Sunday, May 24, 2015

Can you see the light?

Inevitably, every one gets a season of hardship... physically, mentally, rationally, emotionally, experientially, spiritually. Given enough time, this is how life works. It has it's ups and downs.

This includes those in ministry.

This also includes ministries themselves.

An important question, when trying to ride out a season or attempting to support someone going though a rough patch, is to ask if they can picture a positive change or endpoint.

No matter if that ray of hope is in a day, week, semester, six months or beyond...
Can they imagine a time when this particular season of trouble has passed?
And, importantly, what does that look and feel like?

For some, even if the timetable isn't set in stone, just knowing a) that life can get better, b) that tomorrow will take them one day closer to a better place and c) that there are some identifying elements to recognise, then they are far more likely to see out the season.

AND the same goes for ministries.

If you can imagine a time and place when things will improve then you're far more likely to stick around when things are on the downward part of the cycle.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Is it a good thing that you're OPEN SIX DAYS A WEEK?

Last week I walked past a shop that, I assume proudly, displayed a sign saying that they were open six days a week.

All that went through my mind was that they were closed for one.
Immediately, and I'm prepared to admit that this could be a fault in my psyche, my mind jumped to the unadvertised part which was missing.

I wonder, does the church have a similar communication problem?
Do we advertise messages, which might be well intentioned and useful, but additionally send an unintended message?

For example?

Family Service this Sunday.
Couples Club on Tuesday night.
Men's Bible Study this Wednesday.

While all these are good worthwhile ministries, which many churches can and should have, they can also send the message...

Our family service is not for you unless you have kids.
You're not welcome on a Tuesday night unless you're married.
It's only "once you're a man" that you'll fit in on a Wednesday.

And, thus, our advertising can create a lot of confusion...

What if define a family differently? Will I still be welcomed if my kids are away or with their "other parent"?
Am I still included at couples club if my spouse has died, or do I need to stop coming?
Am I "man enough" aged 18 and too old for the youth group?

I don't think there's a solution, but I did wonder as I strolled past that furniture store, what day are they NOT open?

And, would I go to that store, risking that I'll arrive on the day when they are shut?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The way they view your tomorrow matters

Lately I've been thinking quite a bit about building trust... Thus this post earlier this month.

You build trust by showing that you've been present in the past, doing the right things, at the appropriate time, with a proper understanding of what you do, over a lengthy period of time.

But, channeling the Dr-Phil-truism that past behavior is a firm indicator of future behavior, all these things focus on things in the past.

Trust is built on what you HAVE done.
Trust is built because you WERE there.
Trust is built due to the consistent caring questions you HAVE asked.

But trust also rides on one intangible.


Will you be there tomorrow?
Will you be there if things get EVEN MORE difficult than today?
Will you be able to handle the way the other person responds to the hardships they face?

As I concluded in my last post about trust, this all points to the compounding advantage of longevity.

For, the more tomorrows you've been around for, the more likely people will think you'll be there for the next difficult tomorrow.

Monday, May 18, 2015

I don't want the piano man

Last week I took my youth group to a local evangelistic event. For many of my youth, this was unlike any church service they'd ever experienced before.

Now, no one was falling over, laughing hysterically or baring like a dog, but it was certainly a different flavor than many conservative mainline churches.

Personally, while not my preferred style of church, it wasn't unfamiliar for me.

There was plenty of energy in the room...
A giving address...
People shouting encouragement during the talk...
A every-head-bowed-eyes-closed-raise-your-hand response time...

And the thing which would disturb me incredibly if I was up the front...
Music in the background when people were speaking.

Just a few notes...
On the piano...

I wonder, if I were speaking, would I have had the guts to ask the host to desist the practice for the night?
Worse still, if I forgot or this request was ignored, would I openly ask the pianist to be quiet?

Really I don't have a massive problem with some quiet background music - I don't find it too manipulative - but it would be something which would distract ME.

So, in the name of owning the room and making me feel comfortable, would I be within my rights to ask the ivory-tickler to cool their jets?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Would the youth group notice if it went on a diet?

I buy the supper for our youth group almost every week.
It's nothing special, but the staples that get rotated are... crisps, popcorn, confectionary, cookies, fairy floss, pancakes, ice cream and soft drink.

As you can see, all the essentials of a healthy diet are covered.

But, I wonder what would happen if I put my youth group on a sugar free, fat free, nothing processed, non-voluntary diet?

Would they even notice?
Would they handle it well?
Could I?

My Friday shopping trips would definitely be more of a challenge.
The weekly weird food would certainly be more difficult to find.
And probably more expensive.

In our children's ministry we cut the cordial from afternoon tea and the kids barely noticed.

But, I imagine many youth groups would openly rebel without a regular diet of pizza, saturated fat, artificial sweeteners and heavily processed foods.

But, in light of growing youth obesity and the mandate for us to take care of the bodies God has given us, should it be a part of our role to avoid just feeding them things from the top of the food pyramid and set a better example?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The ciggie conversation

Smoking is not illegal.
You can love Jesus and smoke cigarettes. Plenty do.
You can get into heaven and be a pack-a-day-er. Plenty have.

But over the last few days I've been wondering how my two posts about the foolishness of smoking and smokers being a sign of church health fit together.

First, if a teenage Christian started smoking, how long would it be before the church should intervene? Should it be stamped out immediately? Do you only have the "right" to chastise them until they're an adult?

If age is a determining factor, should you ever rebuke an adult believer if they decide to take up smoking? If so, again, after how long?

What about long-term believers who smoke? Should someone seriously addicted to nicotine ever be spoken to about their damaging habit? If we did that, should we not also do the same for gluttony or routinely playing poker machines?

And finally, even though it might not be near the top of things to discuss, when would it be a good time (if ever?) to confront a convert about puffing away on the smokes?

I don't know what the answers exactly are, but I also wonder what angle would I take in these conversations primarily?

Would I push the spiritual angle?
Would I push the obvious health advantages?
Would I push the financial gains?

Monday, May 11, 2015

The king of communication

Back in 2013 I wrote that the chain of communication went like this...
Call > Text > Mail > Email > Facebook > Hopeful Osmosis

Previously I wrote that this applied for effective connecting with teens.

But, no matter the age-group, when applied in the wider context of sharing bad or disturbing news there's a definite preference.

In person.

Because a face trumps a voice.
And a face definitely trumps the written word - be it on a text message, computer screen or paper.

For, if you're going to share unwelcome or important news, the person deserves the opportunity to not only respond and engage in active conversation, but have the fewest filters to cloud the message.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Is a lobster per week a better budget?

NOTE: For my international readers, the $20 note in Australia is orange and, y some can be called a lobster...

When a church presents the budget, on the line entitled congregational giving, the number in excess of 100,000 is allocated for the financial year.

And, by itself, 100,000+ is a big number.

But, if your church has a hundred members, would the budget be easier digested if the giving figure was converted into a weekly, not annual, breakdown - around $20 per week?

If a congregation was told, in order for their church to meet budgeted giving, everyone would need to chip in a lobster each week, would this give greater understand to what was being expected?

Sure, for some, this might create an unhelpful sense of pride or guilt depending on where they fell above or below the $20 benchmark, but for those who have a regular, relatively disposable income, having a specific, manageable, amount could kick-start their awareness to give.

The challenge, as I've written before, is to ensure that the things the church provides are deemed worth the cost.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Concluding wonderings

Traditionally, your meant to end a sermon with a bunch of life application to the things you've just explained.

But, there may be another way...
Wondering together.

What would happen, when it comes to life application for a passage, if you - like I did last Sunday - finish with a series of questions wondering how together we could put this message into practice?

Would the application hit closer to home if it came from the pews, not the pulpit...

Monday, May 4, 2015

The trust equation 2.0

I wrote here that the equation to build trust was the following...

Time + Knowledge = Building Trust.

It occurred to me during the week that I was missing a vital element.
Trust is actually built by the following equation...

Time + Knowledge + CONSISTENCY = Building Trust.

It's only with trustworthy actions done predictably, dependably and repeatedly, over a lengthy period of time, will a person's trust for you will deepen.

This is just another reason why longevity matters.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Who are your reminder voices?

It's not your fault.
You can't stop someone from choosing how they want to act.
You are making a difference.
God loves everyone... Including you.

In my head, I know these above - and a thousand other facts - are true.

But, sometimes I need to hear them from someone else.
I need an outside voice to remind me of what I, internally, already know.

I've written before that everyone, eventually, will come to a point when they need the speech which reminds them of the important things they, not only know, but need to hear in order to keep going.

The important question is, who are the people who you go to for the speech?
Who are the outside voices, which you trust, that remind you of what you not only know, but need to hear?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The actions of boys don't impress men

I've been thinking about the guts of this post about manhood and the third reason I mentioned that teens give to have sex.

The older I get, the more I wonder about what it is to be a man and how I recognise what a "real" man is.

In short, I think a "real" man knows the following...

What and, more importantly, who he's meant to protect.
What and, more importantly, who he's providing for.
What things he stands for.

If a bloke can answer me these three questions, then he's a long way to "proving" to me that he's a "real" man.

The reason I think this matters is because there's a lot of pretenders who want to act like men, but are really boys.

They destroy, not seek to protect.
They consume, not contribute or provide.
They have few well thought out opinions and, ultimately, stand for nothing of true consequence.

AND there's a subtle way to determine a "real" man from a pretender - What they are impressed by.

If a guy has solid answers to the things he protects, provides and stands for, he won't be impressed by the things which impress boys.

Drinking 30 schooners won't really impress him.
Doing drugs won't impress him.
Verbally, physically or sexually abusing women won't impress him.
Having sex with two women behind their backs won't impress him.
Cheating to get by at work won't impress him.
Taking advantage of people won't impress him.

These things might somewhat impress you and your mates when you're 19...
They shouldn't a decade later.


Because "real" men have more important things to worry about than showboating dickhead-ery (that's a term now).

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The real reason you lead

Mark 10:45 - For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

You can do it to have power.
You can do it to remain cool.
You can do it to "feel young."
You can do it for the prestige.
You can do it because "that's the thing people your age do."

There are a lot of reasons to become a leader, especially with young people, at church.

But, the real reason - which should be the focus when making the ask and the one which closer reflects Christ - is to serve God and others.

It's to put the interests of others first, no matter if it means giving a kid the win or providing extra support during their season of need.

And, while this is far less glamorous, it's also far more accurate and far, far, more fulfilling.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The ministry of advocacy

I wrote here, ripping off an anonymous conference speaker, that advocacy wasn't speaking for someone but merely amplifying the voice of an ill-heard group/person.

But, as a church worker who specializes in children and youth, who are the people I should advocate for?

Obviously, children and youth themselves and their needs for Permission, Space, Validity and cost of ministry met by the church.

Ditto for the families of young people in the church.

Young adults who are just exploring church leadership and governance for the first time and are still "finding their voice."

Depending on your tenure at that church and personal history, you can speak form an outsider's perspective.

Finally, you have the opportunity to speak - even as a pseudo devil's advocate - as a voice adding theological balance to the conversation.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Why I give the teens weird food every week

Just one of the reasons we lost money last year in youth group is that I buy weird food for the teens to eat when they arrive.

Every. Single. Week.

It's not because I want to develop their palette or that I have a sick desire for them to have their tastebuds tortured titillated by food of my childhood and far away nations.

The reasons are simple...

Food, even especially weird food, breaks the ice.

It's far easier for me to welcome teens and have them sign in with a potentially tasty treat when they walk through the door.

Furthermore, it's far easier for one of my leaders to start a conversation with a teen by chatting about the odd food they just ate, then it might be otherwise.

Finally, through the strange culinary delights that they've experienced, memories are made and identity is formed. The weird food, to some degree, has become a "this is a thing that they do here which makes this place different" element of our group.

And even if it costs a few extra dollars per week, all told, they're well worth the investment...

Friday, April 17, 2015

Are you stronger in communication or theology?

I read a lot of blogs. Everyday. 

On my feedly page there are 559 blogs which I follow, 47 on the topics of speaking, communication and preaching.

This means I'm, at least aware, of WAY too much information on making speeches or giving presentations.

I know about the 10/20/30 rule.
I know about the rule of thirds.
In fact, I know way more than I do, or even could, put into practice.

Would I be alone if I said that I'm more up-to-date in the area of communication than I am in theology?

Sure, on feedly I also follow hundreds of blogs about church, religion and faith, but, I wonder if the balance of "keeping relevant" and "giving a smooth presentation" is in danger of swinging too far towards communication over theology...

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Eulogising 101

Working at numerous churches, I've been to my fair share of funerals.
Some were for people I know.
Some were to show support for others.
Some were to be the random techie guy up the back.

With this being the case, I've heard plenty of eulogies.
Some great. The majority good. Others... not so good.

But I've only, personally, given one eulogy in my life.

When thinking about the words that are shared about someone at their funeral, I think there are three things which make up a solid eulogy.

What your fondest memory was with that person...
What words/character traits you associate with that person and why...
What lesson you've learnt about life from that person that you'll cherish going forward...

If you nail these three points, you'll have done a good job at eulogising.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Hitting their creative sweet spot

I'm not a morning person.
Not even close.

If you want me to create, or even write something which makes some sense, then my two most productive times are 12-2pm and 8-10pm. These are the times I'm at my highest, most productive, output.

But, that's what works for me.

On the back of Seth Godin's fifth point in this post and my routine of writing youth group talks in partnership with one of my leaders, I wonder if I should become more aware of my leaders productive hours.

Because it would make more sense to try and organize the talk and questions when they're at their creative peak.

Of course, this could be awkward if it doesn't line up with the late-morning-to-early-afternoon timeslot when the current planning usually falls.

So, how do you plan when your creative sweet-spots don't align?

Well, primarily, it's up to me to work around them.

So, while the actual words-to-paper planning might still occur in the middle of the day, for some, it'd be more productive to talk to them the morning or night before about the talks and small group questions when they're at the creative prime.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Transference in church and faith

Your mother...
An ex-boyfriend...
Your wife...
Your father-in-law...
That neighbor who used to "rub you the wrong way"...

In order to process our relationships, one thing we do is to compare them to those in our lives which already exist.

Sometimes this can be useful.
At other times, it can be unhelpful.

The later is a danger for faith and those who work for churches.

For, God and ministers can be caught in the cross-hairs of transference (which you can read about its danger here and here).

God can be compared with your earthly father...
God's standards can be compared with your perfectionist mothers...
Your female minister can be kindly compared with the deceased aunt you were really close with...
Your minister can be compared with a former lecturer or teacher... or your dominating ex-husband...
The youth minister at your church can remind you of your grandchild (thus you'll call him a boy no matter how old he is!)... or he could remind you of your child... or your absent father.

But the danger of projecting established relationships onto God or someone else is that they're never totally accurate.

For God's not exactly like either of your parents, no matter what they're like.
The standards which exist in your home or workplace shouldn't be replicated in church or a ministry.
The relationships you have with your family or friends won't be the same as those you have at church.
The relationship you have with every minister will be unique.

The danger exists when these projected established relationships effect the new dynamic and it takes a special discernment from all involved to sense when an action or response seems oddly exaggerated or out of place.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

What if the journey of My Grey stops midway?

At my church the minister is big on "taking the journey of Easter" the way it was intended.

At Easter, you should "ride the journey" with the disciples and, as much as possible, not skim over or jump forward in the story just because you're aware of the ending.

Thus, you don't kill Jesus on the Thursday, you grieve the Friday and you don't resurrect Jesus until the Sunday.

This is a danger of both Easter and, deeply regrettably, 50 Shades of Grey.

With Jesus, we can downplay the events of Good Friday in light of Easter Sunday.

With Christian Grey, some can overlook the dangerously abusive elements (which I wrote about here) of the relationship he has with Ana because he "changes," "leaves that lifestyle" and "become a family man" by the end of the trilogy.

The trouble with this "reasoning for Mr Grey" is, for far too many people watching, they aren't aware of the end of the "journey." Instead, they just hear that the abuse in the first film is somehow acceptable.

Worse, how many women, aware of the ending, will stay with their harmful partners because they "might be able to be changed as well?"

Furthermore, what about those who, for whatever reason, don't reach the "feel-good" conclusion for Christian's "salvation"?

What happens if the second movie bombs and they never make the third?

Will the 50 Shade apologists turn on the movie because it's missing its "redemptive chapter"?