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challenges

Here are some questioning, prophetic and practical challenges to you and to me. Hopefully Biblical too!

Think about what is said, test it against the Bible and make up your own mind. Part One.

Leaders Part 1

In many churches and youth ministries, there is a bias that goes on. Maybe you can recognise it. If you are single as in not yet married, or if you are married but without children, there is often a discrimination that takes place. I've seen it all over the place, including at a church I was at. I say this without any resentment or bitterness, but it was wrong. Those who were single were treated sometimes as teenagers. Even those young couples who didn't have children, had issues too. So often, the youth pastor that a church is looking for is really a 'youth couple' where they can have 2 for the price of 1. This is understandable but it can be tough. I went to an interview once and one of the interviewers said to one guy (during an informal chat with all of us), 'oh, so if we get you, we get your wife as well..' It's not uncommon. But is this right? Jesus was single, Paul was single. Put together they make up much of the New Testament! You can also find this kind of thing with those who are younger, such as people in their late teens or 20s. Often they aren't conisdered mature enough or up to the job to be youth leaders / worship leaders etc. But this is ridiculous. In Eastern Europe, you may well be a church leader in your 20s and possibly even THE church leader! As (I think) David Westlake said, 'there are people in their 20s in the City of London responsible for £billions each year. The church is the only place where people in their 20s don't seem to be allowed to be leaders.' Let me shake you and your church. There are people out there, who are ready for the call. Just like David. Don't miss them, but support them, release them, disciple and encourage, value them. If you don't, someone else will - often away from your church, to the great detriment of your church. And sometimes they will walk away from God completely. So just keep an eye out on those who are single, those who are younger, women (or combinations of the above).. Just like a football scout with God sensitivity, be aware.

Leaders Part 2

Many youth ministries have a problem about attracting new 'leaders' or 'helpers'. It's a perenial problem, and there are no easy answers. However, I have seen a few churches that simply get people in to help on the basis of needing someone, or no-one else being available. Let me challenge you to think very carefully about appointing people into youth (or children's) ministry. These are fairly difficult and often specialist areas. Not everyone should be part of these areas. People can grow and be trained / released / anointed by God. But let's not have youth ministries without youth leaders (leaders who are good with, can connect with, relate to young people). Like in many areas, it can cause problems and compromise the youth work. At the very least, have a strategy of choosing, guiding and supporting leaders. Don't let them in and then leave them to their own devices. Books like Purpose Driven Youth Ministry have helpful guides, to support you, in supporting youth leaders. And remember, a leader is someone who is a servant. The leader is to be as a slave.

Wrong way round?

I was thinking about 'the church' the other day and thinking about the ministry of Jesus. It occurred to me to ask, 'have we got things the wrong way round' in our churches? Are we a bit lopsided? Jesus came for the sick - he said, 'it's sick people who need a doctor, not well people.' We have all kinds of animal rescue centres across our nations, rightly caring for sick animals. We have doctor surgeries, hospitals - caring for sick people. We have homes for those who are elderly and in need of care. We have hostels for those who are homeless and in need of accommodation. But our churches don't act like rescue centres. People don't turn to churches for help so many in need go un-noticed, supported by many caring Christians - but not as a 'church-wide' system of care. Yet, we make a big song and dance about our Sunday services, as 95% of people walk past our churches un-noticed. Surely there's something wrong. While we're right to focus energy and attention on teaching, on our services - there's little point if we're not reaching the people God put us here to serve and reach. Maybe we need to re-focus, so that less of our time and attention is on meeting with other 'Christians' and more time is spent empowering Christians to reach out, and having churches who prioritise care for the sick and spiritually sick the other 5 days of the week.

Reaching your community

There are too many churches and youth ministries based around this principle: how do we make our services accessible so that we can reach people in our community? This is a valid question but it's an insular and limiting question. It's not enough to simply ask this.

Instead, let me ask a few questions first:

1. Why would anyone want to come to church, let alone your church? (No diss, it's a question)
2. Why are we asking and answering the questions that people aren't asking? What questions are people asking?
3. Why are we asking how we make our services more relevant? Surely we need to ask how we connect with people to demonstrate Christ's relevance to them.

Why do these questions matter? Well, our churches do 'guest services', our youth ministries have 'access clubs' into our church ministries. All the time we are asking how we make what we do more relevant to get people in. Maybe the problem is that what we do isn't relevant to them. All the tinkering in the world won't change that radically.

Let me challenge all of us to assess our churches and our youth ministries up against these issues listed above. We do ask how to make what we do more relevant, but the main question is a far deeper one. The issue is to assess our youth ministry up against the questions and issues that people have around us..

A politician and their support teams are skilled at identifying issues that people care about. We shouldn't copy, but should learn from this. What does this mean in practice? It means questioning all that we do to the very core, on a very regular basis. Our youth ministries aren't clubs, our churches aren't sects. We are Christ's representatives on earth and have been called to share the Gospel.

What are people asking about? Life, cars, mortagages, kids, families, violence, education, petrol prices, pensions, terrorism, illness, war, the lottery, money, vandalism, suffering in the world, poverty, sex. You can name it. Are we addressing these issues? Let's think about youth work? Family problems, violence, bullying, robbery, self-esteem, fashion and clothing, alcohol and drugs, sex, friends, their music styles, movies, suffering etc. Again, you could name the issues more than me..

I do not want to bring people / young people into a church where we are endlessly doing things that have had liimted success, simply because we don't ask the hard questions and spend time trying to build our kingdom, rather than connecting with people in order to build God's Kingdom (which looks very different). This is not tradition vs innovation. This is far deeper, far more spiritual and far more serious.

Answer those 3 questions above as honestly as you can. Please. Why? Because Jesus is the way, the truth, the life. He has the answers. The Word of God, the Bible has the answers. God living in his people, his true church, through the Holy Spirit, has the answers - to all these questions and more. We need to make sure we not only have the answers, but communicate them effectively. We can't communicate to those we don't reach. Church isn't just for you, it's for the lost.

Training young people for adult church

This is a phrase I have heard a few times over recent years. The question is - what do you do with young people when they reach age 18 or so? Have you created a place where they are able to fit easily into the 'adult' church, or are they going to remain in the youth work for ever? Or do you create another group for them?

Let me re-ask this question: Why do you need the young people to 'fit' into an 'adult' service or church (surely young people are already part of the church). Secondly, what is is in your 'adult church' itself that is stopping young people fitting into it? Is the issue your youth ministry, or is the issue 'the church' itself? Do you want to 'fit' people into an existing model that may or may not be working very effectively?

Think hard. Don't just patronise people's beliefs. Make your own decision, not based on what the 'church' system says, but on what you see God doing and asking you to do. For example, I know of one youth ministry that was spiritually advanced beyond the 'main church'. Yet it was the youth ministry that was hauled back in. Why? Because the pastor couldn't cope with it? Because it was a threat? Because it wasn't doing things the 'right' way? Do you want young people's faith to stir beyond that of the church as it is, or simply be part of the same system, a system that is often failing? Just some food for thought..

How 'non-church thinking' are you?

Another question I'd like to throw in - how relevant and mission focused / outreach minded / non-church thinking.. is your church anyway? Why do I ask? Well, it makes a difference. If your church is simply a place of perpetuating certain ways of thinking, or thinking how people 'out there' think? My heart is that our churches would once again become places where people out in the world, can relate to / access / feel part of.

Why would someone come into your church or youth ministry? Think about it. Why would they? What is there in your ministries that would attract people in who don't know Jesus? Is there a love and power of God there that can't be denied? or does your church simply cater for church families, brought up 'through the system'?

Listen. Your youth ministry, your church is not a club. How dare anyone think church is just 'for them'? Where is that in the Bible. Word. Too many churches especially (but also youth ministries) 'play' at being church, or are happy to settle into a nice life - like a modern equivalent of the village 'reverend' in movies. One day we'll all be held accountable for what we've done, before Jesus. I want to see youth ministries and churches that are real, relevant, Spirit-filled, bursting with God's love, life and light. I'm sick of the same old slow, passive, dull, irrelevant mentalities out there. Aren't you? This is why some many churches are dying.. And so are people, spiritually.

God Moments

What I use to describe those times when young people open up to you. These need to be built into your programme (in the back of your mind and practically). What are examples of this? Driving back in a car with young people from an event - at the end of a night when setting down - during 'tuck shop' time at the end of a youth club etc. It's when the mask drops, when young people open up. These are priceless and will be remembered by young people. Used right these will have an eternal impact. Believe.

Is your youth ministry actually young people focused?

This can manifest itself in many ways but essentially I'm asking you whether your youth ministry is actually very 'youthy'. Is it based around what you like? Is it based around what the church expects or what a Bible college course has taught, or perhaps on the basis of someone you know? I have seen youth ministries that aren't very youth friendly. In fact they are simply adult ministries which young people are expected to attend. Now I would use the same sessions and talks to young people (generally) that I'd use for a church. But your youth ministry distinctiveness and maybe even some of its effectiveness will come from the 'youthy-ness' of it.

For example, we watched a video once from Hillsongs Australia. Awesome, but the Hillsongs 'congregation' were always verbally agreeing with what the pastor was saying ('that's right', 'yep' etc.). Increasingly as we watched with our young people, they started nodding and agreeing - taking the mick, but still listening, so I joined in of course. Very funny. Another time at a youth worship event, we set up a row of young people and leaders, bending our knees in time to the music. It's these kinds of things that help build team, build friendships. So make sure your youth ministry is actually young person friendly!!

And make sure you build in fun. Fun times, crazy eccentric things build the sense of being together. A youth ministry that is very placid and steady, is great. But young people, and you, need the crazy times and incidents to 'remember'. They'll remember the fun, the crazy, the relationships. In the back of their mind, will be the feeding of teaching and Biblical training. But no fun, no real youth ministry.

You have to have a vibrant, fun, exciting, even cutting edge ministry. Surely! Your ministry is aimed at young people, not at you, or churchy people!

Homogenous or Diverse?

I have seen a trend in recent times towards merging youth work, youth works and other facets of our church ministry. In many ways this is a good sign, with people working together. But when we do this we also lose the edge, a distinctiveness and can very quickly alienate people and see numbers fall. An example is merging a youth event with an 18-30s event. Combining 2 events may not work for everyone and usually reduces numbers of both young people and 18-30s. So think carefully - also about the issue of 'child protection' for the under 18s, with many over 18s present. So just think about whether you want 2 events of (say) 150 each, or one event of (say) 200? You may need to combine the 2 events, and that's OK too. This is just a question for you!

Latest Trends

If you've been about church and youth work for any period of time and care to have your eyes open, you'll notice the amount of 'fads' that go around. A fad is a temporary passion for doing something. It may be valid, may have truth in it and may be needed. But it tends to dominate to the exclusion of other things and at the cost of balance. Beware. I could name the latest fads but hey, by the time you read this they may be out of date! The Bible is eternal and yes, God does open up new things to us. But like with this website, spit out the bones and chew on the meat.

Evaluating

We don't have a culture of evaluation in many churches and youth work. I have expressed many up-front views at times and people get offended. Maybe I put things badly. Maybe people don't want to hear things or be pushed out of comfort zones? Maybe because they don't understand. But often there's no culture of challenging things or evaluating. We need to be up-front in our youth work and churches about Godly evaluation: that didn't work, that went on too long, that wasn't Biblical, well done for that etc.

I once experienced a situation where someone had made their views clear. Their words were misinterpreted badly and then they were subject to unfair and personal criticism. Looking on into this I saw the effects of people not being prepared to evaluate properly which led to this person expressing their frustrations. Once expressed, the views were seen as personal criticism, which they were not. They were expressing some obvious truths that needed to be stated, but people were not willing to hear or listen. We can all learn from this. We need to honestly, effectively and equally evaluate all we do, and have forums for evaluating what we do. This is not a prescribed evaluation, but a spirit, a culture of evaluation - too often lacking in churches, ministries and youth works.

Equally common is the desire to evaluate - but the evaluation takes place in a very limited or short-sighted way. So, for example at a citywide event, we have seen numbers of young people drop significantly. One assessment for this was put down to exams. However, this was a short-sighted assessment. Other youth ministry events in previous surrounding weeks saw greater numbers of young people. So the problem was not exams but the event itself - or more fundamentally, the decrease in Christian young people in the churches generally. So think very carefully and be prepared to explore options. Ask God to open your eyes and the eyes of others around you. Make sure everyone's expectations are the same as they're usually not!!

Don't have favourites

I have seen more than one youth worker (including me) have 'favourites' within their youth work. These students may be the more colourful, lively, streetwise or more outgoing or funny ones. But we must not have favourites. Instead we have to treat everyone equally. Not everyone will connect with us, not everyone will allow us to help them. But we cannot promote one person above another simply on the basis of favouritism. Do you do this? Think carefully. Another example is someone really responding to us and what we say, so we spend more time with them and so the circle repeats itself. Ultimately, we feel this person really has something going on spiritually and we see this as a result of the investment in them. True. But are they simply responding because of the amount of attention they receive from you? Or is it an actual spiritual growth? Could they cope without you? Are there others you aren't investing in who you should be? My experience is that this is commonly the case. So let's be careful and assess ourselves closely and in light with the Bible. And remember, it's OK to get on with some students better than others, it's inevitable!

Communion with God

I've been to and heard of lots of house groups where there is a set programme, set schedule and the people leading it feel the need to complete the whole session, on time, religiously. Ever been to something like that? I admire their commitment and have no doubt God works in this way. But there's a danger of making everything religious and compartmentalized in our Christian lives..

We go to church, we go to a prayer meeting, we go to an event, we go to a home group, we do this and that. Fine. We need organisation but living for God is a 24/7 thing. Set meetings are helpful but even more helpful is to see them as part of our 24/7 lifestyle. Let's not fit God into lots of Christian boxes that are often there more for our benefit than God's kingdom.

This is like people putting on their 'sunday best'. Now, I'm not against this. I realise for many people it's cultural - and others do this out of respect for God. But I worry about this way of compartmentalizing God. To me it sends out a message that being a Christian is only for Sundays, rather than 24/7 as it should be. I'd rather wear what I normally wear, speak the way I always speak and behave the same way - on a Sunday as on any other day. I'd rather make sure my everyday life in private and public is becoming more Godly, by God's grace.

We have so many religious boxes, we've become religious-ised to the extent that we alienate people around us ('who are those weird people going into that building every Sunday? I thought that place was shut down. I never see them at other times..'). I realise we need to have rules and meetings, times and places. But let's not let this dominate us. If we do, we create an 'us and them' or 'Christian club' feel as we create artificial and unnecessary boundaries stopping people connecting with God ('you can come to our church club, but we meet Sunday mornings at 10.30 for 90 minutes. Don't be late - and no food, drink or baseball hats..')

To go back to our original example: at a house group, instead of religiously following the set programme, allow space for the Holy Spirit to move, speak to people, bring up new topics. If you don't allow this space, who is controlling your meeting and whose benefit is it? Yours, or God's? Plan and prepare but don't let that totally dictate. Allow space.

In our everyday lives, let's see more disciples of Jesus living in communion with God in their everyday lives, not just or only doing things on Sundays or at set meetings. Our life is a life of personal discipleship. This means God works in different ways in all of us. So let's pray as we drive, listen to God in the office, read our Bible as often as we can, be sensitive to the Spirit in our inner spirit and in conversations with other people who don't know God..

Look at Jesus. There were formal meetings, informal meetings, chill out times, prayer times, times fishing, having a laugh, eating together, working together, reaching out to people, attending social functions, creating social functions, and more.

What is Unity?

I've bumped this back up the page as I've been doing some 'God-thinking' about this just recently.. Hopefully!

Let's take a deeper look at unity. Unity is often taken to mean churches coming together for a project or in agreeing to share a set of common values. That's fine, but that isn't the unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17.20-21 where he said, 'My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.'

Unity is our relationship to and commitment to Jesus. Unity is how much we have submitted to the lordship of Christ in our lives. This starts with me and you. That is unity. Unity is not the lowest common denominator agreed by a group of Christians from different backgrounds. No. That is a false unity based on nothing more than a limited number of shared views. That can never be unity. Unity is much, much deeper. It speaks of the spiritual, how deeply we are living in Christ and how deeply we are allowing Christ to live and breathe in and through us. Jesus and God the Father are one but they are separate. Yet Jesus was fully 'in God the Father.' Fully. That is what Jesus is speaking of. He wants you and me to be 'in' him and the Father on that kind of incredibly deep spiritual level.

You see, at the moment there are lots of people looking to the Transformations Video style way, seeking God to move through people coming together in unity, prayer and worship. But are these becoming modern day Christian gods? Can something good become a god? Yep, if we look at how the rod / staff of Moses became an idol - people idolising the 'power' it had, rather than God, which was where the power really came from.

Seeking 'unity' or 'consensus' can be a problem. Consensus can often replace leadership (although God operates by theocracy not democracy). Far too often, 'consensus' means the lowest common denominator. Unity is more than this. Unity is drawing people together by going somewhere, not by seeking simply to bring people together.

Let's look at Nehemiah rebuilding Jerusalem. He brought people together by achieving a vision. He didn't just say, 'all the people of Israel should come together so we can see God move.' No, he got on with the task of glorifying God, from God's call, by re-building. God brought the unity of purpose - a challenge we'd all do well to get a heads up on today.

Friendship Evangelism

This is a complex area. But there is sooo much confusion surrounding this, no helped, in my honest opinion, by a fairly unhelpful thing called the 'Engels Scale'. On this scale, we find that people are placed on a sliding scale or whether or not they know God and how far away / close they are to God. In this system, people help unbelievers move 'along' the scale closer to God. It has its uses and can be a helpful tool. But it also causes a lot of problems.

Too many Christians use techniques like this to deny preaching the Gospel to people they do not know. Yet all over the world and the Bible, this has proved a faithful way. I'm not suggesting Bible bashing people but sometimes fear takes over from preaching the Word - something which Paul encouraged Timothy to do 'in and out of season.' (2 Timothy 4.2).

Many people have no relationship with Christians or understanding of God. Many times we need to do pre-evangelism to introduce people to God. That is fine. Many times we need to befriend and show big love to people - God shining through us. (Me and my mate helped another friend move house, none of their normal mates helped - for example). This is essential in a world where even in the UK, many people have no knowledge of Jesus. It's part of the jigsaw.

However, there are many cases of people responding to the Gospel who had no friendship with Christians or Christian history or understanding of the true God! See Zaccheus, or the 3000 saved when Peter preached, or the many saved when Paul spoke in the very un-Godly Athens (Acts 17). What about the traveling ministry of Wesley?

Let's try not to fit God into our theology - but rather fit our theology to who and what God is. Every piece of the jigsaw is essential. We need wisdom to preach Christ and to love as Christ. But let's not say one method is more effective. In fact, friendship evangelism is often an excuse not to share the Gospel with people. Let's be clear what we believe and ready at every opportunity to share this hope we have. (Ephesians 5.15-17 and Colossians 4.4-6).

Godly Thinking

A friend of mine recently did First Aid for a freemason AGM. I suggested that they get prayer cover before taking part. 'Nah' they replied, 'it'll be fine.' Another friend doesn't ever give any money to their church or to Christian projects, despite constantly being challenged. Someone else I know was told to take their baseball cap off in church or another person wouldn't stand near them. They left the church and walked home.

I'm not getting at these guys at all - as we're all imperfect and mess up all the time. But what I want to challenge people about is a Godly way of thinking. Our attitude MUST be God first, what does God think of this, involve God, ask God, consider the Godly consequences of doing or not doing something. But too often we think 'self' first or don't even bother to involve God. If our churches were to start ministering this kind of truth to people and the Spirit moved in the hearts of God's people to become disciples not Sunday Christians, then we'd start to see big things happen for God. I'm sick of the hypocrisy in our churches. People fronting about who they are. Take off your Sunday best and either wear it all week or wear your normal clothes (and by that I mean attitude) 24/7..

Accountability

A subject I've heard a lot about recently - but are we practicing it properly in our youth ministries? What is accountability? A place where we give account, where account is given. Accountability has seen a lot of popular press in Christian circles but have we really thought it out properly? Accountability is not attendance at a group or an abstract concept - but a supportive group, or meeting between individuals, where people talk about their spiritual life, their Bible reading, prayer life, what they've done right and wrong, where they're struggling, where they'd like to see God move more in their life etc. You can be accountable to a person, or between 2 or more people. The principle is a Biblical one - for example Paul and Timothy, Elijah and Elisha, Samuel and Saul, Jesus and the disciples. The Biblical model seems to be one of active support 'on the job' rather than simply a meeting with questions. Being 'in' something together brings accountability too. But there are many models of accountability. My plea is that we think out why and how we do it. Don't just follow youth work principles you've read in some book or been told about at Bible College. As with everything, test it Biblically, think about it and grow in its outworking. Additionally, we need to tailor accountability to a person and their needs and personality. When I meet with young people, hang out with young people, it has a real purpose. Its purpose is their discipleship, with me alongside as friend, leader, mentor, fellow traveller in Christ. I cajole, encourage, speak words of learned wisdom, talk about the Bible, fire God-visionary patriot missiles into their minds to equip them to think big etc. I will pull them up on stuff but never judge them, just love and support in God's truth. For some, this informal approach works. For others a formal way is more appropriate. But let's really think before we act and ask the hard questions. Please. Your youth ministry will be the better for it. If you're a young person, get alongside a youth worker where you see God, vision, encouragement and you will grow, and be a source of encouragement and growth to the youth worker. To coin a hip hop phrase, 'we all fam' - we're in this together.

Fluffy Spirituality

We've come up with a new phrase in the last few years - 'fluffy spirituality'. The fluffy brigade are well-meaning but live high in the lofty plains of spirituality, sometimes at the exclusion of practicality. I have stumbled across too many Christians seeking spiritual experiences, making spiritual sounding pronouncements and living in some kind of alter-spiritual world at times. I call these people 'fluffy' - as their language doesn't seem to connect with reality. I'm committed to being Spirit-filled and living a life in the power and discipline of the Spirit of God. But I want to live a life, see churches that live practical Spirit-filled lives. This is where we engage practically with the reality of the world through the Spirit of God in us. I'm not saying to be fluffy you are a hypocrite. But I've seen services where the manifestation of spiritual experiences are sought, rather than allowing God's Spirit in us to inspire us to reach a lost and hurting world. Fluffy spirituality puts spiritual principles above and beyond practical realities and can hinder the work of God or lead to laziness, poor quality, inaction. Why put on a quality service when the Spirit will bring people in? Why bother going out to reach people when all you need is prayer that alone will draw people in? Fluffy spirituality needs to be replaced by practical spirituality. This accepts our need of the Spirit but combines it with practical action that engages with people. Put together, it's a potent combination from and for God. Amen!

Leadership isn't simply empowerment

I recently noticed a common trend in leadership. This is a leadership style that releases people into areas of ministry through affirmation alone. This is a way of doing things where someone may say, 'I have an idea, it's this..' and the leader simply affirms the idea saying 'yeah, go for it' but the active support of the idea stops there. The approach is one of a co-ordinator but it's common in church life. But this isn't true leadership.

In your youth ministry, are you leading or are you simply releasing. When a young person comes to you and says, 'I think we should have more involvement in leading the youth group' what is the approach of the leader? In the style of leadership above, the leader would say, 'great, you can do next week, thanks.' Next week comes and the young person delivers the session.

But I want to encourage a deeper sense of leadership and mentoring. This is one that says, 'great idea, you can do next week with me, we'll plan and deliver it together. Afterwards we'll learn from each other. Then, the week after, you can take it and we'll talk in the week to make it happen and then feedback after.' Then you work with the young person towards them in their spiritual giftings and then release. This takes investment but it will produce quality future leaders. This is the way we try to work with each other as leaders, and with young people.

Be clear in leadership structure

One thing we have learned is to be very clear in leadership structure. Poor or no structure, confused or miscommunication structure, presumed or not even thought above structure - can cause real problems.

I heard about a joint churches event where the leader was never called the leader. Instead, although the leader made the decisions, other people also made decisions. The end result was a very confused structure, a leader who was undermined and an event without the clarity or result it should have had.

How could these people avoided this problem? Simply by appointing a leader or a leadership structure and making the boundaries very clear. 'Mr X will be the overall leader. Miss Y will do the publicity and handle press releases. Mr X will arrange the lighting. Mrs U will organise booking the venue.' etc. Where there is any confusion, Mr X and all the participants (and those outside) know what to do and who handles what.

Imagine a business where employees didn't know who to go for to get their pay. Imagine a business where to get your pay, you went to see one of 3 people. Imagine a business where people paid themselves. These things happen in different ways in youth ministries, churches, inter-church events - and it causes misunderstanding and plain inefficiency. If some ministries were businesses, they would've been bankrupt years ago and rightly so. There's no need to operate like this. God is a God of excellence and the Bible is a training manual without parallel.

Are some churches really being relevant?

I'm not attacking these churches so please don't take this the wrong way. But I am asking questions about the excesses of some churches. Just think that's all I'm asking..

If you have a service and various members of your church spend time roaring like lions, shouting, or running round bawling in tongues 'prophesying' over people, do you think unbelievers will feel comfortable with this? Is it even Biblical?

Let's think. Your name is John Doe and you hear about a great church near you. You overcome fear and all that society says and step over into the threshold of the church. You find out that the name of the church is the Beloved Saviour Harp and Bowl Church. 'Weird name, sounds a bit freaky..' thinks John Doe. Anyway, he continues in to be met with people roaring like lions at each others, a middle-aged woman at the front waving some ribbons around at the front and someone marching around each corner ordering demons away from the building in some strange foreign sounding language even though he looks local to the area. What will John Doe think? Well, probably that he made the wrong decision coming. If it were me, I'd be straight back out the door.

I even heard of a meeting that Christian friends went to, where en masse, they were so uncomfortable they left. As they left, they were told that because they were leaving they were unsaved, leaving one of the more vulnerable members of the group in a very bad state. I was so angry when I heard of their treatment. Totally wrong. I won't name the charismatic preacher but he is well known.

You see, if we have a meeting that's only for Christians who like to worship in this way, that's fine. But if I were John Doe and knew this kind of thing went on, I'd more likely go to the local deadly Anglican service as at least I'd know what to expect.

What did Paul say to the Corinthian church about this kind of thing? 1 Corinthians 14.23-25 from the NKJV:

Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.

In Acts 2 we find that when the Spirit of God filled the believers they started to speak in foreign languages. But read on to verses 6-8 and read..

And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, "Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?

So as the pastor of Abundant Life, Bradford, Paul Scanlon says, 'the first time believers spoke in tongues, it was in the language of the people around them.' Being relevant means thinking about the excesses of charismata, not seeking gifts or signs, but seeking Jesus - and remembering to speak in the language of the nations and peoples around us. (And I say all this as someone who speaks in tongues and totally believes in its power, as we pray, connecting in a deep way with God).

Let's carefully think about what we do, why we do it, what we're communicating to unbelievers. Let's have services that are Spirit-filled, Biblical, real, communicate truth relevantly with practical application. Let's show the world that we are a loving community, a life and world-changing community because of Jesus.

Are you faithfully preaching and teaching from The Bible?

Ephesians 5.25-27 - Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Each week, faithfully, with commitment in character and integrity, with preparation - are you preaching the Bible? Are you allowing the power and the life, the cleansing power of the Word of God to do its work in your ministry? Have you been in services without people bringing The Word? I have. It may be clever, funny or whatever, but it's powerless - totally powerless - and therefore pointless. If the Bible isn't there, the key way God speaks isn't there. Without it, there may be nothing anointed in your service or group.

Is your church or your youth ministry relevant? Really?

I challenge you to think seriously about your youth ministry, your church. Are you being relevant to the people that church is here for - the lost? What areas do you need to think about - not to water down the message - but to enable people to have access points and feel welcomed into your church. The first time people started to speak in foreign tongues in the Bible they spoke in the language of the people around them - they used the language of the people. What about you? If you are wanting to reach out then are you engaging with the people, the young people around you? We need to re-think what we do, especially on Sundays, so that the church in the UK starts to re-connect with people, so that we are not speaking and acting in alien ways so much that the people we need to reach feel alienated.

This is not about moving away from The Bible - but becoming more Biblical. This is in the Bible if our churchified religious churches care to re-read. Put it this way - are you doing things that create an unnecessary barrier between you and your community? Does your community even know your church is there? Tell you the truth, most people in my city and community don't know my church exists. What about your church? What a shocking situation. Even if people do know your church exists, will they cross the threshold, come in - we forget how hard it is. It really is the time to let loose, to go for it, to change. At least THINK !! Is your church or youth ministry growing or are you just turning over people? Why or why not?

Stop doing so many churchy things that have no place in the life of church, that people don't understand. Let's clear out the concept of church that is irrelevant, let's stop feeding that crock. Re-engage with the fact that God is relevant, it's about time people heard the voice of the bride of Christ rise up.

Christian bookshops

I'm not against Christian bookshops, don't get me wrong. They are great. But I recently visited 2 different shops and was amazed. In the one shop, an almost tangible silence (like a library) echoed in the air. The lady at the till stood over the shop as an old-fashioned matron might have stood over her hospital ward. The shop, which caters for all types of different Christians reminded me of a museum. I got out before the musty smell drenched my clothes! Off to another bookshop where I entered to the sound of disturbingly bad music, the kind designed for lifts or for removing people from shops. Bearing the pain, I proceeded to the CD section which contained only about 5 bands I liked, with very little musical choice, everything else being in the line of 'best worship songs ever' to which I like to add, 'performed in the worst way ever..' It was so frustrating. Having escaped this heathen-free zone and back onto the very heathen streets, a friend pointed out to me, 'That shop is doing everything we're trying to convince people that Christians aren't..'

Do you agree? If you weren't a Christian, would you go into many Christian bookshops? Probably not. I even heard of one bookshop asking a bunch of young people into punk to leave their shop as they were 'offending the customers'. As a friend said, Jesus would walk over and talk to the young people and engage with them. Same here - I'd probably buy them a CD each. But I probably wouldn't have found anything they'd like.. internet shopping here we go!

Is the 'worship band' the new 'organ'?

Many times I have heard complaints against organs in churches. Not so much that they are there, but that people insist they should be there. I don't know. Personally I don't buy or ever listen to organ music and don't much like it - but I know many folks do. But back in the day, music was written for organs. So some of the famous hymns we now sing were written with music designed for organs.

Today, things have changed. Or have they? Is the 'worship band' the 'contemporary' equivalent of the organ? Today many songs are written for guitar and bands. No problems. Except where churches and individuals start to insist that 'worship' (which is more than music anyway) is to be truly found in these 'worship bands'.

I know people who say this: 'God is found in the presence of the worship of his people.' And that is indeed a Biblical principle when applied properly. But what people really mean is - we want to put on a nice Christian worship music event for Christian young people. Fine. Sounds good. But unless it transforms lives and engenders action, then it's self serving and potentially a waste of time - unless your aim is to bring young people together or just pray, just sing.

Listen up: I'm not judging but have we elevated the Soul Survivor style bands and the endless cloned music in similar styles around the globe - to a status it was never meant for? In a few years will we be looking at the 'worship band' as another tradition that has crept into loads of churches - and maybe have a movement back for the organ? I don't know!!

Is the 'contemporary worship band' very 'contemporary' anyway? There are many 'contemporary' sounds around like urban music, hardcore metal etc. that are far more 'contemporary'!!

Radical Jesus, un-radical Christian music

Jesus was the most radical person ever in history. His message of hope and truth is increasingly radical in today's society. Yet in our usual Christian-ness, while the world listens to increasingly varied, cutting edge and creative music, the church languishes in one or two genres of music that no-one else much listens to and is about as radical as going for a swim in a swimming pool.

You see, when I look at the life of Jesus, Paul, John the Baptist, Elijah, I see a gospel being proclaimed that is radical, exciting, cutting edge, edgy, fascinating, awesome. Yet church music seems designed to put people to sleep. It's about as un-radical as you can get and doesn't necessarily lead people on to 'forcefully advance the gospel' (Matthew 11.12) but rather timidly offer it.

After a time of worship music in our youth service, a young person came up to me and pleaded, 'please can we have something a bit more radical, something different.' Other young people have left our church because of the music. Before you criticise them, we have worked with them to explain what worship should be. But they are longing for something passionate, real, something they like and listen to, that engages with them. And church worship music is too often not providing this. And especially not for guys.

If I have to sit through another church service with a dopey Christian song that is more soppy than a Westlife song, I think I'll throw a chair at the band. Where are churches worshipping musically through hip hop, rap, r&b, punk, hard rock, rapcore, nu-metal? I can't find many in the UK. Where are the churches worshipping musically through soft rock, acoustic rock, organs or choirs? All over the place. No wonder the 'world' makes fun of the stereotypical Christian 'sound'.

In your area, if there is a 'worship event' for young people, I'll put money on it that it means a soft rock worship band and nothing else. This says more about the type of Christian young people than it does about musical styles other young people like or listen to. We are in danger of creating musical clones. It's an endless circle and a vicious circle at that..

We have created endless worship music like Cliff Richard. We need worship music that's more like Ozzy Osbourne.

Don't get me wrong - if you like it - that's awesome - but don't go round forcing musical preferences on everyone else!

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