Follow the Leader

picture2Anyone who has ever been around children knows that they are the greatest mimics of all time. For better or for worse, they watch everything the adults around them do and eventually, they begin to do it themselves. We’ve all heard the son who uses the same phrases his dad does or the daughter who can give “the look” that we’ve seen her mom give a thousand times. We are all, to some extent, products of our environments and the people who make those environments what they are.

As most people know, this practice doesn’t stop when we become adults. This kind of learning permeates our culture. Internships. Residencies. Student teaching. We can often learn what to do from a book, but we learn how to do it from watching other people. This is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple maker: we live our lives in ways that mirror the life of Jesus to the best of our ability and, along the journey, we bring others with us. Paul sums it up in his letter to the Corinthians by saying, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.”

In a strong, spiritual community, this process can be so natural that you don’t even realize it is taking place. This was recently the case for one of our small groups. Jan Hudgins was bragging on Jennifer Spry, who is one of the members of their group. She was sharing a story about how Jennifer had invited one of the college-age girls at our church along with her friends over to simply hang out, make cookies, and pour into their lives. When asked “Why do you think Jennifer chose to do that?” Jan replied, “I don’t know, why?” And the answer was simple, “It’s because of you!”

See, unlike most of our small groups, Ken and Jan Hudgins help lead a small group where most of the members in the group are about 30 years younger than they are. It often provides for an interesting dynamic full of heated discussions centering around appropriate meal and bed times, but it also allows for those who may be further along their spiritual path to pour into those who are following along behind them. And those that are following now know how to help the next generation as they begin taking steps to be more like Jesus.

Because Jan and Patricia chose to pour into Jennifer, Jennifer thought it natural to find others younger than herself that she could pour into. And how far will God take this? When we make an intentional decision to have someone follow us as we follow Christ, it never stops with that one person. God can use that to create a ripple effect that changes families, cities, and even the world. So find your one, grab them by the hand, and let God use you to change the world one person at a time.

 

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Time Over Time

Every so often, there’s a moment in which I (Mitchell) see evidence of what we already know and claim as truth – that adult volunteers investing in students’ lives over time makes a lasting impact. Most recently, I was reminded of this fact through an interaction with long-time youth volunteer Victor Steen. Victor and I ran into each other while entering a funeral home to attend a visitation following the death of 9th grader Caleb Kelley’s grandfather. As we waited in line to greet the family, we chatted about his years of experience with the Kelley family, particularly through his involvement with youth-league basketball. Caleb, and several others from our youth group, have been coached by Victor for several seasons, and he has developed a special bond with the boys over the course of that time.

thumbnailBeing involved in the lives of students enables interactions with their families, so Victor has also formed relationships with many parents and even indirectly influenced grandparents. This was evident during the visitation by his interaction with Caleb’s grandmother, who had attended countless sporting events and knew the role Victor has played in Caleb’s life. On this day, Victor reminded me that when adults invest “time-over-time” with children and students, the impact they have will be significant.

Over the years Victor has been heavily involved in many sports, both as a coach and volunteer. His clear and profound love for young people manifests in many ways as he seeks out opportunities to provide healthy and positive environments for kids to learn the value of teamwork, self-control, perseverance, and grit.

But Victor doesn’t limit himself to the wide world of sports. He is dedicated to an even higher calling – the body of Christ. Victor has been a small group leader in the youth ministry for several years. When he began volunteering, he requested to work with our Middle School boys, many of whom he coached. For much of his time working with our MS, I witnessed the intentional way he ministered to the guys of his group. He was always concerned that they “get something out” of being part of a spiritual community. Back in August, as his group of boys was aging up into 9th grade, he requested to shift into the role of a High School volunteer and continue his work. Time-over-time.

One final note of appreciation has to be mentioned regarding his status as our most prolific inviter of guests. Using his existing network and influence through sports and his sons’ school, Victor is always looking for ways to reach out to young people who are not connected to a church home. He clearly considers his involvement in youth sports to be his mission field.

Victor will hate the fact that this article is written entirely about him, but we hold him up as an example of someone who is not looking for the spotlight, but simply wants to invest time-over-time with people to gain influence and further the work of making disciples.

College Steps

imagejpeg_2.jpgThere has been a lot of focus at Clear Creek lately on “taking your next steps.” Maybe the clearest example of this in the UCM college group is a young man named Jordan. Over the past few months, God has opened his heart, grown his faith and begun to transform him into the image of Jesus.

Jordan’s UCM story started on Thanksgiving 2017. He was going to college in Chicago, but decided to visit a friend in Chattanooga for the holiday. The friend convinced Jordan to join the UCM’s Friendsgiving meal while he was in town. He was blown away by the friendliness and love of the group that night.

The next semester Jordan transferred to UTC and began looking for a circle of friends. He was outspoken about being a non-Christian and his lifestyle proved it! He visited one or two campus ministries that offered free meals, but clearly felt (or was even told!) that he didn’t fit in. Looking back, Jordan points to a few specific times when UCM students loved him and didn’t flinch in the face of his somewhat shocking behavior. Feeling loved despite and through these times in his life caused his heart to be open to the Gospel for the first time.

That same semester Jordan was asked to start a one-on-one Bible study and he agreed! Jordan’s hard heart was becoming fertile soil as we saw the timeless formula of loving, Christian community + honest examination of God’s Word = steps towards Jesus. Since that time, God has brought about so many changes in Jordan’s life. There have been countless conversations in the Taylor kitchen about real, messy life topics. Lots of personal texts back and forth. And lots of sincere questions that many people don’t dare to ask.

And that is perhaps the single greatest factor that’s allowed Jordan to grow so quickly—his willingness to be honest and ask questions. No part of his life is off limits and no question is taboo. Sharing faith in this way can be shocking or embarrassing for some people, but students in the UCM live and breathe this kind of ministry. College campuses are no place for the timid or tiptoe Christians. Students are looking for real answers to life questions and people who are actually living out those answers.

Over the last summer, Jordan faced a lot of struggles due to family relationships and the health of loved ones. This led to more questions and doubt-filled conversations. But it ultimately led to more of God’s pruning and watering with the result being even greater faith in Jordan’s life. This last semester Jordan shared his testimony during one of the UCM’s Monday meetings. He acknowledged how far he’s come in a short time and how unbelievable it seems. Looking at these changes, he gave credit to the unique love of the UCM and to God’s goodness to him. We praise God for helping Jordan take steps towards Jesus!

 

Families Growing in Discipleship Together

Everyone knows how important it is to train your children to be lawful citizens and obedient, respectful individuals. We all want our children to grow up to be good Christian Disciples who love God and strive to serve Him as well. In order to accomplish all that, we make rules and do our best to enforce them and give our kids good examples to follow. We follow laws, speak with respect toward others and make sure they attend church regularly.

8092-mms-1545923247000-attachment1-outputBut we all know that doing all those things doesn’t guarantee the favorable outcome we are seeking for our children. We must have intentional conversations and lead by example. If we want law-abiding children, we must be law-abiding parents. If we want respectful children, we must demonstrate respectfulness in our own lives. The same concept holds true in the spiritual realm as well. If we want to raise up children striving to be disciples of Christ, we must show them that their parents are striving for the same thing; they are just farther along the path.

It is common sense that to get someplace we must choose a path and follow it. Our leadership has laid out a clear path of discipleship for us to follow and many of our parents are taking seriously their God-given roles as parents to guide their children on the path as well. Our Children’s Ministry parents do a good job bringing their children to Bible Class and Worship, as well as guiding them in their own devotionals, Bible reading and prayer.

Moreover, several of our parents are leading their children into lives of serving in the Body by their own examples of service. It is not unusual to see Scout Jolley ushering right alongside his dad, Jason. Or to see Lauren and Brianna hand-stamping the preschoolers alongside their mom, Sara Reel. Or to see Abel Shepherd hand-stamping his friends because he sees his parents, Andrew and Megan doing that once a month. It is not uncommon to see Hudson Mynatt greeting people alongside his great-grandfather Charlie Carnes. Or to see Tré Phillips greeting with his parents, Mark and Meghan.

All these youngsters have begun their journey to becoming a mature disciple of Christ through their eagerness to serve in His Body. We commend our parents who are taking their next steps on their Discipleship Path by investing in the lives of their own children by showing them the right path to follow.

 

 

Sending BLESSings to…

thumbnailThirty years ago, seven churches in Chattanooga, including Hixson Church of Christ, recognized a need. There were few options for single women and their children who were facing homelessness. And so began Chattanooga Room in the Inn (CRITI). Betty and Alan Hofses were Chattanooga Room in the Inn’s original Inn Keepers and Food Preparers. This year, the Hofses retired after three decades serving this community. Since its inception, Room in the Inn has assisted over 3,000 homeless women and children regain their independence with dignity.

“and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noon day. “  Isaiah 58:10

 

Taking Your Next Steps in Prayer

prayerThis will come as no surprise, but we believe in prayer at Clear Creek. We have seen God restore marriages, heal broken bodies, and bring lost friends to faith.

Prayer is our first response, not our last resort.

Yet, there are seasons when prayer is hard.  We commit sin, face a setback, or a soul crushing loss and we can’t find the words. But these speedbumps don’t have to deflate our prayer lives.

Below are five thought-sparklers to help you pray when you don’t know what to say.

  1. Be Silent: Romans 8:26 says, “If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.” (MSG) So be silent. Let God’s Spirit pray for you. He will translate your silence into divine words handcrafted for God’s ears even when you don’t know what to say.
  2. Be Brief: More words do not mean God listens more. Jesus tells a story of a simple man with a simple prayer that God heard. “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13) You don’t have to impress God with your prayers. Just pick a word or two such as “Help me, Jesus” or “Give wisdom, Lord” and then stop. He hears you.
  3. Be Honest: Many Christians don’t pray because they are afraid of offending God. But here’s a secret: God already knows how you feel so you might as well tell Him. King David knew this. He was the first to pray, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1) David believed God was big enough to handle the truth of his feelings. So tell God how you feel.
  4. Borrow the Prayers of Others: Jesus did. In the worst moment of Jesus’ life, he prayed David’s words to express his anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:47) If Jesus did it, then so can you. The Psalms are a treasure trove of prayers. Feeling anxious? Try Psalm 31. Excited about life? Psalm 103 may be for you. Thumb through the Psalms and borrow from those who have walked the path before you.
  5. Be Persistent: Don’t give up. Keep trying. Prayer, like any muscle, gets stronger the more it is exercised. In the dry, busy, or soul-crushing seasons of life, pray. And when you don’t know what to say, revisit this list and know that God hears you.

 

From the Classroom to the Office

The tagline of the University Christian Mission is “Living Out God’s Mission on Campus”, but as we enter the fourth year of the UCM we have our first crop of students beginning to turn an eye towards what comes next. Over the past few years we’ve learned to live for God at college in some exciting ways—serving the community, sharing faith on campus and reaching out to international students—but how does that carry over to life after college?

This month we spent a weekend talking about what it might look like to live out God’s mission in our careers. God spoke to students during two days of scripture, group discussion, prayer and individual brainstorming. The result was that each person came away with a few tangible ideas of how they could honor God and further His kingdom through their current or future job.

The UCM challenges students to move beyond simply attending Bible studies to actively joining God as He impacts the world around us. This can be tough and not all students accept the challenge, but those who do see their faith come alive in new ways during their college years. Discovering how to challenge students in similar ways with their work was a new experience for everybody involved.

It’s easy to think of ways to serve God by preaching or becoming a missionary. But how can a secretary, lawyer or fire fighter make a real difference for God through their work? In our discussions we talked about the negative views that we often have about work and the struggle to make a job feel like a ministry. As we looked into the character of God and the biblical narrative of God working throughout time, we began to uncover ways that we can live for God in classrooms, offices, restaurants and more.

c0aee3f7af76e4231c2dcf56122ee311-0.jpgOne huge help for our weekend (and the UCM ministry in general) was the presence of a few older adults who joined us for the weekend. They were able to share some real life experiences and provide a different perspective. The time and love that they shared is a great example of mentoring and discipling for our college students.

It’s always exciting to see what God is doing on campus. And as the first few UCM students begin to graduate, it’s exciting to think about how God is going to use these students out in the world for His glory. There is so much potential for these young disciples to go out and lead in ways that will change the world in the name of Jesus!

 

Time Around the Table

There is no substitution for quality, face-to-face time around a table. This is true with family, friendships, coworkers, and so very important as we live in community. At UCM (University Christian Mission), time around a table is foundational for the relationships formed.

IMG_2387Every Monday evening, college students from many different cities/countries and all walks of life come together to not only eat, but to help prepare the meal together. They spend this time in the kitchen laughing good naturedly. Arguing in silly voices about whose recipe is better, or how badly someone botched the “suggested” amount of a certain ingredient. They sit in Dale and Lisa’s dining room, spread out among four plastic tables; catching up on their week, course loads, relationships, families. Sharing life.

They help clean up and transition into a time of student-led worship and small group discussion. This time is so life-giving. In order to invest in real community, it takes more than laughter and a meal around a table. Sharing burdens and life is a byproduct of the invested time together. As an outsider to this group, I was very impressed by the following…

This group is so welcoming to outsiders. They are warm, fun, generous people with a heart for the people on campus in their proximity. They love each other, and sincerely enjoy spending quality family time together. Their small group discussions were so earnest and sincere. That only happens after initial time is put in getting to know each other’s hearts. God is at work at UCM, and Chattanooga’s college campuses are blessed by their presence.

 

Greeters Get It

Our church has been advocating that we all, as members, take seriously the command to “make disciples” by becoming better disciples ourselves and then helping others start their own journey. In the recent past it has been so exciting to see several begin their journey, but just as exciting has been seeing adult Christians progressing in their Discipleship Path.

On any given Sunday one would be greeted, perhaps in the parking lot, but most certainly at the door and in the foyer of the building as he/she comes to worship. This is not new for any of our family, but understanding the motivation behind the Greeter Ministry might give one food for thought.

GREETING 1Those in the Greeter Ministry have been called to do several things. Those serving in this ministry do more than open doors and hand out bulletins. They are called to be a friendly face, a helpful servant and an obedient disciple.

First, the very term “greeter” indicates a friendly attitude, a smile, a handshake, a hug, a high five or just a “welcome to Clear Creek.”  Everyone wants to be noticed and acknowledged. It is amazing to me how many people God sends through our doors because they are “seeking” Him and hope to find Him here. The simple act of smiling, saying “hello” or “welcome” can make all the difference to a person who is coming because they decided to “give God one more chance.” What a tragedy it would be if there was no one who cared enough to say “Hi, we’re glad you’re here.” We should never underestimate the power of a smile.

But the Greeters job doesn’t stop there. If the “seeker” is obviously searching for something, the volunteer would gladly drop everything else and serve him/her in any way they can as was demonstrated in such a great way a few weeks ago. A woman who was looking for a church home walked in and a greeter immediately knew that she had not seen her before. Susan greeted her, engaged her in conversation, obtained her contact info and then introduced her to others. By the end of the morning, the “seeker” had been invited to several small groups and had new friends to sit with during worship where she connected with God.

Finally, something not everyone knows about the Greeters Ministry is that at 9:00 am each Sunday morning, everyone who will be attending that day is prayed over. The Team Leaders also pray for the Holy Spirit to direct and guide each volunteer that day to be in tune and do His bidding. Because Susan listened to His bidding, a newcomer was welcomed, connected to others, learned more about Jesus and, hopefully, began or moved forward on her Discipleship Path. Now that’s a win! Perhaps you’d like to be a part of a ministry that helps make disciples while helping you go deeper in your discipleship as well?

 

Kids’ Notes

Maker:L,Date:2017-9-19,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

“Mommy, I Didn’t Cry Today”      

The beginning of the trek on the Discipleship Path can come at any age. There are unique challenges at any point of life, however, for three year olds the challenges are a little different than for adults. Dealing with separation anxiety can be the first hurdle to learning about Jesus and initiating that trek.  Recently, one of our three year olds proudly announced to his mom that, “I didn’t cry today in Wee Worship. I got sad and thought about it but remembered the fun that we had last week and didn’t cry.” Caring Wee Worship Leaders help our youngest searchers begin the journey from learning about Jesus to following him.

CLASS TIME 4Bet You Can’t Catch Me

When you’re really excited about something, you can’t hardly wait to get there. One of our four year olds regularly leaves her parents far behind as she races down the back hallway toward her classroom. She can hardly contain her excitement and the smile on her face says it all as she sprints toward the loving, Christ-centered environment of her Bible class. Knowing her teachers, I’m not sure who’s more excited, her or them.

CLASS TIME 7Boy, That Looks Fun

Those of us in the Elementary Wing always know when one of our Kindergartners is about to arrive. His three year old little brother regularly beats the rest of the family to the Elementary area to check out what is going on prior to our Praise and Worship. He knows that the older kids are having a great time and is “all ears” as his older brother describes everything that took place. Heart-felt worship sets the tone. Loving and engaging teachers and small group leaders make sure each child feels important and included.
Lead-in activities that range from wacky games to TV game show style reviews introduce the lesson of the day. No wonder little brothers can’t wait to get in on the fun.