From Sara Ray, Kinsmen Lutheran Church, Houston, TX
My favorite Sundays are when grandparents, parents and children gather together to learn about their faith and then are blessed by the entire congregation. That’s what the church should be, right? Teaching and leading parents and children to share their faith together and in turn share that with the people around them. Thanks to Vibrant Faith Ministries and previous leaders, Kinsmen has a milestone for children every year beginning at 3-year-olds and continuing through high school. We also have two milestones for adults.
So what is this “milestone ministry”? Vibrant Faith has four elements for milestones: naming, equipping, blessing, and gifting. Simple enough. Many churches, especially Lutheran churches, have this built into their DNA, we just don’t usually name it as a “milestone.” Baptism, First Communion, first Bible, Confirmation, high school graduation are probably events you celebrate as a congregation already. By adding a few components to it, you can make each event into a time for family faith formation. We’re not inventing anything new which is one of the great things about milestones.
The first element of a milestone is “naming” it. Think about a natural beginning, ending, or transition time for the family or child. At Kinsmen, our 3-year-olds celebrate their entrance into Sunday school (Beginning Sunday School Milestone); 3rd graders celebrate their “graduation” from a story Bible to a full Bible (God’s Love Story Milestone).
The second element is “equipping.” During the equipping time, parents, grandparents, and other family members come together with the child to learn about the child’s milestone and how their faith plays a role in this new time in their lives. For example, during the “Relationships” milestone, 7th graders serve dinner to the adults who are celebrating the “Marriage” milestone. Faith practices like praying or devotions are introduced to the families during the learning time. Most of our milestones happen over two Sundays, so they practice their new faith ritual at home together as homework.
For the third element of the milestones, the “blessing,” the family is brought forward during worship for a special time of blessing with the entire congregation. The parents, grandparents and family members lay hands on their child as they say a short blessing. The congregation then blesses the families who participated in the milestone.
The fourth part of each milestone is “gifting.” Each child receives a gift that will serve as a reminder of this milestone. Sometimes our kids make a craft during their learning time, like a liturgically colored cross necklace as they learn about the church year in Kindergarten. Sometimes members of the congregation make something for the children like the prayer pillows they receive as four year olds. Other times it is a faith tool for the families to use together, like prayer cubes. Whatever the gift is, it fits in the child’s faith chest they were given at baptism.
The best thing about milestones is that it brings generations together to learn and talk about their faith with each other. Milestones happen at a time in their lives during some kind of change when adding a faith practice has potential to stick. And, families can practice sensitive evangelism and invite friends to milestones.
If you have any questions, or would like to tell me about the milestones your church celebrates, I’d love to hear from you! – Sara Ray
Messiah Lutheran Church, Cypress, TX
When you find out you are going to become a parent, you begin to feel so many emotions: anxiety, fear, excitement, joy. Then, the child is born and you wish your child came with an instruction manual on how to raise them in a loving, faithful life. Every child is just as different as every parent is different. Each parent does what they can and tries to make the right choices. Sometimes they are the right choices and other times they are not. We all make mistakes. The one thing that is true for all parents is that you are the biggest example to your child. You are the one who teaches them about faith, life, relationships and decision making. They see how you choose to live your life, what your priorities are and how you interact with other people. Scary as that might sound, you are not alone. God is always with each one of us guiding and helping direct us in the decisions we make. The other place that is always there for us is a faith community. I have been asked many times “why is being a part of church important?” I have friends who ask “Why do I need to be part of faith community when I can pray on my own and talk to God anytime?” My response is this. You gain so much from being part of community. You have other people who become part of your life, who walk alongside you during hard times, who will celebrate with you during joyful times, and who will challenge you in your own faith. Being part of a faith community is more than just talking to God; it’s about growing deeper in our own faith so we can share it with our children.
As a community of faith, when someone is baptized, we take on vows that we are going to help be a part of this person’s faith life. We are going to be there for them to help guide them, teach them, love them, and pray for them. It is a deeper connection as brothers and sisters in Christ.
As a community of faith, we are partners with parents to help support them in growing their child’s faith life. Parents, you are a huge example for your child, but you do not have to do it alone. The church is also here, to partner with you, to help teach, love, and pray for your child as they grow in their faith. The biggest decision you have to make as parents is how important God is in your life and where God falls on your priority list. If you start making faith and God important in your life, it will become an important part in your child’s life as well. When parents and communities of faith join together, amazing things happen and lives are changed.
If you are part of a community of faith, start saying hello to kids you do not know and asking them how they are doing. Start praying for the youth in your church by individual name or in general. Volunteer to help however you can by being a greeter for family events, helping out on Wednesday nights or whatever. Be creative! If you are a parent, seek to find a place that fits your family’s needs and become a part of that community of faith by making it a priority to participate in worship, education and anything else you might be able to do. The more churches and families can partner together, the more everyone’s faith will grow.
From Jennifer Finley
Faith Lutheran, Bellaire, TX
I am a lot of things: some really good, some not so good. But one thing that I am is teachable. I have never for a second thought that I have everything figured out. One of my favorite things I have learned during my time at Faith Lutheran is about teenagers in recovery.
I have worked with teens for over 17 years professionally, plus a few more with my years as a volunteer with Kinsmen Lutheran’s youth program in the mid-90s, plus a few more via Big Brothers and Sisters while I was in college, plus one summer as a Camp Chrysalis Counselor. But what I have learned in the last year through Cornerstone and their work has been invaluable to me. It has made me re-evaluate what is important in the lives of some teens and their families. I think this recent e-mail from one of our neighbors and my response will sum up some of my “education.”
The e-mail to me:
Is the Church responsible for the youth that are at the back of the property on the park type tables smoking and ‘hanging out’ every afternoon. The neighbors do not appreciate the behavior that is seen and wonder if it is related to the Church or if we should have the Bellaire Police investigate. It is an unsightly group and the neighborhood children are terrified.
Thank you so much for contacting me.
Yes! We are not only responsible for those kids, but we are also really supportive of them. Thank you again for giving me a chance to let you and our surrounding neighbors in on a little insight to these high schoolers.
They can be “unsightly” – you are right. These are teenagers who are in recovery from drugs or alcohol or both. These are NOT kids on the fence of wanting a better life, these are kids who have seen hell, put their families through hell, and have made the choice to be clean and sober. No one is making them be here. The program they are involved with is called Cornerstone. Faith Lutheran has a stake in helping these teens and their parents in turning their lives around. Faith offers them a safe and clean place to meet after school Monday – Thursday from 3:00 – 6:00 PM. We provide them a place to work on their AA steps and be with other teens who are also putting the pieces of their lives back together. They have been broken and sometimes the scars on the inside and outside of them are “unsightly.”
Now with ALL of this said (Neighbor), if the kids are behaving in ways that are inappropriate, I very much need to pass that on to the counselors in charge. That’s not ok. But if they are teenagers just being teenagers, I hope that you and our neighbors will cut them some slack and maybe even approach them to let them know that you are proud of the choices that they are making now. Be supportive and encouraging to them.
I hope not, but if your children or some of the other children in our neighborhood ever need the help of Cornerstone, those families will know that there is a place committed to helping them to have success over addiction right in your own backyard.
If at any time you, or the other neighbors, would like to come and meet the kids, I would be happy to set that up with their advisers. I think the most “terrifying” part is probably not understanding who they are, what they have been through, or that they are clean, sober, and at much more healthy places in their lives. Faith Lutheran wants to be a good neighbor in all ways. We also take great strides to bless the world with faith, hope, and love.
We have so much to learn from people in recovery. Even their teenagers are very well equipped to talk about God and what he means in their lives because they have been to places physically and emotionally that seem “God-less” and they want to come back. If your church has the honor to host a Cornerstone group – I hope that you will. They have blessed us as we have made the commitment to support them. These are a different kind of kid than church workers usually see. But Andy Root had this to say about our “church kids” in his book “Why Church Kids Must Go Bad.”
“…have we communicated that Christianity is ultimately about goodness, about positivity, and has little to do with the reality of the human condition—little to do with suffering, brokenness, and yearning? These good kids have become the role models for others; we have labeled them the good and positive leaders, while the doubting, the yearning, those up against all sorts of impossibility are told (again, maybe more implicitly) to get positive, to get good, to avoid the bad and the heavy if they want to be Christian. Kids that have tasted the shadow side, that have felt its cold darkness touch their broken souls, see little need for youth ministry—see little significance of the youth ministry in the church, for it is too positive, too concerned with goodness, to name, contemplate, and yearn for God to meet them in the shadows of their existence, to meet them up against their brokenness.”
From Beth Hartfiel, AiM, Youth Leadership at New Life Lutheran Church
The growth of youth into leadership roles all seems to have started at New Life when a core-group of freshmen students was taken to the Disciple Project in 2003. The mentors were asked to meet with the students before and after the Disciple Project with one of the specific goals being to discuss the student’s experience and how the student could use their leadership skills in the congregation and in their schools. The role of the mentors was to help the students find the right doors and go through those leadership doors with the students within the congregation specifically.
Getting adults involved with helping lead Wednesday night LYO for 3rd through 12th graders had been difficult. These high school youth, who were now sophomores, who had attended the Disciple Project, were relied on to help lead Wednesday night LYO in certain areas. I slowly gave over certain parts of the evening to certain students. I had one student who loved playing games, so she let him start helping her lead games and eventually stepped out of the role of co-leader allowing the student to lead the games on his own. I continued to do this with other students for different parts of the evening: regularly setting up the pizza line, leading the table grace, taking care of the sign-up sheet, collecting pizza money and gathering everybody together. I still led the heart of the evening’s discussion/lesson, but had students surrounding me leading the rest of the evening. Each night, the group would gather in my office to discuss the evening and how things went. This became the teaching/training time for the group.
The following year, some of these students got involved with synod ministry teams. The students attended the Fall Leadership Event and received specific training for the ministry team they were serving on. The leadership skills they learned were then applied to what they were doing on Wednesday nights, thus strengthening Wednesday night LYO.
Then in 2005, Camp Hope was held for the first time and at least half of the staff were either a key leader for Wednesday night LYO and/or involved with a synodical ministry team. The students continued to strengthen and build their leadership skills with the help of their previous experiences. The students continue to attend the Disciple Project because they love it. It is a place where they can grow and expand their leadership skills by participating in the different tracks each year. These leadership skills flow over into the students’ lives at school as well as other areas of the church.
During all these experiences, New Life has supported, nurtured and uplifted these student leaders. Some of them serve in a variety of roles during the worship services including being Assistant Minister. The younger children have looked up to theses student leaders. Thus we have created a cycle of leadership where everyone is respected and recognized for their leadership abilities, no matter what their age is.
Looking back over this process that began 10 years ago, I see that there are a few keys for growing student leaders at New Life. The first one is that I work hard at making sure there are adults available to walk alongside these students. The adults are asked to be non-judgmental of the students and to help the students find a different way to do things when they stumble from time to time. I, as well as the other adults, am willing to take the time to teach the students as well as share ideas that I have seen work with them. The adults also allow the students to try out their own ideas and help the students think through every step before starting something big. Both the adults and students are reminded that what works for one, might not work for another, but when the right people are in the right place and using their God-given talents, everyone is blessed.
New Life continually recognizes and values our student’s input and gifts. Sharing God’s grace and love with our students in this way is one of the church’s greatest gifts to them.