church-vs-state-logo-in-teal-edited2We hear a lot about the Separation of Church and State. As you probably know, the phrase “separation of church and state” is not actually in the Constitution. Nope. It’s not there. The phrase “separation of church and state” is derived from a letter written by President Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to Baptists from Danbury, Connecticut, and published in a Massachusetts newspaper soon thereafter. The first Amendment to our U.S. Constitution does state, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This was more to protect the church FROM the state, and to prevent the government becoming “Protestant” and persecuting Catholics, or vice versa etc etc.

For modern day evangelical Christians, we face a crisis of moral decision making. When a choice comes down to our 5000+ year faith, based in Someone much higher than us, versus our less than 250 year old country’s current ethical consensus- we are to always choose our faith. And don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my country- I stay informed, I vote and I speak up politically. I am so grateful for the freedoms we have as Americans. But when I vote as a Christian American, the “Christian” part comes first. And Scripture, as best as I can understand it, is my basis of how I choose to vote.

But that leads us to a dilemma. Some Christians use Scripture to advocate for the death penalty (mostly from the Old Testament). And some Christians use Jesus’ teaching to promote government social programs. Scripture is used to tell Christians to vote for and against every issue under the sun. I saw a post a few days ago on social media saying that no person could call themselves a Christian unless they voted for this certain social program, because Jesus taught us to feed the poor. So does how you vote decide if you are a Christian or not? Why is the Old Testament so “Law and Order” and the New Testament so “Grace and Mercy”? Here are a few things Christian voters NEED to understand:

THE BIBLE ACTUALLY DOES HAVE A SEPARATION OF INSTRUCTIONS FOR CHURCH AND STATE.

Now before you gather stones to throw, hear me out. There is NOT a disconnect between the Old and New Testaments. Much of the Old Testament is written as the LAW- for the STATE, the government (a theocracy) to operate by. The death penalty, laws of public safety, laws of public holidays- these were all written for the Jewish state of Israel. And Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. And God’s heart is apparent here- He forbids stealing, adultery, lying, murder…and gives the state the power to enforce the law by issuing penalties. Individuals are to be good citizens, obey the Law etc. The Apostle Paul talks about this in his letters:

Every person must be subject to the governing authorities, for no authority exists except by God’s permission. The existing authorities have been established by God. Romans 13:1

Daniel 2:21
“It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding.

Daniel 4:17
The Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, And bestows it on whom He wishes.

John 19:11
Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me unless it were given to you from above.”

Romans 13:2
Consequently, the one who resists authority is opposing what God has set in place, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

So the purpose of the State is to enforce laws, ensuring law and order. And God does have a hand in our human history; He works His purposes through “good” leaders and through horrible leaders.

Which commands in Scripture then are for us as individuals? Well, much of what Jesus said, as well as Paul and the other apostles (the New Testament) was written to….

INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIANS and HIS CHURCH.

That is correct. The words of Jesus were not commands to Rome, or instructions for the government of China. His commands were for us, for individual Christians. And here are just a few things that Jesus told us to do:

  1. Feed the poor
  2. Care for widows and orphans
  3. Love one another-even sacrificially
  4. Endure hardship and persecution
  5. Give God what is His and the state what is the state’s (taxes)
  6. Take care of your father and mother
  7. Honor marriage
  8. Obey God in everything at all times- This is the one that we Americans do not appreciate. But what about those times that our State, or our culture ask us to do things that God says are wrong? Scripture is clear that we are to choose our faith over the wishes of the state- …                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Acts 5:28“We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching…” 29But Peter and the other apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men. 
    Exodus 1:17
    But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live.

    Daniel 6:13
    Then they answered and spoke before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the injunction which you signed, but keeps making his petition three times a day.”

    Acts 4:19
    But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than God.”

    Shadrach, Meschach, Abednego Daniel 3: “Let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

There is so much more of the words/teaching of Jesus and the apostles to explore and study, but it is SO important to understand WHO these commands are for. Our problem comes in when we get the church and state confused in their roles. Here are just a few examples:

  1. Expecting the state to feed the poor, take care of widows and orphans. This is nice for American Christians, because then we can feel better that we “did our duty” without any personal sacrifice. We can keep our stuff, our wealth. We also then ignore the command to “GO into all the world and preach the Good News.” It is much easier to just expect the government to take care of all of that. But those commands were for US. Taking care of the poor, widows, orphans, refugees…this used to be a vital, uncompromising part of being a Christian. Many massive ministries grew out of the church reaching out to help- Sunday Schools, the ministry of Mother Teresa, the original deacons of the church…These days, by relegating “serving others” to the state, we are missing a HUGE opportunity to reach others for Christ.
  2. Families expect the state to care for father and mother in their old age.
  3. Christians may look to the State to define/legitimize marriage. Marriage was instituted by God Himself and is supposed to be about the Christian life- not dictated by the state.

Now I disagree with those who say that Christians should never be political. Jesus did clearly say, “My kingdom is not of this world, if it were then my followers would fight for my release.” He preached, and died for, a Kingdom that has begun- but its not of this world. It’s final culmination will be at His return. However, I do believe that we as Christians should be a “light” in our world any way we can, without abdicating our responsibilities to the state. My ancestors were devout Quakers who at first, did not believe in getting involved politically. But they also were staunchly against slavery. They preached against slavery, bought slaves to set them free and helped slaves escape. But they realized that wasn’t enough. If they really wanted to see slavery end, these Quakers knew they would have to get involved in politics and fight slavery in state law- which they did. So I am grateful for our Christian senators, representatives etc who daily fight against abortion, or for religious rights, or to protect citizens- at the level of the law.

But that does NOT exempt each one of us as Christians to obey the commands in Scripture that are for each of us. Now, more than ever, the Church needs to step up and do what Jesus told US to do, instead of demanding that the State do our job. And we need to be Christians first in all things-even when we vote.

So what about you? Do you know of any examples of people taking Scripture out of context politically? Do you believe a Christian should vote? Do you believe a Christian can be a politician?

No matter how you believe politically- I hope we are family in Christ. Love and blessings- Trisha

I was fifteen years old, watching in horror, as a children’s pastor I had just met began making fun of his lead pastor, his church’s board and the other staff. He laughed as he told me stories of threatening to quit if he didn’t get his way. He reenacted a tantrum he threw publicly at a recent church business meeting. I couldn’t even speak because I was floored by such arrogance and disrespect. At that moment, my mentor-another childen’s pastor- asked me to step out the room. I’ll never forget how he looked me straight in the eyes and whispered, “You promise me Trisha-promise me-you will never be like that guy.” I nodded my head. Many times in my own ministry, whenever I had thought about how to make a presentation or how to tackle a tough problem with my lead pastor, I have thought of that moment. I had learned a valuable lesson- from a not so great example.

Have you ever wondered why God allows certain nasty people in your life? I have. And I’m not just talking about non-Christians either. I’m talking about “Christian” church people, family members, fellow church staff members and parents of kids in your ministry. I’m referring to people you encounter within the walls of the church who are bullies, who are deliberately hurtful, selfish, arrogant, deceitful, gossiping, backstabbing, lying, passive aggressive, and more. Too many Christians believe church will be a “safe place” and then get a nasty surprise. As my dad often said, “All people are sinful and carnal. Only some of them are going to heaven because they know Jesus.” So why does God allow mean people to interact with us on a daily basis without immediately stopping it? I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a few ideas.

Perhaps God allows us to go through painful experiences with mean people to A. teach us to love like He does and to forgive- though truly never as much as we have already BEEN forgiven B. to make us stronger in our faith and dependence on Him C. to sharpen our skills dealing with difficult people ….and also possibly- D. to teach us some important life lessons, kinda like a living object lesson. Didn’t Jesus teach many life object lessons? In fact, most of those Old Testament stories I love, may be included in the Bible just to teach us a lesson about what NOT to do! Joshua not asking for God’s counsel with terrible consequences, (Josh 4), Achan’s greed, Nebuchadnezzar’s pride,  Ahab’s fall etc. etc. etc.

What could we possibly learn about ourselves and about life from nasty, hateful people? Well, here are a few lessons I learned over the years from awful people:

  1. Don’t treat people like a commodity or a disposable product. People have feelings and should be treated with respect.
  2. Hurtful people have usually been hurt. Just as bullied children may in turn bully others. I have to watch myself when I’m hurting, not to take it out on others or to copy those bad behaviors.
  3. You tend to become like the person or persons you focus on every day. One of my least liked bosses gave us, the staff, a lot of research on how it’s a proven fact you will start to become like the person you work for or focus on. I took that research to heart and changed bosses/jobs. We need to be very careful about who we choose as a leader, a mentor, or a hero- you WILL subconsciously begin to pick up that person’s traits- good and bad.
  4. Don’t gossip or talk badly about others. You may be completely convinced and yet be completely wrong about them.
  5. Words hurt much more and do more lasting damage than any physical punch or fight ever could. I have to be very careful not to let my words destroy a brother or sister for whom Jesus died.
  6. Just because someone is hateful, doesn’t mean they are not RIGHT about certain things. It can be too easy to dismiss what someone says because we do not like the person saying it. Sometimes what they said was RIGHT, and we need to find that grain of truth because the hurtful, hateful way they said it. Two of my best ever curriculum/program suggestions came from the meanest, most critical people in my life. Both programs have been successful, and God has used them to touch many lives. It’s hard to accept sometimes that God may speak to you with great wisdom, through the worst, most hurtful person in your life! Can we allow God to speak to us through ANY circumstance?
  7. Don’t let your heart grow cold, or your love or passion for Jesus and His kid’s/families die. Some of the meanest people I have ever met are also the most angry, bitter and unforgiving. I do not want to become them! I want to let my heart stay warm, broken, if need be- I want to keep my passion for ministry and for people. Or I will become just like the meanest of people I have met.

How about you? Have you learned any great lessons from horrible people?

lots of love, Trishablog2

Maybe you saw it coming, or maybe it hit you out of nowhere like a Mack truck into a brick wall at 90 miles an hour…The ministry you were living and breathing, has come to an end. It may have been abrupt- a new senior leader came in and several (or all) of the staff leaders are gone. Or the congregation voted, and out of nowhere, you are now just OUT.

The change could also have been a long time in coming; a ministry on life support, just waiting for that new ministry position, feeling and sensing things coming to an end- and then at last- the finality of announcing that you are moving on.

Bottom line: This is a time of transition. And there is a ministry loss involved (the loss of one before a new one comes).

Whether or not you knew this was coming, we are rarely “prepared” for a ministry loss. We all hope to be at our church “forever”, and yes, we’ve all heard the stories of “He was at that church for 47 years and died in the pulpit” but the reality is this: MINISTRY POSITIONS END. And most of them will NOT last; only a very small percentage of ministers get to stay in one place more than 5 years. There is a lot of debate as to why that sad fact exists, but my purpose here today is not to tell you how to AVOID transitions in ministry. Almost all of us will have to deal with one or two along the way. I want to encourage you and give you any small insight I can to go THROUGH a transition WELL.Transitions are tricky- and involve some level of pain. As a staff pastor at a very large church, I saw countless staff come on board, leave for new ministries, or be let go, or have their positions eliminated. Some knew what was coming and others did not. I have also left positions and taken new ones a couple of times in my own ministry career- and I know first hand how difficult that can be!

So here are a few things I have learned (sometimes the hard way) during my own ministry changes and losses and from other pastors who have survived more than I ever will. Directly following a ministry loss/transition:

  1. DO- give yourself some time to process the enormity of the loss. You have to allow yourself time to grieve. Many pastors have likened their exit from a church to a death- the death of something they loved very very much. Ministry is like NO other job on earth. You cannot understand if you haven’t lived it. It’s not just a JOB, it’s your whole life. And the people of that church become your FAMILY, your support system, your counselors, your prayer partners. So when a minister leaves a church for whatever reason, they not only lose their source of income, their security- they also lose their place to attend church, their close friends, their support system, etc. They lose their entire way of life. And if you have a spouse and/or children, this adds another loss- watching them grieve as they say goodbye as well. It’s also the loss of your hopes and dreams that you had for that ministry and that church- you are grieving the loss of the good that was, and the loss of a future that now will not be. Your whole heart and soul was tied up in those dreams. In a “normal” career, if you leave your job, your family will likely stay in the area, in your own home, with their current friends, in their usual school, with the support of their church family and friends. A pastor may lose it all when their church position is gone. Many times the church will bar pastors and staff from attending the church after they resign or are let go, to “assure loyalty to the new staff.” The loss for the minister and their family can be all encompassing, involving a move to a new city, new church, new schools, new friends… Many pastors say they have had to go through all five stages of grief- shock, anger, sadness, bargaining and finally acceptance.
  2. DON’T- rush yourself into a new ministry position too soon. Many pastors do this because they need the source of income. But you have to let yourself grieve. And don’t stuff your feelings down; you’re going to have to acknowledge them sooner or later. And it’s not fair to carry that on to the next place of ministry and carry out your grief (or anger or mistrust) on that poor group of unsuspecting people. If you can remember back to when you were dating, you may remember cautioning someone, “Don’t take the first person you see right after a breakup. Avoid the rebound person!” That advice holds true after a ministry “breakup” too. Your judgement may be clouded while you are grieving. You may not be hearing God clearly right now, and may inadvertently jump right from the frying pan into the fire. Which leads us to –
  3. DO wait on God for clear direction as to your next steps. He hasn’t forgotten you. He will tell you what to do. God called you so one person or one church cannot UNCALL you. When he called you into ministry, He didn’t turn to ask anyone’s permission, and He doesn’t need their permission to use you now. His gifts and calling are irrevocable. He still has a ministry for you- a future and a hope. Don’t settle.
  4. Don’t believe the myth, “If I don’t jump into a new ministry seamlessly, I’ll never work in ministry again.” That is simply not true. Remember that God opens the doors you are supposed to be in. Wait for His right door.
  5. DO find a great support system. You may have lost some of your best friends and supporters. You need safe people to talk to. You need to be able to rely on your extended family, friends and ministerial colleagues at this point. The key here is to find SAFE people to talk to who will give you wise, loving counsel and let you talk/grieve. Your network of minister friends and colleagues will be invaluable to you when you are ready to take a ministry position again.
  6. DO go for counseling if you can. There should never be any stigma on getting wise confidential help from a professional counselor.
  7. DO take a vacation. Take care of YOU. Get healthy. Work to improve yourself. DON’T just sit there. Go to a conference. Finish that book you’ve been planning to write. Go finish that degree. You cannot improve what happened; but you can improve YOU.
  8. DON’T just talk to anyone who wants to talk to you about it. It’s not okay to try to destroy the church, ministers and ministry at the church you are leaving- regardless of how it went down. And some people are NOT safe to talk to. They just want juicy gossip, and perhaps drama. They aren’t going to help you heal, in the end- they’ll just pour salt on the wounds. These are the kind of people who want to come tell you everything that is happening at the church you just left- who said what about you, what your replacement is doing wrong and how they took down your beloved jungle set in kid’s church. You do not need those conversations when you are trying to grieve. I heard one pastor’s wife tell her best friend, “I love you Amy. But if we are going to stay best friends, we cannot talk about everything going on at First Church right now. I need some time to heal. Our friendship has to be more than my former church.”
  9. DO forgive those who may have hurt you. The Bible says that we must forgive others as Christ forgave us. Not because they deserve it – because they probably don’t. But for Jesus’ sake. And for our own sake! We may not FEEL those feelings right away; but we make the DECISION to obey and forgive and the feelings follow later. Don’t let a ministry loss come between you and your Savior. Know that Scripture tells us that God DOES vindicate in His time, not ours. Forgive and leave them to Him. You still have work to do.

How about you? Have you been through a ministry loss/transition? What helped you get through it? What tips can you give others for surviving and then shining in a tough time between ministries?

Love from the bottom of my heart- Trishablog

Whether or not to celebrate Mother’s Day, and if so to what extent, has been the subject of more than one “intense” discussion for our staff in the past. People can have VERY strong feelings on the subject. Here was my standpoint in those staff meetings:

Yes. I still believe the church should acknowledge Mother’s Day. Yes. From the pulpit.

Now before anyone starts sending hate mail, just hear me out. My husband and I DID struggle with infertility. As a children’s pastor, it was MISERY to be in church every single year on Mother’s Day, handing out flowers to Mothers, when I so desperately just wanted to BE a Mother. Oh, and let’s not forget all the baby dedications, and nursery renovations, and children’s productions when the desire for a child of my own was so overwhelming I thought it was going to crush me/kill me. I am ashamed to say that when one family announced that “oh oops, I guess we are expecting number 8!” I went home and bawled my eyes out. More than once at Walmart, I would pass a 14 year old pregnant girl headed outside to smoke and want to claw her eyes out and rip out all her hair. Not my finest hour. But even during those difficult times I knew that being a Mom was a special full time job, a calling that I wanted in on.

Skip ahead several years, and our church had grown. a lot. And in a very large church, you have to take a lot of things into consideration when planning your services ahead. For awhile we decided to cut our tradition of the kids singing on Mother’s Day in our Sunday morning service, because non-Mother’s might be hurt by it. And we debated mentioning Mother’s day AT ALL because non-Mother’s might not come to church. This line of thinking spread into cutting most of our Father’s Day activities because a lot of children do not have fathers. And then our Veterans Day cards giveaway was on the chopping block because some of our soldiers did not come home (they were killed in the line of duty). Next came came cutting our children singing/performing near Christmas time, because some families do not have children and may feel left out, or they come from divorced homes and cannot participate. During all of this debate and planning on our staff, I was asked whether or not we should have special services at all or if we should mention things like Mother’s Day. After some prayer and thought this is what I said:

Yes. We need to mention the importance of mothers and fathers and family because God does and Scripture does. Not just on one or two days but throughout the year. Furthermore, our American culture does not highly value the role of “mother”. In fact, in an era when young women are encouraged almost EVERYWHERE they turn to be thin, beautiful, sensual, sexually appealing, young, immature and irresponsible- raising a child does not fit into that mind set at ALL. Young women are taught from the get go to be selfish, to focus on what THEY want, when THEY want it. Choosing to raise a child and put the child’s needs ahead of your own is considered old fashioned and ignorant and even a waste of your life. The “secular” world does not usually see a “stay at home mom” as a full time job, though it most certainly is!

I do not believe that our young ladies (or young men) are getting the tools they need to be parents, because the role of a parent is not valued in our society.

So if the role of a parent is not valued or encouraged in our self focused, self driven life style- then where can a parent be valued, encouraged and equipped? That should be, and is supposed to be in the church. God created the family and places a very high value on parents- including Mothers. Mothers are important to God. What they do is valued and blessed by Him. It is a good thing for the church to go counter culture on Mother’s Day and affirm and thank moms for following a calling laid out in Scripture.

Then, what should our approach be as a church, as a congregation- when some of your congregation are parents and some are not? When some are mothers and some are desperately trying and some are mothers who are grieving? And what about divorced families and families with only one parent and foster families and blended families?

One of our major problems as a body of Christ is our tendency to swing to extremes. We tend to swing violently to one end of the pendulum or the other. Either we have every Mom stand up in the church service with their flower bouquet while the band and the children sing, and every other woman gets nothing OR we skip the whole day for fear of offending anyone. Part of our Christian walk is learning to live together in love and balance. We can learn to lovingly thank and affirm our mothers without singling people out. We can remember that people in our congregations are suffering, waiting for a child or grieving the loss of one and be sensitive to that. At the same time, we can make a stand as to the value of God’s design for the family- and weave that into our programming and the way we “do church” year round. Can we do special day well, with balance, effectiveness and grace? Oh definitely. I don’t want to cut so much that we are not offending anyone, because we are saying nothing at all.

Should we acknowledge Mother’s Day from the pulpit? Yes. We should affirm God’s design and approval for motherhood, but with grace, compassion and balance. So go love that crazy messed up outta wack beautiful thing we call the church this Sunday (the Body of Christ) and Happy Mother’s Day. Love Trisha

Ephesians 4:13-15American Standard Version (ASV)

13 till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

14 that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error;

15 but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ;

Here is a pic of me, my mother Bonnie Stevens and my daughter. I love you Mom! Thank you for always pointing us to Jesus. Your prayers have carried us countless times. Love you!!

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Yes, reaching out to children in Jesus’ Name is a high calling and a great adventure, but children’s and family ministry does have some unique challenges. Here are just a few:

 

  1. “Different orbit” Children’s ministry is one of the few church ministries that takes place at the same time as the main service, and in a different room. The danger here is that the children’s ministry can be cut off from the vision and life of the church as a whole. The children’s leader must work harder than some of the other staff to communicate to “earth” (the parents, adults, lead pastor and other staff) about what is going on on the “moon” (the children’s ministry) and vice versa. The children’s leader has to intentionally work to make sure their ministry reflects the values and mission of the church as a whole, and that the children are a part of the church and its activities.

 

  1. “High Volunteer Need” Arguably, no other area of the church has a higher need for volunteer leaders than the children’s ministry department, due to the need to keep to ratios (6 kids per 1 adult for example). Also, you cannot put just ANYONE in with children. Each potential volunteer must be thoroughly vetted and background checked before being considered. If they pass, they need to be trained, discipled and placed in an area that flows with their skill set. These precious leaders are not babysitters; they are co-laborers and fellow children’s ministers. A growing kid’s ministry doesn’t need one children’s pastor; it needs a team of children’s ministers, ready to reach all children regardless of background, learning style or situation. We should never apologize for asking others to partner with us in this amazing journey of ministry to kids!

 

  1. “Babysitting Syndrome” Too many churches are following an old European custom instead of Scripture. By this, I mean, they look at children as unimportant, and put them off in another room to be babysat while the important adults have church. This thinking also leads to placing the most “expendable” people in kid’s ministry to “babysit”. Most children’s ministry leaders will run into this cultural belief at one time or another. It is up to us to lovingly vision cast a more Biblical view of children’s and family ministry- one that places great importance on children. I often tell parents, “We will not babysit your children. We pray that they are changed by learning about and meeting with God. We invite you to be a part of this experience.” We also fight the babysitting paradigm by actively and publically seeking out the best, most talented and qualified people to work with our kids. Not just any warm body will do. Another problem that arises is when the church expects the children’s leader to  babysit, or find babysitters for every single church event. I think this is a terrible idea and a legal liability. Also, it tears down the credibility of the children’s ministry program.  This “babysitting” mentality does not disappear in a day, but with love and prayer we can change the way the whole church views ministry to children.

 

  1. “Universal Leader” Never before has the children’s leader had to be such a jack of all trades. A lot of churches are looking for a person who can speak up front to children, communicate with the parents, train and disciple the leaders, recruit effectively for multiple open spots at all times, manage the scheduling for leaders and services, head up several outreaches a year and more. Whew. That is a huge job!

  

  1. “Teeny Tiny Time Frame” We have so little time to make an impact. We only have these kids an average of 1 hour per week, only 32 days a year. These statistics should scare us and challenge us. We must be incredibly intentional about our programming to do everything we can, to equip these kids in every way possible. And part of that equipping process must include partnering with the parents to make sure that these kids are getting what they need spiritually at home first, where they spend the MOST time. Parents+church+dedicated Christian friends make a dynamic support structure for optimal change and growth.

 

 

  1. “Poverty” Even in a nation as wealthy as the United States, too many families are struggling with the reality of poverty. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, “About 15 millionchildren in the United States – 21% of all children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold, a measurement that has been shown to underestimate the needs of families. Research shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses.”[1] As children’s ministry leaders, we may be asking kids to come up with money for several events a year- camp, winter retreat, fundraiser etc. There are children in our ministries who honestly cannot afford to pay for these things. Does that mean that they cannot participate in camp, for example? What ways can we work to include more kids instead of excluding them with fees? I struggle with this with our AWANA program. The suggested fees would never work in our area, and even the $20 we did end up charging for books and uniform proved to be too much for several of our children. The gap between the rich and the poor is ever widening in our culture. But at church we are not supposed to give preferential treatment to the rich. How can churches better minister to families struggling with lingering poverty? A book I read recently, “What Helping Hurts,” was a great read, full of great ideas for building up instead of sustaining a spiraling situation.

 

  1. “Too Many Activities” One of the biggest challenges facing children’s leaders today is that we are competing with so many other activities. Soccer games were never on Sundays when I was a child. Today, parents are routinely taking their children to sports rehearsals 3 or 4 nights a week with games almost every weekend- even on Sundays. In addition they usually have music lessons, 4H, Boy Scouts, etc etc. I think those of us in ministry need to be much more careful about not scheduling a whole lot of extra events. Instead, we should be working to make our weekends (and midweeks if applicable)more effective. Many churches respond to the challenge of “family ministry” by putting on dozens more programs and activities. We need to understand the busyness of our families, do fewer programs, and do those fewer programs with more quality.

 

  1. “Native Technology Speakers”- I have learned in our classes that this generation of children are native speakers of everything technology related. Perhaps as a result of all this time in front of screens, children have a VERY short attention span (3-5 minutes average), are drawn to videos and can be more inclined to be visual learners. I learned a lot about the different learning styles. Children’s leaders must craft a diverse kids’ service that will minister to different learning styles and proficiencies. Most children’s leaders are also NOT “native technology” speakers, meaning we did not grow up with computers, laptops etc. But the modern ministry leader must commit to learning the language of children and the language of this culture if they plan to be in any way effective. On a side note: I also discovered in my own church, our kid’s ministry programs have been neglecting the “imaginative” learning style. This generation, especially the imaginative learners, need time to “verbally process” what they are hearing. They need an opportunity to share their thoughts and personal experiences. I realized that I needed to add this important time to the curriculum that we write.

 

  1. “Biblical Illiteracy”- We can no longer assume that the children we minister to, even within the church, all “know” the Bible stories. Biblical literacy is not what it used to be. We have to make an intentional plan to teach children the basic Bible stories both at home and at church.

 

  1. “Rise of Special Needs”- For unknown reasons, the incidences of autism and other special needs in children has skyrocketed[2]. It may be safe to say that all children’s leaders will have children with special needs in their ministry. And for every one that IS there at church, I imagine that there may be 10 special needs children who stay home, because they or their parents do not feel like they can go to church? Right along with physical special needs-autism, muscular dystrophy, down syndrome etc. is a whole host of mental and behavioral special needs- ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder and more. I believe that children’s leaders must educate themselves and others about special needs in children. It is important to do trainings with our leaders and work to be more inclusive to children and families with special needs.

 

[1] “Child Poverty.” NCCP | Child Poverty. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2017.

[2] “”1 in 68:What Do Autism’s Rising Numbers Mean For Our Families?”.” Autism Speaks. N.p., 24 July 2012. Web. 01 May 2017.

So what are the biggest challenges for you and YOUR ministry? Do you agree with this list? Why or why not?

Whatever challenges you may be facing in your ministry, I pray God helps you meet each and every one with courage, strength and humor. God bless- Trisha

challenges

Question for pastors and lay ministry leaders: How much of your time as a ministry leader is spent doing counseling? What situations have you been called upon to do counseling for?

Pastors often are asked to do counseling, for a variety of situations, including marital counseling, children with anger or other emotional issues, addictions (alcoholism, drug abuse, pornography etc), depression, parenting and much more. Why do some people choose to go to their pastor or church leader for counseling? Well, reasons for turning to the church for counseling can include:

A. Money- church counseling is often free

B. Comfort level- a person may be anxious about going to a new place and talking to a stranger, so they will seek counseling at a place they already consider “safe.”

C. Stigma- there is unfortunately, still a lingering social stigma in some people’s minds or some cultures, against seeking “professional help.” This stigma seems to say that those who seek professional counseling are weaker, are “severely impaired” or are “in sin” for not trusting God. This erroneous line of thinking seems to stem from the notion that any professional help outside the church is somehow wrong. I sure hope they don’t take this approach to brain surgery.

D. Quick fix- some, not all, of the people who seek church counseling rather than secular help are hoping to have a faster answer to their problems. Therapy sounds like a lot of hard work, and a lot of time. It sounds easier to pray a prayer, read a few Scriptures and have the situation be all better.

E. Loneliness- as humans we are hardwired to interact with others. Some people seek out counseling with their pastor to have that one on one communication and someone to talk to.

For countless years, pastors and church leaders have been doing counseling on various situations. And most pastors are in ministry because of a calling and a deep LOVE for people. So what could possible go wrong? A LOT. Here are a few pitfalls to look out for if you, and/or your team, are routinely doing counseling (non-professionally) at your church:

1. It can become a massive time drain. For years our large staff would do counseling for free for anyone who asked. But over time, the demand for hours made it almost impossible for me or my staff to get our kid’s ministry services planned for. Counseling 7-8 people began to take precedence over ministry services for 600 kids and their families. I got into ministry due to a strong calling to love and reach kids and families- and counseling was definitely a part of that- but I needed balance. I thought I was obligated to counsel anyone who asked, but my bigger obligation was to the ministry I was there to do (our weekend and midweek services). Left to itself, counseling can easily become most if not all of your job rather quickly.

2. Most pastors are NOT trained counselors. As yourself, “What has my training really prepared me for?” My intention here is not to offend. But ministry leaders typically have an education, background and experience in ministry- not mental health or addiction.  I am not trained or equipped to fix your car- I would send you to a mechanic. I also would be the worst possible person in the world to paint your living room. I am also not trained to counsel someone through memories of severe sexual abuse. You are a minister- you really do not have to be EVERYTHING to EVERYONE. We have to admit that we are not trained to handle a lot of counseling situations- suicidal depression, cutting, bulemia, borderline personality disorder etc. I’ll be totally real here- my mandatory pastoral counseling class was only 3 credits, many years ago, and I do not remember a whole lot of it….That is not enough training for me to counsel a lot of conditions.

3. Too many scandals have already made the news of inappropriate relationships between pastors and the ones they were “counseling.” Use a lot of wisdom before you spend a whole lot of time alone with someone who is emotionally raw and vulnerable. In fact, do not ever do counseling truly “alone”. I keep my door open, or include my husband (who DOES have a psychology degree), and/or I meet in a room with a LOT of windows, during the busiest time of the day in the office. If you are not careful, your love for people and compassion, could cause you to compromise yourself and your reputation, leading to horrendous damage to that person, your church and your ministry as a whole.

4. There have been several lawsuits already against pastors for “terrible counseling advice.” For example, if a teenager you are counseling for suicidal depression actually kills herself…will the family be satisfied that you did your best? It is not a good idea to represent yourself as a trained counselor when you are not one. If you set up people’s expectations that you are a trained, licensed therapist when you are not, and then your advice goes wrong- or is simply misinterpreted- you can set yourself and your church up for a lawsuit.

5. You may end up with an open ended “black hole” situation. Any minister who has been doing this awhile knows what I am talking about when I say, “A person who is a black hole of need.” This is a situation where the person/family will never get enough of your attention or time.  They will need more and more of your schedule; and there will be NO natural end of the DRAMA. The connection with you will become inappropriate- breaking into your family and recreational time. This is not about any one situation or problem; this becomes an addiction to YOU, to attention and to drama. And it will never end on its own. And people who have these needs will come out of the woodwork looking for you, as soon as it is well known that you do endless free counseling. They will monopolize your time until your family time, personal life, and all other ministry ventures suffer. As a responsible pastor, you cannot allow that to continue to go on.

So what can we do then? Never do any counseling at all? I do know some churches who have forbidden their ministers to do any counseling at all. If you plan to continue to offer counseling at all (full disclosure, I still do at times), please consider taking the following important precautions:

1. Do not commit to counsel anyone who asks every time. Anyone who is interested in counseling should call and ask for an appointment. Decide ahead of time and put in WRITING what you are prepared to do counseling on and what you are not. For me, I will talk to parents about parenting issues, to children who are grieving (I took special grief counseling training etc), and to children having deep spiritual questions/concerns.  I refer people immediately who are suicidal, being abused, or may be in danger.

2. We follow a rule of three. Most of the time, we only meet with someone a maximum of 3 times before we refer them to a professional counselor. Three sessions only keeps the situation from being open ended and going on forever, monopolizing your time. If they need more than 3 sessions, it MAY be outside of your scope of expertise anyway.

3. Do not meet completely alone. Do not meet in complete secrecy. DO include your spouse or another staff person if necessary. Do NOT meet in their home. Do NOT meet in your home. Meet during office hours, NOT after dark. Do NOT go off alone with this person anywhere, ever.

4. Remember that being compassionate does not mean saying yes to everything. You are still in control. You can say NO to endless sessions, or to a poor time/place choice. At times it is the MOST compassionate answer to refer someone to a better place for help and support. If your gut is saying something wrong, trust it and refer that person on.

5. Build a great repoire with the professional counselors in your area. KNOW what is offered in your community, for free or on a sliding scale. KNOW which counselors you trust. If possible, have that relationship with amazing counselors that you can refer parishioners with confidence. Some churches actually have a counselor on staff or a counseling center that they are affiliated with. Know all about these options and make referrals.

6. Go get more training. I found free grief counseling training/certifications right in my own city. It was a lifesaver for helping me to help kids and families dealing with loss, divorce and death. Always be educating yourself to increase your ministry effectiveness, but know when to defer.

So what are your thoughts? How have you handled pastoral counseling at your church/in your ministry? What do you think our scope of pastoral counseling should include? Love Trisha

Counseling

Yes I’m a woman in ministry, ordained in 2006. And I’ve done weddings, funerals, baptisms, visitation….you name it. I am totally ok with working on a large staff of mostly males. But I have noticed a few challenges that I think female leaders in a church, may face more often than their male counterparts. What do you think? Am I right? Here’s my top ten things only female ministers will understand:

1. Oh no. I wore a dress today. Wearing that lapel Mic is going to be rough.

2. I am going to have to take these gorgeous shoes off if this prayer line gets any longer…and not because of a burning Bush.

3. Too many crying infants in this sanctuary. I’m going to have to go feed my own infant during worship and before my message, just to be safe.

4. After being up most of the night with a sick toddler, teething infant, I’m here on time for work, prayer service (a miracle) and no, I’m not feeling overly sympathetic that you, dear young intern, are too tired for these early mornings.

5. If it says, “all staff should attend”/be copied,  YES that should include me too.

6. After a church tragedy/death, yes I will need extra time to meet with my all female staff, because one will start crying and then they all will. Then they will need to start verbally processing their thoughts, emotions, and talking it out, encouraging each other-hugging. But together we will pull through and get it all done.

7. Another envelope came in the mail for “Reverend Scott and spouse”. He’s an I.T. Guy. But he thinks it’s really funny.

8. In college, people actually told me, “Oh honey, you’re a Children’s Pastoral major? Don’t be upset. You’ll meet someone.” When I first started dating Scott, a psych major, I heard, “I thought you said you felt called into ministry? Why would you throw that all away?” Lol

9. I am stressing so bad about the upcoming pastoral staff retreat. I have to coordinate the kid’s schedules, write out instructions for the sitter , make sure all the kid’s laundry is done, Scott’s lunches packed, dinner meals frozen, schools notified, dog meds laid out etc etc etc

10. Why oh why didn’t I remember to wear waterproof!!!! I always cry when I’m baptizing. And I’m in the tank today! Oh Lord, please help me wrestle that really big dude back up out of the water…..

How about you? Are you a woman in ministry? What are your pet peeves, funny or tender stories? God bless, and thank you all, men and women, for the ministry you do!

Love Trisha

So….how did it go? 

This was in fact, the first children’s ministry conference that the Assemblies of God has put on in several years. National AG kidmin director Mark Enzinger and his team put a lot of work into this meet up, for well over a year.  

Historically, the Assemblies of God has blazed an innovative trail in the field of children’s ministry, with arguably the first paid full time children’s pastor, the first accredited four year children’s ministry bachelor’s degree, and the first nationwide children’s ministry director. But after a few years, I wasn’t sure how the turnout would be, so close to Easter and in its first year back. But I shouldn’t have worried at all. Here’s what I loved about this past week’s conference in Fort Wayne:

1. I was completely surprised by the large turnout. Very large number of kid’s pastors/leaders!

2. The pre conference certifications were a great idea. I got to teach the certification class on the first two years of ministry, and I heard all five certification classes went great. I had a wonderful group of kid’s leaders!

3. The venue seemed to work out well. The Ramada staff were knowledgeable, helpful and prompt. They went above and beyond, helping me make packets for the extra students in my class. The church was next to many hotels and restaurants. The good service on site seemed to go smoothly.

4. The price was great. The conference price included several meals, which is huge. Also the conference hotel block was quite reasonable.

5. I greatly appreciated the awards honoring the kid’s ministry greats who have gone before, and have pioneered in the field of kid’s and family ministry. Some of my personal heroes were honored! 

6. The awards at the end of the conference honoring innovation and effectiveness in kids ministry were touching. One young children’s pastor won a ministry center makeover and much more!

7. The networking was my favorite part. Most of my good kidmin friends were there!

Were you at agkidmin17?? What was YOUR favorite part? What would you like to see at the next one?  Love Trisha

HAPPY RESURRECTION DAY!!!

“Yet when God entered time and became a man, he who was boundless became bound. Imprisoned in flesh. Restricted by weary-prone muscles and eyelids. For more than three decades, his once limitless reach would be limited to the stretch of an arm, his speed checked to the pace of human feet.
I wonder, was he ever tempted to regain his boundlessness? In the middle of a long trip, did he ever consider transporting himself to the next city? When the rain chilled his bones, was he tempted to change the weather? When the heat parched his lips, did he give thought to popping over to the Caribbean for some refreshment?
If he ever entertained such thoughts, he never gave into them. Not once. Stop and think about this. Not once did Christ use his supernatural powers for personal comfort.
With one word, he could’ve transformed the hard earth into a soft bed, but he didn’t. With a wave of his hands, he could’ve boomeranged the spit of his accusers back into their faces, but he didn’t. With an arch of his brow, he could’ve paralyzed the hand of the soldier as he braided the crown of thorns. But he didn’t.”
Max Lucado, He Chose the Nails
“Want to know the coolest thing about the coming? Not that the One who played marbles with the stars gave it up to play marbles with marbles. Or that the One who hung the galaxies gave it up to hang doorjambs to the displeasure of a cranky client who wanted everything yesterday but couldn’t pay until tomorrow.
Not that he, in an instant, went from needing nothing to needing air, food, a tub of hot water and salts for his tired feet, and, more than anything, needing somebody – anybody – who was more concerned about where he would spend eternity rather than where he would spend Friday’s paycheck.
Or that he resisted the urge to fry the two=bit, self-appointed hall monitors of holiness who dared suggest that he was doing the work of the devil.
Not that he kept his cool while the dozen best friends he ever had felt the heat and got out of the kitchen. Or that he gave no command to the angels who begged, “Just give us the nod, Lord. One word and these demons will be deviled eggs.”
Not that he refused to defend himself when blamed for every sin of every slut and sailor since Adam. Or that he stood silent as a million guilty verdicts echoed in the tribunal of heaven and the giver of light was left in the chill of a sinner’s night.
Not even that after three days in a dark hole he stepped into the Easter sunrise with a smile and a swagger and a question for lowly Lucifer – “Is that your best punch?”
That was cool, incredibly cool.
But want to know the coolest thing about the One who gave up the crown of heaven for a crown of thorns?
He did it for you. Just for you.” – Max Lucado
Max Lucado, He Chose the Nails
resurrection

I am currently in a Master’s Degree program at Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, MN, in Children’s and Family Ministries.  This December’s graduation will be an exciting time, and its coming up so fast (we walk the line next May).  Our cohort has been privileged to read so many amazing books along this journey, some of which are now favorites of mine. As an author myself, what books do I most enjoy reading? To make this list, I have to want to reread these books and recommend this to others. Some are older and some are new- but I believe the really great book stand the test of time 🙂 So here are my top 10 favorites, NOT counting Scripture (which is always #1), in no certain order:

10. The Book of God, by Walter Wagerin Jr. This is definitely not a book for kids. But Wagarin’s version of the “Bible as novel” is painted with such vivid word pictures, it makes the story real in a whole new way. Also, you can see the common thread of God’s story woven throughout Scripture instead of random stories pulled out to stand alone. I was and am deeply touched by the telling of the salvation story in the Book of God. I usually reread it every year around Easter.

9. Well Intentioned Dragons, by Marshall Shelley. I read this book for my undergrad. I think all ministry leaders should read it. Church conflict is a main reason why pastors quit. This book does a good job and trying to prepare leaders for the pain, loss and infighting that sometimes (always) comes with working in a church.

8. The Fabulous Reinvention of Sunday School, by Aaron Reynolds,  I loved this book! Reinvention is packed with creative ideas and inspiration for kid’s church as well as a lot of encouragement for those of us every weekend in the trenches for Jesus and His kids. I especially love the layout of the book- it is so fun and creative! Many of us kid’s pastors are quite visually oriented and easily distracted (ADHD), so I loved the illustrations and just plain fun on each page.

7. An Hour on Sunday, Creating Moments of Transformation and Wonder, by Nancy Beach- This is one the best books I have ever read. It is not a “kid’s ministry book” per se. But it IS an amazing, creative book from Willow Creek’s own Nancy Beach, who spent many years as the creative director for their weekend services. What she tells us about excellence, teamwork and innovation are definitely applicable in kid’s and family ministry. She makes a great case for giving it our best in every one of those precious 60 minutes each Sunday. I also love the artistic layout of this book.

6. Me, Myself and Bob, by Phil Vischer- I cried all the way through the last 4 chapters of this book. If you can make it through the first few chapters (all the details of the launch of Big Idea and Veggietales), Phil Vischer gets VERY personal on his painful journey at the end of the Big Idea company.  What do you do when God does not “save you” from falling down.  What can God show you at the bottom of it all, about His love and His plan? Oh, now I’m gonna get all choked up again….

5. Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer- Great book about listening to God’s Spirit, life experiences and others in your life to discern “the voice of vocation.” What were you really created to do with your life? How has God spoken to you through your failures as to what you are NOT called to do? (Way closing). How do we hear the voice of God, guiding us to our calling? What about when Christians are depressed, trying to find themselves?

4.  He Walks Among Us, by Richard Stearns. I cried through quite a few of these stories too. These are powerful stories from all over the world about what God is doing in kids and family’s lives- from Africa to Palestine to Equador etc. How is God “showing up” walking alongside these kids and families, some of them in horrific situations/conditions? What can we do to be a part of what God is doing globally? This book is great for a family or church devotional, with daily chapters that are small enough for a short story time.

3. Too Small to Ignore, Why the Least of These Matters Most, by Wess Stafford.  Yup, this one was a tear fest as well. I LOVED this book. What a heart rending story of loss, redemption, forgiveness, restoration. Wess, the founder of Compassion International, is a great storyteller. You will be fired up for missions, for Jesus and for child protection after experiencing this book.

2. Dreaming of more for the Next Generation, Dr. Michelle Anthony. Wanting more ideas for family ministry? This is your book. This was an easy, quick read, full of humor and creative ideas. I found myself nodding my head a lot in agreement. Dr. Anthony elevates the importance of what we do as kid’s leaders, and what God is doing in young lives.

1. I Blew It and Talk Now and Later- Brian Dollar- I love both of these books, for these raw honesty and humor.  Children’s leaders can be encouraged that God can use them even when they make mistakes, even though they are human. I laughed, I cried, I was inspired to try and try again.

So did any of these books make YOUR list? What books would you pick if you could only pick 10 ministry books? And these books are, of course, in addition to your daily Bible reading/study. What books would you reread, recommend, can’t do without? Love and Happy Reading!

Trisha Peach, Author of “Your Children’s Ministry From Scratch” and “Your Children’s Ministry Beyond Basics”.

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