Church Leadership

Do you own that? Ethical considerations for church workers

“Make sure you know who owns what.” 

I remember Bob MacRae, my undergrad advisor, telling that to a class full of youth ministry majors about the stuff that you acquire and produce as part of your job.

This brought up ethical questions like:

youth ministry

Social media interaction with minors – Where do you draw the line?

I have a column this week on Slant 33 about this very topic. Here’s some sound bytes.

Youth ministry is dangerous. It will bring you into temptation. It’ll bring you face to face with your deepest fears and greatest annoyances. It’ll cause you to create policies and break them at the same time. Chances are, as you engage with students online, you’ll see all of that and a whole lot more. 

Invitation is the dividing line in my eyes. I think that, as we engage with our students through social media, it has to be about permission. I know many of them say things in Facebook messages or chat that aren’t honoring to God. I know many of them have secret Tumblr accounts and private circles on Twitter and/or Google Plus. But I don’t want to force myself there without permission. I don’t think my role as a youth worker should come with expectations that I’m an FBI agent, cracking into their private spaces to discover what they really think. 

First, I think your church leadership should wrestle through this question together. I know it sounds lame to think about drafting a policy, but there are both philosophy of ministry and legitimate liability concerns to think through. Most school districts do not allow teachers to socialize with students on Facebook. There is good logic there that is worth wrestling through as a staff. Whatever the policy is, it’ll take the staff team policing one another to enforce it. 

Second, I think that when you do engage your students, you should do it through a ministry account and not your personal account. For instance, it’d be a good idea to create a Facebook page for your ministry or church and then interact with your students by using Facebook as a page. It’s a nuanced difference but an important one. It puts you in a position where you are obviously an agent of the ministry instead of the individual person. Because, at the end of the day, that is your role. Just like you attend a Friday night football game as a representative from the high school ministry, you engage with students online as a representative of a ministry.

Read the rest (And Tash & Scott’s take on the same question!)

What say you? 

Church Leadership youth ministry

Love God, Cheat on Tests

If you believe in a loving, compassionate God you are more likely to cheat than people who believe in an angry, punitive God. This is according to a new study released called, “Mean Gods Make Good People: Different Views of God Predict Cheating Behavior” and covered in the April 30th edition of the L.A. Times.

In line with many previous studies, it found no difference between the ethical behavior of believers and nonbelievers. But those who believed in a loving, compassionate God were more likely to cheat than those who believed in an angry, punitive God.

“The take-home message is not whether you believe in God, but what God you believe in,” said Azim Shariff, a psychologist at the University of Oregon. Shariff conducted the study with psychologist Ara Norenzayan, who had been his doctoral advisor at the University of British Columbia.

Read the rest

More and more research is being done that youth workers need to unpack and adapt their philosophy of ministries to. There are studies like this, many of them, which show that Christian students aren’t altogether more moral than their non-Christian peers. (They cheat as much, sleep around as much, get in as many fights, etc.) And there are studies like Christian Smith’s work out of Notre Dame which shows that youth group graduates often believe in a god but not necessarily the God of the Bible. (Something he labels moralistic therapeutic deism.) and the Fuller Youth Institute’s Sticky Faith study which will be published later this year. (Based on what I’ve seen/heard from FYI, there seems to be some strong correlations between certain types of ministry/parenting skills and a successful transition from middle adolescent faith development to adult faith.)

Here’s what we do know:

  • There are plenty of people in America who worship the God they want to believe in instead of the God of the Bible. The first sentence delineates between a punitive God and a compassionate God. In truth, God reveals himself in the Bible as both. While we can’t fully define God with our finite minds, God has shown us that He possesses moral and non-moral attributes, the fullness of which we struggle to grasp.
  • While freedom from bondage to sin is part of the sanctification process, it is not the means nor main point of salvation through Jesus Christ. There’s a difference between being bought and paid for and going on to live a moral life. Christians believe there will be many, many good people in hell. Being good doesn’t make you any more a believer in Christ for salvation than being a Cubs fan makes you eternally optimistic. Somewhere along the way how we are teaching adolescents is leading them to believe that a life with Jesus means we can be happy sinners.
  • Much of our evangelical “nice” culture isn’t changing culture as much as its leaders would like to believe it is. I’ve never met a youth pastor who would admit that her students would cheat on test as much or more than their peers. They will always defer and say, “Not my kids.
  • Something in what we are teaching is awry if it doesn’t lead to high moral standards. While the point of a life with Christ isn’t to have flawless morals… it truly should be the by-product of a life sold out for Jesus! I don’t know what is going wrong, but somewhere, something is lost in translation.
  • Followers look up to their leaders. They behave the way their leaders do and they model their lives after them. So these studies also reveal something deeply wrong and disturbing about church leadership. We each must examine ourselves and ask difficult questions, seeking accountability. How is it that our leadership is leading to a belief that it is OK to lie, cheat, and act immoral?
Church Leadership Current Affairs

3 Responses to a Broken Arm

Christian Living illustrations

Why aren’t more people good?

Photo by René C. Nielsen via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Maybe people don’t like to do good because they haven’t gotten bored with being bad?

I had this thought while listening to an episode of This American Life called, Superpowers. In one of the stories a researcher spent months going to bars and asking patrons which superpower they would like to have and why.

Most people either answered that they would like to fly or that they would like to be invisible.

As the research continued, he discovered that while some people claimed they wanted to fly or to be invisible for the sake of doing good, in actuality… when they were totally honest… they wanted to use their superpower to do things that were naughty. And while flying sounded kind of fun, they really just wanted to be invisible so they could see people naked or steal stuff.

That’s when I started to wonder: “Maybe people with superpowers do good stuff in the world simply because they’ve gotten bored with being bad?

Think about it. The question Barbara Walters always asks a celebrity doing good in the world is always along the same line of reasoning.Bill, you are the richest man in the world. Why did are you giving it all away?

And the answer is a meme. (Poor people like us, we love to hear the meme.) “Well Barbara, you can only own so many houses and meet so many famous people before you realize that there must be something else more meaningful in the world.

Yeah, I’m calling them on that.

You know full-well that someone like Bill Gates or Angelina Jolie or Warren Buffett or Oprah Winfrey are doing so much good in the world only after they have gotten bored doing some really bad stuff. There are only so many Maserati’s one can crash. Or sports teams one can buy. You can only have bald eagle for dinner so many times. You can only buy so many islands. You get the idea.

Tiger Woods isn’t the first and he won’t be the last suddenly wealthy person to buy a yacht called Privacy and line up 10-20 women.

You don’t wake up  thinking “I’m bored with this life, I need to commit to doing really good stuff from now on” until you hit rock bottom. You discover that only when your wife shows you a drawer full of Maserati keys. Or you wake up on your bathroom floor surrounded by a bowl of chocolate covered baby sea turtles you didn’t finish, Ben Affleck passed out next to you, a half a pound of cocaine, and a random baby in your closet.

The first thing you do with newfound wealth is never give back. It’s always consume, consume, consume. And the epiphany comes when you took it too far.

Back to my reality

Photo by Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos via Flickr (Creative Commons)

When I think about my own life, my own free time, and the people in my life… each day we are faced with a similar choice. With the time I have available, will I do something productive for society or will I do some consumptive?

  • Do I volunteer more hours serving the people of my church?
  • Do I go play golf?
  • Do I go on a kick-butt vacation?
  • Do I go on a mission trip?
  • Do I attend a charity fundraiser?
  • Do I buy a big plasma TV?

In the end, given the choice, I do some good in the world and I do some bad. (Not that those things above are horrible or anything. But you get the idea.) But if I’m honest about my motivation for doing either of the things above… it’s more often about mood than principle.

At the same time, as a leader, I’m often in a position of trying to motivate people to do something for good. And sometimes we are left scratching our heads and wondering, “Why aren’t people busy doing good?”

Maybe the answer is simple. Maybe they aren’t busy doing good because they haven’t gotten bored being bad?

Church Leadership

Why I Stand Up to Bullies


What if you found out that the principal had denied access to the gay/straight alliance because of some technicality… a rule the Christian club broke all the time? Would you take a stand for the gay/straight alliance? They have the right to meet at the school under the same rules that give the Christian group rights to meet. I asked this question to a senior pastor friend of mine over a cup of coffee. The conversation got to this point when he asked me why I was always standing up for the little guy. I told him that our role as Christian leaders was to help others seek justice to which he replied, “Well, some things deserve justice and equality while others don’t.

And Christians wonder why some people hate them?

Let me share a few reasons why I think more Christian leaders don’t stand up to bullies:

1. They are wimps. Somewhere in all of our education we are taught to never fight the system, just to submit to the ruling authority, and smile at old ladies on Sunday mornings. I’ve met far too many church leaders whose only leadership skill is diplomacy. Diplomacy is great. But the desire to negotiate is worthless if no one takes you seriously. Just because you are a church leader doesn’t mean you have to be a pansy.

2. They have horrible theology. In the above discussion you see it played out. That church leader was only interested in standing up for the Christian group. No one else in the community matters to him because they don’t directly benefit him. (Directly, meaning he doesn’t see the connection between justice and church growth!) You know, Jesus and his disciples only ever stood up for the religious folks, right? Just ask the woman at the well and that woman about to be stoned when caught having sex.

3. They are afraid of their churches. Good Lord, imagine what would happen if the senior pastor actually stood up against injustice in his community! I mean, what would the board say? I mean… if I don’t do what they say I could lose my job! (See #1 & #2)

4. Their worldview is jacked up. I could ask the pastor above if he was an absolutist or a graded-absolutist and he’d swear oaths to Josh McDowell that he was walking the absolutist straight and narrow. But based on how he answered the question above you’d see that he’s really a relativist. (gasp) He’d stand up for the Christian groups right to meet at a local high school because he agrees with them. But because he doesn’t agree with gay/straight alliance, he wouldn’t. Relativism in action. So what’s good for one group isn’t good for another, right pastor?

5. Their priorities are out-of-order. The last cop-out I hear all the time is, “I’m so busy running the church.” Too many who work in churches are so worried about running the programs of the church that they forget their place in society. Think about it… most pastors make horrible neighbors. They are too busy to be a part of the community, they use their house as a meeting location, and they are preaching all the time that you should love your neighbor despite the fact that they don’t know their own neighbors names or love them one bit. It shocks me that the way evangelical churches operate that they are so out-of-balance with the community’s need.

I know these are generalizations. And I know that people think that if they can dismiss one single point with a specific example they can dismiss all that I’m saying. Please don’t lose the point of the post by disagreeing with a single generalization. The point is that if you want to be a Christian leader in your community, you don’t need the title of pastor. What you need to do is look deeply at what’s going on, expose injustices, speak out for the weak and poor among you, and stand up to bullies. Whether that’s a school board, a government official, a nasty neighbor, a gang, the big donor at church pulling the strings, or even some bullies picking on kids as they walk to school.

Jesus is a big fan of justice, are you?

Church Leadership Culture management Marketing

Free vs. Paid Content in the Church


Whether you are aware of it or not, there is a raging battle going on about the concept of free vs. paid content on the internet. Big names in media like Rupert Murdoch have drawn the line in the sand– they are going to make people pay for news content. Others have embraced the Google model of an advertising-based system of free content. Last week Seth Godin took the debate to a new level. He is firmly in the free camp while Malcolm is in the the paid camp. Of course, most of Seth’s income comes from consulting, speaking, and book proceeds– so Seth may be in the free camp for some things, but his paycheck comes from paid content too.

Inside the church the same debate has just begun. And all of these questions lead back to the same two central questions that newspapers are wrestling with, “Since creating content isn’t free, who is going to pay?” “In a world of free content, where is the ethical line?

Two Sides to the Content Coin

1. Gospel-oriented content should be freely available. As someone who has successfully started an internet business in the last five years I know the power of free. Ask Tim Schmoyer. Ask Ryan Nielsen. Nothing draws traffic to a youth ministry website quite like free. In the youth ministry world there is an expectation of free content. There is a righteous indignation when you question the ethics of free, too. No one cares that it costs me thousands of dollars to create, host, and market “free” content. There is a general consensus that stuff about youth ministry should be free and you shouldn’t expect anything in return for free lessons, videos, music, etc. “Don’t ask me to click on an ad. Don’t ask me to sign up for a newsletter. I need something free because I don’t have budget to buy stuff.” I’ve gotten nasty emails from folks who insist that all content about ministry should be free. These same people often are in paid ministry. So they want to get paid for using someone’s free content. Talk about wanting your cake and eating it too! Sheesh.

2. Gospel-oriented content should cost something. Of course, the ironic thing about the free thing is that the people who think ministry content should be free want to get paid by their churches, ministries, or non-profits. If I told you that you shouldn’t get paid for being a youth pastor you’d get angry with me! There is a certain immaturity to the free thing. At the end of the day there is no such thing as free content on the internet. Someone sits down to write something, they save it as a PDF, they post it on a website, and they offer it for free to anyone who wants to download it. It seems free when it isn’t. That computer cost you something. The education that powered your thoughts cost you something. The time you spent creating it… was it for work you were being paid for at the church? If so, does that content even belong to you? If it was your free time, isn’t that time worth something? If you don’t think your time is worth something why should I use your stuff? When you posted it somewhere on the web, who paid for that server space? If it’s on a well-known site, who is paying for the building of that site/brand? Who is paying for maintaining it? If you added graphics to the content, who paid for that? If you had someone proofread it, who paid for that persons work? That doesn’t seem free to me.

There is no such thing as “free” content, even Gospel-oriented content, so people should expect to pay something for the works they use. The real question is, “Who should pay?” In the old media world the user was expected to pay for the content. You subscribed to a newspaper to get the content and the profit in the model came from advertising. You wanted a book so you went to a bookstore and bought it. In the 1980s and 1990s most of us in ministry would have thought it immoral to copy books and give them to friends, copy cassette tapes and give them to students, etc. But now there is an expectation that advertising will somehow pay for all the content I want/need. That’s the new media age. Free to me, let advertisers foot the bill. Wouldn’t it be funny to see a pastors salary supported by advertising? He’d preach in an outfit that resembled a Nascar driver’s suit! It’s always funny to think about real world applications of stuff we do on the internet everyday, isn’t it?

Digital media has created an ethics dilemna for people in ministry, hasn’t it? There seems to be a feeling that the parable of the talents can’t possibly relate to actual money. People who advocate for free content will concede… “It’s OK to break even, just don’t get rich!” So if content cost me $500 to produce a lesson… why is it wrong to want to return $1000? (Like the parable) Don’t you remember the parable… Jesus called the man who just broke even a wicked and lazy servant. What then would Jesus say to people who intend to invest $500 in content and give it away? Super wicked and super lazy?

We would never walk up to an auto mechanic and expect him to change our oil for free simply because we are in ministry. We would never go to the dentist and insist that he give us free dental. We would never go to the grocery store and expect the grocer to pay for the pastors food. And yet we have no problem with this when it comes to Gospel-oriented content. Something is out of whack, isn’t it?

As with all things that seem to leave us in a quandry– I am wondering if there is a 3rd way. Is there a way that is both ethically satisfying and free? Is there a way that is both affordable for ministry folks and pays for itself?

Chime in. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. If you’re in the paid camp– speak up! If you think everything should be free, give me a counter-punch.