Friday, April 27, 2018

Are numerical prayers dangerous?

Dear God, we pray for (insert number) to show up tonight...
Dear God, we pray to grow by (insert number) over the next year...

Should you pray humerical prayers?
Are they healthy?

Frankly, I don't know the answer.
But I think the question should be asked.

For everyone attached to a ministry or event, paid or unpaid, has uttered these prayers in desperation.

And, sometimes, they seemingly pay off.
At other times they don't.

I've been involved in ministries which have both grown and shrunk.
I've been involved in events when vastly more people have turned up than we've expected and an event where only one kid attended. 

Just one.

In a sign of weakness, these types of prayers make me nervous because they are specific enough for a definite success or failure.
With a numerical prayer, either you hit or exceede your number or you don't.

But I think something more alarming can be displayed by a numerical prayer - the heart of the person praying.

Why do they want "that" number?

Do they want to look successful?
Do they need to reach a threshold to be financially viable?
Have they been given a numerical ultimatum to reach in order to be vocationally secure?

Or, do they want "that" number because each one represents an individual who needs Jesus?

I ask the last question because, if that's the genuine aim, then why does reaching "that" number matter?

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Assessment evangelistic windows

It's fairly well known that the most effective window for evangelism are the teenage years. 

But, I feel, for similar reasons, that there are two other windows for efficacious faith-development.

New parents and the elderly.

The reason these three life stages are more fruitful for evangelism have to do with the common threads of self assessment and a realigning of self identification.

As a teen you're establishing and testing your place in society. 
As a new parent, everything in your life is reordered with the new arrival.
As you enter your later years, ceasing work or losing your spouse, you have the chance to assesses your values and what you want to do going forward.

Of course, people can come to faith at any age and life stage, but I think these three times are especially fertile to the message of the gospel.

For, Jesus invites us to make assessments about how we live.
The gospel challenges us to consider the things we stand for.
The church invites us to be a part of something larger than ourselves.

These are the things which are already stirring within the hearts and minds of teens, new parents and the elderly.

The continuing challenge to the church is to purposely seek to reach these people and offer them the words of eternal life.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

How long should it take to create a kids talk?

I've given lots of kids talks in church services.
In my experience, if your church wants to be family-friendly and child-inclusive, then they are a manditory element of the service.

But, these 5 minute interactive spiels are not done at the church I take my daughters to (even though they have a decent Sunday morning ministry to children).

With this in mind, I've been pondering the amount of work needed to do a kids address and if this is a perceived hindrance for the church doing them.

Frankly, I don't think it should be.

In my history, going from a blank-piece-of-paper to rough-script-of-what-you-are-going-to-say, takes about 20 minutes.

In theory, all you need to do is read/study the passage, select the primary/applicable/child appropriate point, think of or find a connector to this point and then write an rough script which flows from connector to point to application.

This shouldn't take too much time.


Because your talk shouldn't be too complex. It should be a point from the passage which explains what God is like or points to the significance of Jesus, applied to your audiences context.

Furthermore, there's soo many resources which can give you a launchpad (not a full script!), that an absolute impass can be fairly quickly traversed.

Now, all this doesn't mean that you should start planning 15 minutes before that start of the service.

That would be foolish.

Even if you've planned everything in 20 minutes, it will take longer to gather anything you need and, prayerfully, be completely comfortable with your point and deliverance.

But, my point in all this is to share that children's address need not be too intimidating to putt off successfully.

And, for the effort required, kids talks make a massive difference to the ministry you have to families and, often, provide a means of basic, applicable, theology to everyone in the congregation.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Entice the lapsed or reward the faithful?

Ministry is made up of tensions to manage.
One such tension is that which exists between those who are in attendance and those who aren't.

Which should you cater to?

Do you postpone the start of an event or church service for the latecomers?
Do you send enticements to those who haven't attended in a few consecutive weeks?
Do you only provide gifts on special occasions for those visiting?


Do you honour the time of those who were punctual?
Do you give rewards for those who attend with regularity?
Do you go out of your way to recognise those who are there week-in, week-out?

As with all tensions, you should do a healthy balance of both.

But, the danger is when one group starts to resent or desire the carrot dangled before the other group.

You don't want visitors to think that you favour those "on the inside" unfairly.
Equally, you don't want your regulars to start drifting in order to receive the enticements to return.

Ideally, you want visitors to recognise that you value those who are committed to your community and your regulars to value guests enough that any means of attraction are accepted.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The difference between dropping your kid off to a birthday party and youth group

Lately it's been the season for children's birthday parties. Up until this weekend, the last month's weekends have been punctuated by one or two celebrations (including my now-six-year-old).

House parties.

Craft parties.
Ten-pin bowling.
Swimming parties.

And, each time I've happily left My eldest in the care of a gaggle of parents, just as they did with us.

But, I would have hesitated if the only adults present were a group of teens or young adults, overseen by a twenty something.

Yet, this is what churches do with their youth ministries each week.

And for day-long outings.
And camps.

Churches ask parents to leave their kids under the supervision of, frankly, a bunch of teens and childless young adults.

The longer I'm a parent, the more unsettling that seems.

When dropping my daughter to a birthday party, I'm pretty comforted knowing that a bunch of parents will be around. They will have a good sense of danger and exercise a parental eye of caution. They will be experienced in dealing with kids.

In a lot of youth ministries, this parental covering is completely absent.

I wonder how the mindset of parents would be difficult if they knew a parent (or a few) were either around, or consulted, before events?

I know, looking back on my decade in youth ministry, that I wouldn't have instilled a great deal of confidence.

I was young.
I was inexperienced in taking care of children.
All my leaders, while well trained, were the same.
As much trust I may have developed over time, there must have been a certain amount of anxiousness whenever they drove away having dropping theirs kids to a big event.

If you consider that churches ask parents to entrust their kids to a few teens, supervised by a young adult - no matter how mature, spiritual, or well trained - it's a fairly unique, and scary, place we put parents in...

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

"We" vs Ideal "we"

Far too often, when I read things written by churches, usually from staff members, which describe their church or ministry they struggle with appropriate pronouns.

Especially the little word "we."

They proudly pronounce that "we" and a (insert value here) church.
Or that "we" have (insert goal here) as our aim for the year.

The trouble is that "we" is either overstated or the ideal.

In reality, which they should say is that "we" want to be a (insert value here) church.
Of that "we" want to have (insert goal here) as our aim for the year.

The reason this minor difference can matter is because it allows those who aren't a part of the "we" to be included.

You don't feel instantly excluded or guilted if your not a "dynamic prayer" or "enthusiastic evangelist."

Sure, these statements can be a catylist for growth or inspiration for action, but a softening of the "we" can launch people from a better starting point.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Do you fat-shame people about their prayers?

Prayer is a tricky thing.

We wonder how you should do it?
How often?
What should pray for?
Does God always hear our prayers?
How earnestly should you pray?
How long should you persevere in prayer?
Does God always answer prayer?
How do we know when God has answered our prayers?
What relation does prayer have with faith?
How big should our prayers be?
Should we always pray for the miraculous?
If we do pray for a miracle, should it come with a disclaimer which gives God the option not to comply?

As I said, prayer is tricky...

In ministry you regularly teach about the topic.
You are an example of prayer.

But, the topic remains, all too often, shrouded in mystery.

With that all said, prayer is also open to misinterpretation and manipulation.

Even accidentally.

In church services, sermons and bible studies we can stumble into a dangerous message surrounding prayer.

We commit the act to spiritually fat-shaming people about their prayers.

We can claim to know the ideal way to pray and shame those who don't follow the script.
We can claim that someone hasn't prayed "hard enough."
Or "often enough."
Or with "enough faith."

And, in doing so, we shame them in a similar fashion as a contestant on The Biggest Loser.

Unfortunately, in most cases, this is a disservice.

For, in reality, we don't know nearly as much about prayer as we claim.
We don't know the heart of the person praying.
We don't know the intensity of their prayers.
We don't know the level of their faith.

Prayer-shaming them just crushes their desire to pray.
It heaps guilt upon good intentions.
It piles shame where it might not belong.

When it comes to a spiritual child coming before their Heavenly Father, putting things in their path or making them doubt the effectiveness of prayer is an action which grieves the heart of God.