On my journeys in Africa in during my stint in the Peace Corps, I would often find myself in a local village store in need of supplies. Lined on the make shift shelves would usually contain plastic bags of sugar, rice, loose leaf tea, sometimes dried beans, candles, and a couple notebooks and pencils for school children. The entire contents of the store could fit in a carry on suitcase. I had grown accustomed to this scene when I walked into most stores in the surrounding villages where I lives and worked. While most people found other ways of being fed, I was amazed that these stores still operated.
I have thought a lot about these small stores over the years as I have examined the various churches in which my ministries have taken me. Like the friendly shop keepers in Africa, our churches are often very friendly and welcoming. Many of our churches even offer a handful of programs for intellectual, spiritual, and developmental goals. While I am not convinced that these programs fit into an organized master plan for the nurture, enrichment, and transformation of the congregation or those visiting the church, each program still speaks to something that the church deems as important.
One of the goals of Peace Corps Agriculture and Forestry volunteers, such as myself, was to empower groups, which were mainly women, to grow their business and to thrive. Often times resources prevented one person from achieving this on their own, so co-ops were ideal in resource management, diversity of goods, and people power.
While these women co-ops had leadership that could guide them in smart decisions on how to stock their stores with goods that would move and be profitable, what resources does our church have to evaluate our programs, ministries, and worship opportunities to check the vitality and health of our constituencies? What does the church offer that empowers individuals and creates a passion for being a part of the life of the church? What are our benchmarks for individuals’ growth in the church?
I have a real passion for people and helping them become. For me, this is a holistic endeavor that requires a lot of foundation work in many facets of a person’s life. At Slumber Falls Camp, this has translated into goal overlays. In other words, each age groups have certain goals to make sure that our children and youth are progressing in their Christian walk and personal development. We have also diversified our approaches and programs based on Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory allowing us to tackle our goals from different angles to resonate with more types of learners. The use of 40 Developmental Assets, Bloom’s Taxonomy, and many other tools for reaching out to young people is central to our camping program. We are striving to be a tool for congregations to use in holistic development of children and youth. One of our goals is to help young people understand the value of being a part of an intentional Christian community and passionate about engaging the world. We recognized that this is not done overnight; however, we are changing our thinking to not just focus on the successes of each summer, but see our ministry in a larger continuum of the life of the church.
I would love to hear what churches are doing to engage the youth in their communities. I want to know how our ministries can strengthen one another. I am willing to not just have a conversation, but to begin a walk with each church, children’s ministry, and youth ministry so that our combined efforts, resources, and ideas can have farther reaches and deeper impacts. Like the co-ops in Africa, I believe that seeing ourselves as one church with various gospel spreading and enriching units (i.e. denominations, associations, local churches, etc.) will reconnect us as a single body of Christ, so that our efforts are more focused, intentional, and life giving.