Thursday, August 7, 2014

Helping College Students Find a Church Home

Each week, as I left a new church I called my dad. He would ask me questions: what did the pastor preach, was it solid, how was the music, was there a place for me to get connected, etc. Each week he held me accountable which forced me to rise out of bed and keep trying until I found a church home. Eventually I found a place I called home for four years. My dad's accountability was key to getting me there.

My husband is the college minister at our church. We don’t live in a college town. Our college students are a mix of those going to community college, working, or are trying to figure out what is next. We have two main groups of students: students who are here and students who are away. Our away students go off to college and only participate in our ministry during breaks. At the beginning of each summer our church promotes high school graduates into our college ministry. We spend the summer loving on this new group of students, knowing some of them will leave at the end of the summer. We want the students who leave to plug into a church while they are at school.

You have heard the stats about college students leaving the church.  Barna tells us that 50% of Millennials who grew up in church have dropped out. Aware of the disappointing stats my husband began questioning how our ministry could actively help our away students. How do we help them and encourage them to find a new church home?

My husband devised a plan to help connect our students to a home church while they are away at school. He created a Find a Church Workshop and Lunch.

The Purpose:
To help new and existing college students plug into a church where they go to school and gain confidence and knowledge of how to find a church to visit. Ultimately we wanted them to walk away with three churches to visit the next three Sundays. 

The Process:

  • We began by gathering vital information on our students: college name, and contact information. We gathered information for several weeks and my husband announced the event and asked them to sign up for the lunch/workshop.
  • We hosted the workshop after church on Sunday (a day and time they would already be at the church).
  • Someone checked students in (to validate the schools represented and verify attendance) and gave them a packet of cards (see below).
 
  • We ordered lunch (a real lunch, not pizza).
  • After lunch we broke up into schools. Each school had a leader who helped students personally search out churches on laptops. The school leader taught students how to look at church websites for important doctrinal information, basic schedule and opportunities, and church staff. After looking at several churches, the student chose three churches to visit. They wrote down their choices on their cards. As students left, they gave one copy to my husband (the far left) and took the other copy with them (the middle and far right).
  • As follow up my husband contacted each church on each student’s list. We hope this effort will pave the way for our students to get plugged in quickly.

What We learned:

  • In general students are afraid to visit a church by themselves. (Haven’t we all felt that fear?)
  • Students don't know how to pick a church to visit. They have never had to choose a church or visit a church. There are so many options it is overwhelming, so why even try?
  • Students may not have anyone else in their life encouraging them to go to church or holding them accountable.
  • It’s our role as their home church to help them see the vital importance of plugging into a church while at college. If we love them, we will help them get plugged in and hold them accountable.
  • When someone else was excited about a potential church, the student got excited too! They began to really own the process at this point.

Improving it Next Time:

This was our first year to hold this workshop, so we learned several lessons:
  • Recruit more school leaders who actually went to that school. That was our desire this year, but it didn’t quite work that way.
  • Provide a time of training for school leaders. We want to intentionally train the school leaders on searching churches, what to look for, etc. Our leaders each had personal conversations with my husband about what he wanted them to do, but we believe a training time would be helpful to get everyone on the same page.
  • Give away free stuff. We would love to bless our students with some school supplies: notepads, pens, folders, etc.
  • Pour into the group who is staying. We encouraged our students who were staying to come and fellowship together.  Next year we would like to talk about how they can get plugged into our ministry and our church as a whole. We want them to see how they can be an active part of the body of our church, not just someone who shows up each week. 
How are you helping college students get plugged into a church?
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Friday, August 1, 2014

Worship- What You Find Your Worth In


Occasionally I get the pleasure of guest writing for the student ministry of Precept Ministries International. Today is one of those days! Join me on the Transform Student Ministry blog as I discuss what we can learn from Abraham about worship.
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Thursday, July 24, 2014

God Answers Specifically - My Get to the 7 Story

My pastor, John Meador, is preaching a series on prayer. He encouraged us to share stories of answered prayer. This is my Get To The 7 Story.

The first summer after we were married Greg enrolled in EMT classes. He told me he wanted to be a fireman. At first I was excited, but my gut (we will call that the Holy Spirit) told me something was off. I began to pray for my husband knowing he was walking with the Lord and listening for His will. Every time I a warning bell went off I prayed.

My husband and I met serving together in youth ministry. He won my heart with his desire to serve Jesus and love people. When we started dating I questioned if he was called into ministry. Every fiber of his being seemed to be made for it. I asked Greg whether he was called to ministry, he always told me he knew God had not called him. I knew other people wondered if Greg was called into ministry as well. It seemed like everyone thought he was called into ministry but Greg himself.

I began to pray “God, if you have called Greg into ministry, would you please make it clear to him. God I believe you have, but he does not. God, would you make it so clear to him, so clear that he cannot miss it. God, even if you have to give him dreams. If it is not your will, would you please change my heart and give me a peace.”

It seemed like I prayed that for him every day. ALL SUMMER LONG. Greg struggled in his EMT class, but continued to press me that he was supposed to be a fireman. I kept praying and didn’t ask any questions. OH BUT HOW I WANTED TO! How do you ask “Hey love, so is the Lord calling you into ministry yet?" I didn’t see any fruit of my prayers, no glimpse that God might be dealing with my husband.

Then one day Greg said “So, I think I will talk to our youth minister and apply for one of the open positions at the church” I gave him a bewildered look and asked “WHAT?? He has begged you to do that. You have always refused. What's different now?” Greg replied “Well, I think God might be calling me into ministry.” And THAT friends is my husband. Casually telling me he felt God calling him into ministry like he was telling me about the weather. I almost fell off the bed. Trying to not be too excited I asked “So what makes you think God is calling you into ministry now?” Casually he replied “Well, I’ve been having these dreams about preaching and teaching and preparing lessons. I have had them over and over again. I think God is trying to tell me something.” My jaw hit the floor and I stared at him stunned at the what he said.

It hit me that God had answered my prayer VERY SPECIFICALLY.  I asked that God would give Greg dreams if He had to. DREAMS. I realize that is such a weird way to pray, but God answered it. He gave my husband dreams over and over for weeks. God had already confirmed His call on Greg’s life through so many people. Yet God clearly confirmed Greg’s call to ministry.

I finally fessed up and shared with Greg what I had been praying. I confessed I never had a peace about him being a fireman. We were both amazed by the specific way God answered my prayers.

I know God could have spoken in a million different ways, but His specific answer spoke to Greg and confirmed God’s will to me. I have remembered that confirmation when ministry is hard, when I am weary, or when my husband doubts his call. I cling to this memory as I pray for direction knowing with confidence He will answer. I am grateful that God not only answers prayer, but answers so specifically that we cannot miss it.

Want to learn more about prayer? Curious about what it means to Get to the 7? Head over to John Meador’s blog to learn more.
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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Change - When My Heart Needs Reviving

I am not sure I will ever get used to change. It stirs up a frenzy in my soul. I love order and change brings what feels like chaos.

Why then would the Lord place me in a ministry with constant change. College ministry is unlike many ministries of the church. There is a perpetual flow of people in and out. People plugged in and people moving on. We aren’t promised six months and definitely not four years. Mostly, the change that happens is healthy and good. Yet my soul screams NO!! Stop!!

I am grateful for my husband in these moments. He often is charged with helping me down off the edge. Last Sunday he held my hand and led me to the front of our church to pray. I shared with him earlier that  morning I felt angry and bitter about the constant change in our lives. Not at people, but the constant ripping out of my heart. As he prayed over me the tears flowed.

The next morning, I sat down, telling Jesus how desperately I needed Him. Feeling weary and worn  I sat at His feet. I opened my Bible and began my reading for today. And these words struck me hard:

“I am exceedingly afflicted; Revive me, O LORD, according to Your word.” Psalm 119:107 
 
And I cried out to the Lord “God I need you to revive me.”

I imagine, that I am not that different than most people. I am not the only person who loathes change and clings to order. We all have moments that feel like affliction. As I study Psalms 119 I cannot help but see a reoccurring theme: the Word revives us. That word revive means “to sustain life, revive from discouragement, faintness, or death; to refresh, restore to life, to cause to grow” I must stop and ask myself: Where do I seek to be revived when I am empty and worn and weary. When the change overwhelms my heart and again breaks it to pieces, where do I go? And I cannot help but see, the life I seek, the restoration my heart desperately needs can only be found in His Word.

I am grateful for this Truth. And I pray I will earnestly seek the Word to revive my heart. To restore life so I can love well knowing when they leave, my heart will break once more.
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Friday, June 27, 2014

Defined by Christ Alone



I stood at my mirror. The conversations rolled over in my head. I replayed the words again and again. Every time the words cut deeper. I stood there in my funk, while the enemy cast blame. My legs heavy, my heart worn, my soul weary. I knew the enemy was at war with me, but I felt too weary to even stand firm in the Truth. Too weary to even remember Truth. I asked the Lord to intervene on my behalf and fight where I could not.

I sat on my bed, next to my sleeping husband, turned on the light and opened my Bible.  I knew I desperately needed to be washed in the Word. I began with Psalm 119. Verse 40 stuck out to me “Behold, I long for Your precepts; Revive me through Your righteousness.” “Lord,” I thought, “I need you to revive me through Your righteousness. I don’t have any on my own and I need you”. I went to read the She Reads Truth devotional from Ruth and there God met me again.

"Naomi could not see past her circumstances. The hand was dealt, the credits were rolling. Naomi believed with her head that her God was sovereign, but she was too soul-weary to believe with her heart. And so she calls it. Game over. Name changed…  She couldn’t imagine the bitterness becoming beauty, but her sovereign God could….



We are not named by our circumstances. We are named by our good God."

And I knew what was said about Naomi was true about me. I could not see past my circumstances or my feelings. I forgot who I am. And God whispered “Ashlee you are in Me. You wear My name, not your own”.  You see, I’ve taught that Truth to my Bible Study girls as we walk through Ephesians. The Lord has reminded me who I am in Him.  Yet even the teacher needs to be taught.

I Wear Many Names
Daughter, College Pastor’s Wife, Sister, Bible Study Leader, Teacher, Mentor, Friend. I allow the names I wear to define me rather than Christ. I struggle to separate my self-appointed names from my identity in Him. Friends, that is sin, it’s idolatry and I miss the joy and the peace of who I am in Christ when I walk this way.

Who Does He Say I Am?
I am clothed in His character as His covenant partner. He has given me a new self that is in His likeness and created in His righteousness (Eph 4:24).  I am not self-constructed but chosen of God to be holy and beloved (Col 3:12). I have been bought with a price, not for my own sake, but for His (1 Cor 6:20).  He has brought me near by His blood (Eph 2:13). He has made me a fellow citizen and a saint (Eph 2:19). Christ is clear who I am is based in Him not my self-appointed names.

It Doesn’t Matter what I Feel
This morning, emotion raged within me. My thoughts ran wild. What I felt did not match up with what I knew to be True. We live in a world where perception is reality. The world tells me whatever I believe to be true, whatever I feel, is truth itself. That is a lie. It’s hard for me to swallow it myself, because sometimes the way I feel, it just seems so right. Yet Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that the heart is deceitful above all else and it cannot be trusted. The way we feel does not trump Scripture. What I believe to be true, does not change truth, so it’s doesn’t matter what I feel.

What Will I Choose?
The name I carry is not my own, but His. My character is not defined my what is said of me, my circumstances, or what I even believe to be true. My character is defined by Christ and Christ alone. I have a choice of whether or not I will believe it. I can choose to walk in weariness allowing the enemy to beat me down. Or I can wake up, plant my feet in Truth, and choose to believe what Jesus says about me.

Are you soul weary? Is the enemy attacking? Are your circumstances closing in, falling apart, and threatening you? Choose Jesus, turn to Him, remember what He says, and trust it.
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Saturday, June 21, 2014

To My Dad, On His Birthday

This week my Dad has a big birthday. I won’t tell you which one. This week I am thinking about my Dad and the influence he is on me. If you know him, you know he hates that I am dedicating a post to him. He hates that kind of stuff.

Daddy,

You are my hero in the faith. I know you hate that, but it’s true.

You Pray
I’ll never forget the morning I stumbled across you in the living room. I had called for you, but couldn’t find you.  I couldn’t see you there on your knees praying. Thank you for having a posture of prayer. You taught me to pray as you knelt next to my bed each night to say my prayers with me. Those moments are precious to me.
You Love the Word
Each morning I found you sitting in the kitchen reading and studying the Word. You pour over the Word like someone looking for a sacred treasure. You taught me that even a layperson should know God’s Word deeply, not just the guy who preaches each week. Your love of the Word showed me I could know the Scripture the same way; that I should know it the same way.

You Stand Up for Truth
You desire Godly justice. You desire that God’s Word never be misused. You carefully guard it and have been faithful to entrust it to others. When I have a question, it’s often followed with “Well you know what (insert scripture) says…. You would rather take me to Truth than let me hang on your words. You know His Word holds all power. Thank you for showing me the importance of Truth and for being quick to stand firm on God’s Word.
You Boldly Tell People About Jesus
I cannot count how many times my face got flushed as you asked a waiter if he knew Jesus or how you could pray for him. You never cared if it bothered me, because that person knowing Jesus was more important than any embarrassment I felt. Thank you for being bold for the gospel and showing me how to care for every person.

You Serve
You served me when you brought me apple juice (and later coffee) as I got ready each morning and when you made sure my car had its oil changed on time. I saw it when you milked drains after surgery or gave shots as needed. You gracefully served mom as she bravely fought cancer all the while speaking truth into her life. Even now you do laundry and cook dinner, things many husbands would not do. You serve your church and your pastor. I learned to serve by watching you serve.
You Give
As a child you made sure I had change to put in the offering plate and encouraged me to give cheerfully. I loved getting to tithe just like you. You never neglected to give when led and showed me how to be wise with my money so I could give freely. You reminded me over and over what I have belongs to the Lord, not me.

You Do Hard Things
You refused to move until God let you go. You stayed in your job that didn’t always like, because you knew God had placed you there. You shared with me difficult decisions that had to be made and told me what might be the outcome. You drove us each week 60 miles one way, just to go to church. Thank you for showing me that hard things are not bad things.
You Point Me to Jesus
Thank you for not wanting any of this attention, but rather pointing me to Him even when it annoyed me. For gently saying "God is protecting you" when I called and complained about being stuck in traffic. For asking me "Have you thanked Him yet?" when God did something great. Those words helped me see the thread of His sovereignty woven into my life.

You aren’t Perfect, yet Still Love Jesus
Dad I know you are not perfect and I am grateful. You let me see you imperfections. I am grateful for the redemptive story God has written in your life. I know firsthand how God can take an imperfect person with real struggles and use them for His glory. You have shown me it’s not about being a perfect person, but clinging to Jesus.  You remind me how much you need Him. You help me to see that I can do nothing apart from Him. I know that all that you are is because of all that He is in you.
You are Ready for His Glory
I know you cannot wait for that day when you will join Jesus. You eagerly await His glory. You know that day will grieve my heart greatly, more than I could ever describe to you. Thank you for not being afraid to share with me your longing to be at Jesus’ feet. Thank you for desiring His Glory more than anything else. Thank you for loving Jesus and desiring to be with Him more than you desire to walk this earth. You have a heavenly perspective I want.

Daddy, I love you and I am grateful for the gift you are to me. And the best thing I know to give you this birthday is my thankfulness to you and to the Lord. He has used you to show me so much. Thank you for being obedient.


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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Watch for Snakes

I can still hear my mom’s voice: “Ashlee, watch for snakes.” In rural New Mexico (where I grew up) if a snake bites you, you might die before ever reaching a hospital.  It’s serious and something you don’t take lightly. When you watch for snakes you observe your surroundings, you listen for a rustling in the grass, you are diligent and aware that a snake can be anywhere and they are dangerous.

I thought about watching for snakes recently as spiritual warfare rose up around me. Everywhere I turned I had another conversation with someone who was in a battle.  My heart grew weary and heavy.

The Battle is Strong
Sometimes the battle seems stronger than me and threatens to overwhelm my heart. I wonder, do we recognize the battle? Do we understand what is happening around us? 

1 Peter 5:8 tell us “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 

I wonder if we understand this image. Do we comprehend the image of a hungry lion looking to devour someone? Devour means “to swallow up or destroy”.  The enemy wants to destroy us, that is not a game, that’s battle language.

Don’t Fear - Be Aware
We should not walk in fear of the enemy. 1 Peter 5:8  says that we need to be of sober mind (free from the influence of intoxicants) and to be alert (to be vigilant, give strict attention to, be cautious). We need to be actively be aware that the battle is strong, it’s serious, and the enemy want to destroy us. We should not walk in fear of what the enemy might do, but we must be on guard.

Resist the Enemy
1 Peter 5:9 goes on to say “But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.”  Resist means “to set oneself up against, to cause to stand.” This word is in the active voice, which means it’s something we should do. In Ephesians 6:10-14, we see this same idea, Paul calls believer to stand firm against the enemy. The word stand firm means “to fix or establish, to cause a person or thing to keep its place, to uphold or sustain the force of anything” We have an active role in the battle, it is to resist, to stand firm, to hold fast against what the enemy throws our way.

We are NOT Alone
As we stand firm, we are not alone in the battle. Exodus 14:14 tells us “The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still.” 2 Chronicles 20:15 says “Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s.” The Lord God is a Mighty Warrior, and the battle is His. We must actively stand firm while clinging to the Lord and looking to Him to be our strength. He will faithfully fight on our behalf. We cannot walk alone or by our own strength. We need the ultimate Warrior King who is capable of anything.

Rest in God
God is bigger and greater than the enemy. The battle may feel like a great multitude, but it is not bigger than God. I believe the Lord allows the battle to feel great, so we seek Him and remember how desperately we need Him. In the weariness, I am reminded of what David says in Psalm 61:1-3

Psalm 61:1-3
Hear my cry, O God;
Give heed to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For You have been a refuge for me,
A tower of strength against the enemy.

When you grow weary, seek the Lord and rest in Him.

Remember the Word
The word is vital in battle. It is the Word that reminds us how to walk, encourages us to turn to the Lord and renews our mind. You cannot walk in battle or stand firm without it. Never underestimate the power of the word of God in battle.

Don’t Stop Fighting
As God restores and refreshes us, it’s important that we get up and keep walking. We must continue our vigilance and once again watch for snakes. Not fearing, but always trusting. The cycle repeats itself: Watch, stand firm, rest in God, stand up and do it again.

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