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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.

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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…

Ontological…
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.

Teleological…
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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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”.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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?
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Radical Christianity only looks radical this side of heaven

From here until Jesus returns, following Jesus will always look outrageous, extreme and anti-cultural. But even though we know this, we can still feel the pull to make middle-class Christianity a thing.

Middle-class Christianity is faithful to Sundays  (as long as it doesn’t clash with family, kids parties or sport), it gives just enough so it doesn’t hurt, and it loves Jesus… if you ask it, Middle-class Christianity will assure you it loves Jesus (even though it would take a gun to the head for them to mention Jesus in public).

But radical Christianity isn’t so acceptable. It speaks about the Jesus it loves, it says “I got something else on” to things the world assumes are important, and it gives as though the world was ending. 

But in the end, the world will end. And Jesus will be revealed, and those radical Christians won’t look so radical after all.

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Jesus doesn’t give you “your heaven” – he calls you to share his.

As we talk about heaven, we too quickly move to the idea it is for us. While this is somewhat true, it’s not the big idea. 

Jesus was raised as the first eternal human – never to die again. He is the sovereign all-powerful king and ruler of life now, and life-eternal. Jesus is the king of “heaven”. It’s his kingdom, his empire. 

You can’t be forgiven and saved from judgement and then expect to do your own thing – your dreams – in heaven. You get saved into Jesus’ kingdom. Not into self-rule.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col 2:13-14)

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Paul, the Areopagus & the Why of evangelism

We all find evangelism hard. Admitting that is the first step to dealing with it. But what’s the second step? What gets in the way of people taking the next step with their acquaintances, friends and family?

Our Mission Pastor, Sam Hilton recently gave an excellent talk from Acts 17 that highlighted 3 big reasons. I’d recommend you listen to it. If you’re training an MTSer, it would be a great resource to listen and review together.

  1. We don’t understand the non-Christian world-view enough
  2. We don’t get distressed about people’s idolatry enough
  3. We get caught in the same idolatry, and don’t long for God’s glory enough

Have a listen here.

 

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Repost: Leading through anxiety

Once during my apprenticeship, I was responsible for the Sunday meeting (setup, order or service, etc). I’d make sure people knew they were “on”, I made sure people knew what they had to do. It was a little ants nest of activity.

One week I was on holidays. Everything was already prepped, I just wasn’t there. When I got back to work, the first thing I did was call one of the guys who was “on” to make sure everything went ok.

“Yeah, everything was fine… In fact, it was the most relaxed and quick setup ever.”

Boom.

So, things went better when I wasn’t there…

After chatting this through with a few people, I realised that I had a tendency to lead through anxiety. I can (without meaning to) create a feeling of pressure and urgency when none really exists.

Sure, sometimes there is a pressure situation, sometimes the sense of anxiety is appropriate. But, don’t let that be your operational standard.

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Repost: An american perspective on evangelism

One of the american uni students I got to meet told me about how different it was over here in Australia. They couldn’t believe the number of non-Christians.

So I asked, “Aren’t there many non-Christians back home where you live?”

She answered — I kid you not — “Well, I only know of two in the town I’m from.” (Apparently it was a small American town, so it only had about 300,000 people in it.)

This girl had met more non-Christians in one day in Australia, than she had met in her ENTIRE LIFE. Now, I’m going to go out on a sceptical limb and say that not all of those “Christians” she met were actually Christian. In fact, she said herself that being in Australia had helped her see that many of her friends back home probably weren’t Christians – they just went to church.

Apart from being amazed, I couldn’t help thinking what happens in that town when the pastor preaches on “Evangelism”…

Bob and Terry get phone calls, letters, bibles, prayers, etc… from 299,998 people!?!

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Repost: How exactly is the 2nd greatest command like the 1st?

Aren’t the two greatest commandments opposed to each other?

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Matt 22:37-38

So… who are you meant to love? God or others?”

These “two” commands are really one command. Notice how Jesus says, “The second is like it”. Have you ever thought about what he says there? How exactly is the second greatest command like the first?

I reckon (haha) that these commands are dependant on each other.

If you want to love God, then you’ll love his humans. How do you love humans? You love them… like God loves us.

1John 3 says that doesn’t it… “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”.

So what does it look like to “love God”? It looks like loving other people; being self-sacrificing.

What does it look like to love other people? It looks like helping them to love God with all their heart, soul, mind.

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Repost: Try not to confuse your relationship ‘hats’

Some people you know on only one level; the local barista, a taxi driver, the policeman pulling you over for speeding. Its a pretty simple relationship, because you’re the driver and he’s the cop.

But what if the cop who pulls you over is a guy from your soccer team? Or your barista is a member of your church? Or your taxi driver is the husband of the couple you’re doing marriage counselling with?

In those situations, you have to be clear about what “relationship hat” you’re wearing… you’re not wearing the soccer team mate relationship hat, you’re wearing the driver/officer hat.

You can really stuff up a relationship when you try to wear two hats at the same time; “So officer, remember how we won the final together!?” doesn’t work.

I think this is really helpful in church staff teams, where we’re all close and good friends in Christ. Sometimes we need to say things to each other on the basis that we’re “Christian brothers” only. Other times we need to say it on the basis that we’re “employees” only.

This also plays out in share houses. Flat mates need to get used to saying things like, “Hey, I need to have a conversation with you, not as a friend, but as a flat mate.”