The Seven Pillars of Family Ministry. . .

I’ve been reading the book Dreaming of More for the Next Generation by Michelle Anthony, and in the book she describes what she refers to as the “seven pillars of family ministry.” I wanted to share them with you here because they serve as “Aha” moments in my ministry journey.

1. Family is Primary. The purpose of the church ministry is to walk alongside and equip families to disciple their children. If I’m taking seriously the charge that Paul gave in Ephesians 4:11-13, and I believe that the message to parents in Deuteronomy 6 is a call for them to be the primary disciplers of their children, this ministry should be equipping and training our parents with the same intentionality that we train and equip our teachers, mentors, and leaders.

2. Spiritual Formation is our Goal. Paul’s desire for the church in Galatia was that Christ be “formed in” them. What did he mean by this? His desire for this church wasn’t that they learn the facts of their faith—however important those facts may be. Rather, his goal was that they look more and more like Jesus. He wrote that “all the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.

It’s tempting to substitute spiritual formation with communicating information. We can very easily fall into the trap of making our ministry about facts, head knowledge, and measurables. I’m guilty of this all the time. “If children and families learn information, we may be tempted to pat ourselves on the back. But maybe we shouldn’t. Children may memorize Bible verses. They may know how many stones David used to kill Goliath. It’s good, but it’s not enough.”

It’s also tempting to make ministry about moral training. We can fall into the trap of trying to teach kids what it looks like to be a good Christian. Good behavior looks so much like faith in action. What if instead, we focused on training families on allowing the Holy Spirit to transform their lives?

Jesus doesn’t want people who are well behaved. He wants people of faith (see Luke 17). That’s much more difficult, but it’s more lasting, and it’s what will end up storming the gates of hell.

3. The Holy Spirit is the Teacher. Francis Chan wrote in his book Forgotten God that “the Holy Spirit of God will mold you into the person you were made to be.” There’s nothing wrong with the term “Sunday School Teacher,” but something can be taken away with that title. I wonder if instead, we gave God the role of “teacher,” and took on the roles of leaders, mentors, and storytellers? After all, in John’s account of the Gospel, he wrote that the Spirit of God is our Counselor, our Comforter, and our Teacher.

Imagine with me for a moment: what if we had students and children who worshiped God “from the inside out” (I love that song, by the way; it’s one of my favorites) “compelled by the Spirit—not through behaving in expected or mandated ways, but through seeing worship as a lifestyle instead of as a moment or event”? What if they fully realized their Spirit-given abilities to herald and exhibit the Kingdom attributes of love, grace, justice, forgiveness? What if they were able to discern God’s voice speaking to them and learn to obey that voice, relying on the Spirit’s power alone for their strength?

4. Scripture is our Authority. Our culture denies the idea that there can be concrete truths. My lead pastor often points out that truth is necessarily exclusive. If something is true, it automatically denounces anything that contradicts it as false. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s a natural and obvious thing. If the truth is that I’m traveling north, then by saying I’m traveling south when I’m doing the exact opposite means that my statement is false.

Without truth, people are lost. Truth acts as a compass—morally, experientially, emotionally. As Christians, our compass is Scripture, and it needs to permeate our being otherwise we’re lost. Our task isn’t simply to teach kids about God’s Word, but rather show them how to investigate it for themselves.

Michelle Anthony shares this story in her book:

“Several years ago I was leading a group of elementary students through the book of James. At the conclusion of our eight-week study together, I was compelled by this idea of wanting them to flex their faith muscles. I didn’t plan a new study right away. I wanted to take our next time together to explore what could be next. The kids arrived and sat down as usual to hear the next Bible study, but this time there was none.

“Instead I asked them, ‘Children, how can you put your faith into action? You’ve heard these things from God’s Word for the past eight weeks. You’ve learned that God wants us to not just be ‘hearers’ of His Word, but ‘doers’ also. So what are you going to do about what you’ve heard?’. . . .”

Dr. Anthony then describes the awkward silence and her desire to validate her teaching by offering suggestions that the kids could just say “yes” to. She continues her story.

I didn’t give in. At this point, my faith was hanging in the balance as much as theirs was. ‘What are you going to do now that you have heard the words of God and how He wants us to live?’ It felt like an eternity in waiting. I was uncomfortable. My leaders were uncomfortable. The kids were. . . well, bored.

“But then one courageous hand rose in the back. The young girl said, ‘We could help the homeless people.’ My heat leapt! ‘Yes, we could do that! What else could we do to put our faith into action?’ I asked. Soon more children began to chime in with ideas that ranged from eliminating global hunger to knitting sweaters for cold dogs.”

Where do you think this faith that manifested in action ideas and steps came from? It was rooted in the truth of God’s Word.

John Wesley posited that there are four ways that God reveals Himself to us. Experience: “One thing I know; I was blind, but now I see.” Reason: Wesley often stated that without Spirit-given reason we cannot understand the essential truths of Scripture. Tradition: While he recognized the weaknesses inherent in tradition, he stated “Do not undervalue traditional evidence. Let it have its place and its due honour.” Scripture: “Wesley insisted that scripture is the first authority and contains the only measure whereby all other truth is tested. It was delivered by authors who were divinely inspired. It is a rule sufficient of itself. It neither needs, nor is capable of, any further addition.”

Scripture is of utmost importance to us and its truth is that which guides, yea distills all other evidences of God’s revelation to us. Our goal is to train children to see all of life through the lens of Scripture, knowing that while our interpretation may inform our approach, God always speaks first and foremost to us through His Word.

5. The Big God Story. This pillar is connected to the previous pillar in that to know the Big God Story we need to know Scripture.

Anthony writes:

“Because we’ve heard the story so many times, we might be tempted to gloss over the amazement that it’s all really true. God really did promise to send the Redeemer, He really kept the promise alive throughout history, He really sent His Son to die for us, and He really redeemed us from our sin because He really loves us that much! The Big God Story is amazing—and true! and sometimes it takes a new believer—a child—to remind us how shocking it truly is.”

It’s tempting to teach the Bible in isolated “stories” with little or no context to the whole. It goes back to the second pillar. Randy Frazee calls this “the Lower Story”—the biblical information found in the smaller stories, and we often teach “the Lower Story” at the expense of “the Upper Story”—the story of redemption, restoration, and relationship. This story is the one that transforms, rather than simply informing.

While the Bible isn’t all about Jesus, all of the Bible points to Jesus, and the narrative—much like a serialized TV show—beckons us to its climax—the arrival of the Messiah. When approached episodically, the Bible loses its fervor. But when we tell the Big God Story serially (the “to-be-continued” approach), children want to know what happens next and wait with baited breath to discover the all-important climax—Messiah has come!

The Big God Story, while all about God and His desire to be in a relationship with His image-bearing creation, draws us into its narrative. We are characters in this story, and it’s important to share that truth with children. They need to know that they are born because God wants them and made them to look like Him, and that life is all about knowing Him and loving Him because He loves them.

Sadly, culture (and the Church, to many degrees) teaches children that life is “all about me.” God exists to meet my needs and save me because the story centers on me. We need to help children understand that their part in the story is to know and love the Main Character.

Which leads me to Pillar Six.

6. God is Central. Worship is about growing closer to Him, experiencing His presence, getting to know Him. When we spend time remembering and celebrating what God has done through responding, worshiping, even just living, we are reminded that He is at the center of everything. Austin Fischer wrote that we are all “little black holes” trying to use our gravity to suck life into ourselves. Instead, we should revolve around the gravity of God; therein lies our sole satisfaction. As children discover this truth, their lives can be centered and they have a more compelling story to tell—and to be a part of.

7. Ministry Support. If you know me at all, you know that I love ice hockey. It’s an incredible sport that moves at frightening speeds, requiring an insane amount of coordination, not just on the part of the individual player, but on the part of the whole team. All five skaters need to be in sync and on the same page at every moment. The wingers need to instinctively know where the centerman is and vice-versa. The defensemen need to “feel” each other on the ice. The forwards and defensemen need to see each other, even without seeing each other.

Ministry should be the same. Parents and leaders should support each other. After all, they’re on the same team. They have the same goal: to train children to become aggressive followers of Jesus who are heralding His love for the world. Why shouldn’t we all work together?

Admittedly, I don’t know what that looks like practically, but I’ve got some ideas.

One of the beautiful things about ice hockey is that, unlike any other sport, after someone scores a goal, all five skaters huddle up and celebrate the goal together, acknowledging that every skater on the ice played an integral part in that goal.

Falling. . .

Ice-Skating-StopFor those of you who don’t know me, I love ice skating. It’s one of those things that helps me clear my mind, gets my blood pumping, and provides an escape from the tumult of life.

I don’t really remember a time when I couldn’t skate fairly proficiently; I learned to skate when I was really young, and continued skating all through middle school and high school. When I go skating, I like to watch people of varying proficiencies, and I notice something: not everyone has what it takes to become a competent ice skater. It’s not that I doubt people’s ability to grasp the necessary skills for skating, it’s that there’s one thing good ice skaters know almost instinctively that others don’t: everyone falls.

Two things manifest when someone learning to skate stumbles on this truth. The first is that they overcome their fear of falling. Fear of falling stems from a fear of being embarrassed and from a fear of the pain, but when you realize that everyone falls, you realize that no one’s laughing at you for falling and that most people aren’t severely injured when they fall.

The second is that they begin to give themselves grace for each fall. Each fall is an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t. Whenever I’m teaching someone how to skate, I almost always tell them to not be afraid to fall. It will happen, and the sooner a skater learns that it’s okay to fall, the faster they’ll progress. And as they get better, they fall less and less.

Not too long ago I had the opportunity to meet Megan Fate Marshman and hear her speak at a conference. During one of her talks she had everyone in the room turn to their neighbor and say, “I’m so glad. . . you’re as messed up as I am.” We all fall. Some fall less than others, but seem unable to progress in life. I think that’s because they haven’t learned that falling is okay; everyone falls. Some seem to fall pretty often, but they’re learning, and eventually they’ll fall less often.

Some have seemingly stopped falling altogether and they’re helping pick others up when they fall. We’ll all get there someday, but I really believe that in order to get there, we have to get over our fear of falling and understand that everyone falls. That doesn’t mean we’re supposed to fall; falling is indeed painful, and if we don’t get to the point where we stop falling every time we try to move, we’ll end up a bruise-covered mess. But falling is a necessary part of learning.

I’ve found myself falling on the ice again. I’m working towards learning to play hockey, and in order to do that I need to pick up a few more skills on my skates. As I try to learn these new skills I’m again on my butt pretty often. But that’s part of learning.

I pray that we can all give ourselves some grace as we walk through life making mistakes and by extension give each other grace as well. That’s what community in Jesus should be about.

Wherever you go. . .

“Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.”
~ Charles Spurgeon

In my previous post I mentioned every Christian’s responsibility to follow the mission of Jesus. Sadly, we’ve shifted our focus to the wrong things. We’ve lost the urgency of our calling quite a bit since the Edict of Milan passed in AD 313.

Since people had to be in church, Christians no longer felt the necessity to go out into the world and make disciples because, well, everyone’s here already. When this happened, the Christian life was no longer about restoring the world and reconciling it back to God (2 Corinthians 5.18-21); rather, it became about sin management and individual spiritual fulfillment. Discipleship was no longer about training to attack the “gates of hell”, but about becoming a person of high moral standards.

But if you look around, you’ll see that we no longer live in Christendom. Christianity is quickly becoming a fringe practice. I realize that to many, this comes as sad news. But I’m actually very optimistic about this. Why? Because it means that the Church is again given the opportunity to follow Jesus’ mission. We are reentering the pluralistic world with which Paul was so familiar. And in this world, our traditional methodology for leading people into the kingdom of God will rarely, if ever, produce any real fruit. Instead we’ve assimilated people into a church subculture, rather than unleashing them into the world’s culture with the mission of plowing a counterculture.

These are some examples of the practices of the Christian faith. Internally we devote ourselves to the teaching and study of the Bible. We gather in community to lift each other up, sharpen each other, and keep each other accountable before God. We also share meals together, comfort one another, share communion together, and practice hospitality. Externally we’re supposed to engage in the community, become a blessing to our cities (Jeremiah 29.4-7), and serve those in need (Matthew 25.31-40; Matthew 10.40-42; James 2.14-17).

In a modern church-centered life, the primary focus of the believer is on his internal life, resulting in questions such as, “How is your personal walk with God?” or, “How’s your church life?” Like I’d mentioned in my previous post, without a mission, the life of a Christian becomes about sin management and the self-actualization of one’s spiritual potential.

Here’s what happens in our traditional church discipleship model. When the believer follows this course, his effectiveness in the culture is diminished greatly. Why? Because he’s no longer a friend to the people he once associated with. He was pulled from the community and brought into the church culture, where he was nurtured and cared for and raised to look like the people who are inside this Christian bubble.

This model, when put into practice looks something like this: Bob has been in church for many years. He decides one day, after hearing a sermon on sharing the Gospel, to invite one of his coworkers to a Bible study at his house. After some time, Joe (Bob’s coworker) gives up his Wednesday night poker game and decides to attend the Bible study. Joe eventually gets saved and becomes heavily involved in the church life. He’s at every Bible study class, he hands out bulletins during Sunday services, and he even serves on the outreach committee that’s working on a big free carwash event that will be used to invite people in the community to start attending their church services.

A year later, the pastor preaches another sermon on sharing the Gospel, and Joe recalls his poker buddies. He hasn’t seen them in almost a year, but he decides to call one of them to invite him to church.

Basically, what has happened here is this: Bob has extracted Joe from his context by finding something attractive inside his church world and highlighting it for Joe (green arrow underneath the diagram). There’s been an attempt at pushing Joe into the culture, but because Joe hasn’t been properly discipled, it becomes extremely difficult to reenter his previous context. He soon finds that all his friends are Christians, and outside of family responsibilities, work, and church-related activities, he has almost nothing else to do.

Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad methodology, but is it really that effective? Is it the best method we can come up with?

What if we were to reverse the model?What if instead we were to move from “external” to “internal”? Here’s what I mean.

Matt and Steve are believers. On Mondays they hang out at a little pub a few blocks from their neighborhood. They meet there every Monday after work, hanging out with the regulars at the bar, being an encouragement to the men who are trying to numb whatever pain they’re experiencing. They’re comforters and companions to the patrons of the place.

On Thursdays both of their families have dinner at Steve’s house. After dinner, Matt leads the little group in taking communion.

On Fridays they go on a group date with their wives and one or two other couples. And on Sundays after the church service Matt, Steve, and their friend Todd get together to pray with each other, talk about what God is teaching each of them, and hold each other accountable to the mission of Jesus.

Now, at any point in their schedule, Matt and Steve could engage in mission. As they develop friendships at the pub, opportunities to talk about their faith with someone become more readily available. They could invite someone from that area of their life into their Thursday evenings. Or they could invite someone from their church to join them on Monday afternoons and teach him how to build friendships with people outside of church. But no matter where you look in their lives, you can draw a sense of restoration from their rhythms.

You see, the Christian life is about so much more than just staying morally pure or sitting still in a church pew or serving on a church committee. It’s about restoring and reconciling to God every aspect of life.

My girlfriend often talks about a holistic, restorative approach to interacting with creation. Discipleship should be no different. Life shouldn’t be dichotomous for a Christian—church life and “regular” life, or even spiritual life and physical life. No, everything is connected, and wherever you go, you’re a missionary.

Again, I’d like to know what you think. Am I completely off base? Do we really need to rework our thoughts about church/discipleship (as I’ve posited), or can our current/traditional methodology be tweaked slightly and updated?

Original diagram taken from The Austin Stone Community Church missional community paradigm.

Non-Christian missionaries. . .

Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about this idea of “inviting a friend to church.” Okay, so I’ll admit it, I was never truly comfortable with the thought of inviting my non-Christian friends to my church. The whole thing just seemed a little weird to me. “Hey, so what are you doing on Sunday? Watching football? Would you be interested in leaving your comfort zone and taking a huge step out of that and into a world where people are nothing like you, you have to listen to a band play songs you don’t know, and a preacher gets up and tells you about all the things that are wrong with your life? How would you like to enter this new culture?”

And in reality, I myself would rather be in his shoes. Sleeping in and watching football just seems like a much better way to spend my hard-earned weekend.

What’s weird about this is that the whole thing is backwards. My pastor and I were talking about this last week, and he said that the “invite a friend to church” mentality actually forces the role of missionary onto the person you’re inviting.

Think about it, a missionary (which, if you take Christ’s words in John 20.21 seriously, would include every follower of Jesus) is someone who leaves the environment that’s comfortable to him and sets foot into a culture that is not his own. He has to learn how that culture thinks, what they like, what they believe, etc. When we invite our non-believing friends to church, we’ve given them half the tasks of missionaries.

And then we invite them into our small groups, which, contrary to popular belief, aren’t doing any true holistic discipleship. Our small groups are really nothing more than therapy and discussion groups.

And we wonder why our churches look nothing like the explosive movements of the first century.

There’s nothing wrong with having those kinds of groups. Just don’t call it something that it’s not. Small groups are not discipleship groups.

Think about it this way. We invite someone to come to our church’s Sunday service. After she’s been attending for a few weeks, she “gets saved” and joins a small group. In the small group meetings, they sit in a circle, eat some crumb cake, maybe sing a few songs, talk about how a particular passage in the Bible makes them feel (or how they feel about the passage), and then they pray together and ask God for things.

And then what? Does she go back into her former world somehow and try to invite some of her friends to attend her church? She was plucked out of her culture, nurtured in a completely different culture that didn’t really prepare her to return to her former culture, and then expected to reach that culture again?

What we’ve done to her is not discipleship, it’s assimilation.

In my next post, I’m going to talk about what I think could be a much more effective discipleship methodology. But for now, I’m going to ask this question: am I wrong here? If I’ve made a mistake, please let me know. I realize my cynicism is showing a little bit in this post, but I’m making an observation. I could be way off.

Leave a comment if you think I’m mistaken in my observation.