4 Actions Family Ministry Leaders Should Avoid During the COVID Crisis.

This is my twenty-second year of doing kids and youth ministry and it is like none other I have experienced so far. It seems that we are all, no matter how long you have been doing ministry, trying to find our footing. It seems each day brings new realities to adjust to. The church has done much better than I could have imagined. It’s so exciting to see pastors and leaders innovate and create in ways they never thought they could have as a result of the COVID crisis.

We are only a couple of weeks into this and here are some of the things I believe we need to avoid as ministry leaders in the midst of a crisis like no other we have faced. It is so great to see the church rise to meet the unique challenges we are facing now. Yet I think we meet those challenges with both wisdom and prayer.

Here are a few suggestions I have about things we are avoiding in our kids and youth ministries during the COVID crisis.

1. Don’t talk about fear each week

This can be a huge challenge because it is low hanging fruit. For teens but especially kids, they need to be reminded of who God is. This is the greatest tool to fight any fears they may have.

I remember when my kids were little when they fell down and skinned their knees we would pick them up brush them off and tell them they were going to be fine. Their reaction was much different than when we made a big deal out of their bobo. Kids are connected and consume media first and second hand like no other generation before them. Rather than address it in our videos skits and stories we need to empower parents and caregivers so they will be able to help their kids better than us trying to comfort kids through a screen. Teach parents simple things to say. Give parents resources to say those things. Find or produce resources for parents to talk about fear with their kids but lets as the church keep disciplining kids as you normally do.

2. Don’t show curriculum videos unless you have no option

I’m not anti-curriculum. There are so many great options. I wrote an ebook to help you decide which curriculum is right for your church. But in this unique time we are in, kids need to see familiar faces. They need to see the church being the church to them.

Given the pervasiveness of editing software and the amount of free time, you or some youth or college kid has now. You should be able to produce something that is decent. It just has to be good because it is you. Kids want to see you not some stranger. Don’t sacrifice comfort for your kids of seeing you and your team because you feel it won’t be excellent. The American church has bought into the CEO lie that everything we do has to be Disney or it is not worth doing. Kids would trade excellent for human, personal, and normal any day. Kids don’t remember the amazing vacation you took them on what they do remember is the fort you built them out of cardboard. Excellence is a good goal but a bad god.

3. Don’t just disseminate content

The easier thing to do right now is to go on Facebook Live to make videos on YouTube. Those platforms have their usefulness to be sure. But don’t fall into the trap that you are pastoring someone because you are making videos about God. Pastors find a way to show up personally. In the times we are now living through may require some creativity it may require old school methods like making phone calls, sending texts or cards it may even some creative new school ways through zoom or by playing video games with kids.

I met with our volunteers and asked them to still volunteer. We ask them to call or send notes to their kids on the weeks they serve. I can’t reach all of our kids myself but we can as a family, if we all do our part we can together.

4. Don’t go back to the way things were

This crisis will change our world, is changing the church and must change us. If we think we can go back to business, as usual, we are wrong. We need to be more digital and more personal than ever. How are you going to do that? We need to start to create virtual ways to bring kids into our actual doors. We need to think of ways to leave our studios and walk through their actual doors.

If we don’t change how we work, who we trust, how we pray. We will have waisted this crisis. We can’t waste this crisis.

The bad news is we won’t be back for several weeks. The good news is we have several weeks to figure out what our new normal of reaching kids and teens is going to look like. Let’s work together to build the church. Let’s push each other to be more like Christ.

But, What About… The Bible?

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 there has been similar language used by apostates in explaining their “de-construction” stories. One of those familiar tunes they all seem to play is the God of the Old Testament vs. the God of the New. These arguments that modern apostates pose have a cascading effect. Once you attack the nature of God, the next domino to fall is the authority of scripture. What is interesting is that those who apostatize follow the same path that that theologians follow in systematic theology. Apostates tear down the foundations that have been systematically laid.

I had a conversation with my good friend Jana Magruder Director of LifeWay Kids. She recently wrote a book called Nothing Less: Engaging Kids in a Lifetime of Faith. In this book, she and her team discuss the results of a survey done by LifeWay. They found nine indicators that led to lifelog faith in kids. The most surprising finding was that the number one indicator of a lifelong faith is not the faith of your parents. It isn’t church attendance; it isn’t even generations of attendance in the same church. The number one indicator of a lifelong faith is Bible reading. And it’s not even close.

Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian

A. W. Tozer

A.W. Tozer says, “Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian,” this Jana says is the basis of the book that they wrote. Jana said at LifeWay they were looking for what creates lifelong faith in kids.

At first, we were looking for a formula for a recipe that if we could get this right, we could have more assurance that our kids are not going to leave the church as a different research study says. So many leave and some come back. What can we do as parents and pastors? When we got the results back, our research team came back to us. It said you know you’ve got the number one answer. It is so far away from numbers two, three, and four that it really needs to be in its own separate category, so as you write this book, don’t make it look like number one was this then number two after that… it needs to stand alone, it needs to have its own place. Our research shows it so far in importance and value from the other things. The answer was Bible reading.

Jana Magruder

Jana said that this finding is “profound because it’s not the first thing our brains go to.” In Nothing Less, Jana and her team reveal this is not what we are chasing as a culture. Travel sports, grades, private school, Christian school, home school, big church or small church…” None of these made the difference Bible reading did.

 I think the reason why we miss this is because while we may value scripture, I’m not sure we see it as authoritative.

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.

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.

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.