Why Black Lives Matter

You have very likely seen the hashtag ‘Black Lives Matter’ circulating in relation to an increasingly worrying amounts of events which have racial undertones. I want to make the proposition that it is really unhelpful when someone wants to put a disclaimer in there that ‘all lives matter’.

Yes, all lives do matter. In Genesis 1.26 we read what should be the foundation of the Christians worldview, that God created all humankind with His image. This concept leads us to understand that we all came from the same humans. We all contain within us the ‘image’ of God. Christians take this to mean we all have the capacity to experience the love of God, and express it to others. As this event occurred at a time before we had races, ethnicities and different shades of colour, the idea that all lives matter should be deeply ingrained within us. There is no question of this foundational truth.

What is apparent to me is that at this time we need reminding that ‘black lives matter’. It appears quite clearly that in both Australia and other parts of the world there is serious discrimination and mistreatment of people because of the colour of their skin. A perception that somehow the shade of the pigment found means the person can be pre-judged, not trusted and perceptions agreed upon about how they will behave.

In fact I wish to say that as a Christian, how our nation has expressed racism towards our original inhabitants is something we continue to need to address. We need to bring focus to it. It is also clear that other nations of the world also need to address discrimination on the basis of skin colour. To highlight one issue or one need, does not disparage another. To me, it’s just common sense and completely uncomplicated to say Black Lives Matter. Because they do. That does not mean that all lives don’t matter. It is just that at this distressing point in our history we need to focus on Black Lives. Because they matter.

Wow, so this is what my church looks like

I am fully expecting that in 6-12 months when the Covid19 Virus has done its worst and the restrictions are lifted that a stack of people are going to come in through the physical doors of Inglewood Community Church and say, wow, this is what my church looks like on the inside. The screen is so huge and the band is massive. That Pastor Mark guy is a little skinnier than he looks on the screen and he moves around a lot.

God is not afraid of a virus and neither should the church be. The past four weeks have been some of the most taxing and difficult of my 25 year pastoral journey. We have battled anxiety, fear, the possibility of financial collapse and a total reimagination of what Church actually is.

The Church is in the business of gathering people. Whether it be youth programs, children’s programs or a Sunday Service, we bring people together for singing, for worship, for teaching, for discipleship and for encouragement and fellowship. We ask them to serve and be served. To help people say yes to Jesus.

Has that been taken away? No. The way we have done it is in recess, as it should be. The path of love in this season is physical seperation. But the gathering? Never before has the Church had such incredible tools available to it to gather people, to reach people, to worship and to serve.

At Inglewood we are struggling under the strain like everyone else. And I do not think the larger churches will cope any better than the small ones. The key to this season is innovation and agility. Being hopeful and purposeful.

Four weeks in we are reaching people we have never reached. We have reconnected with people we have lost touch with. And people are saying yes to Jesus.

Am I looking forward to meeting together again in a physical building? Absolutely. Do I want to go back to how things were. Absolutely not. This season is one to be capitalised. I can’t wait to shake the hands of people for the first time, people I have seen say yes to Jesus.

Time Out

A few people have been asking me how I am.

It is a super interesting question because when you answer you are answering knowing that you are trying to represent yourself in a certain way. Sometimes we give an answer to provoke sympathy. We are seeking something that is missing in ourselves. Sometimes we give an answer to provoke respect. We are seeking something missing in ourselves. Sometimes we give an answer designed to halt any further probing. Maybe because we just don’t want to enter into a conversation where we might feel exposed or vulnerable.

Sometimes we give an answer that is just what we are feeling. This is the rare answer. The answer that comes without guile or manipulation. Often there are a select group of people who we give this answer to. If you give this answer you want it to be handled carefully and gently. You are exposing a vulnerable side of yourself.

The best answer is one where we can be aware enough of ourselves, own who we are, who Jesus says we are and own how we are at this moment.

How am I? Well thats a question for another day.

Sacrificing our integrity on the altar of success

As news breaks of another significant church leader being stood down over allegations of abuse it causes me to wonder why we allow this to continue.

This Story has been months in the breaking, and years in the circumstances leading up to it. What is most surprising in this particular one is that those who had the authority to remove the leader didn’t. Those who could have dealt with it before it became a major issue appear reasonable, fair and dare I say it, nice. My question in this post is why didn’t they deal with the situation until it was about to become public.

Success has become defined in Christians circles as the ability to draw a crowd. How ironic that in this latest story the model was to live in close quarters with each other. The leader had a church of around 120 people. Not the sort of church featured in Relevant Magazine. But he was a gifted preacher, a skilled leader and had the ability to capture imagination and inspire young people.

The common factor in contemporary stories of Church leaders who have fallen is not their theology. We have seen complimentarian leaders, egalitarian leaders, reformed, pentecostal, charismatic, seeker sensitive, house model and in fact I can’t think of a type we have not seen. Let us not overreact and say the mega church is flawed. It isn’t. Neither is the House Church movement. People are flawed. People with no accountability are dangerous.

My proposition is that the common factor with these leaders has been their gaining of disproportionate power through success.

Success covers a multitude of sins.

We do not deal with their abuse, their misuse of power, their sexual abuse, their lack of Christian grace, kindness and mercy because we are worshipping on the altar of success. We do not want to deal with their issues because we are enjoying being a part of a movement of God. We don’t speak out because we don’t want to be marginalised or accused of being a gossip or worse, see the ministry come crashing down.

I think we need to understand the complexity of this issue. Our God is incredibly gracious. He uses people who are incredibly flawed. We see this time and time again in the stories in the Bible. In a similar way, people in these ministries find Jesus, discover purpose for their lives, find community and places to worship together.

However no-one is above correction, rebuke and even church discipline.

We need to once again meditate on what success is and understand success can be extraordinary. Revival is real, does happen and should be celebrated. Let us not be cynical. However success can also be a temptation to overlook. To not reflect. To not allow difficult questions to be asked.

My hope, joy and belief is in the local church and the leaders who choose to take up that call to lead. It is not a easy role. It is indeed a calling. One I cannot turn away from.

Why Pastors have affairs

I could say this post is provoked by recent events in the life of the global church. As a long time supporter of Willow Creek Community Church and having read all Hybels books and been a part of his conferences, his recent fall has shocked me. The latest allegations coming out of Willow leave me wondering if there is not a systematic issue that needs addressing. But it is deeper than that for me. I have had various mentors, up close ones, who have failed spectacularly in this area. At the cost of relationships and ministries. It strikes home personally for me.

Pastors have affairs because they want to get out of ministry

This may surprise the reader. However it is true. I have seen and observed pastors deliberately compromise themselves because the pressure of ministry was such that they saw this as a way of escape. They could not just say or admit it, ministry is hard, I need to leave. In their mind anything would be better than this pressure. For them to quit would be to admit failure or to say that they were not good enough to keep going. Neither of which appears to be a better option than moral failure.

Pastors have affairs because they wish to rekindle their youth, or perhaps have a youth

This is not unique to pastors, but is certainly true of them. Many Pastors have had a relatively clean upbringing and never took the opportunity to be a rebellious teenager, young adult. They did not hang out at parties, they did not travel the world backpacking, they did not have many relationships apart from the person they ended up marrying. They find themselves in a position where they think they have missed out. They resent the life they have lived up to this point and wish to gain something they never had.

Pastors have affairs because they have disproportionate power relationships

I have only come to realise in the past few years how much power Pastors have that they generally don’t realise. We spend our lives encouraging and supporting people. Generally helping them with their lives, serving. Something changes at some point and many Pastors realise that in fact they have influence over people. It can be a sudden and jolting realisation. At that point the Pastor can choose to use that power for their own means. Whether it be power, money or an affair. We are in relationships where the boundaries can be easily crossed. Where justification can come easy, and denial even easier.

Pastors have affairs because they are bored

If you have been pastoring for a while it can be very tempting to slip into caretaker mode and live off the work of the past. Perhaps the church is comfortable and you are comfortable. In fact the church would prefer you maintained the status quo. There is no compelling reason not to. So the Pastor basically gets bored. They seek after something beyond the mundane. Opportunity arises and they take it.

Pastors have affairs because they are human like all of us

All of us sin, are attracted to people who are not our spouse, and desire something which we shouldn’t have. It can lead to a situation, an affair, which is consensual, but entirely inappropriate and sinful.

Pastors have affairs because they are under pressure and spiritual attack

There are no excuses for moral failure, at some point you make a choice. However there are compelling reasons. Pastors can be under immense pressure to help people in so many areas of their lives, at the same time as balancing the budget, fulfilling administrative requirements (huge these days) and under spiritual attack from the Accuser.

Final Thoughts

The Church, and those who lead it, are God’s blueprint for the gospel to be shared in the world. It is a beautiful body, with the majority of Pastors having incredible integrity, heart and passion for Jesus and His people. The majority of Pastors never have a catastrophic moral failure. Most of them are faithful and loyal people. However when a Pastor fails, so many ripples occur. In my life I have had a number of mentors, both personal and from afar. Unfortunately a number of them have failed in this area. I do look up to people perhaps too much. In those moments where they have failed, it has wounded me, and scared me as well. One of the reasons I have written this post is to just try and make sense of it all myself. In recent days the news out of significant churches just causes me to pray. The Church at times appears so strong, and at other times so fragile.

This post may provoke strong reactions, perhaps disagreements, and perhaps attempted corrections at things I have missed or not stated.

So a disclaimer. These are merely my own thoughts and observations. I am not offering them or myself as some sort of authority. I speak merely as a pastor who has seen, suffered, been disappointed with, different leaders and pastors over the years. All within the context of loving pastors, being supportive, thinking the best of them, and perhaps most importantly, being one myself.

If you have something to comment, please do, but please be kind and frame it within the context I am offering.

The Spa Man

The Spa Man visits our church every now and then, depending on how many Baptisms we have at church. He drops off the spa we use for our Baptisms in the former factory building we call church. Apparently he does quite a few churches. The spa comes with no heater or bubbles, but that suits us. We use the water from our own tap and it is always a good week when we know we have a Baptism coming up.

Last week the Spa Man picked up the spa on Tuesday as he normally does but this time it was different. He wanted to chat, at length. I don’t wear a collar or robe, but he knows I am the minister. Turns out Spa Man has cancer, and not the type which is dealt with quickly and dispatched. I ask him how old he is and its obvious he has lived life to the full. He has grandchildren and wants to see them grow up and get married and be a part of the next season of their life. This may not happen.

So I listen and ask questions, and don’t offer up solutions. Spa man wants to chat to this Pastor who he probably sees two or three times a year. There is anger there, frustration at misdiagnosis but mostly a overwhelming sense that there is not much he can do in this situation. Apart from seeing doctors who have disappointed him. It is a precious time, and not what I expected to be doing on a Tuesday afternoon.

Finally I speak up and ask Spa Man if I can pray for him. He says yes of course and keeps talking. I ask permission to interrupt and say, actually Spa Man I want to pray for you right now, is that okay. He mumbles yes and I place my hand on his shoulder. I spend a few precious moments asking for the Holy Spirit to heal him. For the doctors to have wisdom. For him to have years ahead of joy, peace and strength with his grandchildren.

Is he healed, is he okay. What has happened. I look forward to our next baptism to ask the question.

Coffee Shop thoughts

I was sitting at home in relative comfort eating some spicy breakfast beans and reading the West wondering what I should do for an hour or so before my meeting this morning.

It was the weirdest sense I had from God that if I was going to write a blog post I should leave my warm kitchen and go to a coffee shop and percolate. The coffee is certainly better here, especially since my coffee machine has clogged itself up beyond repair. But it was a unusual feeling of trepidation walking into a coffee shop I have never frequented before here on Beaufort St Inglewood. I found a little table I could plonk my Macbook on and sat down.

It is a smallish place and the coffee is good, as you expect for my area. What is surprising me is the real sense of community and fun here. The crowd is diverse. The bloke next to me is typing away and chatting in a Eurpoean accent to the little boy next to him sipping on his babycino. There are three Mums in sporting gear, no doubt returned from the gym, ‘insert facepalm emoji’. There are two high vis tradies desperate for their morning hit, and the obligatory hipster asking for a single blend.

I notice that there are two people behind the counter. One of them is focused on the small Synesso coffee machine. The other has dyed pink and green hair and seems to know everyones name, except mine of course. In fact she knows more than their names, she knows them and they know her. Its pretty obvious this coffee shop has the formula right.

Know the people, and know your coffee. Be genuinely happy to see someone, beyond the fact they are tapping their credit card on your little machine.