Thursday, April 19, 2018

Entice the lapsed or reward the faithful?

Ministry is made up of tensions to manage.
One such tension is that which exists between those who are in attendance and those who aren't.

Which should you cater to?

Do you postpone the start of an event or church service for the latecomers?
Do you send enticements to those who haven't attended in a few consecutive weeks?
Do you only provide gifts on special occasions for those visiting?

Or...

Do you honour the time of those who were punctual?
Do you give rewards for those who attend with regularity?
Do you go out of your way to recognise those who are there week-in, week-out?

As with all tensions, you should do a healthy balance of both.

But, the danger is when one group starts to resent or desire the carrot dangled before the other group.

You don't want visitors to think that you favour those "on the inside" unfairly.
Equally, you don't want your regulars to start drifting in order to receive the enticements to return.

Ideally, you want visitors to recognise that you value those who are committed to your community and your regulars to value guests enough that any means of attraction are accepted.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The difference between dropping your kid off to a birthday party and youth group

Lately it's been the season for children's birthday parties. Up until this weekend, the last month's weekends have been punctuated by one or two celebrations (including my now-six-year-old).

House parties.

Craft parties.
Ten-pin bowling.
Swimming parties.

And, each time I've happily left My eldest in the care of a gaggle of parents, just as they did with us.


But, I would have hesitated if the only adults present were a group of teens or young adults, overseen by a twenty something.


Yet, this is what churches do with their youth ministries each week.

And for day-long outings.
And camps.

Churches ask parents to leave their kids under the supervision of, frankly, a bunch of teens and childless young adults.

The longer I'm a parent, the more unsettling that seems.

When dropping my daughter to a birthday party, I'm pretty comforted knowing that a bunch of parents will be around. They will have a good sense of danger and exercise a parental eye of caution. They will be experienced in dealing with kids.

In a lot of youth ministries, this parental covering is completely absent.

I wonder how the mindset of parents would be difficult if they knew a parent (or a few) were either around, or consulted, before events?


I know, looking back on my decade in youth ministry, that I wouldn't have instilled a great deal of confidence.

I was young.
I was inexperienced in taking care of children.
All my leaders, while well trained, were the same.
As much trust I may have developed over time, there must have been a certain amount of anxiousness whenever they drove away having dropping theirs kids to a big event.

If you consider that churches ask parents to entrust their kids to a few teens, supervised by a young adult - no matter how mature, spiritual, or well trained - it's a fairly unique, and scary, place we put parents in...

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

"We" vs Ideal "we"

Far too often, when I read things written by churches, usually from staff members, which describe their church or ministry they struggle with appropriate pronouns.

Especially the little word "we."

They proudly pronounce that "we" and a (insert value here) church.
Or that "we" have (insert goal here) as our aim for the year.

The trouble is that "we" is either overstated or the ideal.

In reality, which they should say is that "we" want to be a (insert value here) church.
Of that "we" want to have (insert goal here) as our aim for the year.

The reason this minor difference can matter is because it allows those who aren't a part of the "we" to be included.

You don't feel instantly excluded or guilted if your not a "dynamic prayer" or "enthusiastic evangelist."

Sure, these statements can be a catylist for growth or inspiration for action, but a softening of the "we" can launch people from a better starting point.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Do you fat-shame people about their prayers?

Prayer is a tricky thing.

We wonder how you should do it?
How often?
What should pray for?
Does God always hear our prayers?
How earnestly should you pray?
How long should you persevere in prayer?
Does God always answer prayer?
How do we know when God has answered our prayers?
What relation does prayer have with faith?
How big should our prayers be?
Should we always pray for the miraculous?
If we do pray for a miracle, should it come with a disclaimer which gives God the option not to comply?

As I said, prayer is tricky...

In ministry you regularly teach about the topic.
You are an example of prayer.

But, the topic remains, all too often, shrouded in mystery.

With that all said, prayer is also open to misinterpretation and manipulation.

Even accidentally.

In church services, sermons and bible studies we can stumble into a dangerous message surrounding prayer.

We commit the act to spiritually fat-shaming people about their prayers.

We can claim to know the ideal way to pray and shame those who don't follow the script.
We can claim that someone hasn't prayed "hard enough."
Or "often enough."
Or with "enough faith."

And, in doing so, we shame them in a similar fashion as a contestant on The Biggest Loser.

Unfortunately, in most cases, this is a disservice.

For, in reality, we don't know nearly as much about prayer as we claim.
We don't know the heart of the person praying.
We don't know the intensity of their prayers.
We don't know the level of their faith.

Prayer-shaming them just crushes their desire to pray.
It heaps guilt upon good intentions.
It piles shame where it might not belong.

When it comes to a spiritual child coming before their Heavenly Father, putting things in their path or making them doubt the effectiveness of prayer is an action which grieves the heart of God.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

How to cut off a service hijacker?

What do you do, if leading a church service, it gets hijacked?
I'm not talking about terrorists or a gun-toting-crazy...

I'm talking about those who, when invited to share, go into a full-blown take-over-the-service rant.

What do you do then?

Once the leader realises that they are at the dawn of a hijacking, they have three options.

The first is to do nothing. Show patience. Pray silently that their point, even if it's longwinded, will go somewhere productive. 

For some people, this will be the only time and place where they will feel comfortable enough to speak up and be listened to.

Other hijacks are more insidious.

For these people, you can either shut them down or redirect.

You can, in the gentlest way possible, affirm their answer, quickly summising their point, saying that you're moving on to others who want to share.

Otherwise you could exercise the technique that you'd be really interested in hearing their complete point, while cutting them short, but you'll be glad to chat with them further after the service.

Of course, this means you'll need to make space to talk at the conclusion of the service. This may not always be practical.

But, there's a secret in successfully pulling off the shut down or redirection.

Two breaths.

The person should get to share two breaths once you've recognised what's going on.

Why?

Because you don't want to be known as someone who will shut down input which you're not enthralled with.

Leading a public sharing time can be a delicate balancing act, but any interruption to an answer should, if nothing else, still communicate gratitude, inclusion and grace.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Communion should have crumbs

Communion comes in many forms.
The minister and church's theology of communion will shape this form.

If you fall into the category that communion is symbolic, then I think you need to explain and use the symbols which the Lord's Supper allows.

One powerful symbol within communion is the physical breaking of the bread.

I get perturbed when communion occurs and the elements are, at least in a sense, representative of what happened to Jesus or a significant identifier to the passion of Jesus, neglected and it seems silly to reject the most visceral enactment of the body being broken.

In short, I think there's significance in seeing and hearing the loaf being wretched apart, especially if it takes a bit of effort to tear it in two.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Giving vs Stewardship

Last week I led a bible study about stewardship and the topic got me thinking about the difference between stewardship and giving.

In short, giving - as the name implies - is about giving away what is yours to someone or something else. Giving is about letting go of what is yours.

Stewardship, meanwhile, is about using what is yours to share with others, not nessesarily giving away your time, talents or possessions, but expanding their reach to include or influence others.

God invites us to be both generous givers and good stewards.
The church needs its members to be both.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

There should be a guarantee to sit in the chair for 18 months

Leadership positions within a church transition.

Senior ministers.
Assistant minister.
Youth ministers.
Children's ministry workers.
Family ministers.
Pastoral care workers.
Secretaries.
Head elder/Chair of Church Council.
Treasurer.
Cleaner/Propert warden.

For any number of reasons there's a turnover of people. It's unavoidable.

But the timing isn't always unavoidable.

Ideally, for two vital lay-positions, their occupancy should go unchanged 18 months either side of an important change...

The chairperson of the leadership team/church council/elders and the treasurer should be established and committed while a church gets a new senior minister.

Why?

Because the new minister will need these two for a variety of information about the (true) state of the church and the culture of the congregation, putting aside any pastoral support these people can provide.

With these two offices assured, the new minister is spared the stress of advertising for a role, and potentially fielding questions, about a role they're somewhat unfamiliar with in that specific context. 

Furthermore, this reduces the workload and stress from a new minister if these offices are unoccupied for a period of time.

If nothing else, this assures any potential minister that a prospective church is adequately prepared for an incoming minister and that the key people in place between ministers will stick around in the immediate future.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

How do you deal with the perpetual eager starter?

I've seen the following displayed across all ages, but it's especially true for younger believers...

What do you do with the believer who has big dreams but little follow-through?
What do you do with the young adult who routinely attaches themselves to the start of a project, but drops out when the next thing captures their attention?

If you work with, or do ministry alongside, those predisposed as being early adopters, bandwagon jumpers or dream embraces, then you'll probably know the risk, and pain, of them jumping on, and then quickly disembarking from, things.

Ministries.
Big events.
Jobs.
Areas of study.

Trouble often befalls the dreamer when they hit their natural enemy - monotony.

This is what they want to avoid.
This is what will have them reaching for the eject button.

So, you have two choices...

First, in the back of your mind, you could only pencil in the early adopter for a burst of initial energy and try to harness this until more people jump on.

Or, you can prepare them for when things aren't exciting.

Because this is life.

Ministries have paperwork.
Activities need to be physically set up.
Jobs have routine.
Education requires study.

Again, this is just a part of life.

Monotony and routine exist, even within dreams.

Leaders need to be aware, especially when dealing with young adults, that for some, their "problem" isn't that they don't know what they want to do, but they just aren't thrilled by the boring parts of their grand plans.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

God's graceful repetitiveness

Sermons.
Blog posts.
Bible studies.
Conversations.
Videos.

Over the last few months, regularly, I've been bumping up against the same bible passage - the interaction Jesus has with the Samaritan woman in John 4.

Seemingly, wherever I turn, something keeps pointing me back to this section of scripture.

Last week I was in a conversation about how God speaks and I mentioned, amongst other things, that repition is a way God uses to get my attention.

Maybe God just thinks that I'm a little slow...
But I suspect that that I'm not alone.

After a lengthy time, I know why God keeps bumping me against this passage.

As believers, we need to be alert to the repetition of God and, if we resist or miss what God might be trying to communicate, the grace in His use of multiple exposures.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The sermon only needs to be a chapter, not the entire book

"You preached two or three really good sermons. It's just a shame you delivered them all at once."

I've received this feedback after I've preached. Usually, it's occurred when I've edited poorly and none of my "great points" could be trimmed or I've gone off script and rambled/vented unexpectantly.

The danger for those giving sermons is the hidden book lying within them.

When they begin to aquire a batch of information about a topic, the sermoniser can flirt with delivering the whole book, instead of giving only a chapter.

The reason is simple.

In general, people can't absorb an entire book, with the plethora of points and accompanying details in one sitting.

When an entire book's worth of input is given in one sermon then you quickly wander into theological diminishing returns, where your flood of information overwhelms the listeners and any good points made are drowned out by the torrent which follow.

What every minister needs is the discipline to ruthlessly edit and remain aware that, in a pastoral setting, this won't be the last or only time they'll be able to speak on a topic. Thus, they shouldn't feel compelled to download everything they know in one sitting.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Would you be part of a heaven-free Christianity?

Sometimes I like to ask loud questions which you're not meant to ask.

A few days ago I asked if the group I was with, all believers, would keep following Jesus if heaven didn't exist.

In short, I was enquired if they would remain firm in their belief if there was no garunteesguaranteed of future reward.

Of course, this scenario doesn't exist and cannot be accurately envisaged, but the question prods at the heart of faith.

Are we in it for the rewards?
Or, would we follow Jesus if there was no eternal silver lining?

The question matter because it not only investigates the relationship of faith has with blessing/rewards but also begins to expose the other things we value, like the companionship, guidance, obedience or preservance aspects of faith which we hold intrinsically dear.

Fortunately, if the bible is trustworthy, then heaven exists and will await those who have trusted in Jesus, but we need to remember that our faith encompasses more than that and, these qualities, will be the things which help you get through the times when faith and the associated blessings seem absent.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

What's the message of your bible reading?

Depending on your traditions and theology, the placement and execution of the bible reading will send a message.

Is it only done by men? Or one of the elders? Or the minister?
Do you nonchalantly ask for volunteers?
Are the passages, generally, long or short?
Would you have a child read the bible? Or a ESL speaker? 
Would you be bothered if the reader was intellectually slow or had difficult with the reading?

The answers to these questions matter.

They matter because they communicate the importance/reverence you place on the bible.
They matter because they communicate how and to whom the bible is available to.
They matter because they communicate who is included.
They matter because they communicate who is deemed "worthy" of being "up front."
They matter because, potentially, being a bible reader could be the first step someone takes to being involved in the ministry life of a church.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The intimidating butts in the pews

Your parents.
Your siblings.
Your spouse.
Your kids.
The partner of one of your children.
Your theology lecturer. 
Your first or most influential minister.
Your ministry hero.
Your oldest friends.
Your non-Christian mate.

For a variety of reasons, each of the above people would be intimidating to be in attendance while you preach.

Maybe they've known you a long time.
Perhaps they know all your darkest secrets.
They may be someone you hold in high esteeme.
You may fear looking like a hypocrite.
You may be concerned if they'll agree or how their thinking of you may change.

But, I wonder, would you rather know they were in attendance or be completely unaware?
Would it make a difference?

From the above list, I've preached before quite a few of them - for better or worse.

And, I'd like to say that nothing was changed due to their attendance.

That would be a lie.

I would be mindful if someone of personal significance would be listening.

It's only natural.

But, in every sermon, there's intimidating people.

Someone who is giving church a chance after years away.
Someone who has had a near faith-wrecking week.
Someone who was the former leader of your denomination.
Someone who has preached on this passage previously.
Someone who holds a doctorate in theology.

You just aren't aware.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Non-ministry prayers

In ministry, prayer is fairly easy.
Well, about as easy as it can get.

You have other people to pray for.
You have activities to pray about.
You have events just gone and things upcoming.

Out of ministry, your prayers change.
Other people's needs still exist and church activities are still a concern, but now you're less invested.

So, you enter the season of non-ministry prayers.

Now, prayer is far more personal.
Now, prayer is more localised.
Now, prayer is non-ministry dependant.

And this shift of mindset is... Jarring.

Outside of ministry, ecclesiastical life is far less stressful.
It's dramaticly less busy.
It's nowhere near as nerve wracking.

Non-ministry prayers, generally, feel less desperate.

This makes sense since, to a degree, your employment depends upon results.
Ministry prayers are caught up in the whirlwind of pastoral concerns, events and activities.

Non-ministry prayers are spared of these burdens.

To an extent, it's freeing to praying outside of the ministry bubble.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Why making a video would have been stupid for me

Videos.

They are cool.
They make notices far more palatable.
They provide excellent hype.

And, in all my years of ministry, I never made a single one.

Doing so would be a big fat waste of time.

At least for me.

In order to create a video, going for only two minutes, would have taken hours of time and a huge chunk of my headspace.

For what?

A video that would, in all likelihood, be fairly forgettable and contain scarse eternal significance.

Why?

Because I didn't know how to make videos and doing so would be an incredible misuse of my time.

And, that's ok.

Other people create videos.
People in my congregation.
People on the Internet.
Websites, both paid and unpaid.

Videos in far less time. 
To a far greater quality.

In all jobs, including ministry, there will be peripheral tasks which, frankly, don't provide the bang for the effort you'd need to put in.

Doing these tasks would be stupid.

That would have been me, slaving away at learning software and creating a,  fairly ordinary, video.

Put simply, the energy:output equation never even got close to making sense.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Would the need to poop ever be a sermon stopper?

I mentioned in my pre-sermon checklist the importance to poop before you preach. No one wants to be, at worst, uncomfortable while speaking.

But, I wonder what would happen if you were preaching, or leading a church service, and the urge to poop struck?


Sure, I'd hope you'd be able to tough it out (I was going to say suck it up, but that didn't sound quite right). But, what if you couldn't...


What if the feeling was beyond an urge?

Would you stop what you were doing?

Ideally, if you were leading a service then you could just get someone, between service elements, to sub in for you and take over off the cuff.


But, this is far more difficult mid-sermon.


If you're on the verge of a poo explosion ten minutes in?

As a sign of authenticity and genuineness you could just announce your need and duck out for a few minutes.

Alternatively, you could try to grant yourself a communal or spiritual window by asking the congregation to share with the person next to them or prayerfully consider a point for a few moments.

Of course, with these options you run the risk of your absence being noticed and needing to be stealthy in your departure.

From a congregational standpoint, how would you feel if your preacher took a poop break?

Would it be funny?
Would it be awkward?
Would you feel more empathy for the preacher?
Alternatively, would you feel disgusted, offended or removed from a "spiritual" moment?

No matter, one course of action couldn't be for the preacher to poop themselves in the pulpit. 

Surely...

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Praying for the new academic year

This morning at church the service leader did something I can't recall happening during a service I've attended and something I'm unsure ever occurred for me to do while in ministry.

They prayed for the children entering a new school year while they were in the service.

As a parent of a child going into another school year, it was really nice.

It reinforced for us as a family, but also for the children themselves, that we are a significant part of the community.

I liked how the church went out of their way to pray for the children, schools (even individually named) and the staff at the schools.

Usually, this kind of courtesy may be extended to the schools where a church teaches scripture, but this seemed to come purely from the place of wanting to bless the children and schools.

It was a really nice part of the service and reminded me that small gestures like this can have significant value for community building.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Giving a leg-up in open prayer

Awkward silences.

These can happen during church services.

Some are due to the moving of the Spirit when convicting people of their personal or communal sin. These are positive awkward silences.

Then there are the awkward silences which happen at the start of "open prayer."

The worst kind of these have little to do with the Spirit, or hesitant courtesy birthed from the desire to let others go first, instead it comes from a poor explanation of what is about to happen.

Maybe the leader just assumes that everyone knows how open prayer works and are comfortable with it...
Perhaps they just expect that there will be enough extroverts to get the prayer-ball rolling...

But, sometimes people need help.

Or, at least, a clear explanation.

Open prayer, ideally, should have someone recognised who will start and conclude the prayer. 

Better yet, a few launching points to get them comfortable would be grand.

I don't know why we toss open the doors of prayer, but all too often, don't give people enough structure or assistance in order to make what can, and should be, a meaningful experience run smoothly.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The departure video shouldn't be a eulogy.

Due to life stage and vocation transitions I've farewelled a number of churches. 
Over the last few decades I've seen a lot of others leave churches.

Some have been ministers or other staff members.
Some have been longtime members.
Some have been moving away or going on a mission assignment.

I don't think I've ever had a farewell video/PowerPoint presentation made about me. 
But I've seen a few.

It reminds me of a conversation I had many years ago with a close friend from bible college.

He was in the process of making a video package for a couple who had got married and we're moving on to a new church.

Ultimately, he had to stop what he was doing and start again.

Why?

Because he realised that it looked like they had died.

Just like me, working for a church, he had seen his fair share of eulogising videos from funerals and it occurred to him that his video looked identical.

This is the danger of departures for those organising the farewells - they become too much like funerals.

Admittedly, they can/should be tinged with sadness. But, it should be measured appropriately.

No matter how long someone has been a member of the community, especially now that they can be kept in contact with/stalked via social media/networks, they aren't dying.

We should remember that, since we don't want to replicate a funeral.

And, if we falsely ratchet up the sorrow for a departure then we leave less appropriate mourning for permanent departures.