Thursday, March 5, 2015

Must you suspend your disbelief to be a Christian?

Science Fiction.
Action movies.
Wrestling.

To a degree, in order to get truly involved in the stories which are trying to be told, you need to suspend your disbelief.

In order to be "taken along for the ride" you need to switch off the part of the brain which says "that would NEVER happen!"

A few weeks ago, while watching some TV show, my wife wondered how I could be a Christian when I spotted a whole bunch of plot holes in a, in my opinion, fairly nonsensical show.

My response?

I think that, rationally, Christianity makes sense in light of the verse of plausibility and the evidence for God's existence.

When you read the bible, I'm not convinced you need to suspend your disbelief.
In fact, church should be a place where you can bring your disbelief and your questions are welcomed.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Running the scenarios

A leader falls pregnant with her boyfriend...
Or the friend of a teen...
Or a member of the youth group...

A leader dies in an accident...
Or the friend of a teen...
Or a member of the youth group...

A leader is diagnosed with cancer...
Or the friend of a teen...
Or a member of the youth group...


A leader commits suicide...
Or the friend of a teen...
Or a member of the youth group...


A leader turns up drunk or affected by drugs...
Or a kid does...

The youth minister loses his sight...
Or his driver's license...
Or breaks his leg...

An important leader gets a job which means they can't make it anymore...
Or the ringleader of the senior-high girls...

Although the worst-case scenario usually doesn't develop, I've mentally run a lot of scenarios nonetheless.

Why?

Because, inevitably - if you're in a church long enough - a pretty-bad scenario will play out.

So...
In order to keep my mind sharp...
In order to expose my blind spots and potential weaknesses in the youth group...
In order to evaluate how a potential response might match the values of the group...
And in order to, somewhat, see the punch coming...

I run the scenarios.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The shifting hierarchy of needs

People have a physical and psychological hierarchy of needs.

If you've ever watched Man vs Wild then you'll know that the most important things for survival are water, shelter, fire & food. Everything else can wait.

In therapy, it's not uncommon for the therapist to asses/deal with these basic physical needs first - particularly sleep and diet - before embarking on the emotional or mental ailments which have required the person to seek help.

An unspoken hierarchy of needs also exists within my youth groups leaders.

Have you just started going through a season?
Did your relationship just end?
Did you just lose your job?
Did a friend just die?
Are your parents going through divorce procedures?
Are you in the middle of exams?
Are you or a family member sick?
Are you extra stressed?
Even, depending on how it affects your mood, are you on your period?

All of these things, and many more, will elevate you, to varying degrees, on the hierarchy of needs.

Then, in the seemingly random schedule of "dates" I have with my leaders, they'll get bumped up the order or I'll ensure that their favourite chocolate "happens" to be at church when they next arrive.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Solutions are linear, not triangular

Let's say that Person A has an unresolved issue with Person B.

The best way to fix the problem, or at least make positive headway, is for Person A to speak to Person B, in love, directly.

The problem that infects a lot of relationships, no matter how personal, professional or - gasp - even within the church, is when Person C is drawn in.

This triangulates the problem.

More of often than not, Person A discussing a problem with Person B to Person C is not a step towards a resolution. If anything, it allows the issue to spread.

I suspect, this is one of the reasons God is so critical of gossip and the best response, when someone brings a problem to you which your not involved in, is to say "speak to them about it, not me."

Monday, February 23, 2015

Are you worth the cost?

Back in 2011 I wrote a post about giving in churches and the scary notion of converting the amount given into an amount a minister would "earn" if they were dependent on an individual service or "charged" by the hour.

All too often, whilst the senior minister might eat, all their family might not (let's not even consider anyone else on staff!).

But... if we run the numbers... How much would someone need to "pay" per week in order for their church offerings to "break even" with a minister's stipend?

Let's say that a senior minister earns $70,000 per year. 

In a church of 100 givers, NOT members, each giving unit (read singles, couples or families) would need to give approximately $13.50 per week in order to "afford" their minister through offerings alone.

If you throw in a full-time youth/children's/family/community/pastoral care worker (or multiple part-time equivalents), the you'd need to tack on an extra $10 per week in order to cover their wage.

So, in short, $25 per week approximately covers staffing costs for most medium sized churches in Australia.

But, the challenge should extend to those who are drawing that wage.

Are the people getting "their money's worth?"

Did you invest enough in them in order to "earn" your $10?
Were they served enough in order to feel like this week was a good investment?
Did you encourage, engage, resource and challenge them enough to "deserve" your "payment" this week?
Did you draw them into an encounter with God that was not only worth their time, but also money?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why I showed my leaders that we lost money in 2014

Last year our youth group lost exactly $229.75 ($336.55 if our end-of-year-lock-in didn't bail us out).

2014 was the first year I'd actually audited the books in order to come up with a conclusive profit/loss figure.

As anyone in ministry with young people is aware, you don't get into it to save or make money. Every week, for something - like a cupcake for a teens birthday - you're diving into your hip-pocket.

I get that these kinds of expenses are a part of my job.
It comes with the turf.

Of the +$200 that the youth group lost, almost all of it "fell" out of my wallet.

At the start of this year I shared the financial figures with the youth group leaders.

It wasn't to cry poor. Nor was I after reimbursement or pity.

But, I thought that it was best for the leaders to KNOW and be aware of what the youth group ACUALLY costs.

This way, when a kid - who will be welcome no matter how much money is in their pocket - once again "forgets" to bring the small cost for youth group, they can see that it all adds up pretty quickly...

Monday, February 16, 2015

Even though the worst-case-scenario ALMOST NEVER happens...

Thinking about the worst-case-scenario of every and all situations is not fun nor a productive way to live your life. If you spent all your mental and emotional time and energy processing what could go wrong, then your life would be ruled by fear and uncertainty.

As I wrote here, as has happened to me on MANY occasions, the worst-case-scenario usually doesn't happen. In fact, the worst-case-scenario ALMOST NEVER happens.

BUT, I think there's value in being aware of the more "predictable" worst-case-scenarios.

Whilst you shouldn't live life paralyzed with fear that a meteor or tsunami will wipe you out at any time, we should at least, consider some of the more common or concerning consequences of our own, or others, actions.

For, while the worst-case-scenario is usually averted, having played out the scenario can make us better prepared for the approaching calamity.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The problem with 50 Shades and Twilight

No, I won't be watching 50 Shades of Grey on Valentine's Day. Or any day.

It's not because I'm a prude. In fact, as I wrote here, I'm fairly un-offendable when it comes to a lot of things, including sex.

It has far more to do with the reasons outlined all over the web, like here, and television, as Lisa Wilkinson does, slamming the movie because it's poorly-written glorified domestic and sexual abuse.

And that's my problem. The message this movie sends about sex. The reason I won't be watching 50 Shades is spelt out as the second lie about sex described in this article.

In 50 Shades, sex is an act of taking.
In 50 Shades, sex is about manipulation, dominance, humiliation, power and selfishness.

This flies in the face of what sex was meant to be and what good sex encapsulates.

Sex, at the core, should be an act of giving - physically, emotionally, relationally, experientially - not taking.
Sex should be an act of putting the other person first, seeking their benefit and enjoyment.
Sex should be an act of connection and intimacy, built within a system of trust, commitment and love.

Unfortunately, 50 Shades of Grey is to adult sexual relations, what Twilight was to teenage romances (and you can read here what I thought about Twilight).

A damaging, crappy, example of a deeply unhealthy relationship.

A celebration of something incredibly damaging, which, if we witnessed it play out in real life - especially involving people we cared about - we would call it out for what it is, something harmful, manipulative and fundamentally abusive.

Don't believe me? See if you can stomach this review outlining the various abusive elements throughout the trilogy.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The 5 problem areas in youth ministry

Volunteer (heck, even "professional") children's and youth group leaders, in churches all over the world, have the same struggles which can be broken into the following five categories...

If you picked one of the following topics and zoned in on it over the next five training events, the level of anxiety amongst your leaders would greatly reduce...

If the resources you provide touch on these five areas, then your leaders will feel vastly more prepared for their tasks on a Friday afternoon/night...

The five problematic areas for those ministering to young people are...

Running Effective Games/Activities
Leading Effective Small Groups/Dealing with Kids Questions
Crowd Control/Discipline
Creativity/Thinking Up New Ideas
Relating with Youth

Monday, February 9, 2015

Why I play hide-and-seek on a Sunday morning

It's not unusual that a number of blog posts follow a single theme. Lately, it's been playing games.

I've written here about the awesomeness of hide-and-seek with my youth group leaders. But I also routinely play the game with the church kids on a Sunday morning.

Admittedly, the game kills the random few minutes while you're waiting for the service to wind down, involves no set up, needs little explanation and almost runs itself...

But, like many things, there's a larger agenda going on in the background.

For the BEST thing about hide-and-seek are the moments you have with the two kids who are "in" whilst the rest of the youngsters are hiding.

It's during these few minutes that you get precious one-on-one time with kids to begin connecting conversations.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

When a kid needs the win

Yesterday I posted about playing games in youth group. In short, I said that leaders shouldn't aim to win games, unless challenged. Then they can unleash an ominous fury.

Last night I played a game in violation of the guidelines I give my leaders.

I "arranged" the outcome of a game in order to give a kid who needed it a win.

Sure, something unexpected could have happened and my plan could have failed, but I trusted that I could maintain enough of the variables so that the last two people in the game were myself and the in-need-of-a-win teen.

And win he did.

Now, in the previous round the guy had been one of the final handful surviving so it was completely plausible that everything was legit, but... he had some assistance when he was victorious.

So, for a few moments...
At the end of a tough week...
In front of everyone...
At a game I previously declared that I was pretty good at...
He beat the leader...

Because he needed the win.

And, when he was picked up, I made sure to mention that he beat me.
Because his Mum needed to hear that he won also.

Friday, February 6, 2015

When you can humble the kids

I've written before that youth group leaders should strive to achieve no higher than bronze in any game which is played. Ideally, leaders should never win an activity outright - using their advanced experience, co-ordination and general skill - sine they have an unfair advantage.

In a team situation, you shouldn't skew the game heavily in your favour just because you've played a few hundred games of dodgeball and have literally practiced throwing a ball at an unsuspecting victim thousands of times.

But, there is a time when you can crush a teen in competition.

When they challenge you.

If you challenge me at pool or snooker... I'll normally win. Decisively.
If you challenge me at table tennis... I won't go easy on you.
If you challenge me in a game like boggle, I might allow you to get close.

Now, in light of the "manipulation" which may be required to avoid winning, you might feel like you're hustling the kids...

And sure, if a kid's at youth group for the first time, you might not want to mercilessly wipe the floor with them...

But for a regular teen with the gall to call you out (especially teenage boys!)?
Let the light-hearted humbling begin...

Monday, February 2, 2015

Why a youth minister's marriage matters for others

I started this post about having older Christian examples of the opposite gender by asking the question "What does a Christian man actually look like?"

I ask because, for many youth and young adults, they have very few examples due to the absent Boomer generation in many churches.

But, I wonder, would I get a similarly hazy response to the question "What does a Christian marriage look like?"

Now, depending on the demographics within your church, there may be a plethora of marriages for you to observe. But, alike the situation created by the lack of the immediate generation above, there may be far fewer "first-decade marriages between two Christians" to observe and learn from.

This is especially important for a youth minister if they are married.

For, their marriage is the walking sermon of their dating and relationship talks. 

If you're going to recommend that marriage is something of value and a worthwhile relational investment, then you'd better back up those words with a type of marriage which is as healthy as possible.

Why?

Because, for some, when they think of a marriage between Christians, yours will be the one which springs into their mind first.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Youth ministry reading for the win

This weekend I go away on the first bi-annual youth group leader's weekend of 2015 and I just found what I was looking for.

Is it a relatively unstructured activity to do on the Saturday afternoon?
Nope. I still haven't found that.
Is it the bad 1980's Christian music to wake them up with?
Nope. I left that at home.

Instead, it's the short youth ministry resource which I'll give them to read, and hopefully, engage with.

Whilst this isn't my first leader's weekend away, since I've hosted around a dozen across two churches, I've only started giving written resources to my leaders recently.

Why?

Because 200 page youth ministry books are intimidating.
And sometimes boring.

BUT, I want to give them solid input about what it is to be an effective youth group leader.

So, if I find a decent 20-30 page e-book about youth ministry, or a topic within, I'll put it in their hands.

It's only fair for them, since a part of my job is to equip and train them.

It also pays off for me since it opens them up to new ideas, gives them a glimpse of why we do the things we do and, hopefully, allows them to see and share places where we still need to improve.

Really, it's a win-win.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The person you sleep with should tick these three boxes

Box 1: They are your spouse.
Box 2: You are married to them.
Box 3: Refer back to box 1.

This, obviously, isn't the reality for everyone.

People have sex with who they want, for a variety of reasons.
But think the following is true no matter what you believe.

For, no matter your worldview, I think it makes the most sense to have anyone you sleep with tick the following boxes...

Box 1: With sex being a magnifier physically, emotionally and relationally it pays to know the person beforehand. Strangers, generally, don't make good bedfellows.

Box 2: Know why you BOTH want to have sex. Is it just casual? Will it just be physical? Are you hoping it will lead to more? Is it about power or control? Both deserve to know the foundation of the request.

Box 3: Be with someone who will give you the best response for BOTH of you physically, emotionally and relationally - depending on the background you have together, the baggage coming in and the messiness of a sexual relationship between the two of you. In some cases, the wisest and most caring thing will be for one of you to say no. Or at least not now.

Ideally, these three boxes are covered within the context of commitment, faithfulness, trust and love... Marriage.

You know the person better than anyone, sex is a sign of your commitment, faithfulness, love and dedication and it won't happen until the previous things are in place.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Teens HAVING or HAD sex?

The percentage of teens who aren't virgins isn't small.

But, it's not as big a percentage as high-schoolers or the media would have you believe (anywhere from 55-70% still hold their v-card when they finish high school).

But, I wonder, how many teens are HAVING sex, as opposed to HAD sex?

If all we care about, or at least monitor, is when someone actually has HAD intercourse, then I think it skews the figures away from those who are actually HAVING sex.

Because there's a massive difference between someone who, in a moment of regret, had sex, with someone who is in a relationship having sex.

There's a massive difference between someone who's had an unpleasant, one off, or unconsented sex then someone who's having a regular or enjoyable sexual experience.

If the stats we tracked for teens weren't solely about loss of virginity, but were measured by meaningful or continuous sexual experiences, then I think that the sheer numbers - and the pressure associated with them - would dramatically drop.

After all, if the stats hold up and 55% of a high school class have had sex (which I think's about right), doesn't it sound more realistic that this number would reduce to closer than a 20-30% are actually HAVING sex?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

3 reasons the younger need the older with different plumbing

What does a Christian man actually look like?
What characteristics does he display?
How does he treat his loved ones?
Could you ACTUALLY point one out?

At the upcoming leader's weekend for my youth group we'll be looking at the books of 1 Timothy and Titus, asking the two questions "What does this say about leadership?" and "What does this say about being an example to those younger?"

When you delve into those books, there's heaps to uncover, but there's also a connection which is more subtle.

Obviously, younger Christian guys need solid, Jesus-following, older guys around them.

Why?

To have conversations like this and help them avoid the knock-out punch.

BUT, younger Christians need examples of the opposite gender.

Why?

First, because wisdom can comes both genders and some issues aren't affected by the one speaking to you being male or female.

Second, because some problems can use the perspective of the opposite gender.

Third, younger Christians need to see what a solid, Jesus-following, person of the other gender looks like. If, like I've written before, it's far preferable for believers to date each other, then it would be helpful for them to be able to look around and see what a quality, God-and-spouse-honouring, husband/wife looks like. 

In short, it will be useful for them to be able to see an older woman/man living out their faith.

Or, aside from the example of Christ, how else will they know to look out for?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Is it ok to play dumb?

At times, I play dumb.
I pretend to know less than I actually do.

And... I wonder... is it fair to do so?

Should I, if aware of an issue or the entire narrative, leave gaps for others to fill in order to -

a) give them the opportunity to raise an issue on their timeframe (within reason)
b) hear their side of the story
c) allow them space to only share what they're comfortable with me knowing
d) have a subtle test as to how much they want me to know and how much they want to hide.

Is it ethical for me to dangle enough rope before people in order for them, potentially, to hang themselves?

Or, should I always fess up?

Hmmmm

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Invite v Ask

Please stand.
Would you like to stand?

I need you to sit down.
Can you sit down please?

If you want something done, you can do two things, invite or ask.

Hopefully, no matter which one you choose, the person you're addressing will comply.

But, when dealing with children or teens, one method is far more effective.

If you invite people to do what you're wanting, you'll never hear the dreaded reply... "Well, I COULD stand" or "Where do you want me to take it?"

Sure, invitations can be shot down with a firm no, but at least they kill off the smart-alec response.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Whose standard do you use?

I went to my local public high school.
It wasn't very good.
The students didn't value their studies.
I got 68.15 for my final mark and, I think, only three people from my entire year went to university straight out of school.
It took me a decade to finally get my degree.

But, I've worked with some quite prestigious (and pricey!) schools and school-goers.
I've gone to church with people who got high 90's for their final mark and think very little of doing double degrees. 

We, often, don't use the same standard.

I can slip into the standard used in high school... the bear minimum is more than enough.
Others, can use the standard where near perfection is barely a pass.

Now, I want to be clear, when it comes to ministry I want to pursue excellence (this is what the second E in my foundations for ministry stands for).
God invites me to, and deserves, for me to do my best.
Also, ministry takes work - sometimes bloody hard work - and those who faithfully give in order for me to work in a church deserve for me to do my best.

BUT...
I wonder about those whose standards - at home, at work or in church - don't align.
 
I wonder about those who work to a standard which isn't "faithfully do my best" but, due to their upbringing or schooling, reflects near perfection.

I wonder about those who feel like failures because they don't make the "passing grade" drawn in their head, but not reflecting reality.

I fear, for some, going to a private school has, almost, set them up for a sense of unreasonable failure whenever they don't nail that worship set, give a flawless talk, give seamless game instructions, execute a faultless scripture lesson or give a less-than-tear-jerking prayer.

One of the jobs for those in ministry, when sensing that someone is using a set of incredibly high standards, is to...

a) Express heart-felt gratitude for what they do, even if it isn't perfect. Tell and show that you are thankful for not just what they do, but who they are.

b) Be liberal with encouragement and feedback so they see that what they're doing is of a high quality and you notice.

c) Remind them that God works on a standard of grace and love. Like a parent, He is proud whenever His children do things for Him. He sees their hearts and motives. And, He will reward them generously for what they have done.