Gospel Centered Family

Graceless Dads, Overly Spiritual Pastors, & Sticky Notes

Jared KennedyComment
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As much as we want to romanticize or idealize childhood, children live in the real world—the same beautiful and broken world we adults inhabit. Through his writing, Dr. Timothy Paul Jones regularly reminds me that it’s the Bible’s storyline that helps us look at our world holistically, that is, in a way that keeps together what we often perceive as separate childhood or adult realities.

“The Bible should frame every aspect of our lives—including family life,” Jones says. In other words, a biblical worldview must shape the way I view children. Theologians often summarize this biblical lens as a fourfold movement: creation—fall—redemption—consummation. What does this storyline framework teach us about kids?

First, our children are created in God’s image. My daughters are fearfully and wonderfully made. Their lives are imbued with the glory of a universe that reflects God’s beauty. God and their mom’s genetics have given them some athletic ability. My girls have been endowed with imagination and an ability to think and know. A child’s life has value because he or she is made in God’s image.

Second, our children are fallen. Even children are but dust. They experience the pain of a world marred by sin, abuse, suffering, and death. Rob Plummer writes, “Sometimes, people talk about coming from dysfunctional families. The reality is that, because of sin, we are all ‘dysfunctional’ at the deepest level.” My daughters need comfort, care, and a healing touch. And when they exchange delight in God’s glory for delight in the pleasures of the moment, they need discipline and correction as well.

Third, our children need Jesus to save them. They need redemption. Jesus himself says, “Let the children come to me.  Don’t stop them! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are like these children” (Matthew 19:14 NLT). Jesus’ words should encourage us to call children to him. His words should inspire us to help them see that his good news is their only hope.

Finally, in light of the coming consummation, our children are potential brothers and sisters in Christ. If my daughters stand beside me in the new heavens and new earth, it will not be as my daughters but as my blood-redeemed sisters. To be embraced by God’s redemption is to be adopted as God’s child, gaining a new identity, which transcends every earthly status and relationship.

This simple outline seems pretty basic. But if I’m honest, I have to admit I tend toward the more fractured way of looking at ministry and parenting. I struggle to believe that every part of the biblical message applies all the time. As a dad, I know that I’m responsible for protecting my kids, caring for their bodies, providing for them, and teaching them to make decisions that will lead to a more successful life. These are responsibilities that correspond to the truth I know from a doctrine of creation, humanity, and the fall. But it’s easy (even as a pastor) to neglect the doctrines of redemption and consummation when I’m at home.

You’ve probably heard family ministry leaders complain about parents who have a ‘drop-off mentality.’ Many parents assume the responsibility for evangelizing and training children is best left with clergy. As Jones writes, “School teachers are perceived as the persons responsible to grow the children’s minds, coaches are employed to train children’s bodies, and specialized ministers at church ought to develop their souls.” There’s no doubt this is a problem, but I wonder if the trouble runs even deeper.

Even if I regularly discipline, instruct, and encourage my daughters to pursue what is pure and good, how often do I think about them as potential sisters in Christ? I can help them recognize the right path and seek to restore them when they veer onto the wrong path. When I am disciplining one of my girls, I may even go beyond misbehavior and shepherd her heart motivations. But like an older brother in Christ, am I willing to confess my own sin and repent before my daughters as well? If not, I’m in danger of being a graceless dad.

An equal but opposite temptation beguiles me as a pastor. Because evangelism and discipleship are chief parts of my job description, I’m tempted to embody the role of an elite fixer. In the midst of preparing lessons and managing programs, I too easily forget that God has called me to equip parents to evangelize and teach their own children. Beyond that, I tend to forget just how hard it is for parents to live out the doctrines of redemption and consummation before their children when so many other things dominate their time. Field hockey practice, allergy shots, carpool, and the school Christmas party (not to mention a broken leg, a broken marriage, or unemployment) tend to push ideal times of family worship to the side. If I lack an awareness of the real needs parents in our church experience each day, then the gospel I’m preaching is essentially a gnostic one, that is, a spiritual message that is abstracted from embodied life in the real world.

Praise God for a Savior who doesn’t struggle with seeing ministry through only one or two parts of the biblical storyline. In Christ Jesus, God became man and lived among us. He united our beauty and brokenness in his flesh. He brought redemption, and he’s bringing about the consummation of the kingdom through his church.

I’m particularly thankful for some renewed ways evangelical churches are living out Christ’s more holistic ministry in our time. Renewed emphases on orphan care and social justice for children, for example, help us fight against a graceless or over-spiritualized life. My prayer is that family ministry in our churches embodies the truth of every part of the biblical storyline. I pray that we have more grounded ministry that helps leaders move from merely ‘running a department’ or ‘leading a bunch of programs’ to truly ministering to families in a way that better images forth the Savior’s mission.

Reflection Activity

Author Megan Marshman has developed a reflection activity using sticky notes that has helped our team be more aware and intentional about the needs of families in our community. It is helping us focus our ministry where it is most needed. I hope it helps you as well:

  • Write the words Home and Church on a white board. Draw a gap in between.
  • Under Home, write the particular parts of the biblical storyline that are typically emphasized by parents—Creation and Fall—as well as the danger—Graceless Family—when our focus is on these parts of the storyline in isolation from the end of the story.
  • Under Church, write the particular parts of the biblical storyline that are typically emphasized by pastors and ministry staff—Redemption and Consummation—as well as the danger—Overly Spiritualized Ministry—when our focus is on these parts of the storyline in isolation from the beginning of the story.
  • Next, use yellow sticky notes to write down the various programs your ministry offers (VBS, small groups, family fun night, leadership training, discipleship retreats, midweek, Sunday school, youth camps, etc.). Use a different note for each program. Place these notes on the board under the word Church.
  • Next use a new color of sticky notes to write down the real needs or struggles of individuals and families in your ministry (such as depression, loneliness, divorce, drug or alcohol abuse, inappropriate sexuality, apathy, anger, etc.). Use a different note for each need or struggle. Place these notes on the board under the word Home.
  • Draw a line from each yellow note to each of the needs that particular program meets or addresses. Circle the sticky notes that remain, and ask the following questions: Why are there unmet needs in your current ministry structure? How might those needs be met considering your limited financial or people resources? Can you partner with other churches or para-church ministries to match their ministries to the needs of your church? Or why do you have a program that isn’t meeting the specific needs of your church? How can you use these programs to help other churches in your area?

For more reflections on holistic family ministry, see the following:

  • Rob Plummer, “Bring Them Up in the Discipline and Instruction of the Lord,” in Trained in the Fear of God: Family Ministry in Theological, Historical, and Practical Perspective, edited by Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2011), pp. 45-59.

  • Timothy Paul Jones, Family Ministry Field Guide: How Your Church Can Equip Parents to Make Disciples, (Indianapolis: Wesley Publishing, 2011).

  • Michelle Anthony and Megan Marshman, 7 Family Ministry Essentials: A Strategy for Culture Change in Children’s and Student Ministries, (David C. Cook, 2015).

This post originally appeared at AmICalled.com

Family Friday Links 3.24.17

Pat AldridgeComment

Here's what we've been reading online this week:

Ryan Frederick had a post on the Fierce Marriage site on comparison. He wrote, "Comparisons stifle progress; only truth in light of the gospel causes real growth." While we usually compare ourselves to other in unhealthy and unhelpful ways, there is a comparison that we do make. It's in the post, go read it.

Dan Temple had a post on the A Word to Parents site on parents serving in kids ministry. It lists 4 reasons why this is a good idea. He is well reasons and this post is convicting. This is critical for churches and parents to think through.

Our friend Sam Luce had another great post on helping kids navigate cultural engagement. He warns, "We will never be cultivators of culture or teach our kids to survive and thrive in the complexity of being exiles in a culture that will destroy them if they only learn how to respond with a singular fixed posture." This is a great post for parents, especially parents of tweens and teens.

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

Discerning A Call

Jeff HutchingsComment
For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
— Philippians 1:8-11

As a pastor, I'm often asked, "How do I know God's will when I have to make a difficult decision?" This is difficult question because it is usually tied to a potential, significant change in the person’s life. Change creates anxiety in most of us. We are concerned about whether we're going to make the right decision. What will happen if I choose poorly? Will this ruin my life?

At this point of near panic, I usually encourage friends to take a deep breath. Seek the Lord in prayer. Often we pray together, asking for peace, wisdom, and discernment in making the decision. The question isn’t if change will happen, but when it will happen. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “Change is the only constant in life.” Every person goes through changes and needs discernment for life's big decisions.

So, how do you make decision about your calling? 

Recently, I had a significant decision to make. Our church leadership asked me to consider a new position, Pastor of Connections. The new role focuses on assimilating newcomers into the church and cultivating a volunteer culture. Frankly, the decision was a difficult. It would be a significant change for my family and for me. I have been a Pastor of Families for ten years. It's the only position I have had at The Journey. Over that decade, I've studied family ministry, gained experiences in pastoring and caring for families, and I've built a network of relationships with other family pastors (including these two jokers I blog with).

As I processed this new opportunity, I found myself asking, "How will I respond to a new role and new rhythms of life?" Tim Keller gives three factors to help ministers and potential ministers identify their calling. These factors are affinity, ability, and opportunity. First, Keller encourages us to look inward and evaluate our passions. Who are the people to whom we are most drawn? Second, a minister must seek feedback to make an assessment of his abilities and deficiencies. Ask, "For what opportunities am I most gifted?" Finally, there is only a true calling if there is an opportunity or opening. So the minister should ask, "Where am I needed? Where is there an opportunity available?"  These questions guided me as I considered whether or not I should accept this new role. 

I used these questions as a blueprint as I talked to friends inside and outside my local church for guidance. The process was encouraging and clarifying. My friends helped me to see who I am and what I am called to do for Christ. They helped me my giftings  see that the Pastor of Connections role is a good fit. What began as a decision filled with anxiety because of all the change before me transformed into an exciting opportunity that I'm excited to explore. So, as you may know if you're part of our local church, I have happily accepted a new position as Pastor of Connections at The Journey - Tower Grove.  

I will continue to contribute here to the Gospel Centered Family blog. I will be sharing some lessons I'm learning about hospitality and cultivating our volunteer culture. 

One of my takeaways from this discernment process is that I need to evaluate my calling more often. In the eight years I have been at The Journey, I had never taken the time to do this. Looking back, I believe it would have been helpful to regularly receive challenge and encouragement to confirm where I am called to be and to whom I am summoned to minister. 

Wherever you are serving, I would encourage you to seek feedback about your current role--whether you are a volunteer or a staff member at a church. When was the last time you evaluated your affinity, ability, and opportunity?

**Note from the editor: If you are discerning a call, you may also consider reading the book, Am I Called? The Summons to Pastoral Ministry by Dave Harvey

Family Friday Links 3.17.17 (St. Patrick's Day Edition)

Jeff HutchingsComment

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I hope you remembered to wear your green,  Timothy Paul Jones wrote about the True Story of St. Patrick. Dr. Jones writes, “But Patrick wasn’t actually Irish, and no pinches or parties or shades of green played any significant role in his story, as far as anyone knows. His story does, however, have much to do with forgiveness, faithfulness, and the gospel of Jesus Christ.” 

Ruth Ripkin on the International Mission Board website wrote an article about 3 Ways to teach your kids to pray for the persecuted church. Ruth writes, “God hears and responds to the prayers of children who know him. Rather than shielding your children from the realities of suffering for Jesus’s name, lead them to pray boldly on behalf of the persecuted.” Help cultivate a heart for the nations in the next generation. 

This week I read a blog written for Pastor's wives who are experiencing burnout but the blog is good for anyone experiencing burnout. Erin Wheeler on the Gospel Coalition writes, “Too often, we toil in our own strength and then wonder why we’re so exhausted. Like oxygen masks on an airplane, we must attach ourselves to the oxygen of God’s Word before we’re any use to others suffocating on the fumes of this world.” May we all ask for God’s grace about fighting burning out. 

Sam Luce shared out this week about the books you should read in your first year of Kidmin. Please check out this book list for your growth and maturity. Please comment if there are books that you love that you would recommend for others to read! 

Please comment what you have you been reading this week!