Category Archives: Stuff I don’t know much about but rave on about anyway

“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.

Redemption in the form of a RX8

Back in my younger far more foolish days I purchased myself a Mazda RX4 Couple. I was the proud owner of a 13b Rotary powered car. I spent an inordinate amount of money on the stereo, exhaust system and whatever else it needed. The thing went fast. I knew that as did the police, many times.

When I decided to go to Bible College the car needed to be replaced by something more sensible. Anything would have been more sensible than that car to be honest! I was sad when I sold it, but not gutted because I didn’t know what it was worth, and if I had been asked would have said it was easily replaced.

The past few decades have been spent with different vehicles, one of which has featured on this blog, namely the Zook. Truth is I have always had a keen interest in cars and mechanics. If I had followed my own thoughts at a younger age, pre the Rx4, I would have been a mechanic. But the pressure was on to go to university. I went to Uni and dropped out.

Fast forward a few decades and I found myself car less again having moved to Melbourne and a self described ’empty nester’. Both kids are adults and Melinda has a sensible car.

I set about thinking about what I wanted and toyed with the idea of an Rx7. The earlier ones are out of my budget but not by a lot. However the idea of having an older car which would need expensive rebuilding to make it reliable wasn’t that palatable. The later model ones are pushing upwards of $60,000 now, as are the 1973 onward Rx4’s.

So I pondered the idea of an Rx8 with the Rotary Renesis Motor. The issue with the Rx8 is that you don’t know what you are going to get. A well maintained version will last the distance. A poorly maintained one will not. So I rang the local Rotary specialist and he found me one with a motor which will need some serious work. That means the car itself was inexpensive for what it is.

What I have is a very clean lovely Mazda Rx8 Coupe. Once finished I don’t plan to sell it. Part of me thinks it will increase in value. Not as much as my Rx4 did perhaps!

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

Smoking Paprika and Cayenne Pepper

Recently I was fortunate enough to obtain something I have wanted for years, a Kamado Joe. It is a ceramic smoker, griller, bbq and pizza oven all rolled into one.

I have been cooking pork neck, pulled pork, ribs, wings, pizza, brisket and everything else with it. Its amazing.

Last week I was at my local fruit and veg shop and grabbed a bag of cayenne peppers and a bag of paprika.

I set the Kamado for under 100 degrees celsius and took the opportunity to smoke some pork belly at the same time.

This took about 7 hours or so of low and slow smoke using some apple wood I had.

Then I dried the paprika and peppers out in the dryer for another 10 hours

The final product has so much aroma its actually incredible. I use it with olive oil as a rub on chicken. I also have used it in beans and bacon to make bbq beans. The smell of smoke and spice is so strong its indescribable.

This final picture has nothing to do with the above post. I just thought I would post it. This is the pork belly covered in butter and homemade bbq sauce after being smoked for about 8 hours about to get grilled.

Trying to understand how and why

The recent reports in regard to Ravi really cause me to rethink again how our relationship with God works. Here is an orthodox and highly talented Bible teacher. Someone who was able to cross over all Christian cultures with insightful Bible teaching. He was incredibly well known and revered whether you are part of a small Anglican Church or a Mega Church. Both saw and recognised a gifting and anointing. In all public appearances he was warm, humble and gracious.

Nothing of course could be further from the truth in his private life. A sordid history of sexual misdemours and what can only be classified as spiritual abuse. Using his position of power to manipulate and control for his own gratification.

I can’t help but again ask the question, how and why is God so gracious? How much of human sin is relative and is God unshockable? Ravi continued his public ministry, presumably with the same power and presence as when he started. Yet his rapid decline into depravity is clear. I truly do not understand how he could rely upon the power of the Spirit when presumably a few moments or days before he had been abusing those made in God’s image and precious in His sight.

Some talk about sin as being sin. It does not matter the depth. All of us who are public speakers and leaders are fully aware of our own sin. It sits there and rears it ugly head. In those moments I once again cling to the cross and console myself that God is good and His love and forgiveness endures forever. However I would be less than honest if I did not say that someone like Ravis depth of sin confuses me. I do not want to be guilty of consoling myself that my sin is far less than Ravis. But to be honest, it is. And that makes me ask the question, at what point am I disqualified? At what point is Ravi disqualified? If God is indeed Holy and Awesome then none of us qualify. None.

Others say Ravi was a celebrity leader and like Bill and others before him he was not held accountable. A general principle I have talked about before is never name a ministry after a person. Unless that person is Jesus. Keep your leaders accountable. However I am beginning to think that is more for the organisations sake than the leaders. Because who can really keep another accountable? You can’t control or monitor my thoughts. A glance here and there goes unchecked as does the thought life of anyone. Ravi and Bill were able to leave behind a legacy of brokenness and pain because the leaders did not watch over them. The leaders and elders are now suffering from their own worship at the altar of celebrity as they survey the smouldering wreckage of a broken organisation. I don’t think God cares anywhere near as much about our organisations as we do. He cares about the Church and it will flourish and the gates of Hell will not prevail against that. Even though the Devil will win some skirmishes as leaders fail.

My main thought though is this. God is gracious and kind. His grace is amazing. I don’t understand that. I appreciate it. But I don’t get the depth of it.

Accountability, before the mess

As I read through the depressing articles coming out about another disgraced former Bible teacher I am aware of how fragile we as humans are. This time it is from a different form of church. No smoke machines or flashing lights at Ravi’s ministry. However the same depressing story of a lack of accountability. A sexual predator and narcissistic leader with non-disclosure agreements and payments made to keep the victims quiet while the incredibly talented teacher kept up his ministry, named after himself.

Here are some basic principles I think we all need as leaders.

Never name a ministry after the leader. Not a hall, not a pen, not a aspect of the ministry, nothing. The ministry should be named after Jesus or the suburb you are in. Simple. The ministry should not be dependent upon one leader, it should continue after they pass on or leave, and it should not be dependent upon their giftedness.

Have a board that asks the hard questions and it not there to just rubber stamp where the leader wishes to take them. Good leaders will have vision. They will see where the ministry needs to go. They should also be allowed to lead. Don’t stifle their gift. But as a balance, do not be afraid to ask the why question and keep the leader accountable. That is for the leaders benefit and the health of the organisation as a whole.

Ensure your leader has the support they need. I personally have a mentor, a psychologist I see, a peer group and an associate who asks me the hard questions. I also have staff that I encourage to give me feedback. I give them feedback and they give me feedback. Encourage a feedback culture. We all want to be better at what we do. Feedback is how we get better.

If you are a leader, ensure you have time to pray and read your bible. It is actually a simple yet profound formulae. The bible is your tool. It is the single most powerful tool you have to see transformation occur in peoples lives. It is also your accountability station. When you read it in the morning you should ask, God, Holy Spirit, work with me here. When our intention to meets the inspired scripture then transformation can take place.

Here is the issue though. You cannot keep a leader accountable. Not really. A leader chooses to be accountable or not. Yes you can sack them, disgrace them, move them on. But as we have seen all too often, in church, like in general society, we allow gifting to trump character. We bring people back in all too soon. We ignore or neglect issues of character, because they are good at what they do. Perhaps a salient reminder is that it is Jesus who will grow His Church, why do we think it is our job? Why do we sacrifice integrity for expediency? Yes we must be His servants and do what we can and if someone if gifted, release them into that. But we also cannot ignore issues around sustainability and integrity.

Finally have courage. Say something.

You are not Jesus and you are not telling off the Pharisees

My observation is that some brilliant Christian minds can also be unkind, derisive and curt. They often write brilliant books with helpful analogies. They are very good at seeing what needs to change and what is wrong. I would not want to doubt their intelligence and giftedness.

However in personal contact including both in life experience, with emails and social media platforms like TikTokRush where they can easily find ways to cut down those with whom they disagree with, or take issue with. Often when a challenge comes to them or a point they make, they seem to take that quite personally. Their response may be curt. They may seek to bring others in to the discussion to prove why the person is wrong. They may also refuse to engage properly with the discussion.

One test for us to be able to examine our own hearts is to honestly say who we see ourselves as being in the biblical narrative.

Often someone with narcissistic tendencies will see themself as Jesus. The suffering servant. The leader of men. The one to whom others come and find wise and insightful teaching. They thank God that they can see things others cannot. When in your heart you believe you are Gods mouth piece, writing things others listen to, speaking out when others don’t, it can be intoxicating.

Jesus points this out when he describes one man in the temple beating his chest over his own sin. The Pharisee is out in front where everyone can see him, thanking God for how good it is. The posture of the weeper is humility, the posture of the Pharisee is self seeking and pride.

Can we truly see anyone be transformed? Of course. It can and it does happen. Perhaps for some it it a journey of deep and painful discovery. I have learnt to ask people what they actually see in me, and then listen.