Sunday, September 26, 2010

Children and Family in the Book of Acts

Time for some theological posting.

I am aware I haven't blogged for a bit, for a few reasons. Its been a hard month, I've been working away very hard on my own missing my compatriot who worked with me a few days a week (so I had someone to talk work stuff over with and giggle with) - therefore, head down and get on with it. Any spare minute I have had has been with family and not blog :-)

It also gets gets harder to be motivated to blog without comments (which is not a criticism, by the way, it's a reflection of the world-wide state of blogging just now - people are preferring the instant fb/twitter rapid response without waiting for comments to be moderated. I am going to take comment moderation off for this reason, so that if you comment it will be immediately visible)
More about the worldwide lack of comments on blogs here. Interesting read.

Here are some notes from my recent reading from The Child in the Bible edited by Marcia Bunge.

Important themes in the book of Acts:
1.the importance of narrative (story) in developing and forming the human person
2.Luke’s theology of the Holy Spirit
3.Luke’s interest in caring for the needy

Hope the following might be helpful. I'm finding it makes so much sense for my current and previous situation.

1. The Importance of Narrative (Story) in Developing and Forming the Human Person
Underpinning this is the belief that the shaping of our identity and practices are “storied”.
Consider your church community in this section.
•Most of our experience, our knowledge, and our thinking is organised as stories – what demarcates the experiences of the child or teenager in your church?
•These stories shape character e.g. gang violence and abuse affects developing human persons.
•Human beings are always in the process of formation. Particularly formative periods, according to neuroscientists, are the first years of life and late adolescence.

Q: What does the Book of Acts narrate for us, the reader?
A: It prioritizes conversion as the (re)orientation of a person’s life towards God shown in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

This is confirmed in what the NT scholar Joel Green called “community-nested” practices that demonstrate this new allegiance and open the way to transformation for family life, community and society.

These thoughts made me think of some reading I did 2 years ago from a book called Nurture That is Christian, and I wrote a post on it here.

For the Vision and Training Day that I ran on Saturday, I wrote some reflective questions for teams to talk about together:

•What does your church community look like compared to the book of Acts?

•When are children and teenagers present i.e. what shape do their meetings take?

•Are there opportunities for children and young people to participate in story/testimony/prayer and ministry?

2. Luke’s Theology of the Holy Spirit
•There is no escaping the inclusion of children in the “all flesh” of Acts 2:17
•Acts 2:39; promise for you and your children (teknon)
•Acts 2:17; prophecy and visions for sons and daughters
•Acts 21:9; Philip’s four unmarried daughters prophesy (parthenos); a female of marriageable age: reckoned to be a young girl c 12 years old, just before or at puberty.

These texts show that children and young people are participants in God’s kingdom being built here on earth.
Luke 18:16: Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

Here are the reflective questions I wrote for this section:

•Are we Trinitarian in what we teach our children and teenagers? i.e. are children and teenagers taught about the Holy Spirit in your programmes? (in my experience most churches are strong at teaching about God as Father and Jesus as friend)

•Are they given opportunities to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to use gifts?

•How do you work this out in practice?

3. Luke’s interest in family and caring for the needy

•In the Acts church no-one needed anything. From this we can assume very need of every member of the community was important and was met.
•This was so counter culture – see Acts 16:16 – a young slave girl was a commodity.
•The importance of family and home – Acts 10:33; in Cornelius’ home, all have gathered in the presence of God. This is a very significant verse “house” and “presence” always referred to the temple in Jerusalem up till this point.
•Implied all through Acts: the need for family transformation in order to impact the city.
Cicero: “the household is the seedbed for the state”.
•Rejection of a separatist model of children and adults. Joel B Green states that Acts forces us to reflect on the need to practise community as all ages together otherwise we are left with:

“Generations of children who are provided with less and less contact with faithful agents of Christian mission, fewer and fewer models of relationship-building, and so for whom faith becomes so personalized that it need not even find expression within one’s own family.”

As part of a church with Mission Shaped Communities (MSCs)/ Missional Expressions (MEs) - different churches use different terminology but basically these are outward-looking small grops - I found what I read next to be deeply stirring.

“The disciples have it as their mission to reach the city; but if the city is to believe, the home must be converted. But if this is so, then likewise, the unenviable place of children in household and community must undergo metamorphosis. Those transformative values that take root in the household will propagate transformation beyond its boundaries. More simply, to change the household is to change the world.”

If you ever feel that you've to do your thing with kids, teenagers and families away from other areas of church life, never overlapping and not communicating much with other areas of leadership/other ministries - is not just unhelpful (it breeds isolationism) but could possibly be one of the most insipid, evil techniques of the enemy to prevent missional growth and fruitfulness.
It's too big a risk to ignore the theological significance of households in Acts - the evidence of children and young people's life-saving and lifechanging appearances throughout the Book of Acts - and their full participation in Holy Spirit-empowered life - undoubtedly had a mighty part to play in societal transformation.

Reflective questions:
•Your church will have missional and outreach activities and strategies. In these, have you considered the need to see families within your faith community bring their children and teenagers on in their faith?
Or is all of your activity focussed on busy adults doing activity entirely separate from the rest of their household?

•How well do you support parents in the task of seeing their families transformed?

•How busy are church member’s lives? Could you encourage people to make room to be family together and in smaller groups with all ages present?

And yet in many parts of the world similar things are being said/taught and heard.

I've been hugely encouraged in three or four places/events where I have taught this over the last year, but I've been really disappointed with the response to the teaching pack I wrote on this for my own place. I have provided a whole bunch of material to be used, as I did in the last church I worked with and was used by four small intergenerational small groups - perhaps I need to just find a publisher and take it out wider than this side of the country?!

Or am I missing the point? More recently I have been questioning why things that are important to me seem not to be to others - holding all of this in tension is making me feel quite fragile. Got some great words of hope delivered by others at the Vision and Training Day - God always provides an uplook!!

Monday, September 06, 2010

September Update

As ever, so much has happened since I last posted.

Last week my voluntary three days a week worker left to move city and I am really missing her - not for what she did (though that was AMAZING!), but I am missing her person. She's lovely. We got on very well. I had given some thought to a variety of things for her to do that gave her a broad experience of children and family work. Having someone who knows your innermost thoughts and feelings and passions and motivations for the role that you play is priceless; matchless. It really helps me to have someone else to share thoughts and ideas with. I think its a stress reliever in more ways that one; its not just about the actualy physical work and emails. Sadly many people in the paid church roles crash and burn - I hear of this quite regularly - we were warned on this and coached about this at Bible College and from one-to-ones with tutors as the staff there were well aware of "crash and burns" and worse. There were some real tragedies too. But that's not a strand of this post I want to dwell on! Pastoral workers and ministers can be notoriously left on their own to cope with things and those who work with youth and children suffer from this as they are out of the morning service for some or all of the time.

The most secure rock of a person feels it when they hear people talk about how awesome the service worship/teaching/ministry was and you were out in another building/room. Maybe one day children and youth team will regularly and spontaneously be asked the question:"what was God doing amongst the children/youth this week in the morning service?". Hee hee, feeling a bit mischevious..... imagine if the first part of every church meeting was spent discussing the complaints of the under-18s. Just imagine it....

"we insist on fair trade china mugs!"
"we wonder why the chocolate bourbons have been replaced by Rich Teas. That's an unacceptable budget cut".
"To be honest, the games time went on far too long, visitors would have felt quite uncomfortable"

With my children's worker leaving, but with the possibility of her carrying out a similar role in another place, I am reminded that I am also called to is prepare and train other people to do everything that I can do. I have not forgotten the wise words of one of the first pastors I worked alongside who said to me: "Lynn, your job is to do yourself out of a job". Extreme? Perhaps. But true. Challenging? Definitely.

What kinds of experiences did I give an assistant? This is a question I am asked by other church leaders who are thinking about how to broaden their staff team. She went each week to the parent/toddler group to chat to folks. She assisted me at a daytime Alpha course, caring for the participants and meeting up with some outside of the group. I gave her lots of opportunities to lead during the holiday club. Sunday by Sunday, she planned for and taught groups of children, moving onto have oversight of the week by week teams if I was preaching or away. She stepped into the leadership role of the midweek children's club (my role there has always to be to support and facilitate and not run the show; so I would chat with parents as they came to drop off children). Certain pastoral situations we talked and prayed through together. She saw the real behind the scenes of administration and planning for 170 children. She emailed teams on my behalf - in short - she was an amazing help and I hope I have helped her to have a good experience of children and family work.

So I'm a bit sad not to have her. I saw the goodness of God and his call all over her life and its always lifegiving to be part of that.

On the plus side, I have kicked off a new term with loads of new volunteers that I didn't have to try all that hard to get as I harnessed folks who had a great experience at our summer holiday club (it went sooooo well, all credit to the brilliant team). I've just organised the re-launch of the midweek kids club, written an article for these folk and a four-pager for these folks, had my annual review, accepted a request to write an academic book review and another article for the EA after saying I couldn't do it till October. If only the writing things paid me some money I'd be more inclined to write some more (in home time of course) as it's really hard to get time to do it as well as I would like!

Coming up, I have been asked to help a national organisation with prayer events for children and adults together (oooooh I sense the fulfillment of a prophecy coming on) and I hope to run a new event in my own church for parents of babies; introdcing some principles for refreshing and renewing faith in the hard, first year of being a parent. I'm also re-running the highly successful Triple P course in a local school and October should see the next block of kids discipleship.

Ongoing, is the usual Sunday/Thursday stuff but I have instigated a new method of "presenting" given our increased numbers in a smaller space (hall) so I have to do some modelling and training on that, and encourage all the new teams to regroup and hold individual team meetings. Got a stack of contacts/visits to do - a dozen new children in the last couple of weeks. Woooo-hoooo....bring it on...! ....honestly I have never experienced such rapid increase before in my past place or even till now. I do believe this is to come to churches more and more if they will only open their hearts to children and God's heart towards them. See this post for some key thoughts.

Regarding our pastoral care: we are opening the front door real wide but, as with many growing churches, closing the back door remains a challenge for us.

But before all of the October stuff..........on 25 September, I have my annual training and vision day for pastors and leaders and kids team and youth leaders and parents and....anyone with a heart for children!

This will be my seventh and new this year, is a twin track - with practical topics such as using the Bible creatively with children or dealing with challenging behaviour, along with seminars for pastors/parents on setting a vision for young people in your church, children's faith development. If you live in Scotland/N England and you are interested in coming, maybe bringing a kids ministry team or kidnapping your church leaders/pastors and bringing them, then email me on

Lunch and materials are provided and it costs £5. In the last few years I have had 40 to 50 of my own team and the same again from other churches and denominations and I feel this is such a positive step forward; doing things across denominations is so important and a sign, I believe, of a coming move of God. Please, Lord!