Staying Focused on Older Adults


The future of our churches, in whatever form they may take, will depend upon today’s young adults. We’ve learned through countless studies, as well as from personal observations, that our congregations are growing older.  The realization seemed to hit us out of the blue and in a somewhat-frenzied effort to make up for lost time, we changed our communication styles, our worship services and our outreach efforts. We did good, right? Not if our newly acquired vision ignores those who are right before our eyes.


Don’t Turn a Blind Eye

“Of course it’s extremely important for churches to do what it takes to attract young singles and couples. It always has been,” says Rev. Dr. Jeff Wilson, a minister at Brentwood United Methodist Church (BUMC) in Brentwood, Tenn. “As churches, we noticed that there were a lot of older folk in our congregations, but just because we gear up to attract and serve a younger crowd doesn’t mean we ignore the old one.”

Wilson, a pastor in BUMC’s Caring Ministry, created the church’s “older adult” ministry just over a year ago with little-to-no fanfare.  “It was kind of a quiet roll-out,” says Wilson. “We didn’t need a logo or a catchy tagline to create awareness; our target audience was already here.”

Instead, Wilson holds quarterly events that highlight concerns commonly shared by older adults. “For instance we had a half-day gathering that focused on what you need to think about as you approach retirement. Mentally, physically and spiritually”, he explains. “We have another gathering planned on to how to handle grief … and not just the kind of grief you experience over a death. You can grieve the loss of a career and the loss of purpose.”


Seeing God at Work

The four, yearly events are an important component of BUMC’s older adult ministry, but Wilson says it is through hospital, nursing home and shut-in visitations, a flower-delivery ministry, in-home communion service, a prayer shawl ministry, an Alzheimer support group and weekly caregiver respite activities that he gets to see God at work in the ministry on a daily basis.

“Of course building people’s relationships with God … that’s what this is all about,” says Wilson.  “Wherever they are on their spiritual journey and however they came to this point, it’s an opportunity to be with people in this stage of their lives – to walk them home.”


Coming into Focus

Announcements about events and classes are listed in the bulletin and other regular forms of church member communication, but Wilson says he also uses email when he wants to target just a portion of the church’s older adult database. “Rarely do I come across someone who does not use email,” he says. “So, we can sort within our older member database and direct the invitation, event information … directly to a specific list. “

Wilson also communicates to the entire older adult ministry through a weekly email/blog called Jeff’s Foot Notes. “I really just talk about what’s on my mind each week and tie it into a spiritual lesson or observation,” he explains. “Because I, too, am an ‘older adult’, members seem to relate to my experiences, and it’s a way for me to continue to build relationships.”


Using a Wide Angle

Typically, a targeted ministry doesn’t have generational crossover … something many churches are trying to change, but Wilson says that’s not the case with older adult ministries.

“You have to remember that there are older adults and then there are older adults,” he smiles.  “So even at a smaller church, you’re going to have people in their 60’s as well as people in their ‘80’s and even 90’s.”

Wilson won’t actually define the term “older adult” saying it doesn’t really matter. As long as the members are being spiritually fed, he’s happy. “I guess I figure that if you have to wonder whether or not you are an ‘older adult’, you’re an ‘older adult,’” he chuckles.


Judy Bumgarner is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee.

When is a Staff Retreat Like Vacation Bible School?

By Judy Bumgarner


The staff retreat. When is the best time to pull your employees away from the office? Where is a good place to hold the event? What topics should you address? How do you make it both fun and informative? The answers are right under your nose.  Take a close look at the planning and execution of Vacation Bible School and you’ll find that your Children’s Ministry staff are retreat masters. Mirror every element of a great VBS and you’ll pull off a successful employee retreat.


When There’s a Theme

When cardboard boulders line your church hallways or construction paper fish hang from the ceiling of your Fellowship Hall, it’s a sure sign that VBS is in the making. It’s also a clue to one of the most important building blocks of a winning event: the theme.

Choosing a theme does more for a retreat than determining decorations. It provides the framework for the retreat’s message. For instance, VBS curriculum “Cave Quest” grounds kids in “the rock-solid foundation of God’s love”. “Deep Sea Discovery” is designed for kids to “dive deep into God’s presence.”


When There Are Activities

You can’t expect children to sit still for hours listening to someone talk. The same is true for adults. Like VBS, retreats need to include some time for fun, even if that time is simply a break for snacks. Yes, you want to set a time limit to keep the agenda moving, but sometimes it’s during an unstructured break that people come up with ideas while talking to others.

Don’t completely rule out crayons and childish toys when planning activities for adults. We’re told that as children, all of us were creative, but that as we age, most of us decide we’ve lost the ability.  Although seemingly silly, sometimes coloring and doodling or time in a playground unleashes restrained creativity, which becomes evident in a great brainstorming session later in the day.


When we are Sensitive

Kids from all ages attend VBS and although the theme may be the same across the board, the lessons and activities are tailored to specific ages and skills. It’s important to be sensitive to the different needs of adults, too.

Taking a hike in a local forest sounds like a great idea … unless you happen to have bad knees. Handing out a typed agenda works for some, but for those who rely on a screen, paper is not only passé, it’s wasteful. Ending the retreat with a group dinner sounds like fun to some, but presents a dilemma with babysitters or school pickups to others. When planning a retreat, think about things like physical abilities and communication styles all employees before choosing activities and timeframes.


When Choosing a Location

Of course VBS primarily takes place within the walls of the church, but sometimes it’s possible to include an outing as part of the week’s activities. Sometimes a field trip is the one thing about VBS a child remembers into adulthood because it was different and special.

If possible, plan at least part of your staff retreat, if not all of it, to take place somewhere other than in a church meeting room. Scope out what might be available at a nearby hotel, restaurant or library. Think of unlikely places to hold a retreat – you may be surprised at the accommodations available at a zoo, a museum or a state park. As a non-profit, meeting space fees may be reduced or one of your members might have a connection that would allow you free access.

Speaking of which, take a look at members who manage or own a business. Many corporate offices include nice meeting spaces. Industry headquarters sometimes even house auditoriums and cafeterias. It might simply take a phone call to get permission to use a member’s facility.


You don’t necessarily want your employees to glue macaroni to a cigar box during a staff retreat (or do you?), but there is a lot to learn from those who plan and execute Vacation Bible Schools that will make for a meaningful and memorable staff retreat. Ask your Children’s Ministry Director to go out for coffee today!


Judy Bumgarner is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee.


8 Things You Didn’t Know About Gen Z


by Amy Lynch


Gen Z is Here, But They’re Not What You Expected

First, Gen Z isn’t their real name. The Z thing is really just a placeholder. Social scientists and marketers have toyed with a bunch of annoying titles for Zs—things like iGens, Plurals, Globals and Founders. And that’s all right by Zs. A lack of concern for who we think they are is built into their DNA.

Zs are a generation with grit. They’re realists who expect to fail and know how to pick themselves up when they do. That’s why, when it comes to their name, I suggest you bet on GenEdge—because this generation’s got one.


Natural Born Swipers

For Gen Z, using four to five touch screens at once doesn’t feel like multitasking–that’s just the world they live in. The upside? They process information quickly. The downside? Wait, I forget. Oh yeah, distractibility.



When they’re not playing Minecraft, these DIYers visit YouTube to teach themselves how to bake, build, carve, and code. Best birthday party every? A robotics workshop. Pass me that circuit board, will you, and don’t trip on the 3D printer on your way out.


Bargain Hunters

Growing up during a recession made Zs money-savvy. They worry about the economy, buy for quality, know how much things cost, and prefer to save rather than spend. If you’re coming up short on rent this month, try consulting a 12-year-old for a direct loan.


Risk Takers

Gen X parents have allowed Z kids to take reasonable risks, like camping or building tree forts. Adventure playgrounds are showing up everywhere, mostly stocked with used tires, rope, saws, and scrap wood. After all, every kid should know how to throw a spear—in case of zombies.


5th Grade Foodies

Growing up with celebrity chefs and farmers’ markets made Zs a sophisticated, fast-casual crowd. Trending now: salads, veggie smoothies, Starbucks, and anything organic. Trending down: microwaves and McDonalds as a food group.


Hacking Life

In the land of Z, college doesn’t lead to a job as much as to a skill set. In fact, seventy-two percent of Zs want to start their own business and not work for you at all. They expect to carve out their own paths and possess a “make-it-up-as-I-go” mentality.


Perfect is boring

Don’t expect Zs to overshare about their perfect lives on social sites. First, they’re mostly on leave-no-tracks sites like Whisper or Snapchat. Second, compared to older gens Zs are OK with admitting their weaknesses. Among Zs, dealing with a challenge like mental illness or addiction doesn’t make you flawed, it makes you interesting.


Amy Lynch is a Generations Expert, Idea Warrior and Killer Keynoter. She helps companies collaborate and innovate by galvanizing every generation. Find out more at 

Use Prayer Objects to Boost Your Prayer Life

by Mary McCarthy

The National Day of Prayer was established to remind us to pray—primarily for our nation, but also as a reminder to participate in the most vital of spiritual practices. I was lamenting my shameful prayer life to my friend, Paul Franklyn, and he gave me advice that spurred me to get my prayer life on track. Paul reminded me that if I truly want a relationship with God, like any relationship, we must talk to each other.

So, I was ready to pray; but when I would start, frankly, I found myself drifting . . . at a loss for words. I realized I needed an object, something to help me concentrate and focus. There are many tools out there to help bring focus: labyrinths, stones, calligraphy, illumination, sand gardens . . . the list goes on, and these objects have been used throughout the history of Christianity.

To be clear, these objects are not intended to replace prayer, or to be used as some folk- or fairytale “charm,” but rather as reminders, anchors, and tactile-learner tools to help us arrive and remain in a prayerful state—an outer manifestation of inner spiritual life.


Stones and Labyrinths

For example, many of my friends use prayer stones; they’re easy to carry or display in a special place. More than just a reminder to pray, they also serve as a reminder of the clay we came from, and the rock that God is for us.

I often see labyrinths on a desk or in a special place in a home. Often are mistaken for mazes, labyrinths have only one way in; mazes, on the other hand, are intended to trick with wrong ways and dead ends. In a labyrinth, though you may seem to be lost, you never are. Labyrinths are very powerful reminders of God’s grace; the tactile sensation of the journey inside steadies us for prayer, and the center of the labyrinth is intended for just that.

On my wall, tucked away where only I can see it, hangs a plaque of a prayer very special to me. When I have a tough phone call, a rough conversation or just a bad day—I can see it. I pray for myself, but it also reminds me to pray for others. Especially for their forgiveness if I have been too tough or unreasonable. It is a reminder to do better next time.


But my own preference, in terms of regular prayer? I use prayer beads on a regular basis. Though we often associate beads with the Roman Catholic rosary, the practice of praying with beads is found in every religion and goes back millennia. I use traditional Protestant (sometimes called Anglican) beads:

  • Thirty-three beads (often said to be the years Christ lived) divided into . . .
    • Four sets of weeks (seven beads each, as seven is often a Christian sign of perfection or completion) separated by . . .
    • Four cruciform beads (that remind us of the cross) and you start with . . .
    • One invitatory bead that completes the circle.

I adapt favorite prayers to the template, and keep them in a journal to help me ‘move through’ the beads. The beauty, feel, and repetition of the beads help calm and immerse me in my prayers. They are portable, so I take them with me everywhere. I have sets stashed in purses, drawers, and pockets—always there when I need them.

So, this April 5th, please pray for our nation and the world, but don’t stop there. Take the reminder to renew, deepen, or even start a regular prayer practice. If you are not sure how to start the conversation, consider searching for a prayer object, a prayer spot, or some other reminder that will help you arrive at that point.

Mary is the Executive Director of Merchandising at Cokesbury, selecting many of the books and all of the gift items we offer. 2016 marks Mary’s 40th anniversary in the book business. Trinity Episcopal (Russellville, Kentucky) is her Church home.

Sacred Edges: The Joy of Colorful Margins

by Lisa Nichols Hickman


My book, Writing in the Margins, began with a prayer.

After the death of Rich Gordon, his family entrusted me with his Bible. I quickly learned he was a margin writer.

For years I thought about the notes and prayers he had written into scripture. I began to wonder how this scriptural discipline he loved and was shaped by might be shared with others so they could learn from him as well.

When I started researching to discover more about margin writing, there were plenty of examples of medieval illuminated manuscripts. As I poured through images on the Internet, there were a few examples of notes and prayers people had written into their Bibles. But it was rare to find any color. One young teen drew rainbows and birds into the Psalms. Another mom posted a photo of her toddler’s pink crayon scribbled into the mom’s devotional Bible. A precious mark for sure.

Now when you Google “writing in the margins of your Bible” you will discover an array of words, colors, prayers, images, artwork, paint, joy. You’ll find journalers, scrapbookers and margin writers who have discovered how the Holy Spirit can meet them in a creative process in the margins of their Bibles. Something has happened!

When I wrote over five years ago, “The invitation of this book is, at its simplest, to pick up a pen and write in the blank spaces of your Bible,” I never could have imagined the growth and power this movement would have. I could never have imagined that writing in the margins of our Bibles would meet the scrapbooking world. I could never have imagined that now, in 2016, five of the top twenty bestsellers on Amazon are adult coloring books. This “scriptural” discipline of taking pen, marker, and/or paint to the margin of scripture is creating places of joy, creativity, and identity in people’s daily lives.

These practices are first and foremost solitary. An individual sits quietly and creatively in the presence of God to let the scripture speak to them and then guide their hand.  However, what we have learned is that these practices also shape community. Whether the community is a Bible study, or a small group meeting at a local scrapbooking store, the large “Journaling Bible Community” on Facebook, or a smaller regional group like “DC Metro Bible Journaling” group, individuals are gathering in deepened community to learn, share, reflect, pray, and grow.

Connie Denninger, a creative faith coach, who has studied church and community leadership, recognizes this opportunity. She enjoys networking with women across the country through social media to deploy them to be digital missionaries, creating small networks of Bible journalers. These creative havens provide a space for sharing information about the practice, discovering formation through the practice, and living into transformation by way of the scriptural practices. Connie says this practice of margin writing provides a way to be “re-arranged.” She explains further, “Bible journaling and margin writing are a place for spiritual transformation where God at work in our lives can move all sorts of pieces around all at once.” We become shaped by the word. I appreciate how Connie moves us from the individual practice to community fellowship and then takes us a step further to ministry. Folks equipped in the practice of margin writing can then serve their church, neighborhood and community ministries teaching others the practice and finding joy in so doing. At a recent Bible journaling retreat, Connie worked with a woman who had been estranged from both the church and from spiritual practices.  After being turned loose in scripture to journal and draw and create, the woman said to Connie as the retreat came to a close, “Do you feel the ice melting around my heart?”

When I started exploring Bible margins a few years ago, I prayed that the margins of Rich Gordon’s Bible might inspire and encourage others to continue the practice. I never could have imagined the transformation that would occur as margin writing, social media, scrapbooking and the adult coloring book craze ignited new practices of scriptural disciplines. My hope is that more hearts melt and discover as the ice cracks creative faith, color-filled hope and illuminated love.


Lisa Nichols Hickman is a pastor at New Wilmington Presbyterian Church, author of Writing in the Margins: Connecting with God on the Pages of Your Bible and adjunct teacher at Westminster College in the Religion Department. She writes regularly for Faith and Leadership online magazine as well as its “Call and Response” blog. Recent articles appear in The Huffington Post, in The New Castle News and in The Pittsburgh Post Gazette. She lives in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.

God Answers Prayer! Who Knew?

by Gina Duke

I’ll never forget my friend, Leesa, plopping herself down beside me on the church pew the Sunday morning after I had shared my structured prayer journal with her. Along with a bright smile, she flashed me a view of one of her pages, and said, “God answers prayer! Who knew?”  We both laughed in agreement because her sentiment is no doubt shared by many.

Until I began structured prayer journaling, I thought the same thing. Oh, I would have never admitted that to anyone, but, truly I was unsure. Even if He did answer prayers, I was certain of this—the answer was often No. I don’t believe that I am alone in this thought. Just look up the antonyms for prayer on and see the word answer listed. Had I felt He was a God of Yes, I am sure I would have noticed this, and been much more inclined to confidently state that God did indeed answer my prayers. However, this had not been my experience, or so I thought.

It was Albert Einstein who said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” The point is that I really had nothing to show for my prayer life. Of course, I was randomly pitching things up to God, and in return felt that I was getting nothing back. My prayer life was random, which yielded me little.

In 2001, God changed all of that. Either He felt I had had enough or maybe He had from my pitiful prayer practices. In a matter of just a few short weeks I began to feel strongly that I should create a worksheet with ten compartments for recording short prayer prompts to aid my prayer life.  I also added scripture to pray along with my entries. Once it was complete, I was on my way to a personal prayer revival that immediately taught me three things.

The first thing I realized was that prayer journaling brings things from the spiritual realm into my visual presence where I can physically see the hand of God moving in my prayer life. And if He is moving in my prayer life then that means that he is moving in my life. That was a revelation.  Think about how many times God instructs people of faith to “write this down.”  The things I am experiencing spiritually are not apparent to others. I can speak about them; yet, only few will hear, and more than likely forget, including myself over time. But, if I write something down, I can view it over and over.

Viewing my conversations with God brings permanence and clarity like nothing else.

Secondly, I have received a surprising bonus—the blessing of realizing that God says Yes more than He says No. Feel free to test Him in this. Within my first week of structured prayer journaling, I was ashamedly surprised that I was able to record answers to my prayers. The number of Yeses delighted my soul. From this, the words or Psalm 56:9 became my new reality.

“Then my enemies will turn back when I call for help. By this I will know that God is for me.”

God is for me. I can now see this, and even when an answer is No. On more than one occasion can I refer back to a No that has since turned into a Yes. Additionally, I do believe that becoming a student of my prayer life through the continual examination of my structured prayer journal has helped me pray with right motives.

Lastly, an organized and structured prayer life is a productive prayer life. When I became the director of women’s ministry of my church, I quickly learned that participation can be increased with organization and structure. As church leaders, we are mistaken to believe that people do not want to live missionally. The culprit is crazy-busy lives. By and large, if God’s people are left to themselves to step out and do, they often won’t. That is why the spiritual gifts of leadership and administration are important to a church. Once structure and organization are in place, believers can accomplish both mission and ministry projects together.

Prayer is much the same way. My disorganized, random attempts at prayer were not only one-sided, but they were also unable to demonstrate my Heavenly Father’s love and wisdom. By recording, updating and detailing His movement, my organization honored God’s participation in my life.

I cannot imagine my prayer life without structured prayer journaling. I literally would not be able to spiritually see what God is doing. The Prayer Closet Organizer, which is housed inside Organizing Your Prayer Closet, neatly brings things from the spiritual realm in our visual presence, faithfully showcases God’s wisdom and readily keeps our minds clear for prayer.

God does indeed answer prayer, and everyone can experience His goodness.


Gina Duke, author of Organizing Your Prayer Closet, is a direct, point-on speaker and Bible teacher. With educational degrees in Organizational Leadership and Ministry, as well as fifteen years of leading women’s conferences, Gina provides a combination of expertise for uncluttering the busy Christian’s life. She is the director of Women’s Ministry at her church, hosts a short radio segment called “A Moment of Clarity,” and frequently hosts prayer journaling workshops. She and her family live in Portland, Tennessee.

We Don’t Need More Money; We Need Wisdom

by James A. Harnish


Stanley Johnson was a lot like many of us. A character in a classic Lending Tree television commercial, Stanley flashed a self-satisfied smile as he showed us his four-bedroom home in a great neighborhood, his swimming pool, and his new car. He beamed with pride as he told us he was a member of the local golf club. Turning steaks on the grill, he asked, “How do I do it?” Still smiling, he confided, “I’m in debt up to my eyeballs. I can barely pay my finance charges.” Then, looking directly into the camera, he pleaded, “Somebody help me.”

We may not be in as much of a financial mess as Stanley was, but most of us some of the time, and some of us most of the time, need help in managing our money. How we earn it, save it, spend it, and give it is a persistent challenge for every follower of Christ.

Stanley Johnson’s commercial was for a lending company, but Stanley didn’t really need more money. What he needed was wisdom. When it comes to dealing with money, that’s what all of us need. The good news is that that wisdom can be found in Scripture and in the Wesleyan tradition.

Information about how to manage our money is easy to find. It is readily available from a multitude of sources, some of which are more helpful and trustworthy than others. Advice about everything from taxes to long-term investments can be acquired in online programs and from financial planners. Stockbrokers, mortgage brokers, and investment bankers are eagerly awaiting our calls. Lawyers and estate planners are standing in line to help us write our wills and plan our legacy. The information we gain from them is a necessary tool for living responsibly with our resources.

As a pastor, I’ve seen ample evidence of the need for information about finances.

  • I’m concerned about young adults who become the prisoners of credit card debt. Listening to their stories has convinced me that credit card debt is nothing less than the demonic power of institutionalized greed taking control of their lives.
  • I’ve counseled with couples who bring nearly insurmountable levels of debt into their marriages because they never learned how to design a budget or balance a checkbook.
  • I’ve watched seminary graduates enter the pastorate—not usually considered a high-income career—with educational loans that will be a long-term burden on their ministries and families.
  • I’m surprised by the number of colleagues who retire without adequate planning for financial stability.
  • I’m curious about faithful church members who have never prepared a will or an estate plan.

All these concerns and others like them challenge us to use the best information we can about the most effective ways to manage our money.

But for followers of Christ, the issue digs deeper and reaches further than simply gathering information. The Bible teaches that how we relate to our money goes to the heart of our relationship with God.

I sometimes wish Jesus hadn’t said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). I’d be more comfortable if he had said, “Where your heart is, there your treasure will be also.” But he said what he meant and he meant what he said. Our attitudes toward money and the priority we place on our possessions are matters of the heart; they go to the core of our identity. Because of the soul-level importance of our relationship with money, we need more than information. We need wisdom.

The Hebrew word for wisdom appears 318 times in the Old Testament with over half of these in Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. The sages of ancient Israel knew that wisdom is more than the accumulation of information or knowledge, as important as that knowledge is. They understood wisdom to be a gift of God that enables us to know what to do with the knowledge we gather, so we can live faithfully and well in our relationships with God and each other.

Our culture has conditioned us to believe that human beings are the source of knowledge and that wisdom comes from the accumulation of information, in much the same way that wealth comes from the accumulation of money and property. As a result, we assume that the more we know, the wiser we are; but the Hebrew sages believed that wisdom does not begin with us. It doesn’t grow out of our human capacity for learning or our ability to gather information. They were convinced that true wisdom is not something we make up on our own; it is a unique gift growing out of our relationship with God. This is not to suggest that biblical wisdom is contrary to empirical or academic knowledge, or that the Bible contains answers to questions that are better addressed by science. The wisdom that guides us into personal and spiritual maturity is not of our own making. It goes beyond the accumulation of knowledge and instead guides us to use that knowledge in ways that are just, good, and in harmony with God’s life-giving purpose.

Jesus pointed his disciples in that direction when he said, “Desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). There is wisdom that is only gained through an experience of fear; not neurotic, self-absorbed, irrational fear, but fear that acknowledges the magnitude of the issues we face. It’s fear that stands in awestricken amazement before that which is beyond our power to manage, explain, or control. It’s the kind of fear that leads us to humility.

Humility undermines our self-assured arrogance and pride. It challenges the assumption that the answers to all our questions are within ourselves. It requires an openness to discover something we would not otherwise comprehend. Fear of the Lord is the starting point, because it calls for humble trust in the God who is the source of wisdom and the giver of every good gift (Proverbs 2:6; James 1:17).

The Bible does have positive things to say about the results of wise living that are just as true today as when the Proverbs were written.

  • It’s wise to use our talents and the opportunities that come our way to earn an honest income. It’s foolish to bury our talents and never find productive ways to use them. (Matthew 25:26-30)
  • It’s wise to use our money well by living within our means. It’s foolish to be like the prodigal son who “wasted his wealth through extravagant living.” (Luke 15:13)
  • It’s wise to manage our money in order to become debt-free. It’s foolish to be consumed by unnecessary and unmanageable debt. (Proverbs 11:15)

Wise living may not ensure that we will be rich, but it always leads to a healthy, prosperous, abundant life. Biblical wisdom on the use of money is centered in helping faithful people order their financial lives around their commitment to Christ so that they can live well in every area of their lives.


Adapted from Earn. Save. Give. Wesley’s Simple Rules for Money by James A. Harnish, copyright © 2015 Abingdon Press. All rights reserved.