Calling for Unity

***Disclaimer…I do not intend for this post to be politically charged or meant to support any political biases***

Given the recent madness and violence in our country, I do not believe that it is ironic that this is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and that the Inauguration falls in the same week. As I have watched in horror the videos of everything that happened in Washington DC on January 6th, and all the social media rampage in the aftermath, I couldn’t help but wonder how our political afflictions gained priority over our Christian call.

I realize that because of our faith convictions, we tend to support one political party or candidate over another; however, how in the world, brothers and sisters, have we got to this place in our country? The amount of hate spewed at one another at one another on social media is appalling. We have allowed those platforms to be a place of hate for our fellow Christians for the whole world to see. How is this being a witness for Christ?

As we also celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King today, and his message of unity, be inspired by this quote from him. “We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization.” While he was addressing the importance of unity between races and ethnicities, I suggest that we also use his words to motivate us to seek Christian Unity no matter where our differences lay.

Let’s focus on some scripture to pull us back together. After all, we are on the same team and need to work TOGETHER to further the kingdom of God because we have been called by God, no matter your gender, race, ethnicity, or political affiliation, we are ALL CALLED. If you lead, live or work with teens or young adults, you can use this as a time of devotion with them or allow it to be a conversation starter. They are watching and learning from the adults around them, may we be a positive example for this generation.

John 15:16-17: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%2015%3A16&version=NIV says that God chose us, we don’t choose Him, He picks us to go and bear fruit that lasts. Meaning, when we spread love, peace, kindness, gentleness, (Fruits of the Spirit: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians%205%3A22-23&version=NIV) they last.

  • What are some ways we can do this? Especially now we we can not always be with people physically?
  • What are some ways to handle a situation with someone when we don’t agree with them?
  • What are some ways that God has called you to spread “fruit”?
  • How has politics and faith intersected in your life? Has your faith shaped your political views?
  • This week is Christian Unity Week, how can we become a part of unifying Christians? Is it too big of a chasm for us to do anything about repairing?
  • Since this is MLK Day, what do you know about his work that helped to unify people/Christians?

Prayer: (Modified for young people from the link below)

God of love, Jesus told us that you did not chose me, but I chose you. You pursue us, and invite us into a friendship with you. Show is how we can deepen this friendship with you so that our lives may be more complete.

God of live, you call us to be light in this world of darkness and to welcome those around us as gifts of your grace. May your loving gaze, which rests on every single person, open our eyes to loving one another just as we are.

God who gather, you weave us together as one vine in your son Jesus. May your loving Spirit move in us, no matter where we are or who is with us. Grant that we can come together in joy to praise your name.

God of one vineyard, call us to act in your love in all we do and say.

Touched by your goodness, grant us the ability to be the reflection of that love in our homes, schools, work places, and on social media. Use us to pave the way for bridging rivalries and overcoming tensions in our world.

Spend some time in silent prayer. Allow God’s grace to fill you as you rest in Him.

Reference: https://www.oikoumene.org/sites/default/files/Document/ENG%202021%20Booklet.pdf

Mission Work

Kathy Dickriede and Jason Hockran, two people I admire, join us this week on our podcast talking about their experiences in the mission field. They share their calls, passions and their personal stories of why mission work is important to them. Kathy talks about stepping out into the mission field is a risk-taking experience. In fact, she says, that we take risks right now, during this pandemic, by going out to eat or to the store. What would it look like to also take a risk to help others, even in this time of pandemic? They both reference their call to be in mission. Jason even refers to finding your identity in God through mission work. What a beautiful thought! If you have gone on a mission trip, or helped in your own community, you do walk away with a renewed sense of who you are and who God is. We also talk about the careful balance between helping without hurting, and the importance of preparing and debriefing, especially when taking young people out to do mission work.

Kathy references Micah 6:8:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly[a] with your God.

I think it is important for us to ask ourselves, even in the midst of uncertain times, how is God calling me to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly? We may not be able to be physically together, but we can still serve others. Have you found ways to do this? It is easy to hunker down, in our homes, and forget that there are people, maybe on our own streets, that we can serve in some capacity. Advent is an excellent time to live this.

Be sure to think about how you will serve after post-pandemic. Below are some informational links you can look at to be inspired. After all, it is important that we each leave the world better than we find it.

Until next time friends, be well!

I reference a mission trip I went on with teens to West Virginia, that was Bramwell.

Links:

Full chapter in Micah: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Micah+6&version=NIV

East Ohio Missions: https://www.eocumc.com/missions/umvim.html

United Methodist Volunteers in Mission: https://www.umvim.org/

I referenced a mission trip to West Virginia, it was Bramwell, WV: https://www.bramwellwv.com/

Podcast: https://www.spreaker.com/user/practicallyhonest/practically-honest-mission-trips_3

Learn from Twinkies!

Over the years with technology evolving, many businesses have lost opportunities because they continued with what they know and never took chances with new technology.

If you are an American, you have probably eaten a Twinkie in your lifetime. Twinkies were in my lunchbox growing up most days. But I don’t remember the last time I ate one in adulthood.

Twinkies were invented in 1930 by James Dewar in Illinois.  From the beginning, they were a big hit.  The first cream center was banana flavored, but due to a shortage of bananas in WWII, they switched to vanilla.  Early on, there was an issue with shelf life, since Twinkies were made fresh out of eggs, milk and butter, grocers could only keep them for 2 days.  So, Dewar changed the recipe.  Even though urban legend says that Twinkies can out live a nuclear disaster, the company says they have a 25 day shelf live. 

Twinkies did well through the years, hitting lunch boxes everywhere. Until around 2004.  Sales were down considerably.  In that year the company, Interstate Bakeries, filed Chapter 11 protection. Why did the popularity for Twinkies fail? Who knows, but my guess is the brand had a bad rap as an unhealthy snack. As the rise in more natural, organic food started to take shape, kids were no longer seeing the sweet treat at lunch! The trend for more healthy snacks took Twinkie’s place.

In 2009 Interstate Bakery emerged and renamed itself Hostess Brands. Then in 2012 the company laid off 8,500 employees and closed plants. Twinkies were no longer available in the US.

In 2013 Twinkies was bought by Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos and Company.  Apollo sold their portion to Hostess and so now, Twinkie is being run by Darin Metropoulos who happens to be in his thirties. They tweaked the recipe, cutting some of the calories and making them slightly smaller.  They hired back 1,200 employees. 

So, why is the story about Twinkies so important? I think there is a lot that we as church leaders can learn from this sweet treat.

  1. Twinkies changed the recipe early on when the resources (bananas) were not available and to increase the shelf life. In the church, we need to be sure that we don’t continue to try to “produce” the same “product” when our resources change. Of course our “product” is the Gospel, and that message stays the same, however, they way it is distributed needs to constantly be updated, depending on your community and resources. NEVER stop evaluating!
  2. Twinkies demise started in the 80’s when healthy lifestyles became important. Our church numbers also started to decline in the 80’s. Somehow, we think if we just went back to what we were doing “back in the good ol’ days,” it will fix everything. NOT TRUE. We have a whole new generation of people with expectations, needs and different lives. Yes, we still need Jesus! But we are seeking more authentic relationships and more personal interactions all while obtaining information via social media and the internet. Times of changed, so should the way we “do” church.
  3. It took a Millennial to buy Twinkies and redevelop a business model. Most of us over the age of 40 think differently than those younger. Neither is right or wrong, just different. It is time that we, The Church, allow those who are younger to sit at the table where major decisions are made, and listen to our younger brothers and sisters. We can not move our Church into the future until we understand the needs of those who are going to carry the torch.

I think we all can agree, we want nothing more than to have our churches around for our children, grandchildren and many more generations to grown in their faith. However, the time has come to change up the recipe. How? I don’t have that answer, but I implore you to ask a young person. Discuss and dream about it together, maybe over coffee and a Twinkie!

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

John: A Story that Transcends

The gospel of John takes a very different approach to telling the story of Jesus, putting it in a category of its own (not a synoptic gospel). It was long held by scholars that John did not use any of the source material (Mark, Q) that was available to Matthew and Luke. Some now think that the author(s) had access to Mark and possibly also Luke but felt very free to deviate in both style and content. Take a listen to learn more about this unique Gospel

Scripture Reading: John 2:1-12, John 4:4-42, John 8:2-11, John 11:1-44

Teaching Points:

  • The gospel of John takes a very different approach to telling the story of Jesus, putting it in a category of its own (not a synoptic gospel). It was long held by scholars that John did not use any of the source material (Mark, Q) that was available to Matthew and Luke. Some now think that the author(s) had access to Mark and possibly also Luke but felt very free to deviate in both style and content.
  • John has many stories that do not appear in any of the other gospels.
  • John dates to 90-100CE in the form we now know it, but scholars believe there were at least two earlier “editions” of the gospel. It was undoubtedly touched by multiple authors and redactors.
  • There has been much ink spilled over the idea that the author(s) of John was/were “Gnostic” to a greater or lesser degree. Gnosticism was a competing understanding of Jesus/Christianity that was deemed heretical. It asserted that the imperfect world was created by some lesser deity (in order to explain the presence of evil) and that the true Divine was at great distance from the world. Gnosis was the secret knowledge that enabled people to understand the truth, and Jesus was the one sent to bring gnosis to the people. There were actual gnostic gospels that were generated in the 2nd century, however debate continues as to whether John truly has gnostic elements. This may or may not be germane to the discussion today but this gospel is often referred to as the “gnostic gospel.” The central reason is that John almost entirely avoids any suggestion of Jesus’ humanity, even suggesting that his spirit departs his body before death on the cross so that his spirit never truly dies.
  • John does not include theology of atonement or vicarious sacrifice that is suggested to various degrees in the other gospels. It is about exalting Jesus and his return to God rather than the notion of saving people from sin.

Discussion Questions:

  • The suggested readings for this podcast are all pericopes (stories) found only in the Gospel of John. We might take a look at them in order to uncover themes important to the author and his community.
    • The Wedding at Cana – Jesus’ relationship with his mother, theme of abundance, the idea of “signs” as John describes them (not “miracles”)
    • The Samaritan woman at the well – relationship between Jews and Samaritans, themes of sin and forgiveness, her eagerness to share her story and bring others to belief
    • The woman caught in adultery – Jesus’ unwillingness to impose sentence, exposing the hypocrisy of others, note the absence of the person with whom the woman was caught
    • The raising of Lazarus – foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death and resurrection, one must wonder why such an incredible “sign” does not appear in the other gospels, Jesus emotion toward the family

Podcast:

Luke: A Story for Everyone

The Gospel of Luke was written for ALL people. As we look at the parables and stories shared, we see that no matter who you are, Jew, Gentile, poor, man, woman, child, diseased and ill, Jesus came with a message for EVERYONE. This message is still very relevant to us today.

Scripture Reading: Luke 6:17-26, Luke 10:25-37, Luke 15:11-32

Teaching Points:

  • First of all, I need to fess up that I am NOT an expert on Acts, so we’re going to be heavy on Luke and weaker on Acts. However, we are treating these two books together because they share a common author.
  • Luke is written to a Greek-speaking audience, most likely educated. Though he was most likely well-to-do himself, the text shows consideration for those who are manual laborers (“workers”), which is notable.
  • Luke dates from 80-110 CE, and there is reason to believe it was still being edited well into the 2nd century.
  • While we sometimes think of Luke as more “earthy” in focus (we’ll discuss this later), his command of Greek is still more refined that what we see in Mark. He also omits some lengthy passages that either show the disciples in an overly negative light and/or make Jesus seem too “magical”.
  • Luke-Acts does not claim a particular author. For a long time, it was believed that Luke (gospel author) was the same Luke who was a companion to Paul (mentioned in some of Paul’s letters). However, scholars point out many contradictions between the Luke-Acts account of Paul’s activities and that given by Paul himself in his own writings. They also point out that Luke-Acts does not accurately reflect Paul’s theology. For that reason, authorship (from an academic standpoint) is unknown.
  • In our last two podcasts, we discussed that Mark was a source for both Matthew and Luke. Luke is the longest of the four gospels and introduces the most original material, but he still draws heavily from both Mark and from the Q source. (Incidentally, Luke-Acts makes up over a quarter of the New Testament!)

Discussion Questions:

  • One suggested scripture reading for this podcast is Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain,” this author’s version of what we call the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew’s gospel. Other than the assignation of different venue, it is interesting to compare the two for content. What is notable about Luke’s version when compared to Matthew’s version? What might this tell us about Luke’s perspective and his authorial intent?
  • In a previous podcast, we also talked about Luke’s birth narrative and compared it to Matthew. Do we see any trends in the themes Luke emphasizes compared to those Matthew draws out?
  • The other two recommended readings for today are two parables that are told only in the gospel according to Luke? Is it surprising that these bedrock stories (The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Son) appear in only one gospel? What does it say about Luke’s understanding of Jesus that he includes these stories?
  • As time allows, we can draw out some neat themes in both The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Son.

Podcast:

Generation Z: Isolated, Scared But Not Alone

We sit down with “Anna” an 18 year old from Generation Z (born 1999-2015, according to Barna research and here) who is open and honest about safety, isolation, anxiety, depression, faith, church and religion for her and her peers.

It is fascinating to hear how teens struggle with feeling safe and the anxiety that comes about because of the lack of feeling secure. We talk about how this has developed over the years. Generation X (born 1965-1983 according to Barna) may have helped contribute to this through our exposure to things such as, the missing persons on our milk cartons as school. “America’s Most Wanted” was a TV show that came out in the late 1980’s hosted by John Walsh whose son was abducted while at a department store, so we became very aware of the safety concerns and the “bad guys” who were out there taking children. Neighborhood Watch groups started popping up, and I remember there were signs that we put in our windows so that children knew where the safe homes were in case we needed a place while walking home from school. We were not afraid of mass shootings, but we still were aware of safety issues at a young age. Could we have manifested this fear into our own children? Think about how we felt after 9/11/01. If you had children then, or even after that tragic event, we are raising our children differently. Couple all of this with Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland, and there is no denying why Gen Z is anxious.

This podcast also addresses the fact that Gen Z has been labeled the most isolated. They spend plenty of time alone and in their rooms. We could argue this is no different than any teen in any generation before them. The difference now is they are never alone. There is a phone, computer or video game that allows teens to be connected to anyone in any place in the world. “Anna” suggests that she doesn’t believe she is isolated. However, she does acknowledge the difficulties of having her phone and social media at her fingertips 24/7.

Finally, we ask “Anna” about faith, church and religion. It is very interesting to hear her take on these subjects. While her opinion may not represent all of her peers, she does make some valid points that probably resonates with many.

Hopefully, this podcast will inspire you to reach out to teens or young adults in Gen Z. Ask them the questions and see how they feel about these or even other topics. Remember how important it was for you when you were a teen to have an adult listen to you? Give that chance to another young person. Allow them the opportunity to speak, share and maybe give solutions. Let us know what you learn!

Podcast: