Category Archives: Church

Spirituality, Knowledge and Understanding

When I first started at my present church, around 24 years ago, there was a real sense that you never quite knew what was going to happen on a Sunday. If you just take this phrase on its own you might think its a positive. It isn’t. One Sunday you might find yourself singing a four hymn sandwich from ‘Sankeys’ Hymn Book. The next week the ‘Brown Book’ would come out. For those who don’t know the ‘Brown Book’ refers to the first of three ‘chorus’ books that David and Dale Garret produced. These were charismatic flavoured books full of songs which almost universally Churches across Australia embraced.

As our church transitioned to a blended and then fully contemporary flavour of service I remarked to people that while McDonalds food was not particularly of good quality it was successful due to its consistency.  There is a knowledge and understanding of what human beings respond to and appreciate that McDonalds uses for its own purposes. That basic principle, of having church as something which is at least consistent is a value I have worked hard at to instil in my local church community. Of course music style is but one aspect of church life.

There is an aspect of even the Sunday experience which needs to go beyond consistency. What are the most precious moments of Church life? Where God shows up with conviction, power, encouragement. These are not moments you can plan or schedule. Perhaps they are moments where the most important aspect of church leadership comes into play. Moments of repentance, prayer, solitude, fasting, spiritual discipline. Unbridled praise and exuberance. These are moments of real joy.

Having had a son who worked at McDonalds I have first hand insight into their training and recruitment methods. How is it that they can get a group of teenagers to produce a consistent product across not just a nation, but the world? Cultural differences swept aside a Big Mac tastes like a Big Mac in Perth, Bunbury and Launceston. Some may say this is unfortunate, but it has worked for them. The reason McDonalds has training like this is because it wants customers to have the same experience wherever they go. If your organisation wants to serve increasing numbers of people you need good systems in place. What you are delivering needs to be regular. God created us to live in cycles and seasons. Sunday comes around ever week.

At my church we have implemented a number of systems around welcoming people to church, Life Group integration, Baptism, Youth Group and of course children’s ministries. We understand that as an organisation grows you need systems. In a Church context you might say we have grown beyond one person. It is because we care about people we need a business like system.

There are moments when God has worked in someones life that you just cant explain. Recently at my church we have had 12 baptisms in a month. I couldn’t plan this, I couldn’t make this happen. God has worked supernaturally in peoples lives. In ways I could not orchestrate. You sit back in wonder as you see the Spirit of God at work. People receiving words that have little to do with well crafted sermons or well performed music.

Is the church meant to operate like a business system? Is it a business? These are two different questions.  A business has as its intent the desire for profit. To make money. A church has as its intent a desire to fulfil the Great Commission. To see people say yes to Jesus, to believe in Him and be baptised and discipled. Those in Church organisations would say this purpose is higher than business. So a Church is not a business. Yet it has purpose. I don’t believe we should be careless about this purpose but strategic, business like. Its too important.

In Church we are in the people business, what matters most to us is people. In Acts 4 we read that 5000 men were now part of the church. Someone had counted those people because they counted what mattered.  My own belief is that the gospel, seeing people say yes to Jesus, is more important than any other human endeavour. In Churches we should use human knowledge and understanding combined with the power of the Holy Spirit, the love of God and Christian community, to see as many people say yes to Jesus as possible. In fact the church should be at the forefront of how to run an organisation well. This includes welcome, integration, discipleship and community.  A Church also leaves space for God to work, moments when He speaks and you have the flexibility to listen and change your plans.

There is evidence that Jesus Himself directly argues for children of the light to be shrewd, to use good money principles to help advance the kingdom. Consider this section of scripture from Luke 16.8-9, ““The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd. And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light. Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.”

There are a number of metaphors for the church in the New Testament. Body, family, temple. Some may suggest that these imply little organisation. I suppose it depends on how big your family, body and temple is going to be. I imagine the structure of the early church with its explosive growth, not just in Jerusalem, but throughout much of the known world, needed structure and indeed good organisational principles to thrive.  Members, were added (Acts 2:41), job descriptions were present (1 Tim. 3), votes were conducted to expel immoral members (1 Cor. 5:4), and votes were taken to elect church officers (Acts 6:5; 14:23). We also read that he church organized a missionary team and sent them out (Acts 13:27).  Paul advised, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). To accomplish this task, the Holy Spirit empowered people with supernatural gifting that went beyond what could be expected in a normal organisation.  Government, leadership and stewardship.(Rom. 12:8; 1 Cor 12:28). The church is organized and ~ equipped to carry out its purpose, which is the Great Commission.

Are we in the hamburger business? No. Our operation is of far more eternal consequence than that. Is our primary identity that of a business? No of course not. But we should not dismiss human wisdom in growing and organising church. The book of Proverbs is full of it! What thrills me is seeing many churches become all they can be as the Spirit of God works, and human creativity and knowledge is used. What a potent force.

Is it possible we dismiss good business principles because we don’t understand them, or they might cause us to be confronted with truths about our churches effectiveness? At my Church in the last two years we have implemented rigorous feedback procedures. We has also started to measure those things that are important to the Kingdom. Just as we see the early church do.

(For another discussion on this topic and what prompted my contribution to this discussion please see my friend Andrew Hamiltons Blog)

Preparing a sermon

Having been at the same church for 24 years I am fond of the phrase, ‘change the preacher or change the preacher’. Fair enough to say my preaching has changed a lot in the last two decades. It better have!

These days my sermon preparation looks something like this.

Pray and think about what God might want to say to the people this week. We have themes and patterns we follow at Inglewood Church. These are seasonal as well as topical. What is happening in the life of our church community, our wider community and indeed our world.

I believe in Pastoral preaching. What are the needs of the people God has in my community and those through the Power of the Spirit we are trying to reach. I truly believe in preaching for those who are not there yet, as well as for those who are. In creates synergy in terms of vision and direction. It provides community and points of recognition. Where people listening understand that God has something to say to them and their lives today. Above all relevance.

Secondly I will open up my scriptures to the places and themes where God is leading and where we have as a preaching team decided to go. An exploration takes place in unpacking the context, the theme, the exegetical structure of the passage and even individual words.

Then I will spend time reading what others are saying on the theme and scripture. From a wide variety of commentaries, listening and watching other peoples sermons and word studies they have done.

All the time I am doing this I am jotting words, scriptures, ideas, phrases and even structures onto a draft piece of notepad. From that draft I then go to my second blank piece of paper on my notepad and write my message. This whole process can take a week, a day or in some rare circumstances two hours. It really is purely organic. There is a phrase some preachers use called ‘percolation”.  In the best weeks this has been happening almost subconsciously. The message then just flows. It does not always happen this way. Every week it is different. And the local church pastor will tell you with a wry grin on their face, ‘Sunday comes every week”.

I then practice the message. I will often do this three to four times. I literally stand on stage and preach the message. Sometimes another Pastoral staff member will walk past with a bemused look on their face. They know the process by now.

Sunday morning at around 7.15am I will be in church praying over every seat. Praying for those coming, those thinking of coming and those yet to come. Those I would dearly love to have there. After this prayer time I will preach my sermon again. I preach without notes these days.

The preaching time then becomes a fluid moment all of its own. It is never word for word. Sometimes I find myself taking it for a moment in a direction I feel the Spirit leading. But as my old Bible College lecturer said to me once, ‘a fog in the pulpit becomes a mist in the pews”. I like to keep on track, be focused and respect the time. My sermons go for no more than 30 minutes, and normally 25. If you can’t say it in that time, I don’t think you have focus. It is a weighty responsibility. Every week people rock up to church wanting and hoping to hear something from God. I am not God. Nor do I speak directly from Him. I try to hear His voice. I try to interpret that and present it in a way that can be heard. The Spirits voice helping me. Resonating with the Spirit in ever ones heart that is present.

Bill

In my life I have sought many mentors. We need human leaders who challenge us, inspire us, call us to serve Jesus to our capacity.

Every now and then there are those leaders who have been given 10 talents. They don’t hide anything in the soil, faith and risk are their companions as they believe in Jesus for more.

Bill Hybels was one of those leaders, a generational pastor who challenged us all that the local church was the hope of the world. I read his books, went to conferences at his church, invested money in my own development because of his example and words. None of that was wasted. So much of his teaching remains in my heart.

Yet my heart is broken.

I was reading the story of Samson this week and was incredulous at why God would anoint and pour His Spirits power upon Samson. He was empowered and gifted to do incredible acts of strength. Yet when we read about him we find a man easily influenced and manipulated by his base desires.

It is clear to me that when ten women accuse you of similar acts that there is an ungodly pattern and behaviour in your life. It is also clear to me that when you have built such a wonderful testament to Gods power and changed lives, in the midst of such ‘success’, that proper accountability may not be enforced.

Where do we proceed? The women involved need a clear and unequivocal apology. The church, and by that I mean us all, owe them our regret and sorrow that they were not listened to. That the success of one man allowed their voices to be unheard.

Willow Creek Church board have all resigned, along with Lead Pastor Heather Larson and teaching Pastor Steve Carter. I know Steve personally and am saddened that he has been caught up in the wave of protecting Bill. However I support his integrity in stepping down. Heather appears so gifted and in these moments it seems to me the Church has so much beauty. In repentance, godly sorrow and looking to a new day. I pray the women involved feel some sort of peace and hope for the future.  (Story) (Church Leaders Statement)

As a Pastor I have seen the good that GLS and Willow Creek has done. It champions women leaders and pastors. Bill and his team have unapologetically championed fairness and kindness to all. In fact last years GLS started with this emphasis on kindness.  GLS has brought Godly wisdom, knowledge and understanding together in a brilliant package.

I hope that this can continue. Our churches, our businesses, our education, our families…..all need godly leadership. It was never built on one man, it was built on the power of the Holy Spirit.

Hillsong Perth Is 12 months young

In February 2017, I wrote what turned out to be my most read and engaged with post on my blog  as pastors and churches all over Perth heard the news that Hillsong was launching a campus in Perth.

Hillsong Perth

Hillsong Perth have now launched their campus in Perth and recently celebrated their 1st anniversary. In that time they have established a growing congregation meeting at the University of Western Australia, seen multiple baptisms, led people to Jesus and seen people grow in their faith and community.

Some people may wonder why Perth needs another church. I personally feel that Hillsong Perth have added a much needed element to the Church landscape in our city. They are a vibrant, creative and social media savvy Church. Everything they do is done with a contemporary flavour and a relevance that informs other churches. Personally I believe that the humble observer can use Hillsong Perth’s example to challenge the status quo of their own church for the better.

Like many in Perth I have visited their Sunday service to see how they have been building community and reaching out to the community. Whatever your particular culture, whatever music you use, whatever demographic you are targetting, I believe Hillsong have some adaptable values and practices which are worth emulating. We noticed the abundant signage. At my own church we have had visitors remark how difficult it was to find basic amenities. I looked at the clear and well branded signage and have made changes at Inglewood Church They also have teams of greeters. Sometimes we tend to allow people just to find their own seat. In fact it was nice as a visitor to have someone help you find a seat. You did not have to think about it. They were well trained, big smiles and made you feel at home. What is fascinating about Hillsong is how the church feels very similar to every other Hillsong Church I have visited.

One lovely afternoon I met with their campus pastor Chrishan Jeyaratnam for coffee and a chat. What I discovered was a gracious, humble, missional and passionate man. I asked him how they had transferred such a positive culture across the nation, and indeed across the world. His comment was that culture was caught as much as taught. The welcoming attitude starts with the leaders and permeates throughout the church. It was two hours I treasured as I peppered him with questions on church growth, raising up leaders, creativity and the general values of Hillsong which has seen it be the incredibly influential church it is.  He was so generous with his time and vulnerability.

Twelve months on the churches in Perth have not seen a mass exodus out their doors into Hillsong Perth. What we have seen is a valuable addition to what God is doing in our city.

Reckless love of God

We started singing Cory Asbury’s song, “Reckless Love” recently at Church. Every new song we sing at Church goes through a process. Some of the parameters are ‘singability’, when it was released, its culture, its feel, its tempo and of course its theology and meaning.

This song has caused some ruckus in the evangelical world particularly over the phrase, ‘ reckless love of God’. Some wonder if God could be described as ‘reckless’. Surely God is thoughtful and considered.

I have a theory that all emotions are helpful in the right context. Perhaps even a sense of recklessness is appropriate if you consider the context. Jesus shared the parable of the shepherd who left the 99 to pursue the 1. The one who had wandered away from the flock. There is a sense of recklessness about this action, motivated by God’s love for every one of us.

I wonder sometimes if we have allowed our Western thought of rationalism to permeate church culture of the point it overshadows the testimony of scripture. To the point we subconsciously think that God considers as we do. Is it not possible to consider the fact that God may be overcome with love, so greatly, so deeply, that His pursuit of us is considered reckless?

Would you say that it would be reckless if I knew I was going to be killed for someone who would not even return the love I was offering? I think you might. Yet this is the type of love God has shown for us.

I love singing a new song, as the scriptures command. It forces me out of sentimentality and into spirituality. To consider again, anew and afresh…the reckless love of God for me.

Who You say I am

The title track off the 2018 Hillsong album is, “Who You say I am”

 

Its lyrics go straight to the heart of our identity as people and Christians. Who I say that I am leads to so many personal spiritual issues. In fact I would say that who we think we are, and who we think God thinks we are is at the heart of nearly all our personal problems, conflicts, insecurities and misunderstandings.

This song is a wonderful affirmation of our standing as children of God. As people who are forgiven. Who have an eternal destiny. People whom God loves and thinks of. We are who we are, because of who He says we are.

“Who the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed
I’m a child of God
Yes I am
In my Father’s house
There’s a place for me
I’m a child of God
Yes I am”

I preached a message on this theme based around 1 Corinthians 13:11/12
Who You say I am

How a local church pastor can be effective in communication

It is probably quite rare that when you are talking to a crowd that they are thinking about you and your issues. Maybe their mum yelled at them, maybe they are hungry, maybe a opportunity is coming their way and they don’t know whether to take it.

Sometimes I’ve listened to a pastor preaching where it seemed like it is a therapy session for them. They are self analysing and self repairing, and they have an audience to observe it.

I can often be envious of a conference speaker, who normally has five or six incredible messages they can give to a large crowd, to much appreciation. The local church pastors role is so much more intense, and Sunday comes around every week.

As a communicator the best and most effective form of communication is when the listener is engaged, interested and finding the material of use. However people are very polite in their response, they don’t always tell you what they are thinking. Especially not in a local church setting.

This is why communication for the local church pastor can be difficult, you are never quite sure the message has connected. When someone says to you, nice message pastor, does that mean you have just given them 25 minutes in which to zone off?

The challenge in giving a message is to stop thinking about yourself and your agenda, and become aware of what God is thinking of, and just as importantly what your people are thinking about.

The solution is to know your people. To know what is really on their minds, what is occupying the real estate in their mind. What are their fears, their anxieties, their joys and their struggles. The reality is Gods word, both written and the promptings of the Spirit have something to say to those realities. The best local Pastor will find where that intersection is and communicate to that. They will communicate to the pastoral needs of their people because they will know what those needs are.