Monday, October 20, 2014

The two essential elevator pitches you must nail in youth ministry

In youth ministry you need two elevator pitches.

One short, elevator ride timed, spiel should outline the core of the gospel message. Mine boils down to FTH and is ready to go at the drop of a hat.

But I continually fail at the second, absolutely necessary, elevator pitch. Youth group.

Whenever I'm asked to give a quick gist of what we do on a Friday night, I waffle something about fun, games, talks, leaders and food, eventually trailing off...

And it's a real weakness which everyone attached to a youth group should be able to nail. Especially the leader.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Did Jesus get the sniffles?

Tonight I had the last lecture of my final subject - Christology - for my Bachelor of Theology. Dealing mainly with the incarnation and its results, we were asked what struck us during the course of the subject.

For me, there was a passing point made by Athanasius which blew my little mind.

Upon hearing this, my brains were splattered across the back of the classroom...

Are you ready?

Jesus didn't get sick.

At first, when I bumped up against this, it sprung my heresy alarm.

I thought, a part of the human condition, which Jesus took on, includes getting somewhat sick...
And, through the incarnation, God is able to sympathise with our suffering, thus including illness...

But I, relatively quickly, changed my tune once I considered two very valid points.

First, as Athanasius stated, it would be odd that Jesus, being a healer of the sick, could himself get sick. If nothing else, this would bring into question his credibility as a healer. As Lord of disease, theoretically, this should extend to his own body.

And second, there's another important element of human life which Jesus doesn't partake in. Sin. Just because Jesus didn't share this, doesn't reduce the absolute humanity He did have.

So, unless He was shedding a tear, Jesus didn't really have a need for the Kleenex.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

You may not be a large Youth Pastor in disguise

Last week we had the largest number at youth group we've had in over a year. In fact, when it comes to the rough guide I use to track numbers, this is one of the first times I've achieved 80% attendance from the teens actively "on the books."

But, the number which walked through the door wouldn't impress many at the local youth ministry conference.

It's not a number which I could use to intimidate others or puff out my chest.

But, for us, it was an above-average turnout.

Today I was reading and was struck by many of the things written because ministers of "small churches" feel the same as youth pastors and youth leaders of groups under (insert whatever a thriving number would be in your context).

The thing which caught my attention most was the repeated mention that every small church minister is not a failure. In fact (and here is the gold!), most ministers aren't meant to be in charge of a mega-church. Most never will be. God has something different, and just as valuable, planned for them.

And every youth minister isn't meant to be up front of a group of 50/100/500/1000 teens.

And that's ok.

The faithful youth group leader, sharing life with a handful of youth, is not a failure.

The youth minister of ten, faithfully telling those kids abut Jesus, is not a failure.

The youth minister of a group with a few dozen teens might not be on the cusp of explosive growth.

For, every youth minister is not designed to lead (insert the largest church in your region) and within every youth minister is not a (insert your youth ministry guru) just waiting to bust out.

Instead, no matter how many you have, you are called to be faithful.
Then you are a success.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Growing pains

I know, it's not all about numbers.
It's not even all about size.
Everyone can't grow up in or work at a church on a list of the fastest growing.

In fact, for most, they'll never be part of an incredibly growing church.

I've never been a part of a ministry which has experienced true explosive growth.

Sure, some things I've been involved in have developed through slower drip-growth, but never an Acts-like numeric expansion.

I suspect, few have.

But, for some, an atmosphere of continuous growth would be all they've known.

I wonder, which transition would be more difficult?

A minister, nurtured in a stagnant church, experiencing dynamic growth for the first time?

A minister, developed in a thriving church, experiencing a stagnant/declining church for the first time?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The vital step to "How's it going?"

Around a decade ago I used to work as a checkout operator at a local department store. At the start of every transaction you'd be encouraged to make contact with the customer. My statement was always "How's it going?"

And every time I asked, I not only didn't care about the answer, but I barely bothered to listen to the reply.

When it comes to church and the activities a church does with young people, there's a secret to making connecting conversations effective.


When you ask someone how their week has been, stop.
Only then can you actually listen to the answer.

All too often, especially for those involved in church, when you ask a connecting question prior to a service or activity, you have one eye and ear on something else.

Is the bible reader sorted?
Are the prayers organized?
Is the service due to begin now?
Have those expected visitors arrived yet?
Are the details of the talk wrapped up?

If these questions plague you before a church service or activity, like they often do me, then perhaps you shouldn't engage in a conversation you're not fully invested in...

Because, without the stopping, you don't really care about the answer.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Five-Fingered voting

The denomination I work in uses the consensus model of voting in many of its meetings.

Today I read here a brilliant way to show your feelings about a motion during a meeting. The idea is based on the number of fingers you raise during the vote...

Five fingers. You’re all-in and prepared to own the project. You’ll take the lead if asked.

Four fingers. You give strong support and active participation, but you’re not willing to lead the initiative.

Three fingers. You’re on board.

Two fingers. You have important reservations but will support the initiative.

One finger. You have serious reservations but will not block or subvert the effort. You also commit to open communication regarding your reservations.

Folding – no fingers. You want to block the proposal because you believe it’s damaging.

I think this method covers a lot of important bases, beyond mere approval, but active participation/ownership, and alternatively, beyond objection, but the amount you're prepared to stand in the way of the idea proceeding.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The two questions which shape evangelism

When you meet someone, for the first time or otherwise, do you see them as someone who is primarily an object of God's love or wrath?


Does someone need to be prevented from turning away from God or encouraged to turn towards God?

When it comes to evangelism, these two questions have a great deal of shaping your mode and method.

I'm not going to tell you my answers to these questions, but I can assure you, by the way you treat others, I can tell what your response would be...

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Swapping your worship to click the next slide?

Some have the gift of PowerPoint slide transition. I, seemingly, don't. At least not on a black-belt level.

Yet I've found myself being the one, clicker in hand, on many-a-Sunday.

Really, it shouldn't be that hard.
Follow the words, click once when they start to run out on the current slide, repeat.

But there's one drawback which is true for all churches which use projected words or people who actively monitor sound during a church service.

They cannot truly worship.

Sure, they can be aware of God's presence and have an encounter with God, but it will always be stifled by the next impending click (which you don't want to get wrong or you'll cop the dreaded now-is-the-time-to-change-the-slide-glance).

I wonder how often this is taken into account at churches?

Ideally, the person with the clicking power shouldn't be the same one every Sunday, thus freeing them up to engage more on their "off" weeks.

But, no matter how regularly the word-transition person is "on," is it recommended that they then attend another service in order to get some them-and-God time?

Heaven forbid that the slide changer is someone who would dare close their eyes when they sing to God... I guess they'd get weeded out during the screening process.

Monday, September 29, 2014

An apology from the church

Last night, in something I'd done previously at other churches, I started with an apology based on the words of 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.

 I’ll admit, the church, including this one, isn’t perfect.

For some of you, this might have been a long time coming
I feel I should start with an apology... for

Just as (insert church name, which I'll call XUC), though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one XUC, so it is with Christ.

I’m sorry if at church have not acknowledged your induvidualness. I’m sorry if we have ever asked you to be something that you are not or do something you aren’t comfortable doing.

For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one XUC—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free

I’m sorry if you have ever felt left out, ignored or excluded. If we have said something to offend you, because of whom you are.

—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so XUC is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if ONE OF YOU should say, "Because I am not ANOTHER PERSON, I do not belong to XUC," YOU would not for that reason cease to be part of XUC.

I’m sorry if you have ever not felt included in what we do here at church. I’m sorry if you have ever felt disconnected and no-one has seemed to care. I’m sorry if you have ever felt that you don’t belong. You do.

If ALL OF XUC were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If ALL OF XUC were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?

I’m sorry of your talents, skills or gifts have been wasted, devalued, spoken down of or ignored.

But in fact God has placed the parts in XUC, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would XUC be? As it is, there are many parts, but one XUC.

ONE OF YOU cannot say to the OTHER, "I don't need you!"

I’m sorry if you have ever been spoken down to at church. I’m sorry if this has ever been anything but a safe place for you. I’m sorry if you have ever felt that you are not needed here at church or wouldn’t be missed if you didn’t turn up.

On the contrary, those parts of XUC that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.

I’m sorry if you have ever felt weak, without honour or unpresentable, because of what has happened, or been said at church.

But God has put XUC together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in XUC, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

I’m sorry if you have ever felt that no-one cares about you at church. I’m sorry if you have felt that your attention, your care, has gone to someone else.

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

I’m sorry if you have ever had a time of delight or a time of sadness and haven’t felt comfortable telling someone at church. If you have ever thought that they wouldn’t care. I’m sorry that, if you have shared, that your happiness, has been downplayed, or your sadness, insignificant.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Tweaking the tunes?

Last night, during my Christology lecture, we were discussing the various theories of atonement and got onto the use of atonement words/images in the songs we sing at church.

This famously reared up as an issue around the song "In Christ Alone" back in 2010 due to the actions of the Presbyterian Church in the US.

To be frank, I'd never heard the different words, "the love of God was magnified" used for the song.

But, we did discuss if you should ever change the lyrics of a song.

I don't think, with integrity, you can.

Unless the song is in the public domain, the song isn't yours to change. You don't own the lyrics. You don't own the tune.

The song is someone else's intellectual property. This includes the words. Unless they give permission, you don't have the right to change them.

Beyond this, your CCLI license says here that you can't.

If something in a song bothers you...

a) See if it rubs others up the wrong way, especially the leadership of the church. Maybe you're the only one with the problem.

b) Don't use the song. Der. There are plenty of other songs to use.

c) Grow up. Exposing your church to alternate (but not erroneous) views isn't the worst thing in the world.

d) Use the song as a teaching tool. Give an introduction to the song about the words used. This shouldn't sound shocking, but the worship leader should be occasionally doing this for new people anyway and is a part of LEADING the singing.

Sure, I'm flexible enough to tweak a pronoun or modernise pronunciation, but even this can be covered under the fourth point above.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Reminding them what they just read

Sermons don't need to uncover hidden pearls of truth which make those listening sit back and marvel at your brilliance.

In fact, if that's your aim, you should probably stop preaching. Instead, intellectually masturbate in private.

Instead, sermons need to point people towards Jesus, inspire change, encourage the downtrodden and open the eyes of the proud.

Last week I heard a effective way to achieve these aims.

Have everyone in church read the bible passage together, then reminding them what they have just read and already know about the passage and God.

In this method the magic statement is... "Did you hear what you just said?"

In this way, those in the congregation are involved in recalling what they themselves spoke, with the challenge being personal application of these words, not amazement at the preachers homiletic gymnastics.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Autopsy of your words

It happens with Mark Driscoll.
It happens with John Piper.
It happens with Rick Warren.
It happens with Joel Osteen.
It happens with everything we have written form the early church fathers, right up to Whitefield, Wesley, Spurgeon, Tozer, Martin Luther King, Bonhoeffer, (insert popular preacher/author here)...

I couldn't imagine it happening to me.
I don't think I'll ever be that important, popular or influential for it to happen.
And I wouldn't want it to.

If someone took what I wrote (or preached) and dissected it, line by line, then I'm scared about what they would find and conclude.

Sure, I'm no raging heretic (or at least I hope not!), but if you put my every word under the microscope, like some of the "discernment" websites do or theology lectures can, then I wonder how I'd be viewed.

I wonder, not because I think it'll ever happen to me, but even if I became "successful" enough to be placed under the glare of such "discernment," the "me" of a decade ago might not hold up so well.

I look back at some of my early sermons and wonder about the points I was trying to make. Diitto for some of ways I worded my early blog posts.

And here's the catch.

Are those whose words we dissect acutely aware that this will be the case?
If not, is this fair?

Admittedly, whatever you put in the public eye and ear is open to criticism and fair game if you've done something inappropriate, but surely it can be taken too far.

Should anyone, legitimately, be able to go back unto your past and hold EVERYTHING you've ever said publicly against you?
Every misspoken word?
Every off-the-cuff line?
Every interpretation/opinion which you may later clarify or change?

For some, they desire the high-profiled platform.
They want the top rated blog in their niche.
They want the the book deal.
They want to be in charge of the well-known ministry.
They want to write high selling resources.
They want to be speaking on the big stages.
They want to be remembered on a Wikipedia page like this.

But, as I wrote here earlier this year, the spotlight of the big stage will open you up for increased scrutiny.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Experience or experties?

Would you rather learn from someone with experience or expertise?

If you needed advice about starting a ministry, would you rather speak to someone who has run the event previously, or written/taught about the theory behind it?

I know, ideally, you'd find someone with a large dose of both. So would I.

But... What if you could only select one?

Personally, I'd go with experience.

The reason I lean this way has to do with the flow of information. Usually, if you partake in an activity, even by accident, you'll become somewhat of an expert (even if it's what not to do!).

As good as theory is, for most problems I have, I need someone who has travelled the path I'm currently struggling down.

As useful as academic answers may be, what I'm usually searching for is someone who has put the theory into practice and can warn me of the unseen landmines.

In church-land, these are the "experts" we need to seek out the most, not necessarily those who are lecturing in the topic.

Monday, September 15, 2014

In debt to the heretics

Ignatius. Clement. Tertullian. Irenaeus. Athanasius. Augustine. Jerome. Constantine. Calvin. Luther. Barth. Lewis.

I've written about the importance of church history here and wrote a few weeks ago that the theological ideas described and defended by the likes of the list above leave the modern church heavily indebted.

But, the giants of church thought didn't write in a vacuum.

The church should also tip its hat to the following three men...

These three blokes, to be blunt, were heretics.

But, without them and their drifts from orthodoxy, the Christian church wouldn't have needed to clarify its beliefs about the bible, the trinity or the nature of Jesus and the incarnation.

It is, in part, due to these men that Christianity has the shape it currently does.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Timetable for early changes

Today I answered a question on a youth ministry Facebook group I'm in, which I don't do all that often, about changing the name of a group at a new church.

I wrote that any change needs to follow the old saying of... You never knock down a wall unless you know why it was built.

As understandable as it might be to bring in change to a new ministry, this impulse must be stemmed because the absolute worst thing you can do is "impose" a change and then discover that the previous things had deep attachment to someone/something sacred.

I recommended that any change should wait a semester or two, falling in the shallow end of the timetables given. I think it would, at least, take that long to build trust, discover the backstory and evaluate the culture of a group. Most said to wait one year.

But, I think there are some things you can do to fulfill that change desire and begin to brand something new...

Update the logo.
Freshen the newsletter, programs or web presence.
Revive any areas which could use a touch of paint.
Tweak the PowerPoint backgrounds.
Set up or redesign the office.

Notice... I did not use the word change.

Effective change happens from the bottom up, not top down.

It's only when you've put in the relational work, hearing their history, sharing your lives and painting a future together that you can implement a change.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Absent or apology?

I always inwardly chuckle when I'm at a meeting and they take apologies (Admittedly, it might have to do with my opinion of many meets I attend or those which I'll gladly skip).

I do so because, for a lot of meetings, those who aren't present are not apologetic, they just aren't physically there.

In short, they aren't sorry they're missing the meeting!

In ministry, the aim should be to create those, who if they miss an event, are actually apologetic.

Church services...
Children's ministry activities...
Youth group...
Family ministry shindigs...

They should be important enough, impactful enough, of a high enough quality to be something which will be missed if they are... missed (which will inevitably happen on the odd occasion).

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

THIS is how you respond to "I did my time as a youth pastor"

I read skim hundreds of blog posts a day, so it's gotta be good to get my attention.

The following post slams the entitled statement out of the park so hard that I
a) wish I wrote it,
b) had the guts to say it and
c) know I'll kick myself for forgetting the next time I hear the statement uttered.

Did my time as a youth pastor

Monday, September 1, 2014

Ministry for THEM or YOU?

Churches can fall for the trap of thinking they SHOULD do a specific x ministry (insert youth, children's, family, seniors, intergenerational, seeker, family-friendly, music, creative-arts-based, refugee, homeless, handicapped, mental illness).

Maybe it was successful in "the good old days" of the church...
Maybe it's working at a neighboring church or a mega-church in town...
Maybe it's mentioned in a the latest book the minister has just read...

Whatever the root cause, the trap has to do with who's the focus.
Is the ministry, primarily, about those inside or outside the church?

At the core, the deciding factor has to do with the desire for service to others or obligation to self.

Sometimes, a ministry is instigated because those within the church want to be seen as doing "something" and feel "good" about doing what they "should."

Friday, August 29, 2014

Two days blind

When I was a young kid, I was chased by my older sister and, having turned to look at her in pursuit, slammed head-first into the edge of a wall. Consequently, I scratched the cornea of my right eye, causing it to become lazy. Thus, I get ninety percent of vision out of my left eye.

In my final year of high school I was then diagnosed with a degenerative corneal disease in my "good" eye, placed on the corneal transplant list, but managed through the wearing of a hard contact lens. Over the following years, I became eligible for the transplant, but my condition was relatively stable.

Then, in 2006, I broke my collarbone and couldn't put in my contact lens (since it required both hands). In what some might call a healing/miracle/unexplained medical occurrence, some weird blood vessels grew in my eye and my vision was restored to the point where I no longer needed my contact lens.

I've had "perfect" sight every day since.

Until Monday afternoon.

While pruning something in the garden I got flicked in the eye by a branch. Nothing too serious as the pain died down over a few hours and there was minimal redness.

Except I'd lost my clear sight.

And I was sure it'd get better.

But, Tuesday morning, it wasn't.

And, my optometrist could find nothing wrong.

Come Wednesday, my vision still wasn't better.

And my cornea/eye specialist couldn't find anything wrong.

So, for two days, I was without one of the primary indicators of the biggest thing God had done in my life. I was without the thing which provided me the tools to do what I do.

This, in union with the inner fears for what a vision-impaired future might hold, stirred up quite a bit of anxiety.

In one innocuous gardening mishap, I was thrown back a decade-and-a-half to a time I couldn't drive and reading was problematic.

In fact, until a few hours ago, I still would have struggled to pass the eye exam for a drivers license (one of the original indicators that there was anything wrong).

So, what did this trial reveal?

First, I had taken my vision for granted. It had been far too long since I'd been thankful for God's continual unexplained provision of sight.

Second, by pure coincidence, earlier that week I wrote a Tiny Bible Bit about Proverbs 15:22. It mentioned the danger of solely listening to the voices inside your head and my thoughts could have taken a pretty dark turn thinking about what this "inconvenience" would cost me personally, professionally and spiritually. It, in the worst-case-scenario, could've cost me my job and the ability to preach, read the bible, drive legally and clearly watch my daughter grow up.

It's ironic when God uses what you write or preach, at a later date, to speak clearest and loudest to yourself.

Third, I was challenged in a way which reminded me of Job 1:9-11. My supervisor, who I meet with yesterday, wanted me to think about how this challenge would effect my view of who God now was if my world was now fuzzy.

To be honest, I'm exceedingly glad I don't have to find out.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Is the "New Normal" a compromise?

Attendance rises...
Attendance drops...

The electronic giving is fruitful, so giving increases...
Economic times are tough, so giving decreases...

Over time, unless your church/ministry/group is completely stagnant, the average for your group will shift up or down.

Sometimes, the "new normal" will be higher.
In other seasons, the "new normal" will be lower.

The challenge, when the "new normal" heads southward, is to recognise that the bar has lowered, not just shift the goal-posts so you're "doing a new kind of ok."