I’m Remembering

I’m remembering your face

That last night we spoke

Your ready smile

Kind blue eyes and stark white hair

Your ever present welcome

To one and all

Mostly all…

I’m remembering you at peace in that old recliner

Surrounded by those you loved

Photos spilled from your walls

Many now faded 

Of weddings, reunions, gatherings

The more the merrier 

A family ever expanding 

Your greatest joy

And sometimes sorrow

Those same faces now filled the room

Knowing your time was soon

And every moment seemed to count

Now more than ever

You kissed me when I left

And I know now it was your goodbye

Your bags were packed 

But we had time at the station to farewell you

To linger and listen to you one last time

I’m remembering your deep love for ‘the north west’

For mangoes and paw paw

The piercing Pilbara heat

Or the withering Kimberley sun

Was like a welcome mat for you

‘We saw that we were running a Bible college up there’

You’d say again and again (and again)

And you recalled with great fondness

Those people and places where you felt ‘privileged to serve’

And to spend the best years of your life

Those same years 

Now remembered by many

As the best years of their lives

I’m remembering your warm words 

Snug like a woollen blanket 

Many a young pastor felt encouraged 

By your genuine and frequent affirmations

Your curiosity at contentious ideas

Your willingness to learn, think, question, change

And sometimes challenge and rebuke 

But by then we knew you loved us

You were not out to fix us

Because you were older and knew better

There is One who fixes

And you were happy to trust Him

I’m remembering your love for all

But especially the underdog

With you around the disabled were never an inconvenience 

The asylum seeker was never an ‘illegal’

They weren’t friends even…

They were family (and they knew it)

Your love was fierce

Your call for justice, constant

You saw the lost and lonely

You invited them into your life

Without fear or qualification

I’m remembering you ever wondering if ‘that was the Lord?’

You carried a deep awareness of God holding everything together

Somehow dovetailing both local and cosmic events 

To create sense of this world

And if we couldn’t make sense

Then He could

And that was all you needed

I couldn’t share your supreme confidence 

My ever skeptical mind had way too many questions

But when Jesus spoke of childlike faith

I wonder if it was you he had in mind?

I’m remembering your advice to a young pastor

Seeking to live as a missionary 

Wanting to change the world 

With innovation, creativity and endless reserves of energy

I asked what you would do

If you were me…

Entering a new community…

Seeking to be the presence of Jesus?…

You pondered briefly then

Gave a bewildering response

‘I’d just live my ordinary life’

I was underwhelmed and bemused 

A little sad that you had so little insight

But twenty years later

Those words have become rich with meaning

Pregnant with wisdom

A light to the path of anyone who will listen

If an ‘ordinary life’ firmly earthed in Jesus isn’t enough

Then something is wrong

I’m remembering your prayers for us

We basked in this knowledge

At least one person was always with us

Speaking on our behalf

Early every morning remembering us by name to the Father

Although we disappointed you 

At times made fun of you

And complained to one another about you

You loved us

And you prayed for us

You prayed and prayed and prayed

We will never know the outcome of those prayers

Or what is now missed because you are gone

But we will be forever grateful for those prayers

I’m remembering those many weeks in hospital

The constant wondering 




Then slowly realising

You aren’t coming out…

Except to sit in your garden one last time

With frangipani and wren 

The waft of the sea breeze coming up from the river

And the warmth of the summer sun

As Peter brought you a cup of tea

I’m remembering the way you taught us how to die

Utterly fearless 

Curiously inspiring

We watched as you showed us

Faith with substance 

Sadness mixed with joy

‘Ive had a good life’

Understated and peaceful

Yet electric with anticipation

Of being face to face

With the One you loved 

To know fully 

Even as you are fully known

Resurrection awaits

But first there must be death

Our shared hope triumphs over the tears

And we remember you

And Then It Was Gone – Part 3

So 20 years later I look back on this chapter of my life – and it is with the fondest memories. We didn’t achieve what we set out to do – to ignite a church planting movement across Oz – but we did force the church to look at its own approach to mission. At that time it was ‘seeker services’ and the like as the ‘methodology of mission’ (Leslie Newbigin would turn in his grave…) and the focus was on getting the people back in the building so they could be wooed over by a convincing presenter. Sometimes that methodology was effective but it relied on people with relationships outside of church, an invitation to a gathering and then a speaker with enough wow to win people over.

Most of us couldn’t pull that off – even if we tried. And the beauty of the missional focus was that we no longer had to perform in that way. As the language of mission and the word ‘missional’ began to enter mainstream, the things we had been calling out in the early 2000’s suddenly became self evident. These days everyone is ‘missional’, but ask around and you will get some curious understandings of what word means. How a word that is derived from the latin ‘missio’ = ‘to send’, could ever be interpreted as an instruction to ‘come’ is beyond me. But I guarantee you that this paradigm is still prevalent in many of our churches.

What was the ’emerging missional church’ in Australia? I believe it was a prophetic movement that burned bright for a time, that explored and re-thought much of our theology, but that did its best work when it was calling Christians to embrace their calling as sent people. A few of the early missional projects lingered for a while and i think one is even still going, but by and large many of us packed up and went back to ‘normal church’. And we went back not because the form is necessarily better or superior – more just inevitable in some ways. As a group grows it needs to meet regularly. When?… Hmmm. Sunday is prob best… morning or afternoon? 9.30 works well… And rather than trash one person’s home on a regular basis let’s hire a venue… Seats? Oh yeah, rows will work best – we can fit more people in… Oh and who will look after the kids?

I could attend any manner of church these days and not care less what form the Sunday gathering takes. It needs to be a form that fits that community and is representative of that particular church’s way of being. What I notice is the language used and the way mission is thought of amongst the people. As an untethered pastor at the moment, I sometimes cruise the pastoral job ads (feels like wandrering in an Op Shop) wondering if I might discover something that fits me and that looks good one me. What I have noticed is that in the job descriptions very few speak of the missional role that the pastor needs to have. The emphasis is on solid biblical teaching and caring for the flock… I don’t finish reading those adverts. I believe in good biblical teaching and caring for the people, but I believe the pastoral leaders are the ones who will set the tone for mission in the local community.

A sentence such as: As a pastoral leader you will help XYZ Baptist church engage in mission with it’s local community, sending people back into their workplaces and neighbourhoods equipped and empowered to be the presence of Jesus. Martin Robinson said it so well in his book ‘Invading Secular Space

“What would it look like for a church to function in such a way that the primary goal of church life was not to attract more people into attendance and membership, but to produce people who had a profound sense of their personal relationship to God, their resource in Christ and could take that reality into the world with them” p.111.

In my pre-missional days I focused heavily on establishing activities that would seek to ‘reach out’ to people beyond the church – regular programs – craft groups, Alpha, youth groups etc. What I learnt in the EMC time was the value of simply living my ordinary life and being myself, and listening for the whisper of the Spirit to step up when the moment arose. My sense now is that there is a place for programs that are genuinely effective and that bless and serve the community, but if the programs are dragging people away from their ordinary lives then they may need rethinking.

I am grateful for a theological experience that forced me to think about the gospel as broader and more holistic than simply Jesus dying for my sins. I did have a very truncated view in the early years and it was driven by a ‘heaven / hell’ schema. These days as my understanding of the kingdom of God has matured I feel like I am better able to give people a broader and truer explanation of what God is doing in the world and how they may be involved.

II was honoured to take over the national directorship of Forge when Al & Deb Hirsch left for the USA, but the distance and challenge of leading the movement in the wake of a charismatic initiator meant it was always going to be a difficult prospect. I worked in this role for a couple of years, before resigning and Phil McCredden stepping up. As I moved out of the Forge years and back to local church ministry at Quinns Baptist, it was with a sense of that time having come to an end. In my mind the ’emerging missional church’ had served its purpose and while we hadn’t catalysed a movement like we had aspired to, we had shaken the foundations of the church and caused it to reflect on how it went about its business – even what it’s ‘core business’ was.

So 20 years on I feel blessed and privileged to have shared in the leadership of such a valuable movement, even if it was only for a time. Not everything needs to run forever – in fact it’s much better to do your job and when your job is complete to move on. Moving back to a small local church and a part time business after being involved in the leadership of an inspiring and innovative organisation was a challenge – part of it was the anonymity of it all. Most of us lost touch over time as we wove our way back into ministry in various forms, but any time there is opportunity there is also great joy in a reunion. At the recent Exponential conference – the first conference I had spoken at in 15 years – it was great to share dinner with Al Hirsch and know that both of our hearts are still beating strongly for the mission of God in this world.

I don’t know what the lasting impact has been on those who were part of the churches in that time, but I do know that I have never been able to see the world in the same way again, and that my calling to simple backyard mission work is enough for me to devote the rest of my life to. For that I am grateful beyond words.

And Then It Was Gone – Part 2

In case you are wondering how the title relates to the content, it is referring to the sense that much of what was bubbling away in the early 2000’s has now dissipated and many if not all of those early ’emerging church’ plants and projects no longer exist, or if they do have taken on a more conventional form – like Red Church in Melbourne. Red was once part of South Melbourne Restoration Community led by Alan and Deb Hirsch, but was established when SMRC tried to decentralise and create a network. The network faltered but the group led by Mark Sayers re-formed into a more conventional church. Mark is an incredibly gifted and insightful man who was one of the early local voices speaking into the space. Our own missionary venture lasted around 6 years before we pulled stumps.

Perhaps one of the challenges of the early years was the regular accusations of heresy and departure from orthodoxy. Like any movement there were people who occupied different theological spaces and one of the things i really appreciated about Forge was it’s willingness to hear from those on the fringe exploring new ideas and trying new initiatives. We often used the language of being the R&D department of the church so it meant that not everything that was tested survived either theologically or practically.

But in Australia 99% of what was going down was from people who held a fairly stock conservative evangelical type of theology. Perhaps those words have less meaning these days (post-Trump) but essentially it meant that we were on the same page as others in our denomination theologically, but practically we were considering all sorts of different ways of expressing church and doing mission.

There came a point where the US ‘Emergent’ project took a theological tack away from where we were comfortable and seemed to focus more on re-calibrating theological positions rather than mission. in Australia the reason ’emerging churches’ began was to fulfill a missional agenda rather than to simply re-think existing theological paradigms. For that reason we ended up using ’emerging missional church’ as our descriptor. It distinguished us from Emergent and emphasised our point of focus.

So the question that was in front of us in Australia was ‘how do we connect with ordinary Australian people in the various geoghrapical and cultural locations?’

How do we connect with farmers in the rural areas?

How do we connect with suburbanites who don’t want a mainstream church experience?

How do we connect with surfers?

And so on…

One of my realisations (long after planting Upstream) was that I ‘didn’t get it’. While I had read the books and embibed the theory, I still had in the back of my mind a large gathering of people meeting once a week with me employed full time to give them oversight. I don’t know why I still had that vision in the forefront of my mind – probably because I just hadn’t ever seen a different expression of church work well. It meant that while I was operating on one frequency with mission my ecclesiology was still on an old frequency – probably one of the reasons I consider the Upstream project a failed venture. Oh we learned a lot and we actually did some great work, but in terms of genuinely reaching Australian people who were never going to attend a conventional church? Nah… much harder than I thought.

If you were to ask Danelle (my wife) about this time she will remember it as one of the best experiences of church she has ever had. She will speak of being present in the community in ways we had never done before – and she would be right. It just didn’t seem to amount to much at the end of the day. Because our church community was so different from mainstream we didn’t attract many Christians into the team to work with us. People ‘checked it out’ but most wanted the full suite of worship, kids and youth ministries and we didn’t deliver that. It’s always the tension for church planters. We need people to establish a mission team – but we need people who share the mission – not simply those who want a ready made Sunday experience that ticks all the boxes.

In that period of time I had many invitations to go and teach at different church planting and leadership conferences and I always told the truth. We were working hard – very hard to do mission, but it was tough and while there were conversations aplenty, conversions were thin on the ground – and this bothered me. I ended up having to concede that I actually had no power whatsoever over another person to make them change their position and follow Jesus. I could do the best missionary work possible and there may be no change… I know our friends overseas face these challenges – lots of time, language learning, culture learning and $$ spent and you really want to be able to tell ‘success stories’. It’s just part of our nature to want to see fruit for our labour. I usually ended up telling ‘struggle stories’ – which were surprisingly well received by people. Most of them were struggling too – so instead of becoming an expert I ended becoming another fellow missionary learning and struggling to do the work I felt called to.

These days I am comfortable with conversations – more than that – I love conversations wherever they lead. I am a bit more willing to rest in the knowledge that I am one part of the missio dei – the revelation of God in a person’s life – rather than being the guy who flicks the light switch in their brain.

Continued in Part 3

And Then It Was Gone… Part 1

I remember sitting on a panel in the Warehouse Cafe back in C. 2005 discussing the emerging of the ’emerging church’.

Neale Fong, the host asked the question ‘do you think this emerging church thing is here to stay or is it a fad?’

Great question.

I answered with an emphatic ‘yes’. I simply couldn’t imagine a future without the richness of the conversations that had ’emerged’ in this space. To my right sat Mike – 15 years my senior and who had been around church trends a bit longer. He said ‘no – it is likely going to serve a purpose and then disappear – so I’d say a phase.’

Turns out we were both right, but in different ways. I will explain in a moment…

I have just started listening to the ‘Emerged‘ podcast, an oral history of the emerging church, from its origins in the mid 90’s as various American pastors got together to discuss how church needed to change to connect with the various sub-cultures and groups who seemed outside our reach. Up to now it sounds very American, with a sprinkling of ‘tallskinnykiwi‘ .While it charts the rise of the emerging church in the USA, so far it hasn’t given attention to those in the other parts of the world who were all on a similar trajectory.

It just made me want to share some of my own memories of this movement in Australia and the impact it had on the local church. So if that interests you then read on…

The emerging movement gathered steam in the late 90’s as younger pastors realised they could do church differently and not get fired. The mid-late nineties was also the time when the church was coming to grips with the whole ‘post-modernism’ thing. It was predominantly the youth pastors with their fingers on the cultural pulse who were engaged in the conversation around the nature and shape of church. Phyllis Tickle was oft quoted as saying “every 500 years the church has a jumble sale’ and clears out theology and practices that no longer makes sense in the current culture and then re-invents itself. She suggested we were living in one of those times.

It certainly felt like that. Everything was up for grabs – and if you didn’t have some firm foundations your whole theology could potentially unravel. Questions such as ‘what is the gospel?’ or ‘what is church?’ may seem obvious to many of us now, but back them we were unlearning one way of being and seeking to imagine how church could look in the culture we were part of rather than the culture church had been designed for.

For myself, it was reading Len Sweet’s stuff, Stanley Grenz and early Brian McClaren that roused my own curiosity. It seemed every conference was addressing ‘post-modernism’ and it’s challenge to the church. Some saw an opportunity for intelligent interaction, while others pulled the fear card and wanted nothing to do with this new phenomena that seemed to question everything.

My own first steps into the arena were in 2002 when I went to a conference at Morling College, where kiwis Mike Riddell and Mark Pierson were speaking. Essentially it was addressing the question ‘how do we create a church that our children will want to be a part of?‘ They shared a heap of stories and it was inspiring to hear from two solid practitioners who knew both successes and failures. The focus seemed to be largely on what later was called alt. worship – doing church more creatively. It was interesting and inspiring, but it was really just the tip of the iceberg.

I wanted to know more. Somehow I heard about Forge, led by Alan Hirsch, a group seeking to equip Aussies for first world mission. So my next foray into this space was a Forge conference in Lilydale, Victoria later in the year. I remember the feeling that conference left me with. It was more significant than any speaker’s content (and there was a lot of content). It was like having found my family, my tribe – the people who were looking at Australia as a mission field and asking ‘how do we step up to the plate in our own backyard?’ I had felt very alone in that question as so much of ‘mission’ as we knew it still had to do with sending people overseas. I wanted to say ‘Hey – look around you! Is there anywhere more pagan than 21stC Australia?’

In these years my life literally started to make sense – like one of those 3D images that only comes into view if you gaze at it long enough – and then when you see the image you are unable to unsee it. Around this time I had been having a rather bizarre and (I was later to discover) prophetic experience. At the time it just felt awkward and embarrassing… You see every time someone came to our church and spoke about mission or evangelism, either here in Austrtalia or overseas I would feel my eyes fill with tears and the lump in my throat growing bigger and bigger. For some reason missionaries and mission speakers made me cry. This went on for a year or so, and I often found myself squirming awkwardly thru missionary talks at church as my eyes filled with tears – even though I had no intention of ever going to Africa or China.

One day as I was praying I asked the Lord about it (I later wished I had done so sooner) and I sensed him saying to me ‘what you are feeling is what I feel . Its what I feel for my kids who haven’t found their way home yet‘ In that moment it made sense. I was feeling God’s heart for his lost kids and it was deeply pained. It was a massive catalyst in my own journey towards recognising the missionary vocation God had placed on my life.

It led me to begin exploring local mission more intentionally and into the ‘conversation’ that was at that point becoming known as the ’emerging church’. If you listen to the Emergent podcast, you may or may not hear much about other parts of the world, but there as definitely a buzz in Australia and in the early 2000’s a number of blogs kicked off creating an international conversation about this thing we call church. Mine started in 2003 – which means it has now been going over 20 years. (I feel that calls for some sort of celebration!)

This new paradigm of thinking came at a most unfortunate time. I had moved from youth pastor to senior pastor in the church we were part of and I was sent to the Arrow course for emerging leaders. It would be fair to say that Arrow and Forge operated on very different paradigms and it meant I was being torn between two very different ‘operating systems’ (think Windows and Apple) I was beyond sold on the Forge tribe – they were my people – and the missionary thinking that undergirded their teaching resonated so much more than the more business like and pragmatic CEO style of Arrow. What followed was 2 years of learning how to lead like a CEO while also learning how to lead like a missionary. I should add that the Arrow course was right on the money for the type of leader it was seeking to train but I began to realise that I wasn’t one of those people.

When wasn’t learning how to be a CEO I was off pondering sub-cultures to plant churches amongst.

With Al Hirsch and Mike Frost leading the way with their incendiary book ‘The Shaping of Things to Come’, a tribe began to form in Australia and the internet came alive with Aussie bloggers seeking to interact around the church / mission question.

Perhaps the greatest difference between Forge Australia and Emergent was that we had a laser clear focus on the advancement of mission as the goal, whereas Emergent seemed to see mission as a part ot the conversation but not central. It was also concerned with de-constructing theological paradigms and forming new expressions of church. We were somewhat aligned, but more like cousins than brothers. Our commitment to a statement of faith (Lausanne Covenant) meant that we had some theological anchors, whereas some of the US leaders appeared to be pulling anchor and seeing where the current led.

In the early 2000’s Andrew Jones started his www.tallskinnykiwi.com blog and was quickly followed by Aussie church planter and now ‘problogger‘, Darren Rouse (who would have guessed there was megabucks to be made in the blogosphere?!) Phil & Dan McCredden were writing about their experiences over at the Signposts blog and across the ditch Steve Taylor was sharing similar thoughts. His blog is now called Sustain: if – able Kiwi, but has retained the emergent domain. I’m sure there others but given it was 20 years ago I can’t bring many more to mind.

Around Australia people were trying new ways of doing church. Glenn and Ruth Powell kicked off Cafe church in Glebe, Sydney, an idea that seemed amazingly innovative in its time, but that we look at now and say ‘yeah… ok… nice…’ Al & Deb Hirsch had been leading South Melbourne Restoration Community in a missional direction for many years and in the early days Mike Frost also kicked off the church that was known as ‘Small Boat Big Sea’. Third Place Communities in Tasmania was another model of church and mission being done differently.

I committed to attending all 3 Forge intensives in 2002 and the resultant impact of new paradigm thinking was both disturbing and disorienting but also deeply life giving. It saw me grow increasingly frustrated with leading a nice middle class church in a well heeled suburb, but not seeing any significant missionary results for our efforts. I know my frustration spilt over into my leadership and rather than patiently seeking to equip and empower these people for mission in a new context I grew impatient and disappointed at our church’s meagre evangelistic efforts (as I perceived them). I regret this – my leadership was too immature to handle the new knowledge and the challenge of leading people towards it at a pace the could manage.

After a year of learning – conferences, books, blogs, networking I was champing at the bit to plant a church and show people how it was done. (Yes – that does sound arrogant – but yes, I did really think it…) By late 2002 I had resigned from my new senior pastor role after sensing a calling to go and plant a church in the far northern suburbs of Perth. Was it a calling or just a culmination of ambition, education and frustration? Maybe that is how calling happens some time?…

The early days of this blog describes some of that missionary adventure, so feel free to go back and poke around 2003-2009 and you will find plenty of ‘deconstruction’ going on as I sought to question everything, strip it right back and then re-invent it again.

It was the era of online ’emerging church chats’, where various people who had never met face to face came together online to share learning, ask questions and reflect on how curious it was to be living in this time. Aussies, Canadians, Kiwis, Americans and Brits were all chatting at the same time and it felt like God was doing something amongst us, with different nuances in different contexts. I still remember meeting Phil McCredden for the first time in person and realising his co-blogger ‘Dan’ wasn’t another bloke as I had envisaged in my mind’s eye, but was in fact his wife Danielle…

Continued in Part 2

5 Hackney Way

As I laze in the cooling evening breeze

Reclined on one of the many cane lounges that litter our old timber balcony

Enjoying dusk and a book I am yet to fully engage with

I am distracted by my neighbourhood

The palm trees west of me stand tall, silhouetted against the blue orange sky like skinny children with scruffy haircuts

A choir of crickets chirp frantically, with no pause

The tiny wrens cheep and chatter in the foliage beside me before fluttering away

Maybe sunset is birdie bed time and they have just finished stories and prayers with their kids

Against the now orange grey canvas a large spider rappels from roof to chair before shimmying quickly back up again

I wonder what he forgot

His next descent is bungee like, swinging wildly to the chair

I make a note to check that chair before I next sit in it

The grey orange fade of sky morphs to grey black

Street lights pop to action

A kamikaze moth nose dives into my forearm while a mosquito hovers waiting for his moment

I flick the moth away and the mosquito seems to get the message too

Jess, our neighbour’s black kelpie, barks once – false alarm

As the breeze slows to a wisp from across the road I hear laughter

Ours is a happy street

A large skink scuttles across the clear perspex roof, unconcerned by my presence

We have become friends over the 12 years of living here, each giving the other space

His family live in the wall cavity of our home meaning an occasional frantic rattling and clattering that often has visitors alarmed

But for us has simply become the domestic sounds of our co-habitants

They were here first

We respect that.

A car door slaps shut and a child laughs

There are no small children in our street but in the still of evening, unfamiliar sounds travel the suburb freely.

These are happy shrieks and giggles – pre bedtime, tickle fight chuckles

From the top end of the street another dog barks as if to clear his throat – again once is enough

As you were…

The tickle fight continues and tiny, joyful screams pierce the still night air

The window rattles as a skink makes his way home

Tyre noise becomes engine noise, becomes one door clanking shut as another neighbour returns home

There is the distant drone of a noisy muffler followed by

Another skink tiptoeing above my head, perhaps trying not to disturb me

Behind it all is the never ending hiss and whoosh of the ocean crashing on the shore then retreating again

The eternal voice of the sea making her constant presence felt among

The sounds of Hackney Way on a summer evening

RIP Attractional Church?

In a couple of weeks Carey Nieuwhof will land in Australia to share with Australian church leaders the latest thinking in all things ‘church leadership’ and one of his big statements made recently on the Exponential Australia podcast is that the ‘attractional church is dead.’ Hey if you’re gonna draw a crowd then just say something punchy!

That oughta do it 🙂

Carey is a highly respected author and podcaster so his perspective on things is always going to be influential. Suggesting the attractional church is dead, he argues, is articulating something many church leaders and pastors know is already happening. He states ‘the way we approach church changes from generation to generation, and we are currently in a season of significant change.’

He describes the attractional struggle well – bigger and better each week is hard to sustain for a short time let alone many years. Motorbikes on stage, monster giveaways, pumped up advertising and more smoke machine haze has a shelf life. He cites Craig Groeschel (a high profile large church pastor) who says one of the things they are focusing on is ‘de-cooling’ the church. A verbatim quote: ‘I don’t wanna be cool any more. I want to be authentic.‘ FWIW I think that’s a tragic quote… (Also FWIW I have been in large churches where authenticity is clearly evident and in smaller churches who are really just trying harder to increase their cool factor.)

The implication of course is that these two things – cool and authenticity – do not always play well together – in fact they rarely do. When you chase ‘cool’, you white ant authenticity, because a whole heap of people have to pretend in order to be sufficiently cool. Nieuwhof is not suggesting you will be unable to find attractional churches around the place, or that people will stop investing in them, but rather that the impetus for churches to form in that way is in decline.

How does a church move to authenticity – and how do we avoid authenticity now being the ‘new cool’? Firstly – authenticity is not a function of size – so smaller isn’t always better. Rather I would suggest that it strongly correlates to the type of leadership a church experiences. Glossy, never fail, bigger and better, influencer leaders are having less appeal. Drab, uninteresting and underachieving leaders are equally uninspiring. But raw, authentic leaders who go ‘all in’ to lead the people in discipleship are a winner. ‘Player-coach’ leaders who speak from the heart and are willing to be genuinely vulnerable (as opposed to a ‘scripted vulnerability moment’) have a much better chance of connecting and imparting this value than pastors who simply polish the machine and rev it harder.

I feel like I’ve been banging this drum for a while now – maybe since 2003 even… when I wrote the post that catalysed some fantastic debates (most of the comments sadly got lost when I transferred my hosting). If you read it be sure to also read the disclaimer – it is intentionally, polemic ie. it is very provocative and argumentative – and I wrote it 18 years ago when I wanted to kickstart some serious debate. It did the job… But I did write it a long time ago and while I still fully subscribe to the theology behind it, I am less concerned for the methodology.

When I reflect on my own experience as a success driven youth pastor at Lesmurdie, we saw rapid exponential type growth in our youth services as we sought each week to be bolder, more creative, off the wall and even zany. The young people came, and some had genuine faith experiences in that season. But the weight we carried as leaders was quite ridiculous at times. After splitting our youth service into two, with a 5.30 service and a 7pm we ran hard for about 6 months trying to make this new phase work, but all we succeeded in was exhausting ourselves as leaders. In a team meeting one day, Geoff was brave enough to suggest that we may want to consider going back to one service… It was a white flag of defeat – and in these environments it’s not often you see anyone concedes defeat – but Geoff blinked first and as soon as he said it the entire team let out a sigh of relief and it was unanimously agreed right there and then to revert back to our old one service approach that had worked. Ironically when we did that, the momentum had gone, the ‘balloon’ was deflating fast, and people were starting to wander off to greener pastures – to other churches that were putting on a bigger show and where they could feel the buzz again.

So what do you do if you are a church that has been all about attracting people in? What if that is not the answer you hoped it was?

Firstly you breathe deeply and relax. The heat is off to produce a mega-event again this Sunday. Simple is ok. Sloppy is different. Lazy is never commendable. But for smaller churches light on for resources this takes the heat right off.

Then you ask ‘what are we doing again?’ (Answer = Forming people into Christlikeness in community) Once you’re clear on the ‘what’, then the ‘how’ is up for grabs. How you engage music, prayer, scripture, food, confession, generosity and whatever other elements constitute a genuine gathering of Chrisitan people is not set in concrete. You could follow the lectionary… You could give the musos a much needed rest and gather around a meal. You could do this every week for a while… You could engage people in reflective experiences rather than giving them a 25 minute message. I could go on, but you get the idea. Drop the script.

So is the attractional church dead? I honestly don’t know. I’m interested to hear the ‘thought leaders’ cast their ideas around, but I sense too many people have too much invested in the model for it to decline quickly. As Upton Sinclair once said; ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding.’

Anyway – the die has been cast and I look forward to the conversation unfolding.