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?

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!

Moving Forward

Those of us in the United Methodist church have had a hard couple of weeks. In the last week of February delegates traveled from all over the world to meet in St. Louis for a special session of General Conference to decide the church’s stance on LGBTQ+ ordination and marriage. If you have paid any attention to the news/social media, you know by now that the decision was made to adopt the Traditionalist Plan. While it still has to go to the Judicial Council for review, it has left our church numb, confused, and angry (just to name a few emotions). It does’t matter where you opinion is on this matter, things got ugly, people have been hurt. There are a lot of untruths being thrown around and assumptions being made. So, where does this leave us? It’s difficult being a youth leader in this mess. Some of our teens don’t care and haven’t paid any attention, some of our teens are thinking, “You’re arguing about what?” and some of our teens are so overwhelmed with their own lives that even trying to breech this with them would put them over the edge. And then there are the LGBTQ+ teens that we are trying to reach…

This podcast is an open and honest conversation by veteran youth leaders who are struggling together to move forward. We all come from different perspectives and serve in different areas. What we know for sure is, we love Jesus, and we love young people. And sometimes, that is enough.

Here is the link for information about the special session of the General Conference

Here is the link to the post-General Conference gathering that was held in East Ohio.