Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The danger of interprative gymnastics

Augustine, despite all the good things he said, wrote and did, royally screwed up when it came to explaining Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan.

But, he's not alone.

A lot of preachers, speakers and theologians have taken a segment of the bible and executed biblical gymnastics.

And it's not just the parables of Jesus that endure the "creative" explanation. The same is especially true for the books of Song of Songs and Revelation.

The odd thing about some of these "imaginative" interpretations are, at times, they fly in the face of the interpretation which the scriptures themselves give. 

Why the heck would you, like Augustine, apply a complex interpretation when one isn't needed!?!

For, the insidious element of such interpretations is that it weakens the confidence those listening have in the bible.

Why would you trust the plain, face-value, interpretation of a passage - even if it's by Jesus himself - if there's a "secret" truth or application which lies underneath? 

Taken to its extreme, this feeds a modern-day form of Gnosticism, where the scriptures hold a "secret knowledge" which only some are attuned to.

This is the foundation-weakening danger of such interpretations...

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Doubt vs Unbelief

I've had doubts... Big doubts... Wanting to scream at God doubts.

But I don't think this is the same as unbelief.

For, doubt says that I don't understand. 

I don't understand something about the circumstances I find myself in. 
I don't understand how to reconcile an event with the character of God. 
I don't understand a concept described in the bible.

Doubt comes with humility and searching.

Unbelief, on the other hand, says that I won't believe.

Despite what the bible says, I won't believe.
Despite evidence to the contrary, I won't believe.
Despite my experience and the experiences of others, I won't believe.

Unbelief comes with pride and stubbornness.

I believe that God is more than big enough for doubt and welcomes those who hold a healthy balance of faith and doubt.

But, unbelief, just like the out working of all sin and rooted in self-idolatry, declares that we know better than God and place ourselves upon the mantelpiece of our lives.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The surprising person of a healthy church

I previously wrote that there are, amongst others, three signs of a healthy church - weirdos, smokers and confused new people.

But, I now think there's another person who will show the health of a local church. 

Those with mental issues...
Those who are downright crazy...

Every church I've been a part of has a unstable person show up regularly, be it at a church service or during the week.

No matter if they're struggling with illness, addiction or homelessness, churches, as they should, attract those who need help.

I think these kind of people reveal the heart of a church.

Are they really welcoming?
Are they actually inclusive?
Can they extend hospitality to someone who does things which makes them uncomfortable?

When someone comes into a church, ranting or obviously "under the weather," then it lifts the lid on the true nature of the community. 

And, if it truely is a place where all are welcome, then a healthy church should attract, or at least retain, the unstable and down-on-their-luck.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Do your messages match?

I've seen a lot of advertising/promotional material for churches and ministries... Websites, fliers, banners, posters, church signs.

I also assume that the vast majority of churches and ministries know what their core values are and the primary things they want to achieve.

So, I wonder, what would happen if you reverse-engineered a ministries advertising in order to discern their main message?

Would the result match the expected aims of the ministry leaders?

I suspect, when it comes to many forms of church promotions, from a purely outsiders perspective, the answers might disturb those within church leadership.

They would think that their ministries are about, for example, the gospel, but their promotional material communicates something different.

This is one of the advantages of bringing in, and then debriefing, your promotional material via non-believers and delving into the last few years of advertisements when you start in a new ministry placement.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Fun will never win

I like to have fun. I, arguably, act well below my age and, all too often, drag people down to my level.

AND ministry to young people MUST be fun. 

It is not the enemy, has been one of the stated things I've wanted the ministries I've lead to be known for and caps off my Ten Commandments of youth ministry leadership.

BUT... Fun will never ultimately last or win in youth ministry.

Fun is expensive.
Fun will be superseded.
Fun will not keep you going when you hit your season of extra support.

Don't believe me?

Consider the extreme drop off rates many fun-based youth groups experience.

Youth group "fun" is replaced with dating...
Youth group "fun" is replaced with parties...
Youth group "fun" is replaced with sex...
Youth group "fun" is replaced with the alcohol...
Youth group "fun" is found to be offering empty promises which the rest of the Christian church don't deliver upon...


Because youth group "fun" will never compete with what the world can provide.

Youth group games, messy games, food challenges, amazing races, mixers, get-to-know-you activities, outings and lock-ins are all fun (and things I've done plenty of times!) but, in short, the contest isn't even close.

And, more importantly, we have something better to offer than just fun.

We have Jesus.

If all a youth ministry provides is fun, then ultimately they'll end up fighting a losing battle and offer those they minister to a massive disservice by keeping the most life-changing and life-giving thing in the world to themselves.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The two hobby horses I ride

In light of my last post about the timing of ministers introducing their personal hobby horses, I've been wondering what hobby horses I've got.

When I reflect on the talks I've given, topics I go out of my way to teach on and angles I make sure to include when applicable, a few spring to mind.

Obviously, the first would be ministry to young people. But, this seems far too generic.

More specially, I could focus in on youth ministry leadership or effective communication.

But, when I think of the topics I continually circle back to on this blog, two spring to mind.

The first are the drop out points within churches for young people. I've mentioned this topic a lot, building upon it over the years.

The second is one that I've pondered a plenty. It's resulted in some of my most controversial opinions, my most viewed posts and most confronting conversations during my time in ministry.

I've read a whole lot about porn, both from a Christian and a secular perspective, and the damaging impact it has on those who consume and, in general, produce porn.

And if you want me to fire up about a topic, these are the two hobby horses which I'll jump on board and quickly ride into town.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

When do you ride your hobby horse for the first time?

We all have hobby horses. 

Everyone who sits in the pews...
Everyone who leads a ministry...
Everyone who speaks from a pulpit...

Some people will call it their 'burning passion.'
Others will call it 'the thing you won't shut up about.'

We all have them.

So, when should a minister expose theirs?

As a general rule, when you arrive in a new placement, you should stick to the basics. 
Preach Jesus. 
Don't throw too many controversial bombs in your first few months. 
Build trust.

But, as the months roll on, when do you reveal your hobby horse?
When do you share your 'vision' or 'passion' that 'God has placed upon your heart?'

In short, I'm not 100% sure.

But, I know that your hobby horse shouldn't be your starting point. You start with the foundations upon which your hobby horse rides... The gospel and trust.

Because, without those foundations, people won't care about your opinion or buy into your hobby horse.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The gift of sitting beside a newbie

Binging on your favourite tv show.
Watching your favourite movie.
Listening to your favourite CD.

Do you remember your first time?
Do you remember the original thrill?
Do you recall the goosebumps?

For many of us, we don't clearly remember how we felt the first time we experienced the things which we now hold dear.

But, we can get the privilege of seeing someone else experience these things for the first time. Then we can see the initial wonderment in the eyes of another.

I wonder how many people put themselves in a position to do this spiritually?

To invite a friend to attend your regular church service...
To read a gospel with someone completely unchurched...
To share the the good news of Jesus with a child...

When you watch one of your beloved movies with somebody else who hasn't seen it can't help but fall in love with it all over again.

The same thing can happen with the gospel if we give it a chance...