I have heard the comments throughout the years, but it seems that over the past few months they have grown with regularity. I wouldn't really file these away as gripes, but they are close. Maybe it's a sign that there's a holy unrest among a generation seeking more? At least, that's how I define it. The common thread is that I am hearing from members of a certain generation who are tired of being a part of a ministry that is content at remaining shallow.
Some of the things said in passing are things like. . .
"I really want to be a part of a ministry that is more than just focused on fun."
"I don't think just getting together to play games constitutes ministry."
"I love being with people, but shouldn't we be doing something for the Lord rather than just talking about it?"
"The trips are fun. It's just that they're only trips. We don't do anything related to God, the church or ministry."
"All we do is eat."
Sounds like young adults who grew up in a youth ministry that was built on pizza parties, trips to the beach or amusement park and maybe game nights. As a veteran of student ministry and student of the culture, this is one of the reasons many teenagers leave church when they graduate. They were never invited into ministry, never given significant tasks within the church and eventually they either desire more or see church as frivolous.
The thing is, the comments I'm hearing now are not from the younger, Millennial generation. These comments are coming from senior adults.
I don't categorize them as gripes, but as honest questions from men and women who have more chapters read in their life stories than I do. Most desire to finish well and do not see empty "ministries" as allowing them to do so.
It's funny, they're not saying they don't want to play games, eat and fellowship together or even take trips together on the big bus somewhere. Their frustration is that these activities alone are called "ministry" and yet, should not be.
In other words, if the church only offers activities for seniors that the local community senior center can, there is a good chance that what is offered is not ministry at all.
It is offensive to me when pastors and leaders who serve senior adults treat these seasoned saints as if they're little more than old versions of preschoolers.
We live in a culture that does not value the aged. This is evident in how many view senior adults. There is a treasure of wisdom available, but many just walk on by and never experience it, destined to repeat the mistakes of previous generations by ignoring wise counsel.
Now, just because a person has lived long on the earth does not mean that person is living holy, redeemed and wise. These attributes are Spirit-given and often choices of the individual. Nevertheless, the church in the United States that rightly seeks to reach Millennials and young people with the Gospel must also discover ways to not push aside those who still have much to offer the Kingdom.
Intergenerational ministry is key. . .and it's not defined by games, meals and bus trips.
It is amazing how much can change in just one week. This is true for things we watch on the national news, but also in our families and the small circle of friends that we all have.
Last week, the Wood family was at Sea World, braving the Florida heat and enjoying beauty of God's creation, not to mention Clyde and Seamore (bring back the pirate theme, please) and Shamu. Within a matter of days, Orlando was in the rearview mirror and Wolfson Children's Hospital in Jacksonville replaced the hotel room.
Jon Wood serves on the Leadership Team at the church I pastor (First Baptist Church of Orange Park.) He leads our young adult small groups as well as leads in other areas. He and his wife, Mandi are faithful members of our church and precious members of our family. They have three children, Brady, Drew and Grace.
A couple of years ago, Drew was diagnosed with a form of leukemia. He began treatment at Wolfson Hospital and though there have been some serious ups and downs, he has been no less than a warrior and has done so well. In fact, he is scheduled for his final chemo treatment soon. Over this time, his health has been monitored, even more than a typical child's would be. There have been overnight stays at the hospital on occasion, but through it all, God has strengthened him and his family.
Drew is like many young boys. He loves to play. He loves his friends and siblings and family. He loves coming to church. As many of you know, he loves super heroes. His favorite for quite some time has been Robin, Batman's sidekick. I asked him why he liked Robin so much and he answered, "Because he has an 'R' in his name and so do I." Seemed logical, though I didn't bring up that Superman, Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and a few more super heroes also have an "R." He was content that this justified Robin being his favorite, so that was good enough for me. The more we talked, it became clear that all these other heroes were liked as well.
Last week, while on vacation with his family, a cough that he has had for quite some time (and had been monitored) was growing worse and his breathing became more labored. It was clear that this was getting serious.
Upon arrival at the hospital, X-rays were done. Drew was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) where he has been for the last week. Each day's X-rays showed a progressive worsening in his lungs, but due to his age, size, medical history and current weakness, great concern was shared regarding intubating him. Therefore, the best treatment at the time was to give medication and observe to see if the common treatments would work.
Unfortunately, the treatments were not making headway and Drew was worsening.
Friends and family members began sharing updates on social media. By the way, social media has its detractors and rightfully so. There is much shared through social media outlets that is far from edifying and God-honoring, but this story has shown how God can redeem all things and through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+, thousands of believers throughout the world have joined together in prayer for Drew. The #PrayForDrew has trended locally and among our faith family. I cannot figure out whose Facebook profile I am seeing, in that many have changed their picture to the same "Pray for Drew" icon.
Monday, July 20 was one of the most difficult days for the family. A decision was to be made that day that would be critical. Drew's health was not getting better and Mandi, Drew's mother posted this on her Facebook page. . .
One of the toughest days of my life. This afternoon I bolted to the hospital for what I believed was my last goodbye to my son.
The decision had to be made by Jon and Mandi on this day regarding next steps. Doctors gathered with them and gave them insight into all scenarios. There were basically four options available:
Do nothing other than what was currently being done and hope Drew's body strengthens on it's own.
Do a bronchoscopy to gather fluid from his lungs to determine if its an infection or virus or some other ailment so that treatment could happen.
Do a lung biopsy at some time later, following the bronchoscopy.
Do both the bronchoscopy and biopsy in one procedure.
These may seem like easy options, but none are without risk. The risk intensifies with each one. Jon shared with us that he felt they were in a "Catch-22."
At this time on Monday, a group of family and friends had already gathered at the hospital. By God's providence, there was a PICU room empty right next to Drew's. The hospital staff allowed friends and family to gather there in this makeshift waiting room. It became clear we had been gathered for one purpose - to pray.
We prayed together, interceding in the name of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, seeking from the Father that which we have been invited to seek. We asked God to give Jon and Mandi wisdom and clarity. We asked that God would direct their decision-making and that which was chosen of the available options (or even if a previously unknown option was available) would be clearly God's will.
The decision was made to proceed with option 4 and surgery was to be done Monday afternoon.
I then met with Jon, along with his brother Jeff, and read him a passage from James 5. I asked him if this would be his and Mandi's desire - to have the pastors, elders (in our case, associate pastors) and even deacons present to pray over Drew and anoint him with oil. To be honest, in Baptist life, the anointing of oil is not something we hear much about, but we affirm the veracity of Scripture and know the symbolism of the anointing and power of God to heal.
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:13-16 (ESV)
Jon and Mandi agreed this was right and asked for the men who had been set aside by the church and ordained to lead out in this way. I was honored to lead this time of prayer and anointing. The oil was not poured over Drew, as is the case in some biblical accounts, but we did anoint him with oil and prayed over him. The men of God, along with family in the room, offered to the Great Physician the one before us. We hallowed God's name, declared his Kingdom to be revealed in each of us, confessed our sin and sought the face of God. We even prayed that most frightful part of the prayer - "Your will be done" knowing that sometimes His will is not fully revealed to us in the moment.
This prayer time was no gimmick.
It was no religious routine.
It was no prewritten, overly scheduled gathering.
It was fresh, vibrant, humbling, and powerful. The Spirit of the Lord, who is present with Christ-followers always, was . . . well, there's no other way for me to describe it. . . very real and experienced at that moment.
Then, We Waited
Dozens of family members and friends waited together in the hospital. Literally thousands more waited for word throughout the world. Seriously - just one posting on our church Facebook page had over 44,000 hits. Believe me, we NEVER get 44,000 hits on a post. These hits were from numerous states, not to mention nations as far away as Canada, Wales, South Africa and Germany, just to name a few.
While we waited, anticipating the doctors to wheel Drew out at any moment, Jon came into the room and shared how humbled he was by the grace and mercy of God. He declared how God was revealing such great truths to him through all of this and offered that Romans 8 was where he kept finding himself.
Jon then went back to Drew's room, joining Mandi who perpetually sat with Drew, talking to him and praying over him, leaving us waiting. Jeff, Jon's brother, began to read Romans 8 and everyone pulled out their Bibles to read along (mostly on cell phones - it's a generational thing.) As Jeff read, the Spirit of God affirmed His presence and the power of His inerrant Word.
When Jeff finished Romans 8:27, I stopped him. I said to the group that the next verse, though very popular was one of the most difficult ones to read. To know that the father of this young boy had been reading and dwelling on this was powerful. I shared that often I will not share this verse to family members in such circumstances. This is not because I feel it to be a bad verse. What Bible verse could be bad? It is just that if this verse is offered apart from the prompting of the Spirit, it can be received wrongly. Timing is vital.
Nevertheless, as Jon and Mandi have been journeying through this, they have been able to go to this verse for comfort and direction. So, we continued on.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (ESV)
God bless the reading and believing of His Word.
We, the friends and extended family members, moved to a larger waiting area. After about an hour, Jon came down to inform us that Drew's surgery had been delayed. This was a surprise in that we were told earlier that it wouldn't be delayed unless something very serious was happening with another child or unforeseen circumstances occurred. In this case, it was apparent that something was happening with another child or with the surgical team. So we waited.
At first, this caused frustration for Jon and others. Then, we focused on the reality. We had asked God to reign supreme throughout this story. He was doing so. Therefore, it is clear that the delay was not man's design, but God's plan.
The delay was then extended to the next day.
Surgery Day - Tuesday
Yesterday, July 21, Drew's surgery happened. Prior to surgery, he recorded this video. Under his breathing mask, and able to just say a few words, he asked for prayer. This little one had told his father that he believed in God, believed in Jesus Christ and asked Him to forgive his sins and save him. This child of God, with child-like faith, believes God loves him and believes prayer is what Christians are supposed to do. His faith may just be stronger than most of us older, seasoned Christians.
Surgery took place Tuesday afternoon. It was long - over three hours. The bronchoscope showed "normal" results and the results of the biopsy are pending.
There was concern over the rigidness of Drew's lung tissue and details regarding that were shared with Drew's parents.
Drew is now in the PICU at Wolfson Children's Hospital. It was shared that he will likely feel sick for a few days due to the surgery. He remains on a ventilator.
The doctors, nurses and technicians at Wolfson continue to work and they are doing a wonderful job. We continue to work as well, praying for Drew's healing. We pray for Drew and for his entire family during this process.
Look What God Has Already Done
Jon shared with me that through all of this, his prime desire is that God use this to bring people to Himself. I was humbled immediately to hear this. Jon's honesty and vulnerability in this is clear and this desire is not religious God-talk or just saying what others expect to hear from a church leader. Jon believes this and seeks to live this out.
May God be glorified.
We know that God has already answered our prayers. To be at this point IS an answer to prayer. To see how denominational and church lines have been dropped and those who claim the name of Jesus Christ have unified in prayer is amazing.
In a culture that causes great distress among Christ-followers, He has shown Himself to be sovereign through this.
The faith of those whose Christianity is little more than attending a service every now and then and maybe praying over meals has been challenged.
Young families who are so busy and seeking to provide multiple opportunities for their children (sports, bands, cheerleading, dance, clubs, etc.) which are all good have been forced to stop and focus upon what is most important. I am seeing parents looking at their own precious children differently. God has reminded and is reminding them of these gifts.
The young church has stepped up. There are surveys and statements throughout the culture about the millennial and Gen-Xers who are abandoning their faith. What we have seen is a resurgence of young believers, centered around the need for community and desiring to do something that matters and realizing that prayer and service to their friends (watching the other kids, mowing their lawn, taking care of their home, providing hotel rooms near the hospital, bringing meals, etc.) are vital and important and needed.
Jon and I texted late last night before I finally told him to get some sleep. Here are some of the words from a father seeking to lead and love well, who is himself being used by God, as well as his wife, for His glory.
Well Done Church
Jon asked a question I hear in hospitals all the time. He asked, "How do people who don't know Christ and don't have a church family get through times like this?" I answered, "They don't. They just fake it."
We don't have to fake it.
God's church has numerous purposes, but primarily we exist to bring Him glory. By loving Him and loving others, we do so. The Great Commission and Great Commandment have been being fulfilled through this journey.
Keep the faith.
Be strong enough to pray "Your will be done" and know that God determines that.
I thought it would be interesting to look back at his predictions and see how many of these items have truly trended (not from a statistical analysis viewpoint, but from a totally unscientific view based on my opinions.
So, here are Will's trends, as he listed them with my 20/20 hindsight:
TREND #1: Expect Increasing Diversity of Opinion on What Good Vision and Strategy Look Like.
Over the past few years, I have attended conferences and viewed webcasts featuring authors, pastors, leadership consultants, denominational and corporate leaders all focused on the same thing - vision and leadership strategy. In each case, the information gathered was helpful, but as Will stated, there are so many diverse opinions and plans, that it is easy to be overwhelmed with the options. Therefore, it seems that the danger many pastors face is hitching their vision and strategy wagon to one idea and then changing gears after the next book or conference has come out. There are many opnions on how to cast vision and develop strategy. This reminds me of the story (maybe true) when D.L. Moody was asked which translation of the Bible was best and he responded "The one you read." In this case, it may be the best vision and leadership strategy implemented in the local church is "the one you use."
TREND #2: Articulating the Biggest Picture will be the Leader’s Greatest Asset Like Never Before.
For years, even under my leadership, church members and staff members have made statements like "We're not even sure who we are or why we do what we do." That can be a hurtful statement if one keeps his feelings on his sleeve. However, beneath this statement was a declaration of frustration that I needed to hear. Unless the church (and especially the leadership team) understands the big picture - the "why" of what we are doing, the ministries, activities, events, community actions, etc. become little more than things that keep the church looking busy and eventually leads to burnout and shallow service.
TREND #3: The Digital World and Social Media will Open New Possibilities for More Churches.
Churches are behind in this area, and always will be. However, that doesn't mean that we must remain disconnected and refuse to utilize the tools available online and through digital media. At one time, cost of equipment and fear of technology kept many churches out of this realm, but with the advent of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites, there are no longer any excuses for churches to not have an online presence.
We now have a Director of Social Media who is responsible to continually keep communicating through social media sites as well as seek new venues to help the church find an online presence.
Just having a presence on social media isn't enough and the technology keeps changing. Who knows what the next five year holds, but the church needs to be prepared to step into this realm, not just to be trendy, but ultimately to fulfill the BIG picture vision (TREND #2) of reaching people.
Our church members and attenders are already engaged online. We now have wifi throughout the church and use the YouVersion Live Bible for notes during services. Our app is available free online, but as with websites, unless there are regular updates and new options, these will not be regularly used.
Online giving used to be a no-no in our church, but once instituted, it has consistently grown as a viable option for giving tithes and offerings and especially for registering for camps, mission trips and events. I believe in the next five years most of our giving will be online.
TREND #4: Visioning and Spiritual Formation as Disciplines will Merge More Visibly.
I have begun to see this develop in our network. There's still quite a bit of the corporate visioning in place, and with value, but the focus has shifted.
TREND #5: Small Will Continue to Be the New Big
It's interesting that within the last ten years or so, at least two churches in our county sought to reach more in the community by using a 1980s "Field of Dreams" strategy where "If we build it, they will come" became the apparent theme. As of this writing, each of these churches faced dramatic downward spirals in giving and attendance (due to various reasons beyond just entering a building program) and ended up with newer, bigger buildings, mounting debt and ultimately merging or partnering with other churches just to survive.
While this isn't always the case, (Celebration Church Jax) new, bigger buildings don't seem to impress people as they apparently did decades ago.
At the same time, we have seen a dramatic increase in our network of church planters and new starts. Some of these new churches are meeting in homes, in schools, workplaces and even in other church's buildings. Some would be described as "ethnic churches" (which, I believe we will eventually see the end of the racially divided church designator soon) but most are multi-ethnic, designed to glorify God by connecting with the unchurched.
Through multiple, smaller plants, we are seeing more engagement in the community and local churches (at least, that's my perspective.)
Within the church, we are seeing a growing increase in small groups that meet off campus, in homes or restaurants. Rather than begging people to come to the church, we are seeing a greater trend of the church going to the people.
Overall, I'd say that Will Mancini is right. These trends continue to impact the church in our culture. May the church continue to be as the men of Issachar (1 Chronicles 12:32) and know the times and impact the culture for Christ.
Not too long ago, I wrote a post about the danger of buidling silos in ministry within the church. It garnered a number of hits and created some talking points among other ministers, ministry leaders throughout the world and members of the local church.
As a local church, we now find ourselves at a place of decision regarding ministry roles and purposes.
Over the past few weeks, I have had some one-on-one meetings with ministry leaders and church members regarding the future of the church in our community and culture. We have had numerous pastoral/ministry leader meetings where vision-casting tempered with cautious optimism about next steps reigned. Most recently, I had the privilege of sharing with our Deacons and then our Children's Ministry Leaders about the future of ministry and programming.
A few weeks ago, our Associate Pastor of Discipleship & Students preached in my stead a message that reaffirmed the role of parents as being the spiritual heroes in the lives of their children.
GOOD IS THE ENEMY OF BEST
Like most evangelical churches in the west, we have grown and developed ministries based on the very same metrics every other church has used over the past forty years or so. It's not that those metrics were wrong, but over the long haul, the good ministries established have become what every long-standing ministry becomes when the bigger picture is blurred or never clearly defined - ministry silos.
In other words, we have built some incredibly good ministries over the years (i.e. children's, student, collegiate, single adults, married adults, women, men, senior adults, etc.) but the "goodness" of these programmed ministries have led to an inability to experience and offer the "best."
We are a culture that outsources everything. I do. If there's a plumbing issue in my home and the 2 minute YouTube video cannot help me fix it, I have to outsource the work to a professional. When we had carpet installed in our home years ago, I outsourced the installation to a professional. When I need work done on my car, I have to call a professional. There are skills I have and am comfortable with, but in many cases, I must find an expert to help.
The problem in the Christian family and in the church is that we have borrowed this "outsourcing" from our culture and implemented in the church. Therefore, when our children have spiritual questions, most parents feel ill-equipped to respond and answer and must call the "expert" which in many cases is a deacon, minister, pastor, small group leader, etc.
While it is a good thing to gain wisdom from others who have journeyed a similar path, the truth is that parents cannot outsource the discipling process to others for their children and be obedient and effective.
We must live out the truths of Scripture.
You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:7 (ESV)
This is a command to parents and to God's people. Ultimately, it is our responsibility to lead our families in faith. The church then is to come alongside the parents and the families and give encouragement, offer helps, pray for and give moms and dads clear handles of leadership. In those cases where parents are not believers, or there are no parents in the story, the church stands in the gap. It's an incredible model. In fact, it's best.
Our Associate Pastor of Discipleship, Dave Paxton, will be spearheading our strategy shift to this biblical model of family discipleship. He will be overseeing the full model and implementation with ministry leaders and families.
While there is nothing new under the sun, sometimes we need to be reminded of the basics. In that moment, it seems that the old is new again.
Over the years our church, like many, has offered numerous studies and resources for families and for personal growth. However, it seems that never have we connected all the strategies as they should be for an overarching movement and ministry. It has been like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without being able to see the cover of the box. In other words, all the "good" ministries and resources were just that, but not best because the end was never clarified.
If the goal of the church is to make disciples and develop fully devoted followers of Christ, which it is, we must realize that everything we do must be evaluated and judged by this criteria.
A sister church in Texas has been developing a strategy for years and under the theme "Legacy Milestones" has been fruitful in connecting these dots. We have communicated with them about their strategy and have been given permission to use what they have developed as needed.
The truth of the matter is that what works in the south Texas culture will be different than what will work in the northeast Florida culture, so understand clearly. . .our framework is still being built.
Once the framework is built, we will then be free to staff positions as needed in these areas of ministry to lead families forward and to ensure that all within the church are engaged in the process.
Some of the milestones that must move from being just "age-graded celebrations" to full-church body events and celebratory moments are:
Parent/Child Dedication (more than just a photo op with the babies and a gift of a certificate and a keepsake Bible that will never be read.)
Salvation & Baptism
Preparing for Adolescence (a strategy for pre-teens as well as their parents)
Pathway to Purity (leading students to live biblically pure before & after marriage)
Rites of Passage (an biblical event for those stepping into manhood and womanhood, rather than a culturally-defined passageway such as getting a driver's license, getting to vote, or being legal to buy liquor)
High School Graduation (more than just a photo op with students wearing the caps and gowns and receiving a gift book they'll never read.)
Disciple's Life (the lifelong journey of faith as defined by Scripture and enforced through our Grow, Serve and Engage groups)
At these key times in a person's life, moms and dads speak Truth into their lives clearly. Effective and proper handles, or next steps, are provided for families and the church as a whole walk through the journey as well.
WHAT ABOUT SINGLE ADULTS, SENIOR ADULTS AND OTHERS?
This is not a ministry strategy for a specific ministry, but is holistic discipleship where every person is led to understand their role in the story. Parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, friends, mentors, grandparents, etc. all play vital roles.
It is the responsibility of the church to give the handles, walk the path, keep the focus on the Gospel and Christ and make disciples.
That means. . .everything that's "good" must be put on the table. Change will happen. It will be worth it, eventually.
WHAT IF NOTHING CHANGES?
More to come regarding how this will work at our church. In the meantime, consider your church, your ministry, your area of service. Are you settling for "good?"
In other words, if your church does everything exactly how you're doing it today and never adjusts, what will you look like in five years? Ten years?
The Gospel is never-changing.
The Truth is never-changing.
The strategies are always changing.
Live like a missionary. Study your culture. Don't compromise your faith. Don't compromise the Gospel. Go. Make disciples.
Last night we hosted our small group in our home. Our group is growing - over 20 in attendance. This is a group primarily made up of millenials (college students and young adults between ages 18-29.)
We meet together on Sunday evenings and have some snacks. Then, we dig into the study of the evening, told in "storying" format.
Last night the teaching was titled "Jesus and the Ten Sick Guys." It was based on the Luke 17 account of Jesus healing the ten lepers near the village between Samaria and Galilee.
As we discussed the story and went through our Q & A time, it became clear that there were many teachings and truths in this short passage of Scripture. Here are some of the good things and things that raised questions in this passage for our group:
God is healer
God has power over incurable disease.
Jesus always finds the teachable moment.
Faith brings hope.
Faith brings healing.
Jesus observed and fuflfilled the Old Testament law.
Bummer that nine out of the ten didn't come back to thank Jesus.
Were the nine who didn't come back to Jesus being obedient? Jesus did say, "Go to the priest," and they did.
Was the one who came back being disobedient because he didn't make it to the priest?
Jesus affirmed the one healed man's faithfulness.
Jesus pointed out that the one who came back was a Samaritan (a "foreigner.")
A five minute lesson lasted an hour and a half as discussion and more questions developed. Amazing how just a small passage can elicit so much discussion. And, as you can see, this group isn't afraid of questions.
It was good.
Then, I posed this question, "Was the point of this story to squelch the racism of the Jewish followers around Jesus?" It was agreed that this was a point, even if not the main point. It was, in fact, one of many, but definitely one of the major reasons for the healing of the Samaritan.
Our group last night was a mix of culture and races. So, I asked this question, "What about church? Is there still a sense of discomfort or racism within the church in the west?"
For the millenial generation, this is a BIG DEAL and the discussion was healthy and powerful.
These young adults spoke up, gave their opinions and agreed that we have come far, but have far to go as the American church. What I found exciting was that their opinions on this issue were biblically-based and not just culturally-defined.
THE COLOR-BLIND GENERATION
This generation, which may be as "color-blind" as any in our American history, truthfully shared their realities.
A BI-RACIAL MAN
A bi-racial man shared how when first invited to our church as a teenager, he was hesitant. He wanted to know if there were any people in our church like him? I asked "What do you mean 'like you?'" He clearly expressed that he was referring to race. He said, "I didn't want to be the only black man in the room." He explained that he was seeking to come, but not be stared at or looked down upon because of his biracial culture. (BTW - He's one of our worship leaders now.)
A HISPANIC WOMAN
A Hispanic girl shared how some friends of hers just cannot understand why she would attend a "white" church. She eloquently explained that to her the church wasn't "white" but was solidly teaching the Word of God and serving Him well.
A HISPANIC MAN
A Hispanic man shared how he is proud of his heritage and though English is not his heart language, it is what he speaks most often now and since he went to public school in our community ever since he was six years old, he has been "Americanized" (his term) and feels most comfortable in English-speaking churches.
AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMAN
An African-American woman in our group then spoke up. She began with this phrase, "I don't want to offend anyone. . ." to which we said collectively "Go for it. Speak the truth."
She explained how she was first invited by her friend to come to our church and the fear that welled up inside her. She wanted to attend, but was afraid that she would be ostracized, stared at, looked down upon, etc. because this was a "white" church and she is black. Her candor was refreshing and opened up dialogue within our group about this very real issue.
The Jesus story of healing a Samaritan was used by God to lead this group of young adults to speak truthfully and authentically about the issues that are often ignored.
WHAT WE DISCOVERED TOGETHER
Here are some points that were agreed upon (in no particular order):
No one can say to another "I know how you feel" unless you've walked in their shoes. In other words, a white man cannot say to a black man "I know what you're going through regarding race and acceptance." It's offensive to pretend to fully understand.
The church has been called the last great segregated entity in America. It's a stereotype that unfortunately is built upon truth of the past.
Our "white" church isn't as white as some think, yet it is predominantly so and the perception of many in the community is that we're a "white" church. That has to change. There really shouldn't be "black" church, "white" church, "brown" church, "red" church, "yellow" church, etc. There's just CHURCH. It seems that God addressed this on the Day of Pentecost. (No one was debating the veracity and beauty of different cultures and worship styles, so don't hear what we're not saying.)
Fear is perhaps one of the greatest tools of the Enemy. However, love always defeats fear. Jesus showed love to the Samaritan and expected his Jewish followers to do so as well. In our day, Christ-followerrs are to do the same (and the "Samaritan" to us is anyone not like us.)
Millenials value authenticity. Regardless of skin tone, heart language or cultural identity (which are all good things) just "be real."
As the old pastors used to say "The ground at the foot of the cross is level." We're all sinners in need of rescue, regardless of race or cultural background.
Heaven is not segregated, therefore the church cannot be.
Loving people is not easy. We're not called to the easy.
We have come far as the church, but we have far to go.
Oh, and as discussion continued, it became clear that skin tone and cultural heritage weren't the only elements that lead people to fear coming to church. It seems that many fear being ignored or worse yet - looked down upon. Sometimes these fears are based on other factors than race, like economic status, chuirch heritage, personal reputation, etc.
The enemy has used the weapon of fear often. Therefore, we must fight bravely and strategically.
As we closed out our study and prepared to finish off the rest of the snacks, I asked "So, what made you come back and stay?"
The answers were reassuring and hopeful.
"I realized you accepted me."
"I felt comfortable."
And at that point, it seems that we discovered how "Jesus and the Ten Sick Guys" was a story for our day, not just a good history lesson from the Bible.
Oh, and apparently the oneness of the church was experienced last night because they all stayed for quite some time, just talking, laughing and sharing stories with old and new friends. . .and the smaller groups weren't segregated!
Our leadership team at church is strategically preparing an overarching strategy for family discipleship. This is an exciting, yet troublesome journey as God is revealing areas in ministry where we have unintentionally built "silos" of ministry, believing the model to be best only to wonder where the disciples are.
Families are the primary disciple-makers and the church fellowship is to come alongside parents and children to encourage and sustain the walk.
One such area of familial discipleship that I feel strongly about, though admittedly have failed to fulfill due to circumstances beyond my control, is that of walking one's son into adulthood. The rite of passage is a missing piece in our culture and therefore, we often end up with children wearing adult bodies with empty looks of wonder and confusion in their eyes.
We Have Failed
Not everyone, but by and large, as a culture and even as the church, we have failed in this process.
The strategy God is leading us to develop is multi-faceted and powerful and will be revealed church-wide later this fall. However, one element of the strategy is the "rite of passage."
As my son was growing through adolescence, I dreamed of having a celebration such as the one described below and had even put into motion the plans for such. However, through certain circumstances and situations in our journey, God led me to shelve the event.
Nevertheless, I am adament on leading fathers and young men out of the fog and into a story that is large, powerful, life-changing and Kingdom-impacting. A life-long journey of discipling leads to a moment such as this:
A pastor at a sister church had a son who was entering his last year of high school. When the boy was age 17 or so, this father had met with some men who knew his son and had played significant roles in his life. His youth pastor. A coach. A mentor. An older friend. A grandfather. Uncle.
The meeting with this pastor and these men was designed to prepare them to share in a moment of significance with the boy. He gave them instructions on where to meet. They were told to stand, hidden behind trees until they heard him call to them. They received their instruction and were prepared as the day arrived.
On the day in question, this father and his son traveled to a piece of property outside the city where the father had already set up a fire pit and a couple of chairs. This was a familiar place to the boy as they had spent many days here in the past as a family.
The fire pit and seats were in an area accesible via a pathway through a wooded area.
The father and son walked the pathway, talking and sharing thoughts along the way.
Once they made it to the fire pit, they sat down and the dad began to share with his son how proud he was of him and what it meant to be a man, an authentic, biblical man of God. These were not new revelations, for the father had been pouring into his son for years truths regarding God and identity.
There is something very powerful to hear your father speak words of truth and love to you, especially as a boy.
At the appropriate moment, when the father had shared that God had brought many men along the way to journey alongside them and to help the son understand the reality of God's love and His plan for him, the father said, "Okay, gentlemen, you can come out."
At that moment, the men stepped out of the woods, into the clearing and moved toward the boy.
With tears flowing down his eyes, the young man was beginning to understand the power of the blessing.
These men who had loved him as a young man, mentored him, poured into his life and stood alongside his father to help lead him into manhood, spoke into his life at that moment. They shared encouraging, challenging and truthful words to him.
They prayed over him.
Then, they left the father and son to continue their discussion.
There's more to the story and it grows in power.
The father blessed his son that day and welcomed him into adulthood.
A Rite of Passage
That, my friends, is a rite of passage.
It sure makes getting a driver's license or a voting card pale in comparison.
This is just one example. There are many other elements to be put in place for families, parents, grandparents, children and young people.
Can you imagine when events such as have been described above are more than just things some do, but are actually part of the fabric of the local church?
Ministries that are so segmented they can stand alone, with no input and connection with other ministries within the church lead to broken models, tired volunteers and busy members, but not disciples.
That's why it is true that "greater things have yet to come" as we follow God's lead into this strategy.
Small groups (i.e. Life Groups, Sunday School, Home Groups, etc.) are foundational for potential community development and growth for the church. Yet, in most churches, growth has stalled or negative growth (also known as death) is happening.
What's the problem?
Is it the curriculum?Well, the Bible is the curriculum, or at least should be, and it's proven to be pretty effective over the centuries.
Is it the teaching? Could be. Unless the leader is continually learning and striving to grow deeper himself/herself, the group can stall.
Is the group welcoming? That depends. Often the familiarity of our groups makes it feel welcoming to regular attenders, but, to be honest, most of us have forgotten what it is like to be the newcomer.
There are dozens of factors and reasons as to why a small group isn't growing and reaching new people. However, here's today's challenge. Perhaps one reason is because we (the group members, the church) have stopped inviting others.
Not everyone will respond positively, but sometimes our fear of rejection keeps us from even asking.
Check out this recent data from LifeWay Research:
Maybe, just maybe, we need to be asking and inviting (for real, not in a blanket social media announcement.)