What Do You Do When Sundays are Taken Away?

Recently I read *Resilient – Child Discipleship and the Fearless Future of the Church. One of the things that stood out to me was when the authors described that most kids’ ministry leaders don’t have a metric for measuring success in kids’ ministry.

I know this to be true because one of the questions I ask at conferences is “How do you measure success in kids ministry” to which most people respond with a particular number of kids that attend regularly. I then ask “What do you do to disciple kids?” To this question, most people respond by saying “Sunday Morning.” I say this because there was a time in my life when those would have been my answer.

The metric I used to use was how many kids came and did they have fun. This wasn’t a metric that reflected kids who were becoming disciples of Christ. It was metric that measured fans of Pastor Sam. I was sincere. I was also sincerely wrong. I wanted kids to have fun. I wanted kids to think I was fun more than I wanted them to love and treasure Jesus. I would never have said that but what I measured did for me.

Around twelve years ago God opened my eyes to see the gospel like I never had before. It led me on a journey I am still on to be someone who treasures Christ above all else. It changed my priorities in life and it changed how I measure success in ministry. There was a time in my life where being known by my peers trumped being known by God. I would never have said that but what I measured (likes, fans, and Blog stats) did for me.

If we want to raise kids who treasure Christ. Kids who say Christ is enough for me. We have to lead different we have to measure different things.

Mistake Number 1
– I thought that you disciple kids by being more innovative in looking forward rather than sacred in looking backward.

If I was raising my kids 10, 50, 200 years ago what would that life look like and what would my priorites have been. Just to challange my thinking to think beyond the expectations of the norms of today’s culture. So I would really challange that parent (pastor) to think what are those long term outcomes and goals for your child and what would the pathway be to help your child get there?

Matt Markins CSO Awanna

As a pastor, I thought innovation was the key to discipling kids. When I was young everything new was always better. The older I have gotten the more I have come to realize that what kids don’t need is a relentless barrage of new. What they need is old and true that is presented as new.

What do we measure in our kids ministry? Do our kids know the ten commandments, do they know the overarching story of the Bible, do our kids know the first question of the New City Catechism. Do our kids leave our ministry knowing Jesus is everything?

Mistake Number 2 – I counted kids to know how many were coming rather than who is missing.

Numbers are not wrong. Counting how many kids you have is not wrong. Thinking you are discipling kids because you have 99 coming is not discipleship. You should be counting your kids not so you can revel in the 99 but so that you know the 1 that is missing. We have fallen victim to the American spirit of entrepreneurialism rather than the biblical definition of a shepherd.

We measure how well we are doing not by sheer numbers alone but by who isn’t there and finding out why.

Mistake Number 3 – I thought kids loved Jesus for the rest of their lives by me making information fun, accessible, and memorable.

I spent hours coming up with fun creative ways to transfer information. Should kids ministry be fun and exciting? YES! I have come to learn over the years that the primary goal is not to get kids to know all the facts about God. What matters more than what kids know is what they love. Our job as leaders and parents is to form their loves.

Do we create opportunities for kids to experience God? I don’t mean in any way that we elevate experience over truth. As I have said earlier our kids need to have faith that is grounded in scripture and informed by history so that when they have an experience with God they have the proper framework to understand it and that experience does its work. It forms their loves.

Kids need to know the truth about God but kids also need to experience the person of God.

What should our metric be in kids ministry?

What do kids know?
Catechism
10 Commandments
Lords Prayer
Apostles Creed
The big story of the Bible

Is every kid known by someone?
Does at least one adult leader know each kid and their family?
Can each kid name at least one adult they admire from the church?

Is what kids love more important to us than what they know?

Do we create opportunities for kids to learn to hear God speak?
Do we create opportunities for kids to respond to God?
Do we model as leaders what a life that is gripped by the love of God look like?
Do our kids know that how they love others shows how they love God?

We have got to think in terms of creating disciples more than creating environments. We have to elevate the discussion around how are we as the church going to look backward so that we can move forward.

We see how serious a pandemic can be. If we do not start talking about discipleship, holiness, and gospel centrality in kids and youth ministry the church in North America will become a sterile form of religion that is driven to and fro by every wave culture sends our way. We have to realize that Sunday alone is not enough to disciple kids because we now know Sunday can be take away. If we want to raise kids that are resilient we have got to start measuring more than attendance and discipling with more than take-home papers alone.

Never Waste A Crisis

Machiavelli first said, “Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis.” In the modern era, this sentiment has been wrongfully attributed to Winston Churchill (as I had done as well the first time I posted this blog post.) It was Rahm Emanuel who popularized Machiavelli for this generation by saying “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” he said. Why? Because “it’s an opportunity to do things you could not do before.” It was during the economic crisis of 2008 Emanuel and his cohorts used the cover of crisis to deepen their hold in our Republic. Republicans and Democrats differ on many things one thing they both agree on is more power and more influence is better than less. A crisis, therefore, allows politicians to consolidate power and expand influence. To use their strength to grow stronger by preying on the weaknesses of others. A crisis is an opportunity for them to boast in their strength.

For the Christian, the idea of not wasting a crisis is altogether different, rather than projecting strength at the expense of others you boast in your weakness. Paul says in 2 Corinthians that as Christians, servants of God we commend ourselves not in our self-confidence, not in our success but actually in our weakness.

But, What About… The Canaanite Conquest?

In a recent blog post, I wrote for David C. Cook’s content site for kids ministry leaders called Spark I talked about in recent years how the paths that apostates take their “de-construction” stories have a familiar ring to them. One of those familiar tunes they all seem to play is the God of the Old Testament vs. the God of the New. This is where problems seem to start with most modern apostates. They see the God of the Old Testament as a grumpy, angry, indefensible curmudgeon whose actions are embarrassing and shameful. They contrast this angry God with the all-loving view of Jesus that modern evangelicalism seems to be pushing to fill seats.

Because they see God as only love to the exclusion of His justice and holiness, they cannot reconcile how God could order Israel to destroy whole groups of people—in their conquest of Canaan—and still be good. How could the God of love order His chosen people to kill and destroy in His name?

Once you separate the attributes of God or feel that you can no longer “defend Him,” you invariably erode the authority of Scripture. Because it no longer presents a holistic view of who God is from the Garden to the City.

I have heard many people say that “all the Bible is inspired, but not all of the Bible is applicable for children.” I agree with this statement to a point. The problem I have is in the application of this line of thinking. The problem with saying, “not all of the Bible is applicable for kids is you edit the Bible for kids. The result of this edited version of their faith causes them to grow up inoculated with the gospel rather than gripped by it. If you sanitize the stories of the Bible and avoid the hard stories, our understanding of sin is muddied, and our need for salvation is minimized.

If you sanitize the stories of the Bible and avoid the hard stories, our understanding of sin is muddied, and our need for salvation is minimized.

We don’t get to decide if something is applicable for kids what our job as communicators of the gospel is HOW do we apply it to kids. Do kids need to hear the story of Hosea and Gomer? YES. Do they need to listen to the ins and outs of ancient or modern prostitution? No. They need to hear that God loves us with relentless love, just like Hosea loved Gomer. In our desire to find happiness, we turn from God over and over again, love other things more than him. Just like Gomer left Hosea over and over.

So what about the Canaanite conquest? The reason this becomes an issue is that we spend eighteen years of our kids lives telling our kids that God is not just love as the Bible states, but “only” love as the Bible never says. In elevating one of his attributes over the others, we end up with a picture of God that is incompatible with the reality of God.

I recently saw a debate on Facebook, asking if we should cut pictures of Jesus out of the curriculums we use. This is a question worth asking as we should do all that we can to avoid breaking the second commandment. The question we should ask and rarely ever do is this “Have I made God in my own image?” Do I say that “my God would never do that?” What we say when we talk about God forms who God is and is not in the hearts and minds of our kids. It’s important that when we talk about God, we talk about God in the ways he has revealed himself in Scripture.

The primary problem we have with the Canaanite conquest, and when we read the Old Testament, is often people say, “my God would never do that.” We in subtle and overt ways prefer the God of the New Testament to the God of the Old. We think that the God of the Old Testament is different. Leading some major evangelical leaders to separate the two.

What do you think of when you think about God?

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

A. W. Tozer

What we think about God reveals a lot about what we believe God is and is not. Lewis had a different take. He said what God thinks about us is the most important thing about us.

I read in a periodical the other day that the fundamental thing is how we think of God.
By God Himself, it is not! How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important. Indeed, how we think of Him is of no importance except in so far as it is related to how He thinks of us.

C. S. Lewis

I side with Tozer on this one. For the reason that how we have formed God in our minds reveals how he has revealed himself to us. We can only see him if he opens our eyes to see him. In all honesty, this is a false chose both are the most important but each one tells us something different. What God thinks about us reveals the ground of our salvation. What we think about God shows the fruit of our salvation.

A few nights ago I was putting my youngest daughter to bed and she asked me if closing your eyes and thinking about God was bad. She said this because we discourage the spiritual practices of yoga with our kids. I told her closing your eyes and thinking about God and his word were not bad at all, in fact, its something we should do. She responded by saying “ok, good.” So I asked her “Baby, what do you think about when you think about God?” I was nearly moved to tears, her reply both convicted and moved me. She said “I think about how good He has been to me. I think about how even if we don’t have bread he can make it rain from the sky.”

“I think about how good he has been to me.” God used my six-year-old to preach the gospel to me.

I said what else do you think about when you think about God? She then said, “Dad you know about Clifford the Big Red Dog?” I said “Yes” she laughed sweetly and said, “I asked God for more episodes because I have watched them all. And he heard me they made a new Clifford.” I knew she disliked the new one because Emily and Clifford talk to each other. I said, “But the new one isn’t good is it?” She said, “No daddy, I don’t like the new one.” I told her I was sorry. “It’s ok,” she replied. “God told me that I need to be thankful for what I have.”

My daughter in a two-minute conversation just preached me the essence of a Gospel-centered life. A life marked by the gospel will produce humble gratitude.

This is why I love my church. They are more concerned with kids loving Jesus than kids loving church.

If my daughter by God’s grace continues to think about those things when she thinks about God she will never lose her passion for the church. In our desire for relevance and for pragmatic effectiveness, I think we are missing what matters most. We rightly want our kids to love the church. Yet I think our desires are misguided. What I have found to be the case in my life and in the lives of those who have come through our church over the years When we teach our kids to love Jesus they will love the church. Discipleship isn’t a word we talk enough about in kids and youth ministry. That needs to change. Rather than trying to attract lots of kids each week lets ask a different question. Let’s ask “How can we help our kids see what God has done for them in Christ this week?”

How do we disciple kids in such a way that they love Jesus more as a result?

  1. Point every story back to Jesus. – Don’t be a weirdo and force Jesus where he doesn’t belong but be sure to point them to the larger story that the Bible is telling about what God is like.
  2. Remind them of what God has done for them in Christ. – Don’t just talk about the sin and the cross once a year remind them of the saving life-transforming work of Jesus every week.
  3. Tell them stories of missionaries who gave everything for the gospel. Pray for missionaries who are in harm’s way because of what they believe. We do this daily with our kids.
  4. Ask them when they think of God what do they think about – This one is scary because it is probably one of the more immediate indications of your discipleship of your children. Who have you told your kids God is. Who have you shown your kids through your actions is worthy of your trust.

When you think about God what do you think about? It may not be the most important question but I can think of no better gospel diagnostic. Ask your kids this question often but first, ask yourself. “What do I think about when I think about God?”

Introducing The Audiocast

Welcome everyone I want to introduce you to my new podcast called “The AudioCast” I am excited to be launching this new format. I have dabbled in podcasts a bit here and there. But in the past several years podcasts have only grown in reach and popularity. It seems that podcasts are the new blog. I hesitated to get into the podcast space because there were so many podcasts already.

I have to admit I’m not a huge podcast listener. I am more of an audiobook listener, but my wife and I were talking about me potentially doing a podcast, and together we touched on something that I found interesting. I always want to try and do things that have never been done before sometimes, that’s a good thing, and other times it doesn’t work out so well. This is one of those things. It may be good it may not. But I definitely think it will be different.

My wife thought that since I love audiobooks so much. What if I turned my blog into an audiobook in the form of a podcast. That idea intrigued me. I liked it because it seems unique. I liked it because I still prefer blogging, but know that so many people don’t read blogs but do listen to podcasts.

So what would this look like?

Each podcast episode would be anywhere from 5-15 minutes depending on the length of the post. I would then add some additional comments that I had when I was working on my blog post and may mix in a few surprises from time to time.

So there you go—the birth of The AudioCast (half audiobook half podcast). I hope you find it helpful.