Starbucks’ design drama unfolded on social media this year in a red cup-pocalypse that has diverted conversations from the true meaning of Christmas, pushed them towards the meaning of Christmas, and everything in between. Mostly, however, it has been one more media event that has made Christians appear to be extremists, who are incapable of having a
discussion with anyone of a different opinion.
It is surprising that plain, red cups have been able to start such conversations and potentially sway public opinion about Christians. Imagine the potential power behind conversations that truly matter, conversations about topics that are deeply important in our world today. When is the last time your congregation had an honest conversation about…
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Note: Lifetree Café is protected by copyright. It was developed by Group Publishing. © 2015 Lifetree. All rights reserved.
Would you choose those as leverage to reach people for Christ? Divisive conversations are not normally the ones churches intentionally try to begin as a means of engaging people outside the congregation. Yet, the members of Muleshoe FUMC determined this is exactly what they wanted to do.
Through Lifetree Café, the congregation shares space with the community and builds relationships with in-depth conversations around difficult topics. Rather than ignore or sweep controversial subjects under the rug, church members like Sally Messenger have embraced them. “These are the topics that affect our world. We can no longer isolate ourselves from what is happening. We have to have these conversations.”
While Lifetree Café has not helped the congregation reach as many new people as they had initially hoped, it has done two very encouraging things. First, it has reengaged members who were marginal participants in worship. Second, it has forced the attendees to practice having controversial conversations in a non-judgmental, non-threatening environment that requires listening. The latter has been a critical area of growth for the participants. As Janis Morrison described, “We plant a seed in this space. Then, we go out and use what we have learned here in everyday situations outside the church.”
Muleshoe FUMC decided to use Lifetree Café, a resource produced by Group Publishing, to reach new people in the community after much research and contemplation. Originally, Jay Messenger had an idea for a small group meeting space that felt like a coffee shop, and after working with Pastor Mindy McLanahan, they decided to use a well-established resource as a guide.
“There is always a risk of doing something that resembles entertaining people as a way to draw them to church,” Jay shared. “On the other hand, if you cannot draw people to church, if you cannot start the conversation in some way, what you are really saying to the community is this: ‘I am not going to reach out to the unchurched.’ I just realized that somehow we had to break out of the mold of preaching only to ourselves and create an environment where others would want to be involved. Lifetree Café is a way to introduce people to church, and I have used this as a tool to invite people who don’t want to come to an organized church service.”
Of course, helping people learn how to be more comfortable inviting others to church is an underlying goal of Lifetree Café. Another underlying goal is stretching church comfort zones. Pastor Mindy commented that the stretching piece began even before the program, because the church had to transform their parlor into a coffee house, which
was risky since a number of members were emotionally tied to the parlor. Nonetheless, the church took that risk and made a change.
Those risks have continued as church members have entered into conceivably hostile and polarizing conversations with grace. “I think that as followers of Jesus Christ, we need to be looking at ways to develop relationships with other people,” Pastor Mindy remarked, and developing relationships requires deep conversations that reflect Christ’s own discussions. “Jesus talked about important things, things that were happening in the world around him, and he didn’t hesitate to have difficult conversations.” For that reason, those who attend Lifetree Café have the opportunity to follow in Christ’s steps. By practicing empathetic listening and discussion, participants are becoming better equipped disciples who can carry the message of Christ into any discussion with respectful authenticity, whether that discussion be about red cups or something vastly more important.
Flames illuminate the night sky. The crackling of burning pews fills your ears. Helplessness washes over as you watch your church burn from across the street. Ashes are all that remain inside the brick walls. This sounds like a horrible nightmare, but for the First United Methodist Church of Morton, the nightmare was one in which waking was not an option.
On December 1, 2013, fire ravaged Morton’s church building.
Instead of talking about the horror of an arsonist burning your church or the questions swimming in the minds of the congregation, Morton decided to focus on hope. The PEOPLE believed enough in their church that to not rebuild was not an option, and the COMMUNITY stood behind their neighbors, helping them gather the pieces. On December 2, 2013, HOPE began rising from the ashes.
After the fire happened, the members knew they had to rebuild. They knew their church was important to their community and they knew that Jesus was not done with them yet. The community rallied together to support their neighbors. They offered the church places to gather such as other church buildings, chapels, and even the school. “The community stepped up,” said Pastor Lyndall Fletcher. Churches across the Northwest Texas Conference stepped up as well, sending hymnals and other supplies to help. Carolyn Newton commented,
“We have felt love from people, not only in this community, but from all over the state.”
And so, a new building rose to support the church that never died. On September 27, 2015, the new building was dedicated. A beautiful building, warm and inviting, with stained glass windows to rival “big steeple churches” and even a kitchen most mouths would water over. Greeters welcomed everyone with a smile and heads held high. There was pride in the air; not pride in what the congregation accomplished, but in what the Holy Spirit had done, and would do in that building. With standing room only, a beautiful service of hope began. The greatest highlight being the solo sung with such a sense of honesty and humbleness by Pastor Fletcher that brought most attendees to tears.
Once again, community members came out to support their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. There were attendees from the entire town that day. The Baptist Church in Morton even canceled their own services so they could attend the special event. Pastor Fletcher said, “We knew that this church was going to be built, and the glory of God was going to be in it.” And it was. God was and is present in Morton, Texas. Building or no building, that was always a constant. Since the new building has been built, the Sunday attendance has more than doubled, and God is working through Morton First United Methodist Church like never before.
HOPE rose out of the ashes.
When you are thinking about reaching your community, do you feel like you have to do something new? Maybe, something that other churches aren’t doing or an old idea with a new twist? Perhaps, you think a block party is something to try?
Over the last two years, these are the kinds of experiments that the NWTX Conference Evangelism Team and conference churches have tried. In 2014, they planned an old-fashioned revival with a new twist. The day began with volunteers from several churches setting up for a family festival at Bethel UMC in Abilene. Rows of games and interactive booths lined the parking lot. On the other side of Bethel UMC, the grounds were being prepared for the “Redeemed by Grace” revival that would follow the festival.
People from the community came, played, laughed, ate, and worshiped.
They experienced renewal through joyful music and a powerful message, which Pastor Felicia Hopkins and translator Gladys Ochoa brought.
But it didn’t stop there.
June 7, 2015 the Evangelism Team and churches came together again, this time in Plainview. More people became involved in order to reach a different community with different demographic needs, but they all came together for the same reason: to bring the message of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, to people who may not have heard the story of grace.
Again games were set up and people came from all over to have fun with their families. Free hair cuts were given, faces were painted, and laughter echoed across the grounds. Kids were sliding. Beanbags were flying.
Even in the midst of the festival fun, God’s presence was thick. God moved in people’s hearts. Pastor Emilson Cruz brought the word of God with Pastor Raúl Garcia translating. Lives were transformed.
Together as a united community, churches came together to create space for Plainview to encounter God. Just as it didn’t end in Abilene, it won’t stop in Plainview. “Redeemed by Grace” is already scheduled for Sunday, May 29, 2016 in Hereford, TX and God is already moving.
If you are looking for a new way to create space for building relationships in your community, a family festival/revival is something that your church might consider hosting for your community. If you would like to partner with the Evangelism Team to host one of these events, you can contact Pastor Jorge Ochoa for details of how to plan and run “Redeemed by Grace” in your community.
-Pastor Jorge Ochoa (email@example.com) / 806-762-0201 Ex: 18
Click here to watch the latest Redeemed by Grace Video
It’s funny how being in a certain room brings back detailed memories, especially when the memories are not from that specific room.
Let me paint a picture of my thoughts for you: The gym.
At some point in your life you probably entered a gym that had certain round objects lined up in the middle of the court. Your instructor then divided you and your friends to either side of the room for a good ol’ game of…you guessed it…dodge ball. Kids were ready to race to the center, grab a ball, throw it at the speed of a wannabe major league pitcher, and…hit…you…
Ok, so maybe I wasn’t a fan of playing dodge ball growing up. Luckily that wasn’t why I was walking into Polk Street UMC’s gym.
Instead of dodge balls, what I saw in the middle of the gym were piles and piles of school supplies. Along the walls, teams were not lined up to conquer the court, but table stations were arranged with boxes to be filled and people from four downtown churches in Amarillo were gathered for their yearly school supply drive.
4Amarillo is the cooperative work of the members of the four downtown churches of Amarillo - First Baptist, Central Church of Christ, First Presbyterian, and Polk Street UMC. Together, they have determined to partner with their communities and meet needs. Initially, they didn’t start with school supplies. Each congregation adopted an elementary school that they supported with the Snack Pak 4 Kids program. “Polk Street alone provides over 32,000 meals for San Jacinto Elementary school children over the weekends. If you add the other three schools adopted by the 4Amarillo churches, over 120,000 meals for the weekends are prepared for over 700 children,” Senior Pastor Burt Palmer shared.
The 4Amarillo partnership started from the pastors of the four churches meeting together, but
it has grown to include collaborative mission outreach activities, joint worship services, and the pastors swapping pulpits on a Sunday morning. Pastor Kevin Deckard, Associate Pastor of Pastoral Care at Polk Street UMC, now helps coordinate the school supply drive, which fully supplied each homeroom teacher at the four elementary schools adopted by each church in 2015. He shared how they have been able to develop year-round relationships with the community and teachers of San Jacinto. As an example of this burgeoning relationship, Pastor Dixie Robertson, Associate Pastor of Young Adults, explained that teachers feel so comfortable with Polk Street UMC that they used the building for their yoga classes over the summer. While these relationships have taken several years of commitment to develop, they have been critical to accomplishing 4Amarillo’s goals. The greatest goal is serve as an example that denominational commonalities are more important than our differences.
Back to the moment in the gym. With an imaginary three … two… one… the runners were taking armfuls of supplies to the designated stuffing table. Packers were quickly packing the supplies away in color-coded boxes for each elementary school. In less than 30 minutes, everything was packed and labeled, ready to be sent to the teachers’ classrooms.
In this moment, I was no longer thinking about dodge ball. Instead, I was physically watching Acts 1:8 play out in the gym. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (EST) The disciples were sent out to the ends of the earth, sharing the gospel and serving those in their communities. Likewise, these four churches in Amarillo are going out into their communities to serve as witnesses, while meeting physical needs as the hands and feet of Christ.
Click the plus sign for tips on how your church can connect with your local school community.
"Create a team that participates at every school board meeting. Your presence at meetings, without bringing forward issues, will communicate to the decision makers that your church cares."
"Set-up a tutoring program that meets in your building after school. You don't have to be a certified teacher to help kids with math, science, and reading homework."
"Sponsor a community-wide clean-up day during the Fall and Spring semester. If you lead the charge, other churches and community organizations will join forces."
"Ask teachers to post individual classroom needs and then ask church members to help fund things that will go directly to the classroom."
"Schools are often lacking volunteers for events. Meet with the principal early in the Fall and find out which events need help."
"Have the church cover any expenses for background checks or medical tests related to volunteering in schools. Sometimes the smallest obstacle becomes the biggest excuse!"
"Once a month, provide treats to the school staff. Every school has a teachers lounge and every employee of the school will appreciate of you provide bagels or a healthy lunch snack."
"Many districts have cut spending on arts and music. Have your worship leader work with local administrators to set-up workshops, after school, or any opportunity for children to get exposure to art and music."
"Find out what projects are important at a school and help provide the supplies. If they have a garden, make sure they have tools. If they are allowing children to paint murals, make sure they have the paint they want."
"Create a "beautification team" for the school. This team would serve to keep the campus clean, week landscape, plant a "memory garden" to honor students/teachers who have passed away, painting and upkeep, etc."
"Get to know the guidance counseling staff. They, more than any other adults on campus, know the needs to the students. They see the needs every day, and providing them help to meet those needs can be a great ministry."
"Get trained in crisis response and take your certification to the local school boards and be available for crisis intervention on campus."
Pastor Kevin Deckard overseeing the packing process.
Pastor Dixie Robertson packing scissors into boxes.
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These days you can study almost anything at college. Want to learn about theme park engineering? There’s a school for that. What about viticulture? Not, sure what that even is, it’s okay because there’s a school that can teach you all about it. There’s another where you can study fermentation sciences, oriental herbology, and even astrobiology, but did you know there is a University right in our backyard that helps students prepare to be leaders in any possible field they might choose, even the most obscure?
The Servant Leadership Program at McMurry University prepares students to enter any field as ethical, autonomous leaders, who have the capacity to influence a group in order to successfully reach a common goal. Unlike the tiered leadership models of the past, these students are learning how collaboration, service, and listening produce leaders who can empower others.
This is not some hipster, newfangled idea for McMurry, either. They recently celebrated 25 years of instilling the values of servant leadership through their curriculum. Dr. Sandra Harper, the current President, and Dr. Rob Sledge began the program and it has evolved from the one class they initially co-founded into an entire minor.
“The program began because it reflected the culture of the University,” Dr. Mark Waters, Director of Servant Leadership / Global Leadership, commented. “It was consistent with the values the school already had. There was merely an academic gap; it wasn’t part of the curriculum.” This curriculum that Dr. Waters mentioned, however, is not what most of us would think of when we hear that word. The students do not simply take classes. “The learning isn’t theoretical” in the sense that a student would solely write a paper about the type of situation
where servant leadership would be ideal; instead, students are “placed in a situation and they apply what they have learned,” Bree, a current student, shared. This is known as experiential learning and it is a bridge to the community of Abilene.
Students are required to serve organizations outside of McMurry. They can serve Habitat for Humanity, the Abilene Independent School District, Windcrest Alzheimer’s Care Center, or other partner organizations, but they must serve. They must live into the values they are being taught in the Servant Leadership Program. Leaders know these partnerships with the community have been successful for two reasons. First, “the community has requested that the students come” and second, “the students continue to be involved even after they have completed their coursework,” Rev. Jeff Lust, Chaplain and Director of Religious Life, observed. If the program was ineffective, the students would not be asked to return year after year, and the rich relationships that McMurry has developed in Abilene would not exist.
The relationships that have been established are rich and mutually beneficial. Students are not serving for the exclusive purpose of a grade that will advance them; they are very much in ministry with the individuals being served. “We help students see the needs of the community, but not just see them. We help students see people as individuals with stories. We teach them to listen and to match their talents with the community’s needs,” Jason Feltz, Adjunct Professor of Servant Leadership, shared.
For students who excel in the experiential learning piece, there is an opportunity to serve as small group leaders for the incoming class, helping the new comers practice the ideas being discussed. These students are called Preceptors
“It is important for us to be involved in the community. We go out everyday as a University and we ask people to bring their children to us. We ask people to allow us to mold their children, so we need the community to know who we are and what we are about.”
Kellie Merritt, Adjunct Professor of Servant Leadership
“The Servant Leadership Program has taught me not to operate in a tier system of leadership, but to work with other people.”
Lindsey, Student President
“We live in a world where people are so worried about their own lives, that they don’t realize there are other people who need help.”
and they work directly with the incoming class while they are serving the partner organizations. Of course, this is another way for the Preceptors to apply their leadership skills through serving others. Everything about the program enhances student skill levels and pushes them to deeper development.
Each piece of the curriculum comes together to reinforce the underlying values of servant
leadership and the experiential learning piece, both for the Preceptor and the groups they serve, takes the curriculum to a new level. Compared to traditional, lecture based learning, “it develops a person in a far different way,” James Greer, Director of Career Development, remarked. This new standard, which sprung forth from the natural outpouring of McMurry’s culture, is now “the mechanism that sets the pace for the rest of the University.”
Dr. Mark Waters
Rev. Jeff Lust