Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Kid U Conference

Evan and I just spent the past couple days in Columbus at Grove City CoN at the Kid U conference sponsored by Kidology. I have to say for the price and the distance it was well worth the money. Evan even said that in some ways he found it more valuable than CPC. It is a good length (Fri pm and Sat am-afternoon). They had a fairly good mix of visionary and practical information.

The speakers placed a heavy emphasis both avoiding burnout and family ministry. Both of these topics have been near to our hearts lately, so it is good to hear that this is what others in the field are talking about as well. BTW, get ready for family ministry because it is redefining not only how pastors view their role (vocational expectations, placing the responsibility for children's spiritual lives back into the hands of parents, etc.) but also how we view the church in general.

My main comments however, stems from a conversation Evan and I had with a NCPA (Nazarene Children's Pastor's Association) board member and the upcoming Ignite! conference in Kansas City. I had posted a rant just a few days ago regarding my disappointment with what I felt was yet another lazy attempt by the CoN to "resource" its local ministers. My rant as follows: "OK, I know this is a little off subject, but I just read the info on the NCPA (Nazarene Children's Pastors Association) conference in October and I think the problem of Naz white flight [HQ moving to Lenexa] continues because of all-around general laziness (theological, ethical and otherwise). There's so much that could be said right now, but essentially, why would I pay over $200 in conference fees alone to hear what is going on in Lenexa, Kansas in children's ministry? Ohio, perhaps? Oklahoma . . . really? Something is actually going on there???Incredibly (or not) three of the four speakers for the conference hail right from the KC area. (No hotel or travel?) But please tell me that there are other people -- yes, even Nazarenes -- who have as much to offer as these people who could use a wee bit more street cred right now (besides the fact that they or their spouse have been affiliated with HQ in the past) . . . I mean, who cares if they're "Wesleyan" at this point. Anyway, I bring this up because it seems to further support your suggestion of insulation, us vs. them mentality, i.e. running for the hills that is apparently paralyzing the denomination. We are simply more willing to pay the price for mediocrity than do whatever it takes to be citizens of the Kingdom of God here on earth -- even if it means losing ourselves in the process. All for today. Sorry, it's 1:45 a.m. ET which I think makes it even more irritating. Disclaimer: Evan told me to go ahead and post this. Of course, he was asleep when he gave me his blessing. I'll have nothing to do with it tomorrow."

So then, my conversation with said board member at KidU was very enlightening. What she explained to be the purpose of this conference was far different from the promotional material posted on the website. As she stated it, some members of the board asked themselves, what is the best thing about us (the NCPA group) getting together each year (which they do 2 x a year)? They came to the conclusion that the opportunities that they had for sharing experiences and ideas with one another, encouraging colleagues in specific situations, and general networking were the most valuable things they did during their time together. They wanted to give this opportunity to others not serving directly on the board. But the only way this basically voluntary group could do this was through HQ involvement Sunday School/children's ministry. Hence K.C.. Hence speakers speaking gratis. Understood.

NCPA, from my limited understanding of its history has been one of the few recognized voices advocating for children's ministry in the CoN. They are doing what they can. I appreciate that. I don't know that Evan will be able to attend this conference, but I hope it is able to fulfill the expectations set out by the NCPA. This is an effort by children's pastors to do what the denomination seems to be reticent to do from within. But considering the church almost disbanded children's ministries on a denominational level at one point, I suppose it's better than nothing.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Reflection Part 2: First things first

I'm posting this first, but you'll read a post of some of my initial reflections upon the KidU conference Evan and I attended last Friday and Saturday later.

A lot was said about family ministry - expanding our vision for what it means to minister to the spiritual needs of children. And I think it's true - as a matter of vocation for pastors and responsibity for parents - to return that responsibility for children's spiritual lives to the parents. That, however, represents a reality shift for how many churches perceive the purpose and place of children in their local church.

More on that ask Evan.

The one concern that I have stems from a few comments I heard throughout the day. My impression was that we take care of "our own" children first. It may even be ok to favor them. Then our ministry to other children kicks in . . . Is that true? Do "our own" children matter most simply because we have legal claim to them?

Please tell me, is it creepy that Evan and I, having no children of "our own," still work in children's ministry? What in the world would motivate us to take on the spiritual lives of other people's children?

There's got to be something more than family ministry - as important as that shift is - because the family itself reflects the relationships we find as citizens of the Kingdom of God. Just as a man and a woman coming together is a symbol of Christ and his Church. We are no longer mother and son, father and daughter. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Family Day

Today is Family Day. Family Day began in 2001 by the National Center for Adiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Visit their site here. CASA Research "consistently finds that the more often children eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs. The conversations that go hand-in-hand with dinner will help you learn more about your children's lives and better understand the challenges they face."

Family Day was created as a way to help reduce subtance abuse in children and is celebrated on the fourth Monday in september every year. On the web site, CASA says, "Family Day is not just for families. It is a day for all to celebrate, including businesses, unions, religious organizations and community groups. The symbolic act of regular family meals should be promoted and celebrated inside and outside the home throughout the year."

Isn't it interesting that this research organization at Columbia University is telling us to do what we need to be doing as the Church every Sunday. As citizens of the Kingdom of God, we have a meal that we eat together (although as Nazarenes we don't receive often enough), Holy Eucharist. Remarkably, it too is a meal that should be linked to the reduction of adiction, poverty, AIDS, violence, greed, and war. Perhaps if we received more often, the world would see the grace of God spill out of us more often into a world that so desparately needs it.

I am of the opinion that the best possible response to worship and a sermon on Sunday, is by washing it down with Holy Eucharist. I am also of the opinion that the best response to Holy Eucharist is to go into the world and make suffering folks lives better.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Riptide was a television series from 1984-1986 involving two Vietnam buddies who opened a detective agency in Los Angeles. It is classic 80s shtick now, but at the time it was pretty cool. Cody Allen (Perry King) and Nick Ryder (Joe Penny) who ran the Riptide Detective Agency, recruited a "genius" who worked with computers, Murray 'Boz' Bozinsky (Thom Bray). Boz had a robot named Roboz. They also had a Sikorsky S-58T (aka, Sikorsky H-34 Choctaw) helicopter, painted pink with a huge gaping mouth painted on the front. It was called Screaming Mimi. I remember my brother loving this show (of course he also liked The Dukes of Hazzard and Charlie's Angels). I thought it was all right, but I was a more serious television watcher (Miami Vice, A-Team, and McGuyver). I thought of this show the other day with seemingly no reason to make the connection. I don't know why I thought of it; it just came to mind.

I think television gets a bad rap. Now, I am a voracious reader, and my loyalty to literature should never be questioned, but it's easy for me to have a love for both television and books as I sleep less than most people. Granted, if given the choice between the annihilation of either, I would keep books near me and guard them forever. All that said, television still gets a bad rap.

I think the problem is not watching television, it is the passive watching of television. I can come home from work exhausted, and believe me that is a possibility as a pastor, and just sit passively in front of the television passing the hours away and failing to use my imagination. But I don't. I cannot tell you the last time I passively watched television. When I watch I allow the show to engage me, making connections with television, films, literature. I watch critically, asking "Why did the writer choose that turn of phrase?" or "What a brilliant angle on that shot." James Burke, writer and creator of Connections understands the importance of linking things. Now, with all that said, there are only certain shows I watch. I am very picky.

Sure all of this seems like the justification of a couch potato, but it's true nonetheless. Oh, yeah. I probably should mention that while Julia and I have a library that won't fit into one room, we only have a 13" television without cable. (Mmm, more justification.) So those of you who proudly bash television with your holier than thou attitudes, I say stop beating up on the poor thing. In ten years we'll look back at most of what we watch and remember Riptide. It was fun at the time, but now it's a bit dorky.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

From Oppression and Violence He Redeems Their Life!

Today I read Psalm 95. I love reading the Psalms just as I would read a Billy Collins poem or Gwendolyn Brooks or Mark Strand. I read it out loud in my mind, uttering every syllable with my imagination's tongue. At first, the poem is a bit patriotic, and I'm not a particularly patriotic person (that may be an understatement). But it is not a patriotic poem. It is a poem that identifies foundational characteristic traits of God to a new king perhaps during an inauguration.

Isn't that interesting how I began the post waxing about how I read poetry and then went into some sort of explanation. Now, as I back-peddle this tricycle, I have to bring up something else entirely. Eugene Peterson, in his book Under the Unpredictable Plant, writes about the poet Czeslaw Milosz and his understanding of imagination. Peterson paraphrasing Milosz writes, "The minds of Americans have been dangerously diluted by the rationalism of explanation." With that explained, you know why I wrote from imagination into explanation in the above paragraph. Nice.

Back to Psalm 75. As I read this poem, I couldn't help but think of the massive numbers of people in this world dying without clean drinking water, any food, or of AIDS. Numbers in the thousand-millions. But the Psalm states very clearly of God:

"For he delivers the needy when they call,
the poor and those who have no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
and precious is their blood in his sight."

If we are truly the embodiment of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, should we not act on this? Too long have we as Christians allowed modernity to force us into contentment with Jesus as our spiritual savior. I happen to believe that when the Risen Lord comes to town, things get better. I happen to believe that "from oppression and violence God redeems their life!" What are we doing about it. I also believe that freedom from oppression and violence can only come through the cross of Christ. Here are a few ways you can help.

Go here for the One Campaign.

Go here to Save Darfur.

Go here to Heifer International.

Go here to sponsor a child.

Heifer International works to help folks in rural areas around the world become more self-sufficient. This year our Kid's Church offering will go to this event. I will be encouraging them to give more than they normally would. Just before Christmas, the fifth and sixth graders will get together to decide how to spend the money raised in the "Best Gift Catalog in the World."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Right, Left, Whatever

When I was in high school, I was a Republican. Not just your average Republican, I was a conservative Republican. I was involved in conservative Republican sorts of things. I listened to conservative radio, particularly Rush Limbaugh. I was loud and most importantly, I was always right.

Mariner High School in Cape Coral, Florida had a cable access news program of which I was a part. We produced news stories, anchored the news and announcements, and I was given an editorial commentary every week. I used this time to rant and rave about current issues, politics, and much more. I enjoyed the opinions that I held and enjoyed the voracity and determination that I held in being right. I believed the only place for a Christian who wanted to transform this world was in politics and if one were Christian then one must be conservative and republican.

Wow, was I wrong.

Obviously, for those of you who know me, I have changed over the past decade. Thankfully, I am more thoughtful than I once was. I bring this up because I heard an interview on On Point, a show on NPR. The interveiw was with Gregory A. Boyd, a proponent (as am I) of an Open view of God. He has a new book, that I have on order at Amazon, called The Myth of a Christian Nation. In the interview Gregory Boyd talks about the idolotry of movement of Christians into politics, referencing Jesus' refusal to be caught up in the movement of folks that wanted to make him king, and (obviously as to the title of his new book) the myth that exists in many conservative Christian circles regarding America as Christian. Boyd made some very interesting points, especially regarding Christians affiliating themselves first with the Kingdom of God, not with any particular politcal party. Check out the interview here. Buy the book here.

I say all of this in part as a confession. I've probably said this before, but I interviewed at a church once and was confronted after the interview. A member of the church said to me, "All of this is good, but the real question is: Are you a Democrat or a Republican." I answered quickly and without really thinking about the possible consequences, "Neither. I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God."

I don't think it was the answer the church member was looking for, but it is true. Anyway, what do you all think about the interview, et. al.?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Boy King

James Burke writes in his book The Day the Universe Changed:

"You are what you know. Fifteenth-century Europeans ‘knew’ that the sky was made of closed concentric crystal spheres, rotating around a central earth and carrying the stars and planets. That ‘knowledge’ structured everything they did and thought, because it told them the truth. Then Galileo’s telescope changed the truth. As a result, a hundred years later everybody ‘knew’ that the universe was open and infinite, working like a giant clock. Architecture, music, literature, science, economics, art politics – everything – changed, mirroring the new view created by the change in the knowledge. . . . At any time in the past, people have held a view of the way the universe works which was for them similarly definitive, whether it was based on myths or research. And at any time, that view they held was sooner or later altered by changes in the body of knowledge."

Now for an 8 year old boy named Josiah, it was not much different. For Josiah, Galileo’s telescope came from the mouth of one of King Amon’s messengers who carried the horrifying news that Josiah’s father, the king was dead. A political assassin was responsible for Josiah’s fatherless nights. There would be no more tucking in; no more nightly prayer with his father; no more songs just before lights out. Josiah’s universe changed. But with this terrible news that his father was dead, came also a crown. And for an eight-year old boy who’s mind should be on his next little league game is this was a huge deal. This boy’s world was turned on its ear and he was only eight.

Josiah was crowned king of a nation at the age of eight. I want each of you to think back to when you were eight, and think of who you were, what you did, what was important to you. I was probably a bit different than you. By the time I was eight, I had been Superman, a member of an elite paramilitary group called the A-Team, the next 007 agent, otherwise known as 008, and I could turn myself invisible by just wearing my jacket backward. At eight, I would sneak time to watch MTV and Nickelodeon. At eight girls were still kind of disgusting.

It was very different for Josiah. At eight he was the king of a nation. At eight he recognized the importance to live for God even though his father, Amon, and grandfather, Menasseh, only modeled idolatry for the young king. Josiah’s convictions had already been formed. But his knowledge of the universe changed drastically and he was only eight.

Okay, okay, you get it already. You know where I’m going with this. You’ve heard it before. Children are important to God. We know that God has hidden the things of his Kingdom “from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children” (Matthew 11:25). But do you get that you must become like little ones to enter the Kingdom of God? Do you really see that?

I say certain things as I minister to children and families. Julia calls them Evanisms. You will hear me say, “Children are not the future of the church. Children are to be expected to be and accepted as the church here and now.” You will also hear me say, “Children, just like adults, are called to be whole and holy citizens of the Kingdom of God with all the rights and privileges therein.” These things are not easy to grasp, and to our sensibilities they are just as radical as Galileo’s telescope.

Josiah grew up differently than his father and grandfather. He feared the Lord. He worshiped God and even began to rebuild the temple of the Lord. He did these things because he knew it was right. When Helkiah brought the lost sermons of Moses to Josiah and they were read aloud to him, the universe changed again. When Josiah heard the words of Deuteronomy, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul and mind” he tore his clothes. He went to the prophet of Israel, Huldah, and she told him that while he caught the eye of the Lord and would not be punished, God would still allow Judah to be exiled because they did not adhere to his commandments. This news of Judah’s destruction did not stop Josiah. He mounted his men and rode throughout the country destroying the statues of Baal and Asherah, rebuilding the synagogues, celebrating Passover once again, and putting nothing before God. For Josiah, God was not merely first, God was only! The revival of Judah came because the boy-king Josiah got it. He understood his role as a citizen in God’s Kingdom.

All of this from a king crowned at the age of eight, a child to whom the mystery of the Kingdom of God was revealed. The Bible calls him Israel’s greatest king. He brought Galileo’s telescope. He made revival possible. People once again knew that there were to be no other gods before God. God is not God first, he is God only.

I believe revival will come today when we begin to accept children as proper citizens of God’s Kingdom, when we begin to expect them to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Revival will sweep this world when children are accepted as our brothers and sisters in Christ.

As pastor to children and their families, I will partner with parents, casting vision, equipping, encouraging, resourcing, building relationships with you so that we can minister to the children of Dayton, Oh. Together we will model for them what it means to be citizens of the Kingdom of God But know this, I cannot not do it alone. It can only be done in partnership. Perhaps this for you is Galileo’s telescope, changing the way you view the church. God has called us to his purpose. We must become like little children to enter into his Kingdom.