Service Projects and Sunday School/Small Groups

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17 NIV)

Every Sunday School class/small group Bible study from elementary age to senior adults should have an ongoing service project in the community or around the world. When we have an ongoing service project, we look beyond ourselves.

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. ~Albert Schweitzer

Here are some that rekindle the inner Spirit for me:

I had the privilege of coaching Bradley Rhoades while he was a part of Uptick a few years ago. Discover more about Uptick at: http://www.spencenetwork.org/ He is a member of the band, “Melodime”, and they decided through our coaching that they would provide musical instruments to underprivileged children from the profits of their CD’s. I suggested (with his permission) Haiti and our BGAV orphanage. Here is the result: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAfzzv0TLvk More instruments will be delivered soon! You can sponsor a child as well at: http://bgav.org/glocal-initiatives/haiti/

I am still excited about our More Than Nets program where Malaria is being eradicated, thousands are coming to know Christ, and 100’s of churches are being formed in a Muslim dominated country. Here is how to join us for $10: http://bgav.org/glocal-initiatives/morethannets-2/

We have many more initiatives around the world to live out of the Great Commission! Visit www.bgav.org and click on missions to discover possibilities.

For local service projects, consider:

Sponsor a local school and what needs are available.

Sponsor the local fire department.

Sponsor a soup kitchen.

Sponsor a local homeless shelter.

Sponsor a local sports team and have someone be a chaplain for them.

The list is endless! The bottom line is we need to look beyond ourselves and see how we can share hope and love in our world!

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GROWING YOUR CHURCH: GROWING SUNDAY SCHOOL Revisited

I have a lot of Pastors asking about strengthening their Sunday School and growth. I decided to re-post an earlier blog to remind churches that starting new classes is essential!

I don’t know of any Pastor or Minister of Education who wouldn’t like their church to grow both spiritually and numerically. As a former pastor, I wanted to see the church grow in both ways. The truth is many pastors and churches have bought into the myth that changes in worship style will be the answer. The truth is: Bible study is still the key to bring about spiritual and numerical growth.

The fact is that a new Bible study class for adults will bring ten new people to Bible study (whether it is in that class or adding new people to children and youth who come with parents.) As David Francis would say, “When Sunday School is done right—with excellence and with a missionary purpose—it continues to be a proven and effective way of reaching the lost in our communities, involving the saved in service, and mobilizing the local church for ministry.” Sunday School (people meeting in a small group for structured Bible study more than simply a worship service) works to bring people to Christ and/or helps new members stay involved. It begins with a recognition that persons called out to a new class are missionaries. They are trying to reach people for Christ and make disciples. So how do we begin a new Bible study class?

Identify target groups for new classes. Look in the pews during worship, persons in the community, special events like VBS or even a place like a community store (remember “Biscuits & Bible.) Keep in mind Bible study is a mindset and not a Sunday morning only experience. Look at inactive members, members who cannot attend on Sunday morning and prospects and decide which class to start and when the class should meet. Be in prayer as you consider a remnant group to start the class. Some of my most successful classes for reaching the lost and encouraging members took place on a Friday night at my house or on Sunday mornings at 9 a.m. at a restaurant!

Begin to communicate a vision and plan as you consider teachers and a couple of members to start the class. Allow persons in the church to know what to be praying about and how they can help. People get excited about reaching people for Christ when they know there is a plan. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, every teacher should have an apprentice who is ready to start a new class. Be praying for persons who can be an apprentice to start a new class or take over an existing class. Enlist at least three persons to begin the new class: a teacher and two care group leaders. (Message me your e-mail about an organizational page for care groups, and I will send it to you.)  Remember this is a missionary endeavor! Treat these persons as missionaries for your church.

Begin preparing a list of prospects for the class. Set up a list of persons to begin inviting to the class as mentioned earlier. Set a date for the class to begin and an outreach/social event to kick it off a couple of weeks before. There may be an existing class willing to plan the social for you.

Have support to help the class grow.  It is true that a class that is already two years old or older in existence will have difficulty in reaching new people. Encourage people in the pews and prospects/unchurched to try the new class. Existing classes may pick up a few new members along the way, but new classes provide the best venue for new people to bond in a community of faith. The church and staff should have the new class on their prayer list and find ways to encourage the remnant who will start it.

Prepare training opportunities for the remnant/missionaries who are starting the class. Medical professionals, lawyers, teachers and many other workers are expected to take continuing educational classes to grow and learn. Do we expect anything less from persons who are teaching the Bible…which has eternal implications? I am committed to helping you with ongoing training opportunities. E-mail me at tony.brooks@bgav.org if I can assist you in training.  

            In the meantime, I will be praying for you as you seek to start new classes. Keep me posted on what happens, so we can share how God is working.

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Picturing a Special Future

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

John Trent and Gary Smalley wrote a book many years ago that I think every parent, future parent and SS teacher should read: The Blessing: Giving the Gift of Unconditional Love and Acceptance. I read it years ago, it helped me in my personal life as well as challenged me in ways I failed as a parent.

Two of the chapters talk about picturing a special future for your child. Words have a powerful impact upon us. Even our name has the power to mold us. When we are expecting a child, we wrestle with what name we should give that has significance for us and our future child. We are careful to make sure the name does not bring ridicule when they reach elementary age. You want a name that will lead to a positive future.

Katrina and I carefully chose the names of our two children:

Our oldest, Tara Danielle, means “tower of strength”. She has taught us many lessons about courage, service and faith. She has faced many health challenges over the years, but continues to amaze us with her fortitude and faith to make the world a better place. She is working on a Master’s of Divinity degree right now with Christian Ethics as her focus.

Our youngest, Joseph Mitchell, means “God adds and gift from God.” Joe was conceived in a time when both Katrina and I were grieving over the deaths of our dads. He is a young man of faith who will graduate from college in less than two weeks.

Here are some ideas to picture a special future for the children of the church:

Teach young adults about the significance of what we say to children. I do believe God has a special purpose for each of us. Take seriously what you name your child, what you say to your child growing up, and keep their special future in your mind as you mold them. Your words will shape them.

Claim a Bible verse for every child in your church. Katrina learned of this method of claiming a special future for children from a neighboring church. When a child was going into first grade, the SS and Missions’ teachers of those children would pick a Bible verse especially for them- based on personality and potential. They would laminate the verse in a bookmark and give it to them along with a Bible. When the child was baptized, graduated from high school, or recognized in worship for something else, their Bible verse was in the worship bulletin. This sends a powerful reminder of the church picturing a special future for their children.

Teach your children to be a blessing to others. It is important to model consistent positive messages of hope and Christ-like behavior for your children and the children of the church. This includes involving them in service projects in the community. They learn to bless others and bring hope. Comment and let me know other ways you claim a special future for your children.

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What to do when your Christian education ministry needs a boost

As many of you know, I have been encouraging Christian Educators, Sunday School Teachers and Small Group Leaders to examine the “Why,” based on the Great Commandment and Great Commission. Here is an article by Eddie Hammett that focuses on the “why” as you consider if your Christian education ministry needs a boost.

Fri, January 9, 2015 0 comments Written by Eddie Hammett Church conversations, Church Health, Education,Leadership

Christian education ministry was held in high esteem in denominations and churches from the 1950s to 1970s. In the mid 1970s traditional Sunday schools began to experience decline in participation during traditional time slots. Small groups emerged at different times and around non-age graded curricula. In the late 1970s and 1980s the professional minister of education and age group ministers began to experience a multi-tiered metamorphosis due to the shifts being called for among participants in CE programming and in the fast-paced culture that was emerging. Now, in 2015 we are seeing yet more shifts being called for, different staffing arrangements emerging and new sources of curricula being created. The challenge now for most is not to recreate what has worked (been tried but not bearing fruit) but to discover and create the new. We are not certain, as of yet, what that new is but many are searching and having significant discoveries. I’ve been experimenting and watching trends in CE for the last 20 years. I’m very excited about what I’m seeing from those courageous leaders and churches who want to create the new and be part of that exciting “creating of the new” that is in the essence of God.

Identifying and acknowledging the problem
How do you know when your CE ministry needs a boost? Permit me to share a few indicators for your review.
1. Decreased interest in participation and serious engagement in provided programming.
2. Diminishing transformational impact on participants.
3. Minimal noticeable return on investment of time, energy and money in CE programming.
4. Routine is given more priority in planning than transformation of lives and impact on communities.
5. Participants are content with their inward focus on members rather than outward focus as missionaries.
6. What else would you add?

Possible solutions that transform
Practical ideas for your consideration: Most of these I have either tried myself or have observed over time. Share with me via email your possible solutions that are revitalizing, reframing and recreating religious education in your church and community.

With a growing diversity in our culture, a shift is needed from “Christian education” to “religious education.” (I’ll discuss this shift in forthcoming articles). Diversity of beliefs are now found in families, communities, schools, universities, government, businesses and now as church we are left to create safe and sacred space for faith conversations to happen. Not for proselytizing but for discovery and mutual learning. From such dialogues questions often emerge that take people to deeper levels of understanding, exploration and even conversions. Without such mutual learning environments, we only create and fuel competition rather than enjoy faith communities and conversations.

What you might do to increase participation, engagement and impact of your CE ministry. (7 ideas to jump start your conversation, prayer and thinking)
1. Create “faith clubs” in families, communities and businesses and among faith communities in your local community. Purpose is to create safe and sacred space for guided dialogue and mutual learning.
2. Look for opportunities to create space and place for intergenerational and multi-ethnic, multi-cultural relationship building and sacred conversations around matters of faith, life, love and distinctives.
3. Seek out prayerful, intentional intersections between faith stories and life’s experiences (i.e. brokenness of families, multi-ethnic families, ethical challenges, life-death issues, etc.) Seek for the teachable moments and divine appointments and use these as religious education curriculum.
4. Decentralize sacred conversations. Challenge and model for congregants and participants that faith conversations and study of scriptures can happen anywhere and anytime. Saying this and blessing this as valued ‘participation’ are often the challenges.
5. Create spontaneous or formal intergenerational, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, faith-guided conversations to help each other find connections with faith narratives and life challenges (i.e. around societal issues of race relations or justice and mercy issues).
6. Plan periodic age-graded learning experiences that are age appropriate but focus on maximizing teachable moments in intergenerational, multi-cultural settings and experiences (i.e., a community VBS that moves into intergeneration and multi-ethnic settings).
7. Online learning opportunities that are topical, biblical, cultural places for conversation, exploration (i.e., Facebook, Instagram, online face-to-face dialogues or webinars).
8. What would you add?
Share your thoughts, discoveries and feedback. My hope is to start conversations and innovation labs for religious education in our 21st-century culture. I have found my Christian coaching skills to be immensely helpful in creating safe and sacred spaces that yields transformation and reformation of heart, behavior, attitudes and understandings. Such is the best counsel I can suggest for what has been known as “teacher training.” I’m not sure we need traditional teachers in our churches as much as we need “transformational agents’ who are committed to being church in the buildings, through programs and as church wherever they/we go. “As we go” is the heartbeat of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment and the heart cry from today’s increasingly diverse culture.

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Getting More Out of a Children’s SS Lesson

Many elementary children enjoy Sunday School when they attend. Some children attend regularly while others attend sporadically. Of course, we would like to see all of our children attend regularly, but that is somewhat out of our control. So, what can be done to get more out of Sunday School for both regular attenders and sporadic attenders?

If the Sunday School lesson goes home with a child in a way that it will be put into practice and validated within a few days at home, the lesson will have more of an impact. Many children’s Sunday School teachers send activities home with their children. It may be something the children have colored or perhaps made from construction paper and/or Popsicle sticks, etc. These send-home activities are great! Parents often ask their children about them, followed by a short conversation. The colored picture may end up on the refrigerator for a little while or whatever was constructed might be enjoyed until it falls apart or gets thrown in the garbage when no one is looking.

Children’s Sunday School curriculum publishers like Lifeway, Group, Orange, and others have taken steps to provide children’s ministries with take-home discussion guides and activities for parents to use with their children at home. The intent is for parents to use these materials to continue the biblical learning that began on Sunday morning. Many of the take-home materials produced by the various publishers are very well done. Certainly some parents put these materials to good use with their children later in the week as intended.

While I do not have any hard statistics regarding the use of these materials, my experience tells me these materials are often not used as intended. Over the years, I have asked parents about their experience with the take-home materials. Most of the parents surveyed do not utilize them. The children may see the materials displayed or carry them around for a little while, but the hope of deeper learning is typically not accomplished.

Parents indicate the normal issues – lack of time and motivation – as the reason the materials are not used at home. Some parents have not looked at the materials closely enough to realize how good some of them actually are or how to implement them into conversation and continued learning for their children.

As church leaders, we cannot do much of anything to impact the time issues a family faces; but perhaps, we can impact the motivation issue. If a child really wants to use the materials, and asks his or her parents to sit with them and complete the activity, discussion guide, etc. they will more than likely do it.

The question then arises, “How can we motive the children?” One thing is for sure, simply sending the materials home doesn’t seem to work. Following are some simple suggestions to increase the likelihood of send-home materials being used.

1. Mail the material to the child so that it arrives approximately mid-week. Children love to receive mail! A personal note from the teacher explaining the material and encouraging them to complete the task will motivate a child to ask Mom and/or Dad for help.

2. If you cannot mail the material and must send it home on Sunday, follow up mid-week with a note to the child giving instructions on what to do with the material they took home.

3. Call the child about mid-week and encourage them to ask Mom and Dad to assist them with the take-home materials. Children love to receive a phone call from their teacher!

4. Take time the following Sunday to ask about the children’s experience with the take-home material. Be consistent with this. It will motivate the children to do the take-home material.

5. Set up a simple reward system for those who complete the take-home material. Children love stickers! They also love special treats and special activities. Make sure your expectations for the percentage of completion of the materials is reasonable for the larger rewards.

A little extra effort from the Sunday School Director to set up follow-up system and to train the children’s leaders and teachers; and, a little extra effort from Children’s Sunday School teachers to follow through with the system can stimulate family interaction that will help children and their parents go deeper into God’s word and in the knowledge of their relationship with Him.

Reverend Joe McDowell is our guest writer today. Joe is the pastor of Aaron’s Creek Baptist Church in Virgilina VA. He has pastored there for almost 3 years. Prior to that, Joe served for almost 20 years as an Education Pastor at several large churches in the Charlotte, NC area. Joe also owns Revolutionary Families, LLC — http://www.revolutionaryfamilies.com “Helping families meet the challenges of today’s culture through individual, couple & family coaching.”

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Squeeze On!

You must now wash each other’s feet. (John 13:13, MSG)

If you put a sponge under running water, within a few minutes it is saturated. It can hold no more water.

But what if you left the sponge under the running water for five more minutes? Would it hold any more?

Perhaps if you left the sponge under the running water for a whole day it would hold more?

What would you have to do for the sponge to hold more water?

Squeeze it out. Only when you squeeze the sponge will it hold more water.

As you minister in the marketplace and increase faith with greater joy so you love God and others more, you are like a sponge. You can only soak up more as you squeeze your life and give away the positive you have received from God. As you give away the positive results, you create room within yourself and your work for achieving more.

As your faith increases, you trust God more. You give more and receive more which builds a more intimate, credible relationship with your Creator. The kind Jesus enjoyed.

When he gathered with his best friends for a last meal before his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus humbled himself and washed their feet. He squeezed himself of any ego needs and bathed their smelly, callused feet.

That’s the last place you would expect to find the One who was present when the universe was created, the divine Son of God, the Christ who came down from heaven—as a common servant, on his hands and knees, stooping to wash his best friends’ nasty feet.

Peter had trouble getting his head wrapped around this paradox. It challenged his understanding of what it means to be God, to be powerful, to be “large and in charge.” He pushed back against Jesus’ example, primarily because he knew what it meant—if Jesus did it, he would have to squeeze himself dry also.

He had fought off James’s and John’s mother’s appeal for her sons to sit on the right and left hands of Jesus when he came into power, leaving no room near the throne. How was he to fend off this one, too?

As Peter protested this paradigm of power-gifting, Jesus said to him, “My concern . . . is holiness, not hygiene” (John 13:11). “What I’ve done, you do. . . . If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life (13:14–15, 17; emphasis added).

Live a blessed life by squeezing yourself dry at work.

Wash the feet of your customers and clients, team members and employees, vendors and suppliers. Ministry in the marketplace requires a Faith Positive lifestyle of grateful service.

Squeeze on.

Dr. Joey Faucette is the #1 best-selling author of two books, the latest of which is Faith Positive in a Negative World with co-author, Mike Van Vranken. He is our keynote speaker at the May 1-2 Leadership Gathering at Eagle Eyrie. Register for this experience at http://eagleeyrie.org/events/leadership-gathering-2015/ Subscribe to the Faith Positive blog at http://www.GetPositive.Today and the Faith Positive Radio podcast at iTunes.

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Who Gets Your Attention?

Be still, and know that I am God. (Ps. 46:10, NKJV)

As a disciple of Christ who goes to work daily, most days you are in constant motion. Counter the negative world’s distractions when you put Psalm 46:10 on your makeup or shaving mirror, the dash of your vehicle, your computer’s screensaver. Make PS4610 your smartphone’s password to combat the busyness of work and focus on the business of ministering through work. This single verse is the strategic key to physically achieving your spiritual dreams.

Here’s why:

“Be still . . .”
God respects your choices. Just as with Elijah and his depression-driven cave experience, God refuses to intrude on your noisy life and instead whispers in a still, small voice into your spirit. Select a whirlwind or fiery way to work, and God seems absent. Be still enough to listen, and God shows up strategically in a whisper, letting you in on the divine plan worthy of your entire attention. Your reality redefines to a faith-driven reality, and you achieve your spiritual dreams.

“. . . and know . . .”
How do you choose which are the most important positive thoughts and positive people to give your attention? How do you know?

Knowing God’s plans drives your attention to priority positive thoughts and people. You know as you are still. Do you invest ten minutes being still in the morning and ten more in the evening remembering God’s positive work that day? That’s how you know.

You increase faith with greater joy at work so you love God and others more when you know as you’re still.

“. . . that I am God.”
The greatest impediment to achieving your spiritual dreams is confusion over who gets your entire attention: God or you.

Do you pray or worry? When you pray, God has your attention. When you worry, it’s all about you.

Do you attract positive people or Eeyore Vampires? When God has your attention, you are gifted with positive believers with whom to minister. When you only have eyes for yourself, you attract people with problems that resemble your own.

Do you imagine God wants you to join the divine mission already going on around you? Or, do you thinks it’s up to you to get it done so bend in to ego?
You choose who guides your actions: God or you.

Your choice determines your results: infinite success in faith reality or finite shortcomings of your own making.

God is God and you are not.

Who gets more of your attention at work—you or God?

Be still today, and know God is God and you are not.

As you do, you work Faith Positive in a Negative World.

Dr. Joey Faucette, co-author of the #1 bestseller, Faith Positive in a Negative World, is our guest writer this week.

Here is a great video clip about our Leadership Gathering Promo with Dr. Joey: https://vimeo.com/123689101

Dr. Joey leads our Leadership Gathering at Eagle Eyrie on May 1-2. Register for this event when you click here http://bgav.org/events/the-leadership-gathering/
Subscribe to the Faith Positive blog at http://www.GetPositive.Today and the Faith Positive Radio podcast at iTunes.

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