Moved Mountains

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

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!