There was a huge rock across the street from my grandmother Wilson’s front yard. As kids the cousins would gather at the rock to play, dream, and conquer. Climbing on top of the rock was a challenge but finding new stories to make up about the rock was an even bigger challenge. That rock was our space ship, home base, bank, and haunted house. Whenever the cousins get together today we inevitably talk about “the rock” and laugh at how small the rock became over the years!
For kids rocks are great to climb and spur the imagination and stones are fun to collect and classify, but as adults we don’t typically have a whole lot of use for them other than decorative or to keep unwanted guests out.
Joshua 4 gives a great illustration to the value in a pile of rocks and provides a wonderful story of faithfulness, obedience, crossing, and celebration! Building memorials out of stones and the value to congregational spiritual formation.
When all the people had crossed the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Now choose twelve men, one from each tribe. Tell them, ‘Take twelve stones from the very place where the priests are standing in the middle of the Jordan. Carry them out and pile them up at the place where you will camp tonight.’”
So Joshua called together the twelve men he had chosen—one from each of the tribes of Israel. He told them, “Go into the middle of the Jordan, in front of the Ark of the Lord your God. Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it out on your shoulder—twelve stones in all, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them, ‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.” (Joshua 4:1-7, NLT)
God was faithful – the Israelites successfully crossed the Jordan!
The Israelites were obedient – they walked into the water, they crossed the Jordan, and they found themselves some stones! And the pile of rocks they left behind stood as a powerful reminder and lesson to those who followed.
Where in your community of faith are your stones? Where have you erected literally and figuratively memorials to what the Lord has done for you?
There have been some wonderful conversations in the past few years about the impact of milestone ministry – especially in child, youth, and family ministry. As a church community we establish milestones to celebrate moments in the development of our children and teens and these milestones become memorials…stones erected in the middle of the Jordan that help children and teens and families to remember what the Lord has done for them! Spiritual milestones such as baby dedications, first communion, salvations, baptisms, and commissioning for service; and Personal milestones such as kindergarten graduation, junior high entrance, getting a driver’s license, high school graduation, etc. are valuable! They are important to the individual, to the family, and to the community of faith. They offer an opportunity to partner with families and to equip families to have spiritual conversations in the home.
BUT it is also important to establish memorials as a community of faith. What are the milestones as a church you have experienced? What are the victories you have received? What are the memories that are critical to pass on to your children so that they can know of the great things the Lord has done in the past and be assured of the great things He still does and will do?
The ancient Israelites were encouraged to build memorials of stones to serve as reminders of God’s faithfulness so that when people passed by they would ask: What do these stones mean?” A pile of stones to signify a story of praise. In past centuries churches were filled with stained glass windows depicting biblical stories of victory that were reminders of the narrative of God’s work across the ages. In the past century churches contained precious pieces of furniture in honor and memory of a life well lived and images and artwork that spoke of God’s goodness and greatness in the lives of the people who were a part of that community of faith. Some churches used to have walls of remembrance that gave a pictorial reminder of the church’s God-directed journey. Each of these offered an opportunity for a conversation- a trigger to share the story of God’s faithfulness. They were stones from the Jordan in the dessert.
What kinds of stone memorials does your community of faith have? What visual reminders of God’s faithfulness that can serve as triggers for conversations so that when the children ask, “what are these for” you can tell them?
Milestones in the life of children, youth, and families are wonderful opportunities to celebrate and make a memory impression; and we need to establish them, partner with families, and celebrate them together.
But what are the reasons you have to stack some stones? What are the things the Lord has done for your community of faith? How has He blessed your church? What stories from the past need to be celebrated and remembered and carried into the present and into the future?
Identify them – celebrate them – and stack some stones!
Dr. Colleen Derr is Associate Professor of Congregational Spiritual Formation and Christian Ministries at Wesley Seminary at IWU.