Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Engaging the "Why" Generation

Over the past two years, we have been searching for ways to engage the hearts of our children when it comes to church and their faith.

Our concern started somewhere close to Anna's 10th birthday. We saw her begin to pull back and disengage.

For some reason, there was a disconnect. Church became "our" thing that she participated in out of obedience. We knew that she had a genuine relationship with God, but something was not working in our traditional church model.

When we asked her about it, we discovered that she struggled to see the relevance in what she was being taught. She questioned "How do all these Bible stories apply to my life? How do they even fit together???"

We quickly realized, in doing research about the millenial generation, that this is a cultural thing. Our kids are growing up in a vastly different world than we did. They are more global, technological, experiential and philosophical. "Church as we had always known it" was not effectively reaching our children.

I went back to one of my trusted resources--a book by our friend Dr. Tim Elmore. It is called "Nurturing the Leader Within Your Child" (available at www.growingleaders.com) and is one of the best resources for parenting that I have found.

Tim gives some great tools for engaging your kids: painting word pictures, mentoring, using questions effectively, and creating "laboratories" where they can try out their wings in a safe environment. Those are just a few--you'll have to read the book to discover the rest. : )

But how do we engage this generation when it comes to their faith? We have struggled to find a church that is doing this well. It amazed us how many churches are still employing the exact same methodologies used 25 years ago.

We have finally, though, found a place that seems to "connect" with our kids. Northway understands the heart language of this generation.

Here's how their kid's ministry works. Second and Third graders are together, and Fourth and Fifth. They have large group worship within their grade units, and their corporate worship looks just like what we do in "big church".

Then they break up into small groups (of the same gender), and each group is facilitated by an adult leader. They read through the scripture, and then are asked open-ended questions ("what do you like about this passage?", "what do you not like", "how does this story apply to us?" etc.) They are given tools to begin studying the Bible for themselves, and encouraged to go seek out the answers to questions that came up in small group. It is a very investigative approach to the Scriptures, and the leaders are "coaches" or "facilitators".

This is the exact same method we use with our missional small groups in college ministry. But guess what? It also seems to be working with our preteen kids!!!! The "iron-sharpening-iron", community approach clicks with this generation. I finally see my children owning their faith, and embracing truths of the Word for themselves. And I've actually caught each of them in their rooms with their Bibles, searching for answers!!!!

Another cool thing that Northway does involves the arts. On Wednesdays different classes are offered: everything from cake decorating to pottery or even woodworking. They also offer some athletic activities. Kids can come and use creative expression to learn more about themselves, and Christian principles and concepts are applied in a one-on-one, natural way as kids work with mentors. It is a very effective program.

What are some ways that you have found to reach and engage the millenial generation? How are you making Christianity relevant to them? I would love to hear some more suggestions on how to "do church" for the "why" generation.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Being a Christian kid in a secular world

Joshua came home from school this week and told me, "Isaac said that he doesn't believe the Bible is true. He thinks it's silly that I do. He says it is just a made-up book."

So I asked, "How do you know if the Bible is true or not? What if it is made up?"

Both Joshua and Anna gave me this blank, deer-in-the-headlights look. Then slowly, we began to talk about it. Here is the dialogue that ensued.

Joshua: "Because God also talks to people in their lives, even though He's not on earth. So it's pretty much a miracle. And I believe He can do even bigger miracles than that."

Kiki: "Help me understand. Are you saying that God speaks through the words of the Bible into the lives of people, so that's how you know it is true?"

Joshua: "Yeah!!! That's what I'm talking about. I just KNOW it's real. It's kinda hard to explain, because it is something I just believe in my heart.

Anna: "Yeah.....it's something that you just realize is true--a "bottom-of-the-heart" experience."

Kiki: "But what about things like evolution? Do people ever tell you that the Bible is wrong about creation because science disproves it?"

Anna: "Well, Joshua DID evolve from a monkey. But not the rest of us." :)

Joshua: "The whole theory is kind of illogical, if you think about it. Yet they think it's illogical that God took the time to plan and create the world!!!! But that's only because they don't know God like we do."

Kiki: "That must be tough sometimes, when all your friends believe things that are different from your Christian worldview. How do you live in a secular world and maintain your Christian values?"

Joshua: "Pray a lot. Make sure your life looks like a Christian, so they have a reason to ask you why you're different."

Anna: "You can't just use arguments from the Bible, though. Especially when it comes to evolution. Because to some of them the Bible means nothing."

Kiki: "So what do you do?"

Anna: "You show them how it is wrong using another explanation. All science is not bad. You can still use science to support creation."

Joshua: "And it's important to treat everyone nicely. Even if they don't believe in God and Creation and stuff. We're supposed to treat everyone the same and with respect."

Kiki: "Is it hard to be a Christian kid in a public school where most of your friends are not believers?"

Anna: "Sort of, because there is so much around you to tempt you and make you not want to act like a Christian sometimes. Like gossip, or wanting to get mad at people when they are rude."

Joshua: "Yeah, sometimes it's hard not to be mean to people when they annoy you or do something bad to you."

Kiki: "Are there some positive things about being in that environment?"

Anna: "Yes!!! I have the opportunity to tell my friends about Jesus. If I wasn't there, then who would tell them? Plus, it makes me think about what I really believe."

Joshua: "I think God put me in public school to tell people about Jesus. It's made me stronger, too, because it takes courage to teach people about stuff."

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Anticipation of the Season

I love April in Pittsburgh. The sun finally breaks through the clouds. Buds appear on the trees. Tulips, hyacinths and lilies burst through the frozen earth and bloom into an array of brilliant colors.

But I also love the religious climate in our city right now. It is a time of remembrance. Visual representations of the story of God are all around us.

Next week is Passover. Families are abuzz with preparations for the Seder meal. The youngest child in each family is anticipating his important role in the event. Matza is being prepared. Fine wine is being selected. Traditional cakes and wonderful desserts are baking. Excitement is in the air.

The story of God's faithfulness to his people is on everyone's lips. Books like "Miriam's Cup" are on display in the library, telling how God brought his people out of the bondage of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Parents tell their children how the death angel passed over each house that was covered with the blood of the passover lamb.

It is such a beautiful picture of our God of the Old Testament.

But for those of us who are Christians, the story does not end there.
1Corinthians 5:7 tells us that "Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed." The anticipated Messiah has come, and His name is Jesus!!!!

We see the beautiful story of Jesus, our passover lamb, reflected throughout the traditions of Easter.

It all begins with Ash Wednesday. The day is always somber and reverent. Students, businessmen, mothers, and children wear the ashen crosses on their forehead as a reminder of how lost and dark we once were in our sin. It it good to remember where we came from, so we can fully appreciate what He has done for us. Many start the day with a sunrise service, repenting of sin and reflecting on His grace and mercy. Even unbelievers walk in a quiet reverence that day, sensing that this time is somehow special and holy.

Then the Lenten season begins. Evidences of the celebration are everywhere. Stores are filled with crosses, eggs, and the purple and white fabrics of the season. Children are told how God came down and became man in order to die and take the place for our sins. Churches celebrate the stations of the cross. Strangers greet each other with "Christ is risen!" and "Christ is risen indeed!"

Restaurants even pay homage to the season. Signs in all the eating establishments, even fast food restaurants, advertise "Fish Fridays" in honor of lent. People fast and remember what He has done, as each one confesses what he chose to give up for lent.

Everywhere you look, you see evidences of His Story. There are constant reminders of our risen Lord throughout the city.

I can't wait for Easter. Church bells will ring simultaneously in every village, township and city. People will dress in their finest. Places of worship will be packed, as our risen Lord will be celebrated. Families will partake of the bread and wine, and remember the beauty of the cross. Traditional meals and celebrations will follow throughout the day. And joy will fill the air!!!!

But today, there is a special reminder for us personally of the hope of the season. An anticipation of death springing forth into life.

As we get to celebrate this Lord's Day together, we will have two special guests with us at church. One became a believer a year ago, and we have had the joy of watching her grow in her faith over the past few months. The other is her best friend, who has not yet accepted Christ.

We love that kid, and have been praying for him over a year now. But he has not made that decision to follow Christ.

However, we have the hope of future grace! We believe that sometime soon we will get to see him pass from death to life. We wait in eager anticipation for that moment when his eyes will be opened and he will choose to accept Christ.

There is an excitement in the air. A new season, new life and new hope. And a new prayer for our dear friend who is still walking in the darkness.

1Peter 1:3 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Guest Blogger: Brandee Littlefield

This is my friend Brandee, with her cat, Ophelia. Brandee is one of those kids who we first came to know as a student in Oklahoma City, but who has grown up to be one of our closest friends.

I asked Brandee to write something for my blog, because she has a wonderfully unique and beautiful approach to her faith. She is also an incredible artist, and a deep philosopher. She challenges me by her example. Miss you, girl!

Here are her words of wisdom:

Beach Reach, 2006
One night as we dropped students off at a hotel on the far end of the island, Trevor presented the gospel flawlessly. I could hear the whispers of Phillip's prayers in the Driver's seat as I also prayed in a whisper. Listening to the young man's response broke my heart. Not verbatim, but he said, "I understand what you are saying. I know what you've told me it would take for me to go to Heaven. But I am going to continue to do things my way."

At that I could speak no longer and the spirit had to intercede for the groanings of my heart. I could feel my tears because I knew he would be accountable for the truth that he now knew. I wonder if the average American Christian knows what it is like to be broken over the lostness of the people around them.

I think that God speaks to us in ways that impact us most. He is the perfect father who knows how to relate to His children. I often find that I have extreme clarity when I am walking in a park talking to God or painting or journaling.

This is the journaling that I wrote after having a dream on a Sunday afternoon a couple of months back. It is written in prose and I had to reread it after I had written it because I hadn't fully awaken from my dream.

The Potency of Hell
I woke from a dream
Its contents
Already past my recollection
And yet I felt greatly impressed
As to the insurmountable evidence
Toward the horrors and affliction of Hell
The cavalcade of emotion and guilt
At my apathy overwhelmed me
If I truly believe that
Why do I stand still?
Those that I know that
Have perished in a life
That had not been redeemed
And those who are still yet to
Fall asleep apart from God
Are and shall forever be exiled
From the One
That I hold most dear
In my understanding
Which by my own confession
Is limited, I have allowed myself
To believe that because in eternity
I will forget those who chose not To follow God, that somehow
Their suffering would subside
But that is a lie!
Even after judgment
Though endowed with more mercy
Than any man ever deserved
Their pain will never end
Regret that haunts
Opportunities that will ever
Be in the forefront of their consciousness
Never able to sleep
Or able to retreat
There will be no second chances
And no hope of a better tomorrow
As these prose
Spill forth from my spirit
I pray a very hard thing
Let my heart not be indifferent
To my fellow man
Though he himself
Be unaware
And while Hell is not my future
Let me never forget
That it claims all who I neglect
Father may I be besieged by pain
Over their sin now
So in the future they will not be
It made me cry. And it changed me. I hope that I always have brokenness for lost people around me, my hope is that by sharing it, it might change others as well.It reminds me of one of my favorite verses:
Acts 20:24 "However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace."

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Divine Intervention

Do you ever have those mornings where you wake up with a strange, uneasy feeling about the day? That happened to me yesterday.

The whole day started off on the wrong foot. First, it was freezing in the middle of Spring. The stores were out of hot chocolate, and nothing seemed to be going smoothly.

Then right as I got onto the Highland Park Bridge, a truck in front of me, carrying an oversized load, failed to negotiate the turn and got wedged between the retaining walls. It blocked off the entire Southbound part of Rt. 8, and I was left sitting in the middle of a bridge over the Allegheny for almost an hour.

So by the time I got to campus, I was really late and very frustrated. I dropped off the supplies for our hot chocolate table, accidentally backing into another vehicle on my way out, and had to go all the way to the top of Forbes before I found a parking place.

It was 11:35 by the time I started walking back down Forbes towards campus. My mind was preoccupied, and I was not as attentive as usual to my surroundings.

All of a sudden, this guy with long stringy hair stepped on the sidewalk in front of me, blocking my way. He and another guy were carrying a huge dresser.

"We're having a garage sale," he stated. Which I found really odd on a Wednesday in 31 degree weather.

I had to stop, because they were blocking the entire walkway, and my only other option was to go out into the busy street.

"Hey, get on that exercise machine," the guy suggested, pointing to an E-Z rider that was sitting on the curb next to their cargo van.

"No, thanks." I said uneasily.

"I said, 'try out our exercise machine!'" he demanded more aggressively.

I was starting to feel uncomfortable. Just then I noticed two additional guys, who also looked a little sketchy. They had stopped carrying furniture and were leering in my direction as well. All four of them were watching me.

The blonde-headed dude hopped on the machine, demonstrating how it worked. "See? It's simple. Now you try it." They were all laughing at this point, and I was really getting uneasy.

I saw a clearing in the traffic, and darted into the street and around the group of guys, not looking back as I ran the last block to campus.

I tried to brush off my discomfort, rationalizing that they must have been at that house legitimately. But the more I thought about the situation, the odder it seemed. And then when I told Jarrod and Anna what happened, their faces reflected alarm and concern.

"That's just creepy," Anna said.

When I got home that afternoon, I had an email from my friend Dorcas, who lives in Texas. It said,

"I had this awful feeling this morning that something sad was happening today. I am not one for premonitions and such. Nevertheless, I stopped and prayed for everyone. Including you!My thoughts are with you. If you are having a bad day, may this e-mail cheer you. And if your day is going fine, I am so glad."

I wrote Dorcas back and asked what time she had that awful feeling. She told me 10:30 Central time, which would have been about five minutes before I headed down Forbes and into that situation!!!!!!

I don't think that was a coincidence. I am so thankful for friends who listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and who are faithful to pray.

I am also thankful for a Heavenly Father who watches over us. Praise be to God!!!!