I have studied and been interested in hearing Gods voice and understanding the gifts of the Spirit most of my Christian life. Having attended a conservative bible college and been quite stringent in my views I found myself at quite the crossroads during a stressful and enlightening time in my journey.
What I needed and was experiencing from God was taking my faith deeper and into places I previously though biblically untenable. What I discovered was that my lack of experience was no reliable test to disregard the stories of peoples encounters with God as outlined throughout the bible and in the book of Acts in particular.
In fact the Bible is full of people just like us encountering a gift giving God intent on making our journey with him real and full of spiritual life.
Recently Reverend Allan Demond from New Hope Baptist Church spoke at Inglewood Church on this very topic. It was the best treatment of the scripture on this area I have ever heard.
There is no need to be in charge. In fact being in charge may very well not get you what you want.
I lead a church, have done for over 22 years. I also lead the Annual Baptist Pastors Conference. Recently our church hosted the incredibly wonderful ‘Whisper’ conference.
In these three spaces I have needed to be flexible with authority. In my church we allocate responsibility to be matched with authority. If you take the responsibility for an event, the authority to creatively lead in that space is given to you. Not as a right, but a privilege. My young adults pastor organised the Whisper conference. He did a lot of the heavy lifting of organising teams. It was an incredibly well run and functioning event. Around 250 people from over 25 churches attended from all over Perth. It was our vision and our heart. His creativity, passion and skill led the event better than I could have.
If I had exercised my right to be in charge, the event would still have happened but with none of the skill and nuance my young adults pastor brought to it. I assisted him, resourced him, but ultimately let him lead.
With the annual Baptist Pastors Conference I work under the authority of our Denomination and particularly our leader. He gives me a lot of freedom. A benefit of having been involved in the conference for over fifteen years. And having his trust. If there is something he wants tweaked or changed, it is my role to implement this. I am a person under authority.
In our church I am responsible for the key leadership direction and vision. It is not a role I take lightly. There are times I need to make decisions which may not be popular with everyone. But leading is not about giving people what they want, but what they need. Often people cannot see what I can see, they are just not in that space. And that is okay.
Being able to be flexible with authority, understand where you fit in, and what is best for the kingdom, that is the fine line, the radical middle, the balance I try to walk along.
This morning I did something I don’t often do. I came down to my local coffee shop to wait for a friend. While here I did some work on the church website, sent out a circular email and updated our facebook site.
I also had a long macc. I always get disappointed when I don’t have a coffee from here, they make a great coffee.
While sitting here outside on one of their funky hispter benches I have had three seperate people come and chat. People from Church, people from Toddler Jam, people with mutual friends. They all stopped and chatted.
It was a nice experience. Having been a part of this community for over 20 years, I know a lot of people. And a lot of people know me. Serving on the local primary school P and C, running Toddler Jam. You know people, and are known.
I was reflecting on the number one reason people come to and stay at a church. It is not the music, it is not the preaching, and it is actually not only the kids programs, although that is huge.
A number of folk told me this week the number one reason is because someone said hello. Not someone who is part of the structured welcome team, but just a regular person. We are all craving real human contact. We all want to be noticed. We all want community.
Music is the soundtrack to significant moments in our lives. It becomes part of that moment. Like a favourite smell, hearing a familiar song takes us back to that moment.
Whenever I hear a ‘Hoodoo Gurus’ track I’m instantly taken back to surfing down at Dunsburough with some mates. High School was done, I had no real idea what I was going to do with my life, and the curling surf off Yallingup was as scary and exciting as the girls watching on from the carpark.
Midnight Oil chanting out ‘US forces” brings to my mind a cassette player someone had on a Scarborough High Excursion. We headed off to Balcatta High School for a volleyball tournament. Heading into that high school felt like we were stepping onto the set of “Grease”. We met and played against teens from a vastly different social group to our own.
Music conjures up memories of significant times.
When someone chooses to follow Jesus, either when growing up in the church or at a later stage in life, the music of that time will be important to them. Is it any wonder the people who found Jesus at a Billy Graham crusade swell with pride and sentiment when a glorious hymn is cranked up?
When I became a Christian one of my favourite songs was, ‘Lord I lift your name on high’. I could sing you all the words right now. It takes me back to those exciting evening services at Albany Church of Christ. But can my faith stay in that moment? No of course not. God changes, grows and refines my faith, deepens it. In fact He is always saying something fresh to the church, bringing new manna. There is no question we should be singing a new song. A new song is for the community as it is now. So often the song we heard and sung when Jesus became real to us was new in that moment as well.
This is where the ‘worship wars’ get real. We confuse spirituality with sentimentality. A new sung does not allow us to be caught up in sentimentality, it pushes us into spirituality. It causes us to ponder, meditate and be swept up in what God is saying now, today, for the community you are part of in this season.
In my family of origin there were a couple of non-negotiable rules. We were in church on Sunday and there was no television allowed on Sundays. School on Monday morning was always a little awkward as you pretended to know what the other kids were talking about when they discussed the latest video on Countdown or the footy from Match of the Day. It was interesting to see the change in my own family as we grew up. I am not quite sure when the rules changed, but they did. Church was still not an option, but Sunday night drama and comedy, especially on the ABC, became part of our diet.
Its not easy to say no to our children in these days of Sunday sport and birthday parties invitations. Time and time again the number one wish parents have for their children is that they have friends and social acceptance. There has been negotiation and navigation for us as parents. We do not want our children to miss the social formation which they need. Neither do we wish for them to miss out on the heart of the Christian experience. Gathering together with other believers to enjoy the presence of Christ, to hear the word, to fellowship. It is a beautiful discipline that should not be easily revoked. Our children believe and embrace that we do, not necessarily that we say.
As a Pastor it is easy to write this off as the ravings of someone with a horse in the race. Of course I would say this, I want people in the pews. And there is no question I desire for my church to have vibrant and full services. So it is catch 22 for me to even post this.
However the prophetic part of my nature points to the principle that we reap what we sow. It is tough enough as it is to raise a family and have teenagers and young adults embrace Christ and His Church. When we by action give the message that Church is an add on, something to do when it doesn’t conflict with other more important activities, the message will be received and acted upon.
If you haven’t seen the news there was a mistake made at this years Oscars when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were handed the wrong envelope and the wrong winner was announced for the most prestigious award of the night, best movie.
It reminded me of the many mistakes I have made from the pulpit. At times I have had the congregation in uproarious laughter for all the wrong reasons, and to my embarrassment. Sometimes I have had no idea why they are even laughing!
To laugh at oneself is human just as to make mistakes is human. All too often in Churches we take ourselves far too seriously. I have found self depreciating humour to be the best type to help people be at ease. With themself. With you. And with your church.
If someone finds it hard to laugh at themself it may be indication that they are not feeling that safe or secure. I am sure God loves me. I am equally sure that all my worries and insecurities will ultimately prove in the eternity of time to be perhaps something I shouldn’t have given so much emotional energy to.
Mistakes are part of life. I hope I can laugh at my own, and even laugh along when my church laughs at them!