engaging elders through children’s ministry

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They sat in the back. A mother, a grandmother, and two grandfathers. As 180 neared its conclusion today I keyed in on the two elderly men, one at a time. The first lives several miles away in inner SE Portland. He was visiting his grandchildren in the neighborhood. Happy to see them going to church, he beamed at their joy. He was raised in the church, but has not attended in a very long time. I invited him to come. Turns out he has no reliable transportation due to his age and disability. We will be working on figuring out how to help him get here. Because he matters. I told him so. He teared up. In Christ our hearts bonded during our brief conversation.

And then a similar conversation with the other grandfather. He does live in the neighborhood. I invited him to church as well. I think he was surprised; not in a bad way. Although language was a bit of a barrier with him, I made it clear that we want him here. That we care about him and his family.

Both of these men are the elder statesmen of their families. I include immediate and extended households in that statement. As someone who primarily ministers among youth and children, I understand that I must intentionally engage and honor their elders at home and in the neighborhood.

What a privilege. A handshake and arm around the shoulder as a sign of respect for the first gentleman. A handshake and bow of the head for the second. Both from different cultural backgrounds than mine and each other.

Urban mission to youth and children must include whole families. If it doesn’t, then all we are doing is offering seasonal activities with no incarnational relationships which provide common conduits for doing life together in the daily routines of community. So, with the unabashed faith of my young friends in the neighborhood in the photo below, I pray that God will grant us wisdom to break down walls of our own construction and those of the culture so that Christ may help us to learn to love each other as he commanded in Scripture.

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acoustic connections in the coffee house

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Last night I sat with family, friends, and strangers in Cottage House Coffee shop in Newberg, Oregon. My nephew, Trevor Woods, performed a solo acoustic guitar and vocal concert featuring all original lyrics and music written by him. It was a small, intimate group, but it filled the room. And he owned the stage.

For 1 1/2 hours he entertained and ministered, leveraging spot on vocals with intelligent and thoughtful lyrics. As the evening progressed I gained a greater appreciation for his artistry in one sense, and his life journey in another. Although he is young, he has experienced much in life. Not least, he is gaining a wisdom birthed from an understanding of God’s infinite goodness and immeasurable grace.

So, for me it wasn’t simply an evening listening to my nephew perform. It was an opportunity to hear again the heartbeat of Jesus expressing his love for me and the world.

I applaud Trevor for putting himself out there as an ambassador for Christ. It inspires me to do the same within the context of my own gifts and interests. Perhaps God is prompting you, too. Off you go. The world needs to hear God’s story through your life and voice.

missional laughter

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I see them as I pull my dirty ten year-old Honda Civic into the church parking lot. Two high school boys shooting hoops in our backlot. I grin. It’s a beautiful 74 degree day with no clouds in the sky, and my friends from the neighborhood are already showing up to enjoy it. I join them, challenging their shots and trying to steal the ball from them. They simply laugh and allow me to do my thing. No awkward attempts at forced conversation. Just three players: two young guns–both freshman–and me.

Younger kids begin arriving: a couple of middle-schoolers; numerous little children also, from preschool to elementary. They are followed by moms and dads, all of them from the local community. I look at the crowd which disperses across the church playground and parking lot.

I love them.

The dad with the hurting foot, yet still a sweet jump shot and pesky cigarette habit. The little girls with darling hairdos and deep curiosity as to whether the two hens which had broken out of their neighboring pen into our playground might be good play companions. The Muslim mom who always carefully monitors her youngest children. Every one of them.

Compassion fills my heart.

Not pity. Not an ill-advised messianic complex. Just a simple empathy and love which flows from the heart of Jesus. And a recognition that I am no different than them. I hurt. I bleed. I hope. Just as they do. And maybe their acceptance of me owes itself to this fact. Doing life in the margins requires time and presence with no other agenda except to love in the way of Jesus. And a willingness to be marginalized by cultural gatekeepers, both ecclesial and secular.

Missional Curiosity: Seeking to Know and Love Others

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I love watching trains do their work. An unassuming appearance bristling with grime and raw power. There is no subtlety in these machines. They have one purpose: hauling massive payloads. Often, the payloads are so massive, it requires multiple locomotives to complete the task. Recently, I waited for over 15 minutes as approximately 150 cars and locomotives passed by in the central Eastside industrial area of Portland.

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This particular yard is located further south. Notice the smoke stack in the distance, rising above the headlight? The sign of it’s appearing and of its labor as it prepares to connect to a long train of cars.

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The final shot gives a perspective much further back, offering a hint of the entire train’s length thus far. There was no way to know whether more cars were yet to be added, although it seemed a safe bet.

Trains are logistically complex. So much goes into their preparation, much of it far beyond my understanding. Weight, payload, HAZMAT factors, multiple destinations, bills of lading, time frames, power capacity, speed at various points, inclines, declines, elevation, and the list goes on, I am sure.

Yet it is so easy to watch them pass by for fifteen minutes as in a impromptu graffiti art installation without comprehending the complexity of their transit. When they are gone we continue on our way, putting them out of our minds.

Who knows? Maybe some product we will soon purchase is in one of the many containers? Maybe the fuel for our vehicles is sloshing around in one of the several tanker cars?

Trains seem so simple, but they are complex, both logistically and in terms of their impact beyond the journeys which transport products from place-to-place.

In a way, trains are like people. Simple at first casual glance, but exceedingly complex when explored more deeply. Question is, are we willing to apply our curiosity to know people and be known by them? Are we willing to cross the social tracks (to apply the train metaphor) to love them without expecting anything in return, but allowing them to love us in return? Do we dare expose to them our frailty, our weirdness, our neediness, as well as our authentic love for Jesus?

These are questions worth considering in a culture which is jaded toward anything Christians have to offer. Missional living provokes us to tear down assumptions and barriers so we may do real life with real people where we all live daily. Outside protected ecclesial strongholds and into the neighborhoods where hearts cry out for hope.

Spiritual Vertigo in the Missional Journey: the balance of solitude and community

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A paved path is inviting. It beckons, whispering of mysteries that lay beyond the horizon. Inspiring dreams and hopes of breathtaking beauty, the path lures the hiker with promises of discovery. So, off we go. Walking in the warmth of our inspiration. The hike suggests possible side excursions and we make note of them for possible future exploration. For now, however, we simply want to summit the top of this particular hill.

We reach it. We gasp, realizing we have stopped breathing for a moment. We look down. In one direction is a precipitous vertigo-inducing ravine. In the other, the ice field blocks our path.

Such is an apt metaphor for my missional journey. It’s not simple, this business of doing life with people. Faced with my own hypocritical observations of other people’s shortcomings and a persistent lack of courage to address my own, I find myself teetering on the brink of missional hope and self-defeating despair. On one hand, I write and say many of the right things, and even occasionally do them, but on the other hand my introversion can only take so much of this people business.

It’s draining, tiring. To love and be loved. To trust and be trusted. To become vulnerable when that vulnerability invites painful retribution (both well-intended and not) from others. Writers on disciplined Christian spirituality laud quietness, solitude, listening, and the sacrifices which attend such a posture.

Those are not my struggle, to be candid. For me, and perhaps others like me, the challenge of spiritual discipline is community, confession, relational vulnerability and attendant honorable intimacy.

Even the most austere monasteries which focus on vows of silence emphasize community.

The missional conversation focuses much attention on doing life with people, both fellow believers and those who are not. Yet it seems to give priority to spiritual disciplines which prefer solitude, rather than community.

I suggest that both are necessary. But let’s not simply talk a good game. Let’s do it. Solitude has long been my companion and will continue to have its place, but I need community in order to become Christ-like.

How about you?