Sustaining Your Faith During Difficult Times

Sustaining Your Faith During Difficult Times

Floods. Hurricanes. Death. Debt. Illness. All of these bring about difficulty in our lives. They make life harder, more challenging. How do we maintain and sustain our faith during times of hardship? How do we ensure that God remains our top priority? How do we prevent ourselves from losing faith?

There are several actions we can take to sustain our faith during times of trial. We can begin by reading the scriptures. God’s Word is a primary way of connecting to Him. When we read about Biblical figures, we are really reading about ourselves, in a sense. The struggles of Moses become our struggles. The doubt the apostle Thomas feels becomes our doubt. Scripture puts our lives into context of the greater Biblical narrative.

Prayer is another action we can take to strengthen our faith, but we must be intentional about it. Prayer is not a one-way conversation; it is a constant dialogue with our Creator and should be treated as such. If we speak to God, but don’t listen for His often-quiet response, we may focus too much on our own needs and not enough on God’s will for our lives.

Scripture and prayer:these are familiar comforts during difficult times in our lives. But what do we do when the scriptures aren’t speaking to us? What path can we take when we are having a challenging time discerning God’s will? God created us to be social creatures – to interact and engage with one another to overcome struggles. What would the peace movements of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi have been without those marching and fasting to keep moving forward? We need one another more than we tend to realize. When we are struggling, it can be hard to ask our neighbors for help, but sometimes, in the immortal words of Bill Withers, “We all need somebody to lean on.”


Creating a More Welcoming Church Atmosphere

Creating a More Welcoming Church Atmosphere

Sometimes saying, “Welcome to our church family!” simply isn’t enough. It can be difficult when we try as a church to be welcoming without seeming overbearing. People attend worship services for a variety of reasons, and everyone worships differently. Some enjoy shaking hands and getting to know a bunch of new people at once, while others like to remain more anonymous during a worship service. The key to maximizing the welcoming potential of your church is to know how to approach different types of people.

Of course, being friendly is crucial to creating a welcoming atmosphere. Breaking the social ice with a smile, hello, and brief introduction will put many at ease almost instantly. However, for those who are a bit on the shy side, making sure they know that there is no pressure on them to identify themselves or stand out from the crowd will often provide a significant sense of relief.

Another way to create a more welcoming atmosphere is to offer social events either before or after worship. These gatherings are a great way for visitors to get to know church members and regulars, allowing them to operate in a low-pressure social situation. Here, it is imperative that church leaders, as well as the pastor, are able to make their presence known, if possible, providing that social bridge to those who may be stepping foot inside of their church for the first time.

Finally, often the best way to make someone feel welcome at your church is by making yourself available to them. Exchanging contact information is a great way to shepherd visitors into the life of the church. Alternatively, you can invite them to a meal or out for coffee to discuss worship, their faith, and life in general. Making one friend within a church setting is the simplest, most human way of welcoming someone into the life of the church.

Speaking Out Against Oppression

Speaking Out Against Oppression

Without justice, there can be no peace. But peace is the surest way to justice. We have every right to be angry, as a society, at what has gone on for far too long in regard to the injustices perpetrated on innocent black men and women in America. We have every right to be outraged, every right to raise a fist, every right to chant and pray and sing and weep. We have every right to do these things and more.

It is our duty, regardless of our background or race, to champion those who are oppressed. That is our moral duty, our civic duty, our duty as people of faith. God stands with the oppressed and the marginalized. He stands on a street corner wearing a shirt that reads “I can’t breathe” and he weeps with all of us with each passing injustice that gets pushed aside or swept under the rug.

Still, with all that has gone on, it is easy to become weary. It is all too easy to want to take that raised fist and swing it at the oppressor. It is all too easy to want to return hatred with more hatred, anger with greater anger, and vitriol with venom. But peace is the surest way to justice. Peace that is channeled and focused, peace that flows like rainwater into a river basin, peace that endures and passes all human understanding.

Without justice, there can be no peace – no peace in the heart. But peace in the streets, peaceful demonstration, that is what is needed for healing. So, stand up! Speak out against oppression in all its evil forms. Use your voice, take a knee, and raise a fist. Stand in solidarity with your oppressed brothers and sisters, no matter who you are, no matter where you worship, no matter what. Just always remember, when you face further injustice, when oppression comes knocking at your door, that peace, is the surest way to settle the score.

10 Socially Distant (But Fun) Summer Activities

10 Socially Distant (But Fun) Summer Activities

1) Bean Bag Toss – This is an ideal game for social distancing. Spreading the targets out about twenty feet apart not only keeps players distant, but also allows for a fun, challenging contest!

2) Water Balloon Battle – Since swimming in the pool may not be an option for keeping cool, having a water balloon battle is the next best thing. Socially distant water balloon battles mean no close-range ambushes, but if rules of distance are kept, a fun time will still be had by all!

3) Tic-Tac-Toe – This time-honored classic game can be played through a window, using a window-safe marker and tape for the lines.

4) Lawn Bowling – Get creative with materials and set up your own lawn bowling alley! The whole family is sure to enjoy this competitive activity.

5) Sidewalk Chalk Drawing – Spread out and let your creativity flow, using sidewalk chalk to draw whatever you set your mind to drawing.

6) Bocce Ball – Easy to learn and set up, bocce ball is a great game to introduce to the whole family.

7) Virtual Game Night – Compete with friends and family who are also trying to social distance by playing a classic board game via a virtual hangout!

8) Socially Distant Walk – Going for a walk can still happen in these strange times! Just make sure you keep your distance from one another in the process.

9) Scavenger Hunt – Using walkie-talkies, compete against one another to go on a socially distant scavenger hunt!

10) Simon Says – Simon says, “Stay apart!” In this version of the classic game, spread all participants out, and encourage no touching of the face.

18 Scripture Verses to Share During Times of Crisis

18 Scripture Verses to Share During Times of Crisis

1) Deuteronomy 7:9 — Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.

This scripture passage reminds us of God’s faithfulness. We can weather the storms of this life if we remember to make God our foundation.

2) Psalm 23:4 – Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

This Psalm is one of the most famous and well-known passages in all of scripture. Its power to comfort is still potent, as the word “comfort” is even present in the passage.

3) Philippians 4:6-7 – Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

This particular portion of Paul’s letter to the Philippians speaks to the common problem of anxiety that we all face on a daily basis. When we leave everything to God, we become empowered and able to be at peace.

4) Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

It is important to understand that God wants what is best for us. He wants us to be joyful, not miserable. If we remember that during times of crisis, we can imagine a joy-filled future.

5) John 14:27 – Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.

Jesus is sometimes referred to as the “Prince of Peace”. Here, Jesus offers the disciples (and us) a glimpse into His power. When Jesus says, “do not be afraid,” He reminds us that in and through Him, there is nothing to fear.

6) 2 Timothy 1:7 – For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

God doesn’t intend for us to be afraid. Fear is a result of what happens in the world around us. God is our comforter and source of power, love, and strength.

7) Lamentations 3:21-23 – But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

God is the alpha and the omega — the beginning and the end. We glean comfort from knowing that He has seen every generation through many trials and tribulations.

8) Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.

Behind the scenes, God really does want reconciliation, peace, and love within the entirety of His creation. It is our duty to spread that peace, reconciliation, and love, no matter the cost or opposition we face.

9) Matthew 11:28 – Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.

Jesus’ reassuring promise to provide rest when we are weary is exactly what we need in times of hardship.

10) James 1:2-4 – Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Sometimes, when we suffer, we neglect to recognize that our suffering produces fruit. By having our faith tested, we ultimately grow stronger in it.

11) Proverbs 30:5 – Every word of God is pure: He is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him.

The next time you are feeling low and facing a crisis, think of God as your protective shield, delivering you from your enemies, wherever they may be.

12) Psalm 118:8 – It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.

Human beings are imperfect creatures, all of us. This nugget of wisdom from the Psalms reminds us of that.

13) 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 – We are hard pressed on every side; but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

No matter how insurmountable your troubles might seem, you will never be destroyed because the power of Christ is with you.

14) John 16:33 – I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

It is easy to forget that Jesus is a peaceful conqueror. In overcoming death, Jesus has truly conquered and overcome the world. So too will we.

15) Isaiah 43:2 – When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

There are a variety of issues we face in this life, but through them all, the Lord our God is with us.

16) Joshua 1:9 – Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

The command to be strong and courageous is not an easy one to follow with the strife we face in our lives, but the promise of God’s presence carries us through.

17) 2 Thessalonians 3:16 – Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.

We are deserving of love and peace, and this scripture passage reminds us of that.

18) Nahum 1:7 – The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him.

Always remember the Lord’s love and the Lord’s goodness. God genuinely loves and cares for each and every one of us. Amen!

16 Ideas to Improve Children’s Ministry Programs

16 Ideas to Improve Children’s Ministry Programs

  1. Incorporate play and recreation. Children often learn through play, so it makes sense to incorporate games and recreation into your children’s ministry programs to create a greater impact on learning within each child.
  2. Provide nutritional snacks. Some children simply don’t have enough to eat at home, and others don’t receive the nutrients they need for healthy growth. If your ministry can supplement some of that nutrition, children will be more engaged and ready to learn about God.
  3. Encourage cooperation. One important lesson that scripture teaches is to be cooperative and live in community with one another. Reinforcing this lesson early in a child’s life can have a multitude of positive benefits, boosting their self-esteem and confidence.
  4. Preach love. Our greatest commandment is to love God and neighbor. The sooner we instill that into our children, the better off they will become.
  5. Create a safe space. Children are vulnerable and their safety is paramount, especially in a ministry context. Ensuring that all volunteers, instructors, and leaders have appropriate clearances is a great step to making sure children are protected.
  6. Provide enrichment learning activities. Schools are overwhelmed with subjects they are required to teach. You can use your ministry to teach skills and subjects that children might not otherwise be exposed to.
  7. Explore each child’s interests. Every child is different, and nurturing their differences, as opposed to trying to make them all similar will do wonders for their self-esteem and confidence.
  8. Become an active listener. Pay attention to each child’s words as well as their body language. They may claim to be engaged and interested in what is happening, but their actions may say something else entirely.
  9. Explain the concept of forgiveness. Children, like adults, are going to experience wrongdoing and hardship. Teaching them to forgive as Christ did will help them to navigate their feelings.
  10. Communicate with parents. Family life is important, and it is helpful to gain an understanding of the family situation each child has so that they can be better understood.
  11. Develop your own curriculum. Getting into the habit of creating your own curriculum allows you to meet the needs and interests of the children you are serving.
  12. Foster an environment of invitation. Encouraging children to invite their friends and neighbors is a wonderful way to increase their confidence and make them feel more comfortable participating in ministry.
  13. Promote peace and quiet. Taking some time for silent prayer and meditation will not only calm the children, but it will also draw them closer to the God we all serve.
  14. Offer unconditional love and acceptance. Jesus calls us to love everyone. No exceptions. Likewise, if we show every child that we encounter unconditional love and acceptance, we model Christ’s behavior for them.
  15. Pray for each child and their family. Promoting prayer is one thing; practicing it yourself is another. Children face daily challenges learning and developing in this world. Praying for them and their families will help them and help you as a leader to show them compassion during difficult times.
  16. Offer both individual and group activities. Sure, games and other group activities are fun, but some children enjoy activities that allow them some solitude, such as reading or drawing. Having a healthy balance of both will help to bring shy children out of their shell while also allowing more energetic children the chance to relax.

TCO Talks 20 Ways to Prepare Your Congregation to Return to Worship

TCO Talks: 20 Ways to Prepare Your Congregation to Return to Worship

  1. Take necessary precautions.
    Chances are, much of your congregation will be a bit nervous about returning to worship with a large group of people, post-pandemic. By continuing to push social distancing measures, offering ample hand sanitizer, and acknowledging the concerns your congregation may have, those who return to worship will feel more comfortable and assured.
  2. Preach a message of hope.
    When your congregation returns to worship, they will likely be weary from the COVID-19 crisis. If they return to a message of hope and optimism, they will leave the worship service feeling more refreshed and positive about the future. As church leaders, it is our responsibility to deliver that hope to our congregations.
  3. Continue offering livestream worship services.
    Some members of your congregation might not feel ready to return to physical worship when your church’s doors open again – and that’s okay. It is important to keep those people engaged as part of the church family. Continuing to offer livestream worship services is an effective way of doing so.
  4. Stay active on social media.
    During the COVID-19 crisis, social media has been a lifeline for congregations to stay in touch and support one another. It is crucial to maintain a social media presence, not only for those who are still reluctant to return to a physical worship space, but also for those who have simply grown accustomed to using social media to interact with church leaders and fellowship with friends. Doing so will foster that sense of community within your congregation.
  5. Nourish your congregation.
    When it comes to caring for your congregation, little things can go a long way. Having some extra coffee and donuts available on Sunday morning will do wonders for your weary congregation’s morale, enabling them to feel nourished and focused on living out their faith and worshipping together.
  6. Honor your heroes.
    Your church has members who are fighting COVID-19 on the front lines. Doctors, nurses, first responders, and more are risking their own wellbeing to serve others. What better way to honor them than by taking some time to acknowledge their important contributions to the communities they serve?
  7. Make yourself available.
    With the added anxieties and concerns that a pandemic brings about, church leaders must make themselves available to hear the cries of their congregation. Whether that means offering a simple word of prayer or some form of counseling, making yourself available will go a long way toward preparing your congregation to return to the sanctuary on Sunday morning.
  8. Outline what to expect.
    When returning to worship, church members may not know what to expect. If you can outline what they can expect when they walk into church on Sunday morning, you will put them at ease.
  9. Provide opportunities to serve.
    Often times, the best way to prepare a congregation to return to worship is to involve them in a service opportunity. Offering to pack meals for the poor, serve essential workers, or even volunteer to read scripture on Sunday can make church members feel more valued and important, leading to an increased determination to return to worship.
  10. Acknowledge suffering.
    Now is not the time to sugar coat what is going on in the world. Yes, there is suffering present, and yes it must be addressed, but it should be clothed in a message of hope and optimism, because although it may seem difficult, we will all get through this COVID-19 crisis.
  11. Prepare yourself and your leaders.
    Hold conferences, conduct meetings, whether in person or virtually, and above all, continue to nurture your own faith. If you are not prepared to return to worship, your congregation will sense it and be more apprehensive about returning to worship themselves.
  12. Get creative.
    If you have limitations on how many people can attend worship, consider holding multiple worship services or adding a service or two to your schedule. Think about alternative ways to conduct communion. What would a no-contact communion service look like? Getting creative will turn your limitations into luxuries as you navigate the post-COVID-19 landscape.
  13. Hold your congregation accountable.
    Just because your congregation hasn’t physically been in church doesn’t mean they should neglect their faith. On the contrary, they (and you) should lean on that faith. Make sure you remind your congregation that they have a purpose and that their faith is important.
  14. Encourage greater connection.
    It is one thing to stay connected via social media. It is quite another to reach out with a purposeful phone call and word of prayer. Encourage members of your congregation to connect beyond the confines of their computer screens. Have them make phone calls, write notes of encouragement, or serve those in need, when the time is right.
  15. Remember the children.
    Young children are particularly susceptible to fear during this pandemic. Don’t forget how important they are to your church and the Lord. Address them and their concerns to prepare the whole family for returning to worship.
  16. Be realistic about programming.
    Sure, some events at your church had to be cancelled and still others postponed. But it is critical to be realistic about what programs your church can and will offer post-pandemic. Set reasonable goals for reopening and be flexible with those goals as this crisis continues playing out.
  17. Keep things as normal as possible.
    Will there be restrictions and changes to worship after COVID-19 calms down? Absolutely. However, keeping worship as normal to its pre-pandemic state as possible will allow your congregation to get back into a regular groove when it comes to worship. If there is a worship song you typically sing at the beginning of worship, continue singing that song! If there are particular prayers you use, continue using those as well. These signs of normalcy will be welcomed by your congregation.
  18. Celebrate.
    Birthdays, anniversaries, weddings – these things don’t need to be put on pause due to COVID-19. Find out who has reason to celebrate and honor them on social media and, when the time comes, in a church setting as well.
  19. Exude confidence.
    We WILL get through this pandemic. As church leaders, we must remind both ourselves and our congregations that this crisis will come to a conclusion. Having confidence doesn’t mean downplaying the threat of the pandemic; it simply means trusting in our Almighty God.
  20. Give glory to God.
    The only one who can see us through this process is God Himself. Give Him all the glory as you strive to prepare a proper worship space for your congregations to return to. He is the One who will give you that confidence, that assurance, and that strength.