Saturday, December 7, 2013

ENFJs in ministry and preaching

[If you've got no idea what I'm talking about here - read my last post...]

I’ve spent the last week reading up on ENFJism. It’s all pretty interesting. Tonight I want to continue my series about different personality types and ministry, but because I don’t know many ENFJ ministers up close, what I’m saying may not be spot on. I’d love to be corrected - particularly if you are an ENFJ or if you know one well.

ENFJs have Extraverted Feeling as their primary mode of operation with Introverted Intuition as their auxilary function. This means that the ENFJ’s primary mode of living is in the outside world (as opposed to in their own heads) where they wear their judging/decision making hat (all of the time!) The colour of the ENFJ’s judging hat is FEELINGS. They are constantly making decisions about things, weighing things up, working out how to respond based on how they feel about things and how things fit into their personal values system.

ENFJs love people. They love to be around them, to draw them out, to make them feel comfortable. They have all the social graces. They are confident, polite, well mannered. They laugh when they should. And they are really good friends. They listen, they help, they own your problems as their own, and they keep in touch when you’ve moved away. Unlike their ENFP cousins, who think they are insightful but often are just projecting their own feelings onto others (an introverted feelings thing), ENFJs really are in tune with the feelings of others. This makes the ENFJ a much trusted confidante and sometimes something of a guru, for ENFJs love to teach people and offer advice. Imagine Buddha sitting up on a mountain... it gives them a buzz.

Being a J type, the ENFJ gets stuff done. If it involves people management, they are most likely to do it brilliantly. They like to bring out the best in others. They love people and people love them... but because the ENFJ feels so much for others and wants so much to help, in ministry they can get burnt out with over committment. They need to remember that they’re not Jesus and leave it to him to change people.

But over the years, many ENFJs have forgotten that they’re not Jesus and have become cult leaders. ENFJs make great cult leaders. People love them, they understand how people feel and so can manipulate them, they are organised, they are confident, they LOVE people to come to them for advice (this can be like a drug to the ENFJ), and they get pretty excited about hero myths and quite easily develop hero complexes. Such an ENFJ is bad news. You might not have seen one full blown, but some church ministers elevate themselves a little too high and you can see the cult thing in embryo.

ENFJs will likely work pretty hard at their preaching. They are not really into impersonal analysis so aren’t going to preach theoretical stuff just for the sake of it, but ENFJs see themselves as on a spiritual journey and they are keen for any nuggets of wisdom along the way. To help them on the path to enlightenment, they will read theology and all sorts of things and this comes out in their preaching for they are very ready to impart their knowledge to others. They love the teacher role and really love to be agents of change. Their sermons will certainly have charm and some flair and are likely to be much better organised and more practical and directive than the ENFPs.

Monday, December 2, 2013

ENTP, ENFP and ENTJ sermons.

This post will look at the sermons of three EN personality types: the ENTP, ENFP and ENTJ. But first, some definitions for the uninitiated:

The Myers Briggs theory is that there are 4 different elements of our personalities - each with 2 options - and these 4 elements work together and describe who we are.

First we have the Introvert (I) / Extravert (E) option. Most people have heard of these. I won’t go into it here. Google it.

Next we have what’s called our PERCEIVING function - it’s got to do with how we take in information. Sensing (S) types (S) take in information about the world through their senses. They prefer concrete realities to abstract thoughts. Intuitive (N) types like abstraction. Theories sing for them. 

Third, we have our JUDGING function - it’s about how we make decisions. If we make decisions based primarily on logic, we are Thinking (T) types. If we make decisions based on our personal values and feelings we are Feeling (F) types.

The final element concerns whether we deal with the outer world primarily with our Perceiving (P) function (Sensing/Intuition) or our Judging function (ie. Thinking/Feeling). J types tend to be more decisive and like loose ends tidied up. P types tend to be more open to possibilities for longer.

So - to summarise: You get four letters - E or I, S or N, T or F, and P or J. Do a little test here to get some idea about what you are.


But now, back to what we were talking about... Today I’m looking at the tendancies in sermons of three different types - ENTP, ENFP and ENTJ. The latter two types are commonly found in ministry. ENTPs less so. 

ENTP Sermons - Original, logical, insightful

The ENTP’s primary function is intuition. He/she applies it to everything. They have flashes of insight in their bible reading and are quick to make connections to things they know from life and the bible. They like the newness of having a different passage to preach each week and if they believe in the value of biblical preaching and are committed to their current church (not a given!), they will see the sermon as their all-important latest project and will work it and re-work it until it does exactly what they want it to do. Because ENTPs value logic, their sermons will generally be well structured. ENTPs are insightful about people not exactly because they care a lot, but because they find people interesting (At least at first - an old or ongoing problem is of little interest to the ENTP). They have a thirst for understanding and can listen really carefully while people describe their situations. While the person is talking, the ENTP’s intuitive mind is racing, working out what’s going on beneath the surface and how they can imaginatively address this in their next sermon. 

The ENTP is capable of preaching really well, but when they are bored with their job and dreaming about the Next Thing, they will find it very difficult to focus on preparation and their sermon will be substandard. An ENTP is unusually well suited to itinerant preaching jobs where they have the thrill of a new congregation each week and can focus on one-off pastoral conversations rather than on long term relationships.

ENFP Sermons - Charismatic, inspired, insightful

The ENFP’s sermon has a lot in common with the ENTP’s - both are insightful, biblically and pastorally. Both are imaginative and original. Both will suffer if the preacher is bored with his/her job. But there are some differences. First, the ENTP’s thinking function gives him/her a drive for structure and logic that the ENFP just doesn’t have. The ENFP will have to force him/herself to explain the intuitive leaps between one idea and another that he/she sees as obvious. Second, ENFPs have a charm about them that ENTPs simply don’t have. This can be used for good or ill. Used well, their natural charisma can make their sermons truly inspiring and reach levels that the ENTP just cannot reach. Used poorly, they can be emotionally manipulative. Lazy ENFPs can come to rely on their charm to cover for poor preparation. Over time, poor preparation can become a habit with the ENFP. When their charm wears thin (as it eventually will), the ENFP will have little to offer.

A third difference between the ENTP’s and the ENFP’s sermons comes from the fact that ENTPs want you to love their IDEAS while ENFPs want you to love THEM. An immature ENFP will have ‘please love me‘ engraved in every line of their sermon. They are very responsive to the congregation’s feedback - which can be good and bad. An insecure ENFP will not preach things that their congregation doesn’t want to hear.

ENTJ Sermons - Logical, dynamic, directive.

If ENTPs want you to love their ideas and ENFPs want you to love them, then ENTJs want you to follow them. They have a strong desire to lead. So strong. The pulpit can be the throne from which they rule.

ENTJs have excellent verbal communication skills. When preaching they are a dynamic presence - confident, forceful, quick witted. They have a good theoretical understanding, but are even better at translating it into concrete applications.

They are convinced that they have the answers and in their sermons they will tell you all sorts of things that they think you ought to know. They believe in lives efficiently run. Families with strong leadership - perhaps even with vision statements! Order. Logic. They will argue persuasively for their point of view, and it would take a very quick witted person to see holes in the ENTJ’s argument while he/she is preaching.

An ENTJs primary function is Extroverted Thinking. What they like best is to make decisions. Their secondary function - Introverted Intuition - the process by which they gather information about the world (and the Word) - can take a very, very subordinate place. It may be that they only use their intuition to reinforce what they have already decided. For example, an ENTJ preacher may have decided that his congregation needs to learn about... say... household management. He sees all of these families that are just bumbling along. They need more order. Like his family has. He decides that it’s because the men aren’t stepping up and taking control. He wants to tell the men that they need to be the CEOs of their families. At this point, he goes to the bible (he uses his information gathering function - introverted intuition) to find arguments to support his already formed judgements.

Now, of course the ENTJ preacher wouldn’t describe his process that crudely. But because his Judging function is so strong, that is going to be the temptation that he faces each week during his sermon prep. Can he hold off making decisions so as to force his secondary function (introverted intuition) to do its work? Or does he so want to be in charge that he will allow himself to be more in charge than God and His Word?

The ENTJ, more than any other type, constantly faces the challenge of self agrandisement in his/her preaching. I’d urge the ENTJ to let the bible set the agenda every single week. ENTJs are most at risk with topical series. The topical sermon gives the ENTJ license to give the congregation all sorts of extra biblical advice. He (generally he!) will feel qualified to speak on parenting styles, education choices, diet, household furnishings, budgets... and his verbal giftedness will make people listen to what he says.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Jonah songs

You Can't Run Away From God

You can run here
You can run there
You can sail a ship
Fly through the air
But God our God is everywhere
So you can’t run away from God.

Jonah, Jonah
What are you thinking of?
Jonah, Jonah
You can’t run away from God.

You can run fast
You can win the race
Get a rocket ship
Blast into space
But God in there in every place
So you can’t run away from God

Jonah, Jonah
What are you thinking of?
Jonah, Jonah
You can’t run away from God.

In the belly of a whale
In the water, on the sand
In a storm at sea
in a ship or on the land
God knows all, he has it planned
So you can’t run away from God.

Jonah, Jonah
What are you thinking of?
Jonah, Jonah
You can’t run away from God.

sar 2013

Something So Wonderful

Something so wonderful
Something so true
When we say we’re sorry
God forgives us, me and you.

Wherever we've come from

Whatever we've done
When we say we're sorry
God forgives our sins each one.

sar 2013

Have You Known A Jonah?

Have you known a Jonah
Who hates God’s kindness?
Have you known a Jonah
Who doesn’t want to share?
Tell them God has love enough for everyone.
So spread the news of Jesus everywhere.


Have you known a Jonah
Who won’t share Jesus?
Have you known a Jonah
Who keeps him to herself
Tell her God has love enough for everyone.
So share the news of Jesus with someone else.

sar 2013

[first drafts. syllables still very untidy.]

Oh Hush Little Baby

Oh hush little baby, put troubles behind you
no darkness, no danger can touch you, my love
The storm clouds are clearing, a new world is nearing
Rest calm in the arms of the Father above.

Oh hush little baby, and dream dreams of wonder
This rain and this thunder can cause you no harm.
Beyond us, tomorrow, a world without sorrow,
Rest calm in the arms of the Father above.
Rest calm in the arms of the Father above.

sar 2013

Easter Hymn

Shouts of joy, the tomb is empty,
Christ has risen from the grave!
Hearts are burning, oh this victory,
Christ’s alive again!

Tell the news to every nation,
Speak this joy to those in pain,
He, the king of all has conquered,
Christ’s alive again!

See oh darkness, you won’t triumph,
See oh death, you will not reign,
Those you hold will be restored for
Christ’s alive again!

Christ's alive and sin's defeated,
stand, oh soul, and battle brave.
What have you to lose in fighting?
Christ’s alive again!

Shouts of joy, the tomb is empty,
Let the whole world sing in praise!
Life has conquered, death’s defeated,
Christ’s alive again

Friday, November 15, 2013

The ESTJ Minister. A Profile.

The ESTJ is a very different leader to the ENFP (see last post). People are drawn to follow the ENFP because she is fascinating and imaginative. Inspirational. The ESTJ is no less a natural leader, but he leads through his authoritative, take-charge personality. Think of an army sergeant. The ESTJ is convinced that he is right and he’s not shy about telling others what to do. Those around him appreciate that he has an outstanding ability to get things done. Unlike some other types, he has his feet on the ground - no fanciful dreaming for the ESTJ! He’s concerned about what will actually work. He develops systems. He implements them. Maintains them. The ESTJ values competence and efficiency in those around him. He has very little patience with sloppiness.
An ESTJ minister is a great asset to a medium to large church. He has the organisational skills to steer the ship effectively. He knows how to set up all the necessary structures of bible study groups, welcoming teams and rosters, to make sure that everything stays afloat. He’s not afraid of conflict. He’s able to cut programs that need to be cut. He’ll make sure that everything is aligned so that the church’s vision can be achieved.
Sound excellent? I think so. Often I think I’d love to have a little more ESTJ in me.
But for every strength there is, of course, a corresponding weakness. 
ESTJs often HAVE to be in charge. They can be so convinced that they are right that they don’t feel the need to listen to others. If they don’t keep themselves in check, they can be overly controlling of everyone around them - their spouses, children and churches (dictators!), wanting everyone to step into line. Even if they have managed to not be controlling, people often still view the ESTJ as bossy and insensitive. This comes from the fact that their dominant function is extraverted judging. This means that when they are out and about, interacting in the world, their judging function (thinking) comes to the fore. Unlike their ESTP cousins, they are not there to take in information. They are there to settle things. Make decisions. Apply logic. Solve problems. They want loose ends tied up. They are there to do business. To achieve things. In their interactions with people, this approach can be unhelpful. Pastoral problems rarely have easy solutions. Careful listening is needed. Drawing the other person out. Holding back on the advice. Trying to help the person work out the problem behind the problem. These are things that don’t come easily to the ESTJ. 
ESTJ pastors who have not learned to combine their drive for leadership with good listening skills and pastoral sensitivity will find ministry a frustrating experience. They may find themselves inadvertantly hurting others with their insensitive language and ‘advice’ given out of season. 
They will also need to learn to manage their perfectionistic tendencies so that they are not always hounding others (staff and volunteers) for their inefficiency and sloppiness. 
ESTJs are naturally drawn to leadership positions and their organisational skills are so valuable. Many ESTJs will have had these controlling/insensitivity tendencies pointed out early on, and by the time they are in full time ministry, they will have acquired the patience, listening skills and humility that they need to be the effective leaders that they can be. Alas, some enter ministry unaware... 
Perhaps a less obvious weakness that ESTJ ministers face comes from the fact that they are neither creative thinkers (that it, they are s rather than n) nor naturally in tune with what others are feeling (they are t rather than f). This combination can mean that their preaching lacks both theological imagination (creatively drawing biblical ideas together) and pastoral insight. As such it can fail to connect with people on a deep level. The congregation may hear the content that is taught (and it can be great content), but they might not feel the implications of it for themselves so readily.
ESTJs who have not adequately developed their secondary function of introverted sensing will find it difficult to really read the bible properly. At best, S types tend to take much longer than N types to crack a passage - to see the big idea and make connections with other bible passages, to work out what it’s really saying. An underdeveloped S will find this extra hard and ESTJ’s Jness makes it even harder still. Sitting with tensions and unanswered questions is very unnatural for them. They want closure quickly - often far too quickly, before they’ve have a chance to really explore the options and feel the significance of each of them. Instead of waiting through the uncomfortable uncertainty, ESTJs can shut it down, taking the short cut of jumping into a theological system (say, Calvinism) for the answers.
If an ESTJ preacher does this, his/her sermons will lack theological nuance.
Thankfully though, with a conscious effort, an ESTJ’s sermons can be great. They just need to work hard. Phil Campbell and Gary Millar have some great ideas in their book on preaching to help you crack the big idea of a passage. They also have many little hints like “always use illustrations about people”*, things that other personality types know intuitively, that are really helpful.
If you are an ESTJ with a tendency to short cut and shut down difficulties in the bible, I’d advise you to chuck out your Calvinism and your commentaries and your sermon recordings of your gurus. Discipline yourself to use your sensing function properly. Read the bible. Read it again. And again. And again. Think. Work it out by yourself. If you can’t work it out, get up in the pulpit on Sunday and tell your congregation that you don’t know. It will be good for your soul. 
In my observation, an ESTJ can make a superb ‘executive pastor’: the guy who makes the ship run smooth. In a big church often you’ll have someone like an ENFP/ENTP/INFP with vision and imagination to set the direction and an ESTJ (or similar) to make it happen. A combination like that can really be magic. 
In a smaller church where the ESTJ is the sole pastor, I imagine that he would probably adopt a vision or model of ministry from another church and execute it brilliantly. An ESTJ aware of his pastoral limitations (while working on them) would set up successful systems for pastoral care that take the load off him and share it between gifted people in the congregation.
Through disciplined effort over time, his preaching would be excellent too and I'd love to be in his well run congregation.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Church staffing suggestions #1 - The ENFP pastor

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how 2IC appointments often go wrong.

I plan to do a few follow up posts with some suggestions for maybe how to avoid some of these problems.

Today I'll look briefly at the ENFP pastor and make some suggestions for him*.

Charismatic ministry leaders are often Myers Briggs personality type ENFP. ENFPs are awesome people: imaginative, idealistic, interesting, inspiring, quick thinking, friendly. People like them and they like people. It is little wonder that they are often in the lead pastor role. Surely they are made for it!

Yeah, they are.

A good ENFP has heaps to offer a church (as do other personality types) but here are a few ways that things can go bad for them when they look to employing someone and a few suggestions.

Problem #1: ENFPs so recognise the contribution that their own friendliness, imagination and quickness makes to their ministry success that their natural inclination is to look for another ENFP to work with them as 2IC. This is a Bad Idea. Many reasons:

a.) ENFPs want their own imaginative ideas to get up. They are dreamers of dreams and in a small-medium church (say, up to 200 people) they get in each other's way.

b.) The ENFP senior invariably employs someone in the hope that that someone will be the one who does the follow through on his ideas. But ENFPs don't really specialise in follow through. They see carrying out the details of a plan as trivial drudgery. The 2IC will feel abused if asked to spend his time executing someone else's dreams while not being able to pursue his own. The senior will feel frustrated if the 2IC doesn't do that which he was employed to do!

c.) 2IC ENFPs tend to be a bit ADD with employment. They find it hard to settle because they feel that there is some job out there that they could be more authentically themselves in.

d.) ENFPs are naturally pretty charming and use their charm to get people to do what they want them to do. Being able to sweet talk is mostly a useful thing, but sometimes it can be manipulative. ENFPs are pretty quick to think of it as manipulative when they see others doing it. And it doesn't work nearly so well on other ENFPs as it does on everyone else.

Solution #1 : Don't employ an ENFP as your 2IC.

Problem #2: ENFPs are relationally idealistic. They want the perfect working relationship and will be disappointed in others easily.

Solution #2 : a.) Get your expectations sorted and keep reminding yourself that a relationship doesn't have to be perfect to be good and functional.
b.) Before the appointment begins, write a detailed job description for yourself and for the 2IC. Make everything as clear as possible. Have others look at it as well. Ask the 2IC what he thinks. Is this possible time-wise? Would it be fulfilling for him? Does it play to his strengths? Review it after 3 months.

Problem #3: ENFPs are puppy dogs for praise. They want to be accepted. They want to be loved. They want to be told they are doing a good job. This can make being a boss hard.

Solution #3:
a.) Get over it. God is the one you are working for. Look forward to the 'Well done good and faithful servant' from Him.
b.) Don't expect your staff team to be your fan club. This isn't a healthy. Church will be better off if there is respectful disagreement from time to time between staff.
c.) Learn to say what needs to be said in criticism of your 2IC well and trust that, although awkward, your relationship can take it.

Now of course, all ENFPs won't have these problems but I think the personality type lends itself to these sorts of issues. And they certainly aren't insurmountable at all. I think probably being aware of them is a large part of it. Thoughts?

*As with the last post, I'm talking about guys working with guys here - hence all the masculine pronouns.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Don't blame God. This one is on us.

There could be ten thousand people dead in the Philippines after typhoon Haiyan. Yes, it was a big storm. But ten thousand?

No doubt in the coming days and weeks people will ask how God could have let such a thing happen. What kind of God could have caused such a loss of human life and property? People will say they don’t want to believe in a God who is so evil.

But I think this is just making excuses. Shifting the blame. 

This one is on us.

God put us humans in charge of the earth. He gave us the intellectual and physical resources to foresee storms like this one, to design strong houses, to predict the areas that are most likely to be affected, to transport people to safety. It is possible for a category 5 cyclone to hit with little or no loss of life. It didn’t have to be like this. 

If we had spent more time and energy in the last 100 years working cooperatively to better each other’s lives and less time and energy exploiting one anther or blowing each other up, maybe fewer people in the Philippines would been killed. 

Erotic Romance

My article is up online. Read it here.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

If I ran my own primary school...

Science would be taught for half an hour a day, 5 days a week for half of the year (every second month). 2 of the days each week I'd read the kids interesting information books on the topic or show them interesting videos. On the other days they would do experiments, do their own research or reading, and write in their journals. I would know that I'm teaching well if the kids are fascinated by what they are learning and looking for ways to find out more, if their knowledge base is expanding, if their are asking good questions and getting better at designing/carrying out experiments.

History would be taught for half an hour a day half of the months when Science wasn't taught. For two lessons a week, we'd read books getting an overview of our topic. For another lessons, we'd look at primary source documents. In the other lessons, the kids would respond to the reading in various ways...

Geography would be in the non history/science months. The kids would learn that England is not part of Asia and that Melbourne is not a state. I know there is more to Geography than this, but basically I wouldn't care if was all just maps, maps, maps. There are basic things that everyone needs to know.

Music would be taught for half an hour each day following a (seriously accelerated) Kodaly model.  From year 3 students would be expected to be learning an instrument privately. There would be orchestra and concert band and choir of course.

PE would be taught for half an hour a day with two lessons a week run by a specialist. Two of the non specialist days would be pure cardio training. Get out there and swim/run/skip. If you aren't puffing, you're not working hard enough!

Maths would be taught for an hour each day by someone who understands it and likes teaching it. (I understand it, but hate teaching it to kids who don't. get. it.)

English would be taught for an hour and a half each day. 15-20 minutes of that time each day should be spent listening to a story. 20 minutes should be spent on spelling. Two days a week should be spent on skills training - comprehension, grammar etc (Texts that are used for comprehension tasks should be carefully graded so that kids are working at a good level for them. They should also be worth reading.) three days a week should be spent in more creative, interesting, analytical... joyful pursuits. Poetry must  not be taught by people who have no interest in poetry. Kids who are struggling to read and write should be assessed by educational psychologists, speechies and OTs to work out exactly what is going wrong and plans put in place to help them progress and remain engaged with learning despite their difficulties.  

Visual art would be taught by a specialist for 2 hours a week. 

Dance and drama would happen within English and PE and also have intensive bursts with specialists a couple of times a year.

There would be only 20 kids in each class.

Homework would be minimal. Home readers would be worth reading. Technology would work.

Happy utopia.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


I woke up this morning thinking it was Thursday, the last day of my working week. Turns out it is only Wednesday. Oh well.

Five thoughts
1. If there is only one thing that I'm not looking forward to in a day, I shouldn't dread the whole day because of it.
2. Forums are dead. Real discussion is to be had on fb.
3. It is November and the weather up here is still very pleasant. No really hot days yet.
4. Yesterday someone came to our place while we were out and opened the side gate. One of the dogs went on tour of the neighbourhood.  could have ended badly but didn't.
5. I really need to go and get ready for work. My first class arrives in 58 minutes.

Monday, November 4, 2013

baptism prayer

Loving Father.

In your great mercy you’ve given new birth to x, y and z. We thank you for the way you’ve sovereignly guided their lives, putting them in the right place to hear your gospel. We thank you for opening their hearts so that they could turn to you. But most of all we thank you for Jesus, whose death and resurrection freed them from your wrath and welcomed them - along with all who believe - into eternal life. 

Father, it is a joy for us to see x, y and z professing their faith in you today. Please hold on to them through the trials and challenges ahead. 

Father, your love for us is unchanging, but we acknowledge that we are so quick to turn from you. In a beat, our hearts move from passion to complacency. Our lips, from praise to cursing. Our hands so quickly stop building up and start tearing down. Father, despite the professions that x, y and z have made here today, what is certain is that they will sin. Thank you that your forgiveness is even more sure than their failures. When they sin, teach them to repent quickly. Lead them to the cross of Jesus so that they can find peace with you and wonder again at your mercy that makes fresh start after fresh start possible. 

Father, please protect x, y and z from the snares of the devil. Provide them with friends who will speak your word to them. Gift them to serve in your church. Let them shine as lights in the world so that the name of Jesus may be known and honoured.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

I have a new theory on preaching

Here it is.

If you have a doctrine kind of a mind you should preach from shorter passages.

If you have more an exegetical kind of a mind, you should preach from longer passages.

Neither is bad. Just different.

Most preachers in my circles are big passage guys. They are engineer types who glory in logic and structure. At college they felt more at home in OT and NT lectures than they did in systematic theology.  In their preaching they have taken very naturally to a Stott type approach of preaching a passage from one end to the other. If an idea is not in the passage directly before them, they'll generally leave it out. They are big on context - but seeing the passage that they are preaching in the context of the book it comes from more so than seeing the passage in the context of the whole bible.

Most of my minister friends try to preach like this. But for some of them it is really unnatural. They read a verse and their minds jump to other parts of the bible. They find that a chain of logic doesn't make their hearts sing, and at the thought spending 20 minutes showing how 2 chapters of Matthew's gospel hang together perfectly... well they yawn.

In the old days of preaching from a 'text', guys like this were in their element. It came fairly naturally. I'm not suggesting we go back to that. Single verse, out of context, pious reflections... who wants that? But. What I think guys like this need to do is simply preach from shorter passages. Maybe just 8 verses instead of 30. Take the time. Explore them closely. Go on that excursion round the bible that you always want to go on. If you are only preaching a few verses it needn't detract from your big idea. Give us depth. Really apply it.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Erotic Romance...

I have a longish article in this months' edition of the Briefing. It looks at the the phenomenon of Erotic Romance fiction and compares it with the sensuality of the Song of Songs. It then offers some thoughts on why this stuff appeals. I'd love your feedback on it. You can buy a copy of the Briefing here on Kindle. The article will probably be online somewhere in a few weeks. Here's how it starts.


A couple of days ago I had a moment. Okay. It wasn’t just a moment. It was a few hours. I could tell you how it wasn’t really my fault. How I just followed a link from someone, read about her passion for fiction and clicked on a book in a series that she’s into. I could tell you that I downloaded it onto my Kindle reader without thinking because it was free and because I thought that maybe it would be SciFi or Fantasy (my regular genres of choice).  I could tell you all of that but the truth is that a book called Kiss Me, Please* is unlikely to be SciFi. A series of books where the first one is free and the next six are $3.49 each is unlikely to be high quality literature. 

What I downloaded was presented as a fun, young adult romance novel. But if I was to categorise it honestly, I’d call it an erotic romance. Pretty soft as far as these things go (it was written for 14 year olds) but plenty explicit enough. The descriptions of sexual feelings and physical manifestations of those feelings started on page two and continued with increasing intensity through the chapters I read. By chapter 5, the descriptions were not just of sexual feelings, but of sex acts. I wish I could say that my interest in it was purely academic - looking at plot structure, grammatical features, poetic expressions etc - but I (like most people, I suspect) am not immune to the grubby charms of this kind of thing. Despite the paper thin plot, the terrible grammatical errors and the mundane language, the book was enjoyable - in much the same way as eating through a block of homebrand chocolate is enjoyable. There’s the buzz of the sugar and caffeine, followed by a bad aftertaste and a good amount of guilt. 

* not the real title. I don't want you looking for it!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

For the record...

There's a post about introverts doing the rounds at the moment and I haven't reacted.

Very much, anyway.

Maybe one tiny comment, but that's all.

See? I'm getting better.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

staffing issues at church

It seems to me that Christian ministers are bad at working together. Every second week I feel like I hear the story of an assistant leaving because his* relationship with his senior has soured to the point where it’s best that they go their separate ways. 

It can play out something like this: A church needs to employ an additional person. Someone is chosen and it looks like it will work great. It does for a while, but then the cracks start to show. The assistant feels undervalued, overworked, micro-managed, unsupported and unencouraged. Sometimes he feels that the senior is pulling the church in the wrong direction. Often he feels that he has to pick up after the senior and that he is blamed for his boss’ incompetence. Meanwhile, the senior guy feels that his assistant lacks the commitment to the congregation that he ought to have. That this job is just a stepping stone for him. The assistant’s work ethic is wanting, he can’t see the bigger picture, he is overly precious about having time off and satisfied with delivering a half baked sermon just because he was also asked to run youth group on a particular week. He can be argumentative and disrespectful. He thinks he is God’s gift to the church, able to bring revival, unity and all other good things if only the boss would get out of the way for him.

Tensions are high but things limp along. Sometimes there are angry outbursts. Sometimes, by God’s grace, the senior and assistant find a way of easing the tension and they learn to work together. Sometimes the assistance is asked to leave. Sometimes he simply announces that he’s been offered another job. Sometimes he challenges the senior for the top job.

Church staff conflicts are difficult and sad for the people involved, but they are also unsettling for the whole church, expensive and can be a poor witness to the congregation and the watching world. 

I don’t want to sound self righteous here. I’m pretty sure that if I was in either the position of senior or assistant pastor in a church I would experience these things in much the same way as everyone else I hear about. In fact, in my secular work, at various points I have felt most of the things I listed above. I think that dissatisfaction with employer or employee is kind of a feature of the work relationship, but I think there is something about the boss-assistant relationship in the church context which make the challenges more difficult to live with and more likely to end badly.


1. The boss/2IC relationship in the church isn’t as simple as it is in other workplaces. Both people acknowledge that they both serve the one master, Jesus, and that before him, they are equal. This leads many assistants to not primarily think of their boss as a boss. They expect graciousness from him. Perhaps a parent’s understanding. A pastor. They are put out if he draws lines and speaks heavy. The senior too, is often reluctant to give the direction that’s needed. He says too little at first, then in frustration says too much.  

2. The assistant, fresh from training college, has more confidence in himself and his abilities than most graduate teachers, engineers etc do. Likely he was something of a leader in the church before he started his formal training. During his years at college he has read many books and gone to many conferences on church leadership etc. These are like testosterone injections, making you feel particularly manly and competent - which is great when you are on the job, ministering to real people and only too aware of your short comings, but dangerous when you’re sitting in a room by yourself. A graduate, puffed up on Driscoll et al can do quite a bit of relational damage in his first few months on the job, imagining himself as part of the solution to the church’s problems rather than part of the problem  - as he sees the senior.

3. The mission of the church is a particularly difficult one. Proclaiming the gospel to a world that doesn’t want to hear it is hard. The senior minister is discouraged. At best, the church is growing, and he can’t keep the depth thing happening with the increase in numbers. He needs help. The thought of employing someone gives him hope that his job will get easier. But it doesn’t work like that. More staff = more responsibility = more conflict = more hard. When, 6 months into the appointment, he is as stressed as ever, he can blame the new guy for not carrying his share etc.

4. Churches generally employ a pretty small staff team. Maybe 3 or 4 people. This means that everyone has a lot to do with eachother. In a school or shop staff of 70, my interactions with the boss are limited. She watches from further away. If I dislike her, it’s not such a big deal. Others probably do too. In a church, the senior minister can’t carry on like a CEO if he is only employing a couple of people. It has to be more a partnership model. Almost a marriage. If we don’t get along, it’s going to be hard.

5. Management is a different skill to pastoring/preaching. When engineers move into management, they generally stop doing the stuff they were doing before. Same with teachers. Ministers are expected to do management on the side of everything else. It can be poorly done and other staff find this frustrating.

6. Church matters more than secular work. We are so committed to the gospel that every thing that detracts from it, every inadequacy in church, every conflict with our co-workers etc is amplified in importance. We find it hard to be satisfied with okay. We want to do the best that we can and it hurts us when we feel that others don't think we are working for the kingdom in the best way, or when we think that others aren't working as hard or smart as they could.

7. Families are involved in church staff relationships. If Andrew was a bank manager I wouldn't care about his workers' wives. I'd probably only see them once a year at the christmas party. We'd exchange pleasantries and that would be it. In church staff relationships, the pressure is on from all directions. Wives have to get along. Any tensions between the guys comes out in tension between the wives. Tension between the wives can influence the guys' work. It can all get quite complicated. 

There's more to be said of the problem but that's enough for now. I'd offer solutions but I don't really have any. (No simple ones anyway except #1 - Define the authority structure, #2 - be humble, #3 - trust God.) Do you?

* I'm writing about guys here. I think that the issues with female employees/employers are slightly different.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Two pre-sermon prayers

Lord God

You spoke and the cosmos jumped in eager obedience.

As we hear your word this morning, grant us that same response. Give us ears that delight to hear you and hearts that joyfully bend to your will.

For Jesus sake


Eternal Word,

Speak to us today

Cut through our distraction, unbelief and hardness of heart so that we'll hear you and be changed.


Monday, October 21, 2013

I Was Made To Praise (edited)

1. The rooster in the barn
To himself is true
At the break of dawn
A rooster’s made for crowing,
That’s how he is made,
A rooster’s made for crowing,
But I was made to praise.

So I’ll praise my Lord
I will lift up my voice
With my hands I’ll serve him
With my heart I’ll rejoice
I’ll proclaim his glory
That is why I was made
A rooster’s made for crowing
[A dog is made for barking]*
[A cow is made for mooing]*
But I was made to praise.

2. The dog is in the yard
barking at a cat
running round and round
sniffing this and that.
A dog is made for barking,
That’s how dogs are made
A rooster’s made for crowing,
A dog is made for barking,
But I was made to praise

3. The cow’s in the field
Chewing on the grass
Waiting to be milked
Mooing, mooing loud!
A cow is made for mooing
that’s how cows are made
A rooster’s made for crowing,
A dog is made for barking,
A cow is made for mooing
But I was made to praise.

sar 2013

* each time through, add an extra animal.

I was made to praise - kids' song idea

I'm writing kids' songs at the moment.

This is an attempt at the shorter catechism Q1.

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

It needs another verse tying it together and saying that I can spend forever praising God.

But what do you think of the idea?

I was made to praise

A dog is most a dog
when it’s barking at a cat
digging up a bone
sniffing this and that
A dog is good and doggy
That why dogs were made
Barking, digging, sniffing,
But I was made to praise

So I will sing to God
I will lift up my voice
He is strong and mighty
In him I rejoice
I’ll proclaim his glory
That is why I was made
I am never more me
Never more me
Never more me
than when I sing his praise.

The rooster in the barn
To himself is true
At the break of dawn
A rooster’s made for crowing
That is why he’s made
But I was made to praise.

sar 2013

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Attention ministers! Five things NOT to say at a funeral service

1. "We're here to celebrate."

We're not. We're here to mourn and then find comfort in the promise of resurrection. A funeral is not a party.

2. "She'll live on in our hearts."

She might. But my memory is short and I'm going to die too. A funeral forces me to confront my own mortality and the transitory nature of everything. Saying that she'll live on in my heart gives me little comfort. I want solid ground. I want flesh I can see and touch. I want her. Not memories of her.

3. "This was what she wanted. She was ready to go."

Do you know that? Really? Were you with her when she was struggling for every breath? It didn't look to us like she was embracing death as a friend.

4. "It's not death that's the problem, it's just that we'll miss her."

Death is absolutely the problem! It's death that's taking her away from us! Death is not a kindly old man. He's a monster with horns. And 'missing her' doesn't really capture the wrench of grief.

5. "She's going to be with [deceased husband]."

No she's not. If she's a Christian, she's going to be with Jesus. That's who she really wants.

Prayer of thanks for Ma

Father God,

Thank you for Millie. Thank you for her early life: for the love of her parents and the good times she had with her brothers and sisters; for her youth spent at the Southport Methodist church and the impact that would have on the rest of her life; for providing her with work through the difficult years of the depression and for leading her to George - who, in your mercy - was a good husband to her for 75 years.

Thank you for blessing her with nine children and for giving her the strength to raise them and teach them, for the years and years of hard work washing clothes, making fruit mince pies, cooking meals, making lemon tarts, cleaning the house, baking scones... Thank you for her obvious love for us - her grandchildren - for the handwritten envelopes at christmas time, for never forgetting our birthdays, for rejoicing in the births of our children.

Thank you for providing that support for her - largely through her children - that meant that she could live at home until just a few months ago.

Father, we thank you for her church family whom she loved and who loved her. Thank you that right until the end of her life she heard your word each week here at church, that she learned to trust you, and at the end she could take comfort in the hope of eternal life, that she knew that Jesus had bought for her.

Father, in our sadness of losing Millie, please help us to remember your promises that all who believe in you will see life beyond the grave. Strengthen us to trust in you so that on the last day we will rise with her and enjoy you forever.

In Jesus' name,


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Beautiful As You - The Whitlams

How was I not aware of this song?

Catching up on lost time.

I played it to my preps today in a sleeping lions type game after lunch. One fell asleep.

Monday, October 14, 2013

viola post #596

I love it. I'm having trouble with this tricky string crossing passage (2.08) and I tell my teacher. She shows me a technique, somewhere between flapping my hand up and down and turning my wrist in a circle. It feels funny and sounds awful. She says, "Don't worry what it sounds like, just learn the technique and trust that it will work." I don't believe her, but do what she says anyway because I'm a conscientious adult learner... And what do you know? It worked! I can play it now!

It makes me wonder what I might have achieved in life if I had always been this conscientious.

(How kind of someone to record this piece and put it up on youtube for me!)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

scatty thoughts

1. A watched inbox does not fill faster.

2. A held phone does not ring more.

3. When the heart is restless, the indulgence of a favourite movie and a piece of ginger slice is wasted.

4. One's facebook friends are a great comfort.

5. The best dogs are those that know and just sit with you.

6. If it was my mother, I'd want my kids there too.

7. 2000km is a long way.

reality and unreality

When my (paternal) Grandmother died last year it was very real. I sat with her in some of her last hours. The look on her face, her breathing - it was obvious she was dying. When I got the call that she was gone there was no unreality about it. I had lost her and I felt it.

When my (maternal) Grandfather died a few months later I wasn't there. I hadn't even seen him desperately ill. When I got the call I accepted intellectually that he was dead, but I didn't feel it in the same way. At his funeral I expected him to be there - like he had been at every other family gathering over the years.

Today my (maternal) Grandmother is dying. My mum is there, along with many, many other relatives. But I'm not. If I got on a plane now, I'm pretty sure I'd be too late. I want to be there. I want to feel it. Right now I'm sad, but not for her. I'm sad all over again for the grandmother I lost last year. And I'm preoccupied with working out different scenarios for flying down in the next week.

Pray for us. Especially for my mother.

Things I'm looking forward to

1. Time by myself on Friday
2. Having friends around on Friday night to watch a movie or something
3. Going to Sydney Friday week for TWIST music conference.

Just three days of work to get through now. I can do this!

Term 4

We didn't head south these school holidays- first time we've stayed put since moving here. It's been a great couple of weeks. It started with a QTC mission team coming and I got to enjoy lots of great company (yes, their trip was all about me!), a family from church came up and we had an afternoon/evening with them, our very good friends from school last year came and we spent a week being tourists with them - looking at crocodiles etc, another couple from church came up and took us out for dinner, and we hung out quite a bit with fun people from up here. We've been the the movies a couple of times, sat in the sunshine, stayed up stupidly late and slept in. I've had some viola lessons, sat in coffee shops and yesterday I did the blue arrow bush walk.

But this idyllic lifestyle can't go on forever. I've got to return to the real world of lunch boxes, before and after school activities and WORK.

Today's the day. I set my alarm for 6am in an attempt to realign my skewed body clock. We leave in half an hour. Micah's got orchestra, I've got choir, then I've got 4 lessons then another choir, 5 lessons then staff meeting, swimming training, art class and brass band. Then evening bible studies etc.

Such will be life for ten weeks.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Colour blind

[Language warning]

Andrew is colour blind. It's awesome. We put on red clothes and hide from him in the garden.

Nothing so exciting as a new idea...

...and right now I have several!

[happy dance]

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Psalm 84 meditation

I have a friend who’s made a really costly decision. Tanya would love to be married. Her heart, her whole self aches for Somebody. She wants to love and be loved. Set up a home. Eventually have a baby. And along he comes. This guy. Interesting and funny and comfortable. She loves being with him. His company. She wants him. He’s told her that he wants her. Their mutual friends watch on. To them, it’s perfect. 

But I’m nervous. She’s a Christian. He’s not.

I wonder what she’ll do. 

Tanya says no. 

To most of her friends it makes no sense at all. She’s upset. Saying no is clearly a wrench for her. So why is she doing it?

Tanya says no because she knows that to be with this guy would put her relationship with Jesus in jeopardy. Her friends don’t get it, but I find it inspiring. I know how much she wanted this guy and the life she could have had with him, but now I know, I have evidence, that she wants Jesus more.

She weighed it up and Jesus won. She wants Jesus more than she wants a husband. 

When I read Psalm 84, I’m reminded of people like Tanya. Psalm 84 is a psalm of passionate love for God - the kind of love for God that drives people to make costly sacrifices. The psalmist beautifully expresses his longing to be with God. His longing is so intense, so passionate, that a love song’s the only form it can take. The psalmist is on his way up to the temple in Jerusalem. To God’s house. The place he can meet with God. 

Listen to what he says:

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts

The word ‘lovely’ here doesn’t mean nice or pretty or pleasant. It’s much stronger than that. The ‘lovely’ here has connotations of a romantic love or even lovemaking. The pull he feels towards God’s temple is as strong as sexual love. 

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts
2 My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.

This is an almost physical longing he feels. His whole self - his heart and flesh and soul - they’re pulled to God. He sings, he faints - it’s joy and pain together. Maybe you’ve experienced that kind of attraction for someone. You’ll know what the Psalmist feels. He so longs to go to the temple and meet with his Lord. He must get there. A chord in his heart is connecting him to God. In verse 3 he envies the birds, because they get to build their nests in the temple. Lay their eggs there. Be there all the time.

3 Even the sparrow finds a home, 
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise!

The birds are happy. They live in the temple always singing God’s praise! Oh that the psalmist could do the same thing! He goes on:

4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise! 

5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

His heart is like a highway to Zion. His every thought is headed there. He’s like a lover always thinking of his beloved. And he says that it’s right that he feels this pull. God’s temple is where blessing lies. 

6 As they go through the Valley of Baca (the desert valley)
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.

7 They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.

The psalmist has no doubt that those who are drawn to Zion will arrive. Those who long for God will find him. They will stand before him. And it will be everything they hope for.

10 For a day in your courts is better 
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.

12 O LORD of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you.

All of the psalmist’s longing will be rewarded. There will be no disappointment. Just one day at the destination would have made the whole journey worthwhile. To get to be there as street sweeper would be better than being king anywhere else. 

12 O LORD of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you.

Blessed is the one whose heart is pulled towards Zion. Who longs for God!

That’s psalm 84. Unlike the Psalmist, we have no earthly temple to travel to. It’s not the city of Jerusalem in the Middle East that we’re drawn to. Our longing is for God himself. For Jesus. For the new Jerusalem he’s making for us, where we will be with him, know him, stand in his courts.

Do you feel the pull? Is your heart longing, thirsting to be with God?

My friend Tanya would say that hers isn’t. She would say that she doesn’t feel the psalmist’s passion for God. She would describe her love as weak and wavering. But I think her actions tell the real story. Her love for God is stronger than her desire for marriage. Stronger than her desire to be a wife and mother, to have earthly company and physical love. Her actions show that her heart is drawn to Jesus. Tied to him. Eventually her feelings will catch up. (I think reading a Psalm like this is a good way to help your feelings catch up!)

The sacrifices that Tanya makes in this life for God will be repaid in eternity over and over again. She’ll miss out on no good thing. Even if Tanya ends up never marrying and the pain she’s feeling now turns into the chronic ache of long term singleness and childlessness... even then, when she gets to heaven, she’ll laugh. She’ll say that it was all so worth it. She’ll say that she’d do it a hundred times over. One day with God is worth a thousand anywhere else. Sacrifice? What sacrifice!