Pentecost and Beyond

This podcast was recorded weeks ago and is the final in our Bible series this school year. While the events in the last week have seemed gut wrenching, this podcast and blog can be a beginning of some discussion on how God is still speaking.  Pentecost is a time for us to celebrate the Holy Spirit uniting us together in ministry. Use this as a spring board for your devotion, education and conversation that is needed for the Holy Spirit to move us into a place of unity and understanding of one another. 

 

Scripture Readings:

  • Acts 2:1-21
  • Genesis 11:1-9

Teaching Points:

  • Interestingly, the word “Pentecost” doesn’t have anything to do with the Holy Spirit or anything spiritual at all. It means “fiftieth” and refers to a festival that was celebrated 50 days after Passover.
  • We now understand Pentecost to have been a moment when God poured out the Holy Spirit on early followers of Jesus, fulfilling the promise to be with them always and inspiring the birth of the early church.
  • There is a neat parallel between the story of Pentecost and the “Tower of Babel” story from Genesis 11 (also in today’s readings). In the Genesis story, diverse language becomes a stumbling block for the people, dividing them and limiting their power. In Acts, the Holy Spirit allows people to transcend differences in language, bringing people together and empowering them to join together in ministry.

Discussion Questions:

  • After the drama of Pentecost, Peter makes some pretty lofty statements about how the Spirit of God will be made manifest in people’s lives. Do you feel like those statements are true of Christians today? How so?
  • Does the story of Pentecost tell us anything about how God intends to be at work in the world? Does it tell us anything about the role we have to play? (This is an interesting contrast to last week’s eschatological worldview in which God will single-handedly sweep in and perform a “divine cleanup” of the world.)
  • Can you think of places or situations in which you have seen a “Pentecost moment”? Or, perhaps, places or situations in which you would pray to see a Pentecost moment?
  • The United Church of Christ uses the phrase “God is still speaking” to describe their understanding of God’s continuing activity in and through us. Do you think God is still speaking? How? Or why not?
  • What do you think of the idea that we are writing the “Third Testament” or “Continuing Testament” of God’s ongoing presence and action in the world? What books or writings (or podcasts or blogs) would you include in that Third Testament? What would you write?

Podcast Practically_Honest_Bible_Series_Ep_33

Image by Holger Schué from Pixabay

The Church Develops

This blog and podcast will cover later New Testament writing (pastoral epistles) We discuss a popular verse that addresses gender roles.

Scripture Readings:

  • 1 Timothy 3:1-13
  • Titus 2
  • Ephesians 5:21-33

Teaching Points:

  • 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus are referred to as the “pastoral epistles.” They were traditionally attributed to Paul, but most scholars now agree that they are not genuinely Pauline. These books date to the late 1st or early 2nd century. (Remember that Paul was writing in the mid-1st century.)
  • We can see in these readings that there is a shift in “tone” regarding what matters in the developing church. There is emerging concern about roles and positions and the attributes that are required to hold these roles within the church structure. It is in indicator that the church is growing and changing, creating a sort of infrastructure to guide their development.
  • We have talked before about some of the reasons that books might have been attributed to a particular person even though they were written by someone else. We may want to revisit that briefly.
  • We often group the epistles of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. However, scholars generally agree that Galatians and Philippians were written by Paul while Ephesians and Colossians were not and were probably written between 80-100 CE, after Paul’s death.
  • A good chunk of Ephesians contains instructions on everyday life, including the passage in our readings. This language about gender roles and the relationship between spouses has been a source of much discussion and disagreement.

Discussion Questions:

  • How do the rules and regulations about elders and deacons “feel”? Does it sound like material Jesus would have said? Why or why not?
  • Why would a growing church feel the need to outline these guidelines?
  • Do we ever create rules and structures that serve one particular group of people? What effect does that have?
  • How do the roles of men and women described in Ephesians 5 sound to a modern reader? What do we do with this material now?
  • This passage (Ephesians 5) is still read at weddings fairly regularly. What do you think about that?
  • What do you remember Jesus having said about men and women? Or what do you remember about the way that Jesus treated men and women, respectively? How does that compare with this passage?
  • What do you think accounts for an emerging emphasis on defining gender roles more clearly?

Podcast:

Practically_Honest_Bible_Series_Ep_31

Moms of the Class of 2020 Unite

The Class of 2020 will go down in history. They will be forever bonded because of their experiences they have shared being quarantined this spring. As the parents of these young people, we, too, share a special bond that others can’t understand. In this blog and podcast, three moms talk about our different experiences being in the same situation.

Bishop Tracy Malone has a daughter graduating high school and one graduating college. Lillian has a son in the class of 2020, a son in 8th grade and a daughter in 7th. My youngest is a daughter graduating high school this spring. So, we are all experiencing the circumstances of having our kids go through the disappointments of missing out on all sorts of important experiences. In the podcast, we talk about the phases of grief we have witnessed in our children as well as the emotions we have felt as we walk through this time with them.

We share our thoughts from our experience. As we watch our graduates process their emotions, we have had to ride this roller coaster along the way. But giving them time and space seems to have helped our own kids. We have also see that finding new or different ways to celebrate these milestones with them helps us all.  Ways to allow the seniors to be a part of the discussion and decisions will help them feel more in control of their chaotic life right now.

All three moms agree that it is also vital to look for the blessings in the situation we are in currently. What have you learned? What is something new you are doing? Who is someone you’ve come to know during the quarantine? (Or someone you know better, even a family member.) Focusing on the positives helps us get through tough times. Also, find ways to be a blessing to others. We have made cookies to deliver. I know other families have made cards to take to shut-ins. There are all kinds of ways to reach out to others.

Three months ago, no one would believe where we would be right now. Our seniors dreamed of all the “lasts” they were going to get to encounter. All the fun that comes with being a senior, especially the last few months. But that isn’t how our lives played out. It has been a difficult season, but we have managed to pull through it together. As parents of the class of 2020, we, too, will be forever bounded with one another through our common experiences with our children. Together we will be stronger because of it. Congratulations parents and a special congratulations to the Class of 2020!

Podcast:

Practically_Honest_Being a Class of 2020 Mom

 

Your Church Matters

This is a summary and response to Chapter 3 of Reggie Joiner’s book, “A New Kind of Leader.” This chapter takes a look at why your church matters to children and youth ministries.

The first point that the reader has to address in this chapter is, “Why does your church matter?” It is interesting that he says on page 49 that your church is a place, a physical location where people gather. In the recent weeks, we have learned that the “church” isn’t just a building. We have proved that, while we enjoy the community felt when we are physically in the same location, the church is exists outside a building as well.

“Church” is how/where you experience community, family and acceptance. It’s important to be sure you are creating a culture of acceptance for children and teens. This culture happens in the space where you gather in the church building, in homes where you hold small groups, and out in your community when you encounter kids.

I really appreciate this quote on page 52, “Youth can’t make relationships happen. You can only create environments that make it easier for relationships to happen.” Leaders and congregation members need to know names of the kids and what their interests are. These things will allow kids to know they are loved and have a place to belong. This includes the kids in your church and the community.

Kids need a leader who will improve the environment of their church. How can you personally take responsibility to improve your church in very practically ways? Think about how someone new feels walking into your church, especially someone who has never gone to church before. A few thoughts that Joiner shares in his book:

  • Use more convicting words on your church sign
  • Offer unlimited donuts for every child
  • Have a bear mascot to stand in the street and point one of those twirling signs at your church

I would add:

  • Make sure you have children’s activity bags for worship
  • Ask them to be a part of worship, including ready scripture or sharing about their camp or VBS experiences
  • Send birthday cards
  • Pray for them

Divisions in the Early Church

A quick look at the 13 books historically attributed to Paul, recognition of which probably were and were not actually written by Paul, and a focus on those that are “authentic.” This is the other “side” of the Pauline story.

Scripture Readings:

  • Galatians 1:11-17 (Paul’s conversion, per his own description)
  • Romans 3:21-31 (it’s interesting to read the entire chapter for context)
  • Romans 6:1-14 (again, would suggest reading the whole chapter)

Teaching Points:

  • Traditionally, 13 books (letters) were attributed to Paul: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon. (Hebrews was sometimes included as a 14th attribution.)
  • In modern scholarship, only 7 letters are agreed upon as authentically Pauline: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon. The remaining 6 (or 7, if you include Hebrews) were probably not written by Paul, though debate remains about some more than others.
  • When I preach to my congregation about Pauline authorship, I include only the 7 books known to be Pauline.
  • We want listeners to understand that writing under the pseudonym of one’s mentor/teacher was a common practice at that time and was seen as an honor to the teacher (Paul, in this case). Authors were not trying to be intentionally misleading or trip us up.
  • That said, it is really helpful to know which books are Pauline and which are not, because they are quite different in theme, style and content… and can give confusing messages if we are not clear on their context and timeline.

Discussion Questions:

  • Paul describes his own conversation in much less detail than does the author of Acts. Paul was writing earlier and, obviously, knew his own story. What do we make of that?
  • The letter to the Romans is a deeply theological (and complex) book in which Paul articulates his understanding of concepts like sin, grace, justification, and righteousness. These passages from chapters 3 and 6 articulate some of his thinking. How do we make sense of the idea of justification today?
  • How does Paul seem to explain grace in relationship to our responsibility to avoid sin? This has been a real point of contention in the church over the years! How do we understand it today?
  • Paul loves to use the metaphors of dying and rising, in conjunction with the idea of baptism, to talk about how we are transformed as Christians. How does this use of metaphor help us understand the way Paul writes?
  • Though they are not included in our readings, the authentic Pauline letters (like the letters to the Corinthians and Philemon) seek to address some very real problems and conflicts in the church at the time. Who is writing the “contemporary epistles” of our own time and attempting to address and unravel conflict in the church?

Podcast:

Practically_Honest_Bible_Series_29

Image by TuendeBede from Pixabay

A New Kind of Leader: A Strategy Matters

This blog is a summary and response to the second chapter in Reggie Joiner’s book, “A New Kind of Leader”. The chapter begins with the following questions:

  • What do you want kids to grow up and believe?
  • What exactly is your responsibility as a volunteer?
  • What are you hoping to convince parents to do?
  • What will be the best way to measure success?

These are great questions to ask your ministry team to work on together in order to start to shape a strategy.

Often, our strategy is nothing more than putting events on the calendar. Right now, while there are not events happening face to face, it might be a good time to think through some of these things.

There are a couple great quotes on pages 34-35:

” A strategy links whatever you have to wherever you are going.” In other words, it is almost like a road map. You know where you are and you know where you want to go, your strategy helps you get from “A” to “B”. Joiner says, “It’s your strategy, not your mission, that determines your success.” Let that sink in for a minute. For the most part, we have mission statements down. We understand we need them, we spend time writing them down, and then we check off the box that we have a mission statement. How often do we actually go back to that statement? And how often do we do much with it? The strategy is what moves us from where we are to that mission. Without strategy we continue creating events, doing small groups, and having Sunday school without thinking about how this is helping us achieve any movement forward.

  • What do you want kids to become?
  • Where do you want kids to be?

These are two important questions Joiner asks in this chapter. The first one can have a very simple answer. We want kids to become someone who loves God, loves others and loves the world. The way we treat them will help kids develop into these persons. And where do you want kids to be? If the kids at your church can only be one place, have time for one thing in their week, what do you want that to be? Put your efforts, financial, time and volunteers in there.

Reggie ends this chapter stating that kids need a new kind of leader who will play as a team. (pg. 43) Do you have a team around you? If you are paid or volunteer, everyone needs a team. The ministry can only grow as strong as the team that surrounds it.

So, maybe your first strategy is to build a team of people who will pray, rally, and work with the kids in your church.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Paul’s Missionary Journeys

This week we are talking about Paul and one “side” of the Pauline story. This also introduces some of the attributes of the early church (communal, house churches, etc) and controversies that developed early on.

Scripture Readings: Acts 2:1-21 (Luke-Acts’ Pentecost story)

Acts 9:1-9 (Paul’s conversion, per the author of Luke-Acts)

Teaching Points:

  • The same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke authors the book of Acts. We might think of Acts as a continuation of the story of Jesus as begun in Luke. As such, there is a cohesive writing style and some consistent themes throughout. We refer to this as Luke-Acts.
  • Acts has two key structural principles.
    • The movement from Jerusalem, core location for the Jews, to Rome, core location for the Gentile world.
    • The roles of Peter and Paul –  Peter deals with the Jewish Christian church; Paul embraces the mission to the Gentiles
  • Thus, the first half (or so) of the book focuses on Peter’s work and the early church (including Paul’s conversion), and the second half of the book focuses on Paul and his missionary work.
  • There are three missionary journeys described in Acts (ch.13-14, 16-20), although a few people assert a possible fourth journey or sometimes the voyage to Rome (ch.27-28) is included as a fourth trip.
  • Acts presents a very different picture of the early church than is presented in Pauline writing. For example, Acts presents a very harmonious church and a peaceful relationship between Peter and Paul. Paul’s own (earlier) writings signal discord in early faith communities and significant disagreement between Peter and Paul.

Discussion Questions:

  • We could spend—and people have spent—an enormous amount of time trying to understand and detail Paul’s various missionary journeys and the development of the early Christian church. Undoubtedly, we have some of it correct and some of it totally wrong. What do we make of this account of Peter and Paul, their relationship, and their movements that is so very different from what Paul describes himself? What are the overarching themes and principles that we might draw out of such complex stories and narratives?
  • What might have motivated the author of Luke-Acts to present a cohesive-looking vision of the early church?
  • Acts presents a communal picture of the early church, in which every shares what they have and gives large sums of money (even selling off property) to support the mission. What do we make of this?

Podcast:

A New Kind of Leader: Kids Matter More Than Adults

This blog is a summary and response to the first chapter in Reggie Joiner’s book, A New Kind of Leader. The title really resonates with me. Through the years, I have often thought that many of the issues we face with children/youth ministry lays with that fact that we do not take passing our faith on to the next generation very seriously. The Christian denomination has relied on the “professionals” or volunteers to train our children on the way they should go. We have not understood the responsibility to be on the whole congregation.

Joiner’s quote on page 19 is spot on, “[I]f you want to affect the way a generation sees the world, then it makes sense to start influencing their character and faith when they are young.” Anyone in youth ministry will tell you it is vital to form the faith foundation of individuals before the age of eighteen.

He goes on to say on page 20 that “What you do for kids is more important than anything else you do.” I know plenty of churches that believe if they spend money hiring a Children’s or Youth Director, give them a budget, they have done enough. This is just not the case. It takes the investment of the entire congregation in the lives of the young people in your community to make positive impressions. Reggie says, “What you do now for a kid is more important than what you do for them later as an adult.” (pg. 21).

Research shows that the average age of church members increases by seven years every decade. (pg 24) In fact, in the next decade the average age of those in our mainline denominations will be over sixty. I know many churches see this and want to do something about it. The problem is, we keep thinking we have to go back to the last time we saw the numbers we wanted in children and youth ministries. Here is the catch, we can’t do ministry now like we did twenty years ago when our Sunday school classrooms were full. Times have changed, culture has changed, kids have changed. But for some reason, the church has stayed the same.

So, bottom line here is: WE NEED MORE ADULTS INVOLVED IN THE LIVES OF CHILDREN IN OUR COMMUNITIES. Youth and Children’s leaders have been saying this for years. We MUST invest in the future of our faith, and the way to do that is to invest in the lives of children. This is not just a financial investment. Children need your time, your attention and your love. They need to know that there are adults in our churches who care about them enough to get to know their names, their activities, their interests and their passions. No one ages out of this responsibility.

If you have reached the end of this blog and are a little offended or uncomfortable, then I have accomplished my goal. I admit, I live with blinders on, always focused on ministry with young people, but I do not believe I am off the mark here. In fact this book states everything youth leaders have been talking about in their own circles for a number of years. So, what are you going to do about it? What conversations to you need to have? What questions are swirling in your head? Leave a comment, make a suggestion, or simply give your own opinion. Let’s start the conversation together.

This book is discussed on Fridays at 10:00 a.m. on Zoom. Send a message for a link to be a part of the conversation with youth leaders and pastors.

New Life, New Hope

We are talking about the new church and what the followers of Christ were going through after his death. It’s interesting to take a look at bodily resurrection, ways to understand and interpret Jesus’ various appearances and the words he shares with followers post-resurrection.

General Background:

  • We are coming into the home stretch with our podcast series! These final podcasts address some of the remaining “hot button” questions that we know young people ask and also address (as best we can) the remaining parts of the bible that we have not yet talked about.
  • Since these podcasts cover broader swaths of scripture, we’ll try to focus in on a few passages here and there as representative of the genre we are discussing.

Scripture Readings:

Luke 24:13-35

John 20:19-31

Teaching Points:

  • We want to remain cognizant of the time frame in which these stories were written. The Gospels were written between about 70-110 CE, or 2-3 generations after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
  • Luke, in particular, was probably written around 90 CE. John was the last gospel written, sometime after 100 CE.
  • It’s important to remember that the authors were writing down parts of the historical memory of Jesus, not necessarily eyewitness accounts that were meant to be taken literally.

Discussion Questions:

  • We sometimes gloss over the sadness and despair that Jesus’ followers experienced after his death. But they didn’t know how the story was going to end. How do you think they were feeling? What do you they were talking about?
  • How might this be helpful for us to remember in our own walk of faith?
  • How does remembering the sadness of the community around Jesus help to frame the Emmaus story? What jumps out in this narrative and what is the author trying to tell us about Jesus?
  • Luke commonly tells stories about Jesus in lengthy parables. There has been some assertion that the Walk to Emmaus is, in fact, one of those parables. Does this change our understanding of the story?
  • The idea of a bodily resurrection is one of the theological assertions with which some people struggle. How important is it to believe that Jesus’ physical body was reanimated? Are there other ways to understand resurrection that are equally helpful and valid?
  • The story of Thomas’ encounter with Jesus in the upper room is often preached as a story about doubt/belief. What do we do with our own doubt? How does Jesus respond to it?
  • This might be a neat place to talk about the various Greek words that we translate “faith.” (assensus, fidelitas, fiducia, visio)

Podcast

Leaning Into Tomorrow

We are talking about the effects of the quarantine in our lives and how relying on technology has impacted has changed ministry. This discussion also addresses how we will live into the future given these experiences. This particular podcast does not specifically address youth and young adult ministries, although it does affect these ministry areas.

We have been forced into using technology in new and exciting ways, but we miss gathering face to face. How will this change our future in ministry? While we may not have all the answers, offer some interesting questions that churches should be asking themselves.

  • How have we changed our definition of “community”?
  • Who have we reached while social distancing?
  • How can we make the worship experience more engaging?
  • How can we get more people involved in the worship experience? (beyond the pastor and musicians)
  • What do we want to continue after the quarantine?
  • What risks have we taken?
  • What successes have we encountered?
  • What improvements do we still need to make?

Ultimately, we have all been changed because of this quarantine. “Going back” is not an option for the church. We must figure out how we will lean into tomorrow taking all that we have learned with us as we serve our communities and engage others in our worship and discipleship experiences.