Saturday, April 25, 2015

The real reason you lead

Mark 10:45 - For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

You can do it to have power.
You can do it to remain cool.
You can do it to "feel young."
You can do it for the prestige.
You can do it because "that's the thing people your age do."

There are a lot of reasons to become a leader, especially with young people, at church.

But, the real reason - which should be the focus when making the ask and the one which closer reflects Christ - is to serve God and others.

It's to put the interests of others first, no matter if it means giving a kid the win or providing extra support during their season of need.

And, while this is far less glamorous, it's also far more accurate and far, far, more fulfilling.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The ministry of advocacy

I wrote here, ripping off an anonymous conference speaker, that advocacy wasn't speaking for someone but merely amplifying the voice of an ill-heard group/person.

But, as a church worker who specializes in children and youth, who are the people I should advocate for?

Obviously, children and youth themselves and their needs for Permission, Space, Validity and cost of ministry met by the church.

Ditto for the families of young people in the church.

Young adults who are just exploring church leadership and governance for the first time and are still "finding their voice."

Depending on your tenure at that church and personal history, you can speak form an outsider's perspective.

Finally, you have the opportunity to speak - even as a pseudo devil's advocate - as a voice adding theological balance to the conversation.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Why I give the teens weird food every week

Just one of the reasons we lost money last year in youth group is that I buy weird food for the teens to eat when they arrive.

Every. Single. Week.

It's not because I want to develop their palette or that I have a sick desire for them to have their tastebuds tortured titillated by food of my childhood and far away nations.

The reasons are simple...

Food, even especially weird food, breaks the ice.

It's far easier for me to welcome teens and have them sign in with a potentially tasty treat when they walk through the door.

Furthermore, it's far easier for one of my leaders to start a conversation with a teen by chatting about the odd food they just ate, then it might be otherwise.

Finally, through the strange culinary delights that they've experienced, memories are made and identity is formed. The weird food, to some degree, has become a "this is a thing that they do here which makes this place different" element of our group.

And even if it costs a few extra dollars per week, all told, they're well worth the investment...

Friday, April 17, 2015

Are you stronger in communication or theology?

I read a lot of blogs. Everyday. 

On my feedly page there are 559 blogs which I follow, 47 on the topics of speaking, communication and preaching.

This means I'm, at least aware, of WAY too much information on making speeches or giving presentations.

I know about the 10/20/30 rule.
I know about the rule of thirds.
In fact, I know way more than I do, or even could, put into practice.

Would I be alone if I said that I'm more up-to-date in the area of communication than I am in theology?

Sure, on feedly I also follow hundreds of blogs about church, religion and faith, but, I wonder if the balance of "keeping relevant" and "giving a smooth presentation" is in danger of swinging too far towards communication over theology...

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Eulogising 101

Working at numerous churches, I've been to my fair share of funerals.
Some were for people I know.
Some were to show support for others.
Some were to be the random techie guy up the back.

With this being the case, I've heard plenty of eulogies.
Some great. The majority good. Others... not so good.

But I've only, personally, given one eulogy in my life.

When thinking about the words that are shared about someone at their funeral, I think there are three things which make up a solid eulogy.

What your fondest memory was with that person...
What words/character traits you associate with that person and why...
What lesson you've learnt about life from that person that you'll cherish going forward...

If you nail these three points, you'll have done a good job at eulogising.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Hitting their creative sweet spot

I'm not a morning person.
Not even close.

If you want me to create, or even write something which makes some sense, then my two most productive times are 12-2pm and 8-10pm. These are the times I'm at my highest, most productive, output.

But, that's what works for me.

On the back of Seth Godin's fifth point in this post and my routine of writing youth group talks in partnership with one of my leaders, I wonder if I should become more aware of my leaders productive hours.

Because it would make more sense to try and organize the talk and questions when they're at their creative peak.

Of course, this could be awkward if it doesn't line up with the late-morning-to-early-afternoon timeslot when the current planning usually falls.

So, how do you plan when your creative sweet-spots don't align?

Well, primarily, it's up to me to work around them.

So, while the actual words-to-paper planning might still occur in the middle of the day, for some, it'd be more productive to talk to them the morning or night before about the talks and small group questions when they're at the creative prime.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Transference in church and faith

Your mother...
An ex-boyfriend...
Your wife...
Your father-in-law...
That neighbor who used to "rub you the wrong way"...

In order to process our relationships, one thing we do is to compare them to those in our lives which already exist.

Sometimes this can be useful.
At other times, it can be unhelpful.

The later is a danger for faith and those who work for churches.

For, God and ministers can be caught in the cross-hairs of transference (which you can read about its danger here and here).

God can be compared with your earthly father...
God's standards can be compared with your perfectionist mothers...
Your female minister can be kindly compared with the deceased aunt you were really close with...
Your minister can be compared with a former lecturer or teacher... or your dominating ex-husband...
The youth minister at your church can remind you of your grandchild (thus you'll call him a boy no matter how old he is!)... or he could remind you of your child... or your absent father.

But the danger of projecting established relationships onto God or someone else is that they're never totally accurate.

For God's not exactly like either of your parents, no matter what they're like.
The standards which exist in your home or workplace shouldn't be replicated in church or a ministry.
The relationships you have with your family or friends won't be the same as those you have at church.
The relationship you have with every minister will be unique.

The danger exists when these projected established relationships effect the new dynamic and it takes a special discernment from all involved to sense when an action or response seems oddly exaggerated or out of place.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

What if the journey of My Grey stops midway?

At my church the minister is big on "taking the journey of Easter" the way it was intended.

At Easter, you should "ride the journey" with the disciples and, as much as possible, not skim over or jump forward in the story just because you're aware of the ending.

Thus, you don't kill Jesus on the Thursday, you grieve the Friday and you don't resurrect Jesus until the Sunday.

This is a danger of both Easter and, deeply regrettably, 50 Shades of Grey.

With Jesus, we can downplay the events of Good Friday in light of Easter Sunday.

With Christian Grey, some can overlook the dangerously abusive elements (which I wrote about here) of the relationship he has with Ana because he "changes," "leaves that lifestyle" and "become a family man" by the end of the trilogy.

The trouble with this "reasoning for Mr Grey" is, for far too many people watching, they aren't aware of the end of the "journey." Instead, they just hear that the abuse in the first film is somehow acceptable.

Worse, how many women, aware of the ending, will stay with their harmful partners because they "might be able to be changed as well?"

Furthermore, what about those who, for whatever reason, don't reach the "feel-good" conclusion for Christian's "salvation"?

What happens if the second movie bombs and they never make the third?

Will the 50 Shade apologists turn on the movie because it's missing its "redemptive chapter"?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Lent lessons

Just like I did last year, I gave up junk food (junk food being any food that you can get home delivered or acquire via drive-through) for the season of Lent.

As someone who workers with youth and has an erratic schedule, this cut out a sizable portion of my food pyramid.

And, the last 40+ days have had an affect.

For starters, I've somewhat noticeably lost weight... Somewhere around two inches off my waist.

But, for the first time, I also actually realized the positive element of giving up something for Lent.

For, every time I'd drive past the local KFC in the afternoon, I'd be forced to stop at the nearby traffic lights.

And there I could smell the grease-covered-finger-licking-goodness.

Then I'd want it. Bad.

Or I'd crave some junk food on the drive home, fondly recalling its heart-clogging-tastiness.

Then I'd want it. Bad.

And herein lay my challenge over Lent.

Do I crave God as much as I craved junk food?
If I "gave up God" for 40 days, would I miss it as much as I did junk food?
Would I be as stirred by my absence of God as I was whenever I saw an ad, or my nostrils caught a whiff, for junk food?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

What affect does our kiddie voice have?

I have a phone voice.

In many ways it's the same one I used when making public announcements at the retail chain I previously worked for.

I think, my phone voice is positively pleasant.

But it also sounds very little like my actual voice, and, if you're aware that I'm doing it, could come off as quite condescending.

I suspect I, like many others in my job, also have an I'm-talking-to-the-children-now voice.

Usually, this voice is slower, higher and places an unnatural emphasis on vowels.

Over any given year I'll hear any number of these voices used at Easter/Christmas assemblies or, at my previous church, chapel services.

But I wonder...
When those up the front speak in a "special" voice when explaining the gospel, how does that affect the adults listening?
Does the message get weakened in the ears of the teachers or parents present due to the tone used?
Is the message of Jesus made "childish" or less applicable to adults due to the method it's delivered?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Why you need leaders beyond their mid-twenties

Whilst I've written about the perceived expiry date of volunteer leaders, this must be balanced by the freedom that leaders don't have to leave unless they choose to.

This goes for youth ministers as well.
Arguably, even more so.

For, I've changed a lot since my early-twenties.

A decade ago, in many ways, I was still a meathead.

But over the last ten years I've got married, moved out of home, worked at four churches, been mid-term unemployed, done a job I didn't enjoy, started serious study, finished my degree, had four cars, my Dad had cancer, my Mum had a triple bypass, saw my Dad die, struggled to fall pregnant, endured two miscarriages and became a father.

I've been besides people when they've experienced the loss of a parent, suffered the disappointment of miscarriage, celebrated marriages, experienced breakups, become parents, lost jobs, failed university, turned their lives over to Christ and decided to walk away form the church.

I truth, I couldn't have handled a lot of these situations when I was 18. Or 20. Or 23.

This is why it's tragic when youth ministers or volunteer leaders stop to "step aside" or "get a real job" in their mid twenties due to "their time being over."

If every leader - volunteer or otherwise - steps down once they hit their mid-twenties, then youth groups loose a lot of life experience.

Youth group kids won't see healthy, long-term, marriages which have gone through anything but the honeymoon years.

Youth group kids will only have leaders who are university students and those in entry level positions at their jobs.

Youth group kids will only have examples who are also living at home and, also, trying to work out a clear picture of what their future looks like.

In short, while younger leaders can be incredible, those in youth groups will be weakened by just having a mono-generational leadership team above them.

And, when a crisis hits, those who are meant to support them during their season will be less equipped to help because they have less life experience behind them.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

If you're going to invite them to sing the words, you need to be able to define the words

I don't lead the singing, but I have Rambled about song words before.

On Sunday night I did, what I think, is a vital element of someone leading worship in church.

After singing a few songs, I asked the congregation the meaning of two words mentioned in the songs they'd just sung... Abasing and Hosanna.

Have you sung either of these words before?
If so, did you know what you were actually singing?
Importantly, how would you define the words?

All too often, churches invite congregations to sing words they may not totally understand.

For someone up the front, no matter if the church is full of relatively newer people or those who are rusted-in-regulars, it's their job to know AND EXPLAIN what they are inviting the people to be a part of.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Resource "sharing"

I've worked for a number of churches over the last decade, as well as being in significant contact with many more.

As a result, I know where a lot of stuff is located.

For example, I used a giant earthball at our Kids' Club on Friday, owned by a previous employer of mine.

Due to the passing of time and the changeover of staff, when I enquired to the availability of the earthball, I had to inform them that they actually HAD an earthball and that I even knew where it would be located.

To an extent, this would probably be true for every church I've worked for. I would know things they posses which they'd be oblivious to, especially those churches whose focus isn't as strong on youth ministry as it was previously.

But, as I drag my feet in returning the earthball, I wonder what the protocol would be in offering to purchase the item.

How do you start that conversation and would it be well received?

Is the offer actually a suggestion that you'll use it more or, in your opinion, that they don't use it enough?
Do you just make an offer?
If so, especially if you feel that the item's being neglected, how low do you go?

Or...

Do you just offer to "store the item for them"?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The two choices when faced with a season of suffering

My wife and I, before having our daughter, had two miscarriages in 2010.

Truth being told, she handled it far better than I did (here's the first post I did afterwards).

The difference between the way my wife and I faced our miscarriages had to do with the way it immediately affected our view of God.

For, when faced with a season of pain, generally, a Christian is faced with one of two choices.

And, in the raw emotion of the situation, you may well bounce between either, you'll probably settle in one...

Either... You can draw closer to God and become more aware of His presence in the midst of your troubles and pain.

Or, remove - or hide - yourself from God, and church, thinking that God has abandoned you, leaving you alone in your troubles and pain.

The problem is, with the first option being far more in alignment with how God has revealed Himself in the bible, allowing this truth to have room to be heard above some of the other "truths" bouncing around your mind.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The word after sorry makes all the difference...

You break something. Again.
You arrive late from an activity and parents are waiting.
You write the incorrect details on a note.
You forget the keys to the accommodation you're staying at.

Mistakes happen.

Commonly, as pointed out in this post about avoiding getting fired in ministry, there can be two responses.

I'm sorry, BUT...
I'm sorry, AND...

These two sentences are not the same.

One raises defenses.
The other heads towards solutions.

One wants to give excuses.
The other wants to ensure systems improve.

One looks at what has happened in the past.
The other looks towards the future.

Unfortunately, those in youth ministry - including me - tend to deploy the first "apology" instead of initiating the later...

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Would a season of giving kid's talks make sermons better?

It's no secret that many folks in church remember as much from the "kid's talk" as they do from the sermon on a Sunday morning.

To a degree, this makes perfect sense.
By design, they are meant to be simple, focussed, memorable messages.

This morning I explained how God draws us to Himself and the obstacle of sin via two Thomas the Tank Engine trains held together by magnets.

Last week I spoke about John 3:16 using the framed square of carpet I proposed to my wife on.

Approximately 40 times a year I need to do a children's address in church, and, the vast majority of the time I'll look for some kind of prop to help me get my point across.

I wonder, how much would it assist aspiring preachers to be "forced" to give a years worth of "kid's talks" in order for them to see the beauty of simple illustrations, stories and points?

If every preacher spent a season, and I'm aware that many already do by default, having to look around for something applicable to their sermonette, how much better would "adult" preaching become?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The secret sauce of small group leading

In the past I've lead lots of small groups to discuss the bible.

Including mixed years.
As single gender groups.
For teens.
For young adults.
On camps.
At youth groups.
At after-school groups.
In cafes.
During church services.

This Friday, for the first time in a long time, I'll be leading a small group.

With my awesome youth group leaders taking over this week, leaving me relatively in the dark as to what's going on and not giving the talk, I'll be with a group of rowdy junior boys.

So, I figure I should share my secret sauce for effective small group contribution.

In short, don't give the quick, smart or loud ones a chance to always answer first.

In fact, for most questions, they should have one of two disclaimers.

Either, the kids should chat to their neighbour about the answer to the question first and share what you came up with.

Or, they should be given a set amount of time - say ten seconds - to think about their answer and write something down.

Once one of these avenues have been used, then you can open the floor to contributions.

This way, the quick, smart and loud don't dominate the discussion or swamp others thoughts with their input.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Double-shirting

Whenever I'm involved in a public event, I'll make sure that I wear my "work clothes."

Subsequently, I've written that I'm a pants man and there'll be some people at church who've never seen me without long pants, covered shoes and a button up or collared shirt.

But there's another, relatively hidden, apparel choice I make every workday.

I wear two shirts.

No matter if I'm wearing a polo or button up shirt, I'll always have another shirt underneath.

Why?

First, within reason, double-shirting cancels out the need to wear jumpers.

Second, the button up shirts I wear are always open and, thankfully, I don't have to rely on them having all the buttons.

Third, it allows you to do something physical - like stacking chairs between services, setting up for the children's ministry activity or "up-skilling" at a game - and avoiding falling victim of BSMS.

Big Sweaty Man Syndrome.

By double-shirting, you gain an extra layer to either remove whilst doing labour-intensive work or absorb the body-cooling results.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Should I flirt with the oldies at church?

I flirt at church.

Shamelessly.

I've mentioned flirting and ministry previously here, but this is not what I speak of now...

No, my flirting sounds like the following...

How old are you... what? 35?
Do you need sugar? No, of course, you're sweet enough.
Oh, you can't be her grandmother, you must be sisters!

I admit it.
I flirt with the oldies at church.

Last night, whilst "helping serve" at an event, I used the line about sugar more than a dozen times.

Each time it was responded with a smile and a cheeky laugh.

But, do the same questions about flirting not apply just because those who are being flirted with are senior citizens?

If I openly flirted with someone in their twenties or thirties I would be legitimately wandering into troublesome ground...

But when I Googled "Should I flirt with the oldies at church?" I got no definitive answers.

So, with the danger of being the sole authority on this topic on the Internet...
I think it's fine.

If delivered with good-natured cheek. Otherwise it's borderline creepy.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Balancing your buckets

I'd be an insensitive idiot to suggest that those who work in churches are under equal stress as doctors, nurses, counsellors, the police or first responders. They face situations which I would crack under and do an awesome job nonetheless.

But in ministry, you do get the privilege to walk alongside people.

Messy people.
Hurting people.
And everyone, inevitably, gets a season.

Over time, without a break, the pressure can take a toll.

For everyone, including those in ministry, has a number of internal buckets they carry.
A bucket for emotional health.
A bucket for physical wellbeing.
A bucket for spiritual welfare.
A bucket for relational strength.

Sometimes, your buckets will be unbalanced.

You'll feel overwhelmed.
You'll be worn down.
You'll feel spiritually dry.
You'll get a growing feeling of apathy towards others.

It's at these times you'll be in danger of burnout - physical or emotional - or compassion fatigue.

For, once you're bucket is unbalanced - with your or another's issues - then you aren't in a healthy position to help someone else.

This is why holidays, particularly pre-emptive holidays, matter.

Time away gives those in ministry a chance to evaluate, if not empty, some of their buckets and allows them space to be able to help others with theirs.