Family Friday Links 12.29.17 New Years Edition

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David Murray at the Head, Heart, and Hand blog. Encourages Parents to help their children read the Bible in the new year. He gives some great reasons how we can help kids read their Bibles in 2018. Murray states, "We want our children to read their Bibles, not as a way of salvation, but as a way of them learning about salvation. Reading the Bible will not save them but discovering Christ and his grace in the Bible will. That’s why we should always be encouraging them to ask two simple questions of every passage: “What does this teach me about God?” and, “What does this teach me about salvation?” Here is a link to David Murray's Bible Reading Plan for Kids

This week I came across a 2-part post Jill Nelson had from earlier in 2017 reposted this week about what you should do if your child doesn't want to go to church.  Jill writes, "While we have influence and responsibility, we don’t have control over our child. We can teach our child the Scriptures, but we can’t be the Holy Spirit in our child’s life. We can confront sinful patterns that need to change, but we can’t generate spiritual life that leads to lasting change. Only the Spirit can do that.What we can do is pray for and parent our child the best we know how. We can keep trusting God to do what we cannot"

Tim Parlier wrote an article on the Saturate Blog about reaching the Epic generation. As he writes about the Epic generation he sets a foundation about a context for sharing the gospel for any generation. Tim writes, "If you’re serious about building a church family that represents all age groups, you’d be well-advised to consider the significant differences and expectations each of these generations have when entering relationships and how the gospel is applied to each of them (that may be another article). " How well do you understand the Epic generation? 

If you got a new android or iOS and are looking for a new app for kids I would encourage you to check out Lightgliders. They also have a blog for Parents. This week their blog was on Love. The blog says, "We are talking about the fifth and final Lightglider value this week, the value of love. Love is significant because it motivates everything we do both inside and outside Lightglider Academy. God wants us to live knowing that we are loved. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the proof that God loves us. If we live truly knowing that we are loved, we can love. We can love God. We can love others. We can love ourselves. An important question to always be asking is "What does love look like here?" Lightgliders look for ways to be a sample of love wherever they go." This is also followed with some conversation starters for parents. You should check out lightgliders for your kids!

Leave in the comments what you have been reading this week? 

Graceless Dads, Overly Spiritual Pastors, & Sticky Notes

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As much as we want to romanticize or idealize childhood, children live in the real world—the same beautiful and broken world we adults inhabit. Through his writing, Dr. Timothy Paul Jones regularly reminds me that it’s the Bible’s storyline that helps us look at our world holistically, that is, in a way that keeps together what we often perceive as separate childhood or adult realities.

“The Bible should frame every aspect of our lives—including family life,” Jones says. In other words, a biblical worldview must shape the way I view children. Theologians often summarize this biblical lens as a fourfold movement: creation—fall—redemption—consummation. What does this storyline framework teach us about kids?

First, our children are created in God’s image. My daughters are fearfully and wonderfully made. Their lives are imbued with the glory of a universe that reflects God’s beauty. God and their mom’s genetics have given them some athletic ability. My girls have been endowed with imagination and an ability to think and know. A child’s life has value because he or she is made in God’s image.

Second, our children are fallen. Even children are but dust. They experience the pain of a world marred by sin, abuse, suffering, and death. Rob Plummer writes, “Sometimes, people talk about coming from dysfunctional families. The reality is that, because of sin, we are all ‘dysfunctional’ at the deepest level.” My daughters need comfort, care, and a healing touch. And when they exchange delight in God’s glory for delight in the pleasures of the moment, they need discipline and correction as well.

Third, our children need Jesus to save them. They need redemption. Jesus himself says, “Let the children come to me.  Don’t stop them! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are like these children” (Matthew 19:14 NLT). Jesus’ words should encourage us to call children to him. His words should inspire us to help them see that his good news is their only hope.

Finally, in light of the coming consummation, our children are potential brothers and sisters in Christ. If my daughters stand beside me in the new heavens and new earth, it will not be as my daughters but as my blood-redeemed sisters. To be embraced by God’s redemption is to be adopted as God’s child, gaining a new identity, which transcends every earthly status and relationship.

This simple outline seems pretty basic. But if I’m honest, I have to admit I tend toward the more fractured way of looking at ministry and parenting. I struggle to believe that every part of the biblical message applies all the time. As a dad, I know that I’m responsible for protecting my kids, caring for their bodies, providing for them, and teaching them to make decisions that will lead to a more successful life. These are responsibilities that correspond to the truth I know from a doctrine of creation, humanity, and the fall. But it’s easy (even as a pastor) to neglect the doctrines of redemption and consummation when I’m at home.

You’ve probably heard family ministry leaders complain about parents who have a ‘drop-off mentality.’ Many parents assume the responsibility for evangelizing and training children is best left with clergy. As Jones writes, “School teachers are perceived as the persons responsible to grow the children’s minds, coaches are employed to train children’s bodies, and specialized ministers at church ought to develop their souls.” There’s no doubt this is a problem, but I wonder if the trouble runs even deeper.

Even if I regularly discipline, instruct, and encourage my daughters to pursue what is pure and good, how often do I think about them as potential sisters in Christ? I can help them recognize the right path and seek to restore them when they veer onto the wrong path. When I am disciplining one of my girls, I may even go beyond misbehavior and shepherd her heart motivations. But like an older brother in Christ, am I willing to confess my own sin and repent before my daughters as well? If not, I’m in danger of being a graceless dad.

An equal but opposite temptation beguiles me as a pastor. Because evangelism and discipleship are chief parts of my job description, I’m tempted to embody the role of an elite fixer. In the midst of preparing lessons and managing programs, I too easily forget that God has called me to equip parents to evangelize and teach their own children. Beyond that, I tend to forget just how hard it is for parents to live out the doctrines of redemption and consummation before their children when so many other things dominate their time. Field hockey practice, allergy shots, carpool, and the school Christmas party (not to mention a broken leg, a broken marriage, or unemployment) tend to push ideal times of family worship to the side. If I lack an awareness of the real needs parents in our church experience each day, then the gospel I’m preaching is essentially a gnostic one, that is, a spiritual message that is abstracted from embodied life in the real world.

Praise God for a Savior who doesn’t struggle with seeing ministry through only one or two parts of the biblical storyline. In Christ Jesus, God became man and lived among us. He united our beauty and brokenness in his flesh. He brought redemption, and he’s bringing about the consummation of the kingdom through his church.

I’m particularly thankful for some renewed ways evangelical churches are living out Christ’s more holistic ministry in our time. Renewed emphases on orphan care and social justice for children, for example, help us fight against a graceless or over-spiritualized life. My prayer is that family ministry in our churches embodies the truth of every part of the biblical storyline. I pray that we have more grounded ministry that helps leaders move from merely ‘running a department’ or ‘leading a bunch of programs’ to truly ministering to families in a way that better images forth the Savior’s mission.

Reflection Activity

Author Megan Marshman has developed a reflection activity using sticky notes that has helped our team be more aware and intentional about the needs of families in our community. It is helping us focus our ministry where it is most needed. I hope it helps you as well:

  • Write the words Home and Church on a white board. Draw a gap in between.
  • Under Home, write the particular parts of the biblical storyline that are typically emphasized by parents—Creation and Fall—as well as the danger—Graceless Family—when our focus is on these parts of the storyline in isolation from the end of the story.
  • Under Church, write the particular parts of the biblical storyline that are typically emphasized by pastors and ministry staff—Redemption and Consummation—as well as the danger—Overly Spiritualized Ministry—when our focus is on these parts of the storyline in isolation from the beginning of the story.
  • Next, use yellow sticky notes to write down the various programs your ministry offers (VBS, small groups, family fun night, leadership training, discipleship retreats, midweek, Sunday school, youth camps, etc.). Use a different note for each program. Place these notes on the board under the word Church.
  • Next use a new color of sticky notes to write down the real needs or struggles of individuals and families in your ministry (such as depression, loneliness, divorce, drug or alcohol abuse, inappropriate sexuality, apathy, anger, etc.). Use a different note for each need or struggle. Place these notes on the board under the word Home.
  • Draw a line from each yellow note to each of the needs that particular program meets or addresses. Circle the sticky notes that remain, and ask the following questions: Why are there unmet needs in your current ministry structure? How might those needs be met considering your limited financial or people resources? Can you partner with other churches or para-church ministries to match their ministries to the needs of your church? Or why do you have a program that isn’t meeting the specific needs of your church? How can you use these programs to help other churches in your area?

For more reflections on holistic family ministry, see the following:

  • Rob Plummer, “Bring Them Up in the Discipline and Instruction of the Lord,” in Trained in the Fear of God: Family Ministry in Theological, Historical, and Practical Perspective, edited by Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2011), pp. 45-59.

  • Timothy Paul Jones, Family Ministry Field Guide: How Your Church Can Equip Parents to Make Disciples, (Indianapolis: Wesley Publishing, 2011).

  • Michelle Anthony and Megan Marshman, 7 Family Ministry Essentials: A Strategy for Culture Change in Children’s and Student Ministries, (David C. Cook, 2015).

This post originally appeared at AmICalled.com

Primary, But Not Only, Part 2

A few weeks ago, I posted the Primary, But Not Only. In it, I argued that while parents are the primary spiritual influence of their kids, they can't be the only spiritual influence. When we err too far to either side we risk pushing our kids and students further away for Christ. Here's what I mean:

If Parents are the ONLY spiritual influence

My kids need other spiritual influences in their lives for the same reason I do. If I am the only spiritual influence of my kids, they will most likely struggle in the same ways I do. If I'm not overcoming my sin and experiencing victory, how can I expect to lead my kids through the same issues.

For example, if I'm not dealing with my impatience in a healthy and grace-filled way and instead dealing with my kids out of my anger; how can I expect them to learn patience and joy. Because our kids catch more by our actions than they ever do by us simply telling them, they need other people showing what grace and godliness look like while we parents are displaying godly grief (2 Cor. 7) and repentance.

One of the main reasons kids struggle in the same way as their parents is that parents often aren't prepared for their kids to grow up. Because of that fact, they treat them as kids, not as young adults, even as they enter young adulthood. Todd Tripp in his book, Shepherding a Child's Heart, reminds parents that as their kids grow up they need to be reminded/taught different things. From birth to around age 4 or 5, a child needs to be taught about authority, early childhood to about age 12 they need to be taught about character, and through the teen years they need to be taught about the fear of the Lord and disassociation from the wicked. If parents aren't teaching, training, and reminding kids where the kid is at, they aren't giving them what they need or aiming at the heart. This is typically because they are treating the child like they are younger (and therefore at an earlier stage) then they actually are. As this continues, the child will withdraw from the influence of their parents and look to other sources for support and encouragement. In the end, it's really not that the child is withdrawing as much as it is the parents pushing them away.

If the Church is the ONLY spiritual influence

The church can never completely replace the influence of a parent or of the parents. The church simply doesn't have the same kind of time with the kid that parents do. It's hard to model a life of worship and devotion in a hour or two a week. It's simply not enough time. At best the church can point in the right direction and encourage faith in the students. When the church is more willing to spend time training the parents, everyone wins because all are moving on to maturity (Col. 1:28; Heb. 6).

It HAS to be both/and

At the core of this dilemma is that fact that the church historically has not done enough to train parents. As a result, parents hold the church "professionals" responsible for the spiritual upbringing of their kids.

When we fuse the time parents have with resources of the church, kids will gain a better, more well rounded view and experience of the Christian life. A lifestyle of worship will become something real and tangible to them.

The Need for Training in Both Church & Para-Church Children's Ministry: An Interview with Pat Thayer, Part 1

Pat Thayer is the Area Children's Coordinator for Bible Study Fellowship of Missouri. I had the opportunity to correspond with her this past week and interview her about training children's ministry leaders--both in a local church context and a para-church context. 

This first part of our conversation focuses on the need for training:

Jeff : Would you mind to share a little about yourself and tell how God has called you to use your gifts?

Pat: I grew up as a non-believer. In my early 30's, I was introduced to Jesus and the local church by my husband before we were married. I actually made my profession of faith at age 35. I grew in my knowledge of God through my very traditional church, but really felt like God put me on a fast track of learning when I joined Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). It was like God was telling me to "catch-up" quickly. After several years of Bible Study Fellowship, I was leaving class one night when God told me that He was preparing me for something. I was asked into BSF leadership several weeks later. I began as a Children's Leader then became a Children's Supervisor of a class, and now for the last 9 years have been an Area Children's Coordinator, coaching 12 Children's Supervisors in both preschool and school age (elementary and high school) programs. God has used my experiences of teaching in a traditional Sunday School setting, my BSF training and experience, plus my skills that He developed in my secular profession of healthcare to equip me for my current role at BSF.  Plus, God has allowed me to lead in the children's ministry of a young church that he called my husband and me to about 9 years ago. God has given me a passion for training and developing leaders who will serve Him.

Jeff : Your work for Bible Study Fellowship training people to teach kids the gospel and you use your gifts at the local church to help train up leaders. What are the similarities and differences between training leaders in BSF and at the church?

Pat: Similarities revolve around the need for training no matter what the level of experience, the effectiveness of training in layers or small bits of knowledge at regular intervals, and the fact that training equips leaders to serve more confidently and more effectively. Training is necessary as it allows us to serve God better! 

Differences are reflected by the different target audiences - the type of leaders in each setting. In BSF, each leader has been revealed by God to the leader of each class, interviewed, prays to verify the calling of God, then goes through 3 sessions of training and observations before they are given the task of teaching. Training continues through weekly 35 minute training sessions that are built into the basic structure of BSF. Training leaders for service in the local church is a significant part of the BSF Aims and Core Beliefs! As a parachurch organization, BSF desires to support the local churches through the training that the leaders receive at BSF. The initial call of God to the role of teaching children, plus the layer of training each week, sustains the BSF leader as they grow in skill and dependance on God.

In the local church, people are drawn to children's ministry for various reasons - called by God, feeling the need to serve and choosing the children's ministry  because it looks fun, or even perhaps, as an obligation as a parent of a child who attends the children's ministry.  Some have no experience and some have experience from other churches. Many times, training is a process of observing someone who is currently leading in a classroom.  Inexperienced and experienced leaders need to be brought into one common vision, with basic procedures being consistent. Gathering people for training at times other than when they are serving can be difficult.  Leaders may also feel unconnected to the bigger vision and the community of the children's program if they do not serve frequently. Churches need to be creative to find times to train and constantly create the vision of the importance of what we do in children's ministry.