Wednesday, August 20, 2014

It takes maturity...

I'm fully aware that this post might bite me in the but in a few years. Or a decade from now. Or a few decades.

Given enough time, it might appear (rightly or wrongly) that I quit on a situation, ministry, church or relationship when I could've held on a little longer.

But... here's today's Ramble anyway...

It takes maturity to endure when things get difficult or "no longer exciting."

It takes maturity to keep attending a church you, on minor issues, don't wholly agree with.
It takes maturity to stay connected with a ministry when they're in a "challenging" season.
It takes maturity to work through troubles in a marriage or friendship.
It takes maturity to have difficult, but needed, conversations with those you work with.

It's unhealthy when you join a new church two every years...
It's unhealthy when you've worked seven jobs over the last decade...
It's unhealthy when you reach the first anniversary in multiple relationships and keep finding a way out.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Talk from your feet, not your knees

When churches start talking together, people get nervous.

Will there be change?
If so, how will it effect me?
What will happen with "my" ministry staff?
Will they want to sell "our" church building?
Will I be forced to spend time with "those over there"?
Will the finances of "our" church be used in the ways "we" want?

In reality, churches talking together should be a positive thing.

With one catch...
They're not already on their knees.

When churches look at working together BY CHOICE then forward-thinking steps can be made.

Churches, if talking from a position of relative health, will have the resources - financial, personal and energy - to achieve things in partnership which couldn't be done individually and serve those around them in innovative ways.

But, when churches only dialogue once they're in survival mode, then the mindset can quickly slip into damage minimization.

And, unfortunately, the result is a forced union which brings harmful baggage from both parties. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Let them see the next step

It's not uncommon for a church to have a gap in its congregation or youth ministry. It could be the older folk at the evening service, a generation of baby boomers on a Sunday or teens in senior high on a Friday night.

Sometimes, the gaps are beyond a church's control, a sign of present or previous weakness or become evident due to a surge in one particular demographic.

But, gaps cause a hidden damage.

Those who are younger don't get to see the next step lived out.

The young adults don't get to see someone who has faithfully followed Jesus for seven decades.

The boomers don't get to see what a content, faithfully serving, retiree looks like.

The younger teens don't get to see a peer who's surviving high school with their faith intact.

The challenge for those within the church is to open up avenues for the "next step" to be not only seen, but experienced enough to be valued and interacted with enough to inspire.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Preachers vs TV sales-people

If you watch any morning show or late-enough time-filler, you'll inevitably encounter a "paid promotion" for anything from food processors, gym equipment, insurance and cleaning products.

Of all the options, the greatest advertorial in history, as I mentioned back in 2010, is for the slap chop. I don't care how good the ShamWow was, how excited Big Kev was or how many free steak knives came with the deal.

A few weeks ago I meet with someone who mentioned, if I decided to use my communicative powers for evil, instead of good, I would be quite effective.

In fact, a few weeks ago I sold pig-shaped cookies for fundraising, with Sunday morning congregants applauding my marketing proficiency and outright shilling of the product.

I suspect I'm not the only church worker who has the gift-of-the-gab.

So, what difference should there be between someone, particularly, who preaches and someone who's the talking head for funeral insurance?

Hopefully, if nothing else, those who preach are less plastic. They don't have a blindingly white smile or perfect diction. 

They actually live out what they profess and are "on show" 24-7.

They share their lives, struggles and failures.

They are less scripted and need to vary their message, instead of rattling off the same dialogue every day.

So, while many who preach might be capable of being good salespeople, what they do when they share the gospel is more than a slick presentation.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Youth ministry CEO?

Earlier this week I posted here about the misguided importance the church often places on developing leaders, almost substituting it for the great commission.

The reason this is true has to do with the CEO like structures we create and reward within churches.

What do I mean?

Well, right now I'm a CEO of a youth ministry.

But I started at the bottom and had to work my way up to "the top."

I started as a "customer" and then got "hired" as a junior "staff member."

Then I got "promoted" until I was a "junior executive" with "increased responsibilities."

And got "trained in the system."

And then become a "senior manager."

Eventually, I worked in enough "regional branches" before I became the "CEO" of my own company.

These are the structures we support and, even unspoken, promote.

We view "success" when someone "gets a promotion."

They become a trainee leader...
They lead a group of their own...
They become a section leader of a camp or mission trip...
They start bible college...
They get their first, part-time, ministry position...
They become a full-time youth pastor...
Never mind getting a regional, oversight, position or becoming ordained...

The question is, should "climbing the church totem pole" be the aim or marker of success?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

We weren't told to go and make leaders...

Leadership is a big deal.
Some say that everything rises and falls on leadership.
The church has conferences dealing with the issue, rightly, since it's one of the things minister's training can leave them ill-equipped.

But, leadership is not the ultimate goal.
Nor is it the holy grail.

Jesus seems to think that the main point of Christianity is discipleship.

The central point seems to be a relationship with a Living God, marked by service and servanthood.

Ironically, as I'll post next, the church often strives for, rewards and upholds quite the opposite.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Geographic faith

Some people identify their faith with  group of people, usually family members, lone-time friends or ministers. One way to tell if someone has a person-focused faith is the way they respond once their faith-identifier abandons their faith or leaves a local church. If this is the case, then a person's faith will get severely rocked when their faith-anchor is cut away.

But how many Christians have a geo-focused faith?

What proportion of people's faith is based almost entirely upon their "home church" and little else.

I ask because I feel it explains one of the drop out points for emergent adults - They away from home.

For those who have a geographic faith, they'll have a narrow idea of church and a short dose of perseverance with new churches.

Unfortunately, when they are combined, they result in isolated Christians faith growing cold to the point of extinction.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

This is the Body of Christ... Ta Da...

Back when I was a younger man I went to a respected theology-of-youth-ministry conference interstate with a few classmates. At one stage the host invited us to share communion and use whatever wording we were comfortable with when passing the elements.

Now, I'm usually the guy who likes to crack the odd inappropriate comment, but on this occasion, someone beat me to it.

In a voice loud enough for the entire lecture room to hear, he suggested "Ta da!"

It didn't go over too well... And the Dean probably wished he invited other students.

But the episode pops into my mind whenever I help serve monthly communion.

Today, off the back of something I did last month, I asked my minister how attached he was to the "official/traditional" wording used whilst administering communion.

When holding the cup for a child to dip the bread, instead of saying "this is the blood of Christ," I said "this is to remind you how much Jesus loves you." I figured, for a child, this would give a better idea of what's going on.

If I did this to everyone, would it ruffle feathers?

For those whom see communion as more than just a reminder, would it seem like I'm cheapening the sacrament?

For those whom love communion due to the ritual, would changing the expected words take them out of "the presence of Jesus?"

But, for those who are unfamiliar with communion, are these words more useful in explaining what's actually happening?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Jenga faith should be welcome

A few weeks ago I heard the best description of how “emergent faith” is developed and the primary reason to those between the ages of 12-25 walk away from God and the church. In fact, it's so good that I'm taking all the young adults at church through it individually.

It all has to do with the game Jenga.
You know the game...
It isn’t complex. You begin with a tower made of 54 finger-sized wooden blocks. In turn, you remove a block, placing it on the top of the tower. With time, this become increasingly difficult and, inevitably, someone losses the game once they knock the tower down.
The way Jenga was used to describe young spirituality, reflects what I’ve seen and have mentioned as the “drop out points of youth/young adult ministry.”
Predictably, there are events/times when a young person is more likely to disengage with faith – year 6, year 7, year 9/10, baptism/confirmation, year 12, first year of university, moving out of home, getting married, having a child and a relationship breaking up.
Some drop out point are caused by life change...
Ending primary school.
Starting high school.
Starting higher education.
You "graduate" from a group.
Moving out.
Starting a family.

Others develop relationally...
Your friendship group changes.
Peer pressure increases.
There's awkwardness caused by being in the same group as your ex.
You get married.
Put simply, there are times when life will change and a young person will need to decide, once again, if God/church/youth group still belong in the “Jenga tower” that is the life they have built. At various junctions, life will give everyone opportunities to consider the numerous wooden blocks which make up their “Jenga tower.” At these moments a person will decide that the block belongs - remaining a part of their tower, no longer belongs - and is tossed away or will be held in tension.
Do you retain the belief that God loves you when your mum gets cancer?
Do your principals about sex, sexuality, friendship and alcohol stay the same in light of what those around you are doing?
Do you still believe the bible is true when you hear it get verbally bashed at university?
Will you keep attending church if you date someone who isn’t a believer?

As you can probably see, this isn’t just a struggle that teens and “emerging adults” need to wrestle with.
But the important message these age groups don’t hear loud or clear enough is that you’re still welcome no matter what your “Jenga tower” looks like.
If it feels totally destroyed due to tragedy impacting your life… you’re welcome in the midst of your pain.
If you aren’t sure about what you believe… bring your struggles and doubts with you to church… they are welcome.
If you’ve deliberately discarded the “God stuff” from your tower… you’re always welcome at church.

The message of welcomeness, irrespective of what makes up your “tower,” is a powerful one.

One that young people, especially, need to hear.
And just maybe, a message that some older folk could use as well…

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The glasses affect your view

The way you view a crying baby will change depending if you see children as a blessing from God or as an entity tainted by the curse.

The way you view teens will change depending if you see them as someone exploring and realising their faith development or as troublemakers-who-are-up-to-no-good.

The way you allow your daughter to date will be affected by the way you view teenage boys/men.

The way you view church will change depending on your ecclesiology.

The way you view others will depend on your understanding of creation and the "Image of God" everyone does or doesn't posses.

The best questions to ask are...

Do you know the spectacles you're viewing life through?
Are you aware of the things which influence the views of those around you?
How do members of your church/youth group treat others based on what they believe and how this shapes the way they view the world?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pilgrim or gypsy?

Words matter.
Labels count.

A pilgrim, spiritually, is viewed as a positive thing.
We like to be called a pilgrim.
Someone on a journey.
Someone discovering.
Someone on an adventure.
Like a Hobbit for Jesus.

But, what would happen if we replaced pilgrim with gypsy?
That title is far less glamorous.
Someone without a permanent home.
Someone unsettled.
Someone without roots.

When we're defining our spiritual walk, we're more likely to identify with the term pilgrim, but would it be more accurate to be called a gypsy?

Personally, I blame John Bunyan. Would we think differently if he wrote the Gypsy's Progress?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Dating nervousness

One of my first posts was about Crushes in Youth Ministry Leadership, which makes sense since I've also written about the reasons of Wisdom, Compatibility, InfluenceExample for Christians to date fellow believers.

In reality, under the "you don't buy a bikini fro a hardware store" principal, this limits the places a believer can meet a suitable partner.
Obviously, one place would be your home church.

Which can lead to dating nervousness from the church leadership.

Nervousness when youth group kids date.
Nervousness when youth group co-leaders date.
Nervousness when key lay-leaders pair off.

Nervousness, because relationships are messy...

Nervousness because, if things turn sour, someone (possibly) will lose the church in the divorce.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The thing more important than Google

A while ago I wrote about the importance of apologetics in the Google-age. At any second a young (or not-so-young!) person can find a plethora of answers to any query they might have in life, positive or negative.

But something always trumps Google... A person.

A person can help interpret the alternatives which the Internet coldly delivers.

A person can help them understand the underlying feelings behind their questions.

A personal relationship, built on doing life together, is the key in actually being heard and contributing positively over the wash of Google-searched results.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Valuing the half glass

It's no secret that those within the church can have a glass-half-empty outlook.

There should be more teens on a Friday night... There are down the road.
There should be more people at church on a Sunday... The neighboring church does.
You should have a better band for your evening service... You'll never produce a worship CD.
You should have more engagement from your congregation... You've seen enough articles about making it happen.
The preaching should be better... You've read enough books and listened to enough pod-casts.

The trouble with that outlook is that is undervalues WHAT and WHO IS PRESENT.

You can, and arguably should, desire bigger and better things in order to grow God's Kingdom, but it shouldn't come at the cost of thanking God for those who are present, are serving faithfully and whom are on board with what's going on.

Friday, July 11, 2014

You're actually a kids minister...

Next week the holidays I'm on continue and I'll be missing the first week of a school term. In turn, I'll have to skip some of the duties I normally do and have delegated others.

As I thought about my usual week, which the first week of term normally is, I'll need to make arrangements for four scripture infants/primary lessons, the primary aged kid's club, youth group and Sunday morning children's activities.

But, looking at these face-to-face activities, I noticed an interesting trend.

I spend the majority of my active ministry time with children, not teens. Usually,  children see me "doing the dance" at a ratio of 3:1 compared to their elders.

Is this usual?
Is it routine for youth ministers to actually spend a predominant chunk of their face-time with those prepubescent?

I tend to think so, mainly due to scripture, because there are many more school-based ministry opportunities, spread across a wide area. Whereas, similar windows of opportunity can be open for teens, they tend to be tightly contested due to fewer public high schools and employed scripture teachers.

So... Is this a bad thing? Not really.

You have the fantastic opportunity to develop relationships with kids before they reach their teens.

But, it's the untold secret of people with my job and something, I suggest, would come as a surprise to those writing up the title of many youth ministry job descriptions...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The two questions you need to answer in order for them to stay

Whenever someone, old or young, wants to join a group they will first determine the answer to two important questions. 

Is this group safe?
Can I make connections?

If a youth group, church or social club nails these two questions then they'll have a far greater chance of joining and yay sticking around.

This is why I stress connecting conversations with my leaders and, if pushed, would rather a group of girls over a group of all blokes.

Monday, July 7, 2014

How groups are formed and change

At the leader's weekend just passed, I took my youth group leaders through a process I was shown this week, thinking about the nature and dynamics of any group they're involved with.

To begin, each group has a script which verbally and non-verbally, outlines what they are about and why they do what they do.

For example, a church might emphasise evangelism and inclusion, while a rugby club will focus in on rugby (der!) and binge drinking.

This script will be enforced by a number of Socialising Agents.

For example, this might include the coach and captain of a sports team, the minister, treasurer and church council/deacons within a church and the youth minister/leadership team at a youth group.

Now, as anyone who's thought about the dynamics of a group will be aware, Socializing Agents extend beyond those who have a corner office or are on the payroll. Often, there will be those who wield power and influence, usually deferred by years of inclusion or wisdom. For example, the "legends" of the golf club or the "gatekeepers" of the church, those who've been around forever and are the first people you contact if you need information or "really" want something to happen.

Then, if someone decides they want to join the group, they'll need to chance their behaviors and adjust some beliefs in order to fit into the agreed script of the group.

For example, if you join a netball team, you'll need to listen to the coach and attend training and matches. If you're leading a youth group, there should be explained expectations you need to meet such as showing a genuine interest in the life of the teens.

Within each group, according to how the script is followed, there will then be rewards and punishments, usually boiling down to inclusions and exclusions.

For example, the alpha-female of a friendship group may invite someone to a party or "accidently" forget to tell someone about it due to their "obedience" to the script. Elsewhere, the footy coach might deny a player a starting position due to their lackluster training or promote a player ahead of another due to their mid-week efforts.

In turn, participants within the group will accommodate or imitate the outcomes of a groups script in order to be a fully included member.

Over time, a teen will either learn to get involved in (or at least tolerate!) bible discussions and times of prayer, or else they'll decide they don't belong. 

If one does decide to plug into a group, an individual can then start to shape the wider group, having deserved the right to contribute.

Finally, these assimilated members will advance and enforce the script of the group, molding it if needed, even transitioning into fresh Socialising Agents themselves.

This explanation of how groups develop, people are integrated and evolve, is the best way I've heard for the reasons the youth/young adult drop out points emerge.

Friday, July 4, 2014

I am a toddler minister

A long time ago I made the claim of GOD WIFE FAMILY CHURCH.

No matter what vocation I have, within or outside the church, there's one real ministry I have.

So, right now, I'm not primarily a minister to school-aged kids, teens or young adults.

I'm, first and foremost, a toddler minister.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

How to REALLY advocate

One of the commonly spouted opportunities for a youth worker is to be an advocate for the young people of the church.

In some respects, this is correct. We do speak on behalf of those who are younger and have no-to-little representation in the decision making processes of the church.

But, while at a youth ministry conference yesterday, I heard a much better definition of advocacy.

It isn't that you speak FOR someone.

Instead, the role of an advocate is to simply AMPLIFY their voice, not implant your voice over theirs.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Two questions to constantly ask God

Over the last few weeks I've taken a number of groups through the F.U.L.L.T.I.L.T. prayer model.

Each time, when I've hit the LISTEN section, I've shared two questions which I think we need to bring constantly before God, listening for a response.

Who am I?

What do you want me to change?

Given enough time, alert to the prompting of God through the Holy Spirit, bible and other people, our lives and spiritual journeys would be transformed if we just kept bring these two queries before Our Maker.