Monday, February 13, 2017

For... With... Together

I'm going to pray for us...
I'm want to invite you to pray with me...
Let's pray together...

The above sentences all result in the same thing. The person up the front prays aloud.

But, the above sentences are not the same for those listening.

The first tells you to passively watch.
The second tells you to actively listen.
The third invites you to be involved.

Now, in certain occasions and audiences, the first or second options will be a better fit.

If you're uncertain about the religious beliefs of those in attendance then you shouldn't force them to prayer...
But, in a church setting, you should always lean towards the latter option.

Anyone up the front of a church service should actively fight against being a mere talking head.

The trouble is, especially when dealing with youngsters, we only use the first prompting to initiate prayer, giving a poor example to follow.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Would I be a good target?

Today, while waiting to get my haircut, I saw a gaggle(?) of Mormons and wondered what I'd do if they knocked on my door.

Depending on the inflation of my spiritual ego, oscillating from... Feeling underwhelmed in my faith... To being prepared to joust theologically... To being ready to gate crash the beliefs of the poor soul daring to knock upon my door., I'd be happy to open the door and converse.

But, I wonder, if I engaged with a door-step missionary, could they say anything to reel me in?
Could they say anything to make me question my faith?
Could they say anything to make me legitimately engage, never mind believe, the Book of Mormon?
Could they say anything that would make me try out a Mormon church service?

For that matter, would the same be true for a Jehovah's Witnesses? Or Buddhist? Or Hindu Or Muslim? Or Jew? Or Scientologist?

Would some faiths stand a better chance with me?
Would they be the ones which are closer to fundamental Christianity or drastically different?

I ponder all these things and wonder how they apply to Christian evangelism?

Are people of established faith, similar or quite different, more or less likely to positively converse, never mind, convert?

At the core, am I a prime target for the suited flock of Mormons, or would I quickly be disengaged from?

And, personally, how far would I be willing to drift from traditional Christianity if I explored another belief system?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Waiting in the narrative

Noah took years to build the boat...
Abraham and Sarah lived decades with infertility...
Jacob toiled years for Laban...
Decades passed while Joseph worked his way up Potiphar's domestic food-chain and got stuck in prison...
Moses lived in the wilderness before seeing the burning bush...
Joshua journeyed to the Promised Land...
David watched over the sheep...

Plenty of people in the bible had to work and wait.

One of the beautiful things about the narratives in the bible is that you get to see the whole story play out. What might only take you a few verses to read may describe decades in chronological time.

Do you ever wonder what happens in those moments, days, months, years or decades?
Do you ever wonder what the people did during those times?
Do you wonder what they thought while they worked and waited?

Do you ever think that you may be in one of those working or waiting times?

Inevitably, life is made up of in-between times; when life is in a segment of non-noteworthy-narrative.

We might just need to keep that in mind when we feel that we are floating in times of working and waiting...

Monday, January 23, 2017

"Second Chances" starring Graham

A few weeks back I watched the Star Trek episode "Second Chances" and, not for the first time, wondered if I would like me...

Would I like me if I were my boss?
Would I like me as a workmate?
Would I like me as a member of my church?
Would I like me as a leader in my church?
Would I like me socially?

In short, I'm not exactly sure.

I'm not sure because I both put on a pretty good masquerade, but I'm also intimately aware of my many shortcomings.

Now, as you might be able to tell from the sentence above, this isn't exactly fair since I have a perspective within myself that no one else has.

But, I think the thought exercise is an important one.

Because, what if you wouldn't like you?

How would you view yourself?
What would you notice first?
What would annoy you?
Would you be threatened by yourself?
What should you change?

On a more positive slant, what value would you add?
Would you recognise it?
Would you allow it to be exercised?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Pushing beyond FU

In ministry church life you'll hit multiple moments when you'll have an interaction with someone where one of you'll want to tell the other to "go f#*k yourself."

When this happens you have the option to leave it there. You can allow the hostility to endure and infect every activity you have with that person forever.

Or... You can push through "go f#*k yourself."

Depending which side of the conversation you're on, you can choose to lay the brunt of your feelings aside or you could face up to the hostile party and see if you can move forward.

Either way, you have the choice to sit with the hostility or try to push beyond.

Most often, the only way to reconciliation or healing requires that you dare to push through "go f#*k yourself."

Of course, just like Louis Theroux does in My Scientology Movie, when confronted with the immortal phrase "go f#*k yourself" retorts "I'll consider myself f#*ked."

But, while funny, this doesn't help restore the relationship...

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Prayers of the people hacks

One of the most important parts of the church service is the 'prayers of the people.' If you're unfamiliar, these prayers are said by members of the congregation.

Ideally, the prayers are also composed by the one saying the prayer.

I say ideally, because this isn't always the case.

In some cases, the minister composes the prayers and the person just recites it.

I think this is a massive cop out.

First, it usually sounds completely false, or at least heavily manufactured, in the mouth of another.
Second, it undermines the confidence of the congregation in using and sharing their own spiritual gifts.
Third, it makes the prayers sound way more intimidating than they may be otherwise.

As a result, when faced with someone who might be hesitant to do the prayers, here's the hacks that might ease their fears.

To start, the biggest secret is to watch the news before coming to church. It would suck to omit a massive world event because you didn't turn on the tv.

Furthermore, you should scan the church newsletter and keep an attentive ear on the church notices in order to add anything relative, such as big events or people who are sick.

While you're actively listening to elements of the service, it could be handy to look for connections which you could use in the bible readings or sermon.

As a general rule, the structure of the prayer glows through concentric circles. World. Country. Local. Church.

If you stick to these locations, touching on issues in all four, then you'll should be on a winner.

Additionally, the end of the prayer is usually the communal reciting of the Lord's Prayer, so the pressure is off for the conclusion.

Most of all, the person invited to pray should be given permission to pray for what they believe God wants them to pray. 
This is the empowerment of the invitation.
This is the example you want the congregation to see.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

How should you say that the church office is closed?

Right now a lot of church offices will be, and have been since Christmas day, closed.

This is understandable. People like holidays. Especially ministers directly after Christmas.

But, I wonder about the importance of this closure being communicated to the congregation and wider community.

Usually, a message similar to "The church office will be closed from Christmas Eve. If you leave a message then they will not be promptly returned, if at all. We will reopen on xyz."

But, I think this can be vastly improved.

At minimum, you should say that someone will be checking the messages every other day and that someone will be in touch promptly. To say that no one will return calls or enquiries is unacceptable.

Further, you should say that there will be a recorded message which will say the times of the services, especially on Christmas eve/day and over New Year's since your church isn't shutting down and people, locals or those on holidays, might want to know when you're services are on.

For those within the congregation, there should be a clearly defined method of receiving pastoral care with the point person's telephone number easily findable. Just because it's summer, doesn't mean that people don't get sick or die.

The way the office sabbatical is communicated matters is because you desperately want to avoid the message that your church is completely closed or, if someone does get in touch, that they would be calling a vacuum.

It would be a dire message to send to your congregation and those outside the church that for a two week period (if not the majority of January) that the mission of the church ceases or that you stop caring about people.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Best of...

With this being my first year out of vocational ministry in over a decade, it shouldn't be a great surprise that the amount of posts on a blog focussing on ministry - especially to youth - have somewhat decreased.

But, from what I did write, my most viewed post was Fun will never win, followed by The Leader's Cringe Poker Face.

Here are the other highlights...

Expanding to Two (my most exciting post for the year)

The Ministry of Silence (something that anyone who used to inhabit the inner sanctum of a church knows that they need to exercise)

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Do we up the show for the special services?


All these church services have something in common - an increase in "outsiders" and an increase in effort and execution.

Last night I lead the Christmas Eve family service at my church and there was a good chance that there would be a significant number of guests.

The opportunity got me thinking of these extraordinary services which periodically spring up for those in ministry.

Are they viewed, judged, valued and prepared for differently to the regular services? And, should they be?

Do we value the attendance and opportunity higher for one of these special services?
Do we think those attending would be more or less judgemental or critical?

Are these questions a sign of the dedication those in ministry have to reaching those outside the church or are they signs that they take their usual congregants for granted?

I'd like to say that anyone up the front of a church will place the same value in any ministry, no matter who attends - purely regulars or guest - but I feel that our actions might show that it's the activity which draws in the new faces.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Why you need those who have walked the imperfect path

Perfect leaders don't exist in any church.
They don't exist in any youth ministries.
But we can pretend that there are.

In fact, perfect people don't exist within any area of the church.
Or outside the church either.

If a church or ministry wants to authentically connect with imperfect people, then an incredible resource is imperfect leaders.

So, why do we all-to-quickly reject those with "a past"?

Those who are divorced.
Single mothers.
Those who lived the "prodigal lifestyle."
Former alcoholics or drug users.
Those who've experienced homelessness.

There's many more examples which could be named. 

But, my point is that those with an imperfect past can be powerful tools for the advancement of the gospel.

Because they can connect with those who are doing it tough.
They can genuinely listen with a degree of understanding.
They can speak into difficult issues with authenticity.

I think that young people can use adults, of any age, who can say the following - 
I've gone through something similar...
I remember how that felt...
You can talk with me...
Let me tell you what I did...
I wish someone had given me the following advice...

These phrases have a far deeper impact when said by imperfect leaders.

Better yet, young people have the opportunity to hear - 
God still loves me...
God still accepts me...
God never rejected me...
God still uses me...

In these statement there is both hope presented for the present and the future.

And, these are things which are not only desperately needed today and absent when spoken by those who pretend they aren't imperfect.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Is it good to see the church sausage being made?

Law and sausage are two things you do not want to see being made. No one should see how laws or sausages are made. To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making. The making of laws like the making of sausages, is not a pretty sight.
Otto von Bismarck 

I wonder if church services are like the law.

You want them to be effective.
You want them to be run well.
You want them to be agents of positive change.

But, do you want to really peek behind the curtain?
Do you want to become aware of what's happening behind-the-scenes?

AND, importantly, would it be a positive thing if you saw the church service sausage being created?

Being neck-deep in planning, crafting, executing and reflecting on church services, I've seen both the positive and negative of the processes.

And I've seen people both energised and crushed by the process.

Because it can seem disorganised.
It can seem uninspired.
It can seem boring.
It can be argumentative.

But it can also be amazing to see God work in, through, and even despite of, the planning.
It can be empowering to plot things into the future.

I think those on the fringe of the institution - the young, new believers, fresh believers who have just committed to the church - can both bring powerful ideas to table and be inspiring to witness the religious sausage being made.

I just hope those who are willing to roll up their sleeves get to sit at the table with master sausage-makers.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Would I hire a pair?

I can think of multiple occasions when a couple have taken on a ministry partnership within a church.

Usually this ministry mix is a married couple who do the youth/children's ministry or perform a hybrid senior minister/pastoral care or worship leader mash-up.

While this can work, avoiding the unwritten two-for-one deal which some churches expect (BTW I wrote how much a church should expect a spouse to do at church here), it also comes at quite a risk.

Especially if the couple are "only" dating not married.

The danger?

What happens if they break up?
What happens if the ministry puts a too much of a strain on the relationship?

Of course, a couple formerly in a relationship can remain friends and have a productive working relationship, but... What if they don't?

Who loses the church in the divorce?
How does this vacuum affect a ministry?

Is it worth the risk?

I think it can be, especially in ministry with young people since they need older Christians of both genders - particularly females.

But, the risk remains for those churches which are willing to take the gamble and the pair willing to equally step up to the task...

Monday, December 5, 2016

Untried and untested

"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried ... The world is full of these unfulfilled ideas, these uncompleted temples. History doesn't consist of crumbling ruins. Rather, it consists of half-built villas abandoned by a bankrupt builder. This world is more like an unfinished suburb than a deserted cemetery." (G. K. Chesterton, What's Wrong With the World?, chapter 6)

I don't often put "profound" quotes on here, especially from things I've been reading because a) I think it's a bit wanky and, b) all too often the quotes are taken out of context.

But, I was struck by the quote above - cited by John Dickson on his Facebook page - since it, as John pointed out, speaks loudly to the all-too-common attitude of post-modernity.

We don't try.

Not really.

Not with jobs.
Not with dreams.
Not with church.
Not with faith.

We also don't test.

At least not long enough to reach an informed conclusion.

We give it a half-assed attempt, see that it doesn't instantly cure all our ills or deliver on all it's promises, and then move on to the next new thing.

Someone on the Facebook theme pointed out that this is used apologetically.

While I think this might somewhat fit, I, frankly, don't think that it's identified as a reason for faith's decline.

In order for that to happen, you'd have to be able to stop yourself, consider the culture around you, and have the guts to identify it out loud.

And... most don't have time for that...

Monday, November 28, 2016

What do you do when you hit your final number?

Yesterday I went to the evening service of the largest church in Sydney.

In short, the service was, relatively, what I expected.

But, as they were launching their Christmas services and, with a lot of extra activities like fireworks, Christmas lights, jumping castles, horse-and-cart rides, food stalls, ect, there were heaps of people.

A mean... A. Lot.

More, I hope, than they expected.

Because the time before the service was... interesting.

Whilst the parking attendants were friendly and efficient, we had to park a long way away.

No big deal.

That was borderline expected.

Then we arrived to the entrance doors.

It was hectic.

People were everywhere.

And, without a person inside saving you a seat (with proof provided via a text message) then you weren't getting inside the main auditorium.

Now, while the throng of people trying to enter wasn't exactly orderly, the guy on the door wasn't helpful.

In fact, he was borderline rude.

As an uninitiated churchgoer, I would have, nearly, been put off enough to leave.

But, there's an issue... What do you do when you get more people than you can handle?

Sure, it might be a problem that many only dream of, but, it's an issue which can arise with any event where...

You only have so many seats inside the building...
You only have so many seats on the bus...
You only have so many seats in cars...
You only have so many beds to sleep in...
You only have so many gingerbread house kits...

At any event where you only have "so many" you can hit your "final number."

Then what do you do?

Realistically, there's not a great deal you can do.

Fire restrictions exist.
Transportation laws exist.
You can't create more resources out of thin air.

Eventually, you're at capacity or you run out.

But, you can do one thing.

Be polite.

Not once did I, admittedly in the middle of a stressful situation, hear the guy on the door yesterday apologise.

For the inconvenience...
For the delay...
For the chaos...

The words "I'm sorry but..." would have made a massive difference.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The first decision is to set your limits

Sometimes, faith in the church.
Tragically, even family.

Decisions have a price.
Ministry has a cost.

I think everyone who chooses to work for a church must make a difficult decision.
A decision they shouldn't put off.
A decision which MUST be made before they enter into vocational ministry.

What are you willing to pay AND what are you willing to not pay?

For ministry will, inevitably, demand a price.
Caring for people, through the ups and downs of life, will come at a cost.

The most important question that needs to be considered is how high a price you'll be willing to pay and what cost will be too high.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The three positive messages of "pushback"

Last year I posted on the secret code for pushback.

But, there's a hidden message sent by someone who is willing to push back on what you're saying.

And, perhaps surprisingly, they're not negative.

In fact, they're a game-changer when dealing with criticism or someone with the gumption to challenge you.

The following list, of course, excludes those who are doing nothing but muck-raking or anonymous trolling...

Someone who's willing to make a stand on what you're saying or doing sends three positive messages...

First, at least potentially, it means that they care.

Second, it means that they're brave enough to actually speak up and should, if nothing else, be honoured for that courage.

Third, it shows that they have been paying attention.

If someone is willing to take the time to talk with you after a service, or make the effort to compose an email - even if it's a little awkward or uncomfortable to receive - it shows that they've been engaging with what you've been doing to such an extent that it's created a response.

When someone displays that they've been listening and engaging, that's an occasion to be thankful.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The lesson for those no-longer-in-ministry

More or less, aside from the occasional preaching gig - like what I'll have next Sunday - I've been out of practical ministry now for a full calendar year.

And... it's been a... challenge.

I've struggled to "be normal" and not be "on" while at church.

I've struggled with not being in leadership and, at least potentially, knowing what's going on.

I've struggled to switch off the more analytical, nay critical, elements of by mind while in churches.

But, most of all, I've struggled doing nothing.

I've struggled not being "the youth minister."

For, over the majority of the last decade, that's what I was.

That's what I did.

That was my identity.

That's what made me unique.

And... it's not the case any more.

But, I have... at least started... to learn an important lesson.

And, I'll readily admit that it's not the most complex truth.
But, it's one that's exceptionally difficult for those now-not-in-ministry to grasp.

Here it is...

Following Jesus is more important than serving Jesus.

I don't want to negate the importance of being an active member of Christ's body, but it's critical that those no-longer-up-the-front to realise that being a follower of Jesus is more important than being in ministry.

This is a lesson I'm still trying to learn...

Sunday, October 30, 2016

REPOST: 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

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).

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.