Just Put It Down

I sat there at the table feeding my 8-month-old daughter porridge. Spoonful after spoonful I dutifully delivered to her the breakfast she was seeking to devour. She was enjoying it and I was enjoying feeding her. She sat there in her highchair, smiling away and looking at me intently, waiting for the next spoonful.

Photo: Anthro Brown Bag

At that point I naturally went towards my phone. This wasn’t to receive a call or check my messages. No, this was to open up my camera app and start putting those priceless smiles and eyes into digital format. After all, I had to capture the moment.

After taking about 10 photos, all very similar of course, I began to think something wasn’t quite right.

Here I was, sitting at the table with my living in-the-flesh daughter directly in front of me, both of us enjoying our time together and the connection we were obviously having in sharing breakfast.

But instead of simply enjoying the moment, I decided to objectify it.

I decided to take this precious moment and stick it in digital format, rather than continue to be mesmerised by my lovely girl. I decided to interrupt breakfast, interrupt our smiling and cooing and eating, and inject some foreign device into the middle of our eyesight all for the sake of capturing another moment on camera.

I don’t think that’s the way I’m meant to be living. I don’t think that’s the way we’re meant to be living.

The wife and I were travelling in Jordan once and we came upon a fellow-traveller who joined us for a desert safari trip for a few hours. He’d been travelling around the country a while and had decided not to take a camera with him. Instead, he asked us (and others he came across) to email him one photo when we were back home and when we had the chance. He didn’t want to be constantly taking photos of what he was seeing, he wanted to enjoy what was in front of him.

I’ve been taken by this idea ever since that trip. It’s counter-intuitive, almost counter-cultural.

Somehow we’ve become OK with interrupting the precious, special, fabulous, emotional (insert your adjective here) moments rather than get taken away with them. We’ve stopped enjoying life because we’re always trying to capture it.

This realisation won’t stop me from taking photos of my daughter, no, I’ll still want to take 10 photos in one hit. I’ll still want to interrupt great moments to video or digitise her for posterity. But what I will do is begin to think through it a bit more. Learn to live in the moment rather than watch it from the sideline. I want to keep engaged. I want to stay focussed for as long as possible. It seems I need to teach myself to just put the phone down. Just put it down.

What about you? Do you do a similar thing? Had similar thoughts? It’d be great to hear from you below.

What I Learnt From Steve Jobs

The other day I finished the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Incredible.

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This book excels in portraying a man who defined much of this generation. I know he’s certainly transformed the way I interact with the world through the iPhone and iPad, I suspect it’s the same for you.

There is something about reading a biography that provides insight into people you otherwise wouldn’t know. Isaacson’s masterful job of putting together the components of Jobs’ life is a perfect example. A deeper and fuller understanding of Jobs and his character gives cause to reflect on what can be learnt from him. Here then, are my thoughts on what I learnt from Steve Jobs:

1. I learnt Steve Jobs is a douche – There is no doubting it. He was a douche. His personality and the way he acted and behaved were terribly stupid and degrading to others at times. This wasn’t just one-off events every few years, ripping people apart in front of others occurred for sustained periods and made the guy a ripe proper douche. He even admits it himself.

2. I learnt Steve Jobs had a tremendous appreciation for quality – Everything he sought to do, whether it be his eating practices or the products he sought to produce, was to be of high quality. If they weren’t of the highest and best then they were crap. His push for quality products is what made Apple and Pixar. It’s a shame this wasn’t reflected in his relationships with others, including his parents, his daughters and his wife. Nevertheless, he pursued the best – products and employees. He wouldn’t settle for second.

3. I learnt Steve Jobs didn’t care about money – That’s always easy to say for someone who actually has millions already. But, I think that truly was the case. He didn’t seem fussed about money, it was the product, the A-class quality of a product, that mattered. If he made money by doing this then all the better.

4. I learnt Steve Jobs embodied Apple and Apple embodied him – After leading an organisation for so many years, even with a rather long period of exile, his personality shone through the company. There is no mistaking Jobs’ influence because he was the founder of the company but there is something that happens when you’ve been involved for 30 years. The company reflects your personality, and so it is with Apple. This desire for perfection, for high quality design and products, for pushing the boundaries in what people believe they can do, all comes from Steve Jobs.

5. I learnt that Steve Jobs is an inspiration – There is no doubting it, he’s one of a kind. There won’t be another Steve Jobs and the effect he’s had on Western society is very hard to measure, but needless to say it’s been enormous. His leadership and determination are inspiring. His passion for his industry and product is inspiring. He’s inspired me, through this book, to be a person who is more focussed, passionate, and determined in their work and life. I’ll skip the douche bit but have to say the other character traits are inspiring.

A sixth point would be that Walter Isaacson is an amazing writer. He inspires me to be a better writer and has made this book flow so well I didn’t want to put it down at times. If you happen to get the chance to read this book, I’d highly recommend it.

Why Your Church Service Is Awesome

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Photo: Wiki Commons

In the last 6-9 months I’ve had the opportunity to visit a variety of churches and sit through a number of services “on the other side of the pew”. Since I’m no longer on staff at church I get to observe and participate in services like never before. This experience is great and painful all at the same time.

Today’s post is simply a list of points that have struck me while reflecting on services I’ve been to recently. In other words, it’s a list of points that I think make your service awesome.

  • Your worship or service leader is genuinely interested in welcoming me as a visitor. Because your service leader is so good I now know their name, I know what’s happening in the service, and what to expect in the coming hour. This is very good to know and I appreciate this information.
  • Your time of singing is an appropriate length and there has been thought put into the song choices. The words of the songs and the number of people singing in the service gives a good indication that your “song picker” knows what it means to gather as a church. They evidently know that the words of songs are important and there is a focus on the gospel and the theme of the whole service, particularly the sermon. While I know there are plenty of people who all have different preferences for songs you’ve been able to focus on the essentials in the choosing.
  • Your announcements are given by a real person, who tells me their name and highlights 2-3 points from the bulletin that are important for the church. I appreciate that it’s a real person up the front delivering the important announcements in good time. This shows me that you know it’s important to communicate with the church and also lets me know what I should take note of among all the other newsletter items.
  • Your pastoral prayer is spoken on behalf of the church for believers and non-believers around the world, throughout this country, and also for those within the church. In some ways the pastoral prayer can be a tricky one because there are so many options to pray for. Yet, the person who is praying this in your service has thought deeply about how to pray for people around the world. This gives the impression that your church is focused on the whole world and has a global worldview. Praying for your country and for those within the congregation also allows me to see that you care about your community, both inside and outside the church. It is in this prayer that the focus of the church is most readily shown.
  • You have a bible reading. This is brilliant. Not only do you have a bible reading but the one who speaks these words over the congregation introduces the text in such a way that if I didn’t know where to find the particular passage I am led by the reader to it. This is either through the mentioning of the page number, where it is in the bible (OT or NT), or being directed to the table of contents page at the front of the bible itself. Thank you for taking the time to do this, I know it must feel weird if you’ve always been around a bible but it is helpful to see you thinking about others. With this your reader has also given me ample time to get to the passage and is happy to stay silent while people “page flick” to the right spot.
  • You have a preacher who actually reads, explains, and applies the bible. Your service is awesome when this happens. It is one of the main reasons for gathering together on a Sunday, to hear the Word preached, and your service has a preacher willing to do so. This is excellent. Not only that, but they introduce themselves and seem genuinely concerned with wanting to get across what the bible is teaching. I’m not too concerned about how long your preacher goes for if he’s teaching and applying the bible, it’s just good for them to be doing so.
  • You have people in your congregation willing to talk after the service. To have a welcoming team or people who are on the look out is great. I appreciate that. To have people in your congregation who are willing to turn around and say “hello” off their own bat is even better. This makes your church look like a friendly and welcoming place, somewhere I’d think about coming back to.

So, is your church an awesome church?

Book Review: The Road Trip by Mark Sayers

theroadtripHere is a travel book with a difference.

Most travel books give information about a certain place. The good and bad hotels, the best restaurants, the sites to see. In The Road Trip Mark Sayers travels through the last 50 years of culture enlightening us on what’s happened to the West. Following the travels of Jack Kerouac, writer and experiential junkie of the 1950s, Sayers shows how Kerouac’s journey across America is now mainstream for the life of a Western young adult.

The book is in two parts. The first, offers a critique of young adult life in the 21st Century. The themes, illustrations, and connections between the journey of Kerouac and journey of today’s millennials resonates strongly. The second, turns toward the cross and gives broad examples of what the church must do to re-engage with young adults today. Following the journey of Abraham and centred of the cross Sayers describes how young adults can find true meaning for their lives.

Here’s what I liked about the book:

(1) The Cultural Analysis

In many ways Sayers depicts young adult culture; its aims, its experiences, its lack of meaning, its search for something better, its hopelessness, with compelling accuracy.

(2) The Writing

Sayers pulls you along with him. It’s hard to put the book down. There are illustrations, quotes, stories, and his own ideas, which keep you reading and reading. It’s a very well written book that enables you to travel the cultural contours with him.

(3) The Gospel

In part-two Sayers turns to how Christianity is to deal with this “culture of the road” that young adults seek to travel. The central answer to this ‘issue’ is the Gospel, which “reconciles us to God, others, and creation”. It is only through Christ’s death on the cross that gives meaning to this world and to this life. Therefore, it is this reality that provides the necessary answer to this “culture of the road”. It is an encouragement to see the explicitness of the Gospel within this book, and how it is the basis for further application.

(4) Morality and Covenant

These are two themes, among others, are tackled by Sayers toward the end of the book. They are themes put on the agenda for Christians and wider Western society to think through. Morality and covenant have both been thrown out the metaphorical window in recent time and so it is a good reminder to again reflect on these issues.

Here’s what could be improved:

I should say that I liked everything in the book. It was very good. There is much to take away and dwell on, particularly for those in youth and young adult ministry. It’s hard to come up with much in terms of critique or growth areas. However, when I put the book down I did feel there was something missing.

A couple of caveats:

First, I opened the book expecting big things. Maybe bigger than Sayers could deliver. I’ll name that.

Second, I recognise I’m involved in young adult ministry. I get to see the culture first-hand and affirm almost everything Sayers said about it. I believe these two factors affect my thoughts here.

However, toward the end I was wanting to know more. I was wanting to know what was next. I was wanting to know how to connect the young adult world of experience, journey, and meaninglessness to the worldview of the Bible.

I know I was offered suggestions; to bring back the transcendent, to bring back covenant, to bring back sacredness, to bring back commitment. In other words, to show that living the Christian life actually means giving up what the world offers and travelling the journey of God into full discipleship and devotion. This was made clear, I don’t want to deny that. Yet, this still leaves me hanging for more as I try to connect and apply these themes back to culture.

Since finishing the book I’ve worked out what I’m really asking. It’s the “How?” question.

How do we bring these themes back in a way that enables young adults to have a big vision of God and involved in His mission in the whole of life?

Maybe that’s not Sayer’s task here but mine as the practitioner. In any case, it’s left me pondering that task and something all of us should be pondering as we reach out to the young adults of today.


After writing this review Mark was kind enough to go back and forth on some of my thoughts. Below is an excerpt from our conversation and a reply to the “how” question. Many thanks to Mark Sayers for his time and willingness for this.

Mark’s response:

“…As I get around across the evangelical/charismatic/pente scene I notice that there is no one programmatic thing that is reaching young adults. Rather, it is the simple stuff in the book which I think is important e.g. covenant, living at the foot of the cross etc. I think because western young adult culture at the beginning of 21st Century seems so shiny and powerful we expect the answer to be so as well, but again I think that the answer is simple, humble obedience to Christ, simple non-sexy stuff that we already know. I have positioned our whole Church around this idea – no show, just less of us, and excitingly over time it is incredibly transformational…

…The other thing is that I often notice after workshops and talks that I do, describing western cultures journey to secularism and now post-secularism, that people become overwhelmed and want quick and easy answers. However, how do you reverse 500 years of this stuff in some simple ministry tips? I don’t think you can, it is going to take generations to turn things around in my opinion. No one likes to think of it this way but the questions of today’s young adults are essentially Hamlet’s questions at the dawn of the modern. We have a lot of work to do.”

Top 3 Books For Youth Ministry

Late last night I was texted asking for what my top 3 book recommendations were on the topic of Youth Ministry. I thought I’d share them here for interest sake:

  1. Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry by Doug Fields
  2. Fruit That Will Last by Tim Hawkins
  3. Leaders That Will Last by Tim Hawkins

I’ve also added a fourth in my response as years ago Al Stewart put out a little primer on youth ministry called No Guts, No Glory worth reading.

I’d recommend these books to anyone beginning in youth ministry or a good refresher for those who’ve been in it for a while.

What are your favourites? What would you recommend if you were asked for your top 3?

My Theological Library

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By: Pouya sh

A month ago we moved house. It’s not really the most enjoyable of experiences but it’s something that has to be done when the time comes. The process of moving house meant that I had to move all the books that i have. I’m an avid reader and aim to read a book each fortnight (on average over the course of a year). The “industry” I’m in also lends itself to be around books. Ministry requires reading, preaching requires reading, studying requires reading. This means I’ve a growing collecting of around 700 books on the shelves and when the library reaches this point it’s probably time to get it sorted out.

I did toy with the idea of working the Dewey system or using the Library of Congress numbers but decided that might be a bit extreme. In the end the best advice came from Andy Naselli’s post on “Why you should organise your theological library and a way how”. I’ve adjusted some of what he’s suggested but used the main categories to organise mine. My library is obviously not as big as his so it doesn’t need as much detail as what he has laid out. But here it is:

1. Biblical Theology

  • Languages (NT Greek)
  • Hermenuetics (how to interpret the Bible etc.)
  • Commentaries (on each book of the Bible)
  • OT & NT introductions, theologies, and overviews

2. Historical Theology

  • Biographies
  • Church & Christian History
  • “Works” by old dead guys

3. Systematic Theology

  • Bible doctrine (the sort of topics in a general systematic theology book)
  • Apologetics
  • Philosophy

4. Practical Theology

  • Christian Living (all those great books people pick up at the front of Christian bookstores ;))
  • Preaching
  • Leadership
  • Youth Ministry
  • Church
  • Pastoral Ministry
  • Missions

At this stage all sub-categories are mixed in together in the broad categories. I’m not convinced this works for the Practical Theology section but it’ll take too much time sorting it out at the moment.

Comments? Suggestions? How do you sort yours?

7 Evernote Tips For Youth Pastors

FYI: This is a very old article, written in 2011. I no longer use Evernote, but you be you. 

Evernote is one of the most used apps on my phone and computer.

Here’s seven tips on why Youth Pastors should be using it.

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1. Evernote Helps A Youth Pastor Organise Events

Anything from camps to small group socials to the stock standard youth night. Evernote helps you keep organised and plan an event coming up.

Writing lists, storing information about what needs to purchased, and delegating which leader is responsible for what. All these things can be stored in various notes.

The helpful tagging option allows you to bring up all the notes about “Awesome Camp”, which can then include details about registration, budget, what to buy, and the contact details for the campsite itself. There are a number of ways to put together a particular youth event but having them all in one central place is helpful.

Once the event is done and it’s time to debrief this is where notes can be kept and help you improve the next time it comes around.

2. Evernote Helps A Youth Pastor In Designing The Youth Ministry Programme

Young people and youth leaders are full of ideas about youth events. Nearly every week there will be one person that comes up to me and says, “We should do […insert event here…] next term.”

Evernote enables you to store information about future youth ministry activities. This can include details of what it is, contact information, and the links to the websites. When coming to organise the next term’s programme this will make the process a lot easier. Pull your phone out, have a look at what’s there, think about whether it achieves what you’re after and put in on the planner. Easy.

A local roller-skating rink posts me information every now and then with their information for youth groups. All I do is take a picture of it, store it in Evernote, and boom. It’s sorted and searchable for when I need it.

3. Evernote Helps A Youth Pastor Remember A Good Game

Games + Youth Ministry = Fun times.

How many times do you find yourself, perhaps at the end of a night, where there is 15 minutes to spare and you’ve run out of games?

No Youth Pastor should be without a few games up their sleeve. They’re the bread and butter of many traditional youth groups and youth ministries. Evernote allows you to store heaps and heap and heaps of games on your phone and computer, easily accessed in seconds.

Storing games you’ve come up with yourself, finding a few gems on the net, and even taking a few notes from games some of your leaders come up, can all be stored in Evernote. Tagging them into what kind of games, i.e. Adventure, Messy, Group, Ice-Breaker and the like becomes extremely helpful too.

4. Evernote Helps The Youth Pastor Remember Conversations With Young People, Parents And Leaders

Last year I held a Parent Afternoon Tea and jotted down some of the feedback given. There were a few new ideas floating around and also some encouraging things being said about the youth ministry. At the end of our time together I took a photo of the discussion notes, uploaded them to Evernote, and they became searchable using their technology. This has helped me remember what we talked about and we we could implement in the future.

After a conversation with a Youth Leader I type out some brief bullet point notes in Evernote so that I remember what was said and the action points decided upon. This helps me to know where my Youth Leaders are at with a variety of matters and also helps me in following up the next time we catch up.

This is so much more useful than some form of text file stored on the computer. Here I have them all in note form and in my hand.

5. Evernote Helps The Youth Pastor Store Contact Details Of Other Youth Pastors, Young People, Leaders, And Churches

The amount of ‘networking’ events for those in Christian ministry is quite extraordinary. Every week there are multiple emails promoting different organisations, churches, and leadership events. It gets confusing and tiring.

Anyway, Evernote helps me to store the contact details of those I actually want to stay in touch with. Sometimes it might be the dreaded business card (Does anyone actually use these anymore?) , take a pic, snap, upload, sorted. Sometimes it is simply me entering the information of the person right in front of them, or even handing the phone over and asking them to enter it themselves.

Having knowledge and contact details of those in my area, those I wish to continue a working relationship with, and organisations who could be helpful for our youth ministry is handy to have. you never know when you might be of support to someone or they to you. Having their details on hand and in an easy to find place is awesome.

This could easily apply to people in the youth ministry, church, and others.

6. Evernote Helps The Youth Pastor With All That Ridiculous Administration

Every job has administration, the Youth Pastor can’t avoid it either. However, Evernote provides a great solution in storing what’s important and also the not so important.

I get sent a fair few things via snail mail and these things can easily be scanned and uploaded to Evernote directly. It was only the other week where I read an article in one of the Christian papers and then took a picture of it for Evernote and future use.

But there is other stuff too. Receipts and invoices, important emails you want to keep in one place, and even those rare thank you notes you receive from people. These can all g into Evernote, be made searchable, and like that you’ve cut down on paper, reduced the need for a filing cabinet and stored them forever.

7. Evernote Helps The Youth Pastor Write Talks For Youth Ministry

Every youth ministry should have some form of talk that is Bible-based and aimed at encouraging, equipping, or evangelising youth people. I regularly do them, as do my Youth Leaders.

With Evernote I can write up that talk in plain text then take my phone with me to the front of the group and go bang. Granted, I do prefer paper for that purpose but if I was to ever lose or have my talk stolen by one of our members then I can easily retrieve it on me device.

Evernote provides heaps of editing options to helps highlight important things to say and remember for delivery. Using the search and tagging function also provides good reference for the future. For example, when speaking on the Rich Young Ruler from Luke 18:1-18 I can have my notes in Evernote and tag them, “Youth Talk”, “Jesus”, “Wealth”, “Gospel”, “Cost”, “Works” etc.

In sum, Evernote is a great app for Youth Pastors to use and enables them to be better organised, which I think produces a better Youth Pastor. It helps in ‘doing’ ministry, and we all know we need help sometimes. There are plenty of other things I’m sure we could come up with. But hey, seven is a godly number. Let’s leave it there.

Are you a youth pastor that uses Evernote? How does it help you?

10 Evernote Tips for Pastors

FYI: This is a very old article, written in 2011. I no longer use Evernote, but you be you.

I’ve been converted to Evernote. Evernote is a note taking application that enables you to capture and organise everything. It’s available on pretty much all devices that you can think of, from phone to computer and syncs all notes up into the cloud – sounds heavenly doesn’t it!

Anyway, i began to use Evernote around 12 months ago. Within a month i had moved to a premium account which gives me much more space to upload per month, image recognition, and offline notebooks for my phone to name a few.

I have found Evernote has revolutionised the way i store and organise information that comes my way, everything from paper to verbal communication to ideas that pop in to my head. As a Youth & Young Adult Pastor i have found Evernote extremely valuable and so below i have noted 10 ways in which any Pastor would be able to use the application.

1. Create Prayer Lists

With Evernote it is simple to organise items that need prayer. Lists can be made, even with little tick boxes if you so desire, that can continue to be used for prayer. These can be lists of people within my congregation, topics or events that need prayer, and praise points that have occurred over the last couple of weeks/months.

2. Store Contact Details for People or Organisations

I find that almost every person who works within a mission, a church, or some sort of para-church organisation has a business card. Also, websites, music artists and bands as well as community contacts all have details that i need to remember. Evernote gives me a great space to keep all these details. I can simply take a photo with my phone and instantly their details are uploaded which i can access in a number of forms. It certainly saves me mucking around with business card holders and random little bits of paper on my desk

If you were really keen you could also PDF your church’s contact list/directory and store it on Evernote. It then becomes completely searchable and easily accessed wherever you are.

3. Keep Note of Personal and Pastoral Conversations

Being a Pastor requires meeting with many people during the week and talking about a variety of things. Sometimes these may be about particular pastoral issues that are important to keep in touch with, other times it may be about deciding on what’s happening in the coming months regarding some program. Either way, Evernote enables me to take note of these conversations and keep them organised so that i can look back and see what we talked about in preparation for the next catch-up.

Another way of entering this sort of information can be through the voice functionality. Through my phone i can make a verbal note that will be uploaded to Evernote which i can listen to later on. This is also relevant for a number of these tips.

4. Give Space for Creative Ministry Ideas

Through conversations with those who come to the church or perhaps while reading articles and blog posts i quite often find ministry ideas floating around my head. Rather than have heaps of little notes on paper or in different text files i simply enter them into Evernote and tag them with relevant triggers. Even though some of these ministry ideas may not be able to begin now they can be kept for future reference.

5. Write Up Sermon Notes

While the feeling of writing notes in a journal is great Evernote helps in storing all my sermon notes together. When working on a message from a particular passage i can again tag them with relevant references. While reading a commentary i can transcribe notes from it for future reference. I can keep writing and thinking without having to delete the notes later or store them in mucky files on my hard drive. They are all kept together in one note and notebook and are completely searchable using Evernote’s amazing search function. My work on main points, structures and notes from parallel passages or other resources come together in one place. I can even write the whole sermon in a note and then copy and paste it to a document later on for printing.

6. A Place for Sermon Illustrations, Quotes, Links, Blog Posts, etc.

How often do you think of a sermon illustration or see a quote that you like and have nowhere to store it? Evernote is perfect for storing these sorts of little notes, quotes and illustrations that can be used for this week’s sermon or one in the future. They can all be kept in a notebook or be tagged with the appropriate reference. When i find a great quote, read a great article or blog post or find a picture that could be useful i clip it into Evernote and then tag is with the author’s name, the topic or theme and classify it as a ‘quote’ or and ‘illustration’.

Due to my use of Google Reader i find that emailing in blog posts to Evernote an especially good feature. I also find that scanning or taking pictures of illustrations from magazines or newspapers very useful.

7. Organise Events, Programs and Services

So, Christmas is coming up and there are always heaps of ideas about what carols to have, who’s doing the readings, how the children can be involved, and what items are available for the service. If you have a particular program, event or service that is coming up Evernote helps you organise all the information into one place. This could range from what needs to be done in order for the youth group event to go ahead to what topics should be up for discussion at the next deacons meeting.

With this comes the topic of weddings and funerals. Evernote enables notes, thoughts and ideas to be put down in one place that helps in structuring the weekly gathering, a wedding ceremony or a thanksgiving service.

8. Reading Heaps Means Lots of Notes

A Pastor is generally a reader. From commentaries to theologies to dictionaries to Christian living books, Pastors are usually across a variety of books. I find that i can copy down quotes and ideas that are significant in a book and then keep that easily accessible through Evernote. I find that taking a picture or scanning a couple of pages can then be easily searched through Evernote’s OCR capabilities.

9. Clip Links and Other Electronic Information

Evernote allows easy clipping of websites. While having time to search for youth group games or find a few youth ministry websites i come across a lot of information i’d like to keep. By clipping the site and the information into Evernote i have it forever. I can always go back to the site, as it keeps the link, and also search for particular games or information in Evernote. This means Evernote becomes a solid bookmarking application as well as storage for notes.

10. Take Photos of Books, DVDs and Other Resources

I can’t afford all the resources that are available at my local Christian bookstore. Books, DVDs, CDs, music resources and more are quite expensive. However, i do come across some very good resources that i might be able to use in the future. Many times i have taken a picture of the cover of a bible study guide or a DVD series that we might go through and its immediately uploaded to Evernote.

That’s my conversion to Evernote, I’m not sure how you use it, but it’d be great to hear how it helps your ministry too. The more i think about it the more ideas on how Evernote can be integrated into ministry come to me.

If you’d like to read more about Evernote i have also written Evernote Tips for Youth Pastors

Afraid To Belong

I think you’re afraid of belonging.

Belonging to something goes against the grain of our culture. We’re meant to be individuals. We’re meant to be concerned purely with the self. We’re meant to do what we like in this day and age. Life is for our own pleasure, our own enjoyment, and our own fun. Why then would we belong to anything?

Despite our individualistic culture there is something about us that wants to belong. Look around, football clubs have members, Facebook has friends, Twitter has followers, wars have armies, politics have parties, institutions have chapters, and beer drinkers (or parma eaters) have locals. With belonging comes a sense of being part of something bigger. There is a feeling of commitment and mutual appreciation. There is a knowledge that other people are like us, they are centred on the same things we are. There is a togetherness, a mate-ship, a team bond.

This might all be well and good but there is also something within us that makes us afraid to belong. Belonging means we have to be investors, investors of time, energy, and emotion. Belonging means we are exposed, vulnerable, and out in the open. Belonging means disappointment, hurt, and heartache. Belonging isn’t easy and that’s why we’re afraid.

When the footy team never makes the eight, when the political party is stuck in opposition, when the family is in turmoil, when colleagues aren’t pulling their weight – situations like these make belonging hard. The same goes for the church, to belong to a local congregation is going to be hard. When 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people, when the offering decreases, when the rosters aren’t being filled, when the people won’t turn up, continuing to belong to a church is tough.

In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul talks about the church being like a body. And in v14-16 he says,

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body.” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And, if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body.” that would not make it any less part of the body”.

Paul is telling us, whether we like it or not, that there is no excuse for not belonging to the body. While the church may be made up of people with a number of different gifts there is still a responsibility to belong. Not everyone is going to be the preacher or the Sunday school teacher or the offering steward but that doesn’t mean we are excused from belonging.

We like to belong to something but we don’t like to commit. We like to belong in quiet ways. After all, it’s nice to sit up the back and hear pleasant music and words wash over us for an hour. But hey, getting involved in the constitution committee, having people around for lunch, building a relationship with a teenager, helping out with crèche, playing the guitar, or (dare I say it) beginning a new ministry, well, that’s not nice – that’s messy! That actually means it’s time to get our hands dirty, invest time and money, invest emotional energy.

So, whether you’re part of the 20% that does most of the work or the person who wafts in and out of church buildings each Sunday perhaps it’s time to evaluate where you’re at. Perhaps it’s time to commit to belong, truly belong, or are you too afraid?

On Unity

Where can unity be found in the church today?

The following post is something I had published in The Witness, the monthly Victorian Baptist magazine, published by the Baptist Union of Victoria, in 2009.

Unity seems to be something which is hard to find in the church today. Well, maybe it’s always been hard to find, church history seems to suggest so too. It’s surprising isn’t it; one would think that the church would be the one place that is united.

If we look outside the church there are plenty of things that unite people. Football unites supporters like nothing else here in Melbourne, but sport in general does that in almost every nation. Community events show a united people, look no further than Black Saturday and the out-pouring of unity that came from that. But we could also think of book clubs, favourite cafes, the RSL, the local lawn bowls club, and the like. Being part of a community, being part of a family, brings unity and commonality.

In recent months I have been pondering unity within the church.

It’s been hard to nail, and hard to find.

If we are honest with ourselves we must recognise that there is a wealth of disagreement that occurs within the church. These may be things like where the pulpit should be placed when one is preaching, to the ways in which we reach our community with the Gospel, to the various theological positions church members have. Differences occur, they are bound to, but quite often they cause disunity rather than mutual encouragement and respect.

While on holiday a couple of months ago I read volume one of Arnold Dallimore’s biography of George Whitefield. Whitefield was a preacher who spread the Gospel throughout the UK and America in the 18th century. He was one of the first to preach outdoors, outside the church building, and for his day this was radical. Instead of avoiding such “corner preaching” like the plague, which we tend to do, Whitefield was able to preach to tens of thousands at a time. What impressed me most about his character was the way in which he tried to be unified with other believers. Wherever he went he would first stop by the local church or parish, and in his theological disputes with John Wesley he continued to pray and hold him up as a brother in Christ.

Whitefield modelled, what I believe many in the church today miss, unity.

Paul speaks no better about unity than in 1 Corinthians 12 and 13. Beginning with the illustration of the church being one body with many parts he moves on to the most crucial point regarding unity–love. While one may be particularly enamoured by the passage regarding love in 1 Corinthians 13 it actually stems out of Paul’s thinking regarding unity and the body of Christ.

It is love which is most central to unity, it is love which is most central to Paul, and it is love which is most central to our faith. It is the “more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). Christians are to be marked by love and to be unified by love.

That love is best expressed when we head to the cross. That sacrificial, God-exalting, sinner-redeeming love is most clearly seen through Jesus’ death and unifies all believers to love others rather than themselves.

Why is it that churches split, that conflict occurs, that disunity abounds?

It is because there is no Christ-like love.

Why does a supporter of a footy team actively go to all the matches and buy the team scarf? Why does a community rally in the face of adversity? Why does unity occur?

It is because there is love.

“Unity through diversity” seems to be a current catch-cry but perhaps “unity through love” might be a better way to put it.

Through the cross of Christ and the love of Christ unity is at its peak.