Will Your Kids Follow Jesus?

TirePlayI can’t tell you how many times over the past 10+ years I’ve had a discussion with other parents and church leaders about the struggle of discipling children through our current church programming models. The following is an excerpt from a Verge Network article by Ben Connelly called “How To Incorporate Kids into Your Missional Community” (full article here) that articulates this challenge well:

Focusing on the right things
The focus of a “kids ministry” shouldn’t actually be kids; it should be parents. Whether preschool or high school, the same principle applies: churches and leaders who put time, effort, money, resources, and intentionality into equipping parents instead of merely entertaining children accomplish two significant things:

  • They help develop the whole-life spiritual maturity of the children
  • They put parents back in the place the Bible places them.

Churches with Sunday-focused kids ministries spend 50-100 hours per year (of the 8,760 hours in any given year) with your kids. Minus vacations, sickness, and other reasons to miss, trained workers teach kids biblical concepts for an hour or two on Sundays. And even the most intentional churches might host a second age-specific gathering sometime during the week.

In those few hours, trained leaders must cram in entertainment, music, a snack, and often a Bible story that immediately transfers into a life lesson. “Discipleship and spiritual growth” become limited to a few hours a month, and generally limited to one “style”: in a group, with lots of energy, listening to a teacher teach a broad lesson.

What about the rest of the week?
But what happens in the rest of a child’s week when the teacher isn’t there? Who hears about getting made fun of on the playground? Who’s there to encourage the student in the midst of a specific high school struggle? If a child is in school until 4pm and goes to bed at 8pm, parents interact with their kids 1460 hours a year!

Parents see the daily struggles. Parents have conversations in the car. Parents are asked the hard questions. Parents deal with the specifics, the scenarios, the struggles, the sins. Parents meet their child – every single day – where the real-life rubber hits the road.

The author makes the argument that we need to be spending more of our time training parents as the primary disciplers of children. I agree. Yet, look at the job description of just about any church children’s minister or youth minister and you will see just how little of their time is expected to be spent doing this kind of work. In fact, it is entirely possible (and I have seen this many times myself) where we end up with adolescents in this model that “know” more about the Bible than their parents do. Can we see how backwards this is if we really believe that the parents are the primary teachers and disciplers of their kids?  I personally believe that when we talk about the issue of so many young people leaving the church after high school that it is related to this issue. Their spiritual training, their so-called discipleship is totally disconnected from their life at school and at home.

So what is the solution? I imagine that for many programmatic, attractional churches they might be tempted simply to hire more staff to teach more classes at the church building for parents. Personally, I don’t think that is the answer. The didactic teaching style has its place, but it is no substitute for discipleship in the everyday life. I don’t want to claim that missional communities are the answer, but I do believe that they are a step in a better direction because the focus is on reorienting our lives to be on mission in our home, work, school, family, neighborhood, life.

Tim Keller Talks About Missional Church

Video

I just heard this interview for the first time, even though it has apparently been around for a long time. When I think of “missional church” I don’t immediately think about what Keller is describing here. Nevertheless, being conversant and engaged with the culture where you live is certainly a very important part of being missional. I think that what Keller is describing is primarily focused on those of us that spend most of our time in professional ministry. The problem for those that don’t work in the church is that so often they ARE “just like everyone else” when they are away from the church building and the church community gatherings. They are also just like “church people” when they are around them. The key is to reorienting oneself so that all of life is under the authority of Jesus, and then living all of life on the mission that Jesus has given us. To me, this becomes the key difference between being a “seeker sensitive” church and being a missional church. It is one thing to be sure that we talk in a way that those who have never heard the good news can understand what we are talking about in our groups and in our worship, but it is another thing to begin live out the gospel in a way that permeates and informs all of our life and conversations.

Instagram Church

barbie familyAs someone who worked for many years at a church where I was not only the “youth director,” but also one of the younger adults at the church, I’ve had many, many conversations about the changes in technology and the impact (positive and negative) that these changes are having on our lives. I remember sitting at a staff/session retreat trying to explain Twitter and trying to convince church leaders of the value of being on Facebook. Rarely is it possible to convincingly argue that these technological changes are either “all good” or “all bad.” I still take issue with those that want to portray the younger generations as  sitting in front of a computer or cell phone all day, ignoring face-to-face interactions. If anything, I have noticed that this is more of a temptation with the stay-at-home mom/dad crowd.

Nevertheless, it IS important that we acknowledge, discuss, and challenge the dangers and temptations that come with the increasing role of social media on our lives. The following is an excerpt from a great article by Relevant Magazine about the way we portray our lives in social media (read the entire article here):

My life looks better on the Internet than it does in real life. Everyone’s life looks better on the internet than it does in real life. The Internet is partial truths—we get to decide what people see and what they don’t. That’s why it’s safer short term. And that’s why it’s much, much more dangerous long term.

Because community—the rich kind, the transforming kind, the valuable and difficult kind—doesn’t happen in partial truths and well-edited photo collections on Instagram. Community happens when we hear each other’s actual voices, when we enter one another’s actual homes, with actual messes, around actual tables telling stories that ramble on beyond 140 pithy characters.

What was really interesting to me as I read this article is that I found myself reflecting less on social media, and more on what I have often experienced on Sunday Morning at “church.” Why is it that we dress up, act up, put on a smile, shake hands, waltz into the sanctuary with our family, sing, pray, and then bail 90 minutes later pretending that we just experienced community? Just like the “partial truths” posted onto social media sites, this snapshot of our week does not accurately portray the messiness that we really live in.

I can just hear the defensive objections coming my way already! I realize that there probably isn’t a church out there that wants our community to begin and end at the worship service. But we also all know that for many people that is what happens. But even for those that do plug into the “small group” ministry (or youth group or senior group or choir or whatever…), do they really experience community in that group? Is it a place where they can be real about their struggles, their doubts, their failures? Can they be “real” in those settings?

I know that authentic community does exist in some of these programmatic settings, but I think that it is rare. This is just one more reason why I am passionate about moving forward with missional communities. Not only does it bring people together in the messiness of life, but it also challenges them to “go out” together in the power of the Holy Spirit to share the Good News that in the midst of all the messiness Christ has overcome it all!

Church Shopping Lessons: What Churches Should be Doing on Sunday Morning

church shoppingOne of the most beneficial things for me during this church planting process has been the opportunity to take my family to worship with other churches on the Sundays that we are not having worship at Tidelands. (Right now we are having a Tidelands worship gathering once a month, worshiping with Mountain View once a month, and then visiting other churches on the open Sundays). Although we are not “church shopping” in the sense that we are looking for a new church home, we have been able to experience what it must be like for those that are. My wife and I have been taking our boys on this journey with us (ages 9 & 6). It has given me insight that may be helpful for others, and will undoubtedly be helpful for our leaders in the future. So without further ado, here is my list of…

WHAT CHURCHES SHOULD BE DOING TO WELCOME VISITORS:

  1. Keep your website fresh and updated! 

    I can’t emphasize this enough. Most people (and increasingly older generations as well) will want to check out your website before visiting. Here’s what they are looking for: worship times, worship style, information on children’s ministry/nursery, sermon examples, pictures of your worship space, directions, pastor’s name, a brief statement about what you believe. It also doesn’t hurt to give them examples of what to expect during a typical service. Remember: while information on all of your midweek programs may be what existing church people are looking for, visitors just want the basics to decide if it is worth the effort to try it out.

  2. Put up the Signs! 

    Church buildings in North America have got to be some of the craziest spaces in our cities. Many of them have multiple parking areas, multiple sanctuaries, and additions that go in every direction. Even the smallest church buildings often have additions on them that aren’t easy to figure out. Of course it makes sense to those that go every Sunday, but what about the visitor? Can they find the nursery without asking someone? Can they find the main entrance from wherever they end up parking? Will they know where they can and can’t park? I can’t tell you how many church buildings we just had to guess at a door for worship.

  3. Someone Say Hello! 

    It seems obvious, but you might be surprised at how people in small and large churches seemed to ignore our family of four. We visited one church where we walked into a worship with about 30 people. Everyone knew that we were new, but not a single person that morning said anything to us other than “The peace of Christ be with you” during the “passing of the peace.” Someone be courageous! Say, “Hi! Is this your first time here?” If you’re in a bigger church I understand that there is a fear that if you ask someone if it is their first time that they might say, “no, we’ve been coming here for a year” and you would be embarrassed. That’s ok! If they say that respond with: “I apologize for not introducing myself before. My name is …” and go from there. And in case your wondering, the pastor shaking hands at the door or the people giving you a bulletin on the way into the sanctuary don’t count! We all know that they HAVE to say hello!

  4. Make Children Welcome!

    Have information everywhere for parents. Put it on signs around the church, have someone in the Sunday School wing directing and welcoming people, put it on an information card in the pews and chairs and all over the website. Don’t leave parents wondering what they are supposed to do with kids! We’ve been there and it is not fun! Make sure that your children’s area looks like a place you would want to leave your kids. Ask yourself, if this were a school would I be ok with the way the hallway, classroom, etc. look? If the kids are invited to come “forward” for a kid’s message and then leave to a class, be sure to also invite those kids and parents still seated to come with the group as they leave to the class time. Visiting kids will rarely go to the front of a strange church! Our kids have had some amazing experiences and some where they wanted nothing to do with the children’s ministry and stayed in the service with us. Even worse, we’ve been to services where there is nothing for the kids during the service at all! No children’s message, no sunday school, nothing to draw on, no information about their ministry – Nothing! Our kids are longtime church kids, but there are places that were intolerable even for them. Imagine what a kid that has never been to church would feel! I can tell you that our children have had the best experiences at churches that had larger groups of kids together of various ages for a type of “kids church.” Walking into a classroom with three kids is very intimidating and uncomfortable for a visiting child so the large group puts them at ease and has more energy.

  5. Explain what you are doing in worship! 

    I realize that the “seeker sensitive” movement may have taken some things to extremes, but they also got some things right. Think about it: How is someone who has never been to worship or has come from a different tradition supposed to know what “passing the peace” is? What in the world are you doing with the bread and the wine anyway? Who is allowed to come? Why are you doing it? Even though I am a pastor, I have still found the eucharist to be very uncomfortable in some churches. How was I supposed to know that my little plastic cup went into a discard bin right next to the server up front? Should my children stay seated or come forward? Can we participate if we aren’t members? We don’t have to get rid of the liturgical elements in worship to make visitors comfortable, but we should take the time to explain them briefly. Also, if you’re doing the announcements, be sure to introduce yourself!

  6. Invite people to stay for coffee! 

    If you have a place with cookies, coffee, tea, etc., have someone upfront in worship invite people to stay and enjoy it. Visitors are in survival mode. They want to figure out what to do with their kids, find a place to sit, experience the worship, and get back to their car to debrief without being horribly embarrassed. If visitors like the worship, and come back, then they will be looking to experience more. So let them know that you have a place to hang out and meet people. Of course, this only helps if someone takes #3 seriously!

  7. Provide a way for people to meet with pastoral staff! 

    This doesn’t apply specifically to what we have experienced, but if we were truly “church shopping” then this would be important. Have a casual gathering a few times a year when people can meet with the leaders of the church and get to know others new to the church. Let them ask their questions (you could also solicit feedback!). Provide childcare, food, drink, and you’ll be on your way. Oh, and don’t be tempted to make this a “new members class.” They aren’t going to be ready for commitment yet.

I’m sure I’ll think of other things to add since we have a couple more months of this to go. I’ll update this entry as I think of them. Maybe you’ve been a church shopper and you’ve thought of some that aren’t on here?

One other note: This seems a little odd to write this article on this blog for the simple reason that these suggestions are primarily for an “attractional church” model (i.e. – “our doors our open every Sunday and you’re welcome to join us!). However, any church with regular worship gatherings is going to have visitors, even if it is just those moving into the community and looking for a church home. However, it does beg the question: How different would it be if the “visitors” in question had already been to the home of one of the regular attenders and was met by them in the parking lot on their first day at worship?

Kid’s “Church” Art

I had to share some artwork with you (click on an image to see it full-size). During our December worship gathering the kids took some time to make a play-doh nativity after hearing the Christmas story. They also did some drawing.

Church

Drawing by Cameron B. (8 years) of  “the Church”

I couldn’t be more proud of the drawing above! I don’t know if we adults are getting it yet, but the church is NOT a place, it’s a people! So cool!

The next one will require a bit of explanation. Be sure to look at it full-size so you can see Jesus’ face.

Jesus Cries

Picture of baby Jesus by Calvin B (6 years). Notice that baby Jesus is crying.

I had just finished telling the Christmas story, and during the story I let the kids know that Jesus cried as a baby just like all babies cry. Now, it doesn’t say that in the Bible, but it also does not say that Jesus didn’t cry! We know Jesus cried as an adult (John 11:35), and we know that Jesus was fully human and fully God. The fully human baby Jesus surely cried! Is this important? It is important in the sense that Jesus’ full humanity is important theologically. Beyond that, there is the implication that a “perfect” baby wouldn’t cry – bad in so many ways!

You probably noticed the pig as well with the tail that stretches to the sky. I’m not sure where it came from, and my first thought was: “Of all the animals he could’ve picked, he had to pick the one that would be most repulsive to a good Jew!” After a good chuckle I put it away. Later it hit me: Of all the people God could’ve picked to visit baby Jesus he chose the unclean Gentile astrologers (magi) and the physically dirty shepherds! So perhaps a pig isn’t as out of place as I thought at first.

One more picture. This is a picture of the play-doh nativity made by all the kids. Not much I want to say about this other than I love letting kids respond creatively to the Word in our worship gatherings.

Baby Jesus Playdough

Baby Jesus Playdough

Link

This is an interesting “fresh expression” of church happening in the UK that sounds very similar to Tidelands in some ways (Thanks for the link Corey). Clearly the Holy Spirit is moving faithful people in similar ways around the globe! Check out the article on City:Base to read more.

I think this balance we are trying to strike between the ‘centre’ and the ‘edge’ is an interesting one; we have our gathering once a month and Simple Church throughout the week to encourage the life of these simple missional churches to grow the life of our prayer and mission base at the centre.

City:Base in Sheffield, UK

“A Pastor…What’s That?”

I had this wonderful experience with a kid on my soccer team this week. He said, “Coach, what do you do for a job?” I answered, “I’m a pastor.” He gave me this funny look and said, “What’s that?” Keep in mind that this was in the middle of me trying to explain a drill to nine boys, most of whom were asking me questions at the same moment. I knew I didn’t have a chance to even begin to explain it to him right there, but it just confirmed to me that I was in the right place. It is exactly where I want to be and exactly the kind of conversations that I hope to build on in the future. I would love it if for the rest of his life, regardless of what happens, he thinks of a “pastor” as a person who cared about him on a rainy soccer field. My prayer is that he one day discovers that I was able to care for him because of the grace of Jesus in my life.

Here is an awesome video that connects in with this way of thinking about being “the church” and the role of “pastor.” I wish I could articulate it as well as Jeff does:

Moving Forward and Gaining Momentum!

I feel like every day we just keep taking small steps forward and they seem to come faster as time goes on. Here are a few updates from this week:

  • Grant approved! We received a $25,000 Mission Program Grant. What an answer to prayer (and a lot of hard week by our discernment team). Details here.
  • Website, Facebook Page, Email (Brandon@stanwoodtidelands.org) up and running!
  • Mountain View PC’s Session approved a bunch of proposals by our core team including setting up a bank account, approving Core Team members, and setting the date for our first worship gathering on Sunday, October 28 (time/place TBA)
  • We had our first informational meeting last Saturday, and we have another one coming up on Thursday, October 25, 6:00 PM at the Stanwood Library
  • There are some solid leads on possible spaces in the community for offices and worship gatherings. Already I’m dreaming about ways to incorporate these spaces as part of our mission in the community.