Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How to lose me from your church

In my last post I wrote that small children, especially if they are of the noisy variety, are a good indicator of the welcoming and accepting nature of your congregation.

But, the second reason that a church should welcome, accept and include small children is rather simple.

All too often, in a hundred different ways during a church service, a parent can feel insecure abut their child.

Are they being too noisy during the prayers?
What happens if they start singing oddly during church?
What happens if they start meowing, like my daughter did on Sunday, during the sermon?
What happens of if they have a "disagreement" with another child during church?
What happens of they say aloud that church is boring?
And on, and on, and on...

By welcoming, accepting and including my toddler, you welcome, accept and include me, her parent.

By making space for her, you make space for me.

But, if you judge, grumble about or exclude her, you'll loose me.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

The acceptance litmus test

Do you want to know if you have a welcoming church?
Want to find out how accepting people are in your congregation?

Just add a whining baby or chatty toddler to the middle of their church service.

Over the last few years I've been in plenty of church services with both.

And some churches have been lovely, accommodating and downright pleasant and patient.

Others, not so much.

But, as someone who works with families, it occurred to me today why it's so important to both include and welcome those with small kids.

The first reason is because, I believe, it reveals a great deal about the nature of your congregation.

When you toss in a cooing baby or rambling youngster (for example, my three year old thought it would be a grand idea to bark like a dog during a part of the sermon this morning), you'll get a good idea who sees the church service as a place open to all - including those who might be less than quiet.

The second, I'll deal with in my next post...

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Everything isn't first-run

Last night I gave the devotion to kick off our latest church council meeting, giving a quick overview on the book of Hebrews.

This, while not being an arduous task, is just one more thing on top of what I churn out each year...

38 weeks of the Friday afternoon children's ministry. 
38 weeks of youth group.
40 weeks of Sunday morning Kid's Church.
140 scripture lessons (35x4).
25 sermons in the evening service.
4 sermons in the morning.

And this doesn't included any high school scripture lessons, which I have done in the past, or outside speaking gigs.
On top of this, I spit out 150 posts on Tiny Bible Bits and 120-150 blog posts.

All told, I "produce" in excess of 550 thoughts/lessons about God, Jesus, Christianity, the church and ministry.

AND I'm not extraordinary nor overworked.

But, whenever someone asks me where I draw inspiration for much of this, my answers can be a tad underwhelming.

If I produce a half-millennia of things, probably, only half are purely original.

The rest, largely, flows from - hopefully improving upon - what I've done in the past (thus the advantage of longevity) or is drawn out of what I've done earlier/going to do later in the week.

Thus, the Tiny Bible Bits will, most often, be drawn out of a scripture lesson, sermon, or children's address (thus linking with the Lectionary).

Inevitably, you'll do the same topics in scripture, the children's ministry, youth group and as a sermon series.

But, from the outsiders perspective, it can appear that a lot of what someone in ministry "presents" is original and this, realistically, could never - an need not be - the case.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Levels of Leaving

As I've written plenty of times before, longevity matters in ministry.

But, it's unrealistic to believe that you'll be at a church forever.

Every church worker is, ultimately, inly ever an interim minister.

No matter the precise timetable, there are progressive levels of leaving.

Open. Available. Looking. Legacy.

Open - You're not ready to leave, but you've achieved enough things that you'd look back with pride. Now, if you're dream job found you, you'd be open to exploring the option and possibly jump at it. Ideally, I wouldn't imagine someone would be at this point during the first four or five years of their placement.

Available - Now you've available to move on, but are more than content to stay. By now you've established a culture you're happy with and have an increasing awareness of any opportunities which may be on the horizon. Now, if a fantastic opportunity arises, they don't have to knock on your door, you'll give it a sniff. Ideally, I wouldn't imagine that you'd get to this point until you're seven or eight years in.

Looking - Once you've been in a place a decade, having cycled through a few generations, you might move towards to next stage in leaving - Actively looking. Now, while you'd loved to stay, if a healthy succession plan is in place, you can move to the next step freely.

Legacy - You don't leave cleanly, but - again, with a healthy succession plan in place - transition into another complementary ministry at the same church/denomination.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The well-dressed disclaimer

When a guy wears a suit, when he doesn't require it for work, it usually says something.

Depending where I'm speaking, I'll wear a suit.
On most occasions, I'll wear a suit for weddings.
I will always wear a suit for funerals.
And for job interviews.

Today I didn't wear a suit, but I did dress noticeably better than usual.

But I wasn't speaking somewhere that required me to dress up...
And there wasn't a wedding...
Or a funeral.

So, when people commented on my attire, I wondered if I should give a reassuring disclaimer that I wasn't dating another church.

For, if I unexpectedly saw a youth worker who's dressed up, I would wonder if they're clothed to impress a potential employer...

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

It doesn't matter if two or more are gathered...

Yesterday I wrote that we don't need to invite God into our church services because He is already present.

This inspired the post I wrote in Tiny Bible Bits based on Matthew 18:20.

For, it's this verse which gives people the erroneous mindset that God is especially "present" once a duo of believers are together.

And, in the past, I took the bait hook-line-and-sinker.

In my younger days, we used to joke that we could begin church from the point the second person entered the church building now that "God was present."

The primarily problem with this is that it's an absolute falsehood that God is "more present" once there are two or more believers.

Because, no matter how many warm bodies are present, God is there.

And the danger of quoting Matthew 18:20 out of context, removed from the setting of judgment/restoration within a faith community and, instead, applying it to the presence of God is the damage it can cause.

For this mindset can be hugely damaging for those who are alone and feeling lonely.

Do we, subconsciously, send the message that God is NOT as present because they aren't in community?

Do we, regrettably, harm those struggling with their connection to God during a church service by reminding them that God is ESPECIALLY present but they are missing out?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Being aware is better than inviting

At the start of the evening service at my church, which I routinely lead, I'll light a candle and say a prayer. During this time I'll occasionally make a mistake which many make at the dawn of their services.

For, many church services - no matter what style or structure they happen to take - will have a time when someone will "invite" God to be amongst them.

As was helpfully pointed out here, invite is not the word we're after.

We do not control or dictate the comings or goings of God.
Nor do we need to.

We need not invite God into our church service: He is already present.

What we need to do, if anything, is pray for an increase in our awareness of God's presence and an openness for that to work in and though us.

With this, we can get into the mindset to meet with our omnipresent Maker.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Not being a prayer thief

I regularly lead the prayers in the evening service of my church. Routinely, upon getting prayer requests from members of the congregation, I'll open and close the time of prayer.

I'll admit, it's not revolutionary. But, everything doesn't need to be on a weekly basis.

One thing that has been mentioned is that my opening prayers can be... a little generic.

This is quite intentional.

Upon taking prayer requests, I deliberately try to avoid using these points to open the prayer-time.

The reason?
I don't want to be a prayer thief.

I don't want to snatch away an opportunity for someone in the congregation to pray for something aloud because I've already "covered it."

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Should we give a F@#K about swearing?

As a disclaimer... 
I do it.
In fact, I've done it on this blog.
In order to make a point I might slip in a considered "salty" word.

One reason I write this blog is to get my thoughts ordered when it comes to issues surrounding church, faith and ministry, especially with young people.

A while ago someone asked me about swearing and why Christians shouldn't do it.

In response I said (while fluffing my way through some of the points bellow)... umm... because... they... umm... just shouldn't.

But, the query deserves a far better answer.

To begin, I'm not talking about blasphemy. That fact that it's mentioned as one of the ten commandments and the first line of the Lord's Prayer give a clear indication that God takes His name seriously and it shouldn't be used in a meaningless, careless or mocking manner.

Personally, I think the strongest augment against frivolous swearing is that our words matter and we will be accountable for them (Matthew 12:36-37).

Our words matter since within them are the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). We have the ability, with the words we speak, to build someone up or tear them down.

James 3 says that we shouldn't curse another made, as we are, in the image of their Creator and, importantly, the word which flow from out tongues should be a reflection of our faith and character.

This aligns with Jesus' teachings that the mouth will reveal what is within the heart (Luke 6:45). Instead, our words should reflect our new nature (2 Corinthians 5:17) being a barometer of what is within.

When it comes to swearing, what matters is the intention behind the words (this would also apply to saying "gosh-darn-it" or some other "censored substitute"). If they are directed harmfully towards someone else then they are clearly wrong. If the swear words someone uses adds nothing to the conversation then they are, at best lazy, devaluing our contribution to the world around us.

Importantly, Titus 2:7-8 reminds believers that the words they use will affect their witness to those around them.

But, some days, can and, arguably, should be called shit.
This is the exact word someone might be searching for in order to describe their day.

And here the issue, to a degree, becomes one of conscience.

Does your conscience permit you to use that word?
What is the internal intention behind the word?
Are you using it to build up and add something of genuine value?

Does your conscience feel comfortable using that word in the presence of those around you?
Will the hearing of that word cause a negative example, harm others or impair your Christian witness?

If the last question is answered affirmatively, then any freedom you might have to swear should be restricted in light of those around you.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Could the old dog butt out?

Lately I've been thinking quite a bit about the youth minister I had when I was a teen.

I haven't had any contact with him for approximately a decade, which makes it mind-blowing when I hear that his kids are now teenagers (surely I can't be THAT old!?!).

I wonder, what would he think if I were in charge of his kids youth group?

Would he be proud?
Would he be surprised?
Would he be intimidated?
Would he want to reconnect or avoid me altogether?
Would he want to chat about my "philosophy of ministry?"

Would he be overly critical since he has intimate knowledge "of the business" and a good idea of how things "should" work?

I ask the last one since, I fear, I would run everything Hanna's future youth minister does through the potentially damaging this-is-the-way-I-would-have-done-it filter. I can already tell that I will get frustrated if events weren't processed in light of the considerations before you go and the advertising checklist.

But, would I want to "chat" about the long-term direction, vision and purpose of the ministry, or could I just let go?

Would I be able to keep my nose out of things if I saw kids vulnerable at the drop out points?

I short, would I offer myself as an asset, or be a giant pain in the a$$?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

How to fight being worn down 1% at a time

1% at a time.
Up or down.

This is what happens to your energy levels.

For, on top of physical, emotional, mental and relational emergencies, long-term routine grinds you down.

Slowly but surely.

This is the cause of burnout.
This is the cause of week-eight-of-school-term tiredness.
This is the cause of week-twelve-of-university-semester exhaustion.
This is the cause of 18-months-without-a-vacation frustration.
This is the root of compassion fatigue.

This is why you need people around you who reinsert life.
This is why you need hobbies which will restore your energy.
This is why God instigated the Sabbath.
This is why you need regular holidays.

For, if you see the right people, do the things you enjoy, take time off and spend time away, then your batteries have a chance stay positively charged.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The hidden trident of anger

Those in ministry people get angry.
Within leadership, teams people get angry.
Within churches, people get angry.
At times of change, people get angry.

Over the last few days I've been thinking about anger and, importantly, the underlying elements within.

Usually, the core elements of anger are fear, guilt and blame.

Fear... Due to loss of control.
Guilt... Due to unmet expectations focussed within.
Blame... Due to unmet expectations by someone else.

When someone is angry, it's common that one of these three things will be bubbling under the surface. It's when this is discovered and discussed, then the anger can be dealt with far more productively.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

When can the relationship hit refresh?

At a lot of churches, there will be a young chap or lass who, seemingly, systematically dates the entre eligible demographic of the youth group.

I saw it when I was a teen.
I seen it amongst young adults.
I've seen it in the churches I've worked for.

In a way, it makes perfect sense.

Hopefully, Mr/s Lothario Jnr hears and acknowledges the wisdom of Christians dating...
And they want to date...
And there's a source of eligible candidates...
But he's (or she) not mature or compatible enough to maintain the relationship.

But it makes me wonder... When can they get a second chance?

Age, maturity and the nature of the break-up dependent, can you get a second shot in a year? A few years? Five years? Never?

In general, if I'm going to ask someone about the potential of a possible relationship (ie why aren't you too dating???) I'll ask if they've had a romantic history within the last five years.


Because a lot can change over five years, and when it comes to young adults, at least one significant life stage - finish university, move out, securing their first long-term job - has been moved through in half a decade.

Chances are... the person they would date now would be, at least hopefully, dramatically different to the youngster they dated earlier.