Friday, August 20, 2010

School Battles

A friend took issue with my last post, the one about Shepherd King's blessing of the book bags. He recalled his own experience in school - how he was harassed, bullied and beaten up by bigger, more popular boys, the "jocks" especially. He not only went to church every Sunday, he also prayed that these boys would leave him alone, but they kept on making his life hellish. Was God asleep, he asked, or just ignoring him?

It's a good question. I've never understood people who make light of the worries that school children have. It's tough to be a student in a school with several hundred (or thousand) other youth your same age. There are people smarter than you, bigger than you, and with more influence than you. Finding where you fit in, and then staying safe from those who want to ridicule you or abuse you is challenging - challenging each day. Last year one of our kids was regularly humiliated by a teacher in front of the entire class. How is a 12 or 13 year old supposed to deal with that? Some kids bring weapons to school, or drugs; others begin experimenting with sex at a very young age. How are kids supposed to find a safe way through such dangers?

It is because of the dangers kids face at school that I like to open the school year with a communal blessing for them, asking God to go with them into those classrooms, hallways, school bathrooms and other battlefields. It is hard enough to figure out who you are and who you are becoming as a youth without having to endure pressure to drink or have sex because "everyone else is doing it," without having to suffer physical and mental abuse from other students or even teachers. And so we ask God to be present in schools, to encourage those who are weak and unsure, to guide students and teachers alike, to watch out for those who are in trouble and to teach those who are inclined to use power the wrong way.

Prayer is one way we can support young people, teachers, and administrators who are beginning a new school year. At Shepherd King we are also asking members to become mentors to students at our adopted school, Eisenhower Middle School. Mentoring gives a youth someone to talk to, someone neutral who is on his/her side, someone who cares for him/her. Mentors spend time with their assigned student and get to know what is going on in that young person's life. A mentor can ease a student's worries, suggest ways to cope with difficult situations, and talk to school officials on the student's behalf. By being mentors we are not only asking God to bless our school, we are taking steps ourselves to make schools more manageable. When we offer ourselves, God works through us to bring compassion, help, and hope to school children.

If you are interested in becoming a mentor at Eisenhower, call the church office and find out more. And whether or not you become a mentor, please pray for students, teachers, and administrators as the new school year begins.


Pastor Kris

Monday, August 16, 2010

Book bags and Blessings

The new school year is about to begin. Are you a teacher? A student? An administrator at a school? Each fall brings a rush of activity – buying new clothes and school supplies, preparing lesson plans, the excitement of the first day, seeing friends again, getting your class schedule. The busy-ness of a new year means challenges as well – learning new names, resuming (or building) study habits, discerning the class clown and grappling with getting the attention of those who already look bored, dealing with peer pressure and bullies, discovering which parents will be hard to deal with or non-existent.

Those students, teachers, and school administrators who stop by Shepherd King this coming Sunday (August 22) will receive a special blessing to kick off the new school year. We call this the “blessing of the book bags;” everyone going back to school is encouraged to bring his or her book bags to worship. During the service we’ll ask school folks to come forward with their book bags and be blessed. Even though it’s called the book bag blessing, we’re really blessing the people.

Some people love school; others endure it. But either way, a word of blessing for the new year is appropriate; it reminds us that God goes with us into our daily world. Whether you’re eating lunch with friends in the cafeteria, trying to find your locker, getting teased by someone you don’t like, working to understand a math problem, or wishing that kid in the back would settle down… God is present. God roams the corridors of your school as much as any student or principal, staying nearby to encourage, to heal, to sustain us.

The same is true, of course, if you work at a factory or a shop, have an office in a high rise, or stay home to clean and cook. God is with you. If the day is stressful, if you have an important assignment, if you’re lonely or sad - take a moment and talk to God, listen for God’s guidance. Take a moment to remember that you are a child of God and that you are loved. Remember, too, that those around you are also children of God, loved by their creator. God is not distant or unconcerned, but is near at hand to help you fulfill your calling, accomplish your work.

The new school year is about to begin and we will be blessing the book bags this Sunday. Whether or not you are involved at school, join us for worship – 8:00 or 10:30 – and be blessed.

Pastor Kris

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What is the Church for?

Throughout my twenty-plus years in ordained ministry I have frequently stepped back from the everyday work and busy-ness to ask myself "what is the church for? What is its purpose?" It is so easy to get caught up in planning and attending meetings, writing reports and preaching sermons, attending conferences, reading about the latest approach to church growth or to encourage giving that the larger purpose of the Church slips out of sight. What are we here for anyway?

The purpose of a Christian Church is to worship God and witness to Jesus Christ. By "witness to Jesus Christ" I mean teach the gospel, reach out with compassion to those around us in need, love others in our actions and our words, support each other in faith, look for opportunities to tell how faith makes a difference in our lives, and visit the sick, the lonely and the imprisoned. All those things constitute "witnessing to Jesus."

Mainline churches these days are fixated on growth. A small group of authors is getting rich selling books on "the seven steps to congregational growth" or "12 principles of effective outreach". While many of these books have great ideas, increasing the membership of a congregation is not that simple. At the heart of the matter is the question "why?" Why is this church trying to grow? Why should people attend this church? If we're trying to grow simply to stay in existence as a church, that doesn't cut it. If we don't know who we are - our strengths and our gifts - well enough to say why others should come to our congregation, clarifying our identity is a good place to start.

What is the Church for? It is to be the presence of Jesus in a given neighborhood, in the city, in the world. Every program, meeting and goal within a congregation ought to be congruent with that statement. Shepherd King is seeking to grow by gaining more young families and children. Why? Because families need the help and support of a Christian community; because children need to learn about the love of God from caring adults and with other children; because the more we grow the more we can give back to the community through ministry in Christ. Shepherd King is seeking to grow, not only for growth's sake, but as we carry out ministry and for the sake of furthering the gospel of Jesus Christ in the world.

What is the Church for? It is a Body to address the needs of a hurting world. Together we glorify God with our worship and our lives of faithfulness. A church is a place where our own faith is strengthened by fellowship and service with others. It is a place that challenges us to grow in our relationship with God and to give our time, our financial support, and our love to other people - the poor, the hungry, the neighborhood with its challenges, the elderly, single parents, people who endure violence, the unemployed, children.

Shepherd King's current goals are ministry with youth and families - especially our involvement with Eisenhower Middle School, and feeding people in both body and soul - through Angel Food, CAM collection, weekly worship and other programs.

All are welcome to be a part of our worship and our work in Christ.

Pastor Kris

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

S.O. S. - Life in the larger community.

How can a congregation be an active partner in its local community? What should a church's role be in the community in which it is located? If our aim is to witness to the love of Jesus, how can we actively do that in our particular setting?

Shepherd King's name suggests many possibilities. Scripture is full of images that portray shepherds and their role. God is depicted as the Good Shepherd; in contrast other scriptures reprimand shepherds who have neglected or abused their role (see Jeremiah 23:1-6). Psalm 23 shows the good shepherd leading us to green pastures and still waters - nourishing us, giving us refreshment, keeping us safe. In John 21:15-19 the risen Jesus urges Peter to "feed my lambs" and "tend my sheep." Jesus is Lord and King of all, but not like secular kings who often oppress and tryanize their subjects; instead Jesus is a "shepherd" king, one who watches over, provides for, and loves the flock.

Cleary, then, a congregation named "Shepherd King" is called to be involved in its community as a good shepherd who shares the lives and concerns of his neighbors. Finding ways to do this, however, can be challenging. As an expression of our care for the people in our community, our congregation has adopted a local school - Eisenhower Middle School. We call this: "Support Our School" or S.O.S. Our first project has been to gather school supplies for fall that teachers and administrators can have available for students who need them.

We will also be encouraging members to become mentors to students. Once approved for being a mentor, the volunteer will be assigned a student and then will spend time with that student - perhaps by eating lunch with him or her at the school cafeteria during the week. Middle school can be a tough time for a young person, what with study and learning, growing into their bodies and entering puberty, peer pressure and possible worries at home. Having an objective, caring adult spend time with her/him can make a tremendous difference in a student's life.

Shepherd King also plans to support our school by helping with landscaping projects -- tending flowerbeds, weeding, watering - to keep Eisenhower's property attractive and clean. We are hoping that at least 10 people from the congregation, maybe more, will become actively involved in these aspects of S.O.S. After all, this is our neighborhood and these are our children and families we are seeking to nurture and support.

If you want to be involved, call the church office 210-344-5881 and ask what you can do to Support Our School. Together we can be faithful ambassadors of the Good Shepherd, our Lord, Jesus.

Pastor Kris