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.

Monday, March 28, 2016

How much should the minister's family do?

When it comes to the families of those in ministry, there seems to be two sides of the coin; they are either included in everything or they keep themselves at arm's length.

Over the last decade, primarily due to geography, work schedule and expanding family, my wife hasn't been heavily involved in many of the churches I've worked at. 

But that's not always the case.

In fact, for some - either meeting an unspoken expectation from the church or feed from a misguided sense of duty from the ministry family - the spouse and children can become like extra staff members.

Ideally, no one should live in either of these wild extremes.

But we don't live in an ideal world and many churches waiver from being ideal.

So, what's the answer?

I think that the spouse of a minister, and especially any kids the have, should be treated the same any other active members of the church.

They aren't the default bible reader, but they might be on the rotating roster.
They aren't expected to be at every event, but they'll appear if it interests them.
They don't have any extra expectations in regards to how they dress or behave.
They can be asked to participate in a ministry/activity, but like everyone else, have the right to politely decline.

I think, if we loosened the binds of the minister's-trophy-family mindset and treated the minister's family like every other family unit in church - respectfully, seeking to include and engage them, utilizing the gifts that God has given them and making space for their talents to be used - then, ironically, many minister's families will feel more comfortable and better utilized within the local church.

Friday, March 25, 2016

When you should use the skeptic's perspective

I like how the latest post on preachingtoday, in an article on Preaching to Skeptics this Easter, mentions the idea of studying your passage with a non-believer in order to get an accurate glimpse into the questions skeptics might have about a passage.

I see this being particularly useful in two occasions.

First, if the passage is extremely familiar - like the Christmas story, resurrection accounts or the parable of the Prodigal Son - then you'll get the advantage of seeing the text with a fresh set of eyes. From this new perspective, you can unlock points which you might overlook or, erroneously, assume that everyone, subconsciously, already knows.

And second, this skeptical perspective would be of great use if it matches the audience which you'll be speaking before.

If you're aware that the high school scripture class will contain a majority of atheists, or you want your talk to particularly appeal to that one "tough kid" at youth group, then consulting an atheist friend about a topic or passage could be invaluable.

The challenge for far too many in ministry would be the availability of a non-believing friend. For, I would dare say most, they don't have a close friend who isn't on Team Jesus.

Finally, as a bonus, you'd open the door to some potentially productive spiritual conversations surrounding the bible, and who knows where that conversation could head...

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The elephant scout

How many meetings have you been in, after having already dragged on for ages, someone finally pipes up and says what everyone isn't?

Last night I went to my first church meeting in... well... months.

Not for the first time, I took it upon myself to name, what I thought, was one of the looming elephants in the room.

I think every meeting needs someone to do this (even if it isn't me!).

If your meeting has a purpose, and ideally they all should (outlined in the previously circulated agenda), then tiptoeing around the problems, ultimately, wastes everyone's time.

Fortunately, I've been in many meetings where I've either helped set the agenda or have been in the fortunate enough position to claim ignorance, so my elephant spotting can usually be excused...

But, as hard as it might be, every meeting needs someone who will spot the elephant and make it known.

For, it is only then that the real issues get wrestled with and things progress.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Why I explain communion to my daughter and every church family should do the same

At my current church, when we have communion, I make a point to go down the front with my eldest daughter, personally give her the bread, and tell her that this reminds us that Jesus loves us.

Sure, communion is more than just that, but it's enough for a four-year-old to start to understand.

I do this because the research suggests that young people stay connected in the church if they are included in what's going on, understand what's happening and witness the significant adults in their both life living out their faith and practicing their faith traditions.

At my various churches, with a varied level of success, I've always tried to regularly allow children to be able to participate in communion, especially as a family unit. Better yet, I've personally tried (as I wrote about here) to help the youngsters understand what's actually going on.

I wonder, how many churches intentionally make room for this?
I wonder, how many churches actively encourage parents too explain what's going on in church?
I wonder, how many parents would be able to, quite simplistically, explain something like communion, baptism or prayer?
I wonder, how many parents, if asked by their children what's going on during church, would respond with a "shh, be quiet!" not a gentle explaining answer?

If it's true, and I firmly think it is, that children stick around, both at their faith and in church, when older people - especially parents - show and include them in things like communion, if the church is not doing a disservice to the entire family if they don't intentionally nurture these faith-forming discussions.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Should they really "all know"?

On Sunday I preached for the first time since last November. Without going spectacularly, I think it went relatively ok.

But, while referencing a passage a few chapters previously, I made sure to avoid a phrase which always annoys me when used  during a church service.

"As you all know..."

This phrase should be cut from the ecclesiastical lectionary immediately.

Why?

Because it communicates that we don't expect new people, especially those from outside the Christian culture.

Quite simply, hopefully, everyone in attendance might not know what you're talking about.

And this phrase instantly ostracizes the lost person in the pew.

For nothing brands you as an outsider like not knowing the language or traditions.

This is especially true when we label the thing we're talking about - like a story from the bible - as something that "everyone is familiar with."

Worse still, there is an easy escape ramp if you do want to refer to a well-known topic.

Just say that it's a famous passage...
Or well known...

These phrases give both space for some not to know the story, but acknowledges that what you're referring to will be familiar to many present.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Think > Feel > Act

Every so often, due to multiple rugby-induced concussions, I think that I've written about something, when in fact, I can't track it down on my blog anywhere. So, if this sounds eerily familiar, my apologies.

When faced with a situation we usually act based upon our underlying emotional response. Fear... Pride... Love... Compassion... Anger... Insecurity... Friendship...

But our emotional response to a situation usually stems from what we think about the situation. In short, we react due to a truth about the situation which, in turn, guides an emotion.

The trouble is, we tend to respond to someone else's actions from the surface down.

Initially, we wonder why they reacted the way they did...

Sometimes, we'll wonder what emotions triggered that action...

But rarely do we delve into the underlying facts a person believes about what their facing.

And, ironically, if these "truths" are wrestled with openly, then real change and understanding becomes possible.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

80% attendance of what?

I'll confess, up until last Sunday, I hadn't been to church since late January. With a heavily pregnant wife and the idea of wrangling my toddler alone unappealing, it took a while to get back in the saddle.

But I don't think anyone would hold that against me. In fact, I contacted the minister just to reassure him that we hadn't gone to another church!

Because...
Pregnant wives + cranky toddlers + new births + non-vaccinated babies = less attendance.

But the last month has got me thinking about one of the measuring sticks I used for attendance (which I wrote about here).

One of my markers was for 80% attendance.

But, this figure requires a bit of tweaking.

Why? Because, for some, they will NEVER hit that number.

If a teen's parents are divorced and they spend half their weekends away with the other parent, then, realistically, they won't ever reach the magical 80%.

The same is true if a kid plays in a sports team that trains on a Friday night.
Or participates in a musical which removes them for weeks on end.

So, the 80% figure can't be so cut and dry.

Instead, the benchmark should be 80% of when they CAN attend.

If, instead of +32 out of 40 weeks, this is actually +23 of 30 weeks or +16 of 20 weeks, then, for that teen, this is the threshold that will help you determine their degree of connection, engagement and enthusiasm.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Why do the words hurt?

We all know, despite the lyric we grew up with about sticks & stones, that words can hurt.

No matter if it I a conversation with a friend, a phrase from a sermon or something we hear on tv or the internet, words have the power to wound us deeply.

But, when you're hurt by something someone says, there's a number of things I think you should consider...

First, uncomfortably, you should ask the tricky question... Is it true?
Are you hurt because this piece of verbiage hit you straight in the conscious?

Second, are you more offended by who was saying it, not what was said?
Do these words hurt because they come from someone close to you, or, alternatively, because they come from a stranger who is removed from the context of your situation?

Third, are you hurt by the way the words were communicated, not necessarily their content?
Were you more grated by the tone than anything else?

Or, fourth, were you hurt because the person was just plain wrong?
It happens. People misspeak. People misunderstand. People Can be inconsiderate jerks.

But, while the hurt you might face in light of someone else's words is genuine, it makes sense to take a step back and analyze why these words have wounded you so...