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4 Tips for Effective Discipleship with Children by Ashley Franks

For the month of January we are Bearded Theologians want to look at Making Disciples. We will have various people write about Making Disciples. 


When asked the question, “what tips I would give someone to make a disciple out of a child?”  It didn’t take long for me to come up with these.  Children’s ministry has been a passion of mine or awhile now.  With my husband being a United Methodist pastor I have moved around our state a few times.  With that brings new experiences trying to do the same ministry.  Every church we have been at has been different.  Then ministry needs therefore are different too.  But these four basic principles have guided me in each new ministry setting.

Tip number 1: Simplify your message.

Simplify your message.  When I first began working with children’s ministry I had to really think about what I wanted to teach the children.  So often adults focus on minute details and have endless discussion over them.  Things that are not always matters of salvation.  For the children I wanted to have a clear message and so I took this on as a challenge.  I broke down what I felt to be the most essential faith points and used them as a focal point for my lessons.  This forces you as the teacher to look at the basic beliefs of Christians.  Once I felt they have these down then I will go a little deeper, baby stepping them to a deeper faith.  Not only have I seen children blessed by doing this but it has had an effect on me as well.  If forces you to focus on what really matters, enriching your own faith.

Tip Number Two: Consider the children to have value and worthy of hearing the message.

Consider the children to have value and worthy of hearing the message.  You are never too young to have a seed planted inside you.  I have always used a story of a friend of mine as a reason for ministering to children.  She did not grow up in a Christian home.  In fact her childhood was very hard.  She had always told me that she knew deep down inside her that God was with her.  No matter how hard things got, God was with her.  When she had her first child, she had a conversation with her mom about preschool and came to find out that she had gone to a preschool in a church.  This shocked my friend knowing her mom’s views of Christianity.  Her mom simply said that it was the best preschool in town.  I truly believe my friend had a faith seed planted in her as a preschooler.  She may not remember the lessons or even the preschool itself but the basic message stayed with her.  It stayed with her until she was a teenager when friends invited her to church.  This story has always been in the back of my mind as a powerful example of the importance of ministering to children.  In my experience I have worked with children who did not come from Christian homes.  Some whose home lives were very unhealthy.  My prayer is that I can do for them what that preschool did for my friend.  Plant a seed of hope that can stay with them, carrying them through the hard times.

Tip Number Three: Meet the children where they are.

Meet the children where they are.  This is actually a motto my husband and I have always used in any form of ministry.  Children are no different.  I once worked with a group of kids who were very athletic and very competitive.  As often as I could, I would split them in groups and do activities where they competed with each other.  We played lots of games that would connect to the lessons.  The ministry flourished like this.  Right now the kids I work with are from a different area and have different needs.  This competitive style would not work as well with them.  In fact art seems to be what reaches them the best.  So I wrote a curriculum where I’ve taken every different form of art I could think of (both performance arts and fine arts) and created lessons out of each art project.  The ministry has flourished this way.  If I had tried to duplicate my previous sports format, I would not have been able to reach the children in the way they needed it.  This model of ministry takes time.  You have to get to know those you minister to, and you have to try different things until you see what works best.  No matter what age group you work with, one model doesn’t reach everybody.  You must be flexible, willing to try different things and truly get to know those you minister to.

Tip Number Four: Be hands on, be creative.

Be hands on, be creative.  Children respond so well when they are actively a part of the lesson.  They are less likely to receive a message just verbally spoken to them.  You must engage them, speak and act.  This even helps to control children with a little more energy than the average child.  Whether you write your own curriculum or used one already made, think of it as a starting point only.  You know your kids.  You know what reaches them.  Use the curriculum to start your lesson, then tweak it to fit what you want them to learn and in a way that will reach them.  This takes a little prep.  You can’t walk cold turkey into your room, glance at the lesson, and expect great things.  Look over it ahead of time, the children deserve this.  Your time and attention is your greatest gift to the kids.  If this type of creativity is not your strength then seek out someone who can help you with this part of the ministry.  “Google Images” is my best friend when I’m struggling with ideas.

Many see children’s ministry as pure chaos and would rather not try.  Or even worse think kids are too young to understand and thus too young to experience Christ.  Trust me kids understand far more than you realize.  If you are just willing to try and yes it can require some patience.  You may be the person who plants a seed in a child that sticks with them until they are older no matter how hard life may be for them.  What a blessing that would be.


img_6653Ashley Franks is the mother of two amazing daughters Laura and Emily. She has worked alongside her husband, Rev. Matt Franks in ministry for 13 years. She has worked in Children’s ministries and taught preschool. She loves living the Bearded Theologian life with Matt.

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Good Ol’ St Nick

l’ St. It is that time of the year again.  We gather together with friends and family, we sing Christmas songs, we  make Starbucks employees write Merry Christmas on our cups, we max out our credit card, and we slap heretics in the face!  Yes, today is the day we celebrate good ol face slapping St Nick. I know what you’re thinking, “Santa is such a jolly man with a bowl full of jelly.  He wouldn’t slap anyone!”

Well, before we got the lovable, fat man that breaks into your home and leaves you gifts in exchange for cookies, we had the real man St Nicolas of Myra.  Nicolas grew up in Lycia. Unfortunately, early on in his life his parents died and left him quit the inheritance. His uncle who was the Bishop of Parata took him in and raised him.  He mentored Nick in reading and later ordained his as a priest.

Here is the legend of Santa, this is why we give presents at Christmas. Nick devoted his life and inheritance to helping the poor and needy.  A citizen of Patara had lost all his money, and needed to support his three daughters who could not find husbands because of their poverty; so the wretched man was going to give them over to prostitution. Nicholas became informed of this, and thus took a bag of gold and threw it into an open window of the man’s house in the night. Here was a dowry for the eldest girl and she was soon duly married. At intervals, Nicholas did the same for the second and the third; at the last time the father was on the watch, recognized his benefactor and overwhelmed Nicholas with his gratitude. Because of Nick’s generosity and compassion to make sure these girls weren’t sold into prostitution, we have the legend of St Nicholas that has evolved of the years into Santa Claus.

Nick became Bishop at a time when the Christians in Myra (which is in modern-day turkey)were under persecution.  Nick and many other Christians were seized, chained and thrown into jail.  Soon after Constintine was appointed by God, took over and released the Christians.  Nicholas returned to Myra and continued to fight against persecution and heresy.

In AD 325 Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea, the very first ecumenical council. More than 300 bishops came from all over the Christian world to debate the nature of the Holy Trinity. It was one of the early church’s most intense theological questions. Arius, from Egypt, was teaching that Jesus the Son was not equal to God the Father. Arius forcefully argued his position at length. The bishops listened respectfully.

As Arius vigorously continued, Nicholas became more and more agitated. Finally, he could no longer bear what he believed was essential being attacked. The outraged Nicholas got up, crossed the room, and slapped Arius across the face! The bishops were shocked. It was unbelievable that a bishop would lose control and be so hotheaded in such a solemn assembly. They brought Nicholas to Constantine. Constantine said even though it was illegal for anyone to strike another in his presence, in this case, the bishops themselves must determine the punishment.

The bishops stripped Nicholas of his bishop’s garments, chained him, and threw him into jail. That would keep Nicholas away from the meeting. When the Council ended a final decision would be made about his future.

Nicholas was ashamed and prayed for forgiveness, though he did not waver in his belief. During the night, Jesus and Mary his Mother, appeared, asking, “Why are you in jail?” “Because of my love for you,” Nicholas replied. Jesus then gave the Book of the Gospels to Nicholas. Mary gave him an omophorion, so Nicholas would again be dressed as a bishop. Now at peace, Nicholas studied the Scriptures for the rest of the night.

When the jailer came in the morning, he found the chains loose on the floor and Nicholas dressed in bishop’s robes, quietly reading the Scriptures. When Constantine was told of this, the emperor asked that Nicholas be freed. Nicholas was then fully reinstated as the Bishop of Myra.

Today is traditionally St Nicholas day.  Celebrate the miracles and examples this Saint has given us.  You might think twice about being naughty or nice. St Nick is making a list. He’s checking it twice and if you’re like Arius you might not like the gift coming your way!


15259719_10153880565206441_5213022733762386602_oZach is the Co-Creator of Bearded Theologians.  On this journey I call life, my wife Mikel and our 3 kids, join me.  We enjoy traveling, eating, baseball, and adventures.  Currently, I serve as the Co- Pastor at Grace/Tularosa United Methodist Church Merger.

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So What Do We Do? By Rev. Matt Bridges

 

*Part 4 of 4 in a new blog series by Matt Bridges

So What Do We Do?

We must reclaim the word “church” so that the original meaning and intent is not lost for good. And for many of us, it will mean claiming a new identity in our lives as believers individually, and collectively. Making this mental and communicational shift will be an incredible step toward reclaiming and I think practicing much of the gospel in our daily lives in brand new ways. Claiming this identity as a people equips us better as followers of Christ at the outset to live into the charge to make disciples, baptize, and as my denomination promotes “make disciples for the transformation of the world.”

I believe this shift in language and action has the power to revolutionize how we live into these lofty and faithful goals of being a relevant presence in this world for God. Living as the church enables believers to be the people who tell of the Good news anytime, anywhere, and under any condition. An unhealthy pattern we have, and even sometimes promote as leaders, is that we invite people to a place where God is talked about and that’s where “church” happens. This is an unhealthy model because it makes the evangelism limited to a place, and it allows people to pass off the telling of the good news on someone else. What to do? We embrace the church as us, a people, and we unbind the ways we’ve bound the gospel. It’s going to take work in our heads and hearts though.

We have to change our language, and sometimes that means adding words. In an age of trying to streamline much of our existence in both form and expression (virtually any form of sources we look to as a hub for communication promote expression with as few words or symbols as possible), we don’t always like to upset this norm. But I believe we must if we want to recover generations of whittling down such an important word, and meaning, and state of existence.

After all of these words, I think of my friend Daniel. My friend and brother in Christ Daniel O’Doherty, a pastor in the Assemblies of God denomination where I live, told me he makes sure to end his service each week with “Let’s go be the church!” And his congregation leaves the sacred space of worship as a people back out into a different part of the world to be the people who follow Christ, who rely on each other for how to follow Christ, and live on as the Body of Christ, the church.

So, I want to end the same way. Go be the church if you believe and follow Jesus. Don’t be attached to a building or event in time and call it “church.” If that idea of church has been weighing you down and giving you reason or excuse to not pursue a daily life of faith, be free of it. Be connected to your faith and life in Christ like never before. Invite people into a relationship with you, and then show them where and how the church lives out their faith when they meet together on occasion. Take the time to help a person become part of the church by helping them understand the power and beauty of being a follower of Christ. Go back to the beginning of this article. Have the phrases above changed for you? How?


final-bridges2 Rev. Matt Bridges is an ordained elder in the United Methodist church and currently serves in New Mexico as the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lovington. Matt has served in ministry in one form or another for the last seventeen years. In particular, he has a passion for music ministry and other types of worship ministry. In all of the things he’s learned in ministry, if he were to write a book on worship right now it would most certainly be titled1001 Times (and counting)  I said “Well, I’ll Never Do It ThatWay Again” in Worship. He is joined in ministry by his wife, Corinne, and daughter Emilie. And they all love being the church together.

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Okay, So What? Part 3 of 4 Rev. Matt Bridges

*Part 3 of 4 in a new blog series by Matt Bridges

Okay, So What?

I believe limiting church to a location or an event in time ultimately allows people to hold their church and their relationship with Christ at arm’s length. It allows people to fall into any number of unhealthy categories of how to approach a faithful life of following of Christ: episodically (unhealthy) versus continually (healthy). Any definition of “church” which has limited the word to a geographic location (or locations) or an event in time like worship will weave in too much identity with a location or event rather than in a healthy relationship with Christ, and thus turn it into a faith lived out episodically. In terms of sharing this faith and identifying as a believer, these assumptions of and this mixing of meanings has become unhealthy evangelism if our goal is to tell others of the good news of Jesus Christ. Our evangelism then becomes episodic and very limited as well. It is limited to an invitation to a place or event.

But What About the Children?

If we raise our children up in the mentality of “going to church” as though their ecclesial identity is linked directly to a location or a worship service, well, no wonder they feel lost and don’t connect as they progress in their lives of faith. No wonder they grow more distant and don’t relate until feeling like this identity with Christ is simply irrelevant? I am reminded of the phrase I used above making a distinction about “Big Church” and “Children’s Church.” It is little surprise when I encounter people who feel lost when they can’t find an exact replica of the identity they were taught was “church” because their church identity is too entwined with a place or event. Also, their identity is any number of models of children’s church and being told explicitly and implicitly for years that they weren’t relevant to the “big” worship space. If all of this is woven together and called church, then it is right to feel disillusioned with the church. If we send our children out into this world and expect them to have a healthy idea of faith and a healthy idea of their relationship with Christ; and if that idea is based on the identity of a very narrow view of how that faith and life are expressed, they will fall away and their views of faith as relevant will degrade as well.

When I reflect on my own experience and how I am seated in multiple generations of Christianity in the 20th and 21st century (I’m 35), I grew up “going to church” with varying degrees of willingness. I didn’t realize that until my late teens that I had grown up identifying my faith almost solely with a building or events in time like “worship,” “youth group,” or “choir.” If I identified myself as “the church” or “part of the church” and it was a reference strictly to a people or my relationship with fellow believers, it was only implicit, or an afterthought (or that catchy hymn at the beginning of this post). In many conversations over the years, I know that I do not write this as an isolated and self-serving case study.

Upon this revelation for me (it was a revelation for me) of the word “church,” I am much more intentional in my usage with my congregation, with my child, with my family, with everyone. My faith has been changed, and I’ve had powerful conversations with parishioners, unchurched, de-churched, and atheists with this change in, and approach to, the word. I no longer go to the church to work.

I go to my office, at the church building, to work. I don’t go to church on Sunday nor do I prepare throughout my week for church on Sunday. I prepare sermons, music, prayers, orders of worship, all for the sake of sharing the gospel and doing my part to be the church. I sit with the church next to hospital beds and offer prayers, encouragement, and communion. I cry with the church in loss, and I shout with joy with the church in success.

My faith and work simply cannot be episodic now that I embrace this shift in meaning. I try to show distinction inside and outside of worship. I have a running joke and “test” with the youth group and they have fun correcting me, and being corrected. “Me: Hey __________, are you going to church tomorrow?” “Youth: Haha, no Brother Matt, I am the church….and I am going to the worship service tomorrow.”

 

*Stay Tuned for

Part 4 Nov 22 “So What Do We Do?”


final-bridges2 Matt Bridges is an ordained elder in the United Methodist church and currently serves in New Mexico as the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lovington. Matt has served in ministry in one form or another for the last seventeen years. In particular, he has a passion for music ministry and other types of worship ministry. In all of the things he’s learned in ministry, if he were to write a book on worship right now it would most certainly be titled1001 Times (and counting)  I said “Well, I’ll Never Do It ThatWay Again” in Worship. He is joined in ministry by his wife, Corinne, and daughter Emilie. And they all love being the church together.

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Spiritual Direction by Rev. Peter White

When I was a kid, my brother and I played baseball everyday in our backyard—aluminum bat with a tennis ball, so the home runs would fly. The backyard was tiered with three levels, which made a pretty novel field.

Most days out, we imagined ourselves as our favorite teams. He was the San Francisco Giants of Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell, and Matt Williams. I was the Kansas City Royals of George Brett, Bo Jackson, and, my favorite player, Kevin Seitzer.

And one of the best parts was mimicking the batting stances of our hitters. Seitzer would angle his knees in together, hold his hands in close to his face. And then I’d slap a double over our first wall.

Baseball is a game of rhythms. Be patient and pay attention. Watch a batter. He doesn’t just stroll into the batter’s box and swing. Everything’s timing. Everything’s ritual. Redo the velcro on the batting gloves. Tap the dirt off the cleats with the end of the bat. A practice swing or two. Digging in with the back foot. A slight bounce with the knees.

Everything set.

Pause.

And then there’s the pitcher. Every pitcher has their own unique windup. Feet on the rubber. Bring the ball to the glove. Stare in for catcher’s sign.

Everything set.

Pause.

It has a way of wiping the slate clean. If you missed the spot on your pitch, or swung at a pitch out of the strike zone, or the ump made a bad call, you start the calming routine again to reboot. It puts the past in the past so the focus is one this one singular present moment.

Eugene Peterson writes in his book The Contemplative Pastor:
In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, there is a turbulent scene in which a whaleboat scuds across a frothing ocean in pursuit of the great, white whale, Moby Dick. The sailors are laboring fiercely, every muscle taut, all attention and energy concentrated on the task. The cosmic conflict between good and evil joined; chaotic sea and demonic sea monster versus the morally outraged man, Captain Ahab. In this boat, however, there is one man who does nothing. He doesn’t hold an oar; he doesn’t perspire; he doesn’t shout. He is languid in the crash and the cursing. This man is the harpooner, quiet and poised, waiting. And then this sentence: “To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil.”

Feet out of idleness. Such a great image. I wonder if hitters and pitchers think of it that way. How do you go about your life in the world coming from a place like that?

The spiritual life is a little bit like that.

There’s a story about Jesus where he gets into a boat on the lake and tells his disciples to go to the other side. Then he lies down and takes a nap. Seriously. Before long a storm surprises them all. The disciples are freaking out. Jesus is snoring. They wake him up. He tells the storm to stop it. And it stops.

Now, the text doesn’t say this, but I imagine Jesus groggily fluffs his pillow, curls back up, and immediately goes back to sleep. I’ve often heard sermons from this story with this lesson, since we can be like Jesus, we can tell the storms of life to settle down. But I wonder if that misses a bigger point. I wonder if the lesson of the story is that we can sleep during storms.

Jesus with feet out of idleness.

How do we do that?

Practicing a variety of spiritual disciples can contribute. One way is regular meetings with a spiritual director. A spiritual director listens with you as you listen to God. Meeting with a spiritual director often looks like a one-on-one monthly checkup to reflect on what God is up to in your life.

A good spiritual director asks lots of questions. How are you experiencing God? What is God speaking to you? How are you cooperating with God? What does prayer look like for you? What does Sabbath look like? What does your spiritual life actually look like compared to what you wish it looked like? Is that idealized version even a healthy and realistic vision of the spiritual life?

Personally, I meet with my spiritual director twice a month. I know it’s a safe, confidential place to vent my frustrations, celebrate my victories, and express my doubts. I know for that hour, I’m paid attention to and I’m listened to. Sometimes what my director reflects back to me stings a little bit, but I know it’s true. And it’s not unusual for my director to tell me, “Everything’s going to be okay. You’re normal.”

It’s almost like finding that settled place to set my spiritual feet. It’s almost like mimicking the batting stance of Jesus. It’s where I’m teaching my feet some idleness.

If you’d like to find a spiritual director in your area, visit Spiritual Directors International (http://www.sdiworld.org/find-a-spiritual-director).


peter-whitePeter is married to Jackie. They have two toddlers and reside in Tulsa, OK. He’s a spiritual director and ordained deacon in the Oklahoma conference of the United Methodist Church.

He lived in Seattle during the Mariners’ historic 2001 season of 116 wins. He’s still waiting for them to win the American League pennant. He writes at The Sabbath Life, where you can subscribe to his newsletter, and he can be followed on Twitter @thatpeterwhite.