Wednesday, October 30, 2013

For the record...

There's a post about introverts doing the rounds at the moment and I haven't reacted.

Very much, anyway.

Maybe one tiny comment, but that's all.

See? I'm getting better.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

staffing issues at church

It seems to me that Christian ministers are bad at working together. Every second week I feel like I hear the story of an assistant leaving because his* relationship with his senior has soured to the point where it’s best that they go their separate ways. 

It can play out something like this: A church needs to employ an additional person. Someone is chosen and it looks like it will work great. It does for a while, but then the cracks start to show. The assistant feels undervalued, overworked, micro-managed, unsupported and unencouraged. Sometimes he feels that the senior is pulling the church in the wrong direction. Often he feels that he has to pick up after the senior and that he is blamed for his boss’ incompetence. Meanwhile, the senior guy feels that his assistant lacks the commitment to the congregation that he ought to have. That this job is just a stepping stone for him. The assistant’s work ethic is wanting, he can’t see the bigger picture, he is overly precious about having time off and satisfied with delivering a half baked sermon just because he was also asked to run youth group on a particular week. He can be argumentative and disrespectful. He thinks he is God’s gift to the church, able to bring revival, unity and all other good things if only the boss would get out of the way for him.

Tensions are high but things limp along. Sometimes there are angry outbursts. Sometimes, by God’s grace, the senior and assistant find a way of easing the tension and they learn to work together. Sometimes the assistance is asked to leave. Sometimes he simply announces that he’s been offered another job. Sometimes he challenges the senior for the top job.

Church staff conflicts are difficult and sad for the people involved, but they are also unsettling for the whole church, expensive and can be a poor witness to the congregation and the watching world. 

I don’t want to sound self righteous here. I’m pretty sure that if I was in either the position of senior or assistant pastor in a church I would experience these things in much the same way as everyone else I hear about. In fact, in my secular work, at various points I have felt most of the things I listed above. I think that dissatisfaction with employer or employee is kind of a feature of the work relationship, but I think there is something about the boss-assistant relationship in the church context which make the challenges more difficult to live with and more likely to end badly.


1. The boss/2IC relationship in the church isn’t as simple as it is in other workplaces. Both people acknowledge that they both serve the one master, Jesus, and that before him, they are equal. This leads many assistants to not primarily think of their boss as a boss. They expect graciousness from him. Perhaps a parent’s understanding. A pastor. They are put out if he draws lines and speaks heavy. The senior too, is often reluctant to give the direction that’s needed. He says too little at first, then in frustration says too much.  

2. The assistant, fresh from training college, has more confidence in himself and his abilities than most graduate teachers, engineers etc do. Likely he was something of a leader in the church before he started his formal training. During his years at college he has read many books and gone to many conferences on church leadership etc. These are like testosterone injections, making you feel particularly manly and competent - which is great when you are on the job, ministering to real people and only too aware of your short comings, but dangerous when you’re sitting in a room by yourself. A graduate, puffed up on Driscoll et al can do quite a bit of relational damage in his first few months on the job, imagining himself as part of the solution to the church’s problems rather than part of the problem  - as he sees the senior.

3. The mission of the church is a particularly difficult one. Proclaiming the gospel to a world that doesn’t want to hear it is hard. The senior minister is discouraged. At best, the church is growing, and he can’t keep the depth thing happening with the increase in numbers. He needs help. The thought of employing someone gives him hope that his job will get easier. But it doesn’t work like that. More staff = more responsibility = more conflict = more hard. When, 6 months into the appointment, he is as stressed as ever, he can blame the new guy for not carrying his share etc.

4. Churches generally employ a pretty small staff team. Maybe 3 or 4 people. This means that everyone has a lot to do with eachother. In a school or shop staff of 70, my interactions with the boss are limited. She watches from further away. If I dislike her, it’s not such a big deal. Others probably do too. In a church, the senior minister can’t carry on like a CEO if he is only employing a couple of people. It has to be more a partnership model. Almost a marriage. If we don’t get along, it’s going to be hard.

5. Management is a different skill to pastoring/preaching. When engineers move into management, they generally stop doing the stuff they were doing before. Same with teachers. Ministers are expected to do management on the side of everything else. It can be poorly done and other staff find this frustrating.

6. Church matters more than secular work. We are so committed to the gospel that every thing that detracts from it, every inadequacy in church, every conflict with our co-workers etc is amplified in importance. We find it hard to be satisfied with okay. We want to do the best that we can and it hurts us when we feel that others don't think we are working for the kingdom in the best way, or when we think that others aren't working as hard or smart as they could.

7. Families are involved in church staff relationships. If Andrew was a bank manager I wouldn't care about his workers' wives. I'd probably only see them once a year at the christmas party. We'd exchange pleasantries and that would be it. In church staff relationships, the pressure is on from all directions. Wives have to get along. Any tensions between the guys comes out in tension between the wives. Tension between the wives can influence the guys' work. It can all get quite complicated. 

There's more to be said of the problem but that's enough for now. I'd offer solutions but I don't really have any. (No simple ones anyway except #1 - Define the authority structure, #2 - be humble, #3 - trust God.) Do you?

* I'm writing about guys here. I think that the issues with female employees/employers are slightly different.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Two pre-sermon prayers

Lord God

You spoke and the cosmos jumped in eager obedience.

As we hear your word this morning, grant us that same response. Give us ears that delight to hear you and hearts that joyfully bend to your will.

For Jesus sake


Eternal Word,

Speak to us today

Cut through our distraction, unbelief and hardness of heart so that we'll hear you and be changed.


Monday, October 21, 2013

I Was Made To Praise (edited)

1. The rooster in the barn
To himself is true
At the break of dawn
A rooster’s made for crowing,
That’s how he is made,
A rooster’s made for crowing,
But I was made to praise.

So I’ll praise my Lord
I will lift up my voice
With my hands I’ll serve him
With my heart I’ll rejoice
I’ll proclaim his glory
That is why I was made
A rooster’s made for crowing
[A dog is made for barking]*
[A cow is made for mooing]*
But I was made to praise.

2. The dog is in the yard
barking at a cat
running round and round
sniffing this and that.
A dog is made for barking,
That’s how dogs are made
A rooster’s made for crowing,
A dog is made for barking,
But I was made to praise

3. The cow’s in the field
Chewing on the grass
Waiting to be milked
Mooing, mooing loud!
A cow is made for mooing
that’s how cows are made
A rooster’s made for crowing,
A dog is made for barking,
A cow is made for mooing
But I was made to praise.

sar 2013

* each time through, add an extra animal.

I was made to praise - kids' song idea

I'm writing kids' songs at the moment.

This is an attempt at the shorter catechism Q1.

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

It needs another verse tying it together and saying that I can spend forever praising God.

But what do you think of the idea?

I was made to praise

A dog is most a dog
when it’s barking at a cat
digging up a bone
sniffing this and that
A dog is good and doggy
That why dogs were made
Barking, digging, sniffing,
But I was made to praise

So I will sing to God
I will lift up my voice
He is strong and mighty
In him I rejoice
I’ll proclaim his glory
That is why I was made
I am never more me
Never more me
Never more me
than when I sing his praise.

The rooster in the barn
To himself is true
At the break of dawn
A rooster’s made for crowing
That is why he’s made
But I was made to praise.

sar 2013

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Attention ministers! Five things NOT to say at a funeral service

1. "We're here to celebrate."

We're not. We're here to mourn and then find comfort in the promise of resurrection. A funeral is not a party.

2. "She'll live on in our hearts."

She might. But my memory is short and I'm going to die too. A funeral forces me to confront my own mortality and the transitory nature of everything. Saying that she'll live on in my heart gives me little comfort. I want solid ground. I want flesh I can see and touch. I want her. Not memories of her.

3. "This was what she wanted. She was ready to go."

Do you know that? Really? Were you with her when she was struggling for every breath? It didn't look to us like she was embracing death as a friend.

4. "It's not death that's the problem, it's just that we'll miss her."

Death is absolutely the problem! It's death that's taking her away from us! Death is not a kindly old man. He's a monster with horns. And 'missing her' doesn't really capture the wrench of grief.

5. "She's going to be with [deceased husband]."

No she's not. If she's a Christian, she's going to be with Jesus. That's who she really wants.

Prayer of thanks for Ma

Father God,

Thank you for Millie. Thank you for her early life: for the love of her parents and the good times she had with her brothers and sisters; for her youth spent at the Southport Methodist church and the impact that would have on the rest of her life; for providing her with work through the difficult years of the depression and for leading her to George - who, in your mercy - was a good husband to her for 75 years.

Thank you for blessing her with nine children and for giving her the strength to raise them and teach them, for the years and years of hard work washing clothes, making fruit mince pies, cooking meals, making lemon tarts, cleaning the house, baking scones... Thank you for her obvious love for us - her grandchildren - for the handwritten envelopes at christmas time, for never forgetting our birthdays, for rejoicing in the births of our children.

Thank you for providing that support for her - largely through her children - that meant that she could live at home until just a few months ago.

Father, we thank you for her church family whom she loved and who loved her. Thank you that right until the end of her life she heard your word each week here at church, that she learned to trust you, and at the end she could take comfort in the hope of eternal life, that she knew that Jesus had bought for her.

Father, in our sadness of losing Millie, please help us to remember your promises that all who believe in you will see life beyond the grave. Strengthen us to trust in you so that on the last day we will rise with her and enjoy you forever.

In Jesus' name,


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Beautiful As You - The Whitlams

How was I not aware of this song?

Catching up on lost time.

I played it to my preps today in a sleeping lions type game after lunch. One fell asleep.

Monday, October 14, 2013

viola post #596

I love it. I'm having trouble with this tricky string crossing passage (2.08) and I tell my teacher. She shows me a technique, somewhere between flapping my hand up and down and turning my wrist in a circle. It feels funny and sounds awful. She says, "Don't worry what it sounds like, just learn the technique and trust that it will work." I don't believe her, but do what she says anyway because I'm a conscientious adult learner... And what do you know? It worked! I can play it now!

It makes me wonder what I might have achieved in life if I had always been this conscientious.

(How kind of someone to record this piece and put it up on youtube for me!)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

scatty thoughts

1. A watched inbox does not fill faster.

2. A held phone does not ring more.

3. When the heart is restless, the indulgence of a favourite movie and a piece of ginger slice is wasted.

4. One's facebook friends are a great comfort.

5. The best dogs are those that know and just sit with you.

6. If it was my mother, I'd want my kids there too.

7. 2000km is a long way.

reality and unreality

When my (paternal) Grandmother died last year it was very real. I sat with her in some of her last hours. The look on her face, her breathing - it was obvious she was dying. When I got the call that she was gone there was no unreality about it. I had lost her and I felt it.

When my (maternal) Grandfather died a few months later I wasn't there. I hadn't even seen him desperately ill. When I got the call I accepted intellectually that he was dead, but I didn't feel it in the same way. At his funeral I expected him to be there - like he had been at every other family gathering over the years.

Today my (maternal) Grandmother is dying. My mum is there, along with many, many other relatives. But I'm not. If I got on a plane now, I'm pretty sure I'd be too late. I want to be there. I want to feel it. Right now I'm sad, but not for her. I'm sad all over again for the grandmother I lost last year. And I'm preoccupied with working out different scenarios for flying down in the next week.

Pray for us. Especially for my mother.

Things I'm looking forward to

1. Time by myself on Friday
2. Having friends around on Friday night to watch a movie or something
3. Going to Sydney Friday week for TWIST music conference.

Just three days of work to get through now. I can do this!

Term 4

We didn't head south these school holidays- first time we've stayed put since moving here. It's been a great couple of weeks. It started with a QTC mission team coming and I got to enjoy lots of great company (yes, their trip was all about me!), a family from church came up and we had an afternoon/evening with them, our very good friends from school last year came and we spent a week being tourists with them - looking at crocodiles etc, another couple from church came up and took us out for dinner, and we hung out quite a bit with fun people from up here. We've been the the movies a couple of times, sat in the sunshine, stayed up stupidly late and slept in. I've had some viola lessons, sat in coffee shops and yesterday I did the blue arrow bush walk.

But this idyllic lifestyle can't go on forever. I've got to return to the real world of lunch boxes, before and after school activities and WORK.

Today's the day. I set my alarm for 6am in an attempt to realign my skewed body clock. We leave in half an hour. Micah's got orchestra, I've got choir, then I've got 4 lessons then another choir, 5 lessons then staff meeting, swimming training, art class and brass band. Then evening bible studies etc.

Such will be life for ten weeks.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Colour blind

[Language warning]

Andrew is colour blind. It's awesome. We put on red clothes and hide from him in the garden.

Nothing so exciting as a new idea...

...and right now I have several!

[happy dance]

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Psalm 84 meditation

I have a friend who’s made a really costly decision. Tanya would love to be married. Her heart, her whole self aches for Somebody. She wants to love and be loved. Set up a home. Eventually have a baby. And along he comes. This guy. Interesting and funny and comfortable. She loves being with him. His company. She wants him. He’s told her that he wants her. Their mutual friends watch on. To them, it’s perfect. 

But I’m nervous. She’s a Christian. He’s not.

I wonder what she’ll do. 

Tanya says no. 

To most of her friends it makes no sense at all. She’s upset. Saying no is clearly a wrench for her. So why is she doing it?

Tanya says no because she knows that to be with this guy would put her relationship with Jesus in jeopardy. Her friends don’t get it, but I find it inspiring. I know how much she wanted this guy and the life she could have had with him, but now I know, I have evidence, that she wants Jesus more.

She weighed it up and Jesus won. She wants Jesus more than she wants a husband. 

When I read Psalm 84, I’m reminded of people like Tanya. Psalm 84 is a psalm of passionate love for God - the kind of love for God that drives people to make costly sacrifices. The psalmist beautifully expresses his longing to be with God. His longing is so intense, so passionate, that a love song’s the only form it can take. The psalmist is on his way up to the temple in Jerusalem. To God’s house. The place he can meet with God. 

Listen to what he says:

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts

The word ‘lovely’ here doesn’t mean nice or pretty or pleasant. It’s much stronger than that. The ‘lovely’ here has connotations of a romantic love or even lovemaking. The pull he feels towards God’s temple is as strong as sexual love. 

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts
2 My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.

This is an almost physical longing he feels. His whole self - his heart and flesh and soul - they’re pulled to God. He sings, he faints - it’s joy and pain together. Maybe you’ve experienced that kind of attraction for someone. You’ll know what the Psalmist feels. He so longs to go to the temple and meet with his Lord. He must get there. A chord in his heart is connecting him to God. In verse 3 he envies the birds, because they get to build their nests in the temple. Lay their eggs there. Be there all the time.

3 Even the sparrow finds a home, 
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise!

The birds are happy. They live in the temple always singing God’s praise! Oh that the psalmist could do the same thing! He goes on:

4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise! 

5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

His heart is like a highway to Zion. His every thought is headed there. He’s like a lover always thinking of his beloved. And he says that it’s right that he feels this pull. God’s temple is where blessing lies. 

6 As they go through the Valley of Baca (the desert valley)
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.

7 They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.

The psalmist has no doubt that those who are drawn to Zion will arrive. Those who long for God will find him. They will stand before him. And it will be everything they hope for.

10 For a day in your courts is better 
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.

12 O LORD of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you.

All of the psalmist’s longing will be rewarded. There will be no disappointment. Just one day at the destination would have made the whole journey worthwhile. To get to be there as street sweeper would be better than being king anywhere else. 

12 O LORD of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you.

Blessed is the one whose heart is pulled towards Zion. Who longs for God!

That’s psalm 84. Unlike the Psalmist, we have no earthly temple to travel to. It’s not the city of Jerusalem in the Middle East that we’re drawn to. Our longing is for God himself. For Jesus. For the new Jerusalem he’s making for us, where we will be with him, know him, stand in his courts.

Do you feel the pull? Is your heart longing, thirsting to be with God?

My friend Tanya would say that hers isn’t. She would say that she doesn’t feel the psalmist’s passion for God. She would describe her love as weak and wavering. But I think her actions tell the real story. Her love for God is stronger than her desire for marriage. Stronger than her desire to be a wife and mother, to have earthly company and physical love. Her actions show that her heart is drawn to Jesus. Tied to him. Eventually her feelings will catch up. (I think reading a Psalm like this is a good way to help your feelings catch up!)

The sacrifices that Tanya makes in this life for God will be repaid in eternity over and over again. She’ll miss out on no good thing. Even if Tanya ends up never marrying and the pain she’s feeling now turns into the chronic ache of long term singleness and childlessness... even then, when she gets to heaven, she’ll laugh. She’ll say that it was all so worth it. She’ll say that she’d do it a hundred times over. One day with God is worth a thousand anywhere else. Sacrifice? What sacrifice!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


we have history, you and I.

north and south across the table,
perfectly attuned opposites.

without a glance I know your hand
and you know my heart.
I play it.
you have the diamond waiting.

you and I. together unbeatable.

but now we sit at corners
you tease, contradict
jump from
spades to diamonds to clubs -
you must know that I have nothing.
without you. my heart, my hand -

a risk
my final bid.

I lay my cards down. 
lose everything to you.

and win.

sar 2013

Our dogs.



Daphne and Arry

I know this is stupid.

I've had this crazy obsession lately with the idea of becoming a dog breeder. I think it's maternal instinct taken a weird turn, and it really is crazy.

Long time readers may remember my thoughts on dogs in the lead up to buying Arry - our 5 year old Cavy x Tibetan Spaniel. I was really after a battery operated dog, not a real one. But since then I've become a dog person. I'm a little silly in my affection towards Arry. She lived outside for the first couple of years of her life but now is a thoroughly inside dog. I don't mind her sleeping on my bed. I know. How far I've fallen. In the middle of the year we started looking after Daphne while Andrew's brother and his family are touring around Australia. Daffy is a little dog of unknown parentage. She is extremely affectionate. We've loved having her but have to give her back at Christmas. I have so enjoyed having two dogs, that I want another to replace her.

So I've been touring the web looking at different breeds of dogs.

But reading up on dog breeds has made me want to enter the world of dog breeding myself. Puppies are so cute! Why buy one pup when you could have all the excitement and suspense of a doggy pregnancy then a whole litter of beautiful pups? It is a New Idea. A New Interest. A New Hobby. I'm very into the idea. 

But it is silly.

1. The kind of attention to detail that you need as a breeder - vet visits, worming pups on time, registering them, selling them - is completely beyond me. I'm also not at all into cleaning up puppy poo and wee. Or staying at home to look after needy animals.

2. We could not breed from Arry. Even though she is still capable of it, being a hybrid dog herself, her pups mightn't be so desirable. Pedigree breeders (dog eugenic nazis) consider hybrids - even deliberately mated hybrids - an abhorrence. I don't agree at all, but I've been convinced by what I've read about responsible breeding that second generation hybrids are a lot riskier than first generation hybrids. 

3. I'm quite taken by the Cavalier / Bishon Frise mix. How beautiful is this pup?

But to breed pups like this, I'd need to buy two high quality pure bred dogs. That would make us a three dog family. Then, with a litter, perhaps a 7 dog family. 

4. We rent at the moment. I imagine it would be tricky to find a landlord in town that would be good with dog breeder tenants. And our current house really isn't suitable anyway.

5. Becoming a dog breeder would be entering a very weird community. I have my own set of eccentricities but I don't think they match the quirks of the dog breeding community.

Clearly it would be a stupid thing for me to contemplate becoming a dog breeder. Clearly.