Monthly Archives: June 2011

Going Dark: Politics and Church Leadership

I am going dark for the next year and a half. Given the nature of politics in America and the fact that I am now in church leadership, I will not be commenting on politics for the next year and half. I might even go longer. In our polarizing political landscape anything I say will either be loved or hated. It is very hard to have an honest dialogue about politics without someone becoming angry. As a church leader it is better for me just to be quiet on political matters.


Dangerous Obedience: A New Blog Series

I fear the comfortable life. My culture is telling me that I should seek comfort and pleasure in cars, homes, technology, vacations and various other artifacts of American culture. Then I read stories of men and women in the Bible who followed God into places that were by no means comfortable. If anything Scripture shows that when people or nations became comfortable in their stuff, they were sliding away from God. King David got comfortable at home and didn’t want to mess with the danger of war, so he didn’t suit up with his fellow warriors. In his comfortableness he gave into the temptation of the desperate housewife next door.

In my own spiritual life, the opposite of seeking the comfortable lifestyle is stepping out into dangerous obedience. It is seeking God daily so that I can hear what he is whispering to me. Then it is believing in the power and provision of God to step out in obedience.

For the next few weeks, I want to take you on a journey through Scripture and learn from some of the overlooked stories of dangerous obedience. My hope is that your faith is challenged and that you experience what it is like to step out in faith and live the adventure that God has planned for us!

Here’s a little inspiration from Indiana Jones

Missional VBS: Out of the Church and into the Neighborhoods

Spunky and Dunky

The apostle John writes of Jesus, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14). Tonight our First Kids ministry is trying an experiment in following the missional example of Jesus and moving our Vacation Bible School program into the neighborhoods.

Historically First Presbyterian Church has done VBS like any other church and hosted VBS at the church. There are benefits to doing VBS at the church but increasingly it is harder and harder to invite neighbors to a church building. Culture is changing and the church needs to change its strategy in response. We have “franchised” our VBS program into four homes in our city in hopes of bringing in more children from the neighborhood. For years we have been encouraging families to see their neighborhood as a mission field and this is the next step in that strategy.

We are already seeing more children sign up for VBS this year, especially neighborhood children. I am excited to see what kind of impact this has on the neighborhoods and families represented. I am also thankful that I am at a church that is willing to try something new!

Instead of using canned VBS curriculum we decided to develop our own curriculum around two monkeys that we use for our Children’s Message each Sunday. We weaved the story of the Prodigal Son into a story about Spunky and Dunky and their lives in the jungle. We had some fun with using a green screen to shoot three videos that tell the story. This way the story can be the same at all four homes this week. Below is a trailer for the series. Pray that the love of God will be felt by all the children and families that take part this week. We are excited to see what God will do in and through us!

The Newton Family in Champaign: One Year Later

One of our last family pictures at our house in CO before we moved

Just over a year ago, we packed up our belongings, loaded them into a moving van and left 8 years of family memories in Colorado for the unknown of Champaign, Illinois. We knew God was calling us to Champaign and we waited expectantly to see what the next year would bring. Here are some of the realizations of the past year (I note which ones are Hillary’s and Anna’s – Norah was too busy watching Yogi Bear to give her insights):

  • The move brought our family together as we had to meet to new people and put ourselves out there (Hillary)
  • Norah came into her own as Anna was at school during the day and developed an identity separate from Anna (Hillary)
  • Anna grew so much relationally, intellectually and emotionally as she made new friends and stepped outside her comfort zone in kindergarten (Hillary)
  • Sending your first child to kindergarten is really hard and involves a lot of trust – I was surprised at how hard this was for me emotionally
  • I found my sweet spot in ministry juggling multiple ministries and developing staff relationships
  • Illinois isn’t dry like Colorado and we know more of our neighbors (Anna)
  • Cups and soda cans  “sweat” during the summer because it’s so humid – this still really annoys me
  • There is no perfect church because there are no perfect people – First Presbyterian has it’s ugly parts just like any church but this is where God has called us and has given us hope for what could be
  • Working in a church 40+ hours a week makes it hard to form relationships with those outside the church – we have to be more purposeful about building relationships
  • We love the multigenerational nature of our church – Hillary was in a Bible study with women twice her age this past year and really benefited from the knowledge and experience of that group
  • We have met many wonderful people here – folks who embraced us immediately and have been a support and encouragement over the past year
This first year in Champaign was a really good transitional year for each of us individually and as a family. Now as we look to missionally move into the downtown neighborhood near our church at the end of July, we hope to build deeper relational roots into our community. Here is a view of our new rental house on 306 W. Vine. We are excited to see what the Lord does in and through us during our second year in Champaign.

Go and Serve Reflections

Go and Serve Team 2011

This year’s Go and Serve trip to Mobile, Alabama was transformative for both the students and leaders. As we were forced outside of our comfort zones, our faith became real and relationships were deepened.

Here are a few of the reflections from the students:

  • Before the trip my faith was there but as a result of the trip my faith became real and tangible.
  • This was the first time I saw what it meant when people talked about making God’s kingdom real on earth. I found out what it meant when the Lord’s Prayer says, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”
  • When we came on the trip we stayed with the people we knew. Now at the end of the trip we know everyone on a deeper level.
  • Before the trip I thought homeless people were just lazy and uneducated. After hearing the stories of the homeless, I know that just isn’t true.
Here is a video slideshow of some of the pictures from the trip.
Thanks so much for the prayers and support of everyone! Now we get to plan for Go and Serve 2012. This will be the 50th anniversary of the first Go and Serve trip in 1962!

Top Ten Road Trip Reminders about Teenagers

I spent many hours over the past week with teenagers on our high school mission trip. So much of teenage life I have forgotten. It was a learning experience remembering what teenagers are really like.

Here is a list of top ten things I remembered about teenagers on this week long road trip to Alabama and back.

10. Teenagers eat a ton, especially guys

9. The smells that emanated from our vans were from another world

8. Social relationships are paramount – we told students which vans they would be in and this was definitely a crisis in their minds

7. Teenagers still need to be mothered – I had to constantly remind students to buckle their seat belts even halfway through the drive

6. White, suburban teenagers really like hip hop music

5. Whoever falls asleep in the van is liable to be poked, prodded and have pictures taken of them as they sleep

4. Teenagers think of fun, creative and sometimes weird things to occupy their time when they don’t have their cell phones or iPods

3. It is very important to lock the windows – teenagers have a fascination with moving the windows up and down

2. It is a beautiful thing to watch relationships deepen as we spend hours in the car together

1. Teenagers will always surprise you with their deep thoughts about life and spirituality

Thanks to all our students who let a crazy group of adults hangout with them for a week!

Wednesday Reflections

I thought I would share some of our photos as this is the last day of ministry here in Mobile. Tomorrow morning we head out for a civil rights tour around Mobile and then spend the afternoon at the beach. We conclude the day with some great seafood at the Oyster House. We will end the night debriefing the trip out on the pier outside where we are staying. Friday we drive to Nashville to spend the night. We are rewarding the students’ service and the adults’ patience by staying at a hotel instead of on a gym floor. It should be a fun end to our trip. Saturday we drive back to Champaign. After we debrief that trip I will post the reflections of the students as well as a video which summarizes the trip. Until then, thanks so much for your prayers!

Tuesday Reflections

Tuesday we started to get into a rhythm of serving and opening up ourselves to a different schedule. Students woke up ready to jump in and volunteer to help out. You all must have been praying! Human nature’s first response is to want to be served instead of serve others. The students are making this transition to serving and it is cool to see!

Here was the schedule for the day:

Group A

– L’Arche community – spending time with the developmentally disabled

– Taylor Park – playing basketball and having fun at a kids’ day camp in a lower income neighborhood of Mobile

Group B

– Coffee Club – wake up early to serve breakfast at Government Street Presbyterian to the homeless

– Downtown Pilgrimage – walk through downtown Mobile with our host, Kristin, as we learn about the life of the homeless in Mobile

– Camp Tonsmeire – experience camp with lower income children from the Boys and Girls Club

Group C

– Dumas Wesley – some of the guys helped with cleaning while the girls helped with a day camp for girls

– Boys and Girls Club – spend time with children

Group D

– Taylor Park – spend time with lower income children

– Dumas Wesley – cleaning around the ministry

Reflections from the Students

– Assumptions about the homeless being lazy or uneducated are being changed as they hear the stories of the homeless

– Realizing the power of presence as they sit by those who are disabled and can’t communicate at the L’Arche community

– Experience the love and hospitality of the L’Arche community from those who society tries to hide from us

– Understand the patience and energy it takes to work with children all day long during the summer

Prayer Going Forward

Our students are experiencing life in a world that is very foreign to them. They have heard about homelessness and lower income children, but they haven’t heard the stories first hand. Today we turn a corner in our trip. We will be helping them process their experiences so far and analyze what is going on from a deeper, spiritual perspective. Pray that the students will be open to thinking and dialoguing about these experiencing. Pray that God will open up their hearts and minds for what he wants to show them today. Today we will also start to transition them to thinking about how this experience changes how they live their lives when they get back. This will be our last day traveling to different ministries. Tonight we invite the L’Arche community into the house we are staying in and experience communion and dinner with them.

Monday: Experiencing Downtown Mobile

Monday started the true ministry part of our mission trip. We described Saturday and Sunday as spring break because the students had a chance to relax on the beach in the backyard where we are staying. Then Monday morning we jumped into the deep end, so to speak, and immersed ourselves in ministry.

We divided into four groups who split up to experience ministry in different parts of downtown Mobile. Group A (Joel, Hayden, Joey, Erica, Davis and Kathleen) started the day early by helping serve breakfast to the homeless at Government Street Presbyterian. Group B (Jon, Lynnette, Michael, Ted, Bryan and Matthew) headed to L’Arche to spend time with the disabled community there. Group C (Mark, Ian, Sonya, Cynthia, Andrew and Brandon) spent time at a day camp for inner city children at a local school. Group D (Brent, Megan, Steven, Theron, Lauren and Doran) began the morning at Dumas Wesley, a local outreach, helping to clean up the building and grounds.

Groups A and B ate lunch with the homeless at a local day shelter, 15 Place, and listened to the stories of homeless men and women. In the afternoon Group A spent time at a local Boys and Girls Club playing basketball and doing arts and crafts. Group B spent time at Dumas Wesley helping clean and build relationships with children. Group C went back to Taylor Park while Group D spent time with children at Camp Tonsmeire.

It was definitely a full day and for many of the students their preconceptions of the homeless community were changed. They saw the homeless as people not just statistics. The students who experienced L’Arche were surprised at the warmth and welcoming spirit that the disabled showed them.

Tuesday the groups rotate to different ministries and experience a new side of downtown Mobile. Pray that the students will feel a desire to serve. Our hope is that students will transition from looking to their own interests toward looking out for the interests of others. This is not something that we can tell them to do. It needs to be the movement of God in their hearts that motivates them to serve.

Your sons and daughters are doing great and it is a joy to walk alongside them this week!

Day 2: Relaxing by the Bay

Government Street Presbyterian Church

After a great night’s sleep, we were ready for whatever Mobile had to offer. After breakfast we headed to downtown Mobile to attend church at Government Street Presbyterian Church. Founded in 1831, GSPC is a beautiful building with a gorgeous, Southern style sanctuary. The church is our host for the week as they expose us to the various ministries that they have to their downtown neighborhood.

The service was similar to our downtown service but for those who mainly attend our contemporary Southwest Campus, it was a big change in worship style. In our matching blue t-shirts and shorts we felt a little out of place from the dressed up congregation. The children looked like they were out of a Nautica commercial. The congregation was very friendly and made us feel like home. Members of their outreach committee are even treating us to a homemade fish fry tonight!

This afternoon we enjoyed some free time at Baytreat where we are staying. Baytreat sits right on the shores of Mobile Bay with a beautiful dock that goes out into the water. Some students stayed in to play cards while others fished off the dock near our house. Hayden Dodds is definitely the expert fisherman in the group! We caught catfish, some little fish and even a sting ray.

Here’s a little video of the sting ray!

Thanks for your prayers for our group! Tomorrow we divide into four groups and head into downtown Mobile. Some of the ministries that the students observe will be a challenge for them and we hope that it will move them outside of their comfort zone. Pray that the students will open to what the Spirit will do in them this week.