Messaging

It should come as no shock to anyone that when I am silent, it is not because I don’t have things to say. Ironically, when I am silent, I often have many things to say. I either choose to keep silent for fear of being ranty, or I simply do not have time to purge my thoughts here on the blog. This most recent silence has been due largely to the latter issue. My days of late have been ridiculously hectic, full of frustrations and appointments and duties and tasks and insomnia and a host of other things. Oddly, I’ve been rather thankful for the ridiculous hectic, mainly because purging my thoughts could have easily veered toward the ranty.

Today I find myself so full of frustration that I can no longer contain the rant. I will try to keep it respectful.

I have been tasked with a mighty chore–to find a new charter organization for our American Heritage Girls troop. We are parting with our former charter on amiable terms, and in fact, the pastor has even offered to give us a “reference” should another church or school want to hear about how wonderful our organization and girls are. I cannot stress this enough–there really are no hard feelings at all between our troop and the church. It’s simply time to move on.

However, I’ve had almost two months to find a new charter, and I have had very little luck. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail because I don’t want to appear to be disparaging or a causer of dissension, but at this point, I have to throw up my hands and ask,

“What in blazes is wrong with you, church?”

My requests to talk to or meet with pastors have been met with everything from cautious questions to passive-aggressive nos (“it sure seems like a good program, so good luck”) to just plain ignoring my calls. I get the distinct sense that pastors and youth and children’s ministry folk see American Heritage Girls as competition or something. There seems to be very little comprehension that this program could actually benefit a church that sponsors a troop.

If I ever am so lucky as to get to the point of interaction with an actual decision maker in a church, I end up having something like the following dead-end conversation:

Me: “AHG is a Christ-centered scouting program for girls.”

Pastor, voice dripping with caution or doubt: “Is it like Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts?” (I can only assume the pastor is thinking of liberal theology or “great, we’d be in court all the time like the Boy Scouts.”)

Me: “Sort of. It’s a character development program centered on a biblical worldview. We give the girls a lot of time to develop leadership skills, serve the community, and learn about how to become a godly woman of integrity, purity, and compassion.”

Pastor, confidently: “Oh, we have a strong youth program and AWANA [or equivalent].”

Me: “AHG isn’t a replacement for those programs. It’s more like a complementary program that builds on the spiritual component many girls get in AWANA or youth group or Sunday school. For example, our merit badge program has six areas where girls can earn badges. The badges allow them to learn new skills and build their academic knowledge.”

Pastor: “So it’s like scouting?”

Me: *headdesk*

I’m honestly so frustrated. And really, while I know I can definitely improve my presentation, a whole lot of the problem is within the church itself–as evidenced by the fact that I can rarely even get a decision maker to talk with me. The church seems extremely put off by the whole concept that a young person can gain anything from a program that doesn’t involve straight-up gospel preaching.

Do you know what? The last time any of my kids were even interested in Sunday School was at least two years ago. My older two outgrew the standard, repetitive Sunday School curriculum about four or five years ago. These two budding adults won’t go to youth group, either.

Guess where they will go? Scouting.

And guess what, church? The unchurched who still believe in objective moral standards, opportunities for adventure, and strong skill-building will be a lot more likely to show up at a scout meeting than at a youth group meeting–no matter how many times you offer pizza and basketball.

In my not-so-humble opinion, the church has, to some degree, abdicated some of its responsibility to help develop the next generation of leaders. I’ve written more extensively about the problem of boring, watery theology at the Sunday School level, and I have held back on publishing it because I don’t want to be a ranter. But really, I’m so fed up with the concept that we can just “love on” kids and give them the same twelve moralized Bible stories and count on getting them in to the Kingdom this way.

I guess I see this as two issues, really. The first is that the church expects churched kids to be satisfied with the same old, same old, and just keep coming back for more moralizing. These kids want more. At least, my kids do. And we feed them a fairly steady diet of apologetics on our own. American Heritage Girls and the newly formed Trail Life USA offer an outlet for churched kids who need something different that’s still centered around some objective moral standards.

The second issue is the unchurched boy or girl. A churched kid might have some success in inviting his unchurched friend to the aforementioned pizza and basketball youth group with the cool worship band, but that rarely lasts very long. Boy Patriot has a friend who veers toward agnosticism, but he wants to join Trail Life USA when we start that troop. He loves scouting, he knows my son and my husband, and he wants to be part of something adventurous. Just imagine, church–an agnostic boy who comes to your church for scouting and gets to hear all about objective morality and strong character in the process. Why are you so antagonistic toward these programs?

This is nothing new, really. We ran into these same brick walls in our attempts to plant Boy Scout/Cub Scout units a few years ago. We assumed it was because the BSA was already leaning more in a secular direction. Now, I’m not so sure. I think the church just doesn’t like these types of adventure programs.

So I have to ask, church–how do I talk to you about these programs? How do I encourage you to consider sponsoring a troop, either for AHG or Trail Life USA or both? How do I even get you on the flipping phone?? And when I leave you a voicemail, what are the magic words that will make you call me back, pastor? Because honestly, at a certain point, just showing a sister in Christ the common courtesy of a response would be welcome.

I am as socially, politically, and theologically conservative as they come, church. I promise you, pastor, I have no intention of ruining these kids. I want to help you raise up the next generation of godly men and women.

But I can’t do that without your help.

So you tell me–how do we change the messaging so that the church understands that AHG and Trail Life USA are the kind of youth adventure programs that build whole leaders who are informed by their faith and equipped to do great things at the same time?

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4 thoughts on “Messaging

  1. Jane Wells (@2jewells)

    I think part of the problem may be that there is rarely one definable decision maker in any congregation – just 28 (rough estimate) gatekeepers between you and the board. Additionally, tragically, the whole system is set up so that “no” is easier to say than “yes”. One board member with an Eagle Scout could scuttle the whole conversation because this new-fangled, scouting-type program is a perceived threat to his/her child – missional opportunities be damned.

    1. jmpadoc Post author

      You are right about the decision maker aspect. A large church might have the dozens you suggest, while at a small church, the guy who answers the phone also preaches, makes coffee, and manages the building schedule. Oh, and runs the youth group on Wednesdays. It’s always easier to say no, I guess. But at this point, I would be happy with a clear “no” rather than this non-answer process!

  2. bringing bread

    Another reality is that you are not the only calling, leaving messages, and hoping to get a hearing for your very worthy group. Pastors, boards and churches are INUNDATED with people wanting the church to sponsor, give, support, etc. I TOTALLY agree with you about the courtesy of a returned phone call at the very least, and by no means am I making excuses for the churches. My husband and I have been in your shoes too many times to count and know very well the frustrations! BUT! We’ve learned that it is not personal. It is not right. But it is not personal. Keep praying. God has a place for your group… just the right place! He’ll provide.

    1. jmpadoc Post author

      Yes, you are right about being one voice among many in regard to the requests brought before churches, and I have tried very hard to remind myself of this reality as I continue down this road. But again, it’s just the courtesy factor–at least a “no” is an answer and gives me the freedom to move on.

      Thank you for the encouraging words. My fellow leaders and I are doing our part–pursuing leads and making the calls and asking the question. I am trusting that God will do His part–moving hearts, clearing schedules, and opening doors. 🙂

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