Carpark Conversations

“So why do you love God?”

I was standing in the carpark at Horrocks Beach,. watching the surf and chatting with a complete stranger – a 60 year old man who was living in his camper van so that he could travel and surf as he pleased. It was clear from early in the conversation that he wasn’t up for any kind of
‘conventional life’ . He was a long time surf-nomad and raved like a 16 year old grommie about
his surfing adventures around the world.

Then he asked me this question… And to be honest it kinda flummoxed me. I didn’t have a simple ready answer like I would to ‘Why do you believe in God?” or ‘why are you a Christian?’

“Why do you love God?”

Just prior to this he asked me if I had hit the drugs hard as a young fella. When I told him I
had never touched any drugs he asked “Ah- are you a religious nut?’ I sense he was wondering which ‘social category’ to place me in.

‘Well – I’m a Christian… “I said, wondering where this was headed.

” Me too!” he cheered “I’m a Jehovah’s witness!”

‘Awesome…’ I thought, as my gut churned and I felt myself looking for escape routes. I got the sense he wanted to debate theology right here in the carpark – kinda like a theological street fight.

I didn’t want to get into a fruitless debate… However the conversation rolled on and we did end up discussing God’s name, John 1:1 and the “end time” signs. At some point in the conversation he asked, ‘Are you a pastor?’ I think my gentle pushbacks and degree of biblical knowledge left him puzzled at times. Maybe I knew more than I was letting on… (Of course I’m not a pastor now, so the answer was ‘no’.)

As the conversation ended he told me he had learnt something new from our chat (that there is more than one way to read Revelation – phew!), but I had also benefitted from his question. I spent some time trying to articulate a response that is true.

Why do I love God? And perhaps just as pertinent – what do we ever mean by that?

In our culture “love” has been so equated with romance that we can struggle to think outside
of that paradigm. To ‘love’ must mean butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms and that inner
excitement that goes with the “infatuation” stage of a relationship.

And no – it’s not like that with God – and certainly not after 45 years of devotion. I don’t know that it ever felt like that. As I was reflecting on my response, I was drawn back to a couple of (currently) popular worship songs about the goodness and faithfulness of God. Two of the lines say: from ‘Goodness of God by Bethel Music, say:

All my life you have been faithful

All my life you have been so, so good

Every time I sing this song and these words particularly, I feel like they are true – beautifully true – not just factually or intellectually, but because they reflect so deeply my experience of God. I then wonder whether that is because my life has had some kind of ‘midas touch’, or because I am a wealthy Western Christian. I don’t think so. I have had my own fair share of struggles & failures. I haven’t had a dream run, but somehow, from early on I have had a deep conviction about the goodness and faithfulness of God.

And I sense my experience has reinforced my conviction and vice versa. I cannot help but
feel gratitude and love for a God who I feel has been with me for so long and who hasn’t
let me down.

I wonder what its like for my children to sing these words. At 22 & 20 they just can’t be sung
with the same degree of emphatic, experiential knowledge. Maybe when they are in their 50’s and have done the time in relationship with God they will be able to sing with that same kind of conviction.

Another song ‘You Hold it All Together by Maverick Music says:

And I believe that I will see
The goodness of the Lord

I’m confident as seasons change
Your faithfulness remains

I only came across this song a few weeks back, but again it resonated deeply as my own experience. In a time of change – such as our life is at present – I am confident that there is one who ‘holds it all together’. I don’t at all mean that in a ‘meticulous sovereignty’ kind of way – but more a knowledge that he leads and guides in ways that have been proven faithful.

So to come back to my mate’s question – ‘why do I love God?’ I sense it has to do with it being a response to his love for me. I feel like I am echoing the words of 1 John 4:19 ‘We love because he first loved us.’ For so many years I have been conscious of his provision and his presence and the older I get the deeper that experience seems to go.

Honestly, I dunno how this question works for someone in a famine ravaged country where their only experience of life has been a struggle to survive. I don’t know how they experience a good and faithful God – or why they may want to love that God. I can only speak from my own context (but I do acknowledge and feel overwhelmed at times by the complexity of this question.)

So – lesson learnt… Carpark conversations can be enlightening if you’re willing to dive in…

Divine “Co-incidences”

At 2.45 on Friday afternoon I was cleaning my desk and looking through my Bible at the numerous pieces of junk that had accumulated in it over the years. Old church bulletins, tattered bookmarks, random notes and then a brochure that had been sitting there for around 12 months. The brochure was a promo for a basketball team from Australia who travelled each year to the Philippines as missionaries, moving around the villages, playing games against local teams and sharing faith along the way. “Venture for Victory” was the name of the trip and it had captured my imagination as something I’d like to do ‘one day’. But when?.. I didn’t know. I sifted a lot of the accumulated junk into the bin but this brochure I put back inside the covers with the noted intention of doing something about it – of enquiring what it would take to go on one of the teams.

I would definitely‘ do something ‘ about it… soon… I was only 21 and in my first year of teaching in the little country town of Wagin. So I figured I had plenty of time to get around to it. I loved basketball and was a super zealous young Christian so it seemed like a perfect fit. I tossed the Bible back onto the desk in my tiny makeshift Phys ed office.( It was actually one of the Home economics store-rooms!) and closed the door for the weekend.

I was Perth bound and had signed up for a weekend of discipleship training with Rod Denton from Melbourne. I didn’t know anyone else going, but that didn’t matter to me. In those years I was a sponge for new information and the issue of “discipleship” seemed front and centre to me. Nothing has changed on that front.

The weekend was valuable. I was inspired to go back and think more purposefully about discipleship, but just as it was all about to end I had one of those weird and all too rare “God moments”. A bloke I had never met before approached me with an unusual request. I knew who he was – well, I knew his name – Dave Stanford – and I knew that he had already done a couple of the ”Venture for Victory” trips that I had said I would look into.

What I didn’t know was that he had gone on the weekend with the intention of promoting the trip in the hope that God might speak to someone there. As the conference ended he hadn’t felt that a generic group promo was in order. But he did sense God telling him specifically to approach me and ask me if I had ever heard of these teams and if I would consider going.

So he did just that. He came and said ‘G’day, I’m Dave and I saw you playing basketball earlier. I was wondering if you have ever heard of the Venture for Victory teams – and if you might want to pray about going”


I had the immediate sense that this was no accident – that it was one of those divine nudges to go and do something that was both exciting, but way out of my comfort zone. Oddly enough looking back after nearly 40 years it doesn’t feel scary at all now – but I was just 21 years old then and the world felt very different. The trip was expensive and I needed to find the necessary $ $ to go. I was excited but also not sure of all of what was involved – what I was sure of was that I had either had a significant and immediate answer to prayer, or I had experienced a massive coincidence.

I have never thought of it as a coincidence. It was one of the first times I recall experiencing a sense of “calling” from God and the trip itself was probably the most life changing thing I have ever done. I remember during my teen years that I had a very negative perception of missionaries. When they came to speak in church they looked and sounded so nerdy – so out of touch – and their stories left me bored however, I came home from the Philippines knowing that my days as a teacher were numbered and that I wanted to do work that involved sharing my faith with people outside the church.

It was a pivotal moment in my life.

On this weekend just gone I saw Dave again at a family function and he introduced me to his son and told the story of how we had met and of the connection we have because of that very unique and special moment. I don’t think I have ever shared that story on this blog, but this weekend was a prompt do just that because as I listened to Dave re-tell it I couldn’t help but thinking “what a cool story’.’

Im thinking I might even start a folder or category on this blog titled “The Fingerprints of God”, became as I look back over my life I see moments that I now regard as unmistakably divine encounters. You can call them whatever you like, but my experience since then tells me that’s exactly what they are.

Tiny Town Churches

On Wednesday I stopped in the little town of Dongara to refuel for the northbound trip. As I did I spotted a new cafe that had popped up since my last visit – a cafe that was working from a familiar looking old building. See the image above…

You know what building used to be. It was a ‘church’ building – no mega church, that’s for sure as there was barely enough room inside for a small kitchen and a few tables. This building used to serve a local community of Christians, but it had clearly seen it’s use by date. It was now being ‘re-purposed’ as a coffee shop. Based on the number of people there it seems to have been much more successful in this mode.

But this re-purposing of old church buildings is not a new thing – we just haven’t seen a lot of it in WA. Around this time 2 years ago we were passing thru South Oz and I saw an old church building for sale on Gumtree – $75K. Sounded like a bargain and I imagine someone snapped it up and converted it to an air bnb, a trendy cafe or maybe an art gallery. This isn’t happening with the same frequency in the cities where churches can survive that bit longer, but across our country towns we see most churches shrinking, especially smaller towns where the younger people leave for the city or for broader horizons. The proverbial ‘writing is on the wall’ for many of these churches.

What’s ironic is that in many of these towns there are at least 2 or 3 churches all in the same boat – small congregations struggling to survive, unable to attract a pastor and just doing the best they can with what they have. Some are in ‘limp’ mode, while others have a few more k’s in the tank before the red light warns that the end is nigh. As I have pondered how these churches move forward into the future it’s hard to see any easy solution. I even ask what the value is of 7 or 8 people gathering week after week in a large building while down the road the same thing happens. It seems absurd and to anyone looking on from the outside it would be utterly bewildering.

‘So you guys believe in the same God, read the same Bible and believe roughly the same things?’


‘So why not come together and do it!’

It’s so incredibly obvious to an outsider who doesn’t understand how these communities have been deeply formed by distinct cultural and theological practices over the years. My own experience in small towns is limited, and I think the theory of ‘merging’ is great, but I just can’t see it happening any time soon. Most smaller churches would rather march to their death entrenched in their own ways of worship than have to compromise their long held traditions in a merge.

And yes it looks absurd to those of us who are ‘insiders’ also, until we begin to scratch a little deeper. I was reading John 17 this morning – Jesus prayer for his followers to be ‘one’ – not a theory, but a genuine call to unity. And as I did I began to journal around what cultural and theological issues I would struggle to let go. Turns out there are a few.

Could I go to a KJV only, hat wearing, fire and brimstone church where attendance was expected at every service (like the church I grew up in) and allow my own preferences for informality and theological exploration to be curtailed? I honestly don’t think I could do that in the name of ‘unity’. What about a complementarian community where my wife and daughter would be always limited in the way they could express their gifts?… I don’t think so… If it meant life or death for the church could I give up an informality in our way of gathering and return to a more rigid and old fashioned way of meeting? Maybe… but if that culture carried over into the rest of the community life then I think I’d almost rather not be part of a church than subject myself to that again.

So while part of me says ‘hey we ought to just get over our differences’, I’m not actually sure that I could do that in practice. There are convictions I hold very deeply about how church is expressed that would be incredibly difficult to let go of.

And if it’s difficult to imagine two churches of the same denomination merging then what hope is there for Baptists, Anglicans and Salvos all throwing their hand in together in an ongoing way? Whose ‘way’ gets to shape the future? What would the church do with their existing buildings? What form of leadership would govern the church? Whose theology takes prescience?

It’s not hard to see how we have got to where we are today.

Perhaps a better path forward is for these smaller churches is to consciously and intentionally raise up leaders from within. We are working with a smaller country church at the moment, but if someone asked me if I’d like to live there and lead that church I would not be interested at all. I also don’t think I’d be a good fit for them – but I’d get very bored in that tiny town. It just wouldn’t be for me. But there are locals who love it there – who have no intention of ever moving! They love their town and are committed to it no matter what the future holds. So maybe the future leadership of these churches need to be found from within. Perhaps those who love the town and are committed to being there are the people who ought to lead the church into the future.

I’ve seen this happen in a couple of towns now, where local people have stepped up to the plate to lead the churches they once attended as members. And the great advantage of this is that they know and love the community, they know and love the church, they aren’t seeing it as a stepping stone to a ‘real’ ministry position. Of course unless they are diligent about raising up successors the hand of time will eventually catch up with them and the problem will re-surface. But perhaps this is the approach we should adopt with churches that still have life left in them. For others that are simply die hard, uncompromising and unwilling to change perhaps the easiest solution is to let them die.

And yeah I hear you Jesus… this isn’t what you had in mind in John 17, but I doubt we are gonna get close to that any time soon.

A Tip For Authors

Do you ever take the time to read the endorsements on books by other authors? I do and sometimes I wonder to myself ‘ok – so he/her knows their stuff – but what kind of person are they?’ You see I know of some authors / preachers / ‘big name Christians who are gifted at speaking and writing, but who can be complete jerks even though their book endorsements make them sound positively messianic!

No – of course I’m not going to name names!

But it was the reason that on my own book I had 2 endorsements from people who actually knew me well – the good and the bad. My long time friend Stuart wrote one of them and my co-pastor for 14 years, Ryan, wrote the other. I wanted people who could without a hint of ambiguity say ‘yeah – a good book and a good bloke. He does what he writes about’.

Interestingly in the world of Christian literature they may well be considered ‘weak’ endorsements as they aren’t ‘thought leaders’ or other writers who carry a measure of authority. They are very much ordinary people – both very gifted in their own ways – but they haven’t written books so they are possibly going to be perceived as less impressive.

I drew the line at these two men, but I did also consider endorsements from people in our local community – some Christian and some not – who could speak of who I am and what I do. A well written book can open up a whole world of ideas in a fresh way, and to some degree those ideas can stand on their own – which is why we can still read books by Yoder, Hybels and the like. But I really want to know that if a person is writing a book on integrity that they live with integrity, or a book on kindness – that they are actually kind. And no one knows that quite like those who are up, close and personal.

So there’s my simple idea for keeping it real in the world of Christian literature. No BS endorsements from the people who see you doing the stuff you write about. And if you cant find people like that then maybe you shouldn’t be writing the book.

Thru Tear Stained Eyes

For 2 hours yesterday evening I sat in Currambine cinema with tear-filled eyes watching the story of Jesus Revolution unfold. I was reflecting this morning on why it is that a movie like that could evoke such emotion. I grew up in that era, but I was completely unaware of the Jesus freaks and the revolution that was happening in California – because it sure wasn’t happening in Belfast. Our church was stiff, staunch and unlikely to ever be invaded by local conservative neighbours let alone a tribe of counter culture hippies.

(Spoiler alert – only a few bits of the movie – but just a heads up!)

I’m not sure how young I was when I realised that church had to change – that we simply were not speaking the same language as the people in our local neighbourhoods. I’m guessing I was around 18, just starting to figure things out, but still steeped in religious traditions that affect me even today. This morning in church Ed used the concept of ‘pursuing holiness’, an idea I am in full agreement with – but the mental images that so often come to mind are still of harsh older men frowning on new ideas (like allowing into membership people who drank alcohol) or on younger people who were new to church life and wanted to play drums during worship. For some reason ‘holiness’ was spoken of in austere tones and it came with stern warnings and creased brows. I still need to substitute ‘Christlikeness‘ for holiness to make sure I focus on the right things – love, joy, peace, goodness etc – not wearing a tie to communion on a Sunday morning.

I sense some of my tears are for a church that still loves its own traditions and practices more than the people around who find them alienating and confusing. I remember hearing a pastor speaking to first time visitor to church:

Pastor: ‘How did you find it then?’

Visitor: ‘Oh ok – I didn’t mind the karaoke, but what was with the Nazi salutes?’

We exist in a whole different culture sometimes – which doesn’t mean we need to stop worshiping freely or allowing aspects of identity to jar with culture, but we need to be aware of it. Some ‘jarring’ is good – we are supposed to be different – but some jarring also is the kind that simply sends people away.

I have found myself always wanting to communicate the message of Jesus in a way that is both true and appropriate to the people who are hearing the message. If they can’t make sense of our message then maybe it’s not that they need to bone up on scripture a bit more. Rather it’s we who need to learn how to communicate more effectively. The onus is always on us.

Back to the movie – I loved the moment where in response to the claim that barefoot hippies were making the church carpet dirty, Chuck Smith met them at the entrance with a basin of water and lovingly washed their feet. I loved that he stepped back and gave space to Lonnie Frisbee thru whom the Spirit was clearly moving and I loved that this conservative man was willing to put aside
his own preferences so that God’s Spirit would not be quenched or squashed. I shed tears as the existing members used their giving as leverage and as they left in disgust because of what their church had become. I almost cheered aloud during the scene where the elders stood to leave and two made their way out while the other moved across the aisle and took up a seat among these new people who were flooding his church.

I felt like it was also a warning to those of us who may think we have got church to a place where it is relevant and connecting, that maybe it works for us and our friends, but that God may yet want to upend the ship and challenge us to completely re-think this whole thing all over again.

What would missionaries do if they landed in Perth this week? That is the question I find myself coming back to day after day. And I wonder what kind of a church would emerge from good missionary work…

As I watched the story unfold I reflected on some of my own younger days and the craziness of church back at Lesmurdie Baptist, when as youth pastor I said ‘yes’ to virtually every crazy idea our youth leadership team came up with – and there were plenty. I applaud the grace of those older people in that church who didn’t get all of what was going on, but did see enough of the Spirit of God at work to believe that they could not only give permission – but actually support us. The youth ministry years at LBC were as close to ‘revival’ as I think I have ever come. There was a sense of the Spirit of God at work.

If I were critical of the time (and I do look back with a fair amount of critique) it is to ask ‘where are they now?’ There was a popular youth ministry book back in the day by the title of Fruit That Will Last (by John Dickson I think…) and while we spoke of that as the goal, I know plenty of fruit went bad pretty quickly and simply didn’t last – which is why every time I come across a face from our youth ministry days and they are still faithfully following Jesus I cheer (inwardly cause I’m an introvert) because this is what I dreamt of.

Perhaps the same question could be asked of the Jesus movement of the 60’s and 70’s. ‘Where are they now?’ And I imagine the answer would be a normal distribution curve of healthy disciples right thru to those for whom faith was a passing fad. It was sad to see the conflict between Frisbee and Smith, that led to their parting ways and I am yet to decide if it was helpful or not that Frisbee’s struggle with same sex attraction was left unspoken. I have always found it amazing that God could use someone so powerfully who was living such a conflicted life.

I know some speak of ‘revival’ as what we need, but I wonder they mean by that… because I don’t think we are going to see our churches flooded with people coming back to the faith they had forgotten. I sense we have moved so far from Christendom that any awakening will most likely be unlike anything we have seen before. It will catch us off guard, we will be suspicious, but hopefully if it is genuine we will give space for God to do what he wants to do. I know this 58 year old long term God botherer hopes not to ever stand in the way of something outrageous that God may want to do. I would much rather be a part of a messy move of God than a spectator to a dying religious institution.

Our People

On Monday morning we hitched up the caravan and hit the road bound for Mandurah and the annual WA Baptist Pastor’s Retreat. We have been getting along to this event for around 25 years now.

But this year was a little different.

Normally a Pastor’s church will pay for him/her and spouse to attend. But this year we aren’t employed by a church so the question came up, ‘are we goanna shell out the $550 to attend?’

It never seems like a lot of money when your church pays, but it feels quite significant when it’s your own cost to bear. I began thinking of all the things I could do with those $$, and that’s not even counting the money we won’t earn while we are away… It’s a costly venture to attend an event like this.

But, truth is we can do a Bali trip, any time during the year, we can buy new airbags for the Ranger any time we want to as well. But there is only one of these events each year – a kind of gathering of the tribe. And after 30 odd years I feel a deep affinity for the people in this clan. These are ‘our people’. I feel that deeply and I suspect they will be our people to the end.

There is a fondness for this tribe that goes beyond any kind of duty. Perhaps longevity does that to you. If you only drop in on these events occasionally then you might think it’s all about the quality of the speaker, or about taking time out from the weekly duties. I’m sure those things are part of the retreat ‘equation’ but an occasional ‘drop in’ doesn’t allow rich, deep, significant relationships to form and this is where these events have borne the most fruit for us personally.

It has always been a privilege to sit with some of of our older leaders and to tap into their wisdom and grace – to have people we can look to as examples of ‘finishing well’. To catch up with younger leaders and hear their joys and frustrations. I am also always stunned at how many people I don’t know too each year – fresh faces – newbies to the tribe. I hope they find their place As veterans of this event we come quite intentionally to reconnect with comrades in ministry, but also to be on the lookout for those conversations that encourage, provoke and inspire and there have been several already while here.

Yeah – there was a speaker – Steve McCready did a fantastic job of calling us back to simple discipleship and love of Jesus. But, some years the speakers have been wonderful and other years not so good. I don’t remember when it was that I stopped paying attention to who was speaking, but I do know there came a moment when we said ‘ we will be there regardless.’

Money well spent?

Yep. You betcha

When Chapters Close

It’s been quite the season for closing chapters of life and it isn’t over yet.

Closing A Chapter In Life - How To Close Chapter 2020 - Antimaximalist

Pastoring – Last year we officially stopped pastoring at the churches we had been part of for so long – Quinns Baptist for 14 years and then Yanchep Community Church which we had planted 5 years back. It wasn’t particularly hard to let either go as we both just felt it was time. We also knew we had no plans for moving to another church community so the ‘sadness’ wasn’t there – just an awareness that life was going to be different for all of us.

People continue to ask me if I have retired… I don’t think that word is found anywhere in a Christian’s vocabulary so the short answer is ‘no’. But I recognise the intent is probably to ask if I am done with ‘leading a church’. Again the answer is ‘no’, but there is nothing on the horizon that may entice us. We love living where we do so we are hoping that isn’t a chapter that will ever close. Local church leadership kinda requires you to live ‘locally’,

Val – The passing away of my much loved mother in law was a somewhat unexpected chapter close. We know all of our parents are getting older and these days will come – but this came faster than anticipated. While some of the signs of decline were there bodily, Val was sharp as ever in mind and spirit. She went into hospital where she stayed for a couple of months before coming home for palliative care – which only lasted 8 days.

I had the privilege of conducting her funeral and honouring her life and I don’t think I have ever been to a funeral that brought so much joy alongside the grief. Its’ quite bizarre realising you will never see someone again – this side of eternity. Danelle’s funeral talk was one of the most brilliant I have heard – entitled ‘My mum talked too much’, she spoke about how her mum’s love to chat (which sometimes could drive us all mad) meant she was great at connecting with people and making friends. Val was a natural evangelist, a people ‘connector’ and we miss her on every level.

May be a close-up of flower and nature

Into Care – While Danelle’s dad lives quite independently in his home in Moore River my own parents were starting to struggle, which meant selling a home and moving into care. Mum has quite significant dementia and dad was unable to care for her so we had no option but to move them into a nursing home. It was a hard decision – very hard as no one wants to enter what is essentially a waiting room.

Part of the struggle here is that mum really needs this level of care, while dad can still operate independently. Selling their home and all of their possessions, except for those which went with them into Bethanie was quite confronting – a lifetime of accumulating gone in a few weeks and for a measly sum of money. This ‘independent’ phase of their life is closing and in that sense another chapter has closed for us too.

Trying to keep a watch on mum’s health was a real challenge so we can rest a little easier knowing they are now cared for albeit in a nursing home.

The Nest is Empty – It ‘s been a while since the kids moved out, but that has been another significant chapter close in this season of life. We live in a big ole 4 bed beach shack with just one another for company. It feels somewhat wrong to live in a home with so many rooms spare in the middle of a housing crisis, but there is an element of ‘sanctuary’ about home that needs maintaining for our own headspace.

The kids absence is significant – we just love hanging with them – but this is part of adulting and they are each treading their own path in healthy ways. If we were to have people come live with us it would make the frequent returns by them a little trickier. We’d like them to keep tripping home regularly do we will keep their beds available (for now…)

No photo description available.

No More Retic Bloke – This has been huge…After 15 years we feel it’s time to sell the business and get out of retic, so it is for sale with a local broker as well as on Gumtree. I’m not sure how I will cope with this change. Right now I’m still working very solidly at it and really feeling the need for rest. My body is screaming at me that time is up – my back has been a problem, the knees sometimes complain, but right now its the elbows that refuse to heal. Who ever thought pushing two pipes together would be difficult? ‘Severe tendinopathy’ tends to have that effect.

It’s been a very successful and even ‘fun’ little venture, even if we did stumble into it. Doing this fuelled my imagination for bivocational mission and ministry, so it has been enormously significant in our lives. I’m not sure what will ‘come next’ (if anything), but I know I won’t miss the constant barrage of phone calls, emails and messages. I only ever set out to frame up a 3 day/week gig, but it is presently busting at the seams and we are unable to keep up.

Wanna buy a business?!


My caravan weighing / diesel heater venture keeps chugging along at a good pace even though I haven’t had time to do any significant marketing for this yet. There is part of me that likes the simplicity of this activity. A caravan gets weighed – job done. I think if it were only this I may get bored. The greater vision behind this was business was that of creating a mobile business that we could establish in any town we happened to be visiting. We would love to lend a hand to some of our country churches and a business like this will allow us to visit a town and have a means of support – yeah I guess it’s another ‘bivocational’ thing.

But I am seriously committed to the bivocational life! I really don’t know what I would do if I were full time in a church again. Do you really need 5 days to lead a church? Perhaps work expands to fill the time, but my experience has been that we can get a lot done in 2 or 3 days and still have a strong presence in the local community with a business.

Recently Danelle and I both had a shared experience that felt strangely like a God moment – maybe a ‘calling’ to a new role. There was a position going and we felt a nudge in the direction of this vacant opportunity – it was unsettling and curious. Interestingly as we investigated further it just didn’t feel like quite the right fit for us. My 35 year old self would have dropped everything and chased the sense of intuition that the role tapped into, whereas my 58 year old self stepped back, pondered and prayed – then pulled out.

I have heard people say ‘just apply for a job and if you get it then it must be God’s will…’ Seriously – that is crappy theology! The book of James calls us to seek wisdom and make decisions from there – that’s the path I’d prefer to walk.

540HP 1973 FORD FALCON XB GT HARDTOP – Superoo Falcon Spares

I did have another business idea though which I floated last night with Danelle… I imagine the name would be something like ‘Bogan Weddings’ and it would involve the purchase of 2 or 3 classic steel bumper muscle cars which could be hired out for events. Of course I couldn’t care less about the weddings, but I’d like to own an XB Falcon coupe to drive around for fun! I imagine the upfront investment might be a reason to put this project on hold. But maybe one day Danelle will let me have one of these cars to plonk in the space where the kids used to park!…

So for now we work and we wait for the business to sell. After that?.. I’m not sure but I have a strong sense that ‘what’s next’ may not be apparent until we actually commit to getting out of retic. Just a hunch… But I will be curious to see how it feels to be unshackled from a part of our lives that has been so significant.

If you have read this far then you are one my devoted readers and you will have noticed the decline in my blog output 🙂 My capacity for writing and creative thought has been smashed over the last 6 months as I have tried to run both businesses so I’m also hopeful that some useful writing may reappear somewhere in the not too distant future.

Mortality on My Terms?

Mayflies review – Martin Compston reveals hidden depths in this drama of  death and betrayal | Television & radio | The Guardian

In a couple of months I will turn 59 and I’m only too aware that I’m well into the ‘second half’ of this one life I have been given. I remember doing retic work in my 40’s just made me fitter and stronger – now the heavy jobs hurt and I can feel the physical toll it is taking on my body every time I go hard. It’s been difficult coming to grips with declining physical capacity – along with the knowledge that from here on in, this may be as good as it ever gets…

I’m not being miserable – just grappling with a very undeniable reality. So watching Mayflies this evening really touched that nerve. In the words of Kasey Chambers ‘We’re all gonna die someday yeah!’ (In case Danelle forgets – this is the song I would like at some point in my funeral 🙂 )

Mayflies is the story of childhood friends who partied hard in the 80’s punk rock scene now all middle age and with one of them facing certain death in around 4 months from cancer. His decision to pursue voluntary assisted dying is the central focus of the story – that and the impact it has on those around.

The narrative shifts regularly between wild crazy teen years and the lives of men now well into their 40’s, one who has been a very successful writer and the other a teacher. It’s the teacher – Tully – who is facing his mortality and wanting to die on his own terms. They are the ‘same people as they were at 18 but different’ – like most of us as we mature.

The wrestle with ‘end of life’ issues is both confronting and quite beautiful as we see two lifelong friends struggling to know what is right – what is best – what is fair etc. It offers some insight into the curious thing of deep male friendship and how it works.

The short answer to ‘how to die’ is that there is no short / easy answer. Every avenue brings pain. Tully, however decides to chart his own course, the first step being marrying his long term partner and the second a trip to Switzerland to end it all.

Tully chooses ‘Noodles’ his long term best friend to be his ‘campaign manager’ as he calls it. ‘Don’t let me die like a prick’, Tully says to him. He wants to die on his own terms, but the reality he discovers is that we don’t get it quite so easy. The agony on the face of Tully’s wife tells a tale about VAD and the toll it may take on others who want to simply dredge every last glimmer of life possible from an impossible situation

The two part series straddles the two broad themes of male friendship and the ethics / complexities of voluntary assisted dying. Ok, it’s a fairly bleak storyline, but it cuts to the heart and then twists because these are real issues we are going to face in years ahead. It’s no ‘feelgood’ movie – but it does evoke huge emotion, simply because of the way relationships are portrayed in a no win scenario.

The Bunnings Phenomena

Bunnings unveils online shopping — but there's a catch - SmartCompany

One of my hunches over the last 20 years or so has been that the church landscape is shifting in such a way that we are sooner or later going to end up with several very large franchise type churches as well as a large number of smaller ’boutique’ type entities. In my book I describe this as the ‘Bunnings phenomena’, the moment every small to medium sized ‘Home Hardware’ dreads, when Bunnings announces that they are moving into your neighbourhood.

Bunnings are the Aussie Behemoth of hardware and they will not be beaten. In fact as soon as they arrive you can guarantee that your local Hardware store will sooner or later adapt very cleverly or simply need to shut up shop because they are no longer seeing customers come thru the door. In my own community Fred’s Hardware closed down several years back because even the half hour drive required to find a Bunnings was still preferred over local and personal – although admittedly very expensive!

Of course in church land we have similar behemoths who can descend in a suburb with a few moments notice and put on a far better Sunday event than your hack group of locals will ever be able to. And I have heard the conversations that take place when a more attractive entity with greater capacity for service provision lobs in alongside a smaller ‘unbranded’ crew of people.

My theory is that – in ‘churchland’ the big will get bigger (Bunnings will expand relentlessly) while the small will either adapt or die – and quite honestly I pity those leading in the middle sized churches whose strategy is very similar to Bunnings but without the pulling capacity. I have floated this idea for a while now – and seen it happen around me, but recently in one of Scot KcKnight’s newsletters he made some comments on Bob Smietana’s book Reorganised Religion where he makes similar proposals.

Scot writes:

“Consider it the religious version of the Walmart effect that has swept through America – with more and more people deciding to find religion at the spiritual version of big-box stores rather than at small mom-and-pop-style congregations.”

This from Bob Smietana’s Reorganized Religion: The Reshaping of the American Church and Why It Matters, where he devotes a chapter to the current church reality in the USA. The numbers stagger.

First, most congregations are small but most people are in megachurches or bigger churches.

Second, the “median congregation had only 70 regular participants” in 2018-2019, though later I think Bob said 65. Anyway, choose your number. That’s the median.

Third, the average person going to church goes to one with 360 regulars with a budget of 450K.

Fourth, the top 1 percent of churches have close to 20% of the people and resources.

Which means church life in the USA mirrors the social conditions of America.

(I’m not sure how accurately this translates to Oz, but I imagine it must be similar)

Fifth, the megachurches are populated mostly by people who have left smaller churches for the big church.

Sixth, those in the megachurches both give less money and participate as volunteers less. The criticism that megachurches attract those who want the show without commitment hits the nail on the head. I would contend, however, that those who do participate actively in these large churches are every bit as committed and have greater resources for their active work.

Seventh, here’s a big one: the observers of this stuff contend that the shift of church populations to the megachurches is “another possible sign of the decline of organized religion.”

Eighth, the inequality of churches (people and resources) is very similar to the inequalities in the broader culture. “A relative handful of big churches have about half of the money and people,” according to the long-term research of March Chaves of Duke.

Why are people shifting to the megachurches? McKnight gives a few of his guesses:

First, many people have been burned in small churches and are looking for a safe place. (Maybe somewhere to hide is what means here!)

Second, the performance level of both music or worship, as well as the captivating speaking by the preachers attract many.

Third, the resources and the variety of ministries available at megachurches gives people a niche into which they can plug in their own aspirations and desires for participation.

Fourth, the expectations for megachurch attenders are considerably less, if also often nonexistent. Those who participate in mini-churches or small churches are expected to participate, their names and lives are known, and they are under (in some sense) a greater scrutiny about their Christian behaviors.

Its hard to write something like this without putting a value judgement out there – however I realise that is a complex and fraught thing to do. Some small churches are dreadful at making disciples while some very large churches would do exceptionally well on this front.

Perhaps its nothing more than a passing observation – the landscape is shifting… but I don’t think so. Its a wake up call for churches of all shapes and forms to keep our eyes focused on the ball – rather than getting distracted by the competition that is unavoidable when business methodologies are employed to grow brand loyalty within churches.

I have heard ‘Dunbar’s number’ cited a few times recently in discussions around how we organise our church communities. According to his theory, the tightest circle of our lives has just five people – loved ones. That’s followed by successive layers of 15 (good friends), 50 (friends), 150 (meaningful contacts) has been suggested as ideal church size, 500 (acquaintances) and 1500 (people you can recognise) or those you who have requested you on FB 🙂

Perhaps the question we need to consider is at what point does the church function most effectively as the church – and is there a point where we simply have to say ‘no – this isn’t what Jesus had in mind?’

And Suddenly It was February…

January swept by quickly – a mix of lazy days and crazy days as we firstly holidayed, then worked long and hard in some very hot weather. And then it was February… What was it we were going to do this year again?…

I stopped writing ‘goals for the year’ about 20 years ago. It seemed that the goals I set often needed to change mid-course and I achieved just as much ‘winging it’ as I ever did when I was focused and strategic. As a Christian goals always need to be set with a caveat – ‘unless the Spirit sees fit to take me somewhere else’, and usually he does. So now it’s more a case of trying to ‘tune in’ well rather than mapping out a pre-set course.

That said, this year is a time of significant change for both Danelle and I and we have been approaching it a little more intentionally so that we don’t just get swept up in the urgent and the easy.

The big changes?

We are empty nesters – have been for a while – but we are settled into that life now. It’s a big house – with many spare rooms. What do we do with all that space? We are pondering this and the numerous opportunities it presents.

We are no longer paid pastors. Someone asked the other day how it feels to ‘not be a pastor any more’. Honestly… I still feel like ‘a pastor’ ( well – my own iteration of what that looks like!) and I doubt I will ever stop feeling like that. We go to other people’s churches and we notice the visitors sitting awkwardly at the end of the service, so we go and say ‘hi’. We see the needs around us and feel drawn to them. Most of that is good – but I have drawn some hard lines to try and create a new space for us to inhabit. So far so good…

Freedom!… I can’t help but picture Mel Gibson screaming this word in Braveheart 🙂 But we do have great freedom now to put our hand to whatever we choose. Ironically as soon as we choose to invest deeply with anyone or any project, we surrender that ‘freedom’. I know I am struggling to navigate this one as I am enjoying not being tied down – but significant contributions to any task or people requires commitment and the surrendering of personal freedom. If my kids ever read this they will likely comment ‘remember what you used to say Dad?! Life is a series of trade offs…’ It seems to be a theme we wrestle with – you can’t achieve anything significant by avoiding commitment and investment. Hah…

Reaching the End of The ‘retic road’? – It’s been building over the last few years… questions of my own sustainability in an industry that requires a reasonable amount of physical grunt work. My capacity for that kind of work decreases each year – and it seems that the effect of repeatedly working my body hard has taken its toll and is showing up in various aches and pains. But what to do?… We are open to concluding in business, but haven’t seen an exit strategy just yet. And part of me just plain doesn’t want to let age beat me… Actually it’s less of ‘not being able’ and more of wondering about the possible health consequences of another 10 years like this. It used to be that hard work built muscle – but now it seems that hard work strains tendons, ligaments and muscles and I spend more time in pain than I need to. I love the work and the connection with people that it gives me. It could be game over, but we aren’t clear on any kind of exit plan as yet.

Opportunities Everywhere! As I look around I see a heap of potential spaces to invest time and energy – and they all look somewhat attractive at face value. There is so much I’d like to do with the 20-30 good years we have left. But nailing it down with clarity is difficult at this stage.

I just finished reading Tim Costello’s memoirs where he writes of a similar phase in his own life where he finished his pastoral role, but hadn’t found his next assignment. He describes several incidents including a conversation with Jeff Kennett high up in his offices above the city where Kennett offered him a key role in Victorian political life. It was during this period in his life Costello was tempted to pursue a role in Australian politics – but he goes on to say that it may always be his ‘temptation but it is not his vocation’

That was a really helpful insight as I sense there are ‘temptations’ for us in this place in life to pursue agendas that are not vocational and could be a distraction from the main game. We need to make good choices in this season.

That said there are some things I/we want to do this year:

Parents – my mother in law, Val went into hospital a couple of months back and as I write this she is still there. The hospital made the call recently to stop medications (they weren’t working) so Val will go home soon and will be in palliative care.

We aren’t sure how long for, but we want to help Val finish well. She is a great picture of how to die well – no panic – no anxiety – just a quiet confidence as to what the next stage looks like.

I hope I can approach death with the same peaceful disposition. Val is a beautiful woman and has been a fantastic mother in law. We love her and want to honour her with good care in these final days.

Similarly my own mother has fairly advanced dementia and both her and dad are now in a Yanchep nursing home. Mum remembers who we are most days but she is often vague and unengaged. It’s a matter of time for her but again we don’t know how long.

Whatever we do this year must take our elderly parents care into concern as a high priority.

Study – I am going to do some study in the area of professional supervision so that I can be better equipped for some of what I see lies ahead – coming alongside younger leaders and helping them find their own unique way of serving and leading.

Surfing – The year off due to back pain took its toll on my ability to surf. My judgement, my balance and my capacity all took a pounding after 12 months out of the water. I asked myself ‘is this it?… Is this where it ends?…’ Am I just going to be that old guy who hangs put at the beach bit never gets wet?

The answer is a firm ‘no’, When something in your world gives you life then you do everything you can to keep at it. I can’t explain the joy I find in this one activity, so I am giving significant time to go surfing. When the swell, winds and weather line up I will be creating space to drop work and hit the beach. No apologies 🙂

Business Shifts – it’s time to make some shifts. I can’t see how this will play out, but I do know something has to ‘give’ here. The choice is between selling Brighton Retic, restricting my clients to only those I want, or just dropping it altogether. The business has been a blessing to us in so many ways over the years, but I’m pretty sure this season is ending.

Pastoring– Danelle and I are still involved in the same local churches we were leading, but just at a lesser level.

We also want to be available to country churches that could use a hand for short term periods.

Neither of us are chasing a paid gig leading a church again any time soon, but we do want to use the experience we have.

Left Field – recently Danelle and I had a shared experience that felt like a God moment, moving us toward a completely unexpected initiative, but one that would use both of our talents well. Since we had the experience we have been praying and reflecting on how we deal with the prompt. Was it the spirit of God, or was it just a bizarre coincidence?… if you’ve ever had an experience like that then you know the drill.

I guess time will tell as we see how things unfold around us.

So this definitely isn’t the year to be ‘setting goals’. Rather it’s the year to set the sails and tap into the wind of thr Spirit going where he takes us.