Sunday, August 28, 2016

Pre-service questions

This morning I took a service at a church I, previously, was absolutely unfamiliar with.

Now, I've spoken at plenty of church services, youth groups, seminars, events and camps before, but never before a congregation where I was going in completely clueless. I knew no one. I had no idea about the building. The church traditions and routine were a complete mystery going in.

But, due to my previous experience, I knew the questions I need to to pose in order to feel confident walking into the church...

Where is the church?
When will the church be open from?
What time does the church service start?
How long is the usual service?
What does the service leader/preacher usually wear? Will I need to wear a suit? Is a tie a nessesity?
How are sermons selected? Lectionary? Series?
How long is the usual sermon? Or, how long can they comfortably sit in the pews?
Do you need to give a kid's talk?
What is the average age and spiritual maturity of the congregation?
Will you need to create a PowerPoint presentation?
Are there reliable capabilities to play a video?
Will you have a pulpit/lecturn/music stand?
Will you have a fixed, handheld or Madonna microphone?
Do any members of the congregation have hearing difficulties?
How many hymns are usually sung?
Will you need to select hymns/music and when will the musicians need to know?
Am I expected to lead the singing?
Does the church use responsive liturgy?
Will the church expect a written order of service?
What bible translation do they use?
Who is the bible reader and will you need to contact them?
Where are the notices placed in the service?
Who is delivering the notices?
Will you need to introduce yourself?
Will you need to write out any publicly spoken prayers?
How does the offering work? Do you collect the offering during a hymn? Does the congregation sing a doxology when the offering is presented? Do you pray after the offering?
What are the odd quirks of the church (and they all have one!)?
Are you expected to greet the congregation at the door after the service?
Will you be financially reimbursed? How will that happen?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Does outreach or liturgy win?

Liturgy has a place in church services, especially if you want to connect with those who love ritual worship

But, I wonder how many, especially amongst ministers, value liturgy above outreach?

Sure, it might not be spoken aloud, but how many churches wouldn't shift their church service structure in order to cater to those outside their churches walls?

How many would move their church service time?
How many would ensure a baptism happens in the first third of a service?
How many would change their music style or song selections?
How many would change the furniture in the church building?

Or, does tradition win over outreach?
Does "proper" liturgy triumph over relevance?
Does form trump function?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Choose two notices... Max.

I've written before that notices during a church service must be relevant to a large segment of the congregation, short and, ideally, delivered by someone who personally has a connection with the activity/event being advertised.

The reason I think notices should be so punchy is that the majority of churches still use printed news sheets.

Ideally, and the "notice time" should start with this expectation spoken aloud, everyone in church both has a news sheet and has given it, at minimum, an observational glance.

Better yet, the church has emailed the news sheet to members during the week.

With that said, the person delivering the notices shouldn't need to give a summery of what's already in everyone's hands and/or in-boxes. 

The notice time should never be a rehash of the news sheet, or worse, a bland reading off the news sheet by a talking head.

Furthermore, for any pressing ministry need, a personal face-to-face, eye-to-eye, invitation is far more effective.

My solution for someone delivering the notices? 
Choose only one thing. Two tops.

Anything more and the key messages will be lost.

Is there a danger that things will get missed? 
I don't think so. 

Again, everything in the printed notices should be read and, usually, the other generic notices are usually repeated, so if you chose one of these to touch on each week, then the vast majority of notices will be addressed. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Some weeks DEMAND action

There are some Sunday's when you should expect the number of children in your church service will increase.

When you host a child's baptism...
Mother's/Father's Day and you incorporate the occasion into the service or do something immediate after...
The start of the school year/the week you kick off the "kid's activities" for the year...

No matter what the occasion, there are some weeks you ABSOLUTELY MUST do things which intentionally cater to children.

You need to have your kid's corner set up.
You need to have an on-point kid's talk.
You need activities for the children to do before, during and after the service.

Truth being told, I would argue that you should have all of these elements in every service... But some weeks demand that families are catered to.

It shows that they are welcome.
It shows that they are included.
It shows that they were expected.

But, what if the rush of families don't arrive?

Well, it's far better to be prepared, and not need the activities, than be unprepared and communicate that you visitors aren't welcome.

In fact, if your church isn't prepared to display hospitality to families when they're expected, do the wider church a favour and graciously point the family towards a community of faith which will.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

How to give a bad sermon in four easy steps

Like anyone involved in church for a few decades, I've heard plenty of sermons. Lots and lots. 

A few magnificent.
Some good. 
Some bad.
A few miserable.

Additionally, as someone who has worked in churches for a decade, I've given plenty of sermons/talks.
Lots and lots.

A few magnificent.
Some good.
Some bad.
A few miserable.

In truth, the vast majority of what I've heard and delivered were fairly forgettable. They weren't awful, or without gospel truth, just not particularly memorable.

And I've certainly delivered some sermons I've been particularly disappointed by.

When it comes to preaching a bad sermon, the recipe has four primary ingredients.

Ingredient 1: Misuse the text.

One sermon I recall, which ingloriously stands out, I heard at a Hillsong convention and somehow revolved around the story of the raven being released from Noah's ark and how it couldn't find anywhere to land.

It. Was. A. Confused. Mess.

The speaker, who I won't name, totally misused the passage and made assumptions which just aren't clear from the scriptures.

If you say things from the pulpit that the text doesn't mean nor never intended, then you've committed a serious preaching sin.

Ingredient 2: Miss nailing the ending.

There are plenty of ways to conclude a sermon.

Ask questions.
Give useful life-application of your point.
Provide reflective silence.

Drifting off is definitely not the way to close...

Ingredient 3: Miss-execution of delivery.

This point isn't the be-all-and-end-all, but a decent sermon, delivered dryly is a trial.

If people stop listening because you're not mentally, vocally or physically engaging, then it doesn't really matter how choc-full-of-quality-points your sermon is, you might as well be delivering it to an empty room.

Ingredient 4: Miss-read the audience.

Every audience is different and if you don't tailor your message to their energy levels, age, experience and spiritual development, then you're setting them (and you) up for a bad sermon.

Your audience, if nothing else, should influence the nature of your illustrations/stories and the length that you speak.

A speaker who doesn't consider his/her listeners, is displaying extreme selfishness since they think that their individual preferences trump the needs of everyone who is listening.

So... twist the text... with an unsatisfying conclusion... in a boring manner... with no regard to those listening... and I guarantee, it will result in a sermon that's truly awful.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Why all church services should start with a question

I've written previously that good sermons require questions.

This morning in church, amongst others, I asked both of the following questions...
What are you looking forward to in the future?
Are you a cat or a dog person?

But, only one of these enquiries were given during "the address."

Over the last few years, if I can arrange it, I've always started the church services where I've preached at with a sharing/teaser question.

The reasons I do this are to attach a conversation with the act of welcoming those alongside you in the service, engage/reward those who actually turn up on time, introduce a topic which will flow through the service or be addressed in the sermon and open door for an easy conversation topic that I can ask anyone after the service concludes (especially if they have the shake-hands-at-the-door farewell).

Sneakily, I rather like the idea of posing a question right from the start of the service since, when you refer back to it later, those who were late might realise the importance of being punctual and, hopefully, this practice would eliminate the disconnect that can exist between the sermon and the other elements of the church service.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

What CrossFit and the church have in common

Due to my outdoor job, I'm now pretty fit. But, aside from walking +50km per week, I don't do a whole lot of extra exercise.

I definitely don't do CrossFit.
I never have.

But, I know a guy who does.

He talks about it a lot.
He posts pictures about it.
He checks in at every session.
He updates his achievements.

Seemingly, like everyone else who does CrossFit, he strongly abides by their anti-Fight Club principal.

The first rule of CrossFit is... You MUST talk about CrossFit.

And I think the church has a lot in common and, thus, a lot to learn from the "cult" of CrossFit.

First, they are a tribe with a common goal. They, in their local CrossFit box, are a bunch of comrades striving to achieve the personal best.

Second, they are unabashed in encouraging each other. They will spur on the person next to them in order for them to achieve the best they can.

Third, they focus on track-able results, with the results posted consistently with advancement celebrated. 

Fourth, they will hear stories of life change. Due to the culture, they will be able to see and hear about the advancement of others.

Fifth, they will be able to see similar change in their lives. In the most part, if done in a committed fashion, you'll see results.

Sixth, ideally, it's run by driven coaches who, hopefully, are knowledgable in what they're challenging you to do and have achieved the results you're desiring.

Seventh, CrossFit requires sacrifice - physically & financially. 

Eight, due to 1-7, the are unashamedly evangelistic.

So... A united, encouraging, community, who want the best for each other, sharing their successes and supporting them through their struggles, inspired by passionate leaders, in order to have their lives transformed which they, then, are compelled to share with others...

Sounds a lot like what a church wants to achieve...

Friday, July 29, 2016

Are you known as a Jesus preacher?

A while ago I wrote about preaching hobby-horses.

As a minister increasingly rides their topic-of-choice then they can aquire the label as a (insert topic) preacher.

But, I wonder, how many ministers would feel comfortable being a "Jesus preacher?"
How many, if they were brutally honest, would rather be renown for preaching the fundamental gospel then their hobby-horse?

In theory, this shouldn't be a difficult question...

Until it means that you're known for Jesus more than being popular.
Or... and this would often suck me in... Fun.
Or relevant to today's culture.
Or the innovative/engaging ministry strategy you use.
Or the subject you've majored in.
Of the topic you're an "expert" in.

I ask because, even if the minister might not want something other than Jesus to be their main focus, their continued rhetoric draws the focus away from the primary gospel message. 

Ironically, this would be something they'd desperately want to avoid.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The second generation challenge

I'm not, culturally, second generation.

But, in many ways, I am liturgically.

In my denomination, I'm the first of a generation free from foundational denominational allegiances.
I've been the first to jump from the established youth/young adult focused evening service to the more traditional morning service.
I've been the first to try and break into young adult and family ministry circles.

And, liturgically, these present many of the similar challenges which face those of a cultural second generation.

How do you move forward when you're entering something already established?
How do you make changes in the face of longstanding tradition?
How do you plot the next step when it doesn't look like the one that is treasured, yet unsatisfying?

These are the challenges that await those who are on the cusp of the next liturgical transition and must be kept in mind by those who minister to young adults and those who are the ministers and elders of a church which the emerging generation are breaking into.

Friday, July 22, 2016

What forces the church into Code Red

Double Red. Red. Yellow. Blue. Gray.

In the world of a star fleet every alert signal isn't the same.

In the world of ministry every church member isn't the same.

There... I said it.

While all people are made in the image of God, welcomed and recipients of God's grace, some people will leave a far larger impact and, thus, a larger hole when they depart a church.

If you're around churches long enough, you'll see plenty of people leave.

And, as I said earlier, every person isn't the same.

For some, their departure will be welcomed. They were divisive. They were disruptive to what God is doing and where the church is headed.

For some, their departure will be inevitable. They were heading toward a life stage which will take them elsewhere.

For some, their departure will be disappointing. They were members of the church, but didn't solidly buy in or contribute as much as you'd hoped.

For others, their departure is gut-wrenching. They were rusted on. They were heavily involved. Seemingly, they were at the church whenever the doors were open. You never imagined that they would every leave.

And, when the later leave the church, it's a code red. Double red even.

I've been in a situation when a rusted on member of a youth ministry has left.

It hurt.

She was someone who I thought would be at the church for decades...
She was someone who I thought God would build the ministry, and church, around...

And she told me that the church wasn't for her anymore.

When she left we went into double red.
Everything was honestly examined.
Including myself.

For, nothing should force you to deeply look at what you're doing than the departure of a rusted-on church member.

Ideally, if done right, the process, whilst painful, can be one which results in improved processes, new growth and renewed purpose.

All you need to do is be able to stare down the reasons for the code red...

Monday, July 18, 2016

Why leaving a church should be like buying condoms

I mentioned to someone today that leaving a church should be like buying condoms.

Oddly, they needed further explanation...
Perhaps you do to.

As I mentioned here, buying condoms should be something you're prepared to do while looking a human in the eye.

Why? Because using condoms is a mature action and one which you should be mature enough to be able to look someone in the eye and defend, especially if you're buying them for a good reason.

Leaving a church should, ideally, work the same way.

If you're leaving church for a good reason - you've changed life stages, you're stepping out into your own faith community, you're desiring to serve in a context which your church doesn't/can't provide, your church leadership is focusing on a theological (non-heretical) slant which you're not following, the church has cast a new vision/direction which you can't buy into, you're going on the man-hunt - then you should be prepared to have a face-to-face conversation with the church leadership.

It's a sign of maturity.

If you're leaving for a healthy reason, then it relieves those in leadership from thinking that they're solely to blame, and they deserve to be spared that anxiety.

Furthermore, if you leave well - giving clear reasons, wishing the church and its leadership well and promising not to bad-mouth the church - then you can depart as a friend, with their blessing.

And that, when it comes to church departures, is the perfect outcome.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

You MUST be the fundraising champion

People who work in ministry don't have overflowing wallets. Nowhere near. If you're in ministry for financial gains, you'll be disappointed.

Every Friday I'd go home with a fist full of shrapnel and the only thing, financially, overflowing from my time in ministry was the spare coins in the glovebox in my car.


BUT... Those in ministry have a financial duty...


Buy fundraising everything.


Chocolates...

Candy...
Raffle tickets...
40-Hour famine sponsorships...
E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

One thing I would go out of my way to do was flog the fundraising wares of any kid at church.


If I didn't buy the whole box of chocolates, then I'd make sure to pimp out the chokkies until the box was empty.


Not only would I sponsor the kid for the 40-Hour famine, but I'd make sure that the teen was at the morning service and would leave with a sponsor-book full of pledges.


Why?


Because I want kids to, not only, feel comfortable in bringing their fundraising endeavours to church, but open an opportunity for them to share the stories of what they're fundraising for AND the church should be utmost prepared to support any good cause that their young people are involved in.


Any time a kid trundles through the door with a box of fundraising chocolates, supper is instantly supplemented... No excuse.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The ministry of silence

A while ago I read this blog post about remaining silent which really resonated with me.

In the past I've moved on from working at four churches and been involved in numerous other ministries. 

And, I'd like to think, in the main, that I've remained silent about their problems.

I haven't ripped them apart to congregants.
I haven't made snarky comments of social media.

I've remained silent.

And, sometimes, that's the best thing you can do.

Even if it's not easy...
Even if it's not what you want to do...
Even if you think they deserve a good slamming...

Sometimes you need to exercise the ministry of silence.

Silence against critics...
Silence when you aren't in agreement with a decision...
Silence when your voice will bring division...

For, as it says in Ecclesiastes, there's a time to be silent and a time to speak.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

This Sunday won't be the Best-Sunday-Ever!!!

In my new job, reading gas meters, they recently modified the descriptions for dogs inside properties. Now, every dog is classified as savage. Big dogs. Small dogs. Loud dogs. Quiet dogs. I'm-going-to-lick-you-to-death dogs. I'm-going-to-rip-your-throat-out dogs.

Every dog.

Of course, this is done as an OHS precaution, but, obviously, every dog isn't savage.

In fact, due to the overstating of the danger of the dogs, now I'm at greater risk since I'm unsure which property has a hell-hound behind the gate and which has the playful puppy called Spot. 

I mention this, especially in a ministry context, because every event will not be amazing and every Sunday won't be the best ever.

Yet, all too often, we advertise that they will be.

And, in doing so, we actually weaken the effectiveness of our message.

Why?

Because we promote something which a) won't be the case for everyone and b) can't be the case every time.

Worse still, the problem is completely avoidable.

Are you excited about an event? Just promote that...
Are you expecting it to be really good? Just say that...
Are you expecting God to be at work? Just share that...
Are you expecting this Sunday to be exceptional due to a guest speaker or a different element of the service? Shout that loud and proud...

But, keep your "amazing" and "best-service-ever" exclamations for when they'll actually pay off.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The danger of interprative gymnastics

Augustine, despite all the good things he said, wrote and did, royally screwed up when it came to explaining Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan.

But, he's not alone.

A lot of preachers, speakers and theologians have taken a segment of the bible and executed biblical gymnastics.

And it's not just the parables of Jesus that endure the "creative" explanation. The same is especially true for the books of Song of Songs and Revelation.

The odd thing about some of these "imaginative" interpretations are, at times, they fly in the face of the interpretation which the scriptures themselves give. 

Why the heck would you, like Augustine, apply a complex interpretation when one isn't needed!?!

For, the insidious element of such interpretations is that it weakens the confidence those listening have in the bible.

Why would you trust the plain, face-value, interpretation of a passage - even if it's by Jesus himself - if there's a "secret" truth or application which lies underneath? 

Taken to its extreme, this feeds a modern-day form of Gnosticism, where the scriptures hold a "secret knowledge" which only some are attuned to.

This is the foundation-weakening danger of such interpretations...

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Doubt vs Unbelief

I've had doubts... Big doubts... Wanting to scream at God doubts.

But I don't think this is the same as unbelief.

For, doubt says that I don't understand. 

I don't understand something about the circumstances I find myself in. 
I don't understand how to reconcile an event with the character of God. 
I don't understand a concept described in the bible.

Doubt comes with humility and searching.

Unbelief, on the other hand, says that I won't believe.

Despite what the bible says, I won't believe.
Despite evidence to the contrary, I won't believe.
Despite my experience and the experiences of others, I won't believe.

Unbelief comes with pride and stubbornness.

I believe that God is more than big enough for doubt and welcomes those who hold a healthy balance of faith and doubt.

But, unbelief, just like the out working of all sin and rooted in self-idolatry, declares that we know better than God and place ourselves upon the mantelpiece of our lives.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The surprising person of a healthy church

I previously wrote that there are, amongst others, three signs of a healthy church - weirdos, smokers and confused new people.

But, I now think there's another person who will show the health of a local church. 

Those with mental issues...
Those who are downright crazy...

Every church I've been a part of has a unstable person show up regularly, be it at a church service or during the week.

No matter if they're struggling with illness, addiction or homelessness, churches, as they should, attract those who need help.

I think these kind of people reveal the heart of a church.

Are they really welcoming?
Are they actually inclusive?
Can they extend hospitality to someone who does things which makes them uncomfortable?

When someone comes into a church, ranting or obviously "under the weather," then it lifts the lid on the true nature of the community. 

And, if it truely is a place where all are welcome, then a healthy church should attract, or at least retain, the unstable and down-on-their-luck.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Do your messages match?

I've seen a lot of advertising/promotional material for churches and ministries... Websites, fliers, banners, posters, church signs.

I also assume that the vast majority of churches and ministries know what their core values are and the primary things they want to achieve.

So, I wonder, what would happen if you reverse-engineered a ministries advertising in order to discern their main message?

Would the result match the expected aims of the ministry leaders?

I suspect, when it comes to many forms of church promotions, from a purely outsiders perspective, the answers might disturb those within church leadership.

They would think that their ministries are about, for example, the gospel, but their promotional material communicates something different.

This is one of the advantages of bringing in, and then debriefing, your promotional material via non-believers and delving into the last few years of advertisements when you start in a new ministry placement.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Fun will never win

I like to have fun. I, arguably, act well below my age and, all too often, drag people down to my level.

AND ministry to young people MUST be fun. 

It is not the enemy, has been one of the stated things I've wanted the ministries I've lead to be known for and caps off my Ten Commandments of youth ministry leadership.

BUT... Fun will never ultimately last or win in youth ministry.

Fun is expensive.
Fun will be superseded.
Fun will not keep you going when you hit your season of extra support.

Don't believe me?

Consider the extreme drop off rates many fun-based youth groups experience.

Youth group "fun" is replaced with dating...
Youth group "fun" is replaced with parties...
Youth group "fun" is replaced with sex...
Youth group "fun" is replaced with the alcohol...
Youth group "fun" is found to be offering empty promises which the rest of the Christian church don't deliver upon...

Why?

Because youth group "fun" will never compete with what the world can provide.

Youth group games, messy games, food challenges, amazing races, mixers, get-to-know-you activities, outings and lock-ins are all fun (and things I've done plenty of times!) but, in short, the contest isn't even close.

And, more importantly, we have something better to offer than just fun.

We have Jesus.

If all a youth ministry provides is fun, then ultimately they'll end up fighting a losing battle and offer those they minister to a massive disservice by keeping the most life-changing and life-giving thing in the world to themselves.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The two hobby horses I ride

In light of my last post about the timing of ministers introducing their personal hobby horses, I've been wondering what hobby horses I've got.

When I reflect on the talks I've given, topics I go out of my way to teach on and angles I make sure to include when applicable, a few spring to mind.

Obviously, the first would be ministry to young people. But, this seems far too generic.

More specially, I could focus in on youth ministry leadership or effective communication.

But, when I think of the topics I continually circle back to on this blog, two spring to mind.

The first are the drop out points within churches for young people. I've mentioned this topic a lot, building upon it over the years.

The second is one that I've pondered a plenty. It's resulted in some of my most controversial opinions, my most viewed posts and most confronting conversations during my time in ministry.

I've read a whole lot about porn, both from a Christian and a secular perspective, and the damaging impact it has on those who consume and, in general, produce porn.

And if you want me to fire up about a topic, these are the two hobby horses which I'll jump on board and quickly ride into town.