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

Parents
Teachers 
Ministers

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.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The answer to your next mission location is closer than you think

I just wrote that my Facebook feed is constantly clogged with requests for assistance from youth ministers.

One request which drives me up the wall has to do with potential mission locations.

Now, I’ll admit that my context in Australia is different from that in North America. Missions are a religious rite of passage in the US, in Australia they needn’t be.

Nonetheless, I get annoyed when I see people requesting locations for taking their youth group away. Especially if they are large groups.

A little while ago someone asked for suggestions for his group of a hundred.

Ugh?!?

How many places could sustain a group that large?

A vastly better option would surely be your own community.
You should seek to serve there. Especially if you’re struggling for far-flung optoins!

Supporting chaplains in hospitals or prisions.
Homeless shelters.
Women’s shelters.
Food stations for the poor.
Cleaning up your local area.
Doing restoration to a downtrodden part of town.

There are 100’s of options for “mission” in your own community.

Surely, if you can’t find “mission” within your own context then you may want to consider what messages you’re sending to your youth about where and how they can serve God.

A vastly superior lesson would be to help them identify areas of need locally and empower them to serve in the next suburb, not only hours away.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Why Facebook makes me think that youth ministers are lazy and unoriginal

I’ll admit, I’ve been a bad blogger. A good student, with my last month throughly absorbed by university assignments and then exams, but a bad blogger.

Now, with my subject load increased by a third over the last semester, I’m in the sweet week of holidays I’ve got before my next subject launches. With this window of opportunity, I’m back on the blogging bandwagon.

Even though I’m no longer in vocational ministry, Facebook seems unaware since my feed is constantly filled with updates about youth ministry and church matters.

One thing which annoys me is one particular youth ministry page which gets constantly clogged with the same kind of requests - bible studies, game ideas, sermon series promos, sermon shortcuts, design inspiration.

I get peeved because, aside from being repetitive, it feeds a damaging youth minister stereotype.

Lazy and unoriginal.

Youth ministers are just efficient searchers for resources.
They know all the good game websites.
They know where to find free sermons and kids talks.
They know where illustrations lurk on the Web.
They know which designs they can reuse, or worse, don’t care about ripping off someone else’s cool backdrops.

If you’re part time, I’ll be prepared to cut you some slack.

But, really, requests that ask for a “bible study about the Old Testament” are not good enough.

Surely you have done one in the past.
Surely you could write something yourself.
Surely you have better networks then a Facebook group.
Surely you can find inspiration yourself.

But, I suspect, that the internet has helped make ministers both inferior and lazy.

They don’t think that anything they’ll create is up to scratch.
Thus, they’re hesitant to put in the time and effort to craft something themselves.

So, my Facebook feed will continue to be clogged with frustrating requests and the stereotype of lazy and unoriginal will remain strong.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Why the minister lets their eyes glaze over

Everyone in ministry is guilty of this...

Every.
Single.
One.

What?

Nodding and trying to follow a string of technical jargon shared with them by an enthusiastic volunteer.

It comes in various forms, and is dependant upon gaps in the ministers knowledge, but it’s unmissable if you observe it from the outside.

Personally, it most often happened with musicians or sound/technology officinardos.

Often, they would be trying to help. The expert would be explaining how they fixed the buzzing sound, which I probably barely noticed, or going in depth about the improvements they made or the superiority of one kind of cable over another.

No matter how we arrived at the destination, I would be lost.

Hopefully it wouldn’t show.

Herein lies the secret in negotiating the jagon-expert.

Silence.
Smiling.
Nodding.
Googling.
Surface learning.

Why would you bother?

Because, even if you’re lost in the technicalities, you should honour those who serve. Without them the church stops. Furthermore, you should be thankful that others have knowledge and abilities (and the willingness to use them!) which you don’t posses. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Theologically infectious footprints

We all have a theological footprint and we have the power to imprint ours upon others.

You teach and, arguably more importantly, show those around you your understand about God, Jesus and faith.

Family.
Friends.
Workmates.
Associates.

Anyone who is aware that you are a Christian can, and will, examine your theological footprint.

This is even more true for those in ministry.
Now, your footprint is infectious.

To those in your bible study.
To those in the youth group.
To those you teach scripture to.
To those who hear you preach.

But, this transference is amplified again for those in Christian leadership.

Those on church councils and decision making bodies.
Those teaching in bible collages.

For, more often than not, theology trickles down from the head.
Good theology can infuse across entire denominations.
Poor theology will inject a toxin which will be increasingly difficult to diagnose and remove.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Contagions within the classroom and church

Within the classroom emotion is contagious. 

If the teacher is excited, then they will display enthusiasm, which is then observed by the students, which then increases their enjoyment, thus raising their engagement, which is observed by the teacher, which then increases their level of excitement...

Alternatively...

If a teacher is unenthusiastic, then they will be sluggish in their lessons, which will be observed by students, which will decrease their enjoyment, creating disengagement, which is observed by the teacher, lowering their enthusiasm for teaching the class...

This equation is true both within the classroom and the church.

Just as enthusiasm is contagious at school, spiritual fevor is caught by the congregation.

Just as boredom infiltrates all within the class, spiritual lethargy spreads throughout a church.

When I think of many ministers, I wonder how many realise the contagion they are able to spread by their very presence and enjoyment in what they are doing.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Doing less means you value more

100 church services attended down to 40.
40 bible studies lead down to 4.
10 funerals attended down to 0.
35 sermons down to 0.
100 scripture lessons down to 0.
40 weeks of youth group and kids club down to 0.

This is how my annual ministry schedule has changed since 2016.

Over the last few years the biggest change has been the following... now I get to choose.

I now choose if I go to church.
I now choose if I volunteer to lead a bible study.
I’m now free to decide how free I am to invest in something new.

Before, I didn’t get a choice.

As much as I enjoyed my job, a lot of what I did was mandatory.

This is the difference between vocational ministry and volunteers - choice.

This has done two things in my mind.

First, it has increased my appreciation for anyone who volunteers in a ministry. I never truely understood the commitment and cost to vulunteers. 

Second, I’m more selective in what I choose to do. When in ministry I would leap at every chance to get involved and snatch at any new ministry avenue. Now, I’m able to be far more discerning. Again, this has increased my appreciation for those who discerningly choose to get involved.

Truthfully, I suspect I would never have reached this place if I stayed in the bubble of paid ministry...

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

5500 words which have made me more sympathetic to my leaders more

I’m currently doing a education/ancient history double degree, having upped my workload to three subjects this semester. As a consequence I’ve been dreading the number 5500. That’s how many words I’ve had to write across two assignments over the last five days.

Over the last two weeks I haven’t done a single church related activity.
No church services.
Not attending bible study.

My life has felt like nothing but reasearch, stressing, planning and writing for the past fortnight.

I even had to take a day off work.

Over the last fortnight I’ve become the very thing I used to hate - A flakey university student.

I used to hate it whenever my youth group leaders would skip events due to pressing university assignments.

I thought they were just unorganised and flakey.

Now I would be that leader.

And, if I was still in ministry, I would be vastly more sympathetic.

When I did my theology degree, I coasted through.
No worries.
Little stress.
Barely an insignificance.

Now, I’m neck-deep in assignments and have a far greater appreciation for university students.

Maybe every youth minister should undergo a stressful season of assignments and exams in order to know, or remember, what their leaders are going through.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Bringing more than you intend

The disciples were, often, slow in understanding what Jesus was teaching about. This is especially true for the parables Jesus told.

Aside from the genre requiring a discerning ear, the simple stories reveal a deeper meaning surrounding the character of God and His Kingdom.

But when it comes to the teachings of Jesus, we need to be aware of what we bring to the table.

Our theology.
Our experiences.
Our expectations.
Our language.
Our doubts.

All these play a role in the way we interact with the bible, including the parables.

We need to be aware of the baggage we bring to the bible.

These will taint the way we read and how we interact with the words.
These will affect what we take away.
These will colour the level we are willing to obey.
These will raise up questions which the bible may not by seeking to answer.

Our challenge is to try and leave our baggage aside from the biblical text and let it speak for itself, just as the audience who listened to Jesus needed to do.

Friday, September 28, 2018

If you don’t offer this service then you’re clearly saying that you don’t want families to attend your meeting

Childcare.

I could wrap this post up now and my point would be made.

No matter what it is about, if a church doesn’t offer some form of child minding then they are sending the message that those with small children don’t want to be heard.

Why?

Because, the reality is, the majority of families will not attend otherwise.

For a demographic which is so highly desired by churches, to make important decisions without their input is foolishness.

No childcare shows them that they are not valued.
No childcare strips families of their voice.
No childcare alienates them from contributing.
No childcare stops them from feeling truely included.

If you wonder why churches seem to be guided by those in retirement age, it might be because they don’t put in systems for families to effectively be involved.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The awkward preaching of Naked Boy

For years, at my home church, there was a picture of an apparent nude teen going down a waterslide. Unfortunately, this was labelled Naked Boy.

I was Naked Boy.

Years later I worked at my home church; Naked Boy was their youth minister.

By that time, the picture had long since disappeared, so few people knew what Naked Boy was, never mind that it was me.

Nonetheless, some knew.

And I wonder if they remembered Naked Boy whenever I did something at church.

Naked Boy was leading an activity.
Naked Boy was giving a report to church council.
Naked Boy was saying a prayer.
Naked Boy was preaching about Jesus.

This is the danger of leading at your home church.

You have a history.
You have baggage.

While having a history of growing and developing within a place buys you valuable grace and an allowance to make mistakes, it is a double edged sword.

A similar thing exists then it comes to being a witness before you’re family or longtime friends.

You have a history.
You have baggage.

They know more of your dirty secrets.
They saw you as a tantrum-throwing child.
They remember the things you deeply regret.
They have heard the hurtful things you have said.

But, while this baggage can inhibit your witness to a degree, it can also work in your favour.

Those closest to you should be able to see your changed life better than anyone.
Those closest to you can see for themselves, in light of your baggage, that God can use those who are far from perfect.

This was the opportunity before Naked Boy at his home church.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The importance of saying that you’ll go first

Instruct.
Think.
Tell. 
Consider.
Contribute.

Above is the order which enable bible study responses to work most effectively. 

The secret is in the middle of this list. Once you’re given instructions to a group, you should insert the phrase which can ease a lot of anxiousness from the room.

I’ll go first.

If you tell a group, especially if you’re inviting them to create something or share something about themselves, informing them that you’ll go first can relieve a lot of the pressure of going first.

Furthermore, if you then give the group a moment to consider your response before they contribute, then it can help them be comfortable that they’ve accurately answered what you’re asking.

Doing this simple task...
Allows you to share as a member of the group, not just a facilitator, clears up confusion over what you’re asking of them and removes fear that their response will be totally off track.