Four observations on the missional movement and their children

The younger missional movement that grew out of the shadows of the emerging church may be relatively new, but it is already changing. That’s OK because it’s a movement that was created with the expectation of change. I enjoyed my experience last week at Missio Alliance. I had many great conversations with missional church leaders, mostly pastors, planters, and team members. The conversations were enlightening and diverse in many ways, but throughout I observed several commonalities. Here are my top 5 observations regarding the trends in this wonderful movement.

1. The younger missional movement is growing up. 

Many were 20s and single a few years ago. Some were 30s and just married. The problem is, like every generation, they’re growing up. As they grow up they pair up, fall in love and have children. In raising those children, they’re left rethinking their priorities.

Guess what? This isn’t any different from the people they are hoping to reach. They are still relevant. Now they’re learning to be relevant in new ways.

2. The missional movement is looking for a plan to address the needs of their children.

There is a baby boom going on with the young churches. I talked to one guy whose church experienced seven births last year. He said that there are also seven more expecting this year. That means his church of less than 50 people go from being nearly 100% adult to 20% children in two years. His church is younger than many.

With the boom of children, leaders are looking for a plan. They have a choice now. They can try to continue as if they don’t have children, or they can find new places to interact with the world. The responsibility of raising children is changing them, and they need to know how to train their children. They need to know how their gatherings should run. They need to know how to work with those in their communities who are not jumping on the baby train.

3. Traditional children’s programs are not going to work for the missional movement (just as they aren’t working for the traditional or seeker churches).

The data is out there. The people in the missional movement have seen too many of their youth group friends walk away from their faith. They aren’t looking for a traditional way of leading their children. They are looking for something more relational.

4. The ground is ripe for experimentation (but people are still nervous about experimenting with their children).

If the traditional church wasn’t right, it doesn’t seem right for missional churches to develop children’s ministry models that look like the traditional churches. There are great opportunities to experiment with intergenerational worship, family ministry, discipleship models, small groups, or whatever the creative mind of the missional movement can come up with.

It is possible that the missional movement can be this daring, but this is a difficult step for parents. Being a parent often leads people toward a more conservative posture. Nobody wants to experiment with their own children. Many leaders of missional churches that I have talked to are already focused on curriculum, and other tweaks of the traditional model. It may be one thing to get tattoos and hold your first church services in a bar. It’s another thing to play with children’s futures. As other studies have shown, people are more likely to do things that are proven ineffective than to do nothing at all when it comes to children.

How bold do you think the current generation of church parents is willing to be? What areas of spiritual development should they put their efforts into?

Growing churches will benefit from understanding the 4 Components of Family Ministry.

Leading as mother and father

It was the last week of summer 1998 and I stood staring at a couple of tables with a large assortment of picnic and potluck foods on it. I stared because the thought of actually taking any of the foods brought to mind nothing but pain.

I was just about to begin my second year of classes at Denver Seminary. The potluck picnic was the kickoff social event. My problem was that I had had my tonsils removed in the summer and was having a terrible time recovering. Even water burned my throat. Solid food hurt so bad that I’d cry as I tried to swallow.

I was hungry. My tonsillectomy resulted in 20 pounds of weight loss. I was hungry, but I was also late. The only food that remained on the table after I woke up from a nap was corn, barbecued chicken, and other salads. Nothing sounded tolerable.

I must have looked a sight, because as I wistfully looked over the food choices, Vernon Grounds, the chancellor of the seminary, walked up to me and made a wisecrack about how lost I looked and how no one should look that confused at a picnic. I responded in a raspy voice telling him that I couldn’t eat anything. I had had surgery.

To my amazement, Dr. Grounds, a man known all over the world who had several decades of leadership in the seminary behind him, stopped, grabbed a plate and spent the next few minutes going table to table, including the groups of people sitting down with full plates, to scrap up whatever Jell-O salads he could find. At first, I was a little embarrassed to be served in such a way. The plate he presented to me wasn’t exactly the most appetizing picnic food. But, it was a plate delivered out of love.

More than just love, this plate represented to me a lesson. Leadership, especially leadership in the Church, isn’t about being driven. I never met the driven version of Vernon Grounds. Maybe he was driven in his younger days. The only Vernon Grounds I ever knew was one who demonstrated every day that he loved the people in his spiritual care.

In many ways, we’ve lost that in the western church. It’s time that we reconstruct that as the norm for our Christian leaders. It’s time that we elevate to the tops of our church leadership structures men and women who scrape Jell-O salad out of bowls, so the least of their congregants can see that Christ wasn’t motivated by building something great- he was motivated by sacrificing for the least important.

Throughout the New Testament, the family imagery is clear. The church is a family. It is most clear in 1 Thessalonians 1:7b-12 when Paul says:

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

If we want parents who are spiritual leaders in the development of their children, we must be models of parental leadership. We do this first by being good parents to our children, but just as importantly, we must be good spiritual parents to our congregations, serving in humble love, caring for them like their mother, and encouraging them like their father.

In this generation of broken families, it is all the more important that we demonstrate this kind of leadership. Our young adults often come from broken homes. They need church leaders who can model what they missed in their childhood.

The family model of ministry isn’t about helping leaders build something big. It isn’t the next church growth strategy. It is about serving the people who are in their care, and serving them as a parent would serve a child. We need another generation of Vernon Grounds who leads by example and love.


The family model of ministry

I have a confession: I’ve spent the better part of my ministry life pursuing the growth of my ministry.

I’m sure that many people are wondering why that is a problem as it seems to be the expectation of ministry leaders, to strive for growth. But it is a problem. It’s a sin because God, through the Bible, calls leaders to build up the body, but not to build their ministry. And there is a difference.

Building my ministry makes me the visionary, and adopts my vision (or a community’s vision) as the purpose for the church. In reality, it should be God’s vision that we work toward.

God’s vision is about seeing more people come to faith in him and to maturity in their faith, that is, in their love and care for one another. In God’s vision, pastors are shepherds (caregivers), not dreamers and motivators. Visionary leaders have value, but the New Testament doesn’t qualify leaders based on their ability to develop great visions (1 Timothy 3:1-7). Rather, the church needs the day-to-day leadership that matches the skills set and heart of a parent, who cares for and brings God’s family to maturity (1 Peter 2:17).

It’s time that we recapture this kind of leadership in the church. It is time that we begin to redevelop our churches as families where the members belong unconditionally to the family, are cared for in their younger days, and are challenged to grow in maturity.

Just as a parent is an example to the children of their home, our pastors and elders are examples to the people of their church family. If pastors and elders see themselves as CEOs and directors of a board, the body of the church will learn to be customers and employees whose loyalty is conditional and who are there for a quid pro quo exchange.

We need to exchange this model of ministry for a family model of ministry, where pastors and leaders demonstrate loving care for their congregations so that their congregations will learn to love others in the same way.

I have a confession: I haven’t modeled that as well as I should, but I want to. I hope that many pastors and elders will learn to want the same.

Four levels article in Entre Niños

The Four Levels of Family Ministry are an important tool that I had the pleasure of developing with Scott Turansky of the National Center for Biblical Parenting. Recently, Entre Niño. Entre Niño is a online magazine with vision of equipping children’s ministry leaders in Latin America. The article walks through the levels. It is in English. Follow this link, click on button “En Esta Edicíon.” The article is on page 30. Here’s the intro.

Churches all over the world are returning to a biblical model of discipleship of their young people. In the 20th century, discipleship of young people became a specialized discipline. The goals of this development were good, but there have been two negative consequences. First, the division of churches along age lines has lost some of the benefits of intergenerational interaction. Second, many parents have abdicated their responsibility in the discipleship process.

Fortunately, there’s a new movement among many churches, educators and missions organizations to restore the elements lost in the 20th century without losing the valuable gains of educational theory. Led by an understanding of parental responsibility found in Deuteronomy 6, churches from a broad swath of backgrounds are working together to dedicate parents as disciple makers in their home.

The task may seem overwhelming but when broken down into pieces, there’s something that every church can do to empower parents wherever they are. Using four levels of family ministry, suggested by the National Center for Biblical Parenting, any church can evaluate its current ministry and capacity for change and discover ways to transfer discipleship responsibility back to the parents.


Common conceptions of family ministry

Sure, everyone is talking about the importance of the family in the spiritual development of young people. As the movement is not well defined, many conceptions arrise. I would like to bring some of those concepts into light, and consider if they are true to the historic biblical concept of family discipleship that this movement is re-discovering.

Starting a family ministry means ending age-graded programs.

False — While we are discovering the limitations to age-graded programs, they can still play an important part in the ministry of a church. Age-graded programs provide a way for children to gain understanding in a way that is age-appropriate. These programs also provide avenues for parents to begin connecting spiritually with their children, and a place for children to connect with all generations of the church. It is important that leaders be intentional about making these things happen.

Starting a family ministry means teaching parents to be Sunday school teachers.

False — It would be great if every parent wanted to teach in the children’s program. It would be great if every parent had the time and ability to work with youth. But in reality that shouldn’t be the case. Many will want to join the ministry because of a call to the ministry or a desire to be close to the children. Celebrate that! But you should also realize that it is best to recruit in broader circles than just parents, and an “every-parent-should-serve” attitude may come back to hurt the ministry down the road.

Family ministry is like starting a smaller Sunday school class at home.

False — Family devotional times are great. Encourage them! Make resources available for parents to use for them. But starting a family ministry is as much about teaching parents to talk about their faith throughout their everyday actives. It’s not hard or formal, but it will be uncomfortable to some at first.

Family ministry requires a big budget and a high-paid staff member.

False — Many small churches do a great job with family ministry. Family ministries with big budgets may miss the everyday nature of what children need–they need parents and other mentors guiding them. Family ministry isn’t a formal program; it’s a restructuring of how and who are teaching children about spiritual matters. The process can be lead by a family pastor, a senior pastor, church leader, children’s director or youth director, or by an involved parent.

Family ministry requires the buy in of the senior pastor and church leadership.

Mostly true — Sometimes the movement toward a family ministry model begins in a children’s program or youth program. There are a number of excellent things that leaders of these programs can do to connect the family and empower parents. The family ministry with the most impact, however, will be church-wide in their development. When senior pastors and church boards are onboard with the vision and implementation, the movement will grow in ways that it cannot when it is an age-division strategy.

The Goal of Family Ministry

“I was not born to be free—I was born to adore and obey.” -C.S. Lewis

Many across the nation and around the world are reconsidering how we develop disciples in local churches. Sticky Faith, at Fuller Youth Institute, and Orange Conference have made the need known. Mark Holmen’s @Home ministry, the D6 Conference, and now the 4/14Window, and National Center for Biblical Parenting are also working to take discipleship from church program to a movement that is reforming and redeveloping discipleship. This is all significant, but we need to consider the purpose of the movement.

What is the goal of family ministry?

Some say it is to stabilize our culture by making stronger families.
Some say it is to prevent the attrition of our young people from our churches.
Some say it is to create better foundations for our churches.
Some may believe that it is to produce more moral young people.
All of these are potential byproducts of family ministry, but they are not the goal of the movement.

The movement is about making disciples of our young people. Therefore, the goal of family ministry is to lead to:

  • Kingdom minded people
    • who adore the King with the rest of his subjects,
    • and who obey him
      • through love
      • and through their testimony of the establishment of the kingdom.

Just as with my article on the goal of parenting, I see that there are barriers, both out of strength and weakness, which will keep a person from meeting these goals. The table below demonstrates these barriers.

Strength Barrier To The Goal Weakness Barrier
God is scary and vengeful Adore the King Jesus is just my buddy
Church gatherings are something everyone must attend out of obligation with the rest of his subjects Church programs are available when you want to attend for your self-improvement (spiritually or otherwise)
Correction is firm and heavy handed who obey him Passive and permissive attitude
Love as an obligation through love Love is a feeling
The Gospel is a particular path with particular words needed to get one to heaven through their testimony of the establishment of the kingdom Lifestyle alone should be enough to demonstrate God to the world

Full review of Intuitive Leadership

I just finished reading Intuitive Leadership by Tim Keel. I’ve hit on some point about this book before. In final analysis, I’d say that this may not have been the best book for me to have read. It’s not a bad book, but it left me wanting some things that it didn’t deliver and with a few things that I didn’t really need.

I liked the fact that Keel poses a different kind of leadership book from those analytical, linear books that are so often published. The problem is it left me wanting something that I’m not so sure I can have: freedom within an established organization to create in the way Keel prescribes. There are some good principles that can be applied to established churches, and I’ll address those later, but it will really be difficult to get away with pushing those principles beyond a basic level.

While those principles are there and as exciting as they may be, I also found myself frustrated that the creative church movement has to tie itself so closely to certain things that to me are negatives. How many times does Keel refer to the great value of the monastics and escaping to monastic communities? Monastics, to me, are a sign of failure in Church. Some monastics were running from a very broken church; others were running from a very broken world. One could argue that we have in North America both a broken church and a broken world. Still, I don’t think escaping to an experiential community is at all the answer that the Bible gives us. I would instead love to hear creative people discovering God in creative ways among the broken piece of both church and world.

I like Keel’s points of creativity that should be kindled in the church: in leadership, in worship, in theology. I love the thought of creative people taking leadership of the church. We are still stuck in a world were safe leadership is considered godly. Wouldn’t God rather leaders push the envelope? Isn’t he in control in the end?

I love the thought of the church living in paradox and theology being more a matter of “I don’t know (yet)” than a fix system to never deviate from. I think our practices and services should highlight this paradox.

I also love Keel’s desire to get rid of the old idols of the church. I know that I am tempted by the idol of ministry that he talks about. Many people use the church and symbols of God as idols just as the Keel point out that the Ark was used before the Israelites.

Unfortunately, I’m not so sure that Keel doesn’t create some new idols along the way. To me monasticism is often an idol of experience and community. Similarly, I think if creativity for the sake of creativity is not kept in check, the thrill of doing something new can also become an idol.

In the end, I wonder if this is a book that should not have been written. Keel pronounces great frustration over other church movements that are successful and then copied because of there success. He says that he doesn’t want people to copy him instead consider their own context. That’s good, but I think human nature and the nature of leaders is to copy that which is written up as a success. Heck, didn’t Hybels say in his book Rediscovering Church that people should try to copy the Willow Creek model? Still, copying Willow Creek seemed to me to be Keel’s biggest struggle with the Evangelical Church, or at least its leaders.

I’m not sure how to get this message out, but when a leader writes a book describing how he found success, people are going to try to copy. Then again, maybe leadership is about causing success, and, after all, are there really that many intuitive leaders out there? I guess time will tell.