Thinking, Fast and Slow

thinkingI could never have imagined myself reading a book by a Nobel Prize-winning economist, but I have, and to my profit. Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow has helped me understand more about how I think, make decisions, communicate, and respond to the words and actions of others.

His basic idea is that we have two different modes of thinking and processing information. The first mode is automatic and impulsive. It’s our knee-jerk response that enables us to take short cuts and move on with ease. The second mode is more deliberate, focused, logical, and it’s necessary for making truly wise choices. Some of us tend to react instinctively, go with our guts, and sometimes miss things that are critical. As an ENFP (Myers-Briggs Type), I’m one of them. People need to spend most of their time in the first mode because we haven’t got the time or the stamina to carefully examine every decision we make. Some things just need to be automatic. However, we can become lazy thinkers, and take short cuts when we shouldn’t, and not slow down when we really should.

We are all prone to making snap choices—weighing up people and situations in an instant. We oversimplify, latching on to something we like and assuming that we will like everything. This can lead to major errors in judgment. Let’s say I’m considering someone for a job. I learn that they love fishing, camping and four-wheel driving. This leads me to gravitate towards them. We spend time chatting about our common interests, places we’ve been, experiences we’ve had. I like them. Hence, there is now a bias toward preferring this person regardless of what experience they might have had in the job, how competent or incompetent they are, whether they are a team player or prima donna, or any other critical criteria. This has been called the halo effect. We assume they will be good even though we know very little about them.

Similarly, I might know some details about a person, such as where they trained or who they’ve worked with previously. I associate what I know about them with an ideal that I’ve created. If I’ve had positive experiences with the people they know or with the training organisation they come from, then confirmation bias may lead me to make assumptions about them and not do due diligence to get more relevant information specifically about them. I wonder how many people employed on the ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ principle, have turned out so differently to what was expected. Taking short cuts might save time in the short term, but may lead to drawn out disasters in the longer term.

Kahneman discusses how we perceive statistics, memories, risks, choices, and more. He shows how our perspective shapes how we respond to things. For example, if a shopkeeper is told that there is a 1% chance that someone entering her shop will be a shoplifter, then she might not worry too much. But, if she was told that of the 1000 people who will come through her shop this week, 10 of them will be shoplifters, you can imagine she will be on high alert for who they might be. The statistics are identical but each statement offers a different perspective.

Context is also important for weighing decisions. If two people are both promised that by the end of the year they will each have a net worth of $100 million, then you’d expect them to be equally happy, wouldn’t you? If one of them was me, I’d be ecstatic. Who wouldn’t be happy with $100 million? If I told you that the other person was Mark Zuckerberg, whose current net worth sits at $75 billion, you can see how context changes everything!

These insights will help us to be more effective communicators. Pausing to consider how people might ‘see’ what we are saying, will move us to take the extra step to get our message across more clearly. So often we think if something has been said then it’s been heard. But is their perception the same as our intention? It pays to be clear and it pays to enquire as to whether we’ve been understood.

Thinking, Fast and Slow is a book to get us thinking about our thinking. While much of what we do needs to be quick and automatic, there are some areas where we need to disengage cruise control and put our minds into manual. In my work as a church pastor over many years I can see times when I took the lazy option and endured the consequences of not thinking hard or long enough. Now, I watch others fall into similar errors of judgment. While we know there is always more than meets the eye and we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, we get lazy, we’re attracted by the short cuts. I hope that I will grow in wisdom, be a better judge of people, make smarter decisions, and communicate for effectively, as I seek to think both fast and slow.




Expositional Preaching

helmCoaching and playing don’t always require the same skill set. Not every player will make a good coach and not every successful coach will have been an elite player. Look at some of the men coaching gymnastics. It’s hard to believe they could have ever mastered the pommel horse or uneven bars for themselves, but they can be brilliant at training others.  The successful coaches are somehow able to deconstruct each aspect of each move, and train their athletes to weave their brilliance in seamless performances.

Every now and then we see a player with a deep awareness of the game. And not just their contribution to the game, but the game itself, and how every part works together. Steve Larkham, the Australian rugby great, was a player like this. He’d weave his magic and he’d create the opportunities for others to weave their’s. Larkham not only did, but he knew what he did, and he could pass this on to others. He coached as he played and it was no surprise to see him coaching after he stopped playing.

So what does this have to do with expositional preaching? Nothing. I just love gratuitous sporting illustrations!

Seriously though, many great preachers function at a very high level of unconscious competence. They communicate with clarity and depth. They shine a light on the riches of God’s word and they impress it on the hearts and minds of their listeners. We come away from their preaching with ‘our hearts burning within us’. But don’t ask them to train other preachers. They can’t even tell you what it is they do. They’re at a loss when it comes to coaching.

Recently, I attended a preaching coaching workshop at Moore College. I’m so glad I did. For me it was Preaching Coaching 101. Keep it simple. Break things down. Clarity. Simplicity. Specificity. Depth. Grace. Gospel. Theological. Heart. Mind. Affections. Motivations. Exegesis. Contextualisation. And more.

I love preaching, but I also love listening to great preaching. We need more and more passionate, humble, empowered, clear, focused communicators of the Word of God’s Spirit. We need people who will dig deeply into the text and fire it deep into the psyches of the listeners. We need preachers who handle the Scriptures with care and expect God to transform their listeners. This means both getting the message right and getting the message across.

Enter David Helm and his sharp little book, Expositional Preaching: How we speak God’s Word today. Our coaching workshop leant heavily on Helm’s approach to expositional preaching. Helm has learned much from the likes of great preachers like Dick Lucas and Kent Hughes, and it shows. Like a master coach he has broken down the art of preaching so as to pass it on to others. Helm is persuaded that we need to do two things well: Get it right and get it across (p36).

I’ve listened to the audio book of Expositional Preaching and now I’m digging into it more thoroughly with my paper copy, and a pen and a highlighter in hand.

Helm addresses the dangers of merely coming to the Bible to find something that fits with what we want to say. He asks the question “Who will be king? Me? Or the biblical text?” Helm is persuaded that we must let God speak and not get in his way with our hobby horses or attempts to be ‘relevant’. This must involve careful exegesis and theological reflection, but it will also require an investment in careful communication. Helm covers both sides of this equation in his book.

Expositional Preaching provides an introduction to the necessary building blocks for preparing messages that will communicate God’s message to contemporary listeners. If I can shift my metaphors, Helm’s book offers us a recipe for preaching that is nutritious, well presented, and full of taste.

It’s probably aimed at new preachers—ministry trainees, students in theological colleges, people starting out on a lifetime of teaching the Scriptures. For me, it’s an excellent coaching manual for those of us who feel we can do, but who have trouble in identifying what we do and why we do it and how we do it. If we seriously want to equip people who are passionate and skilled in biblical preaching, then I recommend we recruit David Helm as our coach—or at least work seriously through his coaching manual.


Planning is now well underway for the FIEC 2017 National Conference. It will take place at Stanwell Tops in NSW, from Monday 4 to Thursday 7 September.
This is the one time of the year when we get together with our brothers and sisters serving in FIEC churches across our country. It’s a time to catch up with old friends, make new ones, and encourage one another to keep serving our saviour, the Lord Jesus. 2017 marks 500 years since the birth of the Reformation, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door in Wittenberg. We thank God for calling his people back to the truth of his word, and we are calling on God to keep us reforming.
This year’s conference is based on the theme of BLINDSPOTS. Where do we need to be changing? What are the threats to the spread of the gospel? Why might we need shaking from our complacency? How will we persevere in bearing testimony to Jesus in an increasingly hostile world? These are some of the challenges we all face. And there are many more we probably don’t even see.
We will be asking what God’s Spirit is saying to our churches. I will be opening God’s Word from the book of Revelation, asking God to shine a light on our blindspots. Peter Jensen will speak in the evenings, and many of our pastoral staff will lead us in sessions designed to get us reviewing our ministries, planning for the future, and prayerfully advancing in the strength God provides. There will be seminars, workshops, and opportunities to connect with others doing similar stuff to you.
Whether you come from a small church or a bigger one, whether from the country or the city, whether you’re encouraged or struggling—this conference will be designed to spur you on in your service of God.
Please plan now to come. Set aside the dates. Budget for the opportunity. Consider who to invite.
Full costs, details, and registration will be available on our website soon.

Gratias – Dr James Howard Bradbury (AM)

howardIt was my honour and privilege to speak at the thanksgiving service for Howard Bradbury at the Australian National University last Saturday. I first met Dr Bradbury (as I knew him then) early in 1975 when we moved to Canberra. I last met Howard (as I’ve known him for some time) at the ICU at National Capital Private Hospital only days before he died. Our lives have connected in so many ways over so many years, and I truly thank God for our friendship and his lasting influence upon me.

Dr Bradbury completed a PhD in polymer chemistry at Birmingham University in record time. After a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University, and working at CSIRO Wool Research Laboratories, he joined the Chemistry Department at the ANU in 1961. He has pursued sabbatical research at Cornell and Oxford Universities. He has been award a DSc from both Melbourne University and ANU. He received the David Syme Research Prize from Melbourne University and the Rennie Memorial Medal and H G Smith Memorial Medal from the Royal Australian Chemical Institute. In 2007 he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for his contributions.

The Director of the ANU Research School of Chemistry, Professor John Carver, was Professor Bradbury’s PhD student and friend. He spoke highly at the thanksgiving service about Dr Bradbury’s lasting impact in the lives of so many people—both academically and personally. Dr Bradbury was a scientists’ scientist. And yet, I knew next to nothing of this influence prior to his passing.
I’ve been aware for some time of Dr Bradbury’s extraordinary commitment to using his science for humanitarian good. He retired from his salaried position at the ANU at the early age of 61 so that he could devote himself more fully to exploring the chemistry of food and providing solutions to the plight of the poorest people in the world. He continued this brilliant work, unpaid for another 28 years, inventing and producing simple and affordable techniques to remove cyanide from cassava. Thousands and thousands have been rescued from the debilitating paralysis of konzo. It was deeply moving at the thanksgiving service to be reminded of the generous humanitarian impact of his work.

Yet my experience of the impact of Howard Bradbury, together with Ruth—his wife of 64
years—began with their hospitality. As a young teenager I was welcomed into the world of university student ministry at Reid Methodist (Uniting from 1977) Church. Howard and Ruth would reach out to students in the colleges, invite them into their home, provide transport, cook meals, offer support, encourage fun, and generously pour out Christian love. Howard and Ruth loved students and, even more, they loved students to enter into a real relationship with God through Jesus Christ. And this has left its legacy on me.

When I left home for university it made sense to seek out a church that understood university students and that had a passion to see their lives transformed. This I found at the University of NSW with the ministry of Phillip Jensen and St Matthias. Howard’s passion to impact students with the message of Jesus became my passion. I pursued this with vigour and eventually moved back to the place where I had seen it first—the ANU—where I started the ministry of FOCUS and later Crossroads Christian Church.
Howard and Ruth supported Fiona and me as we began this new work in Canberra. They would ask us how we were going and pray for us. Howard joined the committee to support the university ministry and, together with Ken Mackay, opened up many doors for ministry on the campus.

Version 2Over the last decade or more of Howard’s life our friendship has been enriched in new ways. Being unimpressed with the compromise of the Uniting Church on some matters of biblical importance, Howard led the planting of a new church called the Canberra Christian Fellowship (in the Methodist Tradition). I would visit this congregation often, regularly providing preaching support, and always dropping the average age significantly! While small in numbers, this body of believers has always been big in heart, no doubt encouraged by the wisdom, grace and love of Howard and Ruth. Each time I would join with this fellowship I would come away encouraged to keep on going myself.

Howard Bradbury was a man of science, esteemed across the globe. He was a man of the people, loved by his wife, children, grandchildren, and 20 great grandchildren. His love for people shaped his application of his science to the needs of others. But deeper still, Howard was a man of faith in God through Jesus Christ. His knowledge of God laid a solid foundation for his scientific passion. The mercy and kindness of his Saviour pushed him to love, respect, and invest in people.

At a time when it is normal to view Science in opposition to Christianity and reason as the antithesis of faith, Howard causes us to pause and reconsider. Here was a man whose faith was founded on good reasons. Jesus Christ, who died and was buried, was raised and appeared to eye-witnesses, who testified to what they saw. These events in history transformed Emeritus Professor James Howard Bradbury AM, PhD (Birmingham), DSc (Melbourne), DSc (ANU), to apply his immense scientific brain to consider the claims and promises of God.

Will you do the same?

Qualifications to read the Bible in church

bible-readingLooking for people who can read the Bible out loud in church? Trying to fill the Bible reading roster? Building a team of Bible readers? Then let me ask you “What qualifies someone to be able to read the Bible?” Do they need to have a background in performing arts? Or perhaps have been a newsreader in a previous life? Should they audition for the task? Or complete a training course for reading in front of others? Is volunteering enough or is vetting needed? What makes a good Bible reader?

I’m sure that there are plenty of good ideas that will help people to read well in church, but I wonder if we might overlook the most important qualifications. Here are four qualifications to keep at the top of your lists.

To qualify for reading the Bible out loud in front of church you must be…

  1. One who trusts that the Bible is the authoritative, inspired Word of God. Only if you appreciate the author will you read with the attitude needed to pass on a message from God. We’re not reading shopping lists or Facebook posts. We’re communicating the very words of God.
  2. One who reads the Bible regularly for your own instruction, edification, comfort, encouragement, or rebuke. We mustn’t cause one another to stumble in hypocrisy by asking them to do something in public that they don’t do in private. Let’s get our own house in order before calling on others to do the same.
  3. One who understands the meaning and implications of the Scripture you are reading. This will require studying the passages of Scripture beforehand. If we don’t understand what we are reading, then we won’t communicate the message clearly or faithfully to others. We might need to look up a commentary or spend time with the preacher in advance to help us fully grasp the meaning. The key to good communication is understanding what you are saying.
  4. One who prayerfully seeks to apply the message to your life. This will require us to read over the text well before reading in public so that we can meditate upon it, pray about it, and determine what difference it should make to our life.

Does this all sound a bit much? Does it sound more like the qualifications for the preacher or teacher? Perhaps this is why the Apostle Paul called Timothy to devote himself to it.

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.  (1 Timothy 4:13)

There’s an obvious lesson in all this for service leaders and preachers. If we want good Bible readers at church, then we need to find suitable people and give them plenty of time to prepare. We should be willing to work with people in helping them to understand, apply, and communicate the Scriptures. Extra work? Absolutely—and worth it.

Now to go and put this into practice.

Apprenticeships for ministry

IMG_2710Once upon a time Christian ministers were viewed with respect. Ministry was voted among the more trustworthy of professions, but not so much any more. The appallingly bad behaviour of some has damaged the reputations of many.

The solution is simple. People serving in ministry must first be Christians—born again by the Spirit of God. Genuine ministry isn’t something you can fake. There’s no place for bluffing your way as a leader in God’s church. Leaders must first be followers—followers of Jesus. Pastors (or shepherds) of the flock need to understand they are first of all sheep, and they always remain sheep, guided by the Chief Shepherd.

Ministry is about God and people and life. It’s about change and transformation, character and integrity, truth and love. These aren’t the lessons you learn in the lecture room. You can’t download them from the internet, or glean them from books. These lessons are taught by God in the business of life. They come through practice, experience, application, devotion, heartache, weakness, and failure.

Those who would lead God’s people are to watch their lives and doctrine carefully (1 Timothy 4:16). Of course, this means hard work in studying the Word of God, but not in academic isolation. It’s not simply the head, but also the heart and the hands that need to be changed.

It’s for these reasons, and more, that I worry when people are in a hurry to go to theological college in preparation for a life of ministry. I worry when people dismiss the idea of growing into their ministry now, to work out if they are suited for more ministry later. I’ve observed impatient men and women dismissing the idea of practical training and jumping quickly into academic training.

Don’t get me wrong—theological education is so important for training in Christian ministry. But training must also be personal and practical and relational and communal.

For this reason, apprenticeships can be an excellent format for helping people to assess their suitability for Christian ministry. Spending time with a trainer, growing in life and ministry together, can offer an excellent opportunity to work out what it means to serve and lead others in the ways of God. You can focus on ministry competencies, while growing in theological conviction, and building Christian character.

If you are serious about preparing for a life time of ministry, then I encourage you to consider a ministry apprenticeship. You can talk with me or contact the Ministry Training Strategy.

This is not a solicited or paid advertisement!

The daunting task of the preacher

Version 2Preaching can be an intimidating task. Knees quiver and voices quaver for some of us when we are forced to speak publicly. But it’s not the people in the audience that should cause us to tremble—here are four things more daunting still.

1. God

The task of the preacher is to speak about God. And we do it with God himself in the room. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of talking about somebody and then becoming aware that they can hear you. You didn’t realise they were there, and then you see them out of the corner of your eye. They’ve been listening in and heard every word you’ve said! The preacher has that experience every time they preach. We talk about God in the presence of God. How important it is we get it right. We’d do well to reflect on the lesson of Job in chapter 42, who basically says, “Look, I should shut up because I didn’t know who or what I was talking about.” And if he didn’t know what he was talking about—and he gets to be in the Bible—then we should be a little careful. Don’t you think?

2. God’s word

God’s word is a powerful thing. By God’s word the heavens and the earth were made. By God’s word this universe continues to function. By God’s word hearts and minds are brought from death to life. By God’s word the church is built and grows into maturity. Our task is to handle this powerful word of truth with great care (2 Timothy 2:15). I may get into trouble for mentioning this, but my brother recently removed his thumb—literally. One minute he is working in his garage with his circular saw. A short time later he is waking up in hospital with a surgically reattached thumb. A circular saw is a powerful instrument. It can do great good and great harm, so we must handle it with care. How much more the word of God. People depend on the preacher to take great care with God’s word. In fact, their lives depend on it.

3. The preacher’s heart

Let me state the bleeding obvious—I’m not perfect. Not even close. And every time I have to preach I’m reminded of this fact. I often feel like Isaiah who in chapter 6, when confronted with a vision of the holy God, says “Woe is me, because I’m a man of unclean lips, among a people of unclean lips.” Isaiah could have been speaking for me.

I know my own sinfulness. I know my weaknesses. I know the things that I do wrong. And yet here I am, charged with speaking about the holy and righteous God—in my state. How important that I remember that God has acted in Christ to cleanse me. How important to remember that God can even speak his truth through a donkey (Numbers 22).

4. The preacher’s life

God calls us to practice what we preach. The apostle Paul called people to follow his example and to copy his way of life. So much of what people learn is caught rather than taught. Our walk should match our talk. When it doesn’t we can quickly undermine our message. How many preachers have called their congregations to sexual purity only to have their porn addictions, their illicit affairs, or their heartless marriages exposed? We know our hypocrisy and they can easily lead to warped preaching. Some will avoid speaking on any topic they’re unwilling to confront themselves. Others will confront their failures by beating on others. They know the deep-rooted greed in their hearts and yet mercilessly challenge others to confront their idolatry and covetousness.

From the gospel to the gospel

We must always remember that ‘but for the grace of God go I’. We have received grace, mercy and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. We bring nothing to the table—it is all of God. We should thank him and trust him alone. So too, our ministries are gifts of God’s grace (Romans 12:3-8). God doesn’t choose the clever, the strong, or the powerful because they are the ones qualified to be his ambassadors. He works among the weak and the imperfect to equip them for his service. God’s Spirit is at work in the messenger and the message. So let us never give up praying that God will transform our hearts and minds and work through our words and actions.

Our message is to be grounded in gospel. So too we must point people to the gospel. We have a powerful life-changing word from God. We must not water this down to a pathetic call to live better lives. Let people hear the hope. And hear it loud. God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself. God is working for the good of all who love and trust him, to make us more like his Son, Christ Jesus. Self-righteous pretence leads to hell, but God-given righteousness, through faith in Christ, leads to everlasting life.

Let’s keep on with the daunting task of preaching the gospel.

Originally published on TGCAu site 20/8/15

Leaders eat last

leaderseatlastLeaders eat last: Why some teams pull together and others don’t by Simon Sinek is a thoughtful analysis of many of the problems created and experienced by leaders and organisations in today’s world. It contains case studies, research, and biological and anthropological explanations for why successful organisations are those that create strong and safe communities. While this book is longer than it needs to be, and possibly over reaches in its biological and evolutionary claims, there is much to learn and relearn in this analysis of human interaction. Leaders of all types, whether in families, business, churches, government or other organisations, will do well to review their leadership in the light of Leaders eat last. I’ve personally found many points for reflection as I’ve be pushed to evaluate my leadership and the organisation (church) that I lead.

While the title is a metaphor for selflessness, it resonates literally with me. In 2002, as I became the team chaplain for the Brumbies Super 12 Rugby Team, I met the assistant team manager, Garry Quinlivan. ‘Quinzo’ is a retired customs officer who devotes his time to serving the Brumbies players and staff. He works without pay, spending long hours preparing, cleaning, checking up on, and sacrificially caring for everyone. Many things stand out about Quinzo, but one thing has struck me over the entire time I have watched him at work—he always eats last! Whether it’s a social BBQ, a drinks break, team lunch, or celebrating after a win—Quinzo always eats last. He gives everything for the team. And, in turn, people love Quinzo—they would do anything for this man.

Leaders eat last has constructive advice to leaders who preside over toxic work places. Watch how you lead—you may be the problem! Though of course, many selfish leaders would never consider themselves at fault. They don’t pause to reflect on the climate they are creating. The push for profits, the obsession with numbers, and the focus on short-term results mask the damage many leaders are doing to people. And then they wonder why their outcomes and results are so poor.

Sinek makes much of the importance of creating a circle of safety in the organisation. This idea is taken from Aesop’s Fable:

A lion used to prowl about a field in which four oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four. (p20)

When we are part of a strong circle of safety, we naturally share ideas, burdens, successes, and we build a culture of collaboration, trust, and innovation. Good relationships are key to people surviving, let alone flourishing. A healthy organisation will be built on good relationships between colleagues. People grow in their trust for one another and become willing to do more for each other and the organisation. By contrast, organisations characterised by suspicion, fear, and distrusting micromanagement, are destined for decline and failure.

Sinek suggests a number of strategies that leaders can adopt to build a healthy, positive, relational culture in their organisations:

Rule 1: Keep it real—bring people together. Efficiency doesn’t always equal effectiveness. Emails, intranets, and on-line people management systems won’t necessarily build deep, trusting relationships. Trust is not formed through a screen, it is formed across the table. It takes a handshake to bind humans … and no technology yet can replace that. There is no such thing as virtual trust. (p111)

Rule 2: Keep it manageable—obey Dunbar’s Number. Anthropologist Robin Dunbar has found that people are not able to maintain close relationships with more than 150 people at a time. Traditional societies around the world tend to be organized in groups of 100 to 150. Larger groups require clear lines of organisation and specialist care to encourage cooperation and healthy relationships to develop. I suspect it is no accident that many churches seem to get stuck, never growing much beyond 150 people.

Rule 3: Meet the people you help. Fund-raising workers who have personal contact with the people they help have far more success. We work harder and better when we can see our potential impact. If we are focused purely on names and numbers, then morale drops and the organisation suffers.

Rule 4: Give them time, not just money. Research has shown that we place a higher value on time than money. Giving time, attention, and energy builds relationship, fosters community, creates trust, and encourages loyalty.

Rule 5: Be patient—obey the rule of seven days and seven years. Building relationships of trust takes time. Gauging someone’s fit in an organisation or in a relationship takes longer than the time that we typically give it: ‘more than seven days, but less than seven years’.

Sinek teaches that becoming a leader involves the key ingredients of love and trust. Leaders must model and grow organisations shaped and characterised by care and strong relationships. They should work to provide safe environments for their workers to enjoy being productive.

It’s not hard to see the relevance of this book to many workplaces and community organisations. Many of us have experienced difficult work environments where the CEO or the boss is a large part of the problem. The drive for profits often leaves a wake of departures and problems for the organisation.

As a pastor, I see a number of lessons for myself and my colleagues. If churches focus on growing numbers, budgets, buildings and the like, then we can forget that we should be primarily about the love of God and a love for people. I’m called to put others before myself—to be a leader who eats last. Jesus is the great example of the one who did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). In a sense, I don’t need the wisdom of Sinek—I need the vision and example of Jesus. However, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded by whatever means. If God can teach people through an ass, then he can certainly challenge me through a popular leadership book!

The sad reality is that there are too many people who’ve been hurt by their churches. I regularly meet people who feel they have been neglected, rejected, abused, or betrayed by their church or their leaders. This many be a one-sided analysis (it’s much easier to see how we’ve been hurt, than how we might have hurt others) but it’s a reminder to stay in touch with what the church is intended to be—the body of Christ, shaped by his love.

Leaders eat last has encouraged me to do some self-reflection. Is my leadership offering care and protection to those entrusted to me? Are we building a church community where it is safe to be weak and vulnerable? Are people more important than processes? Is maturity more valued than money? Where are my blind spots as a leader? What do I need to change or work at?


10-10-1010-10-10 by Suzy Welsh is a very simple and very practical decision making tool. It revolves around asking three simple questions: When faced with a dilemma, stop and ask, “What will the consequences of my options be in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years?”

This approach helps broaden the variables in complex decision making. It enables us to tap into our values and focus on our goals as we face the immediate crisis of making a decision. Some choices have long ranging consequences and other do not. 10-10-10 helps us weigh the different consequences of our decisions.

10-10-10’s applicability is wide ranging. “From college students to busy mothers to senior business executives, from artists to government administrators to entrepreneurs, 10-10-10 has shown its effectiveness in decisions large and small, routine and radical, changing lives for the better at home, in love, at work, and in friendship.”

While I appreciate the power of this decision making tool and recommend it to others, it doesn’t go far enough. And I mean more than extending it to 50-50-50, to enable decisions to be made with ‘whole of life’ implications considered.

As a Christian, I believe that we all make decisions with eternal consequences. Choices made today and tomorrow will have implications for more than this life alone. If I choose to shut God out of my life for the next 10 minutes, and the next 10 months, and the next 10 years, then I run the risk of distancing myself from God for all eternity. My choice is to trust God with the complexity of day to day, month to month, year to year decisions. I believe that God has secured my eternity through Jesus Christ and that every decision I make should reflect this reality.

The words of John Newton, in his famous song Amazing Grace, come to mind:

When we’ve been there 10,000 years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun

Let’s make our decisions by weighing up the consequences for 10 minutes time, 10 months time, 10 years time, and 10 thousand years into eternity. I’d love to cooperate with Suzy Welch in a Revised Edition called 10-10-10-10!


MembershipI’ve been asked by the Brumbies CEO to contribute a regular piece to their in-house newsletter. This is my first contribution:

In my first contribution, I’d like to share a few lessons I’ve picked up from a book by Patrick Lencioni called The Five Dysfunctions of Team. This is one of the best books I’ve read on teamwork and I think it has much to offer our organisation, both on the team and admin sides.

The five dysfunctions can be summarised as follows:

Dysfunction #1: Absence of Trust 

This occurs when team members are reluctant to be vulnerable with one another and are unwilling to admit their mistakes, weaknesses or needs for help. Without a certain comfort level among team members, a foundation of trust is impossible.

Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict 

Teams that are lacking trust are unable to engage in unfiltered, passionate debate about key issues, causing situations where team conflict can easily turn into veiled discussions and back channel comments. In a work setting where team members do not openly air their opinions, inferior decisions are the result.

Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment 

Without conflict, it is difficult for team members to commit to decisions, creating an environment where ambiguity prevails. Lack of direction and commitment can make employees disgruntled.

Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability 

When teams don’t commit to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven individuals hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that may seem counterproductive to the overall good of the team.

Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results 

Team members naturally tend to put their own needs (ego, career development, recognition, etc.) ahead of the collective goals of the team when individuals aren’t held accountable. If a team has lost sight of the need for achievement, the business ultimately suffers.

I raise these insights not because I think the Brumbies suffer badly from these dysfunctions, but so we can be vigilant in not allowing them to sabotage our efforts and prevent good results. It’s worth asking ourselves once or twice a season whether any of these dysfunctions are raising their ugly heads. We pride ourselves on being family at the Brumbies, but even families can develop bad patterns of relating to one another. Every season our family changes. Even one new member makes a difference to the whole. This coming season we will have new coaches, management, admin staff, and players. So let’s work to develop trust among each another, so that we’re not afraid of constructive conflict, we build commitment, we increase accountability, and we achieve great results.

Crazy Busy

crazybusyI read this book some months back and was intending to review it immediately. But then something happened—I got crazy busy! I took on a new ministry role and pretty soon I had a full diary, began skipping exercise, let my good eating habits go, kept myself awake at night thinking about things, and couldn’t even find time to finish a summary/review of what is a fairly short and simple book.

Crazy Busy: a (mercifully) short book about a (really) big problem is a book for Christian leaders that was always destined to be a best-seller. I’ve yet to meet a pastor who doesn’t cry ‘busy’. To be honest, it’s rare to meet anyone these days who doesn’t lay claim to being crazy busy. Busyness is epidemic in our fast-paced, technologically-advanced, opportunity-laden, affluent, western societies. All the ridiculous promises for the future—that we will have so much time on our hands that we won’t know what to do with it—were just that: ridiculous promises. In fact, in some circles busyness is worn as a badge of honour. Unless someone is busy they shouldn’t be taken seriously.

De Young warns of the dangers of busyness…

But if the strain is mental—as is the case for most jobs and for most of us—the negative impact on the body can be huge. So don’t ignore the physical danger of busyness. Just remember the most serious threats are spiritual. When we are crazy busy, we put our souls at risk. The challenge is not merely to make a few bad habits go away. The challenge is not to let our spiritual lives slip away. The dangers are serious, and they are growing. And few of us are as safe as we may think. (p26)

Busyness can blind us to problems that are deep and destructive. Our lives can become joyless as we struggle to keep up with all the demands. It can rob our hearts of the opportunities to reflect, learn, and grow. Discontent can eat away at us as we envy the time, opportunities, and ‘freedoms’ of others. Busyness can cover up deeper problems within our souls. Having our diaries and planners crammed full does not equate to faithfulness or fruitfulness. It only means you are busy, just like everyone else. And like everyone else, your joy, your heart, and your soul are in danger. (p32)

Crazy Busy offers seven diagnoses to consider in understanding the depth of our problems with busyness. The first of these is pride. He strings a list of ‘P’ words together to make his point. These include people-pleasing, proving ourselves, seeking pity, poor planning, a need for power, the problem of perfectionism, seeking prestige, and more. De Young has found one simple question helps him to assess whether pride lies behind his busyness…

Am I trying to do good, or make myself look good? (p39)

The second diagnosis has to do with obligation. Are we trying to do what God doesn’t expect us to do? We need to be reminded often that we are not the Christ; that the gospel is great news of joy—not a demand of all that must be done; that care is not the same as do; that we have different gifts and different callings; that the church is a body with many parts; that prayer is something positive and practical we can do; and that even Jesus didn’t do it all. Above all, we need to remember that it’s not up to us to keep the universe going—God has that covered.

De Young’s third diagnosis focuses on mission creep. He reminds us of the importance of setting and sticking to priorities. Jesus recognised that there were so many good things he could do, but he would not let the good get in the way of his number one priorities. Jesus was not ultimately driven by the needs or the approval of others. He was focused on his divine mission. Not that we are on a mission from God in the same vein as Jesus, but the point is that if Jesus had to set and stick to priorities, then so must we. We simply cannot do everything and nor should we try.

Fourthly, we are warned to stop freaking out about our kids. He reminds us that it’s harder to ruin our kids than we think and it’s impossible to guarantee their future successes. In trying to do more and more for our kids we may be increasing the build up of stress in our lives and theirs. De Young refers to a Galinsky survey of more than thousand children in grades three to twelve. He asked the kids what was one thing they would change about the way their parents’ work was affecting them.

The kids rarely wished for more time with their parents, but much to the parents’ surprise, they wished their parents were less tired and less stressed.  (p70)

The fifth diagnosis looks at the impact of the screen and technology. De Young confesses that he used to roll his eyes about technophiles, until he became one!

Now I have a blog, a Facebook Page, a Twitter handle, a Bluetooth headset, an iPhone, an iPad, wifi at work and at home, cable TV, a Wii, a Blu-ray player, multiple email accounts, and unlimited texting. (p78)

We’re warned to take seriously the threat of addiction to all our devices. Multiple lines of instant communication can be a continual distraction to achieving anything productive. Our busyness makes us more prone to descending into trivia and mindlessly tuning out in front of the TV or the internet. It’s hard to be alone when we are ‘on call’ all the time—and being alone is important. We need to ask the hard questions about whether our new technologies are making our lives simpler, or more complicated. What steps should we take to ensure that such things remain our servants and don’t become our masters?

Diagnosis number six reminds us of the necessity of rest. God’s design was that we work and we rest. The danger these days is that we blur these two. Life becomes overwhelming because our days and weeks and years lack rhythm. We take work home with us. Our phones and lap tops are part work/part pleasure. We give lip service to the idea of day off, but we’re never totally on or off. (I confess this is my struggle.) De Young reminds us that we need to work hard just to rest. Breaks need to be planned. Unscheduled time needs to be scheduled. The rhythms of work and rest need planning. (p98)

The final diagnosis is a surprise one. We are busy because we are supposed to be busy. We’re too quick to assume that life was intended to be easy, comfortable, relaxed, calm. The reality is that we are sinful beings living in a complex world. We should expect to struggle with tiredness, illness, confusion, complex relationships, burdens and busyness. Sometimes our problem lies not with the circumstances but with our attitudes to them. We’re caught out, confused, and we don’t know how to respond.

The antidote to busyness of soul is not sloth and indifference. The antidote is rest, rhythm, death to pride, acceptance of our own finitude, and trust in the providence of God. (p102)

De Young’s answer is to point us to Jesus. We are encouraged to spend time ‘at his feet’ listening to his words. We’re called to devote ourselves to the Word of God and prayer. The problem is, when I hear this, it can sound like another busyness burden to add to all the others. And so I need to be reminded that it is God’s word that refocuses and refreshes me. It is through prayer that I can unload my burdens and anxieties upon God. Beginning the day with God helps me to keep perspective. To Do lists, difficult conversations, meetings, preparation and planning, sermons, studies, and everything else, need to be seen from the perspective that only God’s word can provide—eternity. And so I will learn again to humbly ask for God’s wisdom, grace, and strength, to do what he would have me do, for his glory.

Our new church with a new name

On February 1 this year I took up the position of lead pastor at Central Evangelical Church in Canberra. The previous pastor had resigned in September and the church was seeking a pastor with experience to lead them into the future. It was a big decision as to whether to take on this role. The state of my health loomed large in the equation, but so did the fact that I expected to have to work through many issues facing the church—and some of these weren’t likely to be easy.

Over two months have now past since taking on this role. I’ve moved my chemotherapy back to Mondays in order to maximise the likelihood of being able to make church every Sunday. So far, so good! I’ve just finishing preaching for nine consecutive weeks—something I hadn’t achieved since 2011, before cancer. In fact, I hadn’t done three weeks in a row since then.

We’ve been working through the book of 1 Peter, which has proved most helpful in focusing the church on the things of God. Last Sunday people shared together what they’d been learning from this New Testament letter and it was a great joy to see the impact of God’s word in people’s lives.

stromloLast Sunday we voted as a church to change our name to Stromlo Christian Church. We believed this will help us to engage better with our local community. While it may not have been the wisest thing to push for a name change so early in the transition, we recognised that much would flow from this—websites, advertising, signs, and the like. There was strong support for the new name and this helps us to proceed in unity together.

If you would like to see some of the things that are going on at Stromlo, then you can check out my new blog at I’m using this blog to facilitate communication with the church about issues we are facing, changes we are making, and to share a vision for gospel ministry as we move forward.


talkingIf 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 only be 75% or so of regulars in attendance. Of these, some will be out with children or youth. One or two could be in the bathroom. Some might be vaguing out with other things on their minds. 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 a weekly email or blog post. Some in-boxes are so full that people have given up on 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. And some simply don’t find the time to read them.

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 notice, memo, email, blog post, leaflet or something else. Things might need to be repeated over more than one week so 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. Emails and blog 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.

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.

We need to be patient with one another as we take time to get to know people, work out how things work ‘around here’, discover expectations, learn how to become better listeners, and explore good means of communication.

By the way, if you read this on my other blog, it didn’t hurt to read it twice, did it!


Sometimes I astound myself with my own ability—to be stupid!

This morning was a case in point. I began by speaking with a good friend about my good ideas. They were well-considered, innovative, creative and an excellent solution to the problem. But my friend cut me off before I’d even finished. They weren’t impressed—with the idea or with me. And pretty soon, I wasn’t that impressed with them either. What had gone wrong?

Put simply, I presented them with my solution to our problem, before they even knew there was a problem. I started with the end and planned to work backwards to the beginning. I didn’t engage my friend with the issues. I failed to invite their creative input. I came across with a package—here’s the solution.

Let me tell you, this isn’t the way to solve problems with others. It’s not the way to conduct a marriage, build a team, lead a church, or build collaborative relationships. And it’s damaging to trust.

It’s obvious really—we should start with the problem and work to a solution, together. Co-operation. Teamwork. Share the problem. Share the problem solving. Share the solution. Share the outcome.

The order is P then S. It’s about Partnership and Sharing, People and Synergy, Protecting and Strengthening relationships.

Problem, then Solution.

Staying on the Leading Edge

johngrayI must admit to being a little suspicious when I saw the promo for Staying on the Leading Edge—Without Killing Yourself by John Gray. The title and the cover photo reminded me of the many ‘real men’ books I’ve seen lately. I was worried that it would be a ‘Rambo Theology’ for pastors; a ‘you can conquer the world if you believe in yourself’ manifesto. Well, it isn’t. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. This book calls upon leaders to humble themselves before God and to apply God’s Word in their leadership of God’s church on God’s mission. This book is shaped by the Bible and applies God’s blueprint for leadership to the task of Christian leadership. There are many books out there on leadership in the church and this book deserves its place among them.

Gray has written Staying on the Leading Edge for three purposes:

“Firstly, I write to provide a framework for those who have an internal drive to lead.”

“Secondly, I want to contribute to the debate on a theology of leadership.”

“Thirdly, I write for those who are battle weary.”

I figure that this will engage most Christian leaders on each of the three levels. It’s important for us to be clear why we do what we do and how we should go about it. Most leaders I know who’ve been leading for any length of time, are feeling or have felt battle weary. Some may feel this way all the time.

Most books I’ve read about leadership stress the importance of the leader having a vision. We are told that the leader’s task is to present his people with a compelling vision of the future to strive for. The strength of this book is that it doesn’t rely on the leader to create the vision for the future, nor to decipher the specific vision that God has for this leader or this group of people. Rather, the vision for the future has already been given by God in his word. It is this vision that the leader calls his people to follow. Gray draws this vision from the Bible, quoting such wonderful passages as Isaiah 25:6-8…

On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines.

On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever.

The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces;
he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.
The LORD has spoken.

He also quotes Napoleon as saying Leaders are merchants of hope. What a wonderful picture for the Christian leader to consider—to present people with a vision of hope. This is true to God as revealed in his word, for the Scriptures are a message of hope, and God is calling people to an eternal hope that nothing can destroy. I wonder how many pastors, youth leaders, Bible study leaders, chaplains or evangelists think of themselves as ‘hope merchants’. Not that we are selling the hope—it comes free and guaranteed by God himself. Hope is our message, and hope should shape our methods and goals.

This book addresses the character of leaders over and above their competency. Of course, both are required, but character is often forced to take a backseat to competency. Gray warns that:

“Churches are seriously burned, deeply hurt and even destroyed when leaders full of passion and vision lead with hubris.”

“Character is important for at least two reasons: it will keep a leader upright during the worst of storms and, secondly, it will provide a model of a life so irresistible that others will be drawn to it and, therefore, to Christ.”

We are warned against the risks of basing our leadership on personal claims to authority. There is no place for lording it over others or bullying people into responding. Rather, we are called to serve, to set an example, to love at cost to ourselves. Leading and teaching need to be more than propositions and words—they need to be accompanied by a godly example for others to follow. Jesus calls us to follow him. The apostle Paul called upon people to follow his example, as he followed the example of Jesus. The cynicism of our age and the poor track record of churches and their leaders makes this every bit as important as it was 2000 years ago—if not more. Gray writes:

“The longer we travel in a post-modern world, with an increasing emphasis on narcissism, the more crucial it is that people see evidence that the kingdom of God transforms lives. They are looking for a life that is worth living. If they could see it in the life of leaders, then they would follow it.”

Character and convictions must also be accompanied by competence. God is seeking skilled leaders who will lead his people well.

And David shepherded them with integrity of heart;
with skilful hands he led them.  (Psalm 78:72)

From the Pastoral Letters of Paul, two skills receive particular attention: the ability to teach; and the ability to lead others within the household context. These areas of competency are essential to good leadership. If people are unable to communicate clearly, then they won’t be able to lead people. If people can’t demonstrate leadership in a smaller setting such as a household, small business, small group, or community organisation, then they are not ready to be entrusted with a church. Gray argues that with increasing size and complexity in churches, greater skill must be demonstrated before people are entrusted with greater leadership. He describes the various New Testament windows into the nature of good leadership, and illustrates this with the following diagram:


“Leadership in the church, therefore, is a matter of:

  • following and emulating the great servant, Christ;
  • developing a godly and exemplary life which others can emulate;
  • being able to teach sound doctrine;
  • developing skills commensurate with church size and complexity.”

Necessary skill must be accompanied by appropriate character, lest the highly articulate and experienced leader succeed in leading people down the garden path, or somewhere a lot worse. 

Gray is committed to encouraging leaders to keep at it for the long haul. He refers to stats that describe 12,000 ex-pastors in Australia who no longer lead their churches because something has gone wrong. This would remain a scary number even if it was only 10% true. His recommendations for equipping and encouraging leaders include drawing on the wisdom of:

  • Scripture
  • books
  • conferences
  • other leaders

He draws on Jethro’s wisdom to Moses to appoint leaders to help him lead well as the numbers of Israel grew. Moses then built an infrastructure of leaders who shared the load of caring for the people. They were instructed to bear the load unless it was too great for them, in which case things were passed up the chain to Moses. Gray has adopted this strategy in his own ministry with one notable and very personal change:

“I have added a piece to the “Moses model”. I not only ask the team to bring me that which is “too much for them”. I also ask them to pass on the celebration moments of life and the times when, unfortunately, a loved one passes away. As soon as anyone on the team hears about an engagement, the birth of a child or a passing of life, they get that info to me.”

He highlights the benefits he has discovered in reading widely on leadership. He draws from Christian and secular material to glean whatever wisdom will better equip him to lead.

Conferences can be a helpful source of inspiration. However, the danger is that we can simply become tossed around by the latest and greatest, thinking that the next conference will offer us the silver bullet for solving our leadership crises. I appreciated the idea of ‘do it yourself’ conferences that Gray describes. He speaks of regularly getting together with peers who are facing similar issues with their leadership, and being accompanied by a ‘grandfather’—someone older and wiser who understands the issues—and; a ‘pace-setting leader’—someone who is a few steps ahead of the rest of you, who can offer contemporary help in navigating the challenges.

He also stresses the benefits of having mentor figures that we can call on for advice and help at different times. He recommends keeping the contacts brief, perhaps offering to buy them a coffee or meal, or limiting time on the phone to 10 to 15 minutes. He urges us to value the time they give us by being well prepared in advance. They way to glean wisdom from them is to:

  • “Prepare 2 or 3 questions ahead of time. Work out what you want to ask. You know what it is like to find time in a crowded diary. It is more difficult for a leader of a larger church. Preparing questions will say to another leader, “I value your time. I do not want to waste it.”
  • “Be a good student. Take notes as you get answers to your questions. It matters not what media you take notes on, just take notes. When I take notes on my phone I always say something like “just want to let you know I am taking notes – not playing games.” This says to the leader I really do want to learn from you. I will not rely on my memory.”
  • “Take only the time you need. Your pace setter may not be looking for a friend. They already have friends.”

Gray reminds leaders to continually draw near to God and rely on his strength. We are encouraged to go regularly to the Word of God—not only for the latest sermon preparation—but to be nourished by God. He recalls how Wayne Cordeiro, at a pastors conference, encouraged him to grab his Bible, a pen, a notebook, and some time—and how it turned out to be exactly what he needed to hear and do. He now follows this pattern:

Record the key verse from the passages you have read. This will be the verse that stands out most for you.
Summarise the text surrounding the verse you have written down.
Record your answer to this question: “How will I be different today because of what I have just read?”
Write out a prayer in the light of what you have read.

There are some excellent practical recommendations in Staying on the Leading Edge that will help leaders to keep their zeal while staying the distance. Running at a human pace is the goal. We are not God—whatever we may tell ourselves!

“If we are to lead (and keep leading) with the vision of the Kingdom of God fuelling us, if we are to stay on the leading edge avoiding burnout and the curse of the conservative middle ground, then there are lessons we need to learn.”

roseHe discusses the importance of leading from a position of rest. This requires adequate quality sleep, regular days off, sufficient annual leave. It means refilling our physical, emotional, relational, mental, and spiritual tanks. He urges us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, to let him be our guide and pace-setter, and to draw near to him in our times of need.

Finally, I loved Gray’s ritual for welcoming new leaders onto his staff team. He gives them a single, long stemmed, red rose, and tells them that he wants them to make time to smell the roses.

Start with why

start-with-whyIn Start with Why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action, Simon Sinek argues that there are only two ways to influence human behaviour: manipulation or inspiration. Manipulation doesn’t have to be viewed negatively. A business can manipulate behaviour by dropping prices, offering incentives, running promotions, etc. Such manipulation works, but it costs. After a while customers expect the discount, or wait for the next promotion. It doesn’t build a loyal customer base. Over time, such strategies become too expensive to sustain. Customers only return for what they can get, rather than a commitment to the business or its products. Manipulation strategies have become the norm in many organisations. But there is another way.

Some are born leaders—others need to learn. The good news is that those of us who need to learn, can! And the big thing we need to learn is the power of WHY.

goldencircleSome leaders inspire rather than manipulate. They operate by a process that Sinek calls the golden circle. This approach works from the inside out. Instead of focusing on what or how, they begin with why. Many people and organisations can explain what they do and how they do things, but they struggle to clearly articulate why they do what they do or why they do it how they do it. Why has to do with purpose, reason, and cause. Why exposes our motivations and beliefs, and these are the things that inspire.

For the golden circle to work there must be clarity about the why. Once we can clearly articulate the why, we can then work out the how. How embodies the values and principles that flow from the why. And the what is the results that flow from the why and the how. When the golden circle is in balance, then the organisation or business or individual is seen as authentic and real. This isn’t easy to achieve and it requires us to continually go back to the why and work outward from there, rather than manipulating people with what.

In turn, this builds trust in customers and clients. Such trust is more than a rational experience—it’s a feeling we have when we believe the organisation or leader is behaving with integrity (whether they are successful or not). This feeling of trust inspires people to action.

Why types tend to be the visionaries and optimists who imagine what the world can become. How types are the realists and practitioners who focus on getting things done. Why types need how types, and vice-versa. Truly inspirational organisations display a healthy partnership between the two. A why without a how can be little more than unstructured passion and destined for failure.

Over time it’s easy to become focused on the what and how and forget the why. We become accomplished at what we do, and know how to do things intuitively, but we can lose sight of why we do them in the first place. We need to continually return to the why—the compass that sets our direction and motivates us to action.


I have mixed feelings about this book. I agree with the basic thesis and the shape of the golden circle. We should proceed from the why to the how to the what. Being clear about why we do what we do, and why we do it how we do it, is the key to acting with integrity and authenticity. This is what will lead others to trust us. This is what will inspire others to follow.

My problem with the book lies in its length and the choice of illustrations throughout. Sinek takes a whole book to make some very simple and fundamental points. It could have easily been argued in a pithy article of 10 to 20 pages. He colours the book with examples of organisations like Apple and Harley Davidson. While I’ve been a fan of Apple since 1987 and Harley Davidson for even longer, such iconic companies don’t exactly represent the typical organisation or individual. I’d love the same arguments to be made with reference to more ‘average’ people or businesses.

I appreciated the contrast between manipulation and inspiration. As a pastor and Christian leader, my desire is to inspire people to follow Jesus. I don’t want to manipulate people’s behaviour with sticks and carrots, but to inspire people with the gospel of Jesus and the grace-filled word of God.

Asking why I do what I do, is something I’d be wise to do often. It’s so easy to fall into ruts and patterns; to perpetuate the same old same old; to do things because this is just what we do, or because it’s what we’ve always done. Why offers the energy to initiate personal and organisational change. We can critique what we do or tinker with how we do things, but the real benefits are found in regularly reviewing why. I hope to be able to do this at a personal level and to lead review at an organisational level in the context of my leadership.

As a Christian, I find the why comes not from my passions and priorities, but ultimately in following God’s revealed will. The author of life offers meaning and purpose to life and this shapes what I do and how I go about it. My challenge is to anchor what I do in the word of God’s grace. It’s to teach and model the why, as well as the how and the what.

I am a church member

I Am a Church MemberI am a Church Member by Thom Rainer is a heart-warming and encouraging little book. It gently urges the Christian reader to understand and fulfil their role as an active participant in the church. Rainer contrasts the church with the image of a country club. In the club a member is one who pays their annual subscription and then feels entitled to receive certain perks and to be served by others. People come to the country club with expectations and demands. Membership of the church is more integral and organic. If we belong to Jesus, then we are already essential members of the church body, and we each have an important part to play. We are called to serve one another rather than seek to be served.

The commendations for this book run for many pages and read like a ‘who’s who’ of contemporary church leaders. But this doesn’t guarantee the merits of the book. It’s strength lies in it’s biblical foundations. Ultimately church membership is viewed as a gift from God. It comes through God’s grace in salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s a privilege, not a burden, or a set of rules to be followed.

I appreciated the way that prominence is given to love as the centrepiece of Christian relationships. The church is called to express itself in love for one another (1 Corinthians 12-14) and love is to be the hallmark of true Christians (John 13:35). Sadly, churches are easily damaged by a lack of love, disunity, gossip, and a lack of forgiveness. We are called to remember how we have been treated by Jesus Christ. He forgave the unlovely, and we are called to the same attitude.

Rainer reminds us that the word servant occurs 57 times in the New Testament and the word serve 58 times. Jesus modelled this and he called his followers to do the same. Church is not the place to have our personal preferences satisfied by others. It’s the context for putting the wellbeing and needs of others before our own.

The book finishes with the reminder that church is the fruit of the gospel. Rainer outlines how the sacrifice of Jesus Christ calls us into relationship with God. It’s the joy of salvation, rather than legalistic obligation, that will draw us into loving one another as part of God’s church.

I appreciated this book because it is short and simple (only 79 small pages). In many ways it would be a good book to offer newcomers to our churches, at the close of a welcome or orientation program, or as they are welcomed into some kind of formal membership. It is also an important book for old-comers or occasional-comers to our churches, because it urges us to look afresh at what church is really all about.

Interestingly, each of the six chapters in I am a Church Member finishes with a pledge for the reader to sign. This seemed rather counter-cultural to me. Perhaps, it’s more of an American thing, or typical of other church traditions. Whatever, the intent is clear—Rainer wants to encourage the reader to act on what he has written; to make a difference in our churches. And so we should!

Growing yourself up

GYUThis book takes me back a quarter of a century to my times as a social worker. In the final year of my BSW degree, I focused primarily on studying family therapy and the writings of Murray Bowen were very influential. I loved this stuff. It was so helpful to see people as part of a family system and to explore the influences and impact of relationships, family members, experiences, and expectations. One time we saw an adolescent boy for counselling. He had been acting out at school and finding a multitude of ways to get into trouble. It wasn’t until we met with his family and discovered that his father had become dependent on a kidney dialysis machine, that we were able to begin understanding and helping him. It wasn’t his problem alone–it was a family problem.

I enjoyed reading through this book and discovered many insights relevant to my circumstances. I know others have found much benefit in this material, but one or two have commented to me that they’ve found it hard going, like entering another world with its own vocal and jargon. Perhaps, my earlier training made this book easier.

Jenny Brown has built heavily on the work of Bowen in her excellent book, Growing Yourself Up. You could probably describe this as a ‘self help’ book, but with a difference. It’s about helping the reader to gain an increased sense of ‘self’ to enable them to enjoy better relationships with others. We grow into personal maturity as we learn to more clearly differentiate ourselves from others so that we develop healthy personal relationships. This book draws on family systems theory to help us understand who we are in the light of, and distinct from, our relationships with others. Our families of origin have a profound impact on who we are—how we think and act and speak.

Brown’s underlying conviction is that it’s never too late for any of us do do some more growing up. Greater emotional maturity is at the heart of this goal.

This book starts with the big question: Are you willing to take a fresh look at your own maturity gaps, instead of declaring that another needs to ‘grow up’?  (p8)

Growing Yourself Up helps us to see and understand the immature part that that we are playing in our relationships with others. Instead of pointing the blame, we are helped to see our own contribution to the problems and impasses we find ourselves caught up in. Unlike much recent psychotherapy which focuses on finding our inner child, this approach is about growing our inner adult in all areas of our relationships. Moving beyond childhood to adulthood can be expressed by the following attributes:

  1. Have your feelings without letting them dominate; tolerate delayed gratification
  2. Work on inner guidelines; refrain from blaming
  3. Accept people with different views; keep connected
  4. Be responsible for solving our own problems
  5. Hold onto your principles
  6. See the bigger picture of reactions and counter-reactions  (p17-19)

It takes time to work through these things. We need to learn about ourselves in relationship with others. We need to learn not to let our emotions dominate our thinking. We need to learn how to take control of our anxieties. This is all part of growing our inner adult—slowly.

Relationships—close relationships, while remaining a distinct self—are at the core of adult maturity. Our experiences of relationship from our earliest times vary along a continuum of feeling isolated and abandoned, through to feeling inseparable or smothered by others. We are helped to understand more clearly the strengths and weaknesses of our previous experiences of relationships—especially those in our family of origin—and how they impact our decision making in the present.

This book takes us through various key life stages, circumstances, and changes. It looks at the threats to and opportunities for growing in maturity. Such areas include leaving home, single adulthood, marriage, sex, parenting, work, facing setbacks such as separation or divorce, midlife, ageing, empty nests, retirement, old age, and facing death. Pretty well covers it really! In all these situations there are issues to face in our quest to grow into adult-maturity. This book helps us to understand our part in navigating these changes and stages wisely.

One section in this book, I found particularly helpful deals with the temptation to triangulate our relationships, especially in situations of conflict. This is one of the major threats to adult maturity. A relationship triangle is where the tensions between two people are relieved by escaping to a third party. (p44) This may serve to dissipate tension and help families and groups to manage, but it also results in issues not being addressed and often placing the third person is a vary awkward position. It’s helpful to examine how we might have been (or currently be) involved in such triangles, and why. Such triangles are very common and universally unhelpful for dealing with conflict and tensions in families, churches, teams, and a range of relationships.

This is the type of book that you benefit from reading through completely and then returning to digest the most relevant sections in more detail. As a pastor who deals with people all the time, I found this book offering many helpful insights. It is especially important to understand people in the context of their relationships. And it’s in these relationships that we grow ourselves up.

Accidental Pharisees

accidentalphariseesAccidental Pharisees by Larry Osborne has been recommended to me a couple of times recently. Having now read it, I’m wondering if my friends figured that I needed to learn the truth about myself or whether they simply wanted to know what I thought about the book. It has helped me to see more clearly how easily I can fall into pharisaic behaviour. For one thing, it’s easier to see others in the book rather than myself—surely this alone makes me a classic Pharisee! But I can also see my own capacity to make rules where the Bible has none and to measure myself and others by things other than the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. This book is sharp, yet gentle. It allows us the gracious assumption that we don’t want to be Pharisees—but it’s easy to accidentally become one.

Accidental Pharisees resonates with a worry that I’ve had for some time–that it’s easier to follow the tribal position than to assess how we think and speak and act in the light of Scripture. I touched on some of these themes when I wrote a post called Get off the Bandwagon. It addresses some of the same issues as Joshua Harris’s excellent little book, Humble Orthodoxy. My worry is that we can major on the minor issues and lose sight of the major issue. And we argue our positions with such a passion that we fail to love the people who take a contrary viewpoint. I’ve seen evidence of this in blog comments and Facebook posts over recent times, with reference to such matters as the Sydney Archbishop election. Sadly, I’ve seen a stronger push for Christians to distance themselves from one another over non-salvation issues, than they have to affirm their unity in salvation.

This is not to say that doctrine is unimportant. Nor that the Scriptures are not the authoritative and clear revelation of God. Doctrinal truth brings life and the Bible leads us to faith in Jesus Christ and equips us fully for every good work. Truth is foundational to life and to unity. But the Scriptures are a message of love, grace, mercy and kindness. If we speak ‘truth’ without love then we are distorting God’s word. If we seek to love without truth, then we will ultimately fail, for only the truth can be truly loving. And so we are called to speak the truth in love and not separate the two (Ephesian 4).

I believe that Accidental Pharisees is a word in season. It addresses all kinds of blind spots. It challenges us against taking the higher moral ground and looking down on others. It warns against the dangers of pride and exclusivity. It unpacks some of the new ways we can introduce legalism. It spotlights the dangers of seeking uniformity rather than rejoicing in our unity in diversity.

There is a tendency among Christians to divide into tribes along non-essential lines. Osborne writes that:

We’ve coined words like radical, crazy, missional, gospel-centred, revolutionary, organic, and a host of other buzzwords to let everyone know that our tribe is far more biblical, committed, and pleasing to the Lord than the deluded masses who fail to match up. (p90)

These labels have their usefulness. They can be used to correct wrong emphases or to call the troops to action. But they become dangerous when used as a shibboleth to divide Christians from one another. We have centuries of tradition in doing this—Baptists separating from Presbyterians; Methodists from Anglicans; Congregationalists from Episcopal churches. There have been good reasons for many of these distinctions and even separations, but the label or the club is not what defines or describes a true believer. That privilege belongs to the gospel of Jesus Christ alone. Of one thing we can be sure—none of these badges will have any relevance in heaven.

Accidental Pharisees also warns against a bullying behaviour that is more keen to separate the sheep from the goats than it is to win back the lost sheep. Some churches and their leaders are very committed to setting a high bar of ‘Christian’ performance and they castigate the under-performing and the luke-warm. This change strategy tends to favour the big stick over the winsome power of the gospel. It can easily become a slippery path to a legalism that has forgotten the gospel all together. We would do well to remember that but for the grace of God go I.

I expect a book like Accidental Pharisees to receive a mixed response in the Christian community. Some will embrace it because they see the Pharisee so clearly in others. Some will reject it because they see it as an excuse for discipline-less Christianity. I recommend we read it with a view to log extraction, so that we can see more clearly to help one another with our various splinters.

‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)


switchSwitch: How to change things when change is hard is the third book I’ve read by Chip and Dan Heath. These guys are so helpful in the observations they make about human thinking and behaviour. This book tackles the topic of change and why we so often fail to make the changes we know we need to make. As one who continually fails to make the changes that I know I need to make, I was drawn in from the outset. The Heath brothers describe an obstacle that’s built into our brains—the rational mind competing with the emotional mind. The rational mind wants to look good in swimmers come summer, but the emotional mind likes the comfort of another Krispy Kreme doughnut.

Given that I’m currently attempting to lose 17% of my body weight before Christmas—when I usually fail attempts like this—this news could prove very helpful!

Switch draws on the work of Jonathon Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis in describing the emotional side as an Elephant and the rational side as its Rider. The Rider holds the reins and would seem to be in control, but the reality is that a six-ton elephant will win every time they have a disagreement. Thus, the Krispy Kreme will trump the desire to look good in swimmers if the two get into a fight.

The strength of the Rider is normally in his longer-term thinking, whereas the Elephant seems focused on short-term gains. When change efforts fail, the Elephant is usually to blame. But this doesn’t mean that the Elephant is evil—the elephant can be associated with very positive emotions, and he is usually the one who gets things done. The Rider is often the blockage because he tends to overthink and over analyse things.

Change happens when the Rider and the Elephant cooperate. The Rider makes the plans and sets the direction, and the Elephant provides the energy needed to get there. Knowledge without emotion won’t get you anywhere. Emotions without thinking can take you anywhere. Synergy between the two is needed to complete the changes we desire.

When there is a tug of war between the two, the Rider will quickly tire and give up. Self-control is exhausting and can only sustain change efforts for a short period. This is often because we are attempting to change things that have become comfortable habits; things we do on automatic. Sometimes it seems that people don’t change because they are lazy, but the reality is often that they are exhausted from repeatedly failed attempts.

Sometimes change fails because the Rider doesn’t seem to know where he is headed. The Elephant is going in circles. It’s not resistance by the Elephant—it’s a lack of clarity by the Rider. If we want people to change then we need to provide clear direction.

This story shapes the authors’ three-part framework to guiding change efforts in any situation:

Direct the Rider. What looks like resistance is often lack of clarity. So provide crystal-clear direction.

Motivate the Elephant. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. The Rider can’t get his way by force for very long. So it’s critical that you engage people’s emotional side—get their Elephants on the path and cooperative.

Shape the Path. What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. We call the situation (including the surrounding environment) the “Path”. When you shape the Path, you make change more likely, no matter what’s happening with the Rider and Elephant. (p17-18)

Direct the Rider

Find the bright spots
These are the best way to direct the Rider. Show him how to act, where to go, and how to get there by pointing out others who are already doing it well. Ask the question ‘What’s working and how can we do more of it?’ Often this question is ignored in favour of the question ‘What’s broken and how can we fix it?’ Focusing on the negative doesn’t help the Rider to have a solution focus.

Script the critical moves
Too many options can make it difficult to make decisions. It creates disruption, uncertainty and anxiety. Too many options and ambiguity can create decision paralysis. Both make it hard for the Rider to direct the Elephant. If there are many paths and the Rider is unclear about where to direct the Elephant, then the Elephant has a tendency take the most familiar and comfortable path. The most familiar path is invariably the status quo—so nothing ends up changing.

Some leaders focus only on the big picture and stay clear of the details. However, this doesn’t help the change process because the hardest part of change is in the details. Ambiguity leads to inertia and this must be overcome by scripting the most critical moves. Not all the details, just the most important for the change process. We need to explain the new way clearly—not assume it’s obvious.

Point to the destination
The tendency these days is to focus on SMART goals. The Heaths argue that such goals are good for steady-state situations because the assumption is that the goals are worthwhile. However, to persuade people and organisations to change requires people to be convinced of the new goals. This means addressing the emotion as well as the intellect. SMART goals rarely hit people in the guts emotionally. We need to generate a clear picture from the near-term future that will inspire people and show them what is possible.

Motivate the Elephant

Find the feeling
To achieve change we need to speak to the Elephant as well as the Rider. The Heath brothers quote John Kotter and Dan Cohen in The Heart of Change:

…the core of the matter is always about changing the behaviour of people, and behaviour change happens in highly successful situations mostly by speaking to people’s feelings … in highly successful change efforts, people find ways to help others see the problems or solutions in ways that influence emotions, not just thought. (p105)

Most people think that change happens via the route of analyse >think> change, whereas the reality is that it is normally see>feel>change. Things need to impact the emotions, not simply the thought processes. Lack of change may not be the result of a lack of understanding. Most smokers find it very difficult to give up. They know that smoking causes lung cancer and a list of other problems. More information isn’t the solution. The answer lies in impacting the emotions—motivating the Elephant.

Negative emotions can be powerful change agents, but they tend to have a narrowing effect—whereas positive emotions broaden and build our possibilities. They can stimulate hope, and joy, and creativity which are needed to sustain change.

Shrink the change
One way to stimulate change is to make people feel as though they are closer to the finish line than they thought. One study showed a car wash promotion with loyalty cards. Some people were given a card showing the eight washes earned a free wash. Others were given a car showing that ten washes earned a free wash. This group was given a head start with two washes already checked off. After a month or two, more of the ten-wash cards had earned free washes, illustrating that people found the head start worked as an incentive.

Focusing on small wins also shrinks the change. The small wins must be meaningful and within reach. It’s easier to cope with a long trip if it’s broken down into smaller sections. Instead of seeing the journey as a 3000km trip, you can mark off the destination in 300 km intervals, and celebrate each arrival. This makes it easier to achieve small successes and this means more celebrating. The celebrations of achievement build hope—and hope is Elephant fuel!

Grow your people
There are two basic models for motivating change: the consequences model and the identity model. The consequences model looks at the costs and benefits. It’s a rational, analytical model. The identity model involves us in essentially asking three questions: Who am I? What kind of situation is this? What would someone like me do in this situation? (p153) Change efforts that violate people’s identity are destined for failure.

People will rise to match their identity in creating change. However, they will also fail. It’s important for people to have the expectation of failure. Not failure of the project or mission, but setbacks and disappointments en route. They should be challenged to keep growing through the struggles, so that they will succeed in the end. People should be encouraged to see falling down as learning and growing rather than failing.

The Rider needs direction, but the Elephant needs motivation. Motivation comes from feelings and from finding confidence. The Elephant needs to believe it is able to make the changes. Shrinking the change and growing the people work together to build confidence.

Shape the Path

Tweak the environment
If we want people to change, we can provide clear direction (Rider), increase their motivation (Elephant), or, alternatively, we can make the journey easier (Path).

Create a steep downhill slope and give them a push. Remove some friction from the trail. Scatter around lots of signs to tell them they’re getting close. (p181)

Tweaking the environment is about making it easier for people to choose the right behaviours and harder to choose the wrong behaviours. This is why supermarkets put the milk in the far corner—so you will spend more time in the shop. An example I can apply to my diet strategy is to shrink the size of my plate. This way I will eat less because I simply can’t fit as much on the plate.

Build habits
Our environment can reinforce or dissuade habits. Sometimes if we change the environment it becomes easier to change the habit. It would be unwise for a recovering alcoholic to visit a bar, because it has a strong association with drinking.

One strategy for motivating action and developing habits that motivate is to create action triggers. In a university study, students were given the opportunity to gain extra credit in class by writing a paper on how they spent Christmas Eve. But to get the credit, they had to submit the paper by the day after Christmas! Students were divided into two groups. One group was asked to set action triggers (noting in advance when and where they were going to write the report) and the other wasn’t. One third of the latter group managed to write the paper compared with three quarters of those who set action triggers. Action triggers preload the decision and make it easier to create an ‘instant habit’.

Rally the herd
When things are unfamiliar we tend to watch others to see how they do it. When we are leading an Elephant on an unfamiliar path, the odds are on it following the herd. Herds are powerful. Things become contagious. When one person is obese, the chances are that their friends will also be overweight. People tend to change their perceptions of acceptable body shape by looking at those around them. We consciously and unconsciously copy the behaviour of people close to us.

There are different ways to create a herd. One is to publicise examples of the type of behaviour we are looking for. Another is to get like-minded people together and influence through example the right behaviour. People will start to be influenced by others to go with the flow of right behaviour.

A few thoughts…

As a Christian following Jesus, I am pro-change. God is in the business of change—transforming lives. God is changing his children to become more like Jesus. So it makes me nervous about embracing a book on change that doesn’t mention God or discuss the transforming work of God’s Spirit. I’ve definitely got more work to do in analysing the transferability of a number of these ideas and strategies.

Having said this, Switch has reminded me again that God has made us as complex beings. We are rational and we are emotional. We are influenced by our circumstances and we can seek to shape and change our circumstances. The tendency of my Christian ‘tribe’ is to emphasise the rational and overlook the emotional. Some other tribes tend to put it the other way round. My tribe can tend towards emphasising God’s sovereign control over all things and forget our potential to make changes for the better. While not being a Christian book, Switch has reminded me of some of the complexity of people and our circumstances.

I remember many years ago, discussing with my pastor how I was planning to advertise a Christian conference I was organising. He told me that I needed to sell the sizzle, not just the sausage. I can now see that he was saying that I needed to motivate the Elephant as well as the Rider. If people were going to change their plans to come to the conference, then I needed to engage their emotions as well as their thinking. They needed to be excited about being there, not simply be told why it would be good for them. So we sought to excite people about going and persuade them that this would be the one event of the year that they wouldn’t want to miss. It doesn’t have to be manipulative or deceitful—simply addressing the whole person.

This particular conference occurred during the mid-year break at university. For some people this was the first break of the year and they wanted to go home or head off to the snow. Families would sometimes put pressure on people not to go. The costs were reasonably high. It was important for us to shape the Path for people, to make it easier for them to change plans and come. We would prepare people months ahead to make their mid-year plans, knowing that last minute pressure from families would often keep people away. We would help with payment plans, incentive payments, and sometimes covering people’s costs, knowing that finances would prevent some from attending. I even offered a money-back guarantee if people weren’t persuaded it was time well spent! We would assist people with travel arrangements to help them get there. We’d encourage friends who were already going to make it easier for their mates to come. We made it a lot easier for people to choose the conference.

I’ve observed that much Christian preaching is targeted toward the mind—as it should be—but doesn’t think much about people’s feelings or emotions. Aristotle described good communication as a blend of logos, ethos, and pathos. It’s not just words and arguments, but involves the character and life of the communicator, and their conviction and passion about what they’re communicating.

This book has also helped me to think about how we tend to get people doing new things in our churches and organisations. Sometimes people struggle—they just don’t seem to get it. Perhaps we haven’t made things clear enough. Maybe we’re expecting people to join the dots for themselves. I’ve come to think that we often need to do more to script the critical moves for people—to help them make the transitions and changes.

Switch isn’t the greatest book on change that I’ve ever read. That prize would go to the Bible—hands down. But it is an engaging and practical book for all who are seeking to see change in themselves, in others, and in organisations. There is much to be learned.

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