Wednesday, May 25, 2016

When you hold the mirror

It's not uncommon, when I write something on my blog, in a Tiny Bible Bit or mention something in a sermon, that someone will ask whom I had in the back of my mind.

Sometimes what I write is inspired by a conversation I have with someone else of what I've stumbled across online.

But, all too often, the person who inspires the post and who is in the crosshairs of any truths therein, looks at me in the mirror.

Lots of the time, I am the person for whom I write. I am the person whom needs to hear the message. 

It happens far more than anyone is aware.

And I suspect that I'm not alone.

After sitting with an idea for a few days or marinating within a scripture passage for a week, the areas where your conscious is pricked or you're aware that you need growth will be exposed.

When someone stands before others, or hits publish on the interwebs, quite often they are simultaneously holding both a megaphone and a mirror.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The older generation's secret faith vs today's share-everything compulsion

This morning, after church, I was involved in an interesting discussion about evangelism and the mainline church. It was pointed out, I feel correctly, that older generations - which make up the vast majority of mainline denominations - largely see their faith as a deeply personal thing.

This, it was proposed, is a genuine reason for the stagnation of more traditional denominations.

With the drop in culture-based obligated attendance, the way the primarily church grows is due to faith sharing evangelism. Amongst the older generations, as a sweeping generalization, this does not happen freely.

As I pondered this, I wondered if this is positively counteracted by the social-media-driven oversharing of today's generation.

In the past, when a person went to church, or had a significant experience, they might keep it to themselves or only disclose it to those who they felt would be "accepting" or "safe."

Nowadays, everyone knows. Instantly.

You post pictures.
You live tweet the conference.
You take a selfie.
You tag your location.

And all your friends know...
And your family...
And the people you used to go to school with...
And your workmates...
And your random acquaintances.

All 1000 of your "friends" can potentially "see" your faith experiences.

On top of the status of your religious views.

And the "motivational quotes" you post by C.S. Lewis.

And the fact that you follow Tiny Bible Bits (I'll admit that this is a cheap plug) and like your favourite bible teachers and ministries.

Today, due to the "negative" that we compulsively feel the need to post everything since we would hate for anyone to miss a morsel of your existence, is this a hidden evangelistic treasure?

Now, there are plenty of reasons why the mainline denominations are faltering - lack of engagement during services, not utilizing modern technology, past mistakes ignored or covered over, an old-fashioned stance on many hot button issues, and many, many more - but, if the church is grown one person at a time, through personal invitation, then the introverted nature of the older generations, in regards to faith, may be a genuine contributing factor that doesn't get enough air-time.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

What I look for in a minister

Having worked in multiple churches over the last decade, I have a different perspective when it comes to ministers.

I've worked alongside ministers. Some for long periods of time, others just for a few months. Some who have just begun in their placement, others firmly entrenched.

I've heard stories about ministers. Some good, some quite negative.

I've trained besides ministers, attended conferences with them and hung out casually with them. 

So, when it comes to a minister, I'm not drawn to some of the things which others treasure.

Often, when I've evaluated ministers, my opinions have waivered from others.

They uphold pastoral care. And beautiful liturgy. And tenderness.

Frankly, these aren't at the top of my wish-list.

I want someone with a plan.
I want someone who can communicate and execute a vision.
I want someone who won't be afraid to speak the truth or compromise on the things that matter.
I want someone who won't be afraid to take risks and encourages others to step out in faith.

Now, I think that these things matter to everyone in congregations, but, personally, I value these things because it's these qualities which will result in me wanting to work alongside them, be mentored by them, be challenged by them, be held accountable by them and lead the church forward in growing the Kingdom of God.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The person who tests your claims

Extending grace.
Showing forgiveness.
Displaying hospitality.
Being inclusive.

Faith communities, and individual believers, like to think that they live out the above, and frankly, many other "Christian" qualities.

But, there's a way to work out just how far your claims extend.

With whom do they stop.

Where does your grace cease?
Who won't you forgive?
Who won't you welcome
What groups of people won't you include?

I can think of people whom I don't want to show grace to and have excluded.

Equally, I can think of events, both done by me and to me, which I struggle to forgive and would result in disfellowship.

Now, I'm not advocating that we should be complete doormats... But, when we throw around weighty and costly terms like grace, forgiveness or inclusiveness, we need to be aware that, for many of us, our lives don't reflect all they could. 

In short, all too often, the rubber doesn't hit the road nearly as much as we might feel it does. 

The good news about the faulty equation we present is that it reminds us that we have a way to go in our discipleship and sanctification, that we are not God, and how much living out these core characteristics costs God/Jesus.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The next person deserves that you make a stand

No church is perfect. Not. Even. One.

Everyone who has been connected with a church for any significant amount of time knows this. This is especially true if you've worked for a church.

But some churches are quite a distance from healthy.

Be it the systems they use, the way they communicate, the leadership dynamics or a thousand other things, some churches contain within them serious disfunction.

Ideally, when someone steps into a ministry position, they're aware of the deficiencies lurking within.

And when they're exposed a staff member has a decision.

Do they say/do something?

Now, I understand why you might let some things slide... Job protection, not wanting to be a troublemaker, thinking the problem is to engrained, choosing to change the culture over time, hoping to out-survive the problems...

But, at times, there's another person who needs to be kept in mind.

The next person.

The next minister... the next youth minister... the next children's ministry coordinator... The next music director... the next church council member... 

For, sometimes the next person, and the effectiveness of their ministry, needs you to make a stand in order for things to improve.

And that can be scary.

But, if the church is to get healthy, someone needs to shine a light on the dark places and be prepared to till the tough soil.

Even if it comes at a cost.

The next person, the effectiveness of the present ministry and those you leave behind, all deserve it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

I am not necessary

I haven't been in vocational ministry for approximately six months now... And that's ok.

Sure, I do miss it, but, when it comes to the advancement of the gospel... I'm not necessary. 

I might be useful.
I might be, on occasions, graciously used by God.

But I'm not necessary.

How do I know?

Because things continue without me...
Just as they did before I arrived...
Just as they do in a million other places...

At my home church, in my first ministry position, my coworker and I used to share a saying after an activity we thought went particularly well.

"God did good... you just happened to get in the way."

At times, this was the exact reminder that was needed.

Because, while God did use you, He didn't have to.

For, you might have been useful, but you weren't necessary...

Saturday, May 7, 2016

When sucking is an ok thing to witness

Parts of a church service can make you cringe, even from the front of the church.

But there are a few occasions when the person leading the service, singing, saying a prayer, giving the notices or preaching is given a free pass...

When they are still new at it.


Because people should be encouraged to get involved and, inevitably, everyone has a first time.

And, when you're still new at something, you tend to suck.

When someone is obviously trying their best, but still developing, then they should be shown lots and lots of grace, sprinkled with helpful feedback if it's warranted and requested.

For, everyone, no matter how devout, experienced, inspiring, influential, charismatic or famous, started somewhere. 

And they probably sucked quite a bit as well...

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The secret ingredient of great ministerial elevator pitches

Today, one day removed from the federal budget and a week away from the offical launch of the next election campaign, has been a day of politicians selling their message.

I've written here about the two elevator speeches that youth ministers need to be able to nail.

But, I now think the list is incomplete.

A youth minister should have in his back pocket a number of pitches depending on the person standing before them.

They should be able to nail the spiel about Jesus and the things their church does... 
To a new student.
To a parent.
To a young adult.
To a potential leader.
To their senior minister.
To the secretary.
To a church councillor/elder.

But, the elevator pitches to all of these - and more - groups, can be made easier if one element is included.

A familiar name.

Include the name of one of the new student's friends.
Include the name of the parent's child.
Include the name of a dedicated and brought in leader.

Say that X loves it...
Say that X will be looking forward to it...
Say that X will be there...
Say that X has been involved in the planning...
Say how X has been impacted by the ministry...

This is the secret sauce of effective ministerial elevator pitches.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Can you name all 66?

Could you name all 66 books of the bible?
Does it really matter?

During the week, starting with the New Testament, I tried to say all the books of the bible in order.

For the most part, I did pretty well.

I forgot Philemon in the New Testament and, while being shown grace on the order of the Minor Prophets, only missed Jonah in the Old Testament.

64 out of 66 isn't too bad...

But the person I was doing it with, whilst also achieving a good recollection, missed quite a few of the obscure books.


Because she hadn't really encountered them in depth.

But I think every Christian, like the one I was with, should be able to give a good accounting of themselves when it comes to the books of the bible.


Because they should have a good idea of the bible's meta-narrative.

Like those who gain a wider biblical perspective from teaching scripture, after sitting in church for a number of years - never mind independently spiritually feeding yourself - you should have a rough outline of the overarching salvation story.

If you don't, it might be due to the leadership of your church not feeding you a wide diet from the scriptures.

It's one of the advantages of using the lectionary passages (even though I wouldn't recommend doing it 50 weeks a year).

Following the example of Paul from Acts 20, the church should seek to teach you the whole counsel of God, spanning the breadth and depth of the entire scriptures.

But, the most important element of this teaching should never be for memory retention.

The marker of success is life change and increasing Christlikeness.

So, while 64 out 66 is a pretty good mark, I don't think it'll impress many people outside of the those on The American Bible Challenge. And even then, they'd never forgive me for forgetting Jonah.