steve ball

personal thoughts on family, faith and work

hello god

I read a Twitter status a couple of weeks ago which just said ‘good morning God’ with a link to a picture.  The picture was of a beautiful sunrise over a beach in America somewhere.  It made me smile.

I’ve recently got back into taking photos since getting a new camera at the end of last year, and going through them I’m staggered at the beauty of God’s creation. From the tiny detail of wild flowers and the intricacies of insects to the wide landscapes that have been created by a hugely imaginative God.  The pictures here were taken while on holiday in Cornwall at the beginning of the month. 

Sometimes we take all of this for granted.  Much goes by unnoticed, partly due to the busyness of life, but also because flowers and insects are so common – we don’t usually give them a second look.

How much more amazing then, is the God that created us – each person being unique.  And what’s incredible is, the same God that made these ‘insignificant’ things, that are only around for a short period of time, is interested in us.

How much more then, do you think God cares about us?  The more I think about that question, the harder I find it to answer.


Matthew 6 v 26-30
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.   Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?  And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

Points to ponder:

  • When was the last time you took time to appreciate Gods creation?
  • What things help you to get a glimpse of the hugeness of God?
  • How much do you think God loves you?

reflections on… may

During the last week in May I was in Harrogate at a New Wine Leaders conference for three days, back at work for a day and then off on holiday to Cornwall – so (while on holiday), I’ve finally got a chance to write up my thoughts on the month of May.

There has been much to be thankful for this month, much to think through and also some changes at work. All of which are pretty exciting

Family:  We have had some lovely times together as a family this month.  We went to see ‘The Wizard of Oz’ show at the start of the month, which was excellent. We have had some lovely walks with my sisters family – one was a nine mile walk around ‘Darling Buds of May’ country in Pluckley.  This was the longest walk the boys had been on – and they did brilliantly.

James went on his school trip to the Isle of Wight for a week which was great for him – he really enjoyed it – but was a little strange for us as it left the house rather quiet

Faith:   Church has been good this month.  Our Overflow service had the largest worship band we have ever had and I thoroughly enjoyed writing some parts for the brass section that we had.  This meant that James was able to join in on his saxophone for the first time which was fantastic for me to see.  Hopefully the first of many times he will be playing

For three day in the last week of May I was at the New Wine Leaders conference in Harrogate.  This was a time to really get to know people that went better over food and drink and also to re-asses my thinking on where the church is and how we could be serving the community more effectively.  Some of the sessions were rather intellectual, but the content was excellent – lots to digest and work through when I get back home

Work:  I continue to be busy at work with various projects which I’m enjoying.   Have increased my hours from this month which will help give me the time to get through the work load more effectively. I will reduce my teaching a little to offset the extra hours I’m doing at the office.

Highlights of the month:

  • Seeing the Wizard of  Oz
  • Our long walks
  • The leadership conference

the challenge of change

Change is inevitable. It may be a gradual, subtle process or it may be an unexpected crisis that happens out of the blue which necessitates change – but change happens. Without change a church or organisation will stagnate and, in my view, eventually die. How we approach and manage change is therefore vitally important if we are to support and keep the confidence of the people the change effects. 

I think I’m pretty good at change. I enjoy the challenge of improving systems and processes at work, and I love seeing people develop into new areas at church. Many of the projects I’m involved in at work require a change in work practices (currently a new internal communications system). Although there can be mileage in the thinking ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ I firmly believe that you can only ‘not fix it’ for so long. At some point change will have to take place, or we essentially are going backwards.

Subtle changes are relatively easy to manage – most people may not even be aware of the changes until they look back over a period of time. Major changes are much more of a challenge. 

Most reasons for change will fit into one of three categories – and there is one key thing that best alleviates objections or aversion:

Keeping up to date.
These are primarily the more subtle, day-to-day changes that keep a church, organisation or relationship relevant and active. It’s the organic process that should (in my view) be embedded in the ethos of any organisation. Examples of this could be as simple as keeping a website up to date, improving systems, making and developing new personal contacts etc.

Development.
This category often is centred around people. Whether it’s a promotion or new job, moving into a new role at church, or a change in direction for an organisation – because the change will affect people directly it is more difficult to manage. Change in this instance can be accepted differently depending on your perspective. I hope that I would see the positive, trust the people proposing or appreciate the necessity for change – even if it doesn’t feel right at that time to me personally. I’m then in a much better place to help shape and facilitate the change. Some people, however, seem to always fight against change – just because they can.  I’m all for constructive discussion, but that’s very different from being deliberately obstructive. I think this is the hardest type of change to manage and throws up the greatest challenges.

Crisis.
Change due to crisis is dramatic and often fairly instant. Whether it’s being made redundant from work, the death of someone you love or the final breakdown in a relationship – the effects are immediate and usually painful. I know that when my dad passed away back in February, the changes I (and the rest of the family) had to come to terms with were very difficult. Paradoxically, it can be easier to cope with the challenge of change due to crisis, as you have been forced into a situation (willingly or otherwise) and have no option but to work with the implications of it.

The best tool to manage change.
In my view the single, most effective way to best manage change is good, clear communication. ‘Announcing’ a change will more often than not lead to an automatic reaction or objection.  If a change has been carefully explained, and the rationale given, it is much more likely to be accepted and people will work with you to implement those changes – something for us all to work on, no matter how good we might think we are at communicating!

Points to ponder:

  • How do I instinctively react to change? 
  • When was the last time I encouraged someone to develop into a role and help them implement their changes? 
  • Are my comments about change part of constructive discussion or deliberately obstructive?

reflections on… april

I’m writing this post on the train home from Blackburn after a busy day at the end of a busy month! A short break, visiting family, Easter, days out, deadlines for my diploma, the marriage course, church, work… I feel worn out just thinking out out it all – although, in the main, it’s been a good month.

Family: At the start of the month, we had a short break with my brother, down at Winchelsea Beach which was good – always a time to switch off a bit. The noticeable missing person was our eldest who was snowboarding with the school for the first week of the Easter holiday and then straight off on a church mission in Spain (alright for some!). Our youngest comfortably passed his Grade 3 sax which is excellent, and I’ve been continuing to enjoy playing with him, getting ready for a worship service next month. We also went to the gadget show which was great fun. We have been on some long walks (before the constants rain of the last week or so) ensuring we always passed the house my in-laws hope to buy.

Faith: Church is usually busy over the Easter period, but this year I’ve not been quite so involved as usual, which has been a change. Barbara’s home group has been going well – a lovely bunch of people – and we had a good curry night a couple of weeks ago which always goes down well. Our monthly Overflow service starts again in a couple of weeks and I’m getting prepared for that – hoping to have some new people as part of the worship team.

Work: Work has been incredibly busy. With various projects on the go and the usual work on top of that it has, at times, felt like I’m chasing my tail! Add to that the diploma work and my teaching and you can see I’ve been busy.

i love my ipad, but…

I got my iPad about eighteen months ago for a ‘significant’ birthday. At the time I thought it was an extravagance, but I very quickly (too quickly!?) realised that it was a brilliant piece of kit that I would have to replace straight away if it ever broke. Since then,  my eldest son (14 years old) has got one and Barbara uses a company iPad – which they too love! My youngest (11years) has various electronic gadgets including a 3Ds and an old iPod – all of which can access the internet.

What I find really concerning is the lack of any significant parental controls or web monitoring for my children on their iDevices. It’s not a question of trust, but one of accountability. There is a plethora of software available for the PC or Mac to give real parental control of a child’s Internet use – but nothing (as far as I can see) available for the iPad or iPod.

This is a huge oversight that, in my opinion, does nothing for the credibility of Apple’s social responsibilities. Also, on the iPad, there is no way of disabling the ‘private browsing’ facility. Why ever not!?

I don’t think my family is that unusual from others. With the age of wi-fi and broadband we (and our children) can access the internet from anywhere in the house and be watching anything online whenever we want. We speak to our boys about the potential dangers of the internet and searching seemingly innocent things on YouTube, but if a parent is not given the technical tools to be able to help their child be accountable for their internet use, we are already at a disadvantage and putting preventable temptation in their way.

And it’s not just as simple as saying to your children ‘you can’t use the internet in your bedroom’ these days – they can access from any wi-fi hotspot. Education, accountability and the tools to do the job has to be the way forward.

Our children (and adults) are faced with all sort of temptations and issues these days. Why should safe internet use be one of them when there is the technical ability out there to prevent it?

I would really love to be wrong on this one. If anyone knows of something that will do the job, (without having to jailbreak our iPads) I’d love to hear about it.

Points to ponder:

  • When was the last time you spoke to your children about safer internet use?
  • How do you monitor your children’s online world?
  • How would you feel if your online habits were publicly known, and would that affect how you use the internet?
  • How are you accountable for your your internet use?

is a good welcome enough?

Over the last few weeks I’ve heard lots about how we, as church, should be welcoming to anyone who comes through the church doors on a Sunday morning. All very right and sensible stuff. But… there’s got to be more than just a good welcome – though ensuring visitors and regulars are welcomed in church each week is very important.

Welcoming someone who doesn’t ‘fit in’ to what we think is an appropriate way to behave, dress or talk should be easy to do – after all, if they’ve never set foot inside of a church before, how are they expected to know ‘the rules’? But our prejudices nearly always affect our reaction and interaction with them. It has been said several times (by visitors!) that my church is very welcoming, which I would agree with – certainly I remember feeling very welcomed when I first came.

The church is not here to just welcome people though – it is called to love people.

It is often said about what our approach to people coming into church should be: Bless – Belong – Believe – Behave. Behaving – or somehow ‘fitting in’ is the last part of what can be a long process, which is usually not our responsibility to try and change anyway. If we want a church full of people ‘just like me’, this is possibly an approach to take – but I pray for a church as diverse as the community in which it stands. Which means loving people coming in who don’t behave, dress or talk as we do.

It strikes me that we sometimes approach the four B’s in the opposite way. We will welcome someone if they behave, and once they believe, they will belong to our church and we can bless them. Sad, but probably true for many people in many of our churches.

I would imagine that coming into a church for the first time is a pretty terrifying experience. If we analyse what we do, it’s a totally alien environment to most people! Giving them a great, warm welcome is vital, but I would imagine it would be very hard for a visitor not to be affected by the church showing them love – Gods love.

Points to ponder:

  • How accepting are you of people that are very different from you?
  • When was the last time you had a conversation with someone you didn’t know in church?
  • When was the last time you blessed someone new in the church?

one in a million?

The weekend before Easter we had some time away at Winchelsea Beach. (Mum and dad in-law have a caravan there.) I quite enjoy taking photos, and the pebbles on the beach don’t move much, so I can take my time getting the picture how I want it! I was pleased with the results on the ones included in this post.

It then struck me that every pebble was different. Whether it’s the colour, size, shape, imperfections – each one is unique. The natural elements have shaped and marked the millions of individual pebbles on the beach over years.

A simple game we play when on the beach, is to stack up stones, sit ourselves down, and then try to knock them off using the pebbles around us. The simple things in life can be great fun!

The parallel with us as people is interesting. Here I am, one of around seven billion on this earth – completely unique. I have been shaped by events in my life – some within my control and other completely out of my control. Much of who I am has been influenced by other people – just as the stones we stacked up and knocked down are shaped or marked by other stones.

These thoughts are particularly poignant to me as we have just celebrated Easter. As one person in seven billion, I believe Jesus died for me – personally.  As I remember that mass of pebbles that made up the beach, with no way of even estimating how many there were there, I am in awe of a God that knows each of us individually. Staggering.

So… am I one in a million? No.

More like one on seven billion – and counting!

Points to ponder:

  • What makes you reflects on the hugeness of God?
  • How does being known, as an individual to God in a population of seven billion make you feel?
  • How does the realisation of the sacrifice of Jesus, for us as individuals, change how we live our lives?


worship bands and exclusivity

From the age of about eleven I’ve always been involved in playing in a band. In the early days I was the drummer (which may surprise some as I now rarely get to play them!). Other members included bass, piano, sax and singers. After a few years together we even recorded a couple of albums which are thankfully now collecting dust on bookshelves somewhere!

As time went on and we got more involved in worship at church, I was needed to play the piano/keyboards more as we had other good drummer. I also dabbled with the guitar and flute (not at the same time) which was really good fun. I loved exploring new musical ideas and with the tight musical set up that we had, this was easy and very effective.

This was also a problem…

We had become very exclusive at the cost of other people trying to ‘get in’ to the band. It wasn’t always easy to see as we were going through our teens and early twenties, but looking back, in my opinion, it wasn’t a healthy place to be as far as the church was concerned. There was little, if any, provision for new band members to be part of the team. The church had a strong focus on musical excellence – and this is what it got.

I honestly can’t remember the tipping point that made me stop and realise what was going on. But I’m glad I did – or was made to. I remember starting a group on Sunday afternoons to encourage new people to start playing and getting people to join the main worship band. This was an interesting time, and it was quite difficult to break the attidudes of some people at times. As new members joined the band, the dynamics completely changed. No longer could I just give the drummer or bass player a ‘look’ and they would know exactly what I wanted them to do – things were more basic and had to be explained in a clearer way.

At my current church I have responsibility for worship and I hope I am cultivating an ethos of inclusivity and accountability. This, in my view, is a more healthy approach to leading any team. Those that know me will know that I now kick against any sort of exclusivity!  I believe anyone with a heart for worship should be given opportunity – no matter how hard it is for the worship leader to ‘fit them in’.  Everyone can play a part, no matter how small, and feel valued.

But as much as anything musical, being part of a worship group should be about being encouraging, supporting, and training other members of the team. If we can’t support, encourage and include – our corporate worship, to me, just doesn’t feel right.

Being part of a band is so much more than just the music – being part of a worship team is so much more than just the band.

Points to ponder:

  • Is your worship team exclusive – either in reality or perceived?
  • What are we doing about developing new people into our worship teams?
  • How do we support and encourage members of our worship teams?

reflections on… march

March has been one of the busiest months I can remember in a long while! As well as being busy ‘doing’ stuff it has been a bit of a roller coaster of emotions too. The sadness of dads funeral, the fun and laughter of being with extended family, the concern for friends going through very hard times, the satisfaction of getting work done on my diploma, the excitement of being with my son in his sax exam – all mixed up together. I’m looking forward to some time away this weekend to give my brain some space!!

Family:  It was lovely to be with all my family, despite the sad circumstances, at the start of the month. Catching up with Aunts and Uncles over a (rather ambitious) three course meal planned and cooked by my eldest son (with help from Barbara) was a really fun evening.

We started The Marriage Course this month and discovered we like each other!! Three sessions in and it’s fantastic to see how strong our marriage is. I’m very thankful to God for Barbara and our boys – especially when you look at the difficult times many other families are going through.

My youngest son has been working really hard ready for his grade three saxophone, which he took on the 23rd. I was able to accompany him on the piano for two of his pieces (which was a bit of a shock as usually the teacher does) which turned out to be a great project we could share together. Just the wait for the results now – very proud though, whatever the outcome. No doubt we will be playing together lots more.

Work: My diploma is going well. Interestingly, some of the concepts we have been discussing can be equally applied to other areas of life including church. I’ve caught up with the work after loosing a few weeks last month due to circumstances and my first assignment is done with only a couple of minor alterations to make.

Today we had our annual staff team day for all CCPAS staff and trustees (which is no mean feat as they are spread all over the country). It’s great to be part of a fantastic, enthusiastic team.

Faith: Getting back into the swing of things after a bitty February was good. More encouraging was that everything carried on without me being around all of the time.  It’s always good to see people happily taking a lead when needed.

Highlights of the month:
Having family, who we’ve not seen for ages over for dinner
Accompanying my youngest son in his sax exam
Finishing my first assignment

thoughts on accountability

In my view, accountability is very much under-rated and under-valued.  Too often I see situations (sadly, too frequently in churches) spiral out of control and eventually cause real damage; and at the heart of the issue is a lack of accountability. Some people may see accountability as a threat, others as a hindrance to their vision or leadership.  But I believe if a culture of accountability is developed in any area of life, it can only lead to more positive outcomes – for everyone.

Below are some thoughts – not in any particular order:

Accountability promotes teamwork
In any role (paid or voluntary), being let free to work completely independently without any reference to anyone else is a dangerous place to be. Being accountable to each other in the group gives a united purpose and the feeling of being part of a team where your voice is as equally important as the next persons.

Accountability should not be a threat
If I want to embark on a new project or develop a new system, and feel I can not run the ideas through others who I am accountable too because they may disagree or suggest a different way of doing it, I am acting like a bit of a control freak!  We all have a little bit it in us!  Usually – if there is good relationship – the person(s) I’m accountable to will actively encourage me in any new area if it fits with the overall direction of the organisation.  They may suggest alternative ways of doing it, but I’ve learnt (and am still learning!) to hold onto things lightly – other people can probably do the job as good if not better than me anyway!!

Accountability should not hinder leadership
Every organisation needs good, solid, visionary leaders. But leaders need to be accountable too. Whether it’s to other leaders, their immediate team or some other group, a good leader will always seek council from those that they respect.

Accountability gives security
Working together as a team and being accountable to each other brings a confidence and security in what you are doing. (Security is very different from being comfortable – a team can feel secure in the path they are leading and still be pushing ahead with new ideas.)

Accountability moves up and down, and side to side
Accountability is not a one way flow. We should be accountable to our boss, our peers and those that work for us. This does not take away from the fact that as a leader/manager, I am responsible for setting a vision and purpose; but including and being accountable to other people gives a vision credibility within the group and – very importantly – gives the group a sense of ownership.

These, as I said at the start, are my views. I would be interested in what you think!

Points to ponder:

  • Who are the people I am accountable to?
  • What other benefits of accountability are there?
  • Should I be more accountable to those around me?

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