Monday, November 24, 2014

Sometimes you shouldn't cast the vote

Yesterday our church had a meeting where a vote was taken surrounding an issue of staffing. It wasn't highly controversial and the vote went as I expected.

But, while I could have voted and knew which decision I would have made, I decided not to.

I didn't tell anyone and, in all likelihood, no one probably noticed.

But I believe that there are some time when a staff member should abstain from being a decision-maker.

The reasons are simple.

On some resolutions, like staffing, mission or redevelopment, the decision ultimately lies with the members of the church. They need to own the outcome. They need to way up the costs and discern the direct God is taking them. Whatever is decided needs to be up to them.

Furthermore, on significant matters, the results will directly effect those on staff. If you vote, then you can leave yourself open to the accusation of bias or self-serving.

Finally, depending on the outcome of a vote, tensions can be created amongst staff who have voted differently. And, even if it is a silent vote, questions can be raised about the way workmates voted in a tight decision.

As important as I might think my opinion is, at times, it's not worth airing voting in order to give control to the congregation and because of the potential interpersonal fallout.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A safe person for two unsafe responses

BE WARNED: The following post involves swear words. But, in the context they are used, they are, although uncomfortable, somewhat appropriate.

When I read this post on ministrymatters.com about the 10 Things You Should Never Say to a Grieving Person, I had two responses.

These are the two responses I've both felt, and recommend to people/warned people about, when they're going through a time of tragedy - especially death or miscarriage.

Bullshit and Fuck Off (I did warn you! Don't keep reading if you're offended).

Whenever you're fresh off an event of misfortune or heart-break rationality is not your friend. Sometimes, Bullshit and Fuck Off will be the things which spring to mind and someone needs to allow space for them.

In fact, one of the most important people are those whom you can, even retrospectively, say Bullshit and Fuck Off to. It might not be directed to them personally, but someone who can be a safe sounding board for Bullshit and Fuck Off. Bullshit to the cliques. Fuck off to the idiots.

For, when people are trying to be comforting, they can be unhelpful. And awkward. Even hurtful.

And, at these times, you'll feel one, if not both, responses...

The linked-to article gives a quality run down why the following statements are, intentionally or unintentionally, boneheaded.

But this post is about feelings.
Raw, irrational, feelings.

And they aren't always pretty.

For example, from the article on ministrymatters... This is what's gone through my mind while grieving...

I know how you feel - Bullshit and Fuck Off.
God has a will in this/There is a reason for everything/God is in control - I don't need to hear this right now, Fuck Off.
How are you doing? - How do you think dickhead? Fuck Off.
He's in a better place - Fuck Off.
You can have another child/At least you have other kids - No really, Fuck Off. Far, far, away.
God just wanted another angel - Have a steaming bowl of Bullshit with a giant side of Fuck Off.
It was his time to go - Perhaps so, but I don't want to hear it right now, Fuck Off.
You have to be strong for X - Bullshit and Fuck Off.
God never gives us more than we can handle - Well it's lucky I'm so strong! I don't feel it, so it's Bullshit. Now Fuck Off.

Is there anything I can do for you - Actually, this question isn't so bad compared to the others...

If you're offended by the above, then I apologies. But grief can be ugly.

In case you're wondering, the advice I'd give for those grieving can be found here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The time being part of a denomination helps

No doubt, they are out of fashion.
When churches rebrand, generally, the thing which gets dropped is the traditional title of their denomination.

And, admittedly, they can be annoying.
They can seem out of touch...
They can be weighed down by those entrenched "in the system"...
A large system which, sometimes, seems to slow the movements of God...
A structure which can be difficult to wade through...
An expense which can be used more effectively elsewhere.

But, being a part of a main-stream denomination, like my church is, does have some significant positives.

First, it makes you a part - for better or worse - of something bigger. Your small church is one of many. With united-ish views. Under one symbol.

Furthermore, you're a part of a history. A legacy. You're connected to those who, generations ago, decided to stand unified. You're identified with theologies which have been debated and cherished.

But, being a part of a denomination really kicks in at a crucial time...
An emergency.

Being a part of something bigger is of critical importance when scandal or tragedy strike.

Why?
Because they have the structures to help you deal with them.
They have the history, in all likelihood, of dealing with the situation before.
You are not alone.

Don't believe me?
Mars Hill has imploded because it wasn't a part of something bigger. It was isolated and, thus, vulnerable. For, when it got hit by a mega crisis, it was without the structures, or history, to overcome it.

Now, just by being a part of a denomination might not have saved Mars Hill, but I know that whenever I, my church, or one of my colleagues have been thrown an unexpected bout of turbulence, I've been glad that there was something bigger behind me to help us get through.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Is this what I signed up for?

Some days, those in ministry get home from work and allow their mind to wander back to their initial, first-date-like, job interview.

They think about the promises made.
They think about the rose-coloured perspectives.
They think about the flawless faces which greeted them on their first Sunday.

They then look at what the people at their church go through and wonder... Is this what I signed up for?

Tragedy.
Emergences.
Cancer.
Accidents.
Sickness.
Death.
Miscarriage.
Depression.
Disappointment.
Retrenchment.
Scandal.
Failure.

The answer, no matter how cordial the interview was nor what your job description includes, is a resounding yes.

If you decide to work in ministry, you signed up to the privilege to share life with other people.

Broken people.
Messy people.
Brave people.
Imperfect people.


In ministry, if you're lucky enough, you're able to journey besides people through the ups-and-downs of life.

When life, inevitably, throws something difficult at churchgoers, these ARE the time you signed up for.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A WHAT meeting?

Last Sunday, if we were live streaming our evening service, I'd be Internet famous right now.

Whilst making an announcement about an upcoming, and important, congregational meeting I said something slightly alternate.

A conjugational meeting.

It was not unnoticed.

How the wires in my mind went from congregational to a mash-up of conjugal (if you're wondering why that might be a little awkward, then this might assist), I don't know, but at least I didn't make this guys mistake...

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Before and after family ministry expectations

Those who work with kids on a Sunday morning can get frustrated by the flocculating numbers experienced each week.

One week you'll have a handful of kids, the next you'll get a near-full-turnout, seemingly, without any discernable pattern or reason.

Thus, planning can be problematic and, on a week you've got something special planned, quite discouraging, if that happens to be the Sunday families "have off."

We can even, in our weaker moments, wonder why families are "so flakey" when it comes to church attendance.

But, there are two stages of life for those who work with families...

Before, when you expected families to be a church each week, and after.

Before, when you didn't fully get why families are tired, stressed, overworked, and after.

Before, when you didn't live the life of someone on four hours sleep - months on end, and after

Before, when you didn't know what croup was or were kept up due to whooping cough, and after.

Before, when you didn't have to plan the next day ahead for someone who's totally dependent upon you, and after.

Before, when each journey didn't involve car seats and contingency plans "just in case," and after.

Before, when you didn't have a toddler who can radically tantrum at any given moment, and after.

Before, when toilet training and "big girl pants" never entered your mind at the start of the day, and after (what my wife and I are going through currently).

Before, when you didn't have kids, and after.

Before, when you didn't understand, and after, when you do.

A commonly quoted "stat" is that a regular church family will make it to church twice a month.

Once you've got kids, the perspective you have for those families transforms.

Now that my wife and I ARE THOSE FAMILIES, getting to church when able... despite our willingness, I LOVE IT whenever families attend church.

Because now I understand just how much of an effort it is...

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The last piece to get rid of?

I've written about the changes a one might need to go through upon de-conversion here, but, prompted by something I read the other day, I now realize that I missed one sad artifact of prior faith.

Your bible.

What would you do with it?

Upon walking away from faith, how long would it take to cast off your bible?

Would/could you, like the person in the article I read, sell it?
Do you give it away to charity?
If so, why would you want to put, what you now think is a erroneous book, into the hands of others?

Thus, do you destroy it?

Or, would you keep your bible on the shelf... just in case... you'll want to reach for it one day?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Focus on one section of the teddy

Sometimes, do you wish you could just chop off a segment of your life?
Do you wish you could leave the physical ailments at home or unplug your overworked intellect?

One of the ways I help determine the healthy of people is to take them through the "Teddy Reflection" which attempts to weigh up the healthy of seven areas in life.

But, life isn't so segmented.

If one part of your life's out of whack then it'll have a flow on effect.

Physically, if you're not sleeping enough, it will effect your ability to effectively work and study...
Stress at work will effect your relationships at home...
If your emotions are running rampart, they will leech into other areas...

But, when life feels out of control, you can choose to work on just one area.

For, if one area starts to regain health, it'll make it easier to tackle some of the other problems life's throwing at you.

Better yet, for someone who feels overwhelmed, hearing that it's okay for them to especially focus on just one area is far less daunting than looking at a warped teddy and feeling that the problem is too big to change.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A response to Halloween

This is the response to Halloween I gave out at church...

I never went trick-or-treating as a kid. It had nothing to do with religion, as my parents didn’t attend church, it just wasn’t done amongst my friends or in my neighbourhood.
I’m only in my early thirties, but even I have to admit that times seem to have changed. Quickly.
Halloween is getting increasingly difficult to ignore. It’s in shops, day-care centres, kindergartens and (you’ve probably noticed!) schools.
Each year there seems to be an increasing number of trick-or-treaters.
And… Halloween’s not going away…

So, how should parents respond to Halloween?

Is it nothing but harmless fun or evil-incarnate? A sugar-fuelled time of enjoyment or a corrupting influence?
If you ask Google, you get approximately 31,100,000 results in just 0.24 seconds.
This short article isn’t about giving you a definitive answer, but instead, provide information to help you arrive at a decision which is most appropriate for what you and your family believe to be important.

Halloween raises, for many, two potential issues resolving around culture and faith…
First, no matter what your beliefs may be, should those in Australia celebrate Halloween, a tradition closer associated with North America.

And, if you’re a Christian, is it appropriate to celebrate Halloween and what options are there to respond?

In order to make some informed decisions, it makes sense to quickly take a closer look at what Halloween is…

HISTORY... Why Halloween?

Two traditions hide behind Halloween.

Halloween falls on October 31, the day before the church celebrates and remembers All Saints’/All Hallows Day. On this date, the church recalls and recognises the important people of faith, both past and present – near and far, who have been significant in a personal and communal faith journey. Halloween is an abbreviation of All Hallows Eve.

But the oldest tradition comes from the Celts who marked the New Year, and change of the seasons, by celebrating Samhain. Details can be confusing, but it was believed that the spiritual and physical realms overlapped during that night and the spirits could then walk the earth. People put on scary masks and lit bonfires to scare away evil spirits.

Like other Christian festivals, the church utilised a date of previous observance or celebration to mark a significant date on the calendar.

Should this history be a problem?

To begin, if might be wise to consider, for yourself, your family and your neighbours, what Halloween means today. Does it still revolve around Druid rituals?
Unless you have a concern about the dates of other Christian festivals and the symbols used, like the Christmas tree - a tradition which can be traced back to ‘pagan’ customs, then Halloween need not cause immediate apprehension.
But Halloween does raise some modern questions…

CONNECTION... A Safe Opportunity?

To start, is the idea of knocking on strangers’ doors safe for your kids?
Doesn’t trick-or-treating go against “Stranger Danger”?

Well supervised, trick-or-treating can be relatively safe, especially if done in local communities, amongst people your family already have a relationship with.
If done thoughtfully, Halloween can be a fantastic opportunity to connect with the parents of children’s friends, other families and your neighbours.


Second, do my kids need to dress provocatively?

Of course not. You control what they do and don’t wear. You don’t need to allow your child to dress as a ghost, witch, the devil or an overtly revealing costume if it makes you uncomfortable. There are plenty of alternate costume options.

But, is this something we really need to do in Australia?

You have complete freedom to choose what you do on Halloween.
But Halloween is celebrated in many parts of the world, particularly the United Kingdom, Europe and, of course, the United States.

Some would point to the vast number of imported traditions, North American and otherwise, we’ve embraced and see little wrong with Halloween being yet another event in a multicultural society.


FAITH... Discernment and Conscience.

 If you’re a person of faith, Halloween can be problematic with a quick Google search producing 1,3200,000 results for “What should Christians do on Halloween?” Unsurprisingly, opinions differ wildly.
At the core, issues not directly addressed by the bible need to be governed by two things, discernment and conscience.

If, in the surroundings of your family, community and church, it would be unwise to partake in Halloween, then, by all means, give it a miss. God would not want you to do something you cannot do in good faith (Romans 14:3). Instead, stay home and have a quiet night in.

Alternatively, if you can think of no reason which would prevent you from participating in Halloween, or no one who would be hindered by your participation, then feel free to get involved as much as you’re comfortable in doing so (Ephesians 5:15-16, Colossians 4::3).

Being guided by your conscience and the Spirit of God would be a good indicator of what you should do on October 31.
If you’re looking for an alternate way to get involved in Halloween, you might want to check out haloeen.com

The bible says in 1 Corinthians 10:31 - So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
Our desire in life should be to please God, with Halloween being no exception.

But whatever you decide, if one has put considerable thought into their participation in Halloween and come to a different conclusion as you, it is not your (or my) place to judge them (Romans 1:1-5).

Monday, October 27, 2014

Comfort passages

Whenever I choose hymns for the morning service, I have the aim for them to be recognizable for the congregation to almost be able to recite the words from memory.

I want the songs sung in the morning to be stirring... familiar... comfortable.

There are some bible passages which can produce a similar result.

At my church, in the evening service, we're currently in the middle of a series on the Psalms. Last night I preached on, arguably, the most comforting and recognized passage in all the bible... Psalm 23.

I opened the sermon by mentioning that the words of the Psalm, commonly used in funerals, music and on screen, seem to connect with people, no matter what stage of life you're in or how life is treating you.

Everyone can use a shepherd, companion and divine host.

When a church is going through a time of change...
When a church is rocked by scandal...
When a church is recovering from division...
When a minister is just new on the scene...

People, including the minister, could use some spiritual comfort food.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Do you have an atheist part?

You're a church-going, ministry-involved, bible-aware, Jesus-believing Christian.

But you're sleeping with your partner...
You're a sexual atheist.

But you have no problem dating your non-believing boyfriend...
You're a relational atheist.

But you deny the supernatural elements of the gospels because you "know better"...
You're an intellectual atheist.

But you trawl for porn on the Internet, relatively guilt free...
You're a technological atheist.

Do you, as a Christian, have a segment of your life which, when you weigh up the attitudes you have and choices you make, look and feel atheistic?

Are there parts of your life where, as far as anyone could tell, God does not exist?

Monday, October 20, 2014

The two essential elevator pitches you must nail in youth ministry

In youth ministry you need two elevator pitches.

One short, elevator ride timed, spiel should outline the core of the gospel message. Mine boils down to FTH and is ready to go at the drop of a hat.

But I continually fail at the second, absolutely necessary, elevator pitch. Youth group.

Whenever I'm asked to give a quick gist of what we do on a Friday night, I waffle something about fun, games, talks, leaders and food, eventually trailing off...

And it's a real weakness which everyone attached to a youth group should be able to nail. Especially the leader.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Did Jesus get the sniffles?

Tonight I had the last lecture of my final subject - Christology - for my Bachelor of Theology. Dealing mainly with the incarnation and its results, we were asked what struck us during the course of the subject.

For me, there was a passing point made by Athanasius which blew my little mind.

Upon hearing this, my brains were splattered across the back of the classroom...

Are you ready?

Jesus didn't get sick.

At first, when I bumped up against this, it sprung my heresy alarm.

I thought, a part of the human condition, which Jesus took on, includes getting somewhat sick...
And, through the incarnation, God is able to sympathise with our suffering, thus including illness...

But I, relatively quickly, changed my tune once I considered two very valid points.

First, as Athanasius stated, it would be odd that Jesus, being a healer of the sick, could himself get sick. If nothing else, this would bring into question his credibility as a healer. As Lord of disease, theoretically, this should extend to his own body.

And second, there's another important element of human life which Jesus doesn't partake in. Sin. Just because Jesus didn't share this, doesn't reduce the absolute humanity He did have.

So, unless He was shedding a tear, Jesus didn't really have a need for the Kleenex.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

You may not be a large Youth Pastor in disguise

Last week we had the largest number at youth group we've had in over a year. In fact, when it comes to the rough guide I use to track numbers, this is one of the first times I've achieved 80% attendance from the teens actively "on the books."

But, the number which walked through the door wouldn't impress many at the local youth ministry conference.

It's not a number which I could use to intimidate others or puff out my chest.

But, for us, it was an above-average turnout.

Today I was reading newsmallchurch.com and was struck by many of the things written because ministers of "small churches" feel the same as youth pastors and youth leaders of groups under (insert whatever a thriving number would be in your context).

The thing which caught my attention most was the repeated mention that every small church minister is not a failure. In fact (and here is the gold!), most ministers aren't meant to be in charge of a mega-church. Most never will be. God has something different, and just as valuable, planned for them.

And every youth minister isn't meant to be up front of a group of 50/100/500/1000 teens.

And that's ok.

The faithful youth group leader, sharing life with a handful of youth, is not a failure.

The youth minister of ten, faithfully telling those kids abut Jesus, is not a failure.

The youth minister of a group with a few dozen teens might not be on the cusp of explosive growth.

For, every youth minister is not designed to lead (insert the largest church in your region) and within every youth minister is not a (insert your youth ministry guru) just waiting to bust out.

Instead, no matter how many you have, you are called to be faithful.
Then you are a success.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Growing pains

I know, it's not all about numbers.
It's not even all about size.
Everyone can't grow up in or work at a church on a list of the fastest growing.

In fact, for most, they'll never be part of an incredibly growing church.

I've never been a part of a ministry which has experienced true explosive growth.

Sure, some things I've been involved in have developed through slower drip-growth, but never an Acts-like numeric expansion.

I suspect, few have.

But, for some, an atmosphere of continuous growth would be all they've known.

I wonder, which transition would be more difficult?

A minister, nurtured in a stagnant church, experiencing dynamic growth for the first time?

Or...
 
A minister, developed in a thriving church, experiencing a stagnant/declining church for the first time?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The vital step to "How's it going?"

Around a decade ago I used to work as a checkout operator at a local department store. At the start of every transaction you'd be encouraged to make contact with the customer. My statement was always "How's it going?"

And every time I asked, I not only didn't care about the answer, but I barely bothered to listen to the reply.

When it comes to church and the activities a church does with young people, there's a secret to making connecting conversations effective.

Stop.

When you ask someone how their week has been, stop.
Only then can you actually listen to the answer.

All too often, especially for those involved in church, when you ask a connecting question prior to a service or activity, you have one eye and ear on something else.

Is the bible reader sorted?
Are the prayers organized?
Is the service due to begin now?
Have those expected visitors arrived yet?
Are the details of the talk wrapped up?

If these questions plague you before a church service or activity, like they often do me, then perhaps you shouldn't engage in a conversation you're not fully invested in...

Because, without the stopping, you don't really care about the answer.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Five-Fingered voting

The denomination I work in uses the consensus model of voting in many of its meetings.

Today I read here a brilliant way to show your feelings about a motion during a meeting. The idea is based on the number of fingers you raise during the vote...

Five fingers. You’re all-in and prepared to own the project. You’ll take the lead if asked.

Four fingers. You give strong support and active participation, but you’re not willing to lead the initiative.

Three fingers. You’re on board.

Two fingers. You have important reservations but will support the initiative.

One finger. You have serious reservations but will not block or subvert the effort. You also commit to open communication regarding your reservations.

Folding – no fingers. You want to block the proposal because you believe it’s damaging.

I think this method covers a lot of important bases, beyond mere approval, but active participation/ownership, and alternatively, beyond objection, but the amount you're prepared to stand in the way of the idea proceeding.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The two questions which shape evangelism

When you meet someone, for the first time or otherwise, do you see them as someone who is primarily an object of God's love or wrath?

And...

Does someone need to be prevented from turning away from God or encouraged to turn towards God?

When it comes to evangelism, these two questions have a great deal of shaping your mode and method.

I'm not going to tell you my answers to these questions, but I can assure you, by the way you treat others, I can tell what your response would be...

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Swapping your worship to click the next slide?

Some have the gift of PowerPoint slide transition. I, seemingly, don't. At least not on a black-belt level.

Yet I've found myself being the one, clicker in hand, on many-a-Sunday.

Really, it shouldn't be that hard.
Follow the words, click once when they start to run out on the current slide, repeat.

But there's one drawback which is true for all churches which use projected words or people who actively monitor sound during a church service.

They cannot truly worship.

Sure, they can be aware of God's presence and have an encounter with God, but it will always be stifled by the next impending click (which you don't want to get wrong or you'll cop the dreaded now-is-the-time-to-change-the-slide-glance).

I wonder how often this is taken into account at churches?

Ideally, the person with the clicking power shouldn't be the same one every Sunday, thus freeing them up to engage more on their "off" weeks.

But, no matter how regularly the word-transition person is "on," is it recommended that they then attend another service in order to get some them-and-God time?

Heaven forbid that the slide changer is someone who would dare close their eyes when they sing to God... I guess they'd get weeded out during the screening process.

Monday, September 29, 2014

An apology from the church

Last night, in something I'd done previously at other churches, I started with an apology based on the words of 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.

 I’ll admit, the church, including this one, isn’t perfect.

For some of you, this might have been a long time coming
I feel I should start with an apology... for

Just as (insert church name, which I'll call XUC), though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one XUC, so it is with Christ.

I’m sorry if at church have not acknowledged your induvidualness. I’m sorry if we have ever asked you to be something that you are not or do something you aren’t comfortable doing.

For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one XUC—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free

I’m sorry if you have ever felt left out, ignored or excluded. If we have said something to offend you, because of whom you are.

—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so XUC is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if ONE OF YOU should say, "Because I am not ANOTHER PERSON, I do not belong to XUC," YOU would not for that reason cease to be part of XUC.

I’m sorry if you have ever not felt included in what we do here at church. I’m sorry if you have ever felt disconnected and no-one has seemed to care. I’m sorry if you have ever felt that you don’t belong. You do.

If ALL OF XUC were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If ALL OF XUC were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?

I’m sorry of your talents, skills or gifts have been wasted, devalued, spoken down of or ignored.

But in fact God has placed the parts in XUC, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would XUC be? As it is, there are many parts, but one XUC.

ONE OF YOU cannot say to the OTHER, "I don't need you!"

I’m sorry if you have ever been spoken down to at church. I’m sorry if this has ever been anything but a safe place for you. I’m sorry if you have ever felt that you are not needed here at church or wouldn’t be missed if you didn’t turn up.

On the contrary, those parts of XUC that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.

I’m sorry if you have ever felt weak, without honour or unpresentable, because of what has happened, or been said at church.

But God has put XUC together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in XUC, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

I’m sorry if you have ever felt that no-one cares about you at church. I’m sorry if you have felt that your attention, your care, has gone to someone else.

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

I’m sorry if you have ever had a time of delight or a time of sadness and haven’t felt comfortable telling someone at church. If you have ever thought that they wouldn’t care. I’m sorry that, if you have shared, that your happiness, has been downplayed, or your sadness, insignificant.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.