Thursday, December 18, 2014

Two consequences because words matter

Words matter. Is it ironic then, when I first posted this, that the title had a typo?

The words we use matter.
The words others use matter.

One of the most probing questions you can ask is "Why did you use THAT particular word?"

Often, they give subtle indications into what we truly think and feel.

In short, this has two important consequences for those in ministry.

1 - Be cautions and deliberate with the words you use. Speak carefully.

2 - Pay attention to the words the people you're speaking to use. Listen closely.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The core of being a minister

I still think I gave a kick-a$$ answer here, back in 2008, to my understanding of the role of a minister.

Now, when asked to whittle down my job, I give two responses - Care and Protect.

God grants me the privilege to care for and, when need be, protect those He has placed in the church I minister within.

Reflecting a pastoral shepherd (like that described in John 10 & 1 Peter 5 and preached at my very first induction service), I am able to stand with, and share life with, those placed in my care. I get to watch out for and help guide people who want to follow Christ.

This, at the core, is both the challenge and the blessing of my job...

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Why you shouldn't program what you're studying

Tomorrow I'll get to wear a black robe, a funny hat and graduate with a Bachelor of Theology.

In theory, for a while, it will be the end of my studies (aside from some more Greek I'll be doing next year) and, in partnership with a question I was asked during a congregational meeting, the process has reminded me about programing.

When I was asked about the curriculum we use in our youth/children's ministry, I mentioned that I've already planned a rough outline for the cycle of the children's and youth ministry (thus I could look up and tell them an outline of what we'll probably do at the start of 2017).

One advantage I have, now that I've been in ministry long enough, is that I have a vast bank of lessons and programs to go back to.

AND, I'll never fall for the programing trap which ensnares a lot of ministers...
Using your current topic of study in the current program.

By this I mean, say you're studying 1 & 2 Samuel in your theological studies, then, simultaneously, you'll also study the same thing at youth group bible study or the church preaching plan.

On face value, it seems like a decent idea.

First, you get to share with those you minister to what you're learning.
And second, you get to cut down in preparation time, since you're going to be delving into the topic anyway.

But, there's a significant danger...

First, until you've finished the topic, you might be shooting in the dark when initially planning the series since you're unfamiliar with the way your topic hangs together. In short, you're without a fully developed big picture.
Second, the reduction of preparation could blow up in your face if you need to cram a confusing week of lectures into a somewhat coherent talk.
And third, you're not far enough ahead of your people in order to adequately address unforseen questions.

So, while it might seem like a wise idea to "preach from the overflow of your studies" the risks aren't worth it.

Give it another semester, it can only help...

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Training attitudes

Each year I go to a number of training events and conferences with the standard I use to weigh up their success, usually, being the number of blog posts generated.

But if I'm honest, when I go to many training events, my attitude isn't completely positive and my expectation isn't one brimming with receptivity.

But, having been to two all-day training event this week, I have a renewed marker for conference/training success.

Is my attitude better going out than it was going in?

Because, even if my thinking going into a conference is less than stellar, if the few hours of input has changed my attitude, then the event has done something right...

Monday, December 8, 2014

The inside line of ministry

He's going to ask her out...
She's going to break up with him...
Someone's thinking of leaving the church...
A staff member's going to resign...
Money has gone missing...
An abuse scandal's about it hit...

When you work for a church, sometimes - due to your position, you get the inside line for information, getting advanced warning of an impending problem.

And then a weird chain-of-events takes place...

You're made aware of a problem...
You begin to mentally process the potential fallout...

Then, eventually, you witness the problem drop...
And then you see everyone else go through a similar process to the one you've wrestled with, and potentially resolved, earlier.

The benefit of the inside line is that, in order to support others effectively, the event is not as raw or out-of-the-blue.
And, you have the opportunity to secure resources as you process your own thoughts and feelings.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Choosing to forget generosity

Matthew 6:3-4 - But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

In ministry there's a wonderful thing which you sometimes get to be a part of...
It's nowhere specifically on a job description, but it's a great perk of the job...

Helping people.

No matter if it's helping someone pay bills...
or put food on their table...
or get a job...
or store furniture...
or have time for their struggling spouse...
or a thousand other opportunities church communities can come together to make a difference in the life of another...

Sometimes, this involves a dash of sneakiness.

And at these times you need a dose of "giving amnesia."

You need to, purposely, forget those whom you know have contributed to help others.
Choose to never disclose whom gave you that money filled envelope to "quietly pass on."
Decide to clear your memory of those whom blessed another.

In this way, you get the privilege to quietly see God at work, being one of the few whom sees both the generous right hand and the receptive left hand.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

All moments aren't the same

4 Sunday morning services, preaching and leading...
25 Sunday evening sermons...
45 Sundays leading the evening service...
38 weeks of youth group...
1 Lock in...
38 weeks of Friday afternoon children's activities...
40 weeks of Sunday morning children's activities...
1 annual kid's morning service...
3 Easter services...
1 Christmas Day service...
1 Christmas Eve Family service...
2 Leader's weekends...
140 primary aged school scripture lessons..
30 high school lunchtime groups...
50 high school scripture lessons...
Guest speaking at a regional event...
Speaking at one camp...

My job is full of events and speaking gigs; these are the ones which came off the top of my head.
And every one, of course, isn't identical.

Many are routine.
Others are special.
Some are extra significant.

Whenever I'm speaking about sex or relationships.
Whenever I'm speaking about suffering and sharing about the tough times in my life - like when my Dad died and we had two miscarriages in the space of a year.
Whenever I'm presenting the gospel and asking for a specific response.
Whenever I give the one, and currently only, talk which starts with me singing.
Whenever it's the first or last regular event of the year.
Whenever you're presenting at a special occasion.
Whenever the church is full of visitors, like Christmas and Easter.

On these weightier moments the stress is higher.
You feel the nerves increase.
You do extra prep.
You arrive extra early.

But, you're also even more satisfied, and grateful to God, when they go off as planned.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Two questions for the tough times

1 - Who can you trust, what did they say?
2 - Who cares for you, how did they show it?

I firmly believe that these two questions are an important part of getting through the tough times in life which we'll encounter every so often.

If, when life seems darkest, you intentionally look out for and record the answers to these two questions each day a significant change begins to take place.

Your mindset.
Your outlook.
Your memory.

If, when life is bleak, you keep track of the people who have said something you can trust (even if you don't completely feel the reality of that truth) and the ways (even in the smallest of gestures) which people have showed you that they care, then, slowly, the way life looks can begin to turn.

Even if all it does is allow you to take notice of the silver lining to a darker cloud...

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Getting someone to the watering-hole

I finally get it.

I'm no longer 20 years old.
I'm not even 25.

I've just finished my study.
I've been married for eight years, having been with my wife for eleven and we have a toddler.

I have regular car payments to keep track of, rent to be paid and all my large bills are now paid by the month.

I'm old.

I'm now the guy who gives advice because I can remember "back in those days" when I "did those kinds of things" and can now reflect back on them.

But I can't make anyone follow my advice.

I, now, understand that also.

In fact, more often then not, I lay out options and warn about the obstacles which will need to be negotiated.

I provide resources which can make wise decisions easier.

But I can't, and many times shouldn't, force someone to make a decision.

For, the old adage is true... 
You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink.

My job, especially when dealing with young adults, is to make sure that they sense the value in the water and ensure that access to the watering-hole is as easy as it can be.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sometimes you shouldn't cast the vote

Yesterday our church had a meeting where a vote was taken surrounding an issue of staffing. It wasn't highly controversial and the vote went as I expected.

But, while I could have voted and knew which decision I would have made, I decided not to.

I didn't tell anyone and, in all likelihood, no one probably noticed.

But I believe that there are some time when a staff member should abstain from being a decision-maker.

The reasons are simple.

On some resolutions, like staffing, mission or redevelopment, the decision ultimately lies with the members of the church. They need to own the outcome. They need to way up the costs and discern the direct God is taking them. Whatever is decided needs to be up to them.

Furthermore, on significant matters, the results will directly effect those on staff. If you vote, then you can leave yourself open to the accusation of bias or self-serving.

Finally, depending on the outcome of a vote, tensions can be created amongst staff who have voted differently. And, even if it is a silent vote, questions can be raised about the way workmates voted in a tight decision.

As important as I might think my opinion is, at times, it's not worth airing voting in order to give control to the congregation and because of the potential interpersonal fallout.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A safe person for two unsafe responses

BE WARNED: The following post involves swear words. But, in the context they are used, they are, although uncomfortable, somewhat appropriate.

When I read this post on ministrymatters.com about the 10 Things You Should Never Say to a Grieving Person, I had two responses.

These are the two responses I've both felt, and recommend to people/warned people about, when they're going through a time of tragedy - especially death or miscarriage.

Bullshit and Fuck Off (I did warn you! Don't keep reading if you're offended).

Whenever you're fresh off an event of misfortune or heart-break rationality is not your friend. Sometimes, Bullshit and Fuck Off will be the things which spring to mind and someone needs to allow space for them.

In fact, one of the most important people are those whom you can, even retrospectively, say Bullshit and Fuck Off to. It might not be directed to them personally, but someone who can be a safe sounding board for Bullshit and Fuck Off. Bullshit to the cliques. Fuck off to the idiots.

For, when people are trying to be comforting, they can be unhelpful. And awkward. Even hurtful.

And, at these times, you'll feel one, if not both, responses...

The linked-to article gives a quality run down why the following statements are, intentionally or unintentionally, boneheaded.

But this post is about feelings.
Raw, irrational, feelings.

And they aren't always pretty.

For example, from the article on ministrymatters... This is what's gone through my mind while grieving...

I know how you feel - Bullshit and Fuck Off.
God has a will in this/There is a reason for everything/God is in control - I don't need to hear this right now, Fuck Off.
How are you doing? - How do you think dickhead? Fuck Off.
He's in a better place - Fuck Off.
You can have another child/At least you have other kids - No really, Fuck Off. Far, far, away.
God just wanted another angel - Have a steaming bowl of Bullshit with a giant side of Fuck Off.
It was his time to go - Perhaps so, but I don't want to hear it right now, Fuck Off.
You have to be strong for X - Bullshit and Fuck Off.
God never gives us more than we can handle - Well it's lucky I'm so strong! I don't feel it, so it's Bullshit. Now Fuck Off.

Is there anything I can do for you - Actually, this question isn't so bad compared to the others...

If you're offended by the above, then I apologies. But grief can be ugly.

In case you're wondering, the advice I'd give for those grieving can be found here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The time being part of a denomination helps

No doubt, they are out of fashion.
When churches rebrand, generally, the thing which gets dropped is the traditional title of their denomination.

And, admittedly, they can be annoying.
They can seem out of touch...
They can be weighed down by those entrenched "in the system"...
A large system which, sometimes, seems to slow the movements of God...
A structure which can be difficult to wade through...
An expense which can be used more effectively elsewhere.

But, being a part of a main-stream denomination, like my church is, does have some significant positives.

First, it makes you a part - for better or worse - of something bigger. Your small church is one of many. With united-ish views. Under one symbol.

Furthermore, you're a part of a history. A legacy. You're connected to those who, generations ago, decided to stand unified. You're identified with theologies which have been debated and cherished.

But, being a part of a denomination really kicks in at a crucial time...
An emergency.

Being a part of something bigger is of critical importance when scandal or tragedy strike.

Why?
Because they have the structures to help you deal with them.
They have the history, in all likelihood, of dealing with the situation before.
You are not alone.

Don't believe me?
Mars Hill has imploded because it wasn't a part of something bigger. It was isolated and, thus, vulnerable. For, when it got hit by a mega crisis, it was without the structures, or history, to overcome it.

Now, just by being a part of a denomination might not have saved Mars Hill, but I know that whenever I, my church, or one of my colleagues have been thrown an unexpected bout of turbulence, I've been glad that there was something bigger behind me to help us get through.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Is this what I signed up for?

Some days, those in ministry get home from work and allow their mind to wander back to their initial, first-date-like, job interview.

They think about the promises made.
They think about the rose-coloured perspectives.
They think about the flawless faces which greeted them on their first Sunday.

They then look at what the people at their church go through and wonder... Is this what I signed up for?

Tragedy.
Emergences.
Cancer.
Accidents.
Sickness.
Death.
Miscarriage.
Depression.
Disappointment.
Retrenchment.
Scandal.
Failure.

The answer, no matter how cordial the interview was nor what your job description includes, is a resounding yes.

If you decide to work in ministry, you signed up to the privilege to share life with other people.

Broken people.
Messy people.
Brave people.
Imperfect people.


In ministry, if you're lucky enough, you're able to journey besides people through the ups-and-downs of life.

When life, inevitably, throws something difficult at churchgoers, these ARE the time you signed up for.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A WHAT meeting?

Last Sunday, if we were live streaming our evening service, I'd be Internet famous right now.

Whilst making an announcement about an upcoming, and important, congregational meeting I said something slightly alternate.

A conjugational meeting.

It was not unnoticed.

How the wires in my mind went from congregational to a mash-up of conjugal (if you're wondering why that might be a little awkward, then this might assist), I don't know, but at least I didn't make this guys mistake...

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Before and after family ministry expectations

Those who work with kids on a Sunday morning can get frustrated by the flocculating numbers experienced each week.

One week you'll have a handful of kids, the next you'll get a near-full-turnout, seemingly, without any discernable pattern or reason.

Thus, planning can be problematic and, on a week you've got something special planned, quite discouraging, if that happens to be the Sunday families "have off."

We can even, in our weaker moments, wonder why families are "so flakey" when it comes to church attendance.

But, there are two stages of life for those who work with families...

Before, when you expected families to be a church each week, and after.

Before, when you didn't fully get why families are tired, stressed, overworked, and after.

Before, when you didn't live the life of someone on four hours sleep - months on end, and after

Before, when you didn't know what croup was or were kept up due to whooping cough, and after.

Before, when you didn't have to plan the next day ahead for someone who's totally dependent upon you, and after.

Before, when each journey didn't involve car seats and contingency plans "just in case," and after.

Before, when you didn't have a toddler who can radically tantrum at any given moment, and after.

Before, when toilet training and "big girl pants" never entered your mind at the start of the day, and after (what my wife and I are going through currently).

Before, when you didn't have kids, and after.

Before, when you didn't understand, and after, when you do.

A commonly quoted "stat" is that a regular church family will make it to church twice a month.

Once you've got kids, the perspective you have for those families transforms.

Now that my wife and I ARE THOSE FAMILIES, getting to church when able... despite our willingness, I LOVE IT whenever families attend church.

Because now I understand just how much of an effort it is...

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The last piece to get rid of?

I've written about the changes a one might need to go through upon de-conversion here, but, prompted by something I read the other day, I now realize that I missed one sad artifact of prior faith.

Your bible.

What would you do with it?

Upon walking away from faith, how long would it take to cast off your bible?

Would/could you, like the person in the article I read, sell it?
Do you give it away to charity?
If so, why would you want to put, what you now think is a erroneous book, into the hands of others?

Thus, do you destroy it?

Or, would you keep your bible on the shelf... just in case... you'll want to reach for it one day?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Focus on one section of the teddy

Sometimes, do you wish you could just chop off a segment of your life?
Do you wish you could leave the physical ailments at home or unplug your overworked intellect?

One of the ways I help determine the healthy of people is to take them through the "Teddy Reflection" which attempts to weigh up the healthy of seven areas in life.

But, life isn't so segmented.

If one part of your life's out of whack then it'll have a flow on effect.

Physically, if you're not sleeping enough, it will effect your ability to effectively work and study...
Stress at work will effect your relationships at home...
If your emotions are running rampart, they will leech into other areas...

But, when life feels out of control, you can choose to work on just one area.

For, if one area starts to regain health, it'll make it easier to tackle some of the other problems life's throwing at you.

Better yet, for someone who feels overwhelmed, hearing that it's okay for them to especially focus on just one area is far less daunting than looking at a warped teddy and feeling that the problem is too big to change.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A response to Halloween

This is the response to Halloween I gave out at church...

I never went trick-or-treating as a kid. It had nothing to do with religion, as my parents didn’t attend church, it just wasn’t done amongst my friends or in my neighbourhood.
I’m only in my early thirties, but even I have to admit that times seem to have changed. Quickly.
Halloween is getting increasingly difficult to ignore. It’s in shops, day-care centres, kindergartens and (you’ve probably noticed!) schools.
Each year there seems to be an increasing number of trick-or-treaters.
And… Halloween’s not going away…

So, how should parents respond to Halloween?

Is it nothing but harmless fun or evil-incarnate? A sugar-fuelled time of enjoyment or a corrupting influence?
If you ask Google, you get approximately 31,100,000 results in just 0.24 seconds.
This short article isn’t about giving you a definitive answer, but instead, provide information to help you arrive at a decision which is most appropriate for what you and your family believe to be important.

Halloween raises, for many, two potential issues resolving around culture and faith…
First, no matter what your beliefs may be, should those in Australia celebrate Halloween, a tradition closer associated with North America.

And, if you’re a Christian, is it appropriate to celebrate Halloween and what options are there to respond?

In order to make some informed decisions, it makes sense to quickly take a closer look at what Halloween is…

HISTORY... Why Halloween?

Two traditions hide behind Halloween.

Halloween falls on October 31, the day before the church celebrates and remembers All Saints’/All Hallows Day. On this date, the church recalls and recognises the important people of faith, both past and present – near and far, who have been significant in a personal and communal faith journey. Halloween is an abbreviation of All Hallows Eve.

But the oldest tradition comes from the Celts who marked the New Year, and change of the seasons, by celebrating Samhain. Details can be confusing, but it was believed that the spiritual and physical realms overlapped during that night and the spirits could then walk the earth. People put on scary masks and lit bonfires to scare away evil spirits.

Like other Christian festivals, the church utilised a date of previous observance or celebration to mark a significant date on the calendar.

Should this history be a problem?

To begin, if might be wise to consider, for yourself, your family and your neighbours, what Halloween means today. Does it still revolve around Druid rituals?
Unless you have a concern about the dates of other Christian festivals and the symbols used, like the Christmas tree - a tradition which can be traced back to ‘pagan’ customs, then Halloween need not cause immediate apprehension.
But Halloween does raise some modern questions…

CONNECTION... A Safe Opportunity?

To start, is the idea of knocking on strangers’ doors safe for your kids?
Doesn’t trick-or-treating go against “Stranger Danger”?

Well supervised, trick-or-treating can be relatively safe, especially if done in local communities, amongst people your family already have a relationship with.
If done thoughtfully, Halloween can be a fantastic opportunity to connect with the parents of children’s friends, other families and your neighbours.


Second, do my kids need to dress provocatively?

Of course not. You control what they do and don’t wear. You don’t need to allow your child to dress as a ghost, witch, the devil or an overtly revealing costume if it makes you uncomfortable. There are plenty of alternate costume options.

But, is this something we really need to do in Australia?

You have complete freedom to choose what you do on Halloween.
But Halloween is celebrated in many parts of the world, particularly the United Kingdom, Europe and, of course, the United States.

Some would point to the vast number of imported traditions, North American and otherwise, we’ve embraced and see little wrong with Halloween being yet another event in a multicultural society.


FAITH... Discernment and Conscience.

 If you’re a person of faith, Halloween can be problematic with a quick Google search producing 1,3200,000 results for “What should Christians do on Halloween?” Unsurprisingly, opinions differ wildly.
At the core, issues not directly addressed by the bible need to be governed by two things, discernment and conscience.

If, in the surroundings of your family, community and church, it would be unwise to partake in Halloween, then, by all means, give it a miss. God would not want you to do something you cannot do in good faith (Romans 14:3). Instead, stay home and have a quiet night in.

Alternatively, if you can think of no reason which would prevent you from participating in Halloween, or no one who would be hindered by your participation, then feel free to get involved as much as you’re comfortable in doing so (Ephesians 5:15-16, Colossians 4::3).

Being guided by your conscience and the Spirit of God would be a good indicator of what you should do on October 31.
If you’re looking for an alternate way to get involved in Halloween, you might want to check out haloeen.com

The bible says in 1 Corinthians 10:31 - So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
Our desire in life should be to please God, with Halloween being no exception.

But whatever you decide, if one has put considerable thought into their participation in Halloween and come to a different conclusion as you, it is not your (or my) place to judge them (Romans 1:1-5).

Monday, October 27, 2014

Comfort passages

Whenever I choose hymns for the morning service, I have the aim for them to be recognizable for the congregation to almost be able to recite the words from memory.

I want the songs sung in the morning to be stirring... familiar... comfortable.

There are some bible passages which can produce a similar result.

At my church, in the evening service, we're currently in the middle of a series on the Psalms. Last night I preached on, arguably, the most comforting and recognized passage in all the bible... Psalm 23.

I opened the sermon by mentioning that the words of the Psalm, commonly used in funerals, music and on screen, seem to connect with people, no matter what stage of life you're in or how life is treating you.

Everyone can use a shepherd, companion and divine host.

When a church is going through a time of change...
When a church is rocked by scandal...
When a church is recovering from division...
When a minister is just new on the scene...

People, including the minister, could use some spiritual comfort food.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Do you have an atheist part?

You're a church-going, ministry-involved, bible-aware, Jesus-believing Christian.

But you're sleeping with your partner...
You're a sexual atheist.

But you have no problem dating your non-believing boyfriend...
You're a relational atheist.

But you deny the supernatural elements of the gospels because you "know better"...
You're an intellectual atheist.

But you trawl for porn on the Internet, relatively guilt free...
You're a technological atheist.

Do you, as a Christian, have a segment of your life which, when you weigh up the attitudes you have and choices you make, look and feel atheistic?

Are there parts of your life where, as far as anyone could tell, God does not exist?