Mirrors 27th November 2015

1. So apparently it is now 5 years between graduating from uni and landing landing full-time, permanent work. That doesn’t sound so fun. 

2. At least after 5 years uni students are getting work. What about in the future when almost everything will be done by robots? How will we make sure that the rest of us are properly provided for? How accurate is this video do you think?

3. I’m a Christian but I’m not… went viral a few months back. There’s lots of stuff here I’d want to agree with. Until I begin to wonder whether I really do agree at all.  But worst of all is the almost total lack of Jesus in this entire thing. 

4. When did Steve McAlpine’s blog become so wonderful? He is the ‘it’ Aussie blogger at the moment I reckon. This post on helping prepare Christian teenagers to interact in a society that is hostile to Christian sexual ethics is terrific. 

5. A bunch of helpful training videos from the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission 

6. Is it a big deal whether or not Christians choose to sometimes refer to God as ‘she’? 

7. Ten things you should know about the gender pay gap. 

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Passive sabotage: doing a task with alligator arms

We watched this video of Patrick Lencioni summarising the 5 disfunctions of a team in our staff retreat today. It was a fruitful time of training and discussion.

The bit that I really fell in love with was when he was describing the kind of behaviours people engage in when they are not really committed to a team.

Rarely do people actively sabotage a team they are not committed to, Lencioni argues. Rather we passively sabotage. He vividly describes it as ‘doing a task with alligator arms’ (ie small and fiddly and ineffective). See the video below at 23 minutes:

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God didn’t choose a random nation he created one

In question time at this year's Tasmanian MYC, my colleague Sam Green gave a great answer to a question about Israel. 

Often we ask 'Why did God choose one nation among many? Why did he choose only one nation?" and so on.

It is true that God speaks of Israel as 'a chosen nation'. And there are many answers to this question of why he chose this nation and only this nation. The LORD clearly says it's not becasue they were great or wise, but simply because he chose to show his favour to them.

But Sam pointed out that in the first place, God didn't choose a nation at random among many existing nations. Rather, he CREATED a new nation out of his promise to the one man (and him nearly dead): Abraham.

So it's not that God chose a nation, God made a new nation of his very own. He created something new.

And in this way his election of Israel is much closer to the New Testament doctrine of new birth. And in this way, as Romans 4 points out, the creating of Israel actually gives hope to all other nations.

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Chronic illness and serving God - Charlotte Elliot

At church last night, our pastor told the story of Charlotte Elliott, author of 'Just As I Am'. She became sick at the age of 30 and remained ill the rest of her life. And yet from her sick bed she wrote many hymns for the Invalid's Hymnbook (!) including the Billy Graham Crusade classic 'Just As I Am'. She wrote:

My Heavenly Father knows, and He alone, what it is, day after day, and hour after hour, to fight against bodily feelings of almost overpowering weakness and languor and exhaustion, to resolve, as He enables me to do, not to yield to the slothfulness, the depression, the irritability, such as a body causes me to long to indulge, but to rise every morning determined on taking this for my motto, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.

And her brother, a Christian minister wrote of her:

In the course of a long ministry I hope I have been permitted to see some fruit for my labours; but I feel far more has been done by a single hymn of my sister's

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How a former pastor (or ministry team leader) can stay at their church after a transition

It's received wisdom in my ministry circles for the pastor to change churches when they step down. I've heard plenty of sad stories about former pastors sticking around and there being all sorts of difficulties, until the former pastor eventually leaves.

The same is true with other ministry teams for parachurch ministries and ministry organisations - it is very difficult to make this transition.

And yet it's not impossible for the former leader to stick around and everything to go fine. It happens in non-church contexts all the time, it has no doubt happened historically in traditional churches and it seems to happen a bit in Pentecostal churches.

My personal experience

I have had a positive experience of this change this twice:

  1. I helped plant Crossroads Presbyterian Church. Dan Shepheard join our staff in 2008 with a view to taking over leadership. He worked in 2008 under my leadership. In 2009 he took over senior leadership but I remained on the staff team. In 2010 stopped serving as a staff member and as an elder, began working for AFES, but remained a member of the church.
  2. In 2010 I became Campus Director of AFES Hobart. Samuel Green, who was formerly both Campus Director and leader of the Uni Fellowship ('local'/English first language group), handed these roles to me, but remained the Tasmanian Regional Director.

Both transitions were challenging, but but 'worked'. We went into the change with lots of thought, lots of prayer, lots of communication. And by God's kindness they went great.

For the leader stepping down

Nothing is so serious in the future of this ministry that it justified the former pastor interfering. The former pastoring interfering will always be the worst of two evils.

For the person taking over

Honour and respect the previous leader, rather than seek to conform them to the new way of doing things. Be willing to 'grandfather in' all sorts of exceptions to honour the place of the former leader - especially if they stay on the staff team.

Thom Rainer's advice

This post was sparked by reading Thom Rainer's blog post on the subject. I think we pretty much did everything on this list:

  1. Don't expect former pastor to sever all relationships.
  2. If the relationship is healthy the advantages of keeping the former leader are many.
  3. The former pastor should take an extended break from attending the church.
  4. The longer the tenure, the longer the break should be.
  5. The former pastor should not keep trying to be the pastor of members.
  6. The former pastor should not be perceived to be second-guessing the new pastor.
  7. The new pastor should not denigrate the ministry of the former pastor.

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Ideas for making contacts and following up from ‘Cru’ (Campus Crusade for Christ)

I've enjoyed reading and listening to some material on how American uni ministries have made the most of new contacts in the first few weeks of the uni year - it comes from the blog of a guy named Tim Casteel:

Some things that stood out to me because they differend in various ways from how we've done things here:

  1. Involve lots of local church people to volunteer to help increase your O Week workforce
  2. Have LIVE data entry - so that some people are plugging in details at the same moment that others are making contacts.
  3. Chase a new contact SEVEN times, over the course of a week before giving up.
  4. Hold social nights on campus each night you do contacting during the day - so there is something to invite people to straight away - with free pizza, brief explanation about the Christian group, a testimony etc.
  5. Invite people BACK to the place where you held the social night the following week - and run first year small groups in that context for the first few weeks of semester.
  6. Aim to meet with every new contact face to face in the first few weeks of semester.
  7. Have multiple contact tables all over the campus.
  8. Create a really festive 'party' fun vibe for students and staff who are doing the immediate phone/SMS/email follow up of new contacts.
  9. The role of the staff is especially to go between all the teams and boost morale - reminding them why it's worth it.
  10. Use a brief, simple survey of people's 'Spiritual interest' so that you get Christians, non-Christians, interested and non-interested to fill them out.
  11. Ask 'Would you like to join a group?' and give options Yes, No and Maybe so students don't have to commit then and there.
  12. Have little incentives for people to fill out the surveys - something decently attractive and free!
  13. Ask those who fill out each form to write their name on it afterwards, too.
  14. Provide free snacks and drinks for all those doing the work, during the day.

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Mirrors 30th October 2015

1. A visual journey through the book of Romans, from Lionel Windsor.

2. A survey of Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) staff to student ratio across the United States:

  • % of uni students involved in Cru (between 0.10%-0.60%, but mainly ~0.30%)
  • ratio of staff:total student numbers (between 7000-16 000)
  • ratio of staff:students in Cru (between 1:12 and 1:40)
  • numbers of staff raised up and sent out 

3. I've felt weird about using off-shore virtual assistants, so it's nice to see some Christian, Australian-based options. Sam Jensen is now offering this service. Has anyone used this kind of thing before? I've not yet tried it out.

4. 30 questions to ask your kid after school instead of 'How was your day?'.

5. In this podcast, Thom Rainer interiews Lee Strobel and Matt Mittelberg about evangelism and local church leadership. I love the practical, do-able ideas they give on building evangelistic culture in the local church. I love how evident it is that these guys are just sincerely passionate about evangelism. I love that Lee Strobel sounds like Alan Alda from MASH.

6. Six costs of real friendships.

7. Steve McAlpine's critique of The Suburban Captivity of the Church.

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Renewing an Existing Ministry - Down to Earth Tips

Ministry renewal stuff often focus on the transformative stuff — prayer and vision and modeling and qualitative change. These things are absolutely true. And all these things will help when seeking to breathe fresh life into a plateaued ministry or repot a dying church.

In this post, though, I’d like to add some more hard, down-to-earth tips that I observe often happen in these kinds of renwals. They are the fruit of prayer and vision and all that. But I suspect that sometimes the order can be reversed and these things can stimulate things and so stir up that more ‘soft’ stuff.

1. Work Harder

Seasons of renewal bring a resolve to work harder, even among those who are already working hard. Stagnation is often marked by a freezing of possibility. And so our imagination shrinks. It doesn’t mean that these ministries aren’t busy and people aren’t working hard - they are often slowly grinding into dust!

And yet, those who bring renewal often come in and double or triple efforts. They stretch themselves and those around them. And they also speed up or simplify complicated and demanding things that were previously absorbing everyone’s time and energy.

2. Set a High Bar When You’re Struggling to Get Anyone

The viscious cycle of desperation means that we struggle to find anyone to fill our gaps in ministry, and so we lower the bar of spiritual maturity and practical skill. But if we’re not careful this just makes things worse.

Of course our expectations need to match reality. And yet often effective renewal brings a fresh resolve to stand by values and ideals - such as spiritual maturity and ministry quality. Better to work with a smaller team, do less and do it right, than limp along in compromise.

3. Replace Managers with Leaders

Ministries can run very well with a lot of managers who keep their various responsiblities ticking. In fact the elders and ministers can be functionally nothing more than managers overseeing the meager growth, comfortable plateau or slow decline of their church.

Leaders who bring renewal bring a new role description to ministry leaders. Rather than simply managing activities, running meetings, sending communciations and delivering reports - elders, staff and ministry team leaders are expected to actually lead. This means setting vision, evaluating progress against vision, coaching team members, delegating and recruiting new leaders.

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Mirrors 23rd October 2015

1. An example of in-depth contextualisation and how tricky it can be - why a white feminist decided to stop wearing dreadlocks.

2. "A person gets a flier about Easter services in 2013. In 2014 we forgot to flier that street. They get another Easter flier in 2015. Why do we expct many people to come from getting 1 flier every 2 years?" - Bernard Cane has lots of good stuff to say about diligent and integrated outreach and promotions in this seminar.

3. Brian Harris gives his ethical and pstoral reflections on the same sex marriage debate. The section on James Nelson's spectrum of responses to homosexuality in the church is helpful: rejecting punitive, rejecting non punitive, qualified acceptance and full acceptance.

4. Someone recently recommended this tool to me: https://youcanbook.me/. I've so far found it a really helpful to speed up the process of trying to find convenient times to meet people. 

5. For organising group meetings, http://doodle.com is the go-to tool of choice.

6. Why being a pastor-scholar is nearly impossible. Love the dose of realism here!

7. Dominic Steele has posted all the video interviews he did at last year's and this year's Nexus Conference.  

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My review of The Martian

I wrote a review of The Martian for Gospel Coalition Australia.

Most of all, The Martian is a wonderful celebration of humanity — our ingenuity and resilience. I found the film’s climax infectiously joyous rather than cheap or sentimental. On a deeper level, the film was able to celebrate humanity without becoming atheistic. For all the delicious irreverence and resourcefulness of Watney and his colleagues back on Earth, the script does not push them into shaking their fists at God and declaring god-like independence. In fact the film has some charming displays of folk religion along the way. Not only is The Martian a better film than Scott’s 2012 sci-fi horror Prometheus, but its universe is more recognisable than the cruel, atheistic world of that film.

Read the full review here.

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Christian Reflections Blog Tour Survey Results

I've done the Christian Reflections National Pop-Up Blog Tour for 2 years now. I figured it was time for a major assessment of how it's going and how it could be improved/developed.

1. What I Like About the Blog Tour

I've really loved doing these events - it's been a great way to catch up with friends and supporters around the country and make new contacts. It's also been a great way to see different cities and suburbs.

As the results show, people really appreciate the evenings - so I think it gives people something they benefit from.

And also the events have consistently brought around $2 000 back into my ministry at UTAS, which is awesome as well!

I like how the blog tour connects a bunch of thoughtful, ministry-minded Christians, from a range of churches and a range of ages - both paid and unpaid. It gives all these people a fun opportunity to dig deep into practical ministry philosophy in a great environment.

2. What the Survey Revealed

  • It was eye opening to me to realise that 120 people had attended at least one blog tour event over the last two years! So even though the events were generally smallish (around 15 people) - the overall reach of the tour was fairly broad.
  • 33 people replied to the survey - which is well above the standard reponse rate to surveys like this apparently! So that in itself demonstrates buy-in.
  • People from Brisbane, Wollongong and Newcastle were slow to reply to the survey. Too busy chilling out and surfing I guess?
  • Most people heard about the events through myself or the local hosts (45%) or through a friend (30%) and a smaller chunk heard via Facebook (24%) - 2 others heard via a denominational email list.
  • We got a Net Promoter Score of 21- which is pretty good. Anything above zero is considered 'good' and above 50 is 'excellent' so I'll take 21!
  • In terms of things that people were most interested in for future events, the most significant things were 'Fresh Interesting Content' (81%), Nice or Convenient Venue (37%) and Free book or other product (37%).
  • I gave the options of 4 possible formats - 3 sessions plus dinner for $45, 2 sessions and a light snack for $30, 1 session and a coffee for $20 or a webinar for $10. 53% opted for 3 sessions. 50% opted for 2 sessions.
  • When asked if they would be willing to host the event for their ministry leaders as a whole, 47% said Yes and 33% said Maybe.

3. What I'm Thinking for 2016 

  • A big challenge is to reach beyond the people who already like me or love the events, to people who don't. Helping my primary audience (those who already like Christian Reflections) reach a secondary audience is a really big thing.
  • I'm going to approach pastors about possibly hosting the Blog Tour event as an in-house training event - that way they either pay in bulk for people to attend, or strongly encourage all their leaders to attend. This would guarantee a higher base attendance.
  • I'm going to stick largely with the 3 sessions and dinner for $45, although maybe do the 2 sessions and light snack for $30 in one or two places.
  • I'm toying with maybe producing some kind of mini-book that could be available for free to registrants and then maybe sold cheap afterwards?
  • I may still do 1 or 2 webinars and see what happens.
  • I'm toying with visiting Melbourne again, plus Perth and maybe maybe Adelaide or Canberra?
  • I think Mexican food has run its course, so I'll be thinking of a new food angle.

Open to ideas and suggestions from readers about what director the blog tour could take into the future.

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5 great proverbs on preaching preparation

At the recent Challenge RAW Conference in Hobart, Al Bain shared a great quote from Alistair Begg on preaching preparation:

  • Think yourself empty,
  • Read yourself full,
  • Write yourself clear,
  • Pray yourself hot,
  • Be yourself
  • But don't preach yourself

Have you  heard that before? I reckon it's a very helpful outline. Except the 'pray yourself hot' is a bit odd. Listening to God's word to me gets me much hotter than my feeble words back to God. 

I also think his 'be yourself but don't preach yourself' is a much more helpful maxim than the mildly anti-human lyric from 'May The Mind of Christ' song:

And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him.

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A personal history in books 2: L’Etranger

I read this in Grade 12 French. That was actually also the same year that I became a Christian. I don't think we actually read it in class. I think I just found it in a storage cupboard. Pity. Grade 12 French would've been better if we read more literature.

It's a bleak, hollow book. The existentialist man is just kind of permanently stoned, wandering around disengaged, disenchanted and dull. He objectively observes swimming, his dead mother, annoying bright sunlight, killing an Arab. 

Although super-famous,'The Outsider' never really grabbed me. Much later I read La Nausee by Sartre, and that grabbed me much more. I think the conceit of the apathetic modernist man can make for great novels and films. But it can also be implausible and dumb. For me, The Outsider is the latter.

I kept the Elizabeth College copy of the book and several years later, through pangs of earnest young Christian conscience, I resolved to sell most of my books (to free myself up from worldly clutter) and return those books that belonged to others.

So I met with my former French teacher, Maria Giudici, and told her I'd become a Christian and offered the book back. She said I should just keep it. So I did.

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Helping parents of young kids engage with night sessions at church camp

I heard a cool idea that Hunter Bible Church tried at their church camp this year, to help parents engage in night sessions at their church camp:

  • Put a sheet on each accommodation door with names and ages of sleeping kids, plus mobile number of a parent;
  • Have a roster of 2 roving people who walk between rooms and listen out for any crying/waking kids - then text/call parents.

I thought it was a cool system, that lessens the number of people absent from evening sessions of church camps.

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A personal history in books 1: A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man

I found this on my parent's bookshelf when I was 15. It belonged to my Mum. From the first page I realised this was the kind of book I wanted to read. And so began a love of modernist fiction. My Mum died about a year later, and so this copy is a special token for me, who keeps little memorabilia.

I love the vivid soup of stream of conscious writing. I love the way it captures childhood and adolescence. I love traveling to a this smoky world of turn of the century Ireland.

There is a shockingly vivid and awful (in both senses of the word) Roman Catholic sermon on 5 senses' experience in Hell. There is a striking description of sexual awakening. There is a sustained, pretentious philosophical discussion of aesthetics.

It's a winner. And it won me over to James Joyce. I have since read Dubliners, Ulysses and Finegans Wake.

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Mirrors 11th September 2015

1. Why we fail at family devotions. How are you going in this area?

2. 9 things to consider for church staff meetings.

3. Tim Chester's post on 'Why I Don't Do Evangelism' really resonated with me.

4. Don Carson gives some theological insights to Christian ministry and then applies it in a few ways. Good stuff.

5. Some Uni Fellowship students/alumni have started a podcast, and gotten a show on the local Christian radio station. In this episode they have some good stuff to say about church music.

6. Gavin Ortlund goes beyond the standard blog post type advice on preaching. The item on illustrations is especially rich.

7. I like this diagram about what makes someone resilience, by Beyond Blue. This is a Facebook link because I couldn't find it on their website. It doesn't capture the spiritual side of things, but it's good as far as it goes.

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Caring for the chronically and severely ill in the church

I don't have an answer to this one. But I know of wise commenters who know a lot about this from experience: from living through it, from minister to others, from being let down, and from being lifted up.

So please do comment on the blog or on the Facebook Page. I might ask you for permission to post your comments in a follow up post, too - so if you are happy with that, you could maybe put an asterisk in your comment? :-)

A couple of thoughts though:

1. We could do better. Those who don't fit the model of the 'normal', the 'happy', the 'healthy', the 'ministry candidate' often get overlooked, undervalued, disenfranchised. We need to talk about people bearing up under difficult illness, honour them, pray for them, apply the Scriptures to them in our public teaching.

2. We can't fix it. Those experiencing serious illness suffer in a whole range of ways. Their experience is, among other things, one of pain and grief. One day Christ will return, restore their bodies and wipe away every tear. But now things will be hard. The church might not be able to take that pain away. The suffering person might experience all sorts of pain as a part of their Christian life and church life that can't be fully removed.

3. Try to love the chronically ill the way you love the critically ill. What things do we do for short term emergencies and disasters? Which of those can reasonably be done on occasion for those who are chronnically ill? I know of a couple where one had chornic fatigue. They hear of another person who got chronic fatigue and sent them flowers.

4. It is hard to care for people outside of the normal routines of life. We will always find it easier to do things and love people that fit into our normal routines of life. To love people who are out of our way is very dfificult for people with full lives. This has all sorts of implications:

  • The church needs to work hard to build in new routines and structures to make it easier to consistently care for people.
  • Those who are ill would do well to try wherever possible to fit into regular structures and rhythms.
  • Relying on spontaneous love is mostly unrealistic - 

5. Figure out what things should be done by church leaders and what things by church members.

  • It will be hard for church staff and leaders to meet all the needs of the sick in the church.
  • Set up systems of loving care in the church, so that those who are ill are regularly cared for practically and spiritually.
  • Realise that this 'counts' as church love.
  • Realise that at the same time, the symbolic love from the minister or the elders is still important and powerful, even if less regular.

6. Use a range of media - from physical visits, to emails, letters, gifts, practical help. Think about how you can share more of the weekly church gathering than just the sermon podcast.

7. Remember to support family and carers. Even when we do a great job of loving the sick person, we can forget to support the family and carers. Carer for the severely ill can take an enormous toll in terms of depression, loss, loneliness, fatigue, anxiety, financial pressure and a sense of feeling trapped.

8. Consider how the church building serves those who are ill. What is entry access and disability parking like? Are there places where someone can sit in a quiet? Are there places where someone could lie down if they needed to?

9. Work hard to understand. Ask questions. Be slow to judge. Be patient with 'good days' and 'bad days' and last minute cancellations. Check often to see what will actually be helpful.

10. Keep your promises. Don't talk big and then fail to deliver. Better to offer a little bit and actually follow up on it. In the slow pace of serious illness, disappointements can sometimes stand very tall.

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Growing your church up Part 5: From individualised care to general paths of care

Everyone is an individual and should be cared for uniquely, sensitively and genuinely.

But as churches get bigger and older, the ability to consistently care for anyone at all becomes less. And people can just get lost in the larger church organisation, even if they are being loved by a few people.

And so in addition to the ongoing need for a culture of personal care, systems need to be in place to care for everyone as best as we are able to, in general ways.

Of course this will never be perfect, and it will let people down. And of course we must be willing to allow exceptions to the rule, so that we can treat people as they are, rather than forcing them into a sausage machine.

But strangely, sometimes, in some ways, people are also cared for better by knowing the general path for care. Sometimes its easier to know how to get involved in a community when there are some clear courses or information systems. Sometimes you finally get around to serving in a ministry when there is a structure for helping you do so.

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Mirrors 4th September 2015

1. This piece explores how we are in this weird point in history, where the rhetoric about straight marriage is "Get free from the suffocating confines of monogamy" while the rhetoric about gay marriage is "Eagerly desire marriage".

2. Nathan Campbell quotes from a book that argues that a great need our culture has is to find a good place for intimate friendships that are not sexualised.

3. Does "nature" even exist? is it a helpful category for thinking about the environment? From ABC Hobart local radio.

4. Mick Fanning's sponsors failed by being noticed. It's a funny thing, isn't it, making promotions work properly?

5. There was lots of really helpful stuff for me in this podcast about staying fresh and joyful as a leader over the long haul.

6. Key Performance Indicators are really helpful measures to include in business or church, I think. They just help you stretch, assess, and set expectations. But as a tool for deciding on financial rewards, unless we are very careful about it I agree with Ross Gittins, that is dumb.

7. Signs your success has outgrown your character.

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Email Ninja: A great online training course on the basics of email use

These Tassie guys have pulled together a great online training resource for people wanting to equip their staff, volunteers or workplace in the basic best practices of email use: Email Ninja.

The videos are beautiful, short, clear and right.

If you are personally in an email hell, or you work on a team with toxic email habits, this is well worth the money!

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