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My Farewell Address: The Meaning of Life

What does one say in a farewell address?

In biblical times, we have a record of parting words from people such as Jacob (Genesis 49:1-33), Joseph (Genesis 50:24-26), Moses (Deuteronomy 31:1 - 32:47), Joshua (Joshua 24:22-28), David (1Chronicles 29:10-20), Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20 and John 13-17) and Paul (Acts 20:18-25).

In modern times, we can consider the farewell speeches of kings, presidents and prime ministers, as well as sports personalities, actors and entertainers. Whether it's Michael Scott saying 'goodbye' on the TV series The Office, Truman exiting The Truman Show (“In case I don't see you, good afternoon, good evening and good night!”) or Bilbo Baggins's speech in Lord of the Rings at his 111th birthday party ("I don't know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve!"), we all seek to say something meaningful in significant moments such as this.

I am 55 years of age and I see and feel things very differently than when I was younger. Life goes way too fast, kids grow up far too quickly, and as a result you start to ask questions about what it all means and what really matters. 

People have grappled with the question of the meaning of life since time began - whether it be Solomon, the ancient philosophers, or Victor Frankl and his associates in a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust wondering what they would live for ... if they survived. 

For me, there are three pursuits worth giving my life for:

1. Love God.

CSEach human being is born with longings and cravings for something or Someone beyond themsevles - for transcendence. C.S. Lewis once said,  “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

God is personal and if we seek him with all our heart we will find him. I first heard God speaking to me when I was 19 years of age as I meditated on the story of a young boy named Samuel in 1 Samuel chapter 3 of the Old Testament. It's one thing to know about God or even to study God but it is another thing to have a relationship with him. Some people find God within the walls of a church. Others find him outside of the halls of religion. After all, the whole world is a Temple where God dwells. We are each invited into the life of God who is Trinity - Father, Son and Spirit. Some days God is silent .... but God is always there. 

Jesus himself said that the most important commandment was to " love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind" (Matthew 22:37-38).

2. Love People.

Jesus went on to say, "A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:39-40). Jesus summarised over 600 Jewish laws into two simple practices: love God and love people. 

Elsewhere, Jesus gave us some good advice as to how to truly love people:

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12. NLT

We call it the Golden Rule: think about how you want to be treated, then grab the initiative and treat people that way, especially those who are different than you. If you are white, what would it like to be black? If you are straight, what would it be like to be gay? If you are an Australian citizen, what would it be like to be a refugee? If you are a Christian, what would it be like for a Muslim or a Hindu to move into the neighborhood? If you are healthy, what would life be like in a wheel chair? 

Sadly, in many parts of our world, Christianity has degenerated into primarily a ‘system of beliefs’ rather than a ‘way of life’ characterised by love. Jesus did not say, “The world will know that you are my disciples by your statement of faith”. In fact, the Bible isn't a theology book… it is a grand redemptive narrative - a love story of God at work in our world throughout history. People write theology - some of it is good and some of it isn't (because it doesn’t reflect God accurately). Even our creeds are inadequate. The famous Apostle’s Creed, often used as the marker of orthodox Christianity, doesn't even mention love or justice, two topics Jesus constantly talked about. It also has no reference to mission, something Jesus was passioante about in his farewell address (Matthew 28:18-20)!

So let's hold our beliefs, statements of faith, and creeds lightly. Don’t be too quick to push people away who see or believe differently. Try saying something like, “Help me understand.” But let's hold love very firmly. It is the mark of a true follower of Jesus.

3. Serve the World.

BoothIt is said that the Founder of The Salvation Army, General William Booth, once sent a telegram to officers around the world to remind them of the main focus of their work. The telegram contained only one word - "others." That single word captured the foundation for the entire organisation.

In the same way, God desires each one of us to discover, develop and deploy our gifts and talents for the benefit of others. The apostle Peter put it this way:

1 Peter 4:10. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. NLT

Life is not about YOU. Don’t end your life only to look back and find it was a SELFIE video!

When we look at all of the problems in the world today, it is easy to ask why God doesn't do something. But the prophet Isaiah tells us that God is actually waiting for us to act!

Isaiah 59:16. "God was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed." NLT

As they say in chess, “It’s your move!”

Chess

P.S. You can watch the video of the entire farewell service at CityLife here. My message starts just after the 59:50 minute mark.

See also Time to Say Goodbye

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What's Next?

Whats-next-jpg

After you say goodbye, what's next?

What’s Next for Me
I’ve been on church staff for the last 32 years and led the worship ministry as a volunteer for 5 years before that … so that's 37 years of continuous leadership responsibility. You can’t question my commitment :)

Now that I am finished with my Senior Minister staff role, I will take a few months off - a rest, a 'drinks break', a sabbath.

On top of the full array of regular Sunday church services over the last 30-40 years, I've been involved in Saturday night church services for 18 years now and double services for about 8 years. That's some crazy busy weekends. And a lot happens between weekends. Just like chefs know that a meal is gobbled up much quicker than the time it took to prepare it, so ministry preparation takes much more time than the actual ministry moments of meetings led, sermons preached, or people interacted with. My last sermon as Senior Minister only lasted a little over 30 minutes ... but it took 55 years to prepare. 

I am not retiring. Once our rest time is over, we will be open to any new assignments that God may bring our way. 

What's Next for CityLife

CityLife is Jesus' church. I didn't start it. It was already 28 years old when I became its leader and I've done my best to lead it over the last 22 years. A new season is about to begin.

Change is not always easy. There will be some grief and some loss. But endings make way for new beginnings. Yes, things will be different but the church’s mission remains the same.

I've encouraged the church to give the next Senior Minister, Andrew Hill, and his wife Leanne, their full support, encouragement, and prayer. After all, church ministry can be quite stressful (see my next post: The Stresses of Church Work).

Jesus said to his disciples that it would be good that he left because then he would send the Holy Spirit. I'm not suggesting I'm Jesus (!) nor is Andrew the Holy Spirit but change can be a good thing. I’ve given 22 years of my life to this role and I believe I have brought the church as far as I can. CityLife will benefit from new leadership with abundant energy and fresh vision for its next chapter.

Coming Up: My Farewell Address


Time to Say Goodbye

Fare

Last weekend was my final weekend speaking at CityLife Church as it's Senior Minister. It was a very emotional time for both Nicole and myself, but with a real sense of celebration of all that God has done. We are deeply grateful for the many words of encouragement, 'thank you' notes, gifts (I felt like a Christmas tree!), and the parting love offering from the congregation. Thanks to Peter Sheahan and the Board of Elders, as well as Peter Leigh and Daljit Gill for arranging all of this. We felt very honoured. 

It has been an honour and a privilege to be the Senior Minister at CityLife for the last 22 years. Nicole and I are very grateful for the opportunity we have had to serve this amazing group of people over so many years. I’ve grown, I’ve changed, I've learnt a lot (often through my mistakes!) and I’ve had many wonderful opportunities to use my gifts, build relationships, create meaningful experiences, and see God work in and through our church.

I am very proud of who CityLife has become - particularly the culture of welcome, generosity and outreach that pervades the church. The Church has grown in size and quality, men and women serve and lead alongside each other (some of our best leaders, pastors and speakers are women), there has been no scandal, and we have had healthy leadership transitions. Of course, my greatest joy has been intersecting with God's work in individual people's lives. I only wish I had had more time to slow down and speak to each person, hearing more of their story and getting to know them better. That's hard with around 10,000 people who now call CityLife their church home.

As I reflect on the last 32 years of being on church staff, it is very clear to me that, “No one achieves anything alone!” At this time, I want to give thanks to:

  • Our founding pastor, Richard Holland, for believing in me as as 20Something and encouraging me into church ministry.
  • My parents, Kevin and Joyce Conner, for all they have sown into my life since I was a child.
  • The church leadership team of elders, staff, ministry leaders, and volunteers who I have served alongside over the years. Special thanks to my personal assistant Sue Veal and to Peter Leigh and Daljit Gill, my two associates for over 20 years. I couldn't have done it without you!
  • Our faithful prayer partners: Gurmit Gill, Stan and Coral Leigh, Miva, Anthony Storey, Linda Leigh, Anne Otyek and Ray Henderson.
  • Finally, thanks to my family - our three amazing kids, Josiah, Ashley and Natasha (who have sacrificed a lot and have been my best fans ... and critics!), and to Nicole - still my best friend after 30 years of marriage. My most enjoyable and effective years were when we were leading side by side. I look forward to our future together.
  • And most of all to God … without him I could be or have done nothing. I am indebted to his daily grace, wisdom, courage, strength and faithfulness over so many years now.

Many of you know my story, but let me recap … 

I'm a PK, a "Preacher's Kid", or a TO as my dad used to call me - a "Theological Offspring". When I was younger, my dad used to say to me, "If you can get out of church miniustry, son, get out of it! But if God has called you, you won't escape it." Well, that "call" did come, and quite early - at the age of 10. I wasn't sure how it would unfold, but it did. First through worship ministry, then youth ministry, and eventually as as Senior Minister. 

In many ways, I consider myself a “reluctant leader”. Not that I don't enjoy leading but I’ve been thrown into the deep end many times with new responsibilities. Over time I have learnt a lot and eventually I have really enjoyed everything I have done ... but before long, another door seems to open. In many ways, my journey has been very much about responding to opportunities that have come my way, to new open doors, and to other people's encouragement.

Why change now?

This is not a sudden or reactionary move. I considered another 5 years or 10 years but "sooner rather than later” seemed to be the best decision for me and the church. I remember praying one morning and asking God, “Would you be okay if I finished up as Senior Minister?" I sensed a warm smile and a softly spoken ,"Of course." A calling is never meant to be linked or bound to a particular role or expression of ministry. We must follow our curiosity and not allow a calling to ever become a sense of duty or obligation. Nicole once asked me, "Would you apply for your job today, if you didn't have it?" That's a good question. I enjoy a lot of what I do but CityLife has become a very large organisation, the Senior Minister role is a big responsibility, and it is a burden that never goes away. I'm at a stage in life where I'd like a smaller world not a bigger one, a slower pace not a faster one, a simpler life not a more complex one. So here we are ...

How do I feel?

Check out my recent poem: The Finish Line.

Coming Up: What's Next? 

In the mean time, you might want to check out Home - Seasons, for some insights on the apostle Paul's departure from 3 years of significant ministry in the city of Ephesus. There are some excellent lessons we can glean from this story about endings and new beginnings. 


The Finish Line

Finishline

Today was my last official day of work for 2016. I spoke at all 5 of our church's Christmas carols presentations this weekend. It was a lot of fun and it was great to see so many people there, especially so many visitors.

It's now 2 months and 8 days till I finish up in my role as Senior Minister of our church. That's 70 days all up but once you take out holidays and some days off, I only have 31 days of actual work left. That's hard to believe! Especially after being employed for 32 years at the same place. 

Early this morning, I was thinking about and reflecting on the idea of a 'finish line' and wrote this poem. Wherever you are in your race, may you be encouraged today.

Ah, I can actually see it now
The finish line
An end to this race
It's not far away

Hard to explain the feeling
To lay down a burden
To let it all go
To actually be done

Surreal but exhilarating
Grief for sure
But more so relief
A fitting conclusion

It's been a long race
Many twists and turns
Hills and valleys
Seemingly unending stretches

Sunshine and rain
Joy and pain
Good friendships
Yet times of feeling alone

Bursts of great speed
Times of catching my breath
Seasons of clarity
Other times only a mist

At times it felt like forever
A race with no end
Caught in a calling
Be faithful to the end

Drinks break ahead
Refresh and refuel
Celebrate the day
Hear the 'well done'

Then what?
Who knows
Another race?
Time will tell

Enjoy the finish line ...


The Great Unknown

Sometimes in life we experience 'more of the same' as we deal with the familiarity of routine. At other times, there is the adventure of new things and of entering uncharted waters. That's my life right now.

I am in the process of transitioning out of a staff role at CityLife Church where I have served in various roles for almost 32 years, and for 22 years as the Senior Minister. I'll take 6 months off when I finish at the end of February 2017 then see what new opportunities may present themselves. 

I am also living between our new home in the Sunshine Coast and my continuing ministry work in Melbourne. Talk about liminal spaces. It's a bit like walking back and forth through the wardrobe door into Narnia. "Yes, I remember you!" Exciting but scary. 

During times like this, I find my times of prayer, solitude and reflection even more valuable. My journal is my listening book, enabling me to share my heart and see what God might say to me. I also dabble in a little amateur poetry.

Here is something I wrote a few weeks back that will give you a window into my soul right now. Maybe some of you can identity with it, especially if you are in a season of change right now. It's called "The Great Unknown".

Unknown

About to jump ...
Into the great unknown
No guarantees
No promises

A blank page
A new start
Time to reboot
Owner's reset

Start again
Completely new
Identity search
Who am I?

Lay it all down ...
Achievements and trophies
Titles and positions
Applause and fame

Into the unknown
Stripped bare
Naked yet free
Having nothing yet everything I need

Into the cocoon
Dark and cold
Unsure and unclear
Ready to die

Yet there will be a light
At the crack of dawn
Resurrection
New life

Caterpillar to butterfly
Metamorphosis
Deep change
Transformation

Time to really live
Spirit breath
Life source
Soul force

Across the threshold
What will I see?
Leave the past behind
Time to be me

Discover, discern
Destiny, design
Holy whispers
Divine fingerprints

Into the great unknown ...

[Photo by Thomas Frost Jensen taken in Trolltunga, Norway]

[Read more of Mark's poetry]

 

Update on Mark and Nicole Conner

Change
 
At a Special General Meeting on 6th October, the CityLife members confirmed by an overwhelming majority the unanimous nomination by the Board of Elders of Andrew Hill as the next Senior Minister of CityLife Church (read my initial announcement about leadership transition back in February 2016, in case you missed that).
 
I congratulate Andrew on this appointment and look forward to working with him over the next few months to ensure a smooth transition for him and the church. Good days are ahead. 

February 2017 will be a big month for our church as we celebrate our 50th anniversary (11-12th Feb), have my farewell (18-19th Feb), and have Andrew's official induction as the new Senior Minister (25-26th Feb).

What's next for me? Once I finish in my current role at the end of February 2017, I will take 6 months off then most likely move into a montage of contributions, including some more writing, mentoring/coaching of leaders, and speaking/travel. Of course, Nicole and I are open to anything God may bring our way in terms of a new assignment. We have decided to relocate to the Sunshine Coast, Queensland as our base for this next season of life and ministry.

Thanks so much for your prayers and support during this significant period of change for us and CityLife Church.
 

Confessions: A 3 Month License Suspension

Ticket
 
Confession time ...
 
Right now I am in the middle of serving a 3 month driving license suspension.
 
Where I live in Australia, there is a demerit point system for driving offences such as speeding, driving through a red light, etc. If you accumulate 12 points or more in a 3 year period of time you lose your license for 3 months. 
 
I have been on 9 demerit points for a few years now and I have been driving exceptionally carefully, usually right on the speed limit using cruise control pretty much all of that time. Unfortunately, I received a red light ticket coming home from speaking to our Manningham congregation late December 2015 (doing the work of the Lord!). [To me a yellow light means "Hurry up, you still have time!" but obviously the traffic gods have a different definition] I even ordered the photo but sadly, the camera never lies (see above). That put me at 12 points. I could have taken a 'grace period' extension of 12 months but if I received only 1 demerit point in that period of time I would receive a 6 month license suspension. Too risky, from my perspective. 
 
So, I am arranging the help of some friends to drive me to and from work at the church office, as well as weekend church meetings. Once this 3 month period is over, I go back to 0 demerit points. All my driving sins will be washed away. Yay! 
 
I shared this story with the church in this year's Mother's Day message. As I mentioned at the time, no doubt some people are shocked to hear this, as they expected me to be more angelic in my behaviour. A pastor should be an exemplary driver! Other people have showed more empathy, many of whom have their own accumulated demerit points :) 
 
Life provides us with many lessons, from both our successes and failures.
 
No doubt, I need to learn to SLOW down. This is not easy ... especially for busy, adrenaline-addicted junkies.
 
I am more dependent on others now but I am enjoying spending some extra time with family and friends, who are helping me by driving me around. 
 
Also, I am not in control now. As a leader, this is not easy, because I am used to influencing things all the time. Right now, I am out of the driver's seat and into the passenger seat. In my Bible reading the other day I read this in Luke 9:23 in the Message Bible: "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat — I am." That's me. I have to trust and be a patient passenger. Someone else (God in his providence) is driving and leading the way in my life. This is a vital lesson for me, especially at this time in my life with some big decisions and changes ahead.
 
Thanks for your prayers.
 
James 5:16. Confess your sins (faults, mistakes) to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. NLT

Our 30th Wedding Anniversary

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30 years ago today, Nicole and I were married. She was 20 and I was 24. You never know where the road of life may lead but I couldn't imagine a better traveling companion. Nicole is a person of deep compassion, courage and conviction. She is also heap of fun to do life together with and she is the best mother in the world to our amazing family. Most of all, Nicole is my best and dearest friend. 

As we come to the last chapter of this first book of our life, I am truly grateful to God and his grace.

Now, I can't wait for the sequel.

Here's to the next 30 years of life … together.


Mark and Nicole

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Nicole and I celebrate our 30th wedding anniverary this June. Nicole is my best friend and my life's climbing companion. I can't wait to see the joy that is around the next corner for both of us. 

To keep track of our whereabouts, check out our web site, which has been recently updated.

[Photo taken while we were in Moscow last year where I was speaking at a pastor's conference for church leaders from all over Russia, hosted by the Word of Life Church, Moscow]


Happy Birthday, Nicole

Nicole girlOnce upon a time there was this cute girl named Nicole. She launched out on this adventure called life and our paths intersected 30 years ago. She is now my best friend and my climbing companion.

I can’t wait to see the joy that is just around the next corner for both of us.

Happy birthday, my love!


Announcement about Mark Conner's Future

Mark Conner (sunglasses)This weekend, I made the following announcement to my church family - CityLife Church. Obviously, it was a surprise to many, while not to others. There is a degree of sadness with any change like this but I am also encouraged by the amount of support I have received. [Watch on You Tube]

I have given the matter of our church’s future, as well my own future, much prayer and reflection over the last eight months. As a result, I believe that it is time to start thinking about a successor – who will be the next Senior Minister of CityLife Church.

I have been on church staff for 31 years now, 21 years as the Senior Minister, and I believe that the time has come when CityLife would benefit from new leadership with energy and fresh vision for its next chapter.

As a result of this, I and the CityLife Board of Elders are now prayerfully beginning to consider who could be the next Senior Minister – whether that person be from inside or outside the church. I am committed to working with the Elders (as the Senior Minister is one of the Elders) to ensure that the best person is chosen to lead CityLife into its next season. Once that happens, I will give my full focus and energies to contributing to a really good transition to that person, just like in a relay race. I am confident that once a suitable successor is selected, we will be able to navigate a very successful transition together. I have been up 'close and personal' to two leadership transitions in CityLife and I’ve been on the receiving end of the last one. I believe we know what it takes to do this well.

[I should note at this stage that a new Senior Minister is first selected and nominated by a two-thirds majority of the Board of Elders and then confirmed by a two-thirds majority of church partners (members) at a subsequent Annual or Special General Meeting. This might be a good time to become a partner, if you aren’t one already, so you have the opportunity to be involved in this important decision about our church’s future leadership!]

Transitions are always vulnerable times. Please pray. Pray for me and the Elders, as well as for this important time of change coming up. CityLife is Jesus' church. I didn't start it. I have never seen myself as an 'owner' of the church but rather as merely a 'steward'. CityLife was already 28 years old when I became its leader and I've done my best to lead it over the last 21 years. It's now time to get ready for a new season.

Change is not always easy. There will be some grief and some loss. But endings make way for new beginnings. Yes, things will be different but our mission remains the same. Let’s stay close together at this time.

I am sure, for many of you, this may come as a surprise and you may have a lot of questions. Let me anticipate a few of them:

  1. “When will all this happen?” We don't have any fixed dates as of yet. All those details will unfold once a successor is decided upon. Right now, I am going to be continue to lead the church as the Senior Minister and I’ll be giving it my very best. I and the Elders will be keeping you up-to-date with the progress of this transition. Today’s announcement is simply to let you know that we are now talking about succession planning.
  2. “What does Nicole think about this?” Nicole told me that if I wanted to lead for another 10 years, I would have her full support. This has been my decision and I think it’s time to get ready for change. I am very thankful for the support of Nicole and my entire family.
  3. “Will my son Josiah be my successor?” Josiah has just turned 27 years of age and he is doing a great job leading the youth ministry, along with our staff and volunteer team. He has told me that a role like Senior Minister is not something he would even consider at this time in his life nor is he ready for. So please don't ask him, “Are you the One?”
  4. “What about the building projects we are currently undertaking?” The Story Building Projects are not my projects or about me as Senior Minister. They are for the direct benefit of our Knox and Casey congregations. So these projects will continue as we seek to create environments that will serve our mission for many years to come. Like most of you, I will be making a pledge next weekend. For Knox, our plan is to complete the new community centre this year. Leading up to the completion of this first stage, you will hear more information about the remaining stages.
  5. “Is Mark burnt out?” I don't think I am. However, during these last few years I have felt more tired mentally and emotionally than at other times, despite my sabbatical in 2012. I started leading at CityLife Church at the age of 18 as a volunteer and came on staff 5 years later, so I have been leading ministries with constantly increasing responsibility for 36 straight years now. At age 54, I am at a time in life when I'd like a smaller world not a bigger one, a slower pace not a faster one, and a simpler life not a more complex one. Could I lead for another 5 years? Yes, but I don't think I have the spark and the energy that I think this job requires and deserves going forward.
  6. “What does my dad, Kevin Conner, think about this?” Feel free to ask him. My dad is 89 years of age now, and when I met with him and Rene a few weeks back to inform them of my decision, my dad responded by saying, “I don't know how you do what you do. I couldn't do it.” So I am thankful for their understanding and support. [Our founding pastor, Richard Holland passed away back in 2008. When he was around he used to say, “I was good, Kevin was better but Mark is the best!” I have never claimed to be the best but I have tried to do my best. Richard led the church for 20 years, my dad for 8 years, and by the end of this year I will have completed 22 years, so Richard would at least be pleased that I was in this Senior Minister role longer than he was!]
  7. “What's next for me?” I am not leaving to go to another job. I haven’t been ‘head-hunted’ from somewhere else. It is simply a time for me to consider finishing in my role as Senior Minister and see what the future holds. After I finish, I'll take some extended time off then see what opens up (I’m not ‘retiring’ and I do need to work). I believe I have much to offer the wider church from my years of church leadership experience and so I will prayerfully explore a variety of options in which I can add value to other churches and leaders. Nicole and I are excited about doing some new things together in the next season of our life and ministry.
  8. “What is really going on?” There is no ‘back story’ to all of this. I have decided that it’s time to think about my successor. It's a simple as that – nothing more, nothing less.
  9. “How do I feel about all of this?” It’s all a bit surreal at the moment. I am sure there will be some ‘lows’ ahead, as I face the grief of letting go of a role that has been so a part of me for many years, as well as some ‘highs’, as I experience the relief of no longer having to carry this level of responsibility.

God has led CityLife for almost 50 years now and we have navigated transitions like this well before. I believe great days are ahead for the church and we can trust God to lead us through this next transition into an even more fruitful future.

This is not ‘goodbye’ or farewell. There will be time for that later. I am simply being open about a process that is beginning right now, so that you are fully aware and can pray and journey with us at this important time in the history of our church.

Thank you for your prayer and support during this season of my life and ministry. I really appreciate it and I love you very much.


Reflections from my Sabbatical (Part 4)

SabbathSo what now? That’s another good question.

1. Personally, I need to re-engage with church life and ministry. I need to get back in harness and up to speed with what God is now doing. I’ll gradually ease back in over the next few weeks.

2. We want to keep the current spiritual momentum going. God’s Spirit is at work. We’re not going to press rewind and play. The church has moved on. I have moved on. I have changed and grown. Other people have too. It’s time to keep moving forward. The Lord said to Moses, “Get up and resume the journey, and lead the people to the land I swore to give to their ancestors, so they may take possession of it (Deut.10:11).” There is a time to stop and reflect on past and present issues, dealing with them appropriately and learning the lessons we need to. Then there is a time to get up and resume the journey – to move forward from where you are.

3. Finally, I need to give more attention to my leadership of the church, considering my role and the best contribution that I can make for everyone. That will be a major part of my focus over the next few months as I seek to provide better clarity of our future vision, which includes who God wants us to be as a church, what he wants us to do, and where he wants us to go.

In conclusion, I am extremely grateful for this sabbatical period. I feel really well – refreshed, rested, rejuvenated and ready for this next season. I know that I am called to lead this church. I feel content and at peace. I am really excited about your future and the opportunities God is placing in front of us (e.g. the recent purchase of the 4 acres of Eastlink land in Knox is just one example). Our best days are truly ahead of us!

Thank you for your support and encouragement. I really appreciate it.


Reflections from my Sabbatical (Part 3)

SabbathWhat did I learn during my sabbatical?

In many ways, I see this moment and season as a significant crossroads for my life and ministry. The Lord once said to Jeremiah, “Stand (stop) at the crossroads and look around; ask for the ancient paths (the old, godly path), ask where the good way is, and walk in it (travel its path), and you will find rest for your souls (Jer.6:16)." In many ways, I have tried to do just that - stop, look around, ask and then walk.

I have had numerous thoughts about my life and ministry. Here are just a few of them:

1. I need to slow down the pace of my life. I need more stillness and time waiting on God. I need to learn from the eagle who is never flustered or frantically flapping its wings. Rather it leans into the power of the wind and learns to flow with it (see Isaiah 40:31). I need a better and more enjoyable life rhythm, one that honours God and my family. I need to do a better job of embedding the principle of Sabbath into my life. Don't worry, I will continue to work hard and have a passion for fruitfulness in ministry but I must not allow productivity to become an idol that controls my life.

2. I need to look after myself better, in every dimension - physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and socially. I want to enjoy life more and not feel so stressed and stretched all the time. This will require me to stop allowing my work to fill my entire week. I need to switch off more in the evenings, when possible, and on my Day Off (including not checking email). Eliminating (turning off or at least turning down) some of the things that I have allowed to become distractions will help too. Jesus calls us to a burden that is 'easy and light' and one that enables our soul to experience rest (Matthew 11:28-30). The best gift I can give those who I influence is me being a healthy leader - in every way.

3. I need to focus more on being (relationships) than doing (tasks). I need to learn to be and not just do. For me, it's much easier to be a Martha than it is a Mary. This is not just personal but affects my leadership of the church too. Most churches need their leaders to clearly define what they believe God wants them to be (values, culture, DNA), not just where they need to go (vision and goals) or what they needs to do (ministries, activities and programs). This is the focus of Jesus, Paul, and the other New Testament church leaders - being the church of Jesus Christ in the world. It’s about identity and a direction more than a destination.

4. The inflow of God's Word and God's Spirit into my life has to increase significantly. I lead, speak and minister much better out of overflow. Quality time in prayer and the Word was the focus of the early church leaders (see Acts 6) and they refused to allow other things to cause them to neglect these God-given priorities.

5. I am very aware that there is an enemy persistently at work, subtly seeking to undermine God’s work in my life. There is a strong spiritual warfare dimension to our lives that we need to be much more aware of. 

6. I believe that I am called to lead our church at this time and for this next season, but maybe in different ways. I need to focus more on what God wants me to do for the church. What is his call and priorities for me as a senior church leader? What does he expect from me? Moses’ example (Deut.1) is key here, as are the apostles (Acts 6). I need to focus on my best contribution to the church, delegating the rest, and saying ‘no’ to opportunities outside of that (which means less travel).

Click here for Part 4.


Reflections from my Sabbatical (Part 2)

SabbathSo what did I do on my sabbatical? Good question. The truth is that I determined not to focus on doing too much of anything during this season but rather more on simply being. The last thing I needed was another list of tasks or projects to accomplish. 

Nevertheless, here are some things that I did do:

1. I focused a large portion of my time on personal recovery. I desperately needed some spiritual refuelling, some emotional replenishment, some physical energy renewal, and some personal refreshing. Over 27 continuous years of church ministry life take its toll. Ministry is highly rewarding but it can be stressful too. I was feeling a "tiredness that normal holidays weren't fixing" (to borrow a phrase from Eugene Peterson). To be honest, investing this much time in my own well-being wasn't easy to do. At times, especially in the beginning, I felt guilty for even having the time off, especially when everyone else was still working so hard. But I needed it and ultimately I believe that the best gift I can give God and our church is for me to be in as healthy a place as possible. After all, self-care is important. 

2. I invested a lot of time in personal reflection. I took time to read all of my old journals, to read all of the prophetic words I have received over the years, and to think about the seasons and stages of my life so far. Often it is easier to discern God's finger prints in our life when we take time to look back - sometimes even more than in the present time. 

3. I had extended devotional time most days - praying, reading my Bible and journaling. It’s nice to simply pray and read the Bible with a total focus on knowing God more … without any need to prepare a message or get anything productive out of the time.

4. I spent a lot of time with my family, including 10 days holidays over the Easter period. The free time on weekends and evenings was bliss. At our church, we have been doing Saturday night meetings for over 10 years now (actually, 2 Saturday church meetings for many of those years). I had under-estimated the cumulative effect of weekends being mostly full of ministry activity - with me often involved with 4-5 church meetings. Needless to say, this sabbatical was a huge blessing to my family. 

5. I spent time with friends and some mentors. I even had a hit of golf a few times - something I haven't done for a long time.

6. I did some training: attending a Bill Hybels mentoring event in Sydney for church leaders and a Halftime Experience with Bob Buford (50+ is my ‘second half’ of life). 

7. I even saw a counsellor. We talked about my emotional world, learning to live more fully in the present moment, and some of my task-driven tendencies.

8. Near the end, I spent some time refocusing. This was a kind of life and ministry review. It involved thinking about God's calling on my life, our church, my role, and the best contribution I can make to our future. 

Well, hopefully that gives you a bit of an idea as to what I have been up to.

Click here for Part 3.


Reflections from my Sabbatical (Part 1)

SabbathLet's face it, most people don't look forward to their holidays finishing and I must admit I wasn't looking forward to my sabbatical finishing either. I had such an enjoyable time. But it is nice to be back … and to see everyone again.

I realise that there are a variety of expectations that people may have as I return from my sabbatical: that I will bring revival with me, that I will have a new vision for the future of the church, and some may have thought that I wouldn't come back at all! The reality is that I had a very good rest, which is what 'sabbath' is all about. It was a rest that was much more than merely a holiday. It was a time of not doing a whole heap of ministry tasks for an extended period of time. As a result, I truly do feel well, refreshed, refuelled and looking forward to getting back into church and ministry life.

While I was away, everything has gone exceptionally well. In fact, so well that I honestly thought of taking more time off ... or that maybe I had become redundant :) All credit to our church and its leadership team. Well done! [I know that this time has been a learning and growth opportunity for others too] There is obviously some excellent spiritual momentum in our church right now, which is great. God is always at work and he's never dependent on any one person - including me. So, as I return, I look forward to seeing all that God is currently doing continue ... and accelerate as we move through the rest of this year. 

One of the best things I did during my time off was to disengage from pretty much all technology. I de-activated my Facebook, avoided Twitter, didn't do any church or work related Email, engaged in very limited Internet surfing, and stayed off my BLOG for the entire 12 weeks. It is amazing when you STOP all of that inflow how much your head clears and how much you realise that your life can easily be filled with the clutter of a lot of trivial things, to the point where it becomes all-consuming and even addictive. 

As I now re-engage, I have decided to stay off Facebook. Keeping up with 3,500+ 'friends' is an impossible task and many of them were only acquaintances or people I had never even met. A recent article in the Melbourne Age only confirmed my decision. I'll continue to use Twitter and to write a few BLOG posts each week, but I have turned off the comments section on the BLOG, as it takes a lot of time to read and respond to them all. Finally, after clearing over 2,900 emails yesterday, I 'unsubscribed' from a heap of newsletters ... most of which I never get around to reading, but simply clutter up my Inbox. Hopefully, all of this will help keep my head a little clearer and enable me to be more fully 'present' ... to God and the people I interact with.

Click here for Part 2.


Coming Back from Sabbatical ...

P1070074It is hard to believe that my 12-week sabbatical is now history (click here to read some background to my sabbatical). I had a very enjoyable and refreshing time. I am truly grateful to God and our church for this season. I am feeling so much better and look forward to re-engaging with our church community and leadership team this week, as we continue to move forward into all that God has in store for us.

In the Old Testament period, God's purpose for the Sabbath was to help his people avoid making 'productivity' into an idol. It's a reminder, that while we rest, the universe still runs - and without our contribution! That's something I sure learned. Our church community continued to experience God and see the kingdom advance - without me. That's good news.

Right now it is autumn here in Melbourne and I love this season. Sure, it's a bit colder but the colour of the leaves on all of the trees is amazing. [You'll notice that my BLOG design has been changed to reflect this] In many cultures, autumn is also typically a time of harvest, fruitfulness and thanksgiving. May it be all of that for you.

In the next few days, I'll share more about my sabbatical - what I got up to, what God did, and what I learned. It's amazing what you see - about God, about yourself and about our world - when you slow down for an extended period of time. 

I pray that you enjoy your week and that sometime today you are able to take a few minutes to heed the words of the Psalmist: "Be still and know that I am God (Ps.46:10)."

    Be still and know that I am God.

    Be still and know that I am.

    Be still and know.

    Be still.

    Be. 

[Click here for Part 1 of my Sabbatical Reflections]

[Photo by Nicole Conner]


Mark Conner

Mark Portrait 16Okay, so since this is my BLOG, there are a few things you might be interested to learn about me. 

Click here to begin reading. Posts cover topics such as my favourite food, the music I love, my studies, my favourite technology, and my experience with journalling. You can also read about my sabbatical, which finishes soon. Once I'm back, there will be some new BLOG posts coming your way.

Enjoy your day!

Mark Conner


Mark Conner's BLOG update

Mark Portrait 16By the time you read this, I will have started my 12 week sabbatical.

During this time, I will be doing a bit of a technology detox - so no work email, Facebook, Twitter or BLOG activity. Yes, I'm expecting severe withdrawal pains!

During this time my BLOG will have a variety of posts which I have written ahead of time that will post every few days. However, the Comments section will be closed, as I won't be checking my BLOG. There will be plenty of content to enjoy.

Happy reading!

Mark Conner


My Upcoming Sabbatical

This year is my 28th year on staff at CityLife Church and my 18th as Senior Minister. It's been quite a journey and I am thankful for all that God has done during this time and for the support of our congregation and leadership team. 

In discussion with the Elders and our senior staff, there was agreement that I would benefit from taking an extended sabbatical this year. A sabbatical isn't a holiday. It's a time of disengagement from the normal aspects and pressures of ministry life in order to spend time in replenishment, reflection and learning for the next stage of life and ministry. [Click here for more information about the concept of a sabbatical]

I will take a 12-week sabbatical from the beginning of March through to the middle of May (2 weeks of which will be annual leave for some holidays). During this time the church will be well looked after by our local leadership. Our teaching team will be speaking on the weekend, along with some excellent visiting ministry.  

What will I do on my Sabbatical?

The outcomes I desire are a replenishment of my spiritual and emotional world and a sharpening of my vision for the church and my own calling to ministry. The first half of my sabbatical will focus on my personal and spiritual well-being. It will include a combination of prayer, extended times with God, reflection, spiritual retreats, and time with some of my mentors. The second half of my sabbatical will focus on my ministerial development. I will make use of a study plan focused on topics such as Jesus and his mission, the church, leadership, contemporary culture, and preaching, as well as more extended time in prayer and the Scriptures. [Of course, if God wants to have me only do the first half stuff the entire time, then that's fine with me!]

For this to be most effective, I will be fully disengaged from church life (weekend meetings, staff meetings and email). Weekends and evenings will be times for me to sow back into my own family as well as my friendships. I will also take up some more recreational pursuits during these times - things I have little or no time for at the moment with weekends always being so full. 

What about the church? I have full confidence that the church will flourish during this time. In fact, it can be a maturing time for both the congregation and myself.

I would like to thank the Elders and senior staff for their kindness in releasing me for this time. Personally, I am really excited about this time and believe that it will be instrumental in ensuring that I continue to be full of God's vision and passion for our next season together. My desire is to return refreshed and with greater energy, with increased confidence, with deeper reservoirs from which to draw from, as well as an even greater sense of joy and delight in my calling.


Welcome to 2010 ...

2010 Well, it's hard to believe - the first month of 2010 is almost history. It just seems like yesterday that we were about to head into the new millennium and everyone was talking about Y2K. Maybe I'm getting older but time does seem to be moving faster. Here we are another decade on. What a decade the last one has been. TIME magazine called it 'The Decade from Hell' - one of the worst ever ... and when you reflect on it - a lot of bad stuff happened. But we're still here and God is at work continuing to extend his kingdom in obvious and also subversive ways ... all over our world.

On a personal note, I trust that you had an enjoyable Christmas and that the holiday season included a good dose of rest and relaxation. Our family has had an eventful few weeks with a house move (actually we moved, not the house) and the marriage of our oldest son. That makes us 'in-laws' for the first time - and we're loving it! I remember holding our firstborn son when he was just born and having many 'oldies' come up and say - "Enjoy them while they're young, they sure grow up fast." We just laughed. How right there were! Where did the years go?

A final few thoughts for today. Our church is reading through the New Testament together this year and I've been enjoying reading the Gospel of Matthew again from the Message Bible. Here is one of my favourite sayings of Jesus so far ... read it nice and slowly ..

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy on or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn how to live freely and lightly.”

May you know and experience those 'unforced rhythms of grace' walking with Jesus this year.

Talk to you again soon ...


Merry Christmas!

Christmas Joy to the world, the Lord is come ...

With Christmas only a few days away I'd like to take this time to wish each one of your a blessed Christmas. Thanks for your interest in this blog over the last year. I am taking a few weeks holidays now so there won't be any new posts until the end of January.

With over 500 posts so far on this blog, there is plenty of interesting and inspirational reading material. Click on the categories to the right and have a browse through ... and of course, the comments section is always an interesting read.

Grace and peace!


The Hooding Ceremony

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The day before my graduation at Fuller Theological Seminary I attended a Hooding Ceremony. I wasn't sure what this was all about until I got there.

Here is a brief history of the tradition of the 'doctoral hood' ...

According to Nancy Stiehler Thurston and Hendrika VanDeKemp, "In the Middle Ages, lecturers and students at European universities were so impoverished that they wore gowns to cover up their worn clothes. The lecturers also wore hoods that indicated which universities they had graduated from. In those days, lecturers were paid by their students. The students would toss coins into the pocket of the lecturer's hood. The hood would also be used to carry books to and from the university.

While doctoral hoods are no longer used to carry coins and books, they do continue to identify graduates of various degree programs at institutions of higher education. The various colours of the velvet and satin stripes of the doctoral hoods serve to distinguish the wearer of the hood. The color of the velvet identifies the academic discipline of the degree. The blue field with gold chevrons is representative of Fuller Theological Seminary. The scarlet trim indicates the School of Theology."

So on Friday afternoon I attended a hooding ceremony in a small chapel with all of the Doctor of Ministry graduates, along with family and friends. Songs were sung, an address was given by the Fuller president, Richard Mouw, we all were 'hooded' one by one, after which Dr. Arch Hart prayed for us. It was a meaningful time to celebrate the completion of my Doctor of Ministry degree, which I have worked on over the last five years (2003 - 2008). 


Doctor Mark!

Mark Well, I did it. I finished my Doctor of Ministry degree at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Yesterday, I attended the graduation ceremony which was held at the Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, where over 400 people graduated with various degrees (80 from the Doctor of Ministry program), cheered on by friends and family members. It was a really enjoyable occasion. It's great to stop and celebrate the milestones in our lives. For me there was a sense of joy, fulfillment, closure, and a bit of relief for finally being finished.

I'd really like to thank my wife Nicole for supporting me during my years of study, my kids for putting up with dad frequently having his nose in the books and head in the clouds, City Life Church for sponsoring my study and encouraging me in my personal and ministry development, my lecturers for teaching me so much, and God for saving and calling me to serve his purpose on planet earth.

My goal has always been the education rather than the title, so please still call me 'Mark' not 'Doctor Mark.'

What next? I don't plan on doing any further formal study such as a PhD, which is a highly academic degree. However, I'll continue to be committed to continual learning and I'll consider doing some teaching at the Doctorate level some time in the future.  

P.S. For some more details about my course of study, click here to read an earlier post.


Back from Holidays ...

Mark Skiing (2) Our family has been on holidays for the last few weeks, which was really nice. A good holiday for me is one where I don't wear my watch and I've forgotten what day it is!

We had a really relaxing time - eating, playing, laughing, swimming,  reading, and sleeping. I even did some water-skiing, something I haven't done for a long time. I still managed to get up - the photo is proof :)

No holidays are never long enough (another week or even another month would have been great!) but even good things eventually come to an end. So we're back at it this week - looking forward to another year of walking with God and his people, and participating in what God is doing in the earth.

I hope that you are well and that this is a terrific year for you ... talk to you soon.


BLOG Update

Hi everyone ...

My family and I will be taking some holidays during January. I have scheduled regular posts for the blog so there'll be lots of good content coming your way, at least every few days. This includes ten great questions to ask yourself as you start another year.

Because I'll be taking some time off, I won't be able to answer comments on the blog so I have turned this function off just for this month.

Take care and God bless you!

Mark Conner

P.S. Some blog trivia ... since starting the blog just over a year ago there have been ...

  • 417 posts

  • 1664 comments

  • over 225,000 page views

  • an average of almost 460 page views per day
  • Thanks for your encouragement and support with the blog :)


    An Amazing Oma

    Renata1Nicole's mother, Renate Meyer (affectionately known as 'Oma', which is German for grandmother), passed away earlier this week, after an intense battle with cancer. Yesterday we held a thanksgiving service for her life.

    We sang a few of her favourite songs - What a Friend We Have in Jesus, Praise the Name of Jesus, and Amazing Grace. Nicole gave the eulogy (click here to read a copy of it). We watched a DVD photo montage of her life. We listened to tributes from Rene Conner, Lisa Wotton, Samia Sedhom, Lynn Moresi, and the grand kids - Ashley, Josiah, and Natasha.

    Psalm 116:15 says, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints (his faithful and loved ones)." The Lord cares deeply when his loved ones die. Death is not precious. No, not at all. In fact, it is an enemy. However, God's loved ones are very precious to him. The word 'precious' means valuable and of great worth.

    Oma was truly a 'saint' - a person who loved God and lived a good life, always looking out for others. Today is a joyful day for her as she is free from all suffering and pain. We, however, feel the loss as we grieve the passing of a loved one. We thank God for his comfort (Matt.5:4. 2 Cor.1:1-7) and we thank our church family and friends for their support and prayers during this difficult time.

    Our hope is in the resurrection and the future when we will see Oma again (John 11:25-26. 1 Thess.4:13-18. 1 Cor.15:51-58. Rev.21:1-4. Rom.8:35-39). May we continue to live our lives in the light of eternity.

    Oma, we love you and we will miss you very much. Thanks for touching our lives so deeply.

    Renate Meyer

    Born – August 12th, 1938

    With the Lord - December 17th, 2007

    • Beloved wife of Len
    • Adored mother of Nicole
    • Amazing Oma to Josiah, Ashley, and Natasha
    • The mother-in-law from heaven to Mark
    • Deeply missed by her family and friends
    • In the arms of her Saviour whom she loved and was totally devoted to.
    • Until we meet again ...

    My Encounter with Grief

    FuneralSeventeen years ago tomorrow (October 20th, 1990), I had my first real encounter with intense grief. Yes, I had seen other people grieve. Yes, I had played the piano and sung at funerals ... but nothing this close to home ...

    It was the day my mother passed away - Joyce Conner. My parents had flown to the USA and my dad had left my mother in the LA airport where she was waiting to catch a flight up to Portland, Oregon to spend time with my sister, Sharon. My dad flew on to Chicago for some meetings. While alone in the LA airport, my mother had a massive heart attack. She was rushed to intensive care. My dad had to come back to LA and Nicole and I flew over to be there too, along with my sister and her family. My mum went into a coma and after 10 days we agreed to switch off the life support. She kept breathing on her own for a few days, while still in a coma, before breathing her last. We didn't get to have a conversation with her - she had gone.

    It all happened so quickly - the phone call from my dad, the sudden trip to the USA, the days spent praying and waiting and hoping that she would wake up from her coma, and then coming back home ... without her.

    We were in shock for many weeks - it seemed like a bad dream that we were all going to wake up from any moment. It couldn't be happening. She was just here. Surely, she's coming back. This can't be happening. She as only 65 years of age. We weren't prepared for this. We didn't have time to say 'goodbye'.

    Over time the stark reality that my mother was gone ... and that she wasn't coming back ... began to settle in. We had to let her go. Her time on earth was finished. She had run her race. As much as it hurt, we wouldn't see her again ... in this life.

    Eventually, we had to reach out to the future ... a future without her here with us. We had lives yet to live. We couldn't live in the past. The memories lived on, as did her impact. But we had to move forward.

    This whole process (shock, accepting reality, letting go, and reaching forward) took many months ... even years. Emotions were unpredictable. At times the loss would hit me like a tidal wave and I would cry uncontrollably. At other times, I couldn't cry, even if I wanted to. Just when you think you're through the grief ... something would trigger a memory and the tears would be there again.

    Any time you lose something or someone you love, you experience grief. It's a normal emotion - it's the way we respond to 'loss' ... of any kind. Understand that it takes time to work through the process of healing and grieving. Be patient with yourself. Lean in to your emotions. Feel them deeply. Don't be ashamed to weep. Pour out your heart to God. Don't rush the process. In time, you will be able to move forward ... to see the light of a new day ... maybe even to understand a little of the 'why' ... and hopefully, to find joy and laughter again.

    Mum, thanks for everything ... you live on in our hearts and lives ... we miss you!

    Isaiah 53:3. "He (Jesus) was ... a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief." NLT
    Psalm 30:5. "... weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning." NIV


    My Favourite Music

    Music_art2 I am thankful that our family grew up with a love for music. I studied classical piano (completed my 8th Grade exams) and dabbled a bit with saxophone and guitar too. I also studied music theory (completed 5th Grade exams) and arranging. Over the years I've done some song-writing and some recording too. In fact, my first ministry role in church was with worship and music. I thought I'd do this the rest of my life ... but God had other plans. Nevertheless, I still enjoy music very much.

    Here are some of my enjoyable musical styles and artists:

    • Worship Music - Michael W. Smith, Hillsong, Delirious?, Israel Houghton and Lincoln Brewster
    • Contemporary Christian Music - currently I enjoy listening to Leeland, The Fray, Relient K, Switchfoot and Brooke Fraser. As a teenager, I really liked artists such as Keith Green, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Andrae' Crouch, Petra, and Russ Taff.
    • Pop Music - some artists whose musical style I quite enjoy include: U2, Jamie Cullum, Michael Buble, John Mayer, Celine Dion and Norah Jones.
    • Classical Music - you can't go past a Bach or Mozart piano concerto. When it comes to classical singing, I really enjoy Andrea Bocelli (great music to play while cooking Italian food!) and young artists such as Josh Groban.
    • Other Instrumental Music - I enjoy saxophone (Kenny G, David Koz and Brad Evans, of course!) and piano music (David Foster is my favorite arranger).

    "Good people, cheer God! Right-living people sound best when praising. Use guitars to reinforce your Hallelujahs! Play his praise on a grand piano! Invent your own new song to him; give him a trumpet fanfare." Psalm 33:1-3. [The Message Bible]


    A Journal Begins

    August 10th, 1978 was a tragic day for our family. I was 16 years of age. We had a Bible College student named Robert Muthman living with us in our home in Portland, Oregon (USA). Robert was swimming with some friends and he tragically drowned. We were shocked, as was his family and our whole church community. We couldn't believe he was gone - so young, so much potential. Why? We didn't know. We couldn’t fully understand.

    Robert was passionate and 'full on' about his relationship with God. At his funeral they read from a journal he kept. It was almost like he had a premonition that he was going to die. He said things in his journal like, "If I can't get closer to you, God, I want to come to heaven and be with you."

    At the time, I was what I'd call a 'casual Christian' - going to church but not really living fully for God. Lukewarm - serving God in such as way as to not offend the devil. At his funeral I re-dedicated my life fully to God and, although I've had some valleys and some doubts along the way, I've never turned back since. His death was the catalyst for me giving all of my life for God.  I realised that life was short and I wanted to make my life count - for eternity.

    I also went home that day and started my own journal - a journal of my relationship with God. I'm still keeping a journal today, almost 30 years later (I now use my computer, rather than a paper notebook). It is a place for me to write what I'm feeling, what I'm facing, and what God may be saying to me. It is a way for me to 'externalise' everything that is happening inside of me. At the end of every year I re-read my journal and summarise what God has done, what he has said, and what I'm learning.

    My journal has been a crucial part of my relationship with God and my journey as a Christ-follower. Thanks Robert. You left a legacy in my life. Until we meet again ...

    Rev 1:19. Write down what you have seen — both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen later. NLT

    Hab.2:1-3. I will climb up into my watchtower now and wait to see what the LORD will say to me and how he will answer my complaint. Then the LORD said to me, "Write my answer in large, clear letters on a tablet, so that a runner can read it and tell everyone else. But these things I plan won't happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed. NLT


    My Studies

    One of my passions is personal growth. I want my life to be a life of 'progress' so that I develop my full potential (see 1 Tim.4:12-15). I want to be the very best I can be - for the glory of God and then benefit of other people.

     

    Growth happens through personal study, learning from others, and through life experience. I have also found great benefit in formal training.

     

    Right after I finished high school, I completed a two year Certificate of Theology at Portland Bible College in the USA. I wasn't sure about my future back then but this course, and the experiences I had, provided a very good foundation for my life and ministry.

     

    Since then I've completed a Diploma of Business Management through Stotts College here in Melbourne (back when I was the Church Administrator). After that I completed a Master of Arts in Theology at Ridley College. These courses were all done part time over a period of years, fitting my studies around a full time job, as well as family and ministry life.

     

    Right now I am almost finished a Doctor of Ministry degree through Fuller Theological Seminary in the USA. The DMin is a practical degree directly related to improving the practice of Christian ministry. I have really enjoyed this course and have learnt a lot through the training.

     

    Here are the courses I have completed so far:

    1. Life and Leadership Development - with Terry Walling and Steve Addison
    2. Spirituality - with DallasWillard
    3. The Minister's Personal Growth - with Arch Hart
    4. Preaching - with Haddon Robinson and Rob Bell
    5. Church Multiplication - with Robert Logan

    Each course involves 6 months of pre-reading (usually 3000 pages of material on the subject), 1-2 weeks of intensive 'in-class' time with the lecturer and a small group of students (12-25 people), followed by 6 months to complete a variety of assignments.

     

    I'm now starting to work on my final project, which will be a Ministry Focus Paper. The topic I have chosen is 'A Strategy for Identifying and Developing Pastoral Leaders for CityLife Church'. This will specifically serve our ongoing growth as a church, especially with our multi-site strategy.

     

    The Ministry Focus Paper final project is a 125-175 page document that has to be well researched. It includes three sections: an analysis of the local context, biblical and theological reflections on the topic, as well as a practical strategy for implementation.

     

    All going well, I hope to finish my final project by November 2008, so I can graduate in June 2009. My aim is not so much for the title (Dr. Mark!) but for the ongoing education I'm receiving.

     

    One of things I like about Fuller is that they are committed to lifelong learning. To enhance this, they offer graduates the opportunity to continue to audit any classes they are interested in for the rest of their life.


     

    P.S. I have now finished my final project and attended my graduation. So I'm now officially 'Doctor Mark' :) (June 2009)

     


    My Favourite Fun Things to Do

    My favourite fun things to do include ...

    • Playing basketball
    • Walking our dogs with Nicole
    • Hanging out with my kids
    • Spending time with friends
    • Looking after my tropical fish aquarium
    • Reading
    • Playing pool
    • Watching a good movie
    • Watching sport on TV - NBA or Geelong Cats
    • Playing the piano
    • Cooking
    • Driving Nicole's red Mini Cooper with the roof off (when she lets me, which is not often!)
    • Posting on my blog ...