One of our core values as a church is Leadership (training people up so they can use their gifts to serve others) and this Wednesday we are starting our 6.30 Leadership Course. Do come and join us if you can. In this post I wanted to reflect on a few leadership lessons I have learned from working at HubSpot for the last two years.
Before I do it’s worth talking about two errors that churches make when learning leadership lessons from business.
- They dismiss business principles altogether, thinking these can’t add anything of value to the kingdom of God (because the world is dark and evil and hostile to God’s kingdom, so the argument goes). However the Bible teaches lots about ‘common grace’; that is the idea that God’s grace has been given to everyone in some measure without distinction of their relationship to God. For example, Jesus talks about our Heavenly Father causing the sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 6) or Paul talks about God providing food for people and giving joy to their hearts when speaking to the pagan crowd at Lystra (Acts 14). Additionally, as everyone is made in God’s image, we all bear god-likeness, even in our worst moments. So God, in his grace, gives gifts and wisdom to people who don’t follow Him and we should recognise that and learn from it.
- They adopt business principles fully without filtering out what contradicts the values of the kingdom of God. We should find that there is lots of good and lots of the image of God in business, but we should also find some things that are at variance to what Jesus says. So we need discernment. To give one example, let’s talk about ‘measuring success.’ The business world will (rightly!) look to the bottom line and other similar ‘hard metrics’ to see if they’re being successful or not. However Christians should look to faithfulness and fruitfulness. Whilst finding some clear metrics to help guide whether you’re on track as a church may be helpful, how can you measure love or the transformation of one life? We need discernment and we mustn’t let the world’s standard of success become ours.
With those two caveats in place, here are five things I have learned from HubSpot. It’s all been positive and most of it comes from our two cofounders, Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan, both of whom I have had the pleasure of getting to know a little bit.
(1) Vision Matters
HubSpot is great at vision-casting. We’re constantly coming back to what we believe and why we’re doing what we’re doing – which is about building a great company and hitting certain finance targets, but also beyond that to changing the way people learn, engage and buy online. We want to make marketing and sales a more customer-focused discipline, that adds value rather than irritates people.
Leaders have to keep the vision central.
(2) Culture Matters
One of the reasons I joined HubSpot was for its culture. Check out my recent post which talked a lot about that. My parents recently came to visit our Dublin offices and were overwhelmed by the warmth, energy and engagement of my colleagues. When my kids and their cousins came to visit, my colleagues showed them how to use the Xbox and engaged with them. HubSpot places a huge emphasis on finding and nurturing the right people so that (a) people want to work for the company and (b) people want to do business with the company. Employees and customers matter, and that is great!
Leaders have to invest in people and culture.
(3) Organisation Matters
When I joined the company there were around 500 employees, now we’re about 1000. Growing by 500 people in two years (and having an IPO!) means you have to up the level of organisation to make the machine work, without losing the culture (point 2). Systems, software, processes and meetings need to be put in place. Whilst this often ends up with more admin than when we were a smaller company, it’s important and means everyone has what they need to do their jobs. Additionally, they have placed a big emphasis on creating another tier of management to ensure the business runs effectively, not to mention a few key senior appointments in administration and strategic positions.
Leaders have to be disciplined and bring in the right people to help them get things organised.
(4) Tough Decisions Matter
I have only been at HubSpot just over two years but I can think of three very tough decisions that the C-Suite have had to make and ultimately which our CEO has pushed through, which have all been brilliant. However, there was some controversy and it didn’t please everyone. I remember when I first joined, the CEO took over as VP of Sales for a short time and said he was going to make things ‘black and white’ to clear up some confusion that had come about. He also said that he would be making some big calls which wouldn’t please everyone, but overall it would get us back on track. He was right.
Leaders have to stand up and be counted and make tough decisions, drawing clear lines so people can follow and accepting you won’t please everyone.
(5) GSD (Get Sh*t Done) Matters
One of the moments I most remember in my interview was the when my MD said to me “Steve, we have a slogan here at HubSpot which is GSD…Get Sh*t Done…Steve, can you get sh*t done?” I can’t remember exactly how I answered (I was trying not to swear as I answered him!) but I think I persuaded him that I can get my head down, work hard and make things happen when needed. It’s simple but true. Leaders don’t faff. They work out a vision, gather a team, make some decisions and then get on with making it happen and seeing results.
Leaders have to get on with it, focus on what they’re trying to achieve and put all their resources into achieving that goal without making tonnes of excuses as to why it couldn’t/didn’t happen.
I am sure there are many more things, but these are five things that do not in any way contradict from what Jesus says and can be applied helpfully to further the kingdom of God. If you want to learn more about how God wants to raise up leaders, do come along to our 6.30 Leadership Course, starting this Wednesday (30th September), 6.30am at 28 Bachelors Walk.
I came to Dublin 3 years ago with the aim of getting a job in the high-tech sector and starting a church. I am 2.5 years into working in technology sales and we are just about to enter the second year of our church plant. Do read my blog post called Living the Tension about being a pastor and a salesman for more on how my two lives intersect. In this post I want to reflect on a few things by looking back at year 1 and looking forward to year 2 . You can read my previous blog post about 11 lessons I had learned about church planting after 6 months to catch up on the story up till now.
So here are 5 things as I look back (reflection) and 5 things as I look forward (aspirations).
5 Reflections on Year 1
In no particular order,
(1) More Normal Than Expected
The first thing to say is that starting a church was actually more normal than I expected. (I probably had the wrong expectations!) You have to rent a building, start services, organise a preaching rota and a music team and a refreshments/welcome team and all the normal things you have to do in every church. In terms of leadership, Leanne and I had to plan the rhythm of our week and our Sunday routine so we didn’t overstretch on the one hand but didn’t miss a trick on the other. Then we had to start raising up some leaders (of Sunday Teams and City Groups) and invest in them so they could share the responsibility. Overall it was very normal; it was like every other church I have ever been a part of.
(2) More Fun Than Expected
I am not sure what I expected but once we started I looked forward to our Sunday Services, our midweek meetings and our social events. I found I was energised by church life and did not resent it or wish it away. Even when things went wrong or my expectations weren’t met or I had to work long hours (which happened a lot!), that didn’t dampen my spirits, enthusiasm or sense of fun. In fact I wrote a blog post about the vision of our church one year ago called ‘What happened to all the fun?‘ where I lamented that church life had got so boring in so many cases. Well I am glad to say that year 1 was not boring but full of fun. And of course, the people that I met and the friends I have made are the real reason for that!
(3) More Long-Term Than Expected
I once heard someone tell me “make less of your 1 year plans and more of your 10 year plans” and yet I think I forgot that this year. Whilst I am delighted with how far we have come and are excited about the momentum we have going into year 2, I also see that “we are only just beginning…we have barely scratched the surface.” Building a community of Jesus followers and equipping them to seek the spiritual, social and cultural blessings of Dublin doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a long time to make a positive impact on a city! Leadership development cannot really be fast tracked. It takes relationship building, trial-and-error, opportunities, mentoring, feedback and all that takes time.
(4) More Uncertain Than Expected
As I look back I can see that some of the plans I had took off and others flopped. Some of the people who I thought might become leaders did and others did not. And there were many surprises too. Some ideas that I hadn’t taken into account and some unexpected people ended up becoming central to what we were doing. This all makes you realise that Jesus builds his church, not me (Matthew 16:18). Whilst I do not think it is wrong to plan and think strategically/wisely, ultimately we have to leave it in God’s hand and trust that he is at work through our feeble efforts.
Then there was the issue of renting a space. When you don’t own a church building you are at the mercy of your landlord to keep their side of the bargain (which filmbase.ie did more than enough!) and to keep you on (which they haven’t been able to do). So just as we were really beginning to feel at home, we have had to move on and find a new home, 28 Bachelors Walk. This isn’t necessary a problem, but it keeps us on our toes.
So on the one hand everything felt more fragile and vulnerable and on the other, more empowering and exciting than anything else I have been involved with. Which leads me to my next point…
(5) More Prayer Than Expected
As with all of these reflections the issue may be about my expectations rather than anything else. Since Leanne and I decided to come to Dublin (February 2012), we have prayed more fervently and more specifically than in any other time in our lives…and guess what? God has answered our prayers, way above and beyond what we expected. The small steps and prayers of faith that we have made have been met with great blessing and provision. I remember on one of my pre-Dublin ‘reckies’ I was walking up one of the hills outside Dublin with Jon Tyson, a church planter based in NYC, and I asked him “What bit of advice do you have for me?” and he said “Pray!” It has proven to be good advice and given the uncertainty and fragility of the last 3 years of being in Dublin and the last year of starting the church, we could not have got where we are without prayer. God has been our strength and song, our rock and our refuge.
5 Aspirations for Year 2
So with those five reflections in mind, let’s look ahead at what I hope will remain.
(1) Non-Christians Remain Welcome
When Leanne and I came to Dublin we wanted to start a church that ‘made sense’ to non-church going people. We hoped that those who didn’t call themselves Jesus followers would feel they could come (with no sense of pressure to convert!) and check things out. We hoped that the community and the services would be warm and welcoming but would also provoke questions. And then as we engaged with their questions, doubts, fears, concerns and hurts, they could discuss them without feeling they needed to ‘agree with us’ to remain part of the community or come along on a Sunday.
So it has been a joy to have many people come along who haven’t come to a church service for years (expect for your typical christenings, weddings and funerals) and they have then joined us for a drink down the pub. Some have come back, others haven’t. And I remember on 2-3 occasions self-proclaimed atheists have joined us and (from what I could see) felt at home. As I explained in A Church Not For Ourselves, if the church of Jesus Christ is to do what he meant it to do, it must be able to engage with people who don’t go to church in a way that they feel like they never need to come again.
I have had friends and visitors say to me:
I am not coming again but it made sense to me what you’re doing.
I am not going to become a Christian but I may join you down the pub for more discussions in the coming months.
It’s not my cup of tea but I would like to meet for lunch to discuss this more.
Steve I think you’re nuts but what you’re doing is great.
I was totally put off church growing up and whilst I still have reservations, I am keen to come back and explore more.
I’ve been so delighted to hear this kind of thing!
(2) The Pub Remains Central
One of my favourite stats is that as a church we spend one hour ‘in church’ (4.30-5.30pm) and then two hours down the pub (6-8pm) each week. Last year it was Crowbar, this year it will be Sweetmans. In fact, this statistic fits nicely with some of my most favourite words from the mouth of Jesus, from Luke 7:34;
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
Jesus clearly enjoyed his food and wine, so much so that he could be accused by the religious establishment of being a drunkard and a glutton. He also hung around with the wrong people (tax collectors and sinners!). In all cultures, particularly Irish culture, the place where people eat and drink is the place where friendships are formed, banter and conversations happen and people loosen up to be real and honest, whether with doubts or joys.
I hope the pub continues to take up two thirds of our time on a Sunday!
(3) The Non-Religious Feel Remains Normal
Meeting in a film screening studio in the middle of Temple Bar was a fantastic way to ensure that we didn’t smack of being religious! Yes, we had a cross at the front of the room and a Bible verse on the wall but nothing about what we did looked or smelled like church as the average person would know it. In fact, we hope it felt quite normal and accessible. But more than just the setting we have worked hard to keep our services short and simple, to not have any Christian jargon, to explain everything we are doing and to continually affirm that people can engage as much or as little as they like. I am not saying we’re perfect, but we work hard on our language and we certainly don’t want to form a Christian sub-culture (or clique!) which alienates people who are not in it.
I remember one time a young guy came to visit for the first time and we were watching England vs Ireland on the big screen in the room (Ireland won!) and then we watched an 8 minute video about the founding of the Guinness Brewery and the Christian principles which drove it. And when I turned round to him he said:
“What kind of church is this? You watch rugby, watch videos about Guinness and go the pub?”
My hope is that it might be the kind of church that Jesus would want to be a part of.
(4) Truth Remains Decisive
For all our efforts at being culturally relevant and having fun and not feeling religious we must not and cannot compromise on truth. That is what is so impressive about Jesus. Just when he is getting popular he makes sure he tells people the truth about who he is and what it means to follow him so that they are not deceived. In fact, he famously said two things about truth which we mustn’t miss, both recorded for us in the Gospel of John.
If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Jesus would not fit in nicely with our post modern tolerant culture which says “there is no such thing as truth, you believe what you want and I’ll believe what I want…let’s just not say anyone has the truth.” Jesus would think that idea was ludicrous and tell you that truth isn’t subjective. There is such a thing as objective truth and ultimately it is found in him. And Jesus is so concerned that we know the truth because, from all the way back in Genesis 3, it was believing that lie that meant we were enslaved and lost, so it is as we discover the truth that we are set free.
In the last year we have had people who, whilst not Jesus followers, have been fascinated by what the Bible actually says. They may have been brought up going to church but they have never really engaged with the scriptures directly. Some have found them exciting and attractive, others offensive and narrow. However, as we move forward as a church we are not interested in teaching the latest ideas that will be palatable to people’s ears, we’re interested in truth…and truth that will set us free. So truth remains decisive for us and ultimately that truth is grounded in the person of Jesus and his resurrection. We build all we believe from those two things!
(5) Adventure Remains The Order Of The Day
My hope is that as a church we don’t take ourselves too seriously and that we have a blast. On our holidays Leanne and I read a book by Eugene Petersen based on the book of Galatians all about Freedom and he starts one chapter like this:
The word Christian means different things to different people. To one person it means a stiff, uptight, inflexible way of life, colorless and unbending. To another it means a risky, surprise-filled venture, lived tiptoed at the edge of expectation. Either of these pictures can be supported with evidence. There are numberless illustrations for each position in congregations all over the world. But if we restrict ourselves to biblical evidence only the second image can be supported: the image of the person living zestfully, exploring every experience – pain and joy, enigma and insight, fulfilment and frustration – as a dimension of human freedom, searching through each for sense and grace. If we get our information from the biblical material, there is no doubt that the Christian life is a dancing, leaping, daring life.
I hope that after year 2, that can be said of us!
INTERVIEW: Faith in the Real World – Irish Bible Institute, with Seán Mullen, Damian Jackson and Patrick Mitchel
If any of you read my blog (please say someone does?!) you’ll know that the whole theme of ‘Faith & Work’ is hugely important to me. I have previously written about lessons from being a Pastor and a Salesman and how working for a corporation is like working for a church. And it’s something we teach on regularly at Christ City Church.
There are two main reasons I am passionate about faith and work, which I outline in an earlier post;
- Work matters to God – from the start of the Bible to the end God himself is a worker (a gardener, carpenter, fisherman and city builder) which gives huge dignity to our work. And he wants us to worship him with our work, bless others through our work and find personal satisfaction in our work. The physical resurrection of Jesus is the final proof that the material world matters to God and he wants us to continue his work of bringing order out of chaos, beauty from blackness and fullness from emptiness through our everyday lives and work.
- God matters to work – Colossians 3:23 sums it up so well when it says “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” God wants to be involved in our work, give us strength and inspiration for our work, give us a worldview with which to redeem the best bits of our work for his glory and use the workplace as an opportunity to share his love to others. Work is probably the thing we spend most time doing in any given week (40-60 hours) and God wants to be involved with the thing that takes up most of our lives (Note, work here is defined as paid and unpaid, voluntary and professional, work in the home and work in the office, and I am also talking about work at university and school, ie. studies).
With all that in mind I was delighted to hear about the upcoming Irish Bible Institute event called Faith In The Real World, with three superbly chosen speakers who are all good friends of mine. Seán Mullan was a Pastor and Director of the Evangelical Alliance Ireland and then left all that to become a social entrepreneur and start Third Space (which I have written about before). Damian Jackson was a software engineer for many years, left that to pursue a PhD in immigration and the church’s response and is now doing post-doctoral studies in the ethics of technology. And Patrick Mitchel is a doctor of theology and lecturer of biblical studies at IBI. What a great combination for 48 hours of looking at “Faith in the Real World.”
In preparation for the event I got to interview the three of them and this is what they said.
(1) What has been the biggest challenge for you relating your faith to the real world and why?
Seán – The challenge of thinking through how what God is doing in his world connects to what I do every day. What are the points of connection? Is what Jesus teaches about truly viable as a way of living daily in the world I live and work in? What’s my role in ensuring that it happens?
Damian – I think the biggest challenge for me personally has been my own fear. I’ve always been afraid of rejection and exclusion from the group and being a Christian is obviously a marker of difference. So being open about my faith in an everyday life context has been something that took me a long time to dare to do, and then learn to do. I’d become very good at hiding it!
Patrick – Good question. On the one hand I have experienced how the Christian faith makes deep down sense of life. It makes sense of the world we live in; who I am, the value and dignity of people; how broken and unjust this world is and how we long for a better just world. It speaks fantastic good news of a redeeming God acting to overcome injustice, sin and death through self-giving sacrificial love. What I find hardest is the gulf between that good news and where friends and neighbours are at; where that story is vaguely known and dismissed as irrelevant to life.
(2) When and why did you have the lightbulb moment of realising God wants you in the real world, not just in the church world?
Seán – Long story but my “call” back to paid work in the non-religious world was the most clear “call” I have ever had in my life – I knew I had to do it.
Damian – I escaped the real world after ten years as a software engineer to do a PhD! It was something that one of my interviewees said to me during my research that lit the bulb for me. She said that in her experience it was when people of faith worked at grass roots level to make society more loving and reflective of God’s character (in this case working with undocumented migrants) that change came about in society and that that was more effective than a ‘top down’ approach lobbying politicians. I realised that that was how Jesus worked with his twelve ordinary followers and that’s still how he works today, through the interactions of his followers with other people in daily life.
Patrick – I haven’t had so much a lightbulb moment as a dimmer switch gradually turned up to shine a light on Jesus and his kingdom. I’ve spent most of my working life in ‘full-time Christian ministry’ and in active church leadership involvement. It’s been and is a joy and privilege. So it’s not that church work is unreal. There’s so much ‘real’ stuff that goes on in ministry which is essentially having deep involvement in real people’s lives. But it is seeing that work within a much bigger picture. God’s agenda is big – bigger than we can imagine. We pray ‘Thy kingdom come’ – but do we realise what we are saying? It is that God’s mission is to redeem all of this world, even creation itself. And Christians therefore have a great big grand exciting mission – to be God’s kingdom people witnessing to Christ who is Lord of all wherever he has put us.
(3) As you look at Dublin, both the church scene and the “real world” scene, where do you think there is lack of integration? What can we do about it?
Seán – I think the key places where there is a lack of integration is in the minds of people, both church people and society in general. There is an operating understanding that God turns up when we “get religious”, when we gather in certain places, do certain activities. But the idea that he might turn up at eleven on a Monday morning while I’m at a desk on the phone dealing with a frustrated customer doesn’t seem to be a natural way of thinking. And the idea that Jesus knows better than anyone else how to best deal with that situation doesn’t enter our thinking easily. And society in general thinks that God has a “sector” where he is allowed to operate and the rest of the sectors of life, the secular sectors, are none of his business.
Damian – I think that often we’re very good at preventing the collisions from becoming visible (well I am anyway!), particularly in the workplace where we sense a hostility to a faith-based life (which may often be in our imagination). We hope that this workshop will enable us to find ways of letting that collision happen – letting our faith’s impact on what’s happening around us affect our words and actions so that it will be visible to others – in a way that demonstrates Christ’s love for those we encounter in our everyday lives.
Patrick – So much of church life can revolve around the ‘sacred’ activities of the church. But all of life is spiritual, and much of it is dominated by work. I think we haven’t really integrated how Christian faith connects to the modern-day world of work. That’s what happens in the ‘secular’ world. Church life can marginalise the spiritual, ethical, relational and business challenges that people face every week. Church is not a place to be safe from that world, but to equip and resource Christians to be out in that world, facing those challenges, living kingdom of God lives for Jesus.
(4) What is the biggest practical tip you have ever received for being a disciple in the real world?
Damian – If you can let people know you’re a Christian early on when you find yourself in a new context, like a new job, then everything else is much easier and living out your faith in your everyday life is much more natural and straightforward.
Patrick – My wife shows it to me every day. Don’t get all complicated, listen to and love real people wherever God has placed you.
(5) Why should someone come on this day?
Seán – Because your thinking and your experience matters in this conversation. We need to develop better ways of thinking of and speaking of the things we believe about Jesus and his message in Dublin in 2015. Everyone who lives and works in that world has something to bring to the table – your bit matters.
Damian – Well, we don’t have all the answers but we do have some! We’ve thought about this stuff for a long time and tried, failed and succeeded in living out our faith along the way. But the best reason to come along is because when we get together in a loving an open environment, share our experiences and ask our questions then we all learn and are equipped and encouraged.
Patrick – My prayer is that together we can catch a clearer vision of God’s heart for the world. And that each one of us can be encouraged and inspired to see more clearly our own God-given mission wherever we live and work.
So what are you waiting for? You can sign up here – it’s happening on Friday & Saturday 5-6 June 2015, 10.00am-4.30pm.
2 years ago, 4 months into my journey of workings as a salesman at Oracle, I detailed 8 ways in which being a pastor of a local church is basically the same as being a salesman for a large corporation. That was April 2013. We’re now April 2015, so I wanted to jot down a few more thoughts, this time 6 lessons that I have learned from living in 2 worlds which don’t normally collide.
Just to give you the background, Leanne and I, with Jacob and Annabelle moved to Dublin in September 2012 to build a whole new life (ideally with a job in the tech sector for me) and to start a church. 8 weeks after arriving I got an offer to work for Oracle as a Business Development Representative starting in January 2013. After 9 months there I moved to become a Channel Account Manager at HubSpot in September 2013. And then in October 2014 we launched Christ City Church so I have been living the tension of being a full time salesman who pastors a church. You can read about 11 lessons from 6 months of church planting in my previous post. Here I want to reflect more on the salesman side of things. Here are 6 reflections.
(1) I have grown
Working in business, I have grown in both skills and character. One of the great things about working for HubSpot is they place a huge emphasis on culture; we actually have our own culture code (which even quotes C.S Lewis – see slide 75!) and an acronym for what we look for in our people: HEART (humble, effective, adaptable, remarkable, transparent). This week gone I had my annual performance review which had 2 sides to it – a sales target performance and a HEART performance. And my manager gave me some helpful feedback into my character, my communication skills and my general attitude around the office. But even aside from the official review, I have grown in character because learning the discipline of reporting regularly to someone, being accountable for targets, dealing with people from all different backgrounds, working hard, dealing with success and failure, receiving praise and constructive criticism, and working ultimately for God (Colossians 3:22-25) has been really good for me. As I say in this sermon, I want us to be a church that works for the good of the city and the glory of God.
Being in full-time Christian ministry was a real privilege and there are unique challenges and joys in that role. And maybe I’ll end up there again. But being thrust out into ‘the big wide world’, I got to see bits of my character I had never seen as a full-time Pastor, particularly when it came to temptations (more later). So I think I have grown as a disciple of Christ. I am more sensitive to different people and views (though still growing in this!) and certainly more appreciative of how the outside world views Jesus and Church.
On top of character growth, I have developed skills from being engrossed in the business world. Skills of discipline, sales, negotiations, organisation, communication and analysis, as well as developing a whole wealth of knowledge around sales, marketing, customer service and how business is conducted in different countries of EMEA.
All of this, both the character and skills development, has actually meant I have grown as a Pastor in many ways. Most particularly I have more of an eye on those who don’t know Jesus and think Christianity is crazy, dangerous, weird or untrue. This affects my preaching, my leading, my vision-casting, my 1-2-1 discipleship, my pastoral care and my empathy for certain situations people are facing in the workplace. I have a credibility in my preaching and discipleship when speaking about being salt and light in the everyday world of work because I am trying, and often failing, to do it myself.
(2) I respect the city more
Whilst I always had plenty of outlets to hang out with those who didn’t go to church when I was a Pastor, particularly from playing so much sport, I had never really engaged with the city in the way I do now. Maybe without realising it I lived in a little Christian ghetto and wasn’t aware of the influence, shape, dynamics and power of the city. Tim Keller, who has written extensively on cities, says:
In cities you have more Image of God per square inch than anywhere else in the world.
Because cities are crammed with people all striving together, we see more common grace at work than in any other place. Additionally, and Keller argues this, you also have more opposition and darkness in the cities for the same reason – more people crammed together whose hearts are all tainted in different ways. So the city can be a force for good and a force for evil. The job of the church is to spread the dynamics of the kingdom of God within the city and fight the kingdom of darkness within it.
So for me to have to cycle into the city and engage the full 5 senses in it has been great. I have “tasted and seen” the good and the bad of the city. I have met the rich and the poor. I have tasted some great, great food. I have smelled the Jameson hops. It’s been great. But I have also come to understand the power of the city to influence people and pull people in. Long hours, mentally exhausting jobs, lots of potential money to earn, plenty of drink to be drunk, great highs (we hit our targets) and deep lows at work (the new guy doesn’t pass probation), the smell of sex in the air and certainly in the jokes, the opportunity to progress, to prove yourself, to succeed, to people please, to conform. The business world has power to influence your character, affect your family life and shape your destiny in a way that I had never realised or appreciated.
(3) I have felt the power of money on my heart (like sex and power).
When you’re paid a Pastor’s salary, there is no opportunity to ‘make big money’. The areas I used to have to watch my heart for was around contentment, generosity, envy and trusting God to provide. Well, actually the same issues still prevail but from a different stand point. Right from the word go, in both my interviews at Oracle and HubSpot, the opportunity to ‘make big money’ was held as a carrot in front of me. And on top of commissions there are always extra incentives to be won and to shoot for. There is a danger that you get sucked in, either because you want to win or because you want to get rich, or both. The desire to get rich can seem so appealing because with money you can have fun, be secure, find great satisfaction and be more popular and maybe on the face of things and for a short while, that is true. But ultimately it is a lie. More on this later.
So up to the age of 30 I have never experienced the power of money on my heart as I have in the last 2 years. I had experienced the power of sex and seen the ugliness of lust. I had experienced the power of status and seen the ugliness of my craving for power/status. But I had never seen the ugliness of my heart to look to money and make it an idol until now. So again I have to watch my heart to check my identity and security come from Christ which will make me generous and content.
As an aside, the same temptations of proving my identity through performance occur in sales as in sports. In fact, many of the same attributes that make someone successful in sport make someone successful in sales, e.g. discipline, focus on a target, removing all other distractions, hard work and self-assurance.
In a sense I have grown in my character and learned to respect the city more, because working in business has taught me more about my heart.
(4) I still believe that “only Jesus satisfies”
I think there are two mistakes we often make as Christians. Either we despise the city, don’t see any of God’s grace within it and don’t enjoy the good gifts he has given us within it (food, drink, friends, work). Or we look to his gifts to fulfil us in a way that only he, the giver can. So we’re to give thanks and enjoy God’s gifts whilst ultimately giving him our allegiance and devotion. Working in business and seeing how people can ‘live for work’ or ‘live for money’ or ‘live for the boss’s approval’ or ‘live for the weekend’ has once again reminded me that only Jesus satisfies. Only he can give rest to our souls. Only he can shepherd us through life, and death. Only he can give us a joy worth giving up everything else for. To follow Christ means we have to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. For some that might mean giving up a lot of good gifts we enjoy, as part of our obedience to him and to show him that he really is our treasure and pearl of great price.
And whilst I enjoy work, in fact I really enjoy work, which Ecclesiastes tells me is a gift from God, and at times I can feel God’s pleasure as I work (to steal from Eric Liddels famous quote “God made me fast…and when I run I feel his pleasure.”), there is still something infinitely more wonderful about a moment of time spent in prayer and in the Scriptures or in corporate worship or breaking bread and sharing wine with other believers. As the Psalmist said 1500 years ago:
How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God…Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
(5) I feel the inadequacy and importance of the church
The vision of Christ City Church is to make a positive difference spiritually, culturally and socially. We want to bless Dublin and work for its good. It’s a good and wholesome vision (I think). But when faced with the complexity, pace, size, density, variety and intensity of the city, we feel so pathetic and small. I can often think “are we doing any good? Are we even making the smallest dent?” So I also feel the inadequacy of the church. However, in these times I am reminded of two things.
Firstly, a verse that has been very important to me in the last two and a half years has been 1 Corinthians 1:26-31:
Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
God loves to choose a small weak vessel to defeat a big strong giant (think David and Goliath!) because in this he receives all the glory.
Secondly, it’s good to be reminded not only that “only Jesus satisfies” (point 5) but that our life is like mist which appears for a little while and then vanishes. Psalm 39:4-6 puts it brilliantly when it says:
Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure. Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom; in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth without knowing whose it will finally be. But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.
In the end it’s not just that Jesus satisfies us in this life, but that he can bring us into the life to come. We all die. All our accomplishments will come to nothing. All the money we earn will be passed on. Naked we came and naked we go. And so we need to remember how fleeting our life is and that we’re made for another life. The church has a vital role in telling people about the death and resurrection of Christ and how this secures them life after death.
(6) I love the tension
When I went for my interview with HubSpot and the Managing Director asked me what my goals and ambitions were, I told him that after 10 years of living in the church world and having one foot firmly planted in there, I wanted to put a foot firmly in the world of work and build a career over the next 10 years in business. And my aim was to see what opportunities would come from having a foot firmly rooted in both worlds. In a sense I wanted to be a priest. A priest bridges two worlds, heaven and earth, and enables a relationship to exist with 2 parties that would otherwise be separated if it wasn’t for his mediation. I want to be a mediator between the two worlds of business and church. I want to take all the good from the business world and see how it can bless the church (the skills, leadership lessons, organisational ideas and discipline) and I want to take all the good from the church world (the values, the answers to life’s big questions, the power of God and the support of a community) to bless the business world. John Stott famously said that preaching was about bridging two worlds;
It is across this broad and deep divide of two thousand years of changing culture (more still in the case of the Old Testament) that Christian communicators have to throw bridges. Our task is to enable God’s revealed truth to flow out of the Scriptures into the lives of the men and women today.
Later he said that the task of the church is the task of double listening;
The phrase ‘double listening’ has always been significant for me. And it means that we’re called to listen both to the Word of God, and to today’s world, in order to relate the one to the other
So I hope that through living, tasting, smelling, touching and seeing both worlds I can listen better to the Word of God and to my heart, to what God is saying and what others are saying and I can act as a bridge, a mediator, a priest in connecting the two worlds.
That’s the theory at least. Ask my manager and the church about the reality!
Year 1: Planting Ourselves – Leanne and I moved to Dublin in September 2012 and in the first 12 months we planted ourselves. Do read about why we moved to Dublin and three updates from the initial stage. A lot of this was to do with house, schools, making friends, understanding the city/culture and getting a job – do read the 10 reasons why we love living in Dublin. Finding a job in the technology sector was a big priority and answer to prayer.
Year 2: Planting The Gospel – by that I mean we ran two Intro Courses with around 40-50 guests in attendance. We had gathered a team of around 15-20 people so we followed the Apostle Paul’s advice of “sharing not only the gospel but our lives as well” (1 Thessalonians 2:8) and invested in those who were connected with us – whether they called themselves Christians or not. And we saw our first baptism.
Year 3: Planting The Church – in September 2014 we did a ‘soft launch’ of our church and then had our official launch on 12th October. So we’re coming up 6 months old and as we have just had a vision Sunday I thought I would jot down some lessons I have learnt over the last 2.5 years. Here are 11 things that came to mind, in no particular order.
- Time management and sleep are vital. People have asked me many times how I manage to do all I do (family, work, church and Gaelic Football being the 4 main things). The example of leadership from Nehemiah which I recently wrote about has been hugely helpful (he was as strategic and hard working as he was prayerful and pious) but also the example of Paul who “worked harder” than all the others, yet it was really God’s strength within him (1 Corinthians 15:10 and Colossians 1:29). God wired me to enjoy living at 100 miles an hour and moving from one thing to the next. However taking time out to sleep and rest and practice Sabbath is vital for living at 100 miles per hour (I also have a very gracious wife!).
- Tent-making has been essential on so many levels. I have been blessed to find a job, in HubSpot, that I enjoy and that pays the bills. I have found the Apostle Paul’s example of tent-making and planting a church in Acts 18 hugely helpful and my full time job has lead to financial stability, personal development, understanding my heart and the city better and networking opportunities (lessons 3-7). In fact Acts 16-18 have stayed very close to me during the last 2.5 years. Acts 16 is about finding the spiritually receptive in the city, Acts 17 is about understanding the idols and culture of the city and Acts 18 is about longer term investment in a city. These 3 chapters loosely map onto the first 3 years in Dublin for us.
- Financial stability is releasing. The biggest challenge in moving to a new city is financial survival and from speaking to other church planters, a lot of mental and emotional energy is put into ensuring they can support their families. Often lots of fundraising externally is needed. Having a job that ‘pays the bills’ has been a massive advantage. Although busy, it has meant we can concentrate on building the church rather than raising finances. However this is only one of many benefits I have reaped from the job.
- Contextualisation is non-negotiable. Having a full time job, and playing Gaelic Football, has not only been hugely rewarding and fun but has meant I have had 100s of conversations with people about the city, the culture, their beliefs and their views on church. I have been able to understand the city far better, and my hope is that this will mean that the gospel we preach and the way in which we are as a church resonates with the people of Dublin.
- Living the tension is good practice. I am soon to write another post where I share some more reflections on transitioning from full time ministry as a Church Pastor into full time ‘normal’ work as a salesman. My main take-away is that just as Jesus lived in the gap (between heaven and earth) and acted as a mediator, so for me to live in the gap, the cross-section between ‘the church’ and ‘the city’ has been invaluable. I have been stretched and I have learned masses. It is easy to live in a church bubble and it’s easy to live in a worldly bubble; living in both creates real tensions. I have learnt more about my heart and about the city because of this tension. My prayer is that I can remain in the gap and that many fruitful things come as a result…and my HubSpot employers know this is my goal and are supportive, which is incredible!
- Networking is a must. One of the character traits I re-discovered on coming to Dublin was my enjoyment of networking. But if you’re new to a city and are wanting to set up a new initiative and take root in the city you must meet hundreds of people. Some of whom you never meet again, some become friendly acquaintances and some become friends. And you listen and listen and ask questions and see if there is anyway that your story and their story can connect. One lesson I learnt early on (from failing to do it!) is that you have to give into the network, not just take from it (more on that later when I talk about love). In these two years I have made some great friends for which I am truly grateful.
- Inbound Marketing is genius. HubSpot invented Inbound Marketing (i.e. using your website as a way of growing your business, non-profit, educational institution…or even your church). Having learned so many lessons about online and digital marketing, we have been able to take some baby steps to putting them into practice. Our website and our social media presence has been a key part of us launching the church (thank you Caroline Anderson). I also think the church should practice inbound marketing on a deeper level which I explain here.
- Openness is key. This links back to the networking but is broader. Firstly I have had to have a go, make mistakes and learn…and learn quickly if I am to survive! I have needed to take advice off people in the city and allow God to shape me before I have been able to shape anything else. I have learnt to be open to God using all sorts of situations and people to help move the initiative forward. I have run up many rabbit holes and sometimes have felt like I was hitting my head against a brick wall…but then suddenly a door opens and an opportunity appears. This leads me to my next point.
- Entrepreneurial resistance is needed. Starting something is very different from growing something and 100% different from maintaining something. The entrepreneurial-never-say-die-never-give-up-live-to-fight-another-day attitude is vital. I was once told that a Christian Minister has to have an infinite capacity for disappointment and I think that is true of anyone trying to start a new project and rally support. However, something else I have discovered about myself is that I thrive in new situations, thinking outside the box and trusting God for a way forward in the face of a huge mountain.
- Hiring a Children’s Worker was a brilliant idea. One church planting mentor (Al Barth) told me that typically city centre churches are money-rich and time-poor (I feel we are poor on all accounts!) and that to pay for people to do jobs can be a good way forward. With myself in full time employment, Leanne flat out during the week with the kids and both of us serving upfront on a Sunday we needed help with our children and the kids’ provision on a Sunday. So we hired a kids’ worker for 4 hours a week. She happens to be brilliant and this was just an inspired suggestion for us at our stage.
- Love triumphs over all. It may sound corny but it’s really true. I posted on this before we even left for Dublin, quoting Tim Keller and his advice to church planters. But love for God has to come above love for the church. Love for Leanne and the kids has to come above love for the church. And love for the people in the church and in Dublin in general has to come above ‘setting up the church’. As Jesus famously said, the first two commandments are to love God and love others…and guess what, he was right! When loves motivates and drives you, there is a lightness to the challenges, a joy in the endurance and a rising of faith in the face of obstacles. Let me finish with the quote from Tim Keller again:
You must have the gospel firmly in your heart so that you are not ministering out of a need to convince yourself of your competence or worth but out of love. Religion is “I obey and minister, therefore I am accepted.” The gospel is “I am accepted, therefore I obey and minister.” If you are operating out of the former matrix (i.e. basing your justification on your sanctification instead of the other way around), then two sets of problems will emerge:
- In your own ministry you will tend to overwork, deal poorly with criticism, worry too much about attendance, giving, and signs of success, and be less than a good and gracious model of a gospel-changed life
- In your preaching and teaching you will be creating a lot of “elder brothers” (cf. Luke 15), people who are very good and committed to serving God as way of procuring his blessing. This makes people (like the elder brother) very grumpy, condescending to “sinners,” and unforgiving. In other words, you will create a church that can’t win people to Christ.
I am sure there is more that could be said, but here were the first 11 things that came to mind. Thanks to all of you who have journeyed with us so far and supported us in many different ways.
Just over a week ago Stephen Fry caused a stir around the world as he voiced his opinions on what he would say to God if he were to meet him. Do check out the clip here if you missed it. In short, Fry doesn’t believe in God because of the terrible suffering he sees around him. If a God does exist, he must be a monster. And because of Fry’s eloquence and mastery of the English language this 5-6 minute clip is very powerful. Lots of important and good stuff has already been said by other people here, here and here and much of what I say is covered in these three posts. However, I have been thinking about the questions I would like to ask Fry in response if I got a chance to probe him further. Here are my five questions, which I am sure he’d have good answers to!
(1) Why do you think this world is as God wants it to be?
Fry talks as if God wanted or intended the world to be as it is. However the Bible tells a different story. The world was perfect (Creation: Genesis 1-2) but because of human sin and rebellion and God’s judgement on this world as a result (The Fall: Genesis 3), it has gone horribly wrong. Jesus entered this world, died on a cross and rose again (Redemption: The 4 Gospels) and is coming back to restore the world to be a place without pain, suffering, tears or sadness (Consummation: Revelation 21). This is a summary of the whole Bible story.
So whilst there are still questions about why God allowed the world to become so full of pain and suffering in the first place (divine foreknowledge) and why he allows the world to carry on as it is currently (divine forbearance), it is clear that this world is not the place God originally intended it to be, nor the place he will one day make it. This leads to question number 2.
As a side note, there are good arguments around freewill that philosophers like Alvin Plantinga have made to defend God’s existence in the presence of suffering.
(2) From where do you get your distinction of right and wrong/good and bad?
Fry says, “Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain?”
But where does Fry get this distinction of injustice and pain from? If there is no God, if there is no moral law giver, if there is no objective standard of justice and goodness, then how can we talk sensibly about injustice and evil? C.S Lewis famously put it like this:
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple.”
If atheism is correct then there is no meaning, no justice, no good and no suffering. We’re all just here by random chance. It’s survival of the fittest and, in this worldview, those who are dealt a tough hand in life…well, tough luck. Richard Dawkins once put it like this:
“In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
This leads me to my next question.
(3) Why is human life valuable at all?
Fry gives a graphic description of East African children whose eyes are eaten away from the inside out. This story is harrowing and as someone born in East Africa (Uganda) because my dad was working as a doctor in a rural hospital, it is not so far removed from my upbringing. However, just as with morality, so with human life, why are we so bothered about people dying? Isn’t death just a normal part of life according to evolutionary atheism? Isn’t in fact essential? Doesn’t it just show that those children were not the fittest and will not pass on their genetic code…which is a good thing for society in the end?
I once heard a debate between Christian apologist, William Lane Craig and Peter Atkins, another Oxford science professor and contemporary of Richard Dawkins at Manchester University. It was a fascinating evening. Like Dawkins, he follows through the logical conclusions of his atheistic beliefs and has said that human life is “just a bit of slime on a planet.” Or before him, Bertrand Russell said human life was “just a curious accident in a backwater.” If humans are not valuable, if we’re no different in our fundamental make-up than a tree or a rock, why is Fry so worried about whether we suffer? According to the atheistic worldview, human life, in the end, doesn’t have any meaning or value. When we die we rot, we are hoovered up and forgotten forever. Death is natural and not something to worry about.
As I understand things, unless there is an objective law-giver who can tell us what is right and wrong, and unless there is a God who makes people in his image and therefore gives them value and dignity, I am not sure there is a clear explanation to Fry’s rage. His atheism should not give him such problems or anger.
This leads me to my next question.
(4) Do you think God can handle your rage?
Fry is clearly angry, though as pointed out in questions 1-3, I think his anger only makes sense within a theistic worldview. However, we should stop to think about this anger for a moment. When you read the Bible you find that many of the greatest and strongest believers wrestled with God; they got angry at God and they questioned God’s goodness, power, wisdom and love. This starts with Abraham back in Genesis 18, is most powerfully shown in the fullest treatment of suffering from the ancient world in the book of Job, and is seen repeatedly in the Psalms. Then there is Jesus himself who quakes with anger and weeps at the death of Lazarus (John 11). Finally, on the cross, quoting Psalm 22, Jesus cried out, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as he was beaten and rejected. True believers get angry at the injustice and evil and weep at the sadness and suffering they see.
Why do I raise all this? I think many people think God can’t handle our rage at the injustice in the world. He can’t handle our questions, our doubts, our weeping and our anger. But what we see repeatedly is that when people feel like this and cry out, they are often closer to God than they imagine. They are actually starting to connect with God’s heart and with reality. In a marriage, one spouse may get angry at the other because they feel they have trusted someone deeply and have felt betrayed or hurt, mistreated or taken for granted. As a result they feel angry. The more you love and trust someone, the more you feel angry when that love/trust is broken. But as you can see, the anger only reveals a relationship of love and trust and so it is with God. Because we have trusted him and it feels he has let us down, our anger is enormous.
So in one sense Fry’s anger seems to reveal to me that, underneath it all, he does believe in God and he is angry at him and in my view, that isn’t all that bad. God can handle that. Clearly Fry is not in any kind of relationship with this God, but God is big enough to deal with it if he were to start talking to God directly.
(5) What do you do with Jesus, the suffering God?
I have heard many people say “the God Fry doesn’t believe in, is a God I don’t believe in” and I think this is absolutely true. There is one very clear reason that the god Fry describes is not the God of the Bible and it is that God who created the world, entered the pain and suffering. He shared in it. He comforts us in it. He died to defeat it and will one day return to fully restore us to a world without pain and suffering. John Stott has put it brilliantly when he said,
I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross….in the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?
I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of Buddha, his legs cross, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth. A remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away.
And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nailed through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged into God-forsaken darkness.
That is the God for me, he laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our suffering becomes more manageable in light of his.
There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross which symbolises divine suffering. The cross of Christ is God’s only self-justification in a world such as ours”
I am sure Fry would destroy me in a one-on-one debate on this matter; he has a brain the size of a planet. However, these would be five questions I’d like to explore if I had a chance.
If you’re interested in looking into this more I suggest Tim Keller’s Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. I have just finished it and it is brilliant from an anthropological, philosophical and pastoral perspective. Or do join us on our next Intro Course where we spend a whole evening looking at the question of suffering and evil.
In preparation for my talk I did a small survey, predominantly with my colleagues at HubSpot, to get some honest feedback about what they thought of church. I told them they could only use three words. So they could either go for three separate words (e.g brilliant, amazing, exciting) or three connected words (e.g load of rubbish). Out of the 21 people asked, mostly from HubSpot, I got 16 answers and nearly everyone abided by my three word rule!
- Cult, Liars, Criminals
- Relevant, Community, Calming
- Go …… Yourself
- Not needed to believe, Institution, Harmful
- Powerful, Unaccountable, Can do good
- Reflection, Spirituality, Old
- Community, Accountability, Nourishing
- Community, Humble, Faith
- Community, Warm, Crying
- Big, Cold, Old
- Struggling, Faith, Tradition
- Reflection, Hope, Sadness
- Antiquated, Religious, Non-innovative
- Beautiful buildings, Peaceful, Quiet
- Outdated , Conservative, Judging
- Disconnected, Outdated, In-transition
A fascinating list. I wonder what three words you would use? Here are three reflections I have from this small survey
(1) Church has power. I think everyone agrees with this, the only question is, will it be a powerful force for good or evil? On the one hand people can see schools, hospitals, soup-runs, community projects and a whole lot more that were started by churches. On the other hand people know the stories of sexual abuse, financial abuse and emotional abuse from the church (as the film Calvary so well portrays).
(2) Church: Community vs Institution. It is interesting how many of the words directly or indirectly refer to the idea of the church as a community or an institution. The references to community seem to be positive (nourishing, warm etc) and the references to institution are, on the whole, negative (conservative, disconnected etc). On the whole, people have disconnected from the established institutional church with its power structures and hierarchy, but seem to be warm to the idea of church as a community. The exception to this rule is people’s continued appreciation for church buildings and the peace found in the silence within them. Now whilst the church that Jesus established was to be an institution with leaders, sound doctrine and even church discipline, the primary way church is portrayed in the New Testament is as a community…so maybe this is not a bad thing!
(3) Church has lost relevance – Whether community or institution, most people viewed the church as increasingly irrelevant. This would fit with the nation-wide statistics that church attendance is in rapid decline, particularly among the 18-35 generation. I would be interested to do another survey that asked for three words for ‘God’ as I imagine that a larger number of people would assent to belief in some kind of God, even though they are not church-goers.
As someone who has recently started a church in Dublin, this survey helps me realise that, if we are to do church in such a way as to connect with the people or Dublin, it needs to have a focus on community and servant-leadership, be accepting of different views even if you disagree, look to answer the real questions people are asking and must be seen to be doing good to society at large. I would say Jesus would be happy for his church to be marked by these five things and they certainly are things we want to be doing in Christ City Church.