Stuffed Animal Sleepover

Inspired by my local Chick-Fil-A, we invited littles to bring a stuffed animal to the Sunday afternoon CLUB345 & K2Club for a Stuffed Animal Sleepover at the beginning of Thanksgiving week.

Preparation:
* Registration form designed to clearly share this was for stuffed animal and not little people.
* Ordered sleep masks for party favors.
* Provided supplies for a holiday simmering potpourri for each participant.
* Secured roller cart for easy transportation.
* Name tags for our stuffed friends.
* List of photos to be taken.

Soon after the students left, we began rolling our stuffed friends all over campus to stage photos on one phone. It took about two hours. Once I edited the photos, I scheduled them on our closed McEachern Kids Facebook group every 20-30 minutes from 6pm-11pm, then at 7am-8:30am. The interactions on Facebook by the adults was often and hilarious.

The next morning, we greeted our friends in pajamas with donut holes, birthday cookie cake (our intern and photographer’s birthday was the previous Friday), and cereal leftover from the time-change Sunday cereal bar. So many opportunities for parents and kids to chat, play games, and share breakfast 9am-10am.

We took more pictures and lay hands on our stuffed friends to offer a blessing before dismissal.

Goals: Increased social media traffic, time for bigs to engage in holy play with their littles, bigs to learn their little’s church friends. All goals were met. Next year we’ll include the Ambassadors in the staging and photography.

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

Peculiar Children’s Moments

It’s a huge responsibility and honor to be given space in a worship service to speak to littles. With 2.5-3 minutes, the intentionality must be clear, practiced, and developmentally appropriate. Anytime I can involve the whole congregation, it’s a win. The congregation needs to see the faces of the littles and the littles need to see the faces of the bigs who vowed to so order their lives to provide great Christian education and training at their baptism.

I’ve started planning beyond week to week with a monthly theme for the children’s moment. With costumes on-hand, I spent a month sharing “Christians are peculiar for Jesus. We’re supposed to be.”

Christians are supposed to be peculiar (odd, strange, unusual). We wear the name of Jesus Christ when we call ourselves Christians no differently than we carry our last names signifying what family we belong to.

In KJV days, peculiar meant “belongs exclusively to some person, group, or thing” or to refer to “a property or privilege belonging exclusively or characteristically to a person.” The word ‘peculiar’ is used seven times in the King James Bible.

With a love for scripture and costumes on-hand, I wore a different costume each week explaining I needed their help to decide what to wear to the Fall Gathering at the end of the month.

Week #1 – Minnie Mouse
Costume is peculiar because the gloves have four fingers on each hand.
Read Romans 12:1-2

Week #2 – Traffic Light
Most people think to live a life for Jesus, I have to say NO like a red light or be fearful living like life is always a yellow light. But our faith in Jesus gives us liberty and a desire to be wise in our freedom. We are indeed peculiar because we are free to doing everything, but to be wise we must ask, “Is it good?”, “Is it beneficial to others?”, “Is it helpful?”, “Is it wise?”, “Is it God’s best for me?”
Read 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 1 Corinthian 10:23-24

Week #3 – Mrs. Potato Head
We are all part of the Body of Christ and all body parts are needed in every local church community. As a Christian everything should be done so that the church may be built up. Every gift and treasure we have is to be used to grow God’s kingdom here on earth and that’s through the local church.
Read 1 Corinthians 14:26b, 1 Peter 2:9-17, and sing “O Be Careful Little Eyes What You See….” Christians are peculiar people because they look for Godly wisdom to discern what is good, true, and beautiful.

Week #4 – S’mores (Graham Cracker)
Graham Crackers are fabulous and enjoyed by preschoolers and babies. But O the yumminess when we gather and join together with a Chocolate Bar (intern) and a Marshmallow (assistant).
Read Hebrews 10:24-25 We spur one another on (spur=kick ourselves into gear). Christians are peculiar people because we make stuff happen and do good in the world best when we work together.

“Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Titus 2:14

Bumps In The Road

Carey Neuhoff is a prominent church-life thinker of today. His team produces amazing, thought-provoking content almost daily to both encourage and challenge those involved in faith-based organizations. His blog last week spoke of asking good questions to help narrow the navigational beacons of focus for a new season. These were really good questions. Here are the five he wrote and how I’m processing them in the context of ministry with families as a professional Christian educator:

How much of the current change is permanent?
Huge numbers to any special event isn’t reasonable, but setting the table for more small groups is building more intimate, lasting, helpful Christian friendships.
Sunday mornings aren’t the only day and times I’m getting traction.

What do I have permission to stop doing?
Kid drop-off VBS and camps were not fruitful for growing my church before 2020 yet multi-generational experiences for the whole family throughout the year and the week is indeed setting the table for inviting friends into Christian community and growing my church today.
Operating in a silo. Better together is the better ministry.
Accepting the first NO.
Waiting.
Scheduling everything around a full school year. I get a better response when the seasons are in 60-90 day planning blocks.

What would I do if I was leading a startup? (Be still my heart!)
“Existing organizations that behave like startups will have a much better future than organizations that don’t.”
“Old models rarely do well in new eras.”
I’d roll out Family Ministry (multi-generational ministry) on a discipleship pathway to move disciples of all ages from rows into circles, from high chairs (being spoon fed) to wearing aprons (serving from the overflow of discipleship), and rediscovering the historical practices of holy habits in new rhythms of life.
I’d roll out content and material in small bite-sized pieces, over time. Drip, drip, drip into buckets which leak a little, slosh a little, and require a little more intention to help God’s people live in a world which has always been against the things of God.
“People during a revolution often don’t realize they’re in the midst of a revolution.”

Where are we seeing real momentum?
Followup question: Momentum about what? Just filling seats or starting/building new relationships-in-Christ? Status quo or ‘going back’ is NOT Momentum.
“If you want to get your mission going, fuel what’s growing, not declining.”
Where I’m getting traction for new families? Scout badge clinics; Family VBS in the summer on Thursday nights in June; Tuesday PM Bible Study for kids when parents are in one-hour Bible study; Project managers for special events; Popping into neighborhoods with an ice cream truck or dance party; Collaborating multi-generationally with developmentally appropriate pieces; Offering participatory discipleship and worship; Teaching in small groups; Loving on one another in community rather than by program.

How will I find a sustainable pace?
I don’t really know. My congregation is on fire for trying new things, but the systems in place that should be resources and support are not. Lots of distractions, bad habits. For example: I was a jerk at last week’s lead staff meeting. My response to the kindest person in the room was not my best moment. Here we are a month away from Christmas and the expectations for me and my team set last October-before-last (Live Nativity ‘cuz booking animals is an over-a-year-out thing) and January (Campfire Christmas on Eve’s Eve specifically for kids to invite neighbors) were about to change and I was guarded. I was guarded based on the last thirty years of children’s ministry experience where the best laid plans over the course of the previous eleven months were about to be ‘added to’ or hijacked. I pushed back to guard my heart, my mind, and a sustainable pace. Ugh! I don’t like having to be guarded. I definitely don’t like being a jerk. A reasonable, sustainable pace I’m working on, but it’s probably going to cost me.

Patrick Lencioni, the great author and pioneer of organizational health writes, “Every team will experience bumps in the road.” I feel like I’m off-roading a lot of the time. Lord, tapping the brakes is not an option. Too many little people and their bigs need to know you are enough. So, let me know when I’m to let off the gas and when I’m to put the pedal to the metal.

“So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.” Exodus 13:18

Waiting For Advent

Advent is almost here and due to the nature of family ministry to properly plan several months in advance, the orders have arrived, the rooms have been reserved, the graphics have been designed, promotion and the staging has begun. We set the table for our families to celebrate the greatest birth on and for the planet in multiple ways, multiple spaces, and for multiple generations. 

Each advent and lent we church staff share the amazing accounts of Jesus’ birth and resurrection. I want to always share with great energy and contagious joy every year, so I begin studying or lingering in The Word specific to these two major accounts of our faith early on. I want to be so excited to share some new knowledge or understanding or even a few new questions that I can’t wait for the season to get here.

As I wait for Advent, this is how I’ll be prepared this year…

Read one chapter of Luke’s gospel on the matching day of December. The gospel of Luke is a beautiful narrative of Jesus’ arrival, life, departure, and return. Twenty-four chapters in twenty-four days ending on Christmas Eve. There are Bible apps to hear it read aloud or I’ll read a different translation than in year’s past. Either way, the gospel of Luke becomes the pop-up book of Advent, family friendly to be read aloud, and I hear something fresh every year.

Grow my faith-files in some way of Mary, Elizabeth, and Anna. Think of a faith-file as a file folder of the same topic, idea, or person which grows over time in study and The Word. J. Ellsworth Kalas wrote in Christmas from the Backside that Christmas is a gal’s holiday starting with Mary and Elizabeth. Since then I’ve read Liz Curtis Higgs’ The Women of Christmas and other beautiful teachings to deep dive into the lives of these three women in scripture. This year I discovered Dandi Daley Mackall’s Three Wise Women: 40 Devotions Celebrating Advent with Mary, Elizabeth, and Anna in early October. I continue to grow my deep love and adoration for these three women. Last year I seemed closest to Anna. This year, Elizabeth.

One of my thoughts this year about Elizabeth: When I think of God calling both Liz & Z ‘righteous’, I’m thinking Liz was a praying gal. Both from the tribe of Levi, they led a long life following the rhythm of temple service. What if Z was chosen because of the faithful prayers of Liz? What if year after year Liz reminded Z in jest, but not really, that if given the chance to enter the Holy of Holies to pray, might he mention in that holy place that they desperately wanted a child? Mary had lots of relatives. What if….Liz & Z were chosen by God to give birth to the one who “prepares the way for the Lord” in their old age as a direct result of a righteous, long-suffering woman praying faithfully for her man?

This will be the last Advent like ‘this’, so I will be fully present. For those of us in denominational turmoil, our church families will not look like they do today in 12 months. Let’s just be real. First, it’ll be okay because change and sifting is evidence of the movement of the Holy Spirit. Second, it’ll be okay because God is active and alive in the world, in my world, and He is trustworthy. He and I have history and I’m good. So, I will ‘so order my life’ to be fully present for every opportunity to gather and celebrate this Advent season with everybody in every way. I will build in time to linger and grow deeper relationships with Jesus at the center for such a time as this.

I’m going to learn how to make cheese straws. Food is part of all good celebrations and learning how to do something new with a little person is a very sticky way for making a holiday even more special. Since I have no self-control when it comes to cookies, cheese straws it is. I’ve borrowed a friend’s cookie press and I’m going to have a great time with a Little Miss who loves learning new things as much as I do. We’ll be listening to the Spotify playlist: The Chosen’s Christmas.

How are you waiting for Advent?

“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in His word I put my hope.” Psalm 130:5

Fall Festival Wins and Losses

Fall Festivals are hosted by churches and schools all over the map in North Georgia. Setting the WHY offers a true channel through the logistical challenges to pull off such an endeavor well.

The Fall Gathering is an all-staff-hands-on-deck event at my local church. It is 2-hour event of food trucks led by the Nursery and Missions Team, Big Games led by the Recreation Ministry Team, Cake Walk led by our Senior Adult Ministry, Music led by the Worship Team, and Trunk-or-Treat led by the Kidmin and Youth Team (which is billed as a jacked-up ministry fair for all the ministries of the church to shine.) We invite local businesses and families to trunk, too. #teamwork 

We schedule the Fall Gathering to follow the 20-minute soccer season awards ceremony where 300 kids have just finished a fabulous season. 300 kids and their families don’t show up for the soccer awards, but we can plan for 150. When the soccer families are dismissed from the awards ceremony, I hand out a green bag for them to collect candy and loot from the trunks since most forget to bring one. As our trunk folks see the green bags, they know these families come from the Recreation Ministry and respond accordingly. #hospitality

The goal for us is to ‘bump elbows with our neighbors where littles-with-bigs take priority.’ We want to be a good neighbor with no bait and switch. We want to model Christian community with creativity, generosity, great joy, and connection. #family 

With reports two days ahead that the weather might not permit us from doing everything outside as planned, we already had a rain plan and set it into motion. Food tables in the gym and food trucks parked outside near an overhang entrance. Trunks in the 3rd floor classrooms two to a classroom (I labeled each door with giant post-it notes) placing community trunks with ministry trunks for even more Christian community. I emailed all the trunks the day before to offer a heads-up and anyone needing something special (like cornhole needed an entire classroom) to let me know. #communication

Wins for having it inside:
* Texting the Sunday school teachers early Sunday morning to move their classroom furniture after class to make room for trunks #participation
* A typical outdoor obstacle course became a huge The Floor Is Lava course #creativity
* I was the Graham Cracker of a 3-person-S’more. A little girl came running up to me shouting, “I found your chocolate! I found your chocolate! Now I’m gonna look for your marshmallow!” #joy
* Critical mass in the hallways made for great photos to use for marketing next year. #marketing
* A greeter at the main entrance added that personal touch and began the experience in the lobby. #hospitality
* We ran out of cakes 1.5 hours in after I walked through the hallways showing off a pumpkin roll I won and hyping the crowds. #hypeambassador
* Three new families attended our children’s programming the following Sunday. Even though we had half of our Sunday am leadership out sick, we still prioritized hospitality anticipating some new faces. God blessed that.  We made arrangements for a greeter to answer questions, offer a tour, and we loved on their kids well. They’ll get postcards from us this week!
* Batteries in my pocket rescued several motorized costumes. deflated from all the festivities.

Canceling the event was not an option since editing and adapting was already considered. For me it’s an integrity issue. If we say we’re going to do something, by golly short of the rapture, it’s happening. It may not be what we planned, but with a clear WHY we can pivot with good communication, happy servant leaders, happy families, and happy kids who were able to experience the creativity, generosity, great joy, and connection that comes with gathering together in Christian community.

Next up? Live Nativity of ‘Manger Things’ on Sunday before Christmas and Campfire Christmas the Friday before.

This is what I have learned especially over the last three years: Nothing needs to be a Broadway production, and can turn out better if we can back off the expectation that it needs to be. Simplicity is king for family ministry. Before you think we are a big church with lots of volunteers, no one is a big church with lots of volunteers anymore. We are all new church starts.  With a clear WHY, we can use what’s in our hands to make anything happen with even a few people and clear, early communication.

How did your Fall Festival go and where were the wins?

“But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Luke 18:16

Sunday Morning Schedule

Sunday morning is still king. Why?
1. It’s the day and time historically celebrated as a local church honoring Jesus rising from the dead on a Sunday morning. The resurrection of Jesus is the very basis for our Christian faith.
2. It’s the day and time for critical mass of the Body of Christ.

Though other times and days of the week are growing in popularity to fit the rhythms of the families of my communities, Sundays are still ‘game day.’ 

So what does our Sunday morning look like?

8:30am – Set up
We share all of our spaces with weekday preschool and/or recreation ministry meaning staging takes place on Thursdays, but full setup for Sunday am happens on Sunday am.

9am – Welcome Center opens
We begin receiving children K5-5th grade in one area with shared table games and building toys, understanding that kids will chat while their hands are busy setting the table for time with church friends. The goal is to receive children early as their parents need to arrive at their areas of service before services at 9:30am unhurried and relaxed AND to build in time for ‘hanging out with my church friends.’

9:30am – Large group
Welcome, Announcements, one song, one game, one locating and reading of scripture passage as they yell out the next word they find with their reading finger as I read from my red Bible (if it’s red, Jesus said), short story video from Pursue God Kids, follow-up questions to share in their age group (begins the transition from large group to small), repeat after me closing prayers, then dismissed to small group classrooms.

9:45am – Small group
For a consistent number of littles in each class we group kids K5 (our college intern leads this group every single week alongside a parent volunteer for relationship consistency), 1st grade (a leader who has looped up from K5 with them with a high school intern), 2nd & 3rd (two art teachers trade one month on/off and provide a worship art response which aligns with the lesson), 4th & 5th (led by two adult leads one month/off with an apologetic – defending your faith – lens with each lesson). The apologetics lens is the basis for choosing Pursue God Kids and all of our curriculum choices. Pursue God Kids is only $35/month no matter the church size and includes a fabulous library of Godly parenting resources from a biblical worldview.

10:30am – 10:45am Small groups return to Welcome Center awaiting pickup
This is a level of hospitality of making the drop off and picking up a smooth, with-friends transition. A bucket of fruit snacks and fruit bars is set nearby for kids to self-serve a snack and ice water is always available in a dispenser with paper cups. Will Guidara of Eleven Madison Park restaurant trains his staff in unreasonable hospitality. He writes, “Design the beginning and end of your time for the feeling of ‘this is where I belong.'”

We gather together for a worship service at 11am so only the nursery is available for 4 year olds and younger. Though the service looks no different than the 9:30am service in a traditional setting, I’m permitted to incorporate movement with a children’s moment, sign language the Apostle’s Creed and Gloria Patre to offer interactive and teaching elements along the side aisle, and clipboards with Alphabots and reading games to align with the service or teach the worship service elements.

Other regular welcoming and teaching opportunities:
* K2 CLUB – K5 thru 2nd graders with a big who loves them on the 3rd Sunday of each month 4-5pm on holy habits.
* CLUB345 – 3rd thru 5th graders on the 3rd Sunday of each month 3:45-5:30pm with an annual theme of The 10 Commandments, The Lord’s Prayer, or The Apostle’s Creed
* Tuesday night Kid’s Bible Study – we align with an adult Bible study 6:30-7:30pm with pizza dinner and developmentally appropriate study of God’s Word from an apologetics standpoint. We’re starting a 4-week Advent study tonight. Parents are studying “The Case for Christmas”. The kids are studying “Songs of the Christmas Story”.

Additional holy habit teaching and intentional discipleship come through Faith Milestones. I’ll be co-leading a Faith Milestone workshop with the fabulous Brooke Barksdale on Wednesday of this week at Marietta First UMC in Marietta, Georgia. If you’re local, we’d love to have you. If you’re not local, we’ll be uploading files of the workshop in the Facebook Group: Faith Experiences for Kids and Families later this week. 

What does your Sunday morning look like?

“We need kids in our churches not because that means the church is growing or at the very least not dying; we need kids in our churches to show us what it looks like to have faith in God.” Shaun Stevenson, “Redefining The Kidmin Wins: How to Face Discouragement”, p. 134

Family Meetings

The local church I serve is going through a discernment process for how the congregation will move forward into the future. I affectionately call them ‘Family Meetings’.

#1 Son and Baby Girl never liked family meetings when they were growing up, but they were absolutely necessary for the health of our family. Family meetings meant we would be walking into a difficult season or resetting from a difficult season. We could expect the first ten minutes of the Reilly Family Meetings to be awful as we faced some elephant in the room, but afterwards we’d always be okay, even better over time. Nobody liked Family Meetings, but they were necessary to share information, offer space to process the information, then respond and move forward as one family in the healthiest way. 

In many local United Methodist Churches, this Family Meeting process is covered in prayer and lots of information. Lots of information. Lots. Of. Information. Study and prayer.

My church leadership has sought to make a way so that everyone can BE heard, BE informed, and BE loved through the Family Meeting process. A task force composed of amazing Jesus guys and gals has led the way. I’ve covered them daily in the armor of God through prayer.

As a staff member of the local church we’ve been asked to continue to plan for and prepare in a neutral position to engage in our community in ministry and mission. As a peculiar people (see last week’s post) I’ve seen the fruit of that with new families participating in women’s Bible studies, children’s Bible studies, religious badge clinics, recreational soccer, special events, local and international missions, and a sermon series diving deeply into 1 John. We have Jesus work to do and have no time to be distracted, sloppy, nor halt everything until.

Take Courage: The Book of Haggai is a wonderful small group study authored by Jennifer Rothschild. She uses Jeremiah 29:4-9 to lay out three practices of a woman in exile (in a foreign land) which speaks to how to navigate through a place we did not ask for, yet here we are: (1) Participate with it by planting, building, increasing, multiplying, (2) Pursue God in it through daily study, model with my whole heart and mind, and (3) be Patient with the exile, patient with myself, patient with the process. Rothschild finishes with the promise of faithfully participating, pursuing, and being patient: “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you.” Jeremiah 29:12.

Though chatter is thick, the navigational beacons to share the goodness and faithfulness of our Triune God have remained clear because I’ve worked through my own three BEs.

Be in prayer.
Lord, let me not be distracted from doing the work of growing in Christian community through sharing the gospel of Jesus. Let me not sin in any of it through word or deed. You alone are trustworthy and I trust You to make a way for the littles and bigs to love You with their whole hearts for their whole lives. Let me faithfully drip, drip, drip into the faith buckets of the families I serve. For those who are serving on my local church’s task force, I pray Your full Armor upon them, as shared in Ephesians 6. Amen. 

Be clearly informed.
The chatter is about many issues. I’ve discerned the good, the beautiful, and the true as best I can. For the rest I have to stay out of the weeds and trust the Lord to work out the details. As a pilgrim on the Walk to Emmaus in 2000 we were challenged to study church history. Outright craziness! How in the world can the church still be around?!? Yet here are. A holy remnant I hope to be. Even now I’m enrolled in a great online class about the church and leaders of the era around King Henry VIII and Martin Luther entitled, “Off With Their Heads”  led by Brandi Diamond who served a season as a children’s ministry leader. 

Be ready for the change that is coming.
Change is coming. It’s unreasonable to think anything will remain the same regardless of what happens. We have been actively (or reactively) engaged in change for quite some time now. We’ve gone through a shift in family rhythms, routines, culturally, and can truthfully report that everything is still changing. So the gospel of Jesus my focus must be. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever and oh, how I love Him. This is where being clearly informed will be helpful to navigate the flux in the flex. I’ve become a student of my families to know seasons, holidays, work rhythms, and am involved in their lives even if only online through social media with an attaboy for riding a bike without training wheels, losing a tooth, winning a contest, and so much more. So I’ll move forward with my plans to expand Faith Milestones beyond the local church to home in 2023 and beyond. Stay tuned because we have Jesus work to do and have no time to wait. 

In the words of the MasterChief voice on my Waze app, “Stay the course.” 

“‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you’ declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 29:13-14b

Choosing Peculiar Over Sloppy

Christians are supposed to be peculiar (odd, strange, unusual). We wear the name of Jesus Christ when we call ourselves Christians no differently than we carry our last names signifying what family we belong to. I would never be a sloppy Reilly, how can I settle for being a sloppy (careless, unsystematic, excessively casual) Christian living out a sloppy discipleship?

The word peculiar shows up seven times in the King James scriptures, in 1 Peter 2:9, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light;” and my personal favorite, “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Titus 2:14

In KJV days, peculiar meant “belongs exclusively to some person, group, or thing” or to refer to “a property or privilege belonging exclusively or characteristically to a person.”

Our choice to be peculiar goes along with ‘being holy (set apart) because God is holy.’ Set apart should look peculiar (odd, strange, unusual) and easily identified as belonging exclusively to Jesus, not sloppy (careless, unsystematic, excessively casual).  I am not my own with my own agenda or driven by my own cause. I’m to be peculiar and not sloppy in what I do, how I think, in my drives and motivations, and how I respond to the world around me.

In a world where everything caters and is programmed around me and my preferences (cell phone, Netflix choices, radio channels, spotify playlists, Amazon wish lists, etc.) I’m so grateful that the local church is not. It’s not supposed to be.

I need the local church to sharpen my peculiarity and not permit me to be sloppy in my discipleship. The local church is a critical means of growth for healthy, peculiar Christians and healthy, peculiar Christians are needed in the local church to guard against straying outside the navigational beacons of teaching to make disciples of the Jesus-of-the-Bible in the face of competing and contradictory agendas.

Peculiar Christians are generous, percentage givers, they set aside regular time in God’s Word, spend regular time teaching littles about Jesus (Jesus calls them the ‘kingdom of God’- Matthew 18:1-6), don’t hold a grudge, teach others with a sense of urgency, let others go first, don’t forsake gathering together in some place, work hard as unto the Lord, are involved in a local church to serve others, and guard their hearts and minds from competing and contradictory agendas. These peculiar actions are not out of duty, far from it. I do these things out of love for the One and Only who left Heaven to make a way for me to be made right with the perfect, holy God of the universe.

Here are some guardrails I’ve put in place to help me choose peculiarity over sloppiness.

Stop following influencers and be the model of peculiarity in my own world. Following Jesus is the only way to grow in peculiarity for Him. Spending more daily time following influencers online will make me poor in my pocketbook and my spirit. Getting the guidance for how I should live in this world through a platform outside the Bible is sloppy. “He that tilleth his land shall be satisfied with bread: but he that followeth vain persons is void of understanding.” Proverbs 12:11

Stop doing only that which is in my comfort zone. Only when I serve outside my comfort zone will I truly be inviting the Lord to do His work in me. Satisfied with being average, safe, or doing the bare minimum is sloppy. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13

Stop comparing myself to others. My standard for peculiarity must be Jesus and not the celebrity Christian who rolls in my feed (this is set by an algorithm or someone trying to sell me something) or who I think is the most spiritual person in the room just because they’ve been in the room the longest. Tossing my hands up just to keep the peace or because it’s hard is sloppy. “Thou shalt not covet.” Exodus 20:17

Stop waiting for permission. I’m over sitting at tables of collaboration and leadership only to continue to hear, “Let’s wait until….” It’s going to be inconvenient. I’m going to get pushback. I’m going to be told all the logical reasons why we shouldn’t. I’m over it! If the disciples had waited, the gospel would have never made it to me. I don’t like being in trouble anymore than the next person, but for goodness sake, our Great God can be trusted with the outcome and I have decided to follow Jesus. Let me set aside my selfish vices to submit to the Lord’s commands to go and make disciples teaching. We are in the mission field everywhere we go and “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

I confess that I slip into spiritual sloppiness when I’m tired, when I’m hurt, when I compare, when I have to be right, when I wear a critical spirit like a new pair of boots, and when I spend more time on my phone rather than in His Word. How do I move out of it? I repent and pray for it: a God-glorifying, Jesus-pleasing Christian peculiarity. It’s lonely and takes courage to pray for such a thing, but He is so worth it.

“Anything that would hinder us from the closest walk possible with Jesus Christ is not for us.” Amy Carmichael, missionary to India for 55 years without furlough

Seven BIG BUTS of Children’s Ministry

Calendaring for the next 18-24 months calls for a level of fearlessness when facing the following seven big BUTS of Children’s Ministry:

BUT IT’S NOT THE WAY WE’VE ALWAYS DONE IT – Refreshing and editing ministry must be a constant if we intend on being relevant. 20% of each year’s programming should be as a result of an update, an edit, something new, or delayed/postponed.  Informally debrief after every event and after each special Sunday so energy and excitement builds and remains. Rename it. Change the season/date. Start small to get the kinks out so that people know you are hearing them.

BUT FAMILIES ARE SO BUSY – Learn the rhythm of your community, not just your local church. With the exception of Sunday (Sunday is Game Day!), clear your schedule for your volunteers and families the first few weeks and the last six weeks of the school year. Families are trying to get accustomed to new normals, schedules, and filling out all that paperwork that is required at the beginning of the year. May has become more congested for families than December. Reach out in prayer and encouragement, but give your families easy wins. When you calendar, choose what is best. Consider what you used to do annually to offering every other year. Remember that Sunday programming is your bread and butter. Treat it with even greater planning and preparation as you would a special event.

BUT IT’S NOT ON THE CALENDAR – Just because others in your church don’t calendar 18-24 months in advance, doesn’t mean you can’t. Call a calendaring meeting and see who comes. Set your working calendar in pencil and get your stuff on the calendar first with the plan that if something else comes up, you respond with grace and a spirit of collaboration. Calendaring is partnering.

BUT WE’RE A SMALL CHURCH – Churches that are growing deeper are the ones with greater intentionality of forming circles and not just rows as they share life, share interests, and share a heart for others in inter-generational service as a result of Bible reading and study. Relationships grow more quickly and deeper in small groups, so take advantage of these small moments with great fruit. Let go of the thought that everything needs to be a Broadway production and make the faith-formation experiences more personal, more participatory, and more thoughtful.

BUT WE DON’T HAVE THE BUDGET NOR THE SPACE – Think what Jesus used: his feet, his words, his posse, and what he had on hand. Whatever you have, invite other local churches’ kidmin to join your kids for a different experience. Whatever the other local churches’ kidmin is doing, call and ask if you can bring a group of kids for a shared experience once or twice each year. When the bottom fell out of the stock market just a few months after I was brought on to start a family ministry at a church financed primarily by retired college professors, I prayed and got creative with what was available and in my hands. Bands and sports camps came on campus each week. Each night I sold hot Little Caesar’s pizza out the back of my car along with ice-cold waters and Gatorades for three entire summers to finance for three years the ministry God had called me to lead. Sunday through Thursday from 10pm-1am. Fruitful ministry and oh the relationships and connections. Use what you have and let the Lord do the multiplying.

BUT WE DON’T HAVE THE VOLUNTEERS – Who do you have? Then raise up and train folks to be the volunteers. I’d sit in the sanctuary during services and ask the Lord to show me who to invite. Stay off the struggle-bus of negativity and wishing for what you don’t have. Give the volunteers you do have the joy and wonder of using the spiritual gifts handed to each one by their Creator. I make a way for 4th & 5th graders (the oldest in my lane of influence) to be taught and experience the joy of serving our Lord in their home church. I’m looking down the road to train up servant-leaders for this and their future local churches. Think of yourself like a general contractor enlisting the help and gifts of sub-contractors to build His house.

BUT NO ONE COMES TO SUNDAY SCHOOL ANYMORE – Thinking of the local church becoming more decentralized, we must offer Christian Education on Sunday morning and beyond. I do love Sunday school because it builds sticky faith and sticky relationships, so I schedule the really special things to take place during the Sunday school hour. Edit what you are doing maybe with a name change. Try new arrangements in discipleship. We are not event-planners. We provide environments where we ‘make disciples and teach.’ We ‘make disciples’ in teaching and letting little people and their families practice what they learn so they become more like Jesus. The first thing Jesus did when he called his disciples was to ‘teach them.’ Sunday morning is our bread and butter, but it can look differently and be called something different to build energy, build buzz, build relationships, and fulfill the vision of the church and the Great Commission. Keeping my focus on deep relationships with Jesus and with one another, God and our children’s ministry leadership can figure it out. We have more resources available today than any other time in history. Let’s use them!

There has never been a more exciting time to edit, make new, and update what it takes to point littles and their bigs to Jesus in the local church. The kids you are leading will be the leadership and the innovators in the local church today and tomorrow. Let’s model prayerful editing, innovation, and accept the tension of BUTS with creativity and joyful obedience. I imagine you deal with your own set of BUTS. How are you overcoming your BIG BUTS in ministry with children and families?

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, BUT WITH GOD all things are possible.’” Matthew 19:26

(This blog was originally posted in May 2019, but I needed to hear it again. Maybe you did, too.)

Taking the Next Step: Ministry Chick Community

The first time I heard Melissa Mashburn speak was at the She Leads Church online conference. She’s clear, organized, and living in the trenches of local ministry with a history of wearing multiple hats. Her posts are encouraging and her redemption story includes her mother-in-law. Sweetness! I joined her Ministry Chick Facebook group immediately after the conference and have been an Instagram follower every since.

She’s written a book and it’s an absolute delight! Ministry Chick: Find Your Community, Own Your Leadership, Take your Step! Throughout the book she repeats a message that ‘you, Sister, were made for more’. She covers most of the major themes we all have or will encounter as a female leader in ministry reminding the reader that her identity is always in Christ. Her writing is like we’re sitting on the back porch in a small group holding multiple conversations going on at the same time. The wisdom is just that good and I felt I was drinking from a fire hose.

The wisdom is for all women in ministry. The quiet servant who loves behind the scenes and those of us who wear ‘too muchness’ like a new jean jacket.

She speaks about setting core values as guardrails in the ministry which serve as
protective barriers to keep me safe, healthy, and on track thereby resisting the wind gusts of other people’s opinions and values. This is just the thing to set aside the people-pleaser in many women in ministry, or is that just me?

The book is sprinkled with multiple Chick Chats. Chick Chats are insights gathered from the amazing and diverse women within the Ministry Chick online community. These women are making decisions every day, serving our great God in Christian community, leading others, and oh the stories they have to tell. Melissa kindly and graciously shares in several places my own experiences and stories I have shared within that amazing community.

Want to know if your voice matters? “If you want to think about it from a 30,000-foot view, your voice, as a woman, represents roughly about 60% of your church, ministry, or organization. This means it is imperative that you use your voice to represent your team, experiences, and thoughts.” Melissa Mashburn, Ministry Chick

The last section of the book is about taking your next, best step with a holy confidence and a healthy humility. The book closes with a fantastic Group Discussion Guide.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book and can’t wait for the conversations to begin.

“It’s the coolest thing to see a woman who has a holy confidence and healthy humility. She knows who she is, and she knows Whose she is, and she is not afraid to be all her and give Him all the glory.” Melissa Mashburn, Ministry Chick