Reflections on a year of blogging

blogIt was this time last year that I decided to start blogging. It came after reading a book which encouraged people like me to think about ways to share information, encourage people, communicate, and store good ideas. So I began not knowing what lay ahead. One hundred and sixteen (this is 117) posts later here are some reflections.

  • It’s a good personal discipline. It forces you to curate and not just consume content.
  • By writing down book summaries, ideas, critiques etc retention of such information is better. The process of writing it down helps me to clarify my thoughts and remember stuff better.
  • As an added bonus I now have a searchable resource of useful anecdotes, quotes, book summaries etc.
  • It’s a tremendous force for sharing good ideas. I’ve tried to not let it be ranty or opinionated. I’ve tried to pass on good material. That will continue to be my aim. My top post was my sharing on Tim Keller’s top 10 evangelism tips which I heard him share in a talk he gave. That post has to date had over 13,000 views. Now in the big bad world of blogging that’s not so many. But just think – that’s 13,000 people who might have tried to put some things into practice, scatter a little seed, and see what happens. It’s difficult to know what the harvest might be from that sort of thing, but it’s pretty exciting to have that sense of being part of God’s wider work throughout the world.
  • It’s a good way to communicate and encourage in bite sized chunks. Without sharing the stats I ‘communicate’ with as many people virtually as physically in a week. I see the virtual as a compliment, not a competitor, to my week by week communication. If I preach to 300 or so on a Sunday, I can then go and share further snippets of encouragement with about the same number throughout the week. It doesn’t replace the visit, letter, call, text but supplements nicely.
  • It keeps me sharp. It enables me to present ideas, have interaction, and sharpen up. Some posts particularly have really helped me to do that thanks to the godly interaction of brothers and sisters.
  • It keeps me outward focused. I’m always reading and thinking with a view to how I can share it with others.
  • It keeps me in touch with people outside of my immediate situation. I’ve had great interaction with friends I trained with, and some I don’t know so well.
  • It gives me a creative outlet, and helps with any other writing or communicating I might be thinking about.

All in all I think I’ve learnt alot, gained alot, and served others a bit in the last year. Will I still be doing this in a year. I don’t know. But I kind of hope so.


Top posts of 2012

1. Winner by miles – Tim Keller’s top 10 evangelism tips. This one went viral when the man himself re-tweeted the link back in June. 13k views later I’m praying that it may have had a big impact on personal evangelism.

2. Surprisingly “Yes men will kill you” – really looking at Thomas Kilman’s conflict model. I think I’ve had alot of hits from people by mistake googling Thomas Kilman conflict model. Still, there you go.

3. Less surprisingly – “Is church planting the best strategy?” – this one generated the most traffic from people I know. In the church culture I move in church planting is a really big deal (and rightly so) so anything which asked a few questions would inevitably draw some flak. Interestingly a number of people said they had similar reservations so perhaps starting the conversation wasn’t so bad.

4. My ‘world-view diagram’ which I’ve developed over the last couple of years proved popular and I pray helpful. I must get round to writing it up into some sort of little tract/pamphlet thingy.

What sorts of things would you like more of next year?

Top reads of 2012

books2I think I’ve probably read around 40 books this last year – some more carefully than others. Here are the ones which have stuck with me in no particular order:

  • Tom Wright, Virtue Reborn – insightful, pastoral, practical – more great stuff from NTW
  • Chris Wright, Mission of God – thorough, exegetical, applied – best all round theology of mission out there
  • David Bosch, Transforming Mission – the best introduction to what is a massively broad field
  • Larry Osborne, Sticky Church and Sticky Teams – the most formative leadership books I’ve read this year.
  • Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine – A wonderfully deep and nuanced treatment of the doctrine of the word of God
  • Doug Wilson, Wordsmithy – thoroughly enjoyable – if you’re a writer, blogger, or speaker there’s gold in them there hills
  • Emma Scrivener, A New Name – powerful, pastoral and Christ centred. Brilliantly written. Will linger long in the memory.
  • G.K.Chesterton, Orthodoxy – Awash with brilliant illustration and metaphor – one in the eye for Bernard Shaw and pals

If I had to recommend just one for church leaders I’d say get Larry Osborne’s stuff read in the new year. In twelve months you’ll be glad you did.

Create the WOW!

platformA few friends of late have recommended Michael Hyatt’s book Platform. It’s a book essentially about making yourself heard in a noisy world. It answers the question – how do I make people listen to my message or buy into my product? It’s not a Christian book, but I think it has a number of good insights that church leaders would do well to listen to. Here’s a few things I took away (particularly from the first part of the book) and need to think about how to apply:

  • “We have become content with mediocrity; we aim low and execute even lower.”
  • Create some Wow! Wow products sell themselves. Wow experiences have a combination of surprise, anticipation, resonance, transcendence, clarity, universality, and longevity.
  • Exceed expectations. What are people’s expectations, and how can we exceed them? What does that look like? What does it look like to fail to meet expectation?
  • We fail because we run out of time, don’t have resource or experience, we acquiesce to majority opinion, or we’re scared of what others will say.
  • Whether people bother again will largely depend on first impressions and experience. If you don’t give them something to come back for, don’t be surprised if they don’t come back.

It’s also got lots of good tips for those of you who run blogs or websites. Of course, there’s a danger the church can get too professional or slick but I still think these things are good to mull over and think through. We want to make sure that people aren’t put off for the wrong reasons. I’d recommend you get a copy, a coffee, and a pencil and spend an hour or two pondering Hyatt’s wisdom.

A Prayer for Pastors

prayerHere’s a puritan prayer that’s stuck on the wall by my desk. I need to pray it more often.

O God,

I know that I often do thy work without thy power, and sin by my dead, heartless, blind service, my lack of inward light, love, delight, my mind, heart, tongue moving without thy help.

I see sin in my heart in seeking the approbation of others; This is my vileness, to make men’s opinion my rule, whereas I should see what good I have done, and give thee glory, consider what sin I have committed and mourn for that.

It is my deceit to preach, and pray, and to stir up others spiritual affections in order to beget commendations, whereas my rule should be daily to consider myself more vile than any man in my own eyes.

But thou doest show thy power by my frailty, so that the more feeble I am, the more fit to be used, for thou dost pitch a tent of grace in my weakness.

Help me to rejoice in my infirmities and give thee praise, to acknowledge my deficiencies before others and not be discouraged by them, that they may see they glory more clearly.

Teach me that I must act by a power supernatural, whereby I can attempt things above my strength, and bear evils beyond my strength, acting for Christ in all, and have his power to help me.

Let me learn of Paul whose presence was mean, his weakness great, his utterance contemptible, yet thou didss account him faithful and blessed.

Lord let me lean on thee as he did and find my ministry thine. Amen and amen.

Newbigin on Mission

openAs part of my studies I’ve just finished Lesslie Newbigin’s The Open Secret. It’s a useful little book rooting the church’s mission in the missio Dei – that is the missional Trinity – the Father sending the Son; the Father and Son sending the Spirit; and the Triune God sending the church. The church’s mission is a part of God’s own mission. Here are a few nice little snippets:

“Christian programs for justice and compassion severed from their proper roots in the liturgical and sacramental life of the congregation lose their character as signs of the presence of Christ and risk becoming mere crusades fuelled by a moralism that can become self-righteous. And the life of the worshipping congregation severed from its proper expression in compassionate service to the community around it risks becoming a self-centred existence serving only the needs and desires of its members.”

“Election is for responsibility, not for privilege.”

“The announcement [of the gospel] means that this fact [the reign of God] is no longer something remote – far up in the heavens or far away in the future. It is an impending reality, in fact, the one great reality that confronts men and women now with the need for decision.”

“The real presence [by the Spirit] of God’s own life lived in their [the church’s] common life will be the evidence, the witness to all the nations, that the full reality of God’s victorious reign is on the way… the Spirit brings a powerful witness to the reality of the reign of God to which the world is otherwise blind.”

On the need for Scriptural revelation . . . “If you come across a building site where work is going on, and if you wish to know what is being built and for what purpose, it will not be possible to satisfy your curiosity by measuring the holes in the ground and examining the building material that is being assembled. You cannot know what is going on, much less make intelligent proposals for action, unless you have been told whether it is to be a private house, or an office, or a factory. The architect must tell you; the end product is still in his or her mind and on the drawing board. You can learn the architect’s plans only by receiving what he or she has to tell. At this point the concept of revelation is not an alien intrusion in to the process of responsible human knowing. There is no other possibility.”

It’s not the best book I’ve read on this subject but it is an important foundation upon which others have built. If you’re interested at all in mission studies Newbigin can’t be missed.

John’s Gospel and Plato’s Cave


Tomorrow I’m teaching a group of A-level students who are doing philosophy and religious studies. My brief is to talk to them about Christian ethics – the how and why of our moral epistemology. In preparation I was doing a bit of swatting up on the kinds of things they’ve already covered. One idea they should be familiar with is that of Plato’s cave – essentially Plato’s allegory of how clever people find out truth about stuff. It goes a little bit like this…

Imagine humans living in an under-ground cave/den which has a mouth open towards the light. These humans have been there since their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move – they can only look ahead and can’t see the light behind. Also behind is a blazing fire which throws the shadows of the action onto the wall of the cave in front of the prisoners. They think what they see is reality – they have no other point of reference – but in fact all they see is the shadows.

Now imagine that one prisoner is released and over time makes his way toward the light. He begins to see and perceive in the light the true nature of things. His eyes will be dazzled but as he ascends he will see the realities of things and not just shadows. When the now free man returns to the darkness to tell the captives the true nature of things he is likely to be captured and put to death.

For Plato, the philosopher is like the liberated man, ascending toward the light, to tell the imprisoned, who only perceive shadows, the true nature of things. Often they meet with opposition, but they are nonetheless more enlightened.

Mmm…interesting Plato – people within the den need to get themselves free and ascend toward the light to find true illumination. Of course all this presupposes that the newly freed man sees things rightly even with his new found freedom. And what if another freed man perceives things differently? While this certainly bigs up Plato’s own conception of himself I’m not sure it solves the epistemological problem at root.

Now compare all this with what John says in the opening chapter of his gospel…

“In him [Jesus] was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it…[John] came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”

And a little later in John 3 … “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

For Plato the aim of life was to drag oneself up into the light; For John, Jesus (the true light) descended into the cave.