Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The danger of interprative gymnastics

Augustine, despite all the good things he said, wrote and did, royally screwed up when it came to explaining Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan.

But, he's not alone.

A lot of preachers, speakers and theologians have taken a segment of the bible and executed biblical gymnastics.

And it's not just the parables of Jesus that endure the "creative" explanation. The same is especially true for the books of Song of Songs and Revelation.

The odd thing about some of these "imaginative" interpretations are, at times, they fly in the face of the interpretation which the scriptures themselves give. 

Why the heck would you, like Augustine, apply a complex interpretation when one isn't needed!?!

For, the insidious element of such interpretations is that it weakens the confidence those listening have in the bible.

Why would you trust the plain, face-value, interpretation of a passage - even if it's by Jesus himself - if there's a "secret" truth or application which lies underneath? 

Taken to its extreme, this feeds a modern-day form of Gnosticism, where the scriptures hold a "secret knowledge" which only some are attuned to.

This is the foundation-weakening danger of such interpretations...

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Doubt vs Unbelief

I've had doubts... Big doubts... Wanting to scream at God doubts.

But I don't think this is the same as unbelief.

For, doubt says that I don't understand. 

I don't understand something about the circumstances I find myself in. 
I don't understand how to reconcile an event with the character of God. 
I don't understand a concept described in the bible.

Doubt comes with humility and searching.

Unbelief, on the other hand, says that I won't believe.

Despite what the bible says, I won't believe.
Despite evidence to the contrary, I won't believe.
Despite my experience and the experiences of others, I won't believe.

Unbelief comes with pride and stubbornness.

I believe that God is more than big enough for doubt and welcomes those who hold a healthy balance of faith and doubt.

But, unbelief, just like the out working of all sin and rooted in self-idolatry, declares that we know better than God and place ourselves upon the mantelpiece of our lives.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The surprising person of a healthy church

I previously wrote that there are, amongst others, three signs of a healthy church - weirdos, smokers and confused new people.

But, I now think there's another person who will show the health of a local church. 

Those with mental issues...
Those who are downright crazy...

Every church I've been a part of has a unstable person show up regularly, be it at a church service or during the week.

No matter if they're struggling with illness, addiction or homelessness, churches, as they should, attract those who need help.

I think these kind of people reveal the heart of a church.

Are they really welcoming?
Are they actually inclusive?
Can they extend hospitality to someone who does things which makes them uncomfortable?

When someone comes into a church, ranting or obviously "under the weather," then it lifts the lid on the true nature of the community. 

And, if it truely is a place where all are welcome, then a healthy church should attract, or at least retain, the unstable and down-on-their-luck.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Do your messages match?

I've seen a lot of advertising/promotional material for churches and ministries... Websites, fliers, banners, posters, church signs.

I also assume that the vast majority of churches and ministries know what their core values are and the primary things they want to achieve.

So, I wonder, what would happen if you reverse-engineered a ministries advertising in order to discern their main message?

Would the result match the expected aims of the ministry leaders?

I suspect, when it comes to many forms of church promotions, from a purely outsiders perspective, the answers might disturb those within church leadership.

They would think that their ministries are about, for example, the gospel, but their promotional material communicates something different.

This is one of the advantages of bringing in, and then debriefing, your promotional material via non-believers and delving into the last few years of advertisements when you start in a new ministry placement.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Fun will never win

I like to have fun. I, arguably, act well below my age and, all too often, drag people down to my level.

AND ministry to young people MUST be fun. 

It is not the enemy, has been one of the stated things I've wanted the ministries I've lead to be known for and caps off my Ten Commandments of youth ministry leadership.

BUT... Fun will never ultimately last or win in youth ministry.

Fun is expensive.
Fun will be superseded.
Fun will not keep you going when you hit your season of extra support.

Don't believe me?

Consider the extreme drop off rates many fun-based youth groups experience.

Youth group "fun" is replaced with dating...
Youth group "fun" is replaced with parties...
Youth group "fun" is replaced with sex...
Youth group "fun" is replaced with the alcohol...
Youth group "fun" is found to be offering empty promises which the rest of the Christian church don't deliver upon...

Why?

Because youth group "fun" will never compete with what the world can provide.

Youth group games, messy games, food challenges, amazing races, mixers, get-to-know-you activities, outings and lock-ins are all fun (and things I've done plenty of times!) but, in short, the contest isn't even close.

And, more importantly, we have something better to offer than just fun.

We have Jesus.

If all a youth ministry provides is fun, then ultimately they'll end up fighting a losing battle and offer those they minister to a massive disservice by keeping the most life-changing and life-giving thing in the world to themselves.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The two hobby horses I ride

In light of my last post about the timing of ministers introducing their personal hobby horses, I've been wondering what hobby horses I've got.

When I reflect on the talks I've given, topics I go out of my way to teach on and angles I make sure to include when applicable, a few spring to mind.

Obviously, the first would be ministry to young people. But, this seems far too generic.

More specially, I could focus in on youth ministry leadership or effective communication.

But, when I think of the topics I continually circle back to on this blog, two spring to mind.

The first are the drop out points within churches for young people. I've mentioned this topic a lot, building upon it over the years.

The second is one that I've pondered a plenty. It's resulted in some of my most controversial opinions, my most viewed posts and most confronting conversations during my time in ministry.

I've read a whole lot about porn, both from a Christian and a secular perspective, and the damaging impact it has on those who consume and, in general, produce porn.

And if you want me to fire up about a topic, these are the two hobby horses which I'll jump on board and quickly ride into town.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

When do you ride your hobby horse for the first time?

We all have hobby horses. 

Everyone who sits in the pews...
Everyone who leads a ministry...
Everyone who speaks from a pulpit...

Some people will call it their 'burning passion.'
Others will call it 'the thing you won't shut up about.'

We all have them.

So, when should a minister expose theirs?

As a general rule, when you arrive in a new placement, you should stick to the basics. 
Preach Jesus. 
Don't throw too many controversial bombs in your first few months. 
Build trust.

But, as the months roll on, when do you reveal your hobby horse?
When do you share your 'vision' or 'passion' that 'God has placed upon your heart?'

In short, I'm not 100% sure.

But, I know that your hobby horse shouldn't be your starting point. You start with the foundations upon which your hobby horse rides... The gospel and trust.

Because, without those foundations, people won't care about your opinion or buy into your hobby horse.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The gift of sitting beside a newbie

Binging on your favourite tv show.
Watching your favourite movie.
Listening to your favourite CD.

Do you remember your first time?
Do you remember the original thrill?
Do you recall the goosebumps?

For many of us, we don't clearly remember how we felt the first time we experienced the things which we now hold dear.

But, we can get the privilege of seeing someone else experience these things for the first time. Then we can see the initial wonderment in the eyes of another.

I wonder how many people put themselves in a position to do this spiritually?

To invite a friend to attend your regular church service...
To read a gospel with someone completely unchurched...
To share the the good news of Jesus with a child...

When you watch one of your beloved movies with somebody else who hasn't seen it can't help but fall in love with it all over again.

The same thing can happen with the gospel if we give it a chance...

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

When you hold the mirror

It's not uncommon, when I write something on my blog, in a Tiny Bible Bit or mention something in a sermon, that someone will ask whom I had in the back of my mind.

Sometimes what I write is inspired by a conversation I have with someone else of what I've stumbled across online.

But, all too often, the person who inspires the post and who is in the crosshairs of any truths therein, looks at me in the mirror.

Lots of the time, I am the person for whom I write. I am the person whom needs to hear the message. 

It happens far more than anyone is aware.

And I suspect that I'm not alone.

After sitting with an idea for a few days or marinating within a scripture passage for a week, the areas where your conscious is pricked or you're aware that you need growth will be exposed.

When someone stands before others, or hits publish on the interwebs, quite often they are simultaneously holding both a megaphone and a mirror.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The older generation's secret faith vs today's share-everything compulsion

This morning, after church, I was involved in an interesting discussion about evangelism and the mainline church. It was pointed out, I feel correctly, that older generations - which make up the vast majority of mainline denominations - largely see their faith as a deeply personal thing.

This, it was proposed, is a genuine reason for the stagnation of more traditional denominations.

With the drop in culture-based obligated attendance, the way the primarily church grows is due to faith sharing evangelism. Amongst the older generations, as a sweeping generalization, this does not happen freely.

As I pondered this, I wondered if this is positively counteracted by the social-media-driven oversharing of today's generation.

In the past, when a person went to church, or had a significant experience, they might keep it to themselves or only disclose it to those who they felt would be "accepting" or "safe."

Nowadays, everyone knows. Instantly.

You post pictures.
You live tweet the conference.
You take a selfie.
You tag your location.

And all your friends know...
And your family...
And the people you used to go to school with...
And your workmates...
And your random acquaintances.

All 1000 of your "friends" can potentially "see" your faith experiences.

On top of the status of your religious views.

And the "motivational quotes" you post by C.S. Lewis.

And the fact that you follow Tiny Bible Bits (I'll admit that this is a cheap plug) and like your favourite bible teachers and ministries.

Today, due to the "negative" that we compulsively feel the need to post everything since we would hate for anyone to miss a morsel of your existence, is this a hidden evangelistic treasure?

Now, there are plenty of reasons why the mainline denominations are faltering - lack of engagement during services, not utilizing modern technology, past mistakes ignored or covered over, an old-fashioned stance on many hot button issues, and many, many more - but, if the church is grown one person at a time, through personal invitation, then the introverted nature of the older generations, in regards to faith, may be a genuine contributing factor that doesn't get enough air-time.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

What I look for in a minister

Having worked in multiple churches over the last decade, I have a different perspective when it comes to ministers.

I've worked alongside ministers. Some for long periods of time, others just for a few months. Some who have just begun in their placement, others firmly entrenched.

I've heard stories about ministers. Some good, some quite negative.

I've trained besides ministers, attended conferences with them and hung out casually with them. 

So, when it comes to a minister, I'm not drawn to some of the things which others treasure.

Often, when I've evaluated ministers, my opinions have waivered from others.

They uphold pastoral care. And beautiful liturgy. And tenderness.

Frankly, these aren't at the top of my wish-list.

I want someone with a plan.
I want someone who can communicate and execute a vision.
I want someone who won't be afraid to speak the truth or compromise on the things that matter.
I want someone who won't be afraid to take risks and encourages others to step out in faith.

Now, I think that these things matter to everyone in congregations, but, personally, I value these things because it's these qualities which will result in me wanting to work alongside them, be mentored by them, be challenged by them, be held accountable by them and lead the church forward in growing the Kingdom of God.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The person who tests your claims

Extending grace.
Showing forgiveness.
Displaying hospitality.
Being inclusive.

Faith communities, and individual believers, like to think that they live out the above, and frankly, many other "Christian" qualities.

But, there's a way to work out just how far your claims extend.

With whom do they stop.

Where does your grace cease?
Who won't you forgive?
Who won't you welcome
What groups of people won't you include?

I can think of people whom I don't want to show grace to and have excluded.

Equally, I can think of events, both done by me and to me, which I struggle to forgive and would result in disfellowship.

Now, I'm not advocating that we should be complete doormats... But, when we throw around weighty and costly terms like grace, forgiveness or inclusiveness, we need to be aware that, for many of us, our lives don't reflect all they could. 

In short, all too often, the rubber doesn't hit the road nearly as much as we might feel it does. 

The good news about the faulty equation we present is that it reminds us that we have a way to go in our discipleship and sanctification, that we are not God, and how much living out these core characteristics costs God/Jesus.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The next person deserves that you make a stand

No church is perfect. Not. Even. One.

Everyone who has been connected with a church for any significant amount of time knows this. This is especially true if you've worked for a church.

But some churches are quite a distance from healthy.

Be it the systems they use, the way they communicate, the leadership dynamics or a thousand other things, some churches contain within them serious disfunction.

Ideally, when someone steps into a ministry position, they're aware of the deficiencies lurking within.

And when they're exposed a staff member has a decision.

Do they say/do something?

Now, I understand why you might let some things slide... Job protection, not wanting to be a troublemaker, thinking the problem is to engrained, choosing to change the culture over time, hoping to out-survive the problems...

But, at times, there's another person who needs to be kept in mind.

The next person.

The next minister... the next youth minister... the next children's ministry coordinator... The next music director... the next church council member... 

For, sometimes the next person, and the effectiveness of their ministry, needs you to make a stand in order for things to improve.

And that can be scary.

But, if the church is to get healthy, someone needs to shine a light on the dark places and be prepared to till the tough soil.

Even if it comes at a cost.

The next person, the effectiveness of the present ministry and those you leave behind, all deserve it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

I am not necessary

I haven't been in vocational ministry for approximately six months now... And that's ok.

Sure, I do miss it, but, when it comes to the advancement of the gospel... I'm not necessary. 

I might be useful.
I might be, on occasions, graciously used by God.

But I'm not necessary.

How do I know?

Because things continue without me...
Just as they did before I arrived...
Just as they do in a million other places...

At my home church, in my first ministry position, my coworker and I used to share a saying after an activity we thought went particularly well.

"God did good... you just happened to get in the way."

At times, this was the exact reminder that was needed.

Because, while God did use you, He didn't have to.

For, you might have been useful, but you weren't necessary...

Saturday, May 7, 2016

When sucking is an ok thing to witness

Parts of a church service can make you cringe, even from the front of the church.

But there are a few occasions when the person leading the service, singing, saying a prayer, giving the notices or preaching is given a free pass...

When they are still new at it.

Why? 

Because people should be encouraged to get involved and, inevitably, everyone has a first time.

And, when you're still new at something, you tend to suck.

When someone is obviously trying their best, but still developing, then they should be shown lots and lots of grace, sprinkled with helpful feedback if it's warranted and requested.

For, everyone, no matter how devout, experienced, inspiring, influential, charismatic or famous, started somewhere. 

And they probably sucked quite a bit as well...

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The secret ingredient of great ministerial elevator pitches

Today, one day removed from the federal budget and a week away from the offical launch of the next election campaign, has been a day of politicians selling their message.

I've written here about the two elevator speeches that youth ministers need to be able to nail.

But, I now think the list is incomplete.

A youth minister should have in his back pocket a number of pitches depending on the person standing before them.

They should be able to nail the spiel about Jesus and the things their church does... 
To a new student.
To a parent.
To a young adult.
To a potential leader.
To their senior minister.
To the secretary.
To a church councillor/elder.

But, the elevator pitches to all of these - and more - groups, can be made easier if one element is included.

A familiar name.

Include the name of one of the new student's friends.
Include the name of the parent's child.
Include the name of a dedicated and brought in leader.

Say that X loves it...
Say that X will be looking forward to it...
Say that X will be there...
Say that X has been involved in the planning...
Say how X has been impacted by the ministry...

This is the secret sauce of effective ministerial elevator pitches.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Can you name all 66?

Could you name all 66 books of the bible?
Does it really matter?

During the week, starting with the New Testament, I tried to say all the books of the bible in order.

For the most part, I did pretty well.

I forgot Philemon in the New Testament and, while being shown grace on the order of the Minor Prophets, only missed Jonah in the Old Testament.

64 out of 66 isn't too bad...

But the person I was doing it with, whilst also achieving a good recollection, missed quite a few of the obscure books.

Why?

Because she hadn't really encountered them in depth.

But I think every Christian, like the one I was with, should be able to give a good accounting of themselves when it comes to the books of the bible.

Why?

Because they should have a good idea of the bible's meta-narrative.

Like those who gain a wider biblical perspective from teaching scripture, after sitting in church for a number of years - never mind independently spiritually feeding yourself - you should have a rough outline of the overarching salvation story.

If you don't, it might be due to the leadership of your church not feeding you a wide diet from the scriptures.

It's one of the advantages of using the lectionary passages (even though I wouldn't recommend doing it 50 weeks a year).

Following the example of Paul from Acts 20, the church should seek to teach you the whole counsel of God, spanning the breadth and depth of the entire scriptures.

But, the most important element of this teaching should never be for memory retention.

The marker of success is life change and increasing Christlikeness.

So, while 64 out 66 is a pretty good mark, I don't think it'll impress many people outside of the those on The American Bible Challenge. And even then, they'd never forgive me for forgetting Jonah.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The dangers of inviting too early

I like it when someone makes a similar point that I did, but much, much, better.

A few years ago I wrote a post about the need to Pick the low hanging fruit when launching a new ministry. The folks at Youth Leaders Academy make a similar point here, but with some tremendous warnings.

To sum up, they warn newbie youth leaders to exercise caution in reaching beyond the walls of the church before you've securely established the founding group.

i throughly agree with the points made, especially the subtle message sent to those attending surrounding their worthiness as participants.

Let's face it, who wants to feel that they aren't (insert insecurity here) enough, thus the leadership needs to pursue others?

I think caution is needed when it comes to the timing of actively inviting others into a new group. 

First, they need time to develop and get comfortable in who they are.

How can you effectively invite someone to something when you yourself aren't sure what it exactly is, what it stands for and what it will look like regularly?

Second, as the saying goes, you need to earn the right to invite. 

Usually, we apply this to the invitee. You need to develop a relationship with the person your inviting in order for the invite to be most effective.

But, you also need to earn the trust of those in the existing group. You need to reassure them that, no matter how many "others" might arrive, they are still valued and they will always be cared for. In short, someone else won't get their attention or appreciation.

Finally, you need to give a new group time to develop. It needs time to set a cultural foundation and identity. They need to know who they are and what they're all about.

Otherwise you can destabilise a group still trying to find its feet.

These are the hidden dangers of the premature invite.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Do we even consider boosting the ministers pay packet?

I'm fully aware that what I'm about to propose, in most ministry contexts, is pure fantasy. After all, how many churches are meeting their church budget, never mind exceeding it?

But, in the unlikely or fortunately blessed occasion that the bottom line is in the black, does a church even consider giving the minister a one-off raise?

I write one-off raise because many denominations advise how much ministers get paid through the means of a stipend and how much their salary goes up annually, usually by CPI, often determined by a larger governing body.

But, if the church is going through a time of growth - numerical, financial, or both - and it can be attributed to the minister, is it worth, at least, entertaining the option of rewarding the minister for the fruit of his/her labour?

I pose this question off the back of this financially themed post which points out the awkwardness minsters face in regards to bringing up financial matters, including raises.

So, what would happen if a church decided - on their own - if the budget was, say, $10,000 ahead at the end of the financial year, to give the minister a $5,000 blessing?

How would it affect the wellbeing of the minister?
How would this change the mindset of a minister who has had previous secular work where bonuses were available if you meet or exceeded quotas or expectations?
To what degree would the minister feel encouraged, appreciated and supported, three areas where ministers can be particularly vulnerable?
How would it affect the way a minister's family, especially spouse, viewed the church?

Again, I know this might be a complete pipe dream, but I'm curious if this option is even explored by any treasurers or finance teams since, in most other employment settings which most people would be immersed, the "leader/boss" would be eligible for a performance based bonus.

Why can this not, on occasions, happen in the church?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The lasting legacy

Forgotten or replaced...

Programs.
Activities.
Resources.

Chances are, everything you do in ministry - given enough time - will be forgotten or replaced.

So, if it's not the programs, activities or resources which you leave behind, what is the enduring legacy someone has in a church?

It's the people.
It's the relationships you forge.
It's the God-moments you helped facilitate.
It's the memories.
It's the influential conversations you were a part of.

These are someone's legacy, which will not be forgotten or replaced as the years drift by...