A few quibbles with Piper’s ‘Christian Hedonism’

I'm working on a footnote where I want to say a few quick things about John Piper's 'Christian Hedonism'. I feel like many people appreciated Desiring God for showing us that it's a good thing to enjoy God and all his good gifts— that this actually glorifies God as well. But I don't know how many people were fully brought on board with Piper's full system.

Here are a few quick quibbles I could think of with the 'Christian Hedonism' system as I understand it. Have I got it right? What would you add? What would you clarify... or disagree with?

 

  1. I am unconvinced that we are commanded to rejoice, I would rather say we are exhorted to rejoice. A very in the imperative mood is not necessarily a command.
  2. I don't think it is true to say that 'we glorify God by enjoying him'. While our joy in God does glorify him, this is not the overarching category for how we glorify him: we also glorify him by obeying him and relying up on him and so on.
  3. I disagree with the idea that the one overarching impulse for human activity is 'seeking joy'. Seeking to do the right thing can't easily be collapsed into that. Joy is the wonderful benefit of the Christian life, rather than its primary goal.
  4. I am troubled by the claim that we can only please God if we pursue joy. We can please God even if we do not experience of joy from time to time, or focus on the pursuit of joy in a particular act.

  5. While the term 'hedonism' is used to be helpfully provocative, I think it is more offputting than illuminating.


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Recruiting for Ministry: from jobs in church to full-time ministry

Across Australia there’s lots of thinking and praying about recruiting for ministry. We are trying to find new pastors for vacant churches, new people to join staff teams, young people to do MTS apprenticeships, new elders for our churches and new people to help with music or creche or small group leadership.

Recruiting for ministry has to be more than public announcements and reactive recruitment. Public announcements can raise general awareness about ministry needs and occasionally flushing out keen volunteers, but it often doesn’t work. It can create the impression that we are always desperate to push people into ministry, recruiting out of guilt and neediness, rather than raising people up and drawing them to a vision.

Reactive recruitment relies on people to stick up their hands and put themselves forward. Once they have volunteered themselves, we then plug them in. This severely limits the amount of people we will bring into ministry, because most won’t necessarily volunteer. We might also end up putting people into ministry who are unsuitable, since we are relying on their own willingness rather than their actual giftedness.

A more satisfactory ministry recruitment plan is much more holistic, much more bound up with our discipleship work, and ultimately much more fruitful. The same principles apply equally well, whether we are recruiting new pastors, new elders or new Sunday school teachers. Here are some basic elements of proactive ministry recruitment:

1. Teach and proclaim the vision of the gospel.

As we do the basic work of teaching and preaching the Scriptures as they reveal Christ to us, people are led to repent from their sins and depend upon Christ alone. We are compelled by our love of God to live for him and our vision of the world around us and the times we live in are shaped by God’s word. A motivation for ministry comes from us ‘getting’ the gospel.

2. Raise awareness of ministry opportunities.

We shouldn’t wait until there is a gap for us to raise awareness of ministry opportunities. Churches should think of ways to share how people are serving the gospel: ‘ministry spotlights’ during the church meeting, a ‘ministry expo’ after the church meeting, little testimonies in the bulletin and so on. At a broader level, we need to think about ways to raise awareness of ministry in our region or ministry niche, to help in recruiting people from elsewhere to come and work among us.

3. Invest in individual spiritual maturity.

Recruiting people for volunteer roles, MTS apprenticeships and staff roles flow naturally out of investing in people’s spiritual maturity. As we disciple people in preaching, small groups and one to one, we help them grow in obedience and commitment to serve God in ministry. It is a good idea for staff to set a recurring task to ‘scan the roll’ and think about how to help members of their church grow in Christ and become active in ministry.

4. Make use of events.

Events don’t do all the work for us, but they are one piece of the puzzle. A range of events can help speed up the recruiting process: ministry expos, training courses, Challenge Conferences, MTS Dinners. In the same way, with recruiting staff, it can be worthwhile to visit Bible Colleges and conferences to speak about needs in your area.

5. Ministry prospectus and job descriptions.

Basic summaries of the purpose and nature of your ministries can help people better see what needs to be done and why it is important. So also job descriptions can make roles seem more clear and concrete. Spelling out the details of purpose, vision, function and expectations make the role more ‘real’ and also help in overcoming objections people might have.

6. Personal recruitment, orientation and commitment.

You will struggle if you rely on drawing people into ministry from afar. You need to get up close, personally inviting people into ministry roles - actually looking them in the eye and asking the question. Orientation is also very helpful. As Al Stewart says, ‘If you let people play with the puppy, they are much more likely to want to take it home’. It’s worth the expense to fly potential staff down to see things first hand, or give a trial period to potential kids ministry leaders. But don’t leave the edges vague, especially with volunteers. There needs to be a point when people make a definite commitment one way or the other.

7. Ongoing training, encouragement, coaching, and review.

Of course recruitment doesn’t end when someone ‘signs on the dotted line’ - we need to keep investing in people by providing the training and resources they need; the relationship and community to encourage them; the coaching to get better and the regular reviews to help them see progress and plan ahead. This both helps people grow in their existing roles, but also creates a positive ministry culture: people want to get involved in ministry with you!



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Mirrors 12th May 2017

  1. Should we make our 'public' website entirely for the new visitor? Personally, as a visitor, I like to get a bit of grit and vibe of the actual community. I find overly polished ‘pitched’ websites annoying.
  2. Fascinating: seems all research says that front page web mag sliders don’t work
  3. Seems to underplay the now/not yet of exile.  Yes Christ ends the exile. But in Revelation we are still in Babylon.
  4. Oldie but a goodie. Remove the final (4th) panel from Peanuts comic strips and they become bleakly existentialist.
  5. New eBook on measuring outcomes in Not For Profits. They provide excellent clarity on what 'outputs' and 'outcomes' are: 'doing what we said we'd do' and 'making a difference'.
  6. Great, brief, but rich papers on a Christian approach to national and international social issues


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Growing past the 100 barrier and why we get stuck

Many of the churches in our Tassie network have plateaued between 100-200 people - and sometimes stayed this way for years. This is often called the ‘200 barrier’ (in practice somewhere between 100 and 200). 

The reason for this plateua has got to do with a bottleneck in the life and shape of the church. The capacity for the church to engage and incorporate and adjust to new people is geting seized up by a whole bunch of little things. And all sorts of signals are being sent to visitors and existing members which makes it hard to grow.

This is what people mean when they talk about ‘growth barriers’ - points where churches tend to plateau - they might grow for a season, but then oddly shrink back to roughly the same size. Because there are whole bunch of things that cause these growth barriers, they can’t be fixed simply by improving this or that program. A much larger change has to take place.

So how do we make progress with this ‘200 barrier’? How do we get past this 100-200 people point? To get past this particular ‘barrier’ is often the hardest of all, because it requires the church to change BOTH its leadership style AND its community life at once. Books, articles and lectures I’ve come across suggest the following things:

1. Vision and prayer

Setting a vision for growth is crucial if we and our leaders and our people are going to be motivated to make costly changes. And deep, kingdom-centred prayerfulness, that repents earnestly and looks beyond our immediate needs to ask bigger and bolder things of God is the kind of thing a truly gospel vision produces.

2. Volunteer leaders and leaders of leaders

The change in leadership that is needed for a church to grow, is the change from a paid leader and a bunch of pro-active volunteers muddling along together to a growing team of leaders and even leaders of leaders, some paid, but most volunteers. The more people are engaged in serious ministry, the more people can be engaged, incorporated, disipled and empowered. And to recruit and sustain more people ministering, you need more leaders of leaders to recruit, oversee and coach them well.

This means doubling or tripling the number of people we want in ministry, and doubling or tripling the number of people who have a significant role in recruiting, overseeing and coaching those in ministry. In other words make leadership development a high priority!

3. Act like a chuch of 200-300

It’s silly and pointless to pretend you are a church of 1000 people if you only have 85. But it is do-able to learn some habits and values of a church twice your size. Often the regulars at your church think of it as smaller than it is, whereas visitors come expecting more from you - as an already-biggish congregation.

So reading, visiting, and learning from just-slightly-larger churches can be helpful: how do they do things up the front on a Sunday? How do they communicate with the congregation? How do the do ministry?

4. Multiply ministry and multiply ministry staff

Last of all, most of the stuff about breaking the so-called ‘200 barrier’ talks about breaking out of the mould of being one single comunity with one main leader. Instead multiply leaders and multiply ministries.

This might mean working hard to gather the resources to appoint a second full-time senior pastor. The ministry capacity another gifted and trained pastor can bring is massive. It will be a financial stretch that will require some persuasion and maybe some creativity - but it’s the last time your budget will have to basically-double because of adding a single staff member!

This might also mean adding a second Sunday service - something I have written about in a previous newsletter - another way to open up the church to more people and more ministry opportunities.

Or it might simply mean being much more pro-active in growing the other ministries of the church - how to multiply more growth groups? More avenues for training, socialising and evangelism? How to grow the shape of the Sunday school and youth ministries?

Summary

This is hard work, and involves big changes and a new ways of doing church and leading in ministry. No wonder it’s hard for us to get past. But I really want to encourage us to do some talking, thinking, reading and praying about how we could remove unnecessary human barriers to our existing churches being even more fruitul for the gospel.



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If we fail to guard Christian liberty we undermine Christian joy in God’s good gifts

A great and insightful bit of pastoral theology from John Calvin:

In the present day many think us absurd in raising a question as to the free eating of flesh, the free use of dress and holidays, and similar frivolous trifles, as they think them; but they are of more importance than is commonly supposed. For when once the conscience is entangled in the net, it enters a long and inextricable labyrinth, from which it is afterwards most difficult to escape. When a man begins to doubt whether it is lawful for him to use linen for sheets, shirts, napkins, and handkerchiefs, he will not long be secure as to hemp, and will at last have doubts as to tow; for he will revolve in his mind whether he cannot sup without napkins, or dispense with handkerchiefs. Should he deem a daintier food unlawful, he will afterwards feel uneasy for using loafbread and common eatables, because he will think that his body might possibly be supported on a still meaner food. If he hesitates as to a more genial wine, he will scarcely drink the worst with a good conscience; at last he will not dare to touch water if more than 2135usually sweet and pure. In fine, he will come to this, that he will deem it criminal to trample on a straw lying in his way.For it is no trivial dispute that is here commenced, the point in debate being, whether the use of this thing or that is in accordance with the divine will, which ought to take precedence of all our acts and counsels. Here some must by despair be hurried into an abyss, while others, despising God and casting off his fear, will not be able to make a way for themselves without ruin. When men are involved in such doubts whatever be the direction in which they turn, every thing they see must offend their conscience.
(Institutes, 3.19.7)

He then goes onto to describe how Christian liberty, should always be guided and directed by love and self-discipline and modesty:

For there is scarcely any one whose means allow him to live sumptuously, who does not delight in feasting, and dress, and the luxurious grandeur of his house, who wishes not to surpass his neighbor in every kind of delicacy, and does not plume himself amazingly on his splendor. And all these things are defended under the pretext of Christian liberty. They say they are things indifferent: I admit it, provided they are used indifferently. But when they are too eagerly longed for, when they are proudly boasted of, when they are indulged in luxurious profusion, things which otherwise were in themselves lawful are certainly defiled by these vices. Paul makes an admirable distinction in regard to things indifferent: “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled” (Tit. 1:15). For why is a woe pronounced upon the rich who have received their consolation? (Luke 6:24), who are full, who laugh now, who “lie upon beds of ivory and stretch themselves upon their couches;” “join house to house,” and “lay field to field;” “and the harp and the viol, the tablet and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts,” (Amos 6:6; Isa. 5:8, 10). Certainly ivory and gold, and riches, are the good creatures of God, permitted, nay destined, by divine providence for the use of man; nor was it ever forbidden to laugh, or to be full, or to add new to old and hereditary possessions, or to be delighted with music, or to drink wine. This is true, but when the means are supplied to roll and wallow in luxury, to intoxicate the mind and soul with present and be always hunting after new pleasures, is very far from a legitimate use of the gifts of God. Let them, therefore, suppress immoderate desire, immoderate profusion, vanity, and arrogance, that they may use the gifts of God purely with a pure conscience. When their mind is brought to this state of soberness, they will be able to regulate the legitimate use. On the other hand, when this moderation is wanting, even plebeian and ordinary delicacies are excessive. For it is a true saying, that a haughty mind often dwells in a coarse and homely garb, while true humility lurks under fine linen and purple. Let every one then live in his own station, poorly or moderately, or in splendor; but let all remember that the nourishment which God gives is for life, not luxury, and let them regard it as the law of Christian liberty, to learn with Paul in whatever state they are, “therewith to be content,” to know “both how to be abased,” and “how to abound,” “to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need,” (Phil. 4:11).

(Institutes, 3.19.9)



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Mirrors 5th May 2017

  1. Please arrive late for Bible study
  2. My article for Gospel Coalition Australia: 1) Be kind 2) Avoid false dichotomies/unfair conflations and 3) talk about the gospel of Jesus Christ. 
  3. Interesting article on the genre and legal conventions of Old Testament.
  4. Five reasons to do an MTS apprenticeship.
  5. For campus ministers in the S. Hemisphere, where ‘December’ is the equivalent of May.
  6. A Christian fundraising dinner manual!
  7. My sermon-lecture on Christian freedom
  8. Helpful podcast discussion on the dignity of secular work. Subscribe to the CCL podcast as well why dontcha?


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Some notes on personal evangelism

At a MTS Day last year, Bernard Cane from Good News Christian Church shared some provocative thoughts about outreach and the reasons why we aren’t me diligent in this area of church ministry (the audio and session notes can be found here).

In this brief article I would like to complement Bernard’s ideas about church-wide connection and promotion with some things I’ve heard, experienced or thought about personal efforts to share the gospel.

1. Look for those who are curious

I’ve noticed the uni students at Uni Fellowship of Christians often talk about this or that classmate who is ‘curious’ about Christianity, or praying that their friends might become more curious. It’s a interesting choice of words and a helpful one.

In Australia many people are either apathetic or hostile to religion and Christianity. We might be able to say a thing or two to prick this apathy or offsest this hostility. But being watchful and prayerful for those who are actually curious about philosophy, religion or Jesus can take the pressure off having to force the issue with those who are less open.

2. Extend invitations, make offers and give opportunities

There are different ways to think about using a public mission event, an evangelistic course or an apologetic book:

- With those I know well and who are curious, I can extend a sincere invitation that they would be my guest at this event. This is the kind of invitation where I actually seek a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ and where I follow up closer to the time.

- With some who I suspect might be open, I might make an offer - this is a lighter kind of invitation. I put the idea before them without expecting a reply and I might not even follow up the invitation. 

- With those I hardly know at all, or who are hostile to Christianity I can be even more gentle still - I think of it as giving an opportunity for a conversation, giving an opportunity to investigate things. In this approach my tone of voice is almost apologetic, acknowledging that it’s a ‘big ask’ and they are welcome to shut it down.

Multiple approaches for multiple contexts help me do something rather than nothing, while also doing the best I appropriately can in any given situation.

3. Personal openness

Sharing the gospel is not just about waiting for theoretical discussions about the meaning of life. It is often sharing insights into our personal experience of being Christian and how it shapes our lives. It may even be sharing the unique challenges and frustrations that come with our faith.

Could I be more open about my life and faith? How might I offer more of myself and my spiritual life in everyday conversation? Am I trying to be too perfect, rather than being honest about the ups and downs of life?

4. Personal prayer and small group prayer

God hears and answers prayer. Since we deeply desire people to be saved we should ask him to make it happen! I have also found that personal and small group prayer for the non-Christian people in my life both makes me more attentive to the oppportunities that come up. And sharing these kinds of prayer points in small group also holds me accountable to make the most of these opportunities!

5. Deliberately make time for people

God made all human beings in his image, and he so loved the world that he sent his only son. And we are to love our brothers and sisters, do good to all and even love our enemies. And as we love people, more opportunities to share the gospel will come our way, because we are having more meaningful contact with people. 

This can express itself in lots of different ways, depending on lots of factors, some of these might be:

  • Don’t look at phone when collecting kids from school, taking lunch break or on the bus - instead make eye contact and be willing to strike up conversation.
  • Be frienldy and conversational with service staff at shops.
  • Look for opportunities to offer practical and emotional support to others, and be willing to accept the same in return.
  • Have drinks and snacks in the fridge, ready to invite people to stick around and chat.
  • Plan a night a week for hospitality.
  • When planning parties and outings, consider inviting those outside church and family circles.

Conclusion

None of these guarantee good opportunities to share the gospel, let alone open responses to the gospel. But they’re a good start, aren’t they? All the best with your prayerful efforts to make the most of every opportunity!



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A few notes on postmodernism

I have been doing an excellent free Open Learning Course by Monash University professor in French studies Christopher Watkin on the topic "Postmodernism and the Bible: Understanding Derrida and Foucault". Great to have this kind of Christian academic thinking happening in Australia!

Here are a string of half-thoughts that I've tweeted out as I've gone through the course material:

  1. People with complex & impenetrable theological theories say "You haven't  understood me properly." This seems like a kind of gaslighting: They say one thing, then deny they meant it and call you foolish.... until eventually you doubt your own mind and submit to them.
  2. Pondering the irony of how structuralism/post-structuralism removed confidence in language... but boosted confidence in knowing motives/fantasies of speakers.
  3. Derrida asserts that a philosophy of ‘diffĂ©rance’ is not a ‘negative theology’. I’m not convinced. Seems like it to me.
  4. A Christian philosopher's summary of Derrida's ethics. He doesn't say 'It's all relative'
  5. From my lecturer: the ethics of Derrida & Levinas is seeking how a philosophy without God can make sure the Holocaust can never happen again.
  6. The irony of postmodern politics: You accept that hidden power structures shape society beyond conscious human intention... so then you try to police those hidden power structures with conscious human intention.


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Mirrors 28th April 2017

  1. The management feedback model gone toxic
  2. In their typical world-weary way, @firstthingsmag discuss M. Pence & women at 33 minutes. I largely agree with them.
  3. Michael Jensen says 1) Xns still have lots of social power 2) We should be following The Benedict Option regardless 
  4. Hebrews 9:16-17 is referring to confirming covenants with God by sacrifice, not enacting wills by death of testator
  5. Calvin: The forms of our church life exist to give decency and order. They are ‘arbitrary’ in the sense of not fixed. But these forms of church must never be infused with religious obligation or compared to the worship of God. forms for church are ’merely’ for common help. Still, it’s right to submit to them if they accord with Bible. Institutes 4.10.27-32
  6. Some good advice on encouraging people to be more engaged with weekly church attendance.But the slippery slope argument ‘If ppl attend church less than weekly now what’ll happen in 10rs’? Isn’t strong. I suspect there’s more to this: social change, inaccurate nostalgia, more holistic church life, less rigidity.
  7. A reply to the Gospel Coalition article about church attendance. Thanks Stephen McAlpine.


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Clarity about the gospel mission

What is our distinct mission as Christians? What should concern us uniquely as the people of God in these last days?

At our AGM the Vision 100 Network committee adopted, with a slight addition, the new Geneva Push doctrinal basis as an expanded expression of the the doctrine that unites us as a network (see http://ift.tt/2qgPo1d)

We wanted something with a bit more depth, to clarify matters of primary and secondary importance that spell out both our understanding of the fundamentals of the gospel and the realities, consequences and responibilities surrounding the gospel.

I want to quote and reflect on the section entitled ‘The Mission’:

As God's redeemed people there are many important duties and good deeds he has prepared for us to do. However the mission that we are explicitly and uniquely called to and entrusted with is to making disciples of all nations. Christlikeness will include growing in a desire to see all people saved.

We believe that the gospel should be urgently proclaimed to all people so that through the preaching of God’s word by the power of God’s Spirit all people might believe and be saved.

Good deeds provide opportunities for evangelism, they dictate the conduct of the evangelist, they are the necessary and inevitable fruit of genuine conversion and so they commend the gospel to our hearers. But they remain distinct if rarely separate, from the gospel preaching mission itself.

First of all, this item recognises there is more to the Christian life than evangelism.

The many duties of God’s people

There is more to the Christian life than evangelism and edification, prayer and praise. Because although the mission is important, it’s not the entirety of our duties to God and our neighbour. God calls us to love him with our whole selves and live lives of self-denying love to our neighbours 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Christian teaching is about the formation of a Christian worldview. Christian discipleship is all of life discipleship. Our worship of God touches every area of our existence and has relevance to every corner of our world.

The unique mission of God’s people

Among these many duties and opportunities is a distinct and unique mission: the preaching of the saving work of Jesus Christ to all nations. Proclamation of the gospel, and supporting its proclamation has a special centrality and importance for God, and so for God’s people.

So important is our obedience to Christ in the advance of the gospel, that blessings of God’s world are rightly forsaken and good deeds left undone.

The mission is rarely on its own

The relationship between evangelism and good deeds is complex. We often get opportunities to share the gospel in the context of charity or hospitality. So also our credibility is boosted, or damaged by the purity and integrity of our lives.

There are some occasions where gospel proclamation occurs almost in isolation, such as more broadcast forms of evangelism. But normally evangelism and good deeds occur together.

The mission is distinct

Nevertheless, while gospel mission and godly love belong together, and influence and fuel each other, they remain distinct. Gospel preaching is a distinct thing from things that are the good and even necessary consequences of gospel preaching.

Our duty to make disciples of all nations can and should be understood, discussed and pursued with careful clarity and distinction from other possible Christian activity.

And so Christian programs of education, family life, political or economic structure, artistic expression, legislative reform or charitable effort must not be given the conceptual or spiritual imperative of the Great Commission. Although should be affected by our mission, they are not in themselves our mission.

The outer boundaries of discipleship

In the broadest possible sense, of course, as we make disciples and teach them to obey everything, we teach them to worship God with their whole lives and this touches on all these other areas. Absolutely! So perhaps an additional distinction is needed: there outer boundaires of discipleship that are less clearly black and white, less foundational, and not always necessary for us all to explore. These are the wisdom areas where our disciple-making mission should rightly give the tools to explore, but where we are unable to be as concentrated and dogmatic.

That is, there may are many other things, indeed urgent and important things that grab our attention and draw us to action: matters on a personal, local, national and global scale; ranging from moral, political, cultural, ideological, economic and environmental matters. As Christians we will seek to respond to this things shaped and motivated by our faith. And we may well differ on the best goal, the most appropriate response and the relative importance of these matters.

But while we may differ on some of these matters, what brings us together with a shared commitment and conviction is the wonderful truth of the saving death and resurrection of Christ and the duty and privilege to preach it to a lost world. This is the gospel agenda of God’s people.



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A few notes on power and problematic things

  1. Just because something could plausibly be explained by a framework of power or desire doesn't make this explanation the right one.
  2. A group or person may lose the 'right' to the dominant view on a topic. But it's not true to say "You have no right to comment on this".
  3. Something can be 'problematic' without it necessarily being a Problem.
  4. A word or act can be possibly expressive of a greater abuse of power or corrupt desire, but this doesn't make it as bad (or necessarily bad).
  5. There's something cruel & vengeful about saying someone has no right to suffering if they have previously been (or still are) privileged.


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Analysis of the dangers that lie in Christian ministry ambition

In a great section of Col Marshall and Tony Payne's The Vine Project they say "one of the culture changes that many churches need is a revolution in their level of gospel ambition. Putting it baldly, we need to think big." They make a biblical case for gospel ministry 'ambition'. Yes!

But then they have a few really searching paragraphs that analyse the dangers for finite and sinful people in gospel ministry ambition:

There are of course dangers in thinking big. There’s the credibility danger of creating disillusionment in the congregation by setting some pie-in-the-sky goal that we’ll never achieve. And if we talk big but act small (like not providing for more people on Sunday, or not equipping ministry leaders), then no-one will believe us. 

There are also spiritual dangers in having ambitious plans:

  • you might begin to lust for the glory and reputation that accrues to the minister of a large and growing church
  • you might be tempted to build a feel-good, people-pleasing ministry in order to attract the crowds
  • you might start to treat people like objects, and lose the compassionate inefficiency that leaves the 99 in order to seek after the one
  • you might start exaggerating or fudging the facts to protect your credibility (i.e. by making out that goals are being achieved when they’re not)
  • you might fall into the unprincipled pragmatism that follows any ministry method that ‘gets results’. 

(Page 300, emphasis mine)

'Compassionate inefficiency' is a lovely turn of phrase, isn't it? But the whole thing is spot on. It's helpful to take the time to list these various temptations and corruptions like this. Rather than careless and general warnings, this kind of specificity is really shocking in a good way.



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Mirrors 23rd April 2017

  1. An unrequired love letter to the lost rollerbladers of Brisbane. Nothing to do with 'Christian Reflections' particularly.
  2. Do I lead my ministry/organisation in such a way that it won’t be too bad if I left? Awesome article
  3. Simone Richardson responding to the Twitter hashtag #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear. I like how she categorises 4 different types of quote, it makes it a lot easier to hear when quite different things aren't conflated in one stream. I do wonder, regarding 'category 1': what IS the acceptable way to talk about modesty in dress?. And with category 2, I'd suggest it's not just 'wrong view of highest callings' but sometimes rather an 'over-extension of right view recognition of very common calling'.
  4. Nathan Campbell tells us how we can like Frozen BETTER.
  5. John Calvin on Christian liberty (Institutes III.XIX) could have been written yesterday. Still so wise, insightful and pastorally sharp.


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One of the first books on church planting I ever read

Is there anything more gross than this?

It's almost so disgusting it's cool again. It's one of the first books on church planting I ever read. Back in 1999 or something, when Limp Biskit and Korn were considered to be a good idea and every Christian Union in the country was doing Matrix-themed evangelistic sermons. Evidently I thought there was something good on page 33 and 41.

It seems you can still buy the book from Koorong.

I found the book thrilling: it laid out the need for new churches and steps to starting one. It gave warnings about things that could get in the way of a new church thriving and advice on how to help it grow.

I also found the book boring, for the same kinds of reasons I still find church planting plans boring: stuff about demographics and finances. Kill me now. But it also provided a fairly simple way to think about those things.

Thinking about it now, there are clearly things that are dated, just because culture and technology have changed.

But also most of it is the same as every book on church planting since. In the end you figure out what you're going to do, gather people, and do it!



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Mirrors 14th April 2017

Happy Easter!

  1. Join me in Sydney on 22/5 to discuss a super important topic: 'Living well in God's creation, or dying to self in the last days?'
  2. My @ufc_utas sermon on Hebrews 10:19-39
  3. I've started a podcast about rollerblading :-P
  4. The Gospel Coalition Australia is going to do a series of posts on Tim Dreher's book on the Benedictine Option. Here's the first installment.


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Repost: Creating Ownership (October 2007)

[Update: The Vision 100 IT Team has indeed grown in ownership and momentume in the 10 years since this was posted. What helped build ownership?

  1. Quarterly 'sprints' getting everyone together to drink V and hang out and get a big chunk of work done in the same space.
  2. Giving people unique 'projects' to own within the wider team
  3. Raising the standards of team members and holding people to account: better a smaller team with high ownership than a bigger team with dead weight

If you want cheap, consistent, ongoing IT help targets at small to medium sized churches and committed to mobilising volunteers, then contact it@vision100.org]

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I'm currently overseeing an inter-church IT group. It's a good idea, but I'm not doing an awesome job.

It was a reaction against our small churches having disorganised IT. It goes like this: a whole lot gets done by an over-eager volunteer. Then no-one updates the content. And they get a job interstate. And the domain name is not renewed. And only one person can do the tech support. And. And. And.

We are now much more organised... and are also very unmotivated.

So I'm now trying to think how to, with little available time and energy to inspire and energise the team. Should I send them out to dinner together? Should we take on some mammoth, technically demanding task? Should blow it all up and start again?

I like the idea of us being a virtual IT community, with minimal time wasted on meetings. But the reality is, I think, that if you want high degrees of ownership and empowerment you need to have a human face. You need to be letting down Mikey, not letting down an internet mailing list.

Also, to have a high degree of ownership you need to feel in control and in charge. So the challenge is to correct against the over-correction. I need to let our IT guys get excited about something and make a mess of things... without going to the extremes of old and without controlling them too much.

In the end, I need to channel some of that energy into getting them excited about doing the routine things I want them to do.

And I don't want to put too much energy into this particular group, because I am a preacher and an evangelist, not an IT manager. And I want a pony. And a laser gun. And I want Mark Driscoll to be our associate minister. And I want a gigantic water slide.



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Mirrors 12th April 2017

Forgot to post this last Friday — sorry!

  1. Michael Jensen exegetes the first two songs of Ok Computer by Radiohead.
  2. Gnostic liberalism: if you separate personhood from creatureliness you end up with ethical problems 
  3. Pilgrim's Progress appeals to children because it's kind of not quite suitable for them. It's suitably unsuitable
  4. I feel like this article over-corrects, while saying some good things about Mike Pence and the Billy Graham Rule
  5. Love the stuff on publicity in this article, which also talks positively about the Billy Graham Rule
  6. Short round table discussion about the beauty of gender complementarianism 
  7. Wow! Al Mohler battles Bryan Chappell on young earth creationism. Great model of gracious disagreement!
  8. "“Complaining to you allows your daughter to bring the best of herself to school. Instead of being rude or aggressive toward peers or teachers at school, your daughter contains her irritation and waits until she is safely in your company to express it.” A helpful parenting article.


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Topics for training MTS apprentices or for conference workshops

I stumbled across a crusty old list of training ideas for MTS apprentice training. I don't think I'd looked at the list for years, but it is a pretty good list. This is the kind of stuff you can do with a ministry apprentice (see more at mts.com.au) or even as the topic for a workshop at a conference. Here's what it has:

  • Basic reading a Bible passage and discussing it together — at an MTS apprentice level.
  • Discuss people you are ministering to (Christian, young Christian, trainee):
    • What are you doing with them? What can you do for them practically? What can you learn from them? Where are they at spiritually? What's the next step forward for them? How might you help them get there?
  • Contact evangelism: as above
  • Do some cold contact evangelism and then debrief on it.
  • Adopt a book of the Bible for a long period of time and study, discuss and read other books about this book. Listen to and critique sermons on this book. Whenever you have to do any Bible teaching stuff, try to do it from this book.
  • Assess what role prayer has in your life and ministry.
  • Check in on progress of reading whole Bible.
  • Write and review a reading list of Christian, nonfiction and fiction books.
  • Saying the Hard Things that need to be said.
  • Ministry of the pew
  • Different learing styles
  • Critique different religions
  • Ministry training philosophy and principles
  • The doctrine of the atonement
  • The doctrine of predestination
  • Getting Things Done
  • 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • Manager Tools
  • Duty of Care and Work Health and Safety and Privacy
  • Basics of managing finances for a ministry
  • Ecclesiology
  • How to do one to one ministry
  • How to lead small groups
  • How to do follow up
  • Review different evangelistic courses
  • Men and women in ministry
  • Work in a team
  • DiSC profile/Myers-Briggs
  • Friendship in ministry
  • When something's worth doing it's worth doing badly — when it's right to take shortcuts
  • Counselling
  • Church size barriers
  • Ministry to children, youth, young adults, mothers, workers, middle-aged, elderly, sick
  • Music ministry
  • Diaconal ministry
  • Sexual ethics
  • Church and culture
  • Political theology
  • Biblical theology and systematic theology
  • Visit other churches and critique
  • Why plant churches
  • Rest and holidays and pacing yourself
  • Gospel-driven godliness
  • Church discipline
  • Exegesis — perhaps using something like How to read the Bible for all it's worth
  • Politics and the English language
  • Denominational distinctives: even attend a denominational meeting
  • Time use assessment (write down every half hour for 1 working week how you are spending your time and then analyse)
  • Delegation
  • Coaching
  • Reflect on your trainer's ministry style
  • Preacing, clarity, gesture, posture, vocal use, illustrations, rhetoric
  • New Testament Greek
  • Post college plans
  • Christian heresies
  • Science and faith
  • Technology and ministry


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Mirrors 31st March 2017

  1. A Christian philosopher's summary of Derrida's ethics. He doesn't say 'It's all relative'.
  2. To get why Lorna Jane has those slogans or why movie characters make those decisions you need to get existentialism. My sermon-lecture from last year.
  3. Des Smith sermon on Using the Bible in Ministry 
  4. A well written article showing how a Christian kid who understood the faith lost the faith
  5. Don't overstate or totally deny the experience of Christians being persecuted in America (or Australia) 
  6. Craig Tucker on scaling up leadership
  7. The 1st episode of Alpha ends with a sustained 'pitch' to come back & do the whole course. I think my and most ministries I know generally rush our 'come back' pitch. It's a big decision, we need to reason with people about it.
  8. "It seems ridiculous to me for Christians to call for a boycott or removal of a character based on their sexual preference .... It communicates that anyone who’s attracted to ppl of the same sex is not... even welcome  in the world Christians inhabit." from Following Phoebe


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Reply to “God and the problem of sincere disbelief”

A friend of mine shared this article with me and a few others this morning. I thought it was a great read. A sad and real story. It was clearly written by someone who had lived among the kind of Christians I am and I know and I love. It did a fair job at representing Christians in a generous and faithful way, as the author sees and hears and understands it. I have friends whom this guy reminds me of: people who know enough about Christianity, and care enough about Christians, to want to speak well of it.

It struck me how honest this guy was about the grief and complicatedness of falling away:

I didn't want to lose my faith. It hurt, a lot

The opening line of novelist Julian Barnes' book Nothing To Be Frightened Of has stuck with me since I first read it almost a decade ago:

I don't believe in God, but I miss him.

And again:

My family has never been anything less than loving towards me, but there have been plenty of times when I've wished I could go to church with them and not feel like an imposter. When I've wished I could say "amen" during grace at a family dinner and actually mean it. When I've wished I could answer my parents' prayers that their prodigal son would return. And most of all, when I've wished I still had the comfort of knowing God is looking out for me.

But what I wanted to reflect on is the two central points this article makes. Two reated things that he found increasingly implausible, that can be summed up in one setence: That not all unbelievers are wicked and purposeful in their unbelief.

First, having grown up in the church he was shocked to find many unbelievers were good people. And second, he was shocked to find they were ambivalent and unpersuaded about the existence of God and the gospel of Jesus.

A few thoughts:

  1. The Bible does sometimes speak in simplistic black and white terms: In apocalyptic literature, the New Testament letters and the teaching of Jesus we are given a sharp distinction between the children of God and the children of the devil, those who love light and those who love darkness. These black and white descriptions remind us that there is one fundamental issue that ultimately defines our lives: whether or not we have faith. Faith upholds us despite our failings. And without faith, even our most noble deeds fall far short. But the Bible doesn't only speak in simplistic black and white terms.
  2. If we only speak in black and white terms, young people will find Christianity increasingly implausible: The Bible also recognises how most evil human fathers seek to give good gifts to their children, that misguided Isarelites are zealous for God (but their zeal is not based on knowledge), that tax collectors love those who love them and so on. The Bible tells stories of the faithful doing wicked things, and the wicked doing noble things which put the faithful to shame (Abraham and Abimelech in Genesis 20 for example). If young people are only ever fed a diet of 'Christ vs Culture', where The World is demonised in simplistic, cartoonish terms, where no subtlety or nuance or disclaimer is ever uttered — then they will get a shock when they go to university. For they will discover this sub-biblical perspective doesn't match the real world.
  3. If our churches and our families are so coccooned from non-Christians that our kids never interact meaningfully with non-Chrsitians then they will get a shock once they make a friend or two at uni. Thoughtful, gracious but truthful and faithful interaction with real non-Christians will help young people in Christian homes see the gospel truly and clearly and give them confidence that it has something great to say, even to the good, nice, open-minded and intelligent unbeliever.
  4. We need to be clear that Christians can do bad things and atheists do good things. I don't know who's to blame here, the Christian community, or deliberate misunderstanding: probably both. But it is not true to say that Christians are always good people and atheists are always bad people. Christians are forgiven sinners, and while we are regenerated and gradually sanctified, we are not yet glorified and perfected. And atheists remain God's image bearers capable of good and noble things. Many hold to religions and philosophies with high moral ideals. The Bible nowhere teaches that everything Christians do is always good, or that everything atheists do is always bad. Nor does it teach that any given Christian will be morally superior to any given atheist.
  5. We need to spell out the relationship between morality and Christianity and atheism. There is an argument about the relationship between morality, Christianity and atheism, but it is more subtle. It is often misrepresented by academics and punters alike. Perhaps this should tell us we need to be more careful and clear in how we express it? The true argument is: while atheists may do good things, they don't have a consistent philosphical basis for this. On the other hand, when Christians do good things, they do so for very solid religious and philosophical reasons. To put it simply: while Christians don't always act morally, when they do, they are being consistent with their religious beliefs. And the inverse is true: while atheists don't always act immorally, when they do they are not being inconsistent with their atheism.
  6. Condemnation is not in the first place for failure to believe the gospel, but for original rebellion against God, and everything that comes after. A pretty common question runs like this: Why would God send someone to hell for not believing in him? But this question fails to recognise that while there is an additional guilt that comes on those who refuse salvation, this is not our primary guilt before God. We are not guilty for failing to believe in Jesus or even for failing to believe in the existence of God. It is not as if we were all on a neutral moral footing until God decided that he wanted everyone to believe in him, or Jesus or whatever. Rather, we are all, as a unified human race, guilty as rebels before God, in Adam. And even if this is hard to believe, surely even the author of this article would agree that all human beings do plenty of evil in their lifetime? God's gospel and command to believe in Christ comes to us as already guilty people. To reword the question shows how odd it is: "Why would God not save someone who refuses to accept God's offer of salvation?"
  7. Responsibility does not rest solely on each individual being rationally convinced. The article develops a variation on this question about unbelief. Because it says:

It always seemed unconscionable to me that someone could be denied salvation not because of a moral failing, but because they simply disagreed about the evidence for God.

This is where we need to be clear that our condemnation does not depend on individual persuasion. This is clearer if you think about moral guilt: Even if someone claimed that they were unconvinced that murder was wrong, we would hold them guilty if they killed another human being. Morality doesn't require consent to be binding on an individual! So also, God's reality, and our guilt before him, doesn't vanish because we are not sure he's there.

You see we inherit more from Adam than just a share in his guilt and a sinful nature and a mortal body. We are all born into a human society whose ideologies and social patterns make faith and obedience to God implausible or undesirable in various ways. And the mercy of God doesn't just overcome our hard hearts and guilty consciences, but also needs to correct our distorted thinking! Just as God needs to work providentially to ensure I get to hear the gospel spoken, he also needs to work to enable me to be able to give it a hearing.


It is true that the Bible teaches that we reject God because of sin. But it does not follow that this sin is crassly selfaware and defiant. Sin may have set up a whole orientation of life in which I reject God. I have been born into a life that loves darkness on this fundamental level, so that I don't want to come into the light... but I might not even consciously think of 'the light' as light at all!

8. Is talking about the role of sin in unbelief an ad hominem attack? That's what the author of this article claims. That to talk about how unbelief is ulitmately the result of sin is an ad hominem attack. This would be the case if Christians used it as a  justification to not give reasons for their faith or interact with the questions and challenges of unbelievers. But what have I been donig for this whole blog post? And I have no doubt that the author has also encountered plenty of rational arguments for Christian belief. 

But the author is claiming that any mention of sin as a cause for unbelief is an 'ad hominem attack'. But an ad hominem attack is not in and of itself illegitimate. If it is the sum total of an argument, a refusal to deal with substantive issues then an ad hominem argument is a fallacy. If it is pointing to an irrelevant aspect of a person to discredit their arguments, then it is a fallacy. But if one is discussing the various reasons why an individual might hold a belief, it is perfectly legitimate. Because one is no longer simply discussing the merits of the idea in abstract, one is discussing the reasons a particular person holds to a belief. It is naive to think that people form most of their beliefs for purely rational reasons. In fact people can hold true beliefs for inadequate and incorrect reasons, and false beliefs for rational reasons!

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A great article, encourage some good reflection, don't you think?



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