We’re asking all the wrong questions about who wrote the Book of Revelation

I spent a couple of years working towards a PhD in Ancient History, but ultimately fell apart and wasn’t able to complete it. It’s possible, but not probable, that I’ll get back into it one day…but enough of that.

The project was focused on ways of reading the Book of Revelation as political resistance literature (in the context of 1st century Roman Asia Minor), and a significant part of it was the issue of authorship. Now, I do realise that a lot of people will find all of this terribly boring, but I think it’s actually quite an interesting question, and I’ll try to explain why here.

Essentially, I’m convinced that we are asking all the wrong questions about who wrote the Book of Revelation.


From the very earliest ‘commentaries’ on this amazing/confusing text, there has been one key question asked about the authorship which has railroaded the discussion ever since: Is the author of Revelation the same person who wrote the other so-called ‘Johannine’ material in the New Testament? That is, is the person who wrote the Book of Revelation the same person who wrote the ‘Gospel of John,’ and the ‘Letters of John’ — and is this the Apostle John who spent time with Jesus of Nazareth?

It all gets a bit technical, but this question (and group of subquestions) arises out of very early speculation about two men named ‘John’ who were buried in ancient Ephesus and their possible connection to the Johannine material. Perhaps one of these ‘Johns’ was the Apostle and it was this John who wrote the Fourth Gospel, and the other was ‘The Elder’ somewhat cryptically named in two of the Johannine Letters. Was either of these Johns the person who wrote the Book of Revelation? Perhaps the Apostle wrote all of the Johannine material, or maybe just part of it (or even none of it!); who wrote the bits, if any, that he didn’t? Are neither of the Johns who were buried in Ephesus the Apostle, but rather they are the ‘Elder’ John and the ‘prophet’ John? These sorts of questions have come to dominate all discussion on the matter, to the point that what we now find at the beginning of any commentary on the Book of Revelation is a few pages dedicated to these broad questions (including linguistic surveys sketching out the likelihood of the different documents coming from the same hand) with a general ‘Who knows!’ conclusion and hints in the direction of denominational loyalties (eg. “We don’t know for sure who wrote the text, but there’s no reason it couldn’t have been the Apostle John…so let’s just call the author the Apostle. #okthanksbye”).

The truth is that we don’t actually know much at all about the authorship of any of these documents. #truestory (and now I’ll quit it with the hashtags)

Here’s what we do know:

The author of the Fourth Gospel never actually names himself ‘John,’ but does seem to refer to himself as ‘the beloved disciple’ who was, apparently, very close to Jesus (though not necessarily one of the 12 disciples). The letter of ‘1 John’ is completely anonymous, but the author does paint a picture of being an eyewitness of Jesus. The author of  ‘2 John’ and ‘3 John’ refers to himself only as ‘The Elder’.

In fact, the only one of these texts to actually use the name ‘John’ is the Book of Revelation, and never once does he refer to anything like ‘apostleship’ as the source of his/the text’s authority. Rather, he points only to the authority of his prophetic vision itself. Because of the fact that this author doesn’t expand on which John he is, but simply states it as his name, we have no convincing reason to doubt that this is his real name (that is, it’s not pseudonymous, like many ancient apocalyptic texts were), but we really don’t know that much more about him.

Tl;dr, we don’t know who wrote the Book of Revelation, except that his name is most probably John, he seems to think of himself as a prophet, and there’s no hint of any explicit connection between this text and any of the ‘Johannine’ material (none of which explicitly states that it’s written by ‘John’ anyway).

Glad we’ve got that sorted!

I think, though, that there is a much more fruitful line of questioning (speculative though it may be).

What if, instead of starting with the confusing tale of two Johns in Ephesus, we started with this question: who might have had the requisite skillset to write this extraordinary text?

Unless we are to convince ourselves that this text ‘dropped out of heaven,’ we must admit that it was written by an actual human being who thought about what it was they were doing and how they wanted to express themselves — which is not to say that the author didn’t have some sort of visionary experience, but simply that they seem to have carefully crafted the way they brought it all together. (Contra the weird source-critical investigations of the 19th and early-20th centuries, I’m convinced that scholars like Richard Bauckham are on the right track in saying that the Book of Revelation is a text of extraordinary literary skill and unity.)

This sort of text fits into the style of writing that we call ‘apocalypses’ and, despite many people’s (unfounded) belief that the Book of Revelation is different from any other text ever written, we have quite a few ancient apocalypses to compare it with (there are certainly unique aspects to this remarkable text, but there other other texts that are similar enough to provide a good comparison). Though it’s still somewhat contested, it seems likely that ‘apocalyptic’ literature rose, mainly, out of the legacy of Jewish ‘prophetic’ literature (but in a time when the Jewish people were in a very different context). It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but the Jewish ‘prophetic’ literature was prominent at the time the Jewish people were in their own land (often facing external challenges from nearby empires and the threat of exile, but nevertheless mostly in charge of their own affairs with a Jewish king on the throne), while the ‘apocalyptic’ literature grew out of the experience of the Jewish people in exile (and, once back in the land, still under the yoke of ‘pagan’ empires). The point of the apocalypses was to ‘reveal’ God’s perspective on the current situation (‘drawing back the heavenly curtain,’ so to speak), showing that, despite current circumstances, God was still in control and there would be vindication in the end.

And this is where it gets interesting.

The Jewish apocalyptic texts were, most likely, written by the scribal communities who had been entrusted with the responsibility of preserving and passing on the sacred Jewish scriptures.

It was the job of the scribes to make sure the texts were passed on to new generations, but it seems that, in the post-exilic world, the scribal communities expanded their job description to include not just copying the texts, but writing new ones! They did this in some very interesting and creative ways, including writing in the name of ancient, revered figures (like Enoch or Daniel or even Baruch, the scribe of the prophet Jeremiah). They were often set deep in the past, and the fact that they were only just ‘discovered’ now was explained through various techniques like having been ‘sealed’ until the fullness of time (cf. Daniel 12:4;9).

These scribes were highly trained, and the ones who became the authors of the apocalyptic material learnt complex techniques and apocalyptic ‘stock imagery’ that was used in nuanced ways in each new apocalypse.

The point is this: even though the average Jewish person might have been somewhat familiar with the apocalypses, there is no way that they would have possessed the skills to write an apocalypse themselves.

This is even more evident when it comes to the Book of Revelation.

The extraordinary literary skill demonstrated in this text suggests that the author was someone who was a master of apocalyptic imagery and techniques — someone who had devoted many years to learning the requisite skills (including profound knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures), and then wrote a genuine literary masterpiece that became the standard for all other ‘apocalypses.’ To put it bluntly, the level of skill needed to write the text was well beyond everyone but a very select few.

When this is added to the fact that the author of Revelation seems to write in his own name (rather than using a pseudonym), and obviously sees the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the climax of God’s plans in the world, it seems reasonable — at least to my mind — to suggest that the author of Revelation was, quite likely, a Jewish scribe who had become a Christian and who was seeking, in this text, to show how this revelation of God’s plans in Jesus drew together all other prophetic/apocalyptic insight (nb. the Book of Revelation doesn’t stand alongside Zechariah or Daniel or the Enoch literature, but rather draws all of it together and shows how it finds fulfilment in the Jesus story).

My suggestion (and what I was hoping to demonstrate conclusively in my now-abandoned PhD) is that it is this line of questioning, rather than the ‘two Johns of Ephesus’ approach, that will result in the best kind of fruit for studying the text. There are only two scholars that, I think, get anywhere near the mark on these issues: Richard Bauckham and David Aune. Bauckham demonstrates convincingly, to my mind, that the author of Revelation is a literary genius, but doesn’t ask the question about what kind of person might have had the skillset required to do this (and leaves it all frustratingly open-ended). Aune speculates about the author being a Jewish scribe who became a Christian prophet, but it all gets rather confused in his source-critical approach that is far too confident in demarcating between the ‘older, Jewish’ sections of the text (written around the time of the fall of Jerusalem) and the ‘newer, Christian’ portions (written much later in the 1st century), with a conversion experience separating them.

As such, there’s a gap in the scholarship. If someone reads this and becomes inspired to write a PhD including this line of thought, I’d appreciate a hat tip in the acknowledgements section! : )

Either way, I remain convinced that it’s these sorts of questions that will deliver a much more helpful framework for interpreting this exquisite text. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter!


Pioneer Plants & The Kingdom of God

When I was growing up, my mate Dave’s dad had the best lawn I’ve (still) ever seen. It was glorious! Now, Dave’s dad was a big, burly bloke, who happened to be a steelworker, and his attention to his lawn was surprising to me. But this lawn stood as testament to the enormous amount of time and effort that he put into it. It was truly immaculate. As far as I could tell, it was the purest, most perfect lawn that has ever existed.

One day, when I went over to Dave’s house, I was horrified to see the whole lawn completely dead. I immediately assumed some sort of sabotage from a lawn care rival down the street, but it turned out that Dave’s dad was convinced that his lawn was hopelessly riddled with weeds and couldn’t be salvaged. His only choice, it seems, was to nuke it and to start from scratch.

At the time this blew my mind, but as I took on, over the years, a healthy (or perhaps unhealthy) dose of Dave’s dad’s commitment to the perfect lawn, I began to understand his thinking. No matter how hard you try, weeds just seem to get in and ruin everything!

Fast forward 15 years, and my commitment to the perfect lawn had seriously waned. Not only did I discover along the way that lawns essentially originated as a sign of status (only the rich could afford to have workers tend to a ‘crop’ that produces nothing!), I also began learning the ways of permaculture, and was struck by two facts:

  1. Lawns are one of the most ridiculous, artificial, time-wasting pursuits that humans strive after. A lawn is a monoculture, and requires huge amounts of water, pesticide, herbicide, and fertiliser to grow—and then we spend all our time cutting it! Not putting too fine a point on it, the not-so-humble suburban lawn is an obscene waste of time and resources, and it’s time we bid them farewell.
  2. Weeds cop a bad rap.

What I started to learn was that weeds often serve a (really useful) purpose. Many weeds are able to grow in extraordinary situations where other plants can’t, and seem to be able to spread with the greatest of ease (which is why they can be so frustrating!). But the reason that they do this is because they’re essentially pioneer plants. These pioneer plants (just the name change by itself starts to make them seem better, right?) thrive in what otherwise seem to be barren conditions, not conducive to life. Their job is to grow especially on bare earth, because nature is always moving towards making forests. Something has to start off the process of succession, and this is where the pioneer plants come in.


Thriving under harsh conditions, pioneer plants take root and, because many of them have ‘tap roots,’ begin to break up the hard ground. Many are also ‘nitrogen fixers,’ helping to make atmospheric nitrogen available in the soil, providing fertile ground for other plants to grow.

Essentially, pioneer plants take barren ground and make it ready for life.

Once their job is done, they pretty much get out of the way as other plants, shrubs and, eventually, trees take their place as the forest grows. (As a side note, we need to ask ourselves some serious questions about what we are doing to the earth that we so often make conditions where pioneer plants become necessary, whether through overgrazing, overcropping, planting monocultures, or whatever.)

Interestingly, Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a pioneer plant.

In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 13 (verses 18 & 19), Jesus says,

What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.

Now, there’s some interesting stuff going on here, because the mustard plant is more a shrub or bush than a tree (the whole thing about the birds of the air coming to rest in the branches opens up a number of discussions about biblical interpretation and application, and we’ll leave that off for the moment). But what seems clear is the notion that, essentially, Jesus is comparing the kingdom of God to a weed! Let that sink in for a moment.

Like a pioneer plant, the kingdom of God somehow just spreads (much to the chagrin of some!) and, as it does, it gets into the barren ground and prepares it for life. It seems to me that us Christians could learn something from this.

What I see here is an invitation to get amongst the barren ground of our communities, helping to break up the soil and get it ready for life. I see a call here to recklessly spread the seeds of faith, hope, and love, and to watch them begin to grow in surprising places.

I’ve given up on growing the perfect lawn, and given myself fully to the task of seeing life spring forth in my community. Will you join me?

Permaculture & Playful Failure

Sometimes, it just doesn’t work.

Sometimes, no matter how deeply you’ve studied a site — spending a whole year mapping out seasonal changes, the path of the sun, rainfall and water flows, etc., etc. — and no matter how much you’ve studied soil conditions and plant possibilities in order to find the best possible solution, it just doesn’t work.

Sometimes, plants that, on paper, should thrive in precisely the conditions you’ve identified, die with (what seems like) no good reason.

This can be really disappointing and deflating — especially if you’ve spent quite a lot on a particular plant(!).

At this point, it’s really easy to give up. In fact, this is precisely what many would-be gardeners do all the time, after they grab a bunch of herbs or veggies from Bunnings, take them home, and watch them slowly die. “This whole gardening thing” just becomes too hard — “We tried that, and it didn’t work!” Then we go back to buying overpriced and chemically saturated produce from Coles or Woolies.

Part of what I’ve learnt in the study and practice of permaculture, however, is that this ‘failure’ is actually all part of the learning process. Of course I need to do all the hard work of the initial observation, but the process isn’t just something I do once and then move on. Everything I do on a particular site is part of the ongoing process of observing and adjusting to find the best outcomes.

The approach I now take is one of playful experimentation, starting small (and making small changes as I go) and seeing what happens when I plant something in one place, or alongside a certain other plant. If it ‘works,’ great! If not, then I’ve gained valuable information about the site and won’t make the same mistake again. This is a win-win situation.

This posture of ‘playful experimentation’ isn’t just something for the garden; what I’ve found is that it’s an incredibly helpful way of approaching life in general (and for modelling to my kids!). Of course, there are times when there’s much more on the line than one dead basil plant but, most of the time, this sort of attitude can be of significant help for my own mental health and wellbeing as well as for those around me. (If I allow myself the chance to ‘fail playfully,’ then I’ll probably be more willing to extend the same grace to those I live and work with.)

I think it’s even more helpful when thinking about the way churches engage with the communities around them.

Part of my work is building partnerships into our local community and looking for ways that we, as a church, can engage well with others for whole-of-community wellbeing. I bring this same attitude to this work. The first task, obviously, is the work of deep observation of our community, looking for partnership possibilities. When some of those opportunities are identified, then comes the possibility for playful experimentation as we choose small tasks to work on together, build trust, and see what happens. Sometimes it works beautifully from the outset; sometimes it doesn’t go quite as planned — and that’s ok! Every part of this becomes a learning opportunity, and if it’s done with a firm, mutual commitment to everything being done in good faith, then there is incredible opportunity to learn and grow together. This, I’ve found, is the best way of building the genuine trust that’s required for doing anything of great significance together.

So, what are you waiting for? Go get your hands dirty, give it a shot, and make sure you pay attention to what’s happening and learn from it all — and always keep that playful attitude!


This post is part of a broader series looking at the applications and implications of permaculture thinking on life, work, and mission. The other posts can be found here:

Integrated Design & Human Communities

In a permaculture garden, a significant amount of thought is given to how the individual elements work together — all towards the goal of ‘closed loops’ (i.e. self-sustaining systems) and the best possible yields (a system where each element properly plays its part can be incredibly productive!).

Are there plants, for example, that just seem to work better with each other (‘companion plants’ or ‘guilds’)? Perhaps there are some that are better at attracting pollinators (which also helps the other plants), or some that repel unhelpful insects, or provide habitat for things like ladybirds (which will make short work of any aphid populations!), or even shade/protection for other young plants to get established (the process of ‘succession’). Perhaps there might be a mobile chicken coup (a ‘chicken tractor’) which can be moved around a lawn, so that the chickens can eat bugs and grubs and whatnot, ‘plough’ the ground a little bit as they scratch around, fertilise the area with their droppings, and then be moved on to a new area of the yard to improve the overall health of the lawn (all the while producing eggs, or meat, or feathers as well). Then there’s the system for taking ‘waste’ and turning it into something useful, like worm farms or compost heaps (reducing actual waste needing to removed from the site while simultaneously reducing the need for bringing in soil-enriching products to the site in the process). Or maybe it’s the way plants and structures work together, like growing a vine over a verandah area which will produce thick foliage in summer and reduce the heat coming into the home and then lose the leaves in winter, allowing more sunlight (and warmth) into the house when needed.

The point, of course, is that a little bit of thought given to the way things work together can have a significantly favourable impact on the site. The end result is that each element will play a number of roles (a tree might simultaneously provide, for example, fruit, shade, habitat for animals, protection from harsh winds and rain, and dropped leaves which can be composted, just to name a few) and each function will be supported by many elements (food production in a food forest, for example, is not from a monoculture — which is incredibly vulnerable to disease and pests…unless large amounts of chemicals are used). These are good outcomes for gardens.

It seems to me that this is also a pretty good way to think about human communities.

Our communities just seem to ‘work’ better when we each play our part. We are different. We bring different skills and knowledge and experience and ways of seeing things to the table – and we’re better off because of this! Each of us has a role to play, and none of us can do everything.

The trick, of course, is to see our differences as strengths, rather than weaknesses.

Unfortunately, in our current context of rising nationalism, our differences can become the fault lines on which our communities begin to crumble. Difference comes to be viewed as inherently suspicious, and such suspicion does not allow for the different ‘elements’ to play the role they’re meant to.

It takes a whole lot of time and energy for a community to come to view its differences as something to be valued and celebrated, but the results are certainly worth it.

Taking it a step further, this is exactly the kind of thing that the Apostle Paul was talking about when he noted that the church (all the different disciples of Jesus of Nazareth coming together) was kind of like a body. The different parts are not a weakness, but rather it is precisely because of these differences that the body can function as it should (remember: Paul was talking to Jews and Gentiles who didn’t usually get along at all, but Paul suggests that they have been brought together as one body, or family, or one new humanity). For Paul, each person is created in God’s image, and thus bears an inherent dignity. Each person is a gift to the rest of us, and we can’t be who we’re truly meant to be unless we work together.

It’s worth taking time to reflect on his words from his letter to the Christians in Rome (chapter 12, verses 3-8):

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.


The first two posts in this series can be found here:

The Power of Observation

This is the second in a series of posts drawing out some of the applications and implications of permaculture principles for life, work, and mission (you can find the first post here: “Food Forests and Change Management”).

In this post, I want to look at the concept (and practice) of Observation — which happens to be the first principle of permaculture (as articulated by one of the ‘fathers’ of permaculture, David Holmgren).

It’s a simple but profound thought: you need to know the site before you start designing your garden/food forest/whatever. If you don’t adequately understand what you’re working with, you’ll no doubt run into trouble later on due to unsuitable plant selection, misplacement of structures, unhelpful drainage, and a whole host of other problems. You need to know the site before you do anything, and then start interacting with it slowly.

A good place to start is by ‘mapping’ the trajectory of the sun over the site. How much sun does the site get? What are the patterns of shade? What does this mean in regards to the temperature (and temperature variations) of the site? How does this change throughout the year with the different seasons? (Yes, this last point means that, ideally, you would observe the site for a full 12 months before starting!)

Then there’s water. What happens when it rains? Does water flow through the site, or are there existing structures (creeks, dams, or gutters) that direct the movement of the water? Does it flood? Can water be saved on site for later use? How often does it rain, how much average annual rainfall is there, and in which months does most rain fall?

There’s wind (Does the wind blow harshly through the site? What does this mean for plants?), soil (Are you starting with reasonably healthy soil, or is there lots of work to be done?), microclimates (Are there smaller niches within the broader site that create slightly different conditions?), life (Does the site currently include habitat for local animals/birds? If so, which ones? What about bugs, insects, and other creepy-crawlies?), and the list goes on.

The point is, of course, that all this information can feed into much better designs (and fewer unforeseen problems).

It also needs to be noted that observation is a practice. The best kind of observation comes by actually being present on site and seeing it at all points of the day (and night), through all the seasons and in all kinds of weather. It takes time to notice what animals are present (and when), and it takes getting down close to the ground to check out the creepy-crawlies!

If you come in with pre-made decisions, you will almost certainly get a lot of things wrong. Sure, you might be lucky with some of the plant placements or avoid flooding when it rains heavily by fluke, but overall your design (and the site itself) will suffer due to impatience and lack of site knowledge.

It seems to me that there are some good keys in this when it comes to how churches interact with their neighbourhoods and local communities.

So often, it feels like churches are fixated on one-size-fits-all approaches to engaging with those around them. We dive headlong into some ready-made program, or we head out into our communities with pre-written answers to questions they’re not asking or with well-intended ‘help’ that hasn’t been requested. And we wonder why people look at us funny!

What would it looks like for us to genuinely observe our local community before we tried any of our quick-fix approaches? What would we discover if we actually spent time in the community —physically present as we walked the streets and had real conversations with real people (where we actually listened) — before we did anything else? What might we learn if we ‘dug around’ a bit before we started doing stuff?

My guess is that we’d learn a lot.

We’d discover not just the ‘problems’ (that’s the easy part), but we’d also discover the strengths of the community. We’d learn about how the community ‘sees itself at its best’, and we’d quickly learn who are the people or groups who get stuff done (Hint: these ‘movers and shakers’ are good people to start building relationships with). We’d start to understand the local economy, figure out which groups and organisations are already present (which is really helpful if we’re not going to double-up on things that are already happening!), and we’d get to know the local natural and built environment.

We’d know our community, and this is a really great foundation from which to start interacting. Slowly. So often I see churches try to rush into genuine community engagement, and the result is either that they bite off more than they can chew, or they discover the law of unintended consequences. If you start out all gung-ho and you’re not around 12 months later because it all got too much, or if you go in so hard that you put people off-side, then you’ve probably done more damage than if you’d not started to begin with. We need to start slowly, building trust, and following through with what we say.

Simple. Profound.

Food Forests & Change Management

I’ve been thinking for a while about some of the natural applications/implications of permaculture thinking (a whole-of-system approach to sustainable living) to all areas of life, and thought I’d tease out some of those ideas here. Of course, thinking through such applications/implications is actually a core part of permaculture thinking — even though it’s most often applied to gardening — so none of this is new. I think, though, that there might be some left-of-field connections that might not often be seen.

The first one concerns ‘food forests’ and possible application to change management or the strategic implementation of a vision.

In permaculture circles, the production of food forests is kind of a big deal. The thought goes something like this: Forests are the goal towards which (pretty much) all ecosystems move. In forests, we see a beautiful example of the seemingly effortless sustainability and perfect balance of a system in which many different elements play their part for the benefit of the whole. It’s a system in which everything is ‘as it should be’. So, imagine if we worked towards the creation of such systems which also produced bountiful food crops! There would be little-to-no maintenance needed, because the system has all it needs, and the potential food production from such is system is truly surprising — not to mention the habitat such systems provide for all manner of animals and very helpful creepy-crawlies and pollinators, and the visual beauty, and so on and so forth. (See here for more information.)

There are a number of different approaches to creating a food forest, but most of these approaches hold a couple of main principles in common.

Firstly, the design of the food forest is based on an understanding of ‘zones’. Zones are conceptual boundaries that help in the design process for locating individual elements, based on how often the element is used and how often it needs to be serviced. Elements that are used most frequently and need the most frequent servicing are placed closest to the home, while those elements that are used most infrequently and require less frequent servicing are located furthest away from the house. For example, a small kitchen garden might be located close to the back door of a house (because it’s used everyday and needs more intense servicing), while mature fruit and nut trees will be located further away. A chook pen or bee hives or small shrubs and larger vegetables beds might be somewhere in between.

Secondly, there needs to be careful planning around the timing of the elements (and the process of succession). Though the mature fruit and nut trees are very much the end goal, they are going to take 15-20 years to reach full maturity. Obviously, you’re going to die waiting for their crops if that’s all you have, so you will need to plant a kitchen garden to keep you fed in the meantime. Over time, there will also be other sources of food from things like small shrubs (which take longer to grow than small veggies and herbs but grow far more quickly than fruit and nut trees), or honey from bees, etc. The key is this: unless there is proper planning and forethought, the fruit and nut trees will never be planted and grow. At the same time, the planting of these long-term trees is not the end of the story; there’s lot’s more to be done!

Notwithstanding my oversimplified description of these things, I think there’s enough here to frame some helpful thoughts about the process of organisational change, or the strategic implementation of a vision — or possibly many other applications along these lines.

It seems to me that the big problems that companies/organisations/churches/groups run into in regards to implementation of strategy or change management relate to either a failure to adequately ‘map out’ how the elements work together, or the timing of the changes or implementations (or both).

In regards to the first, it’s always necessary to adequately ‘map out’ where things are heading. If people can’t see the overall design of the vision or organisational change (and how each part works together with the others), then there will always be confusion and, quite probably, a fair bit of resistance to change. If individual elements (say, departments in a larger organisation) are ‘out of place’, then they will probably not function like they should — kind of like a kitchen garden placed 100 metres away from the house which sadly falls into disuse. Now, this may relate to things like departmental structure, or communication (or other) processes and work flows, or even things like organisation seating. The physical layout of the organisation can be far more important than we realise!

All of this to say that you will save yourself some significant headaches if you take the time to plan well first. It’s quite possible that things will change and adapt along the way, both in the creation of food forests and with organisational change or vision implementation, but these changes can be much more easily incorporated when there is a strong initial plan to work from.

In regards to the second, there is obviously a pressing need to outline where everything is headed, but if it’s just left there then everyone will die waiting for it to happen. What we need are some ‘small wins’ along the way, which sustain us for the longer-term or larger elements of change. So, we must ‘plant the seeds’ for the end goal (and build any necessary structures to support it), but we must also make sure we are tending to the immediate needs, getting done what needs to be done to keep us going. Along the way, we will also need to implement and celebrate the intermediate goals which keep us moving towards the ultimate goal. ‘Strategy succession’, if you will.

There is so much more that could be said, but I think that might be enough for now. Let me know if it’s been helpful. I’ll write a few more thoughts soon.


I haven’t blogged on this site for a couple of years now. At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll pick it up again on any sort of regular basis.

Either way, I’ve had a few thoughts bubbling around in my head and thought I’d write them down, and it felt like it needed more than a Facebook post.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of ‘submission’ — specifically in regards to some of the arguments us Christians have about theologies of marriage relationships and how this concept of submission may or may not fit into it all.

Let me nail my colours to the mast: I am firmly of the opinion that marriage relationships are best founded on the concept of mutual submission. I think this is not just a good idea but also happens to be the best way to understand and apply the biblical material regarding these matters, and I am convinced that the structures of patriarchy are far less than God’s ideal (that is, ‘sinful’), destructive, and in need of being dismantled.

I sometimes get asked, though, as to why male headship/female submission ‘works’.

(Though there are a number of ways one could understand this statement, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt to mean something along the lines of ‘contributes to marriage relationships that allow both partners to flourish,’ or at least ‘contributes to a happy and functional marriage relationship.’)

I’d say two things in response:

  1. ‘Submission’ is not necessarily a dirty word.

    The model given to us by Jesus is one of laying down one’s own rights in order to seek the best for the other (in all kinds of relationships, including marriage), so wherever this happens we see glimpses of the Kingdom. Of course, this kind of selflessness is so often exploited and abused by selfish and broken people, and can become genuinely dangerous (and, in the light of everything we have been learning about domestic & family violence recently, is something we need to take very seriously indeed!). Nevertheless (and I truly don’t say that flippantly), in the desire of one partner to truly seek the best for the other we see something of Jesus.

    In situations where the husband is not a total jerk (and certainly in situations where the husband truly, deeply values his wife), I can see how this sort of arrangement might be considered to ‘work’. I just wonder how much fuller this Kingdom glimpse could be if both partners were committed to the same kind of selfless dedication to the flourishing of the other.

  2. At it’s very, very best, the model of ‘wives submitting to their husbands’ and ‘husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the Church’ begins to look, funnily enough, remarkably like mutual submission.

    Of course, I’d argue that this is because that’s precisely the goal to which these phrases point but, even if one is seeking to avoid the notion of ‘mutual’ submission at all costs (for whatever reason), the idea of loving another person ‘as Christ loved the Church’ can only mean the laying down of one’s rights — even one’s own life — for the sake of the other. (Thus, any notion of any Christian husband demanding wifely submission seems to have completely missed the point. It might even be called ‘anti-Christ’, if we are to to be honest with ourselves.)

    If one is to take this command for sacrificial service seriously, the result — whatever you want to call it — is, functionally, mutual submission.

    I’d ask the simple question at this point, though, as to why one would hold so tight to a doctrine that only approaches something beautiful at its very best, rather than one that takes that ‘best’ as the starting point? I’m certainly not suggesting that all couples who claim ‘mutual submission’ actually live it out; I am simply saying that the foundation of mutual submission makes this ‘best’ an explicit, core feature.

    Doesn’t seem like a difficult choice to me.