Thinking Out Loud

February 4, 2016

When Pastors and Church Leaders Tell Lies

Filed under: Christianity, Church, ministry — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:36 am

There is a general perception that policeman can run red lights and drive in excess of the speed limit, but it’s not the case. True, there are circumstances that might force someone in law enforcement to do either or both of these things, but generally, they are not above the law and not immune to prosecution if they are breaking the rules unnecessarily.

look closelySimilarly, one often runs up against people in church leadership who feel that situations require them to, for lack of a better word, make stuff up. A policy that exists absolutely nowhere in writing is suddenly invoked for the sake of convenience. Information important to a particular facet of church life is withheld for the sake of expediency.

When pastors misrepresent situations on a national or megachurch level — i.e. recent instances of book plagiarism — there are watchdog ministries that will call them out on it. When it happens at a local church level, we might hear of it through survivor and church abuse blogs.

Often however, the situations play out quietly at a local assembly level and in many cases, the parishioners don’t even know they’re being lied to. For example…

• • •

Anne had served her local church’s worship team for many years and helped in their transition from a hymn-based music format to a church known for leading the way in modern worship. She followed her husband to another church for a year, then returned for several years, and then disappeared to help with an inner-city church plant. Now she was ready to return and jump in with both feet.

Instead, summoned to a late-night meeting with a church deacon, she was told that her present status was: Visitor. No regard for the years she had poured into the music program. No recognition that this was the church where she was baptized and where her children were dedicated and where her husband had been on staff. She was told that people are uncomfortable being led in worship by someone they don’t know and they don’t have “guest” worship leaders.

Three weeks later, they had a “guest” worship leader.

It made everything the church leader had said to be a lie. Why do this? Why not simply say no? Perhaps he was threatened by the fact that she had more musical and spiritual leadership in her little finger than… well, you know. This after all, was a guy who, at one time, couldn’t do the “Welcome to our church” opening statement unless it was printed on a card, and yet in this situation, he was in leadership over her.

• • •

Ross was always amazed that his church seemed to end the year with a financial surplus. While everyone he talked to said their church was way behind on their budget, Cedar Ridge Neighborhood Church always had money left over.

There was a regional ministry several hours away that intersected with the life of the church and many other churches and families in their city. Not being supported by any particular denomination and benefiting only middle- and lower-income families, Ross occasionally took it upon himself to do some unofficial deputation for the organization and try to raise both their profile and support. So he asked if Cedar Ridge would consider putting them on their domestic missions budget.

Instead he was told that they didn’t simply make blanket donations to organizations, but gave their support only to individual missionaries or organization workers. Respecting the office of the church leader in question, Ross though somewhat disappointed that he had failed to make his case, accepted the response at face value.

It took a year, but finally Ross realized this was simply not the case when they handed out some huge donations to several organizations that were not even faith-based.

• • •

Sadly, the stories are true though the names are changed. They’re examples I was able to easily call out of memory, but don’t begin to scratch the surface of stories I’ve told where board members, elders, deacons, pastors, church staff, etc., had simply lied to save face or for the sake of convenience.

In the true spirit of grace and charity, I know the people involved in both above stories have “kept these things and pondered them in their heart” rather than go public. But the first example above was done in such a way that was abusive, and five years later, the scars of the late night meeting have never healed. That leader is currently in line for a position of greater profile and responsibility, and it’s very difficult for those of us who know the story to just sit back and not say anything, especially when the individual is otherwise so highly esteemed as a perfect example.

• • •

The scriptures at this morning’s Daily Encouragement reading were so timely:

“Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).

“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

“But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36).

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

 

January 19, 2016

The Good News and Bad News of Ministry Life

I posted this at C201 a few days ago, but felt I ought to share it here as well.

If you knew me many years ago, there was a period when I would sign letters

I Corinthians 16-9

In my mind, the verse played out in the KJV text that I first learned it from;

For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.

whereas today, I would probably refer you to a more recent translation, such as the NLT:

There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.

If you think about, this is the format of every missionary, church, or parachurch organization fundraising letter or ministry report you’ve ever received.

→ The good news is: God is working in the lives of people, we are seeing results.
→ The bad news is: We face [financial/staffing/logistical/spiritual-warfare/etc.] challenges.

There’s always a challenge. This weekend at church, the guest speaker shared this:

The greatest challenge in life is not having a burden to carry.

That’s right, without some mountain to climb or river to cross, our lives would actually be rather boring. Certainly there would be no growth. I discussed that quotation with a friend after the service was over, and he said, “Yes, but that’s we all want. We want it to be easy.”

Matthew Henry writes:

Great success in the work of the gospel commonly creates many enemies. The devil opposes those most, and makes them most trouble, who most heartily and successfully set themselves to destroy his kingdom. There were many adversaries; and therefore the apostle determined to stay.

Some think he alludes in this passage to the custom of the Roman Circus, and the doors of it, at which the charioteers were to enter, as their antagonists did at the opposite doors. True courage is whetted by opposition; and it is no wonder that the Christian courage of the apostle should be animated by the zeal of his adversaries. They were bent to ruin him, and prevent the effect of his ministry at Ephesus; and should he at this time desert his station, and disgrace his character and doctrine?

No, the opposition of adversaries only animated his zeal. He was in nothing daunted by his adversaries; but the more they raged and opposed the more he exerted himself. Should such a man as he flee?

Note, Adversaries and opposition do not break the spirits of faithful and successful ministers, but only kindle their zeal, and inspire them with fresh courage.

I checked out a number of commentaries online for this verse, and ended up pulling out several of my print commentaries. One of the greatest insights came at the bottom of the page of the NIV Study Bible:

many who oppose me. Probably a reference to the pagan craftsman who made the silver shrines of Artemis and to the general populace whom they had stirred up (Acts 19:23-34).

Interesting that what appeared to be spiritual opposition was actually rooted in commerce; people who had a vested financial interest in maintaining commercial interests in a pagan form of worship. Think about Jesus and the money-changers in the temple:

NIV Matt. 21:12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.

I’ll let Eugene Peterson re-phrase the Acts reference above:

23-26 …a huge ruckus occurred over what was now being referred to as “the Way.” A certain silversmith, Demetrius, conducted a brisk trade in the manufacture of shrines to the goddess Artemis, employing a number of artisans in his business. He rounded up his workers and others similarly employed and said, “Men, you well know that we have a good thing going here—and you’ve seen how Paul has barged in and discredited what we’re doing by telling people that there’s no such thing as a god made with hands. A lot of people are going along with him, not only here in Ephesus but all through Asia province.

27 “Not only is our little business in danger of falling apart, but the temple of our famous goddess Artemis will certainly end up a pile of rubble as her glorious reputation fades to nothing. And this is no mere local matter—the whole world worships our Artemis!”

28-31 That set them off in a frenzy. They ran into the street yelling, “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!” They put the whole city in an uproar, stampeding into the stadium, and grabbing two of Paul’s associates on the way, the Macedonians Gaius and Aristarchus. Paul wanted to go in, too, but the disciples wouldn’t let him. Prominent religious leaders in the city who had become friendly to Paul concurred: “By no means go near that mob!”

32-34 Some were yelling one thing, some another. Most of them had no idea what was going on or why they were there. As the Jews pushed Alexander to the front to try to gain control, different factions clamored to get him on their side. But he brushed them off and quieted the mob with an impressive sweep of his arms. But the moment he opened his mouth and they knew he was a Jew, they shouted him down: “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!”—on and on and on, for over two hours.

Some people believe that finding the heart of many world and regional conflicts is simply a matter of “follow the money.” The point is that we don’t always know and we don’t always see why people are so very bent on opposing us in ministry. Not to minimize Matthew Henry’s interpretation, it’s simply too easy to say, ‘It’s the Devil;’ or put things into some general spiritual warfare category. Maybe your devout faith and witness are simply “bad for business” for someone nearby.

…My opinion would be that where ministry is taking place many challenges and overt opposition will occur. If it’s not, maybe you’re doing it wrong.

Greater opportunities = Greater opposition.

But the good news is that most of the time the opposite is also true.

Greater opposition = Greater opportunities.

Romans 5:20b (CJB) says,

…but where sin proliferated, grace proliferated even more.

Ministry life involves both: Great opportunities for harvest and life change, and many who would rather keep the status quo.

 

 

 

 

December 28, 2015

For Those Who Preach, Teach

Filed under: books, ministry — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:43 am
There is always a danger for anyone who is dealing with a lot of Christian material — Bible study and reflection or sermon preparation — that a familiarity can develop so that the text becomes something to study and comment upon, rather than the wisdom of God that must be applied and obeyed daily.   The discovery of a wonderful truth can tempt the preacher or writer to sermonize about it rather than apply it:  We can become those who challenge God’s people with God’s Word, rather than allowing it to impact us first.   Paul encourage the Philippians to “put into practice” what they have learned.   Elsewhere James paints a bizarre word portrait of a man who sees, on looking into the mirror, that some changes need to be made…but then he walks away without changing a thing.

–Jeff Lucas

Originally a British Church planting pastor, Jeff Lucas is a well-known author and speaker in the UK and author of the Life With Lucas devotional bi-monthly magazine.

December 14, 2015

A New Type of Men’s Ministry

Filed under: Church, ministry — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:47 am

Men's MinistryIf your church is typical of most Evangelical congregations your men’s ministry might look something like this. It’s either (a) an extension of the small group concept, with guys meeting through the week for Bible study, or (b) a Saturday morning thing that might meet weekly or monthly for Bible study or a special speaker or combined with a breakfast.

The assumption has always been that men are busier than women, and chances are that your church has a more diverse list of opportunities for women. I want to toss something else into the mix here. There are three points, but they are building cumulatively toward the third.

1. Get A Room

In most Evangelical church buildings there is a youth room (and possibly a staff position that goes with this room.) If you’re big enough there may be distinct rooms for middle school youth and high school youth. There are no doubt many, many rooms for children’s ministry, used both on weekends and midweek. And if your women’s ministry involves some type of craft component — I’m told quilting is popular among older ones — there may be rooms set aside for them as well.

But there’s not necessarily a space set aside for men. They may utilize other parts of the building, but with the exception of a CRC that had a room filled with woodworking tools — mostly so the men could teach the older boys — I’ve never seen a room in a church that was dedicated for men’s ministry.

2. Customize That Space

People like David Murrow and others have written extensively about the dominance of the feminine touch in church décor.  (If this is new to you, click his name and check out Why Men Hate Going to Church.) I’m not saying build a man cave, or fill a space with sports memorabilia, hang a deer head, or have a cigar room; but do something that makes the guys feel at home. A pool table. Some comfy chairs. Posting a “Women Not Allowed” sign.

But have a space that is the hub of your men’s ministry where guys can check in on weekends, sign up for service projects, borrow books for guys on marriage and parenting, post notes about cars for sale, and maybe even be the location of some your midweek activities.

3. Open It Up After Work

This is where we’ve been heading. Right now a lot of men — even among Christians — stop at a bar after work. That’s not always the healthiest of environments. Some men do feel the need however to have a buffer zone between work and home. They want to diffuse some of the stress of the workday — and possibly the commute — before they enter the family environment. They don’t want to have to dump their employment crises on their spouse, or not have the energy to get excited about what happened at the kids’ school(s). Maybe 15 or 20 minutes is all it would take. If they get off work early enough, perhaps 45 minutes would do the trick without being late for dinner.

I’m proposing a place that is open on a regular consistent basis, maybe from 3:00 to 6:00 — or whenever your church’s family ministries commence on that one night of the week — with a part time staff person or volunteer available to serve non-alcoholic refreshments and change the sports network on the satellite system. 

…This isn’t ministry in the Bible study or service project sense, but I believe it would meet some real needs in your neighborhood, and be a bridge to the wider community as people invited their friends.

Also, it’s been my firsthand observation that the bigger the church the less likely people ‘drop in’ during the week. This changes that, and opens up the church building at hours other than those weekend services and that one midweek evening.

 

 

November 10, 2015

Realities of Urban Ministry

Filed under: ministry — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:51 am
Ruth was one of three women who started a weekly dinner in a rundown motel that many people called home. The organization later morphed into something a little different from their original focus, but continues to serve the same community, including some of the same people.

My wife was one of three women who started a weekly dinner in a rundown motel that many people called home. The organization later morphed into something a little different from their original focus, but continues to serve the same community, including some of the same people.

by Ruth Wilkinson (circa 2008)

We found out tonight at Dinner that [our project] had been “announced from the pulpit” at a local church. Which — once I’d clarified that it was announced and not denounced — is very cool. It’s created some interest in people who attend that church, which I’ve always pigeonholed as very conservative. So, with my stereotype in mind, I’m wondering what they’ll think of the whole thing.

One of the team is going to organize a meeting at her house for those church-folks who are interested so we can give them an idea of what ‘we do’.

I’m tempted to tell horror stories and see if it scares them off. But I won’t.

This motel unit was home to one of the many people we simply called "our friends." The front window is broken the door only locks from the outside (with a padlock) and whatever carpeting or tiles ever existed on the floor had long vanished leaving only plywood.

This motel unit was home to one of the many people we simply called “our friends.” The front window is broken, the door only locks from the outside (with a padlock) and whatever carpeting or tiles ever existed on the floor had long vanished leaving only plywood.

But I will say this:

• If you can’t sit down for dinner with 30 people, without having someone say the blessing,

• If you can’t share a meal with someone who may or not be drunk,

• Someone who may or may not be mentally ill,

• Someone who may or may not be lying to you,

• If you can’t have a conversation with someone who is smoking without making faces and waving the smoke away,

• If you can’t hear someone use the F word as a verb and an adjective and a noun and an adverb, possibly all in the same sentence, without cringing,

• If you can’t laugh at a genuinely funny crude joke, and good naturedly rebuff a truly offensive one,

• If you can’t hug someone who may or may not have Hepatitis C or AIDS,

This may not be the place for you.

(But I hope it is.)

August 22, 2015

Maybe He Should Have Done a Bible Study Instead

Rick Page was too inexperienced in student ministry to realize he was being had.

Short Stories 2After four weeks as their youth pastor, he thought that having a high school group ‘testimony time’ would give the kids more opportunity to participate and help him to get to each one better. They were sitting in a circle and the idea was to go around and share their story.

Twenty-eight kids had showed up that night, and by the seventh one, Rick was already concerned that their testimonies had turned into something more like confessionals, and for a bunch of church kids, they seemed to be more sexually active than he would have expected.

Two thirds of the way around the circle, they got to the youngest kid in the group, Danny, who everyone called D.P.; and somebody said, “Don’t let him go yet, he’ll wreck it.”

Still Rick didn’t catch on.

At that point a couple of kids in the group who had already shared said, “I forgot some things;” and then added to their story. Each seemed to be more sensational than the last, with tales of sex, recreational drug use and petty crime.

Miraculously, they got all the way around the circle, though Rick thought it a bit disrespectful when some of them giggled during a few of the final stories, and told them they shouldn’t laugh at other people’s mistakes.

And then someone said, “Okay, now it’s D.P.’s turn.”

Danny was somewhat new to the group, but had long figured out what was going on, certainly longer than Rick, who still didn’t seem to have a clue. Everyone looked at D.P. to see what he might confess.

He took a deep breath and said, “I robbed a bank once.”

At that, the entire youth group exploded into laughter, and it was a laughter that just kept going and going.

Finally, things crystallized for Rick and he started laughing, too.

When things settled down it was his turn to speak. “Well, if you guys don’t mind;” he said, “I think we’d better do something different next week.”


 

Subscribers: There’s more to this in the comments today, be sure to visit the blog.

August 18, 2015

Kickin’ Off the Fall Season at Your Church

fall ministry season

Like the school year, unless your church is glued to the liturgical calendar, the days leading into Labor Day are critical as many programs which were suspended for the summer kick back into high gear. Here are a few things for your consideration.

1. Connecting with the community: Inbound – Think of something you can do that is going to attract — yes, attractional, getting people through the doors — people from the broader community in an area within a zero-to-five miles radius of your church. (If that doesn’t get you past your parking lot, your church is too big; but make it ten miles.) A one-night program to help parents (while their children attend a mid-week mock up of what you do for kids on Sundays, if you can pull this off securely) or an all-family event such as a concert artist or a magician or a movie. Make sure it’s free; print tickets and distribute them widely (at least ten times more tickets than your auditorium can hold.) Include distribution to businesses in your catchment area, as many business owners and employees don’t live where they work, but they see your building all the time and would be open to bringing the family to something. Send press releases to the local media. Adjust this plan if your neighborhood as a high concentration of singles so your event isn’t too family oriented and it excludes them. And don’t sell it to your congregation as a great show or great concert; promote it as the best church invite opportunity they’ll have this fall. 1

2. Connecting with the community: Outbound – Find something you can do for your church’s immediate neighbors. If you have a lot of seniors, perhaps your youth group has gone door-to-door and offered to rake leaves. That’s the idea, but I’m thinking here of something more on a mega scale if you’re a mega church, and involving more than just the youth group. A community dinner in a park is another idea. One church suspended its morning service entirely so that everyone could participate in a charity walkathon. One smaller church put a Bible in every residential mailbox in the entire town; over 10,000 addresses.

3. Explain to your congregation where you’re going this year – Don’t just get up and say, “Today we’re starting a series on…” Rather, outline your entire series map for the next 12 months. We know a church that does this; giving people the big picture of planned teaching series and missions foci a year ahead. It also gives them lots of time to think of a target individual or family for the type of event described in (1) above.

4. Debrief last year – In a similar vein, don’t just jump back in without gathering people from various departments of your ministry who can sit at a board table and bring critical thinking to what it is you do. End with some brainstorming for the future. Let them know that no question or comment is off limits, no matter how insane it looks.

5. Develop the means to connect with people connected to your core members and adherents – Everyone in your church is part of a neighborhood, they work or go to school, or they have friends, or they have extended family some of whom live near your church as well. Offer the means to your people to share their faith with those contacts. For the last several decades The Alpha Program has served this purpose, as has similar programs such as H20. 2 But perhaps your greatest need and best initial contact is simply a sewing circle for moms, or a ‘hanging out’ opportunity for men who work shifts and are looking for daytime human contact.

6. Reach out to the people whose attendance is waning – Some churches have done a homecoming weekend, another popular format a few years back was called Back to Church Sunday. This works better in a small-to-medium sized church where people can strategize who is going to get in touch with whom. Sometimes this type of focus — thinking in terms of particular people instead of broad form programs — may reveal that there has been illness, or financial reversals or there is difficulty with transportation to church.

7. Find out what happened to lost adherents and members who haven’t been seen in the last one-to-five years – Obviously some have moved to other cities and states, but for the most part, these are people with whom contact has been broken but you want to reach out and let them know they are remembered and that you care. I think that one way to approach this is as a survey, one which many will cooperate with if you keep it to 90-seconds and make it clear that you’re calling because they attended the church in the past. Find out if they are going somewhere else. (You might want to ask them to name that church, because some people say they go to church, but can’t remember what it’s called.) If not, ask if they are still engaged in prayer or Bible reading. Ask what they see as the one or two key factors that keep them away from church at the present time. Invite them back to something described in one of the above sections. You might get some people slam the phone on you, but many will be glad you cared. You can offer a dedicated web-page for these people to follow up with, and perhaps communicate more in writing than they’re willing to do by phone. (Call it ‘Reuniting with Your Church Family.’ Don’t call it ‘Prodigal Page.’)

8. Create a context for ministry to happen organically – There are some good concepts here, but sometimes the Holy Spirit just needs room, or in this case, a literal room. In an era where hospitality is waning, perhaps people are reluctant to invite people to their messy house, or offer that intimacy of fellowship with people they’ve only just met. So… even if your church wouldn’t dream of serving coffee on Sunday — but especially if it does — open a room a few days a week with tables and chairs and offer free coffee, donuts and something healthy. See who comes. See what happens. People can arrange to connect at the church instead of a coffee shop, and you can have a box for donations. Make the room and chairs comfortable and have some Christian music playing in the background. If you can afford it, have a free literature rack with booklets that connect people with felt needs and issues, or explain the basics of faith. 3

Note that the focus here is people.

…Please forward the link to this article (click on the title at the top) to anyone in your sphere of influence who is a decision-maker at a local church.  Ideas4 and additions are welcomed in the comments.


1Read just the opening paragraph (above the picture) to this article.
2If you’re not familiar with Kyle Idleman and H20, read this review.
3Check out the Hope for the Heart booklets from June Hunt and Rose Publishing
4We’ve run it three times already, but if you missed it, here’s Pete Wilson’s fall priorities.

August 14, 2015

The Divorce Effect – Part One

This weekend we’re repeating an original, powerful series by Jeff Snow that first ran in August of last year. In 2014, the three parts ran as completed; this time we are running them on consecutive days.

Jeff-SnowJeff Snow has spent the last two decades working in youth and young adult ministry in southern Ontario, Canada, and he has become a friend of our family for much of that time. For his Masters thesis, he wrote on the impact of divorce on middle-school, high-school and college youth. Ever since I heard about this, I have been asking if he could summarize some of his findings for us here.

This is longer than we usually roll here, but it’s important to read every paragraph. This is actually the first of three parts, on the effects of divorce. The second will focus on the theology of the topic, and the third on practical suggestions for the church to minister to teens of divorce. We’ll interlink the parts as they appear here.

divorce effectBe sure to forward the link for today’s post to anyone involved in children’s or student ministry at your church or in your community. Feel free to leave questions in the comments section.


by Jeff Snow

A defining moment in my 16 years of youth ministry came a few years into my stint running a drop-in for unchurched teens. I was driving a number of youth home after drop-in one evening when two of them began a discussion in the back seat. They were listing off a number of their friends, maybe 15 in all, most of whom teachers at the high school would identify as “at-risk” youth. At one point, one of them exclaimed to the other, “Hey! We’re the only two who still live with both our parents!”

From that point onward I began to take more careful notice of the connection between youth who find themselves in trouble in various forms and the fact that a great majority of them do not live with both their biological parents. Those observations eventually led me to a Seminary paper on the effects of divorce on teens and an examination of what we as the Body of Christ can do to minister to these young people.

As in any other area of study, the research sometimes presents contradictory results. While almost all researchers agree that divorce is a traumatic event that has negative effects on children, particularly in the first year after the divorce, there are some researchers that maintain while some youth face ongoing lifelong effects, most youth will emerge relatively well-adjusted after going through a 2-3 year adjustment period.

Divorce LawyerThe problem I see with this assessment is two-fold. For an adult, three years is just a blip on the radar. But for a teenager, three years is half their adolescent life. A teen experiencing a divorce in junior high school will spend half of their formative teen years trying to adjust to having their world turned upside down. It is hard to believe that this will not have a long-lasting impact, at the very least in terms of missing out on the formative development they would have experienced in an intact family.

Secondly, many of these studies focus on a single factor, such as school grades or adult earning potential, as a means of measuring overall health. They also depend widely on statistical analysis and questionnaires. But surveys that rely on interviews with teens of divorce, that rely on actually listening to their stories, paint a much different, somewhat bleaker picture.

Divorce is not a benign event. Many people like to view its impact like that of a cold, which may knock you down for a short time but which you eventually get over. But the effects of divorce on teens is more like a chronic illness. It may lie dormant for a while, but it flares up at the most unexpected times. It never totally goes away. It can only be managed in order to live life to the full.

The effects of divorce on teens can often be very visible in their behaviors, yet often it is unseen. Elizabeth Marquardt wrote an eye-opening book entitled Between Two World: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce. In another article she writes, “I’ve interviewed dozens of young adults from divorced families … If you gave them a questionnaire and asked, for instance, if they had ever been arrested, dropped out of school or been diagnosed with a mental illness, practically every one of them could respond ‘no’. But that does not mean they were unaffected by their parents’ divorce.”

Divorce is a time of loss for a child...like a death

Divorce is a time of loss for a child…like a death

So, how does divorce impact teens? Most researchers describe divorce as a time of loss for young people. This goes beyond the loss of a parent. They have lost the security of their home. They have lost connection with grandparents and other extended family members. The divorce is often only the first in a long string of losses, as numerous new boyfriends and girlfriends come in and out of their parents’, and their, lives.

Teens lose something as basic as their own room. They end up having to divide their lives in two, splitting their possessions between their parents’ two houses. In the case of step families, teens will end up having to share personal space with step siblings. I still remember a grade eight girl telling me of the difficulty she was experiencing as her mom’s new boyfriend’s family moved in, and she was forced to share her room with someone who was supposed to be a sibling, but who was to her a complete stranger.

Teens experience the effects of what is called “diminished parenting.” As parents deal with their own trauma and grief resulting from the divorce, they have less time and emotional energy to help their children through their grief. As time passes, parents become engrossed in moving on with their lives, and the needs of teens are unconsciously put aside as the parent looks for a new partner. This neglect is almost always unintentional, but the results are the same. The teen does not receive what she needs from the parent, and in fact, at times care-giving goes in the opposite direction as the teen, particularly the teen girl, takes on the role of a support to the parent whose life is falling apart.

Caught in the Middle - DivorceAs the two parents’ worlds begin to move apart, the teen is stuck in the middle, trying to navigate the chasm on their own. They are often faced with divided loyalties, as pressure is put on them by parents to take sides or to report back after custodial visits. They are faced with inconsistent parenting, as each household develops different rules for living. This even impacts teens as they work to develop their own morals and values. In an intact family, the two parents work together to present a united front of morals and values that they present to their children as the way their family is to live. But in families of divorce, the parent’s value systems will invariably start to differ with each passing year, and the adolescent is left to forge their own morals and value systems on their own, at an age where they are not yet able to successfully accomplish this task.

Diminished parenting shows itself in the lack of protection afforded, particularly to teen girls by the non-custodial father. Without a father figure, with less accountability and with decreased monitoring of activities, studies show that girls from families of divorce engage in sexual activity earlier, more often, and often with men older than they are.

Though teens of divorce will achieve grades in school that are close to those from intact families, the issue is in getting them to school and getting them to stay there. Teens of divorce are late for school more often, will skip class more, and get suspended or expelled more than teens from intact families. Teen of divorce are 30% less likely to complete college, as non-custodial parents generally feel that their financial responsibility is over once the child reaches 18, and will rarely provide the funds for college.

Family ConflictSome statistics from the website Rainbows, which is a curriculum for divorce support groups, state that 50-80% of patients treated in Canadian mental health clinics are from separated families, and that teenagers of divorce are three times more likely to be in psychological counseling than those in intact families.

For those of us in the church, it is interesting to see how divorce affects a teen’s spiritual life. Generally, interest in the church and religion will diminish, but interest in spiritual things, even in prayer, will not. One author posits the theory that the increase in divorce may be behind the contention of many under the age of 35 that they are “spiritual but not religious.”

Teens who are heavily involved in church activities will experience a retreat from spiritual things. They will wonder why their prayers were not answered, and why parents who said they loved God and believed in Him would then give up on a marriage which was supposed to be sacred. Teens who are nominally involved in church, however, will go the other way and will turn more towards the church as a coping mechanism.

Broken HomeTeens from families of divorce are more likely to be kicked out of the house, more likely to report not feeling emotionally or physically safe at home, more likely to be abused. Anywhere from one third to one half of girls from families of divorce report being sexually abused as children or teens, most often by stepfathers or stepbrothers. Two leading researchers conclude that living with a stepparent remains the most powerful predictor of severe child abuse.

Though there are many effects of divorce, the one most people will refer to first is economic, and while this must not overshadow the devastating effects that are more hidden, economic factors still cannot be ignored. Families of divorce will experience a decline in income of as much as 50% as compared to their pre-divorce lives.

Though as we said, some researchers see divorce as a temporary setback for young people, Judith Wallerstein, from her 25 years of study, has put forth the idea of “the sleeper effect” of divorce. She maintains that many teens of divorce will emerge from adolescence relatively unscathed, only to have the trauma of the divorce hit them when they reach young adulthood when they begin to seek out their own romantic attachments and consider marriage. Without role models, many teens of divorce find it harder to maintain long-term relationships, and are 2-3 times more likely to get divorced themselves.

Elizabeth Marquardt uses the phrase “happy talk” to describe how most of society talks about divorce and its effects on children and teens. We convince ourselves that teens are resilient and that we don’t really have to worry about them. Marquardt suggests that we do that in order to defend our own adult decisions. In view of the pain that I have seen both in youth ministry practice and in my research, this has to stop. There was a time when adults sacrificed for the sake of the children, not the other way around.

We as adults in the church need to have the courage to dismiss the temptation toward “happy talk.” We in fact need to stop talking and start really listening to the pain and hurt that teens of divorce would be willing to share with us if we only gave them the chance, and to find ways to support them as they attempt to navigate their way through life “between two worlds.”

to be continued…

July 9, 2015

What the Modern Megachurch has in Common with A Prairie Home Companion

MegachurchThough the conversation was nearly fifteen years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. We were talking about a new megachurch that was experiencing meteoric growth, and the pastor said, “That church is a house of cards. As soon as ________ leaves, the whole thing collapses.”

This is something I’ve heard expressed before in other contexts. And it came to light again this week as Christianity Today considered the multi-site church model. Mega and Multi are often seen together holding hands.*

But first, a diversion, as one pastor defines the phenomenon:

Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church in Washington, D.C., summed up this concern in a 2011 blog post for the Gospel Coalition titled, “Multisite Churches Are from the Devil.”

“Try as one might,” he wrote, “I can’t escape the conclusion that those who take the multisite option are effectively saying, ‘My preacher is better than your preacher, so we’re gonna brand him and export him to a theater near you.’ That’s crass, I know. But that’s really the bottom line.”

Okay. Back to our discussion. This is the quote from the piece I really wanted to highlight:

…Given Mars Hill’s highly visible collapse, questions remain about the long-term viability of multisite churches.

Chuck North, an economics professor at Baylor University, said the fall of Mars Hill mimicked what happens with successful startup businesses and their founders…

One of the big challenges for such businesses is succession planning. Who will take over when the founding or longtime CEO leaves? Likewise, “the pastor is the face of that church,” he said. “How do you get a successor who is going to fill that role?”

That would resonate with the aforementioned pastor with whom I had my discussion. We tend to use terminology like, “Bill Hybel’s church;” and “Rick Warren’s church;” and “Kyle Idleman’s church;” and “Pete Wilson’s church;” losing the bearings of the people listening to us if we reference Willow, Saddleback, Southeast or Cross Point. Right now, if someone says to me, “Ed Young’s church,” I can’t name it.

GarrisonKeillorWhich got me thinking of A Prairie Home Companion, the long-running Saturday night radio show that started back in the days when they had to hand-deliver radio shows to each house by truck.

Last week it was announced that iconic show runner and host Garrison Keillor would step down to be replaced by Chris Thile (pronounced THEE-lee) who guest hosted earlier this year. Not everyone is thrilled.

For many, the show is G.K., and they can’t imagine it without him. Others are excited.

In church life, we do tend to associate the pastor as being the brand. It’s hard to imagine certain churches without the key man — in business, you can take out insurance against such losses, called key man insurance — but life goes on at Mars Hill Bible Church without Rob Bell, at Cornerstone without Francis Chan, and was, until recently going fine at Coral Ridge Presbyterian without James Kennedy.

The CT article hinges largely on the situation at Mars Hill Seattle, post-Mark Driscoll. That one fulfilled my pastor friend’s prophecy, and whether or not you want to call it a house of cards, it definitely collapsed.

How can churches mitigate against that happening? How do they prevent the church from being personality-driven?

The A Prairie Home Companion situation is made easier by Keillor’s retirement. He will transition out slowly he says, returning to do key characters and narratives. In church life we don’t always have that luxury, if the pastor feels called to another location. Flying and back and forth to your old church is generally frowned upon. The ties usually become severed, and the congregation looks forward, not back. It’s often ten years later that the former pastor is freer to return for a special anniversary or similar event.

Small groups also make a huge different. If you are closely knit to the people in your home church group, what’s happening at the weekend services is of diminished importance. At Canada’s The Meeting House, teaching pastor Bruxy Cavey tells his people, “If you have to make a choice this week between Sunday and home church, attend your home church.”

Serving also helps. People who work on music, tech, greeting, parking, children’s, youth or counseling teams are invested long-term; they have a commitment that goes beyond who is preaching the sermon.

Finally, I suppose much has to do with viable alternatives. Sometimes it’s hard for people who have been friends of Mega and Multi to feel comfortable again in the closer surroundings of a 250-seat or 500-member fellowship. Without strong ties, it may be easier to drift through a time of pastor transition, but even the largest cities can only support so many mega-churches.

Personally, I think the Saturday night NPR radio show will survive the transition, and as for Thile as host, I’m going to trust Keillor’s judgement. In church life, outgoing pastors generally don’t name their successors, but it would be ideal if they could put their rubber stamp on whoever is ultimately selected.


 

*As a writer, I really liked that sentence; but in the interest of full disclosure, not all satellite (or shall we say secondary) campuses attract huge crowds. While North Point (Andy Stanley’s church) tends not to start a new campus without critical mass, the branch of Harvest Bible Chapel (James MacDonald’s church) we attended in Elgin, IL in 2009 was in development at the time; we worshiped with a crowd I would estimate at around 200 max; though that location has grown considerably since we were there. Some of The Meeting House’s locations are still running under 100 according to some reports, and I am told that LifeChurch.tv (Craig Groeshel’s church) a leader in multi-site, has often had softer launches in order to serve a particular geographic area sooner than later.

May 1, 2015

Connecting People and Resources

I’ve written before about the common thread in all the different ministry ventures I’ve worked with. With radio, I got to introduce people to new songs and new artists. With worship leading, I got to connect people to vehicles that could be part of their personal expression of praise to God. As a book and music reviewer, the motivation was more obvious. As a blogger, I get to share information about other voices online. As a link list curator for Leadership Journal, I was able, by the news and opinion pieces I noted, to be influential in the lives of Christian leaders.

radio-towerI guess I like facilitating a whole load of networking.

But let’s return to radio for a minute. If I were to return to it — and I did look into various avenues — I would no longer get to choose the songs being played unless I brokered the airtime and picked the playlist myself. Radio stations either use consultants or have their own formula for choosing what goes into the rotation. Even the morning show guys, when they’re done with their banter, simply play the next song on the list.

You could solve this, I suppose by being the consultant or music director, but there are only so many openings, and even in small-to-medium markets, it’s often just one guy who controls a number of regional stations.

With worship leading, similar formulas apply. There’s often a tacit understanding that if a new song was introduced by last week’s team, you’re expected to continue with that song over the next three weeks. In demographically wide churches, you draw from different sources representing different ages and tastes to create an eclectic music set.

Music reviews largely don’t exist. Unless you write for Relevant Magazine, you’re about 500 times more likely to receive books in the mail to review than a CD. (We’ve reviewed several here, but it’s the exception, not the rule.) Bloggers tend not to be excited about specific books as they were five years ago; as Christian publishing faces challenges there are fewer and fewer new writers stepping onto the scene; and there appears not to be the push by publishers to utilize social media.

With my role at PARSE now ended, I look for new ways to share the passion of sharing. The one role that never ends is my two days a week at the Christian bookstore. There, I still have some influence, though there is always the suspicion on the part of some that I’m wearing my shopkeeper hat, and not my role as friend, counselor, or helper. Where ministry and retail converge, it’s not always an ideal fit.

My observation there is always the same: The greatest connector for people and products is the local church pastor, but for that to work, the pastors first need to know about the book in question, and most don’t have the interest, the time, or both.

But trust me, from YouTube to the Christian blogosphere to the world of Christian music and publishing, there are a ton of resources out there.

Finding and utilize them will enrich your life, and the lives of family members, extended family, neighbors, co-workers and others in your circle.

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