Friday, August 29, 2014

Two days blind

When I was a young kid, I was chased by my older sister and, having turned to look at her in pursuit, slammed head-first into the edge of a wall. Consequently, I scratched the cornea of my right eye, causing it to become lazy. Thus, I get ninety percent of vision out of my left eye.

In my final year of high school I was then diagnosed with a degenerative corneal disease in my "good" eye, placed on the corneal transplant list, but managed through the wearing of a hard contact lens. Over the following years, I became eligible for the transplant, but my condition was relatively stable.

Then, in 2006, I broke my collarbone and couldn't put in my contact lens (since it required both hands). In what some might call a healing/miracle/unexplained medical occurrence, some weird blood vessels grew in my eye and my vision was restored to the point where I no longer needed my contact lens.

I've had "perfect" sight every day since.

Until Monday afternoon.

While pruning something in the garden I got flicked in the eye by a branch. Nothing too serious as the pain died down over a few hours and there was minimal redness.

Except I'd lost my clear sight.

And I was sure it'd get better.

But, Tuesday morning, it wasn't.

And, my optometrist could find nothing wrong.

Come Wednesday, my vision still wasn't better.

And my cornea/eye specialist couldn't find anything wrong.

So, for two days, I was without one of the primary indicators of the biggest thing God had done in my life. I was without the thing which provided me the tools to do what I do.

This, in union with the inner fears for what a vision-impaired future might hold, stirred up quite a bit of anxiety.

In one innocuous gardening mishap, I was thrown back a decade-and-a-half to a time I couldn't drive and reading was problematic.

In fact, until a few hours ago, I still would have struggled to pass the eye exam for a drivers license (one of the original indicators that there was anything wrong).

So, what did this trial reveal?

First, I had taken my vision for granted. It had been far too long since I'd been thankful for God's continual unexplained provision of sight.

Second, by pure coincidence, earlier that week I wrote a Tiny Bible Bit about Proverbs 15:22. It mentioned the danger of solely listening to the voices inside your head and my thoughts could have taken a pretty dark turn thinking about what this "inconvenience" would cost me personally, professionally and spiritually. It, in the worst-case-scenario, could've cost me my job and the ability to preach, read the bible, drive legally and clearly watch my daughter grow up.

It's ironic when God uses what you write or preach, at a later date, to speak clearest and loudest to yourself.

Third, I was challenged in a way which reminded me of Job 1:9-11. My supervisor, who I meet with yesterday, wanted me to think about how this challenge would effect my view of who God now was if my world was now fuzzy.

To be honest, I'm exceedingly glad I don't have to find out.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Is the "New Normal" a compromise?

Attendance rises...
Attendance drops...

The electronic giving is fruitful, so giving increases...
Economic times are tough, so giving decreases...

Over time, unless your church/ministry/group is completely stagnant, the average for your group will shift up or down.

Sometimes, the "new normal" will be higher.
In other seasons, the "new normal" will be lower.

The challenge, when the "new normal" heads southward, is to recognise that the bar has lowered, not just shift the goal-posts so you're "doing a new kind of ok."

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Respect in nothing new

I'm currently in the middle of my penultimate subject for the Bachelor of Theology - Christology - and, if I'm honest, I'm not learning a great deal of new things.

One part is that I've already done the equivalent subject at a diploma level, but more so, many of the concepts aren't breathtakingly new. In fact, many of the readings are based in the second and third centuries of the church.

And herein lies the beauty of the subject.

Two millennia after the life of Jesus, the idea of the incarnation, Christ's divinity, the trinity and salvation by grace are not exactly eye-opening.

But, at one time, they all were.

They needed to be argued over.
They had to be defended.
They clarified what God had set in place.
They set right the paths of the church.

This is the value of church history.

What we take for granted wasn't always.

It took courage for doctrines to be nailed down and those who had the guts to defend the truth deserve our respect.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

It takes maturity...

I'm fully aware that this post might bite me in the but in a few years. Or a decade from now. Or a few decades.

Given enough time, it might appear (rightly or wrongly) that I quit on a situation, ministry, church or relationship when I could've held on a little longer.

But... here's today's Ramble anyway...

It takes maturity to endure when things get difficult or "no longer exciting."

It takes maturity to keep attending a church you, on minor issues, don't wholly agree with.
It takes maturity to stay connected with a ministry when they're in a "challenging" season.
It takes maturity to work through troubles in a marriage or friendship.
It takes maturity to have difficult, but needed, conversations with those you work with.

It's unhealthy when you join a new church two every years...
It's unhealthy when you've worked seven jobs over the last decade...
It's unhealthy when you reach the first anniversary in multiple relationships and keep finding a way out.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Talk from your feet, not your knees

When churches start talking together, people get nervous.

Will there be change?
If so, how will it effect me?
What will happen with "my" ministry staff?
Will they want to sell "our" church building?
Will I be forced to spend time with "those over there"?
Will the finances of "our" church be used in the ways "we" want?

In reality, churches talking together should be a positive thing.

With one catch...
They're not already on their knees.

When churches look at working together BY CHOICE then forward-thinking steps can be made.

Churches, if talking from a position of relative health, will have the resources - financial, personal and energy - to achieve things in partnership which couldn't be done individually and serve those around them in innovative ways.

But, when churches only dialogue once they're in survival mode, then the mindset can quickly slip into damage minimization.

And, unfortunately, the result is a forced union which brings harmful baggage from both parties. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Let them see the next step

It's not uncommon for a church to have a gap in its congregation or youth ministry. It could be the older folk at the evening service, a generation of baby boomers on a Sunday or teens in senior high on a Friday night.

Sometimes, the gaps are beyond a church's control, a sign of present or previous weakness or become evident due to a surge in one particular demographic.

But, gaps cause a hidden damage.

Those who are younger don't get to see the next step lived out.

The young adults don't get to see someone who has faithfully followed Jesus for seven decades.

The boomers don't get to see what a content, faithfully serving, retiree looks like.

The younger teens don't get to see a peer who's surviving high school with their faith intact.

The challenge for those within the church is to open up avenues for the "next step" to be not only seen, but experienced enough to be valued and interacted with enough to inspire.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Preachers vs TV sales-people

If you watch any morning show or late-enough time-filler, you'll inevitably encounter a "paid promotion" for anything from food processors, gym equipment, insurance and cleaning products.

Of all the options, the greatest advertorial in history, as I mentioned back in 2010, is for the slap chop. I don't care how good the ShamWow was, how excited Big Kev was or how many free steak knives came with the deal.

A few weeks ago I meet with someone who mentioned, if I decided to use my communicative powers for evil, instead of good, I would be quite effective.

In fact, a few weeks ago I sold pig-shaped cookies for fundraising, with Sunday morning congregants applauding my marketing proficiency and outright shilling of the product.

I suspect I'm not the only church worker who has the gift-of-the-gab.

So, what difference should there be between someone, particularly, who preaches and someone who's the talking head for funeral insurance?

Hopefully, if nothing else, those who preach are less plastic. They don't have a blindingly white smile or perfect diction. 

They actually live out what they profess and are "on show" 24-7.

They share their lives, struggles and failures.

They are less scripted and need to vary their message, instead of rattling off the same dialogue every day.

So, while many who preach might be capable of being good salespeople, what they do when they share the gospel is more than a slick presentation.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Youth ministry CEO?

Earlier this week I posted here about the misguided importance the church often places on developing leaders, almost substituting it for the great commission.

The reason this is true has to do with the CEO like structures we create and reward within churches.

What do I mean?

Well, right now I'm a CEO of a youth ministry.

But I started at the bottom and had to work my way up to "the top."

I started as a "customer" and then got "hired" as a junior "staff member."

Then I got "promoted" until I was a "junior executive" with "increased responsibilities."

And got "trained in the system."

And then become a "senior manager."

Eventually, I worked in enough "regional branches" before I became the "CEO" of my own company.

These are the structures we support and, even unspoken, promote.

We view "success" when someone "gets a promotion."

They become a trainee leader...
They lead a group of their own...
They become a section leader of a camp or mission trip...
They start bible college...
They get their first, part-time, ministry position...
They become a full-time youth pastor...
Never mind getting a regional, oversight, position or becoming ordained...

The question is, should "climbing the church totem pole" be the aim or marker of success?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

We weren't told to go and make leaders...

Leadership is a big deal.
Some say that everything rises and falls on leadership.
The church has conferences dealing with the issue, rightly, since it's one of the things minister's training can leave them ill-equipped.

But, leadership is not the ultimate goal.
Nor is it the holy grail.

Jesus seems to think that the main point of Christianity is discipleship.

The central point seems to be a relationship with a Living God, marked by service and servanthood.

Ironically, as I'll post next, the church often strives for, rewards and upholds quite the opposite.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Geographic faith

Some people identify their faith with  group of people, usually family members, lone-time friends or ministers. One way to tell if someone has a person-focused faith is the way they respond once their faith-identifier abandons their faith or leaves a local church. If this is the case, then a person's faith will get severely rocked when their faith-anchor is cut away.

But how many Christians have a geo-focused faith?

What proportion of people's faith is based almost entirely upon their "home church" and little else.

I ask because I feel it explains one of the drop out points for emergent adults - They away from home.

For those who have a geographic faith, they'll have a narrow idea of church and a short dose of perseverance with new churches.

Unfortunately, when they are combined, they result in isolated Christians faith growing cold to the point of extinction.