ChatGPT and our cry for help

If you’re in pastoral ministry, you might know the Pastor’s prayer; with a Sunday sermon looming and more jobs to do that humanly possible, the pastor sits in front of his screen and prays, “Lord, help. Please help.” There is something so intrinsically right and good about this prayer. It represents a proper posture before our heavenly Father.

And yet the human heart is constantly tempted to pray to man-made things rather than call out to God. Isaiah 44 paints a perfectly ironic picture of a man who takes some wood, uses half of it as a tool for making himself warm, and to the other half he prays, “Save me! You are my god!”

The rhetorical question is “Why would you worship something that can’t even move, or act, or speak?”

And yet, we’ve just created a tool that speaks.

ChatGPT is a tool that talks. Well, almost. It is a tool that emulates talking. It is an image of us. In the same way the craftsman (in Is 44:13) take the wood and “shapes it in human form, human form in all its glory”. That is what we’ve done with ChatGPT. When you ask it questions it is reflecting and replicating what it has observed humans do. It’s an image of us.

So here’s a prediction… people will cry to ChatGPT for help. Not just help with their assignments, sermon prep, job application or marketing plan. People will cry out to ChatGPT even more than they have been doing to google.

Have a look at some questions people often ask google:

  1. What is the meaning of life? (99th most popular search in the world)
  2. What happens when you die? (194th most popular search in the world)
  3. How to commit suicide? (636th most popular search in the world)

Google just tells people what other people have said. ChatGPT does something different – it talks back to you. It listens (at least it simulates listening).

So what will the human heart do with this new piece of wood? Will it simply use it for fuel? Will the human heart keep it firmly in the “tool/resource” pile?

I don’t think so. I think people, and even Christians, will turn to ChatGPT before they turn to God. Our deep seated cry for help will always be there. And now there’s a tool that talks back.

So, start strong. Teach yourself the habit to stop and ask God before you ask a tool. Ask God to help you keep the tool as just a tool. Because, from a biblical point of view, a talking tool is a dangerous tool.


Is ChatGPT a Ministry Tool?


The big question is how can we use it for ministry, and to what extent should we use it? Here’s some meaningful ways you could use it right now:

1. Ministry Event Planning

Go to ChatGPT and type in this:

My church has a "bring your friend" trivia night planned for September 17. Make a table of all the things I need to plan. Each row should have a title, a description, a date due by, and some suggestions about how to do it

When I do this, I get a basic table of actions that need to be done. Does it include all the actions? No. Does it come up with more actions than I could have thought of in 20 seconds? Heck yes. Does it come up with things I would have not thought of (or forgotten until the last minute)? Actually yes! Does it have ideas that I wouldn’t use? Certainly. One idea it gave me in the “promote” task was “Consider offering incentives for attendees who bring guests”. My initial reaction was “no thank you”, but I decided to give it a chance…

What are some ways I could offer incentives for attendees who bring guests?

It actually came up with a good idea. It suggested a lucky-door prize for people to share with the friends they invited along. That could work.

But the really helpful about this list is that it’s done the first bit of the ‘planning’ for me; it’s helped me plan what to plan.

2. Bible Study / Personal Devotions

Again, have a crack at this in ChatGPT:

With 1Thessalonians 1:2-10, write a set of questions I could ask a group of people to a) help them understand the passage better, and b) reflect on how it affects them.

Or this one:

Break up the letter of 1thessalonians into a 2 week bible reading plan, with 2 questions to help understand and reflect on each passage.

Again, what ChatGPT does is a pretty good job of understanding the text and a basic set of questions that could work. In fact, I’d say that it wouldn’t take much effort to get ChatGPT to write a fairly simple bible study that you could use in a pinch. But that’s not the goal. Rather, just like the event planner, and just like a commentary or bible dictionary, this is a tool that’s able to help us get started in our preparation.

3. Sermon Ideas

I think the same can be true of preparing sermons. We already have tools that help us unpack the meaning and the themes and the ideas. And of course we have to be discerning with those. But what ChatGPT is designed to help with is word-smithing. It’s like a living thesaurus for ideas, rather than just words.

Here’s a prompt you could try…

Walk through 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10. In a table give me a short intense shocking title for each verse, the question that the verse is answering, a metaphor explaining the idea, and two possible defeater beliefs.

Again, what it does is kick-start the process. It makes suggestions about language and ideas that might help you as you’re thinking about how to communicate those ideas.

I’m hoping to write another post related to this, but I think there’s a good reason to start using tools like ChatGPT; because they’re just tools. They’re not intelligent agents, but they can help us do things better. It’s just a matter of learning how to best use the tool, and being wise and discerning in it’s use. At the end of the day, Jesus will not judge ChatGPT for what it suggested you include in your sermon, Jesus will hold you accountable.

But Luke 19:23 suggests that part of that accountability will be to ask us how we made the most of the situation and tools at our disposal. Look at what the master says to his servant:

“His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’

If we know that Jesus is a great king who calls us to use everything at our disposal for him and his glory, we should be careful not to put our heads in the sand or simply ignore tools because they could be misused.


The Council of Erina 2022

Yesterday I was privileged to attend ‘The Trinity Symposium’ held at EV Church. I thought I’d try and distill some of what (I think) was being said here. (And please, the “Council of Erina” thing is just a joke!!)

It’s worth also knowing that one of the driving questions being brought to the event was essentially, “What can we really know about God’s essence and characteristics from salvation history? E.g. If Jesus submits to the Father in the gospels, does that really mean that the eternal Son of God submits to the eternal Father outside salvation history? Or is submission just a during-Jesus’-33-years thing?”

First, Mark Thompson gave us a kind-of ‘rules of engagement’ as we approach talking about our Triune God. Mark’s key point was that biblical theology and systematic theology need to be done together, not played off against each other. I think his concern was that some theologians were happily engaging in biblical-theology (the exegetical activity of reading the whole bible as a single narrative of God’s redemptive work) but then kinda’ tapping-out after that – not really willing to make systematic dogmatic statements about God.

At the same time, Mark also warned of an over-reliance on the writings of man, including the church fathers. The holy scriptures are to be out foundation as God’s revealed word to us about himself. Our first instinct should always be to ask, “But what does the bible say about this?”

How do we do both these things together then? Mark encouraged an archaeological mindset, where we don’t create ideas out of the scriptures, but we dig deeper into the scriptures and seek to say things that hold all the scriptures together. His example was Christ’s power over nature and even death, while also experiencing hunger and tiredness. We dig deeper into scripture to hold these together; We go to places like John 1 and Hebrews 1 & 2. We see how the church Fathers sought to do this and we learn from them. And we use good biblical theological methods when we dig deeper to keep passages in their context. Thus doing both at the same time with humility before the God we seek to know from his word through his spirit.

Next, David Höhne took u through a bit of historical context setting; how we’ve ended up here – looking back at the past 80 years. This was basically done in two sections; Graham Goldsworthy’s biblical theology, and the wider trinitarian theology movement.

David wanted us to see that the model of biblical theology that Goldsworthy put-forth was deeply theological. Goldsworthy built it from a foundation of God as the triune communal God who speaks. Essentially Goldsworthy’s biblical theology is a theology of scripture revealed through the triune God. On top of this, a proper use of Goldsworthy’s methods/framework should not stop at good contextual exegesis, but take us further into “theology proper”. In other words, if you’re not doing systematic theology when you do biblical theology then you’re doing it wrong!

Against this understanding of Goldsworthy’s influence, David wanted do suggest there something similar going on in trinitarian theology. Just like Goldsworthy was starting with a clear sense of the triune God in eternal relationship as his foundation for his theology of scripture, trinitarian theologians were at the same time emphasising the three-ness of God as key to knowing him. Moltman was mentioned regularly as so emphasising the relational aspect of the triune God, that the one-ness only ever seemed to be a consequence of the relations. As though God is three beings who are in an eternal dance. Social trinitarianism… or tritheism.

I think David wanted us to see that while focusing on the relationality of God can be helpful (e.g. Goldsworthy) it can also be dangerous (e.g. Moltman). I think that’s what he was saying anyway :)

Next, Andrew Moody and Andrew Leslie spoke. I’m dealing with these together because, well, they were similar.

Both wanted to help bring clarity to what we meant when we use words. They both highlighted that so much of the issues with speaking about the trinity come back to human speech and human minds. We’re trying to use human words and created brains to speak about and comprehend that which is outside-creation and which needs to use words (and grammar) that don’t necessarily work in English. I.e. We need to be okay with lots of caveats, and not jump on one sentence without reference to the surrounding ones.

A few points they both made;

  • The church fathers all agreed that the son was subordinate to the father in eternity. Any suggestion otherwise is a plain misreading of the church fathers. Moody offered a great example of this from the Nicene Creed where the very structure displays an order, and the Son is eternally begotten from the Father.
  • While the persons are all 100% God in nature; they each “subsist” that nature in their own person. This is an idea I had either missed previously or forgotten – so I’m treating on thin ice as I try and describe it here. God is a generating God. “Generating” is part of God’s nature. But how does this nature subsist in the Son? Well the Son is eternally generated from the Father. And the Father eternally generates the Son (through eternally begetting him). And the Father eternally generates the Spirit (through eternal spiration). Generating, as a aspect of God’s being, subsists equally in the father, son and spirit. But it subsists in unique ways according to the person.
  • The submission of the Son was an expression of eternal conceding to the Father. They both seemed happy to say that since the will of God is an aspect of his being, he has one will. And that will subsists in each of the persons. And like generation above, the subsistence of that will is appropriate for the person. Hence, the Father’s will is the Son’s will, and at the same time, the Son is pleased to follow and concede to the Father’s will. Conceding to the Fathers will is not to say the Son has his own will, but rather an expression of the one will of God subsisting in the Son appropriately for his person.
  • The “eternal God” and the “economic God” are not two Gods. (The economic God is a phrase to describe God “as he works in and through creation and salvation history”). The God we meet in the economy of Salvation history is the God of eternity. We have access to the true God as he acts towards us. There is more to God, but it not out-of-line with how he has revealed himself. We can look at God in the economy and know that he is like that in eternity.

I’m kinda’ jumping between their talk and the panel discussion they had afterwards. And it’s worth stating that Both David and Mark said aspects of these points also.

A few more touchy discussions that were had between them all

  • What do we mean by “will of the Father” and “will of the son”… or “will” generally? This word seems rubbery and yet also seemed to bear a lot of the weight when trying to talk about eternal submission. At one point Moody suggested that in the garden, we see three wills at play; the natural and human will of Jesus that (rightly) doesn’t want to die; ‘take this cup from me’. The will of God the Father that his son be set forth as a propitiation for the salvation of the world; ‘your will be done’. And the will of the eternal Son who always obeys and concedes to his Father’s will; ‘yet not my will’.
    Personally I found this a bit confusing, and I wondered if we’re falling into the trap that Mark warned us about at the start, where we are overly quick to apply the church fathers without seeking to do the hard work in the scriptures first. I think I’d want to suggest that there was an element of temptation in the garden; while not explicit it seems to be a bookend to the temptation in the wilderness where the question put to Jesus from Satan is “Here, there is another way”, and in the garden, Jesus pleads with loud cries and tears to the one who can save him, essentially asking “Father, is there another way?”
  • Mark and Leslie had a slight disagreement about whether the essence of God is knowable. Leslie wanted to say that we know the essence of God through the Son and by the Spirit. However Mark raised concerns with that language as it makes out the essence to be relational; knowable. This would lead to a fourth person, behind the three. My understanding was that Leslie was wanting to hold forward the idea that we know the true God in and through the Son and the Spirit. I think using the word “essence” might have been unhelpful there, maybe we want to say that the essence of God is accessible instead?
  • There was further discussion about using words like eternal submission, especially if the will of the Son and the Father is the same will. What type of submission is that really? The point I took from this discussion was the sense that it is an ideal submission. It is the type of submission that we are being transformed into doing by God’s grace and through the Spirit’s work.
  • David also made a helpful point about a cultural tendency to rubbish any and all sense of hierarchy. But again, from the earliest church fathers, they all wanted to uphold the equality of the persons’ essence, while also upholding the order and hierarchy of the persons.
  • There was a bit of debate (or maybe confusion about what each other were saying) when it came to how we apply the relationship of the Son to the Father to our own relationship to God. While there was a strong push to rediscover the beauty of adoption theology, it didn’t feel like the panel were really saying the same things about exactly how we are like the Son to the Father, especially when it comes to our “will”.
  • Part of the background to the day was how some theologians have wanted to say there is no real submission between the eternal Son towards the eternal Father, and hence there should be no grounds for submission in the church. Mark wanted to say that these two thing are largely separate issues and should stand and fall on their own biblical foundations. However Leslie was happy to say that creation echoes the creator, and this is especially so in the family and in the church; the household of God. Since therefore there is a hierarchy within the subsistence of the persons (i.e. the Son is eternally generated from the Father) we can expect creation to echo such hierarchy. Mark then provided some biblical evidence for Leslie’s point from 1Corinthians 11, about what it does say (Christ is the model for both men and women in how to be a head and how to be submissive), and what it doesn’t say.

In writing this summary, I really really hope I haven’t misrepresented these guys. I probably have, and I’ve probably got some words wrong here too. But I thought I’d have a crack. Always happy to be corrected :)


Making sense of the triune God

There’s a lovely, yet complex, simplicity to the Christian doctrine of God as trinity; There is one divine nature (being), and there are three divine persons; the Father, the Son and the Spirit. One being (not three beings). Three persons (not one person). While every illustration is flawed, here’s a small one…

Consider a single 50c coin. Hold one in your hand. One thing, and yet it’s also three things.

  • Its an alloy; a metal compound of tin and copper, etc.
  • It’s an image; an imprint having been stamped at the mint.
  • It’s currency; it’s worth something in Australian dollars, it’s legal tender.

But there are not three things in your hand, are there? There’s just one thing. One item. That’s similar to God’s being. God is only one being. One thing. If we ask “What is God?” the answer must be “One being”, or “One essence”, “One nature”.

But that one thing in your hand is also three things; metal, imprint and currency. And all of that thing is metal. All of that thing is an imprint, and all of it is legal tender. You can’t separate the legal currency from the metal, nor the imprinted-ness from the legal tender-ness.

This is analogous to the persons of God; The Father, Son and the Spirit. These three are all God. If we ask “Who is God?” The answer must be “The Father” and “The Son” and “The Spirit”.

One being. Three persons.

As above, there’s some serious issues with this illustration, but it’s just a little attempt to convey one idea about our God – not everything.

Church online through the one who promised, “I am with you always”

Jesus’ last words in Matthew 28 are an amazing comfort…

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)

Here Jesus claims to be ever present in a non-physical way. Just dwell on that for a moment… for 2000 years God the Son has remained incarnate and yet, for that entire time, he has also been physically absent (in this human nature) from his people, his bride. Jesus promised to be with us always, and yet has been self-isolating (physically) for 2000 years.

For Jesus’ words to be a comfort, he must be talking about a way of being with us that transcends physical proximity.

This is an important point to note during this time of Covid19 isolation, and especially as we think together about whether we can call what we do online ‘church’ or not. It seems that some Christians feel that their inability to gather geographically/physically means they can not be with one another in a sufficient way to call it ‘church’. They’ll say things like, “it’s not really church because we’re not gathered physically“.

However, I would want to suggest three things;

  1. The church is a people, not a physical event
    An emphasis on the gathering sense of the Greek word ἐκκλησία can sometimes over-shadow the more significant idea that it is God’s redeemed people (who gather). Gathering is an important response to being part of God’s people, but we don’t stop being God’s people when we scatter on Monday.
  2. We are primarily gathered around Jesus, not one another
    A church ‘event’ is when we gather spiritually around Christ in his word. A group of Christians going to see a movie in a theatre is not a church gathering because it’s missing its essential element; Jesus. In the same way, attending a church gathering in person does not make you a Christian, any more than being in a garage makes you a car. Christian gatherings are an attempt to express a spiritual reality; Since it’s not just me in Christ, but we are in Christ, so we together turn our hearts and minds to him in his Word and with thanks.
  3. It’s possible to be ‘with’ someone without being beside them
    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that gathering is functionally equivalent to being with people. It’s possible to be with someone – in their company – and not be in their physical presence. Telephones, Zoom, Skype, etc. all allow us to share a common mind and attention on Christ in his word with other people and yet without being in their physical vicinity. (There’s a trinitarian basis for this also, since the eternal relationship of the persons of the triune God was not spatially with one-another; relationship and togetherness is not dependant on spatial and physical proximity).

But the main reason we can call our live online meetings “church” is because Jesus is – as he promised – with us. His Spirit lives in us and unites us to himself, his Spirit unites us to one another as his family, and his Spirit has called certain pastors to be over-us in Christ. In and through that Spirit we desire to gather in one place (even if it is an address that starts with http) and together with others who are in Christ (even if that togetherness is helped through technology) we are co-drawn into God’s word and into praise of the one who called us together with his Son – who will physically gather us to himself when he returns.

Until our Lord returns, all our gatherings – embodied and online – lack the physical presence of the one who truly makes our gatherings ‘church’.

The restrictions on gatherings have not brought concern to the Lord of Lords. When he sees your church tuning in and trying to make the best of a difficult situation… Jesus is not thinking “Tut-tut… that’s not gathering!!! How dare they call it church!?” Jesus is Lord. And whether you’re trying to gather in a building or in a zoom chat or in a live stream, he loves his people gathering around him. So don’t fret, keep going.


Why people won’t watch your ‘online church’…

Yes… we all agree this whole COVID-19 lockdown provides a unique opportunity for gospel work. Jesus is supreme, and nothing will hold back his kingdom growing. I deeply believe people will come to faith and grow in their faith during this time.

And many churches (including my own) have significantly changed to become media organisations (whereas before, we were more like event organisations).

But… running an event for 100-300 people sitting in a room is very different to producing media to be viewed in someone’s home / hand-held device. Not just a little different… very, very, very, very different. While our theology might mean the ‘event’ and the ‘video’ have similar elements (like a ‘sermon bit’), they require a completely different mindset to produce.

I think the most significant mindset shift we need to make is how amazingly easy it is for people to opt out.

Imagine someone who walked into your church building last year… How bad a job would you need to do for someone to say to themselves, “This is so boring/silly/lame that I’m going to stand up and leave now”? It would have to be really bad, right? That’s because there’s an unwritten social agreement when we physically sit in a chair in a room with other people which makes it really hard to just get up and leave.

But that social agreement does not exist with online videos.

There is barely a thread of social contract holding them there. There is barely anything stopping them from clicking ‘close’ without a second thought.

(Now, I’m sure you’ve had people say that they really enjoyed church online. You might have even heard of people who’ve tuned in and watched the whole thing who have never been to your church. That’s wonderful, God is good! But it’s also going to play into our confirmation bias. Because we have no idea how many people might have tuned in and tuned out after 60 seconds… without even a second thought.)

Good online videos, even more than TV shows, are amazingly intense… they are always – every second – giving you a reason to keep watching. They know that it’s their responsibility to keep their viewers hooked – because there’s no social contract holding the viewer in place.

How do they do that? Well… that’s the real question. And if it was a simple answer we’d all be doing it. But here’s my “it could possibly be” thoughts…

  • There’s some big reveal that you have to wait for.
    Think Mythbusters, SmarterEveryday, etc. The whole package is a journey to something you really want to see. You get taken along a story that builds tension so that you really want to keep watching. This is how countdown videos (e.g. Top 20…) work too.
  • The subject/host is hard to look away from.
    This is a really subjective thing… it’s very ‘x factor’. Some people just have a certain presence on screen that’s hard to look away from. Their personality just seems to ‘fill-up’ the screen. There are some common elements I think… they have very expressive faces, they’re comfortable being silly/relaxed on camera, they usually talk very fast.
  • The subject/host is someone you care about.
    If you’ve been watching someone for a little bit, you start to care about them, and you’re less likely to switch off when they get a bit boring. This is partly why big names like PewdiePie and the Jimmy’s (Fallon & Kimmel) can keep an audience… people get to a point when they are happy just hearing their voice, even when it’s not that entertaining.
  • The content is so compelling/combative/emotional
    Seeing people cry, laugh, get angry is hard to look away from. It’s why cars slow down when they pass a car crash. We’re very empathetic beings, and we get caught up in other people’s emotions. Even when we don’t agree with them.

I don’t know how these and other elements can be used and integrated into our church online packages. I wish I did. But I do hope these thoughts might help spark our Christian desire to love people where they’re at to keep improving what we’re doing for the sake of the lost, and for the sake of the saints.


People don’t ‘do’ MTS…

This is a turn of phrase I’m going to need to change in myself. We so often talk about people ‘doing MTS’… by which we mean they’re doing a 2 year Ministry Apprenticeship.

But MTS is something slightly different. MTS is a Strategy. That’s what the ‘S’ stands for. It’s the Strategy for Training people into ‘the Ministry‘. Think about what that means…

By ‘the Ministry’ we’re talking about (usually) full-time gospel work involving bible teaching and pastoring and evangelism. And to get great people into that most important and urgent role we believe they need good training.

So, by ‘Training’ we mean full-time, getting your hands dirty, people proclamation and prayer, trying new thing, feeling the weight of pastoral responsibility, etc. But it’s Apprenticeship-type training.; it’s with a mentor who loves, supports, challenges, pushes, protects, etc.

We could just call it the MTA… Ministry Training Apprenticeship. But the ‘S’ is important.

This whole idea of getting people to do an MTA is a strategy to raise up gospel workers to take the gospel to Australia and the world.

So people don’t ‘do’ MTS, rather they ‘join’ MTS. They join in this strategy, this plan, this movement that’s trying to win Australia to Christ… through investing deeply in the next generation of gospel workers.


What type of purpose drives your delegation?

An important part of all delegation is setting a clear purpose. Why is this thing worth doing? Why is it worth your time and effort? What are you trying to achieve by the grace of God?

It’s worth recognising there are two type of purposes; ontological and teleological.

An ontological purpose refers to the very nature of something… God is good, We are forgiven, the gospel is powerful, humans want to feel special, etc.

A teleological purpose refers to the outcome of something… God will be praised, we will be saved, people will hear the gospel, people will feel loved, etc.

Since there are two kinds of purposes that can motivate and drive delegation, it’s also worth considering which one is most likely to be your “go to”. Which one is your M.O.?

For me, I’ve always tended towards the teleological… tell me the specific outcome you want and that will give me the motivation to do everything towards that end. For others on our staff team, we’ve realised they tend towards the ontological… they start with who they are in Christ and the reason some program or structure exists and that helps provide the motivation for them.

But as we delegate, we need to remember that we’ve got different people on our teams; some will catch the crystal clear picture of the teleological image, others will grasp onto the deep convictions presented in the ontological image.

Here’s an example as we think about our upcoming Carols event…

We want to put on a great carols night because Jesus is worth making a fuss about and Christmas is the time of year when people are open to Jesus-type things.

We want people to come along to carols and at the end of the night turn to the person next to them and say, “Wow, what an awesome Christmas carols. That church obviously loves Jesus and the community!”

Taking notes during big talks

While some people are natural note takers, others think they can’t do it… they’ll claim it’s hard or even distracting and unhelpful.

But want to suggest it’s a habit worth learning. And I want to suggest a way to get started. But first, let me tell you about Balderdash.

We play this game with our kids where everyone comes up with a fake definition of an unusual word, or a fake story-line of an unknown movie. They all get read aloud and we vote on the one we think is the real one. In a family of 6 that means trying to remember 6 different stories about a space princess and trying to work out who might have made each one up… so rather than read them all again and again, we give each answer a single word… just one word that will help jog our memory as to which story it was.

So that’s my suggestion if you’re not usually a note taker… start with just one word.

Rather than writing a sentence, just write down one word. As you’re listening to God’s word being preached, just think of one word, one idea that is being talked about… write it down quickly and keep listening.

The idea isn’t to be able to go back and read through the talk… the idea is simply to be an active listener. To involve yourself in the sermon. To pay closer attention. Even just to stay awake.



The price Jesus paid does not mean you’re worth that much to God.

Have you heard something like this… 

Look at the price God paid for you; His own son! God wouldn’t sacrifice his son for something worthless would he?! Therefore we must be immensely valuable to God!

The crux of the idea of this; God’s primary motivation in sending Jesus to die is because you are personally worth that sacrifice, you are worth that price. The trouble is… you’re not. No one is worth the death of God the Son, the Eternal One. Especially not one of God’s enemies!

So if God didn’t sacrifice Jesus because we’re worth it, why did he do it? Well, first, because of his gracious love. 

But you will say, “Aha! We must be worth something to God for him to love us!” But no! It’s not gracious love if we’re worthy of being loved. If we’re lovely in any way then God’s love ceases to be gracious. 

But doesn’t God care about us, and doesn’t he know the number of hairs on our heads? Yes… but does he care because out hair is worthy to be counted? No! He cares because he is a caring God. He’s a God who cares for things that are not worthy of his care.

That’s what God wants us to know above everything else; he is the God who loves the unlovely, who saves the not-worthy-of-saving, who adopts the useless, who justifies the wicked.

And that’s why the death of Christ is “worth it” to God… that “price” was what it cost to show that he is gloriously gracious.

So, he didn’t send his Son to die because we’re worth it, he sent his Son to die because being known as amazingly gracious is worth it.


Valuable feedback is specific feedback

The very same pastors who feel sceptical when people say, “that was a lovely sermon”, are often guilty of offering the same vague feedback to others.

Valuable feedback is specific feedback. Whether it’s positive feedback or negative is be site the point. Feedback that helps people correct or continue what they’re doing must be clear in a few ways;

  1. Clear behaviour noticed.
    There must be an action, or behavior (think “something that could be caught on video”) that is being addressed. It can’t be a vibe, or a feeling, and certainly not a motivation or intention!! (E.g. “when you looked away while I was talking” is fine, “when you tried to hurt my feelings”… is not fine)
  2. Clear implications of the behaviour
    there needs to be clear consequences that happened because of the behaviour. These don’t have to be observable, they can be feelings. I felt encouraged, I felt excited, the mood in the room changed, everyone looked at their bibles, etc.

In an ideal world, those consequences would be clear to the point of a resulting behaviour… I was excited to talk to my friends, I was scared to raise it again, I was encouraged to pray bigger prayers.

Good feedback helps people be gooder.


Refuelling stations during sermons

There’s a road safety principle that drivers should take a break every 2 hours. You could drive for longer, but the quality of your driving and your awareness will get worse.

Expecting people to listen to sermons is much the same, except people probably need some sort of refuelling station every 5-10 mins, or even more often.

So what’s a sermon refuelling station?

It could be many things; a question, an anecdote, even an illustration is a type of refuelling station, but one of the best is…



A pause.

A simple pause gives people’s ears and interpreting-minds the chance to stop and take a break.  It gives people’s minds a chance to breathe, even catch-up with what you were saying.

A pause only takes 2-4 seconds. Try it now. Just count to 4 and notice how short a time it takes and yet how long it feels to have zero “input”.

In a world of constant bombarding input, one of the most loving things we can give people when we’re trying to communicate something of eternal importance is a few seconds of silence. It might even allow you to take people on longer journeys.



A great opportunity is not God’s calling

It’s a story you’ll hear too often… I’ve been offered this great opportunity; It must be God. They’ve offered me a promotion; It must be God. They’ve asked me to go overseas for a contract; It must be God.

How do you get from “opportunity to do x” to “God wants me to do x”?

Sometimes, people look at the probability of x ever happening. “It’s so rare they’d offer this to a graduate”, “It’s so unlikely they’d offer this to me”… and since it’s so rare, it must be a miracle-type thing, right? So that’s God?

Sometimes, people look at how much they’ve wanted it. “It’s exactly the type of thing I was praying for”, “It’s like God knew just what I wanted”. And so because they were coveting this thing, and now it’s within their grasp… it must be God saying “yes”, right?

But what always seems to get lost in these views are the responsibilities that God has ALREADY called the person to; The guy who gets offered an “amazing opportunity” 600 miles away from his wife. The integral youth leader who gets offered a position that means they can’t keep that team running and loving all those kids. The pastor who feels called to another church where there’s less grumbling and feels more exciting.

I have a suggestion… before you claim that opportunity is from God, ask yourself if God might have allowed Satan to offer it to you. Because remember the great opportunity Jesus got given…

“Again, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘All this I will give you'” (Matt 4:8-9)

It’s a great offer, a once in a lifetime chance, it’s the almost the exact thing that Jesus came for (all creation under one head; Jesus). It’s just not God’s way.

A great opportunity is not necessarily God’s calling for your life.


The purpose of an Executive Pastor

This is probably the clearest I’ve got it so far, and I’ve been thinking about this for a while. The purpose of an Executive Pastor is to:

  1. Help the Team Leader ‘lead’.
  2. Support the Team as it ‘teams’.
  3. Keep gospel work absolutely central.

If an Executive Pastor plays a special role for the church, it is primarily helping the Senior Pastor as they “lead”. And right there you have to stop, because every SP is different with different skills, strengths, weaknesses and tendencies. As such, a good EP will “shadow” their SP and try to take on whatever takes up most of their SP’s energy. Thus no two EPs will be the same. (That said, some common EP responsibilities are; facilities oversight and management, strategic planning, resource management, financial management, policies, insurance, legal, IT, communications, calendar oversight, vendor relations, fundraising, etc.)

But the SP is not the only thing they help manage. The EP plays an important role in keeping the SP’s team to keep on being a team, to keep being on track. Again, since each SP and each Team is different, this will look like various things. One common aspect is to see what’s sapping the team’s energy most and trying to put things in place to offset that. (E.g. If all your team is exhausting themselves with IT issues, don’t wait for them all to fix it themselves, get someone to come in and help everyone. If they’re all struggling to keep organised, develop a system that will help them not hinder them.)

However, the last aspect of an EP’s role is the most important. It’s keeping the gospel work as the priority while they do the things around it. I’ve heard stories of Church Managers who have crippled their church staff with red-tape, policies and procedures to such an extent that the staff do less people work… they all become servants of the EP. But that’s the wrong way around. The EP is always a servant of the gospel and a slave of the team.

A great picture of this is Stephen in Acts 6. The Apostles can’t keep up with the logistic activity of food distribution, so to keep focused on gospel work and prayer they appoint people like Stephen… who then goes and preaches, gets arrested and martyred. Now that’s a good EP!

Aside: When is it an Executive Pastor, General Manager, Administrative Leader, etc?
We’ve made the decision that a large part of my responsibilities is to prayerfully pastor people and speak into pastoral situations in an executive (high-level) manner. I’d suggest that if an Exec Pastor is not preaching or playing a key role in high-level pastoral decisions, they might be better titled “General Manager” or “Executive Director”.


The best feedback you can get… “it seemed a bit weird”

Like the tip of an ice-berg, the feedback that you (or something you did) seemed a “bit weird” is some of the best feedback you can get. Why? Because it reveals that you and your listener were on a very different worldview. Here is a person who sees the world in a very different way to you… so different that the thing you did din’t make sense to them. Gold!!

So what’s under that tip of the ice-berg?

Is it their peculiarity? Or is it yours?
Is it their attention span? Or is it your idea of what’s engaging?
Is it the structure they couldn’t follow? Or the content within the structure?
Is it the tone they felt your used? Or was it the tone you tried to use?
Was there something going on you didn’t know about? Or were you assuming they knew the context better than they did?
Did they hear what you actually said? Or did you say something you didn’t mean?

The feedback that it was a “bit weird” is — if you can upturn that ice-berg — a gold mine of self-understanding!


When they laugh at your faith

Christians believe something very deeply… we’ve entrusted our lives, careers, money, opportunities, everything over to Jesus. We’re depending on Jesus’ grace to get us through death. These are all serious things!

So it makes it really hard when our non-Christian friends or family poke fun at our faith. When they joke about going to church, or even mention “hell” like its a place they’ll get to party. So, apart from letting it pass most of the time, in the odd times you can address it, what might we say?

  • “Just a second… I’d really like you to think about what you said just then.”
  • “Hey, I’m not sure you realise how important this is to me personally. Can I explain?”
  • “I know you think it’s kinda funny, but I really care what you think about this stuff.”

It may not get somewhere, but it might help them realise that you really do take it seriously… and maybe they should too.


The love that sparks the task should fuel the task

When you start a project or task its easy to get motivated. New things are exciting and carry a sense of momentum. But we don’t just go and do new things… we do things that we believe in… we just find it easier to do the new ones!

So how do you keep plugging away at the project or task when it’s no longer new?

Part of the answer is to re-consider the motivation that made that task exciting in the first place. Ask yourself (or your team), “What were you excited about this project before you got started? What were you hoping it would do?”

The goal or purpose of the project shouldn’t have changed since then. And that means the motivation to reach that goal shouldn’t have changed either.

So dig into the love that sparked the task, and keep working to use that motivation to fuel the task.


How many complaints are you prepared to hear?

No one likes hearing complaints, even when we know they come from a good place and the person complaining is trying to do it for the church’s good… but how many are you prepared for. 

I’d like to assume that most godly positive Christians might have cause to suggest or raise a significant issue once ever 12 months. That seems fair, right?

So if you had a church of 55 people… that would be more that one complaint a week. A church of 200 people would be 4 complaints per week. 

If these people truly have the church and the kingdom at heart, that’s a lot of listening and understanding and explaining to do. 

And that’s why churches need really clear reasons for doing the things they’re doing. It helps when dealing with the always new issues being raised. 


Assume you don’t really understand until…

When you’re trying to convince someone of something the conversation will start in one of two places; either they know you don’t agree or they don’t know that yet. (Eg salesman know they don’t agree with your budget, but they want you to feel like they are on your side, so they don’t tell you they disagree).

But how do you go about convincing someone when there’s a known, articulated disagreement? 

You assume you don’t really understand what they’re saying. You ask them about their point of view, their idea, their world, and so on, until they stop you and start asking questions themselves. 

They might even start asking deeper questions about their own ideas.


Who else have you spoken to?

Often when people ask you for advice or come to us with a problem, it can make you feel important and valuable. However, it’s worth asking “who else have you spoken to?” for several reasons…

  • Avoid becoming someone’s only confidant. Are they telling the people they should tell? Are you the only person they are relying on? Is it appropriate?
  • Have they already spoken to loads of people? Have they all given the same advice? Are any of those people on your team? Is there a danger of undermining someone else’s hard pastoral work?
  • Are they telling only part of the story to you and part of the story to other people? 
  • Are they just raising the issue because they enjoy the attention you’re giving them? Is crisis resolution the only time you give people attention?