A window of hope for Rugby Australia

sasha-freemind-780719-unsplashDear Rugby Australia

I see a window of hope for our great game. It will take some humble pie. A decision or two will need to be reversed. But you have an opportunity to make rugby great again.

I love rugby. I love the Wallabies. I’ve held the Bledisloe Cup in my hands. I love the Brumbies. I’ve drunk from the 2004 Super 12 trophy. I love local rugby, standing in the driving rain, the sleet, the mud, and the heat, watching my boys compete with all their hearts. I’ve cheered Aussie rugby from my lounge room, the stands, the sidelines, the change room, in Australia and overseas. I’ve supported rugby and rugby has been my reward.

That is why, Rugby Australia, you are breaking my heart. I listen to so many who say they’ve had enough. They don’t care anymore. The politics, the ignorance, the mismanagement, the bullying, the elitism—they’ve had enough. And what can I say? They’ve got a point. But I won’t give up. In fact, I see a window of hope.

71edf81b5810a66b4f3c696b83f0c5a8Rugby Australia, you have made a mess of things, but there is still hope. You just need to own up to a few things. It has been reported today that Israel Folau wants to play rugby for Australia again, and he is willing to allow vetting of his social media posts. He is also willing to seek expert guidance on using social media to express his Christian views. Rugby Australia, there is your window. Don’t miss it. Offer an olive branch now. Do it now before rugby league gets the jump. Do it now before he signs overseas. Do it now before our best player misses the World Cup. Do it now because you can and it is the right thing to do.

Be honest. You have made things far worse than they needed to be. You have made a mountain out of a molehill. Israel was writing to those who chose to follow him on social media. They chose. They knew Izzy. They knew what he believes. It’s never been a secret. And they chose to follow him anyway. What is more, you know it wasn’t hate speech. It was a warning based on what he believes is the truth and it was motivated by love. You’ve seen enough hate speech to know the difference.

Rugby Australia, you didn’t handle things well. For years you’ve been saying we need to respect our players. All of them. Together with the Rugby Union Players Association, you have provided chaplains, cultural liaison workers, welfare workers and more. Orientation camps for players have included important pieces on the cultural, family, and religious convictions of our Pacific Islanders especially. Now you heavy-handedly ignore them. Wouldn’t it have been wiser to consult with cultural and religious experts, to seek to gain insight and understanding, to work toward future agreement, to learn from the misunderstanding to create a better outcome for all? But you rushed in like a bully in a china shop.

When Andy Friend was the coach of the Brumbies, he once surveyed all his players to discover the most influential people in their lives. A significant number of the players put Jesus Christ, or the Lord, or God as number one. I suspect this result would have been repeated in many of the teams across Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Most of the players who gave these responses were Polynesian. So, what did Andy do? He saw an opportunity to respect his players and further their development. He asked the chaplain to work with him to understand his players better, and to determine how he could support them in their beliefs. He explored how to enable players to live out their beliefs when at home and when on tour. We could do with a lot more of this kind of emotional intelligence among the leaders in our game.

Rugby Australia, you are alienating so much of your player base and your supporter base. Where would we be without our Polynesian brothers and sisters? Where would we be without our Catholic, Anglican, and other church school teams? If you are going to lead rugby into the future in Australia, then you need to get back in touch, and there is still time. Please, do it now.

You have painted Izzy into a corner. You demanded that he take down a post. That seems reasonable, but you haven’t attempted to walk in his shoes. Why would he be open to having all future posts vetted, but not take down an existing one? Have you thought about that? Have you asked him? Could it be that he sees you asking him to deny his beliefs? Please, lighten up a bit. The nature of social media posts is they are quickly buried and forgotten.

Look to the future, not to the past. Take the opportunity to forge a new future for religious and cultural liaison in rugby. Lead well. Show some grace. Be the sport that unites rather than divides.

Rugby Australia, I plead with you. Do the right thing. Give Israel Folau another chance. Take this window of opportunity to reconnect with Israel and work together for the future of our sport. I, for one, will respect you deeply if you do.

Dave McDonald

National Director, FIEC
Salt Community Church Pastor, Bonny Hills, NSW
Brumbies Chaplain 2003-2017

Just Starting Out: Seven Letters to a New Christian

117888There aren’t too many books you can read, cover to cover, on a flight between Port Macquarie and Sydney, but Just Starting Out: Seven Letters to a New Christian by Al Stewart and Ed Vaughan is one. It’s short, pithy, punchy, and well worth the read. The book has been written for someone who has just become a Christian, to introduce them to some of the basics of the Christian life. They’ve chosen seven topics:

  1. Saved by God
  2. Trusting in God
  3. Living God’s way
  4. Listening to God
  5. Talking to God
  6. Meeting with God’s family
  7. Meeting the world

Each chapter corresponds directly to one of the seven Just for Starters Bible studies that were originally written for people who responded to the call to become Christians at the 1979 Billy Graham Crusades in Australia. These studies are more familiar to an older generation as the 7 Basic Bible Studies. Thousands of university students began Bible studies in their first year by working through these studies, and thousands more new believers have learned the basics of Christian life and doctrine by the same means. I remember these studies as a first year uni student, wondering why no one had taught me this stuff before. It was my introduction to basic Christian discipleship. I’ve since led hundreds of students through these studies, I’ve written talks to go with them, and I even worked them up into an ‘unpublished’ book in 1990! All this to say, I reckon it is so helpful for a new believer to be guided in the basics and not left to flounder around trying to work out how a new Christian is called to live.

So well done Al and Ed, and congratulations Matthias Media. This is an excellent resource. I envisage buying many, getting our church to buy many. God-willing, as we see people becoming Christians, we will pass on these books. Young people coming to grips with how to follow Jesus will find this book simple and clear. Older people, who’ve been around church for ages, but can’t really tell you what matters matter most, will benefit from reading through it. People who are unclear as to whether they are a Christian or merely a church-goer will gain clarity through reading this book. Mature Christians wondering how to get alongside a newby will do well to read this with them.

The style of the book—seven letters from a mature Christian friend, Michael, to a young believer, Dave—is reminiscent of The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis. The conversational style is very engaging and carries the reader along. This book covers way more than 7 topics. Gems of wisdom on a range of topics are squeezed onto every page. It’s probably the type of book to read more than once, as I suspect you will pick up new things each time.

The best way to read this book is in tandem with the Just for Starters Bible studies. It’s the Bible bit that’s the most important. So use this book as a stepping stone to discovering more and more from the Scriptures.

Independent churches lack accountability

AccountabilityIndependent churches lack accountability! I’ve been told this for the past 24 years. And it’s true. Independent churches often lack accountability, but so do mainstream denominational churches. You only need to look at the terrifying accounts of greed, sexual immorality, false teaching, abuse, and cover ups within churches, to see the failures of our structures to ensure accountability.

Congregations must do their bit to encourage their churches and leaders to stay on track. Bishops, synods, and assemblies can draw lines and forbid their leaders and churches from transgressing. Codes of conduct, covenants of service, rules and conditions, can all play a part in keeping churches on the straight and narrow. And, ultimately all churches are accountable to God, and pastors and teachers are especially accountable for how they exercise their responsibilities of leadership.

The stark reality is that no rules or structures, authorities or procedures will produce righteousness. Never have and never will. But if you argue for church autonomy and leave it at that, you will be both naïve and dangerous. Let me recommend four processes for increasing accountability in independent (and other) churches.

  1. Keep focused on the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are sinners saved by grace and we are being transformed by God’s Word and Spirit into the fulness of Christ. Churches must keep shining a light on the gospel, preaching the gospel, refocusing their leadership on the gospel, growing their members in the gospel, applying the gospel to conflicts and divisions, setting budgets with gospel priorities, forgiving one another with the grace of the gospel. Literally applying the gospel to everything we teach and do. Accountability comes not through law, but through gospel.
  2. Seek out fellowship with other churches. Don’t stand on your independence from other churches and other leaders. God has called us to be his holy people and to be adopted into his family. We belong to God, and by his Spirit we belong to each other. We gather separately, with distinctive names and quirky cultural expressions, but one day we will be gathered together for all eternity with no divisions. Let that future shape our present experience. Independence is not a Christian trait. We are all dependent on God and one another. Interdependence should be a more accurate description of who we are as Christians and churches.
  3. Invite a number of mature respected Christian leaders to be on a Board of Reference for your church. If you’re a new church plant, then such people can provide credibility and support to your venture. If you’ve been around for a while, they can help you see your blind spots. Such a group doesn’t have governing authority. They primarily offer support, prayer, and advice. You can insert them into your church systems, such that they must be consulted on major matters and have the opportunity to speak into the circumstances. Changing a church’s theological beliefs, sacking or choosing a senior leader, accusations made against a senior leader; these are all issues that shouldn’t be covered up or go unnoticed. Ensuring that an independent voice gets to speak on these and other major matters can provide important checks and balances for churches and their leaders.
  4. Provide for your senior pastor (and potentially all your pastoral staff) to have an external mentor, coach, or pastoral supervisor. Be generous and pay for this if necessary. Invest in your leaders. The Royal Commission into Child Abuse has made recommendations that pastors have professional supervision, and some denominations already have this in place. An informed external perspective can assist leaders to look after their churches, grow their people, and watch themselves more effectively. Seek out someone with experience whom you trust and then make yourself accountable to them as you meet with them regularly. Without honesty, accountability means nothing. So speak the truth, seek help, and invest in your life and doctrine wisely.

How many times do I have to say it?

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Just because I’ve said it, doesn’t mean that you’ve heard it!

If it’s worth saying, then it usually needs to be said more than once and in more than one way. This is my philosophy of communication. We simply can’t assume that if we’ve said something once or written it once, that people have therefore got it.

Take speaking at church for example: When an announcement is made before the whole church, does this mean that everyone has got it? Of course not. On any week there will likely be less than 75% of regulars in attendance. Of these, some will be out with children. One or two could be in the bathroom. Some might be dreaming with other things on their minds. Some might be on their phones—please no! Others could be distracted by children, off with the fairies, or not grasp the importance or significance of the communication.

The same is true of weekly emails or blog posts. I’ve seen some people’s in-boxes. One had 13,000 emails and 1000s unread. Seriously! Some people have no idea how to manage emails. Their in-boxes are so full that they’ve given up looking at anything. Others glaze over the email coming from the same person with roughly the same information week after week. Some spouses forget that they need to pass things on to their other half. Some simply don’t find the time to read them. And some don’t have email.

For these reasons, and others, we need to consider the best ways of communicating things at church. Sometimes this will involve a verbal announcement at church, followed up by a Facebook notice, text, email, blog post, leaflet or something else. Things might need to be repeated over more than one week to increase the likelihood of people hearing the news. At other times we might choose not to say things up front at church, so as to avoid clutter or people thinking they’ve heard it all before. Emails, texts, and Facebook posts are a simple means of getting information out, but they depend on people getting them and reading them, and sometimes they need to be followed up with verbal communication or discussion. Facebook groups can help alert people to things that are happening, as can an up-to-date website. How up to date is your website? Is it still advertising the Christmas service? From 2014??? Sort it out—please!

I want to suggest another means of communication at church which could be a little controversial—good gossip! Spread the word among each other. When I say good gossip, I don’t really mean ‘gossip’. There is absolutely no place for God’s people to be telling stories about one another, putting each other down, grumbling, whinging or complaining. This is why the generation of Moses perished in the wilderness. What I mean is helping to keep each other informed, know what’s happening, and be encouraged in our love and service. So when you see that someone is missing from church, why not give them a call, send them a text, pop them a visit, or message them on Facebook—tell them you’ve missed them and let them know what they might have missed.

For those of you at Salt Church, please be patient with me as I take time to get to know you, work out how things work around here, discover expectations, learn how to become a better listener, and explore good means of communication. And we will work at getting a website up soon.

May God help us to become better communicators.

What Bible will we read this year?

bibleIn 1968 my grandparents gave me my first Bible. It was a Revised Standard Version. In 1974, I began high school and we were all given a copy of the New English Translation. At university I discovered that everyone had copies of the New International Version so, of course, I bought one too. A decade or so back, most of my tribe jumped on board with the English Standard Version, and I began reading and preaching from this translation. And now there’s a new version of the New International Version to replace the one I loved for so long that’s now fallen apart. This is probably the version that I read the most. More recently, people have proclaimed the merits of the Christian Standard Bible, so I’ve been reading one of those too.

Firstly, let me say what a privilege it is to have so many quality choices in understandable modern English. Prior to 1881 there were only three choices for English readers—the KJV, the KJV, or the KJV. You could have it anyway you wanted, so long as it was the King James Version.

As I begin today as the pastor at Salt Community Church in Bonny Hills, my plan is to preach from the NIV. This will be a change for our church as we have been mainly focused on the ESV until now.

So why have I opted to read and preach from the ‘new’ NIV?

  1. You can’t buy the ‘old’ NIV anymore
  2. There are important translation improvements from the ‘old’ NIV
  3. The NIV is easy to read out loud
  4. The NIV pitches at a good reading level for the majority of readers
  5. The gender language is well-balanced
  6. The NIV is a ‘mainstream’ translation that can be purchased easily in a multitude of print options.

So why not the ESV?

Perhaps it’s just personal preference, but I don’t find the ESV a comfortable version for public reading. The sentence structure will often follow the original Greek or Hebrew—and that is a very good thing—but it can make it harder to read out loud. I believe it is pitched at a higher reading level than the NIV.

But, I’m not dissing the ESV. I’ve been using an ESV for personal Bible study and preparation now for many years, because it is a more ‘literal’ translation. It is more consistent than the NIV in translating Greek and Hebrew words and phrases with the same English words and phrases. The ESV pays greater attention to conveying original sentence structures and word order. This is excellent for study purposes and leaves the reader to do more of the work of observation and interpretation.

If you are engaged in serious Bible study or preparing studies, lessons, or talks for others, then it is very helpful to have more than one translation at your disposal.

And what about the CSB?

You haven’t heard of it? It’s the Christian Standard Bible—an update of the Holman Christian Standard Bible—and it’s only been around for a couple of years. To be honest, I love the CSB. I even bought 70 copies for Salt, before changing my mind! The CSB is a genuinely fresh translation that helps me to notice things in the text that I haven’t seen before. I appreciate the layout, where Old Testament quotations are printed in bold type. Many claim it to be the translation that gets the best balance between literally translating the text and communicating the ideas easily. So why haven’t I opted for the CSB as my ‘go to’ reading/preaching version? Probably because it’s not as mainstream or accessible as the NIV yet (compare the shelf space at your local Christian bookshop) and many already have a copy of the NIV they can read and bring to church. But, if you’re looking for a new version to freshen up your reading of Scripture, then I’d certainly advise getting an CSB.

Lots of choice. What a blessing from God. Let’s clear the dust off and start reading!

My second best friend is a puppet

puppetSo goes the name of the beach mission facebook group I joined this summer. Actually, I joined more than a facebook group—Fiona and I joined the team at Old Bar with our son, Marcus. It had been 30 years since we’d last been on a beach mission as team members. This time at Old Bar and previously at Lake Tabourie. I figured I was joining the team so as to hang out with family, but it turned out to be a great way to start 2019. It was more helpful to me than I imagined.

Beach missions are rarified opportunities to share the good news of Jesus with anyone who will listen. More than 100 kids joined in programs for all ages, learning about Jesus from the Bible, playing games, having fun, and building some awesome friendships. But it’s not just for the kids. There were teenagers, adults, and all age activities. A coffee tent turned over a heap of coffee and stimulated many good conversations. We had rock nights, family feuds, bush dances, festivals, movies, fair trade markets, and more. Some of the campers had been coming along to the different programs every year for years. Some even chose to camp at Old Bar because of the annual activities. I met people who’d had their lives changed forever through hearing about Jesus and seeing the impact he makes on members of the team.

The thing I enjoyed about this mission was how down to earth and normal it was to share Jesus with others. I get plenty of opportunities to chat about what I believe, but usually as a speaker up the front at some event, or afterwards over a coffee. At Old Bar I was one of the crew, visiting campers, chatting about what we believe, and striking up strange conversations with strangers.

One afternoon we held a Hope Beyond Cure event in the large tent. Lots of people came, and most of them had a story of struggle with cancer—either them or someone they loved. I chatted with one woman who had brain cancer followed by a stroke. She had been holidaying at Old Bar for years, but never before in a motorised wheelchair. Life is fragile and she reminded us all of this reality.

What did I take away from beach mission? The joy of being with a team of people, all intent in sharing the good news of Jesus with others, everyone with a role to play on the team, people chipping in, taking the initiative to help, everyone supporting one another, sometimes encouraging, sometimes critiquing, and suggesting things we could do better. And it struck me that this is what I’d like church to be like—everyone in a team working together using their different talents to love one another, encourage one another, and above all to reach out into our community with the best news of all.

As I reconnect with the crew at Salt Church, my prayer is that we can grow together as a team—a team, at the beach, on mission together, for Jesus.

More changes ahead

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I find it hard to sit still. I’m sure if ADD had been a diagnosis in 1967, then I would have been labelled. All my school reports said something along the lines of “He would do better if he stopped talking and concentrated more on his work…” Not to mention all those sitting close to me would have done better too.

But just when we were thinking that life would stabilise here in Bonny Hills, another change comes along. This year I’m taking on the role of Pastor at Salt Community Church. Salt meets between Bonny’s and Lake Cathie in the local primary school. This Saturday at 5pm (yes our church gets in early!) I will commence this role, as I begin preaching through 1 Peter on the theme Make Your Life Count. Tonight, Fiona and I are meeting with some of the leaders to talk ‘church’ and do some preparation together.

My role at Salt will be part-time, as I am continuing with the role of National Director of FIEC. It will mean a bit less travel than the past two years, but that is needed anyway. Together with Dean, Jim, Fiona, and our executive, I will seek to provide good leadership, support, and direction to our Fellowship. I will need to work smarter, not harder, as they say!

I am excited about regular preaching and pastoral ministry in the local context, as I have a growing passion for God’s work in the Bonny Hills area. It will be nice to have the rhythm of regular preaching to keep me growing in God’s word. I also hope that it will keep me fresh and add a new dimension in relating to pastors in my work as National Director.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been involved in some mentoring, ministry coaching, and professional supervision of pastors and Christian leaders. Most of this synchronises nicely with the FIEC role. This year I’m up-skilling by taking on some supervised training in Christian mentoring. Last week Fiona, Dean Ingham, and I, all took the first intensive in a course at SMBC aimed at improving the manner in which we support, equip, and encourage growth in other leaders.

While we miss our friends from 28 years in Canberra, we are enjoying living on the Mid North Coast. It’s a joy to wake up to the sun and the surf. We love being nearer some of our kids and grandkids, and we are eagerly anticipating the birth of another grandchild in a few weeks. The year is filling up already and we will need God’s help. If you are in the business of talking to God and praying for others, we’d value your prayers for 2019. Please pray that God will equip us to serve him competently and faithfully. And ask God to help us walk the line of going out on a limb for him, while looking after ourselves at the same time.