A few things that have become clear to me the past couple of weeks:
1) Sunday night, September 11, was a solid completion of our first phase of starting a church the past 7 months. I think we can mentally put a marker down there. It was a wonderful time together and one I think we will remember forever. That was a lot to celebrate!
As of this week, I believe that we are beginning now a new phase of our ministry. We are moving from conceiving/gestation to birthing.
2) One thing that has happened in my spirit the past couple of weeks is a revisiting of the original vision I had of this church one year ago. I have been reminded afresh of the one distinctive of this church-vision - that of equipping families.
It was at the family-equipping church conference last year that God planted the seed in me and Tracey for this idea. It was through taking the seminar by Brian Haynes, author of Shift, that I was impressed with a model I thought worthy of implementing. That model seeks to answer questions such as . . .
What if the discipleship processes at church and parents’ efforts to lead their children spiritually became one simple, common path?
What if the church embraced a strategy to equip parents to be the primary faith influencers, giving them motivation, resources, training opportunities, and most importantly a clear path to walk on?
What if the church offered Bible study and events that reinforced the parents’ role?
As I review my notes from the past year, I keep seeing the following phrase repeated:
We sense the call to build a church that will strengthen families as the primary catalyst for spiritual growth, healthy relationships, and societal stability. Raise disciple-making families who will impact people and the culture for Christ.
3) Recently I have come across the same advice from 2 different sources. The advice to leaders is - don't just give yourself to the 95% of things that other people can do. Find out for your organization what the 5% is that only you can do, and make sure to do that. I know that a part of that 5% is to lead the church towards a family-equipping model.
A few other thoughts . . .
One part of the vision of a family-equipping church (Jay Strothers writes about it in the Timothy Jones book) is to have a united worship service where children, adults and seniors are together. This will allow maximun impact of the parents and seniors on the children. It also says that during our most important hour of the week we value the church being one (babies and young preschoolers excluded). That also requires those of us leading to work towards a tight, cohesive service that at times involves the children.
A lot of big churches I have looked at have an integrated worship service with either all or the older (3rd-5th grade) elementary children staying in the whole time - First Baptist Woodstock, First Baptist Atlanta, First Baptist Spartanburg, First Baptist Taylors, First Baptist Simpsonville, for starters. These churches, of course, also offer a solid Sunday School/small group for children - geared for their age and level - before the worship service. But they also value keeping the elementary children in the worship of the total congregation. Out of those 5 churches listed, only Taylors offers a worship alternative for elementary children - and then only for 1st/2nd graders. The other four churches only have worship alternatives for preschoolers.
The other week I visited the offices of Intouch Ministries, the worldwide preaching ministry of Charles Stanley. While there, they gave me a CD of the sermon that had aired the previous week entitled Praying with Impact – a great exposition of one of Paul’s prayers – Colossians 1:9-14. (I learned years ago from Dr. Stanley to pray that for others and to ask others to pray that prayer for myself.)
While explaining the phrase in verse 10, increasing in the knowledge of God, he shares his conviction on the matter of bringing young children into “big church” or keeping them out for their own:
If you as a parent, and I say this as a very loving pastor because I care. If you as a parent bring your children to Sunday School, and you come to church, and when Sunday School is over, you go to Sunday School, get your children, and take them home, here is what you have said. “I got what I wanted, and what happens to them is not really important.” Because there is no student church and no little church that can equal big church. [applause] Can’t do it. And here is what I want you to see. And that is, that it is a selfish act on the part of parents, because there are parents who bring their children here when they are four years of age. That’s when big church starts for us – at four years of age you can come to big church. How much are they able to understand? Not much. But here is what’s happening. Into that mind of that little child is truth, truth, truth, truth. That child grows up doing what? The truth is on the inside of ‘em. That’s why it is so very important that we give our best. Look at the world that we are growing these children up. They desperately need the truth very early in life, because they are going to be attacked by everything imaginable. [applause]
So, he says, “increasing in the knowledge of God and bearing fruit in every good work.” Well, where are you going to learn that? Listen, if you don’t do it at home, forget it. And if you don’t go to church here somebody teaches the Word of God and believes the Word of God, and I’ll say this. And I’ll say it very lovingly but very strongly. You go to church and the pastor talks about some of the Word being true and some of it not being true – get out! [applause] Here’s what you are doing. You are teaching your children that the Word of God is not all true, and therefore, why should they grow up believing it? Why should they grow up believing and trusting God? It’s very important that we assume the responsibility for teaching our children a desire for God. Now how do you do that? This is how you don’t do it. When you go to church, you go home and close the Bible until next week. The best way to teach your children to have a desire and a knowledge of God is to see you reading this Book and to read it with them.
One very good resource that Tracey and I have used (and I am re-reading again) is the small book Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship by Robbie Castleman.
God is moving us forward!