Concrete Gardening

… we had forgotten to break up the cultural concrete and till the soil for personal discipleship …

Sometime BC (Before Covid) I was listening to Craig Groeschel interviewing Whitespace Founder Juliet Funt. It was fascinating and informative on emails, deadlines, white space to think and practical strategies for the workplace.

At one point they use the image of gardening to describe the problem of change. Trying to change normal working practice in an established work culture without changing the culture is like trying to plant something in concrete. In the end, the concrete wins.

Forward to week 4 of lockdown in March 2020 and that’s the image I was using with the ministry team. Our congregations were thrown back on their own capacity to sustain their spiritual life at home, many on their own, and many with Netflix for company. At best we (the team) were scattering seedlings for people to plant but with the suspicion that the ground had not been broken up and prepared and the soil was not fertile.

We realised that we didn’t really know what individuals did in their own time. Read? Mostly not. Listen to sermons online? The figures show they don’t. Even the now year-long committed zoom groups confess they aren’t going to watch this Sunday’s message. Pray? We’re guessing.

It turned out that in all our work Before Covid, while we were focusing more on delivery than receptivity, we had forgotten to break up the cultural concrete and till the soil for personal discipleship.

Slow Work

A farmer was on the way to market with a wagon full of apples. He stopped a man by the side of the road and asked, “How far is it to market?”.

“An hour away” the man replied , “unless you go fast, in which case it will take you all day”

The way to market was a difficult one, with pot holes and bumps that would throw the apples out of the wagon if taken too fast. Time would be lost picking up damaged apples.

There are times when going too fast to reach overambitions goals is counterproductive. Knowing the right speed for the terrain … or the context, or the people, or the complexity … that’s maturity.

Slow Work. Underrated. Underestimated. Undervalued.

Project Proformas for Charity Projects

“How can charities and churches develop Good Ideas for Local Projects?” was the question some of us asked last year as we thought about how a group of local churches could have an impact on Nine Elms on the South Bank.

To facilitate this further I developed a proforma to guide the thoughts of creatives and leaders through an analytical process to determine the focus, cost and time required for a typical project.

Two examples are shown here, one for a Centre for Spiritual and Personal Development, and one for a Family Hub to serve some local estates. Forfor a working copy to use email me at and I’ll send you a copy.

100 Days

There’s a management idea that the first 100 days is the period after joining a new organisation where a new director or CEO can observe the culture as if from outside. After that it’s no longer possible to see it with fresh eyes.

On a different tack, Tom Peters ‘posts a blog’ in his book WOW! called ‘100 Days’ where this is instead about an executive at Apple who dedicated 100 days a year to employee performance reviews. To each of his 25 direct reports he gave 2 full days twice a year on one-to-one development of personal development and direction.

Tom’s comment: believe in people development? Then put your diary where your mouth is …

One Person One Task One Year

Here’s something to think about.

At the end of 2014 I took over a major project for a very large church. By the end of 2015 the project had been radically reshaped, a team of about 20 leaders had been brought together, over 600 people had been consulted, over 200 people had individually contributed to the outcome, resources had been released, finance had been obtained (and a considerable amount spent!), a full professional team had been engaged, the creativity of hitherto hidden people had been brought to the foreground, assets had been analysed, the status quo had been challenged, energy levels have been raised, along with expectation, hope, challenge, purpose, and clarity. It’s hard to move hundreds of people but one way it is possible is with …

One Person. One Task. One Year. With hindsight, I wonder what else could have been achieved in the same year with the same people and the same resources?

Or …

The right person. The right task. The right timescale.

Acts 14 – Paul’s early church planting strategy

Acts 14 gives us Paul’s simple outline for planting emerging churches:

  1. DELIVER the Message of faith to people who have never heard: Paul and Barnabas started their preaching at the local synagogues. Meeting with little interest among people of faith for their message they move on to a fresh audience outside existing places of worship who were delighted to have the opportunity for a new spiritual experience.
  2. DEFINE the new core of disciples: in each new place they visited they established a strong core of disciples, those who had heard their offering and accepted the next step.
  3. DEVELOP the new churches by building up their faith and understanding. In Eugene Peterson’s version of the New Testament, The Message, it says that Paul and Barnabas ‘added muscle and sinew into the lives of the disciples’
  4. DIRECT new faith communities into appropriate structures for security and development. Again in The Message, they ‘hand picked leaders in each church. After praying (and fasting) they presented these new leaders to God’
  5. DEPART. Paul and Barnabas didn’t hang around. Their job was not to act as continual nursemaids, but with faith and confidence in the work of God to grow the church they left these new communities to grow and mature on their own. They went back to Antioch, from where they had set out some months before, and reported on the successes they had experienced. The New Testament commentary on the venture? ‘Launched by God’s grace and now home by God’s grace. A good piece of work’.

We could learn from that approach: this was a clear package of work. It had a beginning and an end and clarity in between What could we achieve with this sort of clarity? (see One Person One Task One Year)