Thursday, November 5, 2015

A little less conversation

I'll admit, I'm a bad blogger.

Those who "know" how to successfully blog say that everything should be about the readers.

Personally, this has never really been the case.

I've always blogged for myself.
I blog about the things bouncing around my head.
I documented things which I knew I'd want to revisit.

You, dear reader, have just been looking over my shoulder.

Well, now I need to take a break.

So, for the rest of the year, I'm going on a blog hiatus.
In fact, I'm going on a complete ministry fast.

Over the next few months I've been given the opportunity for time and space... 

But, I'll be back.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The new numbers that matter

I didn't grow up in the church.

Like many teens who gravitated to a youth group, I followed a girl (who I didn’t end up getting!) and, over time, the message of Jesus became more important than the unrequited love.

Nonetheless, over the years it took for me to find my faith, there were some people who especially invested in my spiritual development. Some of these people were “on staff,” most weren’t.
Do you have similar people in your past?
Can you think of those who, especially, took the time and made the effort to engage with you and nurture your faith?

Classically, the golden ratio in ministry with young people is around 1:5 – one adult for every five kids.

But, progressively (from places like the Fuller Youth Institute), it’s being realised that the effective ratio in growing and, importantly, retaining young people within a church is 5:1 – five adults for every one youngster.

For children and teens need to feel that there’s a group of people caring and investing in them and their faith development, not just a select few.

Historically, it’s the smaller, heavily volunteer driven, churches who've been doing this effectively across the generations, not the flashy mega-churches.

It’s the churches which develop a culture of making space for the children, engaging with them in conversation, and supporting them as they explore who Jesus is, where the kids’ faith – long-term – is healthier.
The challenge for churches is to find ways, and develop an intentional culture, where adults can naturally find avenues to show young people that there's an entire village concerned about them.
For, the new number in effective long-term youth ministry seems to be as intricately linked with adults as it is to youth. If you don't have the tribe of adults - the five, then it's far less likely that you retain your youngsters - the one.
The person who said that it takes a village to raise a child may have been on to something far deeper than they're aware…

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Going beyond the Jesus example

Traditionally, in church, the answer is always Jesus.
Or the bible.

If one of these is not the correct answer then you've misheard the question or the person posing the query is greatly confused...

But, having Jesus as your sole example in a sermon may not be as helpful as we assume.


Because Jesus was faultiness and those listening have never personally seen Him nor are able to follow him around for a few hours.

Don't get me wrong, Jesus is a phenomenal God-man. Perfect even. I'm not bagging out Jesus in any way...

But, when giving an example of holiness, sacrifice, integrity, holy discontent, compassion, ect... if the ONLY example we present others is Jesus then, at times, the example might feel out of reach.

Because, let's face it, who can measure up to Jesus?

I know I can't.

And, if He's the only example you give me to emulate, then a part of me wonders why I should bother... (I'm fully prepared to admit that this is only me, but I suspect it's not)

A better plan would be, in addition to using Jesus, pointing to someone known personally by the congregation.

I feel, if they're able to associate your point with someone they're familiar with - having had a conversation with them, knowing their life-journey personally and being able to observe your point lived out - then the goal or holiness, sacrifice, integrity, whatever... seems far more attainable to those in the pews.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The desire & burden of ministry?

Last weekend I preached my second consecutive sermon in our current series on the book of Ecclesiastes. As I was doing prep I stumbled over this line (talking about Ecclesiastes 3:10-11)...

We have the desire of eternity in our hearts, and the weight of eternity upon our shoulders.

In short, it says that we, as humans, are acutely aware of our mortality, and yet have an internal longing for something eternal. With this being the case, while we might strive to attain and achieve things which will last with the work of our hands, everything we reach for to satisfy this yearning ultimately falls short and leaves us feeling empty.

As I've sat with this idea, I've begun to sense a similar thing with ministry.

We can have the desire for ministry in our hearts, and the weight of ministry upon our shoulders.

For, we can have a near unquenchable and undeniable desire to serve God and grow the Kingdom of God, yet, have upon our shoulders a (Real or imaginary) workload that's never ultimately satisfied and can leave us feeling worn down.

Now, I don't want to come off like a bemoaning martyr and that ministry is a "Godly burden."

But I wonder how many people truly feel this way about ministry...

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Did Jesus eat bacon?

Some issues are core to salvation.
Some are open-handed, whilst others are close-fisted.

Last week I was asked a very, VERY, important question by a student in one of my scripture classes.

He asked, "Did Jesus eat bacon?"

I knew, as a good Jew, the response was probably negative.

And, in truth, it pained me to give the answer.

Because... Bacon is awesome.
Everyone knows that.
I know that.
You know that.
The kids in my scripture class know that.

But, then it occurred to me, God knows that.
He made pigs.
He made bacon.
He made tastebuds.

So, while the succulent-ness that is bacon may not have ever passed the lips of Jesus, I think He knows how delicious it is.

At least, that's what I told the class.

Somehow, anything else, seemed like an effective way to seriously jeopardise a youngsters salvation...

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Do we let the worst chapter close the book?

As I mentioned as the seventeenth random thing about me, since I worked for the same place where I started going to church, I still have the sign in sheet from my first ever week at youth group.

My first week, I assume, was uneventful.
I didn't light a fire...
I didn't turn up drunk...
I didn't get into a fight...
I didn't swear at any of the leaders...
I didn't even openly heckle the "Jesus" thing they were going on about.

As a teen, I was a relatively unobtrusive kid.

But, this isn't always the case.

For some, they push the boundaries on the first week...
Or the first month...
Or once they turn 15...
Or when they start hanging with that "new crowd."

I know, for some, their faith journey starts pretty rough...
Or involves a pretty rocky chapter...
Or a few.

The longer that you're at a church, the more chapters in life you have the privilege to witness play out.

But I wonder, do we give up on some kids because they have a tough start?
Do we miss the redemptive story because we're not willing to stick out the rebellious spurts?
Do we rob ourselves, and potentially the young person, of the beautiful (and sometimes hilarious) story that unfolds and is joyously told years into the future?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

How big is your Jesus?

No question is too hard.
No topic is too taboo.
No situation is too painful.
No sin is too great.
No past is too dark.
No person is too lost.
No mistake is THAT big.

The problem for the church is that the opposite of the above messages are alive and well in people's minds.

Questions are off limits...
Some topics are out-of-bounds...
Past pains are to be suppressed...
Sins are an unforgivable source of shame...
You must be perfect to be accepted...
THAT mistake makes you unworthy to be included...

Is this the Jesus you follow?
Is this the Jesus you present to others?
Is this the Jesus you preach?

Is the Jesus you speak about big enough to handle anything?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Why "Please join me" is the magical command

When someone prompts those in a congregation to do something, a vastly more effective way is to invite, not ask, and over the last few weeks I've seen two different people utilise the secret sauce of worship leading.

They uttered the phrase "Please join me..."

As an instruction, this phrase does everything right.

First, it tells people what you want them to to.

Second, it reassures them that they won't be the only person doing it.

Finally, and most importantly, if the worship leader says that they will be vulnerable and do the activity first it removes the moment of anxiousness of needing to be the trendsetter.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Why you should have a farewell activity before everything changes

Last night the year 6's joint the youth group for the first time.

In order to a) feed them, and b) make them feel special, I provide pizza between the after-school children's and teenage activities.

But, in a similar vein, I also made sure that the youth group did something extra fun before the new batch of younger kids arrived.


Because, as I ramp up the "privileges" for the youngsters, I don't want the older kids to completely miss out.

Furthermore, it gives the established group another week to "just be them" before they're "invaded" by the swarm of Tweens.

Additionally, if the younger batch of kids hear about the activity the previous week, then it can show them that the youth group is not just the children's ministry, but later, but generate excitement for the types of events which could be in their future.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The 5 responses to a question

Following on from yesterday's post about small group questions.

Here's the advice I'll be giving my leaders about responding to questions posed to them in a small group.

Why do you ask?

This is critical, for, behind every question is a story and your response will be vastly different if the query is purely intellectual (I saw something on TV or heard something at school) or deeply personal (my cat died, my mum just had a miscarriage, I've just been diagnosed with cancer). Questions can be significant pastoral concerns.

I don't know, let's find out together...

The first part of this answer is vital if you actually don't know. Honestly helps far more than grasping at straws. And, if you think the question should be dealt with immediately, you're then able to bring in outside help to assist you.

I'm not 100% sure, but this is how I live with it...

Sometimes, there are no answers, just tensions which need to be managed. This response allows the leader to explain some of the processes they themselves have gone through in wrestling with the question.

What do you think?

Give the student a chance to unpack what they already think about the topic, this alone might help guide them towards to answer.

Here's my answer...

Some questions can, and should, just be answered on the spot. For I firmly believe that following Jesus makes sense, thus, if appropriate, I'll provide them the best answer I can (like I've tried to do with the apologetics topic on the blog).

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Freeing the small group questions

This week at youth group I'm going to free my leaders and teens from the tyrant of structured small group questions.

Now, that being said, I'm still going to send my amazing leaders the regular sheet of small group questions which tie into the topic I'll be speaking about, but now there'll be an additional question at the start.

For, I acknowledge (especially if you're leading senior highs), the questions can seem a tad "simple" or heading in a direction which the teens may not want, or need, to go.

Hopefully, this isn't happening regularly, but I'll admit that, at times, it'll be inevitable.

So now the opening question will be this... 
"What was the question you thought of at the end of the talk?"

For, now, at the conclusion of my talk, I'll challenge the teens to think of a question surrounding the topic.

The reason I'll do this is threefold.

First, it'll open discussion to clarify anything which I didn't make clear.

Second, it'll allow an opportunity for those who disagree with what I said to speak up.

And third, it will, importantly, put the direction of the small group, at least somewhat, in the hands of the participants and, hopefully, see the discussion become more applicable to what they are thinking and facing.

So, with this potentially dangerous opening question, what will I say are the four best responses to the questions they'll face?

I'll tell you tomorrow...

Monday, October 12, 2015

Session success formula

Over the last week I sat in six electives, two professional development forums and three main sessions (I did wisely blow off one night) at the conference I attended.

But, as I weighed up which sessions I'd attend, and the criteria I use in determining the difference between input which is "meh" and time well spent, I came up with the following...

Prior Platform: If a speaker has a presence that I'm aware of, like a blog, then I'll be more inclined to attend their session. 

Credibility: I'll be more likely to attend your session of you have a proven track record of applying, in numerous settings, what you're telling me.

Promotion: If the author has recently released a book which I have read then I'll be cautious. Nothing is more disappointing than spending an hour-or-so hearing the exact same input from someone which I've just read.

Contextualisation: I'll be far more likely to rave about your session, particularly if you're North American, if you make the effort to translate it to an Australian setting. 

Familiarisation: Do they know their stuff well enough that they don't need to be tethered to their notes and are capable in engaging helpfully with questions and pushback?

Expertise: Do I get to the end of the session, even if it wasn't completely revolutionary input, with a feeling that I couldn't have presented the session myself?

Biblical: Do I see, from the scriptures, where they get their stuff from and, importantly, how they arrived at that point?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The aim of the conference...

Right now I'm at the National Youth Ministry Convention and today I was reminded of the aim of any conference.

The purpose of any conference is not to get a dump-load of information. For, in truth, most people in ministry don't need new info. We read enough articles and we own enough books.

If anything, we know way more than we really need. 

Instead, the success of any conference is the information, no matter how "fresh," "innovative" or "ground-breaking" it is that you're able - and actually do - apply to your ministry.

This is when a conference becomes worth the money invested...

Monday, October 5, 2015

Do we keep parents by the side of the pool?

I'm fairly certain that every father, attached to the child's mother or otherwise, must take their progeny to swimming lessons. I know because I'm one of the horde of men who need to usher their child to the weekly pilgrimage.

And my little girl is advancing, albeit slowly, through the swimming school ranks. 

At first, when they are too young uncoordinated to do... anything vaguely connected with swimming... the parents need to actively get in the pool with their youngsters and splash about.

But, now, I get to sit by the side of the pool and watch the "professional" teach my daughter.

In fact, not only do I no longer need to get wet on a Saturday morning, but I couldn't get involved even if I wanted to.

Which got me thinking about the church... 
Do we set up the same system as my daughter's swimming school?

Do we detach parents, even accidentally, from the spiritual formation of their child once they hit the age when the "professionals" step in and take over?

Are churches set up so that parents no longer need to get "spiritually damp" on a Sunday morning?

As I listen to youth ministry musings, lots of people see the benefit in engaging the family unit, but I wonder if, over the years, we've trained parents to remain poolside and, for a whole generation, the tide will be near irreversible because they've remained disconnected for so long...

Friday, October 2, 2015

Everyone doesn't score an invite... In fact, few would

I haven't got a significant birthday coming up anytime soon and I'm, hopefully, not getting married again.

Thus, I don't have any events on the horizon where I'll need to invite a lot of people I know.

For this, I'm truely thankful.

For I haven't needed to send a wide-ranging invitation to an event of mine since 2006.

Thus, I haven't needed to decide who would make the cut for my special occasions...

The last time my wife and I did it, for our wedding, it was torturous. On that occasion, it was a division surrounding those who were over 18 and those who were still minors.

But now, nearly a decade on, having sojourned to my fourth church and with the "assistance" of social media, I now have 448 "friends" on Facebook.

So, where would I draw the line now?

Who would get a gig to my 40th in 2022?
If I got married again, who would score an invite?

In part, it comes down to the nature of the relationships I have with the various spheres in my life... Family, high school mates, people I've studied with, workmates, those from my current, previous and home churches.

In reality, a lot of folks simply wouldn't make the cut.

Some people, by choice, I've cut contact with...
Others, by circumstance, I've lost contact with...

Because, as you get older, you work out the people you actually WANT to be friends with and are prepared to put in the effort to stay connected with. 

The reality is, this doesn't include everyone.

But a lot of people, while connected to them via church or youth group, were left behind once I moved to a new ministry placement...

For, the longer you're in ministry, you work out the people you actually WANT to be friends with and are prepared to put in the effort to stay connected with. 

Again, the reality is, this doesn't include everyone.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The code of "pushback"

Inevitably, in a world full of ideas, meetings and political correctness, you'll hear someone "pushback."

Whenever someone throws an idea into the ether, another will pop up their hand and ask if they can offer "pushback."

But, is "pushback" just PC for I-think-your-idea-sucks or I-actually-think-your-a-bit-of-dick?

I would like to say that this isn't the case, but when the sugar-coating is removed, is this all that you're left with?

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The four options of advice

I just read a really good article about advice on which you can read here.

In part, it noted that there are four primary types of advice... (If the options are A, B or C)

1 - What they should do (Do A).
2 - What they shouldn't do (Don't do B. Anything, but B).
3 - Giving the person more information (Here's everything significant that I could find about A, B and C).
4 - Pointing the person towards someone wiser (I'm not the best person you can talk to, have a chat with x). Opposed to what I wrote earlier, this can be the starting point for advice, even if it shouldn't be the ending.

I find that when people ask for advice, most often, they're actually seeking clarity of thought, not nessesarily an answer regurgitated at them. In fact, there are many occasions when the decision of what to do has already been made in their mind.

What they really want is the later two options, either additional information or someone to run them through a system of checks to confirm that they're going to be heading in the wisest direction.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Treadmill stoppers

Right now I'm on holidays and life is... Relaxed boring.

But, in truth, I needed a break. Last term, by the end, was pretty draining and the rest of the year holds some significant changes and challenges.

But, I needed to be talked into taking, what upon reflection, will be an adequate amount of time off.

For life, especially in ministry, can feel like a continuous treadmill of events, activities, meetings, admin, church services and preparation.

And, there needs to be people who can tell you to jump off the treadmill and stop.

People who you trust...
People who care for you...
People who care about what you're doing...
People who you'll actually listen to.

For, once you've been stuck on the treadmill too long, you can get ground down.

And, it's at these times when your treadmill-stopper needs to step in and remind you that hitting the off switch is ok.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Gnosticism and sexting

I wrote about Gnosticism and how it can be seen in modern times here.

But the other day I stumbled over this article about sexting, and while I might not leap as far as the author does, it makes a connection I didn't identify earlier.

In short, sexting is another modern extension once you stumble into the quagmire of Gnostic thought.


Because they both see a false separation from the physical.

In historical Gnostic thought, the division is between the spiritual from the corporeal.

Nowadays, far too many people fool themselves into thinking that there's a false division between the digital and the physical.

This is most evident when it comes to social media and sexting. You don't need to look far to find examples of people spewing bemoan which they would never dare do in person. Furthermore, far too many young people, predominatly female, send pictures digitally which they don't envisage could have a very connection to their physical life.

And, if these posts or pictures are dug up, ill-used or "hacked," then their very "real" consequences can see the light of day.

And here an old heresy can claim another victim.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


The poor.
The needy.
The homeless.
The abandoned.
The depressed.
The losers.
The hurting.
The outsider.
The refugee.
The widow.

These are the people, especially, whom the church exists for and, frankly, the people whom give the church its greatest opportunity to make a massive difference and show that the gospel can change lives.

It's a tragedy when those with the church don't see the human need which crosses their path.

And, if meeting the needs of those-whom-the-church-is-for causes discomfort or inconvenience, then that's more than ok and, I believe, is a cost that Jesus would want us to pay.