Monday, May 2, 2011

The Impact of Orange

Last week I went to Atlanta for the Orange Conference with my children's ministry team of 15 from Forest Hill.

Here's some of us at the photobooth!

Photo by Yoshi James
For those of you unfamiliar with Orange, it's an organization/philosophy that believes in combining the critical influences of the light of the church (yellow) and the love of the family (red) to show a generation who God is more effectively than either could alone (the orange effect). This is a  simplified version of what they do which physically translates to developing curriculum for ages 0 - 18, training leaders, equipping parents, and hosting the Orange Conference and similar leadership events.

Think Orange by Reggie Joiner

Orange kits in an orange wheelbarrow 
This annual conference was attended by nearly 5,000 church leaders from all over the world. Some of this year's speakers included Andy Stanley, Perry Noble, and Jud Wilhite as well as guest interviews with Eric Draper (Special Assistant to the President/ Photographer for GWB), Gordon Macdonald, and Geoffery Canada. Worship was led by some leaders from Northpoint Community Church as well as Unhindered and Thursday night's concert featured Need to Breathe.

Need To Breathe concert
This year's theme was "Move"
Move journal
which simply means "God's move shapes your move, which shapes the lives of those around you." So move!

Although Forest Hill is already a believer and implementer of the Orange philosophy of ministry, there were a few huge takeaways I got out of the conference and wanted to share with fellow ministry peeps and parents.

#1. We have forgotten to be storytellers of our faith.

We embrace the truth that it is the parents, not the church, who are spiritually responsible for today's children, but often times we as parents spend our time telling kids about God or the bible or even asking them what they learned, but we forget to tell them how God has specifically impacted our own lives. One speaker shared a startling statistic of 20 christian students asked "How did your parents become believers in Jesus?" None of them could answer the question even though they all had grown up in church and in christian homes.

This is scary, but fairly accurate of every home. Parents, I encourage you to tell your personal story to your kids (regularly!) if you want them to truly understand and acknowledge Jesus in their own lives for a lifetime. Nothing can replace the impact of modeling Christ's love and being real with them on a daily basis. They are watching more than they are listening!

#2. We have unintentionally taught the Gospel of Sin Management

Often times you run into problems with those unintentional lessons. You know, things your kids pick up you never intended to teach and didn't know you were teaching in the first place.

In today's christian culture we have unintentionally gotten into the habit of teaching the gospel of sin management instead of the gospel of Jesus. Our intentions are good, wanting our kids to understand what the bible says and the virtues of God, but sometimes this comes across as just a way to manage your behavior.  If the christian faith is portrayed as just a bunch of do's and don'ts and not about a real, living, relationship with Jesus than we are completely missing the point all together and misleading our kids. Fact: Behavior modification does not equal real life change and this is often why kids slip away from God as teenagers or college students.

Parents, be intentional about teaching your kids to recognize Jesus. Often times we just want to share the "safe" stories of the bible with kids or put a positive spin on it to shelter them from the reality of life. (Example: The flood/ Noah's Ark. We talk about the animals, and dove, and rainbow God sent after the flood, but not the fact he killed everyone else on earth. We like to leave out that LITTLE detail and this is a mistake.) The bible and life are full of stories of ugliness and separation from God characterized by pain, fear, death, and destruction.  If we only talk about God's goodness how will kids understand God's greatness and our need for freedom from sin and death? If we do this, we are setting them up for failure and a flight from faith when life gets difficult down the road.

#3. We no longer have a lifestyle of service

For weeks I have been wrestling with the absence of serving in our culture and church. As I look back on my own childhood, I don't remember much about what my parents or grandparents said to me or lessons they tried to teach me. What I remember crystal clear is serving along beside them. My Grandma Jean and Granddaddy Bob have spent their life serving their church and community. For decades I have watched them teach classes, care for their church garden, give generously and deliver Meals on Wheels. As a child I would go with them to homes delivering meals, sharing the love of Jesus and seeing some not-so-glamorous living conditions along the way.

My Grandma Joiner's lifestyle of selfless servanthood was similar, cooking up Wednesday night supper at the church every week, taking people meals, and caring for children and the elderly. As a child I remember going with her to the local nursing home instead of Sunday School to help facilitate church. We'd push wheelchair after wheelchair down the hall to the chapel and sing hymns with the old people.

My parents have followed suit, giving generously and serving their church and community through their passions and gifts. This lifestyle of serving has left a long-lasting imprint on my life and shaped my perception of what it means to be a Christ follower.

Sadly, this emphasis on serving seems to be missing in huge quantities from our culture and personal calendars as our society (and churches) have become more and more consumeristic and self-centered.

Parents, we must change this and live a lifestyle of service if we want our kids to understand and apply the radical and life changing love of Jesus. Often times we forget kids are the church too.  They are passionate and creative and wanting to have influence and purpose. Use it for God's glory and don't deny them the opportunity to use their gifts for God through serving even at a young age.  As one of my team members profoundly said, " It's really hard to raise a selfish kid when you are always looking for ways to serve others." Kids don't respond well to "do as I say, not as I do" so make serving a priority in your own life.  My challenge to you is to find creative ways of making a difference in your community as a family. Look at the things you are already passionate about, the places you are already invested in, and the people you are surrounded by. Integrate elements of serving whether it's at the ballpark, at school, or through a local organization.

There's a million more things I could add to this, but I think that's enough for now. :)

Parents, the ball is in your court to influence who your children become and how they perceive Jesus. Make it real! Live it out! I know this has challenged us and I am excited to see how God uses our family!

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