Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Reflections on Engage 2010

The Katoomba Christian Convention is a great multi-denomination Christian ministry. KCC is the home of, 'Big: preaching. Big: Crowd. Big: Mountains. Big:Changes.'  Two weekends ago, Sarah and I were volunteers at one of their six annual conventions, on this occasion it was the first weekend of the Engage Conference for young workers.

The concept behind Engage is brilliant. In many ways its very existence is as a result of KCC's own success. The thousands of teenagers that formerly frequented the Katoomba Youth Convention (KYC) - which has since folded and been re-launched with an extra 'K' as KYCK - these same teens are now the young workers who are consistently selling out 1-2 weeks of the Engage conference. That's about 3000 people a year. But more than coming from the success of KYC, Engage arose from perceiving a need and then filling it. The transition from uni to the workforce is where a lot of individuals are losing contact with our churches. Thus the challenge is to get young workers to engage with Jesus, engage with their churches and, well, get them to Engage.

This year speaking was Tim Blencowe (a local Baptist dude) and Steve Timmis (The other half of Crowded House with Neil Finn). Both are godly and gifted men who served us well.

Some reflections from the weekend.
1. The motto for Engage is, 'Late starts and coffee carts'. This is a weekend for workers, so each day starts late, there are free newspapers available when you arrive Saturday morning for the 10:30 session, and there is a constant stream of coffee coming from the coffee carts. The whole thing was built ground up for workers. Having a clear, specific focus enables the details to simply fall into place. And its the details which make this weekend loved by workers, many of whom expect excellence Monday to Friday and appreciate it in all things.

2. Steve Timmis is from the Crowded House gospel community network, along with perhaps the more well known Tim Chester. The emphasis of these gospel communities is about trying to helpfully recapture the organic nature of church. Make it less about the event and more about sharing life. The irony police have scared me off using the word ironic, but surely this qualifies: Steve Timmis having to cut off half his talk due to time constraints on the meeting. So much for organic church life - there's nothing organic about the clock!

3. Apart from learning that I'll never be cool enough to be a Baptist preacher, the general teaching of the weekend was far removed from my cultural heritage of straight exegesis. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Tim especially used a fascinating way of unpacking Titus, which Ali sums up well. He started with a proposition: Because of the reformation, evangelicals are scared of talking about good works, but Christians are made in order to walk in them. He then spent two talks unpacking this proposition. It was good. I learnt a bunch about Titus and especially how good works is mentioned throughout the letter. There was plenty of personal challenge for me too.

4. Structurally, Tim's talk was thematic. But unfortunately, due to the time constraints, what Steve cut out of his talks was the exegesis. He started down that line, but then in both talks pretty much went straight to his conclusions (with a few tangents). So pretty much there was very little straight reading and analysis of the Bible in any of the talks. Personally I think with two speakers I'm a fan of the old AFES NTE method where one speaker was charged with the task of exegeting a book, the other with some form of systematics. That way, the basics don't get missed. 

5. I must have missed the memo, but at some point, every KCC speaker must have got together and decided that the church is fundamentally ignorant in our application of our creation theology. The kind of 'redeeming creation' vibe. This weekend, it was about redeeming the good in our work, making sure we work for excellence, ensuring we do good. I'm hearing this more and more and more, which is all good. It's probably prophetic to some degree. But I'm concerned when redeeming creation is starting to get equal billing with the gospel. The balance hasn't tipped yet, but it ain't too far away. At the moment its simply good critiquing of the church.

6. There was lots of talk about 'good works' from both speakers. The logic as far as I understood it was, these are workers, therefore lets talk about good works. Get it? I didn't see the profound connection. Its there somewhere, but I saw no clarity in this matter.

7. Its clear from the choice of Steve Timmis as a conference speaker that Engage were emphasising every member ministry. This is great. One of the interviewers during the weekend also mentioned how this conference was set-up "For those who have decided that vocational ministry is not for them, and that  they will be serving God by remaining in the workforce." All good. And yet, that wasn't who I was seeing at the conference. I saw a handful of keen uni students attracted by the speakers, I was seeing a bunch of generally well-educated uni graduates many of whom were the leaders amongst their various university ministries or churches. I think the emphasis of the conference against vocational ministry was sadly misdirected. Vocational ministry got mentioned positively once, during a throwaway line near the end of one of the talks, and negatively probably five times. More than that, one of the interviewees was a guy who probably had the worst of worst MTS apprenticeship experiences. He called it something like, 'The worst two years of my life'. But thankfully now he was doing something he loved in performing arts. Fair enough, it happens. And the young bloke spoke honestly and well. The emphasis in the interview wasn't on hating ministry but ethically navigating performing arts. But seriously, what's with the anti-ministry vibe of the weekend? The call for all should be the call to the gospel, with the emphasis that this will mean some of us need to reconsider what we're currently doing.

In the name of full disclosure, I'm reading my personal experience into my critique. Through my years involved with uni students, I've spent a lot of time trying to convince young health professionals to give up the job they love to do vocational ministry. These are Christians who love their work, love helping people (they are health professionals) and love using the skills they laboured through uni to attain. But when I continue to get bombarded with the many shortages of full-time paid gospel workers across Australia and the world, I am compelled to try to encourage those who are leaders, and are teachable, and are godly, and have a firm trust in Jesus, to give up their jobs that they love, in order to give an extra fifty hours a week to serving Jesus. These people have everything going for them except the desire. That is, the desire to be in 'ministry'. And my personal read is that many of these people who rightly love their jobs, need to hear the call of the gospel again with the gentle (not overt) encouragement to consider if they should leave said job. These people don't need further motivation to stay safe in their professions. We don't need to stoke that fire. I'm not saying Engage must be another MTS Challenge conference, but I am certain there is a way of preaching the gospel which both encourages those who will stay in the workforce to be gospel-minded, yet also lighting a fuse under those who should go. Even those who thought they'd already decided not to go.

The temptation here is, in creating a conference for young workers, we simply find a way to justify what we're already doing without the call to consider a change in direction based on gospel priorities. I don't see too many 'Big: changes' coming from what I heard on the weekend I was there. There was more the vibe of 'whatever you're doing now, its the right thing to be doing'. That kind of level of comfort doesn't sit well with me. 

Let me finish with a word of personal testimony. I was once a radiographer. That hurts me to say. I loved radiography. I loved going to work, I loved the people I worked with. I loved talking to the patients. I loved being paid a lot to do very little. I loved the way you could finish a day and have achieved measurable outcomes. And you know what? I mourn no longer being a radiographer. Sarah would testify about the times I lie awake at night thinking of going back. I try and work out ways I can keep a foot in the profession (usually involving taking my 'day off'). But I'm slowly realising that that is no longer me. I need to let it go, and cast aside that which is holding me back. I helped one of the students from uni get my old job, and Sarah and I got an email from her just last week saying how much she was enjoying the work. And all the old emotions came back again. Surely I can keep doing it, somehow? It takes the grace of God encouraging me through others to not go back to that which I loved. And yet the encouragement of my peers has me continuing on, floundering, exhausted, oftentimes incompetant at this little thing called serving God's people. The secular workforce pulls strong at my heartstrings. This is what is driving my own hurt at the unquestioned justification of remaining in secular work from Engage.

Some of you might be thinking I'm trying to justify my new position as a 'minister'. But that's not how I see it. Had I never left radiography, I would be of no more value to God. In many ways my life would be simpler. But, as others and myself feel God has given me certain abilities, if I stayed I would be of no less value to God, but I would be of less value to God's people.

There are many struggles that I have and continue to have in ministry. If its not the lies of Satan telling me that I'm just not made of the right stuff for this gospel work thingy, its usually the complete opposite - the pride or wrong motivations of being in a public role. And yet I'm haunted. I'm haunted by the ghost of about ten conversations I've had since I first made the choice to start an apprenticeship about three years ago. I was bombarded by men, and sometimes their wives. Older men in the faith, some from my home church. These men have served God mightily through their secular work. They have worked hard, given generously, served excessively. They are the backbone of their church. And yet these men who have done so much are ravaged with regret. For though they have done a great thing in God's sight by working hard for him, each of these guys thought about vocational ministry, and for one reason or another, decided against it. In hindsight, they know the cost of that decision, and despite what they have done, they know it gives just a taste of what more they might have done. If only.

I love Engage. It's a great initiative and a great ministry. I'm certain most delegates would have been strengthened in their faith in Jesus and resolve to serve him at work, through the weekends of the conference. But I hope many of those same delegates are continuing to be restless in their jobs. To always be desiring to be able to be even more effective servants of Christ. And I pray that many of them through the encouragement of Christians and the call of the gospel will lay aside their careers, to take those extra fifty hours a week to serve Jesus even more. And Engage will still be there, helping those who stay to be most effective, and continuing to agitate those who have that little thought in the back of their mind about paid ministry.

39 comments:

  1. "I'll never be cool enough to be a Baptist preacher"

    ....you should meet my husband. Trust me - cool is not a prerequisite!

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  2. Subscribing to comments. Interested in discussion.

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  3. Amen to needing to be challenged to leave jobs we love for the sake of the gospel. I have reoccurring dreams that I'm still at work and still "important" I wake up and for a moment I feel slightly disappointed.

    I think the "work as ministry" line is legitimate - but only if people are intentional about making their work ministry and not just running that line as a defence against any thought of being vocationally involved in ministry. I think we should be as involved in ministry as we possibly can - and I remember Phillip Jensen making a comment at NTE that basically ran counter to the model you're reporting here - basically he said that at the end of the conference if you weren't seriously considering full time ministry that he hadn't done his job. Even if the answer ended up being no, it's a consideration that I think comes part and parcel with conversion.

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  4. "Where are the young men and women of this generation who will hold their lives cheap, and be faithful even unto death, who will lose their lives for Christ’s, flinging them away for love of him? Where are those who will live dangerously, and be reckless in this service?" Howard Guinness.

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  5. "But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God." Acts 20:24

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  6. @ Gordo
    I should have known not to click the link!

    @ Nicole
    People assure Tim isn't cool either. But he just has a vibe about him in his preaching.

    @Nathan
    "I think the "work as ministry" line is legitimate"

    Yeah, I don't want to go too far the other way myself and downplay what it means to be faithful to God in simply working well. Steve Timmis was right in pointing out that because of their position, and number, the non-professional ministers (which is what secular workers are), are really on the front line of evangelism.

    It is interesting to consider whether simply working a job faithfully is 'ministry'. One of the speakers mentioned, "I think about the humble worker in the third world, who works long days, every day just in order to survive and feed his family. This is a faithful worker for God." To which I cannot but offer a heartfelt 'amen'. But with the luxuries we have as westerners, surely we are doing more than surviving. What does it mean to be a worker/minister in a culture that is thriving?

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  7. A couple of quick thoughts on what I think might be false dichotomies, here:

    1. 'Doing good' (which some express as 'redeeming creation') can't be set up in opposition to the gospel. Following O'Donovan, the logic of the gospel includes morality — the possibility of 'doing good' is an extra bit of good news. (I didn't hear this teased out at Engage, but I didn't hear all of all the talks.) The call to repentance is not abstract; it is not just a change of heart or a change of attitude; it's a concrete change of life. See, for example, John the Baptist's preaching in Luke 3: as he preaches 'repentance with a view to the forgiveness of sins', the people ask, "What then shall we do?", and John gives concrete examples of repentance. When we have a thin view of sin (e.g. "sin isn't doing bad things; it's rebellion"), then we will also have a thin view of repentance and a thin view of salvation.

    But the good news is not just that we have been saved from God's wrath — the penalty for our sin — at the last day (though this is wonderfully true); it's also that we've been saved from God's wrath — the power of sin over us, which God has handed us over to — now. We are saved not just from sin, but from sins. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we have a new heart and can now devote ourselves to doing good (e.g. Romans 5–8, or the whole book of Titus) — walking in those good works which God by grace has prepared for us to do.

    Further, sin is not just morally bad; it is also bad for us — it's self-destructive; sinners receive in themselves the due penalty for their error — wrath now, along with wrath at the last day. And so salvation and a righteous life are also good for us now. That can only be good news. Therefore none of this is additional to the gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord, but an integral part of it.

    2. 'Ministry' and 'work'. All of our lives are given in service to and worship of the Lord Jesus. This doesn't just mean formal, rostered service or paid church work. I might tell a story to show why I think a narrow view of 'ministry' won't help us with discipleship and mission.

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  8. My story of how I gave up paid church work for the sake of Jesus:

    I became Christian at uni and was both overtly and indirectly (through the Christian subculture) encouraged not to maintain friendships with unbelievers. I went on to MTS and Bible college, by which time I had literally no unbelieving friends. When I thought about evangelism, it was never in a relational context (though I did plenty of door-knocking, walk-up evangelism, and evangelistic preaching). I know this isn't everybody's story, but nor do I think I'm unique. (Facebook can be a helpful diagnostic for our ratio of believing/unbelieving friends.)

    While at Bible college, I was in church with a man who was a handyman and worked a day a week in a local charity shop. His children were in the local school. He knew hundreds of people in the suburb. One day, I was doing some painting with him, and I heard him speaking the gospel in the next room with another worker. And it was there that it struck me: this man (and not I) was the public face of Jesus in that suburb. He was the one who needed to learn how to be a better husband, father, employer, and so on; he could not just tell people, but also show them what a difference Jesus makes. And if we wanted to reach the suburb and the city with the gospel, we needed thousands of such people, together showing and proclaiming the love of Jesus to the world.

    I'm not saying that there's no place for paid church work, but it seems to me that it's better for me not to do it. For the sake of Jesus' glory, I think it's better for me to be in a regular workplace where I get plenty of opportunities to show and tell about Jesus (and think ethically about how to help others do likewise). In making this decision to move away from paid church work, I've taken a significant pay-cut, abandoned job security, and forfeited (sub)cultural cachet. (Not that I think you have to do this, but it's worth noting that paid church work doesn't always involve sacrificing these things.)

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  9. I didn't actually think the weekend was "anti-ministry", it was just more "pro-work". I have to agree with Stuart (and I actually liked Steve Timmis's line that secular workers are the coalface of gospel work). Truth, it's a lot easier and more comfortable for me to write and lead bible studies for the women at church, than it is to begin and have gospel conversations with people at work. And I don't spend all day having gospel conversations at work, but from what I observe of those I know in paid ministry, they spend the VAST majority of their time with those who've already heard and believed the gospel (and as Steve said, rely on the workers to bring in the people for the evangelism). So in that sense the term "gospel work" can be confusing. And if you say "doing good" is in opposition to the "gospel" then where do things like reading the bible with other Christians or women teaching others to love their husbands and children fit in (which is much of what women in "ministry" do) - is it "doing good" or "gospel"?

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  10. Hi Stuart, thanks for your comments.

    I think your exploration of the relationship between good works and the gospel is helpful and clear. Also, I would guess that the speakers/emcees from the conference agree with a lot of what you've said. But your clarity highlights that this relationship wasn't spelled out as clearly as it could have been during the talks, even though the concepts behind them clearly influenced what was said.

    Thanks also for your story. What a prime example of how you don't need to do vocational ministry to be focused on proclaiming the gospel. This is what we all should aim to be like. But I think you've highlighted a deficiency not in the concept of vocational ministry, but in the practice.

    Having been matured in university ministry, evangelism was the basis of most of my week. And I know its a unique form of ministry, but have a look at Ben Pfahlert's post on the Sola Panel yesterday to see that being in a more structured role without the 'obvious' contact with non-Christians, doesn't prevent you from the task of evangelism. But even to read all the things Benny is doing, is to exhaust most fathers who are working full-time. It would I imagine be difficult for them to be so involved.

    During my apprenticeship I was reading the Bible with a handful of non-Christian guys, a few of whom came to faith (though not always sure how well they're staying with Jesus these days!). And I was always trying to develop other relationships. But what I was able to achieve was so much more evangelism than that which I was doing when I was a radiographer which was the kind of 'drip, drip', long term work relationships.

    Ministers need a bit of gospel intention, like everyone. But depending on your work, you may not have a swathe of relationships that will form naturally around your job.

    I'm just blabbing on now. What I'm trying to say is best said in response to Ali...

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  11. @Izaac -- thanks for your honesty, brother. I can see your struggle. I think that it's fair to say that many workers (who don't go to paid work) are asking the same question as you: how can they give up their lives for Jesus's sake?

    @Acevedo Williams -- That Howard Guiness quote is great. And it would apply to all that Tim and Steve said from the Bible all weekend.

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  12. clarify: (who don't go to paid work at a church, or parachurch.)

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  13. Hi Ali,

    Yeah, my frame of reference through which I was seeing the weekend may have influenced my feel of 'anti-ministry'. It was a number of brief comments during the talks, the announcement that (I think it was Justin) Engage is for those who have decided against full-time paid ministry, and the interview which recounted the horror of horror apprenticeship story which then contrasted that to the enjoyment of working in a field the guy enjoyed where he could express himself creatively. I just felt this kind of worked in the background to a few other comments.

    And when I quoted Steve on how workers are at the coal-face of evangelism - I was agreeing with him. Its an insightful saying. And your view of ministry being towards believers is spot on for lots of gospel workers. But it doesn't have to be that way. That's a choice based on comfort, or expectation, or history. But those same ministers are in many ways preparing the saints for the work of evangelism, but thats best done by engaging in that themselves.

    It also depends on your philosophy of ministry. A lot of people don't feel like they can evangelise, and thats why they bring friends to church. It is often through these relationships (or of family members of believers) that a lot of ministers will do their evangelism.

    So what I'm saying is the vocational minister does less evangelism by choice, not design. As well as (and as a way of) caring for, and encouraging the saints, the minister should also have more freedom for evangelism than what most people get in their regular 9-5.

    In terms of creating distinctions between 'doing good' and 'gospelising', I think I was saying that this distinction (as Stuart indicated) is in some ways false (which is what one of the big ideas I got from the conference). And yet in the next breath, we can't lose the distinction because working hard as a radiographer was a faithful, godly thing to do, but didn't in its essence proclaim the gospel. In fact, in some ways I worked less than my colleagues because I chose to take holidays to rest with my wife and our families, rather than save them all up for a one-off hedonistic overseas jaunt.

    So I think I'm saying a few things.
    1. A good work is a good work. We should do good works. Not all good work is evangelism.
    2. Steve's comment about ministers not being evangelists is insightful, but need not necessarily true. Most people are fearful in some ways of talking about Jesus. Ministers can just hide a bit easier than those of us who have to go and work with non-Christians every day and God keeps providing opportunities for us. Ideally, not having to work can (?should) allow a person more time for evangelism.

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  14. I think your comment on Ben's post is a good illustration of why we need to work as a body, Izaac.

    I'm not naturally very friendly, and I'm not good at organizing things (e.g. DVDs in my loungeroom, picnics in the park, walks in the Blue Mountains) where non-Christians and Christians can meet and get to know one another.

    But I'm not bad at helping people see how Jesus offers them hope in the details of their workplace or family.

    Of course, we all need to be able to give a reason for the hope that is in us to anyone who asks. But we're not all going to be crack evangelists.

    We need to work in concert then, so that those who are good at building good relationships and those who are good at hospitality and those who are good at speaking the gospel clearly each play their rôle in making disciples. None of us is omni-gifted, and God didn't intend for us to be solo missionaries.

    All this means that we need to be intentional in the way that we build friendships, so that my network of Christian relationships and non-Christian relationships intersect as much as possible. (For us, this has meant not pursuing some Christian friendships, so that we have time to get to know and bless the same unbelievers.)

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  15. Wow, I was quote paraphrasing Justin as he was commenting. Welcome.

    "It's fair to say that many workers (who don't go to paid work at a church, parachurch) are asking the same question as you: how can they give up their lives for Jesus's sake?"

    Yeah, that's spot on. And when its said that simply, and broadly it becomes clear its the same question for everyone. My reflection is perhaps that amongst all the focus on work (it is a conference for workers, after all) that the general nature of the call to faithfulness was almost too focused. To the point where, the question was only 'How can I serve God where I am?', rather than 'How can I serve God most, and then what does that mean for where I am?'

    Does that make sense?

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  16. Thanks again Stuart,

    The body image is so multi-layered. I love it. It clarifies so many points! The last thing I want to communicate is that EVERYONE should be looking at vocational ministry, or even that everyone is gifted the same way in evangelism. And so evangelising as a body is helpful and desirable (maybe you can help Ben Pfahlert come up with a better line than 'hunting in packs')

    I can see how my post could be seen to be leaning towards a 'Let's all go' or a 'We are all gifted similarly for service'. So I'm gald you have highlighted this. However, my comments were that personally, considering the people I knew at the conference, and the general grasp of the gospel and ability to teach that many sydney Christians have, to neglect the more general call of the gospel was perhaps a bit of a mis-read of where most of these people are at.

    I could be wrong. I do have limited circles in which I know people, but I knew a bunch of people there who are godly, teachable, incredibly gifted, and way too comfortable in the workforce. Many of these friends have considered gospel work, and some are still considering, and I hope that process continues.Yet I wonder if in some ways, the way the conversation was framed, may not have facilitated this process.

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  17. Another thing is, my mentor Marty Field was always in our ears about not planning too far into the future. How are we serving God now? That's always the best plan for getting people interested in vocational ministry. Get them telling people about Jesus, get them serving now. And so again the general call to live in light of Jesus appearing and his kingdom needs to be broad enough to unsettle us all. I think this is what Engage is trying to do. I question whether a few undertones of the weekend may have worked against this goal.

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  18. Sounds to me, though, like you've still got a special category for paid church work (I assume that's what you're calling 'gospel work'), and that somehow that's a preferable/better/fuller way of serving Jesus. And so those who aren't doing paid church work (or aren't considering it) are somehow serving deficiently.

    I'd want to dispute that: I just don't see it in the NT.

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  19. Hi Isaac. This is a great post. I loved reading your thoughts. It is a fantastic encouragement for us that your thinking has been stimulated and that you enjoyed the weekend so much.

    I pray that you will keep working out what God has in store for your life of service of Him. And whether it ends up being as a church worker or a radiographer it will all be for His glory. No cookie-cutter life! Isn't it a wonderful relief that God has a place for each and every one of us in His church regardless of our particular gifts?

    Can I say I am surprised to hear you mention an emphasis against vocational ministry. I am not sure where this came from.

    You acknowledge that the interview was one person's journey and not a model - and so it was. Not a story we often hear though: how someone finds their feet in life again after discovering that the life they have been assured is the "best life" is just not one they can live out. It wasn’t the point of the interview, but it was very honest and very real.

    And yet, you will recall this was balanced by a very clear (and exegetical) talk on Sunday morning on the special place of God's Work ie. the ministry of the Word of God, and that the challenge was there for those who needed to hear it. If you missed it, do download the talk. (I throw this in as a hint for any of your readers who weren't actually at the conference, yet are drawing big conclusions from your comments.)

    I do appreciate that you said "vibe" by which I take it you mean that it was not stated. And indeed I affirm that it was not at any point. I wonder... could it be that the absence of the now normal skew the other way helped contribute to the "vibe" you felt? Just a thought.

    I humbly submit (having heard it all twice now) that the big message of the weekend was that we all serve in different ways as part of the one household, with the appropriately gifted (!) people doing the crucial work of paid word ministry, but with most of us remaining on the front line. All of us are partners together in the one work of the household, living out and proclaiming the gospel of grace.

    That was the vibe I heard reflected back in many conversations, and we worked hard to achieve it.

    What does it mean to be a worker/minister in our culture? Now you’re talkin’! I pray we keep working it out together. It is, after all, of critical importance to all but a very few Christians (James 3:1).

    God bless mate and good on you. It is just awesome that you are working this through. I, for one, think we all have much more work to do on it. See you next year!

    Andrew Nixon
    Chair engage committee

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  20. Thanks Izaac,

    It's helpful to hear you making some distinction between "evangelism" and ministry towards believers, because I think I was operating on the assumption that everything those in paid ministry do is considered "gospel work" (as it often seems to be spoken of that way) and I have often wondered if that was actually the case (perhaps we need to speak more of "gospel proclamation" for the actual spreading of the gospel). That said, it would seem the apostle Paul did a lot of gospel proclamation but also a lot of building up/teaching the saints and I am not sure he would have drawn a line, or where he would have drawn it.

    And it's true, the reality is that I think I am reasonably good at "pre-evangelism" ie letting everyone know I am a Christian, chattering on about church stuff, inviting people to things, but I am less confident that all those I've had contact with would have heard the whole gospel clearly articulated, so I do appreciate being able to bounce of "evangelistic events", to be sure of that. (A girl from work is actually coming to an art exhibition at my church with me tonight, which is not of itself evangelistic (though that is coming at the judging night) and I'm not especially looking forward to trying to work with it over dinner, though I feel burdened to do so.)

    And after writing the above I have just discovered the related comments here about working as a body - Amen to that!

    P.S. I don't actually have much to do this afternoon, owing to a system failure, which is why I am at work spending my time commenting on blogs about work :).

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  21. Wow, I was quote paraphrasing Justin as he was commenting. Welcome.

    A pleasure to be here...

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  22. Ah, we're all overlapping and I missed a few of the above. All very interesting ...

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  23. 1Corinthians 7:32ff Stuart. If singleness is better and more undivided in one sense, why not professionally employed pastors?

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  24. Re: Stuart's post about his decision - I think that's a wonderful example of how to approach the decision, but I agree with Izaac that it's not necessarily an indictment of paid ministry per say, but our approach to paid ministry.

    My aim, in paid ministry (and this is an ideal and I'm fully aware of the time constraints traditionally involved in paid ministry roles and all the admin and meetings, and extra-curricular demands), will be to have more non-Christian friends (or contacts) in my area than most of my parishioners. I think this is one area where we need to practice what we preach.

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  25. Good post & good convo.

    FWIW, as a current MTS'er I didn't feel the negative vibe - actually the opposite!

    What stuck in my mind from Weekend 1 that I though helpful was Tim saying (roughly, I think): some of you NEED to go and do MTS and serve God in full-time paid, but for some of you that would be the worst thing you could do.

    The message I heard, coupled with the example of the family in India where one child trained as a doctor & one as a preacher, was that we need *both*.

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  26. Hey Izaac,

    It's refreshing to hear of your personal and ongoing grief about what you've given up in your radiography career. So helpful to hear that rather than being a one-off decision, there is actually an ongoing sacrifice in continuing to do what you decided to be best (as opposed to what is good) all those years ago. Sort of like driving to the ATM to get cash out to give every Sunday- you feel the pain of deliberately giving away your money for something you think worthwhile- as opposed to setting up your electronic giving and never thinking about it (or 'feeling' it) again.

    So as much as I feel for you in your longing for a high-fallutin' radiography career, I also like that you still feel the cost of what you've given up. Much better than having a bunch of career ministers who are only doing it because it's their only option!

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  27. Just a quick note to mention that Izaac kindly deleted my comment above. Thanks especially to the individual concerned who pointed out (in another context) how the comment could have been construed, and likewise, my apologies.

    Like Izaac I've been to Engage in the past and think it's a conference with a lot to offer. Some of the issues that Izaac has raised are well worth digging into, but I will be a blog-hog and save those for my own little corner of cyberspace. ;-)

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  28. @ Stuart
    "Sounds to me, though, like you've still got a special category for paid church work (I assume that's what you're calling 'gospel work'), and that somehow that's a preferable/better/fuller way of serving Jesus."

    In a way I do. Had I chosen to stay as a radiographer it would have been for personal comfort, and in rejection of the encouragement of the Christian community who were wanting me to give that up for paid church work. For me to stay (but not for everyone) would have been the comfortable decision, and the wrong one.

    Some people like yourself make the decision for paid ministry and then decide that was the wrong choice. That also is the right decision. But the question is not what is better, but how is it best for me to serve in light of your situation and the age of repentance and forgiveness of sins being proclaimed.

    "And so those who aren't doing paid church work (or aren't considering it) are somehow serving deficiently."

    I would never draw that as a blanket conclusion. However, for some people, including myself, to have stayed in the situation I was in, I would classify as serving deficiently. There are bad reasons to stay in work, there are good reasons to stay in work. Just like there are bad reasons for doing paid ministry and good reason for doing paid ministry.

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  29. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for your graciousness in recognising that I wasn't just dumping on Engage. Regular readers of the blog recognise the tone I take is a reflection of me battling within my mind and reflecting on my own practice of serving God. And so most problems I've had in blogging come when these reflections intersect with existing structures on which I offer reflection, and these comments being taken outside of the general tone of my blog by non-readers. So thank you for your graciousness.

    I chose my words 'anti-ministry vibe' very deliberately. I mean, there were stalls organised for Bible colleges there! On reflection, and in discussion with Sarah my wife, it is my understanding that I may have been too harsh in feeling this vibe, as influenced by my personal position and experience. I know anti-ministry is not even the conviction of the speakers (seeing they're in paid ministry themselves).

    That said, what I thought I had detected was a kind of theme or sub-level micro-narrative was being created against vocational ministry. Though not explicitly outlined, I thought this had been created through the comment about Engage being for workers who had decided against ministry, as well as the invitation of Steve Timmis who is very much an individual who emphasises (helpfully) serving God in the everyday, and the aforementioned interview which outlined a failed foray into an apprenticeship, followed by subsequent joy and deliverance found in a job where the guy could express his creativity. Not only this, being affected by knowing many people there whose congregations see them as being candidates for full-time ministry but who individually are unwilling to even consider trying an apprenticeship.

    So at that point, I felt it was a kind of mis-read of the people who were actually there. Again, tainted by the small selection of individuals I know. But the strong Christian heritage of many of these workers, combined with godly character, an aptitude to learn and teach means with the genrosity of God to us, means I think many (of course not all) of these people should feel the itch of doing even more ministry than working in their current job allows.

    I want to be clear I'm not trying to create two kinds of Christians, or to be justifying my own decisions. I know that I am only in ministry standing on the support of those faithfully working regular jobs. Nor do I want to communicate that faithfully serving in the workforce is sub-Christian or not useful and honouring to God. I just felt (though I am beginning to question whether it was felt accurately) that the encouragement to workers, could still be achieved, while still pushing those who need to, towards a bigger serving role.

    Another thing is, I'm also not a fan of over-pushing or overselling MTS. My wife and I had a really difficult time. To the point where at the end of my second year after the MTS challenge conference, I was speaking to Ben Pfahlert and encouraging him not to necessarily put those up on stage to be interviewed who had only had glowing experiences, because its not reflective of everyone (or even of most), and can create wrong expectations. The indicative behind the apprenticeship is not that its going to be the best thing you've ever done in your life.

    So what am I saying?

    I don't think anti-ministry is the conviction of Engage. I do think the potential was there for this narrative to be working below the surface. I think the strength of the conference is in its confined focus. I also think this focus can lead to some imbalances, but need not necessarily do so.

    I have the talks (as a generous gift from the Engage committee for volunteering). I plan on both listening to them again as well as volunteering in 2011 to serve those workers!

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  30. Hi Sam,

    It's great you enjoyed the conference too.

    "What stuck in my mind from Weekend 1 that I though helpful was Tim saying (roughly, I think): some of you NEED to go and do MTS and serve God in full-time paid, but for some of you that would be the worst thing you could do"

    Yeah, that was the line I was talking about. Which you translated positively. And which I was imagining a lot of those considering the challenges doing MTS would involve translated as, "For me, doing MTS would be the worst thing I could do."

    You're only convincing me more and more that I've read too much of my own experience into my reflections of the conference on a more general level.

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  31. @Mikey: Interesting that you should choose this chapter, where the refrain is "stay as you are" — whatever your circumstances, serve Jesus there ;)

    Meanwhile, I think Paul's argument for singleness here is that it is simpler. Assuming we allow an analogy to paid church work, then I can imagine circumstances in which working for a church makes someone's life simpler. But I can equally imagine that it makes it more complicated — it's less structured, the hours can be unpredictable and family-unfriendly, you get saddled with a bunch of tasks (admin, people management, etc.) at which you're not necessarily competent…

    Further, there are other factors to consider apart from simplicity. When Paul such factors to bear (e.g. 1 Cor 7:9, 36f; 1 Tim 5:11–14), his advice is to marry. This is precisely my point: for some of us, there has been a blanket belief that paid church work is better. But we need to bring a whole bunch of factors to bear on that point.

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  32. @Izaac: my point is not that no one should work for a church. What I'm reacting to is the notion that properly serving Jesus = working for a church.

    This is the way I was indoctrinated at uni: the best way to serve Jesus is to work for a church. As I was repeatedly told, "Don't ask, 'Why should I go into full-time ministry?' [a misleading term for paid church work], but ask, 'Why shouldn't I?'"

    This can leave people doing non-church work feeling like second-class Christians. (Little wonder, perhaps, that such a gospel be unappealing to men.)

    I got hints of this in your desire to persuade people to leave their workplaces for 'full-time gospel work', or the notion that working for a church is answering 'the call of the gospel'. Aren't we all in full-time gospel work? I told my story as an illustration that the call of the gospel might be not to work for a church.

    If we are not serving Jesus very well in our workplace (as radiographer, artist, farmhand, etc.), the solution isn't going to work for a church: the solution is to start to serve Jesus better where we are. That is the call to 'Big: changes' that we need to hear. That's the call of the gospel.

    Partly it's fleshing out our view of work (which I hope will happen at Engage in the future), to show that our work itself is a means of being a blessing to others. It's not just a means to making money or to creating evangelistic opportunities. But that's a bigger discussion for another time :)

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  33. I agree with most of what you're saying.

    But you wrote: "that somehow that's a preferable/better/fuller way of serving Jesus. And so those who aren't doing paid church work (or aren't considering it) are somehow serving deficiently.

    I'd want to dispute that: I just don't see it in the NT."

    All I'm saying is that Paul argues, all things being equal that being single is better. Saying something is better, all things being equal, is pretty normal NT teaching.

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  34. Stuart I feel we are disagreeing on minutiae. But I see how your experiences are reinforcing where you are coming from.

    My gut thought is we are all inclined towards making clergy (I'm using this term for clarity) more than what they are. That is true for clergy who want to be more important than what they are actually doing under God, and oftentimes from those in opposition (the so-called 'laity'). Its a stupid distinction because its not a real one, the 'clergy' always need to be brought down a few notches, or in fact as many notches as it takes to realise we are the laity.

    Maybe I don't feel a lot of the things you're saying because my temptation is to go back to secular work as I find it easier. So as someone at college pointed out, the last thing we want to be doing is constantly have ministry folk interviewed up the front saying "I was a brain surgeon but now I'm doing something worthwhile.' This does communicate some things unhelpfully about what the 'clergy' actually do, and undervalues the normal everyday worker who follows Jesus. But I'm more likely to say 'This is the hardest thing I've ever done. I wish people discouraged me a bit more so I could pack it all in. But I wouldn't do anything else.' ...

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  35. A few things in point form because its late.
    1. I'm so acutely aware (having had a ministry position funded from supporters apart from the people I was serving) that if any of us go into paid ministry, it is standing on the shoulders of faithful workers going about their lives in normal jobs as they honour God in that. Anything extra that I'm able to do because I'm not working 9-5, at least as I see it, I'm doing with and for those supporting me. Every Christian is called to the ministry of the gospel. Some of those called to the ministry of the gospel called me to do even more.
    2. To some degree, our default position is working a job and serving Jesus in that.
    3. I think a lot of my issues with Engage was that perhaps they had misread where people were at in their thinking.
    4. There must be some creedance given to the freedom the paid gospel worker has to do more work being (all things being equal) a better use of time for that individual (with all the clarifications as above including acknowledging the encouragement and support of faithful workers allowing this freedom)
    5. There are more Christians wanting to support people to set aside secular work for paid gospel ministry than there are people willing to set aside their work.
    6. The emphasis on uni ministiries posing the question they do (whether rightly or wrongly) is that the university system at least in terms of aptitude, has done a lot of the selection of candidates for paid gospel work for the church. That is not to say your average tradie isn't suited. But in terms of ability to be taught, oftentimes ability to teach, as well as (but not always) social skills - enables a person to go to uni. These are all sideline issues compared to godliness and conviction of the truth, but in terms of aptitude for ministry, this selection process cannot be ignored. Also just the time of life people are at makes them generally more available to be making big life changes than others. All this leads to the reason behind uni ministries emphasising paid gospel work in a way that will not occur in most local churches.
    7. My point is very similar to yours in that the call is to be serving Jesus as much as we can, without any judgment on value based upon what the answer to that question is. WHich was kind of my original point - the call is the same to everyone, though the answer is different to everyone.
    8. Yes, your last point does need further discussion for another time, but I will go down fighting that being a good radiographer itself will not save anyone. It is good, working hard at that is being faithful to God, and good for our community, and that it is absolutely not going to have eternal consequences for souls. I am convinced that God brings that about through people talking about Jesus to other people, not through Christians being good examples. Yeah, yeah, a million clarifications. The two can't be separated, and all that. But it is not the same thing. We cannot lose the distinction.

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  36. @Mikey: Again, assuming that we allow the analogy (and I'm not exactly convinced), there's a quibble on 'better', here. Better for what?

    Paid church work might be better for focusing on formal ministry and those 20% of the population who come into church buildings. But it's not necessarily better for littering with the gospel workplaces and parks and bowling clubs where the 80% are. It might be better for leading by word, but it's not necessarily better for leading by example. It might be better for 30-minute monologues, but it's not necessarily better for teaching along the road.

    That is, it's a useful part of the body of Christ, but it's not better in some blanket way.

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  37. @Izaac: It seems that I've unfairly ascribed to you other people's theological positions on ministry. Please forgive me for that.

    Our disagreement, then, such as it is, flows out of a nest of other issues, and since I already feel bad about clogging this thread, I won't go into them here. They're probably better addressed through speaking, anyway :)

    A couple of brief thoughts, then, before I retire from this thread, tail between legs:
    3. No doubt this is affected by one's milieu. For me, I feel like I've consistently heard the message that non-church work is second-rate, so if there's one platform where 'regular' work for Jesus is championed, it's sorely needed.
    4. I'm not sure about this 'more work'. Again, it suggests to me a two-tier view of work.
    6. According to the ABS, 27% of Australians aged 25–64 had a bachelor degree or above in 2009. Many of us with degrees are not very good at communicating with the other 73%. I learnt to teach doing ESL training, but I'm still out of my depth when it comes to speaking to non-tertiary-educated folk.

    Moreover, I think teachability and ability to teach are not primarily academic questions. They are about softness of heart and wisdom. Teaching includes not just monologuing, but teaching by the road and modelling. We mustn't privilege head-knowledge over spiritual wisdom and insight and a godly life to be imitated.

    (Again, there's nothing wrong with uni grads becoming paid pastors. But it's a problem if only uni grads become paid pastors. And it's a problem if our only church leaders are paid staff.)

    8. This sounds a little reductionistic to me. Firstly, evangelism is not the only good. Secondly, how do people actually hear about Jesus? It generally seems to involve relationships, not just a sandwich board or talking head. So yes, people only come to know Christ through speaking the gospel. But most people only hear the gospel spoken because of a relationship with someone who follows Jesus. (Of course, God can and does use other means, but both the NT and common experience teach us that relationships are key.) So I'm just not convinced that leaving the workplace is going to result in more evangelism for most people. Just being a radiographer won't see anyone saved; just being a paid church worker won't see anyone saved, either.

    (Incidentally, on the issue of what kind of ministry most paid church workers do, it'd be good to get some proper studies on this, rather than just anecdotes. In any case, we can't be satisfied with what should be, but with what is. It's no good assessing an ideal of what paid church work might involve; we need to assess actual practice. We can't wish an alternative world into existence.)

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  38. Stuart, I agree with you on the danger of creating a two-tier view of work. And from further reflection there is every chance there is a bit of reaction against this riding in the background of Engage.

    Partly I think the corrective needs to be there, and I think you personally should keep offering a dissenting voice, because I'm convinced your testimony and differences of opinion to many can be part of creating a balanced view.

    Yet perhaps we're seeing the same problem with different solutions.

    Problem: Two-tiered view of work which downplays regular jobs.

    What I think is happening at Engage is they are primarily emphasising the value of the regular, which perhaps mistakenly I viewed as downplaying the Ministry. Those organisers of the conference who have commented here, have somewhat convincingly argued Engage was emphasising the value of regular work and wasn't dumping on the Ministry, but with their focus on workers didn't emphasise the Ministry.

    Now that I'm a few days older and wiser I can try to boil my critique down to a simpler proposition (to which you might still disagree):
    The goal of raising the opinion of serving God in the everyday was met. (This I would anticipate you saying, is where we can stop)

    What personally I would like to see more of is framing this within a broader category of determining whether I need to consider a few more therefore's. The first implication is I serve God where I am, I seek to be a good, godly worker, I seek to speak the gospel as able. But there are more implications (where we seem to disagree, and I start getting longwinded again), such as would a different job be better suited to my gifts? Does this career give me freedom to get into other countries where otherwise Christians cannot go? Is this work putting undue pressure on family/church commitments?

    I just picked these examples arbitrarily. And I anticipate for most, the answer will be, I am supporting my family and church both economically and with my time, this is a good job, where I won't be lazy and can be an honest citizen and godly witness, I am not being challenged by others to consider the Ministry, and so I will stay. But I think we are all richer for asking these questions. It need not be done in a way driven by guilt. The impetus is always the gospel. I am constantly challenging myself even as someone in the Ministry (albeit a weird time of training) to question how my everyday actions are being shaped by gospel priorities. I think Engage is seeking to do this, and I realise how nitpicky it sounds, but I think I'm saying the 'workers' need to hear the same thing every believer does. The method of telling will be different, the illustrations will be different, some of the applications will be more focused, but there's a broad nature to the gospel calling for everyday taking up our cross and following Jesus which involves an ongoing uncontrollable itch to want to be maximising my effectiveness as a servant of God.

    It's all a matter of balance and personal opinion. We don't want to lose the general in the specific.

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  39. On other issues you raised;
    We really need to understand more how educational differences affect our relationships and expression of the gospel. I'm a son of a builder, and I know the relational nature, and the profound simplicity of tradies. They don't let you get by with any nonsense, and they know how to cut through the fat of a conversation. Most of my mentors in the faith growing up were some kind of tradesman, which is just country life I suppose. My own personal experience of most these kind of guys is exactly as you say, they work with their hands, they are judged not by their ideas, but their actions, and they don't have time for nonsense. In essence tradies are custom built for being great Christian examples. For the most part, I also see most of these blokes, the thought of sitting down and teaching the Bible and thinking hard on the Bible, and being responsible for teaching it soundly would be a form of punishment for them. The reality is they do this anyway, but I don't know, relationally they seem to talk to others best when it is based around a task, rather than that being the sole part of their day. Also there's something about working with your hands which sees the immediate implications of Biblical truth as it will work out in your job the next day. This tension between wanting to know the truth but being able to see quickly how this changes action, means in many ways being in the Ministry would slow these guys down, and not play to their strengths. I have no big point here. Perhaps, tradies are beasts that were never meant to be caged. But I can think of individuals in my mind who break everyone of the stereotypes I just attempted to create.

    Okay new big idea: Those without tertiary education often understand the gospel and its applications more profoundly than the supposedly intelligent. Thus individuals from amongst this group also will inevitably be suited to the Ministry, and are just as worth watching and encouraging towards considering the outworking of the gospel could mean giving up the job, if that would enable better gospel opportunities.


    "Again, there's nothing wrong with uni grads becoming paid pastors. But it's a problem if only uni grads become paid pastors. And it's a problem if our only church leaders are paid staff."
    Agreed. Anecdotally, the leaders of the church I grew up were primarily tradesmen. Some of whom have gone on/were encouraged into paid ministry (by which time they would have been tertiary educated, thus blurring some things)

    "Just being a radiographer won't see anyone saved; just being a paid church worker won't see anyone saved, either."
    Can't argue with that logic. I guess it's all about how those extra 40-50 hours are spent. If a radiographer does his radiography well he will be greatly (and appropriately) limited in the time and energy available for gospel proclamation whether evangelistically or towards the church family. The Minister doing his job well (and not spending all day blogging) has more discretionary time which may or may not be filled with appropriate things, but nonetheless has that time which the worker does not.

    Aaarrrrgggghhhhhhh. This thread is killing me. I also bid thee farewell.

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