Moved Mountains

Banner - Mt Trio, Stirling Range National Park, Western Australia - (c) 2007

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


The time has come for me to throw in the towel and give blogging up to those who are better able to make a useful contribution to the net-enabled world than I.

The process over the past 10 months has been interesting and, in a sense, worthwhile. For a while the act of blogging was quite cathartic (as an interesting aside - cathartic comes from the Greek word catharsis which can mean to "suck", as in pacify, but I thought it was also applicable to my blogging!!) and I have managed to meet and maintain contact with a couple of really cool people from different places on the globe.

I will definitely still be surfing the blogosphere - I have my favourite blogs locked into Bloglines - and will continue to read and comment.

To those regulars whose visits appear in my webstats - thanks for dropping by and taking an interest!

Cheers and all the best,

Andrew (aka - the Creature)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Discipleship without the Bible - Pt 2

Two and a half years ago something remarkable happened to me. I would even call it miraculous.

It was, without a doubt, the end result of several years of prayer, but to this day I cannot understand why it happened, except to say it was definitely a "God thing". I want to make this really clear. It had nothing to do with me or Lyss, other than, I guess, we were prepared to act when the time came.

The miracle is something I have talked about a few times on this blog. Mostly in trying to find some answers to the many questions I have as someone who has well and truly been thrown in the deep end of something big and amazing and really, really scary.

The miracle was/is a youth group.

3 teenage boys turning up on a Friday night with the specific intent of finding out something about God - whoever (as I am sure they were thinking) "he" was going to turn out to be.

By the end of our first 6 months the group of three had grown into 5. A few left, a few more came and for a good 12 months we settled on 4 regulars turning up each week. None of these kids had a Christian background (although a teenager from a Christian home who had been attending a youth group in another town did start attending after a while) and so our Friday nights were their only experience with God stuff and with Christians.

Now our group has a regular gathering of 7 or 8 on a Wednesday night (we changed the night early last year. I no longer worry about the fact they don't come along on Sunday mornings - sometimes I am actually glad they don't. We often refer to Wednesday nights as our new Sunday morning. We also have our first teenage girl coming along - a new challenge for us.

Bible reading though isn't our strength - hence the title for this post. I have tried setting reading homework, but it rarely gets completed. We have tried doing book studies, but these have flopped and one guys stopped coming because, in his opinion, youth group was too much like school!

I have used the Visual Bibles Gospel of John as an alternative to the Bible, this worked to some degree in engaging them with the Gospel story. Another good resource, particularly in terms of generating discussion, has been the Vancouver Youth for Christ's DVD series Quest. I have just started using this again as we have a number of new attenders who didn't see it the first time round 2 years ago.

But I have found it really difficult to find many resources out there designed for situations like ours. Most assume a group comprised of kids from Christian families and so the suggestions and approaches just don't seem to fit guys like ours. The language and the illustrations are specific to cultural, evangelical Christianity, which makes it really difficult for these post-Christian, non-reading kids to relate to.

As a result - and with the exception of a couple of the resources I mentioned above - we have had to come up with pretty much all our own material and approaches, specifically tailored for post-Christian youth to connect with. And this has been an incredibly difficult process, centred mostly around discussion, story telling and hanging out.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ancient Egypt and the Afterlife

As we had to visit Perth yesterday for a doctors appointment for one of the kids, I thought we would take the opportunity as a family to check out the Egyptian Antiquities from the Louvre exhibit at the Art Gallery of WA.

The exhibition itself was spectacular with an amazing selection of artefact's dating back thousands of years and in amazing states of preservation.

One of the most interesting aspects of the exhibition was the focus on the religious beliefs of the Egyptians, particularly pertaining to the afterlife. It is almost as if the Egyptians were preoccupied with death and the life beyond the grave.

One of the more interesting exhibits was a beautiful papyrus dating back to c500BC containing what is commonly referred to as the "Book of the Dead" or as it was known by the Egyptians, the Book of going forth by day. This book is essentially a Lonely Planet guide to the afterlife. It contains everything a deceased Egyptian needs to know about traversing the lands beyond the grave, facing the judgment of Osiris and gaining entry into the field of reeds, the Egyptian version of paradise.

As we made our way around the exhibition, I was struck by how knowledgeable the Egyptians wanted to appear about the afterlife. From the way they prepared their mummies and tombs right down to the Book of the Dead and its descriptions of the things the dead would encounter and the spells required to make it through the hall of judgment to paradise on the other side. They seemed to have every base covered and in immaculate detail.

It slowly dawned on me how different this way of looking at the world was to the Judeo-Christian way, and how different the Egyptian equivalent, the Book of the Dead, was to the Bible. Whereas the ancient Egyptians claimed great knowledge of the life that came after death the Judeo-Christian scriptures really don't deal much with it at all.

Where the Book of the Dead covered everything the newly deceased needed to know to traverse the perils of the afterlife, the Bible covers everything its readers need to know to traverse the perils of this life. Very few claims are made about the afterlife by its writers.

I think this caused me to think again about our place in God's plan. The afterlife (or lack of) is a given, one way or another we will all experience it, yet, the biblical text makes it clear, what happens now is of much more concern than what happens afterwards. Whereas the Egyptians were preoccupied with death and the afterlife, we, as followers of Jesus need to be preoccupied with life, and living it to the full! That's the lesson I learned from the Egyptians at the Art Gallery.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Science and the Bible - Part 2

Post moderns face the same problem in rejecting dogmatic proclamations of biblical truth as in accepting modern scientific explanations for the origin and continuation of the universe and all it contains.

If post modern Christians would apply they same level of scepticism to scientific hypotheses, such as the big bang and neo-Darwinian evolution (not to mention pop-sci-fi such as string theory), as they apply to the historical text of the Bible, their arguments would, at the very least, show some consistency. Hopefully enabling them to see more clearly the way in which the cultural ideals which resulted in fundamentalism in Christianity in the first place have also contributed greatly to fundamentalism in cosmological science.

In reality creationist beliefs (even those accepting of a cosmologically young earth) regarding the origin and continuation of the universe and the life which exists within it do not have to pose a problem for post-modern Christians. Rather the focus of their attention should remain on the over emphasis placed on these views as core tenets of the Christian faith and the out-moded approaches to apologetics that seem to be advocated by those who specialise in modernist apologetical models as a whole.

The post-modern Christian therefore must avoid all temptation to play the man and must stick to playing the ball – the ball being the questionable mode of apologetic operation, and not the origin belief of the individuals pursuing it.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Science and the Bible

What's the problem with this quote?

In our experience, anti-evolution materials that do not use the Bible are overall much less effective. This is because the conflict is not over scientific facts fundamentally, but over the presuppositions that determine how we interpret those facts. The Bible provides the correct presuppositions about the past, enabling us to understand the scientific data correctly. If a person doesn’t accept the Bible as being inerrant revealed truth from God, then, since all beliefs about the past are equally impervious to scientific proof, there is no imperative for them to relinquish their evolutionary beliefs, even though biblical creation explains the bulk of the scientific evidence more plausibly.
Gary Bates, Creation Ministries International

Monday, August 06, 2007

Hirsch on Consumerism

Speaking to the insecurity of the human situation, it was Jesus who said "So do not worry saying, 'What shall we eat? or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matt. 6:31-33, emphasis in original). Consumerism is thoroughly pagan. Pagans run after these things (Gk. epizeteo"seek, desire, want; search for, look for"). Seen in this light, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Extreme Makeover, Big Brother, and other lifestyle shows are of the most pagan, and paganizing, shows on TV. Even the perennial favorites about renovating the house paganize us, because they focus on that which so easily enslaves us. In these the banality of consumerism reaches a climax as we are sold the lie that the thing that will complete us is a new kitchen or a house extension, whereas in fact these only add more stress to our mortagages and our families. These shows are far more successful promoters of unbelief than even outright intellectual atheism, because they hit us at that place where we must render our trust and loyalty. Most people are profoundly susceptible to the idolatrous allure of money and things. We do well to remember what our Lord said about serving two masters and about running after things (Matt. 6:24-33)...
...Offered "heaven now", we give up the ultimate quest in puruit of that which can be immediately consumed, be it a service, product or pseudo-religous experience. Consumerism has all the distinguishing traits of outraight paganism - we need to see it for what it really is.
From Hirsch, A. (2006) The Forgotten Ways, pp.110-111.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Discipleship without the Bible - Pt 1

One the biggest challanges and changes in MO I have experienced over the last few years has been the role of the Bible (or more specifically Bible reading) in the discipleship process.

Much of my life is taken up working with young people and, if you haven't worked it out yet, these guys have been born and bred on multi-media entertainment. From sharing movies, sounds and pictures on their mobiles to the latest video games consoles and the internet. They live and breath in a fast-paced, ever changing visceral world. But, unfortunately, books don't seem to have much of a place in this world and hence, the Bible isn't something that many of them are going to be interested in picking up.

This presents a whole range of challenges for those of us whose faith originates in the traditional, evangelical church. After all, the Bible is the word of God, and if we aren't drinking from the source we really aren't drinking at all.

So how can we effectively disciple a generation (or at least a significant segment of a generation) who just isn't into reading?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Professionalism in the Missional Church - Part 2

I think there are a couple of reasons for the contrast between the professional approach, I talked about in my last post, and the more organic approach taken in the local church context.

The first is purpose - the kids in the drug program come to us for very specific purpose. Our first contact is an assessment, which consists of a 30 minute interview in which a whole series of very personal questions is asked. We get straight to the point and, I guess, that some level of trust has to be assumed simply because of the nature of the program and my role in it as a professional youth worker.

The second is the role of the professional in the community - Where do people turn for help and advice in the modern world? To the paid professional.

When we need help we don't run to our priest or pastor or even to our next door neighbour. Rather we pay a stranger to pretend to care about us for an hour a week while the community remains oblivious to what is really going on in our private life.

I heard a radio story the other day which illustrates this point well. The reporter was interviewing a doctor on the topic of infant mortality and the effects on families who have lost babies. He mentioned that the effects were usually long term and involved years of counseling and professional support. But he made the point that the long-term reliance upon professionals required by modern families upon losing a child was something new - unheard of, in fact, until the last 30 years or so.

In the past, he said, infant mortality rates were much higher. In fact they were so high that it was commonplace for many families to lose at least one child. This meant that when a family faced this tragedy there were plenty of other empathetic and supportive community members who knew exactly what they were experiencing and who were able to help them get through. They didn't need the professionals because they had the community. But things are very different now.

So, how do we deal with this seeming disparity in the missional approach at the level of the local church? Of course it seems to work well within the specific bounds of a (missional) drug and alcohol program, but not so well in the general running of the missionally focused church. How can we transfer some of the purpose found in the professional program into a less structured, more passive approach to life-ministry? Or do we even need to transfer it? Is the longer path to relational connectedness going to generate greater benefits over the longer term?

Professionalism in the Missional Church - Part 1

My views on church leadership have been heavily influenced by the likes of Oswald Sanders, John Stott, John Piper and more recently Alan Hirsch, Mike Frost and Doug Pagit. I am a fan of the flat model of church leadership and not real fond of the CEO model currently favoured by much of the evangelical/pentecostal church.

However I have started noticing something that I think should not be ignored and it is causing me to ask a few questions about the role of the "professional" in the missional church.

I'll try and explain by using an example from personal experience.

Around 2 and a half years ago Lyss and I were privileged to be asked by a couple of unchurched youth from our town to spend a night a week telling them about Jesus. These same guys ended up inviting some of their mates along and a little youth ministry grew from nothing. This little group has since more than doubled in size, again with unchurched kids. I really don't know why the keep coming back, but they do.

At times Lyss and I really struggle to know how to take things deeper (relationally) with them, as, apart from odd moments of deep engagement, things seem to just cost along at a platonic level. The only thing we have to go on in terms of how things are traveling is that these guys keep coming back, and that they sometimes bring their friends along, who also keep coming back.

The upshot is, in more than two years I feel like we are only now just starting to get to know some of these guys on a deeper level. It has taken such a long time to earn their trust.

On the other hand, when not working for the church in Binningup, I run a drug and alcohol program in Bunbury. For me and my co-worker this is also an experiment in incarnational ministry but ... and this is a big but ... relationships with the "clients" develop much, much quicker in the professional environment of the program than seems possible in the non-professional arena of the community mission field.

It takes two weeks in the program to surpass the level of relationship that has taken more than two years to grow in the field.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Meet the Wannabees

This photo is from the "meet the candidates" forum I hosted at the local country club on Tuesday night on behalf of the Binningup Beach Christian Fellowship and the community.

We had 4 candidates come along, Noel Brunning (a local TV news anchor and former work mate of mine from my TV days) who is running as an independant, John Lewis for the Christian Democratic Party, Peter MacFarlane from the Australian Labor party and Rob Olver (a mate of mine from way, way back) who is a senate candidate for the Australian Democrats.

Unfortunately the Liberal candidate, Nola Marino, who is probably the best bet on winning the election wasn't real interested in getting involved and didn't get back to me when asked to provide a couple of dates. After a few emails and attempted telephone contact she informed me the date we eventually fixed was no good for her and she wouldn't be coming! This made it into the paper and I received a heap of phone calls from people upset that she wasn't going to be involved. I told them to ring her and tell her, not me!

The turn out wasn't huge, about 30 in all, but the night went well.

The idea behind it (stolen from the ACL who did something similar in Bunbury at the last state election) was to give the locals an opportunity to hear from the "horses mouth" on issues that were pertinent to our community and part of the world. Helping make an informed decision when it comes to the ballot box.

The main topics of interest included our involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, environmental issues (particularly enviro-friendly industry and energy solutions) and the big problem we have with drugs (particularly a nasty little number called ice) in the South West. I invited the aspiring pollies to come and take a look at the drug and alcohol program I run for Mission Australia so they could get a bit of an idea of some of the stuff that is being done locally to work with drug affected kids.

So there's another idea for increasing the relevance of the church in the local community and helping to break down some of those barriers that exist. It also got us in 4 newspapers - nothing like free publicity! ;)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Inside the Walls - 2

Matt Stone from Journeys in Between must have been snooping on my post from yesterday on those of us emerging from within an established, local church, cause he's posted on the same topic.

Check it out - How to Survive Church.

Political Jokes

I should have posted this about a week ago!

Tonight I'm hosting a forum with 4 candidates running in the next Federal election. It's an opportunity for the community to hear from the horses respective mouth's on issues that are important to them and, hopefully, help inform the decisions they make at the ballot box.

But as the host of the evening I thought that I couldn't let the opportunity to take the mickey out of politicians pass and that I should tell a few jokes about politicians or the game of politics along the way. So far though, I haven't been able to come up with any that don't include Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky and that are even remotely relevant to the Aussie political context.

You see, the trouble with political jokes, in my opinion, is they usually get elected (boom boom!).

I've got about 2.5 hours to find some funnies to use at the expense of our guests - so if you have any up your sleeves, now would be the time to lay them on me.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Inside the Walls

Those who regularly drop by might have realised that I am a part of a missional move within an established, conservative evangelical church. Apparently we are something of an aberration. Most of the emerging-missional stuff that is happening around the place seems to be taking place outside of the established church.

As someone who is operating from within I can understand why. There have been many times that I have thought about running and starting anew and so often I read and am told that perhaps this kind of transition to the missional is doomed to fail simply because new life can't be found in something that is apparently dead or at least something that has reached its "use by" date.

But things are changing and I think we are starting to make progress and so I wanted to list some of the things I have observed and learnt to this point.

  1. Row boats have smaller turning circles than aircraft carriers. Small fellowships are going to find it easier to make changes than large, membership driven fellowships. Local churches decimated by the "black hole" effect of attractional mega-churches are in prime positions to make the missional shift. Often those left behind are those committed to their community and those that are committed to their community are more likely to appreciate a missional approach.

  2. Paradigm shifts require revolution. One dissident voice is seldom enough to evoke real, maintainable change. The use of many, reasoned voices is important - in our example these voices came through published works such as The shaping of things to come, and The church on the other side, as well as various web sources.

  3. Understanding something of missional leadership is important in making a missional transition. It's my opinion that a pastor in a traditional CEO type role would find it very difficult to transition a traditional congregation. The CEO role runs counter to the role of the missional leader as a fellow traveler. While there are still those in my fellowship that are waiting of the "real" pastor to arrive, I think many are now starting to see the benefits of traveling together down this road. The transition then becomes a shared experience and lessons are learned together.

  4. Grace is required. If a missional transition is to occur it must be the work of the Holy Spirit. No amount of brow beating, bashing or coercion is going to make it happen. There will be those for whom change is simply going to be a slow process or, in reality, may never occur. These people are important to God too and must feature in our prayers and be considered in our intentions.

  5. Wherever possible, don't go it alone. Just as a revolution on the grand scale requires many voices, so too does revolution on smaller scale. Of course, as has been our experience, it isn't always possible to find people in your midst that are already thinking the same way, and so its important to join in with others who are heading down the same road wherever you can - online, through books; or the best option, face to face.

  6. Be willing to try new things.

  7. Be willing to fail.

  8. Pray.
I am really keen to connect with others who are in the process of transitioning an established congregation. From what I hear, I don't think there are too many of us out there. But I am sure we can help each other by sharing our experiences, successes and failures.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Weekend with Forge

Alyssa and I just got back to Binningup after a weekend in Perth at our first Forge intensive.

This is actually the first time either of us has had the opportunity to face-2-face it with other "emerging" individuals in the local area (well almost local - we are 2 hours drive away from most of them).

The weekend was interesting with today's sessions being the highlight for me. We heard predominantly from Geoff and Sherry Maddock from Communality (this is their blog - the Ashram) in Lexington Kentucky and Olivia MacLean and Stuart Davey from the Solace community in Melbourne.

One of the highlights for me was the look at community these two different manifestations of the missional church presented. The Solace guys led us through some interactive/contemplative activities, one of which asked us to model from clay something that we covet. I "sculpted" a rather crude representation of community - something that I covet, and not always for the right reasons.

Overall the weekend was fruitful and I was able to make contact with some others who are struggling with and journeying on a similar road - always a good thing, made better in that it was in the flesh and face to face!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Aussie Missiology/Ecclesiology

Hamo at Backyard Missionary is back in business after a 6 month hiatus and he hasn't wasted any time getting back into it.

is a ripper. I had actually already started knocking something together myself on exactly this subject but think that his post says it all so will save mine for another day.

The Australian church has to get it's blinkers off, there is absolutely no doubt about it. We pay way too much attention to the US way of doing things in this country, and that is reflected in mega-churches like Hillsong and Riverview as much as it is reflected in aspects of the emerging church (like the emerging rum rebellion!).

The Aussie culture is post-Christian and the church must come to terms with this if it is going to become relevant to the average Aussie.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Babylonian Tablet Confirms OT History

I found a reference to this article on Matt Stone's blog (Journeys in Between).

It talks about a Babylonian cuneiform tablet dating back around 2500 years on which is inscribed the name of the Chief eunuch of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon.

What makes the find so interesting is that the same guy - the chief eunuch - is also mentioned by name in the OT book of Jeremiah.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Like a Chameleon - Looking Like we Belong

What's with the chameleon?

I had an interesting chat today with a cop, who I later on found out was also a follower of Jesus and engaged in a bit of incarnational ministry himself (although he, like so many who are doing "it", had never heard the term before).

He was telling me about an experience he had about 20 years ago when he was given the job of being one of the first school based police officers in the state.

He was dropped off on the first morning of his job at one of the toughest schools in the metropolitan area, dressed in his uniform, without any relevant training, in a school that had never had anyone in a similar role previously (no schools at that time had). And he was expected to somehow engage with the student population in a meaningful way.

The principal told him to take a seat on a concrete platform at the front of the schools assembly area and wait for students to approach him so he could start interacting with them. What he found out pretty soon was that the students didn't like cops. In fact, he reckoned that to say they hated cops wouldn't have been an understatement.

So on the first day, and for the first 3 months he was sworn at, verbally abused and "oinked" at (police officers are known as "pigs" by some in Australia). It didn't take him long to realise he wasn't getting anywhere, and after several months, he says, he was ready to chuck the whole thing in.

Then one of the sports teachers pulled him aside and suggested he start getting involved in some of the outdoor activities offered by the school. The teachers thinking was, that if he could get out of his uniform and get alongside the students as a mate, rather than as a cop, he might get somewhere.

You can guess the end result. With a bit of time, things changed drastically and he was able to make real inroads with the students and even to gain acceptance from them as a member of their school community.

Right or wrong, the church is often viewed by the world like this police officer was viewed by the students at his school. When all the misconceptions and stereotypes and memories of bad experiences take over, they simply don't want a bar of us.

It's worse when we hide in the safety of our church meetings and make pronouncements about how sinful the "world" is and how badly those outside the church need to get with the program. Not many want to hear that stuff, and most of all, they don't want to hear it from people who appear to be separated from them by an enormous, gaping cultural gulf.

And so they don't listen. They avoid church and its activities. Church and what it has to offer just don't seem relevant to them.

But, like the cop in the story, the barriers really start to come down when we step out of our church "uniforms" and start living alongside everyone else like real human beings. When we begin to get involved in their lives and their interests respect is earned, trust is gained and slowly relationships are built. The walls built on the stereotypes and bad experiences start to crumble.

This is the challenge for the church, particularly in Australia, but also I suspect, elsewhere in the world. To earn the right to influence culture the followers of Jesus must be prepared to step out and blend in - to become human among the humans. After all, isn't this just what Jesus did?

That's what's with the chameleon!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Fresh Start for Drug Addicts in W.A.

I just finished watching a story on Today Tonight about a Perth Dr named George O'Neil who operates a clinic for the treatment of drug addiction (heroin, alcohol, amphetamine etc.). His treatment program has been controversial and has been in the news a lot over the past 6 or 7 years, however it is also incredibly effective.

I was reminded of the fantastic work Dr O'Neil is involved with and wanted to encourage blog visitors to financially support A Fresh Start - the not-for-profit organisation through which Dr O'Neil provides treatment for drug addicts - usually at no cost to the sufferer themself.

Much of his work is funded by his own family and supported by volunteers. He has developed a naltrexone implant that delivers naltrexone into the addicted persons system at a slow rate over the period of a year. This enables them to completely and quickly withdraw from the problem drug. Naltrexone blocks the drug's receptors in the brain significantly reducing cravings and effectively blocking its effects if the drug is used, making it a wasted high. I have personal experience with naltrexone, using it in my own recovery from drug addiction.

His implant is worth millions in itself and he has received offers from pharmaceutical companies wanting to buy it. However, in order to ensure it remains readily available to ordinary people he has refused to give it up. Developing it and manufacturing it at his own expense.

Dr O'Neil's life is an example of kingdom living and I can't say enough about his work. So, please consider giving (via the website, from wherever you are in the world) to this amazing Christian organisation and enable it to continue giving sufferers of addiction a fresh start in life!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The bus run

One of things that we are pursuing with our fellowship is an emphasis on community service and development (really transformation).

This is a challenge in our neck of the woods as we don't have too many of the traditional areas of need (relating to poverty, disease etc.). Our neighbourhood is fairly affluent.

One of the things we have been doing for a while now is something called Coffee in the Arvo - we run a cafe once a month as a networking, get to know your neighbours, just hang out kinda thing. While it hasn't been a huge success it is working ok and we are going to persevere with it for a while longer.

Another area that our community is lacking in is access to public transport, particularly for young people. We are around 35km from the nearest city and there is no public transport out of town.

I chucked the idea of a bus run into the city (Bunbury) at our local community association over a year ago, but it didn't receive any support. Anyway, I bought it up with our youth group guys a few weeks back and they were incredibly enthusiastic about the idea.

I took it back to the leadership, who were also ok with it and so in a few weeks time we are going start our trial of a Saturday morning bus run into town. This will give the teens in town an opportunity to get into Bunbury, hang out at the skate park, go see a movie or do some shopping.

I'll let you know how it goes.


I signed up with Facebook tonight. Looks interesting. Not sure how the whole "networks" side of things works but would be interested in hooking up with some of the people who do drop by this blog and are also on Facebook.

If you're not familiar with Facebook you can check it out at

My username is my name.


Monday, July 09, 2007

Pastors, is your flock not showing you the honour you deserve ...

...then why not consider nominating yourself as the "featured pastor" at the Australian Pastors blog? You can also vote in the "How would you describe yourself" as a pastor poll. There were only two votes in the "emerging" category when I dropped by!

If that's not quite your cup of tea, have a read of this! It comes from Preaching Re-imagined by Doug Pagitt from Solomons Porch Community.

The pastorate has changed dramatically over the centuries. Once primarily thought of as a calling, it's now often seen as a career. This professionalization of the pastorate has had an interesting impact on both pastors and parishioners...

I've talked to medical doctors who are bothered by the amount of health care information that's available on the Internet. One doctor said, "I have a more difficult time doing my job when people come to me with a self-diagnosis and treatment plan already in mind. I'm the professional. They simply cannot learn what I know just because they look on the internet." This frustration, while real to doctors, leaves them in the minority. People make better patients and healthier people when they're more involved in understanding their health. The medical profession must train doctors to know how to interact with the changing patient of the information age...

There are far too many pastors who take this same perspective - feeling threatened by the idea that regular people might have something to contribute to the spiritual formation of the community. but it's a good thing when people want to be more engaged in their spiritual lives. Look - churches will always need pastors., just as patients will always need doctors. Thus it's logical to expect that as the medical profession needs to adjust to its expectations of its patients, the pastoral profession should also be willing to rethink the role of the parishioner in the life of the church.

The book which this quote comes from is well worth a read, especially if you find yourself challenged by the role and purpose of the sermon in fellowship life. I might post a little more about this book later on.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Census Data - What the Numbers are Saying

I was just browsing some of the recently released data from the 2006 Australian census. Some if it is interesting. Like, for example -

  • The fastest growing religions in Western Australia are Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism- from Hindu: 3,640 , Islam: 12,571 and Buddhism: 18,509 in 1996, to Hindu: 8,156, Islam: 24,185 and Buddhism: 34,349 in 2006.

  • While Pentecostals are often touted as Australia's (perhaps the worlds) fastest growing arm of the church their growth between the years of 1996 and 2006 (by 3746 people) pales into insignificance when compared to the growth exhibited in three non-Christian religions listed above.

  • Less than 20% of people living in the Perth metropolitan area take part in volunteer work, while between 26 and 33% of people living on the south west and south coasts volunteer and and between 33 and 39% if people living on the mid west coast volunteer.

  • Every Christian denomination listed in the 2006 census for the region in which I live (Leschenault) has more female than male affiliates, with the exception of the Catholics who have 40 more male adherents than female.

  • As far as I could tell, every denomination listed shows a marked decrease in affiliation between the ages of 0-14 and 15-24 , with the most drastic decrease being seen in the Catholic church with the difference between the two age groups at the 2006 census being nearly 30,000 for the state of Western Australia.
I don't think there are too many surprises in these figures - but even so, the massive drop off in denominational association between the pre-teen and teen years and the gender imbalance across the board is something worth thinking about.

I also think that if someone bothered to check the figures relating to the growth of Pentecostalism they would find a hole, roughly the same shape and size, in the midst of the other, non-Pentecostal denominations, representing transferred growth rather than "real" growth from new converts. But that's just my hunch!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Africa - Photo of the Week - The Lost Boys

We met these boys on the road between Gisenyi in western Rwanda and Kigali. They are country kids and from the look of their clothing and slight frames come from poor families.

The guy at the back has left a lasting impression on me. He was the worst dressed and least well fed of the group of about 4 that came to see us when we pulled over on the side of the road to take some photos of 4 of the 7 volcanic peaks that make up the Virunga National Park.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Thinking about planting a missional church?

Rick Meigs at the Blind Beggar blog posted this list for would-be missional church planters a couple of days ago. It's good value, as is the on going discussion about the list on Rick's blog:

  • Select carefully those that will form your core group. If they are not committed to engaging the culture in a “go to them” life, then they would not be part of my core group.
  • Don’t make the Sunday gathering your organizational focus. If you spend most of your money, peoples time and emotional resources on the Sunday gathering, you’ll have little to devote to community engagement.
  • Your Sunday gathered should be for the purpose of worship, encouragement, story telling, teaching, training, and to seek God’s presence and to be realigned with God’s missionary purpose. It should not be focused on the needs of the not-yet-Christian.
  • Plant your faith community in the heart of the area you want to minister. (And if it were me, all leadership would be required to live in the immediate area, but I know that would be hard one for most.)
  • You and your core group should spend lots of time exploring the needs of your community and how you can join your community in meeting those needs.
  • When considering community needs, I’d be looking for those that center on the hurting people in your area. The gospel is about walking a new path and those that already know that their current path in life is a dead-end are the richest harvest ground. Get involved with the working poor, AA, NA, prisons, immigrant poor, etc.
  • Be desperately dependent on prayer.
  • Don’t become a CEO. Your faith community is not a business. Leave the American capitalist organizing and marketing principles for the business world. Your faith community should be organic.

Backyard Missionaries Required for Down-South Ministry

Just over a year ago I published an advertisement calling for interested individuals and families to consider moving to our community in order to work with us (the local church) in order to help serve the community and grow the kingdom of God.

My original advertisement was edited by the leadership team and things about our location (on the beach, close to schools, golf course, etc.) were added in what was seen as necessary incentives to lure people to us. Our hopes, I guess, were centred on reinvigorating our flagging Sunday morning service and adding some new goods and services to our menu of programs.

I knew that Sunday morning services were not the key to our success as a church. I had been preaching and talking about this for several years with our members and leaders, but I allowed myself, for a moment, to fall back into the old attractional way of thinking - maybe if we just gave it one more shot, maybe if we just found a few musicians for our one-woman-band, we might at least be able to attract back some of the local Christians who had abandoned us for the mega-church down the road, or the Christian families who move to town and don't even give us a look in?

The end result of our advertising? One reply - an older guy looking to retire somewhere on the coast, who mistakenly thought we were looking for a pastor and was prepared to offer his services to us free of charge. And that was it.

On the upside our ad sparked a debate on a prominent Aussie blog which made me look harder at something called the "emerging church". Little did I know that the road God had me travelling was very close to that of many others who were now associating themselves with the emerging-missional movement.

Today - well, things haven't changed much, except that I have a new vocabulary which I have been able to share with the leadership team, and I am now on a not-so-lonely journey, with our leadership now among the fellow travelers on this missional adventure. But we are still resource strapped.

So, 12 months on we are trying again - but this time with a revamped "want ad". Feel free to distribute it, publicaly argue about, debate it or slam it!

Are you being called to a cross-cultural mission-field in your own backyard?

If you know the words “missional” and “emerging”, see the kingdom of heaven as something more than just a future event, and understand that sharing the gospel involves living it as much as speaking it, then we would like to hear from you.

Our community suffers from disease and poverty, but our diseases are those of affluence and our poverty is spiritual. Overall our biggest problem is apathy – but we aren't sure that anyone cares?

We are a small number of Jesus’ followers with faith in the power of Jesus Christ to transform our town, however, while the harvest is plentiful the workers are few.

If you think this could be the thing for you and would like more information you can Skype our ministry team leader (Andrew) on deepsky1971, email him at, call him during the day on 0413 995 280 or at home on 9720 1215.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Africa - Photo of the Week

This is one of my favourite pictures, taken while in a Sunday afternoon "crusade" on Mt Kigali. The sun was coming through the window behind the kids and the lighting was brilliant. I wanted to capture it on film just as it looked to my eyes. And I think I just about managed to do it.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Emerging-Missional Church as a Catalyst for Grassroots Community Transformation

Long title - but it says what I'm thinking.

The following is really just a bit of me thinking "out loud" or at least in Verdana 12 point! If it doesn't make a lot of sense to you that's cool - I am still trying to get my head around it all myself. But I really think that somewhere in here in this current train of thought is an important point - how it looks or will come together in practice I'm not sure. But I am sure that there is an important link between community development (really community transformation and that's what I'll call it from now on) and the gospel.

In the time I have spent around the church this isn't something I have heard much about. Don't get me wrong, the "kingdom" is a topic I am very familiar with - but only in the sense in which "kingdom" is something eschatalogical; something still to come and not something that exists in the here-and-now. In the same way I have heard a lot about the way Jesus transforms this world, however beyond changes in individual lives I have not seen much evidence of this beyond the 4 walls of the local church building.

Hear what I'm saying - the fact that people can change is a huge thing. This is powerful evidence of the way in which a relationship with Jesus Christ can change lives. But in my experience it seems to often stop there. Sure, people stop swearing or drinking too much or sleazing around. They might stop speeding or cheating on their tax return too. But as far as these changes flowing out of the church buildings and into the communities in which these people exist, well I just haven't really seen a lot of it happening.

This is where it all starts to come together though - where the Kingdom and the transforming power of Jesus Christ actually meet. After all, what is a kingdom without a king, or for that matter a king without a kingdom?

The New Testament (and in many places, particularly the Psalms, the Old as well) paints a vivid picture of what this kingdom looks like and who is in charge. It paints a picture that leads me to no other conclusion than Jesus intended us, His body, His church, His bride, to be the means through which His kingdom exists in this world, and that this kingdom is to be a place of safety, refuge, peace and ultimately salvation, for all who find it and exist within it.

A place where those who don't "go to church" on a Sunday morning can still experience the transforming power of Christ for themselves because His kingdom, the place where his power is at work, is all around them. In their world, but not of their world.

If this is the case, then it means the kingdom has to spread beyond the confines of the local church meeting hall. The transforming power of Jesus Christ cannot be limited to those 4 walls and the people who dwell within them. Rather it must be allowed to flow into the world around it - to give it flavour and light, to influence, to love, to serve, to transform!

In Church Re-imagined Doug Pagitt describes this as the act of bringing heaven to earth:

It's tempting to see service as a way for the well-resourced to reach out to others. But that perspective makes service a kind of condescension - drops of mercy bestowed upon the "needy" by those who are "blessed" - rather than an outgrowth of our desire to work toward making things on earth as they are in heaven.
Can you imagine a church that is involved in this kind of kingdom work? I can - and I want to be a part of it!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Communities in Control - Post Conference Thoughts

Yep - still on this topic!

I got back yesterday from the Communities in Control conference in Melbourne. Unfortunately there weren't too many thrills.

There were a couple of interesting speakers and one that I would say was inspirational but overall the conference was very political with the bill dominated by trade unionists, including current ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions) president Sharron Burrows and Victorian Labor Party politicians.

Burrows' attempted to convince us that Australia's trade unions are the backbone of our communities and society. She also acknowledged a significant drop in union membership over the past few years, but dismissed it as a direct result of the current high standard of living we are experiencing in Australia. Nothing at all to do with the overall lack of relevance most Australians see trade unions as having then?

One of only a couple of exceptions at the conference was Afro-American activist Angela Glover-Blackwell. Glover-Blackwell is the Chief Executive Officer and founder of PolicyLink, a US based "research and action institute that works collaboratively to develop and implement local, state, and federal policies to achieve economic and social equity".

Her talk focused (apolitically) directly on community development initiatives that she has been involved in and the role of grass roots level advocacy for the marginalised and disadvantaged. While I have no idea of her religious persuasion she did refer to Jim Wallace in a couple of her answers to questions from the delegates that were pointedly anti-Christian and obviously influenced by the media's portrayal of the United States "religious right". She effectively shut the questioners down by affirming the role Christians of many and varied political persuasions play in the community service sector in the US.

The conference finished up with a special concert (actually just two songs) by one of my favourite Australian musicians, Paul Kelly. Paul and Aboriginal activist and musician Kev Carmody performed From little things big things grow, a tune that has become a bit of a social activism anthem in this country, along with a couple of other popular numbers.

Probably the best thing to come from the conference though was the opportunity it gave me to think more about the relationship, as it currently exists, between church and community. The more I think about it the more I think I see the intrinsic significance of the church's involvement in community development as part of its fulfillment of Christ's commission. In fact I think it is essential that any missional approach to church also be an approach that involves community development on a broader scale.

I'll post a bit more on this tomorrow.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Creating Community

Seems I can't get "community" outta my mind at the moment. Maybe because of Doug Pagitt's book on the Solomon's Porch community which I'm reading at the moment (see my last post, below), maybe because of Africa, maybe because community is something I have been attempting (really, struggling) to create here in my neighbourhood for the best part of the last 3 years without much success.

One of the keys to community, as I see it, is appealing to peoples inbuilt sense of wanting or needing to belong. Of creating a place where people can feel secure and safe and can feel free to, generally, be themselves. This I think is where I'm failing. You see, everything we are doing seems to be reliant upon invitations and reminders. Lyss and I are always inviting people to share a meal with us, or to go to the pub with us. Or we are always inviting and reminding people about our Alternate[Or] gathering. If we don't remind or invite, nothing happens. People are not actively pursuing involvement with us or the things we are about.

This morning, chewing over all of this, I am struck by the thought that what we have, while it is community in a sense, may not really be that thing called "genuine" community. If people have to be constantly reminded and invited in order to participate then something must be missing. Real community (whatever that is) should be something that people want to participate in, look forward to and eagerly involve themselves in.

I feel that if Lyss and I stopped today, nothing more would happen. We would go back to spending Friday and Saturday nights on our own.

I recently read Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. He talks about the way in which, on the very first day his new Mars Hill Bible Church met and without any promotion, they had more than 3000 people turn up! And to read about the way in which the Solomon's Porch guys are doing what they are doing and seeing things change and develop and grow, while inspiring me in many ways, at least today, is also depressing me.

If I can be so bold as to ask - if anyone is even reading this - please pray for us. Pray that we (Lyss and I) can be a part of a community where we can feel like we belong, created by our Creator and not by us and where others can come and feel the same. Please pray that we can find others who feel and think the way we think and want to play a role in building God's kingdom in this neighbourhood.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Communities in Control

Creating community! It's a hot topic and one that has facinated me for quite some time. I don't know when exactly I became interested in community development specifically, but I know that I have been aware of an almost complete lack of genuine community in our society - church and secular - for a long time.

I couple of months back I was approached by the main sponsor of the youth drug and alcohol program I run, the American minining company Alcoa, to attend the annual Communities in Control conference in Melbourne and to undertake some study on community development leadership at their expense. I thought this sounded like a good opportunity and now that I know a little more about the conference, am glad that I'm going.

Around 10 years ago I remember standing outside a courthouse as a news cameraman, covering a case involving a 17 year old boy involved with an outlaw bikie gang. I was struck by the support the young guy was shown by his bikie gang mentors. I clearly remember thinking, "if only the church was able to do the whole community thing like that, imagine what it would be like". Of course the cost of "community" bikie style is great - once you are a part of their community they don't easily let you go. But the way in which they seemed able to provide a place of belonging and acceptance to a young misfit was, in a wierd kind of way, inspiring.

And there's nothing like a visit to Africa to make you feel communally challenged. The whole "tribal" lifestyle is all about community. I asked John Mihigo (our African mission partner) to explain the role of the individual in the African community to the Aussie team members as a way of contrasting our individualistic approach to life;

"The interests of the community come before the interests of the individual in African society. The individual is happy when the community is happy", was his in-a-nutshell response.

While I was in Africa I started reading Church Reimagined: The spiritual formation of people in communities of faith, the story of the Solomon's Porch Community in Minneapolis, USA, by Doug Pagitt. A lot of what Pagitt writes about really resonates with me. I love his approach to pastoral leadership and the way they operate as a community generally. Coupled with my re-emmersion in the African way of life Church Reimagined has left me determined to perservere with our Alternate[Or] gathering and with the goal of developing community within this fellowship and within this socially isolated neighbourhood, which needs it just as much as we - the local Christians - do.

So on Sunday night, just over a week after getting back to my family after 3 weeks in Africa, I jet off again for 3 nights in Melbourne and the Communities in Control conference. But I'm excited by what I am going to learn, and disappointed that I am not going to be hearing about it from those connected with the church.

I'll leave you with a quote from a former Communities in Control conference key note speaker, Professor Berkman of Havard University and tell you more about it all when I get back;

Community organisations have the power to tangibly improve population health. In this case, what’s good for individuals and what’s good for the community is the same thing. Those with the most social connectedness, i.e. who have a high level of participation in social and community organisation and networks, have lower mortality rates… ...Community groups are the engines that drive our ability to change behaviour, reduce morbidity, expand life-expectancy and innovate change (in Community Manifesto: Valuing Australia's community groups, 2003. p.6:

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Some things change ... Some stay the same

Even before arriving in Kigali, two and half years after my first visit, I was hearing stories of change.

The in-flight magazine tucked in the seat pocket of my twin turbo-prop flight from Entebbe in Uganda talked about a recent visit by Rwanda's President, Paul Kegami, to the US. He had met with the heads of F-500 companies including Google and Starbucks. He negotiated deals that will see Google become the major IT solutions provider for the Rwandese public service and Starbucks begin opening stores in downtown Kigali.

If people have money and time to spend on coffee and in cafes things must be changing in Rwanda.

Within minutes of landing at Kigali international airport some of these changes in the fabric of city life in Rwanda became apparent. On the 40 minute drive from the airport to the Kimisigara community on Mt Kigali I saw many late model cars on the road, including Mercedes Benzs and BMWs. A plethora of new apartment developments and construction projects also lined the clean, palm tree and grass lined streets.

Another noticeable change was the service (gas) stations. In 2004 all they sold was fuel. In just about every case their storefronts were completely empty shells, but now they were full. Fridges stocked with the big cola names and walls lined with shelves brimming with potato chips, chocolates and snacks and the kind of ordinary grocery items you would expect to see in any convenience store anywhere in the developed world.

John's wife Gladys was driving us from the airport and I commented to her that things appeared to be improving economically for Rwanda. I couldn't believe the changes I was seeing in the relatively short amount of time since I last visited. She replied that while on the surface this looked to be the case, in reality it was those who already had money that were making more of it, while the poor were still poor.

This was confirmed when we arrived at our destination - things on Mt Kigali hadn't followed the path taken by downtown Kigali. In fact very little had changed in the time I had been away.

I was greeted by the same badly erroded dirt road, 3 room mudbrick houses and children clad in dirty, torn clothing. This was the same place I had said goodbye to the last time I left Rwanda.

Perhaps the rich do just keep getting richer. When Starbucks open the doors of their new Kigali cafe I don't expect to find too many of the Mt Kigali locals sipping lattes or cappuccinos!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Kigali - Rwanda Day 2

Miraho (G'day)!

I arrived in Kigali on Friday night with John on a late flight from Entebbe. Gladys, John's wife, and daughter Brenda met us at the airport and transported us back to their home in the Mount Kigali community.

This community is one of the poorest in Kigali. After the genocide and civil war, refugees returning to Rwanda settled on the mountain for which the city is named, in what was originally prime agricultural land. The new settlement was outside the city power and water grid and to this day remains without either of these services.

A few years back, John, also a recently returned refugee, felt called by God to move his family from the relative comfort of suburban Kigali (with running water and electricity) to a life on the mountain, serving the poverty stricken community. I think it is hard for Westerners to grasp the enormity of this move.

I felt privileged to be able to spend the night in their home on the mountain and was treated to famous Rwandan hospitality - including a sleep in Saturday morning!

The team from Australia arrived at around 5.30 Saturday evening with stories of miraculous escapes from excessive excess baggage duties at Perth airport. We also were nearly slugged with customs duties at Kigali airport because I had neglected to draft a manifest for the goods we were importing, causing the customs officials some concern. However, out of the blue after telling John and I that they would be keeping our imports (a couple of generators destined for the Mt Kigali church and other bits and pieces), the official, without explanation, shooed us and our generators off with a wave of his hand. Imani ishimwe (Thank God!). Another prayer immediately answered.

This morning the team experienced their first Rwandan church service. I think everyone was moved by the welcome they received and the hospitality shown by the whole fellowship.

The welcome included a traditional Rwandese dance performed by several young ladies from the fellowship and the invitation for us all to dance for the congregation (another honour given to visitors). The first time I visited Rwanda I had this one sprung on me and I felt very self conscious, however I had warned the team that the dance would be expected and so no one was caught unprepared. Interestingly I found it much easier this time round and found I was actually enjoying the dancing.

We had lunch with and an official welcome from the CUF leadership after the service, followed by a business meeting in which John asked me to present the new business structure for the partnership that he and have been working on for the past few months.

Essentially it involves formalising the relationship a little more and instigating a project based system which clearly outlines the budget for each project and those who have an interest in it. It also enables regular progress reporting which can be disseminated among our partnership supporters.

Not exactly sure what is in store tomorrow - some of the team will be going to help install glass panels in the church building windows and doors - I think though I might be headed for the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (the local university) to talk to the students.

I am hoping to post a report by one of the team members on the partnership blog tomorrow for any who are interested in hearing a mazungo (western) perspective on the visit.

Until next time - Murabeho (bye)!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Amahoro II - Last day in Mukono

Brian McLaren (far right) and the Emergent Village guys at Amahoro yesterday

The Amahoro gathering finished last night with a session with Brian McLaren on Networking and something he calls "Network Theory".

As my internet access and time has been limited I haven't had much chance to blog in detail, so at this stage it looks like a detailed rundown of the conference might have to wait until I get to Rwanda, or maybe even back to Australia.

In the meantime you can read a report on the conference on the Amahoro blog - written by a Ugandan journo who was in attendance.

John and I are now just waiting for a lift back to Kampala where we are going to visit the Canadian Embassy which acts as an agent for the Australian Government. We are going to see what is involved in getting John a visa to visit Australia.

We fly out to Kigali at around 9.30 tonight - this time on a Dash 8 - twin engine turbo prop!

The team from Australia is arriving in Kigali tomorrow night. I will spend the night on Mt Kigali and then move down to the EPR Guesthouse with the others on Saturday night.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Amahoro -Finally!

Paul from the Christian Unity Church, Kampala with some Ugandan dancers at the source of the Nile River in Jinja

I arrived in Uganda on Saturday night after a gruelling 26-odd sleepless hours of travel from Perth in Western Australia, through Dubai in the Middle East and Nairobi in Kenya.

Internet access has been intermittent and the service is a little unreliable - so I'll keep this post brief to avoid frustration (for me!). Hopefully I'll have the chance to post in a little more detail in the next day or two.

The conference day has been broken up into a couple of different sessions with the delivery of papers/presentations in the morning, followed by small group sessions where we are looking at the nature of and way forward for the emerging church in Africa.

The first sessions on Monday dealt with the concepts of post modernism as post colonialism in the African context.

Yesterday focussed on reconciliation with speakers from Rwanda and South Africa who addressed the genocide and apartheid respectively with the third speaker, a South African university professor, discussing the growth of Christianity in Africa and the marked increase in it's spread south since the end of colonialism and the increase in indigenous expressions of Christian faith.

Today's sessions looked at ways in which women can be empowered to take on a greater role in the future of the church in Africa. Women are highly marginalised in African culture and this is something that has lead to many problems in the community, but also in the church.

Sorry for the brief overview - I will post in greater detail on all of these things in the next few days.

The conference is leaving me with the feeling that I am seeing history being made. It's a bit like being at a 21st century African council of Nicea (although, of course, the focus is on the future of the church and not the holy scriptures).

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Sports Action

My boys, Luke and Samuel, had their first game of soccer (or football if your a purist), for 2007. Unfortunately I missed Luke's games but managed to sit in on Sam's.

I got my new Canon EOS 400D digital SLR a couple of weeks back (after about three years of saving and waiting) and so thought I would test it out on the sports field with some action snaps.

Here are a couple of the better results - my 9 and 3-quarter year old Sam in action in the goals for the Eaton Wanderers.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Blogging Africa - Uganda and Rwanda

In 9 days time I will be on my way to Africa, first for a week in Uganda at the Amahoro Africa (emerging/missional) gathering and then another 2 weeks leading a team from Australia in Rwanda.

While away, and particularly during the week of Amahoro, I will regularly update Moved Mountains. I am also hoping to interview some of the key players at the gathering, inluding Claude Nikhondeha, Brian McLaren and other indigenous (African) leaders.

I think Amahoro is going to be incredibly important in building missional networks in Central Africa and establishing missional (as opposed to colonial) partnerships between western and African followers of Jesus.

I am really excited about being able to go to this conference and to learn more - and better - ways of interacting with our African brothers and sisters - but also, hopefully, about interacting with the church and broader community here at home as well.

I'll leave you with an interesting quote from a paper by South African theologian H.J. Hendriks from Stellenbosch University (the paper is entitled Evangelism in Africa and is Amahoro pre-reading). The paper looks at the way colonialism, mission and evangelism have taken place in Africa over the past several hundred years and makes an astounding conclusion - since the end of colonialism, the downscaling of western (as opposed to local/native) evangelistic efforts, the spread and effect of the Gospel has actually increased well beyond the borders of the colonial period.

Here's the quote - the illustration given may be around 100 years old, but the effect still speaks for itself!

Bediako (1995:91f) compared the work of an Anglican missionary with that of an African, the legendary William Wade Harris (1865-1929) of Liberia. He calls Harris the first independent African Christian prophet. This Anglican missionary worked for nine years and led 12 people to Christ. Harris preached the gospel for two years and 120,000 adult West Africans believed and were baptised into Christianity.
Hopefully we can all begin to think differently about how we approach evangelism - locally and abroad, particularly as it pertains to the role of the "native evangelist" in winning his own culture for Christ.

Africa - Bring it on!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Church leadership - Pastors II

I posted a similar question to the one I posed in yesterday's post (relating to the role of the pastor in the missional context) on the missional church planting email list. Sonja responded in a way that struck a chord with me:

It's the picture of a shepherd. A shepherd "leads" the flock from behind. S/He has to because they also have to keep their eye on all the sheep. They cannot go out in front and say, "Follow me," because sheep are stupid and they'll wander off in all directions. So the shepherd must stay at the back ensuring that the flock stays together and all heads in the same direction. He encourages, exhorts, and keeps the flock on the path together ... all from behind. It's a very difficult form of leadership and there's definitely **no** glory involved. It's not the way the Army does it, or the corporate world either. But in God's upside-down, bass-ackwards economy, I'm beginning to get glimmers of how He leads and it seems to be from the back and bottom ...
I think I understand how this looks - I have been a part of this kind of thing for a while now myself. But how can one be issued with a mandate to lead or commissioned to lead while taking what is very much a low profile role? Is the commission neccessary (I would say yes and point to 1 Tim. 3 for the answer as to why)? How is such leadership recognised?

Lots of questions. Not so sure there will be many or even any answers, but hell, I gotta ask 'em anyway!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Church leadership - Pastors

This is a subject I have been chewing over for quite a few years now - if you've been a reader of this blog for a bit you probably know what I mean (look here and here and here). Leadership is a big issue (and worth big bucks too) in the church today, and the missional/emerging church isn't excluded from this by any stretch.

Much of what I have read about leadership on the net, seems to head in one of several different directions (these are intended as examples only and yes, they are probably gross generalisations):

1) The "house church" approach - Characterised by the following sentiments "we're all leaders" or "there is no such thing as a leader".

Now to me this is just down right ridiculous, at best naive and at worst dilusional. Egalitarianism (is that a word?) is an ideal that is very, very, very difficult to achieve. There will always be leaders - the question really is, will they be recognised or not, and will they be the right kind of leader or not?. Obviously the danger of having an inapropriate leader is greater in a situation that refuses to recognise any leaders.

2) The "traditional church" approach - While this approach can take on many guises and polemic extremes, it is best summed up as the "CEO" approach to ministry. The church is a corporation and the pastor is responsible for ensuring all KPIs are met, the shareholders are happy, and the programs run smoothly.

This is the way most churches have operated for centuries.

3) The "missional church" approach - I actually don't know what this is. Everything I have read (and that list isn't exhaustive) seems to stop just short of describing the way leadership - especially pastoral leadership - looks in a missional fellowship. Their are flavours of the "house church" approach present in some responses, and flavours of the "traditional church" approach in others (see my comments on the APEPT model, which I think is a good starting point but doesn't take things quite far enough).

What are you thoughts on this? How does Pastoral leadership work in a missional setting?

While your thinking about that one, have a read of John Smulo's recent post, The Charmed Life of Pastors. He's right - however you look at it, on the whole, these guys do the thing they do out of a love for Christ, and it isn't an easy job.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

About Thinking ...

I got a bit of a nice surprise this week - Rodney Olsen (the instigator of the Porn Post below) included Moved Mountains in his selection of "5 blogs that make him think" award.

The award is a meme generatorated by Ilker Yoldas at the Thinking Blog. The best thing about this meme is it doesn't require me to add to a (arguably self indulgent) list of any kind (I grew tired of the lists a while ago - apologies to all those people who "tagged" me without a reply!).

Anway - Thanks Rod for the award!

And here's my list, in no particular order (I'm sure most of, if not all, these guys have already received the award from someone else!) -

1) The Blind Beggar - Rick Meigs
2) John Smulo
3) Backyard Missionary - Andrew Hamilton (no longer updated)
4) No Guarantees - Scott Vawser
5) Conversations at the Edge - Helen Mildenhall

Thanks to all of you for making me think - especially relating to some of those things on which we have disagreed - nothing like a good barny to really get you thinking!

Of course there are in reality, about a gadzillion other blogs that I could list here that also make me think, but these are the ones that I regularly frequent.

Bless ya!

A :)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Porn - Getting Your Fill?

"I spent part of my morning looking at pornography with the President of the Baptist Union of Australia."

So says fellow blogger and West Aussie radio announcer Rodney Olsen on his blog, The Journey.

It's a perennial topic, specially considering the impact the Internet has had on the porn industry. To say the least, people who would never have walked into a newsagent and picked up Hustler or Play Boy can download the latest hardcore videos and images from their own homes while remaining completely anonymous. What has always been a dirty little habit isn't getting any cleaner, even though society is definitely more accepting of it.

I won't run over all the stats again about how many pastors viewed porn in the last week - I'm a guy and I know the temptation when it comes to the naked female form, and if you're a guy I'm sure you will know exactly what I mean. So rather than wallowing in the figures let's take a proactive approach and check out some websites which might be worth looking at.

The first is XXXChurch. These guys have some FREE (yes that's right - I have seen plenty of "Christian" filtering services out there that will happily take their cut of the porn millions, but this is the first free one I have come across) software that I think is great. Check it out, and while you're there check out their home page - interesting in a weird kinda way.

Here, the guys from Youth Specialities talk about new (and old) approaches to accountability - while not directly porn related accountability is (IMO) central to the whole "church & porn" issue. The church in the recent past hasn't handled accountability well at all. The "stop it or you will go blind" ("...or be ostracised", "...or we won't talk to you", "...or you can't take communion") model is still alive and well (and really makes me want to talk to "you" about my struggles!).

If you know of any other helpful sites stick them in the comments section.

See you later :)

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Cross - Transcending Time, Culture and Religion

11 years ago Alyssa and I spent an amazing Easter in the Tanami Desert in North Western, Central Australia.

We were invited to an Aboriginal community called Willowra, to celebrate Easter with the locals, the Walpiri tribe.

Willowra station is the centre of the Walpiri homeland and is a couple of hundred kilometers from Alice Springs, the nearest major settlement in Central Australia and home to Alyssa and I at the time.

While we were at Willowra we had the privilege of meeting Eddie, one of the Willowra elders. I still remember him clearly, a weathered old man in red stained, well worn jeans and a faded Elvis tee shirt. Eddie's english was broken and difficult to understand, and our host, a local Baptist pastor familiar with the local language, was able to translate some of his story for us.

Apparently Eddie was the first among his tribe, as a 12 year old boy, to see white people. He remembers hiding as a horse drawn drey pulled into the good grazing lands surrounding Willowra and he and his young friends warily made first contact with these strange, white people.

Eddie and his family and tribe went on to become Christians. So Easter at Willowra was a special affair, celebrated in traditional Aboriginal fashion.

Eddie said he was thankful to missionaries who came and brought them the gospel. He said it was really just a reintroduction to the Creator God. His people, he said, had once known God well, but somewhere along the way the knowledge was lost - they forgot his name, and who he really was, even though they still acknowledged him at certain times of the year and in certain ceremonies. Yet the white missionaries restored the lost knowledge and through them they also came to know Jesus Christ as their Saviour.

At about 5 o'clock on Good Friday afternoon the men and the women split into two separate groups and began to apply their corroboree dress. They smeared their bodies in red ochre, the women applying white crosses to their arms and breasts and the men, gird only in red loin clothes, applied a fluffy substance, white and brown, to their bodies. And as the sun set they began to dance and sing.

To an outsider like me their language and dance was mesmerising. Even though I couldn't understand the words they were singing it was easy to get the meaning of their performance. It was a deeply moving retelling of the 2000 year old story of the betrayal and crucifixion of Christ in traditional Aboriginal form - a purlapa or corroboree.

My point in telling you this story of our Easter at Willowra is this: as foreign as the Aboriginal Easter celebrations were to Alyssa and I (even though we have lived in this country all our lives), the original, Jerusalem crucifixion is just as foreign. Yet for us as Western followers of Jesus or for our brothers and sisters at Willowra, the message, the power of the event is not lost. The crucifixion transcends culture and time and has power and meaning and a message, no matter who we are or where we are in this amazing world.

Whether we are Australian aboriginals in the Tanami desert, or Indians in Mumbai, or Africans in Rwanda the cross reminds us off the greatest gift humanity has ever received.

Even though there have been many crosses throughout history - thousands have died nailed to Roman crucifixes, soldiers have fought and killed behind crosses emblazoned on shields and under banners baring the symbol - the real significance of the cross of Calvary isn't the cross itself, rather it relates directly, solely to the one who was nailed upon it.

If Jesus was just another criminal, crucified like thousands of others before and after him, then the cross would have no significance at all. It would only be remembered as a symbol of Roman brutality, a historical showpiece or curiosity, much like the hangman’s gallows in an old prison. Enough to send a shiver down your spine but nothing more.

Yet the cross of Christ is not just an ordinary symbol of death – simply because Christ was no ordinary person, no ordinary Jew, no ordinary prisoner.

His death was significant – not just in a Jewish world, or a Greco-Roman world, not just 2000 years ago. But significant in such a way that the echoes of the crucifixion continue to reverberate through all history and into every culture, race, tribe and nation. Christ’s death speaks to us all, no matter what our background or ethnicity. In this way it is unique among all the world religions.

And, while it is and always will be a symbol of death (just look at the numerous crosses marking the places of fatal car accidents), it is also a symbol of love and life.

Philip Yancey writes of this love and the decision faced by the world in accepting, or rejecting it;

Thieves crucified on either side of Jesus showed two possible responses. One mocked Jesus' powerlessness: A Messiah who can't even save himself? The other recognised a different kind of power. Taking the risk of faith, he asked Jesus to "remember me when you come into your kingdom." No one else, except in mockery, had addressed Jesus as a king. The dying thief saw more clearly than anyone else the nature of Jesus' kingdom.

In a sense, the paired thieves present the choice that all history has had to decide about the cross. Do we look at Jesus' powerlessness as an example of God's impotence or as proof of God's love? The Romans, bred on power deities like Jupiter, could recognise little godlikeness in a crumpled corpse hanging on a tree. Devout Jews, bred on stories of a power Jehovah, saw little to be admired in this god who died in weakness and in shame.

... Even so, over time it was the cross on the hill that changed the moral landscape of the world ...

The balance of power shifted more than slightly that day on Calvary because of who it was that absorbed the evil. If Jesus of Nazareth had been one more innocent victim, like King, Mandela, Havel, and Solzhenitsyn, he would have made his mark in history and faded from the scene. No religion would have sprung up around him. What changed history was the disciples' dawning awareness (it took the Resurrection to convince them) that God himself had chosen the way of weakness. The cross redefines God as One who is willing to relinquish power for the sake of love. Jesus became, in Dorothy Solle's phrase, "God's unilateral disarmament".

Power, no matter how well-intentioned, tends to cause suffering. Love, being venerable, absorbs it. In a point of convergence on a hill called Calvary, God renounced the one for the sake of the other.
The Jesus I never knew, 1995, pp.203-205.
Yancey presents us with the challenge, the love, the true power of the crucifixion.

How will we view the cross of Calvary - or more importantly, how will we view the One who was executed upon it?

The Calvary crucifixion is a transcendent event – it truly does transcend time, and culture and religion. The fact that this weekend, all over this planet, people will be gathering to remember and celebrate this single event is proof of its transcendence.

So let us, this Good Friday, this Easter and every day of every week of every year, also remember the significance of the cross of Calvary and the death of the One who was nailed upon it, in freeing us from death and judgment and providing for us the opportunity to accept the love of the living God, in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.

For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God.
This is the Word of the Lord.