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

Soul Food Summer

Sixty-two days. That’s how many days there are from today until the first day of school. That’s this ‘summer season’. There are nine Sundays before Promotion Sunday and the start of the fall season. Doesn’t seem like a lot, does it?

My 2022 summer bucket list will include the typical, time with family (everyone is here now, so I’ve prepared for what I’ve prayed for) and eating watermelon. But only with an intentional plan to grow in my discipleship and disciple-maker-ship, can I make this summer season a Soul Food Summer.

A Soul Food Summer is a season of tasting and seeing that the Lord is good. These are just a few things on my summer bucket list to intentionally feed my soul with God’s goodness:

  1. Deep-dive into the life of a missionary/saint. Last summer I and our students read biographies of  many followers of Jesus who were inventors, missionaries, and used their skills and talents to express their love of Jesus in times of trouble. This year I’ve chosen to read books, listen to podcasts, and deep-dive into the life of one: Elisabeth Elliot. She and her husband, Jim, served as missionaries in Ecuador in the 1950s. What does it take to raise up and become followers of Jesus that Jesus and Jesus alone is worth the loss and gain of everything?
  2. Fresh tomatoes are my summer chocolate. Fresh tomatoes from my church family are like the ‘good’ chocolate. This year I am figuring out and learning to grow my own tomatoes alongside my daughter and granddaughter. It’s a miracle of our Creator God that people can plant a seed and stuff can grow from the dirt we can enjoy. A miracle! It’s a partnership between people and the Lord with water, sun, seed, and tending that make mater samwiches happen. Bring on the Duke’s light mayo and the sour dough. Pure goodness!
  3. I’m part of a great team which will set the table for a food truck party for my church families. It’s our VBS. It just looks different. Every Thursday in June (all five of them) we’ll turn our parking lot into a drive-in VBS service for families of all sizes and shapes, numbers, and kinds. Music, Jesus, a weekly food truck, the generosity of our church, and families will make sticky, sacred memories of praising and serving and tasting to see that the Lord is good for and with our neighbors and community. No matter what is going on in the world, God is good. Want to bring your family or some of your students? Come on! The more the merrier. We’ve got the programming, you bring your kids (or just you!) and money for the food truck and we’ll dance and play before the Lord together.
  4. A dream come true: a first family mission trip for parents/grandparents to attend with their little people is happening in July. A Sunday through Monday event at Camp Collinswood (search: Aldersgate at Collinswood) bumping elbows and serving alongside another local church on the other side of the state to do repairs and cleanup that is developmentally appropriate for littles with their bigs. It’s two hours from our church. The camp is a space specifically for children and adults with mobility issues. On Lake Oconee, my own adult children along with the grands will be part and I’m beside myself excited! These are the sacred memories my grands will talk about forever. 

What is your plan for a Soul Food Summer…a summer filled with intentional opportunities to feed your soul and learn again that the Lord is good?

“However, I consider my life nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” Acts 20:24

Got Volunteers?

Everything we do, think, or dream to offer developmentally appropriate faith formation experiences for little people and their families is dependent on volunteers. Our volunteers and servant leaders are actually living out their discipleship with their hands, feet, and faces as they set tables, sing songs (how theology sticks), and tell of the accounts of Jesus from the Bible.

When we invite folks to serve, we are saying, “I’m gonna walk through this next season as a guide from the side to be the disciple-maker your Heavenly Father has called you to be. And here’s a t-shirt!” 

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians gives us our marching orders to equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. (Ephesians 4:11-12).

When we invite folks to serve, we are also saying, “You can trust me to teach, train, provide resources, and follow-up with you so you know we are in this together. I’ll see you. I’ll hear you. I’ll pray for you. And here’s a t-shirt!”

As you begin to recruit and dream for a new season of ministry,
1. Remember to tithe 10% of your time each week serving your volunteer team with phone calls, texts, thank yous, and your ministry of presence with some eye-to-eye contact.
2. Remember to ask questions of your volunteer team members to find out their time rhythms for the summer and the coming fall season. Listen.
3. Remember to affirm your volunteer servants they are living out their discipleship to go into all the world to make disciples. There’s nothing like a personal fan club of little disciples who are eager to become whole-hearted disciples of Jesus to encourage us all along our own personal journey of faith because of our faithful witness.
4. Remember to enjoy the company of your volunteer servants as brothers and sisters in the family of faith, so plan some fun with no expectation. The first phone call to a new person is always about the person, not the ask. The second phone call can be about the ask.
5. Remember to make some new friends in the Lord as folks linger after church on those summer Sundays. Invite folks to lunch or offer freeze pops for the littles to chat and laugh with your team in the parking lot. Clean out the cooler on wheels and attach a good pair of kid’s scissors and a trash bag.
6. Remember you’ll never have all the volunteers you think you need, but the Lord has already provided what He can use to multiply the team necessary to fulfill His plan for the ministry you lead right here, right now. Be faithful to invite and recruit.
7. Remember the Lord will provide the increase, you are called to obediently accept your position as His ambassador with joy and trust. If you lose your joy, you’ll lose your impact.
8. Remember to add your volunteer servants to your summer bucket list. Ministry is always about relationships with people. His people. Your people. Love them well to Jesus!
9. Remember these amazing volunteer servants are also how YOU live out YOUR discipleship. Be a delight to your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ!
10. Don’t forget the t-shirt!

Tonight, May 24th, I’ll be co-hosting alongside Rev. Dr. Kevin Johnson who leads the Ministry With Children for Discipleship Ministries a Family Table Zoom meeting at 5pm ET, 4pm CT to chat all things volunteers. Come to the table by registering here. All are invited to the first MWC (Ministry with Children) Family Table. Pull up a seat, connect, and have conversation with others passionate about children and family ministries. The meeting will be recorded, but we hope you’ll come to the table for real.

“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20-21

Grandparent Summer Faith Fun

Twice each year we set the table for a shared teaching for grandparents who desire to share their faith with their grandchildren with intentionality. Why?

  • The average age of a first-time grandparent in the US is 47 years old.
  • Biblical command from Deuteronomy 4:9 ‘teach my commands to your children and your children’s children….’

With summer just around the corner time with our grands will look different, so we offered these suggestions and used them for conversational prompts to fill the 90-minute workshop time together. With snacks, of course!

This summer, let’s begin by ‘marking your home.’ Every faith tradition expects there to be visual elements and more to help the devout practice their faith in their home. Think of the prayer corner of a practicing Hindu, a prayer rug of a practicing Muslim, or a statuary of the Mother Mary of a practicing Catholic. What sensory elements, using all five senses, do we provide to mark our homes as a Christian home? Ideas: visual elements like our Bible, scripture (not in cursive) on artwork, appealing artwork of Jesus; smell elements like ‘we light this vanilla candle when we pray’ or baking bread; windchimes to hear as ‘the wind’ passes (can’t see the wind, but we know it’s presence…like the Holy Spirit); drink water because our great God created our bodies to work well when hydrated, etc.

Let’s hike together – Explore a waterfall, walk a prayer labyrinth, discover a local cemetery, or stroll through your neighborhood pointing out the creativity of our great God. And give that kid a stick!

Let’s cook together – Pick those strawberries and blueberries or pick up some at a local fresh food market to enjoy the sense of taste and smell offered by our great God.

Let’s grow stuff together – It’s a miracle that we can plant seeds and stuff pops up out of the ground when the Lord provides water and sunlight. Photosynthesis is a miracle and leaf colors are made real because of the wisdom of our great God. Go ahead and get that seeded watermelon and linger to talk of gardens, foods, planting, and the partnership of water, sun, and good soil as you poke those seeds. And seed-spitting competition!

Let’s read together – Read books together, especially biographies of people who endured hardships as they depended on the Lord in prayer and provision like Elisabeth Elliot, Samuel Morse, Prudence Crandall, John Wesley, Corrie Ten Boom, etc.

Let’s play games together – Otrio is our family favorite because if a kid can play tic-tac-toe, they can play, and probably beat you, in a short amount of time. It plays quickly. I learned to play Rummy, War, and Crazy Eights with a deck of cards my grandmother gave me and we played all the time. When I spent my tween-year summers with my Grandmother, she taught me how to play solitaire and properly shuffle a deck of cards. Learning to follow the rules of a game (builds trust) reminds us that God has rules for us to live by together and He is trustworthy. Learning to properly shuffle a deck of cards, I learned I can do hard things if I take the time to practice. And boy, does summer give us time to practice!

Let’s learn together – Want to know what are the stickiest and most impactful pieces of faith formation to repeat and know? The Apostle’s Creed (What do Christians believe?), The Lord’s Prayer (How do Christians pray?), and the 10 Commandments (How do Christians live out our faith in Jesus with one another in community and relationship?) In our home, we have artwork with all three pieces on the wall, on the stair landing, and on a displayed dish.

Let’s share together – Share with your grand what you are learning about Jesus in your Sunday school class, small group, prayer group. Share with your grand, and introduce them to the folks who walk your faith journey with you regularly.

Let’s worship together – Invite them to worship with you in your sanctuary and at our June Thursday family VBS parking lot service this summer!

What’s on your summer bucket list as you prepare to intentionally share your faith with your grandchildren?

“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” Deuteronomy 4:9

Previous posts of sharing your faith with your grands can be found here.