Never Too Young For Mission

This summer was a humbling one and one that opened my eyes to the important things in life. I was blessed with the opportunity to go to both Honduras and Guatemala. These trips were very different and yet they both humbled me. While on Honduras our team worked at a children’s home with orphans and helped with projects and a medical clinic on the property. We participated in a feeding program alongside a highway where children and families live in shanties. We were blessed to play with children, feed them, and show them love through our smiles and our presence.

In Guatemala, we stayed in host homes and were engaged in on going outreach programs I the community. This trip was extra special because I was able to have my husband and 10-year old son join me. This trip was focused on relationships and authentically engaging the community we were in along side the long term missionaries and local leaders. I learned to sew from the women who were learning the trade in hopes of making money for their families. My husband and son engaged the children of various communities in a new start up sports ministry visiting schools and local officials. We ate around the table with our host family every morning and night. Watching my son experience this cultural awakening and realize that the world is bigger and looks much different than his day to day life was the most humbling part of the entire summer. Watching him play soccer along side children who could not afford to go to school despite the language barrier and to learn enough Spanish to find out their name and age was a privilege I will never forget.

So often we in ministry and in our churches find it hard to find a place for children in our work and outreaches. They belong in their Sunday school classes, in the youth activities, in the children’s worship service, but having them in the larger church body seems like a burden. This could not be farther from the truth. Children have so many truths to remind us and to show us. Even Jesus said in Luke 18:16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. We wait until youth to engage children in mission trips and we divide families up by ages. This is not how we build up the mission of God, for even children have gifts that God can use. Family mission trips are a wonderful way to expose our children to missions while also modeling the importance of serving along side them. It doesn’t have to be an international trip but our children are not too young to start. Studies show that children in the pre teen years are making decisions for Christ and about the church. Waiting until youth or adulthood to engage them in missions is missing a critical time when their hearts are open.

I encourage families and churches alike to consider what it would look like to engage children of all ages in the mission of God that we are all called to be a part of regardless of age.

 


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Sara Lattimore is Serving as Director of Missions and Outreach at First United Methodist Church in Lubbock Texas. She has served in full-time ministry for the last 10 years in Children’s and Family Ministry, Camping Ministry, and now Missions and Outreach. She is currently also attending seminary at Iliff to obtain her MDiv. Sara is following her calling in full-time ministry building relationships and emphasizing the importance of family, but she also has another calling, her family. Sara has been married to Aaron for 12 years and together they have 2 children Carson 10 and Kennedy Grace who is 4.

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Where Do You See God At Work In Your Life Today?

Where do you see God at work in your life today? We ask this question often here at BeardedTheologians becasue we find ourselves answering it often.

Here is a blog I wrote as a continuation of my sermon from this past Sunday.

Ask yourself (1)

This past Sunday I ask the question, “Where have you seen God at work in your life this week?” in response to the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:7-8.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

The promise to be pure in heart is to see God. I do not think that promise only comes in death, I think we realize that promise each day. I believe when we ask and respond to this question open and honestly we open our mind, our body, and our souls up to seeing God here among us.  These moments of God’s work may be so big we can’t miss them and they may be, in our minds, so small that they were right in front of us and we still missed them.

I asked the congregation to share their stories with me of where they have seen God at work this week.  I would be remiss if I didn’t lead by example.

The easy answer to this question of where I have seen God at work is how well our transition has been in moving to Montana.  The people of Brady, Choteau, and Dutton have welcomed us with open arms and have bent over backward to make sure we have everything we need.  My clergy Colleagues have reached out made sure I know that I am welcome. Mikel and I are truly grateful for all of this.

I want to search into the depths of this question. Where have I missed God at work in my life? Where was God right in front of me and I missed it?  I think it has been with my kids.  They have been absolutely amazing through this move to Montana.  From the word go there have been minimal tears and yearnings to go back “home”. All three have been excited about the new adventure. Zoe and Noah started school last week and have made friends and feel like they belong.  Ryann starts preschool today and she is excited to be a “big girl”. This something is so easily taken for granted because our transitions in the past have not always been smooth.  Zoe started the fifth grade in what will be her fourth elementary school. Noah started the second grade in his third elementary school.

Zoe and Noah continue to teach me what faith and peace look like.  I say that knowing full well there have been tears and questions, and restless nights worrying about a new school in a new town. Each day they wake up ready to walk to school and see their new friends and sharing with me what they are excited about for that day. Today, Noah was excited about playing Skylanders at recess with his friends and Zoe was excited to go to band because she wants to play the French horn. More often than not they share something they are excited about rather than what they are nervous or scared about.  I believe this is God at work in their lives answering their (and our) prayers for peace.

It is these moments that pass right in front of me that I often miss.  God’s peace is at work in my kids and too often I miss the lessons they have for me.  My prayer is that I hope to see more of these moments than I miss. I pray I am able to focus on what excites about my day and not what makes me nervous or scared.

So, again, I ask you “Where do you see God at work in your life today”?


 

15259719_10153880565206441_5213022733762386602_oZach Bechtold is Co-Founder of Bearded Theologians and a pastor of three beautiful churches in the Northern Plains of Montana.

When Books Pick You

     Have you ever had a book pick you? Recently, my family traveled to stay at Lake Erie. We were doing some shopping as a family. My seven year old asked to go into the bookstore. So I journeyed with her to the children’s section. While I was waiting, I thought I will peruse the religious section beside the children’s section.  My eyes rolled across book after book. There was one book that I noticed, but I was not in a book buying mood.

     I walked back to my daughter and discussed her selection.  As I walked to the front, I picked up the book that had caught my eye. I actually thought to myself, you don’t need another book. I didn’t even know what the book was about. Waiting for the cashier, I glanced at the back of the book. I noticed that two of the people making comments were football people, Tony Dungy and Chris Carter. I was still not excited by this book, but I could not convince myself to put it down. I purchased the books, one for my daughter and one for myself. As I exited the store, I chastised myself in my head to myself about all the books I own that are not read or not fully read. “All I need is another book.”

    The next day I started reading the book. I was finished reading in 3 days. I believe the Holy Spirit prompted me to make my purchase of the book that day. I am very thankful for the promptings of the Spirit.  That book was exactly what my heart needed. It very much prepared me for the journey I would take in the next couple of weeks.

    In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he needs to be born of water and the Spirit. Uncertain of Jesus’ words, Nicodemus questions the meaning of this birth. In today’s world, I fear, we have lost our understanding of what it means to be born of the Spirit. When we accept Christ we become a vessel of the Spirit. That means we are transformed by the Spirit of the Living God. Wow! Impressive! Overwhelming! How amazing is it that we can be filled with, transformed and guided by the Holy Spirit!

    In the world today we need the Holy Spirit so desperately as we encounter issues such as addiction, diseases, financial crisis, and relationships (just to name a few). I am drawn to the words of Francesca Battistelli’s song, “Holy Spirit, You are welcome here. Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere. Your glory God is what my heart longs for to be overcome by your presence Lord.”


 kara

 

Kara Rowe is an ordained Elder in the West Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. She currently serves Newell and First Chester United Methodist Churches. She lives in New Cumberland, West Virginia with her husband, Michael and her three children: Caleb, Abigail, and Jakoba. In Kara’s free time she is a crime fighting ninja, but don’t blow her cover!

Friendly Church Bingo!

Welcoming Guests at Church – 4 Tips

Last weekend, I attended worship somewhere new and I played a game I like to call Friendly Church Bingo. Every time your church shows me how absolutely, fabulously welcoming you are, I give you 5 points. If your church gets 5 points 5 times in a row, you are officially friendly. Let’s play. I’ll be me. You be the church I went to on Sunday.

20987646_858212947784_1960950696_nThings started off well at your church. People smiled at me in the parking lot. I am giving your church 5 points for smiling people in the parking lot. I love seeing happy faces headed to worship.

 

20987646_858212947784_1960950696_nThere were no signs telling me where to go to find your sanctuary (or anything else by the way). I am afraid that’s going to cost you 5 points.

 

20987646_858212947784_1960950696_nI found your sanctuary without any helpful signs and I was pretty proud of myself for accomplishing that feat, especially since I wound up in the right place before worship started in your beautiful, 13th century inspired building. I will remember people hated signs in the 13th Another game I will have to tell you about later is Mystery Church Treasure Hunt, but I will do that on a different day. As I entered your sanctuary, the nice man standing at your door gave me a bulletin. He did not say hello. He did smile, however. I am going to give you 5 points for this, but I am doing so begrudgingly.

20987646_858212947784_1960950696_nWhen I sat down, the lady behind me smiled. Y’all sure do know how to smile. She did not talk to me. In fact, no one in your beautiful building did, even though I arrived early and I smiled back at all your smiling faces. Consequently, I busied myself by looking at the majesty of your architecture. Then I noticed someone else decided to sit down in the same pew. Things were about to get exciting; I could feel it and they did…for him. He sat as far away from me as he could and he engaged in a delightful conversation with other people he knew. Your church loses 5 points.

20987646_858212947784_1960950696_nWorship begins. You have excellent liturgy, good preaching, meaningful prayers, and heartfelt music. During Pass the Peace people come to talk to me. They quickly say, “Peace be with you.” You think I am going to give you 5 points for this, but I am not. If your church members are only going to talk to me when someone, who is standing on a 13th century inspired box in the front of the room, tells them to do so, it doesn’t count. That shows me your church members follow the rules; they are obedient. It does not show me they are friendly. I give you 0 points…Wait, I take that back. Since your Pass the Peace lasted ten minutes and all your church people moved to the front to say peace to one another, leaving the new people in the back standing around wondering what is happening, you lose another 5 points. This is not going well for you.

 20987646_858212947784_1960950696_nChurch is over now. I am getting up to leave. No one speaks to me. The man who sat as far away from me as possible, unfortunately, is blocking the only exit out of this pew. He is talking to one of his friends. They kept talking. I am clearly standing behind him. They kept talking anyway. No one speaks to me. I sat down. His conversation ended after 6 minutes and 11 seconds. I had the chance to time that conversation, you know since no one was talking to me and I was trapped in the pew. It was lovely. Your church loses ALL the points. Oh, but you didn’t have any more. Just subtract 5 points then. You are now at -10 points.

 20987646_858212947784_1960950696_nAs I leave, your nice pastor talks to me. She is warm and caring. It is too late. You lose Friendly Church Bingo. You do not pass go. You do not collect $200. Thank you for playing. Yes, I know that last bit is from Monopoly.

 

I really wish this example was not true. It is funny to read about, but it is not funny to experience. Last Sunday was one Sunday out of way too many I have spent in a church where no one except the pastor spoke to me. Church family, I love you and I say this with love. If you get everything in your service right, but you are only welcoming to the people who are already part of your congregation, you missed the mark. You are not showing God’s grace to those God has beckoned to you. If you believe the church belongs to God and not to you, you absolutely must embrace the people God sends to your doorstep with a welcome reflective of God’s love.

Why? Unfortunately, not everyone is as willing to experience unfriendly churches as often as I am. Years earlier, a dear friend of mine went to the same church I just described and had a similar experience. She is not going back. More importantly, this church is one of a handful of unfriendly churches she visited when she was seeking and she gave up entirely. She is not seeking you out anymore. She is not seeking God anymore, either. When we are so unfriendly seekers stop seeking the Creator of the universe, we must not only repent of this sin but we must also change behavior. We must embrace the beloved children God sends our way.

How?

  • Clear Information – People start to decide if you are friendly before they get to your sanctuary. Does your website have helpful information, like worship times and location? Do you have signs clearly posted to help people find Sunday school rooms, the fellowship hall, bathrooms, the sanctuary, etc.? If you do not, this is an important place to start.

 

  • Trained Greeters – Volunteers who serve in these roles can be the first contact for guests. They need to be prepared to give a warm welcome and even engage in a brief conversation with people they do not know, in addition to handing out bulletins.

 

  • Harness the Power of Extroverts – There are folks in your church who genuinely enjoy talking to new people. Ask them to serve your church. Place them in strategic locations, where guests typically sit, and ask them to strike up conversations. They can speak to guests before worship, during Pass the Peace, and after worship. They are free to talk about jobs, children, school, absolutely anything…

 

  • Make a Plan – Have a plan in place that your leadership takes seriously concerning welcoming guests. This plan should include: (a) evaluating your web presence and signage, updating them as necessary and keeping them up-to-date (b) recruiting volunteers tasked with welcoming new guests, job descriptions for those volunteers, and defining expectations for what welcoming looks like in your context (c) train your volunteers and congregation to be mindful of welcoming new people (d) have mystery worshippers give you feedback or invite guests to give you feedback and (e) evaluate your welcoming plan at least once annually.

Not sure this is enough to get you started? Head over to the Lewis Center for Church Leadership and learn 50 ways to welcome guests! https://www.churchleadership.com/50-ways/50-ways-to-welcome-new-people/

 

….And hurry. Y’all are terrible at Friendly Church Bingo.


leiawilliams

My name is Leia, which should tell you that my dad’s favorite movie is Star Wars and I have some very unfortunate nicknames. I studied International Relations in undergrad and couldn’t find a job to save my life, so I changed my plans and studied communications in graduate school. I served The United Methodist Church for 7 years in fundraising, discipleship, and communications. Currently, I am working as a consultant, but in November I will return to my work with The United Methodist Church.

 

Silence Is Not An Option

As I sit and reflect upon the hateful and fearful actions that took place in Charlottesville this weekend I can’t help but be heartbroken. As more and more video surfaces littered with hate, racist slurs, and violence my heart breaks more for my brothers and sisters who live in fear because of the backward belief that one human life is more important or special than another human’s life. I have to hold back the urging of my privilege that says “You are geographically far away from this, it does not affect you.” That is a lie from the pit of hell. This does affect me. It affects my children. It affects my community. This affects you. Regardless of where you are in this country and across the world violence and hate affects us. I can no longer hide behind excuses of any kind. I can no longer hide behind the color of my skin, gender, religion, education, money, geography, and I will not continue to hide behind my silence.

Many have made statements on Facebook, produced videos, preached sermons from the pulpit and used whatever microphone they have to speak out against this evil. The statement that caught my attention was one I’m sure you have seen it by now. Jimmy Fallon made a statement yesterday and he talked about our responsibility as human beings to stand up against racism, hate, and evil. Not only did he encourage ALL of us to take a stand against it but he made a call to action of just that, action.

Silence is not an option, it has never been, and it never can be. When we are silent we take a giant step backward in history and humanity. People are being killed because of silence. Because of apathy and fear. Because we are scared that we might offend someone or lose a friend or actually have to have a real conversation with someone. I confess that I am guilty of silence. I CAN NOT LONGER REMAIN SILENT. YOU CAN NO LONGER REMAIN SILENT. No more. The church cannot remain silent due to apathy. White people, you cannot remain silent out of fear or whatever holds you back from saying something. Our brothers and sisters are out there dying and we are sitting back watching.

If silence is no longer an option where does that leave us? Do we speak up today and become silent again tomorrow? I pray we don’t. I pray that we continue to speak up against those who use hate, fear, and violence to belittle and degrade our fellow humans. In many instances using our voices will not be enough, with breaking silence we must act as well. Not using the same fear, hate, and violence that we are against, but the actions of love, compassion, and justice. Those are not just words. They cannot be rhetoric that we say from behind keyboards and pulpits, they must be actions that we model day in and day out as we break the silence. We break the silence by actually living into love, compassion, and justice. It means we act before asking questions of why or if it is deserved. We do not qualify our actions, that is exactly what leads us to silence. We act because we can’t help it, because love, compassion, and justice are what changes the world around us, not hate, fear, and racism. Those are actions of the selfish. Those are actions of evil. Those are the actions someone who is so deeply broken they need what we have to offer. Those people marching against and harming another human being because of their skin color, sexuality, gender, or any of the other garbage reasons people have prejudice, are the actions of someone who is deeply broken and hurt. Just as our brothers and sisters that are on the receiving end, these broken humans love, compassion, and justice too.

Stand up, speak out, and act against hate, fear, violence, and evil especially when it is most inconvenient for you because there will be a day when you are praying and hopeful someone with stand up, speak out, and act for you and with you.

Do no harm! Do good! Stay in love with God! Love your fellow human! Silence is NOT an option!


15259719_10153880565206441_5213022733762386602_oZach Bechtold is the Co-Founder of Bearded Theologians and Pastor of Choteau, Brady, and Dutton United Methodist Churches in the Northern Plains of Montana.