Is your church an orchestra or a one-man-band?


Have you ever seen a “one-man-band”? It can be a little awkward. Sure, its impressive that one person can manage to play more than one instrument at a time, but the quality of the music pales when compared to the glory of a symphony orchestra playing multiple instruments and many parts.

When we “hire” a pastor to do everything for the congregation, it becomes like the performance of a one-man-band; one person performing at the front for our entertainment. The irony is, the people sitting in the rows are the actual orchestra players – the leader is supposed to be the orchestra conductor, not the whole show! Just as the music played by the orchestra has far more depth and beauty than one person could ever produce on their own, God’s people working together and ministering to each other will have a richer, deeper quality than a single person can ever bring to ministry.

If the orchestra don’t rehearse, they will lose their ability and confidence. If they never get to play their instruments, they will never develop talent and skill to perform for others. If they are made to sit and listen, and never to play music themselves, they will start to believe they have nothing worth listening to. When God’s people meet together, each person present has something beautiful to contribute; each person has gifts and life experience and knowledge to share. When we meet in a circle, there is an opportunity to empower each individual to perform and minister to one another, and to equip them to serve God and do his will. Just like the players in an orchestra have different instruments and different parts to play, we all have different gifts and different moments to use them.

When the conductor steps to the front of the orchestra, the audience hold their breath in anticipation, because they know something very beautiful is about to happen. Amazing things can happen when the leaders put away their own trumpet, and start to empower God’s people to make beautiful music together.  Its a powerful moment when you let the orchestra play.

This is a reprint of one of my earliest blog posts. 

I still see many pastors struggling to be one-man-bands, rather than empowering their congregations to each play their part.

Why the eucharist is useless (unless we put it into practice)

bread and wine

Every Sunday, in churches the world over, millions of Christians take part in the Lord’s Supper. This hands-on sacrament is rich with imagery and symbolism. Christ’s body, shared by his body (the church), sustaining our physical bodies. Emblems of death and of resurrection life. The message in a meal. Tangible and tactile. Earthy and everyday. Ordinary yet sacred. Succulent icons dripping with metaphor.

But have we missed the point of communion?

Jesus wasn’t calling us to a religious ritual or a theology lesson, but to an everyday, lived-out practice of eating with one another. He gave his command to remember him in the context of a real meal – and it wasn’t some fast-food, takeaway dinner. The Passover meal is the ultimate family storytelling session, discipleship done around the dinner table, story in edible form, where each piece of food and table decoration tells the history of God’s deliverance. Where elders share their knowledge, children are allowed to question, and families reflect on faith. “Whenever you do this“, Jesus said, “remember me.”

The early church took Jesus’ command to eat together seriously. They committed themselves to breaking bread, to eating in one another’s homes, to feeding the poor, and to celebrating the Lord’s Table as a shared meal. In “A Fellowship of Differents“, Scot McKnight points out that this scandalous act of eating with one another as equals, with no regard for race, gender, status or wealth, was a glorious glimpse of God’s kingdom breaking through on earth.

Somewhere along the way, the eucharist has become a ceremony within a ceremony, reduced to a ritual, trivialised into a cracker and a shot glass of juice. God’s people no longer gather around a table as equals, sharing their lives and stories and pieces of themselves as they journey through faith together. When communion was reduced to an object lesson, we lost something huge, a central component of our faith expression, a core practice that changed us from isolated individuals into a connected family.

The good news is, God’s people are rediscovering the centrality of the table in worship.

  • St Lydia’s Dinner Church in New York cook together, eat together and explore God’s story together at the table.
  • Sarah Harmeyer of Neighbor’s Table has started a love mission by inviting over 1500 of her neighbours to her own backyard table over the past few years, and encouraging others to follow her example.
  • IF:Gatherings empower women to go deep with one another at the table over real stories and Christ centred conversations.
  • More than 3000 congregations worldwide host some form of Messy Church, which invites adults and children to fellowship through fun and food, ending in a shared meal.
  • Based on the models taught by 3DM, Missional communities gather in one another’s homes over a meal to become a spiritual family on mission.
  • In Australia, where refugees have been marginalised, the Welcome Dinner Project and First Home Project give newcomers a heartfelt welcome as they eat together.
  • Fresh Start Community, the inspiration for this blog, is now meeting in four locations in my city. All of them begin or end their gathering over a meal.

These groups are putting dinner back on the Lord’s Table and gathering to share meals, share God’s story and share their lives. True community always happens around food and drink. We make memories in the slowing down, preparation, serving, eating, stories, laughter, mess and packing away together. Eating is a rhythm of life, a necessity which turns into an excuse for a party. It connects people and creates community. In “From Tablet to Table“, Leonard Sweet talks about life’s three tables; the table in the home, the table in the church, and the table in the world. He encourages us to take our table time seriously, whether it is the dinner table, the banquet table, the coffee table, the backyard barbecue or the picnic rug.

The eucharist is more than a symbol, it is a lifestyle. If communion remains just a crumb of cracker and thimbleful of juice, it is a dry and tasteless ritual, an unsatisfying obligation. If it calls us beyond ourselves and into a life of true communion and community, gathered around tables and storying with one another, it truly becomes the Lord’s Table, an invitation to fellowship with God, love his people and live alongside one another.


The hard, slow work of rooted Christianity (insights from Chapter 4 of “Subterranean” by Dan White Jr.)


Every one of us longs for impact. Nobody wants to be a nobody. We want to leave a legacy, start a movement, and make a meaningful difference. As followers of Jesus, we are inspired to change the world (and change it now). It sounds so innocent and worthwhile – we rarely see the danger in our mindset. We are driven by a sense of urgency, a pressure to prove our worth, a commitment to having impact at any cost.

We are rarely inspired to be ordinary, go slow, think small, live local, and wait on God’s timing.

Dan White Jr. is a prophetic voice to the modern church, calling us to return to rootedness, to work on the structures below the ground, rather than the visible ones above it. In Chapter 4 of his new book, Subterranean: Why the future of the church is rootedness, Dan reveals that we have made an idol out of impact. He addresses the pressure to grow churches bigger and better, the drive to “expedite production” and bypass God’s slow and steady ways. Dan highlights the danger of our impatience by reminding us of Judas Iscariot, an ambitious man longing for impact, who ultimately took matters into his own hands in order to force God’s hand. He points out the risk of seeking impact without restraint, of superseding our limits, of having a microwave mentality of trying to speed things up, of bulldozing God’s work with the tyranny of demand. He ends the chapter by reminding us that God is not in a rush, that his ways may seem slow to us, but they help us build the patience we need to dwell in true community alongside others.

I’m a huge fan of Dan’s work. I love his writing style – he has a deft touch with words and a poetic cadence in his prose – but it’s the substance of his message that really resonates with me. Dan is calling for a subversive, upside-down approach to kingdom life. He is prophetically crying out to the institutional church that we have lost our way. He freely admits to his own personal struggle to commit to community, live locally and be ordinary rather than extraordinary. I highly recommend you get a copy of his book (you’ll get 40% off if you use the code ROOTED before 23rd October) and wrestle with what it means to choose slow over fast, small over big, local over global, and consistent over impressive.


I was honoured to be asked by Dan White Jr. to participate in the blog tour of his new book. Make sure you check out these recent posts, and look for those to follow, as 11 bloggers draw insights from the 11 chapters of this book.

Zach Hoag has written a review of Chapter 1: Hotels or Trees

Tim Suttle discusses Chapter 2: Excessive Personality

Ben Sternke reflects on Chapter 3: Extracted Perception

I have written about Chapter 4: Expedited Production

I’m looking forward to the next seven blog posts covering the remaining chapters! Thank you, Dan, for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.


Could you share your heart with a circle of strangers?


There are very few safe spaces in our day-to-day lives where we can take down the barriers, open up our hearts and be truly honest with one another. Perhaps in the company of an intimate friend, in an unguarded moment, or with a paid professional. Certainly not with a group of complete strangers.

And yet, that’s exactly what I was able to do, a few weeks back, when I was invited into a Circle of Trust.

The Circle of Trust I took part in was a day retreat aimed at mothers. I took a few hours out from my busy world and drove to the an artist’s cottage on the edge of the city. Every nook and corner was filled with delightful artwork and sculptures, and the colours and light and creativity fed my soul. I met a beautiful group of women, and spent the day with them, slowing down, sharing our stories, exploring themes of motherhood, reading poetry, journalling and creating our own artwork. Although I had never met these women before, we were able to be vulnerable before one another, and give valuable gifts of attention, insight and acceptance.

The Circle of Trust approach was developed by Parker J. Palmer, and borrows heavily from Quaker practices. Each one of us has an inner journey to travel, issues to work through, burdens we carry. Most of the time, we try to do it on our own. The Circle of Trust approach recognises that we can’t do it alone, that we need the company and voices of others as we do our inner work. A facilitator invites the group into a safe, creative environment to slow down and explore the thoughts, feelings and complexities that lie beneath the surface. Participants learn about the Touchstones – guidelines for offering each other a warm welcome, being fully present, listening without judgement, speaking truth in ways that respect others, observing confidentiality, being comfortable with silence, and resisting the temptation to fix, correct or advise one another.

I believe that churches can learn a great deal from the Circle of Trust approach. Rather than setting up church as a classroom or entertainment venue, we should put effort into creating spaces to listen to and love one another as we seek to follow Jesus. Seminaries should be training church leaders to facilitate, not just preach at people. As my husband and I have discovered over the past five years, there is tremendous power in reshaping the church into a circle, rather than rows, and creating transformational spaces for God’s people to open up, let people in, and impact one another.

Embracing the glorious mess of church.

Childhood Girls floor painting

In churches, we tend to avoid mess. We run our Sunday morning worship services to a predictable schedule, we rehearse the music and performances in advance, we neatly package the gospel into a three-point sermon, and we send the children out to another area so the adults can listen in peace.

But does it have to be this way? Do adults actually learn best by listening quietly to a monologue lecture? Could all ages benefit from exploring their faith together in hands-on, tangible ways? In our attempt to keep church tidy and clutter-free, are we missing out on something vital and life-giving?

The all-age worship approach of “Messy Church” began just over 10 years ago in the UK, when Lucy Moore and her team wanted to create a space for families who didn’t normally come to church. They had a vision that church could be a place to be creative, to ask questions, to explore faith and to fellowship around the table together. Today, there are nearly 3000 congregations across 18 countries putting the Messy Church principles into place in their communities.

Lucy has written an easy-to-read, accessible book to help you start your Messy Church service. There are three main elements of each meeting;

FUN – everyone joins in an inclusive, participatory experience. It could be craft, or games, or gardening, or any creative activity that gets everyone involved.

FAITH – the group explore faith through a short worship service, or storytelling, or discussion, or facilitated learning experience.

FOOD – the gathering ends with fellowship and friendship through sharing a meal around tables, creating a space to connect and be human together.

I love the values of inclusion, participation and empowerment in this model. I especially love the name itself – Messy Church. We are all messy people. We live messy lives, have messy families and messy relationships with God. Church should be a place where we are welcomed and accepted as we are, without having to clean up or hide the messiness.

In his blog post, Martyn Payne describes Messy Church as “putting the communion back into the Eucharist; the conversation back into our worship; the community back into our conversion; the serving back into our services; and putting the shared experience of our friendship with Jesus and each other into true discipleship.” Let’s stop trying to make spirituality and community neat and tidy, orderly and contained, and embrace the glorious messiness of being the church together.

Welcoming the outsider.


I am lucky enough, through no merit of my own, to live in a particularly lovely suburb in the nicest city in the world – Perth, Western Australia. It is a highly sought after area with excellent schools, close to the beach and playgrounds, sunshine most of the year around – a great place to live and to bring up kids. It’s also very cliquey and hard to break into the community if you’re not from around here. The people who live here are mostly white, wealthy and well-educated. I am one of them. I look like them, talk like them and have lived alongside them for many years.

I am an insider.

As a kid, my parents travelled a great deal, and I spent some years moving around the world. When we got back, I was younger than everyone else in my class, having started school overseas. My parents were both from migrant families, and some of the things we did were culturally different from my peers. I always felt different, not part of the group, not a “real Australian” (whatever that means). At 16, I went on an exchange program, and got to experience how it feels to be the minority, not to speak the language well. It made me feel vulnerable and awkward. It was scary.

I was an outsider.

A few years ago, God showed me how central my insider/outsider story is to my life, and how it is a gift. Whenever I’m at our local school (and with four kids, I spend a lot of time there), I notice the newcomers, the strangers, the lonely people. I find myself naturally drawn to people from other cultures and backgrounds, women with beautiful skin and rich accents. Most of my friends look different from me and sound different – although inside, we are all the same.

God also showed me how much Jesus loved the outsiders. He went out of his way to validate them, stand up for them, lift them up and place them within their communities. With words and actions, in front of the crowds, he identified with the lonely, the foreigners, the rejected, the least of these.

I have a passion to create a culture of welcome in my local community. I want to be a bridge-builder between the newcomers and the established families in my children’s school. I am not there to convert them (although I find my Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist friends discuss God and faith and prayer with me easily and naturally in conversation). I am just trying to be a friend. I am looking for ways to promote intentional inclusivity in our playgrounds, homes and neighbourhood.

This Friday, I am organising a welcome morning tea for new families in our school community. Can you join me in praying they find a safe, embracing sense of acceptance there? Can you also commit to looking for the outsiders in your path today, and intentionally including them in your community?


The most important skill for Christian leadership (it’s not what you think).


If you’re going to take any leadership role in any style of church, there’s one skill you’ll need more than any other. In fact, if you are a part of any godly community, there is one capacity you’ll have to develop and use, time and time again.

The ability to apologize.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not great at saying the words “I’m sorry”. If I have a disagreement with my husband, I tend to think I’m right and he’s wrong, and it takes me a while to calm down and put things right. Luckily, he’s more gracious than I am and much faster to ask forgiveness. I deeply appreciate his commitment to reconciliation, and his willingness to humble himself to say sorry, even when I was the one at fault. He has taught me that there is always something I can apologize for – for my tone of voice, my insensitivity, my timing – and that confession and forgiveness lead to a better place and a deeper relationship for both of us. I’m still working on it (and probably always will be).

There are some church settings where you’ll never need to make up, where you won’t go deep enough with one another to ever be called on to work through an offense. But if you take Jesus’ teachings seriously, if you seek out deep, ongoing, loving relationships like a family, you will at some point unwittingly offend those you love the most. If you pursue being the body of Christ, you will step on each other’s toes. And you’ll need to work on your maturity and say those painful words; “I was wrong. I’m so sorry. Will you forgive me?“.

Nobody enjoys the humiliating, hard work of apologizing. We hate being caught out, stuffing up and looking bad. But we are called to a ministry of reconciliation, to the great and glorious task of reconciling the world to God – and the first place we need to work on this is in our relationships with one another.

Don’t mistake church for God.


Maybe you’ve personally been hurt by church. You might have experienced judgement, hostility and hypocrisy from those who claim to follow Jesus. On the surface you look fine, but underneath, you bear deep wounds and emotional scars from the way you’ve been treated by those you thought would offer safety and love.

Perhaps you’re an outsider, an atheist even, who looks at the church in dismay, questioning how people who call themselves Christians could be so violent towards one another and towards the vulnerable in our societies. You read the history books full of wars and crusades and Christians who defend slavery, violence, oppression, sexism, homophobia, racism and capital punishment, and you want nothing to do with the God they worship.

Or maybe you’re one of the faithful, loyally attending week after week, but you’re starting to question some of the things you have taken for granted your whole life. You find yourself opening up to new thoughts, changing your perspective, questioning certain interpretations of scriptures, challenging the way things are done – and you wonder whether you should simply abandon it all.

Whatever stage you’re at, wherever your faith is at, I have some advice for you:

Don’t confuse church with God.

Don’t assume that what happens in churches is an accurate reflection of God. What you’ve seen was just a dysfunctional institution, not the God of Love.

Don’t turn away from following Jesus just because his people acted like jerks.

Don’t let go of faith, just because you’ve seen people being unfaithful.

Don’t stop meeting with God’s people, even if you never enter a church building again.

Don’t give up on Scripture, just because some of it has been misinterpreted and misused to support slavery, oppression, patriarchy and homophobia.

Church is just a bunch of messy humans, muddling along, trying to follow Jesus in the way they’ve been shown, getting distracted and confused and set-up by the system, losing their way or their energy, getting hurt and hurting others. At their worst, churches can go off-course, become dysfunctional and do a great deal of damage. At their best, they can be caring communities who love one another and create a sacred space to allow a meeting between people and God. But “church” and God are never the same thing.

If you’ve been hurt, or turned off, or disillusioned by church, I pray your pain and confusion drive you toward God, not away from him. If you need to, take a break from Sunday church. Have a change of scene. Revisit the Scriptures and see what the early church looked like (probably a far cry from what you have seen in your lifetime). Lean into God and away from institutions. Look for church outside the walls of the building, in cafes and living rooms and on the streets. And don’t give up hope that God’s people can give a glimpse of God’s glory and love, despite all their faults and weaknesses.


Why morning tea is the pinnacle of my worship service.


My husband and I are involved in two church communities. Fresh Start Community is the “church in a circle” which inspires and teaches us, and the reason we write this blog. On Sundays, however, we attend “church in rows” – a regular church, which follows the same sit+sing+sermon model as most churches around the world.

As churches go, our local church is pretty awesome. It’s a multigenerational, messy bunch of local families, elderly residents, inspired young people, and nearly as many children as adults. The teaching is solid, and the highlight of the gathering is the participatory, open table, as we celebrate communion together.

But personally, I don’t think “church” starts until morning tea time.

You see, the writings to the early church are chock-full of instructions ending in the words “one another”. We are instructed to teach one another, serve one another, encourage one another, pray for one another – and above all, to love one another. Any form of church which herds us into rows and prevents us from connecting with one another is holding us back from being a family, a people group, a body, a community.

So, my favourite part of Sundays is when the official communion is over, and we begin a fresh act of communion. The volume swells the moment we stand up from our pews. Half the church end up chatting in the chapel, as the other half gather over the coffee cups. The whole place bubbles with conversation and confession, hugs and handshakes, prayers and encouragement, for about an hour, until people peel themselves away reluctantly and go into their week (sometimes people move from morning tea into lunch, so conversations can last longer and go deeper).

I love morning tea time at our church. I usually don’t even get a cup of tea or any food (the half-eaten cookies my children thrust into my hands as I stand talking don’t count), but I am fed with the joy of connecting with my church family. It always leaves me hungry for more. To me, this is the high point of our time together, this is the glimpse of community, this is the entry point to deeper connections and real relationships. Don’t tell our pastor, but there have been times where we’ve skipped the morning service altogether, and turned up just in time for morning tea!

Let’s stop thinking church is a set of activities we do (singing, sermons and sacraments) and realise “church” happens when we love, serve and connect with God’s people.


The myth of the perfect church


Human beings are created with an inbuilt tendency towards idealism. Fairy tale stories and superhero movies reflect our need for happy endings and superhuman abilities. We grow up with romantic and unrealistic expectations of life, which are often dashed against the rocks of reality, leaving us hurt and disappointed.

You can see this idyllic imagination at work in our searches for a romantic partner. My youngest daughters (age 6 and 4) sometimes take turns being a bride and marrying each other, already living out the dream of “happily ever after”. They don’t yet know that every marriage involves two very different and flawed humans, who will have downs as well as ups, and who will never fully be able to meet each other’s needs and expectations.

When it comes to church, we have the same idealism, only even higher. After all, we have Scripture verses to back it up. We long to be part of an intimate community of people who love one another, accept us as we are and empower us to be all we can be.

Our idyllic notions often take a battering in institutional church, so we turn our hearts towards a romanticised notion of “organic church”. In our minds, this new-and-improved-model-of-church will meet all our needs and bring us towards “happy ever after”. In the real world, organic churches have their problems too – their power struggles, personality clashes and failure to meet people’s expectations.

Organic church life can be amazing. In fact, institutional church life can be equally amazing. However, just like a marriage, any of these relational settings needs to be approached with the right mindset and commitment to playing our part. There are certain characteristics which will create the transformational community we long for – honesty, authenticity, acceptance, kindness, patience, love. The problem is, these things come at a cost. They require effort and truckloads of maturity. They are not always easy and they don’t always feel good.

If you want to find some magical, picture-perfect church community, give up now. However, if you’re prepared to struggle with your own issues, put up with other people’s foibles, and commit for the long haul, you may just find glimpses of the joy and fellowship you crave. It won’t be an easy journey, but along the way you will change yourself and your church community, for good.