25 ideas to bridge generational gaps

Last week we chatted about why it is important to cultivate connections across the generations. Today here are some ideas of how to foster these connections. Please add your ideas to the comments.

I’ve grouped the ideas into three areas

  • Sub-groups (These are groups like youth group, senior’s group, children’s ministry, small groups etc.) – The challenge here is to cross pollinate.
  • Church – The challenge here is to involve, involve, involve as many different generations as possible.
  • Community – that is outside the walls of our church. The challenge here is to bring along other generations with us.

Sub-groups – Cross pollinate

  1. Invite a senior into youth group to talk about what it was like being a teenager when they were younger. Invite them to share how they came to know Jesus
  2. Invite pairs of seniors to regularly come in and do snack at youth group or in your children’s ministry
  3. Have the Women’s/Men’s Mission Group invite in youth to talk about their plans for Tidal Impact (or other short term mission trip) before they go and then to come back and share their stories when they return.
  4. Have the Senior’s Ministry do something to bless the youth in the church. E.g. Donate money for their summer events, make a special treat…
  5. Have the Youth do something to bless the seniors in their church E.g. Make little packages of road salt to keep in their pockets in winter, make cookies for Valentine’s day…
  6. Invite your sub-groups, of different generations, together for a game show night. Provide a variety of trivia questions that will be a hit with different generations.
  7. When the youth are doing a service project, invite another generation to come in and work on it with them together. E.g. Food drive, making blankets for the women’s shelter, gift bags for the men’s shelter…
  8. Invite different ages into leadership in these sub-groups. Do your youth leaders and children’s leaders represent the different generations – grandparents, parents, young adults, youth…? How could it become more diverse?
  9. Invite a group of children into an adult ministry to share the Bible story they’ve been studying via song, dance, drama or puppets.

Church – Involve, involve, involve

  1. Invite kids to worship freely during your service. Have musical instruments for them to play during worship time.
  2. If you don’t have a children’s program during the service at your church, involve children in the service – allow them to share prayer requests, ask them questions during the sermon, have packets prepared with games and colouring on the same topic as the sermon and/or having interactive elements (sculpting a response, painting a response…). Even if you do have children’s ministry in your church turn some services each year in to truly intergenerational corporate worship involving all ages.
  3. Give youth/children opportunities for leadership in the church – greeting, taking up offering, running the sound equipment, running the computer, leading worship, leading prayer, leading in ministries, giving input on boards, coming up with their own projects and executing it.
  4. Create mentoring opportunities across the generations. You can use Tidal Impact or Mission experiences as an opportunity – invite everyone going on the trip to have a mentor who they meet with before they go to help them prepare and then to share with when they return.
  5. Mix small groups and Sunday School classes across the generations occasionally or all the time.
  6. Turn your “Christmas pageant” into an intergenerational family experience where everyone explores the meaning of Christmas together.
  7. Make sure all the different generations are represented from the platform/stage at your church.
  8. Include all ages in your sermon and devo illustrations. Are your examples and illustrations in sermons giving positive examples from all the generations?
  9. Enable other generations to get to events that are designed to help them grow in their faith. E.g. How can the Senior’s group make sure youth get to Springforth and Tidal Impact? How can the youth group encourage their Mom’s get to the Women’s retreat?

Community – Bring along

  1. Invite different generation to serve together in your neighbourhood – spring clean-up, raking leaves, shoveling, planting gardens, stacking wood, food drives…
  2. Do visits together – bring along a child or youth when you go to visit someone in their home or the senior’s home.
  3. Take along a young adult when you go to get your groceries, especially if they are a college/university student they will appreciate the ride and help. You might even pick-up new snack and meal ideas from each other.
  4. Intentionally make your churches short term mission trips intergenerational.
  5. If you (personally) serve somewhere in the community (food bank, coaching, library…) who, from a different generation, could you invite along to come with you?
  6. Encourage people to get to know each other outside of Sunday services – introduce the different generations in your church community to each other by having a “who’s coming to dinner” Sunday. Have people volunteer to feed people in their home that Sunday, without knowing who will be coming. Have others sign-up to go and eat dinner somewhere. Then mix and match people and generations to share a meal together that Sunday.
  7. On your churches facebook/twitter account, ask interactive questions that invite response from a variety of generations.

 What other ideas do you have to encourage connections across the generations?

-Renée @r_embree

Need more ideas? Here’s a list of things being done in children’s & youth ministry that are re-imaging Church for all of us. Look at the bottom of the post: What is the role of children and youth in the renewal of the Church?

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7 Things Singles Can Do To Build Bridges With The Church

This is the third and final installment in this blog series, as we think about singleness and the church. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments and interaction. I welcome your comments this week too (scroll down to the very bottom).

You can see the previous two posts at:
Why Churches Need to Pay Attention to Singles
8 Things Churches Can Do To Include Singles

This week, 7 Things Singles Can Do:

1. Don’t shy away from couples and families – As has been stated in the previous posts, we need one another. Seek out opportunities to spend time with those in demographics and generations different from yours. Take courage and ask a family if you could join them for one of their family supper times (tell them you don’t care if it is chaotic). Take courage and invite a couple in for dinner or games or a movie. Go and visit some seniors. Find a spot to volunteer at the church. Take courage and join the church class or small group where there is a mix of demographics. Be consistent – it takes time to become a familiar face and build connections. Showing up once in a while won’t do it! We need each other in the church family.

2. Diligently seek and tend to community for yourself – Because of everything mentioned in the blog two weeks ago it can be difficult for singles to find community in church. Take courage and seek it out. God made everyone for community. You need friends, inside and outside the church. This is similar to the suggestion above, but here I want to encourage you beyond just the friendliness of meeting people from a variety of demographics and move towards finding those that can be deeper community. So, with those you’ve started to be friendly with at church, start testing the waters of who can become deeper friends – find those in a small group, or over coffee, you can start safely opening your heart with and them with you. Seek to understand their reality, story, struggles and joys and trust that in time they will ask you about yours. Remember, as you look for these deeper friends, they could be waiting in a completely different demographic and context than you. Some of my dearest friends are double my age, married with kids, and across the continent – but they are my dearest, most trusted community. Instead of waiting for community to happen, where can you make it happen? – start your own group, get some folks together, start something new for adults at the church etc. I’ve seen people start great books clubs, lifegroups, movie groups, learn to run groups, walking groups, mentoring relationships… If you can’t find it, where can you create community and become part of the solution?

3. Enjoy the advantages of singleness – Recognize, that whether it is for a season or a lifetime, your singleness comes with some great opportunities. Celebrate and enjoy those opportunities. Seek and honour God for all the ways He wants to use your singleness as a gift to the world without it being complicated by couple-hood. I know I would not have been able to serve or have the ministry I have had without the freedom of singleness. Focus on others in your neighbourhood and world. Take your pick – there is church volunteering, community volunteering, classes, sports, home reno projects, community building, book clubs, learning… Invest in others families, invest in friendships, investing in other peoples’ children… Don’t overdo it and burn yourself out, but recognize the gifts your singleness can bring and choose your “yeses” wisely.

4. Make a plan for the tough seasons – Make a plan for the times when you know loneliness tends to creep in, and you recognize more keenly why God says “It is not good to be alone”. I know in our world admitting to loneliness feels like you are putting a great big “L” on the middle of your forehead, but remember God created us with this need. God knows you need community. We can walk through these times, and others can help us. Just as a married person can experience times of difficulty and needs support in walking through trying times, singles need support at times too. This is not a single thing it is a being human thing. I know many singles have said holidays can be a time when they feel loneliness especially creeping in as others focus on their couple-hood and families, so make a plan ahead of time. Who do you want to spend time with, who do you not want to spend time with, where will you go, when will you enjoy alone time, when will you be looking for people time…? I’ve starting being vulnerable with a few people closest to me in the church family, and I tell them when I’m especially feeling forgotten in a world of couples and families and see if we can plan a lunch, if I can visit their family or if they’ll pray. Yup, it is scary being vulnerable in an area that can be so misunderstood and could invoke more judgment/assumptions/advice, but I trust I’m reaching out for the community God wants me to have. I am inviting them to be family to me and me to them, the family God designed us to be in the church. The truth is loneliness is a created need from God. God put it in all of us as a reminder that He made us for community. Furthermore I trust my vulnerability in this area helps others be more vulnerable in areas of their life where they experience struggle and need support. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

5. Set an example of healthy, godly singleness – Unfortunately most peoples’ view of singleness is formed more by the “Sex in the City” variety than the “Paul in the Bible” variety. So, let your life show what healthy, godly singleness can look like by pursuing Christ. Especially for the young men & women, widows, other singles, couples, and families, looking to you as a role model in your church family, set an example of what it looks like to honour Christ as a single. This does not mean you have to pretend you are completely happy being single, if you are not and desire God to bring a relationship into your life. BUT, completely happy or not, how you conduct yourself in that reality does matter and shows others how to conduct themselves if life is turning out different than they planned too. Be an example of living God’s way in your friendships with both genders, in dating, in speech, in break-ups, in internet dating, on social media, in working with both genders, in how you spend your time, in your service etc. Yes, this also includes our sexual standards. In our over sexualized culture don’t buy the lie that you need to lower your sexual standards. God can give you healing, forgiveness, wisdom and strength for what you need here. As it says in Romans 12 in the message “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God…Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” God really does have the best in mind for you. Thank you singles for showing the world what it looks like to pursue Christ fully as a single. I am looking up to you too!

6. Honour marriages and families – Recognize, while it’s not your situation, marriage and families are hugely important. It is extremely important to honour other peoples’ marriages and families, by being a person of integrity, making sure to include a person’s spouse or family when appropriate, and turning spouses and families towards one another. This last piece of advice is especially true for when someone comes to you to complain about their spouse – listen well and without judgment, but always encourage spouses back towards each other and finding a way forward together. (Of course, this is unless it is an abusive situation.)

If you are single and in ministry leadership, don’t shy away from addressing issues surrounding marriage and families in your ministries. These are important dynamics and demographics! Singles don’t have to pretend you have the marriage experience yourself, but you need to speak to these things by listening carefully to those in these situations, learning, doing research, sharing from other experts and again, above all, listening. In terms of marriage and family, take the attitude of a learner and listen well to your married friends. Just as we shared last week – make sure your illustrations/examples in teaching cover a variety of demographics, including marrieds, singles, various ages, and various walks of life. As well as encouraging singles, make sure you are helping, equipping and encouraging marrieds and those with kids in the challenging tasks of living out their faith 24/7 in their reality.

7. Do not sell your singleness short – Recognize that you walk in the path of many Christian greats throughout history that were single: John Stott, Mother Teresa, John the Baptist, Paul, and of course, Jesus Himself. Any shame you feel about being single is NOT from Christ. Singles have a lot to show the church, and the world, about what it means to be the family of Christ, and trust in Christ as our hope and resurrection.

Rodney Clapp, (in Families at the Crossroads: Beyond Transition & Modern Options) says it well “Without children, the Israelite fears the single’s name will burn out, sift to ashes and be scattered and forgotten in the winds of time. But Paul has seen the arrival of a new hope. Jesus has risen from the land of death and forgetfulness, and so someday shall all who have died. And Jesus has inaugurated the kingdom, a kingdom most fundamentally known and seen not among brothers and sisters in kin, but among brothers and sisters in Christ. Thus Hauerwas says of singles, ‘There can be no more radical act than [singleness], as it is the clearest institutional expression that one’s future is not guaranteed by the family, but by the church. The church, the harbinger (forerunner) of the Kingdom of God is now the source of our primary loyalty.’”

  • Any other advice you’d add for singles in churches?

-Renée @r_embree

8 Things Churches Can Do To Include Singles

Last week I wrote a blog sharing four reasons churches should pay attention to singles. 
This week I’ll share 8 things churches can do to include singles.
Next week I’ll share 7 things singles can do to build bridges with the church – this will give you further insight whether you are married or single.

These ideas really aren’t my own, they are the ones I’ve picked up from friends (singles & marrieds), blogs, books, and preachers that have stuck with me. I would really like to hear what you would add to this list.

1. Preach positively about singleness – Leaders let’s consider how we can affirm single adults in our preaching topics and in our illustrations/examples. We need to make sure to include examples that apply to the life of singles throughout our messages and in the application. If your examples tend to all start with “So, in your family..”, “In my family…”, “My husband/wife and I…” Change it up and try “with the crowd at work…”, “with my/your friends…”, “with the folks at your gym…”, “at the coffee shop…”, “In class…” When you’re thinking of examples of how to help families and couples live out your sermon/devo during the week also think of examples for single parents, widows and singles.

Furthermore, messages about marriage, parenting and families are quite common, but when was the last time you heard a sermon on the high calling of being single? Singleness is a reality for many people and needs to be discussed just as other important topics need to be discussed in our churches.

2. Don’t segregate singles –Singles do not want their own subculture, they want to be a part of the church, just like married adults are a part of the church. The operative word is adult, not single. Plus, we’ve all heard the terrible stories of singles/young adult ministries that turn into a dating service. This insult singles, turns the goal away from pursuing Christ, and reduces singles to a problem to be solved. Treat singles like adults. The 35 year old single likely has more in common with the 35 year old couple than the 18 year old single (and vice versa).

So, intentionally invite and include them in all the other adult activities around your church. This also is a reminder to take a look at what you are doing for adult discipleship beyond Sunday Services – is it discipling people from all walks of life?

3. Establish groups that cross demographic lines – Where can you encourage connections across demographic lines in your church? In small groups? In volunteer teams? Mission teams? Intentionally encourage connections across demographic lines. I know small groups that have experienced such a blessing and grown so much in their faith by being a mix of people from different demographics, ages and backgrounds. This is how we grow in grace together. In these groups risk being vulnerable together and learning from each other. Just because you’re married with kids, don’t assume the single can’t sympathize with you. Just because you’re single, don’t assume the married folks can’t sympathize with you.

4. Shorten the walk to a seat – Singles say no matter how long they have been doing it, it still takes a lot of courage to go to church alone. It’s easy for singles to talk themselves out of going to church and instead find an alternative way of doing church at home, this is especially true if they’ve made all the effort to get themselves to church sometimes and yet have found it so hard to find friendly connections or community there. We are all way more likely to stay connected to a church if we establish friendships there. So, shorten the walk to the seat. Not literally, figuratively. Ease the route from home to parking lot and parking lot to a seat in the sanctuary. How do you do this? – be friendly, say “hi”, offer a seat, make small talk, offer to pick them up and go to church together, seat them by others and introduce them around, or let them know you’ll save them a seat by you in church.

5. Put singles in positions of responsibility – Make sure your leadership teams, boards etc. reflect the broad demographics you want to have in your church. One way to affirm the value of any group is to ensure they are well represented in positions of significant responsibility in your church. At the same time, don’t abuse singles. Sometimes it is assumed singles have more time, less responsibility and more money. This is not necessarily true. Singles often carry various responsibilities on their own. Have singles been trust with positions of responsibility in your church?

6. Pay attention & include, include, include – notice the singles among you, and take time to connect with them and listen to them. Make sure to include in your informal chats after church and other gatherings. Singles have clearly received the message that dating couples, marriages and families are important, so can be very hesitant to intrude on couple or family time. Singles can get tired of always feeling like they have to ask to be included. So, couples and families, you’ll have to do the work to include them and make sure they know you value their presence. Reach out and invite them into the chaos of a family meal at your home, invite them on a group outing, invite them out for coffee. Note: This is not the same thing as a once a year sympathy invite or inviting someone over to set them up, which most singles have horror stories they can tell you about! Most singles can smell a sympathy invite a mile away. A sympathy invite is when you just want to get the check-mark off your list of having invited someone in once or twice, or when the single person feels like your project. Both singles and marrieds, be open here, what may start off feeling like a check-mark on a list can turn into a beautiful friendship. We all want genuineness, this is a human thing, not a single thing – we all want conversation to be two-way and for people to take an interest in us as people, as adults, not just as singles.

7. Take the attitude of a learner – Admit that singleness is complex and that you know little about it. Married people sometimes mistakenly believe that they know something about singleness, when in fact they know very little. Most single folks I know have received more than enough advice! (There is a very long list rolling through my head right now!) A lot of people seem to treat singleness as if it’s the farm team to the NHL team of marriage. Singleness isn’t the farm team to marriage, it’s an entirely different sport! If you haven’t played it, you don’t understand it and you certainly haven’t mastered it. The average marrying age in Canada is somewhere around 29 years old. If you got married before this age, then your experience and understanding of what it is like to be single is naturally, below average. Being single when you were in your early twenties, when most of your friends were single too, is not the same thing. In other words, you don’t know a lot about singleness. This calls for humility. If you’re married, treat singleness as you would any cross-cultural experience, take the attitude of a learner. Realize you know little and seek to learn and be careful to not speak on what you don’t know. Watch those assumptions we talked about last time. For example, sometimes married people make the assumption that singles must know very little about relationships, which is an unfair blanket assumption. Research actually shows singles tend to have more, stronger, longer lasting friendships and they take better care of their friends. (From: “Marriage: The Good, the Bad and the Greedy” (2006) and “Single and Unmarried Americans as Family and Community Members” (2011).) This is not to try to create a one is better than other attitude or discussion, remember both singleness and marriage are equally awesome options. This is a reminder to please not sell singles short. Listen and hold-off on the advice.

8. Watch what you allow to be idols in your church, camp or youth group – Ok, I am about to make some bold statements which I’m presuming will generate discussion (which I welcome). I fear in some cases we have made an idol of marriage and family, and even given permission for family loyalty to trump loyalty to Christ. We do not question when someone says “for the sake of my family.” It certainly could be, but we should be able to ask, are you sure that is what Christ wants for you and your family? Let me give some examples, so you understand my concern.

Example 1 – For the sake of their family a Pastor is refusing to move even though their time is clearly up in a ministry. We’ve let that be O.K., family loyalty trumping what God could be saying. If you have a family God has called you to serve them and He will take that into consideration, but your number one loyalty is to be Christ. I’m not saying the Pastor should always leave in this scenario, but they should watch their idols, their loyalties – are they really allowing themselves to listen and obey the voice of Christ, who will also look after their family? The scenario does not even have to be moving, if “family” is given for a reason, it is often not questioned. Hear me here, if you are married and/or have a family that certainly has to be a top priority in your life, but it cannot be an excuse for refusing to follow God’s leading. We rarely allow singles this same permission to give their communities ties, friendships or church family as a reason for not doing something. Whether married or single we must be careful to not let either of those states become an idol for our decision making.

Example 2 – There are churches that run along family lines instead of following God’s will. If there is a strong godly family, often for a number of generations, that helps your congregation hear and obey God’s will that is wonderful! However, if there is a family where it has become more important for the church to do what that family wants, that is not good. You have an idol in your church. If the family is keeping your church from moving forward in living God’s calling for your church, you have an idol. Family loyalty is trumping loyalty to Christ.

Example 3 – I recall overhearing a youth group (middle schoolers) being dropped off at a large, Atlantic Canada wide event one time. As the youth were getting off the bus the leader said “remember you could be meeting your future spouse here this weekend.” I must admit, I wanted to scream. Marriage was just made an idol. The point of the event is to help students take a leap forward in their journey with Christ. The point of the Christian life, and youth discipleship, is not to get people into marriage relationships! It is to pursue Christ and fall more in love with Him and His ways. Shouldn’t we be saying something like “Listen for God’s voice this weekend. God is going to be speaking to you and challenging you this weekend.”

Singles certainly can fall into idols too, and also should be asking, where is my number one loyalty? –Trying to find someone or living for Christ? Or even is it the idol of marriage, thinking when you get married that’ll solve all your problems? (ya, right?!)

Married or single, can you say your number one loyalty is Christ? This is the journey we are on together in our church families, helping each other make Christ our number one in all areas of our lives. Leader, if you are helping people do that, wherever they are in their journey of life, demographics and backgrounds, you are doing well! Thank you!

So the advice here, on watching our idols – have honest conversations with others, asking questions like: where is your loyalty in this? What does loyalty to Christ look like in this season of your life? Is this honouring your family, as you should or is this not trusting God to lead and take care of your family? What does loyalty to Christ look like during singleness, separation, divorce, single parenthood, marriage, kids…? What does loyalty to Christ look like in your finances, your time, your free-time, your relationships etc…?
Whoever we are, may we be loyal to Christ above all.

I hope you recognize in these blogs that I fully support marriages and families, and especially welcome the work so many of you are doing to equip families to experience and live out their faith during the week. My hope is simply that not only do we help marrieds and families be equipped to live out their faith where they live, work, study, play, but that we also help singles, youth and young adults live out their faith where they live, work, study and play. So that together, as all God’s people, from various walks of life, we can join God in changing Atlantic Canada (or wherever you are) one neighbourhood at a time.

-Anything you’d like to add as advice for churches as they seek to include singles?
-Anything you agree or disagree with in this post?
Comments are welcomed.

Next week I’ll share things singles can do to build bridges with the church – this will give you further insight whether you are married or single.

-Renée @r_embree

Why Churches Need to Pay Attention to Singles

I’m going to venture into a topic we do not often discuss in our churches. Sometimes singles are too embarrassed to bring it up or they fear being accused of having a “whoa is me” attitude. Sometimes church leaders are too afraid of saying the wrong thing to bring it up. Yet, we cannot neglect this important segment of the population. Singles, whether they are the never marrieds, widows, divorced, separated, single parents, young singles, old singles or in-between singles are an important part of our world.

So I’m being clear, my heart in this is to stir us all, whether single or married, to examine our attitudes and behaviours that may be hindering singles from experiencing full fellowship with the body of Christ.

My hope is to call us to pay attention. I feel it is like when in Acts 6 the church needed to be reminded that the Grecian Jews felt their widows were being overlooked by the Hebraic Jews in the daily distribution of food. I don’t believe anyone has intentionally overlooked another in our churches, but I have heard many a single comment how overlooked, and worse devalued, they have felt in some of our church communities. My hope is we all, but especially those in church leadership, examine our attitudes towards singleness.

I’m planning three blogs over the next few weeks on the topic of singleness.
1. This week – why churches need to pay attention to singles. I must admit, this one is the most rant like, so please also come back next week.
2. Next week – 8 things churches can do to include singles
3. In 2 weeks – What singles can do to build bridges with the church

Oh, and I should state my bias from the beginning. I’m a 30-something single, never-married, female Pastor. So, I’ve experienced some of the joys and struggles of singlehood in the church and sought to help the church notice and connect with singles. In some ways being in church leadership makes my experience different than other singles, as it is easier for people to know me and I rarely slip in and out of a church unnoticed, whereas my single friends tell me how easily they can slip in and out of church unnoticed.

Here are 4 reasons churches need to pay attention to singles:

1. Singles are a large, and increasing, portion of the population

Looking at the latest Statistic Canada numbers, from 2011, there are more people living alone in Canada then there are couples with children (let that sink in for a moment.) One person households count for 27.6% of all homes across Canada. (Statistics Canada) Note that the “living alone” statistic would not include singles living with roommates or family. The single demographic is increasing in Canada, particularly in our cities. People who do get married are waiting longer to do so, the average marrying age in Canada is somewhere around 29 years old. Is your church connecting with singles and giving them a place to belong?

As we seek to be missional churches, our church should increasingly reflect the demographics of our surrounding communities. If we are to be missional churches, we have to pay attention to this demographic. If we are to be a people that love and respect all people, we need to pay attention to this demographic.

2. We’ve got some repair work to do. Many singles have been unintentionally hurt by churches attitude towards them. A number of singles have said “I feel more valued outside the church, than inside”. In churches’ good desire to support people in their marriages and families they have sometimes subtly and not so subtly devalued singles in their midst. This is not to say we should in any way deemphasize supporting marriage and families, they need lots of support, but let us also aim to treat singleness as an equally valued option and in equal need of community and support. This can slip subtly into teaching, in who is invited to church events, or who is given attention in the social time after church.

Let me explain more about the attitude that singles have picked up from some churches. Church leaders and marriage books never argue that marriage is a good thing. That is presupposed. They accept the reality that marriage is good, but even good marriages do have problems and struggles. Therefore preachers and leaders look to help marriages get stronger and deal with their challenges within marriage. But, often singleness is treated differently. It’s treated like singleness itself is the problem to solve. Leaders instead instruct singles on how to bide one’s time until the right person comes along or how to make sure they are being the right person to “catch” someone. In other words, they imply that the solution to the problem of singleness is to get married. They treat singleness itself as the problem, instead of treating singleness as good, with certain challenges and opportunities. The underlying message singles receive is, singleness itself is a problem. An underlying assumption in many of our churches, that gets communicated in subtle and not so subtle ways, is marriage is good and singleness is bad. I know that is not that message we want to be sending.

God’s goal for all of us is our sanctification, to make us more like Jesus. God can use singleness for that and God can use marriage for that. Yes, marriage can be a refining tool, as you see yourself up close in another. BUT, singleness can also be a refining tool God uses. Let’s make sure we show marriage and singleness (whether for a season or lifetime) as both equally wonderful opportunities with blessings and challenges in the Kingdom of God.

As I talk to my single friends, it is these subtle attitudes that come out towards them that can make them feel alien in their church family. These unintentional hurtful comments and attitudes that assume there is something wrong with them, that others can meet someone so why can’t they, that marriage is somehow the goal of Christian life, that they must be lonely all the time, that couples/families don’t have time for them…

So church, let’s take a look at the direct and indirect messages we are sending single people.

3. The church, over the last decade, has often done a lousy job of including singles.

I’ve watched as singles have been excluded from small groups because of their singleness, or I’ve seen singles who have been searching for a small group for three years, while a couple has one within months. I’ve watched as singles get completely missed on Sunday morning. I know how easy this is to have happen, it’s a lot easier to notice the family with three kids in tow coming into the church. I’ve seen singles overlooked for leadership or sometimes the opposite, singles are sucked completely dry because it is assumed they have a lot more free time and can give it all to the church.

I get that at times we all need to be around those that more closely share our situations, joys and challenges in life. But, in the church, these should be the exception not the rule. And these times of “segregation” should send us back to the full family of God more able to embrace one another in the life and community of the church. These times should strengthen us for loving others better and more compassionately.

Watch your announcements, watch who shows up at your events, watch who is in your small groups, watch who struggles to know who to sit with on a Sunday morning, watch who connects after the services…are singles being included and embraced in community?
Examine your assumptions and fears around this topic – they could be keeping you from getting to know some really great people.

4. We need each other

God did say, it is not good to be alone (Genesis 2:18). It is not wrong, not sinful, to feel alone. God created that need. God created us for companionship and community. The problem is the church has often reduced the solution of “aloneness” to marriage, whereas the New Testament solution is to make believers family, brothers and sisters in Christ, across all the differences. Marriage may be part of the solution but it was never meant to be the full solution nor the only solution. In Christ we are mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters to one another, all in the same family. The gospel demolishes dividing walls and makes us one family. In a family differences are either able to divide us or help us have greater compassion and empathy for each other. For example, you don’t feel like your grade two child that is getting bullied, you don’t have the same challenges and joys as them, but you sympathize with them and you seek to understand. They learn from you and you learn from them. As marrieds and singles we may sometimes walk in different shoes, but in the body of Christ, we are family – we need each other, to learn from each other, to share each other’s joys and struggles, to empathize with each other, to disciple each other…

I have needed my church community to be my family in so many ways. They have been such a blessing to me, I truly don’t know what I would do without them – they are my grandparents, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, children… I hope I have been a blessing to them as well. We are family, in it together – yes, sometimes I disappoint them and sometimes they disappoint me, but we work it out because we’re family. I realize I need them even more to be my family.

Let’s remember:
The Bible treats singleness and marriage as two equally awesome options. If anything, you could say the Bible favours singleness over marriage for the sake of the Kingdom (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). Yet, walk into the majority of our churches and it does not feel this way. Marriage and family is clearly treated as the most awesome, and singleness is clearly the lesser option. I know this is not the message we want to be sending. Wait a second – lesser? Paul was not deprived, was not “lesser”. Jesus, fully human, fully God, was single. You do not need to be married to be fully human and to be living life to the full in the Kingdom of God.
Being single is in no way, shape or form sin.
The only sin is when the church fails to be the community, the family, it is called to be.

OK, friends, I’ve started the discussion, I’m opening this up – Am I being fair? Is it just me? What do you think of singles in the church? Where have you seen the church fail at this? Where have you seen the church do well at this? What can we learn from each other?

And come back next Thursday for practical things churches can do to include singles.
And in two weeks time for things singles can do to build bridges with the church.

-Renée @r_embree

7 Ways to Put Others First this Christmas

I’ve noticed something about myself, and I think it applies to other leaders as well.

A sense of entitlement can sneak in when I least expected it. It’s easy to miss in ourselves as ministry leaders because it’s easy to say “What are you talking about, I pour myself out for others all the time?!”

But, I’ve discovered this entitlement attitude can still sneak in and take root. It can sneak in especially after busy seasons of ministry, like right now – after a busy fall and then an even busier Christmas season. All I’ve a sudden I’m a little more tired, and a little less self-aware. I can end up saying in my head “I want…”, “I need…”, “I deserve…”

Part of this is simply the need for self-care and rest, but I/we have to be careful. There is a difference between self-care and selfishness. Sabbath is not lying on the couch for a week, that is not living giving to anyone. Self-care and Sabbath sounds like: “God gives me Sabbath as I gift. I will delight in it, but God is the Lord of the Sabbath and God has the right to interrupt it or change it.”
Right? The disciples and Jesus’ times of rest occasionally got interrupted. Jesus got accused of working on the Sabbath because He was helping and healing others. Yes, we need Sabbath rest, but that never gives us the right to ignore others or mistreat others for the sake of ourselves.

Selfishness can creep in, in different seasons for leaders. Selfishness says “I deserve to do absolutely nothing because I’ve worked so hard.” It says:
“It is my right to…”,
“I deserve…”,
“I’m entitled to…”,
“I need…”,
“I’ve been working hard I deserve to treat myself to…”,
“I don’t need to help with…”

Sometimes the higher up the leadership ladder we climb the easier it is for this sense of entitlement to creep into our hearts. Secretly or not so secretly wanting to be the one that gets the credit. Wanting to be the main act, instead of the support cast. Wanting to be the headline instead of the footnote.
And that is a slippery slope in our thinking and attitude. Furthermore, it can be a slippery slope towards temptation and sin.

Discipleship is about giving up our rights to serve a greater purpose, to serve a greater One. All the time, not just during work hours. Not just when it is our turn. Not just when we feel like it. Being a Christian is laying down our rights, our entitlements, for the sake of the Gospel. Day in and day out, giving up my rights in order to serve. After all,
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”
-Philippians 2:5-8

Yup, this is counter-cultural. Our culture often tells us to fight for our rights. Christianity tells us to be willing to lay down our rights for the sake of others, for the sake of the Kingdom.

So here are 7 things I’m trying this Christmas season to protect a sense of entitlement from creeping into my heart. These are things that are different from the usual gifts and money.

7 ways to put others first this Christmas:

1. The Great Clean-out – Clean-out your closets and cupboards in order to give away anything still in good condition. Give away clothes, toys, kitchen supplies, decorations… You can choose to give the stuff you gather to an individual, family or ministry. You could also have a sale and give the proceeds to a ministry.

I tend to live quite simply, but easily came up with over two bags of stuff when I did this last weekend. A good rule of thumb is, if you have not used an item in the last 3 months and it is not an essential seasonal item, give it away. That thing you use one time a year, could it be something you either share with others or borrow from others? Bringing back the old “can I borrow a cup of sugar?” with our neighbours. In my parents rural neighbourhood they all effectively share a wood splitter.

2. Secret Service Day – designated a day, secretly, that you will be fully available to others. On this day, have no agenda of your own, simply let the others around you in your home or community set the agenda for you – do what needs to be done, play what they would like to play, have the conversations they would like to have… Do something you usually don’t do to serve others – cook a meal, vacuum, do that fix-it job you’ve been putting off, help your neighbour etc. If you’re at work leave the door open and follow the interruptions for the day. Interruptions are your boss on this day. If someone calls your office to chat, offer to take time to meet them for coffee. Offer to help someone with their work project instead of working on yours. You’ve got time for anyone that crosses your path on this day.

3. Special Invite – Take-out or invite-in someone for whom this is a difficult time of year. Maybe it is someone who experiences grief this time of year, maybe it is someone who does not have a lot of family around, maybe it is someone who has just been through a really tough season or maybe simply someone you’ve often thought “I’d like to get to know them better”. Invite them to a special meal or time together, not out of pity, but out of inclusion, valuing them and their presence in your time together. No agenda, simply get to know them better.

4. Hand written thank you note – As you reflect on this past year, who has been especially good to you? In whom have you observed the character of Christ? Write them a good old fashion letter or note. Take the time to tell them the specifics of how you saw Christ in them and how thankful you are for them in your life and in the world.

5. Pray for others – Choose one or two neighbours or co-workers who don’t know Jesus; pray for them by name every day. This time of year, pray for an opportunity to talk about how significant Christmas is to you and your faith.

6. Tip generously – I’ve been convicted what it must look like when a waiter or waitress sees us bowing our heads to say grace at the beginning of the meal only to leave a lousy tip at the end of the meal. I’m growing in tipping more generously. I’m sure those who serve me in this way could also use a little extra this time of year. I’ve got a friend that often gently asks the waiter/waitress before the start of the meal, “In a moment, we’re going to pray. Is there anything we can be praying for you?” and then makes sure to tip big at the end. I’m growing in courage in asking this, I’ve done it a small handful of times, but in this season I am dedicating to you blog readers that it is one of the things I’m going to do more.

7. No boasting – I’ve learned there are certain groups of people that I get around where I feel the need to start proving my worth, my value. I know, that’s ugly. Are there people like this for you? People you get around and you start feeling the need to state what you’ve accomplished this past year, or start name dropping people you’ve met, start sharing relationships you’ve had, experiences you’ve had… in some way, shape or form trying to prove you’re worth something. Well, I’ve determine in the certain groups of people where I can feel this temptation, to remain quiet about any of my accomplishments. I’m giving up trying to prove anything, trusting God for my worth, and putting others first. In my head I remind myself with either “Abba, Father, I belong to You” or “I am a child of the one true King.”

So there you go.
You probably have more insight into my heart than you ever wanted.
I’ll let you know how trying these 7 things goes during this season (or wait, maybe that would be boasting?!)
What helps you fight an attitude of entitlement?

-Renée @r_embree

Want to develop people as leaders? Throw them out of the boat.

Want to develop students (or anyone) as leaders? Throw them out of the boat.

I had the privilege of being in a church on the weekend where the service was led by children and youth. My heart was overflowing as I was led in worshipping Jesus by those much younger than me. They sang the songs with such gusto, they read Scripture with authority, and put their whole selves into acting and storytelling.

Jesus gave real authority to His followers. When the disciples tried to stop the children from coming to him (Mark 10:14-16), he got mad and in fact said they are an example about how to receive the Kingdom, we need to be more like the children, not less like them.
Children are leading the way to the Kingdom.

Our children, youth and young adults need to be given real authority.

Jesus gave real authority to His followers:
• He sent them out two by two, giving them authority over evil, authority to preach, authority to invite people into the Kingdom, authority to heal the sick, authority to call people to repentance, authority to call more workers for the Kingdom (e.g. Mark 6:6-13, Luke 10:1-9)
• Jesus told them, whoever listens to you, also listens to me, whoever reject you is really rejecting me (e.g. Luke 10:16)
• Jesus told them, what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and what you loose on earth with be loosed in heaven (Mt 16:19)
• Jesus stated those who believe in Him will do even greater things than He did when He walked this earth (John 14:12)
• And Jesus gave His followers the authority to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19-20)

Now that’s real authority. Real trust.

And you and I are afraid to let someone make the coffee because they might not make it “right”?
We’re afraid to let someone be in charge of small groups because they might mess it up?
We’re afraid to let someone be in charge of service opportunities for families because they might do it differently than us?
We’re afraid to let someone try something new because they/we might look bad? It might fail?

Give people real authority.
This is how we learn best.

Know how my Dad got us kids swimming? He’d row the boat out to the middle of the river, and say “jump out”.
We often learn the most, when we are thrown in.

I take comfort in the fact that Jesus was a carpenter. I’m guessing he had a few sore thumbs and deep cuts. And I’m guessing only His Mom loved the first chair He made. And His Heavenly Father loved it too, because He was being faithful. He was learning by trial and error, growing in skill and wisdom. Some of you have experienced my errors as I’ve tried new things and learned, sometimes painfully slowly, by trial and error. Let others jump out of the boat and learn by trial and error too.

Watch what happens when you put a middle schooler in charge of a group of their peers in a small group! They learn pretty fast how to get their group talking and praying. They start asking you how to deal with the “squirrels” in the conversation and what to do with the deep questions.

Watch what happens when you say to the high schooler, “You’re in charge of park ministry for the whole summer.”

Watch what happens when you invite them to lead a devotion.

Watch what happens when you put them in charge of an aspect of the mission tour or the whole entire mission tour altogether.

Watch what happens when you say to the young adult, “You’re going to mobilize other young adults to serve our city/town.”

Watch what happens when you trust people with the same authority Jesus gives to them.

Watch what happens when you ask, “What kingdom dream is God putting on your heart?” And then say “Let’s follow that!”

It’ll be messy, but it’ll be worth it!

Now, don’t leave them all alone. Throw them a life jacket and pull them back into the boat regularly, to debrief with them, tune their skills, reflect on what God is teaching them, give them feedback and give them lots of encouragement.

Who do you need to talk to and say “jump out here”?

 

-Renée @r_embree

25 before 25

25 missional experiences everyone should have before they are 25 years old

*If you try any of these out let us know on twitter #1neighbourhood

By the time you are 5 years old:
1. Know the names and interests of your neighbours.
2. Choose 3 to 5 of your books to give away to someone.
3. Bake cookies (with adult help) to give to someone who could use a cheer up, visit with them and share the cookies.
4. Play with children from different cultures and try food from different cultures.
5. Visit a nursing home and give out hugs or homemade drawings.

By the time you are 10 years old
6. Go through your closet and give away clothing in good condition to someone that would like or use them.
7. On garbage day in your neighbourhood, pull everyones garbage cans/compost bins back to their houses.
8. Have a lemonade stand outside your house to get to know your neighbours, give the money you raise to a church or charity of your choice.
9. Participate in a food or clothing driving for a local food bank or shelter. Visit the food band or shelter and get to know a few folks.
10. Take a handful of quarters and a roll of tape and stick the quarters on gumball machines all over town. You will make a child’s day!

By the time you are 15 years old
11. Show intentional kindness to your school and teachers. E.g. When your school has a Parent-Teacher conference night, rally fellow students & families to provide a great meal for the staff to enjoy in their breaks. Serve and clean up!
12. Apologize to someone you treated poorly in middle school.
13. Experience being on mission for a week somewhere in your home region! More and more churches and camps are having Service Camps. Our favourite happens to be: www.tidalimpact.ca
14. Volunteer at a meal being served for the homeless or under-resourced – serve food, cleanup, visit with people.
15. Take extra school supplies with you to school and generously share them with your fellow students.

By the time you are 20 years old
16. Take an opportunity to explain your faith in Jesus to a friend at work, school or on a team.
17. Give a gift from the CBM Hopeful Gifts for Change Catalogue: https://secure2.convio.net/cbmin/site/SPageServer/?pagename=Gift_Catalogue_Home.html
18. Buy baby supplies (diapers, wipes, formula…) and take them to a Pregnancy Resource Centre. While you are there learn about the place, what they offer and who works there.
19. Find a need and meet it. Spot the needs on social media or around you – is someone sick? Take a meal. Someone have a flooded basement? Go & help and take a care package. Someone raking their leaves? Pick up a rake.
20. Experience an international mission trip (Opportunities can be found here http://cbmin.org/get-involved/short-term-mission/ or with the Springforth Team that will be put together to go to Kamp Tumaini in 2017!!!

By the time you are 25 years old
21. Cook a meal (or order pizza) for your neighbours and have them in.
22. Volunteer or contribute financially, regularly, somewhere locally (your community) and globally.
23. Sit with the dying.
24. Eat your lunch with others at your work or school and get to know their story. Bring a treat, now and then, to share during lunch.
25. Lead something missional. Rally your friends, a group of youth, a small group or a church around meeting a need in your community or world.

  •  If you are older than 25 (don’t worry, we won’t ask your age) it is never too late to go back and experience these things, and move towards making missional living a part of your everyday life and being.

Send us your ideas for tweaking this list and for new lists to come, by leaving comments on the blog or tweet @r_embree or #1neighbourhood. This list was created with the help of Andrew Glidden (@PastorWolf), Louise Knowles, Adrian Gardner (@AdrianDGardner) & Jacqueline Derrah.

*If you try any of these out let us know on twitter #1neighbourhood