Archive for the ‘Best Web Resources’ Category

Small congregations often feel their limitations keenly.  They look at other congregations that seem to have more resources and seem to be successful and think wistfully of what they could do if only they had more: more people, more money, more (fill in the blank).

Actually, it’s not just small churches that find themselves thinking this way.  Here is a TED talk about how our limitations can actually be a source of great creativity.  What if we saw our limitations as a gift from God and a call to creativity?  Thanks to David Lose who teaches at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota for calling attention to this video on his blog In the Meantime.    Check out this video, and check out Lose’s blog.


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'Prayer is the language' photo (c) 2009, Leland Francisco - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/The Wayne Oates Institute is a resource for reading and continuing education in the areas of pastoral care and healing ministry.  Here is its mission statement:

“The Wayne Oates Institute is a learning community advancing collaborative, compassionate, and integrative care. Our membership consists of professional and lay caregivers in the fields of religion, nursing, pastoral care and counseling, medicine, social work, and therapy. We accomplish our mission through education, publication, and research and make our resources available locally, nationally, and internationally on the Internet.”

Click here for a fact sheet about this organization.
The Oates Journal is a free online professional journal that addresses issues of spirituality, ethics and health for pastoral care givers and health professionals.  Here is a link to a recent article: “Bringing the Refugees Home: Ministry with the Dechurched”, and here is a link to an archived article “Introduction to Preaching and Pastoral Care.”  You can subscribe to their newsletter to receive notifications of new articles.

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'HPrayer3-Annointing' photo (c) 2010, NealeA - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Christ Jesus came to make us whole in every way, and he calls his church to the work of healing and wholeness.  Over the centuries, though, we have ceded much of this area of ministry to the medical community, and we fail to see that the call to heal is still ours.  Here’s a resource for all who want to answer that call.

Church Health Reader is a quarterly journal that also has a website with lots of articles and resources that you can click on.  Here’s a sample article entitled “The Church’s Call to Health Ministry.”     Print subscriptions cost $20 for one year, $30 for two years, and $40 for three years.

On the site there are free downloadable flyers with health information, and even healthy recipes for cooking in large quantity for church suppers.  You can click on book reviews, and helps for starting health ministries of various kinds in your congregation.  There is a list of must-reads before you begin a health ministry, and articles on living with diseases and conditions like cancer and depression.  Resources can also be accessed according to interest, such as worship, food, walking and running for health, clergy health, parenting, parish nursing, and recovery from addiction.

Church Health Reader also offers curriculum resources.  Walk & Talk is a Bible study and devotional that is specifically designed to be used while you walk with a friend, with a member of your congregation, or by yourself.

May the Holy Spirit move afresh among us and show us how to exercise the gift of healing in our time and place!

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The Vibrant Congregations Project of Luther Seminary has just published a free e-book that you can download in formats for your Kindle, iPad or Nook, or in pdf format to view and print from your computer.  It’s entitled Renew 52, and inside you’ll find over fifty short articles grouped under these headings:

  • Leadership
  • Community
  • Worship
  • Children, Youth, & Family
  • Preaching
  • Service & Mission
  • Discipleship & Spiritual Practices

Click on the image above or on the title to go to the web page.  The producers of the book want it to be shared freely.  You will find articles that you can share with people and groups in your congregation.  You could use them as discussion starters for your congregation’s board.

I scanned them all, and here are some that I found especially helpful:

  • “Change Your Self-Image from Performer to Coach”:   David Lose, who also edited this volume, writes, “[W]e need to stop executing religious skills for our people and train them to perform them for themselves.  Otherwise they will continue to be spectators, appreciating the faith but never really learning how to do it for themselves,” p. 19.
  • “Avoid McDonaldization and Advocate Distinctive Discipleship”: Ronnie McBrayer says that in their desire to do what “works,” churches imitate one another’s programs and marketing plans.  This leads to churches being like brands or chains, like McDonald’s–when you’ve been to one, you’ve been to them all.  Instead, each congregation is called to be a unique community of God where God has placed it.  He writes, “Churches should cease their efforts to build spiritual shopping malls and focus instead on helping people become committed followers of Jesus,” p. 26.
  • “Reinvigorate Youth Ministry by Learning from Eli and Samuel”: Kathy Wolf Reed and Nick Reed find inspiration for intergenerational youth ministry from the story of Eli and Samuel in 1 Samuel 3.  They maintain that the best youth ministry is intergenerational, authentic, and reciprocal, i.e. generations care for and learn from each other.  See p. 55.  This leads to deeper faithfulness for everybody.  (Small churches who can’t hire a “cool” youth director: are you listening?)
  • “Create Family-friendly Worship Spaces”: Theresa Cho offers creative ideas to help families with children be able to worship together in the sanctuary.  She writes, “Worshipping with children in our midst can be a vital asset to a faith community–not solely because they need to learn something from us, but because we need to learn something from them as well,” p. 58.

Many, many thanks to the Vibrant Congregations Project for this gift to the whole church!

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'Christmas Party - 2006' photo (c) 2006, Todd Nappen - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Faith and Leadership from Duke Divinity School is one of the best sites on the web for Christian leaders.  Here is an article from UCC pastor Anthony Robinson with eight important pointers for reaching out to young adults.

These especially struck me:

  • Make it spiritual. The core business of religion is — surprise — religion; we’re not a social club, civic organization or political party.  Honestly ask, “Are we growing spiritually, in faith and discipleship?” “Are we  offering others opportunities to deepen faith?”
  • A corollary: Make it about God. People want to experience the holy, the
    divine, the sacred. They are dying for want of grace, wonder, mystery — not for want of bylaws, committees or sign-up sheets. At least, they don’t want those things instead of God.
  • Value the power of cross-generational community and relationships. Increasingly, we live in mono-generational enclaves. Speak of the importance of friendship and contact across the generations and then live that out in the way you do church.
  • Make it work for busy lives. Time is the new currency; don’t ask people
    to waste it. This is particularly true in many young or single-parent families, where people are working full time plus. Offer more short-term ways to engage, such as one-day mission projects, two- or three-week study series. Offer activities for parents to do with their kids.

Read the whole article.  It’s brief, but you’ll find much food for thought.

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'Class and teacher gatherd around laptop' photo (c) 2010, Saad Faruque - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Faith Lens is a free source of lesson plans aimed at youth and young adults from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Faith Lens is published in a blog format, and lessons are posted early each week for every Sunday from September through May.  Each lesson begins with warm up questions that relate to a current or contemporary concern, lists the four texts for the day from the Revised Common Lectionary, and then presents a brief reflection on the Gospel reading for the day.  Discussion questions and suggested activities follow, along with a closing prayer.  If you look over in the right sidebar, you can view archived lessons that go back to September 2008.  You can also sign up to receive each week’s lesson via email subscription.

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'Concentration' photo (c) 2006, Miika Silfverberg - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Christian educator Carolyn Brown put up this excellent post about using drawing to draw children into worship.    It’s entitled “Worshiping with Pencils and Crayons.”

Here is an excerpt:

Before a scripture that you can easily visualize, ask the children to listen then draw what they hear.  In some cases you can leave it general, e.g. draw a picture of the slaves walking to freedom through the sea.  In other cases hone the task, e.g. ask the children to draw the faces of Mary and Martha during their spat about who did all the work.
At the beginning of the sermon pose a question asking the children to draw a picture of their answer to the question.  Suggest they might listen to the sermon for ideas.  “We are going to be thinking together about using money to help others.  While you listen, draw pictures of ways you can use money to help another person.”
Early in the service give children a sheet of paper with the words of a prayer or one verse in a hymn that you will sing later in the service to decorate or illustrate and then use when singing or praying.  Creation hymns are especially easy candidates for illustration.
Encourage children to draw their prayers.  On a sheet of paper they can simply draw and write words of everything they want to talk with God about today talking to God as they do.  Their drawings might be in the sections of a scribbled pattern or simply splashed all over the page.
To convince the children that their work is an important part of worship….
Invite them forward to show you their art and talk briefly about it.
Invite them to tape their art to a rail at the front of the chancel or tack it on a special bulletin board in the back.  One preacher I know has a bulletin board on his office door especially for the children to leave him drawings and notes.
Invite children to drop their drawings into the offering plates as they are passed as a gift to God.
Take time to talk briefly with children about their drawings as they leave the sanctuary.  Shake hands with the adults, talk art with the children.

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'IMG_3240' photo (c) 2007, Bo Gordy-Stith - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Sunday morning worship is the family reunion of the whole family of God.  Christian educator Carolyn Brown has a marvelous web site called Worshiping with Children.  It offers many helps for planning worship for a multigenerational congregation.  She shows ways to include children so that they can participate alongside adults.  She includes many resources related to the Sunday texts of the Revised Common Lectionary, and she posts them several weeks ahead.  Recently she posted a list of helpful hints for parents as they and their children debrief after worship.  It is called The Van Trip HomeHere is a sample from this post:

“Talk about good things that happened at church.    One parent urges his children to look for one worship “take away”, i.e. something they want to remember (and yes, jokes from the sermon count).  His children know he will ask about theirs in the car on the way home each week and so they try to have an answer ready to get Dad off their case if nothing else.  Other parents kick off this discussion with questions like “what was one good thing that you did this morning at church?”  or “which song did you like best?” or “what did you think about….?”  “who did you see at church this morning?”

You can search the site by scripture text or by date in the lectionary.  If you are preaching or teaching on lectionary texts, you can also find lectionary-related resources for children at Children’s Literature: A Resource for Ministry, which recommends books related to the scripture lessons and themes..

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My keyboard

My keyboard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A lay pastor colleague of mine called my attention to hymnpod.com, a free source of traditional hymn accompaniments online.  Christopher Tan, a pianist from Singapore, has recorded  many, many tunes using an electronic piano, and they are exceptionally clear and singable, and they are lovely to listen to.

The tunes are all in the public domain.  Here is a sample, the Swedish tune to which we sing the hymn “How Great Thou Art.”

You can download these tunes to your computer by right clicking on the play button and then select “save audio as.”   On iTunes you can download a number of them for free and also subscribe to podcasts of more tunes as Christopher Tan makes them available.   Then you can make audio CDs to use in worship, or you can sync them to your iPod and play them back through a compatible player.

For more music resources, see this post reviewing CDs for worship use, and this post about smallchurchmusic.com, a site that offers free downloads of hymn accompaniments in multiple formats.  You can also click the resources tab above and scroll down to the music section for more help.

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I am always on the lookout for free and low-cost curriculum materials for Christian Education and faith formation.  Faithelement.com is a free curriculum resource based on the Revised Common Lectionary.  View the video above for a general overview.  Each weekly session is based on one of the lectionary texts.  Resources for each lesson include a short Bible background video that you can view online, or, if your church doesn’t have wi-fi, download and save to play back later, using free software from clipnabber.com.  There is a link to clipnabber on the faithelement site, along with instructions for how to download and save the video.

There is also an assortment of different lesson plans based on different learning styles that you can download and print.  The styles include Mental, Mystic, Media, and Create.  A youth lesson plan is included.  Related video clips are included, such as scenes from movies.   You can find devotional thoughts and “Faith Challenges” related to the text on facebook or by subscribing to an email newsletter, and you can follow them on twitter.  The producers are moderate Baptists, and they cite the Apostles’ Creed in a contemporary translation as a summary of their beliefs.  The writers are men and women, clergy and lay, including Baptist women clergy.

I reviewed the lesson on Exodus 20:1-17, the Hebrew Bible lesson for the Third Sunday in Lent, Year B.  The short Bible background clip was helpful, especially for teachers.  It’s not exciting.  Do not expect bells and whistles.  Do expect scholarship and thought.  The lesson plans in various styles are flexible and adaptable.  The youth lesson plan could also be used with adults.

The series is a service of faithlab, a “religious creative services and publishing firm  whose mission is to help congregations and religious organizations use  technology and new media more effectively.” It offers the following services: publishing, website development, and photo-video services, in addition to the faithelement curriculum.

Go to my resource page and scroll down for more resources for small churches, including free or inexpensive curricula for Sunday School and VBS.

For a review of another source of free downloadable curriculum, see this post about Stories on the Way.

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