Celebrating Small Groups

Small Group wierd no wordsSmall Groups have been a key part of our ministry for the past number of years. We think one of the best things our students can do is to meet consistently with a group of students and adult leaders to connect, study scripture, pray together, serve together and support each other. I am continually grateful for the small group leaders we have who meet regularly with our students to build trust, encourage and model what it means to follow Jesus.

One thing that I have become convinced of is the need to celebrate the “wins” that happen in student ministry. When you have students for 7 years (6th – 12th grade), it is important to celebrate when good things take place. Much of the fruit of student ministry doesn’t show up sometimes til years later and discouragement can easily set in.

This weekend I saw where our small groups are developing fruit. There are a few wins we celebrate.

We celebrate when we see growth. I talked with one of our junior high small group leaders and he shared how he has seen growth in his group. They are starting to ask more questions and they have volunteered to lead the group. For the next few weeks, each of the guys in the group will prepare and lead a devotion for the group. It’s a great chance for them to get into the Word to read it, understand it and prepare to share it with a group of peers.

We celebrate when we see service. In just the past 10 days, I’ve seen where our groups are serving together. Several members of two of our high school girls groups showed up on a Saturday to serve at our concession stand that will benefit our 1MISSION project. Most of them couldn’t say for the whole event, but they came and served alongside their small group leaders.

One of our high school guys group is serving in our Upward program. Almost every member of that group is either helping with the technical side of the games (running lights, clock, etc.) or serving as referees for the games.

I know that our students are growing and serving in other ways that we don’t always see, but it is encouraging to see specific examples of how our students are growing and serving.

We continue to look for ways to make our small groups better, to equip our leaders more and add additional leaders. While we do that, I think it is worth to time to stop and celebrate the wins.

3 Questions for the School Year

3 QuestionsWe kicked off another year of small groups Sunday night. I love the excitement and anticipation a new school year brings. It’s a new start and a time for groups that met last year to get back into the routine of meeting again. It’s also a time to welcome new students into small groups and help them connect with each other.

One bonus this year is that we have some new leaders in our groups. We have two of our young adult/college age guys that are helping with two groups. We also have two high school senior girls who will be co-leading a girls group.

As we begin a new season, we are striving to keep three questions out in front of our students. We want these questions to be a continual reminder to our students (and adults) that we all need to see where we need to make progress in our spiritual journey. The three questions will hopefully be a source of challenge when we need that kick-start or need to get back on track.

1) How are your growing? We want to help our students to take steps where they are growing on their own, outside of the church or small group environment. Are they reading the Bible on their own and spending time in prayer?

2) Where are your serving? Our desire is for our students to be an active part of our church family, not just showing up and being present, but serving in some area of ministry.

3) Who are you reaching? Everyone has influence on someone else. We want to encourage our students to use their influence in the lives of others to point them to Jesus.

The school year is underway and we don’t know what the coming months may bring. We can strive to grow, serve and reach. Here’s to a great school year!

Men Not Singing In Church

worshipYesterday, a member of our church family tagged me in an article called “Why Men Have Stopped Signing In Church.” I have pasted the content of the article below or you can click on the link in the previous sentence. The nice thing is that the tag on Facebook contained a compliment to me (thanks Marilyn!) and even generated a couple of comments.

I thought the article was well-written. It contained a history of congregational singing provided a perspective of how worship has changed over the years.

While we certainly haven’t cornered the market on wisdom regarding worship in the church, I had a couple of observations related to what the author of the article set forth.

In regards to men singing in church, I think we need to recognize that there are some men who just won’t sing. Regardless of who is leading or what songs are used, there are some men (and women, too) who just don’t like to sing. I can think of a couple of different men who are believers and leaders in our church, but simply don’t sing in a group. I don’t think it is a sign of lack of maturity or an indication that they don’t worship. They just don’t choose to express it through singing.

I do think it is important for the worship leader to use songs that each congregation is familiar with so they can sing along. When we introduce new songs (and there are a lot of good ones out there), we use it several times in a short period of time so our church family can learn it. With the growth of Christian music, a lot of people can listen to the worship songs outside of the Sunday morning experience. That is helpful in shortening the learning curve, but not everyone will hear it outside of the worship service.

We take our time in adding new songs to the rotation so that people are familiar with what we are singing. One very large church that would fall into the description the author of the article uses (band, lights, screens, etc.) uses a rotation of about 25 songs. They acknowledge that not all those who attend their church are present every Sunday, so they limit the number of songs they use to increase the chance people have learned the songs.

I don’t think you can judge worship by musical style because there is just so much music out there and many different preferences. The article was good food for thought and should encourage worship leaders to examine what we do on Sundays in leading people in worship.

Here’s the content of the article:

It happened again yesterday. I was attending one of those hip, contemporary churches — and almost no one sang. Worshippers stood obediently as the band rocked out, the smoke machine belched and lights flashed. Lyrics were projected on the screen, but almost no one sang them. A few women were trying, but I saw only one male (other than the worship leader) making the attempt.

A few months ago I blogged, “Have Christians Stopped Singing?” I did some research, and learned that congregational singing has ebbed and flowed over the centuries. It reached a high tide when I was a young man – but that tide may be going out again. And that could be bad news for men.

First, a very quick history of congregational singing.
Before the Reformation, laypersons were not allowed to sing in church. They were expected to stand mute as sacred music was performed by professionals (priests and cantors), played on complex instruments (pipe organs), and sung in an obscure language (Latin).
Reformers gave worship back to the people in the form of congregational singing. They composed simple tunes that were easy to sing, and mated them with theologically rich lyrics. Since most people were illiterate in the 16th century, singing became an effective form of catechism. Congregants learned about God as they sang about God.

A technological advance – the printing press – led to an explosion of congregational singing. The first hymnal was printed in 1532, and soon a few dozen hymns became standards across Christendom. Hymnals slowly grew over the next four centuries. By the mid 20th century every Protestant church had a hymnal of about 1000 songs, 250 of which were regularly sung. In the church of my youth, everyone picked up a hymnal and sang every verse of every song.

About 20 years ago a new technological advance – the computer controlled projection screen – entered America’s sanctuaries. Suddenly churches could project song lyrics for all to see. Hymnals became obsolete. No longer were Christians limited to 1,000 songs handed down by our elders.

At first, churches simply projected the songs everyone knew – hymns and a few simple praise songs that had come out of the Jesus Movement. People sang robustly.

But that began to change about ten years ago. Worship leaders realized they could project anything on that screen. So they brought in new songs each week. They drew from the radio, the Internet, and Worship conferences. Some began composing their own songs, performing them during worship, and selling them on CD after church.
In short order we went from 250 songs everyone knows to 250,000+ songs nobody knows.

Years ago, worship leaders used to prepare their flocks when introducing a new song. “We’re going to do a new song for you now,” they would say. “We’ll go through it twice, and then we invite you to join in.”

That kind of coaching is rare today. Songs get switched out so frequently that it’s impossible to learn them. People can’t sing songs they’ve never heard. And with no musical notes to follow, how is a person supposed to pick up the tune?

And so the church has returned to the 14th century. Worshippers stand mute as professional-caliber musicians play complex instruments, sung in an obscure language. Martin Luther is turning over in his grave.
What does this mean for men? On the positive side, men no longer feel pressure to sing in church. Men who are poor readers or poor singers no longer have to fumble through hymnals, sing archaic lyrics or read a musical staff.

But the negatives are huge. Men are doers, and singing was one of the things we used to do together in church. It was a chance to participate. Now, with congregational singing going away, and communion no longer a weekly ordinance, there’s only one avenue left for men to participate in the service – the offering. Is this really the message we want to send to men? Sit there, be quiet, and enjoy the show. And don’t forget to give us money.

There’s nothing wrong with professionalism and quality in church music. The problem isn’t the rock band, or the lights, or the smoke machine. The key is familiarity. People enjoy singing songs they know.

How do I know? When that super-hip band performed a hymn, the crowd responded with gusto. People sang. Even the men.

You Don’t Need a Title to Be a Leader

No TitleThis is my first Mark Sanborn book, but I’ve heard him speak before and know he is a prominent voice in the area of leadership. Even if I didn’t know the author, the title of the book would have been enough of a hook to interest me in reading the book. I like the concept that everyone can lead regardless of the name on the letterhead or your business card. Since leadership is primarily about influence, a title is not required.

In the early pages of the book, Sanborn establishes that as a primary principle: “The bottom line is, influence and inspiration come from the person, not the position.” His encouragement to the reader is that he or she can be leader, even if his or her title doesn’t reflect a leadership position.

Throughout the book, he provides examples from his own experience and the experience of others to demonstrate how influence and inspiration can come from all different levels. He refers to people who are teachers, bellhops in a hotel, insurance customer service agents and waitresses to give evidence of leadership.

One of his principles I highlighted was this: “Leadership is intimately linked to service.” Whether someone sits at the top, in the middle or at the bottom of an organization, he/she can still be a leader as he/she serves.

A critique I have of this book is that at times it seem a little disjointed. I felt like he jumped from topic to topic within a chapter. While the content was good, I didn’t always feel like it connected within the chapter.

I really like the principles Sanborn lays forth regarding leadership and it would be a good read for anyone who seeks to be a person of influence.

(I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review)

National Honor Society

IMG_1972[1]I had the privilege today to attend the National Honor Society Induction Ceremony at Clinton-Massie High School. My daughter, along with 26 other students, were accepted into NHS and the ceremony not only honored them, but also underscored the values of NHS.

There were a couple of things that stood out about the morning. The first was the emphasis of the four standards of NHS: Character, Scholarship, Leadership & Service. Normally when I think of NHS, I think of good grades. The brief program this morning brought to light the importance of the other characteristics. Current members read a brief explanation of each standard. One of the statements that stood out to me went something like this:  “The development of character happens by choice, not by chance.”  Thought that was a powerful statement.

The other thing that stood out to me is that each inductee had an influential adult escort him/her during the ceremony.  It was cool to see parents, teachers, coaches, and family friends who were selected to accompany the students.  It gave the students a moment to honor adults who have impacted them and it communicated that we are who we are because of the people in our lives.

It was an honor for the families and the students who are now members of NHS.

Fearless review

I just finished reading the last 60+ pages of Fearless.  While the cover of the book gives away the ending, it does not reduce the emotions the reader feels as the story reaches its end.  The author expresses in the Afterword the same thoughts I had:  “…the final chapters of this book were heartrending to write.  I knew what was coming, but I hoped for a different outcome…somehow.”

Fearless is not just the story of Adam Brown, but of parents who would not give up on their son: a girlfriend turned wife who would stubbornly stayed beside her husband to battle his demons; and friends who stood by their friend.

As a reader who has not served in the military, this book brings out the sacrifices made by those who serve in our armed forces and their families who give up so much.  Just this week a high school classmate of mine welcomed home her husband from a year’s deployment out of the country.  This book brings into greater clarity what it means for both solider and family as these missions separate husbands, wives and children.

Fearless shows not only the heroic side of Adam Brown, but also the real struggles he faced through his life.  It is an inspiring read and challenges the reader to overcome whatever obstacles he/she may face.  Adam’s faith is on prominent display throughout the book and reveals the important role his walk with Jesus played in his life.

All I can really say is to read the book.  Fearless is a powerful story of family, faith and service to country.

(I received this book from WaterBrook Multnomah in exchange for my review.)

Clothes to Ghana and Kosovo

Last weekend a group of 17 students and adults from our church went to Florence, KY, to partner with Master Provisions and sort and pack clothes that will eventually end up in Ghana and Kosovo.

We have been privileged to be associated with this ministry for the past 7-8 years.  It has been great seeing how God has grown this ministry.  In our previous trips, we went to whatever warehouse space Master Provisions was given to use.  Now, through a series of events that God put together, the ministry now has their own warehouse and office space.  An added bonus is that we were the first group to stay there!

During the time we were there, we unloaded bags, sorted clothes for both warm and cold climates, packed bags for both countries and emptied one semi trailer by moving bags to another trailer.  The semi trailer we emptied was leaving for Michigan to pick up more clothes.

Master Provisions takes the excess we have in the US and sends it to countries in need to not only provide clothing, but also fund kingdom work and share the good news of Jesus.  Our group worked hard (most of the time), but was blessed to be a part of the bigger work God is doing through that ministry.

Check out what Master Provisions is doing by visiting their website and reading the latest newsletter.