Friday, February 28, 2014

The Risk Management And Mission Conflict

"Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and illness...These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans.  Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Heal those who are ill, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.  ‘Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts – no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave.  As you enter the home, give it your greeting.  If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you.  If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.  Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.  On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

‘Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.  When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes."  (Matthew 10:1-23)

Now, let's project this calling of 12 ministry recruits into a 2014 western world context and imagine completing a risk assessment of their first mission assignment.  Chances are this scenario would be assessed as a high risk activity with a high probability of failure, exposing inexperienced and unqualified people to an unsafe work environment.  Any responsible manager today would either cancel the mission or recommend a list of control measures to mitigate the known risks.  Either way, the process of risk management would have the potential to seriously compromise the effectiveness of the mission!

This is the climate that the church finds itself ministering in today where governance, compliance and risk management have an enormous influence and impact on the way mission is done.  No one will argue with the principle of creating and maintaining a safe ministry environment, however, the very nature of our mission and ministry to a lost and broken world is that it will take us way outside our comfort zone into unknown and, at times, unsafe situations.  My fear for the church, which is being swamped by legislative requirements and the constant threat of litigation, is that it is becoming distracted from its primary purpose and is risk managing itself out of mission!  

In a culture of risk management there is a fine line between being responsible and restrictive, proactive and protective, faith fueled and fear driven.  This line is easily crossed the moment our primary motivation for risk management becomes more about protecting the service than those we serve, money than mission, reputation than reformation.  In this increasingly complex world of risk management, sometimes the strategies we employ to manage risk exposes a huge gulf between our aspirational values and actual values by the way we implement control measures into our mission activities.

Here are some examples of how I have seen this manifested through my observations from within my context and through conversations with people from a similar context to mine:
  1. The threat of aggressive clients prompts the installation of dividing screens between staff and the people seeking assistance in welfare centres. While providing protection, it diminishes the value of human dignity.
  2. The insecurity of home visits to asylum seekers and refugees leads to a policy that prohibits staff from taking off their shoes when entering people's homes.  While addressing health and safety concerns, it violates the value of cultural sensitivity.
  3. The fear of losing public donations or government funding restricts the ability to take a public stand on issues of social justice or morality.  While maintaining a public image, it compromises biblical values of truth and justice.
  4. The concern about establishing a mission initiative in a 'dangerous' neighbourhood inhibits outreach to the most disadvantaged people in the community.  While trying to minimise perceived risks, it discourages the value of incarnational ministry.
  5. The belief that mission is driven by money requires mission and ministry proposals to be fully funded before being granted approval.  While good financial management, it weakens the value of faith.
These examples are representative of an emerging reality that could be seen in any church or organisation that is struggling with the same tension between risk management and mission.  

Another dimension to navigating risk in the context of mission is the "cost of discipleship", which includes the act of self-denial and the reality of persecution, and "faith", which is "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see".  This is foreign to the language and principles of risk management.  Translated into my context of The Salvation Army, whose mission is centred on "others" that includes "the last, the lost and the least" you can see the unavoidable conflict that risk management encounters with disciples of Jesus Christ who are engaged in faith inspired mission.

So, do we throw all caution to the wind and use mission and faith as a justification to disregard risk management obligations?  Absolutely not!  

The church has a biblical and legal mandate to practice good stewardship, which includes the way we manage people, property and finances.  What I do propose, however, is that any risk management process includes an assessment of the risk to mission, through a lens of faith, to ensure the strategies that are considered to reduce risk do not violate core values, compromise effective mission or cause us to step out of obedience where the Spirit is leading.  

We are at more risk of losing the very thing we are trying to protect if we allow a culture of risk management to diminish the cutting edge, faith fueled, Spirit led mission that characterised the early church and inspires generations of church leaders to fearlessly "go and make disciples of all nations." 

Published in April/May 2014 edition of JAC:  Journal of Aggressive Christianity


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Who Is Taking Whom?

This week I embark on a new semester of study for my degree, focusing on Cultural Anthropology.  Already, as I dive into the pages of the prescribed text book, I am captured by this study of human behaviour from a cross-cultural perspective and how that shapes the way Christians give witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The author of the text Charles H. Kraft relays a story illustrating some of the misperceptions that are experienced by the messenger and receptors of the gospel when there are differing views of reality.  He shares the prayer that was prayed for three missionary recruits who were preparing to go to Nigeria:  "Oh, Lord, help these young men to realize that it is You who are taking them to Nigeria, not they who are taking You."

What a powerful prayer that somewhat challenges the paradigm of many missionaries and evangelists who genuinely believe they are taking God to not-yet-saved people.  To believe that we are taking God anywhere is to assume that God is not already there.  In contrast, this prayer affirms that God is already present and that He sends us to go and join in where He is already at work.  This radically changes the context, content and conversation of mission.

To go where God is already present opens our eyes to a partial revelation of God, opens our ears to interpret what God has already spoken and opens our mouth to speak appropriately into the conversation a full revelation of God through the person of Jesus Christ.

Maybe we need to remind ourselves of this prayer before releasing anybody, anywhere into an evangelical mission so we don't allow our preconceived cultural perceptions to get in the way of what God is doing among all cultures on earth. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Our Top 10 Marriage Principles

Today, I celebrated 21 years of marriage to Vanessa and have much cause to give thanks to God for an extraordinary journey of life and love with the person I promised to "love, comfort, honour and sustain...forsaking all others, [and] be faithful to as long as [we] both shall live."

It is easy to recite these words in a moment during a wedding ceremony but much harder to live them out for a lifetime throughout a marriage.  Our marriage has had moments when we have been far from loving towards each other, times when our words have not been very honouring and occasions when our resources or priorities have been barely sustaining.  Yet, despite these challenging times, somehow, the commitment we made to each other 21 years ago has kept us faithful to these promises, forsaking anything and anyone that would threaten our relationship.

How is this possible in a time when there has been a seismic shift in attitude towards the pattern and permanence of marriage and in a culture where divorce rates are at an all time high?  

Twenty one years of marriage does not make us experts nor does it give us immunity to the challenges of an unknown future, but it has provided us with a real time laboratory to learn and apply some principles that have helped us along our journey.  While there is so much we have yet to discover and so much we still get wrong, maybe there is something from our journey so far that might empower another couple to go the distance.

So, for what it's worth, here are our top 10 relationship principles that have helped us in our marriage:

1. Divorce is not an option!
This is not a denial of reality or a judgement on divorce, but a conscious decision we made as we prepared to be married.  Maybe, we were young and naive, but taking divorce off the table before we encountered any real problems gave us two options when we did - sort it out or stay miserable!  It is crazy how much this simplistic determination has helped us to deal with some of the toughest of times.  When tempted to deny, blame or avoid, knowing that neither of us is going to walk away gives us the space and security to find a solution.

2. Never let the sun go down on your anger
This biblical wisdom from Ephesians 4:26 has protected us from allowing resentment and bitterness to infest our relationship.  When applied, it is impossible to stay angry!  That doesn't always mean disagreements are solved in a day, but it does mean that we can go to bed with the right attitude to work towards a resolution the next day.

3. Always admit when you are wrong and never be too proud to say sorry
I learned this lesson at high school when a year level coordinator I didn't care for much coached me into returning to the classroom to apologise for my behaviour in front of my peers.   This humbling experience has served me in every personal and professional relationship since.  As a husband, father and leader of a church, being willing to admit my mistakes and say sorry for my part in any conflict has been the single most powerful contributor to resolving relationship issues.

4. Set clear relationship boundaries
In our roles as church leaders we spend a lot of time interacting with people of the opposite sex, however, we never do this alone or without each others knowledge!  There is a vulnerability that exists when people with unmet physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual needs make a connection with someone who seems to understand them better than their partner.  We have seen way too many innocent relationships that start for all the right reasons cause irreparable damage to marriages because they develop for all the wrong reasons. 

5. Trust your partners instincts
As a guy who values relationships with other people and enjoys open and friendly conversation, I am often clueless to signs of 'over friendly' or flirtatious behavour.  I used to dismiss my wife's radar as insecurity, however, her instincts have proven to be more right than wrong.  And even, on the rare occasion, she is wrong, why would I want to interact with another woman in a way that risks eroding the foundation of trust in our relationship?  This is one place where "forsaking all others" should not be ignored.

6. Schedule time with each other
We seem to be living in an increasingly time poor society, where there are so many demands on our time.  Our children, busy schedules, driven natures and mission focus has taught us the hard way that we need to be very intentional about scheduling time to nurture our relationship with each other.  This may sound a bit clinical, but we have discovered that unless we plan to do something as simple as going out for a coffee together or seeing a movie, it often doesn't happen.

7. Spend time alone
As much as spending time together is crucial for a marriage, it is as equally important to spend time alone or with friends doing the stuff you love.  I love cycling and photography, Vanessa loves scrap booking and shopping.  When we invest time in these activities our energy and tolerance levels are higher than when we don't.  It almost feels counter-intuitive in a marriage relationship, but when we look after ourselves we are far better equipped to look after each other.

8. Know what fills each others tank
Bringing the last two principles together, we have learned how important it is to discover what energises each other and to make sure that this input exceeds our output.  Pastor Wayne Cordeiro gave a powerful lesson at a Willow Creek Leadership Summit where he taught and illustrated this idea with a tank that needs to be constantly filled so it doesn't run empty by the things that drain it.  If we continually allow our tank to drain, without knowing what fills it, and run on empty long enough, we put ourselves at serious risk of being emotionally, physically or spiritually depleted, leaving nothing left for our marriage.

9. Have an aligned faith journey
As a Christian couple we have centred our marriage on Jesus Christ who is the foundation of our faith experience.  I have often drawn a simple triangle for other Christian couples (the same diagram could be applied to any faith perspective) putting a cross at the apex of the triangle to represent Jesus and each others name at the opposite corners of the base to illustrate the importance of having an aligned faith journey.  The distance between each other along the base of the triangle decreases when we are both focused on Jesus and are moving in the same direction closer towards Him on our faith journey.  If one of us goes off course, no matter how close the other may be moving towards Christ, the gap between each other increases.  For a marriage to remain centred on Jesus Christ, it is so important to grow together and stay aligned in our journey of faith.

10. Pray together!
There is a saying that asserts, "A family (couple) that prays together, stays together."  It is true!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Building God's Kingdom

It helps, now and then, 
To step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
It is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
Of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, 
Which is a way of saying
That the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, 
A step along the way,
An opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
Between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. 

Archbishop Oscar Romero

Sunday, February 16, 2014

I Can See Clearly Now - I See GOD'S PEOPLE

This week in our community we have been confronted with and impacted by the unimaginable tragedy of a 12 year old boy being killed by the hands of his father at a public sports ground during a children’s cricket training session.  Such a tragedy leaves a lot of painful and unanswered questions about how this can happen.  One of these questions I, and I’m sure many others, have wrestled with is how can a sports ground full of spectator parents stand back and watch something so horrific happen without interfering?  Now, to be fair there is so much we don’t know about exactly who saw what, when and where, but it certainly was a question that was raised in some conversations as we tried to make sense of this tragic incident.

While we must be careful not to make judgements about a situation like this without all the facts, it is a question that begs to be asked when we stand on the sidelines of the arena of life and watch the devastating impact of sin on a broken and fallen world and remain silent or uninvolved!

Bob Dylan once penned the provocative line in his song ‘Blowing in the Wind’ – “how many times can a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn't see?” 

It is a question that could easily be translated in the context of the church to ask, “how many people have to face an eternity without Jesus, before Christians will say, here am I, send me?”

After Isaiah saw a vision of the Lord high and lifted up (Is 6:1), he saw a vision of himself ruined before a holy God and a people that he lived amongst in the same vulnerable and lost condition (Is 6:5)!  However, the angel of the Lord reached down and cleansed Isaiah’s sin giving him a revelation of God’s redemption for all of humankind (Is 6:6-7).  Then he heard the voice of the Lord, “Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?” (Is 6:8)

Isaiah’s response to the Lord’s invitation, “Here am I.  Send me,” came from a man who could no longer stand on the sidelines and continue to “live among a people of unclean lips” because his “eyes [had] seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”  He had a vision of what could be and should be!

When you have a fresh revelation from the Lord, you cannot look upon God, yourself or the world in the same way again!  You can no longer look upon sin and deny it, justify it, minimalise it or avoid it!  You can no longer stay uninvolved.

I think sometimes people turn a blind eye to things they see hoping that they can avoid getting involved, but you cannot un-see what has already been seen!

When you have an encounter with Jesus, you can see clearly now!  You can see what has been hidden from the eyes of unbelievers.  You can see God’s redemptive plan for his people.  The question is, how are YOU going to respond to what you now see?

Monday, February 10, 2014

I Can See Clearly Now - I See MYSELF

One of the activities I used to enjoy doing to relax was drawing.  When my children were around two years old I attempted to draw my daughter sitting on a large log at a country market. 


While incomplete, I was particularly proud of my drawing [left] until I see it compared alongside the drawing of a 'real' artist [right]!  My perspective of my ability changes when compared alongside the ability of someone else. 

An under or over inflated view of ourselves is often right-sized when our self-image is compared with something or someone that redefines our perspective. Unfortunately, we live in a society where self-image takes a battering, but equally we live in a society that also has an over active ego!

Whatever our self-image looks like, a right image of God helps us to correct our image of ourselves.  It is only when we see ourselves for who we really are that we are able to reposition ourselves to become whom God intended us to be!

Just as a wrong perception of God will lead to a wrong perception of our selves, a right perception of God will enable us to see ourselves in perspective of His holiness.

As the prophet Isaiah's divine vision progresses from seeing "the Lord...high and exalted" (Isaiah 6:1), he moves from really seeing God, to really seeing himself: 

“Woe to me!” I cried, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” – Isaiah 6:5 

A vision of a Holy God exposes anything that is unholy!

From my experience and observation as a Corps Officer (Pastor), I have seen three primary responses that are in complete contrast to Isaiah’s response from people who have been exposed in some way by a vision of themselves:  Denial, Blame or Retreat… 

Denial is the unwillingness or inability to recognise anything that will challenge a person’s image of themselves.
Blame is the deflection onto someone or something else that we do not want to take ownership of ourselves.
Retreat is to remove ourselves from an environment where something about us is exposed that makes us feel uncomfortable or insecure.

In contrast to these three responses is that ‘aha’ moment that opens our eyes to new revelation that has potential life changing consequences if we have the humility to really see ourselves.

Isaiah had that ‘aha’ moment in the presence of a holy God!  When he really saw himself against the image of a holy God and humbled himself to confess that which was unholy, he experienced a cleansing that imparted God’s righteousness into this man, making him acceptable in the presence of a holy God.

King David sought this same cleansing after he had monumentally sinned against God in Psalm 51:10 – “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” 

This same cleansing is also available for you and I today as declared in 1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 

A clear vision of a holy God will enable you to see clearly who and where you are in your spiritual journey and if you humble yourself and embrace this vision, then you will reposition yourself for a divine encounter with a holy God who will make you righteous in His sight.

We can confidently and securely approach this holy God, because what He reveals to us is not to condemn us but to liberate us to become the people he has created us to be! 

“God is more just than any of us will ever be. He will not pretend or close a blind eye to our sinfulness. His holiness requires more than our brokenness can provide, yet He generously offers us life. When we turn to Him regardless of our condition, His gift to us is the same. In this regard He does not treat us differently. He loves us all with an everlasting love. You can choose to hold God’s generosity against Him, or you can receive the abundance of the life He offers.” - Erwin Raphael McManus “Uprising” p. 163

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

I Can See Clearly Now - I See The LORD

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.”  (Isaiah 6:1)

The context of Isaiah’s vision of the Lord with the death of King Uzziah, contrasts the end of the 50 year reign of an earthly king with the eternal reign of the Creator of the universe!  

Isaiah saw the LORD! He saw God in all His majesty and glory! 

Isaiah’s vision of God teaches us that the way we see the LORD will determine how we interact with Him.  A diminished view of God will result in a distant relationship with Him, which will impact the way we worship, the way we pray and the way speak about Him. However, an exalted view of God will result in a divine encounter that draws us into an intimate relationship with Him, which will be evident in our worship, prayer and witness. 

When is the last time you really saw the LORD?  What did you see?  What lenses do you wear when you look at God?  How is your vision of God distorted by the vision of others?  Have you ever really seen the LORD?  

While few are graced with a physical vision of God, most see God through the revelation of His Word and in the life of Jesus Christ (Special Revelation) or through a revelation seen through the created order (Natural Revelation).  

Romans 1:20 – “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”  

Colossians 2:9 – “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form”  

Hebrews 1:1-2 – “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.”  

When Isaiah saw the LORD, he saw His transcendence (otherness) and His immanence (presence)  

“I saw the LORD, high and exalted” = transcendence (otherness)  

Our response to the LORD's transcendence in worship is one of reverence and honour!

“I saw the LORD…the train of His robe filled the temple” = immanence (presence)

Our response to the LORD's immanence in prayer is one of relationship and intimacy! 

A clear vision of God enables us to hold in tension both ‘fear and favour’ as we honour His greatness singing with the angels, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD almighty" and hold His hand at the same time crying, "Abba, Father."  

When we really see the LORD, we cannot help but to witness about a God who is high and exalted, yet fills our lives by His presence.