Is excellence killing the church?

Why we need more good churches and fewer excellent ones.

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.

7 answers you need to hear from award winning author Sally Lloyd-Jones

This is a repost of an interview I did with best-selling author Sally Lloyd-Jones. She is celebrating the 10 year anniversary of her best-selling Bible for kids ‘The Jesus Storybook Bible’ She has released a beautiful new anniversary edition to celebrate you can find out more about it here.

Sally Lloyd-Jones has written an amazing new book called “Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing” it is an amazing follow-up to her best-selling book “Jesus Storybook Bible” We have had Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing for a week and it has already lead to conversations about faith and the supreme value of Christ. Every time I read one of Sally’s books to my kids I’m not sure who gets more from what she has written me or them.  She was gracious enough to allow me to ask her a few questions about her new book that was released October 9th.

How do you see Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing and Jesus Storybook Bible dovetailing together?

The JSB (Jesus Storybook Bible) tells the great story of the Bible–the magnificent story under all the other stories of the Bible–The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. And at the center of that story is the Rescuer.

TTMYHS (Thoughts That Make Your Heart Sing) I think (at least my hope and prayer is) takes the child by the hand and gently introduces them to what Corrie ten Boom called, ” the Fantastic Adventure In Trusting Him” (The Rescuer). Faith. What it looks like in everyday life.

What made you want to write this new book?

My niece was the inspiration. She was 8 at the time. And almost overnight, she went from being a vivacious little girl full of life to a quite hidden child. Even her voice changed–into a very quiet voice you could hardly hear.

And we found out she was being bullied at school. I wished she had a book that she would want to have by her bedside, a book she would look forward to reading, a book no one would have to make her read–but that she would choose to read–a book that would tell her what God says about her instead of what these bullies were saying.

And so I wrote the book for her–and every child like her.

How can parents best leverage this book?

I’d love parents to be free to just let the book be the child’s book–without attaching any should’s or ought’s to it. Perhaps the child will want to share it with the family. Let them lead in that. That’s what I’d love to see.

Having said that, I think it’s great to read it together as a family and wonder aloud together about the questions it raises. I wrote the book deliberately to inspire wonder and open up the child to questions–I didn’t write it to try and give all the answers. (I would encourage parents to let the wondering happen–and not feel they have to come in immediately with answers. The best thing a book can do, I think, is engage the child and get them thinking… And you know the definition of a boring book? One that does the work of the reader for them!

What is the target age range of this book?

Initially the publisher had an age cap. But I asked for them to remove it and instead say “6 and up”–because I had a hunch that grownups would like it too… and sure enough that’s what we’re hearing which makes me very happy… so it’s 6 to 106! : )

Very few books provoke me to tears but both Thoughts That Make Your Heart Sing and Jesus Storybook Bible do that for me as an adult. I still to this day cannot read washed with tears without choking up. Is that something you did on purpose or did it happen on the way? Were you targeting kids and got adults by accident or did you intentionally target both?

That’s a high compliment. And while I don’t do it deliberately, I’m coming to realize that unless I write from the place that moves me, it won’t move the reader. “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader” didn’t Frost say that? And what did C S Lewis say? That a children’s book that can only be read by children isn’t a good children’s book in the least.

As a writer how do you overcome resistance? How do you get new ideas?

I think it has a lot to do with trust. And getting out of your own way. If you think it’s all about you and you coming up with everything that’s a very different place to work from than if you think it’s not all about you–and you discover the book rather than create it…and you’re offering back to the One who gave you everything to begin with. It’s worship rather than performance.

When I read your books and listen to Dr. Keller speak the thing I take away is that both of you are excellent “Distillers” is what I call it, of the gospel. So often especially for kids, the gospel is “simplified” and in the simplification, the power and the beauty of the gospel is lost. How do you do this so well? What advice can you give to kids pastors and student pastors to do this better?

It’s very easy to make this mistake. And we’ve all done it. After all the Bible is a “grown up” book and by its very nature, if we are to reach children, we’re going to have to simplify it. But in our effort to simplify the Bible for children, we often drill it down into a moral lesson. We have to be alert and vigilant against this. The Bible isn’t a moral lesson–it’s above all a story.

The other thing we need to constantly remind ourselves of is this: being child-like isn’t being childish. Being simple isn’t being simple-minded. Being simple is distilling down to the core truth and expressing it in words that the young can understand. What children need from us are not silly voices. What they need from us is to take them seriously. And we show how seriously we take our audience by how much time we prepare.

It takes longer to be shorter. Blaize Pascal apologized for writing a long letter–and said that he didn’t have time to make it shorter. It takes hard work and thought to reach children. And for children, the standard needs to be higher because the responsibility is greater.

Thanks again to Sally for time thoughtfulness and for the amazing Gospel-centered tools to help our kids find Jesus more valuable than anything else on earth.  Head over to amazon right now and your copy of Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing you will thank me later.

 

Why I Won’t Take a Chance on the Rapper With My Kids.

I’ll start by admitting that my hip factor is decreasing the older I get. I do what I can. My kids and I really enjoy Christian rap artists like Lecrae, Trip Lee and Jackie Hill Perry. My personal feelings on music is that there is not Christian and Non-Christian music but rather good music and bad music. The challenge comes with rap as many rappers who I would agree are very talented have lyrics that I don’t think are helpful to anyone’s ears especially young ears.

I was watching the Grammy’s this year as is my custom (Primarily to live tweet and to read the tweets of others). This years Grammy’s were particularly awful. The technical errors and poorly executed tributes to fallen artists made the Grammy’s difficult to watch. There were a few exceptions one was by an artist new to me Chance the Rapper. He opened with Chris Tomlin’s “How Great is Our God.” Something you don’t usually hear at the Grammy’s.

What Partnering With Parents Looks Like

Orange Week 2017

I remember when I first heard the term “partnering with parents.” It was at an Orange Conference in 2009. It was revolutionary for me personally as I saw parents for what the Scripture had always described them. Parents are the primary means God uses in the life of a child to come to an understanding the gospel in the context of relationship. Jump forward several years and I am still personally wrestling through what does that look like for me as a dad and for the church I serve? It was just two weeks ago I had this conversation with several other kids pastors we were discussing how to make this commonly shared understanding a reality. I really want to thank Reggie and his team for bringing the family to the forefront of the mission and vision of so many churches. The fact we could have that conversation about how to practically partner with parents only happened because we all assume it’s necessary.

Rather than me telling you partnering with parents is necessary, because I assume that we both agree it is. Let me ask you a question.

What does Partnering with Parents mean to you? In your church what do you do to leverage the influence parents have in the lives of their kids?

For me partnering with parents used to mean tools and information. Today it means discipleship. The longer I serve in the same church and the more I follow Christ what I become aware of more keenly is my need to follow and to lead others to do the same. To partner with parents isn’t about programs and tools although it uses those means from time to time. To help parents spiritual lead their kids and families, parents need to be disciples and know how to make disciples. As kids pastors, we need to take a collective step backward and figure out how we can equip, disciple and train parents so they understand and can use the tools we are so eager to hand out.

What does that mean for us?