Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Joining the Northern Ministry Team

I'm down on the Peninsula this evening for a Ministry Team Retreat for Northern. It's a strange feeling to be away on this kind of retreat with people that I mostly don't know. Strange because the issues being faced are similar to some that I've come across before in other ministry positions and strange because there is a whole different relational dynamic at work in this staff team to the one I have only just finished up in. A good strange though, I really like reflecting on situations and trying to work through what is happening in the context of a team and this is a whole new group of people and situations to do that in. So I'm here for tomorrow as well and then heading back to Melbourne for an anniversary dinner date with the lovely Jay. It certainly is an exciting stage of life and ministry at the moment!

Monday, November 28, 2005

In need of a new boldness

I've been feeling the need for a new level of boldness lately. My 'ministry' work up until this point has sometimes been challenging but never really risky. The worst thing that could have happened to me was losing face over a crappy sermon or a poor leadership decision. But with this church plant taking shape I am increasingly aware of the risks we have taken. I'd like to say I'm comfortable with the risks and I guess at one level I am, but in another way I sense that I'm going to need a fresh level of boldness to really be able to make this happen. In part this boldness will be a new level of reliance on God, but also I think I'm going to have to develop a willingness to put myself out there a little more, to try things that I am not good at and then try them again if it doesn't work. I've got that feeling that I will learn a whole bunch of new things about God, life and myself in the next little while if I keep taking steps of faith and trusting in Him.

Monday, November 7, 2005

Learnings from the garden 2

When we moved in to our house the garden hadn't been weeded since the day we bought it 2 months earlier so the weeds were starting to go a little crazy. So Jay and I got out amongst it and started ripping up weeds everywhere we found them. Once this was done we gave the garden a good water using some liquid fertiliser as well. After this we mulched, we used some mulch from a friend's house who had a tree fall down and had it chipped to be used on the garden. This whole process was really not that fun, to be honest weeding really sucks the rest wasn't too bad, but it caused me to reflect on the discipline of preparing the soil in my own life. For my garden to grow well I needed to put the time into preparing the soil. I needed to weed, water, fertilise and mulch if I wanted things to grow well over the coming months. I couldn't see the benefits while I was doing this work, I just had to trust that they would come as time went on. It seems to me that much of life is like this, particularly spiritual life. We need to spend time preparing our own soil, we need to take up disciplines that will enable us to grow well as time goes on.

For me personally this has always been something I've struggled to make happen, it feels like a lesson God has shown me in theory and now practically through the garden. I just need the boldness and discipline to really put it into practice myself.

A new beginning

Well tonight was the first time our new team met to get to know one another a little better and begin planning for the launch of our church plant in early 2006. I'm very pleased to say it was great. A really encouraging time of learning how we each came to the point of joining this team, we heard some people's frustrations, past hurts and disappointments as well as their dreams, hopes and excitement about the possibilities ahead.

There were many positive and inspiring things, but the level of maturity on issues of success and failure was something I found particularly encouraging. There are no easy answers on the subject of measuring success or failure in churches. I've seen a few methods and usually they pick up on some important issues but miss others or even when they appear comprehensive you still get the sense that something is missing. Well tonight we didn't talk directly about measuring success but we did talk about the elements of our plant that were important. And that even though our plans for the community garden may or may not work, what is important is the way we relate to one another in the process. These relationships will be the witness to those we interact with, not how well the community garden project goes. It is through these relationships that people might get a glimpse of God (and hopefully a whole lot more than a glimpse!). I hope and will pray that our relationships with God and with one another might bring light and the fullness of life that God desires for the people of Preston.

Some other notables were people's desire for a church and expression of their faith that was everyday, not removed from normal life and a strong passion for connecting with the marginalised in this area. I think we all feel a sense that Jesus worked at the margins and we see the need to follow that path. Also, as with many house church expressions, there is an excitement around the potential for strong community due to our size and proximity to one another. So it was a great beginning and personally I felt a sense of God's presence and blessing which is very affirming.

This means that we have a church plant beginning in 2006 that is local to the area of Preston, desiring to be mission-shaped, focusing on a community garden as the means by which it will seek to connect with the community and also formally a part of Northern Community Church of Christ.

I don't think I've mentioned this last bit until now as it has only recently been confirmed, but we have been working with the guys at Northern to develop a connection and our plant will be one of the congregations of this church. This is a very positive step as we seek to engage the community of this area because Northern already has great connections with the community and a very strong mission focus. In terms of details, I will be an unpaid staff person and my wife (Jay) will become a member of the internship program known as the Kaleo Team. Jay and I met with the leadership team of Northern recently and were very encouraged by them, the fit with Northern is a close one, another instance of God's hand at work.

Saturday, November 5, 2005

Learnings from the garden 1

I've mentioned that I am working with a bunch of people with a view to planting a mission shaped church in Preston and that I hope a clear focus of that plant will be a community garden project through which we will connect with our local community. Well things have been happening there and I will post an update on that soon, but I want to share with you some learnings from the garden I've been experiencing in a series of posts.

I haven't been much of a gardener in the past ... well actually I haven't been a gardener at all. But I've always been interested in the things we can learn about God from his creation and I feel like He's been teaching me a few lessons from my new experience as a gardener. (FYI - I consider myself in training for the community garden project so I'm starting with my garden at home. I've been weeding, mulching, watering, pruning, mowing, raking, preparing the soil, sowing seeds, replanting seedlings, fertilising and more. There is so much to learn!) This new pastime of gardening allows for much day dreaming and introspection, but it also provides time for healthy reflection and the genesis of new insights I have not yet uncovered.

a bit of disclaimer - there might not be anything earth shattering for you in these learnings, so don't get too excited, however there is a depth beyond the concept as a truth learnt as an idea is never as powerful as a truth discovered through action

My first gardening task on arriving at the new place was to prune the roses, apparently I was a bit late, but better late than never it seems as they are now in a glorious full bloom. I'm not sure if you've ever pruned roses before but it's quite a serious task. You don't just snip off the edges of the branches that look a little crappy, you really hack into the thing. To be honest I wasn't quite sure about the advice I was getting from various quarters, but after some reading on the web (the only truly reliable source of information!?), I was convinced that a good hacking was what was required. So hack I did, and they went from slightly leafy bushes to pretty tiny stumps. Okay, that's a bit of an overstatement, but I probably reduced their size by about a third at least. It's really quite a traumatic experience and caused me to reflect Jesus words on the vine and the branches ...

John 15
1"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.
8This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

The process of pruning my roses gave me some insight into what it means for the Father to be the one who prunes. There is a mixture of positive and negative feelings. Negative because you are cutting parts off, but positive because you know it is necessary and will bring growth. God doesn't have a sadistic or vindictive personality, he prunes us so that we will bring more fruit. He does this even though the process might be painful for both us and him I believe. I love the depth of God's character, doing things that might be unpleasant or even painful to himself for our good.