Monday, September 29, 2014

An apology from the church

Last night, in something I'd done previously at other churches, I started with an apology based on the words of 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.

 I’ll admit, the church, including this one, isn’t perfect.

For some of you, this might have been a long time coming
I feel I should start with an apology... for

Just as (insert church name, which I'll call XUC), though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one XUC, so it is with Christ.

I’m sorry if at church have not acknowledged your induvidualness. I’m sorry if we have ever asked you to be something that you are not or do something you aren’t comfortable doing.

For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one XUC—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free

I’m sorry if you have ever felt left out, ignored or excluded. If we have said something to offend you, because of whom you are.

—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so XUC is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if ONE OF YOU should say, "Because I am not ANOTHER PERSON, I do not belong to XUC," YOU would not for that reason cease to be part of XUC.

I’m sorry if you have ever not felt included in what we do here at church. I’m sorry if you have ever felt disconnected and no-one has seemed to care. I’m sorry if you have ever felt that you don’t belong. You do.

If ALL OF XUC were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If ALL OF XUC were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?

I’m sorry of your talents, skills or gifts have been wasted, devalued, spoken down of or ignored.

But in fact God has placed the parts in XUC, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would XUC be? As it is, there are many parts, but one XUC.

ONE OF YOU cannot say to the OTHER, "I don't need you!"

I’m sorry if you have ever been spoken down to at church. I’m sorry if this has ever been anything but a safe place for you. I’m sorry if you have ever felt that you are not needed here at church or wouldn’t be missed if you didn’t turn up.

On the contrary, those parts of XUC that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.

I’m sorry if you have ever felt weak, without honour or unpresentable, because of what has happened, or been said at church.

But God has put XUC together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in XUC, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

I’m sorry if you have ever felt that no-one cares about you at church. I’m sorry if you have felt that your attention, your care, has gone to someone else.

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

I’m sorry if you have ever had a time of delight or a time of sadness and haven’t felt comfortable telling someone at church. If you have ever thought that they wouldn’t care. I’m sorry that, if you have shared, that your happiness, has been downplayed, or your sadness, insignificant.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Tweaking the tunes?

Last night, during my Christology lecture, we were discussing the various theories of atonement and got onto the use of atonement words/images in the songs we sing at church.

This famously reared up as an issue around the song "In Christ Alone" back in 2010 due to the actions of the Presbyterian Church in the US.

To be frank, I'd never heard the different words, "the love of God was magnified" used for the song.

But, we did discuss if you should ever change the lyrics of a song.

I don't think, with integrity, you can.

Unless the song is in the public domain, the song isn't yours to change. You don't own the lyrics. You don't own the tune.

The song is someone else's intellectual property. This includes the words. Unless they give permission, you don't have the right to change them.

Beyond this, your CCLI license says here that you can't.

If something in a song bothers you...

a) See if it rubs others up the wrong way, especially the leadership of the church. Maybe you're the only one with the problem.

b) Don't use the song. Der. There are plenty of other songs to use.

c) Grow up. Exposing your church to alternate (but not erroneous) views isn't the worst thing in the world.

d) Use the song as a teaching tool. Give an introduction to the song about the words used. This shouldn't sound shocking, but the worship leader should be occasionally doing this for new people anyway and is a part of LEADING the singing.

Sure, I'm flexible enough to tweak a pronoun or modernise pronunciation, but even this can be covered under the fourth point above.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Reminding them what they just read

Sermons don't need to uncover hidden pearls of truth which make those listening sit back and marvel at your brilliance.

In fact, if that's your aim, you should probably stop preaching. Instead, intellectually masturbate in private.

Instead, sermons need to point people towards Jesus, inspire change, encourage the downtrodden and open the eyes of the proud.

Last week I heard a effective way to achieve these aims.

Have everyone in church read the bible passage together, then reminding them what they have just read and already know about the passage and God.

In this method the magic statement is... "Did you hear what you just said?"

In this way, those in the congregation are involved in recalling what they themselves spoke, with the challenge being personal application of these words, not amazement at the preachers homiletic gymnastics.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Autopsy of your words

It happens with Mark Driscoll.
It happens with John Piper.
It happens with Rick Warren.
It happens with Joel Osteen.
It happens with everything we have written form the early church fathers, right up to Whitefield, Wesley, Spurgeon, Tozer, Martin Luther King, Bonhoeffer, (insert popular preacher/author here)...

I couldn't imagine it happening to me.
I don't think I'll ever be that important, popular or influential for it to happen.
And I wouldn't want it to.

If someone took what I wrote (or preached) and dissected it, line by line, then I'm scared about what they would find and conclude.

Sure, I'm no raging heretic (or at least I hope not!), but if you put my every word under the microscope, like some of the "discernment" websites do or theology lectures can, then I wonder how I'd be viewed.

I wonder, not because I think it'll ever happen to me, but even if I became "successful" enough to be placed under the glare of such "discernment," the "me" of a decade ago might not hold up so well.

I look back at some of my early sermons and wonder about the points I was trying to make. Diitto for some of ways I worded my early blog posts.

And here's the catch.

Are those whose words we dissect acutely aware that this will be the case?
If not, is this fair?

Admittedly, whatever you put in the public eye and ear is open to criticism and fair game if you've done something inappropriate, but surely it can be taken too far.

Should anyone, legitimately, be able to go back unto your past and hold EVERYTHING you've ever said publicly against you?
Every misspoken word?
Every off-the-cuff line?
Every interpretation/opinion which you may later clarify or change?

For some, they desire the high-profiled platform.
They want the top rated blog in their niche.
They want the the book deal.
They want to be in charge of the well-known ministry.
They want to write high selling resources.
They want to be speaking on the big stages.
They want to be remembered on a Wikipedia page like this.

But, as I wrote here earlier this year, the spotlight of the big stage will open you up for increased scrutiny.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Experience or experties?

Would you rather learn from someone with experience or expertise?

If you needed advice about starting a ministry, would you rather speak to someone who has run the event previously, or written/taught about the theory behind it?

I know, ideally, you'd find someone with a large dose of both. So would I.

But... What if you could only select one?

Personally, I'd go with experience.

The reason I lean this way has to do with the flow of information. Usually, if you partake in an activity, even by accident, you'll become somewhat of an expert (even if it's what not to do!).

As good as theory is, for most problems I have, I need someone who has travelled the path I'm currently struggling down.

As useful as academic answers may be, what I'm usually searching for is someone who has put the theory into practice and can warn me of the unseen landmines.

In church-land, these are the "experts" we need to seek out the most, not necessarily those who are lecturing in the topic.

Monday, September 15, 2014

In debt to the heretics

Ignatius. Clement. Tertullian. Irenaeus. Athanasius. Augustine. Jerome. Constantine. Calvin. Luther. Barth. Lewis.

I've written about the importance of church history here and wrote a few weeks ago that the theological ideas described and defended by the likes of the list above leave the modern church heavily indebted.

But, the giants of church thought didn't write in a vacuum.

The church should also tip its hat to the following three men...

These three blokes, to be blunt, were heretics.

But, without them and their drifts from orthodoxy, the Christian church wouldn't have needed to clarify its beliefs about the bible, the trinity or the nature of Jesus and the incarnation.

It is, in part, due to these men that Christianity has the shape it currently does.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Timetable for early changes

Today I answered a question on a youth ministry Facebook group I'm in, which I don't do all that often, about changing the name of a group at a new church.

I wrote that any change needs to follow the old saying of... You never knock down a wall unless you know why it was built.

As understandable as it might be to bring in change to a new ministry, this impulse must be stemmed because the absolute worst thing you can do is "impose" a change and then discover that the previous things had deep attachment to someone/something sacred.

I recommended that any change should wait a semester or two, falling in the shallow end of the timetables given. I think it would, at least, take that long to build trust, discover the backstory and evaluate the culture of a group. Most said to wait one year.

But, I think there are some things you can do to fulfill that change desire and begin to brand something new...

Update the logo.
Freshen the newsletter, programs or web presence.
Revive any areas which could use a touch of paint.
Tweak the PowerPoint backgrounds.
Set up or redesign the office.

Notice... I did not use the word change.

Effective change happens from the bottom up, not top down.

It's only when you've put in the relational work, hearing their history, sharing your lives and painting a future together that you can implement a change.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Absent or apology?

I always inwardly chuckle when I'm at a meeting and they take apologies (Admittedly, it might have to do with my opinion of many meets I attend or those which I'll gladly skip).

I do so because, for a lot of meetings, those who aren't present are not apologetic, they just aren't physically there.

In short, they aren't sorry they're missing the meeting!

In ministry, the aim should be to create those, who if they miss an event, are actually apologetic.

Church services...
Children's ministry activities...
Youth group...
Family ministry shindigs...

They should be important enough, impactful enough, of a high enough quality to be something which will be missed if they are... missed (which will inevitably happen on the odd occasion).

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

THIS is how you respond to "I did my time as a youth pastor"

I read skim hundreds of blog posts a day, so it's gotta be good to get my attention.

The following post slams the entitled statement out of the park so hard that I
a) wish I wrote it,
b) had the guts to say it and
c) know I'll kick myself for forgetting the next time I hear the statement uttered.

Did my time as a youth pastor

Monday, September 1, 2014

Ministry for THEM or YOU?

Churches can fall for the trap of thinking they SHOULD do a specific x ministry (insert youth, children's, family, seniors, intergenerational, seeker, family-friendly, music, creative-arts-based, refugee, homeless, handicapped, mental illness).

Maybe it was successful in "the good old days" of the church...
Maybe it's working at a neighboring church or a mega-church in town...
Maybe it's mentioned in a the latest book the minister has just read...

Whatever the root cause, the trap has to do with who's the focus.
Is the ministry, primarily, about those inside or outside the church?

At the core, the deciding factor has to do with the desire for service to others or obligation to self.

Sometimes, a ministry is instigated because those within the church want to be seen as doing "something" and feel "good" about doing what they "should."