Month: September 2014

Things That Are Hurting our (Suburban) Kids

When I think of suburbia and teenagers I think of my own adolescence and I naively think things aren’t so different. I mean I only graduated from high school 25 years ago, what could have changed?

I think of Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear in Risky Business.  I think of his over critical Dad and his uptight Mom and their crystal paper weight that sat on their mantle.risky business

I think of Ferris Buehler and the freedom of escaping to Chicago for a day and escaping  the monotony of high school.

I think of The Breakfast Club and the line, “When you grow up, your soul dies.”

I’d like to think that the movies that defined my generation, are not so different from the generation today.  But while I imagine there are similar themes that never change, like parental expectations, the monotony of school and the desire to be accepted for your own uniqueness,  I also see that there are some significant challenges that our kids face that we Gen X-ers  did not encounter.

These observations are made in the context of  a privileged, predominately white community.  My  point being kids in rural or urban areas may or may not share the same challenges and may certainly have other greater challenges.

We are creating a culture of anxious and depressed kids.   Here are some observations as to why this is happening:

1.   We Ask the Wrong Question.    My kids and I were dropping off a child at a practice. The coach asked the one not  playing, “And what do you do?”   The question, while innocent and intending to be friendly spoke to me about how we place value on what we do more than who we are.  What if I am just a kid?  What if I play in my backyard, ride my bike, read books,  create imaginary worlds and take naps?   I think we need to stop placing value on what kids do and start placing more value on who kids are.  Instead of asking, “What did you do today?” Ask the question,  “How were you today?”  Instead of focusing on other kids talents and achievements, ask about their character and kindness.  We need to teach are kids that they are not loved for what they do, but rather they are loved for who you are.

2.   We Test Too Often.  I don’t  just mean standardize tests. Although I’m with Big Nate on that one.  I mean that we evaluate where kids are in comparison to other kids all the time and I think this causes a churning of unspoken anxiety in kid’s stomachs.   I think kids care a lot more about what grade they get than what they actually learn.  I think we all get caught up in our GPA and what we scored, and the most important question is, “What do I have to do to get an A.”    I know schools are under a huge amount of pressure to show that kids are performing on a certain level.  However,  I think the anxiety that schools have to perform at high level is filtered down and felt by kids who share that anxiety on a personal level.  Anxious systems create anxious people.

3. We Don’t Offer Perspective.  “It’s just $10!”  My daughter cries.  “Can we buy something?” My son asks.  “Why don’t we go to Disney World?”  They all lament at the dinner table.  Lord, in your mercy!  Somehow in our desire to provide for our kids and give them “every opportunity,” we have not given them the one thing they need the most. Perspective.  What is a dollar worth and how hard do you have to work to earn it?  What is the difference between need and want?   What are you grateful  for?   In our material world, how do we teach kids that a new pair of shoes, or a new iPod, or video game or whatever will not make them happy?    How do we teach gratitude?  Moreover, how do we help them look outside of their own needs and have compassion for the needs of others.  How do we help them to see that food is on the table, heat in the house, clothes in the closet, gas in the car and sheets on the bed are signs of privilege and  wealth?

4. We Push. “College is only 4 years away, what do you think you will major in?”  Are you kidding me?  When I was the Director Of Orientation at my college we told incoming Freshman that most students don’t know  their careers until they are 24 years old.  And most will change their careers at least once in their adulthood.   We pigeon-hole kids to identify their strengths and decide what their career path will be far to early.  Whatever happened to learning about history because history matters or reading a novel because it has something to say about society, or understanding science because we want to understand how the world works, or learning math so that we can understand our economy?  We have got to slow our kids down and let them enjoy learning, let them become thinkers before they become doers, let them explore and wonder and create without pushing them down a career path.

5.  There in An UnWelcome Guest in the House.  It’s the phone.  Our phones are attached to us like a third hand and our kids are addicted to thDX0G2ZZDthem.  They communicate with each other more through the phone then in person. They lack communication skills, conflict resolution skills, and overall manners because they can’t avoid checking to see if something has been “liked” or not. I know I sound old here, but I think as parents we have to manage our kid’s reliance on cell phones and social media.  It’s addicting and it’s a great way to avoid being in the real world.  Kids are not able to establish boundaries.  Parents have to help formulate them.

6.  We Have forgotten to Teach Our Children to Pray.  What Higher Power do kids have to rely on when life sucks?  Maybe it’s because we don’t go there enough ourselves, or maybe it’s because we don’t share our own prayer life openly with others, because we feel it’s private, but I think we need to remind our kids that God is at the table, in the classroom, on the field,  and in our conversations.   Kid’s need to know in a very real way that God is With Them.  The only way they can know this is if this is modeled for them, and not by just going to church or hoping they get it in Sunday School. We have to talk about our own prayer life. We have to tell them know we are praying for them, that we prayed for them during the day and we have to remind them to pray for others.  The Practice of Prayer has to come from the family.  It’s a practice.  We can’t wait for the bad news to come and then think, “Oh, maybe we should give God a call.”  No, the practice of  prayer should be as disciplined of a practice as checking homework.

I humbly submit these as observations from my context.  Perhaps you see it differently and maybe you see something else, but I do think our kids are hurting and we need to be in conversation about what we need to change so that every child knows they are worthy and loved just as they are.





Church Officer Retreat: Part 2

This is a church officer retreat we put together for our three leadership boards: Elders, Deacons and Trustees.  The first day was for all of the groups and the second day was just for the session.  The objective of the retreat was to evaluate  how we were progressing on our thematic goal we established 8 months prior.  (See Church Officer Retreat in this blog)

We wanted to see if we had actually been faithful to that goal, if we had seen any changes in behavior or practice and finally determine if that goal should still be the same going forward.

Here is what we did.


Dinner and Fellowship

Opening prayer

Put leaders in four groups of six or eight, making sure officers are equally represented at every table.  Hand out scripture readings telling of the story of the disciples being sent out to do ministry in the Book of Acts.

“…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Acts 1:8

Give each table stories from the Book of Acts that tells the story of the disciples going to the different regions.  Have them retell the story to the group.  One table is Jerusalem, one table is Judea, etc.   After each table shares with the larger group a Bible story about what the disciples did in  Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the church, as the question:

  • Who is Jerusalem for our church?
  • Who is Judea for our church?
  • Who is Samaria for our church?
  • Who are the Ends of the Earth for our church?

After each group has identified who these groups are for the church, ask the question:

If our church ceased to exist, what difference would it make to those regions we named?

Group Answer:  “The greatest impact would be on those who are in Jerusalem.  It would matter least to those identified as The Ends of the Earth and Samaria, It would matter from a logistical perspective for Judea, because non members use the building, but they would be able to find another building. The congregation would still meet if the building was no longer here. The church is not the building.”

After we assessed who we were in relation to who God as called us to be, we recalled our thematic goal:


The Thematic Goal:

Every committee or group will be intentional about inviting other committees and groups to share in ministry with them.  This could be inviting one person to come along, or committee, small group or a large group or the community.

Every committee meeting should begin with the question, “How are we working to fulfill our thematic goal?”

Theme:  “Come With Us”

Group Question:

Why did we say this goal was the most important of all goals?

What is the opposite of “coming with us?” – What’s the problem we are trying to fix?

The group remembered that the challenge we were trying to address was the need to be a unifying body working together for a common goal as opposed to individual goals with individual ministries.  The group also recalled the desire to bring people home again after a long and rough interim.  People need to feel welcomed back.  The problem was two-fold: people were check out, and people were doing ministry within a vacuum.

How does the goal address who we are called to be as people of faith?

By broadening the opportunities for ministry and involvement we grow in relationship with God and with each other.  Our community undergirds our faith.  You cannot grow in your faith without other people growing with you.

Questions for Discussion:  Give each table one of the following questions:

Imagine a person walked up to you at church on Sunday morning and asked the question:

  • Why should I come with you?
  • Where are you going?
  • How do I come with you?
  • What will we be doing?

SATURDAY:  Session Only

What did we learn the night before about how our church officers understand our vision (why), mission (what),  and intention?

Value Assessment:

The session was asked to look at a long list of values and choose the top four values that they believed was most important to the congregation. Here are all of the values that were named:

  • Perseverance
  • Acknowledgment
  • Belonging
  • Service
  • Family
  • Grace
  • Order
  • Abundance
  • Curiosity
  • Courage
  • Integrity
  • Simplicity
  • Reflection
  • Care
  • Education
  • Pragmatism
  • Friendliness
  • Decorum
  • Prayerful
  • Piety
  • Teamwork
  • Appreciation
  • Compassion
  • Fun

TOP VALUES (These values received the most votes)

  1. Family and Belonging
  2. Care and Compassion
  3. Order and Pragmatism
  4. Service
  5. Education

Break into three groups. Each group takes a value and answers the following questions:.

  1. Define the value in a sentence.
  2. Where is that value in scripture?
  3. How does this value address the “problem” or the thematic goal we are trying to achieve?

Value #1 Family


Family means a promise to be with you throughout your life. It’s the Baptismal covenant. It’s to be accountable to each other. It requires discipline and grace, joy and a feeling of belonging.  It’s to bear with one another and to rejoice together.

Scripture:  Joseph and his brothers. The Prodigal Son. Ephesians 4

*It was noted the “family” is an ideal, but not necessarily a reality for everyone.

Addressing the Thematic Goal:

If you are in the family, how do you feel included if you are outside of the family?

How does a church that functions in a corporate model address the highest value of being a family?  What does family look like that functions in a corporation?

Value #2 Order

Definition:  Order implies that there is a process and a system for everything.  It provides for transparency and allows for many things to be managed.  It is the opposite of chaos.

Scripture:    Exodus/ Moses organizing the Hebrews

1 Corinthians: “fitting and orderly way”

*A word of caution was made around this value, that Order can sometimes become worshipped and valued over purpose and intent.

Addressing the Thematic Goal:

Order permits everyone to have voice. It allows for consensus and dialogue.  For example, the Pastor Nominating process, while long and very orderly, did provide for the outcome people were praying for.

Value #3 Compassion and Caring


Being with and showing genuine love for each other in good times and bad.  It is through compassion that we see God the most.

Scripture:  Psalm 94

Addressing the Goal:

Our deacons, Stephen Ministers, prayer chain ministry, prayer covenant families all address the value of being with people in their life joys and struggles.


  • **The observation was there have been two cultures:  the emerging culture and the stated culture.  The emerging culture, is the true culture.  It values family, belonging, compassion and love.  The stated culture valued growth, building campaigns, education centers, new campuses etc.”
  • **The observation was made that the culture assumed that people needed to be invited to serve and that service was an activity reserved for those only in an elite group.  People have not felt included or welcomed to join. They have felt that they needed to be asked to join.  This behavior is seen in the pledging patterns. Over 50% of the congregation does not currently pledge.  Members of the congregation have been approached by leadership and asked to give on an individual basis.
  • **The observation was made that often members give to the area of ministry they feel most invested in, but not the whole. They don’t want their ministry to suffer, so they will give specifically to that area.
  • **The observation was made that it we are very focused on our own needs. We are thinking a lot about “Jerusalem.” (going back to the first day discussion) It could be that if we cared more about those area that represent Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth, that we will have a greater sense of our purpose in Jerusalem.


  • Using the Acts narrative to evaluate the impact we make locally, communally and globally is a safe way to evaluate our priorities, and look at who we are serving the impact we are making.
  • The questions of why, what, who, and where is a way of defining mission, vision, values and implementation. This is important because it is so easy to just want to get to the solution without really understanding the problem or what truly matters.
  • We took the work we had done on Thursday and said, “based on what was said the night before, these are our values.”   Naming our core values are important because they make us see what values are not lifted and what values guide our decision-making.   Our values define our culture.
  • Once we had determined our goal – which is our vision and then defined what that goal looks like, which is our mission, we define our values, which is what drives the mission.
  • After our values were named we could evaluate them and see how they helped or hindered the goal.
  • It was not until all of this work was done that we began to look at organizational committee structure and budget issues.




Sucking on Denial: Five Poems

We suck on denial like we are trying to resuscitate a dead body, praying life will return to it.  Nothing comes, but we keep inhaling it anyway because the alternative is too painful to bear.


“I don’t want to talk about it!”  the preteen cries.

“Rainbows and Unicorns! Rainbows and Unicorns! Lalalalala!

I don’t want to talk about it!”  Flailing on the bed, she hides her head in her pillow.

“But we need to talk about it” the mother insists.

“We need to make sure you have things packed in your backpack,

just in case

something happens.”

“What’s going to happen?!

It’s not going to happen!” says the voice from inside muffled pillow.

“Ugh…..It’s not FAIR!” 

“It’s life. It’s happens to everybody.”



“The doctor visit did not go well. They are going to stop chemo.  There is nothing more we can do. They say it’s time to call in hospice.”

“We don’t need hospice,

                                     I can take care of you.”

“There is so much to do.

                                   I want you to be o.k. before I go. Everything has to be in order.”

“We will talk about it tomorrow…

                                     Can you eat something?”

“I  have no appetite.”

                                      “Neither have I.”


We are going to have to decide what to do about Mom.

She’s fine.

She’s not fine.

She’s fine.

Dad, she got lost in the grocery store.

That happens.

Not every week, Dad.

She’s fine.

Dad, you can’t take care of her.

Yes I can.

I’m worried about you both.

Don’t worry.

We are fine.

She’s fine.



Dude, get out of bed. It’s 12:30 in the afternoon.

What’s wrong with you?



Please don’t leave.

There is nothing more to say.

Will you be back?


Maybe I will see you tomorrow

How do we replace denial with acceptance?

What courage is required?

What peace must be known?

What hope must be seen?

What prayer must we say?

Give us the strength to  accept the truth of our lives. Give us the courage to accept the story that is our life. Not as we want it to be told, but as it is written.  Let our stories be real and authentic, raw and painful, beautiful and organic.  Let our stories come from tears and loss, triumph and truth.  Let us not feel shame in our failures, but feel strength in our perseverance.  Let us breathe in truth of who we are and where we are and what we are, so that we may become what we are to be.

michigan lake sunset