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.

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.