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.

Reframing Ministry Post-Pandemic

The past year has been challenging to say the least.  The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives and our ministries, but we have also learned some lessons about what is truly important in youth ministry. Many of us are looking towards a relaunch of our youth ministry, because we cannot just go back to doing what we have always done. Leaders from Holston, East Ohio and South Carolina Annual Conferences have come together to create a coaching program to help youth leaders rethink, refocus, reimagine and relaunch ministries. The cohort is set up to include four group coaching sessions and in between the group meetings there will also be individual coaching sessions.  This podcast shares some insight into our thoughts on reframing ministry post pandemic as we discuss rethinking, refocusing, reimagining and relaunching ministry.

Please fill out this form if you are interested in joining a cohort:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1_G_8jsnH7vsc04w7MRMY4hN1v6gxb0JGenCiCJQbfjw/edit

Podcast:

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

Post-Truth

As we turn the calendar to February, and celebrate Black History Month, we start with this podcast about Post-Truth. What is it? It is this time we are living where “alternative facts” have replaced scientific facts and feelings have more weight than these facts.

Post-truth is an ideology where people try to compel others to believe something without regards to the facts or evidence. Some believe this era that we are living started 20 years ago when people didn’t believe facts about smoking, vaccines, or climate change. Couple this with the use of the internet and now social media, and the conditions are perfect for post-truth.

What do you believe? Who do you believe? Where do you find your truth? What shapes you? What do you believe as “truth”? Is it politics? Science? Theology? All questions we should be asking ourselves and the young people around us.

This could make a great discussion for a small group or your friends. Let us know your thoughts and your conclusions.

Dictionary definition of Post Truth https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/post-truth

National Geographic article referenced in podcast: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2015/03/science-doubters-climate-change-vaccinations-gmos

Barna study referred to in podcast:

/https://www.barna.com/research/six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church/

Podcast:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-honest-with-kaye-wolfinger/id1434070440?uo=4

Mom of a Marine

Two years ago today, we sent our son off to Marine boot camp. It’s a day I will never forget, and one I never want to relive. After his first year at college, he decided it wasn’t for him. He explored his options and decided he wanted to be a Marine. This took some getting used to, but we never said no which surprised him. He turned 20 during those 13 weeks of boot camp, and through all my tears and worry, I grew stronger as a person and a mom. I remember sitting down next to a colleague, a Marine Dad, the next day in a meeting, and he told me this may be hard now, but just wait for graduation day, it will be the proudest day of your life. Those words stayed with me, and proved to be absolutely true.

Looking back, it was exactly what he needed to do and the best decision he has made. He has learned a trade that, if he choses, will allow him to make six figures in the civilian world. He can take college classes while he is serving, and he can finish his degree, for free. We don’t know what the future holds or what he will decide for his career, but as parents, we are excited that he has options.

I share our story with you in this blog and podcast simply for other parents to see that college is not the only option or even the right one for every high school graduate. Sometimes it is the path taken because nothing else is considered or even accepted. Our son graduated with an awesome GPA, is quite smart, was studying engineering and playing soccer in college. But none of that mattered because he was not happy. We do have a few military family members, so we were not opposed to him joining; however, quite honestly, I was selfish and just didn’t want MY son serving. But now I proudly say, my son is a Marine. It’s still not easy. The amount of time we spend together is short. We are so thankful that at the moment is serves on U.S. soil. (I pray for those family members that are not a fortunate to say that.) We have hopes and dreams for our children the minute we find out we will be parents. Sometimes, our dreams for them do not line up with their goals. While this isn’t easy, there comes a point in their lives that we must believe we have raised them the best we can and it is time for them to soar. After all, they are God’s children first. God will be with them through it all, even those times we are not near.

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

Listen to “Practically Honest_Being_A_Marine_Mom” on Spreaker.

Youth Ministry in Disruption

Book Response and Review

This book emerged during a time we were all reeling and trying to find our grounding in ministry. There are 26 chapters written by 26 different authors that cover everything from historical and theological encouragement to issues to think about, missteps and learning and what we are trying. Here are some of the words that inspired me and some of my thoughts and reactions. I have also included a few of our Regional Coordinators’ reviews.

On page 29, Dr. Andrew Root writes, “At this time, Youth ministry needs to be exposing young people to stories of people in their church communities who have found God in moments of long and loss, of hope and hardship.” This is a perfect example of a way to create community between our young people and older congregational members. Why not invite these members to share these stories either on a live Zoom or recorded to share with your teen/young adult small groups? How can you do this very thing in your groups? What ideas do you have to create community and connection between generations?

“Loneliness & Human Connection” is the title for Chapter 3 written by Crystal Chiang. This is a vital topic. While Generations Z and Millenials continue to isolate themselves from face to face interactions, this pandemic has only amplyfied this problem. Chiang says that youth leaders need to reimagine how, when, where and why teenagers gather. (p. 34) We know that teens gather in places where there are others teens, this isn’t anything new. However, how can we create places and spaces for these gatherings given our current climate?

Sam Halverson, in Chapter 5, talks about teens as the treasures of our churches. He says, “[W]hen we refuse to use our young people, we miss out on enjoying the investment.” (43) Online worship is a perfect time to invite teens and young adults to become involved. Something as simple as recording themselves readhing scripture, sharing their gift of music or sharing their stories and all be incorporated into the online worship experience. Don’t miss this opportunity to engage them in the life of the church, even now during this pandemic. How are you giving teens/young adults opportunities to serve?

Chapters 8-14 make up a section of the book titled, “Missteps and Learning.” These authors remind us to give ourselves grace as we begin to navigate ministry during this unprecedented time. In fact, one of my favorite quotes comes from Kevin Libick on page 61, “Don’t focus on what you can’t do, focus on what you can do.” It is important for us to redefine success based on our values, on input not output. Celebrate all students, not just those who are showing up. Focus lesson production and more on connection. The one complaint I received constantly was the lack of time students had for church. Now they have more time, but we can’t be physically together the way we are used to. But there is no reason you can’t connect. How will you change the way you define success in ministry?

The final chapters share some great ministry ideas that have worked for some. Everything from a Late-Night Talk Show to a Virtual School Study Hall and rethinking Confirmation. All these ideas motivate us to rethink ministry in our own context. What have you tried that has worked, even for a short while? Are there other attempts that didn’t work?

Mark Oestreicher’s book has come at an important time as we are all searching for ways to continue youth ministry during this disruption. It is a quick read with several different voices that inspires us to move forward in new ways to spread the gospel message of love and grace to our teens while creating community.

Book Reviews: (From Regional Coordinators. 1-5 pizza slices, 5 being the highest.)

🍕🍕🍕🍕”This book is such a timely, relevant resource that is so needed in what is surely a season of disruption! Loved the great, practical advice, stemming from both losses and wins, coming from youth leaders who have been serving in this season and know the struggle.” Chasity Opphile, Regional Coordinator


🍕🍕🍕🍕”Full of practical steps,Youth Ministry in the Season of Disruption includes a slew of ideas that will both encourage and inspire any youth leader as they face the continued uncertainty of ministering to teens in the covid age. More importantly, this book reminds any leader that they are not alone in their pursuit of hope, navigating with care the frustration and lament wrought by a global pandemic. General Editor Mark Oestreicher assembles a variety of unique voices who provide innovative insight and timely truth. It’s a breath of fresh air that just might assist in the needed transformation of student ministry in the 21st century.” Tim Beck, Regional Coordinator

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-honest-with-kaye-wolfinger/id1434070440?uo=4

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

Ideas when balancing Children & Youth Ministries

EEK! Here we are, already in the Advent Season, and we are tapped out. If you are still searching for something to do with Children, Teens or Family Ministries for Christmas Tide or after the New Year, we share lots of ideas on this podcast. Below are a few links of resources that we discuss. If you are not connected with anyone in a network to share ideas, please send a message. If you have some great ideas, please share in the comments. This will become a resource where we can send people to who are looking for ideas. We need to lean on one another as we lead during these unprecedented times!

One Room Sunday School Curriculum: https://www.deepbluekids.com/store/one-room-sunday-school/

Cokesbury Resources: https://www.cokesbury.com/Curriculum-Children

Linc (Living In Christ): https://www.cokesbury.com/linc?pagenumber=1

Alpha Youth Series: https://www.alpha.org/youth/

Discipleship Ministries Resources/Curriculum: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/companys-coming/first-sunday-of-advent-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes

Podcast:

https://www.spreaker.com/episode/42147498

Youth Ministry Post- Pandemic

We can’t tell the future, but we do know that we are not “going back to normal” once we are on the other side of this pandemic. A few youth leaders talk about what they see as the future of Youth Ministry, post pandemic. The key to all ministry is relationships. This was true pre-pandemic and it will hold true post-pandemic. As we move through this time of social distancing, be creative on creating community and keep an open mind on the definition of “community.” It is time youth leaders focus on relationships and discipleship and less on programs. We know that we can become “zoomed out.” Our students, after a long day on the computer for school, don’t want to be back on in the evening for youth group. This is difficult and requires us to be creative. This creativity is what needs to carry us into our time post-pandemic. Whatever you decide, leaders, do not simply think you are going to go back to what you were doing before. We are all changed people from our experiences from this pandemic; therefore, there will be a new norm. Our lives will be different and ministry will be changed.

Podcast:

https://www.spreaker.com/user/10737179/practically-honest-youth-ministry-after-