Posted in Uncategorized

A Season of Unexpected Grief and Blessing

It’s been a couple months since my father-in-law passed away suddenly after a short battle with cancer, ushering our family into a season of unexpected grief and loss. Surprisingly, it’s also been a season of great blessing for our family as we have experienced the loving-kindness, the comfort, and the faithfulness of God and his people in a whole new way.

It was a Friday morning when I got the call from my husband that his father was found unresponsive at home and that he was going to the hospital to be with him. Not wanting to cram unnecessary bodies into the small hospital room, I decided to wait at home with the baby until I had more information. In the mean time, I prayed and contacted our church family to ask for prayer.

One of my friends, a mother of four, responded to my request for prayer not only by praying, but also by volunteering to watch my daughter so that I could go to the hospital. I was deeply touched by her thoughtfulness and I thanked her, hoping I wouldn’t have to take her up on her offer.

It soon became apparent that my presence was needed at the hospital. When my husband called, unable to speak, I knew it was time to go. I dropped off our daughter and met my husband near the entrance of the ER where he told me the news: his dad was on life-support and it was time to say goodbye.

We spent several long hours in that hospital room, waiting for the rest of the family to arrive. Anticipating our imminent loss was the hardest part of that day. Once all had gathered, the family tearfully said their goodbyes and my father-in-law peacefully died.

After he passed, our family clung God’s promise in Romans 8:28 that he “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” and we fervently prayed that he would bring good out of our loss.

And he did.

Though the days that followed my father-in-law’s passing were a blur of activity, they were punctuated with moments of comfort as our family and our brothers and sisters in Christ reached out to us in love to offer up their sympathy and support. We received phone calls, cards, text messages, and visits from people near and far who wanted to let us know that they cared about us and were there for us.

Somehow, through the sadness, a sense of thanksgiving permeated our household as God brought to mind our many blessings. We gave thanks for the times that we had to visit Jim while he was sick and for our opportunity to say a final good-bye. We were grateful for old memories and for the knowledge that he was no longer suffering and in pain. By God’s grace, we were able to experience comfort in the midst of a difficult season.

It was at Jim’s memorial service, however, that we most clearly saw God’s hand at work as he poured out his love and comfort through our relatives and our church family. Though we live about forty minutes away from our church, about a dozen of our brothers and sisters in Christ made the drive to offer up their condolences to both us and our family, despite not knowing our father-in-law. This demonstration of love not only profoundly blessed us, but, as we later learned, also touched the hearts of our grieving family.

In their act of love, I saw these words of Christ come to life:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35

The sermon that followed was the most touching and Spirit-filled that I have ever sat through. Grounded in Ecclesiastes, it gave the listeners a chance to reflect on not only Jim’s life, but also on their own lives in light of eternity. During the reception that followed, we knew our prayers had been answered as a number of people came up to us and relayed how the meaningful sermon had spoken to their souls. In this we saw God beginning to “work all things together for good.”

This experience, while tragic and heart-wrenching, has only served to deepen my faith in the God whom I serve. Through our difficult season, he sustained us, comforted us, and encouraged us through both his people and his presence. Experiencing God’s faithfulness and comfort in such a personal way has prompted me to leave you with two words of exhortation, one for the person in a season of grief and one for the church.

To the person in a season of grief or darkness: I pray that you will find hope and encouragement in “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” for it is he “who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). If you put your trust in him, he will “work all things together for good” and use this difficult season for his good purposes. Keep walking in faith and obedience, for if we look to Jesus’ example, after the suffering comes glory.

To the church: We are a family through Christ which means we’re all in this together! Scripture calls us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). So if you’ve got a brother or a sister whom you know is struggling, be intentional. Call them, text them, and let them know that you care. Come along side them to share their burdens and meet their needs in love. When you live out your calling and love each other like Christ, God is glorified and the world takes notice.

Have you ever experienced God’s comfort and faithfulness in a difficult season? How can you intentionally show love to those around you who are struggling?

Posted in Christian Culture

Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

My husband and I have been married almost three years now. One thing that we’ve enjoyed about being a new family is having the chance to start fresh and create our own unique traditions and special holiday memories. As followers of Christ, we desire to conform ourselves and our family to Christ’s ideals.

Early on in our marriage we discussed the major holidays that we knew our family would celebrate: Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving. But, when our daughter joined the family almost a year and a half ago, we had another day to consider: Halloween.

Both my husband and I participated in Halloween when we were young, dressing up in costume and patrolling the neighborhood for candy. We had fond memories of designing elaborate costumes, spending time with friends, and eating candy until we felt sick. For us, it was a time of innocent fun.

That’s why it was a difficult issue for us to come to agreement on. When we initially discussed the possibility of Halloween for our daughter, we were divided. My husband, remembering the good times that he once had as a child, was comfortable with the idea of our daughter dressing up in costume and stopping at houses for candy. I, on the other hand, was a little more concerned that we would be participating in a holiday that makes light of darkness, mischief, and evil.

Before coming to any sort of conclusion, we decided to take a look at the history of Halloween and the Scriptures. We wanted to make a decision based on the facts, not on our feelings and fond memories.

We found that Halloween, as we suspected, is pagan at its roots. Many scholars believe that the ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain is the earliest known root of Halloween. On October 31, the ancient Celts believe that the boundary between the realm of the dead and of the living was at its thinnest, enabling spirits and fairies to pass back and forth between the two.

During the Samhain festival the souls of those who had died were believed to return to visit their homes, and those who had died during the year were believed to journey to the otherworld. People set bonfires on hilltops for relighting their hearth fires for the winter and to frighten away evil spirits, and they sometimes wore masks and other disguises to avoid being recognized by the ghosts thought to be present. It was in those ways that beings such as witches, hobgoblins, fairies, and demons came to be associated with the day. The period was also thought to be favourable for divination on matters such as marriage, health, and death.

Halloween, Encyclopedia Britannica

In the 8th century, when Pope Gregory III moved All Saints Day from May 13 to November 1 in an effort to sanctify the profane (or assimilate the pagans), the evening of October 31 became a holy, or hallowed, eve. For the church, this evening was a time of vigil with fasting and prayer in preparation for next day when the lives of the faithfully departed saints and martyrs were to be celebrated. Over time, the sacred and the secular blurred as the church began to incorporate the traditions of Samhain into their holy day.

While many of the Halloween customs practiced today have lost their association with pagan beliefs, death and darkness are the prominent themes of this holiday. Yards are transformed with decorations ranging from cute and whimsical to grotesque and frightening. Life-like spiders, monsters, ghosts, witches, zombies, graveyards, skeletons and other symbols of death and darkness are both frequently and prominently displayed in people’s front yards and homes.

For this reason, our family decided against celebrating Halloween. As God’s children, we are called to be people of the life and light and stand as a bright witness for, and against, this decaying culture.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says:

“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

Ephesians 5:8-16

In addition to the overall theme of darkness, we felt that Halloween made light of certain practices which God condemns, such as murder, sorcery, divination, and necromancy. For example, if you dress up as a sorcerer or have a giant inflatable witch displayed on your lawn, you’re downplaying the seriousness of a dark practice which God calls “detestable” (Deuteronomy 18:10-14). When Christians participate in Halloween, the distinction between the sacred and the secular is blurred and our witness for Christ is tarnished.

So what should Christians do about Halloween? Should we hunker down in our homes and turn off all the lights so that whole our neighborhood knows we’re Christian and that we don’t celebrate Halloween? That would be one way to stay separate and set apart.

However, I think that we should instead take Paul’s words to heart and go about “redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Rather than staying home and “hiding our lamp under a bushel basket” we can choose to find creative ways to shine bright for Christ on a night devoted to darkness.

In our family we decided that we would celebrate All Saints Day this year instead of Halloween. We plan to invite over some Christian brothers and sisters from our area to share a meal, to swap stories and inspirational quotes from famous martyrs and missionaries, and to spend some time praying for the persecuted church around the world. We are eagerly anticipating this sweet time of fellowship with our family in Christ.

Interestingly, this decision to celebrate light on a day devoted to darkness has already afforded us with a couple of opportunities to engage the unchurched. My non-Christian brother, upon hearing about our celebration, was intrigued. I invited him, not expecting him to want to come, but he enthusiastically accepted the invitation and is now eagerly researching his chosen saint!

A couple days later, a friend of mine from the mom’s group at the library asked my husband and I what our plans were for Halloween. We were able to share that while we didn’t celebrate Halloween, we had a different sort of celebration going on to commemorate inspirational martyrs and missionaries. It wasn’t awkward at all because rather than shutting her down with a short (and somewhat arrogant sounding) “We don’t celebrate Halloween because we’re Christian,” we were able to share something positive that we we’re doing!

Other Christian alternatives for Halloween abound, for both churches and individuals alike. Recently a church in our area used the opportunity to meet some of their unchurched neighbors by distributing freshly-made popcorn, offering to pray for people, and handing out invitations to church. Other churches have been known to host fall festivals to generate a sense of community or create imaginative evangelistic events that cause people to think about their mortality and need for a Savior.

For families seeking child-friendly Christian alternatives to Halloween, there are a number of options. Many people suggest hosting a Bible-character themed costume party or having your children dressed up as Bible characters to distribute treats with a scripture verse or a gospel tract attached. You could also choose to celebrate All Saints Day like we are or simply devote the night to family fun. Get creative, have fun, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

What are some creative ways that we can engage the community and “redeem the time” on Halloween? How does your family celebrate in a Christ-centered way?

Posted in Christian Culture, Ministry

Should We Bribe Christians to Give?

Every year, our local listener-supported Christian radio station hosts two two-week pledge drives in which they try to generate the money that they need to cover their operating costs and outreach. During the pledge drives, enthusiastic radio hosts encourage listeners to share their stories about how God changed their lives through the station. Many people call in to say that God saved their lives when they heard him speak to them through a song played on the radio at just the right time. This is one of the ways that they motivate people to give, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad one.

But then there’s the cruises, the trips to Disneyland, and the packages of expensive Apple products that are used to motivate people to give. People are encouraged to call in to the station within a certain amount of time with their monthly pledge or gift, and in return they will receive the chance to win an “Apple bundle of goodness” or some other luxurious prize as the station’s “way of saying thank you.” I don’t know about you, but as a Christ-follower I feel uncomfortable about this for several reasons!

First, I’m concerned that the station is nurturing the materialistic mindset of the American church. We American Christians are already far too distracted, obsessed and consumed by our many possessions. Should an influential Christian music station really be elevating luxuries like an Apple watch or an iPhone 11 as something to strive for and desire?

Seems to me that it’s the opposite of what Jesus taught us:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:19-21

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Matthew 6:24

According to Jesus, our focus should be on heavenly treasures, not on earthly possessions, because a focus on earthly treasures negatively impacts our relationship with God. When the radio station offers a cruise as a potential “thank you gift” for giving, we’re taking away the heavenly focus and placing it instead on an earthly luxury, to the detriment of the listeners.

Fostering a materialistic attitude in the church isn’t the only negative spiritual consequence of enticing listeners to give. When listeners give out of a desire to obtain earthly treasure, they miss out on the chance to grow in Christ by practicing generosity with no strings attached. What could have been a selfless act is tainted with service to oneself and God’s blessing to the giver is forfeited, for as our Lord himself taught, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).

I also fear that this practice of dangling expensive “thank you gifts” before believers tarnishes our witness before unbelievers. If an unbeliever turned on this Christian radio station during their pledge drive, I think that they would be disgusted with the tactics used to generate income because it’s no different than the world. If Christians need to be encouraged to participate in good works, for fear of missing out on a trip to Disneyland, what does that say about their character?

Our charitable giving ought to be selfless, motivated by thankfulness to God and obedience to Christ. We should be more than willing to lay aside our wealth, our health, our reputation and anything else for the sake of the King who laid down his rights and privileges in order to take up our sin and shame and die upon a cross.

I recently read a powerful quote from explorer and missionary to Africa, David Livingstone. When people commented on the great sacrifice that he made in spending so much of his life in a foreign country, he replied:

“Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay?… It is emphatically no sacrifice.

Say rather it is a privilege.

Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger now and then with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink, but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in and for us.

I never made a sacrifice.

Of this we ought not to talk, when we remember the great sacrifice which HE made who left his Father’s throne on high to give himself for us.”

The Life and Labors of David Livingstone, J. E. Chambliss

When we give selflessly of ourselves and our possessions, it testifies to a dying world that there is something more to live for. It shows people that the kingdom of God and it’s King are far greater than anything we could ever desire on this earth and that they are worth giving up everything for.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

Matthew 13:44

If a Disney cruise motivates us to give more than the Cross of Christ, Christ does not get the glory and our witness is tarnished. When we give with selfish and impure motives, we are acting no different than the rest of the world.

Furthermore, when we resort to the sensational solicitation methods of commercialism it suggests a lack of trust that the Lord will provide what we need. This only serves to blunt the distinction between those who are supposed to be ‘set apart’ and the rest of world even further.

After Jesus’ resurrection, he told his disciples that “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:18-19a). This means that we have all the authority and resources of our Commissioner at our disposal in order to accomplish the work of the kingdom. There’s no need to resort to using fancy marketing techniques: the Lord will provide for his work.

George Mueller, a nineteenth century pastor, understood this well. After walking the streets of England and observing the many poor, fatherless children that wandered the streets, George sensed God calling him to open an orphanage. He did so by prayer.

“George prayed, asking God to provide a building, people to oversee it, furniture, and money for food and clothing. God answered his prayers. The needs of the orphanage were met each day. Sometimes a wealthy person would send a large amount of money, or a child would give a small amount received as a gift or for doing chores. Many times food, supplies or money came at the last minute, but God always provided without George telling anyone about his needs. He just prayed and waited on God.”

George Mueller, Orphanages Built by Prayer,

During Mueller’s lifetime, over 10,000 orphans received care at his children’s home in Bristol, England. His life’s work stands as a testimony, both to the believing and unbelieving world, of the power of prayer and of the faithfulness of God to provide. When we start to do God’s work in God’s way, as Mueller did, it stands as a powerful witness to unbelievers and testifies to the greatness of our God.

I think that we all need to take some time to evaluate our lives and our ministries.

Are we conducting our lives and the works he has entrusted to us in a manner that glorifies him? Or, are we living in a state of compromise with the world, not trusting God to provide?

May we learn to place our trust in God who “will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (Philippians 4:19-20).

Posted in Devotionals

More Milk, Please!

It’s funny how some things in the word of God take on a whole new meaning when you become a parent.

Take these verses for example:

Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.  Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

1 Peter 2:1-3

Until you’ve had a newborn, you won’t appreciate the intensity of the yearning that young babies have for their mother’s milk. It’s constant and it’s insatiable, especially in the first few days of life. Even as they grow and their tummies get a little bigger, a newborn’s quest for milk remains regular and intense. Milk is something they crave with a single-minded focus and you can’t distract them from their pursuit.

God says our relationship with the word, the good news about Christ (1 Peter 1:22-25), should be the same. Let’s ask God to make our desire for the enduring word match that of a newborn baby seeking it’s mother’s milk.

Posted in Christian Culture, Ministry, Nursery, Youth Ministry

Why Didn’t That New Family Come Back?

Have you ever wondered, “Where’s that new family that came to our church last week? Why didn’t they come back? We’ve been praying for God to send us new families, and he does, but they never stay!”

If you’ve ever found yourself asking these questions, I’d like to invite you to step in my shoes for a moment and see what it’s like for a first-time mom to visit a new church with a toddler in tow. I hope that you will find some practical applications from my story and that you will be inspired to find ways to make your church more friendly for first-time visitors, especially young families.

Every once in a while, I think that it’s important for Christians to leave the comforts of their home church and visit a new one. Visiting a church that you’ve never been to before will help you to develop an appreciation for what it’s like to be the newcomer. At the new church, you will begin to discover things that make you feel uncomfortable, lost or confused as well as things that make you feel comfortable, welcome, and loved. Taking time to reflect on your findings will help you to develop a strategy for making your church environment hospitable for visitors, increasing the likelihood that they will return again next Sunday.

This weekend our family visited a new church. We arrived late, as newcomers often do, though only by five minutes or so. Upon our arrival, the parking lot was nearly full and we had to find a place to park out on the street. As we walked through the parking lot, we noticed several unmarked doors and we paused, wondering for a moment which door we should choose. There wasn’t anyone around that we could ask, so we chose the door closest to us and hoped that we wouldn’t be walking directly into the middle of the sanctuary or into the pastor’s personal study!

Fortunately, the door we selected opened up into a hallway. The first thing that greeted us when we opened the door was unfortunately not a person, but an odor. The entire church smelled very strongly of synthetic air freshener. It was almost overpowering. As we walked down the hallway, we spied a room on our left which appeared to be a children’s room, so we parked a few of our toddler’s belongings there and made our way down the hall to the sanctuary.

Quietly, we opened the sanctuary doors and sneaked into the back of the church while the small congregation sat and sang. A few people looked our way, but there were no friendly smiles or head nods to acknowledge our existence or the fact that we were new to the church. Except for one older woman, who turned out to be the pastor’s wife. She actually got out of her chair and, using her walker, she came over to us and welcomed us warmly. This both blessed us and impressed us, as we considered her physical limitations and the effort that it took her to maneuver the aisles.

Feeling a little more comfortable, we made our way down to an open pew. As the congregation worshiped, I bounced and wiggled our fifteen month old daughter in an effort to contain her unlimited energy and satisfy her short attention span. She especially liked being lifted into the air as the congregation sang “He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!” and was relatively quiet and agreeable.

After worship, the children were dismissed and began to walk down the aisle toward the back of the church. My husband and I looked at each other, not sure what to do. There weren’t any other babies in the church, and we hadn’t seen a nursery, so where do the babies go? We looked around, hoping someone would tell us, but no one said anything. So we got up and followed the elementary and middle school aged children out of the room, hoping we would find some clarity elsewhere.

In the hall, we found a cheerful woman who turned out to be the Sunday School teacher and we asked her what we should do with our toddler. She said that when her children were small, she kept them with her during the service. But, she said, there was also a room adjacent to the Sunday School room where we could stay if she got loud. As we surveyed “Training Room,” we marveled at how unfriendly it was for kids. Dark, drab and lined with pews, there wasn’t anything available for small children to play with except for a few breakable items on a low table. Perplexed, we turned around and awkwardly made our way back into the sanctuary.

As before, the pew again proved to be too small to contain our daughter’s enthusiasm for life and love for exploration. As I struggled for five minutes or so to keep her babbling at an acceptable level and her body in one location, I decided that it was probably time to leave. When he noticed that I was packing my bag, the pastor kindly assured me from the pulpit that children were welcome. I appreciated the reassurance, but I knew that sooner or later things were going to get ugly because I knew that toddlers don’t like to be confined to small spaces. Like a wild gazelle, a toddler needs to run free.

I made my way out of the sanctuary and into the Training Room where I planned to park my belongings so that my daughter and I could go outside to play. A friendly voice caught my attention and I looked toward the doorway where I saw the same older woman who had welcomed us so warmly when we had arrived. She was very kind and told me that I was in the right place, “the Cry Room.” She offered to watch my daughter for me and told me that she could bring out some toys for her to play with. I appreciated her offer, told her I would stay with her. Our daughter had woken up in the middle of the night last night crying and woke up early this morning, so I didn’t want to leave the poor lady with overtired and cranky toddler.

We decided to go outside and run around, which proved to be a lot of fun. When the service was over, we went back inside. The congregation was friendly, but most didn’t engage too deeply in conversation. A few came up to reassure me that little children are always welcome and that they enjoyed hearing my daughter “make a joyful noise to the Lord,” which I appreciated. After a short while, the small congregation headed out and we parted ways.

I hope that you’ve been able to glean some insight into what it’s like to be a visitor with a young child at your church. Now I’d like to share seven specific ways that you can make your church more hospitable for the first-time guests that God is bringing to your church.

Have Ample Parking

It’s important to be thinking about your guests before they even make it into the church building. If your guests can’t find a place to park, how can you expect them to stay? Maybe, since they’ve gotten all dressed in their Sunday best, then they’ll just go out to brunch instead!

A lot of small churches have small parking lots and not everyone can afford to make their parking lot bigger. So what can you do if there’s not enough room? You can encourage your faithful parishioners to carpool together or you can work out a deal with a neighboring business to utilize their parking lot during Sunday service. If all else fails, maybe it’s time to plant a new church or expand from one service to two.

Have Too Many Signs

Seriously, label everything. Label your outside doors, your inside doors, and your handicap parking. Give directions to rooms that are difficult to find. People want and need to know where to go and they don’t want to have to ask someone. Especially if it’s the bathroom that they’re looking for.

Got a time for fellowship afterward? Label the food! People with allergies want to know if the pasta is gluten-free or if the cookies have nuts in them. They’ll be much more likely to stick around if they know they can eat the food.

Have Friendly Greeters

Signs are great, but people are even better. Put your teens to work. Teach them to hold the church doors open and to greet people with a smile. Start 15 minutes before the service and have them stay there until at least 15 minutes afterward. Remember, newcomers are usually late!

In addition to designated greeters, create a culture of greeting. Teach the congregation to be on the lookout for new faces and help them understand the importance of making new people feel welcome, comfortable and loved. A friendly smile and some personal conversation go a long way in making your guests feel like part of the family.

Have Clear Directions for Newcomers

As I’m sure you noticed from my story, new people don’t have a clue what’s going on when they first come to your church! Where should we sit? Where do we go if we have a small child that starts crying? Where do we take our toddler during the service? Are we responsible for watching them or will a volunteer be supervising the nursery?

Clear directions should be provided for visitors, both formally from the pulpit and informally from members of the congregation. If you’re a pastor, don’t just dismiss the children. Announce what services are provided for children and where they will be. Have people handy to guide newcomers in the right direction. If you’re a member of the congregation and you spy a new person walking in or sitting nearby, be intentional and welcome them. Then, do a quick assessments of their potential needs. Do they have children? Do they have a handicap? What might they need to know about? Address their needs and offer to show they where they should go. This will go a long way in helping new folk feel comfortable, welcome, and loved.

Have a Welcoming Environment

Does your church need to be up-to-date with the latest furniture styles and design trends in order to be welcoming? Thankfully, it doesn’t so you can keep that ancient wood paneling! But it does need to be well-lit, well-maintained, pleasant-smelling and clean. Visitors aren’t going to be inclined to stay if the sanctuary is smelly, the paint is peeling, the trash is overflowing, or the bathroom is so dark that you can’t find the toilet paper!

Sometimes we get used to the mess, so take some time to walk through your church. Try to see it with new eyes. What needs to be cleaned? Where are there lights out? Does the sanctuary need a fresh coat of paint? Are there any strange odors lingering in the air? Pretend to be a visitor in your own church and be on the look out for things that contribute to an unwelcoming environment.

Have Handicap-Accessible Amenities

One thing that I didn’t mention is that the church we visited was not handicap-accessible. There was an older woman visiting the church and she had to navigate the stairs with her walker in order to enter and exit the church.

While she was able to get in and out of the building with assistance from a gentleman at the church, I could tell it was difficult and uncomfortable for her. That’s why it’s important for churches to at least have a ramp and a handicap-accessible bathroom to accommodate people with physical disabilities.

Have A Space for Small Children

If your church doesn’t have any babies in the congregation, you might not feel like you need a nursery. But trust me, if you want to keep the young families that visit your church, you do. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does have to be functional. Set aside a room where infants and toddlers can safely eat, play, sleep and have their diapers changed.

Even though babies and toddlers might be welcome during the service, they really need a place all their own. It’s for their own well-being and for their parents’ sanity. Give parents a chance to worship and hear the word of God by having a regular volunteer staff for the nursery or a having qualified caregiver on-call for when unexpected babies arrive.

Have A Coffee Hour

Sure, it’s a little extra work to arrange some snacks and coffee for after church, but if you’re looking to keep the newcomers God gives you, it’s worth it. Why a coffee hour? Because it keeps people in the church longer so that you can get to know them! It’s hard to get to develop relationships with new people when everyone is focused on heading off to lunch. Having snacks handy gives people a reason to linger and a chance to connect.

Your Thoughts?

So there’s my two cents. Or maybe seven cents.

Now what do you think? What have you found to be attractive when visiting a church? What makes you feel uncomfortable, lost or confused? How can we make our churches more hospitable to new families?

Posted in Devotionals

Why Funerals are Better than Parties

It’s better to go to a funeral than to a party. Why? Because it gives us a chance to consider what really matters and how we’re living our lives.

A lot of things don’t matter: how much money we make, how many achievements we heap up, how much wisdom and knowledge we attain. But some things do matter: God. He’s at the beginning and at the end of all things and one day we’re all going to give an account of our lives before him.

“When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commandments, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether evil or good.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

In light of death, what are you going to do differently today?

Posted in Ministry, Nursery

Nursery Workers, You Matter!

It’s been a difficult few days, to say the least. My father-in-law passed away after a painful battle with cancer. Not only has it been a sad time, but it’s been a busy time. I never realized how much work it was to pull a funeral together in a matter of days.

My husband has been away a lot recently, making preparations with family for the upcoming funeral. I have been trying to stay busy and keep the house as clean and as comfortable as possible for my husband when he comes home, a sort of oasis in the midst the chaos.

Since he had to leave again this morning to collaborate on the obituary, I decided to go to my family’s church rather than drive forty minutes to our home church. I wasn’t quite ready to face the questions and condolences of my church family and preferred to go somewhere where I felt less known.

It was a short five minute walk to the church that I went to every Sunday with my family as a child. Many of the same people I knew as a youngster were still there, though they’d aged quite a bit in the ten years or so that I’d been gone. A lot of them still recognized me and all of them were excited to see some fresh faces.

At nearly fourteen months, my daughter was by far the youngest person in the church. Everyone else in the tiny congregation, other than me, was probably in their mid sixties or older. I wasn’t worried so much about the age gap, but rather that there was no good place to let my squirmy daughter run free without being too much of a disruption.

Before the service started, the reverend graciously spared me from public shame by announcing that all of God’s children are welcome, even the tiny and noisy ones. She even gave my little tot the freedom to wander the aisles. I felt welcomed not only by the reverend, but also by the congregation. They clearly enjoyed having my tiny human squiggle her way around the church.

But oh, did I miss the nursery at my home church! Until today, I don’t think I understood what an essential ministry the church nursery really is. And I even work in the nursery! In the past, I’ve found it boring and I’m sure I thought it was unimportant. But now I know that a church nursery is not a thing to be taken for granted, and neither are it’s workers!

The service was a disaster for me. My daughter sat nicely for about two minutes reading the books I brought her and cuddling her stuffed dog. Then sitting became distasteful to her so I let her down to wander around between the pew and the wall. But it wasn’t enough. Though I had a whole pew to myself, it wasn’t enough room for her little body, and eventually we were forced to transition to the back of the church where she could stretch her legs and toddle about.

It was stressful trying to contain her boundless energy in an area completely unsuited for it. I couldn’t focus on the worship, prayers, or teaching because all of my attention was devoted to captivating hers. Though I wanted to leave, I stayed because I knew that the parishioners were tickled to have a baby in their midst. I also didn’t want to be rude. But oh, did I miss our church nursery!

The experience wasn’t entirely unfruitful, however. I now have a greater appreciation for the role that nursery workers play in the church, myself included! I used to think that the hour I spend watching babies toddle around was wasted. But now I know that it frees up tired parents to worship.

So thank you to all you nursery workers who served in your churches today. Even though it might not seem like it because you’re singing silly songs, babbling with babies, and changing dirty diapers, you are doing God’s work and it glorifies him. You’re making a difference. You matter.