Thursday, April 27, 2017

What do you do when Her Majesty or the PM walk through the door?

You know who always make the news for appearing at church services during Christmas and Easter?
The British Royal Family and, to a lesser degree, the top politicians in Australia.

How do churches, especially those preaching, react to these "special guests?"

Do they know in advance?
If so, do they proceed as usual?
If not, do they freak out when HRH appears?

Do they slink away from controversial points?
Or, do they hit controversial topics harder due to the influential ears listening?

Do they ramp up the idea of the sovereignty of God?
Do they go out of their way to especially mention the kingship/lordship of Jesus?

Do they avoid readings which deal with leadership or the government, even if they are, by pure coincidence, in the lectionary?

I've never had, from what I remember, a "celebrity" in attendance when I've preached, nor attended at church with a person of significant influence, but I'd hope that everything would proceed as normal.

Unfortunately, I also doubt that I'd be either a) that self controlled, or b) that strong-willed.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Fighting for your Easter foothold?

Although I'm not longer in vocational ministry, my Facebook feed is still full of updates from those in ministry.

As such, I saw a lot of posts about Easter services, particularly during a picturesque sunrise.

But I'm wondering about the problems this annual tradition can cause...

For, a lot of churches want to do a Easter Sunday sunrise service - which they don't necessarily widely advertise the location of - and there's only a finite amount of east-facing lookouts.

What do you do, especially if you're a new church or this dawn-break service is a new initiative, if your location is already occupied?

Worse still, what do you do - having advertised your service - and you're the second congregation which arrives?

Do you politely ask random people to move on?
Do you combine with another congregation?
Does the newer congregation move aside for the more established service?
Do you scope out the spot the year prior?
Do you mark the location as yours like a New-Year's-Eve-fireworks spot, arriving hours previously?

I can imagine the anxiety a minister of a fledgling church would have pre-dawn whenever someone else approached their lookout, wondering if they'll need to fight for their slice of the Easter Sunday turf.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Dressing for the church nightclub?

Now that I've been at university for the last few months, I've noticed two distinct types of students.

Those who dress down and those who dress up.

Some students, and I would fall more comfortably into this category, dress like they've just rolled out of bed.

Other students look like they're about to hit the nightclub, dressed for a smart-casual (or above) social occasion.

A similar thing plays out in church.

Some attend dressed for comfort - shoes optional.
Others attend dressed for the nightclub - makeup compulsory.

I wonder, is one better than the other?
Do you, at the start, begin quite formal and then progressively slide towards casualness?
If so, is this a good thing?

It could be argued that your dress standard moves due to the relationship with God and the people in the church becoming less of a 'special event that you need to dress up for.'

But, again, is this move in a positive direction?

Ultimately, I'm not going to set a ecclesiastical dress code, nor do I think it would do any good for a church to set one...

But, I think the core issue is the heart of a person.

What/Who are they dressing for?
Who's attention are they trying to draw?

Most tellingly, are they willing to change, to an extent, if the way they dress is a stumbling block for someone else?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Church white-guy privilege

For the vast majority of my Christian life I've been an active part of a denomination which has sort to included minorities and the disempowered - women, the indigenous, homosexuals, refugees, the poor, ect...

As such, on more than a handful of occasions, I've heard someone, or a group of people talk, about how they've felt lesser.

Lesser within society.
Lesser within the church.

They've felt victimised.
They've felt rejected.
They've felt worthless.
They've felt unheard.
They've felt second-class.

I've, basically, never felt that.

Both culture and the church tell me that I'm valuable.
Both culture and the church tell me that I belong.

This is my white-guy privilege.

And, as such, I've never come back from conferences gushing about how I heard about the beauty of being made in God's image or being His child.

There are far fewer conferences that cater to my "needs" or "specific theological issues."

No one is marching the streets for my rights.

Why?

Because I'm white, male, middle class and heterosexual.

At times, there should be an eye-opening announcement which remind those of us who don't have the same requirement for empowerment messages, that this only exists because we already possess much of the power.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Is your ministries' spouse your future killer?

Michael Frost has just done a series of blog posts about The death of suburbia and how this trend away from the traditional "American Dream" lifestyle might affect a church institution so attached to the idea of suburbia.

But I wonder how many ministries are married to something which, if not currently, then inevitably, will hobble or kill it?

How many ministries are so deeply invested in their traditions or structures that they won't be able to change, even if society dictates that it should?

How many churches would never shift their leadership structures or church service order no matter how backwards or outdated they might seem?

How many ministries won't embrace technology in order to communicate their message better or reach a wider audience?

How many ministries won't change the structures or activities which "worked in the past" or "got them to come for the first time?"

Inevitably, every denomination, church, ministry and activity has a set of values and identifying markers. 

The hard question is, are these cherished things the anchors which will eventually drag us down because we couldn't let them go once society demands that we have to move in a fresh direction?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A sliding scale of "meh?"

I've been in thousands of church services. Some quite intimate in number, others amongst a crowd of thousands.

I've also lead or preached at hundreds of church services. Some with only a handful of people, others numbering a few hundred in attendance.

No matter what part I've been playing in a church service (or youth group/event), active or passive, I've departed with a variety of feelings.

At times, God has almost felt tangibly present.
At other times, I've left feeling cold and a dismal failure with the Spirit of God either completely absent, unimpressed or outright displeased.

In these feelings I'm not alone.

Everyone I know who's worked for a church as had these bipolar reflections.

But, I wonder, how dependant are they on the setting?

For, it's far easier to walk away uninspired when your church service has a dozen people and far easier to leave walking-on-a-cloud when the room is packed with people.

Is there a sliding scale of feeling "meh" about a church service or activity?

If so, how do these feelings manifest in a mega-church setting? 
Are they ever really possible?
Do you get so swept up in the largeness of what you're doing that you rarely leave cold?
If this is the case, how does this positive mindset affect you when you step into a smaller-sized service?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The things which will fight against bullying In the mind of a parent

On the first day of school my eldest lost her school hat. 
On. The. First. Day. Ugh.

Thus, until we got a new one, my daughter was the kindy kid with a different hat.

And I had an uneasy feeling...
Would she get picked on due to her hat?
Would she pick up a nickname that would haunt her for life?
Would her ability to make friends be compromised due to her headwear?

Previously, I'd never been too worried about my kids getting bullied.

But, after her first day of school, I was concerned.

Would I have similar feelings if my kids went to a new church or joint a youth group?

Ideally, of course not. No community of God's people has the scourge of bullying.

But, my experience says otherwise.

I've seen kids, no matter what age group, be incredibly mean during church activities.

So, would I be concerned, having dropped off one of my kids, in the church carpark?

I suspect so.

But, there's one difference maker that might calm my nerves.

The culture of the leaders.

Are they welcoming?
Are they diverse?
Are they actively on the lookout for cliques?
Are they teaching on things like inclusiveness, acceptance and the importance of the induvidualness God has made within each person?

If I'm comfortable that the leaders are well-aware and well-skilled when it comes to bullying, then my mind will rest a little easier.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Thought transition

Right now I would have been teaching a scripture class...
This Sunday, being Trinity Sunday, I'm sure I'd be preaching...
If I were preaching on this passage I'd be telling this story...
When I did a kids talk on this parable, I'd use this prop...

Now that I've been out of vocational youth ministry for over a year, my mindset is starting to change.

Increasingly, my mind doesn't automatically shift to ministry mode when I step into a church, listen to a sermon or get an overview of my week.

But, it's been a slow process.

Will it continue?
Am I now as distant from the ministry mindset as I'm going to get?

For, while I'm still attached to a few churches, I now don't read hundreds of church, ministry and youth ministry articles per week. But they still pop up on my radar.
While I preach very occasionally, I'm now off the treadmill of the ministry-production-line. But, I'm still open to it.
As you might be able to tell, my frequency of blog posts have reduced. But, my mind still churns out some thoughts on the church and ministry.

I wonder, as I drift towards - hopefully - a job as an ancient history teacher, will my mindset shift towards these areas, and, how noticeable will it be

Monday, February 20, 2017

The first-year know-it-alls

The old saying goes that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing...

Last week I got accepted into my new university course.

This, of course, means that I'm about to become the self-proclaimed most knowledgeable person in the field of Education and Ancient History.

Why?

Because I'll be a first year university student.

And, in a (few) year's time, I'll have done just enough of my subjects to begin to think that I know it all.

But I won't.

Not even close.

But, my knowledge in the field will greatly increase.

Unfortunately, for many first year's, their awareness of their field takes a little longer to develop.

The way my original theology lecturer explained it was like this...

Beginning by drawing a circle on the whiteboard, he explained that this represented all we're originally aware about who God is and the Christian faith. On day one, you might be able to shade in a sliver of the circle representing what you know.

With a little theological study, you'll learn a lot. Compared to what you already know now, you're sliver of knowledge might double.

When this is held up against your original awareness of God, you might fall into the trap of thinking that you now know a lot.

But, with time, you should not only expand your knowledge of God, but you're awareness of all that theology encompasses.

Over time, you should come to the realisation that, in fact, you're awareness has far outpaced your knowledge. And, with that, so has your respect and wonder of what you're studying.

Monday, February 13, 2017

For... With... Together

I'm going to pray for us...
I'm want to invite you to pray with me...
Let's pray together...

The above sentences all result in the same thing. The person up the front prays aloud.

But, the above sentences are not the same for those listening.

The first tells you to passively watch.
The second tells you to actively listen.
The third invites you to be involved.

Now, in certain occasions and audiences, the first or second options will be a better fit.

If you're uncertain about the religious beliefs of those in attendance then you shouldn't force them to prayer...
But, in a church setting, you should always lean towards the latter option.

Anyone up the front of a church service should actively fight against being a mere talking head.

The trouble is, especially when dealing with youngsters, we only use the first prompting to initiate prayer, giving a poor example to follow.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Would I be a good target?

Today, while waiting to get my haircut, I saw a gaggle(?) of Mormons and wondered what I'd do if they knocked on my door.

Depending on the inflation of my spiritual ego, oscillating from... Feeling underwhelmed in my faith... To being prepared to joust theologically... To being ready to gate crash the beliefs of the poor soul daring to knock upon my door., I'd be happy to open the door and converse.

But, I wonder, if I engaged with a door-step missionary, could they say anything to reel me in?
Could they say anything to make me question my faith?
Could they say anything to make me legitimately engage, never mind believe, the Book of Mormon?
Could they say anything that would make me try out a Mormon church service?

For that matter, would the same be true for a Jehovah's Witnesses? Or Buddhist? Or Hindu Or Muslim? Or Jew? Or Scientologist?

Would some faiths stand a better chance with me?
Would they be the ones which are closer to fundamental Christianity or drastically different?

I ponder all these things and wonder how they apply to Christian evangelism?

Are people of established faith, similar or quite different, more or less likely to positively converse, never mind, convert?

At the core, am I a prime target for the suited flock of Mormons, or would I quickly be disengaged from?

And, personally, how far would I be willing to drift from traditional Christianity if I explored another belief system?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Waiting in the narrative

Noah took years to build the boat...
Abraham and Sarah lived decades with infertility...
Jacob toiled years for Laban...
Decades passed while Joseph worked his way up Potiphar's domestic food-chain and got stuck in prison...
Moses lived in the wilderness before seeing the burning bush...
Joshua journeyed to the Promised Land...
David watched over the sheep...

Plenty of people in the bible had to work and wait.

One of the beautiful things about the narratives in the bible is that you get to see the whole story play out. What might only take you a few verses to read may describe decades in chronological time.

Do you ever wonder what happens in those moments, days, months, years or decades?
Do you ever wonder what the people did during those times?
Do you wonder what they thought while they worked and waited?

Do you ever think that you may be in one of those working or waiting times?

Inevitably, life is made up of in-between times; when life is in a segment of non-noteworthy-narrative.

We might just need to keep that in mind when we feel that we are floating in times of working and waiting...


Monday, January 23, 2017

"Second Chances" starring Graham

A few weeks back I watched the Star Trek episode "Second Chances" and, not for the first time, wondered if I would like me...

Would I like me if I were my boss?
Would I like me as a workmate?
Would I like me as a member of my church?
Would I like me as a leader in my church?
Would I like me socially?

In short, I'm not exactly sure.

I'm not sure because I both put on a pretty good masquerade, but I'm also intimately aware of my many shortcomings.

Now, as you might be able to tell from the sentence above, this isn't exactly fair since I have a perspective within myself that no one else has.

But, I think the thought exercise is an important one.

Because, what if you wouldn't like you?

How would you view yourself?
What would you notice first?
What would annoy you?
Would you be threatened by yourself?
What should you change?

On a more positive slant, what value would you add?
Would you recognise it?
Would you allow it to be exercised?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Pushing beyond FU

In ministry church life you'll hit multiple moments when you'll have an interaction with someone where one of you'll want to tell the other to "go f#*k yourself."

When this happens you have the option to leave it there. You can allow the hostility to endure and infect every activity you have with that person forever.

Or... You can push through "go f#*k yourself."

Depending which side of the conversation you're on, you can choose to lay the brunt of your feelings aside or you could face up to the hostile party and see if you can move forward.

Either way, you have the choice to sit with the hostility or try to push beyond.

Most often, the only way to reconciliation or healing requires that you dare to push through "go f#*k yourself."

Of course, just like Louis Theroux does in My Scientology Movie, when confronted with the immortal phrase "go f#*k yourself" retorts "I'll consider myself f#*ked."

But, while funny, this doesn't help restore the relationship...

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Prayers of the people hacks

One of the most important parts of the church service is the 'prayers of the people.' If you're unfamiliar, these prayers are said by members of the congregation.

Ideally, the prayers are also composed by the one saying the prayer.

I say ideally, because this isn't always the case.

In some cases, the minister composes the prayers and the person just recites it.

I think this is a massive cop out.

First, it usually sounds completely false, or at least heavily manufactured, in the mouth of another.
Second, it undermines the confidence of the congregation in using and sharing their own spiritual gifts.
Third, it makes the prayers sound way more intimidating than they may be otherwise.

As a result, when faced with someone who might be hesitant to do the prayers, here's the hacks that might ease their fears.

To start, the biggest secret is to watch the news before coming to church. It would suck to omit a massive world event because you didn't turn on the tv.

Furthermore, you should scan the church newsletter and keep an attentive ear on the church notices in order to add anything relative, such as big events or people who are sick.

While you're actively listening to elements of the service, it could be handy to look for connections which you could use in the bible readings or sermon.

As a general rule, the structure of the prayer glows through concentric circles. World. Country. Local. Church.

If you stick to these locations, touching on issues in all four, then you'll should be on a winner.

Additionally, the end of the prayer is usually the communal reciting of the Lord's Prayer, so the pressure is off for the conclusion.

Most of all, the person invited to pray should be given permission to pray for what they believe God wants them to pray. 
This is the empowerment of the invitation.
This is the example you want the congregation to see.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

How should you say that the church office is closed?

Right now a lot of church offices will be, and have been since Christmas day, closed.

This is understandable. People like holidays. Especially ministers directly after Christmas.

But, I wonder about the importance of this closure being communicated to the congregation and wider community.

Usually, a message similar to "The church office will be closed from Christmas Eve. If you leave a message then they will not be promptly returned, if at all. We will reopen on xyz."

But, I think this can be vastly improved.

At minimum, you should say that someone will be checking the messages every other day and that someone will be in touch promptly. To say that no one will return calls or enquiries is unacceptable.

Further, you should say that there will be a recorded message which will say the times of the services, especially on Christmas eve/day and over New Year's since your church isn't shutting down and people, locals or those on holidays, might want to know when you're services are on.

For those within the congregation, there should be a clearly defined method of receiving pastoral care with the point person's telephone number easily findable. Just because it's summer, doesn't mean that people don't get sick or die.

The way the office sabbatical is communicated matters is because you desperately want to avoid the message that your church is completely closed or, if someone does get in touch, that they would be calling a vacuum.

It would be a dire message to send to your congregation and those outside the church that for a two week period (if not the majority of January) that the mission of the church ceases or that you stop caring about people.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Best of...

With this being my first year out of vocational ministry in over a decade, it shouldn't be a great surprise that the amount of posts on a blog focussing on ministry - especially to youth - have somewhat decreased.

But, from what I did write, my most viewed post was Fun will never win, followed by The Leader's Cringe Poker Face.

Here are the other highlights...


Expanding to Two (my most exciting post for the year)










The Ministry of Silence (something that anyone who used to inhabit the inner sanctum of a church knows that they need to exercise)












Sunday, December 25, 2016

Do we up the show for the special services?

Weddings.
Funerals.
Baptisms.
Easter.
Christmas.

All these church services have something in common - an increase in "outsiders" and an increase in effort and execution.

Last night I lead the Christmas Eve family service at my church and there was a good chance that there would be a significant number of guests.

The opportunity got me thinking of these extraordinary services which periodically spring up for those in ministry.

Are they viewed, judged, valued and prepared for differently to the regular services? And, should they be?

Do we value the attendance and opportunity higher for one of these special services?
Do we think those attending would be more or less judgemental or critical?

Are these questions a sign of the dedication those in ministry have to reaching those outside the church or are they signs that they take their usual congregants for granted?

I'd like to say that anyone up the front of a church will place the same value in any ministry, no matter who attends - purely regulars or guest - but I feel that our actions might show that it's the activity which draws in the new faces.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Why you need those who have walked the imperfect path

Perfect leaders don't exist in any church.
They don't exist in any youth ministries.
But we can pretend that there are.

In fact, perfect people don't exist within any area of the church.
Or outside the church either.

If a church or ministry wants to authentically connect with imperfect people, then an incredible resource is imperfect leaders.

So, why do we all-to-quickly reject those with "a past"?

Who?
Those who are divorced.
Single mothers.
Those who lived the "prodigal lifestyle."
Former alcoholics or drug users.
Those who've experienced homelessness.

There's many more examples which could be named. 

But, my point is that those with an imperfect past can be powerful tools for the advancement of the gospel.

Why?
Because they can connect with those who are doing it tough.
They can genuinely listen with a degree of understanding.
They can speak into difficult issues with authenticity.

I think that young people can use adults, of any age, who can say the following - 
I've gone through something similar...
I remember how that felt...
You can talk with me...
Let me tell you what I did...
I wish someone had given me the following advice...

These phrases have a far deeper impact when said by imperfect leaders.

Better yet, young people have the opportunity to hear - 
God still loves me...
God still accepts me...
God never rejected me...
God still uses me...

In these statement there is both hope presented for the present and the future.

And, these are things which are not only desperately needed today and absent when spoken by those who pretend they aren't imperfect.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Is it good to see the church sausage being made?

Law and sausage are two things you do not want to see being made. No one should see how laws or sausages are made. To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making. The making of laws like the making of sausages, is not a pretty sight.
Otto von Bismarck 

I wonder if church services are like the law.

You want them to be effective.
You want them to be run well.
You want them to be agents of positive change.

But, do you want to really peek behind the curtain?
Do you want to become aware of what's happening behind-the-scenes?

AND, importantly, would it be a positive thing if you saw the church service sausage being created?

Being neck-deep in planning, crafting, executing and reflecting on church services, I've seen both the positive and negative of the processes.

And I've seen people both energised and crushed by the process.

Because it can seem disorganised.
It can seem uninspired.
It can seem boring.
It can be argumentative.

But it can also be amazing to see God work in, through, and even despite of, the planning.
It can be empowering to plot things into the future.

I think those on the fringe of the institution - the young, new believers, fresh believers who have just committed to the church - can both bring powerful ideas to table and be inspiring to witness the religious sausage being made.

I just hope those who are willing to roll up their sleeves get to sit at the table with master sausage-makers.