The last time I wrote was in the final week of last term at Uni. We were just entering into the two week class free period.
I took the first week off but didn’t go anywhere (Emma was still at work), so I had a holiday-at-home. Generally, this is not a great idea, it’s hard to relax when you are surrounded by your regular environment, but I enjoyed the week – read a few books, did very little.
The mid-weekend of the break was taken up with the Annual AFES National Board meeting. The AFES (the national fellowship of which FOCUS is a part) is governed by a Board who set and monitor the policies and direction of the organization. It has the responsibility, under God, to ensure that the AFES meets the legal requirements of being a large organisation and employer, and to ensure that the AFES doesn’t depart from its commitment to the truth of God’s word revealed in Scripture. The Board consists of people from all around Australia, and although we meet in Sydney six time in the year, it is usually very difficult for people from outside Sydney to attend. Hence the the annual weekend meeting where everyone from all over comes to town.
I always enjoy these meetings, there are some incredible, gifted, and godly people who serve on the AFES Board, it’s a great experience to be able to listen and learn from them, and to share whenever I can. The weekend is a great time for catching up with people that I only see once a year.
This year there is significant change and turnover in the people who serve on the Board, it is an area of concern and we are praying that God will raise up new leaders with the right skills to keep guiding the movement.
While I was in Sydney I stayed with Russ De Vries – my soon-to-be brother-in-law (what a lot of hyphens). Russ lives in Kirribilli, which is a beautiful part of Sydney, and I loved catching the train in the morning from the Milson’s Point station – right on the end of the Harbour Bridge. It rained a lot of the time I was in Sydney, but I thought it was beautiful looking out over the harbour through the misty rain.
I really enjoyed spending time with Naomi (my sister) and Russ. On Sunday afternoon we walked over the Harbour Bridge and then caught the ferry back from Circular Quay. I went along with them to their Church, known as ‘Church by the Bridge’ – descriptive… even if not imaginative. The minister is Paul Dale, a guy who has had a little involvement with FOCUS and is good friends with some of the guys at St Matt’s in Canberra. The service was great. It is refreshing to go along occasionally to see how other people do Church together. One of the hazards of full-time ministry is that you never get the chance to go to Church anywhere but at the place you lead. CBTB is a young Church that meets in an older Church building. They’ve thought through carefully how they will church together, and I particularly appreciated the sense of participation that was generated by the meeting leadership. It gave me lots of food for thought…
While on the topic: the doctrine of Church has boiling around in my head a lot lately. What is a Church? What are Churches meant to do? More importantly, what was Jesus’ intention for the movement that he founded? Does it bear any relation to what we call Church? Have we imported organizational and management theory and built our practices out of these rather than from theological reflection on Scripture? What is the relation between the Church and the New Creation? I’ve been struggling with these questions, because I have been gripped by an uneasy feeling that we might at times be seeking to build on Christ’s foundation with Hay and Straw rather than with Gold and Precious things (see 1 Cor 3:10-14). As I have answered some of these questions, others have sprung up to take their place…
On the Monday morning I headed down to our Crossroads Church staff retreat on the South Coast from Sydney in a place called Broulee, about 4.5 hours south of Sydney and about 2 hours east of Canberra. I hitched a lift with our newest member of staff, Anthony Kerr who will be joining the Uni ministry at the start of next year. We set off early because we had more ground to cover than the rest of the guys who were coming from Canberra. About 1/2 way there we got a call from Dave McDonald (the senior Pastor) saying that the van that the Canberra contingent were traveling in had blown a clutch. They managed to nurse it back to Canberra and borrow another van but it set them back several hours. Which meant that Anthony and I had heaps of time to take it easy. We stopped and had a great lunch at Ulladulla, went and picked up the keys to the house in Broulee from the Estate Agent, got the wrong house number and tried to break into someone else’s house, then found the right place and got settled in. I particularly enjoyed picking Anthony’s brain about his experience of Bible College and what to look for in a Trainee Minister position. (Background: it is expected that while studying at Moore Theological College, a student will also have a position in a Church, usually just 1 day a week, to keep being trained in hands-on ministry skills). It was great to have time to share with him about the ministry in Canberra and some of the challenges and opportunities. I think a real highlight however, was chewing over some theological issues. Anthony talked me through a theological issues paper he had written on Christians and the Final Judgement (what the Bible teaches Christians should expect in the final judgement). It was fascinating and probably helped me to straighten out a few ideas, I also quizzed him with some of my questions about Church. I think it was a bit of a foretaste of life at College, and it got me really excited for next year. It was wonderful to get to know Anthony better and to see God’s hand at work in his life and in bringing him to join our staff team – he is a great fit for the staff that we have and will be a blessing to the student ministry. It makes it a bit easier to leave when you know that the people you love and have been seeking to serve will be well cared for.
The staff retreat was inspiring, frustrating, tiring, and tremendously encouraging. The Crossroads team aren’t the most naturally gifted decision makers but given enough time, the discussion and emphasis on consensus and everyone having input meant that exciting ideas came up and some great decision were made. It was hard work, but there was great godliness and an attitude of service through it all. I wish that I could be around next year to see some of these things take root.
After the staff retreat, I had a couple of days at home, trying to get some order into the chaos of things I’d been neglecting for a fortnight. I led Church on Sunday night, I spent a lot of time thinking and praying about how to go about this. Part of my reflection on the topic of Church has led me to think that we are better served by thinking of Church as an action, rather than an organization. And primarily the action of God in gathering his people. It is the reversal of the Fall, the scattering at Babel, and the Exile, and it is not consummated until the great gathering at the throne of God. Our local gathering is an action of God through his Spirit with a direction toward that final gathering. All this thinking also made me realise that often in my leading of Church I have tried to focus on generating a sense of community, or speaking to each other about what it is we should be as a Church. I’m starting to think now that I should work harder at leading us in doing Church. That is, in doing the things that God is doing in and through us for his Kingdom and glory. Drawing from us humble repentance and dependent faith, filling us with thanks, joy, and praise, giving us a hunger to hear him speak, motivating us by love to respond and to build each other up. We say a lot in what we do, and we do a lot by what we say. I’m trying to remember this in our Church gathering.
Acts 20:28 Pay careful attention to yoursel
ves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.