Second Annual Ambassador Class

Inviting 4th and 5th graders to take on leadership tasks is exciting. For them and for me. Training young people to serve and giving them regular practice opportunities builds a culture of service and education. The first Ambassador Class included an invite to all 5th graders and a few 4th graders I knew were ready for the challenge. This year I sent personal invites with follow up emails to all 4th graders and 5th graders and let them make the choice. The first class were all girls. This second class included boys who have since been showing up early on Sunday mornings to take on the setup tasks and they aren’t even scheduled. These students are ready to put their faith into action and I am thrilled to let them know their home church is putting its faith in them to begin taking on places of leadership. The following blog appeared in the fall of 2017 giving all the details. This year we added Tech Ninja training for the sound booth.  What else would you add to your Ambassador Team?

Got the small group of kids who are ready for more? Faithful to Sunday school attendance, but talk about more? Those who take on more than the bare minimums and their families are all-in…would even venture to say some of their parents might even have keys to the building? That’s why we started the Ambassadors.

My bucket of responsibility is Kindergarten through 5th grade. Preparing beautiful postcard invitations from vistaprint.com, invitations were sent to all fifth graders on the rolls. Since I observed leadership skills in some fourth graders in Sunday school, specific invites went to them, as well. 

This was the plan:

5-5:30pm Pizza & Chat Dinner (some parents have quite a commute, so we allowed for traffic time)
Visual Faith Project images: Choose an image that represents a part of your life (a representative) and discussed during Pizza & Chat

“We are Christ’s ambassadors.” 2 Corinthians 5:20

5:30-6:30pm Welcome, Prayer, Game
What is an Ambassador?
Tour of the Children’s Ministry space; tech booth & kiosk training; fill-in-the-blank worksheet; respond on a large post it note

Ambassador – one of the best positions to meet new people and have fun; grow our communication skills (helps you get your ideas heard); leadership) … ambassador…representative…an example…aka a person chosen or appointed to act or speak for another

Tour and walk through the Sunday Morning Setup – carts, check-in kiosks, water, cups, snack, supplies, all classrooms, tech booth, storage, greeting practice

A – Arrive 30 minutes early to assignments (plenty of time to be ready)
M – Mature/Can be trusted (dependable, punctual, enthusiastic without craziness, positive attitude/no complaining)
B – Bible readers (we pour out what we take in; are you reading your Bible regularly and attending weekly Sunday school?)
A – Assist those in our area in a spirit of hospitality (kindness to a stranger) (Hi!, offers hand outs at end of services)
S – Smile (let’s others know you want to be here; makes the best impression on guests and those having a hard time)
S – Set up on Sundays, Tour of the Nativities, special events, weekly guest greeters
A – Assist in the K5 & 1st grade Sunday school classrooms and special events as needed
D – Dress appropriately for the event (flip flops; awards ceremony/representatives; brush your teeth, gum chewing; sneakers; clean)
O – Open the doors…of conversation, of encouragement, and the real doors, too.
R – Respond quickly with kindness; be aware of your surroundings and others

Roles for Ambassadors 1. Partner with kid guests (weekly)
2. Tour of the Nativities (tour guide)
3. Greet & serve new guests and at special events and weekly
4. Set up on Sunday mornings (weekly rotation)
5. Assist in K5 & 1st grade Sunday school (as needed)

The students were asked to consider if they wished to take on such responsibilities at the end of the orientation. If so, they were invited to write their names on the large post-it-note on the wall. They were eager and asked good questions. “Do we have to smile the whole time? My mouth might start to hurt.” (Man! I love these kids!)

The first Sunday following the Ambassador Orientation, many of the Sunday morning tasks were taken on by the Ambassadors without my even knowing it until I saw certain things already taken care of throughout the morning. Leadership opportunities are part of what every student should be able to experience in their home/local church. Jesus believes in them and I want them to know that their church family believes in them, too.

“Building the habit of service at a young age tends to alter the attitudes and expectations of young people, resulting in a lifelong practice of helping others. The younger we instill such a mind-set and lifestyle, the more ingrained they become.” George Barna from Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions: Why Children Should Be Your Church’s #1 Priority, page 74

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October Is For Learning – Part 2 of 2

October has been a season for learning. Part 1 gives insight on the Catalyst Leader Conference and the Wonderfully Made Trainer Training.  On the third week of October the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church Center for Congregational Excellence presented a one-day event led by Ken Willard entitled, “Creating a Discipleship Pathway for Your Church.” Ken Willard is an outstanding presenter who points us to become coaches helping people take strides forward in their personal and individual spiritual growth.

Though we were once called the ‘Methodist Movement’, we probably aren’t moving from unbelief to belief in every aspect of our lives. Our job as church leaders is to grow disciples for the transformation of the world by equipping individuals to take next steps, or strides, on their spiritual journey through an intentional process of introducing spiritual practices….soul training!

Ken Willard shared eight particular spiritual practices: Prayer & Fasting, Sabbath, Witness, Sunday School/Small Group, Financial Generosity (Tithing/Giving), Serving, Worship, Scripture Reading. He then shared the three which he believes have the greatest tendency to catapult people forward in their faith formation: Scripture Reading, Serving, Financial Generosity. It’s been my experience these are the three we can be very intentional in teaching our littles.

My favorite take-away was above image we can use as a tool to engage in conversation with individuals for where they are and what next steps in particular spiritual practices they can intentionally begin or move into.  Several groups of people came too mind immediately where I can begin to have these spiritual coaching conversations. I left the training with a plan to engage in these ‘next steps’ conversations with my students aging out of Children’s Ministry with ‘next steps’ in the summer, as well as those finishing any study I’m leading. As people complete a season of engagement, I can intentionally share with them ‘next steps’ to keep these amazing people moving and making strides in their faith.

Discipleship is not a class. Discipleship Coaching is the secret sauce for continuing to move people through their journey. Today, I and another Kidmin Champion are taking two buses of 3rd-5th grade students to a local Monastery for a Faith Field Trip. We will be teaching and practicing several of the spiritual disciplines which will guide each one to continue to take next steps in their faith formation. I so look forward to the coaching conversations to come.

Highlight: Being in the company of a cloud of witnesses who want to make disciples of Jesus Christ so bad they can taste it.

My next steps:
1. Make an appointment to coach a leader in my local church I already have a Kidmin relationship with.
2. Prepare intentional next steps for 5th graders next summer aging out of Children’s Ministry.
3. Prepare and email next steps for the ladies who shared the Bible study we just completed.

When are you setting aside a season for learning? My next season comes after the New Year: A church-bus full of local church leaders in ministry with children will be headed to Orlando for the Children’s Pastor’s Conference in January.

“Teach the wise, and they will become wiser; inform the righteous, and their learning will increase.” Proverbs 9:9

October Is For Learning – Part 1 of 2

October is a month for learning. The first week was the 2-day Catalyst Conference held in Atlanta. Catalyst is a leadership conference for those who love the church. The theme of ‘Fully Alive’ marked the amazing preaching and teaching from other church leaders and culture movers and shakers:
“I don’t have to figure it all out before I go all out.” – Andy Stanley
“Lead with who you are rather than what you know.” – Miles Adcox
“Comparison either makes you feel better or worse and neither honors God.” – Craig Groeschel
“I can’t please everybody, but I can please God.” – Craig Groeschel
“Grow up! Ministry is not for children or babies.” – Dr. Henry Cloud
“As you discover yourself in a new way on the Enneagram journey, you’ll also find you are paving the way to the wiser, more compassionate person you want to become.” – Ian Morgan Cron (On the Enneagram journey, I’m a 7…which means I don’t like to dwell on Good Friday and every day is Easter. Yep…that’s me.)
“We are not created to be everything for everyone.” – Christine Caine
“Choose what to bomb.” – Jon Acuff (Intentionally decide what you will not worry about.)
“Whatever grows produces energy.” – Dr. Caroline Leaf (lots of research about our mindset…so interesting)
“Most experiences fade. What sticks? Pits and peaks.” – Chip Heath (think college and Disney World)
“Truth without love is harsh. Love without truth is lies.” “Those coming up behind us are not our replacements, they are our reinforcements.” – Lisa Bevere (Be in partnership with those younger than I.)
“My greatest legacy is not to pastor a big church, but to raise children to love the Lord Jesus.” – Choco DeJesus

The greatest insight of the event is that I am one person, created by God with certain (not all) gifts and strengths, called by God to please Him (not everyone) in the local church, and empowered by God to go all out (don’t hold back) in the areas He has given me influence today (be fully alive and fully present.) This event makes me think alongside others who are thinking through the filter of Jesus and the local church. The music and preaching is like a feast for my soul. It causes me to lift my head and heart from the daily to the eternal.

Highlight: Watching my friend chase down and compete in the Catalyst community app scavenger hunt while I saved seats and held onto the stuff she won and collected. Ordering breakfast at Chick-Fil-A and hearing the server call out the name of Jesus when our order was ready because that’s the name we gave to the order-taker. My friend’s hip replacement frequently gets the security guys to pull out the scanner wand so my part is to encourage the security guys to consider a body search. We got to hold a parrot and take pics with a baby kangaroo at lunch!

The second week of October involved another 2-day event to become a Wonderfully Made Trainer. Information can be found here.

Highlight: Listening to my colleagues acknowledge the 95% of the time I looked at my shoes, thanks to lots of anatomy visuals and vocabulary, yet being totally committed to being a champion for bringing this fabulous resource for parents on faith and sexuality to the local church.

My next steps from those two learning events:

  1. Schedule a shared-event with other churches to offer a Wonderfully Made weekend  event next March as I meet with other children’s ministry leaders next.
  2. Finish reading “Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed for the World” by Andy Stanley….THIS is fascinating history on the temple, the church, and how we got the Bible.
  3. Read “Learning to Lead Like Jesus” by Boyd Bailey.
  4. Read “The Road Back to You: an Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery” by Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile

Next week I’ll share the third week of training focused on teaching people to feed themselves as disciples of Jesus so we can share the journey.

When is your next season for learning?

“I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts.” Habakkuk 1:1

Wonderfully Made: Body and Soul

Families are so busy. Living in the metropolitan Atlanta area has many families spending more time than ever on the road running errands, going to work, and delivering little people to all that will give each child an edge. Children are tutored, rushed, coached, taught, and fed. Families eat on the run, do homework late, and can hardly get the laundry folded. Planning for and setting aside time to have ‘the talk’ is indeed a priority, but hardly makes the ‘urgent’ column. And when is the right age? Where do you even begin? How much vocabulary needs to be covered? What does he/she already know? WHY and HOW do they know what they already know?

The United Methodist Church has taken the point on emphasizing a healthy biblical and Christian perspective on human sexuality, values, and relationships since the 1980s with a program specifically for 5th and 6th graders entitled Created By God. The course was updated significantly in 2017 by Rev. Dr. Leigh Meekins, Rev. Dr. Tanya Eustace Campen, and Mark Huffman, Certified Sexuality Educator and is now known as Wonderfully Made: Loved by God. Updates in the program include time for reflection and ways to incorporate learning into the lives of students, as well as a strengthened spiritual component.

The course offers a comprehensive introduction to human sexuality – anatomy, vocabulary, attitudes, morals, growth and development, relationships, reproduction, responsibility and safety – built on the foundation of faith in Jesus Christ and the written Word of God. Participant Books serve as resources that help children ages 10-12 understand their bodies, the changes they are going through, and how God loves them now and always. The course explains sexual anatomy as well as the different aspects of puberty. Additionally, the book will discuss the influence of social media on sexual desire and decision making.

Why ages 10-12? Because their parents and families are still the primary influence in their lives. They are still listening. They still trust their parents and teachers more than their peers. Current research also tells us that changes are beginning to take place in their bodies on the average at age 8. Age 8!

Wonderfully Made is typically a 3-day course for 5th and 6th grade students and their parents: Thursday evening (parents), Friday evening (students), all day Saturday (students in the am, parents & students in the afternoon). Attending a trainer-training a couple of weeks ago reiterated the need for the church to champion for kid’s souls AND their bodies.

I sent an email last spring to several then-4th-grade parents sharing we would have the opportunity to host a Wonderfully Made event the next year when their students would be 5th graders inviting them to pray with their spouses about their family’s participation. Though families didn’t want yet to think about it, they overwhelmingly agreed they would indeed participate. It’s on the calendar for March 2019 for 5th & 6th grade families.

We will also invite other churches in our district/region to bring their families/students because we believe we are better together. A smaller church probably wouldn’t offer a class to one or a couple of students, but together we can offer a critical mass environment and their families will receive an excellent small group connection with their own church’s leaders. This is also one of those events when a trained facilitator/trainer comes into your house to lead. Though I am now a trainer, I have invited a fellow Children’s Pastor who has experience offering this program to her own students for many years with the one of the authors as her church’s facilitator/trainer.  I will serve as the hostess-with-the-mostest.

How will you reach out to your families to provide Christian education for mind, souls, and bodies?

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:1-2

Children Serving in Meaningful Ways

Children are constantly exposed to a culture that says, “Serve me” rather than “Serve others.” If children capture the concept of service to others while they are still young, they will most likely be lifelong servants in the Kingdom of God.

Children’s Ministry was offered the opportunity to serve lunch to our church family last Sunday. With it being autumn, we chose an apple theme and called it Johnny Appleseed Day. Two amazing Dads prepared pulled pork and we ordered sweet coleslaw from the local BBQ house. We purchased bread rolls and individual apple sauces from Costco with leftovers given to the food pantry. Then we invited our families to donate as follows:
Kindergartners – bag of apples (any kind), bottle of any kind of BBQ sauce for two sauce bars
1st & 2nd graders – 3 big bags of chips
3rd & 4th graders – large bucket of vanilla ice cream
5th graders – 13×9 baked apple crisp (some amazing ladies in our church also made crisps)

Following the first, early service, we offered apples, apple crisp, and ice cream by the 4th & 5th grade Sunday school class. Following the other services we served all of the above. Parents and teachers who were not leading Sunday school were there to direct students and set up the gym with three serving lines and one dessert serving line. Round tables were set with black table cloths and simple decorative leaves to match the fall season.

Who served? The children! Two adorable 1st graders greeted everyone at the door. Four amazing 3rd graders stood at entrances with donation buckets ready to share where the lunch donations would be spent such as camp/retreat scholarships, special guests, and missions supplies. 2nd graders manned the two sauce bars to thank their church family for sharing lunch and supporting ministry with children. 4th & 5th graders served BBQ & cole slaw as they directed the 1st & 2nd graders to offer applesauce containers and rolls with plastic gloves that were too big for their little hands. The older kids were helping the littles and they were all laughing and taking their jobs so very seriously. Other students dished out apple crisp, added ice cream, and handed out spoons and ice water.

The kindergartners and 1st graders went from table to table as folks finished their meals to run everything to the cart which would make its way into the kitchen. We used real plates and silverware for creation-care reasons AND so kids could learn to use the commercial dish washer, dry dishes, and put everything away in dry storage. Everyone wanted to learn to use the commercial dishwasher! Who knew?

One Dad came by to tell me his 1st grader wouldn’t stop to eat because he was “needed on the floor”. A 2nd grader wandered to the entrance when he saw there was no one there to greet after the big wave passed. One mom let me know by text ‘My kids have talked about it all afternoon. They had a blast! Who would have ever thought kids would be arguing over whose turn it was to wash dishes?’

I want our kids to serve in meaningful ways. Ways that build relationship. Ways that make for sticky memories engaging all five senses. Ways that look really big in the life of their home church. Ways they can partner with people they love and with those who love them.

Serving in ministry gives us a chance to gauge the spiritual development of our children. A tremendous amount of nurturing each child’s call into ministry can be derived from early service opportunities as they uncover and discover the use of their spiritual and natural gifts. The message we hope to share in our church family is, “Let the kids serve!”

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10

Rise Up – A Book Give Away

There are a ton of fabulous books out there about themes, special events, logistics, theory, encouragement and stories for the disciple called to professional ministry with children. There are few that make ‘the shelf.’ On ‘the shelf’ are the ones I go to often as must-have resources. Rise Up: Choosing Faith over Fear in Christian Ministry, written by Vanessa Myers, is the one that has it’s own spot on ‘the shelf’ and one I will gift out to many because it will absolutely help you stay the course.

Vanessa Myers is in the trenches which gives her great credibility in my book and in my heart. I know Vanessa. We’ve shared ministry, stories, and life for a lot of years. To God be the glory, we are still in ministry. What Rise Up: Choosing Faith over Fear in Christian Ministry brings to ‘the shelf’ is truth about feelings, experiences, the shiny and the crud which comes from following God’s call into professional ministry. Something happens between 18 months and 3.6 years in serving in professional ministry that drives most to throw in the towel. But for those who persevere

Vanessa is vulnerable and hopeful. She is honest and funny.  Each of the 12 chapters addresses fears she has faced which we all could share at different times along the journey. From the fear of God’s calling, fear of criticism, fear of moving, and fear of letting go, to name just a few, she gives personal accounts of what it looks like, sounds like, smells like, and feels like. But she doesn’t leave you walking the tightrope. She writes of her reactions and the hope. Oh the hope she offers in each chapter she headlines as ‘Finding Freedom.’

She closes each chapter with a prayer. I’m glad. When I’ve ever been overcome with debilitating fear I hardly had the words or vocabulary beyond ‘Lord, please make it stop!’ (which is a perfectly good prayer, but I want more to offer my Lord.)

My absolute favorite part of her book is how she offers an account from the Bible for each fear. When I’m afraid I need to know that I’m not the only one and this is priceless. For example, Chapter 5 is entitled: Surrounded by Fire…Fear of Criticism. She reminds us that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego ‘didn’t please the king.’ She continues, ‘When you work in the church there’s not just one person you want to please, but many people. When you are being attacked in your job, it is hard…criticized by other Christians. Usually when people complain about you in the church they don’t go to you directly. They go your pastor or a committee.’ Yet she found comfort as did the three young men in the fiery furnace. ‘The first step into walking through the fire was to forgive. The next step I took was to allow God to be my shield. God’s presence was there. God’s love was there. God’s protection was there.’ As reminded in Psalm 3:3-4, David writes “But you, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.” Whew! I’ve got to get that on a pillow!

I wrote all over this book. Here are a few of the writings that jumped off the pages…

Seeking the Lord requires good spiritual disciplines or habits. Yes!

His calling for your life is important, but His desire for you to know Him trumps all. Yes!

Pressing into the Lord, I believe, involves a few steps: being aware of His presence, reading the Bible, and singing. Yes!

Lack of support does not mean that I am a failure. I will always have the best supporter on my team, Jesus Christ. Amen!

When I asked Vanessa if she was surprised by anything since she’s put the book, er..her heart out there. She said, “My biggest surprise is how the book has been speaking to more people than those in the ministry. God is using it to speak to people who need to hear it right when they need to hear it.” I am so glad she obeyed the Lord and wrote this book….for herself…and for US!

You can order your own copy at Amazon AND you can win a free copy of Rise Up: Choosing Faith over Fear in Christian Ministry by commenting below with a scripture which has helped you to rise up and serve the Lord. The winner will be announced on next Tuesday’s blog. Your heart and your ‘shelf’ needs the words shared in Rise Up.

“Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic – be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer.” Romans 12:11-12, CEB

The free book give away week is complete. The winner is Jen Clark, a children’s pastor who serves Mountain View United Methodist Church in Marietta, Georgia.

You’ve Got Mail!

Today’s guest blogger is Robin Stewart, Director of Children’s Ministry at Athens First United Methodist Church located in downtown Athens, Georgia.   

“You’ve Got Mail” may evoke many different images in the mind of the reader, but for our kids, we want it to remind them that God’s Word is for them daily!

You’ve Got Mail: Letters From God is an event inspired by a combination of the Love Letters from God book series by Glenys Nellist and categories of scripture found in Bible Black Belts by Mark Burrows.

Families on the Fifth is a tradition our church began a few years ago to promote faith-building activities for parents and children to share together.  As usual, we combined as many opportunities as possible. Our goal: for families to experience scripture in a meaningful, memorable way, and to take it with them out into the world. At each stop in the rotation, kids received a letter (scripture postcard) and engaged a variety of activities which utilized a variety of learning styles.

We began together with Words of Celebration: Psalm 100:1-2 directed a rousing family worship time which included movement and instruments.

Groups of families then moved through four stations.

Words of Wisdom: Psalm 19:105 letter from God. Our leader at this station did a fantastic job of telling the story of Josiah finding the dusty scroll and quickly brought it to this day. How do we keep our Bibles? And then our church. It led beautifully into our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness concept. Our church began its Stewardship season this day.

Words of Comfort: Jeremiah 29:11 letter from God.
This station featured the comfort we are offered in 23rd Psalm and the kids were able to construct the setting of the Psalm on poster board with random materials provided.

Words of Jesus: John 15:12 letter from God.  Our missions assistant hosted this part of our rotations and explained how we prepare food bags to give to our community families who are in need. They were able to witness the assembling of one bag and take away bags to fill with their family. We combined a kindness quilt in this rotation, where kids added their card stock squares to a “quilt” which displays illustrations of kindness experienced.

Words of Inspiration: Philippians 4:13 letter from God. Children heard from a leader who admitted that sometimes she was not sure if she could do all that she had promised, like this morning, but that God is always present and will provide a way! (great testimony following a big UGA weekend). The children engaged in the scripture with a movement activity. We followed up by reminding them of the WITH prayer. We used a game spinner and children were able to volunteer to spin and say a prayer sentence that would match the letter (W-I -T- H) that came up on the spinner.

Take away: An envelope with 5 scripture cards and parents and children engaged together for one hour!

You can connect with Robin at robin@athensfirstumc.org

GLEE Club

In January my senior pastor asked me to put together a corny-every-kid-involved-old-fashioned-children’s-nativity-event for the next Family Christmas Eve service some 11 months away.  I began praying about the ‘who’, ‘where’, ‘how’,‘what’ and ‘when’. I wanted to offer a way to build such an event with more than singing because not everyone likes to sing.  Last spring a team of the best children’s ministry champions in all of North Georgia gathered around my kitchen table for the annual KidMin Ninja Think Tank. Think an ‘un-conference’ where we share table-life with ideas, food, books, prayers, life, and lots of laughter. My dear friend Katie Atcheson spoke about the updated choir program offered at Grayson UMC on Sunday mornings she calls a Glee Club . A couple of phone calls later, continued prayers, talking about it around every table where I sat for months, several creative leaders stepping forward to champion, a couple of leadership meetings through the summer, and McEachern Kids Glee Club was born. We started with a 30-minute Open House with parents and kids. Almost 70 students attended the Open House and their parents.

The word GLEE means exultant high-spirited joy; great delight. It’s a perfect name for teaching little people with intentionality to praise the Lord in song, dance, body prayers, percussion, drama, art, and sign language. We meet for 45 minutes before youth group on most Wednesday nights so our youth choir can serve and build relationships with the kids headed their way. Calling it a ‘club’ provides a sense of belonging.

5:45-5:50 Gather & greet
5:50-6:00 All gather in large group to learn sign language which we all present as one of the Psalms are read with echo prayer in pairs ‘knee-to-knee’
6:00-6:30 3-5 year olds make bell bracelets, angel halos, song motions, and play musical games
1st-5th grades gather in cup circles, drum circles, learn sign language to praise songs, and whatever else helps us praise the Lord with high-spirited joy & great delight. Not everyone likes to sing, but we’ve learned everyone likes to beat a bucket with a stick.

Last week a small group led a repeat-after-me-song learned at their Fall Children’s Ministry Retreat. In October we’ll present at the quarterly Administrative Council Meeting and at the Fall Festival in Tshirts that read ‘I (heart) my Glee Club’ with our McEachern Kids logo. We’ve even learned to ‘floss’ in rhythm as an act of worship!

A surprise? Since 45 minutes is too short a time to leave and come back yet too long to just sit and read your phone, eight Moms who typically serve on Sunday mornings in Children’s Ministry are gathering in small group two floors up at the same time. After dropping off their kids, several Dads have also begun gathering in small group in the room right next door to the Moms small group. These small groups are reading a short devotion, in holy conversation, and in prayer while their kids are two floors below in The Treehouse praising the Lord in their sanctuary. We have an attentive Mom, a dedicated Dad, and an amazing middle school young man who serve as buddies to three students with disabilities so those students can participate. Even the kids who have soccer on Wednesday nights are splitting their time evenly because as one Mom put it, “This is her wheelhouse!” Our Ambassadors who have moved up to youth are serving on the set-up and 3-5 year old leadership team. McEachern Kids Glee Club has proven to offer organic, sacred connections and that is something to celebrate with great delight…with GLEE! Do you see me dancing before the Lord? Well, I am!

“Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise in the assembly of  His faithful people..” Psalm 149:1

Where In The World Is Oregon?

During half-time of our alma mater’s season opener Baby Girl and #2 Son, both in their early 30s, asked to speak with Mr. Bob and I at the dining room table. My mind raced. Were they pregnant? Were we the objects of an intervention? As #2 Son began this long, drawn-out back story, Mr. Bob said, “Just cut to the chase.”

My first prayer partner, Chantal, and I spent several years in our time in New England fasting on Tuesdays for our children and their walks with the Lord. We would pray our children, mine then 4 and 6 years old, would love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. We prayed they would be sold out for sharing the gospel with the lost in their worlds and speak of Jesus as their ‘best friend from way-back.’ We prayed for their future spouses. Wayne Watson’s songs, Watercolor Ponies and Somewhere In the World as well as Cheri Keaggy’s Little Boy On His Knees played on our walkmans. We also prayed that God would give us the strength to endure whatever it was He had in store for them as He used us and them for His glory.

To make a brutally honest confession, I really thought that God would answer that prayer like this: Our kids would be healthy and safe. They would get good grades, have good friends, go to a good college, get a good job, meet a good boy/girl, have good children, buy a good house, and have a good life. When at 20 years old Baby Girl heard God calling her to serve in the mission field in Senegal, Africa for 4.5 months, we really didn’t think it would happen. Well, it did. One phone call to her Daddy and he’d have been on the first plane out of Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta to go and get her to bring her back. Instead, I asked the Lord to stop/wake me when she needed prayer. He woke me at 3am each day she was gone. When she returned, I thought, “Whew! Glad she’s gotten that out of her system. She’ll finish nursing school and be back on that ‘good trail’ of loving the Lord with all her heart, soul, mind, and strength… right here.” The Lord had given us the strength to endure.

Since then, she married a young man who was looking so hard for the Lord that young man found her. After finishing Bible College they served in youth ministry in the Everglades until the nonsense being sprayed on the sugarcane fields began taking a toll on their bodies. They moved here sick. They found a great church. They found great friends. They found ready babysitters. They found peace. They got well and healthy. They purchased a home and rescued a dog. All right here. The Lord had given us the strength to endure. All right here.

“A woman’s heart should be so hidden in God, that a man has to seek Him just to find her.” Max Lucado

Back to the present: #2 Son has been invited to serve as the associate pastor at a church… in Oregon. They have friends there who were part of a new church start and have grown to the point they need more help. For this gal who never got the geography peg in Trivial Pursuit, I had to Google a map of Oregon. It’s nowhere near here! “Mama, there’s a Bible believing church on every corner here, but not in Oregon. They need the Lord.” Be still my heart. But I can’t keep the tears at bay.

I’d like to write that we jumped for joy, but we didn’t. We will at some point, but not yet. Mr. Bob got up from the table and started doing the dinner dishes.

Baby Girl and #2 Son wanted to continue their back-story. They want to tell us about the prayers, the affirmations they’ve experienced through God’s Word and circumstances. We want to hear all about that, but right now, they’ve rocked our world. Right now I want to climb into my savior’s lap and rest my wet cheek on his chest and just cry. Yes, I trust in our Lord and His leading them. Yes, I want to have a spirit of YES when it comes to following God’s call. But this Mama and Mimi is just sad right now at the thought of them being ‘not right here.’ The cousins not growing up together. Us not able to share in their homeschooling, ball games, pool days, the daily celebrations, the family gatherings which make for traditions and connections. I’m just being truthful.

I wonder how the Mamas and Mimis of missionary saints like Mother Theresa, Lottie Moon, Hudson Taylor, and Evelyn Christiansen did it? Mail was sketchy. There were no smart phones, Facebook, nor Instagram. I feel like a big cry baby just thinking about it. I’m so grateful the Lord saw fit to have me born in this era and in this country. Just sayin’.

I’ll probably feel better in a week or so. Right now it’s 3:36am and I can’t sleep. We just found out five hours ago. This I know: The Lord has indeed answered our prayers that she’d love the Lord with all her heart, soul, mind, and strength. She is indeed sold out for sharing the gospel with the lost in her world. God has given her a partner, friend, and co-laborer as they live out before their children the example of discerning and following the voice of God. AND the Lord will give us the strength to endure whatever He has in store for them. He’s a good God like that. He loves like that. He’s a Father with a mother’s heart, so he gets my sadness right now. For THIS is what we’ve raised them for…..WHO we have raised them for.

Pray for them. Pray for us. Looks like we’ll be finding out more about Oregon. But right now, keep the tissues coming.

“But Jesus immediately said to them, ‘Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Matthew 14:27

 

We Went On Retreat, Now What?

Taking 3rd-5th grade students on a weekend retreat is a rite of passage. It could be a student’s first time away from home or first time away from family. Both students and parents have lots of questions and lots of uncertainty, but their desire for their child to have a closer relationship with the Lord trumps all that when they fill out the paperwork and arrive for send-off. The trust factor is high and I don’t take it lightly. This is why students should be able to answer the big question of, “How was the retreat?” with more than “Awesome!” even though it was, or “Great!” even though it might have been. It’s an investment of family finances, time, and heart to send a student on a retreat, so families are due more than “Awesome!”

The North Georgia United Methodist Church Conference offers an intentionally developmentally appropriate 3rd-5th grade fall weekend retreat at the beautiful Camp Glisson in Dahlonega, Georgia. Here are the blog posts about the past retreats to give you an idea of how it’s presented.

The 2018 Children’s Fall Retreat was based on John Wesley’s 3 Simple Rules of DO NO HARM, DO GOOD, LOVE GOD. Throughout the teaching times, Wesleyan devotional ‘method’ practices, and even meals (family style) the students learned and practiced how to live out this Wesleyan way of growing like Jesus ‘in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and man.’ (Luke 2:52) while creek walking, lake swimming, hiking, trekking, field gaming, and more.

Beginning Saturday afternoon, we share and role-play how the students will answer these four questions:
1. What did you do at Camp Glisson that you’d never done before?
2. Who did you meet or get to know better sharing their name and something amazingly wonderful about him/her/them?
3. What did you learn about Methodism and John Wesley?
4. What is your plan to continue to grow in wisdom (not just knowledge), stature (how your body works/what your body needs), and in favor with God and man (living in peace and obedience to God’s Word) in the Wesleyan Way?

The students shared in a small group of 4 first, followed by one person from each small group sharing their answer to each question with the entire group, moving one question at a time. We role-played on the bus on the way home with our seat-mate. The first of the week, an email will be sent to the parents inviting each student to write down (or dictate to their parents) their answers to each question giving testimony to their experiences. In the Wesleyan Way, the large group is like the Church. The Small group is like a Class Meeting (these are smaller groups of people who came together to share their spiritual journey and receive support and supervision.) The Seat Mate is like a Band (Bands were the smallest gathering of faith-filled Methodists who would have ‘close conversations’ which help us be stronger and more resilient, kinder, and gentler, growing in love and holiness). These ‘written testimonies’ will be read aloud by the students, as they wear their retreat tshirt, at the next Church Administrative Council Meeting in October. Our Church Administrative Council meets quarterly with the first 15 minutes highlighting a particular ministry AND the meeting is located in that ministry’s space on campus. October’s meeting will be in The Treehouse highlighting ministry with children.

Followup matters whether it’s after an event, after each Sunday, or after a retreat. How will you followup with your students and families?

“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:9