Make THEM Tell You NO

We all have a THEM. THEM could be real people or perceived as real people. Either way, we deal with THEM all the time. At every meeting. At every table. In every parking lot. THEM have multiple faces, always good intentions, and most times a lot of wisdom. 

We submit to THEM. We meet with THEM. We lead THEM. We serve alongside THEM. THEMs fill our schools, media, churches, and homes. My best relationships and greatest joys come from THEM.

MAKE THEM TELL ME NO is a mantra I repeat in my head and use, in prayer, to guard my heart when I want buy-in for an idea. I play out in my head, “What’s the worse that can happen?” and the answer is always, “They could tell me, ‘NO.’”

But that’s just the first NO. 

NO is a perfectly good answer, but it doesn’t have to be the final answer. That’s up to me, not THEM. It’s just the first NO. The NO for now.

I can be disappointed, but it’s not personal. I invite the Holy Spirit to do His work in me and in THEM.

I remember reading in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point that there is a chemical released in our brains as soon as we say YES and a different chemical for NO. It’s physiological. Once that YES chemical gets released, it’s almost impossible to turn it off and reverse it. Same for a NO. When the answer is NO, a chemical is released in the brain running through the body that is almost impossible to reverse. That’s why I can accept a NO as only the first NO.

After the first NO, I’ll do more research. I’ll offer more teaching about it.  I’ll pray through it further. I’ll chat with other stakeholders and networkers to keep the conversation going with THEM. I’ll pray for another opening with THEM, and I’ll ask again.

It’s been my experience THEM like to represent others who aren’t in the conversation. My THEM want to answer for their THEMs always leaning on the side of love for their THEMs and typically with caution. It sounds like, “We’ve already tried that,” or “They won’t like it,” or “Not everyone is on a computer,” or “We used to do that,” or, you get the picture. A NO can come is a lot of packages and be expressed in lots of ways.

If I get another NO, that’s just the second NO.

When I go in for the third time, I have now heard all the reasons for NO and I can come prepared with WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR YOU TO GIVE ME A YES? 

This I know….

  • I can not assume a NO from THEM. So I won’t let the enemy talk me out of it before I even pitch it.
  • I’m gonna make THEM tell me NO.
  • If I get a NO, it’s just the first NO for now.
  • If I get a second NO, it’s just the second NO for now.
  • If it’s worth the effort and goal, I’ll always go in asking for MORE and let the negotiations commence. 
  • It’s not personal.

Devin Gordon is an enthusiastic, disciple-maker and a skilled attorney. We partner in ideating innovative disciple-making opportunities for family faith formation in my local church and beyond. He tells stories upon stories of his season as an entertainment attorney constantly operating in negotiation mode to a mutually-satisfying end.  I hear his voice in my head to go in asking for MORE than I think I need to give room for negotiation. If I come in with the bare minimum ASK and the negotiations take place, and they always do, I’ll be disappointed and the devil gets a toe-in because I come away with less than the bare minimum. I’ll feel hurt by the words and whittling of my brothers and sisters in my church family and relationships will be strained. No matter what, I want to grow relationships rather than strain them within the body of Christ. Going in asking THEM for MORE keeps the devil out of the details and helps me actively guard my heart and my mouth. (James 3:5-12; Proverbs 13:3)

The Holy Spirit constantly surprises me with the prevenient work He does among God’s people within systems, practices, and attitudes with extraordinary intention, energy, and creativity. He can be trusted. Will I be faithful to do the hard work it might take with THEM?

Make THEM tell you NO, and see how our awesome Lord we serve works it out.

Then tell the stories!

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

A Plush Pajama Party

My local Chick-Fil-A Operator’s team is super creative. They just offered a pajama party event at their restaurant, but not for kids. The event was a sleepover for a kid’s stuffed animal. As I watched the night play out on their Instagram, more like stalked, I saw pics of kids with the CFA cow in its jammies, with their stuffed animal friend, security bracelets matching a kid with their animal, and fun pics of the animals in fun poses all over the restaurant. Some pics included sleep masks on the stuffed animals and others posed at tables enjoying some CFA snacks and dinner.

The children were given a drop-off window around dinner time 5-7pm and a pick-up time around breakfast 8-10am for more pics and fun staged with the cow reading a night-time story to the pack of animals, pics of the chaperones, at the drive-thru in a toy car (think Toy Story), and at other locations in the restaurant.

It got me thinking about offering a stuffed animal church lock-in over a Sunday night, when there isn’t school on Monday, all the places a stuffed animal friend could be posed throughout campus, doing stuff that kids do at church, scheduling hourly posts on social media throughout the evening and morning….

If we offered the friend’s lock-in the Sunday/Monday of Thanksgiving week, we could anticipate new families joining the closed kid’s Facebook group to check out the lock-in shenanigans right as we begin to promote and encourage families for the season of Advent. The algorithms could actually work for us to roll in their feeds during advent. It’s the perfect time to grow the online community for Advent.

It would also give us a way to communicate and practice our systems for security when the kids are the bigs of their little stuffed animals.

Rarely do I come up with an original idea, but inspiration can come from lots of places. Where do you get your inspiration to roll out new things with a purpose?

“We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 1:3

Top Gun Target Practice

What is YOUR plan for this next school year to move closer to the center?

The holy habits listed around the target are the most impactful holy habits which grow our love and faith as followers of Jesus. Practiced by the saints who came before us, we have amazing tools today easily accessible to practice every single one.

Mark where YOU think YOU are around the target in practice. No judgement here, just a realistic place from which to start.

Then choose one area/holy habit to make the move closer to the bullseye over the next school year. Moving one step closer to the bullseye is reasonable and realistic and achievable.

What next? Make a plan to take a class, read a book or two or more, grow a deeper relationship with a colleague skilled in that area, subscribe to a podcast with that specialty, wake up or go to bed an hour earlier to make margin, and stick it out until the end of May 2023. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at your movement over time because following Jesus is a lifetime journey, one intentional season at a time.

Elisabeth George, A Woman After God’s Own Heart, calls it ‘building a faith file.’ 

Ken Willard, Stride, calls it ‘creating a discipleship pathway for yourself.’

My volunteer/servant-leader team goes through this exercise every year as part of our Taco ‘Bout, Chill & Chat, or Winter Pasta-bilities Dinner. They don’t turn it in. Each leader keeps it for themselves as a reminder they are on their own discipleship journey and get to choose how it will go. This year we’re using Top Gun vocabulary since it’s part of our church’s Basic Training fall campaign.

Top Gun Training Officers are always better than their students because they practice their skills more. What skill will you take to the next level this school year? Share this as part of your team training, but this is also about you as a child of God growing in your own Jesus muscles as a way to beat the Devil who will be at you like fleas on an unprotected, unprepared dog. (I’m from the South and we like using dogs in our expressions for emphasis.) Remember you are a child of God, not His employee.

May 2023 will be here eventually, short of the Rapture. We’ll get closer every day we wake up. Thank you, Lord! Let us not look back and hope we just float into a robust faith and trust in Jesus when life hits us hard. Be ready. Be prepared. Join the holy habits of the saints who have gone before us with the tools the Lord and the Body of Christ has provided today.

How can I help?

How can we help each other? 

Tell someone, so you can celebrate together. Jesus never sent out His disciples one at a time, but rather, two, three, or seventy.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Colossians 2:6-7

A Top Gun Team

I was just out of college when the OG came out. I was driving a 1970 VW bug and it sounded just like that jet. Loud. So of course, I adjusted and checked every knob on the dashboard as if I was indeed a Top Gun Pilot. Today I’m a bit older and my SUV doesn’t make as much noise, but listening to the consultants and people involved in the making of the sequel, I recognize some parallels which have challenged me in my own Top Gun life with Jesus.

Goal – Training Officers and the littles we serve to take the next, best step to love Jesus with their whole heart for their whole lives.

The dogfights are practiced in F18s because it’s the only adaptable aircraft with two seats.

  • Jesus never sent out His disciples one at a time, but two, three, and seventy. Ministry is meant to be shared. Who’s my Goose? Who’s my Maverick?

The commander of a team of pilots chooses the one to attend Top Gun, typically one per year.

  • The parents of the kids we serve are their commanders. They have chosen their children to participate in my local church ministry for a whole host of reasons. I am in partnership with these disciple-makers to support the local church AND the home. How will I support these commanders and their team of pilots, ‘as they go’?

It is a pilot’s learned and practiced skills which bring them home, not better technology. 

  • We have lots of great technology to share faith formation experiences, but it’s the relationships through shared experiences over time which model and grow a robust faith in Jesus when the dogfighting of life begins.

Dave Berke was a Training Officer for Top Gun and a consultant for the movie Maverick.  He was inspired as a 13 year old to fly jets and fly them on and off carriers. A 14 year old who watches the film today could be a Top Gun pilot within the next 10 years. 

  • When Titus 2 men and women tell their stories, littles and bigs are inspired to take their next best step to following Jesus. When our kids see a Christian life modeled and lived out well, they know what that looks like, sounds like, acts like, lives like, and feels like and they see it as achievable and possible.

G-loc is gravity-induced loss-of-consciousness. G-loc is real and dangerous. BUT a pilot can physiologically condition specific muscle groups and practice various breathing techniques to prevent it. The harm comes when a pilot is surprised and not prepared for it.

  • Life surprises us often with loss, disappointment, anger, despair, hurt, injury, diagnosis for ourselves and those we love. It’s important to lead our families to be prepared for troubles through the practice of holy habits of worship and praising the Lord, not forsaking gathering together, and trusting the One and Only to turn all things to good for those who love Him. Don’t be shy about it.

There are 7 categories of jobs on an aircraft carrier that are categorized by the color shirts the people wear. With many people working together, the shirts are a big help to keep up with what’s going on. 

  • Elisabeth Eliott was a missionary to the tribes of Ecuador alongside her husband, Jim, who was killed by the very tribesmen he was trying to reach for Jesus. She writes in “Discipline: The Glad Surrender” ‘A sense of place is important for a Christian. We are people under authority at all times, owing honor and respect to a king or a president, to parents, to master, teacher, husband or boss, to ministers and elders and bishops, and of course always and most important, to Christ.’ (p. 86-87) Different situations will call me to wear shirts of many colors. All are important and are to be served out ‘as unto the Lord.’ Lord, let me ‘not settle for mediocrity, indifference, or a tolerable adequacy.’ (Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, p. 170)

Training Officers are always significantly better than the best students. Why? Because they practice more.

  • As I prepare the ministry calendar for the families I serve, what does it look like for me and my fellow Top Gun training officers (servant leaders) when it comes to the holy habits of worship, study, prayer, giving, and service? When I share at this year’s Taco ‘Bout, our leaders will be marking for themselves the target they wish to reach this year from Stride: Creating A Discipleship Pathway For Your Church by Mike Schreiner and Ken Willard. If you don’t know your target, you’re just flying a plane.

Why am I even thinking about this? Our church will be operating in a Basic Training campaign in the sermon series about the Apostle’s Creed and a fall kick-off event. The children’s ministry team will be kicking it up a notch with a fall theme of Top Gun Sunday Training, Training Officer volunteers, a content deep-dive into the 10 Commandments for CLUB345, Prayer for the new K2 Club, and more.

“So the soldiers took up their positions.” Joshua 8:13

Hitting the Target with a Tall Small Archery Party

Summer programming is dedicated to Sunday morning small groups, Special Sundays (National Ice Cream Day is July 17, so we have reserved an ice cream truck for after services), and onramp family events like the Tall Small Archery Party. With the weekly Thursday drive-ins in June, July extends an invitation to ‘come on in’ beyond a Sunday and here are a few reasons why:
– New families want to experience life and faith together.
– Current families want to bump elbows with new families.
– Faith formation experiences outside Sundays says we honor your profession and family which calls one or more parents to work on Sundays (retail, medical, hospitality, law enforcement fields, etc.)

Coming from “What’s in my hand?”, our staff includes a great dad who is an archery coach for a private school, Shaun Nguyen. Coach Shaun began his interest in archery on a mission trip almost ten years ago. He applied for a grant to purchase all the equipment and his team now competes. I invited him to ‘set the table’ for smalls with their talls who love them as part of our Soul Food Summer campaign.

Promotional: Tall/Small Archery Party is for children kindergarten and older (small) with an adult who loves them (tall) on Thursday, July 7, 6-7:30pm in the Gym.  Register online. Sponsored by McEachern Kids

We set out snacks which ended up ‘for the road’ because they didn’t want to stop.

We used a QR code on a stand-up sign for check-in rather than a paper sign-in and it was fantastic. For anyone who had not signed in at the June drive-ins, we now could capture their information all inputted by the tall. Smalls wrote name tags for themselves and their tall, which gave everyone something to do as we waited to enter the gym enmasse to begin the teaching piece.

Coach Shaun took 15-20 minutes to introduce himself, teach vocabulary, equipment, and safety. With mom/day/grand right there, each little had their own personal coach when it was time to hit the line with their equipment.

Littles AND bigs took turns learning together, using only fingertips to pull back the strings, chatting, and encouraging one another. With an element of danger, everyone was paying lots of attention and the frowns of “I can’t do it” soon transitioned to hearing the thud of hitting the target. They stayed and talked each other through it. Just like families do.

At 7:05pm, we stopped for a 10-minute break and I shared a younger version of the sin talk, we prayed, and hit the line again with Coach Shaun attaching balloons to the targets this time.

Next time we’ll go until 8pm since we went a little long. We sent them on their way with a blessing and two gifts: (1) a child’s book on The Lord’s Prayer, and (2) faith conversation cards to share at their tables as they continue to enjoy a Soul Food Summer wherever they are.

This was one of the best events and we hit the target on all goals, all levels of hospitality, and with 11 families, we had lots of elbow-bumping to make new friends. Follow-up is the roll-out of a new Sunday school curriculum which has a fantastic parenting piece families can access on their phones, National Ice Cream Sunday for a free ice cream truck after church, and a Tall Small Paint Party on the last Thursday of the July.

“For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you.” Psalm 122:8

A Place to Belong

Amber O’Neal Johnston is an author, blogger, and world-school mom. A world-school mom is a mom who practices homeschooling with the world as her classroom, specifically the cultures and people of the world.  I had the pleasure of meeting her at our Exploring Homeschool special event in April. She opened a brand new box filled with her brand new book that evening. I purchased two then and have purchased multiple copies for colleagues and friends since.

A Place To Belong: Celebrating Diversity and Kinship in the Home and Beyond offers amazing insight for those of us in ministry with children and families specifically to set the table of ‘belonging’ for today’s families in a family of faith. The five pillars of practice on which our ministry with children and families stands are Worship, Grow, Serve, Belong, and Tell. 

“Every child longs for a place to belong. A place where cultural awareness, self-acceptance, celebration, and kinship are the norm. And this natural yearning for affiliation and attachment is best satisfied within the context of home and family life. Home is where lifelong attitudes are rooted and affirmed, where children learn the values that will inform how they move through the world.” p. xvi

Amber writes about curating a diverse library of books, exploring culturally-rich art and media, and significant, life-giving history. Reading her words through a children’s ministry lens, how can we ‘set the table’ for belonging for all children in the local church? Here are a few ideas I’ve implemented….

Speak and teach that our identity and worth comes from the God who created us as His image-bearers in the world. The first books of Genesis matter because it sets the tone for every child’s value no matter how they feel in the moment. God knew them before they were born and He sent His one and only son Jesus to invite every child into the family of God through faith and trust in Jesus. “I do hope that my children always feel magnificent in their skin. Not because they’re convinced that they are somehow more special than others, but because they embrace their differences while recognizing that we’re better together.” p.8

“Given the opportunity to be themselves in a safe space, people will gladly show you all of who they are.” p. 19 We are a Safe Sanctuary church. We annually evaluate and consider the best practices and systems possible in our local context to provide spaces safe from harm. We are beginning the evaluation process of teaching, training platforms, and considerations this fall to implement next spring which will be the 25th anniversary of what the United Methodist Church knows as Safe Sanctuary. When was the last time your church pulled out the Safe Sanctuary guidelines? Who will sit at that table to discuss best practices to reduce the risk of harm in your local church now?

I want to make resources and conversations easily accessible to parents so they become the ‘askable parent’  for their kids. “Our goal, as parents, should be to become our children’s number one go-to person when they aren’t sure how to process things or when they want to know more about something they’ve heard or noticed.” p. 27 We recognize that kids need a safe space for working through their private thoughts aloud. We’ve secured a new Sunday morning curriculum which includes a major parenting piece from a Biblical worldview to encourage all kinds of conversations for families wherever they are because we all know we typically can’t schedule those sacred, pivotal conversations.

“Children who spend all their time gazing at themselves in the mirror risk entering adulthood with an incomplete view of the world and an overdeveloped sense of self.” p. 73 One of the given standards for living as a Christian is to live as ‘I am no longer my own’. The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” Paul’s audience had a reputation for claiming spiritual superiority over one another, suing one another in public courts, disrespecting the communal meal, and accepting all kinds of misbehavior unbecoming of one who follows Jesus. Each Sunday this summer, we’ve invited Titus 2 men and women in our local church (bigs who have been following Jesus longer than the littles) to tell their story of their dependence on God and their prayer habits. I also take time to frequently speak of biographies I’m reading of real people doing remarkable things for Jesus in weekly large group and the children’s moment.

Amber’s writing was easy to hear in most places, but difficult in others. I was ready for it and grateful for her tenderness. Want to learn what belonging could look like and what it doesn’t look like? Read the book or listen on Audible.

Christian education for how to live as a family AND how to live as the set-apart family of faith in Jesus will have the most profound impact when practiced at tables, with art pads and pencils, among a variety of people and cultures as well as in the community of those where we can relax and not have to work so hard. Moms and dads, grandparents, and the local church are commissioned to go and make disciples of Jesus and we are better together, intentionally setting the table for belonging in an anxious, fearful, awkward world desperate for authentic connection.

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”  Revelation 7:9a

Liturgical Agility

Liturgical = relating to public worship. Agility = ability to move quickly and easily.

The updated edition of Bishop Robert Schnase’s Five Practices of a Fruitful Congregation has been the book in two summer book clubs I’m part of. An in-person, brown bag, small group at my church on Tuesdays at noon following lead staff meeting (for the purposes of shared vocabulary), and an online small group through Zoom on Wednesday mornings at 8-9am (for the  purposes of what this shared vocabulary looks like in other local churches). We discuss a chapter each week.

Last week was a discussion on the chapter entitled “Passionate Worship”. Coming from a kidmin perspective, I have no seat at the big church table. But when I read it from a kidmin perspective, I do sit in the seat to help ‘bridge the divide’ from The Treehouse (basement) or Food Truck Church (parking lot) to the Sanctuary (big church) for my families’ so that….

  1. New families can find places and spaces of familiarity to decrease their anxiety level for entering a new space with its own rituals, and
  2. Current families can explore multiple worship practices with their littles.

“Thank God for his (John Wesley) spiritual maturity and liturgical agility! Our rich Christian heritage of worship comes to us through many convolutions of style and practice. Outdoor camp meetings, frontier revivals, high-church liturgies, African American spirituals – these are but a few of many streams of practice that flow through our history.” Robert Schnase, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, pg 60

My first step was to watch a month or two’s services of my church’s ‘big church’ to find the pieces of ‘regularness’ in every single service. I took really good notes as if I was a first-timer each week. I compiled a list of those regular elements.

The second step was to evaluate the elements to determine one or two to intentionally teach at some other place and space in a participatory, developmentally appropriate way.

Worship experiences and practices are typically not taught, but caught. With the average attendance of faithful church attenders in my area of the state being 1 out of 5 Sundays which include Easter Sunday and Christmas Eve, we’re unreasonably expecting little people and new big people to ‘catch’ our rituals of weekly worship less often than twelve days out of 365.

One place we teach these regular elements is through Faith Milestones. Each year our children’s ministry offers developmentally appropriate faith milestone events at 45 minutes for a little with a big person who loves them specific to…
(1) Bread & Juice Class – Holy Communion served in various ways and how we typically offer it at our church, ex: intinction, an open table and the logistics of before and after the actual practice. K5-1st graders
(2) I Can Pray – Offering prayer stations for individual/family prayer as well as what corporate prayer looks like in Big Church, ex: The Lord’s Prayer, journaling, glory prayers. 1st & 2nd graders
(3) I Love My Church – Spaces and places of worship on campus and the stories behind them, ex: Choir loft, who wears a robe and why, and vocabulary such as the difference between a pew and a bench. 2nd & 3rd graders
(4) I Can Serve – Acolyte training and Ambassador Training, ex: timing, dress, lighters, hospitality. 3rd-5th graders
(5) I Can Worship With My Family – the opportunity to learn ‘on the job’ about two or three elements of regular worship, ex: Signing the Apostles’ Creed and Gloria Patri; speaking into microphones, and other opportunities for physical participation like passing offering plates, instrumentalists, holding signs for the word-of-the-day, active visual elements, small-group/family prayers, processing in and out. K5-5th graders

Worship experiences and practices are typically not taught, but caught. I think that is why there are such deep, emotional attachments to how worship is presented and why most American worshippers think only the music is the worship part. American worship experiences today range from Vacation Bible School large group to Camp Meetings, from amateur musicians who passionately love the Lord to professionals in lighting and musicianship, from spaces of well polished wood furniture to a parking lot filled with cheeseballs. 

“Multiplying the opportunities for worship is about allowing God to use us and our congregations to offer a more abundant life for all.” (pg 70)

Several years ago I was invited to participate in a week-long planning and teaching for interactive and innovative worship. I participated alongside the worship leader and senior pastor of the local church I was serving. The week-long event was led by Dr. Marcia McFee and Chuck Bell. My greatest takeaway from the whole week was to set the table for participation for and by all God’s people…which means planning far in advance and collaborating with the Christian educators who are trained in developmental practices with the new attender in mind. Bishop Schnase calls it liturgical agility

I also regularly glean from the teachings of the fabulous worship artist Mark Burrows who I hear in my head say, “What’s good for kids is good for everybody,” when it comes to setting the table for participatory worship.

There are many of us in conversation about innovatively setting the table for worship with littles in children’s ministry, large group worship, as well as family worship. We’re going to get together to share ideas and experiences at a Children’s Worship Think Tank on Thursday, July 21st hosted by Alpharetta First UMC in Alpharetta, Georgia, 10am-12noon, sponsored by the North Georgia Conference Children’s Ministry Network. If you want to be inspired and can get there, you are invited to a seat at the table because we’re better together.

” Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise in the assembly of His faithful people.” Psalm 149:1

Ride Into The Danger Zone

I’ve missed going to the movies. A big time movie in a big time theater will reset my brain when it’s on overload for summer season or any heavy season of ministry activity. Guaranteed. Attending the new Top Gun: Maverick movie was exactly what the doctor ordered for this gal’s mental health.

As soon as I saw the new movie on opening day, I wanted to see it again. The editing, cinematography, music, and sound were amazing. Even the second time around I was shifting from right to left in my seat as the jets did their maneuvers. Yeah, I’m that movie goer! I clap when good things happen, too.

A couple of weeks ago our lead staff set the fall kick-off plan for a ‘Basic Training’ sermon series with a focus on the Apostles’ Creed. As I watched the movie at the theater over Father’s Day with my honey, I was inspired to plan our fall kid’s ministry around the basic training for kids in the Lord’s Army. We’re even rolling out a new curriculum for Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Tuesday evening kid’s Bible studies. I’m breaking out the camo and the Flip Dictionary.

The motions for the traditional kid’s song all came back

I started thinking of paper airplane stations with good paper, origami plans and targets.

I thought of jet juice being iced water.

I thought of using directional traffic batons at the entrance with a helmet by Ambassador greeters.

I thought of a list of call names for kids to choose from. My call name would be “Bull” for a whole host of reasons.

I thought of army green tshirts for our team with this on the back in white ink and a masculine font….

On August 1, 2022 an elite team of servants were chosen representing the top one percent of its leaders. Its purpose was to make disciples of Jesus Christ to insure they love the Lord with their whole heart for their whole lives. 

They succeeded.

Today churches call it children’s ministry. The locals call it….. (with the McEachern Kids top gun logo on the front)

We’re riding into the danger zone of today’s culture and they need to be equipped with what they believe, what is truth, to live set apart even when it’s hard, unpopular, and as exiles in a foreign land. As followers of Jesus, we can do hard things with the help of the Holy Spirit. The hardest things! We were indeed created for such a time as this.

We’re raising up Daniels, Shadrachs, Meshachs, and Abednegos in Babylon. It’ll be a battle and we’re in the Lord’s Army.

My heart is pounding just thinking about it!

“Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.” 2 Kings 22:1a, 2

We’ve Accepted Some Bad Habits

We have developed some bad social habits over the last two years. We think we’re friendly, but we’re really just polite. We think we are welcoming to strangers, but only if they come to us, on our timetable, in our way, to our house, on our schedule, and with the least amount of discomfort on our part as possible. We think we ask questions for conversation, but it’s really an interview. 

We think we are engaging, when we are really exchanging content where my opinion is the best answer to all questions. When holding doors and accomplishing a checklist of tasks in a certain order are the epitome of satisfactory hospitality. We are setting the table for making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of everyone else’s world, but it better be comfortable, convenient, and cost me nothing.

Enough of that!

Here’s the good news: We can learn the skills necessary to be a friend, make a friend, and live out the welcome of Jesus in this new world. It’s not a program, but a gentle reminder we grow in our faith better when we are in relationship with others in a healthy way. It’s personal. It’ll take humility to know I have something new to learn. It’ll be awkward. Really awkward! It’ll take energy. It’ll feel risky, be inconvenient and uncomfortable. I challenge you to make all your feelings and caution a matter of prayer and get over it. I believe our Lord has something better in mind and we’ve got the gift of the Holy Spirit to give us the courage and energy to make it happen.

Even the greatest of all introverts (those who do not get their energy from being around other people) can learn the skills necessary to make a friend-in-the-Lord. Even the greatest of all extroverts (those who do get energy from being around other people) need coaching and encouragement to notice social cues and hold a good, healthy, amazing conversation with confidence. If we intend to fulfill the Biblical command to make disciples of Jesus Christ, we’d better be ready to make some new friends.

Radical hospitality goes beyond the passive receiving guests warmly but rather an unexpected interest with people inside, but especially outside, the faith community. Bishop Robert Schnase writes, “Radical means ‘drastically different from ordinary practice, outside the normal,’ and so it provokes practices that exceed expectations, that go the second mile.” (from Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations)

This is the goal of offering Radical Hospitality Training (RHT) this summer at the church I serve. We are offering this training this summer, because every Thursday this June we can practice our RHT skills at Food Truck Church sponsored by McEachern Kids.

Food Truck Church is our Family VBS. Every Thursday in June, 5-8pm in our parking lot, 5-7pm on our campus with food truck, music, games, a Jesus teaching, prayer, a kid’s table (activity each week going along with our Jesus teaching), and an ice cream truck at the end. THEN 7:15-8pm we pop into a nearby neighborhood to be a ‘guest’ in a cul-de-sac for a sweet treat on us with the ice cream truck. RHT is practiced at each table for Food Truck Church AND RHT is practiced when we’re a guest off-campus being a good neighbor. No bait and switch of coming to our church. We go to McEachern Church and we’re neighbors and it’s hot, so let’s share some ice cream.

Promotion: All ages and stages are invited to one of three Radical Hospitality training sessions in the Children’s Welcome Center.  Learn to invite, engage, and offer an early sense of connection and belonging within the McEachern family and community.  Two more opportunities next Sunday at 1pm and Tuesday at 6:30 for kids, youth, and adults in the Children’s Welcome Center.  More than being friendly, but training in starting and continuing a conversation especially when it’s hard, risky, and awkward.

Program: After welcoming everyone we go around inviting everyone to share their name and something they’d like others to know about them. I quickly practice the conversation skills we’re about to cover so I can refer back to everyone in the room as I teach the skills.

I like to use a fill-in because it keeps me on track and hearing it, writing it, seeing it makes the information stickier. What’s in parentheses are my notes to further explain each point in story.

Radical Hospitality Training – June 2022

Be Fully Present

Listen for 3 NOTS (from North Point Community Church)
NOT in church (relocated, been planning to, we live in an area of the country that WANTS to go to church but they just can’t figure out how to make it happen)
NOT going well (grief, fear, struggle, relationships, loss, gain, job, lonely)
NOT prepared for (parenting, care giving, medical diagnosis, living alone)

Toss the conversation ball…speak briefly, then end with a question. (toss a ball to role play beginning with the youngest in the room)

Listen = Silent (same letters) – leave space in the conversation

Celeste Headlee’s TED Talk: 10 Ways to have a better conversation without getting bored, without offending, and walk away inspired speaks to the following list.

(Goal: a coherent, confident, connection through conversation with people you like, don’t like, disagree with, admire, typically run from. As Christians, what’s expected? Make it a matter of prayer to get over my own sensitivity, being right, and being self-conscious).

1.       Don’t multi-task (When the song “Taste and See” starts take your place at tables at food truck church; you’re fully present with who is sharing the table; don’t look at your phone or watch, but fully face the person you’re talking with)

2.       Don’t  pontificate (This is not a blog, nor a podium, it’s a table; assume you have something to learn; everyone is an expert at something….what about you? What could you talk about for 10 minutes with no prep, just not here?)

3.       Use open-ended questions  (What was that like?; What did you choose to eat? How did you hear about this?)

4.       Go with the flow (Let other distracting thoughts come and go)

5.       If you don’t know, say so (Be open to learn something new and interesting; ‘tell me more’)

6.       Don’t equate your experience with theirs. (It’s not the same; all experiences are personal; no one-up-man-ship)

7.       Try not to repeat yourself. (Assume they heard you and don’t want to go there; take the hint)

8.       Stay out of the weeds (Don’t worry about names, dates, time; resist having side conversations about the details)

9.     Listen (We’d rather talk 225 words/minute; but we can listen 500 words/minute)

10.   Be brief (Be interested rather than try to be interesting)

Be prepared to be amazed. Amazed at the creativity of our Creator God and the stories shared because someone feels safe, heard, and cared for. It’ll take practice because it’s awkward. It’s rarely intuitive because it’s risky. It’s expected so we resist becoming lukewarm. That is indeed radical, Christian, hospitality!

Are you up for the challenge to learn how, practice with, and work diligently as if you were the last disciple of Jesus? What’s the worse that could happen? What’s the best that could happen? What’s the last risky, awkward thing you did to make a new friend?

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:15-16

Risky, Radical Hospitality at the Kid’s Table

Last week was the Annual Conference of the United Methodists of North Georgia. We met in person after meeting online for the last two years. I was invited to serve as an at-large lay delegate from my district. The theme for this year’s conference was “There’s a Place For You At the Table.”

In true children’s ministry fashion, we took on the task of providing a kid’s table in an innovative way.

The kid’s table was set for the holy habit of play, for snack, and for good conversation about the local church’s ministry with children and families. We set up a pop-up table where the folks were at the times when critical mass was guaranteed, just outside the Grand Hall (the room where official delegate business was handled) in the Atrium where there were round tables and where people gathered for conversation and food.

From 11:30am-2pm, the pop-up kid’s table was set for two days. Nothing formal, but intentionally organized to make space to chat Safe Sanctuary and Family Ministry. 

Otrio – if you can play tic-tac-toe, you already know how to play which makes this game able to be played well by a 3yo to a 100yo. Intergenerational play together with 2-4 people and much quicker to play than checkers or any other board game. We taught how to play, just like we teach about Jesus.

Puzzle Balls – if you know the concept of a Rubik’s Cube, anyone can push the colored balls into the matching rings. If our hands are busy, our minds are calm. We showed how to play, just like we model how to engage with anyone like Jesus.

Snack – Animal crackers on day 1, Goldfish on day 2 in individual snack bags. Maslow teaches that if we meet one’s physical needs, we can more easily be trusted to meet other basic needs. We fed the masses like Jesus. When the line for lunch food was so very long wrapping around the Atrium, we handed out snack bags with a smile to hold folks over as they waited to order their lunches. Coming from a place of generosity, we went where the people were and offered what we had.

Signage – Clear marking where we were set the table for many conversations about family ministry and Safe Sanctuary, current research, the great wave of incoming state residents from all over the world, hiring, healthy updates, changes, situations, shared events, what’s on the horizon in culture and how we can meet the needs of our backyard neighbors.  A pop-up table where people were offered a location where we could be found to chat making us easily accessible.

Take-aways – Buttons labeled with “Kid’s Table Alumni” for haven’t we ALL spent time at a kid’s table? May we remember the tables from which we came and return to disciple the littles. Wearing buttons at Annual Conference is a thing. A handful of squishy Jesus-es also made their way around in delightful places.

So many conversations. So much laughter. So much news. Lots of game play. AND we provided afternoon snack for those passing by on their way to conference with the sacred bread of kid’s tables: Goldfish and Animal Crackers.

In Bishop Robert Schnase’s updated book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, he speaks of Radical Hospitality being an excellent expression of our love for others to make friends-in-the-Lord. When we exceed expectations to welcome and be welcomed. Not only do we set the table to welcome those who come to us to make a new friend, but we also intentionally become a guest where new friends can be made in our neighborhood, where people are.

“Radical means ‘drastically different from ordinary practice, outside the normal,’ and so it provokes practices that exceed expectations, that go the second mile that take welcoming the stranger to surprising, new levels.” At times it will feel risky, awkward, and uncomfortable, but oh the opportunities to reach the wandering and our hungry neighbors now.

What’s the riskiest thing you ever did to offer radical hospitality? And WHERE?

“And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more…” 1 Thessalonians 4:10