Kids and church, part 1: "Feed my lambs."

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Churches have differing philosophies and perspectives with respect to discipling children. Some emphasize programmed discipleship while others welcome the entire family into gatherings. Still others emphasize equipping parents. It’s not my intention to debate the pros and cons of differing perspectives on children's ministry. I'll leave that to Jared and Timothy Paul Jones. Instead, I simply want to share some biblical imperatives for children and the church community. This is intended to be a series of short posts for parents as well as pastors. The first imperative I'll examine is Jesus’ statement during his restoration of Peter after the resurrection. Jesus said, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15). 

This simple statement brings up several questions:

First, who are the lambs?

A lamb is a young sheep. When Jesus says feed my lambs, he’s talking about one of two kinds of young ones. Either he’s referring to those young in faith or those young in age.

Second, what are we supposed to feed them?

Those young in age need to be fed the simple gospel. They need to see their need for Christ. Those young in faith need to be discipled. They must see their need to grow in Christ.

Third, who is responsible to feed Christ's lambs?

There are at least three groups of people who are responsible to feed Christ's lambs:

  • First, parents have the primary responsibility for their children's spiritual growth. Dads and moms must feed their little lambs. 
     
  • Second, the pastors and leaders of the local church have a responsibility to feed children. They are called to be shepherds of the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2). This includes its youngest members.
     
  • Third, the church is responsible. As members of God’s family gathered locally, we have responsibility to partner with parents in guiding the young ones among us towards the Lord. All believers share in this responsibility and are commanded to make disciples (Matt. 28:18-20).

Fourth, what gets in the way of us feeding Christ's lambs?

Without being fed the truth of gospel, those who are young in age and faith starve. It's a spiritual starvation. But several things can get in the way of our obeying this simple command, not the least of which are busyness, tiredness, laziness, and irritability.

Finally, when should we feed Christ's lambs?

All the time. But this takes intentionality. By attending church, during family devotions, and by being on the lookout for opportunities to capture and leverage for gospel conversations, we cooperate with the Holy Spirit's work to feed and teach the next generation..

While this will look different in various contexts, the principle needs to be carefully thought through and applied. Our Savior demands nothing less.

"Be a Pastor, Not Just a Leader" with Sam Luce

Sam Luce is global family pastor at Redeemer Church in Utica, New York. Last week, at the D6 conference, I got to hang out with Sam and hear him teach a breakout session about pastoral leadership from Psalm 23. Here are some of the highlights.

Often we study technique to figure out how to achieve our goals in the most efficient way. But pastors aren't merely leaders. They must be led by God. Sam said, "What changed my outlook was suffering. It wasn't until the dark moments came into my life that I discovered how Christ is my shepherd. In suffering, I learned to boast in weakness, and I gained awareness that apart from Christ, I can do nothing." 

One of the best places to look to discover how to be a great follower is Psalm 23. Here is what we learn there:

1. Those who are led by the Shepherd find their satisfaction in Christ alone. "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want." Sheep are utterly and completely dependent on their shepherd. We're all looking for comfort somewhere. Sheep know that the Shepherd is the source of our comfort. The Heidelberg catechism asks, "What is our only comfort in life and death?" The answer is, "That I  am not my own but belong body and soul in life and death to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ." Sheep remember that God is God. Even when suffering and trials come, we must submit to him.

2. Practice active passivity. "He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters." Sheep will not rest until they are free from all fear, free from friction with others of their kind, free from pests, and free from hunger." Sheep can't do anything on their own to meet these needs except bleat or run to the shepherd. 1 Timothy 6:6 says, "Godliness with contentment is great gain." To be content, we need to practice communion with God. We must bleat for and run to him. Sam said, "Leaders must work hard but trust even harder." I asked, "What disciplines move you from anxiety to active passivity?" Sam told me that the most important is remembering. The power of our work comes from remembering that Christ is not just our Good Shepherd but our sacrificial lamb. Because we belong to him, we can work hard with hearts at rest.

3. Embrace weakness rather than relentlessly projecting strength. "He restores my soul." Being vulnerable about our inability is the pathway to truly successful leadership. Good followers minister from their brokenness. They also know that their primary ministry is not glamorous platform building. It's constantly going after lost sheep and watching out for sheep that are cast down. We can be vulnerable, because the invulnerable God became vulnerable for you and me.

4. Finally, resolve that the One who is leading you is far more important than who is following you. "He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake." When the dark valleys for our soul come, it no longer matters how many followers you have. Your character matters more. And that character is only formed in relationship with the Shepherd.

Sam is a pastor to whom I look up and seek to emulate. You can follow his blog at samluce.com