Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How to talk about God at home

Inspiration for this post came from Jeremy Lee at www.parentministry.net, a resource site that promotes effective ministry to parents and encourages parental involvement in their kids' spiritual journey.

Want your kid's faith to last? We all do. Otherwise, what good was the time you invested when they were children, reading to them, bringing them to church, answering their questions?

And the old line about "we're just planting seeds" that will bring kids back to the church once they hit their late 20s doesn't work anymore. We do need to be concerned about kids leaving the church (various studies say 70-80% of churched kids will leave after graduating high school) for the same reason we've always been concerned: because ages 15-25 are a critical decade of life. It's when you decide where to go to school, what to do with your life, who to date and possibly marry, where to live...how many decisions did you make between 15 and 25 that dramatically affected the path of your life? (On top of that, people are waiting much longer to get married. By the time they have kids, their lives have already settled into routines that do not include church.)

Now get this: children who have faith-based conversations in their homes are 300% more likely to stay in church after leaving home. (As cited by Jim Burns and Jeremy Lee.)

Not lectures or indoctrination, but conversations.

What do these conversations look like? Jeremy Lee from parentministry.net recently described three different forms these talks might take.

1. "As-you-go" conversations. These are not initiated by your kid, but they're also not planned by you. Instead, you find ways to infuse faith into the conversation. What you're doing here is really "weaving". Just like a single thread can affect or change the look of a piece of woven fabric, when we "weave" allusions to God and spiritual language into our everyday conversation, it gracefully brings spirituality into everyday life. Notice I did not say that it "makes an impact", because it may not - at that moment. Nor is it guaranteed to change your kid's mind, or even launch them into an extended discussion.

But what it does do is make something abstract, concrete. Lee used the example of being at the beach with his sons, and "drifting" down the shore. When they turned around to walk back, and his sons asked him how to know where to get back, Lee told them to look for their beach chairs. Then he said to them:

"Use that as your marker and let's walk back. You know, that kind of reminds me how God is for me, because we kind of drifted away and we needed a center point for where we wanted to be. Do you know that's how God is for me in my life? When I don't know whether something is right or wrong, or if I don't know what I should do, or if I don't know what is true or what is false, God and the Bible and my faith - they're like those beach chairs. They give me something to look at; something to know where I'm supposed to be going in life."

Quick and pithy, as-you-go conversations allow you, as a parent, to talk about your own faith. The fact that waves at the beach could remind you of God's stable presence in your own life demonstrates for your kids that your faith reaches beyond church to touch all of life, that your own relationship with God is an important part of who you are (it's something you think about, even away from church), and that reminders of God at work are all around us.

2. Kid-initiated conversations. Remember that kids' questions aren't a cause for alarm! It means their built-in curiosity is at work. When kids ask, shoot a quick prayer to God, thanking Him that their God-given curiosity has been sparked.

A couple of thoughts:
Don't overwhelm them with your answer. If our answer becomes a lecture, kids will be less likely to ask in the future (because who liked getting lectured?).

Turn the question back on them. If it's bothering them enough to ask you, chances are they've already done some deep thinking of their own, and have come to a tentative conclusion. So it's not a bad idea to let them answer first, because their own answer - while not definitive to them - reveals a lot about what their real question or concern is. For example, if a kid asks, "Did our dog go to heaven when he died?" and you come back with, "What do you think?", your child might say something like, "I think so, because he was a good dog, and I want to see him again." That answer points to their real question, which is, "Am I going to like it in heaven?" If you just answer, "yes" or "no", you'll never get at the underlying issue, which touches on your kid's trust in God, His goodness to us, and why eternal life has value.

Don't be afraid to say "I'm not sure"...even if you are! Admitting you don't know shows humility, and teaches that for a lot of our questions, there aren't simple answers. Then help your kid find the answer. Show them how to use a Bible, a concordance, a commentary, or other source (801 Questions Kids Ask about God is a good one).

Why would I say "I'm not sure" if I already know the answer, instead of just giving them the answer? Because this is also an opportunity to demonstrate for them how to find answers. So you might say, "I'm pretty sure it's ___________, and here's why I think that," or, "Let's look at a couple of things the Bible says about it, and see if we can figure it out."

3. Strategic, parent-planned conversations. These can be family devotions (ooh - big topic for another week), talks centering on a particular issue like bullying or drugs or "The Talk" (here's a great resource for that) or more formal things like a rite of passage. These can be the hardest, because while you're geared up for it, your kid may not be. That's why as-you-go and kid-initiated conversations trump parent-planned ones, because kids are more receptive.

Some thoughts:
Don't make it a lecture... Think dialogue. A give and take.

...but don't start by saying, "What questions do you have?", either. You have to give them something to chew on. You're setting the parameters of the discussion, but you'll probably have to ask them questions at the start before they'll offer some of their own.

Don't let yourself be disappointed with the outcome. Lee says that when it comes to rite of passage talks he's had with his kids, "Sometimes it's fabulous and amazing, and other times, it's like, 'ok, thanks' and there's no real reaction. But you know what? That's not my job. My job is not to determine their reaction; my job is to just show up and be strategic."

Above all, talking about faith and spirituality at home brings the subject out into the open. It normalizes it. It heals the separation we may have introduced between "God stuff" and "the rest of life." And it establishes you, the parent - the most willing, consistent, and persistent influence in a kid's life - as a trustworthy person to consult about all of life.

Monday, October 20, 2014

What we've done with Harvest Party

by Matt & Tammy Gollaher. Note: Matt Gollaher is the pastor to college & young adults at NCCC; he and Tammy have two daughters.
The Harvest Party and Halloween are two great outreach opportunities. We like the fact that NCCC does the Harvest Party on a different night than Halloween. We see the Harvest Party as a great opportunity to invite our neighbors to our church community.

Harvest Party is a great event that is free (except for the food and those booths are fairly cheap). There is a variety of games, rides and shows that are age and theme appropriate and safe.  The campus has a security staff that seeks to ensure families' safety and enjoyment. Having two separate times is helpful in cutting down the crowds and allowing for an earlier time for younger children.

Our girls love it because it's another opportunity to get dressed up and play with their friends. So this outreach event is one where we invite our friends and neighbors in our community to join us. I always bring home a stack of fliers for our girls (four and six years old) to pass out to their neighborhood friends. They take them to their doors as an invite. The majority of invites are for those in our neighborhood that we are already in relationship with and occasionally we invite a new family as an entry point into relationship. We then make plans to meet up with the families we've invited on that night. The kids from a lot of these same families have been involved in Kids Games or Max Sports Camps, and their families have even joined us for Christmas, Easter Sunrise and Freedom Fest services and events.

Halloween is another great - if not greater - outreach opportunity. Just like our Superbowl Sunday night focus at NCCC, where Mark Foreman challenges us to join in our communities outside of church and be “Salt & Light” at Superbowl parties, Halloween can give you that same opportunity.  Your neighborhood and neighbors are alive on this day and night, interacting with one another. On Halloween we usually plan with our neighbors to meet and eat together potluck style before we trick or treat. Then we as families walk the neighborhood together, watching our children and chatting about life. Then we spend more time on our driveway passing out candy to our neighbors and many more visitors. This outreach event is us seeking to use current pathways or opportunities to be Christ.

Be intentional in community in both of these outreach events and seek what God does. In our experience over the last ten years of going to NCCC, He has only blessed our neighborhood relationships.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Do You Really Want Your Kid to be Like Jesus?

Gary Oliver and H. Norman Wright published a book called "Raising Kids to Love Jesus" in 1999. In chapter 3, Norman Wright asks a provocative question: Do You Really Want Your Child to be Like Jesus? At first blush, the answer appears to be yes. After all - What Would Jesus Do? And Christlike attitudes and behaviors - aren't they the point of Christian parenting?

But what does "be like Jesus" really mean?

"If Jesus were here today, who would His followers be? We may not want to consider them. They would probably dress differently from those with whom we worship in church...

Do you know what you are asking your son or daughter to become? You are saying, "Don't fit in! Be different to the extent that others question you, wonder about you, shake their heads about you, aren't sure whether you'll make it in their group, their clique or their organization." You are asking your child to be a nonconformist to the status quo.

You may be uncomfortable reading this right now. Jesus was a man who looked at what was going on in the world - the society, everyday life around Him - and said, "This isn't good." He looked at the way people were living and essentially said, "That's the easy way to live. But it's not good." He confronted the destructiveness of people's lifestyles, which wasn't very popular with the establishment. He encouraged people to live a life that would be very different and contrary to the establishment. He also claimed that only a few would be willing to live that kind of life. Jesus called people to live a risky, different kind of life - one that promised peace, but a peace different from that which the world around us gives.

Do you know what Jesus preached? Nonconformity. He was different. Do you want your child to be seen the same way He was? Others saw Him as an eccentric, which is contrary to our desire for popularity and comfort. He was also seen as a heretic by the religious leaders of that time...

So do you want your child to be like Jesus? I'm sure you want your child to behave in a Christlike manner. We all do. But Jesus wants more than that. He wants us to have His mind in all of its fullness. We may be satisfied with behavioral change, but God wants a mind change. The mind has always been more important to God than our behavior." (H. Norman Wright and Gary Oliver, Raising Kids to Love Jesus, (c) 1999, pp. 41-43)

Compelling stuff. Here's why it matters.

Somewhere along the way, Jesus picked up an undeserved reputation as a mild-mannered lightweight. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild. But whether or not Jesus was Mr. Rogers to everyone he met isn't the important thing. What's important was his motivation. Jesus was determined to turn the world away from self and self-reliance, which is sin, to Him and Him-reliance.
Consider the words he spoke to people after personal encounters:
  • "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."
  • "Son, your sins are forgiven."
  • "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
  • "Return home and tell how much God has done for you."
  • "Woman, you are set free from your infirmity."
  • "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."
  • "Go now and leave your life of sin."
He may have been gentle in his approach to them, but his message was never, "Stay unchanged."

Part of "success" in spiritual training means discerning what direction God is moving, and then joining in step with that. If we try to push against or across the current, we are doomed to frustration.

Our direction is shown by our message. What direction do we perceive God is moving? What is that message?
  • "Retreat"?
  • "Be safe"?
  • "Be nice"?
  • "Seek comfort"?
  • "Fit in"?
Are these "Christian values"? Who says so? I once heard someone tell a group of kids, "Jesus doesn't want us to be angry." Well, I'm not so sure. I think Jesus was plenty angry at some of the things he saw wrong in the world - and it motivated him.

As your kids grow up and discover the problem of homelessness, would you rather that they be angry and unsettled about it, or comfortable with it? When they learn that large numbers of elderly adults are homebound and never get visitors, do you want your kids to be bothered by that, or ok with it? If they hear that in some countries, educating girls is illegal or discouraged, do you want them to be spurred to action, or paralyzed by indifference?

What if we encouraged kids to understand the problems in their school or their community? Then they might appreciate the human predicament and how hard change is, instead of clinging to a shallow understanding that we can change ourselves by willpower. Seems pretty biblical to me. How about urging our kids to speak out against injustice, by standing up for kids who get bullied or excluded? How about taking your kids to "dangerous" places, where they might encounter the kinds of people society left behind? Surely these are the kinds of Christian values we want to instill, right?

If we aren't spending time and money preparing kids to advance into the world, but only to buy into the success-and-performance ethic of our culture, what are we actually asking them to follow?

Meet Jenni Balderson, 2nd & 3rd Grade Coordinator


I'm Jenni Balderson and I feel so privileged to be joining the the Early Elementary Children's Ministry team!

I have been married 11 years to my sweet, spontaneous, John Wayne-ish, surfer husband named Jim. Together we get to care for (and part-time homeschool) the most wonderful little people---Ezra (8), Santiago (6), and Violette (4).

I feel most alive while reading the Word with my morning coffee, running the shoreline on a cloudy day, watching my kids in the waves with their dad, growing with community, and most of all, sharing God's love with your kiddos and mine!

It is a joy to be serving here and I truly can't wait to partner with and build relationships with you and your kids! :)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Is There a Separate Gospel for Kids?

In just six weeks, I take the plunge. I'm getting married. Did you know that marriage involves two commitments? Yes, it's a commitment to the person you're marrying to be faithful to them. But that implies another commitment: to not look to anyone else to provide what your spouse was meant to provide. In the language of the old marriage vows, it was, "forsaking all others."

What beliefs are we asking kids to "forsake" when they become Christians?

Because Christianity is that kind of commitment. At the same time as we believe in the power of God to forgive and restore and regenerate us, we are simultaneously choosing to believe that nothing else can do those same things for us.

So when we mix the gospel with a heavy dose of character education, we are asking kids to make a dual commitment.

When we tell kids God is full of grace but only teach laws and rules, we are misrepresenting the God to whom we want them to be committed.

When we say things like, "Christians don't do that..." we are subtly communicating that God's acceptance comes with conditions.

On the other hand, when we say to them, "All you need to do is ask Jesus into your heart," we are teaching a superficial Christianity, failing to paint the picture of a life-transforming, all-encompassing gospel.

There is not a separate gospel for kids.

Just as you or I aren't saved by being "good", neither are they.

Just as you or I don't live as Christ's disciples by trying harder and gutting it out, neither do they.

Just as you or I don't persevere through trials by the power of positive thinking, neither should they.

And the things we are taught when we are young are very, very difficult to undo. Have you known any adults who say things like, "I'm not into religion - too many rules", or, "I don't need Christianity in order to be a good person"? I have too. Too many. That's why we need to get it right the first time.

Meet Our Early Childhood Team Leader, Angie Goode

Hi there!

I am so excited to be a part of the Early Childhood team here at North Coast Calvary Chapel!   I am thrilled to be able to be able to be a part of the babies- preschool age group not only because they are crazy cute, but that I get to watch them as they begin to learn about Jesus!   

So a little bit about me:

  • Grew up in a Christian home and accepted Jesus into my heart at church when I was four.  (Yes, I do remember praying with my Sunday School Teacher! ☺ ) 
  • I have been working with kids since I was 12 from being a babysitter, to volunteering at church throughout college, teaching preschool and tutoring kids from three years old  – 12th grade. 
  • My husband and I have been married for 15 ½ years and we have four kids: ages: 12, 11, 10, and 8 ½. 
  • I love reading, fun coffees, and  running (when I have a minute).
  • I am truly blessed to be a part of a great team and I am looking forward to meeting you all.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Meet Joan Stevenson, Elementary Department Leader

“Children are at the very center of life in the kingdom of God.” These words from Mark 10:8 (The Message) changed my life recently. I see life with God as an adventure. I want to be in the middle of the action, not missing one thing God has for me. So as I sat one morning with Jesus, contemplating stepping back onto staff with our Children’s Ministry, these words spoke to me. 

My husband and I have called NCCC home since 1997. I ran our junior high ministry from 1997-2003 until my son was born. Since that time, my husband and I have served in every age and grade of our awesome Children’s Ministry. For the past two years I have also had the privilege of being part of our Kids Games Team. 

I love our Kindergarten – Third Grade children and their families. These kids have the most incredible insights into who God is and their relationship with them. They are not just the future of the church. They are the church!  You should step in and see worship. You should see them lean in to soak up all they can of the Bible in our large group teaching time. You should hear their responses in small group time. This is truly the “very center of life in the kingdom of God”. 

I look forward to meeting you and I invite you come check out what is happening in our Kindergarten – Third Grade classes. Step into the action of Promiseland!

Who's On Your Kid's Team?

See also Part 1 of this series: A Big Job Ahead,
and Part 2: It's God's Work.

"Let's stay away from those kids until they're 18 before we begin winning their hearts and minds" ...said no marketer, ever.

A number of years ago, the African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child" re-entered public consciousness. Unfortunately, because of who the speaker was, the comment became a lightning rod for criticism and the phrase got tainted with political meaning. But call it what you will - a village, a team, a tribe - your kid needs one, and here's why.

As the "ecology" described by John Westerhoff (the interdependent network of institutions that propagated and nurtured Christian belief and values) eroded, what took its place was not nothing. Every society of every time period is governed by values. Today, we value choice, individualism, convenience, speed, quality...things which work against Christian spirituality and growth. And you don't have to consciously choose those values - just by living in 21st-century America, you absorb them!

This pic does not represent the culture we live in...
The point is, our lives are lived in the river of culture, not the lake. A lake is calm and peaceful. You can bob endlessly or float lazily on your air raft and never really go anywhere. But a river has current. Just trying to stay in one place takes effort. And moving upstream? It'll wear you out.
...But this one does!

Meanwhile, let's not forget that there's a team - no, an army - of people wanting your kid to buy into American consumer culture. The marketers have not taken a hands-off approach to your kid. Hollywood has a vested interest in winning your their hearts and minds at a very young age. Those who dictate style and fashion are not shy about telling your son or daughter what's stylish and fashionable. People who traffic - in sex, in drugs, in culture - are not conspiring to stay away from kids. Their very existence depends on getting your kid hooked.

Who's helping you paddle upstream? Who's in the village surrounding your kid? By "village" I mean the network of supportive adults and influences that are alongside you and your kid.

Is Miley Cyrus in the picture? Do you think she's working for your kid, or against them? How about the professional athlete your kid looks up to? The older kids at the skate park? Other kids' parents? Teachers? Coaches? They might be paddling your direction, or they might be shoving your kid into the current. But they're not neutral.

That's why you can't do it alone. And let me be clear what "it" is. In the past few years, it's become trendy for churches to assert that "parents should be the primary disciplers of their kids." Some have even gone so far as to advocate abolishing church youth and children's programs, claiming that scripture only supports "family-integrated" churches. It's a bogus distinction, because this is God's work. We don't own it - not parents, not churches. God's work, in the lives of God's kids. We are merely tending, not creating.

And an important part of the tending is creating an atmosphere (or environment, or village, or world - choose your favorite) that fosters growth by inclining your kid in the direction of God. Culture creation is a team sport. (Unless you are the exception. Great. But that doesn't mean someone else doesn't need you to be on their support team for their kid.) Who's on your kid's team?

Monday, September 22, 2014

It's God's Work

Ever been here? You've been put in charge of the details of an event or project. Shortly before it's due, the boss shows up and takes over. Your plan gets modified. Heavily. The whole thing, while in line with the boss' vision, looks quite different than what you'd laid you. Now, you feel A) annoyed (Why did I do all that work?), or B) relieved (This is gonna turn out great!).

By today's management standards, what I described above would not be a "best practice". It might just be a recipe for deflating morale! Good leadership means letting people take ownership of their work.

But who "owns" the work of kids' spiritual growth?

I think the Bible is really clear: it's God. (The answer is always "God" in church, right?) Consider what Paul said when the Christians in Corinth were fighting over their allegiance to Apollos, to Peter, and to Paul. Rather than lobbying for the "favorite pastor" award, Paul corrected them sharply - even going so far as to say that their quarrel revealed their worldliness. If they'd been seeing things as they actually were, they'd know that Paul, Apollos, Peter, and others were nothing but servants. Only God deserved the credit - because only God makes spiritual growth happen:

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)

What implications are there for us? If we're seeing with spiritual eyes, we recognize clearly that you and I and programs and curriculum and amazing camps and kid devotionals are only messengers and servants...but only God makes things grow.

The work of kids' spiritual growth is God's work. We just participate in it.

How? Last week I wrote about the particular "ecology" identified by John Westerhoff that supported Christianity and Christian spirituality, a cluster of institutions that included schools, schools, families, popular media, Sunday schools, and churches. A century ago, this ecology created a society that was very conducive to Christian thought and practice. Put simply, a person living then was constantly subjected to Christianizing influences.

To be sure, there were plenty of "cultural Christians" back then - people who embraced "Christian values" because it was all they knew. And while it may be tempting to accept that for your kid ("At least they have good morals and know right from wrong"), don't do it! Christianity that is only cultural and not personal lacks the power to transform. It claims the name, but underwhelms in its intensity.

Still, the "planting" and "watering" that Paul talks about is the work of ministry. Whether you are a parent, a ministry professional, a teacher, a mentor, or whoever - that is what we do: we create stable environments where things can grow. But - God makes them grow.

So we win when God wins, if our goals and priorities are aligned with his. If they're not, we need to check ourselves. Because to argue against what God is trying to do is foolish at best, and destructive at worst. "The wind blows wherever it pleases," Jesus said. "You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

I'm very wary of publishers who forecast the results we can expect to see in kids as a result of using their curriculum. That is not for a publisher to say. That takes the work from God and makes it our work. Instead, curriculum is secondary to the environment we establish - the ecology that will either support or diminish our kids' spiritual growth.

(Note: Establishing a healthy ecology and putting kids in a "Christian bubble" are two very different things. For one thing, people who've tried will tell you - there is no bubble. You cannot hide entirely from the culture; don't try. We are keeping kids in a bubble when we shun involvement with the larger culture, whereas salt-and-light Christianity would have us engaging with that culture.)

We all know well-meaning Christian parents who pushed too hard - and their kids rejected Christianity. We've all sat through sermons that were long on gee-whiz Bible details, but left us dry and unmotivated to live it out. Maybe you know kids, as I do, who know lots and lots about the content of the Bible...and they also have zero personal desire to read it. Those are not victories!

When the ecology works right, it succeeds in fostering attitudes that incline kids toward God. It doesn't magically grow a Christian. It can't. Because that's God's work.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Greetings from our new 4th-6th Grade Director, James Walton

Hey Parents,

Wanted to first let you all know how excited and passionate I am about being able to pour into the lives of your fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. As I enter into this ministry and seek God's heart for vision, direction and strategy on how to impact your kids, I want to first take the opportunity to introduce myself on a more personal note.

Most of you may know who I am through my famous mother Debbie Walton, and rightfully so. I would not be the man I am today without her influence and example in my life. However, God has particularly done a unique work in my life beyond the influence of North Coast Calvary Chapel.

I grew up in the church, with great examples and love in my life, but I did not find a personal love and devotion for my Savior until after I graduated high school in 2009. The summer after graduating I took a flight down to Chile, South America, and joined a school with a missions organization named "Youth with a Mission" (YWAM). The Lord really took hold of my heart in the first week and began a discipleship process in my life. I spent the next three months receiving great teaching from passionate and committed missionaries and then putting into practice everything that I had learned in the following two months.

Over the next four years I would spend about half the year ministering and serving with YWAM and the other half serving as an intern in the sport ministry here at North Coast Calvary. Between both ministries I have served in about seven different countries (USA, Mexico, Egypt, England, Chile, Argentina, Peru) and have had the privilege to see God move in different ways in each of them. I continued studying with YWAM through their "University of the Nations," where I completed a leadership training school and the school of the fundamentals of biblical counseling.

One of the aspects of this new opportunity to serve that excites me is the role I will have of imparting a lifestyle of discipleship to the hearts of your kids. I hope that through my own personal experiences and lifestyle, they will take to a deeper relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Thanks for your support and prayers and I look forward to serving with you in the discipleship of your kids.