Sunday, October 23, 2016

Exit interview questions

People change churches. 
People leave ministries.

It happens.
At every church.
Big and small.
Time and again.

Some churches deal with it better than others.

Those who deal with it in the most mature and productive manner will have a system in place to speak with those who are leaving. Most often, this is done through a type of exit interview.

For those heading through the exit door, these are the questions I'd want to ask...

Now, these questions work best with a few ground rules.
First, the church needs to accept that the person is moving on. The aim isn't to try and "win the person back."
Second, all parties should want this to be an opportunity for learning and growth, not a moment for finger-pointing.

  1. What's your first memory of xyz church?
  2. What's your favourite memory of xyz church?
  3. What are you going to miss most about xyz church?
  4. When did you come to the decision to leave xyz church?
  5. What, if anything, changed/caused you to come to this decision?
  6. Are you going to a new church?
  7. What drew you to that church?
  8. What could we at xyz church do better?
  9. What are your feelings about xyz church?
  10. How could we, at xyz church, bless you at this time?
  11. Would you feel comfortable if we kept in touch, and if so, what degree would you like that to be and how's the best way of staying in touch?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Anatonmy of a dying church

For all of my Christian life I've been a member of a mainline church which is one of - if not the #1 - fastest declining and oldest denomination in Australia.

As such, I've seen and heard about a lot of dying churches.

Generally, they contain a few common traits.

  • They love Jesus (even dying churches are full of people who love Jesus).
  • They don't have a refreshment of people for those who are dying (this doesn't necessarily need to be younger people, just any fresh bodies!).
  • They are stuck in their style of doing things.
  • They have an unhealthy church budget. This means that more than a third is used for staffing, their budget is dependant on external tenancy & offerings are declining.
  • The majority of budget, worship, energy and creativity are directed inwardly.
  • They have, and are often proud, of older communication and offertory strategies.
  • They have a worn out facility.
  • They have no family/children's ministry strategy.
  • There's reduced human resources, resulting in the majority of activities done by the minister.
  • They have quick minister/staff turnover.
No church sets out to be fatally declining, but a lot of churches, when you look at them are at their deaths door.

The challenge is to spot these markers, hear the alarm-bells and do all you can to try and reverse the tide.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Not being disappointed when the wind continued to blow

Last weekend my eldest showed me that she is... Ordinary.

Or at least not divine. 

For, while the wind blew on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Sydney, she tried to stop the breeze. 

Without success.

But, the episode got me thinking... What if...

What if the wind did stop?
What if I were the parent of the divine?
What if my offspring were the next Messiah?

How long would it take for me to notice?
What would be the first hint?
Would I tell anyone?
If I did tell someone, would they believe me?
What proof would others want?
Why didn't I get some kind of sign from God earlier?
Would I be tempted to exploit my daughters powers?
Would our wine and food budgets be drastically slashed?

In truth, I was quietly pleased that Hanna left the weather unrebuked, it raises far too many problems.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Spreading out the gospels

I've written about a few bible reading schemes I've, albeit unsuccessfully, attempted to undertake the last few years (here and here).

Anyone who has attempted to read the bible cover-to-cover, which I have successfully done a few times, will be aware of the stumbling block that hits as you near the end of the Pentateuch.

As you draw away from the patriarchs in Genesis and the thrills of the Exodus, you delve into the Law. Followed by more Law. And then... A restating of the Law in Deuteronomy.

In truth, it feels a tad repetitive.

But, a similar thing can happen in the New Testament if you read from the beginning.

By the time you encounter the third of the synoptic gospels, it can feel a bit familiar.

I know it might seem a near blasphemous, but the accounts of Jesus can feel a little repeated, opening up the danger of skimming over the segments you've encountered previously.

But there might be a wise way around this. 

What if you dispersed the gospels thoughtout your reading plan for the remainder of the New Testament?

What if you started with Matthew, then read Acts-Romans, followed by Mark, then the rest of the Pauline Epistles, then Luke, then Hebrews-Jude, finalised by the gospel of John and Revelation.

I like this structure since it, freshly, brings you back to the life and ministry of Jesus, seeing how this affected the embryonic church and the struggles it faced and avoiding the chronological trap of gospel complacency. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The lens that opens authenticity

A few days ago I read this article about the ways Christians turn people off church and loved the third point - We base community on shared beliefs instead of shared brokenness.

It reminds me of my post on Jenga faith and the activity I did with many of the young adults at my last church.

In short, the point I wanted to impress was that imperfect faith and lives were welcome in church.

But, following on from the relevantmagazine article, I wonder how churches would look if we actually... Dare I say primarily(?)... See each other through the lens of everyone being a broken, flawed person?

How would we treat each other differently?

How would our conversations change?

Would we be more welcoming and accepting of outsiders?

Would we be less socked by each other's flaws and failings?

Would we finally have permission and feel comfortable to drop the perfect Christian veneer?

When it comes to activating the elusive, modern-church enigma, of authenticity, does it all begin with the way we view each other?

Friday, September 30, 2016

You are not exceptional

In my last post I wrote that no one is truly as unique as they feel

This could have been disappointing...

Well, I've got more bad news for you.

You're also not exceptional.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that you, and I, are not the exception.

Even though we might want to be... We are not.

We are not the exception when it comes to the short cuts we think we're entitled to.
We are not the exception when it comes to following the commands of God. They don't apply to everyone else but us.

This is the lie temptation feeds us.

We are told the we are unique... So no one else understands.
We are told that we are the exception... So we can get away with this.

This is how temptation sucks us in and, just like in the garden of Eden, withdraws us from the community around us.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Your story is not unique

Everyone wants to be unique.

Very few people are.

I'd go so far as to say no one.

No one, at the core, lives their life on an absolutely revolutionary path.

For, in reality, others have always faced the same things in the past.

And... That's a good thing.

There's no new questions to stump you.
There's no new temptation to trip you up.
There's no situation that hasn't been wrestled with previously.

Why is this a good thing?

Because you can learn the lessons from others before you...
You can go to people for I've-lived-through-this advice...
You have examples, both good and bad, to glean wisdom from...

Unfortunately, in a culture where everyone wants to carve out their own path, we can miss the opportunity to see that being a part of the rich tapestry of life and faith is a blessing.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The adult check-list

If they gave out licenses in order for someone to become an adult, what things would they need to be able to do in order to qualify?

I pondered this while performing one of the tasks which should be on that list.

I changed a tyre on my car. Three actually. As you can see here, it's not the first time.

But the ability to change a tyre is only at the start of the list.

Here's what I think you should be able to do in order to activate your adult-card... In no particular order...

  • Be able to change a tyre.
Truly, it's not that hard. Anytime someone calls the NRMA to change a flat the service-man should just laugh at them while performing the swap.
  • Be able to check and change the oil in your car.
The second lamest reason for your car to need assistance.
  • Be able to jump start a car.
Inevitably, you'll need to do this. Blowing off a hand whilst doing it would be unfortunate.
  • Be able to drive a manual.
You never know when that's the only kind of car that'll be available.

  • Be able to parallel park.
You should be able to park by the curb competently enough that a group of strangers or your family can watch without cringing.
  • Be able to cook in order to survive.
Trust me, living off food that other people had prepared, gets expensive real quick.
  • Be able to cook a roast dinner.
It's good to have a main meal up your sleeve.
  • Be able to cook a specialty meal.
How else do you really impress a date?
  • Be able to cook breakfast.
For the morning after you've really, REALLY, impressed a date/your spouse.
  • Be able to swim.
You just should be able to do more than just stay afloat.
  • Be able, and willing, to change a nappy.
Any nappy. One AND Twos. Not just your own kid. Without complaining.
  • Be able to do your taxes.
Whilst you might use an accountant, you're both capable to fill in the form yourself and have done so in the past.
  • Be able to change a light bulb.
See what I wrote earlier about changing a tire, change NRMA to handyman, and multiply that by a million.
  • Be able to change a tap washer.
See what I wrote about the oil in your car... Ditto.
  • Be able to iron clothes.
At minimum, you should be able to iron a business shirt.
  • Be able to sew on a button.
For when you notice it missing from your freshly-ironed shirt.
Bonus if you've got more than one knot in your arsenal.
  • Know what alcoholic drink you enjoy and how it's best served.
Of course, enjoyed responsibly.
  • Be able to make quality hot drinks.
Everyone loves the person who can make great coffee or brew a fine tea.
  • Be able to read a map and use a compass.
You never know when you'll need it. But, when you do, you'll be screwed if all you know is how to use GPS and there's no Internet.
  • Know first aid, especially CPR.
See what I wrote about a map and compass, now insert the element of potential-life-and-death.
  • Be able to build and start a fire.
Again, copy and paste from above. Bonus if you can start it without matches.
  • Know how to find or collect water if stranded.
Repeat from above - can you sense a trend?
  • Be able to kill a bug relatively fearlessly.
If you live in Australia, you've gotta know how to handle creepy crawlies. Especially huntsmen spiders.
  • Know how to form a good argument.
No matter where you are - work, home, the pub - this will be invaluable.

  • Know how to give a good speech.
This will put you ahead of a lot of people who hate public speaking.

    • Be albe to spell and use propa grammar.
    This will put you ahead of a lot of people, especially in a professional setting.
    If performing a good speech would put you ahead of others, this will advance you light-years.
    • Be able to tell a good story.
    The hidden secret of good communication.
    You'll always have a source of entertainment if you can draw a half dozen things decently.
    What do you protect, provide and stand for?

    In no way is this an exhaustive list, but I think it's a good start.

    Of the 31 points, I can do approximately 23 (you can speculate which ones I can't do).

    So, if you don't mind, I'll turn in my adult-card once I hit publish...

    Wednesday, September 21, 2016

    The two letters which should be said a lot in church


    If you don't know...
    If you're not aware...
    If you're new here...
    If you're not convinced...

    The word if sends a powerful message.


    Because it shows that you don't presume.

    You don't presume that everyone is a regular...
    You don't presume that everyone is identical...
    You don't presume that everyone is in total agreement with what you're saying...

    All because you use the two little letters which should be said, repeatedly, from the front of the church.

    Sunday, September 18, 2016

    Healthy > Active

    When it comes to ministries, there's a dark secret...
    All too often, active trumps healthy.

    No one would admit it openly, but it's the reality.

    Active = Bodies
    Bodies = Wallets
    Wallets = Money

    Is this equation a tad cynical?
    Yes, but it's quite reflective of decision-making mindsets and budgets.

    But, the measure of success of a ministry should be something far deeper than mere activity.

    More than bodies participating...
    More than a strong social media presence...
    More than being financially sustainable...

    The marker for success should be health.

    Which might not look a lot like "success."

    Health might mean a shrinking in number.
    Health might annoy others.
    Health might be financially costly.

    But a healthy ministry will have a rich desire to cultivate Christ-likeness and be a place of both authenticity and welcom-ness.

    For, these healthy ministries will have a far greater eternal impact, even if they don't always appear to be a throng of activity.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2016

    Why the church should always provide pew bibles

    Last Sunday night I visited a church and noticed something missing which I, incidentally, raised with the senior minister when he introduced himself to me.

    They had no pew bibles.

    Once it caught my attention, and I brought it to the attention of a few people around me, the more I realised the disservice that they were providing.

    First of all, the absence of bibles strips those in the pews, especially those visiting - and expecting pew bibles - or new to church, the chance to physically handle the word of God or be able to take one.

    Now, I know that anyone with a smart phone has a bible at their fingertips, but that leads me to my second point..

    For, secondly, if you're expecting those attending to either bring their own bibles or look up the passage online, then you deprive the church of a unifying scripture translation. This complicates both the content of preaching and the focus of the bible reading.

    On multiple occasions last Sunday the preacher switched from the translation which was read due to his comfort with an alternate. This bugged me. And it could have been easily avoided.

    But, furthermore, the practice of allowing for innumerable bible translations just opens the door for more translation questions to be raised which you might not delve into. Why would you encourage this?

    Additionally, I was bothered when the congregation was encouraged to look up another part of the bible since I couldn't quickly flip to it. Having the bible in your hands allows you, if you're biblically proficient, to easily follow any random trail that might spring to mind or be able to see on the page the wider context of the passage.

    Finally, and most importantly, the pew bible - or lack-thereof - sends a subtitle, yet powerful, message.

    Can you say that you, as a church, really value the bible if you don't provide one, ensuring that it's available to all?

    Sunday, September 11, 2016

    Tilting the odds

    This morning I, once again, lead the service and preached at a local church.

    This was different from last week.

    Not only were I not up the front of a church service, but I skipped church altogether in the morning.

    Because it was Father's Day... And I wasn't given a solid enough reason to go to church over having breakfast with my family.

    I know... Stone me. Drag me out into the street and have me flogged because I chose to have a big breakfast over attending a church service.

    But, I wasn't given a special incentive to select church over bacon.

    And, somewhat shamefully, bacon triumphed.

    On special, family-based occasions, I think that the church service needs an extra hook.

    Now, I know, attending church - meeting with both God and His people - should be enough... But the draw of family breakfast can be awfully alluring.

    So, I would put on breakfast for the parents on mother's or Father's Day. Parents knew that French toast or bacon would await them.

    In the end, a simple idea like this gives church an extra lift when people are deciding what to do before they open their flowers & chocolates or socks & undies.

    Wednesday, September 7, 2016

    The best evangelistic steps: Appeal. Think. Chat.

    I wrote that my go-to gospel presentation could be summed up by three letters... FTH.

    But, when it comes to delivering an evangelistic appeal, it can me summed up by three words... Appeal. Think. Chat.

    Make the Appeal - Present the gospel message.

    Give an opportunity to Think - Provide space, be it a few moments, overnight or longer to reflect on the gospel message.

    Encourage a Chat - Since discipleship happens in relationship, encourage someone who wants to respond to the gospel to speak with a mature believer (be it minister, youth minister, volunteer leader).

    I think this method works better than the eyes-closed-raise-hand-walk-down-the-front approach which has been so popular since it not only gives time and space for the listener to truely weigh up the implications of the gospel, but also connects then into a wider discipleship process/relationship, hopefully closing the vast backdoor of many large evangelical ministries.

    Monday, September 5, 2016

    The bible reader should have this important trait

    Now that my primary public ministry is the occasional church service leading and preaching, I've been giving a lot more thought to the practicalities of the church service.

    Yesterday, during church, my mind pondered the bible reading.

    And, I confess, all too often I did this a disservice.


    Because I'd randomly ask people to do the bible reading once they arrived at church.

    Put simply, the bible deserves better than this.

    And, in putting so little purposefulness into the reading of the scriptures, it sent the message that they we're as important as the other elements of the service which would be meticulously rostered and prepared.

    But, as often as was practical, I did do one thing right.

    I ensured that the bible was read by the laity.

    The importance of this, again, revolved around the message which it sent.

    The bible should be read by those outside the paid church staff because it communicates that the bible's not so sacred or complicated that it's reserved for the "experts."

    One remarkable advancement from the Reformation and the printing press was that it put the bible into the hands of the commoner.

    It would be a shame if we started to reverse that progression...

    Wednesday, August 31, 2016

    Passing the peaceful threshold

    As I mentioned earlier, I lead the service at a new church last weekend.

    And, as all churches do, they had their individual quirks.

    One tradition they had was to pass the peace at the end of the service.

    While this might not the correct order in the church service, it's a perfect example of outreach trumping liturgy.

    When I consider what I wrote earlier when Rambling about the passing of the peace, this concluding-peace-passing deals with many of my criticisms.

    You get to intentionally decide whom you'll pass the peace of God to, especially if it's in response to something you heard during the service...
    You get adequate time to actually connect with others...
    You're able to finish the service on a heart-warming note...

    But, I found an extra bonus in placing the peace as the final act of the service...
    You have something fantastic to say at the door on the way out.

    As many churches do, the minister/service leader would greet people as they leave the sanctuary.

    And, on occasions, this can get awkward.

    But, the invitation to pass the peace as you depart gives the perfect opportunity to fill any silence or initiate a greeting.

    And... I liked it. A lot.

    In fact, it would be something I'd love to incorporate into my regular church service schedule.

    Sunday, August 28, 2016

    Pre-service questions

    This morning I took a service at a church I, previously, was absolutely unfamiliar with.

    Now, I've spoken at plenty of church services, youth groups, seminars, events and camps before, but never before a congregation where I was going in completely clueless. I knew no one. I had no idea about the building. The church traditions and routine were a complete mystery going in.

    But, due to my previous experience, I knew the questions I need to to pose in order to feel confident walking into the church...

    Where is the church?
    When will the church be open from?
    What time does the church service start?
    How long is the usual service?
    What does the service leader/preacher usually wear? Will I need to wear a suit? Is a tie a nessesity?
    How are sermons selected? Lectionary? Series?
    How long is the usual sermon? Or, how long can they comfortably sit in the pews?
    Do you need to give a kid's talk?
    What is the average age and spiritual maturity of the congregation?
    Will you need to create a PowerPoint presentation?
    Are there reliable capabilities to play a video?
    Will you have a pulpit/lecturn/music stand?
    Will you have a fixed, handheld or Madonna microphone?
    Do any members of the congregation have hearing difficulties?
    How many hymns are usually sung?
    Will you need to select hymns/music and when will the musicians need to know?
    Am I expected to lead the singing?
    Does the church use responsive liturgy?
    Will the church expect a written order of service?
    What bible translation do they use?
    Who is the bible reader and will you need to contact them?
    Where are the notices placed in the service?
    Who is delivering the notices?
    Will you need to introduce yourself?
    Will you need to write out any publicly spoken prayers?
    How does the offering work? Do you collect the offering during a hymn? Does the congregation sing a doxology when the offering is presented? Do you pray after the offering?
    What are the odd quirks of the church (and they all have one!)?
    Are you expected to greet the congregation at the door after the service?
    Will you be financially reimbursed? How will that happen?

    Wednesday, August 24, 2016

    Does outreach or liturgy win?

    Liturgy has a place in church services, especially if you want to connect with those who love ritual worship

    But, I wonder how many, especially amongst ministers, value liturgy above outreach?

    Sure, it might not be spoken aloud, but how many churches wouldn't shift their church service structure in order to cater to those outside their churches walls?

    How many would move their church service time?
    How many would ensure a baptism happens in the first third of a service?
    How many would change their music style or song selections?
    How many would change the furniture in the church building?

    Or, does tradition win over outreach?
    Does "proper" liturgy triumph over relevance?
    Does form trump function?

    Sunday, August 21, 2016

    Choose two notices... Max.

    I've written before that notices during a church service must be relevant to a large segment of the congregation, short and, ideally, delivered by someone who personally has a connection with the activity/event being advertised.

    The reason I think notices should be so punchy is that the majority of churches still use printed news sheets.

    Ideally, and the "notice time" should start with this expectation spoken aloud, everyone in church both has a news sheet and has given it, at minimum, an observational glance.

    Better yet, the church has emailed the news sheet to members during the week.

    With that said, the person delivering the notices shouldn't need to give a summery of what's already in everyone's hands and/or in-boxes. 

    The notice time should never be a rehash of the news sheet, or worse, a bland reading off the news sheet by a talking head.

    Furthermore, for any pressing ministry need, a personal face-to-face, eye-to-eye, invitation is far more effective.

    My solution for someone delivering the notices? 
    Choose only one thing. Two tops.

    Anything more and the key messages will be lost.

    Is there a danger that things will get missed? 
    I don't think so. 

    Again, everything in the printed notices should be read and, usually, the other generic notices are usually repeated, so if you chose one of these to touch on each week, then the vast majority of notices will be addressed. 

    Monday, August 15, 2016

    Some weeks DEMAND action

    There are some Sunday's when you should expect the number of children in your church service will increase.

    When you host a child's baptism...
    Mother's/Father's Day and you incorporate the occasion into the service or do something immediate after...
    The start of the school year/the week you kick off the "kid's activities" for the year...

    No matter what the occasion, there are some weeks you ABSOLUTELY MUST do things which intentionally cater to children.

    You need to have your kid's corner set up.
    You need to have an on-point kid's talk.
    You need activities for the children to do before, during and after the service.

    Truth being told, I would argue that you should have all of these elements in every service... But some weeks demand that families are catered to.

    It shows that they are welcome.
    It shows that they are included.
    It shows that they were expected.

    But, what if the rush of families don't arrive?

    Well, it's far better to be prepared, and not need the activities, than be unprepared and communicate that you visitors aren't welcome.

    In fact, if your church isn't prepared to display hospitality to families when they're expected, do the wider church a favour and graciously point the family towards a community of faith which will.

    Saturday, August 13, 2016

    How to give a bad sermon in four easy steps

    Like anyone involved in church for a few decades, I've heard plenty of sermons. Lots and lots. 

    A few magnificent.
    Some good. 
    Some bad.
    A few miserable.

    Additionally, as someone who has worked in churches for a decade, I've given plenty of sermons/talks.
    Lots and lots.

    A few magnificent.
    Some good.
    Some bad.
    A few miserable.

    In truth, the vast majority of what I've heard and delivered were fairly forgettable. They weren't awful, or without gospel truth, just not particularly memorable.

    And I've certainly delivered some sermons I've been particularly disappointed by.

    When it comes to preaching a bad sermon, the recipe has four primary ingredients.

    Ingredient 1: Misuse the text.

    One sermon I recall, which ingloriously stands out, I heard at a Hillsong convention and somehow revolved around the story of the raven being released from Noah's ark and how it couldn't find anywhere to land.

    It. Was. A. Confused. Mess.

    The speaker, who I won't name, totally misused the passage and made assumptions which just aren't clear from the scriptures.

    If you say things from the pulpit that the text doesn't mean nor never intended, then you've committed a serious preaching sin.

    Ingredient 2: Miss nailing the ending.

    There are plenty of ways to conclude a sermon.

    Ask questions.
    Give useful life-application of your point.
    Provide reflective silence.

    Drifting off is definitely not the way to close...

    Ingredient 3: Miss-execution of delivery.

    This point isn't the be-all-and-end-all, but a decent sermon, delivered dryly is a trial.

    If people stop listening because you're not mentally, vocally or physically engaging, then it doesn't really matter how choc-full-of-quality-points your sermon is, you might as well be delivering it to an empty room.

    Ingredient 4: Miss-read the audience.

    Every audience is different and if you don't tailor your message to their energy levels, age, experience and spiritual development, then you're setting them (and you) up for a bad sermon.

    Your audience, if nothing else, should influence the nature of your illustrations/stories and the length that you speak.

    A speaker who doesn't consider his/her listeners, is displaying extreme selfishness since they think that their individual preferences trump the needs of everyone who is listening.

    So... twist the text... with an unsatisfying conclusion... in a boring manner... with no regard to those listening... and I guarantee, it will result in a sermon that's truly awful.