Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Passing the peaceful threshold

As I mentioned earlier, I lead the service at a new church last weekend.

And, as all churches do, they had their individual quirks.

One tradition they had was to pass the peace at the end of the service.

While this might not the correct order in the church service, it's a perfect example of outreach trumping liturgy.

When I consider what I wrote earlier when Rambling about the passing of the peace, this concluding-peace-passing deals with many of my criticisms.

You get to intentionally decide whom you'll pass the peace of God to, especially if it's in response to something you heard during the service...
You get adequate time to actually connect with others...
You're able to finish the service on a heart-warming note...

But, I found an extra bonus in placing the peace as the final act of the service...
You have something fantastic to say at the door on the way out.

As many churches do, the minister/service leader would greet people as they leave the sanctuary.

And, on occasions, this can get awkward.

But, the invitation to pass the peace as you depart gives the perfect opportunity to fill any silence or initiate a greeting.

And... I liked it. A lot.

In fact, it would be something I'd love to incorporate into my regular church service schedule.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Pre-service questions

This morning I took a service at a church I, previously, was absolutely unfamiliar with.

Now, I've spoken at plenty of church services, youth groups, seminars, events and camps before, but never before a congregation where I was going in completely clueless. I knew no one. I had no idea about the building. The church traditions and routine were a complete mystery going in.

But, due to my previous experience, I knew the questions I need to to pose in order to feel confident walking into the church...

Where is the church?
When will the church be open from?
What time does the church service start?
How long is the usual service?
What does the service leader/preacher usually wear? Will I need to wear a suit? Is a tie a nessesity?
How are sermons selected? Lectionary? Series?
How long is the usual sermon? Or, how long can they comfortably sit in the pews?
Do you need to give a kid's talk?
What is the average age and spiritual maturity of the congregation?
Will you need to create a PowerPoint presentation?
Are there reliable capabilities to play a video?
Will you have a pulpit/lecturn/music stand?
Will you have a fixed, handheld or Madonna microphone?
Do any members of the congregation have hearing difficulties?
How many hymns are usually sung?
Will you need to select hymns/music and when will the musicians need to know?
Am I expected to lead the singing?
Does the church use responsive liturgy?
Will the church expect a written order of service?
What bible translation do they use?
Who is the bible reader and will you need to contact them?
Where are the notices placed in the service?
Who is delivering the notices?
Will you need to introduce yourself?
Will you need to write out any publicly spoken prayers?
How does the offering work? Do you collect the offering during a hymn? Does the congregation sing a doxology when the offering is presented? Do you pray after the offering?
What are the odd quirks of the church (and they all have one!)?
Are you expected to greet the congregation at the door after the service?
Will you be financially reimbursed? How will that happen?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Does outreach or liturgy win?

Liturgy has a place in church services, especially if you want to connect with those who love ritual worship

But, I wonder how many, especially amongst ministers, value liturgy above outreach?

Sure, it might not be spoken aloud, but how many churches wouldn't shift their church service structure in order to cater to those outside their churches walls?

How many would move their church service time?
How many would ensure a baptism happens in the first third of a service?
How many would change their music style or song selections?
How many would change the furniture in the church building?

Or, does tradition win over outreach?
Does "proper" liturgy triumph over relevance?
Does form trump function?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Choose two notices... Max.

I've written before that notices during a church service must be relevant to a large segment of the congregation, short and, ideally, delivered by someone who personally has a connection with the activity/event being advertised.

The reason I think notices should be so punchy is that the majority of churches still use printed news sheets.

Ideally, and the "notice time" should start with this expectation spoken aloud, everyone in church both has a news sheet and has given it, at minimum, an observational glance.

Better yet, the church has emailed the news sheet to members during the week.

With that said, the person delivering the notices shouldn't need to give a summery of what's already in everyone's hands and/or in-boxes. 

The notice time should never be a rehash of the news sheet, or worse, a bland reading off the news sheet by a talking head.

Furthermore, for any pressing ministry need, a personal face-to-face, eye-to-eye, invitation is far more effective.

My solution for someone delivering the notices? 
Choose only one thing. Two tops.

Anything more and the key messages will be lost.

Is there a danger that things will get missed? 
I don't think so. 

Again, everything in the printed notices should be read and, usually, the other generic notices are usually repeated, so if you chose one of these to touch on each week, then the vast majority of notices will be addressed. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Some weeks DEMAND action

There are some Sunday's when you should expect the number of children in your church service will increase.

When you host a child's baptism...
Mother's/Father's Day and you incorporate the occasion into the service or do something immediate after...
The start of the school year/the week you kick off the "kid's activities" for the year...

No matter what the occasion, there are some weeks you ABSOLUTELY MUST do things which intentionally cater to children.

You need to have your kid's corner set up.
You need to have an on-point kid's talk.
You need activities for the children to do before, during and after the service.

Truth being told, I would argue that you should have all of these elements in every service... But some weeks demand that families are catered to.

It shows that they are welcome.
It shows that they are included.
It shows that they were expected.

But, what if the rush of families don't arrive?

Well, it's far better to be prepared, and not need the activities, than be unprepared and communicate that you visitors aren't welcome.

In fact, if your church isn't prepared to display hospitality to families when they're expected, do the wider church a favour and graciously point the family towards a community of faith which will.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

How to give a bad sermon in four easy steps

Like anyone involved in church for a few decades, I've heard plenty of sermons. Lots and lots. 

A few magnificent.
Some good. 
Some bad.
A few miserable.

Additionally, as someone who has worked in churches for a decade, I've given plenty of sermons/talks.
Lots and lots.

A few magnificent.
Some good.
Some bad.
A few miserable.

In truth, the vast majority of what I've heard and delivered were fairly forgettable. They weren't awful, or without gospel truth, just not particularly memorable.

And I've certainly delivered some sermons I've been particularly disappointed by.

When it comes to preaching a bad sermon, the recipe has four primary ingredients.

Ingredient 1: Misuse the text.

One sermon I recall, which ingloriously stands out, I heard at a Hillsong convention and somehow revolved around the story of the raven being released from Noah's ark and how it couldn't find anywhere to land.

It. Was. A. Confused. Mess.

The speaker, who I won't name, totally misused the passage and made assumptions which just aren't clear from the scriptures.

If you say things from the pulpit that the text doesn't mean nor never intended, then you've committed a serious preaching sin.

Ingredient 2: Miss nailing the ending.

There are plenty of ways to conclude a sermon.

Ask questions.
Give useful life-application of your point.
Provide reflective silence.

Drifting off is definitely not the way to close...

Ingredient 3: Miss-execution of delivery.

This point isn't the be-all-and-end-all, but a decent sermon, delivered dryly is a trial.

If people stop listening because you're not mentally, vocally or physically engaging, then it doesn't really matter how choc-full-of-quality-points your sermon is, you might as well be delivering it to an empty room.

Ingredient 4: Miss-read the audience.

Every audience is different and if you don't tailor your message to their energy levels, age, experience and spiritual development, then you're setting them (and you) up for a bad sermon.

Your audience, if nothing else, should influence the nature of your illustrations/stories and the length that you speak.

A speaker who doesn't consider his/her listeners, is displaying extreme selfishness since they think that their individual preferences trump the needs of everyone who is listening.

So... twist the text... with an unsatisfying conclusion... in a boring manner... with no regard to those listening... and I guarantee, it will result in a sermon that's truly awful.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Why all church services should start with a question

I've written previously that good sermons require questions.

This morning in church, amongst others, I asked both of the following questions...
What are you looking forward to in the future?
Are you a cat or a dog person?

But, only one of these enquiries were given during "the address."

Over the last few years, if I can arrange it, I've always started the church services where I've preached at with a sharing/teaser question.

The reasons I do this are to attach a conversation with the act of welcoming those alongside you in the service, engage/reward those who actually turn up on time, introduce a topic which will flow through the service or be addressed in the sermon and open door for an easy conversation topic that I can ask anyone after the service concludes (especially if they have the shake-hands-at-the-door farewell).

Sneakily, I rather like the idea of posing a question right from the start of the service since, when you refer back to it later, those who were late might realise the importance of being punctual and, hopefully, this practice would eliminate the disconnect that can exist between the sermon and the other elements of the church service.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

What CrossFit and the church have in common

Due to my outdoor job, I'm now pretty fit. But, aside from walking +50km per week, I don't do a whole lot of extra exercise.

I definitely don't do CrossFit.
I never have.

But, I know a guy who does.

He talks about it a lot.
He posts pictures about it.
He checks in at every session.
He updates his achievements.

Seemingly, like everyone else who does CrossFit, he strongly abides by their anti-Fight Club principal.

The first rule of CrossFit is... You MUST talk about CrossFit.

And I think the church has a lot in common and, thus, a lot to learn from the "cult" of CrossFit.

First, they are a tribe with a common goal. They, in their local CrossFit box, are a bunch of comrades striving to achieve the personal best.

Second, they are unabashed in encouraging each other. They will spur on the person next to them in order for them to achieve the best they can.

Third, they focus on track-able results, with the results posted consistently with advancement celebrated. 

Fourth, they will hear stories of life change. Due to the culture, they will be able to see and hear about the advancement of others.

Fifth, they will be able to see similar change in their lives. In the most part, if done in a committed fashion, you'll see results.

Sixth, ideally, it's run by driven coaches who, hopefully, are knowledgable in what they're challenging you to do and have achieved the results you're desiring.

Seventh, CrossFit requires sacrifice - physically & financially. 

Eight, due to 1-7, the are unashamedly evangelistic.

So... A united, encouraging, community, who want the best for each other, sharing their successes and supporting them through their struggles, inspired by passionate leaders, in order to have their lives transformed which they, then, are compelled to share with others...

Sounds a lot like what a church wants to achieve...