Saturday, April 20, 2019

How unforgiveness is like a bad case of road rage

A few weeks ago, at the church I attend with my girls, we were in small groups talking about forgiveness.

While chatting about the reason we need to forgive others, I stumbled over a decent analogy.

I mentioned that we need to forgive others, otherwise we become like the angry driver, who when cut off in traffic, doesn’t just beep the other driver, but follows them.

Ultimately, we stop going to your destination, following the path we want to go, and and journey is dictated by the one we have, in our mind, been wronged by.

In short, we not go where they are going, not where we were going.

I think this mirrors unforgiveness well since it encapsulated the trap of harbouring a grudge.

It controls you.
It leads you.
It stops you from doing what you can or should be doing.

Frankly, you loose freedom with unforgiveness.

This is the danger of unforgiveness, since the venom we intend to inflict on others slowly infects ourselves.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

What do you do if you don’t like your minister?

NOTE: I’m writing this beside a beach on Fiji since I’m in my honeymoon. Apologies for the lack of posts lately, I’ve been very busy with the wedding and university.

Over a dozen years in youth ministry, across four churches, I’d worked with a number of ministers. Fortunetly, Ive liked most of the ministers I’ve worked beside.

I’ve heard of plenty of nightmares though.

Ministers who have been lazy.
Ministers who have been demanding.
Ministers who have been controlling.
Ministers who have been stuck in their ways.

Dare I say, people within the churches I’ve worked for haven’t always been great fans of the way I’ve done things.

To a point, this is just luck and an occupational hazard of working for a church.

But, I’ve also liked the vast majority of ministers at the churches I’ve attended for any significant length of time.

Again, I’ve heard plenty of nightmares.

Ministers who are boring.
Ministers who don’t provide care.
Ministers who use power plays.
Ministers who manipulate others.

Dare I say, there have been members of churches who I’ve rubbed the wrong way. No doubt.

What do you do when, as a congregant, you don’t like your minister?

Ideally, this wouldn’t happen too often because, if your searching for a church to attend, you’d only select a church with a minister you, at least, semi-like. Furthermore, any church you attend, when they select a new ministry agent, will select someone personable.

But, what if you’re stuck at a church with a minister you genuinely don’t like?

Say, your minister goes on long service leave, a study sabbatical or retires and you loathe the fill in?

Or, worse still, their permanent replacement, in your opinion - having given them plenty of time and chances - is a douche?

How does it effect your discipleship?
How does it effect your zeal for evangelism?

Do you connect with their sermons less?
To what degree is your willingness to serve diminished?

Can you invite someone to church, but warn that your minister, in your view, is rubbish?

Are you obligated to describe your minister in glowing terms, allowing any newcomer to decide for themselves?

Of course, every congregant of a church will not be best mates with their minister, but the whole dilemma adds a degree of pressure for those ministers who are a little socially awkward or prickly (and these absolutely exist!).

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Don’t neglect the irregular lessons

Every church has irregular participants.
Every ministry has irregular attenders.

One of my aims as a youth minister was to try to achieve 80% attendance.

But, I knew, for some, it just wouldn’t happen.

They would only turn up to some things.

But, this holds useful information.

This selective attendance can be productive in both planning and understanding those who attend your ministry.

In some cases, attendance spikes allow you to evaluate the type of gimmicks which are effective. Everything from time, inclusion of food and location can be gauged by those who will only attend if the event hits their logistic targets.

Furthermore, the types of event can help you sense what type of things they value, attract them or help them connect with God.

Do they value or avoid a certain ritual?
Do they only come with certain friends?
Do they attend at certain times of the year?

All too often we write off those who irregularly attend, understandably, focussing on those who we can count on to be present.

But, we shouldn’t neglect the information we can glean from the times fringe-attenders are present. 

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Should schools get Acts 4:31 insurance?

Currently, my church meets in a school hall due to long term redevelopment of their building.

I wonder how concerned the school is...

In theory, the church should be a great tenant.
They will be courteous.
They will be committed.
They will be clean.

But, they may also shake your building...
At least if they are an “Acts” church.

I wonder, with many churches wanting to be “like the church in Acts,” how many have reminded their landlords of Acts 4:31?

Do they warn them that their facility may be vibrated by the Holy Spirit?
Is there a form of insurance that they recommend the school get?
Or, is this covered by the “act of God” clause within policies?

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Why the university holiday boost is not sustainable

I’m not a regular university student. I’m in my 30’s. I work full time. I’ve got two kids.

But, I’ve got the holidays of a university student.

Even with attending Summer school, I’ve had a month of study holidays. Without studying over the summer, I’d have been on holidays from mid November.

That’s a lot of time off...

Hopefully, young adults of faith put this time to good use.

They commit to spiritual disciples.
They get stuck into ministry opportunities.
They get their hands dirty.

Of course, the danger of this is that it does not last.

If you set up your young adults for a spiritual boost over the holidays then they’ll find that this opportunity soon dries up.

Employment only gives you 4 weeks of holidays.
Kids never give you time off.
Adulting is full time.

So, while it is useful to encourage those with idle time to commit to injecting energy into their faith, a more productive - at least long term - practice would be to encourage and resource young people to engage with their faith in times when they are not free. For, this is the life which awaits them in the future...

Monday, February 25, 2019

Bi-cultural ministry questions

Having worked in the most inclusive and multicultural denomination in Australia for over a decade, I was reminded of some of the significant questions I’d ask those from other cultures, when it comes to their faith and church life, while hearing the testimony of someone last week.

Being an Anglo male in leadership, my experience of church was often quite different to others from other cultures.

In order to both understand them, their history and their faith more, I’d ask the following...

Do you engage with God in your native language? If so, when? 
If you own and can read the bible in your native language, do you find it different compared to English?
Do you engage with worship or sermons differently depending what language they are delivered in?
How is your church different because of your culture?
How do you engage with church leadership? 
What do you value in the faith of your parents?

Sunday, February 10, 2019

How to tap into the spiritual ZPD

There’s an educational philosophy called the Zone of Proximinal Development. In short, it refers to a level of learning a student is capable of based on their own abilities. Ideally, a teacher aims to reach a student within their ZPD in order for the information to not be too easy or too far over their head. With assistance, experience and practice, the student should have their ZPD expended over the course of a subject.

Is there such a thing as a spiritual ZPD?

At a theoretical level, there must be. Everyone will have a self-assessed level that they can understand and engage with God. Someone’s theological understanding, biblical competence and experience will all effect the way they can comprehend the bible, what happens within a church service and during their personal spiritual disciplines.

General relegation would suggest that no one is approaching God at a zero-point ZPD. Through creation and the conscious, no one is without the natural testimony of God.

But, if a spiritual ZPD does exist, then how should a minister utilise it?

Anyone who has lead a mixed group, such as a youth ministry with both unbelievers and church families - especially a minister’s child - knows the challenge of a varied ZPD.

A similar challenge exists within the church service which will have deeply committed believers and those struggling in or exploring the faith.

I believe the best way to tap into an individuals ZPD is to delve into application. If you make your teachings practical, as they should be nonetheless, then you’re more likely to hit the ZPD.

For an individual knows, with the help of their conscience and the Holy Spirit - which will add a layer of complexity - how they can apply the gospel message. They know who they need to forgive. Where they need to exercise compassion. Or which sin they need to wrestle with. 

This is true no matter how developed your ZPD is.

But, everything is complicated because no believer is alone. 

The bible says that the Spirit of God will help them. It will reveal truths in the bible. It will convict them. It will give them peace from outside of themselves.

So, no believer is solely responsible for their growth. Your ZPD is upheld by the Holy Spirit. It is a gift from God and, unlike what you’re taught in school, your spiritual ZPD is enlarged as much by faithfulness, commitment and sanctification, as it is by comprehension and the ability to recall. 

Sunday, February 3, 2019

If you teach the bible, you get the topics

I once knew a guy who, for a term of his high school scripture lessons, all he would do is read a chapter of the bible and them discuss it with the class.

It was... dangerous.

Usually, scripture lessons are driven by themes and topics.
These are easy.

For, I can think of plenty of landmines which people would try to avoid in the bible.

Women in the church.

But the bible, particularly the epistles, won't allow this.

They are filled with topics we try to skirt around.
And, this was the rationale this scripture teacher had.

When it come to the topics which matter, they will come up organically and he would be prepared to speak about what the chapter was about. 
He believed that you shouldn't cherry-pick your topics.

This makes people think that you're hiding something.
This makes for underdeveloped theology.
This makes for a weakened spiritual discipline of bible reading and engagement.

So, he deals with the tough topics.
And, while it's dangerous, it's also one of the most mature ways to treat the bible and one of the most faithful examples to set.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Your most effective welcomers at church aren't who you think

Are not your oldest members...


This is who we usually stick on the door to greet people.

They are friendly.
They know the answers to any question.

But, I think there's a better answer.

The best person to welcome someone new to church, aside from the minister (!), is the latest integrated member.

They will recognize the anxiety of the new person... They are the one's most recently familiar with it in the congregation.

They will be aware of some of the questions the new person will have... They had them when they arrived.

They will know the unwritten rules which are only exposed when they are broken... They may well have violated a hidden rule in the past. 

While experienced members should, absolutely, welcome visitors to their church, a far more empathetic greeting would come from the last person to be new.

Importantly, this person can, if given the chance, then share why they choose to stay.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Should you assure people that the game will be on after church?

I've been a part of multiple church services where those in leadership have assured everyone that they will watch the "big game/event" straight after the service. The classic example is the rugby league on a Sunday night, be it the Sate of Origin or Grand Final.

Should churches do this?

Pragmatically, this may counteract a drop in attendance by those who would otherwise skip church for the event. 

But, I'm not so sure about the message it sends and the potential implications.

Are you really prepared to stop whatever is going on after the service because the event is about to be telecast?

Even worse, would you be prepared to cut the church service short due to the broadcast?

Would this be stifling the Spirit?
How might you explain this to the preacher or leader?
How would you transfer the worship space, if this is where the event is to be shown, into "footy" mode?

Would you just run the risk that the Holy Spirit knows when kick-off is?

Ideally, you'd have a mechanism which means that you could watch the event on delay after the service, but sometimes this isn't a possibility.

The easiest answer, if pushed for one, is to assure people that you'll watch the game, if people want, after the service - whenever that may be - and, as a community you can watch it together. But, I'd be hesitant to guarantee people that it will be live.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Should you advertise numbers?

I've written about numbers a bit in the past.

Youth ministers can fear them, embrace them, track them or hide behind them.

But, should you advertise them?

Should you advertise how many will be at an event, even verbally?

I'm not sure.

If you advertise numbers, then you send the message that they are the most important thing. And, while numbers matter, people matter more.

For, every number has a name.

You want the person you're speaking with to know that they are more than just a number.

They are not just part of the crowd.

A vastly better message is to personally invite them.
Tell them WHO you expect will probably be there (I wouldn't guarantee it since you may be mistaken!).

If you advertise numbers, like with the individual above, then you set yourself up to be measured against something you don't really control.

Numbers, for whatever reason can dissipate.

Anyone in youth ministry knows the feeling of the week where, seemingly, everyone "had something come up" and your attendance is way down.

I was once part of a regional event in a rural setting where, because it rained heavily days prior, everyone had to stay home in order to work the fields.

It happens.

But, if you're invitation is about the person, not just the attendance, then the kids who were personally invited can still feel welcomed and, importantly, not deceived.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The art of faux giving

I can't recall the last time I put currency into an offering plate or bag.

Sure, I've been in plenty of church services where an offering has occurred, I just haven't reached into my wallet.

For, whenever I give, I now do a direct transfer from my bank account into the church's account (it's because of people like me that it's incredibly stupid for a church not to provide these details somewhere in their bulletin).

Personally, I just don't carry that much cash with me and I can then transfer an amount somewhat close to a tithe portion into the offering, which I may not be able to do if I was relying on cash.

Consequently, I now face the prospect of a faux offering.

For those uninitiated, the faux offering is when you pretend to give the traditional way, but you've got nothing physically in your hand.

Sure, the cards informing those around that you directly give exist, but really, whoever remembers to collect those???

The regular routine is to dip your hand into the bag and do... nothing.

But, this covert offering is ineffective with a offertory plate.

This is where the expert faux-givers employ their darkest magic.

As the plate comes around you place your had near the top of the plate and you tap the bottom of the plate with your other hand. This creates a thud which rattles the coins in the plate.

The risk is that those around you will only think that you've given the equivalent of loose change, but for those who are concerned that they'll be gossiped about over morning tea due to their offertory-non-observance, this trick can save face.

At least ever so slightly...

Monday, January 7, 2019

Why Youth Minister Sunday hurts not helps

In you're at a church who has more than just a sole ministry agent, then it's almost assured that there will be a day annually when the assistant/youth minister/family worker/children's coordinator will get a preaching gig - the Sunday after Christmas.

By then, the post-Christmas-minister will be sunning himself on a beach and the pulpit will be left in the hands of a ministry youngling.

Some call it "Youth minister Sunday." At least a lot did within the youth ministry groups did that I'm still attached with on Facebook.

I'm not sure this regular gig is a healthy growth strategy.

In theory, this allotted Sunday is useful to give an aspiring preacher experience and the church an opportunity to hear from other members of the ministry staff.

The practice... may not be all that effective.

First of all, if you work at a lectionary directed church, with set readings, then you'll inevitably get lumped with the same story - almost certainly the visitation of the Magi.

And, while every youth minister has preached on this passage, doing it for the third time, especially before the same congregation, is a daunting challenge.

Second, many people are away straight after Christmas, especially families, meaning the "target audience" for the junior minister may well be absent (even if they haven't gone on vacation, the church may shut down their youth/children's/creche activities so families are more inclined to skip church.)

Third, if the aim is to help develop a potential preacher than it's odd that they would only preach from select passages when their direct supervisor is absent!

Fourth, it means that the youth minister doesn't get to ever have this immediately-after-Christmas-season for vacation.

The danger of "Youth Minister Sunday" is that the weekend after Christmas has a degree of tokenism, which would be easily avoided if the ministerial junior had a reoccurring gig in order to both build their preaching proficiency and enhance their impact beyond just the subsection they oversee.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

2018 Best of...

Well, after my quietest year of blogging (the aim is to do more in 2019), what is there to review?

I got engaged - getting married in April 2019.
I went to Europe for the first time -meeting my fiancee's family in Germany.
I'm now, approximately, halfway through my teaching/history degree.
I'm still not in ministry - only doing a handful of things at one of the two churches I attend (one with my kids, the other with my fiancee).
Tiny Bible Bits (my Facebook devotional) has doubled in size and reach - the closest thing I have to a regular ministry.
I still think about church/youth ministry significantly - these filters are really tough to shake and, frankly, I'm not sure I want to discard them.

From the last year, here are the gems worth revisiting...

How I Failed my Scripture Classes

Would the need to Poop ever be a Sermon Stopper? (I ask the big questions...)

The Intimidating Butts in the Pews

What's the Message of your Bible Reading?

God's Graceful Repetitiveness

How to Cut Off a Service Hijacker

The Difference Between Dropping your Kid off to a Birthday Party and Youth Group

How Long Should it take to Create a Kids Talk?

Are Numerical Prayers Dangerous?

Making Space for #SpiritualParentingWins

Why I haven't watched a Single Episode of 13 Reasons Why but Every Youth Minister Should

Why I'm Learning German

We all have Something 

The Awkward Preaching of Naked Boy

Doing Less Means you Value More

Why Facebook makes me think that Youth Ministers are Lazy and Unoriginal (my most controversial post)

The Answer to your Next Mission Location is Closer than you think

Guidelines for Talking with Friends Dealing with Cancer

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

How teaching is like tossing mud


Usually, the most important lessons they pass on are taught in the same way.

It’s not in the form of a swashbuckling speech.
It’s not via a powerful diatribe.
It’s not from a standout moment.

It’s slowly.
It’s over time. 
Lessons are more caught than taught.
Values are like throwing mud at a wall.

What I mean by the last sentence is simple...
If you throw mud at a wall, most will drop off. 
But not quite all.
Some will stick.

Over time, if you throw enough mud at a wall, the wall will eventually become covered.

This is how we learn our principals and values - mud-at-a-wall-style.

We parent over incalculable small talks.
We teach over hundreds of lessons.
We pass on theology through faithful preaching.
We impress values upon students in youth ministry over years of consistent example.

These are the markers of effective teaching and ministry.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Guidelines for talking with friends dealing with cancer

Someone who I’m friends with on Facebook who has a lot of experience with this posted the following. As someone who has a husband dealing with cancer, it’s on point.

Guidelines for talking with friends dealing with cancer...

My list

1. Be prepared to listen to the detailed news and ask questions if you dont understand - this may be the person’s way of trying to understand themselves what is going on - by saying it out loud to you.

2. Change the scenery - if you can get out and go to a cafe Or go for a walk - do... if not, put on some nice music in the background - use your phone if necessary and get a nice flower - one will do... make your time for conversation pleasant. (Hospitals generally unintentionally suck)

3. Ask specifically... Can I get you something from the shop/pick up something from the pharmacy/fetch a glass of water? (Note - most people will not ask you to pay or anything, because they will be embarrassed, but remember that serious illness also hits the wallet hard... so they might not ask for something because they can no longer afford it)

4. Share a joke... dad jokes are great. Anything to bring on a smile.

5. Have a couple of photos to share... it is like an adventure for someone who is bed or housebound

6. Questions that show real interest include: what do you find most helpful?/ frustrating? / surprising? What do you miss most?

7. If they are sporty or musical, watch a game or a concert together... or a film

8. Understand if they are too tired to talk... sometimes they may just want to listen to you, sometimes they may want to sleep, sometimes the may need you tho stay, sometimes they may like you to just sit there

9. Remember the next-of-kin is going through this too. Just be nice. What they may need from you is simply half an hour Respite so they can get a coffee without feeling guilty... alternately they may be starved for company and conversation too

10. Deal with your grief and seek help elsewhere... don’t lay it on the person with cancer or their next of kin... go see the Chaplain. Have clean tissues in your pocket.

And finally - don’t just say you will pray... have a go... here is one for taking with you...

(To whoever you pray to... in my case, God)
Thanks for my friend....(name)
This sucks, but I ask for (name) to receive excellent care.
 I pray for relief from pain, frustration and symptoms. I pray for wisdom for those who are treating him/her.
I pray for the right support to appear when needed.
And, may our friendship be as true in the tough times as it has in the good ones. Amen.

Practice praying... we find it very helpful.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Seekers and Searchers

A long time ago I wrote about those who were done with church as a group who would be increasingly reached, alongside those who’ve had little or no previous experience of church.

But over the last week I stumbled over two better classifications for those who may walk into your church service for the first time.

Seekers and Searchers.

At the core, the difference is the intention of the visitor to a church or ministry.

Do they know what they are looking for?

If they are a seeker then they won’t know exactly what they are looking for.
A searcher, on the other hand, will know what they are after in a church or ministry.

Chances are, this later category will be influenced by a previous experience of church and, thus, know what they are after - either proactively or reactively.

They may be searching for a place to serve, where no opportunity existed at their prior church.
They may be searching for a place of greater acceptance or a network more in step with their stage of life.

No matter, the searcher will have a checklist which, at least in part, will be held up against their experience.

The challenge for the visited church is to be authentic enough that they will get a genuine experience of your church, presenting an accurate representation of your culture in order to provide the info they require.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The question which unlocks a young adults future

Want to know what’s drives a young adult?
Want to get an insight into the way they respond?
Want to understand what will motivate them?

Ask what frustrates them.
Ask what change they want to see happen.

This will expose their hopes.
This will expose their purpose.
This will expose their dreams.

These are the answers that those in ministry want to tap into and utilise, seeing how God is, has been and will be at work.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Hearing a problem should mean that you pray FOR the problem

Thank God that hasn’t happened/isn’t happening to me...

I’ll confess, this has been my prayer. Far too often

After hearing about a problem my mind can wander, selfishly, towards myself.

Instead of praying ABOUT a problem, and FOR the other person, I can pray about my relation to the situation.

I can pray gratefully that I’m not going through a similar situation or have been spared that difficulty.

Yes, it’s selfish.

An important mindset shift is a determination to keep prayer about others.

We should fight to keep our prayers other-person-centred. And, against our sinful nature, it can be a true battle.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Why every youth minister should hear a former kid’s testimony

Over the last few weeks my bible study has been doing a tremendous activity - taking it in turns to share their testimony.

Sure, it’s not groundbreaking, but it has been really good to both share and hear each other’s stories.

My story took over an hour.

One of the most rewarding things has been to hear the testimony of those who had previously been involved in my youth ministry.

It was odd to hear the story from someone on the inside - warts and all.

It was an experience which everyone in ministry should go through.

You’ll discover that what you did had some affect.
You’ll hear about lessons which you taught.
You’ll praise God for the successes you played a part in.
You’ll be astonished by the advice heard and pondered.

But, you’ll also find out that you’re only a small part of their story.
You’ll be disappointed at the flaws which were noticed.
You’ll, frankly, think that you owe the person an apology.

No matter how the story plays out, hearing the testimony of a former youth gruop kid is an illuminating experience.