12 really practical ways you can mix generations without scrapping age-directed ministry

God established the Church as a family. Families are mixes of people from every generation. Unfortunately, few churches demonstrate this. The age-graded model of ministry works well as a faith factory, a way of getting everyone something that relates immediately to their needs. Faith factories work to process people, but several studies, including the work done at Fuller Youth Institute, show that generations need one another. The age-graded approach has value in spiritual development: children learn things at their level; adults process issues that are not sharable in mixed age groups; and new comers can attend churches without feeling that their attention needs to be split.

The Missional Family model of discipleship doesn’t demand the end of age group ministries, but it does require new ways of mixing ages, inside and outside of those ministries.

Here are12 examples of ways churches can mix their ages without ending their current age-directed ministries:

  1. Create a mentor program that goes beyond the youth group or children’s club. Introduce older adults into those relationships. Mentors are an important part of the Loving Community discussing in our post on the missional family discipleship.
  2. Reform your small group ministry to include families. Children don’t have to attend the “boring parts”, but they should be greeted, prayed for, and cared for by the group as a whole.
  3. Instead of affinity-based small groups, develop groups that cross generations. 
  4. Include teens in small groups. Not all will feel comfortable joining, but some will. Others will learn that it isn’t “weird” over time. We have other ideas about small groups in a previous post.
  5. Have youth/seniors nights. The youth group can design and run an evening at the church for the senior’s ministry.
  6. Put discipleship under one umbrella. Maintain a children’s program, youth program, and adult programs, but have one leadership team that oversees them all.
  7. Develop a family worship Sunday that occurs on the 5th Sunday of the month. Some churches may choose to worship together more often, but an easy way to begin welcoming children and youth into “adult” worship may be on the quarterly occurrence of the 5th Sunday of the month. Churches need not make these Sundays juvenile in their structure, but can work to include all generations. I would also work extra hard to include seniors in some way. Avoid preaching on “the little children” in these weeks. Those sermons aren’t really applicable for little children other than to feel important.
  8. Close any youth classes that distract from being a part of common worship. By age 12, most children should be able to participate with the whole church. 
  9. Preach sermons that make sense to a child. Seminary level sermons don’t really connect to most adults, if we’re being honest. These sermons can include abstract concepts and big words, but they should not be centered on difficult concepts. Terms should be well defined.
  10. Make a point of the value of seniors working with children. No one is too old to be used by the Holy Spirit. Rewrite job descriptions to help seniors find a place to serve.
  11. Acknowledge regularly that the church is a family, and all people of ages and stages of life have a place in the church.
  12. Value your singles. Remind them the Apostle Paul said that being single can create a unique availability to serve in the Kingdom work. We offer more ideas about including singles in this post.
Contact us and ask for a consultation if you would like to hear more practical ideas tailored to your church. 

10 Common Lies that Parents Tell Themselves (and others)

Parents don’t usually intend to lie in this way, but when wrapped up in the everyday issues many parents misrepresent the truth by substituting these common perspectives. You’ll notice that most of these “lies” have an element of truth behind them. Be careful about reading always and never into the truth or the response.

The first 4 lies are addressed in a short but meaningful video by Skye Jethani.

1. “If my kids come out with good values, I’ve done my work at raising good Christian children.”

Values should be a part of a child’s development, but following Jesus isn’t about good values. It’s about putting faith in Jesus, even when a child slips in upholding values. Teach your children to have strength in Jesus’ work more than having faith in their own ability to act right. This is what Skye Jethani calls life under God.

2. “If my children get a great education in the Bible they’ll be great Christians.”

Memorize important scripture, learn the Bible stories, develop solid doctrine- Some people see these as the pathway to perfect love for God. They might be good, but they are not a guarantee of holiness. The Pharisees practiced this kind of spiritually, and Jesus wasn’t impressed. Skye Jethani calls this life over God.

3. “If youth group is fun for my kid, then I know they will grow spiritually.”

Fun in church programs isn’t bad, but it becomes bad when it is the means of feeling connected to the church and to God. Skye Jethani says this is the 3rd way that people falsely try to take control of the world, and in doing so try to take control of God. When youth group or church is about fun, we make God into a fun “vender” for our enjoyment.

4. “My kids will be spiritual when they are on mission for God.”

It is good to do the work of God, but doing missional things doesn’t make a person a follower of Christ. Being a Christian is being in communion with Christ. Our mission is an outworking of our love for God, not a means for gaining approval. God loves your child first, before they lift a single finger for his Kingdom.

5. “When my child walks away from their faith, I just need to get them around more Christians and they’ll come back.”

Many children walk away from their faith, and the natural parent reaction is to take control and to try to network the child back into the faith. Christian people are important for reconnecting, but in this way parents often become a nuisance in their child’s life. Allow these relationships to happen by God’s hand. Give that control over to him by praying for your child and constantly being faithful yourself.

6.  “I don’t know much about the Bible so I don’t have anything I can teach my children about my faith.”

Your own faith is an important element in the formation of your child’s faith. If you don’t feel knowledgeable, working to improve your knowledge teaches your child a lot about the Christian walk. Passing spiritual development off to a professional also teaches your child something. Unfortunately, that something isn’t good, as they will learn that walking with Christ is something that is dedicated to certain times, certain places, and lead by certain people. Teach your children that Christ can permeate all aspects of life by living your life side-by-side with them.

7. “My compliant child obviously has a stronger spirituality than my spirited child.”

Don’t confuse obedience to you as a measure of maturity. Compliance isn’t a lone measure of spirituality. Do a simple survey of Christian leaders and you’ll find many who are spirited, high-energy, and creative children who didn’t sit still when they were asked as children. Understand that God makes all kinds of personalities, and help your children to grow according to their personality, without applying false expectations.

8. “Tough love is the key to teaching our children to maintain their faith.”

God’s way is grace. There may be times that we have to allow children to feel the full consequences of their choices, but parenting should be grace-filled as much as possible.

9. “I sent my children to Christian school/home school so that they won’t be exposed to issues of the world.”

Parents cannot shield children from the world. Wherever people are, children will be exposed to worldly choices. Christian schools and home schooling have different worldly influences, but either way, children will be exposed to the breadth of possibilities sometime in their lives. This isn’t to say that secular schools are better. In fact, children are likely influenced earlier and more often by non-Christian values in secular schools, but given the right guidance, these children can grow in a unique way that children who are educated in uniquely Christian cultures sometimes miss.

10. “I’m not important for the development of my children.”

You, mom and dad, are important. Your children see you. They see your morality. They see your faith. Your attempts to grow in your faith influence your child. Living faith each day before your kids helps them to learn to do the same. Forgiving your children when necessary helps them to realize God’s forgiveness. Accepting God’s love for your wrongdoings helps kids to be confident in God’s grace. You bless your kids each day. There’s no reason to be proud of this fact, but realize that God has given you a unique role in the lives of your children.

Parenting is difficult work. It isn’t something that should be done in isolation. At Etchea Coaching, we believe the best parents are those connected to strong churches that know how to connect them to people and resources that can help. We offer training and coaching to help parents and church leaders.

3 things we could have done more

As of this week, both of my daughters have graduated from high school. We’re moving to a new stage of life as empty nesters.

Yesterday, I wrote at post on the 5 things that I think my wife and I did well in preparing our children for adulthood. Of course, we made our share of mistakes, and we’ve had some struggles. Today, I’ll share with you 3 things that, looking back, we should have done more for our children.

1. More family vacations

We have had a tight budget for many years. There are many experiences that we had to cancel because of low cash flow. I wish we would have made a priority of budgeting these things or finding local alternatives.

Many families do the same vacation every year. In our area people own or rent houses “down the shore.” Those are good vacations as they create many family memories, but I’d suggest many different vacations. Vacations should create memories and experiences. Vacations are a great time for children to learn to be more independent, to stretch their knowledge, and to learn to problem solve.

We did some of these and had great experiences. I wish we would have done more.

2. More diversity

Elie’s graduating class of 505 people included on two people of African heritage. One of those is a first generation immigrant. One person commented that every person in her graduating class belonged to the “preppy group.” That doesn’t mean that there weren’t sub-classes, but the differences were minimum. They were so small that my daughter could actually delineate between the bandies and the “orch dorks” (her words for her group of friends).

I love the education my kids received. I love the friends that they made. But wish that they would have been in an environment where they would have know more kids of different races and cultures. I grew up in a racially mixed world. I appreciate that many of my friends had Spanish names. Just this week as I told a story of my childhood, Elie acknowledged that she missed out on understanding what I learned about the Mexican cousin experience.

We tried to introduce our children to people that are different than them. I wish they could have experienced these differences more regularly.

3. More connections to family

Because ministry called us all the way across the country, we haven’t seen much of our extended family. I wish that we could have bridged that gap more. Family connect helps a person to understand their heritage better. I wish my kids knew their cousins better. I wish my kids could have more stories about times with their grandparents.


5 things we discovered to help our children mature well

This week my daughter graduates from high school. My wife and I move toward the empty nest stage of life. I’ve learned  we aren’t really there yet as. college students still live at home when they can.

As I move from one stage to the next, I think it might be helpful if I pass on some things that I’ve learned in raising my children. Here are 5 things we discovered and that worked well for us in raising our children, and 3 things I wish we could have done or exposed them to.

5 things we discovered that worked

1. Smaller is better

When we started our ministry in Pennsylvania, we bought the house that we could afford. We would have loved to upgrade along the way. In a community where the average house size is over 3,000 square feet, our 1,400 square foot townhouse seemed tiny at times. And it was cramped.

It is that crampedness that we now recognize has contributed to one thing that many families don’t experience: we shared our lives together. We were always in the same space. Our girl’s rooms were too small for them to retreat for long periods of time. Although the basement room has attempted to be a play room, and a “man cave”, at different times, it was too dark to be anything in reality. Again, it was a retreat, but it wasn’t a place that invited long stretches of hiding.

Because we were together in our small house, we learned to talk. We learned to disagree. We learned to accommodate one another. We learned to listen to the same music (U2, Switchfoot, and more recently, Mumford and Sons). We learned to watch the same TV shows (Lost was our all-time favorite, and, honestly, I wasn’t good at tolerating Disney Channel shows.)

In part because our house is small, I believe that my children know their parents, and their parents know them, in a way that isn’t common among families.

2. Dinner was essential

In building off of our family’s closeness, dinner was essential. With rare exceptions, we ate together no matter how crazy life got.

I once talked to a man who bragged that his family was so busy that they hadn’t had a meal together at home in weeks. My heart broke. They ate a lot of fast food on the run from soccer to church, and to whatever else they were doing. They never talked as a family. Their dialog was almost always planning the next steps in their day, or giving instructions. “You pick the kids up after Karate. I’ll get them from youth group.” “Johnny, hurry up and grab your water bottle. We’re late for tutoring.”

In our family, we had great conversations. Moriah shares my sense of humor. Elie loves to tell stories. Stefanie is quiet most of the time, but when she jumps into the joking, the whole table comes alive. Caspian (our dog) knows where to go, and that our dinner means his is coming soon.

One of the best parts of having dinner together regularly is the special way we break from the rule. We call those “every sandwich for himself” nights. Somehow those have become just as special and just as relational; often, with everyone standing around the kitchen island.

Dinner was a time where we learned about one another. It was also a time that we could naturally apply Christian instruction. It was at dinner when Stefanie explained to the girls the difference between being truly popular (having friends who care for you) and being infamous (demanding the attention of many). Elie came to call the infamous girls the FTWA (future trophy wives of America).

3. Guiding helps, but let them make their own choices

We didn’t pick our children’s friends. That would have been too hard. We tried at times, but those ended up being the wrong friends to pick. We didn’t pick, but we guided.

We didn’t pick our children’s activities. I thought Elie would have been a great cross country runner. I’d hoped that Moriah would have stuck with Lacrosse into high school. Elie chose to play the oboe in the orchestra. Moriah chose to sing in the choir. Moriah was a leader in her youth group and  was often a babysitter for children with special needs. Elie volunteered at the hospital.

Those experiences, and the skills and friends that they made through those experiences will last them for a life time. Stefanie and I learned to love classical music. Moriah developed a sense of empathy, strength as a quiet leader, and joy even when people test her. Elie has a big group of some of the most loving friends. She learned to counsel them through conflict, and to allow others to lead (which isn’t her first inclination).

We didn’t pick their friends or their activities, but we guided them as they chose. I’m glad they chose the friends they did, and what they chose to do.

4. Achievements are best under-celebrated

We are celebrating the achievement of graduating high school this week, but we don’t always celebrate achievement in big ways. Playing hard in a soccer game even when the game was lost was just as valuable as scoring a goal. Moriah once gave up 5 goals in one game as the goalie. We celebrated it because there were almost 20 shots at her that day and she stuck with it. No other girl would play that position because it was too emotionally hard.

We celebrated achievement, but we celebrated in understated ways. Pomp and circumstance never really made one a hero.

5. Experience is undervalued

The experiences we had together were underrated. We never did the same vacation twice. We experienced different places. We took our kids on mission trips so they could see how other people lived and understood religion. I can still remember Moriah’s eyes in the Norte Dame. I remember her different reaction when she and I returned on Good Friday. She understood the irony of the most solemn service in the Catholic calendar happening in the midst of tourists buying all kinds of cheap keepsakes. Priestly chants were overwhelmed by the cha-chinging of the cash registers.

Experiences are underrated, even when they lead to two broken arms. Elie asked as we drove away from the hospital, “Are you sorry we did this [vacation to the dude ranch]?” “No. Experience cannot come without risk. But I’m glad you weren’t hurt worse.” I replied.

We’ve enjoyed seeing our daughters grow into wonderful young women. While we’ve had these successes, we have also made mistakes. In my next post, I’ll share 3 things that we wish we could have done more.

Gloves, opera and why dads are so important

Note: I first posted this in June 2011 on my personal blog. I think it’s an important reminded to dads about how they affect their children. Happy Father’s Day.

I’ve thought a lot about being a dad this June more than past. As Moriah graduates and prepares to move on, I’ve had opportunity to reflect on my own fathering and also on the relationship I have with my father. Fortunately, for me, I’ve enjoyed both.

As I’ve reflected, I’ve come across a trend. I believe that moms are the most important person for teaching us to live and to love, but this trend has reinforced in me the crucial role that fathers play in the lives of their children. It comes from the world of music.

While listening to the live version of U2’s Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own, I learned that Bono wrote this song to his father.

I also Bono’s song took me back a few year to Dan Fogelberg and his song, Leader of the Band. Both artist connect their music to what their fathers taught them. Bono acknowledges his father singing “you’re the reason why the opera is in me.” Fogelberg calls himself the “living legacy to the leader of the band.”

Peter Gabriel wrote a song to his dad called Father-Son. Gabriel sings, “I first found my courage knowing daddy could save.” While not about his music specifically, Gabriel acknowledge his father for his strength. That strength certainly led to a long successful musical career.

There is something else in common with these father songs and some other songs about fathers, (i.e., Paul Simon’s Father and Daughter and John Mayer’s Daughters). It is that they all tend to be full of tension. Bono notes “we fight, all the time.” Dan Fogelberg’s dad has a “thundering velvet hand.” John Mayer sees a poor father resulting in the next generation having to “clean up the mess he made.” Gabriel’s tension of learning to trust his father comes through fear of water and learning to swim.

These songs all lead me to a last song that I’ve been thinking about. Rich Mullins wrote a great song called Growing Young. It is about a father, but not necessarily Mullins’ father. It’s a story about the prodigal son. The story that Jesus tells is a great story of the love of a father filled with great tension.

I saw a story on ABC News this week that talked about a study that showed that a father’s rough housing is important to development of children. With rough housing fathers demonstrate to their children appropriate measure of winning and losing. From rough play with dad, children learn to test their limits; they learn to discover their identity.

I learned something through this musical reflection. I learned that while it is from our mothers that we learn how to love, it is from our fathers that people gain their identity. More importantly, it is from God the Father that we gain the fullness of our identity as he allows us the right measures of winning and losing in this life.

We need fathers. We need strong, Christian fathers who are involved with their children, and let their children win; and let their children lose. We need fathers that discipline and teach our children the things like swimming that require trust. We need fathers who treat their daughters with grace and give their children a love for culture.

I’ve had a father that gave me this example. I hope that I’m that example to my children, especially now as Moriah will be moving to the next step of her life. As Paul Simon says, “as much as one and one is two, there can never be a father who loves his daughter as much as you.”



Servant leadership is about serving

There’s a nice discussion about servant leadership on the Jesus Creed blog. It’s about Brian Harris’ book The Tortoise Usually Wins: Biblical Reflections on Quiet Leadership for Reluctant Leaders, which I would like to read, but haven’t yet.

The discussion on the blog focuses on two types of leaders: the Imposer and the Nurturer.

The Imposer is a person of charisma and one who, in many ways, becomes his or her cause.

The second of these much generalized categories of leaders is the Nurturer or the servant leader. The Nurturer “mediates and midwives the ways of God to others.”

I would argue that the leader in the family model of ministry should prefer the nurturing style. I’ve heard people refer to the Apostle Paul as a CEO kind of leader, but he seems to value his nurturing abilities all the more.

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. 1 Thessalonians 2:7–8

Leadership is about parenting people to maturity. Parenting is nurturing. I’ve know imposing parents in my time in ministry, but I can tell you that their children often struggle because of the lack of nurturing.

I haven’t read Brian Harris’ book, but it’s on my wish list. I just need to find a copy now.

Missional Family’s top 5 posts

Etchea’s Missional Family blog is young, but looking back at our first 6 months, these are the top 5 post by number of hits.

#5—Four observations on the missional movement and their children

(April 16, 2013) In response to some new relationship I made at MissioAlliance, I reflect on the maturing of the missional movement with respect to the growth of family ministry.

#4—3 Reasons to Stop Using the Word Volunteer in Church Ministry

(May 7, 2013) It’s going to be hard to work around the term volunteer, but we muse that the idea of volunteerism has drawbacks particularly as it adds to the professional/lay ministry mindset.

#3—Unbranding your children’s and youth ministries

(April 18, 2013) It seems second nature now days, but naming ministries has drawbacks. Particularly, as it adds to the separation between our youth and the church. This post has raised many eyebrows.

#2—Two models of family ministry

(March 19, 2013) Model 1 is the traditional family ministry with classes for each member of the family and home studies for the families. Model 2 is the cross-generational missional family model. This post redefined Etchea and missional family has become our model.

#1—5 Ways to tell the difference between Traditional Family Ministry Churches and Missional Family Churches

(March 28, 2013) Following up the Two Models post, this post seemed to bring clarity to the differences and it seemed to resinate with many contemplating family ministry. The post had 100 reader in the first 24 hours online. That’s not a lot by some bloggers measure, but it’s viral by our standard.

Thanks for reading. I hope we continue to help churches and leaders to understand the nature of family ministry.

Critical thinking in family ministries

How do you apply these levels of critical thinking in your family ministry? I’d dare say that most sermons focus on 1, touch on 2 and turn 3 into a 1st level exercise (because I’ve been told, “people can’t make application on their own.”)

If that’s how we preach to adults, think how much more we might cheat children and youth out of learning to apply and evaluate.

Not long ago, I was talking with a fairly influential alumnus of a area Bible college. We were talking about learning to apply knowledge of the scriptures in the context of a youth group review. He told me under no uncertain terms was college about more that just learning what to believe. Seminary, in his words, what when you learned to consider why you believe it.

I was shocked and said that I want kindergarteners to begin to learn why they believe something.

I’ve traced this chart back to this source who says it comes from this source but cannot find the original. Sadly, I’d like to give credit if I could.

2 Lessons from Communion

The breaking of bread was listed as one of the regular activities that the first church did together. The believers were always in communion. (Acts 2:42)

They ate together:

  • To remember Jesus.
  • To make sure no one went without food.

My college roommates and I used to mark our food: “C” for Curt, “L” for Lyn, and “S” for Steve. If the food wasn’t marked it was free game, available for whoever wanted it. That was usually mustard, and anything with green fuzz growing on it.

Roommates are people who share a living space, but have no intention of sharing life.

My wife and I don’t label our food. We share everything. (Of course there are times when we don’t share equally.)

The benefit of a family is shared resources: food, housing, cars, experiences, love.

The act of communion is the church’s opportunity to share. In the New Testament church, communion wasn’t just a pinch of bread and a plastic thimble of juice; it was a common meal shared among the community. Paul talked about this in First Corinthians 11. The divisions in the Corinthian church were along class lines. The wealthy ate and left the poor to fend for themselves. Paul realized this was a disingenuous exercise of the remembrance that Jesus has instituted—a church unified and caring for one another.

What Paul talks about here is a family model church. There’s no mine and yours. In families people share and care for each other.

If the church is a family, it should be a people who share and care for one another. It should be people who desire to live life together.

There are two implications of this-

  1. The church’s celebration of communion should be more like a family meal with people who care for one another coming together to share in the common life with one another. (Read more in Body Politics by John Howard Yoder, esp. Ch. 2.)
  2. The family meal should be more like the experience of worship that we typically associate with the church ceremony. It should be a liturgy of a sort, a type of communal worship regular in practice and given to the worship of God. The evening meal can easily be a form of worship as we gather in faith and talk about how God is working in the lives of our members. (Read more in The Church Friendly Family by Randy Booth and Rich Lusk, esp. Ch. 4.)