July 6, 2015

Fellowship in the Backyard

Fellowship often involves eating, and, maybe because summer is so short, my church family likes to eat outdoors. For years, we had picnic tables next to the front entrance of our church building. Then, as part of an Eagle Scout project, a young member built us a sheltered picnic pavilion on the church grounds where we could use our tables and gas grill. And, in July and August, we have Backyard Fellowship (BYF) every Sunday at 5:30.

BYF is an evening service modified for summer where we hear God's word, sing, pray and ...eat. It is held in a different church family's yard each week. When rain threatens, it is moved to the house's garages or the church building. Participants bring their own chairs and blankets, the meat they want to grill and a side dish or dessert to share. The hosts set up tables and their grill and make lemonade. The church provides paper goods, vinyl tablecloths, plastic silverware and condiments in squeeze bottles. In addition, it allows members to borrow tables, serving spoons, a portable gas grill and large igloo drink dispensers.

In my experience, a good amount of work is done by BYF hosts, and I always try to thank them for their hospitality before I leave because it is an important ministry. Even if you don't have a structured event like BYF, you can foster fellowship by inviting your church to your backyard this summer. To help you, here are some practical hints I have learned along the way. 

You are invited
Announcements in the bulletin, church newsletter and on social media are easy to do. In addition, think about personally inviting people who have not participated in the past.

In my church, some members ask their non-Christian friends to attend BYF because it is more low-key and casual than our regular church services. Hosts are wise to inform their neighbors of what they are doing. Neighbors don't always want to come to BYF, but they might think twice before firing up their lawn mowers while the church group is having prayer time.

Details, details
People like to know what to expect. Be sure to tell them the time and date, what they should bring and where you live. (Because we have members in over 25 towns, not everyone in our church knows how to get to everyone's house.)

On Sunday mornings, before BYF, many of our hosts hand out maps or written directions to their houses with phone numbers included. A member, who has access to sign-making equipment, made several reusable signs that can be stuck in the ground at important intersections along the route to BYF.

Tell guests the parking plan before they arrive. The host should inform them of the town laws about on-street parking, the need to carpool, thoughts about parking on the lawn and a need to reserve spaces next to the house for people with disabilities. If the host knows there will not be enough space to park all the cars, she can ask a neighbor to put some vehicles in her driveway. If the event is after normal business hours, the host can tell people to park in a nearby school or shopping center lot and then provide a shuttle to the house.

Welcome friends
Get the setup done early so that you can greet guests as they arrive. Make sure everyone has what he or she needs, including the location of the bathroom. Putting out a few of your own lawn chairs gives the early-arriving guests an idea of where the center of action is. I like to provide a basket equipped with hand sanitizer for those working with food on the grill, a roll of paper towel for inevitable accidents, sunscreen, band aids and bug repellent. Keep a large trash can nearby.

If you are afraid of running out of food, you can request that each family bring two side dishes to share. If you want a good variety of food, ask those whose last names begin with A through L to bring a side dish like a salad or vegetable and ask those whose last names begin with M through Z to furnish a dessert. For ideas involving setting up the food, see my previous posting on buffet style meals.

If entertainment is appropriate, think about what children could play with in your yard. If you don't have a playscape, basketball hoop or swimming pool, consider buying sidewalk chalk, bubbles, a plastic horseshoe set, playground balls, croquet or other lawn games. Some other ideas: We once put out several checkers boards at BYF and conducted a tournament for all ages. One family got permission from its next door neighbors for BYF attendees to visit their llama farm. One property had a zip line.

If you have any ideas for fellowship in the backyard, please share them below. In the meantime, have a great summer!

June 22, 2015

Let Go As You Go

I never had you over.
We didn’t get together enough.
I wanted us to be really good friends.
Why didn’t we schedule more coffee dates?
We should have grabbed lunch.


The last few weeks of moving boxes and hugs—because there’s only one way to leave your church—have also been punctuated with gut-wrenching regrets on both sides. As church members and I each look back over the eleven years God gave us as a church together and look ahead to our separate futures, we reflexively lament that we didn’t do more. Didn’t smile enough. Didn’t call enough. Didn’t pray enough. We are sorry that sometimes our relationships weren’t more than they were.

How do you say goodbye when you feel guilty?

Repent of Actual Sin

First, I need to look squarely at my guilt. One of the problems of guilt is that Satan often uses false guilt to mask true guilt. If I feel vaguely guilty about everything, I don’t feel the specific weight of my actual sin, nor my need of an actual Savior. As I look back over my relationships (or their lack) I must do the hard soul-work of finding, confessing, and repenting of real sin.

Did I intentionally neglect someone out of favoritism and partiality (James 2:1-14)? Did I overlook someone because I believed them to be unnecessary to the body (1 Cor. 12:21-16)? Where I sinned, I must repent. And where I sinned, I have a gracious Savior to forgive.

Accept My Limited Humanity

But in many cases my so-called guilt is not a response to sin, but an expression of my own unwillingness to accept my limited humanity. If only my kids were older, we could have had coffee every morning. If only we lived in the same town, we would have seen each other more. If only I had owned a bigger house, a larger van, a grassier yard. We would have been best friends. If only everything had been different.

Unlike God, I am bound by space and time and the rising price of gas. Unlike God, my life is changeable and changing—one minute I am a newlywed, the next I have three little baseball players who all must be dressed and at the field by six o’clock. I am finite. I am human. I am not God.

Give Thanks for God’s Kindness

Chafing against my limitations can blind me to the goodness of the Lord. If my kids had been a different age, I would have had more ladies’ lunches but less play dates. If I had lived in a different town, I would have made certain friends, but I would have missed out on others. If I had mentored this girl, I could not have mentored that one.

For every relationship I didn’t have, I can name another one I nurtured. The friendships and mentorships and sisterhoods which the Lord gave me are of his kind choosing and are more than I deserve. I am thankful.

Look to Heaven

Ultimately, the holes in this life point us to the fullness of the next. In heaven—and only in heaven!—will our relationships be made permanent and complete. In heaven, we will be freed from sin and unbound from time. In heaven we will be together with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:17). Our relationships in this life are just the introduction. And every goodbye waits eagerly for an eternal hello.

Also in this series about church transitions:
Plant a Tree on Your Way Out
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