Monday, June 25, 2012

Nashville Mission Trip: Recap

This month our youth went to inner city Nashville to serve the needs of people through local ministries and non-profit organizations. Our teenagers worked with other youth groups serving every day on a variety of projects. Here is some of what we did:

A couple of crews served at low-income housing complexes and elderly resident homes. Projects included building flower beds, weeding, cleaning, and building gazebo sets.
Another crew partnered with Project C.U.R.E. by doing various warehouse tasks, including sorting medical supplies and program equipment for shipping.
One crew assisted Soles4Souls by assisting with the collection and distribution of shoes to third-world countries.
A couple of crews served at the Watkins Park Community Center and Salvation Ranch. The youth helped with cleaning, yard work, and playing with kids who live there.
Two of our crews served at Provision International. This ministry is very unique in that it serves the poor not only through food but also through the arts. The ministry has numerous college interns all of which are gifted in music or painting.
In the evenings, we worshiped with other youth groups. Tuesday night was free time for us to have a fun night. And with our youth group, we have no problem having fun!

On our last night together, our youth group had a foot washing service. We do this on every mission trip as it gives us a time to share, encourage, and serve. Every year it is amazing to see friends and family washing each other’s feet and then to hear words of love and support for one another. It is truly a kingdom moment.

It is an amazing privilege to be a part of this student ministry. I love serving, playing, and worshipping with this amazing group of teenagers and adults. We had a great week...but by the end of it, we were exhausted!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Losing a Generation -part 2

In my last post, I highlighted research that shows how our churches are struggling in reaching young people. In addition, many of our teenagers who do attend church will drop out when they hit college. The church is perceived as boring, hypocritical, judgmental, exclusive, and too political. So...what can we do? Is there any good news in these bleak numbers?
Well, many books and churches are showing a way forward. Here are just a few ideas:

1. Be honest and confess--young people are looking for a church and for leaders who are real, honest, and vulnerable. Christians need to model forgiveness...asking for it and giving it.

2. Increase Expectations--young people want to be challenged and they want to be a part of something that is worth their time. Young people need more than entertaining services. They need to be engaged in God's mission in the world.

3. Fruitful Dialogue--we can have open and honest discussions without being mean. We do not need to be apolitical. However, we need to be aware of whether or not our language comes off as demeaning or patronizing. Adults can be bad about demonizing the "other side" as if one cannot be a Christian and a democrat (or republican) at the same time. We can have convictions and opinions...but we also need a sense of humility and grace.

4. Love and Serve People--at the end of the day we do not transform people through legislation and debates. Currently Christians are known for being unlike Jesus; one of the best ways to shift that perception would be to love and serve those outside our church walls. This requires compassion, kindness, and strength. I think the negative perceptions that now exist are partly a symptom of a church that has lost its heart for those on the outside.

5. Follow and Love Jesus--no amount of cool worship services or amazing programs will suffice. It comes down to this: we must become Christlike again. We must be light and salt.

"We must commit to doing the hard work of recapturing Christianity's essence in our own lives. It's easy to point out the imperfections of others, but it takes more humility and grace to confront the faults in ourselves. Being Christian is hard work. Putting the needs of others above your own, loving your neighbor, doing good to those who would do evil to you, exercising humility, suffering with those less fortunate, and doing it all with a pure heart is nearly impossible. But it is Jesus's model and call."

Friday, June 8, 2012

Losing a Generation

Research after research after research shows, the church is failing in reaching young people. Many young people have a negative view of religion and particularly the church. This is documented very well in the book "Un:Christian" by David Kinnaman. As a whole, young people see the church as hypocritical, judgmental, too political, and out of touch. Some of these perceptions are unfair and many are perpetuated by the media. Nevertheless, some of these perceptions are fair and regardless of their fairness, these are perceptions the church must be aware of.

More bad news: many of our teenagers who are active in church leave the faith in their twenties. Yes, some return at a later age, but many do not. This research is well documented in the book "You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church." There are several broad reasons for why many young people are dropping out. They find the church to be:

1. Overprotective. The church lacks creativity and squashes risk and innovation.
2. Shallow. Churches are seen as boring which give formulaic answers. The church does not give people a sense of calling and mission.
3. Antiscience and Doubtless. The church struggles with other people's opinions and won't wrestle with difficult questions and doubt.
4. Repressive. The church is just about religion and rules that inhibit fun and freedom.
5. Exclusive. The church does not embrace people who are different or disagree with them. The church seems particularly harsh when it comes to issues pertaining to sexuality and politics.

Again, some of these perceptions may be unfair. However, we need to be aware of why we are losing so many young people. We need to think of a way forward that is true to Scripture and yet understands the realities we are facing as churches. We cannot assume that people will just attend church like they use to.

In my next post, we will look at ideas and suggestions posed by myself and others. Many churches are already doing an amazing job of reaching the next generation. Hopefully, we can learn from one another. The news is not all gloomy, there is hope!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Annual Conference Review

1. Annual Conference went very smooth this year. In fact, it went so smoothly it was boring. I thought about disagreeing with something just for the sake of entertainment! However, I think the calm and flow of Annual Conference shows a trust and unity with our clergy, cabinet, and laity. This is good news!

2. I have (officially) been reappointed to First UMC Crestview. I am in my fourth year here and I am very excited to continue my ministry as both the student minister and associate pastor. I was not sure how long the cabinet would leave one of their elders as a youth minister, but I am glad they are doing so.

3. As I look around at Annual Conference, the lack of diversity in our leadership is troubling. There is a lack of young people, females, and minorities. And I realize that right now I am young, but I too will one day be an older male white clergy. I am not discouraging their leadership. We need them. However, in order to reach an increasingly diverse culture, we need to have diverse leadership in our congregations. As a whole, most of our churches are not reaching young people or minorities.

4. It was very exciting to see how our connectional ministry is doing amazing things around the conference. We have some great mission projects taking place and several new church plants. This is one reason why I am Methodist. We can do more together than we can as single independent congregations.

5. I love seeing old friends! This is perhaps the best part of Annual Conference. It is great seeing my former youth ministers and pastors and seminary friends.

The United Methodist Church is not perfect (no denomination is), however God is doing great and wonderful things in our local churches and I feel privileged to be a part of it.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Quote(s) of the Week

Here are some great quotes from one of my heroes of the faith...Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."

"A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus."

Friday, June 1, 2012

Whole Lotta Stuff -Adoption Update

Hey Everyone,

Here is a brief update on our adoption journey. We have (almost) completed our home study packet. For those who don't know, this is a huge file of stuff that has to be completed before an adoption can take place. It includes blood work, completed physicals, background checks, finger printing, pictures and diagrams of your home, pictures of your family, life history questionnaire, questions regarding raising children and marriage, driving record...and more. But you get the picture, it is an overwhelming amount of work.

However, I consider all these loops as things that are preparing our hearts for our future child. All the effort and planning and work is building excitement for the future reward.

On a side note, our health insurance is not covering any part of our blood work because there are not medical reasons required for those tests. We had our doctors resubmit the bill with an adoption coding but it did not help.

However, here is some good news: we have raised over $2000 for our adoption expenses! Thank you so much for everyone who is partnering with us through prayer and giving. If you would like to help in some way, please contact us at: Adoption is a family decision, but it takes the whole community of faith to pull it off. Thanks again for your support!