Keep It Simple

Churches often ask me, “We want to reach young(er) people.” In fact, there are very few churches that I have come across that do not have this goal in mind. My first response is, please do not think that reaching younger people means they will be in attendance on Sunday morning. We have to start first with redefining “reach.” If you want to “reach” generation z (teens) or millennials (young adults), you need to start with building relationships with them. They won’t just come to church. If they want to listen to a sermon, they can do it via a podcast. But more times then not, they have never gone to a worship service, so they won’t just show up. And if they do, please do NOT immediately bombard them with places where you need volunteers. Get to know their name, find out what they are passionate about, take them out to lunch. Develop a friendship first. Then find out what they are seeking in a church. You may find that the one thing your church can offer is friendship. Start there. Then see where the spirit leads. It’s just that simple.

Cain & Abel…Cities Civilizations

As we continue our journey through Genesis, our next stop is with the age-old sibling rivalry of Cain and Abel. This may be one of the most relevant stories for teens to relate to! (Not the killing part, of course!) But we have probably all, at some point, been frustrated with a sibling. (You may help an only child relate by talking about an extended family member, like a cousin.) And that is a great place to start the discussion and time of sharing. Think of a story of your own you can share, then ask them to do the same. But we will dive deeper than the surface story.

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Have an understanding of how the main characters could be a representation of how cities and growing communities came about.
  • Acknowledge the pitfalls of jealousy
  • Discuss the character of God and human as we learn from this story

Biblical Reference: Genesis 4:1-22

Teaching Points:

  • It has been suggested that this story is an epic tale of the rise of civilizations (cities) and the end of agrarian nomadic communities. Using this idea, Abel represents the nomadic farmer who was “killed off” (metaphorically speaking) by settled communities that built walls and chose to develop the land.
  • The text tells us where Cain settled, that he had sons, and that his sons also settled cities. There are other details included (i.e. development of tools and musical instruments) that suggest the focus of the story was intended to be broader than simply a conflict between two brothers.
  • This is one of the stories that has been used to justify racism and slavery by suggesting that certain people (ethnic groups, skin tones, etc.) bear the “mark of Cain.” We would do well to acknowledge the ways that scripture can be harmfully interpreted to exclude or subjugate others.
  • Understand the phrase “mark of Cain” and how it has been used

Discussion Questions:

  • What is the root cause of the conflict between Cain and Abel? Do you think God shows favoritism for Abel’s offering without any justification?
  • Do you find anything else in the story unfair?
  • Why would God go to so much trouble to protect Cain when he was guilty of murder?
  • The “mark of Cain” has been used in a way that has been hurtful to many people. How would you respond to someone who would use this scripture in that way?
  • Do you think God shows favoritism today? Why or why not?
  • How can we avoid these interpretations of Bible passages?
  • Let’s review what have we learned about God and ourselves through the lessons so far.

The Fall

This discussion is on Chapter 3 of Genesis. Students sometimes have a hard time with this scripture, trying to understand if the serpent is actually speaking or if the serpent is the devil, etc. Once again, remind students about Fact vs Truth. And the over-arcing themes we can take away from this story. When I lead this lesson, I will begin with having students do a “readers theater” because you can almost act it out. Point out the import aspects: it NEVER says the serpent is the devil, notice the serpent goes to Eve, not Adam, God comes looking for them, Adam almost blames God by saying look at what this person you gave to me did, etc.

Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Understand Fact vs Truth as it pertains to this story
  • Knowing that even when we feel separated from God, He is right beside us
  • No matter what we do, or what we think, God love us, and we were created in His image
  • You can not be defined by your sins or mistakes
  • Having knowledge isn’t always a positive thing

Scripture Reference:

Genesis 3

Teaching Notes:

Begin by asking each student to share a vice. (Give them a personal example: Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, a T.V. show, etc.) It is helpful to start each lesson with a simple/personal question to “break the ice” for shy students.

This story can easily be read through “readers theater”. Ask volunteers to play the parts of Eve, Adam, the serpent, and God. Then have someone read and narrate the rest of the story.

Teaching Points:

Challenging elements of this story:

  1. The text doesn’t say the serpent is the devil
  2. It is clear that God created the serpent with all the other creatures on earth which also suggests that he created humans, rules and the pitfall that will trip them up
  3. It appears that what God said wasn’t entirely true. The serpent tells the unvarnished truth since humans DO NOT actually die upon eating the fruit.
  4. God doesn’t seem entirely omnipotent at every moment in this story. God seems not to know exactly what is going on and has to ask questions to better ascertain what has happened.
  5. One of the punishments of woman is for man to rule over her. So, God’s original design was for man and woman to be EQUAL.

IF we take this story from a non-literal perspective, we avoid some of the obvious pitfalls of a literal interpretation and have the opportunity to, instead, think about some of the deeper truths about our own humanity that run through the narrative.

Discussion Questions:

  • In what ways has this story been used to cause or justify harm to others? Or to ourselves?
  • What, really, is the “sin” that trips up humanity? Is it insecurity? A failure to recognize that we have already been made in God’s image and have everything we need?
  • How is knowledge and understanding different? When is knowledge bad?
  • Is there anything surprising or encouraging about this story?
Practically Honest Podcast

Building Relationships with College Students

This week we are talking about now that college students are home, what do we do with them? You might think that since they grew up in your church, they should be comfortable coming back in the summer. But you would be surprised. They have grown, and developed and may not feel like they will be accepted into our congregations again. Even as parents, our own young adults come home and may not think the same way as we do anymore. So, what now? This Podcast addresses these things. It is important for us to start treating young adults as ADULTS, and allow them some brave space to ask hard questions and challenge our way of thinking. Be sure you ask more questions than lecturing them. Share why you believe/feel the way you do rather than demanding them to think the same way. Take them out for coffee, to lunch or on a hike. Engage them in conversation and ask them what they have learned, what questions they have, their passions and what fears they may face. It’s really simple actually. What are you going to do to reach out to a college student this summer? Don’t ignore them!

Reaching College Age Students

Summer is here and so are our college students! What are you doing to interact with them in your faith community? We always think it needs to be a blown out program, but ministry with college age students can be simple and meaningful all at the same time. We talk about this very thing today in this podcast. I am excited to have Rev. Laura White, a lead pastor at a church in Ashland, Rev. Kyle Woodrow, the chaplain at Mount Union University, Char Messenger, Regional Coordinator and Director of Discipleship at a church in Canton all with us to talk about how they have connect with college age students in their contexts. I hope this will inspire you to find some way this summer to reconnect or begin a relationship with a young adult in your community. This is the first podcast in a series we are doing about reaching this age group, be sure to check out more to come!

We are all welcoming…but not affirming

We are Christians, of course we are nice to everyone! There are few members of our congregations who would say that they are not welcoming and nice to ALL people who want to come to “our” church. The kids in our youth groups would say the exact same thing because that’s how we raised them. That is…until someone who isn’t like us walks through our doors. That “someone” could be of another ethnicity, another race, another socioeconomic background, another sexual orientation, then we may be welcoming, but only to an extent. Let’s be honest. Anyone different than us is welcome to come to “our” church, and we will even allow them to become a member(after all, it could mean more money in the plate each week to help us pay the electricity bill), but when they start wanting to join committees or lead our children,  or join our Sunday school, that is where we draw the line. You see, it is time that we realize that just being nice sometimes isn’t enough. After all, Jesus went above and beyond just being nice. He had conversations, He sat down and ate with those who others dismissed. Even some of His inner circle of disciples could be seen as “less than.” So, let’s dig deep and really evaluate the difference between being welcoming and affirming. This podcast is an honest conversation on just that and what it means in our churches/youth groups. For more information on the Trevor Project 

Info about United Methodist Church’s advocacy for justice is here.

Moving Forward…Through Hurt

We have all been hurt one time or another by people (those we love or perfect strangers). Sometimes those that hurt us do it intentionally; other times, it is inadvertently. There are times people hurt us, and they never realize what they have said or done affected us at all. So what do you do? How do you handle hurt that comes from another person? While there are lots of options, ignore, confront, talk through it, move on, hurt them back, your decision has the biggest impact on yourself and your own mental health. As a United Methodist, I am navigating life post-general conference while trying my best to rise about the hurt, move on and find ways to focus on the things that matter most. This podcast addresses the pain that has been felt on all sides. What I have come to realize since general conference is NO ONE is going to “win” no matter the direction our denomination decides to take. Someone (many people) will be hurt. So, I am choosing to start asking God to direct my actions, my path, my decisions in ways that don’t cause pain for someone else. My prayers are not about denominational decisions, my prayers are about people. God, help me see people the way you do, love people the way you do, treat people the way you would. God, help me be more like you, help me make this the most important thing in my life today.

***Picture credit: http://www.freepik.com