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.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Space, Permission & Validity

A few weeks ago Rob Hanks mentioned that a youth ministry needs to have three things for the greatest chance of success. The three things a church needs to provide are space, permission and validity.

After I pestered him to blog about the idea he did here.

Any ministry needs...

Space - a physical place, storage, dollars in the budget and communication/advertising opportunities.

Permission - access to facilities, approval to experiment and fail and acceptance that mess and noise may be created.

Validity - members of the ministry welcomed and accepted by others, achievements celebrated and belief that what is happening is a "real" ministry, nurturing genuine faith.

When considering a fresh ministry, a church should weigh up if they can deliver all three of these needs. All too often, a ministry is hobbled because a well meaning church only offers up two of three.