Pastoral Ministry and Changes

Pastoral Ministry

Just as Christians can never retire from serving the Lord Jesus Christ, so also we can never retire from serving other people. The work of prayerfully proclaiming Christ, his cross and resurrection is a way of life more than an occupation.

One form of this service is that of a pastor: that is a shepherd or under-shepherd of the Great Shepherd. Being a pastor involves caring for and leading a flock. We misuse the word ‘pastor’ when we confine it to ‘counselling’, especially counselling an individual. Pastoral work is different to the work of the modern counsellor and a pastor does more than care for an individual sheep; he leads a flock. (more…)

Identity

Life

“Hello, my name is Bill, and I’m an alcoholic.”

So goes the usual opening of testimonies at Alcoholic’s Anonymous. The willingness of Bill, to accept and openly testify to the fact of his addiction to alcohol is a great step forward in addressing his problem. But is Bill telling the truth when he says “I’m an alcoholic”? Is that his true identity or should he be saying “I’m a human who is addicted to alcohol”.

Are there bad children or only children who do bad things? Are there liars or only people who tell lies? Are there thieves or only people who steal? Do we punish criminals or crimes? Does God love the sinner but hate the sin? (more…)

God made me this way

Life

The nature/nurture debate is as endless as the determinist/freedom dispute.

The safe position to adopt combines both nature and nurture. Yet that doesn’t end the debate; it simply moves the discussion onto the character of the combination.

Scientific research will not bring a resolution. Not simply because the question is large and complex and the research is narrow and detailed, but because the reason for the debate is the implications of its outcomes. (more…)

Frozen my way

In 1624 a cathedral Dean wrote: “No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” which ends with the famous lines “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

The relationship of the individual with the community is one of the ongoing tensions of life. To what extent is the individual sovereign and how much is the community sovereign?

To what extent should the individual enjoy the freedom to live as the ‘master of my fate and captain of my soul’; not just in the stoic acceptance of suffering but as the motto of life’s action. To what extent is life doing it “My Way”, or as the new Academy Award song would have it “let it go… no right, no wrong, no rules for me. I’m free”? (more…)

An unspiritual church

Thought

‘Spirituality’ is a term of great confusion today. Both inside and outside Christianity, people use the word in ways quite different to the Bible. This not only confuses Christians in what to expect from the Spirit of God but also confuses non-Christians about the work of God’s Spirit and the teaching of Christianity. For when Christians, in our confusion, misrepresent God’s word it is no surprise that non-Christians do not understand our message.

Non-Christians today commonly describe themselves as being ‘very spiritual’ while having nothing to do with organized religion or Christianity. This spirituality is a way of saying they are not materialistic atheists but it rarely has any theological content other than a vague mysticism. If it has any intellectual content it tends towards an anti-rational experientialism—feelings, experiences, awareness, asceticism, ascetics, pantheism, meditation and miracles. It also tends towards tolerance inclusiveness of all religious experiences and intolerance towards any theological propositions or exclusive claim to truth. It is naturally quite hostile to Biblical Christianity with its clear expression of theological truth claims about the uniqueness of Jesus and his way of salvation. (more…)

Don’t teach the Bible

A simple test of a good teacher is to ask what they teach. If their answer is Maths, English, Science, History or Geography, they probably don’t understand their role. If they say students, pupils, young people, or adults, there is a possibility that they know their trade. Of course, such a simple test is simplistic; word games are not reality. The answers would be different if the question was who they teach. Yet there is a truth in this little test; teaching is a relational activity.

Certainly teaching involves subject material; there is content to be conveyed. But the aim of the exercise involves conveying information from one person to another. The best teachers do more than convey information; they whet the appetite for learning, they develop the student’s capacity to understand, analyse, explore and discover other information. The well-taught student is not limited to the information their teacher has imparted to them. Good education is not really a curriculum matter but a teaching skill that relies heavily on the relationship the teacher can develop with the student. (more…)

Do You Want More This Christmas?

Life

We are a society that wants more. More money, more gadgets, more food, more fun. But strangely, wanting more often leaves us feeling dissatisfied. We finally get the thing we longed for, and yet all too soon it is broken, or the batteries have run down or it isn’t as good as we hoped. (more…)

Don’t make the Reformation history

Life

The Reformation is becoming history.

If “history is written by winners”, secularists are writing our history and materialistic governments, are setting the curriculum. Because such governments are concerned with national peace, harmony and unity, not even the multiculturalists will be able to save the Reformation from the dust and ashes of negligence and ignorance. (more…)

Catching eggs

Life

When my father-in-law fell on an escalator in a shopping mall, he was proud of his ability to catch his carton of eggs. “Not one of them broke”, he told me from his hospital bed. A true son of the Depression, breaking eggs was more significant than a damaged back. But as he stayed in hospital, two competing attitudes were expressed by staff and visitors. The older generation all said something along the line “You silly old goat, George, why didn’t you use the lift?” or “Why did you take the trolley onto the escalator?” The younger generation said “You should sue Westfield. They’ve got plenty of money.” and “They’ll settle out of court. They don’t want the bad publicity.” It was a stark cultural and generational difference. George, being an old man, simply laughed at his folly and was proud of catching the eggs.

Today in church life I also hear (and feel within myself) a similar clash of cultures. I’ll call them “family”, “government” and “business”. (more…)

The method is the message

It was in the early 1970’s and I wore my clerical collar as I approached her front door. The next-door neighbour had asked me to visit. I did not know the widow but the neighbour told me “She is dying and wanting to talk about it, but is afraid to ask for help”. (more…)

Our People Die Well

Who are your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you? Most of us have many. In our childhood we may have been privileged to have parents who taught us God’s word, or there were Sunday school teachers or youth fellowship leaders at our church, or ISCF/Crusader teachers at school. For many it has been the pastor of our church, or the Bible study leader. During the lifetime of a Christian we usually have a range of leaders, who teach us God’s word.

There are some people whose leadership stretches well beyond personal ministry to affect whole communities with their teaching of God’s word. They speak at conventions, write books and articles, and travel to speak at evangelistic gatherings and church conferences. They become well known to the community as a whole, as they influence the culture of church life. And as we consider the outcome of the lives of those who lead us personally, we also remember and consider the lives of these more public leaders. (more…)

What a Muslim teaches us

Everyday Ministry

Back in 1981, Christian hearts thrilled to see a mainstream popular film treat Christian conscience positively. The film was Chariots of Fire and the Christian conscience was that of Eric Liddell, the man who refused to run in the Olympics on a Sunday. It was just so different to see a man of genuine faith presented in a film as a hero instead of a moral failure or a narrow-minded hypocrite.

Yet there was something odd about the insistence on the Lord’s Day Observance. If we were going to stand for principle somewhere should it really be about not running on a Sunday? It was not like having sport organized for every Sunday in opposition to Church as we have it today. It was the once every four years Olympics drawing people from all over the world to Paris in 1924 for a short period of competition. Is it really forbidden in Scripture to run on a Sunday in such a circumstance? (more…)

Praying for Sydney’s Anglican Election Synod

Life

Prayer always brings glory to God, as we express our confidence in his willingness and ability to help us as well as his interest in the details of our life. To think the creator and sovereign ruler of the universe would pay attention to our requests—about the trivialities of our lives—is humbling and exciting. That we can call the Almighty, “Father” is wonderful beyond description.

This week the Anglican diocese of Sydney comes to electing a new Archbishop. Synod will be meeting for a few nights to try to come to agreement about who it should be. It is not the most important decision we ever make, but it is a decision we have to make, and it does affect many aspects of church life.

So this week is an important time for prayer. We want God to bless our decision, and that overriding our desires, he will appoint the man he thinks best suits his plans for the diocese. (more…)

In what are we united?

Life

Organizational unity instead of gospel unity is death. The failure of Christian ministries, be they church or para-church, commences when they lose their direction and become organizations that demand organizational unity over theological unity in the service of the gospel.

We look at the great churches of the past and lament their decline in congregations or worse in gospel ministry, theological faithfulness or moral integrity. However, the same can be said for many para-church ministries set up in previous generations by Christians that today are hardly recognizable as Christian at all. Some even go out of their way to hide their Christian foundations. (more…)

Retirements and beginnings

Life, Pastoral Ministry

As I write this article I am preparing to give what will most likely be my last Mid Year Conference Talk. It is a sad moment for me.

This has been a week of retirements. On Thursday my brother Peter officially retired as the Archbishop of Sydney. With him the Chancellor of the Diocese Acting Judge Peter Johns has also retired. There comes in life a time for the changing of the guard, of letting go of our responsibilities that others may take up their opportunities to serve, bringing fresh energy and fresh ideas to the tasks.

This is more than people retiring because they are getting too old to do the job. This is the intentional outcome of the training up of the next generation to take over. Christianity will be here till the Lord Jesus returns and so every generation must raise up the next generation to take responsibility and leadership. The church without a youth group will have no family ministry in the next generation, and no old people in the one after that. It is critically important to always invest in the next generation (Ps 78:5-7). (more…)