Australian Lutherans and social justice: scripture, tradition and experience

In this post you can find my latest article published in the Lutheran Theological Journal. It is a piece I’ve worked on for quite some time and was a great opportunity to put together a cohesive summary of some initial thoughts.

You can download the article here.

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Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore [of the lake while the disciples were fishing], but the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish…When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread…Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”

From John 21


I’m pretty good at a few things in this life, but my dad can attest to the fact that I’m a terrible fisherman.

During my early years my father would take time away from his work to sit by a river with a fishing rod in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. If grandma had been baking recently, there would be a mouthful of fruit cake in the mix too.

I always disliked fishing but for some reason I would forget this between fishing trips. I jumped out of the car, enthusiastically bait the hook, throw a line in and wait.

Patience continues to be a bit of a struggle for me, as it was then, for I would not last long waiting. My recollection seems to suggest that I would patiently wait for hours before giving up but I suspect it was closer to minutes. I would start endlessly throwing out my line and reeling it back in quickly. My dad would shake his head in amusement as I inevitably gave up and went walking instead.

As I think of the disciples in the story, I wonder how they felt when a strange bloke yelled out to them to change the way they were fishing. After all, these disciples knew how to fish, and seriously, what difference would it make to throw a net on the right side of the boat instead of the left?

A great deal it seems from the story for a great deal of fish turned up. It seems that in addition to being the Son of God, Jesus knew a bit about fishing too.

When was the last time you found yourself in situation where you had been toiling away at something only for someone to come along and quickly show you how to complete the task far more quickly, efficiently and easily? If this hasn’t happened to you recently I suggest you grab a young person, have them watch you work with an electronic device, and then watch as they mercilessly show you a simple way to do something you’ve been doing wrong for years!

The thing about God is that he knows that we are prone to go about things the hard way. By nature we try to do things alone, not want help, and desire to work harder rather than smarter.

When we are caught out trying to do things without God’s help the good news is that Jesus invites us to breakfast too. He doesn’t have condemnation for us or even get frustrated. He is happy to help and happy to enjoy the fruits of success with us too.

As we move towards a new year may we not forget that our value is not in how perfect we are or how quickly we can get something done. Our value comes from a God who created us unique, with various strengths and weaknesses, and loves walking alongside us as we try to do our best in this often confusing and frustrating world.

As our year draws to a close and you read my final principal’s note, allow me to wish you and your family a safe and blessed Christmas.


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How the days fly!

For some unknown reason, I thought it was a good idea to install an app on my phone that provides me a daily update to upcoming events – end of the school year, Christmas, the birthdays of my nieces/nephews/godchildren, my wife’s birthday and so on.

Dutifully the app sends me a report each morning telling me exactly how many months, days and hours until the event.

This report hit me this morning:

  • 92 days until my 70.3 Ironman Triathlon
  • 46 days until 2018 starts
  • 37 days until Christmas
  • 22 days until to the last day of school
  • 1 day until the 2018 school year commences

Where did this year go? I haven’t started my reports, I’ve got activities in my classes to finish, we’ve got Celebration Night and Thanksgiving Service and concerts to run, I haven’t even thought about Christmas presents and up for that triathlon suddenly seems like a very bad decision given that amount of time I’ve got to train!

I’m not the biggest fan of Christmas I have to say, but what I do love, is the reminder that Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, is known as ‘Immanuel’, which means ‘God with us’.

My note this week is quite short but carries a really important message. No matter what we think or feel, God is indeed with us. That is the core Christian message that we celebrate in Christmas. God is not an angry God who is out to punish us for doing wrong. Through the work of Jesus, God smiles on us and relishes walking each step of our lives with us.

Next Monday sees our students in Years Prep to 8 start the 2018 school year. How quickly that came around! As these students commence the new school year, I pray that they, like all of us, will pause and remember the great news that God is with us.

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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?

Matthew 6:26-34

This week as staff, we have looked at the topic of ‘appreciation’. Current research is telling us time and time again, that happy people are people who often stop to specifically appreciate what is good and pleasant in their lives and to give thanks for these things.

I read these articles and often think “that is fine for those people who aren’t as busy as I am or don’t have the responsibilities that I do. After all, I’ve got a College to run, a wife to love and support, two sausage dogs to put food on the table for and many other things I’m bound to do. When have I got time to stop and be grateful?”

Our modern world traps us into a lifestyle that does not support our personal and communal wellbeing. In Genesis we are told that after God worked for six days creating the world, he rested. The Bible also records many instances of Jesus pulling away from the crowds and his followers to spend time resting, praying and sleeping.

This week our Year 12 students commenced exams and I’m sure they are feeling stressed. I suspect they have little time or focus for stopping and appreciating what is around them.

I am a worrier by nature and the passage above reminds me that it is important not to get caught up in my own worries and concerns. God has things in hand. Tomorrow will come regardless of what happens today. And as we are reminded, worrying will not add a single hour to our lives. In fact, I suspect worry actually takes hours off of our lives.

At this time of year as we race towards Christmas, I pray that we all may have time to stop and appreciate what is around us. Let us remember that many responsibilities and duties come from life giving activities.

While I am responsible for running of a College, I have the privilege of guiding the education of young people. While I have the work that comes from being in a healthy marriage, I have the joy of a wonderful wife to spend my days with. While I have to feed, bathe and pick up after my sausage dogs, they remind me of the joy of life.

May we all find just a few moments to appreciate and give thanks for what is good around us.

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Address to the graduating class of 2017

Dear Graduating Class of 2017,

You may not have noticed it, but I’ve learnt a great deal about Lakeside College from you.  By overhearing staff conversations about you, by reading your reports, by chatting with you in the yard, through talking with your parents and most of all, seeing how you go about your learning here at the College. You taught me what the heart of Lakeside College is – a caring learning community which strives to meet the needs of all students and a community that is inclusive of many perspectives. For this, I am grateful.

My favourite record of Jesus’ life is the Gospel according to John. It is my favourite because it records Jesus very much as one of the great philosophers. He may even have given Mr Quill a run for his money!

In John 1:35, two disciples of John the Baptist see Jesus for the first time and they start walking behind him. Turning around, Jesus sees them following and asks, “What do you want?”. Other translations record this as Jesus asking “What do you seek?”

I believe that answering this very question is the key to a happy, healthy and fulfilling life. However, unlike many answers on your upcoming exam papers, this answer ebbs and flows. It is not static and neither it should be.

Year 12s, I do not envy you. My generation did not have the flood of messaging that you have to deal with. We did not have so many different sources pushing us to seek and want what others want us to want and seek.

My simple advice to you today is this: refuse to seek anything other than what you feel called to seek.

Refuse to listen to those who would have you seek things that are unhealthy for you in mind, body or soul.

Refuse to listen to those who encourage you to be selfish and to use your gifts and talents to simply earn a pile of cash, while there is hunger and injustice in our world.

Refuse to believe anything other than knowing that God created you unique and calls you to a life seeking after Him, not seeking after the world.

Year 12s, don’t be strangers. Do come back and visit us. The blessing and curse of being involved in education is investing so heavily in you and then see you leave us as you go into the wider world.

A great blessing of my life this year was the chance to see my Year 12 Principal for the first time since 1999. He gave me a hug, asked about my life and my achievements and said how proud he was to see me following a path in education he too trod. I pray that 20 years from now I have that same privilege with you.

Go well Year 12s. Seek what is good and pleasing to God and you will do well. The community of Lakeside College has no doubt that you will have wonderful impact on our world.

God bless you

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“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them”

Matthew 18:20

What is an expectation? Well Google tells us it is “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case”

Google tells me that there are more than 27 million hits for ‘managing parent expectations’ and I’m bombarded with invitations to attend seminars on that topic. Why would this be such a hot topic I wonder?

As I’ve  wandered on yard duty it is not usual to have a tearful younger student come up to me seeking assistance. Perhaps they didn’t expect to fall over and graze their knee, or they didn’t expect the ball to hit them in the face or for their friend to choose someone else to play with that day.

Disappointment and expectation go hand in hand. This is natural – when something does not turn out as we expected, we are disappointed. These expectations can have grave ramifications. “I didn’t expect interest rates to rise so quickly’, “I didn’t expect to be diagnosed with a serious illness”, or a popular one I hear “I knew being a parent was going to be hard but I didn’t expect it to be this hard”

God doesn’t call us to a pessimistic life and to expect everything to go poorly. He also doesn’t call us to mindless optimism and assume that everything will always work out as the world is simply not like that.

God does call us to be a people of hope, to manage our expectations well and show resilience in the face of disappointment. It is easy to read these words. It is so much harder when we are faced with bitter disappointment as a result of having our expectations dashed.

God built us to live together and as our Bible reading for this week reminds us, he is there with us in all circumstances. When your expectations are not met, don’t stew alone. Seek others, talk through your disappointment, and take action to move through unmet expectations. That is what a community is there for. As I wrote to you last week regarding reports, communities look after each other and seek to get better at looking after each other.

The thing about God is that often unmet expectations are a blessing. Perhaps God knew that I would always be moving to a new school in 2017 and had me plan a holiday to Italy to provide rest after a busy eight months in this new role.

May God bless our community with the strength to deal well with disappointment, to never lose hope and always seek to support each other.

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Caring is one of Lakeside College’s three core values – Learn, Care, Achieve.

I admit that I do like a bit of social media and I’ve got a Twitter account, the obliquitous Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and let’s not forget my WordPress blog which the diligent parents of Lakeside College read on a weekly basis!

We are inundated by so much rubbish in our accounts. I am particularly noticing the insidious nature of the targeted marketing I’m receiving on Facebook recently. While indeed I may be losing my hair, I don’t need endless advertisements for hair replacement technology turning up in my feed. I assume this comes from Facebook knowing I’m a middle aged male and I’m trying not to take it personally.

One of the better memes that has been going around Facebook is reproduced below:

“Don’t become preoccupied with your child’s academic ability, but instead:
Teach them to sit with those sitting alone.
Teach them to be kind.
Teach them to offer help.
Teach them to be a friend to the lonely.
Teach them to encourage others.
Teach them to think about other people.
Teach them to share.
Teach them to look for the good.
This is how they will change the world.”

I read that one night and couldn’t agree more. Those of who have attended enrolment interviews with me know that I mention that Lakeside College has no interest in turning out academically able but self-centred students. We seek to balance at all times our faith and values with our desire to see students achieve their very best.

Time and time again parents nod in agreement with the above. Parents want their children to succeed academically but more importantly, they want their children to grow into decent human beings. And looking at the world, one cannot help but feel that more decent human beings would be of great benefit to all of us.

When I spoke to students recently about the value ‘Care’ I looked to the story of Moses as recorded in the Bible.

Moses was born to a Hebrew family but was placed in the river by his mother in the hope that he would avoid being killed by the Egyptian authorities as an infant. He was found by the Pharaoh’s daughter who took him into her household and raised him as a Prince of Egypt. As young man he saw an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew – he killed the Egyptian, facilitating a need to flee. Working as a shepherd, now a married man, God appears to Moses in the form of a burning bush and tells him to go back to Egypt and rescue his people from slavery.

Moses says: “Who am I to lead these people? I am the wrong messenger! I can’t do what you have asked”

God’s response: “Moses, I made the world. I made you and you have gifts that can be used to help people. I will be with you as you do great things”

Big achievements that endure are often those that involve acts of caring for others. Think of the ending of apartheid in South Africa, wiping out Polio in parts of the world, providing excellent schools and healthcare to those who need it most. These achievements go on to bless countless people beyond generations. These achievements are what God calls us to do with the gifts He has given us.

At Lakeside College we learn, care and achieve so that God will be glorified and the world be served in love. We care about our community, both inside and outside our College. We seek to equip all to care for others and make a difference in this world.

There is nothing more important to God than to see his people demonstrate the love that he has for us by serving our brothers and sisters.

May we never tire of teaching our children to care for others and may we seek to make the building of character as important, if not more important, than academic achievement.


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What does it mean to ‘achieve’? When you think of ‘achievements’ in your life, or the lives of others, what comes to mind? When someone tells you ‘your child is achieving well’ what does that communicate to you?

I was blessed to have parents who supported me thorugh my primary school years and I also had the pleasure of having a wonderful teacher named Mrs Tonkin. Mrs Tonkin helped me across the curriculum and through her teaching and care it was seen that I was just as capable as my peers.

Mrs Tonkin ran into my mother at the shops in Adelaide not that long ago and upon being told that I was now a principal she said to my mother. “Tell Tom I’m very proud of him, but I’m not surprised that he has achieved well in his life. Also, tell him to keep working on his handwriting because I suspect it may still be poor.” To Mrs Tonkin’s credit, my handwriting does still need work…

Mrs Tonkin taught me to achieve. She did not accept any excuses for not meeting my personal best. She didn’t believe that I ‘was behind’ or ‘not capable’ – she saw a child that was on a learning journey. She taught me how to be a good learner and as a result, I achieved well at school and university.

We can make a mistake and believe that a child that always gets an ‘A’ is achieving well while a child getting a ‘D’ is not. It may very well be that the child receiving an ‘A’ is giving less than their best and should be getting even higher marks and that child getting a ‘D’ may have got an ‘F’ earlier in the year and has worked diligently to get that ‘D’. That ‘D’ may actually be the greater achievement.

I have friends who have given up high paying jobs in banks where they were seen to ‘be achieving’ to volunteer years of their lives to help disadvantaged communities set up small businesses. Their peers don’t see their current work as ‘an achievement’.

When I was working as a professional singer, my parents were ridiculed by others who asked ‘When will Tom get a proper job?’, and refused to acknowledge that I was consistently working with the best groups in the country. In the eyes of my parents, I had some great professional ‘achievements’ to my name.

At Lakeside College, we believe ‘an achievement’ is when we meet goals that stretch us and require us to give 100% of our effort. While students may have differing goals, the compulsory expectation is that all students will commit, work hard and strive to develop all their abilities.

What brings me pride as the principal is seeing students, staff and parents set high expectations for themselves and exceeding them. That is a great joy and encourages me to do the same in my role.

Why achieve? Simply because God gave us the ability to use our talents to give him glory through seeking to be our best. In doing so, our lives may be lived in a manner that helps others.

A high achieving teacher helps others to learn. A high achieving builder builds safe homes for families. A high achieving father or mother provides a nurturing environment for his children. The list goes on.

God wants us to be our best so that we can bring out the best in others.

May the God who brought us into existence and gifted us with many talents, lift us to great achievements as a community.


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Trendy coffee and Lutheran education – a mix getting in the way of heaven?

The following is a brief excerpt from a profound presentation given by Anglican Rev Philip North:

“Why [is the church] struggling so much?

“I want to suggest that the answer is quite a straightforward one. It’s because we have forgotten the poor.

Every effective renewal movement in the whole history of the Church has begun not with the richest and most influential, but with the poor and the marginalised. ‘I have come to proclaim good news to the poor’ Jesus said in the synagogue at Nazareth. How often have you seen those last three words ‘to the poor’ omitted or re-interpreted or spiritualised? But when Jesus said ‘poor’ he meant ‘poor, and he demonstrated that in the way he lived the rest of his life.

In order to found a movement to transform the world, he called not the wealthy, the articulate or the powerful but a ragtag, chaotic bunch of third rate fishermen, busted tax collectors and clapped out rebels. He chose the poor and the weak and the powerless, he chose those who knew their utter dependency on God because they quite literally had nothing else to depend on, and with these keystone cop disciples he blew apart the whole meaning of what it is to be human.”

[Recently, in a poor area of England] it was over two years before the Bishop could appoint [a new priest]. Clergy didn’t want to live in that kind of area, they didn’t want their children educated alongside the poor…”

Click here for the full speech

I love my Lutheran Church and would call no other church my home. But time and time again, I feel that we haven’t taken our call to the live of radical socially just service demonstrated by Christ seriously.

It has been written of our spiritual father, Martin Luther:

“[He argued that] God’s justice is a life-giving justice for all persons regardless of gender, race or ethnicity, social or economic status – a justice that should underpin human relationships and the education of future leaders in society. Indeed, he was among the first of his generation to protest business, banking, and religious practices that favoured the wealthy few and impoverished the many. And yet…Lutheran history is marked by the refusal to heed the ancient call to act with justice, exchanging that more difficult task for charitable endeavours or stoic silence in the face of oppression.”

The schools of the Lutheran Church in Australia originally served marginalised German migrant communities. What made the schools ‘Lutheran’ were the Lutheran students, parents and staff. What made the schools ‘Lutheran’ was the strong desire to preserve German language and culture as well as to educate children in a manner that would uphold and continue Confessional Lutheranism.

When our Lutheran schools  began to be blessed with government funding  in the last quarter or so of the last century, our system grew and took in increasingly large numbers of non-Lutheran families. This too was a blessing and a ministry opportunity.

I can’t help but suspect that as we needed to start attracting families and increasing enrolments we allowed ourselves to focus too much on those things that attract some non-Christian families. I suspect our marketing was more often ‘Come to our school, we’ll set you up for success using our world class facilities’ than ‘Come to our school, we’ll introduce to Christ our saviour who will call you to reject the trappings of our consumerist world and align yourself with the poor.’

The shortage of Lutheran pastors in our church is mirrored in a shortage of Lutheran leaders in our schools. Perhaps in a situation akin to what Rev North writes of above, many of our suburban Lutheran schools serving more affluent families find it easier to find staff than our schools serving more marginalised communities or schools in regional and remote areas.

I recently heard of a primary teaching position being advertised at the same time in our system at two distinctly different schools: School A is in an affluent suburb serving a majority of affluent families while School B is in an area with a high level of socio-economic disadvantage. School A received in excess of 100 applications while School B received 4. There are complex factors at play here but I feel there is a message sitting with these figures.

Rev North put it so well:  “If you feel called to [ministry] we need you in those areas where the trendy coffee shops and artisanal bakers are hard to find…[go] there if you really want to make a difference in Jesus’ name.”

I encourage us as schools of the Lutheran Church to consider the following:

  • How well are we following Christ’s example of care for the poor?
  • How representative of Australian society are our schools? Do our fee structures prevent those families most needing a transformative education from receiving it?
  • What role does a loss of focus on the person and work of Christ have in our increasing difficulty to staff our schools?
  • Are students in Lutheran schools being acculturated into having a Christian responsibility of lifelong service to others?



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Learn. Care. Achieve

We learn as a community of learners.

We care for ourselves and each other.

We achieve beyond what we believe possible.

We do all this to give glory to God and serve the world in love.


“…only fools despise learning”

Proverbs 1 (Brennen translation)


As a community we have developed a new vision statement for the College and it is the outcome of a collaborative approach by students, parents and staff. Our vision is summarised in three simple yet significant words – learn, care, achieve. In chapel this week our community reflected on what it means to learn. We asked ourselves “What makes a good learner?”

Do good learners:

  • Complete all homework?
  • Turn up to class on time?
  • Wear their uniform correctly?
  • Remember their diary?
  • Avoid picking subjects that they find ‘easy’?
  • Have neat handwriting?

While the above are healthy learner habits, they are not the fundamental actions that make good learners. Studies completed by some very gifted researchers, educators, governments and leaders have found that the most crucial action of a successful learner, is the learner themselves expecting to do well. The second most crucial action is the learner listening to and acting on the feedback given from others.

Successful learners may not get ‘A’s all the time, they will make mistakes and they usually don’t ‘get it right’ the first time’ – but they always commit to getting better.

We learn as a community of learners and as such the staff, parents and guardians of the College have a role to play in being successful learners ourselves. We need to model to students our commitment to learning, that making mistakes is ok, and most of all, showing that learning comes from effort, not from being ‘born smart’.

Take a few moments to consider how a child learns to talk, walk and fend for themselves. God created human beings to learn and it is truly an awe inspiring process. Our job is to humbly walk alongside one another and support each other to commit to get better.

Why bother learning? For me, that question is answered in our new vision. We learn so that we may know how to care for each other, ourselves and the wider world. In doing so, we give glory to God and serve his people.

I am excited about a new term at Lakeside College, and I pray that this excitement for learning will be seen across our community.

May God bless our learning community richly this semester.



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