Let Them Be Heard

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It was different before. I would hear about the shooting, pray for the families, read the articles and thoughts of my friends, debate whether I should say anything or not… I had a routine (which should NOT be routine). This time though, I began to think about my kids- the youth who have worked their way into a special place in my heart; the youth who are spread out at every middle school and high school in the area.

I thought about the many different situations they find themselves in every day. I thought about the struggles I know they are going through. I thought about what must go on, or not go on, in the life of a teenager for something so tragic to be the “next best step”. I thought about their interactions and relationships within our group and wondered, prayed that they were enough. I thought about the ways I have reached out to them, wondering if I was reaching far enough.

This shooting hit me harder than before, harder than I could have expected. What if it had been at one of their schools? What would I do? Where would I go? Would I wait in the sanctuary, doors open, ready to pray with those who came seeking God? Would I rush to the school and stand with parents watching for their children to walk through the door, praying that they would actually walk through the door? Would I go to their homes and sit on the couches with their friends as we watched the news and prayed?

What would I say? Would I have the right words? Would I even be able to speak?

Last week, my youth started a conversation about stereotypes and I didn’t want it to be this relevant. I didn’t want to have a real life example of why we are having these conversations. I wanted it to be a “hypothetical” conversation in which they realized that they can play a positive role in the relationships and dynamics at their school. I didn’t think about saying “you could be the one to prevent a shooting.”

I won’t enter the argument about guns in this post. I WILL enter the discussion about other things we can do to help prevent the next tragedy. I may not be able to stand in the way of someone forcing their way into the building, but I can make sure that every single one of my youth knows they are beautiful, beloved, children of God – and members of our family at the Kirk and because of that they have people to go to and no reason to take such drastic steps.

As I think about what I can do as these tragedies become the norm, I look to the relationships and interactions I have with my youth. What I share today is by no means a complete list of ideas, but I see it as my own starting point and offer it to you as each of us wonders where to begin.

Don’t just talk to them – listen. Our children want to talk, and I am seeing that more and more each week as I listen to the conversations my youth are having. The insight they bring to difficult conversations is astounding and it should be listened to. We should follow up with questions, seeking to understand more about what our youth are seeing and thinking. “That is interesting” is not what we need to say when a youth describes something that is bothering them. “What do you think about that?” or “What makes you say that?” opens conversation – it makes them feel valued and important, like what they are saying means something. BECAUSE IT DOES AND THEY ARE.

Don’t prescribe a solution – listen. I am almost thirty years old, so theoretically high school wasn’t that long ago… right? The problem is that the world is drastically different. The things that my friends and I struggled with in high school are so minute compared to the struggles of today. While I can relate to the youth in my own mind, in their mind I am on the verge of receiving a senior citizen’s discount. What I have to say about my experience in middle school and high school is not what they care about – sharing what they are experiencing NOW is what is important. If we can step back and let our youth talk rather always having our own “cool” story, we just might understand a bit more about them and what is going on in the world. These kids are smart, y’all. And funny. Just let them show you and learn from them instead of thinking they need to learn from you!

Youth don’t just want to play games – they want to talk. I know, I know. They have so much energy and sit in chairs all day. I was surprised to, but when I spent time with my college students and some of my youth one-on-one, I was shocked to hear they want to spend more time having real conversations about how to live a life following God’s word. This doesn’t have to be boring, I promise. There are thousands of ideas floating around about how to incorporate discussion into a fun activity. Just don’t default to solely fellowship. Default to faith development and look at the many ways that can happen. I imagine that the youth who are struggling in relationships, in school , and in work are not growing in faith and community because they got to play basketball on Sunday night. They WILL grow if they can have a real conversation with their peers… and maybe they can play basketball while they do it!

 

Our youth are so insanely smart – we just need to give them a chance to show us. I have absolutely loved grabbing donuts with my youth and letting them talk about whatever is on their mind. It didn’t take long to realize that I was doing everything based on what I thought and nothing based on what they wanted and needed. We don’t know what is best for them and we can’t prescribe solutions that will fix every problem. If that were possible, we would not have struggled as teenagers because our parents and teachers would have fixed every problem for us. The world has changed and our youth are the only ones who can tell us how they see it and what they need to live in it.

I don’t know what I would do or say or where I would go if something happened at one of our local schools. I pray that I never need to figure it out. I do know that I can do everything in my power to make sure my youth know their value and that they are beloved children of God. I do know that I can put any piece of paperwork aside to clear my attention and listen to what they have to say. I do know that every day I work with youth, I will do everything I can to make sure they know they have a place to come if they ever need to talk, cry, or just sit.

It is hard and takes so much more than thoughts and prayers, but we can do our part to make sure our youth know that they don’t need to turn to exclusion, bullying, and violence to be heard. The question is will we put our own ego aside and let their light shine for a minute or two?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Transitional Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

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Toxicology, Cataracts, and Paul… Oh, My!

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This past Sunday, I had the privilege of tackling a fairly controversial portion of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in worship. I both dreaded and looked forward to this, knowing that there would be some who would not like what I said but also knowing that it is a very pertinent text for today. What I didn’t plan on was that the sermon itself would end up being a perfect example of what I was trying to get at through my current interpretation.

In light of the current climate in our country, I was really drawn to the idea of Paul taking time to be with and get to know individuals of different backgrounds before preaching the Gospel to them; and further that he didn’t worry about those who were not “won” or “saved” but even said that only “some” were. In so many conversations, in so much that I see as I watch people interact (including myself), I fear that this is exactly what we are missing – sitting WITH one another and listening instead of pushing our personal beliefs on others, whether they want to hear them or not.

One struggle that I face as a youth pastor is finding ways to get our youth invested in their faith life, especially through their attendance and attention during worship. I get it – worship can be “so boring” at times and there is “so much” that can be done during that hour. I also get that faith development is drastically stunted without this precious time spent in community, both glorifying and listening to God through our united voices and prayers. My dream is to require all youth to attend worship a minimum of 2 weeks each month, if not 3 weeks, but I realize that is only a dream.

With this struggle at the forefront of my mind as I watched the youth begin to settle into prayer stations during youth group, I decided to let them have a role in the worship planning. I was scheduled to preach and I wanted to be sure they were there AND paying attention, so I let them challenge me. “During these final three stations, in addition to your prayers, work with your group to come up with ONE word – any word – and I will use that in next week’s sermon.”

This was both the best and worst idea I have had in youth ministry. I cringed as I looked at the final list – platypi (which I had to use despite it being grammatically incorrect), naan, cheeseburgers, colloquial, cataract, toxicology, and Jesús.

As I stood up to preach yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of youth faces beaming up at me, each with their checklist in hand (as well as a few adults who knew what was going on!) With the use of the first word, “platypi”, a small group of middle school girls cheered and I struggled to hold back my laughter. At youth group, I asked the kids how each word was used and they might as well have re-preached my sermon as they remembered each key sentence and even summarized the whole thing.

“To the Jew, I became like a Jew”, Paul wrote. To the youth, I became like a youth. And it worked!

I didn’t plan on it working out that way, but in that moment I realized that the youth served as my own personal reminder of the importance of meeting people where they are before bringing them along with you. Something as simple as an absurd list of words brought them into worship and encouraged them to pay attention. They even talked about the sermon when they came in for youth group, comparing notes with each other. My minimal hope was that they would pay enough attention to hear the words before they tuned out and refocused on their phones.

After attending the Association for Presbyterian Christian Educators conference last week, I left both encouraged and full of unanswered questions. I was encouraged through several conversations I had, but I still didn’t know how to solve so many “problems”. In those excited moments with the youth who repreached my sermon, I found my answer. Most problems in ministry are best solved by stepping back from what we know to be proper and allowing the chaos to break through as we meet our people where they are. In those chaotic, unfocused, and improper moments we can begin to take steps forward together.

Sure, there are those who wonder why in the world I would choose to use “toxicology” and “cataract” in the same sermon and they might even reach out to my Head of Staff wondering if I am ok. But there are also those who rarely pay attention, IF they attend worship, who got the point yesterday – and that is worth every question of “has Jordan lost her mind?”

How do you meet your congregants where they are?
How would things change if the chaos was allowed to break in?

                Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M. Div. ’14)
Transitional Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

 

 

Hitting a Moving Target

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAhuAAAAJGZkNDI2ZGZjLTE1ZGYtNDRkYS04NjkxLTc2Mjc3ZmE1ZTQzOQ“This is the first time I have been to a church that actually has something for young adults!”

I wish I was surprised by this comment. I wish I wasn’t as relieved as I was when I heard it.

I currently serve as “transitional associate pastor for youth and young adults” with an incredibly vibrant congregation. We have roughly 1100 members and an active mission field larger than most I have seen (I even wrote about it as a church relations officer in 2015!). The youth program draws 50-60 individuals, grades 6-12, every Sunday between Sunday school and youth group. There are multiple levels of leadership for the youth and someone is always waiting to help in some way. This is a dream call, really.

Very early in this call, however, I noticed something missing. It seemed like everyone I talked to was beyond excited about everything I just mentioned… but never mentioned young adults. I remember asking the personnel committee, after a wonderful conversation about the youth ministry, “but what about the young adults?”

The response was silence, followed by a brief description of a monthly lunch and things that had been tried in the past. I felt a sense of lost hope and my heart broke. It was no different than almost any other church I visited as a church relations officer though, so I wasn’t completely surprised.

Young Adults (sorry, I refuse to call this group “millennials”) are a moving target of sorts. Not only are there so many life situations within this single group (college, graduated, single, married without kids, married with kids, divorced… the list is infinite), this is a group that is constantly on the move and trying to figure out how to make life work. This is a group regularly receiving prescriptions from those who are more experienced and know better; this is a group striving to be the ones who know better. Sometimes this group wants to dig in and have a deep theological discussion, and sometimes it is a group who just needs some fellowship after a long day of work. This group may not be able to show up on Sunday morning because of work, personal exhaustion, or nap time – and they need for others to be ok with that.

21232152_10103257051489751_7598114716916351085_nAs I prepared to start this transitional call, I started asking my friends what they needed. I asked those who are not in church on Sunday. I asked those who somehow managed to go to church more often than I did. I asked those who hate God, and those who are examples for the best of us in how to share God’s Word. I filled trash can after trash can with rough plans, schedules, and descriptions. I sent vision statements and logos (designed by a young adult I already knew!) to people and asked them a simple question, “Would you come?” I dreamed about gatherings – literally. I collected business cards at every “cool” place my husband and I visited. When the time came, I sent out an invitation via snail mail and all over social media, and prayed really hard.

When our group met for the first time, five of us sat around a table big enough for thirty at a local brewery. I left feeling like I had lost and cried over the phone to my husband, wondering what the effort had been for? I knew of at least fifteen who said they wanted to come.

23659359_10103416239859981_5253189002310750987_nA few weeks later, we had a different mix of five at a soccer game – I bought tailgate food for ten. With the encouragement of the husband who crossed out and reworded hundreds of schedules and statements with me, I kept sharing the upcoming events. We had seven, three, ten… fourteen. We continued to gather at the brewery, read and discussed a few books, assembled blessing bags for those experiencing homelessness, and managed to escape “Baker Street” in just under an hour. I cried on the way home in December when I realized we had reached my goal of fifteen. A casual conversation and many inquiring individuals along the way, was the start of a Wednesday morning coffee group for parents of young children that has become a place where, at the very least, eight moms are guaranteed caffeine and adult conversation. Every gathering acting as one in a series – a set number before we can “give up” and say it didn’t work.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity finally to sit in on our brand new Sunday school class – another six week “experiment”. I looked around at eleven faces in addition to the three who saw the need and committed to help teach on a rotation. Following worship, five of us gathered for another book discussion and lunch.

We broke thirty individuals who have been involved in some way.

Young adult ministry might be the hardest out there, and that is why it can be so hard to find. It would be so much easier to call it a bust than give up another evening in hopes that someone, anyone, will show up. It would be so much easier to celebrate the few in the pews than to reach out to those who are not and schedule another coffee or dinner meeting in hopes of finally getting face-to-face with someone. It would be so much easier to provide pastoral care as needed and focus on the other part of the common title “associate pastor for youth and young adults.”

Ministry isn’t supposed to be easy, though. And being a young adult is even harder. (Yes, I said it!)

If you are in a congregation trying to figure out just what to do with our crazy age group, I encourage you not to give up. I encourage you to keep trying, to constantly reach out and ask young adults instead of assuming; to take advantage of the times when only one or two show up, giving thanks for those hard to find opportunities, and try again for the larger group.

Believe me – I have shed more than my fair share of tears as I try to figure this out. However, persistence has led to a five member leadership team to share the planning and fatigue with. A five member leadership team who feel called to help to make this group succeed, so that there is a place for them to safely laugh and collapse as they navigate this crazy season of adulthood.

How does your congregation minister to young adults?
What struggles have you found along the way?
What are your celebrations?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div. ’14)
Transitional Associate Pastor for Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

 

Resolutions and Reflections

lionmirror4It has now been a week since the new year began and everyone seems to be asking “what are your resolutions?” After many failed resolutions, I tend to steer away from New Year’s Resolutions nowadays. Something about the guilt of the “failed” diet, missed workout, and consumed beverage just doesn’t make me feel so great during the long and cold winter months. While planning discussion topics for my young adult groups this past week, I kept hearing that “question of the month” in my head but couldn’t bring myself to go there in our discussions, so I began to think about resolutions in a new way.

Typically, we make resolutions in the light of things we “should” do better or differently as way to match some magic mold created by media and society. What if we looked at them, instead, as avenues to reflect our faith in God and to portray more the way that God is working in our lives?

With this thought in mind, I asked some of the parents in my “Parents of Young Children” group (a mouthful, huh?) “What resolutions have you made and how do they reflect your faith and how God works in your life for YOUR CHILDREN?” Since then, I have also asked my general young adult group and my youth advisors a variation of this question.

It was interesting to look at both typical and unique resolutions in this way.

If we are resolving to lose weight so that we look better, are we really portraying the important fact that we are created in God’s image? How can we expect our children to live into this beautiful reassurance if we do not?

If we resolve, instead, to be more active so that we have more energy, feel better, and are healthier and thus able to spend time with and care for our families in a fuller way, we show a care for and appreciation of God’s creation in us as well as for others. We are more able to live into our call.

We also talked about resolutions to both receive and share hospitality more often, to spend more face to face time rather than just computer to computer time, and even to take advantage of more opportunities in life. Jesus didn’t minister or live behind a computer screen or scroll and he didn’t shut the door on guests — he ministered and lived WITH the people, face to face, eating WITH and praying WITH them. I don’t remember reading about Jesus saying, “No thanks, that is out of my comfort zone…”, instead Jesus led others out of their comfort zones.

God created each of us in a beautiful and unique way – why do we so often resolve to find a way to fit the same mold as everyone else? How would our relationship with God change and grow if we shifted our resolutions to reflections of God instead? How would our relationships with one another and with the world change if instead of losing weight, we resolved to share God’s grace more?

This year, I pray that every person who has made a resolution finds a way to follow through – because we all need a little extra encouragement sometimes. I also pray that we each find ways to not only resolve to change the way we live, but also (and more importantly) find ways to reflect God in the way that we already live and seek to live.

What resolutions have you made and how do they reflect your faith and how God works in your life for YOUR families and congregations?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div.’14)
Transitional Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

 

The Gift of Inclusion

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It is interesting to think that our Savior’s life began in the midst of exclusion; that the one who was sent to bring God’s Kingdom together had to fight from the beginning just to open doors.

Joseph remained with Mary in an effort to keep her from being excluded. The young couple found themselves in a stable after they had been turned away by an innkeeper. The young family fled as the ruler sought to exclude every baby boy to hone in on the One. Until the day that he died, Christ fought against exclusion.

As a youth pastor, one of the biggest things I watch for in every gathering is that every youth member is able to take part in the activities. I look for the youth who is sitting alone or stepping to the outside of the group. I look for the group of teenagers who have formed a circle with backs to others. I urge our youth leaders to reach out to their peers as I see cliques forming. This can be difficult to do at times when there are 50 bodies moving around at the speed of light, but it is something that I think we all need to be sensitive to.

It seems that youth today spend almost all of their energy on seeking acceptance. Maybe they try to find this acceptance through their appearance or interests; I remember a spell in my own adolescence when I sought it by getting poor grades (my parents didn’t let that last long!).  With all of the differences among them, however, this desire for acceptance is one of the few things they have 100% in common.

Several weeks ago as I rode the bus to take some of our children home, I remember asking them what their favorite part of the night was. Very quietly, almost lost in the chorus of “the games and crafts!”, one young boy said “my favorite part was being included.”

My heart stopped as I looked at the eyes of this sweet child. I asked him if he wasn’t usually included, “not all of the time” he whispered back. My heart ached and leapt for joy all at once. He was included! But why hasn’t he been before?

Matching interests and finding “perfect friends” for every youth that walks through our doors is incredibly difficult. As I continue to reflect on this young child’s comment, I wonder if I am going about inclusion the wrong way.

When we read the accounts of Christ’s ministry, despite the exclusion that he suffered himself, we don’t read about surveys he handed out to ensure that each disciple was compatible or that each person was worthy of his company. Instead, we read about the no-questions-asked sacrificial Love and inclusion of all. Christ didn’t look at appearance or interests, he didn’t ask qualifying questions before eating with the outcasts. Why do we spend so much time focusing on these little details?

In a broken and divided world waiting for that star of hope to shine once again, each one of us are seeking acceptance in some way – it isn’t just the kids. We all long to say that our favorite part was being included, yet we all struggle including.

I keep thinking about the incredible Love we celebrate during this season of Advent. I think about the words of hope that the young child offered that night on the bus. I think of the common joy shared among my youth each week, regardless of qualifiers. I think of God’s grace for all of us, sending us our Savior in the midst of exclusion and struggle, as we each find our way in this crazy journey. I pray that we might begin to live with one another the way that Christ lived- with little worry about qualifiers and reasons to walk with one another in our shared journeys.

How do you seek inclusion in your own life?
How do you help to ensure inclusion in your congregation?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M. Div. ’14)
Transitional Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

Because God First Loved Us

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As we begin this Advent season, I find myself thinking quite a bit about love. This is the time of year when we intentionally focus on the greatest of all forms of love, the physical embodiment of God’s Love in Christ. We find ourselves both anxiously awaiting Love’s arrival while celebrating Love in our midst.

I have been encouraged by Love quite a bit recently. I have found Love in places that I did not necessarily expect.

Just over a month after beginning my current Call, I found myself telling a group of middle school youth “Behave! I love y’all.”. I didn’t know all of their names yet, but as I sent them off to their cabins for bed at the presbytery-wide retreat, the words just spilled out. The next day a youth asked me why I said that and I wasn’t sure how to answer other than, “It was what needed to be said.” For some, that might have been the only time that day someone said those words. For others, those words might have been the encouragement needed to face a scary first weekend away from home. For all, I hope it was encouragement that even though I didn’t yet know their names, they held a special place in my heart already.

Last week at the close of our Advent Fair, a mother from one of our ministries came up to me as we prepared to leave. She embraced me in a hug, thanked me for eating dinner with her and her children, and told me she loved me. I knew only her name and her children’s Christmas wish list, but those words built a bridge that will forever connect us. I pray I see her again, but there is no guarantee. In that moment, however, we were family and an incredible love was shared.

I think on these and so many other moments in my ministry and I find myself sitting in awe at the power of God’s Love. I find myself craving that Love and anxiously awaiting another moment to share that Love. I find myself gazing at my nativity set pondering that powerful Love that sent Christ to us; the powerful Love that embraced our needs, desires, and faults all at once and answered our every prayer with the ultimate Love.

This season, we await so much more than a baby boy. We long for so much more than a day of celebrations. We await a beautiful, sacrificial, forgiving, life-altering Love that can only come from God. We celebrate a Love that has already been shared with us despite our misgivings and has been taught to us despite our hard-headedness. We strive to share a Love that we can barely begin to comprehend, yet we crave so deeply in the midst of a darkened and struggling world. We long for a Love embodied that will change our world, bringing Light and Peace with it once again.

20171206_191308Looking at my decorations, I let my gaze settle on a figurine of Santa kneeling at the manger and I am reminded of the many forms this Love can take. I am reminded of our call to share that Love with all who we meet. I see that Love embodied in two different ways and wonder where my place is in this scene… and it seems to me that it just might be shouting through that screened-in cabin porch to a group of youth who I don’t yet know or embracing the woman who I might never see again. I linger on that figurine and I know the answer to that youth’s question…

I told you I love you because God loves you. I told you I love you because God loves me. I told you I love you because that is what I heard Christ say. I told you I love you because that is exactly what I am called to do.

In this season of Advent, I pray that we can find these precious moments to see and celebrate the Love that we both find ourselves waiting for and the Love that we see all around us. I pray that we will embrace that Love and shout that Love so that we no longer find ourselves waiting for Christ and instead see and celebrate Christ among us.

In this season of Advent, where in your congregations do you find God’s Love embodied as you await the birth of our Savior?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M. Div. ’14)
Transitional Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

Lonely & Waiting: Walking Through Advent With Those Who Are Grieving

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Three years ago, I approached Advent with a feeling of dread. As the world awaited our Savior, my family was preparing to lose a loved one. My grandfather’s health was steadily declining at the age of 89, and I remember visiting him the day after Christmas with a bit of hesitation. I knew this would likely be the last time that I saw him and my whole body ached with grief. All season, I wondered how we could celebrate Christmas knowing what was on the horizon. Less than a month later, he passed away.

The first year following his death, my mother encouraged my siblings and I to each write notes for our grandmother that would be included in an Advent basket. Each note was a memory we shared with our grandparents and was sometimes accompanied by a small gift. That year, our grandmother opened one card or gift a day and even though we couldn’t be there with her, we were still together through these memories and special gifts. We have done this every year that has followed.

In the shadow of a very difficult pastoral month with multiple deaths and hospitalizations, I think back to that year and the few that have followed. I think about the loss that my family prepared for in the midst of Advent celebrations, and I think of the empty space in the years that have followed. I think of my grandmother and the empty chair beside her.

I think about all of those in our lives, all of those in our congregations who have lost someone this year. I think about the emptiness that is only accentuated by the holiday festivities. How as friends and pastors, as the one Body of Christ who we await, can we be with them and help to make that hole a bit smaller this year?

Our Advent basket has become a tradition now, and I think I might gain as much from putting together my pieces as my grandmother does as she opens them. The memories with my grandparents come flooding back and my prayers for my grandmother guide my every step as I consider books and treats to include with my cards. I have found my own healing and my prayer is that the rest of my family has as well.

This holiday season, I encourage each one of us to consider what we can do to be a representation of the One who we await, for those who feel as if they have little to wait for. If the time allows, maybe it is through this Advent calendar of memories and prayers or maybe it is through visits and conversations. Even a phone call to let our friends and family know we are praying for them will help to fill the emptiness just a bit.

Does your congregation or family do anything for those who have lost a loved one during the year?
If you have experienced loss this year, how would you like to hear from your church and family during the holiday season?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (’14)
Transitional Associate Pastor
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)