the incredible shrinking church

God's Sandbox

sometimes the smallest ones can make the biggest difference…

A few years ago, we began to see our church grow while our church attendance declined simultaneously. Although people were leaving (for various reasons) something bigger in our church was stirring. The outside of our church body was shrinking, yet the core of our church body was growing stronger. Our souls were laid bare before God. We surrendered to His leading, His guidance, grace and wisdom, even as people left.  Last summer, our attendance hit at an all-time low, yet we knew God was moving in our midst. I personally struggled thru some of the families leaving, yet deep within my soul, the Lord assured me He was to be trusted thru this. My perspective began to shift. The smaller our church became, I grew more confident. This may seem backward… But God.

He whispered to my spirit and reminded me of Gideon. Gideon was the least in his father’s house… his clan was the weakest in Manasseh, yet he was called a ‘mighty man of valor’. The Israelites were being oppressed by the Midianites, they felt they had been forsaken by God, but God was calling Gideon to rise up… when the Lord spoke to Gideon He said, “but I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” (Judges 6:16) Gideon went thru his own process of testing and trusting God, his own journey of doubt and fear. His journey continued as He trusted God to be faithful to His word and calling… and Gideon prepared to defeat the Midianites.

He gathered an army of 32,000. Whoa. No problem. We’ve got a huge army. The Midianites will be no match for us! But God… He was probably chuckling as Gideon was gathering his army… Oh Gideon, don’t you remember what I told you about striking the Midianites as ‘one man’? You are the least in your family… from the weakest clan… This is why I chose you. So God reduced Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300 men, sending home those who were fearful, trembling and kneeling down to lap water with their hands.

With a small army of 300, Gideon and his men defeated Midian. God shrunk this army so no one would boast Israel saved themselves. With the reminder of Gideon’s journey, God was shaking the foundation of my own heart… my need to keep all trust in Him, to boast solely in Him and take my eyes of any circumstances. Regardless of our shrinking church, I know our church is incredible! God was challenging my foundation of fully trusting in Him. Knowing without doubt – He. Is. With. Me. He is with our incredible shrinking church!

Often God chooses and uses the few – the weak – the least, to change the world. The foolish to shame the wise. The weak to shame the strong. So that the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:25-31)

Moses lacking eloquence of speech, leading the Israelites on an exodus out of Egypt from the clenches of a stubborn pharaoh…

Joshua and Caleb 2 spies fully following God, ready and willing to go after the land promised to them…

David the small in stature shepherding over-looked son of Jesse, killing the giant Goliath…

Jonathan and his armor bearer climbing the hill defeating the Philistines…

Elijah challenging over 400 prophets of Baal to an altar duel calling down fire from heaven…

Little children, the greatest in the Kingdom of God and our example, Jesus teaches for us all to become more child-like…

and Jesus beginning His ministry with 12 simple fishers of men set apart to go into all the world and preach the Gospel.

I know our small church is incredible. More importantly, I know the people within our church walls are people God is using to share Jesus with our community, to reach the earth for His Glory! God is searching the earth for hearts ready to trust Him… surrendered and willing to be poured out for Him… people and churches ready to be used to advance His Kingdom – In spite of our past, our size, our circumstances, our weaknesses – He. Is. With. Us. We can trust. 1 Corinthians 1:25 “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

And the story rages on. . . In Him, Leslie

Let the little children… interrupt.

Let the little children… interrupt. 

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For to such, belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.

The tug on your shirt… they brush against your leg, they press up close, practically up your butt… you know your child is there, waiting patiently to tell you the next chapter their imagination just unfolded… or they say to you, ‘Mommy, watch this! Did you see what I just did? …Mommy, are you watching? Mommy, did you hear me?’ but you are talking… maybe you are ready to listen, maybe not… maybe it’s an important conversation you are in… maybe not.

Growing up, maybe you heard from your parents or other adults, “Be quiet – don’t interrupt an adult while they’re speaking… or… kids should be seen – not heard.” At times, I’ve observed parents say to their children, “Don’t interrupt an adult while they’re speaking…” or something similar… and it struck me – I rarely say that to mine. (((gasp))) I must be a horrible mom.

Either my kids must have impecable manners – and never interrupt… or my kids must have no manners – and must not have any respect for adults.

Adults always have something wonderful to say… well, sometimes.  Adults are always full of wisdom… well, sometimes. Kids should always be ‘shooshed’ when an adult is speaking… well, sometimes. Kids should never interrupt an adult. Well… no.

I love talking about world issues and injustice. I love talking about Jesus or whatever you believe in… I’ll have a good healthy go-round about beliefs anytime, but I can grow bored in other adult conversation rather quickly… oh really, your vacuum broke and you had to decide which model of Dyson to purchase… oh wow, your shopping spree included five new cardigans you don’t need… oh no, your 4,000 square house is too small… that’s rough. oh I’m sorry, your refrigerator stopped working and your ice cream spoiled… It happens. At this point in adult conversations, I zone out.  There’s not much else to say…

I am an advocate for manners, and kids listening to their parents, not being rude, and not developing a habit of interrupting adults… however, at times our children need to be heard and we are too busy talking and not listening.

Children need to be heard. We need to give them a voice, and their voices need to be validated.

In Matthew 18:1-4 The disciples question Jesus, “‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to Him a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly I say to you (adults), unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'” Later in Matthew 19:13-15 Jesus speaks to a crowd of adults, “Let the little children come to Me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Adults, let’s be frank. We need to shut up sometimes. We need to stop talking… and listen… to each other, and to our children. I am guilty of being a parent who doesn’t listen well… and I’ve also grown as an adult, who is a better listener.

Adults, we need to listen now – when our children are saying things that don’t. even. make. sense. Telling us the stories unlocked from inside their imagination. They need to know we are listening to the nonsense they are saying and become engaged in the conversation with them. I long to hear their stories of roller skating dinosaurs, unicorn super heroes and all the details of the worm they found while digging in the yard and named “Wormy”… Engaging in these conversations are teachable moments.  In the freedom to tell stories, they also learn to listen to each others stories, and grow in their ability to communicate.

“I love my mom because she listens to me.” My oldest is a conversational vault. Only certain keys, turned at the right time, in the right place, unlock certain places in her heart. I never know when she will open up the treasure of her thoughts. I need to be ready listen to her, even when I’m tired, and she’s ready to have a deep discussion about poverty and the future of our planet an hour past her bedtime.

When we listen, we will hear some of the best wisdom and truth comes from the mouths of babes. Recently, our 4 year old was telling me, “I know why you like God… because He made me the way I am… and because He made our family… and that’s all I fink.” 🙂

Last week, the kids were discussing the ultra-serious life-altering decision of …what they will be when they grow up. Salem tells his sisters, “I’m gonna be whatever God calls me to be when I grow up.” Yep.

Are we always hearing spiritual wisdom out of the mouths of the babes at our house? Um…no.  We have our share of burping, farting and booger stories.  We have our share of long detailed stories about dora and boots, Legos and little boy, Barbie and Cupcake Diaries, and we have long drawn out times of drama, crying, yelling, wailing and gnashing of teeth … okay, not really that last part.

Listen between the crazy stories … even if you can’t understand what your 2 year old is saying.

Listen between the silliness … there is always room for more laughter! Old people need to laugh more.

Listen between the seriousness … you never know when the vault might be unlocked for the treasure to be heard.

***

What do you think? Are kids given too little or too much of a voice today?

Thanks for reading, sharing and joining us on this journey! In Him, Leslie

pants off!

This is Salem. 
This is Salem being mad. 
This is Salem staying mad because I was taking his picture.
When Salem was younger… like 5 or 6 years old, instead of the whopping 7 years old he is now… he used to yell “Pants off!” and pull his pants down when he would get really mad.
It’s not hard for him to pull his pants down when he’s mad, because he’s a super skinny kid, and his pants are usually too big for him 99% of the time. 
I have tried to remedy this problem by dressing him in 3T clothing.
Really? a 6 year old wearing size 3 Toddler? 
Yes. a mom’s got to do what a mom’s got to do. 

We used to laugh when he yelled “Pants off!” because we are a sometimes childish family. 
And it is hilarious. 
“Salem, put your pants back on… Let’s talk about what’s upsetting you.”
He’s probably been frustrated his pants have never fit right.
When we are angry, we can feel out of control. 
So we yell out ridiculous things like “Pants off!” to control our feelings and the situation.
Why does he choose this way of expressing his anger?
I’m not 100% sure…, but it might have something to do with his nickname being “Mr. Pants” when he was a baby.
I used to call him “Mr. Pants” all the time.

Salem usually talks thru his anger within a reasonable amount of time. 
If he’s not saying “Pants off!” when he’s upset, he might instead declare, “I’m not wearing a seat belt! or “I’m not going to school ever again!”
Let’s face it, kids and adults find themselves getting angry at times. 
How do we deal with the anger? 
That’s a learned -sometimes complicated- answer. 
It has to be modeled and taught.
(Hopefully, Salem won’t need years of counseling to work thru these issues when he’s older.)

We are a family who loves to laugh. 
We also are open to crying, if need be.
In fact, my kids tell me I look and sound the same whether I’m laughing hysterically, or crying hysterically.
They can hardly tell the difference.
What can I say… my capability to display a range of emotions at any given moment keeps them on their toes. 
It’s a spiritual gift 😉

Our family thrives on Joy and laughter!
We laugh at ourselves and each other…
We help each other see the joy in all circumstances…
We help each other see things aren’t usually as serious as we make them.
We help each other recognize ~ life is short and we need to spend less time being angry… and more time loving and laughing!

Depending on the kid (or adult) and their personality, there are various healthy ways to handle anger.

Sometimes I am not the best example of how to handle anger…
I try and fail. and try again.
and fail again. 
This may sound simple, but…
The more I press in to God, the less angry I am.
I can *see* more clearly the issues that will potentially trigger my anger, and prepare myself to have a healthier response.

The more I seek God, the more I find Him.
and when I find Him, the anger melts away.  

So I press into God for myself…
I press into God for my marriage…
and I press into God for our kids…

I cover them in prayer, and if they become angry and yell “Pants off!”, I laugh.

What are the anger issues you or your child face?
How do you handle them?
Please share and thanks for reading!
In Him, Leslie

What the *Pastors Kids* are doing in church…

Today was like any other, every other Sunday.
Every other Sunday I lead worship, and Pastor daddy brings the kids to church.
On the every other Sundays, “Mommy, are you doing worship today?”
“No, I’m taking you to church.”
We have breakfast, do a few chores, take our Sunday baths, and we’re on our way for our super long, three minute commute, around the corner to church. And usually, we are a few minutes late, which is ridiculous. But, it happens people. Every other Sunday.

We stroll up to the front row, because that’s where Pastor daddy sits and we want to sit with him 🙂
I jump right into worship, both literally and figuratively. {I’m a jumper for Jesus.}
Now, there’s nothing magical about sitting in the front row of a church service, but there is more room.
To jump.
To spin.
To twirl.
To do the splits…
which is what my 3.5 year old dearest daughter was doing this morning, in church.
While we love having kids in our church services, we draw the line at gymnastics while the band is playing “Furious”.

I’m focused on Jesus, from the moment I enter the worship circle…
A few lines into the first song –
my darling 7 year old begins asking, “How many more songs are there, mommy? When will go to class? Will Kyle and Owen be here today?”
After whispering a few million answers, I’m focused again – my hands are raised, my voice is praising and my eyes are closed… until I get hit with a flip flop.
My 7 year old has decided to make a game of “go fetch” with his sister, throwing his crocs and her flip flops toward the stage.
Whoa now, little PK’s. 
You may think you can do whatever you want in church, but sorry – no – this momma’s gotta set some boundaries.
“What are boundaries?” my 3.5 year old asks when I tell her she can’t do the splits during worship anymore.
“Ummm… never mind.”

As worship continues, for a while {because we are a church that loves to worship!} I sit down and take a breather.
I sneak a peek over to my 9 year old. Her eyes are on the screen, she’s focused and learning to worship.
I am holding the 3.5 year old and scared to look over and see what my 7 year old is now up too.
*Sigh* it’s nothing too crazy – he’s reading the words on the screen and only asking me, “Mommy – what does F-U-R-I-O-U-S spell?”  
A few moments later, he’s in some frog-like fetal position asking me [for the billionth time] “When are we going to class?”
“I don’t know, buddy.” [but it sure can’t start soon enough for me!]

Worship is winding down, we pray over our kids before they go off to their classes [hallelujah], and –Oh snap– I still have my 3.5 year old, who refuses to go to her class, with me.
I try taking her {again} into class and she won’t have it.
(Well, you could just make her go.) 
No, no. You don’t understand. She won’t have it. 

But that’s okay, there is much purpose in this…
So we’ll make the best of it, and try to sit thru daddy’s sermon without making too much ruckus.

A few coloring pages, a super tiny nap, and a donut later, the service is winding down.
Whew. We made it through without any major meltdowns.
Miracles still happen, people. Trust me, they do.
We stay and chat for a while after service and I hear from several people, both visitors and regular attenders, how much it meant for them to see our kids acting crazy normal in church.
Our PK’s are ministering to people with their antics, their actions and their attitudes. 

It’s pretty amazing, if you think about it.
God uses the smallest people -*kids*- to minister to adults. 
His Kingdom is coming in a way that will upset the wisdom of this world.
It will be unexpected, unpredictable, underestimated and mis-understood.
His Kingdom is most clearly seen thru the eyes of a child.
We must position ourselves, as children, to *see* how God is moving and what He will do.

As we left church today, our 3 PK’s surprised our socks off again -except that I wasn’t wearing any socks today- but you get the picture.
In the van, on the way home, during our super long three minute commute ~ and all throughout the afternoon ~ they were singing, “Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never gives out on me…” over and over again.

When you think they aren’t listening, they hear.
When you think they aren’t watching, they see.
When you think they don’t understand, they do.

Worship is coming unto Jesus ~ just as a child. 
Trust. Surrender. Obey. 
Then we will *see* His Kingdom Come.

“At the that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will be no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.” {Matthew 18:1-5 NKJV} 

Kids can be ridiculous, but so can adults. We have much to learn from them. I’d love to hear your stories of kids who have ministered to you. Please feel free to share, comment and follow our stories!
In Him, Leslie

why we love having kids in our church service

I grew up in church, and my family attended the same church my whole childhood.
My parents were married there, and so were Adam and I ~ 16 years ago!
And to this day, my parents still attend that same church.
My brother and I always sat in the service with our parents.
We also went to Sunday school, in between the early and late services.
But during the main service, kids were always by the side, in the lap or at the feet, of their parents.

I can remember many times during church I would fall asleep in my moms lap, because I love sleep.
But on some Sunday’s, I was paying attention…
One Sunday while the preacher was talking about Jesus dying on the cross, I blurted out “Mommy! why didn’t you tell me Jesus died?!”

There was a rumble of laughter in response to my innocent 4 year old question.
There was an acknowledgement that I was listening and hearing what the Preacher was saying.
And there was a sense of pride from my parents knowing I was learning and understanding, in my 4 year old ability, all about Jesus.

A few years later, I am sitting in the same church with my parents, and listening to my mom sing the Doxology, “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow…”
We sang it every Sunday, but this day was different…
As I was listening to my mom sing, I realized – she really believes what she’s singing.
She really loves God.
Her worship was a testimony to me.
And I wanted the same personal relationship with Him.

I wanted to know God for myself, not just because we went to church every Sunday…
not just because my parents loved God, or my friends loved God, or for anything other reason.
I wanted a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

To live your life recklessly abandoned to Jesus as your Lord, Savior, Shepherd and King ~ this is no easy task. 
We want this personal relationship with Jesus for our own kids, and for all kids everywhere… 
And this is why we love having kids in our church service. Yes, even the crying ones. the fidgety ones. the nose picking ones. the distracted ones. the shy ones. the diapered ones. and the hyper ones.

Our kids have been sitting with us in church for a while now… and while this can be slightly difficult being the Pastor and Worship Leader, I wouldn’t have it any other way… except on the days when our 3 year old is throwing a huge fit, and flailing herself on the floor, in front of the sanctuary, seconds before the church service is about to start, and I’m about to jump on the stage to lead worship after yelling at her to pull herself together thru my gritting teeth because church is about to start for heaven’s sakes!!! 

On those days, I desperately wish she would go into Children’s Ministry.

We value our kids being in church with us. We offer a wonderful children’s ministry program at our church, and most of the kids go to their respective classes during the service. For a while now, we’ve had the first thru fourth grades stay in worship with us, before going to class for their Bible lesson.

Sometimes after worship, we have a testimony time called God Sightings. This morning, we were absolutely amazed that our 9 year old, Soleil, stood up in front of the church and gave a God sighting. Most people who know Soleil know she is pretty shy, and you have to be a pretty special in order for her to talk to you. She doesn’t give most people the time of day.

This morning, she shared in front of everyone, on the microphone, her testimony ~ she loves to read, and for a while her favorite book series has been Dork Diaries. She shared how a few weeks ago, she realized something ~ although it’s a funny and engaging book series, it has no value. There’s only one book that has true value. The Bible.

Whoa. I couldn’t believe our shy daughter was actually talking on the microphone sharing her heart, with the entire church! 
Slap me silly, I was in shock. And so was Adam, even as he was holding the microphone for her, he couldn’t believe it. 
Soleil had shared that story with us just a few weeks ago. I held it close to my heart, so proud of her understanding of true value. I didn’t share it on Facebook, or tell any friends…, because as Soleil grows older I am learning ~ she needs to tell her own stories. She is finding her voice and will speak it. She is seeking and understanding Truth. And she is growing in her own relationship with Jesus.

Jesus says to come unto Him as a Child… {He-llo. Matthew 18. C’mon somebody, let’s read our Bibles.}

and ya know why?! because sometimes, adults suck at having faith, trusting God and living out the Gospel… but children. Children speak the truth with no filter, and they know how to live their lives with reckless abandon. Adults, let’s step it up and help teach them and guide them… to give their trust and faith to the One who will Love them more than any other person, place or thing in this world ~ Jesus. 
And adults, let’s learn from our kids. Their lives have such value and they know true value, probably better than we do. 

We could not be more proud of Soleil… and all the kids in our church. And this is why we love having kids in our church service! 

Have kids impacted your view of God and His Kingdom? Please share!

In Him, Leslie