Thinking Out Loud

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.

March 12, 2015

Engineering Ministries International: Recent Haiti Project

I mentioned a month ago that I would return to more about Engineering Ministries International. Even if a family member wasn’t intimately involved, I think if I had seen a presentation about their work I would be instantly hooked. Their work is so vital and their cooperation with other ministry organizations is so commendable.

eMi logoIf you know someone who is:

  • an engineer
  • an architect
  • a surveyor

you should get them to do some research on this organization with an eye toward possibly taking a vacation week and serving with this ministry on one of their design trips.

You can read my earlier article about EMI by clicking this link. There’s also a shorter article I posted while the team was on the ground.

In the meantime, today I want you to enjoy a video of the trip that our son Chris was on in Haiti. His team is now in Calgary continuing to do the final design work for the client organization, the Welcome Home Children’s Center. EMI has offices in Colorado, Calgary and Oxford, England and donations make it possible for them to do architectural and engineering designs for client charities at 90% off market rates.

March 10, 2015

Echoes of a Life that Might have Been

Filed under: Church, ministry — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:03 am

img 031015

Take your Bibles and turn with me to…

In my last year of high school my parents arranged for me to have a tour of what was then called Ontario Bible College. Most of my friends were heading toward the University of Toronto; the hometown school offered the cheaper alternative of continuing to live at home. But I took the tour.

Classrooms are classrooms, libraries are libraries and cafeterias are cafeterias. I had no criteria by which to appreciate or not appreciate any of these. And then we got to the gym.

“All first year students,” the guide said, “are required to take Phys. Ed.”

And at that, we were done.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke…

I had not taken Phys. Ed. since my freshman year of high school and I barely passed. In fact, in my middle school, which ran on a trimester system, I actually failed a term of gym. I was terrible at basketball and volleyball, had no endurance for track, and while I could swim a lap or two I couldn’t dive, and still can’t.

Sadly, the required course was all it took for me to reject the school outright. After three years without having to face my lack of skill, coordination and strength, I was not about to be put back into that position of humiliation.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15…

Years after graduation, I worked on senior staff of a Christian summer camp where a large number of the counselors and instructors were students or former students at the seminary associated with Ontario Bible College. Seminary = graduate school = no gym requirement. Another tour. Another chance to catch the bus that was heading toward opportunities for church ministry.

But again, the bus left without me. I wasn’t enthusiastic about going back to school, and was already doing work for a number of Christian parachurch organizations.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable…

After getting married we attended a church in the Plymouth Brethren tradition, a church where the laity (well, the men anyway) are expected to share in the teaching ministry of the Sunday services. I had already done a couple of midweek Bible studies, and I am sure that they had me on a draft list.

But I was immersed in parachurch ministry at that point. I was being offered a wonderful opportunity to plug into the life of a local church, but I tended to want to limit my contribution to things music-related. Eventually, we moved to a city where there was no such church, something I often regret.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable of the prodigal…

We later ended up in a Christian and Missionary Alliance church which was between pastors. I got to speak about 15 times on Sunday morning and about 4 times on Sunday night. Some of those messages were great, the outlines would still stand up today, and some of them were terrible.

I always figured more opportunities like this would arise, and off-and-on, they did, in everything from a Pentecostal (Canadian equivalent to Assemblies of God) church to a Christian Reformed Church, both of whom normally have restrictions on who gets to be in the pulpit on a Sunday morning. I did some regular supply work for a United Church in Toronto as well.

But of late the opportunities have diminished.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable of the prodigal son…

Every once in awhile I find myself lying in bed and suddenly there is this voice; it’s my voice and I am hearing myself speaking and it makes me sad. It’s frustrating to have a gift, to know you have a gift, and not have anywhere to employ it.

It’s like I’m hearing echoes of another life that might have been, another set of options that I could have chosen, a consequence of opportunities on which I chose to pass.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable of the prodigal son, his older brother, and his loving father…

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January 15, 2015

Missions Models: Paying the Staff

Ministry Salaries Deputation SupportWe continue where we left off on Monday and Tuesday with more of our missions theme. Today we want to look at how the actual mission workers — as well as people working for Christian parachurch organizations — get paid.

Salary – Several lifetimes ago I was hired by the publishing division of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). I was the warehouse manager for the Canadian operation, and to the best of my knowledge this was the only time in my life I was ever covered by a dental plan, though being young and carefree I never used it. They were probably the best organization I ever worked for full-time. I was also hired for three years by our local Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, and again, it was a fixed dollar amount, though I was basically subcontracted to them which meant not technically on their payroll. I also worked briefly for the Canadian Bible Society and again, the job included a guranteed pay rate, as did all the jobs in their head office.

Raising Support – Several times in my life I’ve been offered an opportunity to work with the too-often repeated phrase, “but you need to raise your own support.”  Sigh! Do they want me, my gifts and abilities, or simply to exploit my network? Some of these Christian organizations actually don’t have a cap on the number of people they will hire; if you have the support raised, you’re welcome to come on board. (The organization takes 10 to 20% off the top for ‘administration.’)

Base Salary + Donations – This one is a combination of the two above, and the place I’ve seen it practiced most often is with students working at Christian summer camps. They are promised a very conservative rate of pay which includes meals and housing, but can then do fundraising over and above that in order to increase their bi-weekly pay. Sometimes the donors remain on the camp’s mailing list long after the kids have left and the last canoe has been stored away, which can be a bit of a windfall for the camp long-term.

Deputation – This is a word used largely in the Evangelical community to describe the relationship missionaries have with the local churches that support them. It usually means that when they are home on “furlough” instead of having a season of sabbath rest, they spend their weekends driving around to visit those churches, hand out prayer cards, set up a table in the lobby with artifacts and possibly even preach the Sunday morning sermon. This guarantees that they will be kept on the missions budget for the following year. 

Bi-Vocational – We usually hear this term used in conjunction with pastoral ministry, as it’s a growing model. But anyone serving part-time in ministry and part-time with a ‘secular’ job qualifies. There are really two meanings to bi-vocational; sometimes it means two part-time jobs, but other times it may mean the ministry job doesn’t really pay at all. Despite this, the ministry job may actually have demands that leave the individual ‘on call’ 24/7. There’s a saying that, “When they have you part-time, they have you full-time.” You’re expected to be available at all hours.

You Pay Us – In many cases, the person working for the organization actually pays for the privilege of doing so. In the case of an organization like YWAM, its entry program, known as Discipleship Training School is really an educational opportunity, not anything resembling actual employment. Participants can do fundraising to cover the costs, or if they’re coming out of the business world, or a students who took a year off to raise funds to take any of YWAM’s schools, they might just show up on day one with their checkbook and pay it that way. However, in other organizations (i.e. not YWAM) the line between education and training and the need for people to actually work on the organization’s behalf is rather blurred. If you’re paying to sweep floors or do dishes, and that is the majority of your responsibility, then you have the worst of both worlds: It’s not a job, and you’re not learning anything.

Are there some I’ve missed? Probably. One faith ministry I worked for frequently gathered the staff together and announced that the payroll would be late that week. I was a single guy, but there were people working for them that were the sole earners in their family, with dependent children. That’s why I’m sure this story is incomplete; there are all manner of variations out there because, after all, “It’s the Lord’s work.”

December 12, 2014

We Don’t Want You to Serve, We Want You to Join In

Filed under: ministry — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:49 am

This first appeared six years ago here at Thinking Out Loud and has been edited and updated…

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Several decades ago, I was hired by a Christian sports resort, a prestigious residential facility two hours north of Toronto, Canada offering one-week programs to the children of the well-heeled. Not coming from a ‘camping’ background, I suppose that I brought a different skill set in my toolbox, and was told that I was a helpful person to have around.

Later, I learned that this meant I was able to bring strong leadership skills, especially the ‘upfront’ abilities needed to chair a meeting or an event, or facilitate a discussion group. Basically, I could get up in front of a group of people and talk and engage their interest.  In later years, I learned that having ‘profile’ really feeds the ego — and prevents others from having a turn — and that a better place of service might be at the back of the room instead of the front, or perhaps behind the scenes altogether. I am now comfortable serving in either capacity.

However, more recently, I’ve been aware of situations where neither gift of service — profile, or behind-the-scenes — is called for. Case in point: Each year, people in our town organize to present an annual Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day. This event is put on for the sake of people who can’t afford a fancy Christmas dinner, or simply don’t want to be alone on the 25th. At this event, no one is ’serving’ anyone else. True, there is a core team of volunteers; but they sit together with everyone else; there’s no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ There’s no ‘doing for,’ it’s about ‘doing with.’The plates are on the table as they would be at a family Christmas dinner, and everyone at the table is equal. It’s about being among.

Clearly, a different mentality is needed if a thing like this is going to be effective. The problem is that so many — okay, I’ll say it: so many of us – have been ‘bred’ for either upfront profile service or even behind the scenes service, that it can be difficult to fit into a new ministry paradigm.

Or is it? I think that anyone, if they take about thirty seconds to think about it, can buy into a different way of thinking. And years later, I did actually buy-in. The ministry my wife pioneered to people living in a dilapidated motel centers around a weekly dinner. For the first 2-3 weeks, I would eat at home first, and then show up to help serving. But my wife didn’t need people to ‘help serving’ and the people there didn’t need ‘help’ to scoop up a slice of roast beef and mashed potatoes. They needed people who wanted to be their friends.

The problem is, being behind the scenes or being up on a platform or stage is really, really safe. Especially if it’s a ministry to the poor. You don’t have to share serving utensils; you don’t have to breathe the air if someone has a bad cough. Sadly, it’s those safe ministry roles that people are still being trained for and still being ‘bred’ for; and those in leadership are still taught to keep a buffer zone, or safe distance, between leaders and parishioners. That ministry paradigm is just not always applicable or helpful.

 

 

Update: As time passed, it was necessary to have some servers roaming around between tables. Eventually, this group grew too large; people wanted or needed to be there, but perhaps didn’t want to admit this, so they rationalized their service as a ministry opportunity and perhaps missed an opportunity to be ministered to. Nonetheless, the event has grown to the point where this year, it is being split into two dinners in two locations.  A lot of people are lonely on Christmas Day… What can you do in your city or town or small corner of the world to make a difference?

November 1, 2014

End of the Line for Mars Hill

The headline at Christianity Today said it all:

Mars Hill LocationsHere’s reaction from people you know, along with random comments from people you don’t on blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that were posted in the hours immediately following the announcement:

Zach Hoag: In my opinion, this was the only right decision for a church organization with such a troubled history. It will allow for a truly new start, free from the arrogant defense of the old institution, and for the deep healing process to commence. 

Stephan Deliramich: This is crazy and sad. I appreciate Driscoll and have mixed feelings about his resignation, however this is such a lesson to all of us. A church cannot be built around one person unless that person is Jesus.

Warren Throckmorton: If anything has become clear over the last year, it is that the church was all about buildings and organization.

Rachel Held Evans: My heart breaks for those brothers and sisters from Seattle feeling wounded, exhausted, and disillusioned by the unraveling of their church. Even unhealthy churches have faithful, godly people working in them. I hope everyone will take the time they need to heal after this, and that the relationships that were truly life-giving will be preserved. Unfortunately, churches built around a pastor tend to rise and fall with that pastor. I hope the entire evangelical community will learn from this and re-prioritize accountability, character, respect for women and the marginalized, and I sincerely hope Mark Driscoll finds the help he needs…

Christopher Preston: Sad… But not so surprising… The pitfalls of building a church on personality rather than Christ?

Jim West: This is the major theological problem with megachurches: they have no idea what missionary minded churches are.  They do not distribute, they collect.  Rather than planting churches in various locations, they collect people like property and then boast of their multiple campuses and tens of thousands of members.  If megachurches understood Christianity they would plant churches and not establish satellites.  But whenever wealth comes the way of the greedy and controlling, it is only natural that they try to get as much of it as they can.  That is why Mars Hill has died: greed killed it. 

John Paul Ortiz: I’m actually sad to hear of Mars Hill’s demise. For all the people who now have to go church hopping, people now unemployed, hurt. etc.

Jacey Davidson: The mega-church/multi-site model is unsustainable as is it built upon certain gifted individuals that can’t help but assume inappropriate amounts of power and influence. God’s church is all about decentralization. The priesthood of all believers is a critical reformation doctrine. Multi-site is a relatively new invention of man and doesn’t seem to fit the biblical model of church government. It is pseudo-Presbyterian but lacks the proper accountability channels. 

Multisite Church SaleMatthew Wagner: Pray for Mars Hill and the 14000 Christians that called it home. Sad to see the church closing its doors. 

Spiritual Sounding Board: I’ve seen discussion [about] new “Mars Hill” churches. If these pastors failed to stand up to Driscoll and say he was unfit, they are unfit to lead. 

Drew Fanning: [referencing CT headline above] Describing a church as a human’s possession and using words like “empire” will have a terrible impact on Mars Hill’s congregation. We as christian contributors to social media, news, and even culture have to be so careful how we use any terminology. And more so than worry about the buildings Mars Hill owned, we should be worrying about the people that filled them.

Wenatchee The Hatchet:  In ten years Mark Driscoll managed to become pretty much everything he preached against from the pulpit circa 2000-2004.  How and why this happened may be explored and unpacked later on.  Whether the individual churches that have been constituents of Mars Hill can survive remains to be seen.  A number of them may and we’ll just have to see.  

Brian Shepard: Sucks hearing that Mars Hill Church is officially done.. but will be praying that from this ending, this moment also marks a new beginning. 

Bill Kinnon: If you need to shut it down mere weeks after the “founder” quits, was it ever really a church at all?

John Piper: Mars Hill Church will cease to be a single multisite church. May each congregation flourish in Christ!  

Click the image at the top of the article to read the details at Christianity Today.

 

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