Thursday, May 26, 2016

On Coaching T-Ball and Expecting Too Much of Our Kids

“Stop the crying and man up!” 

That’s what I heard when I walked to the field for a recent T-Ball game. As tears fell down the face of one of our five-year old players, likely because he was tired or not in the mood to play baseball at 9 o'clock on a Saturday morning, the young boy's father decided more testosterone was needed. 

I hope this guy doesn’t catch a glimpse of our daughter giving me a quick hug as she walks to the plate. I wonder what he thinks when our son screams from first base, “Mommy, I love you!” 

Do they need to “man up?" 

As I have coached the Twinado’s first season of Little League, I have learned much:
  1. Kids are more interested in post-game snacks than in-game positioning.
  2. T-ball is more like art class than the Great American Pastime (I have seen some incredible on-field designs created by glove and cleat).
  3. If there is a hot air balloon floating in the distance, call timeout and let all the kids marvel for a few minutes. They aren’t paying attention to anything else anyway.
  4. Chauvinism starts young, preached by coaches whose doppelgängers I remember nearly thirty years ago. 
  5. Parental pressure for our kids to achieve and live up to social expectations begins now. Actually, it began yesterday and the day before that...
The pressures we place on our children and expectations we demand they live up to often have less to do with their well-being and more with our personal quests for validation and approval from other parents. Our children are our greatest immortality symbols:

“An immortality symbol is not really about the thing. It’s not about baseball. It’s not really about my child. It’s about the glory the thing bestows on me….Successful children are the ultimate glory in today’s Park District and Travel Team culture.  Children level the playing field.  Whether from blue money or new money or no money, each child represents real potential for glory in the here and now.  They are the ultimate extension of our selves.  If glory means covering for your seventh-grader, then so be it. Parenting is hard these days; perhaps it truly is, as the saying goes, today’s most competitive adult sport.” (David L. Goetz, Death by Suburb 42). 

That’s why the dad at the ball field wants his kid to man up.  The tears are an affront to his coveted symbol of immortality, a perceived sign of weakness in the sport of parenting. 

Children as immortality symbols can be the hidden rationale for wanting our son or daughter to win the Home Run Derby when they are five. Five!  And whenever I sign my kids up (or not) for Little League or dance or whatever other extracurricular activity, a quick self-reflection does me well. Is this "thing" about my glory or their well-being and the nurture of their personal interests? 

Sure, our kids may need an occasional nudge to try something new or finish an activity they started. We may even need to give an extra boost of encouragement when they don’t want to hit or play left field when it’s their turn. There’s also nothing wrong with a little competition. 

But our children must be set free to be the kids they were created to be, not the kids we wish we would have been. Their worth must not be reduced to how he or she stacks up to the next kid up to bat.  So enough with the verbal shaming, constant pressure, and unrealistic expectations of children; this will not result in model citizenship, accelerated athleticism, excellence in academics, or faithful discipleship.  This "old-school" method will not even result in coveted personal glory. Instead, our children as immortality symbols will merely lead them down the road of entitlement and angst as they are surrendered to a performance and approval-based narrative that makes them feel like they are never doing enough, not quite good enough, or that what they do only matters in so much as it is valued by another who claims to be their superior. 

I guess what I mean to say is, relax ball-field dad, mom, and whoever else sits on the sidelines. Let them be kids. Let them learn and fail and cry and express their frustration in ways appropriate to where they are developmentally. 

Let them play ball. Let them dig in the dirt a bit and even fill their gloves with rocks. 

As long as they are not in the line of fire when the little slugger steps to the plate.

But don’t ask him or her to "man up." 

What does that even mean anyway?

Friday, May 13, 2016

Pentecost and Presbyterians: We are literally in the story...

We Presbyterians like things decent and in order. We spend a lot of time in conversation about polity, governance, and even publish a revised Book of Order every two years. 

Which is about the time it takes to have completed reading each volume.

So if presbyterians would have been present at Pentecost some two-thousand years ago, what would we have been doing?

We may have have been those with propositions for the appointment of a new committee to evaluate what took place when tongues of fire rested on those who had not yet completed the proper validated ministry paperwork. 

We may have wanted to make sure there was proper liturgical framing around the worship gone holy chaos.  

We may have wanted to make sure each person who attended the gathering was properly accounted for with a color-coded name tag according to their region and leadership role.  

"Did James submit his excusal?" we would have asked. "Minutes. We need the minutes from Pentecost,” we may have cried. (Dare I suggest the book of Acts as the minutes in brief of all that transpired?)

As I pondered the lectionary story for this Sunday, I discovered the earliest record of presbyterian participation at Pentecost. The faithful were gathered one place, still shaken by the "rush of the violent wind," when Peter drew attention to the fullness of what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“‘And in the end of days it will be, God says,that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy,and your youth will see visions, and your elders will dream dreams.’” (Acts 2:17 translation mine)
There we are- πρεσβύτεροι, presbyteroi, elders.  We were there all along. Presbyterian elders dreaming alongside young people as they imagine where and how the Spirit would flip the world upside down and dawn a new movement of welcome and shalom for all people. 

The answer to what presbyterians would have been doing at Pentecost- we would have been an intergenerational network visioning and dreaming of Spirit-led possibilities.

If we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear, the same still rings true. 

In the midst of tired narratives of decline and perceived irrelevance, if we lift our gaze upward and outward, we will see a varied vision that reminds us the Spirit is still alive and well through our ministry dreamers, young and old, near and far.

Pastors are advocating for the reform of our criminal justice system.

Small churches host local artists, many who have previously been incarcerated, transforming old fellowship halls into studios for developing elaborate murals.

Mission co-workers advocate for education, those caught within trafficking circles, and the alleviation of hunger and poverty. 

Pastors and church leaders host conversations on such urgent matters as pervasive racism, increased gun violence, and our need to extend welcome when our region experiences and influx of immigrants fleeing violence and civil war. 

Ecumenical partnerships are leveraged as congregations without walls are imagined alongside people experiencing chronic street homelessness.

Preschools for low income families, after-school programs in the midst dysfunctional school districts, and coffee houses for young adults with disabilities are just a few other testaments that presbyterians are dreamers and innovators still. 

Yes, reformation and revaluation is much needed. Indeed, we may need to rethink and drastically reimagine our organizational structure, leadership designs, and mechanisms for leveraging, equipping, and sustaining new models for congregational and community ministry.

We may even nee to lay to rest elements of what we used to do and who we used to be in light of our ever-changing social and religious contexts.

What we must not do is cease dreaming. We must not doubt the Spirit has given us the ability to vision fresh opportunities to embody the Good News of Christ within a world still so deeply fractured, fragmented, segregated, and unjust.

We must not forget the story of Pentecost. After all, this disruptive and disorderly story of wild dreams and wide-open possibilities cannot be told without presbyterians.

We are literally written into it. 

Related Post:

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

ABC’s for Ministry Innovation and Grant Writing

“Where do we start?” 

This is a common question raised whenever dreamers and ministry innovators gather together. The question is frequently leveraged after someone passionately outlines their vision for a creative and intentional ministry effort in their neighborhood. Then, after a few moments of excitement and a border-line hyperbolic monologue, the tone changes and zeal withers; uncertainty about how to get this idea off the ground overshadows the once prophetic and imaginative spirit. 

So where do we start? 

Maybe with the alphabet.  

Over the last 15 months a few of us in the Presbytery of Philadelphia developed a framework in which to jumpstart ministry innovation and ease the angst that can so easily stifle dreams for new possibilities. In what we have called, “The ABC’s of Ministry Innovation and Grant Writing,” these helpful tips have aided our imagineers as they not only ask the critical questions, but also frame grant applications that can generate new funding sources of sustainability. 

ABC’s of Ministry Innovation and Grant Writing 

Awareness of Context & Community
Ministry cannot be done in a vacuum or framed by assumptions. Packaged programs no longer, if ever, work. As the church explores creative ministry within the complexity of the twenty-first century, key questions about both the story of the neighborhood and the story of the congregation must be asked. Consider, what is the demographic of your neighborhood? What is the history of the community? Where are the third places, beyond the home and places of work, whereby people gather for conversation and social activity? What are the real and urgent concerns of your neighborhood? Who are those who have been isolated and marginalized by both the community and (possibly) church? What assets do both the community and congregation possess to engage and work towards the healing of these issues and real concerns?  At the very beginning of ministry innovation is the work of cultural exegesis- a variation of anthropological and sociological research that can help decipher what ministry can and should look like in a particular place at a particular time. This intentional, yet frequently-overlooked, period of questioning can  leverage something both of value and of holistic impact alongside your local neighbors. 

Budgetary Stewardship & Sustainability
Finances can be the great killer of dreams. Money can also be the means of grace by which the Spirit sustains new demonstrations of love and hospitality. That said, while budgeting for sustainability is essential, beware of allowing money to be the driving agent of ministry. Instead, develop a holistic and contextualized mission and vision first and then work to find funding partners. If dollars are where you start, the ministry dream will quickly die due to the weight of perceived limitation. Nevertheless, as budgets are crafted (and they must be crafted), look for resources beyond the congregation. Invitations to stewardship should not be limited to those who sit in the pews. Invite community partners, grant providers, and digital platforms like GoFundMe and Kickstarter to support the discerned ministry of impact. Creativity should flow not only through the idea, but also the search for financial sustainability. Even more, each investing partner becomes a sort of evangelist for the cause able to generate new interest and ideas. 

Collaborative & Congregational Partnerships
It takes a village to leverage a new initiative. Even more, leadership does not only come from those who monopolize the spotlight and claim privilege at the front of the room. Invite those who are in the back of the room to have voice of influence; look beyond your congregation and to your community as a primary pool for generative leadership and new possibilities. Explore local neighbors, nearby faith communities, entrepreneurs, public officials, small business owners, teachers, community organizers, and field experts to be a part of the visioning and implementation. It can even be said that a board of directors is sometimes more pertinent than a council or session for the ownership and effectiveness of a given ministry. A board may be a means to empower and celebrate the gifts of your neighbors who do not frequent your church yet now find the congregation as a place of welcome and solidarity. 

Distinct & Imaginative Initiatives
What can you develop that others may not have previously considered a vital need in your neighborhood? What makes your congregation uniquely poised to engage your community and extend the love of Christ through compassion, hospitality, and a real willingness to serve alongside others. Do you have a building with adequate space to host a computer lab for after school programs amidst broken education systems, a gym that can be utilized to provide recreational programs for neighborhood kids, local artists willing to celebrate creativity alongside those struggling with addiction and loss, open space that can be transformed into community gardens in contexts of food insecurity, members passionate about social justice with connections to those who can work towards holistic change, etc. All of this and more will require risk and a willingness to try, fail, and try again. It will also assume relationships have been developed with those who live and work in close proximity to the congregation. 

Evaluation & Communication of Ministry
"Reformed and reforming" is not only a theological mantra, but also the very undercurrent of church mission. As new ministries are leveraged, a key to sustainability is the willingness to undergo raw and honest evaluation.  At some point, all churches were innovative and intentional plants developed by disciples called to that place and time. Those churches that continue to exist and bear witness in their communities, some 300 years later, are those who have been willing to live into the evolution of their neighborhood, congregation, and available mediums for community formation. There are no sacred cows and nothing is immune to change. So evaluate, adapt, adjust, and reframe as the Spirit leads and as the context demands.  Even more, as you evaluate, look for creative platforms and new media to tell your story to both church and world; be willing to listen to those who offer constructive feedback. Who knows what new initiative may be birthed out of your no-longer-new initiative?

Faithfulness to the Gospel & Mission of the Church
Ministry is not creative programming for programming’s sake. Instead, mission is the very lifeblood of the church and the call of Christ’s gathered and scattered people. Innovation has been a part of the work and witness of the church from the very beginning,  “…I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh and your youth shall see visions, and your elders shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17, translation mine). As all of God’s people collaborate together across various lines of age, race, ethnicity, culture, orientation, and theological conviction, good news is sure to bubble up in the midst of our wearied world. 

Now you know your ABC’s- it’s time to dream in your communities.