What Every Kid Needs

What kids need most is joy. We must give them joy that only comes from treasuring Christ. We must give not give them the empty happiness of distracting entertainment but joy that is engaging joy that is substantive and joy that is gospel-saturated. 

Galatians 4:19

My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!

Our kids are being formed the only question is by whom and into what?

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.
– Blase Pascal
It’s jarring but true. Even people who hang themselves are seeking happiness because they can’t find it in this life. The American obsession with happiness is destroying the soul of America not because joy is wrong but because of where we believe happiness can be found. The church is no exception to the lure to find happiness in things that can be shaken. Joy our heart longs for can only be found in the person and work of Christ alone.
In the kid’s ministry movement, we have spent so much of the last 20 years trying to bring happiness to kids but often at the expense of joy. Happiness is a feeling. Joy is a person. We obsessed over our kids answering this question “Did you have fun?” We measured attendance but not life change.
I have become convinced that what kids need more cool environments, creative curriculum, and happiness is leaders who are committed to their joy.
What does a leader committed to the joy of the kids they lead look like?

1. Kids Leaders who lead with the gospel as central, not gospel as peripheral.

The gospel as peripheral is when we limit the message of Christ crucified to gospel Sundays and Easter Sunday rather than the lens by which we teach each lesson. To see Christ in all of scripture is God-given. His Spirit opens our eyes to see Christ. If you do not treasure Christ above all else, you will be tempted to opt for lessons that teach morality minus Christ’s transforming power. You will be tempted to lead pragmatically, doing what works and draws kids even if it is devoid of your reliance on God’s spirit. You will settle for happiness when your kids need joy.

When we are committed to their long-term joy we will communicate God’s plan and purpose for the world and them in a way that is exciting and fun. We will stop asking “Did you have fun?” and start asking “What did you learn about God today?” As leaders who are committed to our children’s joy, we must be committed to their long-term joy which is at times in opposition to short-term happiness. We settle for fun saturated entertainment with a little Jesus thrown in at the expense of the joy that Jesus as central, Jesus as precious, and Jesus as Beautiful can only bring. Kids are adrift in a virtual world being literally entertained to death. What kids need is a rutter that only the joy of belonging to God submitting to his word and living within the hope the Gospel provides.

How do we practically keep the Gospel Central in our lives and ministries? 
1. Read books about Jesus, not just leadership. The church in North America is obsessed with leadership. The church does need strong leaders, but it needs those leaders to be obsessed with Jesus.
2. Know the core tenants of our faith. Understand the theological framework of the church that you serve.
3. Know the core doctrines of our faith and use those as a filter for the curriculum you use and adapt accordingly.

2. Kids leaders who provide environments where can connect kids to a loving, caring adult.

Your primary job is not to love kids. I know that may shock you, but it’s not. It’s to empower, train and disciple the parents and leaders who will love and teach kids. This is not a size issue but a priority issue. If you have a church of 50 or 5000, you need to train leaders to lead and love kids. You can not be the only loving, caring adult, but your love for kids and passion for the gospel should compel you to train others to do this work alongside you.
The benefit of a loving adult is more positive than you could imagine. Barna has done research along with Awana, and the findings are staggering. 

The advantage of your kids having a loving caring adult in their lives is not even close.

3. Kids leaders who connect kids to a multigenerational community of faith that lives by faith.

What kids need more than a multi-sensory experience is a multigenerational community. Kids need as much, if not more than slick creative videos and energetic young leaders, is an old saint who shows up to tell the bible story and loves Jesus. Someone who has experienced the losses and joys this world has to offer and has found Jesus sweeter still.
Kids need a faith that is lived by their leaders and experienced by them. Of course, they need to know about God, but they also need to be known by God.
How do we do create a multi-general community of faith? 
1. Find sweet old saints and have them come to tell the Bible story.
2. Organize a generations dinner at your church and have kids hear stories of faith from the oldest members of your church. Play games together and create new memories together.
3. Create opportunities in your services, camps, and events where you allow kids to connect with God in a meaningful way.
4. Help train parents to lead their kids in making their homes like a little church. To do devotions and model proper handling of scripture.

4. Kids leaders who obsess over their Christlikeness

We all will agonize over something. For example, we will agonize over our church’s size or the production value of VBS. We can agonize over those things, and some experts would say you must agonize over those – the apostle Paul tells us that what we must agonize over is the Christlikeness of our kids and leaders.
Galatians 4:19

My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!

Why isn’t this the normative task of Christian leaders and godly parents? Why are we not in anguish over the Christlikeness of our kids? I think it is because we have idolized success and trivialized holiness.

Eugene Peterson’s riveting opening salvo in his pastoral classic Under the Unpredictable Plant discusses this very issue, and it’s worth quoting him at length.

Vocational Holiness

“The idolatry to which pastors are conspicuously liable is not personal but vocational, the idolatry of a religious career that we can take charge of and manage.
Vocational holiness, in deliberate opposition to career idolatry, is my subject. Personal holiness, which is the lifelong process by which our hearts and minds and bodies are conformed to Christ, is more often addressed. But it is both possible and common to develop deep personal pieties that coexist alongside vocational idolatries without anyone noticing anything amiss. If the pastor is devout, it is assumed that the work is also devout. The assumption is unwarranted. Sincerity in a carpenter does not ensure an even saw cut. Neither does piety in a pastor guarantee true pastoral work.
My impression is that the majority of pastors are truly good, well-intentioned, even godly. But their goodness does not inevitably penetrate their vocations. The pastoral vocation in America is embarrassingly banal. It is banal because it is pursued under the canons of job
efficiency and career management. It is banal because it is reduced to the dimensions of a job description. It is banal because it is an idol – a call from God exchanged for an offer
by the devil for work that can be measured and manipulated at the convenience of the worker. Holiness is not banal. Holiness is blazing.
Pastors commonly give lip service to the vocabulary of a holy vocation, but in our working lives, we more commonly pursue careers. Our actual work takes shape under the pressure
of the marketplace, not the truth of theology or the wisdom of spirituality. I would like to see as much attention given to the holiness of our vocations as to the piety of our lives.”
Eugene Peterson
This is the job of pastors, leaders, and parents. We will obsess over something, be it career, image management, social standing. Those each have their proper place but don’t deserve our obsessive attention. We, like the apostle Paul, must obsess over the right things. The one thing parents and leaders must obsess over is the Christlikeness of our children. We must not give up. We must not relent until Christ is formed in them. My fellow pastors, let’s obsess over that.

Pastor: You Were Not Made for Fame

We live in a culture that is defined by fame. A culture that is saturated by fame. A culture that sees their worth based not on their financial security or social standing like previous generations had. Our cultural moment sees the acquisition of fame as the greatest good, we measure our value by followers, fans, and likes. If you ask most kids what they want to be when they get older they say usually say a YouTuber. That is not what kids said when I was young. When I was a kid most kids wanted to be the president, a businessman, a policeman or a teacher.

The lie that our culture has given into is that if I have fame I will be enough. Our culture has placed fame above power and money because those things in our information, social media-driven culture flow toward fame. Sadly this desire for fame is not absent in the church. We measure the success of our work as a pastor by weekend attendance and event participation.

What is more tragic is the people who are supposed to be a prophetic voice to the perils of culture have themselves turned the vice of fame into a virtue. Celebrity preachers wearing streetwear worth thousands, hanging with A-list stars proclaiming that they want to “Make Jesus Famous.” As the years have passed we have seen the reality is that those same celebrity preachers became more famous and Jesus became more distant. Because a heart that pursues fame as its greatest good can not pursue Christ. The way of Jesus is antithetical to fame. Jesus would regularly say hard things that were not popular because his kingdom is an upsidedown kingdom. Yet so often the temptation and the advice given to pastors is to avoid controversy. Don’t say things that will alienate anyone.

We have given ourselves and bought into the marketing lie that more is better than fame is the goal. The chasing of fame comes at the expense of our soul. You can not desire fame as your pursuit without fame taking its toll.

Contemporary pastors are tempted to measure their success, not to mention fulfillment, precisely by how well-liked they are.

M. Craig Barnes

The temptation to be liked and loved and famous is ever-present in the heart of a pastor. The temptation to be efficient with people is ever-present

Eugene Peterson commenting on the pastoral vocation said this:

The pastoral vocation in America is embarrassingly banal. It is banal because it is pursued under the canons of job efficiency and career management. It is banal because it is reduced to the dimensions of a job description. It is banal because it is an idol a call from God exchanged for an offer by the devil for work that can be measured and manipulated at the convenience of the worker. Holiness is not banal. Holiness is blazing.

Pastors commonly give lip service to the vocabulary of a holy vocation, but in our working lives, we more commonly pursue careers. Our actual work takes shape under the pressure of the marketplace, not the truth of theology or the wisdom of spirituality. I would like to see as much attention given to the holiness of our vocations as to the piety of our lives.

Basically, all I am doing is trying to get it straight, get straight what it means to be a pastor, and then develop a spirituality adequate to the work. The so-called spirituality that was handed to me by those who put me to the task of pastoral work was not adequate. I do not find the emaciated, exhausted spirituality of institutional careerism adequate. I do not find the veneered, cosmetic spirituality of personal charisma adequate. I require something biblically spiritual – rooted and cultivated in creation and covenant, leisurely in Christ, soaked in Spirit.

The toll that fame has taken on celebrity pastors and leaders over the past five years is staggering. We were not built for fame. None of us were. Jib Fowles, author of Star Struck: Celebrity Performers and the American Public (Smithsonian Institute Press), found that the average age of death for celebrities overall, was 58, compared to an average of 72 years for other Americans. His findings also revealed that celebrities are almost four times more likely to kill themselves than the average American.

Should a Christian seek to become famous? The short answer is no. Should pastors seek fame? No. The Christian life has no shortage of opportunities to seek fame at the expense of cross-centered living.

Our job as Christian leaders is not to make Jesus Famous it is to live lives of humility and lives submitted to God. It is to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Fame is not a goal to be obtained for the Christian pastor it is cancer to be eradicated.

About twelve years ago I started speaking at conferences more often. It was nice because people would come up to you and thank you for what you shared and tell you that you were amazing. The lure of disembodied ministry to the church is real. At a breakout, someone came up to me and asked how do you stay humble?

My answer was this:

  1. Stay relationally grounded – I told them what keeps me grounded is sitting down with kids and their mom to help her tell them their father left them. What keeps me grounded is holding the hand of a dying member. What keeps me grounded is doing the wedding of kids I taught in pre-school. What keeps me grounded is standing with young parents as they say goodbye to their newborn baby who died way too early.

  2. Have Accountability in your life – Everyone needs someone who can tell you no. We all need family, we need old friends and people who can speak into your life. You need people in your life who know you and who are unimpressed by you. The people in my church don’t know I speak at conferences, write books or have a blog because at the end of the day those things aren’t that impressive. What they do care about is how am I modeling Jesus in my everyday life to them and their kids. Am I showing up when they need me most?

  3. Have a strong theology of the Cross – A God-centered theology displaces the sinful tendency we have to place ourselves at the center of the universe. Martin Luther famously contrasted the theology of the cross with the theology of glory.

    The theology of glory a theology of fame “is this idea that we are always improving, we’re getting better, and can get better. The more faith we have or the more work we put into our life, we will see the financial blessing, health, protection, and progress- it’s always about the progress of the Christian life. We’re moving up and onward, and the design of God is this very purpose: the more we put in by faith and obedience, the more we give to God, then the more God will bless us. The reason why it’s called a theology of glory is that it’s for our own glory- the more that we are doing, the more we’re advancing- it is pointing towards us.” – John Moffitt

    The theology of the Cross is the exact opposite of the theology of glory. “When we are called into faith with Christ, we are called to die with him. Paul says in Philippians 2 that not only have we been called to believe, we have been gifted or granted to believe, but also to suffer for his sake. As we enter into this relationship with God, there is not a guarantee of our health being protected or our wealth being protected. Rather we are told multiple times by Peter and Paul that we are going to suffer for the sake of the cross.”  – John Moffitt

My plea to my fellow pastors is to seek white-hot holiness over the banality of fame. Fame does not come easy and it does not come free. Fame like Shylock from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venise always demands its pound of flesh.

“It’s the scars on the pastor’s soul that make it attractive. This is also what gives credibility to the Gospel the pastor proclaims. Parishioners will always measure that credibility by the degree to which it has clearly been at work in the pastor’s life. – Craig Barnes”
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01/04/22

Christmas Reminder

The reality of Christmas is it is a reminder of the miracle of a God. A God who is uncontainable and unrestrainable made himself small entered into our world to redeem to restore. He has come. He has come to destroy our two greatest enemies sin and death. No matter what 2021 was like for you the annunciation is a reminder that Christ has come to make all things new.

Merry Christmas

Annunciation

Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son and Brother;
Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother;
Thou hast light in dark, and shutst in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.

John Donne