How Do We Train Our Kids to Stand Firm

Liturgy, Theology and Love

In our country, we do not have armed guards forcing us to step on the face of Jesus. We do, however, have a secular culture and progressive Christians. They ask us to trample on scripture and tradition in order for us to find acceptance to their table of tolerance. The modern movement away from orthodoxy has the taste of Japanese guards saying to our youth, “Trample, Trample,” and the voice of the serpent saying, “Did God actually say?” Our kids are not being crushed by atheism they are being seduced by secularism, materialism, and individualism.

“Love, which we would consider an “ultimate” love could be described as that to which we ultimately pledge allegiance; or, to evoke language that is both religious and ancient, our ultimate love is what we worship. The reasons we emphasize that this is a matter of love is to signify that our orientation to what’s ultimate is not primarily on the order of thinking. It’s not what I think that shapes my life from the bottom up; it’s what I desire, what I love, that animates my passion.”  James K.A. Smith

We are not primarily what we think or even what we believe. We are primarily, as Smith says, what we love. So how do we raise kids who will not trample the faith handed to them? How do we not just inform the minds of our kids but also help them form their loves?

  1. Biblical Theology – Kids need to understand the Bible is about God, not about them. They need to see the broad sweeping themes of sin, redemption, and restoration. They need to see Jesus on every page of the Bible. If Christianity is only ever theological facts to be memorized and not a God to be adored, culture wins every time. We need to give our kids a Biblically faithful picture of a God of who is holy and loving. Biblical theology is not just information, but the understanding that all of scripture is the unfolding story of God’s love for us. Properly communicated, it should warm our hearts and fill our minds with wonder.  – Great interview with Paul David Tripp on recapturing awe. 
  2. Systematic Theology – Kids need to understand that the Bible is more than a story. It is that, to be sure, but it has practical implications for how we live. Biblical theology doesn’t answer life’s difficult questions. It shows us the beauty of Christ. Systematics shows us the implications of that picture of beauty. Here is a post I wrote that has resources I would recommend for this.
  3. Devotional Life – Kids need to learn the discipline of daily practice that both inform and form their love for God. This is best taught by modeling to our kids that devotion is not something earned or which merits grace but is the natural byproduct of the grace freely given. Here is a post that gives resources for family devotions. 
  4. Embodied faith – Faith is more than an idea and belief. If faith is not manifested in love, it is seen as a faith that tramples and devours. Our faith is seen in our practices and in our love for others. The liturgies of our churches need to reinforce the love of God so that it creates places where faith and trust will be outside the reach of the snake’s lies and the guard’s insistence to trample.

A faith that lasts is one that is marked by an embodied love and worship of a God who came down made himself small and embodied sacrificial love and resurrection power. That is the kind of faith our kids need.

How Kids Walk Away

Silence, Liturgy and Faith

Most kids who grow up in Christian homes think they would never deny God and turn from Him. They would never say that serving another god is a good idea. Yet many kids who grow up in Christian homes and grow up in Christian churches walk away and make gods to serve that are in their own likeness. They say things like “My God would never do……”, “My God would never say……”, “My God would never act in a way that is unloving (based on what they feel love is).”

Who you love informs how you act which in turn informs what you believe. In the American church, we have moved away from a physically practiced liturgical faith to a faith primarily of mental accent. What we believe and what we do are not connected. Some have seen this mental belief divorced from practice as harmful causing a return to returned to liturgy, but liturgies disconnected from Biblical belief. The result?We have people who talk about personal stories having the same power and weight as Scripture. We see people gathering around tables at homes to preach the gospel of grace with stark absence of repentance. Instead, we long to see people gathered around the Lord’s table marked by the forgiveness of one other and reconciliation to God through Christ.

Kids don’t generally wake up and decide to be an atheist. They lose their faith over time by practices resulting out of what they love. Philosopher James K. A. Smith says you are not what you believe or think but you are what you love. As spiritual beings with physical bodies, we underestimate how physical practices reinforce truth to our kids. You do what you believe and you believe what you do.

In the book, Silence by Shusaku Endo,a Catholic Priest, Father Rodrigues, goes to Japan during a time of intense persecution of the Christian faith in order to seek out a Priest that has been captured. He goes with confidence in his own abilities and a bit of arrogance in the strength of his faith. Eventually, Father Rodrigues is also captured and tortured alongside the people he had ministered to in Japan.

The Japanese learned that killing Christians spread Christianity so, instead, they started capturing leaders and forcing them to step on the face of Jesus. They subjected Father Rodrigues and those who followed him to unimaginable horrors. They told Father Rodrigues that these horrors would stop if he would just trample the bronze sculptured face of Jesus they had placed on a wooden board. His captures said to him “It is only a formality. What do formalities matter?’ The interpreter urges him on excitedly. ‘Only go through with the exterior form of trampling.It’s only a formality. It didn’t mean anything.”

But in the physical trampling of the face of Christ Rodrigues trampled the remnants of a shattered faith. He turned from his faith and lived in Japan helping the Japanese government identify Christian contraband smuggled into the country. Father Rodrigues, living a life marked by shame, asked God why he was silent when he was being tortured. God responded to him, “I was not silent, I suffered beside you.”

In our country, we do not have armed guards forcing us to step on the face of Jesus. We do however have a secular culture and progressive Christians asking us to trample on Scripture and tradition in order for us to find acceptance at the table of tolerance. The modern movement away from orthodoxy has the tinge of Japanese guards saying to our youth, “Trample, Trample!” and the voice of the serpent saying “Did God actually say?” Our kids are not being crushed by atheism, they are being seduced by secularism, materialism, and individualism.

So how do we raise kids who will not trample the faith handed to them?

Recruiting Volunteers: Who and How to Recruit

The question I get asked most via email and at conferences is always about recruiting volunteers. How do we get more volunteers? How do we keep volunteers? In kids ministry, you need more volunteers than any ministry in the church to know how to recruit volunteers and retain volunteers is essential you will not last without learning this crucial skill.

Ask Don’t Beg.

There is a massive difference between asking for help from the stage of from the bulletin and asking people for help face to face. When I was starting in Kids Ministry, I lost a lot of volunteers, so I started getting desperate and was going to go on the stage to ask for help. I didn’t have anyone I knew who was doing kids ministry, so the only thing I could think to do was get in front of everyone and ask for help. I was all set to do just that, and I felt like I shouldn’t do the bulletin stage ask. I felt like I should ask people personally and ask God personally in prayer. So that’s what I did.

I learned two things. 1. People you ask will serve longer and more faithfully than people you beg. Begging gets immediate results, but in my experience, those people don’t last more than a few months. I have many volunteers that are still serving twenty-one years later that I had initially asked personally. 2. Prayer is your greatest recruitment tool. We try and fix things on our own, but they rarely end up where we hope they would. This is God’s grace guiding us back to his heart. To total dependence on him. Ask people to serve but never forget to ask God to send them.

Who Should I Ask?

The more you ask people, the better you get at knowing who to invite and who we shouldn’t ask. Here are some of the practical things I learned about who you should ask to help in kids ministry.

  1. Dads typically don’t drop their kids off if they do make sure you talk with them. Dads involved in their kids lives to that level are generally great volunteers.
  2. Watch how parents interact with their kids. That will tell you a lot about how they would interact with other kids.
  3. Ask people what they do for work. I have found nurses, stay at home moms, social workers, and teachers all make excellent volunteers in Kids Ministry.
  4. Watch people in settings where there are lots of kids present are they aware of what the kids around them are doing or are they so engrossed in conversation they have no idea what is going on. Those who notice the kids running around are typically good volunteers.

Lead with Vision, not with Need

I remember having a difficult time getting preschool teachers. I had a waiting list in elementary but preschool was so hard to get help. I remember praying and asking God what was wrong with people not wanting to help in preschool. I felt God say as he often does the problem isn’t them it’s me.

I was asking people and essentially saying “I know you are busy, and preschool kids can be a lot but really could use help could you help out.” Not the best way to ask. I felt like in my times of prayer for leaders to lead preschool God says that teaching preschool is a privilege because it is the first time these kids will hear about God ever. If they are in families where they understand about God it will be the first time they hear the Gospel from someone who isn’t a relative. Teaching preschool kids isn’t a favor to be fulfilled but a responsibility and an honor. Lead with vision, not with need.

How to recruit well?

  1. Ask personally don’t beg publicly.

  2. Learn to spot who to ask.

  3. Lead with vision, not with need.

What Should Dating In High School Look Like?

In my previous post, I said I believe kids should date in high school for many reasons, chief among my reasoning being:

“I am convinced that our kids need to learn the art of friend-making and friend-keeping. They need to learn to have a conversation, with someone of the opposite sex because should they get married, they will need to be talking to their spouse daily. The time in high school should not be dominated by serious exclusive relationships but should be a time, where with the help of loving adults, our kids learn how to be good friends.”

So what does that look like practically?

Rather than give you a checklist to follow I thought I would discuss principles that should be informing the details you choose to embrace.
Friendship is a learned behavior.

In high school, students should learn to be good friends. Friend making and keeping is a life skill that trumps STEM knowledge every time. Friendship is different than sexual or familial love in that it is technically unnecessary biologically speaking. It is, however, a foundational skill for both marriage and family.

Should I Let My Teenager Date?

Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, I was right in the middle of the Evangelical whiplash cultural course correction following the social revolution of the ’60s and ’70s. This produced youth ministries at the time serving up a steady diet of Hells Bells and True Love Waits.

Purity Rings and True Love Waits

It seemed, growing up in that era, that the great enemies of the Evangelical church were Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll. Drugs and Rock and Roll were solved by creating a subculture of Christian Music. Sex was addressed by creating the purity culture. The goal was good, but the application of that goal I think was very harmful. Wanting kids to live Holy lives is a good thing. Kids need to understand the importance of Sanctification in the Christian life. The way in which it was taught was not helpful to kids or the church as a whole.

I’m talking about youth meetings where a youth pastor chewed a piece of gum and then offered it to someone else to chew. Of course, they would refuse. They’d then pull out a rose and tell the boys to pass it around while they talked about keeping yourself for marriage. At the end they would ask for the rose back. It was bent and broken. The youth pastor would say, “nobody wants something that is used.” Once a youth pastor said, “If you kiss a girl who you don’t marry you are kissing another man’s wife.” The church in the ’90s in its fear of sexual revolution created a sexual revolution of its own.

The problem is not the calling out the misappropriate use of Sex and Rock and Roll from the generation before them. The problem was trying to fix hearts and broken culture with only rules. “This beat is sinful,” and, “No one wants used things,” both come from a human perspective of trying to keep kids away from something. Rather, they could have challenged them to live for something, painting a picture of a God who redeems broken things.

Should my kid…

Should my kid date? I say yes. In the high school years, kids are learning the basic tools for life, hopefully with the guidance of a loving adult. My advice, which goes against the grain of the ’90s purity culture, is for your kids to have many meaningful friendships with members of the opposite sex. The advent of technology has isolated our kids and taught them that real friendships consist of likers of their airbrushed photos. Friendship is a dying art in need of revitalization. Lewis in his book The Four Loves says:

“To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.”

I am convinced that our kids need to learn the art of friend-making and friend-keeping. They need to learn to have a conversation, with someone of the opposite sex, because should they get married they will need to be talking to their spouse daily. The time in high school should not be dominated by serious exclusive relationships but should be a time, where with the help of loving adults, our kids learn how to be good friends.

Kids need to learn how to have face to face conversation that isn’t awkward with the opposite sex. They need to learn what types of texting is appropriate. They need to learn how to treat people that they are attracted to and how to treat people that they aren’t attracted to. How can this happen if the boys sit on one side of the room and the girls on the other? I don’t believe the path to marriage starts though sexual attraction. I think it begins through meaningful friendships.

Friendship with others starts with understanding whose we are.

I dated several women before I married my wife, Sandra. None of those relationships detracted from my relationship with Sandra. They clarified for me who I was looking for and what I found in my wife. The problems in the single dating culture in the church aren’t solved with a lowering of standards, they’re resolved by asking the right questions and starting in the right place. We are asking, “should we date,” –  the question should be, “are my relationships God-honoring or self-gratifying?” We should not ask, “How far can I go and still be ‘pure’ as a Christian,” but rather, “To whom do I belong.”

The problem with the purity culture of the ’90s was not the concern of a hypersexualized culture. The problem was that the starting point and goal were not God. When man is the starting point and imperatives of our sermons being a used piece of gum or bent flower, you end up with crazy weird applications of truth. You got off course. When you start with God and understand that you belong to him, you are free to have meaningful friendships. Suddenly, you see others as image bearers, rather than objects which have been created by a loving God to reveal to you his mercy and grace, much of which can only be experienced in the gift of friendship.

I remember hearing years later Matt Chandler preach a message about that rose: that no one wants because it was broken and used. He ends the video with poignant finality, “Jesus wants the rose. That’s the point of the Gospel!” This is what the purity movement missed in their desire to protect kids from harm. It missed the gospel. Such a powerful message of our God who redeems. Jesus wants the rose.