Singleness is something to be celebrated

Singles are a valuable part of the church. Whether they have chosen and are happy with that state or they wish to change it, the church should welcome them into the family. I wrote about that on March 12, 2013 and I’ve reposted it below. I’m also please that Bruxy Cavey as part of his church as family series handled the topic very well. Please listen to his message.

Singles (even without kids) are part of family ministry

Posted on March 12, 2013 by Steve

We need singles in the church. Unmarried people are an important part of the family model of ministry. They are important members of the family of God because they are legitimate members. It’s a shame that we forget the Apostle Paul said that if one is unmarried it is good for them to remain unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:8).

Singleness, as pointed out by Paul Zahl in Living By Grace, is the natural state of each human. We are born into the world as singles and we exit the world as single. But just as true, we know that every human is born craving human interaction. Every human needs community.

In discipleship, singles are just as important as children, and just as important as parents. All members of our communities need to be adequately considered in disciple making. Unfortunately, many churches put a priority on people who live in a home with adults (parents) and children. The best reason for this is that we value our young people. The worst reason for this is that nuclear family is the most marketable demographic for churches.

Adult singles are an important part of the family-model of ministry. They’re important because they are a growing demographic in our community, as more people are choosing to never marry. Some may curse this, but they’re wrong to do so. Singles can be just as committed, if not more so, to the work of the Kingdom of God. If we alienate them from our churches by redefining church as a compilation of families, then we will lose a large part of a generation of believers.

Singles should feel welcome in the church. This doesn’t mean that we need to create large singles ministries, as in programs where singles go to hang out with the hope that maybe they will meet someone they can marry. This plan has two things wrong with it. First, it assumes that singles need to have a special, separate place in our fellowships. There will be occasions that singles should do things together, but peer gatherings should not be their primary interaction with the church. The second problem with designed singles groups is that they often become dating clubs, which again sends a message that we only value singles as potential couples and families. This path should not be supported by the church.

Rather, we can do these things to involve singles in our churches:

  • View singles as whole numbers. They aren’t partial people waiting for a spouse to complete them. Christ is their completion.
  • Lift up single leaders in the church so that those joining your church do not feel marriage is a requirement for full membership.
  • Develop a culture where families and singles mix regularly.
  • Make an extra effort to see that singles are enveloped in the fellowship and discipleship groups of the church.
  • Provide care and a positive disposition for single adults who return to live with their parents. This is becoming more common and does not have to be seen as a shortcoming of the adult child. There are many good reasons for an adult to live with parents, but there are also different kinds of relational concerns that must be addressed for both the adult child and the parent.

Our churches are composed of all types of people. As we develop the family ministry model, it is important that we recognize the value and needs of all people. Married parents, single parents and unattached adults should find their place in this model. As we prepare ways to involve single adults, we will discover that they have much to offer the other groups, including the children, of our churches.

– See more at: http://etchea.com/singles-even-without-kids-are-part-of-family-ministry/#sthash.SMnf67aP.dpuf

Why governance fails and why it needs the missional family model

For generations people have talked, argued, and fought over the model of leadership for the church.

Many support the episcopal model, which has a single leader- the bishop. This is the type of leadership used by the Catholic church, Anglican church, and many entrepreneurial-style evangelical churches. One person has the final say in what the church does and believes. The leader is autocratic in making many, most, or all of the decisions. The problem with the autocratic leadership model is that it draws authoritarians who can abuse the church. It is almost always hierarchical. Lesser members of the church either have no voice or have obstacles to reaching the leader so that their voice can be heard.

The second model of church leadership is the elder led model, particularly described as a plurality of leaders. In this case some number, usually a small number in respect to the total membership of the church, make their churches administrative decisions. In some cases, these elders are chosen for their spiritual maturity. Sometimes they’re chosen for their business sense. And sometimes they are chosen based on their contribution or connection to the church. Elder led churches can avoid the dysfunctions of a single leader misleading the church, but, sadly, elder-led churches often lead to a culture of ins and outs. That is, there are those people who are the inside group. Everyone else is on the outside. Elders can wield a lot of power and often the church becomes inbred.

Finally, the congregational style of leadership breaks down the walls of the church leadership. This democratic model gives voice to every member. In a purely democratic system, authoritarians are silenced as the congregational meetings give equal power to all people. The problem with this kind of church governance is twofold. First, there is seldom a truly democratic church. Most churches have a hybrid polity where some decisions are democratic, but the rest of the decisions revert to either a single leader or a plurality of leaders. The same problems exist as under the two previous forms of leaders.

The second problem with a democratic church is that not all people are equally knowledgeable about what a church needs to help its members grow in maturity. Therefore, people’s wants and their needs are given the same weight. When this happens churches easily begin to pursue their wants, and selfishness can rule the body.

While all the above models have grave limitations, the solution isn’t to contrive a new form of leadership. To be sure, there is not another way to arrange humans to lead an organization other than a single leader, a plurality of leaders, or democratic leadership. The solution is to reconsider the organizational nature of our churches. We do that by developing a family model of ministry where our churches are not non-profit organizations to managed and directed toward greater efficiency. Our churches are families, or clans. The core of our purpose isn’t productivity; it is community. Our leaders aren’t rulers or managers. They aren’t visionaries take the church to new and better places. They are siblings with the rest of the church, but mature siblings at that, who care more about the spiritual destination of the people than about what is produced.

Our churches will be better governed when governance is minimized and parenting the children of God is maximized. As the Apostle Paul put it:

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 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 Thes. 2:7-8)

Follow up this post by reading:

Leadership: Two tensions to reconcile

Marks of the early church and the family model of ministry

7 steps to introducing your children to the world without losing their souls

[Repost from February 22, 2013]

Step 1

Start young. The younger you begin introducing your children to the world the better. You can help them to approach the world with their eyes wide open so they are ready to run from danger. But teach them that they don’t need to be afraid of the world. Jesus has overcome the world.

Step 2

When your children are threatened by the world, help to create a way out. For young children this may mean pulling them out of harm’s way. With older children, give them opportunities and excuses to get out of danger. You can be a scapegoat if they need one. Better that you look like a bad guy to their acquaintances than they feel stuck in a bad place.

Step 3

Talk to them about what they encounter in the world. When they are young, be direct. Talk about what they have experienced and how it relates to your faith. As they grow older, ask questions and let them tell you how it relates to their faith.

Step 4

Help them to develop boundaries. With young kids show them where to stop. With older children, ask questions to help them develop their own boundaries.

Step 5

Give them room for failure. Your children will fail. They will sin. They are sinners, that’s expected. Give them space to be human.

Step 6

Give them grace. As your children fall into sin, offer grace first. Grace comes with forgiveness. Grace is opposed to judgment.

Step 7

Give them loving correction and advice. Be consistent with specific statements of love. Be carefully with wise advice. The older they get, the more you should keep your advice to yourself.

Note: The transition between young children and old children isn’t a line, it’s a gradation–a process. As the parent, develop a feel for movement toward maturity, and respond by trending from more direction to more coaching. Be careful not to assume that because children are a certain age that all aspects of their understanding are equally mature. Siblings mature at different rates and in their own ways, that’s OK too. Everyone grows differently.

Finally, there is no formula for parenting. It takes practice. It take discernment. If you need help ask someone close to you, talk to a church leader, or call us at Etchea Coaching.

 

Trust building in parenting…and the church

photo credit: carnagenyc via photopin cc

Parenting is a matter of demonstrating Christ’s love. A cornerstone for building a loving relationship is building a relationship of trust. No one can feel loved if they don’t feel they trust the other person.

The same is true of the church family. Trust is an imperative to the mission. To break trust is the be working against the mission of the church.

Below are a list of trust builder with an opposing list of trust busters. We all break trust at times, but the goal is to build trust.

Builders Busters
  • Listening
  • Assuming
  • Expressing clear instructions and expectations
  • Misrepresenting your hopes and expectations
  • Keeping promises 
  • Offering more than you can deliver
  • Acting consistently 
  • Erratic responses
  • Acknowledging breakdowns
  • Wearing a mask of perfection
  • Spending time together
  • Mis-prioritized values
  • Being vulnerable
  • Keeping your thoughts private
  • Empowering
  • Watching over their shoulder

 

Say “no” to likable sermons and “yes” to the family model of ministry

I found this blog over the weekend. Sermons Are Not For Liking by Tim Challies. Challies is right when he says,

Sermons are not for liking. Sermons are for listening, they are for discerning, they are for applying, but they are not for liking. You don’t get to like or dislike a sermon. We tend to ask questions like, “So how did you enjoy the sermon today?” It is just the wrong question to ask.

CEO style pastors want their sermons to be liked, because when a sermon is enjoyable, people come back and they may even bring friends. Many church leaders set their measure of success at how many people attend their likable sermons.

The problem is that sermons are supposed to be life changing. They are supposed to challenge people to consider their life and how they need to change. Sermons are not supposed to be cruel or damning in the sense that some people want to make them, but they are supposed to be honest and probing. CEO pastors cannot be honest when they prefer to be liked.

That’s why we need a family model of ministry. A model that encourages honest reflection because the pastor is a part of the family, not a hired leader. The family-model pastor is a caretaker of the family so they know when they have to say the unpopular thing. Pastors need to take their place that the parents of the congregation, not seeking to be likable or have their work enjoyable, but seeking to help the people to grow in maturity.

Leadership as a new idol

There’s a great article on the Leadership Journal blog by Paul Pastor. I hope that many church “leaders” will read it.

We live in a world with a Twitter mentality. By that, I mean a world that expects that everyone should have followers. I’ll follow you, you follow me–that makes us both leaders. Influence and leadership have become idols that have replaced God in our pursuits. Pastor’s and others encourage this by inviting the whole church to leadership conferences and focusing on them as valuable church members when they take visible volunteer positions in the church. We do this by making the focus of our church the programs and services that we provide and, particularly, on the people who provide them.

I hope that everyone in the church has some level of influence on the people around them. I hope that that influence is the Light of Christ coming through their attitude and actions. However, I hope that most Christian people are comfortable with being followers. Pastor says,

We are self deceived, in the pew and in the pulpit. We crave power and crave influence. We crave a throne, but a darkly pious one—think how closely the desire for rulership, the need to be seen sidled up to Christ the King, the need to be in front correlates to our culture of Christian celebrity!

This craving is our idol. A god of what we can do to and for other people. I god that makes our power more important than God’s power. We need to give it up. We are most influential for the Kingdom of God when we are followers of Jesus, not leaders of people.

It’s OK for churches to have good leaders. It’s better if we have good followers.

Leadership: Two tensions to reconcile

  1. The church leaders are always right.
  2. The church leaders are just people; their opinions are just opinions.
photo credit: derrickcollins via photopin cc

If you’ve been in the church more than a little while, you’ve encountered people endorsing both of these positions.

You’ve heard the overly self-confident pastor claim that he should have the unquestioned authority to lead as a man or woman of God.

You’ve heard a lay person complain that the pastor should listen to the people because the people know best what their spiritual needs are.

Business models of ministry might attempt to capitalize on either of these extremes. A strong CEO style leader might take hold of the organization and make it their’s to run as they see fit, or democratic organizations listen to the polls of the people to see what people most want to in a consumeristic manner, the leaders can build something that everyone will like.

The family model of ministry stands in the tension of these statements. The leader in a family model is an older brother or sister who carefully listens to their siblings needs. (Not as much the wants, but occasionally those too.)  As the leaders know that needs of the congregation, the family model opens the door for the leaders to act accordingly and with great care. Sometimes this means telling people “you can’t get what you want. It’s not good for the family.” Sometimes it means providing people with great gifts, even before they’ve asked for them.

It makes no sense for a church to hire someone for $60-70K per year and then ask them to do their bidding. If that’s the inclination of the church, they should hire a busboy instead. Someone to clean up their messes after they’ve consumed what they want. The family model of ministry is about identifying someone that you feel is wise, strong in faith, and able to see that you need and help you to find a path to get what you need.

Help your leader to help you. Prove them wise when they act wisely.

Marks of the early church and the family model of ministry

Scot McKnight asks the question When is Your Gathering the “Church”? today. The post is in response to Classical Christian Doctrine: Introducing the Essentials of the Ancient Faith by Ronald E. Heine. 

McKnight summarizes Heine 5 marks of the early church like this:

1. Faith, but as the act of trust in Christ and faith as the content of what the Christians believed, and here he refers to proto-creeds in the NT, and I would see the most important one to be 1 Cor 15:3-5 (though he does not list the references).
2. Holy Spirit — living indwelling and reality.
3. A particular, acceptable way of living.
4. Ministry of pastors, teachers, etc.
5. Sacraments in baptism and eucharist.

It’s interesting to consider how to apply these to the family model of ministry. What do you think? Are the consistent with family ministries?

 

A generation specific gospel is irrelevant for all generations: going beyond Rachel Held Evans’ article on millennials

This weekend an interesting article by Rachel Evans made a big splash in the Christian blogosphere. The article, Why Millennials are Leaving the Church, was posted on CNN’s Religion blog. She makes these excellent points:

Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.

You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.

Evans makes some excellent points, but I think the church needs to move beyond this kind of thinking, and the family model of ministry is a step towards meeting Evan’s goals and beyond. I have three suggestions that would help take her analysis to the next level.

Basing our reasons for doing certain things on the expectations of a particular generation is the same mistake that the boomer church made in developing the empty forms that millennials are now reacting against.

The boomers and Gen-X generations seemed to demand a contemporary environment and experiences that rival their entertainment culture. The expectation became that churches needed to match the world’s style of music, language and architecture to be relevant to these generations. Moreover, they assumed that is true for future generations. Evans points out that this plan isn’t going to work for the millennials. They want more.

The truce that she calls for is one of substance over style. That’s great! But her premise is that the substance would meet the desires of the millennials, specifically- Accept my views of science and faith; Accept my desire for ambiguity in answering life’s questions; Accept my desire for a more formal liturgy. Do these things so the Millennials will be more likely to stay in the church.

There are many reasons to accept more ambiguity in our doctrine and practices, to be more tolerant of different kinds of people, and to incorporate elements of the liturgy in our worship service, Evan suggests that the will of the next generation is the reason. In fact, this isn’t much different than the thoughts of the previous generations who made changes to become relevant to the culture.

The problem is that making changes just to attract the millennials will alienate older generations, as we’ve seen with previous attempts at being generationally relevant. It runs the risk of becoming irrelevant to everyone. We should have learned that a church trying too hard to look like the culture risks becoming just another element of the culture, when it loses sight of the purpose for the church in the first place. The church should maintain a clear countercultural purpose. That purpose is where the family model of ministry is strong.

Our first question should be, “what is the church?”

This leads us to my next point, which is that the church needs to know and be what it is meant to be. To be relevant in this world the church needs to maintain its purpose more than it needs to match expectations of the world. Rather than asking why millennials are leaving the church, the family model of ministry asks the question, “what is the church, and how should it bring the gospel to the world?”

Along the way, we will likely learn from these questions that we need to present our message in a language that the world understands, but these questions will lead us to answers that anchor our purpose in the Gospel. Here is where I agree with Evans when she says, “Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.”

The message of Jesus Christ and reconciliation in him is the point of relevance to all generations and all people. This message doesn’t get stronger when the generations are divided. It is stronger when each generation of believers is more willing to be reconciled with the others. It’s clearer when disciples learn to give up their will for the sake of others.

We need to do more to bring all generations together.

The family model of ministry is about reconciling across generations and stages of life in the discipleship process. The family model of ministry seeks to build bridges on the love of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t seek to be more liturgical, but it may find bridges in liturgical practices. It doesn’t make a priority of becoming more tolerant, but it seeks to understand the tolerant heart of our Savior.

The family model of ministry is missional, as it works to become the loving, reconciling force that Christ left on this earth to be led by the Holy Spirit. It is the bearer of Good News to a troubled world.

 

Rachel Evans isn’t at all wrong about what is happening with millennials. I do, however, hope that we will move beyond concerns of one generation, and towards a church that understands and strives for a mission to all generations. As Evans makes the point that millennials will be better served with a genuine, Jesus-centered worship experience, I believe that family model of ministry provides just that in a way that these seekers of genuine community and faith are looking for. The family model of ministry is a cross-generational model of ministry where the church becomes a family of faith. The members care for one another as they serve God by being tellers of his gospel of reconciliation. The church becomes a family of reconciled people.

 

How my church is realigning the discipleship of children

The New Testament describes the church in terms of being a family. If this is true, then having departments within the church doesn’t make sense. Having the children’s ministry department, the youth ministry department, and the adult ministry department separate the members of the church into artificial ghettoes.

This mentality comes out of educational developmental theory, which makes sense if discipleship is mostly cognitive- but it isn’t. Cognitive learning is only a piece of the discipleship process. It isn’t even the most important piece as most of us have been raised to believe. Modeling, exposure, and experience are at least as important as cognitively processing pieces of the Scriptures. Modeling happens when more mature disciples live their life in view of the less mature. Exposure happens when a disciple hears the gospel preached and sees the body worshiping together. Experience is the process of a disciple feeling the reconciliation of Christ passed on to them by other parts of the body of Christ. These are all better done in a cross-generational environment than in age specific groups.

At The Well, we are taking steps to recognize the cross-generational needs of the discipleship process. I present these steps as helpful examples for other churches to follow.

1. Modification of our worship service to include children.

We are working to merge the purpose between our liturgy and our children’s ministry. These are lead by two different teams, but recently we’ve begun to realize that our children’s program is an extension of our liturgy (public worship). As such, we are keeping our children in the public worship more of the time. Out of our 90 minute service our children participate with adults for 50 minutes and in age grade activities for 40 minutes.

We are also working to connect our children with adults by teaching parents to make this a time of togetherness. For us, that’s a big change. To accomplish this, we have created a space with tables where parents can allow their children to sit and color or otherwise process the service physically. At the same time, many parents are welcoming the opportunity to sit in chairs with the children in a more traditional manner.

We are also introducing our children to communion. Just as in the ancient church, we practice communion every time we meet. In the past, we did little to encourage the presence of children during this time. We are changing that by purposefully encouraging parents to take their children out of the classroom and up to the communion table. This is proving to be a beautiful picture of the body of Christ coming together.

2. Realigning our expectations for those working with children.

Many churches see those leading children as teachers, with the job of passing on knowledge to children. We’re realigning this by teaching those who spend the 40 minutes with our children to be story tellers. They tell the stories of the gospel and tell their stories of how God has used the gospel in their lives. Children then become witnesses of God’s hand of reconciliation.

3. Developing connections between church and home.

We are beginning to create a new link between the time our children are at church and the rest of the week by creating information sheets that help parents continue to tell the gospel story. These sheets will inform parents of the story their children heard in their time at church and give creative ideas for applying the story in their time together. We cannot assume that all parents will uses these ideas, but our hope is that many will, and our early results show that parents are excited to have this sort of help. They want to be a part of discipling their kids, but often feel unequipped to do so.

Other posts on this topic include Practical ideas for making your church a non-consumableHow does the missional family look at relationships, and A family model of ministry.