Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mark Driscoll and my lack of hippness

I can't spell mishinal and I don't know who Mark Driscoll is; I know...but just deal with it.

But I find myself needing to know something about Mark Driscoll. So, if I wanted to read three books he had published, or listen to three key talks he had given or read three articles he'd written (or some combination thereof), which would give me the best introduction to his 'vibe'?



Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tim Keller Manual - "the vision thing"

Back when I was doing the management consulting gig, ‘the vision thing’ was pretty important. When I got involved in pastoral ministry I discovered that churches had picked up on this too – we just didn’t do it very well (and when we tried we often seemed to chuck out large slabs of our theology, but that’s a post for another time).

I like the way Keller does the vision because it pretty much works for both the ‘me who used to be a management consultant’ and ‘the me who reads the Bible and wants to let God set the agenda’.

What is good about Keller’s? The management consultant in me loves the fact that it is:

  • Clear
  • Concrete and tangible
  • Big
  • Compelling and engaging of the imagination

The guy who reads the Bible in me loves the fact that it is:

  • About the transforming power of the gospel
  • Really an outward expression of the prayer ‘Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven’
  • Involves a clear expectation that faith bears concrete, tangible, and tasty fruit

The only thing I think is missing is that the overriding goal of this is the honour and glory of Jesus (which the rest of the manual makes clear is the think for which Keller’s heart longs).

So what is it? It is:

To see the gospel applied in such a way that it would transform the city so as
to change it spiritually, socially and culturally and through it to change our
society and the world.
This would involve change in the overall level of
civility, family structures, race and class relationships and the cultural work
being produced.

He gives concrete, tangible illustrations of what each of these (i.e. civility, family structures, race and class relationships and culture) would involve in practice (e.g. dramastically reduced crime, Ex-gay a proven and respected path, yet active homosexuals not bashed, more marriages and healthier ones, literally hundreds of community development projects, foundations for the arts producing works inspired by the revelation of Christ)

The other great thing is that when he started Redeemer, it was with a concrete, 20 yr plan to implement this vision, and then he just started doing it. He did not imagine that the mere creation of a vision counted.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Tim Keller Manual - his strategy for Sundays

One of Keller’s ‘big ideas’ is that:

"the most crucial event in the life of our church is the moment a Christian comes
to worship and says, “I want my sceptical friends to see this!"

It is not that he’s on about ‘seeker services’ where the whole thing is geared to the outsider. He has a fantastic line where he says;

"If the Sunday service and sermon are aimed primarily at evangelism, it will bore the saints. If they aim primarily at education, they will bore and confuse unbelievers. If they aim at praising the God who saves by sheer grace they will both instruct the saint and challenge the sinners."

How is it achieved then? Keller says it’s about:

  1. Worshipping as if non-Christians are present before they really are
  2. Use music and language that is ‘inclusive’ for your community
  3. Employ noble simplicity of language (not sentimental, austere, archaic or colloquial)
  4. Solve people’s problems with the gospel

As I think about our situation at St Mark’s:

  1. I’ve always worked pretty hard at 1) and the language bit of 2).
  2. I wonder what sort of music is ‘culturally inclusive’ for non-Christians living in North West Sydney. More than that, I fear that it is the music of Hillsong, which drives me nuts (I’m talking the music, rather than the lyrics, which drive me way further than ‘nuts’)
  3. I wonder if 3) is a specifically NY thing
  4. I need to think more deeply about what the problems are that are most real for people in NW Sydney.
  5. I am thankful to Peter Jensen and Richard B. Hays, who both wrote things that really helped me to think through how we do 4)
  6. There are things I wouldn’t want to change about church, even if it made it more likely that people would invite their friends – but I need to be pretty sure that’s about gospel imperative and not just my personal preference.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Poster Power?

Steve Kryger is a guy who thinks a lot about Jesus and media and who I respect. We're trying to get together to talk about the posters that are produced by Outreach Media. I'm skeptical about the value of posters (I have a vague memory of seeing some data somewhere). Does your church use them? What do you think about their value in communicating with your community?

(And the next Tim Keller Manual post is coming, it really is.)


Monday, June 15, 2009

Let us sit as men do and tell tales from the war

I had lunch with three other men involved in pastoral ministry today. We try and get together 3 or 4 time a year to encourage one another, to argue, to eat and to pray. One is a recently appointed rector, one is involved in church planting among Sydney's Chinese community and one is an Assistant Minister at one of Sydney's biggest parishes (there is a fourth who was missing today).

Life is so busy that it is always a hassle to organise but without fail I come away encouraged and thankful that I didn't miss it.

We argue strategy and tactics, sharing victories and defeats and comparing scars. Sometimes the scars are fresh. Sometimes they are inflicted by friendly fire, which is disappointing.

I'm glad I went.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Tim Keller Manual - spiritual flab

On the very first page of the Introduction to his church planting manual, Keller talks about meeting with a potential church planter and being embarrassed. He says, ‘I immediately recognised that my prayer and spiritual life would now be incapable of handling such a project. I realised I had gotten “flabby”. I repented and began renewing spiritually.’

I found it instructive that Keller’s ‘spiritual flabbiness’ occurred while he was pastoring a church, advising church planters and teaching theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. One can only assume that he was spending lots of time reading the Bible and teaching it to congregations and students. One can only assume that he was spending lots of time in activities that involved public prayer.

What was missing? You get a sense of it later in the manual:

  • Applying God’s Word into other people’s lives without investing significant, reflective time applying it into your own
  • Hungering and thirsting after measurable ministry outcomes, or the silver bullet program, or the perfect ministry model, or whatever else is going to impress the troops or the peers, rather than hungering and thirsting after righteousness before anything else
  • Going through the motion of prayer without the painfully honest, extensive, passionate speaking to God that is appropriate because of who God actually is and who we are before him

For me personally, these are things that require me to invest chunks of quiet, focused, reflective time. These can feel self-indulgent because they are not a luxury available to many in our congregations who work full time as plumbers or accountants. But if I want to be able to serve Christ by functioning as a role model for his sheep, these things are necessary – at least they are for me.

Keller’s honesty has encouraged me to do some ‘preventative maintenance’. One step is to go through the diary and on the weeks where I am not preaching try to devote a whole day to Bible reading, reflection and prayer that is primarily about God and me; letting God’s word work me over in a more intense and reflective way, ‘praying until I pray’.

Are there other, better ways to avoid that spiritual flabbiness?


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tim Keller Manual - A frustrating Start

The first part of Keller's church planting manual is a potted history of his church Redeemer Presbyterian. At one level I found it really frustrating; the same experience I had when I read Mark Driscoll's Confessions of a Reformission Rev some time ago.

It's frustrating firstly because I find myself wishing I had their gifts, rather than the ones God has given me. As I read about his planning and pre-plant research I covet Keller's ability to 'see' into the heart of a culture and his ability to find just the right words and approaches to communicate into that culture.

It's frustrating because it reminds me that when you're starting from scratch it is so much easier to get certain things done (despite other massive challenges) and sometimes I miss that. When we started VHCC everyone was on the same page, everyone had bought into the same vision and expectations. There were no passengers, only crew. There was no baggage, there was no cultural change that needed to be affected because you were starting from scratch. Keller got to shape a culture from the ground up with a handful of highly motivated gospel-focussed individuals. He had some stumbles (like having only 3 'growth groups' despite Sunday attendence of 500 for a couple of years), but there was no traditions, so they were easier to fix.

It's frustrating because I find myself constantly going 'what can I copy', but that isn't the way the world works. Keller would bomb in Seattle, Driscoll would bomb in New York. You can't just copy someone elses model and think you will reproduce their history. There is plenty I can learn from Keller's work, but at the end of the day I have to do the hard work of understanding my context, and who God has made me and what he wants to achieve with the bundle of strengths and weaknesses that I am and the bundle of strengths and weaknesses that St Mark's is.

For all that, ultimately reading this potted history of Redeemer is more encouraging than frustrating because God took a balding, nerdish academic who considered himself 'spiritually flabby' (I'll talk a bit about that in the next post) and used him to bring a large number of people to a vibrant faith in Christ. It is encouraging because it is a reminder that our God can do whatever he wants to do. It is encouraging that he could do it in our part of the world through us. But it is also just encouraging that he has done it in that part of the world with Keller.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Can anything good come out of New York?

I ordered a copy of the ‘Church Planter Manual’ from the Redeemer Church Planting Centre (Tim Keller’s show) and it arrived yesterday.

When I led the team starting Valley Heights Community Church at Springwood I’m not sure I’d even heard of Keller. I still haven’t listened to any of his preaching (I’m a bit technologically challenged; I blog, but I still don’t own an ipod) but I read The Reason for God and watched his thing at the Google workshop and have read a few articles that he wrote. I loved the personal humility and respect for other people that came through in each of them and the clarity and structure of his approach to communication.

Somewhere online I came across the table of contents of his Church Planting Manual. I’m not looking to plant new churches yet out of St Mark’s; all my thinking at the moment is about seeking God’s renewing of a church that is looking to see some stronger growth. And there seemed to be stuff in that table of contents that would be helpful to that context as well.

The little Aussie dollar was up at the time so I bought it.

I’ve just read the Preface, which says that there are 3 key principles running through the book:

  1. The gospel is ‘the power of God unto church planting’, as well as unto salvation. You’ve got to like stuff that starts with the idea that unique and transforming gospel is the key. The next question is always, ‘what do they understand the gospel to be’? But I’ve already got a sense of that from The Reason for God.

  2. Effective ministry requires a creative ministry model that honours both the realities of the context and the gifts of its leaders. I used to be a management consultant and this reminded me a bit of consultant speak; but apparently there’s an extended discussion of it in Part I and II so by the end hopefully it will have moved from ‘vague and abstract’ to ‘concrete and understandable’ for me. I do wonder at this stage why effective ministry only depends on the gifts of the leaders and not the gifts of the followers.

  3. Churches grow best when their aim is not church growth but 'the peace of the city'. I presume as I read on that I will discover that both of those aims are subordinate to the aim of glorifying God. And I will be interested to read Keller’s take on what serving the peace of the city looks like. I am now thinking about what ‘serving the peace of the suburbs’ might involve.

Have other people read this manual, or used it in their own church planting efforts (on the assumption that someone is reading my new blog)?

And I picked my title to see if Justin Moffat is reading.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What ministry teams can learn from watching The West Wing.

I have watched all seven series of The West Wing from beginning to end four times. I love it. But The West Wing is not just great entertainment. It is also pretty instructive. Specifically I think the way the Bartlett White House functions illustrates some pretty valuable concepts for ministry teams. And do you know what one of the most valuable is? The value of creative conflict within a team.

Josh, Toby, CJ and the rest argue with one another all the time. They argue in front of the President. If Toby says something and Josh disagree with it he just says so and then he explain why. Then they might argue about it for a while and someone else might chime in. There might be some passion and heat in the argument. Eventually, whoever actually has responsibility for the decision makes it, and they all line up behind it, whether they were in favour of it or not. Nobody is offended that their view doesn’t prevail. Nobody feels it is wrong for them to openly hold a view that contradicts anybody else’s (or everybody else’s). People don’t withdraw and change the subject when heat and passion enters the discussion.

Their willingness to argue passionately with one another help to ensure that all the strengths and weaknesses of an idea or an initiative are considered; that risks and opportunities are identified. The result is better decisions more effectively implemented and generally made more quickly.
It works because they are committed to a common cause which they consider noble and important and because they all have a great respect for one another and a strong sense of loyalty to their team.

Does our ministry culture allow us to function in that way? Do the people on our teams clam up at the first sign of heat in a discussion? Do we run from conflict and hence miss opportunities for iron to sharpen iron? How do we react when our ideas are questioned or challenged or when the final decision doesn’t go our way?

How can I foster this sort of creative conflict in teams which I lead or am a part of? Some of the things I remember from my corporate days seem relevant to ministry teams too.

  • Our team needs to spend more ‘wasted time’ together to strengthen the relational bonds that create trust that facilitates constructive conflict
  • I’m thinking of doing a simple ‘personality style’ exercise that will give us a chance to talk about our natural inclinations to conflict and the value of creative conflict.
  • In meetings like Parish Council, we can specifically inviting people to come up with the ‘opposing argument’ to whatever the emerging consensus is.
  • I must of course model this stuff myself rather than avoiding conflict.
  • Teaching people that their view is respected even if it doesn’t prevail. I often tell people, ‘I really want your view of this, so long as you can handle it if I end up doing the opposite to what you suggest’. So far the results have been positive.

I’m sure there are better ideas out there and I’d love to hear them (or even argue about them!)


Monday, June 8, 2009

Things I'd like to blog on

I've already got a list of things that I'd like to blog on. I figured if I put the list here then at least I couldn't lose it. Things I want to blog on include:

  • Narrative Criticism
  • Visitation
  • Why ministry teams should watch the West Wing
  • Children's talks
  • Design vs graphic design
  • Youth ministry
  • How we do the Lord's Supper.
  • Faith in John's gospel
  • The stress of delegation


You've got to start somewhere.

I have resisted the urge to blog for a while.

I didn't think it was a good idea because:

  • I worried that the real motivation was pride or vanity. God's not real big on pride or vanity.
  • I might confuse it with 'real work' and waste time that could be better spent (like on visitation or praying or exercising).
  • I suspected I might run out of things worth saying, but not stop saying things.
  • I can do some of this stuff at

In the end I've decided to do it for the following reasons:

  • It raises the profile of St Mark's Penannt Hills. St Mark's doesn't have much of a profile in the diocese. Profile is important for reasons other than vanity and pride. It makes it easier to get people to join your ministry team if they've, you know, heard of you. It makes it more likely that a speaker will accept an invite to speak at your event. It means that when Christians move into your area they are more likely to put you on their 'church shopping' list.
  • It lets me test ideas that don't belong on The church website is designed for people who are investigating coming along to our church. They don't need to read stuff full of Christian jargon or focused on theological ideas or questions of ministry practice. But I'd like a place where I can subject some of my ideas to a bit of 'theological darwinism'; throw them out there and see what others think so that the weak ideas die off and the strong ones prevail.
  • Even if the motive is vanity the outcome is likely to be humility. I am pretty sure that reading other people's comments on my thoughts is going to be a humbling experience.