Saturday, May 30, 2015

10 Rules for making it through life

I'm not the source of all wisdom and truth about life. If I were, I'd either be a teenager or a long-white-bearded Mr Miyagi-Dumbledore-Gandalf super hybrid.  

But, nonetheless, over my three-plus decades on this planet, here are the ten rules I've discerned for making it through life (in no particular order)...

1 - Bad things happen. Life is not fair. Flowing on from the points I jotted down from a Steve Biddulph talk in this post. Sometimes, you're not in control of what happens to you.

2 - Surround yourself with people who will care and, when needed, protect you. Have people in your life who want what's best for you physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, spiritually and experientially.

3 - Learn where and amongst whom you can be safe and vulnerable. Spend lots of time with them, at those places.

4 - You deserve the best help possible. It's okay, healthy even, to talk to people who are trained to help you order and process the world around you. It's not a sign of weakness, but strength.

5 - Realise, often, you're already in a future which, previously, you found hard to imagine. Because life's not fair (#1), we can struggle to picture the next step/s. For many of us, we've been in a similar mindset previously, and, thankfully, managed to pull through.

6 - Life presents us with difficult or scary decisions which will require courage. Draw strength from the times when people, particularly yourself, have made courageous choices in the past.

7 - Boundaries are good and healthy. Don't apologise for, lovingly, asserting your own. But, be aware that you'll live with the consequences if you don't enforce or maintain them.

8 - You are not as alone as you think. You, in all probability, are not the first one to be faced with your troubles or the only one going through them currently.

9 - You are more significant than you realise. As I mentioned when I wrote about suicide, there are lots of people who care for you and have their lives deeply affected by your presence.

10 - Time does not heal all wounds, it just creates scars. In order for life to make positive progress, action - sometimes courageous (#6) - is required.

BONUS - #11 - You will be deeply missed when you are gone. Inevitably, your life will end. The shame about funerals is that the person who has died will never get to see the faces, feel the emotions and hear the eulogies from those who are left behind.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Balancing Knowing and Experiencing

I have a Bachelor of Theology, studied over the best part of a decade.
I've also been a Christian for nearly two decades.

I've listened to many hundreds of sermons; given hundreds of talks and read/skimmed thousands of books or articles about Jesus, faith, ministry and the church.
I've been to various kinds of churches and engaged with many spiritual disciplines, even if I didn't enjoy all of them.

In both cases, the former is based in a knowledge of God and the later is based in the experience of God.

Churches, especially youth ministries, should seek to provide a healthy balance and mix of both.

This is why a just-play-games-and-keep-them-entertained youth group will be inadequate.

This is why the creeds will always matter.

This is why the sermon matters during a church service.

In part, this is one of the reasons as a youth I was exposed to various kinds of church services and I have no qualms taking my teens to events which are outside their usual experience - like this one a few weeks ago.

This is why I'll do things like tenebrae services and regularly invite others to use a prayer labyrinth.

This is why, every week in church, I'll ask those in the congregation to share where they've seen God during the last week.

For Christians will be malnourished if they are just fed only a diet of knowledge or experience.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The trouble generation

Year 6.
The junior boys.
The senior girls.
Year 12.
University Students.
Young Families.
Baby Boomers.

Due to the imperfect cyclic nature of ministry - with any age of people - things will not always work out as you might envisage.

In youth ministry, there's almost always a gap year. No matter what shape of funnel you use to draw in, nurture and disciple young people, few churches have a perfect attraction, flow and retention.

For whatever reason - there's a falling out between the popular kid and the leaders, your primary source of children has an unusually small year, your church is struck by a scandal which takes a few years to recover, a large year vanishes at one of the drop out points - it's not uncommon to find a mini-generation gap of a year to two.

When this develops, or you step into a church where this is apparent, three problems lurk on the horizon.

As the generation gap entrenches, the likelihood of attracting and retaining those within that age-bracket shrinks.
As the generation gap matures, they leave a diminished example for the younger years.
As the generation gap gets older, they affect your pool of potential leaders.

Of course, this happens beyond youth ministries.

The generation gap hits churches and entire denominations.

And, on a larger scale, the same three problems lurk...

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Can you see the light?

Inevitably, every one gets a season of hardship... physically, mentally, rationally, emotionally, experientially, spiritually. Given enough time, this is how life works. It has it's ups and downs.

This includes those in ministry.

This also includes ministries themselves.

An important question, when trying to ride out a season or attempting to support someone going though a rough patch, is to ask if they can picture a positive change or endpoint.

No matter if that ray of hope is in a day, week, semester, six months or beyond...
Can they imagine a time when this particular season of trouble has passed?
And, importantly, what does that look and feel like?

For some, even if the timetable isn't set in stone, just knowing a) that life can get better, b) that tomorrow will take them one day closer to a better place and c) that there are some identifying elements to recognise, then they are far more likely to see out the season.

AND the same goes for ministries.

If you can imagine a time and place when things will improve then you're far more likely to stick around when things are on the downward part of the cycle.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Is it a good thing that you're OPEN SIX DAYS A WEEK?

Last week I walked past a shop that, I assume proudly, displayed a sign saying that they were open six days a week.

All that went through my mind was that they were closed for one.
Immediately, and I'm prepared to admit that this could be a fault in my psyche, my mind jumped to the unadvertised part which was missing.

I wonder, does the church have a similar communication problem?
Do we advertise messages, which might be well intentioned and useful, but additionally send an unintended message?

For example?

Family Service this Sunday.
Couples Club on Tuesday night.
Men's Bible Study this Wednesday.

While all these are good worthwhile ministries, which many churches can and should have, they can also send the message...

Our family service is not for you unless you have kids.
You're not welcome on a Tuesday night unless you're married.
It's only "once you're a man" that you'll fit in on a Wednesday.

And, thus, our advertising can create a lot of confusion...

What if define a family differently? Will I still be welcomed if my kids are away or with their "other parent"?
Am I still included at couples club if my spouse has died, or do I need to stop coming?
Am I "man enough" aged 18 and too old for the youth group?

I don't think there's a solution, but I did wonder as I strolled past that furniture store, what day are they NOT open?

And, would I go to that store, risking that I'll arrive on the day when they are shut?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The way they view your tomorrow matters

Lately I've been thinking quite a bit about building trust... Thus this post earlier this month.

You build trust by showing that you've been present in the past, doing the right things, at the appropriate time, with a proper understanding of what you do, over a lengthy period of time.

But, channeling the Dr-Phil-truism that past behavior is a firm indicator of future behavior, all these things focus on things in the past.

Trust is built on what you HAVE done.
Trust is built because you WERE there.
Trust is built due to the consistent caring questions you HAVE asked.

But trust also rides on one intangible.


Will you be there tomorrow?
Will you be there if things get EVEN MORE difficult than today?
Will you be able to handle the way the other person responds to the hardships they face?

As I concluded in my last post about trust, this all points to the compounding advantage of longevity.

For, the more tomorrows you've been around for, the more likely people will think you'll be there for the next difficult tomorrow.

Monday, May 18, 2015

I don't want the piano man

Last week I took my youth group to a local evangelistic event. For many of my youth, this was unlike any church service they'd ever experienced before.

Now, no one was falling over, laughing hysterically or baring like a dog, but it was certainly a different flavor than many conservative mainline churches.

Personally, while not my preferred style of church, it wasn't unfamiliar for me.

There was plenty of energy in the room...
A giving address...
People shouting encouragement during the talk...
A every-head-bowed-eyes-closed-raise-your-hand response time...

And the thing which would disturb me incredibly if I was up the front...
Music in the background when people were speaking.

Just a few notes...
On the piano...

I wonder, if I were speaking, would I have had the guts to ask the host to desist the practice for the night?
Worse still, if I forgot or this request was ignored, would I openly ask the pianist to be quiet?

Really I don't have a massive problem with some quiet background music - I don't find it too manipulative - but it would be something which would distract ME.

So, in the name of owning the room and making me feel comfortable, would I be within my rights to ask the ivory-tickler to cool their jets?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Would the youth group notice if it went on a diet?

I buy the supper for our youth group almost every week.
It's nothing special, but the staples that get rotated are... crisps, popcorn, confectionary, cookies, fairy floss, pancakes, ice cream and soft drink.

As you can see, all the essentials of a healthy diet are covered.

But, I wonder what would happen if I put my youth group on a sugar free, fat free, nothing processed, non-voluntary diet?

Would they even notice?
Would they handle it well?
Could I?

My Friday shopping trips would definitely be more of a challenge.
The weekly weird food would certainly be more difficult to find.
And probably more expensive.

In our children's ministry we cut the cordial from afternoon tea and the kids barely noticed.

But, I imagine many youth groups would openly rebel without a regular diet of pizza, saturated fat, artificial sweeteners and heavily processed foods.

But, in light of growing youth obesity and the mandate for us to take care of the bodies God has given us, should it be a part of our role to avoid just feeding them things from the top of the food pyramid and set a better example?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The ciggie conversation

Smoking is not illegal.
You can love Jesus and smoke cigarettes. Plenty do.
You can get into heaven and be a pack-a-day-er. Plenty have.

But over the last few days I've been wondering how my two posts about the foolishness of smoking and smokers being a sign of church health fit together.

First, if a teenage Christian started smoking, how long would it be before the church should intervene? Should it be stamped out immediately? Do you only have the "right" to chastise them until they're an adult?

If age is a determining factor, should you ever rebuke an adult believer if they decide to take up smoking? If so, again, after how long?

What about long-term believers who smoke? Should someone seriously addicted to nicotine ever be spoken to about their damaging habit? If we did that, should we not also do the same for gluttony or routinely playing poker machines?

And finally, even though it might not be near the top of things to discuss, when would it be a good time (if ever?) to confront a convert about puffing away on the smokes?

I don't know what the answers exactly are, but I also wonder what angle would I take in these conversations primarily?

Would I push the spiritual angle?
Would I push the obvious health advantages?
Would I push the financial gains?

Monday, May 11, 2015

The king of communication

Back in 2013 I wrote that the chain of communication went like this...
Call > Text > Mail > Email > Facebook > Hopeful Osmosis

Previously I wrote that this applied for effective connecting with teens.

But, no matter the age-group, when applied in the wider context of sharing bad or disturbing news there's a definite preference.

In person.

Because a face trumps a voice.
And a face definitely trumps the written word - be it on a text message, computer screen or paper.

For, if you're going to share unwelcome or important news, the person deserves the opportunity to not only respond and engage in active conversation, but have the fewest filters to cloud the message.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Is a lobster per week a better budget?

NOTE: For my international readers, the $20 note in Australia is orange and, y some can be called a lobster...

When a church presents the budget, on the line entitled congregational giving, the number in excess of 100,000 is allocated for the financial year.

And, by itself, 100,000+ is a big number.

But, if your church has a hundred members, would the budget be easier digested if the giving figure was converted into a weekly, not annual, breakdown - around $20 per week?

If a congregation was told, in order for their church to meet budgeted giving, everyone would need to chip in a lobster each week, would this give greater understand to what was being expected?

Sure, for some, this might create an unhelpful sense of pride or guilt depending on where they fell above or below the $20 benchmark, but for those who have a regular, relatively disposable income, having a specific, manageable, amount could kick-start their awareness to give.

The challenge, as I've written before, is to ensure that the things the church provides are deemed worth the cost.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Concluding wonderings

Traditionally, your meant to end a sermon with a bunch of life application to the things you've just explained.

But, there may be another way...
Wondering together.

What would happen, when it comes to life application for a passage, if you - like I did last Sunday - finish with a series of questions wondering how together we could put this message into practice?

Would the application hit closer to home if it came from the pews, not the pulpit...

Monday, May 4, 2015

The trust equation 2.0

I wrote here that the equation to build trust was the following...

Time + Knowledge = Building Trust.

It occurred to me during the week that I was missing a vital element.
Trust is actually built by the following equation...

Time + Knowledge + CONSISTENCY = Building Trust.

It's only with trustworthy actions done predictably, dependably and repeatedly, over a lengthy period of time, will a person's trust for you will deepen.

This is just another reason why longevity matters.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Who are your reminder voices?

It's not your fault.
You can't stop someone from choosing how they want to act.
You are making a difference.
God loves everyone... Including you.

In my head, I know these above - and a thousand other facts - are true.

But, sometimes I need to hear them from someone else.
I need an outside voice to remind me of what I, internally, already know.

I've written before that everyone, eventually, will come to a point when they need the speech which reminds them of the important things they, not only know, but need to hear in order to keep going.

The important question is, who are the people who you go to for the speech?
Who are the outside voices, which you trust, that remind you of what you not only know, but need to hear?