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.