- I said ‘Do you ever wish you were a chicken?’ to illustrate a point on Romans 5:12–21 sermon for a Uni Fellowship of Christians sermon this morning… and now I think that’s the only thing people will remember from the whole sermon. Illustration fail 101.
- A provocative post from Dave McDonald . I have mixed emotions about his mixed emotions. He is right in the warning against flippancy. But I think black humour has a place in denouncing sin too.
- Another one from Dave McDonald: Great little bit of recent church history: the planting of Crossroads Christian Church in Canberra. Touches on independently governed churches and the relationship between church and parachurch.
- Claire Smith talks about ‘feminism'(s). Helpful pulling apart various threads, even if you don’t agree with her conclusions about using the label or joining the movement.
- My recent sermon on Romans 9-11
- “Women: you don’t need me, a male preacher, to GIVE you dignity. It’s already yours”. Andrew Heard on womanhood.
- WOW! Could this be THE video we should all share on the “What is Christianity?” page of our websites? Beautiful and solid theology.
Sorry for such sporadic blogging this year… I have a blog post in the wings all about what things get squeezed to the periphery when you take on new work, or lose staff, and how this is kind of a natural and healthy kind of way to be more focused and efficient. And sadly: the Christian Reflections blog goes extinct in the face of this kind of productivity natural selection.
Anyway, here’s a roundup from the last few months’ tweets:
- Generous longform ABC article about a church planter assessed and coached through Geneva Push.
- My recent Uni Fellowship of Christians apologetic sermon-lecture responding to the comment ‘I don’t mind Jesus, but I hate the apostle Paul’
- It’s right to oppose Gay Conversion Therapy… depending in what you mean by GCT
- Some pretty sharp and useful critique of the Statement On Social Justice
- Rory Shiner at FIEC Conference on evangelistic optimism.
- A good warning here! “Your organisation might be plateaued if…”
- Another great article from Manager Tools! I can totally relate to this. It’s why often talking something through with someone else helps me solve my own problem while they listen in!
What does your church/ministry staff do in terms of social events? How many events involve partners of staff? How many involve kids? Especially as a church staff team gets bigger, and even more so once there are part-time staff involved, this can get very difficult to organise and accommodation and afford!
Personally this isn’t my ‘love language’. I’m more of a ‘when the work gets done, people feel looked after’ person than a ‘when people feel looked after, the work gets done’. But I realise that others are not like me and this is an important thing for them. I also realise that even for those, like me, who don’t gravitate towards this by way of preference, it can still have very positive effects for our relationships and experience of the team.
I asked a bunch of friends from a range of multi-staff churches and parachurches around the country what they do. I was especially interested in:
- What do you do as an entire staff team… and what do you do as sub-teams (whether ministry team areas or senior staff vs apprentices)?
- What do you do with staff only? What do you do with staff and their partners? What do you do with staff and partners and kids?
- Do you do it in a home/church building/park? Or at a restaurant?
- Who pays? Is it a potluck thing? Or split the bill? Or is it in the ministry budget for the year?
- Is there any formal component?
If you are only used to one particular approach to these things, and that seems like the ‘normal’ and ‘right’ way to do things you might be surprised how much variety there was among the answers! And how many of the answers were in flux ‘We’re not sure what we’ll do next year’ and ‘I’m not sure if it’s working’ etc.
It’s an interesting thing to stop and think about. Something worth pondering as we evaluate this from time to time is the purpose and value of the time is. What the very clear and concrete value is… and what is the less tangible ‘This is an expression of an underlying principle or core value that we want to embody and express”.
Also worth pondering is how much time, money and energy is worth putting into this? Is there a point where extra time and money produces little tangible benefit in terms of relationships, trust, morale, good will or effectiveness?
Lastly, especially with ‘everybody all in together’ it’s tricky to know what to think about this. Especially when the teams and their families begin to exceed 20 people. At what point does this become symbolic and sentimental? How often and in what context is this worth engineering?
Some striking things:
- Everyone, no matter what their personal preference, recognises the value of some staff social stuff, especially at the end of the year.
- There was a lot of diversity: not everyone does overnight planning retreats, some go out to restaurants but others do BBQs, not all have staff-and-partners things and not all have whole-families-things, several did some staff at a smaller level than the entire staff team.
- One church budgets for all the transport, accommodation and food for 1) Staff and their partners to go on an annual retreat 2) Staff, partners and kids to have a family fun day (or weekend) and 3) Staff to have an offsite conference.
- Several teams plan for multiple types of dinners and social events throughout the year.
- Especially for those who LOVE this kind of stuff, it’s worth taking the time to consider those who don’t. For some on our staff teams these things “hidden costs” of the work: it asks more of their (and their family’s) time, more sort-of-optional-but-not-really additional financial expense, more babysitter goodwill, and more child wrangling.
One standout comment about why one staff leader likes having something that the kids are present at:
- I want kids to feel like mum or dad working for church is a win.
- I wanna meet and know the kids of my staff team.
- I want the spouse and kids to hear the “presidential thank yous” so they know their dad/mum/husband/site is valued at church. Often they take home the struggles but don’t pass on the encouragements.
Super keen to hear your thoughts, experiences, insights, preferences etc etc
Appendix: the cultural blindspot of theologically justified ministry practices and preferences
- A particular sticking point for cultural adjustment and ministry effectiveness is rigorously thought-through ministry practices.
- Traditionalists, whether ‘high’ or ‘low’ church often have very rigorous theological or ethical reasons for their various practices and traditions, that make them unwilling to adjust or change for the sake of adjusting to a new cultural context or for some practical purpose.
- Examples might include:
- No musical accompaniment, only organ, simple acoustic music, full band (and how loud the full band is!)
- Wearing suit and tie to church meeting, wearing smart casual, wearing shorts and thongs.
- Sombre ‘reverant’ demeanour, casual but ‘discerning’ demeanour, effervescent and raising hands while singing.
- Preacher in pulpit in clothes that convey seriousness of the role, slightly polished preacher in casual clothes on a stage, self-effacing preacher on the flat level with the congregation interacting with the congregation.
- This is clear to us when we are analysing ‘old traditions’, but the same thing can happen with new patterns of ministry practice that we have arrived at through theological reflection… but which are not themselves necessarily biblical.
- In this process is that we can ‘baptise’ our culture or personal preference.
- These things can every serve as important ‘boundary markers’ that define those with whom we agree,
- We can also ‘curse’ those from different cultures for whom certain practices don’t have the same connotations as our theological practice traditions say they have.
- We need to hold our extrapolations and inferences from Scripture more loosely than Scripture itself.
Section 3: Power, responsibility and gospel ministry
- Application of power, agency, responsibility and duty to the ministry of the gospel
7.1 Limits to our responsibility and accountability
- There are 4 ways in which we are unable to perfectly take full responsibility or be held entirely accountable for our ministry activity and outcome:
- “If God wills” — God, as the sovereign ruler of the world is in ultimate, providential control of all things that take place in church and ministry — we cannot do anything in ministry that is not a gift from him and in his sovereign will.
- “As much as people are willing” — Because ministry involves people, we are unable to predict or control their beliefs and behaviour.
- “As much as is possible” — Because ministry takes place in this complex and fallen world, we are unable to predict and control what might happen which will influence our ministry activities.
- “According to God’s election and intervention” — because conversion and genuine spiritual maturity requires the miraculous work of God’s Spirit, we are unable to bring it about apart from his sovereign will.
7.2 Human Causality in Ministry
- There are many duties and outcomes associated with Christian ministry that do not depend on God’s supernatural, regenerating and sanctifying word: managing church finances and property, recruiting ministry team leaders, inviting non-Christians to attend Christian events, playing music that is appropriate accompaniment, speaking in a manner which is clear and comprehensible and engaging.
- In such matters, our responsibility is limited by all the factors mentioned above: our ability, intention and duty. For God in his providential will, through natural forces and other human decisions, contributes to the outcomes in ways we cannot control.
- As in all things in life, including our daily bread, we rightly call on God to bless us in prayer, realising that apart from his general grace sustaining us in all we do and all we have become, we cannot do anything or achieve anything.
- Nevertheless, this is different from the intervening, supernatural, saving grace of election, regeneration and sanctification. We often blur our talk about God’s general grace with God’s saving grace. And so we might talk as if persuading someone to come to church is as completely outside of our human control as much as new birth is completely outside of our human control.
7.3 Human Causality in Conversion
- Only God’s supernatural work can enable a sinner to call Jesus Lord, to truly repent and believe. This is the work of the Spirit.
- However, God’s regenerating accompanies the preaching of gospel and enables conscious human response to the gospel. The sinner hears it, understands it, is persuaded and convicted by it, recognises its glory and delights in it. These are the appropriate human responses to the truths of the gospel.
- The process of conversion does not operate separately from human listening, comprehension, and persuasion, through some kind of direct revelation. Rather, it operates through a sinner being enabled to be understand and be persuaded by a comprehensible and persuasive communication of the gospel.
- When God shines his light in our heart to see the gospel, we are able to see, understand and respond to the gospel as it truly is. In that sense, his illuminating work removes the barriers to us seeing that gospel as it truly is, not merely human words, but the word of God.
- 1Corinthians chapters 1 to 2 does not contradict this. For this passage does not forbid any use of wisdom or rhetoric, but rather a proud, worldly rhetoric, form and technique, based on human power and vanity. Likewise, 2 Corinthians chapter 4 does not forbid the use of thoughtful persuasion, but rather forbids any methods which are deceptive or manipulative.
- To bring about the calling of his elect, then, God providentially brings them into contact with the clear and persuasive preaching of the gospel, and supernaturally regenerates them to be able to receive it as such.
- God may choose to work through a combination of supernatural and providential means to make gospel preaching that is not the most intelligent, articulate, compelling or attractive nevertheless effective for conversion. Persuasion does not depend entirely on perfect logic, social status or rhetorical skill.
- Therefore, we are responsible to a certain extent for the many things we do to bring about the outcome of people coming into contact with the gospel (invitation, promotion, mobilising Christians), and we are also responsible to a certain extent for how clear and persuasive our presentation of the gospel is, which brings about the outcome of understanding, repentance and faith.
7.4 Human Causality in Spiritual Maturity
- Our growth in godliness is only possible by the inward work of the Holy Spirit, as he continually renews us, overcomes our natural sinful thoughts and desires, and deepens our capacity to know, love and obey God.
- Unlike conversion, however, Christians are more actively involved in this process. We work as God works powerfully in us, as Philippians 2 says, as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling as God works in us.
- Therefore, we are responsible for our own godliness to a certain extent, even as we pray that God continues to work powerfully in us.
- We are also responsible to a certain extent for the outcome of others growing in godliness, for are a given the duty or teaching, warning, urging and encouraging others in the church to live lives worthy of the calling we have received.
- Avoid a naïve pattern of ministry thinking and planning which thinks we can entirely control all the outcomes of ministry. This can lead to
- trusting in current human technique and reason that is inadequate.
- The risk of putting more focus on current matters of technique and reason rather than the clear emphasis of Scripture on preaching, prayer and love.
- Discouragement for those seeing little fruit from their ministry, when there are many worldly and supernatural matters beyond their control.
- Boasting and pride among those seeing much fruit in their ministry, thinking that their wisdom and skill has entirely produced the fruit of their ministry.
- Avoid a naïve pattern of ministry thinking and planning which downplays or denies our influence on the outcomes of ministry. This can lead to
- justifying negligence or laziness in ministry.
- The risk of not putting appropriately diligent effort into learning what matters of knowledge and technique might help the work of ministry.
- Strangely celebrating ministry work that is ‘intuitive’ and ‘organic’ and ‘muddles’ along, even if this hampers effective ministry.
- Strangely judging ministry work that is deliberate and careful on practical matters, even if its overall doctrine, ministry practice and ethics is good and right.
- Maintain God’s supremacy in all things, so that our contribution to his work is always considered supplementary and dependent upon his past grace, providential work and supernatural operation. We are not equal partners with God in the work and outcomes of ministry, but instruments in his purposes.
Section 2: Three degrees to which we are responsible for things
- We are responsible for things that we cause
There are three ways to describe the degree to we are responsible for the results of our actions. The first of which is our causal responsibility.
- We are responsible according to our power. There are some things that we could said to be ‘responsible for’ in the simple sense that we caused them, whether we intended to or not. You could say we are responsible for our miniscule gravitational pull in this simplest sense, or responsible for the sound we make when we sneeze, or responsible for the unintended consequences of our words, or responsible for an amazing basketball shot achieved by total fluke, or a terrible accident that we were involved in.
- All of these things were caused by our body, words or actions. This is what we could call ‘causal responsibility’. At times certain rights or duties might arise from things caused in this way: I might still claim any profit that comes from things (or be held liable for things) caused in this unintentional way.
- But there are two limits to this responsibility: Firstly, I am only responsible to the extent I was the cause. The effects of my actions might be magnified by accidental/providential factors, or by the contributions of other people and forces, well beyond my contribution.
- Secondly, I am responsible to a lesser extent if I did not intend or forsee the effect. I am less worthy of credit and praise, and less culpable of wrongdoing because of the unintended nature of my influence.
- We are responsible according to our deliberate agency
The second way to describe our responsibility is according to our deliberation intentions.
- But it is something more significant to say we are responsible according to our deliberate intention and our ability. This is the broadest kind of moral responsibility. It means we are to be credited with having done this or that, whether that thing was right, wrong or somewhat more morally neutral.
- Likewise, I may deliberately contribute to causing something or producing something. And because I made this thing take place I can receive credit or profit from it or blame or punishment for it in one way or another. Several things qualify the degree to which I am responsible for things in this category.
- Firstly, not everything I might choose to do is a moral duty (the final category) and so I am not accountable for my neglect or failure to do something or failure cause something that I was not bound to do it in the first place. I am not obliged to give to the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and so I am not accountable for my failure to do so.
- Secondly, I am responsible for my actions, separate from the intended result. I can take credit for trying hard, or performing well, even if the intended result didn’t come about. Likewise, I can be criticised for a lacklustre performance in managing a project, even if the end result was largely unaffected by my failure.
- Thirdly, I am only responsible for my performance and for the end result to the degree to which I actually contributed towards it. If I preach someone else’s sermon, I am only responsible for the choice of the sermon and the delivery of the sermon, not the content itself. Or success in business, for example, is a combination of hard work and luck. So then, my claim of responsibility for business success should only be in proportion to how much hard work contributed to my success.
- Fourthly, my responsibility is qualified by my deliberate intention. Good actions or results might be produced by bad motives or simply by ignorance. To succeed as something out of envy is less admirable than to succeed at something with pure motives. To attempt to do something impossible because of foolishness is worth of criticism.
- We are responsible according to our duty
Thirdly, explicit duty and legitimate authority makes us responsible in a different way again.
- A narrower form of responsibility still is responsibility according to duty. In the case of a moral command, or a duty created by a contract, relationship or circumstance of some kind, I am bound to say certain words or perform certain actions and even foster certain attitudes and patterns of thought. Moral duties bring with them extra burdens of accountability than the other forms of responsibility.
- In the case of moral duties, I am not only responsible for what I actually do, but also accountable for my failure to fulfil my obligations. In this sense a duty is different to other kinds of optional and non-binding actions.
- Also, I can properly be held responsible for moral duties that I am unable to successfully fulfil because of my sinful nature and human limitation. Humans in slavery to sin are still accountable for their failure to believe in God’s one and only Son. Both partners to a marriage contract are still responsible for every minor failure to love the other consistently, even though their sinfulness made some failure inevitable.
- Despite this reality, it remains true that something can only be a moral duty for someone it they have the power to fulfil the kind of thing it is, even if their will is unable and unwilling to choose to do this particular thing because of their fallen state. Human beings are responsible to trust and obey God in all things, and were created to be able to trust and obey God, even though sin has made this impossible for us in our current state. By contrast, we cannot be held morally responsible for not feeding the entire population of the planet.
- I am responsible for the outcomes towards which my moral duties aim only in proportion to my ability to bring about these results. Most moral duties seek to cause a good outcome of some kind in the world: to give money which relieves someone’s physical need, to discipline children so that they will live in a wise way, to excommunicate an unrepentant Christian so that they might come to repentance, to preach the gospel so that people will believe. But although my words or actions are instrumental in these goals being achieved, I am only responsible for these outcomes to the degree to which my action is able to cause them.
- All moral duties are also measured by intention and motivation, so that a good action that produces a good result might still be deserving of some condemnation if it was performed in bad faith.