Who Is Your Eli?

The story of Eli and Samuel has been on my heart a lot lately. If you don’t know it, you can find it below. But the gist of it is about Eli, who is a priest, who is taking care of Samuel, who is the son of Hannah. They are asleep (in different rooms, following Safe Sanctuary policies!) and young Samuel keeps coming in and waking Eli up because he thinks Eli is speaking to him. He does this three times before Eli says, maybe it’s God speak to him and to go back and ask God what He has to say to Samuel. By the way, I play this out in my head like a typical youth leader. After all, how many times have we been woken up by a youth? The first time, ok, the second time I hear Eli, “For the love of God, go back to sleep!” And the third time, I seriously wonder if Eli just makes up the whole God thing to shut up Samuel and keep him in his bed? Whatever the case, it works and God does speak to Samuel. This was the beginning of Samuel, the prophet, listening to God for the rest of his life.

So, what does Eli and Samuel have to do with you? Well, I bet that you can think of a time in your teenage life when an adult that you did not live with, took time to talk to you, listen to you and spend time with you. If you grew up in a church, this person may have even shared the love of God with you, taught you about Jesus and prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide you. If you are lucky, you can think of more than one adult who poured into your life. I bet you have a name and a face in your mind as you read this blog. These people are very special to us and helped shaped who we become as adults. Our “Eli (s)” are people we hold close to our hearts for our entire lives.

The next question I must ask is, “Who is your Samuel?” As adults, our story does not end with us. We have a legacy to pass on. As Christians, that legacy is our faith, and it is up to us to share our story and God’s story with another generation. As parents, it is easy to share with our own children. But that is not enough. Studies show that in order for young people to stick with their faith into adulthood, they need five adults in their lives leaving a positive impact.*(See note below.) I’m not a mathematician, but I think I can handle this equation. If there happens to be two parents in a teen’s life, it doesn’t add up. They need teachers, coaches, neighbors, friends and yes, congregational members who are engaged in their lives. And these adults need to be of all ages and stages of life. Teens today do not need us for information, they have Google. But they do need us to share our life experiences and to give them a listening ear. How will they know if the messages that are coming at them from all around are of God? Are true? Are valuable? So, again, I ask, “Who is your Samuel?”

I get the question all the time, “How do we get young people into our church?” The answer is complex and takes more than this blog to answer. But step one, if every member doesn’t have a Samuel, it won’t happen. I am sure you are asking yourself, where do I find a young person and will they want to talk to me? Start in your family. How many actual conversations have you had with a young person in your extended family lately? Especially beyond a text? What about your neighborhood? Even the young person who checks you out at WalMart or Wendy’s. Do you take time to engage them in conversation? This is the starting point. Be aware of those around and allow the Spirit to open doors for the relationship.

In the podcast today, I talk with one of my Eli’s, my Jr. High youth pastor who just happens to be my father-in-law. I was fortunate enough to have several Christian adults in my life to help shape and mold me. They are the reason I serve in the capacity I do now. These adults talked with me, listened to me, allowed me grace when I messed up and even let me cry on their shoulder when I thought my world was falling apart. Take a listen, be inspired and comment below about your Eli. Then, challenge yourself to think about your Samuel(s).

1 Samuel 3: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Samuel%203&version=NLT

Sticky Faith research: https://fulleryouthinstitute.org/stickyfaith

Listen to “Practically_Honest_Who’s_Your_Eli” on Spreaker.

Leading Into New Territory

Change is hard. We love the safety of the familiar. When we do things the same way, week after week, month after month, year after year, we know how to prepare and what to expect. But what happens when the world changes around us, even when we continue in the safety of our routine?

Our children are growing up in a very different world than we did, and it is time we develop new maps for them. I remember days of getting up in the morning, jumping on my bike, without a helmet, and taking off with my friends. I came home when I got hungry for my bologna sandwich only to take off again until the street lights came on. Adults talk about “the good ol’ days” all the time. But yet, we have created a world that is both expanding and shrinking where our maps and methods are antiquated.

Tim Elmore talks about the need for new maps in his book, “Marching Off the Map.” Ironically, he wrote this prior to the pandemic; however, it speaks even more into our situation today. Elmore does an outstanding job laying out the “Why, What, and How” for educators, coaches, youth leaders, parents and employers of the younger generations. With all the research and insight in this book, those of us leading young people are hard pressed not to change the approach we take to connect with those we seek to lead.

You can find the podcast where we talk about our responses and highlights of the book here. Do yourself, and the young people in your life a favor and read this outstanding book. It will open your eyes.

One Year Later

On the anniversary of the day our world began to shut down, I invited some of my crew to talk about what we have learned, how we survived and who we have become during this past year. We also begin the discussion about moving forward. The other lesson we share in this podcast is the importance of finding your “crew” to journey with you. No matter your profession, we have all been called. You crew shares in the call and supports you through it. Find your crew! It makes things like a pandemic way easier!

Podcast:

https://www.spreaker.com/user/practicallyhonest/practically-honest-one-year-later

The History of Black History Month

I do not remember. being a white student in a predominately white small town in Ohio, ever celebrating Black History Month. February was a time to recognize President’s Day when I was growing up. We did not learn much at all about African Americans who had contributed to the history of our country. However, the idea of dedicating a month to celebrating African Americans has been long in the making.

In 1915 historian and author Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Dr. Woodson initiated the first Negro History Week in February 1926. He picked this week because it included the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Dougalss, two key figures in the history of African Americans.

President Ford, in 1975, issued a message on the Observance of Black History Week urging all Americans to “recognize the important contribution made to our nation’s life and culture by black citizens.” Then in 1976 the commemoration of black history in the United States was expanded by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History to the whole month and President Ford issued the first message on the observance of Black History Month.

1986 saw the passage of Public Law 99-244 by Congress which designated February 1986 as “National Black (Afro-American) History Month.” This law noted that February 1, 1986 would “Mark the beginning of the sixtieth annual public and private salute to Black History.” The law further directed the President to issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe February 1986 as Black History Month with the appropriate ceremonies and activities. President Regan issued Presidential Proclamation 5443 which proclaimed that “the foremost purpose of Black History Month is to make all Americans aware of this struggle for freedom and equal opportunity.” This proclamation stated further that this month was a time “to celebrate the many achievements of African Americans in every field, from science and the arts to politics and religion.”

The 1619 Project was launched in August of 2019, on the 400th year anniversary of slavery in the United States. This initiative, started by The New York Times Magazine, aims to reframe our country’s history by “putting the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative. You can find the link to this project here:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html

Why do we need to celebrate Black History Month? This is a question we wrestle with in the podcast. We reference a Morgan Freeman interview on 60 Minutes from 11 years ago. Here is a link to that interview:

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=morgan+freeman+on+black+history+month+full+interview

In response to this question and Freeman’s conversation, is this quote from Dr. Lonnie G. Bunch III, the Director of Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture:

“I would suggest that you can tell a great deal about a people, a country by what it deems important
enough to remember, what they built monuments to celebrate, what graces a country’s museums or
what holidays they embrace. Yet I would argue that we learn even more about a country by what it
chooses to forget, what it cloaks in silence. Nowhere is this silence more deafening then when countries
are confronted with the issue of slavery and the slave trade.”

So, the need for Black History Month exists still because we still do not have a true representation in our history books of slavery in our country and all the contributions made by African Americans in this country.

Take a listen to the podcast as we discuss this and much more. Please give us a like, follow and share and leave us your comments.

https://www.spreaker.com/show/practically-honest-with-kaye-wolfinger

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