What a whirlwind of a year 2011 has been. As the last few days tick away and I look back on all that has happened, I have a very strong sense of being guided, protected and supported by my Father in heaven. This is very humbling because, honestly, I have hardly been the most devoted disciple this year. But, of course, grace doesn’t work like that does it? Like a good father, God doesn’t watch over my life just when I’m particularly well-behaved, devoted or holy. Just as well, really. When I finally recognise his faithfulness (which can take a while sometimes) it stirs up a desire in me to seek his face all the more – not to seek his favour but to respond to it. I’ve developed a good routine now, sitting out on our new deck first thing in the morning with my One-Year Bible, Shane Claiborne’s Common Prayer and my journal. The only downside is that is when I used to exercise. I need to find another time to do that – or get up at 5.00am. Hmm.
For those who have not yet caught up on what I’m currently doing the short version is:
· Interim team leader at Liberty Church of Christ (formerly Greenacre Church of Christ) 3 days per week
· National faculty with ACOM, overseeing the area of Pastoral Theology, 2 days per week
· Freelance mentoring, consultancy and training approximately 1 day per week
Up until 12 December one of those freelance consultations was taking a big chunk of time. This was the piece of work I was doing for Stirling Theological College (formerly Churches of Christ Theological College or CCTC) in Melbourne. I had been asked to review the processes by which they ‘form’ students in readiness for ministry and mission. It was a fascinating project. By the time I reported to the College Board on 12 December I had interviewed dozens of people – faculty, students, ministers, Conference partners, and local church leaders – and learned so much along the way. One of the side benefits was getting to know the Principal, Andrew Menzies. He’s an inspiring leader and someone I think will make a major contribution to the church in Australia in the years to come.
On the home front the BIG news is that Ryan is engaged to be married to Miriam Harwood. Ryan proposed on 18 December, the first anniversary of them going out together. He had thought it all through very carefully and apparently it was all very romantic. Miriam is the most delightful young woman and a perfect match for Ryan. Heather and I are so pleased for them both. After Tom was born and we had three young boys people would often say to us, ‘Aren’t you going to try for a girl?’ We were quite happy with three boys, thank you very much. However, the prospect now of having a daughter (albeit a daughter-in-law) is very welcome indeed!
Reading is back on my agenda and I’ve been getting into a stack of interesting stuff. James McClendon’s 3-volume systematic theology is surprisingly engaging. (No, really, it is! Honest!) A black American, recently deceased, his work brings a fresh approach to theology that resonates with me. He starts with ethics, which is usually where most systematic theologies end up. As a practitioner, I find that a much more satisfying way to go about it. For a bit of light reading there’s Alexander Macall Smith’s The Charming Quirks of Others. He’s always witty and entertaining, even if Isabel Dalhousie’s proclivity for jumping to unwarranted conclusions is a bit irritating. I guess that’s precisely the reaction he’s aiming for. Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life has plenty of worthwhile insights. I’m seeing him quoted all over the place recently; he’s quite the flavour of the moment. I agree he’s got some great ideas, but has anyone noticed he’s not exactly orthodox in his interpretation of scripture? He’s way more out there than, say, Brian McLaren. This isn’t going to stop me reading him or to write him off as a heretic. I just think we need to read fashionable Christian writers with some discernment. Last book I’ll mention here is historian and New Testament scholar Ken Bailey’s Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. What a great gift this is! Ken lived and taught in the Middle East for 40 years and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the culture and customs relevant to the interpretation of the Gospels. I’m learning so much from him.
My work at ACOM has been a grab bag of various bits and pieces. I’ve spent quite a bit of time setting the foundations for courses that will be taught in 2013 and beyond and have to be validated through Sydney College of Divinity by Higher Education (part of the Australian Government Department of Education that administers the Australian Qualifications Framework.) Sounds a bit dusty, but it’s quite absorbing getting down to the detail of planning the architecture of courses that really matter for training people for mission and ministry. I just got news today that I am to be invited on to a committee that oversees the SCD Doctor of Ministry program. Hmm. Committees. I have an aversion to those things. I got off a bunch of them about seven years ago when it dawned on me how stultifying I found sitting around a table discussing and deciding things while other people were actually doing stuff. So I will be treading warily.
Next month I’ll be travelling to Bangkok for a series of meetings connected with UNOH (Urban Neighbours of Hope). The first lot of meetings are on the 12th and 13th, when Ash Barker has asked me to chair the first meeting of the International Society for Urban Mission. Ash has called together this group of theologian/activists working in slums from far and wide to plot and plan how they can raise the profile of Christian mission among the world’s urban poor. Already ideas are forming of a website, an e-journal and various events. The thought is that if we can get the word out then we might open people up to the possibility of hearing God’s call to serve among the poor. Needless to say, I find all of this very challenging personally, and I’m amazed that I should be asked to be involved in this way. Following on from these two days is a two-day meeting of the UNOH Reference Group. These meetings usually take place three times a year in either Melbourne or Sydney. This time we wanted to include those UNOH workers who usually miss out because of the cost of travel. And we felt that we would benefit from actually being with the team-members from Bangkok and Mae Sot in their context as we hear their stories and seek to bring godly counsel. Each of the Reference Group is paying their own way to be there, which sends a message of genuine friendship and support.
Once I return from Thailand I have just over a month to get my UK Ancestry Visa sorted out, ready for working in the UK. The plan is to conclude my interim ministry at Liberty Church of Christ on 19 February, then fly out to the UK on 22 February. I’m there until the end of March, commencing a role with Together in Mission / Springdale College setting up a mentoring service for Christian leaders. That is going to be a BIG adventure. I have only the vaguest idea of how that is going to work. I have a few contacts and a few people lined up to use my services as a professional mentor, but nowhere near enough to make it a viable enterprise financially. The rest will have to come from me drumming up business. Not looking forward to the ‘sales’ aspect of that. However, I do have other strings to my bow. As well as mentoring I will also offer consultancy services (one church has already signed up for that) and I can do training seminars, preaching and teaching (a few places up North have booked me up so far). In spite of the openness of it all, I just believe it’s going to work out somehow. Maybe that’s naïve. I like to think it’s part of trusting in the One who has called me to this.
I wasn’t going to rave on for nearly as long as this, so enough! As I sign off I want to wish all of you reading this a wonder-full Christmas. May the wonder, the mystery, the unutterable grace of God stepping into our world to save us brighten your imagination, fire your passion, and strengthen your efforts for the coming Kingdom of Christ who is the Lord of Christmas.