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.

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

It’s Worth Repeating

I am sure I am not alone on this. But this week I have had Ecclesiastes 3 come up multiple times. I was actually inspired to send it to a friend in a text, stumbled across a devotion about it and discovered it on another friend’s social media feed. At some point, when this happens, I have to stop and say, “OK, God, what is this message I need?”

In case you don’t know what verses I’m talking about, here is the Bible link:

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ecclesiastes+3&version=NLT

More than likely, you have heard the song by The Byrds that is based on these verses:

These are the most well known verses in Chapter 3 and the ones we tend to talk about and study in small group or worship. But when these verses kept appearing to me, I went back to the chapter and began to dig a little further. Here are the next several verses:

What do people really get for all their hard work? 10 I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. 11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. 12 So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. 13 And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.

Friends, we have faced what has felt like seven years of a pandemic in the past seven months. It’s been hard. People have lost jobs and have lost loved ones. We have become a nation even more divided due to masks and the validity of this disease. Some of us feel like we have worked harder because we have had to learn a new way to do our jobs. Students have had to learn remotely and have lost out on all kinds of milestones.

But these verses bring us hope. We can’t see the whole scope of God’s work, but guess what? He is still right beside us and a part of this all. We should remain happy, find joy daily whether it be in the sunshine, the beauty that fall brings or the joy in a phone conversation. Look for a reason to be happy and enjoy ourselves!

Seven months is a long time. There have been so many disappointments, but let’s not lose site of who we are and whose we are. Let’s show the world, including those around us, that there is hope and we can find joy!

How are you going to enjoy yourself today? Be happy, spread joy, Friends.

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.

 

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

Teenager of the Year

Last week, Time Magazine, selected Greta Thunberg the Swedish teen climate activist as their Person of the Year. Since that announcement, people have been divided (no shocker for our country!) and criticizing the magazine’s decision. I find the banter and debate interesting. I wonder if it has to do with the political divisive topic or is it the fact that she is a teenager?

Let’s take politics out of this for a minute. Whether you agree with the choice, or think she is deserving or not, Greta is the third single female named with this honor. (Other women would be included in “groups” or in a group with men.) So, as far back as 1927, every year but three, men have been named. And now we have a female, and not just any female, but a teenager. This is significant because they have never given a teen the title.

If you live or work with young people, take a few minutes to talk about the impact of Greta’s work. Again, you may not agree with her stance or even that she is deserving, but think about the fact that she is a teenager. We all know, and remember when we were that age, that most teens believe the world resolves around them. So, there is a fine line to walk when engaging in this conversation, but young people need to feel empowered to change their world. Whatever the topic, whatever their passion, they need to know the love and support of the adults in their lives to believe they can do it.

In my vocation, I typically work with “churched” teens and young adults. So, I tend to encourage them to change the way the world sees us as Christians. Break the mold, stand up for what you believe in and let other see what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Or stand up for someone who doesn’t have a voice.

Young people today have an audience. The world does listen. Time Magazine even listens to them! Unlike the teens and young adults who were protesting the Vietnam War, today they have more resources, more money and more technology. They can change their world. Set them free to do just that.

Isaiah & Advent: How Do YOU Fit Into the Story?

This is the third week of Advent, and we continue on in our readings in Isaiah. We have to ask ourselves as we read about Isaiah’s prophecies what is the message God was sending and how is it relevant to us today? Be sure to read the scripture, listen to the podcast and ask yourself, or your small group these important questions as we wait and anticipate the celebration of the Birth of Christ.

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 35:1-10 (Advent lectionary) and Isaiah 53

Teaching Points:

  • The book of Isaiah has been (and is) tremendously influential in terms of our thinking about prophecy, about Jesus, about the Exilic period, and just in terms of scripture with which we are very familiar. We can start with some basic scholarly information. For example, most scholars understand Isaiah in two (or even three) parts: chapters 1-39 and 40-66 (or 40-55 and 56-66). While there are some unified ideas across the book, there are also distinct “voices” and themes.
  • Isaiah is one of the books most often used to illustrate sort of “magical predictions” about the coming of Jesus. We need to acknowledge that passages in Isaiah referred to more contemporary events and figures, and it has been in retrospect that we have chosen to interpret certain passages as predicting attributes of Jesus. (This does not deny that many of the attributes described are wonderful and certainly turned out to be aspects of Jesus’ character.) Isaiah 53 is a familiar passage, read often and rendered in many other forms (ie. Handel’s Messiah). This is a great passage with which to talk about who was originally being discussed in the passage, in what ways we can see parallels to Jesus, and in what ways the passage might be problematic when applied directly to Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  • Where have we seen/heard the use of Isaiah in classical music, art, poetry and pop culture? What are the positives and negatives of using Biblical imagery in these different contexts (think about other pop culture ways we use Biblical references…music, plays, TV shows)? Does it ever send unintended messages? Or, might it suggest new ways of approaching contemporary issues or problems?
  • One of the common themes we hear during the Advent season is the notion that God sent Jesus specifically to die for our sins. How do passages like Isaiah 53 seem to support this thinking? Is there anything of concern about this way of thinking (like the notion that God needs sacrifice or violence in order to forgive people)? Are there other, equally valid ways to talk about Jesus coming into the world?
  • We have looked at the Isaiah’s prophecy and images the last two weeks. What is added to those here in these passages? Is there a new or different type of message he is sending here?
  • The Third Sunday of Advent is a day on which we typically talk about joy. The lectionary passage imagines a very idealistic future in which certain forms of suffering and opposition are eliminated. How do we hold onto this kind of joyful outlook in the midst of a world that clearly still contains both suffering and oppression?
  • “Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not.” ~Saint Augustine. In your own words, what do you think this quote means?
  • As we talk about joy this week in advent, how can you play a part in God’s intent to spread joy to the world today? How can your family?How can we as a small group? How can our church? Do you think it is our “job” to be a part of God’s story?

Podcast

Moses and the Exodus

Scripture: Exodus 1-12, specifically Exodus 2:1-10 and 7-12

Intro: As we continue on through this Bible exploration, we will explore Moses and be reminded of the story of his extraordinary life and how his experiences are meaningful even for us today.

Teaching Points

  • These chapters in Exodus very quickly transition from a scenario in which the tribes of Israel (all of Jacob’s progeny) are rich and powerful and possess huge territory and assets to a situation in which they are subjugated under the rules of Egypt and subjected to hard labor and slave-like conditions. Even so, we see that certain strengths are attributed to the Hebrew people: strength in childbirth, cleverness, and resourcefulness.
  • The exodus becomes one of the great liberation narratives of the Jewish tradition and remains powerful today. However, most scholars accept that it is not anchored in history, primarily because we have substantial historical records from Egypt at this time and there is no record that makes reference to these events or people. There is also a lack of archaeological evidence that such a huge group of people actually traveled this part of the world during this period. We might consider that the events of the exodus may have happened in some way but on a much smaller scale than is described.

Discussion Questions

  • Start the lesson time with this question: Have you ever been talked into something that at first you didn’t want to do, but in the end you were happy you were talked into it? (assuming it was a positive thing)
  • Before you begin to read the scripture, ask students what they remember about Moses’ life.
  • As a legendary story, what is cool (or beautiful) about the story of Moses’ birth and upbringing?
  • When the time comes for Moses to return to Egypt and free the people, it takes about three chapters (Exodus 4-6) for God to convince Moses that he possesses the gifts and speaking ability to be the agent of liberation. What might we make of the fact that Moses is an unwilling participant in the story?
  • Have you ever been hesitant to follow God’s call on your life? (This may simply be someone asking you to serve in some way.)
  • In what ways do we experience God’s “persistence
    in inviting us (repeatedly) to answer our call?
  • Exodus 7-12 is one of the great showdowns of the biblical narrative. What do you think about the repeated times that God “hardens Pharaoh’s heart”?
  • You may have learned about the 10 plagues as children. Is there anything that troubles you now about this story? If you had the opportunity to teach this story to children or new/non-believers, how would you do it?
  • There is enduring internationalist theology anchored in this story. Who needs liberating today? What does it (or would it) look like to be Moses in our own time? Who have been Moses figures in the liberation movements of our more recent history? How were their stories similar (or different) to this legendary story?