Thinking Out Loud

January 23, 2018

Your Other Small Group: Why You Should Have Two

Back in the day, they were called cell groups.

In the earliest models provided by church growth experts they were drawn as small circles (cells) connected to a large circle (the parent church). They later came to be known as small groups or house groups or house church fellowships.

Full disclosure: My wife and I haven’t been in one for a long time. In some ways her worship teams provide that fellowship and interaction for her. My bookstore community provides a huge source of connection throughout the week. If we could find the right group, meeting at the right time that works with our schedules, I would certainly want to sign up.

I am a great believer in small groups. At the fastest growing church movement in Canada, The Meeting House, pastor Bruxy Cavey is known for telling his people, “If some week you face a choice between attending your house group and attending church on Sunday, choose the house group.” There is an immediacy and an intimacy in sharing our journey with others, whether bound by the age and stage we’re at in life, or by geographic proximity.

Today, I want to suggest something a little out of the ordinary; something you don’t hear in the annual appeals to become a member of a Connection Group or Life Group or whatever your church calls it.

You need to also have one part of the week where you’re connected to your broader community.

You need to have contact with people who are outside the Christian bubble.

You need a non-work, non-neighborhood, non-family context in which to rub shoulders with people outside the bubble. Unchurched people. People far from God. People Jesus loves.

Why?

Because doing so would be intentional.

In a Jerusalem-Judea-Samaria context, your neighbors, family members and co-workers are your primary sphere of influence. That’s your Jerusalem.

But you need a Judea.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Coaching a soccer or baseball team
  • Serving on a civic (local government) committee
  • Singing in a community choir
  • Sort donations at the local food bank
  • Joining a book group
  • Helping out with a local theater production
  • Taking a community college course
  • Sign up as a volunteer at the seniors home
  • Offer to be scheduled once a week at a thrift shop
  • Serve at your elementary school’s breakfast program

These types of things provide us with opportunities to be salt and light in our respective communities.

I realize you are more accustomed to the type of appeal we talked about yesterday, to use your gifts in the church. I also believe that a small group Bible study needs to be a higher priority.

But next, I think we need to consider doing and being more in our respective communities. We need to reach out to the wider populace which surrounds us. It’s good for them, and it’s good for us.

Some of us are far too trapped inside the bubble. We need a second small group.

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January 22, 2018

Not Uniquely Gifted

You’ve been there and I’ve been there also. It’s usually the first Sunday of the New Year, or the Sunday the church launches into Fall kickoff mode.

The appeal for help. The big ask for you to consider using your time and talents to serve your church.

You know the word…your gifts.

My wife and I have mixed feelings about these appeals at one particular church. Here’s why…

…Without sounding arrogant, when we arrived at our new church home 28 years ago, I’m sure there were people there who thought we were God’s gift to that church. The church had undergone a radical change in direction that meant some key people had departed for the church down the road, and that left the first church in dire need with someone who possessed musical talent.

Working entirely alone for four years, I organized a palette of worship materials to be used in three different services on Sundays, and then chose from that to create distinct worship sets for each. Using only the electronic piano provided, I had to create the momentum of a band on high energy songs at our outreach service, but still be able to bring the volume down a notch for the hymns at the traditional service.

It was exhausting, and my wife will tell you that I frequently spent an hour or two lying on the living room floor on Monday morning…

…The efforts paid off however. The faithful team of Sunday School teachers, ushers, offering counters, church board leaders and one musician eventually caught on with our town to the point it is today the most growing church of the two dozen or so in the immediate and surrounding area.

But with that growth, some other musically talented people showed up and I took what I thought would be a break. Possibly even a short break.

At first it was just the new pastor’s wife. She was busy with two infants who eventually freed her up to take my place leading worship. It turned out that one of the elders was a lapsed drummer. A guitarist showed up after another church in the area closed. A bass player was transferred to the area by a large utility company. A couple who once traveled to different churches doing duets decided to settle down and become backup vocalists for the slowly expanding church.

She had enough people for one team, and that was all she needed…

…Fast forward a few years. Right now, by my last count there are eight people at this church who are capable of organizing worship sets, procuring chord chart sheets and running a rehearsal for a group of 5-10 musicians and singers. That’s right; this one church has eight worship leaders. There are at least five rhythm guitarists. Four keyboard players. Three bass players. Two drummers drumming. And many, many capable backup singers. Furthermore, this doesn’t include the youth band, which is building its own roster of capable players, many of whom grew up with modern worship and have always considered this the normal way to do church.

It also means that there is a generation of people at this church — I would estimate at least 80% — who have never heard me play an instrument or lead worship. When I tell them that I simply was the worship team for four years and that I was on paid staff at the church, they are always a bit surprised. What I don’t tell them is that I’m also an example of how this particular church puts people out to pasture. I would have thought that at least once someone would have reached out and asked me to join a team for old time sake. Or even organize a retro worship set featuring some of the songs we did in that era. (Some of them are still viable, and there are many worth re-casting with a modern sound.) That never happened. And regular readers here know what happened when my wife tried to suggest such a thing, and the wounding that occurred in that process.

Fortunately, I get to apply those gifts elsewhere. There’s another church where I am occasionally put to use and am able to bring a lifetime of experience with church music teams and church orchestras to bear on helping younger musicians.

But this article wasn’t supposed to be about me…

…There are many people who have gifts, but they just aren’t unique gifts. Or they’re gifts the church isn’t particularly interested in using. While they might help out in the church kitchen, or drive the church van to winter camp, etc., these are often one-time things that aren’t very fulfilling, never get recognized, and are not the best use of that person’s unique talents.

If anything, the glut of volunteers prepared to do exactly the same thing just makes them feel average. The church has needs in other areas, and while one wants to be adaptable and keep a servant attitude, the fact is they are not able to use their full potential. I am not able to use my full potential. You are not able to use your full potential…

…When we arrived at that church, there was a month where we got invited to lunch every single week because we were perceived as offering something which the church needed. But when your gifts are or become commonplace nobody really cares or notices. It’s easy to get lost in the crowd. And if you have for example, the gift of singing like my wife does, and it’s part of the essence of who you are, and you never get to use that gift again in the church, then the people there don’t truly know you, because they don’t know that dynamic that is a central part of your life.

Unfortunately, the church cannot accept every volunteer in a ministry department that is already highly subscribed to. So, church; please stop guilting us once or twice a year with your requests to sign up and start using our gifts.

Preach a different text that Sunday.

 

 

January 21, 2018

De-Evolution of the Footprints Illustration

Stage One — The Original

One night I had a dream.
I dreamed I was walking along the beach with my Lord. Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to me and one to my Lord.

When the last scene of my life shot before me I looked back at the footprints in the sand. There was only one set of footprints. I realized that this was at the lowest and saddest times of my life. This always bothered me and I questioned the Lord about my dilemma.

“Lord, You told me when I decided to follow You, You would walk and talk with me all the way. But I’m aware that during the most troublesome times of my life there is only one set of footprints. I just don’t understand why, when I need You most, You leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you, never, ever, during your trials and testings. When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you.”

Stage Two — The Gift Industry version:

“My precious child, I love you and will never leave you, never, ever, during your trials and testings. When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

Stage Three — The Revised Gift Industry version:

“When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

Stage Four — The Here’s a ‘TL/DR’ to the Other Versions version:

“I carried you.”

Stage Five — The future version

“You.”

…Does anyone find the rather truncated versions of this poem a little scary? I know this is not a Biblical passage, but it’s like perpetuating the punchline of a joke while jettisoning the set-up. Why not have a Klingon version? Or an Emoji version? Or render the whole poem in txt msg form?

If the piece of literature being quoted doesn’t fit on a bookmark or a pen or a mug, perhaps it’s not meant to appear on bookmarks or pens or mugs.


• We had some lighter moments with the Footprints poem with some link list cartoons here and here; as well as the poem at the end of the link list here.

Authorship of the original: I personally think it was Margaret Fishback Powers, but you can compare three versions of the poem here as well as the dates associated with them. I also prefer “I had a dream” to it being “a man.”

January 20, 2018

Strengthening Our Marriage versus Strengthening Our Kids

We have a Christian parenting conference happening in our town in April.

I couldn’t help but think how rare this is when compared to marriage conferences. Of course some of this has to do with what’s happening in Christian publishing.

For example, name a marriage author. You might be able to do so readily, but for those not familiar with the world of Christian books, let’s make it easier: Name a bestselling Christian book on marriage.

You may have listed:

  • The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
  • Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs
  • Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
  • His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley
  • The Love Dare by Stephen Kendrick
  • As Long as We Both Shall Live by Gary Smalley
  • Intended for Pleasure by Ed Wheat
  • Before You Say I Do by Norman Wright
  • Power of a Praying Wife/Husband by Stormie Omartian
  • Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud

Now do the same for parenting.

[Crickets]

The books exist, but naming top sellers is more challenging. Furthermore in the case where the books are part of a brand or a series, you almost intuitively know that for all its success, Power of a Praying Parent probably doesn’t do as well as the wife/husband titles; or that Boundaries with Teens or Boundaries with Kids doesn’t do as well as Boundaries in Marriage or Boundaries in Dating; at least not in my experience in the field.

The conferences feed off the success of the books.

Apparently we’re at least five times — or maybe even as high as ten times — more willing to pour into our marriage than we are to invest in our kids. Perhaps we’ll purchase Christian resources for them, but we don’t necessarily want to take the time to improve our parenting skills or learn from the stories of others.

Just because you can’t name the books or authors doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The online store at Focus on the Family is a great place to find out about parenting resources — as is their daily broadcast — and you can see the various categories of parenting helps at this link. (If you Google ‘Best Christian Parenting Books’ you’ll find other lists, but I refuse to link to people who are just shilling for Amazon. Try to buy local or from ministry organizations if at all possible.)

And just to save you asking, the conference speakers coming to our local community are Jim & Lynne Jackson, authors of Discipline That Connects With Your Child’s Heart. I hope people will want to invest in their kids to the same degree they might had the church chosen to host a marriage conference that weekend. I have faith they will.


I realize that with the word discipline in the Jackson’s book title, some of you are probably thinking of a case of parenting advice gone bad that we covered here and here a few years back. Knowing the church sponsoring this, and knowing the publisher, you needn’t worry.

 

January 19, 2018

Sermon by Example

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:16 am

We posted this three years ago and I think it’s truer now than it was then. We’ve all been preached to. We long to be shown rather than told. We’re looking to see truth caught rather than taught.

The blog which we sourced this from originally is no longer in service, so I thought we’d help keep this alive by running it here one more time.  According to Wikipedia, Edgar Albert Guest “was a prolific English-born American poet who was popular in the first half of the 20th century and became known as the People’s Poet. His poems often had an inspirational and optimistic view of everyday life.”

 

I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear;
And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.

I soon can learn to do it if you’ll let me see it done;
I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run.
And the lecture you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I’d rather get my lessons by observing what you do;
For I might misunderstand you and the high advise you give,
But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.

When I see a deed of kindness, I am eager to be kind.
When a weaker brother stumbles and a strong man stays behind
Just to see if he can help him, then the wish grows strong in me
To become as big and thoughtful as I know that friend to be.
And all travelers can witness that the best of guides today
Is not the one who tells them, but the one who shows the way.

One good man teaches many, men believe what they behold;
One deed of kindness noticed is worth forty that are told.
Who stands with men of honor learns to hold his honor dear,
For right living speaks a language which to every one is clear.
Though an able speaker charms me with his eloquence, I say,
I’d rather see a sermon than to hear one, any day.

~Edgar A. Guest

January 18, 2018

Blogger’s Book Better Late Than Never

Flipping through listings of future publications in the “Religion” category, I was surprised to find a spring listing for a book from Christian blogger Jamie Wright. Though there’s nothing showing on her blog since August of last year, being The Very Worst Blogger would be an appropriate addition to her collection of “worsts.” I wondered if people would remember her after all these years.

Like the blog, the book is titled The Very Worst Missionary and is being distributed by no less than Penguin Random House. With an April 3rd release date — just after Easter — the book will appear under PRH’s Converge Books imprint, a parking place for anything Christian that’s edgy. Yeah, they got that right. Totally candid, brutally honest, and wonderfully transparent.

Earlier today I browsed this blog’s archives for references to Jamie Wright only to find too many indexed to follow up on all of them. But this should give you an idea; a 2013 piece on being the parent of three teenage boys, simply titled Sex.  [Warning: Explicit language.]

…I believed that sex was the best thing I had to offer the world. It was the only thing about me worth loving. And I learned, too young, that I could leverage sex to get what I wanted. My female parts had become my greatest asset.

Then I found my way into the Church, 19 with a baby on my hip, and while I lingered on the outskirts of the Christian bubble, guess what I learned… I learned I was right! Apparently, even God was super concerned with my vagina, and where it had been, and what it had touched. Apparently, my genitals were like a portal that led straight to my soul. I had been muddied – and everybody knows that once you muck up clean water, you can’t unmuck it.

It took me a lot of years and a lot of conversations with God (and with people who know more about God than me) to understand that everything I believed about my own sexuality was built on two huge lies.The first comes from our culture, and it tells us that sex outside of marriage isn’t a big deal.

The second is from the Church, and it tells us that sex outside of marriage is the biggest deal of all the deals ever.

One allowed me to give it away freely, convinced I would carry no burden. The other forced me to carry a spirit crushing load.

Both are complete crap.

Now that we’ve shocked a few of you, for me the real gold to be mined in Jamie’s blog are some pieces she wrote on short-term missions, as seen through the eyes of full-time career missionaries in Costa Rica; like this 2012 piece, Hugs for Jesus:

…We ended up shooting an impromptu interview with this group of college aged youth, who’d come from all over North America and Europe. We asked them simple questions like who they were, what they were doing, and what they hoped to accomplish by giving out hugs on the streets of Costa Rica. I can say they were at least able to tell us their own names with confidence – beyond that, it was obvious that none of them was really sure why they were here or what they were doing. One girl even admitted that she wasn’t even a Christian when she arrived in the field, and that her Mom had signed her up (As a missionary! On a missions trip!!) without her knowledge.

We asked them, “If someone accepted a hug and was so moved by said hug (and subsequently knowing that Jesus loved them) and they wanted more information, what would you do?”

And they weren’t really sure.

So we helped them out with a suggestion, “Would you, y’know, maybe refer them to a local church?”

“Oh, yes! Yes. For sure. We would refer them to a church.”

Cool. Which church?

“Oh. Costa Rica has tons of great churches.”

OK. Do you know what any of them are called? Or where they are?

“Well… No. But, they’re everywhere around here.”

Oookaaay… Do you go to a church here? Like, a church that you could invite people to attend?

“Um…yeah. Hey, you guys? What’s that church we go to? Like, on Sundays. What’s it called again?”

So you don’t even know where YOU go to church?

And then, a leader came up and tapped her watch and said, “Sorry to interrupt, but we’ve got to go do… a…thing…” And then they split.

Jamie Wright

A little later that year, after quoting Luke 10 where Jesus sends out his version of a missions team, Healthy Short Term Missions? Do it Like Jesus, she noted:

Where Jesus appointed, we take volunteers.

Where Jesus sent pairs, we send herds.

Where Jesus admonished for danger and quiet humility along the road, we opt for vacation destinations and loud self-congratulations.

Where Jesus asks to be bringers of peace, we often bring chaos.

Where Jesus designed an opportunity for a disciple to lean into a new family, learn a new culture, and serve under the head of a household (who best knows his own need), we march in with a plan and the resources to git’er’done – completely missing out on the gift of being “a worker worth his wages”.

What if the original picture of “short-term teams” was meant to show us this valuable step in the process of discipleship, where we can learn dependence on God, love for others, and how to serve

And what if we’ve taken that picture and turned it into a billion dollar industry, creating dependence among the poor – not on God – but on the ourselves, damaging Christ’s image in the world, and missing the point entirely?

That’s the type of thing I’m looking forward to see reach a wider audience this spring. Whether or not I’ll get to review the book here, I don’t know; I have no contacts at Converge Books.

But I’m also looking forward to the first type of writing we quoted first. That’s what Jamie is all about. And that’s why I think she’s the very best missionary.  


Publisher marketing:

…As a quirky Jewish kid and promiscuous punkass teen, Jamie Wright never imagines becoming a Christian, let alone a Christian missionary. She is barely an adult when the trials of motherhood and marriage put her on an unexpected collision course with Jesus. After finding her faith at a suburban megachurch, Jamie trades in the easy life on the cul-de-sac for the green fields of Costa Rica. There, along with her family, she earnestly hopes to serve God and change lives. But faced with a yawning culture gap and persistent shortcomings in herself and her fellow workers, she soon loses confidence in the missionary enterprise and falls into a funk of cynicism and despair.

Nearly paralyzed by depression, yet still wanting to make a difference, she decides to tell the whole, disenchanted truth: Missionaries suck and our work makes no sense at all! From her sofa in Central America, she launches a renegade blog, Jamie the Very Worst Missionary, and against all odds wins a large and passionate following. Which leads her to see that maybe a “bad” missionary–awkward, doubtful, and vocal—is exactly what the world and the throngs of American do-gooders need.

The Very Worst Missionary is a disarming, ultimately inspiring spiritual memoir for well-intentioned contrarians everywhere…


Sharing the Sriracha bottle left to right: Nadia Bolz-Weber, Sarah Bessey and Jamie Wright at a Meatball Bar (whatever that is) in early 2014. I thought the only progressive Christian female writer (at the time) missing was Rachel Held Evans. (It’s amazing what you find in your photo file.)

 

January 17, 2018

Wednesday Link List

Panama Clerical Shirt: What pastors wear on vacation.

These lists are different each week, and this time around, the first few offer some brain-stretching opportunities to think about doctrine and theology. Plus as an extra exercise in equal time, many of these are from Reformed/Calvinists sources. See…we can play nice, sometimes.

Comics: Mary Worth, 2016 (upper), Bizarro, 2018 (lower)

Digging a Little Deeper

From the creator of Thinking Out Loud, check out Christianity 201. Guaranteed distraction-free faith blogging with fresh posts every day. www.Christianity201.wordpress.com

January 16, 2018

Remembering Edwin Hawkins

Filed under: Christianity, music — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:30 am

If it was the musical Godspell that inspired me that contemporary music could be used to present a Christian narrative, then it was the Edwin Hawkins update of the classic hymn, “Oh Happy Day” which convinced me as a young kid that a Christian message in music could have a place on pop radio stations, especially with contemporary Christian radio being non-existent in 1968. With the chorus lyrics intact, this melody and arrangement was quite different than the version we sung at the Sunday evening services of my youth. From that point on, I felt the possibilities were endless.

Edwin Hawkins died yesterday at age 74.

The song was originally recorded as one of eight songs on an album by Hawkins’ group, The Northern California State Youth Choir. When local radio station KSAN in San Francisco started playing it, the song was picked up by Pavillion Records and distributed by pop music label Buddah — insert reference to the irony here — with the artist designation as “Edwin Hawkins Singers.” The lead vocal is by gospel singer Dorothy Combs Morrison. It’s a song of testimony and both the traditional and modern versions have been used in baptismal services, and for many it served as an introduction to the mass choir genre of gospel music.

An obituary at National Public Radio (NPR) notes, “Throughout his career, Edwin Hawkins won a total of four Grammys, and he was voted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame in 2007.”

He taught me how
To watch and pray
And live rejoicing
Every day…
…Oh happy day…

 

Martin Luther King: The Next Day

I’m finding myself left with the impression that the day in celebration of the life and vision of Martin Luther King, Jr., rather than diminishing with the passing of years, is only growing stronger. Furthermore, there seems to be an embrace of the day by many outside the African-American community. If you missed my reference on Twitter, be sure to check out the excellent message given by Bill Hybels at Willow Creek on Sunday about the life of Dr. King.

Below is about half of a devotional I received yesterday in email. It was the day’s selection from a devotional service I subscribe to, Devotions Daily from Faith Gateway. The quotes were compiled by Dr. Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and sourced at a 2014 Zondervan book, King Rules: Ten Truths for You, Your Family, and Our Nation to Prosper.

What Would MLK Tweet? 22 Inspiring Quotes & Prayers from MLK

  • I’m just a symbol of a movement. I stand there because others helped me to stand there, forces of history projected me there.
  • Heavenly Father, thank You for life, health, rewarding vocations, and peaceful living in this turbulent society.
  • God, teach us to use the gift of reason as a blessing, not a curse.
  • God, bring us visions that lift us from carnality and sin into the light of God’s glory.
  • Agape love, repentance, forgiveness, prayer, faith: all are keys to resolving human issues.
  • God, deliver us from the sins of idleness and indifference.
  • Lord, teach me to unselfishly serve humanity.
  • Lord, order our steps and help us order our priorities, keeping You above idols and material possessions, and to rediscover lost values.
  • Lord Jesus, thank You for the peace that passes all understanding that helps us to cope with the tensions of modern living.
  • Creator of life, thank You for holy matrimony, the privilege You grant man and wife as parents to aid You in Your creative activity.
  • Dear Jesus, thank You for Your precious blood, shed for the remission of our sins. By Your stripes we are healed and set free!
  • Dear God, You bless us with vocations and money. Help us to joyfully and obediently return tithes and gifts to You to advance Your Kingdom.
  • Deliver us from self-centeredness and selfish egos. Dear Heavenly Father, help us to rise to the place where our faith in You, our dependency on You, brings new meaning to our lives.
  • God, help us to believe we were created for that which is noble and good; help us to live in the light of Your great calling and destiny.
  • Lord, help me to accept my tools, however dull they are; and then help me to do Your will with those tools. [Paraphrased]
  • Our Father God, above all else save us from succumbing to the tragic temptation of becoming cynical.
  • God, let us win the struggle for dignity and discipline, defeating the urge for retaliatory violence, choosing that grace which redeems.
  • Remove all bitterness from my heart and give me the strength and courage to face any disaster that comes my way.
  • God, thank You for the creative insights of the universe, for the saints and prophets of old, and for our foreparents.
  • God, increase the persons of goodwill and moral sensitivity. Give us renewed confidence in nonviolence and the way of love as Christ taught.
  • Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for the ministering, warring, and worshipping angels You send to help keep and protect us in all our ways.
  • We are all one human race, destined for greatness. Let us live together in peace and love in a Beloved Community.
  • Have faith in God. God is Love. Love never fails. It is our prayer that we may be children of light, the kind of people for whose coming and ministry the world is waiting. Amen. 

January 15, 2018

Another Reason the Kids Aren’t at Church

Looks like nearly half of the 15 kids in this class are on their way to a ‘perfect attendance’ award; leading some Children’s Ministry directors to suspect this image is more fantasy than reality in many of our churches.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Sunday School classrooms were adorned with attendance charts with stickers applied for each Sunday kids were present. Today, those charts would be rather spotty as church attendance has suffered greatly over the past 20 years.

Back then we also were graded on a weekly point system with points applied for:

  • being present
  • being on time
  • bringing your Bible
  • bringing some money for offering
  • knowing the memory verse
  • completing the lesson in the “quarterly” (often done in the car en route to church)1
  • staying for “big church” afterwards

The Christian Education (CE) curricula of those days weren’t perfect, perhaps; but over a 3-4 year cycle we were exposed to the major body of Christian literature. Today I’m grateful to be Biblically literate2 and especially for the verses committed to memory, something harder to accomplish as you get older.

So why aren’t the kids showing up more consistently these days? In past writing and discussion I’ve always isolated two reasons:

  • Sports: Sunday morning and midweek programs for kids and teens is taking a major hit because of scheduling of competitions and practices involving soccer, baseball, swimming, gymnastics and for those of us in Canada, hockey.
  • Shift Work: Families with a single vehicle find it impossible3 to get to church if someone has to work a Sunday morning shift (or is coming off a midnight shift).

However, in a discussion last week with a CE specialist — today sometimes referred to as a KidMin specialist — I realized I was completely overlooking a significant factor.

  • Custody Arrangements: When spending the weekend with one parent, church is part of the package, but the other parent doesn’t attend, so on those weeks the kids don’t get to connect.

I asked this person how many children in her program would be affected by this, and she said, “20 percent; adding, “I have kids for whom I’ll put some extra weeks of material together for them to take home, knowing I may not see them for a few weeks.”

(Related: If you missed our 3-part series on divorce, guest-written by a youth ministry specialist, click this link.)

We don’t have room to get into this here, but statistically, if the male parent takes the kids, there is greater likelihood of the children continuing to attend church as adults.4

Either way, not only do the kids miss the benefits of the lessons presented, but they also miss the more consistent contact with their church friends, often the only Christian friends they have. By the end of my junior year in high school (Grade 11 for my Canadian readers5) my friends were largely church friends, not school or part-time-job friends. If weekend services are missed, but they get to a solid midweek program at the church, much is redeemed, but the same factors (shift work, custody, and especially, sports) play havoc with those as well.

Then there is the issue of blended families. One parent may wish to take his children or her kids to church on Sunday morning, but the other kids weren’t raised with it. Just as water seeks its lowest level, I think you know that this might easily end up with the church-raised kids wanting to opt out for whatever reason.6

With the divorce rate showing no sign of changing, this is going to continue to be a challenge facing the church at large.7 You can’t have teens leaving church who were rarely there to begin with. 

If yours is a traditional family, encourage your kids to build friendships with those whose attendance is sporadic because of any of the three issues mentioned at the top of the article and then offer to pick up these kids and drive them to church yourselves.

 


1 If the church could afford the lesson books for each kid. Our church did for awhile, but we used a 6-point evaluation system, and I’m not sure which one in the list wasn’t included. Today, the cash cow for curriculum developers is VBS, and I suspect that many churches pour a lot of their CE budget there, instead of on weekly lesson workbooks.

2 Somewhat Biblically literate, that is; please don’t challenge me to a Bible trivia contest. For some reason I do not fare well at those.

3 Even if the parents weren’t attending, getting the kids to Sunday School was easier when there was a church bus available. Today, the phrase ‘church bus’ is a bit of an anachronism.

4 Focus on the Family did this research in the 1990s, I think. Extrapoloating from this, I’ve developed a theory that it’s equally important for kids to have memories of the male parent reading. (Related, see this item re. Bill Hybels’ ‘Chair Time’ concept.)

5 The American system of ‘freshman, sophomore, junior, senior’ is now under attack because of the men in freshman. To non-Americans, junior would tend to imply the first year of high school or college.

6 In some middle school and high school communities, it isn’t cool to go to church. But churches such as North Point have created curricula that the kids and teens find to be the highlight of their week. They can’t wait to get there each weekend.

7 For more about the impact of kids being shuttled back and forth between custodial parents, check out the 2008 Abingdon title, The Switching Hour.

 

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