I spent my career fighting Billy Graham

A few weeks ago Billy Graham died aged 99.  My sympathy and prayers go to his family and friends who mourn a real person that was close to them.   In many ways, BG was more than just that real person the friends and family knew.  He was known to so many of a certain generation and had such influence on them and their ideas and faith formation that he had become an institution, perhaps even an idol, and I have spent my career fighting the institutionalisation and idolisation of his methods.   

Like most people my age, Billy Graham didn’t have an impact on my life, I didn’t grow up on stories of how he influenced my parents or grandparents.  He hasn’t been to NZ in my lifetime and I was probably in my late teens when I first heard of him, and by then he was pretty much an irrelevant historical figure that had made some great quotes that were good for encouragement, but the world was already moving on.  Please remember that I am not young - both my dermatologist and my optometrist assured me of this fact last week - so there are many people for whom he is even more irrelevant.  Yet his way of doing things seems to have been institutionalised by many who hold power and influence in the church. They idolise BG in a way that locks them away from being able to contextualise well and to follow the new wind of the Holy Spirit.   It wasn’t until I went into full-time ministry  that I saw the need to fight BG and the institutionalisation and idolisation of his methods, and it has been a constant battle, that is still ongoing.   My ministry career has involved fighting the BG methodology and mindset in a number of areas.


1)  The BG mindset promotes a focus on numbers as a measure of ministry success.

I have fought this as it places an unhealthy pressure on ministry leaders.  Due to the nature of BG’s ministry attendees and ‘conversions’ were easy to count, this has lead to a mindset that equates numbers with success.  I can still feel the deflation in my body when faced with an exchange, usually with an older supporter that would go something like this: “so how many did you get to your last event” “about 20” “oh. In my day we used to get 100 every Friday”.   There is a mindset where numbers = success, I am even seeing this in the church I attend at the moment (partly because it is easy to measure).  We can fight this mindset by thinking of other things that might be indications of success: How deep is the faith of your members? How good are they are caring? How many conversations with un-churched people have they had this week?  How have the stood up for justice and fought oppression this week?  

2)  The BG mindset promotes an attractional model of mission/evangelism.

I have fought this as no longer relevant for the context in which the church operates today.  The BG mindset operates on a model that says the unchurched will come to us.  All we need is the right event, with the right speaker and people who are curious about our faith will just walk through our doors.  We can fight this mindset by promoting a ‘going to them’ mindset.  We can talk about being out and about forming relationships with people and inviting them to meet our friends (who happen to be followers of God).  We can accept that they most likely won't just come to faith-based or church events without a prior relationship with at least 2 church members.  We can free our church members up from some of the church-based programs they support and give them time and energy and advice about building relationships with those around them.  

3) The BG mindset promotes a sage on the stage model.

I have fought this as an unhealthy model of authority that creates at best disappointment (when they prove to be human or wrong) and at worst spiritual abuse.  The BG mindset looks up to authority figures, even those who fly in from another country and have no idea or understanding of the context in which they are speaking.  We can fight this model by promoting connection between speakers and the church or group members. Invite speakers who are willing to stay on for a cup of coffee or shared lunch or who at a conference don't expect to hang out in a 'speakers lounge'.  These speakers that engage with your church member that sit with them and their questions these are the ones who will be respected, who have earned the right to be heard.  We can fight this mindset as speakers by being authentic and vulnerable as we speak remembering to present ourselves as real people, remembering that we earn the right to speak, by holding the tissues as people cry through their struggles, by being there alongside people on their journey.  I fight the sage on a stage model by attending a church service where we get to discuss and talk about the ideas raised by the sermon.  This model of learning by chewing through what is presented is important to me as we learn much more through our active engagement with the talk. 


4) The BG mindset assumes that a one-off message, altar call and the “sinners prayer” is enough to bring someone to God.

I have fought this as it ignores the contextual differences between our time and BG’s time.  In BG’s time and country a large percentage of people already had some church experience and background. They had the background knowledge they needed to respond to a one-off altar call, they just needed the prompting that it involved a decision.  In today's environment, people no longer have any knowledge of what Christian's believe and what our faith is about.  We can fight this mindset by remembering that people need to take a long walk towards God and need to start at the very beginning (and Jesus is not the beginning!).  We also must consider the multicultural nature of our society, that introduce new challenges to our introduction of people to Christianity.  We can talk about a journey towards God with multiple way points and decisions to continue rather than focusing on one decision point, as the main focus of our mission efforts.   

5) The BG mindset assumes that there is such a thing as our “gospel message”. 

I have fought the constriction and reduction of our faith that this mindset contains.  The BG mindset believes that there is only one gospel message that is always relevant and applicable no matter the context.  We can fight this mindset by celebrating all the different ways that the Bible points to Jesus, all the different paths through history and the bible that we can show people about our faith.  We can acknowledge that helping people on their faith journey involves listening to where people are at and what their questions are.  Our faith is big enough to be an answer to the questions of today (which involve hope, shame and identity)  rather being stuck in a message that answers questions about guilt and striving that are no longer asked. 

6) The BG mindset takes models, programs and resources from US evangelicalism and accepts and applies them as is. 

I have fought the lack of contextualisation in this mindset by taking the time to observe and understand the cultural differences between NZ and the US.  I have tried to promote NZ birthed programmes and models, and it is one of the reasons that I have moved to only reviewing NZ books on this blog.  At the very least we can make the effort to adapt and contextualise what we read and hear from other countries.  We can no longer accept that things that work in the US will work in NZ without comprehensive adaptation and contextualisation.  

7) The BG mindset promotes a model of white western male authority.

I have fought this by promoting women in leadership in Christian contexts, and by trying to learn from other cultural perspectives and interpretations, by trying to stay humble and open.   I have written previously about the BG rule (link here) and about how it creates barriers between men and women and limits the ability to create the diverse leadership teams that we need to lead our churches today.  We can continue to fight this model by working to acknowledge our own perspectives, standpoints and presuppositions to understand that they prevent us from seeing the full picture.  

8) The BG mindset promotes memories from older people that are easily translated into expectations of today’s ministry leaders. 

I have fought these memories and expectations as they create pressure on today's ministry leaders.  The expectations are unrealistic because they do not reflect a good observation of the context in which we operate today.   We need to continue to find new ways forward and for the health of our youth and young adult leaders particularly we need to make clear that these expectations are unattainable and that they should find new ways of being mission focussed that are suited to today. 

Now I suspect that BG never expected his way of doing things to be locked in and for people to take hold of it as a model and to idolise him in a way that stops them contextualising well.  Yet so many people have idolised his methods and it has created a battle for those of us who can see their irrelevance and that their time has passed.  Hopefully, we are now entering an era where we can embrace change as fun and exciting and let the Holy Spirit blow us toward better observation and engagement with our current context. Hopefully, we can keep moving in a responsive stance that highlights all the different ways that God is at work in New Zealand and among our church members.   

How have you fought the BG mindset? 


transcendence on sale

I was walking down Ponsonby Rd in Auckland when this shop window caught my eye.  TRANSCENDENCE  - SALE.   What a lovely juxtaposition to ponder, what a challenge to our attitudes it contains.  

In religion, transcendence is a way of describing the aspects of a Gods nature and power that are not confined by the physical universe.  It is the very divine ‘other’ elements of God, that rise above our ordinary existence.  Contrast that with the sale sign and it says something powerful about our current attitudes and way of being in the world.   Oh, how we long for the experience of transcendence, an out of the world connection to the divine.   We long for it, we look for it, but we remain too bogged down in our own ordinariness to pay full price.


The contrast of the words in this shop window draws our attention back to Lent.  Lent (we are currently in Lent, the time of spiritual preparation for the Easter celebrations) is all about juxtapositions, contrasts, oppositional forces.  In the Easter narrative, we see the forces of humanity and divinity that lie in direct contrast with each other,  we notice the contrast between who we are and who God is and we observe the juxtaposition between death and life that leads towards the culmination of the story - the resurrection.  Lent is a time where we become aware of the contrast between transcendence and ordinary humanity by trying to place limits on some of our ordinary human wants.  Through fasting we are trying to step from our ordinariness in an attempt to see transcendence breaking though, I associate those moments with the work and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Fasting is one of the ways that I can say I know this doesn’t come cheap but I am willing to pay because I long to see more transcendence, more of the Holy Spirit.  But the question arises just what or how much am I willing to pay.  I have fought the notion that those moments of communion with the Holy Spirit only occur through silence and time alone, surely God who created us to be mothers and to work finds ways to break through when we are cooking meals and listening to the constant chatter of an 8-year-old.  Surely there are ways and rhythms where God can find me even in the busyness - I am still convinced there must be.  Yet for me as someone who needs time alone to recharge, there seems to be something particularly helpful about being relaxed and open in the quiet that allows the creative breath of God to whisper to me.  The quiet and restful space that allows my awareness to turn to the transcendent and ever-present God.  Like clothes from boutiques in Ponsonby this silence comes at a price, I must be prepared to pay the cost of sleep or productivity. 


During lent I can see the resurrection as a clear demonstration of the transcendence of God, and it draws me on, pulls me in.  Once pulled in I can see the power in the juxtaposition of Jesus being fully divine and fully human.  Because it is those touches of the transcendent Holy Spirit that I experience that allows me to embrace the full humanness of my existence, renovated, restored and made whole again.

Perhaps that is what Lent is about, it is about exploring that juxtaposition of human, ordinary physicality and the transcendence or divine mystery and how they came together in Jesus and his presence and in the continued presence of the Holy Spirit in our day to day life.

How is the Holy Spirit speaking to you this Lent?

pancakes are a distraction

Happy Mardi Gras, - I don’t think I was too far into my journey of learning French when I worked out that this meant fat Tuesday - ever since then I have been delighted by the name.  Somehow the more English ‘pancake day' doesn’t quite contain the same magic and delight as Mardi Gras or the Spanish Carnaval (eat meat).   Shrove Tuesday is the day before Lent begins (the period of spiritual preparation that goes from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday), and it became a time of feasting as it was the day to use up all the perishable items that people would be giving up for the Lenten fast.  As butter, eggs, sugar and cream were items that were given up for Lent pancakes were a good choice to use up these ingredients.   

A challenge to the comfortable for Lent

It is nice to practice traditions and rituals that connect us to the history of the church and connect us to God through spiritual practices like fasting.  But going out and buying ingredients for pancakes (or those shake and mix things if pancake ability fails you like me), makes pancakes a non-contextualised distraction rather than something we do to connect us to God and to our faith. In our society, today eggs, butter, and sugar aren’t usually the items that we fast from during Lent. In fact, it is common to give up more luxury items such as wine or chocolate, rather than going without the more everyday items like meat that challenge us on a daily basis. So pancakes and even the whole period of fasting, become a nice thing to do, rather than something that confronts us with how well off we are.  The question that pancakes distract us from is

how do we deny ourselves (as Jesus so often did) when we have so much.  

I have in the past tried giving up certain foods or wine for Lent, and I have also tried doing 40 acts of kindness where the focus is on giving to others rather than denying yourself.  This year I am struck by how much  I have been giving out of my own abundance rather than giving in a way that challenges my comfort.  I can see that sometimes saying “here I have something that I think you may want” is in itself an act of privilege, an act of separation, not connection.  This Lent I am aware of how my privilege swaddles me, how the layers of comfort that I have surrounded myself with limits my ability to see the world from other peoples perspectives.  My comfort acts as insulation from a deep connection with others and with God.  This Lent instead of denying myself things that I don’t really need anyway or giving away things that I have plenty of, I want to unwrap those layers of comfort that stop me seeing the world with the eyes of others.  But I  am not sure I am brave enough because unwrapping involves exposure, it involves vulnerability - can I really go there?   Jesus chose to put aside his privilege and become as nothing (Philippians 2), and so should I if I seek to follow God.   If only there was a simple way to do this, to change my way of seeing so that my comfort no longer obscures my ability to view the world in different ways.   

Does our comfort obscure our understanding of  others

Part of my problem is that I do want to engage with people not like myself, to listen and be able to develop new eyes with which to view the systems in which I live.  But I am an introverted, socially awkward intellectual, often I don’t feel like socialising at all, let alone with people who are not like myself. 

But the challenge remains, the call from Jesus to challenge and dismantle the systems that create privilege at the expense of some, that create disconnection and that harm us in so many ways. 

Accepting that challenge is difficult as in so many situations I am not even aware of all those layers of comfort and ease that are clouding my vision.  For me, as we move into this first week of Lent, the first step is in beginning to recognise and understand just how deeply those layers have influenced me, how they have led to my seeing the world in a certain way.  To understand how the comfort and ease have influenced my opinions, values and ideas. 

Perhaps I need to be reminded that there are other ways of seeing the world, other views that I need to listen for.  This week each time I reach for my favourite weekend wine, and my daily chocolate that I am fasting from,  I will take that time to remind myself just how comfortable I am getting. I can take that time to discover other perspectives. 


For this first week of Lent I challenge you to like me, begin to unpack the layers that have created your ideas, values and opinions.

  1. Sit down and prayerfully consider all your comfort, ease and abundance, what do you have that others may not?
  2. List all the ways that you are privileged for choice and access.  You might like to consider your race and culture, your sexuality, your gender, gender identity, your education level (and that of your parents), your wealth, the suburb you grew up in, physical ability, physical health, your religion, and any others that occur to you.
  3. What influence might these layers of ease and comfort have had on how you see the world? How were you taught to see yourself? How were you taught to see others? 
  4. Choose two of these categories of privilege and research some alternative views.  What opinions, values and ideas do people different from you have?   What views do they have that are different to yours, what is the same? Why do you think they have developed these views? What about your different experiences may have lead to you having different views?  What has influenced their formation? What has influenced yours? 
  5. Conclude with a prayer:

Jesus, you came and emptied yourself,
teach us to follow your example.  
Help us to recognise and lay down our power,
Help us to understand how our attitudes lead to oppression
and our actions to heartbreak.  
Forgive us for all the times we have taken our choices for granted,
or prevented others from having choices.
Forgive us for those moments when we have been agents of oppression,
or excluded others from feeling welcome.   
Jesus be with us so that we may recognise our abundance,
give us your eyes of compassion and help us to make actions of love.  



six conversations about missionary care in New Zealand - five

 I have spent a lot of time over the last 8 years reflecting on member care, particularly thinking about what it is.  For New Zealand to lead the way in member care there are six foundation principles that we need to discuss, understand better and apply to the formation of the profession. My previous posts have considered what it means to be developing professionalism, being proactive, being locally grounded and globally informed and being holistic.  In today’s post I want to start thinking and talking about the interdisciplinary nature of membercare.


I have mentioned before that Membercare is somewhat ambiguous and hard to define. That is part of the reason why I have had to put so much thought into figuring out what it is and prompted this journey to explore the foundations of membercare.  I think for a long time I wanted membercare to be something - just to be counselling, or just to be social work, or just to be Human Resources but actually the fact that it none of these and yet contains elements of all of these is part of what makes it what it is.  The diversity of people and backgrounds that have joined membercare have been a source of strength and breadth.  In membercare, we have missionaries, social workers, counsellors, spiritual directors, human resource professionals, trainers, psychologists, coaches, pastors and I am sure some others that I have overlooked.  This gives membercare a resource of different perspectives, theories, backgrounds and approaches that we can draw on and that enrich and grow our work.

Membercare is growing both in the number of practitioners and in organisation’s awareness of its importance.  Its growth allows three threats to the interdisciplinary nature of membercare to arise.


Threat One:  Factions

As we grow in numbers across membercare, we of course get larger numbers of people in each different discipline that contributes to membercare. When we are few in number then we are forced to mix and mingle with those from different backgrounds. But the desire to gather with like-minded people is always strong, so as numbers increase there is a temptation to gather with those from our discipline. In this way it is easy for factions to form as we reinforce in our interactions with each other the shared perspective that we have. Certain approaches, concerns and focuses can become common within a discipline, sometimes a new way of looking at things from outside the discipline is necessary for growth to occur.  I am currently preparing for some training on resilience and I am fascinated at the different paths that have been taken to consider resilience.  Some writers come to resilience work through the lens of positive psychology exploring what makes us stronger, fills our tank and helps us to flourish. They take the view that putting those things in place helps us cope better when the hard stuff occurs.  The other approach is from the counsellors and trauma professionals who come at it through the lens of what helps people recover post-trauma.  Both approaches are interesting and useful and they both add to our understanding of growing flourishing workers.  

Threat Two:  Professionalism

As membercare matures as a profession we can establish our own way of doing things, our own research and theories and are able to offer our own training. These are all great things that have long term benefits for mission workers, and we should be aspiring to reach this stage. But it could mean that as we train people in membercare itself we loose some of the diversity that we have had in the past.  Ensuring that we still draw on the diversity of experience that has been part of membercare,  will ensure that we don’t become insular, and give us a confidence to explore further.  I have noticed that the default setting for missionary carers  is to try and be counsellors (but often doing it poorly).   By establishing membercare with a defined identify in its own right we remove the temptation to simply try and be counsellors, that is often caused by its ambiguity. 

Threat Three: Reductionism.

Tapping the richness of the diverse disciplines isn’t easy and I have observed that another threat that we face is that of reductionism.  We may know that our discipline has something great to contribute to membercare, and we want to share it.  However bringing the information to a diverse range of people who lack the foundational understanding that we have can be a challenge.  Often we end up reducing our information down to the easiest form.  So instead of bringing people from other foundational understanding on a learning journey with us, we reduced our knowledge to its simplest possible form to present to others.  We then fall into a situation where instead of each profession being able to contribute the best, most up to date, evidence based information, we end up with the most accessible dumbed down version of what our profession has to offer.  Instead of enriching membercare knowledge we end up with a lowest common denominator level of simplistic knowledge. 

Discussions where we can interact and engage with different ideas, and combine and discuss knowledge, are an essential tool for building our identity as an interdisciplinary profession.  Through this tool we can be a melting pot of the best of many professions to help us provide the best possible care for mission workers.  

Next time I post lets talk about membercare that is centred in kingdom values and is Holy Spirit led.




six conversations about missionary care in New Zealand - four

In September I attended the Second South Pacific Membercare Conference. A conference for all those involved in missionary care in Australia, New Zealand and across the pacific.  I have spent a lot of time over the last 8 years reflecting on member care, particularly thinking about its foundations and definition.  For New Zealand to lead the way in member care there are six foundations that we need to discuss and gain increased understanding on. My previous posts have considered what it means to be developing professionalism, being proactive and being locally grounded and globally informed. In today’s post I want to start thinking and talking about the holistic nature of missionary care.


Another foundation of our membercare practice and one that is hard to separate out from being proactive is that membercare is holistic.  Actually, perhaps rather than asking what is membercare we could even begin to ask - what is not membercare?  Part of our role as membercare providers is to promote and maintain an attitude of care to our workers from all parts of our organisations.  In this way membercare should be happening whenever our organisation interacts with its field workers.  This is most easily demonstrated through conversations I have had around finances. 

Do you consider your finance staff as part of your membercare team?
membercare workers how often do you talk to your finance staff? 

The field workers probably interact with the finance staff more often than they talk to their designated membercare worker.  Finance staff may also have a good idea of stresses and challenges that field workers are experiencing and what their long-term plans are.  
Developing a holistic foundation for our membercare practice involves seeing and understanding field workers as whole people, with overlapping and interacting needs in many areas.  I have noticed that Membercare has developed a culture of responding to emotional and psychological needs.   This focus could easily lead us to overlook other areas of our workers well-being.   Taking a holistic approach means caring about their physical and financial health, their faith, their professional growth, their sense of identity as a Christian and as a missionary worker. There are challenges in caring for all areas of our workers wellbeing.  There may be cultural and ethical challenges in being holistically involved in peoples lives.

Do you feel comfortable for example, suggesting to people that they need to exercise more or loose weight?  Is that a conversation that membercare workers should and could be having? Does it overstep the boundaries of our care?  Or does it demonstrate an attitude of care to workers as whole people?


As we express this view and acknowledge our workers as whole people it helps to dismantle any dualistic thinking that can so easily creep into Christian spirituality.  Dualistic thinking sees the spiritual parts of our life as good and important and worthy of God’s and the mission agencies attention and the rest as secular, bad and not as important. This type of thinking can be associated with seeing the world as a bad place, rather than as somewhere that reflects God's glory, and can be appreciated and enjoyed.  In this way, we can begin to develop and nurture a more holistic faith in our workers so that they are aware of God in all they do and are, wherever they are.  

Taking a holistic view towards our workers and the care we provide them also involves becoming aware of the long term impacts that the policies and procedures that they live with have on them.  We have become so accustomed to some of these that we take them for granted but consider, for example, our reliance on support raising to fund missionaries field service.  Currently we are facing decreased giving in our churches,  this means less money to go around for both local and global mission.  Although that doesn’t change the amount of money that our workers need to raise to go, (although the global financial situation does) it does have an impact on how hard and how long they need to work to raise and maintain that support.  It means that they need to have more interactions with more people and more churches just to raise their support. 

Are we taking that need into consideration as we help them schedule home leave? 
Do we consider the long term impact of support raising on their relationships?

When I was on support I found the pressure to ask all my friends for money and accept money from some of them had a huge impact on my ability to sustain those relationships with the same level of closeness as before I was on support.  It also blurred boundaries between when I was working and when I was socialising, that made it difficult for me to set self-care boundaries.  The other part of this scenario is that shrinking church budgets mean church workers are doing more work for less and may have less time to support and encourage the mission workers.  

A holistic view sees our workers as part of systems.  Systems that support (hopefully) them like their families and friends, and systems that may be unhealthy for them (like a church that uses financial support to control their work).  Holistic membercare understands that struggles like burnout are not just caused by individuals but by an interaction between the individual and the systems that they work in.  Holistic membercare takes into account the impact of living within systems on the health of our workers.  It understands that for some (like those who experience oppression and discrimination)  the system in which they have lived or are living impacts on their ability to thrive and nurture relationships. 

Holistic membercare takes a step back and develops a broader picture of whole complex people impacted by the variety and complixity of the systems in which they live.  Lets work together to create a membercare with a holistic foundation and expression.
In my next post I would like to start thinking about membercare that is interdisciplinary.  



six conversations about missionary care in New Zealand - Three

This is the third post in a series considering what we need to talk about as missionary care steps up, upskills and develops as a profession.  I believe New Zealand can lead the way in increasing the professionalism of membercare.  This time I want to start a conversation about understanding what it means to be locally grounded and globally informed.  This doesn’t just apply to member care, it has an impact on recruitment and training also but I think it is important to make it more central to member care.


As missionary care workers our eyes are often turned out into the wide world, to different countries and cultures.  Yet part of our increasing maturity as a member care profession is being able to negotiate the tension between the need to be locally grounded and globally informed.  We need to be culturally grounded, in an awareness of our own culture, a deep engagement with what is happening in our own countries, including what is happening in our professional bodies, the church and mission agencies.  This needs to be held with a global awareness of what is happening in the world, a strong cultural sensitivity, and a looking outward to be humbly informed by the professional contributions and cultural knowledge from other countries.  

Being culturally grounded means developing a good awareness of our own culture (or cultures).  The world is not experienced in the same way for everyone, culture has an impact on how different stresses and pressures are experienced, and the most effective ways of processing and coping with these pressures, and even what our ideas of healthy look like.   This has an influence on the workers that we are caring for, and us as membercare workers.  Being aware of our own NZ culture and the issues that workers from our culture struggle with the most and the type of care that is expected by workers from our culture can help us provide the most appropriate care for those workers.    We may also develop a sensitivity to how our culture interacts with other cultures and what the likely reactions and tensions points are in a cross-cultural team.  Grounding in our own culture needs to be balanced with an awareness that culture is not simple and that many of our missionaries may identify with more than one culture.

Professions develop differently in different countries, and so we need to be keeping up to date with current research, best practice and growth areas in our countries, as they can be world leading, and culturally appropriate for the workers from our country.  We also need to be aware of what is happening in the church as a whole in NZ.  Sometimes mission workers get so focused on what is happening in the host countries their agencies work in they forget to pay attention to what is happening in NZ.  These changes and trends within our home country church have an impact on who comes to our mission agency, and how able agencies are to find new workers.  It also has an effect on how able churches are to support mission workers, many churches in New Zealand are struggling with decreasing giving, which means staff have to do more, and churches may have less to give mission workers in time and money.  New Zealand is often ahead of other countries in experiencing the influence of secularisation and globalisation. Lack of deep theological engagement within the church leaves our workers lacking confidence in the gospel that so many of our agencies are focussed on ‘sharing’.  New workers often lack the theological depth, and experience of spiritual formation required to get through the challenges of field service.  There is also a thread of hurt and dissatisfaction with the church that many of our church goers are dealing with.  This may be something that needs to come out into the open before we can be truly free to make a difference globally. 

 Becoming locally grounded and globally informed is essential for good membercare practice

Becoming locally grounded and globally informed is essential for good membercare practice

As we engage deeply with our own culture we also need to raise the problems and challenges of the history of Christianity in our own country.  As a church, we need to first deal with the need for racial reconciliation in our own country before we turn our eyes to the world.   We need to recognise that the Christianity that was associated with colonialism hasn’t always meant liberation and affirmation for all in our home countries. Before heading overseas to share our faith we need to ensure that we have developed a good theological understanding of how our faith is a message of liberation and affirmation for all cultures and people not just our own.  We need to have found ways to put this into practice and demonstrate this truth to the indigenous people of our land.  Perhaps this type of acknowledgement and awareness of our difficult history and some moves towards restitution would create a more healthy attitude for our humble engagement with cultures overseas.   

Once we have a firm local grounding then we can lift our eyes to be globally informed.  We have an increasingly global missionary workforce, traditional sending countries are being overtaken in numbers by those from the majority world.  Sending nations are now accepting missionaries into their countries and younger generations are connected with global issues, this has changed the context in which we are operating.   Our models of member care and counselling practice need to be assessed in this new global context.  Currently, our models and theories are created and tested in a white western environment that may not translate well to other cultural ways of understanding and being.  I have heard people wanting westerners to come and provide training to host country workers basically because they are not following the western way of doing counselling.  Perhaps they did need help but we need to be very cautious that we are not assuming that our way is globally appropriate or always best or better.  Instead, we need to develop truly collaborative ways of working that lead to humble learning on the part of all participants.  A tool that could assist missionary carers in developing an awareness of the cultural limits of their practice would be to require all carers to undergo cultural supervision as part of their training.  Cultural supervision is a type of external supervision that provides accountability and support for the cultural learning and appropriate and safe practice of the supervisee.  It helps them consider their own worldview and models and how they may be having an impact on their practice.  

We need to keep up with best practice initiatives from around the world, being aware of what is occurring in other countries, and how it may be different from our own.  For example, missionaries from Asia and the Middle East have much to teach us in the west about a theology and understanding of sacrifice and suffering.  Missionaries from collectivist cultures have much to teach us in the west about what it means to create and sustain a team. This needs to be a genuinely collaborative practice all shaping and forming each other as we learn and grow together.

Let’s strive to create a member care that is locally grounded and globally informed. 

Next time we will have a conversation about member care that is holistic.  

Let’s Kōrerorero


six conversations about missionary care in New Zealand - two

Last month I attended the Second South Pacific Membercare Conference. A conference for all those involved in missionary care in Australia, New Zealand and across the pacific.  I have spent a lot of time over the last 7 years reflecting on member care and I was somewhat disappointed at the level of conversation and engagement at the conference.  There were a number of conversations that I thought we should have been having (after all we only get together once ever two years!), that didn’t happen.  Conversations about the vision for the future of member care, conversations about the challenges ahead and where member care workers and indeed member care as a profession needs to step up, to up skill and to develop further as a profession.  

For New Zealand to lead the way in member care there are six core conversations that we need to hold.  This week we look at the second conversation, a conversation about becoming proactive.  



Membercare came into existence because there was an awareness that mission work and cross-cultural living is difficult and stressful and that our workers needed extra support and help to cope with those struggles.  That is all true and it is a very good thing that member care was formed.  Support, counselling and care were and are much needed and are good things for us to be doing.  

However, it means that the very origins of member care formed the work as primarily responsive. It seems that as we think about the future for member care we think the answer to all challenges is to have more member care workers and to have more member care workers closer to where our missionaries are serving. This, however, isn’t the whole answer part of the answer must be to move out of a continually responsive mode and move into taking a more proactive stance in promoting worker wellness.   Of course, we still need to be there to provide care and support to those who struggle.  But we also need to add to our member care repertoire proactive practices that increase the flourishing of missionaries. In small organisations where the training team members work closely with (or are) the member carers. There is some attention being paid to what individuals can do to increase their wellbeing, and some training to help people set up for coping well. I feel we need to put much more effort, attention and skill into this area.  I was surprised at the recent member care conference at how the most basic information about resilience was new to a lot of member care workers.  Resilience, well-being, thriving, emotional intelligence, mental wellness, spiritual formation, these are all things that member care workers should be familiar with and work to inform and assist our cross-cultural workers to put into practice.
We need to to take this one step further and begin to look at how our organisations can be proactive. We need to look at our systems, procedures, rules, guidelines and team cultures.  Individuals do not operate in a vacuum they are affected and influenced by the organisation in which they are placed. We need to start conversations about how we lead and how we create systems and structures that support people to thrive.  Leaders and bosses have a huge impact on their team members wellbeing, do we talk about this in our organisations?  Our team leaders need to be aware of their influence on their team’s wellbeing.  Rigidity in how mission should be done, in how and where you should take holidays or do language learning are examples of organisational procedures that do not see people as individuals and support them to grow and thrive.  Teams that are dominated by one culture or theological position can be oppressive and unhealthy for those that are in the minority, we need to be on the lookout for teams that may be like this. There are many factors within an organisation and position that contribute to burnout in individuals, and yet we seem in Christian ministry to still focus on burnout as a personal, individual issue.   Part of taking a proactive stance is looking at the organisation as a whole and understanding how it can be crafted to allow and support people to function at their best.  

An ability to see our organisation as a system is essential if we are to integrate and care for people from collectivist cultures well. They are instinctively aware of the interconnectedness and belonging issues that occur within an organisation. We also need to acknowledge, understand and support our missionaries as they work within other systems that influence their well-being such as their churches and their families.

 Conversations around shaping a proactive approach would also consider what training and support missionaries need not to just survive but to develop and grow. If we have a focus solely on caring for individual care, we often neglect to have the tough conversations that we need to have to enable further growth in our workers.  Just as we encourage our children to grow in their own ability to care for themselves as part of our care and love for them, we also need to be supporting growth and independence in our missionaries.  Care doesn't necessarily just mean offering support when they have a crisis or need, care can also involve challenge and calls for growth, and to take responsibility for their own self-care.    

Another reason for increasing the proactivity of what we do is that the original model of member care assumed that we sent out people who were thriving.  They would then struggle in ministry, cross-cultural living, or during the transition back to their passport country, then they would need care and support.  This is a model that no longer exists. The diversity of experiences and backgrounds of the people we are sending and the rise of mental health struggles among the population means that we are now more likely to be sending people who have already faced challenges to their well-being.  We need to be considering what proactive measures we need to take to support them from the beginning of their engagement with an agency and what extra wrap-around support systems we need to develop that allow them to function, flourish and grow in ministry settings.

Let’s strive to create a member care that is proactive and system oriented.  Next time we will have a conversation about member care that is both local and global.     

Let’s start conversations about becoming proactive...


silence speaks

I have been waiting.

On Monday I was waiting - silence.

On Tuesday I was waiting - silence.

Today the silence has become deafening.

I don’t feel like I should be the one to raise this after all, I am one of the fortunate ones who can say #notme.  But perhaps that makes it easier for me to raise it, I am intellectually and compassionately invested in this rather than personally.    

Since Sunday when my social media feeds became full of friends saying #metooI have been waiting, for a response from Christian leaders in New Zealand.  

I have seen some great posts from Christian influencers from other countries, but the New Zealand space remains quiet.  


That silence speaks.

That silence says:
“I don’t believe that happens in New Zealand”
“I don’t believe that happens in Churches”
“I don’t believe that happens in my church”

Your silence speaks:

Your silence says:
“I don’t see the outpouring of grief, pain and trauma before me”
“I don’t believe the church has the capability of offering hope, liberation and comfort in that space of pain”
“You can’t bring your pain here”

Can I go a step further and say that by not acknowledging the disclosures, of sexual assault and harassment, during the #metoo campaign, that you are furthering the silencing that these survivors experience.  You are reinforcing the message that this is something unacceptable to talk about.  It is only by making this something that is talked about in all places of society that we can take steps to eradicate it. 

As you stand in front of your congregation on Sunday look out over the people, NZ statistics show that 1 in 5of the women you are looking at will have experienced serious sexual assault, and 1 in 7 of the men will have been sexually abused as children.  That is people in your congregation, and yet when was the last time that you preached about sexual assault and harassment?

Vivid in my memory is one of the times I felt the greatest disconnect between my life and my previous church.  I got to bed at 1.30am on a Saturday night after debriefing and caring for a counsellor who had been speaking with a rape victim.  I hauled myself out of bed to attend church the next morning where we sang happy songs about how good God was, and listened to an uplifting sermon that was totally irrelevant to the mood, mindspace and experience I was still processing.  Don’t let that disconnect happen in your church this week.  

Don’t be silent, don’t let the messages implicit in your silence be the ones that the people in your church who have shared #metoo this week hear.

As you plan your Sunday services, as you plan this week's social media feeds for your church, can I encourage you to speak out, to speak up.  It is a way of connecting with the real life that the people are living, and offering God’s hope, healing and comfort to all.

Here are some ideas you may want to incorporate into your service this week, they start from easy to the more challenging.  Care does need to be taken as these are sensitive issues, peoples pain can be triggered and you need to allow space and good quality care for those people.  You will need to ensure that your tone, content and conduct of this aspect of the service convey the gravity and importance of this issue. 

  1. Acknowledge the courage that people have needed to share #metoo this week and the pain and grief that represents.
  2. Have a special time of intercession for all in your congregation and their friends who have had the courage to #metoo this week.
  3. Ask a woman in your congregation to read a Psalm of lament or some of Lamentations as a tribute to those who have experienced gender violence, and to acknowledge that God sees their suffering.  
  4. Have your prayer ministry team ready to pray for anyone who has had their trauma triggered, or is feeling the grief and pain of their experiences this week.
  5. Create a healing liturgy, that acknowledges pain, grief and trauma and allows people to bring that pain to the Holy Spirit as Comforter.    
  6. Acknowledge and preach about how so often the Church has created unhealthy structures of dominance and control that encourage and allow harassment and abuse.  In our silence in our failure to challenge those structures, we have been complicit - pray for forgiveness for all who have failed to challenge these structures.  

Above all don’t be silent.  

My love and prayers to all of you who have had the courage to share #metoo, and all of you who have had cause to share but haven't found it possible. May God strengthen you with hope, courage and loving friends. 

six conversations about missionary care in New Zealand

I recently returned from the Second South Pacific Membercare Conference, for all those involved in missionary care in Australia, New Zealand and across the Pacific.  I have spent a lot of time over the last 7 years reflecting on member care and I was somewhat disappointed at the level of conversation and engagement at the conference.  There were a number of conversations that I thought we should have been having (after all we only get together once every two years!), that didn’t happen.  Conversations about the vision for the future of member care, conversations about the challenges ahead and where missionary care workers and indeed missionary care as a profession needs to step up, to upskill and to develop further as a profession.  

My impression from my time at the conference last week is that member care workers have more that they want to do, than they can do, they are very busy and responsive to need.   This makes them reluctant to put their heads up from the day to day work that is in front of them to reflect on the bigger picture. There is a lack of vision of how missionary care fits into the changing mission scene, of the broader picture of missionary care and how it needs to grow.  Membercare is a relatively young field, so we need to think about how to grow in the skills, theory and research we need to increase our maturity.  I believe that we are a small enough community in New Zealand to experiment with new models, perhaps here we can even introduce changes that have a global impact.   

For New Zealand to lead the way in member care there are six core conversations that we need to hold.  This week we look at the first conversation, a conversation about professionalism.

6 needed conversationsprofessionalism(2).png

Missionary care is both professional and vocational, we need to be deepening our understanding of what that means.  What does it mean to be vocational? What does it mean to be professional?   Most importantly what does it mean to combine the two into a called-professionalism?

Missionary care was created in response to a need and many people (myself included) ended up in missionary care somewhat accidentally. We responded to God calling us to meet needs that we saw around us, or in the mission agency that we were involved in.  It is something that many of us have dedicated our lives and our work to, that we have made substantial sacrifices for and something we believe God has called us into. I have encountered a fear that increasing the professionalism of missionary care will create barriers to people following God’s call to care for his people.  I disagree,  it is because we are called by God that we should be aspiring to care for God’s people in the best way possible. It is that call from God that draws us to reach for greater professionalism in all we do.  

At the beginning of missionary care the primary experience that was required was some field experience as a missionary and perhaps one or two papers in pastoral care at a bible college.  This background has meant that member care has struggled to think professionally.  When I say think professionally I mean to have a broader understanding of theory,  to be informed by evidence-based practice and research, to have accountability for professional growth and quality standards to develop ethical maturity and to see missionary care as a career. 

We need to acknowledge that it is no longer enough to have people with limited training and understanding of theory in the field of missionary care.

We need to start conversations about stepping up, bravely stepping out and becoming more professional in all we do. Then when we gather as professionals in missionary care we won’t need to spend so much time on the most basic skills needed to care for people.  Instead we will be able to extend ourselves into training and developing in these 4 key areas.

1) Theory
One of the key sources of the lack of professionalism in missionary care is that we haven’t moved beyond just learning a set of simple skills.  Professionals develop good understandings of theories, that can help them understand and work to a high standard in a variety of situations.  The theory helps them understand how and why they are learning and applying the skills. Currently, member care is a few steps behind important and informative practices that are emerging in the helping professions.  Professionals however keep up with emerging trends, new research, changed practices, and recent critiques and replacements of old models.  Professionals are then able to change their practice in response to this new information.

2) Research and Evidence-based Practice.  
There is very little evidence of our effectiveness as missionary carers.  To become professionals we need to begin conducting thorough research about what works, and developing some formulations of evidence-based practice.  We need to seek out feedback and track trends and changes that occur as the result of our missionary care practices. 

 Where are we climbing to?

Where are we climbing to?

3) Accountability and Ethical Practice
To act and be a professional also means having accountability for our work.  I was encouraged at the South Pacific Membercare Conference how many of the attendees were receiving supervision.  But I wonder how much of that supervision is focussed on growth and development rather than just self-care and well-being.   We also need to be enhancing our knowledge and practice of ethical maturity.  There are still quite large challenges to ethical practice that we need to be discussing and working through.  We still lack an ethical code and lack professional training tracks in New Zealand (although the Redcliffe masters programme will be available from next year).  Our best practice guidelines still swing from being too basic in some places and too aspirational in others.  There are no requirements for professional development, mandatory supervision, or even entrance qualifications.

4) Career Pathways
As we seek to increase the professionalism within missionary care another issue to be addressed is the high turnover of missionary care providers within the mission agencies.  We lose many of the best people because there are no career pathways or opportunities for promotion. The contribution of missionary care personnel to the overall direction and management of mission agencies is not always valued.  The constant turnover of staff limits our ability to grow and develop as it feels like instead of having opportunities to extend our practice and develop our professionalism the more experienced providers are often caught up in helping the newer providers catch up. To grow as a profession we need to not always be putting our energy into helping the last on catch up.  

Professionalism does not need to challenge or negate our sense of vocation, rather our sense of vocation should lead us to strive further and higher in doing the best we can for those we care for.  Next time, we will have a conversation about becoming proactive.   

Let’s Kōrerorero


listen to your discontent: the Holy Spirit’s prompt for every woman.

Let’s talk about discontent.  You know all about discontent right?  I know you feel it too.  I know that you have that feeling of restless dissatisfaction, that sense of burning grievance.   Perhaps like me you have that feeling every time you read an article that finds another way to silence women.  Another article that encourages women not to trust themselves, that focuses again on their inadequacies. Discontent is that sense of annoyance that you feel when something so crucial as discontent is dismissed as only the work of Satan.  Therefore it must be suppressed with more bible reading and prayer.  It’s that sense of welling frustration when articles targeting women stereotype them as superficial and concerned with appearances.   Discontent is that disquiet that lodges in your gut when women’s prophetic ability and engagement is once more overlooked. 

Let's talk about your discontent, lets talk about that discontent that you know is a prompt from the Holy Spirit.  A prompt that the spirit uses to get your attention, to show you when something is wrong.  A sign that it is time for you to grow, time for you to move, time for you to step up and challenge the status quo.   You know this discontent deep in your heart. 

Do you know discontent as the Holy Spirit’s call to use your prophetic gifts? 

The Spirit uses it to nudge you to speak up, to point out the ways that the current order is wrong.  The discontent shows you new directions, new solutions, new ways of pointing people to living as God’s people.  

Let’s talk about your discontent with those closest to you, perhaps this is the hardest one for you to process. You know what I mean, that grumpy discontent that comes out as frustration, and impatience. Let's talk about the way that you live in a society where Kingdom values aren’t predominant.  The way that the power and monetary structures of society impact on even your most intimate family interactions and relationships. This discontent may mean that the way things are organised in your family need to change because it isn’t healthy for you, or enabling you to live out your spiritual gifts.  Fortunately God has another gift for you, his discontent is not given in isolation.  He has also given you the gift of discernment, this will help you understand what your discontent is signalling.  What is it that needs to change? Are you depressed and need medical and counseling assistance?  Do you need to make changes in your family life so that you are able to make radical kingdom choices in your daily life. 

Let’s talk about discontent and share it with our friends.  Let’s not be scared that sharing our discontent will lead to envy and broken friendships.  God has given us relationships to assist us in the discernment process, to help us learn and hone our prophetic challenges, to work together to bring Kingdom values to all of life.

Discussing our discontent with our friends helps us to identify what needs to change in our society and how we can work together to bring about that change.

It helps us, develop our voice to speak out about our discontent, to show how things are failing, and where they need to change.   Discontent shared is much more likely to be discontent that leads to healthy prophetic engagement than discontent dismissed as the work of Satan, and hidden or suppressed.

Let’s talk about discontent, lets talk about the discontent of the prophets of the Old Testament, who saw all the ways that the people and their faith leaders were wandering from the ways of God.  The discontent that led them to hear God and share God’s message to call back his people to journeying closer to himself.  Let’s talk about the discontent of the Greek speakers in Acts 6, the discontent they had when their widows and orphans were being unfairly treated.  It was their discontent that led them to present their case to the Apostles and led to positive action to remedy the situation.  Without shared discontent the Seven would not have been called to leadership.   Let's talk about the discontent that raged inside Martin Luther when he saw the corruption in the church and the barriers between God and his people that the church was creating.  The discontent that eventually led to the reformation.  The Holy Spirit’s gift of discontent leads to positive change for all if it is acted upon.

Talk about your discontent, don’t dismiss it as the work of Satan, you have the discernment to see how the Holy Spirit is using your discontent to call you to growth, to change and to activism.  To bring Holy Spirit led change into every area in which you have influence.  


women in leadership - Rachel Murray

Today’s blog post is the start of a new series, introducing you to the female leaders in New Zealand’s mission, ministry and Christian Not-for-Profit Sector. 

The first of my guests is Rachel Murray. Rachel has been the General Director of the New Zealand Baptist Missionary Society, for three years.   NZBMS is the mission organisation of the Baptist Churches in NZ.

Christina: Tell me about your current role and what it involves?

Rachel: In my current role, I am the General Director of the NZ Baptist Missionary Society. We have four arms which are focussed on the different aspects of our mission and include development, personnel, mobilising & resourcing and business.  While each of those entities has its own manager, my role covers oversight and support of all of that and of the NZBMS staff team.  That includes lots of engagement with churches that we work with around the country and connection with the wider mission community.  I do lots of speaking in churches, in small groups and wherever else people want to know a little bit more about mission or NZBMS. 

Christina: How did God first call you to ministry?

Rachel: It depends on how you describe ministry, and what it means.  I see ministry as not just what I do now, or not just ‘Christian Ministry’ or the Christian job that you have.  Ministry is all of what you do. In my previous life, I was involved in administration. Prior to that, I was a laboratory research officer in horticultural and forestry science.  I go back even as far as that and think that was part of my ministry.  It was also a growing awareness, through the example of my parents and grandparents.  I learnt by watching the ways that they served and what Christian ministry looked like for them as laypeople in a church context. 

But if you are talking Christian work, like what I do now, I received a very specific call at the age of 15, to overseas Christian mission. The practical side of that didn’t come until I was about 26 when an Aunt of mine challenged me and said: “you had that call at 15; what are you doing about it?”  Which was a very good point, you get to 26 and it’s about time you did something with the call.  But nothing was wasted in the intervening years, it was all part of my training.  At that point, I went overseas and things just continued to evolve from there. On return, I furthered my training and became involved in other organisations. I never really went looking for anything; it came to me.

Receiving an initial call at 15 is also why I would never underplay how God uses young people.  

Christina: How did that call develop over time and lead to your current role?

Rachel: I spent 9 months in South Asia with Interserve. I had a strong sense that if this was to be my long-term overseas call (and I believed it was), I needed some further training and for me, that meant biblical/theological study. On my return to NZ, I ended up back in the same job I’d left in science before I went away. I started theological study by distance through Carey Baptist College, however, I got to a point where I couldn’t keep working full-time and trying to do the study almost full time. I ended up coming to Auckland and finished my theological degree on site full time.  During that season, I reconnected with the mission agency that I had gone overseas with and became involved as a volunteer. When I finished at Carey, they offered me a job as the short-term mission coordinator which I held for a couple of years.  That role engaged me in a deeper way with the mission community and helped me understand what this mission thing was all about. I then did some more administrative work in a different context, and then 7 years ago I was offered an opportunity here at the NZ Baptist Missionary Society.  It was a brand-new role focussed on resourcing and mobilising.  I remember a conversation with God at one point saying “but I thought I was going overseas!  Why am I not going overseas?” I am not sure I ever got a specific answer to that question, but these roles kept coming up in NZ. I’ve since concluded that the roles are still involved in mission and that it is still fulfilling the call that I had when I was 15.  But it’s now about facilitating others overseas rather than me going myself - that might change, but it’s just been one step after the other, building on what’s come before. I had 4 years in that resourcing and mobilising role before stepping into the role of General Director. 

Christina: How did you discover and first use or practice your leadership gifts?

Rachel:  Hard to know for sure, but I immediately go to my older teen years, through youth group opportunities and other organisations I was involved in, where I was offered opportunities to lead younger people.  I wouldn’t necessarily have put the leadership label on it at the time, although others might have.

Someone having the confidence to say “here look after this”, is often the start for young people.

Then in my early 20s after completing university, I re-engaged with a student exchange organisation that I had spent a year with in Central America. I wanted to give back and be a part of it because it had been such a major part of my life.  I spent about 6 months just helping out in the background and doing whatever I was could or was asked to do. The leader at that time had taken me under her wing and at 23, she saw something in me that I did not know was in myself. One day she simply stated, “I want you to be the next leader of this group.”  She was 50+ years of age and handing over the mantle of leadership of a whole range of people, to a 23-year-old who was very quiet, and certainly untried.  Although it was almost unprecedented to have someone that young taking over the leadership, she had confidence in me, But she also didn't leave, rather she stayed in the background and mentored me.  At the same time, there was another woman who said: “you can do this and we are right in behind you.”  They grew me to a point where years down the track I was able to do the same with others coming through. 

I am still not sure that I would label myself "a leader".  To be honest I'm not quite sure exactly what that word means and I think it gets used in all sorts of ways that can be very narrow.

Christina: Do you or have you ever identified as a feminist? Why or why not? 

Rachel: No, I wouldn’t label myself as that, because I wouldn’t know what to do with that concept.  I think it is a complex word, and if I am being completely honest I am not quite sure what it means.  I hear people use it in different ways and contexts which has just confused the issue more for me!

Christina: What problems or challenges have you run into as a leader?

Rachel: When I first took on those leadership roles as a 23-year-old, the biggest challenge was around my age.  That was in a secular environment and included people from an incredibly broad range of backgrounds, ages and stages.  I think at the time, there were people who said: “how can you let a 23-year-old run this part of the organisation?”  I had to deal with everything including managing people, dealing with conflict issues, teams and with parents who were very protective of their teens. A number of people said “you are too young to deal with this, what experience do you have? How does that possibly work?”  But I very quickly learnt not to buy into that and to put my head down and do the job that was given me to do but to do so with support. 

I had others around me, men and women, who were incredibly good and were my sounding boards.

They didn’t take the roles off me they just allowed me to talk it through.  So, I put my head down did the job and gained the respect that I needed to then get over those hurdles.  

One of the other challenges I have had is that I have been compared to predecessors in the different roles that I have had – across a range of contexts.  Perhaps unintentionally and it’s a natural thing for people to do.  The most challenging was one specific context because the comparison just wouldn’t go away. I had to be really intentional about putting my head down, doing the job, being me and not being that other person – and to ignore the comments to some extent, rather than challenge them. Vocalising the frustration was not the helpful thing to do.

I have also had one or two occasions when I was told that I was not leading properly. On clarification, it became apparent that my style of leadership was different from what they would expect. They thought leadership would be quite authoritarian even to some degree dictatorial.  That is not how I operate. I am far more consultative and inclusive in decision making. That was a real challenge for me and I wondered for a time if this issue would be the tipping point for me.  I’ve moved on from that matter!

Christina: In your Christian leadership roles, have you run into any problems because you are a woman? 

Rachel: No, for which I am very grateful. I am not 100% sure why I haven’t had issues where I know many others have. It’s difficult to know the reason for that but I think partly for me it is that I have had the privilege/advantage of being known before I have taken on a number of the roles I’ve had. People have worked with me or seen me operate in different circles before, so they knew what they were getting. If there has been push-back it has never come to me. I may have been shielded from it by others – who knows! 

I have also been very intentional about putting my head down, doing what has been given me to do and getting on with it. Every situation though is different and I can only speak to mine.

Christina:  Have you got any advice you would like to share with young women who may be exploring their call to leadership in ministry or mission settings?

Rachel:  If you believe you are called to leadership or in fact any situation – understand how you define that first.

If God is calling you to something and it’s affirmed by others who know you best, then stick to your guns, follow it through because actually, you are doing that in obedience to God.

God's called you, do what God's called you to, be obedient.  I don't believe any pathway to any leadership role will necessarily be smooth. There are probably going to be some hurdles at some point. 

Be cautious to not expect things to fall into place in front of you because you are female, or that you should get a role because you are female.  Actually, it might not be the right thing for you or the organisation/context, and if it’s not the right thing then there is going to be another position that could be even better.  Expect the challenges and if you don't get a role be careful about how you challenge that because there may be stuff that you are not aware of and nor do you need to know about it.  Challenge, but challenge carefully.

The other thing I would say is to be cautious how you support others.  If there are other women who are journeying with you who want to get grumpy about something or want you to get upset with them in solidarity, be careful what train you jump on. 

There is a right time and place to challenge and to push against the system, just as there is a wrong one. Get advice. Pick your battles. 

A final piece of advice I would give is to find good men around you, who can support you, mentor you in leadership and champion you. Good men are out there  - older and younger. If you get the right men in your corner, I think you will go a lot further. 

Christina:  Women have a unique place in leading the church into the future, because we are not so invested in the status quo, the way things are and I think that gives us a unique insight.  So is there anything that you feel that the Holy Spirit is saying to mission or the church today? What sort of vision do you think the Holy Spirit is building in you?

Rachel: Whether this is the Holy Spirit or me, I'm not sure, but one of the things I have been thinking about and talking about a lot is what change within a mission context and the church looks like. We know that there is change in society and that the Church and mission contexts can be influenced by what happens in society good, bad or ugly.  But the conversation for me is around how much should we actually change; do we need to put some strong stakes in the ground around what we believe?  In society, anything goes these days, there's a broader sense of acceptance of who you are and that's not necessarily a bad thing. However the Church can easily take on those traits of ‘anything goes, anything is acceptable’.  I am not sure any longer that we have a strong sense of our stakes in the ground some issues. So, I have been thinking, what are those stakes for us as a mission organisation and as the Church?    

I often tell young people that you don't have to be so relevant to society that you lose the salt and light you’re called to be in society. If you are a follower of Jesus that is what you are called to.  As an example, mission enquirers of a range of ages, will come and talk to us about what they want to do, how they want to go and ‘change’ or serve the world. But there may not be any articulation around Jesus. That's a concern - that is a stake in the ground that is no longer there.  So, we need to find a balance between change, going with what the trends are, and not changing.  We need to know who are we and what makes us different. 

You may like to reflect on these questions that are prompted by what Rachel has shared:

Are there young people around you to whom you could say "here look after this?"

Who are you mentoring or championing? Who is mentoring or championing you?

What is leadership? How would you define it? Are you being called to leadership?

Do you know when to challenge the sytem and when to let things go?

What are your stakes in the ground as you interact with a changing society?







book reflection: women with a mission

On the first Monday of each month, I offer some reflections on a book I have been reading. These are not book reviews, but a reflection on how the book interacts with my story and the questions that I currently have. I share where the book takes me with my questions, whether it conjures up new ideas or questions, whether it helps me frame my experiences and gives me things to ponder.

Read More

does your orchestra play rock music?

Sometimes we can get stuck in certain ways of thinking. We might be tired, and busy and it is easy to fall back into familiar paradigms. A familiar paradigm might be that orchestras play classical music.  To an extent, this is true orchestras do play classical music and have done for centuries in the western world. What happens if we bust out of this paradigm? What happens if we take this orchestra and their bemused looking conductor, add in a guitar playing vocalist, known for heavy rock music, a pop singer, and a reggae musician.  Throw in a young up and coming pop singer, some very good session musicians, on saxophone, electric guitar, and keyboards. Lastly add a concert pianist and music written by a popular singer-songwriter who reinvented himself several times for an influential career spanning almost 5 decades.  

What happens when you bring this juxtaposition together for a concert?

You create magic! You get a creative sparking between the different musicians and styles that create a fresh energy and everyone including the multi-generational audience has a lot of fun.  I found attending Bowie: Starman a few months ago quite inspirational.  This was a concert fronted by Jon Toogood(Shihad) and Julia Deans (Fur Patrol) with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and other singers such as Laughton Kora (Kora), and Anna Coddington.  They had, of course, come together to play the music of David Bowie.  The concert made me think about creativity, about juxtapositions, about energy and about the church.  Creativity is often about putting things together in a new way or bringing things together that haven’t been mixed together before, it is that sparking between different ideas that enables us to create something new.

The church is a bit like an orchestra venerating music from previous centuries, or Shihad fans that are left to have their concert outside in Aotea Square while the orchestra performs in the Town Hall, and the styles never come together.  We have created services and churches that stick to their style and paradigm but we never manage to bring them together well.  What would happen if we approached church a bit more like a Bowie:Starman concert?  What if the real creative sparking will come when instead of having separate enclaves we mix everything together?

We can create a fresh energy and fresh spaces for the Holy Spirit to work if we mix diversity together with generosity.

As I reflected on the concert I identified some key components that made the concert work and give us inspiration for how we do church. 

  Image by  Ioana Sasu    accessed via Pixabay

Image by Ioana Sasu   accessed via Pixabay


The central figure in making this concert happen has a talent for collaboration. Toogood doesn’t lead by himself and he doesn’t have to be centre stage all the time.  His role seems to be to cast the vision and bring everyone on board, creating a leadership team.  He then helps them all work together and understand what they are creating. He knows when to step back and let others do their jobs, he knows when to let the conductor lead, and when he needs to follow the conductor.  To create a good collaborative concert he doesn’t need to sing all the songs, he can also play a support role by singing backing vocals in many of the songs.  

What would our church or organisation look like if we had a leadership team instead of a single figure?
What would our church or organisation look like if we had a leader who excelled at collaboration?


Deans and Toogood have worked together on a number of projects now, and from the audience, it looks like they are great friends and colleagues that enjoy each other's strengths and spur each other to achieve more.  The orchestra was made up of people from diverse ethnicities and ages.  Classical music, however, was primarily created and grown in the western world, and this needs to be acknowledged if we are creating something truly diverse.  Diversity needs to be something broader and wider than simply including a singer with a background in NZ reggae.  This type of inclusion can sometimes walk a line that is very close to tokenism.  

What would our church or organisation look like if our leadership team was more diverse, containing strong relationships across genders, age groups and ethnic groups?

What would our church or organisation look like if we acknowledged that our systems, procedures, beliefs and ways of being are firmly based in western/middle-class models?


A key component of a successful collaboration is generosity.  The pop and rock singers were supported by a large crew of classically trained musicians, with traditional knowledge.  What generosity it must take for them to play pop music.  I wonder if perhaps some of the orchestral musicians don’t even like David Bowie, yet they are willing to play as part of the team from their commitment to their orchestra.  They are generous in their attitude to be lead by someone else with a different musical vision to what they are used to.  They are generous to allow this to stretch them right out of what they are comfortable with.  Part of the generosity in making this happen is to acknowledge that it might feel uncomfortable for each individual as they see their contribution changed and their valued way of doing things challenged.  

What would our church/organisation look like if we were more willing to be uncomfortable?
What would our church/organisation look like it we were more willing to be generous in our preferences?


The final component that I noticed at the concert was that everyone had fun, there was a lot of joy expressed. The singers had fun trying different (quite difficult) songs.  You could see that many of the orchestral musicians were playing for the sheer joy of using their instrument.  The singers enjoyed being together and working with different musicians and supporting each other.  The audience had fun, listening and being pulled into the fun of what was created.  Everyone enjoyed themselves and had fun, they expressed their joy through dance and song and smiles. 

When did your staff team last have fun together?
When did you last have fun attending church, and see an expression of pure joy from the front?


What a glorious vision for the church or for a christian organisation we get from thinking about what made this concert so magic.   Can we imagine a church that looks like this?  A church that has a diverse leadership team with a talent for collaboration that is backed up by people with tradition and knowledge.  A church that acknowledges its western and age group biases, that is characterised by generosity that allows diversity to flourish.  A church that is known for its joy and is fun to be a part of.  Can we work together with the Holy Spirit to build this church?


face outward

I have always disliked introducing myself at social events because the first thing you are asked is so “what do you do?”  The answer for me has never been simple.  I envy those people who could say “I am a primary school teacher or a nurse or a vet” and people immediately understand what they do.   When I was a PhD student studying a theory within social psychology, it was hard to explain what I was doing.  When I was working with Christian university students it was hard to explain what I was doing, Personnel Development for a Christian Mission Agency even worse.  I didn't really think of all this when I decided to become self-employed.  I am a bit hesitant to introduce myself as a blogger thinking does it really count when you only have 76 followers? does it really count when you have only been doing it a few months?   Then once I have said that I have to explain about my work as an external supervisor, which people who are not in human services work don't really understand.  So introducing myself can involve quite an extended and complex conversation.  Then I hold my breath and wait for the next question which is "so what do you blog about?"  I am always a bit reluctant to say the Church in New Zealand, because I know that once I say that, many stereotypes of Christian Mum bloggers are activated. I have also found that I am a little bit embarrassed to share with people that I think the church should make changes to how it does things.  As I have slowly been getting used to introducing myself as a Christian blogger, I have been surprised at how much people have been interested in the topic of my blog and curious to find someone who talks about the issues of the church and contextualisation to society.   


The interest I have experienced has got me thinking about which way I tend to face.  I have realised that most of my time, energy and focus goes towards the Church.  This is common for feminist Christians and for those of us who aren't liberal or evangelical, we orient ourselves in relation to the conservative church.  We spend time and energy justifying our position, arguing for space, defending our stance.  For some of us clinging to the fact that yes we are Christians, takes most of our energy, others are focussed on healing from the pain and grief that they have experienced within the conservative church.  The result of this is that we often experience self- doubt and spend time questioning ourselves - are we really right about what we believe?

This sets us up in a position where it is easy to forget to face those outside the church.  It would be good to recalibrate away from the Church and towards those outside the Church.  Many people outside the Church don’t have a diverse experience of what the Church is like, and if they rely on the media to show them the Church they only see a US conservative evangelical Christianity.   For those of us embedded in the Church and so familiar with it, it is easy to forget to explore what those outside know about it. 

I am suddenly aware of the importance of the average person on the street being able to see that there are feminist Christians, progressive Christians, liberal Christians, Christians of all flavours and beliefs, expressed in different ways.

Also that people with limited experience of the Church get to see that Christians have doubts and questions and that is ok, that there are Christians that are dissatisfied with the church how it is.  Sharing our faith can be difficult for those of us on the edges of Church.  Often our process of deconstruction has left us dissatisfied and loosely connected to the church, we may have lost confidence in a reductionist gospel, but we haven't replaced it with anything we can share easily.  Some of us may still feel an odd sense of loyalty to Christianity that means we are reluctant to 'bad mouth' it outside of Christian circles, uncomfortable sharing our doubts, questions and bad experiences.  Perhaps we have become reluctant to hear the bad experiences of the church that people outside of the church often want to share with us. 

I still feel uncomfortable sharing my faith.  Somehow to do it easily always reduced it to something that doesn't show the full complexity and depth of what I believe.  Also because I am drifting on the edge of my church I feel uncomfortable inviting people to come, I see the problems and I doubt they would always be and feel welcome, or even understand what was happening.  Yet at the heart of why I am so keen to see the Church contextualise better, is because I want to see the Church better able to articulate the hope and love of God to those who have little connection to our faith.  I think it is time that we stepped away from the constant and tiring engagement with conservatives and focussed our energy on those outside the church.  We need to stop and ask ourselves, why do we spend so much energy trying to convince those inside the church, is it because deep down we are still trying to answer our own doubts?

It is time that we saved some energy and time to face outwards, to talk to those outside the church about our faith.  Here are some initial thoughts about how we might do that.  
1) You don't have to have it all sorted into an elevator pitch to talk about what you believe. Little pieces of your faith dropped into a conversation here and there are great starters.  

2) If you want to help people take a bigger view of the church you could say something like "The church contains lots of different expressions and I am from a part of the church that sees a need for change.  We might be a bit different to the image of Christians that you are used to."

3) Ask questions and don't be afraid of expressing your own views on the church, or on being a Christian feminist.  Many us of have spent so long hiding our true views so that we fit better within the church framework that we forget that it is ok to express our true views to those outside the church.

4) Think about points of connection, the world is seeking wisdom and hope, things that Christianity has in abundance - how can we articulate that to those outside our faith?

Things to think over:
How are my time and energy captured by those within my faith?

How could I face more toward those outside my faith?

Do I feel comfortable inviting people to church? Why or why not?  

What could I do to create a more comfortable environment for those outside to begin to learn about my faith?

As always I would love to hear your thoughts,  experiences and challenges of sharing your faith:


third article theology

Back in march, in my post renewing theology, I highlighted Third Article Theology (known as TAT) as a source for developing a greater trinitarian focus, that would provide a good theological foundation as we follow the Holy Spirit into the future that he has for our faith communities.  I was first introduced to TAT by a student I was working with a few years ago.  I felt an immediate resonance with its approach and so have read bits and pieces about it since then, but my knowledge of it remains limited.  This is partly due to the fact that it hasn’t yet made it out of the Theological Colleges and into a layperson-friendly form, the books available tend to be theologically dense and I have found them a bit hard going.  

It still resonates with what the church needs for its future growth and I thought it deserved a post of its own, even though I didn’t have the knowledge to write it.  I e-mailed Dr Myk Habets of Carey Baptist College (NZ) and asked him if he could write an introduction for us.  Today’s post introducing TAT is my edited version of his reply to my e-mail and some information from the introduction he wrote to an edited book on TAT.   

Theology needs renewal.

Perhaps one of the reasons that TAT has resonated with me, is that it starts from a position of stating that theology needs a review from time to time.  Myk Habets uses the term “christomonostic myopia” to describe previous approaches to theology which focus on the work of Jesus and then only include a small section on the work of the spirit.  I thought that was a wonderful term to describe the tendencies of traditional evangelicalism to focus solely on the work of Christ, almost to the point of exclusion of the Holy Spirit.  

TAT also seems to take into consideration the importance of contexualisation of the theology that we do, another element that resonates with me.  Myk Habets states that we need to look at how we are articulating the core beliefs of our faith, particularly in relation to cultural changes.  He goes on to say “one thinker has said, “it is time the church grew up and began to act its age.” By that comment he meant the church needs to stop being a weather vane for the latest fads, flopping left then right at the whim of the popular, and instead, penetrate beneath the presenting cultural issues to the deeper realities of life that drive human behaviour and address those issues in richly biblical and theological ways. Third Article Theology is one attempt to overhaul theology in such a way.” 

What is Third Article Theology (TAT)?

I am still trying to understand this theology myself but it seems that at it’s most basic it is a methodological approach that looks through the Spirit, rather than looking at the Spirit.   Myk Habets expands by saying “the basic conviction of this approach to theology (and it is more a method than anything else) is that in the post-modern West, it is thought best to start with S/spirit in our thinking about the faith. With the Nicene Creed (325/381 AD) dictating its language, with its three main clauses, “I believe in” … “God, the Father” and in “Jesus Christ” and in the “Holy Spirit,” it is the last in our creed which should now be first in our discourse, the Spirit.”

Why is TAT important today?

Myk Habets describes the relevance of TAT in the following way “Our culture craves connection, and the Spirit provides that. Our culture is searching for meaning in concrete realities, not in abstract theories, and the Spirit provides that. And our culture wants to see a Christianity that cares as much as Christ does, that looks after the poor, the oppressed, and the outcast, and the Spirit provides that. Finally, people want to see the church being the church; a counter-cultural and revolutionary force for the Kingdom of God amidst the turmoil of the world, and the Spirit provides that (think of Eph 4.1-16 for a start). Third Article Theology (or TAT) is one attempt to do theology in an applied and grounded way, without abandoning the rigorous theological and philosophical articulation of the faith that is still necessary. Deeply traditional and deeply contextual, a TAT looks to what the Holy Spirit is doing in the world, in Scripture, in Christ, and in the Church, to resource our articulation and practice of the faith.”

What does TAT look like for an ordinary Christian?

Theology doesn’t just stay in the academic setting, it needs to make its way down to the everyday life of Christians so I asked Myk Habets to give an example of TAT being applied in our lives.  “One area in which TAT takes form in everyday life concerns ethics; that not so small matter of how to live well each day. A First Article Theology, one that starts with God the Father, would emphasise law and commands. And Scripture is replete with them of course, so that is not an incorrect path, but many of us already know the limitation legal codes have on our lives. They are externally motivated and often don’t result in real change.

A Second Article Theology, one which starts with Christ, on the other hand, might emphasize the fact that in Christ all is of grace and that tolerance and compassion should take the lead. This form of a love ethic too is not incorrect, but if it is the basis of our morality then it inevitably leads to agnosticism and relativism. By contrast, a TAT says that both approaches to the moral life are appropriate but only if their foundation is one which starts from the Spirit. The Spirit, we read continually in Scripture, creates in us a heart for Christ, the mind of Christ, and the virtues of Christ (Col 3.12-17 is but one instance). Here it is just as important who we are (a virtue ethic) as it is what we do (deontological ethics) and the decisions we make (ontological and teleological ethics). And so the law of the Spirit comes to rule our lives and upon that foundation, the Lordship and love of Christ rules in our hearts and the commands of the Father are gladly obeyed. Such is the vision of TAT.”

I am aware that this was a very brief outline of a complex theology I would love to hear your questions, meanwhile you may want to reflect on these questions:

Pentecost is Sunday 4th June, how does your church celebrate Pentecost?

How could we start to explain some of the principles of TAT to others in our churches/faith communities?

What change to how you view scripture would it make to be looking with and through the Holy Spirit rather than at the Holy Spirit?

How do we follow the Holy Spirit in reshaping the church and ourselves, to become more Christlike?

For those of you who wish to explore Third Article Theology in more detail. Myk Habets recommends the following book:   Third Article Theology: A Pneumatological Dogmatics.Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016