If you regularly attend church conferences you will no doubt hear the rallying cry for excellence in the church. In some ways this is a good thing. I am all for pastors working hard and doing all they can do to reach people with the greatest message ever told. Where excellence starts to kill the church is when we make our church a polished flawless exhibition that we invite people to be impressed by.
When the church takes its cue from the business world and perfects its processes so that it can extend its reach and solidify its brand we have lost our way.
When excellence drives us to be efficient with people so we can be innovative with problems we are no longer the church we are simply a 501c3.
One the things that you notice the older you get you start to realize how much you have been given and how precious the time is that you have left. The things that I think kids will remember more than just doing things or going places is the traditions you build as a family. We have started a few in our family, when our kids turn 10 we go on an adventure anywhere they want to go for 6 days, when they turn 13 we are going to do a mentor dinner. We are always looking for ways to create memories but also to help them grow and deepen their faith. Recently a couple things happened that created for us another opportunity to deepen their faith and leave a legacy that reaches past us to our grandkids and even great grandkids.
After my grandfather passed several years ago I remember looking through his Bible with his daily devotional stuffed inside still open to the devotion he completed the same day the Lord took him home. I remember looking through the passages he underlined and wondering why those particular ones stood out to him. I remember wondering what he was thinking or facing in the moments God was speaking to him through the scriptures. Then two weeks ago I finished a biography on Martin Lloyd-Jones the author was talking about how we visited his church stood in his pulpit and even looked through Lloyd-Jones’ pulpit bible. The visceral connection between the author and the owner of the Bible was so tangible in the author’s experience at that famous English church where Dr. Lloyd-Jones spent his life making the Bible come to life through his powerful exposition. I realized at that moment I want my kids to have that same experience.
In doing the 10-year-old adventure I want my kids to know that their family loves them, in the mentor dinner I want them to know they are part of a bigger family, that being their church. What I want them to know when they graduate is that for all the knowledge they can acquire the Bible is the greatest source of truth and life, and it is on the Scriptures Alone we base our life and our decisions. The best way I could think to do that is for them to see me not only read a physical Bible in an age of digital everything but also to chronicle it for them what I was thinking, feeling and hearing as they were eating Lucky Charms across the breakfast table from me morning after morning.
I reached out to the folks at Crossway and they were extremely generous in gifting me a copy of their exquisite ESV Natural Leather Journaling Bible. It is much more portable than I was expecting and the leather and typeset are fantastic more importantly it is real leather with a stitched binding so it will last as I use it and will hold together long after I am gone. I plan on using it for the next year to two years to chronicle my devotional thoughts, sermon preparation, and personal reflection. My hope should God allow is to do this for each of my kids and gift them their Bible upon graduation from High School. Realizing I can’t make my kids love the Bible but I can help them see how I treasure it above all things. We live in a world that is temporal and fleeting the best thing you can do for your kids is to let them know they are loved, to see the church as formational and the Scriptures foundational.
One of the things I am grateful for in our world today is the attention given to the loving nurture and care of children. We see more and more products being made, articles being written, and churches being built, with children in mind. We see mom’s and dad’s more intention than ever about the physical and social wellbeing of their children. These are all good things. When our kids have a need we not only try to meet it we anticipate it and try to meet that need before they ask. So when our kids say they are bored it is not a warning sign in them it is a perceived deficiency in us. We didn’t anticipate the downtime they would experience and bring the devices or tools to occupy their minds to keep them from being bored. This wasn’t always the case I grew up in the Jurassic period before cell phones, cable and video game systems. We got bored… a lot.
Andy Crouch has written an excellent new book that discusses the joy of boredom in the world of anti-boredom devices. His new book The Tech-Wise Family is a must buy for every family that struggles with screen time and bored children (so basically everyone). Andy says that:
The technology that promises to release us from boredom is actually making it worse— making us more prone to seek empty distractions than we have ever been. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that the more you entertain children, the more bored they will get.
This rubs against the very grain of what we have been taught and indoctrinated within the past 20 years, yet rings strangely true for those us old enough to remember what it was like in the “Old Days”. We have an unspoken rule of thumb in our family. If our kids don’t say “I’m Bored” often something is wrong. We start assessing our schedules, we evaluate screen time. Boredom is a warning sign and is actually the beginning to doing something meaningful rather than achieving the next level in a game that doesn’t matter.
Boredom is actually a crucial warning sign— as important in its own way as physical pain. It’s a sign that our capacity for wonder and delight, contemplation and attention, real play and fruitful work, has been dangerously depleted…. We now have the technology to be perpetually distracted from boredom, and thus we never realize how bored we really are.
I am wrapping up my Pastor as…. series. Pastor as Theologian may be the most controversial out of all four.
Why you need to be a theologian is because you as a shepherd, leader, and disciple need to think right thoughts about God. A. W. Tozer famously said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” It is important for us as Pastors and especially those of us who teach children and students that we not only think thoughts of God but that we think rightly about who God is.
I would argue that what you believe about God affects who you follow, how you lead and how you love. For many years I avoided hard conversations about theology because I was “only a kids pastor.” What I didn’t realize is what I thought about God rightly or wrongly affected how I lead and the curriculum I chose and the lessons I wrote. As a pastor to kids, you can feel more like a daycare provider, event coordinator, middle manager, after school program director than a pastor. Those practical aspects are very real and very time consuming but the underlying reality if you are called to lead those who teach kids no matter what your church calls you be it pastor, leader or director you must think right thoughts about God.
In calling Children’s and Youth workers to be Pastor/Theologians I am not saying that you have to sequester yourself and devote yourself to parsing of Trinitarian theology but you should be asking if our lessons and our messages are Trinitarian. Do we preach in such a way that our kids are familiar with the role and the work of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit? This is not the job of the curriculum companies although resources to help pastors think through lessons theologically would be much appreciated. The job of creating a firm theological foundation is the job of the pastor.
Here is a post I wrote for Youth Worker Journal
. They have an incredibly resource-rich website as well as a magazine filled with excellent articles to grow your faith and capacity as a youth worker. If you work with youth or lead family ministry the Youth Worker Journal
needs to be on your radar.
It took me ten years to discover the reality that lasting change in the lives of the youth God has called us to lead does not happen best in programs or events. I had this idea that our mission was accomplished by kids coming through the turnstiles of our church. The more kids that came the more often they came the more we were on mission and fulfilling the great commission. Looking back over 20 years of ministry in the same community to the same families I can see where God by his grace moved in the lives of kids and as I look back it was in ways I didn’t expect.
The relevance myth –
Keep them coming and hope something sticks. This is the biggest mistake most youth workers make in the first five years of ministry. You relate to them and with them and become friends but friendship is not discipleship. You preach to them messages that are memorable but not ultimately transformative. The path of relevance makes you feel like you are accomplishing your mission but the reality is your kids find no difference between the God you preach and the gods this world proclaims. True relevance is not what people say they want but proclaiming to them what their hearts always wanted to hear.
The pragmatic myth –
If it works then do it. If I had a quarter for every time I heard someone say “Healthy things grow” I would have a lot of quarters. It’s one of those idiomatic sayings you hear when you are around church long enough. The problem with pragmatism is sometimes unhealthy things grow. Weeds grow, cancer grows, the Bible tells us sin grows (James1:15). The American church and youth ministry, in particular, is filled with pragmatic ideologies. If you can get 200 kids in the room do it. Whatever it takes to get kids to bring a friend do it. The end result of this myth is you have to outdo yourself every week. You end up preaching your message upside down in a tank full of piranhas because 250 Jr. Higher came out not to hear your message but to see if the piranhas would win.
The mission that the church proclaims through pragmatism and relevance through events and programs are touted as transformative and life changing but they are actually a form of rabbit starvation. Am I saying we shouldn’t be relevant? No. Should we have programs? Yes. What I am saying is when our mission is all protein and no fat the church suffers. Rabbit starvation is a rare form of malnutrition that is caused by the abundance of protein but the absence of fat. The Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson wrote “Forest Indians who depend at times on rabbits, the leanest animal in the North…who if they have no fat from another source, will develop diarrhea in about a week, with a headache, lassitude and vague discomfort. If there are enough rabbits, the people eat till their stomachs are distended; but no matter how much they eat they feel unsatisfied.” Overconsumption of relevance and pragmatism has left many churches distended and unsatisfied.
What is the church missing in its diet?