September 10, 2012

Church Planting with Generation Xhausted: Part Two

Right, where was I before I was so rudely interrupted by a household full of sickness, a revolving system of wet/vomity/cleaned and dried bed sheets and pillow cases, spew buckets, tissues, toilet paper, and an unscheduled 2am visit to the hospital (40 minute drive) to pick up my hallucinating father? Oh that’s right, Church Planting With Generation Xhausted: Part Two.

The first post generated some interesting email, FB and actual  face to face!! conversations about how our children fit our church frameworks.  A good friend of mine (NT Wright and Alexi Sayle look-alike – Ed), Ian Packer from Evangelical Alliance sent me an excellent article from the New Yorker magazine that reviewed an anthropological study on the different expectations of children in a Western context to those in an African context.  Have a read of it here.  The slug line of the article is interesting “Why do kids rule the roost?”

Leaving aside the fact that anthropologists revel in taking polar opposites and pitting them against each other in order to come up with their conclusions, it made for a sobering assessment of our expectations of our children.  Many observations were quite revealing.  Take this diamond for example:

Contemporary American parents—particularly the upscale sort that “unparenting” books are aimed at—tend to take a highly expansive view of their kids’ abilities. Little Ben may not be able to tie his shoes, but that shouldn’t preclude his going to Brown.

Get that?  I’ve lost count of the number of (non-American) parents who tell me that their children are “gifted and talented”, yet who hover anxiously over their offspring, afraid that their child  may not realise their amazing potential due to cutting their head/arm off with a chainsaw/butterknife before they come of age.  And all too frequently the energy expended to get a child to complete a task to satisfaction (YOUR satisfaction), seems less than the energy it takes to just do it yourself! I find myself doing it all the time. It takes a matter of the will, and a commitment to being less house-proud to get my daughter to actually complete the household tasks I assign her without me cutting in with an impatient “Leave it to me”.

How does this drip down into church?  Church planting statistician Ed Stetzer makes the observation that forty years ago a family “trying out” a church would stop and ask the pastor at the door, “What’s this church’s position on the millennium?“, whereas today the question is asked (of the greeters), “What’s the kids’ ministry like here?”  Now your view on the second coming should not govern everything, and it’s perhaps good that adiaphora such as these no longer rule the theological roost, however notice that the angst has shifted from theological considerations to sociological considerations? We risk making dud long-term theological decisions on the basis of short-term, fear driven sociological ones.

But it can be even more subtle than that.  A youth worker friend observed the difference between the youth group weekend away at his former church, (theologically savvy, inner urban, aspirational, well educated congregation), with the youth group weekend away his current church (theologically-less-savvy, suburban, more sedate, less educated congregation).  He said that by late Saturday morning the former church’s campsite had emptied out as a steady succession of cars picked up Jane/Charlotte/Toby for dancing/clarinet/violin/creative writing classes. The suburban church camp site, meanwhile, stayed stubbornly full.  Sure, Charlotte and Toby need to ensure they are ready for the (amillennial) age-to-come, but the good life in this age may bypass them if they don’t fully commit to the school production of Annie.  Faced with competing visions of the good life, many parents blink and ask “But why can’t they have both?” Why? you ask.  Because no one can serve two masters, probably.

So what does this have to do with church planting? Exactly this:  It’s all too easy to take the template of “what we did at our previous church”  and place it over our kids ministry in the new setting – especially in the early, busy phases of planting.  Faced with the opportunity to do church with a blank slate we get excited about the possibilities – for adults.  We need to be braver than that for the sake of our children. What might it mean to see our children as those created not simply to consume, but to serve. If, in a missional communities model, we assume one dose of theological teaching a week/fortnight is enough to chew over/wrestle with/put into practice, why would we not think the same for our children?  What might it mean for us to include children in our theological/pastoral conversations, if not to participate, then certainly to listen in, observe, and ask questions going home in the car?  Granted, how you do church will shape this to some extent, but the fact that most of our expressions of church leave little room for questions from adults, let alone children, may betray the problem.  As Christian communities we simply don’t practice our theological conclusions together often enough for our watching children to conclude that they are important.  If we don’t get our kids to clean up our yard, we’re hardly going to get them to come with us to the old couple’s house down the street when our missional community decides to enact some gospel deeds to a needy couple

To finish, and to paraphrase John Piper, “It’s not that we think too highly of our children, it’s that we don’t think of them too highly enough.”  We are content with a vision of the good life for our children, rather than a vision of the great life that, whilst perhaps uncomfortable in the short term, will pay dividends in the amill/pre-mill/post-mill age to come.

(Next Time: Church Planting with Generation Xhausted: Part Three – What to actually do with our children when we gather.)

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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