Monday, July 2, 2018

Parenting

For my parent’s generation, they never talked about money or sex!  Those topics were private, off-limits and topics I was taught not to ask others about (i.e. – don’t ask someone how much money they make).  Today, for better or worse, these two topics are more comfortable for many and often find their way into conversation with much more ease and much less wide eyed “what did he just ask me about” wonder! 

But, alas, there is one topic that seems to have moved into the “can’t touch this” category – parenting!  In a society where the individual reigns supreme, the idea of parenting has become a topic that is the ultimate decision of an individual and, more than almost any other topic, can be a topic that causes strong, visceral responses when someone dares encroach into this world and offers advice, suggestions, or correction. 

For just that reason, I thought I should write a blog and offer advice, suggestions and correction on parenting!  Ha! Kidding!

In all seriousness, as I approach this topic, I recognize that I don’t have the credentials to be the authority on this topic.  I have 4 kids, my oldest is 8, I haven’t dealt with puberty, teenagers, dating or any of the nuances of raising children to adulthood.  As I write this, I have one child screaming and 3 others running around the house playing a questionably harsh game of tag.  The jury is still out on my parenting skills!

But, I began working in student ministry shortly after I graduated from student ministry, and over the last 18 years of serving in different ministries and capacities, I have observed a number of trends and learned a substantial amount about parenting.  I have witnessed some of the worst parenting on planet earth, but I have also seen some of the most Godly, Christlike moms and dads walk through life with their children.  And, from these observations, I want to offer a few simple observations that, by God’s grace, Tracy and I strive for each day as we attempt to raise children who are committed first to the Gospel of Jesus.  So, here we go:

Stuff – I am a material guy living in a material world!  Ok, so it doesn’t quite work the same, but you get the point.  I’ve always struggled with the 10th commandment (don’t covet), but it’s something that Tracy and I decided early on that we would not let take control of our family.  In Philippians 4, Paul talks about learning how to make do with a little and with a lot and that he learned to be content in all situations.  So, for Paul, this led him to say, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”. 

As Americans, we’ve often become obsessed with the new, nice, impressive or interesting.  To put it simply, our kids don’t need all of that.  Sometimes, it’s good for them to go to a thrift store and buy a book or a used toy.  I think when we raise our children to NOT EXPECT the newest, latest and greatest, we are giving them a better opportunity to worship Jesus instead of money, to desire to be about His kingdom instead of the latest cultural trend.    

And, again, I may not have the position to say this…but, parents, stop putting pressure on yourself in this area.  Do what you can for your kids, teach them to be grateful for the small things and celebrate when you can enjoy those things.  And, model this to your kids!  We have made it an event in our families when our cars hit 200,000 miles.  My last car, a Toyota Camry, even hit 300,000 miles and we LOST OUR MINDS!  It was a lot of fun!!  Fun doesn’t have to be expensive! My favorite memories as a childhood were in my grandma’s ABOVE GROUND (read: cheap) pool, when my mom would take my brother and I to the park on our hand-me-down roller blades and when we would drive to Connecticut in our used station wagon. 

 There’s a subcategory here I want to give some special attention to – phones!  As cell phones have become more prolific and common for teenagers, they have also emerged as the #1 problem that parents have with their teenagers.  I recognize that it is very common for young people to have phones and that they often stay in touch with each other via phones, social media, etc.  But, I have also witnessed the incredible temptation, easy access to all that the internet has to offer and the lack of filters that come with the average adolescent.  So, while we are still a few years from really making this decision, we are looking to others who have gone before us.  And, there is a family who we see as mentors in our lives who have 2 teenage boys who seem to be moving towards being Godly men who are also respectful, care about others and are generally nice people.  And, they don’t have a phone!  And, while there’s no guarantee of this connection, it is a plan that seems to provide their children with the Christlike accountability they need while giving them the opportunity to begin to exercise their independence.  So, at this moment in time, the plan for the Benfield family is probably going to be to do something like what they do – have an extra phone for the family – but not one that is specifically assigned to a teenager. 

Parents, the dangers of the phone and the access it provides to the internet cannot be overstated.  This is a different world than you or I experienced as a teenager.  I’ll move on from this topic, but I would encourage parents to educate yourself on social media, cell phones, the internet, etc.  If you don’t know what to do or have questions, get in touch with me and I’d love to talk to you. 

Time – I think the principle has already been stated above, but your kids need you, they need your time.  And, believe me, I know it’s hard to balance it all sometimes.  Again here, I think our American addiction is to activities instead of quality time together.  Take some time together as a family to find something that you all love.  Our family loves board games and puzzles (nerd alert), American Ninja Warrior, swimming, and playing super loud music while we pretend like we know how to dance (here’s a hint: Tracy got moves, I do not!).  I’m as guilty of this as anyone else, but there are weeks where I find that I’ve lived in the same house with my family, but I haven’t spent quality time with them.  If my goal is to shepherd my children to be men and women of God, I can’t let that happen!  I need to give them what I consider an asset that’s as valuable as anything else: my time. 

Gospel Priority – Last thing – make the Gospel a priority.  Read God’s Word.  Read it for yourself and let your kids see that.  Read it to your kids out loud.  Read a book about God’s work to your kids.  We are currently reading a book about missionary stories in Africa to our kids and it’s one of the coolest things ever!  Our kids (and me too) sit wide-eyed as we see the stories of God’s work and the miracles that He accomplished in the midst of impossible situations.  Make it a priority to be a part of the church, the body of Christ, as much as possible.  Join a life group, serve in a ministry, see the Holy Spirit at work today!

My last comment on parenting will be this – be willing to learn!  Tracy and I have made it our goal to find parents who are older than us and we have tried to learn from them and find out what they did!  Truth be told, most of my suggestions about parenting don’t come from my great ideas, but from time I’ve spent observing Godly men and women who have parented their children with grace and Christ-like commitment to their families.  Ultimately, that’s our goal!

Until next time…



Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Excellence @ Church

Colossians 3:23-24 (CSB)
23 Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people,
24 knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.

Excellence, ah, the murky waters that many a church have waded in.  It’s a word that not everyone is clear on what it means in relation to the church.  To be honest, a lot of weird stuff has been done in the name of excellence and a lot of churches have used excellence as a smoke-screen to spend exorbitant amounts of money or to do things that are clearly off mission for the gospel. 

Alternatively, some well-meaning church folk see ideas like excellence, structure, policies and organization as totally secular and completely unnecessary for church life and have refused to pursue anything related to this idea because they don’t see how the idea of excellence and the authority of the Bible could possibly agree.

The purpose of this article isn’t to break down those arguments, but instead to articulate what the idea of excellence should mean in a church and what it should look like. 

Excellence is a characteristic that is taught in business schools, pursued in the corporate world and seen as an opportunity to edge out the competition.  I drive a Toyota for just that reason!  Yes, they are clearly the best!!  If you disagree, you’re wrong, but that’s a conversation for another day. :) In my view, Toyota's pursuit of excellence has resulted in a car that lasts longer, has less repair needs and endures the less than stellar way I take care of an automobile!

But, for the Christian, we cannot pursue excellence to EDGE OUT THE COMPETITION!  Our pursuit of excellence should have an entirely different motivation.  As Andreas Kostenberger puts it, “The starting point for Christians, as well as the end goal, is God’s own glory and excellence, as believers seek to be effective and fruitful participants in what God is doing in the world today”.  Later on he says “In all of our efforts, the glory of God should be our ultimate goal.”

At Fairview, I take excellence to mean both quality and focus.  So, yes, we should be aiming for the highest quality all the time.  The pastor I grew up with used to say “there’s first class and there’s no class”.  I don’t know that I prescribe to this exactly, but we shouldn’t be content with settling, or with doing things the way they’ve always been done because that’s the way they’ve always been done -  if that’s not the best we can do!  Our goal should be to play the best music the people in our church family can possibly produce, provide the highest quality teaching to students that our body can provide.  We must dedicate time, energy, and effort to planning, developing and delivering quality in everything we do as the church.  We do this not to bring glory to ourselves, but to remove distractions so that glory and attention is given to Christ and the message of the Gospel.  If we give our leftovers, it demonstrates to the world the low level of priority that we place on the Gospel. 

Quality should be coupled with the idea of focus. The idea of focus I am referring to comes from the book “Simple Church” by Thom Rainer.  In this book, Rainer teaches the idea of “saying no to almost everything”.  At first glance, this might seem a bit harsh.  But, the lesson here is really important.  Each unique church, in each unique community has unique gifts and the pastors leading it should be prayerfully focused on a mission that can be accomplished by the church family. 

As you know, I’m a bivocational pastor and I have the great privilege of serving in a world-class non-profit organization that supports public education across the country.  We have conversations frequently about cautioning ourselves as an organization and as individuals from “mission drift”.  This happens when we give our focus and attention to good ideas and good things, but take our attention from the main idea and the main thing.  It’s not that that the good ideas don’t deserve attention, just that our organization doesn’t have the capacity to give them attention and we must remain laser focused on our mission so that we can accomplish the goal of providing at-risk students the college and career opportunities that they never thought was possible.  So, I’d love to support other ideas that teachers have to help their students engage with the curriculum or to connect with the classroom.  Many of them are great ideas, but I can’t allow myself to be distracted from the main idea, the mission!

This is what must happen in the church!

This is what must happen at Fairview!

We are a group of finite people with finite resources and we must remain laser focused on the main mission of the church.
Can I be honest for a minute? I recognize that sometimes people just don’t trust pastors.  And, I recognize that sometimes people don’t agree with the decisions that pastors have made about what should be the MAIN focus and what shouldn’t.  I get it.  But, this is the structure that God the Father put into place and we all must do everything we can to honor that structure as we serve the bride of Christ, the church.

I’m not saying “don’t question the pastor” or “thou shalt obey thine pastor and whatever he sayeth shalt be thine guide”.  Clearly, that’s crazy!  Pastors don’t always get it right.  But, I do know this.  At Fairview, the pastors prayerfully consider each decision.  And decisions are made with the church body in mind and after exhaustive discussions, research and consideration has been given to decisions – especially those that will have major impact on the church. 

We have a lead pastor who takes VERY seriously his responsibility to be ON MISSION FOR JESUS.  So, he prayerfully considers every decision.  He thinks through every program, every ministry.  And, if it’s not contributing to the mission, then maybe it’s time to restructure it or remove it.  Not because he’s a brutal dictator, but because he recognizes that church isn’t about a social gathering on Sunday morning but is about the most important message this world has ever known and we must do everything we can to organize ourselves around the mission of getting the gospel into the community around us.  I’ve served under a few pastors and I’ve known many more.  We have an amazing pastor who isn’t anywhere near perfect, but is one who is trying everyday to love Jesus with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength and who dedicates all he has to the mission of the church.  And, I love getting to serve alongside him as he leads the church, submitted always to Jesus.  Ok, enough gushing.

Where was I?  Oh, yeah, we are a finite group of people, we need to stay laser focused on the mission of the church and we must do everything we can to reach the community around us with the Gospel of Jesus.  It’s also important to acknlowedge that the community around us continues to change, which requires us ALL to think differently, creatively, and to focus on the mission.  So that we will be witnesses in our community, in our state, in our country and across the globe. 

All of this is done NOT to proclaim the name of Fairview, the SBC or to edge out the church down the street.  It’s done with excellence so that the name of Jesus might be glorified in everything we do, and on our knees begging the Holy Spirit to save some. 

Until next time...

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Whole Church Integrated Ministries

Wake up, wake up, wake up, it’s the first of the month, get up, get up, get up, it’s the first of the month.  And, that will be our goal, to share thought provoking blogs at the beginning of each month that will specifically focus on the church and on our involvement in the life of the church.

This month, we want to look at the idea of “whole church integrated ministries”.  Ok, so those are just trendy church terms if we don’t explain it.  We could also call it – the church being the church.  Acts 2 seems to indicate that the church was together, united and connected in their purpose of Loving God, Loving Others and Making Disciples!  For many years, and certainly with WONDERFUL intentions, churches have done an incredible job of developing phenomenal children’s and youth ministries that have served the birth through 17 population.  We’ve also provided ministries for singles, college students, parents with kids, parents with no kids, people who collect light houses, men who eat breakfast at Waffle House, fans of Fixer Upper, first-time home buyers and people who are left-handed.  Confession: some of these are made up.  But, what this has done is unintentionally created ministry “silos”.  These silos have served and fed well the people in their ministries, but the moment that person steps out of the ministry, there is no place for them, no relationships, minimal connection to the greater church and often very few on-ramps to other ministries as they move into a new phase of life. 

Before I go any further, one of these “silos” is youth ministry, so is it weird that a youth pastor is saying this?  Yes? Ok. Let’s keep going. 

Your question – is it wrong to have student ministry? Children’s ministry? Singles ministry?  No!! I AM A STUDENT PASTOR!!  I’m NOT calling for a church that has no age-appropriate or life-stage appropriate ministries.  In my mind, that’s an unnecessary pendulum swing and one that creates a whole new set of issues that I won’t have time to deal with here.  Uh-uh-NAW!!

I think what we are missing is integrating these ministries into the rest of the church, connecting the members of these ministries with church members from different generations, teaching them to serve others instead of learning to only be served and developing relationships that will endure when they graduate or move on from their current ministry.  To put it simply, we are missing discipleship!  One youth pastor can’t disciple 65 students.  One men’s ministry leader can’t disciple 35 men.  We need the church family to step into the lives of those younger than them and walk them through what it means to follow in the footsteps of Christ.  

Josh, you say, I need an example.  This, I can do.  For 6 million years, the apex event of student ministries has been the summer missions trip, right?  40 teenagers, 6 horrified youth leaders, one youth pastor who desperately wants to get home to his family and everyone wearing bright yellow YOUTH ALIVE t-shirts travel somewhere for a week, right?!  I’m currently twitching from the flashbacks!  We said, ummm, no!  So, this summer, we are doing a mission trip that is hosted by the student ministry.  This means that this is the trip that the high school students can attend without their parents if they choose.  But, we also invited families and adults to attend, because it’s a CHURCH trip, we are on mission as a church!!!  And, guess what? It worked!  We have 20 students and 19 adults!  And, we have 2 families!  Amazing!!  Another fun fact – we have students who have chosen to instead attend one of the traditionally “adult” mission trips.  And, guess what, my feelins’ ain’t hurt! I love it!!  We have students going on trips with their moms and dads, traveling to foreign countries for the first time, working with a female missionary who is modeling her life well for the girls in our church.  How could I possibly object!?! 

This is just a glimpse of what we are working on.  We are doing a Fairview Family Month in June where every Wednesday is going to combine all the ministries for all kinds of different opportunities – worship night, movie night, mission night, it’s going to be great!

We want our middle and high school students to begin to learn how to disciple others by maybe just starting with learning a memory verse with an elementary student (later blog post).  We are trying to connect our middle and high school students with our men’s and women’s ministries so that they have people that they know and that care for them in the church when they graduate from high school. 

But, here's the deal – all of this is messy!  When you have people crossing over ministries, it’s not always easy to track or follow.  It means that the pastors, staff, and ministry leaders have to be willing to lay down egos and be willing to work together to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.  And we all must remember that our goal isn’t to have big numbers in our ministries, but that each number is a person, and our goal is to see that person become a disciple of Jesus Christ!  And we want to do whatever it takes to help that person use their talents and gifts for God’s glory as they grow in Christ.  I like to call it organized commotion.  In student ministry, we’ve created a very structured environment that is primarily behind the scenes.  But, when you walk into an event or gathering, it shouldn’t feel overly structured or restricted, it should feel like the family of Christ gathering to worship God, study the Bible and grow together.  And, even on Wednesday night, all ages are welcome! 


Until next time….