Need Church Volunteers?

July 2, 2011

Having trouble getting people to “step up to the plate” to serve in the church? Let’s get something really clear….they rarely do! So we need to find another way to engage people in ministry. God didn’t wait for people to come (or even make general pulpit announcements)…God called people to come. By name. Moses, Mary, Gideon, Samuel, Noah, Jonah, Isaiah, Esther, Paul, the disciples. For each one God said, “Come…follow me.” Burning bushes, Jesus Christ, still small voices in the night, angels, and through other people. Other people? Yes! We can play that role today in the church for all those folks just waiting to hear “Come…follow me” (whether they realize it or not) to help those in need or greet newcomers to the faith or visit the shut-ins or teach the fourth graders.

It helps to have an intentional way or process of inviting people to serve. At The LOGOS Ministry, we’ve developed one that we teach church leaders to use. And it works. Here are the basics:

  • Help people recognize that God calls people to very broad roles (to be a “covenant people” and to be faithful followers of Christ) as well as a call to use specific gifts in a specific way.
  • Find ways for those in your church to discover and understand their specific gifts.
  • Establish a team that will go through intentional steps to implement this process of call (Call Team).
  • Call Team spends time in prayer and study of scripture to invite God into the process.
  • Call Team creates a description for each position that needs to be filled (tasks and expectations, term of service, spiritual gifts needed, personality fit, support and resources provided) and then prays over it.
  • Call Team spends time on their own considering names for specific position descriptions and continues praying (but not asking yet!).
  • Call Team meets again to consider names for each position (how well each person matches the gifts and talents needed, how will the church benefit and be blessed by each individual serving in this role, how will each person benefit and be blessed by serving in this role) and through prayer and discernment seeks one name.
  • Someone on the Call Team extends the invitation…face to face…not through an email or passing in the hallway at church on a busy Sunday morning…and gives the person time to talk to and listen to God (and other people) about the call.
  • Someone on the Call Team follows up 3-5 days later to hear the answer and accepts and celebrates a “no” as readily as a “yes” assuming time has been spent in discernment.

That’s a brief summary of the call process and must always be followed by a commitment to equip our volunteers once they have answered the call to serve. LOGOS offers an entire workshop on the process of call for those interested in learning more. Please contact Liz Perraud at lizperraud@thelogosministry.org

Is there a difference between inviting individual people to serve God in ministry and recruiting anyone to fill a slot? What has been your experience in the church?

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Sustainable Faith

November 15, 2010

What makes the difference between a teenager staying connected to the church or straying from it? If we can identify what the church can do—or do differently, can we stem the tide of those who give up or drift away from the Christian faith, and more specifically the church community? I recently heard David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, address the concept of sustainable faith—something that Barna has been researching.  The organization is still in the midst of the study but he did share several key observations at the LOGOS Live Conference in San Antonio, Texas in October.

First, he believes three things define what makes this next generation different:

The long shadow of the 60s–skepticism is greater, there is less trust, and more social change particularly in the family make up.

The digital world–kids are digital “natives” and information consumption has moved from passive to interactive.

The post Christian environment–increased cultural criticism of Christianity.

These three factors help explain why this generation is more alienated (from institutions, public schools, manufacturers), has more access (to information and the world), and has new questions about authority.

This isn’t all bad news!  It means that for this generation, relationships count (because institutions don’t), they learn how they want and when they want, they are willing to take risks and take action, and they are interested in the “common good.”  Are we “back to the future” with the early church? Sounds like it, doesn’t it? The issue for us as “the church” becomes what changes do we need to make as a community to be more inclusive of and inviting to this generation? David also observed that the central challenge to this next generation is being “in the world” but not “of the world.” He believes that challenge will be critical to how we work with this age group.

He was emphatic that church leaders need to pay attention to the reasons why even those 18-29 year olds who have grown up in the church may not be calling themselves “Christian.” Kinnaman identifies some of the things being said about the church from the surveys–noting it’s not as simple as we would hope.

Doubtless: The church doesn’t deal with doubt.

Anti-Science: The church is perceived to be this.

Shallow: Church is boring, God is not experienced in church.

Too safe:  All talk, no action.

Meaningless: Faith is not relevant to real life.

Too institutional: The church ignores the problems of the real world.

Talking heads: The church talks at rather than with youth.

Uncreative: Not interested in the ideas of young people.

Ouch!

David did offer up some hope for the church if we pay attention and make some change. Two of the areas he suggested that need addressing are:

“Age buckets”–stop segregating all we do by age group

Ministry to parents—a need to step this up

At The LOGOS Ministry, we teach an approach that allows for all generations to be in ministry together—with a focus on building up young disciples of Jesus Christ. Parents partner with other parents as well as older (and younger) adults in the church to minister to children and youth. We’re not the only organization helping churches move in this direction and we believe that when churches do it well there might be a better chance of stopping the loss of what Barna calls “spiritual engagement” of the next generation. What are the roadblocks that your church is experiencing? What makes getting past some of these barriers so difficult?


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?


Children in Today’s Church: Goals for Growing Spiritually

March 10, 2010

First in a series of three discussions

Over the years I have been asked many times by parents and church teachers about how to tell if a child is growing spiritually. Can we know if all the time spent in worship, Sunday school, midweek ministry programs, Vacation Bible school, and service projects is actually having a positive effect on the spiritual development of our children?

In my opinion, the answer is yes. While the growth of our faith is part of a life-long journey and certainly a unique personal experience, there are some measurable ways that we can use to test the general effectiveness of our ministry with children:

1. Children will increase in their understanding of God’s promise to always love us, to always forgive us and to always be with us. (Birth – 7 years)

2. Children will grow in their ability to pray. (Ages 1 – 7 years)

3. Children will participate in age appropriate worship experiences. (Ages 3 –7 years)

4. Children will increase in their knowledge of the stories of the people of God. (Ages 2 – 7 years)

5. Children will develop the ability to express kindness and to demonstrate generosity. (Ages 2 – 7 years)

6. Children will develop the ability to extend forgiveness and to make amends. (Ages 3- 7 years)

In his book “Talking to Your Child about God” David Heller says that like sexual or cognitive development, spiritual development is a natural process which unfolds spontaneously if a child is supported and encouraged. When development is suppressed or inhibited, however, a child is neither adequately equipped to confront religious questions healthily, nor sufficiently secure to get the most out of life.

How is your children’s ministry doing?

For a more evaluative and detailed tool to measure the effectiveness of your church’s ministry with children, use the free Children’s Ministry Effectiveness Model available at www.thelogosministry.org.


Helping Children Wait for Easter

February 24, 2010

A child prayingIt occurs to me that most Christian adults navigate Lent through some pretty serious spiritual practices by reevaluating their lives, rededicating themselves to God, and engaging in often tough disciplines such as daily prayers, personal deprivations, special service projects, and fasting. But can we help children find meaning in such Lenten practices?

Already in stores we see signs of “Easter”…plastic eggs and baskets, stuffed bunnies, candy—all items that can derail a parent’s commitment to making Lent a spiritual journey for everyone in the family. How can we include children in the Lenten preparations for Easter?

In Gateways to Worship, Carolyn C. Brown suggests that we teach children that, “Lent is a time to wait for Easter by finding ways to be closer to God. Purple is the color for both Advent and Lent because in both seasons we wait for the coming of the King. Unlike Advent, Lent includes no special songs, stories or rituals that are obvious to children. Therefore our goals are simply that children recognize Lent as the time we wait for Easter and know its color to be purple. Children are already familiar with a variety of prayers we use in congregational worship and they should be grasping the concept that we can worship and pray at any time and in any place.”

A good prayer focus for your children during Lent is learning the Lord’s Prayer. Read Matthew 6:9-14 and tell the story of the time when Jesus’ friends asked him to teach them how to pray. Each week of Lent you can focus on one line of the prayer. Ask children what they think the words of the prayer mean. Make placemats for your dinner table and write the Lord’s Prayer on it; use the prayer for your mealtime thanks and grace.

Faith at Home advises that “In addition to the typical Lenten activities, which young children will probably not understand fully, enrich your family life during Lent in other ways. Choose activities, stories, and play that highlight things coming to life, or the sparseness and simplicity of the season, or themes of Easter to come. A twig’s green wood underneath a scraped-away outer layer. Budding and blooming plants. A simplified home décor. Quiet evenings enjoying each others’ company without the television. Delicious, simple meals of good soup and bread. Finally, begin to look ahead, in your storytelling, playtime, books, and more, to the great stories of Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter.”

Keep Lent simple and focused: get close to God and stay close to God…through prayer and simple family activities.

Amen.


Passing the Parenting Test

January 20, 2010

I remember when each of my babies was placed in my arms, only minutes old. I was overwhelmed with love and with feelings of protection. But by the time I arrived home from the hospital, those feelings were accompanied by a big load of panic. How will I know the right things to do? What if I make a mistake?

I blundered forward and despite myself, my babies grew into smart and spirited children. But of course, I worried about their physical and emotional health, I worried about their education—and I worried about their spiritual life. So I fed them healthy food, encouraged their schooling, and took them to worship and to Sunday School and to LOGOS….

Last week I read this article in Christianity Today “The Myth of the Perfect Parent: Why the best parenting techniques don’t produce Christian children” by Leslie Leyland Fields. * Leslie writes, “Our most consuming concern is that our children “turn out”—that is, that our Christian faith and values are successfully transmitted, and that our children grow up to be churchgoing, God-honoring adults.”

My children have grown up to be wonderful adults with families of their own. Their values and ethics are Christian, they are involved in productive work, enjoy great friendships, but do they have faith? Did I fail parenting?

Leslie says, “The question we ask of ourselves must be reframed. We need to quit asking, ‘Am I parenting successfully?’ And we most certainly need to quit asking, ‘Are others parenting successfully?’ Instead, we need to ask, ‘Am I parenting faithfully? Faithfulness, after all, is God’s highest requirement for us…. Parenting, like all tasks under the sun, is intended as an endeavor of love, risk, perseverance, and, above all, faith. It is faith rather than formula, grace rather than guarantees, steadfastness rather than success that bridges the gap between our own parenting efforts, and what, by God’s grace, our children grow up to become.”

May God help us all to be faithful parents….

*You can read Leslie Leyland Fields’ entire article at http://bit.ly/6ZwdUq


Tooting Your Own Horn

January 6, 2010

My mother used to say, “if you don’t toot your own horn, no one else will.”

I did not get it then….but I do now. It sounded self-centered, too prideful then, but now I understand the difference: being egocentric, arrogant, conceited about yourself is not the same as understanding God’s purpose for your life, being in touch with your own gifts and abilities, and being open to sharing yourself.

Maybe it would read better if mom had said, “Find the horn God gave you to toot, let your life be pleasing to God, and toot away.”

Judy Comstock, Executive Director of the International Network of Children’s Ministry, has just edited and published “It Worked for Us: Best Practices for Ministry with Children and Families.” I am going to toot Judy’s horn for just a moment: this is a very helpful book containing practical information about children’s ministry from administration to child development to education models to safety, special needs, spiritual formation and finally, volunteers.

One chapter is on Family Ministry, a particular passion at The LOGOS Ministry these days. The chapter begins with reminding us about Deuteronomy 6:4-7, one of my favorite passages and the guiding scripture for our Heartfelt newsletter. The chapter goes on to talk about “providing a model for parents” and about educating, equipping and encouraging parents along the way.

Lots of churches today are struggling with how to provide Biblically-based, healthy worship and ministry opportunities for children and their families, especially if they are experiencing staff and volunteer shortages. Rather than remain in despair and isolation over what our churches cannot do, let’s talk with one another and help each other find ways and means to reach more families for Christ.

I am thinking that churches who have created effective family ministry should be tooting their own horns. What is your church doing for children and families and how is it working?

Toot away!