Why the Church Will Never Reach “Young People”

Not too long ago (but pre-baby), my husband and I enjoyed the pleasure of a late Christmas party with a group of Christian friends. Over the course of the evening, we got to talking with a woman active in youth ministry at her church. I don’t remember exactly what was said, but at some point in the conversation she asked something like, “So, how do we attract young people – you know, people your age that aren’t in high school but don’t really fit in with the adults – to the Church?”

The interesting thing is, this wasn’t the first or even the second time we’ve been asked this. My husband and I joke that we’re serving as ambassadors for the 20-something population in Christian circles, because in a variety of places, there aren’t that many of us in church on Sunday morning. As a result of the recurring question, we’ve thought a bit on the topic and came up one primary reason that the Church will never reach Young People.

The Church cannot reach Young People.

The Church was never meant to cater to a specific demographic. Christ didn’t become a  Baby Boomer, hippy, goth, “crunchy” parent, or millennial so that He could save any of those respective “tribes.” He “…[the Word] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, emphasis mine) That’s the gospel message, which is “the power of God unto salvation…” (Romans 1:16) and that is the only way to meaningfully reach people.

We can only hope to “save others by snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 1:24) by living out the gospel, preaching the gospel from Scriptures (Romans 10:17), and as Epaphras, by laboring in prayer (Colossians 4:12). Changing your worship style or hosting a “college and career” group does not ultimately get people through the doors or keep them there. God calls individuals to Himself, so the only way to get more people (young or otherwise) in your church is to get more God in your church. To center the happenings in the congregation around any particular group is foolhardy, because the Church is meant to be Christ-centered. Anything less is just that – horribly, insufficiently less.

Having said all of that, I’d also like to underscore the fact that millennials are not a special interest group and shouldn’t be treated as such. Heck, you might even consider that we’re adults and ought to be pulling our weight in the church and otherwise. (I say this tongue-in-cheek, speaking as much to my generation as to those outside of it.) I wince when I see articles written by millennials for millennials, complaining about the state of the Church. Ladies and gentlemen, you are the Church as much as any other set of believers. If there’s fault to be found, you’re part of it; if there’s a solution to be had, you’re part of that, too.

And I’d also like to briefly put forth a couple of generational-gap-bridging thoughts, because the fact that we’ve got so much discussion on the topic says to me that there is some kind of a problem…

The Church cannot reach Young People (see above). However, Bill – a personable 60-something, married for many years with kids and his own business, but willing to invest in others in spite of his busy life – can reach out to Matt, a married 20-something new father that has visited church a few times. And as a couple with a little bit of purposefulness, Bill and his wife can form a friendship with Matt and his wife that results in godly influence and fellowship on a personal level. Bill doesn’t try to create false intimacy in a truncated timeframe (subject for another post). He doesn’t try to mentor (or worse, parent) this couple that he’s just met. He and his wife allow a friendship to form naturally, and make themselves available to do life together as fellow-adults who have been where we are. And this relationship goes both ways – both generations have to work at it.

Also, the Church cannot reach Young People (see further above). But those in leadership can view “young people” (starting in high school, really, depending on the high schooler and the responsibility) as just as much of a resource to be drawn on as other groups. They are a resource for deacons, elders, Sunday school teachers, chair-stackers, and floor sweepers in so much as they fit the Biblical criteria for these types of service (1 Timothy 3). I’d like to stress that throwing immature Christians into ministry is a recipe for disaster, but being mature in the faith doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with your age, as per 1 Timothy 4:12. Each member of the church ought to be working along side another, building each other up in the faith. (Jude 1:20)

I recently rediscovered this quote, which I love…

But you will never help young people if you do not love them. I do so long that God’s people will be more human, have more heart—cleansed heart, with Christ in it—you can do anything with people you love and who love you. This is not natural love, because it loves the ugly and the unpleasant. It is the “love of God shed abroad in our hearts” that is needed. We are too occupied with our own spiritual growth and progress. Oh God, let us die to ourselves! Lord, come thou and live in us, so that thy life can flow out to others through us! ~ Jessie Penn-Lewis

Let more of Him and less of ourselves be our prayer.

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Anxiety in Light of Christ

I’m sure I’ve mentioned my struggle with anxiety and/or depression on this blog before.  The depression has launched a couple of major campaigns against my sanity in both high school and college, and we’ve had several skirmishes in between. Anxiety has been my constant companion since earlier on, I just didn’t have a word for it until a couple of years ago.
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Part 2: When God Plans Your Delivery

David William came to join us on January 31st – a full five and a half weeks early. Needless to say, once again, we found ourselves living a different plan from our own. And in each circumstance, God provided.

A few weeks before David’s birth, I began to experience an insane amount of itching. As if I had been rolling in poison ivy. But pregnancy had come with a lot of uncomfortable weirdness so far, so I didn’t think much of it (aside from “I want to tear off my skin”). I wasn’t going to even mention it to the midwife, but a couple of hours before a routine appointment I googled my symptoms on a whim. Cue mild panic.

Later that day, the general pleasantries between the midwife and I turned into a concerned conversation. Blood work was ordered, and within two days I was diagnosed with a liver condition called intraheptic choleostasis of pregnancy (ICP). If you’d like to read extensively about the condition, I encourage you to do so here. But for the shorter version, ICP affects 1-2 in 1,000 pregnancies. It’s not terribly dangerous for the mother, but it can be harmful to the infant in a number of ways. Since it only lasts as long as the pregnancy and increases risk of stillbirth after 37 weeks gestation, it’s typically treated by inducing early labor.

The midwife explained all of this over the phone, and that she’d like to talk about inducing labor at 36 weeks – I was 33w 6d at the time. She also told me to schedule an appointment for that Monday to come up with a game plan and retest my blood. Dutifully, I made and attended the appointment, with a different midwife than the one who had been working with me so far. This new midwife brushed aside all concerns, and told me that there would likely be no need for an induction. Needless to say, I was less than thrilled with her blasé attitude (this is my child’s life we’re discussing) and more than a little confused and upset. My husband and I made a plan to call the office first thing the following morning to speak with the original midwife.

Fast-forward a few hours, my husband and I attend our evening childbirth class and learn all about pain management and breathing techniques. We walk downstairs together, and I tell him that I’m planning to stop at Wendy’s on the way home to grab a late night snack. We hop in our separate cars and head homeward. As I exited the Wendy’s drive through, my water broke. Events proceeded as follows:

10:35p – Husband receives phone call requesting that he not go to bed yet; I am 60-70% certain my water has broken.
10:50p – I arrive at home and we decide my water is most certainly broken. But no contractions yet (as far as I’m aware).
11:00p – Call midwife; I am told to come in so we can figure out what’s going on, but I’m probably not in labor.
11:01p – Since I’m “not in labor,” I tell my husband I’d like to take a shower and have a snack before we go in. (He declines the bedtime story request.)
12:00a – Arrive at hospital, fill out copious amounts of paperwork. Do lots of waiting. Find out that I am having mild contractions, according to the belt monitor, but they’re really irregular.
2:00a – Midwife finally checks me out; I am definitely not in labor or going to have the baby tonight since I’m not dilated at all.
2:10a – I am moved out of triage into a delivery room because that’s the only place they have space to put me.
2:20a – Definitely having contractions now that I need to breathe through.
3:20a – HOLY COW, I AM HAVING CONTRACTIONS. I CANNOT DO THIS FOR HOURS. NO WAY.
3:30a – Midwife returns; apparently I’m fully dilated and it’s time to start pushing.
3:40a – There’s suddenly a lot of activity at the end of the bed. Baby needs to come now because he’s not tolerating the labor well.
3:52a – Oh, hey there kiddo.

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David spent two and a half weeks in the NICU as a result of preemie status + vomiting green goop on day 4 of life (which scared the begeebers out of everyone and led to transfer to a bigger hospital than where I delivered… but that’s a long story). There, we met some amazing medical providers and tremendously encouraging NICU parents. Although it isn’t what I would have chosen, it actually ended up being an amazing blessing to have so many people helping me learn how to care for an infant in those first weeks. Also, Ronald McDonald House was a HUGE blessing, providing a quiet place for us to step away from the bedside, as well as grab meals. The hospital also had a meals program for me as a breastfeeding mom, and their financial aid program covered all of David’s medical bills. God. Is. Good.

We’ve all been home for 5ish weeks now. David is already 8lbs and 13oz and counting – which is great especially considering he had dropped from 5lbs 9oz to 4lbs 11oz his first week. As everyone keeps telling me it will, the time is flying by. He’s already outgrowing newborn clothing. He’s making messes everywhere and stealing our hearts. And as I wake (many times) in the middle of the night to meet my son’s needs, God is still good. God’s teaching me patience, generally refining me, and also reminding me how great my husband is. God’s seen fit to place a number of fantastic people in our lives that have blessed us in countless ways. To say I’m humbled by His provision for us is a bit of an understatement. So I’ll just finish by repeating, God is good.

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When God Plans Your Pregnancy

img_5984editedWhere to begin?

In July, two tiny lines on a home pregnancy test took us completely by surprise. It was earth-shattering news to us – nothing was ever going to be the same again. How was this going to work with my husband working as a waiter and myself as a receptionist? What about our five year plan of frugal adventures in the plane my husband is building? How’s he going to even finish his plane? We’ve only been married a year and a half, why can’t I have my husband to myself for a while longer? Lord, what are You thinking? And how the heck did this even happen? (Yes, I know this is a humorous question on some level, but really… how is there suddenly a tiny human inside me when it seemed we had made certain we would wait a while?)

Wow. Breathe. Then the guilt hits. So many couples are in anguish because their pregnancy test came back negative for the umpteenth time. There’s a new life in me and I should be excited. And it’s not at all that I don’t want the baby. I just… now? Really? Like this? With our finances as they are? We didn’t plan this… but God did.

I share my original gut wrench because I want to be honest. It isn’t easy when you’re thinking that life will go along one line, and God switches tracks on you. I know that can also be said of so many less exciting, less positive changes – please don’t misunderstand me. It’s not a “poor me, I didn’t get my way” post. I just haven’t seen a lot in the way of Christian encouragement in this area.

I mean, biblical Christianity is pro-life. We’re supposed to be excited about new life, or at the very least have a welcoming attitude toward Baby. My friends on Facebook seem overjoyed to announce their pregnancies with adorable photo shoots. “Children are a blessing from the Lord” is the mantra. And not feeling that truth as well as knowing it in the moment makes you feel like you’ve betrayed God’s values, even if your thoughts haven’t gone any further than “this was so not my idea.” It feels like it’s not acceptable to be honest.

But here’s what the Lord has shown me over the past few months:

  1. Feelings are real in experience, but they don’t reflect the truth. I didn’t feel like our child was a blessing from the Lord, but I knew that to be the truth. I felt like God had unfairly taken control of my life, but I knew the truth is that a) I have often prayed for God to have His way in my life in spite of me and b) I’ve never been in control anyway. Gut reactions are what they are, for better or worse. Have grace for yourself, seek God’s forgiveness. But how I respond going forward is a choice I have to make in God’s strength. Claiming the truth in my prayer life, even though I don’t feel it, is vitally important to my relationship with God.
  2. It’s okay to take your time. In fact, these things take time – a whole nine months. The Lord continues to work in my heart. Additionally, we decided not to share the news of our pregnancy with anyone apart from immediate family for the first 12 weeks because we needed a period to process the news ourselves.
  3. Seek solid, Christian counsel. My husband was able to talk to our pastor early on, who was extremely encouraging. I shared with a couple of prayer warriors in my life, who proceeded to lift us up during those first weeks when it seemed like everything was spinning out of control. We didn’t have to do it on our own. God provided tremendous support in the way of family and friends.
  4. God provides, every time. It’s something to be counted on, in spite of immediate circumstances. Somehow, in His divine wisdom, things come together when they ought to, how they ought to. I can’t make them happen by worrying or trying harder. I can only be faithful in the moment and trust Him. Since July, we’ve been blessed with a fantastic job for my husband, as well as a temporary living situation near his new workplace at no cost to us. How’d it happen? Through no power of our own, let me tell you.

All this to say, if you find yourself in a similar situation, know this: you didn’t plan your baby, but God did. Seriously, you didn’t screw something up. The Almighty Father chose you, chose your child, and chose now. It may not feel like it this instant, but there is great comfort in that and it’s going to be okay. And continuing in the vein of honesty, I’m not on the “okay” side yet. I haven’t had my baby. I have no idea how this parenting stuff is supposed to work. I can’t do much “looking back” just now. My husband and I are in the midst of it. But God is faithful – to forgive, to provide, and when I am not. I know I’ll still be able to say that ten years from now, however many kiddos happen in the meanwhile.

And to our child – you who have taken to kicking and wiggling to make yourself known, who we have not yet met, but thank God for daily. Dear One, you have been loved since before we knew you were conceived, by the One who chose you, chose us, and chose now. You are wanted, and you will be welcomed into our home when at last you arrive. You are part of an amazing call from God for us to live beyond ourselves – just the first of many ways in which He will use you. The truth is, you’re a treasure. And we cannot wait to meet you.

Marriage Advice from a N00b

You’ll have to take what I say with a grain of salt–today is our first year anniversary and we’re currently recovering from a delightful, overly-indulgent dinner. I’m a little nostalgic (“Ooh, this time last year I was waking up at 4am, horribly sick…and by this time we were taking pictures on the lake with -15 windchill!”) and waxing loquacious on my very full stomach (I don’t know what TGIF puts in its mashed potatoes, but they are good).

I’ve heard a lot of people say that the first year is the hardest–expectations are high and a lot of adjustments need to be made. For us, I have no idea what the future years hold, but if this is the hardest then we’re awful spoiled.

I will say, however, that I see other people a bit like mirrors. I learn a lot about myself, and the closer I get to another person the more zits I see on my face. Metaphorically speaking. And now that I’m married, more than ever my “coverup” doesn’t seem to cut it. It’s good. And I hate it sometimes. God has been very good to use my husband to both bring out and balance out my shortcomings. (And my husband has been very good to forgive and love me in spite of myself.)

And the advice from this married newbie: take care of each other first, and also take care of yourself. When life is crazy busy, having your spouse set up the coffee machine after you go to bed or lay out your work clothes for you says “I love you” in a practical way that brief interactions cannot. As for the second piece of advice… well, my mantra has become “I am not upset, I am hungry.” And it’s my responsibility to keep myself out of the danger zone. I’ll leave it at that.

I love the verse in Ecclesiastes 4 that talks about how it’s better to have a partner in life, because then if one falls the other can help him up. Thanks for helping me along, Matt. It’s been a great first year.

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When You’re a Hypocrite…And Also a Blogger

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Photo credit: Anna Grace (Not my Bible on my counter, haha, I found this among her amazing photos after writing the post!)

 

If you happen to notice such things, it may have struck you that it’s been a little quiet in the Audacious Poet blogosphere. I’d like to say it’s because I’m busy–and I am busy–but that’s not the primary reason I haven’t written anything substantial since… I’m afraid to look. October? Well, beginning of November, anyway. No, it’s actually because I’ve felt  hypocritical posting about spiritual things because I haven’t been living them like I ought to.

I have a recurring problem. I hit a busy spell and I routinely forget or put off spending time in the Word and in prayer. Ladies and gentlemen, I here confess: I have been forgetting and putting off spending time with God. It’s awful. And then I have a secondary recurring problem–I get really embarrassed about it. I “hide” from God, as if I could and as if He’s going to upbraid me for missing time with Him then second I sit down with my Bible. (Sort of like when someone lends you a book, and you haven’t read it yet, so you avoid them for an eon because you’re afraid they’ll ask how it was and you’ll have to admit it’s been kicking around your car since they lent it to you, and then they’ll call you terrible names and hate you for all eternity…or am I the only one?)

Additionally, I want to hide from anyone or anything that might make me feel more remorseful, or actually call me out on it. Folks, I’ve actually been embarrassed to pick up my prayer journal because I don’t want to record that I’m STILL reading through the same part of Ezekiel so many months later. Nobody even reads (or will read) my prayer journal. Might I suggest that there’s some irrational, spiritual interference here?

Please understand, I don’t think the devil himself lurks around my home to plague me with guilt about missing my quiet time. However, I do think there’s a real spiritual battle surrounding any activities that strengthen my relationship with Christ. And I do think the enemy is shameless about using my own shortcomings–namely pride in this case, I think–to trip me up.

A closing thought here, for any who have read this far. My brother and I recently had a somewhat unrelated discussion about living a middle of the road life where you aren’t really doing anything in the way of Kingdom work, nor are you enjoying the pleasures of sin for a season. You’re just doing your thing, enjoying the “benefits” of neither and making sure you muddle through the every day stuff without any serious sin. But we know that Christ can’t stand a lukewarm Christian (Revelation 3:15-16). And we also know that Christ offers an antidote to the paralyzing poison: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19) Just like that. It’s our responsibility, once we’re aware of where we’re at, to do something about it.

I got out my Bible yesterday morning. I’m starting in Hebrews. (NOT so I can cheat in my prayer journal, just because I need a change of pace.) I’m also leaving my Bible open on the kitchen counter so I read my mandatory chapter in the morning before work, if nothing else. If you’re in a paralyzed, lukewarm, embarrassed stage for whatever reason–just open your Bible. Say a prayer. God is so gracious to draw me, as He did Israel, with cords of love–especially when I’m a knucklehead (Hosea 11). I’m sure I’ll be here again in a few months, in spite of my best efforts. But God is so good. Happy New Year, everyone.

How to Resurrect Thanksgiving Leftovers

It’s been a while since I wrote a “Thrifty Friday” post, so I thought I’d post this as something relevant I recently learned…

Feeding people good food makes me abnormally happy. (I seriously have to will myself not to don a 50s apron and wear a stupid grin and hum show tunes under my breath.) And so, I was very pleased after prepping/enjoying a “Squad Pre-Thanksgiving” with these ladies here:

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Food and fellowship was sweet. But THEN it was time to pack it all up to take leftovers to my brother-in-law’s the following day. I needed the food to still be edible . What’s a girl to do?

Here are some straight forward tips to recreate Thanksgiving dinner a day or two later WITHOUT making Thanksgiving casserole. (Does anyone actually look forward to that?)

  1. Don’t use the microwave if you can help it. It’s tempting, but it does the weirdest things to food texture and in all likelihood won’t heat it all the way through.
  2. Turkey reheats very well on the stove top in a pan. Put just a little chicken or turkey broth in the bottom, cover with a lid, and heat on low for 10-15 minutes. Gloriously moist and tender as it was coming off the bone.
  3. Mashed potatoes are the best in a double boiler, either of your making or otherwise. This magic was something new to me, but your potatoes actually taste fresh. Bonus points if you add a little more butter, because when has that made anything worse? Depending on how much mashed potato you’re reheating, it’ll take between 20-30 minutes.
  4. Stuffing is tricky. If you don’t want it to wind up soggy, I’d definitely recommend putting it in a baking dish and covering it with foil. Pop it in the oven at 350 for 15-20 minutes and viola, stuffing is good as new. (Full disclosure, as per popular vote I did not use the stuffing that we brought because there weren’t that many of us and we had rolls and sweet potato casserole and pie.)
  5. Sweet potato casserole/candied yams should get the same treatment as the stuffing. However, this is also one of the few dishes I wouldn’t freak out about putting into the microwave with a wet paper towel draped over the container to keep things moist.
  6. Gravy can be reheated on a small pan in the stove top or in the microwave without serious damage to the molecular structure thereof.
  7. Pie is best served cold for breakfast, with whipped cream. No need to complicate things.

If nothing else, consider freezing your leftovers in Ziploc bags until you can stand the sight of them again, but don’t waste that food! Anyone else have any tips for breathing new life into Thanksgiving fixings?