Small church vs church planting

Leading a Small Church vs a Church Plant

Since starting in my new ministry placement this year I have come to realise that leading a small church is a very different style of ministry to either medium church ministry or church planting.  When I say that I’m in a small church, I’m talking about an average Sunday attendance of 25 people.  There are some real joys of small church ministry, namely the sense of connection with the people I’m in ministry with.  Yet there are some unique differences to ministry in other settings.

Small churches and church plant have small numbers but they are very different styles of ministry.  It was almost ten years ago that I tried to plant a church with a small group of 25 people.  Whilst the church plant closed after three years of ministry I learnt a lot from season of ministry.  Being with a small group of 25 once again, it might be tempting to borrow some of the lessons from church planting with my small church.  Yet I’ve noticed that there are some key differences between leading a church plant and pastoring a small church. 

The point of this post isn’t to suggest one style of ministry is better than the other.  This post is suggesting four ways that leading a small established church might be different to leading a small church planting team.  Even if both ministry settings have a similar size group there are some interesting differences to make not of.

Whilst I don’t really want to pit small church ministry and church planting against each other, here are four big areas where the two style of ministry are very different:

  1. Newbie or Founder – are you the founder of your ministry or are you the newest member?
    • Small church – when you take on a small church ministry placement it is likely that you are the newest member of your church. Some of the existing members of your small church may have been around a long time, it may be their only church experience.  These people have seen past leaders come and go, seen many styles of ministry come and go.  Your church members may not be that impressed with what you consider the new bright idea about ministry.  Whilst these established members can provide stability to your ministry, change management in an established small church will be much slower than in a church plant where everything is new.
    • Church plant – when you plant a church it is likely that you are the founding member of your church. You might be the first person to have a vision for your church plant; nobody knows the vision and the dreams of your church plant like you do.  As a church planter you will spend so much of your time explaining and casting the vision of your church plant to onramp others to the vision.  Whilst this can be repetitive, it can also be energising to share your vision with people and see them take hold of the vision.  The small group of people you are ministering to in the early stages of the church plant are relying on you to grow the vision.
  2. Legacy or Vision – are you running on the legacy of the past or the vision of the future?
    • Small Church – it is likely that the past is a dominating factor in your ministry in a small church setting. There is often a period in the past when the church was at its strongest and as the new leader you must find out what hold the past has on your church.  You need to discern if there are elements of the past that you can leverage for future growth in your ministry.  Is there some part of the DNA of your small church that is the key to future health in your ministry?  Perhaps there are ghosts of the past that are holding your church back until the church finally deals with them.  Small churches don’t lack vision however you need to build on the legacy of the past so that you can cast a strong vision of your future. 
    • Church Plant – it is likely that future hopes and dreams are dominating your ministry as a church planter. You have hopes and dreams of being bigger that you currently are, drawing more people into the ministry and having a strong future.  Your church or ministry doesn’t have a past so there is not much baggage to deal with, except any baggage from previous churches that your members may have belonged to.  The challenge for you as a church planter is to build something that can become a legacy for future generations to build on for a healthy vibrant church.
  3. Age or Youth – is your membership dominated by age and experience or youthful enthusiasm?
    • Small Church – small church ministries often are small because it got stuck with an older generation that didn’t hand off to a younger generation. Therefore, your church will have people with wisdom and experience but not a lot of intergenerational connections.  If you don’t want your ministry to die out then you need to get some youth and new Christians into the ministry to bring in fresh perspectives.
    • Church Plant – church plants often begin with young adults because of the youthful enthusiasm to start something new. Therefore, your church will have a lot of enthusiasm and drive but perhaps not a lot of Christians with wisdom and experience.  I’ve often heard church planters pray for one or two mature Christians who can mentor and disciple the new Christians.  If you don’t want your church ministry to be a flash in the pan then you need to get some mature Christians who can mentor and disciple the young people into your church plant.
  4. The burden of Maintenance or Poverty – are you struggling under the weight of maintaining your existing church buildings or the weight of no resources?
    • Small Church – if you are taking on a small church ministry in an existing facility then be prepared to spend a lot of time on maintenance and/or renovations. It is likely that you have facilities that you can use for ministry right away but the facilities are often tired or run down or outdated.  They might be built in a previous era when what was trendy is now considered ugly.  It can be hard to create a fresh look for your ministry because of the capital it takes just to maintain the current facilities let along renovate them to bring them up to date.  Whilst your church planting friends might be struggling to find facilities to use, your struggling to use the facilities you have.
    • Church Plant – if you are planting a new church then it likely that you are struggling to find the facilities and resources to grow your church. You need to buy everything and you can’t seem to get enough of money to buy everything you need to grow.   Whilst your small church ministry friends can use their old equipment until they can afford to replace it, you don’t have anything to use unless you buy it.  The challenge for a church planter is to decide what can you borrow, what can you buy second hand and what is the best option to purchase for now that will also work as your ministry grows.

Small church ministry is not always a bad thing, research suggests that 90% of churches have less than 200 members.  Church plants might be a great growth strategy but the first five years of a new church are very different ministry in an established church. Taking a church planter and imposing them on a small church just because they have the same number of people can be a recipe for conflict. Both styles of ministry are a blessing to the church if you know what leadership style to apply to each setting. 

My hope is that you can lead your church to be a health church.  If you church is a fresh new church plant then I hope it becomes a healthy sustainable church.  If your church is a small established church then I also hope that it continues to be a healthy sustainable church for future generations.  Using the right style of ministry for the right context can make all the difference.

Please leave a comment on how you see small church ministry….

markoffaith, Mark of Faith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald

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God does not need Lent, but we do

“God does not need Lent, but we do” these are the words in the opening paragraph of the Lenten resources of the General Synod of the Anglican church.  It describes Lent as a period of waiting and preparation for Easter.  The document says, “the rhythm of fast and feast taps into some elemental need of ours, where denial creates longings to be satisfied so that we come to deeper appreciation of God’s great gifts”.  These words capture why lent is important in our spiritual walk with God.

In Daniel 9:3, Daniel says that he turns to the Lord God in prayer and petition, in fasting and in sackcloth and ashes.  Ashes have become a symbol of turning to God in humility, acknowledging our need for God’s grace.  Lent should remind us of God’s grace; Lent is not a season of earning God’s favour, we can’t be good enough, but it is about returning with humility to our reliance on God’s grace and mercy.

Perhaps you don’t come from a tradition or belief system that observed the season of Lent.  In my childhood, we would not only observe Lent but give up something for Lent.  As a child, I remember heading to the fish and chip shop during Lent to line up for our fish with crowds of other Christians.  It would be fair to say that as a child the observance of Lent was more cultural than spiritual.  Yet I have come to realise that this cultural legacy can easily turn into spiritual disciplines that draw me deeper into my relationship with God.

So, if you want a fresh perspective on the season of Lent or you want to understand this season for the first time here are three things to remember for Lent:

  1. Giving up or Taking up – the focus of many people during the season of Lent is giving up something for 40 days. Perhaps you need to give up something that you enjoy as a  trigger to reminder you to pray or read the bible.  Giving up something for Lent should not be about giving up something that is bad for you or bad behaviour that you should have already given up.  Giving up swearing for Lent is not the point of Lenten disciplines.  The Lenten disciplines are meant to be spiritual exercises that draw you closer to God.  Reading, writing and reflecting are all good practices that we can do at any time of the year, but perhaps during Lent you could take up these spiritual exercises or disciplines with renewed focus. Acts of generosity are also traditional during Lent where people might give up buying something so they have extra money to give to missions or ministry.  Whether you give up something or you take up something focus on how it will draw you closer to God, not the activity itself.
  2. Private disciplines – In Matthew 6:16 Jesus encourages us not to show off about our spiritual disciplines. These spiritual disciplines should not draw attention to yourself and your sense of piety.  These spiritual exercises should not be held over other people to make you look better than them.  Lent should not be something that makes you crumpy and difficult to be around.  It is like the person who gives up coffee for Lent and everyone around them wishes they would just have a coffee.  The spiritual disciplines that you practice during Lent are between you and God.  You might choose an accountability partner who supports you during the season of Lent, this is useful and helpful.  But Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6 that when we fast and pray in secret our Father in heaven will reward us.  This reward is surely closeness to God rather than any earthly treasure.
  3. Sharing the Good News – the subtle thing to remember is that our spiritual disciplines may be observed by others which then present an opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus with others. For example if you are pausing at a set time every day for prayer this might be obvious to others and they ask you what you are doing.  Whilst we don’t wish to draw attention to ourselves if someone askes what we are doing then we can draw attention to God.  We can use the opportunity to talk to people about the hope we have in Jesus.  We don’t have to deny that we are involved in Lent if someone asks us.  So, if someone asks me what I am doing for Lent then I’ll tell them that I’m writing in a Lenten journal that our church has produces and can give them a copy if they want one.

In some circles of Christians Lent seems to have gone out of fashion, I understand their point of view.  Some people say we celebrate the resurrection and God’s grace every day, which is true. However I think that the standard of living in our society today is higher than many people experience during their periods of feasting.  We could all use some balance in fasting and feasting and perhaps Lent is a season to remind ourselves of this rhythm.

In finishing read these words from the Anglican Prayer book:

So, by self-examination and repentance,

By prayer and fasting,

By self-denial and acts of generosity

And by reading and meditating on the word of God

Let us keep a holy Lent.

Please leave a comment on how you observe the season of Lent.

 

markoffaith.net, Mark of Faith, mark of faith, Mark McDonald

 

Back to the Future of Gen Y Youth Ministry

According to all the Back to the Future references this month, we are now living in the future. So many people have made comments about the lack of hover boards, no self lace up shoes and where is my flying car? It seems we love to predict the future, but we also love to identify how those predictions were wrong. So how did we go with our youth ministry predictions for October 21st 2015?

I will admit that I am old enough to have been around youth ministry when we would use sentences like “millennials are those teenagers that will graduate high school post 2000”, notice the future tense of that statement. Some Generation Y or Millennials will now be 15 years out of high school, so I hope that they have moved on from youth ministry into the adult body of the church.

So how did our predictions go for the “radical” change that would take place in youth ministry because of Gen Y? How many of the predicted changes did we get right and what did we get wrong? Here are just five reflections from someone who was around in the 1990’s when these predictions were being made:

  1. Social Justice – I remember hearing that Social Justice was going to be the new “in” for Gen Y. Youth Ministry was going to shift towards Social Justice to engage the Gen Y who were supposed to more socially minded than other generations. Without denying the attempts by many Gen Y, I would say that they have shown themselves to be no more socially active than other generations. Facebook “likes” don’t count as social justice nor does reposting a tweet about some global issue. Even if Gen Y are more socially aware, the Youth Ministries around today in my opinion are not the hot beds of Social Justice activity that we may have predicted.
  2. Conservative – There were also predictions that Gen Y would be more conservative than other generations. This doesn’t seem to play out in the way we thought. There has been some return to tradition forms of worship, but contemporary praise and worship has never been more popular or normative. The styles of dress and social interaction are not that conservative or traditional. The role of women and the attitude to homosexuality don’t seem all that conservative either.
  3. Music – I remember some of my friends telling me about this music from a church called Hillsong and they predicted that music would be essential for ministry with and to Gen Y. Not only has the Hillsong style become more normative but the Praise and Worship music seems one of the key draw cards for Gen Y. Youth Ministries have transitioned into Young Adult Ministries as Gen Y age and they seems to appreciate good music more than good preaching, though the sermons still have to be good.
  4. Podcasts – not many of us in the late 1990’s would have predicted the impact of the podcast on church life, I remember some churches in the early 2000’s trying to sell their own sermons on CD. To think that young people can download a talk or sermon from anywhere in the world to watch/listen to on the bus ride to school or uni means that their expectations of preaching sermons has been raised. Young people can now listen to the “best” preachers in the world on a daily basis, meaning they could be sermoned out by the time they get to church on a Sunday. Some may have predicted this but I never heard this prediction in the late 1990’s.
  5. Communication – In the late 1990’s we knew that the Gen X grew up in a boom of entertainment technology and that Gen Y would grow up in a boom of communication technology. However we never predicted the impact of the iPhone, Facebook, Twitter or the creation of the “selfie” for thousands of Instagram posts. Believe it or not many people used to like being behind the camera in the 1990’s. Whilst we predicted that youth ministry would change due to a growth in communication technology, youth ministry is really enhanced by this ability to contact young people outside the youth group time slot.

Were you around in the 1990’s? What did you think youth ministry with Gen Y would be like? Did we get it right or were some of our predictions off the mark? If you are Gen Y was this what you thought youth ministry would be like when you were in primary school?

As a member of Generation X I was always one step removed from being in the youth ministry culture of Gen Y. Whilst I’ve engaged in it for the past 25 years, it is a long time since I was an actual young person in the ministry. Leadership positions tend to make you bias. So I would love to hear your opinions in the comments section below or tweet me on @mrmarkmcdonald (so high tech!)

markoffaith.net, Mark of Faith

What is your comparison point?

We all compare new experiences to a benchmark we have in our head.  When we try a new cafe and we compare their coffee to our best coffee experience at our favourite cafe.  When shop in a new shopping mall we compare it to the benchmark that we have in our mind about our ideal shopping experience.  When we visit a new church or ministry we compare it to our ideal church or ministry whether we know it or not. 

So as the leader in your ministry what is your comparison point?  Sometimes it can be another church or ministry.  We tell ourselves if we could just do it ministry like church X or church Y then we would get it “right”.  These other churches may have totally different circumstance and resources to us but that doesn’t stop us from comparing our ministry to theirs.  The key thing is to know what your bench mark is so that at least you are honest with yourself and your team.

Perhaps your comparison point is not another church but a previous era at your own church.  Remember the good old days when we got ministry “right”.  Church members often compare your current situation to a previous golden era where everything seemed to work so smoothly.  The trap with this style of thinking is that our world and culture has changed so dramatically.  Imagine comparing youth ministry pre Facebook to the Facebook era; let alone comparing ministry practices from the 1980’s to ministry to youth today.

What ever your comparison point is you need to identify it so that the unconscious comparison becomes more conscious.  Comparison is not a bad thing as long it it encourages us to be better rather than it weakening us.

Finally it is most important to compare our ministry to what God is calling us to.  The Holy Spirit is moving your forward not trying to recreate the past.  Compare your ministry to what God has in store for you, not the previous golden era.

markoffaith, Mark of Faith, mrmarkmcdonald

The Welcoming Team

Some ministries have a real sense of welcome but often ministries miss the mark on this one. Often times the leaders are busy getting the service or meeting ready instead of being available to welcome people as they arrive for your event. Whether it is a church service, a ministry meeting or an event in your church you need to have a welcoming team. Perhaps in your ministry you have a dedicated group of people who are part of your welcome team or maybe you don’t. Either way every church and ministry could improve their sense of welcome.

There are two important principles that should drive welcoming in your ministry:

  1. Everyone is responsible for creating a welcoming ministry
  2. You need a specific group to enhance the welcoming procedures

Before we get into the role of an effective welcome team, I want to shift your thinking a little. Instead of thinking of the usual welcomers who just hand out bulletins before the service, could you think of your welcome team as customer service staff? Rather than recruiting people who can smile and shake hands, could you recruit people who will go the extra mile and help people feel a part of your community. A member of the welcome team should never say “I just hand out the bulletins ask a staff member”. Perhaps you might need to privately call them the customer service team so that they know they are not just welcoming people but serving the people who attend your church or ministry events.

So what should this customer service team or welcome team do? Is it just about a friendly smile on the way into church or into your ministry event? The welcome team should do much more than smile and hand out bulletins. They should make people feel welcome, look out for visitors, locate toilets for people, explain the children’s ministry to parents, connect young people with the youth ministry and even help people find a seat if needed.

Here are some important things for the welcoming team to focus on:

  • Be available 20 minutes before the event – whether people arrive late or on time at your church, your welcome team need to be there before anyone could turn up. Someone is always running early and these are the people the welcome team have the most time to talk to.
  • Look out for visitors before and after the event – the welcome team should be looking out for visitors who are not familiar with how your church or ministry does things. They can look lost, unsure of where to sit. Visitors will check out your notice board more than the regulars do. Many visitors to churches and ministries make a first impression based on how they are welcomed and whether the first people they meet are open or closed to new people.
  • Be available 20 minutes after the event – if the welcome team do their job of connecting with people before the service then they are the best people to follow them up after the event. If your welcoming team think their role is about handing out bulletins then they tend to check out once that task is done. The welcome team needs to see their role as beginning before everyone arrives and finishes after everyone has left.
  • Focus on parents – having kids and working in youth ministry I really believe that our churches need to engage children and youth. Yet the reality is that parents drive children and youth to and from church events so make them feel welcome. At your youth events have someone on your welcome team that welcome visitors and some who talk to parents. The more you can engage the parents the more they will support your ministry. For sunday services the parents are often the most confused as to where there kids need to be or how the service engages kids so be available to answer their questions.
  • Help with logistics during the event – great welcome teams will also assist with moving and seating people during the event. Perhaps you need to arrange more chairs or simple ask people to shuffle in to free up seats. Perhaps you need to help move children in and out of the children’s ministry. The welcome team should be looking out for how they can help during the event not just before the service.
  • Know about future events – the welcome team will often be asked about the events in the bulletin or on the notice board so find out about other events in your church. The welcome team should never say “I don’t know about that ask a staff member”. When someone is part of the welcome team it is like they are a staff member.

There are many unique things that churches do for their welcome teams. Some have fancy tshirts, special name badges or set up special visitor desks. Often the welcome team at children or youth events also need to collect forms, sign people in or collect money. All of these elements are unique to your ministry and church setting so be intentional about tailoring the welcome team to your setting. Irrespective of your local context it still doesn’t change the fact that your welcome team are there to serve the people attending your church not just hand out bulletins.

Please leave a comment with tips from your welcome team.

markoffaith, Mark of Faith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald

Does the Good News sound like good news in your public speaking?

When presenting the gospel to people in your ministry setting does it sound like good news? Sometimes as christians we get so used to our christian language that we present the gospel as it was presented to us, not realising that culture and language has changed. Recently I heard an evangelist say that is so hard these days to get people to understand how sinful they are and much they need a saviour. Whilst this is the heart of the gospel perhaps it is an outdated style, it certainly doesn’t sound like good news to me.

Our culture has shifted and we are no longer living in a christian society. The phrases and language that used to make sense to christians no longer has the same meaning in our society today. The self help industry doesn’t promote sinfulness and our inability to help ourselves, it promotes self help and your ability to work yourself out of any situation. The 24 hour news cycle promotes a constant flow of negative news and stories or horrific tragedy all the time. Perhaps people don’t need more negative news such as “you’re a sinner”, but that need some good news such the God who created the universe loves you personally.

For example Judah Smith, the pastor of City Church in Seattle, presents and speaks in a way that seems to captivate a younger audience and even the hipsters. When you listen to him he is constantly talking about Jesus yet it is hopeful, positive and motivating. Recently at a conference Judah Smith stated that we have to preach the gospel in a way that sounds like good news to an audience who doesn’t understand “christianese”.

As ministry leaders we have to be aware of the trends in language and culture so that we can speak into it. We need to communicate the Good News in ways that people understand. It is very clear in the New Testament, start in 1 Corinthians 1-2, that the gospel can make sense to everyone; you shouldn’t need a theology degree to understand it. So my suggestion is that the next time you have to give a talk, a keynote or a sermon ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Would a non-Christian think this is good news? Even if you are speaking to a room full of christians we need to constantly practice speaking in a way that non Christians will understand. This will also train our audience to invite non Christian friends because they can trust that you will speak to them.
  2. Is there a sense of hope? Some ministry leaders are technically correct with their theology but there doesn’t seem to be any hope in their message. You can’t fault their theology but people don’t put into practice that theology because there doesn’t seem to be any hope. Being constantly reminded of our sinfulness doesn’t teach us to be new creations in Christ or that we can do anything because Christ strengthens us (Phil 4:13).
  3. Have I motivated people to want to know more? Some sermons leave people feeling “if that is what christians are like I don’t want it”. You need to motivate the audience to find out more about Jesus and the Gospel. Perhaps you can share your passion for the gospel as a way of motivating them to learn more. Perhaps you need to be upbeat and positive rather than factually correct. Perhaps you need to add in life based examples rather than examples from Christian history.

A word of warning – the bible is very clear that we are not to “tickle the ear” of others when we present the gospel. Whilst the Gospel should sound like good news to those who hear it, we still need to present the truth of gospel and not some feel good pop psychology. No matter what language we use, the gospel is going to be difficult for some people to hear because it challenges then out of their comfort zone.

Presenting the Good News is not easy in a world with so many conflicting messages. However if we are truly going to make an impact in your ministry, you need the Good News to sound like good news to an audience who doesn’t understand all the christian buzz words and images. Try to think through your language and adapt it to the community and setting that you’re ministering into.

Please leave a comment on how you have done this in your ministry setting.

markoffaith, Mark of Faith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald

Does preaching the gospel really work?

At a ministry conference I heard the pastor of a large and growing church plant say that their church is growing because they “preach the gospel”. Whilst this is true, they do present a strong gospel message, they have a lot else going for them. They are very trendy, they have good marketing, contemporary worship, great discipleship programs and a committed leadership team. Simply saying that a church is growing because they “preach the gospel” is being a bit simplistic.

Consider the not so subtle message behind this statement; it is basically saying “everyone else isn’t growing because they don’t preach the gospel”. Yet we all know churches and ministries that present the gospel message that aren’t fast growing churches. Preaching the gospel may not result in a large crowd.

In my theology studies I was looking into the connection between human nature and the Gospel. The interesting finding was that whilst the Gospel should inform our human nature in reality our human nature can determine the impact of the Gospel in our churches. Let me highlight it with a simple statement from a friend:

“every week at our young adult service we would hear the gospel presented but we were so busy looking for a partner that we didn’t take it in”.

We need to understand human nature and the desires of our heart to be effective in ministry. If we don’t address human nature then the Gospel isn’t as effective as it could be in our ministries or churches. Consider these examples:

  • Youth Ministry – young people have a human desire to belong and to connect with others. If we don’t meet their need to belong then they won’t hang around long enough to understand the gospel.
  • Young Adult Ministry – young adults have a human desire to find a meaning and purpose for their life. If we present the gospel without connecting it to this desire for a purpose then it will wash over them.
  • Church Systems – Andy Stanley says that you can preach anything you like but the systems in your church influence behaviour. The systems in your church are the systems you put in place to response to human behaviour, things like systems for welcoming newcomers, communication systems, discipleship systems etc. Does your church have systems that are informed by the gospel but are aware of human nature?

Of course preaching the gospel really works. It is the main thing that we should be doing in our churches and ministries. Yet if we think that it is the only thing we need to focus on then we are being to simplistic. Human nature will naturally default to fulfilling its own desires. We have to be intentional at using the gospel to shape all areas of our ministry not just our preaching and teaching sessions.

Please leave a comment below

P.S. Preaching the Gospel is christian language for talking about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is presenting the saving work of Christ to his followers and non christians.

A parent perspective on Youth Ministry – Part 2

In a recent post I shared with you a few thoughts on becoming a parent in youth ministry when my son went off to his first youth camp. I had high expectation for the camp and so on his return I was waiting eagerly to hear something spiritual about the camp. Instead he was full of stories about the fun, games and pranks that took place on camp.  After many interesting stories I asked my son what will he tell his best friend about the camp, the one who didn’t attend youth camp, and he replied “he totally should have been there”.  It was this one sentence that made me realise that something significant happened on camp. 

Over the next few days I had many conversations with my son about youth camp, none of them were deeply theological but they all helped me know my son on a deeper level.  In the week following the camp I watched him to see if there was any behaviour change and  I noticed that he was a little more reflective and a little more considerate but mostly he was the same kid who loves playing his video games.  At some level it was reassuring to me that there wasn’t a radical shift in my son; he was the same son just grown up a little.

In reflecting on the experience there are a few things that I learnt from hearing about the camp from my son:

  1. Leaders are important – whilst my son only seem to talk about the pranks the leaders got up to, he spoke with a great respect and admiration for the leaders.  It seems that he looked up to the leaders and when I dug deeper they really encouraged him in his faith.  As a parent I am so thankful that my son had some young adult leaders who were passionate about their faith and willing to share it with my son.
  2. Christian friendships are important – My son will spend most of his time with non-christians so to meet some committed christians is a really important thing.  We spent a lot our conversation time this week talking about the people that he met on camp.  I am sure that some of these people will become his long term friends even though they go to different schools.  In an increasingly secular world it so important to encourage our young people to seek out and develop christian friendships.
  3. The next step is important –  the youth ministry that ran the youth camp knew how important the next steps were and had pumped up the young people to attend friday night youth group.  My son was talking about it all week and was so excited to go that he was encouraging me to leave the house to drive to church.  Yet this is just the first in many “next steps” that my son will take.  As adults, parents and youth ministers, we need to roll out the next steps so that young people who have never done this before know where they are heading.
  4. My own faith is important – as a parent the conversation can be directed at my son; I want to know about your experience.  Yet the conversation seemed to open up opportunities for me to share my faith with my son.  As adults, parents and youth ministers, we can direct our conversation at the young people by asking them leading questions, yet we need to allow them to ask us questions.  I have to create a space where by my son can ask me questions about faith, prayer, theology, church, girls, dating etc etc.  Sharing my faith journey with my children is so important.
  5. This is just the beginning – I will admit that my son and i have had some great conversations but this is only the beginning on his faith journey.  My son still prefers to play video games and watch tv, so he his not an eager theology student by any stretch of the imagination.  My son and I have even had issues where i have had to discipline him and I am sure that this is just one of the many ups and downs we will experience over the coming decade know as “the teenager years”.

These reflections as part of my experience in shifting from a youth minister to a parent.  As I dropped my son off to youth group, which i had witness hundreds of times, I got the “you can go now” look from my son.  In an instance I had shifted from youth minister to daggy parent.  

My hope is that if you are a youth minister without children of your own, these reflection may help you minister to families in a better way than you currently do.  My hope for parents of young people is that these reflection may put into words some of the feelings stirring in you and perhaps pass them onto your youth ministry team.

Please leave a comment.

markoffaith, mark of faith, markoffaith.net mrmarkmcdonald

A parent perspective on Youth Ministry – Part 1

After 20 years in youth ministry my role in youth ministry shifted this week.  My eldest son headed off on his first junior high youth camp.  That means that I am no longer the youth minister, I became one of the parents dropping their child off at church for camp, while the child tries to get away without a hug or a kiss.

Whilst as a youth minister I know a lot about what happens on youth camp, I find my mind has shifted now that I am a parent.  The things that I am looking for in a youth ministry as a parent are different to what to what I may have wanted from a youth ministry being on the leadership side.  Whilst I have never seen parents as the enemy, I see things differently now my own son is involved.

Here are a few thought about youth camp now that I am a parent:

  1. High expectations – perhaps my expectation of youth camp are a little high but I hope that my son has an encounter with God at youth camp.  I hope that he gets a passion for reading the bible, that he meets some great friends, gets some excellent mentors as leaders, that he likes going to church and that he fights for world peace, ok perhaps not the last one.  Are my expectations a little high?  As a youth ministers I would tell a parent that those might be good expectations after five or six years in a youth ministry but not for their child’s first youth camp.  As a parent though I can’t help wanting the best for my son.  In reality I know that my son will enjoy camp but will come home talking more about the fun games than the bible talks, he will still be the same kid who won’t like doing chores around the house and whilst he may not be against going to church I am sure he won’t always be begging us to go.
  2. Being part of our family – we hope that our son maintains a sense of family and isn’t sold an idea that the youth ministry is the most important thing in his life.  As a youth minister I heard numerous stories of young people who got involved in youth ministry in spite of a lack of support from home.  In our case my wife and I are very supportive of our son being involved in the youth ministry.  Yet as a parent I hope that the youth ministry acknowledges the vital role that we as parents play in nurturing the faith of our son as well.  I don’t want my son going off to youth events every week at the expense of our family time.  Sometimes our son will miss a youth event to spend time with our family and it isn’t a sign of a lack of commitment to the youth ministry.  Too often youth ministers blame families for a lack of attendance from young people, yet as parent I now see the family time is often more important than time at youth group.
  3. Bigger picture of church – as a youth minister I focused so much on the youth ministry that youth camp or going to a youth festival was the biggest thing in the year.  As a parent I still have one son who won’t be going to youth camp for another two years.  I also am more aware of parents in my small group who have kids in the children’s ministry.  As a parent I am far more interconnected with the other things happening in the church so I now realise that whilst the youth ministry is important, so are a number of other ministries in our church.  Perhaps as a parent I am more thankful of the role of the children’s ministry which nurture the faith of my son long enough to help him want to go on youth camp.

Perhaps my expectations are a little high but maybe that is a good thing.  As a parent I should want the best for the spiritual life of my children.  One thing that I must remind myself is that the Holy Spirit has its own plan for my son and I must accept what ever the Holy Spirit does with him.  It will take a life time for my son to understand God, so I can’t expect it all to happen on his first youth camp, but I am just a little excited at what God might do with y son on youth camp.

In the next post I will share a few reflection after my son comes home from youth camp.

Perhaps you have recently become a parent in a youth ministry, what are your thoughts?  share them in the comment section below.

markoffaith, mark of faith, markoffaith.net

What happens when we need to take a break due to sickness?

Over the past few months I have been very sick, not only sick enough to take a break from this blog and ministry but sick enough to spend some time in hospital.  Without going into all the gross details of my illness, I had an inflammation of the large intestine that had me in hospital for treatment on two separate occasions.  The second trip to the hospital lasted nine days followed by twenty days of treatment at home by a community nurse.

In the past I had heard about ministry leaders getting sick but it had never happened to me.  I knew ministry leaders who suddenly had to take time off because of illness or a family crisis that needed their attention.  In this blog post I won’t focus on the break you need to take due to burn out, I have written on that before.  My thoughts have turned to the fact that being a ministry leader doesn’t except us from getting sick, sick enough to take a break for a few weeks even months.

Since the start of the year my ministry load hasn’t been that heavy, I help out at my local church where I can and I work a few hours a week in the ministry training centre.  At the same time I am completing my Masters of Divinity so there is lots of reading and writing to be done.  Yet when I got sick all of this had to go on hold because I couldn’t concentrate, I would often need to rest in bed or I was in doctors waiting rooms; ministry, study and blogging became the last things on my mind.

To make things more complicated the church where I serve could really have used my help over the past few months.  Whilst it can survive without me, two of the ministers were leaving so all the lay people had to step up to fill in until their replacements come in 2014.  So I could have been really useful to have around, instead I was either in hospital or at home receiving treatment.  As someone who has been in ministry for 20 years it was the first time where I knew what ministry needed to be done but was unable to help due to serious illness.

God uses everything to form and shape you, even when we don’t know why things turn out the way they do.  Even though I wasn’t able to be involved in ministry during this time I learnt a number of things throughout my illness.  I thought I would share these with because I have been off the blog for a number of months now so I wanted to update you on what I have been reflecting on.

  1. The church will cope without me – my church were great at swapping my spots on the rosters and finding replacements for the roles that I was meant to fill.  Everyone likes to feel invaluable but in reality most ministries can and should be able to survive without you.  Someone always steps up to cover the hole that our absence makes because even ministry leaders get sick.  As a ministry leaders we need to trust God and trust our church that they can cope whenever we get sick.
  2. The church should care about me as a person – my church were great at caring for me as a person, asking me how I was going not just about who was covering for me when I was away.  Many people were worried about me as a person, they didn’t just pray for me so I would get back to ministry quicker.  People offered to cook meals for my family, pick me kids up from school and all kinds of other helpful things.  If you ever get sick I hope that you are involved in a church where people care about you as a person and don’t just see your illness as a problem to handle.
  3. There is still a bit of guilt – it is hard to let go of the things that I regularly do in ministry.  I felt guilty about letting the blog writing fall.  I felt guilty about have to swap out of a sunday roster.  I felt guilty about not being able to help the church.  Yet a number of good friends in ministry reminded me that it is good to rest and recover.  Self care is more important that pushing it for a few weeks.  Being sick reminded me that the correct theological perspective about work and ministry is that I am more than my work and ministry; whilst I may feel guilt at times, when I am sick I need to move beyond the guilt to focus on rest and recovery.
  4. Illness helped me to refocus on God – sometimes I get so swept up in ministry, blogging or theological study that I forget the daily practices that draw me closer to God.  When I was sick I had the time to read and meditate on scripture.  I had time to listen to christian worship music just to listen for God’s voice.  I decided that I didn’t have to blog every week or check twitter everyday.  My time away from ministry helped me understand that God rescues me everyday from a whole range of things whether I am serving in ministry, spending time at home with the family or sitting in a hospital bed recovering from an illness.
  5. There is always hope – when I was sick I would often read psalm 107 where God rescues a variety of people from a variety of circumstances, you should read it.  Two things struck me:
    1. In this psalm God rescues those who ask for help without demanding they change their behaviour before he helps them, check the psalm yourself.
    2. In this psalm God rescues people yet there is evidence that they still take some time to get out of their circumstances.  For examples the exiles are rescued but will still take some time to get back to Jerusalem.

In my case I knew that God was healing me and would rescue me from this illness, I just had to wait a few months for full recovery.  Perhaps you will get sick and need to take a break from ministry to recover, don’t worry there is hope.

Perhaps you haven’t ever had a major break from ministry due to illness but my guess is that you know someone who has.  Perhaps you had to step up and cover for a fellow ministry leader who got sick.  In reality if you stay in ministry long enough you will at some point have to take a break due to illness.  My hope is that you can honestly and peacefully take a break without feeling guilty.

It is ok to take a break

It is ok to rest and recover

It is ok to fall behind on email, twitter and blogging

It is important to trust in God that the church/ministry will survive without you.

Please leave a comment.

mrmarkmcdonald, markoffaith, markoffaith.net