Sunday, 30 November 2008

Why Sat Nav is better than a Wife

I don’t have a SatNav device. Even though I’m useless with directions I’m still too tight to invest in one. I feel it’s an affront to my masculinity to seek out this information. Even when I do ask for help, I may be nodding in agreement & look like I’m listening, but inside my head the monkey is banging drums & doing the Cha-Cha slide. I guess that’s why I end up lost so often.

To me SatNav seems infinitely greater than following your wife’s directions as she co-pilots towards the destination. For starters SatNav has a soothing, gentle voice when offering instructions. Secondly, when you ignore its advice, SatNav never huffs & says “fine well, find your own way.” Thirdly, when I get lost SatNav never calls me an idiot, but simply recalculates the direction in which I should be heading.

As in driving so in faith.

God often speaks to me with His soothing, gentle whisper offering instruction as to how best to experience life. Sometimes I listen, but all too often I think that I may know better than my omniscient Creator.

On such occasions I find myself lost in the wilderness or stuck in a dirt track. As I switch the radar back on I’ve often expected a huffing, “I told you so” response, and even though I would deserve that rebuke, my Heavenly Father fails to deliver. Instead I’ve found the same gentle voice re-calculating my path from where I am & guiding me on the way.

If you’ve been travelling with the SatNav turned off recently & are feeling pretty lost & scared to approach the Holy One for fear of rebuke, then listen to these words…

“Don’t be afraid, don’t despair. Your God is present among you, a strong Warrior there to save you. Happy to have you back, He’ll calm you with His love & delight you with His songs.” Zephaniah Ch. 3

Come home lost child. Turn on the SatNav, open the Word & listen for the loving, guiding voice of your Creator. It is His great delight when you come to Him.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The Shack

The Shack has become a publishing phenomenon, a bestseller by a first-time author that has rocketed up the sales charts with rumors of an impending movie. That’s not bad for a book that was self-published by the author, William P. Young, and started out being sold out of a garage.The glowing reviews for The Shack hail it as everything from the new Pilgrim’s Progress (theologian Eugene Peterson) to "one of the rare fiction books that could change your life."

The story begins with Mackenzie "Mack" Phillips, a father suffering great pain because of the death of his young daughter at the hands of a serial killer. Mack receives a note from "Papa" to meet him at the rundown shack in the woods where police had found evidence of his daughter’s murder six years earlier. Mack, who was raised by a hypocritical, vicious and abusive father (who was also a pastor) already understands from previous experience that "Papa" is God.

Mack approaches the shack with rising anger, wanting to lash out at God for allowing his young girl to be killed. Instead of the expected old man with a long white beard, he's suddenly embraced by "a large beaming African-American woman" who introduces herself as Papa.
Mack is then introduced to the rest of the Trinity: Jesus, a Middle Eastern man dressed as a laborer, and the Holy Spirit, a woman of Chinese ethnicity named Sarayu. The rest of the story is a conversation among the three members of the Trinity and Mack as they work through issues of creation, fall and redemption.
So what did I think about it?
It made me think. At times I found it a little cheesy (dare I say American?), but it poked, prodded & provoked me. Young's intentions are good: he wants to introduce readers to a loving God who was willing to sacrifice his own Son to save us from our sins.

However, I wonder if he does this at the expense of revealing God’s holiness & role as the final Judge. It’s difficult to hold all these views of God together, but at times I got the feeling that God was presented as a loving, indulgent parent who never judges sin.

For example, Papa tells Mack, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.”

Also, whilst I welcome anything that challenges our “Gandalf-God stereotype” (white beard, long hair); I felt extremely uncomfortable with the anthropomorphism (attributing human qualities) of God the Father. I’m currently trying to explore this feeling. Perhaps it’s because God is Spirit, perhaps it’s because God never reveals Himself as a female in Scripture; either way it made me uneasy.

The Shack wants to make God accessible to a hurting world and I value how Young exposes different human fears & establishes that all fear is rooted in distrust of God. I’d encourage you to read the book with an open mind… But not so open that your brains fall out.

It is a book that promotes thought & discussion on the sacred so I’d suggest reading it with a friend & exploring your findings together (there’s even a Shack web page to help this process).

However, let’s remember that it isn’t God’s spoken Word – it is a novel. If we lose track of this, we’re in great peril.
If anything in it doesn’t agree with Scripture - bin it
If anything in helps connect you with the God revealed in Scripture – celebrate it.
And I’d love to hear your thoughts/reviews of it. Please post below.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Friday, 21 November 2008

Top Ten Tips for Youth Leaders

Tip 10: If all else fails remember this…

Never play leapfrog with a unicorn.

God bless you in your ministry. Never give up, never let up, God is at work through you.

Top Ten Tips for Youth Leaders

Tip 9: Old dogs can learn new tricks

One of my pet hates in youth work is that everyone thinks they are an expert. I understand this feeling. When I started in full time youth ministry I knew how to save the world & bring a generation to Christ. 60 months later life is greyer, youth culture is changing more rapidly than Newcastle United’s management & I often find myself with little idea of what I’m doing.

I need training. Not just that training event that I went on in 1991; I need regular training to keep on the ball.

Some benefits of training in youth ministry…
It provides an intentional space to reflect on what you are doing & dream about what you could be doing.
For education about current youth culture & ministry issues.
Developing new practical skills.
Meeting with others experiencing the same frustrations & joys.

Amongst other things, recent training events have helped me to develop communication skills, deepen my understanding of the changing nature of adolescence & realise that our church is not alone in its struggles to minister to teenagers.

It is sheer arrogance and downright stupidity to assume that you don’t need training. Experienced leaders value training & reflection; the best are hungry to learn & grow. Yes I appreciate that it’s not always easy to find the time, but let’s start valuing the importance of training lest we walk blindly into a wall.

So why not commit to going to a training event this year? Meet a youth worker for chat – supply coffee & there’s no stopping them. Get your team together to think, pray & dream. Read a book on youth ministry (anything by Duffy Robbins, Chap Clark or Marv Penner is useful).

If you’re fresh to this game make regular training part of your ministry & you are committing to a lifetime of excellence; if you’re older, go learn a new trick; if you’re involved in training – I salute you!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Top Ten Tips for Youth Leaders

Tip 8: Become a thief

I am not very creative. I am not a 100-ideas-per-day youth worker; in fact I startle myself if I have one creative idea per month. However, I confess to being an expert “thief.” I see your good idea, I think it’ll work in my context, I steal & adapt it for my purposes (incidentally, I stole most of this top tips series from a youth worker colleague, although I did ask permission… cheers, Graeme).

Perhaps this is an inappropriate use of Scripture, but these words resonate with me, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look, there is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.” Ecclesiastes 1:9-10

Some people are very possessive of good ideas. My response is to boo you & encourage you to get it copyrighted – then I will be willing to pay money to steal your ideas.

Can I encourage you to purchase & pinch ideas from a very helpful resource of recent years, “The Fabulous Reinvention of Sunday School” by Aaron Reynolds. Written for children’s leaders, but ideas that are very transferable to a youth ministry context. Go buy… read… steal… adapt.

Be brave and try something new today. And if you find anything in this blog remotely helpful… take it, nick it, own it, and use it.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Top Ten Tips for Youth Leaders

Tip 7: The Ronseal Principle

You know your purpose. You know where you fit into the overall picture. Now it’s time to step back & practice the Ronseal Principle.

Does it do what it says on the tin? Are you fulfilling the purpose for which your organisation exists?

I hate the dentist. Not him personally, but I hate going to visit him for several reasons.
(1) I’m a big Jesse & loathe the scraping of my teeth with a chisel;
(2) I don’t like paying lots of money to people who cause me pain;
(3) It annoys me when I’m asked questions while my mouth is wedged open with a kitchen plug & a vacuum cleaner.

However, I realise that I had better visit him soon. I am motivated by the pain of my emerging wisdom teeth. All is not well & I need him to evaluate my mouth & fix me.

We’re a bit like that in the church. We wait until something goes wrong, until we feel the pain, before we evaluate. In the busyness of the “do do do” we rarely step back & consider how it is going. And if you don’t do regular youth ministry check ups; you will probably cause a lot of pain – to yourself and to teenagers.

Some starter questions to get you going… “Are we reaching our target audience”; “Have we met our specific intended outcomes?”; “Are leaders fulfilling their responsibilities for this programme?”

Does your ministry do what it says on the tin? If not, don’t be afraid to investigate the reasons why?

Monday, 17 November 2008

Top Ten Tips for Youth Leaders

Tip 6: See the bigger picture

Fresh from putting into practice Tip 5, you’ve clarified in your head what the point of your organisation or role is in the discipleship of teenagers. So now it’s time for some joined up thinking. Open your eyes to the bigger picture; to the purpose of your youth ministry as a whole & your church.

Questions you need to consider at this stage are… “What other organisations or people within our church/community work with teenagers?” “What are they doing? What’s their purpose?” “Are we doing the same thing or offering something unique?”

Jesus bids us shine” is an annoying little song with a crappy tune that I had to endure as a child. One refrain in particular is annoying, “you in your small corner & I in mine.” This sort of nonsense is preached & practised all too often in the church.

Let’s get over this quick, before more teenagers get disgruntled with religiosity.

“What is your Youth Fellowship, CE, Bible Class, Scout Group, Guides, BB, GB, Small Groups, Youth Club doing to minister to & disciple youth?” “Are we working together in our purpose or ‘competing’ for the same teenagers so that they are out 5 nights a week?” “Do we think that ‘our’ organisation is the only important one in youth work?”

Get your whole team together & make a joined up purpose statement*** to make sense of your programmes, utilize your volunteers more effectively, ensure all leaders are singing from the same song sheet & provide direction for young people’s spiritual development.

Let’s get our little candles out of our small corners and start burning a blazing fire in the centre of the room. You never know we may actually find some young people coming to warm their hands there.

*** Here is our purpose statement by way of example, “SRPC Youth & Children’s ministry exists to connect God & young people by encouraging them to love Him and become more like Jesus. We seek to incorporate them into the church family, to equip them & help them explore their gifts.”

Friday, 14 November 2008

Top Ten Tips for Youth Leaders

Tip 5: Ask, “what’s the point?”

Everything we ever do is motivated by a reason – some of these things are conscious, although many are unconscious.

For example, I have just visited the little boy’s room. This is because I thought to myself, “goodness, my peanut sized bladder feels very full from over-indulgence in coffee; I had better empty it for the fifteenth time today.”
This was a conscious decision.

However, last night I stupidly placed my hand on an oven ring. Instead of consciously thinking, “hey, I’d better remove my hand from this cooker as it appears that smoke is rising from my fingers”, I quickly whipped them away & placed them under a cold tap. An unconscious decision.

Both processes are important.

However, as a church we often forget, ignore or have been trained not to practice the former – conscious thinking. We run around at 400mph, trying to get everything done (“the way it’s always been done”) & rarely sit back long enough to ask, “Why am I doing this? Why is this organisation run this way? What is the point of this meeting? Why I am meeting with this person?”

My advice today is simple, verging on the patronising. Take some scheduled thinking time. Be intentional. Ask what is the reason behind your ministry? Why am I having this meeting? What is the purpose of our organisation? Why do we do what we do, in this way?

But don’t assess whether it’s meeting that purpose just yet, that’s coming up later!!!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Top Ten Tips for Youth Leaders

Tip 4: Relationship is Central

Take 20seconds and think about the person who most positively impacted you as a teenager.

(Stop cheating… stop reading & think)

Was it the music teacher who gave you confidence in your ability for the first time? A sports coach who encouraged you to keep going when you felt like giving up? A parent who didn’t send you to a borstal, despite your behaviour? Was it the person who actually wanted an honest answer when they asked “how are you?”

I’d be willing to bet that the person who helped change your life had a good relationship with you. I mean when did we ever value the opinion of someone we didn’t respect or who didn’t take the time to truly know us?

In youth ministry we want young people to have a life-changing relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We want leaders to have solid relationships with one another, with young people, and with young people’s parents. We want young people to have accountable relationships with their peers and their parents. We want the wider church body to have a positive relationship with the youth ministry.

Every meeting with a young person is an opportunity. To inspire them… to build their confidence… to make them laugh… to listen purposefully… to point them towards God’s ways.

So let me offer some suggestions for how we might build relationships with teenagers (stolen & adapted from “Purpose Driven Youth Ministry” by Doug Fields).

R is for “Relational Approach” – have a serious conversation with a teenager at least once a month.
E is for “Encouragement” – praise good questions, answers, sincere sharing & their involvement.
L is for “Laughter” – pursue humour, smile (even when they goof it up); don’t let your church group feel like a funeral.
A is for “Acceptance” – of everyone, but especially the unpopular, the geeky & the hurting.
T is for “Transparency” – don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t have all the answers & that life confuses you sometimes too.
I is for “Involvement” – young people should do 90% of talking; which means you should do 90% of the listening.
O is for “Outreach” – pray for nonbelievers & constantly talk about friendship evangelism.
N is for “Numerical Growth” – would new people feel welcome in your group? If your group isn’t growing in numbers, be brave & ask “why not”?
S is for “Spiritual Growth” – talk about faith, not just football, shopping & X-Factor.
H is for “Home-like” – when you haven’t seen a young person in a while say “Welcome back” not “Where you have been?”
I is for “Integrity” – try to be consistent with young people.
P is for “Professional” – be aware of parents’ perceptions.
S is for “Strategic” – if you don’t see a young person for a while, send them a letter or give them a call.

I’m off to try & practice what I preach.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Top Ten Tips for Youth Leaders

Tip 3: Don’t be a Lone Ranger

“Who was that masked man?” “Why, he’s the Lone Ranger?”

There are many different roles that need fulfilled to ensure an effective youth ministry. Everything from Bible teacher to toast maker; leader of fun games to taxi driver; prayer co-ordinator to administration expert; encourager/pastor to manager.

But just because there are many different roles doesn’t mean that you have to do these all yourself.

Yet most of us come from churches that promote a “Lone Ranger mentality” where the minister, youth worker or small group of people do all the practical work, ministry and everything in-between. Many congregations will have an attitude that because they “employ” or “elect” someone to a role, then they can sit on their backside & admire (or more commonly critique) from the stands. Also, some ego-driven or controlling individuals don’t like to empower others to help in ministry.

Don’t buy into this myth. Being a Lone Ranger will only lead to frustration, loss of passion, burn out and spiritual starvation. Been there, bought the T-shirt. It’s not nice and it’s not God’s intention.

Build up a team of people passionate about Jesus & passionate about introducing teenagers to Him… then use your team’s weird & wonderful personalities, skills and abilities to work together for the Kingdom.

Some vital words for your vocabulary are “Team”, “Delegation” and “Sorry I can’t do that, but _____ might be able to help you/”

If Paul Halliwell needed a Tonto; if Jesus sent His disciples out in teams; and if Paul gives us detailed instructions on working as a body (1 Corinthians 12) then you’d be wise to heed their example.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Top Ten Tips for Youth Leaders

Tip 2: Get over your Messiah complex

Let’s say together with me… “I am not God.”

You are not the Messiah (although you may be a very naughty boy).
You are not the Saviour of the world, your church, your ministry or even yourself.
Your young people need Jesus not you.

Phew, let that truth sink in for a second. Because if we really believe it deep down then it will save us from the ugly headed monster of arrogance and the inner destruction of despair & depression.

Unfortunately, I am over-qualified to talk about this complex as it is a real struggle for me.

To illustrate let me share an example. Last year our Youth Club was going through a difficult period. I’d taken a week off & phoned another leader to see how it had gone. His response was that it had been a fantastic week with kids listening for a change & opening up about faith….

… And inside I was disappointed!

Disappointed because I wasn’t there, because they weren’t opening up to me – the youth pastor, the “expert”, the “professional”. Inside the demon of pride had wanted to hear that the evening had been a disaster, that leaders couldn’t cope without me and a pleading to never leave them again. How arrogant, insecure & messed up is that?

God is constantly teaching me that I am not the Messiah. That He does not need me. And on the days when I really accept this fact, I am at my most useful to Him.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Top Ten Tips for Youth Leaders

It isn’t easy leading teenagers. Relating to them, understanding their world & nurturing their faith can be a roller coaster ride, so over the next two weeks I want to share my top ten tips for fulfilling this calling. I hope you find something helpful.

Tip 1: First things first

“I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you stay joined to me, and I stay joined to you, then you will produce lots of fruit. But you cannot do anything without me.” Jesus

We often start in the wrong place. Who will we get to be a youth leader? Who’s young? Who’s funny? Who’s gullible enough to take on this responsibility?

Yet the Bible’s call is always to put Christ-like character above all other criteria.

Yes we need people who have relational skills, musical talent & teaching abilities; yes we need people who can invent crazy games with marshmallows & shaving cream BUT ultimately listening ears, caring hearts & spiritual passion come from a Christ-centred heart.

Do you want a healthy youth ministry? Well start by taking seriously the power of God in your own spiritual life. All too often I’ve let my team down by overemphasizing ‘how to do the work of God’, at the expense of ‘how to be a person of God’ – so let’s get our priorities right.

Teenagers are lonely & have buried their hurt deep beneath the surface. They need God’s Spirit, but He is not to be found in a programme – He is found in the lives of ordinary believers like you & me.

If you’ve bought into the myth that you need to be funny, cool, busy, creative or whatever. Forget that. What our youth need is for you to be God’s child. So put the lesson plan away, forget the funny video from YouTube, and spend time worshipping the Saviour this week.

And if doing too much ministry is drawing you away from being with the Master… the ministry has to go.

“they were so absorbed in their ‘God projects’ that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the middle of the road” Romans 9

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Youth Ministry & Puke

I rubbed her back as she barfed down the toilet.

Not a pleasant sight, but inside I had mixed feelings. I hate sick, poo & blood. I run a mile from smells. But inside I was smiling.

Something special was happening inside my wife. A baby was being formed. New life had been created. In the midst of something horrible (the puking), something amazing was going on (the pregnancy).

A wise friend once described (youth) ministry in similar terms. “When on the outside it looks like a complete disaster; inside God is growing something special and life-changing.”

So on the days when ministry to adolescents looks like a mess, like a disaster, a waste of time, a pile of puke…. remember through your faithfulness God is at work, growing something special, building His church and the gates of hell won’t stand against it.

Monday, 3 November 2008


“Men want to be him… Women want to be with him.”

But enough about me....

There is nothing like sitting back and enjoying a cinematic experience of Bond. Despite disappointing some critics, I found "Quantum of Solace" a well spent fiver. Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Bond is even competing strongly against my long-standing affection for Sean Connery in the role.

He’s brought a human element & vulnerability back to Bond again and new plots which revolve around more believable issues of terrorism, rather than the “I’m-going-to-control-the-sun” and “I-will-now-drive-my-invisible-car” nonsense. I also like Craig’s dark side, the demons that torment him and his struggles with revenge.

And if we’re honest there’s a part within most guys which craves that life of adventure surrounded by fast cars and fancy toys, not to mention the beautiful women.

But this last observation puzzles me somewhat.

Bond is nothing like Jesus.
Bond is violent; Christ is the Prince of Peace.
Bond is a misogynist; Christ is a Liberator of women.
Bond is sophisticated & cool, Christ was the opposite.
Bond refuses to die; Christ gave His life up willingly.
(Of course Bond is also fictitious; Christ is real)

So which character depicts what it means to be a real man? Jesus or James? Who do you really want to emulate and follow?

I suppose the tussle between the desires to be Bond and the desires to be Jesus exemplify the desires of the sinful nature and the life of Spirit within believers (Galatians 5:19-26).