Category Archives: Spiritual Thoughts

“Prosper” So many thoughts

(Be aware there are some plot spoilers ahead)

So I decided to watch the new series ‘Prosper’ released on Stan streaming service with Richard Roxburgh and Rebecca Gibney in the lead roles as Australian Mega-Church Pastors launching a new Campus into Los Angeles.

If it sounds more like a documentary than a drama series that is because the intent is to shadow the story of Hillsong Australia. As a Baptist Pastor who has enjoyed and been enriched by Hillsong’s ministry over the past few decades I do not come into this without my own bias and thoughts. Of course the past few years have not been kind to Hillsong. I have many good friends who are part of that church and ministry. Indeed I have been up close and personal with some key leaders. They have shared my disappointment at the demise of their former Senior Pastor Brian Houston who in my view has made some serious mistakes, and presently does not appear to have reflected on them sufficiently and has instead retreated into denial.

I was trawling back through some old Hillsong United videos and felt quite sad. That was a pivotal time in my life where much of the music, worship and heart of Hillsong was deeply helpful. I can’t help but grieve. So that’s my bias.

Prosper gets quite a lot right, but not all right. My struggle with it is that so many will closely identify it with Hillsong that the facts about Brian and others will get muddled in the story they are presenting. In other words, it feels like a true narrative, but isn’t. When Pastor Richard Quinn is seen jubilant at the new screen working with his face in high quality the delight is palpable. Many Pastors can relate. Technology, having a good look for your church, communicating well is something many strive for. Of course the double meaning is that he is a bit of a narcissist and perhaps thinks more of his own importance than he should. Seeing his face up on a large crystal clear screen makes him happy. This struggle with something that you can clearly justify as being good, but you can also critique for being inauthentic, is at the heart of many of the plotlines. There is a moment when an incident occurs on stage that is presented as a healing miracle. The viewer is left to make up their own mind whether it is actually miraculous. Of course the show then makes it obvious the intent of showing the miracle as congregants use the strategically placed QR codes to make donations in response. The amounts are even shown, from small amounts to large donations. Most churches use QR codes these days, most Australian churches rely on their own people financially supporting the ministry of the church. That’s reality and Christians generally believe that is a good thing. Once again the hidden meaning is the oft spoken thought that Churches are just after your money.

The producers and researchers have done their homework but a keen church attendee will notice some obvious misinterpretations, even on a basic level. Any church with the building the size of the one presented would have had their screens sorted well before this. It is missteps like that which portray deeper problems. The narrative surrounding Pastor Quinn’s major moral failure echoes that of Brian Houstons. But are the facts the same? Certainly Brian would dispute them. Others would say Prosper embellishes them but they hold basically true. My concern is, as I stated previously, that Prosper feels like a docudrama, but they changed all the names. It might hold more integrity if they just made it as a docudrama and had a lawyer on retainer. The viewer is left confused or their preconceived notions reinforced. You can’t fact check Prosper because they would say, it is just a story.

How should a Christian respond?

Some mud sticks. As churches and pastors we must humbly admit sometimes we have made it about ourselves and not about Jesus and others. Hillsong have done so much right and so much good. Even in this latest season for them there was some attempt at reflection and lament. Some might say not nearly enough but I see and hear their heart. I would encourage us to not let us not let Brian’s unfortunate response to his discipline from Hillsong take away from what God did and is doing through that church and its many faithful and passionate members. In the end I am continually amazed at who God uses and how He works, despite my sin and the sin of others. That is my starting point, if God can use a sinner like me, who am I to say He can’t work powerfully through other sinners? God works in the most complicated scenarios and does not fit into my paradigm of how He should work, all glory to Him, His ways are indeed higher.

Did we really expect a streaming service chasing eyeballs to tell a realistic and fair tale? Should we be discouraged by their portrayal of the church? Well I don’t think it helps our cause. I wouldn’t recommend watching it, but neither would I say you shouldn’t.

Pray for your church, pray for your pastor. We need to be wise, strategic, authentic, passionate, humble, focused and even at times business like. Not everyone likes that, but it is true, indeed I see it in Jesus’ ministry. It is no easier leading a church now that what it was in Roman Empire times. But I am privileged and overjoyed I get to lead a church. What an incredible privilege.

In all things, Jesus will win and He doesn’t need me to defend Him or His Bride.

Thank God for that.

Stepping in time

I have this overwhelming sense of joy in ministry that needs doing this year. People, programs, mentoring, discipleship and events that are significant and wonderful to be a part of. So much so that I am excited at the thought of looking back on 2024 and prayerfully thanking God for what He has done. Some people say the anticipation of a holiday is almost as good as the holiday itself. My anticipation of this year feels a little like that.

There are so many good things I wish to busy myself with it can almost be debilitating. I am speaking to my own heart today. Peace Lord. Don’t let me run ahead of You, let me step in time with you, at Your pace. Let me take what each day brings as a precious gift. Let me not be presumptuous. At the same time, as I compare myself to a farmer, let me know the seasons and what needs to happen in them to maximise the harvest.

It has been quite the year

I have started reading Eugene Petersons book, ‘A long obedience in the same direction”. Do you know when you find a book and love it, and become an evangelist for it, and then discover its actually been around for a long time and loads of people enjoyed it years ago. But for me it is fresh and new because I have never read it before!

As I reflect on the year just gone it has helped me, even the title. There has been so much change, some of it gut wrenching and difficult. Other change has been exhilarating as we see why God has led us to this place. What remains constant is the mission. Obeying God, and encouraging others to say yes to Jesus. Peterson has gone to heaven to hear those words we all desire, and I have no doubt he heard them. Life marches on and it waits for no one. At some point in history I will be gone. But for the moment I am focused on the same direction.

Having Jesus as the constant theme and energy in our lives gives us a deep sense that despite the change, some things are more important than our comfort.

Owning the pain and loss in the midst of a superb church and wonderful opportunity takes some getting used to.

The earnest prayers of a righteous person avails much. Dealing with difficult things forces us back to prayer and faith….and hope.

Jesus is real, and the Holy Spirit is in the life changing and miraculous business still.

The First Sermon

Can you trace your lineage, your ancestral history? Did your predecessors come out on a boat, a plane? Do you suspect you had a criminal who stole a loaf of bread in your genealogy, or maybe there is royalty back there somewhere. Whatever land you have come from, whatever your background, you find yourself here right now, reading this.

I wonder if you have thought about your spiritual ancestry. If you believe in Jesus, and are part of the church, you have a spiritual heritage. For all of us who follow Jesus we can trace it back to Him. He shared the good news with someone, who shared it with someone, who shared it with someone, and fill in about 2000 years of the same line and it comes to you. Sitting here reading this.

For many of us we are going to go back to Peters first sermon. Peter the loudmouth, the outspoken fisherman. Who was empowered by the Holy Spirit, found his own voice working alongside the Spirits and preached the first sermon from the empowered church. (Acts 2) At one point in the NT narrative we find him cowering around a charcoal fire. Jesus leaves, the Holy Spirit comes and Peter is seemingly no longer afraid of the crowd who were trying to rope him into being crucified along with Jesus. Now he is telling them it is their fault, and they need to do something about it.

Fortunately about 3000 of them do, in one day. It may have been a long sermon, in fact Luke tells us it was, but none the less they believe. Don’t think it was the fisherman’s eloquence. It may have had something to do with the supernatural courage he had been given. It certainly had something to do with the Holy Spirits empowerment.

Either way out of that crowd of 3000, someone there shared their faith, who then shared their faith….and 2000 plus years later here you are. Knowing Jesus and having the same Holy Spirit.

Kew Baptist Church

I had a moment on Sunday night as I preached my first message at Kew Baptist Church. It is our intention under God to have a long term ministry here at Kew Baptist. Its an extraordinary and unique church. The evening service is full of young adults and the morning service holds great promise and hope that it will be a place for young families from the area to connect with each other and the Holy Spirit. I was speaking from Philippians 4 and I came back to verse 1 at the end of the message. “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!”

The only way I can pastor this church is to love the people. People asked me if I would change football teams when I loved to Melbourne. Thats a rather naive question. You don’t change teams just because you move town. However you must change churches. My love which I had and have for my former church is still there. But the focus of my love is now with my new people. That is a emotional pull. But love is in some ways at least a decision. And my heart and love must now be here, and it is.

Five thoughts around long term pastoring and a bonus one

You either change your church or your church changes you.


Of course this is a blanket statement and perhaps it is a bit of both. But when I started there was certainly some patterns, values, structure and most importantly culture at my church that was in serious need of leadership. Leadership in a church context means you call out unhealthy aspects of the body. It means you see what could be and offer a hopeful future. Leadership means you persevere even when there is opposition, misunderstanding, miscommunication and selfishness. There are power dynamics which sometimes need to be challenged and addressed. If a church wants to change they will employ a leader. If they want to continue in their present patterns, they will employ a chaplain.

As a pastor you love people, and love them too much to not want to embrace leading them to green pastures. Embracing the idea that you do have something to offer and your insights and ideas might be helpful can be stressful for those without a holy confidence. In this age where pastors have used their power to abuse, bully and control people for their own ends its important to understand that despite those of ill-heart we are still called to lead. Checking your own heart, motives and spiritual connection is vital. As is embracing the wisdom of others when difficult decisions need to be made. Lead, but lead with love and a vulnerable heart.

The biggest change that will occur will be the one in you.

Embrace Personal Development

Does this statement follow on from the previous one? Stay with me. As a keen and present observer of congregation members, myself as a pastor and other pastors here is an observation. As a Pastor God will wrestle with you, challenge your comfort levels, deal with your spiritual health, your upbringing, your choices, your relationships, your habits, your inner being, your psychological welfare, your resistance to change, your propensity to slip into bad patterns, your mind, your spirit and even your physical health. He will also challenge and inform your spiritual view of the world. You will understand the spiritual battle more so than when you are out of ministry.

Ministry has a way of speeding up and deepening your personal development. It brings into focus who you are as a person and makes you question almost every aspect of your character. You will find yourself in situations where you will question whether you are the right person for this role. There will be moments of serious ‘imposter syndrome’ where you wonder when it will be that people realise you are not qualified, spiritual enough, skilled enough or anywhere near as deep a Christian as they or you think you should be.

A variety of friendships and relationships are vital.

Make friends

When I started out in ministry I was fortunate enough to be placed in a peer group. This group has changed members, flexed and groaned as different members changed churches, ministries and life stages. We have been fortunate to not experience any serious moral failures or terminal lapses of judgement. What we have is been able to tell each other at various times and stages of ministry, you are not deluded, at fault or insane. We have recognised patterns in others ministries, the same type of characters and opponents and critics, and helped each other understand what is happening in various ministry situations. Over 25 years we have listened to, prayed for and supported each other. In the early years of conflict ridden ministry this group was indispensable to me and without them I would not still be in ministry.

I have a number of close friends within church. When I first started older pastors told me not to make friends within church. They were right in that having friends within church has proved problematic at times. When I have needed to have a strong word with them, deal with difficult situations, deal with complex narratives, the distinguishing of roles has not always been easy. Taking of my ‘friends hat’ and putting on my ‘pastors hat’ has been something I have needed to do. Crying with a friend who has had a serious moral failure. Admonishing them to be honest and deal with the ramifications of their failure has been stressful and all encompassing. But I need friends. This has not got easier but in many ways more difficult. But I would not change the joy from having friends in my church, even though they are the ones who can hurt me the most.

I have had some of my closest friends serve with me on staff. They have counselled me, listened to me, cautioned me and even warned me. The wounds of a friend are true and a true friend will inflict those wounds truly. Serving in churches with my friends is the most fun I have had in ministry.

There are a number of intentional friendships I have both with christians and non- church people who do not come to my church. I need friends without the pressure of there being any agenda about my church. Friends who do not see me in any way as their pastor but merely as their friend. Friends who love Jesus, and friends who are friends with me despite not sharing my faith. These are people who I can talk about footy, fishing, life, relationships, children and food without any need to reference what takes up a large portion of my time and emotions.

In my life I have cultivated intentional friendships with mentors, counsellors and other pastors. These are both in my city and without. They are not only from my faith tradition but from a variety of Christian churches. These friends have taught me not to take my Baptist tradition too lightly, but also strengthened why I am Baptist. They have informed me that people with different views and interpretations to mine are great people and can help me in a variety of different ways. They have helped me see that the ‘Church’ across my city in all its different forms meets the needs of a much wider group of people than I ever could. Other local churches are not our competition, they are our family. I love Pastors.

Curiosity keeps you young and fresh

Stay humble and a lifelong learner

I may have been in my church a long time, but there are people there who have been there longer, and they will remain after I have gone. That is a sobering point on several levels. I wondered at one point if my ministry would outlive all who where there before me and it hasn’t. That leads me to an application I can truly say I have sought to execute. To remain a lifelong learner and student in every area of my ministry. I have read countless leadership books, attended multiple conferences and intensives and listened to hundreds of podcasts. I have studied the scripture in fresh and different ways. I have looked into colour, style and form of churches. I have installed lighting and computer systems, upgraded our livestream and listened and learned to those far more skilled than myself in all these areas.

I often think about a couple who have attended my church well before me and calculated they have probably heard me preach at least 1000 sermons. The potential for them to be bored by that is likely. But my role is to inspire, encourage, teach and make relevant the word of God in their lives. If my own relationship with my task as a preacher if stagnant, then there is no hope for it to help them grow. Ever year I have tried to change something simple or fundamental or structural about my communication. How I prepare, what I prepare, what media I use, what I focus on. I have never preached a sermon twice. Never. Every week I ask God to help me preach a message that will transform. It is not only about scriptural exegesis, it is also about me as a communicator.

People will continue to surprise you

Love People

In my ministry life I have been threatened with violence a couple of times. There is no comparison with Jesus and others who have been truly persecuted for their faith. However it is indication of the feeling that having a spiritual authority figure can provoke in some people. For a reason I cannot explain people can get weird with power dynamics in churches. If you seek to lead a church and provoke change, you may provoke anger disappointment and resentment in people. Knowing what battles to pursue, which to put on hold and which to leave is a question of wisdom. It is not something I have always been wise with, but is something I have grown into.

I have sat with people crying with them because they have done something seriously out of character. I have watched from the sidelines as people make foolish decisions around serious issues within their life. I have made some serious mistakes with people particularly around confrontation. I have allowed my own insecurities to govern my decision making, thus not doing what was was wise. I have watched as they walk away from my church and ministry over both a perceived offence, a real offence and as they have refused to extend or receive forgivess. I have also had to deal with some people whose time at my church has needed to come to a conclusion. Churches and pastors hurt people. Sometimes I have worn the sting of how I have hurt someone, and sometimes I have worn the sting of how a previous pastor hurt them. People often bring that hurt with them. I have been seriously hurt as people have ghosted me, misrepresented me and walked away when all I gave was love and care.

I have been amazed as I have seen people step forward for Jesus, say yes to Jesus, be baptised, take up serving, care of others, love people in extraordinary ways and teach me about Jesus. I have watched with wonder as people get lost in praise, pray without ceasing, love without measure and challenge my conscience around finances. They have amazed me as they show grace, fruit of the Spirit and give of themselves way beyond what I thought they would. People have surprised me with their grace and love towards me and their forgiveness.

The Call

Embrace it

A old mentor once said to me, ‘if you don’t like the smell of the sheep, don’t be shepherd’. I don’t know if that is true. There are plenty of times I have not wanted to be a pastor and not liked people. I once advised a group of Indonesian Pastors to not encourage their children to go into the ministry. Ministry is not easy and why would you encourage your children to choose it as a life career? I am not digging ditches in the heat of a Australian summer and probably couldn’t. However a ditch digger does not go home with the weight of congregants issues and the issues of the church on their mind.

I sometimes wish I was not called to be a Pastor. But I am. I love ministry, I love people, I love the church and I love Jesus. With all my heart. I am so glad I am called to ministry. It is a privilege beyond what I deserve. However at times the only factor which has kept me in ministry is the call. That unexplainable word from the Spirit, this is what I have called you to.

This was originally done as a letter to a dear friend and ministry colleague who asked me for five learnings after a long term ministry. I asked for permission to publish it publicly