Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 best of...

As I write this in the closing hour of 2015, I can't help but wrestle with the last year.

In short, it has been a year or turbulence.

2015 has been... difficult... but productive.
2015 has been... challenging... but hopeful.
2015 has been... keeping-me-up-all-night-with-worry... but, equally, peacefully reassured.

Over the last 12 months, my most read post - with ten times my usual traffic - was Would a Season of Giving Kid's Talks make Sermons Better? with the second most read article being The Secret Sauce of Small Group Leading.

Without doubt, the most important thing I wrote and, possibly have ever written, was 10 Rules for Making it Though Life.

Other highlights from 2015 were...

The New Numbers that Matter

Do we let the Worst Chapter close the Book?

The 5 Responses to a Question

Do we keep Parents by the Side of the Pool?

The Four Options of Advice

Gnosticism and Sexting


Who Should I be Caught by if I had an AM Account?

Setting the Equation

The Key Question from Elijah

What Someone Who's Messed Up Sexually is Actually Like...

How to Lose me from your Church

Everything isn't First-run

Should we give a F@#k about Swearing?

When can the Relationship hit Refresh?

Balancing Knowing and Experiencing

Can you see the Light?

The Actions of Boys Don't Impress Men

Eulogising 101

Why you need Leaders Beyond their Mid-Twenties

Balancing your Buckets (something I'm still learning...)

Running the Scenarios

The Problem with 50 Shades and Twilight (my third most popular post)

The 5 Problem Areas in Youth Ministry

When a Kid needs the Win

The Person you Sleep with should Tick these Three Boxes

3 Reasons the Younger need the Older with the Different Plumbing


This should give you some things to read since, currently, I'm still required to keep relative silence about the last few months and will need to remain that way for another month or so. 

But 2016 still holds hope and fresh opportunities, providing an avenue to reassess and reconnect, even if it'll look significantly different than 2015...

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A little less conversation

I'll admit, I'm a bad blogger.

Those who "know" how to successfully blog say that everything should be about the readers.

Personally, this has never really been the case.

I've always blogged for myself.
I blog about the things bouncing around my head.
I documented things which I knew I'd want to revisit.

You, dear reader, have just been looking over my shoulder.

Well, now I need to take a break.

So, for the rest of the year, I'm going on a blog hiatus.
In fact, I'm going on a complete ministry fast.

Over the next few months I've been given the opportunity for time and space... 

But, I'll be back.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The new numbers that matter

I didn't grow up in the church.

Like many teens who gravitated to a youth group, I followed a girl (who I didn’t end up getting!) and, over time, the message of Jesus became more important than the unrequited love.

Nonetheless, over the years it took for me to find my faith, there were some people who especially invested in my spiritual development. Some of these people were “on staff,” most weren’t.
Do you have similar people in your past?
Can you think of those who, especially, took the time and made the effort to engage with you and nurture your faith?

Classically, the golden ratio in ministry with young people is around 1:5 – one adult for every five kids.

But, progressively (from places like the Fuller Youth Institute), it’s being realised that the effective ratio in growing and, importantly, retaining young people within a church is 5:1 – five adults for every one youngster.

For children and teens need to feel that there’s a group of people caring and investing in them and their faith development, not just a select few.

Historically, it’s the smaller, heavily volunteer driven, churches who've been doing this effectively across the generations, not the flashy mega-churches.

It’s the churches which develop a culture of making space for the children, engaging with them in conversation, and supporting them as they explore who Jesus is, where the kids’ faith – long-term – is healthier.
The challenge for churches is to find ways, and develop an intentional culture, where adults can naturally find avenues to show young people that there's an entire village concerned about them.
For, the new number in effective long-term youth ministry seems to be as intricately linked with adults as it is to youth. If you don't have the tribe of adults - the five, then it's far less likely that you retain your youngsters - the one.
The person who said that it takes a village to raise a child may have been on to something far deeper than they're aware…

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Going beyond the Jesus example

Traditionally, in church, the answer is always Jesus.
Or the bible.

If one of these is not the correct answer then you've misheard the question or the person posing the query is greatly confused...

But, having Jesus as your sole example in a sermon may not be as helpful as we assume.


Because Jesus was faultiness and those listening have never personally seen Him nor are able to follow him around for a few hours.

Don't get me wrong, Jesus is a phenomenal God-man. Perfect even. I'm not bagging out Jesus in any way...

But, when giving an example of holiness, sacrifice, integrity, holy discontent, compassion, ect... if the ONLY example we present others is Jesus then, at times, the example might feel out of reach.

Because, let's face it, who can measure up to Jesus?

I know I can't.

And, if He's the only example you give me to emulate, then a part of me wonders why I should bother... (I'm fully prepared to admit that this is only me, but I suspect it's not)

A better plan would be, in addition to using Jesus, pointing to someone known personally by the congregation.

I feel, if they're able to associate your point with someone they're familiar with - having had a conversation with them, knowing their life-journey personally and being able to observe your point lived out - then the goal or holiness, sacrifice, integrity, whatever... seems far more attainable to those in the pews.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The desire & burden of ministry?

Last weekend I preached my second consecutive sermon in our current series on the book of Ecclesiastes. As I was doing prep I stumbled over this line (talking about Ecclesiastes 3:10-11)...

We have the desire of eternity in our hearts, and the weight of eternity upon our shoulders.

In short, it says that we, as humans, are acutely aware of our mortality, and yet have an internal longing for something eternal. With this being the case, while we might strive to attain and achieve things which will last with the work of our hands, everything we reach for to satisfy this yearning ultimately falls short and leaves us feeling empty.

As I've sat with this idea, I've begun to sense a similar thing with ministry.

We can have the desire for ministry in our hearts, and the weight of ministry upon our shoulders.

For, we can have a near unquenchable and undeniable desire to serve God and grow the Kingdom of God, yet, have upon our shoulders a (Real or imaginary) workload that's never ultimately satisfied and can leave us feeling worn down.

Now, I don't want to come off like a bemoaning martyr and that ministry is a "Godly burden."

But I wonder how many people truly feel this way about ministry...

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Did Jesus eat bacon?

Some issues are core to salvation.
Some are open-handed, whilst others are close-fisted.

Last week I was asked a very, VERY, important question by a student in one of my scripture classes.

He asked, "Did Jesus eat bacon?"

I knew, as a good Jew, the response was probably negative.

And, in truth, it pained me to give the answer.

Because... Bacon is awesome.
Everyone knows that.
I know that.
You know that.
The kids in my scripture class know that.

But, then it occurred to me, God knows that.
He made pigs.
He made bacon.
He made tastebuds.

So, while the succulent-ness that is bacon may not have ever passed the lips of Jesus, I think He knows how delicious it is.

At least, that's what I told the class.

Somehow, anything else, seemed like an effective way to seriously jeopardise a youngsters salvation...

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Do we let the worst chapter close the book?

As I mentioned as the seventeenth random thing about me, since I worked for the same place where I started going to church, I still have the sign in sheet from my first ever week at youth group.

My first week, I assume, was uneventful.
I didn't light a fire...
I didn't turn up drunk...
I didn't get into a fight...
I didn't swear at any of the leaders...
I didn't even openly heckle the "Jesus" thing they were going on about.

As a teen, I was a relatively unobtrusive kid.

But, this isn't always the case.

For some, they push the boundaries on the first week...
Or the first month...
Or once they turn 15...
Or when they start hanging with that "new crowd."

I know, for some, their faith journey starts pretty rough...
Or involves a pretty rocky chapter...
Or a few.

The longer that you're at a church, the more chapters in life you have the privilege to witness play out.

But I wonder, do we give up on some kids because they have a tough start?
Do we miss the redemptive story because we're not willing to stick out the rebellious spurts?
Do we rob ourselves, and potentially the young person, of the beautiful (and sometimes hilarious) story that unfolds and is joyously told years into the future?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

How big is your Jesus?

No question is too hard.
No topic is too taboo.
No situation is too painful.
No sin is too great.
No past is too dark.
No person is too lost.
No mistake is THAT big.

The problem for the church is that the opposite of the above messages are alive and well in people's minds.

Questions are off limits...
Some topics are out-of-bounds...
Past pains are to be suppressed...
Sins are an unforgivable source of shame...
You must be perfect to be accepted...
THAT mistake makes you unworthy to be included...

Is this the Jesus you follow?
Is this the Jesus you present to others?
Is this the Jesus you preach?

Is the Jesus you speak about big enough to handle anything?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Why "Please join me" is the magical command

When someone prompts those in a congregation to do something, a vastly more effective way is to invite, not ask, and over the last few weeks I've seen two different people utilise the secret sauce of worship leading.

They uttered the phrase "Please join me..."

As an instruction, this phrase does everything right.

First, it tells people what you want them to to.

Second, it reassures them that they won't be the only person doing it.

Finally, and most importantly, if the worship leader says that they will be vulnerable and do the activity first it removes the moment of anxiousness of needing to be the trendsetter.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Why you should have a farewell activity before everything changes

Last night the year 6's joint the youth group for the first time.

In order to a) feed them, and b) make them feel special, I provide pizza between the after-school children's and teenage activities.

But, in a similar vein, I also made sure that the youth group did something extra fun before the new batch of younger kids arrived.


Because, as I ramp up the "privileges" for the youngsters, I don't want the older kids to completely miss out.

Furthermore, it gives the established group another week to "just be them" before they're "invaded" by the swarm of Tweens.

Additionally, if the younger batch of kids hear about the activity the previous week, then it can show them that the youth group is not just the children's ministry, but later, but generate excitement for the types of events which could be in their future.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The 5 responses to a question

Following on from yesterday's post about small group questions.

Here's the advice I'll be giving my leaders about responding to questions posed to them in a small group.

Why do you ask?

This is critical, for, behind every question is a story and your response will be vastly different if the query is purely intellectual (I saw something on TV or heard something at school) or deeply personal (my cat died, my mum just had a miscarriage, I've just been diagnosed with cancer). Questions can be significant pastoral concerns.

I don't know, let's find out together...

The first part of this answer is vital if you actually don't know. Honestly helps far more than grasping at straws. And, if you think the question should be dealt with immediately, you're then able to bring in outside help to assist you.

I'm not 100% sure, but this is how I live with it...

Sometimes, there are no answers, just tensions which need to be managed. This response allows the leader to explain some of the processes they themselves have gone through in wrestling with the question.

What do you think?

Give the student a chance to unpack what they already think about the topic, this alone might help guide them towards to answer.

Here's my answer...

Some questions can, and should, just be answered on the spot. For I firmly believe that following Jesus makes sense, thus, if appropriate, I'll provide them the best answer I can (like I've tried to do with the apologetics topic on the blog).

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Freeing the small group questions

This week at youth group I'm going to free my leaders and teens from the tyrant of structured small group questions.

Now, that being said, I'm still going to send my amazing leaders the regular sheet of small group questions which tie into the topic I'll be speaking about, but now there'll be an additional question at the start.

For, I acknowledge (especially if you're leading senior highs), the questions can seem a tad "simple" or heading in a direction which the teens may not want, or need, to go.

Hopefully, this isn't happening regularly, but I'll admit that, at times, it'll be inevitable.

So now the opening question will be this... 
"What was the question you thought of at the end of the talk?"

For, now, at the conclusion of my talk, I'll challenge the teens to think of a question surrounding the topic.

The reason I'll do this is threefold.

First, it'll open discussion to clarify anything which I didn't make clear.

Second, it'll allow an opportunity for those who disagree with what I said to speak up.

And third, it will, importantly, put the direction of the small group, at least somewhat, in the hands of the participants and, hopefully, see the discussion become more applicable to what they are thinking and facing.

So, with this potentially dangerous opening question, what will I say are the four best responses to the questions they'll face?

I'll tell you tomorrow...

Monday, October 12, 2015

Session success formula

Over the last week I sat in six electives, two professional development forums and three main sessions (I did wisely blow off one night) at the conference I attended.

But, as I weighed up which sessions I'd attend, and the criteria I use in determining the difference between input which is "meh" and time well spent, I came up with the following...

Prior Platform: If a speaker has a presence that I'm aware of, like a blog, then I'll be more inclined to attend their session. 

Credibility: I'll be more likely to attend your session of you have a proven track record of applying, in numerous settings, what you're telling me.

Promotion: If the author has recently released a book which I have read then I'll be cautious. Nothing is more disappointing than spending an hour-or-so hearing the exact same input from someone which I've just read.

Contextualisation: I'll be far more likely to rave about your session, particularly if you're North American, if you make the effort to translate it to an Australian setting. 

Familiarisation: Do they know their stuff well enough that they don't need to be tethered to their notes and are capable in engaging helpfully with questions and pushback?

Expertise: Do I get to the end of the session, even if it wasn't completely revolutionary input, with a feeling that I couldn't have presented the session myself?

Biblical: Do I see, from the scriptures, where they get their stuff from and, importantly, how they arrived at that point?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The aim of the conference...

Right now I'm at the National Youth Ministry Convention and today I was reminded of the aim of any conference.

The purpose of any conference is not to get a dump-load of information. For, in truth, most people in ministry don't need new info. We read enough articles and we own enough books.

If anything, we know way more than we really need. 

Instead, the success of any conference is the information, no matter how "fresh," "innovative" or "ground-breaking" it is that you're able - and actually do - apply to your ministry.

This is when a conference becomes worth the money invested...

Monday, October 5, 2015

Do we keep parents by the side of the pool?

I'm fairly certain that every father, attached to the child's mother or otherwise, must take their progeny to swimming lessons. I know because I'm one of the horde of men who need to usher their child to the weekly pilgrimage.

And my little girl is advancing, albeit slowly, through the swimming school ranks. 

At first, when they are too young uncoordinated to do... anything vaguely connected with swimming... the parents need to actively get in the pool with their youngsters and splash about.

But, now, I get to sit by the side of the pool and watch the "professional" teach my daughter.

In fact, not only do I no longer need to get wet on a Saturday morning, but I couldn't get involved even if I wanted to.

Which got me thinking about the church... 
Do we set up the same system as my daughter's swimming school?

Do we detach parents, even accidentally, from the spiritual formation of their child once they hit the age when the "professionals" step in and take over?

Are churches set up so that parents no longer need to get "spiritually damp" on a Sunday morning?

As I listen to youth ministry musings, lots of people see the benefit in engaging the family unit, but I wonder if, over the years, we've trained parents to remain poolside and, for a whole generation, the tide will be near irreversible because they've remained disconnected for so long...

Friday, October 2, 2015

Everyone doesn't score an invite... In fact, few would

I haven't got a significant birthday coming up anytime soon and I'm, hopefully, not getting married again.

Thus, I don't have any events on the horizon where I'll need to invite a lot of people I know.

For this, I'm truely thankful.

For I haven't needed to send a wide-ranging invitation to an event of mine since 2006.

Thus, I haven't needed to decide who would make the cut for my special occasions...

The last time my wife and I did it, for our wedding, it was torturous. On that occasion, it was a division surrounding those who were over 18 and those who were still minors.

But now, nearly a decade on, having sojourned to my fourth church and with the "assistance" of social media, I now have 448 "friends" on Facebook.

So, where would I draw the line now?

Who would get a gig to my 40th in 2022?
If I got married again, who would score an invite?

In part, it comes down to the nature of the relationships I have with the various spheres in my life... Family, high school mates, people I've studied with, workmates, those from my current, previous and home churches.

In reality, a lot of folks simply wouldn't make the cut.

Some people, by choice, I've cut contact with...
Others, by circumstance, I've lost contact with...

Because, as you get older, you work out the people you actually WANT to be friends with and are prepared to put in the effort to stay connected with. 

The reality is, this doesn't include everyone.

But a lot of people, while connected to them via church or youth group, were left behind once I moved to a new ministry placement...

For, the longer you're in ministry, you work out the people you actually WANT to be friends with and are prepared to put in the effort to stay connected with. 

Again, the reality is, this doesn't include everyone.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The code of "pushback"

Inevitably, in a world full of ideas, meetings and political correctness, you'll hear someone "pushback."

Whenever someone throws an idea into the ether, another will pop up their hand and ask if they can offer "pushback."

But, is "pushback" just PC for I-think-your-idea-sucks or I-actually-think-your-a-bit-of-dick?

I would like to say that this isn't the case, but when the sugar-coating is removed, is this all that you're left with?

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The four options of advice

I just read a really good article about advice on which you can read here.

In part, it noted that there are four primary types of advice... (If the options are A, B or C)

1 - What they should do (Do A).
2 - What they shouldn't do (Don't do B. Anything, but B).
3 - Giving the person more information (Here's everything significant that I could find about A, B and C).
4 - Pointing the person towards someone wiser (I'm not the best person you can talk to, have a chat with x). Opposed to what I wrote earlier, this can be the starting point for advice, even if it shouldn't be the ending.

I find that when people ask for advice, most often, they're actually seeking clarity of thought, not nessesarily an answer regurgitated at them. In fact, there are many occasions when the decision of what to do has already been made in their mind.

What they really want is the later two options, either additional information or someone to run them through a system of checks to confirm that they're going to be heading in the wisest direction.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Treadmill stoppers

Right now I'm on holidays and life is... Relaxed boring.

But, in truth, I needed a break. Last term, by the end, was pretty draining and the rest of the year holds some significant changes and challenges.

But, I needed to be talked into taking, what upon reflection, will be an adequate amount of time off.

For life, especially in ministry, can feel like a continuous treadmill of events, activities, meetings, admin, church services and preparation.

And, there needs to be people who can tell you to jump off the treadmill and stop.

People who you trust...
People who care for you...
People who care about what you're doing...
People who you'll actually listen to.

For, once you've been stuck on the treadmill too long, you can get ground down.

And, it's at these times when your treadmill-stopper needs to step in and remind you that hitting the off switch is ok.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Gnosticism and sexting

I wrote about Gnosticism and how it can be seen in modern times here.

But the other day I stumbled over this article about sexting, and while I might not leap as far as the author does, it makes a connection I didn't identify earlier.

In short, sexting is another modern extension once you stumble into the quagmire of Gnostic thought.


Because they both see a false separation from the physical.

In historical Gnostic thought, the division is between the spiritual from the corporeal.

Nowadays, far too many people fool themselves into thinking that there's a false division between the digital and the physical.

This is most evident when it comes to social media and sexting. You don't need to look far to find examples of people spewing bemoan which they would never dare do in person. Furthermore, far too many young people, predominatly female, send pictures digitally which they don't envisage could have a very connection to their physical life.

And, if these posts or pictures are dug up, ill-used or "hacked," then their very "real" consequences can see the light of day.

And here an old heresy can claim another victim.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


The poor.
The needy.
The homeless.
The abandoned.
The depressed.
The losers.
The hurting.
The outsider.
The refugee.
The widow.

These are the people, especially, whom the church exists for and, frankly, the people whom give the church its greatest opportunity to make a massive difference and show that the gospel can change lives.

It's a tragedy when those with the church don't see the human need which crosses their path.

And, if meeting the needs of those-whom-the-church-is-for causes discomfort or inconvenience, then that's more than ok and, I believe, is a cost that Jesus would want us to pay.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Supporters with little skin in the game

Those in ministry need support. Lots of it. Professional. Pastoral. Laity.

Over the weekend I hear a retiring minister thank a lot of people.

Somewhat surprisingly, someone he was grateful towards was a person who supported his family, but was relatively unconnected to much of the ministry he provided.

And, ideally, everyone in ministry needs someone who is willing to support then with minimal skin in the game.

They're on no committees...
They're on no rosters...
They aren't a gatekeeper of the church...

To most, they just appear as someone who faithfully fills a pew every Sunday.

Due to their distance, they're able to provide a relatively clean slate and removed perspective with thef minimal possibility of an agenda.

And this is their greatest strength.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The next step of helping

This is who you can call...
This book might be good to check out...
This professional would be helpful to chat with...
This person has gone through a similar thing, ask them for advice...

The above is, often, not the start of an offer to help.

Far and away, the best response to a request for help, is a listening ear. Even Job's mates knew that.

But, in time, the offer of help should, ideally, be accompanied with some useful knowledge, or at least the offer to journey with person while, together, you try to unearth the next useful step.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Announcements need a large percentage

Yesterday, after church, we had a really good breakfast for all the dads for Father's Day.

But, in the weeks leading up to the event, it never got announced from the front of the church.

Sure, there were posters advertising the event and I sent around emails to the church families, but nothing spoken during the announcements segment of church.


Because the event didn't hit enough people sitting in the pews.

Honestly, a Father's Day breakfast only immediately affects a few dozen people.

So, why would I use valuable time at the start of a church service to speak about something that didn't connect with the majority of people listening?

Unless an activity effects almost everyone, or you would like it to reach the vast majority, why would you choc up time in the church service with miss-aimed information?

In reality, when it comes to most events, there are far better ways to advertise, starting with a personal conversation.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Verse forgetting

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9.

When asked a question, this was the verse I was desperately trying to remember during the week.

But I couldn't do it.

Armed with just my memory and a physical bible, I couldn't track it down.

And I felt like a complete failure and a total idiot.

If I lived a few decades ago, I would have had to wade through the bible, which is what I would've been prepared to do, in order to unearth my verse.

But now, when I was within a biblical search function, I was able to find my verse (and another dozen verses that were arguably applicable) in short time.

The whole episode, firstly, makes me extremely thankful that I live in a time when I can have such information at my fingertips, secondly, it reminds me of the importance of biblical memorisation (like of these verses that I mentioned here) and, thirdly, it humbles me once I consider the ability of previous generations to recall the bible without the ability to punch in a key word or topic into a search box.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Who should I be caught by if I had an AM account?

This weekend, churches across the world are about to have a leadership bomb explode in light of the account details of the Ashley Madison hack becoming public. 

In the North America, it's estimated that 400 church leaders will be standing down. I don't know how many ministers, church staff, deacons and elders will be caught up in Australia, but with a million users, some churches will  inevitably be affected.

I wonder, how many churches had awkward moments in a staff meeting where they wondered...?

Better yet, how many asked the question?

So far, I haven't been asked (don't by the way...).
And I didn't pose the question to our Minister of the Word.

Is it something we should have asked?

I wonder, when it comes to the leaders of denominations, if they thought about calling every church worker under their care and openly asking them if they had an AM account.

We're they, in light of the damaging (and inevitable) exposure, obligated to pose the question?

Furthermore, as the details become easier to find and navigate through, how many congregation members will search for their minister?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Paying to shun a hymn for a year???

The other day I saw a picture on Facebook of, what could be argued, is the most brilliant money-raising scheme ever devised.

In short, it's a form where you nominate a hymn/song your church sings and an amount you'd be willing to pay in order for it to be "retired" for the next twelve months.

Of course, the beauty of the fundraiser is that you can then pay an excessive amount to "save" a tune if it's one of your favourites and nominate an alternative.

As a cash-raising activity, I think it's borderline genius. Super-villain diabolical...

But as a church-unity initiative, the idea screams red-flag. I can imagine blinding arguments breaking out if someone tried to nominate a cherished song from someone else's childhood or the final song at grandma's funeral.

Furthermore, this idea can be theologically impeding. What if somebody, instead of being musically offended by a tune, really wants a hymn cast out because it contains theology which, although throughly accurate, grates at them due to sin or closed-mindedness? Are you allowing them to pay in order to keep their conscience seared?

As good as a fundraiser as this may be, I'm just not sure that the cost could be worth it...

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How far from perfection do you really need to aim for?

Yesterday I stumbled over the post titled 30 Tips for Church Stage Designs on with the following one particularly jumping out at me.

It only has to look good from 20 feet away. (Or your first row of seats.) Don’t spend hours making it look perfect from up close—no one is looking at it from there.

I wonder, in any ministry - not just stage design - how much time do we spend making improvements which no one else will notice?

How long to we tinker with the PowerPoint slides...
How long to we nudge around a picture on the flier...
How long do we stress over the details of a scripture lesson...
How long do we agonise over wording in the youth group talk...
When, from the view "the audience" will have, it will be near inconsequential detailing?

If we took the time to look at what we're "producing" from the standpoint of the congregation, would we strive for less minute perfection and more 5-meters-away-quality?

Monday, August 24, 2015

The mindset that appreciates the less-than-perfect

The other drummer misses a beat...
The alternate singer doesn't quite hit that note...
That youth minister down the road stumbles during the joint Christmas service address...
Someone else at church has problems with their microphone...

None of the above scenarios are a disaster.  Far from it. In fact, most are barely glitches when looking at the big picture.

But I wonder if some in attendance, who could also fill the role, get a sinister, internal, joy when they see someone else falter? 

If so, how is this best dealt with?

Surely you can't apologise to the person. This would bring to light that you not only noticed their misstep but come across as either judgemental or self righteous.

Of course, you should bring that attitude to God in repentance.

Ideally, it's a change of heart which is required, desiring the best for those around you and viewing the efforts of theirs in the absolute best light.

Then, even if everything doesn't run flawlessly, you're in a far better place to, not only overlook the problem, but be able to see, appreciate, and genuinely communicate the positive things which were ministered to you.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Calling once the phone is silent

When a crisis hits, and someone enters a difficult season of life, everyone works the phones to offer support, condolences or help.

But, all too quickly, the phone stops ringing.

And the silence can be deafening.

This is when the second most important wave of calls needs to be made.

A week later...
A fortnight on...
One month after the funeral...
On significant anniversaries...

Whilst the conversation doesn't need to be long, it does need to remind the person that they are not forgotten and that the offer of prayer, support and help are still ongoing.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Know who pays the bill

A lot of things in life come with a cost...

A lot of things in ministry cost...

But the cost isn't always horded. Sometimes it's shared...
With your spouse.
With your family.
With your work mate.
With your church.

At times, when you're going to bear the cost of a decision alone, the choice is upon your shoulders alone because you're the one who'll solely pick up the tab. 

But, when the ramifications of a decision spread beyond you alone, then the choice must be weighed up by those who'll need to foot the bill.

The challenge is determining who are going to be the ones who'll need to pay for your choices

Monday, August 10, 2015

Count by the month, not week

Undeniably, church attendance in the West has dropped. And it's still dropping.

I wonder if one contributing factor, although certainly not the main one, is the way we track church attendance.

As I mentioned here, the realistic expectation for families to attend church each week is near unreasonable.

Sure, a few blessed families will attend 50 weeks a year, but the realism of families being at church 25 weeks per annum must be faced.

So, when it comes to counting bumbs-on-seats, should we calculate by the month instead of by the week?

If we want an accurate representation of our congregations numbers, and those whom are regularly connected with our church, then I think this method will be far closer in reflecting the true number (or at least those who would consider a church "theirs")...

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Setting the equation

When it comes to high school scripture, increasingly, there are some topics (mostly revolving around sexuality) which schools want you to avoid directly speaking on.

One way around directly answering the common queries about sexuality, which will inevitably arise with teens, is to set the equation, but leave the answer blank.

What do I mean?

Say, for example, you're asked about to hot-button issue of gay marriage...

Now, instead of launching into a diatribe of mainline Christian thought sprinkled with your own opinion, instead, you can simply pose a series of questions which need to be thought through...

What is equality?
What is marriage?
Is marriage a human right?
Can the definition of marriage be changed?
Do we still need marriage?
Who should be able to say what marriage is?
What is the place of the church and government in deciding what people can or cannot do?

If the students can engage with such questions, it will not only clarify what they think about a contentious topic, but the teens are then in a far better place to wrestle with what the bible and church have to contribute.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

How > Should

I've written about the place of life application in sermons a number of times (like here, here and here).

But the form of application usually takes one of two routes with one far more preferable than the other.

One option is to tell people what they SHOULD do in light of what the bible says.

The danger in this is that it can lead to legalism and promote guilt.

The second option is to share with people HOW they can use what the bible says.

This, alternatively, opens up an avenue for the listener to feel empowered (or at least slightly more confident) in living out what the sermon was all about.

The trouble is, churches can push the former over the later because telling someone how the gospel can change their lives is more difficult to measure than a black-and-white instruction to follow.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The key question from Elijah

We’re all busy. That’s just how life is.

No matter what life stage you’re in, the hectic pace of living can crowd in around you.
Do you feel that right now?

By tomorrow, my youth group will have just concluded their series on the Old Testament prophet Elijah.
Even if you’re familiar with the story, go and give it a skim now (it’s in 1 Kings 16-19)… I’ll wait.

Before the rulers of his day, who put their faith in the neighbouring fertility God Baal, Elijah said that there would be no rain for three years. Whilst outnumbered 850:1, Elijah proposes a contest to see which deity would show themselves to be faithful.
In short, Elijah makes a mighty stand for God before the powers of his day and he’s able to do this for two reasons.

First, Elijah knew what he was standing for – complete devotion to the faithful God Yahweh, not a God/Baal hybrid religion.
Secondly, Elijah knew whom he was standing with - The God who can both shake the mountain, but speak with whispered tones.
It’s upon the side of mount Horeb where God asks Elijah the probing question “What are you doing here?”

Do you ever hear God asking you that question?

Do you ever stop before God long enough for Him to ask you that question?

Are you still enough to hear the whispered query?

Are the distractions of life far enough away for you to interact with the enquiry?

In our homes, schools, universities and workplaces…
Amongst our family, friends and colleagues…
Within our churches and our neighbours…
How would you answer the question from God… What are you doing here?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Refining or shrinking

Gideon was a failure as a leader.

His numbers went from 22,000, to 10,000 down to 300.

But his army was not shrinking; instead it was being refined down to a number which God could use and be seen through.

In ministry, sometimes things fail and shrink. But not always.

Sometimes, God refines the numbers of a group down so a He can undeniably move anew.

The challenge is trying to discern between the two...

Saturday, July 25, 2015

What can settle the discussion for you...

Teachers change.
Ministers leave.
Principals of schools transfer.
Students graduate.

With some people and situations, every fight is not worth engaging, every hill is not worth dying upon and every argument is not worth having.


Because convincing someone of your point of view isn't always required.
With some people, when it comes to peripheral issues, you don't need to persuade someone.
Some issues don't need to be immediately resolved.

In some cases, the resolution of a problem will be found with time.

In place of structured arguments, perseverance will open up avenues.

You just need to outlast and out-survive.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The guest doesn't have to be difficult to find

Some people won't like me.
Some kids won't be moved by my explanations.
Some teens will get annoyed by my anecdotes.

Herein lies the power of the guest.

But, when we look for the alternate voice, we can cast the net far and wide.

In truth, we don't need to look that far...

This is why I have the minister of my church and an adult volunteer give the talk at our after-school children's ministry activity.
This is why I cycle through my youth group leaders to help me plan and deliver the youth group talks.
This is why, at the end of last term, the talk on a Friday night was split amongst my four leaders and, at least intended, the small groups were to be headed up by the four voices.

Because some voices will be heard louder than mine.
With a different voice, some truths will become clearer.
Some stories will resonate stronger when presented by someone else.
With a different leader, the dynamics of a small group can powerfully transform.

For, the advantage and power of the guest, can be wielded by the leader sitting beside you every week.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

I. Remember. Nothing.

On Tuesday, for the next few weeks, I've got a standing appointment with a humbling.

After doing one semester of Biblical Greek a year ago, getting a darn good mark, I had the brilliant idea to finish the textbook and do the second level of Greek.

This week, unsurprisingly, I came to the cruel discovery that I'd forgotten everything.

After not using anything I'd learnt... I barely remembered the alphabet.
Having boxed up all my flashcards... Two dozen vocabulary words had dropped out of my mind.
Having filed away all my notes... Everything began to fade away.

As a result, I sat in a lecture with those who'd done Greek last semester - a mere four weeks removed from their final exam - and they were recalling things which, for me, were just a hazy memory.

All up, I recalled ONE answer during the class.
And got a high five from the lecturer.

Now, with the days counting down until I drag my carcass into another lecture, I have to relearn 274 words and everything I'd forgotten about Greek noun, adjective, verb, adverb systems.

On top of anything new I need to absorb...

I wonder, is this is a problem which will haunt me now that I've finished my degree?
Is educational forgetfulness something which dangerously stalks all ministers?
For, without actively engaging in theology, Christology and church history (especially!), are you destined to have your learning fragment?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The two outcomes of knowing what's under the surface

The following is a warning to those who are in ministry or who have done serious study on self reflection or psychology...

The following is for those who, for whatever reason, will be familiar with the internal workings of what they're watching...

The following is for those who are intimately aware of the inner fears and insecurities of those they're viewing...

No matter it is due to study or experience...

If you know something which puts you in the head of another, then you have two outcomes ahead of you.

a) You have increased empathy for the person. You're personally aware of what the other person is thinking and feeling, so you extend to them extra grace.

or b) You, armed with the ammunition to cut through their defenses, can inflict significant damage through uninvited judgment or criticism.

When you're watching someone who you can understand or identify with on a deeper level than others, especially if the other person is also aware of the fact, then you must decide if you'll use your advanced knowledge for good or ill.

As Spiderman knew... With great power...

Monday, July 13, 2015

The 7 questions to ask when reading the bible

It only took six years, but last night we finally did this activity and intentionally read the bible during church in place of a sermon.

For 25 or so minutes I gave everyone a copy of the book of Philippians and allowed them to read it in light of the following seven questions.

What stood out to you?

What was the key message?

What does it say about Jesus?

What does it say about the Christian life?

What does it say about the church?

How might us, as a church, live this out?

How might we, as individuals, live out the message of this passage?

If, whenever you read the bible, you engaged with these seven questions, then the meaning and application of the scriptures, I feel, would be far clearer and the prospect of engaging with the bible far less intimidating.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

What someone who's messed up sexually is actually like...

At the end of my sex spiel I argue that the oft-used analogies for someone who has messed up sexually - a damaged flower, a chewed up piece of gum or a used piece of sticky-tape - are completely crap and contain a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of God and the message of the gospel.

If I had to use a prop to compare with someone who had "gone too far" sexually, I would use a hundred-dollar bill.

Originally, the green polymer note would be worth a hundred dollars.

And, no matter how much I scrunch it up, spit on it (lucky we have plastic currency!) or step on it, it doesn't lose its value and is still worth pursuing.

If you're no longer a virgin, you are far more like the hundred dollar bill than a crushed rose, masticated gum or furry tape!

This message aligns with the character of God, in whom all people are made in the image of, giving them worth.

This message aligns with the actions of Jesus, which offered forgiveness, not judgment, to those who had messed up sexually.

This message aligns with the message of the gospel, which says that people - all broken by sin - retain value, enough so that God Himself would come amongst them and lay down His life so they can be eternally united with Him.

Monday, July 6, 2015

I can see > I know

When you're in pain people say a lot of things. Some are comforting. Others make you want to swear under your breath.

One thing that is all to common, which I unsuccessfully try to avoid, is the phrase "I know."

The reason this sentence sucks, when someone is in pain, is because, most probably, you don't really know.

You don't know their grief over a deceased loved one.
you don't know their sorrow at a bad diagnosis.
You don't know their heart-break from a miscarriage or divorce.


Because it is THEIRS not yours.

A response which trumps "I know" is "I can tell" or "I can see."

When you avoid saying "I know" but use one of the later two, you still convey that you're empathizing with the other person's pain, but avoid the implication that you've got a complete grasp of everything they're going through physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and relationally.