Church planting could be the best thing for your kids

kids

Planting a church is a privilege as well as a huge challenge. As I’m in the gathering stage right now, from time to time, I come across “the children barrier” in folks who might be otherwise interested in coming alongside such a risky venture. Even though some people may be excited about the vision, the problem may lie within the realm of this question: “what about the children?”  Christian parents, and probably even those with a merely moral framework, are concerned about their children being taught, or at the very least entertained, well. And the latter is a good concern.

I guess you could say, I believe the late Whitney Houston. Children in some ways are the future (the present too), so “teach them well and let them lead the way.” But how and where we teach them is also quite important. So is the “what! I really do think these are good questions to ask but I don’t think answering them the way they have been answered in the past 50 years is necessarily the best way to go forward.

I don’t think leaving to form a core group is detrimental for the child’s growth. In fact, I think, it could be much the opposite with some intentionality. Of course this isn’t only an issue with church planters, but for established churches where folks sometimes bolt for a “better” children/youth ministry.

Here are some things I’ve been mulling over in my head. Hopefully they make a little sense.

1.) Many people don’t recognize that the primary place for children’s Christian Education is in the home. Now of course, vital children’s ministries can and should assist parents. And I realize some parents just don’t take responsibility, so a vital children’s ministry is all that some kids get. God is faithful. Nevertheless, if a parent takes the time to disciple his/her children, the child will more often than not grow in his/her faith. Parents + Children’s Ministry + Adult Interaction/Service is not a secret formula but it seems to me more of God’s design for producing young disciples.

2.) If vital children’s/youth ministries were all that were needed, then we would see large percentages of kids connecting to a church when they leave for college. We don’t. The formula of solely running the kids through the grid of activities just doesn’t work. We Christians are a bit slow to recognize thing sometimes. So the lack of a vital children’s/youth ministry at the start-up of a new church will not stunt the growth of our children.

3.) Eventually, as the church gets “up and running,” children’s and youth ministries may take off. And parents then have the opportunity to play a part in their formation. This is one of the “fun” parts of starting new churches. It might just be a short matter of time before such ministries can supplement what you are already doing at home.

4.) Not everyone, and you could argue, not most people are called to form a core group to start a new church. But for those that do, here’s something to think about. Is it possible that leaving behind an existing church to form a new one could actually be a catalyst for growth in your children’s faith? One church planter’s daughter actually asked her Dad, “What’s that building?” It was a church. She just knew the church was God’s people gathered together. It was God’s people, not a building. Can’t put a price tag on that! For us, who left behind a great children’s ministry, we’ve seen our five year old’s faith grow.  We’ve walked around the block before and prayed with the kids that we would meet some new neighbors. When a church plant doesn’t have people or property, you simply have to ask God for just about everything. Things we never asked God for, we now have the opportunity to ask God for with our children. Don’t think that asking God for such things alongside of your children won’t have a big impact in their lives. Not only that, but we regularly teach our five year old that we are starting this church because many folks don’t know Jesus or have a church in this area. Teaching in the context of dreaming and doing.

5.) Before church plants can have fully developed ministries, existing churches can and do play a big role. Other churches may have children’s ministries that are fairly affective because they have the volunteers, the practice, and the facilities. I know of one which assists many parents in the area, yet many of those parents go to different churches. In the same way, such a church can partner and make the church planting process a bit smoother when folks desire such ministries. This may work for a season until something is up and running, or it may just continue to be a valuable asset for years.

In the end, starting a new church, because (not in spite of) it is such a faith stretching endeavor, is full of opportunities for your children to grow in their faith. Being a part of a core group is not for everyone. Please hear me say that. But for those whom God has called to join Him in a specific new work, it could end up actually being the best thing for your children. I’ve seen this time and time again with folks who’ve planted before me.

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How many leaders you got? Now that’s a better question

The other day I received a similar question to the ones mentioned in my previous post. The question, probably posed out of mere curiosity, provoked a little more thought than the standard: “how many you got” type questions. Instead of how many kids do you have, it was more like, “How many leaders do you have?”

That is a different type of question and one that deserves a little more positive dissecting.

One common thread I’ve noticed the past several years in books/articles I’ve read, seminars attended, ministry leaders I’ve talked with, and years of extensive personal experience/reflection is that the kids who walk with Jesus have several things in common. 

And having one dynamic youth leader really isn’t tops on the list. But what seems to always be present is that the youth have had a number of adult relationships. Perhaps it looks like adults investing in their lives through a youth group, Sunday School, mentoring, or simply an “unstructured” but invested relationship involving hospitality, normal activities, or a retreat. 

One youth leader, and/or two parents are not enough. It’s a great start, but kids need multiple adult relationships. By the way, I’m not de-emphasizing parent-child discipling relationship for that is primary; I’m merely emphasizing the responsibility of those in the covenant community. The principle “the more the merrier” could not be more apropos.

So here is the kicker: kids aren’t going to naturally seek out adults. Adults have to seek them out. That may look like volunteering to teach Sunday School or youth group. That may look like filling in as a sub from time time. That may look like simply doing something very novel and creative: trying to talk with them on a Sunday morning. It may look like serving alongside of them as they rake leaves or participating in fantasy football with them. It may look like inviting them over to share a recipe or grab a latte. Regardless, if you are an adult male/female without a record who loves Jesus and currently has a pulse, you can play a part. Take that first step.
They actually do like adults. And they need adults. But they probably won’t take that first step, and we probably shouldn’t expect them to. 

When I prayed for the graduates last Sunday, I thanked God for the number of adults who were involved in their lives. I’m hopeful for these kids leaving school. For the most part, they are connected to other youth and adults.

I’m hopeful in a God who is faithful even when we as parents, youth leaders, or the rest of the church are faithless. But I’ll take that as encouragement instead of a license to laziness. We often think of our kids in this way: “We ONLY have 18 years with them and so need to take advantage of this time.” But for some reason I don’t think we often view our covenant children with the same sense of urgency. Time is of the essence.

Thanks for all of you who have invested in not only your children, but the children of others. I hope you realize how important that time and relationship really are in the eyes of your Heavenly Father. Whatever the impact you notice or fail to notice (remember sometimes the impact isn’t seen for years down the road, and sometimes there may not be the impact we desire), remember it isn’t that type of “numbers game.” And remember Henry Lyte’s hymn Jesus I My Cross Have Taken, “Think what Spirit dwells within thee, think what Father’s smiles are thine….” Those are the only smiles you need to motivate and remind you that you cannot fail.

Thoughts from the 2020 conference

This past weekend, several close friends and I drove up to Butler PA to attend the C.E.P. 2020 Conference. The overall ministry projection, desire, and prayer was for the church to make disciples who make disciples. Several speakers specifically described such disciples as Kingdom disciples and further defined them as having 1.) Heart that loves King Jesus 2.) Mind that thinks like King Jesus 3.) Lives of service to others. Basically it was the same vision we already have put in place at Redeemer with the Head, Heart, Hands model.
But what was new was the tangible expectation of producing disciples from our children who would be discipling others. The plan is a 10 year plan. Not a 20 year plan. A 10 year plan. That means that if parents and church partner together, that by age 14, he/she would be ready in some way to make disciples. I’ve always believed that youth will only rise to the level that is expected of them. As a result, I’ve conceptually raised the bar, and begun to practically put in place opportunities for them to serve. But I’m not sure that I’ve practically put structures into place for them to actually disciple others. 
Much of discipleship is informal. Philippians 4:9 shows us both content (what you’ve learned, heard), but also informal (what has been “seen in me.”) This stuff was already on my heart due to a timely text message from a parent the past week, so now the fire to practically put something in place is scorching my back side.
Straight shooter Sue Jakes reminded us of a very simple application of the scriptural truth: children are a blessing. If that is the case, how are we as a covenant community ministering together to our covenant children? Not YOUR kids, but YOUR CHURCH’s kids. I’ve heard several times in my ministry over the years, “I just don’t like kids.” Sue Jakes shared with us a simple response: “Repent.” If children are a blessing, then we can’t just “wash our hands of them.” That children are a blessing is not specific or particular conviction, it is a timeless truth. That we disciple our covenant children is not specific or particular conviction, it is a timeless command. 
What that command looks like can be all across the board. Nursery or 2-3 year old church (we start discipling these kids at age 2), children’s church (4-1st grade), Sunday School, youth group. These are formal structures in place for passing on “what we’ve learned/received/heard” but much of discipleship is informal (“seen in me.”) At the conference, I could tell many folks’ answer to discipleship was simply “do Sunday School and do it better.” But the speakers challenged us all with the plethora of informal ministry opportunities to disciple our covenant children. 
To be regularly involved in Sunday School requires some teaching gifts. To be regularly involved in youth ministry requires a certain amount of, well, maybe insanity. But to be involved in some sort of informal relationship with children/youth requires a pulse and a love of Jesus. That’s it.
Do things with them. Even the introverted sound guy, can bring a youth along with him to help set up, troubleshoot, etc… When you pass out bulletins, pass them out with a child. When you greet, don’t just greet with a smile; greet with a kid.
Talk to them. Simple things like getting to know the names of other children/youth in the church. Talk to them. Ask questions about them and their lives. None of this stuff requires you to be “marooned” in a nursery or class room for an hour and half. It involves you simply taking time to look at those children/youth and around you and move towards them. That’s it.
In the end, if you don’t make any effort to somehow involve yourself with our covenant children, you don’t have a problem with kids/youth; you a problem with God. They need you and you need them. I don’t want to see more kids go off to college and not come back to the church. More than that, we want disciples that are salt and light outside the church. Be a disciple and make disciples. It’s for the church. It’s for you.

Money and Ministry: the lack of one doesn’t necessarily hurt the other

Most churches, church members, pastors would prefer larger budgets, because larger budgets can mean more ministry to others inside and outside the church. Ministry does cost something. It costs time, commitment, and money. So churches need to take in tithes, which in turn fund budgets; a budget is just a bunch of numbers unless there is actually money in the bank. And this article in World Magazine explains that tithing is at its lowest in 41 years. This study was done with mainline churches, which already seem on the decline-so obviously tithing will be declining. Yet as I hear from other evangelical churches, the tithing tragedy probably affects many churches in America. I don’t want to get into the “why,” but how churches, can do more with less.

First of all, instead of an alarmist “sky is falling b/c the church has less money” mentality, we probably need a bit of perspective. As above stated, larger budgets can mean more ministry. They can, but they don’t necessarily mean more ministry is actually being done. Like a parent who gives his/her youth 20 dollars for fast food on a one day retreat-and doesn’t ask for the change back-we know that money that can be spent, will be often be spent. Because it can. 
But when money is tighter, we have the option to examine what needs to be spent, versus what can be spent. Sometimes it can mean that we are better stewards of God’s money. Sometimes it can mean we truly do more with less.
For instance, you might have 500 budgeted dollars for a fellowship event. With that money, you could cater bbq. It would be tasty. Or let’s say you had 50 dollars, or even nothing. You could just have the church go potluck. This way, you save money, and the food is probably nearly as good. Plus you involve the congregation. You can involve your family in preparation, and teach them about fellowship and giving to others that which is good and precious to you (its kind of hard for me to share good food).  I would say more ministry has just happened because you had less money.
Don’t equate budgeted/spent money with an illusion that more ministry is actually happening or the opposite as well: less money=less ministry.
Much ministry doesn’t cost much money.
Think of C.D. groups (community/discipleship) or whatever you call them (small groups, Life Groups, community groups), how much do those things cost? The price of electricity, water/sewer, and a dessert. Not much. Yet I’ve seen first hand people come to faith, grow in the faith, begin to serve the church, and want to bring those outside the church in. Real life-changing ministry often happens on the cheap. In relationships. In community. 
Most of us do like to pay for ministry more than do ministry ourselves. That way we don’t have to enter into the mess, and get messy. But for the price of a cup of a coffee, you can meet with and minister to someone who is going through a tough marriage, dealing with a tough child, a tough illness, has a tough question, tough sin struggle, etc….For the price of a cup of coffee, or a donut (that’s what I do every Wed morning) you can meet with and disciple someone who is younger in the faith than you. And then THEY can start ministering to others. Good things happen. Relationships are costly in terms of time and emotion, but they are also cheap in terms of money. And yet the yield is tenfold. 
Ministry still does cost some money.

I don’t have a budget for our CD group to purchase materials. So we (my co-leader and I) just buy the materials ourselves. A novel thought-things we can buy, we should buy. I think 10 dollars every 3-4 months is probably not that big of an investment. Other groups do the same thing, and we’re seeing the fruit. Ministry doesn’t stop when the tithing drops. 
Instead of a traditional VBS (which had nothing really to do with lack of funding), I wanted to try something more outward focused. So we did a “Kids Club” at a local income restricted apartment complex. People were HAPPY to donate to this. We spent very little, and yet were able to share the gospel with a more kids than came to our VBS. Then we turned around and did 2 “Bible Clubs” for kids in our church and neighborhood friends. Some members donated stuff and we spent little. But some folks spent little or nothing, because other folks donated and spent some money, and were glad to do it.
A neighborhood Xmas party, small group Xmas party where you invite unchurched friends to doesn’t cost much more than a normal Xmas party you might already throw. I’ve done several of these out of my house and seen youth step up and lead well. It doesn’t show up in the church budget, but it is ministry. And it does cost you some. It cost several involved families money, but I think they were happy to spend some. Isn’t the ministry opportunity an eternal investment?
Something that Amy and I will be doing is buying the Jesus Storybook Bible for some of our unchurched friends-who still, thankfully, think Jesus is cool. Lifeway is selling them for 5 dollars on either Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Tim Challies is updating all of the deals on his website. Just scroll down to find the apropos post. This will cost you some money, but it will be worth it. If you don’t have one for your toddler-Kindergartener, get it. You’ll be hooked and handing them out to neighbors. We already have, and will be doing it some more this Xmas.
Ministry does cost. Sending missionaries cost money. Sunday School material costs money. When someone calls and legitimately needs money, that, obviously costs money. So I hope that people tithe and give generously to the local church, to missions, church planting, and other personal/group ministry opportunities.  Ministry cost some money, but it costs more time than money. It costs YOU. If you find yourself lamenting that your particular church can’t do as much as you’d like it to do, consider all of the many cheap (and costly) that are waiting for you. You might have missed them if your budget/tithing was bigger. And in the end, Jesus said we find our life by giving it away (Matthew 10:39).