New Youth Ministry Resources

Do you minister to youth or their parents? Several newly published resources offer both useful tools for youth ministry and big picture strategies.

Cultivating Teen Faith: Insights from the Confirmation Project. If you’re looking for an overall plan and strategy for effective youth ministry, this is the book for you. Lisa Kimball and Kate Siberine’s article on mentoring relationships in youth ministry is a must-read for anyone doing youth ministry. Release date of November 13, paperback for list price of $22.

Find Your Fit: Unlock God’s Unique Design for Your Talents, Spiritual Gifts, and Personality by Kevin Johnson; Jane Kise; Karen Eilers. This is the book I wish had been around during my own teen years. This interactive guide includes a spiritual gifts & talents inventory, a values inventory, personality inventory, plus career interest inventory – all in one place. Great for older teens and young adults to figure out where they’re going in their lives. Release date of December 4, paperback for $15.

Tough Stuff Parenting: Helping Your Kids Navigate Faith and Culture by Paul Basden, Jim Johnson.  This excellent book takes a brutally realistic approach to all the hot topics we as parents must discuss with our kids. Drugs, sex, parties, alcohol, same-sex attractions, racism, porn, suicide: the authors bravely tackle how to discuss all these issues from a Christian perspective. They don’t get preachy or judgmental, however, and I appreciated this. They acknowledge that young people and adults drink, have sex outside of marriage, and have issues of all kinds. Coming early Jan. 2019, $15 pre-order price.

How to Connect with Your Troubled Adult Children: Effective Strategies for Families in Pain  by Allison Bottke. If parenting has gone seriously amiss and your child has gone completely off the rails, this book is for you. The author lets you know you aren’t alone, gives you sound advice on how to deal with your child’s manipulations, financial demands, and repeated bouts with the law. Just published in paperback for about $12.

Blessings on your ministry to youth, as parents or as church professionals,

Cindy

 

 

 

New Resources for Adult Christian Formation

Several new resources have just been released, all appropriate for adult Christian formation groups or individual use. Here’s my list of recommendations of new resources.

The Ministry of Ordinary Places by Shannan Martin. A wonderfully written invitation to do ministry right where you are, in your own neighborhood and with people you encounter each and every day. This young woman and mom of several kids tells how her own concept of “ministry” changed after she moved to a low income urban area. She urges everyone to go and seek out neighbors – and ministry – among the forgotten corners of their own cities and towns. Just published, available in e-book, paperback, audio, and CD.

The Grace of Enough: Pursuing Less and Living More in a Throwaway Culture by Haley Stewart. The author does a great job of connecting the current trend of minimalism with Christian ethics. She tells the story of moving out of a suburban home in Florida to truly minimalist digs on a farm in Texas (compost toilets included). Great for church groups in connecting Christianity to environmental stewardship. Published September 2018, available in paperback and Kindle.

Dreaming with God: A Bold Call to Step Out and Follow God’s Lead by Sarah-Beth Marr. The author uses her former career as a ballerina to encourage readers to follow new calls and go forward in their life journeys. Beautifully written and excellent for those feeling “stuck” in their lives or careers and ready to do something new. Available in both e-book and paperback for about $10 – a bargain.

Coming this spring…

Purpose by Jordan Dooley.  This book truly inspired me. The author addresses woman going through all kinds of everyday stress and challenges: frustration, perfectionism, shame, rejection, insecurities, and other obstacles to peace and well-being. Her audience is younger women, but this middle-aged gal found it helpful as well. Dooley is a terrific storyteller and uses metaphors from everyday life that anyone can relate to. Perfect for church women’s groups. Coming in March 2019.

Enjoy some great reading this fall! Blessings, Cindy

Solitary, Silent Christianity – It’s a Thing

Do you know someone who says, “my Sunday worship service is time on the lake,” or “I spend time with God hiking the Smokies”? Maybe you feel this way yourself?

With church attendance continuing to drop and as more and more Americans classify themselves as “none” or “done” with religion, it’s time to acknowledge that there’s more than one way to practice Christianity than to go to church on Sunday morning.

Those who practice their faith in the privacy of their own homes, out in the garden, up in the mountains, or sitting in a boat in the middle of a quiet lake are just as Christian as those who show up to sit in a pew every Sunday morning. In fact, during the early years of Christianity, those who took their faith the most seriously fled the noise and drama of communities and went out into the most remote places they could find to be alone and silent with God.

We’re told time and time again that Christianity “must” be practiced within a community. But running counter to the story of Christianity in community is the story of a quieter, more meditative Christianity practiced far from the maddening crowds, far from any institutional requirements or expectations, far from any sort of so-called human authority or hierarchy.  This was the story of those who sought God in the lonely solitude of the deserts, the forests, the caves, and in far-flung, off-the-beaten-path places.  This quieter story was lived out by holy men and women we now call “saints,” by monks and nuns, and later by simple pioneers and settlers who without fuss incorporated faith into their daily agricultural chores. Early Christian saints sought out the wild, the untamed, and the deserted as they sought God and deepened their own spiritual lives.

The “Desert Fathers and Mothers” – men and women who moved out to far flung places in the deserts of the Middle East – sought a heightened spirituality, a life lived close to God.  They craved the quiet, the solitude, and the serenity of life in the wilderness, away from the daily dramas of community life.  Perhaps they craved, too, a little danger as well.  The thrill and confidence of surviving an unforgiving environment, wild animals, and a focus on the bare necessities of life likely gave them perspective, heightened awareness of their surroundings, clearer thinking, and time to wrestle down any emotional demons they had carried with them into the desert.

Like any wilderness experience in both ancient and contemporary times, the challenge of surviving in the desert toughened up these men and women, burning away all selfishness, hedonistic desires, greed for material goods, and anger.  One “desert father,” Joseph of Panephysis, was said to have advised a young disciple that the point of this tough-love spirituality was to become “all flame.”  Perhaps that’s what modern people who are “done” with church seek as well – a purer, more authentic spiritual experience than sitting on a pew in a stuffy building.

So the next time you look askance at someone foregoing a church service to spend the day in the garden, on the lake, or off in the mountains, it’s okay. So did a lot of Christians we now call Saints.

Several paragraphs of this blog post are excerpted from Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony With the Everyday World Around Us by Cynthia Coe, available in e-book and paperback editions on Amazon.com.

Wilderness as the Forgotten Place of Spirituality

The idea of wilderness as a place of deep spirituality is not new at all.  If we delve into Old and New Testament roots of spirituality in the wilderness, we see that many – if not all – of the major figures in the Bible sought quiet time in the wilderness to confront, deepen, or connect with their own spirituality.

What changed?  Spirituality – as part of the religious life – became institutionalized.  As Christianity became legal in the Roman Empire, it moved into closed spaces and became subject to rules, presided over by priests and organized into a formal religion.  For Western European and American Christians, spirituality became a boxed-in, regulated practice virtually divorced from its early connection with the wilderness.  Even in the late twentieth century, prayer was generally something you did in the church building or at the dinner table or before you tucked yourself or your children into bed.  For most Christians, the rich tradition of spirituality in the wilderness was forgotten.

But life changed around the turn of the twentieth century.  Cities and villages had always existed, but in the mid-twentieth century, people in Western Europe and the Americas began a long and civilization-changing migration from farm to town.  They began working in office buildings and living in apartment buildings, suburban home developments, and other medium to high density venues.  The farm was left behind, and so was almost all connection to the natural world.  The “outdoors,” for most people, became a city park or a back yard.  If you want to connect with the natural world, you have to make an effort.

The connection between the wilderness and spirituality has never been more needed or well-suited for humans than any time since the ancient world. As church participation and attendance continues to plummet, we might appreciate that time in the wilderness is a time-honored spiritual practice. If a majority of Americans do not darken the doors of churches any longer, it may because they have chosen quiet, soul-nourishing spiritual experiences that are just as much a part of Christianity as a structured liturgy led in a boxed-in building.

This blog post is an excerpt from Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony With the Everyday World Around Us by Cynthia Coe, available in both e-book and paperback editions at Amazon.com.

New Books on Christian Living and Spirituality

Hello Readers!  After taking the last several months off to complete two first-draft manuscripts, I’m back to blogging. Now that I’ve come up for air, I’m delighted to report that I’m also back to reviewing new books and sharing my thoughts and recommendations.

I know many of my followers are Episcopalians, and I want to let you know about several new books on Christian living and spirituality that have been published lately or will be published soon. Here are some new titles you’ll want to check out (and possibly use in adult forums, book clubs, or just for personal devotionals):

Richard Rohr, Just This. Highly recommended for fans of Richard Rohr. This book includes brief one-page devotionals; it would be great for daily use or to take on a retreat. I would recommend this for the spiritually mature. For “seekers” or those unfamiliar with Rohr, I would read one of his other books first.

Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to Retreat. Highly recommended, especially for retreat leaders, adult Christian formation leaders, and conference or retreat center staff.  This book makes the case for taking quiet, alone time for yourself to discern what’s working (and not working) in your life, what God might be calling you to do, and what you might need to let go. The book covers both the “big picture” concepts and more practical advice for your own retreat. The imagery of this book was particularly helpful.  I appreciated that this book reached out to all Christians. The author includes nods to those in more Evangelical traditions, Episcopalians (including references to the Book of Common Prayer), Roman Catholics, and anyone seeking spiritual growth and refreshment. Liturgies and suggestions for retreat reading materials are included, along with differentiation between silent retreats, “preached retreats,” or purely solitary retreat time in your own space. (Coming in September, available for pre-order now.)

Bob Goff, Everybody Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People.  I loved this book. Bob Goff is a terrific storyteller who tells marvelous stories of “becoming love” to neighbors, a homeless guy who shacks up in his truck, and even witch doctors. (Yes, witch doctors. The fingerprints on the cover are from actual witch doctors in Uganda.) Highly recommended for uplifting, inspirational, engaging stories about daily living-out of the Christian faith. Perfect for seekers and mature Christians alike. Great for adult forums, book clubs, and for personal use.

Cynthia Coe is the author of several resources to introduce children, youth, and adults to environmental stewardship. Visit her author page on Amazon here.   

 

 

 

Sunday Morning on the Farm

Not all worship happens inside church buildings on Sunday mornings. Worship can mean a religious ceremony or service. Worship can also mean, simply, a feeling of reverence. Worship, in its best sense, is communion with the Holy Spirit, feeling connected to God.

On a bright spring morning, it’s hard to feel that kind of connectedness inside a stuffy church building, sitting on a hard pew, surrounded by other people. On a bright spring morning, worship might more authentically happen amongst a field of buttercups, towering sycamore trees, or alongside a trickling mountain stream.

My Sunday mornings are usually spent on my farm. The mountain ridge facing my house is my cathedral. The trees towering over me diminish any troubles or dilemmas I think might overwhelm me. The breeze softly and almost silently blowing through the meadow between my home and the ridge refreshes my body and soul.

I can have quiet here. I can have peace here. I can let go of all troubles and dilemmas and simply be. I can wander through the forest or the meadow and feel part of all of nature, no more significant or insignificant as any other part of nature. I can get in touch with who I am, stripped of all artifice.

Wisdom surrounds me. I have only to look around me for lessons that speak to me in messages both personal and universal.  On a spring day, new life springs up from a ground thought cold and dead only a few days previous. Daffodils and tulips appear in unexpected places, as surprises from the divine. Dogwood trees produce blossoms from branches remembered from seasons past but forgotten in their off-season commonplace familiarity.

Essential worship takes place when we are fully ourselves and fully in tune with the world around us. And in my cathedral of sycamore trees soaring over a grassy meadow, I am more truly worshipful than in any other place on earth.

Cynthia Coe is the author of Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony with the Everyday World Around Us. For news of upcoming publications and for blog posts, please follow this blog or her author page on Amazon.  

Done With Church – Listening & Understanding Why

Many of you reading this either work for the Church or attend regularly and enthusiastically. But you know, deep down, that the number of people attending church in the US continues to drop.

A recent report on Knoxville’s WBIR announced that 80% of Knoxvillians either identify as having “no religion” or are “done” with religion – and this is in the Bible Belt!  Forty percent of those surveyed in a study commissioned by a local mega church showed that of this 80%, 40% are “dones” – those who once faithfully attended church but are, literally, done with it all. Often, these “dones” were among the most active members of their church right before they walked out the door.

In my mind, the rise of the Dones – especially those of whom were very active church members – is a puzzling and potentially disastrous situation church leaders really need to pay attention to. Losing the “nones” is one thing; losing people who once devoted their time, talents and money and then completely walk away is a whole different kind of culture shock that ought to get the church’s attention. Denial about the situation won’t do any good (and I think that’s the pervasive response at the moment.)

Instead, the church might well listen to those who have left the church – and perhaps look in the mirror at their own behaviors that are killing the institution they love. Yes, we all know some of the reasons for the “dones” – the lack of time for church, increasing competition for children’s afterschool and weekend hours, and the disillusionment of churchgoers after a small minority of clergy commit crimes or totally drop the ball when it comes to basic morality.  But I think there’s more behind the “done” movement.

People Are Exasperated with Church Tribalism: In the book Church Refugees: Why People are Done with Their Church But Not Their Faith, sociologists Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope found that the main reason active church members became “dones” was a lack of opportunity for growth within the church. Church bureaucracy gets in the way of getting meaningful work done. Churchgoers are tired of the church power structure, which often is primarily concerned with keeping the church hierarchy in place.

I would add to this what I’ve experienced as exasperation with the tribalism and clique-ishness of churches, at local, regional and national levels. Getting work done in the church is almost always dependent on whether you’re part of one clique or another. A lot of potentially great ministry has been nipped in the bud by leaders who feel threatened by others (particularly newcomers) or don’t want to acknowledge the gifts of people in competing tribes.  For an institution that prides itself on “inclusion,” a lot of us sure have felt excluded time and time again.

I suspect people have always felt hostility and resentment against this kind of tribalism in past years. But now, it is socially acceptable to say “no” and to simply walk away. People are fed up, and finally, they are taking on meaningful activities outside the church.

Ministry Really is Out in the World: Churches preach Jesus’ commandment to “go ye into all the world,” but the church definition of “ministry” almost always involves ministering to others solely within the context and framework of the institutional church. The reality is that people do ministry each and every day in their jobs, in their personal lives, and as part of other organizations – medical professionals, social workers, caretakers of the elderly, full time moms, Scout leaders, people simply sharing acts of kindness to strangers and neighbors alike. Yet the church rarely acknowledges these contributions or “counts” them as ministry connected to Christianity.

I wish The Church would acknowledge the “ministry” many church goers and non-church goers alike do outside the walls of the church. I wish The Church would acknowledge the many financial contributions people give to worthy charitable organizations or even to family or friends in need.

The Church is not one-stop shopping for giving, doing, and believing. And the Dones and Nones have already figured that out.

Recommended Books on the Dones and Nones:

Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope, Church Refugees: Why People are Done with Their Church But Not Their Faith (This is by far the most insightful book I’ve read on the subject of Dones and why they’ve left the church. Highly recommended).

Elizabeth Drescher, Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s Nones.

Brian McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration:How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking A Better Way to Be Christian.

Linda A Mercadante, Belief Without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious.

Cynthia Coe is the author of Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony with the Everyday World Around Us and two novels. For more information, please see her Author Page on Amazon.

 

When Church Becomes Contentious

Churches, we want to believe, are happy, fuzzy places where everyone is loved and valued.  That’s what we preach and teach.  That’s what most of us expect from the church as well.  But sometimes, churches become very contentious places.  When that happens, it’s hard to focus on the church’s basic missions of ministry and spiritual growth.  Often, even the most active church members end up dropping out – feeling betrayed, hurt, and even demeaned.

When I was a teenager, my family attended a Methodist church that became a battlefield.  A small group of people tried to run off a much loved pastor, then another group tried to run off a much loved music director.  My father was chairman of the “hiring and firing committee,” and our phone often rung off the wall with vitriolic complaints against church staff.  The experience marred my fledgling spirituality for years, and for a long time, I was too scarred from the experience to attend any church at all.

When church communities become contentious, everyone suffers.  Even those not in the line of fire (like teenage girls with no dog in the hunt) end up disillusioned, angry, and suffering from at least some form of grief resulting from the experience.  Those directly involved surely suffer devastating emotional blows, and people who tend to them or find themselves cleaning up the emotional and spiritual fallout often end up depressed, angry, or burned out as well.   Membership and attendance usually drops like a brick.  Worthwhile ministries are neglected or lose funding and support.  Everyone loses, including those to whom the church hoped to help.

In my humble opinion, the source of my much contentiousness in church communities is the attempt by a few individuals to exert their power and will over others, with no regard to the feelings, opinions, or worth of others in the communities.  These individuals become convinced that they are right (about whatever the issue happens to be), and no other opinion will be tolerated or even heard.  Those with other opinions find themselves ignored and marginalized at best, insulted and kicked out of the church community at worst.

We all know this is not what the Gospel is all about.  This is not at all what church communities should be, no matter what your theology might be.  And attempts by sinful church leaders to establish their own little fiefdoms are antithetical to everything Jesus preached and taught.

If you find yourself the victim of church contentiousness, it’s hard to know where to turn.  Some of us “take a break” from church and leave for a long or short time until we feel healed and ready to try participation in church community again.  Some of us find sources of spiritual growth on our own or commune with the trees, birds, and other nature wonders.  (Birds and squirrels generally don’t argue with you, which is comforting to those of us burned by church feuds.)

If you find yourself wanting to create a church community in your own image, please remember that this is not what church is about.  It’s about, in fact, surrendering your will to God and keeping the needs of others first and foremost on the agenda.  Everybody really does matter, and everybody’s opinions really do matter.  The church includes you, those you don’t particularly like, and even those people you really can’t stand.

And if you find yourself the victim of such contentiousness, please remember that healing can take place.  It may take a long time, but redemption and resurrection are also what the church is all about, too.

Cynthia Coe is the author of Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony With the Everyday World Around Us and the novels Ginger’s Reckoning and Runaway Kitty

What’s A Prayer Shawl? (And Do You Have to Literally Pray Over Each Stitch to Make One?)

One of my favorite spiritual practices is to knit prayer shawls.  I love to sit quietly and not think, letting my mind rest while I simply make loop after loop with my hands and two bamboo sticks.  When I donate my work to my local church, I feel something like a sense of relief.  The thoughts and concerns that worked themselves out during the knitting of a large project come to an end, given over to a higher purpose. 

I have been known to sit and knit during church services.  I knit in the early morning silence of my meditation and prayer time.  But I also knit while watching TV with my family, in the school pick-up line, and while waiting for doctor appointments.  So I’ve wondered, what exactly makes a knitting project a “prayer shawl”?

For me, it’s all about intent.  Some knitting projects are for specific people for specific purposes – a hat for my husband, a winter scarf for my son, a tote bag for my daughter, a sweater for myself.  But for me, prayer shawls are for someone I likely will never know or meet.

In donating a prayer shawl, I’m giving up to God an investment of my time – usually several weeks’ worth of knitting on a daily basis.  I use soft yarns I hope will provide comfort to someone going through a hard time.  Sometimes I choose peaceful, calming colors for my prayer shawls.  Other times, I choose cheerful, peppy colors I hope will provide a cheerful, upbeat presence in someone’s life.  Sometimes I have in mind a female recipient and knit in pinks and reds and pastels.  Other times, I have a male recipient in mind and knit a prayer shawl a guy wouldn’t mind draped over a favorite chair.  I’ve knitted prayer shawls large enough to serve as a blanket on a nursing home bed.  Others are triangular and meant to wrap around someone’s shoulders.

In any case, the purpose of the project is to share love, comfort, and peace with someone in need.  Occasionally, I know someone who has had surgery, has cancer, or is at the end of life.  When I knit these shawls, I very intentionally think about the person for whom I’m knitting and for their struggles.  But usually, I don’t know where my prayer shawl will end up.  And that’s part of the spirituality of the task – putting forth your best efforts, sharing a gift of love, and trusting in the work of the Holy Spirit to get your work where it needs to go. 

So while knitting a prayer shawl is a form of meditation at many points in the making of it, it’s more about the general intention of the whole project.  It’s about a gift of my own peacefulness, sending the finished project out into the world to serve as a visible, tangible reminder of the peace, love, and comfort that can be found in Christian fellowship – even if I never meet the person I find myself connected to with my gift. 

Cynthia Coe is the author of two novels and “Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony with the Everyday World Around Us.”  She is currently at work on a series of short stories about prayer shawls and those who knit or receive them. 

Recommended Reading:

Peggy Rosenthal, Knit One, Purl a Prayer: A Spirituality of Knitting (An excellent, succinct little book that covers lots of topics related to knitting-as-prayer)

Clara Parkes, The Yarn Whisperer: My Unexpected Life in Knitting (Great light reading, a nice memoir that pleasantly meanders along at a calm pace)

 

Good Friday in the Garden

This is an excerpt from my book, “Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony with the Everyday World Around Us,” now available in paperback and Kindle at http://amzn.to/2rjWSnU.   

The Garden is where Jesus was buried and resurrected to new life.  This is what happens in a garden.  The dry, seemingly lifeless seeds from the harvest of the past are buried in the earth.  We wait for something mysterious to happen under the earth, out of sight, and fueled by water and air.  Then we rejoice in the new life that springs up in front of us, growing into a beautiful flower or nutritious fruits or vegetables that will give us joy and sustain our very lives.

What happens in the Garden IS the story of the Christianity.  Death becomes new life, despite a seemingly hopeless state of affairs at the beginning of the process.  We proceed in faith that something will happen despite our inability to see anything hopeful happening at all.  How this all happens is mostly a mystery.  But eventually, a tiny sprout of new life pokes through the soil.  This new life is fragile and might wither.  But with careful tending and protection of this new life, the plant will grow tall and strong and give us the life-sustaining nutrition we need so much.

By resurrecting in a Garden, perhaps Jesus shared with us his best teachable moment.  Perhaps Jesus wanted to draw our attention to the garden, once and forever, urging us to look – really look – at what happens in the garden.  In his resurrected form, Jesus was first thought to be the gardener.  Perhaps the role of the gardener – the cultivator of God’s creation, an expert on the process of gardening, someone who pays attention to what is going on in the natural world – is a  role we might explore as we seek to cultivate and grow our own spiritual lives. 

We often feel most at peace in the garden. Perhaps it is this peace that Jesus sought in the Garden of Gethsemane before his death on the Cross.  Perhaps it was the awareness of all life – ending, beginning, and continuing on, through all our human births and deaths – that consoled Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane or helped him confront worldly temptations in the wilderness, immediately after his Baptism and in preparation for his public ministry.

This peace in the garden and in the wilderness is something we can have in our own world today.  This peace is often right outside the door, a place of solace and quiet available at all times.  The natural world can also be a place of spiritual growth and development of wisdom, if we only step outdoors and pay attention in quiet and solitude, listening to God with our hearts. 

Easter Blessings, Cindy

Cynthia Coe is the author of “Earth our Garden Home: Creation Care Lessons for Children” and “Wild Faith: A Creation Care Curriculum for Youth,” both available in paperback and Kindle editions. Considering Birds & Lilies is now available at http://amzn.to/2rjWSnU. All of my books are included in Kindle Unlimited.