Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Is Big Better?

This year has seen New Zealand step back into a second lockdown.  We enjoyed so much freedom in Covid Alert Level 1 after coming out of the first lockdown that I think we grew complacent.  This lockdown has made me all the more determined to help people grow in Christ so we can live distinctively, refreshingly different lives which continue the mission of God whether we are in lockdown or not.

One of the issues we face is not being able to gather in large groups.  This forces us to think creatively about how our smaller gatherings and home groups can lead the way in God's mission.

The kingdom of God often turns our thinking upside down.  Read some of the parables of Jesus that begin “The kingdom of God is like…” and you will see what I mean.  Think of phrases from Jesus like “The last will be first and the first will be last” (Matt 20:16) or “The greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matt 23:11).

Sadly we all experience events needing to be cancelled.  But I wonder if one way God may be working for good through all those disappointments is to challenge our love affair with big.  We often ask “How many people went to …” even in the church.  We subconsciously think “big is better”.  But is it really?  Is a birthday party with 30 children better than inviting their 3 closest friends? Does a church service with 150 people honour God and progress God’s mission more than a small group gathering in someone’s home?

I expect this pandemic will continue to challenge us to find creative ways of sharing the good news of Jesus, and following the way of Jesus, in smaller settings.  I know Jesus spoke to the crowds, but he concentrated on the 12.  Perhaps for now the crowds will be our online work, while we concentrate on being faithful in smaller settings.  If we can’t hold a Christmas Dinner for 100 people, could we reach 200 people by having many little dinners in our homes?  I know some people in our church already live "missionally" in this way.  No big drama.  They simply share hospitality with their neighbourhood, being Christ's people in that place.  Building relationships.  Building the kingdom.  It will take all of us listening to God’s promptings and taking creative, mustard seed sized steps.  Perhaps small and simple can be best.

One resource I am finding helpful in this area is "Missional Small Groups: Becoming a Community that Makes a Difference in the World", M. Scott Boren (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010).  Although this is written before the pandemic it's challenge is even more applicable now.  "We need to re-envision a way to empower normal groups led by normal group leaders that are full of normal followers of Christ to listen to God and live in such a way that they impact the world around them."p.11

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Looking Ahead in 2020

I'm excited as I look to the year ahead at East Taieri Church.  I have written down a few of the things that I expect to be highlights.

Discipleship & Leadership Development
·         Growing resilient disciples who can thrive in post-Christian NZ.  Using insights from World Vision and Barna Group research published in “Faith For Exiles” by David Kinnaman.
·         We will honour the work of Christians in all fields (not just in “church ministry).
·         New Courses in the ET School of Ministry: Kingdom of God; What’s the Story? (faith sharing); …  We are also interested in combining resources with other churches running ministry/discipleship courses.
·         ET Leadership Summit: Fresh, actionable, inspiring leadership training from world class speakers on DVD.   29th Feb 2020.

·         Our Ministry Conference 12-14th May will have RZIM's successor to Ravi Zacharias - Michael Ramsden speaking.  Our theme is: Tough Questions in Ministry Today - Standing for God and for truth and grace in a post-Christian world.  This is a huge opportunity to raise confidence in the gospel in NZ today.  Christians from all around the South Island will be attending.

·         Experiment with a new pattern of worship at 10am called “Mosaic” connecting with people’s different learning styles and ways of experiencing Jesus.

·         Alpha will again give us opportunity to see friends and family come to faith.  Dinner is Sunday July 26th.
·         Training people in sharing their faith in a natural way (What’s the Story?)
·         Christmas Eve will be an event to invite our community to hear the good news of the Saviour’s birth.
·         We will develop practical 1x1=1000 ideas such as printing 1000 bibles to be given away by ET people .

Staff and Leadership
·         We look forward to our new youth worker, Larissa Pearce, starting in January.  She will be working 30hrs/wk.
·         We will recruit our new associate pastor!
·         SHFT will seek a second youth worker and an intern.
·         If we can’t afford a children and families worker, we will direct other leadership resources to this crucial area.
·         Recruit two new elders.

Mission Facilities
·         The mission facilities group will bring a recommendation for the first step with new buildings arising from our concept plan. 
·         We will formulate a funding plan for this project.

Mission with our Community
·         Community on the Coast – getting involved in what God is doing on the coast.  Meeting neighbours, meeting together, Kai on the Coast shared meal.
·         We will have wider reaching impact in combating loneliness through partnerships with Neighbourhood Support and others.
·         We will grow our work with Taieri College.

Global Missions
·         We will continue to actively support God’s work through Malawi, Egypt and Thailand and through World Vision and TEARFund.
·         We will support Erica Aarsen as she prepares to leave as a missionary with SIM to South Sudan.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Euthanasia - The End of Life Choice Bill

I have been following the progress of David Seymour's End of Life Choice bill with considerable concern.  I realise this could come across as a Christian pastor against something (again!), but I would prefer to frame this as being in favour of life.  When I talk to people in favour of euthanasia I often discover they have personal experience of watching a loved one suffer through a terminal illness.  I empathise with them.  My younger sister died of cancer.  I was so grateful she had good pain relief that kept her comfortable most of the time.  I know this isn't always the case.  I was also grateful she asked me to pray with her for the first time in her last weeks.

So if you are in favour of assisting people to commit suicide then I understand your motivation of compassion and avoiding suffering.  However, I hope you won't be offended if I post the arguments I sent in my submission against this bill.  I am not making biblical or theological arguments, although those have been made - see for example Peter Saunders CEO of Christian Medical Fellowship UK.

My submission seeks to present arguments that someone who isn't a Christian and doesn't recognise the authority of the Bible, might still find compelling. 
But first a local story of a Dunedin woman who has appeared in a TVNZ documentary speaking against euthanasia.  Tetraplegic model, Claire Freeman battled depression and pain and was referred to a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland where she had planned to end her life.  Instead, when an operation went badly, she was forced to rest and sleep, and the pain subsided and she discovered a new chapter of her life.  Now she is a successful model and speaks out against assisted suicide.

I put other arguments from my submission below in case you would like to include them in some way in a letter to your MP to encourage them to consider the harm euthanasia can bring.

I recognise that people have real fears of suffering and want to be able to make individual choices, and that the bill states it is motivated by compassion, however I am writing to urge you to vote against this bill at its second reading for the following reasons.
1. The danger that this bill would threaten the lives of vulnerable people in our society including the elderly and those very disabled.  I have served as a minister in the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand for 27 years.  During that time many elderly people have told me of their concern that they are not a burden to others, especially their family.  This bill would bring a new pressure on them, that they consider euthanasia.  Some unprincipled children looking to their inheritance could even put pressure on their elderly parents to choose to end their life before their finances are used up in providing care.
2. This bill would undermine attempts to reduce the suicide rate in New Zealand. Our society should not give mixed messages about suicide by suggesting it is acceptable, even desirable, under some circumstances.  In my pastoral experience, most people who commit suicide seem to have, at least for that moment, felt they were experiencing “unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that he or she considers tolerable” (clause 4e).  Whether it is intended or not, this bill would increase public perception that suicide is acceptable.
Families frequently feel hurt, confusion and even guilt when a loved one commits suicide. In seeking to show compassion to allow a person to choose to end their life, this bill will inflict hurt on others who must watch on.
3. The destructive effect of this bill on the doctor-patient relationship.  I value the trust that often develops between a doctor and patient, and their wider families.  This bill would damage that.  A doctor could no longer be trusted to “first do no harm” (Hippocratic oath). 
When our health system is under pressure with an aging population, doctors and other health professionals could start suggesting euthanasia to patients as an option to be considered.  Our society is often too pragmatic and driven by economic benefits rather than principles.
4. The vague eligibility criteria in this bill.  Clause 4 would be very difficult for medical professionals to apply consistently and safely.  Time has shown how the eligibility criteria for abortion in NZ has in practice become abortion on demand under the mental health grounds.  The same would inevitably occur with this bill, until it became publically understood as “I have a right to end my life when I want to.”  The Select Committee agreed that “the bill is not workable in its current state...”
5. This bill unhelpfully elevates individual choice over society well-being. Individual choices should not be allowed to damage the society we live in.  This bill will do that by trying to be compassionate to an individual, but neglecting the wider effect of legalising euthanasia on the vulnerable, the medical and caring professions, and society’s overall value of the sanctity of life.

I urge you to vote against this bill and avoid serious ramifications for our society.

Friday, February 23, 2018

What's Up God? Pursuing God's Will Together

East Taieri Church is beginning a discernment series this weekend.  Some might argue the title is a bit flippant, but we are trying to highlight that the key to discerning God’s will is building your relationship with God.  We ask God and trust God to answer and lead.  We also want everyone to be a part of this.  I want everyone to be encouraged that they can hear from God.  Discerning God’s will isn’t just for pastors, elders or leaders.

I think this is a discipleship issue.  We need to be people who are being transformed by the renewing of our mind...then we will be able to test and approve what God's will is... (Rom 12:2)  We grow closer to God and discern His voice more and more as we allow God to mould us and bring growth and transformation.

My hope is that people will share stories about how this happens for you.  I hope we all grow in our ability to discern God’s will individually, and as groups, teams and a church. 

I have prepared a discernment guide which is available at church and on our website. I have drawn heavily on Ruth Haley Barton's excellent book "Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups"  The discernment guide has space to write things. Our aim is that people will give us feedback on what they sense God is saying – either on the tear off feedback page, or by emailing to

This is about discovering more about who God wants us to be and what God wants us to do.  In the language of our vision statement it is how we become a thriving church, responding to God's grace and passionately living out our faith, wherever we live, work and play.  How we work alongside others to develop thriving communities where people feel connected, known, loved, and valued.


Thursday, August 3, 2017


Since returning from study leave / sabbatical last year I believe God has given me renewed vision for many, many people discovering the new life that comes through faith in Christ.  I'm calling it "1x1=1000 Impact Lives."  The idea is that one person chatting with one other person can multiply to the point where many, many lives are impacted with the good news of Jesus.

I know that people in New Zealand can often seem reasonably content with their lot, at least on the surface. However, we are finding more and more people who are asking the big questions of life.  Perhaps it is the uncertainties of our age with global terrorism and political upheaval from Brexit to the election of Donald Trump, to the turmoil in the Middle East.  Perhaps it is dissatisfaction with the chronic busyness of juggling work, family, sport, study, and the all pervasive news and social media in our digital world.  Whatever it is, Christians seem more willing to invite their friends to consider the big issues of life, and their friends seem more willing to respond and explore.  As I have said elsewhere, I think an invitational culture and showing excellent hospitality will be a key quality of healthy church communities in the years ahead.

Tonight we have our next Alpha Dinner and we are showing the new Alpha Film Series.  I am very excited about it because of the quality of the film, and because of the numbers we have coming to the dinner.  If all those who have said they will come arrive, this will be our largest dinner for a long time.  Click on the picture of Bear Grylls who makes a guest appearance in the first Alpha film if you would like to see more. or read my May post on The Alpha Experience below.

A large Alpha Dinner will be fantastic, but a growing Alpha movement is only one expression of 1x1=1000. Already some churches on the Taieri are planning special Christmas events to which people will be invited. Other creative ideas include: family fun nights, country gospel evenings, ski camps, parenting courses, cafes, business breakfasts,... all providing different settings where friendships are made and something of the good news of God can be explored.

Now is the time for bold steps, that will impact lives.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Following Jesus in a Digital World

We were delighted to have James Beck from The Parenting Place join us at East Taieri Church last weekend.  James spoke on Sunday morning and at our EPIC youth on Sunday evening, as well as giving an excellent workshop on Monday evening.  Some of my reflections:

People of all ages found it very helpful to be applying a biblical Christian worldview to topics like sex and technology.  While these aren't always dealt with openly in churches, I'm delighted to be part of a church which isn't afraid to address these issues.  Good, healthy conversations have started.  That may be the most important result.  Interestingly, many of the "technology" articles on the Parenting Place website are also found on the "communication" section.

James recommended many helpful, practical resources such as "Our Pact" - a free app which can help parents and children put in place agreed boundaries on smartphone use. "The Big Weekend" is a CD resource available from the Parenting Place for $25 which helps start conversations on topics such as sex and puberty, preparing children for the teen years ahead.

When it came to dealing with pornography, James mentioned the website: "Fight the New Drug". Statistically, most children will have seen some kind of pornography (perhaps by mistake) by the time they enter the teenage years.  Filtered internet can help avoid that, but the best filters are the ones that you help your children develop in their own head - self-control and character.

We also have some books available in our church library.  One new one called "Right Click: Parenting Your Teenager in a Digital Media World" has practical ideas for parents and discussion questions.  It has helpful chapter titles like "How can I help my family actually be together when we're in the same room" and "How can I supervise what my kids are saying and sharing without making them feel like they're under surveillance?"

However, the biggest opportunity I saw from our weekend was not just for parents establishing better internet safety boundaries for their children (important as that is) but in helping children appreciate that their identity need not be dependent on what others think of them, or say about them on facebook or instagram.  Nor is identity found in sport or academic success, or work, or relationships.  We can help young people discover their true identity is in Christ as someone made in God's image and loved by God. They are someone God sent Jesus to die for so they could have life to the full.  Living by grace, knowing they are loved and accepted means a young person is far less likely to give in to sexting (a message where someone tells them they are attractive and asking for a picture of them naked), or flattery from an online predator who is grooming them.

It is scary to hear how many digital messages we are all exposed to daily which tell us we aren't attractive enough, or sporty enough or smart enough...  However, we have the opportunity to counter this by telling our young people that we love and value them as they are.  And that God loves and accepts and welcomes them just as they are.  By God's grace, we will all grow and develop, but the acceptance message comes first.  As a preacher, and a parent, I found that a helpful reminder.

I am excited when biblical thinking is applied to real life issues in helpful ways.  The relevance of a Christian worldview to these practical life issues challenges our often unspoken assumption that "church" is only about the "religious" part of my life and has no relevance to weekday issues.  No more artificial secular/sacred.  The fantastically good news of Jesus is relevant to every part of our lives.