Should I take a stand on public matters that are political when I am a church? This is a question, in various forms, asked of me in the last month. In my prior article on this topic, found here, I address areas where repentance is … Continue reading Engage: Solutions to getting involved
With the slow re-opening of the country back up, and the likelihood of church gatherings being restricted for awhile, leveraging small groups is critical. Many churches want to be a church a church of small groups. This crisis is a great test of how well … Continue reading Small Groups: the amazing opportunity of now
I remember early on in teaching a key aspect of the art: When you make something corny it sticks longer. Corny is what it is. But, it’s not all bad. Think of it this way. If you want someone to remember something, to have it mull around in their head, what do you do? A strong emotional attachment to something helps it stick to one’s memory.
Winter, often used a symbol of death, ended yesterday. It was incredibly warm. I couldn’t help but think that some people’s winter ends with a permanent heat wave. Then I thought, wow, that’s a corny thought. But, it reminded me of something. There are eternal consequences for our actions. For some winter ends in bliss, for others in torment. Often people try to squelch, suppress, or overly emphasis and scare people with the topic of hell. It’s real, it’s a consequence, it should effect how we live. However, hell isn’t the main thing.
Spring is associated with birth and new life, and that is the main thing. Jesus came to conquer sin and death. He came to point people to life and in Him we’re a new creature.
The bottom line: Some people’s winter will end with an eternal heat wave. Corny? Yep. So, I hope it sticks and causes you to love people to Jesus.
…Doing what I’m doing today. 25 years ago I knew I needed Jesus. That is the essential element to Christianity. Jesus did what we could not do, and He gave us what we did not deserve. That’s grace. That’s mercy.
When I accepted Jesus I knew I wanted to teach the Bible. Fitting that this coming Sunday I’ll be talking about the Gospel, what it is and what it isn’t. People struggle with the simplicity of the Gospel. That its free, that it’s by faith. To often we want to add hoops, dress codes, music limits, etc. That’s not Gospel. I’m enjoying the study of Galatians. It develops a picture of a mask vs grace, a prison vs freedom.
When we add rules, regulations, “standards” to the Gospel what we have is a masquerade, not freedom. Jesus came to set us free, not to put us into another prison. For 25 years I’ve had the joy of walking with Jesus. No regrets, definitely some bruises and tons of joy. This last year what stood out the most to me is the need to keep the Gospel first and the Gospel central.
So, I’m in my home office studying for my first sermon in Galatians. I imagined 25 years ago teaching the Bible and loving it. By God’s grace, that’s what I’m doing. It’s a God thing more than anything, but I’m grateful He let me imagine that 25 years ago. It makes today all that more special.
Psalm 100 ESV
1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! 2 Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! 3 Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! 5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
Yeah, I’m a mac fanboy. This presentation about Steve Job’s speaking style has a lot of carryover to a teaching or preaching setting. I especially like the tips on how to use Keynote. (That’s a program similar Powerpoint).
The wonder of children
What’s that, Daddy?
How often have you heard someone wish to be a kid again? Kids are the gateway to being a kid again. They are live novels in process. We get to be an editor, a writer, and a reader. There is an infectious nature of kids ministry that the church needs, fresh eyes! The wonder of life is new to children. With the loss of newness we often lose the wonder. Serving kids brings back wonder.
What is the question of discovery. It tries to figure out the uniqueness of an object. Curious adventures of children take on names. Names answer what. It is more than a name. Kids delight as they can now say what so captivates their attention. Take sky, for example. It is the name of a massive canvas of wonder and adventure, from color, to birds, to planes, to cotton balls suspended in bliss, to the falling of snow on your tongue. Just because we know the name doesn’t mean we should stop asking what.
If a name were not enough, children remind us of the importance of philosophy, history and theology. They do not use such grandiose words, but those are the fields of study for a child. Simplicity is not the removal of complexity, just try to answer a child’s question of why. Why, a most simple question leading to the most intriguing conversations, amusing anecdotes, and cunning epiphanies. Answering why drives us to the most important aspect of learning, the inevitable ‘I don’t know.’ Just because we’re busy and grown up doesn’t mean we should stop asking why.
You know you want to! Now you’re feeling self-conscious, it’ll pass. Children don’t read into things too much. Yes, this is a result of being naïve, but not always. Children love delight, they love fun. The curse of sin made life hard. Children remind us of what life is to be and one day will be for sure: delightful, fun, engaging. So, jump up! Children do not take themselves seriously because play is serious work. Play is exploring possibilities, seeing what can be done, and just having fun. Play is not entertainment, that gets boring. Just because we’re self conscious and mature doesn’t mean we should stop jumping. (On a bed or couch is most fun!)
Kids understand what is most important. They understand that people matter most. Just because we’re adults with various responsibilities doesn’t mean we should stop looking for ways to bless others.
The bottom line:
Why kids ministry? Because we are forgetful. The crime of lacking a vibrant kids ministry isn’t the loss of a new generation. The crime is we have lost our own. Ask what. Ask why. Jump. Hug. And, if you forgot how, then ask a kid because that is what they do best. It is how kids disciple you and I. We cannot afford losing the wonder of life and the God who made it.
The Value of Children
A Child is a person who is going to carry on what you have started. They are going to sit where you are sitting and when you are gone, attend to those things which you think are important. You may adopt all the policies you please; but how they are carried out depends on them. They will assume control of your cities, states and nations. They are going to move in and take over your churches, schools, universities and corporations. All your books are going to be judged, praised or condemned by them. The fate of humanity is in their hands.
I highly doubt a church will come right out and claim that children are not important to God. The adage is true, however, actions speak louder than words. It alarms me that only one out of four churches lists reaching children as a priority. The church, like the society it dwells in, does not value children. Note Barna’s transformation in his chapter entitles I mist the Ocean:
Yet somehow the wisdom and necessity of seeing children as the primary focus of ministry never occurred to me. In that regard, perhaps I’ve simply been a product of my environment. Like most adults, I have been aware of children, fond of them and willing to invest some resources in them; but I have not really been fully devoted to their development. In my mind, they were people en route to significance—i.e., adulthood—but were not yet deserving of the choice resources.
An audiotape of Barna’s workshop describes the reality of this problem. Barna was surprised at how many pastors called and asked if the workshop on children could be moved to a more “skippable” spot because their time was so valuable. Barna purposely placed the session on children in an inconvenient place for people to skip it, thus it confirming his findings.
The problem will continue to grow
Given advances in medicine and the standard of living, the adult population is continuing to grow. 1993 marked the first year where there were more senior citizens than teens. This trend can be partially attributed to the millions of humans who have been aborted. As the adult population grows, the propensity to gear church ministries primarily to adults will grow. What can children contribute to church finances or church growth? The results of this attitude leave children largely on their own. The mere lack of role models for children points to this issue. Marva Dawn’s states:
What makes the battle so intense in the present world is that so much of life is becoming ambiguous, chaotic, fearsome, unmoored. Consequently, people cling more desperately to whatever idolatries seem to them capable of freeing them from pain, confusion, weariness, or meaninglessness. The powers function to twist such things as efficiency, money, or fame into the gods of our lives, and thus God’s designs for good are distorted, corrupted, and deflected into contrary purposes. Our neighbors in the world (and we, in spite of knowing better) wind up with the ultimate concerns that are trite, violent, enslaving or flimsy. These goals will never ultimately satisfy or repress our deepest longing; they will never alleviate our aching bone-weariness, satiate our galling thirst, or pierce our bitter darkness.
A generation that did not know
What happens when a society does not reach its young ones is disaster. Judges 2:10 states that “another generation rose up who did not know the LORD or the works He had done for Israel.” This is a very easy thing to do if one does not know God nor the things that He has done. With biblical literacy low, many 20-year-olds leaving the church, and church statistics are as dismal as the world. It is becoming safer to say that a new generation grew up that did not know God nor the things of God.
The bottom line
To have a lasting impact on the world one must reach people when they are young, when they are children. Jesus’ words carry more urgency today than ever. Not showing children the way to Christ is another way of hindering them. Mediocrity in the pew comes from lack of diligence in to the cradle. If the “kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” the church needs to give serious attention to reaching and equipping the emerging generation. Millenials search for spirituality and significance may be grasping for the God they know to be there whom they were not clearly told about.
“We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future, your children will ask, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you can tell them…” ~ Joshua 4:6-7a NLT
Where is the art?
Stained glass windows were used to communicate basic bible stories to a largely illiterate world. Part of this was an extreme case of the Bible being in a language people didn’t understand. To communicate the stories from the Bible, the church used art. The buildings, decor, everything was to communicate and teach something about God, to inspire worship. For better or worse, we’ve lost the sense of art in many churches.
Theology in Art
God frequently used artistic expression as a tool to both remember and pass on who He is. Think about this, how abstract is a pile of stones in a middle of a river? The picture itself has to be explained. Think of the passover where God uses taste to communicate bitterness- the bitter herbs. Intertwined through the Old Testament God placed artistic expression to generate conversation. Some expressions were very abstract, others very understandable, they all were intended to generate conversation and engage people in theology- understanding who God is.
We need awe. We need environments and opportunities that get kids and adults to ask why, to dream. There is a broader context to following Christ. Our walk of faith is not an island unto itself. God showed Himself to be the one true God. If the church is truly one body, then our story and the stories of others in history connect. Theology is not a vacuüm, its communicated and lived out in history, in life. Art understands this language, as God created that rainbow of grammar and syntax. We need more stained glass windows…
If all the words in your ministry environments disappeared, what does it communicate about God and who you are?
What have you done to help people see what God has done through the history of your church or ministry?
Do kids in your ministry start asking questions and talking about God because of what surrounds them?
There are few times when you realize that you’re not just seeing or reading about history, but you’re touching and hearing it in a way that is profound. I’ve had a few of those moments, but this one was unique. Not long ago I went to the Restoration Center for the Museum of Flight in Everett, Washington. I went to see a plane, but walked away with something unexpected. This event led me to believe we need more irony in ministry.
Being a plane buff, and not losing my awe and wonder aspect from my childhood, I just had to visit the center (I was afraid to fly as a child, ironic). The main reason for my visit was in having hopes fulfilled of boarding a de Havilland Comet. The Comet was the first jetliner, designed during late WW II in Britain. To actually board one was a dream come true. I remember seeing pictures of it in books or web sites about aviation. It was a beautiful plane. Amazing how the one I was on flew in 1959, ten years after the first one flew. (It was also a bit ironic to be onboard a British made plane that was used by a Mexican airliner only yards away from the Boeing factory.) So, mission accomplished, I set my mind to look at the other stuff, and then head for home.
Irony is the state of affairs that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects to find. As I interacted with some of the volunteers who restore aircraft, I was amazed by the quality of their work and the amount of time they took, normally about 10-15 years per aircraft. These guys in their retirement years seem more productive then many my age. A whole blog post could be written on their work ethic. Some of the guys took us to a photo album and shared stories about war stories, lost friends or projects they had done. This moved beyond the seeing history to hearing and touching it in a profound way. One gentlemen really stood out, though. Ironically again, he doesn’t like planes, he just loves electronics.
This gentleman grew up in Eastern Europe and started to head West during WWII. He learned multiple skills, languages and talents to gain the “freedom” (as he put it) of the West. This eventually led to him being able to come to the New World. Feeling a lack of education, he had a passion to be a life-long learner and still pursues that, though his time is invested more in reflection now. Visiting with me at the time was a friend who works regularly with electronics. My friend stated, “This man has already forgotten more than I’ll ever know.” The gentlemen worked on technologies still employed successfully today, and is still hard at work using his skills. His story was the interaction of history, passion, family, love, pride and work. His last words to me were: “Pastor, I don’t know why God put me through all this and allowed me to go through what I did. But, I pray the Lord’s Prayer every night, in the five languages I’ve learned. This gives me great peace.”
The conversations with these seasoned men was a profound experience. It led to a greater appreciation for life, freedom, hard work, and friendship. Reflecting on this experience, I wonder how many people would actually hear and understand the implications of what these men shared. Then, I realized some would. It may be one, it may be more, and the epiphany may come years down the road. It happens at ironic moments.
Here is the Why Not:
We need to cultivate irony. Preaching and teaching cultivates and readies the ground for the ironic moments of life to take route. Learning may happen during teaching and preaching, but change, understanding and epiphany often occur in the most weird or unexpected venues. It occurs in the hallway, the older person sharing a story or comment, bed time conversations, but rarely in the classroom. Training your ministry team to cultivate and prepare for irony, or the unexpected, is just as important as training to teach well. And this thought came from a person who was scared of flying as a boy, is a plane buff… well, you heard the story. But, here is the thing: The one group of people who have the ability to fully produce irony in our ministries is seasoned saints.