The pain of personal growth

When I have been confronted by my own personal failures, mistakes and points of growth….these have been some of my most painful moments.

Isn’t it better to live in denial land where everyone likes you and you like yourself?

There have been moments this year where I have been confronted by my own failings. Moments where I have realised of my own lack of self awareness. I have experienced the pain of seeing something in my own life which I don’t like, something I wish wasn’t there.

The natural inclination in these moments is to run. But how do you run from yourself? Maybe you run from those people who show a mirror to yourself. Maybe you run from moments of sitting and reflecting and allowing God to speak into your life.

I am so aware there is no fast track to personal growth. But I do know it involves pain. All growth does.

On the Bench

The AFL Grand Final is on this weekend and it should be a great game between two fantastic teams of differing styles. In Australian Football there are 22 players selected for game day, with 18 on the field at any one time, and four on the bench. These four players will rotate throughout the game, with most players having a rest at same stage.

This bench time is crucial for the teams success as it allows the players to have a mental and physical break from one of the most aerobically challenging sports in the world.

It is wisdom to think that in our Christian life we have time on the bench. This time is to allow us a breather from being in the intensity of ministry. Serving Jesus can be exciting, exhilarating and demanding. Jesus knew that. He gave His life to serving God, but He also had times He withdrew from the crowd. Times He spent on the bench to recharge, regather His thoughts and have spent reserves replenished. Does this mean He was not still serving, that He was cast aside, that He was useless?

None of those. In fact being on the bench was preparation for the next stage of Ministry. It was also necessary for His sustainability.

I think the worst thing we could do was think because we are not in the hustle and bustle of ministry and church life that God has forgotten us. He hasn’t. I would hate to think a time of rest was mistaken for a goodbye or rejection.

Maybe someone reading this needs to hear, you are not forgotten, you are still part of the team. It is time to start moving again getting ready for when you are called back onto the field.

Going the extra five percent

Just a short thought.

Vulnerability, sharing the extra little piece of you. Being a little awkward.

Saying what others may think, but would never say.

I think we sometimes hold back from saying that little extra because we don’t want anyone to be uncomfortable. Or we don’t want to be uncomfortable.

However it is in those moments that people relate to us, and listen.

Particularly as communicators.

Stating the truth about Bill

I have written before about Bill Hybels. In brief he was a very significant leader and someone I looked up to. Unfortunately it is without doubt that he has been guilty of abuse of power and position in various ways which you can read about if you so desire.

What is on my mind at present though is how we as churches and leaders deal with allegations that happen within our community, and beyond that, explanations of what has happened. Once something had been determined to have happened how do we deal with the aftermath? How do we deal with leaders in Church who have failed, sinned, been abusive.

In the Willow Creeks Church case some of the people who have been victims have been very disappointed that the elders have not named what has happened. Initially there was denial. Many of the victims were named and spoken of in a disparaging way. Now that it has been determined than in fact the balance of probability clearly points to the abuse accusations being accurate. The Church recently held a healing service about the whole issue to try and move on. However many of the victims think that the actions of Bill was glossed over, not dealt with or confessed properly. (Here)

I do not envy the Elders at the Willow Creek Church. They are the ones having to carry the burden of leadership at that Church. In many ways they have taken huge steps to resolving this. And great people such as Pastor Heather Larson and Pastor Steve Carter have taken responsibility and left the church. They have met with many of the victims and heard their stories.

However it is also obvious that a significant amount of hurt and pain remain. And remains unresolved in any significant way.

I cannot make a judgment on Willow Creek and how they have dealt with the victims of Bill’s abuse. It is so complex, for me to voice a view would seem involving a higher level of responsibility and authority than I have.

However in general terms it seems to me that as Churches we have this mistaken notion that to be Christian and loving is to sometimes protect people from the truth. One of the most provocative things Jesus ever said was that the truth will set you free. He meant this in a multi-faceted way. The gospel is the truth, and sets us free from sin and death. The truth sets us free in a wide range of life experiences.

Did the Apostle Paul hold back from the truth? I don’t believe so. He wrote letters which would be read aloud and in public at not only the church he was addressing, but also at various other churches as well. In these letters he named names. He publicly rebuked and chastised members who were sinning, had theological issues, who needed to resolve differences. He made it clear that the church should deal with the church as far as possible.

If I was going to give an analogy I remember when first starting out in ministry I opened up the old Baptismal which had been unused for years. When I opened up the old covers to the light, the cockroaches scattered. I cleaned and scrubbed that dirty old concrete until it shone and smelt hospital clean. We then celebrated new life as young people declared their commitment to Jesus.

Until you name something you cannot be free from it. And I suspect as Christians we are far too polite to name it. But it needs to be named. I understand the need to only share information as far as is appropriate. But here is the thing about the Willow situation. Bill’s original rebuttal of the accusations was streamed online, to literally anyone who wanted to see it. The original statements from the church, which have since been retracted, were released online, to anyone who wanted to read them. Now. At a church service for the members and adherents of Willow Creek, suddenly the elders will not name what has so obviously happened? That is probably as far as I would go in stating what I think needs to happen.

The truth will set you free.

Knowing your place

The trap of comparison.

Every day I find myself flicking through instagram at the food people are cooking, the clothes they are wearing and perhaps more pertinently, what they are preaching about and where.

Many churches now post their highlights from the weekend just gone and just like influencers and regular posters we generally see the highlights. We don’t see the stumble over words, the words spelt incorrectly on the screen or the song which did not quite work. We present ourselves how we wish to be seen.

What this does to me can tempt me to the place and trap of comparison. Why isn’t God bringing in that crowd to my place, why don’t I have that zinger of a comment which cuts through the noise like that celebrity pastor.

Jealousy has become so much easier in this age of instant connection and visualisation of reality.

The solution is to know my place. To what God has called me to, and indeed what I am to aspire to. This does not lead to sluggishness or lack of initiative. God has called me to know my place in the Kingdom. That is a place of satisfaction but also a place of holy discontent.

Seasons

I love the different seasons. Observing farming activity, harvest, planting, fallow times.

It reminds me that there is purpose and reason for the different parts of life. In ministry I believe we can be in different seasons, and it is helpful and wise to read those seasons.

We can declare a season, we can have a season declared over us, and God can take us to a season or through a season.

For myself, God is taking me through a season where many of the aspects of ministry life that are beyond my immediate focus I am divesting myself off. Leading Pastors Conference, being a part of the GLS, mentoring, consulting and a number of other activities.

I am aware that who I am is not identified by what I do. God is taking me back to my basic faith, and my own church ministry. Sometimes I have allowed extra ministry to help define my self worth. We are never motivated by entirely pure motives. There is always a mix. Altruistic motives, from God, from our history, to make us feel self worth, to help others. This is not judgemental of myself or others. Just reality.

The season I am in is one of focus. Of putting aside those things which while good, are not helpful in this season for me. I am sure I will throw myself back into the fray. But for now I am focused on what is in front of me.

Baptist Pastors Conference 2019

This year I led my last Baptist Pastors Conference. I have been involved in the organisation of this conference for 18 years. It has been quite the ride.

When I first came on board it was at the encouragement of David Snell, who at the time led the Baptist Pastors Association. A organisation that no longer exists. It was held at Serpentine Campsite and involved some meetings, some papers being read, some worship times and some pretty ordinary food.

It was hard for me to get my head around but was indicative of many of the churches represented there and the culture. It was pretty basic accomodation, sessions and organisation.

I have always had a love for pastors and churches. There have been prophesies spoken over me in regard to my role and wider kingdom influence. Along with others there has been a vision to have a time where pastors gather together, are blessed and recieve encouragement to keep going.

Our first major change was to move the conference to the Mandurah Quay Resort. This is a modest but nice resort where we held sessions with various speakers over a few years. Rod Denton, John Kaiser and others. There was some pushback. Some churches did not like the additional cost and did not believe Pastors should have a paid holiday. Others missed the family feel. We took a deliberate action to encourage spouses to come and to leave the children at home. This was to be a time where Pastors came away, drew away, and received blessing for them. We also moved to a more organised worship time. Different churches brought their teams, including Bedford Church which was my church at the time.

Personally speaking, Rod Denton spoke prophesy over various attendees, including myself. He spoke a word over me which was startling in its accuracy and just what I needed to hear. It was counter culture for many churches represented by the denomination.

Our next major move was to the Mandurah Atrium, where we have stayed ever since. This is a average motel, yet seemed to hit the right spot between blessing those attending, yet not being cost prohibitive. It is comfortable without being luxurious. We held sessions at their own room when they owned it, and then at what was the Mandurah Christian Life Centre, Mandurah Baptist Church and more recently at the Mandurah Baptist College.

Different worship leaders have helped including Pastor Eliot Vlatko who led for a number of years and brought together a team from various Baptist Churches. He brought about positive change in culture and worship times.

Other worship leaders have been Colin Battersby, Travis Fitch, Marc Gordon and Dan McGrechan. Dan led a team for a number of years from various Baptist Churches and brought in a continued cultural change not only at conference but across the denomination.

Various speakers have blessed the conference. Pastor Allan Demond was the most significant for me personally. He is now someone I have had back in Perth for a conference and keep in touch with. He brought a wonderful message around being spirit filled believers grounded in the Bible. Across the denomination he certainly challenged our positions and culture.

One of our best received speakers was Pastor Craig Vernall. The phrase he used was ‘the injustice of silence’. Craig shared out of vulnerability to a room full of pastors. There are unique challenges to being a Pastor and Craig hit that point so well.

My Associate Pastor Jess Magowan has led the the team for the past three years and been a part of the team for eight years. She has truly brought the conference into what God is saying to the church today. She assembled a diverse team of worship pastors and leaders from various churches all over Perth. In her own style she was able to quietly yet firmly lead them to greater levels both at conference and then taking back to their own churches. Her influence across our Baptist Churches cannot be underestimated. Through some personally very difficult times Jess led with grace, passion and humility.

About thirteen years ago Pastor Mark Wilson came into the denominational role as Director of Ministries. Mark brought a change in culture of purpose, passion and good humour. Working with him and for him on leading the retreat has been a joy. I have done my best to help with the shifts he has sensed our denomination needed. Matthew Chapman, Michelle Smoker and in recent years Jess Ford have taken key roles as we have organised a retreat which is a blessing to those who come. Matt in particular has taken on the complex administrative tasks, seeking the event to be a blessing to all who attend.

At this last retreat I asked Mark if I could lead communion. I have never done anything like that on stage before. Along with Jess, I led a few moments around seasons, and the charge we have on us as Pastors. It led me to tears as I thought about what motivates me, and I delivered that charge to Pastors. In psalms, hymns and spiritual songs we pass on the wisdom that has been passed to us.

Colossians 3:16-17 New Living Translation (NLT)
16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.