Lament and Resurrection

To be a minister is to be a witness to suffering, and to walk with those who suffer. Alongside doctors and social workers, I feel as though it has to be one of the more painful vocations.

To be a minister is to hold the pain of the world in your heart as you groan for its redemption, longing for new creation.

To be a minister is to have the responsibility of comforting the weeping while myself silently asking, “Why, God? Have you forgotten us?” To offer up my strength to the weary, while myself feeling utterly broken and burdened, letting the tears come only when no one can see.

To be a minister is to be a witness to the brokenness and sorrow and death all around me, to cry out on behalf of humanity that things should not be this way.

Yet…to be a minister is also to be a witness to the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ.

To cry out with conviction that things will not always be this way.

It is to preach and sing and live and proclaim forgiveness and reconciliation and healing and hope.

To witness to the story of resurrection in the dawning of each new day, in the first blooms of spring, in the redemption of a troubled past, in reconciliation after separation, in love after loss, in an empty tomb on Easter morning.

It is to know and proclaim with certainty that death cannot take our loved ones from us, because from their conception to eternity, they live and are safe in the arms of the Good Shepherd.

To be a minister is to be given the gift of proclamation – Hope springs eternal. Christ is all, and in all, and through all. The dwelling of God will be with his people, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. All shall be well, and all shall be well…and all manner of things shall be well.

Praise God.

 

Published in: on February 29, 2016 at 10:15 pm  Comments (3)  
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Intergenerational Ministry: a Snapshot

Much of my undergraduate ministry training under Dr. Walter Surdacki has focused on the concept of intergenerational ministry, and integrating the youth of the church back into fellowship with adults.  One thing that I love about Dr. Surdacki — and something that kind of drives me crazy, too — is that he doesn’t always give us practical solutions.  He just makes us wrestle with a difficult concept.  I always have to work through it asking, “This is great, but how in the world can it practically work?”  Because I’m passionate and impulsive, I want everything to be fixed right now, but this can’t always be the case.  I’ve had to learn to slow down, translate the technical jargon into life application, and implement it little by little.  Volunteering with the youth group at Grace during my time in college has been such a valuable experience for multiple reasons, but also because it provides me with a way to put into practice what I’m learning.  These concepts aren’t packed away in a dusty notebook as intangible theology or ‘someday’ ideas.  I get to use them now, and while the ideas are still fresh in my mind, they become a part of my ministry that I build on as I go.

So I want to share with you one practical way I recently put the concept of intergenerational ministry into practice.  For a while now, I’ve been wanting to do something with my girls outside of church to spend some time bonding in a more chill atmosphere.  So I started planning my first subversive intergenerational attack: a movie night for the moms and girls.  The girls may have been a tiny bit less than thrilled when I told them their moms were invited, but it actually turned out great.

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It was hosted by one of our moms, Joanne Kraft (also a gifted writer — check out her facebook page here), and we ended up having 10 girls and 5 moms.  Joanne had thoughtfully provided quite the smorgasbord of cookies and popcorn and all sorts of snacks, so we had a very pleasant time hanging out and grazing.  We watched the movie Leap Year, a predictable but cute romantic comedy that of course ends with the girl leaving her personality-less fiance for the sarcastic and oh-so-cute Irishman.

After the movie, we had some open discussion about it:  What did you not like about her fiance?  What did you like/not like about the other guy?  She was kind of a diva — if you were a guy, would you have married her?  What do we learn from that about what kind of women we want to be?  I read from Proverbs 31 and its male counterpart, Job 31, and we talked about what a relationship would look like between two people who are totally focused on God.  Then I asked the moms to share some of their stories, which was powerful.  Here’s a very brief summary of the 5 in their diversity:

1) Married out of high school and divorced young before she met the Lord, but then married a godly man, and has a beautiful family.

2) Saved her first kiss for marriage!!

3) Knew that her husband was The One long before he did.

4) Just recently came to know God in the last couple of years and, while dealing with the pain of a broken family, wants her daughter to make better choices than she did.

5) Met her future husband on a mission trip and prayed that God would find him a good wife, unknowingly praying for herself!

yeah, I don't really have an explanation for this -- crazy youth minister stereotype

yeah, I don’t really have an explanation for this — crazy youth minister stereotype

From there we just had some random discussion, from crazy proposal stories, to girls asking questions, to moms giving advice and sharing their wisdom.  It was so fantastic.  And even greater — I hardly saw a single cell phone out.  They were all totally engaged in the discussion — because when a woman obviously in love starts telling the story of her romance, she’s cool even if she is a mom.  Instead of distinguishing between “girls” and “women,” it was more an atmosphere of “We’re all women in different stages of life with different things to share, walking the same journey together.”

It was a great opportunity for the girls to see their moms in a different way, to spend time in community in a more relaxed atmosphere than church, and for the moms to get to know each other and encourage one another on this journey of parenting middle school girls.  And it was a huge blessing to this girl’s heart to see how God is working in the lives of my group of beautiful and precious young women.

Ironically enough, I didn’t manage to get a picture with the girls and moms together, so this totally contradicts the point of this post, but here’s a picture of me and my girls:

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The Spoon-Fed Gospel

I spent this past week babysitting an adorable little boy who is two months shy of turning three.  I’ll admit right off that perhaps I don’t handle children in the “best” or “safest” way.  For one thing, I often use sarcasm. “Oh, you want to hide under the table and cry?  That’s so cool and super dramatic…let me know when you want to act like an adult and come out.”  For another, I’m hardly what you would consider overprotective.  I suffered plenty of bumps and bruises as a child, but I lived to tell the tale, and I learned important lessons from each one.  For instance, one of the scars on my right knee taught me that it’s not the greatest idea to ride a bike off a 3-foot drop hoping you’ll land smoothly (I never did it again).  I believe in letting children make mistakes and figure things out for themselves.

The child I’m babysitting (we’ll call him Thomas) is sadly underexposed to the world for his age.  He still sleeps in his parents’ bed, is not fully potty trained, and, as I discovered the first day, is still spoon-fed.

It was snack time, and Thomas and I took a break from playing to eat a banana and some pretzel sticks.  I peeled the banana part-way down and started to hand it to him without a second thought.  He wouldn’t take it. “No, you hold it!”  I was a little surprised by this and replied, “How about you hold your own banana, punk.”  His dad interjected, sounding almost embarrassed, “Actually, he doesn’t feed himself…you’ll need to hold the banana.”  I thought to myself, “This is not happening.”

When lunchtime rolled around, I made Thomas a sandwich and cut it into pieces for him.  As I buckled him into his high chair, I informed him, “Today it’s time to be a little man.  You’re going to do something super cool called eating your own food and being independent.  I’m going to go make my own lunch now, but I’ll be back in 5 minutes.  Have a blast with this new-found skill.”  When I returned, he had eaten a couple of pieces of the sandwich but was looking at one piece, a little confused. “This piece is too big.”  The solution was simple. “Pick it up and bite it in half. You’re welcome.”  And Thomas ate his own lunch.

Much to the glee of my Facebook friends, I posted these adventures on my timeline, receiving more “likes” than any other status in the past couple of months.  Someone commented, “It’s scary that this 3-year-old doesn’t feed himself and hilarious that you didn’t let him get away with it.”

But how scary would it be if he didn’t have my sarcasm to spur him on to greatness, and he was spoon-fed until he was 4? 6? Even 10? If, when he graduated high school and left home, he starved to death because he never learned to feed himself?  The idea sounds ridiculous, but what if I told you that it actually happens?  We paralyze our children by spoon-feeding them the gospel; and as more and more young people leave the church, we have to recognize and take responsibility for what’s happening.  We design elaborate children’s and youth ministry programs to ensure that kids have fun and that our church looks cooler than the one down the street.  But when, Sunday after Sunday, we put on a concert for the kids and call it worship, and then give them a gospel lecture that they tune out to play with their iPhones, we may be doing more harm than good.  We run our programs a certain way because we think we know best.  We think it’s our job to impart to kids all the information we have, forgetting that it took us a lifetime of mistakes to acquire it.  When you have all the answers, the hardest lesson to learn is how to shut up.

When Thomas was one year old, he began to want to feed himself.  He would whine and cry when he was spoon-fed.  But his mom hated for him to get his clothes dirty, so she ignored his tearful pleas for independence and continued to spoon-feed him because she had skills of dexterity which he still lacked.  She wouldn’t let him learn, because she could do it better.  But if we want to equip children, often we must sacrifice efficiency for the sake of teaching.  Sometimes we sigh and tap our foot impatiently while they clumsily put the puzzle pieces together wrong, because the solution is obvious to us.  But instead, we should be actively encouraging them to learn, helping them work through their mistakes, and teaching them to clean up after themselves.  Instead of doing things for them, maybe we need to do things with them.

If youth have been given doses of the spoon-fed gospel their whole lives, when they leave youth group, they’re anything but prepared. If we do everything for them rather than teaching them to do it for themselves, we’re turning out helpless babies whose faith starves to death when there’s no longer anyone to give them the answers.  They may have heard a million other people pray, but do they know how to pray?  Have they ever cried out to God in a crisis?  Do they know where to go in the Bible to find comfort?  Or have we done it for them all along without teaching them how to feed themselves?  Do they have a personal relationship with Christ, or have they borrowed their faith from their parents or pastor?  These are uncomfortable questions to ask, but we’ve got to start asking them.  And trust me, as an aspiring youth minister, these are questions that I have to wrestle with too.  Have you trained, equipped, and taught your students?  Or have you just put on a show for them?

I think the solution can be found in authentic intergenerational community and deep relationships in which we teach and challenge one another.  A community in which no voices are silenced and no questions are dismissed, in which children are free to make mistakes and encouraged to speak out, and to do, and to live the Christian life.  My vision for ministry is not a program, but rather a resource.  We need youth pastors willing and eager to work themselves out of a job.  We need to replace leaders with equippers.

The old saying goes, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish, and you’ll have fed him for a lifetime.”  Let’s start teaching people how to fish.  Let’s teach them how to chase after Jesus for a lifetime.

The Girl in the Mirror

26790_379253246924_2837817_nSometimes I look at the picture of this little girl and think about her future.  Don’t her eyes just melt your heart?  What wouldn’t you do for that little shy smile?  I watched her grow up, so I know her story.  She’s had a good life, and she’s done well for herself, but it hasn’t always been easy for her.  You know how it is:  She grows up and realizes the world isn’t quite what she thought it was.  And looking at her picture sometimes, I want to keep her in her safe little world of innocence, keep her from the pain of disillusionment.

Because I feel helpless knowing that she will one day feel the pain of a broken heart.  That she will make wrong choices that will lead down questionable paths and end in disappointment.  I cringe knowing that one day, like so many other girls, she will take a knife to that soft, perfect skin just to watch the blood trickle down.  Looking into those warm and trusting eyes, it tears me apart knowing that they will lose their sparkle one day — that they will have seen too much of the world to shine with naive expectation.

One day she will begin to question everything she ever believed in:  Santa Claus.  Prince Charming.  God.  Herself.

This little girl doesn’t know what it’s like to feel alone.  But one day, she will.  I look in her wide-eyed, innocent face and see her future, and I desperately want to shield her, to protect her, to tell her that there is an easier way.

But as I reach out my hand, I see that I am simply grasping at a mirror.  And as I look deeply into the eyes of the woman I have become, I see that there wasn’t a better way.  I took exactly the road I had to take to end up where I am, right now, standing here gazing at my reflection and looking back on the life I’ve lived.

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I had to make stupid choices to gain wisdom.  I had to be influenced and controlled before I could discover who I really was, and I had to hate myself before I knew what it meant to love myself.  I had to doubt before I could believe, I had to be broken so that I could be made whole, and I had to experience the imprisonment of shame before I could truly raise my hands to God in freedom and victory.  I had to live the life I’ve lived, every step of the way.  I always did what I felt I had to do to get by, so I really couldn’t have made any other choices.

And realizing this, I realize that, as much as I may want it to be, my job is not to keep other girls from the same struggles I went through.  I see the same look of excitement and wonder in their eyes, and I want to.  Oh God, I want to.

Others, I see the dullness and numbness beginning to replace the sparkle as they learn how broken the world really is and how ugly life can be, and I want to heal them.  Oh God, I want to.

But I can’t — it’s not my life to live.  And I’m learning that as desperately as I want to keep them from experiencing pain, I have to love them enough to let them figure it out on their own.

I know that some of them will starve themselves to find acceptance.  Some of them will cut themselves to feel again.   Some will compromise themselves for affirmation.  Some will experience loss and abandonment and depression.  And the thought of it breaks my heart.

But…

The best I can do is to equip them to live faithfully, to make the most of their lives, to find their own healing.  The best I can do is walk alongside them on their journey and share the little I know about life.  To let them make mistakes and to cry with them when they’re broken.  To pray them through as they sort out who they are and why they’re here.  To teach them enough of the Story so that they can faithfully improvise no matter what stage they’re on or what costume they’re wearing.  And to be a faithful audience to the story they write.

This is my ministry.

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The Role of Biblical Lament in Adolescent Ministry: A Summary

The following is a summary I wrote for my Technical Writing course. So, definitely more academic than anything else I’ve posted on here, but I thought the article was really interesting, and to spare you the 20+ pages of research, here’s a nice condensed version for you.

In his article “The Role of Biblical Lament in Adolescent Ministry,” Bob Yoder explores the purpose of Scriptural lament and the importance of teaching youth in the church an appropriate way to express their grief through lament, an element that is sadly lacking in most churches and youth groups today.

Yoder begins by helping readers to understand the nature of biblical lament, which is defined as “expressions of complaint, anger, grief, despair, and protest to God.” Laments are cries to God against injustice and pleas that he right the wrong which the writer is experiencing. The two main examples of lament in the Bible are the books of Psalms and Lamentations.  While Psalms encompasses several different kinds of prayers, the majority of these are laments, showing the importance of expressing grief to God.   Lamentations is a raw, honest look at crisis, showing us how those who experienced it processed their emotions, and even how the objective writer himself became immersed in their lament.

Yoder brings youth ministry into the equation by discussing the lifestyles and struggles of today’s adolescents: due to our ever-changing, fast-paced society where children have to deal with parental divorce and peer pressure, they are forced to grow up sooner than children of previous generations. These rapid changes do not allow them time to slow down and process their feelings. In addition, the adults who should be helping to shape them spiritually have backed out of responsibility, leaving today’s teenagers to manage on their own the troubles they experience and the pain they feel.

Lament, he explains, gives adolescents a chance to articulate the feelings they aren’t quite sure how to place and helps them connect even the difficult parts of their lives with God’s overarching plan, helping them understand that God really is involved in the midst of their pain.  It also provides an opportunity to slow down and practice introspection in the midst of a busy world.

There are two basic kinds of crises that adolescents experience: 1) major crises, such as divorce, violence, alcoholism, et cetera, and 2) developmental crises, which are those parts of the maturation process that can cause confusion, like dating relationships and struggling to find a sense of self. While major crises are more of an unexpected blow, developmental crises should be attended to as well, as ignoring them leads to a later buildup of confusion and grief. Lament is a way to help adolescents deal with these crises in constructive, rather than destructive, ways.

Yoder then discusses the effectiveness of lament at each stage of adolescence, as proven by research. Early adolescents, he explains, may have difficulty with the concept of being angry at God and may need adult guidance to keep the structure of lament age-appropriate. Middle adolescents, while still struggling with that theological tension, are more comfortable expressing themselves as they are learning independence. Late adolescents deal with more abstract crises such as life goals and worldview.

The research consisted of pastoral leaders experimenting with having the youth in their churches write their own laments consisting of three parts: 1) venting their anger and frustration, 2) recalling a time in their lives when they felt God was there for them, and 3) a transition into thanksgiving and praise to God. After this exercise, they had the students fill out questionnaires, from which Yoder found his results.

There are a few other factors to be considered, such as the fact that some people need more time to deal with each step adequately before they can move on to thanksgiving. Also, although writing the laments seemed effective for the most part, some students did not enjoy writing. Yoder suggests that these adolescents use their own developed skills in the practice of lament through music or art or other such means.

Overall, Yoder concludes, practicing Biblical lament seems to be a healthy way for adolescents to express their emotions and may keep them from unhealthy alternatives like violence, drug abuse, or self-destructive behaviors.

Published in: on March 11, 2012 at 11:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Set Apart for Leadership

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord.”

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Tonight God laid heavy on my heart the call of leadership in a way that I’d never experienced before. It was something I couldn’t ignore. I was remembering Pastor Steve’s study on the Holy Spirit from a few months ago, and how every time the Spirit comes upon someone, the result is courage to proclaim the gospel. I began praying for God to pour His Spirit out on me without restraint, to anoint me with the full measure of His power, to give me strength and courage whether I sing, pray, speak, or write, to lead others to His heart.

As I was on my knees at the altar praying, an awesome servant of God came to pray with me and for me and pray God’s Spirit and power over me. I was overwhelmed by the presence of God.

I’ve experimented with and dabbled in the role of leadership, but tonight it hit me hard, like another dimension of responsibility I haven’t experienced before. I’m at a turning point in my life: having figured out who I am, and having gotten past my own doubts and failures, I feel like tonight marks the point that my ministry has truly begun.

It may or may not have been a coincidence that as I returned to my seat, everyone was singing, “For the world You love, Lord, let Your will be done in me.” And may that be my prayer for the rest of my life.

Published in: on February 10, 2012 at 10:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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