By Pastor Jason Roton, Children, Youth & Family Ministries
In February, when we decided to use the core commitments of the book Growing Young as the content for our CYF eNews blog, the “Hi, Neighbor!” Challenge was in its infancy and did not even have a name yet. God, in His infinite wisdom, was orchestrating events that we did not know. The sixth and final core commitment is “Be the Best Neighbor.”
We are now over halfway through the “Hi, Neighbor!” Challenge and it has been encouraging to me to hear the stories of all the different ways we have chosen to show our love for our neighbors. One of the coolest things about the “Hi, Neighbor!” Challenge is how our kids have led the way for the adults. My boys have definitely set the pace for our family. Immediately after Megan preached on what it means to love your neighbor and introduced the “Hi, Neighbor!” Challenge, our boys came home asking what we were going to do to show love for our neighbors. Cori and my response was less enthusiastic than they wanted, so day after day they kept asking. Josiah specifically wanted to do something for the new neighbors who had just moved in across the street. We made some Rice Krispie treats and took them over to them. My boys got to play Legos with their boys, and it was great getting to know them and to hear about their journey. I have no idea what will develop in our relationship. However, allowing my boys to lead the way in loving our neighbors and helping them see how easy it is to love the people around them was worth it.
My prayer for the “Hi, Neighbor!” Challenge is that it is a catalyst that launches the people of Calvary into a lifestyle of loving our neighbors no matter who they are. I would love to one day hear someone say about Calvary what Alexis in Growing Young said about her church: “I love that I met these people at a festival. I didn’t need to be looking for Jesus or a church to find them. They were out there doing their thing as opposed to a lot of churches that try to get you to come to their events in the church building.”
Being the best neighbors means that we have to continually ask ourselves and our church, “Who are our neighbors?” We live in a transitional culture where people are always moving and communities are constantly changing. Are we as a church trying to love our current neighbors or the neighbors we had 30 years ago? Change is hard and often it comes with a sense of loss, but if we want to continue to engage people between 15-30 years of age, we have to be able to ask the tough questions and make the hard decisions to ensure we are loving our current neighbors.
Being the best neighbor also means we have to embrace diversity. Diversity takes many shapes and sizes in our culture today and can lead us into some of the hottest topics in our culture right now. I would like to offer a few questions simply to get us thinking more than offering directives that may be misinterpreted. My desire is that we would wrestle with each of these questions individually and in light of Calvary.
How do we respect each individual's journey and love them no matter what while not compromising our understanding of Scripture?
How do we make sure that everyone feels safe to ask questions and conversations can continue?
How will we continue to fight for racial reconciliation and embrace people who are different than us?
In what ways will we walk alongside young people who are trying to figure out their purpose in life?
What will it look like for us to embrace socioeconomic diversity?
I hope and pray that as you read over those five questions they spark an ongoing conversation for you and your family. Growing young is not something we will do overnight. How we as individuals and as a church engage in the hard conversations and ask the tough questions will determine how effectively we engage 15-30 year olds in our community. I look forward to continuing to walk with you on this journey of growing young.
By Sharry Hosfield, Children's Ministries Director
Prioritizing families means that young families and students must be considered in every program, every service, every decision made in the church. The future of any organization depends on the current caretakers handing over responsibilities to the next wave of caretakers. Jesus handed over responsibility for the telling of His story to the disciples. He charged them to go to all people, baptizing them and sharing the Good News. We still do our best to follow his Great Commission.
At Calvary we recognize that parents are the biggest shapers of faith in their children. We know that dropping kids off to have church staff “teach them faith” is not an effective strategy. Prioritizing young people means supporting their parents. But taking a supporting role does not let the rest of the congregation off the hook—far from it! It means that we are most effective when we all support parents. We need every member to provide empathy, warmth and the Good news of Jesus to our kids and families.
How do we hand over our faith? The fifth strategy the Fuller Institute found in churches growing young is that they prioritize kids, youth and families. They are intentional about including kids and families in everything the church does. They work hard to hand over the church to the next group of caretakers. They prioritize opportunities for all ages to find meaningful ways to work together to help the church accomplish its mission. Here are a few of the ways we prioritize kids, youth, and families at Calvary...
Worship together.New this year, we will include Family Worship Weekends the first weekend of every month (beginning Sept. 28 and Oct. 1). Grace Place will not meet on these days. Instead, younger students will participate with adults and older students in worship and Holy Communion. We’ll all learn worship songs and hymns together. It’s hard to parent the loudest toddler in the sanctuary. It is work to amuse kids. But it is critically important. Please do not miss this opportunity to share such a rich experience with your Calvary family. Make the effort to worship together, even if you don’t make it all the way through the service. And members of the congregation promise to be welcoming and helpful, caring and loving. God’s people coming together to share the Gospel, to learn and sing and praise together is a powerful, wonderful experience.
Connect kids to five caring adults. One way we do this is through Lenten mentoring, a short-term involvement where people of different generations share faith ideas. We hope mentoring relationships deepen as pairs work together over several years. Both people are challenged to grow and learn. If you have a student, encourage them to make this a priority. Don’t miss this opportunity to have someone with a different perspective about faith speak into your child’s life.
Serve together. Grace Place has a Family Serve day. Calvary Works and Feed My Starving Children are events that involve all ages in meaningful work together. At Grace Place, we have youth helpers and student leaders who watch and learn from adult leaders. This mentoring is also important as our younger learners to see the faith being handed down right in front of them. VBS is another great example. Kids, parents, young adults and older adults all come together to share their faith in different ways. It is an amazing confluence of energy and joy. Calvary students grow up waiting to be helpers and leaders because of the love and energy expended on their behalf when they were young. Young students are so blessed by every leader, helper and volunteer. Imagine if the whole church worked like this. What could we accomplish? Who could we reach?
In order for the congregation to prioritize kids and parents, kids and parents must prioritize faith! See you in church!
By Megan Percy, Youth Director (Grades 4-8)
Warm is the new cool. On the shortlist for the Oxford Dictionary word of the year in 2016 was the Nordic concept of hygge (pronounced “hoo-gah”), and it continues to trend on social media outlets of all kinds. A hygge can be a cozy space or as Time magazine states, simply refer to “an approach to living that embraces positivity and enjoyment of everyday experiences.” Think crackling fireplaces, wooly socks, candles in cafes and the general feeling of coziness when you are in a place you love with people you love being with.
What does a hygge have to do with ministry at Calvary? I’m glad you asked. The fourth essential strategy that Fuller Youth Institute identified in their Growing Young research is that churches who reach young people “fuel a warm community.” When young adults, ages 19-29 were asked about their church communities, words like “welcoming, accepting, belonging, authentic, hospitable, and caring” were at the top of the list. Fuller researchers named this the “warmth cluster” and found that churches that grow young don’t just create programs that foster relationships, but they create space where people can be together and nurture relationships in a warm and inviting environment. Church cultures that are growing young are actually moving away from programs that create unnecessary busyness in an effort to elevate relational time.
What does this look like practically? How would we know if Calvary is a place that “fuels warmth”? It goes beyond making sure that the fire is lit in the Fireside Cafe. A good indicator of our “relational temperature” is the ways that kids and adults talk about what they experience, not just when they are in the building at Calvary, but around anyone who is a part of our faith community. The young adults who responded to the Growing Young survey said things like:
“This is home”
“I can just be myself.”
“The adults here actually listen to us.”
“This feels like family.”
Fueling a warm community is not just a trending, catchy phrase like “hygge.” When we fuel warmth, we are actually living out good ecclesiology (the study of the church) as seen in Scripture. Romans 12:5 says that when we state our identity as the church, we are saying that we actually become part of one another. We belong to one another as Christ’s body. From another angle, in Luke 2:41-52, Jesus is apart from His family for about three days before His family finds Him teaching at the Temple when He is only 12 years old. There must have been a warm community looking after him those three days!
There is a level of common sense to this finding. People naturally want to be where they feel welcome and where they are invited into a warm, relational environment. That said, we must be intentional about putting it into practice.
Start by asking yourself a few questions:
Where do I experience a warm community?
How could I be a part of fueling a warm community at Calvary for kids and adults alike?
I admit that I am still a bit fuzzy on exactly what a hygge is, but I do know that I want kids and adults to experience a warm environment at Calvary. I am so grateful for the ways I continue to see God work in and through His people to make this a reality every week. Thanks for being a part of it!
Churches that are effectively reaching 15-29 year-olds are characterized by three core commitments. Number one: Empowering them to lead. Number two: Empathizing with them. Neither of these are particularly flashy, but when we get to number three, and you might read the title and be done. You might think, “Of course. That’s common sense. If we are going to take anything seriously, it is going to be the message of Jesus.” Unfortunately, many kids and teenagers (and dare I say adults) are living by a version of the Gospel that is missing Jesus.
What do I mean by that? The National Study of Youth and Religion found that the dominant belief system of teenagers today can be described as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). In a nutshell, MTD is an understanding of faith in which God is a “heavenly butler” and the main objective is to be a good person. God exists to help you feel better but is not regularly involved in our lives. In Growing Young, the authors write, “...this half-hearted religious worldview leaves teenagers and emerging adults adrift in a ho-hum sea of bland religious niceness.” Another prominent form of the Gospel that teenagers are subscribing to is what Fuller Youth Institute calls “The Golden Rule Gospel,” which promotes “lukewarm passion” and Christians who focus on good deeds. Jesus is in the background, at best.
What are growing young communities teaching instead?
In churches that are “growing young” and reaching kids and teenagers, there is a more robust Gospel, one that is centered around Jesus and His message. In the study, vibrancy and faith maturity were linked with “understanding that faith is about more than behaviors or following rules.” In other words, churches that are reaching young people are focusing on the message of Jesus, understanding that the life of Jesus is part of a larger story of redemption, and talking less about heaven and more about how Jesus transforms our lives in the present.
At Calvary, we seek to pursue Jesus and invite kids to participate in the mission of the Kingdom of God in all that we do. In fact, one of our core values is that we believe every person needs to know they can trust Jesus no matter what.
What are some ways that we as parents, church family and ministry leaders can continue to help kids live into this more robust Gospel that takes Jesus’ message seriously?
Kids hear “no.” A lot. Young people wonder if Christianity is simply another pile of “nos.” No, don’t drink. Don’t have sex. Don’t swear. This is not the robust Gospel. Powell writes, “The nos provide a boundary, but they don’t provide a helpful way toward a new vision for living.” Give kids the yesses that come with faith. Show them that it is so much more than a list of “nos.” It is an invitation to significance, mission, purpose and a life of adventure.
According to Sticky Faith research, seven out of 10 kids in high school will have significant doubts about God and faith, but less than half of these kids will talk to ministry leaders or peers about them. Don’t assume that doubt means a kid is “losing” his or her faith. As parents and adults walking with kids, we must leave room for kids to express doubt. It is a sign of faith maturity.
When we teach what to believe, we are articulating a faith based on behaviors. When we teach kids how to believe, we are modeling faith that is based on “right belief” instead of “right behavior.” Faith is a journey and a process of following Jesus in community, discovering more of who He is day by day. Kids need stories of God’s faithfulness in the lives of others, rituals that ground them in who God is and who He says they are, and people who share the Gospel without judgment.
In John 10:10, Jesus tells us that He came so that we might have life and have it to the fullest. What an exciting responsibility to share about that abundant life with the next generation! It is a privilege to partner with you in leading kids into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
We continue our blog discussion around Growing Young by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder and Brad Griffin. Megan did a great job introducing the book and the purpose of the research in the April blog post. I intentionally call this a “discussion” because we hope these blogs launch discussion all around Calvary about how we are going to engage this generation with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
If you are over 30 years of age, let’s pause for a minute and think about this question: “How would you describe today’s 15-30 year-olds?” My guess is that most of the descriptions you come up with were not positive. Maybe words like “entitled,” “lazy” and “self-centered” come to mind first. Now, I want you to stop and think about this. What if you only heard negative things about your generation? How would you respond? How would you feel about yourself and your peers? This is the reality facing today’s emerging adults (15-30 year-olds). The majority of the press they receive is negative, or at best, they hear speeches that begin with, “When I was your age…”
Yes, things are different than they used to be. The research in Growing Young says, “The world young people have been handed is more complex, competitive and diverse. The conventional array of paths available to you people has been exponentially multiplied.” This reality has resulted in a culture where the age “25 is the new 15, and 15 is the new 25”. People are getting married later, having kids later, becoming financially independent later, etc. However, this does not mean that emerging adults automatically fit the stereotypes or boxes they are often put in by generations above them.
What if instead of sitting back and judging, patronizing or degrading emerging adults for not meeting our expectations, we begin to journey with them in faith? The church has an incredible opportunity to speak new life and fresh messages into the lives of today’s emerging adults when we learn to empathize with them. In Growing Young, Pastor Eugene Cho says, “Empathy is the willingness to go to hard places with people. Even if people in my church disagree with me, I hope they know I care about them.” What if we walked with them through life’s ups and downs in order to feel what they feel and experience what they experience?
Most emerging adults are asking three key questions. How we choose to respond to these questions will determine our ability to engage this generation, and ultimately, connect them with the truth of the Gospel.
Emerging adults want to know who they are. What’s my identity? Am I more than the number of likes I get on Facebook or the number of retweets I get on Twitter? If we choose to empathize with today’s young people, we have a chance to tell them about God’s GRACE. We have the opportunity to tell them the truth about who God has created them to be and to speak into the deepest questions they have about who they are because of whose they are.
Many of us who are over 30 remember the hit TV shows Cheers. The theme song of that show was “Where everybody knows your name.” Today’s young people want to know where they belong, where they fit, and want a place where they are known by name. While social media offers this generation an outlet to express themselves, it can also be one of the loneliest place to spend time, as kids watch their friends leave them out in real time, for everyone to see. They are seeking LOVE. They want to know if they are loved for who they are, not by what they have done or might do in the future. When we engage in their lives and journey with them in faith, we have the chance to show them unconditional love and belonging only found in Jesus.
Emerging adults are looking for purpose. There is a sense that their focus is beginning to shift to the world around them and they want to make an impact. They want a MISSION. They want something worth giving their lives to. They want to know that what they are doing matters. We, as the church, have the opportunity to invite them into God’s mission—a mission that calls us to share God’s love with all people, providing them a place to belong, and assurance they are never alone. However, if we want them to believe it is real, we have to first be willing to live out God’s mission as a community and individuals.
The emerging generation is asking powerful questions—questions that God through Jesus has some compelling answers to. If we want to engage emerging adults, we must ask ourselves some hard questions as well. Are we willing to feel their hurt, their struggle and their pain so they can see that Jesus and His mission are real? Are we willing to actively participate in the mission that God has called us to? Will we empathize with our emerging adults so that they can begin to see the Gospel as the answer to life’s toughest questions?
You may be aware that when you look around the pews on Sunday mornings, there are kids coloring, Converse-wearing, braces-clad middle schoolers, those with white hair and experience wrinkles, and a strong 30- and 40-something crowd. When you look around, you may also notice that there is one particular group that seems to be missing. The 15-29 year olds are few and far between, and particularly the 20-somethings. I’ve noticed. And I am barely not one of them.
Calvary is not alone. Multiple studies show that churches across the country are seeing 40 to 50 percent of all graduating high school seniors walking away from God and the faith community after they complete high school. These numbers are hardly encouraging. Faculty at the Fuller Youth Institute recently completed one of the most collaborative and comprehensive research studies ever done to see what churches are doing that is effectively moving toward closing the gap and engaging young people in the faith community. The book Growing Young by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder and Brad Griffin makes the findings of this research accessible so that congregations learn from others. See Growing Young research>>
What they found was that there are no easy answers, but there are six concepts that surfaced that produced better engagement with young people and “are the most universal commitments in churches with the greatest proven effectiveness.” Over the next several months, we will briefly unpack each of the six core commitments described in Growing Young as we seek to understand how to pass faith on to the next generation.
Churches that are effectively reaching 15-29 year olds are committed to unlocking keychain leadership. Rather than holding onto all of the authority, they empower young people to use their gifts, passions and abilities to serve the body of Christ. They value the priesthood of all believers, as described in 1 Corinthians 12:1-31. The image that they use is an image of giving keys away. Keys are defined as “the capabilities, power, and access of leaders that can be used to empower young people.” Leaders hold onto keys in different ways. Some hold on tightly, never giving away keys, while others lend them temporarily. Keychain leaders are ready and willing to train others and entrust those who are ready with their own set of keys.
This concept of keychain leadership resonates with me. With a high level of confidence, I can say that I would not be leading where I am today if it weren’t for the people who entrusted me with keys early on. When I was 15, I was given the “keys” to a pre-school classroom at a new church plant by the volunteer children’s ministry leader. As I sat on the floor, next to the Noah’s Ark painting on the wall, I believe that God was growing my faith and strengthening my ability and passion for leading. He continued to put people, both ministry staff and volunteers, in my life who entrusted me with keys, even when I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.
My hope and vision is that I would be someone who gives away keys in a way that empowers the next generation to use their leadership abilities to serve the Body of Christ. I am thankful and privileged to serve in a church that has a history of doing this, as young people serve at Grace Place, VBS, the Gathering Grounds, in our outreach ministries—the list goes on and on. This idea of keychain leadership is so fitting with one of our priorities at Calvary: to equip God’s people to serve. How can we be even more intentional, as a faith community, in entrusting leadership keys to young people?
As a parent, how have you given keys to your kids so that they can grow in faith and leadership?
What keys might you hold at Calvary to empower young people and entrust them with access to leadership in appropriate ways?
By Sharry Hosfield, Children’s Ministries Director (Preschool-Grade 3)
More than 100 years ago, a doctor’s wife started Vacation Bible School in a rented facility in New York City. It was the only place she could find with enough space and reasonable rent. She wanted to get kids off the streets on the Upper East Side. She attracted lots of children and things went well. After a few years when she had established VBS with her neighborhood kids, her pastor requested that she move VBS into their church; however, she found she reached more kids in the community and quickly moved back. From such an inauspicious beginning, VBS has become an important part of kids’ lives not only in the United States, but in other parts of the world as well. More than 3 million children attend VBS in more than 25,000 churches every summer in this country alone. There’s something about VBS. What is the secret? Why does it work?
From graham crackers and red fruit drinks, paper plate crafts and games of Red Rover, congregations put a burst of energy and life into kids’ summers. It’s an experience that they remember for a long time. VBS is the place where folks share their gifts and talents not only with kids in their home congregations, but also with kids in their communities. Kids feel that energy, that effort and that love. It tells them that something important is happening.
At Calvary, VBS allows us to focus on our mission in creative and fun ways. Grace Place currently offers 30 hours of class time per year. VBS concentrates 15 hours into one week. This concentration means we can engage all senses and learning styles. The time frame allows us to dig deeper—or in keeping with this year’s “Deep Sea Discovery” theme, dive deeper—to better understand Jesus and his life-changing love for us. We work hard to lay a firm biblical foundation and support it with meaningful music and appropriate activities. We respond to the Bible story with opportunities in mission and outreach. We share what we have experienced with our family and friends.
But the most creative art projects and engaging Bible storytelling, the silliest skits and the coolest songs are nothing without the caring leaders and volunteers who make sure that kids feel God’s love. If you ask people about VBS memories, they most often recall the teachers and helpers who made a difference in their lives, who made them feel loved and that they belonged. When done well, VBS engages the entire congregation in sharing the love of Jesus with kids, some who may never have heard the Good News before.
Maybe you’re that special leader who can make a difference in a child’s life. Won’t you join us? Or maybe you know a child who just needs an invitation to attend. Make a difference. Join the team. Please contact Danielle Hoaby by e-mail or at 763.231.2971.
More about Vacation Bible School>>
When you look out your window and see all the freshly fallen snow, it is hard to believe that summer is right around the corner. Summer brings weekends away at the lake, family vacations, Twins baseball and many other activities. It also brings an incredible opportunity to spend a week or weekend at Lake Wapogasset Lutheran Bible Camp—better known as Camp Wapo around Calvary. Your family also has the opportunity to attend a week-long family camp at Mount Carmel Ministries.
The question is why? Why spend your hard-earned money to go to camp? Why send your kids away for a week of camp? Why take time off work to spend a week at camp yourself? There are many reasons the Children, Youth & Family Ministries staff believe camp is a great choice for your family. Here are what we believe to be a few of the most important...
Our lives are full of noise and distractions. Cell phones, sports, social media, TV and music events are a few things on the long list of things that can keep us from finding time and space in our lives to sit and hear God speak. Camp provides an incredible opportunity for us to unplug and hear God speak. It is a place where kids and adults alike can slow down, find the time and space to hear God’s voice, and know that they can trust Jesus no matter what. Time spent together at camp includes intense times of studying God’s Word together with friends without screens screaming for our attention. It is a place where God reveals himself through his creation filled with beautiful lakes and incredible sunsets.
We value relational ministry, and camp provides the space for relational ministry to really happen—where kids can experience a sense of belonging. Imagine this. If a kid wakes up at 7 a.m. every day at camp and does not go to bed until 10 p.m., that is 15 hours a day of camp. This translates into a total of approximately 70 hours for a kid to build relationships with cabin leaders, church staff, friends and camp staff. In contrast, if a kid comes every week to our weekly programming for kids and teenagers, that amounts to approximately 25 hours for the entire year!
Consider this. It would take three years to equal the number of relational hours available in a week of camp. This only reinforces the idea that kids are loved by God and others. It gives them a place to belong where people know them and they know others, and a place where they are not alone. They are surrounded by friends and adults who love Jesus and love them. The same concept is true for your entire family if you spent a week or weekend at one of our family camps.
Finally, most parents want to help their kids create incredible memories of their childhood and their church experience. Camp is the perfect place for those two things to happen. I remember when I was a kid going to camp every year and seeing friends I had made from the year before, playing Four Square for countless hours, eating Blue Bunny Strawberry Shortcake ice cream bars, and sitting around the campfire singing songs of worship and listening to someone teach God’s Word in powerful and effective ways.
I pray that my boys grow up with some of these same memories from their times at camp. I also hope that they get the chance to experience camp with Cori and me so that we can make some great memories together as a family.
I could talk forever about all the incredible ways God moves at camp. However, for now, I hope to see you and your kids there this summer!
Camp schedule & registration>>
By Megan Percy, Youth Director (grades 4-8)
On a bitterly cold winter Friday night last February, a group of fifth and sixth grade kids and a fantastic group of parent leaders ventured three hours north to spend the weekend at camp. We arrived at camp and were moving pillows, stuffed animals, suitcases, and trash bags full of bedding and boots out of 12 passenger vans. Everyone was unpacking and setting up their bunks when I heard this desperate cry. I turned around to see one of the girls, Breanna,* in tears sitting on her cold, blue vinyl bunk bed. She could hardly get any words out. Her sheets and special blanket were nowhere to be found. As I tried to calm her down and let her know that we would take care of her, one of the other fifth grade girls, Macy,* walked over holding her own favorite blanket. “Here,” she said, “You can have my favorite blanket for the weekend.” The tears subsided and I witnessed a sincere demonstration of compassion.
In scripture, we often see Jesus demonstrating compassion when he sees the crowds. In Matthew 9, we read, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them...” Then, Jesus prays to the Lord to send out more workers. After he prays, he appoints the twelve disciples to go out, giving them authority to “heal every kind of disease and illness” (Matthew 10:1).
Like the 12 disciples, Jesus sends us out to go and show his compassion to those around us. Compassion can be defined as the willingness to be present in someone else’s pain. In order to do this, we must look outside of ourselves and begin to understand what someone else might be feeling. This is called empathy. As imperfect people, our natural inclination is to focus on our own needs and desires. As followers of Jesus, we are called to be like him. To be compassionate is to imitate the heart of Jesus.
If we want to become more like Jesus, and we want our kids to become more like him, we must increase our capacity for compassion. Particularly in a selfie-centric world, how can we be intentional about developing hearts of hearts of compassion for those around us? Let’s start by learning to routinely ask three questions.
What is their story? This question drives us to look outside of ourselves to listen to one another in meaningful ways. At camp, Macy simply took the time to notice what was going on. She listened to Breanna’s story. Jesus took time to stop and listen to people’s stories. Listen to the stories people are telling through social media. Tune into what you hear while you’re in line at the grocery store and in the hallways at work or school. So much of increasing our capacity for compassion is simply stopping to see what is going on around us. Stories help us understand one another and compel us toward compassion.
What would it be like to live their story? To put yourself in their story? This is a question that builds our sense of empathy, which is the ability to understand what someone else is feeling and to say “me too.” In coming to earth, Jesus was able to say “me too” and entered into our pain. When Macy heard Breanna’s story, she was able to put herself in her shoes and empathize with her pain.
God, how are you inviting us to be a part of their story? To show compassion to this person or group by entering their story? Let the stories compel you to ask God how and where he is inviting you to act. Pray as a family for the people behind the stories you hear about those in your neighborhood, community and world. Let your prayers move you to action.
Consider taking a step toward increasing your family’s capacity for compassion by participating in Hope for the Hungry, Calvary’s MobilePack event for Feed My Starving Children this January. Listen to the stories of children around the world who are affected by hunger and then pray for the children, asking God to show you the specific ways he is inviting you and your family to give of your time and resources. Let your prayers move you to serve with your hands, packing food that will be a part of changing a child’s life.
*The names in the story have been changed.
By Sharry Hosfield, Children's Ministries Director (Preschool-Grade 3)
The pumpkins have been shoved out by stockings and brightly decorated trees. The push is on. What do we want? What do we hope for? What does it all mean? Choices, ideas, shopping, families, pressure, pressure. Stress and pressure. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
How do we break from the pressure and the stress that our culture—and if we’re honest, we ourselves—puts on us around this holiday season? I humbly offer these five suggestions to help you and your family de-stress and focus on what matters most this Christmas season.
Plan ahead.Make a list. Even if you aren’t a “list” person. Leave room for surprises. Remove things that bring pressure or don’t bring joy. Leave things that make you happy! Negotiate with family to include things that really bring meaning to the season. Be open to new ideas, but if you add something, think about removing something else. Focus on what is most important by making intentional decisions about what to say yes to and what to say no to.
Be intentional and choose a few.Bake a couple batches of cookies. Buy a couple of gifts. Select a few family projects and a few traditions. My family has chopped down Christmas trees at the same Becker tree farm the day after Thanksgiving for more than 30 years. We don’t have any pictures from some years because the boys were so grumpy. Some years, it was only Gary and me. There were a few years when I wish that it had just been Gary. He has to inspect every tree on the farm, and some years have been really, really cold. Yet, we have done it every year and we have great memories from every year. Last year we bought five trees, two wreaths and some random branches. All eight of us, including baby granddaughter Emily, were there. The smiling photo was on our Christmas card (which did not go out on time and that is okay).
Do something for someone else.Make space on your list to do something for someone else—maybe someone you don’t know, someone who can’t return the favor or someone in need. There are so many ways to teach our kids the value of serving over the holidays. What better way to model all that Jesus gave up for us as he came to earth to give us a gift we didn’t deserve and couldn’t earn! Here are a few ideas to prime the pump. Go caroling or visit a nursing home, ring the bell for the Salvation Army, pack an Operation Christmas Child box, or serve at a local mission.
Set up a crèche.Setting up a nativity scene in a prominent spot is a great way to make family memories, retell your kids the story of Jesus’ birth and help each of us keep our focus where it should be. Take time to ponder and reflect over the scene daily. Then read the Christmas story in your favorite Bible.
Keep the most important thing, most important.The most important thing to remember is that the reason for the season is not about pressure, perfection, memories, cookies or pretty packages. It is about a baby in a manger who was the best gift of all. He was love in the purest form. He came down from above for you and for me. Remember Jesus as you celebrate. As you hang lights, remember Jesus is the light of the world. Make heart cookies and remember that Jesus is God’s pure and perfect love sent to earth. The gifts we share remind us that Jesus is the best gift of all.
Sparkhouse, a branch of Augsburg Fortress, has a daily family Advent devotion that arrives in your inbox every day during the season. The content is a brief video with kids who figure out some important things about Jesus. Families talk about what they see. There is a brief suggested activity, too. Check it out to see if it works for your family. Sign up now>>
I hope these few reminders make this the most meaningful Christmas your family has ever had. Feel free to pass along any ideas you may already use to keep the Christ Child at the center of Christmas.