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Entering A New Season

Sunday 27 January 2019 was our farewell service at Following Jesus, the Vineyard church we have led for just over six years. Many have asked us: what now? Where will we be going? What will I be doing?

I decided to give a more detailed answer than a simple one-liner. The purpose is for awareness among all who know of our journey with Jesus and ministry, with his church and world. And especially to ask for prayer in our new season with God – God knows we need his grace!

Just to say, if you would like to hear what we shared with Following Jesus – our farewell address and responding words of thanks to us – then click

I was sent into full-time paid ministry on 20 January 1975. Ever since that time I’ve been planting and pastoring churches. For the past few years I’ve known the time was coming for me to change gear and focus on what I believe God has prepared me for over the past  44 years. Simply put: to be available to the broader church to consult with and mentor leaders, to help churches with teaching and training – generally doing spiritual formation. I have been doing this for years while pastoring the local church, but now it’s time… !  Biblically speaking, I’m being released into apostolic work on a full time basis, sharing my years of spiritual-theological formation and ministry experience with those who may want to receive it.

However, to be more precise, the way I understand this new and further journey – the heart of it – is to live a slower more contemplative life. I have sensed a strong call, for the remaining years God gives me on earth, to a deepening solitude of intimacy with Jesus, to literally “echo silence” (Thomas Merton’s phrase) in all I write, say and do. I am called to write more books – as Morton Kelsey said, “I am pregnant with a number of books!” But, I want to write from inner solitude and silence, in which I hear God more clearly – the still small voice that Elijah heard – that my life and ministry may echo God’s thoughts, desires, words and deeds. To this end I would appreciate your prayers, that I may live this reality for the glory of God and fulfilment of his purposes.

Practically it means Gill and I are locating ourselves with another team and congregation not far from where we reside (I do not believe in ‘a dislocated travelling ministry’ – we will always be grounded in a local church). Gary Bradshaw, the team leader, has invited us to worship with them, to teach and lead spiritual retreats, and use it as a base for travel.

However, Gill and I are aiming to relocate to the Kwa-Zulu Natal north coast – Ballito Bay/Salt Rock area – north of Durban. We hope to do that early 2020, locating ourselves near an airport for ministry trips, and especially to base ourselves in a vibrant church that is welcoming us a teaching/mentoring/apostolic presence.

So that’s the story! Thanks to all who have supported us in one way or another, not least in prayer – especially now as we ‘walk on water’, trusting God step by step in this next phase of our lives. And P.S. my book, Doing Spirituality: The Journey of Character Formation Toward Christlikeness, is with the editors and I’m itching (waiting very impatiently!) for the final comeback, so that I can do the corrections and get the book into print. God bless!

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Social Set Theory (Centered-Set) in Doing Church

I have been asked a few times how we use “Centered Set” in how we ‘do church’ in Vineyard. Here is some of my feedback to various debates in this regard over the past years.

I was honored to work with John Wimber in 1982, learning, among other things, the Social Set Theory – the three sociological models (Fuzzy, Bounded, Centered) – introduced by Jack Simms, a sociologically trained market researcher on staff with Wimber in Yorba Linda between 1978 and 82. Wimber’s understanding and usage of it, in terms of how we do church, is recorded in my book Doing Church (pp. 50-59).

Over the years I have seen – and had questions from – leaders and people applying the Centered Set model in ways never intended, resulting in confusion. We can use models to make them mean what we want, as some do with the Bible! These points are meant to clarify aspects of how Wimber used and applied Set Theory as I understood it.


  1. Social Set Theory is from Sociology, proposing three contrasting models on how societies/communities organize themselves. Each model is incompatible with the others. Some in the Vineyard ‘mix’ elements of Bounded Set and Centered Set in a ‘hybrid’ model to cover a multitude of things they want to justify or explain. It shows they haven’t understood the purpose and function of the models.
  2. By definition a model is a pictorial overview of how segments of reality are arranged and work. Models have limits to what they represent, to what they say and don’t say. Hence we don’t use Social Set Theory for theological or ethical reflection regarding church and society. We must be clear on the biblical theology of church (from a Kingdom hermeneutic) and then see where and how the Centered Set helps us to articulate it, and NOT the other way round. I.e. to make the Centered Set the basis of our ecclesiological or ethical thinking and praxis is to loose our biblical base.
  3. “Integrating truth” (a Vineyard value and practice) from other disciplines into Christian-Biblical faith and praxis (e.g. how we do church) needs critical theological evaluation as to its usability and application. We use the language and idea of the sociological models for their original purpose: contrasting views of approaches to society – how communities arrange their common life. We use it to explain aspects of how we do church (Centered) and do not do church (Fuzzy and Bounded).
  4. In Social Set “values” are the underlying norms determining the arrangements and ethos in each sociological model. Applied to church, some see values as doctrines – leading to values as ideology that reinforces the boundary of who’s in or out. Others see values as relevant moral principles in market terminology. Values, as Wimber used them (at the center of the centered set, to which we draw people), are where core beliefs, social relevance and what the Spirit is emphasizing, intersect. They communicate in relevant terms what are non-negotiable principles, what forms our ethos in terms of our beliefs and Spirit-given purpose in the context of our times.
  5. Some in the Vineyard use “adult to adult” relationship as a license to believe or do what they want. When held accountable (confronted and/or corrected) they take offence accusing us of “parent-child” relating. As with sociological model, the concepts and language of Transactional Analysis has to be correctly understood, taught and enacted.
  6. In my book Doing Church, I apply the Centered Set to membership as a dynamic process of belonging in increasing levels of relational involvement toward the center. I also say that membership is a theological category: biblically there’s a clear point of commitment to Jesus and his people, publicly attested to in baptism, with formal reception into the local church. It was debated with Wimber in 1982. He said formal membership is not incompatible with the Centered Set – one concentric circle could be a line indicating a point of commitment – though his practice was more fluid via relational belonging. Many Vineyards have membership courses with a formal commitment to membership, adding value to the centered set approach without contradicting it. The dynamic-process view has been reworded in post-modern terms of “belong, believe, (then you) behave”, correcting the modernist “behave, believe, (then you can) belong” – Vineyard has never taught nor practiced the latter. The problem with postmodern “belonging” is that without any agreed criteria of what it means – with no process of membership – it can ongoingly cover a multitude of (wrong) beliefs and behavior, as in remaining unconfronted and silently endorsed in the name of unconditional acceptance.
  7. This raises the issue of social ethics vis-a-vie the Centered Set model of doing church. We’ve all been asked, “Can Christians who live together (unmarried) be members of our church – we’re centered on Jesus who accepts everyone?” “Can practicing homosexuals be members, even leaders – Jesus taught unconditional ‘love, acceptance & forgiveness’” (a phrase from Jerry Cook’s book, referred to in Doing Church). The same applies to facilitating same-sex marriages and similar challenges. These are ethical issues that must be decided biblically in terms of Theological Ethics and Ecclesiology (church membership and participation). To place them in the category of human rights and/or to decide from a centered set model on how we handle them is to use sociological assumptions to decide theological-ethical issues. This always results in theological relativism and eventual heresy. Biblically, we are called to accept and love everyone unconditionally, regardless of who they are, what they believe or do. But acceptance is NOT agreement with or endorsement of identity, beliefs, behavior, character and lifestyle, which is always challenged by the gospel as we follow Jesus. Repentance from sin, healing from brokenness, moral transformation, etc, is a given as much as unconditional love and acceptance is. The decision as to how we integrate this with church attendance and then membership – let alone ministry and leadership – is a theological-ethical evaluation and decision, with pastoral wisdom, not a sociological one based on the centered set.
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Call of Pastoral Vocation & Spiritual Leadership

Today (1 April 2016) I was supposed to be in Cape Town addressing the Vineyard pastors and leaders of the Western Cape, South Africa. I injured my back on Wednesday and had to cancel my trip. But I had written my teaching earlier in the week, so I thought I should upload and share it. For all who read this, especially pastors and spiritual leaders, what do you think of the following?

What is the essential call (vocation) and work (leadership) of the local church pastor?

It’s a vast subject, but scripture teaches that pastoral leadership is a life-calling and gift-ministry from the Ascended Christ (Eph 4:7-11, the ‘pastoring-teacher’). In the OT the king and leaders were (supposed to be) the servant of YHWH as the shepherd of Israel. Jesus fulfilled that calling as The Good Shepherd of God’s flock, YHWH’s Suffering Servant. This Chief Shepherd and Ultimate Servant is the model to be emulated by his ‘under shepherd-servants’. He’s also the means, by his Spirit, by which we fulfil this vocation to which we are called – continuing HIS vocation by HIS Spirit. And yes, this means suffering and rejection… true pastors enter into and exercise the love of God in Christ, by the Spirit, suffering people’s sin and brokenness. There is nothing like pastoral leadership to bring out one’s insecurities, our deepest unresolved ‘stuff’! So, to be a pastor, a spiritual leader, is not something you do, it’s who you are and are becoming. It’s not a role or job per se, it’s a way of life – Jesus’ way!

The nature of this “perplexing profession” (Eugene Peterson) has been analysed and explained in various ways.[1] Over the years, through theology (study) and praxis (my personal experience), I have come to my own summary of the pastoral vocation: The sevenfold nature or key responsibilities of pastor-leaders. I assume the definition of pastor as the leader of a faith community, whether it’s 15 people in a house church, or a congregation of 80, or of a large church with multiple staff, where the team of pastors each specialise in one or more of the responsibilities below. However, the lead-pastor in whatever size church is overall responsible to see that these seven key roles are faithfully fulfilled. There is a progressive order – they build on each other. And like any good preacher, I’ve used alliteration hoping it might just stick in our brains!

  1. Prayer: To be a person of The Presence, bringing God’s presence to people and bringing them into God’s presence. If you are first a full-on follower (disciple… a disciplined learner) of Jesus for yourself, then those around you will naturally be led and pastored into following Jesus. Prayer is your primary spiritual formation, the fuel that fires – and keeps fanning into flame – your passion and love for God and his people. On a recent visit to Mexico Pope Francis said to the bishops and priests, “Pastors are not God’s employees to dispense and administrate the Divine. Our identity is prayer: we work with God – pray living and live praying.” It’s what Jesus said, in effect, regarding his life principle: “Though I am the Son of God I do nothing on my own initiative; I only do what I see the Father doing, I only speak what I hear the Father saying” (John 5:17-21). Prayer is co-working with God in what he’s doing, leading his people in true worship and community, ministry and mission. This is (your) spiritual formation. It is the foundational cornerstone of the vocation of the pastor and leader, on which all that follows is built.
  2. Purity: To grow in purity before God. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” (Matt 5:8). The heart is the essence – the core and the whole – of who we are, out of which all of life flows (Prov 4:23). Danish theologian-philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” Our divided and disparate, fragmented and over-stimulated focus on many demands, is the impurity of idolatry. David prayed, “give me an undivided heart to fear your name” (Ps 86:11). Life, leadership and ministry, depends on our cultivation of integrity of being, purity of heart, integration of focus – the simplicity of the unhurried life doing the “one thing (that) is needed” (Luke 10:42). The one thing is moral character, formed by gazing on God’s beauty (Ps 27:4) in the face of Jesus Christ, as Mary did. Then we see God ever more clearly each day, in all things, in every person, circumstance, happening – learning to work with him in the sacrament of the present moment. This is what makes us pastors and leaders. We require this purity of heart because God entrusts us with HIS Word, Purposes, People, and World. Whether we know it or not, we all live, lead and pastor, in real terms from “the weight of glory” (C.S. Lewis) on/in us, or lack thereof. To the degree we lack in Christ’s glory – his pure character – we depend on other idolatrous dynamics and resources to live, lead and pastor.
  3. Preaching: To proclaim God’s Word to his people and world is a most awesome privilege and responsibility.[2] We are called to faithfully study, teach and proclaim the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) without fear or favour, forming God’s people “under the authority of The Word” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer), teaching them how “to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20; Wimber’s “the meat is in the street”). The Apostles stated their priorities: “We will give ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). Don’t ever underestimate the privilege, priority and power of preaching God’s Word as a pastor and leader.
  4. Purpose: To lead God’s people into their inheritance: God’s Kingdom purposes. I.e. to give a clear vision of the Kingdom, keeping it before the people, with the spiritual direction needed to achieve it. We are called to lead by example, by vision and proclamation, by discipling and implementation. Pastors must lead the church into God’s purposes – break new ground – or it will meander in maintenance mode.
  5. Pastoring: To care for God’s We are called to love, to be tender, merciful, compassionate, as Jesus was. Prayer & purity will keep us from burnout, from becoming cynical with people and their pain. Pastors gather, heal and grow God’s people to wholeness, by patient and persistent love in the discipline and governance of the Lord. Shepherds naturally smell of sheep, they get involved in people’s pain.
  6. Personnel: To train God’s people in their callings and gifts. Proclaiming God’s purpose gathers people to be cared for, AND to be equipped to do ministry and mission (Eph 4:12). Pastors grow and equip people, forming teams and leaders, by the Vineyard mantra: “IRTDM” – identify, recruit, train, deploy, and monitor.
  7. Program: To organise God’s people into a cohesive community of worship and witness, creating programs and structures of ministry (in the church) and mission (in the broader community, and to the nations). Minimal organising and administrating ability is required for a pastor-leader to be effective – it’s a discipline of character! 

We lead by being led – in these seven dimensions – by the Spirit, in the sacrament of the present moment. So, be teachable, accountable, honest, humble, hungry for God…

[1] The classic by Seward Hiltner, Preface to Pastoral Theology (Abingdon, 1958). Also Henri Nouwen, Creative Ministry (1978) and The Living Reminder (1982). See Eugene Peterson’s four books on pastoral ministry, all by Eerdmans, Working the Angles (1987), Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work (1992), Under the Unpredictable Plant (1992), and The Contemplative Pastor (1993).  

[2] See the chapter, “Pastors as Teachers of the Nations”, in Dallas Willard’s Knowing Christ Today.

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Extraordinary Jubilee Of Mercy declared by Pope Francis

As some Catholic Popes have done from time to time, Pope Francis has declared a special Jubilee, which begins Tuesday 8 December 2015.

What is a Jubilee?

God commanded the Jews to declare every 50th year a Jubilee, a Year of Freedom (Leviticus 25). All property was returned to original family ownership, slaves were set free, all debts cancelled and the land was free to rest. The decks were cleared to give everyone a fresh restart on a free and equal footing. The record does not show if and for how long Israel implemented (celebrated) the Jubilee. Some scholars say that when Jesus began his ministry, taking his mandate from Isaiah 61:1-2a, he actually declared the Jubilee, “The Year of the LORD’s favor and mercy” (see Luke 4:16-21). Jesus proved to be God’s promised Messiah and his ministry of the Kingdom was The Jubilee of all Jubilees – The Day of Salvation.

Pope Francis continues his courageous leadership as a follower of Jesus, by announcing a Jubilee of Mercy, thus radically stirring the Roman Catholic Church and challenging the world. And the rest of the Church of Jesus should take note.

Why choose the theme of mercy? Why an “Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy”?

In his Bull of Indiction, Misericordiae Vultus, he motivates why: “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy” (n. 10).

I fully agree! I support this Year of Mercy. What follows is from my reading of the Vatican News on, with a mix of quotes from Francis and my interpretations and comments. I’m doing this to motivate YOU to ‘do’ this Jubilee – for God’s sake! Continue reading Extraordinary Jubilee Of Mercy declared by Pope Francis

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AVC SA Statement: Xenophobic Violence in SA, 15 April 2015

The Association of Vineyard Churches South Africa today issues an urgent and emphatic appeal to our nation and its leaders, in the light of the worsening situation regarding violence against foreign nationals in our country.

Scripture, as well as the best traditions in Africa, teach us that nations and peoples are judged, and earn either honour or dishonour, by the way they treat their strangers. We believe this to be true and critical to our national survival and spiritual well-being, and that xenophobia is a denial of and insult to our humanity, our national dignity, our democracy and the struggle against Apartheid. It is a contradiction of the introduction to our national Constitution that says: “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.” In that sense, we believe, with the Apostle Paul, that there is no longer any divide between people into “insiders” and “outsiders”, that is not erased by the crucifixion of Christ. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.”

We therefore make a call to the people of South Africa, and in particular the leaders of our nation, whether local, regional or national, whether of churches, political parties or local communities: Continue reading AVC SA Statement: Xenophobic Violence in SA, 15 April 2015