“Godfidence” and Growing Young

In baptizing baby Magnolia last week, I asked her parents, “Relying on God’s grace, do you promise to live the Christian faith and to teach that faith to your child?”

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Our first babe’s baptism.

They responded, “We do.” Then I asked the congregation, “Will you, the people of this congregation, nurture and love her, and assist her to be a faithful disciple?  They answered, “We will.”IMG_20180216_185704974

 

And they may… or they may not. This congregation has lost the vision, energy and will to do so. I  share with you the sermon I shared with them on how families can become a priority to the Church, based on the book Growing Young.

 

Scripture reading 1: Mark 10 :13-16  (NIV) 13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

Scripture reading 2:  1 John 2: 8-14 (NIV) 8 I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in Jesus and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. 9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. 12 I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. 14 I write to you, dear children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

Kara Powell writes,

We follow Jesus’ lead when we prioritize the young. When Jesus took a child in his arms, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in  my name welcomes me, and whomever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:17)  The Disciples struggled with this—Could Jesus really have meant that welcoming children is a way to welcome Jesus– and the Father? [1]

Yep. He did.

“WHAT? Jesus is alive? Why didn’t anyone tell me that before? He is risen from the dead? That’s totally cool!” — Alexandra, grade 3

Look again at the gospel story from Mark 10. Powell explains,

This day wasn’t turning out quite like the Disciples hoped. Jesus’s Disciples were accustomed to crowds, long days of teaching and healing and demands from the most unlikely people seeking out Jesus. But children? Jesus eagerly welcomed young people to gather in close to him, at the expense of the adults who thought they should get Jesus’ full attention. We don’t know if the Disciples just didn’t understand Jesus or didn’t believe him, but on this day they acted in a way that crossed the line. Mark 10 says “People were bring little children to Jesus and the Disciples said ,“NO! No more children!” They thought Jesus needed space, not to touch the children and bless them. The Disciples thought Jesus need to attend to more important matters, more important people so the Disciples “rebuked the parents-“- The NRSV reads “Spoke sternly to them.” That got Jesus’ attention, didn’t it?  He said, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Then Jesus not only says to welcome children, but to become like children! This command sounds like an invitation to Grow Young,

This is a goal we’re exploring together at this church. In our Winter Warmth Series, we’ve been looking at the Growing Young book and research done by Fuller Youth Institute about churches that actively engage young adults,  ages 18-29. The Study is called CEYP –Churches Engaging Young People—and is a study of what churches are doing RIGHT to engage young adults actively in congregations.

We’ve explored five Growing Young findings: showing empathy, taking Jesus’ message seriously, fueling a warm community, and being the best neighbors. Today we wrap up by looking at prioritizing families and youth everywhere, both in our families and in our church. And how wonderful that today we have the privilege of baptizing Magnolia during our service as well. She’s an example to us all. As Powell continues:,

Jesus says to welcome children, but also to become like children! Jesus wasn’t suggesting we revert to immaturity. He was making it clear that not only are children eligible to receive the kingdom of God, but they are great examples of what it means to do so.

My favorite role at any church has been storyteller for VBS. I was telling my favorite story of the empty tomb and Mary’s excitement over meeting the risen Christ. She runs to tell everyone she meets the good news….3rd grader Alexandra, family new to church—  Alexandra heard this, and shouted out “What, Jesus is alive? Why didn’t anyone tell me before? He is risen from the dead? That’s totally cool!” Then she asked for a Bible to read Jesus’ stories for herself.

Our church is missing out, isn’t it? We know it, but don’t know what to do about it. Change and growth begins in the mind and the will, and overflow into good leadership and tangible action. What are we willing to do at this point? What are we willing to give? What are we willing to learn from our youth & young adults who have new ideas to lead us forward? Any good future for a church that grows young needs to engage children.

Powell writes,

I think it is children’s sincerity, willingness to trust, and dependence that make them examples to us. Theologian Karl Rahner writes, children model to the entire community an “infinite openness” to the infinite.( GY 219-220) So theologically, we stand on solid ground when we prioritize young people everywhere in our congregations. Jesus led the way for us in his shocking attention to children and his reorienting the community around them.

What are some ideas of what it might look like when a family and a Growing Young church take Jesus’ same approach to children teens and young adults?

First, no more kids table—you know, at a family gathering where only the kids  and a weird uncle or two sit.Instead, let’s welcome everyone to the BIG table—where we share in ideas and conversation, listening and talking together across generations.

JDMs 80th Silly Family

In my family, everyone belongs at the kids’ table.

In a family or at school, this approach is called “scaffolding,” when we deliberately support a child to help them learn a skill or task through adult encouragement & coaching. When we engage with him or her to listen and learn what matters most— what gives him or her the spark of life and joy. To tell stories to each other. To teach how to do chores and life tasks and how to serve others. To worship and pray together. These are powerful intergenerational actions.

 

Secondly, at a church level, when we think up a new outreach ministry or events, Growing Young churches ask as simple question—how can young people be a part of this? (GY 222) How can generations work and serve alongside each other?

In our families, sometimes we adults place our own goals, wishes, convenience or ease ahead of the benefit to a child, especially in the area of committing to regular church attendance—choosing relaxation or even playing sports on Sundays. Sometimes we don’t have the energy to fight the Sunday morning battle. How many have been there? As a family pastor I watched families drag in to the building late as if just came from a  war zone.  And I congratulated the parents and told them it was worth it because our children learn what matters most through our consistent actions and role-modeling. The most powerful way a child can learn faith is through “catching his or her parent in the act of praying and reading his or her Bible.” Research shows it’s especially powerful to see a father pray and act on his faith.Engaging in worship and serving alongside us are 2 ways our kids can “catch faith.”

That’s what the Scripture from 1 John talks about, when we act in ways that show:

  • we as God’s children are “grateful that our sins our forgiven,”
  • when fathers demonstrate that “you know him who is from the beginning.”
  • When “young men & women support one another to overcome the evil one.”
  • When we encourage one another in Christ to bestrong, and let the word of God live in us.”
  • Then we are being the body of Christ together across all generations, and we are supporting one another on our faith journeys.
  • Then we agree to prioritize families and young people everywhere

Churches can encourage these actions by offering solid discipleship for all ages to build faith that lasts a lifetime. These are good ways to Grow Young.

Another way churches grow young is by addressing family pain and brokenness through support. It can be through small groups, mentors, Sunday School teachers, but Growing Young churches empathize with the realities of parenting by partnering with parents through the rough terrain of toddlerhood and teen years. And walking alongside children & teens’ growing to find their way in faith. Growing Young churches can show this by being flexible to care for kids of divorce and by flexing with today’s families’ busy schedules (GY 223).

Growing Young churches involve youth in leading worship or in leading SS every week in big and small ways. Here at FPDG youth lead us forward to embrace technology. I am thrilled to see how the tech crew includes, embraces, and trains young adults. It’s a significant role in the life of the church! What other areas can become intergenerational?

Lastly, we adults may need to sacrifice personal preferences to welcome & prioritize young people. We likely do this all the time for our own kids & grandkids. But what about the children of the church? In baptism, we covenant to nurture and teach a baby in the Christian faith.

When children in a family or in the church know with certainty that they are loved, it is more believable when we share with them that God loves them. That the God of the universe loves us each of us like crazy. We belong to God and to each other.

I’ve often said one of the most important jobs in a church is rocking the babies in the nursery. I think of Andy & Audrey Pelham at my first church who rocked the babies faithfully each Sunday. When healthy, caring adults give love to children, when children in a family or in the church know with certainty that they are loved, it is more believable when we share with them that God loves them. That the God of the universe created them good and the God of the universe loves them like crazy. That we each belong to God and to God’s family. That we matter to God and to each other.

I think it’s a good step  that this church is holding confirmation for 5 students this year—special thanks go out to20160515_122507_001 the leaders & parents. My last church paired each confirmation student with a mentor to get to know one another, to share faith stories together, and to help the students write their own faith statements. Ideas to consider.

I also think it’s a good step that we continue on with blended worship and include a praise band.  I have a great view of y’all from up here—I love to see you give over your hearts and minds to God as we sing God’s praises and give God glory together. I’ve heard amazing stories of the priority of children teens & young adults, which used to be strong here at FPDG—in Sunday school, VBS and pioneer clubs.

The question is will we look beyond ourselves and our needs again to prioritize children, teens, and young adults? This can happen—though it will look different from before—it may occur in surprising ways: through agreeing to form a union with another healthy church so that we may become stronger together. Or by dreaming up new outreach to a new generation. A healthy church draws 10-20% of its attendees from children.  Our two task forces are at work exploring these options, but they need solid support including funding for their future plans. They need our prayers and confidence that God can do a new thing.

Dale Hudson calls this “Godfidence.” As a result, churches that prioritize families, “care about unreached kids and families in their community…a lot. They keep their focus outward and are heavily involved in the community outside the four walls.  Families in the church build relationships and bring people to church on a regular basis.” [2]

Having good intentions, sharing stories of past glory, and smiling at the youth we see on Sundays just aren’t enough. Growing Young churches vote to back up their good intentions with actions. We, too, have the opportunity vote each Sunday to Growing Young

After all, we live in  Chicago, where people vote early and often—soooo we have the opportunity vote each Sunday to prioritize the next generation:

  • To vote with our knees, to pray for kids and young adults by name,
  • To vote with our wallets to give $ to support children, teens and young adults
  • To vote with our feet by choosing to lead and serve and teach children, teens, and young adults.

When Growing Young churches vote together, they agree to be intentional to reach the net generation, to give priority to children, teens and young adults (GY 229-230). Just like Jesus does. Jesus welcomes the children and teaches us that when we welcome the children, we welcome Jesus and the one who sent him. Let’s follow Jesus by welcoming families– children, teens, & young adults — and in the process, we all may grow young by making families a priority. 

[1]Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, Brad Griffin, Growing Young, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016), p. 196ff.

[2] http://www.relevantchildrensministry.com/2013/09/10-keys-to-explosive-growth-in.html (accessed 2-9-18).

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Impacting Generations Yet-to-Come

My faithful, Scottish, great-grandparents prayed daily for the unborn generations of our family–and for their spouses. Powerful prayers, now impacting the fourth and fifth generations of our family in profound ways. In a Pentecost sermon at Narberth Pres, I share this challenge and how it is playing out for us.  Click Link for “Out of This World Encounters” on 5/15/16.11891100_10206281780916465_5790979975412851679_n

Much of our immediate family is pictured below. (not pictured: Ken, Kari and Brendan.) While four of us are in full-time ministry with Young Life, the PC(USA), or counseling, all serve in unique ways according to God’s good gifts: writing books, mentoring students and small business owners, photographing orphans in Haiti and YL Capernum dances, building houses in Mexico or El Salvador, raising our families, working with women caught in trafficking, teaching dance, producing videos, serving on boards of churches, camps, missions, and youth organizations. Davis, the first great-grand, has the ministry of cuteness–and all share the spiritual gift of entertainment. I love watching  each flourish and grow!McLennan Family Retouched FINAL

Bursting with Jesus

I  preached this sermon “Bursting with Jesus” at Church of the Cross, Hoffman Estates on March 2, 2014, one month after their pastor Jule N. departed. I had coached her for the previous year in my role as “Proactive Transformation Coordinator” of the Presbytery of Chicago. Our associate presbyter Jan Edmiston asked me to preach to help prepare the way for their interim.  It was the first time I had received a standing ovation for a sermon–really the Holy Spirit got the ovation, inspiring the church for the next step in moving forward into God’s good future.

To see and hear a video of this sermon in its entirety go to: https://vimeo.com/87410448

We began by taking a look at a snapshot of  one day in Jesus’ life:  Matthew 9:14-17: “Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

Then we turned to current day snapshots:

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These are the visuals that were displayed on a screen to accompany this sermon. The woman is Rachel Veitch and that is her 1964 Mercury Comet. There are amazing similarities between the church and this fine, vintage automobile.
Here’s a snippet:

“. . . I ask you, ‘Have you ever felt bursting with good news?’ Joy to the world kinda news? Like an overfilled helium balloon ready to pop?

Jesus has that effect on people. He brought good news, created quite a buzz everywhere he went, from his birth, which drew shepherds and wisemen and on. Fast forward 30 years and he drew crowds everyday of his public ministry. And that was even before the biggest news hit. Imagine that first Easter morning–the angel’s announcement to Mary of Jesus’ resurrection. It filled Mary with joy and wonder; she ran to tell everyone she met. It brought hope and a new start to Jesus’ followers. And probably fear and confusion to those who had put him to death just three days earlier.

This wasn’t the first time Jesus had impacted people this way in his public ministry. Today’s passage comes from an ordinary day in the lives of Jesus and his followers. I believe it is a good lesson to explore together. We have a window of opportunity to look at our lives anew in light of God’s word and ask, “How will we live out this year, how can this church best ‘Reach People, Grow People, and Send people for Christ’ in the places God calls us to go? . . .

A word about parables. They are stories set in ordinary life told to teach a lesson. Not a lecture, but a new reality presented in words and images. Jesus’ stories build a house for us to inhabit and from whose windows we view the world in a new way. They are difficult to understand, but once we open the front door, they continue to work in us.[1]

In this story, Jesus talks about new versus old. A new patch sewed on an old garment won’t work. Neither will new wine poured and stored in old wineskins. Both the patch and garment will rip and the wine as it ferments will burst the skins and spill. In both cases the situation ends up worse than when we began; both the old and the new are destroyed.

On that day, Jesus’ listeners had no idea what Jesus meant. It is only after Jesus’ death and resurrection that we can hear this story with Easter ears and say, “Oh yes, Jesus was gonna burst out alright. The religion of the day couldn’t contain him. Jesus burst out of the Pharisee’s boundaries set to protect the Law. Even the grave, the grave couldn’t hold him—Jesus burst out of the tomb alive again and ready to bring new life to the whole world.

But somehow, we who have known Jesus for a lifetime, we who are regular church attendees lose sight of all this energy and newness, the radical celebration, the joy that that bursts forth when someone meets Jesus for the first time. The way Jesus calls us to change, to be transformed in our hearts and our lives and to burst out joyfully to transform our communities. Sometimes we let church become “business as usual. Ho-hum and ordinary.” We begin to focus on the work to be done, committees and cash flow. And when we become the status quo, the guardians of tradition, Jesus’ story threatens us also with new life ready to burst forth in Him. . . .

I encourage you to dialogue with each other in love and with respect, asking thoughtful questions, “What is God already doing in our midst? How can we agree with God’s work and get on God’s bus, as Jim Collins might say? Which vehicles will help us successfully road trip into God’s good future for Church of the Cross? What 1964 Mercury Comets might we need to trade-in or leave behind? Where are we in need of new parts or repair?

To follow the parable, in Jesus’ story, the new wine demands a new wineskin, something entirely new. What will it take for Church of the Cross to be open and intentional about becoming new– new wineskins, filled with Jesus’ joyous, new life to overflowing so we may share it with others? Is this church seeking Jesus enough to learn what God has next for Church of the Cross?

Meet the Savior of the world, meet the Risen Lord Jesus Christ this New Year. New things happen when you get to know him. New life for each of us. New life for Church of the Cross. Bursting with Jesus.”

[1] Kenneth Bailey, Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes, (Combined Edition) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983,) 280.

Enjoy!