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God so loved . . .

April 16, 2014 — Leave a comment

On the Mystery of the Incarnation 

It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.

Denise Levertov

Many wonder: if God is good, why is the world so bad? On Easter we must ask: Who is this God that found something in this evil world to love so much that He would send His Son to die for it?  

Damon DeLillo, Dr. Dale & Kathy BrunerTo the right is a picture of me with Dr. Dale Bruner and his wife Kathy.  Among the many people at the 123rd Birthday Celebration of Dr. Henrietta Mears last Dr. Henrietta Mears in FursWednesday, they shared some memorable stories of Dr. Mears–like chasing a skunk out of Miss Mears closet in the middle of the night.  (Which is really funny, considering all of the furs that Miss Mears wore.)

At the celebration I shared some quotes from a letter that Dr. Bruner wrote to Miss Mears in his final year at Princeton Seminary.   I thought they were a fitting tribute to some of the important aspects of Miss Mears’ life and ministry. Here’s what Dr. Bruner wrote:

“I have not had a single occasion here [Princeton Seminary] to be embarrassed by my Sunday School teaching . . . I just go to my knees and thank God for the wonderful and wholesome biblical teaching I received in my home church, at your feet. Not once, dear Teacher, in the face of some of the finest scholarship, have I had reason to be embarrassed by what you taught. And do you know why—or at least why I think this is so? You teach Christ. And He is never superseded. . . . Your passion and preoccupation was Christ. You never tired of teaching Him and we never tired of hearing of Him. As you once said when you came to that part in Ephesians: “…the unsearchable riches of Christ”—“it might seem that to preach Christ and Him only would be a dull subject and that we would be soon done—but in Him we have unsearchable riches and we will never be done with Him.”

 

Dr. Dale Bruner 1958

Dale Bruner, April 1958

“You know what Teacher, I don’t even remember you exalting the Bible, or teaching as a subject “The Bible” in our College Dept. Do you know how I came to my high doctrine of the Scriptures? By the way you used them, and delighted in them! I don’t recall you ever carefully defining your view of the Scriptures, or spending much time in talking about the Scriptures. You seemed so thrilled with what the Scriptures taught that you excited me and so many others to go to the Scriptures ourselves and be thrilled! So we did, we liked what we found, and we just naturally came to love what we affectionately called “the Word.” I never remember having a doctrine of Scripture before I came to Seminary. But, by the grace of God, how I loved the Scriptures!”

Give Me Jesus

Click on the image to pre-order Give Me Jesus

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?”

 

Parent LeadersWe often ask parents to be the spiritual leaders in their homes.  It’s a daunting task–even for a family ministry pastor! I lie awake at night wondering whether I’m doing a good job at this–and I’m a professional church person! I wonder what the average parent thinks about it. “Is spiritual leadership just one more of the things everyone says I should do that I’m will forever feel inadequate at?”

I recently ran across a blog post listing the requirements of a godly parent.  Here’s a short list:

  • Parents must live a life which is above reproach, that is, be blameless, and have a good reputation with nonbelievers (1 Tim. 3:2); They must be faithful to their spouses (1 Tim. 3:2).  As parents display before the community and before their families behavior that is becoming of a Christian, they can truly be salt and light to the lost.
  • They must be temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, gentle, upright, holy, and disciplined, and those who love what is good (1 Tim. 3:2); As parents display the fruit of the spirit to the lost and to their children, the lost will be won and their children will gain from being discipled like Jesus.
  • They must not be given to drunkenness, or be violent, overbearing, quick–tempered, quarrelsome, pursuers of dishonest gain, or a lovers of money (1 Tim. 3:3); As parents exhibit godly priorities and character qualities their children will receive a clear idea of what Jesus is all about.
  • They must manage their own families well, and see that their children obey them with proper respect and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient (1 Tim. 3:4). As parents do these things, along with loving correction, discipline, and training, their children will be respectful and obedient.

If you grew up in church world, you know that this is a list of qualifications for a church elder found in I Timothy.  I’m all for being and doing all of those things, but I think my kids will probably be grown up before I get all of this right.

How do you define spiritual leadership?

 

Taking VBS Home

June 28, 2013 — Leave a comment

El Capitan State BeachWhen I was six years old my family lived in a camp ground called El Capitan in Goleta, California.  There were several families who lived there at the time.  Enough that the local school district made the entrance to the campground a bus stop. In 1982 a local church decided to do a VBS for the kids who lived there. I remember very little about the VBS. I don’t remember the games, or the crafts or the music. All I remember was that I went with my friend Ricky. My parents hired his mom to watch my infant sister while they went to work. Ricky’s mom used to dip her pacifier in jalepeno juice and put it in my sister’s mouth.  (Explains a lot–that’s a shout out to my sister.)

The most important thing I remember about that VBS was it was the place I made the decision to follow Jesus. I’m really grateful to the small Baptist church in Goleta for taking VBS outside the walls of the church.

After 15 years of family ministry–I wonder what would have happened if they had invited my family into the process. Would my father have decided to follow Jesus 6 years earlier?

At our church we do a baptism class for kids and their parents. In the class we present the Gospel and what it means to take the first step in following Jesus. Then we send parents home with homework. Their homework is to review what was shared and then pray with their children. Nearly every time we do the class not only do we see children decide to follow Jesus, but sometimes their parents too. We just think parents should be a part of the most important decisions their kids will ever make.  Especially since they are likely to be there for all of the others.

And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

Acts 16:31-34

Nearly 23 million kids will go to Vacation Bible Schools across the country.  Several million will attend camp. Several million more kids will decide to follow Jesus this summer.  Many of their parents would decide to follow Jesus if we invited them into the process. What would happen if we invited parents into the most important decision their children will ever make?

“The life, thoughts, deeds, aims, beliefs of Jesus have to be fresh expounded every age, for all the depth of eternity lies in them; they have to be seen into more profoundly every new year of the world’s spiritual history.”

George MacDonald

quotes from my commonplace book.

 

Loved thinking about how this video on education by Seth Godin should also challenge the way we do kidmin.  Here’s Seth’s book called Stop Stealing Dreams for those of you who want to read about it.

Here are some provocative quotes:

“What is education for?”

What is Sunday school for? or kidmin or church? Is it for creating reverent kids who can sit through children’s church without disruption who will some day grow up to be good Sunday school teachers who show up to church 40 times a year and drop a few dollars in the plate? Or is it to create revolutionaries who will radically pursue the expansion of the Kingdom of God–people like the Apostle Paul or Timothy, or . . . Jesus?

“If you wanted to teach someone to be a baseball fan would you start by having them understand the history of baseball . . . would you say, okay there is a test tomorrow, I want you to memorize the top 50 batters in order by batting average . . . and then rank the people based upon how they do on the test. And the ones who do well get to memorize more baseball players? Is that how we would create baseball fans?”

In the last Pew Research survey nearly 34% of 20somethings raised their hands and said, “I am not a fan” of church.  If we wanted kids to be a fan of Jesus and His body, the church, where would we start? Memorizing the books of the Bible in order?

“Are we asking kids to collect dots or connect dots? Because we are really good at measuring how many dots, how many facts, they collect.”

It’s a lot easier to count attendance, how many verses were memorized, or how quick kids are in a “sword” drill.  It’s also easier to fill in the blanks on a student paper, mark up a coloring page than it is to create an experience or have a conversation or invest deeply and consistently in the life of a child. We are in the business of transformed lives–not as easily measured and a lot harder. I’m grateful to be part of a generation of kidmin leaders and a legacy of people like Henrietta Mears, Lois LeBar and their modern counterparts like Reggie Joiner, Sue Miller or Jim Wideman who are dedicated to finding a better way to lead kids in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

 

 

I’ve had several people ask about getting information on the breakout I did at San Diego called Why Children Are the Most Important People in the Church–Everything you wish your senior pastor knew about Children’s Ministry.

So here is the information you are looking for.

Why Children are the Most Important People in the Children

Breakout Audio (MP3–I fixed the audio so that it is a littler clearer than what you may have bought at CPC)

Seasons of the Soul

Thanks for coming to my breakout.

Measured on the dial, an hour a week to prepare a life for eternity is too brief a time to allow one wasted moment or one careless touch upon a soul.  Henrietta Mears

Let’s face it, the amount of time we have with a kid is not growing.  Once you take away vacation and sick days we probably only have 40 hours a year with our most faithful kids.  And, when I look at all of the non-purposeful unstructured time in many Sunday kidmin programs, we could have much less than that.  One estimate puts actual teaching time at only 17 minutes on an average Sunday.  That would be less than 12 hours per year.   The mission of leading kids to Jesus and the limited amount of time we have to do so each week, demands that we become intentional about every minute we have with our kids.

When “Sunday’s coming” it is easy to get into thinking “How am I going to fill the time?” versus “How am I going to leverage the limited time I have?”  If leveraging the limited time you have with kids each week is important, I think the best thing we can do to make every minute count is to clarify what a win looks like at every level.  A win is what are we aiming for in everything that we do.

Clarify the Win

In baseball, there may be all kinds of “wins” like strike outs, catching fly balls, tagging a runner out etc. .  . but the difference between a winning team and a losing team boils down to one thing: how many runners cross home plate.  The ultimate goal is to get as many people to cross home plate as possible. That’s it.

Define the “win” of your kidmin:  If you only accomplished one thing what would it be? 

Just like baseball, kidmin has wins. If you only accomplished one thing what would it be? You can define the win for kidmin itself, every program, every part of that program, every event, every volunteer role, every department.  A good place to start is defining the win for all of kidman.

A “win” is not a mission statement.

A “win” is more than a mission statement.  Mission statements tend to be broad and all encompassing: “We exist to magnify God by loving others the way Christ loved us to develop every person’s gifts to fulfill the great commission to reach the lost in Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth . . .”  That may be a great mission statement.  It says a lot of things.  A “win” is an irreducible minimum.  If we could only do one thing what would it be?

Here’s a great kidmin win: when a kid takes the next step in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.  That’s a win.

What it might look like: It could be the first time an unchurched kid comes to your church.  That’s a win. When a kid expresses an interest in following Christ.  That’s a win.  When a kid is open and transparent for the first time in a small group and a small group leader is able to speak God’s truth into that child’s life in a deeply personal and life transforming way.  That’s a win.  All of those are steps in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Defining the win at this level will help you prioritize your ministry.  If you can’t clearly define how something you are doing, whether it’s a program, an event, or a part of a program helps a child take the next step in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, it might just be something that you should stop doing.  Here’s where you can begin making a list of things not to do.

A great resource for more on this topic is 7 Practices of Effective Ministry

In my next post, I will talk about what wins might look like for a Sunday Morning program.

What’s your ministry win?

I know this Wall Street Jounal Article is a little old, but I still think it is worth commenting on.

This is lame—and this is the lamest part of all:

“Surveys always find that younger people are less likely to attend church, yet this has never resulted in the decline of the churches. It merely reflects the fact that, having left home, many single young adults choose to sleep in on Sunday mornings. . . . Once they marry, though, and especially once they have children, their attendance rates recover. Unfortunately, because the press tends not to publicize this correction, many church leaders continue unnecessarily fretting about regaining the lost young people.”

It is this sort of thinking that is exactly what is fundamentally wrong with how some people view the potential of 20 somethings. The thing is: 20 somethings who left do seem to come back after marriage and kids. But they largely come back having lost their first love and lacking the revolutionary spirit they had in their youth. They come back as church attenders, not as leaders or kingdom pioneers.

This sort of mentality robs the church of leaders. Leadership statistics show that most of our church leaders made a lifetime commitment to ministry in their early 20’s if not before.

There seems to be a strong corollary between healthy growing world changing churches and their engagement of 20 somethings. To name a few churches: Reality, Hollywood Pres (in the 40’50′s), North Point Community Church, Passion City, Mars Hill in Seattle, Elevation Church. All these churches have successfully engaged 20 somethings and deployed them in service.

We must secure a life time commitment to Christian service in High School and then train for that service in college (18-25).  We lose our youth because we are not engaging them in significant service tied to a compelling mission.

I think it is clearly short sighted not to leverage the passion of 18-25 year-olds. Jesus seemed to think so. The disciples were probably 18-25. Some will say as young as 13.

I don’t know how to say this more strongly—but this sort of stuff really makes my toes curl.  What do you think?