Friday, July 30, 2010

The Marriage Course

Tonight was the last evening of the seven week Marriage Course which Sue and I and several other couples have been leading at East Taieri Church.  This is the course which comes from Holy Trinity Brompton - the church which gave the world the Alpha Course.  Although running this course meant extra evenings out for me, when I already have quite a few evening meetings, it was a good experience for several reasons:

First, it was something Sue and I could (and indeed had to) do together.  It gave us some quality time together talking over those things that can easily get pushed to the edges in busy lives.  You know, things like feelings (ugh!), forgiveness, and the impact of family.  We found it helpful (even after 22 happy married years), so hopefully the guest couples did also.  (We will read the evaluation forms next week).

I feel very tender toward the couples who invested this time and money in their relationships.  Although couples discuss things on the course privately, we had time to talk and get to know each other a little over dessert and coffee at the start of each evening.  Each of those marriages feels very precious to me.  We plan to meet again for a catch up in a month.

While every marriage has its challenges, I was inspired that couples can grow closer and love each other more deeply.  Sometimes I have heard Christians criticise the lack of commitment in society today, but that was certainly not the case with those who came to this course.  Whether they were church couples or not, they showed high levels of commitment to their marriages by attending the course and (as far as we could tell) completing their homework!  The desire to make marriage work is common ground between those who are Christians and those who are not.

This course was not cringy.  The DVD presentations were very professionally done.  Over the top you might say?  Don't get carried away with the excellence thing you might advise?  But when you are inviting friends who are not from church (as I was) you want it to be good.  Thankfully this was a high quality, helpful course.  Even the week on "Good Sex" was dealt with sensitively and well.  This builds the credibility of the courses offered by East Taieri Church.  It will help encourage people to come to other courses or events hosted by the church, such as Alpha.

Hope this is inspiring for you too!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Church staff

Some of my time this week has been replying to the first response to our advertisements for a new Children and Families' Pastor.  It's encouraging to have a good inquiry.  But why do we need to have paid staff in a church?  It's worth asking the question.

All Christians are a part of God's mission, serving in a whole range of ways.  Paid ministers or church staff can't and shouldn't do it all.  We need everyone in the game.  The Holy Spirit gives different gifts to people, so everyone has a contribution to make.  In fact, those who aren't paid for their Christian service have an advantage when it comes to telling others about Jesus.  Writing back in 1927, Roland Allen said, “If he is a paid agent both speaker and hearer are affected by that fact.”  There is strength in voluntary, unrehearsed witnessing - even if there are many things the Christian just doesn't know.  No one can say, "She is just saying that because it's her job."

It's also true that a Christian's whole life is an act of worship or service to God, not just the time spent on church ministries.  We are living for God in our working hours, in the school day, and while caring for our families.

Having said that, staff make a special contribution to God's mission at East Taieri.  Life today is busy and having paid staff increases the ministry hours available to a church.  This means a church with paid staff can take new mission inititatives that churches without such staff simply couldn't manage.  Staff give us that extra capacity and help get us out of maintance mode into mission mode.  Staff help us make a bigger kingdom impact and grow as a church.  A Children and Families' Pastor is a good example.  Could we run Kidzown (our Sunday children's ministry) without a paid staff person?  Provided we have very capable volunteer leaders, the answer is probably, "Yes."  But, would we have the capacity to really grow and develop Kidzown, reaching new families from the communities around us?  Probably not!

Staff bring resources of specialist training and experience.  This can help us develop and lead effective ministries, provided it doesn't discourage other Christians from contributing because they don't feel "qualified".

As growth comes, we need more volunteer leaders and not less, so staff have a crucial role in recruiting, training, inspiring and coordinating volunteers.  Volunteer hours are becoming more and more precious as families increasingly have both parents working and there are so many commitments and expectations that use up our time.  While I believe Jesus calls us to a simpler lifestyle that allows more time for serving others, our hours as volunteers are always limited.

In the Bible we see Paul making tents while he is preaching so that he was not a financial burden for the new churches he started.  This wasn't necessarily a long term approach though as Paul himself wrote “The worker deserves his wages.” 1 Tim 5:18

So, while there is a significant cost to having church staff, they enable us to take steps forward, provided they don't try to do all the ministry themselves but instead stay faithful to their Ephesians 4  role of "preparing God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up."

I'm so glad I get to serve alongside such a great bunch of paid and unpaid "ministers"


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Inspire 2010

Yesterday I was part of a team from East Taieri that travelled down the Presidential Highway to Gore for the Inspire 2010 worship conference at Calvin Church. We were informed, encouraged and inspired by keynote speaker David Lyle Morris. As a preacher listening to a musician/worship leader I appreciated again the partnership that can occur in worship services with music and the other creative arts and preaching working together to communicate effectively and prompt God's people in worship.

You can discover more about David Lyle Morris and his music here.  I chatted with David, who you might remember sang and spoke at ET in Oct 09.  He is keen to come again so we have pencilled in Sept 2011.  We have a big combined ET service with all the congregations in together at the Hyslop Hall at Taieri College on 5 Sep 2010.  Assuming that all goes well, we could have David lead another combined ET service in Sept 2011.

Some of my reflections:
David and the Inspire team were very encouraging and positive. That encouraging, affirming attitude was refreshing, healing and inspiring in itself.

What a wonderful facility Calvin Church now has!  They used the modern auditorium very well.  The space was ideal for the responsive/interactive stations they had set up for the Saturday morning.  We had plenty of time and room to move around for praying at a cross, painting, writing on stones, viewing a beautiful powerpoint, sharing communion...  For ET people, it was the same style as "The Well" which Night Church have set up a couple of times now.  The quality of worship space was enough to inspire me about a new auditorium for ET!

I appreciated the blend of songs about God and songs that allowed us to express our response to God.  Sadly our repetoire these days is often dominated by songs of response that are actually about what we are doing in our worship, more than they are about God.  I think we are improving in this at ET but still have a way to go.  Inspire began well with a focus on God and yet also allowed for our responses.

The workshops were simple, yet allowed for people to ask questions and engage at a more advanced level.  I learned more about sound (hopefully understand more for times when I need to help music teams with the sound desk in their practices).  I also attended a multimedia workshop and appreciated chatting with one of the younger members of the ET team walking back from that one.  There is so much potential for involving a wide group of people in using their creative arts to build our worship of God.

So good to be there as a team - talking over issues, encouraging, debating, visioning...  Reassuring to know that we are creating worship services together.

On Saturday evening they used a multimedia clip that reminded us that worship is ultimately not all about us and how we feel, but about God!  Sometimes I think we are worshipping the feelings and experiences of worship, more than we are actually worshipping God.  Look at the words of the songs we sing in those "waiting on God" moments in worship together.

Encouraging to see such a range of people (ages, abilities, gifts,...) all contributing to worship.  I was moved to see a young woman with downs syndrome contributing to a painting, and later worshipping God in dance.

Hope this encourages you to be a part of Inspire 2011!  I'm certainly fired up to press on with involving our creative folks, as well as building our music, sound and lighting. 


Friday, July 16, 2010

Why Inside Out?

"Inside Out" is an important image for me in several dimensions of my life.

First, although I have a highly people-oriented role, I am somewhat on the introvert side of the introvert/extrovert scale. I am learning that this means I need to voice what I'm thinking about even while my views are still being formed. This allows my family, friends and those I work with to interact with my ideas early on rather than me announcing formed, firm ideas and leaving them wondering "Where did that come from?" I hope this "Inside Out" blog will help me speak "in draft mode" a little more, getting my inside thoughts out there so people can comment on them and be involved in the shaping of them.

"Inside Out" also captures the way I understand the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Following Jesus for me is not about simply conforming to a whole bunch of external rules and regulations. That so easily leads to dead legalism. Rather, God seems to work by changing me from the inside out, renewing my motives, thoughts and desires. I think that is what Jesus was getting at in Matt 15:1-20. The problem isn't just our external behaviour, but our heart attitudes which lead to that behaviour. This is a key part of my sense of call to ministry. We can't give the ultimate help people need by addressing their outward behaviour. I believe we need Jesus to provide the inward heart change that makes us want to follow God's ways. Ezek 36:26

Related to this heart change is the surprising way Jesus turns my thinking inside out and upside down. Consider his sayings like: "The first will be last and the last first." or "Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Jesus so often turns my thinking around.

"Inside Out" also describes my sense of a church active in God's mission. Of course some of the life of a church is focused inward on its members. The members of a church must pastorally care for one another and build each other up to maturity in Christ (Eph 4 stuff). The church gathers at least weekly for public worship. But all this quickly becomes stagnant and boring if it is cut off from what God is doing in the wider world. I believe Christians must overflow with the love of God out to people who don't yet know about Jesus. This inside out mission appears as glimpses of God's kingdom here and there. It might be acts of loving service to people in need, working alongside people to see their communities develop. It might be Christians telling someone about the new life they have discovered in Christ, so they also can come to know forgiveness for sin and new life. It might be seeing an injustice put right, or someone healed, or people set free from evil spirits that had been troubling them. It could be an act of caring for this beautiful planet God has made... These things demonstrate that Jesus is Lord and King, not just inside the church, but also when the church goes out to their workplaces, schools and neighbourhoods.

Looking forward to sharing "inside out" thoughts with you, and reading your comments,