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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?”

 

Paper People Family BWAbout a year ago I was talking with a kidmin ministry leader and mentioned something about “family ministry.”  His response to me was, “Well, there are a lot of different opinions of what family ministry is, so I just don’t pay much attention to it.”  He spoke this as if that was all there was to say about that . . . end of topic. As I was thinking about his response, I began to realize that there has been so much talk about how to do family ministry (i.e. whether kids should be a part of corporate worship, whether there should be children’s church or Sunday school or not, whether family ministry means family events, or just having programs for every individual in the family) that most outsiders have confused how family ministry is implemented with what family ministry really is. This is not so surprising when most pastors think of ministry in general as a program–and, most kidmin pastors present a particular program as family ministry.

We are all guilty of confusing our models with our mission and our programs with ministry.

So, here is what I believe is true north as a family ministry leader:

Family ministry means that I spend equal amounts of time on two things:

  1. Creating a system that ensures that every child, teenager, college student and parent is connected with someone who feels responsible for knowing their next spiritual step and encouraging them to take it.
  2. Helping parents become active participants in their child or teenager’s spiritual formation.

That’s it. I run everything we do through that grid.  How are we helping parents become active participants in their child’s spiritual formation? How are we ensuring that everyone who walks through the door of the church is getting connected in a close personal relationship with someone who feels responsible for knowing their next spiritual step and encouraging them to take it?

 

Apostle PaulMaybe the reason we have so few fathers, husbands, parents . . .  fulfilling their roles as spiritual leaders is because we have made spiritual leadership so inaccessible.

Here’s what I think spiritual leadership is:

Spiritual Leadership is assuming the primary responsibility for knowing what a person’s next spiritual step is and encouraging them to take it.

The Apostle Paul’s relationship with Timothy is often the place people go to define the relationship between a leader and a follower.  The Apostle Paul, an older more mature spiritual veteran, church planter, preacher, Apostle and Timothy, the young gifted, green pastor of a new church.  I love the beginning of Paul’s second letter to Timothy,

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. II Timothy 1:3-12

The reason why I love this letter is because I believe it communicates exactly what I think spiritual leadership is.  Here’s a few observations:

  • Paul knows Timothy’s family.  He knew his mother Eunice, his grandmother Lois.  He obviously knew them well enough to know their sincerity of faith. Paul sees this same sincerity of faith in Timothy’s life.
  • Paul has an emotional burden for Timothy: “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy”
  • Paul not only knows the legacy of faith in Timothy’s family but he recognized Timothy’s own faith and commissions him for ministry: “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands”
  • Paul knows Timothy struggles with fear and he encourages him not be afraid, but to trust the Spirit.

Everyone needs someone in their life like Paul. Someone who knows them, knows their family context, knows where they are at in their faith journey, has an emotional burden for them and encourages them to take the next step spiritually.  That’s 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?

“Love matters more in the life of a kid than it does in the life of an adult.” @reggiejoiner from Playing For Keeps

andy-stanleyWe live in a world that doesn’t view the Bible the way we do. And we have students and children who come to our churches that did not grow up with the same assumptions that we have about the Bible. We must do what the 1st Century Christians did for those first generations of Jesus-Followers and give them an understanding of why we believe what we believe.

Andy Stanley–Orange Conference, Main Session 2013

7 Guidelines for Communicating the Bible in a Biblically Illiterate and Skeptical World from the 2013 Orange Conference. #OC13

1. Choose a passage of scripture and stay there.

      I know that there is major debate about whether we should teach/preach verse-by-verse or verse-with-verse, but really–nothing is more confusing to a person who doesn’t know the Bible or the Bible narrative than hopping all over the Bible and using a whole bunch of passages of scripture like a proof text for a college paper. People coming into our churches don’t know the difference between Saul the King, and Saul the persecutor, Joseph the father of Jesus and Joseph and the technicolor dream coat. When we hop around the Bible we imply the Bible is complicated and confusing. By the way–this isn’t new: Henrietta Mears called this the Hop-Skip Method and believed it was the primary reason for the “boredom and disgust” of children in the Sunday School of her day

2. Give people permission not to believe or obey the scriptures. (I Corinthians 5:12)

“When you have a crowd of people who you suspect are non-Jesus followers, marginal, or not-sure-I-believe people, you have to give them permission not to believe or obey, because this isn’t even for them. . . . When you give non-Christians an out, they respond by leaning in.”

3. Teach in a manner that emphasizes the identity of Jesus over the authority of scripture.

Even though the Bible is the infallible, inspired Word of God our faith is not based upon “believing” in the infallibility and inspiration of the Bible. The foundation of our faith is based upon believing in an event in history: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

People must come to grips with the identity of Jesus before they can come to grips with the authority of the Bible. . . . the issue is always, “Who is Jesus?”

We shouldn’t expect rational people to believe that Jesus rose from the dead [simply] because “the Bible says so.”

“Do you know why we believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Not because “the Bible says so.” It’s because Matthew says so, Mark says so, Luke says so, John says so, James says so and Peter says so and they were all willing to die for what they said they believed.”

“Because the Bible says so” only works when the people you are talking to already believe what the Bible says. For those who don’t, “Because the Bible says so” makes us look foolish. And it doesn’t help our kids who will go into a hostile world where they will have to defend their faith.

4. Don’t refer to the Bible as a book.

It’s not a book. It’s way better than a book. A book implies that it is fiction. The problem is that most adults think the Bible is full of stories not history. Each week we share parts of history. Our kids need to know it is history not fiction.

“The Bible was written by over 40 different people over a several hundred year period and it tells one unique story about how sin came into the world and God fixed it. Isn’t that great? Now today we are going to look at this little piece of it.”

5. Cite authors not the Bible.

Every time you say something about an author you tie what you are saying to history, not stories.

“Today we are going to look at a letter written by James. James was the brother of Jesus. What would your brother have to do to convince you he was the Son of God?”

6. Acknowledge the odd as odd.

There are some odd things in the Bible. Most of what’s in the Bible is odd. We don’t need to be afraid of it, that’s just the way it is. It’s old.

We don’t have to worry about the odd things in the Bible because “the Bible says so” is not the reason we believe this but because Jesus believed this. I take the old testament seriously because Jesus took it seriously.

7. Don’t create the impression that one must choose between faith and science.

Science is the study of natural things. It attempts to find natural explanations for the world around us. Every time sciences discovers how something works we should be able to respond, “So that’s how God did it.”

How do you communicate the Bible to support lasting faith?

 

 

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.

If only . . .

June 12, 2013 — Leave a comment

if onlyIf only there were more volunteers, or I had a bigger budget, or more resources . . . Or if only this person would . . . or they would . . . or if only we had this space . . . or could do this event . . . or this program . . . or if only we could do it this way and not that . . . or if only the parents were more engaged . . . the volunteers were more engaged . . . the senior pastor was more supportive . . .  if only . . .

The problem with if only is that nothing is ever if only. If you got your if only it’s likely that things wouldn’t change much because change requires a plan.  If only is a hope, another form of waiting rather than doing something about it.

I love what Seth Godin said in his post today: “A plan involves steps that are largely under your influence and control. A plan involves the hard and dreary and difficult work of a thousand brave steps, of doing things that might not work, of connecting and caring and bringing generosity when we don’t think we have any more to bring.”

Where are you most likely to get caught in the if only trap? What’s stopping you from creating a plan to really change things?

I’m attending the Children’s Pastors’ Conference in Orlando and promised people attending my breakouts that I would put some resources online. So here you go.

 

Breakout: Why Children are the Most Important People in Your Church

Why Children are the Most Important People in the Church Presentation Slides

Seasons of the Soul Handout

Breakout Audio (MP3–This is audio of the same breakout from a different conference.)

If you are looking for more information about the breakouts email me. Or come to the Children’s Pastors’ Conference in San Diego.

If God really needed our help he would have created us first. Craig Jutila from Hectic to Healthy at #cpc13