The Fellowship of Breaking Bread

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There is just something about sharing a good meal with another person.  I think, in part, it is because in this moment we are using all of our symptoms.  We are listening to good conversation, smelling savory aromas, tasting a scrumptious bite, looking at beautiful plated foods and into the eyes of a friend or loved one. Even our sense of touch is engaged regularly… as we embrace as we meet up, feel the texture of the napkin we set in our lap, engage with the various food items, etc.  I believe that when we are in moments where all of our senses are engaged simultaneously, and for a long period of time, it helps embed the moment into our memory.

In the Scriptures we see so many moments where people were breaking bread together as a community.   Two specific moments to consider is the feeding of the multitudes (Matthew 14) and when Jesus washed the disciples feet (John 13).

When We Feed the Many

In Matthew 14:13-21, Jesus had just found out about the death of John the Baptist and had withdrawn to a quiet place.  But, the crowds followed.  Even though he was mourning, he had compassion on the crowd.  When evening was approaching the disciples suggested that Jesus send the crowds away to the towns so that they may eat.  Jesus instead insisted they stay and that they would feed the crowd.  The disciples indicated they didn’t have nearly enough for the thousands of people who had gathered.  Jesus taking the humble amount of fish and loaves, raised them toward Heaven, giving thanks for the food, and instructed the disciples to distribute it among the people.  There was so much that even after everyone ate and was satisfied, twelve baskets of left over pieces were collected.

As a Ministry we often will host small brunches and large events.  Most often brunches are potluck where everyone brings a dish with them to share.  But, with large events… we often do not consider the meal (unless it’s a weekend long retreat).  I’ve been to conferences where meals were included, and to ones where we were dismissed to local restaurants.  While I can understand the logistics of sending people off premises, I think we forget a few key things that make offering an onsite meal a blessing that outweighs any inconvenience.

  1.  Single Guests – when a bunch of gal pals head off to an event together, they often don’t mind slipping away to a local café and having some girl time.  However, this can be an uncomfortable and lonely time for someone who is flying solo.  When there are tables set up and lunch provided on site, it is much easier for the single guests to mingle with others over a good meal.  This is a very compassionate stance to take as we care for the guests that God has brought to our events.
  2. Budget Friendly – larger events will generally have a cost associated, regardless of the size or wealth of the congregation.  If this is an event that is requiring travel, lodging, etc. then the budget for your attendee is affected.  First, purchasing in bulk is generally less per serving.  I’ve hosted events where lunch was just $5 per person due to the catering discount of a bulk purchase.  Had those guests gone off site, their meal with tip would have been at least $10 and up to $15 per person.  
  3. Warm & Welcoming – nothing says to people that they are welcomed into a space than allowing them to linger and connect with people.  The cliché saying “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here” shouldn’t be part of our ministry playbook.  Just because an event ends before meal time, doesn’t mean you can’t provide a meal option.  A recent event I attended ended just before lunch.  Instead of ushering everyone home, they had an “after party” that included a free lunch and beverages and a fun market place we could walk through made up of local businesses.  There were plenty of places to sit and mingle.  

The example Christ sets for us in how we engage “the many” is exactly what we should be employing.  Jesus said “don’t send them away”.  If our event is at our church or under the banner of our church, do we really want people to feel unwanted or unwelcomed?  If we have the space to host events in our own buildings, do we really want to close those doors and send our guests elsewhere?  What if instead we invited them to sit down, rest, and break bread with us?

When We Feed the Few

In John 13:1-17, Jesus has gathered with the disciples for dinner.  He knew that the hour of his return to the Father was approaching.  It says that the evening meal was already in progress, when Jesus began washing the feet of the disciples.  It was here, that Jesus would instruct the disciples to do for others what Christ had done for them… in his absence. 

This meal, unlike a large event, is far more intimate.  There are times, the Lord calls us to serve many at one time… and then there are times He calls us to gather our closest to us and to serve them directly and humbly.  Who are our few?  What if we have multiple groups that are close in different ways?

  1. The Leadership Team – the people whom you are serving with on a team are connected by how/who we serve.  Getting together occasionally outside of serving others, to draw closer as a group will bless your ministry as a whole.
  2. Your Study Group – whether you make the meal part of your small group, or choose to spend an evening breaking away from the normal study and instead fellowshipping as a group, you are creating new connections.  This could also be a great option for a small group that is for couples.  What if the wife of the leader met with the women in the group for a meal, just the ladies?  What if the men did the same?  What deeper connections can be made as you break bread with one another.
  3. Your Mentors – there are those who are pouring into you, consider making a point to not only thank and honor them for investing in you but also connecting them to each other.  
  4. Those You Send – perhaps you have had the opportunity to be a Paul to a few Timothys that you are preparing to release out into the world, gather and serve them one last time to set the tone for the leadership you hope they will share with those the Lord puts under their charge.
  5. The New Girls – what a great way to welcome women into the church by making a point as a Women’s Ministry leader to get together with new members of the church.  Talk with your Pastors or Finance Committee about creating budget and space for a smaller monthly luncheon for new ladies.  Take them on a tour of the church, answer their questions, get to know them better, and most of all make them feel welcomed and valued.

Breaking bread with others is about creating a moment that stands in memory, fosters community, and serves others well.

United as One Body

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by Gena McCown, Founder WMC

For five years, we have been serving women in the Treasure Coast.  Pouring into leaders, connecting ministries from various churches, and introducing these ministry leaders to ministries that are serving our communities.  It has been an incredible blessing to us, sharing our 20+ years of ministry leadership experience.  It has been a blessing to leaders in our community, and we are beginning to see the longer reach as things set in motion come to fruition.

Recently, I was invited to a Church United Gathering in my city.  It was only the second meeting here, but a movement that has been in other cities a bit longer.  This gathering brings together Pastors and ministry leaders in our community… regardless of denomination… for the purpose of support and encouragement.  I participating in the pre-meeting prayer gathering, sat through the morning worship and message, then went to a break out group session for others who share a similar position in ministry as I do.  After the event concluded, my heart just felt so full.  To see the same call to unity and support on the church level that we’ve been working on a specific ministry level… I can’t even begin to explain how that makes me feel.

Years ago, the Lord put the call of unity on my heart.  Clearly, He has put it on the hearts of others.  Not only should we not forsake meeting with one another in church on Sunday mornings, but also we as leaders should not forsake meeting with one another.  We have not been called to serve in ministry alone.  Leaders pour into others, but leaders also need to be poured into.  I don’t know how many cities Church United has reached, but I am thankful for those who have begun this ministry… and thankful for the groups that will be meeting in the days, months, and years to come.

A cord of three strands is not easily broken.  What if 2 of the strands are not individual people, but churches… ministries… organizations?  What if a brother who is born for adversity, is the church down the street who answers the call of another in crisis?  What if our churches who are blessed financially provided an offering to our churches who are in need?  What if we shared our spaces?  What if we broke bread together?

What if we fulfilled the great commission as one CHURCH?

How do we start?  By opening our doors.

 

Misconnected

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By Gena McCown

In a day and time where we are more connected than other digitally, our communities are responding with an increasing level of feeling alone.  When we look to the scriptures we see that community was a vital aspect of the local church.  Not only did they worship together, but they cared about one another on a personal level.  They tended to one another and carried each other’s burdens.  Communities worked together for the common good and because they were connected they were aware of what was happening in the lives those they called neighbor.

This led me to come to the very recent conclusion that we are not disconnected, we are just misconnected.  Experts have suggested that the problem with social media connections is that when one feels alone in their real life, they may turn to social media to connect and feel that void, and when that feeling of isolation doesn’t go away they dig deeper into social media to create more connections.  They are still seeking and looking for their tribe.  On the other hand, these experts have also suggested that once we are connected virtually the fear of missing out on what is being posted/shared may chain us to our devices verses going out and living life among others.

Disconnected seems so firm and final, like someone who has gone off grid or cut themselves off from society.  Disconnection happens when effort has left the equation of human relationship.  We have either made the decision to disconnect with another, or we have accepted their decision to connect with us.  I can’t believe a person who continually is seeking their tribe on social media outlets is seeking or accepting disconnection.  Instead they are trying to connect but in a different way, for whatever reason, and thus they are misconnected.  They are making connections but not the ones they need, which leaves the void they can’t fill.

What Can Women’s Ministry Do To Connect the Misconnected?

  • Connect the Women to Jesus – helping our women to understand who Jesus creates a foundation of self value and worth.  We connect them to Jesus through the Word which opens their eyes to a God who knows, hears, sees, and loves them… but who is also always with them.  We are never alone, when we are in God.
  • Connect the Women to Women in the Church – connecting women to other women who are also believers builds the foundations of community.  We have identified something we share in common, our faith, and embrace our connection as sisters in Christ.  As they begin to realize that they are not only walking this life with Jesus on their side but also a family of believers, the isolation will begin to dissipate.
  • Connect the Women to Community – through connecting the women to our community we begin to introduce purpose into their lives.  The more we connect with Jesus and our family of believers, the deeper our desire is to reach into our communities and serve others.  By connecting into our community we extend our community beyond what we could ever imagine.

How Do We Connect Women to Jesus: Bible studies, small groups, conferences, guest speakers, Sunday services, women’s brunches, retreats, workshops, etc.  It comes as we connect them directly to His Word via study, or as we share our testimonies via events.  

How Do We Connect Women to Women in the Church:  Ladies night/day out, women’s trips, retreats, brunches, fellowship events, concerts, movies, lunch dates.  Whether we start building connections through high attendance events or small intimate coffee dates, we are putting the building blocks in place for relationship.

How Do We Connect Women to Community:  Service projects within the church, local community, volunteering with local organizations and non-profits, local and international missions projects, etc. are all great ways to bring the women out of the church and into the community to serve.  By serving others, we often get to know them on a deeper level because we are meeting them where they are at.

WMC Meeting 3/31 Recap: Hospitality

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In a time where we are the most connected by devices and social media platforms, overwhelmingly people are feeling more alone.  Current studies are correlating that the higher the person’s social media usage, the more prone they are to feeling isolated.
Why?
1.  We feel excluded or rejected.   We are now very much aware to what we have not been invited to, or excluded from.  In the past, before social media, you literally may never know that you were not invited to a lunch date, or girls night out.  Now, not only does it stare us in the face… but we see it repeatedly as photos and videos are shared by all those who were present.
2.  We feel inadequate.  As we are able to see in to the lives of others… their homes, cars, vacations, etc. we begin to feel that we are not good enough.  We may hesitate to invite someone into our home because we don’t feel our home is as nice as their home.  We may not invite someone to a coffee date because they are always at Starbucks and we can only afford Dunkin.  In addition to feeling inadequate, we may create false personas in order to virtually “keep up with the Jones”.  We will pull ourselves away in order to protect that persona.
3.  We experience jealousy.  Jealousy and inadequacy are very different things.  Inadequacy is how we feel about ourselves, and jealousy is how we feel about others.  Jealousy builds up bitter feelings towards others, and will cause us to push people away.  
4.  We fear missing out.  If we disconnect from social media, we fear that we may miss what others are sharing and doing in their lives.  We can get so wrapped up in keeping tabs on others that we actually disconnect from opportunities in our real life.
* Note that none of the four point above even begin to address actual addiction.
* There is an evidenced cycle that loneliness will drive people online, yet will only make them feel more alone and disconnected, and can actually cause them to dive even further into social media to connect.
Of 2000 people who were polled, that used social media regularly, 72% reported feeling alone.  Of the 72%, one third reported feeling this way at least once a week.
With these numbers we must expect that this will have an impact on the church.  We have women who are walking through our doors every Sunday, who feel alone.  Women sitting at our brunch tables, who feel disconnected.  Women who live in our neighborhoods who are deeply looking for real community.
Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds.  Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have made a habit, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
The Bible has the answer to what research is showing us, that real life … face to face connection is necessary for community.   In Act 2 when is speaks of the early church, it is noted that they added to their number daily.  Not because they met occasionally but because community was part of their daily life.  They grew because they were present with one another.
Research is indicating that digital community is not the same as real community. 
Experts suggest having a social media cleanse, where you break the habit of social media dependence.  Whether you cut it out completely, cut back the number of hours, or cut back from the “groups” that are keeping you from real life relationships, something has to give in order to allow you to embrace community in the form of personal relationship with people you see face to face.
What does this mean to our church and ministries?
1.  We must acknowledge that our women in our church and communities are overwhelmingly feeling alone.  Even when they live in a house full of people, are volunteers in the church, work in larger offices… they FEEL alone.
2.  We must do a better job of making sure that all of our women feel included and welcome.    This means making sure we have done our best effort to invite not just our friends and family members, but our neighbors and co-workers.  That we are extending invitations to strangers and visitors.   Practically this means not giving up on traditional methods of announcing events (personal invitations, handing out flyers in the church lobby, etc.).  We can’t rely on digital/social media announcements and registration alone.  (Read Luke 14:12-14)
3.  How we present our ministry will matter, to battle the feeling of inadequacy.  If all our social media shows the perfectly polished church ladies, we may put a wall between ourselves some of the women we want to reach.  We need to have a willingness to show the raw and rough edges too. 
We’ve said before that you can’t please all the people all of the time, but we can please some of the people some of the time.  This means having a Women’s Ministry program that has a diverse offering that meets the different women in our church.  One way to ensure this is to have a Women’s Ministry Team that has the same diversity as the church.  When you are thinking of the various women you serve, and accommodating to their situations… that is hospitality.  They will feel cared for because you considered them.
Additionally, hospitality is making sure that all women feel wanted at our events.  Often we take for granted that our guests will know where everything is or how we do things in our space.  We must always plan and prep with the guest in mind.  Having clear signage and volunteers to help direct people on where they need to be. Keeping guests in mind also means to always plan for new members/guests that may start attending just before you event.  If your space holds 50, and it’s an event where you are selling tickets, sell only up to 40 or 45.   This buffer allows you the flexibility to accommodate new members instead of having to tell them that the event is full and they need to wait to the next one. 
As leaders, we model hospitality by being aware.  We watch the for the table that just has 1 person sitting at it.  Volunteers keep an eye out for the person who walks in alone or seem lost.  We take the time to meet people individually and connect them to others as we go.  Be willing to give up your seat, your meal, your book, your ticket, etc. if it means you can invite one more to the table to be apart of the community of women in your church.
Surely, on a ministry level we are creating warm and inviting spaces.  Our teams put a lot of work into the details.  Make sure that the details don’t take more attention and time than your guests.    Don’t forget to also extend hospitality on more personal levels.  If you are texting back and forth, just chatting away… invite her for coffee to continue the conversation.   If you and another women in the church send jokes and funny videos back and forth, recognizing you have a similar sense of humor invite her to a funny movie or to see a comedian.  
Stop the face book stalking, and go back to face to face talking.
For more thoughts on hospitality, check out this document we gave to the attendees at the meeting.  Print off copies for yourself, your team, or your hospitality coordinator. 

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We also had a great drawing prize, and two lucky winners took a copy of Kristin Schell’s book The Turquoise Table home.  (Congrats Trina and Nicole)

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Hospitality to Pastors & their Families

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If you have been a member of a church for any length of time, you will have experienced the welcoming of a new Pastor or staff member to your church.   A Pastor search is such a process that for many of us we are as relieved as we are excited about welcoming this new person or family into our body of believers.  For the incoming Pastor and family, this could have been a long road too, waiting for God to guide their steps to your door.  Excitement and anxiousness combined, they are walking into a family of believers that they barely know.

My sister in Christ, co-laborer in the faith, Naima Johnston-Bush and her husband answered such a call.  They packed up their house in Florida and set off for Leesville First Assembly of God, in Kingdom service.  To my joy, on a Monday morning, I woke up to this picture and her words:

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Our first Sunday at our new church and the ladies Ministry gave me an old fashioned “pounding”. They pounded me with God’s love and blessed our home with lots of great cleaning supplies, canned goods and boxed items. I won’t need cleaning supplies for the next six months.   ~Naima Johnston-Bush

First, I just want to shout out to the Women’s Ministry at Leesville for welcoming a family so beautifully.  Thank you for the love you showered on my friend.

Second, when I saw this picture… knowing we were heading into the topic of hospitality… I immediately asked permission to share.  THIS is such a wonderful way to display hospitality to new Pastors, Staff Members, and their families.

In all of my years in the church, I’ve seen plenty of people showered with gifts as they were leaving.  Moves, retirements, volunteers called into fulltime ministry or missions elsewhere, etc. have been opportunities to thank people for dedicated service to our church body and an encouragement and provision for those stepping out in faith.

I am not sure I’ve ever seen this kind of outpouring on someone who was coming into the body.  It may be possible things like this were done quietly among the existing staff members, gift cards and helping unpack.  In this occasion, it was the Women’s Ministry who stepped up and said how can we bless this new home?

It brought me to question how do we as Women’s Ministries let the women who are leading in our churches know that we appreciate them?  But also, ask myself, are we doing a good job welcoming in the wives and children that packed up everything and walked away from their friends and family in order to follow their husband’s call in to ministry?

For the last several years, I have participated in a group of Pastor’s wives (even though I am not one) in order to have a better understanding of how ministry affects the wives and family of Pastors.  I’m so thankful that the group welcomed me in, even though I’m not a PW… because it has been eye opening.

When I hear their stories, the good… bad… and the ugly… I just know that we could be doing a better job.

So, whether you want to share here … or talk among your Women’s Ministry teams, let’s ask and discuss the following questions:

  1.  Are we showing hospitality to our Pastor and Staff wives?
  2. How do we welcome in a new Pastor and his family?  What could we do, if we are not currently doing anything?
  3. What does hospitality for these women look like long term, once they are settled or have been in the fold for years?

Good hospitality makes a person not only feel welcomed through the doors, but that we are wanted to stay for the long term.  It shows a person they are seen, loved, and makes them feel cared for.  We minister to their spirit, their hearts, their minds, and even their households when we love well.

WMC Meetings

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The WMC is preparing for our March 31st local meeting in the Treasure Coast, FL.  Occasionally, we receive an email or notification asking if there is a WMC in other cities.  We’d love to see this as a reality.

If you would like to start up a WMC in your area, we are happy to help you do so.  Please visit our “Start a Group” page to request more information.

And don’t forget to register for the WMC’s 1st annual women’s leadership conference!

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The Turquoise Table by Kristin Schell

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At this month’s live Women’s Ministry Council event, in the Treasure Coast FL, we will be giving away two copies of Kristin Schell’s book “The Turquoise Table”.

Quite simply, author Kristin Schell set out to foster community within her neighborhood by putting a turquoise painted picnic table in her front yard.  It became a place to meet and connect with her neighbors and community.

A simple step on her part became a movement as turquoise tables started popping up in yards in other communities and neighborhoods.

It compelled me to think not only about putting a turquoise picnic table in my own yard, but I thought about all of those churches that are nestled in the middle of neighborhoods and communities where people walk by.  What if these houses of worship had picnic tables in their front yards?  What if the Pastors and staff popped out there for lunch instead of eating in their offices?

Just a thought.

If you would like to learn more about Kristin Schell, or the Turquoise Table, check out her website.  You can order the book, print a getting started checklist, and more.