Wednesday, February 24, 2010

More from Croucher

As promised, here's another article from Rowland Croucher on the issues of stress and burnout amongst ministers. This one begins with a story about a man who had the ability to preach, but always lost his church job through conflict. In the end he was virtually down and out, his wife just managing to make ends meet.

Rowland goes on to look at what helps a pastor/minister last the distance.

Today it's both easier and harder to be a pastor. Easier, because we have more resources to help us - like the World Wide Web for sermon-material (ever used the search-engine Google as a concordance?), more support-groups to encourage and pray for us, better access to the world's practical theology experts, and a higher standard of living, on average, than pastors have ever enjoyed.

But it's also harder. Many of us can identify with the apostle Paul who said, 'Who is equal to such a task?', about his own call to pastoral ministry. These days the expectations of our people are higher - and more likely to be expressed vigorously. Up-front leaders and speakers compete with dynamic personalities on television. There are more 'religious' people not attending churches (in the West) than ever before in history. Our people are likely to be better-educated - and differently-educated than we are. 'One size fits all' doesn't work any more: people are more mobile, and brand-loyalty doesn't work for Generation X'ers (those born since 1965) - or even Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964).

He offers a number of suggestions over several articles (I've only listed the first few here, as the others run comfortably on from the one before.)

1. Jesus as the model for ministry
2. Spiritual formation -keeping on bel
3. Images of Ministry - what is yours?
4. Saint or Pharisee?
5. Keeping the Spiritual Disciplines - this point keeps turning up; is God saying something?!
6. What about the 'Call'?
the rest of the article appears in a second page:
7. Understanding yourself - how much does your family history affect your work?
8. Co-dependency - blaming others for your own faults
9. Mentors and Networks - absolutely essential!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Trends in Mission

Prior to his current role as Leadership Community Director, Eric Swanson was part of Campus Crusade for Christ for 25 years. Most recently, he served as director of charitable giving for Tango, a private investment company. Eric holds a bachelors degree in social science from the University of California at Berkeley and is a DMin candidate in Transformational Leadership for Ministry in the Global City. Eric is co-author of The Externally Focused Church (Group Publishing, 2004).

In a recent article in Leadership Network, Eric writes of eight trends that he believes will shape the future of missions. He writes in detail about these in the article, so in this post I'll list the trends with only a small note about each.

The eight trends are:
mutuality - East and West sharing the gospel with each other - no longer a one-way street.
partnering - beginning with what indigenous leaders already have
investing in leaders - using the passion of local leaders
combining good deeds and good news - not a new concept, but heightened
greater financial accountability - not just relying on money from churches otherwise uninvolved
business as mission - entrepreneurial people starting businesses in mission countries
technology - these last two speak for themselves

You may not agree with everything Swanson says, nor how he says it, but these points remain worth considering.

Greg Boyd the possible backslider...

Greg Boyd doesn't blog often, and sometimes what he blogs about is more about his family than his spiritual life (yeah, yeah, I know, the family is part of the spiritual and vice versa).

However in his most recent post he talks about how easy it is for him to be a backslider. I know this isn't a word used in all Christian circles. For those to whom it's unfamiliar, it usually denotes someone who's slipping away from the faith, day by day, and will eventually - most likely - lose their faith altogether.

Boyd isn't quite in that category, but this is how he opens his post:

I suspect I’m more carnal than most, but I’m stunned at how easy it is for me to “backslide.” I’m not talking about falling into some heinous sin. I just find I gravitate strongly toward an atheistic consciousness. I’ll go for a couple of days easily remaining aware of God’s presence, moment-by-moment, but then I’ll go through a long period of slumber during which my God-awareness is spotty at best. This is how its been with me, more or less, for more than 20 years!

There are only a couple more paragraphs to the post - Boyd is succinct at the best of times.

More than a bit more about Boyd.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Steinke on congregational health

Peter Steinke is well-known as a writer who deals with issues in churches. One of his most widely read books is Healthy Congregations: A Systems Approach.

Whether you find lists of suggestions about problems helpful or not, the one he presents in an article entitled Twenty Observations about Troubled Congregations is worth a read.

The list covers quite a lot of ground, and on one reading you're unlikely to take it all in; quite apart from that, some of the points take a bit of unpacking. If you're having issues in your church, it's probably better to consider two or three of the points that seem particularly relevant, and begin from there.

Just for starters, here's point number one:

Most people are interested in relieving their own anxiety rather than managing the crisis or planning for a clear direction. Their primary goal is anxiety reduction, not congregational management.

You may or may not agree - it may depend on how easily you fall into anxiety or whether you're a person who stands up straight when everyone else is becoming anxious (!)

Check the twenty observations out. You're bound to find some of them useful.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Getting the stats right...?

If you look on the Net for the phrase, 1500 ministers leave the ministry every month, you'll find result after result saying that this is a sad statistic and what can be done about it. (This is a US stat, of course.)

The other stat that seems to go along with it says 7000 churches close each year.

The only problem is, no one seems able to quote where these stats come from.

They're ascribed variously to George Barna and co, or Focus on the Family, in the latter case dating back to 1998. According to a rough calculation this would mean 18,000 ministers were leaving the ministry every year, and, if the 1998 figure is correct, 216,000 ministers would now be ex-ministers. 84,000 churches would now have closed. (Though in some versions of the stats, 4,000 churches open each year!)

Can these figures really be true?

I would dearly like to see the original figures, find out who they came from and what they were based on. In the meantime, this post will no doubt add to the search results on Google, almost all of which assume without any reference that these stats are correct.

Update...check out the comment from the Barna Group that appeared after this was posted yesterday.

Back to Church Sunday 2010

And another bit of information I pinched off the Wellington Anglican Diocese site:

Back to Church Sunday is to be held on Sunday 12 September this year.

In the meantime there will be:

A Seminar by Michael Harvey – 17 March
Unlocking the Growth – How to Release the God-Given Potential within the Church

Unlocking the Growth offers simple and effective ideas for increasing the number of people gathered to invitational services. It is specifically designed for leaders wanting to see their church grow, whether they are in the first year of ministry or have years of experience.

Michael Harvey is a founding team member of Back to Church Sunday, the largest invitational movement in the world. In 2009 over 100,000 people accepted invitations to church through this initiative. Research shows that between 12 and 15% of these people will become regular attendees, with 12-15,000 added to the church in one day across England, Scotland, Wales, Canada, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Australia, France, Holland, Belgium and Spain. This measurable impact on congregations increases the confidence of leaders as they are equipped to increase the church across every tradition and denomination.

Michael speaks with humour and encouragement as he challenges leaders to unlock the potential within their churches, seeking to see and hear what God is doing through those who attend.

Unlocking the Growth topics include:

  • 12 Steps to Kicking the Habit of Being an Uninviting Church
  • The Reasons Why Christians Don’t Invite
  • Hidden Attitudes
  • How Welcome Plays Its Part
  • What Is Church in 2010
  • The Keys to Adding To the Church
  • How to Overcome the Wounds of The Past
  • How Accountability Plays Its Part
  • Things Leaders Say (Welcome to the real world!)

Michael will be in the Wellington region on
Wednesday 17 March 2010
to present this 90 minute seminar.

If you would like to attend, please reply to Ginny McCarty on 04 973 9303 or 021 145 0398, or email her at and indicate if you would prefer to attend a venue in Wellington or Kapiti. Further information will be available shortly.

PS: An average of 19 people returned to each church after receiving a per­sonal invitation for Back to Church Sunday 2009 in September. Watch some of the You Tube videos made for Back to Church Sunday.

Bishop Cray and Fresh Expressions

Bishop Cray, Director of Fresh Expressions/Frontier Ministry, UK, will be in Christchurch during the week of 6-11 July (Nelson and Dunedin dioceses may also be involved in this) and is the key speaker at the Wellington Anglican Diocesan Clergy Conference from July 13-16 in Masterton.

There is also the possibility of two opportunities to spend time with Bishop Cray in:
1. A small meeting with those who can attend at the Anglican Center, 18 Eccelston Hill, Thorndon, Wellington on Friday afternoon from 2.30pm -5pm (max) and/or

2. The Wellington Diocesan Ministry Day being held for those who do not fall into the category of Wellington Clergy (although they are also welcome to attend!) on Saturday July 17 at St Paul’s Church, Paraparaumu from 9.30am to 4pm

For more information, email Tony Gerritsen at

Stress and Burnout in Ministry

I've had a long distance association with Australian Rowland Croucher for a number of years, first when I used to buy his books in for the bookshop I ran, and more recently, with the advent of Facebook, in seeing his regular contributions to that site. I also get a (fairly) regular ezine from him.

In the last couple of days he's put together a short piece in which he compiles the main links to articles on his John Mark Ministries site relating to stress and burnout. Unfortunately, unless you're (a) a member of Facebook, and (b) a 'friend' of Rowland's, you won't be able to access this page.

So, over the next week or two, I'm going to give you links to the various articles he's focusing on. There are some basic ones on stress and burnout as well as pages where he lists still more links - the list goes on and on. (Of course, once you're on the John Mark site, you'll be able to access these articles yourself, although Rowland's made it a bit easier to find some of them.)

Some of these articles aren't new, by any means. Nevertheless, the material in them isn't dated; if anything the problem has got worse since these articles were written.

Here's a good piece for starters. It's written by Rowland, is directly on the topic (Stress And Burnout In Ministry), and talks not only about why pastoral ministry is so stressful, but also offers some basic advice on how to overcome some aspects of the stress.

I like the way he puts one of the recommendations for staying healthy:

2. Take regular time off. You aren't called to work harder than your Creator.

Develop a way of being 'through for the day' (at least most days).
Take your full four weeks' annual leave in one stretch (and make alternative arrangements for weddings, etc.).
Encourage your denomination to include two weeks' extra, all-expenses-paid study leave each year.
On your day/s off, do something very different from what you do the other days. (Wednesday or Thursday is best for preachers - away from the adrenalin-arousing Sundays).
Listen to Spurgeon: 'Repose is as needful to the mind as sleep to the body... If we do not rest, we shall break down. Even the earth must lie fallow and have her Sabbaths, and so must we'.
Jesus said, 'Come apart and rest awhile'. (If you don't rest awhile, you'll soon come apart!).

[Spurgeon should know: he struggled with depression a good deal.]

Take some time off to read this article. If may be a lifesaver!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Focus on children

On the CWM website, there is a post about Jill Kayser and her work with Kids Friendly.

She says"A new year prompts one to take stock of the past year and plan for the future. Our church is undergoing change. The formation of new 'super presbyteries' creates opportunities for identifying new ways of being."

Ms Kayser said the launch of the Kaimai Presbytery in September included a range of workshops to promote mission - including mission relating to children.

She said: "When the Rev Lance Thomas invited me to contribute to the launch, he explained that the church wanted to start off as it plans to carry on and that mission with young people is key to the success of their churches.

He said we should make 2010 the time to 'do whatever it takes' to reach and serve young people and incorporate them into our communities of faith."

On top of their work with individual churches, the Kids Friendly team have also been encouraging churches within the presbytery to watch their "Next Generation" DVD - a film that features children challenging churches to make a difference to their youth programme.

The Presbyterian Stats

A report has just been released by The Presbyterian Panel, a research group that serves the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [PCUSA].

The panel's report is presented as a "Religious and Demographic Profile of Presbyterians, 2008." The report contains relatively few surprises, and is filled with data about the beliefs of Presbyterian laypersons and clergy.

Albert Mohler, who is no doubt regarded as a Conservative in the Christian scene (though with kudos and plenty of insight and wisdom) opens his blog post on the topic with these words:

"Liberal Protestantism, in its determined policy of accommodation with the secular world, has succeeded in making itself dispensable." That was the judgment of Thomas C. Reeves in The Empty Church: The Suicide of Liberal Protestantism, published in 1996. Fast-forward another fourteen years and it becomes increasingly clear that liberal Protestantism continues its suicide -- with even greater theological accommodations to the secular worldview.

His focus is on this point: the most significant theological question concerned the exclusivity of the Gospel and the necessity of belief in Jesus Christ for salvation. On that question there was great division, with over a third (36%) of PCUSA church members indicating that they "disagree" or "strongly disagree" with the statement that "only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved."

A much more detailed look at the stats involved appears on the GA Junkie site (GA for General Assembly, of course, and a site focused on the politics of Presbyterianism in the States). This writer looks at the actual question asked (Please indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with...the following statement: only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved) and debates the case from there.

I won't go into the details of his arguments here, since they take up a fair amount of space on the original post, and he has a better head for interpreting statistics than I do.

Suffice to say, the two different perspectives expressed are both worth considering, and are perhaps not that far apart. And how does it all apply to the NZ scene?

It's worth noting the following (from Mohler's footnotes): The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was formed in 1983 as the union of the Presbyterian Church in the United States and the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America and is headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky. It is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States. More conservative Presbyterian bodies include the Evangelical Presbyterian Church [EPC] and the Presbyterian Church in America [PCA].

On the other hand

Yesterday Seth Godin was telling us that big events were over, passé, done with. Today...however...

There's always another side to a story - and today Seth is telling us we should have big events - very big events, as big as possible. He gives his reasons, but the one particular thing he says that's important in this is:

The challenge comes when we institutionalize the event and make it normal.

There's a heap to think about in that last statement.

Photo: Scott Beale

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Forget the Big Events

In a blog post called No more big events, Seth Godin does one of his provocative statements and says that we should now be able to avoid the following - for example:

• The annual review
• The annual sales conference
• The big product launch
• The grand opening of a new branch
• Drop dead one-shot negotiation events

He says the reason we should now avoid them (perhaps we should always have avoided them) is that they just don't work. They don't work because "big events leave little room for iteration, for trial and error, for earning rapport. And the biggest reason: frequent cheap communication is easier than ever, and if you use it, you'll discover that the process creates far more gains than events ever can."

Hmmm...worth thinking about in terms of anything you attend at the moment?

Bullying, Abusive Congregations

I was alerted to this blog post on abusive congregations yesterday by a tweet from a friend on Twitter. So I'm passing it along. The post itself is fairly moderate, but the several comments that follow show an appalling problem within the church - an appalling lack of Christian behaviour from people in some congregations towards their ministers. You have to wonder if they ever pray, read their Bibles, think about Christian discipleship.

I've heard of such things with other colleagues, and experienced it myself in a somewhat less severe way when I was filling in as pastor at a former church, so it's by no means an American problem.

The post itself refers to research on the topic from the Clergy Health Initiative, and one of the people commenting adds several useful links which anyone suffering this kind of abuse should follow up.

One of the other awful things from the comments is how many of them talk about the way in which the ministers' spouses were also abused. As Paul says, if I remember rightly, Brothers (Sisters), these things should not be!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


In the NZ Herald on the 5th of January, Mick Duncan wrote an opinion piece about women and binge-drinking.

He believes the reason why so many young (middle-class) women go out binge-drinking is that they’ve lived cotton wool-lives, protected from all sorts of risks, told not to speak to strangers, driven to and from school, and much more. Everything was made safe for them as they grew up.

Binge-drinking involves risk: I might get arrested, I might get knocked down by a car, I might get raped or wind up in bed with a total stranger. I might not even survive the night.

While it isn’t much of a reason for these young women to be doing what they do, it perhaps shows that helping children avoid risks isn’t as healthy at it might seem.

It also shows, perhaps, that these people know little about bigger adventures in life; they feel their lives are constrained. (And the same probably goes for the young men, including the boy racers.)

What do you think about Mick's conclusion?

Monday, February 15, 2010

More on happiness

Some time ago I wrote about the Happiness Tsar, and my second list on health and wellbeing reminded of him, because the list comes from the BBC who did a large-scale experiment on increasing the happiness and emotional wellbeing of a whole town. They also developed a happiness manifesto from which the following steps are taken:

1. Get physical - exercise for half an hour three times a week
2. Count your blessings - at the end of each day, reflect on at least five things you're grateful for.
3. Talk time - have an hour-long uninterrupted conversation with your partner or closest friend each week.
4. Plant something - even if it's a window box or pot plant. Keep it alive!
5. Cut your TV viewing in half.
6. Smile at and/or say hello to a stranger - at least once a day.
7. Phone a friend - make contact with at least one friend or relation you have not been in contact with for a while and arrange to meet up.
8. Have a good laugh at least once a day.
9. Every day make sure you give yourself a treat - take time to really enjoy this.
10. Daily kindness - do an extra good turn for someone each day.

My only quibble with some of these is that they assume a certain lifestyle already - it may not be possible for some people to treat themselves each day; nor might having a good laugh be a possibility. That aside, it isn't a bad list.

In the photo, Regina Spektor reacts to the welcome given her by the fans at the opening of her set.

Leaders keeping on learning

In the book, Supervision in the Helping Professions, the authors discuss the need to continue to learn and flourish in your work environment. Since this relates to National Mission's ongoing concern for the health of ministers and leaders in the church, I thought I'd add here a couple of lists they include in their chapter on the topic (notes in brackets are mine).

Firstly, in relation to being effective at work:

1. Be in love with learning. Stay at your learning edge and have a learning project.

2. Be clear about your learning style and keep expanding it. [Knowing your learning style helps you be sure that you're learning at your own pace, not at the pace of others.]

3. Attend to your emotional well-being.

4. Increase your capacity to relate to and engage with others. [They suggest going outside your comfort zone of people you relate to easily.]

5. Attend to your physical well-being - diet, exercise, sleep, breaks. [Days off!]

6. Have a personal or spiritual practice. [For Christian leaders, this means not neglecting those spiritual disciplines - they're often one of the first things to fall off this sort of a list.]

7. Find a group of good co-learners/fellow travellers. [People who encourage you - people who can mentor you.]

The second list will appear in a separate post.

Paul's leadership model

Eugene Peterson translates the beginning of 1 Timothy 3 in this way:

If anyone wants to provide leadership in the church, good! But there are preconditions...

In an article on the site now known as Smart Ministry, Todd Rhoades takes a look at these 'preconditions' in the light of our current society, using Peterson's up-to-date language. He says it's worth doing a kind of examination of yourself every so often to see whether your leadership behaviour is 'fitting' to the leadership model Paul wrote about.

Are you pushy rather than gentle, for example; are you thin-skinned; are you well thought of by outsiders? These are just a few of the various points that need to be considered, and Rhoades' brief comments are worth giving attention to.

The Fabric of Faithfulness

I haven't read the book, The Fabric of Faithfulness: weaving together belief and behaviour, by Steve Gerber, but based on the double review by Byron Borger, in which he classes it (in its reprint edition) as the book of the decade, I'm certainly going to check it out.

Borger notes: The Fabric of Faithfulness is a splendid resource even if one doesn't work with young adults or new Christians. It is well worth reading for the sheer joy of walking through a near barrage of contemporary Christian authors (from the prophetic social critique of Jacques Ellul to the Christian educational theory of Craig Dykstra), wise novelists and writers (from Dostoevsky to Milan Kundera and Walker Percy) and classic theologians (Augustine, Lewis). But the sources are wider still; one is often surprised with an excerpt from a Mike Royko column or a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon.

And in another place he writes: In the middle of the ... book The Fabric of Faithfulness, Steve Garber tells the story of a meeting with one of his students, a student who "asked wonderful questions about important ideas." As one experienced in mentoring college students, Garber saw that the student seemed not to take his intellectual search all that seriously. Our author found himself doubting that the fellow "really understood the difference of truth and the difference it makes." In a move which seems uncharacteristic for the gentle teacher, Garber issued an ultimatum: he would talk no further with this student until he watched all of the films of Woody Allen, from Annie Hall on. It should be a clue as to who might enjoy this book, as well as who ought to.

I wrote 'double review' above because Borger first reviewed the book on its original published date back in 1996, and then wrote about it again just last year - the book was reissued in 2007. His (now) very long post on the Hearts and Minds site is well worth reading for its enthusiasm for the book, if for nothing else.

You can also read a piece by Garber called Learning to Love what God Loves on the Leadership U site.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Lent starts on Wednesday - nice and early this year. Bosco Peters, over at the Liturgy site, has provided a box announcing Lent (in purple, of course) which you can see over to the right. (The Liturgy site, by the way, has a huge following amongst people around the world with a liturgical bent. I can't remember what milestone Bosco hit just the other day, but it was substantial.

You can find the code for it on his main page, plus heaps of resources (not necessarily Anglican) for the coming season, including information on what Lent is (for all those Protestants who've forgotten or never knew), and a heap of other material for using in the area of Christian Discipline....

Being Passionate

In a recent piece called, Phoning it in, Seth Godin talks about whether you're passionate about what you do or not. (He doesn't blame you if you're not, by the way. Not everyone can do what they're passionate about for a living.)

Why this post is interesting to this blog is because he begins by saying:

I was talking to a religious leader, someone who runs a congregation. She made it clear to me that on many days, it's just a job. A job like any other, you show up, you go through the motions, you get paid.
I guess we find this disturbing because spiritual work should be real, not faked.

(Note the use of the royal 'we' here - intriguing.) He then goes on to equate spiritual with passionate - which may not be the best equation - but nevertheless points up something that people in church leadership need to think about. Do I do what I do because God told me to, or because I felt called to this, or because it pays my wages, or because I really am passionate about it - quite apart from the spirituality of the calling.

If, even on the worst days, we can't say we're passionate about what we do, then maybe it's time to go on a retreat and spend some time reflecting on how we got where we are, why we do it, and should we keep on doing it?

And just a thought that is somewhat connected to this: if we asked older, retired ministers who they kept going during their long careers, and why they didn't experience burnout, what do you think would be their answers?

In other words, is burnout a symptom of our current worldview rather than a hazard of being a Christian minister?

[Totally unrelated, but we're told on the news this morning that the increase in fraud isn't driven by the recession, but by greed. It's great the way the news always tells us what we already know!]

Thursday, February 11, 2010

You don't have to believe these, but...

The latest demographic trends are out now, with a focus on 2009. It's wise to remember that these are projections - some may prove accurate, some not. (The NZ birth rate took a surprising leap forward in the last year or two, for instance, something that wasn't expected.) I've italicized some of the more interesting points:

  • New Zealand’s population is projected to reach five million in the mid-2020s, according to the mid-range scenario (series 5) of the 2009-base projections.
  • The population growth rate will slow steadily, because of the narrowing gap between births and deaths. By 2061, natural increase (births minus deaths) is projected to be 5,000, down from over 30,000 in 2009.
  • The age structure of the population will continue to undergo gradual but significant changes, resulting in more older people and further ageing of the population.
  • Half of New Zealand’s population will be aged 43 years and older by 2061, compared with a median age of 37 years in 2009.
  • The population aged 65 years and over will surpass one million by the late-2020s, compared with 550,000 in 2009.
  • Between 2006 and 2026, the broad Asian, Pacific, and Māori ethnic populations are all projected to grow faster than the New Zealand population overall.
  • The numbers of families and households will grow faster than the population between 2006 and 2031, reflecting the trend towards smaller average household size.
  • The average size of households will decrease from 2.6 people in 2006 to 2.4 people in 2031.
  • One-person households are projected to increase by an average of 2.2 percent a year, from 363,000 in 2006 to 619,000 in 2031.
  • Most of the growth in families will be in ‘couple without children’ families, as the large number of people born during the 1950s to early-1970s reach ages 50 years and over.
  • New Zealand's labour force is projected to keep increasing from an estimated 2.24 million in 2006 to 2.65 million in 2031, and 2.79 million in 2061.
  • Half the New Zealand labour force will be older than 42 years in 2031, compared with a median age of 40 years in 2006, and 36 years in 1991.

  • There are a number of important points here - some we've mentioned more than once on this blog. How significant is the increase in non-European peoples for the nation as a whole? What about all those people living alone in their own little houses - there's a whole ministry in that area alone for many churches. Will we as Christians be ready for the increase in older people - or will we continue to focus mostly on the young (important as that is)?

    Stats picture by roel

    Young Pacific Island Fathers and Mental Health

    Mental health well-being amongst fathers within the Pacific Island Families Study, by El-Shadan Tautolo, Philip J. Schluter and Gerhard Sundborn

    This article investigates the prevalence of potential psychological disorder amongst a cohort of primarily Pacific fathers in New Zealand over their child’s first 6-years of life.

    The analysis is based on data collected at 12-months, 2-years and 6-years after birth during the Pacific Islands Families Study, and uses the 12-item General Health Questionnaire
    to assess the prevalence of psychological distress amongst participant fathers at each measurement point.

    The majority of fathers within the study reported good overall health and well-being. ‘Symptomatic’ disorders were initially low at 12 months (3.9%) but increased significantly at 2 years (6.6%) and at 6 years (9.8%). Other factors, such as employment, smoking and drinking, and marital status were taken into account, and were seen to have an effect on the mental health of the father.
    It is finally being acknowledged after many years that the mental health and wellbeing of fathers is of particular importance to the function and wellbeing of the family.

    Pacific peoples experience higher rates of mental illness than New Zealanders overall with the 12-month prevalence of Pacific peoples experiencing a mental disorder being 25% compared with 20.7% of the total New Zealand population.

    There is a need for further research in mental health amongst Pacific Islanders, particularly amongst specific groups such as youth and males in general. However, this perspective is only reflective of the situation amongst New Zealand based Pacific people, and may not represent the situation amongst Pacific people living in the Pacific Islands.

    This article is available in full online.

    Photo of a father and son in Vanuatu by Bernard Oh

    Young New Zealand

    Throughout New Zealand, there are Presbyterian churches, elders and ministers who focus much of their time on ways to be in touch with the young people around them. Some churches are more successful than others, often because the right kind of person is in the role of youth leader, or because there is a good team of people reaching out to young people.

    Having information about young people is one way in which to improve your ability to work with them. This may be information that's primarily local, or it may be anecdotal or word of mouth.

    The Ministry of Youth Development has recently improved their website and one of the pages contains youth statistics for New Zealand. Statistics may not be everyone's cup of tea (particularly not youth leaders at the coal face) but they can give interesting overviews of an area or of trends in relation to a particular subject.

    As an example: In the 2006 Census,
    19.5 percent of young people aged 12 to 24 identified as Mäori,
    9.3 percent as Pacific,
    13.1 percent Asian
    and 1.2 percent as Other ethnicities.
    These figures are all significantly higher than the proportion of the total population that identifies with each of these ethnic groups.
    In other words each of these people groups has more young people than old. The only exception are the Europeans.

    You can see a graph showing these stats more clearly on the web, and further down the page a table comparing where the different ethnicities predominate.

    In another section, the wellbeing of young New Zealanders is discussed.

    Take a few minutes to check the site out. It may prove more valuable than you'd expect.

    Haiti's Debt

    One of the positive things to come out of the Haiti earthquake crisis has been the cancellation of that country's debt to other much more wealthy countries.

    Hayley Hathaway explains the details in a blog post on the God's Politics site (also known as Sojourners). On Friday (last week) the U.S. Treasury Secretary Geithner responded to the call to relieve Haiti's debt (which has been crippling for more than a century), announcing: “Today, we are voicing our support for what Haiti needs and deserves – comprehensive multilateral debt relief.”

    But it wasn't just 'voicing our support', which could have easily been a political statement and nothing more. The following day, the Group of Seven (G7) finance ministers announced that they agreed with Geithner – Haiti wouldn’t have to pay back its debts.

    This isn't only a victory for Haiti, but also for all those people who've been campaigning for more than a decade to get the debts of various third world countries annulled. The Jubilee campaign really got off the ground in 1999, and since then over $100 billion of debt has been cancelled. This is not only an extraordinary amount, but also a huge gift not just to the nations who were suffering, but also to the peoples who were (mostly) unaware that their countries held such power over other nations.

    You can read more about Jubilee and debt cancellation on the US site - which, curiously, doesn't seem to have been updated since Hathaway's post was published. The British site is more up to date, but warns that the G7 promise still has to be realised. Continued action by this group will ensure that it does go ahead.

    The NZ version of Jubilee is called Jubilee Aotearoa Debt Action Network - which doesn't seem to have any recent information on it, the most recent items both being from 2008.

    Keeping Faith Alive

    Real life situations are sometimes so bitter that they consume all the carefully nurtured faith down to its roots.

    I have closely watched the Zimbabwean situation. I have interacted with my friends in Zimbabwe. Now in India, I am closely watching the status of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Heart rendering [sic].

    I bleed in my heart seeing the photos of the burnt homes, sexually violated girls and women, child soldiers handling weapons with their tender hands! All such situations are tsunamis that could drown our faith in God. Where am I supposed to find God's healing hands in such situations?

    The question we need to ask ourselves is not 'Is God Dead?'; rather - "Is my faith Alive?"

    CWM Missionary, Joseph Kennedy

    Tuesday, February 09, 2010

    Take Overs, Journeys, Arts, Theology

    It takes nothing for the 'pseud' to take over language; church jargon itself is full of it.

    A colleague at work passed on the link to Andrew Rumsey's piece on the word, 'Journey' to me today, and I thought it was worth sharing. Rumsey writes with nifty English wit, and a surreal imagination that sometimes slides off the edge of intelligibility. I've been reading a few of his other pieces (there are only about two a year on the Ship of Fools site) and in general find him good company.

    Having attended Lynne Baab's Knox Inaugural Lecture on Monday, which was about the Arts and Christianity, I was interested to find that Rumsey's first piece on the list, written back back in 2000, is about the same subject: how do the arts and Christianity mesh together without stomping on each other's toes?

    He talks about the group, Theology Through the Arts (the link he gives is now out of date), so I went exploring a little further, found that this group's work is now 'pursued' under the aegis of Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts (which kind of makes it feel as though it's been taken over by the academics - or even hunted down?).

    Theology Through the Arts' first major achievement was a festival of the arts entitled Sounding the Depths. You can still see the original programme online. Sounding the Depths was
    the culmination of the first phase of Theology Through the Arts. It aimed to draw together the strands of the project that [had]been most fruitful over the [previous] three years, and present them publicly in the form of a week of multi-media events.

    Their second phase spanned from 2001 to 2008, when the group had its theological home at the University of St Andrews, and its church-related work at Ridley Hall, Cambridge. From there it seems to have shifted to Duke. During their second phase they engaged in rigorous academic research, as well as pursuing more fully the implications of 'theology through the arts' for the Church's engagement with culture and for 'grass roots' education.

    To me this all sounds very academic - almost the antithesis of what the arts are about. And their primary aim was listed as:

    to discover and demonstrate ways in which the arts can contribute towards the renewal of Christian theology

    In the process, they sought:

    • to find ways in which the arts can contribute to a sensitive and rigorous engagement of the Church with modern and postmodern culture
    • to generate, through the arts, new methods of Christian education for use in the Church and wider community
    Am I being picky, or does this all seem a bit too ivory tower for its own good? I know there are plenty of thinking artists - but do they think in the way academics think? Or is much/most of their thinking more of the reflective-active kind? Some artists, I suspect, don't 'think' in either sense; they work almost intuitively and make mistakes until they find what they're looking for.

    Perhaps my use of the word 'theology' is too limited. But I'd hate to feel that art was being ramshackled into some clinical overcoat that ill-fitted it. Art, I suspect, is a much broader theology than what we mostly think of as theology - long-winded words and difficult by-ways -and probably doesn't want to be narrowed down into seminars and conferences and theses.

    On the Duke site there's a summary of a lecture Nicholas Wolterstorff (author of Art in Action) gave: With analytical power and winsome directness, Wolterstorff questioned assumptions that often mark the conversation between theology and the arts today. In particular, he drew attention to the enormous changes in thinking about the arts that came about in the late eighteenth century – the appearance of the ‘fine’ arts as objects of ‘disinterested contemplation’, the notion that this represents art ‘coming into its own’, and, not least, the religious aura that art assumed to itself: art becomes the transcendent, social ‘other’, abstracted from the messy materiality of space and time.

    This, he stressed is only one way of thinking about the arts, but not the way. He urged his audience to re-discover a wider vision that could embrace forms of art typically demoted (such as ‘mere’ craft), and that could therefore re-frame the theology-arts discussion for the years to come.

    Sounds good - but what about the 'distinguished' lecture listed on the same webpage?: Early Visual Art as Patristic Theology: the Trinity, Christology, and the Economy of Salvation in Pictorial Form.

    Does that sound like something the average artist would want looking over their shoulder while they were working?

    Monday, February 08, 2010

    Holy Subversion

    Colin Hansen asks Trevin Wax, author of Holy Subversion -Allegiance to Christ in an age of rivals: What are the key threats to the church that you believe Christians need to subvert?

    Wax lists four in particular (there are some more in his book)

    1. A self-centered understanding of salvation that centers solely on personal benefit at the expense of radical grace that transforms our hearts and lives.
    2. A church-less gospel that individualizes the Christian life to the point where there is no longer any real reason for a Christian to be part of a church.
    3. A worldly understanding of success.
    4. A slavish addiction to work, wealth-accumulation, and entertainment.

    Wax's book came out in January and there's a very good overview of it on Amazon, by Robert Kellemen.

    Thursday, February 04, 2010

    The old are taking over

    The issues of Ageing - or Aging, as blogger insists it's spelt - are often a topic of posts on this blog, and I've just come across an article in the Guardian in which ageing is discussed (partly in a tongue-in-cheek style) by Zoe Williams. She blames election time on the 'sudden interest' in the topic, but that aside, there are some points to note in her piece that are relevant to the NZ scene - election time or no. Some quotes: is an unarguable fact that the population is getting older; the impact is already being felt in dementia cases, which at 822,000 are 17% higher than previously estimated.

    It is assumed that over-65s live in some condition of infirmity, when the most recent Health Survey for ­England ­suggests that the opposite is the case – the most commonly declared state of health, in any of the five age groups between 65 and death, is "no reported problems" (and that includes men!). So, as life expectancy rises and health improves at the early stages of ­pensionable age, ever more people will be ­working well into their 60s – ­transforming the equation of who's a burden and who isn't.

    ...a) there are more over-65s in this country than there are under-18s; and b) pensioners, for all their rude health, do cost more on account of their pensions – in 2005/06, £15,024 was spent on the average pensioner, £9,454 on the average child and £6,469 on the average person of working age.

    Wednesday, February 03, 2010

    Television Out-Influences the Internet in Asia

    The following is a summary from the Leadership Network of an article entitled: This Just In: The Boob-Tube, Not YouTube, Is Transforming the World

    Television has become a revolutionary force for good in the majority of the world -- not just a couch potato-maker. Using a robust sample of data over many years and countries, Charles Kenny, a development economist with the World Bank, found a high correlation between areas that receive and consume TV and positive trends in literacy, school enrollment, health outcomes, birth control, lower levels of drug use and corruption, and even increased prosperity.

    His conclusion is that we live and consume media in two worlds: The Internet-ascendant minority world (US & Europe) and the TV-ascendant majority World (the Developing World). "Television has had important development impacts," says Ethan Zuckerman, a global social entrepreneur with Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. "So have radio, especially community radio, and mobile phones. Because we're going through an Internet revolution in the U.S., we tend to look for a parallel revolution in the developing world."

    According to Internet World Stats, world Internet penetration rates are highest in North America at 74%, followed by Oceania/Australia at 60%, Europe at 52%, Latin America/Caribbean at 31%, Middle East at 29%, Asia at 19% and Africa at 7%. The world average is 26%.

    In SuperFreakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, the authors point out how the attitudes of Indian women are changing because of greater access to TV. Note, of course, that the TV they're seeing isn't necessarily the kind of third rate filler that's appearing on most NZ television channels these days!

    God's irascible self

    (First a bit of name-dropping.) I once heard Walter Brueggemann preaching at Knox Church in Dunedin and was expecting an academic talk full of words I might or might not understand.

    Instead he gave a wonderful and accessible sermon. I've forgotten the content (!), but not the effect.

    Jason Goroncy has just posted a copy of 19 theses by Brueggemann on his Per Crucem ad Lucem site (the site's title, by the way, is translated as towards the light by way of the cross on another site, though I'd prefer something as succinct as the original Latin: from Cross to Light). These 'theses' are entitled, A Script to Live (and to die) by.

    Brueggemann replaces the commonly-used word, 'worldview,' with 'script,' which is a helpful change, and then points out in the 19 statements how we follow a script in our society of technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism that socialises us all, liberal and conservative. You may or may not agree.

    He goes on to say that this script not only makes us unhappy, it is a failure. He then goes on to say that the alternative script is rooted in the Bible and offers a counter to the prevailing script. The key character in the script (and I think he means us to read 'character' as like a character in an ordinary play or film script) is God, the God of the Trinity.

    I like what follows in thesis 12:
    The ragged, disjunctive, and incoherent quality of the counter-script to which we testify cannot be smoothed or made seamless because when we do that the script gets flattened and domesticated and it becomes a weak echo of the dominant script of technological, consumer militarism. Whereas the dominant script of technological, consumer militarism is all about certitude, privilege, and entitlement this counter-script is not about certitude, privilege, and entitlement. Thus care must be taken to let this script be what it is, which entails letting God be God’s irascible self.

    Great stuff! (Photo is of an exhausted Brueggemann after having nailed his 19 theses to a local church door - just kidding!)

    Tuesday, February 02, 2010

    Rob Bell and Preaching

    Rob Bell has perhaps become most well-known in New Zealand through the series of short videos that go under the general title of Nooma.

    Other people may have seen his much longer videos in which he uses a huge chart and gradually fills it in piece by piece while speaking non-stop.

    We've probably had less opportunity to hear about him as a preacher, and in an article in the latest Leadership Journal online, there's an interview with him about his methods, his philosophy of preaching and a variety of other related issues.

    It's well worth reading in terms of getting a different perspective on preaching (he often preaches exegetically, but not quite in the way most would), and in particular on his view that everything in the world can be brought into the sermon - rather than being narrow in your approach.

    Read Tying the Clouds Together here.

    Monday, February 01, 2010

    Transition Time

    Peter Bregman comes up week after week with practical stuff about leadership on the Harvard Business site – and does it with self-effacing humour.

    In a recent article called Optimize Transition Time (and stop being late) he writes about how he’s the sort of person who thinks if he just drives fast enough or runs fast enough he’ll make it on time. His wife, on the other hand, needs ‘transition time’ and that takes advance planning – if you want to be somewhere for seven, then you may have to start ‘leaving’ by six, and that means getting ready by 5.30 and so on. (His example is a lot more complex!)

    A lack of transition time, he points out, means that lateness for scheduled meetings compounds until the last meeting of the day is so far over time it’s finished before it’s begun. Moreover, transition time gives breathing space, allows for thinking about the meeting coming up (instead of trying to think on the fly) and is easier on the stress levels.