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.

The History of Black History Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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-

Learn from Twinkies!

Over the years with technology evolving, many businesses have lost opportunities because they continued with what they know and never took chances with new technology.

If you are an American, you have probably eaten a Twinkie in your lifetime. Twinkies were in my lunchbox growing up most days. But I don’t remember the last time I ate one in adulthood.

Twinkies were invented in 1930 by James Dewar in Illinois.  From the beginning, they were a big hit.  The first cream center was banana flavored, but due to a shortage of bananas in WWII, they switched to vanilla.  Early on, there was an issue with shelf life, since Twinkies were made fresh out of eggs, milk and butter, grocers could only keep them for 2 days.  So, Dewar changed the recipe.  Even though urban legend says that Twinkies can out live a nuclear disaster, the company says they have a 25 day shelf live. 

Twinkies did well through the years, hitting lunch boxes everywhere. Until around 2004.  Sales were down considerably.  In that year the company, Interstate Bakeries, filed Chapter 11 protection. Why did the popularity for Twinkies fail? Who knows, but my guess is the brand had a bad rap as an unhealthy snack. As the rise in more natural, organic food started to take shape, kids were no longer seeing the sweet treat at lunch! The trend for more healthy snacks took Twinkie’s place.

In 2009 Interstate Bakery emerged and renamed itself Hostess Brands. Then in 2012 the company laid off 8,500 employees and closed plants. Twinkies were no longer available in the US.

In 2013 Twinkies was bought by Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos and Company.  Apollo sold their portion to Hostess and so now, Twinkie is being run by Darin Metropoulos who happens to be in his thirties. They tweaked the recipe, cutting some of the calories and making them slightly smaller.  They hired back 1,200 employees. 

So, why is the story about Twinkies so important? I think there is a lot that we as church leaders can learn from this sweet treat.

  1. Twinkies changed the recipe early on when the resources (bananas) were not available and to increase the shelf life. In the church, we need to be sure that we don’t continue to try to “produce” the same “product” when our resources change. Of course our “product” is the Gospel, and that message stays the same, however, they way it is distributed needs to constantly be updated, depending on your community and resources. NEVER stop evaluating!
  2. Twinkies demise started in the 80’s when healthy lifestyles became important. Our church numbers also started to decline in the 80’s. Somehow, we think if we just went back to what we were doing “back in the good ol’ days,” it will fix everything. NOT TRUE. We have a whole new generation of people with expectations, needs and different lives. Yes, we still need Jesus! But we are seeking more authentic relationships and more personal interactions all while obtaining information via social media and the internet. Times of changed, so should the way we “do” church.
  3. It took a Millennial to buy Twinkies and redevelop a business model. Most of us over the age of 40 think differently than those younger. Neither is right or wrong, just different. It is time that we, The Church, allow those who are younger to sit at the table where major decisions are made, and listen to our younger brothers and sisters. We can not move our Church into the future until we understand the needs of those who are going to carry the torch.

I think we all can agree, we want nothing more than to have our churches around for our children, grandchildren and many more generations to grown in their faith. However, the time has come to change up the recipe. How? I don’t have that answer, but I implore you to ask a young person. Discuss and dream about it together, maybe over coffee and a Twinkie!

The Truth Matters

This blog is a summary and review for Chapter 5 of Reggie Joiner’s book, “A New Kind of Leader.” It is a great little book to read as a leader in Children or Youth Ministry whether you are a paid staff person or a volunteer. These summaries will highlight the most important points, but to get all the information, you should pick up the book and read with your ministry team.

This chapter starts establishing the fact that truth always matter. However, to teens, it doesn’t matter what you know, if you are right or if it’s true. “It only matters if it matters to them.” (p. 75)

Here are a few things to consider when discussing and thinking about truth

  • The Bible is TRUE
  • Every TRUTH is not in the Bible
  • Every truth does not matter equally
  • Every truth does not matter to everyone

So, it is important for those who lead children and teens to prioritize which truths are most critical to teach. If you then consider the above statement that things only matter to kids when it matters, our job becomes a bit complex. You have to take the truth and make it relevant. This does not mean the truth changes, it just indicates the it is up to the teacher to reword it, re-frame it, repackage it, re-imagine it until it matters to a child or teen. (pg 78)

We all know that it is important to be in the lives of teens. That takes time, listening and learning about them. You need to know what is going on the other 167 hours in their week when they are not in church. You have to connect the truth with what is real and relevant in their world.

It is also extremely important to understand about child development. Kids ability to understand abstract concepts, like faith, doesn’t develop until their teens years. When they are children they have a blind faith that is helpful for them to establish a love for God. Think about things like Santa and the Easter Bunny. At some point in the older elementary years, the idea of imaginary legends doesn’t make sense. Have you ever seen a giant bunny? And how does Santa make it all the way around the world in just one night? The same doubts can come up about God and faith which makes it vital for adults to allow children to ask lots of questions. The adults need to be prepared to respond with truths. Even if that truth is, “I don’t know the answer.”

I really appreciate the advice given in the second half of this little chapter. It is so important that when we are focused on teaching theology and faith that we do not forget that the heart matters. If you do not connect with the student, getting to know them, they will never listen to any truth you try to share with them. “[W]e don’t begin with theology, but we begin with what we have in common-fears, joys, challenges, and a new for love-and that draws people in…” (pg 80) This is true for parents as well. It is important for any adult who loves children to understand the importance of interacting with them, to play a game, to eat a meal, to listen, to read alongside, and to watch a band concert. It’s this kind of investment that shows kids how much you care so that you can have influence in their lives.