Engaging Well In Our Communities

For a number of years now, I’ve been thinking deeply about how churches can engage well — or at least better — with the communities in which they find themselves. The fact is, so often we don’t. Churches often condescendingly treat their local communities as a broken project in need of ‘fixing’ (conveniently ignoring our own brokenness), or fail to realise that people aren’t actually as stupid as we sometimes seem to think they are and can see straight through our thinly veiled attempts to get more bums on seats.

There is, I think, a more excellent way.

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Joy and Gardening


It’s hard to find words for how much contentment and joy I feel watering the plants in our small community herb garden.

I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I think it has something to do with the fact that it can’t be rushed. I may have 10,000 other things waiting for me on my ‘to-do’ list, but watering the plants takes as long as it takes. There’s no shortcut; I may as well just enjoy it.

Of course, being outside is nice as well, and it’s always good to get out from behind a desk. But it’s especially nice to slow down, to breathe, and to just be. I find that watering the garden relaxes me, makes me feel less anxious, and allows me space to experience that otherwise elusive feeling of contentment (even if just for a moment). This always leads me to joy.

Spending time watering the plants also allows me to be present. I’m there with the plants, and I’m able to notice if they’re healthy, or to check for pests or diseases or nutrient deficiencies. It gives me time to check to see where seeds might be ready for collection, or if there are small seedlings already popping up through the soil. I’m there already, so I may as well deadhead some flowers while I’m at it.

Perhaps I’m pushing it a bit far, but I think what I’m learning from the herb garden also helps me to be a better pastor.

I am, by nature, an impatient person. I’ve got ideas and plans and schemes and I want them all to happen now! I’ve got hopes and dreams for our community, and there never seems to be enough time (or resource, or whatever) to make it all come together.

What I’m learning is that I can’t force it.

I’m learning to slow down; where else do I need to be? I’m learning to be present, to engage fully with the people who are in front of me (rather than already planning the next meeting). I’m learning to notice what’s going on, and to engage in the slow, sometimes frustrating, and always-rewarding work of learning to live together in community.

I certainly don’t have it all figured out just yet. I might go out and water the garden.

A Prophetic-Redemptive Hermeneutic – Case Study: Women in Ministry

In my last few posts, I’ve been seeking to sketch out what I’m calling a ‘prophetic-redemptive’ approach to interpreting the Christian Scriptures. Essentially, it’s an attempt to acknowledge the fact that, in some cases, there may be attitudes or perspectives recorded in the biblical texts that are less than ideal (and this is simply because humans are involved in the process of writing them). At the same time, it is my firm belief that the life-giving Spirit of God is also very much involved in this process, and so our task (as I see it) is to look for the prophetic Spirit at work in the texts themselves, sometimes overturning these less-than-ideal perspectives and always leading God’s people into fulness of life.

In my first post I looked at Isaiah 56, noting how this extraordinary text overturned what had previously been understood as the Law of God. Those who had been explicitly excluded from God’s Temple (and therefore God’s very presence) were now fully embraced as members of the family of God.

In my second post I focused on the book of Acts, noting how the Spirit of God seemed to be at work in pushing out the boundaries of God’s people to the surprise of many of the early Jewish-Christians. God was now drawing in Samaritans and even Gentiles — and the only ‘badge of membership’ was faith in Jesus (thus overturning the traditional identity markers of the Jewish people). We saw also how the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 became a kind of formative moment for working out what God was up to in their midst.

In this post, I’d like to draw out some of the implications of this approach with a kind of ‘case study’ focused on the issue of women in Christian ministry.

Continue reading A Prophetic-Redemptive Hermeneutic – Case Study: Women in Ministry

A Prophetic-Redemptive Hermeneutic – Acts 15

In my last post, I began to outline what I’ve called a ‘prophetic-redemptive’ strategy for reading the Bible, focusing on an extraordinary passage in Isaiah 56.

Building on the work of various scholars, I began with the notion that, due to the contextual, ‘human’ input into the production of our sacred, divinely-inspired texts, there are some ideas recorded in the scriptures that are, shall we say, less-than-ideal. Without wanting (in any way) to write-off the scriptures completely, I instead sought to let the text deconstruct itself and to allow the prophetic voice within the text to begin to reconstruct a redemptive way forward.

In Isaiah 56, the prophet dramatically overturns the very Law, calling for the full inclusion of those who had formerly been explicitly excluded from God’s people. This prophetic over-ruling offered a liberating alternative to the so-called reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah, which sought rather to build up taller and wider physical and social walls of partition between the ‘elect’ and ‘everyone else.’

By this, I would suggest, we can hold together both the obvious ‘humanity’ and contextuality of our sacred scriptures, as well as seeking nevertheless to hear the divine voice of redemption and full human dignity through these same texts.

What I aim to do in this post, then, is to see if I can find this same prophetic voice of liberation/redemption at work in the stories of Jesus and the early Christians. I’ll do this specifically by opening up some passages from the book of Acts, in order to see how the first Christians seem to have understood the words and actions of Jesus, and how this shaped their understanding of who could be full members of the community of God centred around Jesus as Messiah.

Continue reading A Prophetic-Redemptive Hermeneutic – Acts 15

A Prophetic-Redemptive Hermeneutic – Isaiah 56

In my last post, I made the following statement:

I’ve been convinced for a long time now that most of the significant arguments (ostensibly) about what the Bible says are actually more about how the Bible is being read. It may be surprising to some, but there is not just one ‘correct’ way to read these sacred texts. I’m convinced that there are ‘better’ and ‘worse’ reading strategies, but I think it’s naive to suggest that there is only one ‘right’ approach.

In these next few posts, I’d like to offer some thoughts on an approach to reading the Bible that I’ve been kicking around for about a decade now. What I’m not offering here is the way that I think we should all read the biblical texts, but something that I think could be helpful to add into the mix — especially when it comes to some of the more ‘difficult’ things that we encounter in the Bible.

Continue reading A Prophetic-Redemptive Hermeneutic – Isaiah 56

An observation on reading the New Testament

I’m a Christian pastor, so it makes sense that I think quite a bit about what the Bible says. But I also spend quite a lot of time thinking about how I/we read the biblical texts. That is, I’m very interested in hermeneutics.

I’ve been convinced for a long time now that most of the significant arguments (ostensibly) about what the Bible says are actually more about how the Bible is being read. It may be surprising to some, but there is not just one ‘correct’ way to read these sacred texts. I’m convinced that there are ‘better’ and ‘worse’ reading strategies, but I think it’s naive to suggest that there is only one ‘right’ approach.

I may have lost some readers already at this point but, if you’re willing to read on, hopefully I can make some sense of these initial statements (both in this post and those that follow).

I want to take a couple of posts to tease out some ideas on these issues, and would like to start in this post by addressing a phenomenon that I think is quite common — and quite mistaken — when it comes to reading the New Testament in particular.

Continue reading An observation on reading the New Testament

Can there be ‘space for grace’ in challenging conversations?

The Assembly Standing Committee for the Uniting Church in Australia has submitted a report (which will be taken to the next Assembly in July), recommending that the Uniting Church “offer the rites of marriage to opposite-gender and same-gender couples, while allowing Ministers and Uniting Church authorised celebrants freedom of conscience to perform marriages or not.” This is obviously closely linked with recent changes to marriage legislation in Australia to include same-sex couples, and is the first taste of similar conversations that will be happening across many Christian denominations over the next few years

In one sense this is a big deal (even though it hasn’t, at the time of writing, been discussed and voted on at Assembly). Having said that, it has not risen out of nowhere. The Uniting Church has been committed to having these sorts of conversations for a long time now, even though they are often not easy conversations to have.

Continue reading Can there be ‘space for grace’ in challenging conversations?