Mission part 1
The Church lady says
Why aren’t people coming to church, serving, coming to parties etc.? I have heard this seventeen different ways at every church I have ever served or been a part of. I wonder if this is the same gripey impulse that creates static in the commons. When we kvetch about the people that aren’t there, you are playing small ball - worrying about deck chairs - or whatever cliché suites you. The thing I have learned about this very human tendency is that it creates radioactive fallout. You can’t see it, but this radiation breaks the DNA of people it touches. If we focus on the shortfalls of people, we have a hard time hearing through the static of our own judgmental attitude and we get radiation sickness.
But, If we focus on our mission to love and serve the whole world, God will provide the people to support that mission.
Years ago, a person, not Ascensionite, carried around a most sour look on his/her face. I used to ask him/her if everything was ok, but I have stopped. The response was always robotic with this plastered smile, “O course I am fine, I have the joy of the Lord”. Not five minutes later the face would fall and the stormy cloud return over his/her head. I think most of us can’t fake joy, and we can’t fake away the radiation of complaining.
Ascension has about an 800 batting average on joy and welcome, but we can always improve. As we improve, more people will get into the boat with us to help row. We all have a job to do, that is to have fun in the Lord.
I don’t want to sound flippant, but I would like my new title to be the CFFO, Chief Fun and Fellowship Officer at Ascension. Our consultant has been reminding Ascension about fun. This fun can even be, should be, part of vestry, finance, mission, and outreach committees. Our goal is that every church meeting be modeled after Jesus’ committee structure – they got together, learned together, ate together, prayed together, and loved each other. As they left, they did not just leave, they were sent on a mission.
A usual church model is not like this at all. St. Swithen’s has a slot to fill and the one who seems to come the most on Sunday gets “voluntold” to fill the slot. Once they say yes they bide their time until the term is over. What if every committee meeting was fun and peaceful? Gasp, it can be true and it's not just a pipe dream. I believe we will be reworking the whole way we do ministry. Meetings can be a place for the work to get done for sure, but the Kingdom building would happen in fellowship because we chose to meet together. WWJD do in committee?
As your CFFO, I want to constantly be helping fellowship and fun be the fuel for mission. Since the only strength and authority I have is derivative of Jesus’ power and authority and since Jesus has the wheel, I am learning to enjoy the ride as well.
My CFFO pledge to you all via Justin Timberlake,
I’m bringing funny back
We church people don’t know how to act
So let’s turn around and take it back
Sunday School, part 2
We have committed parents who are pulling hard to equip their kids for a life of faith. But there is a gravity that pulls us in an opposite direction toward expertism. If we church leaders think we can carry the spiritual water for all the formation of kids, it is foolishness at best.
So putting the old man glasses back on, “The problem with world today, is that everything has been exported to experts instead starting with the home." And like the guy who stands on his lawn to yell at kids for walking on his grass, I want to grump, "the home is too busy for much of anything except more busyness." How can the church help its people take at least one iron out of the crowded fire?
Captain Obvious says that activities won’t save our kids, only Jesus will. I wonder how we church people can take seriously the formation of our kids without taking it so seriously that parents can offload all responsibility for faith formation on the church, and then ironically, not bring their kids to Sunday School. I know that is not you, but if it is what do you need to live into a different way of being?
Enough speculation. I am prone to rearrange stuff that I perceive as not working optimally. Our Sunday School now is not optimal. Wonder with me how we can partner with parents to diligently undertake the work of formation while swimming in a world steeped in the overscheduled “sainthood of all children”. Thanks father-in-law for that expression. When he said that to me as if it weren’t always true, it really opened my eyes to the world that I and my fellow parents have created. Hell hath no fury than the parent whose child has their perfection doubted. Is the sainthood of kids deceiving us to double and triple booking every spare second of down time in families?
This I think goes back to preaching. How do I preach a God who is lovingly in charge of the world, when I and everyone around me is scurrying around thinking our kids and our life are up to us. We think we can give our kids a perfect life by starting with the right latin teacher, softball coach, and college prep course.
I want Jesus and his presence in my life, but as a church leader, I am knee deep in my own programmatic overload along with everyone else. How can I be faithful to the call of Christ to create programs that actually form both leaders and participants become lovers of God and nothing else.
Before we rearrange everything, we have to ask two hard questions. First even if there was a highly funded, spotless Sunday School program, would it serve the needs of families and be used more? Second, if the answer is “no”, how do we 'ninja style' slipping the transcendent God into children's lives?
Fellow clergy have similar issues with lackluster SS attendance, and they are trying different things. So, please without giving me a curriculum that will solve all my problems, solve all our problems.
I can wrap my head around preaching, but expectations of child formation seem to change more than Justin Bieber’s haircuts. The Sunday Schools at all three of churches I have served have ebbed and flowed. At the same time, I have a persnickety commitment to childhood Christian formation that is non-negotiable. Sunday School might be negotiable, but my Charlton-Heston-NRA-cold-dead-hands will not let me slack. Let the little children come to Jesus and do not stop them. So how does the community offer a compelling education that the kids will nag their parents to take them to and what can we do to empower the parents to help their kids fall in love with Jesus?
The fruit of a good program is probably that the kids want to be around their friends. We leaders try to make a program fun, and then let Jesus slip in through the side. I have seen bigger non-denominational and Methodist churches who do a great job of making Sunday School into a holy romper room. Tricycles, praise music, and a good teacher. I don’t think the Episcopal church could, even if it wanted to, pull that off. If we are not going to double down on entertainment culture, what does it mean to take the mantle of teacher or parent empower-er in the lives of our littlest disciples?
I like working with kids; I like teaching school chapels; I love double jumping my own kids in a bouncy house; but I think this is bigger than throw the priest at it so that he will fix it. Disclaimer – parents, I in no way would even think about being wreckless with your kids, even when I am sorely tempted to double bounce your particularly annoying, rambunctious 8 year old.
The status quo of children’s formation seems to be a medicinal approach to Sunday School. A little craft is the liquid bubble gum flavoring that helps the Jesus antibiotic medicine go down. I want to wonder aloud with you. What does it mean to form kids for Christ? Pleeeaassee don’t send me your favorite curriculum that will solve all my problems. I think we are being called to more existential question. I want to wonder WWHUD. What Would Jesus Have Us Do?
First, I/we don’t pray enough specifically for the kids. So I resolve to pray for by name our kids. E….h, E…….n, C….e, L…n, W….e, C…..r, A….w, N….e, D…..e, J….e, J…a, M…..e, K……e, M.c, E…n, I..a, O……a, N…e, T…e and others. I have a pretty practical view of prayer: It can’t hurt and will help. Please pray with me not only for our littlest disciples’ success but that our kids grow into the full stature of the Lord. I think we don’t empower our kids to pray effectively. One of my dreams is to have actual tools to send home with parents every week so that they can do nightly devotion, compline prayers, vespers, etc with their kids.
Please pray for our program, pray for our volunteers and pray for Miranda's leadership. May we all bring the light of Christ to our little ones so that they have the spiritual tools to live in joy.
Next time, I will put my old man glasses back on and rant about over-scheduled kids and Sunday School.