will not be able to follow.

As for ‘feelings’ and where they fit into decision making – that probably depends on who you are. I resonate with the statement that says ‘we are emotional beings who occasionally think things thru.’ Danelle is a feeler and I am a thinker, but we cross over plenty. I feel like it’s good to listen to your gut but moreso to be careful about letting it call the tune. Feelings can be a powerful intuition towards the right path. They can also be fickle and deceptive.

Start with wisdom.

And if you’re worried that you may be that guy James speaks about who doesn’t have enough faith, then I’d suggest that he may be addressing the person who prays for wisdom but never actually acts on the wisdom received because they hate the idea of getting it wrong. Better to act on some wisdom and trust that God has been in the process than to spend your life wondering about which path to take.

So if you’re sitting around and prevaricating as to what this year should hold for you then my bit of wisdom for you is to start moving towards the direction you feel you should be heading and then trust that God is leading you – but he also expects you to use the brain he has given you!


This evening our ‘Life’s great big questions – with the friends’ group (LGBQ-WTF for short) re-convenes and the subject is simply around the question of ‘how much is enough?‘ For a bunch of people in their 50’s & 60’s it’s a very pertinent question as the ‘earning years’ are possibly coming to an end and we are then dependent on whatever superannuation we have stashed away, as well as whatever government pension we may be fortunate enough to receive. I know it’s a lurking issue in my own consciousness and while I want to ‘trust God to provide’ I’m also conscious that my own initiative is required in some way as well. This is not an issue where I can be passive. So this blog is essentially a fairly unrefined brain dump to help me get in the zone for conversation tonight.

It arose as F & I chatted one day about how much we’d like to see in the bank as a fund to draw on in ‘retirement’. If you have read my blog for any time you would know that I feel ‘retirement’ is a social construct – not a ‘law’, or an ‘essential’ of any kind – certainly not a biblical concept – so I may never ‘retire’. However as we discussed the idea the magic ‘million’ dollars was the first bid to land on the table. A simple 5-7% interest would give $50-70K alone. That’s enough to live on if you are frugal… That said, I would like to be able to travel and eat out with some freedom so that would mean either chewing into the capital or earning more $$.

So maybe 2 million?…

It’d be nice to have a holiday house or 2… a yacht… I think we got to pondering $13 or $14 million as the conversation wove on and we laid out our crazy visions. Those figures will certainly never be a reality for me, but they may be on the table for others.

We are in an interesting phase of life. Having sold a business that was very profitable and allowed us to live well and resigned from our stable income church roles, we are now in a place where we are reliant on our other caravan business as well as any ad hoc church work I get or admin work Danelle picks up. It’s a massive drop in income, but we still seem to have ‘enough…’

Of course there is the question of ‘who gets to define what we mean by enough?’ My ‘enough’, may feel ludicrous to someone on a high income, but equally silly to someone living on the pension. Last week we were in Busselton and I cycled into Dunsborough past a whole heap of lavish beachfront homes that are probably someone’s ‘holiday shack’. I’d like one of them. It would be nice to know that at any moment you could down tools and a luxury beachfront home in the south west would await you. I had a few moments of envy as I passed those homes… Western consumer culture keeps trying to disciple me into its ways. Some days I resist, while other days I find it’s tentacles have wrapped around me more than I had hoped.

‘Enough’ may also vary at different stages of life. For my parents in a nursing home their need for cash is greatly diminished. For a young family with mortgage, kids and toys it is increased – of course we do get to choose our mortgage and how we spend our money, so I don’t have much sympathy when someone tells they have stretched to the limits of their income and now have mortgage stress. Simple solution – buy only what you can afford.

When I run the question of ‘enough’ thru a biblical lens, there is no part of scripture that calls me to pursue wealth as a priority. Paul speaks of ‘learning how to be content whether he has plenty or little’ (Phil 4:11) and to me that is one of the keys. ‘Contentment’ is notoriously elusive because we have been led to believe it lies just over the next hill in the next purchase or acquisition. I imagine Paul had periods of high income as well as periods where he lived frugally.

Of course you can’t consider this question without thinking of the story Jesus told in Luke 12 of the man who stored up excess grain in his barns and then thought ‘I will take it easy because I can…’ and that night his life ended. Jesus clear warning is to not invest our time building earthly wealth but to seek ‘treasure in heaven’. What does he mean by that?… Whatever it is, we can know confidently that Jesus is not endorsing wealth accumulation and being ‘financially self sufficient’ as a goal to pursue.

My own contribution to the evening’s pre-reading was from the sermon on the mount where Jesus calls us not to worry.

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[e] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matt 6:19-21

This is probably the clearest teaching from Jesus on how we are to approach wealth and life in general. We are called to hold it lightly and not make it the focus of our affections. That doesn’t mean we can’t be wealthy. In fact we in the western world we can’t avoid being wealthy just by virtue of where we live. A family with two parents both on minimum wage are still in the top 10% of wealthy people in the world. We have just been so conditioned to desire ‘more’ that we never feel that our wealth is sufficient. We have been trained to ‘compare up’ and never ‘compare down’. When we do that we feel like we are lacking – but it’s simply a marketing ploy.

Jesus went on to say:

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Matt 6:22-23

He refers to our eyes – our sense of focus. A healthy focus means a body will be full of light – a focus on the things that matter to God allows us to live freely and easily as we trust him to care for us. But eyes focused on acquisition and accumulation of wealth are rarely going to be satisfied and Jesus refers to this as a ‘great darkness’. Simply put, when our lives are focused on money and driven by money we will lose focus on the God who provides whatever we need.

He finishes with:

33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Matt 6

It seems Jesus simple advice is to be in relationship with God and to let our focus in life come from that connection, rather than being buffeted by the culture. It’s easy to say – harder to implement.

Along the way we will most likely accrue wealth – because we live in a world where that is possible. Our homes will increase in value, we will save some money and our superannuation should have a few dollars in it. I’m conscious that even in this wealthy society there are some who live on the edge – just enough for rent or mortgage – scraping by on bills and food and little left over for pleasures and toys. Here’s the thing though – that feels tough, and one level it is, but on another level, when compared to the vast majority of the world we would appear to have it very good. It all depends on where our comparison lies.

So how much is enough – probably less than we think. I like Yoel Frank’s book, The Barefoot Disciple, that is full of common sense financial advice that you would find in its namesake book The Barefoot Investor, but it also has the edge of pushing you to consider what it would look like to seek first the priorities of Jesus and then trust him to put $$ in the bank.

As I sit here today I am conscious that I am ludicrously, even obscenely wealthy by world standards and yet my culture keeps whispering to me that I am actually discontent… I don’t sense there is any figure that will ever suffice when we are seeking to prop ourselves up with our own muscle, but the other option of trusting a good God to provide is equally challenging as it is less about our effort and more about following the path he sets us on. It may lead to un sought after affluence or it may lead to downward mobility – both are possible. Yet in both the mental state of ‘learning to be content’ and ‘of seeking first the kingdom of God’ are the keys to keeping grounded.

Brain-dump complete.

Losing Sight of Land

I wrote this 4 years ago, and while I am no longer in a regular paid pastoral role, the content is still as simple and as visceral as ever. Even before Steve Mac wrote his excellent book on some of this exact challenge… Originally posted in 2019, this is slightly edited for 2024

Back in the days when I owned a boat I would often use it for getting to a distant reef break to surf, or some remote diving, even the odd sad, pathetic fishing venture. We would head out a few kms, maybe even 7 or 8, but at no point did we lose sight of land. It wasn’t so much fear that kept me close, but simply that I had no need to go further. (I could fish just as badly 5kms off shore as I could 20kms off.)

However I imagine there would be something a little chilling about losing sight of land in a 5m runabout – losing your most primal bearing and being afloat in a very, big and unpredictable ocean. You would need tools for keeping your bearings and a steely crew not easily unsettled by the absence of that clear source of guidance and comfort.

In that sense I have a feeling the ‘Christian’ boat is losing sight of land – and it’s not heading back any time soon. If ‘land’ is the security of a society that both recognises and affirms the Judeo-Christian story then my sense is that we are headed for the horizon at an ever increasing pace.

The growing secularism we are living in is fast taking us away not just from the structures we are familiar with, but also from the story we claim to align with. The question I am currently pondering is how we speak to the challenge of forming disciples of Jesus in this fast shifting and disorienting culture.

Each year at this time, as school holidays end and people settle back into regular routines we (as pastors) ‘rally the troops’.  For some its ‘Vision Sunday/s’ and we do our own version of this, except every year we say the exact same thing albeit in slightly different ways.

‘Follow Jesus – do it – don’t talk about, think about it, whine about it – just do it.’

It’s not very nuanced. I don’t believe in the need to shape a new vision each year or to inspire people with a fresh picture of the future. If there are new things there to get excited about then all well and good, but the primary task of the church never changes – ever.

It is to form people into Christlikeness and send them into the world while praying ‘your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

That’s the pastor’s ‘job’ and it needs to be taken very seriously. There is nothing more important in the world than that task.

The unique challenge at this time in history is that we seem to be moving further and further from an old and familiar (albeit tired) Christendom towards a seemingly hopeful and glossy  secularism. As the church our strongest inclination may be to sail the ship back towards Christendom – back to land – to ‘safe and familiar’. But while there was much that was good in that time, (and some stuff that wasn’t so good), it is definitely not the form ‘Christianity’ will take in the years to come.

Simply put – we no longer have the same authority in society. In fact we are often cast as the ‘bad guys’, (2024 edit – I said it first Steve Mac – or maybe I heard you say it… 🙂 ) the ones standing in the way of a world that could be. A real danger in this space is that in the absence of a ‘Christian heritage’ to appeal to, we will find ourselves aligned with either the left or the right side of politics and we will see this as pivotal to shifting society back towards a Jesus like posture. We will look for sources of power to leverage and with Christendom dead in the water those sources are most likely going to be political parties.

I don’t believe we don’t want to go that route.

Back in 2019 my son came to me and told me about a 16th C protestant group called The Levellers, a far left group who practiced ‘Christian communism’ based on their reading of Acts 2. One of his school friends who is an ardent Green supporter pointed him to them as an example of ‘Christians who had got some stuff right’. The levellers were an interesting mob, but as we talked I found myself again saying that the answer is not in any political ideology.

While these may seem to be our only ‘visible’ options at the moment the answer has been and always will be the kingdom of God as it takes form in local churches. Yes – the local churches bit really matters because it is the tangible, local and visible expression of God’s rule and reign. The kingdom of God is neither ‘left’ nor ‘right’, (although both can put their cases for it being better represented by them). Instead this will be the way in which the world will be changed – as ordinary people give their lives to a ‘powerless’ way of living that inspires by its Jesus like qualities rather than its ability to rule and exert power.

So for a pastor preaching to a garden variety suburban church at this time of year I’d suggest your focus be on preparing people for a world that is going to be increasingly unfamiliar and unforgiving – a world that at times will be openly hostile. It will be to encourage people to find strength in the tools of faith that have always been there – the spiritual practices that form us into Christlikeness and to prioritise being together as the church to encourage and support one another to follow a different story.

I won’t be encouraging anyone to head back to land. (I don’t believe ‘Christendom’ was ever the answer.) Rather I will be equipping people to sail confidently and humbly into the world trusting that the spirit of God is able to work thru a church that no longer has its position in society to appeal to, but rather only has the lives of its people as a credible witness.

It worked pretty well 2000 years ago…

About Your Career…

In my first few years of teaching I spent 4 years at a parent controlled Christian school – meaning (theoretically) that all of the kids came from homes where at least one parent had faith. These kids were raised in families where following Jesus was the most important priority. And part of that involved sending their kids to a school where their education would be shaped by the values of Jesus and the kingdom of God. What could go wrong?

So one day I decided to test this ideology…

Each morning we had a 20 minute ‘devotional’ space – where the intention was to give the kids a biblical idea to reflect on. I remember I often spent more time preparing for this space than for my other lessons, (ok – I was a phys ed teacher so understandable 🙂 the first hint that my future wasn’t going to be permanently in high school teaching.

It was early days of my rethinking the ‘aspirational western career’ script and my articulation of ideas lacked the nuance I would give it today. But I remember taking a significant amount of time to discuss with these students what they were going to do in their future. Of course we heard that some wanted to be teachers, engineers, doctors and so on.

But – no one was putting their hand up for overseas mission work, aid and development work, pastoral ministry or any form of mission / ministry for that matter – and this was in a Christian school… I got the impression (and I still do) that we naturally gravitate towards regular careers and professions with the idea that if God wanted us to commit our life to Christian mission / ministry then he would need to YELL – to ‘call us out’. Now I’m not at all suggesting we go the dualistic route of seeing an either / or situation (mission / secular work), because reality is that many people’s vocations take them into service in regular jobs. We need Christian plumbers, lawyers and retic blokes just as much as we need pastors and missionaries. That is a recurring theme of this blog – so please don’t think I have jumped ship on that one.

However in those morning devotions I suggested to these students that they consider mission and ministry work as their first calling/priority with a ‘regular career’ as a valuable back up if mission work didn’t go to plan. I pushed them to envisage themselves firstly as missionaries or ministers of some form which generated some interesting conversations and push back from concerned parents who wanted their kids to pursue ‘good careers’. Sure – they could follow Jesus, but all things in moderation… right?… I admit my presentation lacked nuance and was full of 24 year old bluntness – but I really wanted to challenge the dominant paradigm in a strong way. It had the desired effect… It generated some heat. It ruffled some feathers. But I don’t think it made a difference to where the kids headed.

Right now I see a dearth of emerging Christian leaders. Maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places, but the notion of devoting your life to mission and ministry feels somewhat of a bizarre concept to most people under 30. I don’t come across many young people at all who have a life of Christian service anywhere on the radar.

Why is that?

Have we followed the aspirational western script so closely that now it’s indistinguishable from the call of Jesus? I have vivid memories of my teen years being challenged regularly by missionaries and preachers to ‘lay down my life for Jesus and the gospel’. I remember wrestling with calling and at times considering giving up my Phys Ed degree to pursue vocational ministry. It wasn’t an ever present wrestle – because I was also being formed by the ‘script’ when I wasn’t hearing the challenges from those who had stepped into vocational mission. But it was a genuine wrestle and my subsequent path forward probably reflected that.

I believe with all my heart that we need Christians present at every place in society as salt and light, but I also believe that there is a place for vocational mission and ministry. It’s often said that we need to let people mature a little before heading in this direction, but I’m not so sure. I get the sense that the longer we allow people to fall in line and pursue a career, the harder it is to lever them out.

So this is part me thinking out loud about what I am seeing and part me saying to younger people to revisit the notion of career and replace it with vocation. Then within that consider deeply what it would look like for you to give your life to the work of the gospel either here in Australia or overseas.

As a young person I sat thru many a missionary sermon that culminated with those words in Isaiah – here am I – send me!’ And the question was asked if we would respond to God with similar heart. It was a clear call to a life that wasn’t concerned with career advancement and personal achievement but that was focused on following Jesus wherever it led.

This year I turn 60 and we are in a time of significant transition – but that idea of first following Jesus is still as deep and strong as ever – and I’m grateful for those preachers, prophets and missionary speakers who were willing to speak the strong words and articulate an uncompromising vision of seeking first the kingdom of God – and letting life fall into place after that.

Maybe someone needs to hear that message again today. Maybe you need to revisit how your life is formed and what your vocation is. Maybe you can observe your own life and see that you have fallen in line and swallowed the ‘blue pill’. So consider this a challenge to ‘take the red pill and see how deep the rabbit hole goes’. Perhaps God has hopes for you and your life that go way beyond a nice career, a happy family and a well funded retirement!

Playing For the Draw?

If you are a cricket fan then you would be well aware that there are few things more pointless and dis-spiriting on the fifth day of a test match, than watching a team intentionally playing for a draw’ – seeing out the required overs and quietly accepting that there would be no winner. It feels utterly lame and no one wants to watch a game like that. On the other hand when a situation is finely balanced, or even looking dire, there are few things more inspiring than watching a team giving it all they’ve got in an effort to overcome the odds and win. In fact it’s still inspiring even if they don’t pull it off, because they actually had the courage to make the attempt.

But these kinds of initiatives don’t happen by accident.  At some point you have to decide IF and WHEN you are going to make this your focus. There is no point thinking you may just pull off a surprise win when you are 9 wickets down with 200 runs needed. That’s just dumb. But if there is a day to play, 300 runs needed and still 4 wickets in hand, then a brave captain may just say ‘ let’s give it all we’ve got, take some risks, play aggressively and maybe just maybe, we will pull it off!” The other option is give instructions to shut up shop, take no risks and hopefully escape with a draw. (In which case you may still lose anyway…)

What is it that makes some teams rise up in these situations while others only have enough imagination and courage for at best a slow, dull finish ?

As I was reflecting today I got the sense that many Christian churches are ‘playing for the draw’. All over the country there are churches in serious trouble with aging congregations, declining numbers and a correlating decline in finances. We are ‘6 wickets down, on a sticky pitch’ and unless there is a significant change we are gonna be bowled over quickly and easily. I think we could call the situation ‘dire’… (remember the bowls club in the movie Crackerjack?…)

Many of these churches facing extinction are simply muddling along as best they can, keeping Sundays happening, but realising that one day they will eventually all die… and that may be the way things play out… Once there is no one left to turn the lights on it will be ‘game over’. But until then we will just keep the Sundays ticking over and hope for revival. You would think the most critical purpose of a church was to run Sunday gatherings…

The choice then is to either take some significant risks to turn the tide of decline or to simply hold the fort , play for the draw and eventually close the church. I sense ‘playing for the draw’ is our default modus operandi. It seems we are wired for minimum risk and maximum comfort. We seem way too willing to “go gently into that good night.”

Of course the big difference between church and cricket is that we aren’t actually ‘playing for a draw.’ It just feels like that. To choose a draw is to actually allow for defeat – just a slow defeat. There are no draws in the kingdom of God. And if we choose to just prolong the inevitable then we have to ask who that is serving. 

For churches in this space it is a challenge to genuinely consider what it would look like to go after the ‘win’. In essence it means listening to the Spirit’s leading, doing a realistic stocktake of existing resources and then asking how they could move from a defensive stance to a genuinely missional posture, all while accepting that whatever risks are taken may not work.  The possibility of victory – seeing the church re-invigorated and healthy – involves risk – genuine risk that may not pay off. A church may still close. 

But why oh why would the people of God choose anything less than a full tilt at a ‘win’? (It’s not rhetorical…)

Someone may ask ‘How would we know if we are playing for a draw?’

Probably one clue is that a post like this catches you off guard and you think ‘Us? Really?…’ If you aren’t aware that this is an issue then you are already in trouble – maybe worse trouble than you know. Perhaps other clues are to look at what a church spends it’s time and money on. Are there missional initiatives happening – planned and unplanned because that is the culture of the church? Is there genuine missionary concern for the local community – or is there greater concern for the songs sung on Sunday or whether the sermon was expository or topical?

So this is the question many churches are facing – is it better to play for the draw – or to go after the risky win?

And what are some practical implications of a choice like this?

  • Staffing for mission rather than survival – choose people for staff who will prioritise mission over maintenance and admin. I don’t mean ‘abandon Sundays’ (as is sometimes heard), but I am saying that our best energy should be directed outwards and to equipping people for the world they live in day by day.
  • Giving permission to leaders to fail in whatever mission work they attempt. Not everything we try will work – in fact chances are we going to fail more often than we succeed. But if we never try new ideas then we are already cooked. Let leaders risk and fail – more than once!
  • Accepting that a short term outcome may be a further decline in both people and finance. That’s easy to say – but it is like a kick in the guts when it happens. Not everyone wants to play for the win. Some like a slow, meaningless (religious) draw… and they can take their bat and ball to another dying church and keep playing for a draw elsewhere.
  • Teaching that inspires and provokes people to missional action in keeping with their own life. I don’t think we need to create any more ‘missional programs’. We do need to help people embrace their missional identity in their life as it is.
  • Telling stories of hope – not just conversion stories but real, authentic moments of connection and of seeing the Spirit at work. Sharing our small wins.
  • Championing risk takers and innovators – at the same time being wise enough to reject simply foolish ideas.

Anyway this idea of ‘playing for the draw’ lobbed into my mind over the weekend and just seemed to have a somewhat relevant and prophetic aspect to it. As we often say ‘if the cap fits wear it’ and if it doesn’t then scroll on by. But maybe if you’re a pastor or leader who has been playing for the draw then it’s time to to spend some days in prayer and reflection to figure out how you can again lead a church that is willing to risk all for the good of the kingdom.