Wednesday, January 26, 2022

What preaching shadow does the departure leave?

As an employee, I’ve left multiple churches. Most under good circumstances. Not all.

I’ve been involved with many churches where a staff member has left. 

Amicably. Graciously. Beloved. Disgraced. Disgruntled. Bitter. Sudden.

But, no matter what circumstances surround a departure, the one who leaves usually doesn’t stick around.

They start working for another church. They move away. They go on holiday. They take a break or a “step away.”

Either way, everyone else is left behind.

Other ministers. The congregation. Those who loved the departed. Those who are glad to see the back of them.

And another Sunday is on the way…

So, do those who leave churches consider the preaching legacy they leave behind?

Do they wonder what effect they will have on the Sunday after they are gone?

Do the ones making a hostile firing give thought to how this will shape the following Sunday? 

The Sunday service, and sermon, should always reflect - at least in part - the context it is found it. 

It should be influenced by world events.

It should be relevant to local circumstances.

It should connect with what is going on in the congregation.

I wonder, especially now that many services and sermons are recorded and accessible for anyone, do those who’ve left listen in?

Does the, now, permanence of the words spoken influence what is shared?


Friday, January 21, 2022

When the bible reminds you how much you don’t actually know

I’m currently in the first segment of a multi-year, self devised, bible reading plan.

The gist is pretty simple. I read, chronologically, segments of the bible. I start by reading the passage first slowly, then looking in depth at passages I didn’t understand.

At the moment, I’ve reading Genesis 1-25 until the end of next week.

If you asked me at the start of the year how many passages I’d be stumped by, them I’d probably guess around a half dozen.

This isn’t because I’m an Old Testament scholar.

But, I’ve got a bachelor of theology. I’ve been reading the bible for more than a few decades. I’ve written over ten years of Tiny Bible Bits. I’ve taught hundreds of scripture lessons.

I would think that I’d, at least, be familiar with much of the first few dozen chapters of the bible…

Nope.

Turns out the list of things to look deeper into is actually fairly extensive.

Genesis 4, 5, 6:18, 9:18-27, 10, 11:10-32, 12:10-20, 14, 16, 18:16-33, 19, 20, 21:8-21, 23, 24 & 25.

In a way, I’m a little disappointed. I feel like I should know more.

But, at the same time, it’s refreshing to be reminded that I - in fact - know far less than I often suppose.

It’s a good reminder, especially if I’m still going to have another half century of following Jesus - and thus reading the Bible - ahead of me, that there’s still a lot of things I need to dig into and a lot more to learn.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The question every Christian private school must wrestle with

Leading up to the new school term I’ve had a number of interviews about teaching positions for the upcoming year.

Included in this merry-go-round has been a series of conversations with private or independent Christian schools.

Near the end of each interview I’ve asked the following question…

In light of the cost of your tuition, how does your school reconcile the social justice gospel mandate to include and reach out to the poor, widow, orphan and downtrodden?

I think every wealthy Christian church or school must wrestle with this question.

How to they balance their wealth and/or privilege with a God who especially cares and caters for the least?

How do they reach out to the poor when none, realistically, are within their school or congregation?

How do they give a message of indigenous reconciliation or acceptance, when none in their midst are Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander?

On most occasions, the schools I’ve had a chat with have been honest and admitted (unsurprisingly) that this is an issue they struggle with.

The challenge, constantly, before churches and wealthy Christian institutions must be the gospel of uncomfortable generosity, compassion and justice.

Why?

Because within these places are some of the people who can, and will, make a dramatic difference in the social justice movement.

They just need their eyes and hearts opened to see and feel the need…

Saturday, January 8, 2022

The test of Christian maturity you’ll inevitably face

Do you need to know all the details?

I can think of a number of occasions when the details of a situation have not been shared with everyone.

Everyone in a family doesn’t need to know about what is happening within a marriage.

The children shouldn’t know every detail of their parents lives.

The congregation shouldn’t know every detail that plays out behind-the-scenes.

People don’t need to hear about the mental health issues of their staff members.

Some issues should remain private.

A good indicator of your Christian maturity will be not knowing. And, inevitably, you’ll be in a situation when you don’t know…

Because you don’t need to know all the details.

Sometimes, not knowing is because it’s none of your business.

You need to be ok with that.

Sometimes, not knowing is because the leadership of the church has handled it internally - with appropriate checks-amd-balances. 

You need to trust them.

Sometimes, not knowing is because letting certain information out - whilst involving nothing illegal - will harm others physically or emotionally.

A mature Christian… a mature adult… will understand this.

A child will struggle with it…

Friday, December 31, 2021

2021 Best of…

12 months ago I asked… How do you sum up the dumpster fire that was 2020?

Well, you could pose a similar query to 2021.

This year COVID put me in isolation for a fortnight and resulted in me prac teaching online for three weeks.

I finished my Education/Arts degree (majoring in Roman Antiquity, minoring in geography).

Now, with my studies completed, I’m officially unemployed (hopefully never to read another gas meter again!) and now navigating the waters of finding a teaching position.

This year, like the last few, blogging was down depending upon my study schedule, nonetheless here’s the Rambling highlights of 2021…

Why not reject one more?

Should you pair up dating leaders?

Should you review and rewrite the past?

Disunity starts with the convinced tribe

The danger of having to hit a sermon-time-limit

The secret which helps your points breathe

The secret hack of meeting new people at church

You have to be close enough to see the bones

Should a preacher wade into the waters of controversy?

How do you minister to those on the edges of the arguments?

Preaching should come at a cost for talented ministers

The message virgin converts need to hear

You’re not meant to BE Jesus at your work

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

What role should death play in modern evangelism?

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation about evangelism and, somehow we got onto the role of death.

I assume it was because, for the first time in living me,our, death is - again - a threat in the West due to COVID.

So, can Christians, once again, use the looming shadow of death as an evangelistic tool?

For decades, the idea of death being an imposing, threatening menace in the West has been somewhat removed by increased comfort and modern medicine.

Sure, death still existed. Obviously.

And death still occurred. Even in the young.

Death would still strike in moments of disaster and tragedy just as much in 2019 as it would in times gone by.

And yet… infant mortality is at its lowest. Life expectancy is at its highest.

So, what - if any - role should death play in evangelism?

Of course, if you’re going to speak about judgement, then death will be a part of the discussion.

If you’re going to press the importance of the resurrection, then pointing out that ever human has and will die may be an important launching point.

But, what of the sudden threat of death - one that can legitimately strike next month or year?

Is this message more powerful now, in a COVID world, than it has been since, say, the AIDS epidemic or the World Wars?

I suspect, in some places! The message may hit closer to home.

But, should death be our message?

Should our evangelism be punctuated by death?

I don’t think so.

Surely, even if the shadow of death is more impending than in generations, our primary message should still be about life.

Life to the full.

Eternal life.

Life over death.

Even in a COVID world.

Or a world with AIDS

Or with World Wars.

Or the Plague.

Christianity should always be, at the core, about life and hope. Not death and fear.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Does chronologically misaligned prayer still work?

Earlier this week I had a job interview for a teaching job.

At approximately the some time, someone else in my small group was also having a job interview.

The both of us mentioned this to the members of our small group, many whom passed on best wishes and prayer.

But, there were a few who passed on their well-wishes too late.

By the time they sent a message, the interviews had both already concluded.

This made me wonder, what did God do with that prayer?

In theory, prayer uttered out of time sequence shouldn’t be a great problem.

God exists outside of time.

He can honour a chronologically challenged prayer since He hears the heart, mind, motivations and words of the one praying.

Outside of the clock.

He can move in alignment with the prayer, despite the prayer not having left their lips yet.

But… if unchronological prayer works, how long is it effective?

A few hours?

The same day?

Up until the point that the prayer discovers the result?

Nonetheless, prayer - in part - is about transforming the one who up is lifting up the prayer.

It is a way to show support for a fellow believer.

This works at any time.

Friday, December 17, 2021

If you want to sing to Jesus, don’t point it here

My last post mentioned one of the differences between Catholics and Protestants - the former especially mark their first partaking in communion.

But, if you want a simple way to recognise a Catholic Church, you need look no further than the cross.

In the Catholic tradition, they have a crucifix, with a representation of Jesus still upon the crucifixion beams.

The difference was triggered in my mind last Sunday when someone mentioned that we should direct our singing to the cross.

The trouble with this, for Protestants, is that the cross is now empty.

As a symbol of the resurrection, the cross is vacant.

Ditto for the tomb.

So, singing to the cross would be singing to an, albeit significant, symbol.

The cross, now, two pieces of wood that point us to the sacrifice of Jesus.

If you want to direct your worship to Jesus, outside of the Catholic tradition, the cross is not the place to point it…

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

What do you gain by knowing the first time you had communion?

I never knew when my first communion was.

I can guess a location.

Probably.

Whilst communion is significant, as a Protestant, it's just not something that you mark as a memorable occasion.

Even for the first time.

The same thing will be true for my children.

They won't be able to say when they first had communion.

But their cousins can.

Or at least they will be able to find a certificate marking the occassion.

Do Catholics gain something by making such a big deal about their milestone sacraments?

Do Protestants lose something?

Saturday, December 11, 2021

How does internal silence effect prayer?

For the last fortnight I've been walking the streets reading gas meters - a job I haven't done for the last five years.

Weirdly, this is very cyclic since it was a task like this that resulted in this blog.

Now I'm back walking the streets with nothing more than my thoughts.

As the hours pass your mind drifts to strange places. 

Lately my mind has laboured about those who have no internal dialogue. It's a genuine thing. For real.

I wonder what effect this has on prayer.

I ponder this because when I pray while meandering the suburbs, it can - frankly - sometimes feel like I'm talking to myself.

But, I know what that feels like.

I chat with myself.

I argue with myself.

I bicker with myself.

And, this is, apparently, normal.

But, how does prayer feel for those who are unfamiliar with the feeling of internal chatter?

Is prayer improved because they don't tune out of prayer as often?

Do they feel more connected because they only primarily communicate with those who are in attendance?

Is prayer more difficult because they are unfamiliar with nattering into the ether (which prayer can feel like)?

Just like my conundrum about evangelising believers with amnesia, I suspect I'll never find someone who fits the demographic to ask how the situation works.

But. I would be intrigued find out how it works and, more importantly, how prayer is different...

Monday, November 29, 2021

You’re not meant to BE Jesus at your work

It’s not uncommon to hear that you’re meant to BE Jesus.

In your home.

In your workplace.

Amongst your family and friends.

I have a few problems with this…

First of all, you don’t need to be Jesus. Christendom already has one. He is enough.

Jesus is enough Jesus for your home, work, school or social circles.

Second, I’m not convinced this is what the New Testament actually teaches.

Paul wanted to be like Christ. Not Christ.

We are to be Christ’s ambassadors. Not Christ.

We are to be His witnesses. Not Christ Himself.

Third, this BE Jesus theology can actually be quite dangerous.

Being Jesus is how cults start.

Being Jesus moves power and authority to a dangerous, man-centric, place.

Fourth, when you elevate yourself to BE Christ, then you set yourself, and those around you, up for failure

For, you will fail.

You will sin.

You will let others down.

The real Jesus won’t do that.

Finally, we already have a role.

In our homes.

In our workplaces.

Among our friends and family.

our role is to people to Jesus.

This is our job.

This is our ministry.

This is our part.

That is enough.

Because Jesus is enough.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Willingness > Expert

Now that churches are starting to open up in Sydney, once again, congregations are singing.

Last week I saw a few singers and they made me reminisce about the many people who have sung into the microphones at the churches I’ve attended.

Without fail, they have been vastly more talented than I am.

The less said about me leading the singing, the better.

But, every singer wasn’t equal.

Some vary greatly on the talented-willing scale.

A number have been, frankly, world class. They sing in bands. They have released albums. They have travelled internationally.

Others wouldn’t make it post the first round of the regional qualifying for Australian Idol.

But, I would rather the later than the former.

This is true for almost any ministry I was involved in.

I would rather willingness over sheer talent.

Why?

Because I could help develop those who are willing to become more competent.

And, usually, the distance they needed to improve to reach competent wasn’t a great deal.

They just needed a few tweaks.

They needed to reflect on what they did.

They needed to observe someone else do it well.

They needed more experience.

All of this can be managed alongside gracefulness and time.

And I would rather minister alongside a willing heart than a superstar.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Heaven is going to be amazing… unless…

The best, biggest, church service ever!

The greatest, closest, Christian camp ever!

These are two of our favourite images for heaven.

Worship and community.

And, for some, this sounds… heavenly.

They love to sing.

They love to hear the joint praise of a large group.

They love the intimacy generated from living in one another’s pockets.

They love the connection of sharing their lives with someone else and hearing their stories.

Some people love this.

Others, don’t.

For some, they will not love these things, they will just be indifferent.

Others will loathe them.

They put up with the singing, but draw little connection from it.

They will endure close contact with others, but will count down the hours until it has passed.

So, how do these believers connect with these heavenly images?

How do those, outside of the Christian bubble, connect with these images if they hear about them?

It may be callous for the worshipping loving camp devotees to hear… but some people will shirk away from these images. For the, this heaven would seem hellish.

So, is there an answer?

Should we abandon these images?

In short, no.

The bible, when speaking about the afterlife, does use these kinds of images. So we shouldn’t avoid them.

But, we should mine down into the significance of them.

What do they want to communicate about heaven?

At the core, it’s about connection.

Connection, uninhibited by sin.

As was intended.

Creator and created.

We will, no matter what form this specifically takes, be in the presence of God. Justice will completely reign. Evil and sun will have been completely defeated.

And yes, this could be associated with the heavenly tropes we trot out.

But, we can go slightly further.

We can connect other foretaste of heaven to those who don’t connect strongly with worship music or camping.

Heaven could have elements of a deep, thought-provoking sermon.

Heaven could have elements of an insightful book.

Heaven will encapsulate the grandest bush-walk.

But only to a point. 

For all and any analogy of heaven will fall short.

Form this side of eternity, we are only ever granted a foretaste of what is to come. We only ever catch a glimpse.

But if we dogmatically stick to our narrow tract of heavenly images, then we will, inevitability, be selling the greatest reward short. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The message virgin converts need to hear

Those converting to Christianity in adulthood resemble bigfoot - heard about but rarely seen. 

But, the more I think about later converts - especially young adults - the more I’m convinced that the church must share a very counter cultural message.

If you are still a virgin, you are not a loser. You are lucky.

The reason the church needs to declare this message is because it is the exact opposite message they would have heard.

It’s not unusual, if you’re a virgin into your late teens or into your twenties, to heard, think and feel that you have missed out.

You are a loser.

You are unwanted.

No matter if these voices are from the media, from friends or from within, the longer you remain a virgin, the louder they can be. 

But, what if the church reversed this narrative?

What if, without prying into the sex lives of their congregants, the church spreads a positive message around virginity?

Now, to be clear, no one has the value or worth based upon who, if, or how many times someone has had sex.

For, by telling those in young adulthood that retaining their virginity was a good thing, may drastically transform a mindset that has plagued a person for the best part of a decade.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

You may not grade on a curve, but you should definitely praise on one

Teachers do a lot of marking.

Lots and lots.

While I’ve been on teacher prac the last few weeks I’ve been doing a lot of written online classwork feedback.

One thing I’ve not been able to do is effectively differentiate effort from results.

The reason?

I don’t know the students really well.

I don’t know the students who can coast along and get the correct answers.

I don’t know the students who will need to put in a heap of effort to achieve a decent standard.

What does this mean?

You praise on a curve.

While marking can be rather black or white, made up of  the correct and incorrect answers, effort is not.

You encourage based upon what they are capable of and what you expect.

A struggling student should receive praise if they exceed your expectations. It may not matter if the only just achieved a pass grade.

For, encouragement is an issue of equity, not equality.

All students can and should deserve praise, but the level to achieve that doesn’t need to be identical.

And I think that church should run in a similar way.

For those who are in the middle of the struggle, you praise their ongoing efforts.

For those who have started a spiritual discipline, you encourage them to continue.

While you uphold the faithful saints, just like you still encourage the capable students, those who feel that they are lower on the spiritual-totem-pole will immensely benefit from being noticed for the effort they are putting in.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

The high price of COVID we may not see coming

 COVID has taken a high toll.

People have died.

Others will have long term health consequences.

Businesses have gone under.

Mental health conditions have been exasperated.

Relationships have been strained.

Really, what I post about below may seem somewhat minor compared to the above. In many ways it is.

Nonetheless, the more I think about the cost of COVID on churches, youth ministries and schools, I suspect there is a hidden obstacle just waiting to emerge.

The loss of routine.

People are now used to not attending church services.

Teens are now used to not going to youth group.

Students are now used to not applying themselves at school.

So, attending church will become increasingly optional.

Teens will be more comfortable skipping youth group.

Students will struggle to work in the same way they did two short years ago.

All because of the break in routine.

How will it be overcome?

I’m not sure.

Do we just lower expectations for a while?

Do we just proceed in exactly the same way we did pre-COVID?

Do we employ incentives to draw people back to churches and schools?

For a while, I fear, the hangover from COVID will linger until we find the right balance while routines are re-established. 

But, what do we do with the large chunk of people who never reconnect in the same way?

Thursday, September 23, 2021

When will I pull the pin?

This Friday I will record a video post to mark the ten-year anniversary of Tiny Bible Bits.

This blog, as of August, has just clicked over into its thirteenth year.

But, should they last forever?

Should they go for another decade?

If not, when should they fade into the abyss of the internet?

How should they be taken to the top paddock and out down like Old Yeller?

Frankly, I’m not sure.

I’m not sure, primarily, because the reasons for their beginnings have now passed.

I’m no longer driven to reach teens as a youth minister.

I’m no longer concerned about “my brand” in youth ministry.

So, should they be eliminated now?

Will this be my last post?

No.

For, I still enjoy posting on both.

And, while my circumstances have changed, I still like having a forum to post and share my musings.

And, particularly for Tiny Bible Bits, people still read them.

But, I very much doubt that I’ll still be posting when I’m in my retirement years.

Maybe neither will see out the end of the decade.

Probably not.

But, as long as I enjoy it, have time and have inspiration, I’ll go for a while longer.

Then they can join the graveyard of blogs and Facebook groups online…

Friday, September 17, 2021

We shouldn’t just pray for someone

A few weeks ago I recorded the prayer that was presented during church.

It was… ok.

Nothing too special. 

Just a few minutes in length.

This is how the prayers of the people are happening in my current church. I suspect we are not alone.

But, as I reflect upon my prayer and those I hear weekly, I feel that there’s a trap we keep falling into.

Praying FOR the person, not WHAT FOR the person.

Firefighters.

Doctors.

Nurses.

Teachers.

Missionaries.

Ministers.

Whoever…

We lift them up in prayer.

We rattle of a list starting with the phrase “We pray for (insert person or segment of the community).”

And then we move on…

The trouble is… I’m not sure this is an actual prayer.

It’s an acknowledgment.

What we should do - something I didn’t - is say what we pray FOR them.

Peace.

Endurance.

Strength.

Whatever…

This is an actual prayer.

This is an actual request. 

This is something that people can agree with.

Not just a vague prayer-thought into the spiritual ether.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Preaching should come at a cost for talented ministers

No one should do it all.

Which, surely, poses a problem for immensely talented ministers.

Of course, this means that I was never a threat of doing everything!

But, for ministers who can sing, act, preach, play music and are talented with technology - they could do it all - or at least everything or anything.

They could, in a single service, set up the sound, arrange what is to be displayed, lead worship, play a musical instrument, sing, lead the service and preach.

All on the one Sunday.

But, as I’ve previously written, they shouldn’t.

It would hurt the church they are called to serve.

It would hinder the congregation they are meant to empower.

It would, dangerously, create a culture of dependence.

So, what does the talented minister decide to set aside?

Do they, knowingly, lay aside their songwriting or guitar?

Does someone explain to them that they will, for the good of the church, need to restrict what they do in the future?

I’m sure, for some highly talented ministers, the desire to preach will result in the hibernation of something else they enjoy.

For, while some can do it all, they really shouldn’t. 

Friday, September 10, 2021

Jumping through the hoops

Technically, I could now teach in school.

Furthermore, as of around ten minutes ago, my application to be a full-time teacher as just submitted.

In my final (hopefully!) semester of my teaching degree, I’m within sight of my teaching journey actually beginning.

It’s exciting.

It’s nerve wracking.

It’s… unfamiliar.

For, I never went through this to get a job in ministry.

Sure, I had to apply.

And interview (way back in 2008 I already considered myself to be a ministry-interview pro).

But the hurdles to become a teacher, of which I still have many to go, are far longer and higher.

I wonder if the scrutiny for those in non-ordained ministry should be higher.

Sure, you don’t want to launch an inquisition when someone wants to help out with the crèche (and standards for working with young people have greatly ramped up over the last decade), but it’s curious that the rigours to teach an academic education are far greater than those expected to impart a spiritual/moral one…