Ordinary. Adjective. The opposite of exciting. That’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it? Why in the world would we want to be a part of anything ordinary? The last thing we want in our church is just a plain old, ordinary, boring children’s ministry! After all, we live in an age where most people expect–even demand–events and programs and activities which are special enough to keep their interest. If anything, the church is supposed to be extraordinary in order to compete with all the really cool things the world has to offer.
After reading Michael Horton’s newest book, Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World, I’m even more convinced that our churches need to return to ordinary ministry in all of its excellence. Because we live in a time of restlessness and the longing for things radical and extreme, even Christians can often expect their church to deliver one exhilarating experience after another. This especially seems to be the case for youth ministry as well as children’s ministry. But in the end, this search for something that gives chills and thrills ends up moving Christians and the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ away from their essential, ordinary purposes and mission.
Before I summarize what “Ordinary Children’s Ministry” looks like, let’s make sure we reorient ourselves to the beauty of being ordinary. Ordinary is what is NORMAL. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? Ordinary is what’s commonplace or STANDARD. Again, all good. Ordinary is REGULAR, ROUTINE, HABITUAL, and DAY-TO-DAY. Have I lost you yet? Am I verging on defining what is boring? That’s what Satan would have us think. He loves when Christians become consumed with the Next Big Thing (as Horton says), to escape what seems mundane and routine. Ordinary is NOT average, it is NOT mediocre, it is NOT the avoidance of excellence. It is the ordinary life that is most able to be extraordinary in this fallen world. [If this still sounds like an oxymoron to you, read Horton's book and let it challenge your mindset!]
So, here’s what an Ordinary Children’s Ministry looks like:
- The local church welcomes children into congregational life–into the worship and service of the church. Adults see children as a gift from God, members of the covenant community, who need to be taught, educated, and discipled. They do not ignore children, see them as a distraction or nuisance, or relegate them constantly to the periphery.
- The local church leads parents in the training and discipline of their own children. It also comes alongside parents with resources and relationships that will help them in their Godly endeavor.
- The local church ensures that its priority is to teach children ALL of God’s Word, not just the “major” stories over and over again. And, teachers are committed to not teach the Bible in a moralistic or legalistic manner, falsely training children to strive for their own salvation and goodness.
- The local church works with parents to teach children the doctrines of the faith. In days past, this was simply referred to as “catechizing” the children–using questions and answers to teach what Christians are to believe about God, the world, and ourselves.
- The local church provides community for children to learn to love God and love one another, pointing them to Jesus Christ.
- The local church prays for the next generation to not become another “Judges” generation who forgets the LORD and does what is right in their own eyes. The church prays for the true conversion of their children.
- The local church is the place where the “ordinary” means of grace–the Word and the Sacraments–are made available to ALL, according to the proper Biblical manner and process.
Does all that sound too ORDINARY for you? Where are all the bells and whistles? Certainly, there are events and programs that churches can and even should provide for children. But these must never take the place or distract from the ORDINARY mission of our churches for the next generation. When we become overly concerned about giving children the “adventures of a lifetime” or the Next Big Thing in order to make them want to come to church, then we feed their sinful desires for all that is extra-ordinary. They need the ordinary Gospel and work of the Spirit in their lives on a day-to-day basis.
In my next post, I will further elaborate on how Christians should all long for our children and youth to become “Ordinary Christians!”
Do you think the inventor of the forward-facing cell phone camera imagined the “selfie” craze of the past few years? If he (or she) knew anything about human nature, this obsession with taking and posting endless pictures of ourselves was clearly predictable. What else would I want to do with a camera on my phone? And, who doesn’t want to see how great I look all the time?
Just a few sad and troubling facts about selfies which came across the news wire in the past few weeks:
- The word “selfie” is now an official entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.
- A Polish couple fell off a cliff to their deaths trying to take a selfie.
- A French beach has banned cellphones so beachgoers will stop taking selfies to boast about being at the beach.
- A number of celebrities became outraged that their cellphones had been hacked and nude selfies posted on the web. (Easy solution to this problem: Stop taking naked selfies!)
Certainly, the selfie craze exposes the fact that many people today are self-obsessed. But this is nothing new. Humankind has always been driven by the sin of pride and an overly inflated self-worth. When people reject God as Father and center of their lives, the only real replacement is self! We come out of the womb self-obsessed–putting a cellphone in our hands doesn’t cause the problem. This technology, linked with the world wide web, just proclaims to the world how self-focused we really are.
So, I had a brainstorm on this very irritating selfie subject while I was teaching Sunday School today. We were studying the first chapters of the Book of Hosea, where the prophet Hosea is instructed to marry an adulterous woman (Gomer). Why in the world did Hosea have to marry this woman (and even have adulterous children)? Because God used Hosea’s marriage and family as an object lesson to show the Israelites their real selves. On the outside they looked like the people of God; on the inside they were adulterers–loving and serving idols instead of the one, true God.
Which led me to this crazy thought: What if all new smartphones came with technology that took a selfie of our real selves? Instead of snapping a picture of our external bodies, the camera would reveal only our real selves. The whole world would be treated to hideous photographs of sin and wickedness! They would see us for what we really are (outside of Christ) — adulterers and idolaters of the worst kind. It wouldn’t be pretty and no one would be thought of as beautiful (or a hottie). That’s when the selfie obsession would come to a screeching halt.
Thankfully, even without that fantastical technology, this crazy self-promotion and self-glorification can come for the end. For the Christian, out selfie obsession comes to a halt with the following words from the Apostle Paul in Galatians 2:20:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
The only way to end our self-obsession is radical Christ-esteem. Instead of putting our selfies on display, the Christian longs to show others Jesus. Outside of Christ, there is nothing to see here! The life we live in the flesh is always to be lived “in Christ” and not in and of ourselves.
Have you taken the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge yet? Or are you one of just a handful of people in the entire world who has stayed dry? This ultra-viral social media campaign designed to raise awareness and money for this dreaded disease has been amazingly successful. Celebrities, politicians, and almost all of your friends have been dunked with ice water, passing the challenge on to at least three other people. I don’t know the most recent totals, but the ALSA has raised at least 15 million more dollars this year than last. Fundraisers across the non-profit landscape are currently plotting the next fill-in-the-blank challenge!
Being generally charitable folk, Christians have taken the Ice Bucket Challenge as well. I would guess that many have also written a check of some size to ALSA. It’s a great thing to see so many responding to the challenge so quickly and decisively. In many other cases, rapid action to a good cause like this is hard to come by. So an obvious conclusion is: Christians need to challenge each other more often! Which just so happens to be what the Bible says in Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV):
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Do you see it? As a regular part of the Christian life, we are to “stir up” (challenge) one another to love and good works! This is a vital form of encouragement–helping others to do what is right, for the glory of God. Part of this regular challenge is to call upon one another to not neglect the worship of God and the fellowship of the saints. And, the writer of Hebrews says that we should be in the habit of challenging each other to love and good works even more as we get closer to Christ’s return.
So it is perfectly appropriate to challenge one another to give to any number of charities. But there are a plethora of other Biblical challenges to proclaim to other Christians that may or may not include an ice water dunking:
- A challenge to husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.
- A challenge to wives to respect and honor their husbands.
- A challenge to children to obey their parents, for this is right.
- A challenge to care for the widows and orphans in our midst.
- A challenge to give generously to our Bible-believing churches and to Kingdom-building ministries.
- A challenge to get “off the pew” and get more involved in church ministries.
- A challenge to evangelize the nations.
- A challenge to remain unstained from the world.
- A challenge to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
- A challenge to love our neighbors as ourselves.
What an amazing thing it would be if we would open our mouths more often and call upon our brothers and sisters in Christ to love and good works. What if videos showed up on social media regularly for these most important causes? Maybe they wouldn’t become viral and be taken up by all the celebrities and athletes of our world, but they would certainly glorify God!
Or, as an alternative, why not make it simply a way of life to speak to those closest to you and challenge them personally to love God and others and to do good works for Him. We all need to be challenged and encouraged in this way!
I was recently speaking with a member of a church who recently joined their children’s ministry committee. Her church uses a broadly evangelical Children’s Sunday School curriculum, focused more on fun and fluff than the sound teaching of Scripture. So, she recommended to the committee that they take a look at our One Story Ministries materials. The general response was something like: “We want our children to enjoy themselves and have fun in Sunday School, learning things that are more applicable to their lives.” Dismayed, she asked one of her assistant pastors why they were using a curriculum which doesn’t teach the same sound doctrine as the rest of the church. His response (my paraphrase) was: “It’s okay to use material that is lighter and not so theologically sound in children’s ministry. We can correct that later, and in other places in the church.”
Now, I wish this sentiment about Children’s Sunday School was an exception to the rule in our conservative, evangelical and even Reformed churches–but I fear it represents a significant group out there. I sum it up as the “Entertainment Now, Sound Doctrine Later” crowd. The feeling is that we want children to enjoy being at church and hear interesting and relevant Bible stories while they are young; and then, learn all that boring theology later on. So, as the assistant pastor says, we can “correct” the doctrine they learned incorrectly sometime later on–or from the pulpit or in the home. The grand priority in this thinking is to see children who can’t wait to go to Sunday School because it is the most fun that they have all week.
I have addressed in another post that “fun” isn’t the antidote for boredom for our children. It also isn’t the preventative medicine for keeping our children interested in church or the Bible. And, I have written often on the myth that teaching the Bible and sound doctrine is automatically boring and lifeless for children. So, what I want to address here is the false notion that we can simply and easily correct our children’s false or limited views of Bible stories with sound doctrine “later.” This is a dangerous assumption which can reap lifelong consequences. And, from a practical standpoint, it just doesn’t make much sense.
Consider some practical analogies first. Would a father teach his child how to hit a baseball incorrectly, or only some of the rules of baseball, with a plan to correct all that misinformation later? O.r would a school teacher allow students to learn wrong principles of math with hopes of correcting them in a later grade? So why would we knowingly teach the Bible (or not teach the Bible) in a way that will educate our children in a poor theology when they are most impressionable? Won’t they quite possibly have a difficult time un-learning what they think they already know about the stories of Scripture?
I think this perspective in Children’s Sunday School is grounded in a reductionist view of children. It stems from a belief that children can only learn the simplest of things, and that they cannot comprehend the more challenging things of life. To be sure, it takes many years for children to develop brains that can analyze and synthesize more difficult concepts. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t learn truth from the very beginning of their lives! We just don’t give children enough credit for what they can know and learn from the earliest of days. And, we can often fall into the trap of thinking that keeping things “light” will somehow build the foundation for “heavy” things later.
As Christian parents, we are always in the business of correcting the lies that our children believe, and what they are being taught by their own sin, Satan, and the world. What we shouldn’t have to correct is the teaching in our own churches and Sunday Schools! Our children need to be taught the truth of God’s Word from infancy, over their entire lives, so the Holy Spirit can transform them into lovers of the one, true God.
In his provocative new book, “Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today,” Adam Hamilton challenges the traditional Christian understanding of Scripture. As the pastor of the largest United Methodist congregation in the United States, Hamilton desires to teach a whole new generation (especially agnostics and “seekers”) how to properly understand God’s Word. Unfortunately, this “new” approach which seeks to help people “appreciate” the Bible is not really new. It turns out to be just a rediscovery of “old” theological liberalism. And like all liberals, the core issue Hamilton confronts has to do with inspiration of Scripture.
Here are some quotes from the author, followed by my comments:
In 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul writes, “All Scripture is inspired by God…” Christians often assume they know what this means, but Paul seems to have created the word “inspired.” It does not appear in the Greek language before this and is used nowhere else in the Bible. It literally means “God-breathed” but Paul doesn’t go on to explain precisely what he means. It is a metaphor, and metaphors are not precise. Push them too far and they break down.
Hamilton goes right for the jugular with this assertion, attacking one of the clearest statements on inspiration in the Bible. He dismisses this theological truth by choosing to believe that: (1) The Apostle Paul one his own made up the word “inspired” and, (2) He was just being metaphorical. So, consistent with theological liberalism, Hamilton says that we really can’t know what the word “inspired” means. I wonder what he does with II Peter 1:21, which states that prophets spoke “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
When I think of inspired, I think of God-influenced. This leaves open a variety of ways in which the biblical authors were influenced by God.
So, Hamilton decides that his definition of “inspired” is more like being “influenced.” As lovers of God, they simply wrote what they wanted to write, just like any modern Christian author. His bottom line, then, is that the Bible isn’t Special Revelation at all. It has a great message, but one certainly can’t expect that it’s inerrant, or certainly not the infallible Word of life. “Inspired,” in Hamilton’s view, is what anyone is who thinks about God.
My premise is that the Bible is the words of people who were influenced by God, and yet who were also shaped by the times in which they lived.
There it is! To this very popular Methodist preacher, the Bible is a collection of human words, not the Word of God. These were human thoughts that were influenced by God as well as by the times in which the writers lived.
When you read more of Hamilton’s thoughts (which I don’t advise), it becomes crystal clear why he rejects the inspiration of the Bible. He just doesn’t believe that “his” God behaves the way the Scripture describes. Here’s just one example:
The violence attributed to God in the Bible is a serious issue that Christians must address. It is inconsistent with the character of God described in many places in the Old Testament, and certainly inconsistent with the Word of God revealed in Jesus Christ who calls his followers to love their enemies. In the Hebrew Bible we find God putting to death 70,000 Israelites to punish David for taking a census. We have God commanding Joshua to slaughter every man woman and child in 31 entire kingdoms in the Canaan as a kind of offering to God. This is what, today, we would call genocide. God commands priests to burn their daughters alive if they become prostitutes. I cannot imagine God calling me to burn one of my children alive, regardless of what they had done.
In the end, people who reject the inspiration of the Bible just don’t like or agree with what it clearly teaches. But when you’re an influential pastor like Hamilton, it is smarter to simply “soften” inspiration into the idea of “influence” in order to make the Bible easier to handle. The sad truth is that this mega-church pastor is writing under the wrong influence as presents his theologically liberal views. No one reading his book will “rediscover the power of Scripture,” since he attempts to strip it of all its true authority!
Praise God that the Bible IS the Word of God, and is the power of God unto salvation through Jesus Christ. The only way agnostics or the confused who Hamilton seeks to reach will have their minds renewed is by embracing the Bible as the inspired Word of God!
As I’ve mentioned before, part of my (unwritten) job description as a Director of Christian Education is to answer the question: “What do you think about the book, movie: (fill in the blank). Quite frankly, I don’t enjoy this recurring question, since my answers rarely gives the questioner a warm and fuzzy feeling. People tend to take their book/movie likes and dislikes very personally!
Every few years, there is a new hot-selling book on near-death experiences, replete with magnificent descriptions of heaven. I remember when “90 Minutes in Heaven” was all the rage in Christian circles. It claimed to be a true story of death and life. Then in 2010, the book “Heaven is For Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back” was released. Not only is it the number one non-fiction Christian best-seller over the past ten years, it has now spawned a movie well-timed for the Easter season. No doubt, Christians and other religious folks will flock to this movie, seeking to learn more about the reality of heaven.
The problem is: God’s Word teaches us that no one has gone up into heaven and returned to tell about it. John 3:13 clearly states that only Jesus Christ can claim to have been in heaven and returned. No one else. Even the prophets in Scripture who “saw” heaven were given a vision of heaven during their lifetime. They did not have near-death experiences and come back to write a personal novel on the subject. As offensive as it may sound, people who claim to have been to heaven and back–even cute four-year old boys–either had terrific hallucinations or are deluded by the Enemy. They do not speak authoritatively about what the afterlife is all about.
I would write much more in this post about this subject, but David Platt says it so much more eloquently and forcefully. Take a moment to watch this short clip:
The argument I hear most from lovers of these sorts of books or movies is: “What if God uses it to bring people to salvation?” Now, how am I supposed to respond to that? What I hear is: “What if God chooses to use bad theology or outright heresy to save people?” Certainly, God can use anything and anyone to bring people to faith. But the real question is: Why are Christians so willing to look outside and beyond God’s Word for the truth about heaven? Heaven is for real because God’s Word says it is real. It alone tells us what we need to know about the Christian’s future home. Anything extra-biblical–even if it claims to reinforce the Biblical truth of heaven–is foolish and dangerous speculation.
Do you remember Christ’s Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16)? The Rich Man wanted Father Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to tell his five brothers about the reality of heaven and hell. Abraham refused, saying that they had “Moses and the prophets,” which was sufficient. In other words, they (and non-Christians today) have the very Word of God to show us the way to heaven. Isn’t this enough?