Monday, February 24, 2014

The Christian Life: Living the Life Eternal

The most profound change in your life comes when you realize that when God says you have eternal life, He means it starts today. We are no longer subject to the kind of death that the human race fears so much. Eternity has already begun for us. If we cease to breathe for a time and sleep for a while then wake when Christ comes for us, then death isn't death at all, but what my grandpa called a "dirt nap".  And oh, the joy when we wake up in that incredible "great gettin' up morning". 

Teach that to your children. It changes everything for them, especially their relationship to the trials, tribulations and the troubles that present themselves when they are growing up. It brings the petty persecutions, the sadness and loneliness of being an adolescent more bearable.

I got a peek at that idea in my senior year at Valley Grande Academy. I made the 500 mile pilgrimage to Weslaco, Texas mostly because there was this girl...

She dumped me the first week for her old boyfriend. I locked myself in my dorm room for 3 days. Our campus pastor, Mike Hansen, dropped by my room to talk. I didn't want to talk. I wanted to be miserable, but I let him in.  He told me something that changed things for me.

He said, "Tom, God has a wonderful girl picked out for you already. This one just wasn't her. She's waiting for you up ahead. You just have to find her."  I got up off the bed, took a shower and went back to living my life. Six more girls dumped me before it finally occurred to me that God might want to be more involved in the selection process. So I got down on my knees and prayed very hard. I said, "God, you pick the next one. I'm done."  Two weeks later the love of my life invited me to sit with her on the bus to Bible camp so we could play guitar and sing. Shortly after that God smacked me up beside the head (literally, I think - there was a sudden shock and I saw stars). He told me as clearly as I've ever heard his voice that this girl was precious to Him and that I was to take care of her.

So I did. But what Pastor Hansen told me something I've never forgotten. We live on God's time. He has all the wonderful things we can imagine prepared for us. All we have to do is walk the path he lays out for us. He never promised us unending sunshine and rainbows in this life. What he promised us is that if we trust our hearts and our lives to him that in the end it would be well worth the wait. I'm grateful that God helped me wait to find the other half of me. Together we have begun an eternal life together. I am not afraid anymore like I was that day in my dorm room when I was entertaining notions that my life was doomed to be eternally miserable.

If you come upon a young person who is deeply troubled, sad and discouraged, remind him that eternal life has already begun if he or she will only allow God to give that to them. We may have to walk a rough and rocky road to get there, but the journey is so worth it. Along that road you will find love, you will see the faces of your children as they enter the world, you will see them grow, you will grow closer and closer to your beloved and to God and when it's done you will go home with Jesus - every day a new tomorrow filled with joy unimaginable and nothing the devil can do to you will take that away from you.

 - T. King © 2014

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ministries: The Missing Ministry

Go through the web pages for most Adventist churches and you'll find a listing of church ministries.  You'll find a Youth Ministry and perhaps a Children's Ministry. You'll find a Women's Ministry and all too rarely anymore, a Dorcas Society which does ministry to the poor and supports disaster relief and sometimes a food bank. What you seldom see, however, is the third leg of the Women's/Children's ministry partnership -- the Men's Ministry.

We've always had ministry departments for children and youth. The women's ministry has become ubiquitous throughout SDA churches. They have their own conferences. They have their own objectives for ministering to the women of the church and the community. We have youth congresses, youth outreaches and youth programs.

What we don't have in anything like the breadth that we need is a ministry to meet the needs of men. There are conferences and churches which do offer men's ministries. Some are quite extensive in their outreach, others are kind of superficial to be honest. Some may question the need for a formal men's ministry program, especially at the local church level. Some might argue that everything else that happens in the church is the men's ministry - the preaching, the deacon's work, the financial management, the building committees and the like.  That could well have been the case a hundred years ago when male/female roles were more well-defined, but in the modern SDA movement, women have moved into all these areas and taken leadership roles as elders, church board members and even in the pulpit. My own home church in Keene, Texas recently hired a women as lead pastor, shattering a century-old history during which not a single female ordained pastor served in even a secondary pastoral role as far as I know. Things are changing and men are, I think, confused as to what happens next for us. In some ways the church is beginning to feel to some men like the church is becoming a club for women and children and that we're the dinosaurs in this extinction scenario.

We blithely assume that men know what they need to do and will just naturally take care of themselves. It seems that the church has subconsciously decided that men need no such
guidance; that new church members who are male will just naturally take their place within the body of the church and do whatever it is that men do without a lot of coaching.

I don't believe we can safely assume that men understand their role in the life of the church anymore. I've seen far too many men come to church on Sabbath with their wives on their arm and pretty much shadow them. They make no strong connections within the church with other males. They take on no jobs or duties unless asked. They are easily overlooked. Eventually, many of them, their social life existing almost entirely outside of the church, just give up and start dropping their wives and kids (for whom we have an active ministry) off at the door and picking them up at noon.

Because our roles are changing so rapidly in recent times, even though much of the change may actually be for the better, I think it's time to establish men's ministries in our churches. Here's why I believe that.

  1. Many of our men are new to the faith and did no grow up with strong male role models. Many times our boys grow up with single moms or with fathers who don't attend church. They missed out on seeing their dads lead out in Pathfinders, helping repair the church, doing building projects, teaching and mentoring and developing friendships with other men. A men's ministry might provide strong male role models for guys unsure what they should do as a member of the SDA church. 
  2. Men need socialization as much as women do, but they are not as good at forging those bonds in a social setting like women are. Men tend to forge friendships in work settings or where they are with other guys who are working toward a common purpose. Guys don't invite each other over for tea. They ask for help to hang a garage door or invite someone to go fishing. Adventist guys aren't even sure that fishing is moral given our stance on vegetarianism. Men's ministries could organize men's prayer breakfasts, men's recreational activities and men's conferences where we talk about doing guy things for the church.
  3. Men can do things that women and children can't do as well. God made us bulkier and on the whole better able to cope with things electrical, mechanical and technical. Not to say women can't do some of this stuff too, but if we need to lift heavy plywood decking onto the top of a church roof, give me 4 burly guys any day. There are things the church needs that guys can do. There is no excuse for any church to go unmaintained if it's got 40 or 50 male church members who can help out.  A men's ministry could be responsible for asking its members to do stuff like that as part of their activities.
  4. Men are traditionally the mentors of young people, particularly boys. Men's ministries could be responsible for making sure there are enough Master Guides to run a Pathfinder program. They could make sure youth activities leaders are properly trained in leadership techniques. They could help create special "rites of passage" for the boys in the church as they become old enough to assume adult responsibilities within the congregation.
  5. Having a men's ministry gives men permission to do stuff in the church. The existence of a women's ministry is about empowering women to do stuff for the church. The existence of a youth ministry is about giving young people a sense of ownership of their church and about giving them a place within the church to express their love of God. In the same way, a men's ministry would be about acknowledging that men have a definite role in God's church and that as a church, we expect them to do their duty.
A lot of men tend to be on the taciturn side. They may not say much, but there's an energy there that only waits to be unleashed. They may not push for a place in church leadership. They may not even offer to help out without an invitation to do so, but God bless 'em, if you can get the men in your church rolling on some project or other, the results can be quite breath-taking. I heard a story once about a group of women who ran the annual Christmas pageant at their church every year.  They took care of everything right down to the cardboard backdrops and props that had to be rebuilt nearly every year. It was exhausting.

One of the mom's whose husband was a dab hand at carpentry offered to rope George into doing the scenery of the play that year. She asked him if he could get some of the guys together and build them a nice set. She was vague about the specs of the thing, just gave him an overall idea of what she wanted.

When the sawdust settled, George and two other guys he knew from work who weren't even Adventist, a deacon and a couple of other husbands whose wives were trying to get them involved in the church had built a stunningly lifelike stable, manger, inn and a variety of stand-alone wooden animals including a rather convincing camel. They hinged everything so it folded flat and hung on hooks against the wall in a tool shed the church had out back. They also cleaned and organized the tool shed while they were at it. The trick the ladies learned, was to avoid micro-managing the guys. Just turn them loose with something to do and the results can be quite surprising.

The trick we as a church need to learn is to tap into the powerful resource represented by the men in the church. Guys would rather do something than talk about doing something. I recently went to a men's prayer breakfast one Sunday morning. It was a lot of fun. The pastor gave a short message and we prayed round the circle. Then we broke up and headed by groups down the street to the fairgrounds where they were having a gun show.

Following up a prayer breakfast with a gun show only seems strange if you are not a guy. It could have been a car show or a boat show. The point is that the prayer breakfast got a bunch of guys together to do guy stuff with other guys from the church. That's how you build bonds that will pay back to the church many times over. We're doers, we men.  

The message of a men's ministries conference won't be "What is our place in the church?" or "How does the church make us feel?"  The message will be "What can we do next for our church and our God?"  

That is as it should be. That is, after all, how God made us. When we quit doing stuff and regress to merely talking about stuff and jockeying for position, it's kind of all downhill from there.

Just sayin'

© 2014 by Tom King

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Ministries: Engaging Youth Through Technology

You hear people lament about how technology is replacing human contact. We see alarming symptoms in our children, stumbling around texting in the midst of crowds of real people and missing out on the human contact we all need. We see them standing before great wonders with their faces stuck to a 3-by-3 inch screen. It is tempting to see all this new social media, smartphones and Facebook as something bad - something we should protect our children from. They need physical human contact, right? 

And I agree. The kids need to be drawn out. They need to play, explore and make connections, but while we're doing that, let's not overlook the opportunity for ministry to be found in technology and it's one you can get the kids involved in.

Physical human contact is all well and good if you can get it, but how many of us older folk would be talking together across the once vast distances between us were it not for social media? How many old friends would have found each other after all these years? How many shut-ins would be completely isolated without their computers and Internet connections. We can even Skype each other and see each others' faces. Even telephones don't help if you don't know what number to call to find an old friend when your kids are too busy to talk and too involved in their own lives to invest any time in yours anymore. Here we can do a search and find faces we know. Virtually, we are associating together more than ever before, even though we may not be able to jet around the world to be together physically.

Human beings have always instinctively tried to knit together communities of people we love. We are drawn toward things which unite us in whatever way we can find. It started out with drums and smoke signals and became books, letters, semaphore and telegraphs. Then telephones, radio, television and finally the Internet and social tools like email and Facebook. We have the technology to make our own movies, slide shows and ebooks. We finally have the video phone, smartphones that do almost anything. And it's all in the name of communicating one with another.

We are at the point in time where we can reach the whole world no matter how isolated any point is. The technology is inexorably reaching out to connect us. A man trapped in a crevasse on Mt. Everest can call his wife in Dallas, Texas to say "I love you."  I think we've been given a great gift. Can it be misused by foolish or evil men? You bet. But imagine the possibilities at our fingertips for reaching out to a dying and unhappy world. What a gift we've been given. 

As leaders of our youth, we have a responsibility to show our kids ways they can use this technology to do good rather than evil. To minister rather than to merely consume. Let me suggest a couple of projects you can get your smartphone addicted youth involved in that can become a personal ministry for them.

I. Checking In:  Start a ministry to the seniors in your church. Get cell phone numbers, especially from shut-ins and give each kid in your youth group a number of an older person to partner with. The purpose of these senior/youth partners is to provide the young person with a senior mentor and the young person with someone that he can bless. Instruct the kids to send videos, photos and texts to their senior partner every day to let them know what they are doing. Have them connect via Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram. If the senior doesn't know how to use these and has a computer, the young person should show them how to set it up. Teach the kids how to do these kinds of things for their senior partners.  Also provide materials to the older person to teach them how to mentor the kids - how to be a good listener, techniques like reflective listening, asking questions instead of giving commands.  The connection between older folk and the young can be very powerful.

II. Youth Producers:  Get your kids with camcorders and cameras to record events at your church. Teach them how (if they don't already know) to turn these into short 5-10 minute videos. That way every time the church has an event, the kids can produce a video about it that can be shown at church. Showing the kids' movies between services is a good way to get people to move on into the sanctuary. You will have to create some standards, of course, and review the films before they are shown, but by and large, let the kids do it. If you have someone who is a good writer and understands how to use film to tell a story or to make a point, that person can help your kids learn what video to shoot and how to use editing to make a point. You just need one or two adults who have an interest in that sort of thing to mentor the kids.  Let the kids do all the photography work, voice-overs and as much as possible the editing.  Your role is to enable them, to provide technical advice, not do the work for them. Some kids will gravitate toward doing this stuff and you can quickly move them into taking on tech jobs for the church.

III.  Sound and media crew:  Find the restless kids in the group, the ones fidgeting in their seats or wandering around in the lobby during service and train them up to run the sound system and the video equipment. They have way more energy than you and there's nothing quite so useful as a skinny kid when you're running LAN cable around in the attic crawl space. The cost of the technology needed to do a decent job of on-line video streaming the church service is going down every day. The big deal is the time needed to install and run the video system. Kids have way more time than we do. Find some you can trust and teach them how to be your church's most excellent tech support unit ever!

IV. Food Pantry:  If your church doesn't have a food pantry you should. Get the kids involved. You can get food from the local food bank. There may be a charge, but it's usually something ridiculously low like a penny a pound. Set up a room in the church somewhere for the program.  Set the room up like a little grocery store, right down to the checkout register. You can get software to read bar codes and inventory stuff, track expiration dates, check out customers, etc. Set up shelves and let the kids label them and sort things, create displays and do everything as though it were a retail grocery store. If you have room, let them set up your Dorcas clothing the same way. Help them complete displays of clothing and other things you provide for needy people in the community. You can set up a voucher system for people that allows them to come into the "store" and purchase a certain amount of food, clothing, etc..  It doesn't feel so bad for the people who need help, it helps you keep up your inventory and it gives your kids a taste of how a retail shop works.  And it insures all the donated food, clothing and personal items that come into your donation baskets get used. Get some old mannequins, recycled display cases. You can even put in a frozen foods and refrigerated foods section by buying older display cases that retailers have replaced when they remodel. You'll need an energetic, organized adult and a bunch of kids with an interest to manage the "store". Run it at regular hours evenings and maybe on Sunday or Saturday night. Work with other departments in your church to connect your Food Pantry operation with people who need help. You'll be surprised how many of your church's members may need your help, but no one has known how. Now you'll have a way to feed the hungry.  Call the store "Loaves and Fishes" or something like that. Get your church ladies to contribute baked goods and things.  Hook up with other Food Pantries in town and swap inventory. If they have too many potatoes and you have too many jars of peanut butter, you can do a swap between you. An organized, youth-run food pantry can be a wonderful ministry for your church.

The point is to connect the young people in your church with real ministries, something they will feel good about doing. It doesn't have to be a big thing. You could get a couple of kids to visit elderly church members who haven't been to church in a while. Have them find out if they need something. Are they having trouble feeding their beloved pet (the Food Pantry could stock dog and cat food)? Is there some way you could get them an Mp3 file of the church services that they could listen to if they can't get to church. Old laptops and retired smartphones or Mp3 players work well for that sort of thing.

An active church is an alive and growing church. We've got to quit designing programs to be built around the busiest people in the church - the ones who don't have time to do all the things we would want. It's time we grabbed the young people that are at the back of the church and fixing to drift out the door and give them something to do that they're good at and that we can give them support and encouragement for doing. That's how we will grow our church. That's how we will prepare our young people for lives of service.

© 2014 by Tom King

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Tapping Tech for Jesus in Smaller Churches

Guys love tech. It's kind of built into our DNA. Women use tech because it helps them connect with others. That's built into their DNA. It's time the tech heads in our churches get together with the communications experts who know what to do with this gift of technology to the work of winning souls for Christ.

Only a few churches have experimented with podcasting sermons. Most thanks to the General Conference at least have a template website. Not a lot of smaller churches do this sort of thing, however. A "media" department is assumed to be something only for large churches with large budgets. What can a small church do?

It turns out - quite a lot. But most of the time we go about it the wrong way. Too often, we build a media-based ministry in the same way a rolling snowball picks up rocks and sticks and leaves. It's not a good way to start anything, be it business, ministry or military operation.  The first step to any endeavor is to first figure out what you want to do. The first thing you should do, then, is to sit down with interested people including your pastor and the communication director, youth leader and anyone who needs to connect with people.

First:  Create goals for the media ministry.  These goals are NOT lists of equipment you need to buy. These goals are long term goals regarding who we want to share the Good News with through this ministry, what we want to tell them, when we want to do all this, where we want to reach with our tech-based ministry and how will the ministry help the local church accomplish it's own goals. Think in terms of five to ten year goals. These are target for which you reach, even though right now your reach may fall very short of what you are reaching for.  Here's a sample goal:

Goal 1:  To make Townville SDA Church's Sabbath Services available to everyone in our city and the surrounding county.

Goal 2:  To reach our non-attending members, shut-ins and ex-members and draw them back into the life of the church.

Goal 3:  To expand the TSDA Church's communication resources so that more people know what is going on at the church and can be included in the life of the church.

Goal 4:  To develop the tech-resources of the TSDA Church in a strategic way that most effectively utilizes existing technologies, low-cost resources and innovative strategies to accomplish the church's goals for communication with and inclusion of all church members and members of our local community.

Goal 5:  To develop human resources with tech skills in the TSDA Church through recruiting, training and empowering church members with an interest in and aptitude for technical work.

Second: Create objectives for those goals.  Once you know who your target is, what you want to tell them, when, where you'll aim and how you'll work with the church as a whole, it's time to break down each goal into three or more objectives that will help you reach your goals.  These objectives should be clear, measurable and achievable. There will be milestones included as you map out the strategies for each objective that establish a timeline for completion of the objective.  For instance, here are sample objectives for one of our goals:

Goal 1:  To make Townville SDA Church's Sabbath Services available to everyone in our city and the surrounding county.
  • Objective 1: The Media Ministry team will make weekly church services available to all members and interested people in the parish served by TSDA (Smith County). 
  • Objective 2: The Media Ministry team  will upgrade the TSDA website so that it acts as an information clearing house for and link to all church communications, activities, ministries and services. 
  • Objective 3: The Media Ministry team will work with the music ministry team to produce and make available high quality recordings of musical performances by member artists and visiting artists as permitted by copyright laws and regulations.
  • Objective 4: The Media Ministry team will develop technology to support an interactive online ministry such as live streaming Bible Studies, Sabbath School Classes and peer-to-peer counseling.
Third: Create strategies for accomplishing each objective.  This part is where the rubber meets the road, but once you work through the process of creating goals and objectives, this is a lot easier.  You'll have to work out the timing - which comes first, second and so forth. You'll also have to deal with identifying what is doable and what is, for now, out of reach and come up with strategies for working around it with other technologies.  For instance, you may have to start with podcasts and work your way up to live-streaming over time.  The technology is out there. You may have to use anything you can find at first, but over time, you'll be able to make things work more smoothly and to develop more of your own resources.  You may have to use rented resources for a while until you can afford a heavy broadband connection and your own server farm. You may never get there if you have a small budget. Remember, it's not the tech that's most important.  That's out there. It's growing the people who know how to use it and making them a key part of your ministry team. Treat them with respect and work with them and they'll do amazing things for you.

Here's an example of a couple of strategies for one of the objectives above:

Objective 1: The Media Ministry team will make weekly church services available to all members and interested people in the parish served by TSDA (Smith County).

  • Strategy 1: Create a weekly audio podcast. Raise money to purchase sound recording software and required recording and computer equipment. Obtain cost estimates. Approach members for donations. Set up equipment. Train 4 media ministry team members to make podcasts. Set up website link on church website from which weekly Mp3 podcasts can be downloaded. Begin uploading weekly sermon/services podcasts by January 15 2014.
  • Strategy 2: Create weekly video podcast. Raise money for good two camera video recording system with editing board. Obtain cost estimates. Approach members for donations. Set up equipment. Train four media ministry team members on the video equipment. Set up church website links to weekly video podcast. Begin uploading weekly video podcasts of sermons and services by January 15, 2015.
  • Strategy 3:  Create weekly live-streaming video broadcast via the web.  Obtain cost estimates of streaming services and equipment/software needed to produce the broadcast. Raise money to cover any equipment costs. Get live-streaming fees included in church budget. Set up link to live-streamed broadcasts on website. Train four media ministry team members to operate the live-streaming feeds. Begin weekly live-streaming by January 15 2016.
Notice I gave the team 3 years to go from nothing to live-streaming. You can beat that easily with off-the-shelf resources, but training and fund-raising will take some time. Notice also that the point of the strategies is to progressively provide more and more inclusive media formats, audio, recorded video and finally live video and to do it as quickly as possible. The podcasts will still be available in audio and video (some people like to listen while walking, so don't dump the audiocasts). With the live-streaming and video podcasts, if someone misses the live-stream, they can still see the services.

For people who are shut-ins, the elderly, people with health problems, their absence from church services is not always by choice. - who would like to look in on the church every week as well. Step 1 in outreach is to reach out beyond the walls of the church. Who knows, we might even get some members back if we let them peek in the windows every week to see what is going on. Otherwise, the imagination concocts all sorts of unpleasant scenes from the memories of why they left us in the first place. Let our displaced brothers and sisters see the Graham Church grow in front of their eyes. Let them see the children taking part, the youth taking their place in church leadership alongside the members. Let them see that new faces are being welcomed into fellowship.

The technology is not that difficult, even for streaming of church services, pod casts and downloadable videos. When you think of the area that Yelm and Graham serve, the Internet is a really effective way to serve them. Building a TV tower to broadcast 3ABN and Hope channel is really expensive and operation costs are pretty high too.  There are satellite resources for that.

BUT, a link on the church website to saved podcasts or videos or even a video stream on Sabbath mornings would do as much, if not more, especially if isolated church members knew that for the price of a tablet computer they could sit in their chairs at home and attend church virtually. (add the link to the SDA offering site and they could even pay their tithe and offerings while they are at it).

A simple link next to the video button would allow our lost members to request a pastoral visit, to submit a prayer request or even to have a sabbath chat with fellow church members. Why aren't we doing that?  I do six or seven chats with Adventists every Sabbath. Some have drifted away. Some are in trouble with mental health issues, family issues and such. Some just feel disconnected from the church. What a witness we could be if we sought out the lost via the Internet.  It would also give you more jobs to engage church members who are just riding the bench because they don't know what to do or are too shy to press forward to volunteer.

As this world winds down, we have to stop thinking of our church in terms of who shows up on Sabbath morning. We lose more members that way. If we think of our church as a base for the work of reaching souls for Christ, for doing good for those in our communities and for our church members who may not be able to get themselves there for services, then we might find our grasp could have exceeded our reach all along.

We could even do video-conferenced Sabbath School lessons in small groups. All it would take would be a few Skype accounts people could check in to. We'd even be able to see each others' faces.  God has given us a tool that may become ever more important as the enemy bears down on God's people in the last days. As Martin Luther once said when he was criticized for setting the words of a hymn he'd written to a German drinking song, "Why should the devil have all the good tunes."

My thought is, "Why should the devil have all the good tools?"

© 2014 by Tom King