Thursday, April 18, 2024

Do we wait better or worse than a generation ago?

At the end of any given teaching term there will inevitably be a time when you witness excruciating boredom upon the face of a student. Maybe even a dozen or more students simultaneously.


Because of timed exams.

If a class is told that they will have 50 minutes to complete a written in-class essay, then that is what they will get.

50 minutes.

3000 seconds.

But, of course, not every student will need the entire time allocation.

In fact, you’d hope that most students don’t require every last moment, but instead use their time wisely and productively to produce a good reflection of what you have taught them.

Alas, some will also finish early because they know very little. 

Maybe they aren’t (yet!?!?) capable of producing a quality, structured, written response.

Nonetheless, as the time ticks down and you observe your assignment-taking class, you get to watch as the boredom unfolds.

First for one student.

Than a handful.

Than the majority of the class.

In short, until the end of the allotted time, if they’ve completed the exam then they need to sit and do… nothing.

At all.

And, this is hard.

Especially, if you’re not used to waiting.

Compounded, if you’re not used to being technology free.

But, as I sit there for 50 minutes… doing little more than observing… I wonder, has our waiting got better or worse in the last few decades?

Is a young person’s seeming inability to just…. Wait… point towards their need to always preoccupy themselves?

Have our young people lost the ability to just… sit?

To do… nothing?

Or does it show that, now, we need to be doing… something?

And, is that a good thing?

Of course, there is a balance which needs to be found.

Just because your have a device in your hand doesn’t mean that you’re being productive with it. Playing a mind game or reading the news is far better than doom-scrolling or mindlessly swiping for the next dopamine hit.

But, when I think of all the time as a technology-free-youngster which I had just waiting for a bus - shuffling my feet or staring into the distance aimlessly - maybe my time wasn’t better spent than youngsters today.

At least they have the option to be somewhat productive.

Their waiting time can have some form of purpose.

I had nothing.

Just time…

Just waiting…

No matter, with the seconds ticking down on exams, it’s clear that the ability to do nothing has almost disappeared.

Maybe, we should get rid of public transport timetables and reinstall the fine art of… having to wait and do nothing.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Am I a bigger failure as a teacher or a youth minister?

My last post asked if I was a greater success as a teacher or as a youth minister.

I ended that post by concluding that I’ve had more hits in the classroom than the pulpit.

But, a question which troubles me far more is the title of this post: What am I a bigger failure in, teaching on youth ministry?

Without doubt, at various times, both have left me feeling defeated.

I’ve had, even after only a few years (maybe even because of my inexperience), numerous lessons which have been train wrecks.

I’ve never left the classroom with the place on fire, students writhing in pain or an evacuation drill needing to be declared, but lessons have certainly not been executed as well as I’d hoped.

It’s understandable, in your first time teaching a topic or entire subject, that everything that you try won’t alway be a winner.

The same is true with youth ministry.

I had plenty of days when I’ve been driving home after a Friday or Sunday with a sense of defeat.

In both jobs I’ve felt like an imposter.

In both jobs I’ve felt unorganised.

In both jobs I’ve made administrative mistakes.

In both jobs I’ve clashed with colleagues.

In both jobs I’ve been underprepared.

In both jobs I’ve felt ineffective.

But I’ve got a nagging certainty, when it comes to this question - again - the church is on the losing side.

I failed far more in youth ministry than I, so far, have as a teacher.


Because I failed my own standards.

As I posted way back in 2008, one of the most important elements in effective ministry is longevity.

And I never stayed at a church longer than 4 years as the youth minister.

I didn’t, for a variety of reasons, stick around long enough to have generational impact.

I didn’t see one generation of kids grow into young adults.

Sure, I did see young people mature, but not truely transition beyond a single life stage.

And, in this, I failed.

As a teacher, it’s expected that you’ll cycle through a number of teachers during high school.

In some regards, it can be a positive.

You get different voices.

You get different classroom management techniques.

You get different teaching styles.

You get different personalities.

You get exposed to different passions.

But in ministry, consistency trumps novelty.

Relationships trumps knowledge.

Trust trumps technique.

In this, I failed spectacularly.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Am I a more successful teacher or youth minister?

Teaching and youth ministry have a lot of similarities.

Both involve teenagers.
Both involve explaining things in a way which are, hopefully, both relevant and understandable.
Both have similar cycles throughout the year.

But, there is one major difference.

The education system involves testing.

In the classroom I have a clear avenue to tell if I’m a success.

In short, I can see if the student has passed a test.
Or improved in a skill.
Or has gained in confidence in answering questions.

But, ministry is more mysterious.

Growth can be far more internalised.

A student can be diligently completing spiritual disciplines at home and I may have little idea.
A student can be wrestling with a habitual sin, or a troublesome relationship, and I may not find out.

As a result, when I align myself as a third-year teacher compared to a third-year youth minister, the former feels more successful that the later.

Because I’ve got concrete data to support me.
Because I’m a decade-and-a-half more mature.

Ultimately, I have no real idea what my success rate was with my years of ministry.

But, I suspect that I have more hits in the classroom than the pulpit.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

The importance of finding your patch in a church

Approximately two years ago my wife and I transitioned from the evening service to the morning service at our church.

As a consequence, we ended up finding new seats to sit in.

I know, it’s not the biggest problem in the world, but it is a fresh conundrum nonetheless.

Now, we’ve settled on a patch that we claim as our own. We sit with the rest of the younger-married-maybe-with-a-toddler-in-tow couples.

They are our people.

They are the ones we catch up with midweek.
They are the ones we meet with for lunch after the service.
They are the ones who are our church community.

But, this wouldn’t be the case if we sat in our old position when we worshipped in the evening.

Then we were on the opposite side of the sanctuary.

Now, our church isn’t so gargantuan that the opposite side of the church is an insurmountable obstacle, but if we were new to the church then out geographic location within the church could deeply effect our immediate sense of belonging.

For, if you sit amongst those in your relative life stage, then you’re more likely to feel included and will, obviously, meet more people like yourself.

To an extent, on your first week, it’s potentially nothing dumb luck we’re you sit. Maybe, if you’ve got an alert usher, then a newcomer may be funnelled towards a similar demographic.

But, by your second week - should they darken the church doors again - an intentional effort should be made to connect the newbies both relationally and positionally.

When people find their right patch within a church then a sense of belonging can be turbocharged.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Every-changing contextual concerns

I really don’t care about your first-year-university 1500-word essay due in 10 days.

I just don’t.

I may care about you as a person and fellow believer, but my tolerance for your problems-of-a-twenty-year-old has, frankly, softened.

Now, I care far more about the effect that changing interest rates has had on your mortgage payments.

I care more about your teething, whinging offspring.

I care more about your trouble to conceive.

I care more about your in-laws visiting for a fortnight.

As I get older, the things I care about, pastorally, has shifted.

Now, I care about the things which align with my life stage.

Now, my concerns revolve around workplace relationships and squabbling siblings.

Now, my concerns revolve around unexpected car accidents and appliance breakdowns.

Now, my concerns revolve around aging parents and juggling the demands of a busy extracurricular calendar.

Now, I’m more concerned about rekindling romantic vacations and the stress of an inspection by your supervisor.

Most of all, I’m concerned about your relationship with Jesus.

But, the extent of my concern is contextually framed by my life stage.

I assume, as I get older, I’ll start being increasingly concerned about superannuation, dying parents and children’s future plans.

And, mirroring my concerns about university assignments, first cars and entry-level jobs, the midlife concerns will start to fall by the wayside.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Your feelings about being a theologian don’t change the truth

No Christian can avoid theology. Every Christian is a theologian. Perhaps not a theologian in the technical or professional sense, but a theologian nevertheless. The issue for Christians is not whether we are going to be theologians but whether we are going to be good theologians or bad ones.

Despite what the esteemed Mr Sproul allegedly said/wrote, I didn’t really consider myself a theologian since I left my last ministry position back in 2016.
I, falsely, equated a theologian with teaching.
This year, that has changed.
Now that I’m teaching the senior Studies of Religion subject at my school, I feel like I’m doing theology again.
For example, today I taught on the Christian persecution of the early church in the first three centuries and then the significance of Emperor Constantine’s conversion.
Tomorrow, I’ll teach on the difference between the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant denominations.
This renewed feeling of theological depth is despite the fact that my bible reading has been as regular and consistent over the last two-and-a-half years as it has been over the last two decades.
This is despite the fact that I was regularly in a small group which studied the bible for the last five years.
This is despite the fact that I’ve been leading the ministry to the children, including delivering a talk in the service at the church I’ve been attending with my kids for the past three years.
This is despite the fact that I’ve been maintaining a thrice-weekly devotional on Facebook.
Nonetheless, from 2024 (and hopefully going forward for many years), I now have a reason to, again, delve into my theology textbooks so I can explain the basics of Christianity (which is one of my depth studies) as clearly as I can.
The irony is, even without my new theologically-rich subject, if Mr Sproul is correct, my feelings about being a theologian make no difference to my reality.
I was always a theologian.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

When you work out that you’re an island

Today I was alone.
For much of my Christian life, I’ve also been isolated.

On both occasions, I’ve been surrounded by a lot of people.

Today, I was at a conference with a few hundred people.
But I knew no-one.

I attended a conference about the teaching of a subject where, at my school, I am the sole teacher.

So I attended alone.
And went to my sessions alone.
And ate lunch alone.

But, I’ll return to my school on Monday where I’ll be… solely the only one who teachers my subject and the only one who has ever taught my subject within my faculty.

It all feels a little familiar…

For, the longer I was a member of the oldest (by average age of the congregation) denomination in Australia, I was progressively isolated.

As I entered ministry, I regularly became the top-end of an emerging generation or the bottom-end of a generational abyss.

Within my faith communities, I often felt alone.

Few, if any were my age.
Even fewer were in my life stage.

Over the majority of the last two decades, vocationally, I’ve been an island.

While I could connect with others online (or lurk in places where those like me hung out), there hasn’t been someone in the coal-face whom I can gaze towards and see someone going through the exact same thing.

And, while this brings a necessary autonomy, this also breeds a fair dose of uncertainty.


Because the checks and balances of a colleague in-the-trenches is absent.
The oversight of an older and wiser sage isn’t readily available.

So, while I’ll do my best to pillage the best resources and consider deeply how/why I do what I do, being siloed off will just be something which I’ll have to deal with (at least until circumstances change enough to be within another’s area of influence or things develop enough for another to come and join me in my isolated patch).

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

You only get a small dancing window

Last Sunday, during church, it occurred to me that my dancing window has now closed.

I was reminded of this as a couple of small children twirled around during the service.

Now - with my kids being 12 and 8 - the days of twirling around with my daughters, carefree during the church service, and behind me.

But I miss those shame-free days.

When the girls just liked the music.

When they just wanted to jump about.

This blasé dancing is a gift to the church.

As a parent, you’re able to catch a glimpse of the joy our a Heavenly Father must have when He watches His spiritual children.

As a church, you’re able to see what child-like faith - the kind which Jesus requires - looks like.

But, this time, like a lot of things retrospectively in parenting, was fleeting.

And, for me, the window of dancing has creaked closed.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Quality over quantity comes at a cost

I’m not massively attached to every word I write.

I do write a fair few of them.

I’d like to think that a decent slice of them are, at least, put together in an okay manner.

But, I’m not often pushed against a word or time limit.

I can, usually, ramble on until I’m done.

But, this isn’t the case if you’re submitting an academic response.

And it’s not the case if your sermon must conclude before the following service in the same worship space begins.

When backed against a fairly firm deadline, sometimes words need to be sacrificed.

Yesterday, I looked over an essay which could have used a good pruning.

It was fair in the content, but it always seems had a major way to be improvised.

Cut. One. Third.

The task involved a response to the driving question, but with the caveat that they needed to use two examples. This student had used three.

One should have been jettisoned and the allotted words used to strengthen the other two paragraphs.

But, this would come at a cost.

A cost that you need to delete your work.

A cost that your effort won’t see the light of day.

A cost that your your long diatribe can be improved with e shorter, tighter, response.

In the context of a sermon, this may come at the cost of words which you feel are “inspired.”

You may need to set aside words which you worked hard to craft and weave together.

But, sometimes, pruning is the best thing for your message and your audience.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Teaching losers

Now, to be fair, the vast - VAST - majority of students I teach are wonderful. Truly.

But, I also teach losers.

Despite the instinct to want to see the best in the students before you, while there many not be many, they are unmistakable.

At least to adults.

To fellow teens, they may appear cool.

These are the students who skip school.
They talk back.
The are purposefully defiant.
They antagonise other students.

Again, they are the extreme minority.
In fact, there’s only a handful of true losers who pop into my mind.

But, given enough time - and without a significant change in behaviour and attitude - they will become losers.

For, they won’t earn the marks to get into university.
They will have few options after schooling.
They won’t have developed a work ethic to hold down a quality job.
They will struggle to maintain significant relationships.

And when they are 22 they will look into the mirror and see a loser.
They will wonder how they spent the last 6-8 years.
They will wonder how they wasted their start in adulthood.

I know…
I was a loser.

I wasted my time in my senior years of high school.
I didn’t work hard.
I didn’t study effectively.
I was more interested in the canteen than the classroom.

At one point, I seriously considered redoing my final years of high school again.

Fortunately, after 21, the opportunity to be a mature-aged student at university is a viable option for those with the drive and effort.

For those who lose at school, all is not lost.

You can commit to study.
You can commit to a trade.
You can commit to your profession.

But, for those who waste their (and everyone else’s) time during high school, they are a loser.

They just haven’t fully developed into one yet…

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Transferring skills from the old gig

Being the start of the new school year, and teaching three subjects for the first time - including one completely from scratch, I’ve been quite busy.

One job I’ve unexpectedly picked up this year is that of transition coordinator (the one who oversees the integration of the incoming year seven’s and organising the peer support program which helps the new cohort).

Even though I’m only a week into the new task, there are many things familiar with the job.

Training leaders (who vary wildly in their capabilities).

Setting and enforcing leader expectations.

Juggling timetables and conflicting demands.

Organising small group input.

Communicating with schools.

Entertaining large groups of pre-teens.

All of these I used to do in youth ministry.

Many of them I also did last week during peer support.

The longer I teach, the more I find that my previous profession bleeds into my current job.

Group dynamics.

Pastoral care.

Meaningful banter.

Theological knowledge.

Communication strategies.

All of these, either intentionally or coincidentally, were gleaned during my time in ministry.

Now, in the secular workforce, they are receiving another trundle.

If the direction of expertise went the other direction - secular to ministry - then I’m sure that it would be seen as “tilling the soil for the Lord’s work.”

Why can’t it work in the opposite direction?

Sunday, January 28, 2024

When a book you’re not inspired by can still be useful

I’m a book hoarder.
My wife hates it.
Consequently, I now have three book stashes until we have more space for the collection to be reunited.

Of the hundreds of books I own, I’ve read (probably) just over half.

Of course, a significant portion of these are reference books like commentaries - nonetheless - it shows that I love a book.

If the book is useful beyond looking grand upon my bookcase, all the better.

I write this because I understand the inspiration a book can provide.

But, when you’re a part of a preaching unit this literary inspiration can cause problems.


Because, if you get fired up by a book outline then everyone else needs to, at minimum, skim over the text.

Now, hopefully, this doesn’t ruffle any theological feathers. 

But, what do you do if the spark of inspiration isn’t contagious?
What if someone else outright dislikes the book?
What if they fundamentally disagree with the book?

In the past, I’ve found myself leading a bible study based upon a “theologically progressive” book.

In short, we read a passage each week and then discussed why we didn’t agree.

But, you can’t do that productively from the pulpit.

Everyone in the pulpit should be (pun intended) preaching from the same playbook.

Nonetheless, there is one way a book can help guide your preaching.

Chapter division.
Overarching topics.

These can help you segment a passage of scripture without dictating the direction that a sermon will take.

Sometimes, the most - possibly only - inspiration you should get is from the contents page.

Monday, January 15, 2024

The largest dating gamble in the church

The minister’s kid.

This is the largest dating gamble in the church.


Because, if it goes wrong… 

You’re highly likely to lose the church in the breakup.

If you do stick around then, potentially, you lose one of your primary spiritual supports (your minister) if the breakup is messy.

If it goes well…

Your relationship is under a larger microscope.

There will be expectations on your future together.

This is the risk of dating the pastoral offspring…

Friday, January 12, 2024

The joy and trials of starting something new

The stereotype is that teachers do very little over the school holidays.

This six week break will be anything but lazy for me.

For, this upcoming year, I’ll be teaching something new.

New for me.

New for the school.

Since I’m teaching a brand new subject for my school, this means that there are a lot of things which are not in place.

Subject outlines.

Teaching programs for the semesters.

Assessment timetables.

Assessment tasks.

A subject specific student handbook.

Student handouts.

Currently, the subject folder for my upcoming subject is empty.

So far… I’ve created…

A 76 page student handbook.

Two 40 page teaching programs (basically outlines for the topics with teaching material)

A very colourful subject outline.

Student handouts for the entire first topic.

And I’ve still got a heap more to go over the next two-and-a-half weeks.

But, I’m also loving the task of creating something from scratch.

I’ve got freedom to find resources and choose how I’m going to use them.

I’ve got the freedom to decide what parts of the syllabus I’ll teach.

I’ve got the freedom to begin plotting assessment tasks.

Of course, I assume that I’ll still feel completely out of my depth no matter how much prep I put in during the holidays…

And that my head teacher will have a lot of useful suggestions which will significantly modify my current outlines…

But, this is the joy and toil of something new.

Late nights.

Lots of books.

Thoughts hitting you in the shower.

Ideas popping into your mind before you go to sleep.

Monday, December 25, 2023

You should preach the well-worn path at Christmas

Yesterday I did a short kid’s talk in church about St Nicholas. It was nothing extraordinary, I’d used it in various other settings.

In other years I’ve given a short spiel on the importance of the incarnation referencing one of my pets, explained the significance of the symbols of Christmas - like the candy cane or the Christmas tree, or led a trivia congest in order to show that many of the elements we now have of the nativity scene are not actually in the bible.

These are my four go-to Christmas talks.

Usually, when it comes to Christmas, there are a few well-worn paths your preaching can follow.

The characters of Christmas.
The importance of the incarnation.
The advent themes - hope, joy, peace and love.
Apologetics about the Christmas accounts.
Christmas through the Old Testament.

I’m sure there’s more common Christmas traits to explore, but with a theme that you need to return to annually, eventually the well will seem dry.

Of course, the plain gospel account will always suffice. No tricks. No gimmicks. Just Jesus.

And, on a Christmas service when you’ve got a plethora of non-regular churchgoers, the simpler the sermon - usually - the better it is for everyone involved.

But, once you’ve preached on Christmas for the fortieth year consecutively, surely you may be tempted to want to step away from the well-worn path.

If this is the case… don’t.

Stick to the simple.

While you may be in the planning stage and seeking a new angle, preach what is both expected and only points people to Jesus.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Our leadership demands shape those who are actually able to volunteer

When you become an adult the way you get involved in church has to change.

You work full time.

You may be married.

You may have kids.

You’ve got financial duties.

You’ve only got limited holidays.

As a young adult, these pressures can be far less. 

You can arrive at church by 3pm on a weekday.

You can stay late on a Sunday night.

You can commit to a weekly roster.

You can set aside a week for a mission trip.

Part of the reason that church volunteers, especially within their ministries to children and teens, are primarily young adults and retirees is due to the demands that we place upon our recruits.

These don’t work for many adults.

For, they need to work long into the evening.

They need to be up early on a Monday morning.

They need to juggle family and extended-family responsibilities.

They only have a limited or fixed amount of disposable income or holiday allotment.

In short, life isn’t as flexible.

So, this inhibits what they can be involved in.

Can this be used as a convenient excuse? 


Should it make churches even more appreciative of their adult volunteers?


Most importantly, it shouldn’t come as a surprise - when they consider the demands or restrictions they place upon those who volunteer - the kind of people who are willing or able to step and and actively help out.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Why you need to do the busy work before finishing with the videos

Anyone who has ever been a student will know, as a school semester winds down - especially in the final term - the teaching units usually conclude with a string of videos.

My Ancient China units ends by watching the original Mulan film.

My Water in the World unit concludes by watching Finding Nemo.

But, before we launch into a slew of video lessons to finish the school year, there’s an important task that must be done first.

Busy work.

An important, but non assessable task (since reports are already completed).

A task where the students select from a list of choices and then create something touching on that topic - usually a poster or newspaper.

The reason this task is essential is because it incorporates a vital administrative function.

Every teaching unit has elements which, at minimum, you must touch on.

This final task ensures, through the smorgasbord of choices which you’ll need to describe, that you are honestly able to tick off everything in the unit outline.

For, while everything in a teaching outline is not equal and doesn’t deserve the same amount of focus, an open task at the end of the unit allows you to still include the red-herrings of the teaching units and give the students freedom to pursue the untouched elements if they so desire.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

The loss which comes from now waking up for church

In general, if you’re young and somewhat independent, the likelihood of you attending church in the evening increases.

As the years pass by and you progress through the life stages - especially marriage and having children - your chances of migrating to attending church in the morning rises.

The reasons are sometimes purely logistical.

You don’t want to stay out late on a Sunday night since you’ll have work tomorrow.
Your schedule over the weekend is more available on a Sunday morning.
Your young kids can’t stay out too long after sunset.
Your church only has a children’s ministry for your offspring in the morning.
Due to the point above, there will be others in the same life stage as you in the morning.

But, the transition from the evening service to the morning isn’t always one that is navigated well.

And leaving the later service for the earlier one can come with an associated grief.

You lose connections - both pastoral and friendships.
You lose routine - everything from “your” car spot to “your” seat.

And, while you also gain from the transition in the morning - a wider mix of ministry options, a wider spread of generations, usually an increase in attendance - the losses from the evening are still real.

While I was in ministry, it was usually unspoken - but expected - that inevitably the young adults who were married would migrate to the morning service.

But, often, these losses don’t get acknowledged.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

The necessary productivity of downtime

Creating assessments.

Marking assignments.

Writing reports.

Parent/teacher interviews.

As a teacher, every year has its regular busy periods.

School scripture.

Youth group.

Sunday mornings.

Sermons and talks.

In vocational ministry, there’s a predictable cycle of work.

But, then again, both have their quieter times.

Predictably, these mainly revolve around the school holidays.

But, these down times serve an important purpose.




This last one is essential.

Now that I’ve conquered the report writing mountain for 2023 (with just a lazy 170 reports) I have a few significant tasks to knock off before the term winds down.

And, now is the time to get them done while I have a little more time on my hands.


Because it helps downplay the idea that teachers or those in ministry have a limited work schedule and, before you know it, the limited window of downtime will slam shut and the predictable busyness will kick off.