Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Learning to be an expert

I am wondering whether, or perhaps starting to realise that, I have no choice but to become an expert in certain areas if I am going to be a minister in Mitchell's Plain. I have a level of expertise in many areas - the classic jack of all trades and master of none - which is generally required of ministers, but this just isn't enough.

There are two distinct areas where I find this. They both start from the point that I make all sorts of assumptions about what should be obvious to the people around me. If I worked through something years ago, didn't everyone else? Why don't they know it? And thus my first struggle is to know my subject (whatever it might be) well enough to explain it from the basics in order to explain the need for change or to motivate doing something.

The second struggle is to know it well enough to teach it. I can start from some point above a basic level, but wow, getting back to basics is another story.

Some of you will have seen my struggling to make sense of 'mission' and 'projects' and how best the church can be involved with the community. Today I started thinking along lines of counselling which is a definite need and if practised may well identify other needs that the church could meet. Yes, this could be good. And it would be very beneficial to the churches if we had a number of trained lay counsellors. Ok, so where do we find training? At a price affordable by dwellers in the Plain? Not so easy to find.

I have done two very good Basic Counselling Courses and one university module. But I never intended to teach counselling. I don't have the experience to teach counselling. But I don't think I can keep putting things off because I don't have the skills. I just may have to learn to teach counselling (unless something turns up in my inbox . . . !)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Time Away

We spent the long weekend in Simons Town. Methodist ministers get one weekend off every quarter - which really means something when one usually works over the weekends. We had a good break and rest.

Awesome to:
look out over the sea every day.
just step out the front door and be jogging along the sea front within minutes
to know that the only thing in my calendar for a few days was 'holiday'
to watch cricket on tv
to play bridge with the family

God is kind to us.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Who reads blogs?

Blog stats are of interest to blog writers because we sometimes like to know that people actually read our blogs! But by and large the blog aggregators like Amatomu and Technorati give suspicious looking results. My own blog visitor counters at sitemeter and blogger give wildly different numbers as does google analytics.

A few weeks ago I found these useful tips:

Google Reader: - you can find how many people are subscribed to a blog by adding the blog to your subscriptions (I didn't previously subscribe to my own blog!). You click on that blog and then choose 'Feed Settings' from the menu and 'View details and statistics' from the submenu. Hey Presto - number of subscribers. No names though!

Google Page Rank - this is a Google Ranking which is a number out of 10. You can find it for any page at and other places. (You can find how this rank is determined at wikipedia.) Google only updates the publicly available figures every few months.

Open Site Explorer allows you to enter a web page and it will show all pages linking to that web page. This is a limited option thing, so it will encourage you to pay for the service after a while.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A View from Tafelsig

These pictures are taken from the doorstep of one of the families I visited today.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Oikos Journey Chapter 2

(continuing a critique of the Oikos Journey. The first post is here)

This chapter is about the voices of the poor. The first paragraph invites us to think of ourselves as the 'non-poor'. This is a thought-provoking term. Who are the non-poor? I would guess the authors didn't want to use the word 'rich' as few of us think of ourselves as rich, but non-poor, yes I guess that could be me.

I love this line, "People are amazingly resilient, . . . and hope thrives against all expectations." When non-Africans write about Africa there is often a picture of despair and gloom. This rarely a true picture and it is good to see a bottom line of hope in this document.

The rest of the chapter is a set of quotes from poor people interviewed as part of the study. This certainly gives a voice to some of the poor. From an academic point of view, they are anecdotes, however and do not provide evidence of anything except the existence of certain individual cases. They give no sense of the scope of the problem and we are unaware of how the stories were selected. This not to deny that poverty is a concern in South Africa, just that this chapter in the document simply illustrates it and doesn't prove it.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mission and Projects

We are trying to develop our mission project that is linked to the churches where I work. We have discussed and researched and I am just getting more and more confused. In some ways this is good because it is forcing me to get back to the basics. Why do we run 'projects' in our churches? What do we really mean by mission (in the social justice sense)?
But I am also struggling to get to a place of understanding!
The project that we saw at Learn To Earn is basically a school for adults teaching commercially useful skills such as sewing and woodwork. It has a Christian ethos, but basically it is a school. It seems to me that there are many opportunities in and around Mitchell's Plain for people to attend similar training. I might be wrong.
I think that Khayelitsha and Mitchell's Plain are worlds apart, because of the way Khayelitsha sucks people in from the Eastern Cape.
Should we be doing 'mission' in Khayelitsha? The Methodist Church already has a strong presence in Khayelitsha and attempts to work together have not historically been successful.
The Western Cape government has a lot of stuff up and running to help people get a hold on their lives and they do it a whole lot better than I am likely to do.
The bottom line, for me, is that the church needs to offer the community the power of Jesus in their lives - it doesn't need any more skills projects.
And - the people running our project are committed but don't seem to have passion. If they could just get a vision we could fly. I have vision . . . but I don't think we are ready for my vision. I don't think it fits with the people currently involved in the project.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Church Blog

If anyone wants to see a little (a very little) of what we are doing in Mitchell's Plain I am attempting to keep a church blog going at

Unstructured reading

I have been trying to read Pastor by Will Willimon for about nine months. While I enjoy what he his saying, I have struggled to hold it together in my mind. I blamed it on the fact that I was reading on Kindle, even though I have read plenty of other books on the Kindle without difficulty. This particular book does seem to have serious problems with formatting though - new chapters just follow on the previous and the heading fonts seem to be totally random.
Then I read someone's comment that they found Willimon's writing very unstructured . . . and so it dawned on me that maybe it wasn't actually my fault that I was struggling.
I am now reading the chapters in random order and it is working very well for me :-)

*update Having nearly finished the book, I don't know if I would call it unstructured. There is just a lot of material and some of it overlaps. I wonder if there is a Kindle update for their poor formatting?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Trying my hand at public critique

Having said in a previous post that I struggle with the lack of intellectual effort that we sometimes put into our discussions, I am going to make an effort myself. I am going to have a look at the booklet "The Oikos Journey" published by the Diakonia Council of Churches and endorsed by a number of patrons including a bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. Let me challenge myself!
The booklet can be downloaded here.
The booklet is subtitled "A Theological Reflection on the Economic Crisis in South Africa" and it was published in 2006.
Chapter 1 - Why an Oikos Journey?
This booklet is written in response to the sense that in South Africa we have reached a' kairos' moment in the economy. Just as the church published the challenging Kairos document in 1985, the authors felt that we needed to start a journey to a similar point or perhaps document, the Oikos Journey.
I certainly agree that the church needs to do theological reflection on matters of economy - even more so after the events since 2006 (such as Marikana and Nkandla).
We have had democracy since 1994, but still people live in poverty, this is a challenge. I agree.
This booklet is presented as a challenge to church, state and society.
"It uses the image of oikos to express our thinking". Oikos being part of the etymological root of the word economy and also ecology. The linking of the fundamental importance of both the economy and the ecology seems to be done by use of the etymological similarities. This is unfortunate because etymological similarities between words are often coincidental which makes this a weak link. I think that a better case or argument could be made for this association. We also note that oikos is a 'Bible word'. Although it is not mentioned that it is used in the Greek Biblical text, we need to be cautious that we don't believe that we are making a biblical argument just because we are using a word with biblical associations! But this is just the introduction and the word is just for use as an image. Thus, so far so good.
The rest of the chapter briefly describes the process (a study group met for over a year) and what is coming up (experiences of poor people, current thinking of the church, what is needed for the economy to be 'in line with God's economy').

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Cell Group Enthusiasm

Beacon Ridge Methodist has just started running cell groups in the last few weeks. Here are some of the leaders at a training session. They are so enthusiastic and have done such good work already. God is good!

Stages of settling in

I'm sure many have read the somewhat cynical description of a minister's settling-in period. It goes something like this:
First year - honeymoon period. Everyone is excited and loves what you are doing.
Second year - things don't look so good. We don't like you so much.
Third year - we really don't like you much.
Fourth year - now things are happening and we are getting down to work.
For all this is a cynical way of putting it, I think that there is truth in these words. Maybe it's a bit over dramatic to talk about not being liked, but the fact is that in the first year the minister comes fresh and willing to listen and bringing things that previous minister didn't do. Mistakes or ignorance are put down to his or her newness and there is a willingness to overlook things.
In the second year, the freshness is gone. All the new exciting things the minister did are now part of the staus quo and to be expected. But the people are starting to miss some of the things the old minister did and the new one doesn't. Also, change was good, but now it is starting to affect me too close to home - can't you just change the things I want changed? The new ideas are good, but we hesitate to pay the cost.
I don't know about the third year! I haven't been there yet. And it is still too early to speak much about the second year - only I anticipate some of this happening. Ministry is a constant push of relationship building and change management. Perhaps by the fourth year there is time for a bit of free-wheeling. Until then it's pedal all the way!
And of course we remember that the church belongs to Jesus. It's all about him and not my 'ministry.'

Monday, March 11, 2013

Learn to Earn

We have an outreach project called Saamwerk at the church here. Today the committee and I went to visit Learn to Earn in Khayelitsha. Looking at what they are doing reminded me so much of Phakamisa in Pinetown. Not least their motto 'A hand up not a hand out'. We want to get on the road to something similar. With God's help we will!
The photo is of the students in the sewing class at Learn to Earn.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Courage to Critique

I have to admit that I enjoy my EMMU studies! Both this year and last the assignment topics have been engaging and relevant and I learnt from being forced to put my thoughts down on paper. I do get frustrated though by the length of the assignments. They are necessarily short (and I'm not complaining) but my thoughts are long.
The assignment I worked on yesterday involved reading a booklet and applying it to the Marikana event. It was an interesting exercise, but I found myself convinced that we are seriously lacking in intellectual integrity in our theological and contextual thinking. I know that we are student ministers and perhaps are pre-school theologians, but I am not finding enough serious grappling in the Methodist Church.
I think it is unfashionable to disagree with others - after all, we should accept and love each other and co-operate and so on. But do we advance if we don't dialogue? And does that not require at least temporary disagreement?
But I find that I lack the courage to enter the discourse. I am too easily cowed by the dismissive word. I am too afraid of hurting an author who has at least made an attempt to get something out there. (And I am too afraid of offending my assignment marker...)
Where to now?

Wednesday, March 06, 2013


The first few months of a Methodist probationer's year contain all sorts of evaluation events. This year, being the year before I might be ordained, there are some added hoops to jump through.
Already I have done my trial service. This was at Paarl Methodist Church and was a good experience. I really appreciated some of the comments that I received and it was a meaningful learning experience as well as an evaluation.
Tomorrow evening is the 'Listening Committee'. This is composed of an ordained minister, a circuit steward, a local preacher and another member of the society. There are set questions to be asked and answered and I am busy pondering over them now. The more difficult ones being 'How has my sense of call changed during probation' and 'How have I integrated my academic studies with circuit work'. These aren't difficult to answer, but I wouldn't like to try to do so without preparation.
With all of this there is the ongoing wondering about where I will be stationed next year. I do believe that I will be able to cope with whatever comes my way, so I feel that I am ok - but I am pretty sure that I am stressing at a deeper level . . .
In the meantime I am enjoying the challenge of the church work and am trusting to God for both now and the future.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Pastoral Stress

A common theme amongst the writings and struggles of pastors is that of stress - and especially that they (we) feel that the stress is never understood by church members. Scot McKnight quotes a pastor's struggles in a recent post.

 “I am appalled at what is required of me. I am supposed to move from sickbed to administrative meeting, to planning, to supervising, to counselling, to praying, to trouble- shooting, to budgeting, to audio systems, to mediation, to worship preparation, to newsletter, to staff problems, to mission projects, to conflict management, to community leadership, to study, to funerals, to weddings, to preaching. I am supposed to be ‘in charge,’ but not too in charge, administrative executive, sensitive pastor, skilful counsellor, public speaker, spiritual guide, politically savvy, intellectually sophisticated. And I am expected to be superior, or at least first-rate, in all of them. I am not supposed to be depressed, discouraged, cynical, angry, hurt. I am supposed to be upbeat, positive, strong, willing, available. Right now I am not filling any of those expectations very well. And I am tired.”
(Chandler W. Gilbert, “On Living the Leaving” in Edward A. White (ed.) Saying Goodbye, Bethesda, Alban, 1990, p.25)
 His post is a reblog from Australian pastor Mike Stevens. I found the comments on the post interesting. Here someone weighs in saying that the nursing profession and many others are just as stressful and it could be that pastors tend to feel a little bit sorry for themselves. I must admit that this is something that I have been afraid is true. I wonder if my life is more stressful than the average business executive or healthcare worker. People say that you can never overestimate the emotional stress involved in the caring professions and that is true.
But I wonder if there isn't something else. And that is that doctors and nurses are able to perceive a considerable amount of success in their work. If they did not, they would stop doing it (hopefully!). More people must be healed, saved, provided palliative care because of them than there are those who are 'lost'.
One of the difficulties in ministries is the inability to measure success. And so we fall back on 'God does not call me to be successful, he calls me to be faithful'. This may be true, but it leaves us in many ways dissatisfied because we know that we are edging around the real issue of whether what we are doing actually has any point to it. And that is stressful.

* Reflection - I don't find myself in that place right now - I can see measurable stuff happening. But there are times when one wonders . . .