Thursday, March 31, 2016

Charting the next step

Connect with.
Attend an event.
Be included.
Feel a sense of belonging.
Be open to Jesus.
Convert to following Jesus.
Invite others.
Increase commitment.
Attend a church service.
Regularly attend.
Be able to share the gospel message.
Investigate a position of leadership.
Start participating in spiritual disciplines.
Serve at an activity.
Discern what calling God might have in their life.

When ministering to others, there are an endless number of next steps.

The challenge for those in leadership - if in fact they are to lead - is to help identify the next step and start to figure out a pathway to reach it.

Imagine, what would happen if every young person in a church (and older for that matter!) had someone intentionally think about the next step in their spiritual journey - no matter how big or small that may be - with the intention of helping them progress?

Surely, if this happened, our programs would be more focused with the needs of others clearly identified.

Monday, March 28, 2016

How much should the minister's family do?

When it comes to the families of those in ministry, there seems to be two sides of the coin; they are either included in everything or they keep themselves at arm's length.

Over the last decade, primarily due to geography, work schedule and expanding family, my wife hasn't been heavily involved in many of the churches I've worked at. 

But that's not always the case.

In fact, for some - either meeting an unspoken expectation from the church or feed from a misguided sense of duty from the ministry family - the spouse and children can become like extra staff members.

Ideally, no one should live in either of these wild extremes.

But we don't live in an ideal world and many churches waiver from being ideal.

So, what's the answer?

I think that the spouse of a minister, and especially any kids the have, should be treated the same any other active members of the church.

They aren't the default bible reader, but they might be on the rotating roster.
They aren't expected to be at every event, but they'll appear if it interests them.
They don't have any extra expectations in regards to how they dress or behave.
They can be asked to participate in a ministry/activity, but like everyone else, have the right to politely decline.

I think, if we loosened the binds of the minister's-trophy-family mindset and treated the minister's family like every other family unit in church - respectfully, seeking to include and engage them, utilizing the gifts that God has given them and making space for their talents to be used - then, ironically, many minister's families will feel more comfortable and better utilized within the local church.

Friday, March 25, 2016

When you should use the skeptic's perspective

I like how the latest post on preachingtoday, in an article on Preaching to Skeptics this Easter, mentions the idea of studying your passage with a non-believer in order to get an accurate glimpse into the questions skeptics might have about a passage.

I see this being particularly useful in two occasions.

First, if the passage is extremely familiar - like the Christmas story, resurrection accounts or the parable of the Prodigal Son - then you'll get the advantage of seeing the text with a fresh set of eyes. From this new perspective, you can unlock points which you might overlook or, erroneously, assume that everyone, subconsciously, already knows.

And second, this skeptical perspective would be of great use if it matches the audience which you'll be speaking before.

If you're aware that the high school scripture class will contain a majority of atheists, or you want your talk to particularly appeal to that one "tough kid" at youth group, then consulting an atheist friend about a topic or passage could be invaluable.

The challenge for far too many in ministry would be the availability of a non-believing friend. For, I would dare say most, they don't have a close friend who isn't on Team Jesus.

Finally, as a bonus, you'd open the door to some potentially productive spiritual conversations surrounding the bible, and who knows where that conversation could head...

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The elephant scout

How many meetings have you been in, after having already dragged on for ages, someone finally pipes up and says what everyone isn't?

Last night I went to my first church meeting in... well... months.

Not for the first time, I took it upon myself to name, what I thought, was one of the looming elephants in the room.

I think every meeting needs someone to do this (even if it isn't me!).

If your meeting has a purpose, and ideally they all should (outlined in the previously circulated agenda), then tiptoeing around the problems, ultimately, wastes everyone's time.

Fortunately, I've been in many meetings where I've either helped set the agenda or have been in the fortunate enough position to claim ignorance, so my elephant spotting can usually be excused...

But, as hard as it might be, every meeting needs someone who will spot the elephant and make it known.

For, it is only then that the real issues get wrestled with and things progress.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Why I explain communion to my daughter and every church family should do the same

At my current church, when we have communion, I make a point to go down the front with my eldest daughter, personally give her the bread, and tell her that this reminds us that Jesus loves us.

Sure, communion is more than just that, but it's enough for a four-year-old to start to understand.

I do this because the research suggests that young people stay connected in the church if they are included in what's going on, understand what's happening and witness the significant adults in their both life living out their faith and practicing their faith traditions.

At my various churches, with a varied level of success, I've always tried to regularly allow children to be able to participate in communion, especially as a family unit. Better yet, I've personally tried (as I wrote about here) to help the youngsters understand what's actually going on.

I wonder, how many churches intentionally make room for this?
I wonder, how many churches actively encourage parents too explain what's going on in church?
I wonder, how many parents would be able to, quite simplistically, explain something like communion, baptism or prayer?
I wonder, how many parents, if asked by their children what's going on during church, would respond with a "shh, be quiet!" not a gentle explaining answer?

If it's true, and I firmly think it is, that children stick around, both at their faith and in church, when older people - especially parents - show and include them in things like communion, if the church is not doing a disservice to the entire family if they don't intentionally nurture these faith-forming discussions.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Should they really "all know"?

On Sunday I preached for the first time since last November. Without going spectacularly, I think it went relatively ok.

But, while referencing a passage a few chapters previously, I made sure to avoid a phrase which always annoys me when used  during a church service.

"As you all know..."

This phrase should be cut from the ecclesiastical lectionary immediately.


Because it communicates that we don't expect new people, especially those from outside the Christian culture.

Quite simply, hopefully, everyone in attendance might not know what you're talking about.

And this phrase instantly ostracizes the lost person in the pew.

For nothing brands you as an outsider like not knowing the language or traditions.

This is especially true when we label the thing we're talking about - like a story from the bible - as something that "everyone is familiar with."

Worse still, there is an easy escape ramp if you do want to refer to a well-known topic.

Just say that it's a famous passage...
Or well known...

These phrases give both space for some not to know the story, but acknowledges that what you're referring to will be familiar to many present.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Think > Feel > Act

Every so often, due to multiple rugby-induced concussions, I think that I've written about something, when in fact, I can't track it down on my blog anywhere. So, if this sounds eerily familiar, my apologies.

When faced with a situation we usually act based upon our underlying emotional response. Fear... Pride... Love... Compassion... Anger... Insecurity... Friendship...

But our emotional response to a situation usually stems from what we think about the situation. In short, we react due to a truth about the situation which, in turn, guides an emotion.

The trouble is, we tend to respond to someone else's actions from the surface down.

Initially, we wonder why they reacted the way they did...

Sometimes, we'll wonder what emotions triggered that action...

But rarely do we delve into the underlying facts a person believes about what their facing.

And, ironically, if these "truths" are wrestled with openly, then real change and understanding becomes possible.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

80% attendance of what?

I'll confess, up until last Sunday, I hadn't been to church since late January. With a heavily pregnant wife and the idea of wrangling my toddler alone unappealing, it took a while to get back in the saddle.

But I don't think anyone would hold that against me. In fact, I contacted the minister just to reassure him that we hadn't gone to another church!

Pregnant wives + cranky toddlers + new births + non-vaccinated babies = less attendance.

But the last month has got me thinking about one of the measuring sticks I used for attendance (which I wrote about here).

One of my markers was for 80% attendance.

But, this figure requires a bit of tweaking.

Why? Because, for some, they will NEVER hit that number.

If a teen's parents are divorced and they spend half their weekends away with the other parent, then, realistically, they won't ever reach the magical 80%.

The same is true if a kid plays in a sports team that trains on a Friday night.
Or participates in a musical which removes them for weeks on end.

So, the 80% figure can't be so cut and dry.

Instead, the benchmark should be 80% of when they CAN attend.

If, instead of +32 out of 40 weeks, this is actually +23 of 30 weeks or +16 of 20 weeks, then, for that teen, this is the threshold that will help you determine their degree of connection, engagement and enthusiasm.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Why do the words hurt?

We all know, despite the lyric we grew up with about sticks & stones, that words can hurt.

No matter if it I a conversation with a friend, a phrase from a sermon or something we hear on tv or the internet, words have the power to wound us deeply.

But, when you're hurt by something someone says, there's a number of things I think you should consider...

First, uncomfortably, you should ask the tricky question... Is it true?
Are you hurt because this piece of verbiage hit you straight in the conscious?

Second, are you more offended by who was saying it, not what was said?
Do these words hurt because they come from someone close to you, or, alternatively, because they come from a stranger who is removed from the context of your situation?

Third, are you hurt by the way the words were communicated, not necessarily their content?
Were you more grated by the tone than anything else?

Or, fourth, were you hurt because the person was just plain wrong?
It happens. People misspeak. People misunderstand. People Can be inconsiderate jerks.

But, while the hurt you might face in light of someone else's words is genuine, it makes sense to take a step back and analyze why these words have wounded you so...

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The leader's cringe poker face

I don't think I've ever attended, and certainly not been a part of, a flawless church service. Even in the details-so-minute-that-you're-the-only-one-who-could-ever-possably-notice, something always goes askew. That's life.

And when things go wrong, I tend to cringe.

If a musician obviously plays an incorrect note...
If the singers are off key...
If a microphone causes a buzzing sound...
If the PowerPoint slides don't work or are incorrect...
If the announcements are a rambling mess...
If the points of the sermon are switched...
Whatever it is... I've probably contributed, or outright committed, the vast majority of cringe worthy moments.

But when I cringe, generally, I don't disguise it well.
It's a face-scrunching, shoulder-shrugging, obvious-for-all-to-see wince.
Truthfully, most times, I fail spectacularly at the cringe poker face.
And, usually, no one would notice.

Unless I'm up the front.

For then, the leader needs to try and maintain a calm, stony, exterior.

Especially for gaffs which would go unnoticed by all except yourself.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The two lies of sin

Sin is a tricky beast.

It takes you places you don't want to go, keeps you longer than you want to stay and, always, costs you more than you're willing to pay.

But, I think it has two powerful weapons that keep us from slaying it.

The first is that your sin is too small to worry about.
It's just a little white lie...
It's not THAT bad...
Everyone's doing it far worse than me...
It doesn't hurt anyone...

The second is that your sin is too big.
You've been doing this for far too long...
If people found out then your life would be over as you know it...
This is something you can't get out of...
You're in far too deep now...

The irony, of course, is that, over time, we can believe both.
That our small, habitual sins, once ingrained, are now far too big in order to conquer.

It's when we listen to the lies of sin that we, once again, give in and cease struggling against them.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Why every church needs a kid's corner

I wrote here about taking my eldest daughter to swimming lessons each week.

And each week it's the same delicate balance...

The lesson starts at 11am.
In theory, it takes 5 minutes to change Hanna prior to the lesson, 5 minutes to walk to the swim center from the car park and 10 minutes to drive from home.

So, again in theory, I should be able to leave at 10:40 and be perfectly on time.

And that's what I try and do. Each and every week. I leave at the exact moment when there will be no downtime prior to Hanna's swimming lesson.


Because downtime is the enemy of parental mental health.

Downtime, even for a few minutes, leads to chaos and outright rebellion.

It's true for swimming...
And it's true for church.

Those unaccounted for minutes before the service can be torturous.

It's only now that I appreciate why parents arrive exactly on time, or slightly late, to church.

Aside from it being a battle in order for your offspring to do anything (have you tried to make a three-year-old put on shoes?!?), you'd much rather turn up to church when something is prepared/happening, then just drop your kids into the pre-church vacuum.

As a result of this, I set up a simple kids table at my last few churches.

On it were pencils/crayons/textas, coloured paper, a colouring sheet tying into the service/lesson and a puzzle/find-a-word linked to the bible reading.

I did this so a) kids will have something to do before or during the service if they need a distraction, and b) parents will know that there's something to point their progeny towards if they need it.

In my opinion, every church serious about reaching and keeping families, should have a stocked kids corner.

If not, the odds of me arriving anything but exactly on time are - at best - slim.