Romania Travel Journal – Principles from Ostraveni

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday was split into three acts. Act 1: Mini-conference in Ostraveni. Act 2: Visit to an Orthodox Monastery.  Act 3: Trip to Gaujani.

Act 1: Mini-conference in Ostraveni

The team – Jeremy, Jessica, Donna, and myself – were finally all reunited at the Pentecostal church in Ostraveni, a “suburb” of R.V. (we had been divided on Sunday). Ostraveni is not a village like the other places we visited but is still in a very urban setting. This was also the church that I preached at Sunday night.

We were there for a mini-conference of sorts, which really served as an opportunity for us to give a brief presentation of Attic After School. We had each brought along a jump drive with pictures of Attic After School for the occasion. The morning started with refreshments but moved quickly to the presentation.

The presentation itself was rather brief. I started with a brief devotional on the Great Commission, moved to a brief history of the program, shared what we do, and then showed some pictures to give everyone a good idea of what an average day looked at. I didn’t really think to share some of the underlying principles of ministry but as the discussion time progressed, and as I reflected further upon those conversations, I realized that our ministry is based on some core principles, even one that I hadn’t articulated until forced to explain it.

Explaining Attic After School in Ostraveni.

Explaining Attic After School in Ostraveni.

Ministry is chosen based on the intersection of call, need, and opportunity

The question naturally arises, Why do an After School program? The answer, for our church, was that the After School program met at the intersection of call, need, and opportunity.

Call: We are called to obey the great commission and our church was actively seeking ways to do this. Without this sense of call we wouldn’t have even started the process.

Need: Members of the broader community, including the mayor at the time, recognized the need for an After School program to provide a safe and positive place for teenagers between 3 and 5 pm, a time when crime and gang recruitment are at their highest. In developing the program we met a need in the community, which was not only a good in itself but has also ensured us the support of other community institutions such as the police department and the schools.

Opportunity: Finally, we had the opportunity – the resources (a newly updated “attic”/youth room), the leadership, and the volunteers – to make it happen.  I suppose with a different set of gifts and resources we may have done a different ministry.

I’m not expecting churches in Romania to suddenly start after school programs but I did challenge them to look at the needs of the community and their own set of resources. We do, however, all share the same call.

Ministry doesn’t require a lot of resources

One major concern in Romania is that the church doesn’t have many resources, or at least, consistent resources. One of our goals was to show that ministry doesn’t require it. Attic After School, especially in its beginnings, but even now, doesn’t require it. When we started we were all volunteers – even our director at the time. We had a set of volunteers bring snacks. Games and game tables were donated. Ministry doesn’t have to be big to be successful or effective.

Ministry requires broad church participation

What we lacked in resources we made up for in participation, which flowed naturally out of a sense of call. As a church we “own” Attic After School and this is true at the individual level as well. There are many ways to participate – volunteering as a counselor, bringing snacks (especially early on), ”
“adopting a student” (prayer ministry), buying a “warm fingers and warm toes” bag, or participating in a related ministry. Even those who do not participate directly in Attic After School support the ministry and, I believe, take some level of ownership for its success.

It simply would not have worked if only a select group of leaders thought it was a good idea. We needed, and we continue to need, the whole church.

If I were to go back and offer advice to the Romanian pastors we spoke to that day I would recommend they focus their attention on energizing their congregation to look for ways to fulfill the great commission. An energized congregation will participate freely and enthusiastically if they see they are meeting a need and you give them the opportunity to serve.

In Discipleship, think relationships and steps

OK, this one requires a diagram!

One of the comments we had when we showed pictures of Attic After School was this: “You put a lot of focus on games and fun, where do you put in the gospel?” There are three answers to this question. (1) We have a Talk Time which is 10 minutes of sharing the gospel directly. (2) We make an effort to share the gospel in intentional personal conversations. (3) We use Attic After School to invite kids to other programs, especially Youth Group and Sunday morning worship.

Use relationships to move unbelievers and new believers through deeper steps of discipleship.

Use relationships to move unbelievers and new believers through deeper steps of discipleship.

This final answer is perhaps the most important and effective in making disciples. Attic After School is a “wide open door”. We want to make it as open and accessible as we can without pretending to be something we’re not or removing the offense of the gospel. We could, for instance, make Attic After School more inviting by removing our “talk time” but to do so would be to take out an essential aspect of our ministry.

Youth group goes a little deeper. We include worship, prayer, and a longer “talk time.” We still have games but there is an intentional different between the after school program and the Wednesday night program.

Sunday worship is deeper still, though we still make sure that the gospel is front and center and that unbelievers or seekers feel welcome and can understand the program and the message. We move kids through the process through relationships built between our workers and the students. These relationships are key and it is through these relationships more than anything else that we have seen young men and women become believers and grow as disciples.

All three steps are needed in our context, though they may not be needed in every context. If we took out Attic After School we would miss out on building a lot of new relationships. If we took out Youth Group the leap to Sunday morning would simply be too high for most of the kids to make and the kids would never get beyond the more “surface” aspect of the after school program. If we never invited the kids to Sunday morning they would never see what adult discipleship looks like and would be ultimately stunted in their spiritual walk.

Some ministries we encountered in Romania missed some steps. Day camps offered wide open doors but never/rarely directed the kids to a local church. Others missed the wide open door and missed out on reaching many unbelievers. Some ministries were trying to find that middle step to move unbelievers or new believers from initial faith to sustained discipleship.

Ministry requires flexibility

One of the participants in the conference offered a great analogy. She said that her grandfather was a fisherman who knew that when fishing you sometimes needed to use different bate or different pole to catch different kinds of fish. You may have a favorite pole or favorite method but in order to get the desired result you may need to move outside of your comfort zone.

Ministry requires this kind of flexibility. We need to be more committed to the mission and the call than we are to our particular methodology. Different tasks require different tools and methods. The Romanian churches are in the right position to know their particular needs and opportunities and I am confident they understand and are committed to the call of discipleship. It was fun to participate with them as they brainstormed different ways to get the job done.