I read skim hundreds of blog posts a day, so it's gotta be good to get my attention.
The following post slams the entitled statement out of the park so hard that I a) wish I wrote it, b) had the guts to say it and c) know I'll kick myself for forgetting the next time I hear the statement uttered.
Churches can fall for the trap of thinking they SHOULD do a specific x ministry (insert youth, children's, family, seniors, intergenerational, seeker, family-friendly, music, creative-arts-based, refugee, homeless, handicapped, mental illness).
Maybe it was successful in "the good old days" of the church... Maybe it's working at a neighboring church or a mega-church in town... Maybe it's mentioned in a the latest book the minister has just read...
Whatever the root cause, the trap has to do with who's the focus. Is the ministry, primarily, about those inside or outside the church?
At the core, the deciding factor has to do with the desire for service to others or obligation to self.
Sometimes, a ministry is instigated because those within the church want to be seen as doing "something" and feel "good" about doing what they "should."
When I was a young kid, I was chased by my older sister and, having turned to look at her in pursuit, slammed head-first into the edge of a wall. Consequently, I scratched the cornea of my right eye, causing it to become lazy. Thus, I get ninety percent of vision out of my left eye.
In my final year of high school I was then diagnosed with a degenerative corneal disease in my "good" eye, placed on the corneal transplant list, but managed through the wearing of a hard contact lens. Over the following years, I became eligible for the transplant, but my condition was relatively stable.
Then, in 2006, I broke my collarbone and couldn't put in my contact lens (since it required both hands). In what some might call a healing/miracle/unexplained medical occurrence, some weird blood vessels grew in my eye and my vision was restored to the point where I no longer needed my contact lens.
I've had "perfect" sight every day since.
Until Monday afternoon.
While pruning something in the garden I got flicked in the eye by a branch. Nothing too serious as the pain died down over a few hours and there was minimal redness.
Except I'd lost my clear sight.
And I was sure it'd get better.
But, Tuesday morning, it wasn't.
And, my optometrist could find nothing wrong.
Come Wednesday, my vision still wasn't better.
And my cornea/eye specialist couldn't find anything wrong.
So, for two days, I was without one of the primary indicators of the biggest thing God had done in my life. I was without the thing which provided me the tools to do what I do.
This, in union with the inner fears for what a vision-impaired future might hold, stirred up quite a bit of anxiety.
In one innocuous gardening mishap, I was thrown back a decade-and-a-half to a time I couldn't drive and reading was problematic.
In fact, until a few hours ago, I still would have struggled to pass the eye exam for a drivers license (one of the original indicators that there was anything wrong).
So, what did this trial reveal?
First, I had taken my vision for granted. It had been far too long since I'd been thankful for God's continual unexplained provision of sight.
Second, by pure coincidence, earlier that week I wrote a Tiny Bible Bit about Proverbs 15:22. It mentioned the danger of solely listening to the voices inside your head and my thoughts could have taken a pretty dark turn thinking about what this "inconvenience" would cost me personally, professionally and spiritually. It, in the worst-case-scenario, could've cost me my job and the ability to preach, read the bible, drive legally and clearly watch my daughter grow up.
It's ironic when God uses what you write or preach, at a later date, to speak clearest and loudest to yourself.
Third, I was challenged in a way which reminded me of Job 1:9-11. My supervisor, who I meet with yesterday, wanted me to think about how this challenge would effect my view of who God now was if my world was now fuzzy.
To be honest, I'm exceedingly glad I don't have to find out.
I'm currently in the middle ofmy penultimate subject for the Bachelor of Theology - Christology - and, if I'm honest, I'm not learning a great deal of new things.
One part is that I've already done the equivalent subject at a diploma level, but more so, many of the concepts aren't breathtakingly new. In fact, many of the readings are based in the second and third centuries of the church.
And herein lies the beauty of the subject.
Two millennia after the life of Jesus, the idea of the incarnation, Christ's divinity, the trinity and salvation by grace are not exactly eye-opening.
But, at one time, they all were.
They needed to be argued over. They had to be defended. They clarified what God had set in place. They set right the paths of the church.
This is the value of church history.
What we take for granted wasn't always.
It took courage for doctrines to be nailed down and those who had the guts to defend the truth deserve our respect.
I'm fully aware that this post might bite me in the but in a few years. Or a decade from now. Or a few decades.
Given enough time, it might appear (rightly or wrongly) that I quit on a situation, ministry, church or relationship when I could've held on a little longer.
But... here's today's Ramble anyway...
It takes maturity to endure when things get difficult or "no longer exciting."
It takes maturity to keep attending a church you, on minor issues, don't wholly agree with. It takes maturity to stay connected with a ministry when they're in a "challenging" season. It takes maturity to work through troubles in a marriage or friendship. It takes maturity to have difficult, but needed, conversations with those you work with.
Because... It's unhealthy when you join a new church two every years... It's unhealthy when you've worked seven jobs over the last decade... It's unhealthy when you reach the first anniversary in multiple relationships and keep finding a way out.
When churches start talking together, people get nervous.
Will there be change? If so, how will it effect me? What will happen with "my" ministry staff? Will they want to sell "our" church building? Will I be forced to spend time with "those over there"? Will the finances of "our" church be used in the ways "we" want?
In reality, churches talking together should be a positive thing.
With one catch... They're not already on their knees.
When churches look at working together BY CHOICE then forward-thinking steps can be made.
Churches, if talking from a position of relative health, will have the resources - financial, personal and energy - to achieve things in partnership which couldn't be done individually and serve those around them in innovative ways.
But, when churches only dialogue once they're in survival mode, then the mindset can quickly slip into damage minimization.
And, unfortunately, the result is a forced union which brings harmful baggage from both parties.
It's not uncommon for a church to have a gap in its congregation or youth ministry. It could be the older folk at the evening service, a generation of baby boomers on a Sunday or teens in senior high on a Friday night.
Sometimes, the gaps are beyond a church's control, a sign of present or previous weakness or become evident due to a surge in one particular demographic.
But, gaps cause a hidden damage.
Those who are younger don't get to see the next step lived out.
The young adults don't get to see someone who has faithfully followed Jesus for seven decades.
The boomers don't get to see what a content, faithfully serving, retiree looks like.
The younger teens don't get to see a peer who's surviving high school with their faith intact.
The challenge for those within the church is to open up avenues for the "next step" to be not only seen, but experienced enough to be valued and interacted with enough to inspire.
Earlier this week I posted here about the misguided importance the church often places on developing leaders, almost substituting it for the great commission.
The reason this is true has to do with the CEO like structures we create and reward within churches.
What do I mean?
Well, right now I'm a CEO of a youth ministry.
But I started at the bottom and had to work my way up to "the top."
I started as a "customer" and then got "hired" as a junior "staff member."
Then I got "promoted" until I was a "junior executive" with "increased responsibilities."
And got "trained in the system."
And then become a "senior manager."
Eventually, I worked in enough "regional branches" before I became the "CEO" of my own company.
These are the structures we support and, even unspoken, promote.
We view "success" when someone "gets a promotion."
They become a trainee leader... They lead a group of their own... They become a section leader of a camp or mission trip... They start bible college... They get their first, part-time, ministry position... They become a full-time youth pastor... Never mind getting a regional, oversight, position or becoming ordained...
The question is, should "climbing the church totem pole" be the aim or marker of success?
Some people identify their faith with group of people, usually family members, lone-time friends or ministers. One way to tell if someone has a person-focused faith is the way they respond once their faith-identifier abandons their faith or leaves a local church. If this is the case, then a person's faith will get severely rocked when their faith-anchor is cut away.
But how many Christians have a geo-focused faith?
What proportion of people's faith is based almost entirely upon their "home church" and little else.
I ask because I feel it explains one of the drop out points for emergent adults - They away from home.
For those who have a geographic faith, they'll have a narrow idea of church and a short dose of perseverance with new churches.
Unfortunately, when they are combined, they result in isolated Christians faith growing cold to the point of extinction.
Back when I was a younger man I went to a respected theology-of-youth-ministry conference interstate with a few classmates. At one stage the host invited us to share communion and use whatever wording we were comfortable with when passing the elements.
Now, I'm usually the guy who likes to crack the odd inappropriate comment, but on this occasion, someone beat me to it.
In a voice loud enough for the entire lecture room to hear, he suggested "Ta da!"
It didn't go over too well... And the Dean probably wished he invited other students.
But the episode pops into my mind whenever I help serve monthly communion.
Today, off the back of something I did last month, I asked my minister how attached he was to the "official/traditional" wording used whilst administering communion.
When holding the cup for a child to dip the bread, instead of saying "this is the blood of Christ," I said "this is to remind you how much Jesus loves you." I figured, for a child, this would give a better idea of what's going on.
If I did this to everyone, would it ruffle feathers?
For those whom see communion as more than just a reminder, would it seem like I'm cheapening the sacrament? For those whom love communion due to the ritual, would changing the expected words take them out of "the presence of Jesus?" But, for those who are unfamiliar with communion, are these words more useful in explaining what's actually happening?
A few weeks ago I heard the best description of how “emergent
faith” is developed and the primary reason to those between the ages of 12-25
walk away from God and the church. In fact, it's so good that I'm taking all the young adults at church through it individually.
It all has to do with the game Jenga.
You know the game...
It isn’t complex. You begin with a tower made of 54
finger-sized wooden blocks. In turn, you remove a block, placing it on the top
of the tower. With time, this become increasingly difficult and, inevitably,
someone losses the game once they knock the tower down.
Predictably, there are events/times when a young person is
more likely to disengage with faith – year 6, year 7, year 9/10,
baptism/confirmation, year 12, first year of university, moving out of home,
getting married, having a child and a relationship breaking up.
Some drop out point are
caused by life change...
Ending primary school.
Starting high school.
Starting higher education.
You "graduate" from a group.
Starting a family.
Others develop relationally...
Your friendship group changes.
Peer pressure increases.
There's awkwardness caused by
being in the same group as your ex.
You get married.
Put simply, there are times when life will change and a young
person will need to decide, once again, if God/church/youth group still belong
in the “Jenga tower” that is the life they have built. At various junctions,
life will give everyone opportunities to consider the numerous wooden blocks
which make up their “Jenga tower.” At these moments a person will decide that
the block belongs - remaining a part of their tower, no longer belongs - and is
tossed away or will be held in tension.
Do you retain the belief that God loves you when your mum
Do your principals about sex, sexuality, friendship and
alcohol stay the same in light of what those around you are doing?
Do you still believe the bible is true when you hear it get
verbally bashed at university?
Will you keep attending church if you date someone who isn’t
As you can probably see, this isn’t just a struggle that
teens and “emerging adults” need to wrestle with.
But the important message these age groups don’t hear loud or
clear enough is that you’re still welcome no matter what your “Jenga tower”
If it feels totally destroyed due to tragedy impacting your
life… you’re welcome in the midst of your pain.
If you aren’t sure about what you believe… bring your
struggles and doubts with you to church… they are welcome.
If you’ve deliberately discarded the “God stuff” from your
tower… you’re always welcome at church. The message of welcomeness, irrespective of what makes up
your “tower,” is a powerful one.
One that young people, especially, need to hear.
And just maybe, a message that some older folk could use
The way you view a crying baby will change depending if you see children as a blessing from God or as an entity tainted by the curse.
The way you view teens will change depending if you see them as someone exploring and realising their faith development or as troublemakers-who-are-up-to-no-good.
The way you allow your daughter to date will be affected by the way you view teenage boys/men.
The way you view church will change depending on your ecclesiology.
The way you view others will depend on your understanding of creation and the "Image of God" everyone does or doesn't posses.
The best questions to ask are...
Do you know the spectacles you're viewing life through? Are you aware of the things which influence the views of those around you? How do members of your church/youth group treat others based on what they believe and how this shapes the way they view the world?
A while ago I wrote about the importance of apologetics in the Google-age. At any second a young (or not-so-young!) person can find a plethora of answers to any query they might have in life, positive or negative.
But something always trumps Google... A person.
A person can help interpret the alternatives which the Internet coldly delivers.
A person can help them understand the underlying feelings behind their questions.
A personal relationship, built on doing life together, is the key in actually being heard and contributing positively over the wash of Google-searched results.
It's no secret that those within the church can have a glass-half-empty outlook.
There should be more teens on a Friday night... There are down the road. There should be more people at church on a Sunday... The neighboring church does. You should have a better band for your evening service... You'll never produce a worship CD. You should have more engagement from your congregation... You've seen enough articles about making it happen. The preaching should be better... You've read enough books and listened to enough pod-casts.
The trouble with that outlook is that is undervalues WHAT and WHO IS PRESENT.
You can, and arguably should, desire bigger and better things in order to grow God's Kingdom, but it shouldn't come at the cost of thanking God for those who are present, are serving faithfully and whom are on board with what's going on.
Next week the holidays I'm on continue and I'll be missing the first week of a school term. In turn, I'll have to skip some of the duties I normally do and have delegated others.
As I thought about my usual week, which the first week of term normally is, I'll need to make arrangements for four scripture infants/primary lessons, the primary aged kid's club, youth group and Sunday morning children's activities.
But, looking at these face-to-face activities, I noticed an interesting trend.
I spend the majority of my active ministry time with children, not teens. Usually, children see me "doing the dance" at a ratio of 3:1 compared to their elders.
Is this usual?
Is it routine for youth ministers to actually spend a predominant chunk of their face-time with those prepubescent?
I tend to think so, mainly due to scripture, because there are many more school-based ministry opportunities, spread across a wide area. Whereas, similar windows of opportunity can be open for teens, they tend to be tightly contested due to fewer public high schools and employed scripture teachers.
So... Is this a bad thing? Not really.
You have the fantastic opportunity to develop relationships with kids before they reach their teens.
But, it's the untold secret of people with my job and something, I suggest, would come as a surprise to those writing up the title of many youth ministry job descriptions...