I have recently begun to understand what might be on God’s heart as I have been out and about talking to church pastors about their children’s programs; or lack thereof. I am just beginning to understand that behind all that God has done to start The Matthew Initiative are the churches, the families , the children and the very future of our faith.
Kudos to all the churches out there who take children’s ministries seriously! They have allocated time, money and resources to making this priority in their churches, and boy does it show. Their hallways are filled with the vibrant energy that only children and young families can bring into a church. Their church’s future looks very bright, and they indeed have a future.
Around February the calls started really coming in. Can you come and talk to us? We heard you were starting a foundation and we could use some help. So, I have been out there talking, and to be quite honest, there is much to be concerned about. In too many struggling churches there are 2 to 5 children attending. There are lots of senior adults ( 50 to 75 on average), but few families with young children, even though they live close by in the neighborhoods. These churches are not at all sure how to go out and reach out to these young families. They are just hoping that they will wander in one day. One church recently painted a nursery bright butter cream yellow in the hope that there would be a baby or two show up on a Sunday morning. I pray they will come, but the odds of that happening are bleak. The budget tells the real story: an annual budget of $300.00 is not going to go far in an age of media driven learning. The new church starts have tremendous potential for children; but they lack resources…mostly space. They also lack expertise, resources and the basics most churches take for granted. What could happen in these churches if they had the resources….it could be one of the best gifts given to a new church start.
In the course of talking, listening to hopeful laity and pastors, and grieving over so much potential, and so little resources, The Matthew Initiative has identified three churches that we have committed to in our first year as a foundation. I have noticed a trend in all three churches: God is building synergy . He is pulling in people who have stepped up and said ” I want to be involved in this” , some of them from outside the church. The other trend is that other churches are starting to join together for this common cause of reaching children in their communities. I just have to think that pleases God very much when His children reach across their differences to join His work and the synergy He seems to be building in each one of these situations. I have been totally stunned by what God is doing in each of these situations. If we are successful, this will be a total game changer for all of these churches and so many more. Some of these churches will set the model for the churches who will follow them.
Lucky me, I have been witness to it all! Now I understand the 3:00 a.m. wake up calls .
I met with a good friend shortly after my resignation to tell her about the new foundation; she had called to ask me what I was up to and that I had been on her mind. Sally is a major mover in God’s Kingdom, and and God has done amazing things through her. This is what she shared with me when I told her about The Matthew Initiative:
1. If it is so big that only God can do it, then God is more than likely behind it.
2. Don’t worry or be anxious, let God do His work.
3. Stay in unity and prayer with other Christians, God will bring this movement beyond you and start working through other people as well.
Sounded good, and like a really tall order, especially the don’t be anxious thing. Soon the thoughts turned again into ” what am I thinking”. Who is going to give to this foundation in this economy.
I will never forget sitting in my chair and opening “the e-mail”. At first I thought I was seeing things, and then it hit like a bolt of lightening: our first donation, and the most precious. I remember being totally overwhelmed, moved away from the desk and started to cry. My staff was not sure what to do with me, or for me, so they just cleared out. What do you do when you are witness to God doing what you thought the day before to be impossible? I called some of the board members who had listened to me since fall and believed this was God’s doing. They seemed not to be as surprised as I was. That evening, personal praise and worship of a great, great God. In many ways, that was the birth of the Matthew Initiative.
And just to put a period on the whole thing, a month later I learned on a Monday afternoon that my salary had been underwritten , for the next year and 1/2 . Just taken care of on a sunny afternoon in a most extraordinary way! Now I could start the foundation without the burden of worry about my salary.
I think the Psalmist said it best: How majestic is your name in all the earth!
I read recently that courage is being scared, but saddling up and getting on the horse anyway.
I remember sitting in the big white church the morning I wrote my letter of resignation to pursue the cause of the Matthew Initiative. With all that God had done, I still thought…what am I thinking? I remembered my staff, my volunteers , the children and families of Kidz Zone, and my really comfortable job and cozy office in the big white church. I thought about Peter getting out of that boat by faith, or maybe by insanity. I am sure he was afraid too. But, I wrote my resignation statement and clicked send.
Not too long after that when things got quiet , and the “you are having a nervous breakdown ” thoughts started up again…and maybe I can send a “just kidding e-mail”, the phone rang. On the other end of the phone was a representative from The Orange Conference….them again! She asked if we were going to send anyone from the Big White church to the conference again. I told her I would not be going this year because I had just resigned and was starting a childrens ministries foundation. A long pause followed and she said, we are going to have to do something to help those churches also, there are so many of them. As a result of that conversation, an e-mail appeared stating that I would be a guest of The Orange Conference this year on behalf of the Matthew Initiative. They also wanted me to keep them up to date with what was happening with the foundation.
Also that afternoon another call came from my daughter , a college freshman. She informed me that she was sure she was going to become an RA for her school next year and her room and board expenses would be taken care of. A few weeks later we learned that she indeed would become an RA for the next academic year.
I can’t describe the feeling of peace I felt when I turned the lights off and walked out of my office at the end of the day in the big white church. That peace has continued to this day. It’s a really amazing thing when you step out of the boat, and find you indeed are on solid ground.
The first meeting of the Matthew Initiative was in January. I remember watching the sun come up that morning thinking ” this is it, we are really getting started”. It was both terrifying and amazingly exciting.
When everyone arrived the room was almost electric . Pastors were present who needed help getting their childrens program underway. Others were there representing churches who did not have children attending anymore, and were hopeful they could re-build. Everyone seemed to dig in and we all felt we were part of something bigger than any of us realized that day.
At the end of the meeting we had a mission statement: Starting and re-starting churches through dynamic childrens ministries .
We also laid out some basic core values:
A church without children is a church without a future
Children are vital for a new church start and they will bring their families with them
Childrens ministries should be fun and safe. Sunday morning should be the best hour of the week for children who attend.
Children are Jesus’ future church
One of the board members gave us a laser printer. As the meeting drew to a close, we gave thanks for God for a vital mission, and great board and the laser printer. The laser printer was our first real contribution.
Terrifying and amazing continue to be major themes.
So, we ( my fearless friends who have become a small but mighty team ) decided to start moving forward with The Matthew Initiative. In a series of meetings we developed a mission statement and the core values for the foundation. We also had many questions: who will do the legal work, what will this foundation look like, what about those legal fees and how do you do fund raising? I have always known that it is your friends that often confirm what you feel is God’s leading. I began to talk with people about the Matthew Initiative, they were all supportive and said the foundation was very needed. I also hoped that as we started moving forward God will meet us and confirm our direction. I hoped this, but as we moved into December I must admit, I secretly held my breath. Moving forward is a bit scary when you don’t know exactly where you are going.
On Christmas Eve I learned that a local law firm had decided to do the legal work of the Matthew Initiative…pro bono. I must tell you that Christmas Eve will never be the same for me again.
After initial meetings with the attorney’s I learned that the legal filing fees for this foundation would come to around two thousand dollars. A short time later a check arrived in the mail for $1995.67, a result of a life insurance policy my father had that we did not know about. This was from the federal government and it took them over 4 years to find me. I remember sitting in my garage and thinking ” you have my attention now”.
The day I signed the papers to begin the legal work on the foundation I put the check in the envelope and prayed ” would be nice to hear from you today; this is a lot of money”. How is that for faith ? Yes God, you have done some amazing things , but it would still be nice to hear “something” . I am moving forward, see me put this envelope in the mail…..but still…….but, but, etc.
Later that afternoon I got a call from one of the fearless friends: ” I just had to call and tell you”. She had run into a young woman who had almost bought her house and had recently moved from Pennsylvania. A conversation stuck up and naturally they asked each other what they did and what they were up to. My friend stated she was helping a somewhat crazy person start a ministry foundation for children. She asked her new friend what she did: ” I help do fund raising for non-profit foundations”. That was the first time I went into full on ” fetal position mode”.
We followers of Jesus say with great confidence that with God anything is possible, but do we really believe it? It is one amazing journey to see God working and going before to accomplish His great purposes. I don’t say that lightly anymore.
So, in early December I found myself pondering if I was going to do something about this staggering need and my own struggle with whether or not to move forward.
The amazing thing about this entire journey is that just when I was struggling , someone would come along to affirm that moving forward was indeed the way to go. Anjie is definitely one of these people. Although I had never met her, or even talked with her , one day out of the blue came an e-mail from her . She had heard about the foundation from one of the church’s I was trying to help, and what she shared was a turning point as I sat in my chair in my big comfortable office in my really big comfortable church:
“My husband was appointed to his church in June. His is a perfect example of a church that is on the cusp of really growing. He is bringing in all kinds of new younger folks and baptizing kids and adults. The congregation is really interested in doing things well, but has no idea of how to do different aspects of ministry. I know our church is one of many across Georgia and the country. They could grow if they had quality ministry with the children and definitely have the need , but have a hard time funding a position until after they grow. I have a pastor friend in Chicago in an urban setting with an average age in the congregation of 27. There are children everywhere, but they don’t even have a nursery yet! She’s scrambling to keep up with the children’s ministry , but has very little money coming in from the congregation. It’s the same problem everywhere in smaller churches that are trying to grow whether they are new starts or older, renewing congregations. It seems like a great thing that you are seeing this need and working to do something about it!
I carried this e-mail around with me everywhere I went for the rest of the month. I held onto to it as I went to talk with my own senior pastor in the big white church about what I was discerning to be my call to start this foundation. He gave me some great advice that day…..walk through the doors that are opening to you.
None of us had any idea of the doors that would soon be opening.
Thanks Anjie !
Back to my nervous breakdown , I did what anyone else does that thinks they are having one: I ignored it. The “ignore it plan”worked for awhile, but then the 3:00 a.m. wake up calls started. For two weeks I would wake up at 3:00 a.m. and think “non-profit foundation”. Now, I am a very sound sleeper and nothing wakes me up. The house could be ON FIRE and I would sleep through it. Just ask my husband who does not have this ability.
So, I would wake up and think darn…. there is this crazy idea again and I would pull the covers up over my head and try to go back to sleep. The key word here is “try”. After several nights of this madness I decided to go out on a limb…..”OK God ,if this is you ,I have a few things to say”. That is when the conversations/negotiations began.
Do you know how ridiculous this is?
Do you think I am crazy?
You have me mixed up with someone far more capable.
What about my great job and my comfort zone?
Really, what about Kidz Zone?
I don’t have any idea how to start or run a serious non profit foundation.
I don’t have a lawyer.
I don’t have a board.
Everyone I know will think I am crazy.
Go pick on someone else.
PLEASE go pick on someone else.
To test if this was perhaps God talking, or true insanity coming on, I decided to invite two amazing friends to dinner and tell them about all of this. Surely they would tell me how crazy I was and to just get over it. So, we met for dinner and I told them about my walk and the non profit foundation I was beginning to think might be God’s idea. They looked at me, and started getting excited about it. They then bravely told me that they would help me do this! OK, this might really be God.
So, I decided the ones who know when God is talking is my graduate school Asbury Theological Seminary. I set up an appointment with the Dean of the school of Christian Education and set off for the Kentucky campus on a beautiful November weekend. Dr. Stonehouse listened and I waited for her response. She shared that not only was this so very needed, but the non profit way of helping churches was so out of the box, that it would work. She also began to talk about ways the foundation and the seminary could work together and shared strategies of how to structure the work of the foundation. Really?
Later that day I learned Dr. Tennent was on the campus , so I dropped by to run this by him. Dr. Tennent, the new president of the seminary, is an amazing expert on the state of world Christianity. I shared my idea about the foundation and what he shared finally convinced me that it was God indeed.
Dr. Tennent knows that in today’s world there are two kinds of emerging churches: new church plants and churches who will begin to decline and fail. He further shared that the seminary was going to have to train it’s pastors differently; to go into new church starts or to go into churches that were in trouble. The day of going in to “maintain” an existing church is changing profoundly. God had been talking to him also.
That afternoon Dr. Tennant signed his new book for me; Theology in the context of World Christianity. The way he signed my book “ God bless you as you help churches grow and grow again” has become the mission statement for the Matthew Foundation.
Helping churches grow and grow again through dynamic Children’s Ministries .
Thank you Dr. Stonehouse and Dr. Tennent.
I have slept soundly, more or less, ever since.
A Kidz Zone Story
I need to go back about five years to explain how The Matthew Initiative came to be. Five years ago I found myself the new Children’s ministries director of a big white church in Roswell Ga. However, they had a problem. Their children’s program was tanking; 187 kids on a good Sunday in a church of 7000 is not good news. However, the new parents were excited about a new way of doing children’s Sunday morning teaching they had heard about at Northpoint community church. The reason they knew about it, was a lot of their friends from the big white church had started going there with their children.
At first I was not convinced, so we sent the spies over to Northpoint . It was amazing. They had really come up with a program to teach children in a new dynamic way with live drama, music and media now known as large group/small group. We were relentless in learning everything we could from Northpoint. We pestered their staff, showed up unannounced to see their children’s facilities, asking questions, and sending more Sunday morning spies. They were wonderful and patient with us. They even invited us to a focus group at Northpoint with Reggie Joiner. I think they were wondering if a bunch of Methodists could come into the 21st century and really pull this off. We attended one of the first Orange Conferences in a hotel room in Orlando , Florida….again begging them to help us teach our staff how to do this new way of doing children’s ministries. Again, they were wonderful and showed us what we needed to know.
Meanwhile back at the big white church with 187 kids, the fellowship hall was renovated, small group rooms were stripped of tables and chairs, and a consultant was hired to teach us about program orders, motions to children’s praise music, and how to use power point in the large group programs. Color was added to the hallways of a very vanilla traditional church and it started to look like kids might actually want to hang out there on Sunday mornings. We decided to start Kidz Zone with the Kindergarten and first grade children. You need to understand that this was a desperate group. The “volunteers” were asking me when they could get out of their very shaky Sunday commitments and I am certain the kids were plotting their escape.
The rehearsal for the first Sunday of our little experiment went badly. I am certain that no one was speaking to one another when they left. I remember waking up on the first Sunday of Kidz Zone thinking….what have I done. But on the way to church that morning, someone on the radio shared “ The Lord inhabits the praises of His little children” and I remember thinking….I sure hope so.
So, on a cold February morning ,Kidz Zone at the big white church got underway. The drama volunteers performed like they had been doing it for two years, and saying that the children were AMAZED would be an understatement! No one was trying to quit and the kids were not trying to escape. Everyone started having a really good time. After awhile, more volunteers started showing up, and children started insisting their parents bring them to Kidz Zone. Sunday mornings were fun and the children went home enthusiastically telling their parents what they had learned.
. Since the start of Kidz Zone children’s attendance grew to 350-400, and soon other United Methodist churches began showing up to witness “The Miracle on Mimosa Blvd”.
Soon , another very traditional Methodist church wanted to change their children’s program to Kid Rocks and a Kidz Zone pioneer was sent to Decatur, GA to help them. She is still here, for now. We started attending Promiseland and Orange conferences and it became a highlight of our year. Seems like when we would hit a challenge, there was Orange. Thanks Reggie Joiner and Sue Miller.
Last year the church plant pastors started showing up. They decided they wanted to start their new children’s programs doing large group/small group. The challenges of these new churches is that there is hardly any money for anything, not to mention children’s resources, materials and especially staff to show the way. So, I started giving them the left over resources of Kidz Zone and mostly drove my staff crazy . They too started to grow. Then the churches who were failing started to show up, hopeful that their children’s program too could start to grow again.
So, off I went on my walk that fall afternoon, finding myself with 4 churches including the big white church . How to help them….and then the thought….non-profit foundation.
I need to stop here and share that on Wednesday February 10th, The Matthew Initiative, inc. was legally incorporated. What happened between the walk and the 10th of February was something only God could do. I am certain He knows about the other big church down the street from our big white one. Recently the children’s staff was let go and the senior pastor is now running their children’s program. Recent budget difficulties have hit them hard. I am certain that they are not alone.
May the movement we have come to know as The Matthew Initiative grow to help these hurting and hopeful churches. But, like with Kidz Zone, I had no idea of what was going to happen that fall afternoon.