What if?

I was being debriefed by a very knowledgeable facilitator a couple of weeks ago. As she introduced herself to me I discovered she was a clergy spouse, incredibly experienced  and accomplished in the hospitality field, and the church she served did not have a ministry with children. Hmmmm…

I hope I get to speak with her again, because the innovator in me just started jotting down ideas for how they could begin a ministry to the families and children in their community. 

If they have a parking lot, what if they secured some orange barrels or cones and offered driving lessons? Our home church had a large parking lot. When they realized parents were bringing their new drivers on campus for driving practice, they purchased a couple of tall orange cones and set them out in the parking lot. Those cones moved all over as helps for parallel parking and the like.

What if her church notified a local driving school and offered to do a blessing of the driver’s license twice a year? What if a part of a Sunday service was to bless driver’s licenses? What if they offered parking practice and even a vehicle to some single parents from 10am-12noon on the first Saturday of the month even if just in the parking lot? With the parking lot, what if they offered to the local businesses or schools a place for meeting, overflow parking, emergency evacuation?  

Because she is incredibly accomplished in hospitality, what if she offered a social class in interviewing, service, hospitality, courtesy, speech, writing, completing an application, meet & greet etiquette, etiquette, dressing for success? What if she contacted the local elementary, middle, or high school counselors to coordinate a space for hospitality skills or offered her ministry of presence on a career day? What if the church promoted a special 1.5 hour hospitality workshop with her as the headliner for parents and their students at a meet and greet with her and list her credentials in the hospitality industry? She’s a woman of faith and highly successful in her field. What a gift to share these skills with students preparing to make their way in the world through a filter of faith in Jesus!

She shared that her husband is a musician. What if he offered introductory music lessons as a group where he could share a Bible story or a simple reading from a children’s Bible of the many ways music is spoken of in the scriptures? 

There are so many opportunities for children and their families to be welcomed on a church campus besides Sunday morning to begin relationships and live out, “We are your good neighbor, we want to help you along your way.” 

We are not event planners nor are we event venues, so we must insist on intentional faith formation elements which are developmentally appropriate. We won’t miss the opportunity for faith formation when someone from the church family welcomes, hosts, and leads.  We can be good neighbors and give real testimony to the goodness of God by making our presence known and sharing the skills and gifts of our church family with our community. 

What if we became places where the community learns about Jesus as they learn to bake bread, budget, shop, change a tire, talk car parts, use power tools, how to be a grill master, and garden/grow stuff out of the dirt? A vegetable garden, a flower garden? What skills does your church family know and then make it a matter of prayer to be willing to share it? All of our church saints are incredibly skilled and experienced in various areas of vocation and accomplishment. What if we figured out what we have in our hands, then put it out there? It’s almost like giving your saints the chance to serve in the mission field without packing a suitcase and they can still sleep in their own beds.

Most church locations have the spaces and resources for these things. Did you know that the likelihood of a girl being taken advantage of goes down to a non-existent level once she learns how to use a power tool? Did you know that good manners can get a young person’s foot in the door faster than anything else? Did you know that the milestones of driving, cooking, budgeting are all elements of service which are not taught in the local schools and most parents don’t even know where to start but are extensions of Biblical hospitality? All of these could be one-and-dones or part of a series over the course of a couple of years. Have a couple, debrief, then edit the next two to excellence based on what you learn works and doesn’t. I’m not talking about a Broadway production, just a space and a Jesus guy/gal who shares their story and His story with a young person.

Rather than say, “We don’t have a ministry to children,” could we say, “We do!” because of God’s people, their skills, and experiences, out of a place of abundance and gratitude for what God has made available and are part of your local church family of faith? Ministry may not look like what we think and that’s what makes it innovative. Nothing needs to look like what we already have in our heads. Let’s invite the Holy Spirit to use what’s in our hands and watch Him show up and show off.

All this could be promoted on Facebook, social media, through the local school, or Eventbrite. Include a time of testimony of sharing the leader’s story of God’s faithfulness, God’s goodness, pray with the participants, and maybe wear a t-shirt with a Christian message or scripture. 

Fleshing out things like this is what we do at the Innovation Summit. The Innovation Summit is three hours of multiple ideas and real stories of moving beyond the sea of Nos to a place of YES, YOU CAN. You will leave with confidence to wonder, negotiate, push the boundaries, and advance the good news of Jesus where you are with what is in your hand. A Zoom option is not available because each Summit is filled with ideation specific to the participants present. 

The next Innovation Summit will be held at Tucker First United Methodist Church located in Tucker, Georgia on Saturday, May 1st 9am-12noon. Register today.

A Text And A Prayer

We are hooked to our cell phones. Our cell phones are hooked to us. It’s replaced the GPS, camera, calculator, flashlight, the news, letter-writing, a calendar, and the home phone. It’s changed the way we do life. Good, bad or indifferent, it’s here to stay and we can admit we like it.

The latest research reports that an average person spends 2 hours and 51 minutes per day on their mobile device. 22% check their phones every few minutes and 51% look at it a few times per hour. Just take that in.

When our kids were little, before I was on a local church staff, I made Sunday morning the best day of the week. Nobody woke up to alarms, but rather breakfast in bed. The house smelled like muffins (thank you, Jiffy muffin mix) and each was accompanied by a favorite, morning, tasty beverage: coffee, tea, milk, hot chocolate. Every other day of the week could start by alarm, rushing, searching, running, on the move. But not Sunday.  I thought of it as ‘pouring out a drink offering as unto the Lord.’ This tradition continued when I went on church staff, because…well, Sundays are game day and it’s the day we prioritized to be dedicated to our family’s faith formation in partnership with the local church.

Mr. Bob and I decided early on, before I was on staff, to live out Hebrews 10:25 and had to constantly attend to guarding Sunday mornings for church. We still would participate in all sorts of non-church activities, but we knew we could not raise adults who would love the Lord with their whole hearts for their whole lives without the help of what the local church had to offer: relationships, values, teaching, practicing, and experiences in developmentally appropriate ways with other Jesus guys and gals. Today, that investment has paid off with both making attendance and involvement in their local churches a priority in each of their families.

When the pandemic hit last spring, I imagined what we could offer as an easy win for high impact effectiveness and would cover the greatest amount of territory (Prayer of Jabez). With the desire that our families not become accustomed to doing life without their local church, the cell phone was a good place and platform to love people to Jesus systematically, personally, and creatively.

For almost a year, if I received a text from someone, they’ve gotten a text from me on Sunday mornings. Not through a database, but by sitting down each Sunday morning in my quiet chair (which is not always quiet) and taking the time to reach out to them all on my cell phone. All of them.

I choose a meme, image, or scripture on Saturday evening so it’s at the top of my photo file and send a text to each person in my phone. I last counted in January for a total of 162.

I send the text. I pray for him/her. Once my phone reads, “Delivered” I send the next. Not everyone replies, but many do. I Sunday morning text with no expectation. But for those who I have not seen in over a year, it’s been a weekly check-in and the ongoing text conversations have been personal and precious.

I’m sharing this because it’s easy. It’s in your hand. Yes, it takes time, but everyone is worth the time and we know how special it makes us feel when someone texts us ‘just because.’ We are family! If I’ve gotten a text or sent a text in the last week, which builds the list, they hear from me on Sunday mornings. Just a quick reminder that, “I’m in this with you, Brother,” “I’m in this with you, Sister.”

Who’s in your hand? How are you checking in with them systematically, personally, and creatively?

A Whole Lot of Extra For Jesus

Brooke Barksdale serves the families and community of Marietta First United Methodist Church as the Associate Director of Children’s Ministry. She leads Wonderfully Made: Loved by God programs and co-leads the Bible study component of the annual Rock Solid 5th Grade Retreat held at Camp Glisson in Dahlonega, Georgia for the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. She’s a wife, mom, daughter, friend, disciple-maker, and a great teacher.

In her own words, Brooke rocks it at “Coffee, postcards and thank you cards, engaging Bible studies for upper elementary, willing to be a whole lot of EXTRA for Jesus and food – maybe not preparing it or serving it, but definitely great at gathering around it to network and collaborate and listen and learn!”

When asked to offer her top five hacks/tips for adding EXTRA for Jesus with upper elementary disciples, she shared…

#1 Go big and fun!! They are kids – play games, do crafts, but tie in that deeper meaning.

#2 Be silly and loud and over the top in your presentation – when they see I am so sold out for Jesus that kind of joy and excitement is contagious! That excitement and contagiousness applies to adult volunteers, as well.

#3 Don’t underestimate upper elementary kids. They are dealing with some deep problems themselves so don’t think they aren’t willing to go deeper or have meatier conversations. 

#4 Provide opportunities every time you’re together for small group conversations. If you always meet in one room for large group, create smaller turn-and-talk environments. 

#5 Incorporate worship when you gather. This is the age where they begin to learn there are so many ways to give praise, thanks, and love to God Almighty! If you can have a volunteer provide live music that is awesome, but if you sing along to a CD or a YouTube video that’s great, as well. Encourage the expression of worship as singing, dancing, moving, waving arms, or just reading the words and the lyrics to yourself in your head. As a leader, if this isn’t your comfort zone, get out of it! This is where kids see the adults around them model that it’s okay to lift hands or stand still, but always be 100% in for worshipping God! 

Brooke went on to write, “I could talk more about specifics of the curriculum, but it’s your enthusiasm and how you present anything that is going to get the kids hooked and sold.” 

If you’d like to learn more, reach out to Brooke Barksdale on social media or by emailing brookebarksdale@marriettafumc.org 

You Rock!

Is your sense of urgency for all things ministry a bit less urgent than last month? Last year? As more and more public places begin to open and larger groups are beginning to safely gather, I’m feeling more a call to shore up some systems and less a call to basic survival.

I reached out to some dear colleagues in North Georgia and asked them for their top 5 hacks/tips in an area where they are rocking it with this post:

What do you have a really good handle on? Volunteers? Staffing? Scheduling? Transitions? Crafts? Video? Online discipleship? Sunday school teaching? Facebook? Postcards? Hospitality? Supply closet coordinating? Staging? Coloring? Texting? Curriculum? Filing? Wonderfully Made? Calendaring? Budgeting? Leaving a church when surely goodness and mercy follow ya? Starting at a new church? Survival? Coffee? Networking? Meetings?
We each have a something-something that we are really good at and knocking it out of the park in our context. We need to hear from you! Set aside any thought of tooting your own horn (I’ll do that for ya). Set aside any thought that someone else might be doing it better. YOU are doing something super awesome fabulous and I need to know what that is!
I get contacted all the time by a kidmin champion needing to talk with someone about some ‘thing’ and I need to know who we can connect. That’s YOU!
I’ve got a couple of gift cards for 2 of you (ended up gifting 3!) willing to tell me an area where YOU ROCK! I’ll pull from the hat (ended up being a china tea cup) and post next Friday.
You can comment below or send me a dm!
And in case you haven’t heard it lately: YOU ROCK! Thank you for loving your littles and their bigs to Jesus.
“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.” Psalm 107:2a

This week we pass along tips from Valerie Blackburn who is knocking it out of the park in organizing and maintaining supplies. Valerie serves the families and community of Bethel United Methodist Church in Stockbridge, Georgia as the Children’s Minister. Valerie is The Maker on the creative types assessment. When it comes to organizing and maintaining supplies she shared in her own words…

#1 Write it down on a list what is needed.

#2 Look ahead at lessons to see if something may be needed which is not typically handy.

#3 Put stickers on the drawers of bins which list the supplies included within.

#4 Have story books organized by the Old Testament, New Testament, and Others to help with easier access.

#5 Have a cardboard paper organizer to separate colors of construction paper.

What would you add to Valerie’s top 5 for organizing and maintaining supplies?

If you’d like to learn more, reach out to Valerie Blackburn at blackburn7893@comcast.net. 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

 

Grandparenting With A Purpose: Holiday Edition

Grandparents hold a special place in the hearts of the grandchildren. It goes both ways. Grandparents are part of God’s continuing plan to grow up disciples of His son Jesus. Take a look at Deuteronomy 6 and Psalm 78 to get a small glimpse of that plan.

We are leveraging that relationship and intentionally helping with a Grandparent’s toolbox to share their faith through a closed Facebook group entitled Faith Grandparenting and four in-person opportunities each year to share stories and resources to help them along their way we call Grandparenting With A Purpose. “You cannot be a Christian family if you are not a disciple-making family, because your family can’t truly follow Christ if you are not doing what Christ commanded – trying to become more and more like Him and leading others to do the same.” (Family Discipleship by Chandler & Griffin)

Last week’s Grandparenting With A Purpose: Holiday Edition, shared in-person and through a Facebook Live event on the closed Faith Grandparenting Facebook group, was a very special time to share life and some great ideas.

We serve a God of celebration! Through festivals, special food, visuals, decorations, and community we stop and remember the faithfulness of God: Passover, Festival of Tabernacles, Feast of Purim, Harvest time, Holy Communion. We celebrate with our five senses with special sights (lights, tablescapes, decorations), smells (food, spaces, candles), sounds (music, words), tastes (food), and touch (clothing, expressions of affection). Traditions offer rhythms for connection and belonging for which we are wired by our Creator.

Holidays like…
Thanksgiving – table cloth with names of who has shared the Thanksgiving table over the years; favorite foods and the magic of the “how” to make it; handwritten recipes and sharing the faith of the ones who started the family recipe.
Christmas – Ask “What three things will make Christmas Christmas?”; three gifts (Magi)
New Year’s – Do overs; time capsules; goals for physical, spiritual, family faith experiences.
Mardi Gras – Looking for the baby (Baby Jesus) in a King Cake; masks (God knows all of our mysteries).
Valentine’s Day – The greatest love story in all the world is John 3:16.
St. Patrick’s Day – story of St. Patrick; the color green reminds us to ‘grow in our faith’ continually and discussion of how we will do that this spring.
Independence Day – visit patriotic/historic places and share the stories of the faith of our founding mothers (Harriett Tubman, Abigail Adams, Susanna Wesley) and Christian heritage (John & Charles Wesley, George Washington Carver, Jimmy Carter).

Milestones like…
Birthdays teach our kids to celebrate others. On #1 Son’s 16th birthday we collected gifts of tools from Godly men who wrote him notes of wisdom for the tool they gifted. On Baby Girl’s 16th birthday we collected letters of wisdom from Godly women, teachers, and local officials we knew who knew Jesus and compiled a ‘Book of Wisdom’ she carries with her to this day.
Anniversaries teach kids to revisit big family moments. We will share that #1 Son and his lovely wife went to church for worship on their first date after greeting her at the end of the preschool Sunday school class she was teaching.
Spiritual Birthdays – annual celebrations of making their decision to follow Jesus with a gift, donuts (life without Jesus is like a hole in the middle of your heart), balloons (God is round about His people), they tell their faith story of when they decided to follow Jesus and how they’ve grown in the last year as we prepared a plan to move forward in the next year.
Gotcha Day – celebrating when an adoption came through to become part of the family.
Driver’s License – hold a ‘blessing of the license’; laying on of hands and speaking truth of this new responsibility.
New Home – praying through each room before moving in; a New Year’s home blessing.

Moments like….
Rediscovering the wonder of the everyday – my granddaughter remembers me when she smells biscuits and bacon.
Time to linger – breathe & sip; chill & chat
Gifts of time – my step mother checked me out of high school just to take me to lunch and we talk about the great issues of my teenage life.
Gifts of words – handwritten notes; postcards; journals; recipes; scribe the scriptures; gift a Bible.
New skills – teach about tea; take a cooking class, power tool class; shadow a church saint (Baby Girl shadowed an ER nurse from her home church to discover if nursing was really what God was calling her to. It WAS!)

For those in-person, they enjoyed an ice breaker with The Visual Faith Project, took home confetti cannons and their own Share the Love Drive-thru bags of goodies we’d prepared for our Children’s Ministry drive-thru that had taken place the Sunday afternoon before.

If the average age of a first-time grandparent in the USA is 47, this is a demographic who is leaning into Christian Grandparenting with tenacity. These are amazing disciple-makers and I want to be on their team.

How else can you build up your grandparents with a purpose of intentionally sharing their faith with their grandchildren?

“We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done.” Psalm 78:4

Listen to this and other posts on the In The Trenches with DeDe Reilly podcast.

Haggai

There’s a small book of Haggai nestled almost at the end of the Old Testament. Two chapters, 38 verses, giving relief, a break from the constant rebuke of the prophets and just before God’s silence for 400 years.

The prophet Haggai is speaking to God’s people who have returned home from exile. They return home to Jerusalem to a hot mess of 70 years of neglect, burned homes, their temple in ruins, and a burning desire for all that used to be.

They grieve what ‘used to be.’ They start their sentences with, “I remember…” then it trails off with sadness and lament. When they first returned home they started to rebuild the temple. They got the foundation done, then they got distracted. Distracted for 18 years. Distracted by probably very good things, but distracted nonetheless and the work of their temple stopped.

God calls Haggai to speak correction and encouragement to the discouraged and distracted exiles. Through Haggai’s words, GOD breathes life into His people. He says,

“Give careful thought to your ways.”

“Be strong….and work.”

“Do not fear.”

“From this day on, I will bless you.”

The response of God’s people? They got to work! They built the temple from the foundation already laid. They built together. They remembered that God was still in control. And they remembered that God sees and blesses and lives in the middle of obedience in the right now. The temple would not resemble the temple they remembered, but they don’t wallow in the distraction of comparison. They did what God directed them to do: they rebuilt their spiritual house together as they heard these words and God stirred the Spirit:

“Give careful thought to your ways.”

“Be strong….and work.”

“Do not fear.”

“From this day on I will bless you.”

This speaks to me as we live out our faith in Jesus in rebuilding our faith-filled lives at home and in our local churches in this post-pandemic world.

The book of Haggai tells me, “Don’t be distracted by the health crisis, politics, the unknown future, our finances. Don’t be discouraged by the global or denominational church, social media, all the feels and all the fears.” Don’t compare and don’t despair.

These words of correction and encouragement are for us today!

First, in the words of Jesus, REMEMBER ME:
Remember Jesus, God’s own son, who came from heaven to earth,
Remember Jesus, who died for our sins to restore our relationship with a holy God.
Remember Jesus, who walked and talked for 40 days to more than 500 people after he rose from the dead on the 3rd day, including his brother James, (can you imagine that conversation?)
Remember Jesus, who returned to heaven so that we’d be given a comforter, a guide, a coach in the Holy Spirit
So that we would tell all in our world that Jesus came to take away the sins of the world…..

So what do we do? I look at Romans 13. In the most horrendous culture imaginable for Christians, the apostle Paul gives us some practical guidance, but essentially…..

We go close and go long.

Go close: with our family. Those with whom you have the greatest influence, over time. Your spouse, your parents, your kids, your grands. Be intentional about building and teaching the faith in Jesus in your own house. The research tells us that the 3 practices/holy habits which repeated OVER TIME propel us to make STRIDES in our faith in Jesus is Bible Reading, Prayer, and living generously with our hands open. Go close brothers and sisters.

Go long: Our great God is still working within us, among us, and beyond us. I settle with Romans 8:28
“AND we know that in ALL THINGS God works for the good of those who love Him.” Go long brothers and sisters.

When I get discouraged or distracted, we have some amazing examples of what going close and going long look like:

Esther: Y’all! We WERE created for such a time as this!

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: They stood together and told the king: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is ABLE TO DELIVER us, BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT DELIVER US, we want you to know your Majesty, THAT WE WILL NOT serve your gods or worship anything but our great God.”

Daniel: There is one statement made by the meaners in Daniel 6 which stopped me in my tracks. When the meaners wanted to oppress and bring harm to Daniel, these were THEIR words: “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel, UNLESS it has something to do with the law of His God.”

Lord, let us be found faithful to go close and go long.

Give careful thought to our ways.

Be strong….and work.

Do not fear.

We know our great God is with us because He keeps His promises to His people.

Listen and subscribe to the In The Trenches podcast.

“‘Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,’ says the Lord.” Haggai 1:8

A Sunday Pause But Keep Sharing The Love

A decision was made by our church leadership to pause gathering in-person, on-campus for a period of time to allow the spike in COVID positives to subside. It was also the very week almost a dozen new Bible studies and small groups were to begin. I had made the decision early on to partner with a young mom to lead a small group in-person on Thursday mornings specifically focused on our preschool families. I had also made the commitment to co-lead the same study by ZOOM on Wednesday evenings so not to be away from home another night of the week. Sunday morning took a pause and these small groups did not begin, so I had some new-found margin.

I do not want our families to grow accustomed to doing life without the local church, so I asked, “What’s in my hand?” and “How can we love on our families?” easily, regularly, and energetically? Our county schools are not meeting in-person, nor online on Wednesdays mornings. We have a bus with our name on it. We have a great story: Jesus. We have popcorn, rocks, a wireless speaker, and Spotify.

We invited families to host a Pop In by registering online on Wednesdays 1:30pm (give our preschool families time to get home), or at 3pm (give our other-county students time to get home). Hosts promote the Pop In in their neighborhood and among their kid’s friends (kids have been playing with other kids in their own neighborhoods since forever), collect registration forms (you never know who doesn’t have a church home), and a snack (freeze pops). We take care of the rest!

We arrive 30 minutes early and start the music – McEachern Kids Pop In Spotify playlist which we share before and after to the emails shared on the registration forms/social media.
Hula Hoops – offers safe social distancing and arrival physical fun.
Welcome – Intro me ( name and “I love Jesus), the driver (name and “He loves Jesus), and sometimes a guest (name and “She loves Jesus.”) Then ask, “Do you know our Jesus?” leaving room for answers.
Intro the Bible – ask, “Who has a Bible?” “This is my Bible and in it…..”
Read 1 Corinthians 14:1 “Go after a life of love.” Ask, “What do you GO AFTER?” (Mom, spaghetti, video games, fishing) “A life of love is when we help other people know they are loved.”
Activity – Decorate a rock (pencil first, then paint markers, on a paper mat/work space) to “leave for someone to know they are loved, as they go wherever they go.” Enlist the help of the adults in attendance to hand out stuff so each child hears multiple voices of helpfulness from their own neighborhood peeps and my church bus driver.
Closing – Read “Wherever You Go, I Want You To Know” by Melissa Kruger, illustrated by Isobel Lundie.
We bless their painted rock (lay hands on) with a repeat-after-me prayer teaching that when we bless something we are setting it apart for a sacred and Godly purpose. I tell the story of my grands leaving painted rocks all over their new town in Oregon to share the love of Jesus. Their parents moved there to help start a church and in this way even the children could serve their new community in ministry.
Take-aways – Students get a folder with multiple at-home family SHARE THE LOVE activities related to their own hometown (we have three hometowns we focus on); a bag of popcorn with “Thanks for poppin’ in!” with our social media contact info.
Holy habits taught and caught: Bible reading, generosity, prayer, service, play.

We learned:
• Going out is easier than staying in; and the Lord gave us the best weather every. single. Wednesday. we went out.
• We used the church bus because it’s a big statement, but I could’ve used my car and ordered a big magnet for the doors. A church bus is ‘what was in my hand.’
• Kids and parents need a break, even if just for 20 minutes.
• Families stay to chat, so we have to honor the time commitment of our host and leave no later than 10 minutes after we finish. Our meet & greet time is as they arrive. Our hosts take care of the back-end hospitality.
• The host gets face-to-face time with everyone in their neighborhood when they collect the registration form info.
• ALL KIDS like to paint, hear a story read to them, eat popcorn/freeze pops, even 4th grade boys.
• We extended Pop Ins through all of February since some families wanted to host more than once (equipping the saints).
• Three different bus drivers who have three different seats at leadership tables now share how they were able to love kids to Jesus when the church took a Sunday pause (equipping the saints.)

What’s in your hand? How can you invite your families to offer the spaces to tell the greatest story ever told?

“The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace.” Psalm 29:11

Ambassadors for Jesus

Mr. & Mrs. Joy are saints of their local church. They are starting their 4th year as the lay persons leading Adult Christian Education in their local church. The email they sent said they were interested in speaking with someone to help them with intergenerational ministry. The email was sent to me and I was thrilled to have my first consultation of the New Year.

The first goal was to define what they understood as ‘intergenerational ministry.’ Through a couple of stories, they were looking for ways to attract millennials and Gen Zs to their church so they’d come to church on Sunday. What we finished with was something way greater than we ever imagined.

This we know: Folks in their 30s could possibly work every day of the week including Sundays. They may work on shifts where they work every other Sunday. Think Law enforcement and retail. They may also work before sunrise and until late in the night. Think the medical field and automotive market. They are desperate for community, but they may not have the margin nor the energy to go looking for new community, so they settle for community in environments where they need only bring a snack and a lawn chair OR the community they’ve curated at their fingertips on social media.

This we know: The average age of a first time grandparent is 47.  What if we offered a place, a space, content, hope, tools to help them navigate in a Christian manner all the relationships involved to share their faith with their grandchildren? Especially if some are looking back with regret that they themselves didn’t put enough of a priority on intentional faith development of their now adult kids. Add in the challenges of in-laws, school, their own aging parents, and still working.

Let’s start a space like a closed Facebook group with curated scripture (Psalm 78 & Deuteronomy 6), some encouraging grandkid memes, Christian Grandparenting blogposts, a place where questions can be asked and where we can walk alongside one another several times each week at the grandparent’s leisure based on their schedule? Then offer a couple of times each year a way to gather in-person for encouragement, a little dessert, some show & tell and some resources? The local church can be that PLACE they go AS they go.

Those of us further down the age line know what’s coming. It won’t be long before the remarkable moments of life begin to occur like more weddings, more babies, separation, divorce, a diagnosis, a chronic illness, a betrayal, and the loss of those who have been their towers of strength in death. What will they do then? We know those moments are not just moments. Those moments are tipping points, turning points, and places where people move from placing Christian relationships from the margin to the main body. It’s a gift to offer sprinkles and multiple, regular, various touchpoints where they ARE RIGHT NOW because we all know it’s coming.

1 Peter 3:15, “Be ready to share the hope that we have.”

Let’s begin the pouring out and the pouring in to new relationships now where they are, rather than expecting these young adults to come to us? Let’s make it easier to start and build relationships OVER TIME by sending texts each week with scripture, postcards with where to find us on social media so as they find us in their social media feeds and in their notifications? Let’s move social media from a bulletin board of announcements to a little regular help along their way today.

Can we greet them when they do arrive on campus, because they will, at a remarkable moment, with a, “Man, I was thinking of you this week?” rather than hassling them with a, “Man, where you been?”

What can we do to take up regular space in their margin?

Let’s offer a Bible reading Facebook group rather than only weekly, in-person Bible study? Think of the differences between a football game in-person and that same football game from home. Both experiences are investments of time and brain margin and worthy of doing well and with excellence, yet the audiences are very different. Let’s reach their children (and grandchildren) in developmentally appropriate ways in-person, mail, drive-in, drive-thru where their parents or grandparents are the heroes, the guides. They don’t have time to curate the best developmentally appropriate content on their own, so let’s make that happen in simple, short, subscription-box ways where everything is provided.

Mr. & Mrs. Joy are fired up for the new possibilities. Their plan? To recruit several of their fellow disciples, saints of their local church, to do the pouring in to some of the relationships they already know of. Rather than a program of ‘y’all come’, they will gather an army for ‘hey, I’m here to walk alongside you wherever you are.’ Its training up those already there to be ambassadors for Jesus and not just ambassadors for their local church, with what’s in their hands, to the glory of God, with the good news of Jesus, sharing their own personal stories of God’s faithfulness.

This is great work of the local church.

An ambassador, according to the apostle Paul, is a representative, an agent, not just a spokesperson, but an example, a delegate, a deputy, and envoy, a mediator as found in 2 Corinthians 5:20 “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

Let’s be willing to be sent out as an envoy for Jesus, an ambassador….with the message of Jesus! The Jesus who is the son of God, the Jesus who was there at creation, the Jesus who came from heaven to earth to forgive us of our sins, because of God’s great love for you and me and the world. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, He is with us where we go.

“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.” Acts 4:33

Listen: In The Trenches podcast

What’s On Your Discipleship Pathway?

Dallas Willard once said, “Every church ought to ask two questions. What is our plan for making disciples, and is that plan working?”

A plan for making disciples of Jesus is a discipleship plan. As I’m responsible in the local church for students kindergarten through fifth grade, and at home as a parent and grandparent to be a disciple-maker, there are certain skills which must be at the core. These skills should be taught and caught by teaching, practice, and multiple developmentally appropriate experiences over time, in moments, and as milestones.

We call these skills ‘holy habits’ because they are not one-and-dones, but rather repeated as habits. We introduce each one specifically as a Faith Milestone.

Prayer – talking and listening to our great God both by ourselves and in Christian community. This holy habit is practiced individually and in community.

Bible reading/study – God speaks to His people with language to know His heart, His expectations, His love, and His plan for all people whom He created in His own image in The Bible. This holy habit is practiced individually and in community.

Generosity – everything belongs to God and He invites us to accept His gift of salvation through His son Jesus. In response to God’s generosity, we generously bring His goodness into the world through service, giving, and thinking of others before ourselves. This holy habit is practiced individually and in community.

We don’t list worship as a skill because we teach that everything we do which tells Jesus, “I love you!” is worship. Everything! … practiced individually and in community. 

Just this last week we offered the faith milestone entitled, I Can Pray. It’s a faith milestone specifically for 1st and 2nd graders. Each little person attends with a big person. We believe what they experience with someone they love and is involved in their everyday life is much more sticky than just attending an event as an individual. Again, we are better disciples in community.

We set up various prayer stations outside using various prayer tools which each student collects to take home. Each little and their big learn together. They practice together. They take the tool home now knowing what to do with it to help them pray to our great God who hears the prayers of His people, especially little people.

Outdoor stations this year included anointing oil, sidewalk chalk, fidget spinners, a yoga mat, dissolving paper, a picture of Jesus, praying with crayons, playdoh, and a journal.

We teach that prayer is both talking and listening to God. When we pray ‘in Jesus’ name’ we claim “Yes! I believe this is true because of Jesus.” The words we use to pray are special to God. AMEN means “truly”, “indeed”, and “so be it.” The prophet  Isaiah refers to God as “God of the Amen” or truth (Isaiah 65:16) AMEN might be the most widely known word in the world, because even disciples of Jesus in other parts of the world like China, Japan, Brazil, Nigeria, and Spain, who speak various languages, also close their prayers with AMEN. 

Jesus used AMEN at the beginning of His teachings more than 70 times in the New Testament. Each time Jesus started with ‘truly’ or “verily”, He was going to speak truth and He wanted all of His disciples to know it. We say AMEN at the end of a prayer. Jesus said it at the beginning of His teachings because Jesus is the way, the TRUTH, and the life and no one comes to Father except through Him.

There are many other holy habits and we teach those, as well. These are the three we spend a lot of time on because these are foundations of a growing faith in Jesus and these are the holy habits which Jesus did, both individually and in community. The research also reports that these three practices are the most influential in a Christian making strides in their faith and belief in Christ. 

“Churches that have a clear path into discipleship…that get people engaging their faith or at least experiencing it, will see greater success than churches that invite you to merely attend.” Carey Nieuwhof, 5 Post Pandemic Church Grow Accelerators

May we be found faithful to equip our littles with the skills to grow in wisdom, and in stature, and in favor with God and man on an intentional pathway to following Jesus so that they know what it looks like to love the Lord our God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and love their neighbor as themselves for their whole lives.

“This is what the Lord Almighty says, ‘Give careful thought to your ways.'” Haggai 1:7

What’s In Your Hand?

Choosing paint colors was supposed to be the biggest challenge of the project. Not even close. The biggest challenge of updating the children’s space at the local church I was serving was removing a small, 9X12 banner attached to a stairwell leading to the space. This small banner was brown (used to be white), hung from a stick (from the woods), with about 10 small painted hands. Think preschool art…hung 20 years ago…in a huge stairwell…taking up the center 5% of the space. This banner had no names and no one could tell me who the painted hands belonged to, but the pushback of removing that banner was fierce and loud. I had no idea that trying to do something new or doing a new thing would be a tipping point in my life about sacred cows and growing into a spiritual entrepreneur.

If ever there was a time when we can do things new and do new things in the local church, at work, and at home to further the cause of Jesus, it’s now. Yes, we will always have challenges, but “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is no longer one of them. If ever you had permission to do stuff differently or not at all, now’s the time.

When the Pandemic began last March, I learned about the Spanish Flu Pandemic in the early 1900s. It took America about 2 ½ years to cross over into a more relaxed pace of change. 2 ½ years. That’s a good time frame to look beyond the typical and expected, and just try stuff. It’s in the experimentation and editing to excellence where you’ll grow your innovation muscles.

Carey Neuhoff calls us ‘spiritual entrepreneurs’. Neuhoff reports that spiritual entrepreneurs have a radical determination. They’re wired for innovation and show an apostle-Paul-like fierceness fully understanding they will get push-back and more criticism than praise, even to the point of sabotage by really good people. Yes, we submit to the authority over us (Romans’ biblical mandate), but we know without a doubt that God is at work in the world and we want to be part of it.

A spiritual entrepreneur is a leader who pushes forward in a state of experimentation. They are driven to gather, equip, and mobilize God’s people to obediently make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world in innovative ways. A spiritual entrepreneur is a disciple of Jesus who sees opportunities instead of obstacles.

But what about the obstacles? Let’s go to the Bible.

From the first chapter of Genesis, we learn that creation is good and God is good. Being fruitful and multiplying is the charge of God upon Adam and Eve, and even Noah and his family. God made millions of things, for which only one was necessary, but the creativity of God is ‘to infinity and beyond’. As image-bearers of this good and creative God, we not only have permission, but a cultural mandate to develop things in excessive goodness.

What things? As followers of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, we are entrusted with the gospel of Jesus AND the giftings to make the good news of Jesus real in the areas of the world we live so that others will know Him, too.

Do you like starting stuff? I do! If ever there was a time to start new stuff or make some good stuff new, NOW is the time. All of those institutional and cultural systems like church only on Sunday or all large groups have to be done in the fellowship hall are no longer.

Doug Paul is a bi-vocational pastor and innovation strategist. He wrote the book, Ready or Not: Kingdom Innovation for a Brave New World published in, you guessed it, September 2020. He repeatedly offers that “Innovation is a skill you can learn, but it’s a spiritual process.” It’s a spiritual process, because it must bring glory to Jesus.

How to get started? Prayerfully ask good questions? Lots of questions of the people you are serving or want to serve. Make no assumptions, and ask even more questions. The best answers will come not from a paper survey, but questions asked in relationship.

As you are asking good questions, let this question be one you ask yourself of your world, “What’s in your hand?” God asked Moses this question at Mt. Sinai. Moses had plenty of excuses for not obeying the voice of God coming from the burning bush. But God wouldn’t let Moses go. The turning point? A good question: “What’s in our hand?”

Whether you are a Christian, grandparent, a parent, or on staff at your local church you have permission to creatively share the life and love of Jesus with those around you with what’s in your hand.

I challenge you to prayerfully consider using this time frame of 2 ½ years from last March to ask, “What’s in my hand?” and experiment in small increments of time like 60 days or 90 days. Prayerfully consider, because we are reminded in big John, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

“I’m neither clever nor especially gifted. I am only very, very curious.” – Albert Einstein

Listen: In The Trenches podcast