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Wreaking Ball Christians

What sort of ball?

What sort of ball?

 

Conjures up a weird mental image doesn’t it? But this isn’t a reference to a recent song by a wayward pop princess. I’m referring to the old-fashioned way buildings were demolished by swinging an enormous chunk of metal into them to smash them into smithereens. David Murrow wrote a post, “How to wreak your pastor“. It has some great advice, and, sadly, is right on target in the scenarios and examples he uses.

However, the attitude Murrow discusses doesn’t only affect pastors or paid vocational workers in a Church. It also affects the myriad of volunteers who are the real workers in every Church. People who, on top of being parents and holding down a job are investing greatly to run or help out with kids programs, music, hospitality, visitation and administration. On top of all the “free advice” pastors get, there is also the “feedback” and “observations” they receive about how some volunteer isn’t performing to the standard of the complainant.

This narky attitude can demoralise the volunteer who comes under scrutiny and repeatedly is a cause of people dropping out and falling away from Church. That’s not to say that we should be pandering everyone who stacks a chair or picks up a broom, but we also need to check our motivation behind our “feedback.” If it’s not a serious moral or legal failure and isn’t resulting in an undermining of the values and vision of the Church, then let it go! If, for whatever reason you still can’t stand a situation, please DON’T, as Murrow suggests, “ask the Lord if he may be leading you to attend a different church” – instead, get involved and help out yourself?! Leaving because you can’t get your own way, is infantile and gutless.

Alternatively, you could, as Murrow says for the pastor, offer to catch up with the person in question, take them out to lunch and spend some time getting to know them, praying with them and encouraging them. Don’t be a passive aggressive whiner. Realise that your opinion comes from someone who isn’t perfect, doesn’t always know all the facts or all the challenges involved in the ministry you’re so concerned about. There is every likelihood that you are dead wrong.

I was once in a ministry where I was regularly offered the type of advice Murrow mentions. It is exhausting to constantly get kicked in the guts that way. On the other hand, I’m currently in a ministry, where on 2 separate occasions in the last two weeks I’ve been invited out for catch ups by people in our Church that were exactly that: catchups! One was over a coffee, the other lunch, just yesterday. In both cases the people were simply trying to encourage me, see how I was doing and spend time getting to know me. It was such an encouragement!

After all Christians are meant to build each up not wreak and demolish.

 

Related Post:

Don’t Like Your Church? Then Leave. Or …

 

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Pancakes, Lent and Jesus

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* A seasonal re-post *

Fat Tuesday” is the day before “Ash Wednesday” which marks a 40 day countdown to Easter Weekend. Got all that? Probably not, unless you were either raised in a liturgical Church or you live in countries where Fat Tuesday, Pancake Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday are a big deal.

In Australia this hasn’t been the case so much until recently. Retailers can seize upon as a commercial opportunity and some Church and Community groups use it as a chance to connect and serve their members.

For many Christians, particularly the Catholic, Eastern and Liturgical groups, Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent. A period of sacrifice, penance or fasting in the lead up to the annual observance of Jesus death and resurrection.

Lent is a transliteration of a term with Germanic and Latin roots that means “lengthen” and was synonymous with the Spring season, as in, ‘the days begin to lengthen in Spring’. Thus the name, Lent. That’s all well and good if you’re in the Northern hemisphere, if not, it’s just a weird word.

What lent has come to mean and is now practiced all over the world, is a period of sacrifice or partial fasting. Sanctified weight loss programs exploit the vulnerable, as do anti-cigarette campaigners, alcohol prohibitionists seize the opportunity to get people to quit drinking and all manner of well meaning propaganda finds it’s way into our life. One year a Church leader tried the same angle with iPods. A friend of mine is doing a similar “fast” from Facebook and other social media. I might join him.

Just like Chicken Soup, there’s little harm from abstinence of a few luxuries. Take a break from your iPod if you must, leave off the chocolate and lose a kilo or a belt notch. So long as you beware the trap in thinking that your abstinence somehow makes you closer to God, more loveable to God, or more worthy of his forgiveness, grace and goodness.

Nothing less than Jesus can save you, give you God’s forgiveness and assurance that your heavenly Father loves you enough to send his unique Son to die in the place of sinners. Once Lent is over and Christians celebrate Easter Sunday, it’s not because they get to eat chocolate again. It is because Jesus has put an end to Satan, sin and death and is our sovereign and almighty Lord.

If staying off Facebook or your iPod helps you make that clear to your friends, please go ahead. I wonder though, if you’re not giving up anything for Lent, for whatever reason, how do you view those that do?

 

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Regret, Repent, Resolve

Looking forward, looking back

Looking forward, looking back

I enjoy the annual reviews that media and news outlets publish each end of year. It is interesting to revisit and review some of the significant events of the past 12 months and reflect on the great achievements and losses of the past year. Many use the end of a year to plan their “New Year Resolutions”. 

If you think about it, resolutions, of this sort, usually have 3 steps. e.g. You resolve to lose some weight in 2014: “I resolve to lose 5 kg (& keep it off!)” – this comes with regret that you gained those 5 kg through lack of discipline in my diet and exercise, so you opt to repent of your bad habits and resolve to reverse or reform to achieve this resolution. The pattern that emerges is: 

  • Regret of past wrong doing (or lack of right doing)
  • Repent – reject and turn away from the past
  • Resolve to commit and achieve the future (and in the case of the Christian, trust God to enable you) in 2014

If you’re a Christian, why not consider some resolutions oriented towards growing in your knowledge of God and resolve to live more consistently and fully as a representative of Jesus. Pray, and ask God to give you insight on what areas of your life are lacking in godliness, or are outright sinful, or are hindering your effectiveness as or growth as a follower of Jesus. (Psalm 139:23-24, Hebrews 12:1-2)

Here are a few suggestions to start. May God bless and enable you to strive after him and see and experience his greatness, goodness and glory in 2014.

1. Read the Bible Through in entirety by Dec 31st 2014 (YouVersion has some great plans, if you’re not sure where to start)

2. OR Read the New Testament through in entirety by Dec 31st 2010 (great for brand new Christians – try the YouVersion plans)

3. Volunteer and commit to a service team for the entire year. e.g. Youth Group, Kids Church or Sunday School, Music, Media, Playgroup, a new opportunity suited to your gifts & talents etc.

4. Go on a short term mission trip (see me for details or check out the SIM list of opportunities in each country)

5. Host a “Simply Christianity” event in your home for 6 weeks during 2014

6. Lead a “Simply Christianity” event in yours or someone else’s home for 6 weeks in 2014

7. Talk to me about giving a small (5 min) talk in Sunday Service on your testimony

8. Loose some weight to be in better health to serve the Lord and your family in 2014

9. Start (and continue) giving a set amount of money to missions or a project in 2014

10. Decide (and stick to it) to increase your sacrificial giving to the general offering and operating expenses of Church in 2014

11. Pray with your family (out loud) at least once per week (not at Church & not as part of grace for a meal).

12. Read the bible out loud at least once per week with your family (again, not at Church etc

p.s. My resolutions for 2014 include spending more time with my wife and daughter, 1 on 1 catch ups with men in our Church, reading several books, reading and re-learning my Greek New Testament, and improving my fitness via cycling. What are yours?

 
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Posted by on 31/12/2013 in Culture, discipleship

 

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I can’t wait to be patient!

169084857_bd43cb43dcMaybe it will happen one day. But when?! I want to be patient NOW!

During a chat on the fruit of the Spirit, some guys talked about which of the listed characteristics they felt most lacking in their experience. Patience seemed to the be popular choice. All of the men in the discussion were fathers, so all have had their share of frustrating waits.

It wasn’t until the day after, when I was out and needed to do some phone banking to pay for something. My data connection just wasn’t working. I moved about, turned the phone off and on again, took the cover off, tried holding it different ways. Nothing! After about 15 minutes of trying and getting the “unable to connect to the internet” message, I started to get quite cranky. With the phone, the carrier, with the shopping centre for obstructing the signal, even with the other shoppers walking past. Nonsense really. Then the discussion about patience came back. So, it seems a bit of patience would be handy at this point. But, I needed my phone to work immediately!

What is patience? What has it got to do with a Christian characteristic? The word (in Galatians 5:22) is translated from a term that pictures remaining calm even if provoked or in the event of misfortune. It has the idea of enduring without changing demeanour. i.e. getting cranky, or frustrated, taking things into your own hands to bring about a faster (better?) resolution. One dictionary I have says, “to keep your heart from jumping”. That sounds about right – because when I get impatient, my heart rate increases!

To be patient is to accept that the immediate situation or change isn’t going to be rectified by my outburst. That doesn’t mean to be passive. It means, that in the face of something that is out of your control, you are prepared to trust in either a different or a later result. e.g. You go to meet up with someone for lunch. They’re late. You try to call to check if they’re ok and there’s no answer. You check social media to see if they’ve posted something about bad traffic and there’s nothing. You now have a choice. You probably make it in less than a nano second, but you still have a choice. Start to fume, or be patient. Which of the two is going to make your friend arrive earlier? Neither. Which of the two will keep your friendship (and your blood pressure!). Hmm.

In the case of Christian patience. We’re not simply talking about keeping calm when a lunch appointment is 5 minutes behind schedule. Although, that’s probably a wise thing anyway. Patience has a far reaching view into the future promised to those who believe in Jesus. For instance in the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ passage. Paul is talking about how some people were going about trying to improve their relationship with God (and probably their standing before others in the Church community). They had adopted a ‘take charge’ concept of constructing behavioural codes (Including circumcision. Ouch!) to improve the way God accepted them.

Paul explains that nothing you construct on the outside is going to change what is happening on the inside. In fact it will end up being counter productive. Instead those who have trusted in Jesus to do what was promised (make them right before God – provide forgiveness, new life now and in eternity to come) can wait for the hope of righteousness. He uses an agricultural concept, fruit, to explain how this takes place. God says he’ll do it, slowly, the way fruit grows on a tree. It’s an act of his Spirit and it’s eventual outcome is an experience in the fully realised kingdom of God.

Patience, then, waits for God to complete his work and fulfil his promise. Our response is to “keep in step” with him – not run ahead, not fall behind, and not take things into our own hands to build an inferior form of righteousness. Inferior, because it is more concerned with one-upmanship than the love of God and neighbour. Instead be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

Can you be patient? Now?

;)

 

 
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Posted by on 09/08/2013 in discipleship, Hermenutics

 

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Don’t like your Church? Then leave. Or…

Bigweld

Pastorally, a huge challenge in leading and growing a Church is trying to keep volunteers engaged in the ministry. When you’re small, there’s only a handful of people who are either able or available to pitch in and help. As a pastor I get excited when someone wants to help out. More hands lighter load and all that.

I am also keeping a constant eye on those that are helping to make sure they don’t burn out. This isn’t always possible as some people, for wrong and right reasons, don’t always speak up when they’re getting stretched. That is, until they go past the breaking point and disappear over night. By then, usually, it’s too late to recover and restore them. No amount of, “Why didn’t you say something earlier?” will change things. They’re gone. They might re-gather and get back into things later on, for which I am thankful, but it won’t be with me or at my church. That ship has sailed.

So, for those that are still here, what to do? Being a small Church is still exhausting. And, by small, I mean anything below 200-250 attendance. And by Church I mean a single gathered congregation. Anyhow… The problem hasn’t gone away.

Here’s the typical challenge: By some means, a new person, couple or family shows up (Sunday gathering or smaller group – doesn’t matter). They look around and either on that day or in the couple of weeks afterwards don’t find or connect with anyone with similar circumstances to them. They conclude that this isn’t the place for them. Their needs aren’t being met here. So, off they go. Oh, you’re a nice, welcoming congregation and all, but this is just not what I’m looking for. Bye! 

Challenge 2: This is where it gets worse. Someone else who is regular in the Church sees this person come and leave and realises that they probably could have connected if only they had spoken up sooner or made the effort or whatever. The regular then concludes the same thing. It’s time to go. After all, they’ve stayed here for long enough and anyone that they could connect with doesn’t stay around anyway. Off they go too.

I think both challenges could be taken on by the person in scenario 2. When you’re a regular in a small church, you probably are already half way there. The difference will be whether you sit back or stand up. I have had this conversation every single week of my life in ministry. The regular looks around, they see a gap or a need that just so happens to affect them. They approach the Pastor or Church leader and the conversation goes… “The Church really needs to do something about <this need that I have, but I am pointing at others to make it more urgent>

Instead of simply saying, honestly, “This is something I want for myself, but nobody’s providing it, so I am going to take my bat and my ball and go.” They try to dress it up to sound concerned about others. The technical term for this approach is … Bollocks! Ok, there is a stronger more definite term, but you get the idea. To be fair, sometimes people are this honest. That doesn’t change the challenge or the potential solution.

As argued by Dan Phillips on the Pyro Blog, far more eloquently, in a similar vein, the 2nd person could offer the service they are wanting someone else to give to them. That change in tack is the turning point that moves a Church from small and struggling to small, yet thriving and growing.

Too often, the expectation is that either the Pastor or those already serving in multiple other areas will be the ones to step into this “new” need to breach the gap. And, too often, they try, and inevitably set their own trajectory to burn out or be so busy keeping two dozen plates spinning that they have no time to do any one thing with excellence. It is a recipe for death in a small church. So, if this is the case in your small Church, you could go. Bye! Or, you could see a need, and fill a need! Whadayareckon?

 
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Posted by on 02/08/2013 in church, Culture, discipleship

 

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It takes a Church to grow a Church

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Simply, the reason many Christian Churches are dying or, at least, not multiplying their congregations, is because they are not ready to make the changes required and endure the struggle and discomfort necessary that comes with growth. Like begets like and everything reproduces after its own kind. So a church will reproduce a church. But if the Church is focused on maintaining the things as they are then the death knell has already sounded.

When a Church forms as a community around the gospel of Jesus, the way that they work out and live out that gospel does 2 things.

1. Their transparent struggle with failure and inconsistency demonstrates their need for Jesus’ gospel.

2. Their mutual care for each other in the midst of that struggle demonstrates how Jesus’ gospel is good news in the first place.

As Tim Chester says, (Total Church, chapter 5, Church Planting) how the Church congregation lives as a community is what makes the gospel plausible (or not). He quotes Lesslie Newbigin as saying: the congregation is the hermeneutic of the gospel. Both of them echoing what Jesus already said in John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

To which we can also add, “or not”.

There is a type of individualism that is obsessed with self-protection and self-preservation that it avoids being transparent about personal need and eschews any humility of service that prioritizes others needs ahead of their own. But its a symptom that is seen corporately when Churches do things in a way that is self-serving or so obscure and unintelligible that anyone from outside either can’t get in or sees no reason to want to.

Somewhere along the line, a Church moves from making new disciples of Jesus to simply upgrading the ones they already have. Their interest is focused on keeping existing members happy or comfortable and most of their energy and resources are spent on filling rosters, roles and responsibilities to keep up something from the past. The suggestion or thought of doing evangelism or being mission minded is almost an insult. Don’t they have enough demands on their time already? How can they care for their family. make a living and keep up with all those time hungry rostered responsibilities and then do something new on top? It’s an unreasonable expectation. Maybe they should consider moving Churches before they burn out. And so goes yet another failed Church.

While all that’s happening, they are seen as boring, irrelevant bigots out of touch with reality by those they should be trying to (and actually) reaching.

If instead, a Church decides that the uncertainty of having an unfilled roster or not maintaining a legacy to some (now) empty tradition is worth the price of living with others in a way that makes sense of the gospel then that gospel plausibility can be recovered. What if the Church lived and interacted as a community with their community where mutual discipleship was a priority (serving one another and doing all the other “one another” verbs mentioned in the New Testament)? That would involve some sacrifice, struggle and personal discomfort. But it would not be inconsistent with Jesus’ call for a disciple to take up their cross and follow him. Like will beget like, and something different to before will be reproduced. What if?

 

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Be a heretic and get past your fear

2769082212_296237de08Currently listening to Seth Godin’s ‘Tribes‘ on Audible and this quote hit me:

Dr. Laurence Peter is famous for proposing that “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” In other words, when you do a great job, you get promoted. And that process repeats itself until finally you end up in a job you can’t handle.

I’d like to paraphrase the Peter Principle. I think what actually happens is that “in every organization everyone rises to the level at which they become paralyzed with fear.”

The essence of leadership is being aware of your fear (and seeing it in the people you wish to lead). No, it won’t go away, but awareness is the key to making progress.

He goes and says fear of failure is overrated! “What people are afraid of isn’t failure. It’s blame. Criticism. … Fear of criticism is a powerful deterrent because the criticism doesn’t actually have to occur for the fear to set in.” After hearing or seeing others be criticised you hesitate and play it safe and escape the death that comes with criticism for coming up with something somebody didn’t like.

While Godin is talking leadership, I think there’s great insight to why Christians don’t seek to proselytize and do more evangelism. Oh sure, you may not be as successful as Billy Graham. But that’s not the real de-motivator. Will you be criticised for believing and saying something that somebody thinks is stupid / dumb / (fill in your own adjective here)?

Godin calls those who get past the fear of criticism, “heretics“. He defines them as “engaged, passionate, and more powerful and happier than anyone else.” They reach out to others and put their ideas on the line – they pin their 95 theses to the Church door.

Godin’s heretic has weighed up the cost of criticism versus the benefit to themselves and others of the idea they want to promote and decided that the criticism is worth it.

This seems to be what happens in the Gospels as the disciples listen to and watch Jesus. When Jesus explains that following him will invite ridicule, criticism and persecution they have to count the cost. In the Book of Acts the early Church figures this out and they decide the cost is worth it. In the eyes of first century Judaism and Rome they become heretics. Stephen is stoned to death, James is beheaded, Peter is imprisoned, and Polycarp (AD 130) is burnt at the stake. For 2000 years the blood of these martyred “heretics” has fueled the Church.

Will you count the cost of being a heretic to get past your fear of being criticised for sharing the gospel?

 
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Posted by on 17/07/2013 in discipleship

 

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