Archive for July, 2020

What Have We Learned?

Posted: July 28, 2020 in Uncategorized

It is in that first moment, when we are threatened by the vastness and the mystery, when we find God. He is active throughout the process, but he is never more real to us than in the place of desperate impossibility, when we feel there is no way to do what he has sent us to do. Like the children we are, we cry out. If bravado moves us to the threshold, it is prayer alone that carries us into the house. The nothingness of starting something new, I would come to believe, is the essence of discipleship.

It is in that first moment, when we are threatened by the vastness and the mystery, when we find God. He is active throughout the process, but he is never more real to us than in the place of desperate impossibility, when we feel there is no way to do what he has sent us to do. Like the children we are, we cry out. If bravado moves us to the threshold, it is prayer alone that carries us into the house. The nothingness of starting something new, I would come to believe, is the essence of discipleship.

Sanders, Brian. Underground Church (Exponential Series) (p. 28). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. 

I attended a function in the weekend that was organised to provide information about The Neighbourhood Hub. The idea was based on a 10-year-old experiment carried out in Florida called the Underground Church and is focussed on the establishment of a network of microchurches.

The function was well attended which immediately indicated that it hit a nerve in relation to how people view the church today, and their desire to see something new in the way we establish and grow churches into the future. 

Check out my observations of the day on my YouTube channel. Oh, and by the way, if you subscribe to my channel you can keep up with future newscasts. There are more in the can, as they say in the industry!!

I am delighted to see creativity in the way we think about church, and I have observed that such creativity is occurring around the world. It’s been happening for a while, but I sense there is a greater maturity in this exploration of fresh expressions of church now than was evident in the Emerging Church movement a decade or so back. 

One of the questions that arises is how you describe the church. It’s probably been the view of many in the past that the existence of the sacraments is what marks a church, as opposed to a ministry or a programme. Brian Sanders of the Underground Church talks about church as being the intersection of three circles, worship, mission and community. 

Others have suggested it is about relationships. Essentially it is the same three areas, a relationship with God, relationships within the Body, and a relationship with the wider community, all focussed upon Jesus.

I love this conversation and the willingness there is to explore what church should really be like and how we can move into the future. I believe that COVID-19 has accelerated some of this discussion, but I can’t help thinking that we were having the same conversations 30 years ago.

In fact I remember reading this copy of Time magazine in my school library in 1971 (that’s more than 30 years ago) and being excited that all of a sudden my Christian faith was now “cool”. I devoured everything about the Jesus revolution and it was probably that sense of excitement in a movement focussed around Jesus that led me to eventually becoming a pastor. Somehow, like many before us, we’ve been disillusioned by Jesus movements, then we got bogged down in running organisations. Perhaps we need to be reminded of the words that were repeated many times in the last book of the Bible: Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.

What Makes You Happy?

Posted: July 20, 2020 in Uncategorized

The ABC recently had a focus on mental health and invited its listeners to nominate their favourite feel-good music. At the end of the nomination period our national broadcaster had a playlist of the top-feel good songs, compiled from many hundreds of nominations.

Leading the list of “Good Vibrations – the songs that make you happy”, was Katrina and the Waves, 1983 hit, Walking on Sunshine. I didn’t nominate a song, but if I had it probably would have been the Dire Straits hit, “Sultans of Swing”. That apparently didn’t make the list but for me it releases more dopamine than John Paul Young’s “Love is in the Air” which came in at about no.20

Many academic studies have shown how important music is in impacting our brain function and eliciting various emotional responses including happiness. For most of us, it doesn’t require an academic study to press the play button and to know how it feels to listen to our favourite music.

The search for happiness leads us in all sorts of directions, but there are times when even our favourite song can’t pull us out of that dark place we have fallen into. Most people who are looking for happy song won’t pull out their favourite Leonard Cohen album, but Cohen may have hit the nail on the head in his “Anthem” when he said, “there’s a crack in everything, and that’s how the light gets in”.

The Biblical writer, James put it this way: When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  James certainly saw the opportunity for the light to shine through the smallest crack and dispel the darkness of hopelessness.

One of the leading evangelical theologians of the 20th century, J.I. Packer passed away a few days ago, Packer is quoted as having said: “The way to be truly happy is to be truly human, and the way to be truly human is to be truly godly.”

Keep playing your favourite happy songs, enjoy the garden and the open air, play a sport, ride the waves and read a book. Do all you can to enjoy life and find comfort from those things that make you happy. But remember that happiness doesn’t usually appear in the quest for happiness, but in the quest for something much greater. 

Curiouser and Curiouser

Posted: July 16, 2020 in Uncategorized
Curioser and Curioser: John Tennial, Alice at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, illustration for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvellous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.” – Albert Einstein. 

Curiosity leads to all sorts of things, and it was curiosity that prompted me to meet with a range of church leaders to discover what they may have learned during the isolation period that was graciously impressed upon us by COVID-19. If you haven’t already seen the results of that check out my video here. 

Curiosity has also prompted me to look further afield in the quest to discover how the church may become more nimble in its ability to change and adapt, more simple in its outlook and more directly focussed on Jesus. This week I am involved with two webinars, one from the US and one from the UK that are discussing those things and reflecting on the church of the future.

The fascinating thing is that both webinars from different parts of the world are following the same theme and I have a sense from my own conversations, that God is creating a heart for change around the world. There is a recognition that we need to look beyond traditional methods, but to engage in this search with a heart for Jesus. We are not seeking to discard the inherited church but to see how fresh expressions of church can emerge from both within the church and within the wider community.

There is a need for us to be value the lessons of the inherited church, to be inspired again by the New Testament and the words of Jesus, to be challenged by our ever-changing context, then to discover what it means to be the authentic church in our age. 

The trouble with curiosity is that it sometimes leads to places that Alice (that’s Alice in Wonderland) said are curiouser and curiouser. In this morning’s webinar we were reminded that 85% of the universe is made up of dark matter. There is a vast unknowing and while scientists are always trying to know more there’s still more unknown than known.

While those of us in “churchland” have been taught in never-ending workshops and training sessions how to do ministry more effectively and how to be more proficient at management and control of circumstances, it’s good to be reminded that most of what we do is made up of “dark matter”. There is a vast unknowing and as we venture into this unknowing without trying to control, we discover that God is in fact in control.

It reminds me of the words of the apostle Paul: And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17-19.


If you live in Perth, Western Australia there’s an opportunity to discover how some people have already started that journey in curiosity. The Neighbourhood Hub is holding a free information day, which will include an expo of some cutting edge ministries, at John McGrath Hall, 97 Hensman Street, South Perth from 12 noon till 2pm, on Saturday July 25. I’d love to see you there.

“Knepp Estate is one of the most exciting wildlife conservation projects in the UK, and indeed in Europe. If we can bring back nature at this scale and pace just 16 miles from Gatwick airport we can do it anywhere. I’ve seen it. It’s truly wonderful, and it fills me with hope.” Professor Sir John Lawton, author of the 2010 Making Space for Nature report.

In 2000 a decision was made to sell the dairy herd and farm machinery at the unprofitable Knepp Home Farm in West Sussex, England and put the 3500 acre estate out to contract. Twenty years on the Knepp Wilding project is a leading light in the conservation movement. The Knepp Wilding website describes “astonishing wildlife successes” and talks about the project offering “solutions for some of our most pressing problems – like soil restoration, flood mitigation, water and air purification, pollinating insects and carbon sequestration.”

It sounds like I’m just reporting on a successful conservation project, but the story goes further. Last year in the Church Missionary Society Pioneer Mission website, Paul Bradbury drew on the achievements at the Knepp Estate and put forward the concept of “wilding the church”.

Bradbury put it like this: “The unfolding story of the Knepp estate might be read as a parable for the church in the UK. We use methods that in many contexts are no longer fruitful or sustainable, and others which are resource intensive and (if not mechanistic, then) programmatic. Yet, in many ways we too are farming in the old ways on land which is now marginal, amalgamating parishes in the hope that perhaps we can find a way out of decline. We too need to stop and deeply listen to our context. When our machines have stopped and the dust settled we may just be able to discern the nature of the soil at our feet.”

As the baseline was changed in the Knepp Estate, surprise was a constant experience. Species that people thought had gone, came back and the soil that had seemed to be unproductive sprang into life. There is a picture here of the surprise that comes from experiencing the Holy Spirit at work in the life of the church and the wider community when we listen and observe his presence.

Perhaps there is a place for a more “wild theology” – a changing of the baseline – a place where we stop trying to organise, manufacture, or programmatise the work of God and to allow the Spirit to move in fresh ways that will surprise us again and again. Perhaps there is a place for us to learn how to participate in the life of the Spirit who is already at work in the world and as Bradbury says to become “observers, enablers and curators”; to be facilitators of the vision of the Spirit. 

What do you think?

What Follows Isolation?

Posted: July 9, 2020 in Uncategorized

Over the last few months I have been reflecting on what the church may look like post-COVID-19. I took the opportunity to talk to a range of church leaders to hear their thoughts and the result of this investigation is in a short video. CHECK IT OUT HERE

It seemed that since isolation was such an important theme it was appropriate to “top and tail” the video with a scene from the Pilbara region of WA. It also coincided nicely with a visit to our Pilbara family as soon as the regional boundaries were opened.

As you would expect there was plenty of variety in the approach of different church leaders, but there were some themes that came through to me. I got the sense from these conversations that churches in the future would need to be simpler, more agile and more directly focussed on Jesus. ______________________________________________________________________________

It is time we stopped imagining the church as something we have to invite people into and see it as something that is blessed to be broken and given to the world. From Microchurches: A Smaller Way by Brian Sanders


Ten or so hears ago I was avidly reading books about the “emerging” and “emergent” church (apparently there’s a difference). Since then some of these movements have fallen by the wayside and some have just become “emergencies”. Nevertheless the desire to see the development of fresh expressions of church has matured in some way over the years and I am holding out hope for the future.

Next week, as a result of my desire to investigate some of these issues further, I will be participating in some online workshops initiated in both the UK and USA. It seems to me that we can no longer depend on the inherited church models as the only way to bring about God’s Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven”, and I’m keen to sharpen my thinking on this topic.

COVID-19 has forced many churches to reflect more deeply on whether our focus on the weekly gathering needs to be as high on our list of priorities as it has become. It would seem that the original intent to worship God and to prepare ourselves for mission has become an end in itself and the heart of the Gospel has been lost.

Watch this space as I dig deeper into how we can develop a fresher and simpler expression of church in the future.

(If you haven’t seen my video, COVID and the Church, CLICK HERE to see it on YouTube)

The West Aussie Wave

Posted: July 1, 2020 in Uncategorized
Susannah Carr from The West’s and Channel Seven’s campaign :The West Aussie Wave” Picture: Daniel Wilkins


We’ve just come back from a road trip to the north west of the state and observed that since the removal of regional borders, the tourist traffic has started.

I grew up in the bush and it was pretty normal in “the olden days” to wave to other road users, and you could be sure the wave would be returned.

But although we waved at almost every vehicle heading the opposite direction to us, there were very few people who waved back. Rather, everyone seemed to be anxious to get to wherever they were going without paying too much attention to other road users.

Were we more friendly “back then” or were there simply fewer vehicles on the road resulting in greater camaraderie between intrepid regional travellers?

The odd thing is that there is a television newspaper campaign underway to bring back what the promoters are proudly calling “The West Aussie Wave”.

Launching the campaign, Police and Road Safety Minister Michelle Roberts said it aimed to reduce serious and fatal crashes, some of which are caused by impatience and road rage. 

“Take a different attitude to your fellow drivers on the road and show them some courtesy. Give them a wave — it costs nothing,” Ms Roberts said.

It’s funny that we have to run an advertising campaign to encourage people to be more courteous, but my observation from waving to motorists along the North West Coastal Highway is that the ad campaign isn’t working.

In an age in which most people have social media accounts that encourage people to have as many friends as possible, there seems to be a shortage of friendliness, not just on the road but in many circumstances.

I think we need to spend a little more time developing friendliness. Sure, waving to other motorists is a nice idea, but we can probably add to that (without the benefit of an ad campaign) by developing an attitude of friendliness, kindness and courtesy that flows through every part of life.

Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland, certainly wasn’t in wonderland when he said “courtesy is a small act but it packs a mighty wallop”.