Parental Leave

Today in our worship gatherings, we announced that we are both receiving parental leave upon our return from Korea, where we will pick up our adopted son.

Here’s the announcement …

News About Randy & Joleen’s Parental Leave

As you know, we are adopting a baby boy from Korea. We expect to travel to Korea to pick him up sometime in or around February (at which time, Ethan will be about 8 months old).

In the United Methodist Church, pastors are able to take 8 weeks of paid parental leave. We both plan to take this time (plus 2 weeks of vacation, to cover our time in Korea), and we have followed the Book of Discipline, which included filing our requests with our respective SPRCs and the District Superintendent. Recently, the Cabinet (the Bishop and District Superintendents of the Conference) granted approval.

As you may imagine, bonding time of parents and child is very important. It’s especially important in the case of international adoption. Not only will we use this time for bonding, but we will also be dealing with transitioning issues — change of location, culture change, 12 hour change in time zone, change in baby formula, and a whole new life for the three of us!

Over the course of the next few months (of waiting time and transitioning time), we would appreciate your prayers for …

  • God to work out all the details
  • God to help us finish our dissertations (and graduate in May)
  • Our trip to/from Korea (including long flight with Ethan)
  • The bonding and transition of our family

Also, while we are in Korea, we will be connecting with a ministry(ies) as part of a cross-cultural experience requirement for our doctor of ministry programs.

While we are on leave, area United Methodist pastors will be on call for pastoral emergencies. Rev. Tiffany Freeman will be a guest speaker two times in each of our churches so that Holy Communion can be celebrated. On the other weeks, lay speakers will fill in. Some details still need to be worked out with our SPRCs, but we wanted to inform you about our upcoming parental leaves.

Thanks for your support and your prayers!

Randy & Joleen

Praying the Scriptures for your Children

Regular readers of our blog will know that we are thinking a lot about parenting these days as we prepare to bring Ethan home from Korea. Part of our thinking recently has been about how best to pray for him — now and in the years to come!

Randy recently posted several prayers for the journey. These will be good, especially down the road as Ethan begins to make more decisions for himself. “Praying the scriptures is a powerful way to pray!”

We’ve just begun to gather some scriptures that we want to incorporate into our prayers for Ethan. Here’s what we’ve collected so far …

For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs. (Zephaniah 3.17)

Ephesians 6.1-4 offers some valuable praying material. Here, Paul admonishes children, “obey your parents,” and “honor your father and mother,” noting that “this is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, ‘things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.'” But Paul also cautions parents, “do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” Good stuff to pray.

I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 1.16-20

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3.14-21)

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. (Ephesians 6.10-18)

Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen. (Jude 1.24-25)

Well, this should get us started. We believe that praying the scriptures is a powerful way to pray. If praying the scriptures is unfamiliar to you, here’s an example …

O God, we give you all the glory, for who you who and for all you have blessed us with. Thank you so much for blessing us with Ethan. God, you are able to keep Ethan from falling away. We trust, O God, that you will bring him with great joy into your glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to you, who alone are God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are yours before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.

The idea is simply to incorporate the language of scripture into your prayers. In some cases you can use the actual language; other times, you may need to change it into the form of a prayer.

Some resources we found online (although we know little about them) that look like they might be worth checking out if you’d like more resources: Praying the Scriptures for Your Children (2001) and Praying the Scriptures for Your Teenager: Discover How to Pray God’s Will for Their Lives (2007), both by Jodie Berndt.

Also check out Kevin Martineau’s recent piece on praying for our children.

What do you pray when you pray for your children? What Scriptures do you pray for them? Feel free to share in the comments section.

The Light of the World

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the miracle of the coming of God in human form. Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world” (John 8.12).

The world in which we live can be a dark place. It doesn’t matter who you are, you face darkness in some way. It may be your place of work. It may be a health difficulty in your life or in someone you love. It may be a broken relationship, even separation by death and you face your first Christmas without this loved one. There may be darkness in recesses of your own life, left behind by someone who did you wrong, abused you, used you. Perhaps the uncertainty of the future puts you in a dark place. For me, even in the the bright hope of becoming a parent as we are in the process of adopting Ethan, a shadow is cast by his absence this Christmas.

But Jesus is our light. The light which guides us along the path of life. The light that chases away the darkness of fear and the unexpected. The light that brings hope to the hopeless and allows us to see beyond our present circumstances. He is the light that heals and that fills the void.

If you need some light in your life … if you need some hope … light a candle, any candle and pray these simple words …

Christ be my light. Bring light to my darkness. Bring me the hope that I long for.

Field Research

Over the course of the last several weeks, we have both conducted field research for our dissertation work. Between us, our travels have taken across Pennsylvania, as well as to New York and Ohio.

In our last D.Min. update, we announced our topics. Joleen is studying integrated small groups and Randy is studying how leader/communicators shape a missional culture.

We each visited four churches. The first churches we visited were pilots — opportunities to work out the bugs and hone our interview questions. Randy’s plan was to interview the lead pastor at each site plus 2 or 3 other core leaders. Joleen’s plan was to interview a small group leader plus 3 or 4 small group participants at each location. We both developed interview guides using a research method called Appreciative Inquiry (AI) (watch for a post on AI, and its implications for leadership, a little later).

Randy conducted his pilot at Faith UMC (Bellefonte, PA), and Joleen conducted her pilot at First Presbyterian Church (Beaver, PA). Randy chose Faith Church because that’s where his mentor, Doyle Klinger, serves; Doyle is a leader who is shaping a missional culture. Joleen chose First Presbyterian because their pastor, Jeff Arnold, wrote The Big Book on Small Groups, which was central to Joleen’s research.

After our pilot interviews, Joleen traveled to Living Word Community Church (Red Lion, PA), The Bridge (Shillington, PA), and NorthPointe Community Church (Limerick, PA). Randy traveled to Morris UMC (Morris, NY), Bethany UMC (Latrobe, PA), and Ginghamsburg UMC (Tipp City, OH).

We are grateful for the churches who worked with us and made themselves available to us. We plan to spend the next 2-3 weeks analyzing the data we’ve gathered at these sites and writing about what we’ve learned as we enter the last leg of the dissertation-writing journey!

His name will be called …

ethanquinnAfter a lot of deliberation, we have finally settled on a name for Baby Willis. That’s a good thing, because as someone pointed out to us, he probably wouldn’t want to be called Baby Willis forever. 🙂

Anyway, his name will be called: Ethan Quinn. The photo here was taken when he was almost 5 months old (late October).

In the latest report, he was described as “a very busy little guy … he likes to bounce.” According to the email we received, his foster mother describes him as “easygoing” as well as active. He was also described as “a very sociable little guy.”

Last week, our adoption agency received the legal documents to file for immigration. In about 6 weeks, we expect to receive recognition that the baby is an “immediate relative.” That will finish up everything on our end. Then it will be a matter of Korea issuing the child a visa, at which point, we will be cleared to go to Korea to pick up our child, possibly (in/around) February.

Since Ethan will not be here for Christmas, we *may* leave up our Christmas tree until after he arrives. Also, we will not be mailing out Christmas cards (along with our annual personal newsletter) until after we return from Korea. In that newsletter, we expect to report on Ethan and his transition into our home (as well as a report on finishing up our dissertations and graduation in May, but that’s another story!).

Learning from Mistakes

One of the best things you can do is to learn from other people’s experiences, including their mistakes. Learning from others and their mistakes is certainly a good and necessary habit for leaders.

Someone put it this way …

Learn from the mistakes of others — you can never live long enough to make them all yourself.

But while we want to learn from the mistakes of others, it would be a big mistake to miss out on some of our greatest potential for learning — our own mistakes. “Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast.” (Tom Peters)

Now, I don’t like making mistakes, but the reality is, I make (and will continue to make) a lot of mistakes. That’s life. Hopefully, though, I will also learn from my mistakes. If I do, what I learn may very well be some of my best learnings.

Learning from my mistakes will help me to grow and develop as a leader. And if I don’t learn from my mistakes, I will miss out on a lot of learning.

A quote by Tom Peters has challenged me for years to be willing to making mistakes in order to learn and move forward …

Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast.

Too often when we fail we quit, but if we would keep moving forward, and make adjustments based on what we’re learning in the process, we will be much more likely to succeed.

Prayers for the Journey

Do you ever need God’s direction for your life? More than a decade ago, I started collecting prayers in the Scriptures where the pray-er asks God for help on the journey of life. I started this collection at a time when Joleen and I really needed God’s direction in our lives and ministries.

“Show me the path where I should walk, O Lord; point out the right road for me to follow.”

Years later, I still find myself praying through this list from time to time. I think these words can be tremendously helpful to anyone who needs God’s direction so I’ll post them here. I encourage you to let these words guide your prayers for God’s direction …

Lead me in the right path, O Lord, or my enemies will conquer me. Tell me clearly what to do, and show me which way to turn. (Psalm 5.8)

If you keep to my path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God. (Psalm 50.23b)

Show me the path where I should walk, O Lord; point out the right road for me to follow. (Psalm 25.4)

Don’t be impatient for the Lord to act! Travel steadily along his path. He will honor you, giving you the land. (Psalm 37.34)

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing. (Psalm 143.10)

Zeal without knowledge is not good. A person who moves too quickly may go the wrong way. (Proverbs 19.2)

If you plan and work hard, you will have plenty; if you get in a hurry, you will end up poor. (Proverbs 21.5)

If you have some prayers for the journey from the Scriptures to add to this list (or any other comments), please leave a comment. Thanks!

{Parenting} Shaping a Learning Culture

What kind of culture or environment do we want to create for our child? That’s the question we’re asking ourselves as we prepare for parenthood. So far, we’ve talked about cultivating a God-centered culture.

Another component of the culture we want to create is a learning culture. We believe that all of life is a classroom. Learning isn’t just something that happens at school or at church; learning can and should happen everywhere. “Learners have a hunger for growth.”

But learning isn’t automatic. Unfortunately, we can go through all kinds of life experiences and miss a lot of learning opportunities.

It’s no small thing, we believe, that followers of Jesus are called disciples (i.e. students, learners). Followers of Jesus must be learners throughout their lives. For Christ-followers to continually grow, there must be a learning culture.

Some thoughts on the kinds of learners we want to be and the kind of learner we hope to raise …

Hunger. Learners are curious and have a hunger for growth. They ask questions. They read. They learn from other people and from life experiences.

Creativity. We wrote about creativity in our review of the movie, “The Astronaut Farmer.” Basically, we want to encourage our child’s natural creativity, not stifle it. Most people lose their natural God-given creativity before they reach double-digits. We want to do our best to cultivate and encourage our child’s creativity!

Wisdom. Learners do more than simply gain knowledge, they develop wisdom and discernment (i.e. knowing what to do with information and knowledge). IOW, learners develop the ability to process the information they learn.

Application. Learners apply what they learn. Frankly, knowledge doesn’t do a whole lot of good if it isn’t ever applied or put into practice.

Learning is important, but again, it’s not automatic. For learning to happen, there’s gotta be a learning culture.

A Leader’s Prayer

I recently came across the following prayer from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions (edited by Arthur Bennett). The language is a bit archaic, but the spirit of the prayer is relevant.

O GOD,
I know that I often do Thy work without Thy power,
and sin by my dead, heartless, blind service,
my lack of inward light, love, delight,
my mind, heart, tongue moving without Thy help.

I see sin in my heart in seeking the approbation of others;

This is my vileness, to make men’s opinion my rule, whereas
I should see what good I have done,
and give thee glory,
consider what sin I have committed and mourn for that.

It is my deceit to preach, and pray,
and to stir up other’s spiritual affections
in order to beget commendations,
whereas my rule should be daily to consider myself more vile than any man in my own eyes.

But Thou dost show Thy power by my frailty,
so that the more feeble I am, the more fit to be used,
for Thou dost pitch a tent of grace in my weakness.

Help me to rejoice in my infirmities and give Thee praise,
to acknowledge my deficiencies before others
and not be discouraged by them,
that they may see Thy glory more clearly.

Teach me that I must act by a power supernatural,
whereby I can attempt things above my strength,
and bear evils beyond my strength,
acting for Christ in all, and
having His superior power to help me.

Let me learn of Paul
whose presence was mean,
his weakness great,
his utterance contemptible,
yet Thou didst account him faithful and blessed.

Lord, let me lean on Thee as he did,
and find my ministry Thine. (187)