Family Friday Links 4.20.18

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Daniel Im the Founder of NewChurches.com and the Director of Church Multiplication for LifeWay Christian Resources he is also the Teaching Pastor at The Fellowship, a multisite church in Nashville. Daniel wrote a blog entitled Trends of Kids Ministry. Daniel writes, "Kids ministry is really hard work. You have to build and train an army of volunteers that serve faithfully. Although kids ministers get into kids ministry because they love kids, the reality is that they work with adults more than they work with kids. This means reaching both parents and volunteers. In order to do this effectively, pastors need to partner with kids ministers to capture the parents and help them realize the need to disciple their children at home. Kids ministers need the whole church to rally behind the idea."

Ligon Duncan at Together for the Gospel conference last week had a fantastic sermon about The Whole in Our Holiness. He ties in our need for holiness and our following the commandment of loving our neighbor. Ligon says, "If we would have just obeyed the commandment to love our neighbor, racial tensions would be in a very different place." I recommend you check out this sermon as we raise the next generation to love all people. Ligon also shared a few resources at his blog for youth ministry. Check out those Youth Ministry Resources.

J. D. Greer is the lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina and he wrote for the Gospel Coalition last month a post about What Your Kids Need From You. J. D. wrote, " Love is not enough. The Bible teaches us that our kids have more than a behavior problem; they have a heart problem. They are spiritually dead. And no amount of our love can change that."  One of the most helpful pieces of parenting advice I ever received was this: Be their dad, not their pastor. The pastor is always busy telling them what is wrong with them; a dad is just excited about who they are. You can’t force the affections of their heart to grow. Only the Holy Spirit can do that, and he does it in the security of unconditional love. If you focus on your kids’ hearts and not their behavior, it’s going to change everything—including how you discipline, how you pray, and how you celebrate success."

What are you reading? Leave your links in the comments below! 

Kids and church, part 2: Sound doctrine, food for God's lambs

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Jesus commanded Peter, “Feed my lambs,” (John 21:15). Once we see the necessity of the church feeding those who are young in faith and young in age (see my previous post), the obvious question is: What do we feed them? When a shepherd is seeking to feed his little lambs, he seeks the lushest pasture. He wants to help these lambs grow up to be big and strong. When it comes to feeding those who are either young in the faith or young in age, the answer is simple--though it's hard to carry out. The answer is doctrine. Our doctrine, that is, our theology or knowledge of God, should always be growing. With each passing year, we should know God better, know him more deeply, know him more personally. We need to grow in our understanding of who God is so that we can better understand how to follow him faithfully.

But doctrinal study is a difficult discipline for seasoned believers to grow in, let alone those who are young. And yet it is necessary. When I say that the lambs need doctrine, I don’t mean that they simply need to memorize definitions and theological concepts. What I mean is that they must understand those concepts and how to apply them. This is where it gets hard. Here's what I mean. Shepherds take concepts that are, by their very nature, complex and difficult to understand, and we seek to make them simple. Teaching complex realities simply requires creativity with our teaching methods while remaining faithful to the truth. It has been my experience that this is a difficult balance to maintain; I often err on one side or the other. The balance is necessary though.

Here are two ways to get it wrong when teaching doctrine.

Most of the time it’s not so much the difficulty of the ideas or concepts we are trying to teach that is the problem. Rather, it's our lack of preparation. We may be easily frustrated when students don’t understand what we are communicating and assume the problem is on their side. But if we're honest the problem is ours. As teachers, we haven't dedicated the time to fully understand theological concepts ourselves, so we're not ready to convey their meaning.

Another way we teach doctrine wrongly is when we "dumb it down" in order for youth or children to understand. This does an injustice both to the doctrine and our students. As teachers and preachers, we need to keep the truth simple without simplifying it. We should never change the truth to make it more acceptable or intentionally leave out harder concepts (e.g. the Trinity, or the atonement) that may take more time to digest and understand. Yes, this is hard, but it's what we’ve been tasked to do. As teachers, we must be faithful with the whole counsel of God.

Here are a few ways to teach doctrine well.

Instead of dumbing down truth, we should break it down. Instead of simplifying truths, we distill them by teaching doctrine in chunks and by making sure our definitions are clear.  

And, after breaking down doctrinal truths into digestible chunks, we must also help help young lambs put the pieces together. We need to help youth see how individual truths connect with the bigger picture, the grand narrative of Scripture. When we do this well, we help kids see that the individual doctrines are simply windows through which we view our big God, and we lead them to worship and glorify the God of doctrines.

Finally, it's important to remember that no truth has been fully learned until it has been lived. Young ones don't need to simply memorize a definition that is divorced from practice. They need to work doctrine into their experience. In order for this goal to be accomplished, we teachers must both understand the material we are teaching and understand how this doctrine applies to our students. This requires one major thing. We must know the sheep. Proverbs 27:4 says, "Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds." There's a principal there for teachers. We must know our students personally and lead them to apply doctrine where they live. We must make it personal for them so they can understand the truth experientially. We must help those young in age or faith to see how specific doctrines apply to their particular stage of life.

May God help us shepherd them well.

Family Friday Links 4.13.18

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Here's what we've been benefitting from online this week:

Todd Jones had a post on the Stoked on Youth Ministry site about having the mind of Christ. It reads, "The passage (Phil 2) goes on to describe that attitude; one of humility that is marked by serving others, regardless of the “position” or status He held. That is exactly what we need to do." Humility and sacrificial service should be big parts of any believers ministry. No matter your position of leadership, these should our mindset.

Gospel-Centered Parenting had a post on the praying parent. It reminds parents, "Pray. Pray as a first response not a last resort." When we are focused on behavior, prayer doesn't seem like it will help. When we focused on the heart, prayer is only option we have.

J.D. Greear had a post on his site about weakness and where true strength is found. He wrote, "You see, feeling inadequate is not a hindrance to being used by God. It’s actually a prerequisite to being used by God." This is a lesson that all believers need to learn, if they desire to be useful to God, especially leaders.

What have you been learning from online reading? Leave us a link in the comment section to check out.

A caution about orphan care and Adoption Theology

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The theology of adoption is a beautiful thing. I’m eternally grateful for it as a child of God. I have been adopted. I was not God's child. Now I am. My inheritance is now with my Father in heaven (Romans 8:15)  He is the author of adoption. He sacrificed so that, through faith, I live and have been made a part of his family.

In many profound ways, adopting our daughters has been a picture of this beautiful truth. 

At the very beginning of our adoption journey I would read books and articles on the theology of adoption and how it should inspire and convict Christians to give homes to orphans. I would engage in conversations that further drove the comparison home and would nod an emphatic “YES!” with each word.

Four years and two finalized adoptions later, I still nod –  just not quite as enthusiastically. Why? Because this theology can only capture part of the story. God himself cannot be fully understood by pondering one aspect of his character or work (or one thousand for that matter). There are many truths about God that need to inform how we view earthly adoption.  I’m now concerned about some practical ramifications for adoptees if we only tell them that their story is a beautiful redemption story -- that it was God’s plan from the beginning of time for them to be with their adoptive family. While these things are true, this is only part of the story. What do our dear ones do with the pain?  The loss?  The desire to find their birth family?  Birth culture? 

So following are three of my thoughts on where we need to clarify and broaden our understanding of adoption as it relates to a gospel theology.

1.  One aspect of the gospel is reconciliation with the Father. Adoptees can experience this fully with respect to our heavenly Father, but  but they may never experience reconciliation with their birth family. We are reconciled to our loving Father through Jesus.  We have been able to return to him. We can now commune with him and walk with him as he has desired from the beginning. All is made right. But adoptees aren’t reconciled to their adopted families! Reconciliation would happen with a return and renewal of their birth family.  Had sin not come into this now dying world, children would be with their birth parents. This was God's created intention.  Thankfully, he is also a merciful God who redeems and sets the lonely in families through adoption. But that precious redemption comes after there has been deep brokenness.  Earthly adoption is a beautiful picture of the gospel but not a complete one.

2Another aspect of the gospel is renewal and regeneration. A new Christian convert makes a clean break with the past. We change and don't go back. All children of God are made to be new creations. We don’t go back to find our “old life” – let alone live and have relationship with old sin habits. While a new adoptive family may provide greater stability and growth than time spent in foster care or during life as an orphan, the relationships built during this time of life may be very important for a child's growth. Adopted children should feel free to discover their past, previous caregivers, and their birth family and culture when and if it is wise to do so. 

3.  We need spiritual adoption because we are sinners. It's not the same with earthly adoption. We need to be clear.  It’s our fault that we need God to adopt us. We sinned. But our adopted children needed us to bring them into our family through no fault of their own.

The church’s passion for adoption needs to be informed by the whole counsel of our loving God.  We shouldn't merely latch on to talking points that deeply moved us in a sermon or a book. Children can suffer if we lack clarity. Do we ever pause and ponder how our conversations in the Christian world may impact the way thousands upon thousands of adopted children process or repress their story? Praise God he gives wisdom to those who seek and ask him. God, help us be balanced and wise as we teach the gospel to adoptee children.