Category Archives: Leadership

The Shame Spiral

For fourteen years Margaret from Accounts had admired Geoff from HR but felt unworthy. For the same fourteen years he felt she was out of his league. What a waste of a decade and a half! It was nothing to do with lack of attraction and everything to do with personal shame.

There’s a phrase I’ve heard a few times from people in my neighbourhood, about my church: “Oh, you wouldn’t want someone like me.” At first I took it as a polite way of turning down an invitation. Then I began reading into it, and got defensive, thinking: “What – do you think we’re a bunch of superior Pharisees looking down on everyone?”

Then finally, having heard it several times, I began to wonder about taking it at face value. What if it’s an expression of shame? What if shame is a major reason for people to avoid church and decline invitations? Then a big question: What if we hear the declining of the invitation and it brings out our own shame? Are our events not good enough? Is our music not musical enough? Is our teaching boring, our morning tea too mundane, our people too ordinary?

We redouble our efforts to put on an even better event next year, and the invitation is knocked back again. It’s frustrating. We stare across the sparsely-filled car park at the neighbourhood and silently wish we could somehow be good enough for our neighbours … who may be staring right back from behind their lace curtains, a bit bitter at the church that would surely reject them.

Where this dynamic is true, we have a different challenge in our outreach. Not to persuade people of Jesus’ magnificence or the church’s excellence, but of the enormous value of each person and how deeply wanted they are by God and us.

I remember receiving the business card of a Korean pastor. His contact details were small, but in large letters across the front was this simple sentence: “You are very important to God.” To those who say or think “You wouldn’t want someone like me” we need to find a way to respond with “Oh, if only you knew!” What a strange moment when Margaret from Accounts and Geoff from HR finally connected and discovered what had truly been going on all that time. The spiral of shame robs us all, but Christ has overcome it. As his agents, perhaps it’s time for us to be a little more shameless in reaching out? And more sensitive to the shame of others.

In Praise of Rosters

I love a good roster. There, I’ve said it.

I know many Christians disagree, seeing them as a necessary evil, a secret shame. “Rosters seem so artificial. Why have some people ‘on duty’ and others ‘off duty’ at a gathering? Shouldn’t it be more natural and organic? Can’t we all just follow the inner voice of the Spirit and be prompted into ministry in the moment? Isn’t ‘organised religion’ what puts people off the most, and what Jesus himself fought against?”

No.

If you think organised religion is ugly, have a look at disorganised religion. Everyone simply following the ‘inner voice’ of the Spirit sounds great but fails on two fronts: Firstly, we’re not good at distinguishing between the inner voice of the Spirit and the inner voice of ourselves. We can find ourselves only drawn to ministries and situations that we enjoy the most. We can confuse the way of Christ with the path of least resistance. Secondly, the Spirit also has an ‘outer voice’ – when He speaks to us through others. This is a massive way in which God works, but time and again we miss it because we think it’s just Helen asking us to help out.

A good roster helps us to be the body of Christ – all different parts, well co-ordinated under the Head. It reminds us to work together in harmony, to submit to one another, to take turns stepping up or resting while the whole body moves on. All of this can itself be a witness – by this will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

So a good roster requires a lot of love, and not just from the coordinator. It’s a spiritual discipline to communicate promptly, clearly and humbly with the poor soul putting it together. Signalling flexibility, willingness for others to have turns at your favourite roles, and willingness to fill in other roles if needed; are just as important as making clear when you’re unavailable and the limits of your sustainable service.

Jesus wasn’t fighting against organisation and coordination, so that everyone might be free to simply be themselves and do whatever they want. That’s not the Spirit of Jesus, that’s the spirit of the age. One of the most radical things a sacredagent can do is to commit to a local Christian community and ask “What needs doing? How can I help?”

For discussion: (1) What was Jesus fighting against? (2) When some says they don’t like organised religion, what might they really be saying?

The Justice of Evangelism

There’s two words you don’t see together very much: Justice and Evangelism.

Each of them is a buzz-word, a shibboleth (a word from the Book of Judges that helps you know who to kill and who not to).  If you go around using the “E Word” you’re this kind of Christian, and if you go around using the “J Word” you’re that kind of Christian. But sacred agents need to be savvy enough to rise above that false dichotomy.

Because the two are deeply, indeed perfectly, connected.

If you have plenty of water, and a neighbour is thirsty, is it justice to not give them some? (We get that, don’t we?) But if you know the source of plenty of water, the location of a Spring – is it justice if you don’t tell thirsty people where to get it? So with the Living Water we know comes only from Christ.

Justice calls us to evangelism. When we sit on the explosively great news we have, we’re not only doing the wrong thing by Jesus (who said “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory”), we’re doing the wrong thing by our neighbours and the wrong thing by the world, which will never thrive whilst estranged from God.

And as justice calls us to evangelism, so our evangelism calls people everywhere to true Justice. Like Paul’s message to the Athenians, ours points people to a coming Judge, and therefore to a real repentance and new life that goes far beyond sitting around with our friends in delightful echo chambers. It calls people to follow Jesus and join his ministry among the poor, the marginalised, the oppressed and the overlooked.

No one wants change more than Jesus does. But He shows us that the world is not improved through nagging, shaming and propaganda. These things perpetuate the ‘fight’ and bring a self-satisfying sense of struggle, but they don’t result in the lasting just-peace people claim to be fighting for. Real, lasting transformation, from selfish to responsible living, comes when people meet Jesus, find peace with God, and have their hearts and minds transformed by the Spirit. Have we not known this for some time?

So if you love Jesus, or if you are concerned for this dying planet and its suffering inhabitants, or maybe possibly even both, then live by the Spirit and give as freely as you have received: openly point others to the Source of life and Key to lasting change.

Slowing Down for Faster Roads

I’m a frustrated commuter. In Adelaide it seems that around every corner is a new set of road works, and the dreaded signs telling you to slow down to 40 (by displaying the number 25*). Sometimes it feels like you just can’t get anywhere. Traffic jams can reach back for miles and run thousands of people late.

Why all these slow-downs? Because we’re making our roads faster. Why is it so hard to get anywhere? Because we’re making it easier to get places.

It’s counter-intuitive. What would happen if we stopped doing roadworks? It would be wonderful … for a few months. But after that, increasingly disastrous. So I’ve been using stuck-in-traffic time to do some theological reflection.

Sacred agents can be the most idealistic of people. We have a vision for God’s kingdom and we want to see it now. But there are the road-works of disciple-making. The frustration of ministry development. We dream of having a church entirely made up of mature Christians. Wouldn’t it be heavenly … for a few months.

But God is choosing to pave the road to his fulfilled kingdom with future generations of sacred agents and given us the glorious job of being his road-workers. Churches need to be training centres and not just teaching centres. We should ask pastors to be star-players less and coaches more. And whilst it’s counter-intuitive, more responsibility needs to be given to those who aren’t quite ready for it.

But this will only pay off if we’re intentional about it. The most frustrating driving of all is when you slow down for road works and find that there’s no actual work taking place. Fines now apply for road crews who do that. And if we just delegate ministry without deliberately and efficiently building up others, we too should be fined rather than rewarded.

So next time you’re stuck in a roadworks jam, bless a road-worker. And prayerfully consider the wisdom in a slower ministry that intentionally prepares a holy highway for many others.

*That was a joke. Sacred Agents should never speed.

The Ministry of Inreach

You can’t reach those you don’t love. Sacred agents find this out sooner or later. If our calling was just to drop off a message from God, we could simply find a nice efficient way, get it done and move on. But we’re called to embody a message from God, to represent Christ to others. Like Jonah, we need to learn not only to obey and go, but also to actually care. Our mission is not just to win arguments, but to win people.

But all of this is Mission 101. Basic principles of outreach that most sacred agents get. But do we get that the same principles apply to inreach? Do we even think about inreach at all? What even is it?

Have you ever felt let down by your church family? That you’re on mission, alone in a massive harvest while everyone else stays in the farmhouse playing games and having petty arguments? That’s a picture of estrangement in need of reconciliation. If left to run its natural course, it turns into bitterness and abandonment.

Now here’s the thing: If you’re feeling abandoned by less-mission-minded Christians, I think you’re largely in the right. But you’re still responsible to help bridge that divide. I call it inreach. And you won’t reach those you don’t love, and you won’t win people over by winning arguments.

This might seem mightily unfair to not only face a daunting harvest but also to love and minister to those who should be relieving you! But it was good enough for Peter, who after the Gentile Pentecost in Acts 10 goes straight into explaining and debriefing with the believers in Acts 11. It was good enough for Paul, who worked hard to connect back all his mission work with the ‘home church’. And it was good enough for Jesus, who should have been able to take Israel’s support for granted as their Messiah, but reached in to the nation that should already have been on mission to the world.

So next time you sense the pain of that support-gap, don’t roll your eyes. Don’t let resentment grow. Love your church family with the patience, kindness and gentleness of the Spirit. You might be surprised how many become willing to have a go at the harvest with you.

A Tale of Four Tables

Just as the Kerrigans at No.34 were sitting down to dinner, in that moment of silence before saying grace, a knock was heard at the door. Their eyes opened wide in surprise, and they looked to each other. “Did you invite anyone?” “No, were you expecting anyone?” Considering it such a rude moment for someone to interrupt the family, they decided to ignore it and continued their dinner. 

The Ridleys at No.42 had just called their kids to the table, and they were jockeying with one another for their favourite chairs when the doorbell chimed. The youngest, Jenny, was still on her feet, having been beaten to the end seat by Simon. Tentatively going to the door, she opened it to find Josh, the teenager from two doors down. “Um, come in, I guess,” she stammered, and he stood in their kitchen, shifting from foot to foot. “Good thanks Mrs R,” he replied to the standard question that was put – although the mother’s eyes said to her husband’s, “Who drops in at this time?” Sustaining conversation with teen boys can be difficult at the best of times, and eventually some leftovers and scraps were put on a plate for him, and he picked at them while sitting on the kitchen bench, to the Ridleys’ further annoyance. 

It was after dark before the Sampsons at No.23 finally sat down for their meal, and they too were startled by a knock. This will make us even later. It turned out to be second-cousin Ruby, from way out in the country. “Ruby, what a surprise,” said Mr Sampson. “We’re just having dinner, we can probably make some room.” After an awkward sideways shuffling of chairs, plates, glasses, cutlery and Sampsons, Ruby was perched at the end corner of the table with an almost-matching dinner set. The food was served, and politely, no one complained of the slightly smaller servings. “This really is a surprise, Ruby,” Mr Sampson reiterated. “What brings you here?”  “Oh, I’m sorry, she said, but remember, you’d said when I started uni to drop in any time? The front gate was jammed, and I see your outside light is broken. But I thought I recognised the house and luckily I was right … I guess.” 

Hours earlier, at No.5, the Walters had enjoyed some quick toasted sandwiches together around the kitchen bench. They’d need the energy for the next few hours. “OK, are we all set?” asked Janet for the third time. “Yes Mum! Stop fussing!” said Darryl. “I’ve got the BBQ, Susie’s on drinks, Pete’s made the playlist and will watch the volume.”  “But we’ve invited so many. Do we have extra…”   “Yes Mum, extra chairs are in the storeroom, extra meat is in the fridge, extra drinks are in the mini-fridge. The front lights are on, and the balloons on the letterbox are still intact.” The whole family rolled their eyes as they saw Mum’s motto coming. “Hospitality is making your guests feel right at home, even if deep down you wish they were.” But deep down they smiled, knowing that strangely, these nights were when their family was closest. 

Is your church family the Kerrigans, Ridleys, Sampsons or Walters?
God sets the lonely in families.
was a stranger, and you invited me in.
In my Father’s house are many rooms … I am going there to prepare a place for you. 

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