Thursday, October 30, 2014

A response to Halloween

This is the response to Halloween I gave out at church...

I never went trick-or-treating as a kid. It had nothing to do with religion, as my parents didn’t attend church, it just wasn’t done amongst my friends or in my neighbourhood.
I’m only in my early thirties, but even I have to admit that times seem to have changed. Quickly.
Halloween is getting increasingly difficult to ignore. It’s in shops, day-care centres, kindergartens and (you’ve probably noticed!) schools.
Each year there seems to be an increasing number of trick-or-treaters.
And… Halloween’s not going away…

So, how should parents respond to Halloween?

Is it nothing but harmless fun or evil-incarnate? A sugar-fuelled time of enjoyment or a corrupting influence?
If you ask Google, you get approximately 31,100,000 results in just 0.24 seconds.
This short article isn’t about giving you a definitive answer, but instead, provide information to help you arrive at a decision which is most appropriate for what you and your family believe to be important.

Halloween raises, for many, two potential issues resolving around culture and faith…
First, no matter what your beliefs may be, should those in Australia celebrate Halloween, a tradition closer associated with North America.

And, if you’re a Christian, is it appropriate to celebrate Halloween and what options are there to respond?

In order to make some informed decisions, it makes sense to quickly take a closer look at what Halloween is…

HISTORY... Why Halloween?

Two traditions hide behind Halloween.

Halloween falls on October 31, the day before the church celebrates and remembers All Saints’/All Hallows Day. On this date, the church recalls and recognises the important people of faith, both past and present – near and far, who have been significant in a personal and communal faith journey. Halloween is an abbreviation of All Hallows Eve.

But the oldest tradition comes from the Celts who marked the New Year, and change of the seasons, by celebrating Samhain. Details can be confusing, but it was believed that the spiritual and physical realms overlapped during that night and the spirits could then walk the earth. People put on scary masks and lit bonfires to scare away evil spirits.

Like other Christian festivals, the church utilised a date of previous observance or celebration to mark a significant date on the calendar.

Should this history be a problem?

To begin, if might be wise to consider, for yourself, your family and your neighbours, what Halloween means today. Does it still revolve around Druid rituals?
Unless you have a concern about the dates of other Christian festivals and the symbols used, like the Christmas tree - a tradition which can be traced back to ‘pagan’ customs, then Halloween need not cause immediate apprehension.
But Halloween does raise some modern questions…

CONNECTION... A Safe Opportunity?

To start, is the idea of knocking on strangers’ doors safe for your kids?
Doesn’t trick-or-treating go against “Stranger Danger”?

Well supervised, trick-or-treating can be relatively safe, especially if done in local communities, amongst people your family already have a relationship with.
If done thoughtfully, Halloween can be a fantastic opportunity to connect with the parents of children’s friends, other families and your neighbours.


Second, do my kids need to dress provocatively?

Of course not. You control what they do and don’t wear. You don’t need to allow your child to dress as a ghost, witch, the devil or an overtly revealing costume if it makes you uncomfortable. There are plenty of alternate costume options.

But, is this something we really need to do in Australia?

You have complete freedom to choose what you do on Halloween.
But Halloween is celebrated in many parts of the world, particularly the United Kingdom, Europe and, of course, the United States.

Some would point to the vast number of imported traditions, North American and otherwise, we’ve embraced and see little wrong with Halloween being yet another event in a multicultural society.


FAITH... Discernment and Conscience.

 If you’re a person of faith, Halloween can be problematic with a quick Google search producing 1,3200,000 results for “What should Christians do on Halloween?” Unsurprisingly, opinions differ wildly.
At the core, issues not directly addressed by the bible need to be governed by two things, discernment and conscience.

If, in the surroundings of your family, community and church, it would be unwise to partake in Halloween, then, by all means, give it a miss. God would not want you to do something you cannot do in good faith (Romans 14:3). Instead, stay home and have a quiet night in.

Alternatively, if you can think of no reason which would prevent you from participating in Halloween, or no one who would be hindered by your participation, then feel free to get involved as much as you’re comfortable in doing so (Ephesians 5:15-16, Colossians 4::3).

Being guided by your conscience and the Spirit of God would be a good indicator of what you should do on October 31.
If you’re looking for an alternate way to get involved in Halloween, you might want to check out haloeen.com

The bible says in 1 Corinthians 10:31 - So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
Our desire in life should be to please God, with Halloween being no exception.

But whatever you decide, if one has put considerable thought into their participation in Halloween and come to a different conclusion as you, it is not your (or my) place to judge them (Romans 1:1-5).

Monday, October 27, 2014

Comfort passages

Whenever I choose hymns for the morning service, I have the aim for them to be recognizable for the congregation to almost be able to recite the words from memory.

I want the songs sung in the morning to be stirring... familiar... comfortable.

There are some bible passages which can produce a similar result.

At my church, in the evening service, we're currently in the middle of a series on the Psalms. Last night I preached on, arguably, the most comforting and recognized passage in all the bible... Psalm 23.

I opened the sermon by mentioning that the words of the Psalm, commonly used in funerals, music and on screen, seem to connect with people, no matter what stage of life you're in or how life is treating you.

Everyone can use a shepherd, companion and divine host.

When a church is going through a time of change...
When a church is rocked by scandal...
When a church is recovering from division...
When a minister is just new on the scene...

People, including the minister, could use some spiritual comfort food.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Do you have an atheist part?

You're a church-going, ministry-involved, bible-aware, Jesus-believing Christian.

But you're sleeping with your partner...
You're a sexual atheist.

But you have no problem dating your non-believing boyfriend...
You're a relational atheist.

But you deny the supernatural elements of the gospels because you "know better"...
You're an intellectual atheist.

But you trawl for porn on the Internet, relatively guilt free...
You're a technological atheist.

Do you, as a Christian, have a segment of your life which, when you weigh up the attitudes you have and choices you make, look and feel atheistic?

Are there parts of your life where, as far as anyone could tell, God does not exist?

Monday, October 20, 2014

The two essential elevator pitches you must nail in youth ministry

In youth ministry you need two elevator pitches.

One short, elevator ride timed, spiel should outline the core of the gospel message. Mine boils down to FTH and is ready to go at the drop of a hat.

But I continually fail at the second, absolutely necessary, elevator pitch. Youth group.

Whenever I'm asked to give a quick gist of what we do on a Friday night, I waffle something about fun, games, talks, leaders and food, eventually trailing off...

And it's a real weakness which everyone attached to a youth group should be able to nail. Especially the leader.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Did Jesus get the sniffles?

Tonight I had the last lecture of my final subject - Christology - for my Bachelor of Theology. Dealing mainly with the incarnation and its results, we were asked what struck us during the course of the subject.

For me, there was a passing point made by Athanasius which blew my little mind.

Upon hearing this, my brains were splattered across the back of the classroom...

Are you ready?

Jesus didn't get sick.

At first, when I bumped up against this, it sprung my heresy alarm.

I thought, a part of the human condition, which Jesus took on, includes getting somewhat sick...
And, through the incarnation, God is able to sympathise with our suffering, thus including illness...

But I, relatively quickly, changed my tune once I considered two very valid points.

First, as Athanasius stated, it would be odd that Jesus, being a healer of the sick, could himself get sick. If nothing else, this would bring into question his credibility as a healer. As Lord of disease, theoretically, this should extend to his own body.

And second, there's another important element of human life which Jesus doesn't partake in. Sin. Just because Jesus didn't share this, doesn't reduce the absolute humanity He did have.

So, unless He was shedding a tear, Jesus didn't really have a need for the Kleenex.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

You may not be a large Youth Pastor in disguise

Last week we had the largest number at youth group we've had in over a year. In fact, when it comes to the rough guide I use to track numbers, this is one of the first times I've achieved 80% attendance from the teens actively "on the books."

But, the number which walked through the door wouldn't impress many at the local youth ministry conference.

It's not a number which I could use to intimidate others or puff out my chest.

But, for us, it was an above-average turnout.

Today I was reading newsmallchurch.com and was struck by many of the things written because ministers of "small churches" feel the same as youth pastors and youth leaders of groups under (insert whatever a thriving number would be in your context).

The thing which caught my attention most was the repeated mention that every small church minister is not a failure. In fact (and here is the gold!), most ministers aren't meant to be in charge of a mega-church. Most never will be. God has something different, and just as valuable, planned for them.

And every youth minister isn't meant to be up front of a group of 50/100/500/1000 teens.

And that's ok.

The faithful youth group leader, sharing life with a handful of youth, is not a failure.

The youth minister of ten, faithfully telling those kids abut Jesus, is not a failure.

The youth minister of a group with a few dozen teens might not be on the cusp of explosive growth.

For, every youth minister is not designed to lead (insert the largest church in your region) and within every youth minister is not a (insert your youth ministry guru) just waiting to bust out.

Instead, no matter how many you have, you are called to be faithful.
Then you are a success.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Growing pains

I know, it's not all about numbers.
It's not even all about size.
Everyone can't grow up in or work at a church on a list of the fastest growing.

In fact, for most, they'll never be part of an incredibly growing church.

I've never been a part of a ministry which has experienced true explosive growth.

Sure, some things I've been involved in have developed through slower drip-growth, but never an Acts-like numeric expansion.

I suspect, few have.

But, for some, an atmosphere of continuous growth would be all they've known.

I wonder, which transition would be more difficult?

A minister, nurtured in a stagnant church, experiencing dynamic growth for the first time?

Or...
 
A minister, developed in a thriving church, experiencing a stagnant/declining church for the first time?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The vital step to "How's it going?"

Around a decade ago I used to work as a checkout operator at a local department store. At the start of every transaction you'd be encouraged to make contact with the customer. My statement was always "How's it going?"

And every time I asked, I not only didn't care about the answer, but I barely bothered to listen to the reply.

When it comes to church and the activities a church does with young people, there's a secret to making connecting conversations effective.

Stop.

When you ask someone how their week has been, stop.
Only then can you actually listen to the answer.

All too often, especially for those involved in church, when you ask a connecting question prior to a service or activity, you have one eye and ear on something else.

Is the bible reader sorted?
Are the prayers organized?
Is the service due to begin now?
Have those expected visitors arrived yet?
Are the details of the talk wrapped up?

If these questions plague you before a church service or activity, like they often do me, then perhaps you shouldn't engage in a conversation you're not fully invested in...

Because, without the stopping, you don't really care about the answer.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Five-Fingered voting

The denomination I work in uses the consensus model of voting in many of its meetings.

Today I read here a brilliant way to show your feelings about a motion during a meeting. The idea is based on the number of fingers you raise during the vote...

Five fingers. You’re all-in and prepared to own the project. You’ll take the lead if asked.

Four fingers. You give strong support and active participation, but you’re not willing to lead the initiative.

Three fingers. You’re on board.

Two fingers. You have important reservations but will support the initiative.

One finger. You have serious reservations but will not block or subvert the effort. You also commit to open communication regarding your reservations.

Folding – no fingers. You want to block the proposal because you believe it’s damaging.

I think this method covers a lot of important bases, beyond mere approval, but active participation/ownership, and alternatively, beyond objection, but the amount you're prepared to stand in the way of the idea proceeding.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The two questions which shape evangelism

When you meet someone, for the first time or otherwise, do you see them as someone who is primarily an object of God's love or wrath?

And...

Does someone need to be prevented from turning away from God or encouraged to turn towards God?

When it comes to evangelism, these two questions have a great deal of shaping your mode and method.

I'm not going to tell you my answers to these questions, but I can assure you, by the way you treat others, I can tell what your response would be...

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Swapping your worship to click the next slide?

Some have the gift of PowerPoint slide transition. I, seemingly, don't. At least not on a black-belt level.

Yet I've found myself being the one, clicker in hand, on many-a-Sunday.

Really, it shouldn't be that hard.
Follow the words, click once when they start to run out on the current slide, repeat.

But there's one drawback which is true for all churches which use projected words or people who actively monitor sound during a church service.

They cannot truly worship.

Sure, they can be aware of God's presence and have an encounter with God, but it will always be stifled by the next impending click (which you don't want to get wrong or you'll cop the dreaded now-is-the-time-to-change-the-slide-glance).

I wonder how often this is taken into account at churches?

Ideally, the person with the clicking power shouldn't be the same one every Sunday, thus freeing them up to engage more on their "off" weeks.

But, no matter how regularly the word-transition person is "on," is it recommended that they then attend another service in order to get some them-and-God time?

Heaven forbid that the slide changer is someone who would dare close their eyes when they sing to God... I guess they'd get weeded out during the screening process.

Monday, September 29, 2014

An apology from the church

Last night, in something I'd done previously at other churches, I started with an apology based on the words of 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.

 I’ll admit, the church, including this one, isn’t perfect.

For some of you, this might have been a long time coming
I feel I should start with an apology... for

Just as (insert church name, which I'll call XUC), though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one XUC, so it is with Christ.

I’m sorry if at church have not acknowledged your induvidualness. I’m sorry if we have ever asked you to be something that you are not or do something you aren’t comfortable doing.

For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one XUC—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free

I’m sorry if you have ever felt left out, ignored or excluded. If we have said something to offend you, because of whom you are.

—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so XUC is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if ONE OF YOU should say, "Because I am not ANOTHER PERSON, I do not belong to XUC," YOU would not for that reason cease to be part of XUC.

I’m sorry if you have ever not felt included in what we do here at church. I’m sorry if you have ever felt disconnected and no-one has seemed to care. I’m sorry if you have ever felt that you don’t belong. You do.

If ALL OF XUC were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If ALL OF XUC were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?

I’m sorry of your talents, skills or gifts have been wasted, devalued, spoken down of or ignored.

But in fact God has placed the parts in XUC, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would XUC be? As it is, there are many parts, but one XUC.

ONE OF YOU cannot say to the OTHER, "I don't need you!"

I’m sorry if you have ever been spoken down to at church. I’m sorry if this has ever been anything but a safe place for you. I’m sorry if you have ever felt that you are not needed here at church or wouldn’t be missed if you didn’t turn up.

On the contrary, those parts of XUC that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.

I’m sorry if you have ever felt weak, without honour or unpresentable, because of what has happened, or been said at church.

But God has put XUC together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in XUC, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

I’m sorry if you have ever felt that no-one cares about you at church. I’m sorry if you have felt that your attention, your care, has gone to someone else.

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

I’m sorry if you have ever had a time of delight or a time of sadness and haven’t felt comfortable telling someone at church. If you have ever thought that they wouldn’t care. I’m sorry that, if you have shared, that your happiness, has been downplayed, or your sadness, insignificant.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Tweaking the tunes?

Last night, during my Christology lecture, we were discussing the various theories of atonement and got onto the use of atonement words/images in the songs we sing at church.

This famously reared up as an issue around the song "In Christ Alone" back in 2010 due to the actions of the Presbyterian Church in the US.

To be frank, I'd never heard the different words, "the love of God was magnified" used for the song.

But, we did discuss if you should ever change the lyrics of a song.

I don't think, with integrity, you can.

Unless the song is in the public domain, the song isn't yours to change. You don't own the lyrics. You don't own the tune.

The song is someone else's intellectual property. This includes the words. Unless they give permission, you don't have the right to change them.

Beyond this, your CCLI license says here that you can't.

If something in a song bothers you...

a) See if it rubs others up the wrong way, especially the leadership of the church. Maybe you're the only one with the problem.

b) Don't use the song. Der. There are plenty of other songs to use.

c) Grow up. Exposing your church to alternate (but not erroneous) views isn't the worst thing in the world.

d) Use the song as a teaching tool. Give an introduction to the song about the words used. This shouldn't sound shocking, but the worship leader should be occasionally doing this for new people anyway and is a part of LEADING the singing.

Sure, I'm flexible enough to tweak a pronoun or modernise pronunciation, but even this can be covered under the fourth point above.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Reminding them what they just read

Sermons don't need to uncover hidden pearls of truth which make those listening sit back and marvel at your brilliance.

In fact, if that's your aim, you should probably stop preaching. Instead, intellectually masturbate in private.

Instead, sermons need to point people towards Jesus, inspire change, encourage the downtrodden and open the eyes of the proud.

Last week I heard a effective way to achieve these aims.

Have everyone in church read the bible passage together, then reminding them what they have just read and already know about the passage and God.

In this method the magic statement is... "Did you hear what you just said?"

In this way, those in the congregation are involved in recalling what they themselves spoke, with the challenge being personal application of these words, not amazement at the preachers homiletic gymnastics.

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...
Marcion.
Aruis.
Nestorius.

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