Category Archives: Missions

We are not in stasis while in isolation – we can grow and thrive despite our circumstances

OK we’re into the second or third week of working from home, home schooling, online church and gatherings limited to 2 people. It seems a bit surreal. We got all geared up like we were preparing for a couple of weeks of weird holiday and now things are starting to settle, the reality that this is our normal for the foreseeable future is setting in. That means that the current “survival mode” is how things will be for maybe 6 months.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be in survival mode for months on end. That means treading water. That means just existing.

No. There has to be more to this time than that. If nothing else, so we can keep our mental health strong, there has to be more than just existing.

So what to do?

I’m about to mention 3 people who we are definitely NOT, but they serve to illustrate a point.

William Shakespeare is thought to have written King Lear while in some form of quarantine from the plague. We don’t know if that’s true or not but its plausible and certainly possible. Between 1603 and 1613, because of plagues and sickness, Shakespeare’s theatre (the Globe) and other theatres in London were shut for more than 60% of the time. So it’s not unrealistic to say he did a lot of writing while in some form of lock-down.

The reconstruction of the Globe Theatre in London. Source: https://teach.shakespearesglobe.com/fact-sheet-third-globe

In 1665, there was more plague and Sir Isaac Newton went to Woolsthorpe Manor to get away from it. He was there for 18 months and he started to develop his theory of gravity there, as well as working on his revolutionary theories in calculus.

Woolsthorpe Manor - west facade.jpg
Woolsthorpe Manor. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woolsthorpe_Manor#/media/File:Woolsthorpe_Manor_-_west_facade.jpg

Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon while in prison. We know these as canon, of course, but for Paul, these were just letters. Legend surrounding Paul’s time in prison says he performed a miracle there which suggests that he was active in his evangelism as well as his written pastoral guidance.

Ancient prison which housed St Peter re-opens in Rome
Carcer Tullianum, Rome’s oldest prison (3,000 years old) where Peter and Paul are said to have been held. Source: https://www.thelocal.it/20160714/ancient-prison-which-housed-st-peter-re-opens-in-rome

Now I don’t know about you, but I am not going to invent some mathematical theorem – I can’t even help my 8-year old son with his year 3 homework. And very few of us are Shakespeare. Even less of us are Peter and Paul.

But what these people show us is:

  1. They went from existing to living life and even thriving. I’m sure that going to Woolsthorpe Manor or hunkering down somewhere in London required some modification of behaviour given what they couldn’t do. But then they clearly then moved onto what they could do.
  2. They used their skills. Shakespeare wrote. Newton did deep thinky brain work. Paul guided. These were all skills that they took into quarantine with them and they allowed to breathe within those confined spaces.
  3. They used their brains. They thought, they worked, they stretched themselves which takes people beyond existing and into thriving.
  4. It involved new things. In so doing, they created new things, even learned to do new things. This is so key in mental health. It keeps our view on things bigger than our current situation. It gives us a focus on possibility, hope, a larger world.
  5. They saw opportunities. When in quarantine or prison, if you can’t do this, then maybe I can do that. Paul couldn’t visit the churches so he wrote to them. Charles Benson Barnett was a missionary with the famous James Hudson Taylor. When he was forced to return to Australia because of ill-health, he founded Sydney Missionary and Bible College. He couldn’t go, so he trained others.

Jesus himself told us that he came so that we might have life to the full. There is no caveat to that – he didn’t say “unless there’s a pandemic and you’re in lock-down”. He came so we could have life to the full all the time. That is what is available to us no matter where we are.

So how can we use our brains? Where can we see opportunities? In saying this I recognise that Shakespeare, Newton and Paul either didn’t have children or had someone else taking care of them – and they didn’t have another day job that they were working-from-home on. But within the restrictions that we have, how can we look upwards and outwards? How can we do something new?

Here’s some ideas:

  • Decide on a goal that you have for your isolation time, for example:
    • I want to grow as a disciple
    • I want to learn a new skill
    • I want to expand my brain
    • I want to build community
    • I want to strengthen others
    • I want to spread God’s word
  • Then, depending on what goal you have identified, you can set out some tasks you want to commit to, like:
    • Commit to listening to a podcast series that is edifying and will expand your thinking and your faith. Try Lionel Windsor’s Lift Your Eyes or Risen Motherhood. I listen to these on Spotify but they’re available wherever you get your podcasts
    • Start looking at YouTube videos if you want to learn how to knit or crochet or learn the rules of cricket or how to draw cartoons
    • Get online books to work through an author or series (I’m currently working through the Narnia books)
    • Work through a devotional book with your family and/or an online group who you’ve never met with before
    • Write letters of encouragement (on your own or with your kids) and post them to your neighbours
    • Meet online with someone who’s on the church periphery to read the Bible and pray together
    • Start a blog or a journal to map your life during this time – it may make for a pretty interesting record in a couple of decades!
    • Look for ways to support others who are less self-sufficient. These are strange times and these are scary times. For some of us, it’s trying to do normal work and life from home. For others it is losing our jobs and potentially a lot more. If you are in the former group, what can we do for the latter? Even if its making an extra meal once a week, sending notes to those who live alone, or committing to buy a few extra groceries for someone every week, or forming a prayer triplet to pray for those you know in your church doing it tough – all these are good. What else might there be?

There are lots of ways we can use our brains and thrive as individuals, as families and as a community so that during this time we aren’t just treading water. We want to come out of this stronger, not having just existed. Not exhausted from the work and the home schooling and the parenting in isolation (although many of us will be), but having found opportunities to thrive. Not beaten down from the fear and the worry (although that is a definite factor), but finding ways to live life in the kind of abundance that Jesus talks about. Being in him. Growing in him. Reaching our families, reaching our communities, thinking bigger than ourselves.

Lets do what we need to do. But then lets use our brains, and our skills. Lets learn new things and look for opportunities. Lets set goals – even small ones. Lets keep our eyes upwards an outwards so we take care of ourselves and our families, but always look for ways to look beyond ourselves.

In Christ, well that is thinking bigger. It would be easy, in a time of uncertainty, to keep our eyes down and do what needs to be done. But lets make sure we keep our eyes on him. If we look to him first, we can live and survive, but we can grow and thrive too.

“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:9-11)

An important diagnostic for us, and a gentle challenge for our churches

When I meet ministers or visit a new church, I have three questions that give me an immediate insight into the leadership, direction and culture of that church. These questions aren’t designed to give me ammunition, they are purely to give me insight. That’s the beauty of diagnostic questions – they reveal the state of play. There is no moral weighting attached to the answer, it’s just to establish fact.

The first question is “What is your theology?” This is to make sure I’m going to get good, bible-based teaching. This does not query quality, just foundation. I need to make sure the church is founded on Reformed Evangelical theology.

The second question is “Who is in charge of pastoral care?”. If the answer is “Everyone” that may sound good, but is actually concerning to me. Because if everyone is in charge of pastoral care, then nobody is. Pastoral care needs to be headed up by a minister (paid or lay minister doesn’t matter, as long as it’s one person with responsibility and authority). Someone needs to have overall oversight to make sure pastoral care is a) happening, b) is happening effectively, c) is proactive and not reactive and c) that ensures that the people doing the pastoral care are trained and coached and supported and have the resources they need.

If pastoral care has no minister in charge or proactive leadership, if pastoral care is delegated to small group leaders, this is a concern. Small group leaders and congregational leaders will undoubtedly do most of the care, but it needs to be led by a minister. If it isn’t, the message it sends is that pastoral care is not important. That may well not be true, but that’s the message it sends. And if it is not led by a minister, it may not be part of the culture. It may lack focus and direction, it will lack communication and effectiveness. If we want a church where pastoral care is cultural, it is important for us to know who leads this.

As my first gentle challenge to our churches, I would like ministers to know that this is important to us parishioners. I would ask ministers to consider leadership in this area and recognise the perception (and reality?) that if everyone is in charge of pastoral care then nobody is. Maybe it’s time for a stocktake. Are your people really ok? Is the pastoral care proactive? Is it cultural?

My third question may be the most controversial. It is “How much does the church give?” That is not how much do your parishioners give. This question is about how much does the church give – specifically, give away. Now, bear with me on this because it sounds like a desperately unfair question. Our churches barely have enough to keep themselves afloat without giving anything away.

But let’s look at this another way. Generosity is rarely “caught” by being taught. Generosity is usually caught and spread by being modelled. I spoke to a Presbyterian minister in Sydney’s outer suburbs and he answered “We give about 10% That’s not a deliberate number, it just generally adds up to about that.” I spoke to an Anglican minister in Sydney’s inner suburbs and they also give a substantial amount – enough to pay for additional part time member of staff if that’s what they wanted to do. But they don’t. They want to model generosity by donating a part of their parishioner given income to a variety of Christian charities and missions.

It’s also important for church integrity and authenticity. Churches want (and need!) parishioners to give and to give generously and joyfully. Given that that is the case, it feels as though it would be right and proper for the church to also give sacrificially. To ask others to sacrifice, but not do so as an institution feels lacking in generosity. If we are to exercise generosity of spirit, and engender a generous and joyfully giving church, then I would gently challenge churches to start giving.

This is a gentle challenge because I understand the financial pressures that churches face. I believe a challenge is warranted however because the parishioners who are asked to give, are also facing pressures. What would we say to a parishioner who wants to give but feels they can’t because of the financial pressure they are under? First of all – grace. We don’t know a persons (or a church’s) story. But if we would encourage the person to step out in faith and if we would motivate them to give what they could – then I would direct these responses to our churches also.

Churches are under immense financial pressure. But I believe that churches should challenge themselves and step out in faith and give what they can – even starting with a few dollars a week. My apologies to any minister reading this and thinking its patronising. I certainly don’t mean it to be. I also don’t mean it to be remotely judgemental. I am merely describing what is important to me in a church and what (for me) reveals where the heart of a church is. I do not believe that generosity can be delegated to an external body. For example, encouraging people to give directly to CMS or Anglicare or BaptistCare or Compassion does not count. As worthwhile as that is, it is not generosity. Churches cannot abdicate responsibility for generosity. Generosity is a non-delegable duty.

I have noticed that the churches who give away resources, tend to have the strongest cultures of generosity. Because culture comes from the top and if the church gives and models generosity, the people are more likely to give and be generous more quickly, more instinctively, and more joyfully. This doesn’t mean those churches are devoid of financial worries. It’s just a noticeable difference in churches I’ve seen.

For any ministers reading this who’s churches do give, I want to thank you and appreciate you for the sacrifice and the hard choices. If you are a minister reading this and your church has not felt in a position to give, I want to thank you for reading this far! My gentle challenge to you, brothers and sisters, is that this is a step out in faith. But it will be one that throws ripples throughout your church.

If you are a church-goer reading this, these diagnostic questions are important – but they should never be used to judge. That is not our job and it’s not healthy, productive or helpful to point fingers or complain. We need to be gracious and understanding. We need to be proactive, positive and helpful. A church having the capacity to self-reflect on these matters should be nothing but praised and respected.

I also think it is important to ask these questions though. We are sheep and Jesus is our good shepherd. But that doesn’t mean we are mindless followers in our churches. It is important to review where the heart of the church is.

We want our churches to be strong, vibrant and teeming with a generosity of spirit that is so visible to our communities that it is shocking to them – shocking in all the best and most wonderful ways.

When God’s grander plan affected me too

You wouldn’t think that God working in the lives of one family in Indonesia could have consequences for you personally, right?

About a year ago I was financially running on fumes. I was down to my last $7 in the bank with 2 weeks to go before more money would be coming my way, and as far as I knew at the time, that was my new normal for the foreseeable future.

I’d budgeted everything within an inch of its life and cut everything I could think of (including meat), but still drastic cuts were needed. The thing I had not cut was my Compassion kids. If you’re not familiar with Compassion, they support kids and their families through sponsorship to lift them from the poverty cycle. Me and my boys had two Compassion sponsor kids – one was the same age as my eldest and the other, a teenage girl who wanted to be a doctor when she grows up.Compassion_Logo-1

It was one of my bigger monthly expenses. I couldn’t cut them though. My thinking was that as little as we had, I was still rich by comparison to what they had – they have quite literally nothing.

I prayed. What to do? What to do? God, I need your help – what should I do?? I can’t let them go, but what shall I do?

Within 7 days I got a letter from Compassion Australia saying that my teenage girl had left the program because her family had been lifted out of poverty.

Stunned. Just. Stunned.

God had answered their prayer. But his timing was extraordinary. By his love and faithfulness to them, he had relieved a financial burden on me.

If I ever needed a sign that my resources come from him, this was it. I knew that God had been providing for us. I knew that what we had came from him. But this showed me just how present he is in the detail of day to day life. It showed me the intricacy of a prayer answered in Indonesia, affecting my little life in western Sydney.

There are 7 billion people in this world. I wonder how many prayers intersect and overlap. I have no doubt in my mind that he sees it all and is in control of it all.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

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