Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Best of...

Since I don't have enough hours in the day to do a best-of list on New Years Eve (since I'll be writing a series of talks tomorrow, going to my niece's birthday, do the finishing touches on Sunday's kids talk (yeah... I'm working on New Year's Day!), getting ready to bring in 2012 and squeezing in a bit of gardening) here are the highlights of the past 12, Ramble-iffic, months.

EXCITING NEWS!!! (find out why next year should be a great year!)

Teens and suicide

Leading on empty

You don't have to be full time

Visionating a new name

The good words #2

Suffering 1, 2, 3, 4

This one time...

Youth group excuses

Problem input

Random Graham

Voice credibility

Why do they call Good Friday good? (my most viewed post)

How could God allow sin to enter the world in the first place?

Osama reaction

Losing your main players

The year that DOESN'T leave

Pulling the strings

Faith AND patience

Teddy health

Breaking in the newbie

Before I go...

Youth ministry costs

Really average?

Prayer answers

The road to manhood

Tiny Bible Bits

Space, Permission & Validity

Who is worthy?

Finding mission & purpose

Are all religions the same?

Festive postings

Thursday, December 29, 2011


So... What are you going to do all week?

Like many youth ministers, I expect to hear that question a lot over Summer.

Around writing camp talks for a gig I've got in a few weeks, over the next few days (if my work computer and I get along) I'll do my end of year money and kid audits.

Like every church, we keep track of the coming and going of both cash and young people.

Why bother cracking out the spreadsheets and crunching the numbers?

The reason is simple.

Cold. Hard. Facts.

Numbers don't lie and within them you can find out where we went well, where the system failed and what went totally off the rails.

Additionally, you are able to adjust your advertising and expenditure with your eyes wide open.

Sometimes you can fall into the trap of thinking a kid is a regular, but you find out that they actually only darken the door once a term. Hopefully, you are surprised the opposite way and discover teens who you thought were flakie, were around much more than you remembered.

Finally, once you discover how much moolah is in the war chest (or lack of!) you can then look at what resources you can purchase and what kind of advertising you can produce.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Why does Christmas matter?

Today is a pretty big deal for Christians.

But why? Why does Christmas matter so much?

In short, Christmas is important to Christians, and a time to celebrate, as it marks the time when God Himself became one of us.

With the incarnation (God becoming flesh), God enters the world, making the effort to further reveal His nature, and ultimately, begin the process of removing the division between God and humanity.

Beyond this, the incarnation is significant as it changes the kind of relationship we can have with God.

He is not removed and distant from our experience. God is personally aware of what it is to live. He has laughed. He knows hunger. He has experienced loss and pain.

Through becoming human, we get a clearer revelation for what God is like. If we want to know what God thinks about the poor, or women, or those in authority, we have no further to look then when God took on flesh.

Christmas matters because it is a time when God became intimately personal, giving hope to the world and displaying the love God has for all creation.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Virgin = Pregnant?

I'll confess, the idea of a virgin having a baby is difficult to swallow.

My folks had the "bird & the bees" talk with me and I've glanced over the "Where do I come from?" book.

So... Could Jesus' birth have come about the way the bible records it? Is it believable?

At worse, in a Mythbusters-type-way, I think it is plausible.

As I've previously written here, when dealing with the miraculous in the bible, the first question we should wrestle with is one of the existence and nature of God.

IF, the God of Genesis 1:1-4a exists, cares for humanity and is both influential and powerful enough to create everything, then the concept of a virgin birth (though totally foreign) is much more tolerable.

If you can create everything, why can't you make a virgin pregnant?

But... Does it matter anyway?

I think it does since,
a) It is recorded in the bible as both prophecy and narrative,
b) It signifies a new beginning in the path of salvation history, and
c) It points to the uniqueness of the one born.

The most prominent place that the virgin birth is referred to in the Old Testament is Isaiah 7:14, but some say that the word virgin in the passage is mistranslated. Some argue that the passage should say "young woman/girl," not "virgin."

Surely this doesn't stand up against the simple logic. If the lass was a faithful follower of God and was a "young unmarried woman" then she WOULD BE A VIRGIN ANYWAY!

Additionally, if we take the narrative as written, then Mary would definitely know if she was a virgin. She asks the obvious question in Luke 1:34!

Is the whole topic a deal breaker?
If you don't believe in the virgin birth, will you be turned away from heaven's doors?

I don't think so.
But, if you're skeptical, perhaps you should evaluate why this is the case.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Evil "Xmas"?

In some circles, calling Christmas "Xmas" is an issue to get all hot and bothered over. Some think this is "taking Christ out of Christmas."

So... Is this is case?

Not really.

Xmas can certainly refer to Christmas due to the first Greek letter in the word Christos (the anointed one). It is from this term we get the word Christ.

If anything the X is just an abbreviation and not one to get flustered over... Unless very minor forms of time efficiency get under your skin.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas = Pagan?

I mentioned yesterday that their was significance to the date chosen to remember the birth of Christ.

Like many dates on the church calendar, this date was originally attached with pagan festivals, celebrating the lengthening of the days (the Winter solstice being a few days prior to December 25th).

It wasn't an uncommon occurrence for the church to give an already established time of celebration new meaning, making the transition simpler for all.

The connections that many of the traditions of Christmas to previous practices do not transform what they point towards today.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why December 25th?

Was that the ACTUAL birth date of Jesus?

In short, the answer is... probably not. There is a slim change that Jesus was born in late December due to the cold Winter weather. It is more likely that Jesus was born in the northern hemisphere Spring-Autumn (since the shepherds were in the fields and in Winter this would be improbable). Furthermore, the census would have been called during these warmer months due to the travel required.

The precise date of Jesus' birth is lost to history.

So... Why do we celebrate on December 25?

Simply, early Christians wanted a consistent date to remember the birth of Christ. Why not December 25?

There was significance in the date selected (I'll post why this is the case tomorrow).

In fact, depending which calendar you acknowledge (the Julian or the Gregorian) and what tradition you are attached to, Christmas is celebrated on alternate dates (such as January 7 in many Orthodox and Coptic Churches and January 10 in the Armenian Church).

Whilst we are in the realm of dates, Jesus wasn't born in 1AD.

The bloke who devised the modern division of BC/AD, a monk by then name of Dionysius Exiguus, miscalculated by a few years.

First, Herod the Great died in 4BC, and he is mentioned in the birth narratives.

Second, due to the multiple positions that Quiuinius held and the amount of time that a census took to span the Roman empire, we are fairly confident that Jesus was born somewhere around 7-4"BC." We know this due to the information we are given at the start of Luke 2 where we are told about Quirinius, who was the Roman governor of Syria, and the census that required Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Why do they call it Christmas?

I'd figure I'd start with an easy question first.

December 25th is called Christmas for two reasons...

1 - The date remembers and celebrates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. He said He was the Messiah (the long awaited, promised saviour from the Old Testament). The term Christ is not Jesus' surname, but refers to the term anointed (Christos in Greek).

2 - The later part of the title comes from celebration of communion that is held in many churches on Christmas Day, called Mass in the Catholic tradition.

Combine 1 & 2 to get CHRISTMAS!!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Festive postings

This week I'm going to do a series of posts based on common questions about Christmas. The posts are going to be on...

Why is it called Christmas?
Why December 25th?
Is Christmas really a pagan festival?
Is calling Christmas 'Xmas" bad?
Can you really believe the virgin birth?
Why does Christmas matter?

Is there one other question you would want answered?

2012 Reading plan

For years I had a fairly structured bible reading plan.

Each fortnight I would focus on reading one book and make notes from what I learnt through study aids, sermons and other miscellaneous thoughts that popped into my head. As a result, I now have a dozen notebooks that I can refer to when doing sermon prep.

But this system started to get old around the start of the year and in 2012 I'm doing something new.

The system is not a brain-child of mine, I stumbled over it on a blog which I now cannot track down, and takes you through the entire bible in one year.

On Mondays you read 4 chapters of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the bible).
On Tuesdays you read 5 chapters of History (Joshua through to Esther).
On Wednesdays you read 5 chapters of Wisdom (Job through to Song of Songs)
On Thursdays you read 5 chapters of the Old Testament Prophets.
On Fridays you read 3 chapters of the Gospels.
On Saturday you read 3 chapters of the Epistles.
Finally, on Sunday, you have a day off, since you'll be hearing from the bible at church!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Always meant to be like this?

At the end of a camp it is inevitable that you'll hear someone say that church "should always be like this."

I don't think so.

Conferences can be brilliant. Camps are great. Taking time out to re-energise and have some focused time with God is amazingly fruitful.

But, in reality, we aren't meant to live in that space 365 days a year.

The end of camps usually remind me of Isaiah 40:30-31 and what I wrote about the passage on the Tiny Bible Bits Facebook page.

We are not to run at full speed constantly.
It is unrealistic to always be at "maximum warp" with God.

Usually, we are walking.
Usually, we are making a steady pace.

In fact, this is one of the reasons why we appreciate the mountain-top experience that camps provide.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Your story?

Christians, when they speak about their church to non-believers, should seek to answer these three questions...

What is their church struggling towards?
What does their church stand for?
What difference does the church make in their life?

These three areas are good to share because they speak against the negative stereotype that is often attached to the church.

The answers to these questions should show that the church is relevant to their community and purposefully heading towards a goal, is actually FOR something (as opposed to against everything) and the message they share is applicable in real life.

Monday, December 12, 2011

When symbols hurt

Font sizeLast night at church we had communion and included bread that had no gluten or lactose.

Earlier that day I had a conversation with someone who would have appreciated this since he, like my wife, has an adverse reaction to certain foods.

Our discussion revolved around the numerous objects which the church symbolically uses which may hold negative reactions for some.

If you are lactose intolerant or react adversely to foods containing gluten, communion is probably a struggle. How do you react when the "body of Christ" makes you feel ill?

More simply, what if you despise the taste of wine or grape juice?

If you had an absent or abusive father, how to do respond when you hear that God is your Heavenly Father?

I particularly wonder about the bread example since the number of food in-tolerances are on the rise and, in the past, many of then went undiagnosed.

Friday, December 9, 2011

What do they know?

Churches hold within them tensions. All of them. Everywhere.

This isn't a sign of ill-health or conflict, it's just reality.

As I've written previously, these are different to problems since they are not designed to be solved, but managed.

One tension involves the congregation and staff/ministers.

The following is a tension I've seen and heard at every church. All of them. Everywhere.

The tension? What do the people know?

Lately, I've come to realise that this tension will never go away since
a) people are complex and retain/value different information,
b) new people (ideally) should be continually joining the faith community and
c) you can't teach everything about God, discipleship and the church immediately.

What I can to to manage the tension? Stop complaining about it and systematically work on point c).

If you don't intentionally teach those in the pews, you can't be annoyed when they are lacking in knowledge...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sunday AM connections?

I wonder who serves the people who are about on a Sunday morning?

Generally, the vast majority of Christians are either in a church service or sleeping in (one of the great reasons to attend later in the afternoon/evening).

Who is being the Christian witness to all the families who spend Sunday morning down at the beach or at the park with their kids?

Sure, those people can and, in an ideal world, should be bumping into believers during the est of the week... but what about Sunday morning???

One idea, which I always thought was impractical, was to release a portion of your morning service to serve and make connections during "church time" on a Sunday. Could a church every, instead of having their building be full of young families, intentionally invite them to make connections in their community in this time frame?

Saddleback is doing a pretty good initiative along these lines this Sunday, as reported here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Question one

There's nearly an infinite number of good ministry ideas and events that churches could initiate. If you can think of it, and it helps the community, then it is within the realms of possibility.

One question that needs to be asked from the onset of an embryonic idea is simple... Can we actually pull it off?

Churches need to realistically ponder, with their physical space, financial resources, manpower and desire for implementation, can they really put another thing on their plate, or should this idea hit the cutting room floor?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tag identifier

Every year I have to wear name tags on multiple occasions, whether it be church services, special events or conferences. I've written about my personal dislike of donning them here.

Yesterday I wore one on the the base of my shorts, about knee height.

The incident reminded me of a youth ministry conference I attended earlier in the year.

Since it was a mixed event, you could promptly tell those who worked with teens based on us all sharing the same odd habit... Our name tags were in obscure positions (like on the sleeve of the shirt, or back of the hat).

Turns out, to be a youth worker, you need to try and make locating your name tag a virtual game of "Where's Wally."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Planning time zones

As the year winds down my church is conducting its "annual" staff reviews, and with this opportunity, my mind has been churning over the future and forward planning.

This Sunday, all going well, I'll look to speak in three time zones.

One Month. One Year. Five Years.

These are the margins most ministries tend to live in (along with this week!).

They ask...
What is happening immediately (this week)?
What is on the near horizon that needs to be set up now (one month)?
Where do we want to be in the short term (one year away)?
What does success in the longer term look like (five years)?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Are all religions the same?

It sounds tolerant.
It sounds accepting.
It sounds like a statement of understanding.

I wonder about those who utter this statement.
I wonder because it isn’t any of the descriptions above.

When I hear this statement, the words that pop into my mind are either ignorant or wilfully dismissive.

I’ve previously said that all religions, at the core, seek to answer five questions. The reason I wonder if the person making this statement is ignorant, is due to the incredible differences that exist in the answering of these five major topics.

Perhaps, with good intentions, the questioner is unaware about what the various faiths teach. They may not know the divergences in doctrine.

Since when did different mean the same?

For example...

There are either many deities or one God. It can’t be both. Buddhism says very little about God.

There either is or isn’t more than one lifetime/existence. Some religions believe in reincarnation and others flatly deny it. Both cannot be true.

A supernatural being is in what He created, or God is separate from the creation. Not both.

Ditto for the existence of Karma or if you could work your way into heaven.

Either God could become an incarnate human or not. Some say that God become a man two millennia ago, others hold that this is outrageously blasphemous. Some say that Jesus rose from the dead whilst others think this is rubbish.

Various faiths hold that their religious texts are God’s accurate revelation about Himself and how He wants people to live.

In light of these, only two options remain in the mind of the “all-religions-are-the-same” proponents.

Either all religions are wrong (since none absolutely subscribe to religious uniformity... but Baha’i would be close) or the significant differences that exist are inconsequential.

Neither of these positions seem tolerant or understanding. At worst, the underlying motive could be arrogance.

How else would you call someone who genuinely held the opinion that “you are ALL wrong” or that “none of your truth claims REALLY matter”?

Wouldn’t it be more tolerant to understand what each faith, including atheism, holds to be truth and at least acknowledge that, IF one of them is accurate, then there will be specific consequences?

Monday, November 28, 2011


What is indispensable in a church service?

I think the bible reading, sermon, prayer and offering are non-negotiables.

The first three should be fairly self explanatory. We need to hear from God, ponder what it says and how it applies to our lives and, as a community, lift up our needs before God.

The last one, for some, may be up for grabs. Not me.

I think the offering is essential since it's a physical act of worship and obedience. The offering is one important way of showing your heart for God.

Sure, I work for a church and some may say that this taints my viewpoint, but I find it odd when the offering is omitted.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Non-Holiday Holidays

Whilst on holidays this week I had one job... Submit a guest post to More than DodgeBall. You can check out what I wrote here.

If you have an opinion about when youth ministers should take holidays, add to the conversation. For me, and plenty of others, this is an annual issue.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

REPOST: Advertising Checklist

This week I'm on holidays, so I'm going to repost some things which I've found useful over the last few weeks.

To get ready for next terms mail out I tweaked this from an old form that was floating around my previous church...

Is the event named? Does it give you an idea of what it actually is?

Is the event adequately described? Do you get a mental picture? Is there a website?

What age are you after? Is it clear?

Are the days and dates clear AND accurate?

Where is the event to be held? Where will we meet – event or church?

Does the advertisement say how many people will be there? Other churches? Local, state, national event?

How are we getting to the event? Driving – drivers declaration, directions, leaders/parents, convoy? Public Transport – timetable, cost?

What time does the event start and finish? Are parents picking them up? Is this different from normal?

Is the event catered? Will they need to eat before/after?

How much does it cost? Is it clear?

Are their early bird rates?

When do you have to pay? Pay all up front, part deposit or on day? How do they get the money to you and by what method – eft, cash, cheque?

Will they need to bring extra money – food, travel, bookstore?

Is the RSVP date clear? Is there time to realistically save the cash or fundraise if required? What are the consequences if you cancel?

How do you register? Form – included? Internet, verbal?

Do you need medical and transport forms to go on the event? Included in mailout?

Is there a “what to bring” list? Do you need a “not to bring” list? Climate? Themes?

Is there a speaker? Can you hear them/get more info on the web? Theologically aligned? Good communicator? Why were they invited?

Will there be music at the event? Can you hear them/get more info on the web? Why were they invited?

How can parents get more info? Are your contact details on the form? Email, phone, facebook, blog, website?

Are the flyers quality? Graphics, wording?

Are there typos or grammar errors? Independent proof reader?

Is Jesus, the gospel and the church clearly included in the advertisement? Bait & Switch?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

REPOST: The Temple

This week I'm on holidays, so I'm going to repost some things which I've found useful over the last few weeks.

My wife and I once had a conversation. In short, smoking is a deal breaker. I need to trade my wedding ring for my Winnie Blues.

It added to the reasons I already had written down not to puff away (actually it was something I wrote to give to a kid who asks).

First... It's costly. It costs you... you gotta buy them. It costs your work... they gotta pay you when you have a smoko. It costs everyone... we gotta pay to help look after you when you get ill.

Second... It's unhealthy. LOOK AT THE PACK!

It effects you adversely... It effects every organ. Skin, Extremities, Lungs, Heart, Brain, Arteries, Vision, Throat, Gums, Stroke, Loss of taste and smell, Stained teeth, Kidneys, Bladder, Stomach, Pancreas, Breathlessness...

It effects others adversely... As a result of passive smoking.

It even effects the unborn adversely... Miscarriage, SIDS, Under developed babies.

Third... It's unattractive. Check out the effects above and add the look, smell (on you - skin, breath, hair - and your clothes), smokers cough, skin discolouration. Want more proof? People ask to date and live with... NON smokers!

Fourth... It's controlling. Nicotine is addictive... Der. More so, you can't smoke in pubs, clubs, public buildings, shops, playgrounds, cars, others houses, restaurants...

Finally... 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. THE TEMPLE!!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

REPOST: The X Commandments

This week I'm on holidays, so I'm going to repost a few things which I have found handy over the last few weeks...

The Ten Commandments of Youth Ministry Leadership...WARNING: I have broken each of the following... So as one who has failed...

I - Love Jesus - If you don't love God, then you're wasting your time. Worse, if you attempt to fake following Jesus, you will be found out. Eventually the kids will catch on that you're life doesn't match what you teach. Don't be a hypocrite.

II - Love and Care for the Kids - Be open and genuinely interested in those you have been given the privilege to lead. Share with them your experiences and ensure that the youngsters are safe in your care. Guard them spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally and relationally from any dangers... either from outsiders, yourself or others in the group.

III - Be the Adult - It may sound obvious, but you are the responsible one. You, believe it or not, ARE the leader. It may mean that you feel like the killjoy at times, that great jokes go unspoken and that the amazing prank only happens in your mind... But be the adult, not the teen.

IV - Lead by Example - You can't take others where you yourself haven't been or aren't prepared to go. Lead from the front. If you want kids to put on shoes, then wear them yourself. If you want them to listen, then do it yourself first. Sometimes this will mean that you need to go outside of your comfort zone and take the first step, but that's ok.

V - Be Aware of your Co-leader - If you have the blessing to have a co-leader, use it wisely! Be aware of their strengths and limitations. Be aware of their fluctuating energy levels and the things that irritate them. Support one another. Work as a team (yes, this means communication!). Utilise each others gifts. Show your co-leader that you are thankful that they are there!

VI - Know what's going on - Know the program. Know where you and your kids need to be. Be on time. Know what is required prior and during the activities that you're all involved in. If you don't know the answers follow the next commandment...

VII - Ask for Help - There is no such thing as a super-leader. Don't be so proud that you will choose to make an easily avoidable mistake. Learn from others experience. Ask advice from those who have gone through similar experiences and actually listen.

VIII - Travel in a Pack - In each group there will the enthusiastic kids and the slothful kids. One teenager will always want to rush ahead and one will move at snails pace. Aim to have as little gap between speedy teen and slow-poke youth.

IX - Complain Up - If you have issues, do something about it that will move towards a solution. Don't let bitterness, anger or miscommunication fester. Avoid gossip at all cost.

X - Have Fun and Create Memories- Despite the imposing nature of much of the above points, take time to smile. Create times to laugh. God's people should not be known as stick-in-the-mud's. Do things that are a little crazy. Climb a tree. Have a food fight. Spend time together and joke will arise. Enjoy hanging with your kids... Usually the most teachable moments are the ones that are unplanned.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Justifying stats

Do an Internet search on how many Christians struggle with porn (both men and women).
Search for the stats on how much the average believer gives as a percentage of their income.
Track down the number of minister who commit sexual misconduct or theft.
Find out how many Christians actively partake in evangelism or invite others to church.
Compare the stats on divorce within the church against those who don't believe.

Most of the above categories make for ugly reading.

Whenever I stumble over these stats I feel a tender tug of temptation.
I no longer feel in the minority.
Somehow, the things I struggle with (or may even be tempted to flirt with), become increasingly justifyable.

But perhaps that's just me...

Unless I discover a stat which indicates otherwise (and then I'll feel better about myself).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What if you're not smart enough?

By the looks of it, I could have a degree in a little over a year (If I did it full-time). This week I got the results back from my first few Bachelor of Theology subjects and found out that I will receive a heap of credit from my previous study.

If you want to work long-term in a church, the people usually demand that you have a BTh.

I'm no master of intellect, but I should scrape through with at least a solid pass mark.

I wonder what happens to those who want to go into ministry but are not academically wired enough to obtain a degree?

I readily admit that having the clergy educated and equipped is important, but what if you feel genuinely called into full-time ministry, but have ADD or dyslexia?

Put bluntly, what if you are too stupid to get the grades required?

How much does the church miss out because they demand a degree from their ministers?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Costly no-show

Over the last few days the network has been down at church. No Internet. No connection to the photocopier/printer (very annoying!). No access to all the common files.

All I've had in my office is a computer with my old files.

So, in the name of procrastination, I started to go through them. In the process, I found the minutes of an old accountability group I was in when I started in ministry.

One thing that caught my eye was the punishment if you missed an arranged meeting. Unless it was an emergency (we weren't crazy legalists!), missing a meeting would set you back $30 (you would need to buy the other guys a CD... a hint at how long ago this was).

For important meetings, it seems life a good idea.

Make non-attendance costly.

I'm not talking about church council meetings, regular youth group or church. I'm specifically talking about accountability or planning meetings which have been set for a long time.

You need to buy lunch for the next meeting.
You need to purchase everyone's favourite chocolate bar and drink for next time.

The aim isn't to send someone bankrupt, but perhaps we need to put a price on skipping the group..

Monday, November 14, 2011

Member of what?

In light of this poll on MorethanDodgeBall and the NCLS Survey that our church took part in yesterday, I've been wandering about what church (and specifically youth ministry) desires people to be a part of and if we are really successful.

I know, we want all people, not just teens, to put their faith in Christ. This is what the bible says and what we tell people. This is the aim.

Do we actually create members of denominations or churches?
Do we actually create members of specific congregations?
Do we actually create members of niche specific groups?

The questions arise when I see teens "pop out the top" of the youth ministry cycle and then disappear. Where they actually "converted" to the youth group, not something more permanent?

Is the same thing reflected when, for whatever reason, a service shuts down (or is merged with another) and people vanish?

Is a similar thing displayed when someone moves and a church of their denomination isn't nearby, so they stop attending church altogether?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Does religion cause all wars?

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may recognise the above words from John Lennon's song "Imagine." I used these words to kick off my talks in chapel, speaking on the topic "that religion causes all wars."

Unsurprisingly, I took a negative view of the topic.

I did concede that religion has been a FACTOR in conflicts. The evidence isn't hard to find with The Crusades, The Inquisitions and much of the violence in Ireland (amongst others) having to do with how people view God and how He should be worshipped.

But, war revolves around much more than just religion. Wars are declared and fought over land, power, oil, money, envy, revenge, racism, mistrust, fame and more. War, when boiled down, comes down to one of three reasons...

1 - You have something I want. I will take it.
2 - I have something which you reckon you deserve. I will defend it.
3 - I don't trust you not to act on reasons one or two.

Admittedly, religion has been used, abused, twisted and manipulated to rationalise many of the additional reasons I gave for warfare. But is it fair to judge a group of people based on the poor actions of history or a few rogue members?

Would you call all teachers alcoholic drink-driver's if you read about one in the newspaper tomorrow?
Is it fair to think that all school students are pot-heads because they share something in common with a teenager who made a stupid decision in Bali?

If religion were the sole cause of warfare, then in theory, the world should be getting safer. Today people are openly less religious. Is the world, as a result, becoming more peaceful? Are we safer now compared to 50 or 150 years ago due to the rise of unbelief?

I think not.

The reason is due to the common factor in warfare.

It is not religion, but people.

People are greedy. People desire fame, fortune and power. People mistrust others. People are envious and strike out in vengeance.

"Religious" people are not immune to this.

Fortunately, the bible never says that you should follow the church or put your faith in Christians. This isn't because they are pure evil; they can do some extraordinary positive things. The bible says to follow and put your faith in Jesus.

When people give the name of Christ as a reason for conflict, weigh that reason with the life and teachings of Jesus. Balance them against the way that Jesus treated others and the way he behaved to those arresting and executing Him.

Don't judge the Prince of Peace by those who misrepresent Him.

And don't to it to other religions either...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Blacksmith meetings

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17.

Today I had a staff meeting where nothing incredibly groundbreaking happened... But it was good.

I enjoy staff meetings and I think the majority of people who work for churches should enjoy their staff meetings.

These meetings should be enjoyable if they reflect Proverbs 27.

Meetings where genuine, critical reflection occurs.
Meetings where there is honest feedback.
Meetings where opinions are freely expressed.
Meetings where forgiveness is given.
Meetings where other ministries are not "the competition."
Meetings where everyone wants the other people to succeed.
Meetings which involve growing conversations.

If staff meetings reflect the qualities above, then the individuals and church are strengthened by each team member being a master blacksmith.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Connecting conversations

What's the most exciting thing to happen to you this week?
What was the best thing about your day today?
What are you looking forward to this week?
Are you looking forward to your birthday coming up?
Did you go trick-or-treating on Monday?
How was the play you were telling me about last week?

The questions above are the kind of banter I generally have with kids in primary school.

I think these weekly conversations, although not overly deep, are crucial.

One thing that children's and youth ministry provides, which kids don't really get elsewhere are caring adults.

Adults who will show an interest in their life are an incredible blessing in the life of a child and, of equal importance, there is the real chance that you will be the only person who will ask them how they are going and actually listen to the answer.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Remembering parent's names

It still blows my mind that I will be a father in under five months. My wife and I just got our 20 week ultrasound and I actually saw the face of my baby... Wow.

The whole series of events has reminded me of a failing that I'm currently, unsuccessfully, trying to remedy.

Connecting with parents.

I'm sure I've shared how, despite the importance in remembering them, I struggle to recall names.

My new aim is to remember the names of kid's parents and have even gone so far as to make a cheat sheet.

The reasons are simple...

1 - When you remember a name it shows that you care about them as a person.

2 - If you know the name of a parent, during a rare conversation that does occur, you can use their name. A big help in communication!

3 - Through doing points one and two, you can build trust, which is important if the parents are to leave their most prised possession with you!

4 - When you do need to contact the parents in emergencies, like an event going overtime, then you are not a complete stranger on the other end of phone (not to mention that you will know who to ask for!).

5 - If you know the name of a parent, you can initiate a conversation and talk about one of their favourite subjects. Their kids! Parents love hearing others rave about their younglings. Knowing parents names opens the door for this opportunity.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dead horse theology

During the last week I overheard a discussion which made me think "when their is no more orange in the juice, the answer is not to keep squeezing!" It also reminded me of this...

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed on from one generation to the next, says that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.

But in the Mainstream Churches because important heritage, history and traditional factors must be taken into consideration, sometimes other strategies are tried with dead horses, some of which you may recognise below:

1. Buying a stronger whip.
2. Changing riders.
3. Threatening the horse with termination.
4. Appointing a committee to study the horse.
5. Arranging to visit other sites to see how they ride dead horses.
6. Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included.
7. Reclassifying the dead horse as "living-impaired".
8. Hiring consultants to ride the dead horse.
9. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed.
10. Providing additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse's performance.
11. Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse's performance.
12. Declaring that the dead horse carries lower overheads and therefore contributes more to the bottom line than some other horses.
13. Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses.
14. Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Oldies and change

Over the weekend I had a conversation about change and the elderly since it is no secret that "oldies" have occasionally stood in the way of change.

There are many churches which have thought that God is presenting a way forward... only got the "oldies" to shut it down.

The more I ponder the situation the more I am confused by it.

I openly admit that change can be scary and change can be difficult.
And sure, stability is comfortable and easy.

BUT, those who have been around the longest (the oldies!) have seen the most change!

For a person in their 70's, they have seen the world and the church transform in massive ways; some of it moved forward from their own hands, some of it from the generation after them.

If the elder generations think back and recall the changes they instigated, and the positive advancements that have happened in their churches in the past, then this should transform how they view change.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Finding mission & purpose

It's not usual that I write about the specific things I do in ministry, but this past weekend went surprisingly well and something I want to be able to come back to.

I was asked to speak/lead three sessions focusing around the theme of purpose/mission/direction/how to connect/reach the community around them (a theme used in approximately 61.3% of all church camps). Originally, I was meant/going to speak on the topic of peace, but it was switched a few weeks out from the camp and took a more interactive vibe.

With the new theme and interactive format, I began with a vague outline, mindful that I had to give adequate time to the small group discussions (something which was short-changed the year prior and looked at the bible passages in greater depth).

The three sessions went like this...

Saturday morning #1 - Exodus 3 - Who is the God you have encountered?

Each small group were seated at a common table, covered in butcher's paper, and initially invited to write down as many names/titles of God they could think of. Then, the tables were asked to identify one name of God which they individually and corporately identified with.

The reason is core to the theme of the weekend. Your understanding of who God is should shape the mission and direction of any church.

This is what happens in Exodus 3. God hears the cry of His people. God reaches out to Moses. God sends Moses to intervene. God answers Moses' excuses. God equips Moses to do the task God sets before him. God further reveals who He is. The God who does not, and will never change, shapes the mission and direction of Moses' ministry.

Saturday morning #2 - Revelation 1-3 - What is God calling you to do & be?

This session started in a similar fashion to the first. This time, the small groups were invited to write down as many promises of God they could remember.

The reason was also essential for the weekend's theme. Your understanding of what God has said, in addition to His character, should guide the mission and direction of the church. God invites His people to play a part in sharing and showing the promises of God come about.

At the start of Revelation, the scene is set and Jesus evaluates seven churches. Each letter begins with a description of Christ, often taken straight from the first chapter, and conclude with a promise of God.

At the end of the session, and the talks did get progressively (but appropriately) more confrontational, I warned the church of the needs and costs of ministry... If they weren't willing to meet the needs and pay the costs, then they shouldn't launch any new initiatives.

Sunday morning - Acts 17:16-34 - How do we relate the God we have encountered (stemming from talk one) to the community we live in?

As was my chosen delivery method of the weekend, again the tables were instructed to work together. This time they were told to draw four boxes titled... Unity. Space. Permission. Validity.

On the butchers paper, the groups were to give definitions and examples of how a church can show these qualities to a ministry and, at the same time, list every existing ministry which the church was currently involved in.

Then, I challenged the church to look at the list of activities their church does and truthfully evaluate if they are given unity, space, permission and validity.

These are the four needs. These are the four costs. Every ministry in a church needs them. Every church must provide them if the ministry is to flourish (The points flowed from what I blogged about here).

We then saw how Paul interacted with the community in Athens and how he shared the God He had encountered, drawing on the nature and character of God.

Finally, in order to connect with their community, I suggested six things...
Share stories. Build relationships. Share your life with others. Live out your faith. Apply the bible in what you teach. "Do" church well. Love what you have.

With the input of these three talks, although not given a six-step-strategy-for-church-growth, I hoped that the church could be guide themselves to be what God calls them to be and do.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Did you see this in 2006?

This weekend I'm speaking at a camp where some of the discussion time will be spent in "mission planning stuff" (I believe that is the technical term).

The starting point will be, as a group, identifying the nature of who God is and what He calls all Christians to do. When looking at the purpose and mission of a faith community, I firmly believe these should shape any direction. Once you recognise the God you are wanting to proclaim and the promises that you want to share, can you be in a position to ponder how you are going to do it.

In fact, with my current church being between ministers, we are in the middle of a similar process.

But with all this "mission planning" and "strategising ways to effectively communicate the gospel" and "reach the community," I wonder how many churches saw where they currently are half a decade ago?

How many "mission planning days/weekends" put a plan in place which was effective?
How many churches formed a fancy slogan, but actually didn't go anywhere?
How many churches in 2006 didn't even think about 2011?
Equally, how many churches are giving no strategic thought right now to 2016?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why does the symbol matter?

If the absolute truth is told, I think the denomination that I'm in is... alright. I think is has some really good traits and some traits that make it... a mixed blessing.

One thing that makes my denomination unusual is that it is identifiable. We have a recognisable symbol which other denominations don't seem to posses. One clear reason is that my denomination is the largest provider of aged care (read retirement homes) in Australia.

I couldn't tell you if the Catholics, Anglicans or Baptists have a unifying symbol.

The symbol matters because people notice.

My denomination is known for the aged care it provides.
From nothing more than the symbol on the side of the building, people can know what denomination that church is.
From the formation of my denomination (the amalgamation of three denominations in the mid 70's), the new symbol is one that represents this union.
Additionally, the symbol represents some of the things which the denomination stands for.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What you are comfortable with...

In church this morning I did something dangerous. I asked people to do what they felt comfortable doing.

Before leading the 'prayer of the people,' which traditionally closes with the Lord's Prayer, I gave an invitation for people to recite the Lord's Prayer in the words or language they were most comfortable with. If it meant there was a jumble of "thy's" and "thine's," then so be it. If someone spoke Chinese or Aramaic (like the guy who originally gave me the idea did), then that's ok.

The reason behind the exercise were simple.

First, I hoped that people would focus on the words more if they did what they were comfortable doing. At times I think the monotone "Our Father..." drone disconnects people with what they are meant to be doing. Note that the word's were still projected for anyone new or unfamiliar with the words (a practice I've written about before here).

Which ties into the second reason, prayer is a time (primarily) between you and God (yes, the Lord's Prayer has a communal element to it). I think God would want you to express what you want to say, not fall into line with what the screen demands.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Manuscript gift

Earlier this week I mentioned an assignment where the task was to write a sermon for someones ordination service.

One of the readings for the essay included a really good idea, but one I know I'd probably be too chicken to actually do.

The idea is simple. On the special occasions when you preach (Weddings, baptisms, ordinations, commissionings, funerals) you should give the significant people in the service a transcript of what you said.

The reason was twofold and ones I identify with.

First, on significant times like these you often want to remember what was said but, second, you often can't or don't remember.

I remember the sermon at the induction service of my first ministry job was really good it would've been great to keep a copy. I don't have one.
I only vaguely remember what the sermon was on at my wedding. A transcript would be really useful.
I would love to read what the reflection was at my Dad's funeral. It's too bad I don't have it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Confessing easy things in the silence

I looked at porn... again.
I got drunk.
I masturbat... never mind.
I hate my parents.
I'm sleeping with my partner.
I steal from work.
I habitually plagiarise in my essays.

These are easy confessions.

Not easy because they aren't genuine issues or things which are a lot of work to overcome, but easy because they spring quickly to mind.

Whenever there is a moment to "confess your sins to God," if you're like me, you recycle the same old struggles.

I wonder how many of us confess the "harder" sins?
Our indifference... to the poor, to the environment, to our neighbours.
The lack of desire we have for others to hear about the gospel.
Our self indulgence with money or food.
The fact we don't give to the local church.

These (and other) shortcomings are often deeper, under the surface and if we master them, they can help us conquer the sins in the spotlight.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Who is worthy?

Yesterday (for an assignment) I wrote a sermon that, hypothetically, would be given during someones ordination service. During the 1955 words, I picked up a point birthed from an obscure part earlier in the service.

At one point, the congregation is encouraged to cry out "He is worthy!" with the presentation of the candidate.

My point was, and one that is often missed, that the declaration is not meant to be directed towards the one up for ordination, instead, it is actually meant for God.

The reason? People are meant to be recognising the faithfulness of God in the life of the candidate and His continuing faithfulness in providing people to preach the gospel. We are meant to be declaring that this candidate and the occasion is a reminder that God is worthy or praise.

But we misdirect the statement and think we are showering affirmation on the candidate.

In fact, we tend to make a similar mistake at weddings.

We think the ceremony is all about the blushing bride and the bloke beside her. It is about more than them. It is also a celebration of God bringing the two of them together and the dedication of the couple to lifelong commitment before Him.

At occasions when we might be tempted to take our gaze off God and direct it elsewhere, be it towards an ordination candidate or wedding couple, it would do us well to remember that "He is worthy!"

Monday, October 17, 2011

One rainy afternoon

You can tell I have an assignment due today. It means I'm procrastinating. I should be doing the essay now and I should've been more focused yesterday.

Yesterday, before youth group, I made one of these in my office to help launch the new term (it was the closest we could get to fireworks).

Now if I can only get a 1000 paddle pop sticks...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The gift of study

Yesterday I handed in the final assignment of my first Bachelor of Theology subject (with my second subject due to be completed on Monday).

I remember, back when I was at college doing my diploma studies, someone said that the study ministers undertake is a gift.

Many won't have the opportunity, time or money to study theology and practical ministry and this study is a gift to those you will serve. It is a gift because you are in a privileged position that many don't get.

But a gift must be given and not horded.

For it is a gift that others deserve. Those who are ministered to in churches deserve those up the front to have thought deeply about what they believe. The community of believers deserve someone who has spent considerable time looking at the bible and church history to learn what they have to teach us about God, ourselves and the church.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Emergency church?

No one is a member of a hospital, but we know where our local one is. In an emergency, we know where to find it.
No one is a member of the local police station, but we all know how far away it is... just in case.

I wonder how many churches have "members" that only call upon it in an emergency?

How many member rolls are filled with those who only make contact when someone is born, needs to be baptised, is ready to have a wedding ceremony, gravely ill or just deceased?

Church is not meant to be a place which you have to "beak the glass of an emergency" to get in contact with.

In fact, the support a church community provides works much, much more effectively if you share all parts of your life, not just the moments of crisis.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Kick-a$$ volunteers

It has been a while since I've had to choose a church to attend voluntarily.


One of the up(?) sides of being in ministry is having your church chosen for you. You initially agree to work there, with adequate discernment, and then... POW... you are a member of that church.

But I wonder what I would look for if, for some reason, I were "back on the market"?

Would I gravitate towards a large church?
Would I gaze an eye over multiple churches and attend based upon the quality of their PowerPoint?
Could I live with a church that wasn't oozing quality (not that I'd ever find one, nor do we achieve it every week at my church!)?

Or, would I purposely choose a church where I could be used?
A church that looks like it could use help?

I'm not sure, but I do remember an ideal that we held in college. Being a kick-ass volunteer.

A volunteer who could preach when required. Or lead a service. Or lead the youth group. Or produce the advertising.

I think people who were formally in ministry should strive to be kick-ass volunteers.

Sure, plenty of people are chewed up by churches and ministry and need a break. But, with adequate time, I'm not sure it serves their church well for them to sit on the sidelines.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Culture shaping

Last week I wrote an essay on female ordination. It was about as fun as it sounds.

During lectures on the topic, it was wondered (in conjunction with the issue of homosexual ordination) if culture was shaping the direction of the church.

I think the church should never be either ignorant or neglectful of the issues raised by culture. The church is called to engage with it's culture and wrestle with the issues of the day.

But the tail shouldn't wag the dog.

Culture can (and should) certainly thrust issues into the spotlight and demand to hear what the church thinks, but I'm not convinced that the church should chase the "flavour of the month."

Sometimes we need to remember what we are actually all about. Showing the world the love and grace of God, concerned with justice and mercy. These things will cover the vast majority of issues that arise...

Friday, October 7, 2011

Alien assult?

According to this story religion would 'take a blow' if advanced alien life was discovered.

I'm not convinced it would.

I've previously written how I easily live with the uncertainty of aliens.

Remember, the bible doesn't say anything about cats either. Or Kangaroos. Or coffee. Or television. Or... you get my point?

The bible doesn't speak about them because it doesn't need to. It's not primarily (or even peripherally) about them. It is about God, humanity and the world. The bible gives all the details for reconciliation between God and people that is required.

I can't see how 'the Christian belief system does not easily allow for other intelligent beings in the universe...'

Perhaps I'm a tad simple, but my answer seems more reasonable than the ones given in the article.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The ground floor needs theologians

I've previously posted that the ground floor needs generals.

I think the wider church would benefit from long-term youth ministers working in places that need their experience, not just a bunch of fresh-faced 22 year old college graduates.

Well the ground floor also needs theologians.

Just as those in long-term youth ministry occasionally get positions as chaplains, regional advisers or even senior ministers, those who have a passion for thinking deeply about ministering to youth often step back from the front lines to do so.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that those in youth ministry are theologically inept, but I find many youth ministry theology books (and there isn't a massive number) are penned by those who ceased to be "youth ministers" years ago.

Those who minister to youth should think hard about the why and how of what they do. They should read books on the topic. They should wrestle with the issues.

In fact, I should do it more.

I acknowledge that it takes time and head space to write a PhD or a book.

But it would be nice if those who write the theology of youth ministry texts were doing it, instead of giving academic lectures for a living.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

You are not Gandhi

Late Sunday night I was involved in a conversation about ordinary Christians.

Christians that don't have a book deal. Those who aren't on television. Those who don't have 150,000 Facebook fans. Those who don't have a face recognised globally.

Just regular believers who love God and are trying to obey Him as best they can in their homes, workplaces and churches.

The discussion had, in part, to do with the fact that everyone isn't meant to be their generation's Gandhi. There will be only one Driscoll or Piper. Martin Luther King has already lived you will never be an exact duplicate.

The vast, vast majority of Christians (and people for that matter) are ordinary.

And that's a good thing.

It's ordinary people who volunteer as telephone counsellors.
It's ordinary people who are country ministers and hospital chaplains.
It's ordinary people who provide meals for hurting neighbours.
It's ordinary people who run playgroups.
It's ordinary people who drive elderly parishioners to church.
It's ordinary people who man techie booths and provide flowers for church.
It's ordinary people who attend the funerals of their friend's parents.
It's the ordinary people who do thousands of untold good acts each day.

God, most often, works through the ordinary people.