Every Single Time

After Easter Sunday worship, Jordyn Burdette asked her 4 year old daughter, Blakily, what she learned about in Bible class. Her reply is a testament to our Pre-school Bible teachers and Wee Worship leaders: “Jesus again…every time I go to church they always talk about Jesus. I mean every single time I go, they bring Him up.” That’s funny but also a serious point – what better topic to be bringing up “every single week?”

We are thankful for parents bringing their children to learn about Jesus, thankful for the teachers sharing Jesus, and thankful for precious hearts like Blakily’s who are soaking in Jesus “every single time they come.”

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CRAVE-ing More of the Word

Once a month, the high school students come over to Aubrey and Robin’s house to eat, laugh, play games, and dive deep into the Word of God. This monthly time together is called CRAVE, and though it is near-impossible to find a school night that works for
high school students to get together, we average a dozen or so.

At one of our most recent meetings, Aubrey asked the group how they wanted to march forward study-wise. He told them, “This is your time and your group. I don’t want to dictate what we study or spoon feed you. You are busy, but if we are going to set time
aside to do this, you need to be fed.” One of our students spoke up and said that she would love for them to have a chance to share their own stories/testimonies – of their life, what they’ve been through, and what God is doing. Another guy spoke up and said
that maybe they [the high school students] could take over leading the Bible/Devotional side of the event.

A resounding YES!! was given to both of those suggestions. After the meeting, two students told him over Robin’s [world’s best] homemade cookies and coffee, that they would take the reins next meeting. Other than a location and food-prep, all aspects of the
next CRAVE were handled by teenagers. After advertising on GroupMe and text message, 24 students showed up and crammed in the living room.

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Harrison Van Eaton [one of our sophomore guys] led us into the Word and guided our discussion of Hosea/Faithfulness. He passed the torch to Jayla Meadows, [one of our junior girls] who shared her story. Her testimony is a powerful story of God’s faithfulness in the midst of a broken and uncertain world. Both did a fantastic job of leading their
peers and setting the future tone for CRAVE’s direction.

Neither of them would want this article written about them. And it’s not about Harrison or Jayla specifically. It’s about each of us choosing to share with others where we are on HIS path. As we dive deeper, we invite others to join our journey. The students also remind Aubrey and Mitchell ofen that teenagers will often rise to whatever level
they are challenged. If the bar is set low, they can certainly settle. If they are challenged and equipped, BIG THINGS can happen.

We try to remind the students at CCYM of Paul’s words in I Timothy 4:11-14. “Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in
purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift…”

Nobody is more naturally equipped to minister to young people than our students. They are in the trenches everyday. In the cafeterias. Locker rooms. Hallways. The influence that Aubrey, Mitchell, their wives, small group leaders, or other countless volunteers have on the friends of the students of Clear Creek is not even comparable to the IMPACT of those students choosing to be salt and light daily.

Everybody needs a Paul. Look to those that lead you to continue to point you towards Christ. Everybody needs a Timothy. Look for those around you that are searching, and help show them Jesus through your actions and attitude.

Practice Makes Perfect

Have you ever heard someone say, “Be careful! You should never pray for patience! God won’t give you patience… just more opportunities to practice patience”? People often make jokes about it (until they are the ones praying for patience), but the reason the notion has been around for so long is because it has some merit! In fact, it is probably true more often than not when we pray to God. Instead of giving us whatever trait or ability we ask for, He gives us the opportunity to practice that trait or ability so that we can grow. Logic would tell us, then, that if we pray for God to help us tell our own stories better (as one of our Sunday morning discussion groups is fond of doing) He will remind us that practice makes perfect.

Enter Derek Lusk, who is a part of our church family here at Clear Creek. As someone who works in sales, Derek spends a lot of time forming and maintaining relationships with others, especially those he works with on a regular basis. Dan just happens to be one of those people. Over time, the two came to be able to talk about topics (family, sports, hobbies) that were outside of the mandatory job related things they had to discuss. On a business trip the two were on together, they found themselves broaching one of the two topics you are taught never to discuss with friends…and it wasn’t politics. Dan (who knew Derek was a Christian) started telling Derek (who knew Dan was not a Christian) about how he believed in a creator but not in God because he couldn’t see him anywhere in his life. As Dan continued to talk, Derek began to truly understand his situation. Not only was he a part of a discussion group learning how to share their stories with others and who frequently prayed that God would help them do so, but he was trapped with only Dan in the car with over an hour remaining on their trip! To put it simply, God said, “Ok Derek, it’s time to practice.” And so he did.

If you want to know how the conversation ended, Derek would be more than happy to share that with you (and it really is a great story). Today, though, that is not what we want to celebrate. The “win”, if you will, is not necessarily in the outcome of this story. Of course we want Dan, as we want anyone who doesn’t know Christ, to come to know Him intimately. But that is not up to us to decide. 1 Corinthians 3:6-8 says, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.”

In other words, God deals in outcomes; we, as humans, deal in opportunities.

Opportunities missed and opportunities taken. Opportunities to stay silent and opportunities to share our story with others. And the best part about it? That is all God asks of us. He doesn’t ask us to change hearts and transform lives. He simply asks us to take the opportunities as they come so that He can do the real work.

So next time you pray to God the provider, just keep in mind that He is the provider of
opportunities. Admittedly, that can seem daunting. But remember, if the opportunity he provides is an open door, He simply asks that we cross the threshold. He will take care of the rest once we are on the inside. It doesn’t take ability or anything else on our part other than a willingness to keep saying, “Ok God, I guess it’s time to practice.” As Derek can attest to, God loves to remind us that practice makes perfect.

A Chain of Love

“Take the things you heard me say in the presence of many witnesses and
pass them on to faithful people who are also capable of teaching others.”
2 Timothy 2:2

The only thing greater than seeing college people get excited about their faith is seeing them excited about sharing their faith! Over the past two years there has been an amazing chain of discipleship in the UCM that keeps growing, one link at a time.

It began with a handful of students intentionally playing basketball at UTC in hopes of meeting new people. They met a young man named Michael who wasn’t connected to any Christian group. Michael started playing basketball with UCM students and soon joined the group’s Monday Launch meetings and came on a retreat. Within a few months, Michael invited several of his friends to start hanging out with the group as well. One of those friends was a young lady named Maddie who spent the next year growing in her faith and eventually becoming one of the UCM’s Campus Missionaries.

During the first week of this school year the UCM hosted a pizza giveaway outside a dormitory at UTC – intentionally trying to meet new people, again. We met a freshmen girl named Icces who was happy about the pizza, but even happier to meet such friendly people. Icces immediately got involved in the UCM’s weekly activities and became good friends with Maddie. A couple months later, Icces confided to Maddie that she didn’t know anything about Jesus and was totally new to the whole “faith thing”. That week
Maddie started a one on one Bible study with Icces that’s continuing today. Icces is
growing in her faith and has been introducing her friend Rachel to Jesus and the UCM.

There are so many parts of this story that point to God and the way He works. It’s
a story of young people being bold in their faith. It’s a story of Christians being intentional and seeking to meet those outside their own group. And it’s a story of God using young Christians, non-Christians, and seekers to further His story on campus!

It’s a Spectrum Thing

Many things register on a spectrum – things like colors, disorders, and even discipleship. During a recent week in Children’s Ministry, such a spectrum of discipleship was observed. Look at this list of different ways the children were observed growing in their discipleship:

  1. One group of students was bonding with their small group leader as they
    laughed and shared in the midst of creative projects associated with their Bible
    lesson.
  2. Another group had a quality discussion surrounding real life applications based on the story in a recent Bible lesson.
  3. A third group laughed and energetically discussed answers to a Bible lesson
    reinforcement activity as the boys tried to beat the girls by answering more
    questions correctly.
  4. Still another group had an in-depth discussion with lots of thought provoking
    questions regarding the dangers of being a Christian today in certain parts of the
    world.

 

All of these discipling opportunities were covered in prayer and love by their leaders.
There is nothing like the joy of teaching and serving children as they learn to trust the caring adults ministering to them, as they learn to appreciate the Bible’s truths being conveyed in creative ways, as they experience the joy of serving others and as they feel the compassion modeled by mentors.

One can certainly see the spectrum of discipleship as children progress down the path
to mature Christianity. What’s better than being a part of helping “the light come on” and
then having a front row seat as God amps it into a beacon for all to see?

Icing on the Cake

Sometimes, youth ministers celebrate youth retreats or even just returning home with the same number of youth kids they left with. As much as that may seem like the pinnacle of a youth ministry “win” [insert sarcastic tone here], there are things more
worthy of celebration. Jesus recently gave us not one, but SEVEN reasons to shout “hallelujah”! There is no greater “win” in Christianity than when a person chooses to receive the gift of God’s grace and become a disciple of Jesus. Witnessing seven young people do that is a highlight worth celebrating.

We base our youth ministry on relationships that are designed to move each teenager
further along the path of becoming a disciple. Through a slow process of hearing the message, internalizing it, and building authentic relationships with both adults and peers we try our best to create an environment where spiritual growth can happen. We plan for growth, but we know that the decision to follow Jesus is always according to God’s timing. Some students come to retreats with their hearts prepared. They plan to take this step while in the presence of their friends and mentors. Lilli and Kylie came to Winterfest prepared. Having wrestled with the baptism decision for weeks before we left for Gatlinburg, both girls declared their intent to use this occasion to mark the start of their discipleship journey before they even boarded the vans! And just like that, we knew we’d be celebrating the addition of two new sisters before the weekend was over.

The other five baptism decisions were less planned, but equally exciting for our group, as the announcements were made in succession. In addition to Lilli and Kylie, three others were also baptized in a hotel pool while 80+ people watched and cheered them on. Jeremiah, along with sisters Lily and Ella, had been absorbing the messages all weekend and each of them independently made their intentions known Saturday night. As those who have had the privilege of talking with a young person about the decision to be baptized know, there are few things as satisfying as hearing a teenager describe how they have come to understand why only Jesus is the Way, Truth, and Life.

The Lord had also been working on the hearts of two other young men: Bailey and Brayden. By Sunday morning, both had decided that they too were ready to make the commitment, but would wait until we had returned to the church building so their families could be present. These baptisms were especially poignant as Bailey’s grandfather had the honor of baptizing him, while Brayden’s father took on the responsibility for his son.

These spiritual victories are the icing on the cake for an already joy-filled year in our youth ministry. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 3 that God makes the seeds of faith grow, but he also tells us that God uses people to plant and water the seeds. The wonderful thing about a baptism is how it is a win that can be claimed by the broad community of faith. So many people – grandparents, parents, ministers, small group leaders, and others – play important roles in moving the new believer towards discipleship. When God allows us to see the fruit of our efforts, it is something we can all celebrate.

Godly Conversations

Discipling relationships come in all shapes and sizes. As we always should, we look to Jesus as our model for how to enter and thrive in a discipling relationship with someone else. While this is the perfect model, we sometimes forget that discipleship can be a two-way street. In His relationships with others, it’s safe to say that Jesus gave far more than he got (unless you count headaches, bickering followers, and plots on how to end His life, of course). It’s important to remember that, depending on who you find yourself in a discipling relationship with, this may not always be the case for us. We are, after all, not exactly on the same level as the Son of God. The relationship may be much more symbiotic as it is equally helpful to all who are involved.

In the fall of 2017, Clint Feher and Shane Shepard launched a small group together. As with most beginnings, they had great intentions for how they would help the group
grow. Then life happened. Each of their wives had a difficult first trimester of pregnancy, sickness ran rampant in their families, work called them away to travel, and the holidays put a proverbial bow on top of a crazy four months. Needless to say, there weren’t too many small group meetings that took place during that time.

After the holidays, they both looked up and realized that they had let the other down in
several ways from a group leader standpoint. They sat down together and did two things that are far too rare in our world today yet are imperative as we try to disciple each other: they were honest with one another through the filter of love and they decided how to best move forward without letting past shortcomings get in the way. They honestly opened up about what they themselves could have done better as well as what the other could have done better. When done in love, these kinds of conversations will only move a relationship to a deeper level. This is the very thing that Paul was
getting at in 1 Corinthians 13.

In figuring out how to move forward without letting how it didn’t work the first time get in the way, they will be able to have a clear picture of where to go and how to get there. Will they still struggle to meet sometimes? Of course. Will it be easier than before? Probably not. But if you defne where you want to go only by where you’ve been, you will never get there.

So you may be thinking, “Ok, but having a conversation about why you struggled to get your small group off the ground probably doesn’t have any relationship destroying or life altering consequences.” And you would be right. But what if it did? What if the topic at hand truly was one with potentially serious consequences? By doing what they did on a small scale, these two men now know that if that “big thing” were to ever come up, they have someone walking alongside them who can help them through it with honest love and an eye towards taking the next best step. We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that discipleship is always about the huge, profound moment where God speaks through us at a pivotal point in someone else’s life. The reality though, is that those moments never come unless we practice doing the small things for one another along the
way. We help them see that if they can trust us with the little things, they can trust us with the big ones as well. And if they trust us with the big things, it gives God the chance to show up in a big way.

Opportunities Abound

In Children’s Ministry we believe that you are never too young to learn to lead. We provide many opportunities for our children to learn from adults, then put various aspects of leadership into practice. If they are willing, we will find a place for them to serve no matter their age. Of course, the older they are, the more opportunities they may have. Third graders have led outstanding worship songs. First graders have volunteered surprisingly knowledgeable and detailed answers as they represented their class in large group lesson reviews. Fifth graders greet the other children at the door each week and welcome them in. Our older elementary students frequently serve as Team Leaders for games and Bible learning activities.

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In addition to Bible knowledge, our goal is to develop Christ followers that aren’t afraid to stand up, speak up, and take a lead. When they put themselves out there, they grow, gain confidence, and provide an excellent example for everyone else. More than once, we have been amazed at their eagerness and effectiveness serving when offered the opportunity. It’s refreshing to see a group that is genuinely concerned about others without being overly concerned about how they are perceived. It’s reminiscent of the old catch phrase about JOY: Jesus first, Others second, Yourself third.

An Exceptional Servant

Perhaps you’ve heard of the 80/20 rule. In the context of a church, it states that 80% of the work being done is accomplished by only 20% of the people. Usually, the 80/20 rule gets pulled out whenever complaints are being lodged about how some people are being overworked while others aren’t doing anything. Fortunately, Clear Creek volunteerism and involvement has been steadily growing beyond this ratio over the last several years, and we now employ more volunteers (as a percentage) throughout our various ministries than ever before, which is fantastic!

IMG_0803While more and more people are answering the call to serve, there are still a few who stand out as exceptional examples of servant leadership and have put in more than their fair share of time to offering help to the ministries of this congregation. One such leader, is long-time youth ministry volunteer Andy Gaither. After his third son’s graduation from High School, Andy finally decided to transition to new servant roles in other ministry areas, but his example of long-term commitment, selfless sacrifice of time and energy, and dedication to building younger generations of Christians is an example for all.

For over fifteen years, Andy served the youth ministry of the Hixson, now Clear Creek, congregation. For much of that time he held the title of deacon and later, Special Servant, but in no way was this an honorary title only. Andy exemplified what it is to be a ministry helper. Serving alongside several different youth ministers, and even filling in temporarily at times, he was known for ALWAYS being willing to help with ANYTHING. Trustworthy, efficient, and content to work the “hidden” behind-the-scenes roles, Andy would never ask for recognition, and will probably hate that this article is written to acknowledge his years of service!
Nevertheless, no apology will be offered, because if ever this church has seen someone who consistently displays a servant’s heart, it has seen it in Andy. For many years, he blessed the youth ministry with his consistent influence, and as he has taken on additional volunteer roles, leading to his transition out of youth ministry last spring, he continues to prove himself a high-capacity servant leader who never seems to tire of using the abilities God has given him to serve the needs of this church. May those who read this take encouragement that Clear Creek, and on a larger scale God’s kingdom, is served by men and women who understand that making disciples takes a certain degree of personal sacrifice, but also understand that the rewards, for both themselves and the people they serve, are eternal.

Youth Small Groups

Our teens are a close-knit community, led by a group of all-star small group leaders. They spend time each Sunday, diving into the Word, discussing the lesson shared with them, and praying over each other. This is special intentional time that CCYM dedicates each week in order to progress our students down the discipleship path. Much of that responsibility rests on the shoulders of our small group leaders. These awesome men and women pour themselves into the lives of students, not simply on Sunday for an hour. They go to ball games. Cheer meets. Band competitions. Irish step-dancing festivals. They celebrate victories together. They comfort during times of loss. They sacrifice family time in order to build-up and encourage their students.

Research shows that the more healthy, spiritually-focused relationships that a teenager has with adults other than their parents, the better they turn out. CCYM’s small group leaders know what is going on with their students. They ask them about family situations, how their event went, or if they passed their driver’s permit test. A teenager does NOT care what you know, until they know that you care. Trust is built over time. Being authentic. Being present. Our small group leaders do that. This is not merely friendship or laughing together, although those are big factors for bonding. We are talking about growing together while in community. Building trust.

We want the students of CCYM to know that not only will Mitchell, Aubrey, and their wives know their names and where they belong; there is a host of dedicated small group leaders that care for them. Every student at CCYM should feel that they are KNOWN and LOVED.

Paul’s prayer for the believers in Philippi ring true and is our prayer for both the dedicated small group leaders AND the students at CCYM.

“This is my prayer for you: that your love will grow more and more; that you will have knowledge and understanding with your love; that you will see the difference between good and bad and will choose the good; that you will be pure and without wrong for the coming of Christ; that you will be filled with the good things produced in your life by Christ to bring glory and praise to God.” [Philippians 1:9-11]