When Life Crosses Over


Lately I’ve found myself talking to church people about business and my clients about Jesus. Not always how it plays out, nor necessarily how it ‘should’ play out, but really nice to see the flow of life and learning in both directions.

A couple of guys in our church community are kicking off business projects and I know a bit about that stuff these days, so its good to be able to offer coaching type questions into their world and help them articulate what they are hoping to do. I find business energising and I know I’ve learnt a heap over the years, so I feel like I can offer useful insights both as a business person and as a Christian leader.

And after 8 years of being a retic bloke I know a lot of my repeat clients quite well, so the chat often turns to the ‘other part’ of my life – and sometimes unexpected conversations develop. This morning I was filling an hour between appointments and ended up doing a job for a mum from Quinns Baptist College, a woman who was a church attender in a past life but had drifted off.

I managed to find a fix for her job that saved her over $200 which made her rather happy and in the process of conversation she began discussing her own faith or lack thereof. It ended with her writing down the details of our church gatherings and telling me she’d see me there. Maybe she will – maybe she won’t… That isn’t the point.

The point is that after 8 years of living, working and being part of the same community I know I’ve been able to gain enough trust and respect from enough people to be able to speak about more than PVC and nozzle patterns. Its a small glimpse of what I hope to see developing more in business as I go along.

Natural, honest, earthy conversations about the bigger things of life – but only if you want to… If you don’t I’ll just shut up and keep digging.


Backyard Missionary 10 Years On

Warning – long rambling, reflective post ahead…

Way back 10 years ago in September of 2003, after a nomadic 6 months of travelling, while waiting for our new home to be built, we finally moved house into the new estate of ‘Brighton’, where the developer’s tagline was ‘Its what a community should be.’ (Its wasn’t…)

We went there with 4 other families from our previous church to ‘start over’ – to re-imagine church and to see ourselves as missionaries in the western world. We set out with our tanks full of missionary zeal and enthusiasm, completely unaware of what the next 7 years would hold, but convinced that God had called us and that we would discover ways of being God’s people that resonated better with Australian people than what was on offer around us.

Its the ideal way to start any venture – full of conviction, enthusiasm and vision, even if we were a little short on realism… That said, there aren’t many ‘realists’ who set out to start new things as the vision and optimism has been kicked out of them by the stuff of life.

It was 6 months earlier that this blog began. It was a way of staying in touch with folks from our previous church, but in the end I don’t think any of them read it… However I rediscovered my love of writing and so things kept rolling on here.

Just two years previous I had changed roles at Lesmurdie Baptist and gone from being youth pastor to team leader. It was a significant transition both for me and for the church and in it I wanted to lead the church towards being involved in church planting. Most people liked the theory of this, but neither them nor me had counted on it being such a disruption to our lives.

You can read about the journey to Brighton and all that went with it elsewhere in this blog, but my reason for writing here is more to reflect on where we are 10 years on.

The ‘Upstream’ years were amazing years. In the scheme of things very little went to plan. At times it was humbling and even humiliating not to be able to do what I had thought I would be able to do. And yes I use the word ‘I’ intentionally because I think that was part of the problem. I think others in the team were much more content to let God do what he wanted and how he wanted, but I had some ideas and I wanted him to pull his finger out and make them work for me. He wasn’t compliant. I didn’t think much of him for that.

In short I was not the success I had thought I would have been and in the end we closed Upstream as some of the team moved away and our core crew had reduced to just a couple of families. As we closed it, we joined with Quinns Baptist, where Danelle and I took up the role of being team leaders.

The missional energy that had formed us in those 7 years was still there, but some of the passion had wilted for me. I was convinced intellectually of some things, but my heart had grown weary of toiling away for what seemed like little result. We didn’t seem to make a difference like I thought we would and I was weary from the effort it had taken. In theory mission to the west sounded great. In reality I was tired and struggling to admit it.

So we moved to leading an established church – a dysfunctional established church with two factions on a collision course. We ended up being the catalyst for that collision to take place sooner rather than later and so our entry back into established church world was everything we had dreaded. Politics and power plays were the order of the day and we quickly found ourselves wondering just what we were doing there. As much as we could discern God’s voice he seemed to be saying ‘stay there’.

Thanks God.

So we did and things have changed significantly. I love our church now and I am happy to be there, in fact I find it hard to ever envisage leaving. Who would have thought?…

But what of the ‘backyard missionary’? What of the original sense of calling that took us here? We still live in the same region and mix it up with some of the same crew, albeit in different ways.

I have questioned at times whether this blog needs a new title. I have wondered whether I am still that person who began writing it 10 years ago and the truth is I am not.

You’d hope that though wouldn’t you? If you hadn’t changed significantly in your forties then you’d be wondering ‘why not?’

When I read the title ‘backyard missionary’ now I read it with a whole different energy to what I did 10 years ago. Back then I felt I was someone who had stuff to say that needed to be heard and often my blog was a soapbox. To be fair some of that stuff did need to be both said and heard. But some of it was just pontificating in the absence of any real experience.

At times in the last few years I have had to work hard at not becoming either cynical or indifferent. When you realise that changing the world is not down to you then its tempting to cruise – to just roll along and go with the flow because you can’t really change anything anyway. I’ve felt like that at times. Helpless and hopeless are too strong words, but perplexed and disturbed fit well. The western world feels like a hard place to do Christian mission. And then I wonder if its the western world, or if it’s me?… Us?… The fact that so many of us have our priorities arse-about, and we wonder why we seem impotent.

A big reason for setting out on the journey 10 years ago was my critique of the church I was leading and its lack of missional energy. I now a lead a church that is probably less effective or intentional missionally than the one I left.

I sometimes wonder ‘what’s with that?’

In all of this my understanding of what God is asking of me has shifted. I no longer devote myself to full time Christian work. I have an ordinary job. My own business. While I didn’t set out to get here its been one of the better developments in my life. I can’t imagine ever being a full time minister again in a local church. I wonder what people do who are full time…

In this space 10 years on mission has become much more integrated and relaxed. I don’t feel the need to pursue people the way I once did. I guess that has both an upside and a downside. I want to listen more to God and the way he is leading and be less driven. I find that a hard line to walk because the other side of the line often feels like laziness.

I get the feeling who I am is probably more attractive to a person looking on than I was 10 years ago. I’m not sure what that is, but I sense it has something to do with having less of an agenda – less of a drive to convert – its less about ‘me’ maybe?

In this space I sometimes wonder if I have become one of the people I despised. If I am now the preoccupied, self obsessed middle class westerner who talks a much better game than he plays. I wish I had that same zeal and urgency that burned so strongly 10 years ago, but I don’t. And I can’t summon it up. It just feels odd. False. Wrong.

Or maybe I judged those people harshly and incorrectly. Maybe there is stuff you only learn as you get older?…

And maybe passion and vitality manifests in many different ways?…

‘It is NOT a Church’

So go the opening lines of this conversation between ‘Current Affair’ and Geoff and Barbara, two irate neighbours who have been living next to the Scarborough Baptist Church.

Current Affair: But you bought a house next to a church?…

Geoff & Barbara: Its not a church… its NOT a church…

Clearly in Geoff and Barbara’s mind is an ecclesiology that Scarborough have been able to move away from as they seek to engage with and serve their community. While Geoff and Barbara see church as something that happens very quietly on a Sunday morning, Scarborough have managed to really position themselves effectively in their community and do some wonderful work.

For those who are committed to missional expressions of church this raises some interesting questions because these neighbours have made it really hard for the church to fulfill its mission. It can gather on a Sunday morning so long there is no fuss, but these community activities don’t really have anything to do with a church… do they?…

I’m guessing Geoff and Barbara haven’t done much theological study, and while their answer might have been typical 40 years ago these days it is an oddity.

A church that was on life-support not so long ago has had new energy breathed into it and is now a beautiful picture of what a very ordinary bunch of people can do it they just stick at it and seek to be salt and light in their own context.

I do have a personal interest in this one as Scarborough was the church I grew up in as a teenager, the first church I worked in as a pastor and the church that my folks are still a part of (see if you can pick them in the video).

My favourite part of the story is the opening where elderly Ivy (pictured above) gets asked if she’s a bit of a wild thing… Then there are the stories of people’s lives influenced and changed by their involvement with the church. And they are fantastic stories!

Its a dangerous business allowing the media anywhere near your church community, but for Scarborough they have certainly come up smelling of roses. Their neighbours however…

The Community Killer

No, not the bloke in the picture… but Costa Georgiadis says the double garage door is the great community killer and he’d love to rip them all off.

In this interview he offers some great insights into how we can live in healthier communities and facilitate interactions between generations, including using your front verge for a veggie patch. Maybe he got the idea from here?… (as if..)

Maybe even some goats in the street to clean up the weeds?…

Here’s the ABC recording and its worth taking the time to listen to if you care about your community and want some creative ideas for making it a little more friendly

Thanks to my mate Terry for the heads up.

The Gift of Reality

I don’t know how many books I’ve read or conferences I’ve been to that have inspired me as to the potential of the church to be an amazing and dynamic community.

I have read so many books that tell stories of amazing transformations and offer insights into ‘how to’, but invariably when you go back and try to implement them either others haven’t read the books or been to the conference, or its just not as easy as it sounds in the books.

Maybe you’ve had that experience of ingesting an idea, feeling that rush of hope and vision only to try and make it work and discover that either you’re all thumbs, or people are too busy, or just plain disinterested – or the ideas were never meant to be transferred! After a while you don’t believe the books or the conference speakers… Or you may lose faith in your own leadership, or in your church community.

Or maybe reality is that life, faith and mission are pretty much a case of ‘keeping going’, of living in the mundane, often uninspiring and seeing the moments of beauty when they are present, while other times just walking on.

Much of what we read in books is what I’d call ‘highlight reel’ stuff – the kinda stuff that makes good stories to tell other church leaders, but reality is that most of life is ‘steady as she goes’. Its that constant quest for ‘more’ that can make us inappropriately dissatisfied with the beauty of what we have and can then undermine what God is actually doing in our midst.

Perhaps reality disturbs us because it doesn’t seem all that exciting, yet ‘reality’ is the ground from which all hope filled stories come. If we accept that, then we won’t miss the moments when they do come around.

Over the last few weeks we have been helping a young Iranian guy find his feet in Perth. I always smile at how helping ‘asylum seekers’ can be made to sound like cutting edge / sexy work, when in reality it can just be hard work because language is difficult and everything is slow and clumsy.

This morning our friend bought us lunch after church – a quarter of his weekly income went in one hit. It was a beautiful expression of thanks and one we couldn’t refuse. Then as we chatted in our home I heard Sam tell him that he had been praying for him. My 9 year old son wanted him to know that God cares for him as he struggles with loneliness and anxiety.

These are small things and probably not the stuff that most people get excited about, but in the ebb and flow of ‘real life’ they are God moments and they really are worth cheering for.

Maybe one day I’ll write my own book that will tell stories of the very real and ordinary stuff that really ought to be celebrated a bit more. Rather than being disappointed that 2000 people didn’t get saved last week if we begin to savour the golden moments of God at work we might find that hope that so often seems illusive.

Just a thought at the end of another ordinary – yet often inspiring week…

Because Imagination is More Powerful Than Knowledge

It was Einstein who once said ‘imagination is more powerful than knowledge.’

I was responding to Steve’s comment on my own blog last night and wrote this:

‘When we (as the church) start to value spirit inspired innovation as much as spirit inspired preaching then we may have a more hopeful future.’

Occasionally I feel I have moments when I say something worth sharing, or I have a perspective that is worth presenting and this is one of them. I have found myself bemused over the years that certain gifts and abilities rank more highly on the ‘we need that in the church’ rating system than others.

I wonder why spirit inspired preaching is valued more than spirit inspired innovation / creativity?

I am guessing its because its the culture we have created and lived with for so long, so my question that arises is ‘how do we create a culture where fresh ideas and creativity is seen as every bit as valuable as our more traditional foci (preaching/pastoral care/worship)?”

I don’t think there are any magic answers to reaching the western world with the message of Christ, but I would dearly love to see us become a people who ask ‘what if?’

A couple of years back we closed Forge down in WA and scaled back nationally. Since then I’ve been busy leading a church and running a business in the outer suburbs of Perth, and because we are a long way out and life is what it is I no longer have much networking or connecting with others around missionary ideas.

I have lost touch with many of my more creative, and innovative friends, folks who regularly inspired me and provoked me to keep going. Perhaps part of my own struggle lately has been because I have settled back into a space in life that I had intentionally stepped out of.

To be fair I feel a sense of divine leading to this place, but amidst the various demands and necessities of my roles I have found it difficult to keep on the creative edge. I don’t think I’m seeking a new ‘network’ as I have several good friends who I talk with regularly and some folks within our community who also have some creative spark. But I do miss the sparks that fly with wider interaction.

There aren’t too many conferences I ‘must attend’ these days, but I am keen to get to Vose in August to be part of what Scot McKnight has to say as I imagine that will be a good couple of days. Since reading Scot’s blog over 5 years ago now I have found his thoughts to be really valuable and hearing him lead us in the topic of ‘Church in a Post Christian Culture’ is something I could really get my teeth into. To get there we will need to shorten our planned camping holiday up north so its a big call.

I’m constantly conscious that the tug of the familiar is strong. There is much more kudos for a ‘good sermon’ than for a ‘good idea’ and with limited hours in the day its easy to play to the crowd.

I imagine this is the case for all church leaders, but I’m hoping that we can begin to raise the value of the imagination again.

I really believe its a ‘must do’ and not an optional extra for those uniquely gifted.

Church Plants – from 1 to 17 to 47 in just a few years in WA

And its not who you think…

Get past the ‘history of WA’ intro in this video and hear the story of how the Seventh Day Adventists in WA are planting churches faster than you can say ‘Sabbath Day’.

As Phil Brown says in the video “Now there are so many church plants that its become normal.” Of course it all depends on what you mean by the word ‘church’, and the Sevvies have decided to run with the simplest definition allowing for rapid growth and multiplication.

These guys have been prepared to take risks and ask ‘what is possible?’ rather than simply asking ‘how do we maintain the status quo?’

Not surprisingly they have also managed to maintain the status quo quite effectively and many of their more traditional expressions of church still exist alongside their new ventures.

Having spoken at their WA church planting summits for the last few years (where there are always over 100 people present) I cannot speak highly enough of the energy, enthusiasm and adventurous spirit these guys show.

Enjoy a well made video and be inspired by the Sevvies. I remember the first time I had lunch with Glenn Townend, the newly appointed SDA state leader and we got into a pretty feisty argument over the need to re-think church for a changing world. Once we got past our misconceptions of one another and listened more carefully, we realised we were both on the same page and both seeking the same things. Glenn and the SDA movement became some of Forge’s best supporters and their work in WA alone is truly inspiring.

Renewing Adventist Movement in Western Australia from AMN – WEST on Vimeo.

Re-Imagining Missional Distinctives

Recently I have been considering again what it means to be a ‘missionary community’, and I have been pondering what ‘values’ we would hold dear, and to be honest I get very weary of those ‘discovering our values’ exercises because inevitably we discover that we value the Bible, prayer, relationships etc. Its all no brainer type of stuff and we didn’t need to spend a day (or a year) pondering it.

Because of this I have come to appreciate the concept of distinctives quite a bit more. I think we can all agree that we value the Bible & prayer & loving one another and evangelism and blah blah blah… (if we don’t then we’re in the wrong game) but perhaps we need to ponder what is it that is actually unique about the community that God has called us to be?

As I ponder this I like to frame it in non-biblical words and from the perspective of a member of our local community looking on who isn’t a Christian but who gets what we are about. I thought I’d take a post to reflect on some of the distinctives that I would want to characterise any community of people that I am involved with. So have a read and see what you resonate with and what jars with you.

These are in no particular order…

generosity – I’d love for the people in our neighbourhood to be aware that this is a community who splash their money and time and relationships around with great liberality. In such a self focused society I believe that personal and corporate generosity can function as a prophetic statement about what the kingdom of God is like. And who would ever knock a church for being obscenely generous?!

earthiness – It’d be great if those who come near feel a sense of these being ordinary people who sometimes get life right and sometimes stuff it up, but who do it with Jesus in the midst. When church people start to give off airs of superiority most Aussies will simply walk away. Again I’d ask, who would ever knock a church for being a ‘society of sinners’ where other likeminded strugglers are more than welcome. Everyone knows we aren’t as squeaky clean as sometimes gets made out so let’s be honest with that and maybe we might drop the hypocrite flag a bit lower.

fun – seriously! I realise this may depend on your defintion of ‘fun’, but surely a community where people laugh a lot and enjoy being together has to be one that others would want to be part of? The dour and drab countenance that seems to characterise some church gatherings on a Sunday morning must surely communicate something of the God we worship… I want to be with people who know how to enjoy themselves and can party well (and I say that an introverted non-party animal!)

intelligent – ok by this I am meaning a community where there is the ability to reflect deeply on the issues that face us as missionaries in the west and not simply fall in line with the next fad, nor adhere to a mindless fundamentalism because this is all we have known. Inevitably this means being a curious and questioning community, safe in our relationship with Christ, confident enough to admit that we don’t know it all but courageous enough to consider other viewpoints.

adventurous – people who get the whiff a challenge and rise to it rather than people who simply see the ‘danger’ and wish to play it safe. Having been both in communities that have played it safe and communities that have ‘given it a go’ I never want to go back to the dullness and predictability of that kind of environment.

willing to get involved – its easy to do ministry from a distance, but to be willing to get involved in people’s lives and to have them in your home, to put yourself out and not farm someone out to a designated ‘committee’ is a big committment. But surely if anyone is going to sense real genuine love from us then it will be largely because we didn’t stand at a distance and yell instructions, but because we got down and dirty and involved in the good the bad and the ugly of life and walked the path come what may.

Of course I realise these probably typify my own preferences and are something of a reflection of my own personality, but then that’s how it is with leadership isn’t it? Who you are always comes thru. I don’t think there is any avoiding that, but being in a team does help avoid a church simply becoming an unhealthy extension of one person’s personality.

So if you imagine a community that you would dearly love to be part of, which of the above words resonate with you, which would you delete and which of your own would you add?

I’d love to hear!

The Evangelist

After I had preached on Sunday morning a man swaggered up to me. He looked mid forties, stocky and like his nose had been broken more times than he could remember. I was talking to a member of the church and he joined our conversation.

“So, does anybody do any witnessin aroun here?” he asked.

It felt like a loaded question. I don’t think either of us knew quite what to say…

“I guess it depends on what you mean by that” I said. I sensed that he meant standing on street corners and preaching, or stopping people in the mall.

“Well I mean going out in the street and talking to people about Jesus. There’s a whole world out there of needy people who aren’t gonna come in here and without Jesus they’re goin to hell.”

He was clearly edgy and wasn’t feeling like we were receiving his question real well. The fact that I had lampooned the wacko street preacher during my message may not have helped either.

He talked for a little bit and told us his story. He had been sent to prison several years ago for violent crime. He had lived a violent life and was a street fighter. But during a stint in solitary confinement he had met God in a ‘damascus road’ type of way.

He then started sharing his faith in prison and just before he got out he was leading a Bible study of over 200 men in the prison. His approach to evangelism was much like his approach to other things in life – no holds barred and no prisoners – pardon the pun.

After a short conversation where my friend spoke of the church’s craft group, and kids ministries I could see him glaze over and zone out. This wasn’t what he wanted to hear.

He had come looking for a church that would support him in his own evangelistic work, post prison and that would also be a church that would welcome his new converts. He hadn’t found one anywhere.

He drifted off from the conversation clearly frustrated. I was frustrated too.

Partly because I had encountered someone with raw passion and it had exposed me as having gone soft in some ways. I was frustrated because I knew what he was on about – there simply aren’t too many churches where people like him are welcome and where he would be understood and encouraged and where his friends would be accepted. He is a strong character with lots of opinions and he would be a handful. His friends would change the tone of the average middle class church.

As he drifted off I sensed God saying ‘go and have lunch with him’. I think it was partly so I could learn more about evangelism from someone who was naturally gifted and partly so I could encourage him not to give up on the church. In his zeal he was convinced that anyone who wasn’t doing evangelism like him was not serious about God and he had little room for those with any fear.

I have shared this frustration over the years and at times have been guilty of projecting my own passions and gifting onto others. Maybe I could help him see the value in sticking with others and helping them develop.

I caught him as he was walking down the street to his beaten up white ford meteor. I invited him out and he took me up on it.

We had a great time together and I found myself driving home inspired by this left field Jimmy Swaggart fan who wept over people who didn’t know Jesus and who went from half way house to half way house until someone would listen. He had clearly had such a life changing encounter with God that nothing was going to stop him or slow him.

I was rebuked for my lampooning of the street preacher and reminded that the kingdom of God is very very diverse. As he treads the streets of Fremantle he will connect with people who would never give me the time of day.

I pray he finds a community of people who will welcome him and his friends and who will support him in his passion for helping the broken and messed up follow Jesus.

I pray the evangelist won’t get tamed.up in smoke free

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