Thursday, March 31, 2011

Disconnect spiral

“I don’t feel cared for at church... but I only go once a month.”
“I don’t connect with anyone at church... but I’ve never allowed anyone to have a meaningful conversation with me.”
“I don’t feel like I know anyone at church... but anytime I’m invited to join a group at attend an event, I decline.”

If you work in ministry long enough you’ll probably be familiar with the above statements.

Or at least recognise the first half of the statements. And they are statements that keep you awake at night. People get stuck in the careless spiral.

They don’t feel a strong sense of belonging, so they attend less frequently.
Because they aren’t around as much, they feel disconnected.
Because they feel disconnected themselves, they don’t try connecting with others when they are at church.
And so the downward spiral continues until people drop off the radar.

The only solution I know?

Connecting into any community is a two-way effort. One cannot do all the heavy lifting. It is a partnership.
If you want to be connected, then look for people to connect with.
Accept opportunities to be involved.
Resist the urge to step back, instead, step forward.

Don’t let yourself get sucked into the spiral.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I've posted about being an introvert previously

Last week, during a meeting, it was mentioned that the majority of youth ministers were extraverts. You could understandably mistake me for an extravert.

I'm regularly up front. I lead services, get involved in chapel, preach, make silly adverts and will shamelessly plug whatever is going on.

But, as you can see from my personality profile in the sidebar, I'm dominantly introverted.

It was exposed twice during the last week. First, during an engagement party for one of my wife's friends, and again with the parent of a new kid at church. On both occasions I kept within my shell.

In reality... having to meet and welcome new people is one of my weaknesses. The advice I received after Sunday? Fake it. Act as though it doesn't bother you. Understand that it is a part of your job and tough it out.

I don't know how comfortable I am with it, but it's probably sound advice. I can always hide out in my office later.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Church relevance quiz

I just read this post about churches falling into the trap of thinking they are the centre of the universe.

How do you know if you do?

1. Write down the top 4 artists on your iPod, the last book you read, and the top 5 things that were discussed at your last church staff meeting.
2. Take that list (you should have 10 things) to your local Starbucks or mall or Wal Mart.
3. Quiz strangers and ask them to circle all the terms, titles, or phrases on that list that they recognize.
4. If the average score is less than 3 circled, you are doomed. I am sorry.

I'm not sure how our church would fare...

Newbie speak

Over the last few days I've become more aware of the words that are used up the front of a church service and how they may sound in the ears of guests (believers or otherwise).

One thing in particular that I've noticed is how often preachers presume that those listening are aware of the biblical stories and passages. It isn't uncommon to hear "as all of you will know..." It would annoy and embarrass me if I wasn't a part of the assumed ". Even more aggravating, it can be easily solved by substituting the term "many" for "all".

Additionally, and this is something that I encountered when my wife and I were between churches, it is a great help if the person up the front (no matter if they are leading the service, saying a prayer or preaching) that they introduce themselves. This should be especially true if they are on staff. As a guest, I often had no idea who was at the microphone and it would make it more difficult to chat with them after the service.

The same point can go for using people’s nicknames. As a guest, I don't particularly want to chat to "Smithy" about the sermon or "Hoff" about the prayer.

Finally, and this point has been written about by plenty of others, Christians need to be aware of the church jargon they use (otherwise known as Christianese). We use a flood of words in a church service and tossing around unexplained phrases like justified, sanctified, atonement, worship, fellowship... just make the outsider fell even more so.

Really, these are just minor points, but to a visitor, they can make a pretty significant difference to their experience of a new church or church-for-the-first-time and make a faithful churchgoer more comfortable to invite others.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Date night ministry

No matter if they're written for/from a believer or not, the vast majority of marriage enhancement articles will advocate for a date night. Couples should have dedicated time together.

This morning I was chatting to parents of some (potentially) new kids around church and dropped one of the greatest motivators for sending their kids to youth group.

Dinner alone.

Luckily, our church is located a block from a decent pub where some parents hang out together whilst we entertain/mind/spiritually nourish their kids. If one of the hidden strengths of a successful children's/youth ministry are strong, stable marriages, then I think it makes sense for children's ministries to advertise the kids ministry/date night opportunity.

The church shouldn't be merely seen as cheap babysitting, but we shouldn't shy away from the fact that we can not only be ministering to the kids, but serving the parents as well.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Grave scrubbing

Yesterday wasn't a great day. Once I my class was evicted from our classroom for scripture and had a rambling lesson outdoors, the tone for the day was set.

Overall, nothing was tragically bad, just not good.

If I worked for the church down the street I'd perform my weekly ritual to put everything back into perspective.

The local Anglican church has a pretty ill kept cemetery and I think I would go out of my way to upkeep a different grave a week. I wouldn't chisel new tombstones, but a decent weeding and a general clean would be on the cards.

When my first girlfriend broke up with me, I took a walk through a cemetery on my way home. I found it gave magnificent perspective. Your problems are placed in a fresh order of importance.

Because, although yesterday had some ordinary moments, it wasn't really that bad a day...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

This one time...

I've got loads of cool stories.
Well... I have some good stories.
Okay, I admit, I have tucked within me a mediocre yarn that will slowly put you into a deep slumber.

But others have great stories. Tales of grander and wonderment. Anecdotes that are full of laughter and insight. Narratives that captivate and would make a fantastic movie.

And, all to often, these modern day story tellers are involved in youth ministries.

And they can story trump the kids.

If a kid has been to the Grand Canyon, the leader will share how they walked the Rockies barefoot and was the inspiration for 127 Hours.
If a kid ecstatically describes how they scored a goal in soccer, the leader will tell how they scored two... as the goalie.
If a kid shares that they got an awesome present for their 12th birthday, the leader will one-up them and tell what they received for their 13th birthday.

As you get older, you collect more stories. Some are really cool.
As a kid, particularly when dealing with primary aged children, their stories can be a rambling mess.

But a massive part of ministry with young people is listening. Showing concern with what is happening in their world. We communicate value with our ears.

I'm not saying that the leaders need to sit their like a mute lump, but sometimes we need to put ourselves, and our amazing frolicking tales, aside. We don't need to be the hero of every story.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Original hearers regret

Next week I'm speaking at chapel for the school next door to church.

The last time I spoke over the three services, a few weeks ago, I felt a little sorry for the senior high girls.

The reason? They heard the talk first and over the three services the talk got progressively better.

The first hearers had to endure a dimly lit YouTube clip and an off-the-cuff joke that absolutely FLOPPED. I wasn't openly heckled, but it was my weakest chapel talk to date.

The day after, with the experience of the first under my belt, I transformed the introduction - ditching the clip, and felt much better about the flow of the talk.

Finally, by the time I gave the talk for the third time, everything went like clockwork. I hit all the high marks are actually received a sprinkling of applause.

It's not unusual, when confronted with a back-to-back presentation of the same talk, that the second one is better (at least from my point of view).

I wonder, at large churches where there are multiple services, do they record/televise the later ones to get better quality?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Suffering #4

We wrap up the series on suffering (check out parts 1, 2 & 3) on a hopeful note since this is the direction the bible points us.

Despite the imbalance of suffering and the plight that humans endure, the concludes by declaring that things will get better. Things will not be in the constant state of disruption.

Revelation 21:4 says that God will... "wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

There will be a time when suffering will be done away with. The things that cause us anguish will evaporate like the morning dew.

But, we are all too aware that that day has not yet come.

Is there any comfort in the midst of suffering?

The Christian message says that there is. At the core of Christianity is Jesus and here we can find a God who is intimately aware of suffering.

The author of Hebrews emphasises the humanity of Jesus and the relevance for mankind. When God took on flesh he suffered. He was tempted. He was the victim of injustice.

We need to look no further than the identifying symbol of Christianity to see that God is acutely familiar with pain.

This can give comfort when we experience suffering.

We can cry out to a God who is not detached from our experience.
We can cry out to a God who identifies with our torment.
We can cry out to a God who understands.
Ultimately, we can cry out to a God who has a plan to end the suffering and will be with us while we endure the present hardships.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Suffering #3

The third part (you can read part one & two) of the discussion about suffering, in light of world events, deals with the tricky quandary of natural disasters.

Where does God fit in?
Why does God allow them?

The answer, in part, ties in with part two. We are all living in the consequences of our ancestors decisions. In this case, the choice was to rebel against God. God gave humanity free will to turn away from Him and that was the direction they chose to pursue.

A choice that not only those who before us have made, but that we personally make as well.

As a consequence we are told in the New Testament that the world, which was originally made good, is thrown into chaos.

All of creation was effected adversely by our sin. The world is now in a state of decay and frustration.

Are cyclones, earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis punishments from God? No. People are not the victims of a randomly-vengeful, thunder-bolt-hurling God.
Is God absent in the midst of tragedies? No. God is seen through stories of survival, outpourings of generosity and compassion. God is present through the church, rescue staff and aid organisations.

But... Will it always be this way? The final part will seek to answer that question.

Bacon converts

Yesterday I heard, what was probably a fictional story, of a Jewish convert to Christianity who loved bacon the first time she tried it.

Consequently, her family then went on a pork binge.

I don't blame them, bacon makes for delicious eating.

But I do wonder if it would be unethical to cook bacon near a synagogue as an evangelistic strategy?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Suffering #2

Tony made a insightful comment on the back of the initial post of this series.

Why do we feel that we deserve happiness? Why are we determined it's an entitlement of life?

We want justice in our lives and the lives of others. We are troubled when suffering is disproportional. When some suffer greatly and others do not.

The answer?

Ultimately, there is not a simple a+b=c equation to the problem of human suffering.

God is not silent on the issue, but He neither shows us all the pieces of the puzzle. In part, we are left to wrestle over the nature of God.

Is He fair, just, good and compassionate. If so, how could God let suffering occur.

Commonly, the two explanations for suffering and God's role are...
a) God cares, but is impotent to prevent suffering or
b) God can stop suffering, but doesn't want to.

I want to suggest a third option...
c) God cares deeply for people, but allows us to live in the consequences of our personal decisions and the choices of others.

Sometimes we suffer due to others.

We all have immense power to influence those around us.

When I see a homeless man I have two options. I can either reach into my wallet and give money or clench my fist and punch the poor person in the head. God will honour whichever action I choose to make, even if it is not one that honours Him or what He has made. If I go to strike the bloke in the head, God will not throw up an invisible wall to protect him.

If I choose to hijack a plane and fly it into a building, God will not alter the laws of physics to prevent the disaster. This would throw the world into unpredictable chaos.

If I choose to be mean to those around me and make their lives a misery, that is an freedom that is open before me. God will not force me to live in one particular manner nor super-impose His will over mine.

Sometimes we suffer due to our own actions.

If I smoke for 40 years, then I'm primarily to blame if I get lung cancer.
If I drive over the speed limit and loose control of my car, then the fault is upon my shoulders.
Galatians 6:7 - "... A man reaps what he sows."

But how does this all fit into natural disasters? Find out in the third installment...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Suffering #1

In light of the incredible events that have struck in Japan and NZ the issue of suffering and the role of God has been thrust to the forefront of many a mind.

People are wondering and I think the church should be a place that actually speaks out.

I always begin any discussion on the topic with a question.
Why does it matter?
Why should anyone care about tragedies that don't effect them personally or injustice in a distant land?
Why are we bothered by suffering?

Our angst amidst suffering is one things that point us towards the existence of a Creator Being.

We have an in-built desire for justice and a sense of value for all. This gives us compassion and mercy for those suffering.

I struggle to see where this desire comes from if there is not a Designer behind our existence. If we are nothing more than evolved mammals, governed by survival-of-the-fittest, then the loss of competition for resources and mates should not cause us undue grief.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Batman: Gotham Kryptonite

I've been distracted lately from the miscellaneous thoughts I was ploughing through from the leadership conference a few weeks ago.

One thing I did want to share was an excellent analogy of poor leadership.

Batman is a poor leader.

Every time he swoops in to rescue the good people of Gotham, he disempowers the regular police force.

As time goes on, they would become less efficient at crime fighting, mindful that the Caped Crusader would pick up the slack. They would look over their shoulder and be allowed to maintain a level of mediocrity.

The lesson? Don't constantly be the hero. Let others step up and be involved. Encourage them to participate. Resist the urge to fly in and save the situation if everything doesn't go perfectly.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Shut up for a while

It greatly annoys me when I remember good ideas but subsequently forget to use them.

The idea this week was to shut up and let silence reign. To give people in church time out to think.

When I arrived at my new church the minister would regularly employ this tactic after the sermon. He would conclude and then sit and let the people ponder the message in silence.

It is actually quite powerful.

But then I forget to do it last Sunday evening. Oops.

Next time Gadget... Next time...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Passionate discussions...

I promise that I will soon change tack and return to giving my personally inspired insights, but once again my attention was caught by the wisdom of someone else.

This afternoon, it was the Principal of the bible college I went to, Graham Stanton.

His Facebook post said...
Looking forward to the day when churches discuss theology with the same passion as we discuss property.

As someone who has sat through WAY to many meetings where we have incessantly chatted about our buildings, what we put in them and their layout, I say... DAMN STRAIGHT!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Will it matter in 5?

A few days ago I stumbled over a blog of a friend-of-a-friend of mine (I would put a link but on her "100 truths about me" post she said this...#100. I have a blog that nobody knows about and it's filled with things I wouldn’t want the people I know to read.)

The original post that caught my attention was a list of 23 lessons she'd learnt approaching her 23rd birthday.

Number seven grabbed my attention in light of my last post with a question that could change the way churches operate.
#7: Frame every so-called disaster with these words; 'In five years, will this matter?'

From my vantage point, this could be another game changer for the church and the things they squabble over.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Beware... This question could change the way churches run...

Will forming a committee get you closer to the solution or just put off answering a difficult question?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Committed to whom?

I will turn up to church because they will be there...
I'll be around on Sunday because he's preaching...
I'll definitely be there, since X is doing something.

Have you been guilty of saying the above statements?

If someone at church wasn't involved, how would this effect your church attendance?

Would you stay home?

What if they disappeared altogether?
What if they moved away or were struck by lightening?

Would you stop going?

Really, the questions revolves around who or what you are committed to. Are you committed to a personality at church or the connection you have to the God that you meet at church?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The perspective of distance

One useful concept that come out of the conference last week was the idea of leading on the dance floor and the balcony.

When you are on the dance floor you are in the thick of the action. But you also have limited perspective to what is happening around you.

Sometimes you need to take a step back from the dance floor and check out the scene from the balcony. Here you can view the big picture. Here you have the perspective of distance.

At regular intervals we need to life our eyes from the dace floor and get a lay of the land. It may be a few moments each day, some dedicated time each week, or even a good few days. Maybe all three options.

The point? Sometimes you need to remove yourself from the action and check if you're still on course.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Hero or personal benchmark

I don't have a best selling youth ministry book. I don't oversee a youth group of world renown. People aren't talking about me on the other side of the planet.

I'm not famous.
I'm not a ministry guru.

I'm not Doug Fields, Josh Griffin, Tim Schmoyer, Tim Hawkins, Ken Moser, or Tom French (that's right Tom, you're amongst the immortals!).

If I held myself up to their standards I would feel pretty crap.
An absolute failure.

The good thing is... I don't have to.

The standard I have to reach is not that of world renown.
The standard isn't the largest ministry in the county.
Or my city.
Or suburb.

The standard I need to aim for is myself.

The yardstick I should be measured against is the Graham-who-is-making-the-best-of-his-God-given-talents-and-potential. Or the youth-ministry-in-my-particular-context.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Red or Green light?

Whenever you want to start something new do you look for a green light or a red light?

Do you look for conditions that point in a positive direction to proceed or will you proceed unless an obstacle is placed in your path?

Do you pray for God to plow the road or keep the path clear?

Do you look for a red light or a green light to move forward?

In response to one of the activities at the lectureship conference I asked this to the group.

I think I'm more influenced by red lights. I'll be gun-ho until a problem rises and then my momentum will stall.

The difference maker? The fire of passion. If you're passionate about the change that you are wanting to see happen, then you will be far more likely to persevere overcome.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Fun in the studio

Yesterday I drove home from a leadership conference (over the next week I'll post the things that popped into my mind over the last few days) and I had the radio on in the background.

Two blokes had on an exotic animal trainer and it sounded like they had a blast with the animals in the studio.

But it was really rough to listen to.

Due to the craziness, fear and animal excrement, a sizable chunk of the segment was spoken from an unhelpful distance from the microphones.

The two guys had a heap of fun in the studio. I didn't in the car.

It reminded me of an important lesson for churches... Remember your audience. We need to remember that what we do shouldn't be primary for our comfort or enjoyment. It should be for those we are trying to reach.

Otherwise it could look like we are engaged and having a great time, but those who are on the outside will find it confusing and abrasive.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Citation required

Over the weekend I (a capital I, just for you Nicola!) made an ass of myself on a public stage.

Despite starting my sermons on Sunday by pronouncing that I am getting fat and going bald, this is not the reason why.

Instead, it has to do with a resource I used a couple of times over the last few weeks a decided to share.

I submitted a Freebie to Life in Student Ministry (one of the many blogs that I follow and that you should check out) and it was discovered that I was not the original source (I knew it wasn't, but had no idea from whence it came).

Not I've been scratched out like a Pharaoh of the previous dynasty.

Check it our here.