Monday, March 30, 2015

Resource "sharing"

I've worked for a number of churches over the last decade, as well as being in significant contact with many more.

As a result, I know where a lot of stuff is located.

For example, I used a giant earthball at our Kids' Club on Friday, owned by a previous employer of mine.

Due to the passing of time and the changeover of staff, when I enquired to the availability of the earthball, I had to inform them that they actually HAD an earthball and that I even knew where it would be located.

To an extent, this would probably be true for every church I've worked for. I would know things they posses which they'd be oblivious to, especially those churches whose focus isn't as strong on youth ministry as it was previously.

But, as I drag my feet in returning the earthball, I wonder what the protocol would be in offering to purchase the item.

How do you start that conversation and would it be well received?

Is the offer actually a suggestion that you'll use it more or, in your opinion, that they don't use it enough?
Do you just make an offer?
If so, especially if you feel that the item's being neglected, how low do you go?

Or...

Do you just offer to "store the item for them"?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The two choices when faced with a season of suffering

My wife and I, before having our daughter, had two miscarriages in 2010.

Truth being told, she handled it far better than I did (here's the first post I did afterwards).

The difference between the way my wife and I faced our miscarriages had to do with the way it immediately affected our view of God.

For, when faced with a season of pain, generally, a Christian is faced with one of two choices.

And, in the raw emotion of the situation, you may well bounce between either, you'll probably settle in one...

Either... You can draw closer to God and become more aware of His presence in the midst of your troubles and pain.

Or, remove - or hide - yourself from God, and church, thinking that God has abandoned you, leaving you alone in your troubles and pain.

The problem is, with the first option being far more in alignment with how God has revealed Himself in the bible, allowing this truth to have room to be heard above some of the other "truths" bouncing around your mind.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The word after sorry makes all the difference...

You break something. Again.
You arrive late from an activity and parents are waiting.
You write the incorrect details on a note.
You forget the keys to the accommodation you're staying at.

Mistakes happen.

Commonly, as pointed out in this post about avoiding getting fired in ministry, there can be two responses.

I'm sorry, BUT...
I'm sorry, AND...

These two sentences are not the same.

One raises defenses.
The other heads towards solutions.

One wants to give excuses.
The other wants to ensure systems improve.

One looks at what has happened in the past.
The other looks towards the future.

Unfortunately, those in youth ministry - including me - tend to deploy the first "apology" instead of initiating the later...

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Would a season of giving kid's talks make sermons better?

It's no secret that many folks in church remember as much from the "kid's talk" as they do from the sermon on a Sunday morning.

To a degree, this makes perfect sense.
By design, they are meant to be simple, focussed, memorable messages.

This morning I explained how God draws us to Himself and the obstacle of sin via two Thomas the Tank Engine trains held together by magnets.

Last week I spoke about John 3:16 using the framed square of carpet I proposed to my wife on.

Approximately 40 times a year I need to do a children's address in church, and, the vast majority of the time I'll look for some kind of prop to help me get my point across.

I wonder, how much would it assist aspiring preachers to be "forced" to give a years worth of "kid's talks" in order for them to see the beauty of simple illustrations, stories and points?

If every preacher spent a season, and I'm aware that many already do by default, having to look around for something applicable to their sermonette, how much better would "adult" preaching become?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The secret sauce of small group leading

In the past I've lead lots of small groups to discuss the bible.

Including mixed years.
As single gender groups.
For teens.
For young adults.
On camps.
At youth groups.
At after-school groups.
In cafes.
During church services.

This Friday, for the first time in a long time, I'll be leading a small group.

With my awesome youth group leaders taking over this week, leaving me relatively in the dark as to what's going on and not giving the talk, I'll be with a group of rowdy junior boys.

So, I figure I should share my secret sauce for effective small group contribution.

In short, don't give the quick, smart or loud ones a chance to always answer first.

In fact, for most questions, they should have one of two disclaimers.

Either, the kids should chat to their neighbour about the answer to the question first and share what you came up with.

Or, they should be given a set amount of time - say ten seconds - to think about their answer and write something down.

Once one of these avenues have been used, then you can open the floor to contributions.

This way, the quick, smart and loud don't dominate the discussion or swamp others thoughts with their input.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Double-shirting

Whenever I'm involved in a public event, I'll make sure that I wear my "work clothes."

Subsequently, I've written that I'm a pants man and there'll be some people at church who've never seen me without long pants, covered shoes and a button up or collared shirt.

But there's another, relatively hidden, apparel choice I make every workday.

I wear two shirts.

No matter if I'm wearing a polo or button up shirt, I'll always have another shirt underneath.

Why?

First, within reason, double-shirting cancels out the need to wear jumpers.

Second, the button up shirts I wear are always open and, thankfully, I don't have to rely on them having all the buttons.

Third, it allows you to do something physical - like stacking chairs between services, setting up for the children's ministry activity or "up-skilling" at a game - and avoiding falling victim of BSMS.

Big Sweaty Man Syndrome.

By double-shirting, you gain an extra layer to either remove whilst doing labour-intensive work or absorb the body-cooling results.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Should I flirt with the oldies at church?

I flirt at church.

Shamelessly.

I've mentioned flirting and ministry previously here, but this is not what I speak of now...

No, my flirting sounds like the following...

How old are you... what? 35?
Do you need sugar? No, of course, you're sweet enough.
Oh, you can't be her grandmother, you must be sisters!

I admit it.
I flirt with the oldies at church.

Last night, whilst "helping serve" at an event, I used the line about sugar more than a dozen times.

Each time it was responded with a smile and a cheeky laugh.

But, do the same questions about flirting not apply just because those who are being flirted with are senior citizens?

If I openly flirted with someone in their twenties or thirties I would be legitimately wandering into troublesome ground...

But when I Googled "Should I flirt with the oldies at church?" I got no definitive answers.

So, with the danger of being the sole authority on this topic on the Internet...
I think it's fine.

If delivered with good-natured cheek. Otherwise it's borderline creepy.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Balancing your buckets

I'd be an insensitive idiot to suggest that those who work in churches are under equal stress as doctors, nurses, counsellors, the police or first responders. They face situations which I would crack under and do an awesome job nonetheless.

But in ministry, you do get the privilege to walk alongside people.

Messy people.
Hurting people.
And everyone, inevitably, gets a season.

Over time, without a break, the pressure can take a toll.

For everyone, including those in ministry, has a number of internal buckets they carry.
A bucket for emotional health.
A bucket for physical wellbeing.
A bucket for spiritual welfare.
A bucket for relational strength.

Sometimes, your buckets will be unbalanced.

You'll feel overwhelmed.
You'll be worn down.
You'll feel spiritually dry.
You'll get a growing feeling of apathy towards others.

It's at these times you'll be in danger of burnout - physical or emotional - or compassion fatigue.

For, once you're bucket is unbalanced - with your or another's issues - then you aren't in a healthy position to help someone else.

This is why holidays, particularly pre-emptive holidays, matter.

Time away gives those in ministry a chance to evaluate, if not empty, some of their buckets and allows them space to be able to help others with theirs.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Be mindful of the stats...

In my last post I mentioned that stats don't lie.

Sure, by definition, this is a massive generalization, but something which needs to be taken into account whenever someone stands before a bunch of people.

Including ministers.
Especially new ministers.

As I mentioned in my last post, a large chunk of any audience will be struggling with the use of porn - both males and females.

Additionally, the stats surrounding sexual abuse and sexual violence are something a minister must be mindful of.

This post about the awareness a church needs to have in regards to the number of victims and survivors of abuse/sexual violence should be eye opening.

Admittedly, some of the numbers may be skewed due to the differing American and Australian cultures, but not dramatically.

If these stats are to be believed, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men have experience sexual violence since the age of 15.

Furthermore, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men have been a survivor of abuse as a child.


Given the gender breakdown of an average church - 61% female - that creates a sizable portion of your church.

Lets say, you're in the "average mid-sized church" with 100 people.

If you crunch the numbers conservatively...
12 women and 2 men will have been assaulted alongside 20 female and 6 male survivors of childhood abuse.

That's around 40% of your congregation.

And, unfortunately, the stats don't lie...

Monday, March 9, 2015

I mentioned it again last night...

I did it again last night.
I mentioned porn.

Just quickly.
In passing.

But it got a mention.
Twice.

Why?

Because Christians watch porn. Including ministers.

In every church. Everywhere. In big numbers. 
Christians are not immune from the lure of porn.

Including every church I've worked in, preached at or gone to.

So, where appropriate, it deserves to be spoken about.
It needs to be spoken about.

Because ignorance is not an excuse and silence is not the solution.

And the stats don't lie...

John 12:46 - I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

How should you feel about INSERT YOUR SUBURB Comunity Church?

You're invited to the new INSERT YOUR SUBURB Community Church this Sunday!

I wonder, how does a minster or member of a local church feel when a glossy flier - containing the above line - is dropped into their mailbox?

I don't ask because I think ministers or congregants are insecure, since there are more than enough unchurch and dechurched people in any community to go around, although some are.

Instead, I wonder, because I know of a number of churches, when they've rebranded or launched anew, that have taken a name similar to INSERT YOUR SUBURB Community Church!

Does it bother the other churches in that suburb?

How do the other churches feel, knowing that the church down the road, claims to represent the community which their church has been in for generations?

Are the local churches warned/consulted about the new name?
If so, how should they respond and what would happen if they expressed trepidation towards the new name?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Must you suspend your disbelief to be a Christian?

Science Fiction.
Action movies.
Wrestling.

To a degree, in order to get truly involved in the stories which are trying to be told, you need to suspend your disbelief.

In order to be "taken along for the ride" you need to switch off the part of the brain which says "that would NEVER happen!"

A few weeks ago, while watching some TV show, my wife wondered how I could be a Christian when I spotted a whole bunch of plot holes in a, in my opinion, fairly nonsensical show.

My response?

I think that, rationally, Christianity makes sense in light of the verse of plausibility and the evidence for God's existence.

When you read the bible, I'm not convinced you need to suspend your disbelief.
In fact, church should be a place where you can bring your disbelief and your questions are welcomed.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Running the scenarios

A leader falls pregnant with her boyfriend...
Or the friend of a teen...
Or a member of the youth group...

A leader dies in an accident...
Or the friend of a teen...
Or a member of the youth group...

A leader is diagnosed with cancer...
Or the friend of a teen...
Or a member of the youth group...


A leader commits suicide...
Or the friend of a teen...
Or a member of the youth group...


A leader turns up drunk or affected by drugs...
Or a kid does...

The youth minister loses his sight...
Or his driver's license...
Or breaks his leg...

An important leader gets a job which means they can't make it anymore...
Or the ringleader of the senior-high girls...

Although the worst-case scenario usually doesn't develop, I've mentally run a lot of scenarios nonetheless.

Why?

Because, inevitably - if you're in a church long enough - a pretty-bad scenario will play out.

So...
In order to keep my mind sharp...
In order to expose my blind spots and potential weaknesses in the youth group...
In order to evaluate how a potential response might match the values of the group...
And in order to, somewhat, see the punch coming...

I run the scenarios.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The shifting hierarchy of needs

People have a physical and psychological hierarchy of needs.

If you've ever watched Man vs Wild then you'll know that the most important things for survival are water, shelter, fire & food. Everything else can wait.

In therapy, it's not uncommon for the therapist to asses/deal with these basic physical needs first - particularly sleep and diet - before embarking on the emotional or mental ailments which have required the person to seek help.

An unspoken hierarchy of needs also exists within my youth groups leaders.

Have you just started going through a season?
Did your relationship just end?
Did you just lose your job?
Did a friend just die?
Are your parents going through divorce procedures?
Are you in the middle of exams?
Are you or a family member sick?
Are you extra stressed?
Even, depending on how it affects your mood, are you on your period?

All of these things, and many more, will elevate you, to varying degrees, on the hierarchy of needs.

Then, in the seemingly random schedule of "dates" I have with my leaders, they'll get bumped up the order or I'll ensure that their favourite chocolate "happens" to be at church when they next arrive.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Solutions are linear, not triangular

Let's say that Person A has an unresolved issue with Person B.

The best way to fix the problem, or at least make positive headway, is for Person A to speak to Person B, in love, directly.

The problem that infects a lot of relationships, no matter how personal, professional or - gasp - even within the church, is when Person C is drawn in.

This triangulates the problem.

More of often than not, Person A discussing a problem with Person B to Person C is not a step towards a resolution. If anything, it allows the issue to spread.

I suspect, this is one of the reasons God is so critical of gossip and the best response, when someone brings a problem to you which your not involved in, is to say "speak to them about it, not me."

Monday, February 23, 2015

Are you worth the cost?

Back in 2011 I wrote a post about giving in churches and the scary notion of converting the amount given into an amount a minister would "earn" if they were dependent on an individual service or "charged" by the hour.

All too often, whilst the senior minister might eat, all their family might not (let's not even consider anyone else on staff!).

But... if we run the numbers... How much would someone need to "pay" per week in order for their church offerings to "break even" with a minister's stipend?

Let's say that a senior minister earns $70,000 per year. 

In a church of 100 givers, NOT members, each giving unit (read singles, couples or families) would need to give approximately $13.50 per week in order to "afford" their minister through offerings alone.

If you throw in a full-time youth/children's/family/community/pastoral care worker (or multiple part-time equivalents), the you'd need to tack on an extra $10 per week in order to cover their wage.

So, in short, $25 per week approximately covers staffing costs for most medium sized churches in Australia.

But, the challenge should extend to those who are drawing that wage.

Are the people getting "their money's worth?"

Did you invest enough in them in order to "earn" your $10?
Were they served enough in order to feel like this week was a good investment?
Did you encourage, engage, resource and challenge them enough to "deserve" your "payment" this week?
Did you draw them into an encounter with God that was not only worth their time, but also money?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why I showed my leaders that we lost money in 2014

Last year our youth group lost exactly $229.75 ($336.55 if our end-of-year-lock-in didn't bail us out).

2014 was the first year I'd actually audited the books in order to come up with a conclusive profit/loss figure.

As anyone in ministry with young people is aware, you don't get into it to save or make money. Every week, for something - like a cupcake for a teens birthday - you're diving into your hip-pocket.

I get that these kinds of expenses are a part of my job.
It comes with the turf.

Of the +$200 that the youth group lost, almost all of it "fell" out of my wallet.

At the start of this year I shared the financial figures with the youth group leaders.

It wasn't to cry poor. Nor was I after reimbursement or pity.

But, I thought that it was best for the leaders to KNOW and be aware of what the youth group ACUALLY costs.

This way, when a kid - who will be welcome no matter how much money is in their pocket - once again "forgets" to bring the small cost for youth group, they can see that it all adds up pretty quickly...

Monday, February 16, 2015

Even though the worst-case-scenario ALMOST NEVER happens...

Thinking about the worst-case-scenario of every and all situations is not fun nor a productive way to live your life. If you spent all your mental and emotional time and energy processing what could go wrong, then your life would be ruled by fear and uncertainty.

As I wrote here, as has happened to me on MANY occasions, the worst-case-scenario usually doesn't happen. In fact, the worst-case-scenario ALMOST NEVER happens.

BUT, I think there's value in being aware of the more "predictable" worst-case-scenarios.

Whilst you shouldn't live life paralyzed with fear that a meteor or tsunami will wipe you out at any time, we should at least, consider some of the more common or concerning consequences of our own, or others, actions.

For, while the worst-case-scenario is usually averted, having played out the scenario can make us better prepared for the approaching calamity.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The problem with 50 Shades and Twilight

No, I won't be watching 50 Shades of Grey on Valentine's Day. Or any day.

It's not because I'm a prude. In fact, as I wrote here, I'm fairly un-offendable when it comes to a lot of things, including sex.

It has far more to do with the reasons outlined all over the web, like here, and television, as Lisa Wilkinson does, slamming the movie because it's poorly-written glorified domestic and sexual abuse.

And that's my problem. The message this movie sends about sex. The reason I won't be watching 50 Shades is spelt out as the second lie about sex described in this article.

In 50 Shades, sex is an act of taking.
In 50 Shades, sex is about manipulation, dominance, humiliation, power and selfishness.

This flies in the face of what sex was meant to be and what good sex encapsulates.

Sex, at the core, should be an act of giving - physically, emotionally, relationally, experientially - not taking.
Sex should be an act of putting the other person first, seeking their benefit and enjoyment.
Sex should be an act of connection and intimacy, built within a system of trust, commitment and love.

Unfortunately, 50 Shades of Grey is to adult sexual relations, what Twilight was to teenage romances (and you can read here what I thought about Twilight).

A damaging, crappy, example of a deeply unhealthy relationship.

A celebration of something incredibly damaging, which, if we witnessed it play out in real life - especially involving people we cared about - we would call it out for what it is, something harmful, manipulative and fundamentally abusive.

Don't believe me? See if you can stomach this review outlining the various abusive elements throughout the trilogy.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The 5 problem areas in youth ministry

Volunteer (heck, even "professional") children's and youth group leaders, in churches all over the world, have the same struggles which can be broken into the following five categories...

If you picked one of the following topics and zoned in on it over the next five training events, the level of anxiety amongst your leaders would greatly reduce...

If the resources you provide touch on these five areas, then your leaders will feel vastly more prepared for their tasks on a Friday afternoon/night...

The five problematic areas for those ministering to young people are...

Running Effective Games/Activities
Leading Effective Small Groups/Dealing with Kids Questions
Crowd Control/Discipline
Creativity/Thinking Up New Ideas
Relating with Youth