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Every now and then I try to put before you, my readers, the opporutnity to give back to the ministry of Christian Reflections.

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I work as a home missionary for AFES, working at the Univeristy of Tasmania in Hobart. Like all missionaries, my ongoing work is funded through ministry partners.

You can give to my ministry ($25? $50? $100?) - and so the expression of that ministry here on the blog, through the AFES website.

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Preaching applications: who are you preaching to?

It seems that we preachers get stuck in a rut of only preaching to a few archetypes. We have particular sins, personality types, or caricatures that we return to again and again in application. Not only is this unfair on people who loosely fit this mould, but it is also failing to apply the gospel to many others.

Here are some of the different 'Mr Men' and 'Little Miss' characters you might address in your application:

  • Little Anxious

  • Mister Spirituall Dry

  • Mister Up-Himself

  • Little Miss Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl

  • Mister Hyper-Zealous

  • Little Miss Flippant

  • Mister Complacent

  • Little Miss Discouraged

  • Mister Idealist

  • Little Miss Conservative

  • Mister Pragmatic Non-Intellectual

  • Little Miss Angry

  • Mister Worldly

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Mirrors 11th July 2014

  1. Kevin de Young spells out a case for the Presbyterian form of church government in bullet points.

  2. Dave McDonald explains why it's different to care for those with chronic illness, compared to those in crisis.

  3. Tim Challies, as a baptist, obviously, gives his answer to the question "At what age should we baptise?"

  4. Phillip Jensen compares 'non-denominational' networks to 'inter-denominational' networks.

  5. A nice gem from Dave Moore: 'whatever is your bare minimum is your priority'.

  6. So apparently the home field advantage is not because the PLAYERS are adversely affected by travel or more encouraged by their larger home supporters. It's because the UMPIRES feel pressured by the home crowd to rule in favour of the home team... or so this blog argues.

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Mirrors 13th June 2014

  1. What things help young people raised in church keep their faith into adulthood? 'Here 2 Stay' is a ministry committed to encouraging this. The factors they list include: family nurture, serving in mission, positive peer community, peak experiences, generational connection and rites of passage.

  2. A friend of mine runs a productivity consultancy business, called Spacemakers. You might like to check out his blog.

  3. I had this 9 Marks audio of a panel talking about 'reaching the unreached' in my list of things to blog for so long I can't remember what I liked about it :-/

  4. All the talk about Gen Y and Gen Z can be used as a cop-out for being a bad leader. Blame them for being slack, when really you are the one being slack. A helpful corrective: Do millenials really want anything more than good leadership?

  5. You may not fully agree with Andrew Heard's 'free market' view of a church's missionary giving, but there's still lots of juicy concepts in this video.

  6. What is the world coming to? Luke showed me this recent Korean fad: watching someone cook and eat on YouTube. I THINK it's meant to give company, while you eat at home alone, in the same way that Grandma leaving the TV on in the background fills the silence. These videos go for hours....

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Keeping relationships current helps you deal with crises: family crisis example

'Networking' can have a bad name. It seems like a sleazy thing involving business card exchanges and cocktail parties.

But building relationships and keeping them current is a good and healthy and normal thing.

Driving home from a family holiday the other day, Nikki and I were chatting about how it's important even in a family context.

One of the hardest and most stressful things is to have to deal with a family crisis with your adult siblings. Your parents are ageing or ill, or one of the nieces or nephews have gone off the rails, a marriage is on the rocks or there are major financial or alcohol problems. It's so hard to 'talk business' with your siblings. It can lead to awkward exchanges and even nasty conflicts. Misunderstandings abound as siblings pair off to plan and scheme on the phone without including others.

Keeping relationships current with your extended family is a massive help in preparing for these seasons. If you don't bother with birthdays, Christmases, family gatherings and so on because they are 'such a bore', 'so fake', or 'too much effort', then you will be totally out of practice in relating to your siblings when a crisis hits. There won't be any relational money in the bank. You won't be in a good groove.

But there sheer regular effort of talking together, eating together, smiling at each other all sets you up to be in a better position when you need to sit down across the kitchen table and talk about a big issue.

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Working on Christian Reflections blog tour material: leadership

I'm working on material for the blog tour - the first leg of the tour is this coming Tuesday in Launceston, Tasmania.

One of the sessions will be on leadership.

It's common for modern leadership stuff to major on how leadership is all about culture, influence and persuasion. And those things are important.

It's common for Christians to major on Jesus' teaching that we should pursue servant leadership. And this is crucial for our ethics of leadership.

But fundamentally leadership is not about influence. Nor can it be fully defined by the concept of servanthood.

Leadership is about power. It is being in a position of power over others - to compel them to do things. And it brings with it a corresponding responsibiltiy to use this power rightly.

'Servant leadership' can guard against some abuses of power, but not all. Many of the great absolutist dicatators claimed to be 'servants of the people' and even dress in military or civilian clothes to demonstrate that they are not kings. But sadly this 'service' can be used to justify all manner of oppression - it's 'for the good of the people'.

By talking openly about power and authority, and seeking to discover what the Bible teaches about these topics, we are forced to think about justice and mercy. These things also are needed to restrain power.

Click here to register and pay for a Christian Reflections Pop-Up Blog Tour event near you.

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Urban church planting means lots of churches in close proximity (same parish?)

Cities are big, densely populated and diverse.

If we are serious about reaching cities with the saving message of Christ, we need more than a one-church-per-suburb parish system. We need to be willing to tolerate multiple ministries in close proximity. In fact we should proactively multiple ministries in close proximity.

There are simply far too many people and far too many different KINDS of people in any one urban area, to be be realistically 'covered' by a single church.

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Questions to ask to test your culture

Some more helpful stuff that came out of the Coaches Conference:

Testing 'engagement' in your ministry

There are three questions to ask to see what level of 'engagement' there is from the people involved in your ministry:

  1. What do people SAY about your ministry? Do they talk about the ministry informally? To outsiders? Do they say good things or bad things or incidential things?

  2. How long do people STAY with your ministry? Do people find it hard to stick? Do they leave after brief involvement? Or they they lock in and become part of the community?

  3. How hard to people STRIVE for your ministry? Do you create opportunities for people to participate? Do people readily accept these opportunities? Or do you have a volunteer crisis?

What kind of culture do we promote here?

What are the things we value? Prize? Celebrate? Expect? Approve of? What is the air our community breathes?

What are the things we look down on? Ignore? Critique? Censure? Care less about?

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Support Christian Reflections: make a donation

Do you get a lot of value out of Christian Reflections? I regularly get people from all over the place that they find the content stimulating and practically helpful in their Christian thinking and ministries.

A couple of times a year I reach out to you, dear reader, and ask you to consider contributing something small towards Christian Reflections. By making a donation towards my ministry with AFES, you can also support my online ministry through Christian Reflections.

Donations can be made through the AFES website here.

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Lesson to learn about expo stalls from National Training Event

NOTE: Sorry about the images not displaying properly. I’m trying to figure out how to turn off the automatic word-wrap setting on the new site. Don’t know the HTML to do it :-/

Churches might need to have expo stalls at local community fairs. Para church organisations like AFES groups and Bible colleges and mission societies need to have expo stalls for large Christian events, such as AFES’ National Training Event.

How do you do a good expo stall? Here are some good lessons and a few awards:

1. Attractive signage and cohesive space draws the eye: Prize to Ridley College

Top points for overall space presentation. They has this lovely purple and this podium-like pillar and solid, curved backdrop. Would’ve cost a lot, I imagine, but it was very striking and marked out the Ridley space well.

I’m afraid I don’t have a photo of this one, as I only thought of this blog post after I left NTE :-/

2. Have something really awesome to give away: Prize to Moore College
There are the basics, like pens and thumb drives and lollies. But something special and distinctive. Something that looks nice and is actually useful. Moore College’s funky little multi-coloured post-it note package was a stand-out:


And inside there was a layer of multi-coloured bookmark stickynotes and then a pad of larger standard stickynotes:


3. Too much junk cheapens your brand: Prize to SMBC
SMBC had chips, chocolate, frisbees, pens, highlighter-triangle-things, stress balls. And so many chips and chocolate. But the end result? Great place for stuff. But the delegates end up having a lower view of your brand:


4. Have a tsotchke that fits with your core purpose: Prize to SMBC
On the other hand, look again at the photo above. See that globe stree ball? THAT’S good. I mean, what has a pen got to do with world mission? But the WORLD? Well that’s got a lot to do with world mission. It not only has the logo of the college on it, but it embodies the mission.

And when you think about it a little more, even the stress ball thing kind of works.

5. Have a stall that people can interact with: Prize to OMF

Something intriguing and playful, that draws you to the stall and leads to productive conversation with the stall owner. OMF has this great visual display of bowls of white and brown rice. The amount of rice represented the population, the white rice represented the ‘reached’ peoples and the brown rice ‘unreached’:


6. Have a very clear next action… and make it seem easy by using an app: Prize to Geneva Push

What’s your goal for people who stop to talk with you at your stall? What’s your next action for them? Geneva had the goal of getting people to give their contact details and sign up for the email newsletter.

And for some silly reason everything feels easier when it involves an iPad interface. And the stall has an iPad on a stand that you could plug in your email address to subscribe then and there.

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Ministry New Year’s resolutions: I really should spend more time…

Almost all of these could be an area of improvement all at once (almost all)! But is there one or two you particularly plan to focus on this year?

  1. Spend more time with my family?

  2. Spend more time with non-Christians?

  3. Spend more time in thinking, study and sermon prep?

  4. Spend more time in prayer and Bible reading?

  5. Spend more time debating with other pastors on Facebook?

  6. Spend more time discipling and raising up leaders?

  7. Spend more time planning about the future of your ministry?

  8. Spend more time getting the admin and structures and finances in good shape?

  9. Spend more time working on improving on ministry skills?

  10. Spend more time in hospitality?

  11. Spend more time being a practical help to others?

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Ministry work hours 8: The Value of Counting Hours

As the previous blogs in the series have stressed, I’m not persuaded that work-per-hour thinking is the best way of thinking about ministry work.

But I do think there is a place for keeping a timesheet and counting hours. Here are just some of the benefits of this secondary grid for evaluating our ministry work:

  1. It forces us to see what we really actually do. Just the very act of measuring things normally makes us better at using them.

  2. It helps us budget our time better. When you realise how much time is lost in meetings, or how much time is spent on the sermon - or how little - you can make some more strategic decisions.

  3. It helps you budget time longer term too: when you add up how much time something takes, you can work out how you might re-distribute that time. Often when we stop things we just let other things expand to fill the vacuum, or we just take on things mindlessly. It might be better to proactively replace that thing.

  4. It helps us say ‘No’. It is easier to say No to new requests, projects or appointments if you see that you literally have no more time available. To say Yes would require you to get rid of something else.

  5. It can help others in your life: your wife my feel you are working too much, but when you have an objective timesheet, this may turn out to be merely her subjective impression… or it may be accurate and help her persuade you to slow down!

  6. It helps you see patterns of busy seasons, quiet seasons, unproductive seasons.

  7. It holds you accountable to work and to rest.

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Mirrors 24th January 2014

I observed that Iron Man 3 and Mission Impossible 4 are not about the scary domination of technology, like the Matrix, but rather about when it doesn’t work. Well for some reason I succeeded in posting the 31st January Mirrors this morning and not posting the 24th January one. Oh well here it is. Two for the price of one.

  1. Is Facebook failing because the News Feed is too full? I’m not so sure. Any internet usage assumes you will miss a large part of what you could possibly catch.

  2. Leaders need to be careful how we use and define language.

  3. A helpful gender-specific insight from Charlie Pickering: ‘domestic violence’ isn’t a thing that just passively happens. It is men being violent to women. It is odd how we mustn’t talk about differences between genders… unless we must…?!

  4. Busy isn’t respectable any more. I don’t think it ever WAS respectable. Some of these reactionary posts, like posts about poor technology usage, can overstate the problem and so over-prescribe the solution. But they do make helpful observations.

  5. A fun review of Michael Bird’s new systematic theology. Keep an eye out for when the reviewer picks up on and critiques Bird’s particular theological quirks.

  6. Which of these outdated web features does your ministry’s website still have? Some of these (like auto play) are so obvious it’s not funny. But then others are too trendy to be true. The over-simple, user-action website is annoying to me. It is no help to the consumer who wants to know about the people, the history, the values of the organisation. When a website is too basic and iPhone-ish, I feel like it is a bit junk-food.

  7. What if you realise that you need to give some additional feedback during a staff member’s annual review? The basic rule is there should be no surprises at an annual review. But what if you really ought to say something?

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Campus ministry at UTAS - Part 1: Fellowship Groups not Bible Studies

Over the next month or so, I’m going to talk through some of the aspects of how we do the campus ministry at the University of Tasmania, called ‘University Fellowship of Christians’. I have people asking about how we do things from time to time, and so I figured it’d be helpful to put it all down in one place.

Fellowship Groups: not Bible Studies

Our small groups are not small group Bible Studies or gospel communities, but rather they are missionary prayer groups. About half of them might do Bible studies as a part of their meeting time, but this is not compulsory. What is compulsory is that they spend time in evangelistic prayer:

  • They run from 30-90 minutes.

  • They have from 3-15 people.

  • They are groups mainly around faculty/course or residential college.

  • They pray for their non-Christian friends and classmates, for other campuses using AFES’ monthly PrayerNet bulletin, for world mission, using a range of resources, such as the CMS Prayer Diary.

A Missionary Society Not A Church

We are very clear that we don’t intend to be a local church. We are not able to provided holistic pastoral care for our students. We are not aiming to meet all their discipleship needs.

Rather we are a missionary society on campus, who is focussed on engaging students in evangelistic mission AND training up Christian leaders.

So we don’t run growth groups, that might double-up and overlap with the growth groups students might attend with church. We don’t want them dropping out of church because ‘I already get that on campus’, not do we want them avoiding our campus small groups because ‘I already go to a growth group at church’. Our groups are doing something different and unique.

Evangelistic Prayer, Evangelism and Overseas Mission

It is my conviction that one of the best ways to start getting people thinking and acting evangelistically is to get them to start regularly praying evangelistically. It is hard to look at your classmates from a merely worldly point of view if you are praying for their conversion each week.

More than this, the group begins to function as a small form of evangelistic accountability. When you ask for prayer as you invite a classmate to the evangelistic course, you are also prompting the group to ask you next week how you went!

In the same way, one of the best ways to get people to seriously consider full-time ministry and overseas mission is to get them to pray for the great and plentiful harvest. I want students to be heavily exposed to world mission through involvement in our ministry. And I think praying for world mission is more powerful than short-term mission trips.

Pastoral Care, Socialising and Training

It’s not that we neglect to care for the people in our groups. We give training to our group leaders to provide pastoral care to their group members, we encourage them to plan social times and do one to one ministry.

We do these things because even though we are primarily an evangelistic and leadership training ministry, we are still a CHRISTIAN ministry. We do not want to neglect the spiritual welfare of others, simply because it is not our core mission.

We also have a larger structure, ‘Faculty Clusters’ that provide some of these things. More in a future post.

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TED take-down

Nathan blogs critically about some of the weaknesses of the TED Talks. He raises good points, as well as giving an example of how TED can figure as part of a larger and deeper ‘conversation’.

Must admit I’ve never gotten into the TED thing. Partly for the reasons Nathan articulates for me. Partly because I’m just not a visual person. Nathan writes at the end:

Another interesting thing about the popularity of TED, by the by, is that it (along with the rise of YouTube tutorial videos and vlogs) represents a movement back from a predominantly written culture to an oral/visual culture – if you’ve ever checked out the comments on YouTube you could say a pre-literate oral/visual culture. This has interesting implications for people whose job it is to communicate something to such a culture, and its possible this means being a bit more creative in how we present stuff, preferably without wiping out depth and complexity.

He’s right. And I find it a challenge. The internet photo and video stuff leaves me cold. So shallow and in the case of video - time consuming and dull. I don’t get the point of Instagram and I think most video content is scrappy. But he’s right: so much of the internet is visual. So I’m consciously seeking to understand and counteract my personal preference!

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Mirrors 10th January 2014

  1. Phillip Jensen has some good thoughts on the pros and cons of outsourcing:

    • While it is fashionable to speak of outsourcing, there’s nothing new in it - nor is it an evil that must be resisted. The whole of society is built upon outsourcing. Without outsourcing, people have to live in a subsistence economy, where each citizen grows their own food, builds their own house, makes their own clothes and provides everything for himself or herself. As soon as we move to any division of labour we have started the process of outsourcing. From the division of domestic duties, to the selling of goods with neighbours, to the trade between businesses, society is built on outsourcing.

    • Bottom-line rationalists rarely consider the long-term intangible effects of their behaviour. Working at home through the internet and email may be efficient but not so in developing long term personal relationships. Little emoticons in emails are not as good as a smile, a frown or the twinkle of an eye. The quality of relationships cannot be outsourced. When the quantity of our life is consumed by the business of providing for our outsourcing we have become the slaves of industry and are outsourcing life itself.

  2. This is such good advice for young preachers:

    I have often observed with most regret upon this subject is young persons carrying the things that are really true and excellent to a certain excess or high pitch that is beyond nature, and does not tend in the least to promote conviction, but rather hinders it. When men speak of virtue or true goodness, they are apt to raise the description beyond the life in any real instance, and when they speak of vice and its consequences they are apt to draw the character so as it would apply only to a few of the most desperate profligates, and the miserable state to which they reduce themselves. This rather seems to fortify the generality of persons to whom these descriptions do not apply, in their careless and secure state.

  3. Thom Rainer lists five chronological phases of a pastor’s ministry:

    • Honeymoon

    • Conflicts and Challenges

    • Crossroads Part 1

    • Fruit and Harvest

    • Crossroads Part 2

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Mirrors 3rd January 2014

  1. A thoughtful Christian review of the theories of life, media and society evoked by the recent Hunger Games film.

  2. I personally like Love Actually, but I agree with this article that it is hardly a ‘romantic’ comedy.

  3. We don’t let our daughter have Barbie dolls. But maybe we would if she had the body measurements of a real woman, as these remakes demonstrate.

  4. Kevin de Young gives us a history lesson on Saint Nicholas and how we became Santa Claus.

  5. Mike Jolly gives some advice on using Facebook, including:
    It’s also important to reflect on the experience to see if it’s even something you enjoy. Many people find Facebook depressing, boring and upsetting. It’s important to bear this in mind before signing up.

  6. The Briefing has linked to some helpful articles about gay marriage. Getting the government to ‘stop interfering in people’s private lives’ sometimes leads to a greater degree of interference down the track.

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Mirrors 20th December 2013

  1. Some people are poisonous, some people are venomous. Both are danger, but each are different.

  2. I love Challies’ mooshy posts about his wife. 18 Things I Will Not Regret Doing With My Wife (and also 18 Things… My Kids)

  3. Stu gives us some language for talking about different kinds of preaching gifts, without implying one kind of preacher is ‘better’ than another: convention preacher vs congregation preacher.

  4. Dave Moore rightly disagrees that gospel workers must have secular work experience to be good ministers.

  5. Haha: one more Challies gooey post about his wife. This one is lovely - “She strengthens me”.

  6. Are you able to contribute a small amount to our mission work on campus at UTAS? We are currently running a fundraising drive.

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Don’t sentimentalise biblical metaphors for church and ministry

In this great session from Andrew Heard with the FIEC in the UK, he pulls apart the way we sentimentalise biblical metaphors for church and ministry.

We think shepherd/pastor involves a gentle, cuddly, counselling model of ministry. But in the Bible the shepherd was the ruler, leader, protector of his flock.

And we think the family metaphor implies the small, casual, informal Western nuclear family of a couple with 2 kids. But what of the family with 9 children? Such a family needs to be highly regimented and organised, with good routines and delegation in place. And yet it is not somehow less a family for that.

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An idol isn’t an all-consuming object of worship

Modern evangelical theo-psychology has over-defined idols in a way that doesn’t make sense of historical idolatry or human sin. Take for example Keller’s definition from Counterfeit Gods:

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give

Just as Calvin said the human nature is heart is a perpetual factory of idols, so modern evangelical pop-psychology is a factory of idol-talk. And I think it’s run away from itself. Ten years ago sin was wrongly defined as fundamentally ‘selfishness’. Now it defined as fundamentally ‘idolatry’. Both are inaccurate.

In the first place, idolatry is first bad because it is a sin of false religion. Religious idolatry is wicked, even if there is no emotional engagement with it. It is wicked to perform acts of worship to a false god, even if I don’t especially care about that god. I worry that in leaving the literal definition of idolatry in favour of metaphorical psychologising, we will stop rebuking literal idolatry.

But more than this, idols are PLURAL in the Bible. Idolatry is not monotheistic. To look to one God to be at the centre of our life and consume our hopes, desires and service is a monotheistic thing. Idols did not demand that exclusive service in ancient paganism. Idolatry does not demand the kind of monotheistic worship.

Indeed idolatry can be quite emotionally distant. I don’t need to be all-absorbed by the idol. I USE the idol. Give the sacrifice in order to get a benefit. Idolatry is more pragmatic than monotheism.

In the Old Testament, idolatry is compared the the adultery of sleeping around, not the modern adultery of falling in love with a mistress. idolatry is not finding a ‘new wife’ in a false god, but running after petty pleasures from multiple partners. So do we turn aside form God and find another idol to meet all those needs? Maybe. Or maybe we drift from fix to fix, in a series of idolatrous one-night-stands.

Now you COULD say that this is because there is an underlying ‘heart-idol’ that leads us to restlessly run from thing to thing. But at this point I wonder whether we’ve left biblical talk about idolatry behind and invented a whole new layer of evangeli-psychology. Is ‘idol’ the right category for this underlying evil drive. Or is the word for that just ‘sin’?

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