Monday, December 3, 2012

Making Things New

As we head towards the Christmas season we once again reflect on the significance of God the Father sending his son, our saviour Jesus, into his created world to redeem those whom he created.  This morning I was reading that classic chapter in Romans 8 where Paul expresses that we are made free and alive in Christ through the sacrifice of Jesus.  He came to make us new.  We pray at Willow that through this Christmas season you will experience what it means to be a new creation, saved by the love, grace and mercy of our God.

I also want to share about some new things happenings at Willow.  After some great years sharing space at Gateway Baptist Church, they are looking to expand their ministry and we are moving on to a new location.  We are in the final stages of making these arrangements and will share with you details of our new location and new contact phone numbers in the near future.  You may also experience some new people when you do contact us.  After 6 years of service two of the longest serving members of the Willow team will not be with us from 2013.  A few months ago Chris, our Resource and Membership Manager finished up with Willow and at the end of this year Megan, our Marketing and Communications Manager will be transitioning into a new career as a secondary school teacher.  I want to acknowledge the contribution of Chris and Megan and wish them God’s blessings in their respective futures.  I want to welcome Brad Suosaari, a former colleague of mine from SU Qld, as a new member to the team, and ask you to pray as we seek the services of a new Administrative Assistant.

God’s blessing to you over the Christmas season, and we pray that you will have a relaxing summer to recharge yourself for service to God in 2013.

Andrew McCafferty
CEO Willow Creek Australia

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

An Ancient And Healthy Tension

reposted from

Tastes great, less filling
One of the longest running and most successful advertising campaigns of all time was produced by the Miller Brewing Company celebrating their famous Miller Lite beer.  The tag line was “tastes great, less filling.”  They would feature all sorts of celebrities engaged in arguments over which claim was greater.  Did Miller Lite taste great or was it less filling?  (Those of us of an older vintage will remember a similar advertising campaign about Certs.  Was it a breath mint or a candy mint?)  Now the obvious point behind this advertising campaign is that both claims can be wonderfully true (unless you’re a beer snob).  A beverage can both taste great and yet not fill you up.  There is no need to have an argument over it.

Living with the tension
But we like arguing over such things.  We are often not so comfortable with the tension of competing values.  Many people enjoy living in a more tidy world where everything is either black or white, right or wrong, this way or that way, democrat or republican, right or left, tastes great or less filling.  Yet, when we reflect carefully on our lives, we realize that it is hard to ever capture a situation, or a truth, or an experience, or almost anything with such hard-edged and air-tight categories.  Life is more nuanced than that.  There are many facets to the diamonds of these lives we live.  One of the more important life skills we can develop is a deep appreciation of the tensions in this world.  We can learn to carry competing values with a curious and discerning mind.

Missional versus Formational

Which brings us to a current tension in the religious world today: the competing values of being missional while at the same time attending to the spiritual formation of our lives with God.  The missional people are those who argue that the driving focus of the church must be directed towards the needs of this world and the people of this world.  We are to give our lives away for the sake of the world.  On the other hand, the formational people are those who emphasize that in order to give our lives away, we must first have a life that is worth giving away.  In order to effectively bear witness to the goodness and grace and transforming power of God, these truths must first be a living, authentic reality in us.

And so the argument goes.  Missional people will call the formational people self-absorbed navel-gazers who are content to let the world go to hell in a hand-basket while they light candles and chant the psalms.  Formational people will call the missional people shallow activity-junkies who jump on every popular cause that comes along as a way to ignore their own disordered and fragmented lives.

An ancient tension:  The contemplative and the active life

Fascinatingly enough, there is nothing new with this tension.  It is the ancient tension between the contemplative life and the active life.  This tension has always been a creative dynamic of the Church.  From the desert fathers and mothers of the fourth and fifth centuries to the missionary movement of the nineteenth century, contemplatives and activists have called the Church either to a deeper, more transformative life with God or to a more courageous, vigorous engagement in mission and evangelism.  The truth is obvious.  We need both.  And from time to time the Holy Spirit will call the people of God to a needed corrective of either contemplation or activity, being or doing.

We will find this tension in our own lives as well.  We will discover seasons where we are called to pull away from all the activity and doing and learn how to sink our lives deeper into God.  At other seasons we will be called to get up off our knees and roll up our sleeves and engage fully in service to this world.  To go
do something.  To make a difference.

The crucial role of the church

The most beautiful and ideal place where this ancient tension can be creatively and wonderfully lived out is the local church.  In every church there will be those who are primarily called to formation and others to mission.  In other words, some of us will primarily be contemplatives while others will be activists.  And here is the crucial truth: we need each other.  It is possible to live well with this tension.  It will take maturity and historical grounding to do this well, but it is entirely possible to learn how to do this.  We can argue vigorously for the importance of our particular calling, while at the same time celebrating and realizing our desperate need for those whose calling is different than ours.  It appears that this is how God has designed and built his Church, so it would be wise for us to joyfully receive this gift of each other.  There is no need to argue here.  The church can both taste great and be less filling.

Suggestions for further reflection or next steps:

For the Activist:

  1. Go hang out with someone who leans towards contemplation and ask them to speak in detail about their life with God.  Listen closely and learn.
  2. Go on a day-long private retreat and just be alone with God and see what happens.
  3. Read a book that emphasizes contemplation and spiritual formation: “Way of the Heart” by Henri Nouwen; “Renovation of the Heart” by Dallas Willard

For the Contemplative:

  1. Go hang out with someone who leans towards activism and ask them to speak in detail about their life of service to others.  Listen closely and learn.
  2.  Go serve at a soup kitchen or get involved in some activity where you are working hard to accomplish something.
  3. Read a book that emphasizes activism and mission:  “Friendship at the Margins” by Chris Huertz and Christine Pohl;  “Compassion” by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison;  “The Hole in our Gospel” by Richard Sterns

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Old Testament vs. New Testament

It’s a common belief these days that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are different. The former is seen as violent and aggressive while the latter is loving and kind. This view is not only restricted to non-believing people. My experience from talking to other Christians, and even the witness of my own heart says that at times, we Christians also want to see some level of difference between Yahweh and the Lord Jesus.

Why is this the case?

I think deep down we’re actually scared of the God we meet in the Old Testament. This holy God, who will not tolerate sin in human beings and brings upon us, even those he calls his most treasured possession, the most severe punishments for their unholiness. (Deut 7:6) And if this is the true character of God, even a short stocktake of our lives makes us fearful of what will happen when God comes to examine us. So to alleviate our fears, we say that this Old Testament God is not really God. Rather we look to the loving and kind Lord Jesus who forgives and accepts as the true revelation of God.

But Jesus won’t let us draw this distinction. Far from separating himself from the Old Testament, Jesus in fact aligns himself with it, fulfilling all its prophecies. (Mt 5:17; Lk 24:44) Jesus will even go as far as to adopt for himself himself the title “I am”, using the very words that Yahweh used in his revelation to Moses. (Jn 8:58)

Where does this leave us? Should we fear the Lord Jesus too? Wonderfully the answer is ‘no’. We need not fear the Lord Jesus or even Yahweh. Yes God has a hatred of sin. Yes he is holy and therefore punishes sin without favouritism. But it is because God hates sin so much, and is so committed to bringing justice to the world for our sin that God willingly took upon himself the punishment for our sin. Driven by love for humanity, God became human so that he might pay the price for humanity’s sin, so that we might have life in place of death.

In the end we don’t actually win by saying the God of the Old and New Testaments are different. Rather it is in embracing their consistency through the lens of the death and resurrection of Jesus, that we are freed from our fear of meeting God because as the Psalmist testifies as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.  (Psa 103:12)

Mike Begbie
Theology Student

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

2012 Global Leadership Summit - Chicago Review

From a former US Secretary of State to the two foremost world class business consultants, to leading edge pastors, the speakers at this year’s Global Leadership Summit are outstanding.

In his usual inspiring and down to earth way Bill Hybels challenges us make the most of the privilege that we have as leaders, and reminds us that there is no greater force on earth than the local church when it is working well.  Condoleezza Rice reflects on her story of humble beginnings to become a leading academic and then US secretary of State.  Jim Collins in new groundbreaking research shares the factors that have contributed to the long term success of great companies.  Patrick Lencioni draws on his experience to share of the vital place of organisational health.  Pastor Craig Groeschel exhorts us to create a culture of honour between generations, and Pastor John Ortberg reminds us of a leader’s influence as he unpacks the remarkable influence of Jesus as a leader.  The impact that a leader can have is demonstrated in the stories of Pranitha Timothy bringing hope to vulnerable women in India, and Geoffrey Canada an educational campaigner championing the cause of children in America’s poorest communities.

In powerful video cast presentations this year’s Summit presenters will inspire, encourage and equip you to grow in your leadership vision and capacity.  Join us at one of the 13 locations around the country and be ready to have your minds expanded and hearts engaged.   

For more reflections on the Summit, check out these posts of Chicago Day One and Chicago Day Two by Stu Cameron, Facilitator and Host Paster of the Gold Coast Summit Site.

Andrew McCafferty
CEO, Willow Creek Australia

Friday, August 24, 2012

Camps Are The New Mountains

There is a noticeable trend throughout the life of Jesus when it comes to mountains. Whenever he goes up one, something very significant happens. Something that changed his life and ours. Here are a just a few:

Matthew 4 - Testing by Satan.
Satan takes Jesus up a mountain to tempt Him. Jesus withstands the temptation and confirms his allegiance to God.

Matthew 5 - Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus saw the crowds and went up a mountain to teach. Arguably the most influential Sermon in history.

Matthew 17 - Transfiguration.
Peter, James and John go up a mountain with Jesus where he is transfigured to have a face shining like the Sun. Experiencing God's affirmation on his life.

Matthew 27 - Crucifixion.
Jesus goes up Calvary to be crucified for all mankind. He pays the cosmic debt that only he could pay and becomes the Saviour of the world. 

While there are still mountains today, most of us don't experience them like Jesus did. That's because, in our culture, Camps are the New Mountains. Camps have become the places where God seems to do significant and life changing work in our lives. While Jesus calls us to follow Him daily as he transforms us, camps create an intentional and conducive environment for the Spirit of God to really move within people. 

I believe God loves it when leaders take a group of people go away with the united purpose of experiencing God's love and grace in a way that will not only transform them individually but also as a community. I continually hear stories of leaders who set aside a week or a weekend for God to move, and He turns up in mighty ways. I have experienced this and I am sure that you have too. Whether it's been 20 years or 2 months since you last went on a camp, a lot of us can recall defining moments in our faith that occurred on Camps. 

In 2000, when I was in Grade 9, I went on a youth camp, the whole week the preacher was boring and I actually fell asleep sometimes. On the last night however, God gave me a shove and I realised just how broken I was and how much I needed God’s grace to change my life. In 2008, I was on another youth camp only this time as the preacher, and again I experienced God's grace like never before as he showed me that he was changing lives through me.

I am convinced that camps (as old as the concept is) are very powerful and practical tools for leaders to use as they develop people into passionate Jesus followers who actually want to change the world.  

Luke Williams
Youth & Young Adults Pastor
Wollongong Church of Christ

Friday, August 10, 2012

Biblical Leadership Characteristics

Some of the best leadership principles are discerned through strategic Bible study.  Recently in reading two scripture verses from Hebrews I became aware that the writer really understood leadership.  Here are the verses and what I gleaned from them.

Hebrews 13: 7 and 17, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.  Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith… Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.  They keep watch over you as people who must give an account.  Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

The following leadership principles stood out for me:
  1. Leaders need the prayers of their people – remember them. Leadership can be very lonely at times, extremely demanding and quite risky. Many leaders have intercessors who pray for them regularly.
  2. They speak God’s word because they are steeped in it. My practice is to read about four chapters of the bible each day and to write in a journal what I perceive God is saying to me. Consequently when I speak and preach I can bring fresh bread to hungry people.
  3. They have fruitful outcomes. They get results, bearing the fruit that indicates excellent time management and shows that they are disciples of Jesus. (John 15: 8)
  4. They are teachers and mentors worth emulating and their faith is an example to follow.
  5. They carry authority in their very being through living a life of integrity, excellent character and high competency. Hence they deserve willing “obedience.” Serving such a leader is satisfying because they have the passion and skill to grow your leadership and your capacity.
  6. They carry great responsibility; they keep watch and consider the big picture. They study trends and they monitor progress. They consider the whole of the organisation and how each part relates to the whole. They also, together with others in the organisation, decide what is to be done and what is to be left undone.
  7. They are accountable. Perhaps more than others in the organisation they have to report on progress and account for their leadership and the health and productivity of the organisation.
  8. Wise and fruitful leaders gain success through the people they mentor, release and empower in leadership. They surround themselves with people who complement their own strengths, and in other areas are smarter than they are. Hence they have inner security in Christ, excellent self-acceptance and deep humility.
  9. They experience much joy in their leadership, because they are at the helm of a very effective organisation and, particularly through empowering others, they also have excellent life balance which creates a healthy culture throughout the organisation.
Good leaders read widely on leadership. Great Christian leaders also wisely read the Bible, for in it is a wealth of wisdom that enhances leadership excellence.
Rev Dr Dean Brookes

Friday, August 3, 2012

Leading In The Small Organisation

Eighteen months ago I left a leadership position in a large parachurch organisation, following a call from God to come to lead the Willow Creek Association in Australia.  From a leaders perspective it may seem like an odd move and almost a “step back” in leadership. But what I have discovered about leadership and the size of the organisation has been quite surprising.  Let me share some of my experiences and insights.

Larger enterprises don’t necessarily demand better leadership.  In fact in some ways smaller enterprises demand more of a leader than larger ones.  Let me elaborate.  Larger enterprises generally have more “elasticity”.  They can spring back from errors of judgment with less impact.  In a team of 60, a few poor performers are felt less than in a team of 6.  A minor poor financial decision in a budget of millions is very different to one in a budget of less than a million.  The point is this, the value of preciseness in leadership in a small enterprise can be a matter of life or death.  In a larger enterprise, while preciseness is important, the consequence of some “slack” may not mean shutting the doors tomorrow.  

Each decision a leader makes is an important one, and it may seem as though the larger organisations require better decision makers.  But in the context of risk, there may be far greater risks for the decision maker in the small organisation than the large one.  The wrong staff or volunteer appointment, the wrong financial call may lead to a quick demise of the organisation or church.  The perception may be that the pressure on decision makers in larger organisations is greater, but this is not necessarily so.  In a small tight knit group the decision that Greg a lovely guy who has poured his life into music ministry, is not actually particularly gifted in this area and needs to be moved aside, ripples through the small church in a way that would not be the case in a larger one.  And the leader who makes this decision knows that s/he is risking many relationships amongst other things.  

Larger organisations have the capacity to engage specialists, whereas smaller organisations tend to demand a broader range of skills from fewer people.  The youth pastor may also be the part time receptionist and graphic designer for church publications.  And when s/he resigns you can’t just cover the gap by pulling a staff member from a less critical area, because everyone is engaged in a critical area.  

So I want to hail the leader of the small enterprise who faces challenges and pressures in ways that leaders of larger organisations don’t.  Sometimes we feel at Willow Creek that there is a perception that we exist for leaders from larger churches and organisations.  Not true!  God has called each of us to lead where we are, the phrase you will find firmly attached to our Global Leadership Summit. 

Andrew McCafferty
CEO, Willow Creek Australia

Monday, July 9, 2012

An 'Un-Fun' Experience

I’ve recently been in ‘church shopping’ mode.   It was a strange experience for me as in all my previous 27 years walking this earth, I’d never ever done it before.  But after finishing up at my church as the Youth Pastor in order to study fulltime, we decided it was the best idea.

Leading up to the experience I thought it would be fun. I thought I’d enjoy the process. Going to different churches, checking them out, critiquing, thinking about what I liked and didn’t like.  But pretty soon I found the process frustrating, saddening, not all it was cracked up to be. 

This has taught me two things.

Humans need humans.
Christians need Christians. 

We are built for relationships.  We cannot survive in this world on our own.  After about two months of being without a church to call home I began to feel lonely.  Sure, I had friends from my old church, and family around still.  But I didn’t have a home. 

The bible tells us in Hebrews that we should, 'consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another...' I'd always known that it was important to go to church, but it wasn't until I was without a home, that I realised just how important it is. In fact I know now that I'd rather be in a church that frustrated me than be in no church at all. 

So because relationships matter, churches must be friendly.  We ended up choosing the friendliest church.  Not the one with best music, or best preaching, or slickest services.  No, we chose the church where multiple people said hello, who invited us out for lunch afterwards; and backed up its friendliness on our second and third visit.  Many of the churches we visited struggled.  Sometimes we sat in the foyer alone for 15 minutes drinking a cup of tea by ourselves.  On another occasion the only people who talked to us were the ones who were supposed to (minister/person with a name tag that said welcomer on it).

Christians need Christians.  We need the different parts of the body to bless and encourage us, and we need to use our gifts to bless and encourage the body (1 Corinthians 12).  So I need church and church needs me.  You need church and church needs you.  I believe that if we worked hard on making our churches places of love and openness, which were quick to welcome and show hospitality to strangers (aka newcomers), then we would see many more people darken the doors of church and begin a journey following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Chris Bowditch
Theology Student