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

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Get out! 7 steps

Get out! – 7 steps to get into the right harvest field

This blog is a follow-up to the guest post from Dan Pyke last week “What if we’re not harvesting the right field?” Also mixing into my thoughts for this post are the Simpson Lectures happening this week. Anna Robbins has been challenging us to see we, Christians in North American, are most definitely not in exile, in fact we are Babylon, the privileged and, too often, have been and are, the oppressors. This calls us to own our story and calls us to deep repentance. I highly recommend you listen to the lecture series, they are stimulating lots of needed conversation. The lecture series will be available to watch here: http://www.acadiadiv.ca/simpson

With all these thoughts mixing together. I’ll try to get down how we start connecting with the “right” harvest field (I’d appreciate your input.) In other words, how can we be in the world, knowing God is already there. The truth is we are already there. We are in the world, we are a part of the culture. We are them. And they are us. So how can we see God use that reality, not as an us going to “conquer” or tell everyone the “right” way to live, but as us being in the community and being God’s salt and light.
Currently, we seem to make three errors. (I’d recommend reading the classic “Christ and Culture” By Niebuhr to explore various approaches to culture.)
One, we remove ourselves from our wider communities and stay in our holy huddle.
Two, we become like the culture and never speak about our world-view and faith.
Three, we yell at culture hoping they will somehow, someway act like us.

What if we are already there?
What if we are in culture, in the right harvest field, we need to trust God is already there working?
What if we are already there, we just need to change our attitude?
What if we are already there, we just need to be the church where we are, instead of just being the church during our sacred times?

Here are some suggestions for being in the right harvest field, right where you are:

1. Repent – Anna faithfully called us to this. Agree with God and ask for His forgiveness for the wrongs done in the past and the wrongs being done now, for our collective sins. I agree with God, we, I, have wronged the aboriginals, the blacks, the poor and have neglected the call to be an ambassador of reconciliation. I need to repent and trust God will show what is next. We/I have not love our neighbour, welcomed the stranger or sought God’s reconciliation in the world. We/I have stayed in our huddles at church, at school, at home. Reflect. Repent. Do not move on quickly.

2. “You are here” – take stock, examine where you are and the privilege you have. Ask questions like: Where do you go every week, who do you connect with in the course of a week, what’s your story, what the story of the groups you belong to (the good, the bad, the ugly), where are you privileged, where have you felt under-privileged, what do you need to repent of individually and collectively?

3. Listen – seriously listen – listen to others stories, listen to what’s happening in the community, listen to our history, listen to the voices of others who experience and background is different than yours, listen to the outsider, listen to a new pocket of society your church could be connecting with, listen to the younger generation. Invite others to tell you more about their life and reality. Get out of the Christian huddle and listen.

4. Recognize God’s already at work – Invite God to open your eyes to see how He’s already at work in the world, in the places you go each week, in the people you are meeting and in your community. God has given you connections and interactions throughout your community. He is already at work in those connections. Invite God to use those connections for His glory.

5. Be normal – Hang out with normal people. Christians, me included, can be weird sometimes – just sticking to our own crew, using our own insider language, only hanging out with each other, unsure of how to act… Please, start hanging out with normal people – eat lunch with normal people, hang-out with those from various backgrounds, ask to hear peoples’ story, connect with others at the rink, invite in people that are not a part of your Christian huddle…

6. Serve others – What have you already got? Look over #2 through 5, you have a lot! Use your connections, assets, privilege, and influence you have to serve others. This is not in an “I have better and know better than you so I’m going to help you” way, but in a “let’s journey together” way, with an attitude of humility. Use your privilege to serve others and fight injustice systems.

7. Show up – show up at the places where your community gathers. Show up where other parents show up, on their turf (i.e. I’m not talking about at the church). Show up where others with similar interests gather. Show up at the tables where decisions are being discussed and made in your schools, community, province and Nation. Show up and trust God to build connections, friendships, and conversations and trust God for His redeeming work in our world.

Will you join God in changing Atlantic Canada one neighbourhood at a time?
God is already at work in your neighbourhoods where you live, study, work and play.
Join God.

If your looking for very practical ideas on how to do this, these two previous blog post could help:
25 missional experiences everyone should have before they are 25 (If you are older, you can catch-up!)

25 ways to be good news to your local schools

-Renée @r_embree

What if we’re not harvesting the right field?

Dan Pyke is a friend of mine. He’s got a heart and life that overflows with Jesus, I wanted you to meet him. Dan, like so many of us, is wrestling with what it actually means to be the Church today and how we help each other live on mission with God, not just on Sunday’s, but all the time. How do we actually join God in what He’s doing in our neighbourhoods? Dan is a husband to Lachelle, and Dad to Rhailyn, Kendrick and Della. He’s the Pastor of Youth and Children at Douglas Baptist Church in New Brunswick. Dan’s posting this same blog on his blogspot today: http://danpyke.blogspot.ca/

Dan has an important question and challenge for us today. What if we’re not harvesting the right field?
Here’s Dan:

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” [Matthew 9:37-38]

This verse is a significant reference point for frustrated pastors and leaders looking for additional volunteers. We’re buoyed by statistics that tell us that an individual is most likely to “make a decision” for Christ before the age of 13. Armed with that statistic and this verse, we’re convinced that the Church is being disobedient in their failure to volunteer and lead our youngest generations.

But what if we’re not harvesting the right field?

My farming knowledge is admittedly limited, but because of my wife’s family, I have the opportunity to watch and learn. My children get to spend lots of time at the farm. There are times to plant the seeds, to care for the fields, and to harvest the crop. If my father-in-law went to a barley field to harvest soybean, or went to harvest in the spring instead of the fall, his efforts would be wasted. Are we spending time in the wrong field, or at least at the wrong time?

In the context of this verse, Jesus is travelling through various cities and villages, proclaiming the Gospel and healing all kinds of diseases. He is encountering people at their point of deepest need, and is moved to compassion by what he sees. Compassion is one of my favourite words, because it refers deep in the gut; it’s a gut-wrenching feeling.

Can I be honest? When I look at youth and children in my church, I don’t feel compassion for them. I love them, but I don’t feel compassion. They are in families bringing them to church; being raised by parents who at some level recognize the importance of pointing their children to Jesus. I’ve learned that my influence will never outweigh the influence of those parents (and it shouldn’t!). God put us in families and not in youth groups (Praise the Lord!). They are in churches, and these parents need to be reinforced by adults across all generations. The youth and children need to be continually reminded that they are loved and cared about, and frankly, I think we need to do better at this.

But that doesn’t drive me to compassion.

What stirs compassion? Walking through the high school, knowing that most of these students have no awareness of who Jesus is, and knowing that our Christian students huddle in classrooms. I have compassion for those students who don’t know Jesus. I have compassion for the girl who told my daughter not to say “Jesus” because it was a bad word. Compassion mounts in me when I walk downtown and see people walking who likely don’t know who Jesus is.

Why do we spend so much effort and attention on children and youth programs that are only reinforcing the values that the children are already receiving from home? If we really experienced compassion and wanted to labour in his harvest, would we not do things differently? How will we reach children and youth who don’t know Jesus? Outreach programs can be great, but we also need to think about their parents.

I don’t know what this looks like. Maybe missional communities, small pockets of people committed to living out the gospel together? New locations, without the burdens of mortgages or ongoing maintenance costs? Relational opportunities instead of burdensome programs? Coffee shop or pub meetings instead of “come-and-see-us” events? I’m becoming less convinced that the system we’re running is actually having Kingdom Impact. I certainly don’t feel like I’m gathering a harvest. Am I spending time in the wrong field?

—-

What do you think? Add your comments below or tweet Dan @danpyke

I’m working on a follow-up blog post for next week on how we take steps into the harvest field – into our neighbourhoods, rinks, schools, coffee shops, gyms, workplaces… So, if you have ideas…

-Renée @r_embree

Is there an extra chair at your table for me?

Do you have an extra chair at your table?
I could use one.
There are a lot of people that could use one.
They are waiting for an invite from you, especially at Christmas time.

And yet, so many circles are closed.
So many tables are closed.

Would you open your table?
Is there an extra chair at your table?

One of my favourite stories in the Bible is about Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9).
I invite you to try and imagine what Mephibosheth felt like, because I’m guessing you’ve been there a time or two. I know I have.
Mephibosheth felt
unworthy,
not good enough.
Mephibosheth figured others thought of him as “good for nothing.”
He was from, quite literally, no place (Lo Debar). 30 km beyond the middle of nowhere. (I know some of us Atlantic Canadians can relate to that!)
He was left out of temple (a.k.a. – church) activities because he wasn’t consider good enough (he was consider “unclean” by the religious institution).
He was scraping his own life by, it was ok, but it was not easy.
His name literally means dispeller of shame. You could smell his shame a mile away. He knew, just knew, he didn’t fit with others.
He refers to himself as a “dead dog”, that is a stray dog, left out in the tough world to fend for himself he figured he was as good as dead.

And Mephibosheth certainly didn’t feel welcome at your table and mine.
He most certainly didn’t feel welcome at a King’s table.

You ever feel like that?
Not welcome.
Not wanted.
Not quite good enough or cool enough or “something” enough.
Not quite like the others.
No room for you at the table.
Remember that feeling?
I do.
That’s Mephibosheth.

And yes, let your mind go to the refugee, the stranger, the poor, the person of a different religion then you, the person of a different race then you (this list could go on) and how they may feel that there is no room at the table for them.
That too is Mephibosheth.

And yet, another character is in the story, King David. And King David chooses to invite, welcome and fully embrace Mephibosheth to his table and into his family. Mephibosheth – crutches and all, shame and all, loneliness and all, insecurities and all – is invited to the King’s table!

That’s powerful.
To go from feeling not wanted, unwelcome, a nuisance, a bother…
To being embraced at the King’s table.

Nice!
I want that.
I want others to experience that.
I want others to experience that through me. Too often I’ve given off a different vibe of “not welcome”, “not one of my kind.” Too often church circles give off this vibe – “you are not one of us.”
What made it so seemingly easy for David to extend such deep hospitality?

I have a hunch about David. A hunch that David so freely gave this kind of welcome to Mephibosheth because David had tasted this kind of welcome from the Lord.

See this same David had written down in poetry “You (God) prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:5)
David had experienced what it is like to be welcomed to God’s table.

“You (God) prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies”
It was a place of safety.
In the ancient world, if you were enjoying hospitality at someone’s table it was like yelling “home free.” While you were enjoying hospitality at someone’s table the tax collector couldn’t come after you, your enemy couldn’t come and lay a hand on you, that person to whom you owed a debt couldn’t come and bug you about it, you were home free. You were safe. Safe to enjoy the company around you. Safe to be real. Safe to express your struggles and worries and know that no one would come after you or criticize you. David had experienced this from the Lord. In the Lord’s presence we are safe. Safe to be real.

“You anoint my head oil”
Oil throughout Scripture is a symbol of God’s presence, His setting aside someone for something special. God has something special for you. Oil is also seen as a symbol of joy, overwhelming joy. God is overjoyed you are at His table. He takes delight in you, delights in you sharing your heart and shares His heart with you. David had experienced this joy from the Lord. In the Lord’s presence there is joy and delight.

“My cup overflows”
Another tradition from the ancient world was around the cups on the table. If your host stopped filling up your cup it was their way of signalling to you that it was time to skedaddle, you’d out-stayed your welcome. However, if your host kept filling up your cup, it was their way of saying to you, “You are welcome to stay longer. Please stay longer, I am so enjoying your company.” And well, if the host filled your cup to overflowing that was a whole other story, stating “Please stay forever! I will keep providing for you. I am so enjoying your company.” David had experienced this from the Lord, a welcome that does not go away. In the Lord’s presence we are welcome to stay forever.

David had tasted what it’s like to be at God’s table, a place of safety, joy and a welcome that doesn’t go away.
And what does David do?
He turns around and gives this same safety, joy and welcome to others.
He wants others to taste what it is like to experience God’s presence through him.
He wants others to taste what it is like at God’s table through his table.

How about you? Will you let others get a taste of God’s safety, God’s joy, God’s welcome through your tables? God is using ordinary kitchen tables, picnic tables, Tim Horton’s tables, caf tables, and circles all over to welcome people to His table.

I’m not talking about inviting people into your circle so you can preach to them.
I’m not talking about inviting people into your circle so you can “give them the Gospel.”
I’m not talking about inviting people into your circle so you can “set them right.”
I am talking about inviting people into your circle to give them safety, joy and a deep welcome. Trusting God for what He’ll do with your table.
I am talking about inviting people into your circle to get to know them.
I am talking about, trusting Christ is living in you and through you, get into some new circles.
I am talking about getting to know and value people, especially those who have been outside your circle.

Create a table of safety, joy and a deep welcome.

How? Simply create safety, joy and welcome in your circles.
Safety – listen non-judgmentally
Joy – delight in who the person is today, not who you think they should be or could be
Welcome – intentionally set aside time to linger. Lay aside other things to give your attention to those around the table, linger around the table, linger in the conversations, linger in the storytelling, linger in asking deeper questions, linger.

Is there an empty chair at your table for Mephibosheth?
Is there an empty chair for those that are feeling like stray dogs in our world today?
Is there an empty chair for those who are getting treated like stray dogs?
Is there an empty chair at your table for me?

Let me push this a little further.
Why is your table closed? Sit with this question for a while. Examine the excuses that come into your head. How can your excuses/reasons be overcome? What fear do you have? If you say your table is not closed – are you sure? How often do you learn from others that are different than you? Where are you building genuine friendships outside those that are “like you”?

What’s one step you could take this season to open up your circle a little more? Not as a drive-by task to fulfill on your list, but as a genuine extending of a welcome.

Here are a few idea:

1. Invite to your table: Refugees, the financial struggling, a young adult, neighbours, someone that does not have family nearby, a single person, a Senior, someone that struggles with illness (physical or mental), someone that struggles with addiction, someone that seems to have it all together but could use a genuine friend, someone new…

2. Go to a soup kitchen, to sit around the tables and hear stories and share stories, to genuinely get to know people.

3. If you’re a regular somewhere, get to know another person or two there. Maybe you’re a regular at a coffee shop, the hockey rink, the gym, a church, a lunchroom, a gas station…

4. Buy a refugee or newcomer to your community a bus pass and travel with them to help them get to know their regular routes.

5. Share and donate clothes, furniture, toys and time and get to know those working where you offer these items.

6. Give to those supporting the arriving refugees. Take time to understand the situation refugees are facing. Listen to their stories.

7. Reopen your small group/Bible Study/LifeGroup or Youth Group for new people to join. Specifically invite someone to join you.

I’m sure you’ve got many more ideas. Please share.
Who needs a welcome at our tables?
How do we welcome them?
Add your ideas to the comments.

May our tables be places where people taste the Lord’s safety, joy and deep welcome.
May God use our tables to transform our neighbourhoods.

-Renée @r_embree

25 ways to be good news to your local school

As we are being transformed by the Gospel it overflows from us to our world.
Often the world needs to see we care before they will begin to believe God cares.
Often the world needs to see our goodness, before they will believe God is good.
Often the world needs to see we’re not just out for our self-interests but for the interest of others and the community, before they can recognize a God who is interested in them.

Christians are invited to participate in God’s redemptive work in the world – righting wrongs, healing, restoring, bringing hope, caring for creation etc.
In addition, we participate in God’s redemptive invitation, by being God’s messengers inviting others into God’s redemptive story with words and actions.

It seems to me as if, in many ways, we’ve abandoned or learned to keep our faith separate from our schools. May God give us redemptive, creative ways to be His presence in schools again and may it lead to many redemptive conversations! I know some of you are doing wonderful thing to be the presence of Christ in word and deed in your schools – I’d love to hear these stories! Comment below or send us a message.

Here are some ideas on how to join God’s good redemptive activity in the ordinariness of everyday at your school (if you are a student) or at the school in your neighbourhood (if you are not a student):

1. Bring a great snack for the teachers’ lounge with a thank you note
2. Pray every day for your school
3. Join a team (or coach a team)
4. Join a club (or lead a club)
5. Invite new people to eat lunch with you (exchange students, new to the school…)
6. Join the anti-bullying campaign and help it be a success
7. Start a free breakfast or lunch program (or get involved with an existing one)
8. Start a food bank at the school
9. Start a clothing bank at the school
10. Set-up a prayer station or box at the school and faithfully pray for peoples’ requests
11. On a hot day ask if you can give out popsicles at break-time. On a cold day ask if you can give out hot chocolate during recess.
12. Find out what the school really needs (e.g. badminton rackets, flip chart, smart board…) and be a part of the solution to getting those items for the school
13. Slow down and talk to people at the school, find out how they are really doing and what it’s like for them at school
14. Randomly pay for person lunch behind you in cafeteria line
15. Offer to organize/lead a talent show, sports day, or multicultural day for the school
16. Clean-up the school grounds
17. Build relationships with the teachers and administrative staff by taking the time to ask them about their day and their role
18. Join the gay-straight alliance in the school. Whatever your Biblical view of LGBTQ, we can say it is wrong for anyone to be bullied or mistreated. All of humanity is God’s creation, and no one should be mistreated, regardless if I agree or disagree with their current life situation or lifestyle.
19. Offer free tutoring
20. Start a lunch time club for those that want to know they are not alone as a Christian in the school
21. Talk about what you are thankful for and talk about the good in the world to those you hang-out with at school
22. Respond to what’s going on in the world (e.g. earthquake in Nepal) and give others at the school an opportunity to join you
23. Offer to wash the walls at the school
24. Offer to do gardening at the school
25. Give away free coffee to parents and bus drivers dropping off kids one day (with permission)

As are a blessing in your school or to the school in your community I trust God will open doors for you to share about your faith and journey together with people towards God.
Please add your ideas to this list!

-Renée @r_embree

Cultivating students with a missional mindset for their neighbourhood

Our biggest job in ministry is to cultivate environments that are favourable for people to engage in transformation with God. We can never force transformation or force growth. We cannot make something or someone grow. However there are sure a tonne of things we can do to cultivate the environment! As Paul says “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:6) You can’t make or will your plants to grow in your garden, but you can spend a lot of time, energy and even money to make sure those plants have everything they need to be able to grow.

How do we create an environment that cultivates students with a heart for their neighbourhood?
How do we cultivate students that want to see and join God’s work around them?

Here are 6 thoughts on cultivating students with a missional mindset for their neighbourhood…

1. Model it
a. In what you do together as a youth group/church – show what you mean by being God’s blessing to your neighbourhood. Model what it looks like to be God’s good news to others. Find opportunities for your youth group, and church or family to serve the neighbourhood around you – invite the neighbourhood to a party, offer to help the church neighbours with their yard work, fix up a local park, do a garbage clean-up in the area, thank the neighbours for putting up with your parking on the street on Sundays, serve the neighbours a meal with the intention of sitting down and getting to know them or find other ways your youth group could serve the unique neighbourhood where God has placed you.

b. In your own life as a leader – make it normal to share how you are getting to know and seeking to be a blessing to the neighbours around your home or apartment.

2. Share stories and celebrate it – what we celebrate determines where we spend most of our energy. What gets celebrated in your youth group or church? Do you celebrate when groups or individuals have been God’s good news to others? Do you tell the stories of how youth and children are blessing their neighbourhood? Give opportunities for stories to be shared of how people are being the mouth, hands and feet of Jesus. Do you ask regularly – where do you see God’s goodness around you? Where do you see God at work around you? It might seem odd when you first start asking these questions every week, but soon youth catch on. As we share more stories it helps each of us keep our eyes open to God’s activity during the week.

3. Practice – we all need practice when we are trying something new to us. During youth group do role plays and have conversation about how to talk about what God is doing in your life in natural ways. Youth, just like so many of us, have learned to be quiet about our faith. We need to help each other recapture how to talk about our faith, not in a shoving it down others throat kind-of-way, but in a way that is authentic to who we are and authentic to what God is doing in our lives. Give youth opportunities to practice talking about the journey they are on with Christ, how they came to trust Christ, what God is teaching them today, and their questions about faith.

4. Pray regularly – let others hear you pray regularly for God to give each person opportunities to be His blessing to others this week. Invite people to keep their eyes open to what God is doing around them and how they can join in.

5. Talk about fear and courage – talk about the fears we face when we see an opportunity to be a blessing, see an opportunity to talk about faith or see an opportunity to invite someone to a youth group event. Talk about the courage it takes to push through, and God’s Holy Spirit presence with us as we take opportunities to follow Him in the world.

6. Ask great questions (and teach students to ask great questions):
a. Who do you hang-out with in your neighbourhood?
b. What is life like for you and your neighbours?
c. Can you see God working in that persons’ life – how?
d. Anything crappy going on in their life – how can you show God’s kindness?
e. Anything good going on in their life – how can you celebrate with them?
f. Anything good going on in your neighbourhood where you could join in?
g. Anything bad going on in your neighbourhood (e.g. school closing, graffiti at the park…) where you could join in to make a difference?
h. If you are looking for conversation starting questions to help get into deeper discussions check out last weeks blog: 30 Great Conversation Starters

These are just 6 quick ideas on how we can cultivate students with a missional mindset for their neighbourhood. This is definitely an area where I’m trying to learn more! Please comment below and share your thoughts…

-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