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Here2Stay Canberra Conversation Oct 2016′

Here2Stay Canberra Conversation Oct 2016′

Below are the ideas and highlights collected from discussions groups at our October Here2Stay event around each of the 8 principles/pillars for encouraging lifelong faith. The discussion groups were context-based: ie parents; church leadership; and two mixed groups of children & schools ministry leaders, Para church organisations & those interested in intergenerational ministry.

Mission Engagement: Serve in Mission & Respond with Compassion

  • Street Teams: A local faith community collates a list of practical needs from members of the local community. Families are invited to join a street team i.e. join with another family, group of individuals and volunteer for one of the tasks on the list. This could happen on a coordinated Saturday or set aside a month where teams choose their best date.
  • Faith communities issue a local mission challenge for their families/homes: Compile a list of mission opportunities and invite families/homes to consider what their response could be i.e. the homeless people who sleep under the bridge each night. Families/homes then act on their own suggestions. Alternatively, the faith community doesn’t supply the list of opportunities – families/homes are challenged to come up with their own list and decide on one for which they can respond. In this process individuals are to reflect on 1) what they are passionate about 2) what they are good at/what are their skills and gifts?
  • Faith Communities to hold a ‘Mission Month’ for acts of service as described above. Part of this process is to redefine ‘mission’.
  • Churches could set up a local Facebook group to promote local service needs and to help people/families to connect with these needs.
  • Give people of all ages a voice for serving into the big issues confronting local and global communities e.g. refugees, domestic violence, etc. Develop strategies for moving from the spoken word to the enacted word.
  • Local faith communities or individual families/households to connect with local bakeries to deliver unsold bread at the end of the day to needy homes.
  • Cooking and preparing food for local families in need. During the cooking process, the older can mentor the younger in how to prepare food and meals. The same process can apply for widowers who have not learnt how to cook. Ideally, provide opportunities for those who have prepared the meals to give them in person to the recipient.
  • The BIG question is how to raise a consciousness and awareness within households about the opportunities around them and how to help them to set priorities as household groups to work together to serve. In so doing, the roots of individual faith will be planted more deeply into individual lives.

Divine Encounters: God’s Big Story & Encounters with Jesus

Challenges:

  • Prioritising space and time for kids to encounter Jesus
  • Do we need to teach kids/show them how to encounter Jesus?
  • Children/young people need people walking alongside them to help them to make sense of their encounters with Jesus.
  • We often try to fit encounters into a space and want to measure it somehow… how do we create space and expectation without forcing it to happen?
  • God’s big story can be confusing too when we only get small segments of time.

Ideas:

  • Prioritise some more flexible space and time in planning kids time.
  • Think creatively and ‘outside the box’ when thinking about kids encountering Jesus- family devotions could be done while walking up a mountain or serving together. We can all encounter Jesus in so many ways, there is no need to restrict those spaces to 5 mins of silence sometimes.
  • Routines are good too- setting habits,
  • SU model different approaches to quiet times on camps and shared experiences together.
  • Sharing encounters and ‘wonder or wow’ moments in intergenerational settings is important. Could 5 mins in a service be used to share one of these with someone in a different age group? Could family spots in services be used to share exciting things together about our journeys with God? It is encouraging to hear about God moments in the ups and the downs.
  • God’s big story: Kids (from pre school to year 6) loved exploring the Bible timeline with items from different stories- they were then asked to place themselves where their story might fit.
  • Timeline cards turn over to reveal: The Bible is one big story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

Life Encouragers: Coaches & Mentors and Positive Peer Groups:

Challenges:

  • Mentoring can seem like a ‘scary’ term. Need to demystify & educate on how simple it is to be a mentor – you don’t need a degree, but be a good listener, ‘along-sider’ and in some instances a skill sharer.
  • Church can help make these natural connections for both mentoring & peer groups. Older members of a congregation may often never consider themselves as a mentor but just need encouragement, education and help to see they would be invaluable.
  • We may need to re-prioritise our time to make space for something new – allow time for mentoring.
  • Who are we mentoring & are we being mentored ourselves?
  • Ideas:
  • Natural connections present the easiest way to create mentoring opportunities eg. Parents mentoring their friend’s children, giving a teen driving lessons, neighbours children. Skill-sharing provides a great opportunity to mentor a younger person – fixing a bike, cooking – doing life together.
  • Church as a breakfast between its two morning services. People are directed to sit at tables but are purposefully moved once or twice during the breakfast to help facilitate people mixing and creating opportunity for intergenerational connections to lead to mentoring relationships.
  • Arrange church café style with tables & vases on table. Every person depending on their age bracket (primary age, teen, young adult, senior etc) are given a different coloured flower. They can sit at a table as long as it doesn’t already have their coloured flower present in the vase. This encourages intergenerational connections and again can lead to mentoring relationships being formed. It’s an intentional approach.
  • Peer Groups: Church provides some great opportunities for positive peer groups. An example of a particular type was Boys Brigade – where leadership development, mentoring & coaching & peer-to-peer relationships are all present.
  • Memorable Experience: Peak Experiences & Rites of Passage

Key ideas:

  • Peak experiences CAN be about exciting, positive moments, but sometimes ‘negative’ experience may also become anchors for our faith (illness/ disability/ death).
  • We talked about the roles of parents – churches – God in the ‘manufacturing’ of a peak experience – churches can set up opportunities. Parents can ‘buy in’, but it’s up to God and the individual as to whether or not a ‘peak experience’ occurs.
  • Peak experiences can be a point of greater connection with those who share the experience (ie. a bunch of kids on youth camp will grow closer together, a family on a hike together with share a strengthened relationship.
  • Peak experiences are typically where a person is taken ‘out of context’ to experience something different.
  • Publicly acknowledged: church service/noticeboard/announcements/etc
  • – special meal – letters/cards – praying together – scrapbook/photo album – special presentation/awards – hike
  • Occasions: – baby dedication/baptism – starting school/school transitions – baptism – graduation – significant birthdays – ‘becoming a leader’  (leadership opportunities – school/church/Boys Brigade/etc) – gap year/travel – engagement – marriage – empty nest – retirement
  • Key idea was that many of these ‘transition points’ happen whether we mark them or not – the key is to intentionally pause and recognise the moment and its spiritual significance. The way we celebrate should be individual to the person – ie. Not everyone will appreciate a scrapbook, hike, etc. – make it personal!

Watch out for a conversation coming to your state in 2017

We are called to leave Home

We are called to leave Home

For each of us and our children, the journey and challenges will be different. Whether it is issues of sexuality, career options, belief systems, self-perception, narcissism or something else, there will certainly be times in our lives when we move from “one passage to another” and if not done well, it can stunt our growth in one of these areas.

I believe a key requirement of the spiritual journey is to go out, to leave home, to “fall” or even “fail”. Yet, It seems to me as a parent I have done everything I can to keep my children at “home” or “safe”. I have looked at the Story of the Prodigal all wrong. For many years, the message always came from the perspective of the Eldest son, who did the “right thing” and stayed home. That has certainly been my own personal journey. Yet, his loyalty in doing the “right” thing, his own entitlement, his quest to be obedient is what kept him from the very “celebration” that the father prepared, even begged him to come to. It seems that in Western society in particular, we do all we can as parents and even in the Church and/or Christian Schools to keep our children  IN the fold. We have created “eldest sons” and “Pharisees” with merit stickers, who can recite the books of the bible and can quickly judge those outside the church as “sinners” who need help. We forget that these are the people Jesus spent most of his time with.  Jesus never seemed upset with “sinners”. He had more to say to those who did not think they were sinners.

For each of us and our children, the journey and challenges will be different. Whether it is issues of sexuality, career options, belief systems, self-perception, narcissism or something else, there will certainly be times in our lives when we move from “one passage to another” and if not done well, it can stunt our growth in one of these areas.

“Western people are ritually starved people, and in this are different than most of human history” (R. Rohr, pg 44)

As I ponder on my teenage years and moving into marriage and moving out to create my own home, I feel that there were “rites of passage” that I missed, that stunted my ability to move to the next season of my life. The conversations that “good” Christians DON’T have about sex and relationships, rules that must be honored. I was so busy trying to keep the rules, that once it was time to move into the next “passage”, I didn’t know how to.

Richard Rohr describes this necessary process as “discharging your loyal soldier”. “Paradoxically, your loyal soldier gives you so much security and validation that you may confuse his voice with the very voice of God. If this inner and critical voice has kept you safe for many years as your inner voice of authority, you may end up not being able to hear the real voice of God” (R. Rohr, pg 46)

Nowadays we seemed to have thrown the “baby out with the bath water” and now there are no rules. The “rites of passage” become inconsequential because there is nothing sacred to move into, as it has already been experimented with at an early age. Nothing is sacred or special these days. This is just as sad and negative as living strictly by the rules.

So, am I saying that the rules are there to be broken, that the safe house/environment is to be created only to be left and abandoned? In some ways I am…which is very hard for me to say for an “eldest son” who has stayed in God’s house all her life, although I would like to think that I have fought the system from within. It is hard for me to say as a parent with an 18 year old son who is about to leave all that we have tried to create for him for the past 18 years, to go into the world where he must journey to find who he is for himself. It is hard for me to say as a teacher/speaker who longs to see safe environments across the ages, growing and learning together and parents fully engaged with their kids on this journey.

The legalist in me honor’s the guidelines God sets, fully knowing that it is often when they are broken that we come to understand more fully His love ad grace. I am thankful for that in my own personal faith walk. For me it means the intentional “rites of passage” and the “safe places” we create are even more important. They are important because when one “fails or falls” or doubts and questions or even walks away for whatever reason, there is always potential for growth, even total transformation, because there is a safe place to process. This is a better option than hiding, growing bitter, escaping, blaming or settling and living as a victim all your life. There is way too much of that happening in families, in the church and in the world today.

But there is fine balance we walk, between teaching and living in a way that honour’s God and acknowledging that when we “fall” (and we all will) that He is a safe place to process this through. One of the “fallings” of the church /faith community I see is that we try to keep our “failings” secret. I have found as a Pastor that people don’t like me talking about my “fallings”… we must keep it all upbeat and positive. Pastors are supposed to have it all together. When we keep our spiritual walk private, we don’t have accountably. Conflict resolution, painful relationships and differences of opinions have not been handled very well in many of the church communities I have been a part of throughout my life. It is sad that we are not able to be an example to the world in the way that we live and love each other. That is a direct command from God for the community of faith that He is very clear about. The journey is meant to be done together, in true community, which sometimes means seeing “the good, the bad and the ugly,” instead of simply aiming to show our “best face” on a Sunday morning.

Some of our “fallings” as parents come when we do the same; we feel we need to present as if we have it all together, to our children and to each other. Some of the most significant times as a parent with our kids are times when we have shown them that we have messed up, made a mistake, needed to say “sorry”. I worry about parents who aren’t able to be vulnerable with their kids at times, homes that are always happy and where there are no arguments or tears. How can they ever live in a way that helps their children understand how to process difficult times?  As parents in community together, I have found the hardest people to walk with are protective parents; either protecting their own kids, or protecting their reputation. This makes change and growth very difficult. When we are spending all our energy “saving face” and not letting our kids “fall” or venture out for fear of falling, we can very rarely get to the actual issues. When we shut down, over-protect, emotionally react, close ranks, we stunt everyone’s growth.

“Sin happens when we refuse to keep growing.” St Gregory of Nyssa

When it comes to “rites of passage”, how can this help the process? I don’t know about your experience, but I am surprised by just how many opportunities and changes happen within a child’s life from the age of 0-18, let alone what happens in adulthood. There are so many opportunities we miss to move from “passage to passage,” opportunities to put “words” and “anchor points” to massive changes and growth. Almost every year in a person’s life in the early years has potential to create moments. From learning to talk to God and others, to pre-school, to friends, to social interaction, learning responsibility, puberty, decisions for Christ, significant others who speak into their life, driving, intellectual achievements, spiritual disciplines, relating to the opposite sex at all different ages, independence, gift development, conflict resolution, playing a part in the family and then in society, becoming other centered.  There is something always changing.

As a family we have found being strategic and intentional each year with key focuses have helped us navigate life together and as result we have created our own little “rites of passages” along the way. I believe these have helped form our kids to where they are today.  And, in many ways it has been about putting up boundaries and them breaking them, resetting the boundaries and re-checking our own responses over and over again, while always applying grace, love and forgiveness.

I do believe a key requirement of the spiritual journey is to go out, to leave home, to “fall” or even “fail”. The questions I must ponder as a parent and a person who is a part of a faith community are;

Do I encourage our young ones to “go” or am I pressuring them to “stay”?

When one “falls”, do they feel safe enough to share the load or do they feel they have to hide it?

Have the “passages” been celebrated and communicated well enough that our young people are prepared to move through them in a healthy way?

What can I do to be a part of creating a HOME and FAITH COMMUNITY which lives in such a way that the world will know we are His children living under grace and love and forgiveness?

It seems to me as a parent I have done everything I can to keep my children at “home” or “safe”. I have looked at the Story of the Prodigal all wrong.

Gathered in His Name

Gathered in His Name

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Matthew 18:20

The door opens and they drift in over time. Some bring much, some bring nothing, some bring home cooked , some bring frozen, some come late. All is acceptable and appreciated and there is always an abundance.

Some come expectant, some come ready to give, some walk in hesitant and others not sure. Some are completely oblivious to what is going on at any time and some create warmth and love wherever they go. All is acceptable and appreciated and there is always abundance.

It is the smile across the table, the comfort of a hug, it is sometimes the conversations and then sometimes simply the silence. It is listening to natter that is important for someone to voice, and then other times a pointed conversation that guides and challenges. It is knowing that whatever you bring to this safe place, there will be above all, acceptance, grace and love.

There are teens who cancel other opportunities to choose to be there. There are singles who find family when we are together. There are grandparents who love to be with the energy of youth and young people who love to make the elderly laugh. Where the widow is not only embraced, but highly valued and cared for. Where men truly listen and speak into the young men’s lives about things that matter. Where the woman teach us by the way they live out their lives with grace and humility, in the simple things of being fantastic cooks to the complexity of life’s pressing issues. They don’t all huddle together in their own age groupings, for they long to connect with everyone. There are no devices at the table, just the desire to engage, eat and share their week together.

It is simply a Sunday afternoon in my house. I love to open my house to the faith community I belong to and sit back and watch God enter as we commune with Him and each other. It is our act of worship and prayer. There was no formality, no official words… but God was there. He was glorified and we were all uplifted by being together. He brought peace, filled our tummies and souls and we are stronger by being together.

It is a prayer beyond 2 dimensional words. It is 4 or 5 dimensional. I could not manufacture this, nor could I create this, plan or organise it. The only thing I am asked to do is to open the door of my house. The only thing we are asked to do is to walk through the door, bringing what we have, big, small or nothing at all, but simply come. It is when we come, He meets us.

It has been said “Ït takes a village to raise a child”. I agree! But who decides what the village looks like? To be honest if the church doesn’t don’t take the question of “who decides what the village looks like?” seriously, then we can’t complain when someone else does. So, when 50,000 young people are leaving the church per year, when are we going to consider what the village must look like? Well, I know what type of village I want to be a part of and this Sunday was a reflection of what it means to live in a village that reflects His love. It is a village I have seen raise my children. There is nothing flash about it, it will never make the news, or probably draw thousands, but it will draw those who want to, to live deeply together and in Him.

My greatest and only sadness of that day was those who did not come, those who cannot come, those who will not come, those who are too busy to come, those who don’t accept His invitation to commune and pray together. My prayer is for us in this faith community, that we never take for granted what He continues to bless us with and that we never hide it and conceal it, for He calls us to share this love wherever we go. We are simply called to “open the doors” and “open the eyes of our heart”, acknowledge and thank Him for our time together, which gives us strength to be His light in a world that longs for acceptance, love and grace.

“Whatever you do in a state of love, communion, connection and union with God and others is prayer.” (R Rohr)

Creating Peak Experiences

Creating Peak Experiences

Little did I know how powerful this experience was going to be for so many. How unprepared was I for what God was going to teach us all about His love and protection just through 4 little sheep

Just recently, on a camp I was running with kids, we were teaching about how Jesus is our shepherd and that He knows us by name. John 10 speaks about how the sheep know the shepherd’s voice and follow Him. Well, I thought what better way to teach them this than with real sheep. Little did I know how powerful this experience was going to be for so many. How unprepared was I for what God was going to teach us all about His love and protection just through 4 little sheep. So, we made a pen, got some sheep for the week and began to dream about how we could bring this teaching alive for the children throughout the week.

The passage speaks about the Shepherd caring for the sheep, knowing their names, protecting them when trouble hits and the difference between the hired hand and the real shepherd. We unpacked this each day at camp by setting up situations and challenges for each of these aspects of the teaching.

To begin with, the kids were very excited when they got there to see the sheep and we began by setting up a competition to name the sheep. The top 4 names would win and this began our growing affection for the sheep. The kids were able to feed the sheep from the outside to begin with, which was difficult at first, because when they came to us, the sheep didn’t trust us and they were very scared in their new surroundings. There was certainly no trust at this time and no one could get close to them.

We talked of watching over the sheep and protecting them from those who wanted to steal or hurt them. Being surrounded by nature and bush, we knew that there were foxes around our area, and so we talked of needing to have “shepherds of the night” so the sheep were being watched all the time and therefore would be kept safe. This meant that cabins of kids could apply to be the “shepherds of the night”, which entailed camping out in tents, keeping the fire going (stocked with marshmallows of course for cooking over the fire) and keeping watch over the sheep throughout the night. I was surprised how many cabins wanted to do this, more than the nights we had at camp, so it became quite a special experience if your cabin was nominated. They had to get the campfire started, then got to sit around and sing, tell stories, bond, eat roasted marshmallows and occasionally check the sheep. They took shifts throughout the night and when I came out each morning about 6.00am to see them there was always someone sitting out near the stoked fire, enjoying the heat and keeping watch. The stories, the bonding, the chance to talk about the commitment of the Shepherd to watch over the sheep, the sacrifice, the loss of creature comforts of a warm comfortable bed, as many nights at this camp were cold and raining, were all great things that they ACTUALLY experienced.

There were times when the kids wanted to go back to their cabins. They had had their marshmallows, a bit of fun, and it was time to go back. The fun had worn off…but no…they learned the hard way, that it was not just all fun and games. There were mornings where they crawled out of dripping tents with wet mattresses … all great opportunities for great experiential learning. All said they were glad they did it, but were not keen to do again. This showed the love of the shepherd, to do whatever it takes to know his sheep were safe, not just one night but all the time. For some of these kids it was the first time ever to camp out, make a fire, stay up late and sing around the camp fire. For most it was the highlight of camp.

In the middle of camp, while the kids were at an activity, the sheep were stolen (all set up of course). The kids came back to find their leaders in the pen with a ransom note saying “Unless you do exactly what we say, you will never see your sheep again”. The kids’ reactions were priceless. They were straight into action, freeing their leaders and then setting off through a series of challenges to finally find the rustlers with the sheep on the other side of the campsite. When they found them, the rustlers begged for forgiveness, realising they had done the wrong thing and the kids (with encouragement) invited them back to our campfire dinner that night to celebrate that our lost sheep were found. Again, the stories around the campfire that night were priceless. We got the kids to share what happened, and the some leaders shared around picnic rugs with a small group of children, what it meant for them to be lost and found by Jesus in their life. Needless to say those on “shepherd of the night” duty that night were particularly determined to make sure the sheep were safe.

Throughout the week as I was unpacking the biblical story, I used pictures of the kids I was taking to tell the story, so they were in it, a part of it, experiencing it and for all of us this story came to life in a very new way.

Each day the kids who were “Shepherds of the night,” got to go into the pen, corral the sheep into a corner and handle them and pat them. Each day this got easier and easier. I got to experience this more than any of them as the group was different each day. The kids on the last day didn’t even need to get in the pen. We rustled the bag, called them and they came to us and fed from our hands. This was very different from the beginning of the week, where the sheep were unsure and scared of us and didn’t trust us at all. What a transformation, which we talked about on the last day of camp. How much more does our Shepherd know us and love us. We like sheep, still weave and duck and run away. We are helpless and can get easily lost, but our shepherd will always come looking for us, will always care for us and knows each of us by name.

I believe this is an experience that many of our kids and team (and me) will never forget. I will never read that story the same way again. Like many camping experiences, it will go down as a PEAK EXPERIENCE for me and for many of the children at camp, one where they gained a DEEPER understanding of God’s love, grace, patience, and sacrifice.

What types of PEAK EXPERIENCES are you creating for you and your kids, young people, your families, that can become anchor points which God can use to secure HIS TRUTH into us all, that we then take with us for the rest of our lives?

Parenting with the end in mind

Parenting with the end in mind

Sometimes speaking into a person’s life doesn’t have to be a hard thing to do, sometimes it takes simply writing a few intentional thoughts on a piece of paper.

My son turned 18 last year. A rite of passage that is to be celebrated. And we did celebrate it in a number of ways, but there was one thing that we shared as a family that was one of the most precious moments for me of his actual birth-day.

The kids landed on our bed at 8 am in the morning this morning. They have done this for many years when they were little but that did not happen that often nowadays. Usually it was because they wanted their presents.

But that was not the reason this morning. For 17 years Sam has been waiting to open his “time capsule”.

At the age of 1 we had a dedication with family and close friends at our house. We asked those that came to pray for us and stand with us as parents and would THEY be willing to walk with our child on his “life” journey. We asked each person if they wanted to put something into the time capsule that he would open when he was 18 and today was the day.

Secretly I was hoping it wasn’t going to be an anti-climax for him as I couldn’t even remember what was in the capsule myself.

Before he opened it I read from a diary I have been writing for Sam since he was only 10 weeks in my tummy, the kids love to hear stories from it over the years. This first entry spoke about the fact that even before he was born he was loved.

 

Then Sam opened the capsule. In it was, his first dummy, his first ball, his first jumpsuit, his first shoes and his ultrasound picture. Then there were letters and notes from the people who were present. Sam was like a child again as we all re-lived moments and memories, we laughed and told stories and then he opened a letter from his grandma (Dave’s mum) who had passed a couple of years ago.

She wrote that she knew she wouldn’t be here to celebrate this special time but she thanks him for the joy he brought to her life and that she will see him in heaven. Well, we all lost it emotionally at that point and cried together, but what a precious message from beyond the grave. A collision with his grandparent, even one that had passed away.

There were many precious stories and letters from people who are still in his life, some have moved far away, others are still close by and others who thought they wouldn’t be alive but are…but what a special morning to share together.

Sometimes speaking into a person’s life doesn’t have to be a hard thing to do, sometimes it takes simply writing a few intentional thoughts on a piece of paper. Sometimes it is consistently being there, or simply taking any opportunity to have a party with good friends. It is Intentionally marking moments and always having the “end in mind”. The wonderful thing is that this was a moment for us all, not just Sam, we will all remember that morning for a long time. It takes a little long-term thinking of setting things in place that can create moments that can become anchors for the whole family for a lifetime. On this day, although 17 years in the making, showed SAM that he was always loved and that he will always be. Our prayer as parents is that he will always have these moments where ever he goes, that they may keep him anchored in “love” for where ever he may sail next.

The key is to intentionally mark the moments and to always have the end in mind.