Category Archives: Theology

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.

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 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.

Sacrificing our integrity on the altar of success

As news breaks of another significant church leader being stood down over allegations of abuse it causes me to wonder why we allow this to continue.

This Story has been months in the breaking, and years in the circumstances leading up to it. What is most surprising in this particular one is that those who had the authority to remove the leader didn’t. Those who could have dealt with it before it became a major issue appear reasonable, fair and dare I say it, nice. My question in this post is why didn’t they deal with the situation until it was about to become public.

Success has become defined in Christians circles as the ability to draw a crowd. How ironic that in this latest story the model was to live in close quarters with each other. The leader had a church of around 120 people. Not the sort of church featured in Relevant Magazine. But he was a gifted preacher, a skilled leader and had the ability to capture imagination and inspire young people.

The common factor in contemporary stories of Church leaders who have fallen is not their theology. We have seen complimentarian leaders, egalitarian leaders, reformed, pentecostal, charismatic, seeker sensitive, house model and in fact I can’t think of a type we have not seen. Let us not overreact and say the mega church is flawed. It isn’t. Neither is the House Church movement. People are flawed. People with no accountability are dangerous.

My proposition is that the common factor with these leaders has been their gaining of disproportionate power through success.

Success covers a multitude of sins.

We do not deal with their abuse, their misuse of power, their sexual abuse, their lack of Christian grace, kindness and mercy because we are worshipping on the altar of success. We do not want to deal with their issues because we are enjoying being a part of a movement of God. We don’t speak out because we don’t want to be marginalised or accused of being a gossip or worse, see the ministry come crashing down.

I think we need to understand the complexity of this issue. Our God is incredibly gracious. He uses people who are incredibly flawed. We see this time and time again in the stories in the Bible. In a similar way, people in these ministries find Jesus, discover purpose for their lives, find community and places to worship together.

However no-one is above correction, rebuke and even church discipline.

We need to once again meditate on what success is and understand success can be extraordinary. Revival is real, does happen and should be celebrated. Let us not be cynical. However success can also be a temptation to overlook. To not reflect. To not allow difficult questions to be asked.

My hope, joy and belief is in the local church and the leaders who choose to take up that call to lead. It is not a easy role. It is indeed a calling. One I cannot turn away from.

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.

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.

Your past hurts will flavour your present ministry

As Pastors and leaders our past hurts will flavour our reaction to present ministry situations.

If we have been criticised, betrayed, let down and disappointed by people, this will cause us to be insecure, reactionary and untrusting in present ministry situations.

If there has been a battle fought and won in a particular area of ministry, when that discussion comes up again we may very well be overtly defensive about it. The pain inflicted by fighting that battle may still be real and present. So we shore up our defenses. It feels like we are being attacked all over again, even if we are not.

The ability to reframe your perspective to your present situation is crucial. The past battles have been done. Its time to trust, hope and believe again.

By your correct statement of faith…..

The Apostles Creed is not scripture. However I believe it accurately articulates some important aspects of the Christian faith.

I think theology is important. There are some great theologians, and some that are perhaps less than great. However theology is important, it can inform our expectations of God and life.

Neither creeds nor theology are actually what is crucial to the Christian faith. Jesus Himself made this clear. Love God. Love others.

Love of God, knowing Jesus, having a relationship with Him with all that entails is crucial to our Christian faith. Hearing from Him, listening to Him, worshipping Him. This is essential.

Love of others. Caring about our neighbour, seeing justice on earth, caring for the poor, sharing our faith, helping people say yes to Jesus. This is essential.