Acts 2:42 Retreats

May 25, 2011

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

The early church knew how to gather together! We can learn from their format of learning/study, fellowship, shared meals, and time of prayer and worship when planning a retreat—whether it’s multigenerational, women or men only, families, youth, confirmation class, or governing boards!

Teaching: Study the Word! Use a passage as the core theme of the retreat. Consider the ancient spiritual practice of Lectio Divina (“sacred reading”) as a way to read and pray Scripture. The process usually involves someone reading a short biblical passage aloud three times, participants then listen for a word or phrase that stands out to them, prayers are then spoken for God’s guidance for understanding, and then a time of contemplation to listen to the application for one’s life. And then those who would like to share what they’ve heard or sensed do.

Fellowship: Plan in fun! Relationships develop and strengthen when we play together. You can do anything from cooperative crafts, to trust and team building games to a rousing game of “Spoons” to “Hide and Go Seek” or “Sardines.” How can church officers not build up trust of one another after that kind of activity? Whatever you do, plan for intentional fellowship!

Breaking of Bread: Share meals! And really share the meals—no buffet lines. Set the table(s) and use a centerpiece. When we walk through a buffet line we are only serving ourselves. Practice the art of servant hood by pouring drinks for one another and passing the salad and rolls. And then do the dishes together!

Prayer: Spend time in worship! Build in praise to God through prayers and song. Light candles to signify Christ’s presence. Ask participants to bring musical instruments to share during this time. Use a responsive or group reading to open or close your gathering.

Additionally…how can your retreat that will be spiritually uplifting for your gathered group, also be outwardly focused? How can mission or service to others be woven into it?  Can you do a service project on the site? How can you leave your retreat location (the actual building or the community) different (more blessed) than when you arrived?

Gather a team together to plan and implement your retreat, drawing on the gifts needed for developing the teaching, fellowship, shared meals, and worship.

Do you need a resource for incorporating the aspects of the early church into your gathering? Consider the “Family Round the Table” iphone app from LOGOS (156 sessions which can be searched by holiday, season, Bible passage, activity, or menu).

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id347229773?mt=8

Here’s a sample using a theme of TREES

Teaching: Read and study Jeremiah 17:5-8 (“…But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream…”)

Fellowship: Take a walk in the woods or neighborhood looking for interesting bark patterns…use light colored paper and dark crayons to make rubbings. When you return to the retreat site, create one large imaginary tree made up of all the different designs.

Breaking of Bread: Create a menu for at least one meal with anything that grows on trees: apples, bananas, pears, oranges, walnuts, coconut. Use centerpieces with branches, leaves or acorns.

Blessing: Almighty God, Maker of heaven and earth and everything in it, bless us as we share the bounty of your creation and enjoy eating things that grew on trees. In the name of Christ we pray, Amen.

Prayer: Light a worship candle and place the open Bible next to it. Choose a song such as the spiritual “I Shall Not Be Moved.” Invite everyone to share their prayer concerns and their joys and create a prayer around them. Using the words of Psalm 1 (from The Message), close the worship time by praying responsively:

Leader: How well God must like you—you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon, you  don’t slink along Dead-End Road, you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College.

All: Instead you thrill to God’s Word, you chew on Scripture day and night.

Leader: You’re a tree replanted in Eden, bearing fresh fruit every month, Never dropping a leaf, always in blossom.

All: You’re not at all like the wicked, who are mere windblown dust—Without defense in court, unfit company for innocent people.

Leader: God charts the road you take. The road they take is Skid Row.

Mission or Service: Bring some small saplings and seek permission to plant some at the site of your retreat.

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Review of “Read and Share Bible”

March 21, 2011

Gwen Ellis has created a retelling of “more than 200 best-loved Bible stories” called the “Read and Share Bible.” Thomas Nelson Publishers sent me a copy to review and they describe the book this way:

The Read and Share Bible is perfect for sharing the amazing joy and wonder of God’s Word with little ones in a whole new way. Some of the Bible features include:

  • More than 200 beloved Bible stories in short-form, which is ideal for the attention span of younger children
  • Bold, bright illustrations
  • Discussion starter with each story
  • Stories adapted from the International Children’s Bible
  • Ideal for guided learning

I decided that the best way to review a children’s book was through the eyes of a child and so I took the “Read and Share Bible” with me when recently staying with a LOGOS colleague’s family which included their six-year old daughter. She almost didn’t let me leave their house with the Bible in my suitcase!

I asked her what she thought of the pictures first—could she figure out what might be going on in the story from what she saw in the illustrations? Not only did she say she could, but she also described perceptions of “surprise,” “happy,” “anger,” “scared.” And she was right. This is critical for connecting the stories with an early or non reader. The people in Steve Smallman’s illustrations have interesting noses—almost puppet-like but their expressions are spot on.

The stories seemed a little short for a six year old but they certainly kept her attention and she insisted on “one more” again and again. I suppose there could be some things worse than a child asking for more of the Bible! I was particularly interested to see how she answered the “discussion starters” at the end of each story. A few questions test knowledge (“God wants us to believe His Word. Of the 12 men who explored the new land, who were the two that trusted God?” Numbers 13:1-14:35). But they are more often “wondering” questions (“Do you think the man noticed how kind the woman was?” Genesis 24:15-20) or “tell what you think happened next” questions (“Elisha was not doing these miracles in his own power. God was helping him. What miracles do you think happened next?” 2 Kings 4:42-22) or even life application questions (“We should always remember to say thank you for what God has done for us. What has God done for you?” Luke 17:11-19).

The discussion starters are not only questions. Sometimes they are statements (“God always has a plan. He has a plan for you too.” Genesis 44:3-45:28) or lessons (“The father in this story is like God. God sees us make bad choices, and He is sad. But He is always waiting for us to come back to Him.” Luke 15:20-32). She was fully engaged and willing to discuss with me before going on to the next one.

The “Read and Share Bible” seemed a bit Old Testament heavy (a quick count was 144 Old Testament stories to 65 from the New Testament) and I wondered if that ratio was typical of Bible story books. So I pulled out my own childhood “Bedtime Bible Stories” (yellowed pages and a copyright in Roman numerals!) and counted 13 Old Testament stories and 24 from the New Testament. My now grown son’s “Precious Moments Stories from the Bible” (1991 was the most recent printing) was more difficult to count because these stories were arranged by category (“Acts of Hate,” “Deeds of Love,” “Acts of Unbelief,” “Deeds of Faith” for instance) and not in order from the Bible.

I liked the “Read and Share Bible” and would recommend it for either very young children or as an introduction to stories of the faith for older children (still needing a deeper exploration by the teacher or parent). And I think I’ll mail my review copy to my little helper!


Sustainable Faith II

December 8, 2010

What makes the difference between a teenager staying connected to the church or straying from it? A previous article here shares several key observations by David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group on the topic. His organization has been researching what makes for sustainable faith and while the organization is still in the midst of the study, he did share several key observations at the LOGOS Live Conference in San Antonio, Texas in October. This article continues the discussion.

What about those of the “next generation” who do leave the church?  Do they share any common characteristics?  And if so, does that give church leaders clues as to how we can keep our young people engaged and connected to the faith?

David described three types of young people who leave…Prodigals, Nomads, and Exiles.

Prodigals: These are the ones who have walked away from their faith. They’ve made an intentional break.  Presumably they’ve had a negative experience with the church or with Christians.  They’re feeling angry or annoyed with Christians in general now.

Nomads: These are the spiritual wanderers who have gradually disengaged.  Church is just not as important to them as it used to be.  They don’t feel that they “fit in” to church anymore and they don’t see that church matters.  This is the most common group who leave the church.

Exiles: These are the young people who now find themselves in a culture or environment that is very different than what their “growing up in” church understands or accepts. Because of their occupation or where they live or how they live, they have a need to navigate new territory and don’t see the church as being helpful or supportive.

I’m wondering if many of our nomads started as exiles as they entered college.  Unless they were very intentional in connecting with a Christian community it would be all too easy to move deeper and deeper into a place that separates them from what they experienced in their home-church environment—no matter how beloved at the time. And then that separation just becomes the norm and there’s little recognition of the importance of a church community or for practicing their faith.

What do you do to maintain the connection with the post-high school (and particularly college attending) youth from your church?  Is it important to keep them connected not only to their home church leaders but also to their home church peers?

What are some ideas to reconnect with them on a regular basis and when they come home for their natural seasonal breaks? Do you plan mission trips or on-line Bible studies?  Fellowship gatherings?  Please share your ideas and thoughts.


Ministry for adults and children

November 8, 2010

A great description of how one church finds common ground between children and adults through LOGOS. Excerpt from Rapid City Journal:

“I like the intergenerational feeling of it. Family is not just mom, dad and kids. People who go to church here are a sort of family, too,” she said.

“Because the parents of LOGOS ministry members are asked to contribute from time to time — teaching Bible classes, preparing the family-time meal, leading recreation activities — a flourishing LOGOS ministry seeds the church with active adults,” Sherman-Conroy said.

“When kids make friends in the church, parents get involved. When parents get involved, families get involved. When families get involved, the church is a vigorous actor in the community, sharing the love of God, generating excitement and growing. It can transform a congregation.”

The LOGOS ministry builds on itself. Westminster is able to offer not only classes for children and youth, but also for parents and adults.

“The church is for all people and all ages. While kids learn and grow in their way, adults can be encouraged and equipped for their lives, too,” said Jacobs.

An adult small-group study class that is reading “Boundaries,” a book on setting healthy boundaries, includes many people who aren’t members at Westminster.

Sherman-Conroy and Jacobs regularly eat lunch at West Middle School, across the street from the church, and invite kids to attend LOGOS.

“Kids like feeling like they’re part of something,” she said. Weekly attendance in the LOGOS youth group ranges from 16 to 20, a good turnout for a church of its size, Sherman-Conroy said.

Read the rest of the article here.


Sending an Orphan Back to Russia

April 12, 2010

This is a blog post from my friend Pastor John Smith. He is the Senior Pastor at Grace UMC.

I have been coaching them this year in the start up of their LOGOS Ministry and Inter-generational Family Worship service.  Pastor John has considerable experience with ministry in Russia and is passionate about children.  He shares some wise words that I think will interest all of us in Children’s Ministry.

Please read it here.


Children in Today’s Church: Worshipping Together

March 24, 2010

Third in a series of three discussions

Many years ago, as I was beginning my career in ministry with children, I arrived at church early on my first Sunday morning to prepare for the day’s worship and education. I was excited—and a little nervous—but also very eager to meet the children that day. Looking back, I think that a lot of the parents in that congregation were looking forward to meeting me, too—and some were quite eager to express their POV to me about including children in the worship service.

One set of parents stopped me outside the sanctuary to let me know that they “hoped I wasn’t going to change the church’s practice of having children 11 years and younger leave right after the call to worship because after all, Sunday worship was their time and children are a distraction”, stunning me with their vehemence. Hoo boy! First week on the job and already in the thick of it!

What did I do? I’ll get to that in a minute….

As I read and research trends in today’s church, I see a movement towards having the whole family worship together. Any congregation that embraces this approach must then deal with how to make worship engaging for all who are present, regardless of their age—and having made this decision, must then convince/persuade all church staff and worshippers that it can be done without sacrificing relevance for anyone. Worship planning can be exciting when you think of all of the possibilities for creatively engaging all ages in the holy worship of God!

Back to my first Sunday dilemma: I thanked those parents for sharing their thoughts with me and moved on to worship. I prayed mightily for wisdom and guidance. I met the most wonderful children that day, children who loved God and who wanted to be with both their family and their church family as they experienced prayer and confession and forgiveness and music and offering and baptism and communion and hearing God’s Word and wondering about what it all meant for them—not much of which could be authentically replicated in a “children’s church” setting.

What did I do? Baby steps. From that day forward, I worked diligently to increase the time children sat with their families, made our time together a continuation of the adults’ worship, and lobbied for [and won!] the practice of bringing the children back into the sanctuary after the sermon. After a time, the only moments children were not in worship were the moments during a spoken sermon, giving them a chance to witness and experience all the richness of the tradition and ritual of worship in that church. After a time, no one could remember that it had been any other way.

Can families with children worship together in your church? Yes! It takes prayer, intentional worship planning, lots of creativity, patience, communication, and time, but your church can transform itself from a Sunday-morning-segregated group into the whole family of God at worship together.

What do you think?


Children in Today’s Church: At the Communion Table

March 17, 2010

Second in a series of three discussions

Several years ago, while leading a communion seminar for children and their families, a father came to me privately and expressed his concern that he would not be able to truly discern his children’s sincere repentance of the wrong things they had done, and therefore he could not allow them to take communion. He then proceeded to bring his children to worship and in full view of the other families, who had participated and graduated from the seminar, forbade his children to partake, passing the elements right over their heads.

How sad we all felt as we gazed at the bereft faces of those children!

One of the challenges in any congregation that wishes to be inclusive of children in worship is coming to an understanding or agreement about inviting children to the communion table. Every Christian congregation has its own set of understandings about when children should partake of the Lord’s Supper. Certainly denominational churches are governed by guidelines for worship; non-denominational churches usually develop their own policies.

Here are some thoughts:

“In the early church, baptism was the required admission to the Lord’s Table. This is still clear to us in the baptism of adults. But even to the early Christians, baptizing children and then refusing them communion would be like giving birth to a child and then withholding food until the child is old enough to ask for it and understand its significance.” [“A Theology of The Lord’s Supper” by Catherine Gunsalus Gonzalez]

“The balance is a delicate one: on one hand, parents want to be sure that their children understand and appreciate the Lord’s Supper before the children begin receiving communion; but on the other hand, participating in the Lord’s Supper is one of the ways we gain understanding of and appreciation for the sacrament.” [“God’s Family at the Table” by Thomas G. Long]

When are children ready?

1. Children between birth and 3 years old can begin to learn about the Lord’s Supper while communion is being served. Parents can talk about what is happening with simple words such as “when we eat and drink we remember the special meal Jesus had with his friends.”

2. Children 3-5 years old are often quite curious about communion elements. Parents can share that “God’s people share a meal together as God’s family.”

3. Children aged 6-8 years old are reading and are often able to think both historically and symbolically so parents can talk about how we remember Jesus when we share communion. Engaging them in baking bread for communion, or helping to clean up afterwards, appeals to children of this age and helps them to feel included if they are not receiving communion in their church.

4. Children aged 9-12 years old are more skilled at abstract and symbolic thinking as they grow. They are gaining understanding of the presence of Jesus in the sacrament and that as we participate, we are receiving God’s love and forgiveness and saying thank you.

Learning about the Lord’s Supper is a life-long process. The most effective way we learn about anything in life is by doing it. It is the same for the Lord’s Supper. We do not really understand it until we participate in it.

In “Welcoming Children to the Lord’s Table”, David Ng says, “We now understand better that children, because of who they are, bring special gifts to the community of faith. Child-like faith is simple, direct, and trusting. It is not faith that is earned or learned, but faith that is a gift from God…. Indeed, Jesus used the faith of children to remind his disciples of the nature of faith.”

When we combine what we know about the Lord’s Supper with what we know about children, we find that children can participate with wonder and meaning, and can increasingly contribute to the entire community’s celebration.

What do you think?