What Do You Do With Mother's Day?

It seems like a strange question.

I'm part of a generation of American Christians who "grew up in church." That means that our family never debated whether to attend church on Sunday morning. I did not know that not attending was even an option. At least it wasn't in our home. I had the requisite "Sunday clothes and shoes" set aside for each weekend. Sunday School started at "Baptist Standard Time" of 9:45am and morning worship was 11:00am. Lunch was often roast, potatoes and carrots at home, that had been cooking all morning in the slow cooker. There was a season when Wendy's opened in our town that Sunday lunch shifted from the home to Dave Thomas' restaurant. We were creatures of habit.

On Sunday evening, we went back to church for "Training Union/Church Training/Discipleship Training" (the name of this smaller version of Sunday School changed throughout the years) and then evening worship. After church, we would often go to a local restaurant for ice cream. I seem to remember getting a "Jim Dandy" at Friendly's often.

Wednesdays were typical as well with mission groups (G.A.s and R.A.s) and prayer meeting for adults.

Every week was the same. 

Until it was a holiday week. Oh, services were never cancelled. We would meet, but there were special events taking place depending on the Sunday.

I remember having special Easter programs (even egg hunts. . .which causes some of you to shudder, I know,) Christmas programs, even patriotic events near the Fourth of July. However, it was Mother's Day that always had a special emphasis, regardless of the church we attended at the time (Dad was in the Air Force, so we were members of various, very similar churches in different states throughout my childhood.)

I remember people wearing flowers on Mother's Day. Men would most often be in suits and would have flowers on their lapels. Women would wear corsages. These flowers were color-coded based on the individual's mother. If the mother was still living, the flower was red or pink. If the mother was deceased, the flower was white.

Some still observe this on Mother's Day.

The Most Awkward Mother's Day Tradition in Church

We always had a special Mother's Day recognition. As a kid, I thought it was interesting. It seemed like a game. There would be winners and they would receive a prize. It began with identifying the youngest mom in the room. The pastor would inevitably say something like "If you're 30 years old or under and a mom, please stand." Then, he would begin to go down until there was just one standing. The awkwardness became real when the teen mom who was just trying to get through school without drawing too much attention to herself was standing alone in a crowd. 

Then, there was the identification of the mother with the most children. This prize would go to the church's version of Mrs. Duggar, though I don't remember ever having a mom in the congregation with 19 kids. 

There were others awards given, but the highlight was the oldest mother. I remember there was always a lady in the church that probably went to high school with Moses. She would win this one every year. If there were ever any other contenders, it always seemed that Grandma Moses would get upset. She really wanted the prize. What's funny is that regardless the church we were attending, there was always a "Grandma Moses" type matriarch in the congregation. I was always hoping she would win.

Over the years, these types of recognitions have gone by the wayside, for good reason.

Some churches have even stopped doing anything special for Mother's Day at all.

I must confess, I struggle with what to do with Mother's Day on Sunday morning. 

In the past, we have had recognitions, parent-child dedications, "Muffins for Moms," special gifts for all mothers, and a host of other activities and events.

This year, we mentioned the day, but did no special emphases.

I'm not sure either extreme is good. In fact, I'm confident neither extreme is appropriate.

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The Challenge of Mother's Day Recognitions

To emphasize Mother's Day too much leads to concern that worship of God has been ignored. 

To ignore the mothers in the room leads to hurt feelings and presents something that is far from truth -  that the church is uncaring and does not value the God-given role of the mother in the family unit.

In recent years, there have been numerous articles and postings written about how painful Mother's Day is for a significant population in our churches - women who are unable to bear children and have no adopted children in the home. 

Dr. Russell Moore has written about this in an article that is reposted every year or so at this time:

Mother’s Day is a particularly sensitive time in many congregations, and pastors and church leaders often don’t even know it. This is true even in congregations that don’t focus the entire service around the event as if it were a feast day on the church’s liturgical calendar. Infertile women, and often their husbands, are still often grieving in the shadows. (Click here for Dr. Moore's full post.)

While some dogmatically proclaim that Mother's Day and other man-made holidays or "Hallmark Card holidays" as I've heard them called, should be ignored by the church, I do not agree. There were numerous posts on social media this year about the Mother's Day creator's desire to end the holiday due to commercialization.  This was a news nugget from the last century recycled due to the wonder of social media. I believe the postings were subtle ways to proclaim that the day should not be observed in church, or at all. Nonetheless, that is not my belief.

In all candor, I am not pleased with how I have led our church to celebrate moms on this day while honoring God alone, so I continue to seek God's lead. 

God Alone Is To Worshipped

We are committed to never allow anything or anyone take the place of God in our focus of worship. That is non-negotiable. Yet, there are ways to acknowledge God's goodness and grace in the lives of women within the church who wear the title "Mom."

And. . .there is a way to have recognition without hurting those who have struggled with having children, or may have been through a very difficult storm of life regarding their children.

I am impressed with Amy Young's thoughts on this subject:

A few years ago I sat across from a woman who told me she doesn’t go to church on Mother’s Day because it is too hurtful.  I’m not a mother, but I had never seen the day as hurtful. She had been married, had numerous miscarriages, divorced and was beyond child bearing years. It was like salt in mostly healed wounds to go to church on that day. This made me sad, but I understood.

Fast forward several years to Mother’s Day.  A pastor asked all mothers to stand. On my immediate right, my mother stood and on my immediate left, a dear friend stood. I, a woman in her late 30s, sat. I don’t know how others saw me, but I felt dehumanized, gutted as a woman. Real women stood, empty shells sat. I do not normally feel this way. I do not like feeling this way. I want no woman to ever feel this way in church again.

Amy goes on to share ideas of how to celebrate the "wide spectrum of mothering" on this day within the church fellowship:

  • To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you
  • To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you
  • To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you
  • To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you
  • To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.
  • To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you
  • To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you
  • To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children – we sit with you
  • To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you
  • To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience
  • To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst
  • To those who have aborted children – we remember them and you on this day
  • To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children – we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be
  • To those who step-parent – we walk with you on these complex paths
  • To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren -yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you
  • To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you
  • To those who placed children up for adoption — we commend you for your selflessness and remember how you hold that child in your heart
  • And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you
  • This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you (You can read Amy's full blog post here.)

Pastors - What Do You Think?

Pastors, what are your thoughts? How do you celebrate or not celebrate Mother's Day. What are your reasonings? Comments below appreciated.
 

Ladies - What Do You Think?

Friends (who are not pastors) what are your thoughts? I'd especially love to hear from some moms and from women who are not moms. Your perspectives carry much weight.
 
BTW - we will not be having the youngest, oldest, most fertile moms stand up to receive awards. That's way too awkward. Not going back there.

Guest Blogger Ashley Tarkington: "My Journey From PK to Child of God"

Growing up in a pastor's home is not easy. Oh it can be a tremendous blessing, but there are also the pressures that those who do not live in this "fishbowl" just don't understand. My daughter, Ashley, is graduating from the University of North Florida this spring. She has been a pastor's kid (PK) her entire life. She's known no other story. While many PKs find themselves pushing strongly against the values and biblical worldview that is taught in the home and echoed in the church, and thereby creating the bad stereotype that is joked about often within church circles. However, there are many more PKs who discover a faith that is their own, not just a carbon copy of their parents. That faith is right and true and Gospel-centered and leads them onto journeys that rightfully bring glory to God.

This summer, Ashley plans to serve internationally as a summer missionary. As always, God has the right to change those plans, but her prayers and opened doors seem to leading down this path. In preparation for this summer, she must be able to clearly articulate her story of faith (i.e. her personal testimony.) She has been journaling for years and today at lunch, she shared the following with me. So, here's Ashley, my "Guest Blogger" speaking truth as a Pastor's Kid, but more importantly as a Child of God. . .

In 2000, a movie was released based on the popular book series, Left Behind. Now, it wasn't a great movie, but there was a message at it's core that had me asking questions. I was only six years old and up to that point (and even up to today) I had been in church all my life. At the time, my dad was the youth pastor at our church. You could say that I had never missed a Sunday or Wednesday service. As a child, my life revolved around church. Not only did I attend all the children's activities and events, I was also "cool" enough (at least that's what I still believe) to go to many youth events.

Staff - atarkAt the time of this film release, I was six years old. I was in first grade. I knew right from wrong. I knew that every Sunday I would sit in the front pew with my dad, while mom sang in the choir. Dad would stand down front at the close of each service with our pastor waiting for people in the congregation to come forward for prayer or to make a spiritual decision public in their lives. At this time, to me at least, it seemed like people were coming down front following the worship services to make a decision every week. It always seemed like there were baptisms happening as well.

Now, as much as my six-year-old self could understand, this was a great thing. People were being saved! Then, I thought to myself, "Am I saved?" 

I knew who Jesus was. I knew most of the major stories in the Bible. I knew Jesus going to come back one day. The Left Behind film was shown at our church when it was released and the building was packed. The story showed how horrible scenario was for those who were not saved. To me, so many in my church were making decisions for Christ and the thought came to my mind, "What if what happened in the movie happened now? I would be left behind. I'm only six-years-old, my mom pretty much did everything for me. I can't be by myself."

It was a moment of panic for me.

One Wednesday evening after church, I was riding home with my dad in the backseat of our Honda. I was asking questions. I didn't want to be left behind. The movie was just that. . .a movie, but my dad shared more about God and his promises. I prayed to God and received Jesus into my life as Savior. I was so excited. A few weeks later, I was baptized, and the cool part was that my dad baptized me. It was a great day! I even told my teacher at school about what happened.

But, life just kept going. I still attended every church thing that was offered. I grew in knowledge and as a Christian and did all the "churchy" stuff. As the years went by, some things changed in our lives. Right before I entered high school, my dad became the Lead Pastor at our church. Our previous Senior Pastor retired. I always said that dad was now the "big man." It was cool, I guess, but there weren't as many fun trips with him anymore. 

I went to the youth group, but it wasn't the same as when my dad was the youth pastor. High school was. . .well, high school. It didn't change me. I knew who I was and I was not ashamed of it, but I was pretty quiet most of the time. I behaved like I was expected to, how a PK should. I never pretended to know it all. Lord knows I never did. . .or will, but people would act like I did, or should. That was probably one of the most frustrating things.

I thought youth group was supposed to be more than it was. I wanted to be more involved and be a leader so I could make an impact. My life was pretty busy, though. I played basketball at school and during the season we had a lot of mid-week games, so it was impossible to make the leadership meetings.

I felt like I had nothing to offer. I was not blessed with the ability to sing or play an instrument. I wasn't super-outgoing and bubbly, so I wasn't sure how to engage with new people. I wasn't sure how to relate to people. In some ways, I felt that people were intimidated by me because of who my dad was. I hated going to youth group at times. I felt as if I didn't really belong, but no one could tell. I was good at putting on masks.

This was high school and at this point you're supposed to figure out where you belong and somewhat about who you are, right?

Then, my senior year began (2010-2011.) It was finally here! I was so excited. This was the year that I was going to become somebody and excel in the sport I loved. I was so ready for basketball season to begin. I had the potential to play in college. There were three schools looking at me at this point. Then, during our first game of our season, I suffered an injury - an ACL tear. I was  so angry and upset. 

Why me?

Wasn't I showing Christ to my teammates?

Did I not use my ability to play basketball to impact people for Christ?

My basketball career was over. I didn't know what to do.

This was the first time I cried out to God. I knew He had it all under control and that he had plans for me (Jeremiah 29:11), but I had to get to the point I truly believed that. I had to be able to see my complete identity in Christ. 2011 was the year that I felt I really became close with Christ. Our relationship went to an entirely new level for me. I knew I didn't want to just settle and live comfortably. I wanted to live for Him. I wanted, and still do, want people to see Christ in me way before they even see me.

Now I know this is pretty long and I've been told that testimonies, if you call this that, should only take two minutes to share, but this was just the beginning of my story. It's still being written. God is always working in my life, giving me desires and passions for Him and His glory that I never thought possible.

I find my identity in Christ. In some ways, I always have. I had to figure out how to bring Christ everywhere I went, to live for and become more confident in Him. 

It does not matter that I have not been given a talent as a singer or artist. God can, and does use me the way I am, exactly how He created me. 

I'm not as quiet anymore (I know some of my friends and family would laugh in agreement with that statement.) It's funny - when you get excited about Christ and what He does for you, you just can't really shut up about Him.

So, here's my two minute "testimony":

I was lost. I asked questions. I didn't want to be left behind. Christ died for me. He forgave me. I live for Him. I can't just keep that to myself.

I mess up. I sin. Yet, He still loves me and his grace is overwhelming.

I am saved. 

Now, I'm ready to go into all the world.

To tell others.

Everyday I try to live for Him and become more like Him.

As I said before, my story isn't over. Christ has put a passion within me that I am ready to act upon. Im ready to be sent. That could be across the street or across the world. I want to make an impact for His kingdom. I want to pour into teenagers and college students the truth of the Gospel. I want to be a part of the "big picture" - to live missionally and worship Him daily. To encourage, engage and serve.

I want to go.


Providing Parents the Tools Needed In This Ever-Changing Culture

Years ago, as I met with a new student pastor who was struggling to grow a healthy ministry, I shared something that took me a few years to figure out. It wasn't that others hadn't already been doing this. It was more that I was young and thought a strong student ministry was determined by how many students arrived at mid-week worship and events. 

A wise student ministry professor had told me years prior (and I guess I didn't listen too well, at first) that a healthy student ministry is built upon a strong ministry with parents of students.

This frightens many new, young, student pastors. In many cases, these pastors do not have children and since many are young themselves, they are closer in age to the students in their ministry than to the parents of their students. Therefore, a sense of fear and lack of expertise often leaves parents feeling as if they're on the outside.

Consequently, many student ministries end up being built on the personality of the leader and parents are unintentionally led to "outsource" disciple-making to pastors, small group leaders and others in the church.

As First Orange Park, the church I am honored to pastor, enters into 2015 soon, we are excited about the changes on the horizon and the steps to be taken that will result in what we believe will be a healthy church with healthy families and all (preschoolers, children, students, young adults, married adults, single adults and senior adults) actively serving in a framework that honors God and provides natural growth and opportunities for parents to be the primary disciple-makers in their homes.

THE NEED FOR PARENT MINISTRY

Ministering with parents of children and teenagers is essential. As many of our senior adults can attest, there is no manual for culture changes and parenting helps presented when a baby is born. Biblical principles are present, and vital, but often the church has been ineffective in giving moms and dads (and grandparents, foster parents, uncles, aunts, etc.) handles to hold as they embark and live out the journey of parenting.

As one aspect of our new family emphasis, we (our ministry leaders) are making available to parents of preschoolers, children (K - Grade 6) and students (Grades 7-12*) resources that are practical, helpful and needed through ParentMinistry.net.

The ROPE - Rites of Passage Experiences are vital in the life of a child. 

So, whether you have a child or grandchild or a young person in your family in need of these helps, we are proud to be your encouragers along the way.

We're putting the "Magic Button" on our website soon, but in the meantime, click here or the image below to view resources that can get you started.

The "Magic Button" leads to information for parents of teenagers. Other resources will become available soon.

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Our strategic framework for family discipleship will lead all areas of ministry within First Baptist to change over the next few years. This is a needed step and we believe God is leading clearly in this direction to be biblically sound in our discipling strategy. BTW - the resources are just the beginning. More info to come.

*6th Grade is actually in the "Youth" section of ParentMinistry.net, though at First, as in our community's schools, 6th Grade is in our Children's Ministry.


THE SIN OF OUTSOURCING: How "Good" Ministries Are Robbing the Church

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."

OUTSOURCED DISCIPLING

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. 

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CELEBRATING MILESTONES

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.


Depression is Real. . .Even for Christians

Since Robin Williams' death, depression has become a headline story in our nation. 

118HRecognizing the difference in depression and "burnout" is important. Dr. Gary Lovejoy has recently co-authored a book and study for churches titled Light in the Darkness: Finding Hope in the Shadow of Depression. The material will be available in November of this year.

While at the Southern Baptist Convention this summer, I picked up a small book by Lovejoy based on the larger study, titled A Pastor's Guide for the Shadow of Depression. In it, he states the following:

The following is a list of common symptoms typical of depression that can help you identify which and how many you are experiencing:

    • Feelings of sadness and emptiness
    • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
    • Loss of intereest or pleasure in life activities
    • Loss of energy or constant fatigue
    • Insomnia (difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep)
    • Feelings of intense anxiety
    • Changes in appetite and weight
    • Excessive or misplaced guilt
    • Feelings of worthlessness
    • Physical symptoms such as bodily aches and pains
    • Sometimes increased agitation, including outbursts of anger and irritability
    • Difficulties thinking and concentrating
    • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

It's important to know that you don't need to have all of the described symptoms at once to be diagnosed as depressed. All you need is four or more of them to confirm the diagnosis. While some symptoms are more common than others, you should carefully reveiew each one before determining whether you are suffering from depression. For evidence of the level of this depression, you can take the Hamilton Survey for Physical and Emotional Wellness available at www.depressionoutreach.com.

You should be cautious regarding self-diagnosis. If you fear you may be sliding, get help.

Also, for pastors, I encourage you to watch Tommy Nelson share of his journey through depression here.

 


Rites of Passage & The Church's Role

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.

Blackdadandteenageson1One 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.


Senior Adults & Change in the Church

As I talk with pastors from around the country, there is a growing urgency to move the church toward living missionally. A common theme is the need to update some internal church practices, without watering down the Gospel, in order to better reach and impact the community for the sake of the Gospel.

This means CHANGE.

The old joke that "no one in the church likes change except for the babies in the nursery" is more true than we want to admit.

Often I will hear from some pastors who tell me they feel resistance from the senior adults in their fellowship. This either leads to continuing on with "status quo" or creating an unnecessary battle within the church. Still, the inevitable is true - change is happening.

IN DEFENSE OF SENIOR ADULTS

As a pastor of a "First Baptist Church" who often hears statements like "You're not a typical First Baptist Church" as compliments, I acknowledge we have made some significant changes in strategy and systems over the years. While I have more mistakes in my bio than victories regarding these transitional moves, I have learned some things over the past couple of decades. 

One thing that remains clear, our senior adults can handle change and will embrace it, as long as it is right and not superficial.

COMMUNICATION IS KEY

I wish I had learned this earlier (and was better at it now.) I have discovered that many of the stereotypical senior adults who are categorized as not wanting change will actually champion it, if they understand the "why." 

Bible and hands 1Change for the sake of change is wrong. It may look good, but leads to no strategic end and becomes little more than a waste of resources and influence. 

I have found that for senior saints who long for their children and grandchildren to be active in a local church and more importantly know Christ, they are willing to see needed changes occur. The urgency of seeing lost loved ones, friends, neighbors and others come to Christ melts away most aversion to changes within the church. . .as long as the goal is clearly communicated.

This does not mean that our seniors really enjoy newer music, schedule shifts or other things that are not how they have always been, but those with a heart for missional living are often willing to sacrifice so that more may join the family of God.

Clarity of communication is not relegated just to the senior generation. The age group most resistant to change, in my experience, are those between ages 35 and 50. Perhaps this is due to a strong nostalgia of youth groups and choir tours from the 1980s and 1990s? Maybe it's a desire to remain in their small (or not so small) groups with others who have the same age children or are in the same life stage? It could be the growth of therapeutic deism that many western churches unwillingly propagate. This leads to a self-centric church experience that feels more like a support group and counseling than a faith community. There are many possibilities, but as for seniors, they typically handle change better. . .as long as they know why.

SENIORS CAN HANDLE CHANGE

Again, change may not be desired, but our senior saints can handle it, better than most. Why? I believe it is due to the fact this generation has experienced more change in their lifetimes than perhaps any generation prior.

Many of our seniors have memories of global wars (WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq, etc.), the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution and the advent of "the pill," the space race, Neil Armstrong, the energy crisis, the Red Sox finally winning, the introduction of the personal computer, cell phones, smart phones, email, social media, etc.

The world is changing at break-neck speed, and this generation has experienced it all.

In other words - they can handle change.

SOME RESIST, BUT IT'S NOT DUE TO AGE

There is always resistance to change within the church. Every pastor has a Sanballat and Tobiah in the fellowship. I have met with seniors who are resistant to just about everything I propose. However, I have also met with twenty year olds who exhibit the same deference.

As a pastor, I must ensure that whatever change I may be leading the church into is not just my good idea, but a prayed through God idea.

When that is affirmed, resistance will always arise. 

Pastors - be careful to not categorize and stereotype every senior adult in your church as a bitter hearted curmudgeon. In truth, those are actually a minority in the family of God. They may be the loudest, but they are the fewest. 

INTERGENERATIONAL MINISTRY IS VITAL

In the American church, we have successfully built ministry silos over the years. These silos of age-graded ministries have effectively divided the family and created less than what God intended in His church. While churches build buildlings for children, students, senior adults and others, in order to sequester people by age, we have often missed the joy and strength of inter-generational ministry.

This is especially obvious in our suburban, McMansion worlds where extended families tend not to live near each other.

There is value when seniors in the church begin to view the teenagers as "our teenagers" rather than "those teenagers." The same can be said in reverse. When a student sees the seasoned saints in the worship service as part of their family, the church begins to grow more healthy.

There's no easy answer to this and I'm not suggesting we tear down all our individual ministries, but we must begin to be more strategic in how we do life together.

MINISTER WITH SENIORS

There is a big difference between ministering with someone and ministering to someone. The with connotes togetherness and unity. Many of our seniors are discovering that retirement is not a biblical concept. While it is a good thing to be able to get the gold watch and walk away from the 40+ hour work week, the sad reality is that many have chosen to retire from church service and faith as well.

Thankfully, missional living allows us to see the value in all Christ-followers, regardless of age, and allows the church to affirm that which is being done daily in Jesus name. We have many seniors who refuse to just sit in a pew, and we celebrate that willingness to serve. Some of our folks volunteer at the hospital, local nursing homes and even create golf outings so they can engage lost friends with the Gospel. This all counts!

Here is a good article by John Pond on The Gospel Coalition's blog titled "4 Ways to Minister to Older Saints." It's worth a read.


"Her Song" - A Safe Place for Sexually Abused, Exploited & Trafficked Young Women In Jacksonville

Earlier today I received an email from a pastor friend in Jacksonville. He and I have talked numerous times about the state of Jacksonville and surrounding areas. Being missionally and Kingdom focused moves our discussions toward subjects not often covered in what has been traditional "pastor-talk." 

Screenshot 2014-04-07 12.55.00While not something the city or region would promote to attract business or industry, the sad reality is that the Jacksonville area has become a hot point for sex trafficking. Most cities with international ports, numerous entry points, a growing international flavor and increased business presence face this. So, perhaps there's some consolation that we are not alone. Yet, the reality of the crime and the hurt being done to women forces us to no longer put our head in the sand and pretend that "it just doesn't happen here."

This pastor's wife and Christian counselor, Rachel White, is the founder of Her Song. This ministry is being built with the desire to create and open a safe home for girls and young women in our community who have been sexually abused, exploited and trafficked. This home would give them a safe venue where hope can be restored, lives may be rebuilt and true love can be experienced through the healing of hearts.  More than a venue, it would be a home.

One recent statistic states that the average life-span of women being trafficked for sex in the United States is seven years. SEVEN! There is help available in Jacksonville for many needs, but the only help available for women seeking to escape this scenario are short stays in rehab and homeless shelters. Without the stability of a long-term stay option and support in a home environment with Christ-focused counseling, most return to their pimps. It's a tragic cycle.

Her Song

This week, Her Song is participating in the One Spark event in Jacksonville. This is the only "crowd funding" festival in our nation where attendees vote for the business start-up, artists, social endeavor, etc. they deem most deserving. Individual votes determine how funding is to be distributed.

This is a wonderful opportunity for Her Song to make great strides toward the construction of the safe home for these women.

Please consider voting for Her Song at One Spark

Her Song is Innovation #20749. To vote, go to the One Spark site and register as "Voter." (Voting opens online on Wednesday, April 9.) 

Here's the link to register as a voter - http://www.beonespark.com/participate-voter

Here's the link for Her Songhttp://www.beonespark.com/discover/creator_projects/her-song

If you can, consider taking time to visit their One Spark venue which is showcased at The Art Center II, 229 North Hogan Street, Jacksonville, FL (this is just off Hemming Plaza) each day Wednesday-Sunday (April 9-13). There's no cost to attend, but consider the statement a crowd gathering would do for Her Song!

This is living with a missional focus.

One Spark.jpg


Going to College After High School? Be Intentional and Connect with the BCM at Your School Now!

In just a five months our local high school seniors will be graduating. Many will walk across a stage, be handed a diploma, shake hands with a respresentative from the school or school board, then go to a party, either with friends or family and celebrate their newfound status as high school graduates.

Even now, as many seniors are enjoying their last year in high school, there is a coming reality of life that will be upon them before they know it. For some, this means entering the work force, which is not as easy as it sounds with the lack of jobs available. For others, an oath and some time at boot camp is coming as they enter the US military ready to serve our country. Still others have plans to attend college or university.

For many of those entering the college world, degree plans and housing options as well as the opportunity to wear school logos from schools they actually attend, rather than just as a fan of a sports team, are in the future. Many qualified seniors have been receiving letters and postcards from colleges and universities from throughout the Unites States. Schools that have heretofore never been heard of by the students are now doing all they can to entice the young person to visit and enroll.

The questions loom regarding the validity of a college degree in today's society. A good read is Is College Worth It? by Dr. William J. Bennett and David Wilezol. If student loans can be avoided, it is preferred. Wise fiduciary choices partnered with quality degrees is a good match.

MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE DEGREE

I believe in the value of higher education. My years in college, university and seminary were some of the most valuable and life-changing times in my life. However, as a parent, pastor and follower of Christ, I believe ther is a more important issue for those attending college and univsersity, especially in our culture nowadays.

While no generational group can truly be homogenized, studies do indicate a quickening drift from faith for those aged 18-25. Often students move away from home or begin attending university and land on campus totally unprepared. Their borrowed faith that was sufficient for Sunday School and leading seven year olds in Backyard Bible Clubs and Vacation Bible School seems to melt for many once exposed to the intellectualism prominent in the world of higher education.

EVEN SMART PEOPLE CAN BE CHRIST-FOLLOWERS

Young men and women can have both high intellect, superb decision-making abilities and a deep, sincere faith in Jesus Christ. This seems to be ignored by many who have discounted those with a relationship with Christ.

As Josh McDowell stated years ago, "You don't have to check your brain at the door to follow Christ."

COLLEGE & UNIVERSITY STUDENTS NEED SOLID, UNASHAMED, GOSPEL-CENTRIC CHURCHES & MINISTRIES

There are many churches in college towns. There are also numerous ministries available on most campuses. Some are great. Others are churches and ministries in name only and present a tepid, weak, Christianity that feels good and holds no convictions. 

It is the challenge for parents, students and churches to be proactive and engaged during these years in college. In fact, most life-affecting decisions will be made during these years, so it's vital to have a firm foundation.

FLORIDA COLLEGIATE MINISTRIES

BcmFlorida has over 886,000 college and university students enrolled right now. This includes over 30,000 international students from over 150 countries. These numbers alone should lead churches and Christ-followers to see the great mission before us.

If you are a high school senior or a parent of a senior planning to attend college or university here in Florida, let me strongly encourage you to be proactive and get connected now with the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) leader at the school of your choice. 

I hear from students in our church who have left home to attend school. Some connect in a local church near their campus. Others connect in a campus ministry. Unfortunately, I hear from some who either connect in a church or ministry that is far from theologically sound and Gospel-centric (though they may have great parties and good music) or disconnect totally from a community of faith. 

Don't "graduate" from church or your faith when you go away to school. That would be perhaps the most immature thing you could do. I recommend you connect and engage with a strong church and the BCM at your campus.

To help you, here are the names and contacts for the BCM leaders in our state currently:

JACKSONVILLE AREA:

  • UNF, JU & FSCJ - Lauren Bumgarner (lauren@jaxbcm.com)

TALLAHASSEE AREA:

  • FAMU - Larry Hunt (larry.hunt@flbaptist.org)
  • FSU & TCC - Lance Beauchamp (lance.beauchamp@flbaptist.org)
  • Baptist College of Florida - Ashley Fredryk (ashley.fredryk@baptistcollege.edu)

MIAMI AREA:

  • UM & FIU - Matt Wofford (wofford13@gmail.com)

ORLANDO AREA:

  • UCF - Brad Crawford (brad.crawford@flbaptist.org)

PENSACOLA AREA:

  • UWF, PSC - Tony Olesky (tony.olesky@flbaptist.org)

GAINESVILLE AREA:

  • UF, SFSC - Eddie Gilley (eddie.gilley@flbaptist.org)

TAMPA AREA:

  • USF - Rahul Agarwal (rahul.agarwal@flbaptist.org)

MELBOURNE AREA:

  • Florida Tech - Nathan Smith (ndsmith1208@gmail.com)

PANAMA CITY AREA:

  • GCSC - Phyllis Poland (phyllis@nwcbap.org)

Simply put - get involved. If you or your student is attending college or university that is not listed, contact Connie Ricks at the Florida Baptist Convention office (connie.ricks@flbaptist.org) and she will connect you with a BCM leader connected to that school or a local church nearby. Also, check out the Florida BCM website here - www.floridabcm.com.

These are vital times. Don't miss this key element in planning for your future.

 


Redemption Stories: Crissy Moran "In Her Own Words" - Video

We now have the video available from Sunday, September 22 when Crissy Moran shared her story of redemption with First Baptist Church of Orange Park. It's available on YouTube and below:

 

Cmoran