Monday, August 31, 2015

Who should I be caught by if I had an AM account?

This weekend, churches across the world are about to have a leadership bomb explode in light of the account details of the Ashley Madison hack becoming public. 

In the North America, it's estimated that 400 church leaders will be standing down. I don't know how many ministers, church staff, deacons and elders will be caught up in Australia, but with a million users, some churches will  inevitably be affected.

I wonder, how many churches had awkward moments in a staff meeting where they wondered...?

Better yet, how many asked the question?

So far, I haven't been asked (don't by the way...).
And I didn't pose the question to our Minister of the Word.

Is it something we should have asked?

I wonder, when it comes to the leaders of denominations, if they thought about calling every church worker under their care and openly asking them if they had an AM account.

We're they, in light of the damaging (and inevitable) exposure, obligated to pose the question?

Furthermore, as the details become easier to find and navigate through, how many congregation members will search for their minister?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Paying to shun a hymn for a year???

The other day I saw a picture on Facebook of, what could be argued, is the most brilliant money-raising scheme ever devised.

In short, it's a form where you nominate a hymn/song your church sings and an amount you'd be willing to pay in order for it to be "retired" for the next twelve months.

Of course, the beauty of the fundraiser is that you can then pay an excessive amount to "save" a tune if it's one of your favourites and nominate an alternative.

As a cash-raising activity, I think it's borderline genius. Super-villain diabolical...

But as a church-unity initiative, the idea screams red-flag. I can imagine blinding arguments breaking out if someone tried to nominate a cherished song from someone else's childhood or the final song at grandma's funeral.

Furthermore, this idea can be theologically impeding. What if somebody, instead of being musically offended by a tune, really wants a hymn cast out because it contains theology which, although throughly accurate, grates at them due to sin or closed-mindedness? Are you allowing them to pay in order to keep their conscience seared?

As good as a fundraiser as this may be, I'm just not sure that the cost could be worth it...


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How far from perfection do you really need to aim for?

Yesterday I stumbled over the post titled 30 Tips for Church Stage Designs on churchm.ag with the following one particularly jumping out at me.


It only has to look good from 20 feet away. (Or your first row of seats.) Don’t spend hours making it look perfect from up close—no one is looking at it from there.

I wonder, in any ministry - not just stage design - how much time do we spend making improvements which no one else will notice?

How long to we tinker with the PowerPoint slides...
How long to we nudge around a picture on the flier...
How long do we stress over the details of a scripture lesson...
How long do we agonise over wording in the youth group talk...
When, from the view "the audience" will have, it will be near inconsequential detailing?

If we took the time to look at what we're "producing" from the standpoint of the congregation, would we strive for less minute perfection and more 5-meters-away-quality?

Monday, August 24, 2015

The mindset that appreciates the less-than-perfect

The other drummer misses a beat...
The alternate singer doesn't quite hit that note...
That youth minister down the road stumbles during the joint Christmas service address...
Someone else at church has problems with their microphone...

None of the above scenarios are a disaster.  Far from it. In fact, most are barely glitches when looking at the big picture.

But I wonder if some in attendance, who could also fill the role, get a sinister, internal, joy when they see someone else falter? 

If so, how is this best dealt with?

Surely you can't apologise to the person. This would bring to light that you not only noticed their misstep but come across as either judgemental or self righteous.

Of course, you should bring that attitude to God in repentance.

Ideally, it's a change of heart which is required, desiring the best for those around you and viewing the efforts of theirs in the absolute best light.

Then, even if everything doesn't run flawlessly, you're in a far better place to, not only overlook the problem, but be able to see, appreciate, and genuinely communicate the positive things which were ministered to you.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Calling once the phone is silent

When a crisis hits, and someone enters a difficult season of life, everyone works the phones to offer support, condolences or help.

But, all too quickly, the phone stops ringing.

And the silence can be deafening.

This is when the second most important wave of calls needs to be made.

A week later...
A fortnight on...
One month after the funeral...
On significant anniversaries...

Whilst the conversation doesn't need to be long, it does need to remind the person that they are not forgotten and that the offer of prayer, support and help are still ongoing.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Know who pays the bill

A lot of things in life come with a cost...
Time.
Thoughts.
Energy.
Money.

A lot of things in ministry cost...
Time.
Thoughts.
Energy.
Money.

But the cost isn't always horded. Sometimes it's shared...
With your spouse.
With your family.
With your work mate.
With your church.

At times, when you're going to bear the cost of a decision alone, the choice is upon your shoulders alone because you're the one who'll solely pick up the tab. 

But, when the ramifications of a decision spread beyond you alone, then the choice must be weighed up by those who'll need to foot the bill.

The challenge is determining who are going to be the ones who'll need to pay for your choices

Monday, August 10, 2015

Count by the month, not week

Undeniably, church attendance in the West has dropped. And it's still dropping.

I wonder if one contributing factor, although certainly not the main one, is the way we track church attendance.

As I mentioned here, the realistic expectation for families to attend church each week is near unreasonable.

Sure, a few blessed families will attend 50 weeks a year, but the realism of families being at church 25 weeks per annum must be faced.

So, when it comes to counting bumbs-on-seats, should we calculate by the month instead of by the week?

If we want an accurate representation of our congregations numbers, and those whom are regularly connected with our church, then I think this method will be far closer in reflecting the true number (or at least those who would consider a church "theirs")...

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Setting the equation

When it comes to high school scripture, increasingly, there are some topics (mostly revolving around sexuality) which schools want you to avoid directly speaking on.

One way around directly answering the common queries about sexuality, which will inevitably arise with teens, is to set the equation, but leave the answer blank.

What do I mean?

Say, for example, you're asked about to hot-button issue of gay marriage...

Now, instead of launching into a diatribe of mainline Christian thought sprinkled with your own opinion, instead, you can simply pose a series of questions which need to be thought through...

What is equality?
What is marriage?
Is marriage a human right?
Can the definition of marriage be changed?
Do we still need marriage?
Who should be able to say what marriage is?
What is the place of the church and government in deciding what people can or cannot do?

If the students can engage with such questions, it will not only clarify what they think about a contentious topic, but the teens are then in a far better place to wrestle with what the bible and church have to contribute.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

How > Should

I've written about the place of life application in sermons a number of times (like here, here and here).

But the form of application usually takes one of two routes with one far more preferable than the other.

One option is to tell people what they SHOULD do in light of what the bible says.

The danger in this is that it can lead to legalism and promote guilt.

The second option is to share with people HOW they can use what the bible says.

This, alternatively, opens up an avenue for the listener to feel empowered (or at least slightly more confident) in living out what the sermon was all about.

The trouble is, churches can push the former over the later because telling someone how the gospel can change their lives is more difficult to measure than a black-and-white instruction to follow.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The key question from Elijah

We’re all busy. That’s just how life is.

No matter what life stage you’re in, the hectic pace of living can crowd in around you.
Do you feel that right now?

By tomorrow, my youth group will have just concluded their series on the Old Testament prophet Elijah.
Even if you’re familiar with the story, go and give it a skim now (it’s in 1 Kings 16-19)… I’ll wait.

Before the rulers of his day, who put their faith in the neighbouring fertility God Baal, Elijah said that there would be no rain for three years. Whilst outnumbered 850:1, Elijah proposes a contest to see which deity would show themselves to be faithful.
In short, Elijah makes a mighty stand for God before the powers of his day and he’s able to do this for two reasons.

First, Elijah knew what he was standing for – complete devotion to the faithful God Yahweh, not a God/Baal hybrid religion.
Secondly, Elijah knew whom he was standing with - The God who can both shake the mountain, but speak with whispered tones.
It’s upon the side of mount Horeb where God asks Elijah the probing question “What are you doing here?”

Do you ever hear God asking you that question?

Do you ever stop before God long enough for Him to ask you that question?

Are you still enough to hear the whispered query?

Are the distractions of life far enough away for you to interact with the enquiry?

In our homes, schools, universities and workplaces…
Amongst our family, friends and colleagues…
Within our churches and our neighbours…
How would you answer the question from God… What are you doing here?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Refining or shrinking

Gideon was a failure as a leader.

His numbers went from 22,000, to 10,000 down to 300.

But his army was not shrinking; instead it was being refined down to a number which God could use and be seen through.

In ministry, sometimes things fail and shrink. But not always.

Sometimes, God refines the numbers of a group down so a He can undeniably move anew.

The challenge is trying to discern between the two...

Saturday, July 25, 2015

What can settle the discussion for you...

Teachers change.
Ministers leave.
Principals of schools transfer.
Students graduate.

With some people and situations, every fight is not worth engaging, every hill is not worth dying upon and every argument is not worth having.

Why?

Because convincing someone of your point of view isn't always required.
With some people, when it comes to peripheral issues, you don't need to persuade someone.
Some issues don't need to be immediately resolved.

In some cases, the resolution of a problem will be found with time.

In place of structured arguments, perseverance will open up avenues.

You just need to outlast and out-survive.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The guest doesn't have to be difficult to find

Some people won't like me.
Some kids won't be moved by my explanations.
Some teens will get annoyed by my anecdotes.

Herein lies the power of the guest.

But, when we look for the alternate voice, we can cast the net far and wide.

In truth, we don't need to look that far...

This is why I have the minister of my church and an adult volunteer give the talk at our after-school children's ministry activity.
This is why I cycle through my youth group leaders to help me plan and deliver the youth group talks.
This is why, at the end of last term, the talk on a Friday night was split amongst my four leaders and, at least intended, the small groups were to be headed up by the four voices.

Because some voices will be heard louder than mine.
With a different voice, some truths will become clearer.
Some stories will resonate stronger when presented by someone else.
With a different leader, the dynamics of a small group can powerfully transform.

For, the advantage and power of the guest, can be wielded by the leader sitting beside you every week.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

I. Remember. Nothing.

On Tuesday, for the next few weeks, I've got a standing appointment with a humbling.

After doing one semester of Biblical Greek a year ago, getting a darn good mark, I had the brilliant idea to finish the textbook and do the second level of Greek.

This week, unsurprisingly, I came to the cruel discovery that I'd forgotten everything.

After not using anything I'd learnt... I barely remembered the alphabet.
Having boxed up all my flashcards... Two dozen vocabulary words had dropped out of my mind.
Having filed away all my notes... Everything began to fade away.

As a result, I sat in a lecture with those who'd done Greek last semester - a mere four weeks removed from their final exam - and they were recalling things which, for me, were just a hazy memory.

All up, I recalled ONE answer during the class.
And got a high five from the lecturer.

Now, with the days counting down until I drag my carcass into another lecture, I have to relearn 274 words and everything I'd forgotten about Greek noun, adjective, verb, adverb systems.

On top of anything new I need to absorb...

I wonder, is this is a problem which will haunt me now that I've finished my degree?
Is educational forgetfulness something which dangerously stalks all ministers?
For, without actively engaging in theology, Christology and church history (especially!), are you destined to have your learning fragment?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The two outcomes of knowing what's under the surface

The following is a warning to those who are in ministry or who have done serious study on self reflection or psychology...

The following is for those who, for whatever reason, will be familiar with the internal workings of what they're watching...

The following is for those who are intimately aware of the inner fears and insecurities of those they're viewing...

No matter it is due to study or experience...

If you know something which puts you in the head of another, then you have two outcomes ahead of you.

a) You have increased empathy for the person. You're personally aware of what the other person is thinking and feeling, so you extend to them extra grace.

or b) You, armed with the ammunition to cut through their defenses, can inflict significant damage through uninvited judgment or criticism.

When you're watching someone who you can understand or identify with on a deeper level than others, especially if the other person is also aware of the fact, then you must decide if you'll use your advanced knowledge for good or ill.

As Spiderman knew... With great power...

Monday, July 13, 2015

The 7 questions to ask when reading the bible

It only took six years, but last night we finally did this activity and intentionally read the bible during church in place of a sermon.

For 25 or so minutes I gave everyone a copy of the book of Philippians and allowed them to read it in light of the following seven questions.

What stood out to you?

What was the key message?

What does it say about Jesus?

What does it say about the Christian life?

What does it say about the church?

How might us, as a church, live this out?

How might we, as individuals, live out the message of this passage?

If, whenever you read the bible, you engaged with these seven questions, then the meaning and application of the scriptures, I feel, would be far clearer and the prospect of engaging with the bible far less intimidating.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

What someone who's messed up sexually is actually like...

At the end of my sex spiel I argue that the oft-used analogies for someone who has messed up sexually - a damaged flower, a chewed up piece of gum or a used piece of sticky-tape - are completely crap and contain a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of God and the message of the gospel.

If I had to use a prop to compare with someone who had "gone too far" sexually, I would use a hundred-dollar bill.

Originally, the green polymer note would be worth a hundred dollars.

And, no matter how much I scrunch it up, spit on it (lucky we have plastic currency!) or step on it, it doesn't lose its value and is still worth pursuing.

If you're no longer a virgin, you are far more like the hundred dollar bill than a crushed rose, masticated gum or furry tape!

This message aligns with the character of God, in whom all people are made in the image of, giving them worth.

This message aligns with the actions of Jesus, which offered forgiveness, not judgment, to those who had messed up sexually.

This message aligns with the message of the gospel, which says that people - all broken by sin - retain value, enough so that God Himself would come amongst them and lay down His life so they can be eternally united with Him.

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.

Why?

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.

Ever.

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.

Why?

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.

Instantly.