Category: Church Leadership

Sermon Remix: Abundance and the Feeding of the 5,000

Today begins a sermon series on the book More than Enough: Living Abundantly in a Culture of Excess by Lee Hull Moses. We’re doing an online book study (through a closed Facebook group) and I’m using the free worship planning guide to give sermon starters and some interactive station ideas.

Today’s theme is abundance. As folks walked in to worship this morning, they were greeted with these opportunities for engagement:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was great to see everyone’s ideas and thoughts.

Of the three scripture suggestions listed, I elected to focus on the feeding of the five thousand. Though it’s Mark’s version that’s suggested in the worship guide, I went with John’s version. I drew out three details that are unique to John’s version.

  1. “There was a great deal of grass in that place” (verse 10). We don’t often think about the grass in the feeding of the 5,000 story. It’s more of a minor character. Yet, without the grass, there’d be no place to gather and sit. There was grass, in abundance. I likened the grass to our pews. We have abundant pews at NPC. What if, just like the green grass, we’re waiting for God to make use of them?
  2. “So that nothing may be lost.” (verse 12). As I said this morning, in all the times I’ve read this passage, I’ve never considered that it might have something to say about waste. We talked a little about how it’s easier to waste when we have abundance. I referenced this modern day feeding of the 5,000 experiment that made use of fresh, delicious food that would have been wasted otherwise. (Side note: THIS is also a great lecture about food waste.)
  3. There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.” (verse 9) The child in this story is the one who gets the whole miracle started. We talked a little about the importance of children and youth in our community. I shared that it’s a major pet peeve of mine when folks talk about children and youth being “the future of the church.” Children and youth aren’t the future of the church. They are the church right now.

I ended the message by giving folks some questions to reflect on for the week:

What do you have in abundance in your life? What is like the grass, or our pews, space waiting to be filled by a miracle? What do you have in your life that should not be wasted? What do we have here at the church that we should be careful not to waste? And what children are in your life that are ready to show you you the way to an abundant life?

 

 

Sermon Remix: Resurrection || Easter 2017

Christ is Risen! 

He is Risen, Indeed! 

This morning’s message is not one I want to reprint or excerpt. Instead I’ll give a summary of some of the things discussed and link to some things I found interesting as I prepared the sermon.

I started out by borrowing a little bit of the intrigue from Rob Bell’s Resurrection, and the story about Jesus and the Temple. That video is simultaneously profound and straightforward to me. As he would say: so. good.

The rest of the message was centered around this one verse from Matthew:

“And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.”

A couple of things stood out to me. First, the earthquake. Thanks to the Sermon Brainwave and Karoline Lewis, I was inspired to take the metaphor of the earthquake as far as I could. I talked a little about how the death of my good friend earlier this year shook me to the core. I quoted this from my journal:

All throughout our friendship, Kelly was more than just Kelly. The things that I loved in her are all the things that I aspire to be… a respected pastor, a competent preacher who preaches what she truly believes, an organizer, a leader in the community. She was a force.  I guess it shouldn’t be surprising, then, that her death feels so cosmic in its significance, as if I have to now wrestle with every single tenet of my faith right now, at this moment. Cruelly, I have to do it by myself, without her, my biggest theological guide.

I talked about the phrase cosmic in its significance and compared it to an earthquake. It is really true that along with resurrection we find tremendous upheaval and shaking. Nothing is the same in resurrection. Everything changes.

I mentioned organ donation this morning and talked a little about the process, and what it has meant to me over the past year.

In addition to the detail about the earthquake, I also expanded a little on the detail of who removes the stone from the tomb in the resurrection story:

In Mark’s version the women came to the tomb and they ask each other “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”

Luke says “They found the stone rolled away from the tomb.”

In John, it’s Mary Magdalene who comes to the tomb, and she finds it already removed as well.

But Matthew is the only one who has this detail of who removed the stone. An angel. An angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 

What does it mean to embrace this detail? The stone wasn’t just passively moved. An angel moved it. 

I closed the sermon by offering my very best version of a Presbyterian-style altar call. If there’s any day to call folks to choose resurrection, to choose (or re-choose) Christ, today is that day.

He is Risen, y’all!

The Sermon Remix is a series on this blog where I take a portion of my Sunday sermon and add in relevant links for further investigation and study.

Sermon Remix: Why did Christ Die on the Cross?

This is the week when we come face to face with the dark details of crucifixion. I have to admit how incredibly uncomfortable I am with this story. I think most people are, if we stop long enough to think about it. It’s incredibly violent. Senseless. Painful. We are confronted not just with what happened, though that’s painful enough, but why it happened.

Why did Christ die on the cross?

Those who grew up in the church were often given very simple answers to this “To save us from our sins.” or “To set us free” or “To pay our debts” or “To bring new life.” On the one hand, these answers are simple enough, and an accurate summary of our Christian faith. On the other hand, these answers are completely unsatisfactory. How does the violent death of our savior save us? How?

The work of Christ on the cross is called the atonement in Christian Theology. There are many different theories about what the atonement is and what it means. Certain scripture verses go better with certain theories and no one theory on its own seems to explain the atonement in a full and a complete way. Theories include the Christus Victor theory, where Christ defeats the powers of evil and death, the Satisfaction theory, where Christ’s crucifixion is a substitution for human sin,  and the Moral Influence theory where Christ’s crucifixion brings positive change to humanity. Though it’s interesting to study atonement theory, my own personal view is that work of Christ on the cross is a what? It’s a mystery. One of the deepest mysteries of our faith, in fact.

As Christians we sense deep within us that the death of Christ on the cross means something deeply profound, but when we peel back the layers, we find it’s difficult to explain. Like a masterful work of art, the atonement means something different every time we look at it again. It looks different in different types of light, and it takes on different meaning as the years go by.

I came across this story from the book In the Grip of Grace by Bryan Chapell. He writes

“On August 16, 1987, Northwest Airlines flight 225 crashed just after taking off from the Detroit airport, killing 155 people. One survived: a four-year-old from Tempe, Arizona, named Cecelia.

News accounts say when rescuers found Cecelia they did not believe she had been on the plane. Investigators first assumed Cecelia had been a passenger in one of the cars on the highway onto which the airliner crashed. But when the passenger register for the flight was checked, there was Cecelia’s name.

Cecelia survived because, even as the plane was falling, Cecelia’s mother, Paula Chican, unbuckled her own seat belt, got down on her knees in front of her daughter, wrapped her arms and body around Cecelia, and then would not let her go.

Nothing could separate that child from her parent’s love—neither tragedy nor disaster, neither the fall nor the flames that followed, neither height nor depth, neither life nor death.

Such is the love of our Savior for us. He left heaven, lowered himself to us, and covered us with the sacrifice of his own body to save us.”

I researched that story a little further this week and read this from a news article in the Baltimore Sun from 1993:

“Using the primitive material of her own body, she in effect strapped herself as a living, human safety device over the 35-pound, four-foot form of her child. And it worked. In one of those successes that make human action and chance look divine, the child survived — with a broken leg and collarbone and burns over 30 percent of her body, breathing through a respirator in the hospital — but breathing.”

I learned in another ABC news article from 2013 that Cecelia survived to adulthood, raised by her aunt and uncle, and that her story was featured in a documentary called Sole Survivor about those who were the only survivor of a plane crash. Fascinating. 

This story about Cecelia and her mother Paula who saved her with her child with her own body is, like the story of Jesus on the cross, a story with multiple meanings. It’s a tragedy.

It’s a story about love.

It’s a story about sacrifice

It’s a story about death.

It’s a story about life.

What does it mean?

Rather than trying to distill that question down to a manageable one sentence theology of the atonement, may we train ourselves to say “It means so many things.” In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of us all, Amen.

The Sermon Remix is a series on this blog where I take a portion of my Sunday sermon and add in relevant links for further investigation and study.

Sermon Remix : Some Thoughts about Baptism and the Book of Order

A few weeks ago I was talking to my sons Clayton and Samuel about baptism.  “It’s when you put water on the baby’s head and the baby officially becomes part of God’s family,” I said. Clayton furrowed his brow and said “But the baby is always a part of God’s family, even before you put the water on her head.”

Smart kid. He speaks the truth. Our scripture reading for this morning is one of the stops on the way to Jerusalem that we’ve been taking this Lenten season. The text tells us that Jesus, when he blesses children, says “People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them.”

When Jesus is challenged by the disciples on this he says “It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

As Presbyterians we baptize babies for this very reason. We remember that we don’t choose God but rather God chooses us, through the mystery of faith. Our book of common worship says 

“Through baptism we enter the covenant God has established. Within this covenant God gives us new life, guards us from evil, and nurtures us in love. In embracing that covenant, we choose whom we will serve by turning from evil and turning to Jesus Christ.”

Clearly a baby can not yet do this, but we choose to bring babies before our congregation as a reminder that God has chosen them. We make promises to one another as a community of faith to do our very best to bring the children we baptize up in the church, that they might come to make their own profession of faith one day.  The community is important. How is a child supposed to come back and make his or her own profession of faith if he or she isn’t a part of the community?

This is why our work is only just beginning after the baby is baptized. After baptism we have the hard work of Sunday School training, and Vacation Bible School, we have to get our children involved in faith formation at home and be willing to show our children, by example, what it means to follow Jesus. We don’t simply have a baptism ceremony and walk away. It’s the beginning of a life-long process.

It’s for this reason that our Book of Order requires that at least one parent be a member of our congregation or another congregation for a child to be baptized. The reason is important, and I understand it. Yet I am challenged by how strong our Book of Order is on this. It uses the word “shall” which means it’s a requirement.

A stranger on an airplane once dramatically challenged my view on this requirement. I’m not much of a chatty person on airplanes. I like to put on headphones and listen to music or podcasts. This one particular flight, though, I got to talking with the person next to me. When she learned I was a minister she said, 

“I never went to church, ever, growing up. When my daughter was born, I wanted to have her baptized, but nobody would do it. I called every church in town but they all said no because we didn’t belong. After that I decided we didn’t need the church.”

Those words “we didn’t belong” really stuck with me. It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it? To think of a mother who wanted to explore this mystery of faith for her newborn child and was constantly told “no.”

If she called a Presbyterian Church, I imagine that the pastors she talked to were thinking of our Book of Order that requires a parent to be a member in order for a child to be baptized. And yet, strict adherence to that requirement ensured that a woman and her daughter never ever set foot in a church again because they didn’t belong. How tragic. How unlike Jesus.

Jesus said “Let the little children come to me and do not stop them.”

What might have happened if just one of those churches my seat mate called had said “yes”? What if this woman and her daughter received such a warm welcome in to God’s family that they decided to stay and learn more and be transformed by God’s love? I think the church messed up when we said no to that woman and her daughter, when we said they didn’t belong. It’s not actually true, in my opinion. They do belong. Jesus says so. 

Our own Book of Order says

“When a child is being presented for Baptism, ordinarily the parent(s) or one(s) rightly exercising parental responsibility shall be an active member of the congregation.” 

I’m grateful for that word “ordinarily” because I think it provides some room, perhaps, to say “yes” to someone like that seat mate of mine who came searching for her daughter, some room to say “This whole thing isn’t about us anyway, it’s about God who chooses us even when we don’t choose God.” Ordinarily, yes, we bring our children to baptism out of a community, to stay in that community and grow up in faith. But there may be times, I think, when God uses the sacrament of baptism to actually bring people to faith.  Who are we to stop them?

“The baby is always a part of God’s family, even before you put water on her head.”

Truer words were never spoken.

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus says.

“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Princeton Theological Seminary, Rev. Dr. Tim Keller, and the Abraham Kuyper Lecture

When I was in my early 20s, I was unclear about whether or not I was “allowed” to be a minister. By “allowed” I mean if it was something that I thought the Bible permitted. Even though I grew up in a denomination that ordained women, I went to a college that was a part of a denomination that did not, and so I was confused.

See, I loved (and still love) my faith and I took (and still take) the Bible very seriously. Some Christians said I could be a minister, and some said I could not. At the time I was working as a youth director at a great church. The pastor of the congregation listened to my struggle and said something to the effect of “I respect your high view of Scripture, it’s the same as mine.  I want you to know our denomination allows for the ordination of women from a reformed perspective.” He went on to tell me about that reformed perspective and how it included women in ordained ministry. He even told me about all the women he met in seminary and how gifted they are. He further went on to tell me about the gifts he saw in me. He challenged me to rethink my views and consider whether or not the Spirit was leading me to ordained ministry. He is a graduate of Princeton Seminary. Without his influence in my life, I would have neither attended Princeton Seminary nor become a Minister of Word and Sacrament (Teaching Elder) in the PC(USA).

I’m thinking about that story this evening because I did a double take (ok, a TRIPLE TAKE) when I read that The Reverend Dr. Tim Keller is Princeton Theological Seminary’s choice of speaker for the Abraham Kuyper Lecture. He will also be awarded a prize for excellence in Reformed Theology and Public life.  Spoiler alert: Rev. Keller is arguably the most influential pastor of a denomination that is very clear in its assertion that women should not be ordained to ministry. He (and the denomination he serves) is also very clear in its exclusion of LGBT people.

I’ll let others argue finer points of Rev. Keller’s theology (hello, this is Princeton Theological Seminary here, arguing finer points is what we do.).  My personal soapbox is much less refined. It boils down to this: an institution designed to train men and women for ministry shouldn’t be awarding fancy prizes to someone who believes half the student body (or is it more than half?) has no business leading churches. It’s offensive and, as I have taught my four and five year olds to express, it hurts my feelings. 

But he’s not even talking about “women’s issues” or “LGBT issues,” some will argue. The lecture is on church planting. Who can argue with church planting? Can’t we look past what divides us find common ground? Of course we can find common ground. Let me state clearly and without equivocation: I believe Rev. Keller loves Jesus. I believe he is a man of faith. I believe he works hard and has a respectable career. I would happily go to the church he pastors and listen to him preach. He’s absolutely invited to come to the church I pastor and listen to me preach. We can totally hold hands during the hymn sing.  The reason that’s not enough in this case (and the reason he shouldn’t have been invited to give this lecture and receive this prize) is that this isn’t some minor thing. This is a giant lecture with a giant whoop-de-doo factor.  There’s a place for common ground, but unless Rev. Dr. Tim Keller is prepared to argue for the ordination of all the women students of Princeton Theological Seminary, the The Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life is not that place in my opinion.

I would love to talk to the people from Princeton Theological Seminary who made this decision to better understand their position. Give me a call. Let’s chat.

UPDATE: The Seminary responded by referencing this email to the seminary community:

Dear Members of the Seminary Community,

I am aware that many in our community are deeply concerned by the invitation of the Kuyper Center at our seminary to have the Reverend Tim Keller come to campus next month. He will speak on the work of the theologian Lesslie Newbigin, and receive their annual prize as one who embodies their aspirations for extending the mission of the church in society. The focus of the concerns that have come to me is that Rev. Keller is a leader of the Presbyterian Church in America, which prevents women and LGBTQ+ persons from full participation in the ordained ministry to Word and Sacrament.

Our seminary embraces full inclusion for ordained leadership of the church. We clearly stand in prophetic opposition to the PCA and many other Christian denominations that do not extend the full exercise of Spirit filled gifts for women or those of various sexual orientations. We know that many have been hurt by being excluded from ministry, and we have worked hard to be an affirming place of preparation for service to the church.

The seminary has many student organizations and several theological centers that bring speakers to campus. While my office issues the official invitations to campus, I don’t practice censorship over the choices of these organizations, even when I or the seminary disagree with some of the convictions of these speakers. It is also a core conviction of our seminary to be a serious academic institution that will sometimes bring controversial speakers to campus because we refuse to exclude voices within the church. Diversity of theological thought and practice has long been a hallmark of our school. And so we have had a wide variety of featured speakers on campus including others who come from traditions that do not ordain women or LGBTQ+ individuals, such as many wings of the Protestant church, and bishops of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic communions.

So my hope is that we will receive Rev. Keller in a spirit of grace and academic freedom, realizing we can listen to someone with whom many, including me, strongly disagree about this critical issue of justice.

Sincerely,

Craig Barnes

If President Barnes and I were chatting over coffee or margaritas, I’d gently challenge some of these assertions and we’d probably have to agree to disagree on what his role is or should be in this. I admire many of the things he’s done for the Seminary, and I also appreciate that his job is unimaginably difficult in so many ways. It’s also worth mentioning that, though the buck stops with President Barnes and though he had (and still has) the option to be much stronger in his response, he’s not the one who extended this invitation. Those who still feel compelled to respond ought to write, not only to President Barnes, but also to the Kuyper Center who can be reached here: http://kcpt.ptsem.edu/contact-us-2/

Onward.

UPDATE #2 on this. From President Barnes:

Dear Members of the Seminary Community,

On March 10 I sent a letter to the seminary community addressing the emerging objections to the Kuyper Center’s invitation to the Reverend Timothy Keller to speak at their annual conference and receive the Kuyper Prize. Those who are concerned point to Reverend Keller’s leadership role in the Presbyterian Church in America, a denomination which prevents women and LGBTQ+ persons from full participation in the ordained Ministry of Word and Sacrament.

As I indicated in my previous letter, it is not my practice to censor the invitations to campus from any of our theological centers or student organizations. This commitment to academic freedom is vital to the critical inquiry and theological diversity of our community. In talking with those who are deeply concerned about Reverend Keller’s visit to campus, I find that most share this commitment to academic freedom.  Yet many regard awarding the Kuyper Prize as an affirmation of Reverend Keller’s belief that women and LGBTQ+ persons should not be ordained. This conflicts with the stance of the Presbyterian Church (USA). And it is an important issue among the divided Reformed communions.

I have also had helpful conversations about this with the Chair of the Kuyper Committee, the Chair of the Board of Trustees, and Reverend Keller. In order to communicate that the invitation to speak at the upcoming conference does not imply an endorsement of the Presbyterian Church in America’s views about ordination, we have agreed not to award the Kuyper Prize this year.

However, the Kuyper Center’s invitation to Reverend Keller simply to lecture at their conference will stand, and he has graciously agreed to keep the commitment.  We are a community that does not silence voices in the church. In this spirit we are a school that can welcome a church leader to address one of its centers about his subject, even if we strongly disagree with his theology on ordination to ministry.  Reverend Keller will be lecturing on Lesslie Newbigin and the mission of the church – not on ordination.

I want to thank all who have communicated with the administration of the seminary as this important conversation has unfolded on campus. We have heard many heartfelt perspectives from both sides of the debate. It has been a hard conversation, but one that a theologically diverse community can handle.

In the grace and love of Jesus Christ, we strive to be a community that can engage with generosity and respect those with whom we disagree about important issues.

Sincerely,

Craig Barnes

Well done, President Barnes. I appreciate this response, and you. This is the right move. Yes to academic freedom. Yes to listening to others whose opinions are different from our own (no matter how distasteful they may be.) No to giving large fancy prizes that can be confused with endorsement. Some may not be satisfied with this response. I think it’s a great compromise. Yes to this! -T

How to Transform Scarcity Mentality to Abundance Mentality in Ministry

Do you feel like your ministry is marked by a lack of time, volunteers and money? You’re not alone. Many ministry leaders feel this way, and while there’s no “one size fits all” remedy, I’ve come to believe an abundance mentality is part of a successful ministry.

The idea of abundance mentality comes from Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (now a classic!). Covey writes,

Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else.

In deep contrast to this mentality is the abundance mentality. The abundance mentality says there’s more than enough (time, volunteers, and money) to go around.”

I think this general concept is a very useful one for ministry, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it recently. Often, it seems, when we open ourselves up to abundance, we find it. When we’re in “scarcity mode,” we’re anxious, overwhelmed and unsatisfied. Scarcity mentality leads to cynicism and burnout.

Having an abundance mentality means focusing one’s energy on the belief that resources are not limited, and that there is more than enough to go around. Covey writes that leaders with a scarcity mindset will compete for resources even when there’s an abundance of them.

Properly understood, the abundance mentality can be helpful in combating some of the common struggles and challenges of ministry: lack of time, volunteers, and money. I’ll start with time:

Scarcity mentality: “I don’t have enough time to get everything done.”

Abundance mentality: “I can delegate, prioritize, and let go.”

Being busy is often seen as such a badge of honor and evidence that a person is productive. It’s not true. Some of the most productive pastors, authors and parents I know have plenty of time to relax and enjoy life. Conversely I know some people who are constantly “busy” who don’t seem to produce very much. Lack of time is often lack of time management. When we feel like there’s too much to do, often the solution isn’t more time, it’s a better handle on how to complete the tasks before us in the time allotted. Have you ever had the experience of getting surprisingly little done when you didn’t have that much to do in the first place? That’s because of Parkinson’s Law which says work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. To have time in abundance, remember to delegate, prioritize, and let go.

  • DELEGATE – Ask yourself, do I need to be doing this task? Which lay leader or staff person might be better equipped to do this? If I feel I’m the only one who can do this, why do I feel that way?
  • PRIORITIZE – At the beginning of the day, ask yourself what absolutely has to happen today? Try, if you can, to get the “must dos” done as early on in the day. One abundance trick I learned recently was to put only three items on the to-do list each day and ask about each item “If this was the only item I got done today, would it be enough?” One of the tricky things about ministry, I think, is that there are so many balls in the air, all the time.
  • LET GO –  I used to have a little post it note on my desk that had two questions: 1. What is the value in getting this done? and 2. What is the risk in not doing it? There are a lot of things we do out of habit and think they are important when, in fact, they take up a disproportionate amount of time for their value. One classic example of this for pastors is Newsletter articles. I agree with MaryAnn McKibben Dana that many pastors should consider not doing them. 

Scarcity Mentality: “I don’t have enough volunteers to do the work of ministry.”

Abundance Mentality: “I can ask, empower, train, and thank.”

Most churches I know run on volunteer power, yet it can sometimes be a challenge to keep everything running smoothly. Working with volunteers is a huge part of ministry, yet it’s not taught or talked about in seminary very much. If you have people in your congregation, you have potential volunteers. To have volunteers in abundance, ask, empower, train and thank.

  • ASK – The first step in getting volunteers is to ask. Seems obvious, but often overlooked, at least when it comes to asking in a way that will get people to sign up. Some common mistakes in terms of getting volunteers, in my experience are
    1. Doing a blanket ask rather than a personal ask. Putting “all calls” in the bulletin or standing up in front of worship and trying to get volunteers is great, and sometimes it works, but nothing is more effective than thinking about the specific job you need done and making a phone call or asking a specific person face-to-face. It’s easy to ignore “if you’re interested in volunteering, please talk to me.” It’s much harder to turn down the personal ask.
    2. Being super apologetic/having a low standard for volunteers. This is something I learned from Doug Field’s book Purpose Driven Youth Ministry back in the day. In that book he talks about how Youth Directors often stand up and say “We need volunteers for the youth group. We’ll take anybody. Pleeeeeease help.” In reality, the pitch should be “Working with our youth group is an amazing privilege and opportunity for you. Apply to help out and we’ll consider you!” His point was that the youth deserve the best possible quality in their volunteers and the volunteers deserve to know that what they’re doing is important and makes a difference. The same thing is true when asking for volunteers to do any other job in the church. It’s important to be confident you’re not asking them to do something painful, you’re asking them to participate in the kingdom of God on earth.
    3. Not being clear about what you want or need. “Can you help with the soup supper?” is a completely different ask than “Will you bring two bags of tortilla chips to church for the soup supper?” or “Will you come one hour before the soup supper and set tables?”
  • EMPOWER – One of the things ministry leaders need to be crystal clear about is that our ministries work better when we’re not the center of everything. I know many ministers who take on all kinds of tasks that would be better suited to volunteers, either because they don’t know how to delegate, or because they’re afraid that if they don’t do everything, their congregations will think they’re lazy. I appreciate the wisdom that says leaders are effective when they’re able to work themselves out of a job, or at the very least, not have catastrophe when they’re away. Empowering means allowing people to take ownership and do things “their way.”
  • TRAIN – Sometimes things that seem obvious to the leader or minister are a challenge to the volunteer. Organizing a youth lock in is a piece of cake to a youth minister who has done it a hundred times before, but to a volunteer, there are a daunting number of moving parts. Take the task you need done and break it up into simple steps. Walk the volunteer(s) through exactly what needs to be done at each turn. Creating guides or videos with the directions is a great way to only have to do the training once.
  • THANK  – Minsters get paid for the work we do. Volunteers are, by definition, unpaid. So often we are running to the next thing that we forget to say thank you. Notes, sincere hugs with “thank you so much,” announcements, and simple gifts of recognition are easy and they increase the likelihood that volunteers will stay engaged.

Scarcity Mentality: “We don’t have enough money.”

Abundance Mentality: “We live within our means, take calculated risks, invest in what matters, and are faithful with what God has given us.”

Let me be clear. An abundance mentality when it comes to money is not the same as saying “If you think positive thoughts or pray hard enough, or are holy enough, you and your congregation will be rich.” I believe there is an important difference between the abundance mindset described by Covey and the message of abundance taught by advocates of the prosperity gospel.  Both are rooted in the idea that it is important to cultivate positive thoughts and think positively, but the prosperity gospel teaches that financial success and health are evidence of God’s will and favor. In writing about an abundance mindset here, I’m not implying that those whose ministries are struggling and suffering are not following God’s will. On the contrary, God always shows up among the marginalized and disenfranchised. That said, a scarcity mentality when it comes to finances often leads churches to destruction because they are unwilling to “think big” or invest in their futures. To have money in abundance, make the following true for your congregation: we live within our means, take risks, invest in what matters and are faithful with what God has given us.

  • LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS: In church budgets, as with home budgets, going into unsustainable debt is the quickest way to financial scarcity and anxiety. One of the biggest ways churches run into this kind of trouble is by having buildings that are too large for them.
  • TAKE CALCULATED RISKS: Many times in order to grow, churches need to try something new or take a risk. Oftentimes the best thing a dying church could do would be to spend money on consultants or other investments that would help them get out of trouble. With a scarcity mentality, there’s a belief that spending money in order to grow or get out of trouble is foolish, and “saving money” becomes a self-destructive idol. I love Dan Pallotta’s TED talk The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong  for more on this way of thinking.
  • INVEST IN WHAT MATTERS: Churches aren’t trying to make a profit, so the way we handle money is fundamentally different than the business world. Our “business” is the kingdom of God, so when we spend large sums of money on caring for those Jesus calls the “least of these,” we’re making an investment in something we can’t put a price tag on. Often churches find that when they invest in mission and outreach, the money follows. Why? Because people are inspired and invested and they want to be a part of it.
  • BE FAITHFUL WITH WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN: Recently the church I pastor noticed that a sum of money was in an account that, instead of earning interest, was actually being charged a small amount of money each month. A group of people got together, made a plan, and put the money elsewhere. They did it because it was the right thing to do. Later, when we received a larger amount of money, we were prepared. A struggling church should ask the question “How will we manage our funds when there is a surplus?” and begin to implement the answers right away.

 

So what do you think? Where do you see abundance mindset working for your ministry? Comment and let us know!

Food for thought:

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/252840

http://www.success.com/article/john-c-maxwell-6-tips-to-develop-and-model-an-abundance-mindset

 

Sunday Planning Calendar – Free Download

Two years ago I put together a very simple “Sundays Only” planning calendar that lots of people downloaded. I’m happy to offer it again here as a JPG (just right click the photo and “Save As”) or a PDF (just click on the link!) I’ve also decided to make an editable version available for purchase on the Etsy site for just $2.00. You can check that version out here. Enjoy, and happy planning! Also, if there would be an interest in other calendars of this sort (either this sort of thing in other sizes, or any other sort of planning calendar for ministers or church leaders) let me know. I may be interested in creating more. I like to offer a balance of free resources and other inexpensive resources to grow the shop and store! Would love your feedback! Thanks to all who encouraged me to make this planning calendar again, and found it useful in previous years!

 

 PDF Download HERE

Editable Version HERE

Christmas Love Letters from God by Glenys Nellist: A Review and Giveaway!

 

christmasloveletters
Last week when I posted about Advent Calendars, I mentioned that I’m planning on doing the “book a day” calendar with my children, starting on December 1. I’ve already wrapped all of the books (um, it took more time than I anticipated, but I was watching The West Wing, so it’s all good.) and we’re ready to go! The boys have already seen the huge stack of wrapped books and are ready to read them! For the first 20 books, I wrapped and then labeled with numbers randomly, so they’ll be a surprise, even to me, when we open them. For the last five, though, I selecadventbooksted the five most special books from the collection, five books that I think exemplify the Christmas message the best. These are the books that I want to be reading with my kids after school is out, and when we can snuggle up on the couch and savor them. The very last book, the most special book I wrapped up this year is Glenys Nellist’s book Christmas Love Letters from Godadventbooks2

This book is SO precious, y’all! There are seven separate Christmas Bible stories, each with a kind love letter directly from God, to your child. There’s even a blank so that you can pre-fill the child’s name in the book, if you’d like. The recommended age for this book is 4-8, so my two are right in the “sweet spot” for this book, but, honestly, I think it’s a great message for all ages. I’ve even recommended it to folks who are looking for a book to read to the congregation on Christmas morning. The reason is this: each and every story and letter is wrapped up in a single theme: God’s love for us. Everything is connected to that single theme. Is there any theme more important than God’s love for us? For me, that’s the message I want my children to hear time and time and time again. God loves you. You are lovely and beloved. All of these stories we read on Sunday mornings are about this one thing: God’s love. To me, this is the beauty of Christmas Love Love Letters from God.  

I also think you’ll love the beautiful illustrations of this book. To get a taste of it, take a look at the video here.

 

Pretty, eh?

In addition to Christmas Love Letters from God, Glenys Nellist wrote the original Love Letters from God  (I reviewed it HERE) and LITTLE Love Letters from God (the board book.) She also wrote Snuggle Time Prayers  and Snuggle Time Psalms, both of which my family uses and loves! Any one of those books would make a great Christmas gift or addition to your library.

I also encourage you to keep up with Glenys on her Facebook Page and Blog for information on what’s coming next in her fantastic line of children’s books!

Now for the fun news! The author, Glenys Nellist is graciously giving away a copy of Christmas Love Letters from God to a lucky reader of this blog.  To enter, just comment on this post and say who you’d give the book to (or whether you’d keep it!) and a random winner will be chosen on December 5 at noon! 

 

UPDATE: I used the simple “random number” generator to generate the winner which was #12, Deana! I used the email address you put in the comment to let Glenys know, and she should be contacting you about your book! Congratulations!

randomnumber12

Interested in more information like this? Sign up for my email list. It has resources to family faith books, blogs and other goodies like this. Emails go out about once per month and the addresses are never sold or shared!

Note: This post contains affiliate links and I also received review copies of the books listed. I only link to products I personally use, love and would recommend.

 

5 Advent Calendar Ideas that Focus on Family Time, Kindness and Service

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there’s a part of me that really thinks the best Advent Calendar idea is something that gives the child a toy every day. I’m particularly eying the Lego City calendar, the Plamobil calendar, and the Thomas the Train calendar. They’re cool, right? Getting a toy every day from the first day of advent through Christmas sounds pretty fun, and magical. I had some years like that where I got a treat every day, and it was fun. Some year, I think I’ll do one of these toy based advent calendars for my boys. I don’t think they’re all bad. (Side bar: If someone wants to buy me an adult version like this one or this one, I will definitely not complain.) That said, I really want advent to be a time for family and kindness and togetherness, and I know a lot of minister friends want that for their congregations, too, so here are five advent calendar ideas that de-emphasize gifts and buying.

paperchain

  1. Traditional advent chain.  I made one where each “link” on the chain has a very simple advent activity related to the advent themes of hope, peace, joy and love. Very easy and fun. You can buy it here for your family for $4, or you can get a license that will permit you to print up a whole bunch of them for a school or congregation here. OR, if you don’t want to buy one, you could take the idea and run with it. Make up your own activities, write them on the paper chain and you’re in business. One final way to use the paper chain is to not have it be connected to any activities, simply start with 25 links and take one away each day until Christmas. So easy!

actsofkindness

2. Acts of kindness advent calendar. Each day has an ornament with a very simple act of kindness on it. You can make this yourself by making different shapes and coming up with an act of kindness for your family to do each day, or you can buy one here (also available for churches).

3. A “reverse” advent calendar — Instead of getting something each day, try giving something each day. This idea has been floating around the internet since last year, and I think it’s great. The original idea was to put a food item in a basket each day and give them all to the food pantry at the end of advent. A similar idea might be to collect toys or clothes or other goods each day and donate at the end of advent.

adventbooks

4. Advent Books Calendar – This is the one my family is going to do this year. We have 15 Christmas books already I’ll need to either borrow or buy ten more and then I’ll wrap them up and number them to read each day. I think this is a great option for those who have a lot of Christmas books. I could see it being a neat tradition year after year as children get used to the books. In a couple of weeks I’ll be reviewing one of the neatest and most exciting books in our stash Christmas Love Letters from God, written by an author friend, Glenys Nellist. If you have any “must read” children’s advent books, I’d love to hear about them so I can buy or borrow for our advent! Tell me about them in the comments or on Facebook!

5. Jesse Tree – Jesse trees tell the Christian story from creation through to Jesus’ birth with ornaments hung on a tree and a devotional to go with them. There are endless variations of them. One year I’ll pick my favorite and talk about it in detail, but if this is a route you want to go, I’d suggest browsing all of the ideas on Etsy. There are completed Jesse tree ornaments complete with the guides that you can purchase as well as much more affordable and simple patterns for making your own or printing them out.

 

 

 

HOW TO: Make Your Own Corsage and Boutonnières on the Cheap… New Members, Confirmation, Etc.

corsagepromo

I love getting good ideas (and giving them) for DIY stuff on Pinterest and have a whole board full of ideas for church stuff. For me a perfect “Do it Yourself” project should have all of the following to be considered a success:

  1. There should be some significant reason to do the project myself vs. purchasing (either it’s easier, cheaper, better, or all of the above)
  2. The time investment in the project should not negate the money saved. (Time is money, people!)
  3. The end result should not look tragically “DIY’d” (See Pinterest Fails for some great laughs in this department.)
  4. The project should be fun and enjoyable (Admittedly this is subject to interpretation.)

One past DIY project that fits all of these criteria is the DIY photo booth I’ve written about here. I have several DIY “fails” that I’ve done once and never again because they’re not worth it. (Making your own baby wipes? Disaster in my experience. I digress.)

Here’s how this flower project came out using my criteria:

To point one: reason to do it yourself — For this project, the reasons were cost and convenience. Cost: Corsages/boutonnieres are $8-$15 on the inexpensive end of things, and these cost less than $2 each. (If I divided up all the money I spent on the number of coursages/boutonneires I made, the cost was $1.75 each, but I had a ton of supplies leftover, so the actual cost is even less.) Convenience: In my case, I had forgotten to order the flowers and remembered the day before I needed them. I called one place that couldn’t do it in time and wondered how much time I’d really be saving by the time I located a place that would do it and then drove over there to get them. I’m so glad I just took the plunge to give this a try.

To point two: time investment — The whole project took me one hour to do for 10 of them (five corsages and five boutonnieres) plus the time to shop for the supplies. It would have taken way less than that if I had done it before. I spent a good 20 minutes trying to figure out how to make a bow that looked ok. I also spent about fifteen minutes watching various tutorials and researching the strategy before diving in. Now that I have all of the supplies I need (with the exception of flowers) I think making these in the future will be a breeze. Given that I saved (conservatively) $60.00 by doing these myself, I’d say that’s a good investment of time.

To point three: end result — These did not, in any way, look tragically DIY’d. They were certainly not fancy or over the top, but they got the job done, particularly for the occasion (a new member reception at church.) If I were doing these for a wedding or other formal occasion, I think I’d want to spend some time practicing in advance to make sure that the end result would be what I wanted to see.  I’d also play around with adding different greens or different kinds of flowers. The most challenging part (read: easiest to screw up) is the bow and ribbon, and those could be made in advance if you’re worried.

Other reasons to DIY corsages, especially in a church setting:

  • You can make them more eco friendly than buying (No plastic boxes or packaging needed to transport. You can skip the ribbon if you want.)
  • Endless customization options… Customize with funky jewelry you have lying around, for example
  • Fun project for a group (membership committee, for example)

Ready to give it a whirl? Here’s what I did (along with links to some really helpful videos):

First, gather your supplies.

corsage1

If you think you might want to do this sometime in the future, stock up on the supplies for everything sans flowers and make it easy on yourself when it’s time. Here’s what you need.

  1. Flowers (I used roses and baby’s breath. Both of them were from the grocery store.)
  2. Floral tape, like this. As you can see from the photo, I bought two packages. Didn’t even need 1/2 of one.
  3. Floral wire
  4. Ribbon: One of my biggest goofs in this process (and one I’ll definitely correct once I run out of the ribbon I have!) is to have bought a ribbon that doesn’t have a little bit of wire structure in it. This would have made the bow making process way simpler. I suggest something like this  (comes in a ton of colors!). What I had was more like this one. It worked fine, but it was hard to work with.
  5. Corsage pins (Don’t forget these! Can’t have corsages without being able to pin them on!)

Step two: Cut the flower(s) and tape.

corsage2

For the boutonnieres, I simply cut off the rose with a nice long-ish stem, maybe two inches. Cut longer than you think you want it at first, you can always make it shorter. Then I wrapped with the floral tape and called it good. (Note, do not tape over the very bottom if you want to get these in water if there will be a long time between when you make them and use them.)  I didn’t even add baby’s breath for the boutonnieres, though doing so would have made them a little more fancy. (Green leaves would be nice, too, but not an option at the grocery store.) For the corsages, I wrapped the baby’s breath together with the rose stem. Several of the tutorials I watch suggested wrapping a wire around the stem as well to give added strength. I think this would be more necessary with a flimsy flower stem. I didn’t mess with it for these because the rose stems were very sturdy. (Note: A friend with lots of flower experience reminds me that putting the wire through the stem and up in to the head a little and then taping will prevent the flower from drooping, particularly if you’re going to have some time between making and using. I didn’t notice any droop, but it was only about 18 hours in my case. Next time, I think I will do the wire step, just to be sure. It doesn’t take a lot of extra time.)

For the wrapping you should know that floral tape sticks on itself and works better when stretched a little bit. Also, it’s less sticky than you’d think. It takes a little bit of stretching and fussing to get it started, and to finish it off (at least in my non-experienced experience).

Step three: make a bow and attach to the corsage with wire. This is the trickiest part of the process, and I think there are a lot of options. The simplest option is to skip the bow all together. Ha! I’ve seen a bunch of intriguing bow making kits on amazon, but I know nothing about these. What I did was make the bow by wrapping the ribbon around my hand several times, slipping it off and wrapping a bit of wire around the middle. Then I wrapped that wire around the corsage itself. To get an idea, take a look at this video. The ribbon part starts at 3:23. (I did about 3 or 4 loops around my hand. The man in the video does 6.) Also, that video is great and shows the wrapping process as well. Wrapping starts at 1:45.

corsage4

 

Step Four: Admire Your Work!

corsage5v2

 

I stuck pins in the back so they’d be ready to go and then stuck them in the fridge. Not sure how long they’d last in the fridge with no water, but these were fine for the 18 or so hours they were hanging out before use. If you have less sturdy flowers or a lot of time between when you make and use, you might want to invest in some tubes like this. (I would imagine you could even re-use these, though I’m not sure.)

Other Videos I Consulted:

Corsage Bow – I tried this and it didn’t work for me. Looks pretty, though. I think using the type of ribbon shown in the video would help.

DIY wrist corsage – This one was mesmerizing to watch, but not all that practical for what I ended up doing.

How to Make a White Rose Corsage and Boutonniere – Same one that is linked above. By far the most helpful video.

Good Luck! Have you done this? If so, share your tips!  


Note: This post contains affiliate links.