Category Archives: Church

Will Koorong sell the new Kanye West Album?

I must admit the first time I have taken notice of Kanye West is when I mispronounced his name during a sermon. I also like his sneakers.

His new album, “Jesus is King” doesn’t fit into any category neatly. The music ranges from gospel to pop to hip pop, soul and of course rap. What is interesting about it musically is the diversity and range of influences Kanye crams into the playlist. West is a incredibly creative and innovative artist.

In my house it has been on high repeat, particularly as I have been cooking which is always a good sign. I am enjoying it a lot.

As a pastor, father to teenagers, and someone who likes to keep up with contemporary spirituality I am really encouraged by the lyrical content and heart of the album. Kanye touches on various themes ranging from pure worship to prophetic utterance on church, society and life in general.

Is his conversion real? I hope so. How would anyone but Jesus know. Is what he is producing good and uplifting? I think so. I hope he gets some mature and wise leaders and mentors around him. It is scary how quick the contemporary church seeks to use those who have fame rather than develop them. It is clear that with all new disciples they need time for the maturity to catch up with the influence. I am going to pray for him, for his ministry and for our world. We need more positive influence and I choose to hope this is what Kanye is becoming.

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.

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.

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.

Fear

Is there anything more debilitating than fear?

This week I was reading an amazing sermon from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that he wrote and preached prior to the Second World War. A number of things were fascinating. He was a preacher. Not a teacher, although I am sure he could teach. This message was not some dry exegesis. It was forged in the crucible of a country undergoing severe change. He was preaching with the Bible in one hand, and a newspaper in the other.

In Germany change was being driven by fear and false control. Those who knew how to manipulate the peoples hearts were doing what they could to get control. To convince people that there was a genuine reason to fear, and then using that fear to get what they wanted.

Its a stark contrast with how Jesus led. He led with love. He had no position, no control. In fact He demonstrated this when He allowed Himself to be led to the cross. Those who can peak behind the curtain knew He could have called down the armies of heaven to destroy His enemies. But He chose not to.

How do we allow fear to rule our hearts, our minds, our decisions? Its a terrible way to live.
This week I have taken some inspiration from Deitrich and am speaking at my church on how Jesus led. Without the need to stir up fear and manipulate, people gave him authority. They allowed Him to lead them. Because He never forced Himself on anyone.

I know….Jesus wants everyone to live their lives free from fear. The only true way to do that is to accept His love for us. That He wants the best….for you.

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)