I hope you’ll forgive the fact that this Rave is long overdue. There are two reasons. First, I really have been rather occupied, as you’ll see from what I’ll share with you in a moment. Second, I’ve been going through an unsettled, confusing time out of which it’s been hard to know what to say to my friends. Even now, I’m approaching this Rave with some uncertainty about what to share.
The BIG picture is this: I’m discovering afresh the goodness and faithfulness of God, and experiencing the sense of renewal and hope that comes with that. Concluding my ministry at Castle Hill Community Church was a huge step for me. I’m so grateful to God for the clear sense of leading and direction he gave me about that. Otherwise, I don’t think I could have gone through with it once I started to feel the fear of uncertainty about the future and the sadness of loss of friendships and my ‘place’ in ministry.
The farewell from Castle Hill was done so well. I’m immensely grateful to the many people who worked hard and with such creativity to make that so. Friends and colleagues massaged the truth sufficiently to make me sound pretty good, and I cried buckets. Above is a photo of the Ian Grant etching I was given, now framed and hanging in our lounge room. (Shame about the reflection in the photo!) Heading off overseas for nearly five weeks immediately afterward my farewell was precisely the distraction I needed. My only regret is that Heather was not able to join me on that trip and so she was left at home to do her grieving at leaving Castle Hill on her own. Our skype accounts got a real workout while I was overseas and those long conversations were precious.
Getting on the plane was a bit of a drama, but thanks to Peter Davidson serving as my driver I managed to get to Canberra to pick up my visa for the Ukraine then back to Sydney airport by midday. I was feeling a bit frazzled by all that, so was bewildered and blessed to be given an ‘operational upgrade’ to premium economy. My trip started in the Klong Toey slum of Bangkok in Thailand. Stepping out of premium economy into that environment creates some internal dissonance. What can one say about that? I was visiting the Barkers and McCartneys who live in that slum and are dear friends. We stay in touch in many electronic ways, but there’s nothing like actually turning up on someone’s doorstep to convey friendship and support.
Landing in the UK, I had a couple of days to overcome jetlag before getting into a solid schedule of preaching in churches, speaking at workshops and conferences, teaching at a Summer School, mentoring appointments and various other meetings. Some of the highlights:
- A side-trip of three days to Kiev, Ukraine where I led a conference on Christian leadership attended by leaders of Christian professional organisations – Christian Lawyers’ Association, Christian Journalists’ Association and so on. These people inspired me with their vision and determination to bring the kingdom of God to bear for the transformation of society.
- A meeting with my publisher who is keen on the idea I have for my next book. No easy ride though – he has asked some very tough questions all of which will make the final product better. Now I just have to be disciplined enough to set aside the time to write.
- Settling a contract with Together in Mission/Springdale College to work for them over three years 2012-2014 in the area of mentoring. I’ll be setting up a mentoring service and training mentors for missional leaders. This will involve me travelling to the UK three times each year for 5 or 6 weeks at a time and also doing some work for them while I’m at home in Australia. It amounts to a half-time role.
Returning to Sydney I took a week to rest before starting in a new role with Australian College of Ministries (ACOM) as part of their national faculty. Although it is only for 90 days per year – a bit less than two days a week on average – it is a wonderfully diverse role in which I will do some teaching, facilitation of residentials, course development, mentoring of students, unit supervision and representation. Apparently my Doctorate comes in handy for ACOM when it comes to them ticking boxes for accreditation purposes. That was never in my mind when I enrolled in the doctoral program at Fuller. I thought it was just for my personal development as a pastor. But God knew.
The consultation I promised back in March to do for the Churches of Christ Theological College in Melbourne is now underway. The focus is to review how the College goes about the task of forming minister leaders and then to make recommendations for further development. All aspects of that formation are included in the scope – personal, spiritual, theoretical and practical. I find the subject fascinating and am enjoying the many interviews that are helping clarify not only the present situation but also some future directions.
Just this week the College in Melbourne announced that they were changing their name to Stirling Theological College in honour of Gordon Stirling, a great Churches of Christ leader who died last year. There’s a sense of a new beginning in the air and it’s exciting to be part of that. In fact, the same sense of a fresh start is also present at ACOM, where Steve Smith has recently taken over the top job. Having a foot in both camps I hope to be able to encourage the emerging goodwill and cooperation between our two ministry training colleges. For too long they have been seen by some as opponents. The times demand a more synergistic approach and I’m confident we’ll get there.
The last few weeks I’ve been doing lots of travel. Not only was there the trip to Melbourne for the consultation there, I’ve also been to Galong (other side of Yass) to lead the Belconnen Men’s Retreat, the Gold Coast for the Senior Ministers’ Conference (my last, now that I am no longer in that kind of role), Nowra to catch up with Wayne and Naomi Jeffery, and Brisbane to present at the Mentoring Network’s Annual Forum. Today I’m home relaxing at last – whew.
On Monday I officially start at Greenacre Church of Christ as their interim pastor. I say ‘officially’ because I really have started already. I’ve been meeting with their elders and some of the staff, and yesterday spent several hours visiting their various ministry locations. This role is just three days a week, so I am not taking up the full responsibilities of a Senior Pastor. It’s actually more like an extended consultation. Over the next six months I will be doing two main things. First, I’ll be working with the elders to help them evaluate where the church has come to and sort out where they want to go next. Second, I’ll be the acting team leader for the staff, keeping them connected to each other and providing a point of accountability and support. Because of the complexity of the church’s ministries and the number of staff and key volunteers, that will take up my three days. It does not allow time for pastoral work with the seven congregations or regular preaching. Next time I write a Rave I’ll be able to tell you more about how this is working out.
So that’s what I’m doing. The other question is how am I doing? To some extent, my life has been reflecting the seasons. The decision early this year to leave Castle Hill Community Church was an autumn for me – some withering, much letting go. It brought me to a winter of exhaustion after many years of hard work. In that place of depletion I felt the grief of loss and the pain of unfulfilled hopes and dreams. Interestingly, while I was still feeling this I was also experiencing the stirrings of spring; a sense of energy, excitement and hope about what God was leading me into. I don’t think I’ve ever before experienced such contradictory states in my soul at the one time. I suppose it’s a bit like my garden, where some plants seem to grasp the concept of spring early while other plants are still in their sleepy winter mode. Eventually, the whole garden will get with the program and take off with growth. I think that’s almost where I am. Not quite, but almost.
Heather and I have adopted Epping Church of Christ as our new spiritual home. It’s early days and we still feel a bit funny about not being at Castle Hill. But the folks at Epping are lovely and have made us very welcome. Larry Galbraith is a fantastic minister and we are looking forward to sitting under his ministry and supporting him in any way we can. If you’ve made it through to this point in the Rave I really do want to thank you for your interest. If you get nothing else from all this, I hope you get a sense of how God has looked after Heather and me through the recent changes in our lives. There were points where I had no idea how things were going to work – whether they were going to work out at all. I was tempted to argue with God and try to protect myself from what I thought could have been an unravelling of my ministry. But I chose to go with what I believed he was saying and abandon myself to his provision. Now, of course, it looks like it was no risk at all, but that wasn’t always how it felt to me. All I’d say is that if you feel like you’re in a bit of a risky place; trust God. He is your heavenly Father. He will provide for you, and he will guide you. He might also discipline you, but it will turn out for your growth and blessing if you trust and obey.