"Training" - a dated buzz word?

For me and those older than me, those strongly influenced by the MTS vision, 'training' has strong and very positive connotations. It's a shibboleth - "Oh him, he's ok... but his ministry is not training-centred"; and it's a panacaea - "I've noticed a problem in our church.. I'm gonna write a training course on it!"

But I've noticed that it's a little less attractive to the "next generation". Perhaps the word has just grown tired. Perhaps a lot of the training we have actually delivered has been dull, or sub-standard, so the word has been drained of value.

But could it possibly be that there has also been a subtle cultural shift that removes interest in the training product? I can think of two reasons:

  1. With wiki this and google that, we don't see the need for an expert training us. If we need to find out how to lead Bible Studies, we'll just download something from DesiringMarsHill.org.
  2. With the often noticed reluctance to commit, why would I want to be trained in preparation for some future task that I am reluctant to commit to?

Children's ministry

Sunday School:

  1. Sunday School, Sunday School, Sunday School. Like Growth Groups, it's not explicitly taught in Scripture and yet is assumed to be necessary. But there are problems: it's another program, if you only have one public meeting then it removes members from the public meeting, it removes the church responsibility of ministry to kids from parents, it takes kids out of the wider church community.
  2. Sunday School as a way of contacting parents from the community. Are we dishonest? Do we tell them up-front that we will be indoctrinating their children about the Christian faith. They may not seem to care. But that's because they may assume we're just teaching morals. We should tell them that they should care, rather than playing on their ignorance.
  3. Do we have an option for parents who want to come to church, want their five year old to be looked after, but don't want them indoctrinated?
  4. I think we should have a pretty low cut-off age for Sunday School. Perhaps 9 years old?

Children's talks:
  1. "Adults get more out of the children's talk than the sermon." That's a reason for improving sermons rather than adding children's talks.
  2. "Adults get more out of the children's talk than the sermon." That's not the primary purpose of children's talks, and yet it is often the primary reason given.
  3. Are the children's talks actually good for the children? Or is it really something cute for the parents and something that communicated family-friendliness?
  4. I have never seen children's talks that don't make the church meeting over-casual and overly-"folksy". It may be cute and educational and family-nice... but does it contribute to the seriousness and profundity of preaching and prayer?
Other options:
  1. Perhaps a more important thing than a Sunday School program is having other adults in the church who relate to the congregation's kids as individuals. A mentoring program for children will communicate to them that they matter to the church, apart from their parents.
  2. You could just run a beefed-creche every week, rather than a resource heavy Sunday School. Then put energy into other options.
  3. You could run a good children's program on another night of the week.
  4. You could just run really good quarterly holiday programs.
  5. You could set up a couple of the Growth Groups to include a children's talk-type element, rather than junking up the public meeting with that.

Creating Ownership, Empowering, Values, Paradigms...

I'm currently overseeing an inter-church IT group. It's a good idea, but I'm not doing an awesome job.

It was a reaction against our small churches having disorganised IT. It goes like this: a whole lot gets done by an over-eager volunteer. Then no-one updates the content. And they get a job interstate. And the domain name is not renewed. And only one person can do the tech support. And. And. And.

We are now much more organised... and are also very unmotivated.

So I'm now trying to think how to, with little available time and energy to inspire and energise the team. Should I send them out to dinner together? Should we take on some mammoth, technically demanding task? Should blow it all up and start again?

I like the idea of us being a virtual IT community, with minimal time wasted on meetings. But the reality is, I think, that if you want high degrees of ownership and empowerment you need to have a human face. You need to be letting down Mikey, not letting down an internet mailing list.

Also, to have a high degree of ownership you need to feel in control and in charge. So the challenge is to correct against the over-correction. I need to let our IT guys get excited about something and make a mess of things... without going to the extremes of old and without controlling them too much.

In the end, I need to channel some of that energy into getting them excited about doing the routine things I want them to do.

And I don't want to put too much energy into this particular group, because I am a preacher and an evangelist, not an IT manager. And I want a pony. And a laser gun. And I want Mark Driscoll to be our associate minister. And I want a gigantic water slide.

Atheism: Good; Religion: Bad?

See my addresses on the Crossroads website. What do you think?

Brief for a Wedding Sermon Volume 3

Addressing Non-Christians

I'm not sure of the exact numbers, but probably 1/3 - ½ of the people there will be non-christians. I (the groom) admit that I honestly don't know what it's best for you to say to them. I ask that you think about what will be helpful for them. If any of these very un-thought-out thoughts seem good or useful, then feel free to use them, but it's fine to not use them:

  • Remember this isn't the only chance these people are likely to come into contact with Christianity/christians (they at least know us for a start). So it might be helpful to think about what you could say that'll make it easier for Christians to share the gospel with them in the future, or which makes them more open to the gospel. E.g. You could criticize the idea that “religion and politics are taboo topics” or “don't talk religion or politics” which, of interest to the left-leaning person fosters ignorance and a lack of understanding between people; which keeps relationships at a more superficial level; and which gets in the way of true tolerance and graciousness because it's based on the premise that you can only get along peacefully and lovingly with people different from you, if you censor your differences.

  • I feel it can be unhelpful to say a lot of the things which often start with “and if you're not a christian here.....”. Maybe it's better to mostly just speak to everyone as being under God's wrath and needing forgiveness.

  • Perhaps we (the groom and the bride) are a helpful point of connection with the non-christians there. They are hearing about what is central and most important in our lives, and our greatest hopes, loves and joys and fears (Heb 4:1).

Brief for a Wedding Sermon Volume 2

Addressing the Bride and Groom

The “St.John's Hobart Presbyterian Church Order of Service for Marriage” describes the sermon as “Words of Counsel – the Minister offers the Bride and Groom a few words of counsel and presents them with a gift of the Bible”.

I (the groom) seem to remember hearing talks at weddings (of Christians) where the minister addressed the bride and groom, commending either the Bible or following God to them in their married life. Perhaps this happened in connection with presenting the Bible to the bride and groom? Anyway I felt it created the impression that somehow the Minister was the true religious one, who believed the Bible and that following God and his ways is good and right, whereas the bride and groom aren't truly committed to God in their own right, but will only believe and remain churchgoers with the constant exhortation, reminding, and encouragement of their pastor. Now, I know that exhortations and encouragement are important parts of the life of the church and the salvation of people including ourselves, however on this occasion, I'd rather sacrifice calling on us to follow God or the Bible in order to avoid re-enforcing the idea that “the church faithful are the product of the power and influence of the institution of the Church” or similar ideas. Although it's true that God may use words of ministers to sustain our faith, it's also true that:

  • the bride and I will stand because God – not you – is able to make us stand

  • We believe the Bible and in the goodness of following God ourselves, and not necessarily any less than you do. We don't necessarily need your (a minister's) encouragement and call to follow God any less than you need ours.

  • I a sense we do believe “in and of ourselves” in that God's spirit is in us and we're new creations, and we don't need anyone to teach us, nor is our faith dependent on any man.

  • You're not an intrusion on the wedding – some vestige of tradition or the historical place of the Church in society. Rather you're there at our invitation with the expectation that in speaking from the Bible and of God, you'll speak to us words we long to hear and be reminded of, and to declare to those present things we would want to say.

  • A minister telling us to believe something doesn't make us believe something – we mostly believe if we can see for ourselves it's true.

Perhaps, if you want to call upon us to follow God or the Bible, then just do it in a way that acknowledges that you're reminding and encouraging us to do what we're already deeply committed to doing.

Richard Dawkins in his “Root of all evil?” TV program for instance had some of the false ideas about why people believe that want to avoid re-enforcing:

The only truth they need is God – God as interpreted for them by their pastor.”

...Believing because you've been told to believe rather than believing because you've looked at the evidence.”

...Religion is about turning untested belief into unshakable truth through the power of institutions and the passage of time.

Brief for a Wedding Sermon Volume 1

Here are the suprisingly detailed but surprisingly wise instructions given me by a couple I am to marry this year:

Regarding Heaven and Hell

I feel there's a danger in getting married and having a big celebration and a beautiful ceremony, that the event will automatically communicate that our great hope and goal in life is to be married... Even the impression that during our wedding ceremony, our focus and joy in life for that hour is temporarily on each other rather than God is to be avoided...

Weddings and entering marriage are often thought of, and spoken of in heaven like language. “Happily ever after”. Marriage can be seen as the great goal and destination in life and a secure permanence and belonging. Entering a state of blessedness or bliss. Even the Bible talks a bit about the goodness of marriage (Prov. 5:18-19; 12:4; 18:22, 19:14; 31:10) We hope to have joy in marriage, but we're not placing upon it expectations that only heaven and God will meet. Our hope is heaven – of knowing God, his kindness and forgiveness now and forever.

  • Our great delight will not be in the wonderfulness of each other but in the gloriousness of God. Making each other our great delight and love at the expense of God would be as much of a waste and as meaningless as a parent placing their delight in and giving their love to their pet mouse rather than their child.

  • Our sense of meaning, roots, permanence and belonging won't be in marriage, house or children. All those will pass away – we'll enter heaven unmarried – brother and sister in the church, which will be married to Christ and our earthly home will be gone.

  • Despite the marriage vows to serve each other, the LORD is our helper, our ever-present help in trouble.

  • Our great goal and destination in life is to enter the true heaven and enjoy God's affection forever.

  • Our great earthly joy (even on our wedding day) is nothing other than the embarrassingly good goodness of knowing who the true and living God is, knowing that he is a very great, holy and righteous God, and that we were crucified on the Cross with him so that our very great sins are paid for and he loves us and will treat us kindly forever.

Marriage is also thought of and spoken of in hell-type language. (perhaps starting out as heaven, or expected to be heaven, but turning gradually into hell). A place of oppression, tears and unending suffering. Or maybe just a loss of going out with mates and all other pleasurable freedoms in life. the bride and I certainly fully expect many difficulties and pains as we live together. We've already caused each other pain, even without either of us being unloving or “to blame”. Even the Bible talks about the troubles and trials of marriage (Prov. 19:13; 27:15-16; 21:9, 19; 25:24, Matt 19:10, 1Cor 7:28). the bride and I aren't going to enter hell through marriage either. Though painful times may come, they are all for our good and the good of the Church and given to us by God who is loving us – not by God who's abandoned us and is against us as in hell, so we have hope and joy in salvation whatever earthly pain may come. The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. The LORD is my helper; what can man (or my spouse) do to me? (Ps 118:6)

Some Infant Baptism Thoughts - Negative, OR Some Lousy Reformed Arguments

1. "Believer-baptists accuse us of baptising unregenerate people, but believer-baptists do it all the time! How can they live with the fact that people fall away?"

This is unfair. What the believer-baptist is saying is that infant-baptists *delieberately* baptise people who are not regenerate.

For an infant baptist, the church kid who chucks in the faith in high school is a true member of the visible church who has betrayed of their ultimate calling. For the believer baptist, the convert who falls away was never a true member of the visible church - their membership was a sham.

2. "Don't call us 'infant baptists", call us 'convenant baptists'".

Seems sneaky to me. Believer-baptists believe in covenants too, and they believe that baptism is a sign of the covenant. They just happen to believe that the covenant is restricted to regenerate believers.

3. "I don't want my kid to go to Hell. Therefore infant baptism is true"

This is emotional, immoral and illogical:

  • Emotional: Things are not true cause we want them to be true.
  • Immoral: Why can you sleep better knowing *your* kid won't go to Hell, but don't care two hoots about the child of the non-Christian?
  • Illogical: It does not necessarily follow that belief in infant baptism means belief in salvation of your kid.

4. "Baptism is God's promise.... we raise our kids in faith not in fear"

Belief in infant baptism does not mean belief that your kid will go to heaven. Clearly many kids from Christian families fall away from the faith and *don't* go to heaven. So there is some fear, isn't there? And if kids from Christian families don't go to heaven, what do we make of God's alleged 'promise'?

We need far more clarity here. I would prefer to remove these vaguely worded promises altogether. But for the sake of clarity let's map out three possible infant-baptist views:
  • Presumptive regeneration: Baptism is a sign of God's promise of regeneration and eternal salvation. We presume that all children of Christians are regenerate and predestined. We know that in the mystery of God's will some are not, but our default position, and expectation, is that they are. (I don't like this view, but it is the one where is 'faith not fear' sort of logic works best)
  • Sign of external blessings: Baptism is a sign only of the external blessings of belonging to the visible church and hearing the gospel, nothing more. Baptism, then says nothing about the salvation of the individual.
  • Sign of internal and external blessings: Baptism is a sign of God's promise of regeneration and eternal salvation. But we do not give it to children of Christians because we presume they have received the reality. Rather, we consider that it is fitting to give them the sign of regeneration, even though they aren't necessarily regenerate.
5. "Household baptisms in Acts."


6. "We believe in the unity of the covenants."

So does a believer baptist. We both believe that there are some points of discontinuity. The believer baptist just draws the line at a slightly different point.

A strength of Reformed theology is that it is integrated and it joins the dots between its various doctrines really well. The problem is that as a result, Reformed theologians can often argue that every peculiar Reformed doctrine is central and fundamental to the gospel itself. I once read an article that said that Amillenialism, paedobaptism, presbyterian government and limited atonement were all totally central to the gospel and to deny any of them was to let the gospel itself crash down in a heap.

Some Infant Baptism Thoughts - Positive

  1. Believers-baptism is the default position. It does take time and care to argue for infant baptism, just as it takes time to argue for predestination or the Trinity or the two natures of Christ. This doesn't necessarily make it 'too many steps of extrapolation'. Some theological structures just take time to establish. Especially if we are clearing the ground of pre-existing ideas and assumptions.
  2. Baptism is never defined in Scripture as being only for believers. It is often used in metanomic figures of speech (eg Rom 6, Gal 3) to stand for repentance, faith and conversion. But this does not mean that baptism is primarily a sign of faith. The closest we come to this is 1Peter 3:21. But even here, is God saying 'baptism can only be given to someone who is capable of a rational pledge of conscience' or 'baptism is only true, saving baptism when it is accompanied by a rational pledge of conscience'?
  3. Better to see baptism primarily as a sign of God's grace, God's gospel, God's promises. Adult converts receive the gospel, and hence the sign of the promises of the gospel. Children are raised under the preaching of the gospel, raised inside the visible church. On this grounds alone, it is fitting to mark them with the sign of the gospel which has been held out to them from birth. But more, the OT and NT argue that God has a 'general electing love' for the physical offspring of his people (see 8 below). Baptising them is an expression of this love.
  4. I like the section in Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion on infant baptism. A lot of arguments for infant baptism that have become simplistic and sloppy in the hands of later apologists - such as 'Let the little children come to me' - are written with care and subtlety by Calvin.
  5. A believers-only view of the visible church feels very 'modern': a voluntary society of individuals. Do you know what I mean?
  6. From a believers-baptism point of view, it is hard to know how to make sense of children of Christians. Are they the same as any other non-Christian guest? Not really. Surely they are 'members of the church' in some sense.
  7. Baptising a child at birth is said to be artbitrary and without scriptural warrant. At the same time, most believer-baptists hold off on baptism until some arbitrary point. Few believer-baptists baptise confessing two-year-olds. If we are going to baptise kids of Christian parents at some abitrary point, perhaps birth is as representative as any other time.
  8. John 1, Romans 2 and other such passages are not saying that physical descent has no significance whatsoever. They are merely saying that physical descent is not the *necessary* nor *sufficient* ground for eternal salvation. Romans 3, 9, 11 and 15 all teach us that there is significance to physical descent. There is a 'general electing' love of God as well as a 'individual electing' love of God.
  9. Colossians 2 does not say (as some infant-baptists argue) that baptism *is* the New Testament's circumcision. There are four steps (1. In Christ circumcised 2. With circumcision of sinful nature 3. Having been buried with Christ 4. Through baptism) not two steps (1. In Christ circumcised 2. Through baptism). But what it does teach is the the spiritual significance of circumcision and baptism is the same. They may not be identical but they are parallel.
  10. We must pay more careful attention, brothers, to the way we use Covenant of Grace and New Covenant. As a rule, the believer-baptist has a stronger emphasis on the distinctions between Old and New Covenant. They tend to use 'New Covenant' to speak about the things that are particularly unique about the new dispensation. Infant-baptists are a little more vague. 'New Covenant' can mean simply 'the Covenant of Grace as experienced in the new dispensation'. For a believer-baptist, 'member of the New Covenant' means 'regenerate, predestined person who *will* go to heaven'. For an infant-baptist, 'member of the New Covenant' can often just mean, 'member of the Covenant of Grace, even purely because they are members of the visible church'.
  11. Believer-baptists often consider the visible church to be responsible for making sure the church is only made up only of the Elect. It is an "opt-in" ecclesiology: you can only join if you can prove your conversion. You might say the believer baptist *presumes* to purify the visible church. Infant-baptists often consider the visible church to be responsible for accpeting all who confess faith, and disciplining those who betray their confession. It is an "opt-out" ecclesiology: you are only rejected if it your unbelief can be proved. The infant-baptist *assumes* that a person's confession is true unless evidence is given to the contrary.

Integrity and Having Fun

I have been struggling for over a year to convey to Crossroads the importance of a whole-life spirituality, a worshipping God in the everyday outlook.
A word that I think helpfully sums up this goal is 'integrity'. Not just in the sense of 'honest' or something, but in the sense of 'integrated'. This has been a helpful buzzword for the church, but I think we still have a long way to go.
So then I come across the values statement of the 'David Allen Company'. One of their values (they call them 'principles' and 'rules of engagement') is:

  • We bring joyful engagement to our work and our lives (aka we have fun)
So then I start thinking. Perhaps John Piper is right in a whole other sense. Perhaps enjoying ourselves, or 'having fun' is the way we can make sure our lives are integrated. At the very least it is one clear proof that our lives are integrated.

Preaching to the Anglican Clergy of Tasmania Part VI

Both the Presbyterian and Anglican denominations in Tassie are top-heavy. Both are bigger administratively than they are numberically. A couple of thoughts:

  1. How do you allow a denomination (or a church for that matter) decline gracefully? How do you avoid this top-heavy, maintenance of structures that were a good idea when you were huge, but are kinda disproportionate now?
  2. Although both are top-heavy, the Anglicans seem *relatively speaking* too top heavy and the Presbyterians *relatively speaking* not top heavy enough. So the Anglicans have several full-time denominational officials each with their own secretaries. The Presbyterians have no full-time denominational officials at all. We should do a swap....

Preaching to the Anglican Clergy of Tasmania Part IV

Interesting comment over dinner:

  • In all of Tasmania there is really only one mega church: the Door of Hope. It is strange for a city the size of Hobart to not have one megachurch.

Preaching to the Anglican Clergy of Tasmania Part III

Cool things:

  • Met lots of lovely, gospel-hearted, supportive women pastors
  • One pastor who had gotten angry at me for something I didn't intend to do approached me and sought to resolve the matter at the beginning of the conference. They didn't want this misunderstanding to get in the way of them benefiting from my preaching
  • I got a book called 'Supporting Christians at Work' by Mark Greene which looks like just the thing for me and my church
  • I really like the idea of having a good solid church service each morning at a conference, rather than getting all sloppy
  • I don't think there was much I said that wasn't in the prayer book stuff we recited before my sermons. This is a good think about the prayer book.
  • (I don't think there was much I said that wasn't in the prayer book stuff we recited before my sermons. This is also bad think about the prayer book: they don't listen when it's in the prayer book, but only when it's preached.)
  • The bishop set his vision for the Tassie Diocese, and it was a good, exciting, Christ-honouring vision
  • There was a lot of talk about 'giving the Diocese a language for talking about discipleship.' I think this is really positive.

Preaching to the Anglican Clergy of Tasmania Part II

Strange things:

  • A tab on the bar one night before dinner
  • Cable television in our roooms
  • A prayer book service first thing each morning (Rather than a couple of praise songs before the sermon)
  • A lot of women pastors
  • Golf and winery tours in the afternoon
  • Visiting the Door of Hope megachurch to hear Philip Yancy one evening
  • Grindelwald
  • The resource-review involved getting handed around a pile of free books or sample DVDs... we even got an entire photocopied book handed to each of us with these words: "I got permission from the publishers to photocopy the whole thing. The actual book is on order and I will give that to you when I get it"

Preaching to the Anglican Clergy of Tasmania Part I

I was invited to speak at the Tasmanian Anglican Clergy Conference this week. Monday-Thursday @ Grindelwald, a mock-Swiss town just outside of Launceston. I told Crossroads that this was a week that woudl be exciting, scary and funny all at once. I preach three times on the topic of life (to tie in with 'Jesus All About Life').

Some favourite words and phrases used over the week:

  • connect
  • journey
  • conceptual framework (not model)
  • mutuality
  • conversation
  • context
  • community
  • engagement
Some gifts they gave me:
  • A 2002 Pinot Noir
  • A Phantom comic

My other little blog

I have another little blog that I imagine very few of you will like.

EPIOUSIOS - Bread for tomorrow?

I have heard several preachers (including a guy at the recent MTS Challenge conference) argue for a different the meaning of 'Give us each day our daily bread'. Often it is boldly claimed that the verse literally reads 'bread for tomorrow'. What do we think?

  1. Like a lot of claims made from the Greek text, it is a little inaccurate to claim 'oh it literally says this', because a literal word-for-word translation doesn't necessarily convey the phrase's intended meaning in social/literary context.
  2. How much more inaccurate is this claim when this particular word is so rare in ancient literature that Origen could suggest that Matthew and Luke (or Jesus?) coined the word.
  3. It is true that quite a few early commentators interpreted this request in an eschatological way - bread for tomorrow = spiritual bread = foretaste of heaven. But we must be careful with early church exegesis. Sometimes early church commentators can claim a spiritual/eschatological meaning of the text without necessarily denying its immediate literal meaning. See Paul's discussion of Oxen in 1Corinthians 9 as an example.
  4. The Lord's Prayer becomes a very limited prayer if 'daily bread' is interpreted spiritually. It becomes: "God be praised. God's kingdom come. God sustain us spiritually, restore us spiritually and protect us spiritually. Amen". It's possible, but it feels a little narrow.
  5. The prayer is otherwise quite prosaic. It is strange to find a slightly obtuse metaphor in the middle of it.
  6. Eschatological bread is not a really explicit and dominant theme in either Matthew or Luke.
  7. The spiritual importance of daily provisions as we serve God in this life is a dominant concern in Matthew and Luke.

It's hard to cope with God's relative silence on issues that we feel so strongly about: slavery, abuse of women, rape, torture, war, genocide. Richard Dawkins already struggles to believe in God already, it's even harder for him to accept that the Bible is his Word, when it remains silent, condones, or at least permits a stack of grisly things.

Four things have occurred to me since reading The God Delusion. I write them here, fearing, but also expecting to be confusing to my readers and misunderstood by my readers. Well, I'll do my best:

1. In his dealings with humanity, God chose to take to task the most important issues. These issues are the ones about which God is adamant in the OT: the worship of God alone, the honouring of human life, the importance of justice, and so forth. God comes to the human race in the midst of their sin, confusion and corruption. He doesn't build a perfect society through the Law. But he introduces good and right laws that rightly respond to the state of human and social sinfulness and corruption at that time.

This reminds us that although we feel strongly about certain issues (racism, slavery) that this doesn't make them the most important and fundamental issues. The most fundamental ethical issues remain the same.

2. It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied (Mk 10:5). This is a helpful principle for grasping the OT legislation, and God's interaction with humanity in history. God tolerated, permitted and restrained human evil. This does not mean God is supporting or condoning, much less commanding, these things.

3. In reading Old Testament Ethics for the People of God by C. Wright, I was reminded that OT ethics are not just culturally determined in their actual content (permitting slavery, warfare etc) but in their literature. And this is the challenge. Ancient people wrote about warfare, for example, with a triumphalism and extravagance that we find offputting. Ancient writing had different literary assumptions and styles.

4. On another level, our modern horror for things such as slavery, limited women's rights, warfare, the death penalty and so on has an in-built historical snobbery. This is explicit in Dawkin's book when he speaks about a moving (and progressive) zeiteist which develops human morality over time.

In doing so, our extreme reaction against even slavery or warfare or the death penalty relegates the vast majority of human history to immoral, unethical barbarism. A naturalistic evolutionary framework may sit comfortably with that. But is it really a good idea? Are we really going to say that modern women's rights or modern pacifism are so extremely morally important as to declare most human civilisations as barbaric?

On the other hand, the fundamentalist can tend to assume because God permitted it at one time in human history, therefore we must do preserve it in our age. God used monarchy then so we must, God used the death penalty then so we must, God's people spoke about warfare with bloodthirsty boldness therefore we must.

What middle ground might there be? Well, we must temper our modern over-reaction to OT legislation. We must be willing to bear the thought of slavery, or curtailed women's rights, or war, or the death penalty. We mustn't so oppose them in our day that our rhetoric takes over our emotions and our mind. And yet at the same time, we must be open to the fact that over time certain things have become clearer to us, or our context has enabled us to develop our morality in certain ways. Therefore what God permitted in the past need not be preserved in the present.

John Calvin, Commentary on Mattthew, Mark and Luke (Vol.1), Mat. 8:19-22

Whence arose the great readiness of the scribe to prepare himself immediately to accompany Christ, but from his not having at all considered the hard and wretched condition of his followers? We must bear in mind that he was a scribe, who had been accustomed to a quiet and easy life, had enjoyed honor, and was ill-fitted to endure reproaches, poverty, persecutions, and the cross. He wishes indeed to follow Christ, but dreams of an easy and agreeable life, and of dwellings filled with every convenience; whereas the disciples of Christ must walk among thorns, and march to the cross amidst uninterrupted afflictions. The more eager he is, the less he is prepared. He seems as if he wished to fight in the shade and at ease, neither annoyed by sweat nor by dust, and beyond the reach of the weapons of war. There is no reason to wonder that Christ rejects such persons: for, as they rush on without consideration, they are distressed by the first uneasiness of any kind that occurs, lose courage at the first attack, give way, and basely desert their post. Besides, this scribe might have sought a place in the family of Christ, in order to live at his table without expense, and to feed luxuriously without toil. Let us therefore look upon ourselves as warned, in his person, not to boast lightly and at ease, that we will be the disciples of Christ, while we are taking no thought of the cross, or of afflictions; but, on the contrary, to consider early what sort of condition awaits us. The first lesson which he gives us, on entering his school, is to deny ourselves, and take up his cross, (Matthew 16:24.)

Unfair eschatology

Simplifications are necessary, but sometimes unfair. A couple of simplifications in the area of eschatology have started to annoy me more and more:

1. Dismissing all premillenialism as pre-tribulational premill

It's not fair to oversimplify all premills as people who believe in literal fulfillment of promises regarding Israel, a rapture and so on. It's unfair on early church writers, it's unfair on many modern-day Christians.

Go ye to wikipedia and learn the important difference between pretrib premills (the rapture gang) and posttrib premills: millenial views diagram.

2. Dismissing all believe in a personal antichrist as premill

In certain amillenialist circles, the belief in a personal antichrist and a final tribulation is also lumped in, along with the rapture and the literal reestablishment of Israel with premillenialism. Not fair.

Some amills interpret the antichrist passages symbolically (somewhat difficult when it comes to 2Thess 2, but they do). But some amills believe both that we are in the 1000 years now, where there are many antichrists and ongoing tribulation and yet there will also be a personal antichrist and final tribulation.

Volume 9 Number 6

Some interesting bits from Leroy Eims' groovy little book 'The Lost Art of Disciple Making':

  1. I was in the middle of an organse farm, but the diner couldn't make me organge juice because their juicer was broken. Their problem wasn't lack of juice. It was over-dependence on a machine. In the same way many Christians rely too much on the Sunday sermon. They may be surrounded by Bibles, but don't know how to get sustenance out of them. they are like babies in a pantry of canned goods.
  2. Is the reason for the 'socialism' at the end of Acts 2 because the disciples had decided to stay on longer than anticipated in Jerusalem because of they were converted and wanted to be discipled?
  3. Is the reason that only the apostles stayed in Jerusalem after the persecution of Acts 8, becuase they enjoyed the asylum of Gamaliel?
  4. Would you rather have 100 people in your church who are 90% committed or 10 people who are 100% committed?
  5. Steps in discipleship: a) Motivation to grow b) Growth in personal devotion c) Willingness to witness.

Volume 9 Number 5

Sorry for long delay between posts. I have been holidaying and being busy with things and begetting a little daughter (Esther Kate) and other lam excuses...

I heard a cool startegy for small group Bible study writing just recently. It's a compromise between the convenience of using pre-written Bible studies and writing your own.

Whoever is in charge of writing Bible studies doesn not prepare a complete Bible study package. Rather, they prepare at most one double-sided A4 page of notes on the passage including exegesis, key turning points, suggestions for leading, ideas for application.

This then leaves it up to the individual study leader to decide what to do with this. They could use these notes to help them as they lead a loose discussion. they could use these note to write a Bible study. Overall it is more 'manpower' (since each leader has to develop this page of notes in some way). However it is less time investment for the Bible study write.

Moreover, it has three advantages. First of all, it may promote a slightly higher rate of study leader preparation. After all, even with pre-written studies, the study leader is meant to spend time preparating. Perhaps it actually reduces overall work time?

Secondly, it is teaching the study leader how to think through the study leading process much more thoroughly, therefore it is training them more.

Thirdly, it prevents leaders from assuming that the entire goal of study leading is to answer the questions on the page or criticising the wording and clarity of the questions.

Volume 9 Number 4 - The God Delusion

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, Bantam: London, 2006

"Pantheists don't believe in a supernatural God at all, but use the word God as a non-supernatural synonym for Nature or for the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs its workings. Deists differ from theists in that their God does not answer prayers, is not interested in sins or confessions, does not read our thoughts and does not intervene with capricious miracles. Deists differ from pantheists in that the desit God is some kind of cosmic intelligence, rather than the pantheist's metaphoric or poetic synonym for the laws of the universe. Pantheism is sexed-up atheism. Deism is watered-down theism.... Einstein was using 'God' in a purely metaphorical, poetic sense. So is Stephen Hawking, and so are most of those physicists who occasionally slip into the language of religious metaphor." (pp. 18-19)

Some thoughts:

  1. A helpful corrective for scientists. Dawkins avoids using 'God' in this sense, and considers it confusing and politically expedient. He has a point. Francis Schaeffer warns of the same thing is liberal Christian theology, where people who have basically denied the existence of God continue to use God-language in order to smuggle in greater emotional and spiritual significance to their otherwise-atheism.
  2. It is not fair to say that all pantheism is merely sexed-up atheism. I can think of at least four ways that this comment could be engaged with:
  • Some atheists use pantheistic language, and mean nothing by it, as Dawkins suggests. At worst, they are doing this is a politically expedient way, for which his derision is perhaps justified. Such pantheists are really de facto atheists.
  • But properly speaking, pantheism is an ontological claim. It is the belief that there is a quality or value to the natural world that is more than the sum of its parts. There is something spiritual about the natural world. This is not merely sexed-up atheism, but a philosophical system.
  • However, some atheists use pantheistic language because they truly want to say that there is something meaningful, valuable and significant about the natural world, while still denying a spiritual world. At times I feel that Dawkins wants to speak of good and evil with a force that really goes beyond his scientific naturalism. I think that this is because we do have an innate (not psychologically/biologically required) understanding that there is more to life than the merely physical. You could say that these atheists are de facto pantheists.
  • But you could say that pantheism has no proper ground for its belief in a spiritual dimension to the created world. You could say that when taken to its logical conclusion any belief of supernatural value to the created world is intangible and meaningless. You could thus argue that intentionally or not, all pantheism is ultimately atheistic.

Volume 9 Number 4

1. There are times and seasons to 'go hard' for the gospel, even if your church style is not necessarily of the 'better to burn out than to fade away' variety. I like the idea of having a few times a year where you prep up and pump up the church to 'go hard'. A season of sacrificial service for the sake of outreach is good for the communal soul.

2. I had a pastoral encounter the other night where I rediscovered the emotional importance of the doctrinal hell. For someone who has been visciously hurt by the wickedness of people, and who longs to lash out in vengeance and violence, 'forgive your enemies' is a massive challenge. I believe that the first step is for them to let God be Judge, and to take comfort in the fact that God's wrath is a far more fitting punishment than personal violence or even State punishment.

3. It is hard to be a part of a church that is shrinking in numbers because people are going away to Bible College or the mission field elsewhere.

But it is wonderful to see that the story of your church is bigger than the amount of current members. Even the local church stretches backwards and forwards in time. Part of the excitement of being a part of Crossroads is sharing in the growth of future pastors and evangelists currently @ Bible College, and in the ongoing service of those who have gone out from us to serve in other congregations around the country and the world.

And isn't this the first step in grasping a little more fully the truth of the Universal Church?

4. A little reflection on committees and commissions of higher courts of my denomination: They tend to be governed by rules and regulations which are (rightly) focused on maintenance and sustainability. As a result, however, the oversight of such committees don't go far beyond this. Unless the convenor is particularly visionary, the reports are often a little mundance.

Over the next year I hope to introduce the expectation that all committees develop a 1-2 yr and a 3-5 yr plan. I hope that this will drive us to prayer and (even) entrepreneurialism.

Volume 9 Number 3

Great warnings to bloggers and blogophiles alike can be found at Bernard and Katie Cane's blog:

A Reflexive Post: On Blogging your reflections

Also check out Katie's thoughtful post on being a Bible College student's wife:

'The Wife'

Volume 9 Number 2

Quote from a friend:

"I am listening to a serious, but often funny, program right now on radio national about how christinatiy has become a dirty word. The show profiles various people - authors, priests, everyday christians - who discuss the often extreme reactions people have in the wider secular world when they mention their faith. It's about the blemishing of language, the 'polluted stream of language' and the baggage that gets attached to these concepts, "god" being a dirty word etc. Anyway, this one woman has started a thing called the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity which has been developed in contrast to institutional christianity. She considers herself to be an active and proud christian and i think she works as a priest or something like that. But occassionally she will be in a social situation where she is meeting new people but she doesn't want to have to deal with the shock and repulsion that a lot of people have when she mentions that she works for jesus. SO instead she often tells them that she is employed as a public relations consultant for a middle eastern organisation."

Retrospective: Volume 1 Number 1

From 1st December 2003:
1. Don’t forget about cold-contact evangelism. It doesn’t seem to work but it is so good for getting to the gospel, taking risks for the gospel, getting to know people who are outside the church. It’s also a great way to bond with Christians, cause you then feel like you’ve been in ‘Nam together.

2. If you ask people to read out a passage for you during a sermon, make sure you thank them before you carry on blasting away (Nikki rebuked me for not doing this!

3. If you won’t to have some input in people in your church’s life but have no idea what to “do” with them to stretch them in some way, get them to do sermon reviews. This is great: the preacher benefits, they listen carefully, they have a say in how teaching is done, they learn a little of how to preach and its easy to organise.

In Presidential election debates (so someone told me) you can tell who is the more insecure speaker by the way he modulates his voice to follow the patterns and rhythms of the more secure speaker…. Does this have any relevance to anything? I dunno.

5. If you are invited to speak or lead at a camp or church as a visitor try the following:

  • Set “ministry of the pew” goals: eg, I will speak to 3 people and one of those I will aim to have a spiritual conversation with
  • Look out for people to have long-distance ministry to: maybe I could put someone on my newly born “christian reflections” mail out?
  • Look out for someone to give something to: e.g. at the end of the conversation say, I have a great book on that topic, give me your address, I’ll buy and send you a copy…
6. In this book “Christ our righteousness” by M Seifrid he deals with James 2 – works and faith. He says that the difference between what James says and Roman Catholicism is this: Roman Catholicism says faith makes you a bit righteous and works adds the rest. James doesn’t say works adds a little. He says works adds the lot: we are justified by works alone. That is, from the perspective of conversion, we are justified only by faith in Christ and made 100% righteous; while from the perspective of the second coming we are justified only by works that have been produced by that faith and by the spirit of Christ working through us which will make us able to stand on the last day 100%. Sound alright?

Volume 9 Number 1

1. I sat under a great sermon last week. It has motivated me again to work hard at preaching. When you are reminded of how powerful and encouraging and rebuking listening to preaching is, it motivates you again to work hard at preaching.

2. So I hae gone back to one of my favourite books on preaching: expositional preaching by Haddon Robinson. Should I call my next child Haddon (regardless of gender)?

3. Haddon reminded again of the big thing: the Scriptures must govern my sermon. My sermons shouldn't just be biblical or jumping off a Bible.

4. Haddon urged me to try to find the big idea with crispness and clarity. A big idea is a subject (What I'm talking about) and the complement(s) (What I'm saying about what I'm talking about).

5. On top of that I should know what functional question I'm answering: is it a truth question? A relevance question? A practicality question?

Volume 8 Number 7

1. A thought came to my while I was attending a 'Ten Days on the Island' forum thingo. I looked around and saw that the room was 'filled' with middle-aged arty women. And I thought:

'I wonder how well the church is going at reaching this group'

And then I tried to do some (no doubt flawed) assessment of how this audience would respond to the average church: male leadership, famiy focused, not very high brow...

And I thought that you would need a sort of specialist women-minsitry to reach them.

And I thought: It's hard to balance the rightness of building and healthy biblical model of Christian community, and yet also encouraging the church to have a form that is accessible for outsiders, whose cultural structures are vastly different.

And I thought of the teenager emo's who were turning up for the next forum, no doubt because they were on an excursion with their art class. And I thought: yet again, the form of community they are used to is the absolute opposite of Sunday morning church with lots of kids and mums and old people.

On the one hand, the countercultural nature of the church community is ultimately appealing, that's true. But in the first place? I wonder...

2. At the church planting conference that I have referred to in previous posts, Martin Robinson talked about how to church plant in regional areas. He suggested that perhaps 'cluster planting' was a good option, so that from the word go, you have a network of churches that can support one another.

This is an interesting idea. I wonder what other contexts might suit this strategy?

Reflecting on Reflections

1. Is it working? Are people reading it? How many? How do you download those 'hit counters' to tell?
2. Is it worth the time? Should I give more time to it?
3. Is the text too small? Is the blogger template ugly? How do I change it?
4. Does it still serve its original function? When Xn Reflections started in 2003 as an email, I did it:

  • to keep contact with people I don't see so often and share some of my thoughts about theology and ministry
  • give another type of input to those Christians I see everyday
  • have a way to record those random reflections that come to you that you don't know where else to file them
5. How many people have I lost now that it's not an email? Do less internet savvy people just see the hypertext in my occasional reminder emails and swoon?
6. How many people I don't know read this?
7. Would I get more hits if I wrote about my internet girlfriend? (blogger in-joke referring to this blog)
8. Should I do something else with the material that goes up here?
9. Should be active in getting more of the local church crew reading it?
10. Did the guy who left a comment and recommended I visit his casino site *really* like Xn Reflections, or was it just spam?

Volume 8 Number 6

So I've been directed to a Philosophy Now article that tells me that postmodernism has been replaced by pseudomodernism. I'm not sure what to make of this yet, nor what implications, if true, it may have on Christianity, preaching and church.

But it got me thinking about complaints that are starting to be made more and more of the pseudo-modern, Gen Y sort of crew. And I would like to soften these criticisms and try to offer some words in their defence.

The Gen Y crowd are apparently individualistic, self-absorbed, naively optmistic, incompetent with basic life skills and non-committal. They are the STABO generation (Subject To A Better Offer). They can be berated for letting church down by not commiting to ministries, not signing up to conferences soon enough.

There's plenty of truth to this no doubt. At the very least, these sins are to a certain extent common to all people. But what might be said to balance things out? Well I've just got two things to get the ball rolling:

  1. If they *are* more individualistic and uncommitted, this is at least in part because of the failure of the Baby Boomer and Gen X parents and church leaders who failed to teach and train them in these areas. This rebuke is also a call for us to be more dilligent in our leading of those under our care.
  2. We don't want to judge what commitment and competence looks like by yesterday's standards. Punctuality looks different in Africa than it does in Germany. Restraint looks different in Britain than it does in Australia. The Gen Y has grown up in a world of multiple commitments, vast amounts of information and networks of powerful relationship technology. They may be less reliable in certain relationships, but in others they are far more realiable than a Baby Boomer technophobe, or a Gen X internet pragmatist.
What does this mean to me as a church leader? I think I need to see future generations less as 'normal' people. Everyone is a manager now with a mobile centre of operations (PDA, iPod, mobile phone). Everyone is connected to a vast network of information and relationships.

I can't just expect reliability and commitment from people as if all they have to juggle is their A5 2007 diary with a TODO list in the margin. Now, everyone is a manager of a department: their life. I need to treat every under-30 in my church the way I would only treat the CEO of earlier generations.

If all someone has is a diary, then they are only disorganised in one place. Now, people are disorganised across several galaxies of technology. As a leader, if I want to promote reliability and commitment, I need to be committed to serving people with providing a user-friendly interface that will help them.

Volume 8 Number 5

1. My friend Matt recognises that busy, educated, affluent people often have plenty of friends and feel they don't need to me Christian friends on top of it all.

*But* such people are often too busy and spread themselves too thin... they have lots of relatoinships but none are very deep. When they get a taste of that in the church, perhaps they will see the appeal.

That presupposes we are any different in the church...

2. At a recent conference the speaker suggested this definition of a worldview: 'What you think when you are not thinking"

3. I am about to preach on Luke 8. In verses 16-18 we find these familiar words:

16"No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. 17For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. 18Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him."
Now Jesus often uses very similar phrases and ideas in different contexts. He can even mean different things by the same parable or phrase. I think this is the case here. I was reading this passage in the light of Matthew 5 (you are the light of the world... let your light shine before men) and Matthew 10 (proclaiming from the rooftops). As a result I took the things that are revealed and brought into the open (Luke 8:17) to be the truths of the gospel.

But on reflection, and carefully re-reading, I don't think so. I think this whole passage us about the light of God's word shining into our lives, exposing the secrets of our hearts. That explains the 'therefore' at the start of verse 18 too.

4. At this churchplanting conference by Martin Robinson, when he spoke on gathering and training a core group/launch team, I was expecting lots of hints and tips and practicals about skill-sets and group dynamics. Instead he spent most of an hour talking about godliness, spiritual discipline and so on. It wasn't generalised, superspiritual stuff, but really good quality, practical application.

It was a good reminder: a core group has its greatest potential in the way it establishes the spiritual DNA of the church, its values, culture, conversation and mindset.

Volume 8 Number 4: John Bell part III

A few years ago my wife and I were invited to duntrune to give a Shakespeare recital for teh young officers of ADFA. before the recital I asked the commandant why he had invited us. he said 'tomorrow's soldiers are a new breed. they're going to be sent to all sorts of trouble spots. they can't just jump out of a plane and start shooting at people. they're going to have to learn immediately to assess the situation, empathise with the locals, and exercise diplomacy. they can learn a lot from actors. and especially from Shakespeare, noone has understood better what makes people tick."
- The artist's chief tool is imagination and as Einstein pointed out, imagination is the basis of all science. artists teach us to see life not just as it is, but as it could be. they teach us about innovation, creative speculation, selfknowledge and resiliance. the stifling of the imagination results in drudgery, dullness and the lack of inspiration, inertia. as individuals, art has to power to transform us, to expand our horizons, and give us deeper insights into the human condition. it can teach us to empathise, to put ourselve in other people's shoes, to see things from their point of view.
- I regard it as an enormous privilege that i've been able to spend the best part of the last 16 years working day by day in the company of William Shakespeare, to share something of his vision of the world, his joy, his despair, his indignation and healthy scepticism. i it weren't for him, I don't know if I wouldh ave devoted my life to the theatre. but through his work I have been able to conduct a fascinating and neverneding investigation of life, of peopel and of myself. his plkays empower actors and give them an unrivalled range of self-expression in tackling roles of such magnitude, such passion, such truthful insight. through Shakespeare's characters, actors can feel their innermost selves. Shakespeare challenges directors to bring his stories to life with clarity, with emotional prevcision and with simplicity.
- All of us within the theatre industry regard ourselves as fortunate that we're able to exercise wahtever talent we have in order to make a living in a profession that gives so much variety, excitement and satisfaction.

John Bell (Bell Shakespeare Theatre Company)
Radio National 'Summer Talks' from http://www.abc.net.au/rn/summer/2006/talk/lectures.htm accessed 28th Feb 2007

Volume 8 Number 3: John Bell part II

As well as an actor and adirector I am also the artistic director of the Bell Shapespeare Company. So what does that entail?
- All of the above, plus determining the policy and repetoire of the company. what plays to do and why, who should direct them and what's expected of them asethetically.
- I'm also expected to be the frontman or spokesman for the company on occasion. not so much in the business sense, I leave that to my excellent management team, my generla manager, my deputy, and other heads of department: finance, education, sponsorship, fundraising, marketing etc. but, in constantly defining the vision and mission statement and selling it to sponsors, owners and the media.
- I also see it as my duty to seek out and encourage new talent. actors, directors, designers, composers etc. i like working with young people. i hope that they keep me young and keep surprising me with their fresheness and their different outlook on life.
- It's part of my job as artistic director to keep an overview with all that's happening with our vast education program and to make sure all out touring shows are keepign up to scratch and to collaborate with all the various departments within the organisation to make sure we're all singing to the same tune.
- I have an number of associate artists both actors and directors of the company whose careers I wish to foster and whose input I welcome in the creative process.
- As an actor-director myself I belive that it's good for teh artistic director to maintain a public profile and to lead from the front occasionally as do Robert Nevan, Graham Murphy and Richard Tornetti in their various organisations. So how succesful is it, this juggling act, this wearing of two hats as artist and business person? Well for a start it's nothing new, in fact it's a time-honoured practice. William Shakespeare was an actor as well as a playwright. he acted in all his own plays as well as directing them. he also had shares in the theatre and proved to be a shrewd businessman and an aggressive litigant. he was highly succesful in attracting patronage, first from a series of wealthy noblemen, then the Lord Chamberlain and finally, the king himself - sponsorship doesn't get much better than that! His near contemporary, Moliere was another artist who had his own company and that tradition ahs continued to the present day, reaching its zenith in the 19th century... today many theatre companies, dance companies, orchestras and pop groups are headed, or at least fronted, by practising artists.
- Are there tensions? of course there are. the ideal businessperson is expected to be pragmatic, predictable, steady and strategic. Many artists on the other hand, thrive on chaos, risk, instability and emotional impulses. they can be at their most thrilling when they are erratic. but a lot of corporate people are a bit more open minded than they used to be in this area and they are looking at the values of flexibility, risk taking adn thinking outside the sqaure.

John Bell (Bell Shakespeare Theatre Company)
Radio National 'Summer Talks' from http://www.abc.net.au/rn/summer/2006/talk/lectures.htm accessed 28th Feb 2007

Volume 8 Number 2: John Bell part I

Artistic side of running theatre company. Many people are unsure of what a play director actually does, so let me tell you.
-Director is the person responsible for the overall production. He/she has to first of all come up with the concept: what does the play mean? why does it matter? how to communicate that to the audience? how should it look? who should play the various roles? what sort of music and lighting? what other areas of expertise? acrobatics, choreography, martial arts, etc.
In all of those areas she can play it safe or take risks. a radical design concept can stimulate an audience or send them away in droves. should she go for obvious casting or cast against type and surprise the audience with a brand new interpretation - an unlikely choice of actor? and what will the impact be on box office? how much should you strive for star names and how much should you honour your obligation to the next generation by giving newcomers a chance? (in this area I'm afraid I tend to be a bit of a softy and love pushing new talent to the fore)
- I try to give myself 12 months to prepare a production, to do the necessary research, to find my designer and conduct auditions. Once I've cast the roles I call the actors in to collaborate on the costumes. the actor has to feel that this entire costume is in harmony with his/her concept for the character. the only catch is the actor saying 'But I don't know who I am until I start rehearsing with the other actors". so one has to leave as much room as possible for late decision for peopel changing their minds, while keeping happy the costume makers who are working to tight deadlines.
- When the set, costumes, props, sound, lighting equipment and area is finalised, I submit the whole lot to eh production manager for costing. my most recent experience of this was with Romeo and Juliet. My production manager looked at the designs approvingly and said "they're lovely. now go away and cut $140000." so you spend the next few months scaling down, paring back to the bone. that's all pre-production,.
- And then comes the intense five-week rehearsal period, to get the whole lot together and put the show on. one of my priorities is to create a team spirit, to make everybody feel included, to make everybody feel that they own the show, to create an emotionally safe environment so that people can take risks and reveal their innermost, private selves without embarrassment. everybody should feel empowered, so that those actors playing the smallest roles I will say, 'show us some exercise or skill we can use in rehearsal, either as a warm up or as part of the show." and when debate gets heated I pass around the director's hat. everybody's entitled to wear it to express an opinion, every suggestion should be listened to, and nobody can be shouted down while wearing the director's hat.
- Say you have to devise a battle sequence, a frequent challenge in Shakespeare. I have two options, I can either call in a fight director to devise it, teach it to the cast, or I can approach it more organically. you can split the cast into groups of 3 or 4 and say "each show me six ways of falling off a horse, each show me six ways of killing someone with an axe." and when they;'ve all had time to work out their routines, we have a show and tell. everybody gets a go and we videotape the whole lot so that nothing gets forgotten. then the fight director and i will sit down and watch the videos, we choose the best dozen or so routines and work out a sequence, with the creators of each routine teaching it to the rest of the cast. What this achieves is a feeling of spoteneity, lots of different ideas and actors feeling empowered, even those whose routines aren't used are happy to have the opportunity to the whole cast and the cast are proud of the sequence that they had a hand in creating, rather than simply learning something by rote.
- The director has to play the benign autocrat, he can't appear indecisive, because that will make for insecurity in the cast. he mustn't appear flustered and impatient. and he mustn't, above all, play favourites.
- One of his hardest jobs is to pace the rehearsal process, with everybody working towards the same goal and being fully prepared by the opening night. he has to learn who to push, and when to just let things coast along. it's like baking bread. he mustn't overdirect, but leave the actors room for sponteneity and ownership of the role. and he must be both a diplomat and a psychologist, learning how to read the signs. at times aggression, defensiveness and even laziness are a cover for insecurity. what the actor needs is encouragement rather than reprimand. the director has to mindful of every individual actor, his needs and his private process, and yet maintain an overview of the whole show.
- Some directors get emotionally need or impatient and this makes the cast distrustful. some directors actually encoruage friction and disharmony in the rehearsing room because they feed off the tension, they feel that it creates drama. I find the reverse and regard all negativity energy as destructive. I feel that I'm not doing this for the money or the fame, so why be miserable as well? in my epxerience it's only a happy and supported team that makes the effort worthwhile. rehearsing room dramas may provide a quick fix, but the long term results of a six month tour can be poisonous.
- But a director can't be too soft either. for the sake of the play he has to keep raising the stakes, encouraging full emotional commitment, pushing the actors to taking greater risks, acting like a drill sergeant when necessary, to keep the show crisp and tight and having the courage to knock back inappropriate ideas.
- Once the show is opened, that's not the end of it. the director has to keep an eye on the play when it's on the road, dropping in once or twice a week to make sure it's still on track, themorale is high and not too many little 'improvements' have crept in.

John Bell (Bell Shakespeare Theatre Company)
Radio National 'Summer Talks' from http://www.abc.net.au/rn/summer/2006/talk/lectures.htm accessed 28th Feb 2007

Volume 8 Number 3

1. Why do overseas ministry with a mission organisation?
- some countries are more likely to recognise you and grant entry if you are with a track-record organisation
- local minsitry may be more open to you through missionary organisation networks
- pastoral care from within your culture and understanding your needs is made available to you
- you have help filtering good churches from bad... before you have the language skills to understand what a church teaches!

2. Who should do short-term mission before planning to be a career missionary?
- Definitely someone who is young, unqualified, never traveled out of their country, only lived at home and had no ministry experience
- Possibly, someone who finds doors opening for them to go - providential contacts, generous supports.

3. Advantages of short-term mission even if you are already experienced?
- builds concrete experiences to prepare for and pray about as you plan for long-term
- gives some concrete reality to your supporters... they know you have tried it out, you have photos of yourself in the region
- build some tentative relationships and networks for the future, and to keep you eyes on the goal as you prepare

4. Thomas Brooks, back by popular request:

"To repay good for evil is divine.
To repay good for good is human.
To repay evil for evil is bestial.
To repay evil for good is devilish."

Volume 8 Number 2

1. Thomas Brooks in 'Precious remedies against Satan's devices' says: 'The soul of man is a triangle that the circle of the world can't fill'

2. Meditating on 1Corinthians 12: When a part of the body says 'i'm not needed', is it possible that sometimes what we are saying is 'I'm not unique'? 'There are others who can do this, I'm not unqiuely needed, therefore I won't serve'.

The illustration of five fingers needed for a fully functional hand may be an encouragement to serve.

3. A nifty way to begin a testimony is with the present day, and then flashback into the past.

4. Stanley Grenz, quoting someone else I think, suggests that the four (Nicene) creedal marks of the church may be seen as adverbs: unifying (one), sanctifying (Holy), reconciling (Catholic) and proclaiming (apostolic).

This formulation presupposes that 'apostolic' should be taken as a dynamic thing 'a sent church' rather than a static thing 'built on the apostle's foundation'.

There are some nice ideas there, and a clever play on the Creed even if it is not an accurate expostition of the creed.

5. Thomas Brooks again: One sin is all sins because it spills out of the heart of sin, that is our disobedience to God.

6. Thomas Brooks yet again: Satan tells us that repentance will be easy as we consider sinning and then tells us it is impossible once we have fallen.

7. I attended a conference by a UK church planter named Martin Robinson. In it, two goals jumped out at me:
a) Aim to have 80% mobilisation in your church (80% of the church active in ministry)
b) Aim to have 120% of your church in small groups (ie always non-Chrsitians attending)

Volume 8 Number 1

Karl Barth on John Calvin:

Calvin is a cataract, a primeval forest, a demonic power, something directly down from Himalaya, absolutely Chinese, strange, mythological; I lack completely the means, the suction cups, even to assimilate this phenomenon, not to speak of presenting it adequately. What I receive is only a thin little stream and what I can then give out again is only a yet thinner extract of this little stream. I could gladly and profitably set myself down and spend all the rest of my life just with Calvin.[1]

[1] Karl Barth, Letter to Eduard Thurneysen, 8 June 1922, in Karl Barth Gesamtausgabe V: Karl Barth - Eduard Thurneysen Briefwechsel II 1921-1930 (Zurich: Theologisches Verlag, 1974), p. 80.

Volume 7 Number 7

Sorry I haven't posted for so long. Been a busy few months sandwiching a relaxing month off. That is to say, I don't prioritise blogging, nor do I do it for fun :-)

1. The hardest passage to preach on for me is the big picture passage. Am about to preach on Luke 4:18-19 - Jesus' Nazareth Manifesto. Because it's so big... the point of it all... it's so hard to find an 'angle'.

I know all biblical teaching is inter-related. But these central passages, they can be applied to anything. Makes it all the harder to decide what to focus on.

2. I worry about Christians being intimidated to 'go soft' on Islam because of the prevailing postmodern culture.

But I am equally worried about evangelicals slipping into an equally horrible judgemental us-them mentality. When emotions run high and a preacher preaches against Islam, we must beware reinforcing the desires of the sinful nature to make all Muslims a big, indistinguishable unified Other.

3. I read 'Promoting the Gospel' by John Dickson and really liked it. Ever since reading it and raving about it, I have picked up awkward vibes from some people.

I understand that on face value 'not every Christian has to evangelise' is a controversial thing to say in some circles. But in the context of the book, why does it get such a lukewarm reception from some folk? Can any of my readers enlighten me? Point me to some critical reviews?

4. Romans 12:1-2, Colossians 3:16-17 calls on us to worship the Lord with all our being and doing. Surely this is a justification to pursue excellence amongst other things. But is there a better word than 'excellence'? It sounds a little high-brow/elitist. It also may bring echoes of a big emphasis on 'excellence' in Hillsong teaching during the 1990s, which some hcurhc members may find distracting.

I was playing with the idea of 'wholhearted simplicity'. It just sounds kinda nice.