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Give Me Jesus

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I just finished a chapter entitled “Why Children are the Most Important People in the Church” in a new book releasing in January called Give Me Jesus edited by Ryan Frank at Kidzmatter & Awana.

It’s hard to say that any age group is more important than the next.  Spiritual growth builds upon itself–we crawl before we walk; we walk before we run. God does something unique at each age level which makes every age level important.  When we miss something at one level we handicap the next. The things we miss along the way are typically the things that become “the hurts, habits and hangups” of adulthood. Maybe a better way of saying it is, “The stage we miss is the most important.”

The reason why I singled-out childhood is because it represents the beginning of the spiritual journey for most people. We know that most people will decide to follow Jesus in childhood (sometime between the ages of 4-14). In fact, it becomes exponentially harder after age 18.

Leading kids to a relationship with Jesus is the number one task of the church and family.

We cannot stop with leading kids to a relationship with Jesus. We must lead them in a continually growing relationship with Jesus that results in a life fully committed to Him and service in the Kingdom of God.  Ultimately we want all people to come to a place where they say, “Jesus, what will you have me do?”

Many people get to the place where they say “Jesus, save me!” but few reach the place where they say, “Here I am, send me.”

How do you help people get to a place where they say: “Jesus, what will you have me do?”


StepsPeople are not born in crowds, nor do they die in masses.

It’s very easy to get caught up in our models of church ministry, a menu of programs or even trying to satisfy all the felt needs of people in the church. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether you call it Sunday School, small groups, Bible Fellowship, 101, 201, 301,401, 1 Million and 1. The primary issue is not what model of ministry or what program, but what is happening to people?

Have we created a path for the unconnected to get connected in a relationship with someone who sees themselves as responsible for knowing and helping them take their next spiritual step?

I think we sometimes spend too much time programming to move crowds through programs instead of helping individuals move to higher levels of intimacy in strategic relationships.  Because I don’t have experience with every model of ministry, I’m assuming some models are more relational than others. I’m just guessing, small groups are probably better at connecting people in relationships than classes. If a person focused on relationships they could probably make any model work, but some may require more work than others.

Bottomline: good Sunday Schools do this, bad Sunday Schools don’t; good small groups do this, bad small groups don’t; good Bible Fellowship does this, bad Bible Fellowship doesn’t; I’m not sure how classes do this, but it’s probably a good idea to evaluate our programming (whatever that programming is) on its effectiveness at connecting people in forward moving, spiritual-step-taking relationships.

Just because we have one or all of these types of programs doesn’t mean that on the other side of it people who participate in these programs are any closer to a relationship that will help them take their next spiritual step. Especially when we spend more time focused on orchestrating programs than orchestrating steps into greater levels of relational intimacy. In fact, there are probably programs in our churches where people can stall out relationally and yet feel like they are “winning” when it comes to church participation.

It’s tragic when church participation and spiritual growth represent divergent paths.

While I don’t think I have a complete answer, here are few things I think we can do:

  1. Figure out the best environment for people to connect.
  2. Make that environment the destination.
  3. Eliminate any programs that are not steps to that environment.
  4. Create programs that make stepping into that environment easy, obvious and strategic.

BoxingWhat if we could connect every person in our church with someone who would invest in them relationally? Someone who would meet with them regularly to help them process their faith journey and help them take their next spiritual step.  A person who would coach them in how to have God conversations with others and articulate their faith?  What if we could provide them with a weekly experience where they could practice sharing their faith with others, experience real time feedback and coaching? Where they could experience praying with someone for the first time? A weekly experience where they can see the impact sharing their faith has on the lives of others. A place they could experience the joy of leading people to Jesus and see God transform the lives of others through their investment of time, talent and resources. A place where they were provided all of the tools to not only communicate what God is doing in their life, but discover how God has moved throughout time and share it with others.

There is a ministry in our churches that already does this. This ministry is called Children’s Ministry–it may be one of the most untapped forms of adult discipleship on the planet. Adult discipleship through Children’s Ministry.

Think about it–

  1. Children’s Ministry connects people with leaders called Children’s Pastors, Sunday School Directors, Coaches or what ever you call them who invest relationally in them on a weekly basis and coach them as they learn to evangelize and disciple others.
  2. Children’s ministry provides virtually every tool imaginable for creatively sharing faith. Bet you didn’t know you could lead a person to Jesus with a popsicle stick? If you are at a loss for words we will even give you a script of what to say.  But sometimes just sharing what God’s doing in your life is better.
  3. Children’s ministry provides a weekly environment to practice and hone skills in sharing faith. Full of energy, and generally pretty forgiving, children are eager to give you lots of feedback–sometimes instant feedback. You will improve from week to week or you may be eaten alive.  :)
  4. Children’s ministry consistently tells the story of God through history–from Genesis to Revelation, often highlighting the biggest parts of the story several times.
  5. Children’s ministry effectively connects Christians with non-Christians. Last time I checked every one of the babies in our nursery was a non-believer.
  6. Children’s ministry provides a front row seat to how God transforms lives. If you ever wondered if God actually transforms lives, spend some time on a regular basis with the same kids every week and watch how God can change a child’s life. The key to seeing life-change is spending time with the same kids every week.

And you thought Children’s Ministry was just for kids. I challenge you to show me a ministry that is more intentional about training adults to share their faith with others.

Most people decide to follow Jesus between the ages of 4-14.  This has been called the 4-14 Window.  And if you are in church ministry being mindful of this window could be the most important thing you do.  It is certainly why I believe that kidmin is the most important ministry of the church.

Kidmin is the most important ministry of the church.

I think that the 14-24 Window may be the next most important.   While many decide to follow Jesus between 4-14, what their lives will look like, whether they will be fully devoted followers of Christ or just church attenders, whether they will be spiritual champions or spiritual second-handers is largely shaped by the decisions they make between ages 14-24.   This is a monumental time in a person’s life that we cannot afford to neglect.

The evidence seems to bear out—that the church at large is not doing a very good job at this. In fact it was suggested in a recent article that we shouldn’t really be concerned with this age group at all.  Instead, we should just chalk it up to stage of life and wait until they come back to the church in their mid-thirties.  The short sightedness of this article made my toes curl.  Most of the people I know who are in ministry today made decisions to commit their lives to service between 14-24. We are seriously impacting the future leaders of the Kingdom of God by neglecting this age group.

The most important aim we can have for 14-24 year olds is helping them find their place in God’s Story—helping them commit their lives to meaningful service in the Kingdom of God.

Here are just a few foundational things churches can do to leverage this spiritual window.

1. Connect youth with mature Christian adults.  The more the better.  Check out Family Based Youth Ministry by Mark Devries.

2. Get 14-24 year olds in circles.  Real small groups where a mature Christian adult is investing in a small group of students every week.  Better yet, have this person travel with them through high school and college.  Yes, even through college.

3. Don’t let ministry end at graduation. The average 18 year old will be making most of their most life altering decisions in the first few years of college.  Most youth are virtually abandoned on graduation day.

4. Incorporate 20somethings into a total ministry strategy from birth through 25.  So much is wasted because Children’s Ministry, Youth Ministry and College Ministry leaders don’t play well together.  The bodies left in the gaps between these silos is staggering.  We must come together and develop a unified strategy.

5. Think beyond your curriculum.   The destination of a series of classes or a curriculum is more knowledge.  More knowledge and more classes cannot be a substitute for people doing life together.

6. Youth and 20somethings must have a sense of belonging in the church not just the youth ministry.  Check out this interview with Chuck Bomar.

7. Help youth find their place in God’s Story.

8. Connect the Church and home.  What happens at home always trumps what happens at church.

It is natural to describe the local church in terms of its activities, its work, as an institution; but everything the church does is for the sake of people.  All programming and organization are means to the end of effecting changes in people.  The focus must always be on people.  From Focus on the People in Church Education by Lois LeBar (p.11)

It was true when Lois LeBar wrote it 60 years ago.  And it’s still true today.  I think that this is one of the primary questions we must ask of everything we do.  What really is happening to people?

It’s easy to get caught up in how our programming glorifies God, whether it is doctrinally correct, whether it fits into the church budget or church program, whether it is outreach or discipleship, purpose-driven or whatever, but the truth of the matter is we are leading people not programs, we are teaching people not curriculum and what is truly glorifying to God is a person fully devoted to Him, not a program, a budget, a curriculum or a class.

So what really is happening to people in our ministries?  What do we want them to become and is everything we are doing moving them closer to that?

The most important thing in life is personal relations: being rightly related to God, to oneself, to others.  At the heart of the universe is a Person, not natural forces, a Creator who reveals Himself to persons, who became a human Person in Christ, who seeks to redeem estranged, sinful persons back to Himself.  This sovereign Ruler condescends to use persons in communicating His love and making men like Himself.  Therefore, Christian ministry ought not to grow so complicated that it loses sight of the individual person.  The key question must always be: What is happing to people?  From Focus on the People in Church Education, Lois LeBar p. 11-12

The 4-14 Window

September 30, 2011 — 2 Comments

What we do during this window may be the most important thing we do.

Kidmin today . . .

February 24, 2011 — Leave a comment

Kidmin today is less about what curriculum you use or what program you do, but how you view the family and the overall priority the church places on reaching kids and parents. I’m not talking about the “we’re a family church” crowd. Every church is a family church and virtually every church is “committed” to reaching families categorically. The church at any moment is one generation from the grave. So we all know we need to reach the next generation or the church doesn’t move into the future.

But how many church leaders, outside of the Children’s Pastor, have an emotional burden for a real kid, or a real family? We’re talking, “I know a kid and I am torn up inside when I see him making decisions and spending his life without Jesus.” Or, “I am connecting with a family on a regular basis outside the walls or the church. And I lie awake thinking about the struggles they have and how their lives would be different if Jesus was in the center of that home.” It’s the difference between: “We are committed to reaching the next generation.” And “I am committed to reaching Aaron who is eight years old, and Joe who is the father of three.”

You know you are a family church that is committed to reaching the next generation when you can go up to any leader in your church and they can give you the names of people they are trying to reach—without hesitation. When you have leaders like that, you will have people in the church like that.

Who has God placed in your life that you connect with on a regular basis outside the walls of the church? Maybe God has placed them in your life because He wants to use you to reach them. Could be the checker at the grocery store, your kid’s soccer coach, the person across the counter you pass your dry cleaning to.

On deep Bible Study . . .

August 19, 2008 — 2 Comments

I have been reading through the historical books of the Bible (Joshua, Judges, I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, I & II Chronicles . . .) I’m doing my own version of reading the parallel accounts simultaneously. That just means while I am reading the account of David in II Samuel, I am reading the parallel account in I Chronicles. If you want to try it yourself, it is quite easy to figure out by using the timelines in the back of a good study Bible. There are actual Bibles that have been organized by the chronology of the narrative, however I like to know what book of the Bible I am reading out of in order to not miss the themes unique to the book.

Sometimes I think that as long-time insiders of this thing called Christianity we come to believe that we have to do deep Bible study–I’m all for deep learning that leads to deep application. However, I think we often equate deep Bible study with lots of research, Greek and Hebrew lexicons, Bible dictionaries and a wide array of Bible commentaries. All helpful in their own right. I think we also equate deep Bible study with learning something new rather than applying something well.

So . . . my goal has been to read the historical books as story. There is a lot of meaning that can be gained from reading as much of the story in one sitting as possible. We get the big picture of what is happening versus trying to draw meaning out of an isolated account.

Remember the first three Stars Wars movies? If you hadn’t read the books and only seen the movies, could you have guessed that the main character was Anakin Skywalker and not his son Luke? It is not until the first three episodes were finished that we are able to see that the main plot line is the rise, fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker. It is amazing that the first movies did so well without developing that meta-story.

The Bible is a lot like that. There are several levels of story. Right now I am currently reading II Samuel and I Chronicles. In the two books there are individual accounts of the kingship of David. But read together with I Samuel there is a meta-story that is really the story of the leadership of two kings. Side-by-side the books show two leaders, King Saul and King David. In one you see a failure of nerve and the loss of integrity, in the other you see well differentiated leadership and redemption from moral failure. (Maybe that is why they are called I & II Samuel) Then there is a meta-story that ties all the books of the Bible together . . . the story of God’s relationship with mankind, mankind’s fall and then redemption through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Try reading the entire Bible in one or two sittings. I wonder what we would discover.

How do you like to read the Bible?

Flannery O’Connor

July 28, 2008 — 2 Comments

O’Connor is one my favorite Catholic writers next to Walker Percy and more recently Mary Doria Russell.

She is best quoted as saying “for the near blind you have to draw really large pictures and for the hard of hearing you must shout really loud.” She said this in response to the many people who were offended by her use of shocking characters and circumstances in her stories.

Edwin Friedman, author of Friedman’s fables, had a similar philosophy. He wrote his fables to induce anxiety. Sometimes you have to shout really loud.

While on our way to Savannah, Georgia, we stopped in Milledgeville. There is not much in Milledgeville except the family residence of Flannery O’Connor. She spent the last decade of her life here battling the disease that consumed her at age 39. She wrote some her best stories. Sometimes I wonder what she would have written had she lived longer.

If you have never read O’Connor start with “The Misfit” or “Parker’s Back.” Out of all the literature I read at Wheaton College, I return most often to O’Connor and George Herbert.

Here is a question: Should we shock or induce anxiety in order to jumpstart life-transformation?

Stats: 16 Adults (14 children)

Today we visited Reality Church in Carpinteria, CA. We went to the 8:30am service. Drove all over to find parking, because it was so jammed. We ended up parking 3 blocks away. I don’t know how many people the auditorium held, but it appeared there were over 500 people at the morning service.

Just an Observation: Over 500 people bypassed the beach (located only a block or so away from Reality) to attend church at 8:30am today. Not a bunch of old-folks–but twenty to thirty-somethings. This happened in a beach community, on a day when the surf was great–at 8:30 in the morning. This was one service–there were two more services. Everything else aside: that’s a win.

For those of you who missed our first launch team meeting, here is the inside scoop.

We want church to be irresistible. We want church to be the first option on Sunday morning. We want children to shake their parents out of bed on Sunday mornings to go to church. We want outsiders, people who don’t consider themselves religious, to attend church this Sunday and look forward to next Sunday. We think church should be irresistible.

When I read the New Testament, Jesus was irresistible. People loved Him or hated Him, but they couldn’t ignore Him. He couldn’t be marginalized. People didn’t pass Him by on the way to the beach or the mall. They either found Him to be irresistible or irritating–irritating enough to have Him killed. He wasn’t boring.

In Ephesians 1:22, 23 the church is called the body of Christ. As a gathering we represent Jesus Christ. It actually says we are the fullness of Him. We can talk about all of the many ways that we should be like Christ as an organization, but we don’t often talk about being “irresistible” like Christ. I am all for embodying Christ in all Biblical dimensions; somehow, though, we miss this one. When we miss this one we lose the attention of the community–but most of all the people we are trying to reach.

The mission of River Park Community Church is to lead people in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We believe that a growing relationship with Jesus Christ is not a certain amount of Bible classes or knowledge, but three life-long pursuits: Intimacy with God, Community with other believers and Influence with those outside the faith. We believe that when a person is pursuing these three things, wherever they are on the road, they are maturing–they are leading a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

They are Biblical pursuits, they are the right pursuits. These are relational pursuits. Because they are relational pursuits they are impossible to execute as a church. I can’t force anyone to be in community, much less force anyone to have a relationship with God. So, as a church, we realize the mission to lead people in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ is an impossible mission. We can’t make it happen. It is the unique office of the Holy Spirit to make such relational pursuits happen. It is the Holy Spirit that initiates our relationship with God. It is the Holy Spirit that brings unity to the followers of Christ. It is by the power the Holy Spirit that we speak boldly. And . . . it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that a person is saved. So . . . we admit that we cannot engineer relationships and we cannot engineer life-transformation.

However, when I look back on what God used to transform my life, I realize that life-transformation happened in an environment. Whether it was a small group Bible study or missions trip, life-transformation happened in an environment. Most often it was an environment that fostered close personal relationships with other believers. It was a life on life environment where there was care, accountability and a sense of belonging. As a church we have concluded life-transformation happens best in close personal relationships. We are in the business of creating environments where that can happen.

If we get down to what churches really are, they are a cluster of environments. Hopefully they are environments designed to partner with the work of the Holy Spirit to lead us in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Hopefully they partner with the Holy Spirit rather than place obstacles in the way of those trying to get to know God (Acts 15).

We believe that leading people in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ is an impossible mission. But . . . we can create environments that encourage and equip people to develop an intimate relationship with God, community with other believers, and influence with people outside the church. We believe this happens best in a small group environment where close personal relationships can be fostered and people can experience care, accountability and belonging–that is community. We call small groups our destination. We want everyone to arrive at this destination. Everything else we do as a church leads to this destination. Everything else is a step along the path toward small groups.

However, we know that people don’t just want to jump in and get naked. If the person across the counter at the dry cleaner started divulging all of his marital problems while you were trying to pick up your wool sweater, that would just be weird. We believe there has to be a place where people can enter as guests and become friends before they become family.

In fact we believe that most people think church is for church people not for them. So . . . they are most likely not interested in joining a small group in your church. So we create an environment that is designed specifically for guests: it’s called Sunday morning. It is designed to change people’s minds about church. The next step might be an environment designed to introduce people to small groups; a place designed to change a person’s mind about community. This is where a person moves from a guest to a friend. Once they have connected in a small group they are family. Our job is simple:

Our job is to create irresistible environments that lead to small groups.

Our task for the next five months:
1. to build a launch team of 75 members by September 14th
2. to build a resource pool of $250,000 by September 14th

We have 26 launch team members and have raised $153,000 (one time gifts, monthly commitments, staff tithes and GHC matching funds.)

Take-away: Invite people you know to become members of the River Park Community Church launch team.