‘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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Preaching preparation hacks

I'm doing a session on preaching for the upcoming Christian Reflections Pop-Up Blog Tour 2.0 in Hobart.

I'd love your input to help round out my contributions:

1. Preaching preparation challenges

  • Especially occasional preachers: what are the challenges you encounter in preaching preparation?
  • What seems to take the most time?
  • Which parts do you find it hardest to set aside the time to work on?

2. Preaching preparation hacks

  • Especially more experienced preachers: what were the challenges you used to encounter in preaching preparation?
  • Which ones are still challenges?
  • Which ones have you overcome? How?
  • What hints and tips do you have to speed up or smooth our preaching preparation?

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How CCB could help campus ministries better

I was asked by someone in the Church Community Builder office to provide thoughts on how CCB could better help non-church ministries.

Here was my reply, as a result of brief reflection. Anyone else got thoughts? Any Elvanto fanbois wanna explain why Elvanto solves these problems better?


1. Cost is more prohibitive in a college ministry - so a cheaper price scale to enable us to move to Deluxe Version would be wonderful.

  • We are based on external donors rather than regular givers.
  • We tend to be more organisationally complex than a church of equivalent size:
    • campus ministries tend to have more staff per member than churches, because we are leading, much young people with a higher turnover,
    • we often run more conferences and events in a calendar year,
    • we are managing not only church members but donors, graduates.

2. Group Promotion would be great if we could leave people in a group based on GRADUATING DATE (a custom date field we create) rather than age.

3. Small groups are more likely to be a 'front door' for campus ministries, and so being able display:

  • PRECISE times custom built in the 'when and where' section of groups - rather than just morning/evening etc. we have worked around this by adding time-based customfields... but it'd be great to just use a calendar style function
  • Group Leader-defined Venue - rather than having the where in 'when and where' being a drop down of customziable fields, it'd be great if the group leader could just type it in

4. We have to track precise volunteer roles of lots of student leaders, and be able to provide easy reports on this:

  • we currenty use POSITIONS to do this, but it feels quite 'clunky' because I understand that Positions are primarily design to create rosters, right?

5. Campus ministries are built by networks of 1:1 mentoring relationships, and there is currently no easy way to pair people not based on department-coach-group leader hierarchy, but based on  who is in charge of mentoring whom:

  • we currently use Process Queues to pair people to one another - but it's not intuitive and it manually requires us to add new mentors as 'queue managers' each time as needed.

6. A non-HTML email option would be great, as college students can tend to interpret html-rich emails as spam/advertising.

7. I suspect there are features around Process Queues would help the support-raising process, but haven't played around with this enough to know if Process Queues are already. 

8. We track relationships not just to individuals but also to churches andother organisations. It would be great to have clearer guidance on how to treat organisations as 'people' in the CCB system.

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EV Church hosting an event on 5Ms and team pastoring

Wanted to find out more about how they actually do things at EV Church on the Central Coast of NSW? Want to think more about the '5 Ms' model of structuring church? Want to have a time to brainstorm these issues with a bunch of other pastors?

EV is hosting an event called 'Team Pastoring' on Friday 22nd to Saturday 23rd May that might be just the thing for you!

The program includes:

  • Andrew Heard & the EV Team: The vision for multiplying disciples. How to structure for growth – strategy & implementation.  
  • Dan Godden – Salt Church, Wollongong: Launching a new church with purposes in place – making it work from the beginning & a small church context.
  • Greg Lee – Hunter Bible Church, Newcastle: Making the Change – transitioning your church to the team pastoring structure.
  • Andrew Heard: Pushing through growth barriers – Up to 500 & beyond.

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Recent sermon/lectures on Atheism: Is Religion Good? Is Religion True?

As a part of our 'Universe Next Door' series, just this week I spoke twice on the topic of atheism:

  1. Is Religion Good?

  2. Is Religion True? - includes Q&A

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Guest blogger: Get some historical perspective and be patient as we sort out doctrinal differences

Thanks to Laura Roberts, from Louisville, KY, for giving me permission to repost her Facebook Statue Update as a guest blog post:

You know, it's funny: those who study church history are often pretty philosophical about how long it took the church to settle disputes about this or that -- we say things like "only a generation" or "within the lifetime of" and things like that, which indicate 40, 50, 60 years. But so many of us are incredibly impatient about the disputes of the modern church, and so much more pessimistic, as though the disagreements we've had in the last 60 or so years spell disaster and doom.

Friends, let's try to remember: the earliest Christians were debating whether or not Jesus was God, surely a more fundamental issue than what some of our quarrels land on today, and they made it through, because GOD IS FAITHFUL and the preservation of his church is HIS JOB. If the folks in those first-century churches were kept, it was by God's power. He holds his own, and keeps them even when they are confused or in doubt -- praise God! We can contend for the gospel without being contentious, trusting that God will preserve his own people in the truth, and approaching all disagreements with a gospel philosophy, believing that God has saved and kept us in spite of our own blind spots.

A God who can save and keep both Philemon AND Onesimus, both Peter AND Paul, both Elizabeth AND the woman at the well, is a God who is able to save and keep the law-breaker and the law-truster, the conservative and the liberal, the traditionalist and the progressive -- perhaps even by making them more like one another, drawing them towards each other in life-giving love, crafting one new man out of the old, dead, divided one.

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Domestic abuse, headship and divorce

Julia Baird has published a couple of articles in the Sydney Morning Herald over the last few weeks, that suggest a link between the biblical doctrine of a husband's headship in marriage and domestic violence. The first piece, struck me as a bit unfair, seemingly without context, and making allegations about links without any justification from a 'growing number of theologians'.:

Submission is a Fraught Mixed Message for the Church

She has recently published a more measure piece that spells out ways in which Christians have sought to prevent abusive misapplication of the headship doctrine, while also sharing some actual stories of cases where the doctrine has been horribly misapplied:

Doctine of Headship a Distortion of the Gospel Message of Mutual Love and Respect.

Pity about the article headline which utterly perverts the message of the piece itself.

Domestic abuse is a horrible business. To hear people hijiack scriptural teaching to justify controlling, bullying, abusive behaviour is heartbreaking and provokes outrage in me. And to hear of women who feel scriptural obedience requires surrender to such destructive behaviours is awful. And then to know that church leaders and Christian communities have not treated this with great seriousness, is very very troubling.

Why would they do that? Rarely out of a thoughtful application of the Bible's teaching on marriage, I would think, honestly. Maybe well-intentioned, or uninformed, or highly-educated pastors with low emotional intelligence just not knowing the right advice to give? Maybe overly busy or even burnt out pastors who are disinclined to properly investigate - knowing that there's often more than two sides to any story? Maybe cultural factors of 'not wanting to get involved' and 'wanting people to work things out'? Whatever the reason, it's awful to think the church did not defend those in need of protection. I hope and pray that more churches are doing the right thing here than not!

1. A Couple of Related Pieces

In various Facebook threads I came across links to these two articles which were published 3 years prior:

By Amelia Schwarze on the Bible Society Website

By Phillip Jensen on The Briefing Website

2. How should we respond?

A couple of random bullet point questions - but I'd love your feedback:

  • Is there more training required for ministers and churches on understanding domestic violence?

  • Do we need to be more explicit and blunt about how separation-for-safety is a completely legitimate behaviour for partners in a Christian marraige?

  • Is a high view of marriage and a low view of divorce another big contributing factor to a tendency for some Christians to advise victims of abuse to stay in abusive marriage? Is the minority view that the Bible does not permit divorce and remarriage even in the case of unfaithfulness and abandonment an ever bigger contributing factor?

  • Is domestic abuse actually higher in complementarian Christian homes? Someone mentioned a study that found that domestic abuse was higher than average in the homes of irregular churchgoers, and lower than average in the homes regular churchgoers - I wonder?

  • Should our attitude to domestic abuse be 'zero tolerance'? That is, leave the house after the first instance and launch a full investigation at that point? It seems that Julia Baird would say anything other than zero tolerance is asontishing. John Piper on the other hand seems to think zero tolerance is not right. Thinking out loud on a very sensitive topic, but I wonder if there are unintended negative effects of a zero tolerance policy?

3. Some comments on defensiveness, repentance and reactions to media pieces

  • The reactions to these articles among my Christian Facebook friends have been all over the map. Some reacting to the unfair approach of Baird's first piece. Others focussing on the need for us to do more about domestic abuse. Others saying we need to admit we have a problem and do something.

  • But what is to be done? In one sense, Baird's article comes out of nowhere and changes nothing. What should have been done needed to be done before, and continues to need to be done. Reacting to a newspaper article with another newspaper article is not really the issue.

  • But of course newspaper articles give a voice to real problems and real pain. And as Baird's second article suggests, many people felt relieved that she has spoken out for them. So in this case, making sure we speak out for victims of domestic violence, in the various channels of broadcasting is one form of advocacy, and even one for of training and producing cultural change, that we can tackle.

  • Some people were criticised for being 'defensive' in reacting to Baird's first piece. If this is a problem we should stop defending ourselves and deal with the problem, they were told. I don't think that is healthy. A healthy, long-term solution is to deal with a problem with the internal resources of the church - and sloppy accusations about biblical doctrine don't motivate or equip the church to reform from within. That's why Baird's second article was helpful. In its more irenic tone, it was far more productive in moving the church to align its resources to care for the abused.

Love to hear your thoughts, ideas, suggestions, reactions and resources.

What denominations and movements are doing good stuff in this area?

What resources and organisations are out there that can help us?

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Mirrors 27th February 2015

  1. My recent sermon at Crossroads Presbyterian Church on The Existence of God.

  2. Fifteen reasons churches are not evangelistic. What do you think of this list?

  3. Rory Shiner says Providence Church is loving using 'Slack' to manage internal communications. I'm yet to be convinced. Reluctant to add another 'channel' for communication if email can just be harnessed better for the same outcome. Anyone else use it?

  4. Pete Ko helps church plant core team members understand and cope with the reality of Monday Morning Melancholy: You have an enemy, you have a body, you need the gospel.

  5. Steve Kryger suggests examples for how to better serve non-Christians with our church websites - how does your church website rate?

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A couple of things about lapel and kylie microphones while preaching

A few random bits and pieces, from a preacher and a congregation member, not a sound engineer:

  • Kylie mics look stupid but they are by far the best sound quality, avoid stormy noises and pops from breathing and saying 'P' into microphones.

  • Kylic mics are hard to position just right so they don't rattle around and get annoying.

  • If there is a sound engineer, don't feel embarrassed about asking them to set things up, including positioninig your kylie mic.

  • Make super sure it is muted before you join in congregational singing, a personal conversation or go to the toilet.

  • Feed microphone cords (for lapel or kylic mics) through your shirt - it looks yuck to have cords flopping all over you. And tuck excess cord into your pocket.

  • Get a kylie mic cord clipped onto the back of your shirt collar.

  • If you going to preach with a lapel mic, wear a shirt that has something it can neatly clip onto. Bunched-up t-shirt with mic clip makes me sad.

  • Wear a best and get the brick that a lapel mic gets plugged into strapped to the BACK of your belt. I don't know what women speakers do at this point.

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Big church is bad - What about big city? Big family? Big country? Big denomination?

Without a doubt there are all sorts of abuses unique to big churches, or easier to commit in big churches. And without a doubt some abuses become worse as the scale of the church grows.

So some people say that we should restrict the size of the church, to curb these abuses.

I wonder how this suggestion maps onto other things that get big? Because after all, one of the things that seems to mark the astonishing capcity of humanity (a part of our image bearing?) is about ability to build large organisations.

So should we limit the size of our denominations? Our cities? Our extended families? Our nations?

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Mirrors 16th January 2014

  1. Two sides to every story: an Islamic response to the Charlie Hebdo shootings - arguing that free speech always occurs within a particular cultural frame.

  2. There are some risks with digital storage that are greater than physical storage, when it comes to cinema archives.

  3. 100 years of population change in my home state of Tasmania.

  4. Al Bain reflects on this last year of preaching.

  5. Twitter for Business has a bunch of infographic rich articles about how to develop a social media strategy for your business (or church?).

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Mirrors 2nd January 2015

  1. I can't remember if I've linked to this or not: Kevin de Young provides an interesting 16th Century Scottish ruling that mums and babies should not attend church. An interesting counter-balance to the argument that we should keep all our kids in church services!

  2. This formula for paying a guest preacher is just bizarre from an Australian Reformed evangelical point of view.

  3. A forum from the recent PAX conference on religion and computer games. My friend Jason Imms is on this panel.

  4. Fun tool on cultural differences and working relationships.

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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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