I was raised to look at life very concretely. It was always black and white.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth. And now I’m sitting smack dab in the middle of a gray area, unsure of whether to go to the left or to the right. To close my heart or to hold it open. To hope that this chapter of my life isn’t over yet or to turn the page and see if God is beginning to write a new chapter.
I have no discernible reason to close the door on this opportunity, and I have every reason to believe that God is not yet finished writing this chapter. Save the one reason that is forcing me to relinquish control. Everything was black and white until now.
I close my eyes and wish that it were all a dream. I wish that I’d never walked through that door. I wish that I’d never sent that invitation. I wish that I’d never made that phone call. I wish that I’d never driven to that coffee shop.
Or do I?
If I hadn’t, I’d never have smiled with that smile, or breathed in that aroma, or tasted that flavor, or watched that movie, or cooked that meal.
The beauty is that none of it was for naught. For all of this has taught me that I have absolutely no control over my life. Every trial I face teaches me that when I have no control over my life, I am better off. For herein rests sole authorship of my life—Jesus, my King. And every pain I endure drives me closer to his heart.
So that I may look more and more like him.
I pray that I will no longer have control.
“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
~ Dr. Ian Malcolm
I came across an article today on the havoc that pornography wreaks on a relationship. One of the commenters said this: “What I ask you is what is so bad about porn, I really do not see porn as a sin, in itself is releasing sexual tensions. (sic) Only the benighted would think that it’s a sin against ones (sic) wife. The subject is weak, and saying that it’s lust is callow.”
Disregarding the irony of the commenter referring to the desuetude of pornography as childish, I want to focus on what struck me about his attitude. A fixation on one’s capabilities reveals a self-centeredness characteristic of toddlers and young children. It’s hardly becoming of a grown man; the child exclaims, “Look what I can do!” while the adult asks, “Given what I can do, what then should I do?”
The role of the man in his relationship with his significant other (whether wife, fiancée, or girlfriend) is to pursue and sacrifice, not to satisfy his own needs. In Ephesians 5, Paul writes that the husband is to love his wife in the same way that Christ loved the church, sacrificing himself for her. That’s our role model, guys. That’s how we’re to relate to the most important woman in our lives.
I don’t really want to turn this into a post about maintaining control over one’s libido, though that’s certainly an aspect of this. What I want to consider is the general idea of self control. Being able to do/say/eat/own something doesn’t necessitate doing/saying/eating/owning that thing. In America, we live in a culture where we like to assert our rights. It’s my right to drink whatever size of beverage I want. It’s my right to own whatever kind of gun I want. I realize this is taking a turn towards politics, so I’ll stop citing examples now. I’m not going to comment on whether those rights should exist in the first place or not, but there are consequences for asserting our rights. Drinking as large a soda as you can get your hands on will lead to health complications down the road. Owning as powerful a gun as possible will lead to increased suspicion from local authorities.
In the film Jurassic Park, the scientists that John Hammond hired discovered a way to bring extinct animals back to life. As is common in a Michael Crichton story, the characters didn’t think through the consequences of their actions, and the island descends into chaos.
Every action has a consequence. Everything I do affects some area of my life and, by simple association, also affects the lives of those closest to me. The Bible speaks often of maintaining a certain standard of living, not so that we can earn favor with God because through Christ we already have that, but so that we can live at peace with those around us. Paul wrote to the church in Rome some basic instructions for an ethical lifestyle for Christians. In that section of his letter, the message is that we are to give up our needs and desires for the sake of those around us.
During a recent staff meeting, my pastor gave a lesson on the value of discipline. In every other aspect of life, the benefit of growth is additive. For example, the more I read about something, the more knowledge I gain on the subject matter. But when we learn discipline, growth’s benefit is exponential. So, if I discipline myself to floss daily, not only do I no longer have food stuck between my teeth, but my gums grow stronger and healthier, my breath is much more attractive, and I extend my longevity.
I’m seeing this happen in my own life as well. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably discovered that I’m a romantic. But I have a friend with whom I have to keep this character trait in check. You see, I’m the guy that would write letters on parchment paper with a fountain pen and seal them shut with an old-fashioned wax seal, or show up on her doorstep with flowers and a poem. But that isn’t helpful to her at all. Yes, it’s terribly difficult for me to hold that guy back. She’s astoundingly beautiful to me. But I learn to discipline myself—to refrain from singing of her beauty from the rooftops, from whisking her away on a horse-drawn carriage, from writing sonnets about her lilting gracefulness—not just for her well-being, but also in order to learn discipline.
What are the benefits of this discipline? For starters, I begin to understand her need for trust-building. I begin to discover what it means to be patient, not only in this one area of my life, but in many other areas as well.
But it also means that I lay my own wants and desires down and care primarily for what she needs. I give up my natural urges for the sake of meeting her where she’s at and looking after what she requires.
Even though I’m perfectly capable of being the type of guy who writes eloquent love letters and creatively devises romantic evenings, I may not have license to be that type of guy. Because ultimately, every action I take has some kind of effect on another person, likely the one I care for the most. Whatever action I take, I take because I should seek to benefit another, not simply because I can.
Paul put it this way: “In humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
~ John Donne
- excessive adherence to law or formula.
- dependence on moral law rather than on personal religious faith.
I hate rules.
Unfortunately, I’ve lived my entire life under a strict system of rules and regulations designed to govern every little part of my life. So, I’m used to rules. And there’s a part of me that refuses to live without them. Here’s a perfect example: my rules about dating. It should come as no surprise then that I’ve had my rules challenged time and time again.
And I’ve found myself forced to either break my own rules or eliminate them entirely.
Because I’ve often found that by creating rules for myself, I’m developing a system to counteract the very thing that I claim to believe in: grace. Grace is something I never give myself. I’m my own harshest critic, and I set for myself an unattainable standard.
I may never discover why I do this to myself, especially knowing what I know about God and how he relates to me. But I can fairly easily trace its roots.
I spent seventeen years of my life in a sect of Christianity that valued rules and regulations above the grace that God makes so readily available to us. Sure, they spoke and taught of grace, but every action revealed a legalistic and pharasaical heart.
I may claim to have broken free from those chains, but the evidence of my life says otherwise. I may be able to extend grace to others, but how long will that last if I’m so unwilling to offer it to myself?
Christianity is an odd mixture of beliefs, ideologies, systems, and practices, and it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that line-drawing has become a game far too many Christians—and groups of Christians—play. We often fail to recall Christ’s prayer to his Father in John, chapter 18, where he says,
“I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in me through their message. May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be one in us, so the world may believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you have given me. May they be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they be made completely one, so the world may know you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me” (emphases added).
I’ve often been encouraged by my lead pastor’s tendency to open his sermons by praying for nearby churches and their pastors specifically and by name. It exhibits his desire to see the gospel pushed forward in our area through something even as simple as praying for those churches.
My problem isn’t with diversity. I love that I can disagree with my brothers and sisters on various theological views and still maintain love and camaraderie. The problem is when our diversity begins to influence us towards animosity, self-righteousness, and name-calling. If we can humbly admit that we don’t (and likely never will) have all the answers about God, I think we would see ourselves reflecting the ideal body of believers that Christ prayed for.
All that said, I’m about to critique a particular sect of Christianity. But please understand that I’m not writing this to bash anyone or to point out the wrongs of one viewpoint. Ultimately, I believe at some level all of our views are flawed because we’re trying to wrap our finite minds around an infinite God. My purpose in writing this critique is to show where I think I’m beginning to see my own beliefs settling out.
One of the views that’s gaining some ground is the neo-puritan view. I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m out of line with this post, but I feel the need to comment on this, if only to air my own grievances on the topic.
In recent years, I’ve been back and forth on whether I would consider myself “neocalvinist” or not. Lately, I’ve been trying to balance disparate theological views by taking somewhat of a middle ground on many topics. This has landed me in some debates with people on extreme ends of either spectrum (most notably people on the far end of the “puritan-calvinist” side, likely because most of my friends reside in the staunchly “reformed” camp), but these debates have only served to strengthen my resolve towards finding a balanced view on many of these historical battle grounds (aided in no small part by Norman Geisler’s book Chosen but Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will).
While I’ve grown increasingly unconvinced of many of the tenets of what is commonly referred to as calvinism, I find myself returning often to the concept of God’s sovereignty. Although many of my friends would likely categorize me as wesleyan, there are quite a few distinctly arminian traits with which I feel rather uncomfortable. One of these is the seeming dismissiveness of God’s sovereignty. By the same token, I feel that classical calvinism takes the concept of God’s sovereignty to an unnecessary extreme and in many cases applies the concept to areas where there is no biblical argument for or against. But rather than go into detail about these tenets and claims, I’d like to introduce the middle ground with which I feel most comfortable.
I’ve been made aware recently of the existence of a “different” type of calvinism. Actually, historically, it finds its roots within classical calvinism, as does what many would refer to as “calvinism.” The type of calvinism we’re accustomed to calling “calvinism” finds its roots in puritanism (hence my aforementioned references to “puritan-calvinism” and “neo-puritanism”), and some might refer to it as Edwardian calvinism (given that Jonathan Edwards was the most vocal proponent of this view). Its main distinguishing feature is the emphasis of God’s sovereignty in salvation, hence this branch of calvinism’s battle cry—even exposition of the gospel—of T.U.L.I.P., which stands for Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverence of the saints. This emphasis manifests itself in personal piety, eradication of acts of sin in one’s individual lifestyle, and a faith in Christ that resides heavily on the penal substitutionary side of the atonement theory debate.
The “different” type of calvinism I alluded to is likely more aligned with classical calvinism than Edwardian calvinism is. One of the major proponents of this form of calvinism was Abraham Kuyper. In contrast to Edwardian calvinism’s emphasis on God’s sovereignty in salvation, Kuyperian calvinism emphasizes God’s sovereignty in the whole of creation. This branch of calvinism explains the gospel in the four narrative concepts of creation order, antithesis, common grace, and sphere sovereignty (for an exposition of these concepts, check out this article by Ray Pennings).
Rather than belabor the distinctives, allow me to share with you why I’ve decided to align myself with Kuyperian calvinism over Edwardian calvinism. From what I read in Scripture, God is a missionary God. The incarnation of Christ is the prime example of this. In Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, he writes that “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself. . . and that he has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God.’” Whereas Edwardian/puritan calvinism “starts with personal piety and moves out toward society” (Bob Robinson), leading to a favoring of the institution of the church, Kuyperian calvinism “focuses on all spheres of society and puts the restoration of the creation in clear view” (Ray Pennings).
Kuyper himself put it this way, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”
The Kuyperian viewpoint would inevitably lead to a more “organic” approach to the institution of the church as Christ’s bride. While Kuyperians may not argue for a decentralization of the structure of the church, they would likely push to decentralize one’s life from the structured institution of the church. For instance, a puritan would put the church and its functions, programs, and gatherings at the center of his/her life, whereas a Kuyperian would seek to live as a part of the church throughout every aspect of his/her life. He/she takes almost literally Christ’s statement to his followers: “As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” In other words, as a follower of Jesus, I am to infuse every part of my life with an obedience to the mission that he has sent me on to “make disciples of all nations.”
Once again, here’s my favorite Spurgeon quote: “Every Christian here is either a missionary or an impostor.”
One of the concerns I have with the resurgence of puritanism is the unhealthy emphasis on personal piety and internal “growth” of the church institution at the expense of an outward, offensive approach to the ministry of the church as the people of God existing both gathered and scattered.
To me, being a missionary means doing the hard work of embedding one’s self in the culture and context in which one’s been called, caring for and loving the people there as Christ loved the world to which he was sent. I find a practical example of this type of restorative lifestyle in the letter that Jeremiah wrote to the exiled people of the southern kingdom of Israel (see Jeremiah chapter 29).
“This is what the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, says to all the exiles I deported from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters. Take wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there; do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper‘” (emphasis added).
What then is my point in all of this? I guess where I’m going is this: claim every aspect of your life and the life of the community around you for Christ. Get involved in the world around you. Don’t cloister. Don’t create a “Christian” subculture. Rather, do the hard work of plowing a counterculture in the midst of the culture to which you’ve been sent as a missionary.
My former mentor once put it this way, “Being on mission means that we are going into the culture and learning to speak the language of the culture in order that we might be a counterculture for the benefit of the culture.”
I’ve been thinking through a number of “big-picture” items as it relates to my place and ministry. I have to admit, while my ministry philosophy has remained largely unchanged over the short time that I’ve been vocationally involved in youth and children’s ministry (under three years), my methodology has often evolved and been challenged throughout my journey. From the logistical and structural to the heart of precisely what we’re teaching children, I’ve made wholesale changes to the way I run a children’s ministry.
I can’t say that my methodology is the best or is the right way of doing things, but it works for my context and current season. But as seasons change and as my thoughts and beliefs are challenged by those from whom I’m learning the ins and outs of ministry, I do what I can to remain malleable and introduce whatever change is necessary in my ministry.
Yet there are also times when I’ve been challenged by a system of thought or a trend that has only strengthened my own resolve in doing what I’m doing or in residing within whatever “camp” I fall under.
This is one of those times.
In the world of youth and children’s ministry there are several key names that I’m sure you’ve probably heard of if you have spent any amount of time in the church world. People like Doug Fields, Reggie Joiner, Sue Miller, Michelle Anthony, Michael Chanley, among many others.
One name that’s been popping up in my circles lately is a guy named Voddie Baucham. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, Baucham is the teaching pastor at Grace Family Baptist Church in Texas and the founder of Voddie Baucham Ministries. Baucham is an advocate of strong parental leadership and shepherding in the home. He takes a stance on developing a home wherein children are being discipled and trained by their parents. He urges parents—fathers emphatically, likely because dads are the ones more prone to abdicate their responsibilities in the home—to own their roles as the primary disciplers of their children.
All good stuff.
But here’s where I have to part company with his teachings. He’s one of the main proponents of a movement known as the Family Integrated Church Movement, or FICM. The main thrust of the FICM is that parents and children should be with each other through all aspects of church life. In the family-integrated ministry model, children and youth ministries are eliminated in favor of bringing families together in all ministries.
Outside of the fact that I wouldn’t have a job in this kind of ministry model, I take issue with the spirit behind it. While I haven’t done much research, from what I have read, the FICM comes from the home-schooling community. I could be wrong, but every aspect of the FICM points to either heavy influence from home-schoolers or formation by home-schoolers.
Proponents of the FICM cite statistics that show church attendance among young people declining. They point the finger at families and their abdication of their responsibility to disciple their children and advocate for more time spent together as a family. Their solution is to have families spend more time together through church activities.
One blog commenter who goes by Shadowspring had this to say about the family-integrated church model:
The problem I have with FIC churches is that they were born in the home school community and promote home schooling. Trust me, not enough time with family or parents is NOT a problem in a home school situation!
They spout all these statistics about how little time the modern family spends together, but that’s not ever relevant in the communities that are pitching and practicing FIC. True statistics about their parishioners would point to a great preponderance of the children’s time spent with family, and very little (in some cases none) time spent with anyone else outside of the presence of a parent or older sibling. . . .
The way I see it, they are so mistrustful of their children, and even their fellow parishioners, that they dare not let them out of their sight even for a moment. No one is to be trusted to share the faith accurately except mom and dad. Even the pastor is being listened to by parents so that they will know exactly what little Johnny has been exposed to.
It may be that in such a judgmental, cloistered group, they fear what weaknesses of the family might be brought to light in a Sunday school conversation. . . .
As it is, these families drawn to FIC ministries are the very families that should be putting their children in Sunday school, and signing them up for community league sports. If your child can be led astray by a mere one to five hours a week outside of your presence, then you have a serious problem with your FAMILY RELATIONSHIP DYNAMICS. . . .
Insecure families, who feel constantly under siege from “the world” because of the insular preaching they are under, who are afraid of being judged wanting by their own fellow congregants, and/or who need to feel in absolute control of their progeny to feed their own egos, those are the families targeted by FIC and the ones who will be most harmed by attending one.
While I find her tone to be a bit too inflammatory, I would have to agree with her sentiment. I don’t see the FICM as an insidious church movement, but I question its effectiveness in our context. I also realize that it stems from a very different hermeneutic than my own. I hold a very high view of Scripture, but I couple that with a belief in an infinite God who has chosen to reveal much of who he is through the Bible, but there is nothing in the Bible that leads me to believe that God couldn’t reveal himself through other means. Christ himself pointed to nature and culture in order to unveil aspects of his present/future kingdom.
The FICM appears to base much of its methodology on Deuteronomy 31:12. This makes me rather uncomfortable as it screams prooftexting to me. It also looks like they took a descriptive text and made it prescriptive.
As I’ve mentioned before, often the way you view a passage such as Philippians 4:8 can radically alter the way you interact with the world around you. If it’s a passage of exclusivity, then you will begin to eradicate anything from your life that doesn’t fit into the box of “true, honorable, just, pure, and commendable.” But if it’s a passage of inclusiveness, you’ll begin to search for all that is true, honorable, just, pure, and commendable wherever you go.
Spurgeon once said, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.” If we take seriously our call to make disciples of all nations (not just of our physical progeny) and if we believe what Christ said in John 20:21, then we must do what we can to train our children to be missionaries. And one of the first things a missionary does is engage his community. How will our children learn to do so if we keep them away from their peers in school and in a church setting?
Yes, I wholeheartedly agree that parents are the primary disciplers of their children. But I don’t believe they can effectively be the sole disciplers for their kids. While I often disagree with Reggie Joiner, I have to say that he nailed it with his “Orange” methodological approach to family ministry.
I’ll go into more detail on family ministry thoughts and ideas in some later posts, but for now, let me ask you this: am I off-base? Is my view of discipleship so narrow that I’ve excluded family-integrated church as a viable discipleship methodology?
Yeah, I’m bringing it up. What can I say? I’m a romantic.
As a single guy, it’s something that’s on my mind quite a bit. But as a guy in full-time ministry, it’s something I try to avoid doing too much. I mean, I’ve certainly gone on my fair share of dates in the past, not to mention a fairly long and serious relationship that God decided to put an end to. But I’m slowly learning that, while dating isn’t off-limits to me, it’s unwise to do so prolifically.
I’m sort of just rummaging through some of my thoughts here, and I doubt I’ll have anything terribly insightful, meaningful, or even coherent to say. I’m mostly just journaling and posing some questions that I hope those of you who are single and following Jesus will take into consideration or perhaps even answer.
We’ve all heard the clichéd statement, “There’s plenty of fish in the sea.” For a follower of Jesus, that sea is considerably smaller. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but our standards should be higher than others around us. For starters, if you’re truly seeking to obey Christ, you’re not going to date someone who doesn’t, at the very least, believe Jesus to be Messiah, Savior, and King over all.
But if you’re reading this blog, odds are that you’re following Jesus and want to mirror him in your decision-making, particularly in this area of life. So you’re probably not looking for someone who is a nominal Christian, but instead you’re looking for someone who is actively following and obeying him. The sea gets even smaller still.
Allow me to pause here on my “sea” analogy and reflect on something that takes place in Christianity that kinda bothers me. There’s an awful lot of pressure on dating. Why? Why can’t we just go out for a movie/dinner/coffee with someone of the opposite sex? Why is there such a stigma surrounding it?
Why does it feel like the pressures of marriage surround our attempts at going on dates? Yes, it’s true that every girl I go out with is a potential wife, but dwelling on that thought is only ruining the good time that we could be having.
I don’t know how true this is in your life, but I have a tendency to put an inordinate amount of pressure on a first date. Yes, I want to make a good impression, but seriously, it’s a first date. I really should just be having fun, enjoying her company, and taking it one step at a time.
Anyway, back to the fish in the sea. I’ve established that the sea is small for Christians, smaller still for obedient Christians (which, shouldn’t we all be?), and now for me. Because this blog is about me anyway, right? ☺
I had a friend who was in full-time ministry who began dating a pretty awesome girl. She loved Jesus and was certainly committed to growing closer to him. She was an active part of the church community, and while they were dating, she was quite supportive of my friend. (I’m going to call them Stan and Brita from now on.)
This is far more nuanced a story than how I’m recounting it, but for the sake of my post, I’m going to stick with relevant portions of the story.
Stan and Brita got engaged, and over the course of their engagement, it became pretty clear that in order for their marriage to work, Stan had to leave the ministry. It wasn’t because Brita was the wrong girl or anything, and there were other reasons for Stan’s departure besides the upcoming marriage. The couple is still actively engaged in their church, even volunteering in the ministry that Stan once shepherded. But he left full-time ministry to marry Brita.
I guess the point I’m making is this: there appears to be a unique kind of girl that can be in a relationship with a guy who is in full-time ministry. I could be wrong here, but a girl who can’t handle the rigors of her significant other’s ministry—which will undoubtedly put a lot of strain on their relationship given the necessary stressors of his job—probably shouldn’t be in a relationship with someone who is in full-time ministry.
Granted, biblically, the relationship a guy has with his wife should come before all other responsibilities. And so, given the charge to properly “love your wife,” a guy should be willing to sacrifice for the sake of his wife. But by the same token, the life of someone in full-time ministry looks very different from someone who’s job stays at the office. Even someone whose work comes home from time to time.
I suppose that really narrows it down for me, doesn’t it? Or, in keeping with my analogy, shallows it out.
Again, I could be way off base here. Because what’s to say that a woman can’t learn to adapt to her husband’s lifestyle?
Another thought, and this one is again pretty specific to me. I have a rule for myself where I’ve decided that I won’t date anyone on my team. Period. I have another rule where I won’t date anyone that I’m ministering alongside, regardless of whether she’s on my team. I’m considering extending that rule to the congregation at large. I can’t think of any healthy scenario in which I started dating someone who attends the church where I lead a ministry.
I like my rule, and it helps keep me safe and above reproach. But it’s been challenged even by the story I mentioned above. Brita was one of Stan’s volunteers. It worked for them.
(I also have a rule about not dating someone I’ve met online, but that rule is in place for a whole different set of reasons.)
Practically speaking, dating someone you serve with seems a little unhealthy and just a bit dangerous. And I wouldn’t use Stan and Brita’s story as a model for normative dating scenarios. At my college, you weren’t allowed to date anyone you were serving in a ministry together with. It’s a bit extreme, but I think I understand the heart behind it. You’re there to complete a task in serving Jesus through blessing your community. It’s unwise to throw a dating relationship into that mix.
For me, everything that I’ve mentioned in this post really limits my dating options. Which, as I type out this sentence, I’m discovering is actually a very beneficial thing for me. My life, vocation, and career are all completely devoted to serving Christ in overt ways. I really shouldn’t be muddying that up by dating within my ministry environment. And limited dating options helps to keep me focused on what I’m supposed to be doing: serving Christ full-time.
So there’s my thought vomit on the topic of dating. Like I said, this isn’t a post where I wanted to share any valuable insights or coherently discuss a topic. I just wanted to put my thoughts out in the open and see what you think.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about some of the problems that have plagued children’s ministry. I’m not saying ours is perfect—far from it, in fact. But I am saying that there are things we’ve been removing from Emergence Kids that I firmly believe should be removed from every children’s ministry (and every church community, if you think about it).
Here are just a few. The first is what I call the moral lesson. Moral lessons wreak havoc on children’s ministries because they don’t actually teach the Bible. They tell a story from the Bible and then draw some kind of application that’s designed to elicit certain behaviors from children. If a lesson ends with something like, “Hey kids, what have we learned today about how God wants us to live?” then odds are you’ve landed on a moral lesson.
The problem with this is that the Bible clearly teaches us that any attempt to adhere to the law is fruitless and an endeavor in foolishness. The law was designed to show us how sinful we are. But tying up your story time in a neat little moral lesson only reinforces the lie that children have to behave a certain way in order to please God.
The second is what I call decision-based or convert-centric teaching. We fail to teach the gospel regularly because we’re often teaching children moral lessons. So when we do actually teach the gospel message, we scramble to ensure that children will accept Jesus on those occasions. And in baptistic circles we might go one step further: altar calls.
The problem with this is that it’s little more than coercion. We’ve essentially strong-armed children into making a decision about Jesus. And because they’re looking to please their peers and teachers, they’re most likely going to say “yes.” But do they actually understand the gospel? Probably not, because we’ve spent more time teaching them moral lessons than teaching the gospel. Also, Christ’s commission to us was not to go and make converts. Instead, he told us to “go and make disciples of all nations.”
And the third problem is this: playing the protagonist. Here’s what I mean by that. Often in order to make an application from the story, we put ourselves and/or the children into the shoes of the protagonist. But not only does that inhibit the child’s ability to imagine the story unfolding before them, it’s an inherently bad hermeneutic, and it can lead to all sorts of theological errors.
Let me explain a little bit. When we tell kids the story of David and Goliath, we often cast ourselves or the children into the role of David. For instance, “Boys and girls, are there giants in your life that you need to fight? Well, just like David, God can give you the power to fight those giants!”
But God doesn’t allow us the freedom to cast ourselves in those roles. We then assign something to Goliath (a bully, or a test, or a scary situation at home), as if to say, “Here’s the scenario that God had in mind when he let this story unfold!”
But if anything, we should be casting ourselves into the role of the frightened Israelite army, Jesus into the foreshadowing role of David, and Death into the role of Goliath. Do you then see the kind of application we can draw from the story with that kind of perspective?
I hope and pray that church communities across the world will start to see the error of teaching like this and will begin to actually share the gospel with children.
In this message to my Emergence Kids team, I touched on a couple of these problems and discuss the importance of gospel-centricity in how we teach children.
This weekend in eTown we’re telling kids the story of Nicodemus’ meeting with Jesus as recorded in John 3. In verses 5 through 8, Jesus uses the word pneuma several times for two different meanings, and I think he’s being purposefully ambiguous.
Pneuma is the Greek word for both “wind” and “Spirit,” and in this case it’s quite significant. I think Jesus is alluding to the life of someone who is “born of the Spirit.”
That life is characterized by trust. Complete trust in the movement of the Spirit to the extent that our own agendas, our own plans, all take a backseat to what God is doing in our lives.
To the outsider, it might seem completely random. I mean, why give up stability to go somewhere “on a whim”? Why pass on some amazing career opportunities in publishing to start a church community from scratch? Why leave the town you grew up in for an uncomfortable living situation?
But to those born of the Spirit, these are the only options that make sense. How can I not go where the Spirit leads? How can I, when faced with what he has revealed to me through Scripture, when staring at the reality of a world ravaged by sin, worry about my agenda?
When there’s just too much at stake?
When we are “born again,” we surrender our lives to a mission. We give our lives over to the making of disciples, and there is no task more important than that. If that takes us to the most illogical places, or settles us in what we’ve always called home, no matter how random or nonsensical it may appear, it’s what we were (re)born for.
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
As a guy, I find the battle with sexual sin to be a gripping and tiring one. Day after day I’m exhausted by my own propensity for lust, my own fleshly desire to sleep with every attractive girl I see. It’s tiring. It’s wearisome. It’s exhausting.
But I wonder if the reason I’m so worn out by this battle is that I’m fighting for all the wrong reasons? I’m fighting because I want to be victorious in this area of my life. I’m fighting because if I give up, I could lose my job. I’m fighting because giving up could destroy my relationship with my future wife.
But what if I stopped fighting for all these reasons? They’re noble, but are they all really worth it?
King David wrote in Psalm 51, after his sin with Bathsheba, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”
Fighting isn’t easy. Fighting against something with nothing compelling to fight for is even harder. But when I remind myself that my God loves me, that he saves me, that he destroyed death for me, that all this “demands my soul, my life, my all,” then I cannot but continue to fight, because the weight of the battle is lifted from my heart, replaced by the depth of his mercy.
Gaining victory over sin in our lives requires constant reminders of the power of the Gospel. It requires resting in the shadow of Christ’s cross.