Messages that Move

messagesI’ve just finished this excellent little book by Tim Hawkins entitled Messages That Move. It’s jam-packed full of great ideas on how to communicate better as a preacher. If you have apprentices or trainees in your church who are learning the ropes of preaching this book is a must read. And even if you consider yourself a seasoned pro the stuff toward the back end on ‘how to tell stories’, ‘ten steps to a great finish’, ‘how to use the stage’, ‘how to engage people with humour’, and ‘nine humour techniques that work’ is all absolute gold dust. If you’re serious about becoming a better communicator you simply have to read this book.

What does it mean to ‘do justice’

Well there’s lots of things it could mean. But in Deut 10 it’s surprisingly straight-forward and uncomplicated. In v. 18 the NIV says “He [that’s YHWH] defends the cause…” – a more literal translation of the Hebrew would be something like “He does justice…” – and he does it for the orphan, widow, and stranger. What does that mean or look like? The last part of the verse expands – “giving him food and clothing.” Now of course it could be that there is a strict disjunction between something God does for orphans and widows, and then something different done for the alien, but that seems artificial to the context. No, part of justice (mishpat) is simply about giving clothing and food to the needy – a task explicitly passed on to the community (v. 19). It’s not rocket science is it? And it seems exactly the sort of thing the early church were doing (cf. Acts 6). Here’s a nice quote from Brueggemann to finish:

The tale of the book of Acts is an account of the ways in which this little community became a great assembly. It is, moreover, no stretch to see that it is precisely its practice of a missional ethic – to execute justice, provide food and clothing, love the stranger – that has been the occasion for its growth to be as ‘numerous as the stars’

Reaching the Unreached

unreachedA couple of weeks ago I read Tim Chester’s Unreached: Growing Churches in Working-Class and Deprived Areas. If you work in what may be termed a ‘working class’ context this book is definitely worth a read. Much of it is based on interviews with guys doing some great works in just these kinds of places and their insight is helpful and astute. Within the book are a host of useful ‘diagnostic’ tools including some definitions of terms – what is meant by ‘working class’; helpful stuff on contextualisation; some general characteristics of classes; and some great material on ‘subversive fulfilment’ and points of intersection (you’ll have to read the book to find out what these mean and why they’re important). There’s also some helpful ideas on how to reach a ‘non-book’ culture. All in all lots of good things to glean.

A couple of things to be aware of as you read: First, all of this research is done within churches that would count themselves conservative evangelical. I’ve no beef with that – I count myself with them. But do conservative evangelicals have the monopoly on answers when it comes to successfully reaching working class areas? Is there anything to learn from evangelicals of other stripes? Second, many of the works held up as examples follow a particular model – small church, relationally based, doing life together. In fact the conclusion of the book implies that being faithful in this work will mean you are small. I’m sure that’s not what Tim intended, but that is the message which comes across, which in turn is a (again, unintended) dig at large churches. But there are larger churches, with multiple staff and programs who have an arguably larger footprint on the deprived communities around them. These models aren’t really considered or explored at all which is disappointing. At the level of principle, theory, diagnostics, and tools this book has much that is useful. In terms of practical models for growing churches in these areas it feels a bit thin.

My two favourite cloud based productivity tools

Ok tech fans and computer nerds – I know, I know – I’m half Philistine and half Luddite, and all of you are already using these things, but it is just my sneaking suspicion that there are some, somewhere, like me, who might yet benefit from this hopelessly out-dated advice. Frankly, if you’re reading my blog, you’re probably not that ‘up to date’ anyway – ouch, I got burned!

So the two things which I’ve started using in the past 6 months which have helped me enormously are – wait for it, drum roll – Evernote and Feedly. 

cardMost of you already know about Evernote. It’s basically a way of taking notes and organising them by categories. So every time I come across a good illustration, quote, news story, or blog article I note it down under the relevant assigned heading in my Evernote book. Think about a card index all stored in the cloud. It’s fully searchable and you assign headings as you please. Then, when you’re prepping and you want to see if you have any great quotes or illustrations on a topic, open up Evernote, search your headings or a key term and see what you’ve got. Over the course of a couple of years you can build up quite a useful library that really works for you.

newsFeedly is a more recent discovery. It works like a news feed essentially. You put in your ‘feed’ all your favourite blogs or websites or whatever. It then generates a constantly updated news feed for you to go browse whenever you like. I have about 20 sites in my feed and rather than spending an age trawling each and every individual site I just go straight to my Feedly and can scan in 10 minutes all the headlines from those sites and follow up any that interest me – saves heaps of time!

And the best thing about both, tech lovers, is that they are also available in app form on your phone or tablet. So you can update and stay up to date wherever you are. If you don’t yet use them, go and investigate now! Any other such tools I should be using???

A Great Website Resource for Church Leaders

So this post doesn’t really come from me but from our excellent Executive Pastor, Simon Rowell who always seems to have his finger on the pulse of the latest leadership and strategy resources. The website is called And here are Simon’s favourite recent posts:


Why I Hate Funerals

funeralSo here are the caveats first: I don’t hate taking funerals or spending time with grieving people – it’s a necessary and important part of my job to offer words of hope and encouragement where possible. And I don’t hate the fruit that comes from death – i.e. the soul departing to be with the Lord and the anticipation of the final resurrection to eternal life in the new heaven and new earth. Clearly those are great, wonderful, incredible, and priceless things. But nevertheless, I still hate being at a graveside and seeing the fruit of the fall and Satan’s scheming. Sometimes I hear people say they like a good funeral (I’ve heard pastors say this) and there seem to be some people who are at every funeral going, like they get some kind of weird pleasure out of it. But for me, death is a curse. Humans weren’t originally created to die – we often forget this. Death is not natural. It’s unnatural. It’s the fruit of Adam and Eve’s disobedience. It’s the fruit of Satan’s work. It’s awful, horrible, painful, shattering, and grievous. If you understand Gen 3 you too, like Jesus in John 11, should hate funerals. [with all the opening caveats in place!]