Monday, April 30, 2012

How do you keep Church "garbage" down?

Let me offer a  "Fraze" definition to get this blog started.
Church Garbage:  Those non-salvation (um...just started a fight...oops) items that we love to argue and split fellowships over that haunt the American church and keep the evangelistic growth rate at snails pace. See Worship Style Wars, Para-Church Partnership Wars and Who Sat in My Pew Debates. See also Problems all faith traditions battle.

Church garbage has the ability to creep into any fellowship and wreak havoc upon God's people. Paul wrote a young Timothy (I know, he was probably 30--I think that is young these days):

Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly (II Timothy 2:15ff).

If you have not read these versus before, they are rather powerful aren't they?  When you check the context of Paul's words, they really highlight the origins of Church garbage--We love to selfishly take sides and argue about our opinions and preferences.  The result? Well, all those highlighted words above happen.  When more and more Church garbage collects, it really begins to smell.  And then, the greater the smell the less attractive we are to those who need Jesus.  Seriously, who wants to visit a house in which trash is piled high in the corners and the smell is absolutely unbearable?

So what's the answer?  How does one keep Church "garbage" down?

One word:  MISSION!

This is not a church growth blog.  Yes, mission is more than a word and needs intentional, strategic and theological reflection on programming to fulfill.  I want to highlight the word in the context of church garbage.  As simply as I can possibly communicate: A church on mission does not waste time on the things that produce and collect garbage!  Utopian? Perhaps (I prefer the term theological idealism), but totally attainable and tangible in churches that strive to focus all their energy on being the hands and feet of Jesus in their context of ministry.  They focus on Mission!

So, if you are smelling a little garbage in your ministry.  Take time mending the relationships (take out the "garbage") and then focus your community on the reason you exist--pressing against those Kingdom of Darkness gates.  And if you can't verbalize your mission?
  • Start and continue with prayer asking the Lord to reveal what work He would have you to do in your community, surrounding community and world.  Ask others who will be involved in the next step to join in this prayer focus.
  • Begin a series of conversations with church leaders who are willing to have the hard but fruitful discussion concerning the following question. "What does the Lord want this body of Jesus followers to accomplish in our community, surrounding community and world?"  
  • And then, brace yourself, He will speak, you will follow and the adventure will begin.  
There will be garbage collectors that will resent such focus and want to divert the church's attention toward their own opinion(s) and idea(s).  And yes, it is never a pleasant experience to work through conflict with people (family life is messy).  In such situations remember, the more time a church spends on mission the less time they have to spend taking out the garbage.  

Question:  Do you agree with the statement, "A church on mission does not waste time on the things that produce and collect garbage"? Why or why not?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Oh my! Did I really say that?"

One of my least favorite things to do as a speaker is to listen to my own presentations.  It is a painful thing to do, but a needed pain to endure from time to time.  When I listen/watch to myself I often witness bad diction, misplaced humor, distracting movements, bad word choices, incomplete sentences (when I am saying words in my head but they do not completely leave my mouth) and presented material that just doesn't seem to flow the way I wanted. Realizing speakers are their worst critics and can have "off days," the exercise is still painful  (Oh, if you really want some "beneficial pain" of critique, ask a trusted friend to give you his or her take on your speaking).
Why then do I put myself through such pain?  To get better.

This method of skill improvement works in other areas of your life in which "words: are involved. When is the last time you listened to the way... spoke to your spouse? spoke to your kids? spoke to your students and families in your ministry? spoke to those you answer to and serve with in ministry (pastor, elders, deacons, volunteers)? interacted with your kid's teacher, coach, principle? interacted with the waiter at the restaurant?
It may be painful (again, for extra "beneficial pain" ask a trusted friend their opinion), but a needed pain to endure from time to time.  It will help you become a better communicator on the big and small stages of life.

Several years ago, while directing a summer camp, I learned a valuable lesson.  I was attempting to get a crowd of sugared up middle school students and anxious college aged counselors settled down and focussed on my words.  Totally unaware of how I was coming across, I brought one of my staff members to tears by the intensity of my tone and facial expressions.  Later that evening, still unaware of  my mistake, a trusted friend pulled me aside, loving told me of the feelings I had hurt and proceeded to constructively point out how my tone and facial expressions can come across as unloving and harsh.
Painful?  Yes!
Valuable information?  Absolutely!
From this day forward, I have become better at turning down the harshness of my tone and facial expressions when I communicate with peers, students, adults and especially my own wife and kids.

So...go ahead...listen to yourself, ask others to listen and get better at communication in all areas of your life.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tales of a Pleather Couch

Here it is.
My Pleather Couch with its decorative pillows (they came with the purchase)!

There are a lot of times in which I enter my office to find my couch missing.  
Why? do I say this... my couch is really famous around my church.  For those who attend The Hills Church, it has been seen in just about every major video series, promotion and interview over the last five years!  This couch has supported (or should I say provided "support") everything from world missions to this year's Student Ministry Girls' retreat! 

Even though it has an acting background, the real reason I love my Pleather Couch is for the comfort, even in "uncomfortable" conversations, it gives those who visit my office.  
If this couch could speak, it would tell you of...
...heartfelt prayers of repentance over some sin that found it's way into the light.
...the excitement the first time someone "gets" the cross.
...loud laughter over a joke that was shared. changing revelation created while reading God's Word.
...the cuddling engaged couple who will soon be married. 
...honest conversations between young men struggling to remain pure and holy in today's world.
...student ministry staff meetings in which tears where shed over a hurting student and/or family.
...a conversation with a student that needed a "safe place" to rest from and process their crazy day.
...all the quiet and not so quiet moments in which the Lord decided to enter a conversation.

This couch has a bunch of wonderful and not so wonderful tales to tell.  All the ups and downs of life and ministry located in once location--awesome!  

Yes, there are many other locations in which life and ministry collide, but the Pleather Couch location is particularly special. I look at it everyday, coming and going (when it is not out on "acting gig"), and it serves as a reminder of why I do what I do.  As a student minister, I get to enter into some holy awesome and often painful moments with people and share Jesus!  That is an incredible privilege and trust.  

Thank you Jesus for letting me be a part of the powerful ministry with students and the adults who impact their life so deeply!  Oh...and thank you for all the tales my Pleather Couch is able to tell. 


Monday, April 23, 2012

Dust on The Bible

Yes, it can be difficult; but, I love Student Ministry!


The Hills' Student Ministry just celebrated our amazing volunteers with a banquet in their honor.  Nothing says love like free childcare, free bar-b-que, free mechanical bull rides and a free t-shirt!  We love our fellow student ministry workers!

I do not use the word amazing lightly.  The adults of 24:7 get it!  They dig deep into the lives of our students and families.  I can honestly say, I have never gone to a single student ministry event, conference or meal and complained about the adults I work with--they are really that committed to ministry (they even let me say the word intergenerational without laughing--okay, they laugh a little).

Like most student ministers, paid or volunteer, we often wonder if what we are doing is making a difference.  Especially when it comes to a student practically living out what we are trying to teach them from the "stage" or as we walk with them through life.  With that in mind, the talented staff I work with created a parody reminding all of us that "their might be a little dust on their bibles, but don't let it fool ya, their changin' inside" (yes, the Texan speech was intentional).


Friday, April 20, 2012

Christian Narcissism: Walking the Line

Let me start by saying, "I get it!"

"Get what?" you respond.

I get that our society has changed and that a volume of competing messages fight for our attention constantly.  As a result, student ministers (any minister and church for that matter) need to be as creative as possible in assuring their "message" is one that grabs the attention of those we are trying to reach.  Furthermore, if you write books, speak for a living (more than the usual minister responsibilities), and/or produce any kind of product you need a level of self-promotion (publishers want this from their clients). Still, is it possible to cross the line between healthy self-promotion to Christian Narcissism?

Time for some definitions.

The fabled Wikipedia defines narcissism this way:

 Except in the sense of primary narcissism  or healthy self-love "narcissism" usually is used to describe some kind of problem in a person or group's relationships with self and others. In everyday speech, "narcissism" often means egoism, vanity, conceit, or simple selfishness. Applied to a social group, it is sometimes used to denote elitism or an indifference to the plight of others. In psychology,  the term is used to describe both normal self-love and unhealthy self-absortion due to a disturbance in the sense of self (definition accessed 4/19/12).

The not-so-fabled Fraze definition for Christian narcissism (wow, was that narcissistic?--does David have his own dictionary?  Easy--just a point folks):

 Except in the sense of primary narcissism  or healthy self-love "Christian narcissism" usually is used to describe some kind of problem in a person or group's relationships with self and others. In everyday speech, "Christian narcissism" often means egoism, vanity, conceit, or simple selfishness usually noticeable in a minister's over promotion of self and his or her ministry. Applied to a social group (or ministry), it is sometimes used to denote elitism or an indifference to the "others" (those not in the inner circle--yes, I borrowed that line from LOST). In (addition mine),  the term is used to describe both normal self-love and unhealthy self-absorption due to a disturbance in the sense of self in relationship with the work of the Spirit in making the name of the Lord famous (definition accessed and manipulated to make a point on 4/19/12).

I think anybody who weighs into the social media fray gets a kick out of seeing their blog, tweet, comments, article, interview,, talked about and/or create "hits" on the internet.  That is the point isn't it?  Yet, there are times, usually when I am on my Twitter account, that I get this feeling that a line is being crossed.

"David, how do you know a line is being crossed?" you ask.

"Well, is more of a feeling really" (I know--a bit of a cop out answer).  There are just times when a person's effort to be noticed in cyber space is a little too obvious and their desire to be seen as a player in various social circles painfully noticeable. it comes..."I have been guilty of line I can recognize it plainly."
Yes, I read some of my own tweets or see where someone has referenced one of my articles and can say I have experienced a "feeling" that a line has been crossed.

"Hello, my name is David Fraze and I am a battling, recovering Christian Narcissist."

With this truth on the table, let me give you a few questions and a statement I use to assist my walk between the line of healthy self-promotion and Christian Narcissism:
  • What is my "consuming" motivation? As stated earlier, self-promotion is not bad in and of itself and needed in a message saturated world.  In my opinion, self-promotion crosses the line when validation of self and/or "product" is a dead end pursuit.  What?  When you care more about getting your "name out" than the message a line is crossed (I know, it may take deep searching, but the two are not the same).  The Apostle Paul would often give his "credentials" BUT it goes without saying that his "consuming" passion was Christ--even when challenged by critics, this fact could not be denied.  Spend time reflecting on motivation before promoting.  
  • Can I celebrate the success of other ministers/ministries?  There are a lot of clever bloggers, tweeters and status posters (is that a word?).  There are even a few fwd. e-mails that are actually worth reading and spread across the world like wildfire.  I ask myself regularly, "David, is it alright if your blogs, tweets and status posts gather little or no attention?" "Is it alright if God uses your words to impact one instead of thousands?" "Is it alright if another ministry grows while yours doesn't?"  Asking yourself these questions and focus on celebrating other minister's/ministries' wins is a must for battling Christian narcissism.  Remember, we are on the same team!
  • Whose attention am I trying to attract? Why?  Again, a tricky question.  The point of sending a message is to attract attention--that is what we do in ministry.  However, do you seek the attention of the "inner-circle" (ministers/ministries with wide influence) because you have a message to share or because you want to be seen as a "player"?  Again, tricky question.  One that I am confident all have struggled with at one time or another.  Still, such questions are necessary to keep our promotion motivation in check.
  • (Statement) God has his own promotion department! I value the story of the Apostle Paul.  He appears to have walked the line of self-promotion and Christian Narcissism very well.  He used his "credentials" when needed but kept the focus on Christ.  As a matter of fact, in comparison to knowing Christ, he considered his "credentials" rubbish (actually, Paul used a very colorful Greek word that means the substance animals leave behind when relieving themselves).  He would say things like, "Follow me as I follow Christ" to indicate all that he had of value (and worthy of promotion) belong to the work of Christ in his life.  I firmly believe that it was Christ that made the name of Paul great among the Church and the nations so that His name would be glorified and the Kingdom advanced.  Here comes the fine line--be careful with self-promotion and leave room for the Lord to expand your ministry.  Oh...just a appears that many of those whom Christ made "great" their name paid a high price for their fame--suffering and/or a martyr's death.  Is this the kind of "fame" we seek when promoting our ministry and/or products?  I know this is a somewhat morbid line of thought, but it helps me walk the line
I hope these questions and statement help with your line walking.  Now, if you will excuse me, I have to hurry and post this blog, tweet it up, change my Facebook status and anxiously wait and count how many people are reading this post--Just kidding.