“Look Mum, No Notes!”

For the last year, I have been speaking my main messages to our church without using notes and without a pulpit to stand behind.

This has been a big change for me. I've been speaking for over 20 years now and although there have been a few shorter messages I've given where I haven't used notes, I've usually taken my Bible and 6-10 pages of typed out notes to the pulpit each time I speak.

So why the change?

As part of a course I did on preaching last year, I was challenged to consider speaking without notes. My instructors noted that when you watch a movie, the actors don't read their scripts. By the time they record the movie, the actors have taken on their role and they have internalised the message. As preachers, we are delivering a more important message than any actor, so why not put the same work in?

They also noted that if someone asked you to share your life story, you wouldn't pull out a notebook. You would quickly draw from your memory and share parts of your story, selecting different things, based on how long you want to take.

So this is what I now do in preparing to speak:

  1. I spend time in prayer, preparing my heart as to what to speak on.
  2. I then spend time studying and researching for my message.
  3. This results in a typed Word document, usually about 8-12 pages long.
  4. I then summarise this into an A5 document (2 sided) with bullet points on.
  5. I then spend time praying over this, memorising the main structure, main points and illustrations of the message. In a sense, I create a 'mind map' for each message that includes where I will start, where I will take people, and how I will conclude.
  6. I then step up to speak with just my Bible (I do have this A5 sheet in the front of my Bible just in case I need to refer to it) and without a pulpit to stand behind.

When I first did this for a full 35-40 minute message, it was pretty scary. I felt a bit 'naked' in front of everyone, especially without the pulpit or podium (although I was never one to hide behind a pulpit anyway!).

Some of the benefits I've found with this approach are:

  1. As a speaker, I have to really 'own' the message. It has to be a part of me. I need it to be on the inside of me.
  2. It makes me more spontaneous, as I only memorise the structure and key points, not the actual words. I simple share the message 'as it flows'.
  3. I feel that the level of connection with the people I am speaking to is much higher, as I am able to make eye contact with them all of the time.
  4. I also sense that I'm a little more 'in tune' with God while I'm speaking, as well as 'in tune' with where the people I'm speaking to are at.

So it has been an interesting journey. I have found it quite exhilarating and I've been surprised by how much the mind can remember. I'm enjoying speaking as much as I ever have. It's been fun.

Of course, I am in no way saying that others need to take this step, including those on our teaching team. It's just something that has worked for me and I'm really enjoying it. I kind of feel like I've found 'my voice' in a new way.

P.S. For those who want to head in this direction, start small. Take some 'baby steps'. Share a short communion message without notes OR make some announcements at a meeting from memory (thinking chronogically helps – last week, today, this coming week). As you gain some experience, you'll build confidence for longer messages.

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)


Christians and Politics

God has called us as Christians to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in our world. This includes every sector of society, including government. It is exciting to see more and more Christians aspiring to roles in politics. This is so important as we need people with Christian values in these influential positions.

Some people are called to have a voice ‘in’ politics. Others are called to be a voice ‘into’ the political arena. One such person is Jim Wallace, director of the Australian Christian Lobby. Jim and the ACL are doing an outstanding job bringing a Christian perspective on the key moral and social issues of our day to the key political influencers of our nation.

Recently, the ACL gathered over 150 Christian and church leaders from a diverse range of the body of Christ to Canberra to meet with the Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, and the Opposition Leader, Mr Kevin Rudd. The Prime Minister and Mr Rudd addressed the group and answered a variety of questions. I was privileged to be a part of this significant event.

Click here to see a full report of this event and to learn more about the ACL. I encourage you to support this important ministry – through prayer, voluntary involvement and even a financial donation.

Catch the Wind

Catch the Wind – that’s what I want to do in my life – discern where God is at work, where his Spirit is moving, and then catch the wind!

What an exhilierating feeling to be carried by the wind rather than living through your own effort.

It’s a bit like the difference between rowing a boat and sailing a boat. Rowing is all about your own effort and what you can do. Sailing is about positioning yourself to catch the wind – a power not your own. If the wind doesn’t blow, you aren’t going anywhere BUT once you catch the wind, watch out! You’ll be hanging on for the ride of your life.

I want to sail! Let’s catch the wind today and see what God does.

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 …

My Favourite Foods

I enjoy eating …

At home, Nicole always cooks tasty food … and I can cook a pretty good bolognaise (with bruscetta), thai curry or asian stir fry.

Fast food … can’t go past a Whopper with Cheese (‘the burgers are better at …’) BUT I’m trying to eat more healthily … so my current favourites are Nandos (chicken wrap and/or BBG wings) or Subway

Resturants … I love Italian, Japanese (especially tepanyaki), Thai and Indian

Drinks … can’t beat water, juice or a caramel thickshake

Nibbles … fruit, nuts and yogurt covered museli bars

Did I mention Tim Tams?

… actually I need to lose a few kgs!

Books I’ve Written

I have written four books:

1. Transforming Your Church. This book outlines seven strategic shifts that each church must make to be healthy and effective. We have used these principles at CityLife Church and they have also been a help to many pastors and church leaders. It has a foreword by Bill Hybels. [Check out information about the completely Revised Edition here – May 2010]

Initially this book was published under the title Help Your Church Change (now out of print) and it was also published recently in the USA by City Christian Publishing under the title 7 Strategic Changes Every Church Must Make. See also Amazon for a paperback and eBook version.

2. Successful Christian Ministry. In this book, I outline seven principles of effective  ministry. These are things I have gleaned from observing and being involved in a variety of ministries for over 25 years. This is an excellent book for church or ministry leaders to help them train their teams. See also Amazon for a paperback and eBook version.

3. Pass the Baton: Successful Leadership Transition. This book outlines many of the principles that have helped CityLife Church navigate through three leadership transitions over it’s 40 year history. See also Amazon for a paperback and eBook version.

For further details, see full descriptions under ‘Books’ category in the main blog section.

4. Prison Break: Finding Personal Freedom. My latest book is called Prison Break and it presents principles for finding freedom from wory, fear, anger, depression, rejection, addictions, and spiritual bondages.

These books are available online from WORD Australia OR from Koorong bookstores. See also Amazon for a paperback and eBook version.

Cover Pic (small)Pass-The-Baton Cover TRIMSCM Kindle Cover NEWPrison Break

My Favorite Technology

I use a DELL laptop with Vista and Microsoft Office software. I also use an Asus Eee PC 1005PE for travel, which I love – because the battery lasts over 12 hours. It uses a started edition of Windows 7 as an operating system which I like even more than Vista.

Outlook 2007 is my favorite program for keeping my life organised.

I sync my Outlook files (email, calendar, contacts, and tasks) to my Nokia E71 mobile phone, so I can send and answer email wherever I am as well as keep in touch with other key information.

I also really like the Microsoft OneNote 2007 program, which is a terrific place to create folders for keeping track of all the areas of your life and ministry. I have now replaced this with Evernote.

My favorite Bible program is PC Study Bible, although I also have the Logos Libronix Digital Library System, which is the grand-daddy of Bible software (I had this donated to me). I also use Accordance for MAC now.

Other good reference software includes Encyclopedia Britannica.

iTunes is great for managing music for my Apple iPod.

For financial management I use Quicken and Quickbooks.

For blogging I use TypePad software, which is very easy to use, yet professional looking. I also use Microsoft WORD 2007, which has a blogging feature that links directly with TypePad so you can post from WORD, after you have added in pictures or graphics, etc. Worth checking out.

Okay, confession time – I have defected OR converted to a MacBook Pro (13") … and I love it! I use VM Ware Fusion 3 to run some Windows-based programs such as Quicken and Quickbooks … but everything else is in MAC. I'm also using Office 2011 for MAC which will have a full version of Outlook. My initials are Mark Andrew Conner so MACs were made for me 🙂

I also have also updated my Nokia phone to an iPhone. See my favourite MAC programs for further details about the software I like.

[Updated: September 2010] 

The Blogging World

According to wikipedia, a blog (a portmanteau of web log) is "a website where entries are written in. ‘Blog’ can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog. Blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject such as food, politics, or local news; some function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic. The ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs."

I’ve been visiting a few blogs for a while now. Some of them have a host of great information and discussion. A few pastors that have interesting blogs are:

1. Phil Baker

2. Dave Ferguson

3. Craig Groeschel

4. Tony Morgan

For some good lists of interesting blogs, check out these sites:

1. Christians Blogs Worth Reading

2. 10 Blogs Worth Visiting

3. More Blogs

Footy Tipping

I starting my tipping really well this AFL season – leading our competition for the first few weeks. Since then I’ve slipped back into 2nd or 3rd place for most of the season. Right now I have 98 wins with three rounds to go. One of our staff pastors, Peter Coburn, is leading the pack with 102 wins. Peter says he knows nothing about football (!?) but he’s been doing some pretty good tipping of late. I’ll have to do really well to catch him now … and I’ll have to keep an eye out for others crowding the front of the pack, including Paul Molyneux, who is tied with me now.

[EDIT: I ended up finishing in second place with 117 tips, four behind the winner, Peter Coburn, who had 121. Congratulations Peter!]

Spiritual Disciplines – BIBLE Reading

God wants each one of us to be healthy and strong, not only physically and emotionally, but most importantly, spiritually. Like Jesus, we can be ‘strong in spirit’ so that we are more than ready to handle the daily demands and pressures of life. However, this requires a commitment to certain disciplines and practices.

When tempted by the devil Jesus quoted an Old Testament Scripture and said, “People need more than bread for their life; they must feed on every word of God (Matt.4:4. NLT).” God’s Word, as revealed in the Bible, is to be our ‘daily bread’. In the same way that we need food every day to be healthy and strong so we need to daily feed upon God’s Word to us. Then as we apply it to our lives we are adding exercise to healthy food, which results in good health and spiritual fitness.

Imagine the difference in your life if you could feed daily on the wisdom of the ages! God’s words are alive and powerful, able to not only feed your soul, but to renew your thinking and to give you insight for every aspect of your life and ministry.

One good way to establish the daily discipline of feeding on God’s Word is to follow a Bible reading plan (web site). It can be a catalyst to God doing some incredible things in your life. The aim is not just to ‘get through’ the reading program but to see that God’s Word ‘gets in’ to our hearts and lives, bringing about personal growth and positive change. Set some time aside each day to read the portion for that day. Then make some observations, think about how it applies to your life, then finish with praying to God about what he has spoken to you about.

Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:31-32. NKJV)” and “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life (John.6:63. NIV).”

As each of us establishes the habit of hearing and applying God’s Word every day, we will experience the joy of knowing God better and of becoming healthy and strong disciples of Jesus Christ.

Geelong Cats

I’ve been a Geelong Cats fan for many years now and this is the best season we’ve had for a long while. The Cats are clearly going to finish on top of the ladder and are a good chance for the Grand Final if they can keep playing like they have over their 14 game winning streak.

When I was young, I barracked for teams like Richmond (back in the Royce Hart days!) and Essendon. Back in the late 80s, when Nicole and I were leading our church youth group, we played a game against the Barrabool Baptist youth group and Gary Ablett Snr, who was attending that church at the time, came and had a kick. It was cool to meet him. I started following Geelong after that day.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Gary, believing that he has a good heart, even though he’s had some rough patches in his life due to some of the consequences of his choices. I hear he’s doing better now and it’s great to see his sons playing well for Geelong at the moment.

[Update: For a recent article on Gary, click here – November 27th, 2007]

Go Cats!!!

My New Blog

Well, here we go – I’ve started a blog! It’s a chance for me to share my thoughts and feelings on a range of things I’m interested in. It’s also a chance for me to listen to what others are thinking and feeling about similar things.

It’s a whole new world and I feel a bit like someone taking a swim in the ocean for the first time.

Anyway, here we go …

Best Preaching Books

Learning to communicate God’s Word in a way that captures people’s attention and imparts principles for life change is quite an art. Even after years of hearing many excellent preachers and gaining much preaching experience myself in a variety of settings, I’m still learning.

Here is a list of the most helpful books I’ve read:

  1. Communicating for a Change – by Andy Stanley
  2. Preaching with Purpose – by J.E. Adams
  3. Biblical Preaching – by Haddon Robison
  4. How to Speak so Youth Will Listen – by Ken Davis

Rick Warren also has an excellent course called ‘Preaching to Change Lives’ which is on CD or DVD with an accompanying manual.