Worship Defined

While reading a book on the doctrine of Church [1], I happened upon this definition of Christian worship:

True worship is the celebration of being in covenant fellowship with the sovereign and holy triune God, by means of:

  • the reverent adoration and spontaneous praise of God’s nature and works
  • the expressed commitment of trust and obedience to the covenant responsibilities, and
  • the memorial reenactment of entering into covenant through ritual acts,

all with the confident anticipation of the fulfillment of the covenant promises in glory. [2]

The reason I like it is because other definitions include one or another of the threefold definition above and I think they miss at least part of the idea of worship.

Those who emphasize the praise aspect of worship often end up making church a place where you need your spiritual fix for the week.  Those who emphasize the obedience part tend to make worship into a moral code.  And those who emphasize the rituals end up elevating the role of church above what it should be.  Only by holding all three together do we properly worship God.

But we need to ask some practical questions here:

  • Which of these do you neglect? Why?
  • Which of these do you emphasize?  Why?




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Christmas Fails

To my Anglican friends who ran church services this year in Sydney, here is some feedback you might want to look at. The feedback comes from people who were taking their friends and families to your churches at Christmas.  Needless to say, Christmas is a great opportunity to do this and one we should not miss.

I don’t know which churches were being talked about, in fact I made sure I didn’t know.  Was this your church?  Whether it was or not, you should be asking the question, “did we get things right this year?”.  The people who are inviting their friends and family are the best evangelists we have and so it is important to listen to them.  I should also point out that I did not ask for this feedback, it was frustrations that that people shared with me because they were frustrated.  Here are three points:

  1. The church service was so focused on kids, that there was no gospel presented.
  2. The talk made me feel guilty, even as a Christian.  I thought Christmas was about good news.
  3. The church seemed to me more concerned about connecting with Star Wars than telling me about Jesus.
Firstly, I can understand all these mistakes.  I am sure I have made them all multiple times and lets also acknowledge that that there were probably good intentions behind these events.  But lets call them for what they are: mistakes.
  1. Sure kids are important, especially if you are trying to reach families. But if you are so focussed on them that you don’t get to the gospel, then really what’s the point?  Or worse, you end up communicating that Jesus is for kids but when you grow up, you grow out of Christianity.  I have seen some great kids talks that manage to get the gospel across to both kids and parents.
  2. This is not a mistake that is isolated to Christmas.  There is a mistake we make in evangelism of helping people see the good news of the gospel without the need.  But there is also a mistake of making sure that people know the need that they don’t hear the good news.  It may well be that we could say “but I did say it” but we need to make sure that it is so clear that people can unmistakably hear it.  This is because in Australia, like most of the Western world, people mistake Christianity for moralism.  So hearing “you are bad people and you need to be good” is continuing that myth.
  3. I am big proponent of contextualisation, but when we are trying to be more clever than faithful, we are making a mistake.  I know that this is trying to bridge a cultural gap of picking up on themes that we share between the gospel meta-narrative and the cultural narrative.  But does it at a marketing level?  At worse I wonder if this is implicitly communicating that the church really wants to be like society but we aren’t cool enough.  Nevertheless, my point of being clever above faithful still stands.
The point with all of these things is not that they are bad things in themselves.  It is that they have replaced the gospel as the priority.

Should we be doing these things?  Yes.  But we should not be doing them at the cost of proclaiming the gospel.  Next year when Christmas comes around, ask yourself this.  Do you really believe that the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes because there are people in your churches who think this and you should be seeking to support them.


Let the Word do the Work

Let the Word to the Work

Ed. Peter Bolt. Matthais Media, 2015

I don’t think there as a been a single person that God has used in the last 40 years that would rival Phillip Jensen for the effect on evangelical Christianity in Sydney.  As a preacher, writer, trainer, publisher, strategist, pastor and most of all evangelist.  So when Peter Bolt told me he was working on a book for Phillip’s retirement(1) I was intrigued as to what he would produce.

It’s not what I expected.  It’s not a biography.  Phillip is a surprisingly private person and so this is not a huge surprise.  Nor is it the bunch of essays that I have seen in the past to commemorate someone’s retirement, which is what I expected.

It’s…well a bunch of short essay/ reflections from people who have worked with Phillip in one way or another.  Many of them looking at what Phillip taught them when they were growing. And they cover a range of different topics from preaching and pastoring to the DNA of a Mid Year Conference and even thoughts on temperance and alcohol consumption in a church.

All the essays are worth reading and considering.  None of them pretend to be objective.  Some are more reflective that others (e.g. Peter Bolt’s own contribution).

But it got me thinking, why produce a book like this?   Why not a biography?  Why not a set of more objective essays?  Phillip’s answer would be what does the Bible say?

“For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?”  (1 Thessalonians 2:19 ESV)

The best way of seeing whether ministry is fruitful or productive is to look at the people it is producing.  This book is a testament to the people that Phillip’s ministry has produced.  Hence it is exactly the right way to commemorate a milestone of Phillip’s ministry.

If you want to understand why Sydney evangelicalism is the way it is, then this is an important book to read.  If you want to see a good model of ministry then this is an important book to read.

(1) I should point out by ‘retirement’ I mean the ending of his formal ministry at the Sydney Cathedral.  He will of course continue to minister at “Two Ways to Live Ministries”.

A Conversation that Established Churches and Church Plants need to have

My friend Mike Paget has written a series of blog posts: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of a conversation that Church plants and Established churches need to have, of which I thought Part 3 was where he was just getting started and getting interesting.  Rather than deal with the details of the three posts I thought I would interact with some of the main themes, hence this is a conversation not a critique.  I should point out that I am writing from my experience as a church planter but more from my own church plant, Soma.  I should point out that Mike is not against church planting and I don’t have a problem with existing churches.  We both simply see a problem in how they are working together.

Obligation to Churches

One of the things that I think Mike and I are on the same page with is that there does seem to be a very loose loyalty that people feel towards churches.  People feel that it is OK to change churches if “it isn’t working for them”.  I agree with Mike, this has been an Achilles heel in our theology and practise.  Church is not a service like a mobile phone contract to change when something better comes along.

Our Protocols

At Soma we do have a formal membership, not for theological reasons, but for practical reasons.   The reason we have this is so we know who is actually a part of our church and who is not.  We formally welcome new people in (with the presentation of a t-shirt!), we say goodbye to people as we send them off.

Without looking at the numbers, about 2/3 of our people have come from other churches, the other 1/3 Soma is their first church.   The reason I know this is because when someone comes across from another church I let them know I am intending to call their minister or pastor, so I am counting the number of those conversations I have had.

That conversation is interesting!  Some pastors are angry at me for allowing ‘one of their people’ to come to my church (like I had a choice in that).  Some are confused, thinking that the person was a committed member of their church, at which point I tell them our process is on hold until they sit down and have a chat with the person about this (that is sometimes a surprise to me because I always suggest the person changing churches have a talk first).  This conversation sometimes means the person does not come across to us.  Some are glad, they think the person coming across, at least one case, was dead weight (not what we found).  By the end most appreciate the call.  I also ask if there are any pastoral issues I need to know about, again this helps me a lot.

The thing is that of the 50 or so people we have sent, only 2 ministers have done the same for me.  The point I am trying to make is we need to stop thinking that people don’t or won’t change churches and we need to have protocols for this.  Again church membership is something we as ministers need to take seriously.

New Stages of Church Partnerships

Let me offer my own fable.  In the old, wild west churches could plot their ground and set up their homestead like churches that offered a complete package.  They had to.  There was nothing else around.  But as more and more people filled into the area, the homesteads became connected into towns and some people stopped farming and started general stores, bars, etc.

My point is this: parochial ministry is good, but it is not enough to reach the whole city.  Of the many churches I have visited, most buildings could seat about 200-300 in a parish of around 12-15,000.  In order to reach 10%  of that parish, that building needs to be full at least 5 times a week.  And frankly I don’t think 10% is a good number to be aiming at[1].  I have always maintained and will again:  We need lots of different churches to reach different people in our city.  We need to be planting at least 12 new churches in our city a year. This means, I think, church plants and existing churches need to be working together in partnerships that may look like small towns rather than independent homesteads.

I currently have the keys to 3 church buildings on my keyring.  We don’t own a building and we aren’t planning on getting one.  I have three keys because we have partnerships with 3 different churches who want to work with us to make the Gospel known.  We have worked out how we can help each other reach people that we could not as individual churches.  This is much easier, I think for small churches to do than larger churches who don’t feel the need.



[1] Would we be content to know that firefighters went into a building aiming to save only 10% of the people who were in there?

My Preaching Workflow (and tools)

Everyone has a different way of preparing sermons.  I have been thinking about the best way of preparing and thought I would start with what I actually do before I start looking at what I should be doing.  I thought I would blog it so others can help me think more carefully about preparation.  This post is very much about the technical side of things, if you want to see the prayer side of things head here.

1. Several months out

Investigate the passage.  I write notes on the passage and get as much information as I can.   I will be looking at commentaries, other people speaking, everything I can to understand the passage.  I will make notes on different application points, questions I still have and possible structures.  I average around 20,000 words a series on this.

Tools: I do this on Scrivener but have used different word processors in the past.

2. 3 weeks out

The goal here is to get the “by line” and structure of the talk.  I don’t just mean a “Big Idea”.  The Big Idea is what the passage is about.  A By Line is what makes the talk sell, by which I mean why is it not good, not important, but essential that someone listen to this talk.

What I do is re-write the passage by hand, so I get the passage back in my head. I use a whiteboard or blank sheet of paper to see how all the ideas connect.  I think this is very important to do kesitheically, so important I have a separate desk to work on it in my study.

Tools: White board, paper, pens sometimes post-it notes.

3. 2 weeks out

It’s time to write.   I write the details of each point and work on getting the structure right.  I will be looking at different preaching formulas (in blog posts to come) to see what will work best.  I write in detail for precision.

Tools: Scrivener

4. 1 week out

This phase is all about final polishing and getting delivery right.  By now the talk is pretty much written and the emphasis here is on delivery. I take what I have from Scrivener and transfer it to Pages to preach from,  I will work out what is going to go on the outline from this as well as key questions that will go along with it.  I use Keynote for slides for visual learners.  I don’t know why anyone would use Powerpoint.  At this point I think Slideology is essential reading.

Tools: Pages for script, Keynote for display.

5. After Delivery

How well did I go? Sometimes listen, usually look at feedback in terms of questions.

Tools: Question time, feedback forms.


Are there things you do that I have missed or should be doing?

5 Lies Christians Believe about Church

It seems that everyone these days are making lists, so I thought I would make one of my own.   This is a list of lies I have heard people say about church.  
The most effective lies are not the straight out denial of the truth.  They are the half truths that have exceptions.  This list is no different, there will be exceptions to each of the lies that are based on truth.  The thing is that we often make the exception the rule and we lose the truth in the half lie.
So let me be up front these are meant to be provocative to get you to think if you have swallowed the lies about church, since what we believe is what we tell ourselves.  Before you dive for the exception, you need to ask if you have bought the lie.
  1. Everyone at church will be my friend. Community and love at church are important but fellowship is not the same as friendship. Fellowship (the Greek word is koinonia) has more a partnership aspect, in the case of church, serving together.  I may not be friends with everyone I play sport with if I am playing on a team, but there will be a companionship of working together.  If you are feeling like you aren’t connecting with people at church serve with them, don’t wait for them all to line up and want to be your friend.
  2. I can just sit in the pews. One day I would like to have someone explain how you get this from the Bible, since as far as I see the expectation of is that church operates as a body “with the proper working of each individual part” (Eph 4:11),  or that everyone comes with something to build the church (1 Cor 14:28).  Sure there may be seasons when this is not possible due to prolonged illness, new baby or burnout.  But these are the exceptions.  This does not mean that you need to be doing formal ministry (appointed by the church), but it could be as simple as “I will turn up to look for the new person or the person who needs prayer so I can pray for them or to do the thing that is being missed like washing up or cleaning up”.  It doesn’t have to be big but I don’t see how you can be a passenger in church.
  3. It doesn’t matter if I miss a week, I can always go next week.  I have had some problems writing this one, but then others have already written on this.  Kevin deYoung has written a really though provoking post on this asking the question that is the attitude behind this whether you are Christian or not.  This is true church will always be there and there is a danger of legalism.  But it is the attitude under it that is the question.  Does it matter to you if you miss a week?  What would you not have this attitude to?  Would you say about work – I won’t go to work, I can always go next week.  Or I can miss this appointment with my friend, because they will be there next week.  If you are not sure if this is you, Trevin Wax has written an interesting case study for people
  4. Church should be cool.  I think one of the reasons that we baulk at inviting our friends to church is that church is not cool.  Church should be a lot of things, but cool is not one of them.  Church certainly should be engaging and life changing and that is why we should be inviting people to hear and see God’s Word spoken and lived out in church.  But it will never be as entertaining as an X-Box or as exhilarating as a concert, its not meant to be.  Cool is what culture tells is is trending. Church will always be uncool because there will always be a point that church is against culture. 
  5. I can offend church without offending Jesus.  Church is not perfect and is not above criticism. And yet it is clear that the Bible sees that Jesus sees the church as his bride (e.g. Rev 19:9).  So there is a myth that we can “love Jesus and not the church” is indeed a myth since to love Jesus is to love what he loves.  It is easy to take pot shots of church, but consider how Jesus is going to respond to you as you do this.  I think the solution is not to not criticise the church.  And if there are issues you should take it up with your leaders.  But it is all about attitude and how you do this.  There is a difference between “You are not doing your job…” to “Hey, we both want to see Jesus’ bride looking the best she can be, can I raise something I think will help?”
I am sure there are more.  I am sure (and kind of hoping) I have got under your skin a little.  I am not asking you to agree with everything I have said, I am asking you to consider the lies you might have unconsciously swallowed. 

10 things Church Planters need to tell you…but won’t

Recently I did a talk on what I thought were the 10 things that church planting teams, especially launch or leadership teams, should know but the church planter may or may not tell them.  Here is a summary of the talk:

 1. It’s not a blank slate

When you start a church plant it is all very exciting because it feels like there is a blank slate to fill.   But the reality is that there is lots of filled slates in people’s heads already with ideas of what a church plant should look like.  These ideas can come from churches they have been at that, they liked and this is what the church should look like. Others will be a complete rejection of their previous experience, while others still will be based on church plants that they have seen.

The thing is that no-one really knows what a church plant will look like until it is up and running.  Many people in teams that start a church plant, will be disappointed in what they see and so will leave.  Most church planting teams turn over in the first couple of years and that is normal.  The point is, if you are a part of a launch team, you may not be there in the next couple of years (or you need to be flexible about your expectations) and at least many people you are currently serving with won’t be.

2. He is not Keller or Driscoll and this is not the U.S.

What has happened in churches like Mars Hill in Seattle and Redeemer in New York is very exciting, but it is not the norm of church plants.  Keller and Driscoll are exceptional people, they both had exceptional support and what has happened in their churches is great, but exceptional.  There are also some cultural differences between the US and Australia, especially when it comes to religious expectations, which makes church planting in Australia hard work.

The point is that your church plant is unlikely to take off like Mars Hill and Redeemer.  It is more likely, to be like the rest of us, very hard work before you see traction.  You need to be realistic about what you expect the church to do and how you expect it to grow.  In fact, there is no guarantee that the church will succeed as some church plants fail.  You need to have realistic expectations about what is going to happen.

 3. He can’t do everything

No-one is perfect at everything and there will be things that the planter can do better than others.  This will be frustrating.  This means he needs you!  There will be things that you can do better than he can, so do them.  Don’t think “if he needs help he will ask”.  He needs help, so give it.  If he is not good on details and you are, do it.  If he is not good at design stuff and you are, offer to help.  You get the idea.

 4. Let the Leader Lead

All of this being said, the one thing that the church planter can do is lead.  That is what God has put him there to do.  If God wanted you to lead, then he would have done things so you would be the leader of the church, but he didn’t.  Hebrews instructs us:

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17).

Few Australian leaders like preaching on this passage, because it cuts against our culture or egalitarianism.  But it is what the Bible tells us.

What does it mean to submit to your leaders?  Let me start by saying what it is not.

It is not merely agreeing.  If you think the church should head in a particular direction (A) and then the leader says “We should do (A)” then you are not submitting, you are agreeing.  It’s not a bad thing, it’s just not what the passage is talking about.

It is not rebelling.  If you think the church should head in a particular direction (A) and then the leader says “We should do (B)”, you can be openly rebellious and just say “no” and get others to do the same.  If you have a problem publicly, be supportive and privately ask the question.

It is not passive rebellion, and I think this is often the most common response.  If you think the church should head in a particular direction (A) and then the leader says “We should do (B)”.  You can simply respond by “Well good luck with that, let me know how it goes”.  You are not openly rebelling but you are not supporting (read submitting) at this point either.

Submission to leaders means supporting them especially at those points where you don’t agree or where the leader might need more support.

What if he has it wrong?  Let me be very clear here: all Christian leaders are terrified of this.  I mean really terrified.  Sure we are scared of failure and not meeting budgets, etc.  But what really keeps us up at nights is “what if we make a decision that is wrong, what if it affects people’s salvation”.  We know that all things are in the hands of God, and yet it still scares us.

And we will get things wrong sometimes.  We know that, and you know that.  But most things can be retrievable.  Supporting your leader through that is one of the most important things you can do.  Which leads to the next point….

5. The most important person in a movement is you.

Derek Sivers did a short talk found in the TED website called “how to start a movement”.  He watches a guy dancing a music festival and then notes how people join in.  One of the important things to take away from this talk is that it is not the leader, the first person who starts; it is the second person, the first generation of people who shape the movement.  “The first follower transforms the lone nut into a leader”.  He is the one who defines what it means to follow.

The point here is that when people join a church, they will look at the culture to see how to fit in.  In a new church plant there is no culture, so they will look to you, as the first generation of followers, to see how to act in the church.  Did you get that?  They look not to the leader, but to you to see how to follow.  You will be the one who sets the tone of when is it OK not to turn up, how to  treat the leader, what does it mean to follow, what does it mean to submit to the leader, etc.  The leader actually can’t do that, only you can.

6. Yes, it is hard work (and turning up is a ministry)

Most people in a church planting team will go through the “I always feel like I am rostered on something every week” experience.  And that is what it takes, resources are limited, especially people resources.  It’s not just you, everyone in every church plant feels like that.

The best team members turn this around from instead of being a complaint to an expectation.  They turn up to church expecting to be on something: “so, what am I on today?”.  We have on guy in our church who is working on learning as many skills as possible because he knows sometimes people drop the ball.  His ministry is slotting into the gaps as quickly as possible.

Church plants are small and even just turning up is important.  If you have 20 people and 2 couples are away for one week then you have just lost 25% of your people.  It can be discouraging for the people who are there.  Sure, there might be an event that you don’t have anything to do at, you won’t get anything out of it, but turning up is a ministry in itself.

 7. Protect the wife

The wife of the planter or minister is often overlooked as the most vulnerable person in a church.  She is the only one who, if she doesn’t like the church, is not able to leave.  Volunteers can always leave a church they are not happy with.  The planter, if he is not happy about the church can find another church to work in.  The planter’s or minister’s wife, cannot.  If there is someone you want to attack, to take down the church the planter would be good, but taking down his wife is far more effective.  And she is often an easy target for people within and without the church.  You may not like her, or agree with her, but for the sake of the church you need to protect her.

She is the only one in the church, who has a unique ministry to the pastor, as his wife. She needs to support her husband and her husband needs that unique support.  She usually ends up doing the admin of the church, running the kids ministry, heading up the women’s ministry and doing a heap of hospitality.

Her primary job is to look after her husband, your church planter, and the rest of the stuff is stuff someone else (that’s you!) can do.  So look after her: take stuff off her plate, send a her a text, write her a letter (if it is appropriate), ask how she is going and don’t assume that because she is the planter’s wife its all good. She’s human too.

 8. Care for the family

Planting a church takes more than just the planter, it will mean pressure on the whole family.  One of the things that happens in a church plant is that the planter’s family ends up doing a lot of hospitality.  Why not ask them over to your place to be hospitable to them?  Why not invite the new family to church to your place instead of expecting the church planter’s family to do?  Why not offer to babysit?  Why not have their kids come to your place and hang out for a while?

 9. Growth will cause problems

As a church you will be aiming to grow, but you need to remember growth will cause problems.  As new people join the church they won’t ‘get it’ like you, who have been there from the start, do.  That will be frustrating.  It will mean that there will be more people but just as many resources meaning that resources will be stretched.  One of those resources will be the leader.  As you grow you won’t have as much access to him.  At this point you need to remember that the aim of growth is not for you to feel comfortable.

10.  It’s a privilege to serve with you

So, they might say this, but it is still true.  The experience will make us all stretch and grow.  There will be days that, as planters, we will want to give up.  One of the reasons we don’t is because you are with us.

So thanks!