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Arborists, people who work with trees and plants, understand that pruning is not something just done for the look of a tree but it is necessary for the health of the tree. Pruning is done with the end-result in mind: making the tree healthier and a better fit for the environment that it is growing in. This principle can be applied in many of the churches we serve. Pruning is done to keep our congregations, and the individuals that make up the entire group, growing in a healthy trajectory.

When it comes to people, pruning is not always easy. The people we serve matter, and pruning seasons are not always easy. While the tree branch does not have a voice, emotions, traditions, and opinions, the people we are called to serve do. Pruning is a necessary part of ministry work but it is the heart of the spiritual arborist who determines the difference between effective pruning or a botched job!

More often than not, our issue is not lack of desire for growth, but the willingness to do the pruning to achieve it. I seldom look forward to making decisions related to ministry growth that involves cutting. Several questions come to mind during a pruning season:

  • What needs to be minimized in order to experience maximized growth?

  • What am I willing to let go of so something else can grow in its place?

  • Would the people in the ministry be healthier if this change is implemented?

  • Will this change bring us closer to the ultimate amount of fruit that the ministry and the laborers were created to produce?

In 2014, I started a program at the church where I serve as director of children, youth, and young adults. The program was an initial great success! At the seventh month, several things occurred that resulted in an attendance and quality decline. I had to choose: Cut the program or find another way to fulfill the program’s objectives. We revamped the programming day and the original function was revitalized. We have seen great results this year simply by pruning the day. Healthy ministry growth requires pruning. This does not always result in eliminating a particular ministry but ensures that ministry is productive.

When the pruning season begins, as leaders, I believe we should keep this one principle in mind: Be loving in everything we do, (1 Corinthians 16:14, NIrV). The love used in First Corinthians 16:14 is the same love described more thoroughly in First Corinthians 13. Agape. L-O-V-E!

Agape Pruning gives people time to mourn when there is loss and a ministry that they have been serving in for years is no longer part of the church’s direction. Agape Pruning will not eliminate a ministry, position, or person just because they have the power to, or because the person made them angry, or just because . . . whatever reason fits our sometimes selfish motives. Agape Pruning looks for ways to keep others whole during the pruning process! Agape Pruning is purposeful and undergirded by love. Agape Pruning moves beyond the initial change to ministering to the person most affected by the cut.

Agape Pruning considers:

Placement – ensuring that people are working in their area of giftedness and passion

Reinvigoration – thinking outside the box in order to take dated methods and give them relevant meaning

Urgency – prioritizing what is the most immediate need, not pruning everything at once

Nudging – having several conversations that cast vision and possibilities before making any changes; planting the seed and

Excitement – emphasizing the possibilities that the change will create; consistently verbalizing the gains and redirect hesitant conversations in this direction

An agape pruner loves first. When we cut without loving, the possibility for damage becomes inevitable. Agape Pruning is motivated by love and a desire to see God’s people grow through healthy ministry.

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Instituting Orange in two different church environments, both of which were over 100 years old, has allowed me to be a part of shifting some of the ideologies, methodologies, and aspirations of churches seeking to serve our next generation. In 2011, I was looking for a curriculum that took the truths of the Bible and connected them across several age groups to strategically make disciples of Jesus Christ. Before mastering the Orange lingo, I was excited that First Look introduced my infants, toddlers, and preschoolers to the love of God. I was amazed over the intentionality of 252 Basics to help children discover God and why they can trust Him. I was impressed with how XP3 went even further to help students grow in their passion for Christ and their love for others.

I knew that instituting First Look and 252 Basics was just the beginning. As the team embraces the curriculum, we are able to partner with parents through Parent Cues and GodTime Cards and connect them with the same small group leaders who care enough to show up every week.

Methodologically, we moved from teaching random Bible stories to intentional discipleship lessons. The traditional Sunday school model teaches the most popular stories, at the most appropriate times of the year, hoping that things stick. However, Orange takes three basic truths and repeats them over and over again to ensure that the phase emphasizes the lessons that are most important as they strategically move from the cradle to college. Methodologically, we are less interested in teaching the stories, we are more interested in teaching about the love of God that is shown through the stories!

Ideologically, the environments changed from being Sunday-focused to being life-focused. Through Orange, we’ve come to realize how involving parents and the entire church community in discipling children and youth provides an awesome village for their development.

Our aspirations have also changed. They have moved from biblical memorization to scriptural application. We aim to help our students go beyond memorizing the lesson to applying the truths in their daily lives. We now seek to form relationships with every young person that extends our interest and care beyond Sunday morning.

In the two environments I served and serve, we started with Orange as another curriculum, initially thinking that would be enough. However, Orange is more than a curriculum to be taught. It is a proven strategy of discipleship to be implemented. If you stop at the start, you may miss the rewards that come with the hard work of implementing an entire strategy that is working to change the way we disciple a generation.

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A building is best built on a sturdy foundation. A sturdy foundation without a viable building is not worth much. They are both worth more together. That is the image that comes to mind when one thinks of Next Gen Ministry! A Next Gen leader is an individual, within a local congregation, that is responsible for the discipleship programming and spiritual growth of children & youth, birth through twelfth grade. Ideally, this person is a main decision-maker and is in the top tier of the church’s leadership design. Many churches understand the need to have a children’s ministry and a youth ministry, each with its own specified leadership, but without the Next Gen leader, your church might be missing an important piece of the puzzle to make effective and efficient ministry happen for your young people. Not sure why…below are SIX REASONS why every church needs a Next Gen leader! Effectively Assign Space: If you are like most congregations, space on Sunday morning is scarce for children & youth worship environments. It is the responsibility of the NextGen leader to ensure appropriate worship space is assigned and used for all age groups. Build Security: The Next Gen leader serves as a mutual connecting point for children, students, and parents. Every level will have different volunteers, and may even have a different director, pastor, or ministry leader, a common face can assist during moments of transition. Eliminate Competition: There is nothing like having a children’s ministry leader and a youth leader who don’t get along. The Next Gen leader may not be able to make them besties, but they can be the voice of reason when tensions get high! A Next Gen leader can help to eliminate competition between children & youth ministries by reminding everyone of a mutually agreed upon vision. Fair Budget Allocation: Budgetary concerns can be better split across age-groups. If one person has a snapshot of the needs of all the areas, with one ultimate goal in mind, they can better appropriate where the money needs to go. The need can be addressed based on short-term and long-term vision rather than sporadic events or projects. Vision Connectivity: How can you be sure that your children are ready for student ministry? How do you know what faith skills your youth have already been taught? If one person knows the answer to both of those questions, then you have someone to ensure a point for growth connectivity. Children & youth ministries can connect rather than the two operating totally independently of the other. Faith-Development: While religious habits can be emulated at any level, skills that allow for a healthy analysis of our faith are developed over time. Just think, we are able to prepare our children better for middle school, when we know what they learned in elementary school. The same thing is true for faith development. Student ministry leaders don’t have to teach basic faith practices if they know their students got it as children. Student ministry leaders can now focus on helping their students live out their faith in the marketplace. Children’s ministry leaders don’t have to overload “everything Christian” in 5 years of ministry but rather can focus on teaching our children the basics knowing that student ministry will help them own, practice, and mature their faith as they become young adults. The size, budget, and culture of one’s congregation will help to determine how your children & youth ministries are set-up. Some congregations have paid staff at each level while others are led by volunteers and still others are some combination of the two. Whatever the set-up and staff allocation, having one NextGen leader, that is responsible for the connectivity of children & youth ministries is an indispensable set-up and investment that our younger generation deserves.

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