Monday, July 6, 2015

I can see > I know

When you're in pain people say a lot of things. Some are comforting. Others make you want to swear under your breath.

One thing that is all to common, which I unsuccessfully try to avoid, is the phrase "I know."

The reason this sentence sucks, when someone is in pain, is because, most probably, you don't really know.

You don't know their grief over a deceased loved one.
you don't know their sorrow at a bad diagnosis.
You don't know their heart-break from a miscarriage or divorce.


Because it is THEIRS not yours.

A response which trumps "I know" is "I can tell" or "I can see."

When you avoid saying "I know" but use one of the later two, you still convey that you're empathizing with the other person's pain, but avoid the implication that you've got a complete grasp of everything they're going through physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and relationally.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The high-five of peace

In many churches, an element of the service (or at least communion) will be the passing of the peace. Usually, this will involve going around those nearby, shaking their hand, and extending to them the peace of God.

For kids, this can be a little weird.

They don't shake hands.


With anyone.

But, what is the point of "the peace" anyway?

For me, a large part of it - particularly tying into communion - is to physically establish the communal nature of the gathered church and express goodwill, in the name of Jesus, towards each other.

This doesn't need a handshake.

So, in every church I've ever worked at, with the younger kids - especially the boys - we have the high-five of peace.


Because, first of all, it's fun... and fun in church is ok.

Second, it means that I get to connect with the kids during the service itself.

Finally, this starts to lift the stigma of "the peace." Once the kids aren't required to shake hands more adults see the value in including the kids in a way that they are comfortable, and actually enjoying, doing.

Then, "the peace," I truly extended to the child.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How to lose me from your church

In my last post I wrote that small children, especially if they are of the noisy variety, are a good indicator of the welcoming and accepting nature of your congregation.

But, the second reason that a church should welcome, accept and include small children is rather simple.

All too often, in a hundred different ways during a church service, a parent can feel insecure abut their child.

Are they being too noisy during the prayers?
What happens if they start singing oddly during church?
What happens if they start meowing, like my daughter did on Sunday, during the sermon?
What happens of if they have a "disagreement" with another child during church?
What happens of they say aloud that church is boring?
And on, and on, and on...

By welcoming, accepting and including my toddler, you welcome, accept and include me, her parent.

By making space for her, you make space for me.

But, if you judge, grumble about or exclude her, you'll loose me.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

The acceptance litmus test

Do you want to know if you have a welcoming church?
Want to find out how accepting people are in your congregation?

Just add a whining baby or chatty toddler to the middle of their church service.

Over the last few years I've been in plenty of church services with both.

And some churches have been lovely, accommodating and downright pleasant and patient.

Others, not so much.

But, as someone who works with families, it occurred to me today why it's so important to both include and welcome those with small kids.

The first reason is because, I believe, it reveals a great deal about the nature of your congregation.

When you toss in a cooing baby or rambling youngster (for example, my three year old thought it would be a grand idea to bark like a dog during a part of the sermon this morning), you'll get a good idea who sees the church service as a place open to all - including those who might be less than quiet.

The second, I'll deal with in my next post...

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Everything isn't first-run

Last night I gave the devotion to kick off our latest church council meeting, giving a quick overview on the book of Hebrews.

This, while not being an arduous task, is just one more thing on top of what I churn out each year...

38 weeks of the Friday afternoon children's ministry. 
38 weeks of youth group.
40 weeks of Sunday morning Kid's Church.
140 scripture lessons (35x4).
25 sermons in the evening service.
4 sermons in the morning.

And this doesn't included any high school scripture lessons, which I have done in the past, or outside speaking gigs.
On top of this, I spit out 150 posts on Tiny Bible Bits and 120-150 blog posts.

All told, I "produce" in excess of 550 thoughts/lessons about God, Jesus, Christianity, the church and ministry.

AND I'm not extraordinary nor overworked.

But, whenever someone asks me where I draw inspiration for much of this, my answers can be a tad underwhelming.

If I produce a half-millennia of things, probably, only half are purely original.

The rest, largely, flows from - hopefully improving upon - what I've done in the past (thus the advantage of longevity) or is drawn out of what I've done earlier/going to do later in the week.

Thus, the Tiny Bible Bits will, most often, be drawn out of a scripture lesson, sermon, or children's address (thus linking with the Lectionary).

Inevitably, you'll do the same topics in scripture, the children's ministry, youth group and as a sermon series.

But, from the outsiders perspective, it can appear that a lot of what someone in ministry "presents" is original and this, realistically, could never - an need not be - the case.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Levels of Leaving

As I've written plenty of times before, longevity matters in ministry.

But, it's unrealistic to believe that you'll be at a church forever.

Every church worker is, ultimately, inly ever an interim minister.

No matter the precise timetable, there are progressive levels of leaving.

Open. Available. Looking. Legacy.

Open - You're not ready to leave, but you've achieved enough things that you'd look back with pride. Now, if you're dream job found you, you'd be open to exploring the option and possibly jump at it. Ideally, I wouldn't imagine someone would be at this point during the first four or five years of their placement.

Available - Now you've available to move on, but are more than content to stay. By now you've established a culture you're happy with and have an increasing awareness of any opportunities which may be on the horizon. Now, if a fantastic opportunity arises, they don't have to knock on your door, you'll give it a sniff. Ideally, I wouldn't imagine that you'd get to this point until you're seven or eight years in.

Looking - Once you've been in a place a decade, having cycled through a few generations, you might move towards to next stage in leaving - Actively looking. Now, while you'd loved to stay, if a healthy succession plan is in place, you can move to the next step freely.

Legacy - You don't leave cleanly, but - again, with a healthy succession plan in place - transition into another complementary ministry at the same church/denomination.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The well-dressed disclaimer

When a guy wears a suit, when he doesn't require it for work, it usually says something.

Depending where I'm speaking, I'll wear a suit.
On most occasions, I'll wear a suit for weddings.
I will always wear a suit for funerals.
And for job interviews.

Today I didn't wear a suit, but I did dress noticeably better than usual.

But I wasn't speaking somewhere that required me to dress up...
And there wasn't a wedding...
Or a funeral.

So, when people commented on my attire, I wondered if I should give a reassuring disclaimer that I wasn't dating another church.

For, if I unexpectedly saw a youth worker who's dressed up, I would wonder if they're clothed to impress a potential employer...

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

It doesn't matter if two or more are gathered...

Yesterday I wrote that we don't need to invite God into our church services because He is already present.

This inspired the post I wrote in Tiny Bible Bits based on Matthew 18:20.

For, it's this verse which gives people the erroneous mindset that God is especially "present" once a duo of believers are together.

And, in the past, I took the bait hook-line-and-sinker.

In my younger days, we used to joke that we could begin church from the point the second person entered the church building now that "God was present."

The primarily problem with this is that it's an absolute falsehood that God is "more present" once there are two or more believers.

Because, no matter how many warm bodies are present, God is there.

And the danger of quoting Matthew 18:20 out of context, removed from the setting of judgment/restoration within a faith community and, instead, applying it to the presence of God is the damage it can cause.

For this mindset can be hugely damaging for those who are alone and feeling lonely.

Do we, subconsciously, send the message that God is NOT as present because they aren't in community?

Do we, regrettably, harm those struggling with their connection to God during a church service by reminding them that God is ESPECIALLY present but they are missing out?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Being aware is better than inviting

At the start of the evening service at my church, which I routinely lead, I'll light a candle and say a prayer. During this time I'll occasionally make a mistake which many make at the dawn of their services.

For, many church services - no matter what style or structure they happen to take - will have a time when someone will "invite" God to be amongst them.

As was helpfully pointed out here, invite is not the word we're after.

We do not control or dictate the comings or goings of God.
Nor do we need to.

We need not invite God into our church service: He is already present.

What we need to do, if anything, is pray for an increase in our awareness of God's presence and an openness for that to work in and though us.

With this, we can get into the mindset to meet with our omnipresent Maker.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Not being a prayer thief

I regularly lead the prayers in the evening service of my church. Routinely, upon getting prayer requests from members of the congregation, I'll open and close the time of prayer.

I'll admit, it's not revolutionary. But, everything doesn't need to be on a weekly basis.

One thing that has been mentioned is that my opening prayers can be... a little generic.

This is quite intentional.

Upon taking prayer requests, I deliberately try to avoid using these points to open the prayer-time.

The reason?
I don't want to be a prayer thief.

I don't want to snatch away an opportunity for someone in the congregation to pray for something aloud because I've already "covered it."

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Should we give a F@#K about swearing?

As a disclaimer... 
I do it.
In fact, I've done it on this blog.
In order to make a point I might slip in a considered "salty" word.

One reason I write this blog is to get my thoughts ordered when it comes to issues surrounding church, faith and ministry, especially with young people.

A while ago someone asked me about swearing and why Christians shouldn't do it.

In response I said (while fluffing my way through some of the points bellow)... umm... because... they... umm... just shouldn't.

But, the query deserves a far better answer.

To begin, I'm not talking about blasphemy. That fact that it's mentioned as one of the ten commandments and the first line of the Lord's Prayer give a clear indication that God takes His name seriously and it shouldn't be used in a meaningless, careless or mocking manner.

Personally, I think the strongest augment against frivolous swearing is that our words matter and we will be accountable for them (Matthew 12:36-37).

Our words matter since within them are the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). We have the ability, with the words we speak, to build someone up or tear them down.

James 3 says that we shouldn't curse another made, as we are, in the image of their Creator and, importantly, the word which flow from out tongues should be a reflection of our faith and character.

This aligns with Jesus' teachings that the mouth will reveal what is within the heart (Luke 6:45). Instead, our words should reflect our new nature (2 Corinthians 5:17) being a barometer of what is within.

When it comes to swearing, what matters is the intention behind the words (this would also apply to saying "gosh-darn-it" or some other "censored substitute"). If they are directed harmfully towards someone else then they are clearly wrong. If the swear words someone uses adds nothing to the conversation then they are, at best lazy, devaluing our contribution to the world around us.

Importantly, Titus 2:7-8 reminds believers that the words they use will affect their witness to those around them.

But, some days, can and, arguably, should be called shit.
This is the exact word someone might be searching for in order to describe their day.

And here the issue, to a degree, becomes one of conscience.

Does your conscience permit you to use that word?
What is the internal intention behind the word?
Are you using it to build up and add something of genuine value?

Does your conscience feel comfortable using that word in the presence of those around you?
Will the hearing of that word cause a negative example, harm others or impair your Christian witness?

If the last question is answered affirmatively, then any freedom you might have to swear should be restricted in light of those around you.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Could the old dog butt out?

Lately I've been thinking quite a bit about the youth minister I had when I was a teen.

I haven't had any contact with him for approximately a decade, which makes it mind-blowing when I hear that his kids are now teenagers (surely I can't be THAT old!?!).

I wonder, what would he think if I were in charge of his kids youth group?

Would he be proud?
Would he be surprised?
Would he be intimidated?
Would he want to reconnect or avoid me altogether?
Would he want to chat about my "philosophy of ministry?"

Would he be overly critical since he has intimate knowledge "of the business" and a good idea of how things "should" work?

I ask the last one since, I fear, I would run everything Hanna's future youth minister does through the potentially damaging this-is-the-way-I-would-have-done-it filter. I can already tell that I will get frustrated if events weren't processed in light of the considerations before you go and the advertising checklist.

But, would I want to "chat" about the long-term direction, vision and purpose of the ministry, or could I just let go?

Would I be able to keep my nose out of things if I saw kids vulnerable at the drop out points?

I short, would I offer myself as an asset, or be a giant pain in the a$$?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

How to fight being worn down 1% at a time

1% at a time.
Up or down.

This is what happens to your energy levels.

For, on top of physical, emotional, mental and relational emergencies, long-term routine grinds you down.

Slowly but surely.

This is the cause of burnout.
This is the cause of week-eight-of-school-term tiredness.
This is the cause of week-twelve-of-university-semester exhaustion.
This is the cause of 18-months-without-a-vacation frustration.
This is the root of compassion fatigue.

This is why you need people around you who reinsert life.
This is why you need hobbies which will restore your energy.
This is why God instigated the Sabbath.
This is why you need regular holidays.

For, if you see the right people, do the things you enjoy, take time off and spend time away, then your batteries have a chance stay positively charged.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The hidden trident of anger

Those in ministry people get angry.
Within leadership, teams people get angry.
Within churches, people get angry.
At times of change, people get angry.

Over the last few days I've been thinking about anger and, importantly, the underlying elements within.

Usually, the core elements of anger are fear, guilt and blame.

Fear... Due to loss of control.
Guilt... Due to unmet expectations focussed within.
Blame... Due to unmet expectations by someone else.

When someone is angry, it's common that one of these three things will be bubbling under the surface. It's when this is discovered and discussed, then the anger can be dealt with far more productively.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

When can the relationship hit refresh?

At a lot of churches, there will be a young chap or lass who, seemingly, systematically dates the entre eligible demographic of the youth group.

I saw it when I was a teen.
I seen it amongst young adults.
I've seen it in the churches I've worked for.

In a way, it makes perfect sense.

Hopefully, Mr/s Lothario Jnr hears and acknowledges the wisdom of Christians dating...
And they want to date...
And there's a source of eligible candidates...
But he's (or she) not mature or compatible enough to maintain the relationship.

But it makes me wonder... When can they get a second chance?

Age, maturity and the nature of the break-up dependent, can you get a second shot in a year? A few years? Five years? Never?

In general, if I'm going to ask someone about the potential of a possible relationship (ie why aren't you too dating???) I'll ask if they've had a romantic history within the last five years.


Because a lot can change over five years, and when it comes to young adults, at least one significant life stage - finish university, move out, securing their first long-term job - has been moved through in half a decade.

Chances are... the person they would date now would be, at least hopefully, dramatically different to the youngster they dated earlier.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

10 Rules for making it through life

I'm not the source of all wisdom and truth about life. If I were, I'd either be a teenager or a long-white-bearded Mr Miyagi-Dumbledore-Gandalf super hybrid.  

But, nonetheless, over my three-plus decades on this planet, here are the ten rules I've discerned for making it through life (in no particular order)...

1 - Bad things happen. Life is not fair. Flowing on from the points I jotted down from a Steve Biddulph talk in this post. Sometimes, you're not in control of what happens to you.

2 - Surround yourself with people who will care and, when needed, protect you. Have people in your life who want what's best for you physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, spiritually and experientially.

3 - Learn where and amongst whom you can be safe and vulnerable. Spend lots of time with them, at those places.

4 - You deserve the best help possible. It's okay, healthy even, to talk to people who are trained to help you order and process the world around you. It's not a sign of weakness, but strength.

5 - Realise, often, you're already in a future which, previously, you found hard to imagine. Because life's not fair (#1), we can struggle to picture the next step/s. For many of us, we've been in a similar mindset previously, and, thankfully, managed to pull through.

6 - Life presents us with difficult or scary decisions which will require courage. Draw strength from the times when people, particularly yourself, have made courageous choices in the past.

7 - Boundaries are good and healthy. Don't apologise for, lovingly, asserting your own. But, be aware that you'll live with the consequences if you don't enforce or maintain them.

8 - You are not as alone as you think. You, in all probability, are not the first one to be faced with your troubles or the only one going through them currently.

9 - You are more significant than you realise. As I mentioned when I wrote about suicide, there are lots of people who care for you and have their lives deeply affected by your presence.

10 - Time does not heal all wounds, it just creates scars. In order for life to make positive progress, action - sometimes courageous (#6) - is required.

BONUS - #11 - You will be deeply missed when you are gone. Inevitably, your life will end. The shame about funerals is that the person who has died will never get to see the faces, feel the emotions and hear the eulogies from those who are left behind.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Balancing Knowing and Experiencing

I have a Bachelor of Theology, studied over the best part of a decade.
I've also been a Christian for nearly two decades.

I've listened to many hundreds of sermons; given hundreds of talks and read/skimmed thousands of books or articles about Jesus, faith, ministry and the church.
I've been to various kinds of churches and engaged with many spiritual disciplines, even if I didn't enjoy all of them.

In both cases, the former is based in a knowledge of God and the later is based in the experience of God.

Churches, especially youth ministries, should seek to provide a healthy balance and mix of both.

This is why a just-play-games-and-keep-them-entertained youth group will be inadequate.

This is why the creeds will always matter.

This is why the sermon matters during a church service.

In part, this is one of the reasons as a youth I was exposed to various kinds of church services and I have no qualms taking my teens to events which are outside their usual experience - like this one a few weeks ago.

This is why I'll do things like tenebrae services and regularly invite others to use a prayer labyrinth.

This is why, every week in church, I'll ask those in the congregation to share where they've seen God during the last week.

For Christians will be malnourished if they are just fed only a diet of knowledge or experience.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The trouble generation

Year 6.
The junior boys.
The senior girls.
Year 12.
University Students.
Young Families.
Baby Boomers.

Due to the imperfect cyclic nature of ministry - with any age of people - things will not always work out as you might envisage.

In youth ministry, there's almost always a gap year. No matter what shape of funnel you use to draw in, nurture and disciple young people, few churches have a perfect attraction, flow and retention.

For whatever reason - there's a falling out between the popular kid and the leaders, your primary source of children has an unusually small year, your church is struck by a scandal which takes a few years to recover, a large year vanishes at one of the drop out points - it's not uncommon to find a mini-generation gap of a year to two.

When this develops, or you step into a church where this is apparent, three problems lurk on the horizon.

As the generation gap entrenches, the likelihood of attracting and retaining those within that age-bracket shrinks.
As the generation gap matures, they leave a diminished example for the younger years.
As the generation gap gets older, they affect your pool of potential leaders.

Of course, this happens beyond youth ministries.

The generation gap hits churches and entire denominations.

And, on a larger scale, the same three problems lurk...

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Can you see the light?

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

This includes those in ministry.

This also includes ministries themselves.

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

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

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

AND the same goes for ministries.

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

Friday, May 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

For example?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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