Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The danger of a new building

I’ve been at a number of churches who have wanted to, been in the middle of and have completed a building project.

Honestly, these times can be really challenging.

While the construction is happening you can feel like you’re church is in a now-but-not-yet stage of life.

But this inaction during the building process is just one hurdle a church or ministry must beware of.

One danger emerges once the project is finally complete.

Usually, after what has felt like a drawn-out process, the shiny new building can lead a church in two directions...

The negative one is a place of completion. The building becomes an end-point. The building is seen as an accomplishment. 

In short, everything slows down.

Alternatively, the building can project a church in a positive direction. The building can be a launching pad. The building is the start of new things. 

In short, everything is energised.

Ideally, every church uses their new building as a positive stepping stone to greater Kingdom Impact.

But, all too many churches treat their new building like the Old Testament Temple. 

A church can see that they have constructed a monument that people now need to visit in order to meet with God. They can see their new building as an expense that needs to be justified, usually a defensive mindset, which minimises further risk.

One aspect, which steers the direction of church, is now the leadership responds to their new building. Hopefully, the building process hasn’t drawn those in charge towards a negative mindset, with the building seen as a sunset instead of the dawn of something new.

Monday, May 27, 2019

The reason you must record your first sermon

Somewhere, I’ve got a video of one of my first sermons. While it was only recorded for a preaching assignment, the practice of documenting one of your initial sermons is invaluable.

Last Sunday my church had a preacher, who from outward appearances, was inexperienced. What he said was pretty good, but he also made a few rookie missteps.

He should have videoed that sermon.
If he did he would have learnt a lot.

As painful as it can be to view yourself on camera, recording yourself has two powerful positives.

First, if nothing else, the video can be a keepsake of your first time in the pulpit. It can be something you look back on and, potentially, groan over.

Second, you’ll be able to identify and begin to address significant issues you may have as an inexperienced speaker. You’ll quickly notice verbal and physical ticks which, if you didn’t get an outside perspective, you may have remained oblivious to. Once identified, you can begin to address these issues, like repeating filler words, not remaining grounded, pacing, transitions between points, interaction between yourself with your slides/props (like reading off the screen) and appropriate eye contact.


Thursday, May 23, 2019

Is the church a singer production line?

Seemingly, every mainstream singing competition is full of those who sing in their church. I don’t think this is a coincidence.

Why?

Because the shower is the main place where people sing. Or a performance of the national anthem.

Really... That’s it. 

It’s true for theists, atheists, seekers and searchers.

But christians get another avenue to regularly sing - church.

And I wonder if this results in the church producing a larger percentage of singers.

Frankly, I’m not sure.

At any church, realistically, there are a few of excellent singers (1 percent) and a bunch of good singers (5 percent).

So, at a mid-sized church of 200, they will have, say, 2 great vocalists and a dozen good singers.  

At church they will get a regular, if not weekly, avenue to sing.

And herein, I believe lies the secret of the churches, seemingly, abundance of singers.

Opportunity.

Really, unless you’re in a choir, the ordinary person will not get a chance to regularly sing.

I think this sends a powerful message to the church.

Give people an opportunity.
Provide chances for people to explore and exercise their talents, skills and gifts.

Firstly, this will provide them with an avenue to use the talents God has given them.

Second, with healthy boundaries, this will dramatically increase buy in for the person.

And third, the church may be one of the few ways the person will be able to use their talents.


Thursday, May 9, 2019

The questions behind every good sermon

Last week, as part of a bible study I was leading, I took a group of young adults through some of the process I went through when writing a sermon. 

It was really enjoyable. In a way, it showed how a sermon is shaped and, I hope, will allow them to appreciate (both preparation and content) a sermon slightly better.

Through the process, we asked five basic questions...

Where does the book fit in the bible?
Where does the passage fit within the book?
What is important or noteworthy from the passage?
What questions emerge from the passage?
Where is the gospel in the passage - how does it point to Jesus?

The only question we didn’t address, due to time restraints, was the final one...

How does this passage apply to Christian living today?

In my opinion, any sermon which addresses these six questions effectively has the structure of a quality sermon.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Repeating your open air script?

Last week I saw an open air preacher. For me, even being at university, this is unusual.

It was at the entrance of a large event in Sydney and, from all appearances, the guy wasn’t being listened to by anyone especially.

I didn’t stop to listen.

But I did wonder about open air preaching...

If that guy was at the entrance of the event for a few hours, does he keep delivering fresh material, or does he just keep repeating the same sermon?

With a transient crowd, having fresh sermons seems redundant due to the constant refreshment of the audience.

But, with an crowd with only a few moments to listen, would you be prepared to say the same sermon - say going ten minutes - 30 times in a row? 
How do you decide which sermon is the one worthy of the airtime? 
Also, what would happen if someone does stick around for a sizeable chunk of time or was stuck within earshot?

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Link as closely as possible when preaching

This past week I was listening to a sermon in which the preacher made a small, albeit significant, misstep.

During the message he connected a principal from the parable he was preaching from to some words Jesus spoke upon the cross. It was a pretty good point.

But, in connecting the two passages he used two different gospels.

The trouble was that he didn’t need to since the same words were recorded at the end of the gospel he was preaching from.

In reality, it’s not a big deal. No one would have noticed.

But I do believe that an important teaching principal was missed.

Those within the congregation should be encouraged, when interpreting the bible, to, where possible, allow the bible to explain itself - especially within the same book.

In jumping from one gospel to another the preacher missed the chance to make this point and I think the phrase “as recorded elsewhere in the same gospel” makes a stronger point than just linking the point to another section of scripture.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Explain & jargon > Jargon & explain

Justification.
Sanctification.
Redemption.
Anything in ancient Greek.

In church we know how to insert a term of church jargon. 
This is especially so within sermons.

Usually, the term is dropped and then (hopefully!) explained.

But we have the order backwards.

I think a far better practice would be to explain the phrase we are going to use and then say what the term is.

This works since it allows people to absorb the meaning and application of a term before being bombarded by a bunch of sylables. 

For those of lower literacy and less church exoericpence, this would be of great benefit.

And, as a bonus, I suspect they they will be far more likely to engage with and learn the term since the instant disengagement caused by foreign terms is avoided.

Friday, April 26, 2019

You must provide service off-ramps

Sometimes church services to go over time.

Famously, when I was new to ministry, I ran a morning service which spiralled into a lunchtime service.

I still get nightmares about it.

If there are no time pressures after the service, a leader might be lead to continue singing or have a time of prayer, extending the service will beyond the usual conclusion time.

One thing I saw a while back, done brilliantly, was for the leader to give people permission to leave at the usual time. 

Knowing the service would go long, they concluded the service in the usual manner, providing the space for those who need to leave to do so, and seamlessly giving those who wanted to stay the option.

It was a really good practice, because it showed awareness that the service was going to go long, but also validated the genuine need some might have to leave - no matter what that reason is.

At or around the designated time, every service should have an off-ramp, with a conclusion and a blessing, no matter what is going to happen after those words are spoken.

In order to honour those who attend with others things going on, it only seems fair.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

What do you do when a prayer is hijacked?

Can you stop someone saying a prayer?
Is there a right to interrupt?
What if a pontificating prayer won’t stop?

These questions went through my mind a few weeks back when, seemingly, someone hijacked a time of open prayer.

They went on...
And on...
In a mini sermonette/rant...

And I wondered... What does the leader do???

I suppose, if it’s a once off, then someone can be forgiven for getting carried away during open prayer. It happens. Maybe they’re new and punchy prayers aren’t the way they do things at their church.

But, what if someone has a reputation for lengthy, even unhelpful, prayer diatribes?

Do you use a prayer blocker, who may gently squeeze their arm or whisper in their ear to allow others a turn?
Is that really practical?
What if they get ignored?

Is the only solution a large AMEN from the front?
In some case, I suspect, it may be the only way out of the situation...

Saturday, April 20, 2019

How unforgiveness is like a bad case of road rage

A few weeks ago, at the church I attend with my girls, we were in small groups talking about forgiveness.

While chatting about the reason we need to forgive others, I stumbled over a decent analogy.

I mentioned that we need to forgive others, otherwise we become like the angry driver, who when cut off in traffic, doesn’t just beep the other driver, but follows them.

Ultimately, we stop going to your destination, following the path we want to go, and and journey is dictated by the one we have, in our mind, been wronged by.

In short, we not go where they are going, not where we were going.

I think this mirrors unforgiveness well since it encapsulated the trap of harbouring a grudge.

It controls you.
It leads you.
It stops you from doing what you can or should be doing.

Frankly, you loose freedom with unforgiveness.

This is the danger of unforgiveness, since the venom we intend to inflict on others slowly infects ourselves.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

What do you do if you don’t like your minister?

NOTE: I’m writing this beside a beach on Fiji since I’m in my honeymoon. Apologies for the lack of posts lately, I’ve been very busy with the wedding and university.

Over a dozen years in youth ministry, across four churches, I’d worked with a number of ministers. Fortunetly, Ive liked most of the ministers I’ve worked beside.

I’ve heard of plenty of nightmares though.

Ministers who have been lazy.
Ministers who have been demanding.
Ministers who have been controlling.
Ministers who have been stuck in their ways.

Dare I say, people within the churches I’ve worked for haven’t always been great fans of the way I’ve done things.

To a point, this is just luck and an occupational hazard of working for a church.

But, I’ve also liked the vast majority of ministers at the churches I’ve attended for any significant length of time.

Again, I’ve heard plenty of nightmares.

Ministers who are boring.
Ministers who don’t provide care.
Ministers who use power plays.
Ministers who manipulate others.

Dare I say, there have been members of churches who I’ve rubbed the wrong way. No doubt.

What do you do when, as a congregant, you don’t like your minister?

Ideally, this wouldn’t happen too often because, if your searching for a church to attend, you’d only select a church with a minister you, at least, semi-like. Furthermore, any church you attend, when they select a new ministry agent, will select someone personable.

But, what if you’re stuck at a church with a minister you genuinely don’t like?

Say, your minister goes on long service leave, a study sabbatical or retires and you loathe the fill in?

Or, worse still, their permanent replacement, in your opinion - having given them plenty of time and chances - is a douche?

How does it effect your discipleship?
How does it effect your zeal for evangelism?

Do you connect with their sermons less?
To what degree is your willingness to serve diminished?

Can you invite someone to church, but warn that your minister, in your view, is rubbish?

Are you obligated to describe your minister in glowing terms, allowing any newcomer to decide for themselves?

Of course, every congregant of a church will not be best mates with their minister, but the whole dilemma adds a degree of pressure for those ministers who are a little socially awkward or prickly (and these absolutely exist!).

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Don’t neglect the irregular lessons

Every church has irregular participants.
Every ministry has irregular attenders.

One of my aims as a youth minister was to try to achieve 80% attendance.

But, I knew, for some, it just wouldn’t happen.

They would only turn up to some things.

But, this holds useful information.

This selective attendance can be productive in both planning and understanding those who attend your ministry.

In some cases, attendance spikes allow you to evaluate the type of gimmicks which are effective. Everything from time, inclusion of food and location can be gauged by those who will only attend if the event hits their logistic targets.

Furthermore, the types of event can help you sense what type of things they value, attract them or help them connect with God.

Do they value or avoid a certain ritual?
Do they only come with certain friends?
Do they attend at certain times of the year?

All too often we write off those who irregularly attend, understandably, focussing on those who we can count on to be present.

But, we shouldn’t neglect the information we can glean from the times fringe-attenders are present. 

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Should schools get Acts 4:31 insurance?

Currently, my church meets in a school hall due to long term redevelopment of their building.

I wonder how concerned the school is...

In theory, the church should be a great tenant.
They will be courteous.
They will be committed.
They will be clean.

But, they may also shake your building...
At least if they are an “Acts” church.

I wonder, with many churches wanting to be “like the church in Acts,” how many have reminded their landlords of Acts 4:31?

Do they warn them that their facility may be vibrated by the Holy Spirit?
Is there a form of insurance that they recommend the school get?
Or, is this covered by the “act of God” clause within policies?

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Why the university holiday boost is not sustainable

I’m not a regular university student. I’m in my 30’s. I work full time. I’ve got two kids.

But, I’ve got the holidays of a university student.

Even with attending Summer school, I’ve had a month of study holidays. Without studying over the summer, I’d have been on holidays from mid November.

That’s a lot of time off...

Hopefully, young adults of faith put this time to good use.

They commit to spiritual disciples.
They get stuck into ministry opportunities.
They get their hands dirty.

Of course, the danger of this is that it does not last.

If you set up your young adults for a spiritual boost over the holidays then they’ll find that this opportunity soon dries up.

Employment only gives you 4 weeks of holidays.
Kids never give you time off.
Adulting is full time.

So, while it is useful to encourage those with idle time to commit to injecting energy into their faith, a more productive - at least long term - practice would be to encourage and resource young people to engage with their faith in times when they are not free. For, this is the life which awaits them in the future...

Monday, February 25, 2019

Bi-cultural ministry questions

Having worked in the most inclusive and multicultural denomination in Australia for over a decade, I was reminded of some of the significant questions I’d ask those from other cultures, when it comes to their faith and church life, while hearing the testimony of someone last week.

Being an Anglo male in leadership, my experience of church was often quite different to others from other cultures.

In order to both understand them, their history and their faith more, I’d ask the following...

Do you engage with God in your native language? If so, when? 
If you own and can read the bible in your native language, do you find it different compared to English?
Do you engage with worship or sermons differently depending what language they are delivered in?
How is your church different because of your culture?
How do you engage with church leadership? 
What do you value in the faith of your parents?

Sunday, February 10, 2019

How to tap into the spiritual ZPD

There’s an educational philosophy called the Zone of Proximinal Development. In short, it refers to a level of learning a student is capable of based on their own abilities. Ideally, a teacher aims to reach a student within their ZPD in order for the information to not be too easy or too far over their head. With assistance, experience and practice, the student should have their ZPD expended over the course of a subject.

Is there such a thing as a spiritual ZPD?

At a theoretical level, there must be. Everyone will have a self-assessed level that they can understand and engage with God. Someone’s theological understanding, biblical competence and experience will all effect the way they can comprehend the bible, what happens within a church service and during their personal spiritual disciplines.

General relegation would suggest that no one is approaching God at a zero-point ZPD. Through creation and the conscious, no one is without the natural testimony of God.

But, if a spiritual ZPD does exist, then how should a minister utilise it?

Anyone who has lead a mixed group, such as a youth ministry with both unbelievers and church families - especially a minister’s child - knows the challenge of a varied ZPD.

A similar challenge exists within the church service which will have deeply committed believers and those struggling in or exploring the faith.

I believe the best way to tap into an individuals ZPD is to delve into application. If you make your teachings practical, as they should be nonetheless, then you’re more likely to hit the ZPD.

For an individual knows, with the help of their conscience and the Holy Spirit - which will add a layer of complexity - how they can apply the gospel message. They know who they need to forgive. Where they need to exercise compassion. Or which sin they need to wrestle with. 

This is true no matter how developed your ZPD is.

But, everything is complicated because no believer is alone. 

The bible says that the Spirit of God will help them. It will reveal truths in the bible. It will convict them. It will give them peace from outside of themselves.

So, no believer is solely responsible for their growth. Your ZPD is upheld by the Holy Spirit. It is a gift from God and, unlike what you’re taught in school, your spiritual ZPD is enlarged as much by faithfulness, commitment and sanctification, as it is by comprehension and the ability to recall. 

Sunday, February 3, 2019

If you teach the bible, you get the topics

I once knew a guy who, for a term of his high school scripture lessons, all he would do is read a chapter of the bible and them discuss it with the class.

It was... dangerous.

Usually, scripture lessons are driven by themes and topics.
These are easy.

For, I can think of plenty of landmines which people would try to avoid in the bible.

Murder.
Marriage.
Divorce.
Women in the church.
Homosexuality.
Sin.
Sex.

But the bible, particularly the epistles, won't allow this.

They are filled with topics we try to skirt around.
And, this was the rationale this scripture teacher had.

When it come to the topics which matter, they will come up organically and he would be prepared to speak about what the chapter was about. 
He believed that you shouldn't cherry-pick your topics.

This makes people think that you're hiding something.
This makes for underdeveloped theology.
This makes for a weakened spiritual discipline of bible reading and engagement.

So, he deals with the tough topics.
And, while it's dangerous, it's also one of the most mature ways to treat the bible and one of the most faithful examples to set.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Your most effective welcomers at church aren't who you think

Are not your oldest members...

Surprise.

This is who we usually stick on the door to greet people.

They are friendly.
They know the answers to any question.

But, I think there's a better answer.

The best person to welcome someone new to church, aside from the minister (!), is the latest integrated member.

They will recognize the anxiety of the new person... They are the one's most recently familiar with it in the congregation.

They will be aware of some of the questions the new person will have... They had them when they arrived.

They will know the unwritten rules which are only exposed when they are broken... They may well have violated a hidden rule in the past. 

While experienced members should, absolutely, welcome visitors to their church, a far more empathetic greeting would come from the last person to be new.

Importantly, this person can, if given the chance, then share why they choose to stay.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Should you assure people that the game will be on after church?

I've been a part of multiple church services where those in leadership have assured everyone that they will watch the "big game/event" straight after the service. The classic example is the rugby league on a Sunday night, be it the Sate of Origin or Grand Final.

Should churches do this?

Pragmatically, this may counteract a drop in attendance by those who would otherwise skip church for the event. 

But, I'm not so sure about the message it sends and the potential implications.

Are you really prepared to stop whatever is going on after the service because the event is about to be telecast?

Even worse, would you be prepared to cut the church service short due to the broadcast?

Would this be stifling the Spirit?
How might you explain this to the preacher or leader?
How would you transfer the worship space, if this is where the event is to be shown, into "footy" mode?

Would you just run the risk that the Holy Spirit knows when kick-off is?

Ideally, you'd have a mechanism which means that you could watch the event on delay after the service, but sometimes this isn't a possibility.

The easiest answer, if pushed for one, is to assure people that you'll watch the game, if people want, after the service - whenever that may be - and, as a community you can watch it together. But, I'd be hesitant to guarantee people that it will be live.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Should you advertise numbers?

I've written about numbers a bit in the past.

Youth ministers can fear them, embrace them, track them or hide behind them.

But, should you advertise them?

Should you advertise how many will be at an event, even verbally?

I'm not sure.

If you advertise numbers, then you send the message that they are the most important thing. And, while numbers matter, people matter more.

For, every number has a name.

You want the person you're speaking with to know that they are more than just a number.

They are not just part of the crowd.

A vastly better message is to personally invite them.
Tell them WHO you expect will probably be there (I wouldn't guarantee it since you may be mistaken!).

If you advertise numbers, like with the individual above, then you set yourself up to be measured against something you don't really control.

Numbers, for whatever reason can dissipate.

Anyone in youth ministry knows the feeling of the week where, seemingly, everyone "had something come up" and your attendance is way down.

I was once part of a regional event in a rural setting where, because it rained heavily days prior, everyone had to stay home in order to work the fields.

It happens.

But, if you're invitation is about the person, not just the attendance, then the kids who were personally invited can still feel welcomed and, importantly, not deceived.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The art of faux giving

I can't recall the last time I put currency into an offering plate or bag.

Sure, I've been in plenty of church services where an offering has occurred, I just haven't reached into my wallet.

For, whenever I give, I now do a direct transfer from my bank account into the church's account (it's because of people like me that it's incredibly stupid for a church not to provide these details somewhere in their bulletin).

Personally, I just don't carry that much cash with me and I can then transfer an amount somewhat close to a tithe portion into the offering, which I may not be able to do if I was relying on cash.

Consequently, I now face the prospect of a faux offering.

For those uninitiated, the faux offering is when you pretend to give the traditional way, but you've got nothing physically in your hand.

Sure, the cards informing those around that you directly give exist, but really, whoever remembers to collect those???

The regular routine is to dip your hand into the bag and do... nothing.

But, this covert offering is ineffective with a offertory plate.

This is where the expert faux-givers employ their darkest magic.

As the plate comes around you place your had near the top of the plate and you tap the bottom of the plate with your other hand. This creates a thud which rattles the coins in the plate.

The risk is that those around you will only think that you've given the equivalent of loose change, but for those who are concerned that they'll be gossiped about over morning tea due to their offertory-non-observance, this trick can save face.

At least ever so slightly...

Monday, January 7, 2019

Why Youth Minister Sunday hurts not helps

In you're at a church who has more than just a sole ministry agent, then it's almost assured that there will be a day annually when the assistant/youth minister/family worker/children's coordinator will get a preaching gig - the Sunday after Christmas.

By then, the post-Christmas-minister will be sunning himself on a beach and the pulpit will be left in the hands of a ministry youngling.

Some call it "Youth minister Sunday." At least a lot did within the youth ministry groups did that I'm still attached with on Facebook.

I'm not sure this regular gig is a healthy growth strategy.

In theory, this allotted Sunday is useful to give an aspiring preacher experience and the church an opportunity to hear from other members of the ministry staff.

The practice... may not be all that effective.

First of all, if you work at a lectionary directed church, with set readings, then you'll inevitably get lumped with the same story - almost certainly the visitation of the Magi.

And, while every youth minister has preached on this passage, doing it for the third time, especially before the same congregation, is a daunting challenge.

Second, many people are away straight after Christmas, especially families, meaning the "target audience" for the junior minister may well be absent (even if they haven't gone on vacation, the church may shut down their youth/children's/creche activities so families are more inclined to skip church.)

Third, if the aim is to help develop a potential preacher than it's odd that they would only preach from select passages when their direct supervisor is absent!

Fourth, it means that the youth minister doesn't get to ever have this immediately-after-Christmas-season for vacation.

The danger of "Youth Minister Sunday" is that the weekend after Christmas has a degree of tokenism, which would be easily avoided if the ministerial junior had a reoccurring gig in order to both build their preaching proficiency and enhance their impact beyond just the subsection they oversee.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

2018 Best of...

Well, after my quietest year of blogging (the aim is to do more in 2019), what is there to review?

I got engaged - getting married in April 2019.
I went to Europe for the first time -meeting my fiancee's family in Germany.
I'm now, approximately, halfway through my teaching/history degree.
I'm still not in ministry - only doing a handful of things at one of the two churches I attend (one with my kids, the other with my fiancee).
Tiny Bible Bits (my Facebook devotional) has doubled in size and reach - the closest thing I have to a regular ministry.
I still think about church/youth ministry significantly - these filters are really tough to shake and, frankly, I'm not sure I want to discard them.

From the last year, here are the gems worth revisiting...

How I Failed my Scripture Classes

Would the need to Poop ever be a Sermon Stopper? (I ask the big questions...)

The Intimidating Butts in the Pews

What's the Message of your Bible Reading?

God's Graceful Repetitiveness

How to Cut Off a Service Hijacker

The Difference Between Dropping your Kid off to a Birthday Party and Youth Group

How Long Should it take to Create a Kids Talk?

Are Numerical Prayers Dangerous?

Making Space for #SpiritualParentingWins

Why I haven't watched a Single Episode of 13 Reasons Why but Every Youth Minister Should

Why I'm Learning German

We all have Something 

The Awkward Preaching of Naked Boy

Doing Less Means you Value More

Why Facebook makes me think that Youth Ministers are Lazy and Unoriginal (my most controversial post)

The Answer to your Next Mission Location is Closer than you think

Guidelines for Talking with Friends Dealing with Cancer