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

What 2020 Has Taught me

I always tell my kids when they go through a tough time or a set back in life to focus on the positive. Find the lesson you have learned and look at the good in a situation. Even in the depths of grief and despair you can find good. So, I decided maybe I should take my own advice, and dig deep to find the lessons from 2020. Here is my list, they are in no particular order and this is not exhaustive, as I am sure there are plenty more things I have learned, so I will continue to ponder. What about you? What would you add to this list for yourself?

  1. Don’t ever underestimate being prepared. I am typically someone who does plan ahead. I don’t like to wait to the last minute to pack, to plan meals, etc. But what I didn’t typically do was stock up on necessities, like toilet paper! 2020 taught me to be sure to have the bare necessities on hand at all times.
  2. Creating community is very important. We created all kinds of communities in various ways. One community that I am taking with me into 2021 and beyond is a small group of ladies we now call, “The Dream Team.” We were supposed to plan a Post Prom together in 2020, but instead we created friendships and bonded over the misery of the disappointments our 18 year olds experienced being seniors and starting college. 2020 gave me a great group of new friends!
  3. Family dinners are important. We always made time in our home for family dinners, as much as possible. The pandemic has given us so much more time to sit together and eat. Not only do we gather together, we also spend ample amount of time after dinner at the table chatting. Even though we are in the same home all day together, with work/school, dinner is still our time to catch up with our day.
  4. Church is more than Sunday morning worship. Everyone learned to accommodate remote worship. Church leaders have learned to be so creative! From live streaming worship, to drive-in worship and everything in between. But I think we learned that church has to be a verb. Neighbors taking care of neighbors, that is also church. Also, the amount of people that can be reached with online worship is far beyond anything we would ever see in a building on a Sunday morning, but if you are not creating community, worship isn’t going to be enough.
  5. Breaking tradition can be very refreshing. Nothing has been “typical” about 2020. But for our family, a high school graduation celebration became something that had to be reimagined. The Senior Parade (Seniors were in their cars driving a route around town) was such a fun event, and it would never have happened without the pandemic. I also had to scramble to recreate a long standing tradition of a youth conference that I help head up at work, and after almost 50 years, we pulled together a virtual event. These are just a couple things out of many traditions that were broken for our family this year, but we still made so many memories together!
  6. Time is relative and timing is everything. What day is it anyway? We all lost our sense of time this year! No one knows what day it is. and how in the world is it already the end of December? In a sense, time slowed down, calendars cleared and it felt like we had all the time in the world. The lesson I learned was make each moment count otherwise days slip by. We made a move this year, in the middle of summer right before sending our daughter to college, and it was by far a great decision. In the midst of it, I was going crazy, but once we sent our baby off to school, I was so happy to have a fresh start. The timing was perfect, and it gave me something to focus on other than a quiet, empty home.
  7. Creativity is exhausting. When the calendar cleared overnight, I had to reimagine my job duties. With that came a clean slate and a rethinking of what the future could look like for the ministry I’m charged with. All of that was actually excited and rejuvenating. However, it is taxing on the brain. It is easy to do the same thing, week after week, month after month. The calendar dictated my to do list. But once I was freed from that list, and could start reimagining, it became exhausting. I quickly learned to take some time in fresh air to clear my mind give myself some space to think and at times, daydream.
  8. Quiet time is more important than you think. If we spent time on screens in 2019, you could multiply that by 100 in 2020. With all of the time we spend in front of our computers, on zoom, our phones and mindless TV (Tiger King, need I say more?) quiet time became evermore important. I have always had a creative, crafty interest. Pandemic+becoming an empty nester=time to start hobbies again! I refinished furniture, started painting again, learned to make hot chocolate bombs and got a Cricut for Christmas. So, I plan on using some of my quiet time in 2021 to continue crafting!
  9. Tik Tok is a black hole. I have always tried to keep up on the latest social media apps and trends, it’s part of my job, but also a way to stay in communication with my own kids. So, I have spent too much time on Tik Tok, I admit, but it became a late night past time with my daughter as we laughed until we cried watching all the silly things out there. Memories were made together over Tik Tok, if you can imagine! (I might have even let her talk me into participating in a couple!)
  10. God’s got this, don’t stress about it. As we worked through what we thought was going to be a two week shut down, that ended up being two months that we thought would ease up in the summer and then all the sudden it was Thanksgiving, things at times became stressful. This year has taught me that I am not in control. Our lives changed weekly, and there was nothing I could do about it. But, God remain constant and steadfast. We still don’t know when the end of this will come, but knowing that with faith, we will get through this has brought some sense of peace.

These are things I have learned personally. My husband and I have been fortunate enough to stay employed, and our family has remained healthy. Not everyone has been as fortunate. So, please know we are praying for those of you who may have more heavy hearts and trials that you are facing.

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

Beyond The Walls

How do we reach younger people? This is the question every church asks. Unfortunately, most leaders only see their responsibility to the children and youth who are involved in our ministries without throwing the net broader. First, there may be young families walking into your church on a regular basis who are not connected to your church through offering on Sunday morning. Think about any scouting program that is hosted in your building, preschool or afterschool program. What is the relationship of the church to these families? These are simple solutions to the desire to reach younger people. But to really be the hands and feet of Jesus, you need to also get outside the church walls.

One option for leaders to connect to young people in the community is through the worldwide program, Girls On The Run: https://www.girlsontherun.org/. This nonprofit organization works with girls to teach them life skills like dealing with bullies, etc. You can coach or volunteer even if you do not run. This podcast features Kathy Dickriede, a site liaison and Director of Missions and Community Engagement, and we talk about what the program is about and the work they do with girls.

Want to learn more? Email Kathy: kdickriede@gmail.com Are you involved already? We want to hear your stories! Leave us a comment below.

Podcast:

https://www.spreaker.com/user/10737179/practically-honest-girls-on-the-run

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

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!

A New Kind of Leader: Kids Matter More Than Adults

This blog is a summary and response to the first chapter in Reggie Joiner’s book, A New Kind of Leader. The title really resonates with me. Through the years, I have often thought that many of the issues we face with children/youth ministry lays with that fact that we do not take passing our faith on to the next generation very seriously. The Christian denomination has relied on the “professionals” or volunteers to train our children on the way they should go. We have not understood the responsibility to be on the whole congregation.

Joiner’s quote on page 19 is spot on, “[I]f you want to affect the way a generation sees the world, then it makes sense to start influencing their character and faith when they are young.” Anyone in youth ministry will tell you it is vital to form the faith foundation of individuals before the age of eighteen.

He goes on to say on page 20 that “What you do for kids is more important than anything else you do.” I know plenty of churches that believe if they spend money hiring a Children’s or Youth Director, give them a budget, they have done enough. This is just not the case. It takes the investment of the entire congregation in the lives of the young people in your community to make positive impressions. Reggie says, “What you do now for a kid is more important than what you do for them later as an adult.” (pg. 21).

Research shows that the average age of church members increases by seven years every decade. (pg 24) In fact, in the next decade the average age of those in our mainline denominations will be over sixty. I know many churches see this and want to do something about it. The problem is, we keep thinking we have to go back to the last time we saw the numbers we wanted in children and youth ministries. Here is the catch, we can’t do ministry now like we did twenty years ago when our Sunday school classrooms were full. Times have changed, culture has changed, kids have changed. But for some reason, the church has stayed the same.

So, bottom line here is: WE NEED MORE ADULTS INVOLVED IN THE LIVES OF CHILDREN IN OUR COMMUNITIES. Youth and Children’s leaders have been saying this for years. We MUST invest in the future of our faith, and the way to do that is to invest in the lives of children. This is not just a financial investment. Children need your time, your attention and your love. They need to know that there are adults in our churches who care about them enough to get to know their names, their activities, their interests and their passions. No one ages out of this responsibility.

If you have reached the end of this blog and are a little offended or uncomfortable, then I have accomplished my goal. I admit, I live with blinders on, always focused on ministry with young people, but I do not believe I am off the mark here. In fact this book states everything youth leaders have been talking about in their own circles for a number of years. So, what are you going to do about it? What conversations to you need to have? What questions are swirling in your head? Leave a comment, make a suggestion, or simply give your own opinion. Let’s start the conversation together.

This book is discussed on Fridays at 10:00 a.m. on Zoom. Send a message for a link to be a part of the conversation with youth leaders and pastors.

Luke: A Story for Everyone

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

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

Teaching Points:

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Podcast:

Generation Z: Isolated, Scared But Not Alone

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast:

Reaching College Age Students

Summer is here and so are our college students! What are you doing to interact with them in your faith community? We always think it needs to be a blown out program, but ministry with college age students can be simple and meaningful all at the same time. We talk about this very thing today in this podcast. I am excited to have Rev. Laura White, a lead pastor at a church in Ashland, Rev. Kyle Woodrow, the chaplain at Mount Union University, Char Messenger, Regional Coordinator and Director of Discipleship at a church in Canton all with us to talk about how they have connect with college age students in their contexts. I hope this will inspire you to find some way this summer to reconnect or begin a relationship with a young adult in your community. This is the first podcast in a series we are doing about reaching this age group, be sure to check out more to come!