Another Halloween… and what’s your evaluation?

Halloween 2011 came and went… and a ton of articles, blogs, and facebook posts marked what Christians and churches should or should not do on Halloween…  and for the first time, I just sat back and observed all the conversations that were going on around me as well as in the cyber world.  For the first time, I didn’t have to think about what our ministry should do this year.

In the last 17 years of ministry, I have planned and participated in over a dozen of themed Hallelujah Nights, Reformation Night, Movie Night, Carnival-type Fall Fest, and Community Harvest Festivals.  And truthfully, I really enjoyed putting on a night of games and fun for families, not to mention I LOVED dressing up and eating lots of junk food.  However, I often struggled with why we were doing what we were doing and just how effective we were.  In case you’re wondering, I’m NOT against these events on Halloween Night.  I think some churches and communities do them really well.  For instance, I came across this article that talks about a very successful Halloween alternative in a church parking lot.  Gosh, I would love to go to that event!

I have also read some GREAT blogs about how families can connect with their non-church attending, non-Christ believing neighbors on Halloween by serving them hot cocoa, hot tea, providing the best candy bar, etc.  One of my favorite post is written by Gina McClain, Children’s Ministry Director at Faith Promise Church in Knoxville, TN.  Another great post I read is written by Jeff Vanderstelt.

I think these are all great ideas… because at the core of these ideas are all well intentions.  So many Christians and churches want to care for their community, and share Jesus’ love on what is considered to be a day overcome by evil.  But what bothers me is that so many churches that I know are consumed with “what are we gonna do” for the sake of doing something on this night.  Some churches put on an excellent, fun, and safe night just for the children in their own ministry.  Some churches insist on doing their own small event when they don’t have the budget nor the resources to pull together a successful event.  Some churches think it’s wrong to even participate in anything that remotely resembles dressing up on Halloween and challenge families to be set apart by not having their kids dress up (poor kids…).  Some churches tell the families that the Christian way to be a light in their neighborhood is by being a gracious host when kids come to trick-or-treat.

In my opinion, I think each church and ministry need to take the time to evaluate their community and their resources.  I don’t think there is “one-size-fits-all” program for every church.  In the same way, I don’t think there is “one-size-fits-all” way of doing Halloween for all the families in the church.  For instance, i would LOVE to be in a community where neighborhood kids come to trick-or-treat… but it just doesn’t happen on my street.  For about four years in a row, we were prepared for kids to come by, but I don’t think we ever broke 5 door knocks in a year.  There are kids in my neighborhood, but they just don’t go trick-or-treat here.  It just doesn’t make sense for families that live in my area to prepare a pot of hot cider and a huge bowl of candy waiting for knocks on their doors.

I have also done quite few Halloween alternative events when I was serving in a small church.  They were fun events, but for the most part, we really didn’t draw that many kids from the community.  95% of the kids that came were our own church kids.  In my heart and mind, I felt that our event wasn’t a good use of our resources because there was no way we could compete with 3 other huge carnival type events in the area.  I would rather use the manpower and finances towards an event that would have greater community impact.  Everyone thought they were successful events, but in my mind… they weren’t.

All this is to say… what I think churches should do is to evaluate their current way of doing Halloween, and really focus on what they would like to achieve on this night.  If it’s for families to connect with their neighbors, then encourage them to be the best hosts in their own neighborhood.  If the goal is for the church to serve the community by providing a fun, safe place for kids to be, then put on a fabulous event.  Don’t get caught up in just doing… but think strategically about the why and how!  And since we just had Halloween, the best time to evaluate for next year is now…

Advertisements

pastors…

After reading my latest blog on church, a friend told me that I need to write a follow-up blog on how church can change.  I am no expert in this subject… and these posts are my mere opinions and thoughts.  Being the practitioner that I am, I started thinking about practical steps that church can take to welcome back those that couldn’t find an authentic place.  It didn’t take long for me to look to pastors and leaders.  I don’t believe pastors are responsible for everything that goes wrong in the church… however, I do believe that the lead pastor and staff will set the tone for the culture of the church most of the time.  From my experience, the lead pastor also tends to attract people who are like him in leadership.

I once served under a senior pastor who told me that laypeople shouldn’t see the way I (a paid staff) live outside of church.  He said that laypeople shouldn’t see me in my casual setting, in street clothes, and me being me…. this is when he told me that I shouldn’t live with a lay person as my roommate.  He believed that pastors should be upheld on a pedestal, and that we shouldn’t ruin that image for the lay.  What in the world????  Thankfully, I didn’t believe any of his ridiculousness… the same pastor also threatened to “black-list” me so I couldn’t work in another church if I didn’t obey him.  Needless to say, I didn’t last long under his leadership… I turned in my resignation 2 weeks after his last threat.  Okay, this may be an extreme… but it really happened to me!!!  But I don’t think his idea of being the perfect christian pastor in the eyes of his congregation is that far from the reality of most churches out there.  Many pastors I know struggle with how transparent they can and should be with their congregation… hmmm… how about totally transparent???  Isn’t that what doing Christian life is all about?  I’m not saying that he should air all of his dirty laundry all the time (there is appropriate time and place to do that)… but pastors, do you know how refreshing it is for your congregation to hear that you also struggle with trusting in God in every day things?  Do you know how refreshing it is to hear that pastors also have flaws and weaknesses that everyday people can relate to?  One of the most refreshing thing I recently heard was when a pastor of a church that I was visiting admittedly said “you guys, I’m broken… I’m just as broken as anyone else here.. but it is by the grace of God that I’m here talking to you.”  People don’t want a perfect pastor… they want a REAL person!  This is something I’m also personally working on… learning to be transparent with people!

Pastors are in the business of studying the Word of God, shepherding people, and teaching people.  It’s kind of part of their job to sit with the Bible open at the desk every day… every pastor should try putting themselves in the lives of their congregation members… One of the biggest blessing in disguise for me is that I had been bi-vocational for over 10 years.  I used to hate that I had to have multiple jobs… but I realize that having to clock in at work at 7 am has helped me see the reality of what an average 9 to 5 working person goes through every day… Trying to live a true christian life isn’t as honky dory as many pastors make it sound in their sermons.  I’ve had some traumatized moments in my conversations with co-workers.

Many pastors I have known admit that they don’t have close non-christian friends because their world is immersed in doing life with other pastors and christians.  They are also very busy with prepping for Sundays, visioning, programming, meetings, etc…  So if I could encourage my friends and my readers to do one thing… develop a relationship with your pastors/leaders and learn to be honest with them about how you’re feeling about the church… You don’t need to attack them for everything that dissatisfies you, but keep an open communication about what’s helpful, what’s frustrating, what’s difficult in the church as well as in your life.  I hate to say this, but a lot of pastors could really use help in this area.  Folks, that’s called relationship and doing life together!

I’ve just scratched the surface when it comes to what I think church is… this isn’t it… but it’s a start!  And I’m afraid if I keep rambling here, no one will ever read my blog ever again! 😀

church…

I have been thinking about this whole topic of church for a very long time… and I kept procrastinating about writing down my real thoughts… partly because this could be a very sensitive subject, and I could offend a lot of people out there.  In addition, my vocation is in ministry, so I, of all people, am not “suppose to say anything negative” about church (at least not out loud)… but this has been so in my face lately that I just felt the need to let it out!

In the past few months, I’ve had about dozen conversations with friends and acquaintances who all have stopped attending church.  It’s not that they don’t believe in Jesus anymore… but due to circumstances or because they just can’t find a church where they can connect, learn, and grow.  If they had told me this few years ago, my response would have been, “suck it up!  there are no perfect churches out there… and you’re probably the one with issues so just get over it!”  Now, after having visited many churches for the past 7 months, I have a lot of sympathy for my friends.  In fact, I have even uttered these words: “a lot of churches just suck… and it just feels like many are playing church!”  yes… i actually said those words out loud…

Before I continue, I have to make clear that I DO believe in the Church, even with all of its imperfections.  And regardless of all the weaknesses of churches, God continues to do beautiful things in and through them… so I don’t mean to criticize all the churches.  And I know that there are some great churches out there!  Recently, I read a friend’s blog, and I think he sums it up pretty well in regards to people’s hangup with church (yes, I got his permission to use an excerpt!):

*Morality -> Judgment -> Fakeness -> Guilt/Shame. Most churches and church-goers that I’ve seen are more concerned with morality (or their version of it) than about genuine growth, never on paper but always in practice. I tend to associate church with judgment more than anything else. For a religion that starts with the idea that all men are evil and broken, everyone seems to have their stuff together and in turn seems to expect the same from everyone else.  Perhaps it’s my own fault, but I don’t feel comfortable being myself at church. I don’t feel accepted as me. I have to put the mask on and play by the rules. I almost feel like I have to apologize for being who I am and get the sense that I’m not “good enough” to be at church, which makes zero theological sense and is really the opposite of what church should be about. I’ve told a lot of people that I would probably find more spiritual substance at an AA meeting than a church service. I don’t need or want to “play church” every Sunday with all the other actors (To be fair, I’ve known several exceptions, but I’m speaking for the vast majority). And I’ve gotten past feeling guilty about not going, so that’s no longer a reason for me to go.

*More religion than relationship, more performance than partnership. Church services, probably by necessity, tend to feel more like a routine series of events than a true celebration of life and community. Half the people seem to be there to blindly follow whatever they’re taught while the other half are there to expand their social network. When my students ask me if I’m Christian, I respond by saying, “It depends on what you mean by ‘Christian’.” (I really hate that title… it carries a lot of baggage for me.) Christianity to me is not a “religion,” and church is not about ritual. I do know that I’m far from being perfect and am loved anyways.

Unfortunately, I completely echo his sentiment!  I’ve heard some disturbing, sad stories from my friends in the past few months.  Many have left because they can’t find churches that are authentic, relational, and real.  They feel judged, they feel like pastors care more about programs and numbers than people, they feel like they’re not good enough to be at church… part of this may be perceived… but I don’t think it’s an accident that I’ve had so many of these conversations in the past few months.  Some churches are really missing the point–actually most of us Christians are missing the point… because isn’t Christianity about God who loved us so much to send Jesus to take away our sins through His sacrifice–LOVE???  If we can’t love people, then I don’t think we’re doing a good job of being the Church… what good is teaching the truth if we can’t demonstrate the truth in love?

The morning after I posted this blog, I came across this interview.  Definitely worth a read:

Why are people turning their backs on church?

KidMin Conference: why I’m excited for this one!

I have been to MANY children’s ministry conferences since I started in kidmin 16 years ago.   Most of them were good, and I have learned something from each one.  However, I have always felt couple frustrations from each one:

1.  I always came back overwhelmed because speakers would talk about things that were unreachable for me.  See, I grew up in a mega-church, and because I tend to react to the way I grew up, I have loved serving in a small church.  There are definitely things I miss about a large church–namely, the resources and facility.  But what I love about small church ministry is that I can actually get to know every single one of my volunteers and at least know every child’s name.  Often times, I would attend conferences with speakers that are well known from mega-churches.  They would talk about having a team to write and act out in a different skit every week, putting together professional looking media clips each week, etc.   It sounds like every ministry’s dream, and I get all pumped up.  But when I come back to my small church, I would feel deflated because I don’t have the paid staff to pull off the things they talked about.   When I saw that KidMin Conference was offering 4-hour track on Children’s Ministry in Small Churches, I was thrilled.  It’s not just a 1-hour workshop, but it’s a half-track, something you can dig deeper with others that are in the same boat!  Afterall, statistics tell us that 85% of all protestant churches in America has attendance of 200 or less.  That’s A LOT of small churches out there!  KidMin also has Small Church Connect Group!  This is too cool!

2.  I rarely have time to process everything, and before I know it, I’m back in my church running full-speed.  I’m a process person.  It’s very important for me to sit, think, and talk about what I have learned and have a strategy on implementation.  In my earlier years, I was most concerned with getting as much information as possible.  Now that I’ve been doing this for awhile, I’m more interested in getting information that’s relevant and useful to me, and to be able to implement in my ministry.  I’ve been known to “ditch” workshops because I go into information overload, and I just can’t handle it anymore.  I like that KidMin offers casual and open Connect Groups where we can network and just talk and process ministry together!  Not to mention, the speakers are available to connect with people in a casual, kick-back environment!   When I do workshops, I love connecting with people afterwards.  I make it a point to make myself accessible because that’s when I get most pumped up–when I connect with people!  I’ve been to conferences where the speakers were like rockstars–they do their thing, and they disappear.  How AWESOME that KidMin allows time for the speaker and attendees to connect, talk, process, and network!!!  and you can connect on comfy Sack Chair Pods, and even take naps when you’re tired!!!  gotta love that “Relate & Relax” is one of the values of this conference!!!

As KidMin unveils more info, I’m sure I’ll get even more excited… but for now, these two reasons alone have me jumping up and down!!!   (it’s just ironic that this conference is happening right after I stepped down from my church… but I’m 100% kidmin person, and who knows where God will have me serve next!)