Meditative music helps me slow down and get quiet. Click this link to hear a song called “Echo” by English singer and songwriter, Karen Money. You will hear allusions to the anointing of Jesus. You can hear more of her work via streaming here at her My Space page, and you can find it on iTunes and at Amazon.
Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia has announced a conference for people who have been in small church pastorates for a long time. It’s titled Staying Fresh in a Long Small Church Pastorate, and it will take place March 24-26, 2015. That’s a year away, but I am intrigued. The leader is the Rev. Chris Stewart, and Presbyterian pastor who has served the same two small congregations since 1978.
Here is a link to the conference infomation: http://www.upsem.edu/img/leadership_pdf/Staying_Fresh.pdf
Here is a link to an article by Christopher Schilling, a young candidate for ministry in the PC(USA). It caught my eye because he encourages young adults to give smaller, older congregations the chance to welcome them and care for them in community. Its title is Creating Communities Between Younger Adults and Older Congregations. The author speaks an encouraging word to those of us whose congregations are made up mostly of older people. He has experienced a warm welcome in a number of these older congregations in Tidewater, Virginia, where he is completing a hospital chaplaincy residency.
Schilling is a single, 29-year-old, temporary transplant from the west coast, with no connections in eastern Virginia. He has been deeply touched by the invitations to community that he has received in these congregations. He urges older congregations not to be ashamed of this fact, and to be themselves as they welcome younger people into community.
He concludes with a word to younger people who are seeking a worshiping community: “don’t be afraid to visit a smaller congregation predominately of older members because you think they will be too different from you. Because you just may be surprised by how those in other generations not only think, but are looking for the same thing our generation is looking for: a sense of belonging.”
Thank you, Christopher Schilling!
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Jesus advised his followers to be “wise as serpents, and innocent as doves.” The commandment to love God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves, reminds us that the head, as well as the heart, is engaged when it comes to faithfulness. So how do we keep head and heart together as we try to serve the poor faithfully? How do we hold wisdom and compassion together? What kinds of responses truly manifest justice, kindness, and humility?
I recently read Toxic Charity, a challenging and controversial book by Robert D. Lupton. (Click the title to go to an excerpt.) The subtitle is How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It).
For over 40 years Lupton has been living among and working with poor people in the city of Atlanta. He is a Christian, a Presbyterian, and the founder of a Christian community development organization called FCS Urban Ministries. FCS stands for “focused community strategies.” He maintains that some common charitable practices have unintended consequences that diminish people’s lives instead of increasing their experience of the abundant life. People’s lives are diminished when their own strengths and assets aren’t recognized and called forth; when their viewpoints are not sought, respected and included in the process; when the giving is only one-way; when they are pitied and treated as children and not expected to be responsible; and when there is no authentic relationship or community between the helper and the person being helped.
Lupton agrees that emergency relief certainly is critical, but he maintains that the work should soon transition to long-term development and transformation. He proposes the following “Oath for Compassionate Service”:
(1) Never do for the poor what they can (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves; (2) Limit one-way giving to emergencies; (3) Empower the poor through employment, lending, and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements; (4) Subordinate the giver’s self-interest to the needs of those being served; (5) Listen closely to those you seek to help; (6) Above all, do no harm.
The author stresses a philosophy of “asset-based community development” (ABCD) that takes seriously what poor people themselves have to offer and emphasizes working with people rather than doing things for people.
This book has generated a lot of controversy. That he calls into question many of the aid programs and mission trips that people in the church cherish is one point of contention, for example. Moreover, advocates for the poor worry that Lupton’s book and its principles will reinforce negative stereotypes of the poor, giving ammunition to people who are looking for resons not to engage in this ministry. Here is a link to a letter from the director of a community kitchen who maintains that all Christian aid should be given without expectation. Some worry that Lupton wants to ask too much of people who truly are helpless.
I found good food for thought and prayer in this book as I wrestle with these issues. I appreciated Lupton’s respect for the poor as thinking, feeling, capable human beings. Moreover, I have long thought that we cannot hope to make a difference in people’s lives if we are not willing to have a genuine relationship with them. I also appreciated the author’s stress on doing things on a small scale in a limited area. This means that individuals and small groups–including small churches–can truly make a difference. His own organization works in and with one neighborhood at a time. He maintains that many small, focused efforts will ultimately work better than a few huge programs that cover huge areas and large numbers of people with problems.
I found some correlations between Lupton’s call for authentic relationships and mutual service and a Presbyterian Church (USA) Policy Paper entitled Presbyterians Do Mission in Partnership. Click the title to read it online. The session (church governing body) of Second Presbyterian Church, St. Louis, used this paper and the Lupton book for a session retreat. You can read about their experience here.
May the Holy Spirit teach us how to love faithfully, justly, kindly, and humbly.
One of my missions is to challenge the assumption that small congregations have little or nothing to offer children. Here are some more thoughts about how a healthy, loving small church can be a great blessing to families with children. There are good reasons for choosing a small church for your children’s sake. If you become involved with this kind of congregation,
• Your children will have a nurturing extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who will truly be interested in them, encourage them, attend their sports events and performances, and celebrate their milestones. My daughter describes the senior generation at our church as her “grandfriends.”
• Your children will learn how to follow Jesus from observing adult disciples of Jesus, knowing them well, and serving actively alongside them. For the rest of their lives, your children will remember these role models in faith.
• Your children’s concerns will be taken very seriously. The pastor has time to spend with your children and can get to know each child personally.
• Your children’s talents will be welcomed and appreciated. What better place, for example, for a young musician to make his or her debut than in the midst of the gracious circle of a small church?
• Through ongoing relationships, your children and older adults will enrich one another’s lives and learn how to love and care faithfully for one another over the long haul of life.
I sometimes hear people say that they want their children to go to church with a large group of children. While it may be more exciting and more fun to be around a lot of children their own age, school, scouting, sports teams, and other programs meet that social need well. What is rare in today’s society is the opportunity for different generations to mix and become one people in life and mission together. In today’s world people of different ages and life stages are stratified and lead largely separate lives. They even live in separate communities. Congregations are often stratified in the same way. Intergenerational small congregations offer a much-needed alternative that challenges everyone–younger, older, and in-between–to love each other as neighbors.
If you are looking for a church for your family, don’t just automatically drive past a small church. Stop in and take time to get to know the people. Give them a chance to bless you and your children. You may find that God has led you home.
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Click on Children in the Church in the sidebar for more links.
Presbyterian pastor Rebecca Kirkpatrick writes an excellent blog entitled Bread, Not Stones about nurturing our children’s faith. A few months ago, when God called her and her husband to another form of Christian service, her family searched for a church home. You can read her post about that here. It’s full of good counsel for anyone looking for a church home.
After her family settled in to a new congregation, Rebecca wrote this thoughtful post entitled “The Sound of My Child’s Voice: Choosing Our New Church Home.” I was greatly heartened to read that her family did not automatically cross a small congregation that only had a few children off their list. They had two congregations to choose from in their location, a more contemporary style congregation with many of the offerings that families often want, and a smaller, more traditional congregation. Both were good churches, but the Kirkpatrick family eventually chose the smaller congregation. A big part of it was the way their six-year-old son’s voice is welcomed and needed there. She notes that, in more ways than one, he can be heard in the smaller church. Do read the whole post, but here are a couple of excerpts:
“[W]hen we sing hymns that I remember loving as a child, I can hear his tiny and clear voice singing next to me. The music may be “old fashioned,” but I swear he sings louder, probably because he can finally hear his own voice. I like that after a hymn the adult sitting in front of him will often turn around and tell him what a nice job he did. “
Here is a challenging post from Rodger Nishioka, who teaches Christian Education at Columbia Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, and who specializes in ministry with young people. It’s entitled Children’s Church is the Church. He shows how the generations began to separate from one another during worship after World War II, and he describes the unfortunate fruit that has resulted. I believe that this practice is one of the major reasons why younger generations are largely missing from our congregations.
Here’s a sample: Nishioka writes, “We have sown three generations of children leaving or never worshipping with us, and it is no wonder that so many find worship boring and incomprehensible when they come of age and are expected to join us. Further, when I suggest that children remain with us during the whole of worship, some of the loudest objections come from some young parents who want worship to be a time for them when they do not have to worry about their child’s behavior. My own sense is that this reflects the current belief among developmental theorists that adolescence is extending well into young adulthood and what else is a true sign of adolescence but the primary focus on one’s own needs over others.”
In other words, we now have a sixty-year history of people not having to make the effort and not having to struggle to worship as generations together, and we do not want to make the effort and engage in that struggle. We have forgotten that older, younger, and middle generations need to know one another well, love one another, challenge one another, learn from one another, and serve one another. We are called to practice this as we worship together. No, worship is not just about me and what I enjoy, and what I can get out of it. It is the gathering of the whole people of God before God. It is liturgia, the work of the people of God. Why do we think it is supposed to be easy? It is something we do for God and for one another.
Do go read Nishioka’s entire post.
For more thoughts, click on the Children in the Church category in the sidebar to the right.