We Didn’t Go to Church on Wednesday

We didn’t go to church this past Wednesday evening. Before you jump to conclusions, no, I have not lost my job and yes, things are fine at the church. We didn’t go to church on Wednesday because it was fall break for our local school system and we didn’t have our regularly scheduled activities. Our local school system actually has a two week fall break. Our student ministry had a game night during the first week and then the second week we gave our leaders and families a break. Many people were out of town for both weeks anyway.

This past Wednesday actually ended up being a very eye-opening, confirming night for me. Let me explain by giving you four observations/confirmations I made by being a home on a Wednesday night.

Our neighborhoods are full of people not connected to a local church. I saw many of our neighbors and their friends. At one point I looked out our front door and counted 8 kids, various ages. The driveways were full of cars, not empty. I had a great conversation with my next door neighbor about his job, family, and what it is like raising kids. It lasted about 30 minutes but no where in the conversation did he say, “Wait a minute, aren’t you a pastor? Why aren’t you at church right now?” We talk about missional living as this trip we go on 10 hours down the road in a different city, all while we have people we see everyday, that live right next to us, that may not be saved. That aren’t connected to a local church.

Our start times may be difficult for some. Several of my neighbors got home right before 6pm or right after 6pm. Most of the ones I personally know work 30-45 minutes away from our neighborhood. Our church has an optional dinner that begins at 5pm and then activates start at 6pm or a little bit after. People are busy, no doubt. Several families have two working parents, leaving/picking up kids at daycare, practices, recitals, and so many other things. We have to have a start time for programming. If you start earlier people can’t get off work to be there in time. If you start later you run into bed times for younger kids, middle and high students cramming to finish homework, and so on. Its a hard call when is the best time to start. Again just an observation about how crunched people are for time.

People miss church. I received a text message from one of our leadership high school students right before 6pm asking what time the party started at my house. We joked for a little while and I thought to myself, “What a great idea for another fall break down the road!” If I had student stuff that night would some have came, yes. Would it been a great night, yes. Next two week fall break am I going to meet both weeks, no. Why? It’s totally okay and valid to give volunteers a break every once in a while. It gives them a necessary break and tells them I appreciate what they do. You also have to have volunteers to pull it off. If you don’t, then you need to seriously evaluate what and how you are doing ministry. It was good to hear from students and know that they miss when we don’t meet.

I love what I do. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and spending time with them, but I missed church as well. It was an odd feeling. What was on TV? What were we going to do? I ended up thinking a lot about church and actually began writing this blog post. Outside of family vacation and if I’m so sick I can’t see straight, we are always at church on Wednesday. Some may say, “Well you are paid to be, right?” Technically, yes, but I have gone to church on Wednesday nights long before I was a paid staff member. That does not make me more spiritual than someone who works third shift and simply can’t make it a Wednesday night at 6pm. Church is a priority in my family, always has been, always will be.

We didn’t go to church this past Wednesday evening. Was that a bad thing, not at all. Should that be the habit, not at all.

 

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Families and the Summer Months

Summer is here!!! What an exciting time for families to connect with each other and do Kingdom work! What tends to happen within the summer schedule is we allow our spiritual growth to drift a little bit due to different schedules, vacations, camps, and so forth. For many of us this can be done very unintentionally but yet very easily. Satan is “crafty” as Genesis 3 teaches and he may be getting your heart by getting your calendar. If you are consistently going to bed at night exhausted and worn out from various activities, there is a chance you might be falling into this category. You might be involved in really great, moral, activities but are you engaged in Gospel-centered, Kingdom work? Allow me to make four suggestions that you and your family can do over the summer to enhance your spiritual walk both as individuals and as a family.

Share the Gospel. Find a family in your neighborhood that is lost, on the fringe, or unchurched, and make a connection with them. Invite them over for a meal and fellowship. Take them a plate of cookies one afternoon and invite them to a family event at your church. The key, however, is to do all this with the intention of sharing the Gospel with them. A neat thing to also do is pray for the families in your neighborhood by street.

Connect to a Daily Bible Reading Plan. Make sure you and your family are in the Word every single day. Parents have to be the ones setting the example and modeling this. Kids will model what they see. There are TONS of great resources available to help out with this such as bible apps, websites, and printed materials are all very accessible. My encouragement to families is to find a time, a place, and a resource that works for them and be diligent to see it through.

Spend Quality Time Together. I know spending quality time together as a family is growing more and more difficult simply due to schedules, especially if you are raising multiple kids. Make it a point to spend quality family time 2-3 times a week. In this time talk about what God is doing in your hearts and lives. Spend time together by seeing a movie, grilling out with other families, going to a local ballgame, or getting some ice-cream after dinner one night. All of these things communicate a key truth: I care about you and you are worth my time. Kids, whether they want to admit it or not, want to know we care about them and love them. One of the best ways to do this is to simply spend time together. Jesus modeled this in His ministry- He was all about people. He also took time to be alone- to rest and relax and spend time with the Heavenly Father.

Engage into Ministry Outreach. Simply put, be the hands and feet of Jesus to those around you. Serve during VBS week and/or get plugged into a mission opportunity through the local church. Find another family that is in need and if you are able to, meet it. If you don’t have the resources to help them do what you can, God will honor your heart and effort. One of the best ways we can reach families with the Gospel is simple acts of service. We model this because Jesus modeled this.

Summer is often seen as a time of rest and relaxation. While we definitely need to take time to do this, that doesn’t mean we put evangelism and spiritual growth on hold or make it an after thought. This summer, whether we have a lot of free time or we find ourselves so “busy” we literally can’t fit everything in, Jesus and Kingdom work must be our top priority.

Here is a simple way to think about ministry as a family:

Sharing: Who are we telling our faith story too?

Growing: How are we growing in our faith and as a family?

Caring: When are we spending quality time together?

Engaging: Where are we plugging into ministry?

Baseball, Graduation, and What is to Come

Spring is in full swing which means warmer temperatures, people putting up their winter coats and getting out shorts and flip-flops! You also begin to see families outside walking around, playing, and hanging out. The snow is gone and the sun has come back out and there is an excitement that comes with that!

I also love this time of the year because I am a huge baseball fan. I love throwing baseball outside, going to ballgames, and watching games on TV. From the sights and sounds of a bat hitting the ball, to peanuts and a coke at the ballpark, to teams competing against one another, it is all exciting for the devout baseball fan. From my earliest childhood memories, I remember being on the ball field with my teammates and my Dad coaching me either from the dugout or from the stands.

Baseball, like any other athletic completion, has two major components- the preparation for the season and then the actual season of play. We see this from little league baseball players who throw with their parents, siblings, or friends in their backyard to the professional athlete who trains to be bigger, faster, and stronger than they were the year before. Once the season gets here it is all on the line. All the preparation is to compete for the prize- a championship. Both preparation for the season and the actual season of play are crucial for the baseball player, their coaches, and the team itself.

Also in the spring comes another important time in the life of many families- graduation. High school seniors are getting their final assignments turned in, getting senior pictures taken, prepping for what is next, and in a few short weeks will walk across a stage and graduate from high school. This is a time to celebrate the growth that has been accomplished over the last several years of their lives, academically, physically, and spiritually. The graduation season is a lot like the game of baseball. There is a season of preparation and the season that is to come. In a lot of ways, for the high school graduate and their families, what comes after graduation has been prepared for and prayed over for the last 18+ years. From the joyous moments, to the hard conversations, the laughs, the tears, all this for the season that is to come.

So, what is to come?  In a baseball season, there are wins and loses. There are unexpected things that come up that no one saw coming. Typically, it doesn’t go exactly how teams had planned. Life is no different. There are wins and loses and unexpected joys and hardships. The key in life is to have a personal relationship with the One who knows exactly what will happen next- Jesus Christ. Nobody on this side of eternity knows what will take place next. As believers in Jesus Christ we know He holds the future and what Scritpure has laid out for us. However, we don’t know what tomorrow holds. Jesus does.

The apostle Paul encouraged the church in Corinth with this in 1 Corinthians 9:24-26 (HCSB)…”Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. Now everyone who competes exercises self- control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade away, but we a crown that will never fade away. Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air.”

So what would I tell the Christ-following high school senior? Run in such a way to win the prize. A prize that is so much more than an athletic championship. A prize with eternal value. Remember, life is not about you, it is about the glory of God. God has a beautiful plan laid out for your life, including this next season you are about to enter, so pursue Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. There will be ups and downs, unexpected joys and hardships. In all this, Jesus is still King and He still holds your life in the palm of His hand.

Helping Kids Live on Mission

Recently, I blogged about the importance of helping middle school and high school students live on mission. You can find that blog post HERE. It is absolutely vital that teenagers live on mission. With that being said, I believe living on mission needs to begin way before a person enters middle school. In fact, I believe we must be proactive in the area of missional living with younger kids so that when they get older it isn’t such a struggle. There is huge long-term benefit for the family, families to come, and the Kingdom of heaven, in doing this.

I believe we need to lead, equip, and teach elementary aged kids in four concepts so that they have a better understanding of what it means to live on mission for Jesus.

1. Lead kids to understand the why behind the what. As Christ followers, the Gospel drives all we do and all we are about. Kids need to know that yes we are “helping people” but that is not all there is to it. We live on mission by loving people like Jesus loves people. We have the opportunity to tell the greatest story ever told. Our thoughts and actions must speak to the life changing message of Jesus Christ. Kids can and should play a hug role in this. Remember, kids learn best from repetition. We need to constantly remind them of the why behind the what.

2. Teach kids the 10-10-10 principle: Missional living can take place 10 steps down the road, 10 minutes down the road, and 10 hours down the road. You don’t have to be in a “jungle in Africa” to live on mission. Kids need to be reminded that people 10 steps away, 10 minutes away, and 10 hours away, all need Jesus. From the kids they run around with on the playground, to the kids they only see on the refrigerator that their family prays for, the mission is the same, show them Jesus. Be the hands and feet of Jesus to a lost and dying world. What is important to remember is that no matter the location, the mission is the same.

3. Help kids and families experience missional living together. It is a powerful picture of the church being the church when dad, mom, grandparents, and the next generation are all living on mission together. Dads and moms must be in the habit of telling their kids how they are living on mission while showing them as well. This can involve things such as praying together, serving a family in need, and inviting another family in the neighborhood to come to church with you. Deuteronomy 6:7b (HCSB) says “talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” I pray that families live this out faithfully, starting with mine.

4. Equip kids to embrace that missional living is something Christ followers are continually about. Missional living does not have an “off and on switch.” Whether we are at school, on the ball friend, at a dance recital, at a birthday party, or at church, we are always to be a light in a dark world. A simple way of living this out is praying, “Lord use us to bring Your name glory today” before leaving for the day. Kids are as much the church as their parents are. Parents, before you go to bed at night, pray over your kids. Pray that they would love Jesus more than anything else.

Psalm 78:6a (HCSB), “…so that a future generation — children yet to be born — might know…”

Small Groups are the Win

People tend to remember people way more than they will ever remember presentations. If you were to ask me the things I remember the most in my short 30 year life, it would be the people who have loved me, cared for me, and taught me life lessons. The people who still do that to this day. This is the very reason biblical, healthy, small groups are so important in the life of the local church. Simply put, the win is in building healthy small groups that will reproduce. Why? Most the time this is the place people are known, come to Jesus, and are discipled. Can you experience life change in pews? Sure you can. Are you more likely to experience life change in a community of people who are loving and praying along side you? Absolutely.

No matter the size of the church people attend or are a member at, we still have the desire to feel connected. Even those who are unsure about where their relationship with God is and have no desire to be a part of a local church, have a desire to be connected. Typically this is centered around common interest, beliefs, or hobbies.

With this in mind, allow me to give you three reasons I believe small groups are the win within the context of the local church. On the front end we must remember that small groups must be within the context of the local church. Why is this so important? Because Jesus established the local church for a reason.

Biblical small groups are built on relationships; you are known, loved, and ministered too. The key here is COMMUNITY. Living in the digital age that we currently live in, it “seems” as if everyone is “connected” in some shape or form. This is really not the case. Just because people seem as if they are really busy texting all the time or updating a social media status, does not mean they have a group of people they are doing life with. God created us to be relational beings that speak with one another and live in community. It is the very reason God says in the second chapter of the Bible, “It is not good for the man to be alone…” (Genesis 2:18 HCSB). Think about it this way… when life throws you an excellent surprise (job promotion, your child excels in an area and is recognized, etc.) who are you going to tell first? Your closest friends and family. The people you do life with. When life throws you a curve ball and an unexpected hurt comes along, who are you going to pick up the phone and call? Your closest friends and family. The people you do life with. We can fight it all day long, put in under the label of “I’m an introvert,” but at the end of the day we thrive on relationships.

Biblical small groups are centered on the reading, studying, and applying of God’s Word. If the Word of God is not the center piece of the small group, then it is not a biblical small group. It is a social club. While it is very appropriate for small groups to fellowship with one another, we must center them on the Word of God. It is impossible to grow as a believer in Jesus Christ without the Word of God. Furthermore, it is impossible to know who Jesus is, His mission, and His purpose a part from the Word of God. The key here is not only Bible intake but also to know what to do with what you have read. This is where being in a small group is vital. People doing life together and growing in their faith together. I also believe that curriculum can greatly aid in this process. Curriculum helps guide conversation, keeps groups on track, and measures growth in the life of a believer. While some weeks it is appropriate to only discuss what is going on in life, we must remember that growth doesn’t typically occur in randomness. Start off your weekly time together discussing life, praying for and over one another, and then dive into God’s Word with the heart of, “…Speak, for Your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10 HCSB)

Biblical small groups create an atmosphere of accountability. Accountability is scary for most. This is the case because we have to do three things that are not easy. Ask hard questions, be truthful where we are at, and practice humility. However, accountability is where it is at. It is a must in terms of growth and leadership. If we are not honest with the people we are doing life with then we are cheating ourselves and really missing the point all together. The book of Proverbs speaks to this when it says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17 HCSB)  Remember the people who are keeping you accountable genuinely care for you or they would not be asking you hard questions. You may be the one asking the hard questions but you must also be sure you are the one answering questions as well.

Hopefully from this blog post you come to a deeper understanding of the importance of being in biblical small group within the context of the local church. This week, I received a phone call from someone asking me if I knew of a solid church in a certain city. Why were they asking? They knew a person that was really having a hard time and needed a small group of people to be the church to them. 

May we live in community together and live on mission together for the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom.

 

 

Kid’s Ministry and Sharing the Gospel

The season is here… church worship spaces are being decorated, markers are being counted and placed in zip lock bags, copiers are preparing leader packets, and volunteers are being recruited. Next week our church is having our annual Vacation Bible School. A HUGE week in the life of local church children’s ministry. What a blessing to be able to minister to kids and their families in a fun and exciting way! Literally hours and hours of training and preparation will go into 5 days of bible lessons, crafts, games and rec, missions emphasizes, snacks, large group worship, and so on. Why? Because kids need Jesus. We all do. Kids need to know that the God we sing about in “big church” truly wants them to know how much cares for them. How much He loves them.

The most important part of kid’s ministry, especially during events like VBS and camps, is sharing the Gospel in an age-appropriate, God-glorifying way.

Below I have listed three “common questions” that are often heard when dealing with kids who are asking question about Jesus, salvation, baptism, etc. I then offer a potential better way of asking these questions. It’s important to note here I’m learning and growing just like ministry leaders all over are. The key here is not perfection but obedience.

1. Common Question: Am I ready to share the Gospel with children? At times it can seem overwhelming to share your faith with a child. Sure, you know it’s a blessing, but maybe you are used to and more comfortable communicating with adults rather than kids or students. Don’t allow fear to drive you in this. You may never feel ready but, the LORD wants to use you.

Better Question: Am I willing to be used by God and equipped to share the Gospel with children? The key is to have a willing spirit and be willing to be equipped and trained. Sharing your faith with a child is very different from sharing with an adult. How you say, what you say, matters. We must remember that sharing our faith and leading a child to the LORD is not impossible but rather an incredible honor.

2. Common Question: Is this child old enough to understand the Gospel? I understand the heart behind this question. I really do. As ministry leaders and parents we all want kids to understand what they are doing when they ask Jesus to be LORD and Savior. I believe at times though we get to caught up on the actual number and age before we hear a child out. Parents will often say, “They just are too young and not ready yet.” While there is usually wise discernment here, let’s not get caught up on, “They are just 7… they can’t know what they are doing.”

Better Question: Can this child explain to me who Jesus is, what He did on the cross, and why it matters? If a child can do this at the age of 7 or 8, then awesome. Have a Gospel conversation with them and help lead them in making the greatest decision they can ever make. For some kids they won’t be able to do this until they are 12 or even older. The age isn’t the most important thing here because every kid is different. The most important part is discerning if the child fully understands the Gospel. When we rush this, it leads to kids not really knowing what they are doing and then when they turn 16 saying, “I just did that because I thought I was supposed to.” It is so important that we take the time to have several conversations with kids to insure they are ready. I have found the best way to do this is to have a conversation with both the child and parents in the room.

3. Common Question: How can I simplify the Gospel so this child will understand it? In my opinion using words like “simplify” and “watered-down” are not really communicating what we are trying to do. It is so crucial we give kids the FULL picture of the Gospel and not just a snapshot because we feel they can’t grasp it.

Better Question: How can I clearly explain the life changing message of Jesus Christ to this child? Don’t just simply simplify it, be very clear. Be age appropriate? Absolutely. Move slower instead of faster to insure they are tracking with you. Ask a lot of questions. Do a lot of listening. Pray like crazy before and after. When we clearly explain the Gospel and pray the Holy Spirit moves in hearts and lives, great things can happen.

Sharing the life-changing message of Jesus Christ is an honor and blessing not matter who you are sharing it with. May kid’s ministries all the world be intentional and proactive in this!

Teaching Our Kids to Pray

Prayer, one of the most powerful aspects of the Christian life. It is an amazing thought that we have the opportunity to communicate with the God of the universe. The key is communication. Effective communication involves both talking and listening.

Almost a year ago, I received a new title. Dad. Let me tell you how awesome it is. Sure it has its ups and downs but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Recently, I also moved into a new role in church ministry. I’m now a Next Generation Pastor. This means I still work with students and families but I now also oversee the Preschool and Children’s Ministries. I LOVE family ministry. Sharing Jesus with mom and dad, their 8-year-old, and 14-year-old, excites me. It wakes me up and keeps me up.

This month our pastor has been doing a series on prayer. Prayer is one of those things I have always tried to teach on, model, and be a major part of any ministry I have been blessed to lead. With that being said, in my own life, I have experienced seasons in which frankly, it has been hard. Not so much because I didn’t know what to say or how to say it, but rather that I didn’t make it a priority. I got busy doing a lot of “Christian” things and I allowed my prayer life to slip.

So how do we teach our kids to pray? As a new dad and a pastor of almost seven years here are my thoughts…

1. We must first model it. In the Gospels, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray (Luke 11). He not only gave them a model prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), He modeled it Himself (Mark 1:35, John 17). As parents and ministry leaders we have to do more than use the phrase, “I’m praying for you.” I have had many people send me text messages saying, “I’m praying for you today.” I have had very few of those people actually pray with me. Don’t hear me wrong, telling people you are praying for them is great. Send them that text message every time, it is definitely worth it. After you send that text message, take the next step, follow up. Maybe pray with them the following Sunday. The more times we do things like this, the more our kids will realize prayer is more than something we do before a meal.

2. We must teach the “why” before the “how” or “what.” There is great power in understanding why we do the things we do. Teaching our kids why we pray is no different. Have conversations like, “What does it mean to pray to God?” “What or who are somethings we should be praying for as a family?” “Son/Daughter, how can I be praying for you?” “Will you pray with me about this?”  Once families have a deeper understanding of the “why” it will make the “how” and the “what” much more significant. Why do we pray? We pray because we are Biblically commanded to but also because Jesus desires to have a relationship with us. Think about your best friend(s). I bet you don’t go very long without communicating with them either over the phone, email, or social media. Why do you do this? Because we value what they have to say. You desire to know and grow in your relationship with them.

3. We must make prayer more than a “wish list.” For many Christ followers, prayer becomes nothing more than a “what I can get out of it” outlet. “God bless me, take care of this need, and oh yes, thank you for this day.” Read Jesus’ prayers to the Father. Take a look at John 17.

John 17:1 (HCSB), “Jesus spoke these things, looked up to heaven, and said: Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son so that the Son may glorify You…”

This prayer was not about Jesus. It was about the glory of the Father. We must teach our kids that it is okay to ask God to bless us and take care of needs. However, our prayers and our Christmas gift list should not sound very similar.

There are two things I try to pray for often. First, are the lost people I’m in direct contact with. I pray that I would be a faithful example of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that they so desperately need. Second, is the nations. This includes the people groups where the spreading of the Gospel is limited and missionaries are in difficult settings.

Practical Advice for Praying as a Family Unit:

1. Prayer before a meal. Traditionally, if Christian influenced homes don’t do much praying at all they tend to bless their meals, even if it’s every once in a while. Next time you sit down as a family for a meal, go to the table 10 minutes early before you start eating your meal. Spend that 10 minutes praying as a family unit. Pray for each other.

2. Prayer for a missionary and/or church planter and their family. Place a picture of a missionary/church planter and their family somewhere visible in your home. Encourage each family member to pray for the missionary/church planter and their family once a week. Having a visual will be a great reminder. Pray for their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

3. Prayer for your circle of influence. Have each family member write down two people in their circle of influence (friends, teachers, pastors, coaches, etc.) that they can lift up in prayer. Allow each family member to voice these prayers aloud.

4. Parents, pray over your children. Mom and dads, don’t miss this. When your kids go to sleep, spend time with your spouse praying for your kids. Pray that they would fall in love with Jesus and love Him more than anything else. Pray that the decisions they make in life would honor and glorify God. Pray for their future spouse.