Summer Was Great, Now What?

We were flying by the seat of our pants last summer when we came up with the summer drive-in services. Our goal was to offer a weekly gathering of developmentally appropriate faith formation experiences for littles with their bigs in the vehicle so that our community wouldn’t grow accustomed to doing life without us, the local church.

Each week was a theme, a Jesus story, games to build visual, sticky memories for kids, and short teachings, with practice, for bigs to lead their littles in the holy habits of prayer, conversation, music, service, and play. At the end of the summer, we offered weekly camp chair meetings on Thursday evenings and Sunday morning programming in the parking lot. Still doing whatever it took for our families to not grow accustomed to doing life without us.

With the incredible fruitfulness of last summer of new families becoming active in our local church and already-connected-families growing more in relationship with each other and the local church, we chose to continue the summer drive-in services in 2021 in place of the typical vacation Bible school with edited criteria in mind: 

  1. Summer-long theme of We Are Family 
  2. Celebrate different members of our families
  3. Invite other ministries to be highlighted by serving and speaking each Thursday

The drive-in services we saw were for adults with kids in the car. Ours was for kids with adults in the car. 20-30 minutes in length (because it’s hot and considering the attention span of a little), at 6pm and 7pm (because families have different schedules), every Thursday rain or shine (because families need dependable and trustworthy expectations), and we just provide the environment (big visuals, kids want to come, parents/grandparents are the heroes, and we are just the coaches).

All of these have hit the mark. 

It’s the bonuses which have helped us sharpen our intentions moving forward:

  1. Every week we have new families.
  2. Every week our families are inviting other families.
  3. Every week we have purposeful intergenerational relationships growing through service similar, but greater than, a week-long VBS.
  4. Every week we have current ministries growing because they’ve had a new platform to introduce and ‘work the parking lot’ in extravagant hospitality with the community.
  5. Every week we have new servant leaders joining the children’s ministry team as they learn we are prepared, organized, have trustworthy systems, are irrational in hospitality and innovative faith formation. And we laugh our heads off.

What’s next? 

An innovation ideation team has formed to add to our Faith Milestone initiative… Faith Milestone: I Can Worship With My Family. 

We’ll start by bringing in the developmentally appropriate faith formation experiences of the summer to an indoor space filled with visually traditional elements for the first Sundays in October and December. Both Sundays lend themselves to intentionally using all five senses (World Communion, Advent). 

Resources we’ve studied include…

Mark Burrow’s Children First at Ft. Worth
First UMC, Sadie Wolfhart’s Children’s First in Bentonville, Arkansas, and Kevin Johnson’s UMC Discipleship webinar.
Children First: Worshipping with the Family

In answer to, “What’s in our hand?”, we have the original sanctuary we can use to make a small group feel like critical mass. We will have Ambassadors leading different elements, American sign language for the Apostle’s Creed and Gloria Patri, irrational hospitality by our families intentionally inviting another family they share life with to experience worship as a family. It’ll be an intentional on-ramp to what our much larger sanctuary service offers in the weeks immediately following the Faith Milestone. Other Faith Milestones are already in place, so this would be a place to practice all of those in a teaching environment for little people. Intergenerational in message delivery, doctrinally-sound energetic song choices with motions upper elementary kids will love, and in 45 minutes. With color and interactive throughout, older kids will serve, little kids will learn, new families to our rituals will share in the experience so that we learn in a safe setting not just that we gather but why we gather: Jesus.

All discipleship programming should offer an onramp or an invite to take the next step in discipleship, another relationship within the local church. How has your summer discipleship programming made a way for families to take their next steps in your faith community?

“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your  mighty acts to all who are to come.” Psalm 71:18

Asking Big Questions

It’s impossible to survey kids. I’ve tried. From cries of, “How do you spell….?” and the look of test anxiety on the faces of my littles, typical surveys are not helpful.

But I need to know some things. I need to know if what we’re doing is sticking. I need to know if the vocabulary we’re using is sticking. I need to know what they’re feeling about a few things. I need to know if we are on target or just a clanging cymbal. I need to know how we are missing the mark. I need to know who they know. I need to know from their minds and hearts and not just those who represent them.

As part of a Why We Worship lesson….

We worship because we’re wired to worship. We can’t get away from it. We will worship something, so how do we stay the course to worship God, our Creator, Jesus, our Savior, and the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, Teacher, and Great Remind-er over and above all other things? We practice holy habits! One holy habit we do to stay the course of worshiping the Lord is to gather every week at the local church. We need the at-least-weekly reminder that we’re better together. Anything we do, think, or say which tells the Lord, “I love you!” is worship.

…we posted five jumbo post-it notes along the walls with five questions. Ambassadors distributed golf pencils. Ambassadors were partnered with kindergarten and first grade students to help with spelling, and relationship-building. Then we set them loose to give us their answers. 

These were the five questions:

What do you HEAR at church? 

Where do you GO at church? 

What do you SEE at church? 

How do you FEEL at church? 

WHO do you know at church? Kids were instructed to write the name(s) of anyone they only see or talk to at church.

This survey exercise was fun, hopeful, encouraging, surprising, and made us smile. The jumbo post-it notes are now hanging on the church staff hallway for fun, hope, encouragement, and their delight. We did indeed get the information we needed and then some. 

How do you survey your kids? What do you need to know?

“Their children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.” Psalm 112:2

Recruiting Servant-Leaders

My current pastor gently corrected a colleague recently when she referred to our servant-leaders as ‘volunteers.’ PTA recruits volunteers. We recruit servant-leaders.  Most of my conversations with colleagues at other churches revolve around building their servant-leader team. Anyone else feel like a new church start? Yep, we all do!

I had a great conversation with a new-to-director Children’s Ministry champion last week and we chatted through several ideas:

Open House – Invite all kids and their parents/grandparents to a 30 minute open house after a Sunday service. Build it up, think sandwich boards worn by kids to promote. Post jumbo post-its on the walls in the kid’s area with “Sunday Morning”, “Hospitality”, “CLUB345”, “Missions”, and “Special Events” with cups of crayons below each one. Pull a Vanna White sharing a 1 minute elevator pitch in front of each one inviting those in attendance, “If you’d like more information about >>>, write your name and email/phone number on this post-it note (their choice for how to be contacted), and our team will get back to you.” Every 10 minutes, play a game of rock, paper, scissors for prizes OR pull carnival tickets for $5 RaceTrac/QT gift cards for tasty beverages. Prizes for kids AND adults in attendance. End in a fun interactive prayer and make those phone calls by week’s end.  Lots of energy, music (bluetooth speaker, even), and have your kid’s space shine!

Chill & Chat  or Taco ‘Bout – Promote this 1.5-2 hour event as a time to ‘get more information’ about the church’s ministry with kids/families.  Put up the jumbo post-it notes with similar headings as above and offer  a similar 1 minute elevator pitch followed by inviting someone in the room to share a story about their experience in that area. Lots of other voices will be telling great stories. Offer a take-away book with some meat to it that speaks to how the ministry will support them as parents, grandparents, etc.. Your current servant-leaders are your best recruiters so give time for some general chatting. Follow up with thank you notes to everyone who attends and especially those who shared a story. Offer a tour of the spaces, too. I have Ambassadors take care of this part. This is also where parents/grandparents get the first-look at what’s coming in the ministry for the upcoming season or school year.

Mission Field – Bring a suitcase and visit an adult Sunday school class. Say, “This is what I know about you. As a Christian you always wanted to be a missionary.  But you had to work, had little people, or maybe were taking care of big people. Perhaps now is the time. What if I were to offer you a 1-year gig (big hairy ask!) and you wouldn’t have to take shots and you could sleep in your own bed? Would you consider it? Being a missionary, I mean?” Give pause. Say, “I’m asking you and a friend to serve as a missionary, one month on and one month off, to serve in the mission field of children’s ministry on Sunday morning for 1 year.”  “I ask for you and a friend because Jesus never sent our his disciples one at a time, but in pairs or threes or up to 70 to do what He asked, and He asks in the scriptures for us to lead the littles to Him.” Oh, and come bearing goodies by bringing a box of biscuits or donuts along with the suitcase.

Church Committee Meetings – Find out when the Trustees, Staff-Parish Relations, and Finance Committees are meeting next. Leave a box of yummy goodies, a bowl of ice, cold water bottles, you get the idea. Add a note or picture signed by kids in your ministry inviting one (and a friend…see above) to serve together at an upcoming event, or say THANK YOU for making the ministry possible by the decisions they make. It will delight them to know you appreciate their hard work of ministry, too.

Lord, Who? Prayers – Write Lord, who? on your car windshield with a sharpie and as you drive pray for a name to reach out one-on-one. One-on-one invites are the best and really should be done all the time.  Whoever the Lord gives you, make contact. Don’t’ talk yourself out of it. You never know how the Lord is working in that person’s life and they are just waiting for the invite to do something about it.

Youth Milestone – If you have access to your church’s youth group, make serving in Children’s Ministry a faith milestone of one month on and one month off for a year. Make them jump through the hoops necessary for training and equipping so they are aware of the expectations to be a great servant-leader. This is first-job training kind of stuff. Talk to them about what they’re doing well. You can talk to them about how they can do something better. Speak into their lives the opportunity to serve others well and with excellence and be sure to tell them WHY something is important. Remind them they’ll need reference letters for jobs and college program applications in the future and you can help them with that.

Faith Milestones and Grandparents – Faith Milestones are those once a year special events which mark a remarkable season of life with a spiritual training like Bread & Juice, I Can Pray, Acolyte, I Love My Church and the like. We require our students to have an adult with them at most Faith Milestones. If that adult is a grandparent, that grandparent is all-in to support and join in sharing sacred experiences. I will always reach out the next week to invite him/her to serve at something their grand might participate in.

“We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.” Romans 12:5

Preparing the Way for Pre-discipleship

Everything I’ve ever done effectively has been within the community of a small group. From the local PTA to Bible study to my accountability group, I’m a better wife, mother, employee, coach, citizen, disciple of Jesus because of the efforts of sharing life in small groups. This is beyond chatting around a table. I’m talking REALLY sharing a season of life as friends-in-the-Lord or people-in-community-with-a-shared-goal. Though Jesus started the gospel of Matthew with a large group at the Sermon on the Mount, it’s what was discussed and wrestled to the ground in small group that made the content come to life, over time.

The most recent research coming out is telling us that the days of stadium preaching the gospel is giving way to sharing the gospel life in small groups. We can get great preaching and teaching beyond the 11am Sunday sanctuary ‘in our hands’ and ‘in our earbuds’, but small groups in our backyards, front porches, and parking lots is going to be the place to be for the local church’s message of the gospel to be effective as invitational, hospitable, relational, and necessary to grow in Godly wisdom and pass on our faith in Christ. It may be old school, but the local churches doing it well with systems and pre-discipleship will be schooling the ones who don’t.

I’m not responsible for small groups in my local church. I’m not even on the team that gets to have those conversations. So what can I do knowing a healthy small group system is effective ministry in my local church? I can have face-to-face conversations in the hallway, at the lunch table, and online before-hand. I toss out ideas and start conversations and ask questions. I’m interested in how others are keeping their minds on Jesus. I pray the Lord will let me show interest in how others are ‘small grouping’ in their context and within my own local church. I consider this pre-discipleship.

Pre-discipleship is walking directly into the obstacles and hurdles that stand in the way of the disciples of Jesus who want to grow in their faith in community, but are unable to because they’ve already decided their family commitments by the time we tell them what we’re doing.  Just because we announce it won’t make it a win. Christianity is fundamentally a text-based religion based on an historical event: Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Everything else we wrestle with, think about, discuss, practice, respond, experiment in devotional practices so that we grow in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and man in community guided by the Holy Spirit. Yeah, but how do we fit it all in?

James Bryan Smith writes in The Good and Beautiful Life, “We live at the mercy of what we think about. What we think, determines how we live.” My families have way too much consuming their minds, but we can help if we prepare the way in pre-discipleship. Recalling the Bible account of the boy and his lunch feeding the 5,000 by the hands of Jesus, it was the boy’s Mama who prepared the way by making his lunch that morning.

Okay, enough about the why and the fruitfulness. Here are a few thoughts on how to keep the pre-discipleship conversations going….

Make it convenient – Think of ten people you’d like to know better and begin asking, “Hey, I’d like to spend more time getting to know you. If you were to be in a small group this fall, are days or evenings more convenient for you? I’m not asking you for a commitment right now, just trying to figure out what is the best timing for you.”

Make it relevant – What’s happening right now?

  1.  The Chosen TV series – This series is free on my phone with The Chosen app, I can throw it on my Roku tv for the family from my phone, and Season 1 is on DVD. For those folks who don’t like that it’s not ‘true to the Bible’ in every scene, remember that it’s not a documentary. But IT WILL start some great conversations with anybody no matter where they are on their journey. It’s a great story! Our culture is made up of image-driven beings and we can use this well-done resource for some powerful conversations. They’ve put out an interactive Bible study on season 1 which has some great discussion questions. In the words of one of my local church saints, “Three good discussion questions make for a fabulous small group.” Families could watch the episode on their own, then come together for sacred conversation.  Intergenerational conversations. Another local church I know is doing this and rotating homes, locations, for a summer ‘pop-in’ small group. This could easily be rolled out church-wide.
  2. Current sermon series – If your clergy team provides a sermon series, it’s low-hanging fruit to pull the livestream section from the YouTube channel and provide three good discussion questions on both social media and in-person. It’ll get the whole church talking about the series. Kidmin champions can locate an already-done-well video clip to make the content more developmentally appropriate for the littles and again, easy inclusion for intergenerational sacred conversations and makes mom and dad or grandparents the best sacred coaches.
  3. Think of an August or September start up to the time change for your season. When the time changes, it’s dark earlier and it takes everyone longer to get from point A to point B. I live in the Greater Atlanta area so factoring in time and traffic are constant considerations.

Make it a partnership for a season – Plan to co-lead a small group. You’ll make a new friend or enjoy a deeper friendship with an old friend. Then, don’t take over! Be a full-on participant, but with keys. Count to 10 before you jump in. Listen a lot. Ask more questions than make statements. Support the small group by making room reservations and promoting it like you’re recruiting for VBS. I’ve discovered that when people are personally invited to be in your small group, your small group will either have enough to make OR you’ll learn why it won’t (inconvenient day/time, too long, too short, the subject matter isn’t relevant right now no matter how good the material is.)

With post-COVID culture, I’ve pulled out Chris Surratt’s Small Groups For The Rest Of Us: How to design your small-groups system to reach the fringes from Next Leadership Network. If ever there was a time to reach the fringes, it’s now.

“Everyone needs community, and we have to make it easy for them to find it.” – Chris Surratt, Small Groups For the Rest of Us

Parents: The Ultimate Small Group Leader

The International Network of Children’s Ministers has been one of the more faithful voices speaking over those of us in truth and love in the trenches of the local church who point littles and bigs to Jesus. Last week they published data specific to millennial parents of faith. You can read about it here. Millennial parents span birth years 1981-1996. My adult children are in this amazing, generous, Jesus-loving, and overwhelmed generation of young parents. This is personal.

INCM reports ‘they want their children to love Jesus, but most of them don’t fully understand what discipleship means or looks like for themselves.’ We lead littles in children’s ministry, but what does it mean to lead their bigs? Here are a few ideas…

Intentionally plan to provide ‘church’ other than Sunday mornings. Faith communities can provide consistent, excellent faith formation experiences other than on Sunday mornings. This is one of the reasons we provide weekly, intergenerational experiences in ‘seasons’ alongside a family’s seasonal rhythm like Thursday evening family drive-in services in the summer at two different times: 6pm & 7pm. We may not have the numbers of a Sunday morning, but we have consistent attendance of weekly and seasonal guests because we make it easy, short, energetic, relaxed and kid-friendly to practice the holy habits with us as a guide and parents or grandparents as the lead and hero. We are there every Thursday, rain or shine….kinda like we’re also there on Sunday mornings.

Story: B and E have careers (retail management and law enforcement) where regular Sunday mornings are every-other so that their boys don’t go to day-care during the typical work week. Because the familiar faces of their weekday preschool staff are sprinkled through the church throughout the week and weekend, they and their boys are loved on by a consistent faith family. They attended a different church before the pandemic. This ‘preschool church’ is now their church. INCM and Barna reported not long ago that parents will put up with mediocre preaching and music as long as their kids are known by name and are hearing about Jesus.

Story: B and K’s work schedule is every-other (nurse and law enforcement) and are consistent attenders to the weekly Thursday evening summer drive-in services, offered at two different times, and now bring their parents (the grandparents) so the entire family sings, plays games, prays, and hears a Jesus teaching as an intergenerational team for the sake of their littles. They even brought the dog last time! Connection and content have equal weight in priority of planning.

Intentionally plan to communicate in lots of different ways. Email is still king, but make it short, friendly, less formal, and relative. Digging for info is not helpful and no one’s got time for that. Social media basic image consistency, but post so that these parents don’t have to dig through the feed. Sending personal texts the morning of makes us real, personal, and communicates, “I’m in this with you, friend, and I really want to see you and your littles.” Old school still works, too. Update bulletin announcements because parents are looking for ways to grow with their children’s faith and are looking to us to help them do that easily and developmentally appropriately. New people read bulletins. New people are looking for new friends. Make posters to grab a kid’s attention. Post pics almost immediately afterwards for the purpose of recording memories and building a desire for those who weren’t there to want to be there next time. Pictures and images tell stories best. A quick review of your photos of an experience can let you know if families are all–in in that area of the event or checked-out and an edit might be in store for next time. Always edit your communication and event to excellence, but the basics of when, where, how, and who are consistent and reliable.

Intentionally plan to build community by interacting with families where THEY are. Figure out where your parents are and be there. If they’re online, be there. If they’re not online, they still have phones so plan to regularly text or email. Parents want the best for their children. All of them! Even if we don’t see them on a regular basis because they are doing other great things, we should keep up with them wherever they are. Decide to not make them feel guilty for not coming to your stuff, but rather feel they haven’t missed a beat when the do come. Four weekends in a row at a dance competition or a travel ball tournament? I’ve got something to chat about when I do see them and a handwritten note of ‘missing you’ or ‘congratulations’ goes a long way in relationships. You know that friend who no matter how much time has passed you can pick right back up where you left off? We want to be that.

Story: Mom works in the medical field and I haven’t seen her nor her girls since before COVID, but I’ve texted her every Sunday morning since COVID. She responded a couple of times, but I still texted. She and her girls came to last week’s drive-in service and our team didn’t miss a beat making sure they felt they still belonged and we had lots to chat about. Finding the girl’s Sunday school teacher at the same drive-in service, we were able to get them re-connected face-to-face and the chatting was over-the-top.

I eagerly await for INCM to continue reporting how we can walk alongside our millennial parents. These folks are leading the ultimate small group. We’d train our small group leaders, right? Can we do any less for these amazing disciples who want desperately to point their small group of little people to Jesus?

“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Isaiah 40:11

We Are Family

Summer 2020 we were shooting from the hip when it came to family ministry programming. While everyone was trying to figure out what in the world was going to happen next, we were throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what would stick so that our families did not grow accustomed to doing life without us. Not even focused on content, we were focused on connection. Not even focused on the delivery, we were focused on a reliable and consistent weekly celebration of Jesus, no matter what, which was developmentally appropriate for littles and worth leaving air-conditioning for adults. With all the safety protocols and boundaries given, we rolled out a weekly drive-in service for littles with bigs in the vehicle. Families are the ultimate small group, so we gave them tools and practice to lead their littles in the holy habits of prayer, Bible reading, sacred conversation, and play. It was crazy fun, memory sticky, and fruitful in growing our reach to our community with multiple new families now part of our church family. Insert the confetti cannons!

When it came time to plan for Summer 2021 we chose to continue riding the wave of fruitful connection and revisit the weekly drive-ins. We had time to plan and make deeper connections into the other ministries of the church. 

Updates, edits, and ‘jacking it up’ looks like this:

Visual elements to resemble a VBS-look and feel
* Car lot vinyl balloons lining the parking lot ‘stage’ (it’s a sidewalk) and “Welcome” feather flags in blue and red lining the main road, all assembled by a small group of retired engineers. Lightweight enough so that the 4th & 5th grade Ambassadors could safely set up.
* Wild blue air dancer found in the consignment sale closet.
* Winshape-Camp-welcome for extreme hospitality with hula hoops, pool noodles, people, noise, and signs.
* Tshirts and McEachern Kids aprons for everyone serving.

Bold Follow-up
Registration forms are on paper asking for family name, how many in the vehicle, and an email address. We roll around a huge trash can/basketball net for kids to wad up their forms and toss them in before they depart which is another opportunity for personal interaction. If we get the form, we get the email. If we get the email, we get an invite to communicate. We will communicate the next morning by asking questions and trying to make a new friend. The Walk to Emmaus teaches ‘make a friend, be a friend, introduce a friend to Christ.’ Especially in this season of post-covid, people are looking for new friends so I’m looking to make new friends. Friends share life and know their kids by name. We’ll chat almost weekly because that’s what new friends do.

Entire summer theme: We Are Family
Yep, think Sister Sledge which is our ‘everyone assume your positions, we’re starting’ song. Each week we’ll honor and recognize a member of the family with a ministry connection taking place within the next two weeks for a ‘check us out’ opportunity.

First week we honored the girls and women in our families. The Bible story was Baby Moses who had his mama Jochebed who trusted the Lord, his sister Miriam who was brave, and the Pharaoh’s daughter who showed compassion. We chalked the parking lot with the names of the amazing girls and women in our families. We also scheduled a Paint & Praise Party to take place the following Tuesday evening for any little person who brings a big person with them. Not a drop off, but rather a true ‘let’s paint and praise the Lord together’ event for all ages. 

The second week drive-in we will honor our senior saints so we invited our senior saints choir (who would’ve been singing at nursing homes, but can’t) to lead our music. Just heard from them they’ll be at the drive-ins all summer long…because they want to sing and they want to be together. Because we’ve already set the song list with YouTube videos with motions, those have been shared with all the members of our Joyful Singers.

It poured down rain during our first service. Our team still showed up and showed off in hospitality, dance, and story from the covered Gaga Ball pit and in the rain. Families still came. The second service was dry and we played games with beach balls and laundry baskets because families working together can accomplish anything. Families still came.  More than fifty in attendance…in the rain!

With the goals of connection and reliable celebration, we practice being a family of faith. We laugh. And we dance!

What are your goals for the summer?

“He said to the crowd: ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does.'” Luke 12:54

How Is Your Mental Health?

Anyone else still running full steam ahead? Anyone else unable to turn your brain off for all the logistics, demands, expectations, and rhythms which come with today’s local church life? Your office has been your kitchen table or your phone, learning new things has an edit almost daily, and the many voices coming from all around directing you right now to make ministry with families look just like ‘before’.

I love my job, my calling, and my church family. Where I used to be able to draw distinct boundaries for sabbath, rest, and the brain break necessary to ‘run my race,’ I have not been able to consistently reset those boundaries and practices for a healthy me in over a year. Though I made substantial physical changes to lose 95 pounds during quarantine and have kept it off, I know I can not sustain another year running like this in my head. How do I get a new rhythm?

When Church Communications offered a free two-day, online, on-demand summit entitled Thrive & Cultivate to support the mental health of church leaders, I signed up and shared it all over social media for anyone who would listen. This professional organization led by Katie Allred and Kenny Jahng consistently provided the very best in education, support, innovation, and community over the last year. I knew this educational opportunity would meet my needs and they didn’t disappoint.

For instance…

Dr. Merry C. Lin shared about our Resilient Zone – when and where our natural nervous system manages life’s ups and downs. We can get stuck in a high and a low of our nervous system. Our great Creator has given us the tools to signal our minds and bodies, “I am safe,” when we over-function. 

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world (my self-directed over-functioning), but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2 My mind. Our gracious and merciful Creator has already given us the chemicals we need to tell our bodies, “I am safe,” so how can I get my mind to run those chemicals to say, “I am safe”?

Dr. Lin called these happiness hacks….

Dopamine – the reward chemical. How to turn it on? Complete a task, receive affirmation, celebrate a win.

Serotonin – the mood stabilizer. How to turn it on? Exercise, pray, meditate, be around nature, get some sun.

Oxytocin – the love hormone. How to turn it on? Hug, play, cuddle, give someone a compliment.

Endorphin – the pain killer. How to turn it on? Laughter, smell essential oils, eat chocolate, watch something light-hearted.

Chuck Mingo spoke of thriving in a perfect storm and invites us to be a trustworthy guide without stone cladding. Stone cladding is a construction term for a structure which looks like stone and feels like stone, but is unable to bear the load or weight like real stone.

Debra Fileta shared, “Just because I feel something, doesn’t make it true.” My deep dive into apologetics over the last 18 months reminds me often that there is no real truth except God’s truth. He is who He says He is, He can do what He says He can do, and I am who He says I am. That truth. Again, just because I feel it doesn’t make it true. Whew! Deep breath.

THEN, Ashley Aucker asked a question that made me press pause to return to the other talks another day because I was done….and grinning. 

“Am I God’s employee or His child?”

So what am I going to do about all this? First, I shared the happiness hacks as the staff devotional last week. Second, I’ve gotten my creativity on where I can fully complete a task by painting an old dresser in our grandgirl’s signature color: bright azure blue. Third, I’m listening to music on my long commute home each evening rather than podcasts to give a healthier transition time to reset my brain. New music for a new season: 

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How are you resetting your rhythms?

“Now the first to resettle on their own property in their own towns were some Israelites, priests, Levites, and temple servants.” 2 Chronicles 9:2

In This World You Will Have Trouble

Our families have dealt with an incredible amount of uncertainty, fear, trouble, concern, anxiety…. I could go on, but you get the picture. Jesus tells us (it’s red, so Jesus said) in Big John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

So how can we help littles and their bigs build those ‘peace muscles’ and live like Jesus is overcoming the world? Our world?

I don’t want my kids to just read John 16:33 from their Bibles, but also read it in the lives of people like Nate Saint, Corrie Ten-Boom, Brother Andrew, Susanna Wesley, Billy Graham, Amy Carmichael, C.S. Lewis, and Katie Davis and even the saints of their own church family

Children learn best to love Jesus when they spend time with people who love Jesus. It’s also been my experience that children can learn best to courageously follow the Lord and learn what Jesus’ peace looks like by reading about and meeting real people who have lived out their faith in war, in famine, in thirst, in different countries, in times of uncertainty, fear, trouble, concern, anxiety… Again, you get the picture.

Summer is the perfect time for reading about the missionaries and giants of our faith history.  I’ve curated a list of biographies of missionaries and courageous disciples of Jesus of every reading level which are developmentally appropriate for elementary-aged students. Students will read about many people who followed Jesus, maybe traveled the world, lived in very difficult times, or who started an orphanage, the Salvation Army, or taught a teacher to share the good news of Jesus.

This touches close to my heart as our daughter served in Senegal, Africa providing medical care to children orphaned, abandoned, harmed, and sick at a local compound during the almost five months between earning her pre-nursing degree and attending nursing school. Uncertainty was all around, but as she says, “When God is the only one who speaks your language, you talk a lot!”

The next step is to get together to chat about who we’re reading about so we can share the stories and give testimony. I contacted several saints of our local church and asked if they’d host a Saints Book Club Chat on their front porch, back porch, or front lawn. Every one said, “YES!” and will join us in reading about a saint of the faith, as well. These local church saints have their own stories of God’s goodness and faithfulness when they’ve been uncertain, anxious, and fearful. I can’t wait to hear!

These intergenerational opportunities to tell stories and share testimony of God’s goodness and faithfulness when life is hard, challenging, and victorious will help our kids along their way in uncertain times. It’ll help me along my way. Could it help you along your way?

Last Sunday I set out my own personal library for the students to explore and check out. Even our youth interns and several parents checked out books. I can’t wait to see what God will do this summer in the hearts and minds of His disciples because of the stories of those who have gone before us.

How can you get the stories of Jesus’ overcoming the world into your world?  I received a text from Mom of the young lady above later that afternoon which read: “You gave S a book this morning, haven’t seen her face since.”

“And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” Philippians 1:14

When I’m Too Much

I don’t get my feelings hurt easily. With the maiden name of Bull, you grow a pretty thick skin from the get-go. Yet there are times when I am too much. I am. I run fast, I learn fast, I speak loud, and I throw ideas at the wall like a textbook innovator. I rebuke any critical spirit and always want the best in others and myself to shine through. I’ve learned to increase my question to statement ratio and I work on not interrupting people. I’m a verbal processor, so I affirm with listening skills like, “Mmmm”, “Hmmmm”, “Yes”, and “I hear you.”

In complete self-awareness, what I intend is not always what is received. As the ‘child’ of the church staff team (think of a typical family and the dynamics involved) I get my feelings hurt when I’m too much and informed to cool my jets, slow it down, told that I could be off-putting, or when I get a “shhh!” as I jump into a conversation. Yeah. I’m totally aware that I can be too much.

It’s been my experience that the Senior Pastors are historically the ‘parents’ and carry the weight of authority and responsibility of the church-staff-family. They may invite us to have a say (staff meeting=family meeting), but they have the final say for what’s going to happen in the family. Worship leaders are the ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’. They add creativity, always sit at the adult table, and can tell the family stories through song, space, and well, they’re the other adults. Youth ministry people are considered the ‘teens’ and children’s ministry people are historically considered the ‘kids’ in the church-staff-family. Think about it. Each church-staff-family role comes with family-related responsibilities, expectations, tolerances, and nods to what is permitted as a multi-generational (no matter the age of any individual) in how the church-staff-family works.

This means children’s ministry people are typically accommodating (we’re informed what we’re doing to help and support everyone else in the church-staff-family), adaptive (we deal with what we’re told), require more set-up (ever packed up for a 3-year old for the beach or let a 10-year old pack themselves? Can’t ask a 1st grader to set up or take down tables and chairs for an event so the before and after is WAY more complicated with a greater amount of children’s ministry logistics.) We take direction, make the best of every situation (ever had the worship service end 30 minutes early/late?) and do whatever it takes thinking everything rides on our shoulders. We want everyone to be happy and enjoy the ride. Sound like kids? Yeah. 

I’m always at the kid’s table and I’m good with that. It offers clarity for my boundaries and responsibilities.

So what to do when I get my feelings hurt?

  • Fix a cup of tea and cry. Tears are God’s healing balm and physical release of the yuck. Even if the rebuke is prefaced with “It’s not personal…,” it is. Name it, then let it go. Thank you Lord, for tears.
  • Go with what I know and not with how I feel. I’m a beloved child of God and He is my Heavenly Father. He hears me. He knows me. He is still working on what He hopes for me. He alone is trustworthy and can handle my feelings. He has a whole book filled with stories of His faithfulness to His children who are ‘too much’. Thank you Lord, for transforming my mind and my feelings will follow. Lord, help me to live into James 1:9, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”
  • Keep it between me and God remembering that if I lose my joy, I lose my impact. So, I do what brings me joy: Scroll through pics of the grands. Write a note of thanks to someone on my team. Help someone. Bake a cake and deliver to a neighbor. Take a long, hot shower. Watch season 1, episode 3 of The Chosen. Stay off Facebook. Practice a period of silence. Drink water. Take a walk. Lord, no matter how I feel, do not let me sin in this.

In the wise words of Scarlett O’Hara in the classic Gone With The Wind, “Tomorrow is another day.”

“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” Genesis 16:13

 

2021 Special Summer Sundays

It is an ugly, awful, terribly misguided myth that churches can’t grow during the summer. Don’t listen to it. Don’t buy into it. Don’t settle for it. Summer is the perfect time to try new things, change up each week, and be so invitational it makes your hospitality team wonder where you came from.

Summer Sundays should not just pass, but be intentionally celebrated. Making each Sunday a special event builds energy and helps people feel they belong to something alive and relevant. We’ll be taking advantage of our 2021 Summer of Sundays to serve a state of celebration in Children’s Ministry. We make a place to serve alongside the Gaga Ball Pit at our McEachern Kids entrance as families linger up to an hour after our 11am services.

May 23 – Pentecost Sunday – wear red to church.

May 30 – First Sunday of summer – serve Chick-Fil-A lemonade (pick it up on Saturday!)

June 6 – National YoYo Day – yoyo exhibition and skills with a yoyo with our kid’s logo.

June 13 – Celebrate National Ice Tea Day 6/10 – serve peach tea (we’re in Georgia!)

June 20 – Pops With Pops Father’s Day – popsicles & Father’s Day photo booth

June 27 – National Sunglasses Day – It’s cool to be at church! So wear your sunglasses (we’ll provide sunglasses) & Kona Ice Truck

July 4 – Independence Day – wear red, white & blue

July 11 – National Blueberry Muffin Day – mini blueberry muffins

July 18 – National Ice Cream Day – ice cream truck available for purchase and tickets which are given to all children’s ministry volunteers throughout the entire year

July 25 – Celebrate National Day of the Cowboy (7/24) – wear your cowboy gear & we’ll rodeo

August 1 – Let’s Roll – bring your wheels and helmets for Wild Worship & Wheels

August 8 – Promotion Sunday: Welcome Home!

Signing up at nationaltoday.com gives a great list of national and international dates to celebrate.

Each Special Summer Sunday provides an opportunity to celebrate as a family of faith. It is not my habit to let each Sunday just run into another. Nor is it my habit of thinking that people take the summer off from church. Never has. Never will. Whenever I can provide a memorable church experience for the littles, their bigs can enjoy the conversations started beyond the, “Did you have fun?”

“He who gathers in summer is a prudent son…” Proverbs 10:5