Tag: Ministry

My Personal Thoughts on Division in the United Methodist Church

3 Sections

  1. Where I Am Coming From
  2. The Church and Our Divide on Scripture
  3. The Beginning is the End is the Beginning

Where I’m Coming From

God called me into the United Methodist Church only 10 years ago. I was reading a lot of John Wesley and had read a bit of the discipline. I had observed the polity and practical theology, and seeing that the movement was geared towards getting people into mission for Christ through a great network called Connectionalism, I joined the family. Being a history guy, I became fascinated by the movements of reform in Methodism and how it has continued reviving hearts; especially in the United States post Revolution and into the greater Pentecostal movements as great-grandchildren of the revival from the Anglicans. The doctrines seemed clear enough and I read the Book of Discipline 2012, delving into the continuing movement with wide eyes looking forward to contribute to this work of the Spirit stretching back a few hundred years.

Backing up a bit, I was baptized and came to faith in the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination emphasizing the charismatic gifts, especially the gift of speaking in tongues. I had never experienced the outpouring of these most visible gifts; but rather, in my reading of the Scriptures found other gifts of God in me for the eventual work of ministry. I found it refreshing that there isn’t a hierarchy or a “Queen of the Gifts” in Methodism. I believe this is more in line with the scriptures. I remember leaning into Mercy, Teaching, and Shepherding – all deeply embedded within and tested as a youth ministry volunteer then as a lay minister pre-ordination. I’d also discovered the issues with congregational government in the Pentecostal church, and the harm politics could inflict on a church at the local level. Later I would work at a “mega-church” in New England which had Wesleyan emphasis but also was congregational in government and without a wider connectionalism though with more of a global, theological, and historical lens. I noted the polity was still a bit harsh at times with meetings that could be condescending between “parties” who felt strongly about cultural issues.

When I entered the United Methodist Church, the polity didn’t feel so heavy and I could be Arminian, affirm women as Pastors and leaders, teach and experience robust Trinitarian worship and theology, have episcopal accountability in leadership, be focused on the work of the Holy Spirit in mission to all in a parish, and there were resources to do it across this network – it all was incredible! And as I breathed it all in, I was completely naive to the politics of the greater church as I joined. I started working as a Youth Director and joined the denomination on a literal island. The disconnection was good for the trenches of ministry, but I eventually entered the ordination track towards Elder. That is when the issues of the denomination began to percolate to my attention (especially human sexuality and marriage) and the modern world’s power struggles between liberal and traditional positions. I’d not known until I took my Methodist courses that the denomination had been experiencing battle after battle since the merger of the United Bretheren/Evangelical Association and The Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1960s –my eyes were opening.

This naivete was a great shield as I did ministry in the trenches as a youth minister on that island but as then I began to live stream the General Conferences starting in 2012. My eyes opened wide, and today, I’m an Elder at a 3 point charge. I’m responsible to people who have lived their entire lives as Methodists, some who have recently committed and are doing ministry with us, and some who are testing us out. I hear and feel their questions about what is happening at the larger institution and I pastor in a rural context yet incredibly adept at knowing every detail of what is going on – because they love their churches. The pain of the battles became more real and I have sought to understand so I might pastor well through these storms. I did a lot of research, and now I teach Polity for the District Lay School for love of this frail yet fascinating system that I believe God is still using in so many lives. In my own Methodist Studies courses for ordination, in the midst of the academic and personal study on the organization at the church, district, Annual and General Conference levels, I still believe what is practically built in Methodist Connectionalism is a great ideal for how we might govern ourselves in a way that Wesley intended. This Revival Movement that inspires, equips, then sends ministers for mission and equips the laity to own their common ministry as an outpouring of their baptism. I’m still in awe at the potential and on the ground in our churches I see how much life comes from the Spirit enlivening us. The faith within our people is robust. Then again, there is quite a bit of bloat in the structure, as anything that has been around for a while naturally gets “gamed”. Language gets learned and definitions change slowly over time. Sometimes the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. This is too true in our case.

I make my observations as a pastor mostly through my own experience with the ordination process and personal observation of the overall polity. I’ve read every news article I can about the nature of the church’s dilemmas as well as her celebrations and victories. I love data and have a deep seated belief that wisdom is essentially seeing patterns and making good decisions based on them, and that ultimately the Spirit gives us discernment and leads us when we begin to surrender and give God glory rather than glorifying our own system or our history or our own selves. I know, even as an outsider who came into the family, it seems that Connectionalism has broken down. It is a painful and a slow motion tearing of the parts and it is so excruciating to the connection because the relationships are the lifeblood of the Wesleyan – Global – Methodist – Holiness – Revival – movement/s. It is how the family tree helps grace to grow and gives life to its members – through accountability and the very connection that is now being ripped into pieces.

I also believe it will be the connectional strand of catholicity posited within Methodism by John Wesley’s own theology that might eventually be a balm for the pain. Perhaps when some sort of schism occurs, the connection will not be completely severed and the “Oneness” that Christ which calls us to in this emerging Post-Denominational world, will still be possible through our prayers, our presence and our service. We will all still be members of the world-wide body of Christ, though in deep disagreement with one another of how to live in fidelity to the Lord. There may be new ways to work out the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. As rural kinfolk might – in households across the street from each other with mutual fields all around their homes. We have lots of family compounds like that in the agricultural areas of South Carolina, and though family members may disagree on many things, the common work and the mission to grow something that brings life remains the same. I do not believe those differences should be minimized or the truths conceded, but merely recognized and presented charitably when needed and when appropriate for differentiation of theological method, Biblical interpretation, and understandings of the nature of our mission have opened chasms that have us looking at one another as enemies rather than siblings in the household of God.

The Church and Our Divide On Scripture

I have slowly realized and watched this dividing and experientially have run into the reality that there really are several factions, but mainly there are two vocal and major tribes warring each other within the family called The United Methodist Church. This is obvious and I barely need to state it. Though I hate the terms, for brevity’s sake, they are called Progressive and Traditional branches of the tree. I’ve struggled with the meanings of these terms, and I recognize that there are people who associate with these camps but because of the depth of connectionalism and common love in the family, many are wary of associating with a “side”. These folks have been called Centrists, though it mainly means that they do not want to break up the family so they try to keep quiet or encourage both sides.

The last General Conference, as I’ve been grafted into this family, I’ve felt the pressure of being from a Residency group with friends on all the different angles on these issues. Having friends on the ends of the issue of sexuality has caused a lot of pain all around. Spiritually, mentally, even physically in some cases. Even as I prayed over General Conference, I saw the behavior of delegates at the microphone and the intentional chaos which was openly spoken by some caucus groups… my body became literally sick. I delved into prayer for this family that has welcomed me but I’m now in the midst of a civil war which I at once was not aware of but now actively have a stake in as a shepherd with a group of people who ask me, “What is going on up there? Do we need to do something?” I’ve done my best to encourage, teach, truth tell, speak from the scriptures, and be pastoral all at the same time.

I’ve had to wrestle with my own responses, and for full transparency, I fall into the “Traditional” understanding. I cannot minimize the importance of seeking to understand the entirety of scripture and I push back on those who say we all only “pick and choose” what portions of scripture we live out or teach. I may not know all things, but the goal is to be so thoroughly immersed in the study and reading of scripture, and then to live it out so fully, that we delve deeper into the life of God. In the wholeness of deep and time intensive hearing and responding, the Spirit transforms us as the text witnesses to the saving power of Jesus Christ – and our own frailty and sinfulness fades in the sanctification process. I do not see any evidence that we should not take the whole revelation of scripture as we grasp at it and apply all the themes and courses within it into the ordering of our spiritual, physical lives, and relationships.

On the issue of marriage from the beginning there is a purpose for sexuality which is to bond a man and a woman together for life-long commitment to one another. The redefinition and opening up this union to same-sex spouses is something from the greater culture and is nowhere in either the Old or New Testament portions of the canon. Scholar after scholar notes how many forms of sexuality were practiced in Egypt, Canaan, Rome, and this same spirit continues today. N.T. Wright, in a recent podcast clearly debunks the conception that our modern ideas of sexuality are completely novel by citing the “Symposium” by Plato, and Roman writings on Juveniles as sources that obviously show the kind of same-sex relationships we are seeing today. We don’t give the ancient people enough credit for dealing with the same issues humanity has always been dealing with. We simply should not drift from the revelation of God simply because we we want people to feel accepted. The truth is, they are accepted by God – salvation is free – but the sanctification process afterward asks all of us to put our conceptions of self including our own sexuality on the altar and to seek God’s plan for each of us called into the Christian community. This may not be what we had originally or conceptually intended in our own imaginations.

The desire to make sexuality primary in our identity (which should rest primarily in the Spirits work within us by Christ) is not new. Monasteries in the ancient church have had to address monks who were attracted to men, and they called those celibate people to reside in their identity in Christ. Of course they were celibate anyway but it has import for us in an incredibly sexualized material world. The Bible has one line of argument of what an ordered marriage is, that those not bonded in it are to be celibate, and that sexuality is not our chaos but part of the Lord’s grand design. Dr. Kevin M. Watson, Assistant Professor of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies at Candler School of Theology, who in a debate with a former professor of his, Dr. Kendall Soulen, in a civil debate, stated;

“‘Simply put, the Bible is concerned with sexual ethics. Deeply concerned with sexual ethics. The well-known Jerusalem Council, where the early Church agreed to remove as many burdens as they possible could from Gentiles who were coming to faith in Jesus, particularly circumcision, so that as many people could follow Jesus as possible, still emphasized right living when it came to sex. The Jerusalem Council concluded: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.’ (Acts 15:28-29) The consistent concern expressed for sexual ethics in the Old and New Testaments from passages like Acts 15 cannot be cut away from the other passages in the Old and New Testaments that concretize what particular sexual practices Christian are to abstain from.”

Full video of this debate is on youtube here: https://youtu.be/XkNCmsatTlE

The debate was civil, and I enjoyed listening to the two take questions and answers from folks afterwards, both Dr. Watson and Dr. Soulen being very pastoral in all things – it was very Christian in nature – I couldn’t help but notice that Soulen’s positions on becoming more laid back on divorce were grounds for our continual cultural accommodation. Just “one more thing” [not his words, my summary of the ethos]. I don’t believe his framework and the foundation of many modern Christian’s view of Biblical interpretation are taking the revelation of the scriptures serious enough nor do they plunge deep enough into the depths of their context, morals, or teachings. This view doesn’t take into account that our hardness of heart to one another in divorce and the laxity on marriage in our culture is a condemnation of our modern world and should not be a virtuous rule! We should be repenting of the implosion of marriage in our culture because it is a covenant made before God. The evil which spouses have beat upon each other due to our sinfulness need corporate and individual acts of repentance rather simply losing all of our Christian ethics and then redefining what a marriage is.

Dr. Watson, grounded in the scripture, began with a deliberation of the passages in Genesis where man and woman are brought together to become one flesh and states, “the witness of Scripture regarding marriage consistently describes marriage in terms of a union of one man and one woman. And it never describes marriage as between two people of the same sex.” As I’ve delved into the texts, this is always apparent without much study and under scrutiny it holds up, which makes me wonder why the Methodist world is succumbing to the fallacy of losing all Christian teachings simply because they are from antiquity and they’re really hard to live into.

I don’t worship the Bible nor hold it up as an idol between the Lord and His ability to speak but I do hold it as the inspired Word of God. It contains God’s road map and revelation for us to be lead into salvation. It is how we come to know Jesus Christ in a very personal way and then are conditioned to hear His word by the Spirit which we have living within us. I also hold to the scriptures as a standard by which we can judge extraneous revelation, in which our experience and interpretations of the workings of the Spirit within us and without us must be brought into focus by this ruler, the Word of God, and of its plain understandings.

The Beginning is the End is the Beginning

Overall, I was encouraged by some movements at General Conference 2019 to affirm the teachings of the church which at a point long ago had been codified in The Book of Discipline -long before I was even born. Recently I watched in shock and awe at our South Carolina Annual Conference 2019, and seeing not one traditional clergy going to General Conference (one to Jurisdictional). I saw how gamed the system was. Local Pastors wondering why they had no say in their denomination, computers with spreadsheets out analyzing coordinated votes, and realizing that the polity had simply moved the messiness of Congregational polity from the local church, to the higher echelons where the same pettiness reigns. It was a somber realization of the pendulum we are on and how our congregations are constantly being gaslighted by obvious political maneuvering. I’ve seen both sides consolidate a power base and retreat into echo chambers. I don’t necessarily condemn having groups for support – we are human and need to support one another. I am guilty myself of having stronger relationships with those I doctrinally align with. But the lack of charity is intense right now, and I really wish the power brokers would lay down their power, repent, and allow the streams of Methodism to be free to go their own way. Build a new connectionalism in a Global sense but lets let go of the vicious bear hug.

Personally, I feel strongly that there is a right interpretation of scripture, and I strive to grapple with that through the Spirit and in the accountability of community. I also desire that our denomination would continue to acknowledge the teachings of the church through the ages which are in line with the witness of scripture and connected to apostolic witness. My heart is still hurting and I feel the brokenness of the denomination even though I wasn’t born into it. I think the Holy Spirit as a person is bringing these pains to the fore in all of us because folks on the ground level are feeling all the stages of grief as we mourn what was and in a clumsy way, envison what might be – even though most like myself do not have the power to really guide us to a new horizon. We can simply keep following Jesus Christ and remain humble as we minister to those we are entrusted to do ministry among.

While I feel a separation is coming, I hope that those with power will be gracious with each other, speak kindly to one another, and stop the shame game and marketing that comes with this kind of warfare language. This is a major disagreement, but we are not enemies. This is not the way John Wesley would have us walk and talk. I’m new to this, but seriously, if I was making a call I’d say, “let’s make a decision and find a way to live with it.” That’s called leadership, and the world needs to see leaders stick their necks out and say what they’re thinking whether they lose their jobs and their pension or not. Actually, that’s why this mess has gotten so large. Some folks who think very differently than I do decided to lead. Unfortunately they’ll find a stand still until a real conversation about our differences and chasm of how theology is done is clearly on the table and because of the hardness of our hearts -a mutual separation is negotiated under truce. We need more transparency, more humility, more thinking and listening and less warfare on the grounds of the Holy Conferences. I’m praying for The United Methodist Church and I will keep my vows. Whatever happens we will all make our decisions. Let’s not manipulate ourselves into a dystopian future.

I think institutions as large organisms can be saved but the heart needs to be malleable. If a division occurs, may we send each other in peace. It seems the problems of Congregational Polity have found their way to General Conference. The system like any is gamed over time. I preached recently on King David’s census and the plague that ensued. It seems like we want the same sense of control David wanted and I fear that there is a path to failure if we fight over control, resources, and power. I’m still an outsider mainly because I’m still learning this whole system. I still know where I stand, which is in line with the Book of Discipline as it is today. My hope is that we continue to uphold the teachings of Christianity and find a way despite the current culture. I know that one “side” eventually will be discouraged enough to leave if the table doesn’t have good actors looking each other in the eye. It doesn’t have to be this way. If amicable division costs money, it is what it is. I saw a figure for an Annual Conference that it would cost $18 million dollars to deal with pension liabilities and then the line was “That’s impossible.” Are you kidding me. I know we are frugal, but if something needs to happen you make it happen. Are we fighting over treasure or releasing each other for fruitfulness in ministry? There is a way. It seems to me that we’ve just stopped talking to each other and are now trying to destroy the reputation of the opponent in order to take all the marbles. That’s not Wesleyan, it is certainly not Christian, and that’s not the way of the Spirit. I’m here to see what happens and I’m praying for wisdom in the years to come. But in the meantime – back to ministry! The trenches in this world need workers to preach and spread scriptural holiness. May I be faithful, and may the Lord bless our work. May we all be humble servants who wash each other’s feet and look at Christ and kneel. God is with us and always will be. May we be with the Lord. Amen.

There is a Place for Young People in an Aging Society

There’s a place for young people in an aging society

Published: July 30, 2013, The Island Packet, Bluffton Edition

By DANIEL GRISWOLD — danielgriswold@gmail.com

A wise man told me this morning that our current culture is very “ageist.” In an area that is full of wonderfully retired and aging people, we live in a focal point of the angst that aging brings with it, in regular life and in worship.

Young people in the college and career phases of their lives walk into a church and are greeted by handshakes and smiles from gray-haired people wearing nice suits or dresses, holding up the structure and traditional styles of worship. In a perfect world, all ages would come together and worship the God of the Ages (or all ages), but the reaction I’ve more often seen is one of segregation according to age, individual taste in style, or by culture. In a time when people basically worship youth, this is not surprising, but how can God’s people be different?

In the Scriptures, it is obvious that God values all people of all ages. Those who are young are the church, those who are middle-aged are the church, those who are elderly are the church. And it is with different perspectives on life coming together that we see life’s picture more completely. The old do not forget what it was like to be young, full of new adventures, fears and risks. The young gain the advantage of wisdom, which is basically the ability to denote patterns in life and share that knowledge with others.

“Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” (Psalm 71:17-18)

Perhaps segregation started after the World Wars, when young men and women settled down together and simultaneously started families and careers. A mass of people grew up together, supported one another, and raised children together. That solidarity gave them a special place in society as their children grew and created a new world beneath the structures they created. As that generation retires and passes off the responsibilities of the world, a painful process begins. It also seems like there are more older people than ever as the baby boomers remain in health well into their 80s and 90s. My great-grandmother, Alice, is now 102 years old.

So what are the young to do? I think that a bit of humility would do us all a bit of good. We are an aging society and for a time the young will have to come to terms with what it means to be at the other end of life. I think that the benefits of sharing life together outweigh the initial awkwardness of the relationship. Who wouldn’t want to have some sound financial advice, or to hear the stories of their family?

Perhaps that means that we don’t have all the electric guitars in the worship band, or perhaps that means that the projector shows images of cartoons from the 1960s and 1970s. That’s all OK. As we worship together, our picture of life becomes more complete, and it is our common focus on the glory of God, and telling of the great things he has done, that we forget age and become part of a church that is eternal. Can people of all ages come together and be the body of Christ? I know we can, I’ve seen it happen. Have courage and trust in the Lord, great things are possible.

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog atwww.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.

 

Mobile Ministry: Bringing God’s word to the people of the Community

Mobile ministry brings word of God to the people of the community

20091022 Churchgoers

By DANIEL GRISWOLD — danielgriswold@gmail.com

Published: June 21, 2013

The Bluffton Packet, supplement to The Island Packet

 

I’ve been thinking about what it means to be “mobile” as a person with a ministry.

I’ve found that so much of my time ministering to young people has been spent on the road in my little Toyota, on the various winding roads and highways around Hilton Head Island and Bluffton.

At the beginning of my ministry, I spent hours at a desk doing administrative work and getting little things done here and there, but the more I built relationships with the various communities our church serves, I cut down desktime and have learned to do much more on the road. My desk is sometimes replaced by rented tables paid for by my cup of coffee, or by spending a few moments at Saint Andrew’s new Bluffton Ministry Center near Dairy Queen — there is free Wifi there. Wherever my laptop sits, I become a hub of relationships, communications and learning.

A Google search for “Mobile Ministry” brings up articles about ministers preaching on circuits, trucker ministries and various other long-distance traveling ministries. The kind of ministry I’m talking about is not long distance. I am talking about the kind that develops around a “regional” church.

When people find a church they are willing to drive 35 minutes or so to reach, you have a “regional” church. These churches have families from wide and varying communities from urban to countryside, and so the ministers (lay and clergy) quickly learn to live beyond their own hamlet, and see the varying contexts interacting all over.

Here in our area, we have unique culture in each plantation and neighborhood. Our people have all sorts of ways of life and perspectives, so we become more creative to connect and serve, unify and challenge wisely. It would be easy to use the church as a hub and never leave it, because so many people come to this beacon set in the proverbial waters of the communities, like an academic who never leaves the seminary and finds oneself trapped in an ivory tower. The light on the outside of the church walls is just a fable to that person, and eventually the sermons and the advice of the one caring for the community makes little sense to those who live on the outside of the cave.

No, we must go out and be in the community.

Look at Jesus: He did not spend much time in one place, and it seems to have been a reality of the Jewish culture that his family traveled for various reasons. When Jesus was born, a census forced him to be born in a stable (Luke 2:7). After his birth, his family went to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous attempt to stop the future claim to Kingship (Matthew 2:13). As a youth, he ended up at the temple asking questions of the teachers (Luke 2:46). After his ministry began, he then set out traveling, spanning the heights of Samaria to the depths of the Dead Sea toward the mountains around Jerusalem.

Jesus and his disciples were on the move, an urgency of mission moved them, and Paul and successive generations have moved with little time to remain static, and if so, only to teach for a time. So if Jesus was on the move, we as his followers must consider and act on the power and energy of that movement.

The nice thing about being mobile is that you become a central command for the community. Like a plant reaching out and connecting to new plots of soil and spreading life, you become the shoot that seeds love and hope in many different pots full of fertile soil.

After many years of being a “runner,” or a mobile minister, you begin to see the harvest come to bloom in various ways. God begins to bless the work, and you may see others becoming ministers to the community themselves. It truly is a blessing to see people you’ve cared about care for others and begin to bloom. Here’s to the hubs and nodes — keep connecting, keep moving and bring the Good News to your multicommunity community.

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog atwww.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.

 

The Prodigal Son(s): Notes on Kevin DeYoung’s Sermon on Luke 15:1-32 at TGC 2013

Luke 15:1-32

Sermon Notes on Kevin DeYoung‘s Talk at The Gospel Coalition Conference 2013

(1) The Context (Parable)
Tax Collectors and Sinners chilling w Jesus – Pharisees unhappy
Sinners – those not following the law (not good Jews)
Tax Collectors – people who paid Rome in order to have the right to collect taxes (were seen as cheats, swindled ppl out of money for profit ) – bid on what they thought they could collect.
Picture Jesus sitting w Judges ruling against Christians, hanging with scientists, atheists(?)

(2) Characters – 3 main Characters – Analogy is w the attitude portrayed, “How much more is God than this?”
A, Shepherd – God seeks sinners
God is active in this process
B. A Woman searching for her money diligently – Searching like a mom (find what is lost)
C. Father and his son – goes out to his son while he was a long way off. God is seeking people to save them

In every City – God is seeking

(The mission Field of the last century is booming – Have we been bad stewards while our shepherd sought the lost?)

Zaccheus – The son of man came to seek and to save the lost

*The Point: God rejoices when the lost one is found! Divine Joy – It is public – it is shared, there is eye contact, it overflows

Godly vs Worldly grief (repentance vs shame)

1. Lets be mindful of the relationships and the repentance

Are we friends of sinners? Remember wisdom. No one has been more inclusive of sinners and yet so rejecting of sin.

2. Let us be prepared to seek and to find all sorts of sinners

The older brother needs grace too. The Father goes out to him. The older brother just wants Justice. Nevers vs Always. “I never get this. You always have me.” Can we minister to the repentant and the bitter/Jealous?

3. Let us be marked in our lives by the experience of Joy

The Kingdom always comes with joy. God is radically committed to your joy and his. God seeks and he finds. Do you have an expectation of Joy? Are you waiting for something amazing from God?

Beginning in Youth Ministry: The Art of Perseverance

never give up churchill

Foundations for Youth Ministry: Perseverance

Albert Einstein is quoted often, saying “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results”  He may have been a physicist but it seems that he knew a bit about youth ministry too.  Youth Ministry is cyclical and many elements remain the same: our core truths and teachings, the liturgical calendar and the repetition of the cycles of middle and high school and then graduations.  We are often doing the same things over and over (though in varying and extremely creative ways).  Case in point: I’m so sick of pizza, but each generation of young people seem to gravitate towards it.  It blows my mind!

Here is a modification: “Youth Ministry: doing the same things over and over again, expecting wildly different results.”  Each person ministered to, whether part of a large or small youth group, over time will own their faith in sometimes extreme variations. I’m always surprised by the energy that explodes from empowered young people, and I love (absolutely LOVE) seeing their ideas become reality.

But the hard part of that same principle is the “doing the same things over and over.”  There is a repetition to ministry, and to relationships in general.  How many times do you ask “How are you doing this week?”  “What’s up?”  “How’s the family”  “What are your plans for the holidays?” “Who are you going to be?”  “How can I help you make your dreams reality?”  “Where is my phone?”  “Seriously! Who took my phone? …and my backpack …with my laptop?!”

Monotony and the ordinary challenges of this ministry (the almost parental worry; safety during events; the many awkward conversations; walking with the teen who has thrown off their faith), means that there is a serious burn out risk in the first year to 18 months of ministry.  Notice earlier that I made a correlation between insanity and youth ministry.  You don’t necessarily have to be insane to jump in, but over time, your heart has to be radically oriented towards care and love of those who so desperately need it.  You will need to constantly refresh your God orientation.  Otherwise, you’ll burn out.

How does one do youth ministry day after day, year after year, and dare I say decade after decade?  The easy answer is “Just do it.”  We all have to.  Young people are everywhere and they need adult guidance.  That helps me, but a more theological response is that ministry to the young is a sacred responsibility given to all of us.  No one can say, “I’m not made for this,” or “I’m too old.”  God has made us the stewards of not only the earth, but of the cultivation of future generations.

Deuteronomy Ch. 6:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

If the love of God is on your heart, share it continually and meticulously with those who are young.  The potential is great, and the results of your perseverance will change lives.  Don’t look at the short-term challenges (just face them).  The real rewards come at the back end.

 

(This article was originally published in The Advocate, South Carolina’s Connectional Newspaper for the SC United Methodist Church)

Beginning in Youth Ministry: Dealing with your Self (Identity and Remembrance)

Remembering The Past

“I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.”  (Leviticus 26:12)

So far we have dealt with boldness and context.  Boldness being a necessary step in the endeavor of youth ministry, and is dependent on the working of the Holy Spirit.  Then an understanding of context gives us vision for whom we are reaching and how we are to go about it.  Meeting specific needs in a community makes sparks, bonding groups together and models servant ministry.  As a group begins to form, our greatest obstacle is often our own “self”.  Understanding our own growth as a young person is critical in ministry to youth today, and lets explore why.

Either read this, or have someone read this to you while you close your eyes, this will aid the memory:

Take a moment and imagine yourself as an adolescent, about the age of 13, perhaps 14 years old.  You wake up in your bed and look around.  What do you see? What color are the walls?  Is there a window?  Are they decorated with posters? Artwork? Is anyone else there?  School is starting soon.  What kind of clothes did you like and how do you wear them?  Are you trying to have a certain look?  You walk through your house grabbing what you need.  Who do you talk to?  Who do you tell “I love you,” to?  How do they reply?

Now you are on your way to school.  How do you get there? Is it a bus? If so, who do you sit with?  Who do you avoid?  What is important to know in this place?  As you arrive at school, what buildings surround you?  Where do you go and where do you want to go?  What colors are the hallways? Is there a teacher you remember and care about?  What classes do you like, or do not like at all?  Do you stand around or walk with a group you belong in?  What clothes do your friends wear?  What do they talk about?  Do they make you laugh? Or cry?  Or both?  How do you feel as you go from class to class?  Where do you want to be, and what will you do after school?

As you open your eyes, what did you experience? What memories that flooded to you; are there any faces that flash before your mind?  We all were young once, and remembering ourselves is important as we minister.  If we have a false sense of what it was like, and often we can impose our adult notions of reality on the young.  Their world isn’t much different than your world was, especially in how relationships work and how confusing life is in the years we discover our own identity.  Learning to be a grown up takes years of practice, and the transition from childhood is tumultuous as well as exciting!

God made this as a special phase, and understanding how you came to be “you”, will help as you reach out with compassion.  Always remember to remain an adult with safety and rules.  But also remember that as Christ walked among us and knew how we felt, we can bring the good news as we walk among them and transparently glow with Christ’s love to those we love.

(This article was originally published in The Advocate, South Carolina’s Connectional Newspaper for the SC United Methodist Church)

Beginning in Youth Ministry: The Art of Pioneering

As a boy, I took part in a group called “Royal Rangers” which operated much like the Boy Scouts but with different colors and awards. Each year that I participated I was invited to attend the big camping event in Maine.  Hundreds of kids like myself would learn basic survival involving making fires, tying knots, lashing together huts, canoeing, and lots and lots of cooking. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the whole roasted pig we would later enjoy as a meal.  In these events, I would imagine myself as a wilderness pioneer exploring new territory.  Surely I wasn’t the best camper, but I had a huge imagination.  I enjoyed stories about pioneers like Daniel Boone, and the danger tales of the adult campers.  I realized that in leaving the concrete and painted world of civilization for the wilderness, there were challenges that one must overcome.  There were also processes and disciplines that kept oneself alive.

This paradigm of imagination remained with me as I began my studies in youth ministry.  Very early in my internships I realized that I was not in safe territory as I entered the world of young people.  Even as a college student, new culture was already being created and I had to ask what some simple exchanges between youth meant.  I felt uncomfortable in that period of time when I was charged with starting a small group Bible Study for Middle School students, which would then intensify in the first few awkward silences that occur when people of different age groups come together.  So I taught my lessons, I took attendance, I ran events and listened and learned.  It was a growing process involving sacrifice of my pride and giving in to the possibility of personal pain.

The same wilderness principles that I had learned from the rangers were applicable to this “survival” situation.  The goal was to create a meaningful series of relationships and programs that would strengthen young people’s faith.  To accomplish this task, I had to admit that I knew very little about this world, and I would have to observe, be patient, and hear the breathing of this particular community.   A process evolved of brainstorming and proclaiming solutions to problems (lack of excitement, lack of interest, lack of connection, lack of kindness, lack of Biblical appreciation and understanding), practicing the idea of the solution in the life of the youth community (being excited and contagiously so, hanging in the hallways and listening and responding to connect others together, being kind and teaching goodness, loving the Bible and teaching God’s ways through study, service and practice), and lastly reflecting on how the solutions fared and returning to brainstorming for the next big thing.  Many call this praxis, and in the beginnings of your ministry, I call this Pioneering.

You are the adventurers who have decided that young people are worthy of discomfort.  You leave you’re civilization and age group for periods of time to build bridges in youth culture to God and make a way.  Like a missionary (which you really are), you forge forward and patiently build paths that others can follow.  It is this process of Thinking, Acting, Reflecting and Acting again that ensures that you’re pioneering will have an impact.

Like Abraham, a call of God is on your heart and He has said, “Go.”  You respond and begin to act, and the seeds you sow will bring blessing after blessing.  Jesus’ disciples heard the call to “Go” to the world.  So I pray for you, new and veteran pioneers, who seek to be world changers by building paths that others can follow to your God.

(This article was originally published in The Advocate, South Carolina’s Connectional Newspaper for the SC United Methodist Church)

Youth Ministry: Understanding Context – Each Ministry Will Look Different

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Jesus Loves the Little Children.”  When I first heard it, it spoke to me.   At that time I was a little child; I listened, I learned it, and began to sing it myself.  It resonated in my heart, and is likely the first time I began to think about other people different than myself.  The song continues “All the Children of the World.  Red and Yellow, Black and White/They are precious in His sight.”  Now, I had seen pictures of other kids who lived in other places, but this is the first time I considered their hopes, their dreams, and that they had lives.

Over time, I realized how God had made humanity with a huge variance of thought styles, family cultures, and interests.  Each person is made uniquely, and so the song we sung early could be endlessly amended with new lines to include verses about the creative, the logical, those who like to build, and the talkers, and philosophers.  At all age levels, ethnicities, and across the borders of the globe, we are all created as different expressions of God’s own creativity.

The Psalmist wrote: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well”  (Psalm 139:13-14). We celebrate the creation God has done in us, and each of us shows God’s image expressed in a new and exciting way.

One of the first tasks of youth ministry is to understand how each group of unique people coming together creates a new world – sometimes that world is a bit explosive with the energy of the young.  But by listening to them, you may be surprised that even within the same community, their desires, needs, wants, hopes, and dreams can vary from pocket to pocket.  The information you gain over time informs what the spiritual and communal needs of your youth are.

A group of kids in a mountain farming community might find excitement doing missions in a city.  City kids might be more open to faith and growth while trusting you on a camping expedition or white water rafting trip.  Youth facing constant crisis may find a prayer circle enough, while creative youth might want to start a worship band or participate in the liturgy on Sunday mornings.  Theologically they will be all over the board.  You’ll need to discern how to fill in the gaps of the whole Gospel.

By asking a few simple questions, and ask them frequently, a big picture begins to develop.  “Where are you coming from?  Where are you at right now?  Where are you going?  How can I help you get there?”  These questions I learned in seminary and I ask at least one of them every single week with every young person, with eye contact, and we all process life together.  In the midst of learning the answers and modeling the love of Christ you’ll laugh, play games, lead trips, and teach God’s word.

Love God, love them, be a pioneer, never give up, and by knowing their world you’ll be able to help them build the programs they actually need.  As you learn, you’ll discover new ways to teach The Way.

(This article was originally published in The Advocate, South Carolina’s Connectional Newspaper for the SC United Methodist Church)

Pastor’s Corner: Changing the World One “Salkehatchie” at at time

Changing the world one kind act at a time

By DANIEL GRISWOLD
danielgriswold@gmail.com
Published Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Original Publication (Click here)
For the past week, I was with 70 teenagers at a camp called Salkehatchie.  The camp was started by a man named John Culp, who met a group of nuns ministering to impoverished communities in South Carolina. These women had a mission to educate and help provide as an extension of God’s love to all people.John came and spoke to our group and told some of his story. About how he saw this effort and wanted to bridge the gap between kids in the suburbs and people who lived in the legacy of slavery and often had been left by family who had gone up North to find jobs.So he started a Methodist camp for youth that eventually became known as Salkehatchie, named after a nearby river, by his wife. I was impressed by the “why” of what the camps accomplish: “Many of our neighbors in South Carolina live in homes needing repair, and Jesus has called us to love our neighbor (Luke 10:29-37). South Carolina United Methodist Youth need to experience Christian servant hood. And he said to all, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’ ” (Luke 9:23)

So here we are at this camp telling God that we will give all of who we are. We might not know what the need will be. We do not know what the homes and the families will need, but we’re going to go out there and love these people both spiritually and practically by fixing up their homes — many with holes so big in the floor that raccoons could climb in; and with roofs in such need of repair, that they bow down into molded troughs about to break. We are going to help people, many of whom who have suffered greatly in their lives from lost husbands, lost eyesight, lost children, lost incomes, and sometimes lost hope in the future.

Each year I pray that our youth will connect with the mission. I’ve found that the young people who sacrifice all week and see what kind of difference can be made with a fresh coat of paint and a new roof, and a lot of hugs, are in tears by the end of the week. The fact is, these kids get as muche experience as the families do. The host families are in tears because they realize somebody cares. The youth are in tears because they had never realized how little people can live on, and the people they were sometimes afraid of — due to a difference in culture and lack of understanding — are warm, loving people with hopes and dreams just like them. And I am in tears because I see God working in everybody.

The third night of the camp, I was alone in the sanctuary of Main Street United Methodist in Dillon with God. Underneath their huge cross, I knelt at the altar and prayed to see lives transformed. I’ve begun to see it happen.

Last year we brought five youth to Salkehatchie, and they were nervous. Their parents didn’t know much about the camp. We all took a risk and jumped into the mission, and they came back with a glow on their faces. They saw how some paint, shingles and plywood — with prayer and good intentions — can spark new life. Their muscles ached from the work, but their lives had begun a new course, one not marked by selfishness, but with a fresh desire to reach out and get beyond the bubble.

I felt my heart moved, and we returned this year with twice the number of teens. It is as simple as “loving your neighbor as you love yourself.” Why? Because God loves you, and we can return that act by caring for others.

Simple, sweet, and it will continue to change the world one kind act at a time until we are with God himself. I pray that your mission will begin now. God is with you, let’s go.

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at http://www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.

http://www.salkehatchie.org/