Thursday, December 22, 2011

Taking it up a gear: children and prayer

Taking it up a gear....children and prayer
This is one of my passions. And it's not hard at all to see this change for the better. Read on....

Sadly, I’ve watched adults have extremely low expectations of children in this area. I know God is gracious to us and often moves situations and circumstances despite us but I feel compelled to encourage the youngest ones under my care to think big and talk to God about anything or anyone, anytime and anywhere. He’s the one who can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine (Eph 3:20), so I read from these verses that we can come to God expectantly as he is longing to hear our requests. I recently asked several church leaders how children knew that God answered prayer. “Because he does”, they replied. I asked them how children would know that he does, as I wanted to drive the point home that unless children are hearing the stories of answered prayer, then they are perhaps justified by thinking of Christianity as dull and irrelevant to their fast-moving, social-media dominated world. Children need to see concrete answers to their questions. “Just because he does” holds no power for them. “Prove to me that he does” would be their response.

The research for the “You Lost Me” project provides the evidence: one fifth (20%) of the young adults who attended church as a teenager said: “God seems missing from my experience of church” . Oh dear Lord, how have we come so far from what you intended the community of faith to be?

This is where parents can exercise tremendous influence. I've written before about one of the significant findings from Barna's 2002 research. Less than one in ten US Christian families prayed or read the Bible together in a typical week.

When I first read these statistics (in 2007) my response was to find out if it was representative of the children and families I worked with and for. So I began to ask. I’d say that for around two hundred children aged between 5 and 11, in the two large churches I have worked in, I witnessed a similar trend. Grace might be said at meals, Bible stories were occasionally or regularly read, but talking of the things God had done in individual lives, praying together and giving thanks for answered prayer was definitely not the norm. I began to think: “why is this?”

Because of the busy-ness of daily lives, including children’s extra-curricular activities, whole families sitting down to a meal together is less common, although it is still highly valued in the families I worked with. This is the time where my own family do a lot of our talking together, about God and the things he has been doing in our lives and the answers to prayer that we have seen. When are the times that this can happen otherwise? Bedtime is another good time for this. But I’ve observed that children are going to bed much later than even twelve years ago when my daughter was a baby. Some children get themselves off to bed with no adult intervention and some go with a harassed parent who doesn’t have time for extended Bible or prayer time. The ever-present gadgets and visual stimuli in our homes are undoubtedly stealing away time from families to talk and pray together. Long working hours for one or other parent and the pressure to maintain an active, balanced life means less time is given over to simply “being” as a family, at home together. Over-busy parents tend to box their time into neat segments, which can remove spontaneous opportunities for worshipful chat (as we call it!)

This picture of increasingly separate, partitioned off blocks of time is alien to families in many cultures who live, work and play together in challenging circumstances in less developed parts of our world. We need to be intentional about carving out precious family time if we are to ground our children in whole-life discipleship that helps us to identify and pray for the ones God is leading us to; the persons of peace introduced at the start of this chapter. I am convinced the pressures and busy-ness of life is one of the enemy’s chief strategies to prevent a movement again towards household re-orientation in significant numbers. I’ve witnessed children (not teenagers!) with five or six extra-curricular commitments after school and on weekends and working parents and lots of homework. Ring-fencing time for family prayer and individual devotions is not impossible, but is certainly under pressure.

Many parents have confessed to me that they struggle with praying with their children. They have got stuck in a pattern, which quite frankly is boring them (and their child?) Their child doesn’t seem to want to pray with them and both parties just want to get it over with as quickly as possible.

I've briefly outlined some ways to re-awaken your church’s/family’s or children’s prayer life. I hope you can see too that what I write below is for the whole family who may come brand new to the Christian faith. This is not all about children……..many adults get stuck in their own prayer life. This is a brief excerpt from the book I am writing.

Reawakening and Refreshing Prayer in Children and Families

(a) Moving children on in prayer. Steps 1 to 5 are suggestions by John and Chris Leach . Step 6 is my own suggestion.

Step 1 – leader/parent does everything – chooses a prayer subject, prays about it and says “amen” at the end. Subjects need to be simple and relevant, linked to the every day life or the Bible story you may have just read. The leader/parent models short jargon-free prayers. Eventually the children join in with “amen”.

Step 2 – the children repeat prayers phrase by phrase with their leader/parent.

Step 3 – the children are asked to suggest items for prayer, then back to step 2.

Step 4 – children suggest items for prayer and the leader/parent suggests how they might pray. This could be a set formula like “dear Lord, please look after ________ this week. Amen.”

Step 5 – Children think of an issue and pray out loud.

Step 6 – (my suggestion/practice) – children lay hands on one another and pray simple prayers for you or one another, are able to deliver words and pictures, and ask God to intervene in situations. Their boldness grows the more they practise this. This step requires you to have taught your children how to tune in to listen to God.

Step 6 is ideally practised in a variety of settings such as in Sunday gatherings, in midweek intergenerational house groups, in Missional Communities or in public place on outreach.
Use descriptive praise towards the children to mark the movement from one stage to another. Consider using a prayer journal to record answers to prayer. Faith is built when we see the answers come and we celebrate each little success, which builds more faith and higher levels of expectation and so on it goes.

(b) 24/7 Prayer Rooms
When my (former) church entered wholeheartedly into regular 24-hour seasons of prayer, seven days a week, (in a specially set apart room in the church building), I wanted to encourage whole families to come and visit it. I wrote to parents before the prayer room week began, enclosing an information leaflet on ways to engage children in the 24/7 prayer room.

The prayer room had a chalkboard wall where people could leave verses and drawings, and pegs and hanging space, post-it notes, paper and pens. It was warmly furnished with cushions and chairs, rugs and blankets. I left a specially marked “children’s resource box” with sponges, paints, rollers, sugar paper and crayons as well as a selection of age-appropriate Bibles. This was a great success and used by many families who might not have gone all together to pray. Children, some very young, listened to God, prayed for the church and the nation and received prophetic words and pictures which were displayed on the “community wall”. Immediately they felt part and played an enormous part in the church’s prayer life. I fed back these examples (taking digital photographs, for example) in whole church services and some of the children themselves shared their own story of how they found the prayer room to be a place where they met with God.

I have to say that the family stories have been one of the things that has touched me the most and that I have been genuinely privileged to watch unfold. And this is not a difficult one, for readers to imagine happening in your place! Inspiring stories and lots of help on how to start a prayer room is available online (link at the end of this post).

This played a part, I believe, in catapulting our church children forward in their expectation of and journey with prayer.

(c) Church prayer meetings
It was a short step for me to arrange for some time in our regular church prayer meetings to be given over to all ages coming together to worship and pray, to tune in to God and to pray for the church, the city and the nation. We also enjoyed gentle but powerful times of children praying for – really ministering the power of the Holy Spirit – to adults and adults praying for children. On one occasion I had put together a “tabernacling space” and a young boy who very rarely came to church was lying down in God’s presence. Watching my senior pastor gently pray for him, and minister something from God himself to this young boy’s hurting spirit was like watching a little bit of heaven unfold before me. I’ll never forget what I aw happening in the spirit. Imagine making time for such encounters in God’s presence between adults and children in your faith community.

Why not make your church prayer meetings accessible to all ages for the first hour? Make sure it’s not dry and boring. Try to use a gifted worship leader/prayer leader who can engage all ages together. It’s not an easy thing to do, and we have to start our prayer meetings earlier and be there longer ourselves after the children and families have gone home, but it is a cost I gladly pay. Imagine the new families who are to come into the kingdom joining in with these kinds of activities! They will grow in faith and in experiences. Don’t worry if you are not sure how the event will turn out. The one thing I have learned most over the years through making mistakes is that God honours the heart behind what we do and it feels to me as if he is particularly inclined towards our attempts to see children grow in experience of him and in prayer.

(d) Children praying for others
I want to stress that the journey I have outlined above from traditional Sunday school -> 24/7 prayer room -> church prayer meetings -> ministering to one another and praying for schools and families, for the sick and the hurting, happened very quickly (in 12 to 18 months) and therefore I believe is eminently possible for any church that takes seriously the call to nurture and disciple the young to take great strides forward. I simply facilitated and then stepped back.

I began to see a change by disseminating everything I knew and practiced about children’s innate spirituality to parents and the wider church by any means possible (annual Vision days, one to one meetings, all age services, “family slots”, emails, pastoral home visits, written reports). I wanted to raise the expectation levels by explaining and demonstrating that children connect with God easily and believe for big things. I then planned to take children on from wherever they were in prayer using the 6 steps. All along, I encouraged children to believe God for big things but to listen carefully as to how they should pray because we have an ALMIGHTY powerful God who is longing to move in response to our prayers. Therefore in the first year I spent quite a lot of time teaching my volunteer team and the children themselves to listen out for God and not to plough in praying their best intentions.

I also took a group of children who were hungry, very hungry to know God more and worked through the Power of the Praying Kid book. This was no ordinary discipleship group, in that every third week we met and in-between times I wrote a parent history-maker sheet summarizing what we had done and setting some homework (!) for the parent and child to do together, for example: “tell your child about a time you had to forgive someone. Was this easy or hard? What happened once you had done that? What did it feel like?”

So children practiced the laying on of hands, waiting on God to listen first for Bible verses or pictures before praying for adults who were ill or facing difficulties (visas, accommodation, final exams). This was a weekly occurrence. I didn’t lead this from the front, I introduced the activity and let the children gather round individuals and pray. Sometimes my team and I wanted to finish off the praying time (!) so we could move on to other programmed activity but there would be very few children sitting on the floor waiting, they had all crowded round the person or persons being prayed for, to lay hands on and to watch, listen and join in. I learned to just go with this. There is a rising hunger amongst children in the UK to pray.

I would reiterate that it’s very important to share the answers to prayer so that children match up the beginning with the end and know that God always answers prayer. This also allows them to see that sometimes the answer is “no” or “wait”. It also allows them to grow in bold faith. One week a nurse who was signed off work with a slipped disc came in to the children’s venue to seek prayer specifically because she had heard that the children offered to pray for people. A big crowd of about thirty children dutifully laid hands on her and prayed with faith for her back – very simply, but boldly. She had an appointment that week with the occupational health specialist who had signed her off work. She was healed of all pain and he substantiated that the disc was back in place and that she could return to work. I asked her to come back to tell the children exactly what had happened in the previous seven days. Naturally their faith was strengthened and they had experienced God’s power working through them, which I reckon they will never forget.

The journey from a traditional classroom based Sunday School to what I have described above (in two years) continues as children have now prayed in school for their friends to be healed of headaches and stomach upsets. Friends, this journey is not an impossibly hard one. God is committed to this where you feel weak because (I am convinced) he loves to hear children praying.

The journey in and with prayer for children is an essential one, I believe, for us to be ready for what is to come. People who come new to the Christian faith, with no relatives who have gone before them to help show them the way, will need to be in direct and continual dialogue with their Father in heaven. They’ll need – and I believe will receive - bold and radical answers to prayer that will see a reorientation throughout their extended family towards God and lifelong commitments to the Christian faith. Let’s do all we can to prepare ourselves for a move of prayer that renews and refreshes the whole church that no one age or stage of life is isolated from.

You Lost Me - by David Kinnaman: a must-read
And For Your Children - by John and Chris Leach
The Power of the Praying Kid - by Stormie Omartian
24/7 prayer rooms - see
You will be inspired and moved – read about all ages taking part in! Prayer rooms are held in schools, churches, homes, community centres - you can set up a prayer room anywhere.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Whole Family Outreach and Discipleship

Why is whole family outreach and discipleship important? Out of many possible reasons, let me suggest five.

1. For too long we have seen children in isolation.
We have recognised the fact that children are the most unreached people group in the world , but they are incredibly easy to spot because they are found everywhere. Most of our Evangelical churches usually engage in strategies to reach children with sincere and pure motives to tell them the good news of Jesus. Christians are involved in outreaches to children on the streets, in schools, using a huge variety of methods. Yet what about the parents and grandparents….? What about reaching the whole family, the extended household? The wonderful news is that great strides are being made in this area. Something is changing. For many years Bill Wilson’s Sidewalk Sunday School pioneered in this area by visiting each child and their familiy at home every week, providing practical support wherever possible to the whole family. In the UK, the Kidz Klubs around the country follow the same groundbreaking model.

Opportunities to engage with parents outside or church doors are increasing. There is a fresh awakening of a desire in parents to understand more about how their children are wired. And to be the best parent they can. I have also observed (and this has to be a purely anecdotal comment) a rising desire in churches to reach out to and support families. More and more children’s pastors or children and family workers are being appointed to work alongside the army of youth workers and youth pastors. This can be a double-edged sword. Having a paid worker can allow for fresh initiatives to happen in abundance, but I would caution that we need less of a “programme” approach and more of an Old and New Testament approach to families. The church leadership team, and particularly those who teach and preach, still need to direct and guide the congregation on how to include, nurture and disciple the young.

2. In the UK/Europe/USA we face a desperate state of affairs.
God is stirring something up – are we standing at the cusp of another great reformation?

We cannot remain complacent by simply assuming that the children we have already will remain in the church. In both the USA and the UK all the evidence is that this isn’t happening. In the year 2000 the church-going population of Great Britain was 4.4 million and 19% of this figure were children aged 15 or under, i.e. 836,000 children. By 2025 the churchgoing population is estimated to be 2.3 million with 5% aged 15 or under i.e. 115,000 . That’s a huge decrease in 15 years or so, if current projections continue. We will have lost 721,000 children in a 25 year period that we are almost halfway through.
If we were to go back to 1990’s figures and compare this with the 2025 estimate, we will have lost contact with 1.1 million children.
“we (the UK) are one generation away from extinction” - has been said by many voices. We need to let these words sink in without frightening each other into a picture of gloom. There IS hope – and to quote the UK researcher Peter Brierley :
“Strategic action needs to be taken in the next ten years if this position is not to occur. It is no good waking up in 2030 and not liking what one sees; the opportunity to change that future picture has to be taken by 2015”.

I said there was hope. Something is stirring and a reformation is happening that you as readers have the opportunity to be part of. Professor Rebecca Nye has said :-
“Since the reformation, many emergent movements come from lone, marginal voices. Are we in the middle of a new movement or voice?”

There has been a child theology movement for a number of decades now but I believe I have seen a rise in its influence over more recent years. I have watched the advent of movements like “Will You Make a Difference?” producing thought-provoking resources for people to use in their local congregations. The 4-14 window organisation is another movement started in 2009. The Barna Organisation has been researching the religious influences upon children, youth and families for many years now.

Negativity and decline is NOT the picture across the whole world. There are lessons to learn from churches in nations who are experiencing tremendous growth due to what I would summarise as this: children contribute to and partake in kingdom practices – they are being discipled as naturally as drawing breath through the input of the whole church which means they learn to pray with expectant faith, worship chasing the presence of God and engage naturally in mission which is marked by signs and wonders.

3. Discipling children and families is biblical. I finished a few months of research on this in September. Get the book when its finished ;-)

4. Discipling children and their families is one of the areas we need to pour our time and attention into because it’s been ignored.

When I studied for my theology degree, I had to audit the theological content of a range of resources in a category of my choosing. I chose to focus on published material that discipled children. Here’s what I found:
Most devotional/educational resources in the UK/USA concentrated on:
- telling children about the gospel (VBS, holiday clubs, midweek clubs, Scripture Union group material)
- getting them into the Bible (Bible reading notes, Bibles in age-specific formats, Bible quiz books)
- telling children narrative stories about past of present-day heroes of the faith in paperback form or fictional stories about children and their families
- there are some specific Christian resources written for children dealing with specific pastoral situations such as divorce, bereavement and loss.

You will quickly see that this list focuses on the impartation of information – head knowledge. Thankfully this is beginning to change but I would argue not fast enough and, actually, a curriculum or book of itself is not going to bring about a sea-change.

There are relatively few resources possibly because Christians aren’t always in agreement with the status of children before God. And because it’s not seen as an important area to write about. (Consider how many books on church leadership there are!)

5. Discipling children and their families results in natural mission - you'll need to ask me about my experiences in this in person or buy the book in 6 months time!

It looks pretty certain that we are going to move city to step into the next phase of this in our own lives and I just can't wait. The time of preparation has felt quite long but it feels like its been a car revving up and I am so grateful to those leaders around me who have cheered me on and held my arms up when I've got tired.

You've let me - and wanted me - to be around you, but most of all you really have loved me and guided me these past 8 months and you have believed in what I'm doing. You don't think I was crazy to leave my last post as you recognised a "God At Work" roadsign. At the start of this "sabbatical time" I needed folks to get where I was coming from and what the motivation of my heart was. I'm a broken vessel, I am so aware of that, and I won't ever forget what it has felt like to be a recipient of such honour, love and acceptance.

The ditches are being dug and all, ALL, glory to God for whatever fruit comes out of this time.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Top of the Pops

Now then, now then!

Who'da thought it!?!?

I'm rising up the charts with no advertising agent, no press releases, no book on the Wesley Owen shelves yet....nothing I do has changed and yet I seem to have hit the heady heights of no 69 on the Wikio female blogger chart, even getting my own wee coloured line on Revd Lesley's graph.

Stand by for another post tomorrow, Thursday.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011


8 Reasons Why Single Men Should Work in the Church Nursery
by: Pastor Mark Driscoll on Nov 22, 2011 in Discipleship, Marriage, Parenting

I think my love for kids started with my grandpa George. He died in 1980 when I was ten years old. I still think of him often. He loved me, and I loved him. He was a retired diesel mechanic and a big guy who wore overalls and taught me how to handle power tools as I worked with him in his garage.

Riding in his car was always great because he kept in his glove box a bag of Tootsie Roll Pops with their fudgetastic center. When we went out to breakfast, the waitresses always dropped by our table to hear him tell a story—and he was hilarious. And when I stayed the night at his house, we’d sneak up while Grandma was asleep to eat caramel apples and watch wrestling on TV—“Rowdy” Roddy Piper, The Sheik, Andre the Giant, and my favorite, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka.

The kids in my grandpa’s neighborhood loved him too. They often dropped by to see what he was working on in his shop. And when the ice cream truck drove by, they would stop, get whatever they wanted, and he would always come out and pay for it all.

I loved my grandpa. And I miss him.

One thing he left with me was a deep love for children. I just picked it up from him, as did his daughter, my mom. Growing up at the oldest of five children, I looked forward to one day being a dad.

As a new Christian and college freshman, my first ministry was taking care of a bunch of young kids during a daytime women’s Bible study. It was the best. The kids were super fun, and on any given week I had anywhere from maybe 10 to 20 kids under the age of five for a few hours without any help. Those hours included crackers, juice, Bible stories, wrestling for the boys, and tea parties for the girls. The moms were surprised that a 19-year-old single guy would volunteer for the nursery, but I’m glad I did. And I’d encourage the same for other single men. In fact, I have nine reasons why single men should work in the church nursery:

It helps you learn what Jesus meant by child-like faith
When you tell a kid that Jesus walked on water, they don’t defer to Hume and enlightenment presuppositions about the miraculous. They say, “Yeah!” and their eyes get big because they believe what the Bible says.

It helps you learn about God as Father
When you interact with kids, you are reminded that to God you are just a kid and that you really need your Father. Every guy, including the one in a suit making more money than he can ever spend, is just a Fudgsicle-faced kid to the Father.

It opens up your heart to children
This causes you to view such things as sex and women differently, less selfishly, and more biblically.

It helps you pick a wife who will be a good mom
When you hang out with kids, you realize you need to marry a woman who is more interested in building a good legacy than just having a good time.

It helps you learn how to be a good father
Some guys are afraid, repelled, or ignorant of kids. Get over your fears and prejudices by hanging out with someone else’s kids a few hours a week, and learn how to interact with kids well.

It’s important for kids without a dad to have godly, male investment in their life
Young boys without a dad need the godly investment of a man. Young girls without a dad need a godly man’s loving encouragement. And the single moms really appreciate godly men investing in their kids.

It’s a good place to meet a nice gal
Single guys may not know this, but nice, single gals who love Jesus and want to marry and become a mom someday are working in the nursery. That’s like fishing in a trout pond if you’re a single guy. And the single moms dropping off their kids should be considered for marriage too. After all, Jesus’ mother was a single mom until Joseph married her and adopted Jesus.

Jesus did
Our God came to earth as a single guy and hung out with kids. They loved him. They didn’t crucify him like the religious folks. If you want to learn about Jesus and become more like him, spend more time with kids like he did.

What do you think of this, dear readers? Will post some thoughts in a day or two.....

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Children - the Natural Missional Conduit

How does your church see children and mission? I don't mean, what mission do you do for children, although that's a really important question.....

I mean:
- what is their involvement in your church's missional activity?
- how do you encourage their involvement? I reckon you have no problem with wanting teenagers to be missional, what about those younger than 13? And actually, wouldn't missional teenagers have even more practice if they were discipled into missional ways of thinking before they were 13?
- if you are a parent, how are you instilling in your own child(ren) the need not just to TELL others, but to live your life in such a way that it can't fail to point people to Jesus To simply love and serve!
- if you are a church leader - in the pressure on you to be missional/have strategies/run evangelistic activities, I've said it before and I'll say it again - don't miss the ones in front of you, lower down, maybe even at your knee level!
- and where you have children who are stepping out into deeper levels of prayer and ministry, with a heart for those outside of the church, are you putting your best around them in terms of community, involvement and belonging? Are they being pastored and cared for? Just marvelling at their giftedness/openness/spirituality and giving them opportunities to exercise that is not going to be enough. I don't want to descend into dualistic-type talk but be aware that they need you - the church - to love them, pray for them and cover their backs.

Children: a natural missional conduit

Children talk about God very naturally. Because they trust, they easily talk about what they know and have seen and heard. This is not just simple mimicry, it is a God-ordained way of transmitting truth. I have no scientific proof for this – this is only a throwaway personal proposition - but I wonder if this ability is linked to the hardwiring in the brain to connect with God identified by neuroscientists, which I've written about elsewhere? To connect with God, to experience him and to simply tell others the truth about him? Let me give you an example: a three year old child is brought to church by a carer. Her grandmother, who is the child’s full time guardian, is at home. The fact that her grandchild attends Sunday School gives her a break, some respite for a few hours. As the weeks and months pass, her little grandchild tells her repeatedly that Jesus loves her, that Jesus forgives us for the things she's done wrong, that she can tell Jesus the things that are worrying her and he will listen. I believe this child was speaking right into the things her grandmother most needed to hear at those moments.

Some months later, I have the awesome privilege of sitting with this grandmother in her home as she shares some of the stresses in her life. She tells me what her grandchild has said and asks if this could be true, does Jesus really feel this way about her? She confesses how deeply impacted she was by this little child’s words to her. I am able to tell her that it is true and to pray with her. To help her let go of some of the guilt she is carrying and to receive God’s love for herself – all because of the insistent words of her three year old grandaughter.

A similar story but not so positive in its outcome. At our annual summer holiday club for children, a brother and sister returned home singing the songs they had learned about Jesus love, care and protection for some months after the club has finished. They explained to their parents what the songs meant to them. The children were not allowed back to the holiday club the following summer as their parents did not want the same thing to happen again as they were not comfortable with their children having this experience. Dear readers – all over our world children are speaking and singing the most incredible truth about the nature of God himself! They do it innocently, naturally, sometimes like lambs to the slaughter. They need our love and support – and care and protection. Being such natural conduits means children are also susceptible to attack.

In 2005 I had a vivid dream. I watched as hundreds of terracotta warriors were unearthed, just like those uncovered in 1974 in China. But these weren’t adults, they were individual children, each armed with weaponry and precisely positioned in battle formation for the task that was ahead. I didn’t know this at the time of the dream, but each terracotta soldier that was uncovered from the Emperor’s Palace in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, was absolutely unique. No two soldiers of the eight thousand discovered are the same.

At the time of this dream I felt the call of God to love, support and equip children to stand strong in their faith. As a response to this picture in 2005 I wrote a vision statement which said to the church that we would disciple children to be victors, not victims. I knew from God that I could have high expectations, not for the children in my church to perform, but high expectations as to their capabilities to be disciples. I knew that I would not be alone in wanting to disciple children, that there would be many people in churches in the comfortable West feeling the same thing. And so my “career” in children and family ministry has tried to be very practical in carrying out that vision.

So firstly, I was to help children grow up knowing who they were in Christ, but secondly as a result of this dream, I knew I was to help prepare the church to be the safe place, the covering for these little warriors. I'm writing the book asking all who read it to partner in this. These children aren’t disciples-in-training, they are by definition disciples who are experiencing the battle now.

When she was six years old my daughter came home from school in tears because a boy in her class had laughed at her because she believed in Jesus. “He’s not real, he’s dead!” she was told. This was devastating for my daughter so what followed in our household was a crash course in apologetics suitable for six-year-olds to use in the classroom and playground.

Let every member of the church of Jesus aid in this task of teaching, instructing, welcoming and loving children who carry a huge ability to impart to the church but also a keen eye to watch and protect them, intercede for them by name and cover them at all times. They are not designed to operate as lone rangers but alongside others in their family, part of the clan and tribe of the people of God.

I love this.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


As is our habit, we are just back from an autumnal week in the Highlands....special time in the shadow of Cairngorm, watching the snow tipping the mountain-tops, falling on our faces as we cycled down from Glenmore Lodge to Aviemore on Tuesday. Lovely family time.

It's been a month since I blogged. There are lots of reasons for this. The first rule of blogging is to be careful what you share and your reasons for doing so! I'm not ready to share yet some of the amazing things that have been happening that UTTERLY demonstrate the incredible hand of God as shown to me here

Also I have been working quite hard on the book, on a chapter on societal transformation through households in the first century. I had to submit a huge chunk of writing which has now allowed for the release of a contract.

The evening I held on transforming society on 26 Sept went really well. About 60 people came (including 3 from Aberdeen!) from about 12 churches and six denominations (yaaass! I love this) and we took some time to worship and pray for one another.

I've enjoyed some special weekends speaking at some other churches, all through the friendships and networks that I already have and that have existed for many years. These myriad of people really know me and I know such support for my time out to read, write and reflect. I spend a lot of time these days feeling so grateful to God. He's my deepest, closest friend. He has blessed us with not one, not two, but three free holidays. He's supplied every penny I earned from m last post for five months now. Even though we tried to do something in our own wisdom (ha!), going to an estate agent to begin the process, he said "don't sell your house yet" in July. WHEN WE LISTEN, he's speaking tender words of love, affirmation, direction, restoration and promise. I'm walking into LIFE instead of labouring under expectation and stress and struggle, some of my own making.

Oh my, I have been sandpapered all over and confessed sin I didn't know I had or think I had. I bless, bless, bless all that God is doing in my past church.

I am seeing some things with fresh eyes and I am so excited for what is ahead for the UK. People, get ready!

In my local area I have an opportunity to do something I love on Monday - a missional party! Yay, parties can be missional and they are meant to be missional! What do I mean by this? Take the wedding where Jesus turned water into wine - this miracle pointed to the Father and to the kingdom of heaven invading our time and space - that's what I plan to make space for on Monday!

Party food - healthy options too! - games and music, dooking for apples, fancy dress then exalting Jesus in a very simple way accessible to Christian and not-yet Christian, to explain his role in taking away fear this Hallowe'en night. Dovetailing this with explaining how he can be called on when we're home alone or nowhere near a church (building). Take home reminders of this. Making opportunities available to do a parenting course.

You found me Jesus. With all that I am, I want people to find you in the same way.
And do you know what, I want to be able to take whatever risk is needed to make it happen.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Reaching Families

I have been carrying a growing inquisitiveness to find out about the conditions that led to the phenomenal growth of the church in the First Century.
I love this quote from Rodney Stark, a secular historian who has tried to answer this very same question:
How did a tiny and obscure messianic movement from the edge of the Roman Empire dislodge classical paganism and become the dominant faith of Western civilisation?

Reading a theology book (Family in the Bible) for the second time in preparation for remitting an academic review of it, I kept coming across footnotes about this Stark book. I hadn't come across it before so last month I read it from cover to cover. Its compulsive reading for anyone interested in the growth of the church and/or with a social science background, as I do (Geography). Stark outlines a conservative estimate of 40 per cent growth per decade in the numbers of Christians and admits that he comes to this figure without any space for signs, wonders and the miraculous. There seems to have been a remarkable increase in figures between 250 and 300 and this is borne out in archaeological evidence of houses being remodelled to fit more worshippers in. It’s interesting to note at this period that persecution had increased under several Roman Emperors most notably Valerian in 253 but by 311 this lessened, culminating in Constantine’s edict of toleration in 313. So from this there may be a lesson for us today: as persecution increased the church grew rapidly, then the governmental leaders realised that they needed the Christians onside (in 311, Galerius realised he needed the Christians to pray for the security of the state).

Most interestingly of all is the evidence for growth well in excess of 40pc per decade that has come to light in Egypt – extraordinary and miraculous growth is shown in the numbers of Christian converts in Egypt (from 0pc Christian in Egypt to 18 pc, in 65 years) – people changed their names to Christian names and this was tracked on papyri.

So 40 pc per decade in the growth of Christianity is called a conservative, given that very few actual records exist. The reality was that vast numbers must have been added at some stages AND the reality was that this thing spread geographically. Imagine what that would look like for your church. But more than that, for your region/area. These numbers were for society as a whole. Sure we have growing churches today, but for every growing one, how many are declining or shutting? This was true societal transformation.

What factors contributed to this?Sociological study on the growth of the Moonies (stay with me!!) – a cult – all of the converts in the study were united by close ties of friendship or kinship e.g. next door neighbours, mothers of similar ages, friends from work.

And so here lies a key principle in reaching families: for conversion to happen, people have or develop stronger attachments to Christians than they have to non-members of Christianity. There is a very interesting sociological principle here on conformity, which is outlined in the book. Suffice to say: strong friendships with Christian group members results in conversions. Simple.

And here we get to the crux of it for us – households. Each member of a household unit has unparalleled opportunities to attract other people into the faith that they hold dear through each of their networks. Note I said networks, not just one's own family. There is no single term for family in the NT.

Oikos, meaning house or household, included the householders family, slaves, and through their network of relationships, friends and neighbours. This was the major network in Rome and when Christianity grew using the same pattern of relating oikos – the exponential growth happened. Those looking in saw tremendous change and reorientation.

So what about talking about ministry to households if the word "family" has negative or painful connotations for people? We have more one or two person households in this country than at any point in history. We have broken ourselves down into smaller and smaller units, therefore I wonder if there is a rise in people looking for "oikos" - community through their networks. And you know what, churches don't just need the keen beans in their 20s pre-children with more time on their hands, churches need business people, teenagers, retired people, parents of young children, empty-nesters, kids.... - for this to really be all it could be means it needs every one. As Banning Liebscher said: don't think revival if going to come through the young. If you have breath in your body, God wants to use you.

Household transformation in the first few centuries - I wonder if I can describe how radical the shift was.

In first century Graeco-Roman times, the man held power over everyone’s possessions in the whole household – he was the paterfamilias. You may not be surprised to know that the Roman Empire had demographic challenges. There was a low birthrate due to abortion and infanticide which was readily practised. Fathers had the right to speak life or death over every newborn child and male children were favoured. There were far more men than women due to the practice of killing newborn females. Children had no status, childhood was seen as something to be grown out of, to just get through into adulthood and full legal status (under Roman law).

Christianity directly impacted the quality of life for wives and mothers. Is it any wonder that women turned to Christianity in vast numbers? Christian teaching directly confronted :

We cannot underestimate the sociological change this brought about. There was an increase in women’s status, standing and security. In the first few centuries there are numerous examples of noble Roman women bringing their husbands to faith. Christian women enjoyed far greater marital security and equality than pagan women – this was attractive to others to see. This drew people to the church.

People often say to me: there was so much about children in the Gospels, what happened in Acts? Acts sees the power of the Holy Spirit poured out which propels the church forward; Jesus words elevating children were the necessary platform for the move of God throughout households in Acts. I wrote a little more about this here, please do read in conjunction with this post if you have time.

So to see a return to household transformation requires:

1.a return to releasing each other to be “fully present” in our networks of friends, families and neighbours instead of always out at meetings. Or maybe even (shock horror) cutting our work hours.... Stop being so bloomin' busy!

2.A deliberate strategy to build attractive models of oikos in our local churches – and may I suggest that at least some of these ways encompass all of the generations........I had an amazing journey with this between 2006 and 2008.

More in the next post.

Acknowledgement: Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the nt Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (Princeton University Press/Harper Collins, 1996/1997).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Upcoming Event

If you are in the Central Belt, (or even further north!), maybe you might like to gather with me and others across denominations as we seek God for his empowering, his strategy and his presence as we prepare our churches for welcoming more and more children and their whole families into the Christian faith.

If you know me or have been following this blog for some time, you will know that I cannot separate children and teenagers from their families. I have been reading and researching the first four centuries of church growth as preparation for the chapter on children and families in the New Testament in the book I am writing.

I have re-discovered much that is making my heart beat faster, my faith levels increase and an increasing, "awakes me at night" deep hunger for the good news to spill out into the community. Like an infectious disease, (!) my plan was simply to facilitate a time for others to catch it too by drawing folks together to worship and pray. I'll teach a little bit on what I see in the Bible that underpins and highlights the rapid transferral of a life-changing belief in the person of Jesus from one person to another through the extended family and social networks of the day - sociologists like Rodney Stark have concrete evidence for a 40% growth rate every decade from the time of Jesus resurrection to the end of the fourth century. Close study of actual death records in Egypt over one time period showed this growth rate to be modest - it was in fact far higher than this for the one specific area records existed for.

The reasons for this rapid spread of Christianity are varied and complex but there is consensus that the different way of life (witness) of the changing family had such an impact that people WANTED to re-orientate their lives towards Jesus - babies were born without the fear of exposure/infanticide, women were treated well and grew in their own giftings and leadership; marriage was honoured, slaves were treated well, families grew and thrived. In short - people were attracted to what they saw in the lives of Christians. Wow.Wow. Wow.....oh Father, how we want to see more of that in our time!

So this evening of prayer, worship, teaching and preparation to go and love and serve is on Monday 26 September at 7.30pm. Email me on if you would like more information.

At the moment I am serving on the ministry team of an ILSOM (International Leaders School of Ministry) and have been reminded by the internationally-travelled speakers of the incredible growth of the church in South America, Africa, China, Indonesia, short - in every continent bar ours and North America......

But something is stirring. Hunger is rising. A month ago, 15,000 young adults gathered for a conference in Chicago - Jesus Culture Awakening. I was privileged to watch a lot of the talks live and I urge you to listen to them - they blew me away.. You can find out about them here

I do believe that hunger is stirring in our nation too - to get "out there", to love and serve local communities, to love our cities, towns and villages. There is a rising dissatisfaction I have observed with just "doing church". Yet we mustn't rush ahead without spending time with the Father to just rest and listen; to hear his strategies and plans, just receiving from him because we're simply his beloved! Its hard enough to get out there without crashing and burning(interestingly I read this today and I wholeheartedly agree with Mike Breen's (initially tough-sounding) post.

And so the plan for Monday 26 Sept is that we too will gather to ask the Lord to enlarge our hearts to love the ones who are in front of us, maybe even related to us (!) and to believe that once more God can change a nation by impacting one who impacts another who then impacts another. We need the fuel and fire that comes from sitting at the Father's feet and drinking in the Holy Spirit's power and plans rather than relying on our own strategies and thoughts.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Dealing with challenging behaviour

I'm often asked how to handle difficult behaviour.
I think everything in the notes below sums it up!

Some causes of challenging behaviour

(for the first part of this posting, I'd like to reference SU's Top Tips series on handling difficult behaviour, although I have added some other factors in due to my own knowledge, practice and experience)

• general learning difficulties

• specific learning difficulties (do you have completed registration and consent forms? Do volunteers know about the relevant information?)

• developmental disorders – ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia

• low self-image (vicious circle)

• fragmented home situations and unsettled relationships with parents

• lack of boundaries in the home

• physical demands – what I call the Saturday night sleepover sydrome...!

• group dynamics - who's the strong leader amongst the children, for example

• the organisation of your session - it might be our fault!

• (teenagers?) alcohol/drug use

Types of behaviour

• childish irresponsibility

• behaviour linked to age and stage of development

• challenge to authority

Hebrews 12:6
"My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”

Don't be afraid of discipline!!

Some thoughts:
Children and teenagers, like adults, are made in the image of God, imageo dei, so like us they matter to him. Have a God-focused approach towards them.

• Children are so valuable to God that He commands us to protect them (1Sam 20:42, Ezra 8:21)

• God wants to have a genuine relationship with His children – He describes how children may enter His presence and enjoy His company (Ps 8:2, 34:11, 103:13, Mal 2:15, Matt 21:15, Mark 10:13-16)

• God loves young people enough to ensure they receive discipline. It is a reflection of His passion for a child’s well being.

• God enjoys the nature and personality of children – attributes such as sincerity, humility, naïveté, vulnerability and simplicity. He treasures these characteristics.

Towards Change…….

1.Working within the church community and communicate clearly
Be aware of Child Protection policy and any written guidelines your church has and use a large dollop of common sense. I had written a discipline policy that was disseminated once a year to volunteers so that they knew what was minor behavioural issues and what was major (everyone has different standards and expectations therefore a team of volunteers need help to establish the base level - is interrupting a leader who is talking ok? Some leaders say it's fine, others cannot tolerate it. If this example is a major issue for your team, decide what you will accept, and disseminate this information amongst the team, preferably in writing and LET CHILDREN KNOW! Setting boundaries publicly to the children and showing that you work as a team yields such fruit. Appy your decisions simply and consistently and soon it won't be an issue any more. I can testify over and over again how well this works).

2.Working with parents/guardians
Parents/guardians are our first port of call. How can you consult with them? You may need to invest a little time in speaking with them. Always speak with the relevant leader as s/he may have relevant information to give you. Find out about parents’ expectations of their child’s/teenager’s behaviour as you may find the root of the problem right there!

3.Working with other children/youth team members
Everything written so far needs to be applied to a team context – we need to work together. Children and teenagers spot tensions and differences between adults and will play us off one another. This underlines the need for written policies/clear communication. It's the one strong similarity between church and school. I was gathering up to 175 and 160 children together in two churches; the size of a small primary school! If your church has 10-30 children, the scale may be different but the need is still there.

4. Prepare thoroughly and vary the style
I've spent many years working with and watching children, and now I observe a growing tendency in some (many?) leaders to just turn up to help at a kids club or Sunday school, assuming that all the preparation has been done by the main leader of that day. That may be very well if they are pouring juice or doing toilet runs but if they are answering questions about God and teaching something from the Bible it's just not enough. The best way to address this is to raise it as a training issue - and then monitor.

I instigated a "send-out-by-Friday" email and planning grid of who was doing what, with the Bible passage, relevant small group questions and heart prep to be done in advance of the Sunday session in both of the churches I have worked in. A good rule of thumb is that we should personally spend at least twice the amount of time on the passage that the children will spend thinking about and interacting with the Bible. This word is living and active - therefore we who teach it (whether it be to adults OR children) must spend time on and with it. Don't give out stale bread! Tastes awful....

Vary the style - this is worth a whole other posting....

Suffice to say we often teach people in the style that WE prefer, so if we like reading and thinking, we take children into a lot of reading the Bible out loud and group discussion. But leading group discussions with children requires highly skilled individuals, so the best way round this is to watch the time allocation for this part of the programme and make sure there are opportunities for the kinaesthetic (doing) - making something, acting something out, trying out a new skill.

Children engage in low level misbehaviour most often when they are bored and unstimulated. Allow them to EXPERIENCE God's presence, his working and moving amongst the group, the answered prayers, his holiness when a song finishes and you stand in silence, his tender care in moments of quiet soaking in his presence.

Just some thoughts from the past decades!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Restored - a brief word study

- the cupbearer to his position
- Moses' hand
- various cities and towns
- a king's hand
- Naaman's flesh
- a son restored to life
- the boundaries of Israel
- the altar of the Lord
- Jerusalem
- human beings, if we return to the Lord.
- everything Job lost
- God's kingdom
- Nebuchadnezzar's sanity
- the temple
- the priesthood
- people's sight
- strength restored to those who feel weak
- individuals restored, brought back safely, to the family of believers
- Eden

I love the word restoration. When I looked at google images to help me see some tangible examples of restoration, in nearly every case, restoration resulted in something better than it was before. I'm excited about that.

"sabbaticalling", writing, has given me time away, time out, time with no pressure, time to come under the maker's care and attention. I think this has resulted in a time of refining, loving more, loving better at home (and I hope out of the home!), receiving love and feeling love, time to listen, time to watch carefully, time to reflect and time to redefine what's important.

Time too for us as a family to continue to feel that we will give ourselves utterly to loving the next generation well, to teaching, training and modelling missional living to children - little children, older children, teenagers and, in particular with Mr HIWWC, troubled teenagers. We love the generations, what was invested in us from those older than us in the past will bever be forgotten and we honour those who made themselves vulnerable, let us in, let us learn, let us fail, picked us up...with my whole heart I pray that we will be able to do the same, that those younger than us will go deeper, farther and higher than we ever did or could.

Restored. An amazing word!

Wednesday, August 03, 2011



We try to make our programs fun, fresh and powerful so that a child will not become disruptive. We also use positive reinforcement and team competitions where points are awarded for good behaviour and deducted for innapropriate behaviour. In extreme circumstances a child may be placed back into the adult service with their parent. Parents will be notified of innapropriate behaviour (sic)."

Grrrrrrrrrrr. The above is an excerpt from a very large church website. One of the key members of this church, who founded the children's ministry programme in that place is speaking at an event in the UK. I'm afraid reading words like those above really put me off going. In fact, I don't really want to go (unless you, dear reader, talk me round!) because entirely separate churching of age groups to me isn't just a matter of taste, its about losing something of the discipleship culture we are meant to build and celebrate and show the world.

I'm disappointed and I'm tired of reading words like those above: "a child may be placed back in the ADULT service with their parent. Parents will be notified of inappropriate behaviour" (I've corrected the spelling).

Why am I so disappointed?

1. "adult service" - like the cinema classification system, are we soon to have:
"U cert" - everyone can attend this event, such as a church beach trip
"PG" - you can bring your offspring to this meeting, but if they barf or get freaked out by anything that happens, it's your responsibility.
"12" - your older primary children can probably handle this event, but you'd better be on hand, parents (e.g. Good Friday reflective service)
"15" - only for those in the yoof programme e.g. average length evening service
"18" - you'd better be grown up to have some longevity about you e.g. very long evening service, church business meetings, many church prayer meetings

2. I'm disappointed that the most extreme method of discipline is to put a child BACK in the adult service with the adults. Note the words: BACK IN.

So the message given out by this website is that the adults meeting with God equals a place of punishment for a child who is missing the excitement of the kids programme.

What does this say about the experience of being in the presence of God? I actually feel very strongly about this point in case you hadn't guessed. I have devised in the past a whole load of ways of working with children who are having behaviour issues at church; it nearly always comes out of one of two things: (a) we need to look at what we are teaching, how we are teaching it and who is teaching it and maybe make some changes or (b)things are not great at home in some way; a lack of boundaries, or there are worries, tensions, bullying, threats or abuse. I've been used to sitting with my colleagues and sharing pastorally so that I might be the lead person but we pray and support the family (and me) together, for we cared about each family represented in the church.

3. I'm also (as the regulars amongst you will know) disappointed with the term "adult service". I don't believe there is biblical precedent for it.

I favour the "part and part" approach with occasional but regular all-age incursions that we may all learn from each other and in one or other, or both the churches I have worked in, I have been liberated to do my thing, e.g. to model good pastoral care for families, kids and volunteers, to pioneer prayer meetings for all ages, large celebration meetings with everyone represented and intergenerational cell groups AS AN OPTION for those who wish to use them. Neither church has held adult-only everything (except of course the certificate 18 church business meetings!)

4. And finally, as if there wasn't enough here for you all to leave this blog and never return, I'm disappointed that this website makes no mention of the need to WORK WITH and SUPPORT parents. If a child isn't behaving, something is going on, as I said in point 2 above, I believe pastoral care and support is so important. They may just be tired or family circumstances might be causing a wobble (a parent out of work, for example) but it can be something more serious. Many years ago I worked with a boy who the team had to refer on to me for continual misbehaviour - it transpired that there was major stuff going on. As a church we offered support in a number of ways to the family and it was with great delight some years later I saw him be baptised. On a return visit to the church he hugged me and Mr HIWWC. Imagine if we had just sent him back into the "adult service"....(for his behaviour was extreme).

To be clear, I can and have sent for parents to come out of the service to support the team in serious cases but at the end I talk with the parent(s) and the child, pray with them, visit them at home if necessary and follow up. I always talk about how we have a God of second chances and how my love and care for them does not depend on their behaviour.

Rant over.......anyone with me at all?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Winter is past, the springtime has come.....

The picture above is the view from our decking/breakfast table. This holiday is a gift from God! He's so good to us. Two things I love: cliffs and waves. And I can see them every day.

I thought I would write about a little highlight of our holiday so far:we have just had the privilege of spending the last two Sundays at the tubestation - which is both gathered church and a missional community, engaged in midweek activity within their base building and much, much wider in that in the way the folks there share their lives.

We've been coming here for 3 years now on our Cornwall summer holidays and it's inspiring to see a two-pronged missional focus:
(1) to the surfing community and
(2) to the local community - the village of Polzeath (and now to other local villages with the plant out to St Merryn)

A few years ago I had the privilege of offering a detailed prophecy to the leaders there, when I knew very little about their history, background, hopes or desires and just chewing that over together has given us one of those precious heart-to-heart connections with the tube station project directors. I love that about the kingdom of God - when you don't see people very often, so you don't know the minutiae of each other's lives, and yet you support one another fiercely - the picture that comes to mind is of people in the crowd who are cheering you - they are all for you. Well, that's how we feel about tubestation.

The need to give people from all ages and stages of life a broad welcome was the theme of this Sunday's sermon with Ian Bell of the Methodist Church's Venture FX scheme speaking. I have heard Ian speak before and I love his simplicity, humility, warmth and evident excitement about the fresh expressions of church he encourages and develops.

The word I would use to sum up tubestation is "inclusive". They love to have visitors. Their attendance can go from 40 or 50 in the winter to over 250 some Sundays in the summer - we wondered if that gets annoying for the regulars but they genuinely love it when the place is packed out and visitors come from all over the country/world. I'll say this with a bias, for which I can't apologise, given what I am writing about in the book project just now - they have a very high regard for young people. We visited the building after school time today and there were a lot of kids and teenagers around - surfing the internet, skateboarding, playing around on the grass. Please do check out the website to see what other things they do - what has impressed me over the last few years is the inclusiveness of the activities that go on; yes, there is a focus on one of the two things mentioned earlier (surf community/local community) but within that children and teenagers have a place that's all for them. I get the feeling that the heart of tubestation is to love well and to love all, hence the relevance of Sunday's sermon.

The worship leading is just immense - we have probably been around 6 or 7 times now and there is always a reverence for the old hymns of the past with one of the Wesleys usually featuring (Methodist chapel remember!) and lots of songs that mention "seas", "oceans", "waves" and the beauty of God's creation. And there is such a sense of the presence of God - the band is tight, musically, but Kris, the lead worshipper most times I have been there, leads what must be an incredibly diverse crowd (denominationally speaking!) so sensitively. You can tell he just loves to worship God any way he can. That desire is always visible when someone is really living it.

And so this Sunday we sang one of our favourite songs, but not always a common choice, you can click on it at the end of the post if you wish.

Winter is past, the springtime has come....

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How to Survive the Waiting Game

I have reproduced this article from here (I want to acknowledge the link and the source) - I have had the privilege of hearing John Paul Jackson speak a number of times, the last being a couple of weeks ago, and he always offer such wise counsel with a prophetic edge - how we need that!

How to Survive The Waiting Game

Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord (Ps. 27:14, NASB).

No matter what God has called us to do, one of the most difficult things we will face is the in-between time. In the beginning, He prepares our hearts for the calling. He gives us a glimpse of His plans for us, and it births great hope within us.

The difficulty is that there is always a time lag between the initial preparation and the outcome. The beginning often carries a great emotional surge. We know what God said, and we know we will see it happen, no matter what the enemy may throw at us in the process. Our faith is as tall as the mountains. We feel invincible in God’s promise. We take the initial steps and are excited to see the fruit of our labors.

But then comes the waiting.

The days become weeks and months, and we have to wait for what God has promised us. Many of us don’t handle the waiting very well. Our hope begins to waver. We begin to forget the glorious promises God gave us and how it felt when we heard His voice. So many of us lose heart during the time lag.

What can we do to instead gain heart during this waiting period?

1. Be willing to rest.

Hearing God’s voice is like finding a well in the desert. We do not survive on our own thoughts or strength or goodness, and as we discover this we discover reality and true freedom in Christ. His presence is our lifeblood, and He is our peace, which is the foundation for hearing His voice. It will be very difficult for us to stir up our hearts and keep them passionate and alive without being willing to rest in His presence.

So in the midst of waiting for change, we need to be willing to rest. In the New American Standard translation of Psalm 24:17, it reads, “Let your heart take courage” (emphasis added). If we are worrying and striving and trying to make things happen, it will be very difficult for us to find our peace in God. It will be difficult for us to remember Him.

Today, if you find yourself brought low by anxiety, despair or the apparent lack of movement in your life, let your heart take courage by being quiet in His presence. This is the starting point for everything we do. There, God will prepare us for the change He is bringing and for the next step in the promise He has given us.

2. Be captivated.

Paul wrote in Romans 10 that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. The level of “hearing” that Paul talked about means to be enraptured, to be captivated, to be totally consumed, to be focused on the Word—that is what increases our faith.

What has God told you? Be like the persistent widow in Luke 18 who would not allow the judge to forget her case.

If it has been awhile since you have actively remembered the promise God gave you, change that. Think about it. Remember it. Write it on a note card and tape it to your bathroom mirror.

Be captivated by God. Open your heart to hearing His quiet voice in the area of His promise.

3. Be willing to take risks.

Finally, we need to consider taking steps we have never taken before. Perhaps God has already set up everything we need, and the only thing left for us to do now is take the risk that He’s calling us to take at the time he’s calling us to take it.

Peter took a lot of risks. The New Testament is filled with wild stories about him. Something daring and unorthodox was in him from the beginning. He didn’t always take the right risks, yet God never chastised him for being zealous.

If you do these three things—rest in God, be captivated by Him, and be willing to take the risks He sets before you to take—then you are guaranteed to see change because you are seeking God. You are holding on to His promises, and you are remembering His voice. You are honoring Him, and that is no small thing.

Today, be strong and let your heart take courage.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Martin Luther WTG!

Martin Luther - way to go!!!:
When I preach I regard neither doctors nor magistrates, of whom I have above forty in the congregation, I have all my eyes on the maidservants and on the children. If the learned men are not well pleased with what they hear, well, the door is open".

Friday, June 24, 2011

Here's a wee excerpt....

Here's a wee excerpt from the book. I am sharing it because this week I have become more convinced than ever about the final point (3) at the foot of the post - love sullen teens in you church as much as the cutest baby and you will play such a key part in loving them through their periods of doubt, questioning and stubborn-ness.

John Westerhoff’s Theory of Faith Development

The four types of faith outlined below are helpful when thinking not just about children, but about people of all ages who make up our congregations. Westerhoff describes faith as a verb i.e. a way of behaving. He points out that these are generalizations and not meant to box children or adults into distinct categories.

Stage (1) begins with an “experienced faith” – children first learn about Christ not by what we say or teach theologically but by the experiences they have connected with those around them. They sense, explore, observe and copy the stimuli around them, and experience through interaction.

This stage is where children form their impressions of God from their experiences of Christians and church. This means that I would like to do all I can to ensure that the child’s experience of church is marked by love, trust and care. The volunteers who look after him/her need to be taught about the importance of these early days. The church crèche/nursery therefore becomes a hothouse environment for demonstrating the love and faithfulness of God. The physical space becomes very important – clean, warm, well resourced. The very best volunteers who want to be in crèche (not hard pressed parents!) serve the youngest members of the congregation. Loving grandparents, aunties and uncles become the voice and touch of Jesus to the babes they cradle. The community can help faith to grow - belief that children possess spirituality which we expect will grow to personal faith in a loving God.

Stage (2) “affiliative faith”.
This follows naturally on from Stage 1, assuming the needs of experienced faith have been met during childhood/early adolescence. Belonging is key - membership of an accepting community of faith is important. A clear sense of identity is formed – for example, this is my church, we sing these songs as we gather together. The children join in with the activities of the community, such as story-telling or singing, and share something of the awe and mystery that holds the community together. The child needs to be accepted and to feel a sense of togetherness and will take on board much that a significant and trusted leader gives to them.

So I would, as a pastor/team leader, make sure that I was visible and consistent in my love for and time with the children and young people. I ask my volunteers to give a regular and sustained commitment to the children so that relationship was built up and a group identity was formed. Again, physical space is important – for young people to have a place that is “theirs”. Story cushions, rhythm and routine are all things that help – although with teenagers a degree of flexibility (exhibited by skilled leaders) within a routine is preferable.

Westerhoff points out that the church must be constantly aware of its story and tell it often . Therefore Christmas and Easter all age services and celebrations are of immense significance to growing faith not just in the young but to adults as well. The church celebrates her shared story.

Stage (3) Providing the needs of affiliative faith have been met, the child/young person/adult then enters a “searching faith” phase, where s/he will question, experiment, look at other points of view and finally arrive at a faith that works because it makes sense to them, rather than because someone else has taught them to believe it. This is a necessary part of gaining identity and a strengthened ability to trust in God.

This is a time where young people’s leaders need to tolerate – and dare I say, welcome, questions and comments that express doubt or fear. Here, in my personal view, is one of the most important quotes from Westerhoff’s seminal book, written in 1976 but with deep prophetic significance for church leaders today:

“It appears, regretfully, that many adults in the church have never had the benefit of an environment that encouraged searching faith. And so they are often frightened or disturbed by adolescents who are struggling to enlarge their affiliative faith to include searching faith. Some persons are forced out of the church during this state and, sadly, some never return; others remain in searching faith for the rest of their lives….we must remember that persons with searching faith still need to have all the needs of experienced and dependent faith met, even though they may appear to have cast them aside. And surely they need to be encouraged to remain within the faith community during their intellectual struggle, experimentation and first endeavours at commitment ”.

Key here is the word “community”. The community must be awash with the love of God that accepts the fragile newborn as much as the cute toddler as much as the difficult, moody teenager. And also important is consistency. People who will stick around young people and exhibit love. Who have some flexibility in the way they teach and model Christian living and who are experienced too in the supernatural; to be a gateway into the experiential side of faith so that it does not become a dry set of rules, an inappropriately cerebral bible study or a collection of oft-told stories (did you know that can happen in your teenage groups too?)

Stage (4) Once the needs of searching faith has been met, “owned faith” should follow. This is a mature holding together of things that have been taught so far along and alongside a demonstrated change in behaviour and attitudes. The person with owned faith tries to show it by both word and deed. At this stage the Christian is prepared to make a stand for their faith in the face of opposition.

What can we learn from Westerhoff?

1.Faith is growing and dynamic.
It is tempting to put an age of each of these stages but that isn’t always possible. I know young people who demonstrate all of the hallmarks of owned faith and live for Jesus with a passion that is firey and infectious. Many adults have not progressed in their faith past the first couple of stages, preferring the “warm fuzzy” stage of belonging and not yet appreciating the lifelong cost of following Jesus.

Note that in Westerhoff’s categories, the conditions for one stage have to be met before advancement to the next. These conditions are vitally important for lifelong discipleship to occur: everything from the warmth and furnishing of the rooms to the love and care shown by the adults to the very young plays a part. The “whole package” is needed – lovely rooms on their own won’t do it if the faith community just manages to tolerate children (knowing that a “good” church should have children in it) but neither will lots of loving adults working alongside children in cold and bare rooms give a consistent message. Think of the gardening metaphor – we want the optimum growing conditions for the seedlings to flourish.

And is it possible that the simple love and trust exhibited by a child who loves Jesus because they have been taught that he loves them, is – in God’s eyes – faith in him? Trust has been exhibited at the cognitive level of development appropriate to that young child.

Westerhoff uses the analogy of a tree to describe the growth of faith in developing human persons. He says “a tree with one ring is as much a tree as a tree with four rings” , in other words experienced faith is as valuable for a person to possess as owned faith.

However he makes it clear that faith is a journey and the goal should be to move towards owned faith; which is the point at which one would lay their life down for their faith. I want to make it clear that repentance – saying sorry – for the things the child does wrong is a vital part of this journey, which leads neatly into further points to pick up from Westerhoff.

2. Children and young people need to make the faith and belief their own – just the same as adults!

The searching faith phase indicates that a period of questioning is natural and normal and may in fact be necessary for young people to fully commit to the Christian faith. It is therefore helpful for a child/teenager to have experiences of God as well as lots of information – head knowledge - about him. This helps him weigh up whether he wants to know more about him!

It is possibly at this stage that a lot of youngsters give up on the church, as they weigh up and test what they have been told. We as leaders must not be afraid of letting young people try things out, ask (what seems to be) antagonistic questions and disagree with our theology. Patiently loving them through this time is not an option if we are to retain our children.

I think it’s really important not to walk in expectation of rebellion. There is a difference between asking questions because the young person sees a disconnect between what they are being told and what they see, and outright rejection and rebellion.

Because we suspect that the end result might be rebellion, we (parents/leaders) may tend to “crack down” on questions or attitudes on display that we feel we have already answered or should not see, and become impatient, intolerant and perhaps even angry with the young person. Consider the following, which seems entirely logical to me:
How do I know he is with me if I don’t feel he is near?
Am I just to believe without substance?
How do I know God still does things today like the amazing things in the Bible?

Is this rebellious talk? Or are these not genuine questions from a child or adolescent at the “searching phase” of faith development?

The role of the pastor/parents/adults involved with young people at this point of their faith development is one of loving acceptance, not rebuking. Instruction IS needed, but only after we have exhibited:
(a) patient listening to the things that young person have to say as this allows them to draw their own conclusions
(b) good modelling of the truth of Jesus’ words as lived out by us as adults and
(c) opportunities to experience (practice) the things read about in the pages of the New Testament

I am absolutely convinced that if these three things are determined and sustained practices by the church community, the haemorrhage of children, teenagers and young adults from the church will be arrested and we will end up with confident, secure adults who have “owed faith”. The church community I grew up in exhibited those three things in abundance.

Here is a concrete example. At the time of writing, I have a pre-teen daughter exhibiting sophistication and maturity (in some ways) far beyond her genetic age. She has loved Jesus for as long as she can remember. She has been taught about repentance, about how sin separates us from God and how confessing the things we do wrong and our own selfish attitudes regularly keep the relationship between us and God close. Yet, she has times where she doubts her beliefs. She has moments, regularly at the moment, where she will sit with me and say: “what if I’m wrong, you’re wrong? What is heaven doesn’t exist? What if it is all a fairytale?”

My reaction could be one of deep disappointment, or even anger. Does she not know after all these years of being taught, that God is faithful and true? Is she rejecting the faith of our family outright? What if she says these things in her young people’s group? Woe is me, I am a pastor after all!

But we listen patiently. As parents we reassure her of our love for her and tell her that it is entirely natural to have these thoughts. We let her express them in whatever way she wants to – sometimes this is with tears. We share with her that we have doubts sometimes and when she is ready to listen, we tell her stories of the perseverance of saints who have gone before us. We chew over some Bible passages with her, such as 1 Peter 1:6-9 and talk together (not lecture or teach) about what it means to have testing times, and what reward there is ahead for those who love Jesus even though they haven’t seen him. We tell her how Jesus poured out his heart for us in John 17:20ff and how he lives now to intercede for us.

In short, we offer instruction without loving her any less, nor worrying unduly, nor being disappointed nor angry and we share honestly about our walk with Jesus and testify as often as we can in daily conversation about God’s interaction in our lives. We love her through each and every episode of negative outpourings and deep questioning. I am confident she will continue to walk through this stage into owned faith – the mature holding together of all things. This demonstrates just how necessary it is throughout the teenage years that people love youngsters deeply and listen wisely.

I have become even more convinced than ever before that a much more joined up approach to children and young people is required, because we manage the demonstrated love and affection thing much more with the youngest.

3. An accepting and nurturing community is needed. Love like we might have never shown before.

I've said already that the church community must exhibit deep love towards children and young people. They are to be places where children AND teenagers are valued, can make mistakes, can try things out and most of all can be loved and accepted as individuals who are very special to God.

My observation is that young children, babies and toddlers are easy to love. They are smiled at, passed around and cooed at. We want to have them in our church as “signs of life”. Children who tear around, fidget and make noise during quiet moments of our church services are not quite so easy for some of us to love, particularly if they pick their noses or emit smells. Pre-teens who question everything and might have rather a lot to say can be quite annoying. And insolent, sullen, undemonstrative teenagers are best left to their own devices at the back of the church!

My point from this unflattering and hopefully (!) in accurate pen portrait is that we can tend not to be consistent in our love towards the younger generations. Maybe we are only getting what we deserve when suddenly the younger generations appear to have left the church? Are they a chief consideration in the plans of your church? Is every decision we make loving the young people well? Ignore the need to love on your under-18s and you risk losing a chunk of your church’s future.

Look for staff and volunteers with a heart to love on your children and young people and encourage parents and the whole congregation to love well.

Paul writes:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
[I Corinthians 1:1-7]

Westerhoff source: Will Our Children Have Faith? (Revised Edition)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Is it possible???

I've been having deep, deep thoughts whilst hanging the washing out.
This is just a series of questions for reflection.

Is it possible to love the institution of the church too much?
Is it possible to be so caught up with what we do to make our church, church, that we actually engage in an act of idolatry by exalting the church to a place above that which it was intended to have?

"I love my church" something I know I have said in the past - a statement that can be difficult to interpret - "I love my fellow called out, chosen ones" - "I love the ones who stand alongside me, marked as different in the community they find themselves" would be more theologically accurate but do we sometimes mean: "I love the experience I have being part of my church"?

There is no doubt that belonging, making "church happen" is incredibly fulfiling - I know this for myself! - but is there not even the tiny potential that worshipping this fact can creep in?

And it is also incredibly possible that we fall in love more with the feeling that comes with being part of the church more than passionately loving the one who is the Head of the church; who loved not his own life but gave it away for those who had no hope of fullness of life.

And for me that is the difficult walk. To know that when guitars cease playing, when shouts of joy tail off, when the last person has been prayed for, outside the doors of our experience of church there are broken, broken people who are loved by no-one. People so low in depression they don't know whether to keep on breathing tonight. Children who are routinely abused. Business people with loads of money but an empty ache.

In the potential that there undoubtedly is for "glam and show" at conferences and churches today, are we growing disciples who have at the absolute front of their thoughts every night and day, burning love for the Father and a heart for the lost? Every extra day before the point that Jesus returns is an opportunity for more and more people to hear about him. He's longing for people to come to love him (1 Tim 2:4). Maybe some people might not have thought of that.

As a wise man once said: the flow of the river of God is out - to love your experience of church but be unanchored in the community outside the church is not the Jesus way.

The most worrying trend that I have ever observed is Christians caught in the ghetto of lunch/coffee/nights out with Christians/meetings all the time/Christian-church stuff all the time (even if its under the guise of "we're doing it for the people not in our church") - well, get living life with the people not in the church! Join a club, volunteer at the local hospice, be a Brownie leader, start a book group with people from work, get a part-time job pulling pints - oh, and read David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyon's book: UNchristian........

I can write about this because I have recognised the pull of loving the experience of church too much in my own life. Back in University days one of our wise friends decreed that the 30 or so of us who were studying there should all only get together on Wednesdays for lunch instead of being in and out of each other's flats/social calendars all the time - he said: hang out with your class ALL THE TIME apart from Wednesday lunchtime. We met to eat and spent 2 to 3 hours worshippng and praying for our classmates each and every Wednesday. We didn't see each other again apart from on a Sunday. That was a 1980s missional community (except we didn't call it as such). I remember it was really hard because I loved the warmth and ease of being part of such a vibrant, worshipful, on fire church. But we grew deeper and faster and saw huge inroads in our influence in our classes and faculties.

Hey, heavy thoughts but on a sabbaticalling time you get to see a few churches and these have been my thoughts from some travelling about just now. Hope they are helpful questions, not meant to be condemning ones, just my honest reflections.