A Picture of Why Facebook Matters to the Church

Have you seen this image before?  It's currently the cover photo on Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook profile.  Dated September 24, 2013, it shows the friendship connections made through Facebook on a global scale.  I'm sure it's out of date as I write this entry 6 months later, but I think it makes a serious case for the presence of the church on Facebook and other notable social media platforms.

But I'm not just talking about your church's FB page - which every church should have by the way, it's a free website for crying out loud - but I'm also thinking of how we-the-people-who-are-the-Body-of-Christ inhabit this "third space".

Sunday we discussed Micah 6:8, one of the easiest scriptures/commandments from the Lord to remember there is.  Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.  Short, simple, to the point.  The Gospel in a nutshell, really.  But how do we do that on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like?  We Christians love to dispense various brands of justice on social media don't we?  We're quick to judge and share those judgement.

And people are quick to unfollow those that do.  A click and you're done.  That's it.  I have 871 'friends' on FB (I'm sure many of you have more), accrued over nearly 10 years of usage.  That's quite the potential reach, especially if you count the worlds of people that each of my FB friends also reach.  But we're all just a click away from being unsubscribed to if we're offensive, bully, or generally take things too far.

Right now, there are some 1.26 billion Facebook users out there, many of whom waiting to have the love of Christ to be revealed to them.  Facebook is a global fellowship, how are you like Jesus there?  Do you just seek justice?  Or do you love mercy as well on social media?

An Online Bible Study Road Map

One of the things that we're blessed with at FUMCA is a diverse young adult program, with a lot to offer each generation of young adults.  From college students, to post college, to young careers and families, to business owners, we run the gamut of life change from the early 20s to mid-30s and beyond.  We have several small groups, but we figured it would be nice to get everybody together in one place for a study for the season of Advent.  But how do you gather people from different walks of life, with varying levels of real-life business, in one space without creating a burden?

Our answer was venturing in the online study realm.  It's not a new thing, but I noticed that not a whole lot of people are trying it in the UMC, so I thought I'd drop out a road map for what we did - because it worked.

I can't take credit for the whole thing.  Before committing to leading anything, I first reached out to a friend of mine and fellow candidate for ministry, Kyle Roberson, Online Community Developer of White's Chapel UMC in Southlake, TX.  Gotta give credit where credit is due!  Kyle has tried and researched multiple formats, so it was great to pick his brain on where to go.

In weighing options, I decided the best way to go was - free.  So, here's the who, what, when, where, why, and how of our online study.

The Why

Our church frequently facilitates seasonal, short-term studies.  They can be quite fruitful, as they can pull people from across generations and get people together that wouldn't normally study together.  But we needed something that wasn't typical, and wasn't at the church.

The Who

Young adults from 18-35, with all of the various generational changes therein.  We ended up with two college students, one graduate student, four families (all with young kids), one man without his spouse, and my wife and I.  All plugged into various small groups.

The When

We needed a time that was good for young families with kids and college students that might have a more adventurous night life.  So we landed on Monday nights during the season of Advent from 8:30 to 9:15 PM.  Short and sweet.

The What

We studied the Bible.  The focus was on the study being free and low-maintenance for participants.  It was built out of our Advent sermon series, with discussion questions generated from the message of the week.  The overall focus was on how God was calling us to turn away from the life the world calls us to into the hope we have in a repentant life in Christ.  We kept it pretty simple and focused on discussion, with three separate 'topics' each session.

Overall, the format started with gathering, prayer, reading of the scripture, discussion, and closing thoughts with motivation for the week.  We always ended with something to be thinking about or doing, some kind of response.

The How ...

We chose the Google+ Hangouts on Air as our meeting place.  It's free, and it has natural limitations that are quite helpful.  For one, it's limited to 10 computers participating in the chat itself, which is perfect for discussion.  Me, plus nine others seemed to go really well.  We had more than 10 participants on some night (several married couples), but it didn't seem to get too bogged down and people were able to participate in the discussion as they felt called to.  More people than that, however, and not everybody gets to join the discussion, which is the whole point.  Hangouts can also be recorded, which is also nice.  The Hangouts post to your Youtube account through Google (has to be set up in advance!), and they can be made private to only be shared within the group.  One thing to be careful of with the chats, is that if you don't take off the "Public" option, anybody can view the chats even if they can't participate.  We set this up to be a covenant small group, so we never wanted things to be viewed publicly.  Which brings us to the next major item for the format ...

I set up a private blog through Google Blogger as a place to post discussion questions in advance as well as the chat videos.  Blogger is very user friendly as a basic blogging platform.  You can set it up as an invite only space that can only be viewed by discussion participants.  This makes it a sacred space for discussion and sharing.  I found it to be an excellent place to post ideas, and our participants used it to prepare for discussion at their leisure.  I usually had up discussion questions the Thursday before the Monday night study, but they had the plan for the study itself (scripture and topics) before the study formally started.

Google has all the right pieces to make an online study work, but it all works best if participants have a Google account.  Again - it's FREE!

The Results

This study was a success any way you slice and dice it.  One of the things my friend Kyle counciled me on was having clear parameters for the study.  Date, time, beginning and end.  This was set up as a short term study, and people really dug that; it enabled us to dig into the themes of the season really well.  I'm seminary educated, sure, but any lay person can do what I've done to set this up and go with the proper preparation.

All in all, we had the full nine people/families participate.  I think there was only one date out of four when all were present, but many went to the videos (I posted them to the blog the day after) to get up to speed on where we were if they missed.

There were some technological hiccups along the way.  The first night we tried to use my laptop for the study, and it didn't have the processing speed to handle it.  So we had to quickly switch to my wife's Mac to start things off.  And I'll admit, even with practice, it took me a few sessions to get used to starting the chats off, for which my more fluent in Google+ wife was a saving grace.  Some had wifi issues, others had computer issues as I did.  I highly recommend doing a practice chat in advance, or having your people make sure that they have installed all of the necessary plugins for Google+ (if that's what you use) before the first chat.  I tried to be sure to put the invite out at least 5 minutes before starting to give people time to get in and settled.  You also have to have solid wifi and strong bandwidth to use this platform, but part of the benefit of sticking with the Young Adult niche was not having to do a lot of hand holding with the technology.

We concluded our run with a potluck at my house as a little family.  That was worth it in and of itself.  A lot of relationships were built that probably wouldn't have otherwise, and that's church to me.  But even if we couldn't gather in person, we proved through our time together that two or three or fifteen could gather in a space on the internet and the Lord was there.  Thanks be to God for being able to experience the Word of God and the Spirit of God in new and fun ways.

Have you ever led or participated in a study online?  How do you do it and how did it go for you?

Rethink Church Advent Challenge Week 1

I, and many others, are joining in the Rethink Church Advent Photo-a-day Challenge, a twenty-five day photo challenge to tell your advent journey - in pictures.

It's been a fun first week, full of study, and reflection - some serious, and some not.  We also had what the DFW area would consider a blizzard, most of us have been iced in the house since Thursday night.

I you want to follow the conversation, check out the tags #rethinkchurch and #rethinkchristmas on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook!

Day 1:  Go
#Advent Day 1: Let's #go. #rethinkchurch #rethinkchristmas

Day 2:  Bound
Day 2: For better or worse, right? #bound #rethinkchurch #rethinkchristmas

Day 3:  Peace
#rethinkchristmas day 3: candle and holder from our time in #taize, a place of immeasurable #peace #rethinkchurch

Day 4:  Time
#rethinkchurch day 4: getting there tomorrow... How much #time does God spend on future planning? #rethinkchristmas

Day 5:  Flood
#rethinkchurch day 5: the only good #flood? #rethinkchristmas

Day 6:  Awake
#rethinkchurch day 6: this cotton-headed ninny-muggins is #awake. #rethinkchristmas

Day 7:  Ready
#rethinkchurch day 7: well, we were #ready for church tomorrow but we get another #snowday instead! #rethinkchristmas

Rethink Church Advent Photo-a-day Challenge!

I'm joining in Rethink Church's Advent Photo-a-day Challenge this year.  I tried really hard to follow through on their challenge during Lent, and it fell to the back-burner during a crazy time when pulling out the phone to take pictures wasn't high priority.

This time, I'd like things to be different.  Photography is a great way to tell stories - which is what our primary job as Christians is to do.

So I'll be joining in the community with this one and updating my blog with the pictures at the end of each week.  Will you join in?

Advent Sermon Series - "Hope is On the Way"

A couple of months ago, my senior pastor, knowing my liturgical nerdiness, tasked me with putting together our sermon series for the season of Advent through Epiphany Sunday (this year December 1 - January 5).  At our church, for the most part, we follow the Revised Common Lectionary and build our sermon series out of that, following at least one Gospel/Psalm/OT/NT stream for a month or more.

Looking through the Gospel lessons for the season going into Year A, I knew the Gospel's would be the way to go.  After all, while all years of the Lectionary justifiably spend time with Mother Mary, year A is the only one to truly spend time with Joseph, Jesus' adopted earthly father.

To break down and explain the plan for each Sunday, I've included the scripture chosen, key verse from that scripture, and key words and key themes to aid in hymn selection and sermon preparations.  As a nerd for the church year, I'm not too crazy about including Christmas hymns at the start of the season.  I think it's okay to build those in as we lead to Christmas Eve, but it's important to note that this is a season of anticipation as we spend a lot of time with prophecy from Christ and John the Baptist.  So, when it comes to building up the Christmas theme - pace yourself.  Remember, Advent is a season of past and future collision in the present ... A time of already here (as in Christ did come and is here) and not yet (Christ will come again.  If you focus on Christmas too early, you miss the point of the season.

To aid in worship, I've also included a Call to Worship, Candle Lighting Liturgy, and Prayer of Confession for each appropriate Sunday.  At our church, we'll have a family light the candle and a liturgist follow that with the Call to Worship.

Feel free to use any and all resources.  If you do use them in worship, please leave a comment!


Series Plan:  Advent through Epiphany Sunday
“Hope is On the Way”

Overall Themes:  Watchfulness, Looking backwards and forwards in time (at the same time), joyful repentance, trust, hope

December 1: “Managing Un-expectations” Matthew 24:36-44

Key verse: Matt 24:44 - “[Jesus says] Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Key words: prophecy (Jesus prophesies his own arrival!!), watchfulness, readiness

Possible Theme:  Jesus, close to the end of his earthly life, prophesies another beginning.  Jesus, the Messiah, tells the people to watch out for the Messiah.  Jesus goes meta.

Lighting the Candle of Expectation 
It was Jesus Christ himself that told us to be ready at any time.
So, today we remember that call.  The call to look for God in unexpected places, at unexpected times.
And even though we wait, we can expect Our Savior to show.
This morning, we light the Candle of Expectation.
Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.
Hope is here.  Love is here.  Family, is here.

Call to Worship
We gather this morning as a people waiting for the Lord.
The one who died, rose, and will come again.
Yes, this is the truth, and the great mystery of our faith!
Yes!  Lord Jesus, come into our hearts again this Advent Season!

Call to Confession
Everlasting God, we confess that we haven’t been watching.  We haven’t been looking out for you.  Like a thief in the night, you could pass us by and we would never know.  We have forgotten to look for you in the faces of our children, of the homeless around us, in the immigrants who struggle as they serve even us.  Forgive us, we pray, and make us ready to greet you in everyone we see on the street as we leave this place.  Amen.

December 8: “We Work While We Wait” Matthew 3:1-12

Key verse: Matt 3:2 - "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."

Key words:  Promise, strength, hope, readiness, repentance

Possible Theme:  We journey backwards to before Jesus’ baptism, to John the Baptist prophesying the Messiah’s coming – a Messiah already here.  Now is the time to get right with God.

Lighting the Candle of Prophecy
John the called on God’s people to repent, for the Messiah was near.
The people had prayed for it, yet they didn’t see the one they had been waiting for was truly among them.
That prophecy was being fulfilled in their midst.
This morning, we light the Candle of Prophecy
Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.
Hope is here.  Love is here.  Family, is here.

Call to Worship
Today we to turn to God.
Lord, have mercy on us!
The Kingdom of Heaven is near.
Lord, help us to spread the good news!

Call to Confession
Merciful God, though your prophets still call out to us, millennia later, we still don’t change our lives.  As John the Baptist shouts to the people, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven as come near!”, we know that you are here, and still we don’t change.  Still we don’t hear the cries of the needy, still we don’t prioritize serving the poor, and still we refuse to meet the needs of those who are truly hungry and thirsty around us.  And yet, merciful God, you still count on us to carry out your mission, you still encourage us to follow you, you still are near.  Help us, Lord, as we seek your way.  Amen.

December 15: “Hope in the King” Matthew 11:2-11

Key verse: Matt 11:3 - [John in prison asks] "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"

Key words:  Joyful repentance, fulfillment, hope

Possible Theme:  The ministry of John the Baptist is validated in Christ.  The hopes in John’s heart are fulfilled in the statements of Jesus, the one the world had been waiting for – who was, who is, who is to come.

Lighting the Candle of Hope
Even John the Baptist asked Jesus, “Are you the one we’ve been waiting for?”
All of the hopes and dreams of God’s children were wrapped up in that question.
And the answer was, yes, the Hope of the Nations was there, and is here.
This morning, we light the Candle of Hope.
Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.
Hope is here.  Love is here.  Family, is here.

Call to Worship
Together, let us be a people unafraid to hope!
Christ comes to us in the unexpected!
Let us keep the faith together – that Christ will come again.
Lord, keep us on the straight and narrow path that leads to you!

Call to Confession
Our Lord and Our Hope, we know that we often fail you.  We forget to watch.  We forget to wait.  We make the holiday season more about ourselves than sharing the hope that only you can bring.  We get so caught up in what we’re supposed to get this season, we forget what we’re called to give.  Help us to remember that this season is about the message and ministry of your son, Jesus Christ, the one who came to heal, liberate, and share the good news of your faithful love.  Call us to be faithful only to you this season.  Amen.

December 22: “A Surprise Adoption” Matthew 1:18-25

Key Verse:  Matt 1:20 - "But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit."

Key words:  Trust, Faith, Christmas
Possible Theme:  What about Joseph?  Here we have the rarer-read birth narrative from Matthew, focused on the choices of Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph.  What can his awkward circumstance tell us about keeping the faith?

Lighting the Candle of Joy
As we wait for Emmanuel, God with us to arrive, we remember the fears of his earthly parents.
We remember the commitment of Joseph, we remember the commitment of Mary.
We remember that the Lord sent angels to comfort and to guide – with joy.
In that spirit of joy, of expectation and hope, we light the Candle of Joy.
Let this fire remind us that while we wait for the Lord, truly the Lord is already here.
Hope is here.  Love is here.  Family, is here.

Call to Worship
With joy we call Emmanuel down to meet with us this morning!
Christ be with us!
Through the birth of Christ, we know God’s love for us.
Thanks be to God!

Call to Confession
God of our salvation and author of our hope, it’s hard for us to see the blessings you have for us.  We think that our plans are better, that the things and desires of the world are higher than your ways.  You, Lord, are the great interrupter and sometimes we can feel inconvenienced by the calls you put on us to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with you.  Remind us that this season that leads to Christmas wouldn’t be here at all if it weren’t for you loving this world that you made.  Thank you for loving us, God.  Amen.

December 24: “Hope Has Arrived” Luke 2:1-20

Key verse:  Luke 2:10-11 - “But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Key words: Christmas, watchfulness, peace, love, hope, joy

Possible Theme:  The shepherds were awake to receive the good news, while the rest of the world was asleep.

Lighting the Christ Candle
With this lighting of the Christ Candle we rejoice with prophets, angels, and Mary and Joseph in welcoming Christ!
Our hope has arrived!
Thank you God, for sending us your Son.
May this light remind us of the hope we all carry because you love the whole world!

December 29: “We Are Family” Hebrews 2:10-18

Key verse: 2:17 - “Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.”

Key words: Family, Christmas

Possible Theme:  In Paul’s writings, he looks at Christ’s life, Christ who called us brother and sister with him as we are children of the Father.  Christ our teacher, also called us family.

Call to Worship
Through the birth of Christ …
… God stands with us.
Through the raising of Christ by Mary and Joseph …
… God shows faith in us.
We are all family in Christ, and with Christ.
Thanks be to God, for this amazing news!

January 5 [Epiphany Sunday] “What gift did God bring?” John 1:1-18

Key verse:  John 1:16 - From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Key words: Giving, New Year, Beginnings

Possible Theme:  Since the beginning of all things, God has been giving to us.  And God hasn't stopped giving to us.  So what do we do with that?

Call to Worship
The Word of God has been with us from the start!
Praise the Lord!
The Word of God is with us even now!
Praise the Lord!
May the Lord’s grace and peace be with us in the start of this New Year!


For further help, I've partnered with the GBOD to offer sermon starters for the series!  Just go here for a few ideas to start your sermons and get your whole worship team thinking about the season.

#40Days Week 5 - Finally!

This Lent I've taken on the United Methodist Rethink Church 40 Day Photo Challenge.  During the season of Lent, as a spiritual discipline, I (and many, many others) are taking photos to represent different words that are common themes in the season of Lent.

This week was hard to get finished - real life got in the way often.

I'm including the photos, and the tweet I posted each with.  Feel free to follow me on twitter @jarrodjohnston, and follow the #tag #40days to see what other UMCers are up to as they rethink church and the season of Lent!

Day 25 (faithful) - #40days #faithful #rethinkchurch

Day 26 (ate) - #40days veggie stir fry I cooked for the fam. We #ate together. #rethinkchurch

Day 27 (happy) - #40days sometimes I can't believe they let us bring this guy home. #happy #blessed #rethinkchurch

Day 28 (silence) - #40days #silence #holyweek prep for taize maundy Thursday #rethinkchurch #catchingup

Day 29 (water) - #40days #water of life #rethinkchurch #catchingup

Day 30 (go) - #40days and ... #go! #rethinkchurch

Day 31 (temper) - #40days #temper #rethinkchurch #catchingup

#40days Week 4

This Lent I've taken on the United Methodist Rethink Church 40 Day Photo Challenge.  During the season of Lent, as a spiritual discipline, I (and many, many others) are taking photos to represent different words that are common themes in the season of Lent.

Again there are some common themes this week - fatherhood and worship.

I'm including the photos, and the tweet I posted each with.  Feel free to follow me on twitter @jarrodjohnston, and follow the #tag #40days to see what other UMCers are up to as they rethink church and the season of Lent!

Day 18 (leave) - #40days hard to #leave for work when all this fun is happening

Day 19 (thirst) - #40days my #thirst was quenched here this morning #rethinkchurch

Day 20 (bless) - #40days You #bless me with music, Lord. #rethinkchurch

Day 21 (night) - #40days a good #night present from Wes... Chips! #rethinkchurch #generosity

Day 22 (shadow) - #40days she sits in the #shadow of the table lot waiting for crumbs. #rethinkchurch #parables

Day 23 (no) - #40days He understands the word #no already, just doesn't care. #rethinkchurch

Day 24 (find) - #40days we #find time for date nights, but not often enough. #rethinkchurch

#40Days Week 2

This Lent I've taken on the United Methodist Rethink Church 40 Day Photo Challenge.  During the season of Lent, as a spiritual discipline, I (and many, many others) are taking photos to represent different words that are common themes in the season of Lent.

It's been a wonderful week of pictures, with a lot of thought provoking subject matter.  I hope that you've found some form of spritual discipline that will allow you to get to know yourself, and the life Christ has called you to during this wonderful season of Lent.

I'm including the photos, and the tweet I posted each with.  Feel free to follow me on twitter @jarrodjohnston, and follow the #tag #40days to see what other UMCers are up to as they rethink church and the season of Lent!

Day 4 (Injustice): #40days Day 4 - From the National Civil Rights Museum. Fight #injustice w #mlk

Day 5 (Settle): #40days 5) Watching the kids play - rare #sabbath time on the sabbath. Taking time to #settle down. #rethinkchurch

Day 6 (World):  #40days Day 6 - change the #world? Let's hope! #rethinkchurch #lent

Day 7 (Wonder): #40days Day 7 - I #wonder what this kid dreams about? #rethinkchurch @umrethinkchurch

Day 8 (Evil): #40days Day 8 - No single word holds the church back more than 'tradition'. #evil #rethinkchurch

Day 9 (Love): #40days Day 9 - a house full of dirty dishes after serving dinner to some my favorite ppl #rethinkchurch #love

Day 10 (Spirit): #40days Day 10 - Fridays with this guy renew my #spirit. #rethinkchurch