Twelve sermon-lectures on world religions and philosophies

This Semester we did an epic series: The Universe Next Door that explored in-depth a series of:

  • religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Paganism, Mormonism, Judaism, Islam),
  • philosophy (Atheism) and
  • branches of Christianity (Protestantism, Liberalism, Pentecostalism and Roman Catholicism).


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Legislation and normalisation

‘If it’s not illegal, then mustn’t it be treated as normal?’

Part of the tricky logic around the gay rights movement for the average secular onlooker is - ‘if it’s not illegal, then mustn’t it be treated as normal?’

Now I think that just because something is a sin doesn’t mean it should be illegal. I don’t think we should have laws against coveting, for example.

But once something stops being illegal, it becomes harder for the formal structures of society to not start treating it as normal. Once arguments against unjustifiable criminal punishments are won, the arguments shift to ‘rights’ and ‘fairness’ and even just ‘reasonableness’.

Our society has decided homosexuality is not socially criminal. And doctors have declared it not sick. And so doesn’t that mean it is ‘normal’ or ‘legitimate’? And so should we proactively talk about it as such?

 

What makes something 'normal'?

What other ways do we have as a whole society for allowing something to be legitimate, while not conceding that it is normal? And on what grounds would we be able to establish such a thing?

The main grounds I think are utilitarian - if something can be shown to be socially harmful it may not be illegal, but it should definitley be stigmatised. If something is not socially harmful, then it can be normalised.

But is that the only option? Are there other ways to build a civil ethic that is neither utilitarian nor religious? 



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Helping gay young people and learning to live with tension and dissonance

Some of the public policy talk around homosexuality and even transgeder is about helping people in deep psycological dissonance resolve this dissonance and so, it is hoped, experience less anxiety, turmoil and social rejection.

The sooner we can help someone accept their true desires, come to terms with them, and be affirmed by society, the greater their sense of resolution and harmony.

It’s a compelling picture, isn’t it? And when you hear stories of deperssion, bullying and suicide among young gay people - wouldn’t you want to do somethin to slow this? And if you have no reason within your ethical framework to think oif homosexuality as wrong, doesn’t this make perfect sense? Anything that can lead to less depressed and dead young people is a no brainer, right?

How do we think about this, as the Christian community?

 

There are at least 3 things we need to think through:

1. How do we help the gay Christian who is personal convinced that homosexual practice is wrong and wants live in line with their personal religious convctions?

2. How do we lessen the risk of suicide and depression among the gay person in our churches who is unconvinced and so chooses to adopt the homosexual lifestyle?

3. What is our input into the wider society seeking to care for young gay people?

 

Some things we could start doing or do better:

1. A cultural of gentless, kindness and sensitivity. A muscular, us-vs-them stance is not going to be helpful to the gay Christian seeking to be godly or the gay atheist young person. Thoughtless speech - whether jokes, stereotypes or condemnation - will be part of the problem.

2. Don’t withdraw intimacy and physical affection - including same sex intimacy and affection, from gay people, inside and outside the church.

3. Making sure we run loving care in parallel to church discipline. It’s very hard for the same person to both conduct church discipline and personal loving care. We need ways to make sure our church communities find ways to do both things simlutaenously but somewhat independently. That is, if a gay young person chooses to leave the church, will there still be loving individuals who will care for them as people, even while there is ‘church discipline’ that recognises they are no longer in fellowship with the church? If everyone just acts in ‘church discipline’ mode then the experience of rejection could be devastating.

4. Keep encouraging our society to talk about the spectrum of options available to a possibly-gay young person. It’s not just total affirmation OR traumatic and ineffective gay-therapy-camps

  • some people do slowly change their experienced orientation
  • some people continue to experience a homosexual orietnation while being able to functionally and ‘successfully’/‘happily’ live in a heterosexual marriage.
  • some people choose to remain celibate

5. Keep encouraging to counsellors and youth workers to give people the ‘tools’ to live happily, healthily with dissonance and tension. ‘Resolution’ is not the only way to be psychologically healthy. Identifying, acknowledging, mourning and putting boundaries experiences of dissonance is also legitimate. It is worth asking:

  • Does ‘coming out’ guarantee a more healthy sense of identity and resolution? Is it possible that for some gay people, even those who embrace the lifestyle, that there are still dissonances in thier ongoing felt experience, that are not just about cultural stigma?
  • Can ‘not acting out’ be a healthy state of mind and being. Can people be affirmed in this path without feeling like they are ‘denying a part of their true selves’.

6. Encourage young people in our churches to have good relationships with other power figures in their lives. It’s not the job of youth groups to make Christian young people sexually literate. And definitely not to help them practice homosexuality in the safest manner. So we need to help all young people develop healthy confidential relationships with responsible GPs and other authority figures outside the church and family.



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Mirrors 19th June 2015

1. A couple of articles that are critical of men who presume to ‘take the lead’ in discussions of women’s right. Gender politics, like race politics is such a minefield. Can anyone get it right?! 

2. We increasingly need to have clear ethics and write clear codes of conducts about evangelism. Here is one by Sandy Grant

3. A fascintating, generous, insight into the Presbyterian Church of America, which indirectly describes different stances on ‘cultural engagement.

4. Along similar lines, Steve McAlpine has written a post that went a little bit ‘viral’ [:-P] on how our role in Australian society is shifting, and the ‘missional’ approach isn’t ready for it. The prose is wonderful, some of the insights are spot on, even if their biblical ‘models’ and either/or’s are a bit overdrawn. 



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Gender difference, equality, power, representation and social problem solving

Did you hear about the brouhaha in Tasmania over the short-lived appointment of a man to be women’s officer of the Tasmanian University Union? Here’s one article that argues strongly against the appointment.

 

Gender equality, equivalence, discriminiation and representation

It’s an odd area of political life in Australia. On the one hand there are strong forces to argue for equality and even equivalence. Gender should not influence social relationships, working realtionships, sexual behaviour etc. All these things are constructed and fluid.

But in practice, feminism wants to defend and empower women as women. Women in many contexts suffer and miss out. To redress this, requires women to be defined distinctly and defended uniquely. And this is best done when women represent women. It’s a discrimination for the goal of equality. And so it creates a strange tension.

Of course power and male privilege is deceptive and manipulative and ubiquitous. So we need to counteract that, to ensure genuine female empowerment. But does this doom us to never achieve equality? Will there come a day when it’s not needed? And will the means, of distinct female representation inevitably mean there will be equivalence - not that this is necessarily a bad thing? It’s always the problem of affirmative action, isn’t it?

 

Gender difference and male privilege

I definitely think there is more to be gained for women by seeing women as different than men, and then seeking to support and empower them given those differences. But this is tricky. Because ‘difference’ can so quickly lead to discrimination and disempowerment.

And it’s tricky if MEN talk about the difference. Because how can we be sure that men aren’t using it, whether intentionally or pre-reflectively to reinforce their male privilege

But to be real, genuine gender difference must be objective. And if it is objective, it must, in principle, be acacessible to both men and women. And if we are too suspicious of power, and especially male power, then genuine difference cannot be actually affirmed, because it cannot be talked about by everyone.

 

Gender difference, problem solving and unique experiences of life

I fear that looking for a ‘solution’ to women’s experience in the world, is that we seek to change differences inherent in a woman’s experience in the world and so ‘solve’ the ‘problems’ of women’s experience in the world. 

Is there not a way to ‘understsanding’ and ‘embrace’ women’s experiences in their differentness. Not to restrict women, but to empower them within these experiences. So the fact that children, or the possibliity of children can give women’s lives and careers an episodic quality is not a ‘problem’. Nor is the fact that their relationships with men will always involve the reality and or possilbity of sexual desire is not a ‘problem’. And women being in general less physically strong than men is not a ‘problem’.

These things can cretae massive problems: unimaginitive lack of flexibility and opportunity in the workforce, sexual objectification and harrassmanet, domestic violence, respectively. And we should guard against these. But the experiences in the previous paragraph are not ‘problems’ themselves. But they are also realities that need to be lived through, embraced even, as a uniquely female experience of the world.



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Support my missionary work on campus in Tasmania

In addition to writing Christian Reflections and being involved in church planting work through Vision 100 and Geneva, I also lead a team of evangelists, employed by AFES at the University of Tasmania.

We have two local groups:

  1. FOCUS which works with international students, especially from Korean and China and
  2. University Fellowship of Christians with local students and those with English as first (or fluent) language.

We fund this work mainly through the financial and prayer partnership of UTAS students, faculty, grads and local churches.

But we also need the support of other visionary givers who are keen to invest in kingdom work.

I'd love your support! 

If you enjoy the Christian Reflections blog, and know and like what you know of my ministry, then I'd love to invite you to either become a regular supporter, or make a once off contribution.

Even pledging $5 a week or giving $100 once off would make a big difference. 

Donations can be made online at http://ift.tt/1kdO4GE



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Guest blogger: evangelism to mainland Chinese international students

Thanks to my colleague and friend Luke Hansard for writing some articles for Christian Reflections. Luke will be talking about his ministry at FOCUS UTAS:

Most of our international students are Chinese. When you have a majority of mainland Chinese they slowly but surely drive the other nationalities away. We call ourselves International and we want to be… but in reality… we’re Chinese with a few other countries thrown in…

Over the past seven years I’ve slowly come to realise:

  • They aren’t atheists: Confucius said things like “Respect gods and keep away from them.”and…..”If we cannot understand life and how to live, how can we know what happens after life?” While they wouldn't say they got it from Confucius Ive heard them speak in similar ways.
  • They’re modernists: this is quite fun and makes my ministry much less complicated; things are black and white; how can I believe in God?: can science and God co-exist?; what about other religions? what about my ancestors?
  • They don’t have community events: I’m led to believe they just don’t have them back in China. Well, Ive heard of ball room dancing for the elderly and such, but events for young people are rare if nonexistent.
  • They’re all on a production line: study accounting (thats the best way to get a job, PR and money) get a job, make money, send money back to mum and dad, move back to China, get a job, married, get kids, send kids to Tasmania to study…. This means it can be hard to get them to look up and around themselves. Where does God fit into things? Why should I care? I know what I’m here for and I’ve just got to get it done.

On what I’d love:

  • To speak Mandarin or employ a Mandarin version of myself. 
  • A Chinese church of mainland Chinese to have a close relationship with us without compromising the precious relationship I have with churches around Tasmania and Sydney.

Would you like to work with FOCUS TAS? email luke@focustas.org for more information



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Mirrors 12th June 2015

  1. Five things all pastors should know about their church's finances.
  2. How to love someone with chronic fatigue.
  3. This is a fun article. Things that an American needs to understand about Australian culture.
  4. What do you think of Nathan Campbell's crushing critique of Matthias Media's latest book on homosexuality.
  5. This piece of software is creepy but also pretty ingenious. I feel like I spend a fair bit of time helping helping staff get this right - you write to different people differently.
  6. Tracy writes on how to restart a blog.
  7. How to make meetings effective - minutes and agenda. Yes Yes Yes!


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Historical necessity to modern, Western, pluralistic, secular democracy?

It is so hard to talk about a lot of Christian ethical issues in society and sound reasonable, isn’t it? Many people now seem resigned, and rightly so. It seems unavoidable that society will drift in a way that shrink the place of religion in public life and broadens the diveristy of moral and sexual options. It feels inevitable.

It it/was it some kind of historical necessity? Is it where society was bound to go once the power of the Holy Roman Empire crumbled? Or once the Enlightenment or Reformation took place? Does a pluralistic, secular, modern democratic society necessarily lead here? Is there an irrepressible logic to it? How can you embrace diversity and not loosen laws? How can you allow the whole population to vote and not slowly represent more and more of the population’s diversity? How can you allow religion to be public when it encourages conversion to a singular truth?

I know we can’t really say, since this last 500 years is the only time there ever has been a modern, secular democracy. So it’s hard to know what intrinsic to the model and what’s just part of a set of cultural accidents.

But can you imagine an alternate universe where religion was a more central and envliening force in modern secular pluralistic society? What would it look like? What would Australia look like if the central cultural narrative, values and norms were Christian? How would we have dealt with:

  • increasingly diverse religious minorities among our citizens?
  • increasingly numbers of ‘no religion’ people among our citizens?
  • women’s rights?
  • prisoners rights?
  • loosening unjustifiable blasphemy laws and overly prudish decency laws?
  • the decriminalization of homosexuality, without its normalization?

I feel like without having the cultural imagination to picture this, it’s hard to be compelling in speaking in our world.



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Guest blogger: Preaching to international students

Thanks to my colleague and friend Luke Hansard for writing some articles for Christian Reflections. Luke will be talking about his ministry at FOCUS UTAS:

Preaching to international students:

  • Use different ways to engage them at different parts of the sermon;
  • Use Powerpoint with both text and and lots of pics;
  • Stand in different places;
  • Make them laugh;
  • Act out stuff;
  • Interact withpeople: say their names ask them (simple) questions… if you can pick on people scattered throughout the crowd it makes everyone think ‘no one is safe… i’d better listen!’.

Would you like to work with FOCUS TAS? email luke@focustas.org for more information



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Mirrors 5th June 2015

  1. Things you SHOULDN'T learn from Steve Jobs.
  2. Five reasons your church should be smaller.
  3. I really like Luke Isham's hints on how to approach a ministers fraternal
  4. Female company president: 'I'm sorry to all the mothers I used to work with'
  5. Tim Keller on political theology.
  6. A good assistant pastor is hard to find.
  7. Why your millenial is crying. There are two sides to every story!


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I get the feeling that there’s a little trend back to animated websites…

Over the last 10 years, animated websites have been the epitome of kitsch, bombastic and annoying.

But I'm getting little hints that they are coming back in vogue, at least among some designers.

An intersting thought, eh? Do you have any favourite animated websites?



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Guest blogger: the importance and approach of Friday Night FOCUS

Thanks to my colleague and friend Luke Hansard for writing some articles for Christian Reflections. Luke will be talking about his ministry at FOCUS UTAS:

Don't do cold contact evangelism

When we contact the students on campus we don’t seek to evangelise. Im not convinced it would work with our students. They’re always busy going somewhere (never sitting around). Their English is not strong enough for the conversation.  It would be unhelpfully uncomfortable and confrontational (they’ll feel pressured to listen to you- showing respect- but not to really listen to you).

Friday Night FOCUS

Now because we try to get as many as possible to our meeting this means:

The meeting needs to be excellent; better run than most of the events they’ve been a part of; better advertising; better public speaking; really good music. And so a pleasure to be a part of and well worth returning for. We want the only thing that offends to be our Gospel:

  • We have lots of ‘hooks’ to bring them in and keep them with us, both physically (we have had students leave halfway through our meeting) and mentally (keeping them interested/ engaged, awake).
  • of course this is the fun, food and friendship (and hopefully teach from the Bible too) but also… 
  • We make sure students know whats happening, upon arrival, over the evening and that its exciting and worth staying around for. 
  • We want locals there each week; it looks good, they can practice their English.
  • We want Aunties and Uncles there each week; as above only these people are the same people there each week, with grey hair and making the place look a lot more ‘family’ a family away from family.
  • We do lots of different ‘bits’. the meeting is bitsy; the sermon is quite bitsy;… think sesame street.

Follow Up

At this meeting, we then work hard to their details and email them. We invite them to take the next step; join a small group or one to one.

 

Would you like to work with FOCUS TAS? email luke@focustas.org for more information



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Matthias Media’s awesome new book Wisdom In Leadership

Matthias Media were nice enough to send me an advance copy of Wisdom In Leadership by Craig Hamilton and I'm really happy to say it's a great book. I'm relcutant to give commendations for books unless I actually think they are not only true, but also well written, worthwhile reading and a needed contribution. Craig's book is all three. It's kinda the book on leadership I'd want to write if I were to write one. So he's saved me the trouble.

It's the book we needed.

It's an Australian, Reformed evangelical book on leadership with all the little cultural quirks of tone and emphasis and theological focus and clarity that makes it stand out from similar good and good (with lots of theological qualifications) books on leadership out there.

I think a lot of Reformed evangelical stuff on things like leadership can be so so careful to be theologically precise that we spend the bulk of our books and articles laying the theological foundations and then scribble out a few scatty bric-a-brac hints and tips in the final page. This book actually treats the distinct subject of wisdom in leadership with the attentiveness it deserves in its own right.

It's a really big book - about 500 pages - but it's broken down into about a 100 really really short, punchy chapters. It offers meaty theological underpinnings without being so bogged down in being theologically precise that it doesn't give detail practicals. Craig is clearly a leadership and productivity geek who has read widely, thought deeply and synthesised theologically.

You can track my Twitter (look for @ministrymatrix or 'Wisdom in Leadership' or 'Wisdom for Leadership' - #sorrynohashtag) for other reflections on the content.

You can go here to get Matthias Media to send you 7 chapters for free here.

Or you can come and hear Craig speak at my National Pop-Up Blog Tour events in Brisbane, Melbourne or Launceston - and get a discount code to buy your own copy.



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Mirrors 29th May 2015

  1. Thom Rainer gives 15 ways to take care of guest speakers.
  2. For an odd detour, you might like to read Kevin de Young's review of 'Deviant Calvinism'.
  3. Patterns among fallen pastors: no personal accountability, ceased personal devotions, spending time with another woman (often in counselling situations), thought 'it would never happen to me'.
  4. Is it a bad idea to turn out the lights during communal singing? This article does a good job of listing good and bad things about having the lights off for communal singing. This really is a grey area of theological practicalities, so we must beware of reaching a particualr conclusion about it and then being dogmatic. Personally, I think there is a happy middle ground - lights being significantly dimmed, without being all-black.
  5. Why do women cry more than men? Is it just sociological? Or biological?
  6. John Dickson gives some thoughts on how a Christian should approach voting.
  7. Is it possible to home school if you have a chronic illness? Christina shares her experience in a beautiful post.


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‘Pastoral Care’: How (mis)using biblical words superspiritualises pragmatism

There's been a lot of discussion about how using 'worship' to talk specifically about the church meeting, or singing in church is unbiblical, and potentially unhelpful. It gives the church gathering and the singing more theological weight, and so more emotional weight and rhetorical weight, than they actually have.

Well the same is true of 'pastoral care'. In everyday usage 'pastoring' and 'pastoral care' refers to counselling, caring for people, responding skillfully and tactfully to problems that arise in the lives of people. It is relational practicality. Interpersonal skillfulness.

But when we use the biblical word pastoring/pastoral/pastor... then it sounds more spiritual and valuable, as if it is the higher ground.

So when we say of a minister  'he's not a great preacher but he's a great pastor', or 'he's not good at leadership but he's very pastoral', 'Im not into all this how-to, strategic stuff, I'm more into pastoral care', or 'let's consider this issue pastorally' it sounds pretty deep.

Why not rephrase these and see how they sound:

  • he's not a great preacher but he's great at relational practicalities,
  • he's not good at leadership but he's very skillful relationally,
  • I'm not into all this how-to strategic stuff, I'm more into how-to counselling stuff,
  • Let's consider this issue from the viewpoint of interpersonal issues.

Still all very good things. But no longer the superspiritual higher ground! :-)



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Inner city ministry has its comforts but it’s far from easy

We had Steve Timmis, from Crowded House and Acts 29 at the recent Geneva Multiply conference. One evening Steve spoke on the topic of 'reaching the unreached' and had an extended rant about how far too many church planters are going for trendy, inner-city, latte-sipping hipster church plants. Who is reaching the new immigrants? The rural areas? The housing estates?

There was a good point here. We need to go beyond the familiar and the comfortable and the convenient. We need to be reaching out beyond those who are just like us, to reach those who are different than us, beyond those who are close to those who are far off. I like that very much.

There are some clarifications:

  • The vision to reach the unreached is a burden that lays on us all as a community, not on the shoulders of each individual church planter. Some will go to trendy inner-city areas, some will go to comfortable leafy suburbs, some will go to harder areas. The challenge is on a strategic level and a communal level.
  • Of course if anyone is going to go to harder areas we need to challenge everyone. So we need rants like this one from Steve regularly.
  • The difficulty of caring for some parts of society is a deep and ingrained social issue. It's not just a Christian issue. Or a trendy church planter issue. Or an evangelical issue. Our entire society struggles to know how to reach and care for some groups of society. Of course we should strive to be on the cutting edge of these challenges. But the radicals among us mustn't kid ourselves that we can definitely find a 'solution' to the social 'problem'; and the rest of us need not assume guilt for failing to either.
  • Properly speaking, the suburbs are the comfortable place, not the trendy inner-city. The inner-city culture is often hostile to Christianity and alien to Christian cultural values. Planting a church among pluralistic, libertine, post-Christian young professionals is hardly the comfort zone for conservative evangelicals.
  • Although there may be physical comforts associated with inner-city ministry and less gritty and demanding social problems to navigate, the trendy inner-city ministry often has a greater hardness of heart than some other areas. So the discouragement and spiritual opposition is actually harder.
  • It's just not true that it's easy to plant a church in the trendy inner city. I've seen some trendy inner city churches grow quickly from strength to strength. But I've seen others struggle in the 20s, 30s or 40s average attendance for years. The inner-city brings some big obstacles to establishing a church:
    • very high transience makes it hard to build a critical mass and establish leadership
    • when people get to a more stable phase of life, they often buy and move to the suburbs
    • high costs of living, hiring etc


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Guest blogger: the philosophy of ministry of FOCUS at UTAS - vision and mission

Thanks to my colleague and friend Luke Hansard for writing some articles for Christian Reflections. Luke will be talking about his ministry at FOCUS UTAS:

At a time when many people are concerned about the changing nature of university of life with students spending very little time on campus, doing external studies and working part time jobs. International student workers such as myself experience no such worry. We busy ourselves making the most of this strange and wonderful season of life where the nations come to us. I don’t know how long its going to last for; I can imagine waking up one morning and getting a text from a mate who is actually on top of current events saying ‘Man, what will this do to your international student ministry?’ and my googling whatever’s gone on and finding that its all over; the students won’t be coming (or wont be coming much) to Tasmania anymore. But that day is not today and so while this strange phenomenon is occurring I want to make the most of it.

We have about 3 years to make contact with International students through our fliering at uni. Then we get them to Friday Night FOCUS. We help them to realise they’re now free of their childhood, culture and country and so should be asking big questions and thinking big thoughts; who is God? how can I know? who is this Jesus that 1/3 of the world say they follow?

At FOCUS UTAS we want to get as many non Christian International students into our big Friday night meeting as possible. So we offer:

  • Fun: through games and discussion time.
  • Food: always nutritious and sometimes delicious (cooked by FOCUS supporters).
  • Friendship: formed as we enjoy the above.

However, we explain that as great great as these things are the best thing FOCUS offers is Teaching from the Bible; a way to know God and a way to be friends with God through Jesus.

 

Would you like to work with FOCUS TAS? email luke@focustas.org for more information



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Mirrors 22nd May 2015

  1. The theological rationale for doing good in a fallen world in the last days: love everybody because of the image of God, show mercy because of our experience of redemption, stay hopeful because of restoration, work hard because of justification - and always remember the people.
  2. Does nature even exist? A discussion about different models for thinking about environmentalism.
  3. Looking for some fresh congregational tunes? Check out Scott Robinson (WA).
  4. Seven reasons churches are busy: failing to ask 'why' when starting a new ministry, no process for eliminating ministries, some ministries are started just to please people, some ministries have become sacred cows, ministries operate in a silo, sometimes new ministries are started to unleash more and more people for ministry, no process for evaluating ministries.
  5. Lots of pop-sociology and sociological theology, ethics and other grumpy rants from Phillip Jensens 2008 KYLC sermons: 


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Assistant minister position in growing independent church in Launceston, Tasmania

My mate Karl is the pastor of The Branch Evangelical Reformed Church, an independent church in Launceston, Tasmania.

The church is growing and he needs help to care for the church and train up leaders so that the church can continue to reach more and more people.

Check out the job ad here.



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