Monday, September 22, 2014

Autopsy of your words

It happens with Mark Driscoll.
It happens with John Piper.
It happens with Rick Warren.
It happens with Joel Osteen.
It happens with everything we have written form the early church fathers, right up to Whitefield, Wesley, Spurgeon, Tozer, Martin Luther King, Bonhoeffer, (insert popular preacher/author here)...

I couldn't imagine it happening to me.
I don't think I'll ever be that important, popular or influential for it to happen.
And I wouldn't want it to.

If someone took what I wrote (or preached) and dissected it, line by line, then I'm scared about what they would find and conclude.

Sure, I'm no raging heretic (or at least I hope not!), but if you put my every word under the microscope, like some of the "discernment" websites do or theology lectures can, then I wonder how I'd be viewed.

I wonder, not because I think it'll ever happen to me, but even if I became "successful" enough to be placed under the glare of such "discernment," the "me" of a decade ago might not hold up so well.

I look back at some of my early sermons and wonder about the points I was trying to make. Diitto for some of ways I worded my early blog posts.

And here's the catch.

Are those whose words we dissect acutely aware that this will be the case?
If not, is this fair?

Admittedly, whatever you put in the public eye and ear is open to criticism and fair game if you've done something inappropriate, but surely it can be taken too far.

Should anyone, legitimately, be able to go back unto your past and hold EVERYTHING you've ever said publicly against you?
Every misspoken word?
Every off-the-cuff line?
Every interpretation/opinion which you may later clarify or change?

For some, they desire the high-profiled platform.
They want the top rated blog in their niche.
They want the the book deal.
They want to be in charge of the well-known ministry.
They want to write high selling resources.
They want to be speaking on the big stages.
They want to be remembered on a Wikipedia page like this.

But, as I wrote here earlier this year, the spotlight of the big stage will open you up for increased scrutiny.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Experience or experties?

Would you rather learn from someone with experience or expertise?

If you needed advice about starting a ministry, would you rather speak to someone who has run the event previously, or written/taught about the theory behind it?

I know, ideally, you'd find someone with a large dose of both. So would I.

But... What if you could only select one?

Personally, I'd go with experience.

The reason I lean this way has to do with the flow of information. Usually, if you partake in an activity, even by accident, you'll become somewhat of an expert (even if it's what not to do!).

As good as theory is, for most problems I have, I need someone who has travelled the path I'm currently struggling down.

As useful as academic answers may be, what I'm usually searching for is someone who has put the theory into practice and can warn me of the unseen landmines.

In church-land, these are the "experts" we need to seek out the most, not necessarily those who are lecturing in the topic.

Monday, September 15, 2014

In debt to the heretics

Ignatius. Clement. Tertullian. Irenaeus. Athanasius. Augustine. Jerome. Constantine. Calvin. Luther. Barth. Lewis.

I've written about the importance of church history here and wrote a few weeks ago that the theological ideas described and defended by the likes of the list above leave the modern church heavily indebted.

But, the giants of church thought didn't write in a vacuum.

The church should also tip its hat to the following three men...

These three blokes, to be blunt, were heretics.

But, without them and their drifts from orthodoxy, the Christian church wouldn't have needed to clarify its beliefs about the bible, the trinity or the nature of Jesus and the incarnation.

It is, in part, due to these men that Christianity has the shape it currently does.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Timetable for early changes

Today I answered a question on a youth ministry Facebook group I'm in, which I don't do all that often, about changing the name of a group at a new church.

I wrote that any change needs to follow the old saying of... You never knock down a wall unless you know why it was built.

As understandable as it might be to bring in change to a new ministry, this impulse must be stemmed because the absolute worst thing you can do is "impose" a change and then discover that the previous things had deep attachment to someone/something sacred.

I recommended that any change should wait a semester or two, falling in the shallow end of the timetables given. I think it would, at least, take that long to build trust, discover the backstory and evaluate the culture of a group. Most said to wait one year.

But, I think there are some things you can do to fulfill that change desire and begin to brand something new...

Update the logo.
Freshen the newsletter, programs or web presence.
Revive any areas which could use a touch of paint.
Tweak the PowerPoint backgrounds.
Set up or redesign the office.

Notice... I did not use the word change.

Effective change happens from the bottom up, not top down.

It's only when you've put in the relational work, hearing their history, sharing your lives and painting a future together that you can implement a change.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Absent or apology?

I always inwardly chuckle when I'm at a meeting and they take apologies (Admittedly, it might have to do with my opinion of many meets I attend or those which I'll gladly skip).

I do so because, for a lot of meetings, those who aren't present are not apologetic, they just aren't physically there.

In short, they aren't sorry they're missing the meeting!

In ministry, the aim should be to create those, who if they miss an event, are actually apologetic.

Church services...
Children's ministry activities...
Youth group...
Family ministry shindigs...

They should be important enough, impactful enough, of a high enough quality to be something which will be missed if they are... missed (which will inevitably happen on the odd occasion).

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

THIS is how you respond to "I did my time as a youth pastor"

I read skim hundreds of blog posts a day, so it's gotta be good to get my attention.

The following post slams the entitled statement out of the park so hard that I
a) wish I wrote it,
b) had the guts to say it and
c) know I'll kick myself for forgetting the next time I hear the statement uttered.

Did my time as a youth pastor

Monday, September 1, 2014

Ministry for THEM or YOU?

Churches can fall for the trap of thinking they SHOULD do a specific x ministry (insert youth, children's, family, seniors, intergenerational, seeker, family-friendly, music, creative-arts-based, refugee, homeless, handicapped, mental illness).

Maybe it was successful in "the good old days" of the church...
Maybe it's working at a neighboring church or a mega-church in town...
Maybe it's mentioned in a the latest book the minister has just read...

Whatever the root cause, the trap has to do with who's the focus.
Is the ministry, primarily, about those inside or outside the church?

At the core, the deciding factor has to do with the desire for service to others or obligation to self.

Sometimes, a ministry is instigated because those within the church want to be seen as doing "something" and feel "good" about doing what they "should."

Friday, August 29, 2014

Two days blind

When I was a young kid, I was chased by my older sister and, having turned to look at her in pursuit, slammed head-first into the edge of a wall. Consequently, I scratched the cornea of my right eye, causing it to become lazy. Thus, I get ninety percent of vision out of my left eye.

In my final year of high school I was then diagnosed with a degenerative corneal disease in my "good" eye, placed on the corneal transplant list, but managed through the wearing of a hard contact lens. Over the following years, I became eligible for the transplant, but my condition was relatively stable.

Then, in 2006, I broke my collarbone and couldn't put in my contact lens (since it required both hands). In what some might call a healing/miracle/unexplained medical occurrence, some weird blood vessels grew in my eye and my vision was restored to the point where I no longer needed my contact lens.

I've had "perfect" sight every day since.

Until Monday afternoon.

While pruning something in the garden I got flicked in the eye by a branch. Nothing too serious as the pain died down over a few hours and there was minimal redness.

Except I'd lost my clear sight.

And I was sure it'd get better.

But, Tuesday morning, it wasn't.

And, my optometrist could find nothing wrong.

Come Wednesday, my vision still wasn't better.

And my cornea/eye specialist couldn't find anything wrong.

So, for two days, I was without one of the primary indicators of the biggest thing God had done in my life. I was without the thing which provided me the tools to do what I do.

This, in union with the inner fears for what a vision-impaired future might hold, stirred up quite a bit of anxiety.

In one innocuous gardening mishap, I was thrown back a decade-and-a-half to a time I couldn't drive and reading was problematic.

In fact, until a few hours ago, I still would have struggled to pass the eye exam for a drivers license (one of the original indicators that there was anything wrong).

So, what did this trial reveal?

First, I had taken my vision for granted. It had been far too long since I'd been thankful for God's continual unexplained provision of sight.

Second, by pure coincidence, earlier that week I wrote a Tiny Bible Bit about Proverbs 15:22. It mentioned the danger of solely listening to the voices inside your head and my thoughts could have taken a pretty dark turn thinking about what this "inconvenience" would cost me personally, professionally and spiritually. It, in the worst-case-scenario, could've cost me my job and the ability to preach, read the bible, drive legally and clearly watch my daughter grow up.

It's ironic when God uses what you write or preach, at a later date, to speak clearest and loudest to yourself.

Third, I was challenged in a way which reminded me of Job 1:9-11. My supervisor, who I meet with yesterday, wanted me to think about how this challenge would effect my view of who God now was if my world was now fuzzy.

To be honest, I'm exceedingly glad I don't have to find out.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Is the "New Normal" a compromise?

Attendance rises...
Attendance drops...

The electronic giving is fruitful, so giving increases...
Economic times are tough, so giving decreases...

Over time, unless your church/ministry/group is completely stagnant, the average for your group will shift up or down.

Sometimes, the "new normal" will be higher.
In other seasons, the "new normal" will be lower.

The challenge, when the "new normal" heads southward, is to recognise that the bar has lowered, not just shift the goal-posts so you're "doing a new kind of ok."

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Respect in nothing new

I'm currently in the middle of my penultimate subject for the Bachelor of Theology - Christology - and, if I'm honest, I'm not learning a great deal of new things.

One part is that I've already done the equivalent subject at a diploma level, but more so, many of the concepts aren't breathtakingly new. In fact, many of the readings are based in the second and third centuries of the church.

And herein lies the beauty of the subject.

Two millennia after the life of Jesus, the idea of the incarnation, Christ's divinity, the trinity and salvation by grace are not exactly eye-opening.

But, at one time, they all were.

They needed to be argued over.
They had to be defended.
They clarified what God had set in place.
They set right the paths of the church.

This is the value of church history.

What we take for granted wasn't always.

It took courage for doctrines to be nailed down and those who had the guts to defend the truth deserve our respect.

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?