Phone with graphs and charts

Why I don’t like taking attendance at church


Many of you will have used apps like Jethro and Elvanto to manage your church or ministry group.  As a software engineer, I’m naturally all-in on using technology to make your workflow more efficient.  I will be the first to admit that many features of these apps are quite useful (e.g. I love being able to quickly check online to see what rosters I’m on this week).  However, there’s one aspect of these apps that I actively refuse to participate in: tracking attendance.

Why?  Because I don’t think there is any valid use for a centralised store of church attendance data.  Decentralised is another matter.  If you’re a small-group leader, it may help you to keep a reminder for yourself that someone was away this week so that you can call them and check they’re okay.  What is not needed is for you to add that record to a centralised repository, where it will likely be stored long-term and be accessible to all the church staff.

In my opinion, no good comes of this.

It will be used by some “visionary” pastor to decide which tough sermons drove people away.  It will be used as leverage to emotionally manipulate members with imperfect attendance.  It will be used to prop up a pastor’s pride because the church is growing.  It’s busybodies that need centralised attendance data, not pastors.  Real pastoral ministry gets along fine without it.  If you’re worried that people are “slipping through the cracks”, the solution is better delegation of pastoral care, not micromanaging people’s attendance habits.

There were surely people in Israel and Judah keeping a personal headcount of their own children.  But David’s sin was in creating a centralised record of it all to support his ego (2 Samuel 24).  May God keep us from repeating that mistake.

Irenaeus' Portrait

Irenaeus and the Apostles’ Creed


Many readers will know the Apostles’ Creed, either from reciting it in more traditional church services, or perhaps from singing the recent song “This I Believe” from Hillsong. If you check wikipedia, you’ll read that this creed dates back (at the earliest) to the late-300s AD.

I’m now reading Irenaeus’ book “Against Heresies”.  It has a statement of faith in it that is remarkably close to the Apostles’ Creed (even in the order of doctrines stated).

A snippet from Irenaeus “Against Heresies” Book 1, Chapter 10 (~180AD):

The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection of the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and his [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one” and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race…

It’s not identical to the Apostle’s Creed, but it sounds pretty darn familiar right?  Irenaeus tells us that in his day, this set of doctrines was already held and taught by churches across the known world, including Spain, Gaul (France), Egypt and Libya.  Next time someone tries to tell you that Christianity as we know it was invented in 325AD by Constantine, you’ll know better!

House of Commons

C.S. Lewis on Christianity and Politics


After so much thought about how a Christian ought best to engage with politics, the most helpful comment I have found on the subject is this paragraph from the unanswerable Mr. Lewis:

This raises the question of Theology and Politics.  The nearest I can get to a settlement of the frontier problem between them is this: that Theology teaches us what ends are desirable and what means are lawful, while Politics teaches what means are effective.  Thus Theology tells us that every man ought to have a decent wage.  Politics tells by what means this is likely to be attained.  Theology tells us which of these means are consistent with justice and charity.  On the political question guidance comes not from Revelation but from natural prudence, knowledge of complicated facts and ripe experience.  If we have these qualifications we may, of course, state our political opinions: but then we must make it quite clear that we are giving our personal judgement and have no command from the Lord.  Not many priests have these qualifications.  Most political sermons teach the congregation nothing except what newspapers are taken at the Rectory.

C.S. Lewis, Christian Apologetics, 1945

Are you a politician?  Rejoice that God has given you both goals and guidelines, but has also given you the freedom to put creative energy into the formation of effective policy.  Are you a theologian?  Don’t presume that your conscience is so tender, and your heart so steeped in scripture, that any opinion which seems to you to be common sense must be the only one within the boundaries of godliness.  For to truly shepherd one’s flock in grace is to preach God’s word as far as it goes, and not one millimetre further.

Chatting by the lake

Law, Grace and Nouthetic Counselling of Depression


I have been studying pastoral care this semester, and I came across Jay E. Adams’ work on Christian counselling.  For the most part, I have really appreciated Adams’ critique of Freudian psychoanalysis and the culturally-accepted “medical model” of mental illness.  He argues that depression needs to be understood in biblical categories, in particular, that it is not something that simply seized upon a person from the outside, like catching a stomach bug.  Rather, it is often the result of spiralling unbiblical reactions to a circumstance.  That circumstance may not have been something under the person’s control, but allowing themselves to wallow in despair is.  That is a behavioural response that needs to be addressed biblically.

However, a cautionary word I would add when attempting Adams’ method is that it’s easy to think we’ve understood when we haven’t.  If the goal of nouthetic counselling is to lovingly confront the lies people believe with biblical truths, then it is necessary to understand precisely what those lies are that they believe.  If we don’t do that, we run the very real risk of further overemphasising truths they are already comfortable with, and as a result de-emphasising truths that they are currently doubting.  This has the effect of reinforcing the lie rather than the needed corrective truth!  Not a good outcome at all.

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Do All Speak in Tongues?


There is a commonly held belief that whenever someone is filled with the Holy Spirit, the initial evidence of this is that they speak in tongues.  1 Corinthians 12 is the key chapter on this issue, and I encourage you to read the whole thing in context.  Context alone is enough to make it clear that Paul doesn’t expect everyone who is filled with the Holy Spirit to speak in tongues.  He argues that the church is “one body” even though it has “many members”.  He compares the different gifts people have to different parts of the body.  He writes (verse 15):

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.

It’s a metaphor.  The implication is that if someone says “because I do not speak in tongues, I do not belong to the church,” that would not make them any less a part of the church.  God has given different gifts to different people, so that the church works together as a whole, just as he has given different functions to the hand and the foot, but they work together.
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