Monday, January 26, 2015

Why School Flunks as a Model for Nurturing Faith in Kids

Why do most church programs for kids resemble school? The earliest Sunday school, in England, was not even intended to promote kids' spiritual growth so much as it was intended to civilize the working-class children who otherwise would be running the streets on Sundays, causing mischief. It was an instrument of social betterment, giving actual schooling (reading and writing) and a healthy dose of training in Christian virtues to illiterate kids who were otherwise destined for a life of manual labor.

But today's kids grow up in a vastly different world, one that recognizes that child labor is wrong, that everyone deserves an opportunity for education, and that celebrates upward mobility. Families clamor to get their kids into the right preschool, kids are reading at younger ages than ever, and attending college has long been the norm for American students.

Still, when it comes to nourishing kids' faith, we're stuck with an 18th-century model.

There are lots of reasons why the Sunday school caught on in America, but the driving purpose had more to do with taming the frontier, promoting national unity, and developing civic virtue than anything else. It's important to note that Sunday schools weren't run by churches. They were independent organizations (parachurch ministries, really) that often met in churches but were not led by pastors nor a substitute for attending a church worship service. It was fully expected that everyone who attended a Sunday school - adult or child - was also active and regular in Sunday church services. In other words, Sunday school was not intended to be a worship experience, nor the only thing that supported the development of kids' faith.

Today, although the trappings of "school" are largely absent from churches - tables and worksheets have been replaced by tech and games and dramas - the gist remains the same. One of the problems of doing church "like school" for kids is that information transfer is relatively static: teachers have it, students need it, and by diligent effort, they can get what they need. But that's not a picture of what goes on as we grow spiritually.

I can think of three reasons why putting all of our eggs in the "school" model is a bad deal for kids. One is that more knowledge does not = a better Christian. More specifically, knowing more things does not translate into greater or stronger faith. Kids themselves can be complete Christians. Do you believe that? Of course, we acknowledge that Jesus said "the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these (children)" and that "unless you have the faith of a child, you will never enter the kingdom of God". But do we truly take that to heart? Or do we harbor the same prejudice as the rest of the world, which imposes a "power & performance" metric on everything, concluding that because children are young and small and simple, that makes them "less than"?

The second is that kids don't come to us empty. They have varying degrees of experience with language about God, other churches, the Bible...and so it's a mistake to assume that "what they know" will be exactly equal to "what we told them" - or anywhere close. If kids are not just mouthing words back to us, but actually internalizing the knowledge of God that's confronting them, it will look very different from one kid to another, because our life experiences create different amounts of need and color our perspective.

The third is related to the second, in that kids' exposure, intake, and processing of the things of God doesn't stop when they walk out the door of the church. It's not sequential, the way I might learn to do algebraic equations or memorize foreign-language vocabulary. The processing takes shape as kids live their varied lives.

In light of that, what role does our teaching play? It's not that truth and facts about God don't matter at all, but the end goal is not knowledge; it's faith. Faith is a weird concoction that is centered in the soul. To develop it, it's not enough just to teach to the emotions. Certainly there's a big dose of motivation involved in faith, but I can't will myself to believe in nothing. On the other hand, an approach that teaches only to the brain doesn't work either. I can memorize lots of doctrine but utterly reject the idea that it's important enough to build my life around.

So how do I teach a soul? It's pretty difficult.

But take heart - God is already at work. As I alluded to in last week's post, in God, kids can have a living, breathing, 24/7 mentoring presence in their lives who is wiser and more available than you are. And when you consider that the ultimate goal is that kids would meet God - not just learn things about him - it makes sense that he's pretty central to the process, doesn't it?

So what if we thought a little bit differently about the task? What if we considered that even now, as you read this, God is in pursuit of your child? That he is working to make himself known, and extending an invitation for them to know him? Then it turns out that all the work we do isn't building upon nothing. Rather, we are coming alongside the work God is already doing, facilitating an introduction.

To do that, we have to be perceptive, because the channels God is using to reach each kid might vary from one to the next. And the way he wants to work in their lives surely varies. Where is God moving? What is he trying to do? Many times when I've taken counselors to summer or winter camps, I've advised them, "Don't get in the way of what the Holy Spirit is trying to do." If we find ourselves working at cross-purposes to, or even opposing, what God's trying to do, we'll find ourselves frustrated. Unnecessarily frustrated!

He is the lead teacher; we come alongside. We don't create anything; God is already alive. We need not package and deliver something grand and clever, or think that we must talk kids into loving good behavior. God's already got the plan, and it's far superior to any educational program we could plan, because it's the fullness of who he is. Bring kids to that; not to school.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Looking for a Good Mentor?

Does your kid need a mentor? Chances are they do. Especially as kids grow up, the presence of caring adults in their lives who share your vision and values becomes really important. The world is a big place, and you can't be everywhere at once. Fortunately, the church can help.

I'm asked from time to time if the church can provide mentoring. Frankly, I'd love to see it happen. I think it's a biblical ideal - if not a mandate. Logistically, it's really difficult. There are non-profit organizations that exist solely to match up boys and girls with older mentors. For them, it's time-consuming and labor-intensive, and even with the best of preparation, they can't guarantee a perfect fit.

Still, I understand and sympathize with the desire. Wouldn't it be nice to have someone walking alongside my child who could fill in the gaps, who could steer them in the right direction, who my kid could talk to about the things they don't feel they can talk to me about? I get it.

Having been on the non-parent side of things, I also understand mentoring's limitations. As it turns out, those who serve as mentors are ultimately limited just as parents are. It hurts to see kids who you've invested in turn and make poor decisions. Those missteps can cause you, as a mentor, to become better at what you do - more judicious in what you say and wiser in how you use your time with them. But they can also be healthy reality checks. Being too successful as a mentor can blind you to the reality of the human condition: namely, that we don't always make the best decisions for ourselves, and that freedom is essential for us to grow to maturity.

That's why as great as having flesh-and-blood mentors is, in the end the best thing we can do for kids is lead them into a mentoring-like relationship with God.

If you think about it, he is the perfect mentor. Wise? Check. Available at all times? Check. Able to speak truth to them amidst a swirl of contradictory advice from the world? Check. Able to let go and allow them to fail? Check. The thing is that God's mentorship of us is completely devoid of ego or the need to feel good by "giving back" or "making a difference". Those are benefits someone derives from serving in a mentoring capacity, but they can easily become the motivation. Instead, God's care for us - marked by his unfailing availability to us and presence in our lives - is driven entirely by his self-giving love. It will never get entangled in his need for self-affirmation; it will never become conditional on our acceptance of what he gives.

I don't know any mentor who has an unlimited supply of energy. I don't know any mentor who wouldn't get discouraged to see kids turn their back on the mentor's advice. I don't know any mentor who wouldn't be slightly annoyed to be ignored during good times, and then desperately called upon when they're needed to get someone out of a jam.

God is the one influence your kid will be able to carry with them always, who will appropriately give them freedom and space to grow yet also sustain them with grace. We do kids a disservice, then, when we only teach them about him but never lead them to encounter him. We sell kids short when we teach Christian values but don't lead them to discover the Christ who authored it all. We mislead kids when all we give them from the Bible is the Law, without shining a light on the character of the Lawgiver and his subsequent roles: Judge, Defense Attorney, Scapegoat, Savior.

If you're looking for a good mentor, teach your kids to really know God personally. As you do, allow them the freedom to discover him, recognizing that where there's freedom, there's often mistakes. Being a godly parent doesn't mean you'll have perfect kids. It means you imitate God in the way you balance mercy & consequences, grace & truth, all within an atmosphere of freedom.

Likewise, God makes no guarantees to you or I about the sequence or fruit of his work in your kid's life. When kids connect to God, he begins a work in them that results in transformation. Because it's accomplished through freedom and not coercion, it's a bumpy, winding road. But he will lead them there. Do we trust God to complete the work?

That trust entails letting go of our own expectations, and embracing radical trust that whatever God wills is what is good. It is relinquishing kids' development, not controlling it. It's letting the mentor - God - step to the fore, which seems backwards. In churches we are fond of saying that "parents are the primary disciplers of their kids" and everything else exists to support the parents' will. I think God has another plan, and it's for parents to subsume even their own influence to that of God. He is the discipler; everyone and everything else is a surrogate.

It would be audacious for any human mentor to suggest this: "I know you're the parent, but let me take over here." But that's exactly the exchange God proposes

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Coming in 2015

Here are some of the things we have planned for kids in 2015:
  • Our midweek program for parents and kids, The Harbor, returns January 28. Parents, if you have not checked out this program, we invite you to take a look. The program runs 6-7:30 on Wednesday nights for six weeks (we do not meet Ash Wednesday, February 18, so the program goes until March 11). 90-minute fun-filled program for kids, where they make friends, learn new skills, and discover more about God in our everyday lives. At the same time, parents can (but don't have to) drop in to one of the following classes: Boundaries with Kids, Essentials of Marriage: Higher Love, Single & Parenting (single moms), Mother-Daughter class (for girls 9+), and Will Our Kids Have Faith? - a groupthink on Millenials and the church. Most classes are free or come with a small materials fee. The kids program is always free. A meal for families is available starting at 5:15 (pre- registration required). Sign up for The Harbor here.
  • During Easter Week, our family-style Seder meal, "The Messiah in the Passover", returns! This is a wonderful, hands-on learning activity for the whole family, as we explore together the Jewish roots of the Christian faith and how the Messiah was the fulfillment of prophecy.
  • "What's The Story?", a six-week class for parents & kids 4th grade & up on understanding the Bible's Big Story, will be offered this spring once the chapel opens, and again in the fall. Stay tuned for more info! The follow-up class, "What's This Book?" on understanding the composition of the Bible and how to read it, will be offered this fall.
  • KidsGames 2015: "You Are A Difference Maker". Again this year, two weeks to choose from - June 22-26 and July 6-10.
  • 4th-6th Grade Summer Camp
Happy New Year and see you in 2015.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Finnish Carpenter

That accent.

You'll always remember that accent. Because it reminded you weren't dealing with just an ordinary American. It was rich, it was deep, and it ensured that I would always be called "Mahhk".

Jason Poznaks - June 27, 1971-December 15, 2014
The voice reminded you that he was a native Australian, and moreover, that he felt no urgency to blend, to lose his distinctiveness, to become an average American. He was comfortable standing out, comfortable going against the flow, comfortable speaking up when he thought something was goofy.

A man of the world, that Jason Poznaks guy. A man who came to the attention of our church through a chance encounter on a street in Egypt. Funny how those small connections lead to big things. That comfort with being outside his element, with trying new things, and with being who he was landed him eventually in children's ministry. Not by default, mind you, or because he drew the short straw. Jason could have been - and was - a senior pastor, a youth pastor, and probably the star of his own television show if that's where he'd channeled his talent; but he did children's ministry, by choice. Despite his ability to "wow" you up front, make no mistake: this was a man who understood people thoroughly and was capable of deep theological thinking.

He had a message: children are the church of today, and the key to the future. He served on global teams and very strongly believed that those of us who had resources - the American church, and those in other resource-rich countries - had an absolute obligation to share the ideas and materials we had with the developing world. He was keenly aware of the insufficiency of ministry to kids, and the lack of materials available to Sunday schools and midweek Bible clubs, in much of the world.

And yet, he concentrated his efforts and his considerable talent on the church wherever he happened to be. Which happened to be with us, at North Coast Calvary in Carlsbad, from 2007-on. As he did, Jason displayed a masterful command of balance: global priorities with local ones; work with play; large group leadership with personal touch; and of course, decorum with fun.

Here's the thing about Jason: he never begged for attention and never hogged the spotlight. And still, everyone knew who he was. And loved him. And had stories about personal encounters with him. He was easy to be around, and you wanted him around. He was the perfect target of practical jokes, because you could be sure he'd return them and one-up you - no hard feelings on either side.

He didn't like being called "Pastor". He wasn't into titles - most Aussies aren't. He preferred to be called "Jason". And yet - pastoring is what he did so well. It was the unseen part of his job. He excelled at it, as he did a lot of things. Meetings with his staff, meetings with parents, meetings with volunteers - Jason wasn't just available to talk about life and its challenges, he made it a point to bring it up. And always over coffee - that is, "cawfee" (spoken swiftly, attack on the first syllable). Behind the wit and the ability to win over large crowds, there was a thoughtful soul who noticed everything and knew everybody. He seemed to have an inexhaustible capacity for relationships.

When you are well-liked and in demand, it can go to your head. But at the end of the day, he never got intoxicated with his own importance. He had a family waiting at home - his wife Natty, and the boys, Ethan and Seth, whom he cared for intensely. Sometimes they couldn't wait to see him, and they'd make office visits to say hi to their dad, to play with him, to touch him and climb on him. I'm quite sure that "Dad" was his proudest title.

After Jason had been hired, as we were anticipating his arrival, our lead pastor made reference in a staff meeting to Jason being a "Finnish carpenter". I was confused, having only met him a few times. I knew he was Australian; had he also been born in Finland? Then I tried to understand it as a metaphor: was there something about Finnish guys who did woodworking that was applicable to ministry? I drew a blank. Finally it dawned on me that he was calling Jason a "finish carpenter" - as in, one who comes in to do the "finishing touches" on a job. Duh. And of course, that's what he turned out to be. A finish carpenter works precisely, sometimes imperceptibly, but nudges things forward, always with an eye for beauty and quality.

The problem is, Jason never got to finish. At least not in the way we would have wanted. Maybe that's why this seems so unfair. Right before KidsGames in 2012, he got the news that would change everything. There was work left to be done - but the "Finnish carpenter" wouldn't get a chance to do it.

It stinks, because no one will do it quite like he could.

That's why I found myself on Tuesday morning wanting to Google things like "Why does God let people die?" and "Where is Jason now?" even though I belong to a religion which answers those questions with certainty. I wanted there to be more of him, somewhere. I came up empty-handed.

Our church's website crashed - I mean, crashed - right before Thanksgiving, and suddenly we lost our ability to communicate about all sorts of events to our church body. But we also knew we needed it back up because with Jason nearing the end of his life, we needed a way to communicate "Jason's Story" and post updates on his condition. Then I started reading some of the tributes people had posted on his Facebook page, and it hit me that "Jason's story" is not the story of his illness, or the last months of his life. The full story will be told, and has been told, in bits and pieces by the people who were impacted by him, who no doubt all claim he was "their" Jason. Some of these people are on the other side of the world and didn't track closely with the story of his illness. That's ok - their remembrances are a healthy counterbalance to our more recent memories of his suffering and pain. Hard as it is, I'm going to remind myself of that when I'm tempted to dwell on the way he died. I think he'd much prefer we revel in the memories of how he lived.

If we're looking for lessons we can draw from Jason's life, I suppose all of the usual candidates apply: Cherish the time you have...Spend time with your family...Don't take yourself too seriously...Be kind to children. For me, it comes back to the work of the "Finnish carpenter". This fall, my wife and I decided to sand and refinish a kitchen table. Not fun work! Done well, a nice-looking piece of furniture looks as though no work has been done on it at all. You assume the tabletop has always been smooth and free of imperfections, that the legs have always been straight, that the finish has always been even. But only the wood, the worker, and his tools know the truth. They experience the dust, the mess, the ugliness that was, and the in-between stages where things are not quite ready. Everyone else only experiences the finished product.

Reading the tributes, I've come to understand that Jason played a role akin to finishing and refinishing in the lives of those who encountered him. In so doing, he exposed himself to some of the not-so-nice looking parts of people's lives; in so doing, he left his mark on hundreds of lives. That's what Jason did for me. By constant encouragement and reminders to have a life outside of ministry, he helped sand some of the rough edges smooth. Only Jason would be the first to demure, and to say that he was not, after all, the finisher, but only an instrument in the hands of God, who is working - sometimes imperceptibly - to finish us all.

Those hands used to direct him from afar; now they hold him.

Rest well, Finnish carpenter.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Spirit of Christmas

We hear a lot at this time of year about the "Christmas spirit". Charles Dickens pledged to "[H]onor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." Some songs express the wish that the Christmas spirit would last all year.

What is this "Christmas spirit", and how can we harness it?

Sometimes when we talk about "spirit", we are talking about a feeling, an ambiance, an idea. Examples would be "school spirit" or "That's the spirit!" or "the spirit of the law vs. the letter of the law."

But you can also speak of "spirits" as living entities. The original Christmas story is full of this kind of spirit. Start in Luke chapter 1 and count the miracles. Between there and the birth of Jesus, I count eight:
  1. An angel appears to Zechariah and prophesies to him that his wife, who was too old to conceive a child, will give birth to a son.
  2. Elizabeth, Zechariah's wife, conceives.
  3. Zechariah is struck deaf and mute when he disbelieves.
  4. An angel appears to Mary.
  5. Mary, though a virgin, conceives a son by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  6. God communicates to Elizabeth and the baby inside her "leaps" when Mary shows up at her door with the news that she is pregnant.
  7. The Holy Spirit fills Zechariah and he prophesies after his son is born (and, God keeps his word that Zechariah regains his speech).
  8. God himself steps into space-time history.

Miracles are supernatural. At times the Bible is explicit, that the Holy Spirit does such-and-such. But other times it just indicates the miracle happened by God's hand. In any case, miracles are supernatural events authored by God; and since God Himself is a spirit, miracles are inherently spiritual.

There's a difference, then, between celebrating the "spirit" of the season and the "Spirit" that caused the season. The Christmas story, which begins in Luke 1 (not Luke 2) is a supernatural story. The (Holy) Spirit was at work then, and the Spirit is at work today.

If God the Holy Spirit wasn't needed for the first Christmas, then He isn't needed today. All we would need to do is combine the right elements - snowfall, trees & lights, winter-themed songs, Hallmark Channel movies - and take a few days off of work and school, and we'd have Christmas. On the other hand, if God's hand was essential for the first Christmas to happen (which is of course the case), then the true "Spirit of Christmas" is nothing less than Him - the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Is busyness the enemy of our souls?

I recently got back from two weeks off (honeymoon!). It's amazing what time away does to the way you think, and the things you notice. You experience life in a whole different way. You come to understand that a lot of the things you've convinced yourself matter, don't matter as much. And you have time for simple pleasures you've been missing.

By coincidence, about six weeks ago, I started reading a book called Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung. The book's subtitle is "A (Mercifully) short book about a (Really) big problem." Here are some highlights:
  • Physically demanding work can take a toll on our bodies, but it can also make us healthier. By contrast, mental strain takes a toll that can be mental and physical.
  • Being extremely busy might be a sign of a bigger problem. It could mean that you secretly believe your life is meaningless; staying busy convinces you otherwise.
  • Being busy doesn't equate to faithfulness or fruitfulness as a Christian.
  • Pride could be driving our urge to stay busy, as we enjoy pleasing other people and the praise that comes with it.
  • Saying yes to one more thing might appear noble, but deep down, the ambition might be to appear good or helpful in the eyes of others. In that case, you're not really serving others, you're serving yourself.
  • Most Christians live with a low-level guilt that they are not "doing enough" to meet the needs of the world. "We know we can always pray more and give more and evangelize more, so we get used to living in a state of mild disappointment with ourselves."
  • When we try to be good and helpful in meeting the needs right in front of us, we are often breaking a commitment we'd previously made. So no, it's not always noble to set everything aside to attend to the urgent; why should people you've previously committed to have to wait?
  • We probably worry too much about our kids; the kind of person they turn out to be is probably more tied to their wiring than we want to admit. Yet we act as if parenting makes the child.

The bottom line of this book, and the reason I would blog about it on a site about ministry to kids, is that being busy threatens the health of our souls. While God is real and isn't going anywhere, he doesn't scream for our attention the way that TV and e-mail and social media and phone calls and marketing do.

And so that leads me to two questions:
  1. Are we modeling a pace of life for kids that practically excludes God? Are we teaching by example that to be an adult is to overpack your schedule, enjoying downtime only every few months or when another appointment miraculously gets cancelled? Are we setting them up to be blind to God's presence once they get older?
  2. Are we pushing them so hard now, as kids, that we're robbing them of opportunities to experience God and be in his presence?
Archibald Hart says don't be afraid of your kids being bored. It's during times of deadness that great inspiration has been born. Our brains weren't meant to operate on hyperspeed all the time. There are seasons of life where that's appropriate: finals week, meeting a really important deadline, making last-minute preparations for an event you're hosting. But when life becomes an endless series of deadlines? That's dangerous, because it overloads our body's ability to manage stress.

One thing Carlsbad did really well was to plan for open spaces. There's lots going on in our city - neighborhoods, businesses, parks, schools, and more and more traffic - but there are also vast tracts of undeveloped land scattered throughout. And if the plan holds, it'll be that way forever. Why? Because it helps bring calm to what could otherwise turn overwhelming. Business is good, but that doesn't mean there isn't a limit. New homes are good, but that doesn't mean they belong everywhere.

In the same way, all of the things that constitute busyness in our lives are good things - within limits. Overdone, we miss out on what should be filling the "nothingness". Which seems like an oxymoron; in fact, because God is always with us, He's the one thing that's still there when everything else fades away. If we never carve out spaces for that nothing, how will kids encounter the God who lives there?

Meet Lauren Andriany, K/1 Coordinator

Hi! My name is Lauren Andriany. That's me with my favorite 3 people: my husband Mark, our 1st grader Annabelle, and our new baby Teddie (Theodora).

I've been attending and volunteering at NCCC for about 8 years, and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to be more involved in children's ministry.

I love learning new ways to share the hope and love of Jesus with children. They are the future church, and I strive to help create a place where they feel safe, loved, and valued as they learn about their maker and His Great Love for them. NCCC has been that kind of place for the Andriany family, and we all hope to pass the blessing on, and on and on!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What I've learned from my time in K/1

Guest Post contributed by Tatiana Kildiszew, outgoing Saturday night coordinator for Kindergarten & 1st grade.

It sounds silly but as I took the position of K/1 coordinator I remember assuming that I would be the one blessing others and that I would be the one teaching the children. I never anticipated how much God would bless me and teach me through these kindergarten and first grade children. One thing I came to see quite clearly is that the faith of a child is real. The pure spirituality children contain is beautiful thing, a treasure often hidden by the worries and realities of the harshness of the adult world we live in. Looking back on my time serving in Kindergarten and 1st grade ministry I am reminded of many precious memories when God gave me a glimpse of just how sincere and precious the faith of these little ones is. These memories are just too special to keep to myself, so I will share a few.

One night as parents were picking up their children I was talking to a Kindergarten girl. This little girl regularly attends Saturday night service. She was usually in my small group, so I knew her well. We had played together, prayed together and danced to silly worship songs together. Being the youngest of four she would always tell me stories of her older siblings or what she had done throughout the week. But this day the light in her eyes proved she had something of more value to share with me. She looked up at me and with a big smile, bursting with pure joy, she blurted, “Jesus speaks to me.”

I was surprised at her words but I did not doubt her profession. From knowing this little girl it was obvious to me that she shone with the light of Christ. The presence of Jesus radiated from her. Through her questions and comments during small groups I had already observed the way she lived her life in such awe and wonder of Jesus. Excited to hear more, I began a conversation with the little girl about how Jesus speaks to her. When I asked her what Jesus told her, she replied, “Just things. Important things.” As she shared more throughout the weeks on the topic I saw that this faith she held was genuine. She expressed that Jesus spoke to her through her Spirit and in dreams. What a powerful faith! Over time we talked about listening for Jesus so His voice will not get muted as she grows older, as well as writing or drawing the things He speaks to her. Through all our conversations I discovered what a beautiful relationship she has with Jesus, talking back and forth.

There was one night that we had a guest teacher speaking for the weekend in K/1 ministry. She was demonstrating Old Testament story pointed towards Jesus and the need for a savior. There was this one kid who was very intrigued with the story. He frequently raised his hand to ask questions and make comments. His comments were so insightful. It was apparent that he had heard the story before. He was so bold as to raise his hand and tell the teacher that she had actually forgotten some parts of the story. When he did this he would continue sharing the story in such a way, it appeared as if he was teaching it to us all. Chuckling, the teacher would thank the boy and explain that she had just not gotten to that part yet. One of these times the young boy raised his hand he explained with frustration, “The most important part of the story is that Jesus died for our sins. He died to save us.” A couple of the leaders, including myself giggled in amazement. It was funny but the young boy spoke such truth. The teacher again tried to contain him. He rambled on, “I just do not think you understand. Jesus died and that is the most important thing in the world.” At five or six years old this boy could see the things that mattered in this world clearly. God had revealed His truth to his little spirit. For this young boy the truth was such a pressing matter he had to share it with us all.

One last story. I believe it shows the quiet transformation and the work God is doing in one child. In my first couple of months in K/1 ministry, his mother shared with me that her son had not accepted Christ yet. She was worried about this because her other kids had already done that and were living life for Him. It is true that there are some children who see the truth at a young age and accept Christ. I can’t speak to what was in this particular young boy's heart, but what I do see him seeking to know and learn more about God. Like all five- and six-year-old boys, this young boy likes to “play hard”. You can find him building car ramps or building Lego towers at the start of service. However when worship begins you will find him quietly standing up against a wall with his eyes shut tightly. Sometimes he will sing, other times he will do the hand motions without singing. Sometimes he will neither sing nor do hand motions, but just sit silently with his eyes closed. When asked about this the young boy shared with me, “I am just listening to the words. I like to listen to the words.” During the story this young boy is rarely distracted by his friends or others. He sits and listens throughout the entire story, no matter how long the teacher speaks. He also asks complex questions of how and why. There is no doubt in my mind that the words of worship are piercing his young heart, while the words of truth from Bible stories are flooding his little mind. This young boy is listening, learning, and seeking. I have seen the way God is stirring this young boy. What a beautiful thing that God is working in these little children, revealing himself to them.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14) After my time in K/1 ministry this verse holds different weight. The faith of a child is so genuine, so meaningful. Children see God with a clear vision. They understand God’s truth and the freedom it gives. They seek with honest hearts. It has been such an honor and true joy to learn from and be blessed by the children of K/1. I hope you, like me, have the opportunity of experiencing the treasure of a child’s faith.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Is Your Kid a RICH kid?

Jesus wants your kid to be rich. Did you know?

He wants your kid to be rich in the way that he wants all of us to be rich. Not in earthly possessions, but rich towards God. So how do you develop a kid who is rich in that way?

When Jesus talked about being "rich toward God", he was telling a parable that most Bibles call "The Parable of the Rich Fool". The man doesn't seem foolish by modern standards; he seems wise. He makes plans to build bigger storehouses for his excess crops. With the surplus in storage, he'll quit working and live off the income. Life will be good! But God intervenes, delivering the dire news that the man is about to die. And then God asks to pivotal question: "Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?" (Luke 12:13-21)

Jesus concludes by saying, "This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God." It seems like the man's fatal flaw was that he was preoccupied with his own happiness and comfort. That in essence became his God. Note that the parable doesn't say the man actually did all of this; the plans take place in his mind. What we set our minds on directs our whole life. It dictates how we spend our time and what we consider "success". It defines for us the resting point, the point at which we say, "I've done it! I'm there! I've achieved what I've set out to do!"

With that in mind, here are some ideas on making kids rich:

1. Make God a central "thing" in your family life. Not just one thing among many things, but the central organizing reality. Is the pursuit of God and realizing his will apparent in your own life? Would your kid say that it is?

2. Learn to find satisfaction in God. Evaluate how you set goals and priorities. How do you define "a successful life" when it comes to your child? Is your goal for them that they know Him more, love Him more, serve Him more? Or that they grow up to be happy and comfortable?

3. Teach kids how to rest in God. God isn't something we rest at when we arrive there; the peace of God is a continuous rest that we carry with us along the journey. This is different from earthly rest. We work all week so we can get a break on the weekend. We study hard in school, then celebrate with a graduation party. We plan and carry out detailed weddings, then decompress on a honeymoon. The rest comes at the end of something; we earn it. God's rest isn't like that. Instead, it's the "peace that passes all understanding" (Philippians 4:7). Raise a kid in a cauldron of performance-based standards, and it will be hard for them to imagine rest as anything but something you get after working hard. They will find the idea of God's rest, literally, un-believeable.

4. Build the support infrastructure in your kid's life that will help them become rich. Which is to say, there are supports standing behind kids, nudging them and helping them and guiding them. It doesn't happen by accident. And just like vitamins, if there's a deficiency, your kid will develop a problem. Not right away, but over time. If you want your kid to be rich toward God, remember R.I.C.H.:
  • Relationships - Lots of relationships, and quality relationships. Who knows your kid? Who else besides you has a window into their personality? Who's guiding them? In this world run by grown-ups, who's affirming your kid, letting them know that although they're young and small, they still matter? You love your kid. What message are they receiving from the rest of the world about their worth in the eyes of adults?
  • Identity - We want kids to understand who they are, including what it means to be a created being, wholly dependent on God. They should understand that God has gifted and designed each of us differently, and that understanding that design is key in growing into the role God has for them. Hollywood and Madison Avenue never stop trying to tell your kid who they really are (and as a result, what they should like and what they should do).
  • Christ - Is your kid's faith Christ-centered? Do they understand why Jesus' life and death mattered - really mattered? Do they get that we are dependent on grace, that Jesus was more than a teacher, but the way, the truth, and the life? Most American teenagers believe in God - but what they believe about him doesn't necessarily square with the Bible or historic Christianity. A faith grounded in "God wants me to be good" doesn't cut it. Help your kid develop a deep understanding of Jesus Christ as the absolutely essential element of their Christian faith.
  • Heart & Hands experience - We hope kids will connect faith to life. But let's be honest, they usually don't. Kids need tangible, hands-on experience living out Christ in the world. Is your kid aware of the world, of the needs that exist? Do their hearts hurt when they see injustice? Have they been shown the way Christians are reaching out to the poor, the elderly, the sick? Because faith without works is dead.
If you want to read more about making kids R.I.C.H., check out these posts from last year. (And here for Relationships, Identity, Christ, and Heart & Hands.)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Taking Kids "On Mission"

The church's International Missions Fair was this weekend. If you missed Friday night, don't miss it when it comes around again next year! The Missions team revamped the whole event to make it more interactive and family-friendly. And it worked!

But, if you missed Friday night or this weekend, you're not out of luck either. Not by a long shot. Missions has always been a strong emphasis at our church, and Nic Gilmour (our head missions dude) and I (the head children's guy) are committed to seeing more families catch the missions bug.

Why? Because kids aren't eventual Christians. If we wait for them to get through the toddler stage, the preschool stage, the preteen stage, high school...before we know it, they will end up with lives as busy as ours. And for many of us, missions is an add-on or an if-only: if only I had the money, if only I had the time, if only I wasn't so busy, if only I knew where to go.

The global mission of the church belongs to everyone. It's not the special province of a few super-Christians, and being missions-minded is not a spiritual gift! Missions needs to be woven into the normal Christian life.

One way to do that is to take your entire family on a missions adventure. And we've put together a booklet called "Mission: Possible! Stories of four families who answered the call to GO in 2014" that tells some of those "we did it" stories. I hope you'll pick one up at the church and be inspired by it.

The thing is, not everyone will go on an overseas mission trip with their kids. Some people can't (but - don't dismiss it too quickly; read "Mission: Possible!" first). Maybe you will; maybe you won't. But what if we broadened the definition of "missions work", to create multiple entry points for families who want to engage in service to others? A cross-cultural missions adventure does have some definite advantages, as it takes kids and parents out of their element - a 24/7 eye-opener. But what seems to be true about teenagers and young adults who have embraced missions is that there was a service ethic in their families while growing up. So serving in downtown San Diego isn't "less" than going overseas. What matters is the regularity of commitment. It demonstrates to kids that missions is normal; missions is what Christians do.

Over the next several months, you'll see us dreaming up and promoting these various entry points, because the good news is that there are lots of organizations already doing good work in the community; what they really need is you.