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Parents into Partners: Strategy #1

Parents into Partners: Strategy #1

Be Like-able

Partnering with parents in your church often begins with your heart; before any strategy is put in place, there has to be a relational bridge between you and parents in your community if you hope to partner with them in ministering to their children.  If the phrase “partnering with parents” makes you roll your eyes, you’re going to need to get your own heart into the right place before you try to launch a new partnering initiative.

People help who they like

In general, when they have a choice, people choose to spend time with people they like.  Consider what it might do to your attendance numbers, or at least the frequency of a family’s attendance, if the volunteers and staff in your children’s ministry made the top of a family’s “favorite people” list.

Think back to your years on the playground as a child.  If you had the choice to play a game with other kids, you probably would choose to be on a team with someone who was a good teammate, right?  The last person kids on the playground want on their team is the child who goes around tripping everyone or the one who decides that they can win on their own and ignores the rest of the team.  Friends, if you want to partner with parents, work hard to be someone who is fun to play alongside.

Think about the last time your family had a bad/unhappy/unfriendly waitress at a restaurant – most people, when given the chance, would try to get a different waitress the next time they went out.  And, seriously friends, we have something better to offer than any waitress at any restaurant in your town – don’t let your attitude or friendliness get in the way of a family choosing to come back next weekend.

Leverage social media: be a person

Because I go out of my way to leverage social media, I know that some parents from my church (my pastor’s wife included) read this blog.  With that said, I kind of feel like writing what I’m about to write is like walking out to take the garbage to the curb and realizing I forgot to change out of my pajamas.  Just because there are moments of my life when I wear Guitar Hero shorts, my neighbors don’t need to see what goes on behind the scenes.  However, because they are not my primary audience in this space, I’m going to share some thoughts on how I’ve helped them learn to like me over the last few years.

I work hard to be a face that families care about and one of the most effective ways I’ve found in helping families learn to like me is by leveraging The Facebook.  My wife and I stay in constant dialogue about what we reveal via social media and, typically, transparency wins out over privacy.  We often ask ourselves, “is this a part of the story of our family?” If it is, then we share it.  If it’s something divisive (political views, posts of judgement, complaints about people in leadership) then we back off from posting those thoughts.

This week, for example, a young teacher at my son’s school told me that she’s been praying for my son and was thrilled to see the picture of his cast getting removed that I posted to instagram.  This teacher went on to tell me, during a 50 second conversation, that this was the first thing she’d prayed for since someone she loved lost their battle with cancer three years ago.  Families in our community are watching our story as it unfolds and are finding moments along the way where they relate to us and engage our story.

This is more than just making a space online for parents to see your church events (people engage with and relate to faces more often than logos) – it’s a place for families to get to know your face and your story in such a way that they begin to like you.  It’s not being manipulative as long as you make sure that being authentic is a high value of yours.

Return phone calls and emails

This one is (mostly) for the youth pastors in the room.  But I’ll let the children’s ministry folks in the room listen in.  Parents will not partner with you if they cannot get a hold of you.  Partnership is a two way street – if you send out weekly or monthly emails to families in your church, you better read and respond to emails that families send to you.  If you want families to call you in times of need, you better return their phone calls when they call your office and leave a voicemail.  Boundaries are important, don’t get me wrong.  I often tell families that I don’t look at my phone between the hours of 6pm and 8pm every night because my family owns that time.  Just keep in mind that families who cannot get a hold of you will be less likely to partner with you.  It’s as simple as that.

Smile. Often.

If you hate The Facebook, or can’t stand listening to voicemail, there’s still an easy first step that you can take this weekend as you begin trying to partner with families.  Smile.  Often.  I have a friend who, when she relaxes her face, makes a frown.  It’s not because she’s upset – it’s just how her face works.  I’ve watched other parents avoid conversations with her when she’s letting her kids play on the playground because they don’t want to engage the angry person.  If you have a face that easily looks angry, stressed or sad, you may have to work harder at smiling when you see people on a Sunday morning (even though you’re tired, your rooms weren’t set up right, a child just threw up in the toddler room and the women’s toilet in the bathroom is clogged with purple playdough).

This doesn’t give you an excuse to be fake.  I’ve had a hard couple weeks as a person and I’m willing to share that with people who ask how I’m doing.  At the same time, I find joy in the ministry that I’m called to and I make it a point to share that joy with others.  If people like seeing you, they’re more likely to talk to you.  And, as I’ll write in a later post in this series, it’ll be hard to get parents to take the next step toward engaging in a partnership with you if they don’t talk to you.

So, smile this weekend.  And give a parent in your ministry a high five.

This is part of a series of posts on serving families in our communities.  To see the notes and slides that go with this series, visit: http://westcoastcm.com/2012/10/03/turning-parents-into-partners/

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Kidmin12, Thoughts

 

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Parents into Partners: An introduction

Parents into Partners: An introduction

Serving a NEW GENERATION of Families

When talking about Family Ministry, we first have to admit that the modern family looks a whole lot different than our culture told us that it should look 50 years ago.

I’ve posted this video before, but it’s worth watching again, as we consider what it looks like for the church to serve and reach out to the modern family:

And, if that was how your neighbors thought of the definition of family in 2010, consider what this clip says about what they might now consider the “new normal”:

One of the tag-lines for this new show should cause you to stop and consider what it looks like to effectively minister to families in your community:

You don’t have to be related to be family – different is the new normal

So, let’s consider, as we begin to think about how to best partner with parents in passing the faith on to the next generation, that we’re not dealing with the Beavers anymore (that is, if we ever thought we were actually dealing with perfect families).  Instead, we are called to serve single parents, guardians, neighbors with an extra seat in the car, teens who bring their younger siblings to church, adoptive & foster parents, and couples in your congregation who are struggling with infertility.  Consider what it looks like to partner with the hardest family situations in your ministry.

It’s with that frame of mind that we move forward.

It’s for families who most need the grace of Jesus that we’re called to share the Gospel.

This is part of a series of posts on serving families in our communities.  To see the notes and slides that go with this series, visit: http://westcoastcm.com/2012/10/03/turning-parents-into-partners/

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Kidmin12, Thoughts

 

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Post 200: Who saw THAT coming?!

Post 200 at West Coast CM

Revisiting the purpose and looking forward

A little over 3 years ago, as I began to really settle into my role at my current church, I started thinking concretely about collaboration.  I never intended on having a national voice in the area of children & family ministry and could have never dreamed that writing here would even give me traction in my local setting.

Yet, here we are, 200 posts in and coming off of a speaking gig at a national children’s ministry conference in Chicago.  Seriously, who saw THAT coming?!  I’m grateful for those of you who’ve been following along from the beginning.  And I’ll continue to welcome those who are checking things out for the first time today.

As I said when I launched this space (check out the original post HERE), I have a hope for churches on the West Coast to catch a vision of partnership and collaboration.  Through conversations initiated here, I’ve become collaborators with West Coast children’s ministers like Collie Coburn, Christiaan VandenHeuvel and Henry Zonio and have created friendships with over a dozen churches within 15 minutes of me (and, as much as I like saying that I know those first guys, the group who I connect with locally make my heart truly happy).

If you read this blog, and you’re in children’s ministry, I’d encourage you to start dialoging in the comments section, find me on twitter or connect with me on facebook.  If this space ever turns into an echo chamber, it’ll have lost its way.  Having your voice in the conversation will help this continue to be a space for collaboration and partnership moving forward.

Thanks.

Your partner in Christ,
Ap

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2012 in Thoughts

 

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Dedication Vows

Dedication Vows

what we promise and why it matters

This is not a post about the debates surrounding infant baptism and baby dedications within Christian traditions.  Rather, this is a post meant to encourage those serving families in the Church to examine the role of dedication/baptism in the life of their congregation.  This discussion doesn’t exist in a vacuum and, as often is the case, the following thoughts were prompted by a recent real-life situation.  As you read about it, consider what your response might be…

On Thursday morning, I logged into Facebook (you can find and friend me HERE) to find this message from a ministry friend of mine:

Hey all, we have a situation in our church where unwed (but living together) parents want to dedicate their baby in church. Mom also wants to get baptized. Mom is also already volunteering in Children’s Ministry. Our Sr. Pastor has decided not to dedicate the baby without talking to mom and dad first to make sure they understand that living together outside of marriage is a sin. Then he also brought up the point that he didn’t want mom volunteering in Children’s Ministry while living with a man outside of marriage. Have you dealt with any of these things? How did you handle them? Does your church have a policy on this yet?

Question 1: What is a baby dedication?

The first question you’ll have to tackle, when thinking through your response, has to do with what dedication is in your context.  If dedication, at your church, is a moment when a congregation simply thanks God for the blessing of new life and offers a prayer for the family, then answering the question above becomes a whole lot easier.  However, some churches see dedication and/or baptism as a covenant between the congregation and the family, which has the potential to make things a little trickier.  So, in your context, what is a baby dedication?  Would everyone in leadership at your church agree with your understanding of dedication/baptism?

Question 2: What are you willing to risk?

I believe that those of us called into ministering to families should have some idea of what our goals in ministry are.  Simply put, it’s really hard to hit a target if you don’t know what you’re aiming for.  Considering the situation above, a few of the risks associated with saying “no” in the scenario are clear: the family might leave the church, the baby won’t be dedicated, friends of the family may be upset, others in a similar situation could feel judged, etc.  Though we should always try to handle situations like this with mercy and grace, it’s always good to consider the risks involved – we pray for best case scenarios, but want to take into account what could go poorly before we respond.

Question 3: What are your options?

If you church has never faced a similar situation, you may want to consider what options you’d have if this scenario presented itself.  If baby dedication/baptism services aren’t open to unconventional families, has your church considered having a “celebration of new life” option as a way to celebrate a child’s birth without the formality of vows or the perceived “blessing” of a lifestyle that your church is uncomfortable with?  Some churches take a weekend each fall to celebrate babies born during that year.  An option like this gives a staff something to point to for a family who might not be ready for a dedication service but still wants to be a church that feels inclusive to those who want to honor the birth of their child.

A response, within a context

In our church’s context, infant baptism/dedication requires a family to make vows with the congregation as we promise to raise up a child in the faith together.  For a single mom, these vows might be easy to say yes to.  For a couple living together outside of marriage, it might be a little trickier.  The questions we ask of parents, in front of the congregation, are:

  • Do you trust in Jesus Christ and acknowledge that he alone is your lord and savior?
  • Do you turn away from evil and sin and their power in your life?
  • Will you be faithful and active members of the church?
  • Will you bring your child up in the faith, opening the Scriptures with him/her/them and teaching them the way of Jesus?
The conversation that I might have with parents, who haven’t made vows to each other to raise a child together, would probably be less focused on the questions above and more focused on what stands in the way of them getting married.  A couple that is hesitant to make vows and promises to each other should also be wary of making vows and promises with a congregation.  My response, in my context, would start with those questions and move forward from there.  The language of partnership in my church is all over the place; beginning a conversation with the idea of partnering fits our ministry context well and might lead to the parents deciding for themselves if dedication/baptism is the right next step for them.
Statistically speaking, today’s parents are less likely to enter into the convenant of marriage than the generations before them.  With that in mind, churches should consider how they might respond to a situation like this before they face it so that they can handle it with the questions about in mind.
If you’ve faced a similar situation, or want to point out something I missed, we’d love to see your thoughts in the comments section!
 
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Posted by on September 22, 2012 in Kidmin, Thoughts

 

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A Community Church

A Community Church

being the church when the pews are empty

Over the last few years, I’ve heard a comment/question that has resonated with my soul each time that it’s spoken.  Whether it’s been in the context of a conference, a book, a conversation or a sermon, these words have struck me significantly each time:

If your church closed its doors tomorrow, would your community notice?

Now, before I get angry comments below, I’ll quickly say that I don’t think that the church is a building… though, in this context, we’ll assume the church gathers in a building.  The heart of the question is this: is the local gathering of Christ-followers that you’re a part of play a significant role in the community around you?  When thinking through this question today, I wanted to share with you some creative ways some churches are making an impact in their community.

A Substitute Staff

I recently heard of a church where the staff was required to submit an application to become a substitute teacher in their local school district as a part of the hiring process.  You see, the local public school in the church’s community does not have enough substitute teachers… and so, because the church’s heart is for their community, the entire staff also serves as subs in the district.  That’s right: even the Senior Pastor (his favorite class to substitute for is band/music).

The church I’m speaking of is not a large church, but it’s making a large impact in its community.  Because of the staff leading the way, members of the congregation have started to volunteer at the local elementary school as yard duty teachers, crossing guards and maintenance/grounds workers.  This church is bringing Christ to their community by serving their local schools.  It’s kind of brilliant.

A Shelter from the Cold

In our area, there is a coalition of churches who partner together every winter in order to serve, feed and house homeless in our community during the coldest months of the year.  Because we are in a warm climate, the Los Angeles area has a significant homeless population.  During most of the year, many of those without a place to stay can sleep outdoors without significant risk to their health… however, during the winter, there are nights when the temperatures drop and those without a roof over their heads, especially young children, face significant consequences if they’re caught out in the cold overnight.

Churches who are a part of this coalition take turns opening up the doors of their buildings in order to offer shelter and meals during those coldest times of the year.  Local congregations who do not have facilities that could house hundreds of people partner with larger churches and provide volunteers – some of whom specialize in dentistry, medical care, hair styling or other skills that help the homeless population feel cared for and worthy of attention.  These churches care for those who could never repay them for the services they offer and, because of this, offer something significant for their community by offering the love of Christ to those on the margins of society.

—-

Being a church who cares for your community is BIGGER than being a church who runs events and welcomes your community to come to you.  Being a Community Church often means taking Christ to those who might not yet know Him and who probably have never seen a church who actually cared for those outside of itself.

This last week, I had the privilege of watching our church rally with our community to support a family when their son was dying from cancer.  Moms, students and our church’s staff cared deeply for those who were mourning in ways that I’ve never witnessed before.  Though the family does not attend our church, we found ourselves at the center of helping organize a candlelight vigil for those in the community who needed a place to ask where God was in the midst of tragedy  (Read more about that vigil HERE or HERE).

This week, as you reflect on the role you play in your community, consider what some next steps might be in your context.  What if your church decided to invest deeply in its local school district by providing coaches, PTA members or library volunteers?  Have you ever considered taking an afternoon as a family and baking cookies for your neighbors? (Halloween is coming – reverse trick-or-treating with homemade bread could be a fun idea, right?)

Have you wrestled through this recently or maybe have a brilliant idea to share with the community?
Post your thoughts below!

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2012 in Kidmin, Thoughts

 

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The Importance of Sharing

The Importance of Sharing

Believing in a God who rescues

A few weeks back, I was given the opportunity to preach at all four of our church’s weekend services.  We were between sermon series at the time, so I had the chance to choose what my message would focus on and what text our congregation would reflect on.  If you have 30 minutes, you might want to check out that sermon by downloading it here: In the Image of Dad.

When given the chance to share my heart, I felt the need to share my belief and hope that God rescues us when we cry out to Him and, that in the midst of our cries, He rescues those around us as well.

In Need of Rescue

I’ve tried to be transparent about the miscarriage that my wife and I experienced last year and have written about what it’s like to go through that loss as a parent, as a father and as someone in professional ministry (A collection of those posts can be found HERE).  I think my hope, in sharing that story in written form and through spoken word, was that God would redeem that story and bring hope where there was only pain.  Reflecting on things, I think I also shared that story with the assumption that it would be the last thing that God would have to rescue me from.

I write this post today with hands that are shaking.  Yesterday, I stepped out of a meeting to answer a phone call from my wife (we have a policy that, if she calls, I answer – no exceptions) and couldn’t get her to put three words together without bursting into tears.  I left the office and ran home to check on her and the kids – I’m not sure what I thought was wrong at home, but I was pretty sure I could fix it.

I’m good at fixing things.

The things you can’t fix

The longer I’m married, the more I realize that I can’t fix everything.  There are days when you wake up in need of rescue and find yourself in the same place when the sun sets that same day.  In life, there are days of “in between” when you feel helpless and vulnerable.  Sometimes you feel like you’re in the belly of a great fish, sometimes you feel like a giant stone has been rolled between you and your Creator, and sometimes you simply lay in bed at night unable to sleep because (as much as you know you’re not supposed to) you worry about something that you have no control over.

Yesterday, my wife and I were told that blood work that was done last week has come back with markers that show that our baby, now in the second trimester, might not be as healthy as we had hoped.  Because we believe in the power of prayer and in a deep call to living in community, we sent this message out last night to our closest circle of friends:

We just got a call that the second trimester genetic screening blood test indicated that we are considered high-risk and should be offered both genetic counseling and an appointment with a high-risk OB. The test is not diagnostic for any certain problem, but we have been offered further testing to determine if a genetic disorder or other problem exists. The baby can still be absolutely fine. We are choosing to discuss the results with a counselor and have a full ultrasound done this week, our appointments are on Wednesday afternoon.
We believe in doing life in community so we will be making this public knowledge and asking for prayer… Please [pray] for the health of Baby Nutmeg and that we won’t be overwhelmed with worry between now and Wednesday. Thanks so much!

The Importance of Sharing

Sharing has never been easy for me.  I was the kid who stole toys from kindergarten because I didn’t want other kids to play with them.  I’m the kid who went to a counselor in High School and spent an entire session refusing to speak.  I’m the one who sits with the TV remote next to me so that I can control the fast-forward button during commercial breaks.  Sharing means giving up control – and I like control.

Friends, though it’s not my knee jerk reaction to share, I believe with all of my heart that God’s people are called to share their story with others.  When we call out for help, I believe that God comes to our rescue and that, in the midst of rescuing us, that others come to know Him.

In this season of worry, pain, grief, anxiety, nervousness and heartache, my wife and I take comfort in knowing that God writes a better story than we could ever dream of.  Please, during the next few days/weeks/months join us in praying for the health of our baby (“Baby Nutmeg”).  And, while you’re at it, pray that God might use our story in a way that leads others to the Hope we have in a God who rescues.

Today is a hard day.

This is why we don’t do life alone.

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2012 in Thoughts

 

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News Worth Sharing

Every once in a while, you get news that’s so good that you have to share.
Today is one of those days (see our video above for the announcement).

Along with celebrating with us, we as that you join us in prayer for our new little one.

It’s early to announce things like this, but I have a hope that surrounding “Baby Nutmeg” and my wife in prayer will get us through this exciting/nervous season.

Feel free to share.
If you could share this video on Facebook, Twitter and through other avenues of social media, we’d appreciate the effort.  I want this baby prayed as much as possible (call me selfish, it’s ok).

Thanks, in advance, for joining us in the adventure.
(we’re so excited!)

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2012 in Thoughts

 

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