Know Your Bible!

Hi everyone. Rob here.

In New Zealand at the moment we’re living with an uneasy freedom. Our success in eliminating community transmission of Covid-19 means that we’re enjoying freedoms that many parts of the world can only dream of. But we’re wary. We know that it’s a fragile freedom. Our nerves have gone up with every quarantine escapee knowing that it only takes one person with the virus to set off a chain reaction. We’ve watched Australia go from near elimination to full-blown crisis in a matter of weeks and we know that could be us. We’re also aware that the economy is even more fragile than our health and our previous way of life may have to change drastically. It’s with this context that I recommend the following as a way of learning to deal with this new world: keep reading and getting to know your Bible.


That sounds like an awful Christian cliche doesn’t it? And it can be if we’re talking about reading your Bible because it’s what good Christians do. I’m talking about reading our Bible because it’s full of stories about God’s creative faithfulness and imperfect human courage in times of change, uncertainty and duress. We need to take those stories to heart so that we can take heart at a time like this.

What we see in Scripture is that God doesn’t give us quick and easy solutions. In fact, God’s solutions barely make any sense to us at all. Abraham has to leave everyone and everything he has ever known in order to go to a new land. Enslaved Israelites have to trust a former Prince of Egypt who was driven into exile to stand up to Pharaoh and win their freedom. Gideon’s army has to shrink to almost nothing. Ruth has to seduce her kinsman-redeemer. On it goes. In the New Testament God entrusts his message to uneducated fishermen and hated tax collectors. He sends a man who used to gloat over Christian’s dying to be his ambassador to the Gentile world. In Jesus himself we see that victory is won by a cross, a humiliating means of execution.

The only thing that the stories have in common is that God’s people have to let go of their agenda and their way of doing things. And that is the hardest thing of all. It involves a bunch of concepts that we don’t like. Perseverance, suffering, patience, spiritual warfare, surrender and loving when we don’t feel like it. That was our journey for starting a family, finding our calling, saving our marriage and for trusting God no matter what. It involves faith; choosing to believe that God is at work when all the evidence suggests otherwise.

In the middle of a global pandemic this is the kind of faith that God’s people are being called to have. Tough and resilient; patient and loving; trusting and vigilant. As you read scripture you see that these are God’s qualities as well. He’s so committed to us becoming like him that he puts us on journeys that only he can understand. When we learn to die to ourselves we come to see through his eyes and understand that his way is always best.

Wherever you are and whatever your situation is right now may the grace and patient love of God sustain you, strengthen you and transform you.



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When We Don’t Have The Answers

Hi everyone. Rob here.

I have been reading the first few chapters of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was given the call to be a prophet, a spokesperson for God, as a very young man, probably mid to late teens. Josiah, a good king, was in charge but the hearts of the people had been hardened after many years of idol worship and the corrupt rule of King Manasseh. Jeremiah’s words to faithless Israel seem very relevant to our time as we face the consequences of human ego and pride. We are now a planet in peril and we have ourselves to blame. God alone is our hope. Listen to Jeremiah’s words in chapter 4:

O Israel,” says the Lord,
“if you wanted to return to me, you could.
You could throw away your detestable idols
and stray away no more.
Then when you swear by my name, saying,
‘As surely as the Lord lives,’
you could do so
with truth, justice, and righteousness.
Then you would be a blessing to the nations of the world,
and all people would come and praise my name.”

This is what the Lord says to the people of Judah and Jerusalem:

“Plow up the hard ground of your hearts!
Do not waste your good seed among thorns.
O people of Judah and Jerusalem,
surrender your pride and power.
Change your hearts before the Lord,
or my anger will burn like an unquenchable fire
because of all your sins.
person holding red candle in a dark room

Photo by Anna Shvets on

This passage speaks about the human tendency towards self sabotage in the name of our pride and power. We like to think we have the answers! But as Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc, climate change continues apace, economies wither and we wage our private battles with depression, anxiety, apathy, cynicism and a desperate search for meaning, we see very clearly that we don’t. And we weren’t meant to. At least, not without being surrendered to, and therefore connected to, God.

Our love of power and control gets in the way of God’s transformative vision for our lives. This is so at all levels of life; from governance to commerce to our own households and hearts. The irony is this. By believing in our own grandeur we end up living in a much smaller story than the one God has written for us. God wanted Israel to change the world by being a blessing to it. All they were interested in was being buddies with whatever empire would have them. Instead of influencing the world by their faith, they were being manipulated by empires because of their lack of faith. The moral is that when we try to live by our power alone we end up more powerless than ever before.

At the moment the world is trying to exercise power over a virus and largely failing. Nations are trying to exercise power over other nations and making themselves less safe in the process. We try and fix the environment but our greed keeps getting in the way. We try and make ourselves happy but our idols refuse to give us joy. Wisdom would tell us that our pride isn’t working. It’s time to humble ourselves before the God of grace and goodness who wants to give us lives of hope, joy and love.

So stop. Breathe. Remember. God made you. God loves you. Through Jesus, God has saved you. God invites you to surrender your power and your pride so that you may have life. A Spirit-led, Spirit-filled, Spirit-powered life. It’s the kind of life that matters, makes a difference, blesses the world and brings joy to your heart. Let’s lay ourselves down and seek it together.

Grace and peace.

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We Are All Human

Hi everyone. Rob here.

Two nights ago I watched the award winning movie, “Twelve Years a Slave.” Based on a true story, it tells the tale of Solomon Northup, a free man who was abducted and placed into slavery in the American South. Thanks to outside intervention he was eventually freed, but the movie ruthlessly cast a light on the relentless dehumanisation that occurs when you are regarded as someone’s ‘property.’ Last night I watched the stunning documentary, ‘I Am Not Your Negro,’ based on an unpublished manuscript by the writer and activist, James Baldwin. Baldwin kept insisting on his basic humanity and the humanity of all people. He offered a harsh critique on a nation that ignores the humanity of its citizens. God surely agrees. One of the most stunning verses of Scripture says this:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14).

God made humanity in his image and, in order to save us, God came in humanity’s image. God too insists on our humanity and says ‘yes’ to it.

people sunset clouds sky

Photo by Keith Wako on

This means that dehumanising people is a sacrilegious act. Taking away the humanity that God always insists upon is an act of rebellion against the Creator. And yet, many in the church tried to defend slavery in the name of God. Segregation was also defended. Colonial land grabs were defended. The Black Lives Matter movement is often attacked and a President who poses in front of a church with a Bible just after endorsing violence to clear away peaceful protesters is defended. How often we forget that Jesus Christ came to restore our humanity. Using his name to defend dehumanising others is what we call, ‘using God’s name in vain.’

It is an especially evil act when it is inflicted upon the powerless on behalf of the powerful. Many indigenous people were labelled ‘savages’ by colonial powers. This provided a narrative whereby they were classed as unworthy of owning land. Hitler and the Nazi’s called the Jewish people ‘rats.’ The ruling Hutu tribe called the Tutsi’s ‘cockroaches’ in Rwanda. In America (the land of the free, remember) protesters have been called ‘anarchists and looters.’ Dehumanisation has existed ever since the fall and God has always insisted otherwise.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

Do you see why Jesus insisted on this:

I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters you were doing it to me!’ (Matthew 25:40)

It begins with us all taking the planks out of our own eyes. Many of have benefited from colonialism or slavery or Jim Crow laws. Just look at who has the wealth and the land in your country. Desmond Tutu said that those who oppress dehumanise themselves as well as those they oppress. He’s right. We are not living fully human lives if we look at others with anything less than the love of God for them. That means I, like you, have a long way to go.

Father,  increase our capacity to love, our willingness to love and our ability to love. Help us to see with your eyes, hear with your ears, think with your mind and feel with your mind. Holy Spirit, do this in us we ask, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Building Resilience

Hi everyone. Rob here.

Ancient Israel was always a nation in transition. Moving from being wandering ex-slaves in the desert to a nation-state is a difficult move. Moving from a tribal model to a monarchical one is also a big shift. They then split into two – Israel and Judah, only to become one again after Israel was conquered by Assyria. Exile happened and then a return, only to be dominated by larger empires. Then there was a final conquering and Israel was no more for centuries. God chose this nation to be his people, his representatives on earth. They were tasked with keeping the law and, most of all, worshipping God alone. There were to be no idols. It’s fair to say that Israel struggled deeply with the task. They became living proof that doing God’s will in the world requires a fundamental shift of the heart and the active involvement of God’s Spirit in us.

man in black backpack during golden hour

Photo by Kun Fotografi on

I talk about this because we too are a weak and vulnerable people whose way of life in under threat from outside sources beyond our control. In order to live close to God and do his will in the world in this hour, we need a robust, resilient and beautiful inner life of the heart. We need a profound love of God and people that is resistant to the winds of fear, suspicion, disappointment and even hatred that are swirling around at this time. The enemy of our hearts is busy but God is also at work issuing an invitation for his people to draw close and live in the security and joy of the Trinity through Jesus Christ. Once again we remember the glorious words of Matthew 11:28-30,

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

The most mature and gracious people I know travel light. They don’t carry things that aren’t theirs to carry, and yet, they hold me up and support me somehow. Isn’t that the kind of person you want to be? It’s certainly who I want to be but it is impossible to be like that if we allow our hearts to give in to the external turbulence of our circumstances. When I am struggling with this I often return to concepts voiced in Psalm 63:

O God, you are my God;
I earnestly search for you.
My soul thirsts for you;
my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land
where there is no water.
I have seen you in your sanctuary
and gazed upon your power and glory.
Your unfailing love is better than life itself;
how I praise you!
I will praise you as long as I live,
lifting up my hands to you in prayer.
You satisfy me more than the richest feast.
I will praise you with songs of joy.

I remember that I long for God more than anything else. He is the desire of my heart. I have seen his glory. I have felt his power and his presence. I have seen it at work time and time again. His love truly is better than life. Even though I have barely glimpsed just a fraction of it and long to experience it more, I know it to be true. I choose to worship him and him alone. No idols. He is the only one who truly satisfies the eternal longing that he planted in my heart.

May you meditate on this Psalm this week and remember in your heart and soul the love of God. May you be in touch with the deepest desire of your heart and may the love of God build in your heart the resilience we all need in this hour.

Grace and peace.

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Prayer in a Changing World

Shalom. Rob here.

As we take a step back and look at the bigger picture we can see a world in transition. Covid-19 is steadily remaking the world one infection at a time. Economies and the entire global economy is under threat. Those that are adaptable, sustainable and cunning will survive. We may be returning to a time when economies are self-sustaining as globalism comes to a screeching halt. The effects of climate change continues apace, especially as countries try and reopen. Scorching temperatures in Siberia are just one sign that rapid melting of the once frozen north may not be far away. After that, things get scary for all of us. The protests for racial justice that have swept the western world tell us that the age of white dominance; a hangover from colonialism, is coming to an end. We don’t know what we are transitioning into but it’s becoming clear that we are transitioning out of unchecked free-market economics, excessive reliance on fossil fuels and racist, colonial mindsets that keep people of colour in places of disadvantage.

That may sound awfully political to you and it is. It is the current context that our faith has to be practiced in. The early disciples practiced their faith as a dissident minority in a time of empire. Our faith is always at its best when it is disassociated from the empires of the world, whether they be political. economic or social. As an increasingly vocal movement seeks to break away from the powers of the past, followers of Christ are invited to imagine a better future and lead the way into it.

man wearing face mask

Photo by Korhan Erdol on

God loves his people, his planet and justice. How do we partner with him in this time of transition? How do we bring the needs of the big picture into our smaller pictures and realities? I believe the starting point is in how we pray.

Prayer is a place where we can stop fighting the changes going on around us. Our bodies don’t like change. Change puts us on edge. Anxiety is a real threat, as is passivity. Prayer is a place where we can agree with God. We agree with the change that’s consistent with his will and character and mission, and resist the changes that are responses of fear and control. It’s a place where we can align our lives with his will. Prayer is a posture of humility and courage; confidence and desperation; rest and desire. It is a place to be still and a place to learn to move.

The effectiveness of prayer in aligning our will to God’s will is directly related to our willingness to truly give ourselves over to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We can do this freely because the starting point of prayer and surrender is that we are richly and unconditionally loved by God. From that foundation of love we allow God to examine our thoughts, motivations, assumptions, upbringings, wounds, decisions and more in every aspect of our lives, from purchasing choices to relationship choices to vocational choices and every other choice we make in life. It is then to make an exchange; our agenda for God’s plan; our solutions for God’s answers; our wayward emotions for God’s joy, peace and love; our despair for God’s hope.

The goal is to be awake to God’s voice, his nudges, his reminders of who we are and who we belong to that then influence our choices and our behaviour. We learn to see Jesus at work in the world and, therefore, follow him into that world. It’s a hard and narrow path as we navigate this changing world but, Jesus knows the way. Through prayer, surrender, willingness and humility I believe that his people, his church can lead many to life in him.

Jesus, we love you.

Jesus, we trust you.

Jesus, we follow you.


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The Long Way Around

Hi everyone. Rob here.

I couldn’t find my sunglasses yesterday (actually, I still can’t!) and I found myself getting really angry about it. I was able to settle myself and think, ‘maybe it’s time to look under the hood.’ It turns out that I had been caught in a trap. I was annoyed that life just didn’t seem to be working out. Some things that I hoped would happen hadn’t happened, other complications had happened and I was annoyed about it all. What got exposed was a faith gap. I was struggling to trust that God had it sorted, that he looks after his children and, therefore, I could live with patience and assurance. I’m sure you can relate somehow!

empty gray road under white clouds

Photo by Ricardo Esquivel on

Two things helped my perspective: The Waikato River and the Dixie Chicks! There was a section on the river where the flow went around a patch filled with eddies. It reminded me of the Dixie Chicks singing:

But I’ve always found my way somehow…taking the long way around.

God was effectively saying, ‘stay with the flow but the world’s messy right now so we’ll take the long way around.’ God is in charge but, sometimes, the long way around is the best way around. The whole world is suffering from a major disruption and God’s will is still being done. The River of Life still flows. We want it to be strong and steady. We want our lives to be a continual improvement until we reach heaven. People build canals that flow in a straight line. God makes rivers that meander, tumble over rocks, create waterfalls and deal with every disruption and obstacle in its way.

It’s a reminder to be patient but it’s also a reminder that pandemics aren’t easily fixed. Centuries of systemic racism and injustice aren’t easily fixed. Both are symptoms of a broken planet. The River of Life will make a way. God wants us to thrive but we do it by being all in with his agenda. It may involve tumbling over some metaphorical rocks.

If I want to live with patience and assurance then I need to let go of my desire for life to go my way all the time. That doesn’t build any character at all! If we want a society free from the evil of racism then we need to confront the racism in our own hearts and name the advantages we’ve gained from a society rigged in our favour. If you are the victim of a racist system then the journey is one of God speaking his truth and love over you, giving you daily courage and knowing that Jesus himself identifies deeply with your struggle. He died at the hands of a rigged system that favoured an elite few and scorned Galileans that threatened their privileged status. If we want a world without pandemics we need to reinvent our connection to this planet and respect it a lot more than we’ve been doing.

Transformation can’t be achieved without looking under the hood and naming the brokenness, the flaws and the sin. We name what we need to die to. We name what we’re handing over. We name our desires and expect that God will take us the long way around before they are achieved. He has to or we won’t have the character to handle what he gives us.

I want my sunglasses to be found but I’m hoping and praying for so much more. I hope you are too. Grace and peace.

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Rethinking Church (Finale): Movements Must Move.

Hi everyone. Rob here.

One of the things that is changing rapidly in church life is the role of denominations. In many ways a denomination is like a multi-national corporation that oversees regional areas and a multitude of smaller companies. They try to maintain consistent messaging, regulate training and keep order so that they may be a trusted brand. That’s not meant to sound cynical. The intention is to reflect Christ rather than make money, but the reality of running a large, often international, denomination means making decisions in a rather corporate, governmental kind of way.

Most denominations started life as reform movements. They saw the gospel of Jesus being lost for various reasons. Sometimes it was corruption through power, getting too close to government, too much emphasis on rules and rituals, doctrinal differences or matters of church practice. It doesn’t take too long, however, for movements to become institutions that struggle to allow the wind of the Spirit blow through them. Denominations, in their current state, make us look divided, political, petty and slow. Instead of reflecting the dynamic life of Christ in us, denominations often reflect the human need to control and regulate. What can be done?

aerial photography of water beside forest during golden hour

Photo by Sindre Strøm on

As a pastor I always found that the churches I was most aligned with shared a common mission, not a common denomination. For us this meant churches that were committed to being a positive presence for the good news of Jesus in their local community and then, beyond to the world. Even within my denomination (which prefers the term, ‘movement’) the churches that shared similar missional goals were closer.  If churches were missional allies more than doctrinal partners then denominations have the potential to become movements again.

I imagine 10-20 small, nimble, mission-focused churches allied together, sharing resources and administration costs, bringing the youth together, meeting together to worship and swap stories every couple of months and praying together as leaders. I see that as a movement. That movement then needs other allies in order to keep getting other perspectives. But how do you protect it from becoming a large, static denomination?

I suspect a key answer is money. Make sure that the movement doesn’t have too much of it! Like the small churches it serves the movement needs enough money and no more. Movements also need to be monitored for missional effectiveness. Every decision needs to be filtered through the lens of, ‘does this help us do God’s work in the world?’ It’s the same lens that the small churches it serves needs to have. In other words, the churches and the bigger movements need to share the same goals and the same methodology. Again, the 12 step programmes offer insight on this. The message of the programme remains consistent between head office and local meetings. Most decisions remain at the local level. Yes, there is drama sometimes, but the message and the mission remain central through it all.

That concludes my exploration into rethinking church. Thanks for hanging in there. I hope it sparks conversation and a lot of prayer. No matter the form it takes, the church is God’s chosen vehicle for bringing the message of Christ’s love, hope and restoration to the world. May that vehicle carry the message well.

Grace and peace.

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Samaritans, Creeds and Race

Hi everyone. Rob here.

One of Jesus’ most radical stories is that of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-37. It was given in response to a question from an expert in the law:

Who is my neighbour?

Jesus tells a story about a man beaten by bandits on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, a not uncommon experience. A priest and then a Levite both ignored the man as they made their way to Jerusalem. If they had touched a bleeding man they would have rendered themselves unclean. But one man did help. He was a Samaritan; a group of people who claimed to be from Ephraim and Manasseh, but were regarded by the Jews as being of corrupt race and religion. The Jews tried to avoid them whenever possible. This man in Jesus’ story, a man who had suffered from prejudice his whole life, cared for the man out of pity and compassion. This man, Jesus says, was a neighbour to the beaten man because he showed the man mercy.


This parable challenges us on many levels. The priest and the Levite ignored the man because they had important roles to play in the running of the Jerusalem temple. Those roles gave them a valued place in society. However, their commitment to their religious roles took them away from the compassionate heart of the God they believed they were serving. The system hindered, rather than encouraged, compassion.

The Samaritan was regarded as irreligious. The Samaritans practiced Torah but didn’t regard the temple in Jerusalem as theirs. They were outside the system. They were also regarded as being of mixed race. Therefore, mixing with them would make you unclean. But this man’s heart was closer to God’s heart. The compassion and mercy that he showed pleased God. He reached out, not as Samaritan to Jew, but one human being to another. Jesus says to the law expert,

Go and do likewise.

The evil of racism is that it dehumanises others. By doing so it diminishes our shared human experience. God’s desire is this:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb (Revelation 7:9).

God doesn’t remove our differences; he embraces them and unites us before his throne. We’re equal. We all bear God’s image and we all learn from each other about what that means. In my beautiful country of New Zealand racism also has a long history. It also has threads of hope woven through it. I exist because of the union between a white man and a Maori woman. Our founding document is a Treaty between Maori and the Crown that, at its core, is a declaration of mutual honour. Our shame is that it wasn’t kept by subsequent colonial rulers and was ignored for far too long by successive governments. There was war, disease, land theft, language suppression and powerlessness. Things are changing for the better but it’s a long way up when you’ve sunk so low.

And here is where the murder (yes, murder!) of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer comes in. While we sunk low we had the foundation of the Treaty of Waitangi to land on and build from. In America there is a desperate need to apply the core creed of the Declaration of Independence to all races:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

This was stated and slavery continued. Jim Crow laws enshrining segregation and a lack of civil rights passed. Economic oppression continues. Unarmed black people get shot by the police. Martin Luther King put the challenge in front of America to live up to this radical statement of human rights and dignity. The challenge still exists.

Both the Treaty of Waitangi and the Declaration of Independence came about because of a belief that God made human beings in God’s own image. This is the foundation of equality and is reinforced when Jesus took on flesh. The vision of Revelation tells us that unity in diversity is God’s idea. May our hearts be taken captive by God’s heart. May the followers of Christ lead the way into a racially just world. May we not be distracted by the symptoms but focus on the cause. May our own prejudices and attitudes be healed by the love of God so that we can be agents of hope in this world.

Grace and peace.


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Rethinking Church: Movements

Hi everyone. Rob here.

Let’s start today’s post by putting together some of the thoughts in the last few posts.

  • Let’s be small and nimble, rather than large and fixed. Part of that is to not own buildings. Let’s meet in homes, hired facilities, in a tent, at the park – just anywhere except a building owned by the church that needs to be maintained and paid for by the church. Let’s free up our resources for good works, not maintaining our edifices.
  • We are the body of Christ and bodies are made to move. We are a church on a mission from God. We are heralds of Christ and ambassadors for his kingdom, even as we carry the treasure in jars of clay.
  • Let’s model ourselves more on 12 step groups than on the Christendom model that’s been handed down to us. We are a kingdom of priests who all have the ability to mutually edify each other through our stories of God’s work in our lives. We have all been rescued from death to life. We have all been filled with the Holy Spirit. We all have gifts that build up the body of Christ. We all have a story to share with the world. Let’s meet together, share the message together and build each other up as if our lives depend on it.

silhouette photography of group of people jumping during golden time

Photo by Belle Co on

Of course, as soon as these kind of ideas are proposed all sorts of questions come up. What about the powerful impact of big numbers worshipping together? What about youth group and children’s ministry? What about staff and leadership structures? What about denominations, finances, resources, seekers and so on? Interestingly, as I read Paul’s letters I never saw him worry much about that stuff. He was more interested in the character of the church and her leaders than in particular structures. The better question may be, what about when bigger is better?

This is where the power of the wider movement comes in. All churches, no matter the size, need to be part of a wider movement. No church is an island. They need to be networked in to like-minded, similarly structured, wholehearted churches like theirs so that they can help each other. Unfortunately, denominations often start as movements but end up as reinforcing steel for large and fixed churches. We need to start again with movements that are local and utterly fixated on Christ and his mission. They are needed to turn bodies into armies. While a larger movement can help with essential matters like administration, finance and legal advice, their most important role in a network of small and nimble churches is to fuel the passion.

At the moment I’m not leading a small and nimble church, but if I was, I would be looking to my movement for three main things:

  1. Prayer support and encouragement. I would want to know that there were some overseers praying boldly and passionately for me and my church regularly. I would also want regular coffee catch ups to help keep me focused on the main goal: the mission and message of God’s kingdom.
  2. Theological and Spiritual stimulation. Too many churches and leaders stand still because they settle on certain ways of thinking and doing that worked for them in the past. Leaders need to be unsettled on a regular basis because churches do too! While the anchor of faith needs to be strong, working through new ideas in partnership with God stretches the muscles and keeps the body moving.
  3. Bringing the churches and leaders together. Sometimes bigger is better. Bringing many small churches together for worship, stimulating messages and stories will always be good. Leaders also need good conferences and retreats and congregants need to be encouraged into these as well. They just need to be more focused on helping our bodies of Christ to  move.

Movements like this are starting to emerge and clear away the denominational fog. They in turn need to protect themselves from becoming static and slow. It looks like there’s another post needed!

Grace and peace everyone.


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Rethinking Church: Get Radical

Hi everyone. Rob here again.

In the last blog I introduced the idea of 12 step recovery groups being a potential model for a new way of doing church. They travel light, stay committed to their message and every member matters, no matter what stage of recovery they’re at. Two other factors speak to me: radical honesty and radical dependence.


Imagine a 12 step meeting. People are sitting there who have had their lives ravaged by the disease of alcoholism. Many are divorced, some are broke, some nearly died and all are still tempted by the bottle. As the invitation goes out to share their stories, one by one everyone simply says, “I’m fine.” It never happens but that scene is repeated in churches week after week. We are constantly assaulted by the world, the flesh and the devil. We have been rescued in dramatic fashion as the God of the Universe took on our humanity, died our death and gave us new life through the power of the Spirit. The temptation to return to an independent life screams at us daily, and yet we constantly tell others that we’re fine. NO WE ARE NOT!!!! We are in radical need of God’s grace every minute of every day because we are lambs in a world of wolves. We are not fine. We are trying to live out a love story in the midst of a war and we need help!

I have come to the conviction that smaller fellowships are needed because they don’t work without radical honesty. In a large church it’s easier to hide. In a small group, less so. In a small group committed to pursuing the life and mission of God; almost impossible. The thing about honesty is that it brings us out of hiding. Remember that after Adam and Eve first sinned they tried to hide from God because they were naked. Not only were they trying to keep their sin from God, but they were now trying to cover up what God had called ‘very good.’ Honesty isn’t just about exposing our sins and our flaws. It’s about revealing our God-given and God-ordained glory. Exposing the flawed exterior gets us to the brand new, beautiful heart that lies underneath.

It’s that heart that the world desperately needs to shine. We need church gatherings that can help us leave behind the stuff that gets in the way, as well as focus us on the mission at hand. But honesty isn’t comfortable and we’ve grown very accustomed to comfortable. A concept that has done the rounds in churches is ‘belonging before believing.’ It grew out of the best of intentions. Everyone should feel welcome when they come to a church. Hospitality matters. However, when it comes to church, belonging and believing can’t be separated. Church is the body of Christ. To be a part of the body means to have a connection to the head and it means to honour the head. Belonging comes from believing. Just as identifying as an addict is essential to belonging to a 12 step group, identifying with Christ is essential to belonging to the church. Anyone should be able to attend and feel welcome, but there needs to be an acknowledgement that belonging to a church outside of commitment to following Jesus is contradictory. And, for most of us, that commitment deepens through suffering, not comfort.

The body of Christ is utterly and radically dependent on the head, that is Christ, for life. Let’s be radically honest about our need for radical dependence. Let’s be in touch with the eternal longing of our hearts and the self-centredness and independent attitudes that get in the way of that longing being fulfilled. 12 step meetings don’t need comfortable chairs and good coffee in order to meet and grow together. I am a fan of both comfortable chairs and good coffee and loving hospitality, but I’m desperate for Jesus and I don’t want or need more distractions. How about you?

Grace and peace.

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