Mirrors 5th December 2014


  1. The unexpected challenges of the mission field: the challenges of furlough, downward mobility and others.

  2. Different glasses we can use to read the Bible: Dave's checklist is a good one to keep with your sermon prep materials and would provide a good series of workshops of preachers-in-training.

  3. What are reasons NOT to plant a church? Here are 9 reasons. I don't think the author makes a water-tight case, but does raises issues worth thinking through!

  4. An interesting interview between Mark Dever and Ken Mbugua about Chrisitanity in Kenya. It underlines the importance of providing solid theological training.

  5. Are you in sleep debt?

  6. Looks like a very helpful resource on caring for and ministering to homosexuals.






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Plateau church - 90-160 people

I think this captures the experience of many many churches I know:



Overgrown Small Church Style


The Plateau Church is an interesting church size. These churches are often called "Medium-sized" churches and have between ninety and one hundred and sixty in average attendance. They are called "plateau" because they are in many ways stuck between being small membership and large membership churches.


Plateau churches are uncertain of their identity, because they are caught between the relationship focus of the small church and the activity focus of the larger church. Their pastor is often busy being a repairperson or a gardener. The pastor is always pulling weeds, because they grow as soon as the back is turned. There is always something to fix whether it be relationships or hardware. There are always many small fires to be put out. A Plateau Church is often beyond the work of one pastor, but there are rarely the funds for additional professional staff. Burn-out is common among clergy and lay leaders for they are afraid to walk away for a few minutes because some other fire will crop up to be put out! The lay people and leaders in these congregations need to learn how to throw water on fires instead of gasoline.


Another characteristic of the Plateau Church is the development of small groups. This is one of the areas that will help the church move toward an activity focus like the medium church. Some members want to be nurtured through small groups, while others will want to be nurtured by personal pastoral care. Some want both! These churches often vacillate between the personal pastoral care and the activity focus. They will move upward or downward (neither is good or bad) on the type of church they are based on the focus (relationship or activity) of the day. They have a common problem that has to do with a growth barrier. They grow, hit the barrier and fall back again and again. They become larger than one person can handle for pastoral care and soon someone feels "not cared for" and average attendance drops back to a comfortable place for one-person-pastoral care. This will happen repeatedly over a period of years. People are aware of it but usually can not explain it.


Nicknames for these churches are Garden or House. There is always something to do, whether weeding or dusting and the work never really seems to get done!



From here.






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Movies, transcendence and love

I saw 3 movies recently about advanced intelligence, one ordinary film, one great fun film and one true masterpiece:



  1. Transcendence

  2. Lucy

  3. Her


All of them presented us with the gradually advancing intelligences. And part of the gradual advance of these intelligences was their distancing from human interest, passion and sympathy. It's a pretty common theme in science fiction in one way or another: that the more transcendent a personality becomes, the less concerned it will become with human affairs, and usually the less moral and compassionate.


This theme was especially refreshing in 'Her'. Here we find a subversion of the machines-take-over-the-world theme. Why would advanced machines be at all interested in the world? What interest would they have in taking it over?


All of this contrasts dramatically with the Christian revelation of God. The most transcendent and advanced of all intelligences is also compassionate and engaged wiht the affairs of human beings. Our God does not leave the issues of morality and compassion behind in his sublime state, but rather, God is light and God is love.






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Mirrors 10th October 2014


  1. I've been preaching through John chapter 1-5 at the Uni Fellowship of Christians this semester. You can listen to my sermons here.

  2. This article outlines the characteristics of how people think about sexual morality in the Western world today. These are the things we need to counteract in our discipleship, and interact with in our evangelism and cultural engagement: 1) Sexual acts don't have intrinsic meaning/purpose 2) Sexuality is subjective and intrinsic to our identity 3) Sexual agents are autonomous, rights-bearing individuals 4) Freely given consent is the watchword of sexual ethics 5) Beyond prevention of harm, seuxality should be free from constraint and stigma.

  3. A good fun 9 Marks podcast on how Mark Dever thinks about raising up leaders.

  4. A child welfare article on the positive impact fathers have on a child's wellbeing.

  5. I like this rule of thumb, from Dave Moore: being up the front of a meeting adds 10% of boring to you.

  6. Nathan Campbell's 10 tips on how to approach talking about sexuality as Christians.

  7. The different ways to use SMS, social media and email in ministry among young adults. I largely agree with Dave Moore's breakdown... although I work hard to train young adults to use email well, because they will have to in their working lives, so why not start in church life? It seems 'biblical productivity' is an aspect of discipleship in our electronic world.






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Ushers table, info desk and action tables

When it comes to hard copy information, our ministries are often in a muddle. We often don't have all the information we need, or it looks bad, or it's out of date, or we have too much irrelevant information, or it's in the wrong place. We probably do all of those things.


Here are some thoughts to sharpen up the way we make hard copy information available during our church gatherings and other ministry meetings:


1. Ushers table


This is the table exclusively for the things that everyone needs to be given, or at least offered, when they arrive. This is not for all the random promotional material. This is for the 'gold status' promotional stuff: the stuff you want to put in everyone's hands:



  • Bible and pen

  • contact card

  • whole church conference

  • weekly bulletin and songsheet

  • important budget update

  • upcoming mission event flier

  • newcomers guide, for newcomers


The great thing about keeping this separate from other kinds of information is that you can really sharpen up the main things you really want to promote, rather than overwhelming people with everything.


The important thing with the usher table (as with all the desks and tables in this post) is that the ushers actually put the stuff into people's hands. Don't leave it alone, you risk people walking by and not grabbing the necessary materials.


2. Information Desk


The stuff that is not for everyone to take for that specific meeting, should be put on a separate desk. This is the general information hub. The other materials you want to draw people's attention to, as it is relevant to them:



  • mission partners updates

  • events that you want to promote but are not high priority

  • detailed information on the church and its programs for people who want to find out more

  • books


Depending on how big your church or ministry is, you may have multiple information desks, for different ministries - for example a kids ministry info desk.


A few things are important here:



  • like the usher table, it needs to be manned, so we can actually interact with, and help people, who are looking at stuff... but it is a bit more like a retail sales assistance - offer help, but don't impose.

  • this can have more stuff on it than an usher table should, but still keep it clean, up to date and not over-crowded. I have noticed that often the smaller and more stagnant a church is, the more junk they have on their info table!

  • put your key 'about our church' and 'how to become a Christian' stuff front and centre.

  • put it somewhere that will help newcomers be able to hide-by-browsing. Generally that means near to doors and exits, so they don't feel trapped.


3. Action table


Finally, there's the place where people can go to take concrete actions: sign up for a newcomers night, register for a church camp, express interest in joining a small group.


This is more narrow than the information table in the sense that it is a call to action. It is not just general information. It may not necessarily even be a table at all, there are other ways of doing it, or multiple approaches you can use simulatenously:



  • it could all be done by filling out contact cards

  • it could be done with roving volunteers with clipboards


If there's anything you are going to make sure is always manned, then this is it. And ideally the people who man it are the people who are interested in the actions: if you have 'join a small group' on the table, then have some of your small group leaders there.


This action table may change or rotate its content over the year, depending on what the key next actions are. But there are some things that will be fairly constant.


It should definitely be near the main entry/exit... but this may be the after-church exit: in the main tea hall/social area. You may even need them in two places.


The power of the action table is that it doesn't rely on people knowing people, or having to initiate talk with strangers. And it also helps both the appointed volunteers and regular members broach the topic of next steps, in a more obvious manner.






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Expose ministry apprentices to great leaders and great opportunities

It can be easily, the longer you train apprentices, to slowly build a ministry machine into which they fit. They have their roles and you provide your curriculum.


But this is not the way to train great leaders.


Some people try to compensate for this by giving apprentices free reign in some area. They are given a blank canvas ministry opportunity. An open field to run (or build or farm) in. And this can help promote initiative and risk. But can also sometimes feel a bit artificial.


Another, complementary option is to deliberately build into their training 'exposure to great':



  • Find ways to get them meeting with, learning from, working with, helping and watching great leaders. Get them out of your ministry hierarchy, and get them sitting in on important skype meetings with important leaders, get them assist in planning the whole ministry program or strategy. Send them off for a season to work with a church planter.

  • Find ways to get them doing great things - far bigger and more demanding than a 'mere apprenticeship' might require. And rather than just throwing them in the deep end, commit a higher level of training, supervision and support than you normally give them in their regular duties.


This is especially the case if you perceive you have been entrusted by Christ with an exceptionally gifted ministry apprentice. You need to really stretch, grow, prepare and envision them during their time training with you.


Can you share examples of how you've done this?






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Andrew Heard’s critique of John Dickson’s ‘Hearing Her Voice’

Link to the PDF, hosted on Lionel Windsor's site.






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Evangelical liturgy: interviewing the guest preacher

One quaint bit of evangelical liturgy that comes up at conference events and even evangelical events, is the requirement that we do a 5 minute interview with the preacher before they preach.


There's nothing wrong with that. But there's something wrong with getting into a rut that assumes you have to do it. And there are a few reasons why you might not do it:



  1. It takes up time - especially in a full-program conference, using up time on a 5 minute interview is stealing time from the sermon.

  2. It introduces the preacher with off-the-cuff comments rather than their prepared introduction. I'd rather my first words of engagement and connection with the congregation be the carefully planned engaging words I've written, rather than the impromptu answers to getting to know you questions.

  3. It assumes that the 'real you' is your hobbies and family and minsitry experience. These are part of who the preacher is. But more fundamentally they are a child of God and a preacher of the gospel. And this is the main thing they are in front of us for.

  4. Building on this, implies we must have a 'friendship' connection with the preacher before they can preach to us. Now there are gospel principles that might lead us to choose to 'humanise' the preacher - for sure! And at the same time, we don't need them to talk make a couple of jokes and talk about their bicycle to show them to be humble and human.

  5. It relies on the preacher being a good interiew subject. Not all great preachers are great at public interviews or great at Q&A.

  6. It often lowers the event to a jokesy, folksy tone, right before the proclamation of the word.

  7. There are other perfectly adequate alternatives: a bio in the booklet, personal illustrations in the sermons, a brief introduction by the event MC.






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Lone Survivor, SAS Training and Ministry Training

Nikki and I saw Lone Survivor the other day. Brutal. Such powerful filmaking that it stopped the jingoism from ruining it.


At the start there's this brutal 'found footage' of Navy SEAL boot camp (a far cry from hot young things in lycra jogging in a local park - or church planters eating pastry and attending plenary sessions in a conference centre!). Harrowing experience. Who does this?


Some say the best ministry training should be like SAS or Navy SEAL training: to be the best you need to just be thrown in the deep end and be able to survive without too much hand holding. The idea is that too much pampering won't produce the kind of people we really need.


I kind of like that. I get it.


And at the same time, it's gotta be said: the people who survive in these kind of elite teams are ALREADY highly trained. In order to get in, and in order to surivive in them, you need to already be extremely capable.


So yes, we need to throw people in the deep end. But this is not a substitute for training and preparation. It is one element of larger process of skill and character formation.






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Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill removed from Acts 29 membership

Whoah






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Gideons, doctrinal bases and the textus receptus ESV

I did a little bit of reading about the Gideons recently. I got Rocky Racoon stuck in my head as a result.



They have a curious doctrinal basis. It doesn't touch a whole lot of topics, but a few ones that in their focus and wording mark out the particular cultural background to the movement:



"The Gideons International is a diverse association in that our members come from many Protestant denominations with a common interest in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. All Gideons also hold important core beliefs:


The Bible is the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God.


Members must also:


Have received Jesus as their personal Savior.

Endeavor to follow Him in their daily lives.

Be members in good standing in their Protestant/evangelical churches.

Have the recommendation of their pastors."



They also emphasise belief in "the endless lake of fire for the unsaved" and the resolve to "follow Christ in your daily life".


What is good about these brief doctrinal markers? What is lacking?


They distributed the NKJV for a long time. But they have recently moved to the ESV. But it turns out they have a peculiar attachment to the Textus Receptus, and so the ESV publishers have produced a special Gideons version.






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Contribute to Christian Reflections

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


Do you enjoy getting the titbits of ideas, theories, advice, links and controversy? Why not throw a little change into the busker's hat?


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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Donations can be made through the AFES website here.






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