Archive for September, 2012

Sep
09

Why Value Children’s Ministry

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Few books have impacted my thinking about ministry any more than George Barna’s book titled, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions. I recently pulled this book off the shelf to see if it would still make the same impression, and of course, it did. Check out some of the demographical information cited:

One out of every eight children under age 13 is overweight.
One out of every ten children has had sexual intercourse before their 13th birthday.
One out of every ten eighth graders smoke daily, and one out of five in that grade has tried drugs.
During a typical school year, one out of every fourteen elementary school students is threatened or injured at school with a weapon.
In a given year in America, one million children will miss at least one day of school for fear of physical violence.
One out of every eight children under age 13 has no health insurance.
Approximately 7% of children in America between the ages of 6 and 11 have been diagnosed with ADHD.
As many as 17% of children live at or below the poverty line.
One out of every three children born each year in America is born to an unwed mother.
One out of every four children lives with a single parent.
Three out of every five mothers of infants are in the American labor force.
Children between the ages of 2 and 7 consume nearly 25 hours of mass media/technology per week.
Children between the ages of 8 and 13 consume almost 48 hours of mass media/technology per week.
44% of preteens admit to not having any role models in life. For those who do, only one in three name their father or mother as their role model.

Looking at those numbers brings to mind a couple of thoughts. For one, life is extremely messy. Gone are the days when children were sheltered from “adult” problems and issues. Kids today understand the difficult realities of life and are painfully aware of life’s challenges. Second, it is harder today to be a kid today than it was for most of us yesterday. There are more problems, more complexities, and more readily available temptations. There is less structure, less supervision, and less consistency.

But while those statistics are certainly troubling, they aren’t the ones that give cause for alarm. When the same age groups were surveyed and studied, it was discovered that children under the age of 13 were statistically no different that adults regarding spirituality. In short, Barna Research concluded that by the age of 13, a child’s spiritual worldview is largely set in place.

Let me put that into a context that my generation can understand. When I was young, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (and others, for that matter) recognized the value of investing in the spiritual development of teenagers, citing that the likelihood of a person coming to faith in Christ significantly diminished after a person’s 18th birthday. Churches of all denominations responded to that information by investing their programming dollars and resources in youth programs. Youth ministers were trained and hired and provided the financial resources to perform ministry to junior and senior high students. That was then, this is now. In today’s spiritual economy, 13 is the new 18. Youth ministry is still viable and important in our congregations, but wisdom would indicate that today’s church must invest as much if not more in children’s ministry if we’re going to make a difference in future generations.

I’m turning 50 in four months. Two of my children are in college now, and the third will graduate in 2015. I must confess, however, that I have a greater sense of urgency about children’s ministry than at any time in my (nearly) 30 year career. Children’s ministry must be a priority for our churches. It can’t be just another good thing we do among the host of other good things we do. As the adage goes, “When everything is important, nothing is important.” With passion and intent we must rise to the challenge and see it as the greatest Kingdom opportunity that we have before us.

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Sep
06

Check Out Your Equipment:: 3

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Romans 12 begins with Paul’s statement on worship. In worship we present our bodies and have our minds renewed, enabling us to discern and agree with God’s will. This pattern works for the individual believer as well as the corporate body. As we agree with God’s will and put it into practice, humility is required because we are confronted with the immediate reality that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. We are individual members who belong to a unified body, working together for a common good. To accomplish this, Paul added, we have been given spiritual gifts.

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well (Romans 12:6, NLT).

Spiritual gifts are supernatural enablement given to each Christian by the Holy Spirit for the discharge of his or her special responsibility in the Church. Over the years, I’ve found the following principles to be of general help in understanding spiritual gifts. Most of this is nothing new, but at least should serve as a helpful reminder.
1. The gifts come from the Holy Spirit as He wills.
2. The purpose of the gifts is to build up the body of Christ and equip us for mission beyond the walls.
3. The gift lists in the New Testament are not exhaustive, otherwise they would be uniform. The focus of each list is on the variety of gifts available to believers.
4. Though we don’t possess all of the gifts, we are to exercise the function of all of the gifts. In other words, just because a person does not have the gift of mercy does not mean that person is exempt from being merciful.
5. The gifts may have as much to do with how you serve as they do where you serve. I’m not sure that the gifts were intended to be hard categories for positions of service in the church. I think people are free to pursue opportunities, passions, and callings for a variety of service in the body. However, your gift is your gift and your gift will inflect how you serve where ever you serve.
6. The single best way to identify your gift is to serve. There are all kinds of spiritual gifts inventories that are available that can help a person identify their spiritual gift mix. But the best way to identify your gift is to serve.
7. One way for us to discern God’s will in our churches is to see who God is adding to our bodies. Each person that joins your church either exposes a deficiency in your church or informs your church of God’s direction for your church.

We’re two thirds of the way through training camp. Next week I’ll talk about how we put all of this into practice. Thanks for dropping in this week!

Sep
05

Check Out Your Equipment:: 2

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“Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other” (Romans 12:4-5, NLT).

Right on the heels of his statement about humility, Paul provided two epic sentences about the body of Christ which would serve as the foundation for what he would write next regarding spiritual gifts. Paul was fond of using the body as a metaphor for the corporate life of the church. He did so very purposefully, as it perfectly illustrated his points about congregational life. First, Paul pointed out the diversity within the body of Christ. We are many parts with many functions. No one part has greater worth or value, for each plays a purposeful and important role. Every part is needed and necessary in order for the whole to operate efficiently and effectively.

Second, Paul emphasized the unity of the body. Even though we are many parts with many functions, we are one, unified body. Our goal as a church is unity, not uniformity. On Sunday I illustrated this difference by pointing to the block walls of our sanctuary and comparing those blocks to the stained glass window. The blocks are symbolic of uniformity, with each being the exact same size, weight, color, and shape. The stained glass is symbolic of unity. Different shapes and colors of individual panes brought together to make a beautiful whole. The stained glass is a great example of unity without enforced uniformity.

The final observation is mutuality. We belong to one another. We need one another. We are not independent, but are interdependent in our relationships in the body of Christ.

Diversity, unity, and mutuality are fundamental if we’re going to be church as Christ intended. It takes humility to behave accordingly. When those come together, we can then have an honest conversation about spiritual gifts and how they empower us to accomplish our mission beyond our walls.

Categories : Church, Romans
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Sep
04

Check Out Your Equipment:: 1

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Last week I posted a series on worship. I defined worship as “our appropriate response to the self-disclosure of God.” The value of corporate worship is that it energizes the church for its mission beyond the walls. As we present our bodies and become renewed in our minds, we are able to discern God’s will and direction for the body. This past weekend in worship I shared the second element of training camp: checking out our equipment.

“Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us” (Romans 12:3, NLT).

The first challenge Paul offers following his words on worship is that we should pursue genuine humility. Humility was a cardinal virtue of the early church, a philosophy that was totally counter culture to Greek and Roman thought. The value in Paul’s thinking was that humility would keep believers from becoming status conscious. Humility is not thinking less of oneself than is reasonable, but simply taking on an honest self perception.

An accurate self estimation, though, requires a point of reference. In today’s culture, we estimate our value on the basis of comparing ourselves with others. Am I smarter than those I work with? Do my kids have a higher G.P.A.? Do I make more than my peers? Do I have a nicer home or a more expensive car? Is my spouse more physically attractive that the spouses of others? Am I thinner than my friends and neighbors? When we lack true humility, those questions creep into our heads. The problem with such comparisons is that we seek out the company of those who feed our ego. Every Scott Farkus needs a “toadie” to validate himself.

In the Kingdom of God, we estimate ourselves on the basis of “the faith God has given us.” Our standard of measure is not our neighbor; it is the Lord Jesus himself. When Jesus is our point of reference, we are able to find our true self worth. Our significance is in Him. And when Christ is our source of significance, we can worry less about “self confidence” and more about “God confidence.”

Categories : Equipping, Humility, Romans
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