Monday, January 31, 2011

I like riding yellow unicorns in the pale moonlight

In days gone past i used to share a tradition with a mate. Whenever we had to leave the table at the pub to "freshen up" we would leave our mobile phones behind. As you do, we would send random text messages to other people (nothing offensive, just a little odd).

So... I once sent "I like riding yellow unicorns in the pale moonlight" to a lecturer of his bible college.

It was his own fault... He had his number in his phone.

And this is one of the reasons i don't have the numbers of church teenagers in my phone. It avoids odd messages.

But seriously, it covers my back and ties into some of the ideas of leader net-etiquette.

With the absence of any youths numbers, it is far easier to be seen to be above board in your communication. If you don't have their numbers easily and constantly available, then there is a far smaller threat of anything suspect.

Sure, i get the occasional messages from kids and am uncertain of the sender, but the cost or maintaining solid boundaries is worth it.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

You don't have to be full time

Yesterday i said that, given enough time, the majority of youth ministry leaders drop out. They may not want to cease leading, but life gets in the way.

One reason leaders drop out, in my opinion, is the unspoken expectation that comes with youth ministry leadership.

The expectation? You must be there every week. You must be fully committed. You must be totally plugged in. You must be full time.

Trouble is, this isn't for everyone. For some, life makes this near impossible (despite how much they may want to be involved, care about the ministry and love the kids involved).

Perhaps youth ministry leadership should fall into four categories...

1 - Those who can commit to be highly involved. They are there every week and actively plan, lead and reflect on what happens each week.

2 - Those who are more than happy and capable to be there each week, but don't have the resources or time to be involved in the behind-the-scenes planning.

3 - Those who you call on when you need extra. Extra transport. Extra cooks. An extra set of eyes at a big event.

4 - Brain-pickers and resource-rs. Those who have a good grasp of the experiences and culture of the church. These people will be an honest sounding board and are willing to dip into their wallet to make sure that it moves forward.

These last two spots can be perfectly filled by ex-leaders who had to stop due to the business of life, but still care deeply for the kids.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Leaders expiry date

Now that I'm on the other side of my birthday and Australia Day (a public holiday) I'm back in the blog posting saddle...

In a dream world every youth group would be well stocked with leaders. Leaders who matched the groups needs exactly. Leaders who suited in experience, age, wisdom and gender requirements. Leaders who stuck around forever.

But we do not live in a perfect world.

People graduate from University. People move away to study or work. People change jobs. They do a hard working week. Some like to be social. A few actually date (gasp!). People get married. They move away. Others need some distance from the kids. Unfortunates burnout.

And there is nothing inherently wrong with these reasons (expect for the last one).

Given enough time, a group will change it's leadership.

Especially if your volunteer leaders are in a transient age bracket (19-25).

Expecting leaders to be around forever-and-a-day is unrealistic.

But there is middle ground... that I'll post on tomorrow...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Why the hell should i listen?

Whenever someone is speaking to a group, one question that is going through the audience's mind is the title of this post. Why the hell should i listen???

The other day, one of my leaders gave me a pretty good answer.

Show that what you're saying will be useful to the listener.
Show that what you're saying will be meaningful to their lives.
Make what you're saying applicable to what they will face tomorrow.

Monday, January 24, 2011

120 of stillness

I was pointed to a website by this blog.

The gist is simple. Do nothing.

For two whole minutes.


Church karaoke

Just rip off what Hillsong did. Or Saddleback. Or Willow Creek. Or St Church-down-the-road that is larger/more popular than us. It seemed to work there...

Sometimes churches fall into the trap of doing karaoke and recycling the greatest work of others.

I've done it myself.

For it has a place. If you are time poor or find a quality resource, catered to your particular needs, this can be extremely appropriate.

I just finished a planing meeting with my youth group leaders to organise the upcoming school term. Amongst that process, we looked at a curriculum of another couple of churches to garnish ideas and generate discussion.

But i was wary of falling into the church karaoke trap.

Wary because the practice can make you lazy - You no longer look to produce resources that cater to your teens and that God has shown you, but you search for the nearest mega-church to suckle off.

Wary because you fall behind - You live in the rear vision mirror of someone else. You will never be a pioneer if you need to wait on someone else to pave the way.

Wary because you aim for second best - Glee may sing other's songs really well, but they are still other artist's songs. It is better to do something individual then put a similar amount of effort into another's groundwork.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Rinse and repeat

I remember a story about a bloke in ministry who was meeting with his mentor. The minister was looking at applying for a position at yet another church.

The job description said that they desired someone who had ten years ministry experience. In the ministers mind, he fit the bill rather well.

He had been working at churches for nearly a dozen years, spanning 5 churches.

His mentor said calmly that he wasn't qualified. In fact, the aspirational minister barely had three years of experience.

Confused, the youngster asked for clarification.

The answer lay, he has told, in his Gypsy-like transitions. The young minister would never stay in one placement more than a few years. And when he arrived at his new patch he would copy what was done at his previous churches.

Why does this story stick in my mind? Because i wonder how much experience i have due to the multiplication and reproduction of what I've done in the past.

I've taught the same scripture lessons over the last three years (only a few of the gems). And the occasional youth group series.

Tonight I'm replaying a church service that I've run many times, just not at my new church.

Additionally, I'm hoping to run a young adult culture study that I've run at both of my prior churches.

Sure, these are a long shot from everything that i would do in a year, but I'm bothered that it feels like I'm already down to the "greatest hits."


If you've arrived here from my guest post on More Than DodgeBall (which was posted today... depending on the dateline) a MASSIVE WELCOME!

Trawl about. Check out the pages in the header.

If you're one of my loyal band of a readers (and you number in the dozens!) you're always welcome. But check out my post and trawl about Josh's blog.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

In the tradition of...

My wife and i just watched a movie in bed (no... not THAT kind of movie!).

When we were at the video store and the cover says "in the tradition of Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus" i knew that this day couldn't be complete until I'd seen MEGA PIRANHA.

I know, you're sorry you missed it when it came out in cinemas.

A few observations after delighting in the film...

1) It turns out that piranhas can eat boats. Wooden boats. Metal boats. Submarines. Helicopters.
2) If you're attacked by an over-sized piranha then your best defense is to kick them away or use an under-sized knife.
3) Why does the leading actress go by the singular name of Tiffany? i thought that you needed to be outrageously talented to drop your surname...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Leading on empty

One thing i have seen multiple times, at multiple churches, are leaders who are running on fumes. It is one of my aims this year to stem the flow...

Usually, those leading on empty have a common trait.

There is an imbalance in the amount that they are giving compared to what they are receiving. This can be physically, emotionally, relationally, vocationally and spiritually and generally spreads across areas of life.

Physically, they can be under-slept, underfed and unfit due to stress or business.
Emotionally, they can be burdened by everyone else's problems, but not have an appropriate outlet to process what's happening in their own life.

Relationally, they can feel a disconnection with those who they minister beside and not open their lives with each other.

Vocationally, they can be in a job that gives them little satisfaction or (at least feel) have no ultimate purpose.

Spiritually, they can be lapsed with keeping the spiritual disciplines of bible study, prayer and church attendance.

The simple answer?

I'm not convinced there is one, but a big chunk of the solution lies with leaders participating in a regular small group.

A place and people where they can share their spiritual journey and receive input, support and accountability.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tossing cats

I've spent the last few weeks scheming about the term/year ahead.

As a part of that process I've had a heap of meetings and sent out a plethora of e-mails.

Last night, as i was picking the brain from someone at church, i was encouraged to "throw an occasional cat amongst the pigeons." To "toss out an ambitions proposal."

Fortunately, my arm was already warm from lobbing the odd feline.

For one of the great things about January is the space to step back. To cast a vision of where you want to go. To stargaze.

And, usually, stargazing involves cat tossing.

Suggesting "what would happen if..."

In fact, right now I'm making a youth ministry newsletter to give out on Sunday. It asks for some big things. And who knows... someone may just say yes...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What if i had said yes?

Over the last few weeks "choose your own adventure" books have popped up in the conversation a couple of times.

The concept of the books is simple. You "participate in the story by making choices that affect the course of the narrative, which branches down various paths through the use of numbered paragraphs or pages." (Thanks Wikipedia!)

The concept has been bouncing around my head for the last week. Why? Because it is the third anniversary of "Why i said no."

In 2008 i declined a youth ministry position at a relatively strong and renowned church in Sydney. And i wonder what would have happened if i had accepted.

Sure, the reasons that i had (as you can read in the post) are as valid and correct today as every, but i still wonder...

Would i even have this blog? Since it came about from my time reading water meters.

How would the additional distance from my family have affected my Dad's passing? Since i was local, i was able to be with Dad in his final hours at home and at the hospital. My sister, who was only 30 minutes away (less time than i would have been in my alternate position), arrived at the hospital too late.

How would the distance from both our families have affected how my wife and i dealt with our two miscarriages from last year?

How would my ministry be different if i hadn't gone 8 months without a job and had a 9 month interim position before my current one?

I don't look back with regret, but I'm curious what the outcome would have been...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Unless they loved it

What I do on Friday nights will not be more fun than a party or the pub.

At least not usually.

If I try to match the world in entertainment, I come off second best.

Normally, this is something to keep in mind once kids get into senior high. Then they have a myriad of social option other than youth group.

But it also applies to the leaders who are there each week.

They don't go to the pub on a Friday night.
They don't use that evening to go on a date.
They don't spend that time with their friends.

Instead, they spend 40 Friday nights a year in a church building with teenagers. All without pay.

It's a good lesson to us who are on the payroll.

They are there cause they love it.
They love God.
They love the kids.
They love pouring their life into a bunch of young people.
They love seeing God work.

Otherwise, they could be doing something else...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Superstar focus

Since it's the middle of school holidays, I'm in contact with teens less than usual.

But still, there are some who are still on my radar.

Those who are keen for the new term and are already asking questions.
Those who are going on Christian camps during the holidays.
Those who have been asked to be new leaders in the Children's Ministry.
Those who are still around church on Sunday's.

In short, those who are the "superstars" of the youth ministry.
Sure (officially), there are no favourites, but I tend to lean towards the kids who are more switched on.

And, from what i can tell, it's a fairly common trait among youth ministers.

The lesson? Use the last few weeks to reach out to the kids who you don't easily/naturally connect with. In God's eyes, they are superstars too...

Friday, January 14, 2011

Is sex in the question?

Every so often i am asked the question "Is oral sex really sex?"

Yesterday i skimmed a book by a local youth minister that touched on the question.

His answer was really simple.

If you ask the question slowly... and really think about what is being asked... then the answer should be pretty clear. THE WORD SEX IS USED IN DESCRIBING THE ACT!!!

Sure, the answer can be made more complex, but really, the solution lies within the question...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Good intentions, bad communication

This week is full of apologies... From me.

As i reflect more on 2010, i see that i made a progressively erroneous turn.

All because i had good intentions. Just bad communication.

I forget an important rule about my leaders (that being that they are great and were running the youth ministry before i arrived).

I took more on board in term 4 cause they had university exams (good intention), but didn't adequately explain why they were now doing less (bad communication).
I invited the local High School Chaplin to give a talk when i was away (to see if his presence would draw in more students from his school... a good intention), but sent the message that the group would be less without me (bad communication).
I involved the Senior Minister more (to help connect his kids... good intention), but kidnapped the perceived authority that my leaders had in the eyes of the kids (REALLY bad communication).

Despite what Timberland says, this week i hope it's not too late...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

College connection responsibility

To start, Australian's don't go to college. At least not in the same fashion as they do in the US. Generally, Aussies go to a relatively close university, not a college hours away.

But sitting beside my desk at work is a curriculum from a church in The States that tackles the issue of kids embarking on their college years and moving away from their church home (I would post a link, but it is a draft for limited distribution).

It made me wonder how responsible the Youth Minister is when it comes to the second last drop out point of youth ministry.

This curriculum was unapologetic in it's nature. It said that following Jesus would be extremely tough without being a part of a faith community.

So, again unapologetically, it spelt out what one should look for in a church and how they could connect with one on campus (complete with a bunch of links that the group look at together).

Personally, i like it.

I like that this issue it dealt with in the open.
I like how the curriculum shows that the past and the next step are important.
I like how this shows that the faith journey of the young person continues beyond the home church.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the individual to connect with any group, but at least they can't say that a solid springboard wasn't placed before them.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Convicting yourself

I am a hoarder.

I assume there are meetings for people like me. Anonymous meetings. And 12 step programs. And episodes of Dr Phil that deal with my condition.

I horde books. I horde miscellaneous files that "could come in handy one day." I collect everything that i produce in any given year of ministry.

Consequently, I have stored up years worth of studies, sermons and handouts.

And over the last few weeks this has been surprisingly helpful.

During that time I've organised all the paperwork from 2010 and created new separate pages from my blog on past series' and introductory posts (you may have spotted them just above). Can you tell it is school holidays???

The reason this hording and organisation has been surprisingly useful is simple... I've had to read what I've done in the past.

I've read dozens of sermons and youth group talks and skimmed hundreds of blog posts.

And I've been challenged by what I've written myself.

Challenged by my own words about God's faithfulness.
Stirred by the way i could articulate the Christian message.
Confronted that those truths are still as real today as they were when i wrote them.

Guest posts away...

A few weeks ago i wrote a post called "the speech."

In the intro i said that I'd submitted a guest post based on a similar topic.

Well today my ship has come in...

I got an e-mail from the author of More Than DodgeBall saying that he'll publish my guest post some time this month.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Question church

A while back i read something about leading small groups and planning questions in advance. It reminded me of a thought i had about hosting "question church."

Quite simply the idea is the same one proposed in the small group setting.

The person leading doesn't come solely prepared with what they are going to say aside from a selected bible passage.

Then, once the passage is read by the congregation (possibly a few times), those in attendance pose the questions they want answered or topics they want to discuss, not just what the leader/preacher has prepared.

The positive? What is said would be far more engaging and applicable to those in attendance and it could create a mindset of interacting with the Bible (and one another) about theological things.

The danger? As the preacher, you would have no idea where the night could go and you would need to prepare in greater depth. Additionally, the culture of participation would need to be cultivate or you could get nothing but a crowd full of chirping crickets.

In the past, i have done a similar thing in small groups, but in church... dangerous.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Teens and Suicide

Each day in January that i head to office i aim to get one significant thing done. In theory, this means that by the end of the month i will have accomplished enough to justify my wage (not to mention knock off all the annoying jobs that get shoved onto the back burner during the last year).

Today i printed all the random articles i have horded on my computer over the last few months and filed them away. One such article was this one on suicide and it reminded me of this article i read during the week.

Whilst i may not have agreed with everything in the later article, i was reminded of a few valuable things to tell those who are thinking of harming themselves.

1 - Suicide is a permanent answer to an, often, temporary problem. Death is pretty long-lasting. Quite a few teen issues dissipate over time. Feelings will pass. A successful suicide attempt does not.

Sure, some problems are more complex and time does not heal all wounds, but a large chunk of problems that teens face have not been unique to them and will desist/vastly decrease once school is over.

2 - Suicide removes the good things from life. Suicide is seen as an escape from pain. But it is also an ending of anything that brings joy, happiness or meaning.

3 - Suicide denies hope. Sure, today hurts and you may not see a clear way out, but the next day can be better. Next week can be better. Next year can be better. Sometimes, you just need to make it to tomorrow.

4 - Suicide hurts those who care for you the most. You may not feel like there are many people who care for you, but those who do (are there are sure to be more than you are aware) will be deeply upset.

On average, any death directly affects 50 people. Take time to track down the people who will miss you. Who will mourn for you. Your family. Your friends.

Go to them for help.

Friday, January 7, 2011

When our powers combine

At the moment I'm on the lookout for a youth group.

Ideally, it will have between 15-40 teenage kids on a Friday night, within a half hour of my church, with solid leaders and biblical input.

Since i began at my new church, each term I have had a combined night with another youth group. I'm happy for them to come to us, but we usually travel to them.

  • Because it reminds me that I'm not in competition with the "other guy down the street." We are in partnership.
  • Because it lets my kids see that there are more than just them at youth groups and following Jesus.
  • Because i can get in a rut with our program and this mixes up the experiences for the kids. Having a new face up the front can be a real positive.
  • Because other don't do things the same way i do. Each chance i get to see another apply his/her craft i have the opportunity to learn how to do mine better.
  • Because each event established connections (Youth Ministers/leaders/kids) that can be built upon later.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Cause we're soo happy! Or not...

At my home church there was a song called the "Happy Song."

I always had a problem with that song.

The reason? Because people are not always happy and i felt awkward making people sing something that they aren't feeling.

Occasionally there would be a disclaimer, but lately the song has bothered me even more.

When you're uncertain who will be at your service and unsure what they are going through, the song invalidates any sadness or negative feelings someone may be experiencing, and that's not a good thing...

If anything, it can make someone unhealthily associate happiness with church (if you don't feel happy, then you don't fit in), And surely, this isn't a good thing...

Monday, January 3, 2011

Crisis of faith Vs Crisis of belief

Two weeks ago i wrote "...if i turn away from God, today will be why." At that time i was still raw with confusion and disappointment.

I could have written "if i stop believing in God, today will be why."

But it would have been a lie.

Over the past fortnight I've had the closest I've come to a crisis of faith. But not a crisis of belief.

The difference? When you have a crisis of faith you wonder if you want to follow God due to what He is like. Alternatively, with a crisis of belief, you doubt that there is a God at all.

In spite of everything that has gone down over the last year, I've not questioned the existence of God. My experiences haven't dulled the evidence.

And with time and helpful conversations I'm wading my way through the crisis of faith.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Festive ponderings

Over the last few weeks these are the things that have been bouncing through my head and the conversations that I've been having.

Some have kept me awake at night...
Some have been pondered over for hours...
Some have flashed though my subconscious and been quickly dispensed with...

Should your idea of God change with the experiences you go through? If so, how much?

How do you lead people into the presence of a God when you yourself don't particularly want to be there?

How do bad things effect the transcendent (arms length) character of God and the immanent (nearby) nature of God?

If God is absolutely sovereign (or is He?) how can He then be mourning with you in your time of grief?

Can you hold God to ransom?
Can you say that you won't do xyz until He does abc, or that you will only do (or continue to do) xyz if He does abc?

If God gives you chance after chance (which He has!), shouldn't He deserve AT LEAST one when you think He has let you down?

How honest should you be with set backs in your life to those you minister to? Should you tell everyone everything? What should you withhold? If you do tell, how do you do it?

Not all of these questions have been answered over the last fortnight. I didn't expect some of them to be. Some don't have answers this side of heaven.

But as a guy who was fairly confident that he held a fair portion of the answers (as evidenced by the blossoming Apologetics section of the blog), these questions still trouble me.