Friday, December 26, 2008
I have been out of church now for 9 months and am feeling ready, in early 2009, to begin steps towards beginning a house church. As I have pondered my journey which mirrors that of Dan Poole in the book I realize that one of the sticking points is the pseudo-priestly role of evangelical pastors in the eyes of some church members.
What I mean is that in the Catholic system the priest is called "Father" and you come to church to receive a word from the priest who is God's representative and voice. The priest gives communion as the agent who is able to offer the sacrament and is also able to dispense forgiveness. This is a very terse generalization but my concern is that the evangelical pastor often feels a subtle pressure to be right or more right than the church with which we don't agree. The church member turns up on a Sunday to sing some songs, feel good and then hear what advice and information the pastor can mediate from the pulpit. It is very much a priestly role and one with which I am not comfortable.
I recall my previous preaching engagements which were very well received but I found it frustrating trying to offer challenges and exhortations for people to make a difference in the Monday-Saturday part of life. Many people didn't seem to want to be challenged; they simply wanted to hear me offer a well-presented message that made them feel better about themselves and the next stop was morning tea and catching up with one's friends. I remember many a time when I would sit by myself at the end of the sermon despondent that people didn't seem to be too challenged or touched even though I had put all my heart into my exhortation. Yes, some people responded but the majority of people seemed to have a medium-level expectation which they weren't prepared to give up.
I don't want to be righter than the next man or more loved by Jesus; I just want to explore my own journey of faith and, as a pastor, I want to listen, share, dialogue and encourage others with their journeys of faith.
This is a ramble and a distillation of my thoughts. Any ideas?
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Went to UK at end of 2007. Didn't go all that well with my family. Came home to Oz a week earlier than scheduled. Falsely accused and stood down from ministry in my local church. Cleared by authorities but no apology or support from church except for a handful of people.
Ongoing problems with my middle son's autistic developments. Naturally there were tensions in the marriage with all the crap floating around. Where was God in all this?
Even though I feel like the man in the picture stretched to breaking; trying to find a way out of this year in one piece my confidence in God's love has never wavered. I have been pleasantly surprised to find that I have an abiding trust that God is there for me and my family.
I think this is why I find myself at the end of the year attempting church in a pub and driving a taxi because I want to meet people who need to find a deep sense of hope and purpose and tell them about this wonderful God who has loved us and sustained us through 2008.
Thank you to each of you who reads this blog, contacts me on facebook and has shown love and support that has really touched me deeply. Have a wonderful Christmas.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
I read some reflections from Eternal Echoes where Sally considers hope in the midst of struggle and the beauty of grace and sanctification when we are feeling in a dark place. I also read some of the birth narrative from Luke and I discussed the mixture of doubt and hope contained in the Christmas story.
Doubt must have arisen as shepherds and magi made their way to a stable in a provincial backwater to look for the Savior of the world. Amidst the doubt and tiredness of the journey was a growing sense of hope.
There were 4 of us upstairs in a pub on a Tuesday night and, as we discussed our doubts and reflected on what hope in God meant for each of us I felt that the church had turned a corner and rather than being my "thing" God had been allowed to come into our midst much like He came into our midst through the baby Jesus as the incarnated God.
After talking for a while I took out some candles and invited people to light a candle to symbolize our light in the darkness. People could pray aloud, meditate, reflect or just relax in the sense of hope amidst the busyness of this season.
As we sat with the flames flickering on the table in the middle of the group I closed my eyes and felt a profound sense of God's presence. I haven't been to church in 9 months except for one unsatisfactory appearance a few weeks ago and tonight I felt a sense of deep joy and gratitude as God came amongst us through His Spirit upstairs in a pub on a Tuesday night in December.
Jesus is truly our light in the darkness.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
As my personal blog for World AIDS Day I wanted to draw attention to a story that has touched me deeply. It is the story of Matthew Shepard.
Matthew Shepard was a young gay man who was conned into going in a vehicle with 2 young men. The two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, lead him to a remote area east of Laramie, Wyoming, where they demonstrated unimaginable acts of hate. Matthew was tied to a split-rail fence where he was beaten and left to die in the cold of the night. Almost 18 hours later he was found by a cyclist who initially mistook him for a scarecrow.
Matthew died on October 12, 1998 at 12:53 am at a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado. His entire family was by his side for the last few days of his life. His funeral was attended by friends and family from around the world and gained the appropriate media attention that brought Matthew's story to the forefront of the fight against hate.
It is 10 years since the horrific events that led to the premature death of Matthew Shepard. The foundation bearing his name continues to raise awareness of hate and prejudice and seeks ways to overcome homophobia in modern society.
As we remember the countless people suffering from the AIDS virus I wanted to draw attention to the hate and prejudice that is still evident in society and in our churches towards gay and lesbian people. Today is the day to erase hate.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
A week or so ago I made a rare trip to the Christian bookstore and bought some reduced Vineyard CDs in order to help change the atmosphere of the house.
This morning I put on "You and You Alone by Vineyard Canada. I am not a rabid fan of much modern worship music but this is an exceptionally good CD and then I heard "Even Though" and God spoke to me in the midst of the rain and the Spirit touched me afresh with hope and grace.
Even though I can't see the sun
through these clouds
I know it still shines.
Even though I can't feel your love
through this pain
I know you're alive and
Even though I can't understand
Why this storm still blows and
even though I can't hear your voice
I love your rain.
What a beautiful song. Thank you God for meeting me today. Even though I can't understand why this storm still blows and even though I can't hear your voice I do love your rain.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
I often think I'm a nobody; not as an act of false humility although that sometimes happens but because I feel like a nobody but I have come to realize that Jesus came for the nobodies. The verse above says "so that whoever believes in Him..." or we can translate it as "He gave His only Son for the nobodies who would believe in Him."
In pubs, gay bars, taxi rides and other places you find people who think they're nobody. I often come across people who pretend they're somebody in order to hide the face that they're a nobody. And even in the grand scheme of life the real somebodies and really nobodies.
I have recently come across a wonderful blog called Divine Nobodies. It is written by Jim Palmer "a nobody, neighbour and friend of all people." I wish I'd thought of that description first although I might steal it anyhow.
You can read about Jim's books here.
It just got me thinking is all. I feel like a nobody and I'm trying to get this pub church thing going and today I feel flat and frustrated but then again I have been found by a loving God who sought me out and gave me hope so today I pick myself up again and walk forward into God's future and God's plans.
Monday, November 24, 2008
If you are a Christian blogger I strongly encourage you to join up. They are a very responsive team of people and it is a wonderful community.
My wife and I are on an interesting journey called parenting and sometimes it is wonderful and sometimes I crawl through the day and hope that tomorrow will be easier.
We have a 7 year old son on the autistic spectrum, a 9 year old who is growing daily and pushing the boundaries from time to time and a 2 year old who is lovely and busy. We love our kids dearly and I thank God for them every day but sometimes it is really tough.
I know that all parents go through tough times and I know plenty of families who have done it tougher than us so this isn't an advertisement for a pity party. It's simply a reflection. In the midst of this journey it has been interesting to observe how my faith has reacted and developed to our life.
I don't quite know where this post is going. It might well reflect my tiredness and confusion. I have been through chronic depression and am now on medication. My ministry came, went and I am now rediscovering my calling. My 7 year old has ups and downs on a daily basis but despite, or rather because, of all this my faith seems to be more rock solid and real.
I think my struggle with my faith, the literalness of the Bible and the nature of prayer is a reflection of finding how and where God is in the midst of the chaos of life. I think my attempt at developing spirituality in the pub is a reflection of finding God in the here and now of life. I'm not sure if this makes sense. I did say it wasn't an erudite treatise but God is here.
Friday, November 14, 2008
The following link contains a video from "The Advent Conspiracy"
It is a short but thought-provoking presentation about the getting of "stuff" over the Christmas period. Something Beautiful is a great site to explore.
Let me know your thoughts on the video. I am going to use it at pub church as part of provoking discussion about the festive season and values.
Posted using ShareThis
Thursday, November 13, 2008
I hadn't promoted the first meeting too much because I wanted to put out my vision and see if it resonated with the initial gathering. There were 5 people including myself and five others were due to come but couldn't make it so all the initial signs of life and need are encouraging.
Here is the schedule for the rest of this year and some ideas and thoughts for the future. I value and request input so feel free to add your comments and tell others to check out the blog, email me or join the facebook prayer group.
We are going to meet on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month at 7.30pm for a $5 meal in the bistro followed by the main meeting at 8pm.
Nov 25th - Short Film from Mosaic in LA followed by discussion
Dec 9th - The Advent Conspiracy - The Christmas story revisited
Dec 23rd - Christmas Party
One of the core group has extensive experience with liturgy and other ancient church practices and is keen to explore alt-worship events. I have been put in touch with a gay Christian in Sydney who is a top-class photographer and is putting together an exhibition of Christians who are seeking to bridge the gap between the church and the gay community. I am speaking to the pub about hosting a photographic exhibition in April or May next year. I am keen to get guest speakers in especially people who are prepared to explore spirituality and grace.
I am excited. God is definitely in control. For the first time in my ministry career I feel that I am where God wants me to be. Watch this space. I will try to be more diligent with blogging so thanks for your patience and love.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
"You might have heard of me, then", I said. "I'm the Baptist minister who is starting church upstairs in November."
Once we got to her destination we had a wonderful conversation about God, faith, church and discrimination. She hadn't really given religion much thought but was interested in what I was doing. She made the point that the fact that I was just there in the pub was an important statement and that people there would support my efforts.
What moved me most was that, just before getting out of the taxi, she looked at me and said "I am very proud of you." Wow. This lady, a lesbian herself, who had no connection with the church gave me such affirmation and support and I was truly humbled and encouraged. I promised to say hello next time I am in the pub and she has said she wants to pop up when I am doing church.
God is doing some great work.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
I have been reading voraciously and will put up thoughts in the next week or so on my recent reading.
As I was reflecting upon sharing faith with non-believing people I found this wonderful cartoon. Part of my musing has been around the fact that evangelicals seem, in some ways, to be committed to telling people that they are wrong.
As I have spoken to people in the taxi and in coffee shops I have come to realize that most people, to some degree, are very aware of the issues and problems in their lives. What they really need is a listening ear, compassion, grace and to be pointed towards Jesus. I think too many people are like the poor chap in the cartoon who have lots of good intentions but find judgmental attitudes creeping in to spoil the good news.
One thing I often say to young Christians who are interested in sharing the gospel is that Jesus gave two fundamental commands. He said "" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Luke 10:27). What I recommend is that instead of being overly concerned with who is "in" and who is "out" and who are the good guys and what the population of heaven looks like simply concentrate on these two basic commandments. When we've got these worked out then we might have chance to worry about other things.
My point is that to fully love God with all of our being and love our neighbors as ourselves will radically alter the way we see other people and will transform our love for those who haven't yet got to know the wonderful love of God in Jesus.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Last week we had some friends over for a bbq and I was sharing about the key element of risk in determining where our relationships go. I was talking about a person who I met in the taxi who had a very dysfunctional life but was also clearly looking for support. As he spoke I knew immediately that the "risk moment" had arrived very quickly. I could drop him off with a polite platitude or I could offer to meet him at another time for coffee and thus begin a relationship.
Thankfully for me I took that "risk" because the rewards he has shown towards me in friendship and support have been huge. This is a man who has been through a 2 week rehab program to overcome alcohol abuse, who has just avoided a jail term and is on a 12 month good behavior bond and who works long hours on the production line of a factory. His life is busy, tiring and stressful and yet he continues to support my ministry although he is still not sure of the Christian faith.
As I was mulling over this concept of the "risk moment" where we can choose to hear the prompting of the Holy Spirit or switch off and think of our own selfish diaries I read the following in Church Re-Imagined by Doug Pagitt:
"At its core, hospitality is an act of faith. It is faith in God and faith in people. It is an open posture that views others not as threats, but as participants in the process of one another's redemption" (p.149).
What a beautiful concept - "Participants in one another's redemption" - you wouldn't want to miss out on such a gift would you?
Thursday, October 16, 2008
We had a wonderful chat and I was able to wait for her to do what she had to do and then drive her back home so we got two trips in which to talk. Jess, her name, was a lovely person and told me about the homophobia that she had faced at times.
As I spoke to her I realized that, a long while ago now, I had moved off the fence and wanted to develop my homosexual agnostic stance. Here I will make clear that I believe a person can be gay and a Christian and they do not need to repent because I do not believe that Gay orientation is a sin. Promiscuity in any sexual orientation is a sin but Christians who are gay or in a gay relationship are still very much loved by God and a part of His Church.
Tonight I went to the gay bar to have dinner during my shift. I had a great chat with one of the bar staff who was openly gay. I shared honestly my aims in starting spiritual discussion at the pub and he suggested I attend the closing event of a week-long gay/lesbian festival in Newcastle which is a picnic and funday and he said I should take flyers because there would be people there who would want to connect with the type of discussion and community that I would like to foster.
In closing I want to share Jess' response to my story. She thanked me for caring about gay people and said that it made her feel good that a heterosexual Christian was prepared to become involved in the gay community in a loving, supportive, pastoral manner. It is these conversations that make the ministry worthwhile.
In a recent survey it was found that one in eight Australian students regularly go without food or other necessities because of lack of money. The maximum Youth Allowance benefit that a student under 25 and living in a share house can receive is $245 per fortnight, which is 38% below the poverty line ($645.15 per fortnight).
Just Act is an excellent social justice resource from the Uniting Church of Australia and has information on this and other campaigns. It is important to put time and money into overseas aid projects but we also need to be aware of those in poverty in our own countries. The levels of poverty may be relative but we are still called to act as the people of God.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Solomon's Porch (SP) is an attempt at doing church in different ways that are not reactive or anti-Institutional Church but are simply ideas to create a stronger sense of community.
They sit in a circle because it is difficult to build community by staring at the back of someone's head. no-one has a personal microphone because no one person's voice is more important than another. There is no stage and, because of the circular approach to seating there is no "front" to the church. All of the rooms are open for anyone to go into.
Just reading such a description can make it sound like some attempt at hippy-fied socialist experiment in cringeworthy church but, as you read the story, it is clear that this is a genuine effort to, as the title says, re-imagine Church.
I have been so inspired by this book. It is refreshing in its tone and exciting in the possibilities explored. Doug Pagitt makes it clear that this is not a blueprint for church nor is it the answer. It is a community on a journey to allow the life of Jesus to permeate all of their lives 24/7.
One of the joys of the book is that 6 members of the community wrote journals and excerpts are placed throughout the book. It is fascinating to see what this church looks like "on the ground" and "from the pews" as it were.
SP also write their own songs not as a reactionary measure but because they want to sing from their own experiences. Some of the lyrics are found at the end of each chapter. I have gone on to download songs from their website and will continue to share some more specific quotes and song lyrics in the next few posts.
If you want to dream about a church where we don't sit in rows and hear one person speak for 40 minutes and then have coffee and go home please read this book and let your horizons expand.
In meeting this woman Jesus stepped through and over all of the social conventions and he listened to her and met her where she was.
If anyone wants to know about this ministry be sure to tell them that I am simple, flawed person seeking to follow God in His plans.
Today I was told the local Baptist Association are prepared to give me up to $AU3,000 as an evangelism grant to buy a data projector and set up a web-site amongst other things. I cannot tell you how humbled and blown away I am right now.
I also found out that there are young Christians in our city who want to be involved and I was given the phone details of a couple in Sydney who work with the gay community.
God is opening doors wide and I am stepping through and I continue to walk and live in the aftermath of grace.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Thursday, October 09, 2008
The issue of Refugees is huge and, again, impacts every nation. The photo that I selected for this blog shows Iraqi refugees and is heartbreaking.
Please consider supporting Bloggers Unite on November 10th.
I was reading Brackish Faith and noticed a banner for Blog Action Day and I realized, after looking into in, that this was something I could do.
On October 15th they are asking people to blog about the issue of "Poverty".
Please consider supporting this worthwhile endeavor by blogging and mobilizing global action for an issue that is seeping through every nation.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
As one of my friends wrote - "'The Well' sums up the dryness people feel, a sign of life, a bottomless pit for relationships and conversations, the depth of the community that can be
It is a place people go for refreshment. It is a sign of life in the wilderness and it is where Jesus had a fantastic conversation with a Samaritan woman and broke all of the social conventions in the name of love and grace.
Monday, October 06, 2008
I have had comments of appreciation about the choice of images for my blog posts but "Brackish Faith" stretched my creative resources and I hope the accompanying image does some justice to Ben's fine blog.
What was particularly encouraging for me tonight was finding some of like mind as far as creative expressions of church goes but, best of all, he filled me on the practices of praying the Daily Office.
I know for some of the readers of this blog I am going to set myself up as the naive young-ish thing that I am but I am really keen to know more about getting a disciplined liturgical prayer life in operation. I will keep you posted regarding my fumbling efforts to be a disciple of Jesus.
On November 11th I begin "church" upstairs in a gay bar. As part of the initial chat with the owner I told her that my name was on a statement called "100 Revs". If you look at the list you'll see me at no. 73
The basic details of the statement are:
"As ministers of various churches and denominations we recognize that the churches we belong to, and the church in general, have not been places of welcome for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people."
"We are deeply sorry and ask for the forgiveness of the GLBT community. We long that the church would be a place of welcome for all people and commit ourselves to pursuing this goal."
One of most important points in terms of communicating this statement to the wider Christian community is this - "We ARE NOT making a statement on the biblical position on gay and lesbian relationships."
The fact that I am starting church in a gay pub is a complete act of God's purposes. I prayed for a venue and happened to pick the owner of "The Gateway" up in my taxi. I honestly explained who I was and what I wanted to do and she responded very graciously and generously.
One of oldest friends (we have known each other for over 20 years) is in a long-term loving lesbian relationship and now my brother-in-law has recently come out as gay. In fact, last night I popped in for coffee with himself and his partner.
Yesterday at a family lunch the church plans came up in discussion and there were some statements to the effect that of course homosexuality is wrong because the Bible says so and what happens when this arises as part of the church conversation. I think it was a surprise to my in-laws and other relatives to hear that my position is not so clear cut.
I will blog more on this over the coming days and weeks as I continue this journey but the point I made was that, firstly, I am concerned about people and not ideas as such. I appreciate scripture and I honour the Bible as the word of God but I am concerned at how selectively Christians pick and choose which Scriptures to take seriously and which to contextualize and which to simply ignore.
My ministry was nearly destroyed by lies and gossip and yet neither the people who wrote letters spreading the lies nor the people who received those letters and cut my family off have ever been disciplined or spoken to in any way and yet the Church is content to stand on the sidelines and condemn gay people. Yes, this is an emotive issue and, no, I haven't got clear answers but I do know that God has called me to love my neighbor.
Friday, October 03, 2008
On Tuesday November 11th church begins at 8pm. We will meet fortnightly and if I get hold of a projector screen I can show movies.
One of my friends, Alex, came along for support and encouragement. He has been to church twice in his life and is a great friend and advocate for the church concept.
I'll keep you posted on the blog but the idea is moving from concept to reality.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
One of the people who has been a great encourager has been Steve Foster and Holy Joes, the church which he leads, is one of key templates that I am looking at to guide my own endeavors.
They meet downstairs in a church in London and journeyed through pub venues in a church basement but still hold their ethos of being communal, loving, alternative and vulnerable.
Please feel free to check their website and offer them encouragement and if you are in London anytime maybe pay them a visit.
Friday morning at 10am I meet with the owner of The Gateway Hotel in Islington which is one of the suburbs just outside the city centre of Newcastle in NSW. The photo is the actual pub in case you were wondering.
It is a renowned gay/lesbian bar and a short walk down the road is a popular place for roadside prostitutes. It is also the pub that has offered me a room for free, once a fortnight, to host spiritual discussion evenings and movie nights etc.
I am pretty excited because this will hopefully formalize the small community of people who are keen to explore spiritual questions in community and will help me to get the name out there. I can get cards done up with the basic info so people have somewhere to connect into or to invite their friends.
Please pray for wisdom as I keep seeking to follow Jesus.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Another good site that links to it is called Everywhere Church.
Feel free to post feedback on ways that you are connecting with people outside of the four walls of our church buildings.
I will send some thoughts following the conference. This morning I hope to complete my book review for the Masters so I will find time to offer some thoughts resulting from this as well. After all of the emotional soul searching of the last few weeks I feel ready to get into some theological reflection and practice.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
The photo was taken from the visit to my friend's farm a couple of weeks ago. As I reflected on this past week or so since I last posted it seemed somehow appropriate to the struggles and dreams that I am working through at the present time.
The picture looks fairly nondescript but it shows a pile of some of the freshest, richest compost that I have come across in a long time. I have to confess, up front, that I am no farmer but, having lived in Australia for over 10 years, I am very aware of the state of the ground after long periods of drought. To turn over the compost with a spade and smell the fresh earthy flavors rise and to feel the soft texture of the dirt was such a wonderful experience. I had never realized that the beauty of this planet could sneak up quite so gently and take me by surprise with joy and wonder.
To the uninitiated this could just look like a pile of dirt but to my friend, the farmer, it is the result of a slow process of reclamation by the elements and is the hope of new growth to emerge again as the growing cycle begins all over again.
I am reflecting on a couple of areas right now. Last week's holiday raised many more frustrations for me than positives. In some ways as I continue to struggle with mental illness and the issues of my past that seem to keep trying to ambush me I find the picture of the compost reassuring in that even the most unlikely parts of the growing cycle can be reused to create fresh growth. The compost pictured uses the cast off shells of macadamia nuts and the resultant compost is now being used for growing pumpkins.
Sometimes as I struggle to stem the tide of depression I feel like giving up on my dream of building a faith community for unchurched people in my city, Newcastle but then I see another analogy for the compost as I drive the streets in my taxi and see the sad aspects of the brokenness of this world. As I reflect on the drinking and immorality that seems to characterize the weekends of a large number of people I am led back again and again to the redemptive thread that runs through God's interactions with this world.
Can God take the problems and struggles of unchurched people and allow them to fall into his redemptive stream and be reborn into new life in Jesus Christ? I still believe that God is in the process of redeeming me and I still believe that God can redeem unchurched people and allow them to experience new hope and new life.
Friday, September 19, 2008
On Thursday I went to a friend's property about 40 minutes from where I live. He grows macadamia nuts, pumpkins and water melon. My friend is in his early 70s and often invites me out to work with him on the farm and offer me mentoring and encouragement. In short, he is an absolute legend and a great man of God.
When we were up there this time I decided to take some photos. There is a part of the property that has been used for dirt bike riding and running old cars into the ground.
As I strolled around I came across the old wreck in the photo. I was careful looking inside because we had already found a venomous red belly black snake dozing under a log and the car seemed to be a perfect haven for reptiles until the weather warmed up some more.
I was looking around the farm and realized that instead of hunting for blog images online I could take my own (it's only taken me 4 years to figure this out). I was struck by the analogy that the car was once extremely useful and productive and possibly of great value to someone at one time but now it was rusted and abandoned and only good as a home for spiders and whatever else took a liking to the dingy, dirty interior.
When I read emerging church literature I am concerned that the institutional church is quite often depicted as the car in the photo. It was once productive and useful and was a great resource for many people but now it is a burnt out shell that can never be restored so why not build new streamlined churches complete with all of the trimmings to attract a postmodern culture.
I am aware that churches can hurt people; I know it first hand but that is no reason to stand on the sidelines and malign churches that have been and often still are in some shape or form a part of the Body of Christ on this earth. As I consider the nature of the missional faith community that is starting to become more than a dream I have been considering the faithful people across my city who seek, in various ways, big and small, to serve Christ.
Whatever I do I want to be another expression of church to a mission field that is largely untapped. I am not called to serve those who like a diet of hymns and sermons but I respect and honor those people. I am not called to the youth church scene of lights, bands and bright vibrant services but I will pray with them for the youth of our city.
When I find myself becoming proud that I am "out there doing evangelism" and I start to feel smug I consider the lives that have been profoundly touched and are still being touched in ways that sometimes only God knows. I could pull out a 101 critiques of the church but then again I can point out 101 critiques of my own world so I'd rather just put my hand to the plough and find the patch where God has called me to raise up harvesters.
By this will all men know that you are my disciples; that you love one another. How about we start loving each other today?
Friday, September 12, 2008
The photo is taken from Yosemite National Park and shows a plant emerging from the barren landscape.
This week I have been given so much encouragement to pursue my vision of reaching the unchurched pub/club subculture of Newcastle with the love and grace of God.
On Wednesday I called in to visit some unchurched friends and we got to talking about the faith community and where it is at. I shared with them an idea of getting a room in a pub and having a fortnightly gathering. At that evening I planned to show occasional dvds under the title "God at the Movies".
Alex, went over to his dvd collection and pulled out "V for Vendetta" and handed it to me and said "Let's watch this one first" and then proceeded to tell me all of the spiritual questions that the film raised. I have an eager group of young people, a heart for the city and lots of encouragement from many different quarters. I feel now that I should just meet with the people God has put before me and start building a small community.
I still have a meeting to come in October with the Baptist Union and I am connecting in with a home group at the church my wife is attending so I can look after my own spiritual needs but I feel like I just need to meet fortnightly and in the meantime get the longer term planning group going in November but really just meet and see what God wants to do.
Please continue to pray for the ministry. I am approaching pubs for a room one night a week and also talking to someone about a permanent venue. I am also considering how and when and if to reduce the nights I drive the taxi. In the midst of the winter that is Newcastle city centre God is pouring out his love and with the Spring comes the first signs of new life.
Friday, September 05, 2008
How do we manage the tension between straight out propositionalism on the one hand and liberal experientialism on the other? This is the crux of a paper that I am presenting on Tuesday 16th September at a conference at the college I am studying with.
It's tough. I find myself, by inclination, leaning more towards love, acceptance and community but wanting to address the underlying agenda that I carry with we which is saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Australia is in a very post-Church era where many people are not anti church so much as over church. I am determined to think, pray and work through this issue. What concerns me is that so many people are still writing about evangelism and the unchurched from within the safety of Christian communities. I am trying to figure this out through friendships with unchurched people. As I work towards planting a faith community I am trying to negotiate the expectations and perceptions of the local church and help people see a longer term view of belonging that leads to believing.
Any ideas or comments?
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
One of the keys to reaching unchurched people is a point of decision; that moment when we realize that we can commit to journeying with someone as they seek faith and understanding or we decide that it's all too hard and close off the conversation.
On Sunday night I had a phone call from some regular customers with the request that I take them to a local pub. Alex, my friend, also asked if I wanted to call in at McDonalds to catch up with them. McDonalds is across the road from this particular night spot so I joined these new friends for a burger and a chat.
As we neared McDonalds one of the group asked me where the plans for a church plant were at. I was only midway through the conversation when we had pulled up in the car park so I suggested we go and grab our burgers. All four of these young people protested and asked me to finish telling them about the church project.
These are exciting times as I begin to form friendships with many unchurched people in Newcastle. Alex, who I am in touch with most has agreed to be a part of the core planning group for the faith community. I am really being guided by God as the project unfolds and develops. What I thought of in terms of a church plant is evolving into something much more fluid and people-focused.
The core planning group will not commence meeting until November and in the mean time I am presenting my thoughts regarding evangelism to the unchurched at a conference at my college on September 18th and working at the main paper for the MTh which is due to be completed by early November.
My academic supervisor is encouraging me to work towards publishing these insights from the faith journey and I am journalling the conversations from the taxi for a book project that I hope to use as part of a project to equip and challenge the local church in Australia and beyond.
As the project continues and as conversations develop and change I will continue to track the progress through the blog.
Monday, September 01, 2008
Today I felt flat and discouraged and lost sight of where I was headed and felt depression creeping in so I posted a comment on Facebook. Within an hour two of my friends had emailed me. These are Facebook friends and not men that I know all that well but they both sent through encouraging and uplifting messages.
Tonight, as I was driving the taxi, one of my unchurched friends phoned me and asked if I would pick up 4 of them, drop them at McDonalds and also if I fancied popping in with them for a break and a chat.
We arrived at the carpark of McDonalds and they wanted to know where I was up to with the idea to plant a missional faith community in the city. I was keen to get a burger but they stayed in the car with me for a good 10 minutes offering encouragment and comments. Not one of the 3 blokes and a girl were Christians. Alex, 19, has agreed to be a part of the core group to dream this project into life. He is searching for God and asking deep questions of faith. Alex is keen to join the intial group and I have encouraged him to ask hard questions and challenge us to meet the needs of the unchurched of the city. I pray that as he joins with me on the journey that God has laid before me he will also come to know the magnificent grace and love of my God.
Today I came to God weary and heavy laden and he took the load from me and sent me fellow travelers to encourage me. I am so, so glad that I am a child of God.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
The image for this particular post is just how I feel right now. I don't want this blog to be about me all the time as if this is some online pity party but I do want to be honest so I can successfully navigate the journey that God has called me to and, hopefully, inspire others along the way.
Today I am led to consider Psalm 25:1-3
"To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;
in you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse."
Sometimes when we feel wretched before God and we survey the wreckage that can become our lives at times then we all that we have left is to kneel before God and bare our soul in humility. My prayer today is that I will not be put to shame. I will continue to drive a taxi, talk about God, work towards planting a missional community, be a dad and seek to be a good husband. In the midst of all of this I put my trust, once again, in God.
I took my eyes off the prize and have not always run a straight race but today I choose life and the goal to which I am called in Christ Jesus.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
There is a downside to ministering in such an environment and that is the constant spiritual and emotional bombardment. I hear and see things that I don't want to be a party to. I hear men who have zero respect for women; I listen to very open lesbians; I hear people talk about sex in all sorts of ways; I hear teens talking about their search for ecstacy pills for the night; I see people vomit; I get some women who tell me that I am good looking and my ego battles and I feel ashamed at my humanness and frailty.
Tonight I became aware of how much I need to be accountable and how much I need to get my personal spiritual life in order because the temptations to compromise in many ways is huge. I have noticed that my conversation shows signs of compromise; I swear now and then and go along with men who tell me about their visit to a brothel and what she did. I don't agree with everything but as far as they are aware I am another member of the male fraternity and I don't like that assumption or perception.
I feel called to be a Christian presence in an area where the church is not very present or relevant but I need to be strong in many ways. I feel tired tonight and ashamed of choices of I have made. I upset my wife tonight and I am not proud of that. Please pray for us as we seek to serve God, raise our kids and build a healthy marriage.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Tomorrow I meet with a representative of the Baptist Union of NSW to discuss the church plant idea and making it a reality. As I have been reflecting on the vision in readiness for the meeting I have been wrestling with the desire to introduce people to Jesus but without forcing an agenda onto seekers too soon and, thus, alienating them.
A couple of weeks ago I met with three unchurched friends and they all affirmed and supported the idea of a faith community and a place for discussion and searching. They were aged between 19 and 26 and I asked what advice they had as far as presenting topics to unchurched people. They said they didn't want to be preached at and they wanted their views to be respected and affirmed. This, by the way, was precisely their problem with institutional Christianity as they saw it; it preached dogmatically and was unwilling to allow people to hold their own views whilst journeying towards faith in God as Christians understand it.
If I talk openly with a Buddhist and even learn things from her own faith journey am I already building the monster that will turn on its creator or am I laying the path towards truth? Can I listen, humbly and sincerely, to a New Age believer and welcome them regularly into a faith community and still hold firm to my own faith position while supporting them in their journey?
I told my friends that, by virtue of my position and integrity, I had to confess to having an agenda. To give them the idea that all faith positions were valid and the discussions were merely a study of religions would have been a false starting point. I did say, though, that if someone can for months and didn't convert to Christianity I would still welcome them and affirm them as an integral part of the faith community.
As I continue on this journey I'd appreciate input. The regular readers of this blog are a consistent source of love, encouragment and challenge. I welcome and embrace your thoughts.
Friday, August 08, 2008
As I have researched this topic and the whole concept of how we do evangelism and how we interact with our stories and the stories of unchurched people I have found some intriguing material. A fascinating website is The Tangible Kingdom. This is the project of some people in Denver who wanted to connect with unchurched people. You can get a preview of the book by following the link at the bottom of the home page.
What is interesting me is that there is an untapped mission field in our urban communities of people who have a story to tell and are interested in our story if they are given the space to share their own journey. Last week I picked up a young man from a party. He was probably in his late 20s and looked fairly street wise. He wore a hooded top which in Newcastle at the moment is often a sign of a gang-type mentality. As we drove to his home the topic of my life outside taxi driving came up and I mentioned that I was an ordained Baptist pastor and my idea of a faith community.
We had about 10 minutes to go to our destination and he said "So what can you tell me about myself in the time we have left?" I didn't know quite what to say so he continued, "Is it okay for me to be out on the piss on a Saturday night?" I said that I didn't want to make any judgments but sometimes people got drunk to escape the realities of life at which he tapped his head and said "I have plenty of demons up here." He went on to briefly tell me that he thought there was more to this world than what we could see and he thought there might be something that I would call God.
As he hopped out at his house he asked for my phone number and said he would be interested in talking more about my project and more about God. I am a novice at this so don't hold me up as a model of narrative evangelism but I am finding that as I show a genuine concern and interest in people they soon open up to discuss faith and spirituality. Each person is a complex web of stories that have been knit together over a number of years and we need to be careful not to impose our values or our narrative on them too soon. As I listen and engage I am finding that unchurched people open a door at some point and invite me to find a point of connection with my story and their story. This is the heart of the project I am working through at this time.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
It seems more difficult to find the time to blog with all of the activity that life seems to generate. IF anyone wants to keep up with my prayer needs and ministry updates you can add me in Facebook and send me a message asking to join the prayer list.
My wife and I have had long discussions about how to respond to the many unchurched people that I am connecting with in the taxi. Over the last week or so I have met with one of the key church planting people for the Baptists in NSW and have another meeting in Newcastle on Friday August 15th. There is a lot of interest in my ideas for reaching a group who are well outside of the church's normal sphere of influence.
What I think is most exciting is that I met 3 unchurched friends in a pub last week and asked them for their opinions on my idea to start a faith community/discussion space for anyone interested in spirituality. They were 19, 21 and 26 and gave me great feedback, endorsed the idea and, as I found out later, began telling their friends.
My wife, Tanya, has come up with the name "Water Under The Bridge" which we are going with at the moment. I am still not sure of the exact shape of the community or details. I am going to meet with the owner of 2 pubs in the city about possibly using a room outside of the pub hours. The nature of the idea is that is fluid and collaborative and will adapt to meet the needs and questions of the community.
One of the things that I spoke to my unchurched friends about was the need to create a safe, loving space where people can feel support and nurtured. They were adamant that they did not wish to be preached at and wanted the space to explore spirituality in their own time.
I'll keep you posted both here and on Facebook but God has highlighted a need and we are talking with interested Christians about how best to meet that need in a sensitive, loving way.
Monday, July 28, 2008
I have just finished reading Don Carson's interaction with the Emergent Church phenomena and have been informed and challenged by his work.
The first thing to say is that it is an extremely well written book. If anyone needs to know how to present a well reasoned academic discussion that is both gracious and able to critique then this is a great place to start.
As far as engaging with the emerging church Carson deals with some good examples of the movement and doesn't focus solely on Brian McClaren although McClaren is well covered. There is a very good overview of the positive and negative aspects of postmodern thought as well as an effort to capture the practical meaning of postmodernism as opposed to the amorphous way in which the word is sometimes used to cover anything relatively new.
What I missed in Carson's conclusions were any mention of spiritual gifts or the demonstration of God's power that transcended human words and teaching. As I review the emerging church and ways to engage with the "post-Christian" Western world I see a lot of words and teaching and I wonder if we have moved past propositional teaching or even if there is any need to move past propositional evangelism.
Carson comes from an academic, Reformed background and although I resonated with most of the book I wanted some discussion about how postmoderns want/need to see the power of God in action as opposed to simply more and more words. I am planning to write on this topic for the long paper component of my Masters but I am interested in comments to guide my thinking.
In the many efforts of sections of the church to engage with the postmodern world I want to explore how we demonstrate God's power. I have been bolder in the taxi and have been trying to tell people about what God is like and what he does as opposed to getting knotted up in long, winding discussions about religion and truth. This is not to say that it is not important to address concerns about religion and truth claims but in doing so we can sometimes move God off the agenda and depersonalize the trinity.
Can anyone join in the discussion and help my thinking?
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Last week in the cab I took two lads in their early 20s from the pub for quite a long journey home so we had plenty of things to talk about during the ride. As I common they asked me what I had done before driving taxis and so I was able to talk about pastoral ministry. Very quickly the conversation turned to their problems with religion. They had been to church as kids, had friends who were Christians but they couldn't see any point in church and they had grown disillusioned with the Israel-Palestine conflict and the "War on Terror".
Earlier that night I had picked up another young man in his early 20s who told me that he had attended a Christian school but had moved away from his faith with, once again, a general disillusionment and apathy with regards to religion. When I picked him up he was quite drunk but still very able to have a conversation.
In both of these instances I was struck by the need to do more than simply agree with their grievances. I was happy to discuss the Middle East conflict in passing but apart from anything it is an extremely complex topic that can unnecessarily bog down a conversation. I have realized, in the taxi conversations that it is easy to wander around topics and leave the passenger feeling listened to and affirmed but with little in the way of resolution or, at the least, a challenge to think differently.
I find it easy to be agreeable and nice but have been continuing to think through what it is that Christians are to communicate. Are we called to be nice, loving people in the hope that others will be somehow infected with this "niceness" and want to find out more about God? Are we called to persuade people with the propositional facts of the gospel in the hope that they will be persuaded and want to make a Christian commitment? Or is there a middle way?
As I continue to read, write and think on this complex topic I have found a way that seems to be more satisfying to me and that is to have a high regard for the power of God. I listen, affirm and am not at all patronizing but at some point I seek to separate religion from the issue of who God is and what God is like. As I start to talk about God as a living, active being who can and will engage with us now I find that people are interested to know more. The other person may not entirely agree but they are intrigued to hear the view that God answers prayer, that God can heal people and that God can speak to us.
What I have found that people are seeking is someone to tell them that God is real because this concept contains the germ of hope, relationship and purpose. I am going to put together a longer paper on this topic but I'd be certainly interested in feedback.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Who told me that when you're a Christian marriage and relationships are supposed to be easy? Well, actually, no-one told me that but you get the impression if you set foot in a church that life is rosy back at the homestead. Most churches I have attended on a Sunday seem to be populated by copies of "The Waltons" (yes, I am showing my age - contact me if the TV illustration has gone over your head).
I have been married for over 12 years and we have gone through a fair few trials. On top of everything else our middle son has an autistic disorder and can prove to be very challenging.
We came through some difficulties in recent times with the false allegations that were made about me which resulted in us leaving our local church and my stepping down from active ministry. Recently we have been feeling that God is calling us to lead a church plant. Lo and behold we are attacked again. The temptation to stick my head in the sand, pull back from ministry and hope that it all goes away is very strong.
Right now we are struggling. For lots of reasons I am not the best husband in the world. I share this, not out of a false sense of humility, but out of honesty in order for you to pray. I believe in a real devil and in the real presence of enemy forces that seek to disrupt and pull down Christian ministries and Christian families. As I have thought through postmodern ideas I toyed with the idea that evil was a concept but looking back on prayer ministry I have done in the past and the countless "coincidences" where I seek to serve God and troubles come has made me aware of the reality of evil.
It is at this time that I need to fall back on the rock of my life which is Jesus Christ. Too often I have fallen back on habit, addiction, arguments and counseling. Some of these are not wrong but they are also not solid foundations. If I am to build a strong marriage, family and Christian ministry then all that I do must start and finish with Jesus.
I hope this makes sense. I keep planning to write something erudite but I always end up being vulnerable. Please pray. My wife is a great woman and I am very blessed. There are two sides to every story but I am prepared to accept that my part is pretty poor right now and I need wisdom and strength to move forward successfully.
Monday, July 07, 2008
We live in a world of noise and information where we are assailed with facts, figures, soundbites, advertisements, conversation and messages from all angles. In the midst of this confusion of sound we do well to discern the truth.I have noticed driving the taxi that people really do want to be listened to.
A young lady in her early 20s got in last week and I asked how her day had gone as I do most passengers. "Terrible" she replied. "It's been an awful week. Don't ask" she went on to say. "I asked the question and I don't mind what answer I get" I said. With that opening she poured out a story of betrayal at work by a colleague and by the company that she works for. She told me about the Union supporting her in a strong case and how she just wanted to be respected as a young woman in the corporate world.
The story she told me was not unfamiliar although, nevertheless, sad. What interested me was that when we arrived at her destination she sat for around 5 minutes relating this story. She was unapologetic and was glad to unburden herself. I really don't mind people talking because I say "How was your day?" expecting all sorts of answers.
I have noticed that "How are you?" is another way of saying "Hello". There is no intention behind the words in most cases. All societies have their variations but the message conveyed is that people will be polite but please don't engage with me beyond this facade of respectability. Taxis are known as modern day confessionals and I am trying to be genuine in my responses.
Take time today to listen to someone. It could well change your day for the better.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
The Emerging Church movement seeks to develop churches that are more attractive to those outside of the institutional church culture.
Many people these days are not comfortable standing and singing songs with other people or sitting through a long exposition of the Bible. Various groups have sought ways to bridge this divide and present the message of Jesus Christ in a more manageable format.
As I have reflected on this and investigated contemporary church responses to what may be called the post-Church era I have found myself uneasy at one particular aspect. It seems that some new churches may just be a response by bored, disenfranchised Christians who want to do something that they like. These Christians get together with like-minded Christians and form a new, contemporary church which they all enjoy. What has happened is that it the same Church in different clothes. To be blunt, these churches are still glorified social clubs.
What I am praying through is how to connect with the people I meet in the taxi and not creating a trendy cafe church environment for Christians who lack a stable social network. If anyone has any information on setting up a cafe church please let me know. I have sounded out the idea with non-Christians and a lapsed Anglican and have received a very positive response. One person, last week, told me he was in and I haven't got anywhere for him to be "in" yet!
Too much of what passes as Christian responses to the postmodern era is a shifting of the deck chairs on the Titanic. I don't want to rearrange a sinking ship; I want to be part of manning the life boats and discovering a new place where people can ask difficult questions, explore spirituality and journey towards Jesus without feeling judged or condemned.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
I drive a taxi in Newcastle, NSW approximately 2 hours north of Sydney. In recent month the local council have imposed a curfew so that all patrons need to be in the pub/club of their choice by 1am or else they are locked out. The pubs/clubs then stay open till 3am but no more patrons are allowed in after 1am.
This measure was supposed to be a response to fighting and other loutish behavior on the streets on Friday and Saturday nights. I suppose it has had some effect although it seems to be more about noise minimization for people who have bought trendy apartments near to the main clubbing areas of the city.
As I drive around many people ask about my own personal safety and about the different episodes that occur across the town. 2 weeks ago I was in my taxi at a rank and witnessed a brawl involving a dozen or more young men. There have been other incidents mostly involving young men in their 20s and early 30s.
The general consensus is that alcohol is not the main factor. The unknown factor is illicit drug use. I took 3 people home last night who were more than drunk and one of the passengers told me that he had quite a few pills on him. It is this addition of chemicals to the usual weekend ritual of letting off steam that, I believe, is causing the greatest difficulties.
I guess my next question is what part I can play if any in trying to arrest this decline of the values of the young people in our societies? I am not sure of my role outside that of making a living to support my family. I would like to do more than just ferry people from point A to point B but I am not sure what I can do. Any thoughts?