The Light That Keeps On Coming

In our last week of Advent, we take a look at some verses from minor prophets as well as Mary’s song in Luke. We are using a traditional picture of the nativity for our blog. This may also be a good opportunity to talk about how often times we misrepresent Jesus’ birth with people who look like us, with kings present or even snow! But also talk about how when we relate to Christ’s birth personally, we can see the importance of the story in that He came to free us all of our sin. Enjoy the podcast and discussion. Have a very Merry Christmas!

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 7:10-16 (Advent lectionary) and (perhaps) Amos 5, Micah 6 *Also Luke 1:46-55*

Teaching Points:

  • We are looking at some of the minor prophets this week. (Minor= smaller books).
  • The prophets were prophesying during times of crisis. The podcast goes into more detail about these crisis’s. It is important to help students understand the place where the prophets were when they were writing.
  • The message being sent here is, “God wants His people to create a just society.”
  • Social justice is helping change systems of power to give voice to the voiceless
  • If you have the time, or would like to bring in some New Testament, look at Mary’s Song in Luke.

Discussion Questions:

  • What, really, is the point of telling this Advent story again and again each year? Are we really expecting anything new and different, or is it just a nice story to tell?
  • Mary’s song shares her words of joy about God. Why is she singing praises to God? (Help students see that God first appears to this poor, unmarried girl. Not to a rich powerful man.) What does this say about our God? How does this compare to how our community, or the world views God? Where do you go to find God?
  • Some of the prophetic voices speak powerfully of the transgressions of the people that must be overcome in order that a new light might come into the world. What does this mean in our own time? Are we, perhaps, too “tame” in our expectations and in our willingness to use our own prophetic voices during this season of Advent?
  • What are YOU hoping for? What light would YOU like to see come into the world? What social justice issue are you passionate about? Where could you bring a voice to the voiceless?

Podcast:

What the what?!

How often do you give teens or young adults the opportunity to ask the really hard questions? I mean the really hard questions about faith/the Bible. We are about to embark on a study this school year that will help you, especially those youth leaders, like myself, who have not been to seminary, dive into a Bible study that will allow the Bible stories teens learn as children to collide with the knowledge they gain in middle and high school.

We MUST give them a safe place to explore and ask questions now before they leave us. So often we see young people leaving high school and leaving their faith. I believe there are several reasons for this fleeing, but one excuse is that they never make faith their own. The church does not give them the opportunity to grapple with their faith and really question it. Teens so often are afraid they are going to hurt our feelings if they question us, so they just go along to make the adults around them happy, giving us all the canned answers to our questions.

Throughout the school year, I will be teaching a high school Sunday school class along the way, they will be my “field study group” as we develop questions. There will be podcasts for you to listen to and/or to share with your group and this blog will give you questions to ask. It doesn’t matter if you are a youth leader, Sunday school teacher, small group leader, or young adult, we hope that this study will help you navigate through the Bible in a new and exciting way, and in the end, we pray that it will help you draw nearer to God and strengthen your faith. If you chose, these studies can all be done one after another, or pick and choose the ones that fit into other studies you are doing.

Here is how I recommend you begin week one with your group:

Start with expectations during the study of the group. What are the expectations of the students/teens of one another and of the leader? What are your expectations as the leader?

How would you describe the Bible to a non-believing friend?

Establish it wasn’t meant to be a science or history book.

Look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Ask the following questions:

  • When Paul wrote this, what did he mean by “ALL” scripture? (OT, the gospels were not considered scripture yet.
  • What does it mean to be “inspired” by God? Has God ever inspired you? Has the Bible?
  • The Greek word “theopneustos” is being used here and translates to “inspired by God.” See if students can guess the meaning of this compound word: “theo” (God) and “pneu” (to breathe out).
    • Interesting that scholars think Paul made this word up because it is not found anywhere prior to Paul using it here. What are some words that have been made up in our language in the last 5 years? Why are new words made up?
  • When else have we read in the Bible about God breathing? (Gen 2)
    • We are going to get to this story next week, but why is God’s breath talked about in Genesis? (God breathing life into man.)
    • How is God breathing life into man similar to God breathing into the authors of scripture?
    • What about His breath actually breathing into scripture?
    • Is scripture alive? (You want them to get to a place where they see that it is alive and relevant in our lives today.)

What Biblical stories did you learn as a child that now you think, “What the what”?  -start a list-

Ask if anyone can (or maybe see if they can work in groups) write out a Biblical timeline (this only works if you students have grown up in the church).

There are plenty of resources available, but I have found Making Sense of the Bible by Adam Hamilton helpful and the basis for this lesson.

Let’s start this journey together with our young people. You don’t have to have all the answers or agree with everything we discuss in the podcast/blog. The important point is to just open up the discuss and allow teens the opportunity to ask questions and make their faith their own.

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!

A Way Forward While Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

Navigating through the messy waters of where we are as a United Methodist Church is not easy for any of us. However, it is especially difficult for youth leaders. Young people today ask tough questions, mainly because they can investigate anything with their cell phones and Google. So when we try to answer off the cuff or if we are not open and honest about the knowledge we lack, they will tune us out. This generation is searching for truth and are bothered when there is inconsistency in what we preach and how we act or what they feel in their hearts. So, no matter the trial that you face in your church, your community, your area or in our great country…keeping Jesus the focus of our teaching should be at our core. This podcast is about youth leaders wrestling with this very issue, what is our main thing? What are we focused on? Where are we spending our time? All questions we need to ask ourselves as we begin to move forward.

***Picture from http://www.freepik.com

Drop Your Canoes!

Some of the most profound quotes come in the beginning of the book, “Canoeing the Mountains” by Tod Bolsinger.  He shares this from page 32, “Steve Yamaguchi, dean of students at Fuller Theological Seminary, says that when his spiritual director took a flying lesson, he asked the instructor why they use flight simulators so much.  The instructor said, ‘In the moment of crisis, you will not rise to the occasion; you will default to your training.’”  How many of us have been there?  When things aren’t working out, if you start a new ministry or even when a ministry has been around for some time and it begins to not work anymore, what do we all do?  Go through our files, reach onto our shelves and pull out something that worked in the past to see if it may help now. We may throw a new twist into it using the latest technology that we can afford.  The next quote from Ed Friedman really hits hard, “When any…system is imaginatively gridlocked, it cannot get free simply through more thinking about the problem.  Conceptually stuck systems cannot be unstuck simply by trying harder.” Bolsinger goes on to say, “We are imaginatively gridlocked. We can’t see our way to a new way of being, a new response. We are growing more anxious about the decline of the church and the demise of whole religious structures. We don’t know what to do. So we keep trying harder; we keep trying our old tricks. But, of course, it doesn’t work.” (pg. 32)

What is it that needs to happen?  Remember the premise of this book…we have to leave everything we know behind and move into the future with an open mind and fresh ideas to survive.  So, guess what?  We need to re-imagine ministry.  Discover new adventures.  Start asking how God is calling us.  How is God calling our churches to accomplish God’s mission for the world.  It will require new things done in new ways. Maybe we do not know what that looks like, and that will require some imagination and reinvention.  It will require some trial and error.

If we refer back to the illustration the Bolsinger uses, the Lewis and Clark expedition, we can make the same conclusions.  Once Mariwether Lewis stepped off the map into unknown places, he quickly realized that what he faced in front of him was nothing like the terrain behind him.  And what he had brought with him to help in his travels will no longer aid in the adventure ahead.  They brought canoes because they thought there would be a water route to help them get to the Pacific Ocean.  So what were they to do?  Change.  Come up with Plan B.  Adapt.  Figure out a new way.  Friends, this is exactly where we find ourselves.  There are big mountains ahead of us, and deep valleys we must go through.  How are we going to do it?  That’s a hard question to answer, but what I do know, we can’t do what we have always done.  We must change, adapt, find a new way.  Let’s ditch our canoes because we can’t keep trekking forward carrying tools that are no longer helping us.  We have to let go, and keep moving forward.  Trust that God will provide exactly what we need along the way.  But what is evident in the book, and a great reminder for each of us, the only way to tackle the mountains ahead is by keeping the course (mission) and being great leaders who others can depend upon.

Are you ready to drop the canoe?  Do you have what it takes as a leader?  It’s a huge step of faith, but I believe with the grace of God and leaning on one another we can hike these mountains, and valleys, together!

Not Safe for Church. Second Commandment: Thou Shall Not Front: Be Authentic

“Will the real disciples please stand up?” (p. 14) Very early on the authors ask this question of our congregations.  Yikes!  Are we really being authentic to God’s mission and call in our churches?  I think that most churches have fallen into society’s expectations that we must be all things to all people.  This is a very slippery slope, and faith communities need to stop and think about where they are in their identity crisis.  For the last 20 or so years, every church has pulled ideas and concepts from this megachurch and that megachurch instead of trying to figure out where God is calling us in our situation.  I believe that each church has been uniquely gifted by people who are able to carry out the mission and vision of each individual church.  So shouldn’t ministries be based on the needs of the community matched with the gifts of the congregation?  Somehow we turn this around and create ministry then find people to fill spots.  In all of this we lose the mission and vision of our own church and focus on numbers, and how many people are attracted to whatever we are doing.  I love this quote from page 16 of the book, “We confuse church membership with Christian discipleship.  We confuse tithes and offerings with dues and tips.” We want all the benefits of what it means to be a part of a church, but none of the responsibility of what it takes to be a disciple. ” Everything we do needs to answer the question, “How is this helping us make disciples?”  If we say that is what we are about (it is part of our mission statement) then all of our efforts need to be towards discipleship making as the end result.  Authenticity is a lifestyle not something we just “do” on Sundays. Authentic congregations are focused on the community around them and are usually the go-to place for community gatherings and meetings.  Their leaders are community leaders; their pastors are community pastors. Millennials want authentic people and authentic relationships.  They also require transparency when given to charity.  They must know that what they are giving will matter and know where it is going.   Authentic faith communities are made up of disciples who know that they are students, learners and contributors to a bigger picture and a greater good.  They are not consumers expecting served and worried about their own benefits. Millennials are attracted to these authentic communities, and maybe it’s time we see that it’s time we are real with our call.

 

What do you thinK are marks of authentic witness and identity in your church?

Is your congregation doing everything they can to make disciples of Jesus Christ?

Are you being authentic to who you are called to be individually?  Are you an example to others?

Not Safe for Church: Ten Commandments for Reaching New Generations Chap. 1

Reaching a new generation is probably one of the biggest issues churches call me about right now.  I get questions all the time asking me how church can draw in those 40 and younger.  It’s a complicated problem with a very intricate solution; although, I believe a broad solution could be the answer, no one wants to hear it.

This book goes there.  The authors, F. Douglas Powe Jr. and Jasmine Rose Smothers, dig in and reveal the issues that build walls in our churches today that prevent the younger generations from engaging in our faith communities.  I am excited to share in the next 10 weeks my thoughts on this book and to hear your reactions to it as well.

I was thrilled to see that the “New Generation” Powe and Smothers refer to include those born after 1961.  I am not a millennial, and don’t think like one.  I am in Generation X; however, my opinions and thoughts toward institutions and society tend to lean more towards the millennial generation.  I appreciate the division for this book as being those post-civil rights movement because we are more willing to take risks and be more open to new ideas that change things up.  I like the Biblical comparison they use of Joshua and Caleb, because they were not just willing to look at the possibilities, but willing to actually act on them.

The first commandment is, “Thou Shall Chill: What’s at Stake.” (First of all, the chapter titles are way cool and very fitting!) So, what is at stake?  The loss of the Church as we know it today.  The authors point out, though, that those inside the church are fighting with those outside of the church to keep it going, but those outside the church are not even in the fight because they don’t care.  The biblical reference to this is from Mark 10:17-27, the story about the rich man who asks Jesus how to get eternal life…Jesus’ answer: sell everything you own, and give to the poor, then you will have treasure in heaven and come follow me.  The man is shocked and leaves in despair.  Not the answer he was looking for!

So, taking this illustration, many of our congregations today are also busy trying to save themselves by staying in their comfort zone and never moving out.  Like the rich man, churches need to let go of their prized possessions, everything they have known to follow Jesus.  But it is too high a price.   What is at stake is saving the congregation, but it is just too high a price and unfair.  The consequences for not paying are probably the eventual death of the congregation which is the very thing they are trying to avoid.

The rich man went away grieving because he wanted eternal life, but it had to be on his terms.  The same is true for congregations.  They want to save their faith communities, but on their terms.  We need to take risks and let go of our way and allow the saving to happen on God’s terms.

How do we let go?  First, congregations need to better understand those of us born post-civil rights movement.  We love the church and are committed; however, our love is NOT to the building.  We are committed to seeing where God leads and do not allow the building to define that.  “Discipleship is about having the kind of spirit where we will follow Christ into the world and, most importantly, into our community.  Discipleship is not about creating a comfort zone where we maintain the status quo.” (pg. 7)  It is not about protecting a building.  Discipleship is about “believing in a new future with God that requires us to chill and to let go of some things.” (pg. 11)

 

I would love to hear your response.  Here are a couple of the questions at the end of Chapter 1:

  1. What are some ways your congregations is entrenched and not willing to let go?
  2. How is your congregation collaborative and not so collaborative with the post-civil rights generations?
  3. What would be easy to let go of? What would be hard? What would be impossible?