Giving the Gift of God's Word at Christmas

I received an unexpected phone call recently that provoked me to question every gift I've ever bought my children. The phone call was from a local organization asking if our organization (Asher's Rainbow) would be willing to provide Bibles for two local families. Of course, we would that's what our organization does. You can read more about Asher's Rainbow here

In speaking with the CEO of this organization, she mentioned that the children specifically asked for God's Word this Christmas. The children were living in less than stellar housing and after learning a bit more about the families, these bibles might be a combination of just a couple of things each child receives for Christmas. WOW! No video game systems, phones, dolls, or a myriad of other highly popular gifts that parents wait hours for outside a store on Thanksgiving Day or Black Friday. No super fancy shoes or clothes or makeup or perfume. God's Word. These kids want God's Word for Christmas. Just soak that in a bit. 

I feel so ashamed as a parent because my kids aren't yearning for a new Bible this year. Now, there's also nothing wrong with the bibles they each own, but to just sense the hunger, literally for God's Word has stopped me in my tracks. My closet is full of high dollar presents that my kids will no doubt enjoy and yet, the Lord saw fit to open my eyes a bit more by providing His Word for two families. POWERFUL! 

Merry Christmas y'all! I don't say that sarcastically although, in the back of my mind, I won't be viewing our time around the Christmas tree the same this year. I hope that your eyes, ears and heart can be opened this Christmas just as mine was.

My Checklist for Celebrating Those in the Trenches of Children's Ministry

As 2017 winds to a close in a mere week or so, I’ve spent some down time reflecting on all God has done in me, in my wife and kids, and in those, I serve with on a weekly basis. The year 2017 has been a definite year of growth for me personally and professionally as I’ve prayed for the Lord to stretch me. And stretch me He has, to the point of downright uncomfortable (no better way to be stretched though if personal/professional growth is sought after). 

A big part of my reflection of 2017 has been focused on my children’s ministry staff, paid and volunteer. “How have I helped them develop? How have they helped me develop? What does 2018 look like for our team? What areas are we strong in? What areas need strengthening? Who am I praying for specifically to join our team? How will our team handle substantial growth?” The questions have gone on and on and thankfully, they have helped me grow tremendously. It’s not that I never thought about the answers to those questions, but it’s more of not spending adequate time evaluating those questions and what I thought the answers might be and furthermore, how my staff might answer those questions. 

My biggest goal as I looked at closing out 2017 was to honor my staff the best way I knew how, with food. The thought of just sitting around a table (OC17 reference there) and enjoying them was incredible. How was I going to pull it off though as someone who is not very good at details? I made a list, I checked it twice and shared it with my biggest asset at home and in ministry, my wife. She was a bit surprised at how well I had things put together. Quite honestly, so was I. It was so important though that I got it right. My team deserved this. They’ve been in the trenches of ministry with me for a good while. Some have come and gone of course, but many of these folks were already in place upon my arrival to First Baptist Lee’s Summit in January 2015. They’ve stayed too. That says more about the kids and families that they are impacting weekly then anything else. Such selfless folks! 

Here’s the checklist I created for the event: 

Who to invite- full list of volunteers serving Sunday AM, Sunday PM and Wednesday PM (include addresses)

Where to host gathering- chose to do it at my house as a come and go, was so personal and plus, these folks helped us pray for a new home and for many, this was their first chance to visit our new house 

Information for the invitation- where we’re meeting, the purpose of gathering, times, etc.

Creating/mailing invitations- had lots of help in this from my admin who created the design of invitation and took them to the post office for mailing

Created food/drink list- we offered milk (from Shatto Dairy, mmmm), orange juice, coffee, sweet tea from Chick Fil A (mmmm), hot chocolate, bottled water, bagels, fruit trays also from Chick Fil A, bagel spreads 

Created shopping list- needed to include plates, napkins, eating utensils, etc.

Order food- had Chick Fil A catered for the main course (chicken mini’s, mmmmmm)

Prepared venue for people- normal house cleaning type stuff plus setting up serving tables

Shopping- had to purchase/pick up supplies

Overall, this was a great “event” and an awesome time to honor so many folks in one setting. I definitely hope to grow in honoring the folks who are in the trenches and would love to hear/see how you are honoring/celebrating folks that you are serving alongside. 

How The Orange Conference can change an entire community

Do you have a heart for your community? Do you struggle from time to time with the question "How can our church become more impactful?" Have you searched and searched only to come up short with ideas of vision boosters for your church or ministry? I have a possible answer to those questions: the Orange Conference.  

I am the Children's & Outreach Pastor at our church. Two big roles that require lots of attention and constant brainstorming, planning and praying. In everything that I am working on, I'm asking this one question: "How will this impact our community?" It's ingrained in my brain because I simply don't want to do anything that isn't impactful and isn't going to reach the unchurched in our neighborhood and surrounding areas. You probably think along that same thought process as well. You want to be as impactful as possible with a sermon you are preparing, worship services your worship is rehearsing for, a small group lesson you've studied for multiple hours this week. You want to help lead life change in your church and in your community. Attending the Orange Conference has done just that for me. 

In 2016, I left the Orange Conference with an idea to start passing out popsicles and cold bottles of water in our local parks. Once the summer hit, we took a canopy tent and snocone machine and went into neighborhoods offering free snocones. What kid or adult doesn't like that stuff? Those free treats were the tools to start great conversations with folks of all ages. Our church has reaped in two areas because of these opportunities: families within our church serving their neighbors and families within our community attending our church because of a tasty summertime treat. 

This year's theme for Orange Conference is titled ONE VOICE: We Can Do More Together. I would say that if you are seeking some fresh ideas, an opportunity to encourage and be encouraged from ministry leaders all across the world, you will want to find yourself in Atlanta, Georgia April 25-27, 2018. If you sign up by December 14, 2017, you'll get $70 off your ticket which results in the lowest ticket price before the conference starts. Visit theorangeconference.com to sign up today or to gather further information. 

How attending the Orange Conference changed my ministry

Have you ever been somewhere expecting some good things to happen only to have those expectations blown out of the water? That has been my experience every year that I am been blessed to attend the Orange Conference. I typically show up on Tuesday night for the big porch party, grab my registration bag, chat with a few friends that I've made since being involved with Orange in some capacity and then call it a night knowing that the week will be good, the worship will be good, the attendance will be good, the ideas shared will be good, and so on. It NEVER takes long for my expectations to be destroyed though, which with all things considered, that is a very good thing.

Reggie Joiner and team invest so much into leaders. Leaders just like you and me. Leaders in preschool ministry, elementary ministry, preteens, middle schoolers (we all know they need lots of investment, right?), high school ministry, family ministry, married ministry, people ministry, and the list goes on and on and on and on. The team at Orange puts together such a comprehensive conference that many, many church leaders who don't even use any curriculum produced by the folks at Orange, make the Orange Conference a priority to attend every year. Why do you ask? Allow me the opportunity to share just a couple of things that have helped shape me in ministry. 

The biggest ministry changer for me has been the voices, the people, who have spoken directly to me without even knowing it. I think of a guy like Ryan Leak who visited his local Starbucks multiple times a week and began asking the folks who worked there how he could be praying for them. That rocked my world. I took that idea back home with me and began asking folks who were serving me at places like Chik Fil A how I could be praying for them. Just that one little question has produced a new confidence in me as an introvert to become more personal with "strangers" that I see on a weekly basis. I've been blessed to see and hear of how those prayers have been answered. 

 

Speaking of being an introvert, I began praying to the Lord to change me. Not to make me some crazy extrovert, but to simply be brave and courageous enough to speak to strangers and genuinely pour into them in some way. Well, this prayer was answered by being asked to be the Outreach Pastor at my church. I don't know about you, but I've not met very many introverts who were also outreach minded and gifted. It all started with a prayer and testimony of what God could do if I was willing to be stretched a bit by Him. 

If you are considering attending Orange Conference 2018, this is the week to get signed up. The great folks at Orange are offering a great discount this week. Remember, you don't need to be using the curriculum or anything else that Orange provides to take advantage of this great pricing and the opportunity to be encouraged and transformed at we hear of ways that the church can be One Voice. Dates for Orange Conference 2018 are April 25-27, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. Click here to register: http://orangeconference.com

3 Ways to Help Families Win this Christmas

It's the most beautiful time of the year! That's what the lyrics say's anyway, right? Hoping for a "white Christmas" this year? Me too, but it's not looking too promising. What does look promising though is the chance you and I have as ministry leaders to be creative and help our church families gain a win at Christmas time. 

For kids, the win is what's under the tree or left behind from Santa. For Santa, the win is that fresh cup of cold milk, warm cookies and the thought of young Billy or Samantha enjoying their presents. But, what about parents? What is our win? Let's take a look at 3 things that I believe help develop a win this Christmas.

For starters, simply creating opportunities for your church family's to be together is big. Schedules get busier and busier as December 25 approaches but creating a couple of opportunities for the families to be together leading up to Christmas Day is key.

One of the things my family loves to do is to visit our community Christmas light display. With 4 kids ranging from 13 to 2, this can be tricky, but we've had fun with it so far. Another idea to consider is to go shopping as a family if you sponsor a child or family from the community or church's Angel Tree. The little things that you can do as a family together have the possibilities of creating lifelong memories. 

The next thing I believe that can go a long way to helping families win this Christmas is to create dialogue for them to share together around the table or perhaps in front of the fireplace in the living room. Provide a question or two that perhaps goes along with a sermon series or even something specific to what your ministry may be studying on. The folks at Orange provide a social media strategy that helps churches and families win when it comes to having conversations as a family. Make it a priority leading up to Christmas to even reflect on everyone's favorite Christmas memories from year's past. Anything that can offer an opportunity for families to come together and share is a great way to achieve a win this Christmas season.

Finally, help create moments that they'll reflect on years from now. This is a culmination of the first two steps and serves as great discussion starters next year as Christmas approaches.

One moment that I am hoping to create with our families this year is providing a birthday party kit for every family and they throw a Happy Birthday Jesus party on or around Christmas. This idea and concept isn't new and has perhaps been done for some time now but it offers the family an opportunity to reflect on the gift that God has provided us in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Kids love party's and gifts so for us, we are providing each family a present this year with a birthday party kit. We've included a cake mix, icing, and candles all inside of a gift bag. Relatively inexpensive and will hopefully create a moment for that family that will spark something greater in them and their relationship with God.

There you have it. Create opportunities for families to be together, have dialogue together as a family, and to make memories together as a family. For me and my family, that's a Christmas win and I'm hopeful that it will be for you, your family and your ministry.

 

 Photo by  Andrew Neel  on  Unsplash

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

How attending #OT17 can help your church's impact on your community

Church leader, one of the things that's likely on your mind quite often is simply how can we reach more folks in our community for Christ. What is the secret anecdote to seeing more folks walk in the doors of our church on Saturday's and Sunday's. It's the age old question right? Thousands of books have been written on the topic from hundreds of "experts". It's all justified too in my opinion. These folks are simply sharing their success stories with us and the methods used along the way. I'd like to take just a moment to present another resource that quite possibly has some of the most effective steps in impacting your community for Christ: #OT17.

Whoooaaaaaa David...what's with the hashtag thing there? This hashtag is life changing and quite possibly ministry altering! #OT17 stands for Orange Tour 2017. Reggie Joiner and his incredible team of leaders will travel to 20 different cities across the U.S. to simply have a conversation with you about how you can be #ForOurNeighbors. That's another hashtag that you will be quite a bit between now and this Fall. 

When Reggie Joiner presented this concept of being #ForOurNeighbors at Orange Conference 2017 (#OC17), so many thoughts were running through my mind. "If we could do this or do that, what would happen if we thought this way or approached people that way." "What if I started doing what he suggested?" All of these thoughts and ideas and mental results popped in my head! 

I'll just tell you, I could go on and on about this but instead of doing that, let me offer you this. Today only, you can register for $20 off the regular ticketed price for #OT17. Simply go to: orangetour.org and get signed up today! 

Sweet Summertime

Hello #kidmin friends! School is over, pools are open, vacations have begun. That must mean only one thing, sweet summertime!

Now, for those of you not as blessed to be connected and serving in a kidmin environment, you are missing out on so much. First of all, the stories kids have to share. Oh you know what stories I'm talking about too! The ones you would never want leaked into public knowledge!!!! Yeah, well guess what, we have them too and it's something you can laugh about later on! Secondly, it's VBS season! 

That's right, Vacation Bible School SEASON! It's not anything like the 4 seasons we experience on a yearly basis and it's anything but a vacation for the VBS Director but, it is an incredible time for the church to come together and outreach a whole community! Sounds fun right?!?!?!?!?!? Ask your VBS Director how you might could plug in! I guarantee you that there is a special place just for you. 

Another fun thing about sweet summertime is summer camp! You know, when you take a bunch of kids off to some remote location in the woods and leave them there with no means of communicating to mommy and daddy every night??? HAHAHAHA That doesn't sound like summer camp but rather like summer detention. Summer camp is so much fun and helps provide an out of the box experience for kids to see God at work in their lives away from church and away from home. 

How about "Promotion Sunday"? It's that one Sunday of the year where you've got leaders and parents all teared up that Johnny and Sue are moving on to another class or ministry. I've got one of those "Johnny's" myself transitioning out of our kidmin environment into the student ministry environment! Scary for all parties involved.

Finally, back to school! The day and week all parents are looking forward to come late July. Kids are going crazy, food bill has tripled in just a short time and you don't have to hear "I'm bored" until the following summer. 

Parents, take advantage of summer with your kids. Enjoy them. It's the last summer they'll have at that age. Kidmin leaders, take a deep breath. We have no offseason and yet, this is definitely the time to remind yourself that we are not running the 40 yard dash to September. Make memories with your kids, they'll be moving to student ministry soon enough!  

#OC17 For Our Neighbors

Friday at conference was absolutely unbelievable. With the likes of Dr. Bernice King, Bob Goff, Doug Fields, Andy Stanley, Lecrae and more on the schedule, you had a feeling that the day was simply going to be amazing. 

Friday's at #OC are stocked with heavy hitters who are bringing a message the world needs to here. This year was no different. Let's take a brief look at some of the message points that really stuck out and what we can do with them going forward.

Ryan Leak brought another great word to us at #OC17 this year. Ryan is a Pastor in the Dallas, Texas area that loves to ball and loves to keep his car clean. He shared something else with us, he loves to hand out Gatorade to the guys he's playing basketball with. 

Ryan was very encouraging about some ways that we can be for our neighbor. Ryan has made it a steady practice that when he is at his local Starbucks or even the carwash, ask the simple question "Is there anything I can pray for you about?" The responses he's received from that have been life changing. Me and a couple of friends from the conference even put it into practice Friday night at dinner by asking our server if there was something that we could be praying for him about. Our server shared that just earlier in the day he had reconciled with his mother. Isn't God good? 

Here's a couple of other quick quotes from Ryan: "If it’s the worst it’s ever been, then it’s the easiest to make things better." He was speaking about how different folks he had encountered would talk about the collective attitude of the country. His response was great and challenging. One last quote from Ryan: "There’s someone in your neighborhood with the weight of the world on their shoulders, and they need to know that God is on their side." We must get to know our neighbors if we are going to be for our neighbors.

Jeff Henderson, Pastor of Gwinnett Church, is a great leader and speaker. I absolutely love what his church is doing in Gwinnett County, Georgia. They are reaching folks who've never stepped foot into the church and even having folks who came to be agnostic claiming Gwinnett Church as theirs. Want to know their secret: they are simply For Gwinnett. They are for Gwinnett families, businesses, other churches, visitors, commuters.

Jeff shared a verse that really struck a cord with me. It was the beginning parts to John 3:16. "For God so loved Gwinnett. How impactful. How moving. How "For Their Neighbors". They are impacting drive thru lines with kindness simply because they are FOR Gwinnett.

I was so moved by that attitude and sense of selflessness. It reminds me of the church described in Acts 4. They were simply FOR each other. I've come home with the attitude that I want to be FOR Lee's Summit simply because Jesus is FOR Lee's Summit. Encourage your family and your church kids to be For Their Neighbors.

I would like to wrap up this post talking about Dr. Bernice King. Her father is the late Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King brought me to tears and several hundred if not thousands of others. I'm going to leave a couple of quotes here and be done. I can't do them any justice by elaborating because they are so in my face and quite divine. She spoke on racial reconciliation. Here's some quotes: We must connect with each other and our stories. What killed my father was not hate, it was indifference and apathy and absence of the people of God and the Spirit of God.

Friends, let's be #ForOurNeighbors!

 

#OC17 Breakouts

So if you're new to the Orange Conference, you will know that today was information overload. It's ok. They have a great resource called the Orange Conference Influence Kit. It has all of the audio from the breakouts and main sessions. You NEED this resource. Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's talk about the kidmin breakouts that I attended today and some brief takeaways from each. 

My first breakout today was with Chad Ward from Browns Bridge Church. Browns Bridge is a part of North Point Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia. Chad talked about moving kids to be neighbor to be neighbor minded. Chad presented us with 3 big opportunities:

1. Create meaningful generosity and compassion opportunities. We simply need to be presenting our kids opportunities to show generosity and extend compassion to their neighbors. On a side note, did you know that 1 in 6 kids across America go hungry on a daily basis? Create some opportunities within your ministry to help improve and dissolve that statistic.

2. Create meaningful invest and invite opportunities. The challenge to this for us is that we have a lot of full calendars with no focus or purpose. Let's change that! 

3. Create meaningful conversation opportunities. Get a good curriculum that will guide conversations to help kids become neighbor minded.

My second breakout was about Leading Elementary Volunteers to Weekly Influence. This breakout was presented by a very influential person on this topic Adam Duckworth. Here's the 4 big points that he made.

1. We must have a STRATEGY.

2. We must look SIDE TO SIDE.

3. We must be CONNECTED.

4. We must CELEBRATE.

Session 3 featured the Jingle Jam FX. What an incredible production it was. We will be doing our first of hopefully many Jingle Jam's this upcoming Christmas season. It's worth the investment. 

Session 4 was without a doubt my favorite of the day and quite possibly of the entire conference. It spoke on Reimagining VBS to Reach Your Community. The Executive Director of Orange VBS Amy Fenton led this breakout and provided some valuable information that helped me reset my focus on why our church does VBS but even more important, it helped shape up my vision for our VBS in July. Here's the statement she made that shook me up and made me push the reset button on my vision for VBS: Leverage VBS as an opportunity to build relationships with kids to tell them about Jesus.

We hear a lot about evangelizing and how VBS is such an impactful tool in doing that. Our approach is so crucial. We've got to leverage VBS as a relationship builder and not just another event. You and I have the opportunity to help kids who need to be known, who want to connect with others, and who want to come back on Sunday. Let's keep this in mind as we lay out vision over the next few weeks with our volunteers.

A couple of points from opening session of #OC17

Reggie Joiner is amazing! If you are familiar with Orange, you are well aware of that. His team, just as amazing. Reggie made several points last night but I would like to dial in on one: So what does it mean to love your neighbor?

Here's 7 things to do in loving your neighbor:

Invite Someone New to the Table

Fast-forward Someone Else's Dream

Inspire Every Kid You Meet

Create Beautiful Spaces

Speak up for Someone Else

Discover Life Together

Do Something You Don't Have To Do

 

If the church can do these things well, our world will change quickly. Let's be difference makers today! 

Orange Conference Day 2

The day started with YouLead labs that are so good in helping you grow further in ministry. You get four breakouts that vary in topics and specific ministries.

My first breakout was led by Mike Clear and he spoke on A Year Long Strategy for Parents of Elementary Kids. Great stuff. We've got to partner with our parents. They are seeking help with parenting and turning anywhere and everywhere but the church for that help.

The second breakout was on creating family experiences that wow your community. FX gives churches the opportunity to put adults in a service designed for kids so that you can get parents excited about what you are teaching their children. It's an incredible opportunity and one I encourage you to take advantage of.

Sue Miller did today what she does best, spoke big things into the importance of taking care of our volunteers. She led my third session. She is a great person to connect with on social media so I'd like to encourage you to find her on twitter @suemiller01 or Facebook.

Breakout four was on the Weekly initiative. What a great tool that I've been using for 2 years now. It really makes life easier when done properly.

Wrapping up the day was the opening main session. Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was the theme and folks like Jon Acuff and Reggie Joiner spoke so well on the importance of the church being For Our Neighbors.

That's just a brief look at the day. Things crank up again Thursday morning so come along!