Friday, November 26, 2010

A Prayer Trinity Circle

Just as our multiple intellegences influence the way that we learn, these intellegences can influence the ways that we pray. Some of us pray better alone, and some in a small group of believers. Some of us pray better using music, and some of us find that visuals enhance our prayer life. Some of us pray better is silence. Some of us even pray best when our hands are in motion.

We can encourage those in our churches to pray by developing a prayer room with visuals and reading materials that can help them pray. Recently I led a retreat for Christian Educators at First United Methodist Church in Springfield, TN. When we toured the building I saw their prayer room with this Trinity Circle and knew that I had to share it with you. They gave me permission to post the picture and information.

Here is what was on the handout beside the Trinity Circle:

The Trinity Circle

QUIET SPACE: You Are Beloved

Spend time experiencing the fullness of God's love for you - the overflowing, enfolding love of God.

(To help with this, read the poem "Our First Love" found on the lectern.)

When you are ready, take three small sections of yarn connected to the trinity circles, and begin to braid them together.

The first section represents the love of the Father,

the second represents the love of Christ,

the third section represents you.

Braiding them together represents the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

When your braid is complete, tie a knot in the end. Just as the knot forever holds the strands together, so you are always held in God's love.

Take a moment to thank God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - for loving and holding you.

Ask God to protect and lead you as you leave this place.

You are always a beloved child of God.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Of Younger Generations and Stewardship

There is a Hasidic tale of a disciple who asked, "Why does the Torah tell us to 'Place these words upon our hearts'? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?
The rabbi answers, "Because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in them. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in."

This reminds me of our younger generations who want to be IN ministry or involved in some mission BEFORE joining the church and even before learning ABOUT Christianity. Their work for others is what causes their hearts to break open and allow the words to fall it. They are actually "doing" stewardship without realizing it, giving of the gifts and talents that God gave them, to care for the whole world. The sooner we realize this need of the younger generations, the sooner we'll help them learn the love/grace of God that has held us through the years.

I still say that stewardship is the head and heart of Christianity, and mission is the hands and feet. We need both, paired together, to make our bodies complete. Guess that's appropriate for this season when many of us are involved in stewardship. Sometimes we don't understand the history of stewardship. Here's my summary of stewardship as I wrote it in my book Let the Children Give: Time, Talents, Love and Money.

In the very early church, the Christians gave to each other without worry for themselves. They saw their role as caring for every person whom God placed in their paths, and even going out of their way to be stewards of God's people. (Acts 2:44-45; 11:27-30)

The true meaning of stewardship got off the track way back in the fourth century when Constantine declared the entire Roman world as Christian. This set the church up as an arm of the government, and the operating budgets of the churches were raised through taxes. The only need these churches had to raise money was to spread the gospel to other countries. Their routine "budget" was taken care of by the taxes of the citizens. This continued throughout Europe, where the government and church were united.

When Europeans came to North America they established a government that separated church and state. At first there were few problems about budgets. Most ministers were unmarried circuit riders, and as long as they had a horse and a couple of changes of clothing they managed fine. When they went to a community the members of the congregation saw to their housing and meals. The congregations usually met in schoolhouses or homes, and so there was no need to raise money for building upkeep.

But then things began to change. As communities became more established, they wanted pastors who were in residence, and they began to build houses of worship. Suddenly they realized that the taxes no longer covered such items, and so there was a need to "raise a budget". This endeavor then became labeled "stewardship", and the broad scope of the word was lost. Our task today is to bring back the understanding of stewardship that was prevalent in the early church, the understanding that all that we have belongs to God, and as stewards we must recognize the mission of God as dominant in our lives (Acts 4:32-35).

Stewardship must involve all that we have. I've posted some resources on stewardship below.

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Do we care enough?

I've now pretty much finished my mission study curriculum on Haiti, and it was one of the hardest I've ever written. As I researched I often became depressed, there is such need there, as there is in so many other countries.

Then I would see elaborate sets on TV shows, and I kept asking myself, "Why do we spend millions of dollars on entertainment and not recognize God's call for us to bring the kingdom here to earth by caring for others?"

When I was young my parents had hoped to become missionaries, but were not accepted because of some health situations. My mother wanted to be a missionary from the time she was young, and she certainly did mission work out of our home. But she told me that she was always afraid that everyone would learn about Christ before she grew up and could go into the mission field! And look how far we are now from teaching everyone about Christ's way.

Thankfully, however, missionaries today work toward bringing Christ's way of living to those they work with instead of just instructing them to believe in Christ and be "saved". We must recognize that, though salvation is important, Christ's main message was to care for those who were hungry and in need. Matthew said it well in chapter 25, verses 42-45.

Too often in Christian education we get so hung up on teaching the contents of the Bible that we forget to teach how to apply the message of Jesus to our world today - to ALL of God's world.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Haiti Mission Study for Children

I'm coming to you, asking for help. I am working on a mission study for the Women's Division of the United Methodist Church for the summer of 2011. The subject is Haiti. This was planned before the earthquake, but will include life before and after the earthquake. Here's a brief outline. If you can help, please contact me at and I'll send more information.

The theme of this study will be told through a Haitian storyteller, Tonton Bouki. Tonton {Uncle} Malic (pronounced Malees), one half of the popular duo, Ti Malice (smart, but mischievous) and Bouki (his slow witted friend) who are the protagonists of Haitian folktales and proverbs). Similar to “Knock, Knock….Who’s there?” Haitians have Krik (meaning shall I tell a story?)…Krak (audience’s response in agreement). This will be used as the opener for each of Tonton Bouki’s storytelling opportunities in the sessions. It will be used to draw the students in closely. Each session will have two or three opportunities for the storyteller to draw the children together and guide them through the background of the country, the life of the people of Haiti, the earthquake, and where we can help God fashion the future of this country of wonderful people. Each session will also include activities, games, songs, and food that carry out the theme.

Session 1 – information on the island formation, map of the country, natural resources, fruits, deforestation, etc.
Session 2 – early inhabitants of the island, colonial control, introduction of West African slaves, and finally the independence that the slaves were able to accomplish. We will also cover their language – how it came about and why it is a language all their own.
Session 3 – conditions that the children and their families live in today.
Session 4 – the earthquake and afterwards. I’m looking for stories of children before and after the quake, how they survived, how they live today, their everyday circumstances. These may be woven into a created story.
Session 5 – this session will have capability of being intergenerational. It will be a review and also opportunity for the children the children to see ways that they can help. Any suggestions on this will be appreciated.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Different Size Churches

Recently I rode through the country in north Georgia, and all the different size churches came to my mind. There are still small churches scattered along the countryside where a few cars pull up into the grass around the church each Sunday. We also have mega churches, many of them with parking lots that cover over 20 acres with asphalt and shuttle cars running folks from every end of the parking lot to the main building. One church I pass on my way to my own church has at least 100 handicap parking spaces.

I grew up in relatively small churches. As a Methodist pastor, my father served churches that seldom even had a part time secretary, let alone a staff of any size. In fact, when I was in the second grade my dad was appointed to a six-church circuit in south Georgia. Dad was a true circuit rider in the Methodist tradition with a ’36 Plymouth as his horse. Two Sundays a month Mother would get my sister and me up early and feed us breakfast. Then we’d change our clothes in the car on the way to the first church. After Sunday school and church, we ate lunch at someone’s house in that town. Then in the afternoon we moved on to a tiny country church for the afternoon service, where the hymns were sung to a pump organ, and I’m not even sure we had electricity. We then enjoyed supper either in the home of one of the church members there or in the town where we were headed for the evening service. Before the evening service, we changed our clothes, back into our pajamas, and fell asleep on the back pew. The next morning we woke up in our own beds. The other Sundays of the month we attended Sunday school and church in the town where we lived, and Dad usually made the other circuit runs alone.

Before they were in middle and high school, our children never lived in a town of over 2,000 people. In fact, one town only had 92 people, but that’s another story. During those years we, of course, attended very small churches. I even taught the Primary Sunday school class behind the piano in a one-room church so that the kids weren’t distracted.

Later, I worked on staff in churches ranging from 500 to 4,000 members, and I learned that in a large church people must become a part of a small group in order to have a true Christian experience of fellowship.

All that remembering set me to wondering just how we help persons become disciples in different size churches. Why do we put such emphasis on numbers? Are we more concerned to have a good report of membership and attendance than we are of helping persons learn to love God and to live according to that loving? Do large churches with big programs dazzle us into thinking that God only appreciates something that zaps us in the eyes and pounds in our ears? Where are the relationships between the children and adults of our churches? Does an adult know about the upcoming test of a ninth grader in the church and tell him or her that prayers are lifted to God? Can adults call the names of children in the church other than those they are related to or whose Sunday school class they taught?

My nephew and his wife feel called to reach out to persons who do not feel comfortable in our church buildings, no matter what style of worship is practiced. They are moving into a community where they can develop a small church family in their home, a church family that will relate to an established church, but that becomes a cell of loving Christians themselves.

I know of a United Methodist congregation in the Atlanta area that meets in a strip mall in a coffee-house atmosphere. After a free breakfast where a small jazz ensemble plays, the pastor sits at a table in front and preaches in a teaching method. Then they enjoy communion together each Sunday. The church is closely tied to the community, but some folks travel over an hour to attend, because it is a community that fits their needs.

The early church started worshiping together in the Jewish synagogues and temples, but also meeting together in small groups. Those groups were made up of all ages, loving and supporting each other. Have we forgotten our roots? How can we pump up those roots in order to plump them again into vital vessels of God?

How is your church working to make disciples instead of numbers? How can we work together for this?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Parents and Grandparents Sharing Faith

Starting a blog is a new experience for me. Maybe it’s much like the weekly columns I used to write for a small town newspaper. I called them DeeLiberations. I went by my nickname “Dee” at the time.
I hope this blog will be particularly helpful for some of the Christian educators that I’ve known across the years, although it’s certainly not restricted to Christian education. I’m happy to discuss any subjects that you would like.
Let’s start off with thoughts about the importance of parents and grandparents in sharing the faith with their children and youth. I feel that these important people in the lives of young Christians need two tools in particular. First they need to understand just how we grow and mature in our faith, and then they need some suggestions to start them on finding spontaneous ways to share their own faith. I can’t tell them the exact words, because those must come from their own experiences.
For this discussion let’s define faith as our relationship with God and beliefs as simply the things that we believe. We hope that our relationship with God will begin early and continue to grow throughout our lives. Our beliefs may change from time to time, but even those changes can deepen our relationship with God.

How we grow in faith
I usually use the styles of faith that John Westerhoff developed in Will Our Children Have Faith? because they are easier for parents and grandparents to grasp.
~ Experienced Faith – We observe and copy, acting and reacting to our surroundings and people. Parents and grandparents lay the foundation by simply holding and loving the infant. Parents and grandparents need to give unconditional love, and as the child grows older they become advocates of the faith. This is a time of exploring and testing. Faith grows through experiences, including worship.
~ Affiliated Faith – Here we relate to other people. Feeling a part of the church family is important for children and youth. We express our feelings through this style of faith, and we learn about and appreciate those who set the foundation of our faith. We embrace OUR inherited faith story.
~ Searching Faith – This usually begins in the late teens and early 20’s, although I’m seeing it start earlier now. This is when we begin to say, “Is this really what I believe, or is it something that someone else has told me and I am simply parroting it?” We need clarifiers of the faith during this time, sharing beliefs and pointing out how others believe but insisting that we each must explore our own beliefs. Only through questioning can we really claim our beliefs. This is the time we begin to commit to causes with our actions.
~ Owned Faith – This can only happens after we have worked in the previous styles of faith. This is when it doesn’t bother us if someone says, “But I don’t believe that! How can you?” We can recognize that each person is individual in his or her own faith journey. Here we live our faith in every part of our lives.
These styles of faith do not disappear when we move from one to another, just like a tree must continue to depend on its inner circles of growth. Each style of faith is a part of our spirituality throughout life. We continue to experience, to relate to others, and to question our beliefs.

Spontaneous ways to share faith
For this second tool, parents and grandparents need to feel comfortable in sharing their faith. This can be as simple as saying, “Look at the beautiful sunset God made!” By inserting the word “God” we have made it a faith statement. Young children may hear, “This shirt doesn’t fit you any more! You are growing just the way God planned for you to grow.” The words, “God planned” can plant seeds of understanding.

Share your ideas!
Now, what are some ideas you have for helping parents and grandparents share their faith? Give us some specifics, and see if we can all benefit from this discussion.