Category Archives: Family

3 Visionary Ways to Engage the Heart of the Prodigal Family

ProdigalFamFall is the time of year when the days grow shorter and the fireflies glow softer. The season when the amber aura of Friday night stadium lights illuminate the welcome relief of cooling dusk hours.

As sunburns fade and school assignments increase, many families make their annual migration back to church from weekends at the lake or ball field.

In these Fall Sundays, church leaders have an unnervingly short window to reintegrate these passive parents into active biblical community and reinvigorate in them blessing of body-life. Instead of finger wagging at their summer delinquency, the grace-full leader will leverage this opportunity to welcome families back home.

You do not have to affirm seasonal church attendance to reconnect with a seasonal church attender. If you hope to engage prodigal families this fall, keep these thoughts in mind:

Do not ask for more time… cast vision of great impact.

Paint a picture of the value to personal and family growth by connecting in a group or in a volunteer role. Remember, these families have demonstrated a willingness to prioritize their finances and calendar to the things they perceive will matter. Instead of giving them another event to put on their already-too-busy calendar, build deep wells of engagement by speaking of the impact missional involvement has on their family.

Do not ask for more money… give opportunity for investment.

Use vision language to speak to the real and immediate consequences of a mission activity, season of ministry impact, or facility need. The average family in our culture spends the fall paying down their “perfect summer” of credit card expenses, just in time to run them up again in the name of perfect Christmas memories. Remember, parents will invest resources where they sense a real and personal return. Today is the best time to help them see beyond the rusting, moth-ridden pleasures of now to the eternally stored treasures of heaven.

Do not ask for more guilt… share an abundance of grace.

It may be convicting to realize that our generic “life together” descriptors and ineffective development strategies are the reason families disconnect so easily. Many parents in your congregation see very little difference in spending time with travel ball parents criticizing coaching or referees, than they do circled around God’s Word with youth group parents. Many of these fathers and mothers have not been discipled or taught to see the value of Biblical community over sporting competition. Encourage parents to engage each week with meaningful bible studies or teaching points, supported by intentional next-step discussions beyond the Sunday morning pulpit.

When it comes to engaging families this fall, remember:

Giving Value > Getting Time

Helping Invest > Raising Money

Abundant Grace  > Heaping Guilt

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Filed under church growth, Church Life, Family, Outreach, pastoral leadership

3 Ways to Reconnect with Distracted Families in Your Church

I saw them last Sunday morning. 

“Those” families that we like to grumble about, and get defensive over on Monday mornings… they were in my hotel dining area for breakfast last Sunday.

While we were standing on the stage, disappointed that parents will brave the cold temperatures and icy roads for a ball tournament but not church; they were sitting in the lobby engaging with other parents preparing physically for the day, but not spiritually.

While we were tempted to include them in the attendance counts (because they would have been there), they were not even thinking about what they missed at church (because they really didn’t miss much last time).

A lot has been shared and said about the trend of membership becoming less meaningful and core families attending less often, but what will we, as church leaders, actually do to move past complaining and commiserating in the church office? How heartbroken are we over their spiritual trajectory, and not just our attendance trending?

Here are three intentional steps to reconnect with the distracted families of your church:

Engage Them beyond Programming. 

You are not likely to offer a sports league or family event that will rise in importance above their travel ball schedule, but you can engage their heart and mind in a way sports or busyness does not. What if these families need every bit, if not more, care and attention from you that your “good” families do? How might you be unknowingly withholding pastoral affection from leaders who feel truly committed to the church, even while they are lowering your weekly attendance averages? What step can you take to engage the distracted family this week?

Equip Them as Influencers. 

What resources are you giving these parents to maintain a connection to Christ and the church – even in a hotel lobby? Imagine these core travel-team parents as if they were leading a missional small group every weekend. What resources do you already have, and what resources are yet to be developed, to equip them to live and lead your church’s mission over delicious Hampton Inn waffles? You have a better chance to reach new families when your existing families are confidently equipped around a compelling great commission call.

Encourage Them in Christ. 

Distracted parents truly feel trapped in a no-win situation, between their children’s spiritual and physical development. When they choose church over a game, that usually means their child will occupy a spot on the bench for the next game as well. While leaders see the potential for healthy conversations as parents model right priorities, let’s be honest and admit that most will not. In the guilted-to-attend family, the kid just feels left out with the team and resentment for the church. How might you, as their pastor, step down from the pulpit and into their world to draw them back? How would Jesus spend more effort in expanding their potential than explaining their offense?

This Sunday, when “those” families are in yet another hotel lobby, let us work hard to help them feel engaged in something bigger than sport, equipped to share their faith with other parents, and encouraged as a part of the body of Christ away from home for the weekend.

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Filed under Campus Pastor, church growth, Church Life, Family, Jesus, Outreach, pastoral leadership

One Crazy Summer

bigyellowtruckThis has been the most intense, busiest and challenging season of my life, Kelly & I’s marriage, and our family. So, I will not even try to pretend I was intentionally taking a hiatus away from the Launch Clarity blog – I just have not had the energy to rustle up some writing.

In the last 4 months, since the last post, we have:

– Sold and packed up a house we loved in the Houston, TX area

– Once again, left behind a part of our hearts in close friendships we have made along the journey

– Lived with friends and family – much of that time everyone in the same room, and on mattresses on the floor

– Driven halfway across the country to replant our family in Middle Tennessee

– Bought a house that I had not seen until 3 hours before our closing

– Repainted, re-carpeted and moved all of our junk back into said house, well I didn’t move any of it, because I also…

– Broke a kneecap in a dog, boy, asphalt vs. me incident one evening

Throw in a busy travel schedule, serving churches from California to Pennsylvania and everywhere in between, and it has been almost overwhelming at times.

Through it all though, I have learned to trust God, lean-in to His plan and lead-out through His calling.

It has not been easy, but Kelly and I can see His guidance in every moment of this transition we have just made – even the broken kneecap. Along the way, these verses, Isaiah 58:11-12 have sustained me in some of the more challenging moments we have been through. Even now, as I read them again for this post, with one leg propped up, they bring comfort and hope:

The Lord will always lead you,
satisfy you in a parched land,
and strengthen your bones.
You will be like a watered garden
and like a spring whose waters never run dry.
Some of you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
you will restore the foundations laid long ago;
you will be called the repairer of broken walls,
the restorer of streets where people live.

My prayer, as this next school year starts up, one crazy summer winds down and we all look to what God has ahead, that the call to rebuild, repair and restore the broken and lost would inspire and motivate you as much as it does me.

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An Open Seat – NAAM

Technically, National Adoption Awareness Month has ended already, but I wanted to wrap this series of blog posts that celebrate our adoption journey with a look forward. This is not a glimpse into the future for our family, but even bigger than that, of all of our calling as followers of Christ. To catch up on our story, here is the first post in this series.

An Empty Chair

December found our family ringing in the Christmas month gathered on our special movie-viewing air mattress, with every blanket in the house, watching Elf. My kids love that movie, and I enjoy the thought of living life with joyful innocence

like Buddy the Elf, Will Ferrell’s overgrown North Pole transplant. Not only is the story funny, but it also encapsulates a beautiful picture of the selfless love of adoption and foster care.

Beyond feel-good Christmas movies, the reality is that in America today, there are just a little over 104,000 children in foster care who are eligible for adoption. Not only are these children ready to be adopted, many of them are old enough to recognize the need, and to carry the hope of finding adoptive parents. They are most likely receiving wonderful care from loving foster families, but there is a reality of the promise of a family to call their own that is missing.

Then, when you begin to look across the world, there are hundreds of thousands more children living in group homes, orphanages, and worse yet, left to fend for themselves on third-world streets. Kelly and I have seen in Africa, first-hand, the extreme poverty some orphans experience, as well as the power of a group of people making a difference. We have laughed with children eating birthday cake for the first time, and cried over the grave of an infant who reached care, but was already too malnourished and sick to sustain life.

The fact is, every one of us has the power to do something about orphan care. Everyone. You may not feel able to adopt or foster a child, and it certainly is a challenge, but you are fully able to support and walk alongside those that do. In fact, if you are a Christian, then these words from James bring more than an ability, they bring a calling:

Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. – James 1:27

So as we leave November and look toward the birth of a Savior, called Emmanuel, God With Us, the best way to be unstained by the world of consumer entitlement is to give freely and sacrificially to those who have nothing to offer in return but love.

To be God with them. 

And, as I leave this series of blog posts, I wonder, is there a seat open at your family table for the child who sits alone today? Is there room on your blanket palette for a little one who needs some popcorn and snuggle time?

We tend to think so… and pray that you might as well.

Kelly and I love Elevare International and they work they do for orphans around the world. Find out more here.

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Filed under Adoption, Family, Jesus, The MET

Thanks Giving

Today I would like to Give Thanks for…

The Cross and my only hope for forgiveness and a life that matters.

A God who would go to that length for me.

Not having to have answers for the Why, even though I am struggling today.

My beautiful wife who loves me, laughs with me and is a great mom.

My hilarious kids who sing and dance and and are precious gifts of joy.

The opportunity to serve God through His Bride, the local church.

My parents and the childhood of adventures and top secret recipes I had.

My extended family, wish we could be there to build quilt forts today.

My friendships, spanning 3 decades, 5 states and 1,000s of miles.

I love you all, thanks for being a part of who I am..

For you that have lost someone this year, I am praying for you today.

Have a blessed and thankful day.

-B

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Just a Teddy Bear

Welcome to part three of our adoption story that we are sharing in recognition of National Adoption Awareness Month. Here is a link to part one and to part two. It has been a true honor and blessing to have heard from folks who have walked or are walking this same road to parenthood. Again, we hope God will use our story as encouragement in His journey for you.

That Sunday afternoon in March, our world completely changed in the span of a phone call. On the other end of the line, was a close friend of ours who had been connected with a young woman in the hospital with a baby girl. For reasons we are forever thankful for, he visited our birthmother, saw a little bundle of pink through the nursery window, and immediately saw us holding her.

The call went something like this:

“A baby girl was born yesterday, we think she is your daughter. Are you interested?” 

“Um, yes. We are.”

“Okay, I will go talk to the birthmother and will call you tonight.”

“Cool.”

And that was about it. The next few days moved in a fog of phone calls to attorneys, counsel from a social work friend and very little sleep. We had more questions than answers, and no assurance that our birthmother would sign her papers, but we knew that no matter what God would direct our steps.

Living in Dallas at the time, we had about a 6 hour drive to go and, potentially, meet our daughter. Before we left the apartment, I remember walking upstairs to what would hopefully be her room. It was almost completely empty, save a teddy bear in the corner. The gift from an adoption agency closing it’s doors on us, and the promise that God was with us every step of the way. There was no prior “nesting” moment, no furniture selection trip, no car seat or changing table.

We struck out prayerfully, to hopefully meet our daughter, with just a teddy bear.

If something went wrong, and we were again turning from the sunrise into a dark night of childlessness, we decided that we would just keep driving. We would find a beach somewhere and go off the grid until we were good and ready to re-emerge. The chance that this adoption would not happen was in the choice of a mother, dreaming of a better life for her child than she felt she could provide.

At a Louisiana rest stop, while I was in the men’s room, the call came. This amazing young woman, who will forever be our hero, had signed the papers, and we had a baby. For the next few hours, the speedometer stayed pegged at or above 100 mph, as we drove and cried, drove and sang, and drove thanking God for answering our prayers.

On March 10, our Gotcha Day, we finally met our baby girl, with close friends by our side. I’ll never forget whispering her name in her ear for the first time, and telling her we had been waiting years to meet her. Every doctor’s visit, every negative pregnancy test and every crushing phone call were a distant memory. In that heartbeat, we knew we would do it all again 10 times over because she was our daughter, home in our arms at long last.

Then we went to Target.

Somehow the baby registry gun found it’s way to my hands, and so along with the outpouring of love from our friends and family, came a boatload of diapers and Skittles. We eventually got a crib, changing table, wipey warmer and other essentials for parenthood, but for a while, all we needed was that bundle of pink in our arms. The first Sunday back at the church where I was on staff, we introduced our daughter to the congregation, Lion King opener-style. No less than 4 little-old ladies scolded me for holding her up over my head at the pulpit-turned Pride Rock.

Months later, at the adoption finalization hearing, my grandmother’s gavel that she held in her hand for years as a family court judge, was now in another judge’s hand as the adoption became official. We were finally parents in practice, and also now according to the law. Over the next few years, birthdays were celebrated with family and friends, then a few days later, the 3 of us would gather on March 10. Gotcha Day every year became the chance to tell our daughter the beautiful story of a selfless woman and of a sacrificial act of love. We speak appreciatively of the broken road that God walked us along to form our family, as well as watch the video of the moment we first made eye contact.

Then one day, the phone rang again. Just about a month before our daughter’s 5th birthday, we got another call. And another opportunity to make a child a part of our family. This time around, we had more time to prepare, but nothing would prepare us for that sacred, solemn moment in a hospital room. 5 weeks after the next call, a 24 hour-old boy was again placed into our arms by another amazing young woman.

In the middle of our joy, we did not even realize that our second birthmother was packing to leave the hospital. After a tearful goodbye, and before we really, fully grasped the totality of the moment, Kelly and I were in the room alone. Standing there with a baby boy in our arms, the maternity nurse walked in and simply said, “congratulations mom and dad.”

Our family was now four strong, we had a daughter and a son.

Oh, and there was one more God-smile moment… It was March 10 again.

Got-Ya’ll Day.

We received a little “I’ve Got This” reminder that, when we could not see a way, God had already worked out something bigger than we would have ever known to have asked or dared to have imagined. So here we are today, during this Adoption Awareness Month in 2012, blessed with two amazing, hilarious, brilliant rays-of-sunlight-of-children.

And, yet we cannot escape this feeling, another call may be coming.

Next Week… Another Seat at the Table

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Filed under Adoption, Family, Jesus

In Adoption’s Revolving Door

This is part two of our journey to parenthood in recognition of National Adoption Awareness Month. You can read the first part of our story from last week here. Kelly and I hope you are encouraged by God at work in our story.

If the decision to pursue adoption was grueling and gut-wrenching, it was nothing compared to the actual adoption process. We naively thought that once we decided to adopt, it was just a matter of filling out some papers, paying some money and waiting for someone to hand us a kid. And if that didn’t work, we would just re-enact our favorite movie at the time, Raising Arizona, and go grab us a young ‘un.

As it would turn out, the adoption process was actually a lot like being stuck in a revolving door. We worked hard to get in, and had opportunities to get out on both sides, we just never could. We quickly found that pursuing adoption through the typical agency process is a yogurt-machine-middle-handle swirl of endurance trial and swimsuit competition.

It takes ruthless persistence to just fill out the initial paperwork with an agency. We answered questions and wrote essays that disclosed more information to strangers than we even knew about ourselves. There were interviews of interviews, fingerprinting, background checks and at one point, we were separated to be interviewed individually, as if we actually might be H.I. and Ed McDunnough.

We also put together what is known as a “profile” for birth mothers to review. To choose the man and woman to parent their child, from cropped and glued pictures in a notebook. Perfectly normal, like a Trapper Keeper Beauty Pageant. Kelly and I nipped and tucked our pictures, and forgoing the typical “scrapbooker” route, created ours digitally, which might have also allowed for slight edits and corrections to photos. Why workout when you have photoshop? Our hopes and dreams were riding on appearing somewhat normal, friendly and stable for giving a kid to. I guess it worked.

After getting a phone call that our profile had been selected, that we were one of two couples that a pregnant high school senior had wanted to interview, the phone immediately became our best friend and worst nightmare. We had a great interview with this amazing young woman, who knew she could not provide her soon to be born little boy the life that she dreamt for him. She wanted to place him with a family that could, maybe us. The phone rang a few days later and she told us she indeed wanted us to be her baby’s parents. We knew what it felt like to get “The Rose” from the bachelorette, pun intended, and immediately jumped on the phone to tell everyone we knew that in just a month or so, we would be parents. It was our one chance at the “we’re pregnant” announcement.

The next morning the phone rang again. Just as we thought we were getting out of the revolving door, it sped up, trapping us inside. I answered that phone call and heard that for legal reasons, our birthmother of 24 hours would not be able to place her baby boy in our empty arms. We were immediately devastated, as a whole lifetime of good morning hugs, pickup basketball in the driveway, kissing boo-boos and driving lessons fell broken on the green carpet floor of our apartment. That day we drowned our sorrow in retail therapy at the Arlington Mall, in a Jackie Chan movie and at PF Changs.

In the next year, we got more phone calls, including one that led us to Lubbock, Texas, to meet with a sweet girl who we just knew immediately would not be birthing our child. Some phone calls were from from friends who were calling us, as gently and kindly as they could, with their “we’re pregnant” announcements. We tried, as best we could to be happy for them and we truly were.

The revolving door started spinning so fast at one point, we even got the most unimaginable phone call of all. Our case worker broke the news through her tears this time, that our adoption agency was closing its doors and “our file” would be moved to a new agency across town. We feared we would simply become a manila folder in back of a metal drawer and mourned yet another loss. As they were literally packing the office up during our final meeting, we were handed a teddy bear in remembrance.

Kelly and I continued to walk this winding, seemingly unending road to parenthood, enduring and making the best of every moment. We played drinking games with our water bottles at parenting seminars, chugging a swig every time someone said the word breast feeding. We shared a high-five every time we learned terms like episiotomy, butt donut or postpartum. We ached to be parents and struggled to understand why we were somehow not-worthy of raising a child, but managed to keep our sanity.

Looking back now though, in the midst of what could have been the worst days of our lives, by God’s grace, our marriage grew stronger than it ever could have otherwise. We learned to be content who we are and live for Him no matter His deafening silence to our most fervent prayers. We leaned on each other, made the most of every opportunity to be together, and stayed close at heart.

Kelly and I forged a marriage during those days. And we began to settle into a routine life, cussing daily at child-proof cabinet locks -we were for some reason forced to install- and waking up each day warily hopeful. One Sunday afternoon in March, in the midst of an after church NASCAR-induced nap, the phone rang again. The revolving door had finally stopped spinning.

Next Week: With Only a Teddy Bear

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Filed under Adoption, Family