Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Idolising your new Temple

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve posted, but between a month on teaching practice and exams, blogging hasn’t squeezed into my timetable. But, now I’m on university holidays...

Over the last few months my church has moved into a brand new building and its... nice.

Frankly, it’s your fairly generic new church.

But, it is brand new.

And, if you’ve been a part of the entire building process, then you’re super excited.

But, I wonder, when does the line from thankfulness to idolatry get crossed.

Gladly, the swooning over the new building has started to die down, but what would happen if my church was still swooning over the new building after three months?
What if it was mentioned at the still at the start of every service?
What if it was still a part of every prayer?

Whenever a big new initiative happens within a church there’s always a danger of idolatry.

We can make the same mistake as those in the Old Testament did with the temple. 

We can elevate the gift over the giver.

I wonder how many church leaders are aware of the danger and how many, by thanking God so profusely and repeatedly, are an instrumenti for idolatry to grow.

Monday, September 30, 2019

The surprising way I suspect Jesus spoke in tongues

Last term the small group I attend looked at the topic of spiritual gifts.

As we were talking about the gift of tongues, I wasn’t so sure where I stood about Jesus speaking in tongues.

Of course, as someone with the Holy Spirit within them, and being God incarnate, Jesus could have spoken in tongues - no matter which definition you use (be they a completely unknown language or a tongue you previously didn’t know).

The query that Jesus spoke in tongues hung with me for a few days and the internet was less than helpful. 

Often, the responses would included references to places like Mark 8:12, where Jesus just groans. 

I’m not sure this counts...

But, I think the answer lies in the previous chapter - Mark 7:34.

For, if Jesus is God incarnate then, surely, His “mother language” is a heavenly one.

Thus, a “foreign” language would be any one He spoke on earth.

So, while I suggest that Jesus did speak in tongues, they would be in the form of “ordinary” language, which could be understood by those around Him, not the inverse - a heavenly language which could be used to communicate with God.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

What do you do if your minister doesn’t like you?

Some ministers are delightful.
Others can be a little jaded, even if only periodically.
Most, hopefully, are somewhere in the middle of not closer to the former.

But, no matter the disposition of your minister, what do you do if they don’t like you?

Seriously.

No matter if it’s due to a personality clash, theological differences or birthed from an event/misunderstanding in the past, no congregant has the absolute right to be adored by their minister.

And, having a minister who isn’t besotted by you isn’t a crime on their part.

While your minister shouldn’t be a jerk to you, instead caring for you as a member of the flock God has placed them over to shepherd, you don’t have to be their favourite person.

So what do you do then?

In part, if they are not your primary pastoral support, you may not need to do anything dramatic. Just be peaceable. Better yet, support the minister and serve the church just as you would otherwise.

Additionally, you could use this as a goad to evaluate yourself. Maybe your minister is seeing things which you are blind to. Maybe this minister will be a catalyst for you to change.

Alternatively, you could just seek to outlast the minister. Don’t leave the church. Don’t undermine him. Instead, cut them some slack and beware that this person, probably, won’t be your minister forever.

Of course, you could seek to gently try to change their perception about you. It may not work, but you could intentionally seek to sow encouragement and support into the life of your distant minister. With the passing of time closeness may develop.

No matter what happens, the most important thing to remember is that the ministers’ view of you doesn’t give or take from you any validation. As a Christian we find our identity, worth, value and validation from Jesus. 

Not from anyone else. Including any minister you may encounter.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Should you ever be a ministry expert?

In ministry you can be experienced.
You can be a veteran.
You can be trained.
You can be well-read.

I don’t think you can truely be an expert.

Or at least you should be weary of someone who deems themselves a ministry expert.

Why?

Because stagnation, or worse, arrogance is the danger of someone with the expert mindset.

For culturally relevant ministry is fluid.
Technology is exponentially advancing.
What worked a decade ago needs reevaluating and, often, reimagining.

Thus, everyone in ministry must always be learning.
Never should someone in ministry think that they are an expert and have learnt everything.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Do we just swap hedonism for reckless grace?

A few weeks ago I was taking about the way people validate doing what they want.

In a mass generalisation, our actions are often fed with the self-talk of “I can do what I want” - The calling card for individualist hedonism.

But, are Christians in danger of replacing this modern mantra with one equally as dangerous - “God will forgive me”?

Paul mentions this in Romans 6 where he addresses the potential for abuse of God’s grace.

When we take for granted the forgiveness of God then we will be inclined  towards sin, driven by unhelpful self-talk.

Of course, the danger is that the mantra sounds very religious and correct.

God does forgive.
If you ask Him, He will forgive.

But, driven by our sinful desire, we tend to abuse the good things God offers us and can sanctimoniously replace the “we can do whatever we want” attitude with the equally reckless “we can ultimately get away with anything.”

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Investing instead of caring

The longer I’ve been out of vocational ministry the more I suspect that I wasn’t a very good youth minister.

Sure, I was efficient.
At times, I was effective.

But, I’m increasingly convinced that I wasn’t good.

One of the reasons was that I confused investment with caring.

I would invest in others.
But, all too often, I didn’t genuinely care.

I would invest in leaders.
I would invest in potential.
I would invest in talent.

But, this is not caring.

Genuine caring doesn’t hope for a return on investment.

All too often I did.

I would predominantly spend my time and energy with those who were already serving.
I would intentionally spend my time and energy to minister to those who, I thought, had the greatest ministry potential.

And, worse still, I could justify the investment.

I now write this to my shame.

I, even unintentionally, overlooked those who needed, nay deserved, to be cared for.

I wonder how many ministers mistake their investment for caring.

In part, I now recognise this because I’m not a great investment.

But, on a deeper level, I wonder how this strategic investment in pastoral energies meshes with the image of ministers as a shepherd and the church being a family.

Neither of these images are primarily concerned with a suitable return on pastoral investment.

Furthermore, for a new ministry agent or a fresh member of a congregation, when is the point determined that someone isn’t “worth” the continued investment?

Somehow, I suspect that a large number of people have walked away from a church, if not THE church, because they weren’t deemed an investment with a suitable ROI.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The no-longer-young-adult next step

I’ve previously written that 25 year olds are not young adults. 
I haven’t been a young adult for over a decade.

Whilst I may still be studying, I also work full time, am married and have kids.

Yet, far too many late-twenty-something’s are treated and ministered to like young adults by the church because they don’t know what else to do.

This is how you have youth group leaders who won’t, or can’t, retire.

Many churches don’t know the next step for those who have aged out of young adult ministry.

In my mind the next step, especially in light of the energy and time restraints of a no-longer-young-adult is intentional mentorship.

The next step for someone the step beyond young adult ministry is to choose a few people or the same gender and intentionally invest in them.

Those who have popped out of the youth and young adult ministry programs should help those who are a step behind them chronologically and spiritually.

This is the ministry many churches lack.
This is the ministry many young Christian’s lack.

But, it is the precise ministry which no-longer-young-adults can handle and, often, crave.

In the middle of burgeoning families and careers they can still be deeply impactful and productive.

Often, all that is needed is the adult to be empowered into this role and paired off with a few suitable young people.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Apples with apples

I fit into a few general demographics.

I am in my 30’s.
I am divorced, but newly married.
I have two small children.
I live 15 minutes away from the church I attend with my wife and 30 minutes away from the church I attend with my kids.
I work full-time and study part-time.

The amount I attend, contribute and give have all changed over the last decade and a half. I assume they won’t stay the same over the next few decades. Life situations will, in part determine my involvement.

The problem I used to fall into was that I would lump people together irregardless of their situation.

If you didn’t attend church every week then you were flakey.
If you didn’t give then you were a freeloader.
If you didn’t volunteer then you were a deadweight.

Of course, none of these were said aloud and the positions are overstated, but within the ministry bubble, the perceptions exist within ministry.

The trouble I fell into, and can be a victim of now, is when you don’t fairly compare those within similar situations.

When you compare those of a similar age, marital status, parental responsibilities and geographic restraints then you are able to get a more accurate grasp on their spiritual health.

In ministry, we need to compare apples to apples...

Monday, August 12, 2019

The danger of assuming the next sentence

One of the greatest dangers you can do in any relationship is to assume.

Assumption causes friction in the workplace.
Assumption feeds dissatisfaction in marriages.
Assumption can derail a ministry.

One of the greatest dangers in ministry is assuming that you know the next sentence.

No matter if you’re heading into a meeting or having an impromptu conversation, assuming that you know where the conversation is going can cause serious harm.

The reason?

Your assumptions affect your actions and attitude.

And the two most dangerous assumptions to make are...
You’re doing good and
Everything is fine.

Both of these, hopefully, in ministry you hear a great deal.

But, the danger is when you expect to hear these two sentences and they aren’t the ones forthcoming.

Perhaps criticism is the purpose of the meeting.
Maybe the person speaking to you is not as “ok” as you’d assumed, but they are quite the opposite.

If you’re actions and attitude are expecting to hear the two most dangerous statements then significant ministry opportunities can be missed or seriously damaged.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

How long until sex gets good?

Sex, at the start, can be awkward.

A while ago I saw a couple who’s wedding I attended approximately a year prior. Having been married for a significant period of time, I wondered if sex was great yet.

Sure, it depends upon a hundred details which I have no idea about, but my mind did wonder back to the honest sex conversation I had before I was married.

A mate told me that sex doesn’t get good for around three years.

Three! Years! 

Without giving you a glimpse into the bedroom with my current or ex wife, I wouldn’t completely agree.

But, it definitely doesn’t happen instantly. Or within a week. Or month. Or longer...

And, maths will back me up.

Let’s say, as a Christian, that you’re relatively new to sex.

Assuming that you had sex, say twice a week (I’ll use this number for the simplicity of maths), and you don’t have sex while she has her period (which is a genuine possibility, but a choice the couple can make due to a myriad of reasons), then you’ll have sex approximately six times a month before a break of around 5 days.

From what my wife was told by a friend, it takes around 8-10 times until sex stops being uncomfortable for the female. From our frequency above, which is increased due to the honeymoon, this would take up the first month of married bliss.

Furthermore, very few people, never mind the sexually inexperienced, jump headlong into a complex sexual repertoire. Thus, you’d probably begin with a few go-to positions.

With a window of a half-dozen opportunities per month, it may take a while to be comfortable to find, expand and be comfortable with your sexual range. Again, with the above frequency and dependant upon your sense of adventure and openness of communication, this may take another few months. Maybe more.

So, how long does it take until sex gets “good”?

That’s impossible to say, but I’d advise a perspective husband to expect somewhere around six months.

But, how does this explain the advice which I received?

I suspect, his answer had to do with the progressive definition of good.

Sex, can be “good” from day one. Hopefully, it would be.

But, sex after a month is a better form of “good.”

And better again after six months.

And again after a year.

When it comes go hitting your sexual sweet spot, where you are both completely comfortable having overcome any obstacles or awkwardness and identified both of your preferences and turn-offs, this can, conceivably, take years.

But that journey is one of the blessings of marriage.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Who’s prepared to give the REAL sex talk?

When I got married a few months ago I didn’t need a chat about the ins-and-outs of sex. It wasn’t my first wedding.

But, when I initially got married over a decade ago I did have a chat with a mate about the “hidden” details of sex.

What importance do we place upon realistic expectations for newlyweds?

In general, I suspect that the ladies handle this far better. 

I can imagine a woman being prepared to answer the questions a soon-to-be bride might have.

I don’t imagine this for many blokes.

I wonder...
Who will talk to the guy about contraception?
Who will chat to the guy about periods? 
What about sex during menstruation, or lack thereof?
Who will clear up his expectations, depending upon his consumption of porn?
Who will chat, if it’s applicable, about sex as virgins?
What about oral sex?
Orgasms?
Anal sex?
Lube?

No matter if the upcoming groom has hundreds of questions, a few clarifications or one simple enquiry, is there a Christian man willing and able to sit down and have an honest discussion?

Perhaps, we just expect the minister to do this, but I don’t think it’s a part of the usual wedding package.

Furthermore, if we just leave the impending groom to the “wisdom” of the internet, mens’ magazines and his non-believing mates, are we, as a church, doing him a massive disservice?

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Can you RSVP death notices?

Over the past two decades I’ve worked at four churches. In general, once you move on from a church you loose contact with most members you had direct pastoral oversight of. As callous as it may sound, it’s only fair for whoever replaces you and you need the physical and emotional space in order to adequately care for those within your new placement.

It goes without saying that you loose complete contact with the wider church you used to work for.

No matter how influential, supportive or foundational a person may be, chances are you’ll hear no updates about their welfare. Facebook may be the only place you’d receive any news. 

But I wonder, when it comes to the pillars of a church you’ve previously had a long term association with, is there a way to keep touch in case you’d want to go to a significant persons’ funeral?

As ghoulish as it may sound, can you periodically check in with a connection still present or outright tell that you’d want notification once someone passes on?

A few weeks ago I was in a hardware store and bumped into a member of my home church, which I haven’t stepped foot in into - even between ministry jobs - for five years. In the few moments we chatted me mentioned that a member of the church, who I knew but had little interaction with, had died. I’m sure he thought the news would have been more shocking to me.

While newsworthy, this casual mention would be an awful way for me to discover the deaths of a few, select, members of prior churches.

I wonder, once you’d been at a church for a lengthy time, should you leave a list of members whom you’d like major updates with so you don’t miss funerals?

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The danger of a new building

I’ve been at a number of churches who have wanted to, been in the middle of and have completed a building project.

Honestly, these times can be really challenging.

While the construction is happening you can feel like you’re church is in a now-but-not-yet stage of life.

But this inaction during the building process is just one hurdle a church or ministry must beware of.

One danger emerges once the project is finally complete.

Usually, after what has felt like a drawn-out process, the shiny new building can lead a church in two directions...

The negative one is a place of completion. The building becomes an end-point. The building is seen as an accomplishment. 

In short, everything slows down.

Alternatively, the building can project a church in a positive direction. The building can be a launching pad. The building is the start of new things. 

In short, everything is energised.

Ideally, every church uses their new building as a positive stepping stone to greater Kingdom Impact.

But, all too many churches treat their new building like the Old Testament Temple. 

A church can see that they have constructed a monument that people now need to visit in order to meet with God. They can see their new building as an expense that needs to be justified, usually a defensive mindset, which minimises further risk.

One aspect, which steers the direction of church, is now the leadership responds to their new building. Hopefully, the building process hasn’t drawn those in charge towards a negative mindset, with the building seen as a sunset instead of the dawn of something new.

Monday, May 27, 2019

The reason you must record your first sermon

Somewhere, I’ve got a video of one of my first sermons. While it was only recorded for a preaching assignment, the practice of documenting one of your initial sermons is invaluable.

Last Sunday my church had a preacher, who from outward appearances, was inexperienced. What he said was pretty good, but he also made a few rookie missteps.

He should have videoed that sermon.
If he did he would have learnt a lot.

As painful as it can be to view yourself on camera, recording yourself has two powerful positives.

First, if nothing else, the video can be a keepsake of your first time in the pulpit. It can be something you look back on and, potentially, groan over.

Second, you’ll be able to identify and begin to address significant issues you may have as an inexperienced speaker. You’ll quickly notice verbal and physical ticks which, if you didn’t get an outside perspective, you may have remained oblivious to. Once identified, you can begin to address these issues, like repeating filler words, not remaining grounded, pacing, transitions between points, interaction between yourself with your slides/props (like reading off the screen) and appropriate eye contact.


Thursday, May 23, 2019

Is the church a singer production line?

Seemingly, every mainstream singing competition is full of those who sing in their church. I don’t think this is a coincidence.

Why?

Because the shower is the main place where people sing. Or a performance of the national anthem.

Really... That’s it. 

It’s true for theists, atheists, seekers and searchers.

But christians get another avenue to regularly sing - church.

And I wonder if this results in the church producing a larger percentage of singers.

Frankly, I’m not sure.

At any church, realistically, there are a few of excellent singers (1 percent) and a bunch of good singers (5 percent).

So, at a mid-sized church of 200, they will have, say, 2 great vocalists and a dozen good singers.  

At church they will get a regular, if not weekly, avenue to sing.

And herein, I believe lies the secret of the churches, seemingly, abundance of singers.

Opportunity.

Really, unless you’re in a choir, the ordinary person will not get a chance to regularly sing.

I think this sends a powerful message to the church.

Give people an opportunity.
Provide chances for people to explore and exercise their talents, skills and gifts.

Firstly, this will provide them with an avenue to use the talents God has given them.

Second, with healthy boundaries, this will dramatically increase buy in for the person.

And third, the church may be one of the few ways the person will be able to use their talents.


Thursday, May 9, 2019

The questions behind every good sermon

Last week, as part of a bible study I was leading, I took a group of young adults through some of the process I went through when writing a sermon. 

It was really enjoyable. In a way, it showed how a sermon is shaped and, I hope, will allow them to appreciate (both preparation and content) a sermon slightly better.

Through the process, we asked five basic questions...

Where does the book fit in the bible?
Where does the passage fit within the book?
What is important or noteworthy from the passage?
What questions emerge from the passage?
Where is the gospel in the passage - how does it point to Jesus?

The only question we didn’t address, due to time restraints, was the final one...

How does this passage apply to Christian living today?

In my opinion, any sermon which addresses these six questions effectively has the structure of a quality sermon.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Repeating your open air script?

Last week I saw an open air preacher. For me, even being at university, this is unusual.

It was at the entrance of a large event in Sydney and, from all appearances, the guy wasn’t being listened to by anyone especially.

I didn’t stop to listen.

But I did wonder about open air preaching...

If that guy was at the entrance of the event for a few hours, does he keep delivering fresh material, or does he just keep repeating the same sermon?

With a transient crowd, having fresh sermons seems redundant due to the constant refreshment of the audience.

But, with an crowd with only a few moments to listen, would you be prepared to say the same sermon - say going ten minutes - 30 times in a row? 
How do you decide which sermon is the one worthy of the airtime? 
Also, what would happen if someone does stick around for a sizeable chunk of time or was stuck within earshot?

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Link as closely as possible when preaching

This past week I was listening to a sermon in which the preacher made a small, albeit significant, misstep.

During the message he connected a principal from the parable he was preaching from to some words Jesus spoke upon the cross. It was a pretty good point.

But, in connecting the two passages he used two different gospels.

The trouble was that he didn’t need to since the same words were recorded at the end of the gospel he was preaching from.

In reality, it’s not a big deal. No one would have noticed.

But I do believe that an important teaching principal was missed.

Those within the congregation should be encouraged, when interpreting the bible, to, where possible, allow the bible to explain itself - especially within the same book.

In jumping from one gospel to another the preacher missed the chance to make this point and I think the phrase “as recorded elsewhere in the same gospel” makes a stronger point than just linking the point to another section of scripture.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Explain & jargon > Jargon & explain

Justification.
Sanctification.
Redemption.
Anything in ancient Greek.

In church we know how to insert a term of church jargon. 
This is especially so within sermons.

Usually, the term is dropped and then (hopefully!) explained.

But we have the order backwards.

I think a far better practice would be to explain the phrase we are going to use and then say what the term is.

This works since it allows people to absorb the meaning and application of a term before being bombarded by a bunch of sylables. 

For those of lower literacy and less church exoericpence, this would be of great benefit.

And, as a bonus, I suspect they they will be far more likely to engage with and learn the term since the instant disengagement caused by foreign terms is avoided.

Friday, April 26, 2019

You must provide service off-ramps

Sometimes church services to go over time.

Famously, when I was new to ministry, I ran a morning service which spiralled into a lunchtime service.

I still get nightmares about it.

If there are no time pressures after the service, a leader might be lead to continue singing or have a time of prayer, extending the service will beyond the usual conclusion time.

One thing I saw a while back, done brilliantly, was for the leader to give people permission to leave at the usual time. 

Knowing the service would go long, they concluded the service in the usual manner, providing the space for those who need to leave to do so, and seamlessly giving those who wanted to stay the option.

It was a really good practice, because it showed awareness that the service was going to go long, but also validated the genuine need some might have to leave - no matter what that reason is.

At or around the designated time, every service should have an off-ramp, with a conclusion and a blessing, no matter what is going to happen after those words are spoken.

In order to honour those who attend with others things going on, it only seems fair.