Stuck

I’m stuck.

I’m in a big city, on a crowded sidewalk, standing at the intersection of two busy streets named “Walk” and “Don’t Walk.” I know that I need to get across the street named “Walk,” but every time I step off the curb and begin to cross the street, someone changes the name of the street to “Don’t Walk.” I stop and go back to where I was, because the last thing I want to do is cross the wrong street.

I’ve asked a few people that seemed to know where they were going, how they were able to make it across this intersection with the confidence that they did the right thing and were headed in the right direction. Their response is simple: “I just ignore the signs and do what I feel is right.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter if you are lost or headed in the wrong direction as long as you are sincere in your conviction about where you are headed. So here I am, stuck. Confused. Feeling discouraged. Getting tired of all the time and energy I’m expending, with nothing lasting to show for it. Sounds kind of like ministry some days, doesn’t it?

Never before have we faced such rapid, radical changes in society. Right is now wrong, wrong is praised as good, to stand on biblical convictions is scornful, and to tell someone caught in a destructive lifestyle that they can experience freedom and hope — is considered hate speech.

How do we get unstuck from this moral and spiritual quagmire on the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk and effectively accomplish the ministry that the Lord commissioned us to do?

Too often we have allowed the flow of the crowd to influence the substance of our message. Too many times we have allowed laser lights, smoke machines, media, and cool staging to overwhelm the message. We must remember that our job is not to compete with Madison Avenue and Hollywood. All they have amounts to smoke and mirrors, while we have the message of hope and the transformational power of Christ.

“…Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…”(Hebrews 12:1,2).

The early church transformed a world that was sinking in every kind of sin and wickedness possible — just like our society today — and they did it by simply “fixing their eyes on Jesus.” We have to ask ourselves if we had kept our focus on the message of Jesus as our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King, and not allowed ourselves to get caught up in the “Wow” factor of presentation, would we find ourselves stuck today?

Jesus made it clear that we are to love God and love people with every fiber of our being (Matthew 22:37–39). If we are to do that, we must stop talking about it, and get out on the streets where we can demonstrate this love in tangible ways. We need ministries that reach kids in their everyday lives. We must remember that Jesus warned that to follow the Narrow Way, means the journey will be difficult (Matthew 7:14). It will be messy and challenging, but in the end, we will see lives transformed.

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Be sure we are doing ministry the way God said to do it.

Did you ever wonder how the early church accomplished so much without professionals, experts, workshops, creative curriculum, or even Sunday School? They simply followed the instruction manual.

The local church is given the task of equipping “his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” (Ephesians 4:12), while families are given the responsibility for the spiritual training and nurturing of their households — “Fathers… bring them (your children) up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4 — also see Deuteronomy 6:4–9, 20–25).

To get unstuck from the muck and mire of today’s society, we need to return to a biblical balance of ministry. Somewhere along the way, we bought into the idea that teaching Scripture is better done by the experts than by mom and dad. When did we begin to think that one or two hours of Bible teaching a week at church has a greater impact than parents teaching the Scriptures at home, and then living the truths out 24/7?

Churches need to find ways to equip parents and heads of households to take on their biblical responsibility for guiding and directing their kids in the ways of the Lord. Likewise, families are to be involved in the corporate ministries of the church — worship, fellowship, equipping, coordinated outreaches, and missions. Families and the ministries of the local church both play a very vital and unique role in our spiritual growth.

Getting unstuck.

Following the clear signs of the Narrow Way, with a single focus on Jesus Christ and a renewed commitment on doing ministry the way the Lord told us it is to be done, will allow us to find ourselves walking above the mess of today, unstuck from all the confusion surrounding us.

Beyond Children’s Church

It involves a change of attitude, which comes from small, intentional steps.  That is what I keep telling myself about the attitude of some people in the church toward children.  I have been in churches where it’s actually been said: “Let’s get the kids out of here so it is quiet!”  Sometimes churches brag about having children’s church for the kids, but it is really for the adults.   In my own ministry, I have fought the notion of “keep the cookies in the basement” (which is code for “keep the kids in the basement.”)  If you give a kid a cookie, he will ask for a glass of milk, sure, but let’s let them eat among us.   I’ve also heard “children should be busy during worship so they are not bored.”  That drives me crazy!  If we are encountering God in worship, kids will not be bored.

More than children's churchWe must go beyond children’s church!  I often talk with the kids during the sermon or intentionally  share something that will connect with them as well.  But, then again, all of that only comes because I take time to be with the kids relationally.   More adults need to do this! Talk with kids. Have a snowball fight, go fishing, throw a football around — whatever it takes! Show interest in them and remember their names.  It makes what you teach much more meaningful to them.

One of our big shifts has been creating a small group that is for families.  This does not mean we have kids there and they do some sort of craft on their own away from the adults, but we have the kids and adults together the entire time.  We play games together, eat a snack, pray together, and talk about what God is doing in our lives. Recently, we spent time making notes for the shut-ins in our church and have ministered to them through that.   The group teaching is geared for kids, but the adults find the time encouraging for them as well. Their kids are talking about God’s Word with them!  Is this not what the Church is supposed to be?

Perhaps one of the most telling events was our baptism service.  We used a water tank for cattle and set it all up outside. This tank was a nice looking pool, and the day was hot!  Keeping the kids out of the pool was very difficult.  We sought to maintain respect for what baptism is and made sure we exalted God in it.  But once that was over with, it was time to get wet! The kids went in, some of them in their clothes.   This is a part of what makes the Church authentic and inviting for kids.  And, if church isn’t authentic and inviting for kids, they will most certainly check out.  But if we can get them to understand that the Church is them…NOW, then perhaps they will want to be an active part of it.

So, I wonder — are there specific ways your church has tried to connect with children beyond children’s church?

The Wrong Path

It was humbling to admit, but I was lost — lost in the wilderness of Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada. I had become separated from the group I was with when I made a wrong turn on a portage (a portage is the trail you walk to get from one lake to another).  What made it so humiliating was that I knew better.  I have led wilderness canoe trips in that park since 1976, and I knew this trail well. Yet, that didn’t keep me from an attack of the stupids.

Relying on my memory and ability to read the signs on the trail, I didn’t bother to consult the map. So, when I came to the dirt access road that intersected the portage, I thought I was at the point where I was to turn.

I wasn’t.

I plowed ahead in my confident ignorance, thinking I was making good time, unaware I was going in the wrong direction. After carrying my canoe in the wrong direction for about 1½ miles, I finally realized that I was further behind than when I started.  I needed to turn around if I was ever to get to where I was supposed to be.  My failure to follow the clear path laid out for me on the map led to a lot of wasted energy and time and caused a lot of anxiety for the rest of the group who were searching for me.

My adventure in 2011 paints a good picture of what I see has been happening in the church in America – especially in the training of our children. We have made a wrong turn and are making good time, going in the wrong direction.  Our reliance on the experts and on secular education methods and marketing have led us away from the path laid out in the Bible.

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We need to wake up to this reality and return to the path marked out for us. As we do, we may be surprised where it takes us. The most effective place for the Word of God to be taught is in the real-life, day-to-day world of the family.  The role of the church is to provide opportunities for corporate worship and fellowship and to “equip the saints for the work of ministry…” (Ephesians 4:12). As dynamic and powerful as our church ministries may be, they cannot match the impact of godly parents teaching and modeling Biblical truth in everyday life.

That day in Canada, our group learned an important lesson:  Always trust the map!  And in our families, the Word of God is our map.  We need to stop placing our trust in the “experts” and get back on the path the Lord has given us for the spiritual training and nurture of our children.

Lead Pastor Guest Post: My Trip with the Kids

I fondly remember living in Ohio and driving to Massachusetts with our three kids. The twelve hour trip through Cleveland, Buffalo and Erie, Pennsylvania, was often an adventure, but it was enjoyed by all.  Today, I find I am once again on a trip with the kids but one of a different nature.

I have never been a kid guy. I am a nerd. I like to read books with no pictures, and icky, sticky and goo are not my idea of fun.  I am by nature an introvert. I would rather be holed up in my library with my books than be anywhere else.  But things are stirring in me of late.  God has been speaking to me.  I hear Him saying, “Step out and I will change you.”

My first “step out” was to get up from the front pew before the service where I would normally spend time in preparation.  Instead, I went around shaking hands. The people noticed a change in me almost immediately and even in my preaching. Remember, I am not a touchy feely guy, but I have even started to send out e-mail prayers to the people in my church. I am changing slowly.

As I said, I have never thought I was a kid person. I did not like the noise and the chaos. I like it quiet.  But, God is giving me a burden for kids. I grew up in a Christian home. I was surrounded by church from my first week of life, so when I heard about the 4/14 window, my heart broke. I saw a whole generation of kids growing up without Christ and without hope.  So, I decided we had to do something.

Our church leadership started to change. From the youngest child to the high school senior, we wanted to reach them all. And, God is showing us how ministry to kids can contribute to the overall ministry of the church. When parents see that you love their kids, they see that God loves them as well. Just the other day, a mother from our girl’s craft class said to my wife, “I can see that you really love my kids. We might start coming to your church.”  A very positive seed has been planted.

Our church has started three new groups for kids. The younger ones attend “Seekers in Sneakers”. The amazing thing about this group is that it was not my idea. Two women in the church came to me and asked if they could start it. The second group for middle school kids is called “K.I.C.K.”(Kids in Christ’s Kingdom). This group is also run by a woman in our church. After years of frustration trying to sustain a youth ministry, we now have a solid group with 7-8 kids (remember we are a church of 50). The third group is for high school kids. Again, for years, we have struggled to reach this age group. It is called F.A.C.T. (Frederick Alliance Church Teens) and is run by a man in the church with no direct involvement from me.  But, that was soon to change.

God said to me “Don’t run it, but don’t ignore it.” So, I started doing the games for the KICK group. I did the game and then left the class with the teacher, but this would not stand either. God said “Don’t leave.” So, I went in the classroom and sat on the couch where God spoke again, “Get off the couch and get on the floor.” So, I creaked and cracked and I got on the floor. The class ended and one of the boys was walking by me and God said (really) “Tackle that kid.” So I did. What a great time we had! Soon all the other boys were piled on! When the parents came in, you could hear them laughing. We had a lot of fun, and now I am a part of the group. I am not just the pastor who stands on the platform. I am the guy who wrestles and plays with the kids!

We have made 2014 the year of kids ministry. I am excited about the future!  If a nerdy, non touchy-feely guy can do this, then anyone can. Just start imagining more for the next generation and see what God might do!