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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.

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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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Book Review: The Eric Trap

Book Review: The Eric Trap

It’s been a while since I read a book as quickly as I read The Eric Trap.  But, here’s the thing, I care about Eric Newman.  Having not read the book, you might be wondering who Eric Newman is and why I care about him.  The Eric Trap, a book written as a collaborative effort by Jim Wideman, Sam Luce & Kenny Conley, is told as a fable of sorts that walks the reader through a week in the life of Eric Newman, Children’s Pastor at New Hope Community Church.  Eric is your typical kids’ pastor and is a character I could quickly relate to.  As Eric faces the typical challenges those of us in ministry face each week (disgruntled volunteers, painful meetings, time away from our family, etc), it’s easy to see a little bit of ourselves in his thoughts and reactions.  Which leads me to the things I dig.

Things I dig

Not only is The Eric Trap a fable about a guy you learn to relate to, but it offers advice throughout for how those of us in children’s ministry can avoid the mistakes and situations that seem to drag Eric down.  I love a good story, but I’m also someone who really appreciates tangible next steps – The Eric Trap is able to pull off both, which I wasn’t expecting and was pleasantly surprised to discover.  The writing style of the book makes this an easy read and something I could pass off to a friend or intern without feeling like I’m asking them to read an encyclopedia.  Before I pass it off to them, however, I’m handing it over to my wife – with permission to call me out on areas where I’m falling into the Eric Trap.  I’d encourage others in ministry to do the same.

Things that Dribbled

My one concern about this book is how a female reader will relate to the narrative.  In children’s ministry, I recognize that most people who hold my position are women – and most people who should read this book are those who are in children’s ministry.  Having said that, I think that every lesson learned is one that applies to both men and women.  My concern, though, is whether or not a female reader will relate to Eric in the same way that I do.

Wrapping Up

I now have another book that will serve as mandatory reading for my staff and for those who volunteer on our team and may one day be called to professional ministry.  This book is the best of it’s kind.  I appreciate that it was developed by those who are serving in real-life, full time ministry.  The stories within it are relatable because they happen every week in the lives of those who serve in children’s ministry.  If you have a chance to get your hands on a copy, or you’re looking for a book to add to your wish list, this is a book worth asking for.

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Want to get your hands on a copy for free?

For reviewing this book, I’ve been given a copy that I can give away to a lucky reader of this blog!  All you have to do is comment on this post (by next Wednesday, 4/18) and tell me your favorite book on leadership and/or children’s ministry.  I’m always looking to expand my library – and so should you!  I’ll then randomly choose one commenter below who will receive a FREE copy of The Eric Trap.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2012 in Book Review, Kidmin, Resources

 

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Songs about Jesus

Songs about Jesus

Essential words we need to say in church

A few weeks ago, the team that leads worship for our elementary-aged children on Sunday mornings had just wrapped up their set and closed in prayer when a child from our 2nd grade section called out, “When are we going to sing a song about Jesus?”

Though two of our songs that day came directly from the words of Jesus (Matthew 6:25-27 & Luke 9:23) and our third song was a song that sings of our God’s power, I had not been intentional about making sure that our kids (especially the short ones in the room) sang a song that specifically mentioned Jesus that morning.  I’ll get to why that is a big deal in a moment.

I believe that the words we speak and the songs we sing in our church’s worship services help create a reality for the community we worship alongside.  And, though I believe that statement, I sometimes forget how important it is to remember its truth each time I have the opportunity to lead from the front of the room – with adults or with children.

With that in mind, here are a few things I’m going to be super intentional about saying when I have a chance to speak in front of our church.  If there’s anything you’d add to the list, feel free to add on.

The Name of Jesus

I am convinced that this is what separates the Church from being just another neat place where people go and learn to be nice.  It’s a big deal that Jesus was a real person.  It’s an even bigger deal that he died for our sins.  It’s the biggest deal that he came back to life and that we can experience eternity in Heaven because of the gift of grace that his resurrection offers to us.  With that in mind, we should probably say the name of Jesus and sing songs that specifically remind us of his name – the Name by which we are to call to during life’s storms and the Name by which we pray.

Visitors are Welcome

It’s possible, believe it or not, for someone to feel unwelcome at your church.  In fact, one of the biggest obstacles that our churches face in getting a first time visitor to become a second time visitor is helping them feel welcomed and connected during their first visit.  I was recently speaking to a group of children’s directors and youth pastors when I suggested that they always take a moment to welcome first time visitors.  Afterwards, I had multiple people come up to me to tell me that they haven’t had first time visitors for over a year at their church.

I’d encourage you, much like I encouraged them, to begin talking about visitors before they are there.  If you intentionally begin talking about first time visitors and using words that express that everyone is welcome at your church, you’ll begin to teach your congregation that (a) church is a place for visitors and (b) they need to live into the reality that it’s their job to make your services a place where they can invite their friends who do not yet know who Jesus is.

You Matter

If I could encourage you to be intentional about the words you choose when speaking in front of children, teens or adults at church, I couldn’t end the conversation without talking about this next idea.  We live in a culture where fame and outward beauty are the bars by which we measure worth.  And those who try to measure up to that world and fall short question their own worth. It’s our job, as those who have the chance to speak words of truth to our churches, to make sure that we let others know that they matter – that God loves them and created them on purpose.

Make it a point, every time you gather, to speak of a world where God loves us deeply, where our community needs us and where we are valued… because that’s the world that exists and speaking of it gives others a little glimpse into what Heaven on Earth might look like.

These are the things that I’ll be making sure that we say in our church and in my ministries because I believe that they are true and I believe that it’s our role to say them regularly.  It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a start.  Feel free to add on or ask questions below.

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2012 in Kidmin, Thoughts

 

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Why You Might Experience Serious Regret this Thursday

Why You Might Experience Serious Regret this Thursday

The folks at ONLY144.com have done it again…I don’t think they sleep.

This time they’ve teamed up with 20 different producers to put together the most epic bundle I’ve ever seen for anyone who does Children’s, Preteen or Student Ministry.  It’s really cool stuff, but the only catch is that they can only do this for 144 hours, then it’s over.

This deal ends on Thursday at noon…that’s in 2 days…just sayin’.

If you want to turn $97 into $2,000 for your ministry, snag this and don’t cry yourself to sleep on Thursday night.  Dave Ramsey would be proud of you!

Visit www.only144.com to check it out.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2012 in Kidmin, Resources

 

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Making Camp Accessible

Making Camp Accessible

Tips for Making Camp Accessible for Special Needs Children

Each year, our church takes elementary-aged students to camp; we take children once during the summer for a week-long adventure and once more during the winter for a weekend experience in the snowy mountains near where we live.

I believe in taking kids to camp.  There’s something about unplugging from the busyness of life and spending intentional time on faith development that I can’t put a price tag on.  I’ve seen the lives of children and families transformed through the ministry that takes place at Christian camp centers.  I have one moment in my own life that I can look back on where I felt like God was whispering to my soul. That moment took place in a quiet prayer chapel at a Christian camp.  For me, that was the beginning of my journey into ministry.  God can start things in the lives of kids at camp that can change the world around them.  I firmly believe in that.

However, going into this year’s winter camp, our team was faced with a dilemma.  Our ministry to special needs children is growing at our church and a handful of those students wanted to attend camp with us this year.  Though we were thrilled at the idea of bringing these children to camp, we knew that good intentions were not going to be enough to create a safe camp experience for these potential campers.

Today, I want to share three essential things you would need to do in order to take special needs kids to camp.  If camp is something you believe in, then it should be something that children with special needs have an option to attend – it just takes some extra work.

Have a Plan

If you have children with special needs in your ministry, you are probably familiar with the idea of Individualized Educational Program (IEP, for short).  As a church, we try to develop an IEP for each child in our ministry who we identify as having a special need.  Our IEPs vary in their formality – if a parent approaches us in hopes of establishing a partnership, the plan we develop will be more involved and specific than the plan we draft for a child whose behavior warrants special attention but whose parents might not be willing to talk about the issue in terms of drafting an IEP.

Because camp is away from home and routines, we require a consultation between the parents of special need campers and our special needs ministry team – children whose parents are not willing to have those conversations are not ready for camp.  Good intentions won’t help you or your camper when you’re dealing with needs you weren’t prepared for.  You won’t be able to coach your volunteers well if you haven’t established a plan for making camp work for your special needs camper – if you want to bring a child to camp with special needs, you need to have a plan.

Think About the Details

Part of having a plan in place is thinking through the details.  I’ll be honest, without the partnership from the camp that we take our kids to, having details and plans in place wouldn’t be something that we could pull off on our own.  If you plan on taking kids to camp, thinking about the details should include:

  • Ask for each day’s schedule from the camp center
  • Bringing ear plugs for children who are sensitive to sound
  • Have a structured plan for special needs children who cannot handle unstructured time
  • Have a plan for the routine of bed time and ask parents about special considerations (bed wetting, sleep walking, night terrors, comfort items, etc.)
  • Make sure the camping site is 100% accessible for your camper

By no means is that an exhaustive list, but it should get your team started when it comes to brainstorming what details you need to have in place for camp to be accessible to all of the children in your ministry.

“No” is always an option

One of the neatest moments in having special needs campers with us this last winter camp came when a mom came to pick up her son at the end of the weekend.  She told me, through tears, how moved she was that we were able to take her son to camp.  He had never stayed the night anywhere away from his family until that weekend.  She went on to tell me that she felt like she could send him with me because I’ve become a part of their family over the years of being the Church together.

With that in mind, I want you to know that there have been times when we had to tell this family, “no.”  We haven’t always been a ministry that could give this young boy full access to all of our events.  During the first years of revamping our VBS, we could not accommodate his needs.  Until this year of camp, he has not had the chance to head up the mountain with our team.  However, those moments of saying “no” and explaining our reasons to this family earned us the ability to one day say “yes”… and mean it.  By always putting her son’s safety and well-being first, we earned the right to finally say “yes” and give her son an experience away from home to connect with his Creator.

And, to save the best news for last, this young boy decided to give his life to Jesus at camp.  Heaven got a little bigger because of the hard work our special needs team put into making camp accessible.  That moment made all of the hard work worth it.

Without a plan, working out the details and only saying yes when we were actually ready to make camp a great experience for our special needs campers, things might not have gone as smoothly as they did.  As those who follow Jesus’ call to “let the children come to [Him]”, we have a great responsibility to provide care for all children – even those with special needs.

If you have anything to add to this conversation, feel free to do so in the comments section.  We look forward to the addition of your thoughts and perspective.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2012 in Kidmin

 

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The Paper Cuts of Ministry

The Paper Cuts of Ministry

3 Steps to take when the little things start to take control

I was preparing an object lesson for our preschoolers at church yesterday when it happened.  Out of nowhere, when I was least ready for something tragic to happen, I was attacked by a white piece of card stock.  For the rest of the night, my newly injured thumb kept getting in the way of everything I tried to do.  While playing guitar and singing christmas carols with our church’s 3 and 4 year olds, I couldn’t quite grip my pick and kept dropping it on the ground.  As I high-fived kids and shook hands with parents throughout the night, I winced uncontrollably with each greeting.  Even as I signed my own two children out of childcare for the night, I could hardly grip the pen well enough to write my initials.

I hate paper cuts.

If you’ve ever had a paper cut, you can understand the pain I suffered in that moment (and continue to suffer this morning as I type).  Paper cuts happen fast.  Paper cuts don’t look like injuries to those around you, but that doesn’t mean they don’t hurt.  Paper cuts get in the way of ministry and disrupt our lives in little ways… and, if we’re not careful, those little ways can add up to big ways.

Over the years, I’ve suffered another kind of paper cut… an injury that would hardly be noticed by anyone else, something that shouldn’t hurt as much as it does and gets in the way of my day-to-day life.  It happens in the form of an email from a disgruntled parent.  It’s the sharp pain of hearing that a family has decided to leave your church.  It’s what keeps me up at night after a program you ran didn’t go quite as you planned.

If you’ve ever experience the kind of pain I’m talking about, you need to know you’re not alone.  Most all of us in ministry have experienced a paper cut of sorts and have lived to tell the tale.  I asked around this week in the ministry circles I run in to hear what steps some of our peers take in order to deal with and move on from some of those sharp pains in ministry that have the potential to overwhelm us.

Step 1: Call it what it is

One thing I’ve heard over and over is that perspective means everything when dealing with the paper cuts of ministry.  In my lifetime, I’ve never met someone who has died from a paper cut.  It’s important to take a step back after the sharp pain subsides and evaluate how lasting the injury is going to be.  Paper cuts teach us to move a little bit slower and to pay attention to what we’re doing.  One of the ways that you can take control over a painful situation is to remind yourself of the scope of the problem.

I have a notebook that I write the paper cuts of ministry in.  Every time I go to write a new thing in the book, I look over the old things in the book and I’m reminded of how big and sovereign our God is in my life.  The paper cuts of ministry can overwhelm us if we let ourselves get caught up in the initial pain – finding a way to put them in perspective will help you move on and not let the pain control you.

Step 2: Tell someone about it

Have you ever considered having someone in your life that you can vent to about the little things?  It’s hard for me to feel overwhelmed by the little sharp pains of ministry when I have to put them into words to someone else.  I’ve met a lot of people in ministry (children’s ministry, especially) who feel like they’re all alone when it comes to the hard parts of church life.  If you don’t have someone to talk to about your paper cuts, it’s easy to begin to think that your problems are bigger than they are.

This doesn’t mean that you post a Facebook status about your frustration or that you take to Twitter to vent about your paper cut in 140 characters or less.  That’s a great way to turn a little problem into a bigger one.  Instead, it’s better if you can find a network of real people that you can have conversations and build relationships with.  Kenny Conley, over at www.childrensministryonline.com, recently posted a great series on starting a Kidmin Network – if you need a place to start (I’d encourage you to start with THIS POST if you don’t know where to begin).

Step 3: Pray for healing

I might not know anyone who has been killed by a paper cut… but, I’ve met a lot of people who didn’t take care of a wound well and ended up getting a bad infection from something that started out small.  In the same way that you’d want to treat a cut in life, paper cuts in ministry need healing – even if they seem like tiny little scrapes.  As I’ve asked around, I’ve heard story after story of paper cuts that turned into bigger problems because the people involved never moved on from them and they became much bigger and more infected problems.  Don’t let that happen to you.

I love that we have a God who cares about the little things.  We should be in the habit of taking our problems, even the little ones, to God through prayer and petition.  If you want to last in ministry, and in the position that God has called you to, you need to build prayer into the rhythm of how you deal with paper cuts in ministry.  Even the smallest frustration or hurt can turn into an infected mess – take your problems to the One who created you.  He’ll provide a greater healing than Neosporin and a Band Aid could ever offer.

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2011 in Kidmin, Thoughts

 

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