Two books have me fired up right now.
One Body by Sam Halverson was passed along to me in a stack of books about family ministry. There are almost as many words underlined in blue ink (my signature ink color) than there are black-inked words in the book. I had to rein in my blue ink. Sam is an elder in the United Methodist Church who leads a North Georgia local church with a bent to integrate children and youth into the life of the WHOLE church. He articulately explains the slow fade to silos of the last decades’ church growth model built around charismatic leaders and attractional events. His onramps for youth (and I’ll include children) into the life of the church are not just to look cute and sing a song in worship occasionally, nor just serve a breakfast and set up/take down tables for a big church event. It’s all about time and space to build intergenerational relationships.
Children and youth learn best how to love Jesus and commit to the Christian community by spending time with adults who love Jesus and are committed to Christian community. Where are we guaranteed to be in Christian community? The local church! Sam invites us to look beyond paying a young adult to be our kid’s Christian event coordinator and Christian friend. Rather, let’s empower the director of children and youth ministries to make space and intentional invitation for the intergenerational congregation with onramps to, as we claim in our baptismal vows, so order our lives after the example of Christ that this child, surrounded by steadfast love, may be ESTABLISHED IN THE FAITH AND CONFIRMED AND STRENGTHENED in the way that leads to LIFE ETERNAL. (emphasis mine)
How’s that working for you?
Sam explains that when we hire leaders of family ministry outside the denomination, these leaders don’t know how the denomination views the body of Christ. They certainly don’t have time to include that framework in their first year learning curve of database, community, personalities, and room reservations. They might not know how music should be so diverse as to articulate our faith story and our faith history.
As Michayla White, CEO of International Network of Children’s Ministry, reminded the church innovators at the 2022 Exponential Conference for church innovators, the Deuteronomy 6 passage we throw at parents all the time is the marching orders of an entire nation (body of believers), to teach God’s commands to the children and talk about them as you go, bind them on your hands, and write them on your doorposts.
How’s that working for you?
Sam does a fabulous job of reporting the obstacles we face, but also the many ways to live into our Christian adoption in our commission to make disciples of all nations (and ages) for the transformation of the world (in it for the long haul). When we live into adoption, some become children and some become parents. All of us!
Which brings me to the second book: Sailboat Church by Joan S. Gray. Joan is a teaching elder living in Atlanta of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) She explains rowboat churches as doing what they can with the resources they have. A rowboat church dismisses any spiritual realities and functions in the belief that the ultimate responsibility for everything rests on us. Instead, a sailboat church tends to focus not on their own situation, resources, or limitations but rather on discerning God’s unfolding will. They engage in intimate partnership with God, trusting God to provide and do what only God can do.
Sailboat churches train sailors who can navigate their way into God’s will. There is so much good to chew on and live into in this little book, but what jumped off the page was a bit about two things which consistently block God: the need for control and the need for comfort. Adopting a posture of sacrifice, of letting go, in these two areas will go a long way in helping the church set sail. (pg 55)
The struggle to control isn’t with malice, but rather a dismissive and disregard for creatives on the steering crew. Where in your local church is traction tended, taught, and energy happening where organizational goals are being met in creative and sailboat ‘led by the Spirit’ ways? Are those leaders invited to the table for ideation or treated with a pat on the head with a ‘You do you, Boo. We’ve got this’?
The other element to sacrifice is that of comfort. We all have our personal routines aka taking the summer off, zoning out at staff meetings until I get to talk about my area, having an opinion for every area of the church as the expert on absolutely everything, speaking/guarding things for others so they aren’t uncomfortable, keeping information to myself and not sharing it for the good of the whole body, unopen to negotiation and unwilling to see the value of changing something up for a bit, etc.
Today I choose to come to every table with a spirit of YES and trust God’s provision He’s given everything needed to accomplish the goals He’s set. I want to move to CATCH the wind and in a state of anxious expectation the Holy Spirit is alive and active in our midst. I want to live in a state of risk and imagination for the whole body to proclaim the truth of the gospel to the parish the Lord has called me to serve. And I’m taking people with me to work and power that sailboat as God sees fit because we’re better together, one body, rethinking and pioneering the practices that will invite others on this very uncontrolled and uncomfortable ride. Our great God is trustworthy! Who’s in?
“I look upon all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, than in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty to declare, unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation. This is the work which I know God has called me to. And sure I am that His blessing attends it.” – John Wesley