Wednesday, May 25, 2016

When you hold the mirror

It's not uncommon, when I write something on my blog, in a Tiny Bible Bit or mention something in a sermon, that someone will ask whom I had in the back of my mind.

Sometimes what I write is inspired by a conversation I have with someone else of what I've stumbled across online.

But, all too often, the person who inspires the post and who is in the crosshairs of any truths therein, looks at me in the mirror.

Lots of the time, I am the person for whom I write. I am the person whom needs to hear the message. 

It happens far more than anyone is aware.

And I suspect that I'm not alone.

After sitting with an idea for a few days or marinating within a scripture passage for a week, the areas where your conscious is pricked or you're aware that you need growth will be exposed.

When someone stands before others, or hits publish on the interwebs, quite often they are simultaneously holding both a megaphone and a mirror.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The older generation's secret faith vs today's share-everything compulsion

This morning, after church, I was involved in an interesting discussion about evangelism and the mainline church. It was pointed out, I feel correctly, that older generations - which make up the vast majority of mainline denominations - largely see their faith as a deeply personal thing.

This, it was proposed, is a genuine reason for the stagnation of more traditional denominations.

With the drop in culture-based obligated attendance, the way the primarily church grows is due to faith sharing evangelism. Amongst the older generations, as a sweeping generalization, this does not happen freely.

As I pondered this, I wondered if this is positively counteracted by the social-media-driven oversharing of today's generation.

In the past, when a person went to church, or had a significant experience, they might keep it to themselves or only disclose it to those who they felt would be "accepting" or "safe."

Nowadays, everyone knows. Instantly.

You post pictures.
You live tweet the conference.
You take a selfie.
You tag your location.

And all your friends know...
And your family...
And the people you used to go to school with...
And your workmates...
And your random acquaintances.

All 1000 of your "friends" can potentially "see" your faith experiences.

On top of the status of your religious views.

And the "motivational quotes" you post by C.S. Lewis.

And the fact that you follow Tiny Bible Bits (I'll admit that this is a cheap plug) and like your favourite bible teachers and ministries.

Today, due to the "negative" that we compulsively feel the need to post everything since we would hate for anyone to miss a morsel of your existence, is this a hidden evangelistic treasure?

Now, there are plenty of reasons why the mainline denominations are faltering - lack of engagement during services, not utilizing modern technology, past mistakes ignored or covered over, an old-fashioned stance on many hot button issues, and many, many more - but, if the church is grown one person at a time, through personal invitation, then the introverted nature of the older generations, in regards to faith, may be a genuine contributing factor that doesn't get enough air-time.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

What I look for in a minister

Having worked in multiple churches over the last decade, I have a different perspective when it comes to ministers.

I've worked alongside ministers. Some for long periods of time, others just for a few months. Some who have just begun in their placement, others firmly entrenched.

I've heard stories about ministers. Some good, some quite negative.

I've trained besides ministers, attended conferences with them and hung out casually with them. 

So, when it comes to a minister, I'm not drawn to some of the things which others treasure.

Often, when I've evaluated ministers, my opinions have waivered from others.

They uphold pastoral care. And beautiful liturgy. And tenderness.

Frankly, these aren't at the top of my wish-list.

I want someone with a plan.
I want someone who can communicate and execute a vision.
I want someone who won't be afraid to speak the truth or compromise on the things that matter.
I want someone who won't be afraid to take risks and encourages others to step out in faith.

Now, I think that these things matter to everyone in congregations, but, personally, I value these things because it's these qualities which will result in me wanting to work alongside them, be mentored by them, be challenged by them, be held accountable by them and lead the church forward in growing the Kingdom of God.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The person who tests your claims

Extending grace.
Showing forgiveness.
Displaying hospitality.
Being inclusive.

Faith communities, and individual believers, like to think that they live out the above, and frankly, many other "Christian" qualities.

But, there's a way to work out just how far your claims extend.

With whom do they stop.

Where does your grace cease?
Who won't you forgive?
Who won't you welcome
What groups of people won't you include?

I can think of people whom I don't want to show grace to and have excluded.

Equally, I can think of events, both done by me and to me, which I struggle to forgive and would result in disfellowship.

Now, I'm not advocating that we should be complete doormats... But, when we throw around weighty and costly terms like grace, forgiveness or inclusiveness, we need to be aware that, for many of us, our lives don't reflect all they could. 

In short, all too often, the rubber doesn't hit the road nearly as much as we might feel it does. 

The good news about the faulty equation we present is that it reminds us that we have a way to go in our discipleship and sanctification, that we are not God, and how much living out these core characteristics costs God/Jesus.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The next person deserves that you make a stand

No church is perfect. Not. Even. One.

Everyone who has been connected with a church for any significant amount of time knows this. This is especially true if you've worked for a church.

But some churches are quite a distance from healthy.

Be it the systems they use, the way they communicate, the leadership dynamics or a thousand other things, some churches contain within them serious disfunction.

Ideally, when someone steps into a ministry position, they're aware of the deficiencies lurking within.

And when they're exposed a staff member has a decision.

Do they say/do something?

Now, I understand why you might let some things slide... Job protection, not wanting to be a troublemaker, thinking the problem is to engrained, choosing to change the culture over time, hoping to out-survive the problems...

But, at times, there's another person who needs to be kept in mind.

The next person.

The next minister... the next youth minister... the next children's ministry coordinator... The next music director... the next church council member... 

For, sometimes the next person, and the effectiveness of their ministry, needs you to make a stand in order for things to improve.

And that can be scary.

But, if the church is to get healthy, someone needs to shine a light on the dark places and be prepared to till the tough soil.

Even if it comes at a cost.

The next person, the effectiveness of the present ministry and those you leave behind, all deserve it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

I am not necessary

I haven't been in vocational ministry for approximately six months now... And that's ok.

Sure, I do miss it, but, when it comes to the advancement of the gospel... I'm not necessary. 

I might be useful.
I might be, on occasions, graciously used by God.

But I'm not necessary.

How do I know?

Because things continue without me...
Just as they did before I arrived...
Just as they do in a million other places...

At my home church, in my first ministry position, my coworker and I used to share a saying after an activity we thought went particularly well.

"God did good... you just happened to get in the way."

At times, this was the exact reminder that was needed.

Because, while God did use you, He didn't have to.

For, you might have been useful, but you weren't necessary...

Saturday, May 7, 2016

When sucking is an ok thing to witness

Parts of a church service can make you cringe, even from the front of the church.

But there are a few occasions when the person leading the service, singing, saying a prayer, giving the notices or preaching is given a free pass...

When they are still new at it.

Why? 

Because people should be encouraged to get involved and, inevitably, everyone has a first time.

And, when you're still new at something, you tend to suck.

When someone is obviously trying their best, but still developing, then they should be shown lots and lots of grace, sprinkled with helpful feedback if it's warranted and requested.

For, everyone, no matter how devout, experienced, inspiring, influential, charismatic or famous, started somewhere. 

And they probably sucked quite a bit as well...

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The secret ingredient of great ministerial elevator pitches

Today, one day removed from the federal budget and a week away from the offical launch of the next election campaign, has been a day of politicians selling their message.

I've written here about the two elevator speeches that youth ministers need to be able to nail.

But, I now think the list is incomplete.

A youth minister should have in his back pocket a number of pitches depending on the person standing before them.

They should be able to nail the spiel about Jesus and the things their church does... 
To a new student.
To a parent.
To a young adult.
To a potential leader.
To their senior minister.
To the secretary.
To a church councillor/elder.

But, the elevator pitches to all of these - and more - groups, can be made easier if one element is included.

A familiar name.

Include the name of one of the new student's friends.
Include the name of the parent's child.
Include the name of a dedicated and brought in leader.

Say that X loves it...
Say that X will be looking forward to it...
Say that X will be there...
Say that X has been involved in the planning...
Say how X has been impacted by the ministry...

This is the secret sauce of effective ministerial elevator pitches.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Can you name all 66?

Could you name all 66 books of the bible?
Does it really matter?

During the week, starting with the New Testament, I tried to say all the books of the bible in order.

For the most part, I did pretty well.

I forgot Philemon in the New Testament and, while being shown grace on the order of the Minor Prophets, only missed Jonah in the Old Testament.

64 out of 66 isn't too bad...

But the person I was doing it with, whilst also achieving a good recollection, missed quite a few of the obscure books.

Why?

Because she hadn't really encountered them in depth.

But I think every Christian, like the one I was with, should be able to give a good accounting of themselves when it comes to the books of the bible.

Why?

Because they should have a good idea of the bible's meta-narrative.

Like those who gain a wider biblical perspective from teaching scripture, after sitting in church for a number of years - never mind independently spiritually feeding yourself - you should have a rough outline of the overarching salvation story.

If you don't, it might be due to the leadership of your church not feeding you a wide diet from the scriptures.

It's one of the advantages of using the lectionary passages (even though I wouldn't recommend doing it 50 weeks a year).

Following the example of Paul from Acts 20, the church should seek to teach you the whole counsel of God, spanning the breadth and depth of the entire scriptures.

But, the most important element of this teaching should never be for memory retention.

The marker of success is life change and increasing Christlikeness.

So, while 64 out 66 is a pretty good mark, I don't think it'll impress many people outside of the those on The American Bible Challenge. And even then, they'd never forgive me for forgetting Jonah.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The dangers of inviting too early

I like it when someone makes a similar point that I did, but much, much, better.

A few years ago I wrote a post about the need to Pick the low hanging fruit when launching a new ministry. The folks at Youth Leaders Academy make a similar point here, but with some tremendous warnings.

To sum up, they warn newbie youth leaders to exercise caution in reaching beyond the walls of the church before you've securely established the founding group.

i throughly agree with the points made, especially the subtle message sent to those attending surrounding their worthiness as participants.

Let's face it, who wants to feel that they aren't (insert insecurity here) enough, thus the leadership needs to pursue others?

I think caution is needed when it comes to the timing of actively inviting others into a new group. 

First, they need time to develop and get comfortable in who they are.

How can you effectively invite someone to something when you yourself aren't sure what it exactly is, what it stands for and what it will look like regularly?

Second, as the saying goes, you need to earn the right to invite. 

Usually, we apply this to the invitee. You need to develop a relationship with the person your inviting in order for the invite to be most effective.

But, you also need to earn the trust of those in the existing group. You need to reassure them that, no matter how many "others" might arrive, they are still valued and they will always be cared for. In short, someone else won't get their attention or appreciation.

Finally, you need to give a new group time to develop. It needs time to set a cultural foundation and identity. They need to know who they are and what they're all about.

Otherwise you can destabilise a group still trying to find its feet.

These are the hidden dangers of the premature invite.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Do we even consider boosting the ministers pay packet?

I'm fully aware that what I'm about to propose, in most ministry contexts, is pure fantasy. After all, how many churches are meeting their church budget, never mind exceeding it?

But, in the unlikely or fortunately blessed occasion that the bottom line is in the black, does a church even consider giving the minister a one-off raise?

I write one-off raise because many denominations advise how much ministers get paid through the means of a stipend and how much their salary goes up annually, usually by CPI, often determined by a larger governing body.

But, if the church is going through a time of growth - numerical, financial, or both - and it can be attributed to the minister, is it worth, at least, entertaining the option of rewarding the minister for the fruit of his/her labour?

I pose this question off the back of this financially themed post which points out the awkwardness minsters face in regards to bringing up financial matters, including raises.

So, what would happen if a church decided - on their own - if the budget was, say, $10,000 ahead at the end of the financial year, to give the minister a $5,000 blessing?

How would it affect the wellbeing of the minister?
How would this change the mindset of a minister who has had previous secular work where bonuses were available if you meet or exceeded quotas or expectations?
To what degree would the minister feel encouraged, appreciated and supported, three areas where ministers can be particularly vulnerable?
How would it affect the way a minister's family, especially spouse, viewed the church?

Again, I know this might be a complete pipe dream, but I'm curious if this option is even explored by any treasurers or finance teams since, in most other employment settings which most people would be immersed, the "leader/boss" would be eligible for a performance based bonus.

Why can this not, on occasions, happen in the church?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The lasting legacy

Forgotten or replaced...

Programs.
Activities.
Resources.

Chances are, everything you do in ministry - given enough time - will be forgotten or replaced.

So, if it's not the programs, activities or resources which you leave behind, what is the enduring legacy someone has in a church?

It's the people.
It's the relationships you forge.
It's the God-moments you helped facilitate.
It's the memories.
It's the influential conversations you were a part of.

These are someone's legacy, which will not be forgotten or replaced as the years drift by...

Sunday, April 17, 2016

All welcome to what exactly?

If you type "church signs" into the search box on my blog you get a lot of results. Sometimes I've raved about the good use of a church sign, but mostly I've ranted about how they are misused, offensive or confusing.

Now I want to take a swipe at the most common sign outside churches...

WORSHIP AT (insert time here) ALL WELCOME

Being thoroughly involved in the workings of the church, I have a fair idea what this will entail, even if I'm not totally assured which worship preference it might focus on.

But, what does an outsider think will await them?

What, to a seeker, is worship?

What does it look like?
What does it involve?
What does it ask of those who attend?
How long does it go for?

These questions are not answered by the generic church sign.

Nor, I think, are they it designed to be.

Invitations to church are far, far, more effective when done relationally, face-to-face. This allows the invitee to ask, and have answered, these nagging questions.

But I wonder, how many churches feel that their generic church sign is a means of effective outreach?

Sadly, for many churches, it might be the only outreach they have...

And, even sadder still, it's almost totally ineffective for the vast majority of those outside of the church.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Do you want to lead the superstar of the church?

Earlier this week I wrote here how every activity of the church, ideally, should be branded and guided by the church-wide vision/mission statement.

But, I wonder how many ministries, secretly... or not so secretly... want to be the superstar of the church?

How many ministries want to be THE THING which their church is known and renowned for?

Admittedly, I've wanted this in the past.

I've wanted our page of the website to be the most visited...
I've wanted our attendance to be the biggest...
I've wanted our activities to be the most exciting...
I've wanted our programs to have the most impressive advertising...

But this, obviously, isn't the most productive mindset.

A far better thought is for your ministry to be an extension of the church, not seperate or an added "bonus".

But, this requires a humility which, I'm willing to admit, I've struggled with in the past.

A humility to not be the superstar...
A humility to be a part of a united team...
A humility to desire for and share the victories of the entire church...

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Who should pronounce the announcements?

I've written here that any announcements made during a church service need to hit a significant portion of the congregation.

But the question remains, in an ideal situation, who should give the announcements in church?

I've been in churches where it's been the sole duty of the minister, a job reserved for the elders/"head" greeter or a task for anyone in the congregation who's willing to stand before the microphone.

By far, the later I'd the worst of these options.

Notices, like anything from the front of church, should be well planned and delivered well. 

But, the first option isn't the answer either.

Why?

Because, I think the invitation to be involved in an activity is more powerful if it comes from someone, ideally, who is familiar with the ministry and who isn't paid to attend.

Furthermore, this non-clergy delivery method unshackles the minister - who has enough things on his mind prior to the service - from being interrupted by late minute additions to the announcements.

Finally, and more sinisterly, this congregational leader fronted announcements frees the minister from the accusation of favouritism.

Monday, April 11, 2016

All falling under the same tag-line

I've worked at numerous churches which have had vision/mission statements or church-wide goals. Sometimes they have been useful and helped define what the church does. Other times they are barely known and have little visible impact on ministry aside from being a footnote on business minutes and the church advertising.

I've also worked at churches which have had ministries with their own separate vision/mission statements or goals.

Ideally, the later shouldn't be needed.

If a church has a dynamic, and importantly, impactful, guiding prose then any ministries within the church should all fall under the same umbrella.

This both sends the message that all ministries of the church are united and, from a youth ministry perspective, greatly advances the chances of a successful transition for young adults to be intergrated into the wider church.

Otherwise, the danger lies in a ministry running in, at best, parallel to the rest of the church and, at worst, travelling in an alternative direction.

Friday, April 8, 2016

You're doing WHAT in the hall after church?

"...and you're all warmly invited to join in a time of fellowship in the hall after the service."

If I'm honest, I don't know what the above sentence really means.
Now, I know what it looks like, but I'd struggle to give it a dictionary definition.

And yet, every slab of notices during a church service always ends with this cheery salutation.

But if I walked into a dozen churches and asked them to define exactly what "fellowship time after the service" was, then I suspect I'd get twelve different responses.

So, do we advertise this like it's a draw card?
AND, why do we think this would be appealing to visitors or those unfamiliar with church?

No one else has "fellowship" time anywhere else in their week...

Instead, they catch up over coffee...
They share how their week has been...
Heck, they "share life together"...

But, no one else calls this fellowship.

Furthermore, I wonder if this "time after the service" is all it could be and what the originator of "fellowship time" envisaged.

Surely the "inventor" of "fellowship time" didn't picture awkward small talk over pretty bad coffee or weak tea.
There was no grand dreams of chit-chat about the weather or the local sports team.

Instead, this time of "fellowship" is meant to be a time of mutual support, encouragement and bonding.

So, what if we branded this time what it could reflect?

Family time.

A time for the spiritual family of Christ to be together, just as relational families do...

A time to share, beyond the surface, in a safe place...

A time to invest in the lives of others...

This, I feel, is what we want to lift before others at the end of the notices.

It's just a shame we label it "fellowship"...

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

How often to we "read" the stories?

Cinderella.
Frozen.
Finding Nemo.
Sleeping Beauty.
Tangled.
Beauty & the Beast.

Each night I "read" my eldest daughter a story before she goes to sleep.

I say "read" because, without seeing the movies or overhearing the audio books, I'd have little familiarity with the actual fables.

Why? Because I've never actually actually read the words from the books. Ever.

Instead, I just describe what's happening in the pictures, roughly piecing the story together.

Most of the time things work out. 
But I've also been throughly lost during the virgin reading of some Disney classics.

I wonder how often we do the same thing with the bible...

How many scripture lessons are planned without actually closely consulting the bible passage?
How many kids talks?
How many youth group addresses?

How many times do we just trust that we're familiar enough with the story to just describe the pictures we've mentally formed?

I know that I've been guilty of it in the past. 

And, like bedtime, usually it worked out.

But, it's the hidden details which we miss, and ultimately rob those we're trying to communicate with since we're only patching the story together in our heads.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The fakest part of the church service

Ideally, everyone is authentic at church.

Ideally...

The reality is that we all, to an extent, fake church.

We put on false smiles.
We make small talk with people we wouldn't otherwise speak with.
We say that our week's been good even if our insides are aching.

And believe me, this includes, on occasions even more than anyone else present, those in front of the microphone.

But what is the fakest part of the church service?

I think there are a lot of strong candidates...
The responsive liturgy?
When prayers are lead from the front?
During the singing?
Listening to the sermon?
Morning tea/supper after the service?

I think the phoniest part of the church experience is...
The passing of the peace.

For...
How many people are truly extending wishes of God's peace during this time?
How many people would be aware that this is what they're being charged to do - not just say hello?
How many people can you sincerely have a peace-sharing moment with in the two minutes you get during a service and 15 second interaction with each person?
How many people, if they were going to take this seriously, would go to the person they have a fractured relationship with and offer peace?

I suspect that many people miss the powerful opportunity of the peace. I know I usually do.

Instead, we exchange surface level greetings and a moderately warm handshake.

Or, at least, paint on a smile and hope for the time to expire quickly...

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Charting the next step

Connect with.
Attend an event.
Be included.
Feel a sense of belonging.
Be open to Jesus.
Convert to following Jesus.
Invite others.
Increase commitment.
Attend a church service.
Regularly attend.
Be able to share the gospel message.
Investigate a position of leadership.
Start participating in spiritual disciplines.
Serve at an activity.
Discern what calling God might have in their life.

When ministering to others, there are an endless number of next steps.

The challenge for those in leadership - if in fact they are to lead - is to help identify the next step and start to figure out a pathway to reach it.

Imagine, what would happen if every young person in a church (and older for that matter!) had someone intentionally think about the next step in their spiritual journey - no matter how big or small that may be - with the intention of helping them progress?

Surely, if this happened, our programs would be more focused with the needs of others clearly identified.