teen feet

Are we equipping kids and youth to engage the world?

As followers of Jesus we are in the world, but not of the world (John 17:14-18)
We are a part of this world, this culture, and cannot be separated from it – it is the water we swim in. At the same time, we belong to Jesus and we are a part of His Kingdom, which is not of this world.

If in our kids’ or youth ministry (or adult ministry for that matter!) we are trying to separate people from world and protect them with platitudes, Christian circles and discussing only in-house issues we are not serving them well or helping them grow to maturity in Christ. It will not go well for them when they encounter the real world or hardship! Further, it is not going to help them connect with people that have not been a part of the Christian subculture. It is not ultimately going to help their own faith or someone else’s faith.

Without realizing it our ministries we often encourage kids/youth to lead a double life – one life at church/youth group and another life at home, school and in their neighbourhoods.
We encourage this advertently or inadvertently
by only celebrating what happens in our ministry not in the community,
by encouraging kids/youth to only hang-out with Christians,
by talking about issues that are irrelevant to the rest of the world,
by encouraging them to miss out on other events/sports for the sake of the ministry,
by labelling certain things “bad” without nuance or discussion etc.
What if instead we celebrated kids/youth being the light in the world and equipped them to live their faith everyday, everywhere?

Here is my hope:
We would be leaders, mentors and parents that support and equip our youth/kids to know how to live in the real world, prepared for complexities and challenges.
Often kids/youth are in better positions than us to join God’s work in the world. They are a part of the culture and have lots of connections in their neighbourhoods. IF they have been prepared to recognize God’s work around them and have been given the tools and encouragement to engage thoughtfully with the real world, watch out world! We’ll see them join God’s transformative work in the places where they live, work, study and play.

My prayer is our youth/kids would…
• be in the world and know how to reflect Jesus in the world.
• be in the world, but know how to think rightly about what is going on. They’d be able to discern what is reflecting the messed up, distorted part of our fallen world and what is reflecting God’s goodness in the world.
• be in the world, but asking the tough questions.
• be in the world, knowing their deepest, truest identity is as a child of God.
• be in the world, showing and telling the Gospel in today’s culture
• be in the world as God’s light in places where they live, work, study and play.

Let me give one example of how we can equip kids/youth with tools to do this.
One big area that can lend itself to these conversations is media.
It is estimate that teens spend an average of 9 hours/day on media!

In talking to kids/youth about this I’ve stolen a line from Walt Mueller and talked about “using your head to guard your heart” (Here’s a great resource from him.)
Rather than mindlessly absorbing the messages coming at us, we talk about stopping and examining the messages coming to us in ads, songs, TV shows, movies, tweets, Instagram pictures, facebook feeds, YouTube video, snapchat… and compare it to God and God’s ways.

Look at an ad, YouTube video or song together and talk about it.
Ask these questions:
1. What’s the main message/topic?
2. How does the video/song/post/media make the person watching it feel?
3. Are they trying to make you feel, act, think, talk or live a certain way? What are they suggesting?
4. Are they suggesting a certain way to happiness/fulfilment?
5. How’s that line-up with who you are?
6. How’s the line-up with who God is and God’s best?
You could add more questions.

A song that is getting old now (2004), but it helpful, is “Cult of Cool” by the O.C. Supertones. It is a Christian song talking about not letting consumerism suck you in and make you believe its lies. Playing this song and giving kids/youth the lyrics can lead to an interesting discussion! (See the lyrics here)

One more resources – here is a youth group lesson about social media from the “Ministry to Youth” website. 

Friends, leaders, parents – help kids and youth be thoughtful engagers in this world!
We believe God is using kids/youth to join Him in changing neighbourhoods!

-Renée @r_embree #1neighbourhood

BeachReading

3 Books I’m Reading this Summer

I enjoy hearing what other leaders are reading and how it is helping them in their life and leadership. I look for leaders who are constant learners. We have never master this thing called leadership.
What are you reading? What are you learning?

Here are three books I’m reading this summer.

“Rising Strong” By Brené Brown – This is a great read. It has reminded me of the power of each of our stories, owning our stories and living our stories. Brené tells us, if we’re brave and courageous often enough we will fail. When we get back up we can write new endings to our stories. One of the changes this book has help me to make is to pause and recognize the story that is getting stirred in me in different moments/situations. In other words, to really notice and own the story going through my head, and then choosing what to do, with the Lord’s help, in that moment. I’m using the phrase “The story I’m telling myself is…” to catch myself and then deciding if the story in my head is the true story and asking what it looks like to have God’s courage for the next step.

“Three Cups of Tea” By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin – I was reading this as a fun summer read, but picked up lots of life and leadership lessons along the way. Three Cups of Tea is the story of Greg Mortenson failed attempt to climb K2, but in the process the birth of a new dream to build schools, especially for girls, in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is a fascinating read of how the passion of one person can make such a difference – even across political, religious and ideological differences. Through this read I had leadership lessons on perseverance, the power of relationships, rising above politics, mis-management/leadership, and the monumental difference a dream can make in the lives of others.

“Flesh” By Hugh Halter – I haven’t finished this one yet. So far it is capturing my heart and mind with the amazing power and beauty of the incarnation. It is also a reminder of the powerful opportunity and responsibility we have as Christians, embodying Christ here and now in the beautiful ordinariness of every day. Full disclosure, I’m also reading Hugh Halter because he’s coming to Atlantic Canada in 2017. I want to understand more of his theology and praxis, particularly for how it may help us in Atlantic Canada as we join God in changing neighbourhoods.

What are you reading this summer?
What is it teaching you?

Happy reading!
-Renée @r_embree

vulnerability-2

Availability and vulnerability

Over lunch recently a friend and I were talking about “Rules of Life” that is rhythms we need in our lives that lead to a fuller life with God and with others.

My friend suggested two words for a rule for life – availability and vulnerability. She discovered they are words the Northumbria Community are seeking to live out in their context.

I’ve been pondering the power of these two “rules” – availability and vulnerability.
Availability to God and others.
Vulnerability to God and others.

I really like them. The more I ponder the more it invites me into a richer community with God and others.

These two postures, availability and vulnerability, could be especially helpful to the millennial generation (Here is a previous post about millennials). If you try to fake availability and vulnerability it won’t get you very far at all and life will stay on the surface. If you start plunging into availability and vulnerability it is contagious, particularly to millennials seeking something real.

I also like how having just these two words for a “rule of life” allows rhythms to look different for each person and in different seasons. What availability and vulnerability look like for me will be different than what they look like for you. They likely will look different in this season compared to the next season.

Availability and vulnerability.
Launch off these two words and ponder what they would mean for our discipleship, our leadership, our church, our life in Christian community….
Powerful right?!

Let’s think about them in the life of Jesus.

Jesus and availability

Jesus, fully available to God – Jesus took time to listen to the Father (e.g. Mark 1:35), Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing (e.g. John 5:19) and Jesus came to earth to do God’s will not His own (e.g. John 6:38). What does it look like for you to put yourself in places and in the posture where you are fully available to God?

Jesus, available to others – We see this throughout Jesus’ life in the Gospel – Jesus ignoring His hunger and thirst to speak to the woman at the well (John 4:4-26), Jesus stopping to talk to the woman who was healed from touching His cloak (Mark 5:25-34), Jesus stopping for the blind bagger on the side of the road (Mark 10:46-52), Jesus stopping to bring Zacchaeus down from the tree and go to his house (Luke 19:1-10), Jesus taking time with the twelve disciples even inviting them to group time away from the crowds (e.g. Mark 6:31). The examples here could go on and on. Jesus was available to others, served others, yet was not ruled by others. Jesus was ruled by God, available to God and that overflowed into availability to others. God made Himself fully available to us in Christ. God continues to make Himself available to others through His Holy Spirit in you, if you are willing and cooperate.

Jesus and vulnerability

Jesus, vulnerable to God – Jesus did not hide His feelings, confusion and disappoint from God. Think of the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus asked the Father – “Really? Isn’t their any other way? Do I really have to drink this cup?” (Paraphrase of Matthew 26: 39, 42). Jesus let it be known when God felt distant as He hung on the cross “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.” (Matthew 27:46) How can you enter a new level of vulnerability with God?

Jesus, vulnerable to others – Jesus, the Son of God, entrusted Himself to human beings. Jesus, the Son of God, depended on us and shared His heart and life with others. Jesus depended on others for food and hospitality (e.g. Mark 15:41), Jesus let his disciples in on what was coming during the last supper (Matthew 26:17-30), in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46) Jesus invited others into his anguish (even though they weren’t there for him at this moment), Jesus entrusted the Kingdom message to the disciples (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus entrusted His own fate into the religious rulers and political rulers of his day (Jesus before the Sanhedrin, Pilate and the guards) and the ultimate vulnerability, Jesus hung naked on a cross, exposed and tortured for us all. (John 19:17-30)
If Jesus, the Son of God, entrusted His life, heart and message to humans, even while knowing they would disappoint and fail Him to a certain degree, surely you and I can open our heart and life to others more.

Availability and vulnerability in our lives
Ponder how they are key to opening the way to more, to deeper community and relationship with God and with others.

What does it look like for you in this season to lean into greater availability and vulnerability with God and others? I don’t want to prescribe specifics, as it’s going to look a little different for all of us. Instead I want to invite you to reflect deeply on what it means for you to become available and vulnerable to God and others. I am asking myself these same questions.

Availability in our lives
Availability to God – How could you put yourself in environments where you are ready to listen and respond to God? What is the posture of your heart towards God in this season?

Availability to others – Are there times when you can give yourself to others’ agenda instead of your own agenda? Are you ready to pay attention to nudges from the Holy Spirit? Who needs you to listen generously to them? Who could you create space for in your life? As you go through your day are you prepared to stop and be interrupted? Are you available to only those you deem like you or available to whomever God chooses?

Vulnerability in our lives
Vulnerability is not over-sharing – that is just attention seeking. Vulnerability is getting rid of pretenses and being your real self. Being real about what is happening in your life, church, ministry, community… It is not pretending current reality is better or worse than it really is.

Vulnerable to God – When is the last time you poured out your heart to God? Do you put on an “air” of pretenses in your prayers? Have you told God what you really think – about life, about Him? Have you sat in silence and allowed God to examine your heart and reveal what you’ve been trying to ignore or hide? Are you allowing the Lord to speak to you? Are you willing and ready to receive from the Lord?

Vulnerable to others – Have you invited others in? Have you asked others to help you? Who knows your story? Who knows exactly “where you are at” in this season?
C.S. Lewis has said “… your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses?”
Will you be available and vulnerable to them? It will change our neighbourhoods, it will change our world.

I’m on a journey to be available and vulnerable to God and others in my neighbourhood. How about you?
-Renée @r_embree #1neighbourhood

Millennials

Millennials value authenticity. So what?

I have heard for a while now that millennials (born 1980-2000) highly value authenticity, transparency and vulnerability. I’ve been pondering with some others (like the group of millennials that make up my advisory team, the Y&F Working Group, and our millennial summer student) what this means. Here are some of our thoughts.

• Millennials aren’t staying away from church because they’re not interested in spiritual things. They are staying away because the church doesn’t jive with their values. They highly value authenticity in themselves. Rather than “hang-out” somewhere or with a group of people that don’t match their values, they stay away.

• Gimmicks won’t work with millennials. They see right through them and are suspicious of churches. They are watching for any hint of bait and switches from the start. The free gift for filling out the visitor card will just make them want to fill out the visitor card less. Just give them the real reason, the WHY, behind why they should fill in the visitor card, give money, be a part of an event…

• Millennials get excited (expressing itself in multiple hashtags or Instagram pictures of them jumping up in the air) when a group of people start making a real difference in the world. Hmmm….didn’t Jesus come bringing His Kingdom that rights wrongs, heals brokenness, corrects injustices and frees the oppressed.

• If you don’t have places in your church for people to find safe, authentic community where they can be real with each other about life, millennials won’t stick around long.

• Millennials like to know they are getting the real you, especially if you are one of the upfront leaders. Share yourself, share stories and be vulnerable – from the stage, on social media and in community. It has stuck with me that a millennial told me they were at a leadership event where they were talking to one of the “known”, key leaders. They’d asked this key leader how they were doing and they responded with an over the top “Great…” explaining how well things were going. This millennial said they were two steps away when that key leader started saying to someone else how tired they were in this season. That was all it took for that millennial to be completely turned off that leader.

• Millennials are open to intergenerational relationships that talk about real life and where they can see real life lived out. They are not just looking to hang out with their own age group, but especially value spending time with anyone that will listen, value their thoughts and opinions and be vulnerable back.

• Millennials value experiences, because experiences are authentic. You are experiencing the thrill/emotion/newness for yourself and no one can take that away.

• Millennials look for character, especially in their leaders. Character is revealed over time as they see their leaders in various situations and settings. In a class I teach to both undergrad and graduate students (mostly millennials in the class), I set-up a debate arguing for either competence or character in leadership. While the obvious answer is we absolutely need both, it was clear the millennials highly valued character.

• Millennials are interested in getting to know the real Jesus, not the Jesus constructed by an institution. They want to see a Jesus that works and makes a significant difference here and now.

Church is completely foreign to most millennials, and so can feel inauthentic because it is so outside their normative experience.

Help us out – what are the implications of these things? How do we use this awareness to connect with millennials?

-Renée @r_embree #1neighbourhood

who-are-millennials

(Source: Odyssey)

camp 2

8 reasons you should get your kids & youth involved with camp

I grew up going to camp, camping with my family and then working at camps. When I think back to summers they are filled with memories of campfire songs, canoe tipping adventures, leadership lessons learned on a long hike up a mountain, swatting blackflies and deep conversations as the last embers from a fire burned out.

Here are 8 reasons to get your kids & youth involved with camp – whether you are a parent, youth leader, pastor or someone that wants to invest wisely in the next generation.

1. Camp gets personal – Camp allows an opportunity for a kid’s faith to become their own, as they are away from their parents, home church and usual environment. They are encouraged to listen for and respond to God in fresh ways for themselves.

2. Camp is a confidence builder – At camp you are thrown into trying new activities encouraged to use your gifts and skills in new ways. Without parents and siblings there, kids have to figure it out for themselves and dig deep to find their own inner strength. Kids receive lots of support and encouragement from staff as they try out their independence in new ways.

3. Camp is a memory creator – Stories and experiences from camp stick. Talk to anyone that went to camp as a kid and they will still have stories to tell and lessons to shared from camp.

4. Camp invites simplicity – In today’s complex world camp is a great get away. It allows the space and environment for kids/youth to reconnect with creation, with others, and with God.

5. Camp provides role models – Camp staff are amazing people for kids to look up to as they see faith lived out within the day-to-day community of camp.

6. Camp promotes community – Camp is an accelerated bonding experience. I’ve seen so many kids arrive on the first day of camp unsure, shy, feeling like they don’t know any one and then by the end of the camp they have a best friend(s) for life. Parents/leaders we need to find ways to help these kids/youth continue these connections after camp and have community all year long with others who are exploring Jesus.

7. Camps rock at leadership development – Camps are always identifying kids, youth and young adult who can be leaders. They give these young leaders amazing training from a young age, give them real practice in trying out their leadership skills and mentor them along the way. Camps are exceptional incubators for leadership development.

8. Camps are an amazing deal – Seriously, they provide: food, cabins, programming, activities (amazing ones) and spiritual influence every day. Camps do a lot with our money.

Next week I’m speaking at one our camps and I can’t wait to be back at camp!
In Atlantic Canada there are 14 CABC camps spread around our four provinces. You can find the list of camps with a link to each of their websites HERE.
There are lots of other great camps too.

Ok, as a bonus for those of you who have read to the very end of this blog, I will let one of my camp stories out of the bag. I have ended up with a few nicknames over the years, one is “Bulldozer.” This nickname emerged after a camp retreat with some youth. Some of our girls invented a new camp game. You know the slippery, pee proof mattresses they tend to have at camps? They are really slippery, especially on laminate click flooring! The invented game was to run the first part of the hallway with the mattress in your hands and then to jump onto the mattress seeing how far down the hallway you could slide. The person to make the mattress go the furthest would be the winner. Now, I have a competitive streak that I know I have to keep in check. With the youth spurring me on, I lined up to take my turn intent on getting the record for the farthest mattress slide. The youth were all watching, their faces peeking out of the dorm rooms that lined the hallway. I gave it my all, starting my sprint down the hallway. Just then one of our sweet youth, who happens to be of small stature, stepped out into the hallway. Here is where the version of the story differ. I recall sticking my arm out to protect the youth from a head-on collision with me. The youths’ recollection is me pushing the youth out of the way, so nothing would get in the way of my mattress run. In either version the youth went flying backwards, landing on her back. Thankful she was ok, no injuries. From that moment forward the youth started calling me “Bulldozer.” For the record, I did not win the mattress slide competition. I did learn important lessons that day about letting youth invent games & lead, about the strength of my competitive nature and about humility each time I’m called “Bulldozer.”

Create your own memories and nicknames – get to camp!

-Renée (a.k.a. Bulldozer) @r_embree #1neighbourhood