Monthly Archives: May 2014

Grace Kids

So what does your church have for our kids?
We have the most amazing, over the top, best ever, kids thing time ten.  Seriously!!  It is like a bouncy house, roller coaster, water park combined.  Your kids will have all the pop corn, cotton candy, and hot chocolate they can handle – it is all non-gmo, organic certified.   Am I being over the top?

On the other hand…  Our children’s activities involve giving them a big cardboard box, some tape, five crayons, three pails of dirt, and some string, along with some adult supervision.  We’re sure they will be fine.

8257544793_2c00c951b2Kids (and their parents) are funny.  There is one sense in which there is never enough.  The appetites of children are insatiable and even the most wild and exciting thing ceases to be enough at some point.  Yet at the same time, the simplest things can captivate children for hours.  I have a memory from a few years ago of an afternoon quickly passing as our son joyfully added dirt to a bucket of water and spent the rest of the time stirring his muddy concoction with an old stick.

As we work to shape the expectations for what we do with kids at Grace, there will be less options for children’s programs than an established church but more opportunities for involvement. We envision parents and children joining together in prayer, service, and sacrifice so that Grace would be established. Practically, our plan for ministry to children involves both families and kids, starting small and building.
Fundamentally we believe that children are made in the image of God and have an important role to play in his story:

-The Bible talks directly to children.
We also see Jesus accepting the little children brought to him. He was even indignant at the disciples for stopping the children from coming to him.
-Furthermore, when we welcome a child in Jesus’ name, we are welcoming our Lord Jesus Christ himself. (Mat 18:5)
-In the founding documents of both the Old and New Testament God promises to work in the lives of children through the family and the broader community of God’s people.
-For this reason, we need to put great effort into teaching them who God is and  how we are to respond to our Lord in worship, love, and obedience.  The goal of children’s ministry is not that different “adult ministry.”

Practically, here are some ways this will play out:
-Beginning with the parents we will talk through some of the challenges and blessings of being a kid at a church plant and help parents involve their kids in establishing the church through praying at meals, setting up or tearing down, serving in the community, and responding with patience when things go wrong.
-In the sacrament of baptism, concerted prayer children in the church, and a worship service that includes them, children from an early age sense that they belong to God’s people.  One example of including children in church is including phrases each week which non-readers can memorize and repeat, i.e. “This is the word of God.”  “Thanks be to God.”
-Through Christian friendship and shared experiences of service and fellowship children develop friends across families and generations.  They see what it means for a variety of people to follow Christ.
-Age specific programing such as nursery, or Christian Education will be rolled out as we have sufficient children and people to serve.
-Lastly, we will have child protection training for all volunteers and leaders so that our children grow in a safe, nurturing environment.


From the bottom up…

Basil of Caesarea, also known as St. Basil the Great, was a Christian leader in the third century who played a crucial role in both the theological and moral formation of the church.  He worked to preserve the historic understanding of Jesus as God, laid the foundation for Eastern monasticism, and was tireless in his care for the underprivileged.  Basil grew up in a privileged family, was incredibly intelligent, received the finest education of his time, and moved among the cultural elites.  Early in life he wandered from the Christian faith of his parents, enticed by political, social, academic, and financial success, until the unexpected death of one of his brothers.  God used this loss, along with the counsel of his sister Macrina, to reorient his life towards Christ and set him on a radically different path.  As Basil’s life changed and he eventually lived in a community of Christian men which was focused on devotion and service, one of his practices was to insist on doing the lowest jobs among this Christian community.  Having lived with a bunch of guys at different points, I would assume this would involve cleaning the bathrooms (whatever bathrooms were in those days).  When his Christian brothers would object to their leader serving them in such “menial” ways he refused to change his practices.  (Read more about Basil.)

I think of Basil as I consider my role within the church and the shape that leadership will take going forward.  In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus he writes

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift… And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…

Rather than putting myself at the top, I’m near the bottom (“elected officer” in the diagram), equipping others for the work of ministry.  I believe that it is appropriate to flip this pyramid the other way to reflect Jesus’ authority over the church and the authority which he has given to godly leaders, but the upside down pyramid is more helpful for three reasons.

First, the upside down pyramid helps us remember that God does not act as we expect or lead in the way the world does.   Jesus says to his disciples in the Gospel according to Mark,

You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

The way forward in God’s economy is to lay down our lives and serve others.  If we have the usual corporate organizational chart it is so easy to forget how Jesus leads.  The way forward is to lift others up, pass on whatever power we hold, and reject the need for recognition.  All of these behaviors are deeply challenging and I need to truly look at the pyramid so that I remember who is at the bottom – Jesus, God himself.  When I look at this upside down pyramid I am reminded that God has come underneath to serve me.  His radical commitment to me enables me to put myself underneath others.

Second, the upside down pyramid helps us prioritize.  In a church there are always a thousand things to do and the temptation is to grease the squeakiest wheel, which is usually not a leader.  It can be tempting to let the people who are “doing well” slide off the radar and focus on those who are deeply needy.  While the church must always care for the needy there is biblical precedent, both in the life of Jesus and the leadership of the early church of investing deeply in the growth and development of leaders.  There must be multiplication and decentralization of ministry otherwise our capacity to love and serve will be hampered by the natural limitations of leaning too heavily on any one person.  The various layers in the pyramid will develop over time but the mindset needs to be in place from the start.  Eph 4 says that grace is given to all in the church and this pyramid reflects that reality and helps us pass along whatever we have so that others may serve more effectively.

Third, the upside down pyramid isn’t a gimmick.  This isn’t the Sunday where the pastor “serves” in the nursery to teach people that they should do so as well.  This isn’t the church, skipping a worship service to help with community service.  Both of these examples are well intentioned but in my estimation not thought through.  I love kids and at Grace Pres are committed to their spiritual development, but shouldn’t people serve along their strengths, gifts, and God appointed roles?  We are deeply committed to service within the community which demonstrates the mercy of God, but if our love for others comes after our love for God then what about the priority of the worship we give to God?   The upside down pyramid is a model that we must wisely use and not turn into a scheme or stunt in our application of the principles.


Blooming outside and in

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It is the first week of May and the trees are just coming into bloom.  It has been a long winter in Worcester and while there have been a few warm days it’s still cool enough for kids to wear jackets and hats and for the heat to kick on at night.

Yesterday I visited an art opening at the Sprinkler Factory which is exactly what it sounds like – an old sprinkler factory.  Worcester is full of old factories in various states of use and disrepair.  This picture to the left shows part of the bottom floor of the sprinkler factory where there is continued construction of studio spaces.  This stands in stark contrast to the finished gallery space on the second floor (next photo) which is fully of light and wonderfully incorporates the old factory feel with a completely new use.  As I drive through the city and see boarded up buildings I wonder what could bloom when spring comes to some of these spaces?  I know that some will be torn down and disappear but hope that many will be reborn.

Another example of this renewal is the Printer’s Building (here and here).
I think about the city as a whole and the identity that has been lost and not regained.  Some of the pieces that I see of who Worcester is and will be is:
-a blue collar ethic of hard work, humility, skill, and the dignity of labor
-a small town in a big city where you see people you know and stick around or come back to raise their families
-an increasingly diverse city that hasn’t congealed but might and hopefully will
-a three shift town where healthcare, industry, and service personal work at all hours
-a gateway to Boston and the rest of New England that bridges the gap between New England’s one “global city” and the res

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