The Truth Matters

This blog is a summary and review for Chapter 5 of Reggie Joiner’s book, “A New Kind of Leader.” It is a great little book to read as a leader in Children or Youth Ministry whether you are a paid staff person or a volunteer. These summaries will highlight the most important points, but to get all the information, you should pick up the book and read with your ministry team.

This chapter starts establishing the fact that truth always matter. However, to teens, it doesn’t matter what you know, if you are right or if it’s true. “It only matters if it matters to them.” (p. 75)

Here are a few things to consider when discussing and thinking about truth

  • The Bible is TRUE
  • Every TRUTH is not in the Bible
  • Every truth does not matter equally
  • Every truth does not matter to everyone

So, it is important for those who lead children and teens to prioritize which truths are most critical to teach. If you then consider the above statement that things only matter to kids when it matters, our job becomes a bit complex. You have to take the truth and make it relevant. This does not mean the truth changes, it just indicates the it is up to the teacher to reword it, re-frame it, repackage it, re-imagine it until it matters to a child or teen. (pg 78)

We all know that it is important to be in the lives of teens. That takes time, listening and learning about them. You need to know what is going on the other 167 hours in their week when they are not in church. You have to connect the truth with what is real and relevant in their world.

It is also extremely important to understand about child development. Kids ability to understand abstract concepts, like faith, doesn’t develop until their teens years. When they are children they have a blind faith that is helpful for them to establish a love for God. Think about things like Santa and the Easter Bunny. At some point in the older elementary years, the idea of imaginary legends doesn’t make sense. Have you ever seen a giant bunny? And how does Santa make it all the way around the world in just one night? The same doubts can come up about God and faith which makes it vital for adults to allow children to ask lots of questions. The adults need to be prepared to respond with truths. Even if that truth is, “I don’t know the answer.”

I really appreciate the advice given in the second half of this little chapter. It is so important that when we are focused on teaching theology and faith that we do not forget that the heart matters. If you do not connect with the student, getting to know them, they will never listen to any truth you try to share with them. “[W]e don’t begin with theology, but we begin with what we have in common-fears, joys, challenges, and a new for love-and that draws people in…” (pg 80) This is true for parents as well. It is important for any adult who loves children to understand the importance of interacting with them, to play a game, to eat a meal, to listen, to read alongside, and to watch a band concert. It’s this kind of investment that shows kids how much you care so that you can have influence in their lives.

 

Every Family Matters

Does family matter to the church? This is a summary and review of Chapter 4 of the book, “A New Kind of Leader” by Reggie Joiner. We will dig into this question and search of an answer in our own context. 

Our churches all say that family matters. Everyone would agree with this statement. But what exactly is the definition of “family”? We have created a stereotype of family that illustrates a two parent household, dad and mom, with two biological parents. But as Joiner points out in his book, this family dynamic is only 20% of the households in America. This eliminates the single parents, adoptive parents, step parents and grandparents. “If every family matters, then we may need to consider the possibility that every parent (or guardian) matters.” (pg. 61)

The book suggests that in order to reach kids, we need to come to an agreement on three things:

  • Every parent matters because they matter to God.
  • Every parents matters because they matter to their kid.
  • Every parent matters because their kids matter to them.

Imagine how everything, not just ministries, in our churches would change if we started believing that what happens at home matters more than what happens at church. Joiner makes the argument that parents simply spend more time with their kids. In a single year, parents spend 3,000 hours with their children. Compare that with the time kids spend in church. If you have Sunday school or youth group every week and a child/teen attends every week the most time you may have with them is 52 hours. If they attend two of your programs every week, you can double that. But how often do you have a kid in Sunday school every week? Think about how this has especially changed in the last few months with the quarantine we have all experienced. 

Of course parents and the church isn’t the only places where kids have adults that influence them. Teachers, coaches, extended family all provide adult interaction for kids. But, keep in mind that 75% of the people in your community will not attend church on Sunday which includes a lot of parents.

“The truth is, if parents don’t think your church matters, you will have a hard time influencing their family.” (p. 65)

Joiner suggests four reasons he thinks families outside the church do not attend church:

  • Families outside the church don’t TRUST us.
  • Families outside the church don’t BELIEVE us.
  • Families outside the church don’t GET us.
  • Families outside the church don’t NEED us.

If this is the reality, what is our response? Do we just let families be and let it be their problem that they are not attending a church? Or do we make it our mission to help parents. In fact, Joiner puts it this way: “We won’t change the way families outside the church see us until we change the way we see them.”

Children and Youth Ministries have been built for years on how we can develop the kids in these ministries. All along we have left out the most important piece; the family. These ministries need to find ways to build a bridge to the family and connect with parents. 

Reggie ends this chapter with this quote:

“Every parent needs…

to have an ally, so they don’t feel alone.

to know what to do today, so they have a plan.

to see how they are winning, so they have hope.”

What is your church doing to support parents? How can you build bridges to make connections with families? These questions are vital, especially now, as parents are stressed with educating their children at home, while working and finding ways to entertain them over the summer. Dig deep, pray hard and share any ideas that come to mind.

Image by kalhh from Pixabay

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

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

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.

Drop Your Canoes!

Some of the most profound quotes come in the beginning of the book, “Canoeing the Mountains” by Tod Bolsinger.  He shares this from page 32, “Steve Yamaguchi, dean of students at Fuller Theological Seminary, says that when his spiritual director took a flying lesson, he asked the instructor why they use flight simulators so much.  The instructor said, ‘In the moment of crisis, you will not rise to the occasion; you will default to your training.’”  How many of us have been there?  When things aren’t working out, if you start a new ministry or even when a ministry has been around for some time and it begins to not work anymore, what do we all do?  Go through our files, reach onto our shelves and pull out something that worked in the past to see if it may help now. We may throw a new twist into it using the latest technology that we can afford.  The next quote from Ed Friedman really hits hard, “When any…system is imaginatively gridlocked, it cannot get free simply through more thinking about the problem.  Conceptually stuck systems cannot be unstuck simply by trying harder.” Bolsinger goes on to say, “We are imaginatively gridlocked. We can’t see our way to a new way of being, a new response. We are growing more anxious about the decline of the church and the demise of whole religious structures. We don’t know what to do. So we keep trying harder; we keep trying our old tricks. But, of course, it doesn’t work.” (pg. 32)

What is it that needs to happen?  Remember the premise of this book…we have to leave everything we know behind and move into the future with an open mind and fresh ideas to survive.  So, guess what?  We need to re-imagine ministry.  Discover new adventures.  Start asking how God is calling us.  How is God calling our churches to accomplish God’s mission for the world.  It will require new things done in new ways. Maybe we do not know what that looks like, and that will require some imagination and reinvention.  It will require some trial and error.

If we refer back to the illustration the Bolsinger uses, the Lewis and Clark expedition, we can make the same conclusions.  Once Mariwether Lewis stepped off the map into unknown places, he quickly realized that what he faced in front of him was nothing like the terrain behind him.  And what he had brought with him to help in his travels will no longer aid in the adventure ahead.  They brought canoes because they thought there would be a water route to help them get to the Pacific Ocean.  So what were they to do?  Change.  Come up with Plan B.  Adapt.  Figure out a new way.  Friends, this is exactly where we find ourselves.  There are big mountains ahead of us, and deep valleys we must go through.  How are we going to do it?  That’s a hard question to answer, but what I do know, we can’t do what we have always done.  We must change, adapt, find a new way.  Let’s ditch our canoes because we can’t keep trekking forward carrying tools that are no longer helping us.  We have to let go, and keep moving forward.  Trust that God will provide exactly what we need along the way.  But what is evident in the book, and a great reminder for each of us, the only way to tackle the mountains ahead is by keeping the course (mission) and being great leaders who others can depend upon.

Are you ready to drop the canoe?  Do you have what it takes as a leader?  It’s a huge step of faith, but I believe with the grace of God and leaning on one another we can hike these mountains, and valleys, together!

Leave the Canoes Behind

I read this book at the end of last year, and if you have had any ministry conversations with me, I have probably mentioned it to you.  If you are in ministry right now, and especially a United Methodist (pastor or laity) I HIGHLY recommend this book!

Tod Bolsinger, the author, connects the Lewis and Clark expedition to what we are all experiencing in the Church in the US today.  I think the illustration is brilliant!  You see, Lewis and Clark set out with the expectation that the uncharted territory of land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase was the exact terrain as that in the east.  They believed that there was a water source that would connect the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean, that the slight incline to the Missouri would decline on the other side and in their canoes, they would travel to the Pacific.  But they found mountains.  And when they were told by the Mandans that they would have to cross the mountains ahead of them, what reference did they envision?  Absolutely, the only mountains they knew, the Appalachians.  For any of us who have seen both in person or even in pictures, you know these were not the same mountains they had seen before in the east.  So, when exploring the land ahead of them, Lewis and Clark and company, soon learned all of the knowledge and experience they had from exploring American in the east was not going to help them in this new expedition, they were in for a bumpy ride!

My friends, we are ALL in the same position.  Let’s face it, the world in front of us is NOTHING like the world behind us.  The millennial generation is the only generation who knows what it is like to learn how to use a computer in elementary school (or before).  We get information on events seconds after things happen.  I like this quote from page 27, “[A]fter centuries of stability and slow, incremental change, in less than a generation our world has become VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.”  This isn’t going to change.  The skills we learned in school, the books we’ve read, our teachers, our experiences, nothing can prepare us for where we are in history TODAY, and how we need to move forward into the future TOMORROW.  I believe that those of us in the church are feeling this more so than in the business world.  I am asked to speak in churches and around the conference about young people.  I know everyone wants to hear about what magic program we can develop, what ministry can we pull out off of the shelf that will draw in more young people.  Canoeing the Mountains  solidifies what I have been saying…do NOT recreate anything you have tried in the past.  It won’t work.  We are in new times, with a new generation, and what worked before will NOT be successful today.

I realize that no one likes change, and I will be the first to admit that change is scary stuff.  I don’t agree with change for the sake of change, but Friends, let’s get real.  Leave your canoes behind.  They are not going to be useful for the road ahead.  It is time we begin to ask ourselves, “What is God’s mission for the world and how can we, as a church, fulfill that mission?”  It’s going to require new ways, new thoughts, new avenues.

I hope this gets you thinking, that it stirs something that makes you want to dive a little deeper.  Pick up the book, or just read these blogs and discuss your thoughts.  No doubt we are in for a change, and I agree with Bolsinger, our experience from the past is not going to help us navigate this uncharted territory.  Are you ready?  It’s going to be a bumpy ride!

Not Safe for Church: 6th Commandment~Thou Shall Watch the Throne: Rethink Leadership

When you think about the leaders in your church, what comes to mind?  Who are they? What are the requirements to be in those positions?  What are their responsibilities?  I have seen more times than not, churches being led by mainly men, particularly white and mostly those over the age of 50.  Now, I don’t have anything against older men being in leadership positions; however, what message do we send to the generations from the post-civil rights movement if they are not represented at the table where decisions are made?  That’s exactly right…your opinion does not matter to us.

In the sixth chapter, the authors of Not Safe for Church get right to the heart of why I believe many young people are walking away from our churches.  Powe and Smothers hit on the lack of younger leadership in the church.  Think about it this way, imagine walking up to a group of acquaintances at a party.  These people are in the middle of a conversation about something you are passionate about, it could even be a topic you deal with in your place of employment.  Throughout their conversation you try to interject your opinion or thoughts, but they only politely smile and go about their discussion, never really listening, responding or including you in the discourse.  What would you do?  I know the action I would take, I would eventually walk away and find another group where I felt welcomed.  Church, do you understand that this is exactly what you are doing to young leaders?

In the United Methodist Church, we actually do invite young people to sit at the table of committees and boards, because that is what our discipline dictates.  However, more times than not, they are “token” members.  They are there, but are never actually a part of the conversation.  Or, as Not Safe for Church points out, the meetings are set at times that are impossible for young people to attend.  Again, not very welcoming.  Naturally, we ask ourselves why? Why are young people not invited or included?  The book states fear as being a probable cause.  Fear of the unknown, fear of failure.  We like things to be the way they have always been, it is easier that way.  Young people may bring a different perspective, a new way of thinking; they may bring change.  Things the church fears most.  Fear is one reason young people are excluded from our conversations, but also, I challenge it could also be lack of awareness.  Maybe young people are not invited because leaders never stopped to thing about the fact that they are missing or have great ideas.  After all, we all get comfortable in our settings.  We like the people that are around us, those that are on our committees.  They are the ones that do everything anyway, so it is just easier to ask our friends.  Young people are also seen as irresponsible, and non-comital.  But is that really true? I think not.  I see young people committing to causes all the time.  But, they have a vested interest in these organizations.  These are opportunities where decisions are being made, lives are being impacted and change is happening.

When the church doesn’t engage young people in leadership positions, they will inevitably find other places to use their gifts.  They will commit their time and energies into systems that are open to their way of leadership, their innovative ideas, and their way of thinking.  God is still going to use these individuals to further His mission.  As Powe and Smothers states, “God’s vision is larger than any of us can imagine and will come to fruition even when we attempt to thwart it.” (p. 81) I do not believe anyone would deny, the research that shows, Christianity in American today is in decline.  Our churches are slowly sinking.  No one sitting at the table currently seems to have an answer.  Has anyone taken the time to think, maybe we have ignored the very generation who holds the answers to multiplying God’s kingdom here on earth?  Are we too afraid, too self-absorbed to listen?  “If we are focused on God’s mission and not the throne, then we are opening ourselves to bringing it to fruition.” (p. 82)

Church, let’s realign ourselves to seek God’s mission for our churches, and don’t leave anyone out of the discussion.  Seek to find young people who are willing and very able to be mentored into leadership positions.  Give them an opportunity to have a voice at the table.  Allow God to use them in new and exciting ways.  Revivals in the Church have always started with young people, maybe it’s time to allow them the chance in the church to show us what they are made of, what gifts God has given them.  Maybe it’s time for us to listen, and for young people to do the talking.

Not Safe for Church: Fourth Commandment-Thou Shall Check Yourself before You Wreck Yourself. Provide inclusive worship and Bible study.

I think most of us have experienced one time or another, feeling like an outsider, inside a church.  If you haven’t experienced it yourself, maybe you have had a conversation with someone who doesn’t feel like they are welcomed.  You know, we can’t have “them” in the church, they wear jeans, have tattoos, or have a different haircut.  There are plenty of examples of those “inside” the church creating an “us vs. them” mentality.  Jesus is the perfect example of loving people who didn’t always fit “the mold.”

This chapter begins by explaining the importance for churches to not simply continue what they have always done, or to try to tweak what they always have done and package it in a new way, but to truly make a change to reach the post-civil rights movement.  If churches are going to be welcoming to all people, it needs to be ALL, not just those that look like the 99% that sits in the pews regularly.

I particularly like this from page 50, “It is one thing to eat with those who are unfit and quite another to go into their domain.  Jesus went to their domain.” This is based on Matthew 9:10 where Jesus goes and eats at the home of a tax collector.  Everything the church does seems to be focused on the masses coming to the church: worship, Bible study, carry-in meals, fall festivals, and the list goes on.  If we change our thinking to focus on the gospel and not on our own comforts and ambitions, then maybe the post-civil rights generation will be more willing to engage in the faith community.

I feel as though the church is missing the point.  In changing, it’s not about having more programs, or ministry opportunities, it about having genuine conversations, building relationships, and hearing the gospel from a personal perspective.  Our faith isn’t something we do, it’s who we are.  Once the church gets that, then maybe we can move it forward.

Not Safe for Church Third Commandment: Thou Shall Not Trip: Discuss Taboo Subjects

Boldness is a key in transformative ministry.  In order for a church to be bold, they must have courage and confidence to step out of what is comfortable and take a risk.  Humans naturally fear what they don’t know, so this is a difficult move for churches.

No one wants to hurt anyone else’s feelings, after all, we are Christians.  So we ignore taboo topics.  Churches are good at using their voices to speak at, but refuse to speak against contemporary issues.  But we are not in conversation WITH others on these subjects.  We need to be intentional, engaged and active listeners and intentional, careful and prayerful speakers.

Keep in mind that post-civil rights generations bring with them a different set of lenses then those before them.  Most of us have never been in a legally segregated classroom, workplace, restaurant or recreational area.  We have grown up with computers in our classrooms and information right in front of us.  “There are few matters about which the post-civil rights generations have not been exposed, educated or informed.” (pg. 34). However, the church is one of the remaining places where segregation still exists. These post-civil rights generations want to connect with congregations will engage in conversations instead of clichéd phrases.  “As long as congregations remain stuck, they remain unable to discuss taboo subjects and thereby, unable to be relevant and willing participants in transformation.” (pg.35)

The reason churches tend to get “stuck” is because they are fearful of moving away from the comfortable.  This means not everyone will agree, but if we keep in mind that we are called to love everyone, even those we don’t agree with, the church can move in a direction that allows them to overcome their fears.  The authors walk through a process that enables churches to get to the place where we can engage in uncomfortable places and conversations and still accept one another.

In our country today, we tend to pick a side, and then the other side becomes “wrong” or the enemy.  No longer do we engage in conversations and listen to one another.  This is counter to what John Wesley encouraged in via media, the middle way.  By living a life that is rich in diversity, people who look, speak, learn and grow differently than you, means we must learn to understand one another, not judge.  Acceptance is not the same as agreement.

One simple way to expose yourself to different opinions and ideas is through a small group study with people who are not like yourself.

Finally, the authors end this chapter with this: “Congregations must lean toward holy boldness instead of timid blandness, remembering that being lukewarm is condemned in Revelation 3:16.” (pg. 43) AMEN.