Monday, March 06, 2017

Teaching Youth Sunday School

Since September, I have taught in Sunday School for the handful of youth at our church. It was a natural continuation of teaching 5th graders last year, and it has been a surprisingly wonderful experience for me. This stands juxtaposed with a youth Sunday School class I taught almost a decade ago--a class in which I spectacularly failed. So with time comes wisdom; and here are the things I've learned this time around.

1. Connect the stories. The best way to remember is to see the connection between things in the bible. When we talk about Jesus sharing the Passover meal, we review what Passover is and why Jesus would be celebrating it. We use the things that is covered in World Civilization class at school to talk about where the story of Jesus fits into history and why Jesus came at a time when more people were receptive. There is value in story because it allows youth to see that maybe they fit into the story of Jesus as well.

2. Don't go into class with all the answers. One thing I love is to discuss those gray areas where the bible contradicts itself. Bumping Ezra and Nehemiah against Ruth when talking about the way the foreigner is treated. Using Jesus' teachings to talk about what we see in the present day--these are ways to get youth thinking. They don't need answers in Sunday School--they need to think...which leads to....

3. Remember that youth are brand new abstract thinkers. It's a big difference from teaching preschoolers. Youth want to ask the "what if" questions and think through scenarios. Sunday School can be a safe environment for that discussion.

4. Sunday School is different from a youth group gathering. In our church, Sunday School is learning about the bible stories--it is bible study. That keeps us on task. There needs to be a separate time for each in your church, but not so strict--there can be a blurring of the lines if a youth wants to discuss a particular problem.

5. Most important of all: food. I have fed the youth every week except the week that the Boy Scouts had a pancake breakfast one Sunday morning. These teenagers need a second breakfast. Having it consistently lets them know that they can have time to get their thoughts together while putting jelly on their biscuit. And if they come late, they may not get the doughnut that was there at the start of class. With a handful of teenagers, this was quite doable for me. It might take a parent rotation if a group is larger. But food is a good way to start. Fellowship is important.

It has been fun to teach youth Sunday School this year--and I never thought I'd be doing it. But in teaching the youth, I have learned that with a bit of food and respect and kindness, it has been a great class to teach. 

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Giving Units

A few years ago, I was in a budget meeting for my church where I first heard the term "Giving Unit" to describe the people in the congregation who regularly gave to the church. At first it seemed kind of funny to me. But later I reflected that it wasn't all that funny. I have come to despise the term in the last few years.

The problem with being a "Giving Unit" is that it only takes into account the financial gifts that a person contributes. I had a conversation with fellow church member a while back who was sorry that her family could not contribute more. Yet this woman had been active in many areas of ministry--giving her time and talents. I truly believe that time and talents are worth more to a church that money in many ways.

When your church is at the brink of collapse due to a decrease in members and contributions, it is easy to push the focus to acquiring more "Giving Units;" but in doing so, the real work of the gospel is lost. The Gospel is not so much worried about keeping doors open and pastors paid. The Gospel is what is required in our actions: giving oneself to the ministry to which God has called each of us. For a church not to recognize that time and talents are just as important as money, makes that church lack effectiveness and take members for granted. Let us remember that giving is not always about money.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Release the Women

For the past ten years, Baptist Women in Ministry has promoted a yearly event called the Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching. During the month of February, Baptist congregations are encouraged to have a woman preach for one of the Sundays--a minister at the church, a divinity school student, a layperson from the congregation, etc. It is always such fun to see the pictures go up on their Facebook page. It has been better to be asked to preach, at least for me.

When the event started a decade ago, our church was very good at promoting it. And for our congregation to be one of the few baptist congregations in Wake Forest, this was very good for our community as well. But somewhere along the line, the emphasis disappeared. Our pastor would turn in the name of a woman who had preached in January or February so it would appear on the list, but there was not a mention of the reason for the Martha Stearns Marshall event.

For the past few years, nothing has been said. To say how disappointing this is does not go far enough. Where is the emphasis on our women preachers? Our daughters and sons need to see their example. We need to emphasize the equal calling of both men and women as our preachers. After all, our shared values for our church say that God gifts men and women equally.

Today I was reading Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey, and she mentioned a Korean megachurch pastor Dr. David Yong-gi Cho who told other Korean pastors that their churches would grow if only they released the women to allow them to do what God calls them to do. As I pondered this account--and as I think about our own small church's decline--I cannot help but see the correlation in our lack of emphasis on women preaching. Sure women do continue to preach from time to time, but the full and equal gifts that God gives have not been emphasized.

In no way do I say it is a causation. I just find it interesting in the correlation it presents.

What would happen if all churches fully released their women to find their passion for ministry? For too long churches have relegated women to the nursery, the fellowship team, etc. Our own church has a vital ministry called Sew Buddies that came about because a woman was released to follow her passion. I think that there are others in our congregation that could be released. But if there is no support, no encouragement from the leaders, then it is not going to happen.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Success is Not a Christian Goal

George Barna loves to come out with a lot of statistics about Christian churches, specifically evangelical churches. For many years I have heard of his reports that indicate that churches are in decline, that people do not put as much importance on church-going as in years past, and that the way we worship needs to change in order to reach young people.

I have also heard in the past year sermons that seem to indicate that if our faith was great enough then the churches would be more successful and growing. My pastor preached a sermon titled "The Fear of Success" last year, and yesterday's lectionary text from 1 Corinthians 3 became a sermon on how we need to be mature Christians in order to grow our congregation.

But I have a big problem with this idea of success because of one fundamental question...

Where in the bible does it say that the goal of a Christian is to be successful? 

Our full-time pastors are pushed into growing congregations because their very livelihood depends on the offerings that are collected. It's either grow numbers or have people give more. As society shifts their church attendance to other things for any of a variety of reasons, we are left with churches that are struggling financially. It is no wonder I hear this topic of success come up these days.

The so-called prosperity preachers from television also preach a version of success. Most people can see through them--see through to the fact that while the preacher takes your hard-earned dollar, that same preacher is living in a mansion and owns multiple cars and/or a jet. Yet how is this different from the sermons I have heard about being a successful Christian?

If we look to the bible to see stories of successful Christians, we fall short. How many of the early Christians lost their lives--a sure indication that they were not successful. Even Jesus was killed. By the world's standards, he was not successful.

Let's stop fooling ourselves by saying a greater faith will lead to success.

The goal of a Christian is to be a devoted follower of Christ. It may mean a degree of personal sacrifice, ridicule, a path less taken. But the goal is not success. Faith is lived day-by-day; and many days we will fail. Our faith gives us courage to try again...and again...and again.

In the future, our churches will have to change. They will need pastors not reliant on a full-time salary. They will need Christians that pursue faith when the world is going to call them foolish. Our Christian worldview needs to shift from the pursuit of success to the holy and narrow path of faith. In that place, there is no fear.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

After the Confirmation

What now?

Many Americans are deeply disappointed today. Despite phone calls, letters, emails, town hall meetings, and social media blasts, Betsy DeVos was confirmed by an tie-break vote in the Senate. It seems a disgrace in itself that it is was a tie--there could be no more sign of the controversy than a tie.

What do we, the ones in favor of a strong public school system and education in general do now?

First, go make a few jokes to relieve the tension. Perhaps you can say that you are now a brain surgeon because qualifications and education doesn't matter anymore. Make some Delores Umbridge memes. Talk about grizzlies. Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. Then it is time to get to work.

Look and see how your Representatives and Senators voted. If they voted in favor of DeVos, see if DeVos had contributed to them. Remember how we called their offices in an attempt to influence their vote? Call them again--or email or write or Tweet--and let them know that you hold them accountable. Make sure to say your memory of their vote will be on your mind when he or she comes up for re-election--even if it is 5+ years until that election. If your Senator or Representative voted against DeVos, write a note of encouragement thanking him or her. It is important to let our elected officials know that they represent the people.

Also write or email DeVos. Let her know that she is accountable (her favorite word) for our public schools. She isn't going to care--she is looking for a return on her investment (in the campaign contributions she has spent), but it might be good to have an outlet for anger you feel.

Next, get involved with your own local school board. Attend meetings, run for open positions, at least read about what has went on in a  meeting. Your local school board affects you most. If you are paying the property taxes, they are using your monies. Learn the history of your county's school board (Wake County put out a great video just yesterday about the consolidation of Wake County and City Schools for instance).

Listen to the stories and research about why public schools matter. "This American Life" has some great episodes about where public schools are working and how they work best. Keep your ears open. If you see or hear research, learn about who financed it to see which way it will skew. Learn who lobbies for public schools and who lobbies against them.

Most of all, if you are in any way involved in a public school, support the teachers. Many are discouraged by today's vote and want to give up because the vote has been a kick in the face. It goes against everything they know and love. So get involved in advocating for our public school teachers. Join the PTA if you have a student in a public school. Volunteer in a public school and get to know the teachers and the incredible, life-changing work they do every day. If your child attends a public school, send in notes of encouragement to the teachers. Send in supplies. Send flowers and chocolate and giftcards to the local coffee shop. Never stop support of them in your discouragement. We know that any one of them is better qualified than DeVos, but they can feel your support through your voice. Use it.

Above all, don't lose hope. Millions are in the public school system and millions have been successful because of public schools. That track record is verifiable. Keep your eyes on truth and let your voice be heard.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Stop Scaring the Children

As a parent, you learn there are many fears that your children may have in life. The fear of thunderstorms. The fear of monsters under the bed. The fear of losing someone close to them. The fear of bullies.

Add a new fear: the fear of a president.

Today, my 8 year old son as waiting in carpool. When I drove up, I could tell he was not happy. Upon entering my car, he told me what a bad day it had been. "Was someone mean to you?" I asked. He didn't want to voice his fear aloud. I don't blame him--voicing it makes it real.

My son told me through his tears that he was scared of President Trump because Trump would build a wall and start a war.

My 8 year old is expressing a fear that I never would have ever entertained at 8 or even at 38.

Yet here we are.

President Trump, for the love of God--STOP! You are scaring the children.

Then I saw another scared child. One from this weekend. Apparently standing with her hands
handcuffed behind her back. I know of no child that age that stands with hands behind his or her back. Until I have proof otherwise, this child is in handcuffs. And why? I know any child would be afraid in such a situation.

Children learn a lot from what adults do, especially those adults who are in positions of authority. President Trump, I'm fighting you tooth and nail so my son will not be looking to you as a role model.

Instead, my son will be kind to others. He will not judge someone based on their skin color or their religious beliefs. He will continue to give loving hugs to the people he meets at church and at school. Ironically, if he did not know what Trump looked like and Trump went into our church or school, he would get a hug, too. A fact that breaks my heart. But he knows what you look like, President Trump. And I can say with confidence, that he would run and hide from you.

Every day for the last ten days I have fought for my son's peace of mind against you, President Trump. No action I have seen come from you in the last ten days has been a Christian one. In a world where I teach my son to think about how to be kind to others, you stand in my way because you think of no one but yourself and how you always have to look good.

Well you don't.

You look like a hateful, revenge-seeking dictator who will stop at nothing to divide America and conquer it.

So as I look to my bible, and I read Micah 6:8 from this past Sunday's Old Testament lesson: God has shown you, O Mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

So I told my son the same thing I did on November 9th when he woke up to the devastating news that you would be our 45th president: he must be kind. He must show kindness to all he meets. Many people will be sad for a long time. Some will also be angry.

But the kindness of one child can defeat you, President Trump.

Don't you know God uses the weak to confound the wise?

My son and others like him who commit themselves to kindness toward others will defeat you. As a Christian, I know how this ends. And I know the secret to living without fear.

In the meantime, you should be ashamed of yourself for scaring the children. Shame on you!

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Where Have All the Evangelical Southern Baptist Women Gone?

Last month, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention posted an article by Laura Thigpen that they had gotten from from her post on the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary's Women Life webpage. The difference in the separate postings is in the title. The original post on the SEBTS website is titled "The Voice of Evangelical Women." The ERLC's title is "Where are the Voices of Evangelical Women?"

I'm not going to address the article for the SEBTS Women's Life page. I understand why they need an article like this because of what happened in the conservative take-overs of the seminary 20 years ago.

But why would the ERLC even decide to post this article? Isn't their leadership the ones that were responsible for these very voices being silenced?

I will tell you that there are more evangelical women speaking out now than ever before. Thanks to blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other internet sources, evangelical women have a voice--even if their churches will not allow them to step behind a pulpit or teach men. We are talking. It is just that no one listens. And if they do listen, we tend to get mansplained.

However, for those in the Southern Baptist Convention who are perplexed, here is what happened:

Once in Southern Baptist life, there were strong women leaders. They were in Southern Baptist Churches all over the world. They taught the Sunday School classes; the mission classes; they stood up and prayed during worship; and, yes, they sometimes preached (though it may have been called a speech or something).

In my own life, I was a Southern Baptist girl from the time I was born. I went to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. I was inspired by both the men and women in my church to seek out what God was calling me to do with my life. I went through Mission Friends, GAs, Acteens, and came to the realization that I was called to ministry--though it would be another decade before that ministry gift would be revealed. I did everything that I was supposed to do, but because I was female the SBC cut me out.

On the very Sunday after the "Baptist Faith & Message" was adopted in 2000. I left my SBC church and joined one that was affiliated with the more moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. This was due to the one statement, "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."

And many other women left the SBC because of that very reason. There was no place for them. These are women poised to preach and prophesy, but there was no room for them at the SBC table. They were told to be silent or get out.

One day, I believe that the SBC leaders of that time will have to answer for what they did in silencing the voices of women.

So the ERLC is now asking where the evangelical women are. Did it ever occur to them that there is a reason that SBC evangelical women don't speak out? That there a reason that SBC membership continues to decline? It is selective amnesia at its best: they did it to themselves.