Christian Reflections Blog Tour Survey Results

I've done the Christian Reflections National Pop-Up Blog Tour for 2 years now. I figured it was time for a major assessment of how it's going and how it could be improved/developed.

1. What I Like About the Blog Tour

I've really loved doing these events - it's been a great way to catch up with friends and supporters around the country and make new contacts. It's also been a great way to see different cities and suburbs.

As the results show, people really appreciate the evenings - so I think it gives people something they benefit from.

And also the events have consistently brought around $2 000 back into my ministry at UTAS, which is awesome as well!

I like how the blog tour connects a bunch of thoughtful, ministry-minded Christians, from a range of churches and a range of ages - both paid and unpaid. It gives all these people a fun opportunity to dig deep into practical ministry philosophy in a great environment.

2. What the Survey Revealed

  • It was eye opening to me to realise that 120 people had attended at least one blog tour event over the last two years! So even though the events were generally smallish (around 15 people) - the overall reach of the tour was fairly broad.
  • 33 people replied to the survey - which is well above the standard reponse rate to surveys like this apparently! So that in itself demonstrates buy-in.
  • People from Brisbane, Wollongong and Newcastle were slow to reply to the survey. Too busy chilling out and surfing I guess?
  • Most people heard about the events through myself or the local hosts (45%) or through a friend (30%) and a smaller chunk heard via Facebook (24%) - 2 others heard via a denominational email list.
  • We got a Net Promoter Score of 21- which is pretty good. Anything above zero is considered 'good' and above 50 is 'excellent' so I'll take 21!
  • In terms of things that people were most interested in for future events, the most significant things were 'Fresh Interesting Content' (81%), Nice or Convenient Venue (37%) and Free book or other product (37%).
  • I gave the options of 4 possible formats - 3 sessions plus dinner for $45, 2 sessions and a light snack for $30, 1 session and a coffee for $20 or a webinar for $10. 53% opted for 3 sessions. 50% opted for 2 sessions.
  • When asked if they would be willing to host the event for their ministry leaders as a whole, 47% said Yes and 33% said Maybe.

3. What I'm Thinking for 2016 

  • A big challenge is to reach beyond the people who already like me or love the events, to people who don't. Helping my primary audience (those who already like Christian Reflections) reach a secondary audience is a really big thing.
  • I'm going to approach pastors about possibly hosting the Blog Tour event as an in-house training event - that way they either pay in bulk for people to attend, or strongly encourage all their leaders to attend. This would guarantee a higher base attendance.
  • I'm going to stick largely with the 3 sessions and dinner for $45, although maybe do the 2 sessions and light snack for $30 in one or two places.
  • I'm toying with maybe producing some kind of mini-book that could be available for free to registrants and then maybe sold cheap afterwards?
  • I may still do 1 or 2 webinars and see what happens.
  • I'm toying with visiting Melbourne again, plus Perth and maybe maybe Adelaide or Canberra?
  • I think Mexican food has run its course, so I'll be thinking of a new food angle.

Open to ideas and suggestions from readers about what director the blog tour could take into the future.

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5 great proverbs on preaching preparation

At the recent Challenge RAW Conference in Hobart, Al Bain shared a great quote from Alistair Begg on preaching preparation:

  • Think yourself empty,
  • Read yourself full,
  • Write yourself clear,
  • Pray yourself hot,
  • Be yourself
  • But don't preach yourself

Have you  heard that before? I reckon it's a very helpful outline. Except the 'pray yourself hot' is a bit odd. Listening to God's word to me gets me much hotter than my feeble words back to God. 

I also think his 'be yourself but don't preach yourself' is a much more helpful maxim than the mildly anti-human lyric from 'May The Mind of Christ' song:

And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him.

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A personal history in books 2: L’Etranger

I read this in Grade 12 French. That was actually also the same year that I became a Christian. I don't think we actually read it in class. I think I just found it in a storage cupboard. Pity. Grade 12 French would've been better if we read more literature.

It's a bleak, hollow book. The existentialist man is just kind of permanently stoned, wandering around disengaged, disenchanted and dull. He objectively observes swimming, his dead mother, annoying bright sunlight, killing an Arab. 

Although super-famous,'The Outsider' never really grabbed me. Much later I read La Nausee by Sartre, and that grabbed me much more. I think the conceit of the apathetic modernist man can make for great novels and films. But it can also be implausible and dumb. For me, The Outsider is the latter.

I kept the Elizabeth College copy of the book and several years later, through pangs of earnest young Christian conscience, I resolved to sell most of my books (to free myself up from worldly clutter) and return those books that belonged to others.

So I met with my former French teacher, Maria Giudici, and told her I'd become a Christian and offered the book back. She said I should just keep it. So I did.

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Helping parents of young kids engage with night sessions at church camp

I heard a cool idea that Hunter Bible Church tried at their church camp this year, to help parents engage in night sessions at their church camp:

  • Put a sheet on each accommodation door with names and ages of sleeping kids, plus mobile number of a parent;
  • Have a roster of 2 roving people who walk between rooms and listen out for any crying/waking kids - then text/call parents.

I thought it was a cool system, that lessens the number of people absent from evening sessions of church camps.

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A personal history in books 1: A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man

I found this on my parent's bookshelf when I was 15. It belonged to my Mum. From the first page I realised this was the kind of book I wanted to read. And so began a love of modernist fiction. My Mum died about a year later, and so this copy is a special token for me, who keeps little memorabilia.

I love the vivid soup of stream of conscious writing. I love the way it captures childhood and adolescence. I love traveling to a this smoky world of turn of the century Ireland.

There is a shockingly vivid and awful (in both senses of the word) Roman Catholic sermon on 5 senses' experience in Hell. There is a striking description of sexual awakening. There is a sustained, pretentious philosophical discussion of aesthetics.

It's a winner. And it won me over to James Joyce. I have since read Dubliners, Ulysses and Finegans Wake.

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Mirrors 11th September 2015

1. Why we fail at family devotions. How are you going in this area?

2. 9 things to consider for church staff meetings.

3. Tim Chester's post on 'Why I Don't Do Evangelism' really resonated with me.

4. Don Carson gives some theological insights to Christian ministry and then applies it in a few ways. Good stuff.

5. Some Uni Fellowship students/alumni have started a podcast, and gotten a show on the local Christian radio station. In this episode they have some good stuff to say about church music.

6. Gavin Ortlund goes beyond the standard blog post type advice on preaching. The item on illustrations is especially rich.

7. I like this diagram about what makes someone resilience, by Beyond Blue. This is a Facebook link because I couldn't find it on their website. It doesn't capture the spiritual side of things, but it's good as far as it goes.

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Caring for the chronically and severely ill in the church

I don't have an answer to this one. But I know of wise commenters who know a lot about this from experience: from living through it, from minister to others, from being let down, and from being lifted up.

So please do comment on the blog or on the Facebook Page. I might ask you for permission to post your comments in a follow up post, too - so if you are happy with that, you could maybe put an asterisk in your comment? :-)

A couple of thoughts though:

1. We could do better. Those who don't fit the model of the 'normal', the 'happy', the 'healthy', the 'ministry candidate' often get overlooked, undervalued, disenfranchised. We need to talk about people bearing up under difficult illness, honour them, pray for them, apply the Scriptures to them in our public teaching.

2. We can't fix it. Those experiencing serious illness suffer in a whole range of ways. Their experience is, among other things, one of pain and grief. One day Christ will return, restore their bodies and wipe away every tear. But now things will be hard. The church might not be able to take that pain away. The suffering person might experience all sorts of pain as a part of their Christian life and church life that can't be fully removed.

3. Try to love the chronically ill the way you love the critically ill. What things do we do for short term emergencies and disasters? Which of those can reasonably be done on occasion for those who are chronnically ill? I know of a couple where one had chornic fatigue. They hear of another person who got chronic fatigue and sent them flowers.

4. It is hard to care for people outside of the normal routines of life. We will always find it easier to do things and love people that fit into our normal routines of life. To love people who are out of our way is very dfificult for people with full lives. This has all sorts of implications:

  • The church needs to work hard to build in new routines and structures to make it easier to consistently care for people.
  • Those who are ill would do well to try wherever possible to fit into regular structures and rhythms.
  • Relying on spontaneous love is mostly unrealistic - 

5. Figure out what things should be done by church leaders and what things by church members.

  • It will be hard for church staff and leaders to meet all the needs of the sick in the church.
  • Set up systems of loving care in the church, so that those who are ill are regularly cared for practically and spiritually.
  • Realise that this 'counts' as church love.
  • Realise that at the same time, the symbolic love from the minister or the elders is still important and powerful, even if less regular.

6. Use a range of media - from physical visits, to emails, letters, gifts, practical help. Think about how you can share more of the weekly church gathering than just the sermon podcast.

7. Remember to support family and carers. Even when we do a great job of loving the sick person, we can forget to support the family and carers. Carer for the severely ill can take an enormous toll in terms of depression, loss, loneliness, fatigue, anxiety, financial pressure and a sense of feeling trapped.

8. Consider how the church building serves those who are ill. What is entry access and disability parking like? Are there places where someone can sit in a quiet? Are there places where someone could lie down if they needed to?

9. Work hard to understand. Ask questions. Be slow to judge. Be patient with 'good days' and 'bad days' and last minute cancellations. Check often to see what will actually be helpful.

10. Keep your promises. Don't talk big and then fail to deliver. Better to offer a little bit and actually follow up on it. In the slow pace of serious illness, disappointements can sometimes stand very tall.

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Growing your church up Part 5: From individualised care to general paths of care

Everyone is an individual and should be cared for uniquely, sensitively and genuinely.

But as churches get bigger and older, the ability to consistently care for anyone at all becomes less. And people can just get lost in the larger church organisation, even if they are being loved by a few people.

And so in addition to the ongoing need for a culture of personal care, systems need to be in place to care for everyone as best as we are able to, in general ways.

Of course this will never be perfect, and it will let people down. And of course we must be willing to allow exceptions to the rule, so that we can treat people as they are, rather than forcing them into a sausage machine.

But strangely, sometimes, in some ways, people are also cared for better by knowing the general path for care. Sometimes its easier to know how to get involved in a community when there are some clear courses or information systems. Sometimes you finally get around to serving in a ministry when there is a structure for helping you do so.

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Mirrors 4th September 2015

1. This piece explores how we are in this weird point in history, where the rhetoric about straight marriage is "Get free from the suffocating confines of monogamy" while the rhetoric about gay marriage is "Eagerly desire marriage".

2. Nathan Campbell quotes from a book that argues that a great need our culture has is to find a good place for intimate friendships that are not sexualised.

3. Does "nature" even exist? is it a helpful category for thinking about the environment? From ABC Hobart local radio.

4. Mick Fanning's sponsors failed by being noticed. It's a funny thing, isn't it, making promotions work properly?

5. There was lots of really helpful stuff for me in this podcast about staying fresh and joyful as a leader over the long haul.

6. Key Performance Indicators are really helpful measures to include in business or church, I think. They just help you stretch, assess, and set expectations. But as a tool for deciding on financial rewards, unless we are very careful about it I agree with Ross Gittins, that is dumb.

7. Signs your success has outgrown your character.

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Email Ninja: A great online training course on the basics of email use

These Tassie guys have pulled together a great online training resource for people wanting to equip their staff, volunteers or workplace in the basic best practices of email use: Email Ninja.

The videos are beautiful, short, clear and right.

If you are personally in an email hell, or you work on a team with toxic email habits, this is well worth the money!

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What territorialism and tribalism look like can depend on context

I was talking with a Christian university student originally from the US about territorialism. 

At his university there are many many Christian groups and churches that respect each other and welcome each other's invovlement on campus. To do otherwise would be awfully territorial and tribal. Rather, because Christ is preached, they should rejoice.

But he was commenting on how here in Australia he often hears people be protective about particular mission fields in a territorial or tribal, as if they own this or that mission field. This seems so bad, he thought. Surely the more people preaching the gospel the better?

I agreed with him that a desperate, small-minded territorialism can be a problem in Australia. We guard our universities or our parishes from outside interference. "If anyone is going to fail to reach this area," we say. "It'll be us and us alone!".

And yet I tried to help him see that that's not the full story. In times of leaner harvest, when getting gospel ministry going is slower and harder, we can also rightly see that new minsitries could disrupt the momentum we've just gathered, divide the small teams we'e managed to recruit. Sometimes the desire to build critical mass among one ministry might be the best desire in a context of harder soil.

I suggested that in such situations, the tribal, territorial thing might be the new, 'competing' group remaining insistent on its own brand. Rather than pushing to plant the flag of its own tribe in the new 'territory', it might be better to instead join forces with the existing one.

So those genuinely keen to reach a uni campus may abandon the AFES brand and link arms with Student Life, if they are already doing a good work. The person keen to reach a particular town might abandon the decision to plant a church and first join forces with an existing Baptist Church that is just getting things moving.

There's no simple answers to such questions, is there?

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A couple of tentative thoughts about gender identity and Christianity

A few people have raised issues of gender dysphoria with me in the last few months on a theoretical level: 'What do you think about it?' 'Will we be someohw less-gendered in heaven?' 'Could you please blog about aliens? Or gender dysphoria?'

I THINK I have only known one person with gender dysphoria. We met outside a cafe one day and proceeded to catch up semi-regularly for a few months.

I am not super well-read in this area, and am keen to learn from others out there on their thoughts and experiences. But here are a couple of things I can think of upon reflection on Scripture and the little I have read/heard.

A couple of Bible thoughts:

  1. Humanity is fundamentally gendered in the Bible. We are men and women. Cross-dressing is condemned in the book of Deuteronomy and 1Corinthians. The normal and good nature of human createdness by God's intention, then, is that there is a fixity in our gender that aligns with our biological sex.
  2. Gender is not the only thing that defines us - our nature as God's image bearers and our oneness in Christ are greater realities.
  3. Gender, marriage and procreation all go together. In a sense even a single person is a potentially-married person. Even an infertile couple is a 'could have otherwise been fertile' couple. The teaching of Christ that there will be no marriage in the new creation, presumably means that gender is relatively less significant to human experience and relationships in the new creation.
  4. The Bible acknowledges the category of eunuch (whether for the kingdom, by birth or by the hands of people) - and so there is a category for a human experience that is less-than-fully-gendered. And so the category of androgyny is easier to find in the Bible than transsexualism/genderism.
  5. There is no evidence I can think of in the Scripture that justifies us as thinking that gender should be primarily defined by how we feel, or the state of our hormones or brain chemistry. Of course that is all very anachronistic for me to say, anyway.

A couple of more practical reflections:

  1. The experience of gender dysphoria, not to mention other conditions of the sex organs, is extremely rare. In that sense this is an intense issue for a few, not a major issue for many.
  2. I want to gently suggest that this experience is, from the point of view of God's creative intent, abnormal. As a result the experience of dissonance, confusion and hurt is a sad reality of people who do experience it. There needs to be love, acceptance, comfort and kindness shown to people living with these experiences.
  3. Not all experiences in this life, whether experiences of gender, sexual orientation or other things entirely, can be or need to be comfortably resolved. We need to also have the categories and imagination and tools to live with dissonance and struggle throughout our lives. Seeking to resolve irresolveable things through acceptance may not actually make things better anyway.
  4. As a matter of courtesy, I would address someone according to their chosen pronoun. I would not necessarily extend to them every other preferred treatment according to their chosen gender - with regard to sleeping or bathroom arrangements... that's trickier!
  5. When it comes to giving counsel to someone wrestling with these experiences, I think a stronger case can be made for someone choosing to think and live as a modern-day equivalent of a eunuch, than to change their lived gender from their biological gender.
  6. I do question the assumption that is often made that the gender a person feels that they are should be the most essential and defining thing about how their gender is contructed. It seems that biological sex is often downplayed in favour or hormones, brain chemistry or personal experience and self-identification. I am not sure why this should be so. Is biological sex a minor thing? What good reason do we have to not make it determinative?

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Growing your church up Part 4: From no reports to verbal reports to written reports

Early on in the life of a ministry things can be sort of dreamt and worried into existence. Motivation, necessity and initiative are often in full supply, and administrative structure is minimal - so things just kind of happen.

Slowly the need to keep track of what's going on is felt, and reports get requested. But these are at first very relational. We invite someone to come to the leadership team to report in person, or we meet with the person over a cup of coffee and talk things through. 

This is lovely and personal and relational. There is much to commend it. But there reaches a point where it becomes destructively inefficient. Leaders meetings can drag on too long, because we feel that once we have invited someone to come and share, it would be rude not to devote a good 30 minutes to chat and pray with them. Or leaders get burdened with so many relational check-in cups of coffee.

In other words, this face to face, verbal report may be wonderfully 'pastoral' and loving to the person giving the report. But they can start to kill the leaders receiving the reports.

Another problem with them is that they make it much harder for leaders to ask hard questions and make hard decisions about the content of the reports. The report is a relational check in with the person, not a careful assessment of the progress of the ministry, with wise accountability. 

From verbal to written reports

At some point it becomes healthy to move from verbal reports to written reports. This is a jarring change:

  • People doing ministry suddenly have to 'do paperwork'.
  • Intuitive leaders and informal ministries have to start giving specific details.
  • Team leaders have to get used to communicating with the leaders above them in a more formal manner.

It is also a change for how leadership team meetings are run:

  • From long, chatty meetings full of discussion, to more formal meetings with a distinct purpose: to communicate, make decisions and build relationships among the team members themselves.
  • From reading out every report at length, to only discussing requests or concerns.
  • From just 'hearing from' other people doing ministry, to giving energy to how to better support them and better hold them to account.

It takes a bit of adjusting, but as long as it is done gently, lovingly and sensibly it is a change that is possible. And actually frees up both those doing ministry and those overseeing the whole ministry from time spent in meetings, to actually do real relational stuff!

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Growing your church up Part 3: Separate the MC from the Stage Manager and Program Planner

I've noticed that in small conferences and ministries, the MC is EITHER an after-thought job by someone who doesn't prepare at all OR they are the person responsible for the whole event, and part of that responsibility is MCing.

But planning the program is a very distinct thing from implementing that program. And the public work of leading that program is another thing again.

Doing events really well - even running Sunday church services, means separate out the Stage Manager and Program Planner from the MC:

This helps us focus on the MC making the up-front stuff flow. They, like the preacher or the band leader, are focused on what they will actually do publicly. Their nervous energy and focus can be given over to that. 

This helps us focus on recruiting MCs who will be best for this role. The best MCs might not be the most reliable and organised to run the whole event. They might not be the most theologically sharp to plan the detailed flow of the service. Or they might be busy people who don't want to say Yes to all that stuff.

This also helps us have a single person whose entire focus is the conception and planning of the event. This  Program Planner thinks and writes the program and then invites people to be involved, finalising the details along the way.

And then once the program is written, the Stage Manager takes that plan and implements it - writing detailed run sheets and oversees everybody. The Stage Manager also communicates with the sound, lights, powerpoint, music - as well as with the 'Front of House' people (ushers, greeters, catering etc). 

Because the Stage Manager is not MCing, they can be concentrating on this the entire event, even advising the MC as incidentals change.

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How to help someone build their capacity - ideas from Simone and two Craigs

Sandy Grant asked on Facebook for advice on how to help build people's capacity. Among many suggestions, I liked the ideas from Simone Richardson, Craig Schwarze and Craig Hamilton, which I repost here, with permission:

Simone's advice: resilience and self-talk

In my experience, personal resilience is a big thing with capacity. And understanding that the way that you (think you) feel doesn't need to impact how you act.

.... A few things that I've noticed that are killers to a person's capacity:

1. not being good at putting the past behind you so wallowing in regret over past failures or perceived failures or injustices or perceived injustices (I wrote this partly about this issue),

2. unhelpful negative and absolutising self-talk ("I slept so badly last night, I'm never going to be able to work properly today")

3. Being in the hopelessness rut where you think that nothing you do will have a positive impact on outcomes.

4. Not being okay in yourself about the things that are outside of your capacity. (There are 100+ women in my church. I speak personally into the lives of maybe 5 of them. I minister to the others indirectly through my kids talks, an occasional preaching gig, chats here and there and through the songs I choose for our church to sing. I'm not Jesus. I'm at capacity. I have to be okay with this or I'll fall apart.)

Craig Schwarze's advice: if motivation and competence are fine, then remove distractions

In my experience, if someone has competence and motivation, then it's usually external factors that are restraining capacity. 

In my field of software development, one of the major reasons people don't hit deadlines is due to interruptions. Sadly, these very often come from their managers! 

Are you giving your staff chunky tasks to do, then treating them like PAs by peppering them with minutiae throughout the day? A lot of my work as a leader is in creating "clear space" for someone to achieve in. That is costly and difficult. But I see remarkable results when I clear away the distractions.

Now, if the person is distraction free and is still not performing to your expected level, then there is very likely either a competence problem or a motivation problem. Are they really motivated? Do they really have the skills they need? Time for some soul searching.

Craig Hamilton's advice: various ways to help people think and learn to be more effective

Great question. This is probably one of the main things I spend my time doing. My goal is to raise up volunteers to lead at a staff level (for us that means people who can lead teams of teams). 

Sometimes capacity issues are external (like sickness, new baby, family obligations) and to some degree capacity is seasonal. But I’m assuming you’re thinking people where those constraints are absent.

Here’s some thoughts, in order of simple/ elementary concepts to what I consider higher-order capacity building. That is I’m probably doing all of these at once but in some ways they build on each other:

1. Urgent/ important matrix

Just helping people come to grips with the distinction between urgent and important is profound. When people understand that doing important things now lessens the amount of urgent things later can be a bit of a watershed. Also having the team understand that just because it’s urgent for you doesn’t make it important for me helps people with the ability to say “no”, which seems to be an issue that slows a lot of great people down.

2. Rolling 6 weeks

People aren’t that good at seeing the big picture, they quickly get sucked into the details (at least the people I work with do). So just helping them with rudimentary planning seems effective. I teach them a rolling 6 week calendar. Get a whiteboard, divide it into 6 squares, each square is an upcoming week, put the date each week starts in each box and underline the current week. Write in the big rocks - the events, appointments and due dates for each week. If there are things due in week 6 you might put a start date in an early week. As each week passes rub it out and in it’s place write the upcoming week (which will be 6 weeks away) in the box and fill in the details. Underline the current week.

This helps people see around the corner and pace themselves and get more done because they’re aware.

3. 1-2-3

In all my meetings we’ll always talk through briefly and write down a 1-2-3 for each person. 1 is one high impact task that if that’s all you did in the next period it would have the most impact and get the most done. 2 is two problems or blockages that you’re currently facing (and the implication is ‘that we might be able to help you with’). And the 3 is the three next concrete steps you need to take, write that email, make that call, find that bible passage, have that conversation etc.

Sometimes what someone thinks is the high impact task isn’t, and I’ll redirect them to what is actually what they need to tackle.

Again this helps people change how they think, from busyness and mindless doing to effectiveness and closing that execution gap between what we plan and say and what actually ends up happening. 

4. Peer-group pressure

If there’s a particular area that I want someone to grow in capacity in I’ll try and get them to spend time with someone else who is good at it, or has more capacity than them. Whether it’s someone from another church or context or ministry. In a lot of ways growing in capacity is about spending time with high capacity people. In a lot of ways capacity is about social norms in that if you spend a lot of time around lazy, ineffective people who don’t do much there’s a good chance you’ll become like them.

5. Focussed energy projects

I get people to think: over the next term what are the 6 areas in your responsibility/ life that you can see if you poured a bit of focused energy there it would have greater benefit than usual? Is there a person, a team, a project, that would benefit from some focused energy. Write those down and diary in some time to put some energy there.

6. Task forces

This is my favourite. If I’ve got someone I’m building up to be a high-level leader, to think strategically and more holistically, someone who could lead over a higher area, when I gather an ad-hoc team to tackle a big problem, or plan a bigger event or whatever, I’ll invite the up-and-comer to that team. Having them rub shoulders with people a level or two ahead of them, be involved in those higher-level conversations, even take on some responsibilities at that level that have consequences if they drop the ball, all that is so impactful and in my opinion is the best way to build capacity and bring people to that next level as a leader. They feel that responsibility, the trust you have given them by inviting them and the self-designation that comes along with that is a powerful internal motivator.

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Growing your church up Part 2: Communication is not the job of the secretary

As a group gets bigger and older, it's hard to communicate sufficiently with everyone in informal ways. Communication needs to be more constant, deliberate, thorough and consistent.

Also, as a group gets bigger and older, vision leaks quicker. You can't assume that people just absorb it from the tight-knit group - it needs to be spelled out regularly. And so communication needs to be richer and more full of the reasoning behind things and the goals for things.

And so that means we need to stop thinking of communication as a 'mere admin' job. Disparaging administration is a great unfairnesss to administrators. But the point is, pastors and leaders must stop thinking of communication as a 'routine', 'secetarial', 'unimportant' thing.

Communication is a big deal. Getting communication right is important. And so leaders need to be more involved and engaged with things like bulletins, announcements, websites, Facebook Pages and promotions.

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Collaborative software and cloud sharing is mostly useless for collaboration

Leaders are often inspirers. And so bright shiny toys get leaders excited. The promise of what a new piece of software, a new webtool, a new gadget can do! O, the possibilities!

And so Facebook Groups and Google Drives and Dropboxes and Evernotes and intranets and Task Management software get used in the hope that we will be able to better plan our services, streamline our committees, better manage our conference, better collaborate in REAL TIME. Remember Google Wave?

But collaborative software is mostly useless for collaboration.


  1. Any effective collaboration still needs a clear leader/facilitator. Collaborative tools often blind us to this need, so we either have aimless projects that run out of steam, or really one person is doing most of the work, it just happens to be online.
  2. There will always be a significant percentage of people who won't log into the tool. They won't read the notifications. They won't comment in the shared google doc. So it hasn't actually made collaboration easy for the whole group. That will required either extra time, enforcing and training. Or multiple methods of communication.
  3. These tools, although seeming intituitive, always have frustrating quirks. I remember years ago deleting the entire DropBox content of Redeemer City To City's incubator, when I was just trying to remove my local copy. User-friendly is never entirely user friendly to every user, even if the software uses colloquial turns of phrase and has lots of white space in its UI.
  4. Although shared drives in theory avoid the duplication of documents, in practice they end up with duplicated because the drive folders still need curating and tidying and merging. Before you know it you'll have 'Timetable Sunday Franks Notes_DRAFT' and 'Sunday Timetable Frank V2' and 'timetable FINAL notes'.
  5. Collaboration can promote pointless iteration - everyone adds, changes, edits, shitfts, suggests, emails, cuts, pastes. Sometimes one 'point man' who requests and collates data is just cleaner and quicker.
  6. Live shared docs still get accessed at certain times and only rarely get used while still live. They tend to get downloaded or printed. This requires clarity on cut off dates for additions and edits.

Look, this stuff has its place. But largely to enhance good disciplines of project management and collaboration. Without those disciplines in place it is all just a fast, high-tech version of sticky notes.

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Growing your church up Part 1: Move from rosters to teams

As churches and ministries grow older in age, and especially when they grow out in size, changes need to be made to the way they do things.

Some of these things are practical necessities, they just get forced upon you and you have to do it.

But some of them are strategic necessities: you can get away without doing them, but if you do, it's possible that this will reduce the depth, and quality and impact of your ministry. And it's also possible that it might therefore stifle your ability to welcome, engage, edify and train more people. 

So I thought I'd do a little series on a few.

Not Teams But Rosters

There's a good place for rosters. They are efficient and simple and obvious. They engage everyone in doing a little bit so that a lot gets done.

But rosters can be lazy: They stop us from building teams, recruiting people to the vision of that team.

And so rosters can be limiting: They mean we never build groups of specialists who really own their area of ministry and develop it.

Rosters can also simply be wasteful: is it the best use of all these people's time and energy to do all these jobs? Are there a smaller group of people who do it better, quicker and more joyfully? Or are there people who could be paid to do it for us, freeing everyone up to do different things?

So part of growing your church up might be developing an aversion to the 'simple' roster-solution. 'Let's just all muck in and do the job', shifts to 'Who's the best person to get this done?'

It might even be helpful to start thinking of rostering as a 'last resort', to force the discipline and creativity to think of other solutions.

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Mirrors 24th July 2015

1. The Atlantic writes on the rise of women in the workforce, the apparent strength of female workers in the new economy, the struggle of blue collar workers to retrain for the 'pink collar' sector, and the reality that there are now several tiers of the female workforce - women doing childcare and housework to free up professional women. 

2. Andrew Heard interviewed on local radio about Same Sex Marriage.

3. A blog that gives everyday examples of how to be more emotionally mature.

4. The economic cost of hipster gentrification.

5. What makes a woman? The intriguing cultural clash between feminists and transgeder activists.

6. An excellent lecture by Sandy Grant on Same Sex Marriage, with Q&A. I have a lot of time for Sandy - he is intelligent, careful, humble and sympathetic.

7. Steve Kryger is convinced that pop-up web advertising works. But he removed it from his site because he became convicted that it was not in line with a gospel ethic. 

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Different legitimate sermons from the same passage

I preached at a church a few weeks ago and a friend, who was also a preacher, happened to be in the congregation. He kindly offered to give me feedback, which I was eager to receive.

All his comments were good, and got me thinking and reflecting on which ones to take on board and how.

One bit of feedback particularly got me thinking - he suggested an inadequacy in my sermon and proceeded to suggest how I could have remedied that inadequacy: 

'The sermon is addressing the problem of fear. WHY are people afraid? How does this passage address that fear?...'

He proceeded to sketch out a very admirable 3 point sermon along these lines. It would have been great to listen to as a full sermon.

Afterwards I reflected on this feedback - would I now preach my sermon differently? Ultimately I concluded, this particular point was really suggesting an entirely different, and equally legitimate sermon. So while I might adjust my existing sermon a little to include a bit more of this angle, to really do it justice would be to write and preach a different sermon. And in so doing, many of the benefits of my existing sermon would be lost!

There are many different sermons that can be preached from one passage. Slightly different angles, emphases, applications:

  • Spiritual psychology - getting under the skin of why we fear, or how we repent, or what worship looks like.
  • Stirring the imagination - rich illustrations, stories and appeals, which awaken our imagination to interact with the teaching of Scripture.
  • Learning and memory - an emphasis on 'big ideas', catchy headings and neat summaries to ensure our listeners can repeat what the 'sermon was about' straight afterwards.
  • Extensive application - lots of time and focus on spelling out application and calling for those actions.
  • Doctrinal depth - dealing with all the doctrinal points the passage touches on, and unpacking them at length.
  • Exegetical commentary - big focus on context, structure, argument flow and points of difficulty related to translation/grammar/logic.

Each of us have preferences for some of these particular angles. 

But we need to realise no one is always superior to the others. And perhaps we need to branch into some of the others to better round out our ministry.

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