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.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The risk once you open your mouth

If you're going to troll me, this is the post to do it.

Whenever you raise your voice, you open yourself to push-back. Constructive or not.

Whenever you raise your head online and share something, you open yourself to getting whacked by the Internet. Some people will call you out... Warranted or not.

From your first Tweet...
Whenever you share something on Facebook...
When you hit publish on a blog post...
If you ever teach a scripture class, do a youth group talk, lead a church service or deliver a sermon...

You increase your exposure to feeling the reactions of others.

BUT, you also open yourself up to interaction with other people's quality opinions and ideas.

That is the reward that comes with the risk.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

We all have bias

I'm a male, straight, husband, father, Australian, closer to Arminian-than-Calvinist Christian, youth minister.
I have a history, and people, behind me and a whole bunch of experiences which have shaped who I am.

These, and a thousand other things, create bias in my life.

They affect what I write on this blog.
And how I lead church services.
And what I say in scripture classes.
And how I give sermons or youth group talks.
And, hopefully, choices I make.

We all have bias.
Every. One. Of. Us.

And that's okay.
Unavoidable even.

Every author.
Every speaker.
Every teacher.
Every minister.


Every theology book, if written by a person (and most books are), will contain some bias.
Every sermon, if delivered by a person (and most are), will contain bias.
Every news report, newspaper column, blog post, or magazine article, if influenced by a person (and most are), will contain bias.
Every account of history, if seen through the eyes of a person (and most are), will contain bias.

Very, very, few people decide to write or speak on something unless they've already formed some sort of opinion previously or have some foundational beliefs/values to launch from.

We need to be aware of this bias.
We need to consider this bias.
Both ours and others.

Most importantly, where appropriate, we should disclose this bias.

Because I am a male, straight, husband, father, Australian, closer to Arminian-than-Calvinist Christian, youth minister.
I have a history, and people, behind me and a whole bunch of experiences which have shaped who I am.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Bumper Leaders

I previously wrote about Bumper People in the context of gently integrating young people into the decision making structures of a church or denomination.

But, there's another place where bumper people are required.

Youth group.

The reason?

Teens (and young adults for that matter!) can have difficulty flirting.

In fact, especially for guys, teenage flirting can quickly stomp into creepy-town.

So, when it's noticed that a guy (or group of guys) has their eye on a particular lass, it's a good idea to flag a couple of bumper leaders.

A leader, of either gender, who can keep an eye on and ear out for anything too awkward or inappropriate.

The advantage of employing both male and female bumper leaders is that either teen, flirtee or flirter, can be distracted/misdirected and it not be too obvious what's going on.

As powerful as the female attraction can be, the worst result would be for it to backfire because a wannabe Lothario hasn't nailed down his flirting technique and engages all the pick-up advice his gathered from the Internet.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Last one through the door is the scribe

I love what I read here about meetings and is a brilliant extension of a costly no-show.

I short, not only is being absent made expensive, but you delegate a non-desired duty (such as taking minutes) to the poor sole who is last into the meeting.

Sure, it might kill continuity with your minute taking (which, really, how hard is it?), but it'll make sure people are punctual to your meetings...

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Hawk Leaders

When I wrote about Chat Leaders here I mentioned that I produce a run sheet for every week of the children's and youth activities we run at my church.

Last week, I added a new type of leader.


No, they don't glide around on updrafts, looking for small marsupials to pounce upon and take back to their nest.

Instead, they are a few designated leaders (particularly the younger, in-training, ones) who will be strategically placed within the kids during the input time.

Within the kids, they assist in controlling an "more enthusiastic" kids, chat to kids if any sharing questions are used, be an example to the youngsters, supporting the person "up front" and, hopefully, observe enough talks over time that they won't be completely freaked out when their asked to give one.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Three reasons we shouldn't just stick to the Gospels

The lectionary, on the whole, is a fairly good thing.

Over a three-year cycle, a congregation systematically hears (if all assigned readings are read) large chunks of the Old Testament narrative, all the Psalms, the four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament.

Ideally, this should give you a balanced view of the Scriptures.

But... I wonder.

How many churches, who follow the lectionary, primarily stick with the gospel passage? I suggest it is the VAST majority.

And this can be a problem.

First, incidentally, it creates a mysterious aurora around the rest of the bible. Especially if they are read but not referred to, they're nothing more than just snippets of an out-of-context story.

Second, by avoiding the non-Gospel readings, we send the message that the rest of the bible is of lesser importance.

Finally, we miss a valuable opportunity to teach the congregation how the ENTIRE bible fits together, displaying the unraveling Salvation Story, climaxing with Jesus. We shouldn't rob the church a chance to see how any section of the bible was used by God.

I suspect, if a church undertook a two-year audit of all the scripture passages read and sermon topics used (like I just did), they would be surprised at the unbalanced biblical diet they've been serving up to their congregation (and probably need to check out my post on selecting a sermon series).

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Channelling someone else

I just finished setting up church for the evening service, having a fairly good idea for an introduction to Pentecost.

But I’ll freely admit, I’m not very creative.

In order to think up the idea, I wondered what someone I used to work with would do and channelled their creativity.

Sometimes, in areas you’re struggling for inspiration, be it a bible study, sermon, game or production idea, the secret can lie in viewing the situation through the eyes of someone who would excel in that scenario. A worst, you’ll get a different perspective. At best, you’ll strike a golden idea (even if it’s just one you remember that person having done in the past).