Welcome everybody, today’s guest is Matt. And Matt Garvin and I first met I think through Fusion – you were in Fusion and I was in YWAM (Youth With A Mission) and if you know Fusion at all then you know Matt’s name, for sure. And then, let’s see, I’m a bit of a Facebook addict, so Matt went to Canada and suddenly there are these things popping up on Facebook – sermons, recorded sermons and all kinds of things and I would listen to Matt’s sermons and read his blogs and that was really cool, following all your adventures, and then suddenly, big adventure: God was calling Matt back to tiny little Hobart where he is now pastor of a Baptist church and still posting sermons on Facebook so you can listen there.
Matt and Leanne have four grown up children, and it’s really good to chat with you.
No worries, it’s fun.
So can you start by telling us how you became a Christian?
Ah well, it’s a journey really. I remember being about three and inviting Jesus into my heart with my mum and then telling all my friends. But I think there’s also, there really was this journey of it gradually becoming more and more my own journey. So I chose not to get baptised until I left home and I was out in Broken Hill and I did this really boring discipleship course that the church ran there. But as I did it, it was enough for me to go, ‘this is real, this is mine, and Jesus, I want to follow you.’
And so from there I ended up doing the Fusion Bible college – I was in Broken Hill doing radio, working with TBH Broken Hill. Some friends of our family purchased that and I worked there for a couple of years, it was great. But then I did Fusion’s Bible college course, which became a Certificate 4 in Youth and Community Work and for me as we engaged with the Bible, all of a sudden, it wasn’t a big emotional thing, just all of a sudden you just saw more and things made more sense. And really from that point on I think it was no longer going to be possible for me to just work for money or, you know, I was then on an adventure.
Absolutely. So you grew up in a smallish Christian community?
I was counting up, I actually grew up in a number of them. Initially, my first twelve years were in the northern suburbs of Sydney – a place called Berowra – then we moved down to Sale in Victoria where Fusion purchased a farm and we lived there for about five years. There was a training course there, there was also an employment program teaching people how to do metalwork. It was just a fun place to grow up, on a farm as a kid.
And then after that we moved back to Sydney for a couple of years and in Broken Hill I lived in a convent with the church there and the Cornerstone mob at the convent in Broken Hill. And then came down here to Hobart and there was a bunch of Fusion people living in an intentional community, it didn’t last very long, but it was houses kind of linked together.
And then, eventually we purchased Poatina, and I, after living here in Hobart for about ten years, I married Leanne here, we moved to Poatina. And then ultimately we moved to Mornington in Victoria and there Fusion has an old officer’s mess that’s like a double storey building and at any one time there’s half a dozen homeless kids living with us as well as staff and everybody else. That’s an intentional community caring for the homeless. And then we came back to Poatina and ended up back here.
So I had a few experiences of growing in little communities around the place.
So my life is fairly similar, we started in a farm that was doing rehab and then we moved into a children’s foster home that was linked buildings, cottages for foster children and then we went to a monastery in Canberra and then when we moved back here, I actually prayed for a house with five bedrooms so that I could have my own bedroom, I forgot to pray that we’d be the only people living in the house.
So many of us in this house, you wouldn’t believe. And then we moved out to the farm again. So I was a really, I don’t know whether I’m strange or normal, but for me moving into a normal house in a normal street with a normal address, that was just one of the desires of my heart.
But how would you say having that, it’s hard to say because you lived it, but having that experience of community growing up, how that affected your life?
It meant I loved and hated community. I never planned to be a pastor, that was never part of the plan, but it meant I come into being a pastor with a sober understanding that people are messy, and that community requires grace. But it also requires difficult conversations. And just because we all believe in Jesus doesn’t mean it’s going to be simple. So I think it equipped me to be a pastor in ways I haven’t even been conscious of.
But it also gave me a vision, there’s a book that has shaped me (well, there’s a few books that have shaped me) but one is by a Canadian guy Jean Vanier called Community and Growth. He set up the L’Arche communities and he wrote this book just reflecting on the L’Arche communities for caring for the disabled that would go on to really influence Henri Nouwen. This book is just a reflection on the messiness and what is needed to build healthy community. And I think it gave me a vision, the best moments of community are like heaven on earth, and the worst moments are like hell on earth.
So I understand, we now own our house in Howrah, and there’s a whole series of miracles … we don’t own it, the bank owns it, we’re paying off the bank. But just having a little house in Howrah is lovely. But I know, I think I have a vision of what the church is meant to be. A picture of intentional community.
So you can see there are strong emotions associated with it, some are extremely positive and some are extremely negative. But all of it has shaped me.
For sure. Well, for sure, as in that’s my experience too.
So, how did you end up in Canada?
Well, it really was one of the most painful, it was a really painful journey. Because I had assumed I’d be working with Fusion for the rest of my life. Then we had this messy situation where my Dad ended up having to step down from leadership quickly. And a few of us stepped in to try and hold it together. And because my Dad was the founder of the organisation, when people lost trust in him, they lost trust – and things got really messy, it’s really hard to describe. There were people we had served alongside and they were family. When Christian community gets messy it’s horrible.
But a few of us stepped in to try to hold it together, and I stepped into the international leadership with a few friends for, in the end, two years in a row, with two different groups of people. But it seemed, after two years of trying, it became clear that, for some people, the experience and the pushing back against my Dad meant that being a ‘Garvin’ it wasn’t going to be possible to be productive.
So Fusion in Canada got to us and said, ‘we feel like God’s told us to offer you guys a sabbatical, to come and be with us for twelve months over here.’ I had done some teaching in Canada and connected with the Baptist seminary over there so I thought, ‘OK I’ll go and study my masters of theology for a year’.
And the whole journey was miraculous. Because with Fusion you don’t get a wage, you trust that the money will turn up and it does, similar to YWAM. And it was interesting getting on the plane with $200 in our pocket. We hadn’t had the money to buy passports but somehow God miraculously provided those. And then arriving in Canada with hardly any money and trusting and really walking through this journey and spending six months saying, ‘God, what’s going on?’
As part of the messy phase I’d actually written a book called Six Radical Decisions about what does it mean to live your faith? And it was really me trying to find my bearings. I looked at my best times in Christian community and in missions, and the worst times, and asked what is the stuff I was committed to. I was also looking at church history and saw that whenever the church was at it’s best there were six things that were true.
The first, and the main one was that people just loved Jesus, that’s the drive of everything. And it’s their love for Jesus that sets the tone for everything. But from that they discover a purpose, Jesus calls them into the world to do something. And as they step into that, they discover they need fellowship…
I ended up launching the book over in the UK and it was something special, going to the pub where CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien would sit down and having a cappuccino there. I wanted to have a beer but my son was with me. And just knowing the fellowship those guys had, it would have been dumb for the local pastor to try to tell CS Lewis how to write the Narnia Chronicles, but the kind of fellowship he could have with the Inklings was what he needed. And the same with Tolkien. And I understand that Tolkien would never have got around to getting the Lord of the Rings published had CS Lewis not kicked him up the backside.
And also, being in a church down in Clapham where Wilberforce helped build and seeing the Clapham set and how they were called to politics, but a politics that changed the world and changed England. And all that came from Wesley.
So seeing the place whenever the church has been its best, there is real fellowship at the heart of it. But it’s fellowship that comes out of an understanding that people are called. It’s not fellowship for fellowship’s sake. So that was the third one.
And then from that realising that the church is at its best when it’s being hospitable. And when it’s not been living for itself, it’s empowering others. And then ultimately it’s about hanging on. When everything in you is screaming to give up, whenever the church has been at its best people are hanging on and trusting Jesus. And it’s usually going through moments of hell.
There’s somebody who doesn’t want the church to be at its best.
That’s exactly right. So I’d written this book saying all this and we were over in Canada, and I was praying, and in the past we’d run out of money before and we’d prayed and God had used money to get our attention. This time we were praying and the money wasn’t coming. And we were saying, ‘God what are you doing?’ And we ended up getting called into ministry, that sounds a bit, but we really did, there was this sense that it was right to go into a church and try and see if we could build the stuff that God had shown me through my twenty years in Fusion and that I’d tried to name in that book, in the life of a church.
In the local church. So moving from para-church to church?
Yeah, that’s right.
And build it. Even though we’re all in different houses and different places and whatever, can we be that community?
And that’s what’s been driving me. And trying to understand, realise how much our understanding of a church has been culturally shaped.
I found an enemy, actually. He was a good man, he’s a man by the name of Donald McGavran who most people have never heard of but he wrote a book about church growth back in the fifties. And he just wanted to grow the church, he’s not a bad man, but the paradigm he communicated of what the church was meant to be, became our paradigm of church.
And it’s always nice to have a textbook, isn’t it?
Yeah. But there are fundamental flaws that have shaped the whole western church, building on his stuff since then. So people like Hybels and all those others would point to McGavran and say, ‘this is what we’re working on’. But McGavran’s idea was that the purpose of the church was to grow the church. And he actually said we only need three roles – we need pastors and evangelists and we need faithful church people who will pay for the other two, pretty much.
OK that doesn’t actually sound like the scripture verse I remember.
No, no, no. So it becomes a narrow ecclesiology. So if you’re in this paradigm, if you want to take your faith seriously, you have to become an evangelist. We actually don’t have, we haven’t had a strong theology of the arts or a theology of health care or being a lawyer or doctor. And some people are actually called to other things than evangelism. And it’s this paradigm that’s shaped organisations like Fusion, and YWAM, and Youth for Christ, they all sprung up around the same time and they are all very evangelistically focussed which is great, but we needed a broader theology, and we needed a theology that was more than the four spiritual laws.
So I think I realised, being over there, being in North America, seeing how cultural the church was, and this was really clear, that the way we’ve done church up to this point, cannot be the way we do church in the future. And some of the stuff I picked up and that you’ve picked up through living in intentional community and the wrestle for how you step into the mess of integrity and living faith in the mess of reality and all, I think that’s more where we need to head. We need to head to ‘what does it mean to be an authentic community of followers of Jesus?’
Which is a very different way of doing church. It’s much more than what happens on a Sunday morning.
So that’s what we were wrestling with in Canada. And it’s interesting, God had taken the church over there, really special people, we love them and we really miss them, on a journey. They’d done the Rick Warren phase, they’d done the Bill Hybels phase, they’d done the forty days of whatever, but they got to the point of saying, ‘who do we want to be?’ And they got to a point of saying, ‘we want to be followers of Jesus. But we know we need to help people step into mission and we don’t know how to do that.’ So they created this big open job description and said, ‘come and help our church move into mission.’ And it was on the basis of that that I ended up being their mission pastor for five years.
Fantastic. So one of my favourite moments with you in that church was the final farewell video where they said that when you turned up at the church they couldn’t understand a word you were saying.
Yeah that’s right.
Which brings me to, OK so you’re growing a church community there and it’s wonderful, why come back here?
It was a bit of an identity crisis. I think God took us to Canada for lots of reasons. We thought we were going there to change Canada, God was actually taking us to, I think heal, and grow, and go through the identity crisis that was becoming a pastor for me. I really never planned to be a pastor.
But after three years, there was something wrong. We tried to settle, we really tried to settle in Canada. We loved the people, we loved the church. It was interesting, Keith who knew your parents, he had arrived there and said, ‘Do you know the Langlois? ‘Yeah, I know the Langlois.’ Anyway, because he’d met with them and he was now our worship pastor and it really felt like we were getting somewhere. But we just couldn’t settle.
We went off to a conference, and again, the Christian Missionary Alliance churches in Canada are fantastic but the conferences were unlike any conferences we had been to before. They were at the Chateau Lake Louise, the Fairmont hotel there, they were fantastic. But we went to one every year, we’d go off and spend three or four days at the Fairmont. And this time we went and at a prayer time we got a bunch of people together and said, ‘We want to ask you to pray for us. We’re just feeling really unsettled and we can’t, the money won’t free up for us to buy a house, and … there’s something going on. Is there something in us that’s wrong?’
Anyway, we prayed into it and were given a bit of a picture that we were on this journey and that God was going to take us somewhere. And we just had a sense that God was going to take us out and maybe back to Australia. And the day we got back from that conference Stephen Baxter, who is the state leader now for the Baptists in Tasmania, sent us an email. This job at Citywide Baptist had been advertised and initially I’d looked at it and thought, ‘I don’t think so’ but I looked at it again and looked at the job description, looked at the heart of the church and thought, ‘you know I don’t know if you’d get a better match’.
And I sent him back an email and said, ‘Well, mate, we’d be open to it’ and so we began a dialogue and in the process of talking with the crew here, this church here at Citywide had been on a journey too.
And they were uniquely positioned, the Mornington campus which was Citygate Baptist church had been formed when the bridge fell down, and it already had this creative edge trying to respond to community needs. Because they were brought together, they were Baptists and Anglicans and all kinds of people together after the bridge and that was part of the DNA. And over here in Lenah Valley where we are, at the campus here, there really had been a journey for them too of working out what it means to love the community. And then they became one campus and we had a Nepalese congregation and actually we have an art exhibition here right now, one of our Nepalese guys who communicated his journey as a refugee and coming to love Australia.
We talked to the church here and it seemed right to come back. And again, God confirmed it in so many ways. So much so that we had a pastor’s prayer team around us in our little church in Canada, and we went and said to our six prayer people, ‘we think God’s asking us to maybe go back to Australia’ and three of them said, ‘Oh good. Because God’s already told us, and we didn’t know how to tell you.’
Oh wow. Isn’t that amazing?
And then, subsequently we’d find after we agreed to come back, that Leanne’s mum had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and also after we agreed to come back I found out my dad had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. And so at so many levels, and even the fact that we were able to, which is almost miraculous in the Hobart housing climate, to find a house that we could rent straight away and then after a while we could purchase, so we didn’t have to move again.
And there’s this sense, I think it’s probably similar to you, I am so pleased at the moment just to put down roots. I don’t want to move again, we’re here, and it feels like this is a big enough challenge. To work out how do we do this kind of church. How do we be?
Our best way of describing it at the moment is that we want to follow Jesus into the adventure of whole life and authentic community. That’s our best way of trying to explain the heart of what we’re trying to do. We’re want to follow Jesus into the adventure of whole life and authentic community.
And so we’ve been on this journey as a church, trying to name what we’re trying to do and how to get there. And if feels like we’re now starting to get somewhere, we’re starting to put some legs on it.
Because it just takes time, doesn’t it? I mean, it takes a long time.
It’s taken eighteen months for them to look me over and me to look them over and we’re becoming friends. And I think there’s this sense of, and again God’s timing, we came back and we had the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Mornington campus, the 70th anniversary of here at Lenah Valley, and the 10th anniversary of them coming together, all in the same eighteen months. And then we had the Nepalese guys who we officially welcomed as the third congregation and we’re learning so much from them.
So it’s a gift. I now feel, it was a horrible disillusioning time leaving Fusion, but I am so much freer now than I ever have been. And it’s fun. This adventure is fun.
Isn’t that amazing?
And you haven’t rejected Fusion, you run Foundations courses regularly here.
Oh yeah, look the truth is, Fusion in Australia has stopped running Foundations courses, they’re still running them all around the world. But yeah, absolutely, we’re still trying to work out how to support the Fusion crew the best we can, and stay in touch.
But clearly, I feel like we’re working for the same path, that hasn’t changed. But we’re not part of Fusion in Australia in the same way, we’re now on the outside looking in, and love what they’re about and want to do whatever we can at all to encourage it.
And work through the local church and build community here where we are.
And love working in partnership with the other churches, getting to know the crew on the eastern shore and hear at Lenah Valley. One of the challenges of having more than one campus is that at Christmas time we have carols here at Lenah Valley and over at the eastern shore, and things happening everywhere. But it’s fun.
And I think there’s a chance to find a way to do church differently. So it’s good.
So you’re still fairly active online, do you want to give us info about your blog and podcast in case people want to check it out?
Sure. The blog is faithreflections.org and that’s really therapy. It’s me trying to work out, make sense of stuff. And also trying, like at the moment I’m trying to work out what does church membership look like? What’s the relationship of the church to other churches? So I’m just writing about that stuff.
I wrote a blog about the same sex marriage debate, working that through. I’ve written a lot about leadership, and all kinds of things. I started it back in 2010 and it’s sort of been …
It’s like what you were saying with your book, it’s actually as you write it out, you start to understand what you actually think about those things.
Well that’s what I find.
Absolutely. And it got me off and away. Like it actually started, my first book was just an anthology of blogs. So I started to realise that it was possible.
Now with the church we’ve got a podcast where all the sermons every Sunday get uploaded. And also we are now broadcasting the sermons live to Facebook and they also get uploaded to YouTube. And we’re developing a congregation of online viewers, which is fascinating. Like, a lot of services come from The States, but people are enjoying having a Tasmanian thing they can tune in to and be part of. So Citywide Baptist Church on Facebook, every Sunday the sermon gets uploaded and is actually broadcast live.
And that’s just been a functional thing, we’ve had to because we’ve got these two campuses and I was wrestling with, ‘how do we take this journey together?’ and what it means is we’re actually simulcasting. I’m normally two weeks at Mornington because it’s a slightly bigger congregation than here, and then one week here. But either way, wherever I’m preaching from, the other side is getting the same sermon. So that’s what we’re doing.
OK, a couple of questions I ask everybody. First one: When do you feel closest to God?
It varies. For me, in the morning with my cup of coffee in my quiet time is essential for me. That’s like a lifeline.
Some of my most precious moments have been in mission. Where you just, where God turns up and there’s stuff happening you can’t explain and you’re shoulder to shoulder with friends. I’m not naturally an extrovert. Being alone recharges my batteries, but I think probably the most profound times have been with friends.
A number of times me and my friends, when we were working with Fusion, we didn’t have the answers but we’d go into a school and we had to run a program and we’d say, ‘OK God, what are we going to do?’
Turn up now, please.
And he did. And people’s lives were changed.
So those probably are the two edges.
What does your quiet time look like, can I ask? Going into the intimate moments.
For the first 25 years of my life I used to feel guilty because I knew I needed to have it more regularly, but I cracked the code when I realised that if I have it with my first cup of coffee, so I have my cup of coffee in my hand, and I go and find a quiet space.
And I’ve been through different phases, like I’ve read different versions of the Bible, I went through a Message phase, I’m back to the NIV now, and I usually, I’ve got book marks in the Old Testament, in the Psalms, in the Gospels, and in the rest of the New Testament, working through them sequentially, gradually. But also I’ve got a list of stuff, an ongoing list of particular things to be praying for. My memory can be all over the place so I need to find things trigger my memory for prayer.
And I also, at the moment I get an email from Richard Rohr. So I read his email, because he’s a bit left of centre and I find that challenging so I find it helpful. And I’m reading through this new catechism thing from the Tim Keller mob. The more New Reformed mob. Just to read a bit of those things.
And I journal. Mostly I say, ‘God help’ but also ‘Jesus what are you saying?’ and it’s almost always the same thing, ‘Relax man, it’s ok, I’ve got you.’ But the journaling for me is often getting out my fears and stuff.
I find it hard to do it in less than half an hour. So it’s usually 45 minutes or an hour. But that space is pretty essential.
It’s interesting that in the author community, we’re encouraged to do something that’s called ‘Morning Pages’. Which is three pages of free writing in your journal. And I think, ‘isn’t that funny? Christians knew that one already.’ You know, read something good, write in your journal. Got that one.
Finally, what’s something about God and Christianity that you wish everyone knew?
I think some of the stuff that I’ve learned over the last six years is I think I spent a lot of years trying to avoid the pain. I would avoid difficult conversations. And I think one of the truths that’s right through the Bible – Jesus says, ‘unless you’re ready to give up your life for my sake, you won’t find it, but if you’re willing to give up your life that’s where you’ll find your life’ – that you’ll find your life on the other side of the pain.
I’m not avoiding it, not looking for coping strategies to deal with it, but that Christianity calls you to maturity, it calls you to wholeness. In Galatians it says, it’s for freedom you’ve been set free but don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do anything you want. It’s when you have coping strategies to avoid the pain, or where you run away or whatever it just keeps you immature.
So I feel like, as I look back on my life, I am grateful for the difficult moments. I am not grateful for them in the moment usually, but there’s something, when I step into it and stop avoiding it, I think there’s the idea that we can see in Ephesians 4 (which I keep coming back to) when the church is working well, when the gifts are working well, people are growing up. People are finding their unique purpose in life. When the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers are working well people are finding their unique works of service. This is what Paul says. He says, come on boys and girls, the church is meant to be this place that helps us grow up.
And I think we’ve mistaken what the task of a church is. I think we’ve bought into the consumer mindset that says that the church is a product to help me feel better. It’s a product I can consume. Whereas the church is meant to be a family that helps me grow up and find my right relationship with God and the world.
And the outcome of the church working well, and the outcome of Christianity when it works well is mature people. People who are grounded. Who aren’t tossed around. Paul’s picture of immaturity is being tossed around by life like you’re a cork on the waves. So I think we’ve settled for a weak version of Christianity that is tempting. I understand the temptation, if there was such a thing as a prosperity gospel that was true, I can understand the temptation. But it’s dangerous, that stuff. And we end up with churches full of immature people because we don’t have the hard discussions and we tell them that somehow God should save you from the pain.
Probably about four years ago I realised that Psalm 23 says ‘even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil because you are with me’. God doesn’t save us from the valley of the shadow of death in our lives.
Anyway, I’ll stop raving on.
No, that’s so great. Well, there’s so much to think about there. Thank you Matt very much for talking with us today.
Yeah, no worries.