Thursday, June 30, 2011


God is mystery. We can never encompass him in thoughts or words. When we talk about God we are trying to describe the divine from the point of view of the human, the eternal from the standpoint of the temporal, the infinite in finite terms, the absolute from the severely limited perspective of the relative.

Rudolf Otto describes the sacred as ‘mysterium tremendum et fascinans’, the awe-inspiring mystery which fascinates us. We are tempted to hide from the fearful majesty of God, but also to gaze in wonder at his loveliness.

We encounter mystery in the descriptions of the ways of God in the Bible, in the sacraments, liturgies and rites of the church, in nature, and in the events of history. Mystery pervades the whole of reality. Indeed, true knowledge and freedom are not possible without an ex perience of mystery.

In the languages of literature, art, music, we touch the hem of God’s garment and feel a little tingle of power, but God will always remain incomprehensible.

Mystery also surrounds the human creatures who are both made in the image of a mysterious God and who have, by their sinning, marred that image. Pascal says this doctrine of the Fall offends us, but yet, without this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we are incomprehensible to ourselves.

So Christianity, says Kierkegaard, is ‘precisely the paradoxical’. (Paradox — from the Greek para and doxa, ‘against opinion’.) The idea of mystery invites us to think more deeply, not to abandon thinking; to reject the superficial, and the simplistic.

Prejudice is, in essence, idolatry: the worship of my – or my group’s – ideas, even ideas of God. If I know all the answers I would be God, and ‘playing God’ is the essence of idolatry. One of my greatest dangers is to relax my vigilance against the possibility of prejudice in my own life, or to suffer from the delusion that I can ever be really free from it. We human beings are more rationalising than rational. Thomas Merton said somewhere, ‘No-one is so wrong as the one who knows all the answers.’ Alfred North Whitehead says, ‘Religions commit suicide when they find their inspiration in their dogmas.’ ‘If you understand everything, you must be misinformed,’ runs a Japanese proverb. People who are always right are always wrong. The dilemma is summed up by W.B. Yeats — ‘While the best lack conviction, the worst are full of certainty and passionate intensity.’

The key lies in distinguishing between faithless doubt and creative doubt. Faithless doubt, as Kahlil Gibran put it, ‘is a pain too lonely to realise that faith is his twin brother’. Or it is a cop-out to save us being committed to anything. Its accomplice, neutrality, is also evil: the apathy of ‘good’ persons results in the triumph of evil. The worst evils in the world are not committed by evil people, but by good people who do not know they are not doing good. The authentic Christian is willing to listen, as well as to save.

Creative doubt, on the other hand, is ‘believing with all your heart that your belief is true, so that it will work for you; but then facing the possibility that it is really false, so that you can accept the consequences of the belief.’ (John Reseck).

So faith is not about certainty (certainty makes faith invalid and unnecessary). Its core is the mystery — and the reality — of the Eternal coming into time: ‘Our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man’ (Wesley). The essence of Christianity is not dogmatic systems of belief, but being apprehended by Christ. True faith holds onto Christ, and for all else is uncommitted. It is about a relationship with Christ (and all meaningful relationships involve risk). The true God does not give us an immutable belief-system, but himself. He became one of us to ‘make his light shine in our hearts, to bring us the knowledge of God’s glory shining in the face of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4: 6). Alleluia!


Snoopy was typing a manuscript, up on his kennel. Charlie Brown: ‘What are you doing, Snoopy?’ Snoopy: ‘Writing a book about theology.’ Charlie Brown: ‘Good grief. What’s its title?’ Snoopy (thoughtfully): ‘Have You Ever Considered You Might Be Wrong?’ This points up a central Christian dictum: God’s truth is very much bigger than our little systems.

Our Lord often made the point that God’s fathering extended to all people everywhere. He bluntly targeted the narrow nationalism of his own people, particularly in stories like the good Samaritan. Here the ‘baddie’ is a hero. It’s a wonderful parable underlining the necessity to love God through loving your neighbour — and one’s neighbour is the person who needs help, whoever he or she may be. But note that love of neighbour is more than seeking their conversion, then adding a few acts of mercy to others in ‘our group’. Jesus’ other summary statements about the meaning of religion and life in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 involve justice too: attempting to right the wrongs my neighbour suffers.

‘Ethnocentrism’ is the glorification of my group. What often happens in practice is a kind of spiritual apartheid: I’ll do my thing and you do yours — over there. Territoriality (‘my place — keep out!’) replaces hospitality (‘my place — you’re welcome!’). I like Paul’s commendation in Philippians 2:19-21 of Timothy ‘who really cares’ when everyone else was concerned with their own affairs.

Sometimes our non-acceptance of others’ uniqueness has jealousy or feelings of inferiority at their root. You have probably heard the little doggerel, ‘I hate the guys/that criticise/and minimise/the other guys/whose enterprise/has made them rise/above the guys/that criticise/and minimise…’

In our global village we cannot avoid relating to ‘different others’. Indeed, marriage is all about two different people forming a unity in spite of their differences. Those differences can of course be irritating — for example when a ‘lark’ marries an ‘owl’ (but the Creator made both to adorn his creation).

Even within yourself there are diverse personalities. If you are a ‘right brain’ person, why not develop an interest in ‘left brain’ thinking?

The Lord reveals different aspects of his truth to different branches of the church. What a pity, then, to make our part of the truth the whole truth. Martin Buber had the right idea when he said that the truth is not so much in human beings as between them. An author dedicated his book to ‘Stephen… who agrees with me in nothing, but is my friend in everything.’ Just as an orchestra needs every instrument, or a fruit salad is tastier with a great variety of fruits, so we are enriched through genuine fellowship with each other.

A Christian group matures when it recognises it may have something to learn from other groups. The essence of immaturity is not knowing that one doesn’t know, and therefore being unteachable. No one denomination or church has a monopoly on the truth. How was God able to get along for 1500, 1600 or 2000 years without this or that church? Differences between denominations or congregations — or even within them — reflect the rich diversity and variety of the social, cultural and temperamental backgrounds from which those people come. But they also reflect the character of God whose grace is ‘multi-coloured’.

If you belong to Christ and I belong to Christ, we belong to each other and we need each other. Nothing should divide us.


Saturday, June 25, 2011


Here's a summary of some general wisdom about counselling. [1]
In one of his novels Somerset Maugham wrote this epitaph to some of the characters: ‘These folk had done nothing and when they died, it was just as if they had never been.” Christianity has always taught that the good deeds we have not done will damn us as much as the evil deeds we have done. What a waste – to have lived only one short life on this planet and to have lived it uselessly!
The greatest need in our time is not for preaching, nor for service on behalf of justice, nor for the experience of the Spirit’s gifts. The greatest need of our time is for koinonia – to love one another, and to offer our lives for the sake of those in need.
An understanding of Christian concern for others begins with the character of God. Ours is a ‘social God’, relating within the community of the Trinity, and, in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, with the people on this planet. Jesus came with a mandate to preach, liberate and heal (Luke 4:18-19) and commissions his followers to do the same as he did (John 20:21). So the church, the body of Christ, does in its world what Jesus did in his: no more, no less. It adopts Jesus’ stance towards others: that of a servant. And it will be called into account at the Great Judgment relative to the presence or absence of ministries of compassion to those who need what we can give (Matthew 25:31-46).
‘Compassion’ comes from the Latin pati and cum – ‘to suffer with’. The church takes Jesus as its model for compassion. Twelve times in the gospels, Jesus or his Father-God are said to be ‘moved with compassion’ for worried and helpless people (for example Matthew 9:36). Our Lord sends his followers into the world to ‘be compassionate as your Father is compassionate’ (Luke 6:36).
How does compassion work? In the same way as God’s does: Jesus is sent into the world to be with us. He emptied himself and became a servant (Philippians 2). That gives us dignity: we must be worth a lot if he is willing to be our slave! He says to us: ‘I will be with you always until the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20). We are not alone.
So compassion is more than sympathy – ‘feeling sorry’ for others. It’s not ‘pity’ for someone weak or inferior. Compassion is a ‘doing verb’ – relieving the pain of others, not just emoting about it. But it’s more than ‘helping the less fortunate’ – that’s elitist and paternalistic.
Compassion, says Matthew Fox, is the world’s richest energy source. A few days before his death, Rabbi and scholar Abraham Heschel said, ‘There is an old idea in Judaism that God suffers when we suffer… Even when a criminal is hanged in the gallows, God cries. God identifies himself with the misery on this earth. I can help God by reducing human suffering, human anguish and human misery’.
But there’s so much pain – where do I start? In the Matthew text describing Jesus’ compassion (9:35-38), our Lord then turns to his disciples and says ‘There’s so much to do, and so few do it, pray!’ First, pray! Prayer tunes us in to the heart of God. Prayer helps us focus on others and their needs. Prayer turns frustration and anger into hope. A by-product of prayer is peace, without which we will never act appropriately in an unjust world.
We are called, to use an image of Thomas Merton’s, motivated and empowered by the love of God to be involved in the sufferings of the world because it is the aim of God’s love to reset the broken bones of humanity…
But humanity’s brokenness is almost infinite. If a helper is not careful he or she will be ‘spattered all over the wall of needfulness’ as one therapist puts it. Shakespeare was right (in Measure for Measure): ‘Good counsellors lack no clients.’ An important habit for good counsellors is to find a time and a place each day, each week and each year for varying periods of solitude. Great people-helpers like Mother Teresa or Dom Helder Camara are great because of their disciplined private prayer. Have you ever noticed the remarkable statement in Luke 5:15-16: ‘Many crowds would gather to hear Jesus and be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray’. Imagine that! The greatest healer of them all left people unhealed to get himself together alone in the presence of God. There’s an important lesson there for us.

Now let’s get practical. Here are some golden rules for people-helpers:
A caring friend is worth ten uncaring ‘professionals’: your help will make a difference! (But learn when you have moved beyond your expertise, and need to refer the other to a more skilled helper.)
You won’t ever be an ‘expert’ on people’s problems: a lifetime is too short to understand all that you should know about psychology and counselling.
A Christian counsellor has three roles – listening, befriending and ‘shepherding’. As a listener you hear, deeply, what the other is really saying – especially any agenda ‘behind the words’. As friend, you share your journey and your struggles – but only when you have earned that right and it is appropriate. A shepherd or pastor, with the proper authority and on the right occasion, may share biblical insights. The three roles are expressed as ‘I hear you saying…’, ‘I want to say…’. ‘God says…’ (‘what you think, what I think, what God thinks’). But don’t be ‘trigger-happy’ with Scripture: don’t use Bible texts as weapons (or as magic pills!).
And only rarely (and when you’re more experienced) give advice: you are not God; you might get sued these days if the advice is lethal; and the person must ‘own’ their growth and changes rather than depend on your ‘parenting’ them. Your aim is to encourage the counsellee to stand on his/her own two feet as soon as possible, without your constant support. Some people are actually best helped by being left alone (particularly those who ‘hug their hurts’ and who are constant attention-seekers.)
Feed back words and phrases that indicate you’re tracking with the counsellee: ‘You’re saying that…’ ‘What I hear is…’ ‘So you feel…’
Don’t be judgmental: never be shocked; accept the person totally, even if you can’t accept their behaviour. If something makes you very angry or anxious or fearful, there may be some unfinished business somewhere in your own life.
Watch for ‘transference’ (when someone dumps emotions on you that don’t belong to you) and ‘counter-transference’ (when you respond by getting emotionally ‘hooked’ by the counsellee.) Check with a counselling supervisor.
Beware the ‘redeemer complex’ – getting in deep with others’ problems to satisfy your own needs. Be ‘empathetic’ rather than ‘sympathetic’. Sympathy may be a selfish emotion. If you’re getting too involved emotionally, or if you are sexually attracted to a counsellee you may have to refer to someone else.
What a person tells you in confidence must not be repeated to anyone else (except to an experienced supervisor with the counsellee’s consent.)
In a more formal counselling interview have some sort of understanding/contract/covenant. I sometimes find myself saying to someone who’s never been to a counsellor, ‘Feel free to talk about anything: but you don’t have to if you’re not comfortable. If I ask something you don’t want to explore, you can simply “pass”. I may not be the best person to help: but I’ll tell you when I can’t and when someone else might have different skills or insights’. (Incidentally, after about 20,000 hours of pastoral counselling, this helper can remember only one or two ‘passing’.)
Generally, experienced counsellors find the ‘fifty-minute hour’ best: most of the healing in therapy happens between sessions.
As a general rule, it's best not to counsel someone to whom you might become sexually attracted alone: have someone else ‘around’ (in the next room, or with you as a co-counsellor.)
Pray for (and, if appropriate, with) your friend.
Finish every session on a realistically hopeful note.
Above all, become a whole person yourself. Get in touch with your feelings, your ‘scripting’, your motivations, your sexuality, your besetting sins. Ideally, see a spiritual director regularly. Get to know God. Learn to grow into the sort of spiritual maturity that is less and less affected by praise or blame: the less you expect, the less you’ll be disappointed (saints expect nothing – or anything – and are rarely disappointed.)
One psychotherapist summarises the marks of a ‘therapeutic therapist’ as follows: they have found their own way; possess self-respect and self-appreciation; are able to be powerful; are open to change; are expanding their awareness of self and others; are willing and able to tolerate ambiguity; have an identity; are capable of nonpossessive empathy… They are alive! They are authentic, real, congruent, sincere, and honest; are able to give and receive love; live in the present; make mistakes and are willing to admit them; are able to become deeply involved in their work and their creative projects; are able to reinvent themselves; have the ability to be emotionally present for others; are in the process of making choices that shape their life; challenge unreasonable assumptions rather than submitting to them; and have a sincere interest in the welfare of others. (Gerald Corey, Theory and Practice of Counselling and Psychotherapy, Monterey, California: Brooks/Cole, 1982, pp. 269-71)
May you live – and help others to grow – all the days of your life!
[1] More...

Friday, June 24, 2011




* STRESS AND BURNOUT: Stress - trying to please too many by 'doing too much'; Burnout - 'compassion fatigue'; lifestyle issues - sabbath, silence, solitude, stillness...

* PASTORAL LEADERSHIP: Leadership styles, working with disparate expectations from the congregation/denomination,

* PASTORAL CONVERSATIONS: all you need to know about counselling

* PASTORAL ETHICS: all you need to know about behaving yourself!


* SPIRITUALITY FOR PASTORS: prayer, meditation, Spiritual disciplines, accountability - Spiritual Director, mentors etc. 


* THEOLOGICAL TRENDS: PARADIGM SHIFTS: women in leadership, GLBT's, government by consensus, priestly celibacy, charismatic renewal, conservative/progressive biblical interpretation (and a hermeneutic to address the 'hot topics' - Deity of Jesus, creation/eschaton, heaven and hell, violence in the Old Testament etc.), Christianity and other religions

* DEMOGRAPHIC TRENDS: which churches are growing/static/declining numerically - and why. Research into movement between churches. Emerging churches in the West

* ECUMENICAL TRENDS: working together to aid the poor/marginalized; denominational mergers


* WORSHIP: the seven biblical modes of worship. 'Worship services' - liturgy, preaching, sacraments

* COMMUNITY: Spiritual gifts meeting human needs

* FORMATION: the application of the 'Word of God' by the Spirit of God to the heart and mind of the child of God, so that she or he becomes more like the Son of God. 

* MISSION: biblical mandates - social justice, mercy, evangelism


* Develop an alternative income-producing skill
* Never, ever call for volunteers (unless you want the seats moved)...


We now embark on one of the most crucial journeys in this book, with an idea that over 90% of clergy agree with in principle, but, amazingly, over 90% of those same people say they don't do this well!
Let's begin with an introduction to ‘ethology.’

Ethology is the study of the comparison between human and animal behaviour. An important concept in ethology is the notion of territoriality: the practice of marking a piece of ground and defending it against intruders. Animals as diverse as fish, worms, gazelles, and lizards stake out particular areas and put up fierce resistance when intruders encroach on their area. Many species use odorous secretions to mark the boundaries of their territory. For example the wolf marks its domain by urinating around the perimeter.

Some scholars argue that people are territorial animals: humans’ genetic endowment drive them to gain and defend territory, much as other animals do. ‘The dog barking at you from behind his master’s fence acts for a motive indistinguishable from that of his master when the fence was built.’ The list of territorial behaviours is endless: in a library you protect your space with a book, coat, or note-book; you ‘save a place’ in the theatre or at the beach – reserving a spot that is ‘mine’ or ‘ours’; juvenile gangs fight to protect their turf; neighbours of similar ethnic backgrounds join forces to keep other groups out; nations war over contested territory; and, between churches, pastors accuse other pastors of ‘sheep-stealing’. 

Our own personal territory may include our room, specific seats in a class or in church, a particular table at the restaurant… The more attached you are to an area, the more likely you are to signal your ‘ownership’ with obvious territorial markers such as decorations, plants, photographs, posters, or even graffiti. College dorms and business offices are prime places to observe this type of territorial marking.

As a result of our fallenness, this planet and its inhabitants have substituted ‘territoriality’ (‘my space – keep out’) for ‘hospitality’ (‘my space – you’re welcome!’). Throughout the Bible we have numerous stories and injunctions about reversing this effect of the Fall. You know them – references to prophets’ chambers, looking after aliens, opening our homes to strangers and entertaining angels unawares, being hospitable to one another, prophetically denouncing the group which does not welcome Jesus’ messengers, Jesus being a stranger and we take him in, and so on.

Now pastors and leaders in the church are invited to be ‘hospitable’ rather than ‘territorial’, and it’s something they generally do very poorly. The biblical models are clear. Moses was told by his father-in-law: ‘You’re killing yourself!’ (Exodus 18:18). In essence his good advice to Moses was: Your task is to pray for these people to God; teach them God’s laws; and appoint others as co-leaders. When Jesus was recruiting disciples to lead his church he had the same three priorities: prayer, teaching (by instruction and modelling), and training for ministry. It’s amazing how much Jesus delegated to his disciples so early in their relationship: ‘Go and preach, heal the sick, bring the dead back to life… drive out demons’ (Matthew 10:5-8). Just the simple stuff, fellows, to start with!

Then when these apostles messed-up the early Church’s social welfare system, they had an ‘aha’ experience: ‘Oh, we should have remembered; our task is to give our full time to prayer, and preaching, so let’s delegate other ministries to people full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom’ (Acts 6:1-4). It would be wonderful if more pastors had this kind of ‘aha’ experience.

Now why don’t they? Fasten your seat-belts: this paragraph will contain some turbulence. The Devil could not get Jesus to accrue power to himself (Matthew 4:1-11; 16:21-28) so he has tried the same temptations on the shepherds of Jesus’ church. And he has generally succeeded. The church very early in its institutional history developed an ‘official’ ministry which separated ‘ordained’ Christians from others. These ‘priests’ alone had sacramental prerogatives. The Protestant Reformers rejected Roman Catholic and Orthodox theology and practice at this point, but, in my view, did not take their reformation far enough. Protestant pastors generally feel that they too, control certain prerogatives in the life of the church (presiding at most sacramental observances, preaching most of the sermons, blessing most of the meetings etc.), and are reluctant to share these ministries with others. They have perhaps forgotten that their key role is equipping (Ephesians 4:12), empowering others for ministry, not doing it all themselves as paid ‘professional employees’ of the Church.

Frankly, it’s nice having these privileges: all the clergy surveys tell us they enjoy these public roles in most cases. Taking power to ourselves is the devil’s primal trick however. Justice, we said, is essentially about power. When we deny others their empowering, that’s unjust.

To change the metaphor, let us transform the classical ‘wheel-model’ of the church – where all the spokes centre on one person or small leadership-group – to a discipling model. Pastor-teachers ought to spend more time with fewer people, training them for leadership and ministry on the job.

The acid test for ministry-leaders at this point is: how hard have you trained others? Could you leave your church after one year, as Paul and Barnabas did, safely in the hands of those you have prepared for leadership in ministry? Do you take people with you as you visit folk? Do you run courses on how to help your friend, how to lead a small group, on how to grow as a Christian? How about your church becoming a miniature theological seminary, as Elton Trueblood suggests? That is, how about doing in your congregation what Jesus did with his disciples? Or what Paul suggests Timothy do: ‘Take the teachings… and entrust them to reliable people, who will teach others also’ (2 Timothy 2:2). Well?


Ministry Empowerment Questionnaire

The following is the Appendix from my little book Your Church Can Come Alive - 34 Marks of a Healthy Church. Most pastors fail this test of excellence: don't be too hard on them if they're a bit embarrassed... Rather encourage them in these areas...

Pastors: why not do this ‘Ministry Empowerment Questionnaire’, and then discuss your findings with the elders and leaders of the church. 

Pastor-teachers ‘prepare God’s people for Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ’, so that they may become ‘mature people’ (Ephesians 4:12,13). How well are you doing?
Answer every question by circling the appropriate number (1) (2) (3) (4) or (5). If in doubt, choose the most nearly correct answer. Note: ‘Practical theology’ is all about the practice of ministry, and covers such areas as the theology of ministry, spirituality for ministry/mission, preaching, Christian education/formation, counseling, church leadership, Christian management etc.
1. PREPARATION. To equip myself to equip others I spend time in prayer, reflection and study each week: (1) 20+ hours (2) 15-19 hours (3) 10-14 hours (4) 5-9 hours (5) Less than 5 hours
2. DELEGATION. As a pastor-leader I would delegate at least three or four pastoral visits to others each week; I do not attend most committees in the church but keep in touch with them indirectly; I live comfortably with the idea that people other than I can chair significant church meetings or committees; I am not worried if I do not know the details of everything that happens in the church; When a job has to be done I have a habit of asking myself ‘Am I the best person to do it? Would I be depriving someone else of a ministry if I did it?’; I readily delegate tasks to others; most of the time I have the skill to choose the right person for a job, and am happy to leave them with it; I circulate leadership material to all our leaders.
(1) I would score well in all these areas (2) OK in four or more of them (3) three (4) two (5) one or none
3. THEOLOGICAL TRAINING: (1) 4+ years full-time or equivalent (2) 3-4 years full-time or equivalent (3) 2-3 years full-time or equivalent (4) 1-2 years full-time or equivalent (5) Less than one year
4. PRACTICAL THEOLOGY: My theological training included practical theology components such as # regular spiritual direction with a spiritual guide, # personal growth and development, # a supervised pastoral placement, # a thorough critique of my communication/ preaching skills, # supervised counseling, # a time management course, # leadership skill development, # other courses in practical theology:
(1) all of these (2) at least four of these (3) three (4) two (5) one or none
5. CONTINUING EDUCATION. I do a post-seminary course (of at least 3 days’ duration) in some area of practical theology (1) more than once a year (2) about once a year (3) less than once a year (4) about every 2-3 years (5) hardly ever
6. PROFESSIONAL READING. I read books on practical theology: (1) at least one a week (2) about 2-3 a month (3) about 1-2 a month (4) about 1-2 every two months (5) fewer than 1-2 every three months
7. JOURNALS. I read practical ministry periodicals or journals: (1) 4 or more a month (2) about 3 a month (3) about 2 a month (4) about one a month (5) fewer than one a month
8. LEADERSHIP TRAINING. # I would meet with key leaders individually at least once a month; # I meet with the leadership team for a training session at least once a month; # these leaders would aim to reproduce themselves in the lives of others; # we have elders who visit members on a regular basis; # we have commissioned deaconesses or lay visitors who visit in homes and hospitals; # at least 10% of our regular Sunday attenders would be involved in significant occasional counseling of others in need; # there is a ‘prayer chain’ or similar structure to engage in intercessory prayer for those in difficulty; # we have regular community ministries in place that would meaningfully contact the equivalent of at least 20% of our Sunday attendance each week; # at least a quarter of our people would know how to pray with someone to receive Christ as Saviour and Lord; # a significant minority of our people would find themselves spontaneously praying with another as part of a meaningful contact.
(1) We would score well in at least seven of the above (2) five-six (3) three-four (4) one or two (5) none
9. WORSHIP LEADERSHIP. Our church involves many people in leading worship services through # seminars on worship; # setting up one or more worship committees; # having at least 2 people participate in leadership besides the preacher in most worship services; # involving musically-gifted people to help choose hymns/songs; # training persons with preaching/teaching skills and allowing them to minister publicly according to their gifts; # opening up a part of many services for people to share their faith-stories.
We do (1) all of these (2) four of them (3) three (4) two (5) one or none of the above
10. COUNSELOR TRAINING. There is a ‘counseling/how to help your friend’ course run by our church (or some other nearby group which our church members are urged to attend): (1) about once a year (2) about once every 2 years (3) about once every 3 years (4) every 4 years or so (5) never or hardly ever
11. VISITATION TRAINING. To train people in visitation /counseling I have a trainee with me (1) at least 50% of my people-time (2) 30-40% (3) 20-30% (4) 10-20% (5) Less than 10%
12. GROWTH GROUPS. The proportion of our regular Sunday attenders belonging at any one time to a small group for spiritual growth would be (1) 70% or more (2) 45-70% (3) 25-45% (4) 10-25% (5) less than 10%
13. FORMATION. To foster our people’s ongoing spiritual growth we have: # a how-to-pray course at least once a year; # a bookstall operating after most Sunday services and perhaps at other times; # regular book reviews from the pulpit and/or in the church bulletin; # a church library (with books, audio-tapes, videos, MP3s etc.) in regular use by at least a significant minority of our people; # at least two courses on Bible study or theological topics a year; # at least one seminar per year on life-related themes; # a habit of regularly circulating emailed/photocopied articles particularly to leaders; # announcements at least twice a month of outside training opportunities for our people; # at least a significant minority of our young people attending Christian camps, beach missions, Christian groups at their schools or colleges and similar functions; # leadership training opportunities in place for small group facilitators (1) We would have at least five of the above in place (2) four (3) three (4) two (5) one or none.
14. ORGANIZATION. In our church’s structure, # we have regular communication between the leaders and the church; # we open positions for junior members to join important leadership groups; # our leaders invite and receive regular written communications from church members; # we have a feedback mechanism which produces ideas and suggestions from many in the church; # we have a ‘sabbatical’ system so that leaders must retire for at least a year every six-to-eight years; # at least 30% of regular Sunday attenders would belong to a committee or task force during a two-year period. (1) We have all this in place (2) we have three of the above (3) two (4) one (5) none
**** How did you score? If your total circled numbers was 14 (honest?) go straight to heaven: you have fulfilled your ministry! 15-20: your church is quite unique (but don’t rush into organizing seminars on ‘how we succeed around here’!). 21-30 – excellent: now work on setting goals to improve. 31-40 – get the John Mark Ministries’ ‘Your Church Can Come Alive’. 41-50 – get the JMM video and a copy of the book for each leader. 51-60 – definitely get the video and book, and get other churches in your area to combine for a live seminar.  61+ Don’t get discouraged, and do all of the above!



This blog will be a mess - for a while.

It's my attempt to squash ideas from fifty years of pastoring and thirty years of ministering to pastors into a Blog - and then maybe a book.

The book probably won't use the title I've chosen here, for two reasons - it's disrespectful, and it's probably copyrighted by the other mob...

Today (24/6/2011) I've started a sabbatical, and this project will occupy most of my intellectual, theological and prayerful attention over the next seven months.

Pastoring is easier and harder than it's ever been. Easier? Yes, I'd have loved a World Wide Web and a computer when I was preparing three sermons/talks most weeks back in my first pastorate (1960s - Narwee Baptist Church in Sydney) - and at the same time studying in a seminary full-time (supposedly).

(I just googled 'pastor dummies' and got only one response! It was a comment about President Obama's 'pastor dummies'... Oh well, good try).

Harder? Yes. People's expectations of their pastoral leaders are higher than ever before, and more often bluntly expressed. It's not 'liturgies as usual' in the so-called Free Churches, and where 'liturgical fidgeting' is proscribed, people say they don't get much inspiration from the preaching...

So it's a tough calling: burnout rates are high; most churches (in Western countries) are declining numerically; and Christianity is getting a bad press from militant atheists, and critics of our interferences in public discourse on this and that...


Anyway, this Blog has the raw material, which will be updated and compressed into articles on another Blog, tentatively titled


... with the following headlines (any others?):