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The damage that religion does

I often talk with people in my neighbourhood who are very critical and sceptical about religion and especially Christianity. Recently yet again, I sat around a table talking with some friends and the topic of Christianity came up. Each person shared a story about how they had either personally experienced a time or heard about infamous cases where Christianity had done more damage than good. They gave honest, heartfelt expression to the guilt, shame and sheer perversion that Christianity had caused in the situations they spoke about. Usually when I hear these kinds of stories, I find it hard to verbalise any excuses or give good reasons as to why the religion that I practise has frequently grieved our society so. I just sit there nodding “Yes, I know” or alternatively, shaking my head “No, I don’t know why”. Sometimes it’s just an apologetic “I’m sorry”.

When I use the term religion, of course I mean false religion, in other words, religion that has become the opposite of what it is supposed to be. The word religion is not a bad word, however it has been practiced so terribly frequently, that it normally has a negative connotation when we use it today.

Religion can ground our spirituality and give purpose and meaning to our lives. I also recognise that religion has done a lot of good in our world. You’d be silly not to recognise that.

But it has also done damage to people who are my friends.

Sometimes I talk with those who are open to hearing me even though I represent a religion that has done them and our society damage, and simply tell them about Jesus. And when I do that, there is a clear shift in the atmosphere from tension to trust and I am left wondering yet again why there is often massive dissonance between Jesus and the community that is meant to represent him.

When I think about Jesus I think of pure, unconditional love. He loved people with such a sense of abandon that it killed him. To love with perfection, to give of oneself not from a “martyr complex”, not out of a posture of defeat or resignation but simply because of humanity’s sheer and utter worth regardless of our failings, that is love.

This is what some of the religious people in Jesus’ day simply could not do and it’s the same today. They were and we can be wedded to pragmatism, control and so religion can become a shell that insulates us from being truly human.

Jesus was truly Human.

How do we choose this kind of humane love everyday rather than practicing a false religion? Seems to me this is the point of Christianity-to abandon ourselves to love everyday. But we fall short.

Recently, a friend hugged me. My friend smelt like he had not washed for a long time due to being homeless and I also knew that he had an infectious disease. I hugged him back but shamefully, I felt a tinge of resistance in me as I returned the hug. The thought ran through my head, “Would I catch his disease?” There was a thread of self-protection and discomfort in me and I held back slightly.

I don’t think Jesus would think like that. He would have hugged my friend with sheer abandon and not have cared if he caught a disease or whether my friend smelt bad. This is love. It’s not caring about the consequences because you see such worth in people. You can look past the dirt, bad smells, failings, weaknesses and sickness.

Jesus sided with the marginalised and the outcasts and he became poor. He did this not as a strategy to convince us of his love but because he preferred the company of the humble and weak. He avoided what the world calls extraordinary and preferred to walk alongside the ordinary, seeing them as spectacular. His presence sanctifies the unlovable. Jesus does not exemplify control, pragmatism and inhumanity instead, Jesus is the embodiment of good religion.

This is what we will need to emulate if we are going to help people see that religion is not in fact a dirty word. This is the kind of practice we will need to model if we are going to redeem ourselves today.



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Leadership Design and Cake


(This post first appeared at Arrow Leadership)

I remember very well the time that a wonderful elderly lady from the church I was leading, made an appointment to see me. On the day, she came to my office holding a scrumptious cake she had made so we could eat together. She sat down, then proceeded to tell me what a terrible pastor I was. Even though this scenario sounds terrible, it actually wasn’t a bad experience, we had a good discussion- and there was cake! However I did find it interesting to hear her rationale regarding why she thought I could do a little better at pastoring. The issue lay with my title. Since my title was Senior Pastor, the logic went, that meant that I was the one responsible for the overall care of the congregation. The care of the congregation was ultimately up to me and no other. It didn’t matter that we had a Care Pastor and a care team who were responsible for and gifted to care for the congregation, because I was the Senior Pastor, it was basically up to me. That day I became aware of the expectations that some in the congregation may have had around my role and also that I did not share those expectations. The responsibility was all on me and there was little room for a shared sense of ministry with other leaders in the church. I remember feeling burdened by that sense of responsibility. Of course, a role which oversees an organisation will always have that sense of weight and pressure that comes with it, however I feel that leadership should and can be shared. Essentially, there was a dissonance in this encounter around how my friend and I defined church leadership.

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Musings on the “One Guy” Leadership Model


(This post first appeared on Missio Alliance)

Recently I was at a gathering of church planters and I had a conversation with one planter which made me think again about how we view church leadership.

I’m thinking about planting a church myself, so I am interested in the opinions of others around vision and especially how that relates to church structure. I was in conversation with one planter and I asked him about leadership in his recently established church. I wanted to know what sort of leadership structure he had in place and how it was working. As it turned out, the leadership structure was very similar to that of an established church. It was fairly hierarchical, had different team members assigned to various ministry areas and ultimately  responsibility for the church fell on the team leader.

Privately, I was a little disappointed.

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Is Church Turning us into Nice people?

(This Blog first appeared at

The other day someone told me about a discussion they had with a friend who said that they were leaving their church to join another church. Fair enough I thought, I hear this a lot. What caught my attention however is that the church that this person was leaving, I would describe as being missional and the church that they had decided to start attending  as more of an ‘attractional’ model of church. Why the move from missional to attractional I wondered? When I spoke with my friend further, apparently the missional church was small, met in someone’s home and the regular gatherings were too confrontational for this person. Once again I probed deeper. Too confrontational? I found out that even though the church was small it had managed to become a community of people from various backgrounds and socio-economic status. When time came in their gathering for sharing about their lives, many of those who were living a life of poverty told of their difficulties. This person who was economically privileged comparatively speaking, found it disruptive and uncomfortable to hear some of the things that were being shared. This person felt out of place, guilty and awkward in that church. They then started attending another church which was larger and the person said it was a church where they could remain somewhat removed, which had challenging messages and good worship.

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The Formation of a People of God

I  pastor a small to medium church sized church in a middle class suburb in Sydney Australia. Over the last year or so we have been moving from a mostly attractional model to a more missional model in the way that we ‘be’ and ‘do church’. As you can imagine, if you have tried to engage in this kind of journey with your church, you know that it’s not an easy one. Paradigm shifts are never all fun and what sounds exciting on paper, in reality turns out to be a bumbling, stumbling along kind of process. Avery Dulles in his book Models of Church says about paradigm shifts

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Thoughts on ‘Missio Alliance’ conference

 So many changes have happened at such a dizzying pace in the Western world that we who live here are only relatively recently waking up and wondering about the impact of this change. Moreover it has forced us as Christians to ask very simple and basic questions like ‘What is the purpose of the church today?’, ‘How does God want his church to look in these times?’ Most of us have had a sneaking suspicion for a while that the church as it is in the West is not functioning to its full potential. With declining numbers and increasing irrelevance this has provoked various responses by Christians- some well thought out and others not so much. The inaugural Missio Alliance Conference held at Alexandria, Virginia in the USA just over a week ago was, I think, a good response to the disorientation we are experiencing as Christians in the West. I think most of us are perplexed about the place and purpose of the church today.

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There’s something about Mary


To tell you the truth I’ve never really been that interested in Mary…but you have to admit there is something about her, the mother of Jesus that is, that quietly and persistently challenges you to take another look at this woman. So as a result, lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Mary, and especially wondering if she has anything to say to us about women in leadership today.

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Thank God that someone swore at church the other day

Thank God that someone swore at church the other day.
Let me explain. We often have a gathering on Sunday mornings where we just encourage anyone and everyone to boldly and publicly share what God has been up to in their lives over the last couple of months. As you can imagine this is always such an interesting couple of hours. People share about the healings that God has done, the unanswered prayers that have been left hanging, they share dark times, joyous times, we pray, we cry, we laugh… and I get very nervous. I love those times with every ounce of my being but I also get anxious..especially when a person gets up the front who I don’t know so well or not at all! What would I do if someone starts uttering all kinds of crazy talk one day? I hope I will have the wisdom to deal with that with grace if it ever happens….or we could just employ bouncers?

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