Upon accepting my role as a delegate for the Virginia UMC Annual Conference, Pastor Brian assigned me the task of looking into one of the organizations represented and to write this blog post on it. During one of the conference meetings, a promotion video was shown for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Immediately, I recognized that this was an organization that so truly represented everything I believe in and what we as Christians should strive toward. As the name suggests, the organization works to assist, specifically in the areas of Hunger, Health, Refugees, Emergencies, and Relief Supplies.
For Hunger, UMCOR not only seeks to provide meals to the starving and impoverished, but they also develop plans to help countries grow food supplies. They do this by providing seeds, tools, and agricultural training. For Health, they do not simply provide their own limited health care support. They help provide health education and distribution of medicines and equipment. One of their greatest tools is the Health Kit, provided by churches and other charitable groups, containing all the health supplies (washcloths, soap, bandages, etc.) that these poverty stricken people don’t have access to otherwise. For Refugees, the organization seeks to relieve those who have been forced out of their homes by oppression or violence. Shelter, food, and medication are the priorities given to these families and individuals. Beyond that, UMCOR seeks to help these peoples get back to a functional life. They’ll work with them through the court system, through counseling, and any other social programs necessary. For Emergencies, they provide any form of relief necessary, be it physical, emotional, or psychological, to those affected by disaster. UMCOR has provided services after hurricanes, tsunamis, even a volcanic eruption. Aside from this, they respond also to smaller more common disasters. The final focus of relief is Relief Supplies and it is the most crucial. This area of focus provides for the other four. Relief kits are donated in six varieties; bedding, cleaning, health, layette, school, and sewing. All of these kits are essential in some way to get suffering people back to a sustainable way of life and are often a part of the healing process.
What I find most remarkable is that UMCOR channels 100% of donations to relief efforts, and with all the work being done by volunteers. This is a perfect representation of what living a Christian life means. Nothing in this is for gain, only charity. Depending on which version of the Bible you read, the Greek word “agape” can be translated to either to “charity” or “love.” I find this appropriate because my interpretation of love has always been to put someone before yourself. That is what this organization aims to do. The only drawback to UMCOR’s incredible generosity is that have little ability to advertise. They don’t have the budget to publicize themselves, because they’re spending it by loving people. That’s why this is the organization I chose to promote on the pastor’s blog. It is an example of the absolute goodness God has in this creation.
I have always considered myself an optimist, believing that mankind is inherently good. I believe this is essential to Christian faith. This worldview has certainly been challenged. But I have seen people leave fast food restaurants and turn the car around to hand a bag to a homeless man at the side of the building. I know of people who won’t just give a dollar to someone holding a sign at a traffic light, but step out to pray with them. And I know of the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Thinking of this organization, I’m reminded of the Matt Maher song, “Hold Us Together.” He sings, “Love will hold us together, make us a shelter to weather the storm. And I’ll be my brother’s keeper, so the whole world will know that we’re not alone.” And like the song says, “It ain’t the law of the land or the government, but it’s all you need.” UMCOR lives the message of this song. It’s people who want to do everything they can do. And ultimately, if they can show this amount of love to others, they may be able to fulfill our mission and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
In some ways this worship service has the same elements that we have at Community weekly: we gather with singing, we hear God's Word, and we hear a sermon; but, then in response to God's Word and activity the Bishop recognizes and sets a part people to perform the task of pastoral ministry throughout the Annual Conference.
This year at Annual Conference, particularly at the Service of Ordering of ministry, the Holy Spirit was moving in the hearts of the people. Bishop Swanson of the Mississippi Annual Conference preached about how each and every one of us was commissioned by God. We are sent by God into the world to do ministry. We are sent by God to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, set the captive free, and to proclaim the good news. People, no matter how imperfect we may be, are God's plan for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ through the world. Bishops Swanson and Lewis altered the program for the worship order and had people come forward to respond to God's call to serve in their lives. Bishop Swanson walked up and down the isles among thousands of people, seeking those who were called by God. The people who came forward were greeted by Bishop Lewis (our Bishop) and then prayed for by the ordinands (those about to be ordained as elders and deacons). Then we resumed the worship order with licensing, commissioning, and ordaining of pastors. Bishop Swanson's message really resonated with me, we are commissioned by God. The Church is commissioned by God and sent into the world to do ministry. Do we see church in this way? Is this our primary understanding of what God is calling us to do. We are called to go and serve.
In the church office, we keep track of all reported persons who serve through the ministries of the church on a regular basis and it is a relatively low number. Yes, we collect and give away a lot of food through various programs, the UMW circles have particular mission projects, and there are three teams from Community going with the Appalachia Service Project. But as a whole, our congregation is not missionaly engaged as we should be. That has to change if we are going to reach new people, and going to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. At Annual Conference, Bishop Lewis defined a disciple as,"a lifelong learner who influences others to serve." If we are not serving, then we are not making disciples for the transformation of the world.
By the grace of God, we have new chances to serve all the time, they are renewed each morning. Chances to serve others in the name of Christ. Chances to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. So I am challenging you to pray about how God is calling you to serve? How is God calling you to use your gifts to serve God's Kingdom and to transform the world?
Get Involved in Service
Here are some links to learn more about how you can serve through ministries of Community United Methodist Church:
Stop Hunger Now @ Community UMC
Wesley Community Service Center (Portsmouth)
Judeo Christian Outreach Center (for information click here, to serve click here)
Beach Bags for College Park Elementary School
Grace and Peace be with You,
It is almost noon, and this is anything but a normal Saturday at Glenn Memorial UMC. That morning we had invited 75 college students and church members to come and pack 20,000 rice based meals, and together we would pack 20,000 more meals that day. We stopped in the afternoon for a time of worship and fellowship as we had lunch on the lawn. Worship began with a song I had never heard before, "For everyone born a place at the table," sang Joseph, "for everyone born, clean water and bread." We sang about how God delights when we are creators of justice and joy in the world. From that day on, A Place at the Table became one of my favorite songs to sing in worship, because it clearly articulates how we live out our baptismal covenanting in the world.
Imagine a world where Christians are empowered and mobilized to live out their baptismal covenant, to do transformative work in their local communities, to do good in the world, and resist injustice, evil and oppression wherever they encounter it. To seek justice, offer mercy and form deeper relationships with Jesus Christ. I really believe that is the purpose of Church. I have spent a good bit of time over the last several blog posts writing about how and why we should be in mission as a congregation. What are the little things that we can do to serve others in our local community as best we can?
Our Mission Impact: Broad
Currently at Community, we are participating great number of ministries that address various needs of peoples in various locations around the world. This is great, we support a lot of good causes and we do good in and for our local community. The downside is that it can be challenging to quantitatively to measure the level impact you are having in the lives of so many people. Is our current model of missions effective? This is a question with more than one answer. We are clearly responding to a vast number of peoples short term needs. Where we are arguable less effective is that we are not taking steps toward the elimination of causes/systemic issues related to the need.
More Focused Missional Impact
Would it be more effective to have a more focused missional impact? Would it be more effective for us to help a few people to a greater extent? We would be transforming their lives, one life at a time? This type of model would dramatically upset our current missional paradigm at CUMC. The closest missional work is Outreach Ministries work with Jeff of the Pamunkey Indians, when we helped to finance and build his house. This type of ministry requires having and offering more financial and other types assistant to an individual on a more frequent basis. These challenges makes having significant life changing impact more difficult.
A Need for Balance
Each of the previous models for evaluating missional impact have strengths and weakness, so finding a balance in what types of missions we do is critical to our success as a congregation. Missions with a broad impact allow for us to encounter more people, giving us opportunities to feed the hungry, satisfy the thirsty, and clothe the naked. These are necessary and important to our life at Community, ministries Christ commanded we do, we want more people to participate in these ministries. If you want to participate in these types of ministries click here. There are also times when having a more focused impact would undoubtable help an individual face systemic problems. These are ministries that are game changers for people. As stated above, we do not currently have many ministries with this type of focus. How do we find a good balance between broad and focused impact? How are we a part of God's transformative and restorative power in the lives of other people? Are there models that might better utilize our human and other resource?
Open Table Model
Recently, I was approached by Angie Williams (yes, the same Angie that was the Director of Youth Ministries years ago at CUMC) of United Methodist Family Services about a new (at least to us) type of ministry model that could transform our missional impact at Community. It is called the Open Table model. In this model, a group of six to eight people (called a Table) help an individual reach self sufficiency in a year. This group is made of people in the church and beyond and they guide, support and help logistically through issues that they face as emerging adults. The Table meets weekly for one year or less with the individual to address the issues they face and to make sure that they are making progress on their own life goals. The thought behind the method is that many of emerging young adults actually require a substantial support network in order to reach their life goals. This is support network is generally made up of family, friends, teachers, etc. For example, I can remember when I was writing my first term paper and I sat a church after worship as a member edited my draft and helped me to make revisions.
The reason that Angie is involved in this is because United Methodist Family Services recognizes that many former foster children do not have these supportive structures after turning 18. As a result, former foster children have a substantially higher likelihood of living below the poverty line and/or being homeless with little chance of escaping poverty. Now you might be thinking aren't there programs that help people who face poverty related challenges? Yes, there are; however, many of these programs fall into the same trap of only addressing the short term needs for a vast majority of people, rather than transforming the situation overall. So the Table(s) established will provide the guidance and logistical support of a supportive structure for former foster children in our area upon the recommendation of United Methodist Family Services. If desire more information about the Open Table model of ministry, you can find more information at http://www.theopentable.org.
In September, I will be receiving special training to start an Open Table ministry here at Community and to train other congregation on this ministry. I will be looking for people to join the first Table here after that; maybe more than one if we dare to dream big enough.
I think it could be a way for us to have substantial relationship through our ministries. It will be a way for us live out our calling as a part of Christ's holy church. It will be a way for us to incarnate the gospel and to transform the world. I end this post with the words of "A Place at the Table" that left such an impact on me years ago:
For everyone born, a place at the table, for everyone born, clean water and bread, a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing, for everyone born, a star overhead, and God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace: yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!
Grace and Peace be with you,
When I was a sophomore at Virginia Wesleyan College (now Virginia Wesleyan University) and I was one of the student participants in the Elizabeth River District Stop Hunger Now packing event held at the college. This was my first encounter with Stop Hunger Now, which has in the last year changed its name to Rise Against Hunger, and I was amazed to see how God's people worked together in this fantastic ministry.
Method of Rise Against Hunger
Rise Against Hunger meals are grain based meals supplemented with flavor packets, vitamins, and minerals. Each meal packet feeds six people a whole mean and it only cost $29 to make and ship. All of the assembly of the meal packing happens through the work of volunteers at meal packing events.
After the meals are packed they are shipped to different locations around the world. Rise Against Hunger generally sends these meals to schools in the developing world. The thought behind sending the meals to schools is that education is one of the major ways to elevate children out of poverty; however, many children do not go to school in the developing world as they need to work or gather food. Sending the meals to schools encourages them to seek an education, and in turn they have a greater chance to get out of poverty. Rise Against Hunger tries to create scenarios in which both the immediate and longer term needs of hungry children in developing world are met. For more information about Rise Against Hunger, click here
Rise Against Hunger Event at CUMC
Community will be host a Rise Against Hunger Meal Packing Event on Sunday July 30, 2017. We will be packing more than 10,000 meals. We are still need to raise more funds for the event. We also will need many volunteers. If you wish to serve in the is great ministry, sign up here.
Grace and Peace Be with You,
The Mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches and extension ministries of the Church provide the most significant arenas through which disciple-making occurs. (¶120, The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church)
If you have been to traditional worship at Community, you have probably heard me say this or a shorter phrasing of this. It is an adaptation of the Great Commission that Christ gave his disciples before he ascended into heaven. To make disciples is the mission that Christ has left for us to do, and drives a great deal of the activities and programs we do at Community. These activities and programs (such as bible studies, age-specific programs, and fellowship organizations) are meant to be opportunities for individuals to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ. Yet, often we separate discipleship and our efforts to reach out to people who are not in a relationship with Jesus. I do not find helping establishing relationship with Christ and deepening relationships with Christ to be different things; because as we are deepening our relationship with Christ, as we are learning to love God and our neighboring completely, that depth of relationship with Christ causes us to share that relationship with others. But the reality is that sharing our faith with others outside the local church is not happening within United Methodism or more specifically and relevantly at Community. Statistically, the average United Methodist will invite someone to worship about once every 37 years. (Please note not all United Methodist will take this long to invite someone or will some do so as frequently as once every 37 years. It is an average.) To put that into perspective, I will turn 28 years old, next month. Now it is not hard to see that mainline (UMC, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran) congregations have been in decline; however, this decline by itself or the desire for the continuation of a congregation is not enough to motivate people to reach out to new people.
The Reason Why
As far as I have seen the only thing that both motivates congregations to reach out to new people and is effective in reaching those people is a deep and personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Our relationship with Jesus is the reason why we are reaching out in the first place. Someone of us have come to know Christ in more dramatic ways, and people who knew Christ came along side us in our times of great need and they helped us get our lives together. Then there are those of us, I'm in this group, that have been a part of the church my entire life, I was born into a Methodist family, I was baptized as infant, I was intentionally nurtured in and by community of believers who were committed to the promise they made in my baptism, who were seeking to love God and neighbor and who were striving to be like Christ and make disciples. In such an environment, one can't help but to learn about Jesus and come to know Jesus person; but let me be clear it was not one of those things that helped me have a relationship with Jesus it was the compilation of all those factors. So really an intentional community focused on deepening discipleship centered on our relationship with God and others has always been a part of my vision for what the church is or at least should be.
Some of you are probably wondering, "How can we become a community like this?" You may be playing out a chicken and the egg scenario on do we have to be developing disciples or reaching new people, what do we do first? The answer is that we have to do both simultaneously, because these this is not something that is linear but more cyclical. We should be constantly reaching out to new people, and to develop those people into disciple who in turn reach out to new people. Who are these new people? They are the people in your lives that you know that do not already go to church here. Our goal as the Reach New People working group is help you to develop deeper relationship with these people in your life and to share with them over time how following Christ has impacted your life. Recognizing that this will be easier for some than others, we all have a role in sharing with others the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ. This is not about turn or burn threats that some well meaning Christians make. This is really about proclaiming the liberating and transforming power of the Gospel in our lives and sharing this good news with people in our lives. When something good happens to me, I cannot help but to share the news with someone that I know.
Building Relationship with "New People"
These opportunities to share your faith with others or to invite them to church come through developing relationships with people outside of our congregation. The first steps vary a great deal based upon your answer to the following questions: Do you know many people who are not already Christians? Where are the opportunities in your life to meet non-Christians? Where do you spend a lot of your time, besides home and church? For some of us reaching new people will require that we meet new people, particularly people who are not already Christians. This is why I spend so much time at Starbucks, because it is a place where there are lots of people and many of them are not Christians. I frequent Starbucks in order to intentionally build relationships with the people who are there and I share my life with them and my relationship with Jesus Christ, which is at the center of my life. Now does this mean that many of the people will have become Christians already; no, but I hope that as our relationships deepens and that they will come to know Christ through their relationship with me.
But it cannot just be me, or anyone else who works at Community, if Community UMC is going to reach new people as a part of how we are making disciples of Jesus Christ, then you have to be a part of us reaching new people. So where in your life do spend a lot of time? Who are the people in your life who do not know Jesus? How can you share the good news of the Gospel with them?
Grace and Peace be with You,
When I was a Boy Scout, my Scout Troop took an annual trip to Kerr Dam, VA. We would spend 3 or 4 days boating, fishing, swimming, and camping. Late one evening, two of the older scouts were playing a board game under the light of the picnic shelter. They were playing Risk: the game of global domination. The goal of the game is to conquer the world, and to cover the board. Each player begins with a number of territories and they set out to battle each turn trying to conquer more and more territory. Although the competitor in me always thinks, "It ain't over til it's over," (Yogi Berra) there generally comes a point in the game when one play has an enormous advantage and is most likely to win. They cover most of the board and have great access to more resources and have more influence in the game overall.
Sphere of Influences
Although, I am glad that there are some major differences in between the game of Risk and the real world. There is some reality to the idea that certain nations have greater amounts of influence in the world, because they have a larger sphere of influence. The United States is one of, if not the most, influential nation on Earth. In the field of international relations, a sphere of influence is a spatial region or concept division over which a state or organization has a level of cultural, economic, military, or political control over another state or organization.
On a more personal level, there are various people in our lives where we have a level of influence in their lives as well as there are people in our lives that exert influence on us. (Spouses, children, parents, family, friends, employees, employers, etc.) We all live in an interconnected web of people, with varying levels of influence on one another.
Church, Christianity and the Kingdom of God
Jesus often taught about the Kingdom of God, which began in his life and continues in his resurrection (remember it is still the season of Easter). Sometimes we use the terms Christianity, the catholic (universal) Church and the Kingdom of God interchangeable without making distinctions between the terms. However, no matter what term we use, we are referring to no less than 2 billion people. The Kingdom of God has the largest sphere of influence in human history, and this comes with the potential to do either great good or great harm.
You may not have never thought about it, but Community UMC also has a sphere of influence (just on a different scale than nations or the global church). Our sphere of influence grows every time the church serves in the local community and has the potential to grow every time that we encounter new people with the life changing message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is because their lives are changed and focused on Jesus and applying his teaching in the world, the word will be different, it will be transformed.
Nurture, Outreach and Witness
As a denomination, the United Methodist Church has local churches provide for ministries in the areas of nurture, outreach, and witness. Nurture involves areas of pastoral/congregational care and visitation, age-specific programming for students and children, educational programming for adults. Nurture Ministries are meant to build people up, to help them to mature in their life of faith and in their love of God. Along with worship, Nurture is where we the reason(s) why we believe what we believe and how that should motivated us to act in both outreach and witness.
Outreach Ministries are predominantly ministries of service. These ministries include everything from mission trips to the other side of the world, to our in-house food pantry for those who need food assistance. As I mentioned above, when our Outreach Ministries serve the local community, we encounter people that we may have never met before, we build connections with individuals, groups, and organizations. These connections not only provide for a great link within the larger community, thus expanding our sphere of influence, but they help us to develop a love for our neighbor. However, if we as individual are not connected with our local community in missions, our impact and our sphere of influence will shrink.
Witness means to see and tell, so naturally Witness Ministries are about being a witness to the local community about the gospel. From our church website to individuals being welcomed in worship, Witness Ministries is about how prepared are we to tell others about the gospel of Jesus Christ, how do we invite them into a intentional community seeking life transforming relationships with Christ, and how do we welcome them and encourage them to belong among us in that intentional community.
Your Sphere of Influence
So what does any of this have to do with you? Your sphere of influence matters. Your sphere of influence, the people that you are connected are the people that we have the chance to reach with the gospel. Your connection to an individual or a community could be the catalyst for them having a relationship with Jesus. Your sphere of influence might make you alert to how the church could serve the needs of others, and change their lives by responding to their needs. Will you use your influence well in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world? That is up to you.
Grace and Peace be with you,
When I was a senior in high school, my pastor treated the Youth Group to subs and sandwiches one Sunday after worship. While we were eating and chatting, an older member came and spoke to the pastor to point out that there was a homeless man sleeping in one of the door ways of another building. As soon as the person stopped talking my pastor looked at me and handed me a sub and said, "Take this to the man and if he is still asleep just leave it with this things." So I went and delivered the food as I was told and when I came back, my pastor and the rest of youth were just eating their sandwiches. Then as I sat at the table and began to unwrap my sub my pastor said, "I need you to always remember that Church is not about us."
This is one of most simple and challenging messages I have ever had heard. "The Church is not about us." Now this doesn't mean that we shouldn't care for one another or that we should never take into account how the congregation feels about important things, but over all the mission isn't about us. The missions and ministries of the church are about something much bigger than those who gather together on Sunday mornings in Kempsville. We are primarily concerned with the people who are not among us, the people we have still yet to reach. The Church is about the needs of other.
Maslow and the Hierarchy of Needs
Every person has needs and those needs vary depending on their life circumstances. This is the basic principle that psychologist Abraham Maslow began to work through in 1943. Maslov organized these needs according to how people would need to survive. The base of the pyramid of the hierarchy of needs is composed of what people need to physiologically to survive (air, water, and food, clothing and shelter). Each respective level ascending adds other types of needs. A lot of the needs that Jesus spoke about are in the category of physiological needs.
Once one's physiological needs are relatively satisfied, then their safety needs take precedence, and dominate behavior. Safety and Security needs include: Personal security, Financial security, Health and well-being. The next level is Social belonging, which involves interpersonal feelings and feelings belonging. Deficiencies within this level of Maslow's hierarchy – due to prolonged hospitalization, neglect, or bullying, etc. – can adversely affect the individual's ability to form and maintain emotionally significant relationships (friendships, family, intimacy). Human beings need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance among their social groups. The next level in this hierarchy is Esteem. All humans have a need to feel respected; this includes the need to have self-esteem and self-respect. Esteem presents the typical human desire to be accepted and valued by others. People often engage in a profession or hobby to gain recognition. These activities give the person a sense of contribution or value. Most people have a need for stable self-respect and self-esteem. Self-actualization or "What a man can be, he must be" is the final level in the hierarchy of needs. This level of need refers to what a person's full potential is and the realization of that potential. Maslow describes this level as the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be. In his later years, Maslow described a self-transcendence The self only finds its actualization in giving itself to some higher goal outside oneself, in altruism and spirituality.
I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Food, I was Thirsty...
Faithfully caring for those in need is one way in which we are followers of Jesus and live out the Christian life. This is clearly seen in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25. The parable describes the end of his story, the Final Judgement, in metaphorical terms; however, their is a clear expectation to care for those in need.
'When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:31-40)
This past week at Youth Group our youth discussed the Parable of the Sheep and the Goat (partially listed above). We spoke about what this parable means and what Jesus is instructing us to do. Jesus is making the point that each person who is a part of God's kingdom has a role in caring for every other person in creation. It took a few minutes for ideas on how they could respond to those who are hungry, thirsty, estranged, naked, sick or imprisoned. Then you could see their minds working out not only who they needed to help, but also how they might be able to respond to the need of others. Some of them listed ways that are already existing ministries at Community, others listed new ways that we could respond to the needs of others.
But there was one youth, who will remain nameless, and that youth pointed out that he or she did not feel that the church would do follow through on these things. This is not just some kid, this is a kid who really knows this congregation well. He/She felt that the church was overly concerned with itself, its building and what it wanted. I want all to know that this description is prophetic, meaning an attempt to call the church to its true and better self, an opportunity for us to change and become more like who God has created us to be. Pastor Lee pointed out Sunday morning that there is a lot to do. Each and every one of us has a role in its future. I will repeat my former pastor's words again, "The Church is not about us."
So I ask you, how are you caring for others, both personally and through the ministry of the church? Will you help us feed hungry people, sustain the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit/care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, welcome the stranger? I know that you can and I hope that you will as we seek to make disciples for the transformation of the world.
Grace and Peace be with you,
When I was growing up one of my favorite superheroes was Captain Planet and I can remember watching this great show about eco-justice and marveling at how the Planeteers (kids with special rings, each able to control elements of nature) were able to make the world a better place. Each Planeteer had substantial power on their own to do good and resist evil with their powers of earth, fire, wind, water and heart; but it was only together that they could summon Captain Planet and every episode would reach this climatic moment and teammates working together to save the world.
We Can Do Better Ministry through Partnering
Community United Methodist Church has a lot of resources to make the world a better place through our missions and other ministries; however on our own we have a limited potential to change the world. Even if look at the United Methodist Church as a whole with a budget of approximately $150 million a year and 12 million people around, we don't have all the resources and human resources necessary to change the world on our own. So like the planeteers, we often join our efforts with others in ministry partnerships locally and globally in order to transform the world.
One Body and Many Members
Partnering allows for different people to use their gifts and graces and combine them to care for others. Everyone, yes everyone, has something to offer as we seek to do good in the world. Paul described the Church as one body with many members and each part of the body has something unique to contribute. Eyes see. Ears hear. Partnering with other organization gives our body more opportunities, more gifts and graces, more skills, more access. Partnering causes more connections with people outside of our congregation and causes new relationships are formed. Partnering helps the body to grow.
An Example of Partnering: Beach Bags
We are partners with College Park Elementary School in our Beach Bags program. Community and other churches and organizations can collect the food, but it is the College Park Elementary School that has the system in place to distribute the food to children and families in need of food assistance. Without partnering with our local schools, Partnering with outside organization gives us a chance for greater and more efficient missional impact in our community and beyond. Our partnership makes sure that children in our city have something to eat each and every day during the school year.
Current List of Local Partnerships
Here is a list of our ministry partnerships (ministries where we work with other outside organizations, please forgive me if I left anything out):
Will you join us in partnering our way toward the transformation of the world? If you have an idea for a mission partnership or if you have an organization that we should consider partnering with to better the local community, please contact your Outreach Ministry Group. Together with our shared gifts and graces and our partnerships in the local community we will make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Grace and Peace be with you,
It is good to be back at work and back to blogging about missions, outreach, and growing younger as a congregation after our brief break for Holy Week and my vacation. Sabbath and Rest are important parts of our lives. As I return to my regular "routine," I continue to be excited about the ministry opportunities that are happening at Community and that are on the horizon as we seek to live into God's Kingdom together.
International Mission Trips for many years have been an integral part to our cultural understanding of mission. Community has been extraordinarily blessed to have been a part of many different international mission trips and organizations over the years. Cuba, Chile, and South Sudan have been three of the main international mission efforts.
Although the cost can be high, international missions provides unique opportunities to develop relationships and partnership around the world that will change the lives of people.
Several weeks ago, I asked members of CUMC to share some of their first hand experiences with international missions.
In the field below is a reflection on the 2007 Mission Trip to Cuba by Silvia Steele:
A reflection on a mission trip to Cuba 2007. Sylvia Steele (Click Here for More)
I have been on a few Appalachia Service Projects mission trips in the past. I viewed mission trips as
After lunch, we took a long bus ride (no air conditioning) to our designation, the town of Baquanos. I have been to small towns and enjoyed the rural scenery in the States, but nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced on the road to Baquanos. The sun is hot, the breeze is hot, the air is hot - yes – it is hot. Very few places of the road are paved, mostly dirt road with lots of pot holds from the rains. The bus driver tries not to run over the large pot holds (fear of having a flat tire or damaging the bus), thus I am jostled all over the road with hot air and dust coming up from the dirt road. The further away from the city we traveled, the less cars we saw. I saw people riding in open carts pulled by oxen or a horse. Farm land with thin looking cows, sheep, and horses. Homes looked uncompleted or partly built. I learn from our interrupter that construction on homes collapsed when the Soviet Union no longer gave aid to Cuba, thus the money to produce the building materials vaporized. Stopped for lunch, delicious pulled beef and French fries that put our American fast foods to shame. The bathroom break! While preparing for this trip we were told by our trip leader to always have toilet paper or tissues on your person at all times. Now I understood! A person waited outside the restroom, (more of a fancy outhouse) you gave him/her your money and you got 3 squares of toilet paper. Yes – ladies – I did say you got only three squares to toilet paper. That’s it – no more!! The used toilet paper was put in a basket beside you, not in the toilet. When you walked out of the rest room a person with a bucket of water came in and dumped the water in the toilet to flush. I felt embarrassed and completely out of my comfort zone – a reflection in humility.
This 2007 Trip to Cuba transformed the lives of everyone who went on that trip, but it also left an impact on the lives on the people that live there.
By recognizing the impact of that trip on those serving and the people of Cuba, over 10 years ago, Gisselle, Greg Falls, and I are beginning discussions of when CUMC will plan another international mission trip. There is always the possibility of returning to Cuba on another trip in upcoming years potentially even as soon as 2018!
If if you are interested in serving in international mission trips please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When I was growing up, my entire family would go on vacation together: grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. These vacations were amazing spending so much time together as a family. One summer, we all brought our bikes down to Nags Head for our vacation, and as I was riding through the resort with my dad I crashed my bike. My dad got me back to the house and gave me a band aids to cover my scrapes. Everything was okay, I healed and life went continued. The next year, I begged my Dad to let us bring our bikes again and I crashed once again in the exact same place. Once again Dad bandaged me up, but this time it came with along with another solution to the problem - my Dad made the decision that we would not be bringing bicycles to the resort again. I was not particularly happy about the decision, but I also had no more abrasions from bicycle accidents.
When Band Aids Don't Solve the Problems
Now this is more than a comedic story of my clumsiness, it is an illustration of recognizing that for some problems short term fixes will not be a complete solution. Band aids are a really great way to think about short term solutions, sometimes they are absolutely the right means to treat a scrape. However, in other situations it is completely impractical to use a band aid in order to properly treat a medical problem. A band aid will not solve a head ache or cure diabetes.
Sometimes, while we are attempting to meet the essential needs in others, we are offer short term solutions (band aids) without considering the adequacy of the response or whether or not we we are solving long term cause of the needs. Many times our own awareness, training and/or resources effect our ability to respond with a combination long term solutions. In order to establish these solutions, it requires a deeper understanding of problems and the factors that contribute to these problems.
Systemic Problems Need Systemic Solutions
These systemic problems are often entangled with a multitude of issues. Sometimes the very systems of society perpetuate these issues making them very challenging to overcome. For example, a good proportion of people who are homeless have struggles getting a job and having an established address is often needed in order to apply for a job, yet housing is often the largest expense people have. One needs housing to get a job, and yet they need job to get money so that one can afford a home. If you are missing any factor in the chain of needs, then there will be challenges. Another example would be that families in poverty in foreign countries need children to spend their days helping to provide food for themselves and their families rather than going to school; however, education (over time) is one of the clearest ways out of poverty which would potentially solve the food access problem that families in poverty often experience. This is why Rise Against Hunger (formerly Stop Hunger Now) provides the grain-based meals that people pack at events predominantly are given to schools. This in turn encourages children to pursue an education and which provides the opportunities for families to the see the value of education, which given some time will put a major dent in poverty and food access issues. So solutions to systemic issues require systemic solutions that change the system.
Where do we go from here: Education, Partnerships and Advocacy
We need to become more educated on systemic issues that face Kempsville, Virginia Beach, and Hampton Roads in order to adequately respond to those needs. One of our fellow United Methodist Congregations, Virginia Beach United Methodist has made great efforts to respond to the homeless at the Ocean front, but they have also developed long-term partnership in their immediate surroundings in order to provide some relief efforts. We must partner with people and organizations in Kempsville, if we are going to meet our surrounding community's needs. Recognizing that some of the needs we will encounter are greater than we can solve on our own we will need to partner with others; but we will also need to advocate with local, state and federal officials that have the ability to make a difference on a larger scale and have a larger and longer impact.
Grace and Peace be with You,
Have you ever been in a conversation and the other person was not really listening to you? I know that I have been on both sides of those of conversations, I have been the person who was not heard and I confess that I have also been the person who was not listening. How would this feel if you were not being heard? This can be incredibly frustrating as the person who is not being heard, and cause many problems in the relationships between people in the conversation. Communicating is a two way street, it requires listening and responding appropriately. What if I told you that many churches are terrible at communicating, particularly about missions. What is the issue in our lack of communication? Most of the time, we are not really participating in a conversation, because we are not listening and responding appropriately.
Missions should be primarily a conversation with the needs of others and discerning how God is calling us to respond with our time, talents, and resources. However, this does not happen all of the time. Many times groups and organizations prioritize what they would like to do, and what they would want or enjoy over then actual needs of others. I have seen moments where this type of thinking was present in every church where I have been involved. It is just one of the many ways that we are indeed in need of grace, one more way that we are still on our way to Christian perfection. But how do we discern the needs of others? During the remainder of this blog post, I am going to describe one way to go about discerning what to do in missions in any local community.
Remembering that Missions is about people (subject of last week's post), the most important thing one can do is actually ask people within the population of your local community what their needs are. Sounds simple and it really can be. It is as simple as scheduling an appointment with a school principle or a guidance counselor, speaking to a local civic league, reaching out to city level officials. Once you have established a relationship with this person, then ask with what and how can we help? How can we serve? Do not make any assumptions, clarify as much as you can.
Once you have asked about the needs, then listening to the responses is essential to figuring out how to effectively to respond to those needs. Listening to formulate a response is essential to the on going conversation in mission. Not responding to what was said or at all is like abruptly walking away from a conversation. Missions is a conversation that should encompass all the people involved, as well as remain a conversation with God. We must also consistently be in prayer about what God is doing and calling us to do in local communities. These are important steps toward understanding what we are called to do in mission, but we cannot stop with prayer or conversation, we must respond to the need.
This is the step that is easiest to write about and the hardest to do. The Nike slogan, "Just Do It," comes to mind. Responding to the need is really all about doing what we are capable of doing to meet the needs of others in the community. Responding will look different in every situation; however, responding appropriately after asking and listening to the needs of others can have a tremendous impact in local communities, and it can transform the world.
This last step is the most important: repeat this process continually. People's needs are constantly changing and our capacity to address those needs is constantly changing too, so how we do missions should also change. Not change for change sake, but change so that we are more in tune with what God would have us do in any local, regional, national or international community. Constant discernment of needs of community and God's desire for our lives is how we live a life of mission. I was once told, "Our calling is where our deepest passions meet the world's deepest needs." How is God calling your to serve in missions in our local communities? What are your passions? What are the needs of those around us? The conversation is on going, let us go and listen for what we are called to do in the world.
Grace and Peace be with You
I was in middle school when my home congregation partnered with a local Roman Catholic Congregation to feed and house the homeless. My family and I went to buy the food, and then we met others from our groups at the Catholic Church to prepare the evening meal. The Youth Group and my mother's Sunday School class served the meal that evening. It was salad, spaghetti and meat sauce with garlic bread, and ice tea. As the adults and older students worked in the kitchen; the middle schoolers were the servers. Table after table, I served up pasta dishes, and then something completely unexpected happened. "Oh hey, Brian." The voice that came across the table was one that I knew well, since it was my Uncle Wayne (my grandmother's brother). I was a little shocked to see Wayne, because I knew he did not have a car and that we did not bring him. "Hi, what are you doing here?" I asked. "I am staying here this week, its much better than the cold, "said Wayne. That was it, and the conversation was over. He began to eat, and I walked away. That was the day that I learned an important lesson: mission is about people.
Missions are about people and transforming lives, but because missions are planned by and fulfilled by imperfect people, there will be mistakes that happen. But from time to time, we make mistakes are the results of a misunderstanding of principles of missions.
Many times the way we talk about missions and service-based ministries are not helpful. Many times as people discuss or present about various missions the presenter will talk about either how much stuff needs to be collected (this includes money given) and/or celebrating how much they did previously. Here is the problem with this: The Mission is about people; missions are about people. It is not about how much we collected, but what is about is the impact that we have on the lives of others. I have honestly no idea how much food was donated to Community's Beach Bag program in 2015-2016 academic year; but I know that 30 elementary school children had food to eat over the weekend. 30 students lives are at least a little bit better, because we cared enough to use the human, financial, and material resources at our disposal to make sure a grocery bag of food made it to College Park Elementary.
Missions is about Loving People
Whether it is volunteering on your own or you participating in the service-based ministries at Community UMC, missions is about loving people. It is about the compassion and empathizing with the situation of others and responding to their needs. An essential element to every mission is connecting and building relationships with those your are serving and those with whom you are collaborating to make an impact in the lives of others.
Responding to the Call of God
Living out our faith in mission is an essential part of the Christian experience, every Christians should be expected to participate in missions. This does not mean you have to go to Africa or South America. There are people who need to be loved on right here in Virginia Beach. God is calling us to live a life of mission and service, and this can and does happen right here in Virginia Beach (Click here for more info on local missions). If you would like more information about the impact we are having in the region (Click here for more info on regional missions). If you would like more information about our international missions in South Sudan and Chile please contact Jan Hurd (South Sudan) or Paul Steel (Chile). I cannot list all of the ways that you could be involved in missions here at Community, but I hope and pray that you will consider how God is calling you to serve through the ministries of Community and beyond.
Grace and Peace be with you
Stuck and Needing Help
When I was a little boy, no more that 5 or 6 years old, my aunt took me on a trip to Busch Gardens, Williamsburg. We left the theme park early in the evening, as summer showers were coming, but as we waited in the long afternoon I-64 traffic, the rain began to down pour. As unpleasant as heavy traffic in the rain can be, it only got worse, my aunt's car broke down. We got to side of the road, and my aunt put out some flares and she had to make a decision as to what to do. She did not have a cell phone then, so we had to decide which direction we were going to walk through the rain in order to find a phone and call for help. Not knowing any better as a small child, I put out my hitchhikers thumb. And a man stopped in old red pickup truck. There were just enough seats for my aunt and I and the driver, and the man dropped us off at the next exit at a Burger King. My aunt thanked him and offered him some money, but he refused it. He just got into his truck and rode away. We called my grandmother and she came to pick us up and took us home.
A Familiar Story
The Story of the of the Good Samaritan is one of the most important stories that Jesus tells in the Gospel of Luke. It is a story that really expresses how we live out our love of God and neighbor and really definite makes clear that there is no one who we should not love. Just in case you haven't heard this great story, here it is:
"A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?”
The Good Samaritan is a story of surprise to many of the first hearers of this story, because Samaritans and Jews were enemies; engaged in a religious blood feud that went back hundreds of years. Yet, Jesus is clear that we are to go and do likewise, we are supposed to express our love of neighbor to all people, particularly those whom are in the local communities.
Local Church, Global Mission
When I was a student at Candler School of Theology at Emory University, one of the best course I took was a course called, "Local Church, Global Mission." In this course, we discussed what is mission and how could we discern what should our missional/service based ministries should be emphasized in a particular locations. So missions (note the lower case 'm') can be a very contextual thing, designed for the specifics of local needs; however, the Mission (notice the capital 'M') remains the same because it has always been about more people coming into and developing a deep relationship with Jesus Christ. The Mission has never changed and it won't. missions on the other hand change for a variety of reasons. missions is one of the ways we are living out the Mission, we grow deeper in our relationships with Jesus Christ by serving others in our community and around the world. There is always someone in need, someone who is stuck on the side of the metaphorical road, and we should be there ready to respond. The obvious command of Jesus is clear, "Go and do likewise." We should be the good samaritans where we are.
How can we be the best neighbors locally
Get Involved in the missions at CUMC there are many different ways that you can be involved in missions here with Community. Recently you may have heard me mention that every United Methodist Women circle does a particular mission/ministry; however, this is not the only source of service-based engagement. You could join us in housing the homeless during the Winter Shelter, go on a mission trip with the Appalachia Service Project, you could help the Youth Group pack meals for the students of College Park Elementary School to make sure they eat over weekends. You can let us know how you would like to connect in mission at Community here: http://www.cumcvb.org/get-connected.html.
There is another way that Community can be involved in missions and that is by severing the needs of others in our local community through Volunteer Hampton Roads. Volunteer Hampton Road is an organization where groups or individuals can volunteer in service based elements locally. This is not a religious organization nor is it always events that are service or missioned based. Volunteering locally is one of the best ways for us to engage younger people, and Volunteer Hampton Roads can be a route toward this at CUMC. You can find more information about Volunteer Hampton Roads here: https://www.volunteerhr.org.
Being the best neighbors we can be locally and globally is a transitional topic for us, because we will be discussing service and mission more in the next few weeks as this is a critical element to the life of every congregation. It is how we follow Jesus and the fruit of our transformational experience with Jesus in our lives. Ultimately being the best neighbors we can both locally and globally through serving others will help us to grow younger and will help the Mission of more people know the transformative power of Jesus Christ.
Grace and Peace be with you,
Last April I joined our Men's Softball team, now it should not be a tremendous surprise that I am not very athletic, but I experienced a tremendous amount of pain radiating upward from my feet going up each of my legs after each game. This was more than being sore, so I went schedule an appointment with a pediatrist to see what was wrong. After some x-rays, Dr. Tupper told me I need support. I have high arches and those arches need to be supported, so I have spent the better part of a year working on getting my high arches properly supported and now I am pain free. (Just in time for softball again, and you should come out and support our men's team on Monday nights and coed team on Friday nights starting in April) Without my arch supports I can walk, but I will be in pain later; I need the support in order a basic function like walking possible.
Have you ever tried to do something without the support of others? Sometimes it is possible to do on your own, but it can often be difficult, even painful. One of the task of every congregation is to empower people to do ministry. This requires that we support one another in our efforts to do ministry. This is support is essential for all new ministry and for new people getting engaged in ministries. As we seek to engage new generations of people for Jesus Christ, we will do so through new ministries for and with younger people. These new ministries will need to be supported and given the tools and resources to help those ministries succeed.
More than Lip Service
It is easy to say that we will support these ministries, but making that support real and tangible is critical to success. We must do more than speak, we must actively seek to support one another in our ministries. Actively supporting new ministries and new people, helps us show others that they are valued and that their ministries are important and vital to the life of the church. But what does specifically supporting young people in ministry look like? How do we make this more than words that we say or words on a screen?
Involving and Resourcing
One critical element in supporting ministry with young people is actually the word, "with." Ministry with young people, rather than for young people is a critical Community taking that next step into our future as a congregation. Many congregations in their attempts to reach new generations of people focus on ministry for young people, feeding into a consumeristic model of ministry where if you just have the right programs young people will just flock into the church. Most churches (all involves a heavy burden for any claim) that try this method or model fail. Ministry with young people places the focus including the young people in all facets of ministry: idea generating to planning to actualization.
The next step of the church engaging in ministry with young people is allowing for the resources required to do those ministries with excellence. Ensuring that Community's ministry with young people are properly resourced could mean a variety of things. Ministries are properly resourced when they have all the necessary space, materials, financial support and leadership needed. If we are going to succeed in reaching new generations of people we must properly resource our ministries with young people, to do anything less is just setting ourselves up to fail.
What We Are Doing at Community UMC to Support Ministries with Young People
There are two new ways in which we are proactively trying to resource ministries with young people. First we are repurposing the Youth Wing into a multipurpose space to be a subtable for school-aged children through youth with space to play, to study/do homework, watch moves, to engage in art, and more. The other way that we are supporting young people is that we are proactively expanded our childcare related staff. We have hired a part-time Childcare Coordinator, whose responsibility will be to oversee both the nursery (for children kindergarten and under) and the night care (for children post kindergarten-age 12) during the evening activities at Church in the multipurpose space. We are also seeking to hire more nursery and night care workers to be able to expand out capacity to support new families as well as meet the needs of our congregation. These decisions were made in order expand our reach, our capacity to be in well resourced ministry with young people and families. Properly resourced ministries will help us to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
Grace and Peace be with you,
Gandhi's Knowledge of Jesus vs Experience of Christians
There is a well known story about Mahatma Gandhi, during his studies he became very familiar with the story of and teachings of Jesus; but, while he was living in South Africa he attempted to attend a Christian church and was denied and sent away because of his skin color. Gandhi is quoted as saying, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Now we could just pass this off as events that happened a long time ago during the South African Apartheid, but that would be completely missing the point. Confession time, Christians have often said and done things that seem contrary to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. This is true of the entire church in every era and in every place, including Community UMC. Sometimes, we have been completely hypocritical and Jesus had a lot to say about hypocrisy. But Ganhi's experience lead us to an important question, are we taking the message of Jesus seriously? But before we can answer this question we must ask another, what is the message of Jesus Christ?
These are Huge Questions
First, I want to start by saying that countless people in countless volumes have attempted to answer this question and I am sure that my answer or contribution in general will fall dramatically short. We will not be able to fully answer that question in one post or a life time of post. I also want to own up to the reality that my life and experience influence how I read the gospels, just like your life and experience influence how you read and understand the gospel.
There is also the factor that the Gospels were written for differing audiences and with various emphases in order to make the best case. For example, Matthew's gospel, more than the other three gospels, references prophecies and scriptures in the Hebrew Bible (a much kinder term than to our Jewish friends than Old Testament). There are good reasons to understand why Matthew would do this, the first reason would be to point out that Jesus was undeniably a Jew. The second might be to align him with a particular Jewish perspective or beliefs about the Messiah. The third would be to reinforce that Jesus was a great rabbi, a great teacher. Luke, like Matthew, has particular focus in linking the message and life of Jesus to the life of the prophets in the Hebrew Bible. The most straight forward part of John's more mystic gospel is when he states the intent in his gospel, "these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name," (John 20:31). So the question of the message of Jesus must consider these things.
The Message of Jesus is that God loves us; basing this on the Sermon on the Mount, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, John 3:16 and Christ words from the cross. It is the unconditional love (agape) of God that motivates the entire mission and message of the gospels. But back to our question, do we take the message of Jesus , the message of unconditional love for all people, seriously .
The Message of Jesus Should Impact Our Lives
This message of love is everywhere in the gospels both in word and in action, and this love of God and people is expressed in grace, mercy, forgiveness, and self-giving. Jesus commanded his disciples to teach and obey all their disciples everything that he taught them, so it is not hard to understand why Ghandi expected Christians to imitate Christ, to act like Jesus. We should be imitating Christ and following his teachings; which is not, nor has it ever been, an easy thing to do.
Imagine that you are a person that has little to no religious background or are a relatively new to a community of faith, and you have heard some of the teachings of Jesus. What would you think if the community of faith did not seem to follow this love centered movement with their actions? There would be a disconnect. We would see that they did not actually take the message of Jesus seriously. How we live our lives, can and does affect whether or not people think the message of Jesus is true. Old adage is true here: actions speak louder than word.
The Extent of Love
How we go about loving others in our actions, both as individuals and as a congregation, is the most powerful way to reveal the message of Jesus. This will challenge us to love those that seem unloveable. But both the Old Testiment and the Gospels are clear that we are to love and care for all people. For God all means all; period, no ifs, ands or buts. This includes our enemies and friends, those that seek to harm us and those who want to help, (legal or illegal) aliens and fellow citizens, the rich and the poor, the oppressed and the oppressor, the marginalized and those who think of themselves as the center of the world. The list could literally go on forever, because all means all. There is no one who is beyond the love of God expressed in and by Jesus. The movement of Jesus is a radical movement of love. So Church, we need to go find somebody to love.
Grace and Peace be with you,
The World is Different
The world is vastly different place today than when my parents grew up and even from when I grew up. The world is different now and it is changing faster than it ever has before, so growing up today is dramatically different than it was for you and for me. I can remember a time, when my family only had one computer in our home and we only had dial-up internet access (yes, I am aware that for many of you this occurred later in life), a time before text messaging, and before social media. Now children and youth have access to more up to date information than Encyclopedia Britannica, Webster's Dictionary or National Geographic could ever convey, and all of this information is at their finger tips 24 hours a day. Millennials and Generation Z have lived in an ever rapidly expanding world because of technology. They have conversation real time conversations with people all around the world, and they are more connected to people around them and around the world through technology than ever before. However, at the same time many of these connections and relationships exist purely on screens and in writing, never in the physical presence on one another. Therefore, unlimited and often unrestricted access to technology can and does create problematic realities for young people, and impacts how they relate to other people in physical space.
Extended Adolescence: Early and Longer
Does it ever seem like kids are growing up too fast? Well in some very real ways, they are growing up faster than we did. Children, particularly girls, are experiencing puberty and entering adolescence early today than in previous generations. But keep in mind, adolescence goes beyond when one reaches physical maturity, and extends through when a mental and emotional maturity happens. This mental and emotional maturity is becoming more complicated as many indicators of adolescence ending have been associated with some of the following life events: starting a career, having financial independence, getting married, and having children. However, many of these events are occurring later in the lives of most Millennials, because of factors related to their access to careers, and post high school education. Gaining access to employment opportunities is often further complicated by previous generations working longer (which many of them need to do so because they are going to live longer and require income longer after retirement). Acquiring particular levels of education beyond what is available in public schools has also become normative. During this process, younger generations acquire great amounts of student debt, which can be financially burdensome for years to follow.
So How Do We Empathize with Young People?
Some of you are probably wondering how can you empathize with younger people, if you really struggle to identify with their experiences? The most important thing that needs to happen in order to empathize with younger people is to actively listen and value their experiences. Often when we are in conversation with other people we listen in order to respond in the conversation, rather than listen just to listen. Now this is not to say, one should never respond; but that we should be particularly careful that we have fully understood where the other person is coming from before responding to them. This reminds me of when I was a child, I attended a daycare as both of my parents worked, and one of the teachers would always say, "Listen, then do."
Why is This Important
Empathizing, intentionally listening, and trying to connect with the experiences of young people will likely make a significant difference at Community. Being heard and being valued are essential to belonging to any group of people, and feelings of belonging lead to believing (for people new to faith). So Empathy, active listening and connecting will certainly create a more welcoming environment for young people, because young people would be valued. If we listen we will be better able to address issues that are of real concern to them. A greater amount of empathy will help all of us listen and care for one another. Ultimately, empathizing and valuing the experiences of young people will enable more people in our local community to come to know Jesus Christ. So listen, then do.
Grace and Peace be with you,
Relationships that Matter
Sam is now in his 90's and he lives in Virginia Beach, but most of his life he spent in Portsmouth. Whether he was teaching auto shop or Sunday School at West End United Methodist Church, Sam has dedicated his life to building warm relationships with new generations of people. Sam began teaching Sunday School for high school aged students in the 1950's to the 1980's, teaching multiple generations of families. He taught my grandparents in some of his first years, and then taught my parents when they were in high school. However, about twenty years after Sam taught my parents class, there were not enough people in my small congregation of 70, who signed to be confirmation mentors. It was Sam who stepped up once again to become my confirmation mentor. This is when I really got to know Sam and he got to know me. He then returned to the Sunday School classroom as my teacher when my class needed a leader. I would confidently say that Sam invested his time and energy in me and that had made a pointed difference in my life.
Age Specific Ministry Models and Trends
For generations, churches across the country have engaged in what I would call age specific ministry, i.e. children's ministry, children's church, youth group, etc. People of the same age predominantly and sometimes exclusively spend time with one another (under appropriate supervision, of course). This gives children and students opportunities to build deep relationships with each other; but once they graduate high school statistics show that less than 50% of all former youth remain active in their church. The young adults go off to college or start life in the working world, however, many churches (including Community) do not offer successful age specific programming for young adults, as well as there has not been any effort in establishing ongoing intergenerational relationships with other adults in the congregation. Without these relationships and connections and some natural transitions for people in this stage of their lives, young people naturally drift away.
Personally, I find this to be tragic that at least half of all youth currently involved in congregations around the country will walk away from communities. It is devastating for everyone: both the individuals walking away and for the communities they will leave. It is tragic for young adults who are walking away, because they are missing out on a supportive community as well as they are missing the story of Jesus, and His presence in their lives. It is tragic for communities, because the community can never be the same without every person. In the United Methodist Church, congregations affirm that they will support all who are baptized through the ministries of the church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness. Are we faithfully participating in promise that we made every time someone was baptized, if we are indifferent about our young people walking or drifting away from the church?
What can we do to reduce the number of youth and young adults leaving the church, and loosing the community that is supposed to support them as they grow into the image of God? There is no silver bullet, meaning a simple answer(s) that we could simply do with a minimal invest of time and effort. A real difference will require changing our mindsets and approaches to our ministries. One of the things we can do is focus on building intergenerational ministries at Community. Intergeneral Ministries are built and nurtured through people like Sam, who are willing to invest young people, outside of their own family.
Committing ourselves as a congregation to investing in intergenerational ministries means that as our youth emerge into adulthood, whether going to college or establishing themselves in the workforce, they would have already established meaningful connections to other adults at Community. This greatly increases the likelihood that our youth will remain among our supportive and loving community for years to come.
List of Opportunities for Intergeneration Ministry at CUMC
Children's Ministry (click for more info)
Teach Children's Sunday School - Sunday School is one of the greatest opportunities we have to help our children to know Jesus and God's story. If you are thinking that you could never prepare a lesson to teach children or I do not he lessons are already planned. You could be the reason that a person, learns about Jesus. If you are interested in being a Children's Sunday School teacher, please email the program director.
Vacation Bible School - Each Summer, Community host a week long program with games, activities, bible stories and lessons called Vacation Bible School (VBS). Each year well over 100 children, including many of whom who are not otherwise connected with CUMC, attend VBS. From helping to prepare snacks to doing skits to being group leaders, there are many different ways to be involved in this vital ministry that helps children learn about Jesus. If you can help, even if only for one day, I can promise it will be a rewarding experience. If your would like more information or would like to volunteer for VBS, please email the program director.
Confirmation (click for more info)
Confirmation is the process and season of a young persons life in when we help them to decided, if they want to affirm the beliefs of the Christian faith for themselves and becoming professing members of the church. This usually happens during a students time in Middle School (6-8th grade) but could be at any point after 6th grade. Here are some ways in which you could build intergenerational relationships in Confirmation.
Confirmation Mentors - Most students have not intentionally reflected on the beliefs of our faith before Confirmation, so we have found it helpful for students to have a mentor during Confirmation. This is not you teaching the faith, but walking along side the student during the weeks of confirmation activities. Pastors and the program director will do the teaching portions. Your relationship with a student, beginning or further developing in confirmation, could be the beginning of a significant relationship for our youth and investing your time in their faith could mean more than you realize. I will always credit my mentor, Sam, as one of the most important people along my faith journey. If you would like more information or wish to be placed on a list of confirmation mentors, please email the program director.
Youth Group (click for more info)
Prepare Dinner and Stay for Program/Game - Each week during the academic year, our students come together for a meal, a lesson and a game. There is always a need for people to prepare meals and our child protection policy mandates that two adults (over the age of 21 that passed a background check) be in attendance whenever a child is present. If you are willing to serve in this capacity or would like more information, please email me.
Go on a Retreat - Several times during the year, our youth group attends retreats. They are always a lot of fun and a great opportunity to build relationship with our youth. As always, adult drivers (over 25) and adults (over the age of 21 that passed a background check) are need. Adults that are active throughout the year will get first dibs in the who gets to be the adults of the retreat.
Almost Anything Else (click for more info)
Almost every activity that occurs among our congregations can be an intergenerational ministry, but those activities must be communicated and scheduled with both young adults and to families in mind, in order for them to reach new generations of people. Here is just a short list: Church Volley Ball Games, Church Softball Games, Kempsville Greens Golf Women's Faith Focus, UMM @ the Tides Game, etc.
Intentionality Will Matter
No matter how many activities various groups plan, if younger individuals are not intentionally invited and included in the decision-making of the church, intergenerational relationships will continue to be a struggle and growing older will remain the norm. I cannot say it enough that your intentionality will matter. Be persistent in your efforts and always gracious in words of invention and welcome. Do not invite young people to an event that is inappropriate for them (i.e. a dinner with a program on Social Security) or invite them to something that may be of interest to them and then not engage or listen to them. I can guarantee that either of these failures of intentionality would be self defeating in building intergenerational relationships. Engage young people in conversation, listen to listen, wait to reply. Consider their schedules, keep in mind whether or not the activity is scheduled at time when a young person might be able to come: this will mean that weekdays during work/school hours are out and week nights and weekends will be highly valued and sometimes guarded time. Final words of advise about intentionality, if young people are not coming to your events, someone should begin to question what events are being offered and then strategize how young people can be included.
You can make the difference in our congregations, but it will require effort, time, persistence, and intentionality in order for intergenerational relationships and ministries to become a norm in our congregation. You may question, whether you are capable of building relationships with new generations of people, but attempting to to build intergenerational relationships will enable more people to come to know Jesus Christ through the ministries of Community United Methodist Church.
Grace and Peace be with you,
1st Commonality of Churches Growing among Generations Y & Z
If you asked every church in the country, whether or not they wanted to have more young people in their congregations, I am willing to say that 100% would have such a desire. Generation Y, “Millennials" and Generation Z are two of the least “churched” generations in the history of the United States. Church membership, worship attendance and personal engagement in Christianity as a whole have been declining for a decade, and this is true in recent years at Community.Fuller Theological Seminary observed that different and diverse congregations have bucked this trend and are successfully reaching people ages 15-29. We went over the six commonalities of the congregations growing younger on January 1 in worship and from here we are covering the first commonalities mentioned the book among these congregations; which was that they focused on empowering people to do ministry, particularly young people.
Jesus Ministry Began with Young People
If we accept biblical scholarship and simple mathematics, Jesus was the same age as some older millennials are now, during his earthly ministry. It is reasonable to assume that most of Jesus’ closest followers, his disciples, were probably in their twenties and thirties as well. The movement that Jesus started was a movement of young people with a great deal of help from God. We are a part of the continuation of that movement, begun so many centuries ago. Jesus’ movement focused on those who were powerless and uplifting and empowering them: Feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and embracing those who are othered and ostracized by their communities. Jesus teaches people to have a kingdom vision of the world and that vision should influence how we live. This is vision we seek to have as Christians and we seek to live out Jesus’ redemptive, reconciling and empowering mission in our communities. This is the work that Church continues through the power of the Holy Spirit.
What Are We Doing at CUMC to Grow with Young People
Over the summer and into the fall as your pastors and the Nominations and Lay Leadership committee met, we were intentional about pursuing people, young or young at heart, with gifts and graces for particular ministries groups or committees. In particular, Pastors kept young adults (18-35) in mind as we were considering who would be good for church leadership. We are committed to having young people being at the decision making table and having decision making responsibility for CUMC. We are close to having someone below the age of 40 on every decision making body in the church. We value their God-given talents and abilities and we need their perspective as we move forward in the next season. We are seeking to empower people with gifts and graces that God gave them. We are also working on establishing evening care for children (6-12), so that there parents can be a part of the things that are going on here at CUMC without them having to worry about child care in the evenings.
What Can You Do to Empower Young People at CUMC
Empowering young people cannot stop with Nominations and Lay Leadership or Church Council, we need you to take part in the effort to empower younger people. In your groups, social circles, and organizations; be intentional about building relationships with young people, invite young people to be a part of the decisions you are making, ask them what they want to do, value their opinions, let them make mistakes, mentor them when they begin new roles. There are many other ways that would be appropriate ways to empower young people through the ministries of the church that you will think of on your own. How you choose to empower and invest in newer generations of people or not is really up to you. But empowering young people can be our way forward as a Community and it can be a part of our next life cycle as congregation, which will enable more people to come to know Jesus Christ through the ministries of Community United Methodist Church.
Grace and Peace be with you,