Living with non-compliance

South Queensland Conference president Pastor Brett Townend shares some practical thoughts on compliance from his horse training days.

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Let’s be honest, non-compliance abounds in the Church! Well, at least in the Conference where I serve as president.

Some churches follow the Church Manual closely, others don’t. Some have regular business and board meetings; others try alternative ways of governance. Some return their tithe to the “storehouse”, while others channel it to independent ministries of one kind or another. Some pastors take annual leave without informing their employer. Some elders go ahead and baptise their converts without permission from the Conference; others will appropriately seek consent. Some elders fit the description outlined in Scripture, others don’t.

It’s hard to imagine that our situation is unique. Non-compliance is nothing new, it’s everywhere. And despite it, we have remained united as a Church; united in mission.

We all want compliance—at least it makes life easier when you’re in leadership. But when we see non-compliance what can we do?

Prior to my ministry days I was a horse-trainer, starting young horses out on their training road for polo, racing, dressage, cutting and other pursuits. At the time a new “training” revolution swept the training industry. It was a new approach to an old problem. How do we make a horse compliant? The old school methods used a forced, somewhat punitive approach to these highly intelligent, trusting animals. These methods worked to a point, but the “horse whisperers”, as they were called, came along using different approaches and achieving far better outcomes in much quicker times. I know—I had the privilege of working with one of the best. Their horses were far happier, more settled and much more compliant.

“Nothing forced can ever be beautiful” was a mantra that could describe their approach. The saying was actually an old one, from the earliest Greek horse training manuscript known.1 Rather than forcing anything, the horse whisperers worked on the basis of understanding, respect and trust. Paramount in the process was the sense of freedom that a horse needed and which could be used to the trainer’s advantage. God had made horses that way. Out went the whips, the savage bits, the heavy spurring, the tie-downs and restrictions, and the incredible results changed the horse training industry forever.

Pastor Townend with horse.

I was frequently sent horses that were non-compliant. I made a living out of it. Horses that bucked, reared, wouldn’t load into trailers, couldn’t be shod and so the list goes. Almost without exception, they had become what they were because they’d been handled using punitive approaches that showed no respect, no understanding of their perspective and no trust. Yet, I never had one that couldn’t be brought into a harmonious, compliant relationship using the right principles.

I’m glad the way God treats me is similar to a horse whisperer’s approach. I’m non-compliant far too often. He values and honours my freedom of choice, and yet He works with me to bring me back into a harmonious relationship with Him.

Perhaps we could take pause as a Church and learn from the magnificent animals that can teach us so much about God’s ways. We’d be better for it!


Pastor Brett Townend serves as Conference President in South Queensland Conference and when the opportunity arises he uses live horse training demonstrations to share the gospel

  1. The Art of Horsemanship, by Xenophon.