Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The second generation challenge

I'm not, culturally, second generation.

But, in many ways, I am liturgically.

In my denomination, I'm the first of a generation free from foundational denominational allegiances.
I've been the first to jump from the established youth/young adult focused evening service to the more traditional morning service.
I've been the first to try and break into young adult and family ministry circles.

And, liturgically, these present many of the similar challenges which face those of a cultural second generation.

How do you move forward when you're entering something already established?
How do you make changes in the face of longstanding tradition?
How do you plot the next step when it doesn't look like the one that is treasured, yet unsatisfying?

These are the challenges that await those who are on the cusp of the next liturgical transition and must be kept in mind by those who minister to young adults and those who are the ministers and elders of a church which the emerging generation are breaking into.

Friday, July 22, 2016

What forces the church into Code Red

Double Red. Red. Yellow. Blue. Gray.

In the world of a star fleet every alert signal isn't the same.

In the world of ministry every church member isn't the same.

There... I said it.

While all people are made in the image of God, welcomed and recipients of God's grace, some people will leave a far larger impact and, thus, a larger hole when they depart a church.

If you're around churches long enough, you'll see plenty of people leave.

And, as I said earlier, every person isn't the same.

For some, their departure will be welcomed. They were divisive. They were disruptive to what God is doing and where the church is headed.

For some, their departure will be inevitable. They were heading toward a life stage which will take them elsewhere.

For some, their departure will be disappointing. They were members of the church, but didn't solidly buy in or contribute as much as you'd hoped.

For others, their departure is gut-wrenching. They were rusted on. They were heavily involved. Seemingly, they were at the church whenever the doors were open. You never imagined that they would every leave.

And, when the later leave the church, it's a code red. Double red even.

I've been in a situation when a rusted on member of a youth ministry has left.

It hurt.

She was someone who I thought would be at the church for decades...
She was someone who I thought God would build the ministry, and church, around...

And she told me that the church wasn't for her anymore.

When she left we went into double red.
Everything was honestly examined.
Including myself.

For, nothing should force you to deeply look at what you're doing than the departure of a rusted-on church member.

Ideally, if done right, the process, whilst painful, can be one which results in improved processes, new growth and renewed purpose.

All you need to do is be able to stare down the reasons for the code red...

Monday, July 18, 2016

Why leaving a church should be like buying condoms

I mentioned to someone today that leaving a church should be like buying condoms.

Oddly, they needed further explanation...
Perhaps you do to.

As I mentioned here, buying condoms should be something you're prepared to do while looking a human in the eye.

Why? Because using condoms is a mature action and one which you should be mature enough to be able to look someone in the eye and defend, especially if you're buying them for a good reason.

Leaving a church should, ideally, work the same way.

If you're leaving church for a good reason - you've changed life stages, you're stepping out into your own faith community, you're desiring to serve in a context which your church doesn't/can't provide, your church leadership is focusing on a theological (non-heretical) slant which you're not following, the church has cast a new vision/direction which you can't buy into, you're going on the man-hunt - then you should be prepared to have a face-to-face conversation with the church leadership.

It's a sign of maturity.

If you're leaving for a healthy reason, then it relieves those in leadership from thinking that they're solely to blame, and they deserve to be spared that anxiety.

Furthermore, if you leave well - giving clear reasons, wishing the church and its leadership well and promising not to bad-mouth the church - then you can depart as a friend, with their blessing.

And that, when it comes to church departures, is the perfect outcome.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

You MUST be the fundraising champion

People who work in ministry don't have overflowing wallets. Nowhere near. If you're in ministry for financial gains, you'll be disappointed.

Every Friday I'd go home with a fist full of shrapnel and the only thing, financially, overflowing from my time in ministry was the spare coins in the glovebox in my car.


BUT... Those in ministry have a financial duty...


Buy fundraising everything.


Chocolates...

Candy...
Raffle tickets...
40-Hour famine sponsorships...
E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

One thing I would go out of my way to do was flog the fundraising wares of any kid at church.


If I didn't buy the whole box of chocolates, then I'd make sure to pimp out the chokkies until the box was empty.


Not only would I sponsor the kid for the 40-Hour famine, but I'd make sure that the teen was at the morning service and would leave with a sponsor-book full of pledges.


Why?


Because I want kids to, not only, feel comfortable in bringing their fundraising endeavours to church, but open an opportunity for them to share the stories of what they're fundraising for AND the church should be utmost prepared to support any good cause that their young people are involved in.


Any time a kid trundles through the door with a box of fundraising chocolates, supper is instantly supplemented... No excuse.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The ministry of silence

A while ago I read this blog post about remaining silent which really resonated with me.

In the past I've moved on from working at four churches and been involved in numerous other ministries. 

And, I'd like to think, in the main, that I've remained silent about their problems.

I haven't ripped them apart to congregants.
I haven't made snarky comments of social media.

I've remained silent.

And, sometimes, that's the best thing you can do.

Even if it's not easy...
Even if it's not what you want to do...
Even if you think they deserve a good slamming...

Sometimes you need to exercise the ministry of silence.

Silence against critics...
Silence when you aren't in agreement with a decision...
Silence when your voice will bring division...

For, as it says in Ecclesiastes, there's a time to be silent and a time to speak.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

This Sunday won't be the Best-Sunday-Ever!!!

In my new job, reading gas meters, they recently modified the descriptions for dogs inside properties. Now, every dog is classified as savage. Big dogs. Small dogs. Loud dogs. Quiet dogs. I'm-going-to-lick-you-to-death dogs. I'm-going-to-rip-your-throat-out dogs.

Every dog.

Of course, this is done as an OHS precaution, but, obviously, every dog isn't savage.

In fact, due to the overstating of the danger of the dogs, now I'm at greater risk since I'm unsure which property has a hell-hound behind the gate and which has the playful puppy called Spot. 

I mention this, especially in a ministry context, because every event will not be amazing and every Sunday won't be the best ever.

Yet, all too often, we advertise that they will be.

And, in doing so, we actually weaken the effectiveness of our message.

Why?

Because we promote something which a) won't be the case for everyone and b) can't be the case every time.

Worse still, the problem is completely avoidable.

Are you excited about an event? Just promote that...
Are you expecting it to be really good? Just say that...
Are you expecting God to be at work? Just share that...
Are you expecting this Sunday to be exceptional due to a guest speaker or a different element of the service? Shout that loud and proud...

But, keep your "amazing" and "best-service-ever" exclamations for when they'll actually pay off.

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...