Friday, December 22, 2006

learning about leading II

The lesses and mores on the subject of leadership continue...

It involves less strategic thinking than I expected
Those five year 'blueprints' of the future in which goals and objectives are endlessly described with dotted 'i's and crossed 't's haven't featured as much as I thought they would. Sure, there are Business Plans, Staffing Plans etc that project into the future. But leadership seems to be more intuitive than I realised. It seems to be more about befriending change and complexity, reading the ebb and flow of the times, and then together with others trying to respond as best we can at the time. Sometimes I wonder if the intuitive stuff is the action in the picture while the strategic stuff is more the frame that holds the picture together...

It involves more power than I expected
My experience of leadership was very limited prior to coming into this role. Very early on I got very scared by how my comments as a principal to a church about a student was so influential in their future. This is a biggie! In today's world 'power' has replaced 'truth' as the currency of concern. People are very sensitive to abuses of power and displays of power and so they should be. So I resolved to reflect deeply on how one depowers leadership while still exerting influence. Max DuPree's 'leading without power' phrase provided the spark. The biblical imagery of servant and shepherd and steward and sage helps. Sharing information as early and as fully and as written as possible helps. Finding ways to acknowledge God as the leader with all others as his sub-contractors helps. Honour what has gone before helps. Spreading leadership and delegating well helps. Trimming down what is compulsory (or removing it all together) to a bare minimum sure helps. That is a few ideas on de-powering, maybe you have some others?

It involves less victory than I expected
I am trying to alternate my 'more' and 'less' words :) What this one really is about is failure. We all know that the real learning comes in the failure. It is true! But I have been surprised how much it can stick around and how hard it is to name it and move on from it. When the good times roll, a whole lot of people are involved in making that success happen and it is so important to acknowledge that and 'forward' credit onto the ones who actually made it happen and celebrate as a group. Plus trumpeting success in the Kiwi context is counterproductive. However, talking with other leaders, it seems that absorbing the failure, the criticism, and the disappointment comes with the territory of leadership. These aren't 'forwarded' in that same sense. They are processed more personally and in other ways. This is where 2 Corinthians becomes precious, experiencing God's grace amidst the weakness. But it still makes leading to be more uphill than I expected with a little less of the adrenalin and enthusiasm and joy associated with savouring victory.

It involves more coaching than I expected
This industry has grown, hasn't it? Supervisors, mentors, spiritual directors, coaches ... Sometimes I wonder if they can usurp the function which God wants to play in our lives - does it say "Cast all your anxiety on your mentor" in 1 Peter 5:7? I don't think so!? Nevertheless each one has their place. The one I've valued the most is the coach. People who believe in me enough to show me how to do it and then prevail with me while I learn to do it. It is both humbling and energising for me.

It involves less gifting than I expected
We can get carried away by leading being a function solely of things like personality, charisma, genes, style, mana, or gifts... I am surprised just how much of leading isn't these things. It is far more about moulding better character and learning new skills while being obedient to the call of God to lead. Leading seems to start with the art of building trust. It operates a bit like a bank. You make deposits. You make withdrawals. You get in trouble when you withdraw stuff that has not been deposited. And the healthy deposits with the best returns are character issues. The New Testament is full of this (I Thess2; Gal 5:22-26; Eph 4-5...) as it uses a clothing image to urge us to take-off stuff and put-on other stuff: like humility, perseverance, self-control, forgiveness, love, kindness etc. I am learning that the effectiveness of my leading is directly related to the presence or absence of these character-istics growing in my life.

A final comment. Some months ago I posted a comment on 'the gospel of community?' in which I wondered aloud whether 'community' was becoming its own gospel today. Just get community going and lives will be transformed and the mission of God will be accomplished.
I also wonder whether leadership is becoming its own gospel. Is its importance being overstated today? Just get effective leadership in place at every level and lives will be transformed and the mission of God will be accomplished...

nice chatting


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

learning about leading I

The summer break is just days away. I am reading heaps of stuff on leadership in preparation for a DMin course on Leadership in March. And I am about to step into my 10th year as Principal of Carey Baptist College. So I find myself in a pensive, reflective mode just at the moment. I thought I'd post some of this stuff. With the help of a whole heap of people I've been learning a few things about leadership along the way...

It involves less vision than I expected
Is 'visionary leadership' a bit over-rated today - particularly if 'the leader' is expected to come up with that vision? I've enjoyed developing specific processes whereby vision is drawn out of those being led - staff and students and the wider constituency, in particular - and then seeing my role to be to bring these ideas together and basically run with their vision wherever possible. Afterall staff tend to be leaders in their own right and tertiary students are not children anymore and can have heaps of experience.
I've been surprised how little need there has been for me to be a visionary leader.

It involves more courage than I expected
I am more timid by disposition and this does not help. It is interesting how often I have asked a group of people who pray for me to pray specifically for courage. Maybe it as we face those to whom we are accountable - church leaders and/or government agencies. Maybe it is 'holding my nerve' through times of change. Maybe it is those times when I care enough to confront. Maybe it is just when I lose hope and lose sight of the gracious hand of God being on the college. Or maybe it is something as mundane as the marketing of the college. It is easy for marketing to be motivated by a fear of what others are doing. Carey has been more minimalist. Get staffing right. Get programmes right. Entrust yourself to a grapevine...
I've been surprised how much courage is involved in being a leader.

It involves less stress than I expected
Yes, there are times when a panic inhabits my gut and I feel stressed. But I expected this. However hearing John Sturt (at a "Sharpening the Saw" seminar - couldn't find it on the web) define the difference between stress and burn-out has proved to be a defining moment for me. Maybe I can post that list separately sometime. I had tended to see myself as easily stressed - as did others - when in fact my vulnerability is much more with burn-out which is more a function of emotion. The Bill Hybels' tape on "Surviving Leadership" ( was also helpful. In it he speaks of the 'emotional gauge on the dashboard of our lives' and how it can sit on empty, rather than full. Because my diagnosis of what is going on inside is now more accurate I think the 'medication I pick up from the chemist' is more appropriate too. It is about learning how to refuel and replenish more than it is about finding how to de-stress. [I have also found Medicine Man Chief by Renier Greef to be useful here.]
I've been surprised how little stress there has been as a leader (but plenty of threat of burn-out instead!)

It involves more wisdom than I expected
Let me explain. By 'more' , I really mean 'wider'. It is not just in the Bible and in the Christian tradition where wisdom is found. While I rest my life on those truths I have been surprised how much wisdom is found elsewhere. Three examples will suffice.
(a) From Peter Blake on the secret of winning the America's Cup ... 'spreading leadership throughout the organisation'. Brilliant! Find ways to draw people into the responsibilities of leadership and thereby draw out their leadership capacities - and watch them grow and contribute. (b) From Wilson Whineray, former captain of the All Blacks, when I finally asked him a question at the 55min mark of a 60min flight early in my time as Principal. 'What is the key to being an effective leader?' ... lengthy pause ... 'Surrounding yourself with good people' Brilliant! Find people who each do things better than you can do - and then rest secure in the knowledge of that fact and celebrate it. (c) From the title of a Max Dupree best-seller - 'leading without power'. Brilliant! Finding the ways to be influential without displays of power.
Again and again I find such wisdom in so-called 'secular' sources - a wisdom, rather ironically, that is desperately needed within the Christian community today.
I've been surprised by how wide the sources are from which wisdom can come.

Enuf for now. I have a few other 'mores' and 'lesses' to share later.

nice chatting


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

taking the weather with you

These bush fires in Australia have got me thinking about the weather...

But I need to reveal my hand a bit at the start. My teenage years were based in New Delhi where I have sat inside - with the only activity being the beating of my heart - and watched the sweat drop off my face and into my cereal. That is hot! My training years were spent in Chicago where I once walked to the library and was blinded by the cold. Yes - the moisture in my eyes froze and I could not see, groping my way along the path. That is cold!

But despite living in places with such extreme temperatures the place where I've heard the most moaning about the weather is where the climate is most temperate ... New Zealand. We are obsessed with it. [I know, I know - I haven't lived in the UK!]. By the way, I have heard gasps in church services in NZ when I introduce myself as having pastored a church in Invercargill - gasps that clearly communicate "you did what?! You cannot be serious?!"

This moaning sparks four pretty random responses in me - and maybe some more in you!

It raises the issue of contentment. It speaks of the relative luxury of our living conditions if such a temperate climate can attract so much complaint and obsession. Don't we have anything bigger to moan about? Much of the time for many the answer is 'no'. Doesn't that say something?

It raises the issue of obedience. I have grown weary of getting seriously annoyed with students (and others) who watch the weather map more than listen to God when it comes to discerning the will of God. I just don't spark up like I used to. How can I say that Jesus is Lord of my life if I say to Jesus that there are some areas of his world where his people live where I just cannot go? What utter rubbish! oops - I'm sparking-up again...

It raises the issue of gratitude. While An Inconvenient Truth was not entirely convincing for me ... [I found it too Gore-centric to be compelling and there was an elephant-in-that-lecture-room that if it was exposed, the impact of Gore's movie would be severely restricted. I am talking about greed. People don't like you raising that issue with them - and yet if you addressed greed I wonder how it would impact the issues he raises?] ... but I am grateful for his perspective on climate change. When I look at the bushfires and when I look at the extensive parts of the world dying for water, it makes me grateful for the relative wetness of New Zealand. We have what so many long for. We should be much more thankful for rain and ample water. It is one of our luxuries. Interesting to note that the writer of the Psalms longed for rain like we long for the sun. Keep that in mind as you read...

It raises the issue of community. The harshness of a climate can bond people together and give them stories to tell of adventure and survival. I won't be guilty of overstating it - but watching Chicagoans anticipate and experience winter is fascinating. I wonder what we miss out on because of our temperate climes?

nice chatting


Sunday, November 26, 2006

have a drink? yeah right!

Help me out here. This is a serious question.

"What is one single redeeming feature of alcohol consumption?"

Here is how I see it...
The downsides of alcohol consumption are understated. Just scratch the bad stories in the newspaper and the neighborhood a little. Again and again and again the worst evils in our society have been facilitated by alcohol. If alcohol was not present they would not have happened. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear... it is staggering just how often alcohol abuse is the lubricant for the worst of evils.

The upsides of alcohol consumption are overstated. Just as it is associated with so much that it is evil it is also associated with so much that is shallow. When it is impossible to have a good time with your mates without alcohol there is a problem with imagination. When it is impossible to be funny without alluding to (or drinking) alcohol - and sex - there is a problem with imagination. If alcohol-enabled Happy Hour is as deep as we can reach with relationships then we have a problem.

Now I am not so stupid as to say that alcohol consumption is inherently wrong. Nor am I going to be so silly as to say that a follower of Jesus shouldn't drink alcohol.

But while on the subject of Jesus-following let me remind you that Jesus calls such people to live in the salt:light tension. Mixing-in but also being distinctive. We are in an era of Christian life where people are pigging out on being salt. They mix in well. In fact study after study shows that there is no discernible difference between the life of those who follow Jesus and those who do not. That is a scandal. We live at a time when there is a failure of courage in the lives of Jesus-followers. They prefer to blend rather than stand apart. We have lost sight of what being counter-cultural looks like.

Now I know being counter-cultural can occur in many ways. But for me... Because the downsides of alcohol consumption are left so understated and because the upsides are left so overstated and because we are called to be distinctive and 'to live as children of light', I have made a calculated decision with my own Jesus-following. I won't drink alcohol. I'll stop short of saying others should do the same - but it does surprise me just how few people come to this same conclusion.

Go on - convince me otherwise!

nice chatting


Thursday, November 16, 2006

stones and sponges

I am aware of so many people heading off on mission trips this summer. I could name half a dozen such (ad)ventures in the making...

I have a question. How do these mission trips becoming something more than mere Christian tourism? For me it is all about stones and sponges...

As we throw ourselves into the water of an alien culture do we see ourselves as a stone or as a sponge? Do we wish to get wet or do we wish to get saturated? Then on the return home do we just dry off our experiences as we get on with our lives OR do we struggle with the enduring squeeze on our lives as emotions and goals keep getting wrung out on the way to living a life that will never be the same again?

My view is that stone-experiences are a poor return on the financial investment being made and a waste of time for the host missionaries. It must be sponge-experience - or it must be nothing at all.

So how does sponge happen? Good question! We must linger long enough with people for their lives to seep into us. I suspect it means staying longer in one place and travelling less to different places. It will mean doing something and not just seeing everything. It will mean leaving a bit of us behind and taking a bit of them forward...

Over the long haul I suspect that God's mission on earth is advanced more by a smaller number of sponges than a larger number of stones. I wonder aloud whether that is what we are encouraging today.

nice chatting


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

h and h

It is such an apt image: 'fallen' ... stumbling, grazing, bruising, hurting, slipping.

The 'evangelical' world in the USA has been shocked in this past week by the fall of one of its leaders(Ted Haggard). It is tragic - particularly for his wife and his children. The last time this happened with someone of such profile was probably twenty years ago and a guy called Gordon McDonald. He has written an intriguing reflection on this recent fall ... take some time over it!

As I read McDonald's comments I am reminded again that while the 100% fire-proofing of our lives from a 'falling' incident might be impossible ("but for the grace of God, go I" - as they say), the asymptote of our lives can get pretty close to touching that horizontal axis by pleading with God to graft two qualities into our characters: humility and holiness. It is the prayer worth praying. It is the life worth living.

But for a change of theme, you might also like to consider

nice chatting


Monday, November 06, 2006

pinball panic

The statement has come across my desk again today. Gee - it winds me up!

"Today's generation hears with their eyes and thinks with their emotions."

Then the argument usually goes on to speak of the need for far more visual content in our communication (because people hear with their eyes) and far more story content (because people think with their emotions). Yes. Yes. I understand. I accept the reality in this.

But this analysis still makes me so uncomfortable! Basically it is affirming that sociological trends should drive what we do. "If this is the way this generation is going then we need to adapt to it or else we'll get left behind." And so off we go with that pin-ball panic, grabbing every programme available to stop us becoming irrelevant.

I just do not think that this is the full answer. If this is the way the world is going, then one of our responses must be to teach people to hear with their ears and think with their minds. I do not accept that sociological trends should be running the show. If we keep bending to these trends, one day we will find that we have fallen in. Is that the relevance we want? That's not relevance. That is accommodation. It is irrelevance!

Instead of just bending all the time we need a little backbone. We need to strengthen that backbone with theological truth. Let the truths push the trends around a bit more. I just shudder at the thought of how God and his Jesus might respond to a discipleship that prioritises the eyes over the ears and the emotions over the mind.

nice chatting


Friday, November 03, 2006

cruelty at night

Recently I heard it yet again...
A person in pain. A person stumbling through a 'dark night of the soul'. Things are bleak. And this person is told that their faith is too frail. It is too fragile. 'You need a stronger faith'.

I am not convinced. That is cruel. It is unkind. It is bad advice.

The wonderful thing about following Jesus is that there are times when things get frail - but that is OK. Things are not dependent on our frailty but on God's strength. We may lose our hold of him -but he does not lose his hold of us. That is our hope. In Christian conversation today 'hope' just does not grab enough headlines. During those long 'dark nights' the way forward is not so much about mustering up a stronger faith as it is meditating on a certain hope. That is the key.

As we do so let's be inspired by the way God designs the world.
Into the rhythm of a 24hr period he places the darkness of midnight and the lightness of dawn. Dawn always comes. That is a certain hope. In fact, as Bono expresses it, 'midnight is where the dawn begins'. Into the rhythm of the 365day period he places the cold of winter and the warmth of summer. The warmth always comes. That is a certain hope.

And this is the way God designs our lives as we walk with him. Dawn and warmth always comes. And I do mean 'always' ... but then God follows an eternal planner, rather than an annual one and so he may work more slowly than we'd like. And as God walks with these people so also do we need to walk with them through the dark and the cold until the light and the warmth emerges.

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Sunday, October 29, 2006

the unbearable lightness of being disjunctive

Yes - it is a mouthful. [It is a play on a famous article entitled 'the unbearable lightness of being postmodern']. I am trying to express an alarm over something which restricts the reach of God's mission in the world through us. What is it?

It is the hold which disjunctive thinking can have over us. What do I mean? Disjunctive thinking is the tendency to live according to an "either this or that" pattern. It is kinda like putting "vs" between two words when an "and" is what is needed. Let's try some examples...

(a) The recent post on Truth and Love is one example.

(b) A more ancient post (11 March 2006) raised the merits of church with External focus and church with Internal focus. Is church just about mission - or is it also about maturity? It is both. Mission by a people who are not Maturing is likely to be a Mess!

(c) Church vs Kingdom is another. How is it possible to be enthusiastic about one and not the other? Just read Ephesians 1-3 alongside the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and see if such a disjunction is possible. It isn't! So many other disjunctions gather here: gathered church vs scattered church; incarnational vs attractional models of mission (why not both, for God's sake!?)...

There are many, many more disjunctions...
Head vs Heart; Word vs Spirit; Work vs Worship; Grace vs Truth; Secular vs Sacred; Fences vs Wells; Theory vs Practice; Being vs Doing; Academic vs Devotional; Monday vs Sunday; Quality vs Quantity; Salt vs Light; Contemporary vs Ancient - on and on it goes. Can you think of some others?

If mission is to be robust then we must repent of this unbearable lightness of being disjunctive. It is shallow. It creates a weighty burden out of a superficial lightness. It is short-sighted.

I offer two comments to tease your further reflection:
(a) Embrace a space idea. Disjunction tends to create two circles in which there is no overlap. We function in one or the other. I wonder if the ellipse with two internal poles is a better spatial image. What do you think? Advantages? Disadvantages?
(b) Embrace a time idea. Disjunction is usually resolved with a simple "both:and" and therefore an affirmation of both sides. I wonder if this is subtle enough. I wonder whether it is wiser to be sensitive to the need for a sequence - "first this: then that". What do you think?

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Saturday, October 21, 2006

the MTD virus

In response to a posting on 18 April ('the doors'), Stephen Garner commented on some research that points to 'moralistic therapeutic deism' (MTD) being the religion of younger Christian people today. I've been a bit distracted by this research all year!

In a nutshell - this is what is meant by MTD:
"Good, kind, nice pleasant people (the moralistic bit) are able to live a happy life from their religion (the therapeutic bit) while believing in a relatively uninvolved and undemanding God who is watching everything from above (the deism bit)."

And this is the religion of countless Christians!?
How must a follower of Jesus respond?

At its core MTD makes a mockery of the cross of Christ. It is not Christian. It is not even close to being Christian. Let's take each word one at a time in reverse order...

(a) deism - and the God who is uninvolved?
This makes a mockery of the relational word which the Bible knows as reconciliation. God does not drop out of sight after creating the world. The entire story of the Bible is about this 'hound of heaven' (CS Lewis) involving himself in this world and pursuing us across sin and separation and conflict and rebellion until he finds us - at which point he offers forgiveness through the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross. This restores the relationship. This brings reconciliation. And after pursuing us like this - he persists with us! After all of this, an uninvolved God seems ridiculous ... check out 2 Corinthians 5:15-21 for a bit more.

(b) therapeutic - and living life just to feel happy?
This makes a mockery of the marketplace word which the Bible knows as redemption. It is about the buying of a slave so as to liberate them. The price has been paid... We have a slavery to sin. We are unable to grapple with the situation because of that sinfulness. We are helpless and hopeless - completely reliant on God. God purchases our redemption. He pays the price with the death of his own son. We are redeemed. Jesus dies our death so that we can live his life - a life to be lived with Jesus as our Master. 'If he is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all'. After all of this done for us, living just to feel happy looks pathetic ... check out 1 Peter 1:18-21 for a bit more.

(c) moralistic - and thinking that being good and kind is enough?
This makes a mockery of the legal word which the Bible knows as justification. We stand in the dock. We are guilty. We face God as a righteous and holy judge. He has a standard we cannot attain. There is no goodness in who we are or what we do that can make a difference. The outcome is clear. And then ... God brings in Jesus. He takes our place in the dock as a substitute and receives the sentence of death. It is called grace. It is God's way of forgiving us and treating us as if we had never sinned. We are justified. After all of this, thinking that being good and kind will be enough just looks silly ... check out Romans 3:21-26 for a bit more.

My response to the MTD virus?
Soak up reconciliation, redemption, justification - let the big words have a big impact!
"If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him." (CT Studd)

nice chatting


For the record, the book is...

Christian Smith & Melinda Denton, Soul Searching: the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers (Oxford University Press, 2005)

This posting is an abbreviated version of an article which is itself an abbreviated version of an address given at the TSCF conference in July. The article appeared in CANVAS magazine and can be read at
I am happy to pass on the full manuscript of the address to anyone who is interested.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

truth and love

Exactly 40 years ago - and I mean to the very minute - people all over London were heading for the Underground to make their way to Central Hall, Westminster. 18 October 1966. What transpired that night is a 'defining moment' in post-War British evangelicalism.

Now, now ... don't close this window quite yet?! Stick with me for moment. I am going somewhere with this! I've read the story of that night in so many places. Where are those Back to the Future cars when you want them?

Here it is in a nutshell. Chairing the meeting was John Stott. The invited speaker was Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The two key evangelical leaders of the era. In his address Lloyd-Jones gave a stirring appeal that many listeners perceived to be a call to them to leave their denominations and form the true church. He suggested that the mainline denominations, in particular, harbour doctrinal error and that the evangelical should separate themselves from such churches. It would seem that the strength of his appeal caught people by surprise. Instead of closing the meeting, John Stott rose to his feet and said "I believe history is against what Lloyd-Jones has said ... Scripture is against him, the remnant was within the church not outside it."
Every account records how "the atmosphere was electric"...

It is the classic debate. Truth vs Love? Doctrine vs Unity? What doctrinal price are we prepared to pay to preserve unity? What fellowship price are we prepared to pay in order to preserve truth? For any faithful Jesus-follower these are questions that will be faced in their own personal lives - and in their relationships with others. Each perspective has merit. They can't just be swept away. It is impossible to read 1 John without seeing this. Love matters. Truth matters.

While Stott and Lloyd-Jones made their peace within days, a bitter dispute erupted more widely and it is Alister McGrath's view that the 'shadow of 1966' has lingered ever since.

Three reflections on which you may wish to comment:
(a) Truth matters ... but if there is very little over which we are prepared to divide for the sake of that truth, then does truth really matter to us?
(b) Love matters ... but if there is very little impulse to reconcile and restore fellowship with others for the sake of that love, then does love really matter to us?
(c) Sometime reflect on the defining moment in the early church in Acts 15. 'Can Gentiles become Christians?' If the outcome of this Jerusalem Council had not gone the way it did the church would have ceased to exist. It was just that critical. And what is the genius of the outcome? Read carefully. Truth wins! Love wins!

nice chatting


For the record:
+ The incident can be read on-line in an extract from John Stott's biography:
The incident can be read also in the Lloyd-Jones' biography:
Iain Murray, D.Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith (Banner of Truth, 1990) 513-532

+ The full text of Lloyd-Jones' address is "Evangelical Unity: An Appeal" and is probably on the internet somewhere - although I could not find it quickly - and appears in D.M. Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times (Banner of Truth, 1989) 246-257

Friday, October 06, 2006

the art of blindspot exposure

The comment which provoked the most response while teaching in Zambia was when we came to the 'submission' passages in 1 Peter 2:11-3:7 and I suggested that we needed to avoid two errors:

(a) the 'cut and paste' error
This occurs when we 'cut' these verses out of the context of this letter and the occasion and time into which Peter was writing and just 'paste' them into our own occasion and time ... and then sit back and pat ourselves on the back for interpreting the Bible literally - as if 'literally' means the same thing as 'accurately'. It doesn't!

(b) the 'delete and escape' error
This occurs when we see something we don't like in the Bible - like these submission passages. We kinda pretend they aren't there, skip over them, basically 'delete' them and 'escape' from them to something that rests more easily with us. The outcome? We shut down the possibility of the Bible ever saying something hard to us.

One of the benefits of living in another culture for awhile is that you see your own culture more clearly - together with its blindspots. And these blindspots do tend to develop and grow when we live our lives oblivious to one of these twin errors.
After two weeks mixing with pastors in Zambia I reckon some of our Kiwi blindspots came into focus for me. I offer my TOP SIX blindspots (in no particular order) and welcome additions or subtractions or changes from you:

1. Family
Two extremes! One is the idolatry of family in which we worship our children and can't allow God to call us to do anything that we think might damage them. The second is where we are so intent on career-advancement and/or lifestyle-enhancing that we make decisions about the care of children that might well damage them over the longer term.

2. Money
The poverty of Christians in so many parts of the world is just unacceptable. The wealth of Christians in so many parts of the world is also unacceptable. While some wealthy Christians are remarkably generous, far more of them need to be so. And we all need to be more content with what we have.

3. Age
It was interesting to be in a culture where it is the older ones who are respected and exalted. In our culture it is the younger ones that are respected and exalted. Our obsession with youth and youthfulness really is very odd indeed.

4. Holiness
It is not just about sex ... but having said that we have raised a young adult generation whose standards on sexuality owe more to a decade of watching Friends than it does to a decade of reading Jesus - which, of course, should not surprise us as more time has been spent doing the former than doing the latter.

5. Eternity
"Israel put their hope in the judgement of God." Why? They were an oppressed people and so coming judgement was something to sing about and celebrate. Eternity is that time when all unpunished badness is judged for all time and all unaffirmed goodness is vindicated for all time. No wonder we can't make sense of this world. We think the present time is all there is...

6. Justice
Justice has gone from being something we fight for and protect for others (particularly other believers globally) to becoming something we fight for and defend for ourselves. Personal rights now eclipse personal responsibility ... and so something like submission having a beauty in a particular situation just cannot be entertained.

Which means I've ended up where I started and so I should quit and let you contribute something.

nice chatting


Monday, September 25, 2006

out of zambia

A little transit time in Bangkok - why not post a blog? My son (Martin) and I are returning from 18 days in Africa where I participated in the Pastors Book Project - the brainchild of visionary SIM-er Jim Mason. 24 conferences over 4months in 19 locations distributing a quality library of 65 books (and 2 CDs) to 7000 pastors. I participated in Nigeria in 1997 and the vision has rolled around Africa (and India) and when invited to come back for Zambia, I jumped at it...

Here are some of my emotions from the time in Zambia:

Well - in transit in Nairobi airport to be exact on touch down in Africa. My first impression was the new brand of colonialism. Whitney Houston sang five songs before dawn on the radio being played throughout the airport. The images in the shops were drawn from the catwalks of Europe (what happened to African beauty?) ... and CNN in the cafe seemed so intrusive. Why don't they create a version just for the States and then one for the world? The obsession with 9/11 and the individualised photos of those who had died in Iraq seemed so inappropriate - even insensitive - given Africa's problems. Why doesn't George Bush start asking the right question - "Why do they hate us so much?" ... and stop rabbiting on about "preserving our way of life" as a justification for war? I thought such justification had more to do with preserving justice than preserving a way of life? He might even find that altering 'a way of life' might actually lessen the 'hatred' (not to mention the amount of money spent on arms). The CNN I saw can only be fueling the hatred...

A decisive moment in my call from God was being rivetted to John Stott doing 50+minute biblical expositions when I was 19yrs old. So I have always been partial to such an approach and enjoyed forays into it myself - usually overseas as there ain't much of a market for such ministry in the NZ Baptist scene! So to be faced with the opportunity to 'let my expository hair down' with a few hundred Zambian pastors - hungry, poor, grateful - was such a delight. Then to share the teaching with two Zambian pastors - Albert Mukanga and Gilbert Masonde - and sit 'under' them added to the delight. Such rapport with their people - and what a joy-ful, resilient, and capable bunch. I took a huge map of Zambia with me and had participants sign the map in the place where they were pastoring ... now I must remember to pray for them.

I left my ties at home! I felt under-dressed and it raised that old hoary issue for Kiwi Christians: are we just a bit too careless and sloppy and disrespectful in the way we walk with God and worship him? I have recently heard UK immigrants speak of our lack of reverence in church. It is a blind spot. Where exactly has the 'fear of God' gone? David Wells' decade-old words continue to ring in my ears as the heart of the issue: 'the transcendent God has been lost; the immanent God has been abused'. And, of course 'ties or no-ties' is not the issue at all - but it was the presenting issue for me in Zambia.

It didn't help that the guy picking us up from Lusaka airport told us the story of his car-jacking in the exact place where it had happened. He showed us the bullet hole below his right shoulder blade and then the other adjacent to his left nipple ... and was wearing the shirt/jumper with the bullet holes to match. We struggled to get past the letter box that first night! But we soon relaxed... until a week later in a very gloomy twilight in downtown Lusaka our driver left us in a state of the art Toyota 4WD - unlocked and with keys in the ignition - while he popped out to do some shopping. UGH! I succumbed to locking the doors...

Crossing the Zambezi River at the exact point where four nations meet - unique in the world - was a special thrill for me. For the record: Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, and Botswana.
Being able to track down Martin's sponsored child, Nchumunya ... the dear boy was just overwhelmed and in shock much of the time - but not his mum! She rushed into the room, made a beeline for Martin, and drowned him in a hug. That picture will be with me forever. A mother's love and gratitude... At one point I tried to distribute some balloons to the school children. I was mobbed. There was almost a riot. But it was not a riot of greed, but a riot of sheer exuberance. The happiest faces I have seen in life adorn the faces of the 'poorest of the poor' children. While that has a thrill attached to it, it is also very sobering...

What can you say about hearing first-hand stories of the HIV/AIDS pandemic? Many of the pastors at the conferences were having an AIDS-funeral each week. Imagine the pastoral care before and after that event and the enormous load on those pastors! Life expectancy for men in Zambia has dropped from 62 to 47 since AIDS hit the scene. I hardly saw a grey hair! A special session on HIV/AIDS was included in the programme for a pastors' conference!
I committed myself to reading Martin Meredith's The State of Africa (Simon&Schuster, 2006) while I was away. 700pages - just 25 to go! The story of the 50years since independence. What a sad, sad story! It is just so distressing. One quote will do (but I may return later to this book!): "By the end of the 1980s, not a single African head of state in three decades had allowed himself to be voted out of office. Of some 150 heads of state who had trodden the African stage, only six had voluntarily relinquished power." (378-379). And that is only part of a story of greed, fear, corruption, and power. And the former colonial nations (and their 'scramble for africa') together with other contemporary Western countries are hardly squeaky clean in it all.
I am a deep believer in preaching being about a faithfulness to the TEXT as well as to the CONTEXT. Preaching through 1Peter and trying to respect the African context was a challenge I just could not meet adequately. It is too hard - particularly with that letter.

When God makes African children he is at his very best. Every single one of them is exquisitely formed and just so, so beautiful. Without exception! I caught myself staring at times... Then there are those beautiful animals we saw in Chobe Park in Botswana: the giraffe and elephant standout - one with a delicate gracefulness about them, the other with a more lumbering approach ... but it is still gracefulness nonetheless.
I remember the brightness of the flowers in arid and sandy Israel. Here in Africa is another example of how God seems to invest the greatest beauty in the harshest environments.

I was so proud of my boy Martin. Can I add that one too? He has such an ease as he moves across cultures, making friends comes so naturally to him. I learned a lot by watching him in action. He has loved Africa since he was a small boy (and knows heaps about it) - and this trip was a dream come true for him.

Flight TG989 to Auckland beckons - and a return to life and work where God has placed us both.

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

the gospel of community?

When the energy drains out of a seminar I am leading, I know just where the solution lies. I put three words on the whiteboard and ask people to put them in the right order: "belonging", "believing", "behaving". One of the great discussion-starters...

It is a bit unfair, but you could make a case that the generation of my parents left us with the impression that the order was 'behaving' then 'believing' then 'belonging'. And now along comes the emerging generation and they want to reverse that order: 'belonging' then 'believing' then 'behaving'.

What do you make of this?

If I understand the way the word 'belonging' is used today, it is a community word. If people are to believe, they first need to feel like they belong. It is all about relationships... The crucial step in evangelism is creating a sense of community before there is too much talk of believing anything. Is that fair?

If it is I have some questions! If there can be a belonging before there is a believing how does that belonging compare with the belonging that believing creates? You better read that one again! Surely that first belonging can only be a pale imitation of the second belonging? So why is it receiving so much emphasis today - to the detriment of the second belonging?

And where is the gospel in this? Doesn't the gospel start with believing - by confessing, repenting, trusting etc? "As you come to him, the Living Stone (Christ) ... you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house." (1Peter2:4a, 5a) Surely this suggests that there is a believing first and foremost and as people believe and move towards Jesus they find out that they end up hanging around others who are doing the same and before long, they discover community together - all because the primary movement was towards Christ and not initially towards each other.

I remain unsure about the priority which this community - or, that pre-believing belonging - is receiving today. It seems to have become the key to mission. Community. Community. Community. Tip of everybody's tongue. Top of everybody's strategy. People go on and on about it. And I don't notice that much Godwardness about it as the focus seems to be on relationships with each other. At times it sounds like it has become its own gospel, eclipsing the other gospel. But community is a consequence of the gospel; it is not the gospel.

At best I could embrace an order that looks something like this:
"belonging then believing then BELONGING then behaving"

And isn't it interesting that with the letter to the Romans - that clearest of clear presentations of the gospel - Paul seems to follow this order: 'believing' (ch1-4) then 'belonging' (ch5-11) and then 'behaving' (ch12-15)??

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Sunday, September 03, 2006

MK musing

I am a missionary-kid (MK). I am forever grateful to my parents for growing me up in India. Lots of reasons - but most important of all it helped me become an internationalist.

With my white face and blond hair being such a cultural oddity, I grew up affirming the languages and cultures of peoples who looked unlike me. Racism became repugnant. And a residue of this still remains... I don't really understand patriotism. Even that Kiwi penchant for Aussie-bashing (not to mention that Canterbury penchant for parochialism!) is a struggle. When God looks down from heaven he doesn't see national boundaries, so why should I?

With that weekly walk to church taking me within reach of every major world religion, I grew up taking other peoples' beliefs seriously - including my own. Pluralism became ubiquitous. And a residue of this still remains ... My beliefs always had other beliefs to push against. Today I don't understand why the unique Jesus who is Lord of all so easily becomes for us a clip-on Jesus who is Lord of little. Is he the way, the truth, the life - or isn't he?

With the faces of poverty interrupting the simplest of life's routines, I grew up being scarred by those images of the poorest of the poor. Consumerism became offensive. And a residue of this still remains ... I still find Christians in flash houses driving flash cars difficult to comprehend. It is an instinct. To this day I try to keep India's poor looking over my shoulder as I make financial decisions - but sometimes greed overpowers compassion in the battle for my heart. It is not easy, is it?

These tensions which India birthed in my soul are the upsides of becoming an internationalist. I remember John Stott calling all Christians to be 'committed internationalists'. Count me in! He is right - and the MK life gave me a head start for this.

But there are downsides as well...My first 35 years were lived as an alien. No stay lasted longer than five years - until my 36th year. Furthermore virtually every shift was continental. Making friends became easy. It was keeping friends that was hard. Belonging anywhere meant belonging nowhere. An insecurity became a constant companion.

But the flowers of the garden still help me. Some are perennials - like homemade Kiwis who grow a beauty in the same location. Others are annuals - like transient MKs whose beauty blooms in different places.

On balance I wouldn't trade-in the MK life for anything. I am one of the ones who feel blessed. There are many who do not feel this way. And as the globe shrinks and its peoples spill out across multiple borders I wonder if the MK will become a bit of a prototype for the future.

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Sunday, August 27, 2006

double features

Two passions kinda animate me. One is biblical exposition with texts like gospel and epistle and prophecy. The other is cultural exposition with texts like advertisement and lyric and movie.

Take movies for example...

If I was a (youth) pastor I'd organise a retreat for the leadership team in which we watch a double feature of High School Musical and Invisible Children. I watched it last night and it provoked this post. We'd ask how the characters in the two movies answer the two big questions of life: Identity (who am I?) and Destiny (why am I here?) ... before finishing with some biblical exposition on how God answers those questions - and then make our response as a team.

If I was a pastor I'd organise a retreat for the leadership team in which we watch a double feature of Chocolat and As It Is In Heaven. They have similar settings, similar plotlines, and similar characters. We'd let the movies speak both literally and figuratively to us. Then we'd ask how the characters (and the director, for that matter) in the movies open up issues like community and leadership and sin - thereby opening the way for us to respond with thoughts about mission and salvation ... before finishing with some biblical exposition on what it means to be church - and then make our response as a team.

Maybe you can beat me to it (as I am not a pastor!) and tell me how you get on...

nice chatting


Tuesday, August 22, 2006


We are in the middle of the evaluation season at Carey Baptist College. All 30 of the students in our Pastoral Leadership track journey through an annual process which probes for both critique and affirmation. As Principal I have been committed to participating in every single one. It is just exhausting... Reflecting on the written material - phrasing that open-ended question that cracks an issue open - committing to leaving no hard thing or affirmative thing unsaid - on and on it goes. In fact last year the process left my emotional tank so dangerously low that this year I am participating in just the first and third year student evaluations.

And each year the same issue comes up. When faced with a student who has some vulnerabilities which have yet to be strengthened, what is the default setting by way of response? I've gradually watched it take over in the past decade:

"They need a strong mentor."

Please don't get me wrong. I believe in mentoring. I submit to the process myself and I look forward to sessions that I have with people whom I mentor. [Last week I even read Walter Wright's book on Mentoring - just so useful as he gave me permission to do what I tend to do: allow for a giving and receiving to take place in the mentoring relationship]

But three questions are beginning to gather for me...

(a) Should the instinctive reaction be to throw people on to a mentor, or should it be to throw people on to God? At the very moments when we consider a mentor to be needed, should we not be coaching people towards 'casting' (1Peter5:7) themselves on God? Is God not the primary mentor in our lives? Who was the mentor for the psalmist, I wonder?

(b) I wonder if 'having a mentor' becomes a crutch that keeps people one step removed from grafting the personal disciplines and habits into life that are required? The ol' cliche about needing to 'do the hard yards' comes to mind. Establishing priorities. Addressing weaknesses. Pursuing holiness. Are we becoming responsible adults are are we being kept in a kind of infancy? How does the mentoring process contribute to (and then be changed by) someone's growth into maturity?

(c) What role does community play? Is this not designed to be mutual-mentoring-en-masse? Is this prominence of the mentor playing into the hands of our individualism? I wonder if this default to mentoring as the solution would be quite so prominent if people were better integrated into healthy and accountable communities?

I guess an effective mentor keeps an eye on (a) and (b) and (c)... but I do find myself concerned that a mentor-dependency is emerging. It is reaching the stage where people who are separated from this kind of specialist support (you could add in coaches, supervisors, spiritual directors...) for a period of time might well end up unravelling and deconstructing. That should not be the case!

nice chatting


Sunday, August 20, 2006

worship - again?!

He is arguably the leading historian in the evangelical world today. And he has been in Auckland for a few days. David Bebbington from the UK. Yeah - I know that sounds a bit like Daniel Bedingfield, but I assure you that this guy is very different.

Last night he spoke at the annual dinner of the Baptist Historical Society. Stick with me here... For almost 40 years Bebbington has been keeping meticulous details of every single church worship service he has attended. He has been filling notebooks with the information. Right down to the exact number of people - increasing each decade it must be said - that raised their hands at a specific Baptist church in the UK which he regularly frequented. He kept track of everything. I mean everything. It makes you wonder how he managed to worship God as well as writing all this stuff down!

His address was so absorbing as he reflected on the changes in public worship over these four decades. During the Q&A the predictable question emerged: 'what would be your biggest concern about where we are in worship now, compared with 40 years ago?'

Bebbington's response? It came very, very quickly... The lack of prayer for other people. The demise of intercession in public worship. We tend to pray just about the things that concern us.

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

death of a leader

Our Maori queen, Dame Te Ata, died yesterday. Deeply loved and widely respected...

In one of the tributes I heard this morning it was said that she was "a leader who followed her people." What an intriguing comment. It has been distracting me all morning.

I wonder what it means...

nice chatting


Saturday, August 12, 2006


[apologies - for some reason my blog went blank for a week]

I've been in ChiangMai at a conference on global Christianity organised by the International Council of Evangelical Theological Education (ICETE). We explored the implications of the shift of the center of Christianity from the North/West to the South/East.

Here are a random dozen quotes that I will remember...
[NB - these may not be word perfect as I was writing really fast!]

1. "Protestants are in such a hurry to jump from Augustine to Luther. And it is our Asian and African brothers and sisters who can fill in that gap best." (Andrew Walls)

2. "Church History courses tend to 'avoid most of the Christian world and the world of most Christians'. When we speak of 'early church' it is only ever that part of the church which laboured under the Roman Empire." (Andrew Walls)

3. "The reality is that the North and the West are missing the party." (Chris Wright)

4. "Why do we have to move to the West in order to have a voice to the Rest?" (Siga Arles, an Indian scholar, bemoaning the ongoing dependence on the Western PhD as a career track)

5. "The day we have an all-African faculty at our college will be the day I resign." (Douglas Carew, principal of African graduate school)

6. "Unlike Islam, Christianity does not need to speak:pray:worship in the language of its founder. The God to whom it witnesses is available in the common language of marginalised peoples all over the world. There is nothing God wants to say to us that cannot be communicated through simple everyday language." (Lamin Sanneh)

7. "Unlike Islam, Christianity does not need to know the exact birthplace of its founder. Jesus is born in the heart of the believer, wherever that believer happens to be." (Lamin Sanneh)

8. "The missionary commitment to (Bible) translation affirmed the language of peripheral peoples. It not only gave them the gospel, it gave them their cultural roots. This led on to the emancipation of such peoples. Time and time again missionaries saved and deepened culture, rather than destroying it." (Lamin Sanneh)

9. "The doctrine of justification must be kept central. Even the terrorist needs to be confronted with this truth. By their terrible deeds they are trying to win the approval of God. It can't be done." (Lamin Sanneh)

10. "It is not so much 'I think, therefore I am (Descartes)' as it is 'A person is a person because of other persons' (the Zulu)."

11. "Unless we are grateful to God for what we already have, he cannot entrust us with more." (quoting Bonhoeffer)

12. Was that 'Word becoming flesh' or the 'Word becoming fresh' ... I couldn't pick the heavy Chinese accent and decided I'd write it down both ways!

May we in the North and West (which I guess includes New Zealand in the Deep South) find ways to enable the South and East to 'breathe oxygen' into our part of God's mission in the world. And may we experience more of Ephesians 2 (the two becoming one) on a global scale.

nice chatting


Friday, August 04, 2006

a bogus neutrality

Chatting to a university student the other day. Enrolled in a history course on Religious Conflict. On the first day the lecturers stated that their essays must come from a 'neutral' perspective, by which was meant a pluralist perspective - that perspective which affirms that no single religion has a privileged access to truth. All faiths are equally valid. All roads lead up the mountain to God and there are no give-way signs!

I have a question! Since when is this pluralist perspective a neutral perspective? It is so very far from neutral. It is a tiny step from 'all faiths are equally valid' to 'no faith is particularly special.' And that is not neutral!! That is a cynical, disrespectful, demeaning stance to take with the many, many peoples of the world for whom their faith is precious.

But here is the irony. A closer examination of the course contents would suggest that three monotheistic religions are in view - Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Then a quick flick through the lecture outline would suggest that Christianity is the favoured religion to whip with about 10 out of 12 sessions given in some part to this pursuit ... with any whipping of Islam pretty much avoided from what I can see. I may have missed it...

If pluralism is genuinely neutral then equal space is made for the Christian faith. It will attract the same inherent respect as Islam (and Buddhism and Hinduism) ... and Hinduism and Buddhism and Islam will attract the same level of critique as Christianity.

Until that stance is adopted in our discussions (particularly at a university, for goodness sake!), surely the very last thing that can be affirmed is that what is happening is neutral?

nice chatting


Friday, July 28, 2006

creative tension

This week I had the privilege of not only attending the "Changing World, Changing Church" conference in Palmerston North, but also giving a response to the input brought by the speakers - including Dan Kimball, Michael Frost, Mark Strom, and our own Carey staff member, Brian Krum.
In my response I tried to name six areas of creative tension that goes on within me when the subject turns to missional church (and also emerging church). Here is a brief summary of these tensions - which I do kinda enjoy grappling with:

(a) the tension between the changing and the unchanging
I do wish that 'changing world, changing church' had 'unchanging gospel' added to it. At Kiwi conferences like this one we readily assume what the gospel is - but we rarely take the time to articulate it. This encourages what is 'changing' to drive the agenda and relevance becomes dependent on contemporary trends, rather than eternal truths. This is the tension between sociology and theology and the former does tend to run the show... Our task involves looking AT the church and mission THROUGH a sociological lens in order to see what must change - but it must also include looking AT society THROUGH a biblical-theological lens in order to see what must be confronted. The authority of scripture demands no less than this.

(b) the tension between the eclipse and the lane
This is a quick history lesson on how best to interpret the 'post' words like 'postmodern' and 'postChristendom'. We tend to default to an understanding of history which sees one era being replaced, or eclipsed, by another one. The modern gives way to the postmodern. The discontinuities between the two are emphasised. This tends to make people very bold in their proclamations of a brand new era that is distinctive from all that has gone before. However I wonder if history works more like lanes... The premodern track becomes a two lane highway in the modern which then becomes a three lane motorway in the postmodern. It is this three lane motorway - with the postmodern lane being the busy and fast lane - that carries people into the future. And so continuities with the past can be seen as there is traffic still in the other lanes.
In the contemporary discussions on church which focus on eclipse, there is the danger of fleeing the arms of modernity and over into the embrace of postmodernity with the one constant being that the cultural captivity of the church remains ... But with a 'lane' understanding conversation across lanes is possible - as is being hit in our blindspots by traffic from other lanes - and a little Son-strike might help as well!

(c) the tension between 'front-door opening' and 'back-door closing' mission
We really do need both - and yet strategies for both seem to be relatively uncommon! The irony is that if we allowed the fullness of the biblical teaching on church and pastor and mission to own us - doors will open and close at the right time and in the right way. For example, take the biblical understanding of what it means to be a pastoral leader. I tend to start with five Ss: shepherd, servant, sage, seer, and steward. I am completely convinced that if these truly penetrated the lives of pastors and grew strong in them, we'd find God's Spirit take us to a whole new level in mission. This approach has not so much been tried and found wanting, but wanted and not really fully tried...

(d) the tension between the Kiwi and the North Atlantic
I stood atop Mt Maunganui earlier this month and counted 19 different waves at some stage of building towards the shore. Over my 22 years in leadership in the NZ church I could count about that many programmes and gurus in which our hopes have been placed. Two reflections on this phenomenon ... (i) there is something we should do with these waves: catch them early as they begin to swell, rather than riding them just as they begin to crash. Their application for us lies more with those early foundational principles, than with the later spectacular performance. Dan Kimball is inspirational - but probe for what shaped him and built him as a person (did I hear that he grew up in a Bible church? might that be significant?) in leadership and mission, rather than just for where he is now. The application for us is likely to be more with the earlier than with the later; (ii) there is something we should do with us: develop a culture of Kiwi-made missional research and take our own risks as we do mission in the margins and then live to tell the story...

(e) the tension between the minority world and the majority world
First World, Second World, and Third World doesn't cut it any more. Neither does Developed, Developing, and Under-developed... There is a Majority world (in the South and the East, primarily) and there is a Minority world (in the North and the West, primarily). This minority world is now a mission field - but how come we don't consult some of the mission force in the majority world for inspiration? Philip Jenkins' The Next Christendom needs to be drawn into this conversation we are having as it speaks of the 'coming of a global christianity'. But we are not drawing this story into our conversation simply because the money, the power, and the media lives in the Minority world and so we don't hear these stories. Why not be really post-colonial and develop humble learning partnerships with the South and the East - and sit at their feet? When are some of our gurus going to have brown faces? When are mission trips from there to here going to commence? Within a generation only 10% of Christians will be in the North and the West and so our conversation this week starts to look like a little eddy off to the side of the mainstream of suffering and growth in the South and the East. Here in New Zealand - this remarkable confluence of North and South and East and West - we have the opportunity to lead the way.

(f) the tension between the critiqued and the affirmed
It has been understandably 'slippery' - but something has been critiqued this week (with some welcome restraint, I might add) and I think it has something to do with institutional - established - traditional church ... and something else has been affirmed and I think it has something to do with missional and emerging church. My suspicion is that what is being criticised is not as bad as we think and what is being affirmed is not as good as we think. It is possible to put a missional engine into an institutional chassis and I suspect that this is what God requires of most of us - rather than going home to 'clear the decks' and start again. But either way, embrace a principle of good research as you do so: engage with the best exponent of the opposing view, rather than with the weakest one. And so for those of us who have found the presentations both inspirational and aspirational (me included!), draw in a book like David Wells Above All Earthly Pow'rs (Eerdmans, 2005) as a conversation partner. You'll be the better for it...

A longer posting this time - sorry!

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

OE Unease?

In twenty minutes a young friend of mine flies out of New Zealand for what we tend to call the 'great Kiwi OE' - the Overseas Experience. It is kinda like a Rite of Passage. It is a great idea. We kinda know that down here in the Antipodes we are far from much of the global action and we like to go and experience some of it for ourselves.

Two areas interest me...

(a) A friend of mine who has been a young adults pastor once alerted me to how often the OE experience is linked with a 'prodigal' experience of drifting away spiritually ... and then how often people returned to NZ in worse spiritual shape than when they left. How true is that? I'd be interested in reading about the experience of others.

(b) As someone whose entire childhood was an OE (as a missionary kid in India) it does alarm me how reluctant Christian young adults can be to experience a culture vastly different from their own - thereby missing the opportunity of the OE to engage more with the peoples of God's world. To go to an African country or an Asian one - to worship with God's people there - to experience a different array of human needs - to sense a joy and a hope we rarely experience ... it almost feels like for followers of Jesus this should be compulsory! How fair is that? Again I'd be interested in reading other peoples' experiences.

My friend is settling into his chair right now, I suspect. And the flight attendants are looking relieved to have those TV monitors, saving them doing the vertical pilates routine of yesteryear.

"Please Lord, bring him home one day spiritually-enriched and missionally-challenged."

nice chatting


Monday, July 17, 2006

FAQ #1

A little further on preaching ... I appreciated that website offered by Sean (on the "Windy Place" posting) and those comments by Kim Fabricius. In it he returns to what I find to be the most 'frequently asked question' I hear on the subject of preaching: 'what about powerpoint?'

Fabricius writes the following:
"Technically, Richard Lischer oberves that 'when the brain is asked to multi-task by listening and watching at the same time, it always quits listening.' Substantively, if the medium is the message, how can the medium of IT - icon of postmodern power - square with the word of the cross? Lischer provides a thought-experiment: "What would Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech look like in powerpoint?'

What do you think? I think he asks a valid question. While powerpoint clearly has a place, its place is easily over-valued. Here are my cautions:
(a) I fear that the powerpoint imaging/support of the sermon too often receives more effort than the basic crafting of the sermon itself.
(b) I fear that the stuff on the screen too often becomes a crutch that is needed in order to give the sermon clarity and momentum. I would argue that if this is the case then the preparation of the sermon is incomplete - and this needs to be completed first.
(c) I fear that this growing confidence in 'image' is associated with a diminishing confidence in 'word', or even Word. This would be a serious error for preachers to make - and is adrift from biblical spirituality which, at its essence, is about a God who speaks and a people who listen and then obey. If people find it heard to listen, maybe they need to be taught to listen - because listening is just so important.
(d) While there is overlap between teaching and preaching, I fear that powerpoint drifts things across to the teaching side as the all-important persuasive element in preaching can go missing.

You might also like to look at:

nice chatting


Thursday, June 22, 2006

unchurching the churched?

One of our staff members was speaking in our Community Worship time and made this statement (and then he helped me track down the actual quotation):

"There are many churches these days that instead of reaching the unchurched are unchurching the churched." [Michael Horton, A Better Way (Baker, 2002) 211]

What dya reckon?

nice chatting


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

anyone for mysticism?

I've just completed an essay for my DMin in which I explored the spirituality that comes to us 'off the screen' - from what we sing in church. I took a pretty representative Baptist church in NZ and worked through its playlist of songs [and threw in the playlist from the Billy Graham Crusades (1959 & 1969) as well - to help provide some contrast.]

My conclusions? The lyrics suggest an alignment to what has been known through history as Christian Mysticism. Here are some of my (highly-generalised, for brevity's sake!) observations:

(a) The baseline in the lyrics lies with the immanence of God (his attributes which are close to us), rather than with the transcendence of God (his attributes which are more distant and mysterious). "The transcendent God has been lost, the immanent God has been abused." (David Wells)

(b) There is a personal striving in the songs (often accompanied by an overstatement of our commitment to God), rather than focusing on the 'striving' done by Christ for us (often accompanied by an understatement of God's commitment to us) and the assurance and tranquility and rest that this breathes into the believer's life. [NB: some of the Billy Graham songs do this so well - 'It is Well with My Soul', for example]

(c) An absence of any sustained reference to the Christian hope. This is a shocker! Our hope has always been great fodder for singing, but not now. Whether it is a case of "If life is pretty good down here in this 'health and wealth' world, why long for heaven?" or "Let's try and draw down more future-Kingdom stuff in order to enrich and empower present-Kingdom life ... thereby emptying the appetite for the second coming", I am not sure. But the New Testament is full of a Christian longing and waiting for heaven, and enduring life until then...

(d) An obsession with the present, with no lyrics written by a songwriter who has already died. Could this be the first ever era of church life where 'sing a new song to the Lord' has come to mean 'never sing an old song'? The clear priority is to sing about a present experience of a personal spirituality - with stuff from the past being seen as a boring and stale. [NB: I wonder if this is an example of babyboomers-in-control because anecdotally, I find young adults tend to have an interest in the past now.]

(e) A discomfort with singing of both the guilt associated with sinfulness and the reality of Christ's substitutionary death FOR me, preferring to focus on the consequences of that sinfulness in relational brokenness etc and what Jesus can add TO my life. [NB: a couple of British songs - In Christ Alone & How Deep the Father's Love partially redeemed the situation on this one!]

(f) A preference for the inner and the personal - adrift from what is received from outside as truth in the Bible. In any debate between having songs with muddled theology and having songs with outdated words - the latter seems to be the more grievous evil every time. WOW?! What on earth are we becoming?

These observations stand in the centuries-long tradition known as mysticism. To see this took me by surprise - but it shouldn't have. The charismatic and contemplative movements have been, or are, so strong in NZ (Baptist) church life. Plus, as I travel around, my observation is that we are not as biblically-based as we think we are (which is the core issue behind these observations). The commitment to the Bible tends to be more theoretical than it is practical in my experience. What can be done about this?

over to you - nice chatting


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

funeral spirituality

I went to a funeral yesterday. These can be sad events, particularly when you are a close friend or family member and you feel the death has been an untimely one. I don't want to minimise the grief at a funeral in this posting. But in the last six months I have been to three funerals where something else happens. I find that I walk away with my life renewed with hope and a kind of destiny. These three funerals celebrated the lives of saints who lived their lives fully for Jesus.

As I drove home, I asked myself what it is in a funeral that finds me responding like this. Here is what I have come up with so far...

(a) Ecclesiastes 7:2 is right - "It IS better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting" - because a funeral makes me pause and think about life, while a party makes me rush and forget about life. A funeral works for me like a spiritual retreat does for others. I find I recalibrate my life at the funeral of a saint.

(b) The eyes well-up and overflow at funerals - repeatedly. My heart gets so soft. I love it! Soft hearts are good hearts. They can be remoulded. It is the hard, stony heart - the one that remains unmoved at the funeral of a saint - where the real sadness lies. So yes - I have in mind a grandchild giving a tribute OR the spouse anticipating loneliness ... but I also find myself softened by words which describe the person's enduring commitment to Jesus through the obstacles that life brings. It makes me more determined to follow their example. So I guess it softens my heart and steels my mind at the same time.

(c) I love 'eulogies' - those 'good words' about the person. I love hearing about what made a person tick. Their priorities? Their loves? Their joys? Their dreams? Their struggles? Their idiosyncracies? It may sound a bit self-absorbed, but I do find that I encourage younger people to live their lives with the eulogy at their own funeral in mind. Make it their objective to live such a godly life that there is too much to say at the funeral. I say this to myself as well...

(d) I love the hymns that get sung at funerals. They contain a theology that we do not tend to sing about today ... and as we tend to get our theology from what we sing, they reflect themes that are missing in the life of the church today. Hope? Suffering? Second Coming? Shall I go on....???? Our singing today tends to be so escapist and so full of over-hyped statements of our committment to God. There is a brand of hymns - often those sung at funerals of saints - that are so engaged and so full of God's commitment to us. Yesterday it was "It is well with my soul". I consider it a scandal that we do not sing more of these hymns in the church today. We are such chronological snobs - so besotted with the contemporary and the new. (I feel another blog posting coming on with this one...)

Yes, I believe in a funeral spirituality. I believe in taking every opportunity to attend the funeral of a saint, opening up my life to their life and allowing God to speak to me.

For the record I'd like to thank the families of Jack (JP) Turner (whose funeral was on his 90th birthday!); May Conway; and then just yesterday, Doug Hewlett (whose funeral was on his 66th birthday!). Their lives have impacted me for good and for God.

nice chatting


Sunday, May 21, 2006

? and !

I notice that the response to The Da Vinci Code seems to focus on the 'fact OR fiction' choice. I remain unconvinced that this is the core issue. Some is fact. Some is fiction. But like the movie JFK, the difficulty is not that some is fact and some is fiction but in knowing which is which. The line between the two is difficult to draw as there is this seamless movement between the two. And so what happens is that a cloud of uncertainty settles in over everything - even the facts! The really real begins to be doubted. The truly true begins to crumble. People begin to hold their convictions like they are holding fog.
I see this all the time. People have heaps of questions. That's good. Creating a safe place to ask hard questions is an essential feature of Christian community today. The ?s must not be dismissed...
However, something must keep flowing alongside the ?s. These are the affirmations, the things we know for sure. The !s... I am alarmed by how much conversation among Christians focuses on what we do not know, rather than on what we do know.

Here are three ways in which I like to respond to this:
(a) I like the content and structure of a hymn. Each verse opens up with 'I cannot tell' (or, 'I don't understand') ... but then further down, half way through each verse comes the same response each time: 'But this I know' (or, 'I am sure'; 'I rest my life on this'; 'I am convinced of this'). This mirrors life. Up front there are so many things that we just don't know (the ?s), but deeper than these things - every single time - are things we do know (the !s). This is how life needs to be lived. We recognise that these two coexist - but we learn to live with one deeper down than the other.
(b) I like to keep an eye out for the things that the Bible tells us that 'we know'. I save these passages and go over them again and again. Here are a few for the eager among you: Deuteronomy 7:7-9; Psalm 100 and Psalm 139; Isaiah 40 (particularly the closing verses); Job 19:25-27; Jeremiah 29:10-14; Ecclesiastes 11; all of John's gospel and all of 1 John (they are full of things we know to be true); Romans 5:1-5; 8:18-39; 1 Corinthians 13:8-13; 15:58; 2 Corinthians 5:1-11; 8:9; Ephesians 1:15-23; 2 Timothy 1:12...
(c) Always remember that the 'magic' in the Christian life begins not so much with the fact that I can know God, but that I am known by God.

We need to let these !s be an antidote to the ?s which things like the Da Vinci Code spark and spread through our lives.

nice chatting


Monday, May 15, 2006

40 Days of P...

I'd love to see every devotee of the 40 Days of Purpose resource move on to a 40 Days of Pluralism resource (which does not yet exist, as far as I know!). This is the P-word where the biggest challenge lies for followers of Jesus today. Pluralism considers that there are multiple roads up the mountain to God and no one road has the 'right of way'... and certainly not Christianity!!
With new religions in our schools, new ethnicites in our suburbs, new spiritualities in our cafes and that old tolerance rated as the highest virtue in the land ... articulating a case for the uniqueness of Jesus' person and the sufficiency of Jesus' work on the cross is an ability that every follower of Jesus needs to have. However my sense is that churches are filling the 'too-hard' basket with this stuff and just ignoring this the biggest challenge of all.

Let me try and make a start. Here is an outline of my first 4 Days of Pluralism:

Day One: live the tension
Jesus is described as being 'full of grace and full of truth'. This is something at which we aim. Gracious, always gracious with people (like Jesus) ... but not always gracious with people's ideas (like Jesus) - because we are committed to truth. All human beings can be equally valuable without all human ideas being equally valid. A follower of Jesus in a pluralist world will find that an occasional gracious intolerance must mark their lives.

Day Two: switch the lens
We all live with a worldview, a way of looking at the world. This worldview operates a bit like a lens as it shades all that we see. A lens is something we look 'through', not something we look 'at'. Pluralism provides such a lens for people - and so does the Bible (see my earlier blog on 'the chairs'). Whatever it is in which we soak our lives, that is what will tend to provide our lens on life. I submit to you that the vast majority of followers of Jesus are soaking more in a world drenched with pluralism than they are in a world absorbed with the Bible and the Jesus it reveals. In other words, they are looking 'through' pluralism 'at' the Bible. They need to switch lenses and look 'through' the Bible 'at' pluralism. How do you do this, you may ask? Don't get me started!! Systematic biblical preaching & serious theological training is where it starts with this one...

Day Three: sow the seed
We need to go on the offensive a bit. It is not just about that more defensive "always give a reason for the hope that you have (1Peter3:15)" approach. There is also the more offensive "prepare your minds for action (1Peter1:13)" approach. The key to this offense? Ask questions from the couch; don't make exclamations from the soap box. Sow seeds of doubt. Probe for weaknesses in the pluralist's approach. There are many. What are they? Maybe you can suggest some... Some of those most intolerant people of all are the defenders of tolerance!

Day Four: fly the flag
I fear that followers of Jesus are too burdened by this challenge. The intellectual stuff is beyond us, so we hibernate. The intimidation stuff is too scary for us, so we freeze. No! No! No! Pluralism makes a space for Christianity. Its kinda like the Blossom Festival in Alexandra each year. We have our own float in the parade of religions. We need to fill that space, adorn that float, with all that we are. Fly the flag! Get the focus on Jesus (not religion, or church, or Christianity) and then boldly bear witness to him in the best way we can. With our mouths. With our choices. With our attitudes. The Spirit can do the rest. Our job is primarily to witness, not to win. We can all bear witness. And if people think it is foolishness or it is offensive OR we suffer a bit for doing so - so be it! The New Testament teaches us to expect that response.

There you go - 36 more days to go! With your help, maybe it will be a best-seller!

nice chatting


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

... and chairs

The Bible is a remarkable book. Written by dozens of authors. Utilising heaps of different genre(narrative, letters, proverbs...). And the writing takes place over hundreds of years. So diverse!BUT the story from Genesis to Revelation is just the one story. It is God's story. It is God's way of making sense of the world. It provides 'the true story of the whole world' (Tom Wright). It is God's worldview. It is a view of the world which we need to grow into sharing with him. It needs to become the lens through which we live all of life.

My final message with these young adults over Easter raised this issue of worldview. Following a few paragraphs in a book by John Stott, I suggested that this diverse, but single, story we know as the Bible can be summed up in four words: the good, the bad, the new, the perfect. The story has four chapters...

The 'good' captures all the richness of Genesis 1 & 2. Design. Order. Purpose. The relationships: within the Godhead, God and humans, male and female, humanity and world... The Image of God. It is a couple of chapters packed with concentrated truths all pointing towards the goodness of the original design.

The 'bad' captures Gen 3 and beyond (right into the present day, in fact) and the stain of sin. Human beings make bad choices: 'those made by God like God and for God, begin to live without God.' Evil. Guilt. Death. Suffering. Alienation. Confusion. Meaninglessness. 'Groaning' of creation. The relationships are broken. Everything gets 'out of sync'. The Old Testament is full of contracts being made between God and humans - but none of them can do the job.

The 'new' is needed. It arrives in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. The restoration begins! New birth. New covenant. New people. New creation. The impact of the bad is reversed through the work of the cross: reconciling, justifying, redeeming, cleansing ... (on and on the rich vocabulary flows). With Jesus' ascension to heaven, the Spirit is left behind to continue this work.

But what has already begun in Christ does not come fully until the 'perfect' comes. This is our certain hope. A time of no tears, no death, no pain, no decay, no brokenness ... This is what keeps us longing and waiting and trusting and groaning and thirsting. Jesus will return to judge the world and restore creation.

That is the true story of the world. This is the gospel. It is God's worldview! It needs to be one we share. I like to use four chairs to illustrate this. Each named with one of the four words. Take any issue you like (for example, self-esteem) - you can go and sit and linger in each chair, considering the issue from each chair's perspective. Then when the chairs are taken together we get close to God's full perspective on the issue - and the one we need to have: a biblical worldview.

I like to play a few games with the chairs. For example, taking individual chairs away - each one in turn. How are these 'three-chaired' stories inadequate? Where are they present among young adults today? Or, the danger of getting stuck in one chair... Or, in which directions do the chairs face in relation to each other...

Anyhow - that is a longish (sorry!) summary of my burden for Jesus-following young adults today. They face such massive challenges...
ONE door: my burden for their accurate understanding of salvation and conversion. TWO axes: my burden which longs to see them keep tensions alive as they live for Jesus in this world. THREE medicine balls (or really the genius of the triangle): my burden associated with the way they form their identity - 'you do not know who you are until you know Whose you are'. FOUR chairs: my burden to see them live life through a distinctively biblical worldview, thereby sharing with God (their Maker and Redeemer, afterall!!) his way of making sense of the world.

nice chatting


Thursday, April 20, 2006

... on axes ...

The most profound truths come to us in tension. From big theological issues like the transcendence and immanence of God to the everyday issues that come with living for him - like the blog I posted previously on the internally-focused church (alongside the externally focused church).

I find people struggle with truths-in-tension. It feels like a contradiction is going on and they don't like that feeling. A characteristic of immaturity is an unwillingness to embrace the truths 'at both ends'. The possibility of the contradictory actually being complementary gets lost.

Going back to my Easter talks to young adults... Once through that 'door' and wanting to be committed followers of Jesus, they are confronted immediately with all kinds of complicated decisions. It is not easy. They need help. I would argue that virtually all those decisions can be distilled back to working with some combination of what Jesus models (grace and truth) and what Jesus commnds (salt and light).

[NB - I quite like the illustration of the Periodic Table of Elements: just as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen comprise so many organic combinations; so also grace, truth, salt, light are the basic elements which comprise so many missional combinations]

Furthermore a case can be made that 'salt' and 'light' speak of truths in tension with each other: one urging us to participate and be involved, the other urging us to be different and distinctive. Similarly, with 'grace' and 'truth': one feels soft and open and compassionate, the other one is hard and closed and under conviction.

Now to illustrate truths-in-tension I like reaching for the mathematical image of the axes. On this occasion I used two 4m poles and laid them down there are on the stage - with the vertical axis depicting the level of penetration of the salt (from low to high) and the horizontal axis depicting the level of distinctiveness of the light (from low to high) ... and then there are similar axes with grace and truth.

My burden for young adults?
That their decisions increasingly represent the top right hand corner of these graphs ... highly involved (as salt) but also - at the very same time - highly distinctive (as light). So very open and compassionate (as grace), particularly with people; but also so very closed and under conviction (as truth), particularly with ideas - at the very same time. It IS a tension, but it is a tension we must find and live. Be it attending work parties or signing up to sports clubs, be it music or movies, be it relating to gays or to muslims, be it alcohol consumption or sexual activity ... it just goes on and on. Making decisions with an eye on the axes helps so much.

My fear for young adults?
We live in an era when people are pigging-out on 'high salt' (and, to a lesser extent, 'high grace'). Poll after poll says that there is no discernible difference between the behaviour of those who follow Jesus and those who do not follow him. This should not be so. Relevance has become a bit of an idol today. We like to blend and fit in ... and we are losing sight of just how being different can be attractive.

nice chatting


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

on doors...

I can tend to avoid speaking in youth and young adult settings. I am not loaded with funny material. I cannot dredge up dramatic stories from a sinful past that holds people spellbound. I do not think well on my feet and tend to need my notes (although I am working on that one!). I am put off by the trivial stuff that can fill talks given in youth settings which contributes to dumbing down, and thereby disrespecting, the audience. I like to be serious and demand thought-filledness from listeners. And one thing I do have is a deep burden for youth and young adults and the challenges they face in this world if they are to be authentic followers of Jesus. I so want to help...

This is why, with some trepidation, I took up an invitation to speak at the 'young adult' stream at an Easter Camp this year. The talks I gave have been geriminating inside me for about a decade and I've never done them as a bunch before. As I drove home I decided I would post a synopsis of each one on my blog and kinda 'put them out there'...

I used a tangible prop each time. My first talk placed a door on the stage. The idea was to symbolise the moment of conversion with this door - but to include lots of space either side of the door so that something of the timeline of the Christian life could also be pictured. So - to the far left of the stage would be the time of apathy/hostility towards Jesus through to recognition of sinfulness and our need of Christ - then through the door with an act of faith/conversion - and then on into the space to the right of the door, symbolising the life of following Jesus in which we grow into maturity, becoming more and more like Christ.

My burden with the door is a simple one. What has become of our attitude to sin and sinfulness in ourselves and in others - and the evil in our world?

Within the church there are signs of a growing softness towards sin - or at least not being as strong on it as the New Testament is. We can tend to have a 'saatchi and saatchi' gospel in which we 'accentuate the positive:eliminate the negative' out of fear of offending people (and, ironically, back-burnering the reality of sin as an offense to God) and out of a desire to attract people. This can be a flaw in the mindset of the seeker/guest service approach. There are those who argue that the 40Days material is weak on sin and sinfulness as well. I've even seen this conclusion made about ALPHA. I don't know as I have not used these resources extensively - but it is worth examining. The same could be said of the Emerging Church literature. There is a lot of softness around...

Then within the world there is a growing celebration of sin. Recently our newspaper had an article noting that a feature which top performers on the share-market had in common was that they all were doing business within the worlds of one of the seven 'deadly sins' - making bucketloads of money by catering to these sins.

A lot is at stake here! We are in danger of going from "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me" to "Innocuous grace, how dull the sound that saved a nice guy like me". It is not possible to magnify God's amazing grace and love without deepening the recognition of our own wretched sinfulness. That is the whole point of the story in Luke 7 where Jesus is anointed by a woman 'who had lived a sinful life.'

Back to the door and the space to the left... My burden is that youth and young adults can tend to 'come to Christ' through a window, or a backdoor. They hear some effective testimonies. They sing some affective music. An invitation comes. They respond to something. But if the invitation given does not contain some focus on what the cross achieved in light of their sinfulness - and therefore what the door opens ("the wood that made the cross is the wood that made the door") - by some paraphrasing of concepts like reconciliation, or justification, or redemption, or propitiation... then we run the risk of spurious conversions. Later in the year we will find ourselves speaking of young people as 'back-sliding' when, in fact, maybe they were never converted to begin with. This creates massive counselling problems for us.

Back to the door and the space to the right... My burden is that young people are stepping through what they think is the door (sometimes a window!) and doing so with unrealistic expectations. Temptation does not turn off like a tap. There is a difference between the penalty of sin and the power of sin. The cross paid the penalty for sin (God forgives us and treats us as if we had not sinned) - but the power of sin lingers on. This is where the Holy Spirit comes in - to make us holy (duh?!). This is a painful process which includes developing new disciplines and forming new habits. Salvation in the New Testament is 'past/present/future.' We have been saved. We are being saved. We will be saved.

Now you may ask - is this emphasis on sinfulness really the way to go with young people who have a tendency beat up on themselves as it is. Well - yes it is. The love of God for them is that much sweeter, for starters. If we are not accurate with our diagnosis we won't be accurate with our prescription either! And we do want to be based on the New Testament, don't we?!!.
But it is always better that sin be spoken of gently, with (genuine!)tears in our eyes. Sometimes I do worry that the loud soap-boxers are projecting their own battles with sin, hiding their own 'dirty little secrets' (as I think a compelling contemporary song/video expresses it) with volume and passion...

nice chatting


PS - I spent Easter watching a DVD entitled "A Billy Graham Music Homecoming". Whatever you may think of Billy or of those crusades (I think the day of crusades is pretty much done), there is no denying the simple spirituality in those cross-focused, sin-acknowledging, Jesus-loving songs. Brought tears to my eyes multiple times!!