How to Share the Easter Story with Kids

Teaching-Your-Children-About-the-Real-Meaning-of-Easter-731x1024   This year my church asked me to do something I have never even heard of before – they asked me to plan and run a Good Friday service for our kids.  I admit that when this request first landed on my table, I was filled with a fair amount of anxiety.  Those of us who grew up in the church, know that the story of Easter is one of the most gruesome and violent tales in the entire Bible.  We also know that it is almost impossible to share the Gospel message while evading terms such as “death”, “sin” and “hell.”  Yet, how is it possible to bring across the main theme of the message without producing untold nightmare and endless streams of sadness, anger, and other appropriate emotions?

As I sat there in my office, turning over this very question for a few weeks, I thought about several scenarios.  My first thought was to simply Google a good YouTube clip.  I did find one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgFZDCguR8E, and it portrayed the story of Jesus brilliantly without going into nasty details.  I ended up showing it to my kids, but I also knew that wasn’t enough.  As a children’s pastor, I’m expected to come up with my own ground-breaking ideas.  A YouTube clip, regardless of how good it is, simply isn’t going to cut it.

Eventually, I came upon a “Sweet Story.”  I told the story of Easter using candy and chocolates, and the kids absolutely loved it.  In fact, they were excited about it for a number of days when I announce that this would be happening.

Yet, even though I seem to have averted the problem (at least for this year) it did get me thinking about what is truly appropriate and beneficial to share with our kids.  Below, I’d like to offer a few suggestions:

#1: Focus on the Positive Aspects of the Story

The main theme of the Gospel message is LOVE.  Regardless of which atonement theory you fall into, nearly all Christians believe that God’s love exemplified through His Son Jesus is what sets our faith apart.  The fact that Jesus died for our sins, is important, but the reason He did that is because He wants to be our friends forever.  Don’t get stuck on the gruesome details.  Today when I shared this story with the kids, I mentioned people making fun of Jesus by placing a crown of sticks on His head.  I also mentioned that Peter pretended not to know Jesus and pretended like he wasn’t really friends with Him.  I even mentioned that the worst thing that happened to Jesus was that He had to be placed on a large piece of wood (called a Cross).  However, I don’t get into all of the violent ins and outs with the kids.  I would say less than 5% of time should be devoted to what actually happened on Good Friday.  95% should be focused on themes like redemption, love, reconciliation, and friendship.

As an aside, when I was in seminary, we sang the classic song “In Christ Alone.”  There is a line in the original which states “And on the Cross as Jesus died, the WRATH of God was satisfied.”  My professor urged us to collectively change the words to “the LOVE of God was magnified.”  There is a theological case to be made about God’s wrath, but I would never dream of bringing that side of God out to our kids.  Firstly, because I am not sure it’s theologically correct myself, and secondly, because the very thing I don’t want is for kids to be scared.  I want them to see God as a kindly Father figure, not as someone who is waiting for them to mess up and wants to punish them.  See, WRATH is scary, love is not.

#2: Now Is Not the Time to Get Into Theological Debates

Every denomination has a slightly different understanding of the crucifixion.  Now is not the time to talk about “hell” or what happens to those who don’t believe in your particular brand of Christianity.  Now is also not the time to get into a Calvinist or Arminian debate about only SOME people being God’s chosen children.  If your particular church holds to tenets like this, you will have plenty of time to instil them in your children once they hit adolescence.  For now, focus on God’s love as a possibility for EVERYONE.  Like the YouTube clip I shared with the kids states “God love me, and He loves you.  GOD LOVES EVERYBODY!”

#3: Keep It Simple

I have attended a few churches that do altar calls for children, and if that’s your tradition and style then I see nothing wrong with it.  However, the most important thing about sharing the Gospel, is to help the kids to understand it.  I did not do an altar call today, and in fact, I didn’t even teach the kid’s the “Sinner’s Prayer.”  I simply told them that if they believe the story I shared is true, all they need to do is tell God they love Him and that they want Him to be their friend.  As kids get older, their faith will mature and they will begin to understand more about what terms like “sin” and “salvation” truly mean.  But for now, if you mention words like that, you’ll lose them.  So focus on words that they use in their daily vocabulary and if you are bringing out Christian terms, make sure to explain them in a kid friendly way.

Terms to Avoid and Terms to Use

 

INSTEAD OF…. SAY:

Sin – We all think have bad stuff in our hearts OR We decided not to be God’s friends

Salvation – Friendship with God

Crucifixion – Explain what happened (in non-violent terms)

Judas’s Betrayal – Judas told people who didn’t like Jesus where He was (explain that Judas felt sad afterwards)

Peter’s Denial – Peter pretended like he didn’t know Jesus/wasn’t Jesus’s friend/didn’t really hang out with Jesus

Beaten, mocked, scorned – Bullied

Resurrected – Came back to life again

Disciples – Friends or best friends

Tomb – I do use this term, but I explain to them that it is like a grave.

Communion – A meal that Jesus had together with His friends (OR eating dinner together)

Evangelize – Tell your friends about who Jesus is

Hell – I would just drop the term entirely.  I think it does more damage than good for young children (however, if the kids are older than 10, you might be able to bring in this concept)

Heaven – I do use this term, but I explain that this is where Jesus lives, and that if we are friends with God one day we will go there.  I explain to them that heaven is so much better than anything we have here on earth.  I present the concept of heaven as something nice and delightful rather than as something scary.

Death – I do use the word death and I also believe that kids are much more prepared to deal with this than we give them credit for (for the most part).  However, I do not dwell for very long on that part of the story, except to say that Jesus died, but He promised His friends He wasn’t going to stay dead forever.

Elements in the Easter Story for Kids

 

#1: The Easter story really begins when God made the earth.  God wanted us to be friends with Him forever and to hang out with Him all of the time.  But because people, like us (boys and girls, moms and dads, brothers and sisters) had bad stuff in our hearts, we weren’t able to be friends with God.

#2: This made God sad, but God had a plan.  At Christmas time, Jesus was born in a manger.  Which is kind of like a farm. How many of you have ever been to a farm before? (Kids raise their hands). And in this farm there was hay (I show the kids Easter grass and put it down on the table.  I explain to them that Baby Jesus slept on the hay).

#3: Jesus grew up and did many things like we all do.  He went to school and He also had a lot of friends.  How many of you have friends?  All of you do!  Well, Jesus had 12 best friends, but He met people who didn’t want to be His friend because He said things they really didn’t like.

#4: One of Jesus’s best friends was named Judas.  Judas loved Jesus, but he loved something more than he loved Jesus – money.  One day, the people who weren’t friends with Jesus, offered Judas some money if he told them where Jesus was.  Judas said yes.  Let’s count out how much money they gave Judas (here I have 30 chocolate coins wrapped in aluminium foil – the kids help me count).  30 dollars!  How many of you think 30 dollars is a lot of money?  (Most of the kids raise their hands).  If you had 30 dollars what would you spend it on?  (Allow for responses) You’re right, 30 dollars is a lot of money – you could buy a lot of candy and toys with that.  But you know what? Judas actually felt really sad that he told them where Jesus was.  He actually offered to give back all that money if they didn’t hurt Jesus.  But the people said it was too late and they didn’t care.  For the rest of Judas’s life, he felt very sad that he did this. [Note: I think it’s important to stress that Judas knew he made a bad decision….however, I would leave out his suicide entirely.  It is too much for kids to take in and also too difficult to explain.  Also, I always tell the kids that Judas was a friend of Jesus and he did love Jesus, he just made a bad choice.  I do not enter into the theological conundrum of whether he was really a follower or not].

#5: But Judas was not the only friend that left Jesus when He needed them the most.  Jesus had another friend named Peter.  And Peter was one of Jesus’s BEST friends.  Peter even said that even if no one else wanted to be friends with Jesus, he still would.  But Jesus told Peter, that before (I take out a plush rooster) – what animal is this? (The kids should out – Rooster!) the rooster crows 3 times He was going to pretend like he didn’t know Jesus.  What sound does a rooster make (get the kids to make the “cock-a-doodle-doo” sound three times).  And the third time that Peter heard “cock-a-doodle-doo” he felt very sad that he pretended like he wasn’t friends with Jesus.

#6: The people who didn’t like Jesus, took Him away and they made a crown for Him.  When Jesus was alive, He told people that He was a King, and people wanted to make fun of Him.  So they didn’t give Him a tiara or even a Burger King crown, they actually made Him a crown of sticks and wood from the forest (have a dead twig or stick available).  (Show them an Easter basket) the crown would have looked something like this (Place Easter basket on top of head).

#7: But that isn’t the worst thing that happened to Jesus.  The people were very mean to Him and they even put Him on a Cross (which is kind of like a big piece of wood).  And that’s where Jesus died.

#8: Then they placed Him in a tomb, which is like a grave – where dead people go.  And they put a stone in front of it that looked kind of like this (use a plastic egg to illustrate).  And they had two guards on either side because when Jesus was alive He said He wasn’t going to stay dead forever, but He was going to come back to life.  We all know that when someone dies, they don’t come back to life, so the guards were worried that His friends might steal the body and pretend that He was still alive even when He wasn’t.

#9: However, Jesus was always very honest and He never told a single lie in His entire life.  And so, three days later, the tomb was empty (open up the plastic Easter egg to show that the tomb was hollow).

#10: Jesus did this because it was the only way to solve the problem of us not being friends with God.  Now, because of what Jesus did, we all can be God’s friend and hang out with Him whenever we want to!

#11: When we believe in Jesus, it means that one day we will go to heaven where God lives.  And the Bible tells us that heaven is very shiny (show them some foil coloured chocolate eggs).  In fact, the Bible even says that the streets are made of gold (show them a gold foiled egg).  Life in heaven is much better than you can ever imagine.  What are some things you really like?  (Kids give suggestions).  All of those things are great, but heaven is even better!

#12: Now what’s this (show them a candy bunny)?  (The kids yell out: BUNNY!)  In the springtime we see little bunnies hopping around everyone.  That’s because during winter, everything dies and there’s a lot of snow on the ground (show them the dead twig again), but at springtime everything comes back to life again – just like the Easter story!

#13: If you believe the story I just shared and you want Jesus to be your friend all you need to do is talk to God and tell Him you love Him and want Him to be your friend.  We call this prayer, but prayer just means talking to God about what we are thinking about and what’s important to us.  We talk to Him the same way we talk to our Moms and Dads, brothers and sisters.  And when you become friends with Jesus, He never leaves you.  He will be your friend forever!  In fact, it’s so cool because the Bible tells us that whenever someone becomes God’s friend there’s a little party happening in heaven just for them.  How many of you have been to a birthday party before?  Well that’s kind of like what happens when we become God’s friend!

#14: If you already believe in Jesus, there are things you can do to keep learning about Jesus.  First, Jesus gave us a special book called the Bible.  In this book, He tells us all about how we can be His friend and how much He also wants to be our friend.  This book also tells us how to live and treat other people if we love God.  Second, we can learn about God by spending time with our friends here at church.  Whenever you go to church, Sunday school, or our children’s programs you will learn more about God and how to be His best friend.  And then, when you know about God, you get to share this with others.  So you can tell your friends at school, your moms and dads, and even people you don’t even know yet about how much God loves them and wants to be their friends.

And that’s the story of Easter!

As the kids exit the Sunday School classroom, have the Easter basket ready for them to pick out a treat our two on their way out!

For additional reading, please see: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistparenting/2017/04/trouble-easter-not-talk-kids-easter/

The idea for the “Sweet Story” first came from this website: http://childrensministry.com/articles/easter-surprises/?utm_source=internal_children%27s_ministry_resource&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=

Book Review: Hand In Hand With God: Witnessing on the Way (By: Flora L. Williams)

410vyEVkMCL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_When Flora Williams suddenly found herself trapped in a Mexican tour bus, her sunny vacation plans turned to shock and horror within mere minutes.  What started out as a terrific getaway, soon resulted in months of hospital stays, doctor’s appointments, and a life-changing disability,  Flora, an independent and active woman involved in church ministry, professorship, and music, soon found herself having to adapt to her many hobbies and interests using only one arm.

Flora’s story is a testimony of God’s love and faithfulness even in the midst of trial and tragedy.  Despite some initial depression and questioning, Flora’s ability to see the bigger picture and maintain a strong faith in God is a great witness to many who find themselves in similar circumstances.

One of the highlights of Flora’s book for me from a purely disability theology angle is her chapter entitled “Journey Through the Land of People.”  In this section, Flora describes two different common response to her injury: paradox and paradise.  In the paradox stage, Flora discovers that people often choose to respond to someone “differently-abled” (to use her preferred terminology) with shock, pity, curiosity and uncertainty.  She also mentions that in this phase people consider her “super-human” or rush in to provide “service.”  Conversely, in paradise people act out of humility, love, and service.  Flora writes, “Along the way, I met people with a kindred spirit, accepting me as a whole person, simply, honestly, connect without judging, accepting me as I was.  They were seeing my internal spirit not my external loss.”  Although I have severed as a disability advocate for the past four years, Flora’s explanation is helpful in providing us with the invaluable perspective of someone differently abled.  This is a chapter I will refer to again and again in my own work in the field and would encourage other advocates to also become aware of.

Flora’s book is genuine and sincere.  It does not sugar-coat the harsh realities and difficulties facing people with disabilities (both from breaking away from societal norms and prejudices as well as the increased complications of more practical tasks).  However, it also provides hope and support for those with physical disabilities by encouraging us to learn new methods of adaptation.

Although Flora’s book is a wonderful personal story and a great witness to her faith in God, my only caution would be surrounding some of the more graphic details she shares about in her writing.  Flora describes in great detail the accident and accompanying medical appointments.  This is helpful in aiding her story by providing a greater context of her reality and helping us enter in to her struggles.  Nevertheless, for someone with a more sensitive disposition, the details can become quite unsettling and uncomfortable.  Therefore, this book should be read with caution and shared only with those who are willing to hear the truth for what it is.

I highly recommend Flora’s book both for individuals with disabilities as well as caregivers, friends, family members, and community activists.  It is a book I believe belongs in every church library and wherever the message of disability inclusion seeks to be shared widely.  Thank you, Flora, for allowing me to enter into your story and your life.

Flora’s book is available at: https://www.amazon.ca/Hand-God-Witnessing-Way/dp/1424121477  and at https://www.abebooks.com/9781424121472/Hand-God-Witnessing-Way-Williams-1424121477/plp

How to (Re)Start Doing Devotions

9010-devo-category-favorite-pastors.220w.tn I’ve been in conversation recently with a number of people who struggle with reading their Bibles or having daily devotionals/quiet times with God. I can certainly relate as it is something I struggled with for many years myself and on Sunday I shared with my small group that even though I don’t struggle with doing the actual devotions anymore because it’s become an ingrained habit, I still struggle at times to really apply what I am reading to my own life. Basically I’m saying there is a difference between READING the Bible and really meditating on it and marinating on it. I do the first quite well, the second is where I need improvement. If you are struggling with taking that extra time to reflect or if you don’t even know where to begin, here are a few quick ideas that I hope will help:

* Find a Bible that you like. I know this sounds cheesy, but I really think it’s important to find a version that you like. When I was a kid, I struggled with reading the Bible because I was trying to understand the King James. Now that I’m older, I love reading the Message and will reference it with the NIV, ESV, or NASB when I need to do more in-depth study on a passage.
* Find a place that you like. It doesn’t have to be special, but minimize as many distractions as possible. Although I read The Message from my phone, I do realize it’s a great distraction. It’s probably better to silence your phone and read an actual Bible so that you don’t venture onto Facebook or Instagram. Also, if you have young children, find a time when your house is relatively quiet. Other favourite places may include coffee shops or parks.
* Start with a small book. I’m an Old Testament scholar, but I will admit that the New Testament is far easier to read. If you haven’t read the Bible pick a small book like Mark or one of the Epistles. This will give you a sense of accomplishment because you’re far more likely to finish it in a week than if you tried Leviticus or 1 Chronicles (trust me, I’m reading the latter right now!)
* Be consistent. Growing up a lot of people tried to convince me that reading the Bible first thing in the morning is what Jesus would have wanted. That’s dumb. If you’re not a morning person, don’t read it in the morning, you won’t get anything from it. Consequently, don’t read it right before bed or you may find yourself the next morning with your head slumped over it.
* Don’t beat yourself up if you missed a day. Don’t try to read 10 chapters on a Saturday evening to make up for not reading all week. Be gracious with yourself. It’s not about legalism, but the Spirit behind the Law.
* Find an accountability partner. This works wonders. When I first tried to get back into reading the Bible (after years of having an inconsistent devotional life) I asked one of my friends if I could write to her weekly with a report. At first this was a necessary step and there were several weeks when I was tempted to skip, but because I didn’t want to disappoint her I went ahead. Now I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t need someone looking over my shoulder, but I still find it helpful to have people to discuss what I am learning with.
* Lastly, I realize that God gave me the incredible privilege of actually attending a Bible College. I know not many people have this opportunity, and therefore it might make certain passages confusing. What I would recommend is having some good study tools to use (many of which are online). I frequently will reference my Koine Greek or Hebrew Bible, but I also use commentaries, and study guides when needed. Don’t be ashamed if something makes absolutely no sense to you. Ask a pastor or strong Christian friend if they may have some resources they could lend to you or tell you about!

If you’d like to read more, check out this blog for some more hints and ideas: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/i-cant-do-it-on-why-losing-weight-and-bible-reading-are-two-of-the-hardest-activities-in-life/

Reflections on the Song of Solomon

download  Recently I started a Bible study on the Song of Solomon, romantic I know.  Actually, I have been trying to find a good study for a number of years, and I finally came across one a few weeks ago at a thrift shop, no less.  It’s called “What Every Girl Wants: A Portrait of Love and Intimacy in the Song of Solomon” By: Lisa Harper.

The Song of Songs is a brilliant collection of love poetry.  Its tone is evocative and rich with sexual imagery to the point where many scholars have questioned its rightful place in the Bible.  Some believe it degrades Holy Scripture, but I believe it’s what makes it beautiful.  This steamy romance novel, and the unfolding of the ideal love narrative, goes far beyond allegorical.  And while there is some semblance between its representation of Christ and His Bride, it also speaks to us at a far more human level about far more earthly and temporary concerns.

Nevertheless, I have to admit that there is one verse that keeps surfacing for me “do not awaken love until it is time.”  This phrase, repeated twice by Solomon’s bride, Shalumith, calls for consideration.

The first time we read this verse in the song is chapter 2 verse 7.  Dreamy Shalumith who is in the early stages of infatuation begs her companions “Daughters of Jerusalem [my deepest friends and most trusted confidants], I charge you [urge, make a strong request, beg] by the gazelles and by the does of the field: do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” Just a few verses later, in the throes of her passionate romance and when things are really heating up, she repeats the exact same request with the exact same wording (chapter 3 verse 5).

I think it’s a lovely concept and I have employed it on more than one occasion when I’ve felt men pressuring me a bit too much.  And I’m not just talking about outright sex here.  I’m talking about things like being official, calling each other “pet” names, or whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears.

But what exactly does this mean and how might we apply it to our situation?

Love is Patient

When someone thinks they are in love (read: infatuated, not actually in love) they often seek to speed up the natural process of getting to know one another.  Women are just as guilty (if not more so) of this then men.  Either gender might have a tendency to push marriage or being in an official relationship, but it is dangerous to awaken the power of love before both parties are ready for such a commitment.

We’ve heard it countless times and from people of all ages and both genders.  “If you really loved me you’d ___” fill in the blank.  If you really loved me, you’d ask me to marry you right now.  If you really loved me, you’d get me a diamond.  If you really loved me, you’d do this or wouldn’t do that.  While it’s true that if love is genuine it needs to lead somewhere (preferably a long-term commitment in holy matrimony) the truth is, that love cannot be self-seeking.  We cannot use the love card in order to manipulate someone into doing something they really and truly don’t want to do.  We cannot force love and try as we might, we cannot convince someone who really hasn’t fallen for us that they actually want to.

I find it so interesting that even in Christian settings we are willing to cloak our own selfish wants and ambitions in the fine print of love.  This is so contrary to Scripture which outlines in 1 Corinthians 13 exactly what love entails and the characteristics of this deep intimacy.  In this list, the Apostle Paul’s very first qualification for love is that it’s PATIENT.  You’ve heard the old adage, true love waits, but being patient is far more than merely waiting for your wedding night to have sex.  In fact, being patient encompasses being willing to wait, period.  Being willing to wait as long as it takes to woo the person, taking into consideration any past experiences, and being willing to work with them through it.   St. Paul then goes on to say that love is not arrogant, is not self-seeking, and does not keep a record of wrong.  How much different than the “fake” love we often espouse in our culture – a love that cares mostly about itself, getting a prize, and playing “hard to get.”

How We Awaken Love Before It’s Time

One of the most common ways people of this generation awaken love before it’s time is by our incessant use of social media and online forums.  With so much access to pornography, steamy romance literature, chat sites, and glamour magazines, it is becoming increasingly harder to contend for purity in a sex-crazed world.  Nevertheless, as Christians, it is our duty to place a guard over our hearts so that we do not go too far too fast.

This is unfortunately one area that many Christians misunderstand.  Many Christians mistake naivety for purity believing that they need to completely repress any sexual feelings until marriage.  However, as Lisa Harper so wisely points out “there is a difference between prudishness and purity.”  God calls us to the latter and this is what pleases Him most.

It’s important to understand here that purity does not simply mean having limits like “no kissing before engagement”.  These can certainly be helpful markers and boundaries in a relationship, but real purity is based on your integrity with others.  Real purity affects our eyes, your speech, and the condition of your heart.  Real purity also avoids any appearance of evil – even if you know in your heart that you didn’t do anything “wrong,” it’s important how younger Christians might perceive you so as not to cause them to stumble either. I love this quote by Francis Schaeffer on the topic, “Our calling is not just to be the faithful bride, but also the bride-in-love.  A bride has not been faithful just because she has not slept with anyone else.”

You’ll also notice that in the Song, Shalumith recognizes her need to enlist others in her battle for purity.  Why?  I believe the reason is two-fold.  Firstly, Shalumith probably knew the old Hebrew proverb that “two is better than one because if one falls there is no one to help him up.”  When we are in a relationship, it’s easy to lose sight of our focus in the heat of the moment and because we don’t want to do something we will later regret, we need to enlist a mentor.  My former youth pastor said it well, when you’re dating you need “accountability with teeth.”  We cannot rely on ourselves to be strong enough when temptation comes, we need to know that there will be consequences for our actions or the disappointment of someone close to us whom we admire.

Although it’s easy to place all the pressure on single people to “not do it” I don’t think married people are exempt from this clause either – in fact, I think if anything, married couples have even more responsibility and thus require even more accountability.  I’m a huge advocate of having “marriage mentors” especially in the early stages of marriage.  You need someone who’s been married much longer than you, to look up to and meet.  You also need people to go to for support when you’ve been married for a long-time and your marriage suddenly seems void of action and the secretary starts looking mighty fine.

Secondly, I think in a very real way Shalumith was telling her friends “mind your own business.” Think about the context here.  In the ancient times, women got married very young – essentially once they hit puberty.  Marriage was vital for women in that time period because it’s how they would receive their financial security.  There was no “self-made woman” back there.  There was no “playing hard-to-get” because in a very real way, it was a necessity.  So, in my mind I picture these adolescent girls gossiping like middle schoolers.  “Did you see that dreamy look Solomon (AKA: hottie, AKA: Hunk, AKA: the tank) just gave Shalumith?  Did you see her flirting back?  I bet he’s the one.”  I can see them staking out behind the well with only their head sticking out from behind the iron fence just waiting to catch them holding hands.  And I can see Shalumith shaking her head and in an almost jovial way responding “girls, mind your own business, I’m sure the right guy will come along for you, too.”  Don’t awaken love.  Don’t make a bigger deal than what’s actually going on.  Don’t gossip to the town about what you think’s going to happen before he’s even met my dad and gotten his approval.

I think both cases are possibilities for why Shalumith doesn’t want this love to be awakened until she is sure and confident that this man really is about to sweep her off her feet.

But What If Love Was Awaken Before We Were Ready

The sad reality for many women is that this romantic, idealized love they so readily dream of seems elusive and beyond reach.  Sometimes because they were manipulated by a so-called lover to “give” before marriage out of fear or a threat to leave them.

And other times, something much worse happens.  The sadly no longer shocking statistics show that more and more women are subjected to sexual violence, abuse, and assault.  The unfortunate reality is that many women have had sexual experiences awakened before they were ready, and when it was the furthest thing they wanted.  Many of these women continue to feel the effects years later even when they have found the right man who truly understands and is willing to wait.

And this is one reason why I feel like the Song of Songs is so relevant and important within the lives of young Christian women today.  The Songs help us reclaim, restore, and renew the passionate romance that is rightfully ours.  In a world that has forgotten what real love is and replaced it with a thin, ghastly shadow of nothing but lust and objectification, the Songs harken us back to a fuller and more mature understanding of intimacy and the value of love.  To fully delight in the passionate romance between two people is exactly what God designed for us and is willing to offer.  Even though our world has mired and messed up this vision, God still calls out to us, wooing us to Himself and embracing us in His ever present love, grace, compassion, and kindness.

So Where Do We Go From Here?

Shalumith knew the secrets to a long-lasting, God ordained passionate romance, and we can, too.

True love is patient, it doesn’t manipulate the other partner by making “what if” statements.

True love doesn’t apply pressure, doesn’t rush the other person, and provides space and freedom.

True love understands and seeks to put the other person above one’s own needs and desires.

True love seeks to be pure, accountable, and honest with mentors and friends.

True love believes the best, and reclaims the original vision God granted to us:

A vision which knows not to awaken love before it is time.

When Media Turns Monstrous: Keeping Kids Safe Online and Off

download   I’ve never been much for television, and I say that honestly.  I’m not one to sit in front of the tube and watch mindless hours of comedy, I am not up on the latest shows, and I don’t stream a single season of anything.  I’ve never even watched Gilmore Girls or Once Upon a Time and I haven’t seen a CSI or Big Bang episode in over a year.  Due to my hyperactivity, I don’t take great joy in watching something I can’t interact with, although I have been known to hit the cinemas when a new movie really peaks my interest.

Nevertheless, now that I work in children’s ministry, there is a current trend that I have noticed and actually become a bit concerned about.  I’ve noticed a lot of parents are overly cautious about any movie they deem to be a bit “scary.”  And scary can range from an actual horror movie to the beast ranging out in Beauty and the Beast.  That’s not bad in and of itself, however, my concern is that while parents are being preoccupied with protection they are falling to address the bombardment that occurs daily in their kid’s life.  While parents try to control what their kids see, they don’t fully realize that children are being exposed to other potentially harmful material.

Taking a trip down memory lane, I remember my own childhood.  I used to watch all the classics: Beauty and the Beast, Pinocchio, and Snow White.  I was well versed in Cinderella, Pocahontas, and The Lady and the Tramp.  Virtually everyone I knew from these early days, grew up on the same diet of this “dreadfully scary stuff” and yet, now that we’re older, I don’t think it has adversely affected any of us.  In fact, I have yet to hear of a single person undergoing intensive counselling as a result of seeing a scary scene in Recess.

Have the movies truly become scarier or have parents simply become more resistant?  And why is it that old classics like Brother Bear and Spirited Away now have to be re-watched and kicked to the curb because of questionable content?  Is Ursula in The Little Mermaid truly causing nightmares or are the nightmares coming from a different source altogether?

Visual Overload

Let’s be honest.  Regardless of where you find yourself in this debate, we cannot ignore that what the eyes take in affects our mental stimulus.  And nowhere is this more powerful than in the movies.  Depending on how sensitive you or your child is, even a simple advertisement or preview can awaken feelings and cause disturbances.  And when it comes to a full-length movie, something that happened several scenes back can still be lingering in your child’s mind.

I know to some degree, the same can happen with books or live-presentations, however, there is something unique about the way movies and television sear images into our brains.  Part of the reason is the fast-pace it moves it.  Anyone with a basic understanding of film culture knows that a movie (or show) is made up of a sequence of short frames.  Generally speaking, these frames last mere seconds before moving on to the next set.  So while the plot line might take a while to develop, say 10 minutes, your child potentially could have already seen 50 or more frames.  For a young mind, this can be hard to compute and almost impossible to differentiate.  And that’s why it’s easy to stay stuck on what we see.

But this problem doesn’t just affect children, it also affects grown-ups.  This is the main reason why so many people struggle with pornography (and not just men, more and more women are admitting to the fact that they have also fallen prey to this snare).  Pornography works in the same way as what I just described.  It appeals to physical lust and confuses the mind by thinking it is viewing attraction when in reality, it is completely damaging one’s soul.  These images are then carefully lodged into one’s mind, seared into one’s conscience and become impossible to unravel.  And that’s why, whenever you meet someone who has struggled with this horrendous temptation, they will admit that even if they haven’t looked at porn in months or years, they can still re-call certain scenes in their mind if they concentrated hard enough.  This is so scary to think about because when you consider how much visual input our mind receives daily through social media, websites, movies, television, and other means, to still be able to recall a disturbing scene is nothing short of demonic.

Understanding a bit about the way the mind works in response to visual stimulation is important, but what I want to get at here is simply this: DO NOT OVERLOOK THE SERIOUSNESS OF THE MATTER.

What we process with our eyes greatly effects our entire being.  What we allow to penetrate our hearts then has the temptation of turning outward.  And that’s why someone who started looking at porn, not only can’t stop, but also finds themselves suddenly objectifying all women, losing all respect for their wife, and going down a slippery slope where they suddenly don’t care anymore.  And that’s why exposing children to improper materials which they aren’t able to process at their young age can greatly impact their mood, cause sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, and anger issues.   I’m not saying this will always be the case, but it does put your child at risk, and anything that puts a child at risk must be avoided as much as possible.

So how can we better regulate what our children are watching and what goes into their eyes (and consequently their mind and heart)?  Here are a few suggestions:

#1: Do not allow personal handheld devices until a suitable age and even then use proper safeguarding websites and filters.

In an age where toddlers hold tablets, I know this will not come off as that popular, but it’s imperative that you know what your children are accessing.  Children are at the greatest risk of being manipulated, exploited, and taken advantage of, especially because kids born in GenZ (and to a large degree even people from my generation – the Millenials) grew up posting every single thing on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  Many kids misunderstand the true meaning of the word “friend” and may share private information with someone who really doesn’t need to know.  Especially with the growing popularity of apps like SnapChat or even image texting, it can be difficult to control exactly what gets sent around and teens in the heart of the moment can send inappropriate pictures or comments they might later come to regret.

That’s why even though your kids are going to beg you for more freedom, you NEED to check on them often.  You NEED to limit their access to smartphones and other technology, and you NEED to demand to see their history especially if they are hiding anything from you.

When I was a kid, we only had one desktop in the house and it was in a public location so that my parents could walk by at any time and see what we kids were up to.  Nowadays, that’s no longer the norm, but it’s still important in principle.

Don’t get me wrong, technology has so many benefits and I think it’s wonderful to think about the things my kids will have access to that I never did before.  But it also comes at a cost.  We need to be vigilant in teaching our kids that cyberspace is a real place with real dangers.  Just like you need to teach a toddler to look both ways before crossing a street, you also need to gently ease your child into their use of technology and only allow more freedom once they have proven they know how to use it.

If you still don’t see the value in what I’m saying, hear this: the average boy stumbles upon pornography between the ages of 8-12.  I have male friends who have admitted these struggles to me, and they always say that for them, it didn’t start off with the hot chick, but rather with something as innocent as a car ad.  They were hooked on a certain car (what boy wouldn’t be) and that car just happened to come with a cute model.  Before they knew it, the car was becoming of less value to them, and their eyes were more and more fixated on the girl.  We like to think of our children as innocent and I deeply believe no elementary aged kid would stumble upon this filth on purpose, but we need to understand that it’s out there and take every precaution to protect them and to guard what is sacred, pure, and holy.

#2: Watch Movies with Your Kids

When I was a youngster, my dad used to come downstairs and watch movies and tv shows with my brother and I.  Young kids don’t mind this at all, in fact, most young children relish in having their parent’s attention.  You can make it a special bonding time to watch Treehouse or Frozen with your kid, maybe even hosting a Friday night pizza and movie evening or providing a special treat like popcorn, chips, or Freezies.

Watching movies and TV shows together is a wonderful family activity on a number of levels.  Firstly, it shows your children that you are invested in learning more about their interests and their favourite shows.  Secondly, it helps you keep your guard as you properly monitor what exactly is going through their eyes (and if you see questionable material, you are able to pull the plug right away).  Lastly, it provides a portal for dialogue.  Many children’s movies teach a moral or a lesson and you might be able to expand upon this further.  If there were any scenes that might have frightened your child, you’ll be able to explain them or at least understand if your child gets scared later in the night and comes crawling to your bed.  And in a worse-case scenario where you did have to pull the plug, you can explain why and help your child realize that certain scenes or images might actually compromise the Christian faith you are trying to instill in them.

Of course, your child will naturally gravitate to favourite shows or want to watch the same movie multiple times.  Once you’ve seen the show on a few occasions and are fairly confident that there is no questionable material, you should feel free to allow your child to keep watching at their leisure.  You don’t need to constantly be glued to The Wiggles.  Nevertheless, it might still be a good idea to remain within earshot or periodically pop in with pop, juice, or snacks just to check in and make sure things continue to run smoothly.

HINT: If you are thinking of hosting a regular movie night or if your kid wants to see a new movie in theatres that you aren’t sure about, a good place to look is www.pluggedinonline.com.  This is an incredible Christian website that rates movies based on language, graphics, violence, and other points of interest.  And while no movie is perfect, this will definitely give you a good starting point.  Another good resource could be talking to other parents or a children’s pastor.  Those of us who work with kids (especially in church settings) always have to be up on the latest movies and shows to make our ministries more relevant, so we likely may know a thing or two as well!

#3: Listen to What You Hear Your Child Saying

Kids love to repeat things they hear on television or from you and in some cases, may completely misinterpret it.  Listen carefully to what your son or daughter says.  If they are using bad language around the house, sexual innuendoes, or even seemingly innocent comments like “oh my gosh, he’s so hot” ask yourself where they might have heard this from.  Is it from a TV show they are watching, from school, or from a show that you might watch?  Remember, kids often aren’t able to differentiate between “adult humour” they shouldn’t watch and what they should.  And even though kids might get bored easily of MASH or The Real House Wives of Toronto, if they are exposed to it via you, it may still come out.

Perhaps the most difficult phrase to monitor is “oh my God.”  Kids are so easily exposed to this phrase because according to the world it’s just another expression that means nothing.  However, if you are trying to raise Godly children it is important to teach them that God’s Name is Holy not merely another off-handed comment.  When you hear this phrase on TV explain that we don’t say stuff like that around our house.

Lastly, shows like Power Rangers, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Pokemon, Digimon, Sailor Moon, Sabrina and the like which were so popular in my day (but are now making a comeback) are truly a matter of personal discretion and preference.  You may choose to allow your kids to watch these shows, or you may be like my parents and disallow it completely.  These shows are not “wrong” in and of themselves, but some care must be given as many of them have subthemes of magic, sorcery, or evolution that may conflict with your Christian values and mission.  If you do decide to allow your kids access to these types of shows, it may be well worth your time and investment to at least watch a few episodes with them and allow for some discussion time together.

Conclusion

We don’t have to fear the TV, throw it out of the house, or get rid of every tablet we own, but we definitely do need to be vigilant and proactive about what is being processed through our children’s eyes.  Christian parents have an important role to play in permitting only what is “good, noble, honest, pure trustworthy, and of good repute” and a great way to start is by monitoring and only permitting access to certain types of shows and media.  Once we do this, we will be able to “shine like stars amidst a perverse and wicked generation” in which we live as lights of Christ for this world by how we reflect Him to others.

 

 

My Friend the Muslim

christian-muslim-friend-2

This article first appeared in the print version of the March 2017 edition of “Premier Magazine” and also on their online database: https://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2017/March-2017/Becoming-best-friends-with-a-Muslim-demolished-my-prejudices-about-Islam 

I recently had the incredible privilege of being commissioned to write an article for the Premier Magazine out of the London, UK on Muslim-Christian relations.  This is a powerfully meaningful experience for me not only because I have personal ties with the UK (having lived in a year in Scotland and thus acquiring many good friends), but also because I was specifically asked to write about my friendship with an amazing young woman named, Karima.  Karima is the type of person that everyone would love to be friends with.  She is bubbly, funny, and out-going, always ready for an adventure.  But she is also deeply thoughtful and thought-provoking.  She gives all that she has to better this world for so many people and has taught me that doing small things with great love doesn’t just stem from our religious upbringing, but from the very fact that we are human.  There is so much I could say about Karima who was willing enough that I write this article about her, but why not just read the article itself to get a better picture of this fantastic woman who has taught me not only what being a Muslim is like, but how deep an inter-religious friendship can truly go if only we open our hearts and minds long enough to the possibility. 

Just a few weeks ago, President Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States of America.  Given that the US is one of the major superpowers of the Western World, this means that his decisions and actions greatly affect many of us on a global scale.  One example of this would be Trump’s recent ban of Muslim immigrants.  His attitude is symbolic of many in North America who have a skewed worldview of all that Islam entails because of extremist groups like ISIS.  Many individuals around the globe have engaged in so-called anti-terrorist measures which look strangely like Islamaphobia under the guise of ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of the citizens of their country.  In a way, I can completely understand this.  It is difficult to form a personal connection with this sometimes “strange” religion when you don’t know anyone from this particular group.  It is easy to give into media pressure and stereotypes when you don’t have a face to connect with a name.  However, I once made a Muslim friend and she has turned any fear or suspicion I currently had into a beautiful life-giving friendship.  The account below retells this very story:

The clock struck midnight at the group home where I was a live-in caregiver, and believe it or not, I was down in the basement doing my nightly prayers.  Of all the things I could be asking the Almighty for, I was praying for a friend and I had a very specific idea in my mind of what that friend would be like.  I wanted someone I could talk to about deep matters and things that really made a difference.  Casual coffee buddies are great, but I was hoping for some profound intellectual discussion.  Meanwhile, upstairs I heard some rattling around.  There was a relief support worker filling in because one of our clients was not feeling well.  I was curious, “who was this person and what was she all about?”  I quickly said “Amen” and ran up the stairs to greet her.  Standing right in front of me was this tan-skinned Indian woman with a bright smile.  Instantly I recognized her from a few months back when we had been paired up at a staff retreat.  We had gotten along well right from the start, but then never seen each other again.  Suddenly, this same woman was in my kitchen making herself a sandwich.

“Oh hey, Deborah!” Karima enthusiastically greeted me.  We made our obligatory small talk, before Karima jumped right in with a few specific questions about my religious affiliation.  I unashamedly told her I was a Christian and studying to be a religious minister.  At this Karima’s eyes lit right up.  “Oh, wow!  So cool!  I would totally come to your church and hear a sermon if you were ever preaching one!”  I felt honoured, but realized, I also hardly knew anything about this young woman who was paying me such high compliments.

“And what about you?” I asked.  “Do you attend a worship service anywhere?”

“Actually, I’m a Muslim.”  She cheerfully responded back.  “And yes, I go to the Mosque and participate in a Muslim youth choir.”

I quickly glanced at her, trying to mask my curiosity.  After all, didn’t all Muslim women wear the hijab?

“Oh wow.  I’ve never actually had much of a discussion with a Muslim before.”  I finally responded, at a loss of what else to say.

“Don’t worry” she replied.  “I also don’t know many people studying to be pastors.”

That was the end of our brief conversation.  We sat ourselves down in front of a large bowl of ice cream (which we later discovered was our shared guilty pleasure) and indulged while talking about the weather, politics, and our favourite sports teams.

A few days later, Karima was back at our house again.  This time armed with even more questions.  As the days went on, we began to open up and talk about everything, but there was a topic that kept resurfacing – religion.  Although this is such a difficult topic for many, it was one we were never afraid to touch or dissect.

Eventually, some of the other staff members and I decided to form a Bible Study group.  Karima surprised us all when she poignantly asked “may I join?”  I was shocked.  I thought only Christians joined groups like that, but Karima taught me that isn’t necessarily the case.  She came regularly, engaged in the Scriptures, asked questions, and wrestled with the texts alongside the rest of us.  Finally, she boldly announced, “you know, this group is great, but what would make it even more exciting would be to have a Holy Book study.”  And that spawned a whole list of other questions concerning our shared characters of Adam, Moses, Noah, Jesus, and Mary and their role in both the Qur’an and the Bible.

Eventually, my co-worker and I started talking quite a bit about our involvement in our local churches.  I finally was asked to preach at one, and Karima surprised me by saying “I’m definitely coming!”  She showed up at a few young adult’s gatherings and spoke of how much she enjoyed the discussions and hearing everyone’s own interpretations and what the words were saying to them.  Then one day, I brought home a book from church on Muslim and Christian dialogue and she instantly picked it up, leafed through it, and said she would love to discuss all these points further with me.

As our friendship has grown over the years, so has our faith.  One of the biggest blessings to me is that we both went into the friendship with an unspoken agreement that we were not out to “convert” the other person.  At first, this provided some tension for many, myself included, think the Christian faith is about evangelizing and making disciples.  It’s about convincing others of their need to follow a Saviour and trying to prove that Jesus is the only One who can fit that title.  But as the weeks progressed, I began to see it as so much more.  I began to wrestle with my own questions, fears, and doubts.  I would bring them to Karima and she would bring me hers.  We’d talk about the wonderful things we love in our religion, and the things that cause division and hurt.  We’d talk about how our religion has potential to do so much good and yet how unfortunately some people take it to the extreme and it doesn’t end up portraying the real love and service that are at the heart of what we both believe.  I’ve always loved that I can be myself with Karima and that whenever we are together, we have a shared understanding that although we are so different, we can still have a firm foundation built on trust and mutual respect.

But it hasn’t always been easy.  In every religion there are “touchy” subjects and massive differences of opinion.  It can be hard to explain to someone who doesn’t share your core convictions what you believe and why.  It can be confusing to navigate a cross-cultural and cross-religious experience and I have had to learn, sometimes slowly and painfully, not to make any assumptions.  One example is when I asked Karima if she would like to attend a Christmas party with me.  “Sure, I love Christmas!”  She replied, to which, once again, I was slightly puzzled.  So, we got into my car, drove about 2 hours outside the city, and went to a Christian camp where they were having a banquet dinner.  They served ham, which in Canada is a quite popular dish.  I discretely asked my friend if there was another alternative and without any hesitation she produced a plate of chicken. So that was one problem solved.  But then, there was the message which was highly evangelical.  The whole time I was sitting on my hands thinking “oh man, what did I get myself into?”  I want Karima to feel safe and valued with me.  I was not out there to try to convert her or change her views and yet, that could easily have been interpreted as what was happening here.

Well, the service ended, we sang some songs, and then we got back into my car and drove home.  “So that was a very nice evening.”  Karima concluded before I even had the courage to open my mouth and ask her about it.  “I loved that young girl’s sharing about her faith.  That was really touching.”  I was waiting for the “BUT.”  It never came.  Instead Karima said, “You know I do have some questions.”  Here I braced myself unsure of what was coming next or even if I was prepared to answer.  She asked me some completely obscure question about the evening that I have since forgotten, but it certainly wasn’t anything about Jesus.  Thinking I was safe, she then followed it by saying, “You know, this evening has made me quite curious.  I now want to read the Qur’an and find out what exactly Muslims believe about Jesus.”  That was over two years ago.  We haven’t talked much about that Christmas party since, but we most certainly have talked about who Jesus is, what He is about, why He came to earth, and why He had to die.

Having a Muslim friend has truly taught me so much.  It’s taught me to appreciate the beauty in the vast diversity we see in Western Culture. It’s taught me not to stereotype, and it’s ultimately taught me that we have more similarities than differences.  Being with someone of a different religion in such a close-knit friendship has enabled me to see the world around me and my own faith in a fresh new way.  It’s helped me articulate more of what I believe and ultimately enabled me to be a better Christian.  When I first met Karima, I just assumed that someone of a different religion didn’t care about mine, but I’ve learned that’s not the case – sometimes our best conversations happen with those who are profoundly different than we are and yet at the centre – the exact same.

You may be wondering now, how does my evangelistic understanding fit into a cross-religious friendship?  Well, I certainly still believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation and today, as a children’s pastor, I teach my kids to tell all their friends about God’s love.  Having a Muslim friend does not make me feel any differently about reaching the world for God’s glory, but it has changed my approach on how I do this.  Whereas, previously I may have engaged in the stereotypical “Southern Baptist fire-and-brimstone message” I now seek to share my passion from Scripture through my words and actions.  I want my lifestyle to reflect a Gospel of peace and love, and nowhere do I feel more energized doing this than when I am sitting on the back porch with a can of soda in hand, talking to a close Muslim friend.  Because to me, the Gospel no longer embodies a rigid, straight-cut way to live, but rather an all-encompassing ideal that accepts everyone regardless of their background.  I pray for Karima daily.  I hope that she accomplishes all that she sets out to do.  I hope that her life will also be a witness to many about the transformation inner-peace and assurance can bring to one’s soul.  I hope she never loses her curiosity or gets lost in her quest to question religion and what makes it so valuable for so many.  But I also have learned to live in this dance – this inclusive embrace where friendship is more valued than simply being right.

In 2014, I made a very close non-Christian friend.  A beautiful Muslim woman, deeply spiritual, and full of compassion for others.  We spent our days eating snacks, discussing our religions, and debating some of the intense happenings in our world.  Even though most of my other friends were Christian, there was something special and unique about this young woman.  Her vigour and passion for life, topped with her desire to love and serve others, instantly directed me to some of the deepest longings of her heart.  This woman has a name and she has a title.  Her name is Karima and I am honoured to call her my best friend.

This article was published in the March edition of Premier Magazine, London, UK.  It is an adapted and extended version of a previous blog “5 Things Having a Muslim friend taught me” which you can access here: http://www.stateofformation.org/2015/05/5-things-having-a-muslim-friend-taught-me/

 

I’m a Millennial and I Still Go To Church… Let Me Tell You Why

Millennials.jpg  This past week, I shared on Facebook a number of articles I read on why Millennials have left the church and although I am still in the church (in fact, working in a paid position at a church), I really resonated with a lot of what was shared.  Even though the articles all took a slightly different spin, at the foundation, the reasons were the same.  Young adults felt cheated out of this monstrous religious institution, they felt it was a farce and inauthentic, they desired to see the church put its hands where its mouth and money were, and they resented the fact that organized religion didn’t know how to properly handle or discuss hot-button topics.

All of these are valid points.  Whether we’re talking about a person with Down Syndrome who was never fully included in worship opportunities despite the church boasting a huge sign reading “all are welcomed”, a woman who conceived a child out of wedlock and became a social outcast even though the pastor preached every Sunday about “loving others”, or a high school graduate who never did feel part of the church, but only part of programs, it’s fair to say that the church has let a lot of people down.  The church, as an institution, has failed to properly show love and support to single young adults.  The church has failed to know how to address the inevitable questions of gender and identity that are constantly before us, and the church has neglected to see abused, battered, and assaulted people as PEOPLE rather than as statistics or “projects” that need to be worked on.  The church has not always been good at engaging with those who share opposing beliefs or worldviews, seeking harmonious relations with those who suffer from mental illness, or helping people to really wrestle with their disappointments and frustrations rather than writing them off with Christian clichés.  And for that, I apologize on behalf of the church and I am grieved that we, as Christians, have not lived up to the fullest potential of being the people Christ has called us to be.

Nevertheless, although these articles all present invaluable information which should be heavily considered, I feel it would be grossly unfair to only rely on them.  So what I would like to offer you today, is a different story.  The story of why I, a 20something Millennial remain in the church even despite its many imperfections.

#1: I remain in the church because I have had a personal encounter with Christ, not just with religion.

A common phrase you hear amongst people in my age bracket is “I love Jesus, but not the church.”  People feel like it’s possible to be “spiritual but not religious,” to enjoy ethereal moments without a hint of commitment to a certain worldview.  However, this viewpoint is not only erroneous, but it actually makes no logical sense.  The Bible describes the church as being God’s bride, she is decked out with jewels and wearing a lovely silver tiara, and yet, we feel like on her wedding day we can compare her clothing choices to rags and refuse to stand to pay her honour.  This is the equivalent of telling my brother, “Hey bro, I love you, but I hate your wife.”  (Don’t worry, I would never actually think much less say that).  I’m sure there are people out there who have this type of relationship with their siblings, but it’s definitely not ideal.  When your sibling gets married, the spouse and her family come as a packaged deal.  She may be imperfect, but because you love your brother and because your brother loves her, in turn, she is part of your family and part of your life.

I believe a large reason millenials leave the church is because they were never truly taught how to love Christ, let alone His bride.  Many people think they grew up on Jesus, when in fact, what they sadly grew up on was useless controversies, endless genealogies, legalism, and rigidity.  These same young adults never formed a personal connection with Christ.  They may have thought they did – they may have made a confession with their mouth in Sunday school or even been baptized, but in reality, what many of them had was an emotional bond with a certain teacher, a liking for a specific pastor, or the enjoyment of a certain club or activity.

There are, of course, exceptions.  There are many stories of one sibling embracing the Gospel while the other goes a different path despite the fact that both had the same upbringing.  There are sincere people who embraced the Gospel, but just like the parable of the sower fell upon hard times and had no roots.  These people truly believed they were saved (and perhaps were), but the church failed them by watering the petals rather than cultivating roots.

Sadly, this is a trend we continue to see today especially in “seeker sensitive” churches.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to market your church so that non-Christians want to attend, in fact, that’s a great evangelical opportunity and strategy; however, we must be cautious that in our desire to embrace newcomers, we don’t neglect the spiritual needs of those who are already there.  More than anything, there are two key things that people crave today: truth and relationships.  If a church can cultivate both of those rather than simply pouring endless resources into “flashy” appearances, it will go a long way.  We often think that people are drawn to the latest hype: an engaging pastor, strobe lights, acrobats, and jugglers, but while those things help (and are certainly not bad in and of themselves) anyone who has stuck around church for more than one session will tell you it all comes down to the HEART.  People crave that personal connection – knowing that someone cares and is deeply involved in their lives – not just that this is another avenue for after-dinner entertainment.

#2: I remain in the church because even though the church is imperfect, I realize that I also am imperfect and yet God can (and does) use both the organization and myself to reach out and help others.

The Millenial generation is often typified by their overwhelming sense of entitlement and consumerism.  Please don’t misunderstand me, I know that Millenials also are doing far more than many people give them credit for.  For example, we are perhaps the generation with the greatest communal investment in the environment, global affairs, and social justice endeavours.  We are a generation characterized by deep-seated passion, advocacy, and a keen sense of fairness and these are all things that we can use to our advantage to make a better world.  Nevertheless, our downfall is in thinking that because we are so involved and give so much of our time and efforts the world somehow “owes” us something and so does the church.  We think that because we are consumed by a certain cause, the church should be also, and thus, we use the church as a key place to pedal and solicit attention and funding to our “pet projects.”  And when the church fails to get on board with whatever we think is the single greatest service opportunity, we somehow feel failed and resent the church for being a bunch of hypocrites who speak about God’s love without loving others or who proclaim the need to serve when we perceive they are idly watching from the sidelines.

I would like to suggest that this is not at all the reason we attend church.   The Biblical understanding of church is a place that meets to honour and glorify God.  It’s an opportunity to give God worth and ultimately seeks to be an hour or two that takes the attention off us and places it on God.  Everything we do – whether it’s a chili cook-off, an Alpha course, or a worship sesh needs to loudly proclaim the splendor of His majesty and glory.  Yet, too often, by pushing our own political or social agendas onto worship that gets lost.

There is definitely something to be said about the value of helping others realize how important the environment is for worship.  There is a place for rallying together for women’s rights or ending poverty and a church that is truly glorifying the Father must also have a budget for outside global missions and local projects.  However, this is not the foremost responsibility of the church.  At the very crux of organized worship is simply that – worship.  And when Millenials forget that, they are quick to complain about all these little things that truly are inconsequential in the end of the day all the while mocking the elderly people who they perceive as getting defensive over things that don’t really matter.

#3: I remain in the church because I believe things won’t get better by just complaining, we have to actually get out there and make them better.

 I know, I’ve heard the old “I tried to tell them, but no one would listen” approach before.  20somethings often feel like the church is not interested in their opinion and so they don’t go.  Yet, although this may be true in some cases, I feel like it is often used as nothing more than a “cop-out.”  Why do I say that?  Because usually the people who have dropped off are those who never bothered going back to church once their parents no longer forced them, many of them have never served a term on a church council, and many of them have never actually ASKED their church if they could be involved.

Those of us who are heavily involved in church have our disappointments and frustrations for sure.  Like I said earlier, we are a generation made up of passionate minds.  We also tend to be “go-getters” if not a little hyperactive and because we grew up in a “three-minute” (which has since turned to a “thirty-second”) culture we are used to getting what we want almost immediately.  So when things take time we can easily grow bored.  Many of us haven’t learned the art of delayed gratification.  We don’t realize that church is like a pot of slow-cooked stew.  Instead, we open up the slow-cooker every other minute, letting the heat escape, and then wondering why decisions are taking even longer than we think they should.

However, the difference is, that someone who actually has served a term as a church chair usually has a much broader understanding of the inner workings of the church itself.  Don’t get me wrong, I often wish we didn’t have to go through so many hoops and red-tape.  And while I understand the increased need for caution and protection from a legal point of view, I also believe it has its downfalls because less people will volunteer when volunteering gets more and more complicated.

However, I would like to submit that the reason we attend church is not just for US.  Church is a community and community is made up of a number of imperfect people.  Everyone needs to know that their opinion is being valued and considered and this takes time.  It’s easy for us to think that people should just go with whatever we have in mind, but we really need to take the older people into consideration.  They’ve generally been around longer and know the church much better than we do (even if we grew up in that church) and there is something we can gain from their wisdom because what might seem like a frustrating NO at first, might actually turn out to save us from a heap of embarrassment by avoiding doing something that’s been tried before that didn’t work that time either.

When Millenials understand this crucial juncture it helps us all to appreciate the older generation that much more.  Instead of complaining that the church isn’t filling OUR needs, we ask how it is filling the needs of others around us.  We want the church to not only take care of 20somethings, but 60somethings, 80somethings and even 100somethings.
Conclusion: I am an imperfect person who grew up in an imperfect Christian family attending an imperfect church.  I’ve made my rounds.  I’ve attended Baptists, Pentecostal, Mennonite, and Free Methodist churches.  I’ve gone to school to learn how to make the church better and tried to implement some of those ideas into my teaching, leading, and children’s ministry.  But ultimately what I’ve learned through it all is that even though the church will never be a “spittin-image” of what I’ve had in mind, that doesn’t mean God isn’t using it right now in incredible ways.  For me, success has become less about approaching the buffet table and picking and choosing whatever I want and then complaining that calamari wasn’t served and more about having a nutritious home-cooked meal.  It’s less about getting involved in the latest fads and trends and more about getting involved in truthful authentic relationships.  I’m not justifying the many ways organized church has failed our generation, but I’m also not excusing millennial scapegoats that point to nothing more than consumerism, entitlement and a materialistic mindset.  My hope is that we, as 20somethings will begin to see the vital role we play in the life of the church and thus to encourage others to also take hold of it.