Thursday, June 15, 2017

How do you handle small group mutes?

It's every small group/bible study leaders nightmare.

No. One. Talks.

Under numerous circumstances, your group can become a pack of mutes - 
A group of year 7 boys who haven't developed the ability/vocabulary to share more than a grunt or fart jokes...
A group of year 9 girls who are in the middle of the latest "crisis" in their "social group"...
A newly formed bible study group...
A bunch of introverts...
Perhaps your usually talkative group have all had a hard week at work/a stressful week at uni/a tough week at school...

When this happens, what do you do? 

To some extent, this quietness may just be a characteristic of some groups and is nothing to be really concerned about.

For some members of a group, they will be fully engaged/thinking internally, yet outwardly quiet. This might have to be something which you'll just have to deal with.

In some cases, it may be a result of group dynamics, where primarily the extroverts talk, or at least get their responses/opinions in first.

No matter what the cause, what do you do if you're the poor soul trying to direct the group of mono-syllabic members?

First, you can just make sure they write down their answer, aware if it will be shared or remain private.

Second, you could give the group notice that you're going to give them all 30 seconds to think about their answer before you want them to reply. This may give the introverts a chance to get a word in.

Third, you could have the members pair off and either share their collective answers or the best part of the response from the other person.

Fourth, you could ask what they would add to the answer they heard in a small group.

Fifth, with or without advanced notice, you could call on people by name to give input. This is dangerous if the group is always quiet, but effective if it's an unusually quiet week for a group of regular chatterboxes.

Sixth, you could ask the members to give responses that they think those they know might give, like their friend or family. This gives the additional advantage that they can share their own answer, but under the guise that it's from "someone else."

Monday, June 12, 2017

My gay-and-in-ministry questions?

DISCLAIMER: I'm not gay. And I'm no longer in vocational ministry.

I wonder, for those who are gay, or... if you view sexuality as fluid... become/come out as gay during their ministry tenure, how does the situation work?

I'll admit, a large slice of the answer depends on your denominations stance on homosexuality and/or gay marriage. But, if your church is, at least, open to the possibility of gay ministry agents, how is the situation handled?

Do you volunteer the information during your initial interview?
Do you tell someone when they offer you the position?
Do you only mention your sexual preference to the senior minister?
Is the information open to only those in leadership positions such as fellow staff members or the church council?
If you're in a youth ministry context, do you tell your leadership team? 
If so, when do you tell new recruits?

Is the equation changed if you're in a relationship?
Do you mention your partner up the front of church, or if you do, are they gender neutral?

What happens if your relationship progresses towards, if your civil laws allow, marriage?
With your relationship inevitably becoming public, if not already, are you forced to announce your status? 
Is the engagement announcement to your partner considered too late for some? 
Do you even announce the engagement before the church like many heterosexual couples would?

What happens if someone comes out/begins to identify as gay whilst in a ministry placement?
Do they need to announce it?
Again, if so, who does it need to be told to and when?

I imagine these, and many, many, other questions restrict a lot of gay Christians from entering ministry.

As a heterosexual, these are questions which I don't even need to, really, wrestle with.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Ministry of being the thermometer

Excited.
Engaged.
Bored.
Spaced out.

Anyone who's at the front of a group, no matter what context, if they want to serve those they are communicating with well, must be a good thermometer.

Every speaker, presenter, host, chairperson & MC must be able to gauge the mood of the room and, if need be, change things up in order to keep connected with their audience.

This is a must when dealing with children and youth.
This is essential when leading a bible study.
This is vital when preaching.
This would serve your people tremendously well during a church service.

Every leader needs to hone their antenna of room discernment, or employ someone else who'll give them a helpful nudge, or their level of engagement/buy-in from the group will always be reduced.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

What the trigger apology shows

I can't imagine what it's like to struggle with an issue so much, or have something so traumatic in your past, that you can be adversely affected by what you might read or see.

Of course, as a society we're now far more aware about these dangers and, wisely and sensitively, give trigger warnings if something is going to delve into a potentially traumatic topic.

The worst thing that can happen, and something that's annoyed me multiple times already during my fresh university studies, is when there's a trigger apology.

This is when, after encountering a potentially traumatic topic, the person speaking apologizes if this has bothered someone listening.

The reason this troubles me is that it shows an awareness of the topic of triggers and, all too often, is nonchalantly brushed off.

Quite frankly, it's not good enough.

Anyone who is speaking in front of a group of people should know if their content might be disturbing to some.

To give a trigger apology shows that you knew, but probably didn't care enough about your audience to give them an appropriate warning of what was coming.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The perfect-churchgoer killer

With university cranking up and my general absence from vocational ministry, my creative ecclesiastical juices now tend to go to my three-times-per-week Facebook devotional, Tiny Bible Bits, instead of here (if you're not following it on Facebook then you should check it out).

Yesterday I posted something which I thought was pretty good.

1 Corinthians 1:8 - We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.

We smile at church. A lot.
Sometimes these smiles are fake.


When asked how our week was we reply that it was good.
No matter how bad our week has been.


Churchgoers have a habit of donning their everything-is-fine mask when they enter a church service.
Even if they are in pain...
Even if they feel heartbroken...
Even if their family has been fighting all morning...
Even if they feel like their life is falling apart...


Paul doesn't do this.
Paul shares his troubles with the church in Corinth.


Do you do the same?
Do you share your problems, or pretend that everything's always perfect?
Would you rather others remain uninformed about your sufferings?


Although it's not easy, it's only through sharing our struggles that we can be appropriately supported and begin to tear down the illusion that everyone at church has it all together.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Where's God's mummy?

As my eldest grows, I find us having more indepth conversations about God.

Five year olds have interesting theology.

Very. Concrete. Theology.

So, it should have come as no surprise when I was asked about baby Jesus God's mummy.

It makes perfect sense...
There's a Father... 
There's a baby...
Thus, in the mind of a child, there must be a mummy.

To be honest, the Trinity would be so much easier to explain if this were the case.

Instead, I had to remind Miss 5 that Jesus wasn't always a baby (which she still struggles with) and, being God as a human, He didn't need a mummy as we think of them...
But, here name was Mary.

The lesson? I don't think I'll be writing a kids theology book anytime soon.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Should you say how hard something is going to be?

What we're going to do next will be tough/tricky/hard...

Every so often you'll hear the above sentence in a church service or during a ministry activity.

But, I wonder, should you tell people that the next task will be difficult?
Does it help or hinder the chances of the activity running effectively?

Personally, I cringe every time I hear this phrase.

The reason?

The phrase hangs upon its conclusion...

If the person ends the phrase with "but I think you can do it..." Or "but I believe in you..." Then the entire complexion of the instructions change.

Now they are not near impossible obstacles, instead, now you are presented an opportunity.  

Far too many leaders in churches are too pesimistic when it comes to the capabilities of those within and outside of the churches walls, especially the young.

More often than not, people will raise to the task you set them. The worst thing you can do is send the message that you don't think the congregation will be able to rise to the challenge.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Giving God the out

Pray big prayers.
Pray bold prayers.
Pray for miracles.
Pray for healing.
Pray for God to restore.
Pray for growth.
Pray for dramatic movements of God.

Unless... 

God has something else in mind...
God has another plan...
God wants us to learn something...
God's ways and thoughts are higher than ours...

It's not uncommon, when praying - especially aloud for someone else - to give God the "out".

It's not unusual to leave the door publicly open for God to do something different, or even the exact opposite, for what we are praying for. 

My question is why...

Are we afraid of personally loosing face if God doesn't deliver? 
Are we afraid of showing that God is somehow being "unfaithful"? 
Are we afraid that others might think that God is uncaring, absent or ignoring our petitions?

I think these are important questions to ponder when we want to publicly give God the "out." 

Do we, in light of God's sovereignty, pray in the wrong order.

Should we put the "disclaimer" that God might not work in the ways we desire BEFORE we ask? 
Would this make a difference to the way we pray and the way our prayers are interpreted by others?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

What do you do when Her Majesty or the PM walk through the door?

You know who always make the news for appearing at church services during Christmas and Easter?
The British Royal Family and, to a lesser degree, the top politicians in Australia.

How do churches, especially those preaching, react to these "special guests?"

Do they know in advance?
If so, do they proceed as usual?
If not, do they freak out when HRH appears?

Do they slink away from controversial points?
Or, do they hit controversial topics harder due to the influential ears listening?

Do they ramp up the idea of the sovereignty of God?
Do they go out of their way to especially mention the kingship/lordship of Jesus?

Do they avoid readings which deal with leadership or the government, even if they are, by pure coincidence, in the lectionary?

I've never had, from what I remember, a "celebrity" in attendance when I've preached, nor attended at church with a person of significant influence, but I'd hope that everything would proceed as normal.

Unfortunately, I also doubt that I'd be either a) that self controlled, or b) that strong-willed.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Fighting for your Easter foothold?

Although I'm not longer in vocational ministry, my Facebook feed is still full of updates from those in ministry.

As such, I saw a lot of posts about Easter services, particularly during a picturesque sunrise.

But I'm wondering about the problems this annual tradition can cause...

For, a lot of churches want to do a Easter Sunday sunrise service - which they don't necessarily widely advertise the location of - and there's only a finite amount of east-facing lookouts.

What do you do, especially if you're a new church or this dawn-break service is a new initiative, if your location is already occupied?

Worse still, what do you do - having advertised your service - and you're the second congregation which arrives?

Do you politely ask random people to move on?
Do you combine with another congregation?
Does the newer congregation move aside for the more established service?
Do you scope out the spot the year prior?
Do you mark the location as yours like a New-Year's-Eve-fireworks spot, arriving hours previously?

I can imagine the anxiety a minister of a fledgling church would have pre-dawn whenever someone else approached their lookout, wondering if they'll need to fight for their slice of the Easter Sunday turf.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Dressing for the church nightclub?

Now that I've been at university for the last few months, I've noticed two distinct types of students.

Those who dress down and those who dress up.

Some students, and I would fall more comfortably into this category, dress like they've just rolled out of bed.

Other students look like they're about to hit the nightclub, dressed for a smart-casual (or above) social occasion.

A similar thing plays out in church.

Some attend dressed for comfort - shoes optional.
Others attend dressed for the nightclub - makeup compulsory.

I wonder, is one better than the other?
Do you, at the start, begin quite formal and then progressively slide towards casualness?
If so, is this a good thing?

It could be argued that your dress standard moves due to the relationship with God and the people in the church becoming less of a 'special event that you need to dress up for.'

But, again, is this move in a positive direction?

Ultimately, I'm not going to set a ecclesiastical dress code, nor do I think it would do any good for a church to set one...

But, I think the core issue is the heart of a person.

What/Who are they dressing for?
Who's attention are they trying to draw?

Most tellingly, are they willing to change, to an extent, if the way they dress is a stumbling block for someone else?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Church white-guy privilege

For the vast majority of my Christian life I've been an active part of a denomination which has sort to included minorities and the disempowered - women, the indigenous, homosexuals, refugees, the poor, ect...

As such, on more than a handful of occasions, I've heard someone, or a group of people talk, about how they've felt lesser.

Lesser within society.
Lesser within the church.

They've felt victimised.
They've felt rejected.
They've felt worthless.
They've felt unheard.
They've felt second-class.

I've, basically, never felt that.

Both culture and the church tell me that I'm valuable.
Both culture and the church tell me that I belong.

This is my white-guy privilege.

And, as such, I've never come back from conferences gushing about how I heard about the beauty of being made in God's image or being His child.

There are far fewer conferences that cater to my "needs" or "specific theological issues."

No one is marching the streets for my rights.

Why?

Because I'm white, male, middle class and heterosexual.

At times, there should be an eye-opening announcement which remind those of us who don't have the same requirement for empowerment messages, that this only exists because we already possess much of the power.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Is your ministries' spouse your future killer?

Michael Frost has just done a series of blog posts about The death of suburbia and how this trend away from the traditional "American Dream" lifestyle might affect a church institution so attached to the idea of suburbia.

But I wonder how many ministries are married to something which, if not currently, then inevitably, will hobble or kill it?

How many ministries are so deeply invested in their traditions or structures that they won't be able to change, even if society dictates that it should?

How many churches would never shift their leadership structures or church service order no matter how backwards or outdated they might seem?

How many ministries won't embrace technology in order to communicate their message better or reach a wider audience?

How many ministries won't change the structures or activities which "worked in the past" or "got them to come for the first time?"

Inevitably, every denomination, church, ministry and activity has a set of values and identifying markers. 

The hard question is, are these cherished things the anchors which will eventually drag us down because we couldn't let them go once society demands that we have to move in a fresh direction?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A sliding scale of "meh?"

I've been in thousands of church services. Some quite intimate in number, others amongst a crowd of thousands.

I've also lead or preached at hundreds of church services. Some with only a handful of people, others numbering a few hundred in attendance.

No matter what part I've been playing in a church service (or youth group/event), active or passive, I've departed with a variety of feelings.

At times, God has almost felt tangibly present.
At other times, I've left feeling cold and a dismal failure with the Spirit of God either completely absent, unimpressed or outright displeased.

In these feelings I'm not alone.

Everyone I know who's worked for a church as had these bipolar reflections.

But, I wonder, how dependant are they on the setting?

For, it's far easier to walk away uninspired when your church service has a dozen people and far easier to leave walking-on-a-cloud when the room is packed with people.

Is there a sliding scale of feeling "meh" about a church service or activity?

If so, how do these feelings manifest in a mega-church setting? 
Are they ever really possible?
Do you get so swept up in the largeness of what you're doing that you rarely leave cold?
If this is the case, how does this positive mindset affect you when you step into a smaller-sized service?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The things which will fight against bullying In the mind of a parent

On the first day of school my eldest lost her school hat. 
On. The. First. Day. Ugh.

Thus, until we got a new one, my daughter was the kindy kid with a different hat.

And I had an uneasy feeling...
Would she get picked on due to her hat?
Would she pick up a nickname that would haunt her for life?
Would her ability to make friends be compromised due to her headwear?

Previously, I'd never been too worried about my kids getting bullied.

But, after her first day of school, I was concerned.

Would I have similar feelings if my kids went to a new church or joint a youth group?

Ideally, of course not. No community of God's people has the scourge of bullying.

But, my experience says otherwise.

I've seen kids, no matter what age group, be incredibly mean during church activities.

So, would I be concerned, having dropped off one of my kids, in the church carpark?

I suspect so.

But, there's one difference maker that might calm my nerves.

The culture of the leaders.

Are they welcoming?
Are they diverse?
Are they actively on the lookout for cliques?
Are they teaching on things like inclusiveness, acceptance and the importance of the induvidualness God has made within each person?

If I'm comfortable that the leaders are well-aware and well-skilled when it comes to bullying, then my mind will rest a little easier.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Thought transition

Right now I would have been teaching a scripture class...
This Sunday, being Trinity Sunday, I'm sure I'd be preaching...
If I were preaching on this passage I'd be telling this story...
When I did a kids talk on this parable, I'd use this prop...

Now that I've been out of vocational youth ministry for over a year, my mindset is starting to change.

Increasingly, my mind doesn't automatically shift to ministry mode when I step into a church, listen to a sermon or get an overview of my week.

But, it's been a slow process.

Will it continue?
Am I now as distant from the ministry mindset as I'm going to get?

For, while I'm still attached to a few churches, I now don't read hundreds of church, ministry and youth ministry articles per week. But they still pop up on my radar.
While I preach very occasionally, I'm now off the treadmill of the ministry-production-line. But, I'm still open to it.
As you might be able to tell, my frequency of blog posts have reduced. But, my mind still churns out some thoughts on the church and ministry.

I wonder, as I drift towards - hopefully - a job as an ancient history teacher, will my mindset shift towards these areas, and, how noticeable will it be

Monday, February 20, 2017

The first-year know-it-alls

The old saying goes that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing...

Last week I got accepted into my new university course.

This, of course, means that I'm about to become the self-proclaimed most knowledgeable person in the field of Education and Ancient History.

Why?

Because I'll be a first year university student.

And, in a (few) year's time, I'll have done just enough of my subjects to begin to think that I know it all.

But I won't.

Not even close.

But, my knowledge in the field will greatly increase.

Unfortunately, for many first year's, their awareness of their field takes a little longer to develop.

The way my original theology lecturer explained it was like this...

Beginning by drawing a circle on the whiteboard, he explained that this represented all we're originally aware about who God is and the Christian faith. On day one, you might be able to shade in a sliver of the circle representing what you know.

With a little theological study, you'll learn a lot. Compared to what you already know now, you're sliver of knowledge might double.

When this is held up against your original awareness of God, you might fall into the trap of thinking that you now know a lot.

But, with time, you should not only expand your knowledge of God, but you're awareness of all that theology encompasses.

Over time, you should come to the realisation that, in fact, you're awareness has far outpaced your knowledge. And, with that, so has your respect and wonder of what you're studying.

Monday, February 13, 2017

For... With... Together

I'm going to pray for us...
I'm want to invite you to pray with me...
Let's pray together...

The above sentences all result in the same thing. The person up the front prays aloud.

But, the above sentences are not the same for those listening.

The first tells you to passively watch.
The second tells you to actively listen.
The third invites you to be involved.

Now, in certain occasions and audiences, the first or second options will be a better fit.

If you're uncertain about the religious beliefs of those in attendance then you shouldn't force them to prayer...
But, in a church setting, you should always lean towards the latter option.

Anyone up the front of a church service should actively fight against being a mere talking head.

The trouble is, especially when dealing with youngsters, we only use the first prompting to initiate prayer, giving a poor example to follow.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Would I be a good target?

Today, while waiting to get my haircut, I saw a gaggle(?) of Mormons and wondered what I'd do if they knocked on my door.

Depending on the inflation of my spiritual ego, oscillating from... Feeling underwhelmed in my faith... To being prepared to joust theologically... To being ready to gate crash the beliefs of the poor soul daring to knock upon my door., I'd be happy to open the door and converse.

But, I wonder, if I engaged with a door-step missionary, could they say anything to reel me in?
Could they say anything to make me question my faith?
Could they say anything to make me legitimately engage, never mind believe, the Book of Mormon?
Could they say anything that would make me try out a Mormon church service?

For that matter, would the same be true for a Jehovah's Witnesses? Or Buddhist? Or Hindu Or Muslim? Or Jew? Or Scientologist?

Would some faiths stand a better chance with me?
Would they be the ones which are closer to fundamental Christianity or drastically different?

I ponder all these things and wonder how they apply to Christian evangelism?

Are people of established faith, similar or quite different, more or less likely to positively converse, never mind, convert?

At the core, am I a prime target for the suited flock of Mormons, or would I quickly be disengaged from?

And, personally, how far would I be willing to drift from traditional Christianity if I explored another belief system?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Waiting in the narrative

Noah took years to build the boat...
Abraham and Sarah lived decades with infertility...
Jacob toiled years for Laban...
Decades passed while Joseph worked his way up Potiphar's domestic food-chain and got stuck in prison...
Moses lived in the wilderness before seeing the burning bush...
Joshua journeyed to the Promised Land...
David watched over the sheep...

Plenty of people in the bible had to work and wait.

One of the beautiful things about the narratives in the bible is that you get to see the whole story play out. What might only take you a few verses to read may describe decades in chronological time.

Do you ever wonder what happens in those moments, days, months, years or decades?
Do you ever wonder what the people did during those times?
Do you wonder what they thought while they worked and waited?

Do you ever think that you may be in one of those working or waiting times?

Inevitably, life is made up of in-between times; when life is in a segment of non-noteworthy-narrative.

We might just need to keep that in mind when we feel that we are floating in times of working and waiting...


Monday, January 23, 2017

"Second Chances" starring Graham

A few weeks back I watched the Star Trek episode "Second Chances" and, not for the first time, wondered if I would like me...

Would I like me if I were my boss?
Would I like me as a workmate?
Would I like me as a member of my church?
Would I like me as a leader in my church?
Would I like me socially?

In short, I'm not exactly sure.

I'm not sure because I both put on a pretty good masquerade, but I'm also intimately aware of my many shortcomings.

Now, as you might be able to tell from the sentence above, this isn't exactly fair since I have a perspective within myself that no one else has.

But, I think the thought exercise is an important one.

Because, what if you wouldn't like you?

How would you view yourself?
What would you notice first?
What would annoy you?
Would you be threatened by yourself?
What should you change?

On a more positive slant, what value would you add?
Would you recognise it?
Would you allow it to be exercised?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Pushing beyond FU

In ministry church life you'll hit multiple moments when you'll have an interaction with someone where one of you'll want to tell the other to "go f#*k yourself."

When this happens you have the option to leave it there. You can allow the hostility to endure and infect every activity you have with that person forever.

Or... You can push through "go f#*k yourself."

Depending which side of the conversation you're on, you can choose to lay the brunt of your feelings aside or you could face up to the hostile party and see if you can move forward.

Either way, you have the choice to sit with the hostility or try to push beyond.

Most often, the only way to reconciliation or healing requires that you dare to push through "go f#*k yourself."

Of course, just like Louis Theroux does in My Scientology Movie, when confronted with the immortal phrase "go f#*k yourself" retorts "I'll consider myself f#*ked."

But, while funny, this doesn't help restore the relationship...

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Prayers of the people hacks

One of the most important parts of the church service is the 'prayers of the people.' If you're unfamiliar, these prayers are said by members of the congregation.

Ideally, the prayers are also composed by the one saying the prayer.

I say ideally, because this isn't always the case.

In some cases, the minister composes the prayers and the person just recites it.

I think this is a massive cop out.

First, it usually sounds completely false, or at least heavily manufactured, in the mouth of another.
Second, it undermines the confidence of the congregation in using and sharing their own spiritual gifts.
Third, it makes the prayers sound way more intimidating than they may be otherwise.

As a result, when faced with someone who might be hesitant to do the prayers, here's the hacks that might ease their fears.

To start, the biggest secret is to watch the news before coming to church. It would suck to omit a massive world event because you didn't turn on the tv.

Furthermore, you should scan the church newsletter and keep an attentive ear on the church notices in order to add anything relative, such as big events or people who are sick.

While you're actively listening to elements of the service, it could be handy to look for connections which you could use in the bible readings or sermon.

As a general rule, the structure of the prayer glows through concentric circles. World. Country. Local. Church.

If you stick to these locations, touching on issues in all four, then you'll should be on a winner.

Additionally, the end of the prayer is usually the communal reciting of the Lord's Prayer, so the pressure is off for the conclusion.

Most of all, the person invited to pray should be given permission to pray for what they believe God wants them to pray. 
This is the empowerment of the invitation.
This is the example you want the congregation to see.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

How should you say that the church office is closed?

Right now a lot of church offices will be, and have been since Christmas day, closed.

This is understandable. People like holidays. Especially ministers directly after Christmas.

But, I wonder about the importance of this closure being communicated to the congregation and wider community.

Usually, a message similar to "The church office will be closed from Christmas Eve. If you leave a message then they will not be promptly returned, if at all. We will reopen on xyz."

But, I think this can be vastly improved.

At minimum, you should say that someone will be checking the messages every other day and that someone will be in touch promptly. To say that no one will return calls or enquiries is unacceptable.

Further, you should say that there will be a recorded message which will say the times of the services, especially on Christmas eve/day and over New Year's since your church isn't shutting down and people, locals or those on holidays, might want to know when you're services are on.

For those within the congregation, there should be a clearly defined method of receiving pastoral care with the point person's telephone number easily findable. Just because it's summer, doesn't mean that people don't get sick or die.

The way the office sabbatical is communicated matters is because you desperately want to avoid the message that your church is completely closed or, if someone does get in touch, that they would be calling a vacuum.

It would be a dire message to send to your congregation and those outside the church that for a two week period (if not the majority of January) that the mission of the church ceases or that you stop caring about people.