My Top 15 Ministry Hacks

Ministry is about people and the Word.  The problem is that there is all this other STUFF that happens.  So here are a few “short-cuts-to-make-STUFF-easier” (also known as hacks) to help you spend less time on STUFF and more time with people.

I should point out some of these are mine that I have been using for a while.  Others are things that other people have suggested and I am stealing their ideas and giving them no credit.

  1. Devotional life first.  This needs to be a priority.  In fact its more of a law than a hack so if it’s not, do me a favour: flatten your hand, put it behind your head and move it forward quickly.  Some of the hardest moments in my life have been more bearable because I invested here.  While this is not the primary reason, a nice side benefit is that I work more efficiently for the rest of the day when I make this a priority.
  2. Devotional life: get a plan.  The adage is true for this as well as most other things in life: “Failing to plan, is a plan to fail”.  The easiest plan is to have a reading plan to work through the whole Bible.  Start here.
  3. A Prayer Book is not just for church.   If you are seeking to develop your devotional life, including prayer, then grab a prayer book or connect to a daily collect which you can subscribe to on…..
  4. Prayer Mate is Your Mate.  One of the most useful tools I have used to organise my prayer life is the app PrayerMate.  Even though it has been recently, updated, I think it’s a little clunky, but I think is better than anything else I have used.  You can subscribe to Soma for our prayer points as well as prayer book collects.
  5. Keep You Greek Geek Going.  You know how you remember what anarthrous infinitive is?  Neither do I, but I used to.  Greek, like all languages, goes when it isn’t being used.  But Dr. Rob Plummer does a daily 2 min video exegeting one verse, called the Daily Dose of Greek.  I get an email each day from site with a link to the 2 min video.  There is also a Hebrew one, but I am not that ambitious!
  6. Overlap your 1 to 1’s.  This was one of the most popular hacks out there.  When you are doing mulitple 1 to 1’s do the same book.  You get to know it better and you can be more efficient in any preparation.  I tend to exegete a book that I will be preaching on in 6 to 12 months.  Doing this in my 1 to 1 time gives me a chance to see some of the pastoral issues I might have missed exegeting it alone.  But doing it so far out means people forget the book (or have a strange sense of deja vu).
  7. Double your 1’s.  Someone suggested to me rather than doing 1 to 1, do 1 to 2.  It means you get peer to peer training, and people don’t just see the pastoral issues they are dealing with but the other person’s as well.  You also get to do more discipleship.  But the downside is that you need 2 people available at the same time.  I have to admit it worked surprisingly well.
  8. Get Siri to write your talks.  OK, well not Siri.  We do tend to write differently to how we speak (which is why preachers are generally not great writers!).  These days there are a lot of voice to text software out there that will take what you are saying and turn it into text (and it can be faster for some).  My experience with the software so far is that you get what you pay for.
  9. Give people responsibilities and not tasks.  We all want people to ‘own’ the ministry (one day someone will explain what that means).  But giving people responsibilities enables them to place their stamp on what is happening, and allow you to take your eye off it.  Speaking of which….
  10. Give admin to people who love admin and are good at it.  Surprisingly, there are people who like doing administration.  Weird, I know.  But since most ministers hate it and take 2 hours what these people could do in 30 mins, give it to them to do.  I should point out that not all people who love admin are good at it, so you might want to work that one out.
  11. Video Playback.  Training people is important.  But helping them see what they are doing wrong can be hard for them to see, so show them.  Video what they are doing and play it back.  Most people can then see for themselves what they are doing wrong.  Hint: when training preachers, fast-forwarding will highlight any body language quirks they may not be aware of.
  12. Say what?  When?  If you don’t have a communication policy, get one.  What I mean is here is what should be broadcast, sent in a personal email, on the phone or face to face.  Too many pastoral issues have arisen because people try and short cut this and make more work.  If it’s a hard word, do it face to face, not through an email!!
  13. Snap a Whiteboard.  I thought this was a simple brillant idea.  At the end of a meeting write up what you have agreed on a whiteboard so everyone can see and agree with it.  Then take a photo and send it to everyone on the team – simple.
  14. Voice your Ads.  Adobe Voice is a great little app that helps you make short videos that look simple and good.  I make the video, export them to my photo.  Until recently it was only available on the iPad, but now as an iPhone version as well that I haven’t used.
  15. Follow Dave.  Apart from introducing me to my wife, Dave Moore’s Ministry Principles blog is one of the most useful things he has done.  It is full of more stuff like this.  Obviously I had to put this one last, or you wouldn’t have read on!

What’s your best ministry hack so I can steal that too?

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What’s the point of preaching?

As a preacher I often make the mistake of getting stuck into the text and making sure I am faithful to it, explaining, it etc. that I forget what I am aiming to do.  What can come across is that the point of preaching is merely explain the passage.  But that’s not the point is it?

The point is to change people.  Isn’t it?

To change their minds, their hearts, their lives.  But the next mistake that preachers often make is that we have a list of three application points of “this is what you should do now” and then we wonder why people think Christianity is a form of legalism!  We are working against ourselves.  So let me introduce you to a quote from Richard Sibbes about how we should go about transforming people’s lives:

The very beholding of Christ is a transforming sight.  The Spirit that makes us new creatures, and stirs us up to behold this servant, it is a transforming beholding…A man cannot look upon the love of God and of Christ in the gospel, but it will change him to be like God and Christ.  For how can we see Christ, and God in Christ but we shall see how God hates sin, and this will transform us to hate it  as God doth, who hated it so that it could not be expiated but with the blood of Christ, God-man.  So, seeing the holiness of God in it, it will transform us to be holy.  When we see the love of God in the gospel, and the love of Christ giving himself for us, this will transform us to love God {1}

Here is Sibbes point: if you want to transform people’s lives (which is the point of preaching) then show them Christ.  Sure, have your three point application, but if you are not showing them Jesus then you are simply preaching legalism!

If you are a preacher when was the last time the application point was: How great is Jesus?

 

{1} Richard Sibbes, “A Description of Christ” quoted in Reeves, Michael. Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012. p92.

John Stott Speaks from the Grave

Challenges_of_Christian_leadership_001_1024x1024-2John Stott was a legend in his day, the thing is he still is.  He was considered by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2005.   He passed away peacefully in 2011.  His latest book was published this year.

Challenges of Christian Leadership started life as a series of talks in Ecuador to IFES staff.  While it has been available in Spanish this is the first time that we have had it in English.  In usual Stott style it is Biblical, careful, Christ-centered and powerful.  Each of the talks are a combination of Biblical knowledge and humble wisdom.

The chapters are short, too short for me, I was left wanting more each time.  They cover a range of topics: The Challenge of Discouragement, the Challenge of Self-Discipline (my fav), The Challenge of Relationships and the Challenge of Youth.  Another chapter is also included by others who were involved with Stott’s ministry and could testify that he lived what he wrote here.

Highly recommend it!  If you have a friend in ministry, do them a favour and go and buy a copy for them.

Christian Leaders, Depression and Suicide Part 1

Recently I read a blog post on ministers and suicide.  I know of some guys, who were in ministry who have taken their own lives and I know some who have talked about it.  Christian leaders and depression is not an academic issue for me and I wanted to address the issue in three blog posts.

  1. Is there a difference between church leaders and others in church (and so is there a difference when it comes to depression)?
  2. What sorts of things cause depression in church leaders?
  3. What’s the solution.

The point here is I won’t get to the solution until the last blog post so don’t be in a hurry to shoot me down until then.

Is there a difference between church leaders and other Christians?

As much as I don’t like the word clergy (to be honest I don’t know what the word means and where it comes from) I will use it to describe the professional leaders of the church: ministers, pastors, missionaries, etc.  Importantly I want to include wives here as well.  Wives of professionals often face huge pressure and stress which often are not seen by the rest of church.  And layity to describe other Christians in church. So, is there really a difference between layity and clergy?
Yes.  Let me argue this on two levels, theogically and practically.

Theologically: the Difference

Theologically speaking, Christian leaders are to be treated differently to other Christians.   When Paul is writing to Timothy and Titus about appointing leaders, he has a list of qualifications.  This is not a list for all Christians, as in this is what you need to be to be Christian, though it is something all Christians should aspire to.  But it is a list of what all Christian leaders should be like, and, I take it to be a minimum standard for leaders.  One example of the outworking of these lists is that Christian leaders are to be rebuked publicly (1 Tim 5:20) as opposed to other Christians.

As such, church leaders and teachers are to be judged more harshly.   As James tells us “Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1 HCSB) teachers will be judged more harshly.  Is a teacher judged by people or by God?  The answer is ‘yes’.  I think James has in mind that God will judge, but the reality is that people judge as well.  “His sermon wasn’t really that good this week was it?”.

They are different and are meant to be different.  But the differences, practically speaking in our current culture are also important to note.

Practically: the Difference

Because Christian leaders are held to a different set of standards, their experience will be different in the culture of church.  Some of these could be argued are unfair, but I am not writing here about fair, I am writing about what the reality is.

Clergy have different relationships with with people.  We have friendships but not friends with people in church.  We are close to people and yet ‘professional’.  Unlike anyone else in the church, staff have a code of conduct in how they interact with others, where an infringement could cost them their job.  The relationship is is different because there are going to be times when we need to have a conversation with someone that is going to be hard and rebuking.  It is sometimes hard to have the conversation with a friend.  Often I am asked to speak to someone about X, when I ask why the person who raised it with me cannot speak to them the answer is “but you are the minister…”.  Because we are leaders we aren’t the same as others.

This does not mean the relationships are any less deep, in fact quite the opposite.  When people leave the church it cuts deep.  I think when someone leaves church, most people are hurt a little but will go on and understand the decision.  For clergy it is someone we have come to care about and love.  And it effects us deeply and personally.  It is a possible reminder of our inability to do ministry.  As much as we don’t want to admit it, losing people, if it becomes a trend will mean losing a job.

The church is not just where we serve and love people, it is our whole life.  It is often where we live, what we do for a job, it is escapable.  We can’t just visit another church when we want a break.  If clergy do want to leave a church and go to another it will mean a change of house, job, relationships, everything.

But…

All this being said, I love being a professional in ministry.  I get to study the Bible more than most people and I love that.  I get to preach and teach the Bible, people confide in me in a way that they wouldn’t to other people.  All this is a great privilege.   I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love God, his cause, and what I do in that order.

All this is basically saying that clergy and lay people are not treated the same and should not be treated the same.  Hence we should expect that there are going to be some factors unique to Christian leaders.

Next: Are there particular stressors that lead to depression in clergy….

If you would like to know more thoughts on depression and the Christian you read this article or head to our website where we have some talks on the issue.  If you think you might have depression, or more importantly, people around you are worried see your local G.P. or head to Beyond Blue.

 

Hillsong illustrating a weakness in us

This morning when I checked my facebook thread there were a lot of comments about what I presume is an upcoming Hillsong conference, who was invited and whether they are false teachers or not.  I went to a Hillsong conference several years ago and I am not surprised by the chatter, because of what I observed there.

I remember a distinct feeling.  A speaker, I don’t remember who, had started the morning with a persuasive argument for the prosperity gospel.  Frankly the argument was pretty good but I wasn’t persuaded, and lots of people clapped.  The next speaker was Rick Warren who used his talk to pull apart the arguments for the prosperity gospel.  It wasn’t aimed at the previous speaker, it just worked out that way and the weird feeling was, I think I was the only person who saw the inconsistency.

It got me thinking if you disagreed with another speaker so strongly on ministry and theology, then how did you get invited to speak at a Hillsong conference, what was the common denominator?  Looking through the list, and doing a bit of research, I worked out the only real common denominator was that you were running a church of over 2,000 people.  It didn’t matter where you in the world you came from, or what your theological background or convictions were.  If you could run a church of over 2,000 you were ‘in’.  At the end of the day it is pragmatism that wins out.

But before we start with a sledgehammer on Hillsong on this, let’s look at ourselves, Sydney evangelicals, on this issue.

A couple of years ago I was asked to speak to a guy who was not happy with Sydney Anglicans, and as a Sydney Anglican I was supposed to…I don’t really know what I was going to do and that was probably a good thing as it turns out.  The conversation started:

Me: “So, I hear you aren’t happy with Sydney Anglicans, tell me about that.”

Him: “You guys claim to be theologically Calvinists don’t you?”

Me: (In my head my theological John Wayne mounts up, loads his guns and gets ready to defend Calvinism). “Yes, that’s right”

Him: “Then why are all your conferences about strategy and methodology.  If you believe that God is sovereign, where are your prayer meetings?”

Me: (Theological John Wayne suddenly feels he needs to be somewhere else) “Ummm….”

I think there is a good place for strategy, methodology and thinking through how to do ministry well.  Theologically this is basic, good stewardship.  But if we have missed that it is about stewardship, if we have missed that it is about the sovereignty of God, if our conferences are more about methodology than prayer, are we really any better?   Or worse because we claim to be more theologically astute.

This guy had exposed our weak spot.  Yes, I am theologically persuaded by God’s sovereign power in ministry, and saving people from their sins.  But am I more likely to pay $25 to go to a prayer breakfast or $395 to go to conference to hear a great practitioner?   (The answer should be I should be at both).  Perhaps the answer should be less conferences and more prayer meetings, I don’t really know.  But I do while we shouldn’t ignore the Hillsong issue, e.g. as far as I know we are not inviting false teachers to speak, we should also address the issue this raises for us.

I am sure there will be some debate about this, and there should be, but before you post can I ask you to pray for me about this.  One could easily say “Pete, you have accused Sydney evangelicals of the same thing you do”.  I know that, please pray I will be a better pray-er.

OK, now you can tell me where I am wrong…

Hagar and the Areopagus

“Puns are the highest form of literature” said Alfred Hitchcock (apparently) and puns are definitely an important part of the communication of the Bible [1].  The difficulty with a pun is knowing whether it works, especially across language, so let me stretch out my long bow for a possible pun.

Genesis 16 shows a interesting interaction between God and Hagar.  It is interesting for a number of reasons.  Firstly, it is the first time a woman gives a name to God.  And rather strangely, it is a name that is unique to this passage.  Secondly, she is also the first (and only in Genesis?) to receive promises on the level that she does.

A Punny Name

But back to the name.

“So she called the LORD who spoke to her: The God Who Sees, for she said, “In this place, have I actually seen the One who sees me?””(Genesis 16:13 HCSB)

“He is the God who Sees” we are told by Hagar in 16:13.  The main point being that God has seen her in her hardship, she has not endured this alone, and we must not lose sight of this main point as we embark on a thought experiment as to what else could be going on here.

This name is unusual for a number of reasons.  The Lord is the one who is described  as the one who “speaks” to her, not necessarily “sees” her.  Though seeing her is not outside the realm of possibility.  Secondly, it is, as I mentioned above, unique.  No-one else has used it and no else does use it.

Which has got me wondering about the pun that is used.  The hebrew of the “God that Sees” is the “God that is ra’i“, as in pronounced “ra” more or less.  Hagar is an Egyptian, heading back to Egypt, to the world she knows.  A world that is ruled by the God “Ra”.

So could it be that Hagar is working out that what she thought was God “Ra” is actually Yahweh, the God of Abraham?  She is using language that she is familiar with to to express her new understanding of God.

Let’s assume that my long bow of an assumption is true, I mean really go with me on this, what do we learn from this?

Analogue in the Areopagus

Several posts ago I mentioned the importance of preaching analogue and not digital.  The point being that people have differing understandings of the Christian message and we build on that to help them to know it better, whether they are Christian or not.

It is exactly what Paul does in Athens.  He does not need to convince the Athenians that they need to worship, but rather he takes their understanding of God and extrapolates the Gospel from it.  In Acts 17:23 we see:

“For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:23 HCSB)

There has always been a legalistic whisper in the back of my head that asks “why doesn’t Paul rebuke the Athenians for idolatry, instead of using it to explain the Gospel”?   On one hand he would be right to do so, but not helpful and loving.  He, like Hagar, is using what they know of God to explain more of what God has revealed.

So, feel free to break my long bow, but it has been an interesting thought experiment.

[1] E.g. the way ‘house’ is used in 2 Samuel 7.

What am I looking for? (5Cs)

Leaders need to appoint leaders.  One of the key things that Paul tells Timothy to do is appoint leaders (1 Tim 3).  Titus is left in Crete for the main purpose of appointing leaders (Titus 1:3).  But what are we looking for?  Is character enough or is there more to specific contexts that practically we need to address.

Here is my formula, which I have called the 5 Cs.  In order from the most important and least controversial to the least important and most controversial:

1. Character

This is the most important and it is what Paul outlines for Timothy (1 Tim 3:1-7) and Titus (Titus 1:3-9) to look for.  If the character of the person is not godly, there is no point looking any further no matter how competent they are.  A competent person who is not godly will cause a ministry more pain that good.

2. Conviction

Conviction is the theological stance of the person.  I should point out that no-one agrees 100% with anyone else on everything, but is there agreement on the main issues in theology.  Disagreement on a major issue will come out later in working together.

3. Competency

Competency is measured by HR experts all over the place and in other jobs this is the main priority, but in Christian ministry often someone with the right character and right convictions will develop the right competencies out of a love to for God’s people.

But we should point out that God gives different people different gifts and this, I think, includes desires.  God has built into people the desire to serve in different ways and this in turn will develop people’s competency.

All this being said, some people are simply better at somethings than others.  This is a matter of getting people in the ‘right seats on the bus’ as Jim Collins would put it.

4. Capacity

The previous 3 have been used by others in ministry, but the next to are my contribution to the discussion.  Does the person have the capacity to carry out the ministry?  One question I need to ask if someone is looking for a professional position, is “Can this person carry the weight of ministry full time for the whole week?”  Because God has made different people differently, capacity will vary.  This means that there will be people who have the desire to do a ministry but not the capacity.  Being able to identify that means saving people from burnout.

5. Chemistry

Finally I have added a last ‘C’ and that is chemistry.  This is particularly important if someone is working with other people in ministry (and I can’t think of any examples of where that doesn’t happen).  But does the person get on with other people.  Friction in a team will stop it’s effectiveness.  I am not suggesting that we should avoid all friction, but I am saying we need to address unnecessary personality clashes.  One ministry I consulted about this puts chemistry over competency.  They were going to appoint someone who was very good at project management, but found that the person had little chemistry with the rest of the team.  They chose a less competent person with better chemistry and did not regret the decision.

Any thing I have forgotten or should add?