Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Church service evaluating?

Never listen to a sermon with someone who has studied how to preach, they will be overly critical...
Never go to a church service with someone who has studied Christian worship, they will nit pick.

The perfect church only exists in one place. My head.

Yesterday I posted a bunch of questions I would ask if I were evaluating a church. Some are big, meaty questions. Some are behind-the-scenes-and-hardly-noticeable-because-I'm-searching-with-a-fine-toothed-comb questions.

In concluding our final Christian worship lecture, the class was challenged to create a set of criteria which a fantastic worship service would meet.

We settled on...

Leadership - Engaged with the community? Is the leader aware of the congregation's needs? Enthusiastic... Actually wants to be there?

Music - Engages and has relevance with the rest of the service? High quality? Is there a good mix of old & new? Allows for silence?

Technology - When used, does it add something to the message? High quality?

Space - Seating? The physical building utilised? Lighting? Heating?

Ritual - How are symbols used? Is there a discernible order/structure?

Participation - Movement? Response encouraged? Permission to physically express yourself? 

Belonging/Inclusive - Language? Gender? Age?

Elements of worship included - Invocation? Adoration? Confession? Declaration of forgiveness? Bible reading? Sermon? Prayers of the People? Blessing?

Does it honour God???

In light of the points we raised, the lecturer had an important thing to say.


Unless you have been invited to critique the church or the worship service, DON'T DO IT.

It is not your place.

Your place in the church service is to have an encounter with the living God. You are there to worship, not evaluate against your idea of perfection.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sims Church questions

I have a file on my computer called "Sim's church."

It is a checklist which I collected when my wife and I were looking for a church a few years ago.

There is not a church on the planet who would check every box, but the file documents some of the things which went through my mind as a visitor.

Some of the questions (and some have far greater value then others) were...

Website/Facebook - Do they have one? Is it quality? Was it easy to find? Does it have the vision statement on it? Is it explained? What links do they have to other ministries/websites? Is it easy to navigate? Is it up to date? What does it have pictures of - Building, people, minister? Do they have previous sermons on the site? Do they tell me what’s coming up? Is there a map on the site?

Parking - Is there any? Is it close? Is there disabled parking? If it were full what number would be inside 4x? Visitor parking?

Welcome/Entrance - Found easily? Disabled access? Welcomed at door? Info sign with times, ph #, minister? Welcome pack? Sounds prior - music? Quality advert - know it’s open?

Notices - Colour? Pictures? Typos? Ministries advert? Written liturgy? Prayer points? Space for sermon notes? Articles from staff? Notes during service - fun, visual, quick?

Building - Temperature - Too hot, too cold? Heaters/fans/air con/windows? Lighting - Natural? Spotlight? All work? Too dark? Bright colours? Distractions? Comfortable chairs? Pews? 80% full? Can we sit together? Where do the people sit- Front/back?

Singing - Quality? Sound good - buzz? Range of instruments? PowerPoint? Typos? Copyright showing? Use of Body in worship encouraged? Age of songs - known hymns? People enthusiastically singing?

Bible - Read? Version? Provided? How many brought own? Valued in sermon?

Kids - Stuff on? Would you know? Included in service? Crèche? Good toys? Safe for kids - OHS? Basketball ring? Tape on hall floor? Stuff done displayed? Primary/HS separate? Youth and children noticeboard?

Preaching - PowerPoint/Visual? Creative? Expository? Applicable? Bible used? Note taking an option? Responsive? Guests? Balance of NT/OT? Length? Interesting? Personal? Appropriate humour? Spot something I didn’t?

Misc - Did it start on time? Finish on time?
How did they do communion?
Age/life stage of minister?
Age range of congregation - 22-35yo?
Giving bags/plate? Giving talk? Enthusiasm at giving?
Men and women involved - leadership?
Mix of men/women in congregation?
Laughter okay?
Are the people jerks?
Quality Morning tea/supper?

Follow up - What given in to fill out? How collected? Contacted - how? Chance to meet minister?

Tomorrow, in light of a similar list which was created in my final Christian Worship lecture, I discovered who the above questions don't matter as much as I thought...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Brothel ministry?

A few days ago I was searching for something on my blog and stumbled over one of posts which mentions brothels.

At my home church there was a brothel within 50 meters of the front door. If you looked from the church noticeboard, you would be able to know if they were open by their neon sign.

As far as I knew, we did nothing to reach out to them (but to be honest, we didn't go out of our way to form a link with the barber or physio either!).

Over the last few days I've wondered what would happen if, in a church meeting, you suggested an outreach ministry to prostitutes.

Would you be judged for making the suggestion?

Furthermore, how would you pitch the idea and how would you go about forming the connection (xxxchurch deals with porn, but is there an equivalent you can call for this industry?)?

Friday, May 25, 2012

What if it were Hanna?

Today's Tiny Bible Bit...
Luke 15:24 – ‘For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. 

Today in scripture I was halted in my tracks.
While I was in the middle of a scripture lesson about the parables which Jesus told and how they all involved some kind of twist, I was stopped...
As I was speaking about the undeserved reception the prodigal son received, I heard a f
aint question…
While I was saying that the delinquent son deserved nothing good from his father, a voice popped up…

“What would you have done if it were Hanna?”
In the two months my daughter has been alive, that thought had never occurred to me before that very moment.

I think your life stage shapes how you engage with the bible.
When you’re a teenager you pay closer attention to the parts which deal with growing up and what your identity is.
When you get married you have a somewhat deeper appreciation for the way Christ loves and the church.
When you become a parent you are struck by the parable of the prodigal son.

You are struck by the child who defiantly turns away.
You are struck by the patience of the father.
You are struck by the restoration of the younger son.
You are struck by the celebration.

I don’t know what I would do if this happened with my daughter. Would I wait day after day for her to return? Would I forgive?

I am increasingly thankful that God waits for the lost child to return home.
He does forgive.
He does restore.
He does celebrate.

Even if I may not.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

I got this email about my erectile disfunction

Did the title grab your attention?!?

Was there any correspondence?

I just took the minutes of a meeting I'd previously agreed to be the secretary for.

Like many meetings, we quickly touched on any correspondence.

It was noted that the question of correspondence is becomingly increasingly irrelevant.

Sure, you still need to keep tack of important pieces of communication, but correspondence mattered much more when communication wasn't instant. You didn't just shoot off an email or converse over Facebook. Instead, you crafted and sent a letter. It was more formal, and often, more through out.

Now, if we tabled all the correspondence that went through, for example, the email address for a committee, we would be discussing correspondence for hours.

And who needs to hear that we got spam for Viagra?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Book > paper

I mentioned a really good article in my last post.
One point I really appreciated had to do with reading a bible passage.

Put simply? Read the passage from the bible, not off your notes.

Show those listening where you are getting the source of your information from.

I'll admit, I have used quoting from the bible in the past as a crutch. I know that I will get a chance to glance at my notes (despite what the previous post said!) because the scripture passage needs to be quoted accurately.

Next time I'll strive to remember, just like rock, book beats paper.

Do you have to remember it all?

How did you do that? You must have a really good memory!

After preaching in the morning service last week I've heard the above feedback a few times.

The reason was simple. It appeared that I preached without a manuscript or any obvious notes.

As is my normal routine (which I described here), I did move the music stand with my notes, but last Sunday I referred to them less than usual.

This was not always the case. As I've written here and here (and I read about here) the full manuscript I create for every sermon is a valuable asset.

In fact, I totally memorised my first couple of sermons.
It took me years to pluck up the courage (?) to speak away from the lectern.

Now I am perfectly comfortable preaching with my notes a few meters away.


Because I don't need to get it word perfect. No one will know if I don't.

All I need to know well are the introduction (ABSOLUTELY VITAL!), which will get me warmed up, where the stories/props fit in (which you communicate with in a casual manner anyway), the order of my points (which a logical order should make clear anyway) and any specific wording I might want to use/avoid.

With plenty of rehearsal time and the comfort that the full notes are nearby, you might only "need" to actually memorise a few minutes of a 15-20 minute talk.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Weigh up your claim before you advertise

Like I've written about previously here and here churches like to be known for one specific thing.

It's something which looks good on their websites and on the notice board out the front of the building.

Maybe they want to be the welcoming church (Tim Schmoyer makes a similar point to the one I'm making here).
Or the accepting church.
Or the praying church.
Or even a church with a main focus on the environment or caring for the poor.

The problem is that often churches under-deliver.

It's not that they aren't welcoming, or inclusive, or whatever-we-want-to-be-known-for, but they aren't above and beyond what is expected in normal churches.

For every church should be welcoming.
Every church should be inclusive.
Every community of faith should pray.
Every church should have a heart for social justice.

If a church desires to be publicly known for something then they must go beyond the church down the road or one town over.

Sadly, I fear that we are trapped into thinking that doing the "normal" things somehow makes us extraordinary.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Should ministers get white line fever?

Tomorrow I'm leading and preaching in the morning service which is nothing novel. I did it a few weeks ago.

Between the three churches I have worked at, I've been "in charge" of the service or the sermon dozens and dozens of times.

Sometimes the service has run smoothly and at other times the service has been a rambling mess. Sometimes the sermon has gone really well, and at others, I've wanted to shread the transcript before the congregation due to the tortue I've just put them through.

When I first started doing things up the front of church I would get pretty nervous. Not hyperventilating-into-a-paper-bag or I-wanna-throw-up nervous, but a healthy dose of anxiousness.

Now? Not so much.

Sure, there are occasions when the level of unease will rise, but not on most regular Sunday outings.

Should ministers get nerves before a service?
Should ministers have a kind of "white line fever," where they see the Sunday service as their "game day," and have a healthy dose of anxiousness?

I can argue both sides.

First of all, the person up the front of a church service shouldn't be the star. It's not actually about them. It is about God. God may use them, but they should be like a signpost pointing towards Jesus. 

But at the same time, it is about God working THOUGH them. They are the one up the front of the service representing God.

What does that say about you if that reality doesn't make you a little nervous???

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pastorfashion solutions

I've written before about the clothes I wear at work/church/chapel here and here.

If I ever had dilemmas about what to wear my troubles will be solved with

I just stumbled over the page today and I really, really hope it's some kind of joke.

Surely any website which seriously deals with the problems ministers face with skinny jeans and picking out shirt colours must be a gag.

I fear it is not.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Beyond the Reader

Over the last few weeks I've finally got my Google Reader organised and have subsequently gone a little crazy.

For those who don't know, Google Reader is a place where you can subscribe to a bunch of blogs and they will chronologically appear in one place. At the moment, I'm subscribed to 188 blogs, ranging from youth ministry, youth culture, church, leadership, speaking, blogging and atheism.

I've previously written about the blogs which I usually check out, but over the last two years, the list has been trimmed.

Now, aside from my Google Reader feed, the only blogs I go out of my way to read are...

Monday, May 14, 2012

Giving the answer or riding the jouney?

I think that following Jesus answers the big questions in life. From my point of view, it makes sense.

Today it was pointed out during my christian worship class that there exists a tension revolving around providing answers.

As worship leaders and preachers we should give answers.

But equally, we should accompany people on the journey of discovering answers for themselves. 

Again, like other things I have previously mentioned (here and here), there is a tension which must be balanced in ministry.

Those in ministry need to tread the fine line of journeying with people towards a solution, with directly pointing them towards to answer.

In some cases, the journey will be more cathartic and the journey significant in finding the explanation (for example, through a time of suffering or grief), in others, the query needs to be resolved in a much quicker manner (a more theological enquiry).

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Peter Pan in the church

Peter Pan... The boy who never grew up...

Since I was 21 quite a few things have changed.

I've got married. I've moved out of home. I've moved a few times. I've changed jobs a few times. I've become a Dad.
I wonder... If you asked a bunch of guys the question "What is different in your life now compared to when you were 21?" How many thirty years olds would reply very little?

They look the same.
They go to the same places.
They are hanging out with the same people.
They still live at home.
They may be better educated, but not much else has changed...
Mark Driscoll would call them "boys who can shave."

Driscoll has some stern words for chaps trapped in the Peter Pan lifestyle. Listen... I dare ya.

I wonder how the church should face the stretching of adolecence (for good, bad or indifferent).

Now I know that for some, the options to move out may be impossible. They have debt. They have tragedy which requires them to stay closer to home.

But, should the church want to "push blokes from the nest?"
Is there an age when "living in your Mum's basement is no longer okay?"
AND... Is it a different expectation for a follower of Jesus compared to those outside the church?

I don't have these answers...
But I'm sure glad I'm not the same guys I was a decade ago.

There wasn't anything massively wrong with him (but he was a long was from perfect), but I'm pleased he's not holding my daughter...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Why child protection matters

If you work in schools or churches then you are sure to attend a child protection course...
At least once a year.
In the lead up to every camp.
At the start of any cross-deniminational ministry or activity with high exposure to young people.

The reasons are simple.

Children matter. They matter to God and the should matter to the church.
The church is to be a welcoming place for children (Matthew 18:5)
The church should be aware of the needs of children.
Bad things happen in the world and the children who are the victums of some awful things enter our churches and attend our programs.
Those who are engaged in children's ministry need to be aware of such things as abuse, the signs of abuse and how to handle any disclosure of abuse.
Those who deal with young people need to be equiped in how to handle difficult situations BEFORE they arrise.

Doing repeated child protection cources are vital because the church not only needs to hold the above reasons to be true, but must SHOW CLEARLY to all that this is the case.

It may take a day out of the year.
You may find it slightly annoying.

I don't care.
Suck it up.

Maybe, in light of becoming a parent, I've become slightly more hardline about the issue. But any church which not only wouldn't/doesn't do trainning in this area, but won't/doesn't embrace such activities, I would be extremly wary of.

If this means that you do a similar course every 24 months then so be it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What does the lounge or kitchen say about your visit?

Today's post isn't world changing, but I believe it is certainly true.

A few weeks ago I heard a conversation between two people who make a number of pastoral visits.

They mentioned that there was a significant difference between where someone meets you in their home.

The normal location is the lounge room.

The lounge is comfortable.
The lounge is usually tidied before an expected guest arrives and has more family knick-knacks on display.
When visitors are given a drink, the host leaves the room to make and bring you the beverage.
The lounge is "the showroom" of the visit.
The lounge is where you formally receive visitors to your home.

On the other hand, the kitchen is a different animal. 

The kitchen is less comfortable.
The kitchen is prone to be more messy.
The kitchen is a place for preparation.
The kitchen is "behind the scenes" of the visit.
The kitchen is more intimate. It is a place of trust.

The conversation between these two pastoral workers ended with this insight... the place you are welcomed into a person's home will send a significant message. It will, in an often unspoken way, tell the level of comfort that exists between the two of you.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Second timer love

Today I had a conversation about visitors being welcomed publicly during a church service. I've already written that I personally find this part of the church service cringe inducing.

It's not that I don't care about visitors or want them to be shunned by the church, but if I were the first-timer, it would FREAK ME OUT!

I would want to blend in.

Today I hear that the bar has been raised.

The public..."tell us where you're from" introduction with a microphone.

The discussion made me think about visitors in churches and how we treat them.

I read somewhere that the most important visitor is NOT those who are visiting for the first time.

The most important visitor is the one who visits for the second time.

If they are a repeat visitor, then it indicates that they are beyond a we-are-on-holidays-visiting-Nan type guest and may be interested in connecting with your church.

The trouble? We (often embarrassingly) publicly introduce them on the first visit and quickly loose our welcoming vigor at the subsequent visits.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Minister... If you don't mind opening with a word?

I wrote previously about the expectation that can be placed on a leader to pray. This is especially true if you are the senior minister.

Go to a meal? The minister is "volunteered" to say grace.
Go to a meeting? The minister is "suggested" as someone to open with a prayer.
A silence during a time of open prayer? People expect the minister to swoop in and "save the awkwardness."

I wonder what message is sent when the minister is always prompted to pray.

Do we, subconsciously, teach that the prayer of the minister is somehow "more holy" or that God "listens to the minister more?"

This should be the exact opposite of the message which the minister wants to communicate.

A minister should be empowering people to be involved, not called upon at every gathering.

Perhaps if the invitation was declined more then that message would start to surface.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How to respond when a Christian leader falls

This post is not prompted by a particular event.
Why? Because it seems to happen every day.

Every FREAKIN' day.

A scandal hits a leader in the church.

It may make the news, it may not.
It may be a famous "Christian celebrity," it may not.
It may be anyone from the senior minister to the new youth group leader.
No matter who or where, it would be difficult to find either a Christan or a church who has not has some personal contact with a scandal.

Cover ups.

So... What do you do when another scandal hits the news?

Do you get angry?
Do you just accept it?
Do you think it's nothing more than a media beat up?

If I'm honest... I would say that whenever I hear about another "moral failure," whilst I do cringe, I'm increasingly less surprised.

I'm not shocked because it happens all too often.
I'm not shocked because there are a lot of people who work in churches and, inevitably, some of them will make really, really poor decisions.
I'm not shocked because sometimes the really, really bad decisions are actually newsworthy.

Most of all...

I'm not shocked because, if my life was thrown open before all, I'm a long way short of being perfect.

But I cringe because, indirectly, if reflects on me.
It changes the way society views the church, people view those who work for the church and those who are Christians.

Do other professions react in a similar manner?

When we hear of a teacher who has abused a child, do others teachers cringe at the ramifications for how their profession will be perceived?
When a banker is found to have embezzled money, do we look suspiciously at all bankers?
If a journalist is found to have illegally hacked into people's phones, do all journalists get branded by that revelation?

I think the message that the church needs to send in response to "another" scandal is this...

Followers of Jesus can get things wrong. Terribly wrong.
Those in leadership are not beyond nor immune from temptation.
At times, we (institutionally) get things wrong.

Mistakes have been made in the past.
Mistakes are still being made now.
And it is not okay.

We should realise that these events involves people. The minister. The victims. Both their families. The congregation. Those connected on the edges of the church.
To those who have been hurt, we apologise for the wrong which has been done to them.

Their should be no cover ups. Ever.

When someone fails within the church it does hurt and taint those who bear the name of Christ.

When (not if!) scandal hits we should learn the lessons held within. We should raise our guard. We should increase accountability and tighten procedures.

Finally, we should check our own lifestyles. We should strive to live a life (and have a ministry) worth of the gospel of Christ.