Archive for November, 2009

Hearts and minds

That’s what we’re after for Jesus’ sake, and the battle is hard. Not least because of the taken-for-granted assumptions of our culture.

I’ve submitted a letter to the SMH, replying to a letter by a secularist.

In asserting that religious organisations should not be tax exempt because religion is private, Max Wallace (Letters 21/11), makes a classic category error. He muddles up personal and private.

Of course religion is profoundly personal, both in the sense that people are entitled to form their own religious views, and that those views lead to all sorts of personal decisions and commitments.

But that is not remotely the same thing as saying religion is private. A good way to think of religion is as a set of answers to the big questions – what is this world, it’s origin and destiny? Who am I, and how should I live? What’s wrong with the world and with us, and how can it be fixed? And as soon as it’s put like that, it’s obvious that all religions are far from private, and instead necessarily have public ramifications.

Christianity has one set of answers to these questions, Scientology another, and of course secular humanism another (even if it pretends it’s above it all). The fact is, every one of us is religious, at least if you think about more than the next pay check or party.

There may be good reasons not apply tax exemp status to religious organisations, but the simplistic assertion that religion is private is not one of them.

Of course, not much chance that it will get in, but the original letter was sufficiently ire-making, that I couldn’t let it rest.


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Sometimes, things make intuitive sense. The Proverbs are full of this kind of sense – work hard: do well, etc.


from flickr by *galaad*

However, quite often, the way things work out is counter-intuitive. The paradox of structured freedom is like that.


The paradox centers around the challenge of maximising the involvement of church members in the life, ministry and mission of the church. The National Church Life Survey says that this is the single most significant weakness in Anglican churches.

Intuitively, you might think that the best way to do that is to reduce structure to a minimum, to simply get out of people’s way and encourage them to take initiative.

But I don’t think it works like that. The paradox of structured freedom is that for people to have maximum freedom to use their gifts in the mission of the church, there needs to be a degree of structure. Too little structure, and the pathway into – and support of – member ministry is too elusive. Too much structure and it becomes bogged down in red tape.

The way we are trying to address this at CCIW goes like this.

  • ministry comes in 2 sorts – programs (ongoing) and projects (time limited). There are 2 sorts of projects – ministry projects (carols by candlelight etc)  and infrastructure projects (paint the hall). There are also tasks, which are smaller in scale than programs and projects and which can be done by individuals. Programs and projects should be run by teams.
  • we are fairly used to programs being run by teams with a leader, and fairly good at recruiting for those teams/leadership roles. My observation is that we are not so good on the project side. And yet, heaps of church life comes in the form of projects, and it can be a great way for people to inject their gifts into the mix.
  • so, we make sure we have a quarterly off-site staff meeting, which plans ministry projects 1 quarter (ideally 2 or more quarters – we’re working on it – in advance). The parallel for infrastructure projects is at Parish Council.
  • every project has 2 structural elements. First, a link person into the ‘place of power’; that is, the place of final decision making authority, the place from whom the delegation has come in the first instance.  For ministry projects, that is the staff team, for infrastructure projects, that is the Parish Council. If there’s no link person, then the project will often be underpowered and frustrating to those involved, or possibly go ‘rogue’. The link person doesn’t run the project, but rather, provides links to other members who do run the project – the more links, the more member-run projects. Not having links – say for example, wardens always being the ones who run infrastructure projects – is a key reason both why we get less done than we might, and there are fewer people involved than there might be. So, the product of the off-site is a list of projects in one column, with staff link people in another column next to it, and then a a member who is the project leader in the 3rd column. It;’s the third column that counts!
  • The second structural element is a project brief. This is a statement of the goals, budget, timeframe and other parameters of the project. The brief is an essential tool for ensuring that the project team has as clear as possible sense of the actual task at hand, and the boundaries on it. Having a brief is profoundly empowering. Getting good at writing briefs is a crucial skill for maximising member involvement.
  • the staff meeting and the wardens / Parish Council meeting then spend a fair proportion of time resourcing the different projects through the various link people.

We’re still working it out, but I’m hopeful that we will find our way through the paradox of structured freedom.

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In his article on God’s wrath, Carson quote from Christian Smith’s book, Soul Searching, in relation to the wrath-less god of pop Christianity.

5 features constitute this religion

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth
  2. God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions
  3. The central goal of life is ot be happy and to feel good about oneself
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

I thought this was a nice summary, and of course, there is no place for the wrath of God in such a scheme (nor any response to evil).

So, do you know any MTD’s? Joe Hockey is waiting to be elected President of the group!

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Student minister positions

Any theological / Bible college students who’d like to talk about a student minster position for next year, feel free to drop me a line.

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Owning the wrath of God

Still pursuing my rekindled love of reading theology, I have started on an article by Don Carson on the wrath of God.

I was a bit naughty and skipped to the end. He has 4 concluding practical implications:

From flickr by yajgraphics

  1. There is a sense in which we should be wrathful as God is wrathful (Rom 12.9: “Hate what is evil”)
  2. The wrath of God enhances our grasp of God’s love, it does not diminish it.
  3. There must be some sense in which God is praised for his wrath (rather than evoke embarrassment)
  4. We should shed tears. Carson tells the account of a Jewish-Christian believer on a radio panel, who was asked whether anyone could be saved apart from Christ. His ethnic background was known, and so when it was his turn to speak, the radio program host baited him by asking if he thought his fellow Jews could be saved apart from Christ. Carson tells of how “This Christian brother began to weep, and then to sob quietly, uncontrollably. After a minute or two, the host said he had never heard a more compelling reason to become a Christian.

This is all very helpful, and I’m looking forward to reading what comes first!

At the same time, I wonder whether these conclusions could be strengthened – yes, you guessed it – by reference to the way that the wrath of God is a thing to be rejoice d in precisely because it is God’s holy response to all that is evil and destructive of life.

I’m currently on a minor prophets kick in my devotions, and am up to Nahum. Cop this for the way to start a prophecy:

A jealous and avenging God is the Lord, the Lord is avenging and wrathful. The Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries, and rages against his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger, but great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.

And Nahum goes on to speak these words of encouragement, to those who were suffering great evil at the hands of Assyria. It’s in the furnace that the wrath of God makes most sense!

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It’s so good to see clear Christian articles in the central space of the SMH. Great work by the Dean, Phillip Jensen for taking the initiative to write the article and get it published.

And he does a great job of explaining and exposing the views of Joe Hockey.


from flickr by designldg

Which is why it’s such a shame that he seems to drop the ball over the line.

Just as Hockey’s pale, anaemic religion is clear for all to see, the piece seems to veer off along a ‘we’re right and you’re not’ path – highlighting the mutually exclusive teachings of Christianity and Islam, and the way that churches that take Scripture seriously are growing, along with some bare assertions about the heart of Christianity.

The problem is that, though those things are true of course, they don’t actually show why it matters that Hockey’s hokey moralism be opposed for the feeble thing it is.

And it matters precisely because religion-as-niceness has nothing to say in the face of real evil – other than bleet ‘be nicer’. This is part of the great apologetic significance of the cross and resurrection – evil is real (in a sense, although that’s another story), no pretending, and God-in-Christ overcomes evil with good by absorbing that evil in himself, and rises to new life in victory and glory. And so we Christians can name evil for what it is, entrust ourselves to the glory to come, while doing everything in our power now to walk in the footsteps of Christ in overcoming evil with good.

I wonder whether 2 things are going on here.

  • First, the article feels like a modernist response to a post-modern position – a response which is strong on it own terms, but in the end is speaking a different language.
  • Second, and related, Hockey’s piece is sheerly individualistic in nature – that is part of its weakness – and requires a response that highlights the cosmic nature of sin and evil – and the cross; but the response is also couched in individualistic terms.

Of course, it’s easy to snipe from the sidelines. It’s excellent that the issues are front and center in the public square.

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I’ve been thinking further about the basis on which ministers should be paid.

It seems to me that there are only 3 approaches:

  1. the ‘cost to live’ principle – that is, pay what is needed to free them up for ministry
  2. the ‘responsibility’ principle – that is, pay them in some manner comensurate with the responsibility bourne
  3. the ‘free market’ principle – pay them whatever it takes to get them to come to the church and keep them there.

The truth is that none of them work perfectly.

The free market principle leads to perversions in the nature of the ministry done – never to be a ‘pretext for greed’.

The cost of living principle simply breaks down when you ask, ‘cost of whose living?’ Every minister’s situation, and therefore cost of living will be different – a family with 7 kids has a greater cost of living than a couple without children where the wife works, and yet the large family may have a $10M bank balance, and the childless couple may be financially caring for 4 aged parents; one minster may have bought a holiday house, which is then part of his cost of living, yet hardly seems to warrant an increased salary etc. Unless we want to go down the track of stipulating scales for every personal circumstance, and then investigating them (which seems silly), it strikes me that behind the simple statement ‘free them up for ministry’ is a pandora’s box of problems.

Which leaves the responsibility principle. I think this is the least problematic. It has the significant advantage of being based in justice – the same pay for the same job, different pay for different job. It also enacts what used to be called ‘the charitable assumption’; namely, that if a minister has more than he needs, it’s his responsibility (which he is trusted to do) to be generous with it through his giving, not the church’s job to not give it to him in the first place.

One way to do this is to find an award for a comparable responsibility (say department head in a school), and peg the minister’s stipend to that. Of course, account will need to be taken of ministry fringe benefits, such as the house etc.

The more I’ve thought about this, the clearer it has become to me that the least bad option is the best that will be available.

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