We’ve got to do better

It seems like the severe winter weather has hit half of North America this weekend. My home in Nova Scotia is a sheet of ice right now and just across the Northumberland Strait, in PEI, cars are buried under 2 storeys of snow (just check out the image below–it’s like you can walk across the water to PEI).

Now, as a born-and-raised Northern Ontario boy, I love the snow. And winter is my favourite season—always has been, with the skiing, skating, sledding, snowboarding… it’s wonderful. But this weekend has just been too extreme, even for me. Don’t get me wrong—I’m loving the snow right now. But I’m also worried about what it means for the future of the planet. The recent terrible weather is merely one of many symptoms of climate change. And as we all crank up the heat in our homes, we’re merely adding to the problem. We’ve got to do better.

As a leader in children’s and youth ministry, I wonder what the future holds for the young people in our congregations—and those who aren’t part of our churches. I have three nieces and nephews under the age of 2, and it’s likely that all of them will be alive for the turn of the next century. But what will that world look like? What state will the planet be in in 85 years? We’ve got to do better.


My youngest reader

A former student sent me this picture of his adorable daughter. I appreciate that he likes Children’s Ministry in the Way of Jesus so much that he passes it on to the important people in his life.


Good words from John Stonecypher

 I am confident that my great-grandkids, when they play sword-fighting, will make lightsabre “vwing-vwing” noises. But I am less confident that they will know and tell stories about the guy who got eaten by the fish or the guy with the talking donkey. Why? Because my kids know my love for Star Wars is full-throated and uncomplicated, and they share in that love. And because for most of their lives so far, they know my love for the Bible has been, well, complicated. My kids tend to care about the things I love. But the things I’m half-hearted about… those are the things they’ve learned to ignore.

-John Stonecypher

Small but Mighty – Part 3

This post is the third in a series about the formational potential of smaller churches.

Benefit #2: Christian Faith as Creative Faith

As congregations experience numerical growth, organizational structures must be produced, adapted, and implemented in ways that allow for clergy, administrators, and volunteer leaders to efficiently provide goods and services—in the form of sermons, worship music, liturgy, Bible study, and additional activities—to an increasing number of congregants.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with creating programs for congregants. But it becomes problematic when the programs become the reason for the existence of a congregation. When that happens, church can become a marketplace where congregants consume products that meet their needs. And if a particular church doesn’t provide the goods and services that a congregant wants and needs, that person might go shopping for one that does.


It’s old news now that, back in 2007, Willow Creek Community Church courageously released Reveal, a report on a study they conducted in their massive congregation. And while the study revealed (pun intended) many surprising facts, one of the most important was that involvement in programs didn’t lead to growth in faith. For many years, the leaders of Willow Creek operated out of the assumption that the more their members were involved in church activities, the more they’d grow as followers of Jesus. But they actually found that those who were most involved were the most stagnant in their faith journey.

Willow Creek operated out of an assumption of consumptive Christianity—and they’ve discovered this and taken steps to correct it in recent years. But contrast this megachurch with one of countless smaller congregations across North America—and beyond. With so few people in these churches, a much higher percentage of members are likely involved not only in attending activities in the life of the congregation, but in providing leadership and direction of these activities. Smaller churches tend to require the active involvement of a large percentage of their members in order to provide activities, thus moving away from consumption and toward creation. Everyone needs to roll up their sleeves and contribute to the life of the faith community or nothing will get done – there’s no one else to do it!

I’m inclined to believe that having a hand creating such activities—that is, being involved as a leader, a collaborator, and a stakeholder—is more likely to cultivate faith formation. I know first-hand that this is the case, for my childhood and adolescent faith was formed through involvement in creating what it means to be and do church, and not consuming others’ church products. As a child, I regularly helped my parents at activities our church was hosting, such as White Elephant Tables, events for high school students (who seemed so much older and wider than I was at the time), and bazaars. And in my high school years I learned how to play guitar in my church and ended up leading music at the Sunday evening Mass. This happened to be right around 9/11, and I remember making difficult decisions about what it meant to lead the church in singing that Jesus was “Prince of Peace.” I had to do some deep theological reflection with the choir to figure out how to sing about peace and love after this horrific event.

Without these experiences, I wouldn’t have been able to be part of a team that creates what it means to be the church. And I’m not the only one. As I travel across North America teaching and leading workshops and events about ministry with youth and children. I often begin by having each participant identify and share a spiritually formative experience from their younger years. Many people speak of times when they were given the reigns and encouraged to contribute to the life of their congregation—as music leaders, Sunday school teachers, members of a service project committee, or even simply collecting the offering. And when I ask how many people present grew up in a small congregation during these experiences, there aren’t too many hands that aren’t in the air.

All this has to do with enculturation, a vision for faith formation championed most famously by John Westerhoff, with whose words I end this post:

Faith is formed as people of all ages gather together to participate in the life of a community of faith, as they create church together. Through such participation, the ways of life of the community are passed on and recast through engagement in those practices that define the way of life of the community. As congregants gather together for Sunday services, potlucks, service projects, pub nights, and whatever other activities are central to the life of the community of faith, they enculturate one another into members of their faith community who participate together in hearing, responding to, and living out the gospel.

Share the Faith Forward Love and you could win

Lowe Selfie

Tell the world why you’re going to Faith Forward 2015 and you could bring home a prize pack of autographed books written by contributors and speakers at this year’s gathering (April 20-23 in Chicago).

Click here for more info: http://faith-forward.net/news/share-the-love/

Authenticity over Conformity

“Clearly, a goal for spiritual nurture is for children to realize that their particular way of approaching spiritual matters is valid for Christian spirituality too. In other words, being authentic in our relationship with God is a much greater value that being conformist.”

–Rebecca Nye, in Children’s Spirituality: What it is and Why it Matters



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 366 other followers

%d bloggers like this: