Thursday, May 31, 2012

Some things that challenge me

I said a post or so ago that I needed to become more sure of what I believe and of what I am called to. Here are two challenges that face me.

The postmodern (or ultra modern) denial of absolute truth has a spin off that says people are never 'lost'. It is demeaning to talk of the lost. (I'm not sure if we should call them differently-found.) This encourages a softening of evangelistic endeavours. And besides it makes people uncomfortable if we put them on the spot.
I know what I really believe. I believe that people who have had the opportunity to know Christ and have turned him down, or not yet accepted him, are lost. I believe that he is the way to a greater salvation than we might find in the world. I don't want to intrude on people - their choice is their choice - but I do think that if I am a minister I should be clearly communicating what I believe to be the truth.

The other challenge is the sense that I get from the local church is that the minister is 'scored' by the number of visits made. With a visit missed giving a negative mark of about 20. I like to visit people and get to know them and I believe it is a useful part of helping people grow, but when it becomes a rod to beat the minister with it is a sad thing. I think that this is a losing system - the minister will never win, unless the church is fairly small. I could spend my life trying to please people by living up to their expectations and actually achieving very little at the end of the day.

Maybe it boils down to what we had as one of our Scripture readings on Sunday. 1 Thessalonians 2:4 'On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.'

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Assertively Certain

I have spent the last five years or so learning to think fuzzily. I'm pretty sure that I didn't set out to do it, but I am convinced that I am now an expert fuzzy thinker. But I am also convinced that this is not much good to man or beast.
There is much that I like about postmodernism. To choose one thing, it's love for authenticity. But its embracing of plurality is now giving me a hard time. Give me any situation, any argument and I will develop five different possibilities for a way forward, all 'true' according to some measure. Of course effectiveness is only seen on trial. But which way forward do I believe is right? Somewhere along the line I have learnt to understand multiple positions, but have abandoned the belief that there may actually be an ultimately right or correct position.
Philosophically that might be acceptable. It helps with writing academic papers and having conversations with a variety of people. But it makes me useless as a leader. I tend to have the attitude that if someone will give me an idea of where they'd like to go, I'm pretty sure I can get them there.
The time is about now when I actually decide what I am here for. Why am I a minister? What do I believe God wants me to do? What should I be preaching as 'true' theology? What am I willing to lay down my life for? What is going to stop me just whiling my time away waiting for the next holiday? Sure, I can give many different answers. But what, for me now, is the correct answer? God's answer? When am I willing to say that culture does not have a voice? That expedience is not a factor? That there is only one way to go?
What will I stand up for and lose the respect of others for? When will I take a chance that I might be wrong because I am so sure that I am right?
All the objections to this come rising up. The difficulties. Yes, but . . .
No buts. Do or die!

Monday, May 28, 2012


In the Methodist Church we believe that children may be baptised. We believe that God is already at work in their lives and there is no reason that they should be excluded from the 'means of grace'. This little boy and his brother were brought by his granny. It was so cool to see how she dressed them in white tracksuits. They are from the poorer part of town and she found a practical solution to 'special clothes'.

Friday, May 25, 2012


My bright green mini-macaw, Kiki, is now nearly eight months old. She has been a good investment, keeping me company and providing light relief as she is a natural comic. She has been learning to speak - on her own agenda. She doesn't pick up the things we are trying to teach her ('Sorry for you' and whistling 'Yellow Submarine'.) But she has learnt to say 'Kiki-bird' in a very recognisable way. She also makes a sound that is obviously how she hears running water, but I can't hear the similarity.
Yesterday I heard for sure the next properly recognisable word. She was sitting on the bottom of her cage sleepily repeating, 'Squawk' (as in English, not bird-speak) to herself. So we now have a parrot something like Gaspode, Terry Pratchett's talking dog who says, 'Woof' when people expect him to bark.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Bright Side

There are days when I want to blog. The thoughts pour out of my mind, wanting to be entered via the keyboard. But I can use none of them. They are just a reflection of the confusion and frustration that I feel of the different aspects of being a student minister. I want to moan about so and so, but I really like and respect him, so while I am angry or confused, I don't what that committed to perpetual memory. Sometimes circumstances seem to be the fault of some person, and yet they are just as caught up on the hamster wheel of life as I am. Sometimes it seems as if we are all bowling along in maniacal hamster wheels, barely in control and it is a miracle that there are not more disasters.
It is discouraging and sometimes it is very hard to see the bright side. To believe that I (we) have given up our lives for this.
But we trust God that he will continue to lead us.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


I used to have a reasonably good memory. I'm not sure if it is because I am getting old or if it is the randomness of ministry, but my brain feels like a sieve. Three times this week I have let people down - or been on the verge of it - because I have completely forgotten to do something. Fortunately other people reminded me or made a plan and nothing was too serious, but I know that I HAVE to get something more systematic in place.
My ideal at the moment would be for the four Mitchell's Plain churches to employ a secretary who could work three mornings a week and do work for each society. The hassle is (as always) finances. But I am going to see if I can get any buy in to this idea.
Otherwise, I might seriously think of employing someone myself. One day a week. I just wish I had an office!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Today is Tuesday and one routine that I have got into and that is working is that Tuesdays are for visiting people from Strandfontein Methodist Church. It is great because I don't have to drive it. There is a wonderful pastoral assistant who keeps track of who is sick and in hospital and gives me a call to set things up.
I'm still somewhat struck down by flu today, but am feeling better and so we are venturing out. All the way to Stellenbosch Hospital! This particular congregation member is now in his third hospital since he has been ill.
I wish I could combine this trip with a visit to the university library, but I have not given the actual work of my PhD a thought since before my church IST a couple of weeks ago. I desperately need to get off the hamster wheel of work for a moment and do some planning - both for circuit work, my church studies and my PhD. I hope that June will be quieter, with fewer evening meetings.
There are two hospitals on my list for this morning - but just maybe the other will have to wait for tomorrow. And then the Pentecost Week church service this evening, with sermon to prepare.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Day After Synod

We attended synod this last weekend.
I quite enjoyed attending synod as an agent (or perhaps active partner). Not that I said anything at synod, but for the first time I am a minister able to initiate things in circuit and it was good to hear what people are doing, see what resources are available and collect ideas. Also to learn some of the day to day things that make the district tick.
I have also come home sick and would dearly love to spend the day in bed. I also haven't had a 'day-off' for a couple of weeks.
However, circuit life carries on and I need to figure out how to reschedule my life to deal with 'suddenly' having church services every night this week. My baptism preparation classes will now happen after the baptism service. Seems weird, but I can't see another way of doing it (and I don't want to cancel the baptism service!!) And of course I must prepare a sermon and preach tonight. And deal with the preacher who did not pitch for his service yesterday. And so on.
But I am glad to feel useful (if somewhat confused) and I hope that I can offer something to these people here in spite of my inadequacies. I feel like I am learning more than I am giving at the moment.
At the end of the day,  God is always good.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Coming up

The next big event in our church life is the District Synod. This is a two and a half day meeting of representatives of all churches in our district (Cape of Good Hope). I am not a very experienced synod-goer, so I am going with as much of an open mind as possible. While some people really dislike synods there are people in my congregations who would love to go.
After that there are services every evening leading up to Pentecost. I know I ought to be excited at the thought of preaching four times in different churches, but I did not know that these services were held until yesterday and so I have to rework my diary. Sometimes (often) ministry is a hamster wheel and it is just not possible to take advantage of the potential of every opportunity.
As always I am trying to remember that this is God's church and my job is just to do the best I can!

Monday, May 14, 2012

An intersection

It feels as if I am standing at a crossroads today. But it is an unusual crossroads because I have to travel all four (or even five directions) eventually. The choice is just which I do first and how I go on from there!
Synod this week. I ought to read through the 'blue book' (agenda and reports), but I don't have it, so I need to track it down. Probationers synod oral exam tomorrow - I'd better do some prep.
Circuit work. I was away last week on IST and am busy with synod for four days this week. Cram what I can into three days (and know that a day off is not going to happen!)
EMMU studies. My next deadline is the end of June. I had better get working because I haven't even started the second batch and the time is short.
PhD studies. I am motivated for this and really want to get going. I am requested to go to a seminar at UKZN in June and I need to put into motion all the steps to get permission to leave the district and be there. I need to get some work done before then, but it looks increasingly unlikely that I will!
It is good to be busy. It is good that things are settling down into a sort of order. I feel that I have a handle on much of my life. I just need a supernatural boost of energy or two!
But God is good and if he has called me I believe that he will equip me.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Jon-Mark Olivier - tribute to Ross

Jon-Mark Olivier pays tribute to his father - and addresses the Methodist Church of SA on behalf of his family. (Sorry about the ads.)
(Link via Pete Grassow on Facebook)

Video streaming by Ustream

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Fulfilling Leadership

Here is an incomplete thought for today. Someone I follow tweeted something like 'I never want to have to follow a leader who finds his fulfillment in leadership'. I instinctively understood that to mean someone who glories in his leadership and possibly abuses it. But I had to stop and think about the fact that I am sure that I find some fulfillment in leadership. I believe that I have been called to lead. Surely a leader ought to find fulfillment in leadership?
Wouldn't it be better to say, 'I never want to have to follow a leader who finds no fulfillment in leadership'?

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

In Service Training

I have an 'In Service Training' from today until Friday. Fortunately it is in Cape Town so I get to sleep at home. Today started at 5am as I left to go and fetch some of the people from the Grahamstown District at the bus terminus. Now we are killing time until the IST starts at 11am.
I have mixed thoughts about IST's. The fellowship and mutual support is definitely good. I am not sure if we really need the 'academic' component after spending years at seminary - and it is really hard to do assignments, that have uncertain value of themselves, while working in circuit.
So I take this time as break from routine and enjoy being with people who are going through probation with me.

Monday, May 07, 2012


Today marks a bit of progress. I have three meetings. One is a regular monthly business meeting. The other two are meetings with people who have a vision for taking the churches forward (one from each of 'my' congregations). I have become used to meeting hurting, disillusioned people. Today it will be good to meet with people with vision and enthusiasm. Not that I haven't met with enthusiastic people before, there are many, but today feels very intentional.
God is good.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Ek sal jubel!

Here are some pictures from one of the church services where I preached and led communion this morning - Wesley Mission in Lentegeur, Mitchell's Plain.

 The vocalists in the worship team.

 Instrument section.

Some of the congregation.

God is very good!

Friday, May 04, 2012


I went off day before yesterday and bought a Kindle. I know I'm a bit slow, but I really haven't 'needed' one. I still don't, but see the future of computing changing and thought I'd better try to stay in touch. My plan is mostly to use the Kindle for academic works that the rest of the family won't particularly want to read. Other books - fiction and lighter Christian stuff tends to get absorbed by several members of the family and so 'real' books are better. Of course, my younger son has imbibed a lot of somewhat esoteric information by reading the back covers of my academic books, so we're still losing something by getting a new toy!

It was very cool to download a Greek New Testament onto the Kindle yesterday. This could really work for me! I still need to get a good dictionary and an English Bible.

I submitted a very rough draft of the first chapter of my PhD this week. Most of the work was done last year, but still it feels that I am making progress so now to keep up the momentum.

Work is busy. Next week we have a probationers' in service training so that will be a bit of a break.
Holding on to Jesus in all things!

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Rev Ross Olivier - a picture

I don't know how many times I have searched my collection for a picture of Ross that does him justice. Today this one works for me. He is with one of the seminarians' newborn baby.
And so he passed away yesterday. It sinks in slowly. So many pictures of him, cameo incidents in my life as a seminarian. So many that I am still replaying as I apply them to ministry.
Ross once said to me that I was the third most difficult person to know that he had ever met. I laughed (inside, because he was frustrated with me), because to me he was the most difficult person to know that I had ever met. I think that we were both used to other people opening up to us and not really having to say that much about ourselves until we chose to.
The last three months that I was at seminary we struggled through those barriers and I was enormously grateful for the gift that he gave me of allowing me to really know him. I can never describe all the pictures, but I'm glad that our paths crossed.
Ross, thank you.

(Memorial Service Friday 11 May at SMMS at 10.30 am)

Update - links:
The Witness
Wondering Preacher 

Ross's testimony 

Jon-Mark's Tribute at the memorial service.