Parents as Partners

Parents as Partners

I have been a part of the children’s ministry conversation for over 20 years. Several years ago, I was in a conversation with a few friends where we coined the term “Kidmin.” Initially, I saw the issues of parent involvement in the discipleship of their kids as an issue that was founded in children’s ministry leaders setting themselves as experts. Saying, in essence, “drop off your kids; we know what to do.” Like most things, we swung from one extreme to the other. We have gone from a kid pastor as discipleship expert to a kids pastor as cheerleader model. How we engage with parents needs to change.

We have all championed parents as primary in the discipleship process for the past several years. However, we need to move from that model. It’s not that it’s inaccurate, but it’s incomplete. It’s one thing to champion the message “Parents are the primary disciplers of their kids.” It’s a whole other thing to carry this out in a biblical, faithful way that leads to a lasting faith in kids. 

Much good has come from this message and focus! However, there have also been some unintended consequences. I think parents as primary in the discipleship of their children has produced a disengagement by church leaders in the discipleship process. It has also produced a lack of trust by those who lead in the church in the power and place of the church in the life of those we lead. 

Before he left, the charge from Christ was to make disciples; the vehicle he chose for that to take place was the church. This in no way is a diminishment of the family. Still, I believe it is an understanding that our families are not a substitute for the church. Our families are to be a reflection of the church and agents of the church. In Ephesians 5, Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church and gave himself for her. We in the church are to love each other as dear brothers and sisters. Our families should be like a little church, and our churches are to be like a little family. 

The church has never been more necessary than it is today. Many things have changed during the covid pandemic; one of those things that have changed is there has been more conversation around ecclesiology, what the church is, and what her role is. Going forward, we need to change our language and structures in how we talk and how we lead. 

Ever since George Barna wrote his book Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions, this idea and message of “parents are the primary disciple-makers of their kids” has been the prevailing narrative in children’s ministry. So as I type this following sentence, I do so in full awareness of just how much I’m going against the grain…but here it goes. 

We need to move away from language and actions that say parents are primary and move to parents as partners. Now let’s unpack this a bit. 

What do Parents as Partners Look Like? 

  1. Parents as partners is not us supplying resources and parents doing the work. It is us as a church discipling the parents and us as a church discipling kids and parents. Then, parents take what they have seen and experienced and, in turn, disciplining kids at home. 
  2. Parents as partners know the work of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit as primary and our work in home and church as equally necessary. 
  3. Parents as partners see the goal as helping kids live lives of obedience and imitation of Christ, not simply the outward manifestation of good or moral behavior. What does that look like? Eugene Peterson would call it “A long obedience in the same direction.” Bill Hull would say that “Discipleship occurs when someone answers the call to learn from Jesus and others how to live his or her life as though Jesus were living it. As a result, the disciple becomes the kind of person who naturally does what Jesus did.” 
  4. Parents as partners mean we have a shared goal and a shared vision of whom their kids are becoming. Parents as primary leaves parents to decide what is the summum bonum or greatest good for their child. It has led in many ways to the subtle and sometimes not so subtle idolatry of the family. 

What needs to change? 

We need to change our church culture. We must help parents see that the church is our family, that God is our father and that we living in community through intentional relationships will become the kinds of people who naturally do what Jesus did. 

Our language needs to change. Christ is primary, and we are secondary. Church (the Bride of Christ…which families are a part of) is our primary family. Our families should be a living example of parents and kids walking long obedience in the same direction. The goal of our families is not happiness in this life but to point to a greater reality. Our families are a good gift that we are to enjoy and that form us into the image of Christ, but they are not the substance.  

The chief good and the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. As a church, we must model this for our parents and kids so that we together may become the kind of people who naturally do what Jesus did. 

Fear Not

Fear not

In a culture where fear is ever-present and all-pervasive, we turn to almost anything to find comfort and to find help. There are a million things to be afraid of thanks to the internet and COVID; that number has tripled. 

One of the most repeated phrases in scripture is “fear not” “Do not be afraid.” It’s almost as if the God who created us knows us and knows that much of what we do is driven by the blasphemy of pessimism. This idea is that things are worse than we imagine that things will not end well and that the worst possible thing that can happen will happen. We are plagued by these doubts all the time. Daily we read of people who are being oppressed and killed around the world we know people around us who are struggling with addictions and sorrows. People we love dying of covid, cancer, and suicide takes a toll on our soul. 

The answer that we are given to combat this fear is false optimism. We are told to think happy thoughts, to avoid people with negative energy. In the church, it isn’t much better. Many famous churchmen say that positive confession changes things that our words create in the same way God created the world with his word. We are given the same false optimism the world offers only in attractive wrapping paper called faith. 

The problem with the false optimism the world offers us is that it avoids the difficulty through distraction. The problem with the false optimism the church offers as Chesterton says is that it tries “to prove that we fit in to the world.” We have an idea of how the world should be and to avoid the blasphemy of pessimism we settle for a cheap false optimism. We see the broken world needing mending a world and a life that if not cared for can be lost. We fail to see and understand that this world and this life were never ours they were never our possessions. They are signposts of another world. 

Gerard Manley Hopkins says it this way. 

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

Our world is filled with the grandeur of God, charged with his glory. It isn’t great because He created it but because it continues to carry the beauty and glory of who he is from beginning to end. Its job is to point us to what can really help us in the middle of pandemics and pain. We are not citizens of this world. We were made for another world. This world despite the evil that men have done that despite the world bearing the smell of man and his sinful self-inflicted pain. 

Hopkins finishes his poem this way:

And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Hopkins says despite our best attempts to destroy the world we live in God’s creation is “never spent.” We have hope in two things. The first is that the God who created this world broods over it saturates it with his grace. God is watching over our world he is not distant he is close he is “bent over” not standing afar off and he ordains all things according to the counsel of his will. You are not your own and you are not alone.

Chesterton in Orthodoxy helps us from 100 years ago telling us that we were made for another world. 

 “The optimist’s pleasure was prosaic, for it dwelt on the naturalness of everything; the Christian pleasure was poetic, for it dwelt on the unnaturalness of everything in the light of the supernatural. The modern philosopher had told me again and again that I was in the right place, and I had still felt depressed even in acquiescence. But I had heard that I was in the wrong place, and my soul sang for joy, like a bird in spring.”

The second is this world is not our home and our lives are not our own. When I heard I was in the wrong place my soul sang for joy. So powerful. If you have put your faith in Christ you are in the wrong place. So much of the fear we experience comes from a fear of losing was is temporal and failing to see that our lives are eternal. The revelation that this world is not our home and our lives are not our own should produce in us contentment in this life and at the same time discontented homesickness for the next. 

The One Thing the Church Must Change

After twenty-four years of pastoral ministry, I have found the one thing the church in our day loves most is change and innovation. This is because modern culture has had more of an effect on the contemporary church than the modern church has had on our present culture. 

If you have been around church culture long enough, you will have heard pastors talking about Good to Great as if Collins was the replacement for Judas rather than Mattias. You would have heard people say (as I have said myself) the message doesn’t change, but the methods do. This sounds good, but as Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message.” What we say is of great importance; how we say what we say is of equal importance. There are few things modern Christian leaders fear more than receiving the moniker “irrelevant.” 

I have come to realize that there is something inside of us that fears the steady truth and ministry that is mundane. We want to be known as innovative. For years my drive was to be known as an innovative leader. I spent more time looking forward than learning from the past. I knew what apps were out, read every leadership book I could get my hands on by all the current whos who in the secular world and church world. It wasn’t until my forties that I read a book by some who lived before. I was guilty of what C.S. Lewis calls chronological snobbery. The arrogant idea that what we know today is all we need to know. That modern problem can not find solutions in ancient answers. 

Since graduating from seminary, I can now read books on my list to read that I haven’t read for the past five years. One of those books was from G.K. Chesterton. I don’t see eye to eye with Chesterton on everything but in reading Orthodoxy, my modern mind was challenged by old ideas. Ideas that have stood the test of time, this is why I like reading books by dead people the books that have survived have something to say not only to their generation but to ours as well. Chesterton’s words hit me like a ton of bricks. He was telling me from nearly a hundred years ago how to survive our modern age with our faith intact. He is saying we need a greater capacity for wonder and the ability to exult in the mundane. 

Greater capacity for wonder. 

Chesterton, in his typically Cherstertonian way, says this:

“Everything is in an attitude of mind; and at this moment I am in a comfortable attitude. I will sit still and let the marvels and the adventures settle on me like flies. There are plenty of them, I assure you. The world will never starve you for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.”

What Chesterton is saying is profound. To put it in economic terms, we do not have a lack of wonder because of a lack of supply but because of a lack of demand. I have found in my life that the relentless desire for innovative thinking and wondering at what is next leaves me, over time, unable to wonder at what is. I find myself working to make ministry exciting and new rather than taking time to observe and pay attention to what God is doing in others around me and in the world he has made. Excessive innovative thinking leads me to have a soul that is unsatisfied with what God says is “Good” to chase what Collins says is great. 

Often my drive to do and be the next best thing left my soul impoverished and my imagination limited by what is possible. Wonder doesn’t do that. Instead, wonder sees the world God has made the miracles of healing and salvation in the community I serve as what they are products of God’s miraculous handiwork and my faithful service.  

We have to stop with our drive for innovation at all costs. If this pandemic has only taught us to innovate in delivering our religious goods, we have missed the purpose of this trial. We need not think the next frontier in the church is us having church on Zoom. Instead, we need to slow down and wonder. The only way we can expand our capacity to wonder is to begin to wonder and allow God to do his work in our church families and in us. When we “do anything short of sin to reach people,” it is easy to forget the wonder-working power of God, who is the author and finisher of our faith. 

We need to exult in monotony. 

Growing up Charismatic, one of the things we were implicitly taught was monotony was sinful. For example, written or repeated prayers were insincere, and they can be. But it wired me to believe that monotony was to be avoided at all costs, especially in all things having to do with our creative all-powerful spontaneous God. I have come to learn that monotony is not something that should be shunned but something we should aspire to. I learned this from teaching kids for over twenty years and from reading Orthodoxy by Chesterton. In Orthodoxy, Chesterton makes a powerful observation about children and the nature of God that I have been meditating on for days. He says this: 

“The thing I mean (speaking of monotony) can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again,”; and the grow-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.

But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.”

What a powerful picture of what Jesus meant when he said unless we become like a little child, we will never see the kingdom of heaven. Because unlike a little child we will not be satisfied with this life’s mundane plainness, we seek to build our own kingdom, one that has better bells and whistles. To exhult in monotony is something that takes strength of mind, not the simplicity of mind as we often think. 

We think that the goal of life and ministry is to come up with a better version of a daisy a daisy 2.0 if you will. God delights in the perfection of his creation so much that he never gets tired of making them. We think that the way forward for the church is for God to do a new thing. What we really need is for him to do an old thing again. We need him to send his spirit again, we need him to transform our hearts again, we need him to change our desires and our affections to match his…again. 

Our emergence from this pandemic and our new place as a minority status in culture will not be overcome through innovation but rather through a people of God captivated by the wonder of God able to rejoice in the beauty of monotony just like God. 

As the church emerges from the cocoon of this present trial, my prayer is that we do not try to remove our cocoon through artificial means. But allow God to do his work in us, and when he is done, to look with wonder at what he has done and say, “Do it again.” 

The War on Joy.

I love C.S. Lewis. He isn’t perfect. He had a few ideas that were a bit much for protestant me. Overall he was a genius. What made him so brilliant is his ability to take the complex and translate it into words and ideas that others could understand and repeat. When you really understand something, you move beyond the jargon, take the idea apart, and remove the unnecessary, so the truly important can shine through with greater clarity.

I love the Narnian Novels by Lewis. They are brilliant. They have so many themes within his other books and are completely relevant for our world today, almost 70 years later. Lewis fought in World War I and wrote this book only a few years after the end of World War II. He was painfully aware of fighting in the middle of winter without the ability to celebrate Christmas. When Lewis penned one of his most famous lines, he summed up how the world’s enduring suffering faced during the second world war with one line. “It’s always winter, never Christmas.”

This past year has felt like it is always winter, never Christmas. It feels as though there has been a spell put on the world that has frozen hearts, frozen dreams, and is desiring to freeze our joy. There is a war we are facing in our world today, and it is a war on Joy. True Joy everlasting Joy.

 The Weather

One of the central themes of the life of C.S. Lewis was that of joy. His autobiography is entitled “Surprised by Joy” He had much to say about Joy. It was the hope of what was to come for him and the real enjoyment that comes from understanding we have been forgiven. The Pevensie kids understood this in the gifts they were given. “All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still “about to be.” -C.S. Lewis (Interestingly, his wife’s name was also Joy).

The contrast between the Witch and Aslan at this point is one of the central themes of the first Narnian book. A key scene occurs in Chapter 11 when the Witch and Edmund are traveling through the woods in pursuit of the beavers and the other children. They happen upon “a merry party” made up of a squirrel family, two satyrs, a fox, and a Dwarf, seated at a table and enjoying a delicious holiday meal. The Witch is incensed and demands to know, “What is the meaning of all this gluttony, this waste, this self-indulgence?” When she discovers that the meal was a gift from Father Christmas, she turns the entire party into stone. The benefit of the scene is that it demonstrates that the Witch’s evil is not fundamentally about winter and cold weather, but about a deep-seated hostility to life, joy, and celebration.

Joe Rigney

The witch wanted nothing more than to see winter forever. Like Rigney says, her desire wasn’t about cold and winter. It was a deep hatred of joy of celebration of the newness of life. This wasn’t just about cold weather. It represented her hatred of joy the forward-looking hope even in winter. Which is why she made it always winter and never Christmas. 

Why Our Kids Ministries Should be More Like Mr. Rogers and Less Like Disney.

One of the pressures that kids pastors face from parents, leaders, or themselves, and sometimes it’s all three, is to be like Disney. I have often looked at how Disney engages kids as inspiration in engaging the kids I lead. I have had people suggest kindly to me that we take a look at how Disney does things. I even went to Disney and have sent staff members to Disney for inspiration for ministry. The older I get and the longer I do kids ministry, the more I realize that Walt’s idea of child formation was wrong, and Mr. Rogers was right. (Editorial note I am not a Disney hater, I have taken the required pilgrimage to Orlando with my family.)

When you look at the aesthetics of the two kingdoms they both built, they reflect how each saw the world. Walt’s world was a perfect version of what our world should look like. His world is shiny songs playing everywhere. Every restaurant serves chicken strips and hotdogs. Never any dust, never chipped paint. Excellence and creativity abound. Fred’s world was simple, even plain. His puppets showed wear, and his set grew old along with Fred. Two worlds trying to reach the same kids. 

The two kingdoms they built were the result of two visions of the world. Walt created a world that was an escape from the real world. Fred lived in a neighborhood and showed kids how to navigate through the real world. 

Walt built a fantasy world. Fred lived in a neighborhood.

There is nothing wrong with fantasy. Kids need fairy stories. Tolkien and Lewis were both shaped by fairy stories. They have different takes as to the ontological value of stories. Tolkien believed that fairy stories were reflective of God in that they were an example of sub-creation. Lewis thought that you could smuggle truth in fairy stories and steal past the watchful dragons that would not give faith a hearing. In this debate, I side more with Lewis. Fairy tales are more valuable in helping us escape this world, not for the escape alone but to show us what is broken and how to fix our world. Fairy stores should not be only an escape but should contain truth that entertains our minds but be filled with truth that changes our hearts. 

Walt’s world, on the whole, is an escape from reality, sustained by entertainment. You enter the park, and you enter the world as it should be – no trash on the ground, no gum on the sidewalk, and no tears in any eye. It’s perfect. It plays to our right desire for a better world. It reminds us in miniature form that our world, the real world is a shadow, and our heart longs for a perfect world free of sin and pain. 

Fred’s world had fantasy elements in it. But Fred never lied. He said we are going to the land of makebelieve. His fiction was grounded in reality and founded in faith. Fred lived in a neighborhood like you and me. His set was old, his puppets were tired, but he connected with kids in a way few others have. Mr. Rogers had friends come by who struggled with difficult issues like divorce, physical disability, and even race. He didn’t create an alternate universe by which he could escape reality. He lived in a house and told kids when makebelieve was happening. He used fairy stories to smuggle truth.  

Walt Entertained Kids. Fred Empowered Kids.

Walt’s world is all about connecting kids to fun to entertain them. This is a trap I fell into early in my years of children’s ministry. For years I would ask kids if they had fun at the end of the service. I wanted the church to be an escape for kids from the difficulties of home and school. The problem with entertaining kids is you have to out create yourself every week. Kids go to Disney once to a few times a year max. They come to church once to a few times a month. Entertainment may bring them, but we don’t have the budget, creativity, and time to create programs for kids that rival or compete with Disney’s magic.