“Those who say that children must not be frightened may mean two things. They may mean that we must not do anything likely to give the child those haunting, disabling, pathological fears against which ordinary courage is helpless: in fact, phobias. His mind must, if possible, be kept clear of things he can’t bear to think of. Or they may mean that we must try to keep out of his mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism, and cowardice, good and evil. If they mean the first I agree with them: but not if they mean the second. The second would indeed be to give children a false impression and feed them on escapism in the bad sense. There is something ludicrous in the idea of so educating a generation which is born to the Ogpu [State Police in the USSR] and the atomic bomb. Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise, you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. Nor do most of us find that violence and bloodshed, in a story, produce any haunting dread in the minds of children. As far as that goes, I side impenitently with the human race against the modern reformer. Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book. Nothing will persuade me that this causes an ordinary child any kind or degree of fear beyond what it wants, and needs, to feel. For, of course, it wants to be a little frightened.” – C.S. Lewis
One of the more difficult things I have had to do in my years of pastoral ministry is talk with kids about death. Explaining death and sorrow to kids has a profound influence on kids and a refining influence on us.
Recently a friend of mine gave me a book to read written by Jonathan Gibson entitled The Moon is Always Round. The book tells the story of his family dealing with the loss of their baby at 39 weeks. Dr. Gibson, a professor of theology, explained to his three-year-old son the goodness of God through a powerful metaphor of the shape of the moon we can see versus the shape the moon is always.
Dr. Gibson would often ask his son what is the shape of the moon and he would respond that it was a crescent; his dad would ask, what shape is it always? His son would reply, “Dad, the moon is always round.” Dr. Gibson would ask what does that mean? His son would say, “God is always good.”
What a profound metaphor. To have a metaphor that is biblically faithful and continually available is a gift and mercy. There is a part of the moon that we can see, the sorrows we face, but no matter the shape, the reality is that the moon is round because God is always good.
What Gibson is saying is that we see the face of the moon as half, full or crescent. But the shape of the moon we can see is not always the shape of the moon. The moon, no matter what we can see, is always round. He uses this illustration to show us that we don’t always see everything God is doing. We see parts but what we can’t always see is what is really true. Just like the moon’s shape never changes, God’s nature never does either. The moon is always round, and God is always good.
In a recent podcast, Jonathan Gibson recounts the conversation that led to the creation of his book. I highly recommend it.
Talking to our kids is important because death and sorrow are unavoidable and inevitable. We live in a culture that avoids death, but even in our greatest sorrows, we can and should point our kids to the goodness of God.
We live in a world that deifies youth and runs from death. We live in a culture obsessed with cheating death because they are convinced that this life is all there is. We have this idea that God is limited if he exists at all, but we are limitless because of medical advancements and scientific discoveries. Scripture tells us the truth that we are limited. Our days are literally numbered by God, and God is limitless in his care and in his person.
Christians fall victim to this thinking because the materialistic secular worldview is the air we breathe. C. S. Lewis said that everything in this life is marked by death. In A Grief Observed, Lewis talks about how his life was marked by the death of his wife.
“You tell me, “She goes on.” But my heart and body are crying out, come back, come back. . . . But I know this is impossible. I know that the thing I want is exactly the thing I can never get. The old life, the jokes, the drinks, the arguments, the love-making, the tiny, heartbreaking commonplace. On any view whatever, to say “H. is dead,” is to say “All that is gone.” It is a part of the past. And the past is the past and that is what time means, and time itself is one more name for death.”
Lewis is talking about something he had grown to understand because of the love he had for his wife. That death is pervasive that death will eventually claim everything and everyone we love. The problem is not if we will die but when. This is not something you hear much about in our modern culture. We don’t want to admit that we are dying and the thing we love will all pass away. Death reminds us that this world is not our home that this world is not all that there is but we avoid death in the hope that death will avoid us.
Matt McCullough in Remember Death, points to the power of life over death. Death’s power has been destroyed and even had its hold turned back on itself because of the resurrection of Christ. McCullogh says, “Jesus draws our attention to the grave to break our attachment to foolish hope in false gods, but not to pull us back from joy. He would rather return the good things of life to their proper place in our minds and hearts: they are gifts, not gods.”
One of the best things you can do to your kids is to take them to funerals, take them to visit people in the hospital, and talk to them about the reality that one day you, as their parent, will die. We live in a culture that is so unprepared for the reality and eventually of death that they don’t know how to live. The church in North America doesn’t talk about death. As a result, far too many Christians are filled with fear of their deathbed. This is a fear that should not be for a Christian. We have a sure and certain hope. Because your days are numbered because you belong to God, we do not have to fear. Nothing can take us from this life until God says we are done. When God says we are done, nothing can keep us.
How to talk to your kids about death?
- Tell your kids the truth. – In the podcast I referenced earlier, Dr. Gibson does not lie to his son. He doesn’t give him false hope. He tells him the truth and points his son to God’s goodness. “What shape is the moon….always?”
- Don’t speak for God; point them to God – God is always good, but what he does will not always make sense to you and me. There are mysteries that we will never fully understand. Don’t tell your kids what God should have done. Point them to the Word and teach them to trust God more than their eyes can see.
- Do not minimize difficulty or simplify God’s glory or majesty. It is easy and tempting to give our kids pat answers to difficult questions or too difficult problems. Point them to the majesty of God. Remind them of what Mr. and Mrs. Beaver told the Pevenacy kids in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe that God is not safe, but he is good. In trying to understand why people die and how people die, it’s important to remind ourselves that God isn’t safe, sin is real, but God is always good.
- Point them to the comforts of God and the assurances of scripture. – Another well-meaning but pernicious lie people tell kids after the death of a loved one is “God didn’t do this.” This may make them feel good for the time being but will inevitably produce insecurity, anxiety, and fear. If the devil’s ability to take life is more real than the power of God to preserve it, we are all in lots of trouble. In Deuteronomy 32:39, it says, “Now see that I, even I, am He, And there is no God besides Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; Nor is there any who can deliver from My hand.” This should not cause anxiety but give us great comfort because nothing can take us from God hand.
How do we live lives marked by joy in our present moment and filled with hope for the future? We realize that this life is but a foretaste of the glory to come.
“Jesus’s death and resurrection have purchased freedom to enjoy what you have even when you know you’re going to lose it. Enjoy your vacation even though it’ll be over in a flash. Enjoy parenting your preschoolers even though they’ll be grown in the blink of an eye. Enjoy your friendships. Enjoy your marriage. Enjoy your productivity at work. Enjoy whatever health you have left in your body. Of course these things won’t last. Yes, it will hurt when they’re gone. But they don’t have to last to be wonderful. They are delicious, God-given, God-glorifying appetizers for the hearty and satisfying meal that’s still to come. They are true and worthy foretastes of the banquet spread for all peoples. And Jesus saves the best wine for last.”
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.
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
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.
2. Kids leaders who provide environments where can connect kids to a loving, caring adult.
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.
1. Find sweet old saints and have them come to tell the Bible story.
3. Create opportunities in your services, camps, and events where you allow kids to connect with God in a meaningful way.
4. Kids leaders who obsess over their Christlikeness
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.
“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
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:
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.
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?
- 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”